27 February, 2007

Going Out to the Country (Sorta)

I’m a fan of lap-steel, rebel-country swing, “Free Bird” style guitar ramblings, and mountain bluegrass jams. Like most of my musical favorites, my country music picks aren’t necessarily the most popular. Even when the music is made by popular bands, most people don’t admit listening to the songs I enjoy. I’m not a particular fan of Taylor Swift or Rascal Flatts, but I do enjoy the Old 97’s and the Dixie Chicks. I love the instrumentation, the careful guitar playing, and the lyrics (when they make sense.) Here are a few bands that use the country music influence to their advantage:

Great Lake Swimmers mix country music with soft-spoken folk vocals, and hit gold on their new release Ongiara. The first song “Your Rocky Spine” keeps a steady rhythm guitar going in the background while the melody dances all around. The lyrics are reminiscent of a less popular and less obvious “Your Body Is A Wonderland.” “Changing Colours” sounds like it’s sung by Mazzy Star and played smoothly like a lullaby. The oddest thing about Great Lake Swimmers is that they capture this country feeling from Toronto, Canada. But, I suppose their music isn’t really that odd when you remind yourself that Neil Young is from Canada.

Leroy Justice, isn’t a man with a ridiculously awesome name, it’s a band with ridiculously awesome music. They remind me of Johnny Lang mixed with an Apollo Sunshine that delves a little less in psychedelia. Their songs are all different, but the overall feel is one of joyous celebration in the face of pain. Yes, they get down blues style, but quite a bit of gospel is added into the bargain, and they swing like no other on the first half of their album (Revolution’s Son.) Of course, it all amalgamates into something newish and great to hear.

Check out these guys for now, and I’ll have more great music for you in the near future!!

20 February, 2007

I Feel Fine

Sometimes it’s okay to just feel okay. Life is not made of extremes alone. But I swear, by the time you finish this playlist you’ll feel awesome. Here are some songs for those transition days when you’re just not sure where you fit:

“Fear of Heights” by Apollo Sunshine. The band captures that feeling of transition from child to adult, and that balance you have to achieve in adulthood. What is maturity/adulthood, and as an adult when can you act like a child? Thoughtful and touching.

“I Feel Fine” by the Beatles. It speaks for itself, completely noncommittal.

“Watching the River Flow” by Bob Dylan. Very bluesy, but the narrator is fairly passive. He doesn’t know what he wants to say, he knows where he wants to be, but he’s just going to sit and watch because “this old river keeps on rolling, though. No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow.”

“Keasbey Nights” by Catch 22. Remembering times that were not particularly happy, but still feeling nostalgic. I know the feeling. Old memories are comfortable, even if they are not particularly happy memories.

“Assholes” by The Damnwells. These guys seem somewhat resigned to the fact that “everybody grew up and turned into assholes”, but still bitter. This song is dead-on, I love the lyrics and the rebel-country swing. My favorite line is: “Is this what you call free? Is this why you keep bothering me?”

“The Long Way Around” by the Dixie Chicks. I didn’t like the Dixie Chicks until I heard their latest album. It moves beyond country music, and the lyrics are awesome. This song always makes me feel good. Someone else understands.

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” by Elvis Costello. Can’t we all just get along? Everything doesn’t have to be a battle.

“Lullaby” by Jack Johnson and Matt Costa. I love this song, because it’s beautiful and comforting. These guys always make me happy.

“Save Your Generation” by Jawbreaker. Do you ever get completely frustrated with your peers? This song is good, because it addresses that frustration in a positive way. Best lyrics:
“There is plenty to criticize,
it gets so easy to narrow these eyes,
but these eyes will stay wide,
I will stay young,
young and dumb inside,
I’ve just begun to forget my lines.”

I also love, “your leap of faith could be a well-timed smiled.” I live by so many of these words.

“The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World. I’ve loved this song since the moment I heard the first lyric. The funniest thing is that this song made Jimmy Eat World famous. Either a ton of people feel this way, or no one pays attention to lyrics.

“Bigger than My Body” by John Mayer. I find so much of Mayer’s music inspiring. Besides being a great musician, he also writes some amazing lyrics. This song captures that feeling of wanting to soar, but running up against obstacles. The chorus is great:
“Someday I’ll fly,
someday I’ll soar,
someday I’ll be,
so damn much more,
‘cause I’m bigger than my body gives me credit for.”

“Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog a.k.a. Jim Henson. Any other version of this song is stupid compared to the one sung by Kermit the Frog. He hits the sentiment dead-on, and doesn’t make it sound contrived. In many ways this is my theme song.

“Knowledge” by Operation Ivy. This song is succinct perfection. The moral parallels one of the great lines in my favorite movie (“Say Anything.”) Lloyd Dobler doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life, “but at least [he] knows that [he] doesn’t know, you know?” I love Lloyd an I love Op Ivy. Here’s the best line imho:
“We get taught to decide,
just like,
as if,
I’m not gonna change my mind.”

“True to Your Heart” by Stevie Wonder and 98 Degrees. From the “Mulan” soundtrack (which I love, btw) this song always makes me feel good. Stevie Wonder’s voice is spiritual, and just the fact that the song goes along with the story of “Mulan” makes it awesome. Sing it in the shower!!

13 February, 2007

Django, The Man

Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt - born January 23, 1910 in Belgium - is one of the most influential jazz musicians to come from Europe. Both violinist and guitarist, Django created a gypsy-jazz guitar sound influenced by his childhood spent in a gypsy camp near Paris. A guitar legend using a Selmer Maccaferi acoustic guitar for most of his life, Django’s brilliance came from his ability to solo and improvise around a steady rhythm. This talent was showcased on such hits as “Daphne” and “Minor Swing.”

Reinhardt overcame more than a few obstacles in his career. In the early years Django badly burned his hand, and throughout his life he was unable to read music. These trials did not stop him from pursuing the life of a jazz musician and becoming a legendary guitarist. For may years, Django played with violinist Stephane Grapelli, starting the The Quintet of the Hot Club of France in 1934. The Quintet played original tunes as well as covers of Louis Armstrong hits enjoying a fairly successful run, but dissolved in 1939. Later in his career, Django toured with Duke Ellington in the United States, but was not met with much interest.

In 1953, Django died, a victim of stroke in Paris. After only 43 years of life, he had created a jazz guitar-playing style that would influence musicians across the globe for years to come. Oddly enough, Django’s music has been featured in such movies as Chocolat and The Matrix Reloaded. Despite his poor welcome in the United States, Django Reinhardt has affected American music with his infectious and unclassifiable guitar playing. Noted musicians from Carlos Santana to Jerry Garcia have claimed Reinhardt as an influence. My personal favorite Django Reinhardt tunes are “Rhythm Futur”, “The World Is Waiting For the Sunrise”, and “Menilmontant.”

For more information regarding Django Reinhardt, read his short biography on Allmusic.com or a longer bio on Wikipedia.org!