The Magic of Mississippi Delta Blues (h/t Sparkle Stories “FIFTY”)

My wife and I subscribe to a wonderful storytelling podcast for our kids (ages 7 and 4), called Sparkle Stories. Imagine the best moments of Mr Rogers and Reading Rainbow, with a special emphasis on empathy, kindness and ecology at a kid-friendly level – that’s Sparkle Stories.  We love it.

The creators have invented many worlds- my kids’ favorites are a Junkyard Tales with animal characters who live at the city dump, and the adventures of Martin and Sylvia, who are both about my kids’ age, live in the country in a big house with lots of windows, and explore their environment in fun and novel ways.

So Sparkle Stories is great across the board, but recently they have released “FIFTY – The Stars, The States, The Stories.” And it is extremely awesome. I have thoroughly enjoyed each vignette of a historical moment or person from each state. Often the characters are nicknamed until the very end, for the benefit of a big “aha” moment (for the parents especially) where the famous historical figure is revealed.

Such was the case for the Mississippi story. For the purposes of what I write after this current paragraph, I will say this – I am a fan of music and I consume all the corresponding literature. For the last 15+ years I have devoured books, zines, biographies, blogs, reviews, articles, DVDs, lectures, liner notes, podcasts, and on and on about pretty much all genres, time periods and styles in the American music journey.

So when I say that this story is hands-down the best dramatization of a delta blues origin story I have ever across, I mean it. The story is called “Boll Weevil and the Blues.” Just the story alone is worth the $15 per month subscription, but you can also get a 10-day free trial here.

If hearing this story doesn’t turn you on to the blues, I’m not sure what will. Come for the story and stay for the joy it brings


Foxholes: Dark, Driving and Dangerous


Every great punk or hard rock song has to begin with that heavy, epic riff. It’s fundamental to the song’s identity and has to get the crowd energized from moment one. Classic riffs like “Search and Destroy” or “Blitzkrieg Bop” and more modern gems like “The House That Heaven Built” or “Icky Thump” do this really well – with searing, scorching guitar and a pulsing back beat that hit that dopamine trigger that music lovers crave. Especially if you’re a newer indie band trying to establish credibility, you’ve got to have something other than skinny jeans and weird hair to make the crowd turn their attention from their phone to the stage.

Des Moines’ garage band Foxholes’ latest single “Sunny” gets pretty close to That Epic Riff. (Soundcloud link here). What they bring in “Sunny” is a crunchy punch from the beginning that moves into a brooding 70s-era rocker – hearkening back to when indie rock and punk were truly underground and everything was being redefined. Foxholes matches the energy of their forefathers and has that inspired DIY feel. “Sunny” itself doesn’t have a catchy chorus or any definable structure outside of the double-beat hard riff, but listen well: many great records that went on to eventually sell millions were initially passed over by big labels because the suits in the room “didn’t hear a single.”

So, the creative energy is strong with Foxholes. Listen if you like the Strokes, the Hives, Japandroids, the White Stripes, or gritty old-school NYC proto-punk. Their self-titled sophomore album comes out on May 26th.


Copperfox’s Electric Mellow Indie

a0355279889_5This band was recommended to me as similar to Dum Dum Girls and Timber Timbre. I agree with both characterizations and would love to see them share the stage with either one. Maybe even The War on Drugs. Copperfox’s drums and guitar are sparse and elegant, overlaid with lilting alto vocals like a more pensive Liz Phair, which I like.

Copperfox started in Portland, OR but recently relocated to Nashville – I think you can hear both influences – the urban indie vibe and the gentle country crooning.

Here’s one of their older songs I especially like –  “My Heart” from the Roads Traveled EP. (2014) Their current single “Feel in the Void” from their Haunts  EP is also below.


My Heart

Feel in the Void

The Sad, Brilliant Legacy of Scott Weiland


For as long as I’ve known that the lead singer of the band Stone Temple Pilots is someone named Scott Weiland, I’ve known that that name would be pretty much always mentioned in context of cocaine and heroin. There was no Velvet Revolver without STP, there was no STP without Scott Weiland, and there was no Scott Weiland without drugs. It’s just something you knew if you were aware of music and pop culture as a teenager in the 90s. Bill Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky, OJ got away with murder, and Scott Weiland has a drug problem.

So it almost goes without saying that news of his death at what appears to be a cocaine overdose was not exactly a surprise. And in some ways, it’s the only way his story could have ended. It turns out that he just wasn’t capable of doing the Clapton thing, getting clean, finding god, opening a rehab facility in the tropics and inspiring thousands of people to get clean as well. I wish he could have found that peace, but he didn’t, and I accept that. I’m sad he’s gone, that I never got to see that fleeting reunion tour he was always talking about, but without him there are two memories I hold very dear that would have never happened. So, drugs or not, I have to pay homage to that.

My senior year of high school, some friends of mine from the marching band and drum line pulled together a version of “Interstate Love Song” for the end of year talent show.  They knocked it out of the park, and we left the show to a warm, Texas sunset that just continued the feeling of satisfaction – could life get any better? Right then, it couldn’t.

Then, during college, one semester in particular I was playing poker regularly and making a quick $5 or $10 a weekend. I remember going to the local Hastings used music section to spend my winnings, and they always had way too many copies of No. 4, Shangri-La-Di-Das and Core – never Purple. Until one glorious day – the clouds parted and Hastings had just one used copy of Purple hidden behind a bunch of other stuff. It was like finding a friend I’d been looking for for years. The case was pretty badly cracked, and the insert was wrinkled but I didn’t care. That was $6.99 I was definitely going to spend. To this day it is still the only STP album I actually own, and I still love it. “Vasoline” “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty” still top the list of their best songs for me, with “Love Song” at the absolute top for Weiland’s inflection, soulfulness, and one of the smoothest leading guitar licks in all of rock music.

I of course have no idea what Scott Weiland’s epitaph will be, and I have no idea what his true intentions were in writing “Interstate Love Song.” But I think to think that it’s him writing to his addiction, personified.  If so, the full lyrics allow him to make his own very poignant tribute. Read below. I think you’ll see what I mean.

Waiting on a Sunday afternoon
For what I read between the lines
Your lies
Feelin’ like a hand in rusted chains
So do you laugh at those who cry?
Leavin’ on a southern train
Only yesterday you lied
Promises of what I seemed to be
Only watched the time go by
All of these things you said to me
Breathing is the hardest thing to do.
With all I’ve said and
all that’s dead for you
You lied-Goodbye.
Leavin’ on a southern train
Only yesterday you lied
Promises of what I seemed to be
Only watched the time go by
All of these things I said to you

RIP Scott. Thanks for the memories.


The Song I Can’t Stop Listening To – Odessa – “Gather Round”

This dry heat. That hot wind. The expansive sky. A remote outpost half way between Ft Worth and El Paso.

This is where I live now – Midland, TX, 15 miles on Highway 191 from Odessa, TX. And that heat, this wind, that sky – is what I experience every day. And this physical surrounding is what Odessa, the artist, sounds like. She’s dry and sparse, but soothing and sweet at the same time.

I discovered Odessa’s music just after I got here, and the slow-strummed acoustic, the Spaghetti Western steel, and her lilting alto voice create this incredible soundscape that really mimics the land that surrounds me.

She is still emerging and establishing herself, so please give her your support. Enjoy the song.

Best Coast – California Nights

Now and then, we just need to get away. Not escape, but remind ourselves that it’s okay to just be happy for a minute. Summer is here and until the last week or so I had not found what I wanted listen to this season. Two American summers ago it was the Thermals and Telekinesis, and last year of course the entirety of summer was bathed in the brilliance of Lazaretto (with some Benjamin Booker and Ty Segall thrown in for good measure).

Really, this year’s been pretty dry for me musically. I haven’t actually loved any albums this year other than Father John Misty. I’m excited about My Morning Jacket and some other singles that have come out, but no albums have really grabbed me. (I also haven’t devoted a ton of time to keeping up with the latest and greatest, but still).

So, thanks be to the creative spirits of Best Coast for saving my sanity the summer of 2015. So much has happened relating to civil rights and social upheaval that listening music just for its own sake feels at once illegitimately selfish and at the same time, exactly what I need to get my mind off of the heaviness of, well, everything. Listening to Best Coast doesn’t allow me to escape from reality, really, it’s just that I can take a break for a minute, breathe a little, and remind myself that there are positive, upbeat waves of energy flowing too. That there are still good people keepin’ on doin’ their thing.

Best Coast is not political, and for once, I like that. The Cheap Trick and Joan Jett influences are definitely big and in general they’ve got a gauzy, electric garage-rock sound that just boosts the endorphins. They also remind me of the Lunachicks and to a lesser extent Josie and the Pussycats, which is fun. It’s definitely drive-home-from-the-show-at-midnight-with-the-windows-down music.

Basically the track list alternates between teeny-bop infatuation tunes, and mild breakup songs. Ah, if life were only as complicated as it was in high school! Also, if music could change everything for the better, it would come in the form of the flourish that drops at 1:17 on “California Nights.” Listen to it now, and enjoy letting all the negativity roll off, even if just for a moment.

Federale – Blood Flowed like Wine

Lent is here. I find myself wanting to listen to meditations on nothingness, emptiness, death and human depravity. Yes, actual depravity. Maybe John Calvin was onto something after all? No, he probably (definitely) wasn’t, but I am still in that emotional space of thinking about the limitations of human beings, the avoidable fact that we all die, and how that has been in expressed music. Here are some lyrics and a soundscape that have really taken me deep as I figure out how I want to approach Lent. I’m doing some coursework and just started a new job, so I can’t commit to the discipline of writing every day like I want to, but at least this is something. Or maybe it’s nothing? Har har. Enjoy. The lyrics make me uncomfortable, but hey, that’s Lent.

I’m not one of the faithful
I’ve only come for your wine
And I’d give my soul
For an endless cup
Show me where to sign

The preacher grew horns
His head like a goat
He passed me the cup
And the wine flowed like blood
As it poured down my throat

For your mortal soul
This cup that never goes empty
I slaughter the flock
And the blood flowed like wine
And I slash my own neck

Into a crooked smile
From ear to ear
Down my chest
And the blood flowed like wine
Until i was dry

Well the joke is on you
I’ll send all of my lies
I’ve lied
And robbed and cheated
And butchered my wife

So I’ll drink from this cup
And soon I’ll be lit
But the wine flowed like blood
Through the hole
That I cut in my neck

I’ve reaped what I sowed
So this is my lot
And I’m given the curse
Of an unbending thirst
But can’t quench my desire

So the joke is on me
The emptiness mine
My body’s a cup
That can’t hold a soul
A wither or fire

And the blood flowed through the aisles of the church
And the souls filled the steeple
They opened the doors
And the blood flowed like wine
From all the dead people