Auld Acquaintance Thought Upon… Regulators! Mount Up!

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So, as the year ends, I have decided to write about twenty years ago…

1994.

This was a pivotal year in music for folks my age.  “Alternative” music had peaked, and not only that, but it was sharing equal time on MTV with hip-hop stars like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 2-Pac, and Biggie.  All the while, the Beastie Boys straddled both genres with yet another masterpiece of their own.  “Grunge” was officially dead.  Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell were declaring the death of a genre they never liked being categorized under, and bands like Pavement and Weezer were calling for you to “cut your hair” and wear glasses “like Buddy Holly.”  Rock and roll hasn’t been the same since.  I argue that 1994 was it’s last banner year.  Where in 1991, bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana broke through to the mainstream, “jam bands” like Dave Matthews Band and R.E.M.-influenced Hootie and Blowfish created a world where frat-boys all across America could get in touch with their sensitive side.  Twenty years into his career, one of rock and roll’s greats released his second solo album, and The Man in Black found a new creative spark.  Finally, 1994 was a year of second comings.  A second British Invasion, a second Woodstock, and for the second time, punk became a “new” religion to America’s youth.

Just look at some of the albums that were released in 1994…

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When I think back on the music of 1994, I think about my younger brother.  That year, we actually had really similar taste in music.  The main reason being that in 1994, they actually played the music that I liked on the radio.  You see, there was an actual “alternative music” radio station then.  Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Oasis, Soundgarden, etc. – all played in regular rotation on a radio station in Greenville, South Carolina.  I listened to that station, so naturally – my brother did as well.  We heard the same songs, and bought the same music at the record store.  We didn’t exactly own the copies of all the same albums.  There were bands that I bought into, and bands that he bought into.  I was mostly reacting to what I saw on 120 Minutes on MTV.  He was reacting to what he heard on the radio.  We both bought some outright shit back then.  But, when I think back on some of the albums that he selected that I didn’t?  He did a pretty damn good job for a 12-13 year-old kid.  As I graduated high school, and he ventured through it, our taste in music saw some divergence.  Our Osmond duet would say he was “a little more Goodie Mob, and I was a little more Alternative Country (whatever that is).”  Our musical paths have crossed more recently over the last 10 years.  I was thinking the other day how interesting it would be if we gathered up our 1994 CD collection together.  It would be pretty amazing.


I feel that I should mention how important soundtracks were in 1994.  They were a huge tool for the music industry and generating an audience for the film.  Soundtracks were also a source of discovering new bands.  There were some classic soundtracks in 1994.  The Crow.  Pulp Fiction.  Natural Born Killers.  Reality Bites.  Forrest Gump taught the kids about the classics.  Above the Rim brought us “Regulate.”  And, of course… Who could forget this?


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Some people ask me… “Jon, how did you amass such a large music collection?”  The truth is, it has multiplied as my income has multiplied.  So, you do the math.  However, from 1992-1995… I was apart of this exclusive music club.  You might have heard of it.  Columbia House?  Yeah.  So, here’s the trick to amassing a large CD collection at a young age with no source of personal income – it’s a step-by-step process.  Cut out a Columbia House subscription card out of a magazine, or fill out a Columbia House subscription card that comes in the mail.  My parents may have called it junk mail, but I promise you, it was pure gold.  Select 12 CD’s that you want, and mail it in.  It only cost 1 penny!  (Again, this might not be how my parents recall it.)  Anyway, sign up two, maybe eight different times (under different aliases), and you are off to a wonderland of musical delight.  Just stay on top of those monthly selections, folks!  Nobody wants to get stuck with a copy of Bigger, Better, Faster, More! that they didn’t ask for.


Today we live in an age of immediate access to just about any source of media you could want.  If you’re a music geek like myself, it’s very easy to just get stuck in the now.  “It’s 2014, I don’t have time to listen to anything from 2013.  No, I’ve moved on.”  Luckily, I’m not like that, but I see that in a lot of today’s youth.  In 1994, we still had songs from 1991 or 1992 in heavy rotation.  It existed that way on MTV, as well as on the radio.  Even though Siamese Dream came out in 1993, that didn’t mean I wasn’t listening to it all the time in 1995.  It was because of the limited access that we had as consumers.  This was pre-Napster – pre-BitTorrent.  You got the most out of the CDs that you owned.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes I find it hard to keep up with my own listening habits in today’s music-consuming culture.  The early-90s had many of their own classics, but, the albums that were released in 1994 had greater staying-power.  Hell, I remember introducing folks in college or even after college that to Jeff Buckley for the first time – as much as 10 years after Grace had been released.  They didn’t even remember “Last Goodbye” being a Buzz Clip on MTV.  There are so many memories that I have attached to these albums.  I remember friends and I gathering together in a circle to listen to our friend Emily sing “Dreaming My Dreams” long after that album had been released.  I remember late-night drunken sing-alongs to Weezer’s “Blue Album” on my friend Jon’s porch.  I was at least a freshman in college then.  Sure.  I got rid of my copy of The Offspring’s Smash long ago, but Ill Communication?  No.  A constant fixture in the background of house parties all through college.  I talked earlier about my younger brother… He might not even realize it, but his first dance at his wedding was to a song from 1994.


I’m including a 1994 mix with this post.  It’s 3 discs worth.  You can download here.  I’ll have a streaming version available later.  The following albums and songs will not be featured, but at some point in 1994 played a prominent role in my life.

Under the Table and Dreaming – Dave Matthews Band

Hitchhike to Rome – Old 97’s

Sixteen Stone – Bush

Throwing Copper – Live

Pisces Iscariot – Smashing Pumpkins

Welcome to the Cruel World – Ben Harper

Smash – The Offspring

Purple – Stone Temple Pilots

Under the Pink – Tori Amos

Jar of Flies – Alice in Chains

Live Through This – Hole

Four – Blues Traveler

Day for Night – The Tragically Hip

American Thighs – Veruca Salt

Stranger Than Fiction – Bad Religion

Betty – Helmet

“Little Bastard” by The Ass Ponys

“Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow

“Secret” by Madonna

“Stay (I Missed You)” by Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories

“Regulate” by Warren G feat. Nate Dogg


The early 1990s was a time for serious people.  The excess of the 1980s had turned into a long apathetic hangover.  “What now?” so many asked.  It was an even more interesting time be a teenager.  The music of 1994 was a soundtrack to all those mixed-emotions.  The longing.  A longing to belong.  A longing to be a part of something more.  A longing to be loved.  There was a lot of longing back then.  I don’t long for much of anything anymore, except maybe a nap.  So, here I sit.  New Year’s Eve 2014.  Yet, I’m writing about twenty years ago.  It’s not that I’m avoiding 2014.  It was a great year.  A great year in music.  There were a couple of classics released this year that I will probably share with my grandchildren.  I’m not avoiding 2014 for personal reasons, either.  This year has been one of my favorites, personally.  My first wedding anniversary.  My first home (mortgage).  It’s been a busy year with some great surprises.  Maybe that’s why I am so inspired by this eve by my past.  Maybe because I can’t believe where I find myself now.  Maybe it’s because at 36 years-old I’m actually happier now than I ever could have been at 16.  That’s probably why the music sounds even better now.

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‘Tis the Season

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Annually, I make a mix of songs from my favorite albums released that year.  I usually make it for just a few friends who really like them.  I used to make full-fledged CD’s with actual packaged artwork.  The last couple of years, I’ve scaled back to digital releases only.  This year, I’m only posting via Spotify.  I will, however, make it available for download via special request only.

I purchased either digital or physical copies of about 50 albums this year.  Below are cuts from my favorite ten albums of the year.  Following that you’ll find my Best of 2014 Spotify playlist.

Lydia Loveless – Somewhere Else

Spoon – They Want My Soul

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire for No Witness

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!

tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack

Real Estate – Atlas

Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

The War on Drugs – Lost In the Dream

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

The Best of 2014

33 Vol. 4

It’s like that time that Merle Haggard started a band with Stiff Little Fingers.  What a supergroup.  They topped the charts with Beach Boys covers and sold out the Grand Ole Opry with odes to traditional Appalachian music.  It’s no wonder that Fiddlin’ Pete Williams’ great granddaughter is a Jawbreaker fan.  Now that one is a true story.  What made Jay, Jeff and Mike so special was not they covered the Carter Family, but that they probably put them on the same mixtape as The Minutemen.  Attitude.  Grit.  Style.  Hell, even how they embraced fashion.  They have a lot in common, Punk and Country.  Grandma Blues was always in the know on their doin’s and such, though.  It always made for a fun family get-together over the holidays.  Then that idiot nephew, Punkabilly, busted in the damn doors.  Tattoos and jet black hair – red roses on the suit lapels.  Who knows what his deal was?  Hell, he didn’t even know who he was.  Just another damn identity crisis trying to process his parents’ hand-me-down issues.  All I did was ask, “Would you mind passing me the mashed potatoes?”  He blankly stared at me, and mumbled, “I had a killer job in a backup band playin’ guitar in Branson.  Two shows a night brought the money to chase down sin.  Now it’s another weekend and I’m lonely at home – late night TV evangelist drone.  I’m healthy now but I really don’t know if I’ll ever be free.”

That’s when Grandpa Sahm stood up at the table and screamed, “Hell boy!  They call me King Turd up here on Shit Mountain, but if you want it, you can have the crown!”

The whole room erupted in laughter.  Cousin Strummer almost choked on his turkey leg.

I hear Punkabilly is dating Taylor Swift now.

You can follow their Instagram here or click on the image below…

Vol4

 

Or stream 33 Vol. 4 in its entirety below (some songs aren’t exactly the same based on availability on Spotify).

Like a Blue Man Out of Fictitious Hell: Fall Tour 2014… Part 2

Photographed in Nashville, 2/3/05

After a fun trip to Chapel Hill to see Tune-Yards, it was on to Spartanburg, South Carolina to see Jason Isbell & John Prine.  An amazing bill.  I’ve never seen John Prine live in person.  I had seen several performances on TV.  I was familiar with his reputation as a performer.  Chatty and charming.  As much of a storyteller with his stage banter between songs as he is through song – I was expecting to see a legend.  Mr. Prine did not disappoint.

The surprise came from the opening act who I was seeing for the 11th or 12th time since 2009 (I’ve lost track).  Sitting three rows from the stage (front row – orchestra right), I was expecting to see Jason Isbell open the show solo with this acoustic guitar.  Much to my surprise, he was accompanied by his full band – The 400 Unit.  Yet, the set Isbell & Co. delivered was far different from the usual guitar-slinging rock and roll show I’ve come to expect.  Instead it was a masterfully restrained set that showcased his strength as a songwriter.  Mostly consisting of songs from Southeastern, other highlights from past albums included “Streetlights,” “Alabama Pines,” and of course the DBT-classic, “Outfit.”  The showstopper of Isbell’s set was his performance of “Cover Me Up.”  It was met with a standing ovation from the sold-out auditorium.  As an opening act, Isbell delivered a performance that was easily one of my three favorite experiences seeing him live.

John Prine and his band took the stage with an unassuming presence, as if they were saying, “Hey guys, don’t mind us.  We’re just gonna play some songs.  You can listen if you want, it would be greatly appreciated.”  As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen John Prine perform on television several times (most recently here).  However, John has been through some major procedures due to cancer (one surgery within the last year), and so I wasn’t sure about his most recent condition.  By the first word of “Spanish Pipedream,” my concerns were put to rest.  John has taken criticism in recent years for continuing to tour and play the same old set of songs.  After now seeing him perform live in person, I can forcefully say – who gives a shit?!  I wouldn’t care if a man had only written 10 songs.  If they were as good as anything John Prine has written, that man could tour for 40 years and play those same 10 songs till he died on stage.  It wouldn’t bother me one bit.  So, sure, along with his routine opener, he played 43 year-old songs from his debut – “Sam Stone,” “Six O’Clock News,” “Angel from Montgomery,” and encore closer “Paradise.”  However, I didn’t expect to hear “Donald and Lydia” and it was his performance of “Hello In There” that was the highlight of the entire evening.

After performing “Grandpa Was a Carpenter,” John talked about all of the time he spent around his grandfather in his carpentry shop (as the song says).  So much time with him, in fact, that as he grew older (though still a young man) he would always gravitate towards older folks at social gatherings.  He just felt more comfortable around them.  “But, now, I’m one of them,” he said, and that’s when he poetically segued into “Hello In There.”  On his first album, alone, John Prine takes on the voices of many characters – even an old woman.  As a young man, he would perform this song as a character, but now, to the uninitiated, the song could be mistaken for autobiography.  It takes on such a different meaning, and a different feel now that he performs at the age of 68.  That wasn’t lost on a single soul in that auditorium.  It’s been years, maybe never, since I’ve been in a room so entranced by what was happening in that moment.  If Isbell’s “Cover Me Up” was an emotional kick to the gut, Prine had just ripped my heart out of my chest.

 


That night I had the pleasure of being accompanied by my good friend Scott and two members of a band he plays in – Center and Kenny.  Their band is the Kenny George Band – Kenny of course being the principle songwriter/front-man and Center plays lap and pedal steel.  All three guys worship at the very same altar as Prine and Isbell, so it was my pleasure to experience that show with them.  Scott is responsible for introducing me to Jason Isbell.  Before I saw him, I only had one Drive-by Truckers album, and it was after he left the band.  Scott and I shared a common fandom for Ryan Adams that goes back several years.  Back when I was squatting at his residence right after college, we’d make late night trips to the bar with Ryan Adams soundtracking our evening.  One time, in particular, I can remember six dudes piled into an old Jeep or SUV, windows down, belting out “Oh, My Sweet Carolina” at the top of their lungs for all of Rock Hill to hear.

Scott has had a number of musical ventures over the years.  A short-lived pop rock band that was formed at Winthrop, many musical duos, and many more solo performances at “Irish pubs” all over South Carolina.  He wasn’t alone back in the late 90s, staying up late playing Dave Matthews tunes.  There were many others back then.  There still are today.  However, I always enjoyed when my friends would just pull out the guitar at a party or in someone’s living room or at the events we used to attend as Episcopalian youth.  One night in particular back in the late 90s, I remember Scott asking me if I’d heard of John Prine.  That was the first time he’d ever mentioned anyone that we had in common who wasn’t on modern-day radio.  Then, he played “Angel from Montgomery” because it was one of the many tunes he picked up from his Uncle Leo.  Then we would return to conversations on Dave Matthews.  Over the years, random mentions of The Replacements would take place.  Then came Ryan Adams… and I have to admit it was when Scott fell for Ryan Adams, that he and I really made a true musical connection.

That’s why it’s been great seeing Scott play with the Kenny George Band.  I’ve seen them play twice as a full band now (most recently this past Saturday).  You can really tell that Scott is having a blast.  Scott has an incredible knack for singing harmonies.  He and Kenny sound excellent together.  They are a talented group of guys.  Kenny is a very promising young songwriter.  Don’t get me wrong, his existing output is already quality stuff, but the newer songs get better and better.  There’s a natural artistic progression happening there.  I’ve written about my college days, and how I was obsessed with Americana/Alt-Country-Whatever-That-Is music.  In recent years, it’s slowly made a comeback and almost dominates my music listening time.  That’s why the timing of Scott playing in this band couldn’t be more perfect.

I’ve said before (and it won’t be the last time), that this blog is about sharing.  I’ve created several playlists that anybody is welcome to download, and a couple of folks have.  Today, I’m going to ask you to purchase the first EP by this band.  It’s called Gunshy, and it’s available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.  If you write the band, maybe they will mail you a physical copy (featuring album art by yours truly).  The Kenny George Band is a band that I truly believe in.  I don’t blow smoke up anybody’s ass when it comes to music, and I can truly say I’m a fan of this band – no matter who plays in it.  When I saw them open for American Aquarium in Augusta, I was standing in the crowd beside one of Scott’s old friends – Brian.  Brian is a solid music fan, and has pretty damn good taste in music.  At one point, he turned to me and said, “I’ve seen every band that Scott has played in.  This is by far the best one.”  You said it, Brian.  You said it.

 

Like a Turtle Out of Hell: Fall Tour 2014… Part 1

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I love going to see live music.  Every year, I try to see as many shows as I can.  Over the years, I have had to travel two hours or more to see a lot of the bands I really want to see.  Don’t get me wrong, Charlotte has a few decent small venues – The Visulite, The Neighborhood Theatre, The Chop Shop…  However, most of the club shows that take place in Charlotte are of the contemporary folk/bluegrass or jam-band variety.  For a steady stream of modern (“indie”) pop/rock, you really have to look to The Orange Peel in Asheville or a few different venues in The Triangle.

So, due to recently getting married and taking on a mortgage, it’s been more difficult to get out to as many shows in 2013 and 2014.  I really wanted to get a nice Fall Tour in this year.  You know, line up at least four shows in October and November that I really wanted to attend.  It has turned out to be a pretty fun fall.  Fall Tour is always a great excuse to get out of town with the wifey and/or catch up with some good friends.  This fall, it was especially a blast to get up with one friend that I haven’t seen in at least five years…

My buddy Mike texted me one day in October to see if I wanted to go see tUnE-yArDs at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro (Chapel Hill).  Mike recently joined the rest of humanity on Facebook, and trust me, humanity is better off for it.  Much to my delight (and to the delight of all his friends), he has been posting inspirational videos that help us all get up off the mat to take on life’s greatest challenges.  You can watch some of those videos here.

When Mike and I met years ago, he was pretty much breathing, eating, smoking, and bathing in bluegrass music.  I had a steady diet of Americana and “alt-country” music, so I could meet him halfway there.  I can’t remember on which musical artist we found common ground (maybe Gillian Welch?), but I know that I’m eternally grateful to Mike for one thing...  He introduced me to the world of John Hartford.  Mike is a musician, and a fine one at that.  An excellent flat-picker who also has an affinity for a good sing-song.  Every once in awhile he’d bust out a version of “Steam Powered Aereo Plane,” and I was hooked.  Mike is the perfect person to play a John Hartford tune, because just like Hartford, Mike has an ingenious sense of humor.  As the old adage goes, “it takes one to know one.”

As a musician, Mike has an appreciation for the craft, and therefore an appreciation for the unique talents of the world.  So, it was no surprise to me (maybe a little at first), that Mike would tell me he loved tUnE-yArDs.  See, when it comes to unique talents, Merrill Garbus is easily one of the top five all-around talents in music today.  Not just “indie” music – all music.

I met Mike and his girlfriend, Logan, up in Lexington.  I’ve never been to Lexington.  I’ve heard more than my fair share about Lexington barbecue, so it made perfect sense that we would eat Mexican food before hitting the road.  On the road, the three of us did what I have always done around Mike – we talked about music.  Random things, like the first album we ever bought, how much I love pedal steel, concerts we had been to recently, and our shared love of Fine Young Cannibals.

It had only been a year since I was last in Carrboro, but I couldn’t even recognize the area surrounding Cat’s Cradle.  It was strange.  I’ve been to Cat’s Cradle close to 15 times to see shows.   My first trip up was in 2002 to see Spoon.  Carrboro has more or less maintained the same feel over the last 12 years, but this most recent visit revealed that some changes are definitely in store.  Cat’s Cradle as a venue has gone through some extreme changes over the last couple of years.  Taylor and I saw Sharon Van Etten there two years ago, and the venue had been opened up revealing more of the original structure and allowing space for at least 250 more people.  It’s opened up even more since then by relocating the bar.  Sometimes I miss the old Cat’s Cradle with the low ceiling and cramped floor.  There’s been a solid reduction in the level of intimacy, but the room definitely sounds better.

The opening act for the evening was a squirrel that did tricks.  It was an astounding sight.  I’ve never seen a woodland creature have such command over the stage.  He seamlessly made his way through a maze of obstacles, did countless card tricks, and finished up his set with a juggling act.  He juggled twelve walnuts in perfect choreography to the closing medley on Abbey Road, making this guy look like a complete amateur.*

I don’t know how tUnE-yArDs expected to follow that act, but they put on an amazing show.  It’s nothing short of a privilege to see Merrill and her band perform their extravagant compositions.  Five people create the sound one would think an army was necessary for.  Their stage presence was gloriously eccentric, just as I had hoped.  It only adds to the otherworldliness of Merrill’s talent.  Crowd favorites were obviously the recent Nikki Nack track “Water Fountain” and Whokill tracks “Gangsta” and “Bizness.”  My favorite moment of the evening, however, was the majestic performance of “Time of Dark.”  It was truly larger than life and completely caught me by surprise, because it was not one of the songs I was expecting to stand out.  

It was an absolutely amazing show.  The performance was spot on, the room was perfect, and the crowd was pretty great.  Aside from being a victim of what I hope was accidental grinding, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.  It was great seeing live music with Mike again.  Nothing beats going to shows with people who really appreciate them on the same level that you do.  It was a successful adventure for the three of us.

We were all pretty beat heading back to Lexington.  I was trying not to doze off, but I felt like I had been up for 48 hours.  Truthfully, I still might have been slightly hungover from a trip to the bar two nights prior.  After a long ride back to Lexington, and now facing the long drive back to Charlotte… I found myself in the middle of a staring contest with my own mortality.  I’m old.  I can’t do this stuff like I used to, but I’ll be damned if I won’t keep on trying.

*This may or may not have actually happened. 

Islands in the Stream

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A quick update.  I’ve created an account for this blog on Spotify – digitalgramophone33.  All volumes of my playlist series, “33,” are available there.  I have no guilt about it, because I have purchased all the music that I’m sharing.  Some of the songs in the playlists are missing because they aren’t available on Spotify.  But, just a few…

Here are the links…

33 Vol. 1

33 Vol. 2

33 Vol. 3

So, yeah, follow me on Spotify if you prefer to stream your playlists as opposed to downloading them.

Do You Remember… (Sorta) Dancing in September?

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One year ago today, Taylor and I were married.  It was a wonderful day.  Really.  It was a wonderful day spent with family and friends.  My best.  My favorite.

Needless to say, the music for the event was my obsession leading up to the day.  To save money (basically the only place we saved money), I just put together roughly 5 and half hours of music that was meant to soundtrack the evening.  The iPod Classic was going to be our DJ.  The first hour would play in the background while ladies and gents sipped on cocktails (or in reality… got loaded on wine and Highland Gaelic Ale).  The second hour would play during dinner.  The next 3 hours was supposed to be the dance/party section.  I can’t tell you how difficult it is to put together a dance playlist ahead of an event.  Maybe I should say… I can’t tell you how difficult it is for a music geek like me to put together a dance playlist ahead of an event.  It’s an arduous process of mixing together slow dance songs and upbeat party numbers, trying to account for all people of all ages, and – most importantly – making a list that doesn’t have too many cheesy wedding reception music cuts.  No matter how cool your particular friends and family are… cheesy wedding reception music is a must.  Without fail, the most couples danced during “Wonderful Tonight.”  It was a low point for me that evening.  My advice to anybody getting married?  Just hire a DJ.  A DJ is important.  You need somebody to gauge the crowd, and be responsible for playing the right cut of music at the right time.  Being slave to a playlist that has been predetermined is really not the best way to guarantee a fully occupied dance floor.

In honor of this day, I’m sharing the playlists for the cocktail/dinner portion of the evening.  It’s a collection made up of mostly love songs, a few songs that talk of mountains, a few songs that reference the food choice of that day, and finally – the song that scored our first dance.

Download here.