Ward To Your Mutha

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”

I know – it’s a totally overused and obvious quote – but sometimes it’s true.

One day, I looked around and realized that I was fan of a specific guitarist and I didn’t even know it. It may not be a name you are familiar with, Michael Ward, but you’ve probably heard him play. Somehow he has been a part of four projects that I have absolutely loved; He co-founded the early 90’s alternative rock band School of Fish, he was the lead guitarist in Jakob Dylan’s awesome band the Wallflowers, and has played in bands backing the legendary singer-songwriter John Hiatt and the incredibly talented Ben Harper.

Listen to these samples of his work and you can see why I was a fan, even if I didn’t realize it:

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11 in 11

Just prior to the closing curtain of each calendar year, I use this blog to compile a list. When I started, it was the top five things that Billy Mays yelled at me about. But since he passed away in 2009, I retired that topic and have struggled to come up with another one that worked. Last year I shared with you my favorite music released in 2010. I liked that one. It worked for me, since music is essential to my everyday existence. So that is what I have decided to run with again this year.

The phrase “11 in 11” holds a special meaning for me this year I suppose. 2011 was the year that my St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th world championship. Maybe that’s why I decided to choose 11 songs for the list this year instead of just 10. Unfortunately, even with the additional selection – it’s just not enough. There were just too many really good albums released this year. So keep in mind that there are some omissions simply because there wasn’t enough room, including Fleet Foxes and Yo-Yo Ma.

So, here they are, in no particular order – my top eleven albums released in 2011: (Take your time and click the links to hear some of the songs you aren’t familiar with.)

 

The Decemberists: The King Is Dead

I didn’t even realize that I enjoyed the Decemberists as much as I do until I bought this album. Colin Meloy and company make awesome, story-telling, American roots-driven music with diverse influences including R.E.M. and Gillian Welch, who both make appearances on the album.

Listen to Calamity Song

 

Adele: 21

At this point in her career, everyone is familiar with Adele, which typically in my book is not a good thing. The deal is, regardless of everything else, the girl has talent! Her songwriting is top-notch, and that voice… my goodness that voice! It is nice to see a true talent getting recognized in the public’s eyes. Too often that doesn’t happen.

Listen to Rolling in the Deep

 

Amos Lee: Mission Bell

The line between sweet clean folk music and pure soulful R&B has never been walked so perfectly as it is when it’s done by the incredible Amos Lee. This album is fantastic – definitely one of my most played albums of the year.

Listen to Flower

 

Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin’

This former member of Tony! Toni! Toné! Goes above and beyond with some powerful throwback R&B sounds on this album. Especially after seeing him live on Austin City Limits, I maintain that this guy is an old-school band leader from the same stock as James Brown. Great record!

Listen to Stone Rollin’

 

Foo Fighters: Wasting Light

We are living in the digital age, right? Then how is it that the year’s best hard rock album was recorded entirely on analog tape in Dave Grohl’s garage? That is either a testament to analog rock & roll, or evidence of just what a good band the Foo Fighters really are.

Listen to Arlandria

 

Ryan Adams: Ashes & Fire

Thank goodness Ryan’s retirement from music only lasted a few years, because this is one of the strongest albums he has released in a long time. I used to marvel at how prolific he was; writing and recording new music so quickly, but maybe a little time off allowed him to take his time and return to his former “Whiskeytown” greatness.

Listen to Lucky Now

 

Gillian Welch: The Harrow & the Harvest

Only artists as amazing as Gillian Welch and David Rawlings can make an album that sounds familiar and old-fashioned as well as utterly original all at the same time. This is an album filled with gorgeous, sad, empathetic story songs – wonderfully written and beautifully played.

Listen to The Way It Goes

 

Wilco: The Whole Love

Exactly what kind of band is Wilco? What kind of music do they typically make? Sometimes it’s hard to tell – and don’t even try to guess what their next album will be like! They have gone from jangly country pop to progressive experimental rock and back again, gaining and losing fans along the way. The Whole Love is a bit of a throwback to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in my opinion; experimental, a little crazy, a bit noisy, but strong.

Listen to I Might

 

Iron & Wine: Kiss Each Other Clean

By Sam Beam’s own admission, this is a pop album – a slight departure from the whispered acoustic folk music that made him famous – and one filled with songs that sound like they could’ve been something your parents listened to way back when. And that is a compliment. This is a great album!

Listen to Tree by the River

 

The Black Keys: El Camino

If I had to pick a favorite album of the year right now – It would probably be El Camino. I thought last year’s Brothers album was a massive breakthrough for this extremely talented blues-rock duo. But, in my opinion, this one blows it away. Catchy riffs, driving rhythms, inspired melodies… El Camino has it all.

Listen to Gold on the Ceiling

 

R.E.M.: Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982–2011

Okay, so I might be including this one primarily for sentimental reasons. (I don’t think my list is the only one that did though.) In September, one of my favorite bands in the world announced that they were breaking up. So this double disk retrospective seems like a nice farewell – succinctly capturing their career in a nice little black & white package… even though it breaks my heart a little.

Listen to We All Go Back to Where We Belong

Five On Friday: Team Avett

I am a little short on time this week, but I thought I would pop in this morning and share a quick Five on Friday playlist.

On the 25th of October, my wife and I – along with a small group of friends and our nephew – went to see an Avett Brothers concert. It was incredible. Their genre-defying music was great, and the amount of raw talent and energy that they exhibit at a live show is breathtaking. Yet, many of my other friends still don’t know who they are! It’s a shame really. So instead of wishing that you all knew what you were missing, I decided to give you a short, 5-song sample.

Enjoy!


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Five On Friday: 1991

Two decades ago my life and popular music both changed forever – almost simultaneously.

My biggest concern at the time was that my marriage was ending. I was too young to be a divorcee, but then again, I was too young to be married and have a baby girl too. But sometimes things just are what they are, and you do the best with what you’ve got.

(This blog was originally much longer, going into much more detail about my life in 1991, but I decided this morning that it was just too personal to post on the internet. That’s also why I’m a bit later than normal getting it out there.)

But since music was and is part of my life (see previous post) – that very painful year had a soundtrack. Two of my favorite bands in the world released fantastic albums that even many critics hail as among the best in their respective catalogs. REM released by far their biggest commercial success, Out Of Time – and U2 released the incredible Achtung Baby.

But as much as those two albums mean to me personally, it was the less established bands that really made that year what it was. They came out of nowhere and injected a much needed spark into a music scene that was getting old and worn out. 1991 was the year of plaid flannel and dirty hair. It was the year that Grunge and Alternative Rock rose to power.

Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Matthew Sweet all released albums within just a few month time-frame that affected me on a very deep and visceral level – and also affected the trajectory of the music industry as a whole.

For me – it was personal. These albums exhibited the energy, emotion, and youthfulness that I needed to deal with the situations that I faced at just that moment. And for that reason, they will always be a part of who I am.

Here is just a taste of the soundtrack that was 1991:


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Play That Funky Music, White Boy

You know what? I blog a lot about music! I blog occasionally about my family, my geekdom, baseball, other forms of entertainment, and religion. I almost never blog about politics. But music seems to dominate this space.

Why?

Certainly not because I am a musician. I never could play an instrument. I took piano lessons, attempted to play the bass guitar after receiving one for Christmas, bought and briefly goofed around with a guitar, tried to learn the harmonica with the help of a Klutz book… I guess I just don’t have it. So that’s not it.

It is not because I have a deep knowledge about all things musical. I don’t know music theory or history. I am no smarter than anyone else when it comes to music. No one in the world seeks my musical wisdom. So that’s probably not it either.

I guess it is just because I love music. Maybe it’s even more than just a love – it is a connection. My life has an ever-evolving soundtrack. Every moment of my life has certain artists or songs or musical genres attached to it. It is in my DNA – intrinsically part of who I am.

Growing up, my father exposed me and my brother to all kinds of music; everything from the Delta Blues, to Motown, to Rock & Roll, to Outlaw Country, and a plethora of other stuff in between. We didn’t think that was strange – we thought it was normal. What I find strange is when I run across people who don’t really listen to music. I can’t even comprehend that! And I am discovering that it is actually more common than I originally dreamed possible. Personally I can’t imagine life without music!

I guess that’s why my tastes are all over the place. My iPod looks like an old record store had a clearance sale and I just bought whatever I could get my hands on. But I like it all – and it always seems like there are a hundred or so more that I really want and don’t have yet.

Many of my musical loves can be traced back to specific times in my life – I might even be able to explain why for some of them. I can’t listen to Tori Amos without reminiscing about a specific friend I made in college that we called “Colgate”. I can’t hear Dr. Hook without remembering the garage that my dad turned into a family room and the component stereo that took up a good portion of the wall. The U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday conjures up images of the time I spent at Church Camp in my youth. Uncle Tupelo makes me remember the time I lived alone, between marriages, lonely and afraid. Everything and everyone seems to be linked in my brain to a song, a musician, an album… something musical.

In fact, later this week, I am dedicating my Five on Friday post to when a very pivotal moment in my life intersected with a very pivotal time in music history. Intrigued? You should be!

Check back on Friday & see what I’m up to!