Friday, April 26, 2013

Spring Songs 2013

Spring should be about “happy” music. The first warm and sunny days always have me running to grab the Best of the Allman Brothers, REM Green, and Matthew Sweet 100% Fun and Girlfriend. Of course, buried deep under the jangling (or sliding) guitars and the sugar-sweetened melodies lie some melancholy lyrics.

So today, while listening to Dawes, Stories Don’t End and The Music is You:  A Tribute to John Denver, the combination of sweet melodies and melancholy lyrics felt perfect.

A Little Bit of Everything from the previous Dawes album, brought tears to my eyes the first time I heard it. And as long as I’m paying attention, it still brings on the water works pretty much anytime I listen to it. The only other things that can guarantee this are The Luckiest and Magic (by Ben Folds and Ben Folds Five respectively) and pretty much anything written by John Denver or Jackson Browne (at least up through The Pretender).

The Music is You: A Tribute to John Denver
For Denver, it’s the melodies and chord changes as much as the lyrics. The songs remind me of being a kid and riding with my dad in our first cassette-player equipped car. This morning, while listening to Evan Dando singing Looking for Space, my mind was pretty much blown. Worlds collided as a voice from my high school years, sang a song from my childhood with lyrics about struggling to find your place in the world as a young adult.

And then a few minutes later, I looked into the back seat as my eldest had tears in her eyes listening to Sunshine on My Shoulders. And it was Train singing it! Train! Clearly there is no greater testament to a well-written song than when a band as craptastic as *Train can turn in a compelling performance.

Clearly, I have a vested interest in this album. John Denver holds a special place in my heart and the album features contributions from some of my favorite artists. But it’s worth a listen. My stand-out tracks are Evan Dando - Looking for Space, My Morning Jacket - Leaving on a Jet Plane, and Emylou Harris and Brandi Carlise doing Take Me Home, Country Roads. My youngest daughter has been requesting that we listen to Country Roads over, and over, and over again. I can't blame her.

Dawes, Stories Don’t End
Let me be clear. Stories Don’t End was my most highly anticipated release of 2013. Sure, I was also looking forward to Iron & Wine’s Ghost on Ghost and a few other releases. But the previous Dawes album, Nothing is Wrong, is easily my favorite album of the last few years. And Taylor Goldsmith may be the best songwriter of his generation.

At first listen, I was a little let down. The album didn't have as many songs that immediately hooked as Nothing is Wrong. But the more I listen, the more I love it. I read recently that Taylor had been digging into the Willie Nelson catalog as he wrote these songs. And I think I can hear the influence. I wonder if he was also digging into Elvis Costello. There's something about Just My Luck and Side Effects that reminds of King of America and Blood & Chocolate-era Elvis Costello. It's in the phrasing, the melodies, and the chord changes. Either way, I love it. But even with hearing these influences, I hear a songwriter finding his own voice. And if he can maintain this trajectory of writing, the next few albums are going to be amazing.

But seriously, go buy this album now! If you want just a taste, check out Bear Witness, Someone Will (my favorite song of the year), and Just Beneath the Surface.

*Train, for when Nickelback is too rocking but you need to find the worst possible music out there.


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