When I leave my room each morning to head to breakfast, it’s a ritual now to make sure I have everything. Watch – check. Bracelet I made from parachord – check. Cell phone – check. Keys – check. Dining hall card – check. Cash to bribe locals in event of emergency – check. Extremely sharp knife and willingness to use it to kill terrorists – check and check. I pretty much even have places in my pockets for all of these items, and for each of the few outfits I brought with me.
But the last thing that goes with me is my iPhone, which is in airplane mode and is more or less an iPod Touch while I’m here. My headphones go in the left pocket of my pants and I’m ready for work. When I finally get to work, there are several people who walk around with white iPod headphones in their ears all day. A couple IT guys have as part of their ritual each day, the threading of their headphone cords up the inside of their shirt, so they always have music playing.
Right away, as I started doing macro and database coding, I started listening to music, and now my boss is doing the same (but he has fancy black headphones.) Like pretty much everyone I know, there are chapters in my life that are structured around music. As I’ve been listening, I’ve had to switch tracks on some tunes because the memories associated with them are so strong that I stop typing for a minute as the music takes me back to Garden Valley or Seafoam road or the Oregon Coast. Sometimes though, I take the time to listen all the way through, because some of the thoughts that come flooding back are not super good, and I’m determined to take that song back – to put a new memory to it, and make it my own again.
I’m always getting asked by friends what music is on my most played lists, and I’ve asked the same question of friends like Tim Bryant, Dave Coles and Eric Knape. So if you came here today and just happened to be in the market for some new music, and these albums are new to you, then it’s your lucky day. It really is your lucky day. These albums are helping me to keep going, to keep working, and to stay focused on my job. All of them are wicked good and worth the $10 for the album (some are not even that much.) Ten albums at $10 each is only $100 – the sum of what you probably spent on going to movies in the last two weeks. These tunes keep giving though, and I’ve been listening to some of them for years and still come back to them over and over again.
This is going to be a freaking long post, so I’ve inserted some pictures to organize it, and you can browse around and read if you like. But give this music a listen. I don’t think you’ll regret it (as long as you are exactly like me, like the same things I like, and have the same taste in music as I have. And if you don’t and want to disagree – save it.)
Before I get going though, I want to confess that I’m not a very good liker of music. There are quite a few songs and albums that I like and have found on my own, but for the most part, the music I love the most has been given to me by other people. The songs I like the best from albums that I may have had skipped over because they just didn’t do anything for me, are songs that friends have said that they love. There is something about knowing that a song is not only good, but important to someone who is important to me, that makes it important to me. I resigned myself to this a long time ago – that I’ll never be a music columnist – but I’m grateful to some people for these songs and I’ll try to remember to give them the credit they deserve.
In no particular order:
Ryan Adams – Gold
I got this album because of the song Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard which I heard for the first time as a Jamie Cullum cover. Ryan Adams, not be confused with Canadian Pop Superstar Bryan Adams, is a soulful musician who sounds like he lives in New York City most of the year, but spends the rest of his time cruising Route 66, singing the blues. He has several albums out, and I have most of them, but this one is my favorite so far. Best songs on this album: New York, New York; La Cienega Just Smiled; The Rescue Blues; Touch, Feel & Lose; Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd; and Rosalie Come and Go.
His lyrics aren’t for everybody, and I’m sure that I’m missing the point of most of them, but his range of styles and the way he seems to be completely at home with himself and his talents, makes his music seem like a force, not just an expression. Again, not a music critic.
Sara Bareilles – Kaleidoscope Heart
When Layne and I were first dating, she would play music all the time, and I had heard very little of it. On various road trips to go camping and fishing, we’d be listening to this female vocalist and I’d ask who she was. I probably asked about 20 times and got the same answer – Sara Bareilles. By the way, Layne was really patient with that, even after I turned it into a joke.
Sara B is an amazing vocalist. We saw her in concert and though she’s just little, she has a big voice with a huge range. In an era of female singers who are singing in an octave better suited to a tenor (and most male singers are pinching it to sing a few thirds above that range) Sara is actually singing in a soprano’s range and really making it work. Doesn’t hurt that she plays piano really really well and dabbles in the ukulele.
With all that in mind, Sara and I would not be friends. Her attitude is such that I don’t think we would get along personally. Just throwing it out there.
Bluebird and Machine Gun are my favorite songs off this album, but at the risk of my reputation as a straight man, I’ll say that I really like the songs Uncharted; The Light; Basket Case; and Breathe Again as well. This album is introspective, stubborn and at some points, very angry, so it’s a little more professional sounding compared to her first attempt. But I have to admit that I like it, and bring up the volume a few notches when Machine Gun comes up on shuffle.
Steve Miller Band – Greatest Hits
Everybody likes Steve Miller Band, right? The Joker, Fly Like an Eagle, Jet Airliner, Abracadabra, Jungle Love, Take the Money and Run, Rock’n Me - these are classics that just can’t be left out of any serious music collection if you were alive in the early 70′s to mid 80′s. I started listening to a lot of Steve Miller when I bought a 1983 Mazda 280ZX Turbo with red leather interior and T-tops. I made a special mix that included a lot of Steve Miller, drove around in that car with the t-tops off while wearing aviators and a polo shirt with a popped collar. It was spectacular.
So everyone has heard those songs, but some of my favorites while I’ve been over here have been: Heart Like a Wheel and Cry, Cry, Cry. These two get stuck in my head all the time. It may be time to rummage around your old record collection and pull out these albums again.
Gabe Dixon Band
I’ve posted this before on Facebook, but I think that Gabe Dixon just may be responsible for my current healthy mental state. I’ve been listening to this album nonstop since a few weeks before I left Boise. And like a lot of the music I’ve found in the last 18 months, it has been because of Layne. We were watching the movie The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, and Gabe Dixon’s song Far From Home is the opening tune. The band is a piano, bass and drums, so the sound may be surprising in this day where the acoustic guitar is so pervasive (“I’m the guitar guy/At the Party/I’m going to sleep with your girlfriend . . . “)
And to be on a movie soundtrack like this one, I’ve got to admit that I thought this song was cheesy. And it is cheesy. But the rest of the album is not. Gabe Dixon is channeling the young Billy Joel and making the style his own. Sometimes the shuffle of my iPhone will go from Gabe Dixon to Billy Joel and the similarities become very very apparent. The piano is just perfect, and Gabe goes from uberpop teen sensation to storytelling balladeer to rollicking piano man in the course of just three songs. Billy Joel and Elton John would be proud to claim this guy as their musical offspring, but they might have to battle with James Taylor for some of the credit because a few of Gabe’s tracks are lyrical poetry that only Taylor can rival.
This is an album that I have to say I like every single track. For the stunning visuals in his lyrics, I have to go with And the World Turned as my favorite story song, All Will be Well as the winner for the album, and Till You’re Gone as the best fast track.
Get this album. Get it now. You will feel good very very soon.
Eric Hutchinson – Sounds Like This (Live)
Eric and I have a long history, and he’s one of the artists I discovered completely on my own. He is also the only artist to which I have ever written a fan letter. Why? Because unlike Sara B, Eric and I would be good friends. I JUST KNOW IT! Yeah, I’m not a crazy person like that, but I do sincerely believe that Eric’s sense of humor would blend well with my low-level celebrity status and we could hang out, have a few drinks and then trash the place.
I first saw Eric on the Tonight Show, performing Rock and Roll, a song that took him from obscurity to sensation in about the time it took people to listen to the first verse. Hutchinson plays piano but also rocks the acoustic guitar, playing some pretty intricate chords while singing in a range that is just about perfect for a guy – not too high, as if he’s trying to compete with Maroon 5 (and Maroon 5 singer guy – stop making the randy videos and cover art – YOU’RE A GAY MAN! It’s okay to admit it. I know you sleep like a baby on your huge piles of money with many beautiful ladies, but just go out and find yourself a nice man okay?)
I’ve been listening to this album for nearly four years, and it doesn’t get old. Hutchison looks like Bill Gates, but sings like Stevie Wonder. It was that contradiction that first got me interested in the music, and I’ve not stopped listening since.
Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
If you are not on the bandwagon of Mumford and Sons yet, just go ahead and get this album. You don’t have to listen to it first, just buy it. It’s that good, and it’s like nothing out there right now. Show me another mainstream group that features a banjo and I’ll be impressed. These guys make it work, and lyrically, you will get a mélange of inspiration, including Shakespeare. Not for the faint of heart, the words of this album are raw and in the worlds of Canadian Pop Superstar Bryan Adams, are “comin’ straight from the heart.”
Again, Layne introduced me to this band, having herself heard of them when Sugarland and Little Big Town covered Sigh No More. She was so excited by this song that she called me right then. This is one of the things I love about Layne is how passionate she is about her music. If you’ve not had the privilege of getting a phone call like this, start making them to others and maybe you’ll get one yourself someday.
Thistle and Weeds, Awake My Soul, Sigh No More, and Little Lion Man are my favorite tracks on this record. Fair warning: there is cursing. But it’s not gratuitous.
The Black Keys – Brothers
This is a story of love, and loss, and the foresight to maintain international copyrights – this is the story, of the Black Keys.
The Black Keys are not my favorite band, but this album just keeps getting better and better. With a sound like the White Stripes, the Black Keys don’t really sound like a two piece band, but that’s what they have. A lead guitarist and a drummer from Akron, these guys have a great sound and an even greater story.
But I think that I like the name the best. The Black Keys is what a crazy friend of theirs would call their dads when he would call and leave incoherent messages on their answering machine. He’d call them “D Flat” if he was unhappy with them. This is the way to find a name for your band. THIS IS THE WAY TO FIND A NAME FOR YOUR BAND! Internet surveys or randomly pulling words from the online dictionary is not the way.
In any case, these guys recorded their first album on an 8-track recorder from the 80′s. Their second album was made on a Tascam 388 and the whole thing was laid down in 14 hours. They have really made it in music due to their strong beliefs and hard work, and not from the vote of the American people. They weren’t packaged together by a Los Angeles talent organization – they worked their way up from nothing in Akron, Ohio. That is the sort of story that makes listening to their music a totally different experience for me.
Listen to these tracks: Everlasting Light, Next Girl, Howlin’ for You, and I’m Not the One. If you don’t care for extremely distorted guitar, you may want to try some other artists from this list. After listening to them, put the album away for three weeks and then listen again. Repeat until addicted.
Paolo Nutini – These Streets
This is a really rare case for me – where I heard an album by an artist, didn’t like it, but went back to an earlier album and liked it. Normally, under these circumstances, I wouldn’t have a lot of respect for the first album – especially since the second one was very raw and honest, while the first one is more of a pre-packaged pop album where Paolo is singing in a way that covers up his unique voice. On his next album, he let that voice out, and as a consequence, that album was staggeringly unsuccessful.
So I feel a little twinge of guilt when I listen to These Streets and get as much enjoyment as I do, but at the same time, I just really like it. It feels sometimes like the strange feeling you get when you realize that at 36 years old, you really like a song that is also very popular among junior high girls.
But I really don’t care anymore and I’ve really enjoyed listening to this album over and over again. I’d say my favorite tracks are Jenny Don’t Be Hasty, Rewind, New Shoes (that’s the one that the young girls like,) Loving You, and Autumn.
Ingrid Micahelson – Everybody
I had heard three songs by this girl before seeing her in concert last summer. Be OK was featured on several commercials, and her song Keep Breathing was the emotional climax of an episode of Gray’s Anatomy that despite my cynicism, actually was very moving. Her song Girls and Boys has been widely acclaimed by critics and other songwriters alike.
My favorite thing about this girl is her personality. She was one of the most entertaining small-concert performers I’d ever seen – so funny and at the same time completely genuine. When she announced that after a song she was singing, the band was going to hide behind the piano instead of leaving stage like a bunch of “a**holes,” waiting for the crowd to scream long enough to bring them back, I was sold. They were going to come out from behind the piano and sing a few more songs and that was it.
And the fact that she came out on stage to deafening playback of Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song didn’t hurt anything at all. It was a great concert, but several of us were very surprised at her New York City sarcasm and dry wit, since most of her songs have a vocal styling that is very simple, and often times sounds, frankly, like a little girl singing.
As the night progressed, and also as I’ve listened to her songs over and over, I was able to see (this is my opinion only) that Ingrid is a very sensitive person that uses sarcasm and jokes as a thin cover for her deep emotions about life and love. But we don’t get the facade on this album – we get the songs that are packed full of meaning and seem to easily touch that nerve that we may try to keep hidden.
But the night was very special to me when she came out on stage alone, and with nothing but a loop pedal, performed REM’s tune Nightswimming. She had done this song at a tribute concert to REM, and was by far one of the most obscure artists to be on the stage, but when the night was over, the critics were calling her performance the best of the event, and she had walked out to the middle of a huge stage with nothing but a microphone and a loop pedal. In a completely objective way, about the music and about the passion it takes to make it, I fell in love.
Favorite songs on the album: Maybe (which Layne covers and sounds better on), Men of Snow, Are We There Yet, The Chain, Mountain and the Sea, and Sort Of. That’s pretty much the whole album, but one more – my favorite is called Locked Up.
Jamie Cullum – Twentysomething
If you don’t have a Jamie Cullum album, now may be the time to go and pick one up. From his first to last recordings, Jamie is consistently excellent. Twentysomething is his first album picked up by a label, but his first is also very good. My brother Kyle gave me this cd for my birthday in 2003 and told me that his favorite song on it was Jamie’s cover of Radiohead’s High and Dry. I listened to the album for the first time while laying on my couch, staring at the ceiling half-awake. It may have been the fact that I was almost asleep, or that the tracks were just that good, or something else, but these songs have been imprinted in my brain. I’ve gotten every album that Cullum has ever done, but the reason I list this album is because of the best song on it, called All at Sea.
People that I know who have heard this song almost always quietly put it in the top 10 or 20 songs that they have ever heard.
I love it and hate it at the same time. I listen to it all the time and I can tell you every word, but the message of the song has been contrary to the course of my life for some time.
I’m all at sea
Where no one can bother me
Forgot my roots
If only for a day
Just me and my thoughts
Sailing far away
Like a warm drink that seeps into my soul
Please just leave me right here on my own
Later on you can spend some time with me
If you want to
All at sea
Who doesn’t desire sometimes to get away from everything? Up until 2005, I had been living my life like this, not letting anyone close. As I either listen to this song, or as I skip it when it comes up on shuffle, it always reminds me to enjoy what I can, but to keep myself fully in the present, in the moment. That is what I deserve, and what my loved ones deserve from me.
So there you have it. Some new music for you, or a reminder of some great music to add back to your playlists. Whatever associations you have with this music, go ahead and add the idea that it was these tunes that helped get me through a year in the third world.