Here it is. Merry Christmas.

Just beautiful. Thanks, Hurray for the Riff Raff.


This Ray Price Interview Is Why I Love Country Music

This is it. I haven’t been able to really explain my love for country music, especially the really old traditional country – Hank Williams, Tex Ritter, etc – but this interview from 1999 does it better than I ever could.  Please do listen, don’t just read the transcript.

I love it for the simplicity, emotion, and plainspoken style you hear, its representation of the South,  the way that romanticism and reality come together elegantly. Terry Gross is an expert interviewer, but I think here even she was on occasion struck speechless at the stories and amazing life experiences housed in one man’s flesh and bone.

RIP Ray Price. I wish I’d known your music (Heartache by the Numbers, Crazy Arms) before you died, and wish we had met. Maybe we still will.

Photo: Sunday Morning Herald

Phil Robertson Just Lost Me

I’ll let the other bloggers deal with the homophobic rant in Phil Robertson (The Duck Commander)’s recent GQ interview. What really got my goat was this:

Phil On Growing Up in Pre-Civil-Rights-Era Louisiana

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

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Um, sorry. That’s an extremely ignorant thing to say. THOUSANDS of black people in the south were singing the blues in the 60s. Here are ten voices, the smallest sampling, the ones who made it big. But even for the ones that made it, they weren’t just trying to move records.

Mahalia Jackson (from your own state of Louisiana, Mr Robertson) – We Shall Overcome


Nina Simone – Strange Fruit


Lightnin’ Hopkins – Cotton 


Son House – Grinnin’ In Your Face


B.B. King – Every Day I Have the Blues


Ray Charles – Hard Times 


Blind  Lemon Jefferson – Black Snake Moan


Mississippi John Hurt – Lonesome Valley


Chuck Berry – Worried Life Blues


 Muddy Waters – Mississippi Delta Blues

The 7 Best Albums of 2013

I think one of the purposes of a year-end list (besides gross self-aggrandizement) is to suss out which musical artists in our culture have staying power beyond the year of their release and which really don’t. I prefer the non-competitive lists – ranking is always kind of arbitrary and just generally difficult.

I think we also try to immortalize the albums we just love. From start to finish, you never skip a track, and when it’s over you want to listen to it again right then. Here’s my list, alphabetically.

Aoife O’Donovan – Fossils

A summer album at its finest.  Gentle folk, delicate and romantic, with Aoife’s alto voice that just soothes. Fossils does not win the award for best album cover of the year, but she completes succeeds at capturing the waves and the wind, the leaves in the trees, the evening stillness, the gloaming, the long days and sweet nights with someone you love. Start with Red & White & Blue & Gold – it’s pure bliss – the rest of the album follows suit.

Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic 

It’s not a concept album, but it’s seamless. No one else today captures the vintage feel of early 70s Rolling Stones while keeping it relevant and relatable to “kids today.” The group has had by far the most unnecessarily dramatic year, with cancellations and already rumors of a breakup, but the tight West Coast psychedelic sound they created on this record? Can’t nobody take that way from them.  This one’s here to stay.

Jason Isbell – Southeastern

The indie Southern-Americana rocker from Drive-By Truckers and The 400 Unit frontman has gotten sober, stepped out with his solo record, and MAN, is this a guy with some stories – wow. And the uncanny ability to tell those stories in poignant, potentially transformational ways. The songs here probably have the most staying power as far as images, people, and feelings just getting into your head and not going away for a long, long time. It gets really sad in parts, but there’s also triumph amid heartsickness, and ultimately a transparent authenticity that’s hard to find in any genre.

Josh Ritter – The Beast In Its Tracks

I’ve written at length about this one since it came out in March, and I kind of didn’t listen to it during the summer and fall, but then one day I came home to “Heart’s Ease” just wafting off the record player, in a warm room with soft light, and I was reminded just how very, very good this music is. Its overall theme of relationship-gone-wrong doesn’t ever detract from the overall gentle and uplifting tone from start to finish. I marvel at his witty jabs, the way you can almost feeling him smiling through the record, and his completely unjustified sense of hope and peace.

Patty Griffin – American Kid

I didn’t even know she was an Americana legend until I saw and read about “Ohio.” I learned then that she also has this love affair thing going with Mr Plant. How, considering my background, I missed “the queen of Americana” AND the current lover of rock’s most iconic front man, I’ll never know. But I’m very happy to have started on American Kid. It aches for connection to family and rightly tributes her own heritage, like pulling together old, tattered photos and bringing them to life in audio form with patience and skill. There are slave stories, drinking songs, traditional weddings and spiritual metaphors. People call me an old soul – probably because I absolutely love artists like Patty Griffin. If you’re on the hunt for rich life wisdom and gripping musicality, look no further than American Kid.

Telekinesis – Dormarion

Indie power pop at its finest. Quite a palate-cleanser after Isbell, Ritter, and Griffin! Fresh, fun, definitely not too emotional. Just the right amount of young optimism and experimental sounds. I never liked snyths in modern music until this came out – the fact that he (Michael Benjamin Lerner) self-produced, recorded, and played every instrument himself, and without almost any tired navelgazing is most impressive. And he just seems like a nice, happy guy. His contentedness and refreshing innocence comes through on pretty much every track.

The Lone Bellow 

OK, time to get serious again. It’s mournful, but harmonious. Has its world-weary loneliness throughout but also its gospel redemption. This really is church music for millenials. The backing vocals swell, acoustic guitars twang and buzz, and dynamics alternate from almost unhinged choral intensity to perfect, gentle unison whispers. You just can’t leave unchanged, and after your first taste, you keep going back again and again.  See what I mean? Church.

It’s a been a good year! So excited for 2014.

6 Extremely Good Christmas Albums

These are some legit Christmas albums. Not too much schmaltz and not many cliches either. Just intelligent versions of old standards, and fresh perspectives that work their way into your consciousness and bring an appropriate amount of happiness and nostalgia.

James Taylor at Christmas

Here is a crooner in the very best definition possible. There’s something about his somber, high tenor that is just perfect for Christmas, a nice respite from the Rat Pack mainstream onslaught. I spent one hellish Christmas season in a retail store at the local mall, had to listen to this multiple times a day, and I still really, really, like it.

Gotta Hear:  Who Comes This Night, River, The Christmas Song

She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas

A very She & Him Christmas indeed – every time I hear regular She & Him music, it makes me think of Christmas. Honestly it’s kind of ruined their other music for me, I like this one so much. It’s uber hipster cool, with simple harmonies, lots of give-and-take vocals and a warm vintage feel. Perfect for background music a party, but also turn it on when the house is empty and notice the happy feelings multiply.

Gotta Hear: Christmas Day,  Christmas Wish, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,

Pink Martini – Joy To The World

Anyone who doesn’t know/love Pink Martini’s quirky jazzy music can totally start with this album. (And it won’t ruin their other stuff, promise!) The group brings in a lot of Jewish heritage and Yiddish lyrics, which make up some of my favorite tracks. And they’re not afraid to embellish with their own improvised lines as well. An absolute holiday essential.

Gotta Hear:  White Christmas Part 1, Elohai N’Tzor, We Three Kings, A Snow Globe Christmas, Congratulations (Happy New Year).

Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas

True to his form, the album is ridiculously long, with 42 tracks and 5 discs in the original release. We only own #5, which is enough, unless you want an entire playlist of Sufjan joy, which  actually would not be all that bad, come to think of it.  Even if you stick with #5 you still get the full experience with bouncy horn sections, warm strings, plinking keys, reverent introspection, hilarious rollicks, and self-conscious musings in a good blend of originals and classics.

Gotta Hear: Get Behind Me Santa, Christmas in July, Sister Winter.

Asleep at the Wheel – Merry Texas Christmas Ya’ll 

It’s a funky western-swing Christmas with these goofy guys that manage to make me say “you know, that’s really not too bad” year after year. I always think what they do will be too silly or a little bit *too* Texan, but I keep coming back. It’s all about the sax and the boogie piano. And Willie Nelson’s perfect affect on “Pretty Paper.”

Gotta Hear:  Xmas in Jail,  Pretty Paper, Jingle Bell Boogie, Swingin’ Drummer Boy. 

A Charlie Brown Christmas 

It’s a classic, and no Christmas season is complete without that iconic piano melody and the chorus of children singing cheerfully.

Gotta Hear: Christmas Time Is Here, Fur Elise, Christmas is Coming, Linus and Lucy. Skating. 

Happy listening!

My Favorite Songs of 2013

Definitely this year has seen unexpected chart-topping pop breakouts in the form of Lorde, Miley, Daft Punk, and a bajillion other collaborations with Pharrell.

Their success is a given. I’m trying to keep this blog courting to a smaller audience that looks for artists with gritty authenticity, forward energy, sharp intelligence and probably a smaller production budget. Basically the best songs in my list will get my blood pumping a little bit, make me think/laugh, paint a very vivid picture, or otherwise have a staying power beyond radio repetition. This is the soundtrack to my 2013, in somewhat chronological fashion. A Spotify playlist follows, and Youtube videos fill in the gaps.

Jim James – “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)”

Funky, ethereal, soothing, and sharply intelligent lyrics.

Lone Bellow – “You Never Need Nobody”

The harmonies just stay with you, it drips with mournfulness and beautifully encapsulates a human experience.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – “We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)”

Really got my engines running in the cold freezes of January. Endless singalong chorus.

Haerts – “Wings”

Pure 80s childhood nostalgia. The video, which makes the song, might as well be footage of me and the stuff I did growing up.

The Mowglis – “San Francisco” 

Seeing them do this crowd-pleaser at a sold out $0.94 show at the Crystal with my bro-in-law was a definitely highlight of the year. 

Anna Weatherup – “Nearer”

Pretty much the best song possible for coping with the loss of a family member.

Josh Ritter – “Joy to You Baby”

He smiles at pain more bravely than any artist I know. How a marital breakup yields a song as beautiful as this is an amazing testament to his emotional health.

Lake Street Dive – “Seventeen”

The coolest opening act I’ve seen all year (w/ Josh Ritter at the Crystal). This song was the highlight of the set. And, with the exception of Taj Mahal at the Bluesfest, the sexiest musical thing I’ve seen all year as well.

Patty Griffin – “Wild Old Dog”

Got the album for my wife for Mother’s Day and ended up kind of stealing it and obsessing over it for most of May/June. This was the not the only one that completely floored me.

The Thermals – “Born to Kill”

Comes off hot like an engine block on a dragster ready to race. Immediately immersive.

Foxygen – “No Destruction” 

Better than their breakout indie hit “San Francisco,” I hummed this neo-psychedelic meditation often in the week after Lou Reed died.  “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”

Phosphorescent – “Song for Zula”

This one was so much a part of the first half of my year that feels like it’s been in my life a lot longer. A standard Sunday morning staple on KINK’s Sunday Brunch. 

Telekinesis – “Power Lines” 

The absolute go-to high-energy track for late spring/summer. Driving over the Columbia river with the setting sun to the west, and Mt Hood to the east, and this blaring over the speakers. 

Mavis Staples –  “I Like the Things About Me”

Lyrics that make me smile and a beat that shuffles nicely with predictable soulful warmth and Jeff Tweedy’s production quality. It was mesmerizing to witness her powerhouse delivery at the Waterfront Bluesfest.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Mary Lambert) – “Same Love” – I’ll never forget my white middle-aged male Episcopal minister rapping this song from the front of the church during a sermon this summer after the Supreme Court made their historic rulings on gay marriage.  And the happiness of “She keeps me warm….” just stays in my head for hours.

Aoife O Donovan – “Red and White and Blue and Gold” 

Definitely the most romantic song of the year. Perfect for a summer night under the stars and a fire pit. Or at Edgefield with Garrison Keillor (amazing show).

Bombino – “Amidinine”

For the way the guitar weaves and sustains exotic layers with incredible musicality. West African spunk and soul with Dan Auerbach production.

Miranda Lambert – “All Kinds of Kinds”

I got to drive around this awesome old Ford pickup this summer, and would pretty much exclusively listen to mainstream Nashville country on the radio. This was the highlight of my secret indulgence.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – “Better Days”

These guys have never lacked forg depth, and go a little deeper, a little more soulful with this top single from their third release. Bought the CD just for this one and found lots of gems.

F*ck Buttons – “The Red Wing”

This track totally woke me up to the possibilities in electro-trance music. I never get tired of it; definitely has energy to spare.

Savages – “She Will”

First heard this via NPR in the summer and still haven’t gotten over the ghoulish vocals and metallic U2-esque guitar. An aural assault, with relentless echo and hi-hat smashes.

Hurray for the Riff Raff – “Crash on the Highway”

Maybe my absolute favorite of the whole year, a song pulled directly from life experience, wanting to be home yet happily dealing with the present. Live at the Doug Fir it was impeccably delivered. Such happiness.

Spirit Family Reunion “I’ll Find a Way”

The set closer for when opening for Hurray. I have never heard a Portland crowd do a singalong so well. 

The Front Bottoms – “Twin Size Mattress” ‘

I wanna contribute to the chaos…’ I made this line my email signature message back in September and it’s still there.

Wild Feathers – “The Ceiling”

Great blues, great harmonies, with an unusual amount of dynamism.

Pearl Jam – “Sirens” 

I’m beyond impressed that Eddie Vedder can still get to that super high note midchorus. The whole song is perfectly brooding and electric – gives me chills every time, especially on the radio late at night.

Jason Isbell – “Flying Over Water”

I’m kind of amazed that this didn’t win Americana album of the year. This is one of at least four perfect songs on the record. I could easily include “Relatively Easy” “Stockholm” or “Super 8.” Very, very emotive work.

Moon Hooch – “Number 9”

So funky, love the saxophone. I also love the fact that they are pretty much exclusively buskers outside subway stops in NYC.

Courtney Barnett – “Avant Gardener” 

A witty, focused ramble about how a mundane morning working in the garden turns into in a trip to the ER and a meditation on the user-friendliness of asthma inhalers and bongs.

Sleigh Bells – “Bitter Rivals”

A punishing, bombastic carnival sound  that comes from just two performers. Almost grating to the ear, almost. Feels like the opener to the boxing match of the century or a bare-knuckle political brawl.

Thee Oh Sees – “Toe Cutter Thumb Buster”

That dirty, hard-charging lead guitar riff reached out and grabbed me in the first 5 seconds of listening. Still haven’t brought myself to put the CD on my Amazon wish list for fear that the cover art alone will offend my relatives

 The Woolen Men – “Her Careers” 

In the vein of Parquet Courts without the stoner lyrics.  I missed seeing these guys open for the Thermals at MFNW, but became a fan through the simple fact of their being on that bill and listening to their latest on Spotify. This song has been the anthem of my expanded musical palette and fully exemplifies the sound I’m more and more open to these days.

Snow Music, Snow Day

I’m at work and my daughter is off to school but some other local districts are delayed or closed today for the first snow of the season. I got out to walk our dog around 6:15  and it was swirling and light, but by 7:30 we had a solid 1-2″ and driving was precarious.

I love snow, just snow. This Texan boy didn’t see much of it in his growing up, and when it did come it came with ice and death and danger. Out here in the PNW it comes all by itself, falls slowly, covers the Doug Firs, piles up softly next to the sidewalk, makes our tough logging/trucking town transform into a charming west coast wonderland.

Snow music adds to the magic. It should be bright, uplifting, beautiful. It will have an acoustic or lo-fi flavor and stark, distinctive vocals. It should find a way to be warm and nostalgic without a sad or wistful tone. It’s time to play and run and inhale deeply and eat snow and make fudge and sit contentedly with someone you love by a fire.

Here you’ll find Josh Ritter, Dylan (father and son), Cash, Damien Rice, Bill Morrissey, and so many more troubadours to bring a warm smile and layers upon layers of wonder.