Monday, December 21, 2009

An Eye-Opening Lesson in Country Music

When I realized Wilco's "Summerteeth" album came up as Country on iTunes, I almost had a heart attack. Heresy! Certainly no album that I had listened to countless times was Country in disguise. It was as if broken-down pickup trucks, countless bottles of Jim Beam and throngs of buxom blondes in denim jackets were hiding behind the captivating melodies of my favorite songs.

But I really liked the album. Hence my dire, internal struggle.

Up to that point, I had associated Country music with what I heard when I flipped past Moose 96 on the radio. It all sounded the same (inconceivably drippy), and I came to assume that all Country music was worthy of detesting.

If Wilco was considered country, either Apple's system of musical classification was faulty or I would have to attempt to be a little more open-minded about particular genres.

My biggest mistake in this Country music debacle was with what I classified in the genre. As it turns out, Bluegrass is Country's father - far more traditional, upright and wise. He's also pretty disappointed in how sappy and flavorless his son turned out. Bluegrass leans heavily on fiddle, banjo and mandolin, whereas Country tends to rely solely on a guitar. Now you know.

Although I'd pick bluegrass every time, it's still impossible to completely write off country. It represents a huge historical element of American music history. You can't say no to a genre that claims Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Like any genre, this one has its ups and its downs, its classic can't-say-no artists and it's embarrassing cookie-cutter talking (or singing) heads. And, like any genre, the crappy stuff is played on the radio.

Even after serious investigation and a new musical outlook, I still think it's fair to separate "Pop Country" from the rest of the genre. (You're cute, Taylor Swift, but it doesn't work for me.) I will also assert that iTunes does not know its folk from its country from its bluegrass.

But it's okay. I'll take another round through "Via Chicago." You can call it what you like.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Rhythms and Rhymes of 2009

I've started an annual tradition this year of making a mix of songs that came out in the last year that I really liked. In general, the popular music of the year was kind of terrible (remember this? Or this?), but there were some redeeming tunes (Am I right?) along the way. A lot of really good and interesting stuff got overlooked, but with the nature of the music industry it's hard to catch everything.
Here's a list of the songs on my 2009 mix:

Monsters of Folk: Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.)

The members of Monsters of Folk certainly weren't thinking modesty when naming the band. This supergroup is made up of Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, solo performer M. Ward, and Mike Mogis, who's appeared with bands like Bright Eyes and The Faint. Monsters of Folk is one of my favorite of the modern freak-folk genre and I can't wait to hear more of it.

Phish: Backwards Down The Number Line

Phish is back! I've always preferred live music, so most of the stuff this band has produced has treated me well in the past. Joy is a studio album, so it's not quite up to snuff as far as their other releases go. I just couldn't resist adding a song considering they've been apart and not recording for so long.

Paolo Nutini: Coming Up Easy

Of all the pop singer/songwriters out there, Paolo has got to be
my favorite. His style is sweet and genuine, and any of his songs makes for a good, uplifting listen. Maybe it's the charming Scottish accent, but it certainly doesn't take long to fall for Paolo.

Mason Jennings: Pittsburgh

Nobody writes lyrics like Mason Jennings does, and "Pittsburgh" is a testament to his talent. He describes various traumatic adolescent experiences with phenomenal imagery and tangible emotion. "Blood of Man" is a fantastic album, and I would recommend to almost anybody. It's definitely one of my favorite albums this year.

If you could spend your life with a big group of hippie friends driving around the country and playing music, would you do it? These guys are living the dream. The band, headed by Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos, released its first album, "Up From Below," this year. Every song on the album is guaranteed to make you grin like a fool, and I can't wait for more.

Weezer: Let It All Hang Out

Say what you will, but Weezer's one of my all-time favorite bands. And although I wasn't thrilled with Raditude, this song is reminiscent of their older albums. It's just goofy enough, and you can't say it isn't catchy.
I'll stand by this band forever, Weezy or not.

Wolfmother: New Moon Rising

I just got into the Australian trio Wolfmother this year, and it's refreshing to hear a modern, sturdy rock band. The vocals and guitar wail on "New Moon Rising," and the whole album is really well-done. I'd love to hear this band live.

The Flaming Lips: The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine

Another good psychedelic rock song from a really talented group. "Embryonic" has nothing on Yoshimi, but it's still a good album. There's a great video of the band in the studio at NPR's Morning Becomes Eclectic.

All of my music-snob friends have messed themselves over Them Crooked Vultures. I'm getting to that point, but still working on it. The band, another supergroup, is made up of John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age. The album is exactly what you'd expect (fantastic) and they're already working on a second.

Telekinesis: Coast of Carolina

This is by far my favorite song of 2009. It gets better every time I listen to it, and trust me, I listen to it a lot. The song describes the confusion of a big city, and the thirst for open spaces. You can taste how much frontman Michael Benjamin Lerner yearns to be on that coast. Listen to this one, and then listen to it again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ukulele Boy!

This one is fast on its way to viral video fame, but I wanted to make sure that nobody was missing out.

I can't wait to see what happens to this kid in the
future. Clearly, he's got cool parents who hopefully won't let him get caught up with anyone from

Hold out, young ukulele virtuoso!
You're worth more than that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Weezer's Rivers Cuomo in an accident

On Monday, the Weezer tour bus was in an accident. Rivers Cuomo is still in the hospital, and his daughter and her nurse have suffered minor injuries. Check their blog for updates, and as a get-well-soon gift to Cuomo, buy a Wuggie!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Six-Gun and a Freight Train on Grand River

He wore an old plaid shirt, brown leather shoes and a pair of faded Levi’s with Marlboro Reds in the back pocket. Sweat dripped off his beard in the hot September sun, past the harmonica on his lips and Martin guitar at his waist to the sidewalk below.

He’s like something Woodie Guthrie would have written about. A boy graduates from high school at 17, leaves home to ride the rails. He spends two years on his own, going from city to city and playing his guitar and harmonica for spare change.

He’s a vagabond. A drifter, of sorts.

But when Jack Grendel left, he wasn’t looking for any sort of title. He was looking to live. He wanted to see the world, be on his own and learn about himself. It’s when you don’t have the pennies to call home, that’s when you discover who you really are. That’s when you stop just being your parents’ son.

Now, as a sophomore at MSU, Grendel’s still interested in the experience. He’s studying History, but without a particular career in mind. In East Lansing, the real education doesn’t happen in the classroom. It happens in places like the sidewalk outside The Peanut Barrel on Grand River.

That’s where Grendel spent a lot of time this fall: on the sidewalk playing his guitar and harmonica with an open guitar case in front of him and a sign that read “Scramblin to pay my rent.” People pass by, some look up and smile, some toss a few coins. But everybody notices when Grendel growls a tune and pounds his guitar.

Playing on the sidewalk, Grendel makes about $10 an hour, and all of it goes to his rent.

Grendel describes his style of music as six-gun and a freight train. It’s influenced by some of the greats – Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Muddy Waters – and some recent musicians – Conor Oberst and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Grendel plays some songs he’s written, some he hasn’t. But he makes every song his own and writes extra verses to the covers he plays. Folk is passed down through generations, he says. It’s meant to be changed.

Outside of the sidewalk, Grendel plays at small local venues in East Lansing and his home in Traverse City. You can listen to his music on his Myspace.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Macpodz Groove at Mac's Bar

If you have ever seen The Macpodz, you probably remember. Whether it’s because of the band’s funky, upbeat energy, the improvisation breaks or the flute, a party with The Macpodz is not easy to forget.

Over their four years as a band The Macpodz, based out of Ann Arbor, has created a unique musical and onstage style. They play a high-energy fusion of jazz and rock music that’s totally danceable, as shown by the audience members any time the band plays.

One thing’s evident from seeing a Macpodz show: every person on stage is a master at his instrument. The band may lack discipline as a whole, but can easily pull off a show relying on improvisation and the individual talent of the musicians. The ad-libbing on stage only perpetuates the band’s groovy, entertaining onstage character.

On Thursday night at Mac’s Bar, the band opened their set following Cloud Magic with “Nine Lives,” a song not released on any of the band’s four albums. The band played through some of their older, beloved songs like “You Got Me,” new ones like “Six Doll Hairs” and broke into some halftime jams and an impressive, albeit extensive, drums and percussion break. Towards the end of the set, the guitarist from Cloud Magic Dave Menzo and harmonica player Craig Griffith sat in.

The Macpodz rely on festivals for exposure, and have played at big festivals like Rothbury and 10,000 Lakes and smaller, more local, festivals like Dunegrass and Harvest Gathering. They like the relaxed atmosphere of an outdoor festival and like knowing that they’re almost guaranteed an audience and some new listeners. Outside of festival season, the band tours the Midwest playing every chance they get.

The Macpodz will be back in Lansing on December 6 playing at Cram Jam with The Ragbirds, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus and Griff & John’s Afterhours Experience. In the meantime, check out the band’s music at their Web site and Myspace and make sure not to miss the next show!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Once Was Enough

The Swell Season, the duet of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, made an adorable movie, "Once." It follows two lonely European musicians while they meet, have a pseudo-romance, record an album and move on without each other. The soundtrack is moving and sweet, and the duo won the 2007 Oscar for Best Song Original Song for "Falling Slowly."

But their most recent album, "Strict Joy" is painfully redundant. Hansard's songs are overly-emotional and dreary, and Irglova's wailing just isn't cutting it for me any more. Every song on the album sounds like every other song on the album, which sound just like every song from the soundtrack.

Maybe I liked the soundtrack so much because I could connect the songs to scenes in the movie. "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" just wouldn't be as listenable if it didn't bring me back to that scene on the bus where Hansard plays his haggard, albeit well-loved, guitar.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Winston Audio at Mac's Bar

It was an early show on a Tuesday night, but Winston Audio wasted no time getting to the core of their music. The band played for a small crowd at Mac’s Bar in Lansing, and immediately filled the room with a unique sound: one part grunge, one part Southern rock and just a hint of eerie, circus-like keyboard.

The band isn’t new to the local scene – guitar player Daniel Gleason is a Lansing native so they tour the area like it’s a second home.

The rest of the members of Winston Audio are from Georgia, which is reflected in their sound. The band’s music is aggressive and honest, almost noble in its consistency. It’s not predictable by any means, but every song is true to the band’s grunge influences and Southern roots.

On Tuesday, the band started out with “Distortion”, a new song not featured on their album The Red Rhythm. They also played songs from the album, notably “Hey Ann,” written for a friend of bass player, vocalist and lyricist Daniel DeWitt who was killed in a car accident.

DeWitt’s lyrics are good, and he executes them with purpose. Every word is necessary, emotional. His writing is influenced by his faith, and a lot of the songs focus on honest reconciliation with God.

The name “Winston Audio” – an anagram for “I wait on sound” – has been around longer than any of the band members. There has been some form of Winston Audio since 2001, but with an entirely different lineup. In 2006, the group had a major reconstruction and found its place in the modern grunge vein.

Winston Audio sets its own parameters for its music; the members have a specific sound in mind and they want to stick to it. The songs are structured, and it’s from that structure that the originality emerges.

My favorite song of the night by far was “On My Trail.” It’s a slow, emotional song with a beat so deliberate that nobody watching was left standing still. I was sad to see this one end and will definitely be looking out for this band to come back to Michigan so I can hear them play it again.

Winston Audio also features Zach Brown on guitar, Jon Cole on keyboard and Shane Lenzen O’Connell on drum set. You can listen to the band and purchase their full length album on their Myspace page.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weezer's Undone

Weezer, Weezer. Why have you forsaken me?

You, Weezer, of the great Buddy Holly and Say It Ain't So. I remember watching the Hash Pipe video and rushing to buy the album. I was only 11 and already sold for life. The self-titled blue album is one of my Top Five, and I can sing along to almost every song you've written. You've always been a favorite, a constant source of happiness in my life.

I even made a practice of defending you! Sure, the music is simple, but isn't it charming? It's just too quirky, too basic, almost too primal to really dislike.


Well, so I thought. But really, Weezer, I've been hard-pressed to find any of your later releases that measure up to anything in the first three albums. Maladroit was at least in the same vein of Weezerdom, but who were you trying to kid with Make Believe? Such a pity.

But the red album! That was pretty good! I could feel you coming back around to your roots, dancing between your classic upbeat style (Pork and Beans) and this heavy despairing feel (Heartsongs) you adopted. I had faith, Weezer, that we were going to pull through.

That was before I heard about Lil' Wayne. I would like to say that I trust you enough to use the Weezie/Weezer thing to the best possibility, but I'm just not sure.

So keep fishin' for that sound, Weezer, and whether I like it or not, I'll be behind you. Tomorrow, when I rush to the store to buy your new album Raditude (yes, I still sometimes do that), I'm going to go in with an open mind. Maybe this new sound you keep fishin' for is going to go somewhere great. I'll give it a couple of spins and let you know soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mason Jennings at the Magic Bag

At 10 p.m. Saturday night, we in the crowd at the Magic Bag in Ferndale were beginning to get anxious. Anni Rossi, the opening act had already played, packed up and left for Chicago, and in moments Mason Jennings would take the stage.

Jennings opened with "Blood of Man," the title track to his new album released in September 2009, which appropriately ignited the room with dark energy and an electric sound that the album explores.

The Magic Bag is a cool venue. It's small, has plenty of places to sit or stand and has tiered levels so there's a good view of the stage from anywhere in the room. No binoculars necessary.

Throughout the night, Jennings played songs from his earlier albums on up to Blood of Man. When he started picking the campy classic "Your New Man," the atmosphere turned from that of a typical concert into one like a small-town pub where everyone's got an arm around his neighbor and is singing and sloshing to the music.

After two encores, Jennings and his band wrapped up their set with "Hospitals and Jails," a romantic tune from the album Simple Life. It was sad to see him leave, but impossible to be disappointed with such a show.

Jennings, 34, dropped out of school when he was 16 to pursue a musical career and has released eight albums. His songs tell stories like nobody else's, and it's hard to believe he didn't live the tragedies he describes so eloquently.

Listen to Jenning's songs on his Web site. I especially recommend "Jackson Square" from Boneclouds, "How Deep Is That River?" from In The Ever and "Hospitals and Jails" from Simple Life.

Here's a video from the show:

Sunday, October 18, 2009


This song is like magic. I can't explain it, but it's been featured on NPR and it's been in my head for days. Take a listen!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New albums out today!

The Flaming Lips and Bob Dylan each have a new album out today. I've been really into both of these bands lately (although I'm well aware that new Dylan will not be the same as old Dylan. Not bad - just different.) and really hoping to hear more stuff. I'll get back to you once I hear a little.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

La Blogotheque Videos

Here are some videos a friend turned me on to recently. I love the style (and the music of course).

Find more at La Blogotheque's Web site.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Mix Tape

I'm trying not to sound like Rob from High Fidelity, but I've been noticing lately just how much of a role the mix plays in my life. Just this month I've had a new friend mix me a CD to try and get a feel for my taste in music, an old friend mix me one of songs we've heard at concerts and a former love-interest mix me one dripping with unrequited passion (we're talking Layla, Here's To The Night, Separate Ways and Escape here. Journey AND Enrique Iglesias).

Mixing a CD for someone is touchy. You have to be careful that the songs don't contain any hidden meanings, that they properly show off your musical prowess and that they're songs the person will actually like. It's a delicate process.

But if you need some advice, take it from Rob:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rock Ahn

This summer I went to the Ark in Ann Arbor to see Priscilla Ahn with a friend of mine. Talk about an awesome night. First of all, the Ark is really cool. It's small enough to talk to the performers and it's run by volunteers. And then Priscilla Ahn walks out on stage? Even better.

I have a hard time getting my mind to wrap around Ahn. She is tiny and beautiful with this light, airy voice that floats over the music. She's also a little crude and hilarious. She might pull out a kazoo or a ukulele, tell stories about being awkward, high and drunk at parties in L.A., or maybe sing a song she wrote about boobs. That is one entertaining show.

Ahn used loop pedal a lot through her performance. She'd harmonize with herself, producing whimsical melodies that are impossible to not love just a little bit.

Definitely check out Ahn's album "A Good Day."

Old Town Bluesfest!

I only made it out to Bluesfest for Saturday night, but it was great. I caught Stan Budzynski & 3rd Degree, Biscuit Miller & the Mix and Kenny Neal.

Biscuit Miller & the Mix really did it for me. The sound was a mix of funk, blues and rock and the band's energy was so tangible I put some in my pocket and brought it home with me. They had a huge crowd in front of the stage dancing and shouting every time Miller asked "is it all right if I get my party on?" And he definitely did get his party on; the band threw beads in the audience and sold light-up sunglasses at their merchandise stand.

Every musician got a chance to solo during the set and they were all great. Tyler, a younger guy playing electric guitar, really stood out. He's got a voice like honey and solos to match.

Kenny Neal played next, and I ended up standing stage right and watching the drummer the whole time. He was great. His rhythms were technical, complicated and they fit the tunes perfectly.

Every one of Neal's songs were solid and it was clear that this band really enjoys playing together. That may come from them all pretty much being related, but it's refreshing nonetheless.

Overall, it was a great time and you should try to make it to the next Oldtown music event. Pictures will be up once I find the cord.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Stuff I'm excited about

Just a few upcoming music events I'm hoping to get to:

September 18-19, 2009 Old Town Bluesfest in Lansing

This should be a good one. I love any kind of outdoor festival scene, big or small. Bluesfest is free and has lately been drawing a big crowd. I'll be at this for sure, at least on Saturday if not both days. Look for pictures!

Thursday October 8, The Macpodz at Macs Bar in Lansing

The Macpodz are a jam band out of Ann Arbor. They released their first album in 2007 and have played at some festivals like Dunegrass and Wakarusa. I've never seen the band, but I love what I've heard (listen to some of their tunes on the site) and am expecting a great show.

Saturday October 10, an Acoustic Evening with The Verve Pipe at The Ark in Ann Arbor

I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to make it out to this one, but who can pass up the promise of some 90's throwbacks?

Saturday October 24, Mason Jennings at Magic Bag in Ferndale

I happened to pick up the album Boneclouds by Mason Jennings at the library about a year ago and love it. The lyrics are poetic, his sound is unique and he looks like the kind of guy I could hang out with. I can't wait to see this one.

Friday, September 11, 2009

First Post

Welcome to the first post of my first blog. Do I expect it to be documented in future anthologies of literary works? Maybe. But will it give me an excuse to spend time learning and writing about what I love? Oh, absolutely.

What I love. Music, in this case. I love to listen to it, learn about it, see it played live, listen to it some more, even to play it once in a while. I'll be writing about new albums, concerts I attend, the East Lansing music scene and anything else that happens to strike a chord (pun intended).

So I hope you like it, and maybe even choose to give me a little feedback. Go forth, listen up and check back later.