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Showing posts with label music. Show all posts
Showing posts with label music. Show all posts

2017/08/06

Summer Soundtrack

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Where I live the weather changes often, so when summertime comes around, it's a reason to celebrate warmer temperatures and more chances to be outdoors. There just seems to be an inherent understanding that it's a season to slow down a bit, relax, and have as much fun as possible. For me, part of that is a good road trip; I love to travel as often as I can and will take whatever opportunity pops up during the summer. There are some songs that I've kept on replay over the past few months that--if I was packing up and heading out right now--would be part of my adventure playlist. In the meantime though, I just keep replaying them and daydreaming about my next getaway.



Some Kinda Wonderful--Betty Who

I've been a fan of Betty Who's music over the past couple of years, but I'm still slowly making way through her discography. Stumbling on to this song recently, I was hooked. A catchy, pop-py, fun four minutes from the Australian artist, I use the word "catchy" very purposely here. Once you get caught up in it, this is one of those songs that you hear a few times and then you just can't stop listening to. Not only that, but the video for it seems to embody the whole spirit of the summer: breaking out of the routine of everyday life to stop whatever you're doing for a little while and have a really great time. And c'mon, admit it--an impromptu party in a boring public place would be incredible fun.




No Such Thing As a Broken Heart--Old Dominion

I can't say that I'm necessarily a country music fan, but there are a handful of artists and songs that I really enjoy. Flipping through the radio one day, I caught the tail-end of this song, immediately liked its message, and tried to find out who it was by. I didn't have any luck at first; I mistakenly thought it might be sung by Hootie member-turned-country artist Darius Rucker (see why I don't label myself a big country fan?). Turns out that it's by the group Old Dominion. If there's one thing that's universal to everyone, it's the challenges that each of us inevitably face in life. This song is an acknowledgement of that, but more importantly, an upbeat reminder to stay strong and keep going through the daily struggles; after all, the song begins with a spoken lyric of "Keep your chin up." And with a fun video that's a cartoonish nod to old-school video games, I've had this one on repeat too.




Jump in the Line--Harry Belafonte

From the first few notes when "Jump in the Line" bursts forth, it's hard to suppress an urge to get up and dance--probably thanks to the repeated "shake, shake, shake" lyrics. A Calypso song that has been covered by many artists since it was composed around 1946, I'll admit that I first heard it in the closing scene of the spectacularly kooky Tim Burton film Beetlejuice. I don't know if it's my love for the movie that's endeared this song to me ever since, or if it's totally the merit of Belafonte's version. Whatever the case, even though the tune is good for listening to any time, there's something about playing it in the summertime that really brings out that festive mood.




Bless My Heart--Angaleena Presley

This solo track from Angaleena Presley, a member of the (currently on hiatus) country group Pistol Annies, is another that I've played at least a dozen times since I ran across it. I'm not from the South, but I do know that if someone says, "Bless your heart," it's truly not meant as the well-wish that it appears to be. Presley lays it on the line in this song, warning the petty, mean-spirited person she's singing about not to cross her. This song may not seem quite as "upbeat" as the other ones that I've shared so far, but it's every bit as addictive for me. With its classic country sound and the judge-not-lest-ye-be-judged lesson, I can picture listening to this on a stretch of wide open road with breathtaking scenery, windows down, in absolutely no rush to get where I need to go.




Life is Better with You--Michael Franti

Coming back to the idea of the ups and downs of everyday life, Michael Franti adds his take. Since summer is fleeting in the corner of the world where I live, once it and autumn have come and gone, the people who live in my region of the U.S. have to hunker down for winter; one that sometimes feels like it goes on way too long. I might argue this point with myself come February, but in all honesty, I think the stark contrast makes us appreciate the beautiful, warmer weather just a little more deeply and savor it a tiny bit more. The seasons of weather and life ebb and flow, and as Franti says, "some days are better than other days," but everything is always better with loved ones who add moments of joy and help us through.




So, there you have it, readers--some of the songs that have been making my summer even better so far. What about you? Are there any songs that have been part of your summer soundtrack, or are favorites from summers past? Feel free to share them with us in the comments.





2017/06/04

Chris Isaak's Beyond The Sun

by Jav Rivera

There must be some kind of magic at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. The studio was home for musicians like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. There's a distinct sound that comes from that studio and it is unlike anything else. In 2011, Chris Isaak recaptured that magic in his album, "Beyond the Sun."


The deluxe version of the album consists of 25 tracks honoring some of the most iconic music that came from Sun Studio. There are also two original songs written by Isaak. Those two sound so much like that of Presley, Orbison, and Lee Lewis that I hadn't noticed they were written by Isaak until I read the liner notes.

Chris Isaak
"Beyond the Sun" is proof of how much Isaak cherishes the history of rock music, and the liner notes read almost like a mini-biography of the Sun Studio era. There's no question of the amount of respect he has for those musicians. It's also clear by the same liner notes, as well as in interviews, that Isaak regards his band to the highest degree.

To appreciate his sentiment, you might need some background on recording music. Today, just about anyone can plug in a guitar and microphone to a computer and record something. There are endless software programs that can tweak, improve, or flat out replace mistakes. Before this technology, however, bands had to rehearse a song until it was perfect. From there they would all gather in a small studio and record the song from beginning to end without error. Take after take, the band would play until they got the best -- most flawless -- version.

As easy as it would have been to use today's technology, Isaak and his band chose the latter. They booked time at Sun Studio, and recorded all 25 tracks just like Elvis or Johnny Cash would have. The result is a record that sounds so authentic to the Sun Studio era that if you didn't know any better, you'd think that Isaak and company hopped inside a time machine. Prior to "Beyond the Sun" any Isaak fan would have told you that he has one of the tightest bands around. They gel so well you wonder if they're just a bunch of clones. And for me, this album is the finest display of their talent.

L-R: Scott Plunkett, Hershel Yatovitz, Rafael Padilla, Rowland Salley, Chris Isaak, and Kenney Dale Johnson
Sun Studio is no stranger to historians and music aficionados. It's a place of legend and even a tourist stop. It's amazing how a small building has made such a huge impact on music, history, and America. I hate to think how different music would sound today if it weren't for this little space in Memphis.

Through the liner notes, I learned about Sam Phillips -- someone who seems to be under-appreciated by the general public. Phillips can be credited for creating the Rock and Roll sound, and also for finding some of the greatest artists, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Elvis. Isaak tells a wonderful story about an article he read about Phillips, but instead of repeating the end of his story, I'll entice you by saying that it's worth it to seek out the liner notes to read it for yourself.

 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN 38103
Prior to "Beyond the Sun," there was another album that featured music from the Sun Studio era. Released in 2001, it was entitled "Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records," and was produced by Ahmet Ertegun (founder of Atlantic Records). PBS' American Masters also featured Sun Records on one of their episodes. Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and many more can be found paying homage to the Sun Record Company. Chris Isaak even has a track on it -- his cover of "It Wouldn't Be The Same Without You." And though this record is full of wonderful artists, the tracks are, for the most part, covered in the artists' own style and not quite the authentic sound that Isaak captured for his 2011 record.

Album cover and back sleeve for "Good Rockin' Tonight: The Legacy of Sun Records"
Given Chris Isaak's style -- which is highly-influenced by the Sun Studio era -- it makes more sense then that "Beyond the Sun" feels like a better representation. Below is a list of my favorite tracks from the album, beginning with my absolute favorite ("That Lucky Old Sun"). Keep in mind this album is great from beginning to end; the list below just happens to be of songs I crank the volume up slightly higher for:

  • "That Lucky Old Sun"
  • "My Happiness"
  • "Miss Pearl"
  • "Live It Up"
  • "How's the World Treating You"
  • "Trying to Get to You"





Ever since I was young, I've had a love/hate relationship with covers. Some artists know how to take someone else's song and make it their own, keeping the spirit of the song intact. Others just want to make a quick buck by covering a famous song. "Beyond the Sun" is all love. No one else but Chris Isaak and his band could have done what they did.

For more information, visit Isaak's official website: www.chrisisaak.com

TRIVIA: While in college, Chris Isaak was an amateur light heavyweight boxer.





2017/04/02

One-Hit Wonders

by Dave Gourdoux

The ultimate one-hit wonder?

"In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes."             
                                                                            -Andy Warhol

For years now, one of the enduring iconic stories of the rock and pop universe has been the rise and fall of one-hit wonders. We’re all familiar with the story arc – the stars of time and fate and luck and talent all suddenly align in such a way as to propel previously unknown acts into fleeting and temporary superstardom, and then they crash and fade just as quickly as they emerged. As long as there is a pop music scene, there have always been and there always will be one hit wonders, either waiting on the fringe of the culture to rise to the top or spiraling uncontrollably out of the public consciousness.


Who are these fireflies that so quickly burn out, and what is their story? Well, as we’ll learn in this brief look at eleven of my favorite one hit wonders, with stories of rapid rises and fantastic falls, "the possibilities are endless."

About this list: as old as I am, the list is heavy with songs from my youth, the sixties and seventies. I’m old and grumpy enough to offer no apologies for that.  Obscure and cheesy as some of these selections may seem to younger generations, they all occupy permanent residence in my memory.

Hear then, in chronological order, eleven of my favorite one-hit wonders:



1. “96 Tears,” by ? and the Mysterians, 1966

With its infectious organ riff and low-budget production, "96 Tears" ranks right up there with the best of the '60s garage band songs. At the time the song was recorded, the band was exactly that: a completely unknown garage band, consisting of the sons of migrant workers who’d settled in the Saginaw, Michigan area. Somehow they recorded "96 Tears," and drove around promoting it to local radio stations around Michigan. It first became a regional hit  until they caught their break and signed a deal with a big record company, and the rest is history.

A couple of follow-up singles were moderately successful, reaching as high as 22 on the U.S. charts. The band has survived many breakups and lineup changes to persist to this day. The only constant has been the lead singer, Question Mark, or ?, who claims to be from Mars and to have walked with dinosaurs.




2. "I Fought the Law," by the Bobby Fuller Four, 1966

One of the most covered songs in rock history (most notably by the Clash, and in a politically charged 1978 re-write by the Dead Kennedys), the song also inspired John Mellencamp to write (or rip-off?) his 1983 single, “Authority Song." The song features the familiar, almost percussive guitar styling of the late, great, Buddy Holly.

The reason it sounds so much like Buddy Holly is that it was written by Sonny Curtis, who was a friend and high school classmate of Holly. After Holly’s death, Curtis replaced him as singer and lead guitarist in Holly’s band, The Crickets. He later penned the theme song to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Love is All Around."

The reason Fuller never had another hit was that a few months after releasing “I Fought the Law,” his dead body was found in an automobile parked outside of his Los Angeles apartment. There were no signs of physical trauma, and though an autopsy was performed, the cause of death remains murky, with both “accident” and “suicide” boxes checked with question marks after them on the death report. Speculation abounds that he was actually murdered. Theories have persisted that the culprits were either the Manson clan, the LAPD, or the mafia.  Whatever the cause was, Fuller’s death remains one of the great unsolved mysteries in rock and roll history.
   


 

3. "Israelites," by Desmond Dekker, 1968


Though Dekker had a long and distinguished career in Jamaica as a Reggae master, "Israelites" was his only entry on the U.S. charts. Aside from being a wonderful little piece of music, "Israelites" is noteworthy in that it is probably the first reggae song to hit the U.S. top forty, ahead of Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” (1970), Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” (1972)  and Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” (1973).

Whether the song is technically reggae or its predecessor, ska, it is indisputably unique when compared to anything else we’d heard on American air waves before. The guitar work is subtle and accents the off beat, while the vocals are sung with a heavy Jamaican accent, making the lyrics difficult to understand.

Dekker said he wrote the song after hearing a young couple arguing about money, and how the work the young man was doing wasn't paying enough. This explains the opening lyrics, "get up in the morning slaving for bread, sir / so that every mouth can be fed." From there the song becomes something of a Rastafarian anthem, a lament for the impoverished and the destitute.

Dekker passed away in 2006. Although he didn't make the U.S. charts again, he remained musically active, and was held in high esteem in the reggae community.




4. "Pictures of Matchstick Men," Status Quo, 1968


The opening guitar lick to this weirdly infectious little gem is so ridiculously easy that even I could play it. But then the rhythm guitar, bass and drums kick in, and the effect is pretty cool. The lyrics are vague and psychedelic, and the chord progression and that silly little four note guitar lick are just catchy enough to stick in your head long after you’d ever want it to.

The song has been covered a few times, most notably by Ozzy Osborne in the late '70s. As for the band, Status Quo, it appears that they put out a few albums and vanished, and I couldn’t find much of anything of any interest about them. "Pictures of Matchstick Men" is so weirdly bizarre  that it speaks for itself.


                   

5. "Spirit in the Sky," Norman Greenbaum, 1968

One of the great guitar-driven gospel tinged songs ever recorded. The guitar riffs create a groove that evoke Jimmy Page, while the lead guitar fills in the spaces with just enough cosmic-ness to evoke the great beyond.

Lyrics like “I’ve got a friend in Jesus” bely the fact that Greenbaum was, and is, Jewish. He wrote "Spirit in the Sky" after watching Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner sing a gospel song on television. The song has since appeared in numerous Hollywood sound tracks, perhaps most famously in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.

Greenbaum continues performing to this day, and has recorded a few albums over the years, but never had any level of commercial success that approached the  magnitude of “Spirit in the Sky.”




6. "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” Steam, 1969

This was just solid, mainstream pop music, performed by a band that never existed (similar to another great one–hit wonder, the fictitious “The Archies” and the big hit single, “Sugar, Sugar.”). The song was written and recorded by a couple of studio musicians who supposedly thought it was so bad they didn’t want their names associated with it. So the fictitious band “Steam” was assigned to the song, and when it surprisingly went to number one in the charts, a real band was hastily put together. This manufactured band lacked anything remotely resembling a stage presence (as the video shows).

Despite all that, I still love the song and the innocence it conjures up in me. It reminds me that I grew up in a time where not only such sweet and innocent music could chart, but also that times were so innocent that record companies would throw together a bunch of guys who had nothing to do with the recording of the song and send them out on tour to support it. For some reason I can’t adequately explain, now, almost fifty years later, it all feels more sweet than cynical.




7. "I Can See Clearly Now," Johnny Nash, 1972

Probably the biggest selling reggae song of all time, although the off-beat is buried a bit beneath a poppy arrangement, meaning you have to listen a little bit closer for the reggae rhythms than on “Israelites.” But the song, with Nash’s soaring falsetto and its hypnotic hooks, was a huge hit, dominating the top-forties airwaves for what seemed like months.

Nash had a long career, recording from 1958 thru 1985, and it’s a little bit unfair to call him a one-hit wonder, as he had several other songs hit the U.S. charts, with the follow-up single to “I Can See Clearly Now”, a song called “Stir it Up” that I have no memory of now, briefly reaching number twelve on the U.S. charts. He makes the list because “I Can See Clearly Now” was so huge that one is left wondering why in such a long career he never approached the top ten again.





8. "Last Song," Edward Bear, 1972

Some songs bring back memories that are so vivid they overpower any attempt to hear them objectively. “Last Song” is, for me, such a song. I know it’s terrible, schmaltzy pop, but it was on the radio at a time when I was susceptible to its gooey sentimentality, and hearing it now takes me back to the time when I’d just turned fourteen, at the height of my pubescent, shy and lonely misfit period, and the endless list of cute girls I had hopeless crushes on.

As for Edward Bear, it was neither man nor beast, but rather an unexceptional Canadian pop-rock band that was around for a couple more unexceptional years, years that included lineup changes and members dabbling in Scientology. The highlights of their career appear to be limited to achieving fame for “Last Song” and for once opening for Led Zeppelin. The name Edward Bear was taken from the “proper” name of Winnie the Pooh.





9. “In a Big Country,” Big Country, 1983  

For a brief time in the early '80s, Big Country was Scotland’s answer to Ireland’s U2, gathering critical acclaim for their unique sound, making electric guitars sound like bagpipes. They made it all the way to a guest shot on "Saturday Night Live" and a world tour, but were never able to follow the anthemic “In a Big Country” with a second hit single.  After playing on the Band Aid project “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and backing Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend in separate solo projects, they fell out of fashion, and found themselves dropped from their record company in 1991. They hung around for the rest of the nineties and finally broke up in 1999, with alcoholism playing a role in their dissolution.





10. "Take On Me," Ah-Ha, 1985

The song is unexceptional but catchy '80s new wave, notable for its keyboard-driven riff and the singer’s Roy Orbison-like, octave-crushing falsetto. What makes it stand out is the song's video, one of the great videos of the MTV era. A rare combination of art, charm and humor, the video transcends the song even while remaining faithful to its catchy rhythm. It's impossible to watch the video and not smile.

Although "Take On Me" has been the band's only U.S. hit, they are still together and have remained very popular in their native Norway, winning 10 "Norwegian Grammy" awards over the years.





11. “A Girl Like You,” Edwyn Collins, 1994

No, this song wasn’t, as is often assumed, recorded by Iggy Pop or David Bowie, although it’s an easy mistake to make, given Collins baritone vocals,the disco-punk rhythms, the infectious groove, and the hypnotic guitar licks.

Collins has never charted again in the U.S., but he still performs in his native U.K. This might not seem like a big deal until one considers that in 2005, Collins suffered and survived two cerebral hemorrhages that resulted in aphasia, an inability to comprehend and formulate language because of damage to specific brain regions. He was left able to speak only four phases (“yes”, “no”, “Grace Maxwell” (his wife’s name), and “the possibilities are endless”). Amazingly, he recovered and within two years was able to resume playing music and performing.

•  •  •

From the tragic mystery of Bobby Fuller to the rise and fall of Big Country to the steady perseverance of Desmond Dekker and Ah-Ha to the inspirational triumph of Edwyn Collins that renders any position on any top 40 chart as the meaningless distraction it really is, stories of one-hit wonders prove that the possibilities are indeed endless, that fate really is fickle, and that in the grand scheme of things, our fifteen minutes of fame aren't really that important.

So there you have it, my latest little list.  I know there are dozens of more one -hit wonders in the annals of popular music history ("99 Red Balloons" and "Chevy Van" immediately come to mind, although in the case of "Chevy Van," it won't leave soon enough), but these eleven have, to me, at least, some value, whether artistic (like "Israelites") or sentimental ("Last Song"), to me personally. I'd be interested in what one-hit wonders that you find any value or interesting stories in.






2015/10/11

Crispian Mills & The Jeevas

by Jav Rivera

It was the early noughties and it had been years since my favorite band, Kula Shaker, released a new album. Their 1999 album, "Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts," was the last fans heard from the Brit-pop band. This was also a time when the Internet wasn't as saturated with content, so there wasn't much information pertaining to the whereabouts of the band. I kept waiting, along with thousands of fans, for the slightest bit of news.

Crispian Mills
Then out of the blue, singer/guitarist Crispian Mills (frontman for Kula Shaker) put out a personal website with some demos of what was going to be a solo album. If I remember correctly, there were four tracks on display with limited preview time. Although they were only short samples, chills went up my arm from what I heard. At the time I thought maybe this would just be a side project before Kula Shaker got back into the studio.

Time crept by and no news appeared, and Crispian's website seemed to have be left for dead. As months went by his website was no longer active. Living in the States, it was tough finding information about smaller artists in the UK. All I knew was that I had wished I somehow copied those solo demos to my hard drive.

This is when things get hazy for me. I don't remember how I found out, but suddenly there was a single being released by a band named The Jeevas. Their frontman? Crispian Mills.

I remember hearing a preview of their single, "Virginia," and being excited by its energy. It was definitely Crispian's voice but the sound was very different from the mystical, retro 1960s psychedelic rock of Kula Shaker. They had a more 1970s rock feel. And though I could hear a bit of Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and even Bob Dylan, The Jeevas truly had a sound all their own.



I bought the single (on CD) as soon as I found a website that shipped to the United States. The single included two other tracks: "Stoned Love" and "Old Friends, New Faces." As much as I liked "Virginia," it was "Stoned Love" that convinced me that The Jeevas were onto something great. (On a side note, "Old Friends, New Faces" is a live track of a renamed Kula Shaker song called "Gokula". Additionally, "Gokula" uses a guitar riff from George Harrison's song "Ski-ing". Apparently Harrison was sent the track and gave his blessing.)

L-R: Dan McKinna, Crispian Mills, and Andy Nixon
The band includes Crispian Mills (vocals/guitar), Dan McKinna (bass), and Andy Nixon (drums). It's a powerful debut from three expert musicians. They put out their first album, "1 2 3 4," in 2002. The album has a live feel to it and squeezes the most out of three instruments. Occasionally they add keyboards and various instruments on selected tracks like on my favorite, "Silver Apples." It's a short 10-track album but it feels concentrated with pure goodness. There's a nice variety throughout the album, with several standout tracks.

The album starts with four bleeps and one long beep before the voice of a radio announcer comes on to introduce The Jeevas. The announcer reappears every now and then, but thankfully he never annoys.

Debut album: 1 2 3 4
After the radio-friendly pop song "Virginia," we hear a different side of the band. "Ghost (Cowboys In The Movies)" is a slower, bluesy track with an excellent guitar riff. It's very singable and I can imagine a crowd singing along. Immediately after, we hear a more wild track with "You Got My Number." It's the only song on the album not written by Crispian Mills. The song comes from punk band The Undertones, but The Jeevas do a great job making it into a pop-rock tune.

"What Is It For" is another bluesy track; this one, however, showcases Crispian's lovely voice. It's hard for me not to sing this one out loud like I'm some kind of crooner. The guitar is rich and vibrant, for the most part. There's a moment when it switches on some distortion, and it's in the most appropriate part. And though I've focused much on Crispian's voice and guitar work, this track is an example of McKinna's bass, and Nixon's amazing drums. The Jeevas, in general, boast a trio of quality musicians. As much as I adore Kula Shaker and its members, Crispian did a great job finding another solid band. I remember thinking that if Kula Shaker was to never reunite, then at least we have The Jeevas.

Now that I've introduced the first few tracks of the album, you'd think that you have an idea of the kind of music to expect from the rest of the album. But you'd be surprised. They've currently mixed pop-rock and bluesy tracks, but by the time you get to "Scary Parents" and "Teenage Breakdown" you hear a band that's not afraid to experiment. Now they're getting into more alternative territory. Crispian begins playing around with different guitar effects, and Nixon's drumming have a looser, jazzier feel. I personally hear some influence from drummer Mitch Mitchell of The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

My absolute favorite track is "Silver Apples." For me, it stands out as The Jeevas best track on this album, maybe even of their entire catalog. There's so much energy in it that it's hard not to be affected. McKinna's bass and Crispian's main guitar riff have a driving effect, and Nixon's drums are maniacal. This is Nixon at his best. The guitar almost sounds mechanical until it slides into a more organic, grungy distorted bending of notes. And if that wasn't enough, there's a cool keyboard/synthesizer that comes into play on the later half of the track.

The album ends with the sweet, more somber tune, "Edge of the World." It sounds like a more straightforward tune, but one that only The Jeevas could have produced.



"1 2 3 4" has energy, heart, and originality. My expectations for a followup album were high. Thankfully, "Cowboys And Indians" did not disappoint.

Second album: Cowboys And Indians
"Cowboys and Indians" starts off with a very tight rock tune called "Black & Blue." It's a great start to what will be a strange mix of musical styles. It's followed by a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" (written by John Fogerty). It's a loyal rendition to the original song, but a bit more rock and a little less country.

The third track, "Healing Hands," has some Kula Shaker flavor to it with its mystical guitar riff. And this brings me to one of the reasons I love Crispian Mills so much: his guitar work. There's something natural to his playing. It's as if he was born with a guitar in hand. He knows when and how to add a powerful solo. Not every song needs it and he knows it, but when you hear his solos it's obvious he was meant to be in a rock band.

Crispian's also great at choosing songs to cover. With Kula Shaker he covered Deep Purple's "Hush" to much acclaim, and with The Jeevas' second album he chose two very different kinds of songs. One is CCR's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" and later in the album is Bob Dylan's "Masters of War."  And though both songs are connected with themes of war, their presentations are very different. "Masters of War" has to be one of the best covers of a Dylan song. It's dark and pulsating. You can feel the tension of something horrible on its way. And just before the five minute mark, you finally get that violent release.



Other tracks on the album range from silly, like "Que Pasa (Con Tu Culo)?" to political, like "How Much Do You Suck?" There's a loud anthem, like "Good Man Down," and a quiet lullaby, like "Rio Grande". Somewhere in the middle is one of my favorites from "Cowboys And Indians." The track "Girl Without A Name" has a chill vibe to it, but upbeat enough to tap your toes. "Cowboys And Indians" has more variety than its predecessor without losing the quality.



And besides having two incredible albums, I'm amazed by the quality of their b-sides. They could have easily taken those extra tracks and added them to either of the albums. They may be more difficult to find these days, but if you can get a hold of them I recommend the following b-side tracks:

"It Could Only Happen To You"
"Stop"
"Endless Night"
"It's Not What You Do"
"She Speaks"

For anyone who's a Kula Shaker fan, try not to compare the styles because they're both very different bands. The only thing similar is the quality of music and originality of songwriting. Sadly, The Jeevas decided to split, but the good news is that it happened so Crispian Mills could reform Kula Shaker. We may or may not hear more from The Jeevas, but at least they produced two very tight albums.

TRIVIA: The word "Jeevas" originates from the Sanskrit "Jivás" meaning: living substance or living entity. 

BONUS TRIVIA: Five years ago, when we launched 2nd First Look, my first article highlighted the band Kula Shaker.





2015/09/27

Happy 66th, Bruce

by Dave Gourdoux

Last Wednesday was the 66th birthday of a personal favorite of mine, Bruce Springsteen. I could go on and on about why I think he's so great, knowing I'd get a lot of heads nodding in agreement and just as many eyes sarcastically rolling - I understand how split people are about Bruce. It seems like everyone has an opinion, usually strongly held, that he is either a genius or a hack. I am obviously in the first camp.

But enough of that - I  thought what I'd do today instead is select what I feel are some of the most underrated songs in the Bruce catalog.

My only rule was to limit myself to songs that have officially been released under his name - this eliminates the hundreds of hours of bootleg recordings out there.  I've tried to list them in the order they were recorded, but that gets tough when I include things from Tracks and The Promise, which were released much later than the songs on them were recorded.  Also, you might wonder about my criteria for determining what's underrated and what's not; I wonder about that, too.  I guess these are just great songs that for one reason or another aren't held in as high regard by the general populous as I think they should be (note: the key words here are "general populous." In other words, not Bruce fanatics. Every Bruce fanatic in the world holds "Incident on 57th Street" in high regard - it only makes my "underrated" list because it's not as familiar to Joe Q. Public as "Born in the U.S.A." or "Badlands," or "The Rising." It's in this regard that I consider the song "underrated.") Anyway, without further ado, here goes:

I've created a Spotify playlist of my selections if you want to listen along as you read; just copy and paste this URL into a window on your browser:

https://open.spotify.com/user/1257178086/playlist/4cMNXPO6hZP5kCRMHWPVjB

"Incident on 57th Street," from The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle (1973)

Springsteen found his distinctive voice on this, the fifth track on his second album. It's the best example in his early works of his ability to break down the distance between the performance and the listener. As he tells the story of Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane, it sounds like he's crawled out of your speakers and is in the room with you. It's an intimacy that's rarely experienced, and it's one of Springsteen's greatest gifts.

Live versions close with an emotional and gorgeous guitar solo that reaches into your chest and rips out your heart.



"Restless Nights," from Tracks, recorded in 1977

An outtake from the Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, "Restless Nights" is the best portrayal of insomnia ever. The music, dominated by an other-worldly organ riff from Danny Federeci, haunting harmony vocals from Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt, and Springsteen's jittery, strung-out electric guitar is so atmospheric as to be hypnotic. The lyrics feature "whispering trees" and "dark rivers" and work perfectly with the music.

                    Now I pray darling for the night
                    we'll dance down these darkened halls
                    once again to fall
                    into a dream




"Loose Ends," from Tracks, recorded in 1977

Another Darkness on the Edge of Town outtake, "Loose Ends" features Springsteen's incredible ear as a songwriter.  His ability to encapsulate all the rules of different genres into his own unique vision is what sets Springsteen apart from other songwriters. This is where the frequent comparisons to Bob Dylan fall flat and are  mistaken - Springsteen was never the poet or innovator that Dylan is. What Springsteen can do so remarkably well as both songwriter and performer is move seamlessly between genres and styles.

It helps to have the great E-Street Band as the instrument through which Springsteen's gifts are expressed. "Loose Ends" may be the band's finest moment, creating a Phil Spector-ish  "wall of sound" featuring one of Clarence Clemons' finest sax solos, drummer Max Weinberg's perfect fills, the amazing blend of Roy Bittan's piano virtuosity, and Danny Federici's instinctive organ playing and Springsteen's voice as he sings:

                     Our love has fallen around us like we said it never could
                     we saw it happen to all the others but to us it never would
                     how can something so bad come from something that was so good,
                     I don't know ...

"Streets of Fire," from Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978

It's easy to criticize "Streets of Fire" for being overwrought and unsubtle, and it's true; in his vocals on this one Bruce does over-emote. But that doesn't change the fact that the song is lean and mean in its description of a guy who's found himself alone in a strange and dangerous place, "strung out on a wire across streets of fire":

                    I live now only with strangers
                    I talk to only strangers
                   I walk with angels that have no place

Springsteen's magnificent guitar solo is one of his best as the song conjures up a world of darkness and menace.


"Talk to Me," from The Promise, recorded in 1978

Bruce plus horns equals magic. "Talk to Me" is another example of Springsteen's mastery of genre, a combination of Tin Pan Alley, wall of sound, frat rock, and blue-eyed soul. It opens with a simple little guitar and drum riff, the guitar is soon joined by piano, and then the horns kick in, and that moment is pure perfection. The hooks in the melody and the tightness of the rhythm section bring to mind the Memphis Stax Records sounds of Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding or Sam and Dave.

"Drive All Night" and "Wreck on the Highway," from The River, 1980

Most of the many critics who dismiss Springsteen are reacting to the broad reach of his anthems, like "Born to Run," "Badlands," and "Born in the U.S.A." Taken out of the context of Springsteen's catalog, they find them to be jingoistic and bombastic exercises in promoting a false mythology. Only when considered within the context of his larger body of work, when the anthems are placed side to side with intimate ballads and poignant stories, does the astonishing range of Springsteen's vision become evident.

"Drive All Night" and "Wreck on the Highway" close out the album The River.  "Drive All Night" is an amazing love song, simultaneously epic and intimate, dark and romantic. Springsteen's vocal is pure and heartfelt and gut wrenching, and Clemons' sax solo is possibly his best (right up there with "Jungleland").                       


"Wreck on the Highway" closes out the album, and takes place in the same dark and rainy night that the singer of "Drive All Night" is trying to drive through. The narrator of the song is telling us about a crash he comes upon while driving on a cold and rainy night. He tries to get help for the "young man lying by the side of the road" even though he knows it's too late for help.

                            An ambulance finally came and took him to Riverside
                            I watched as they drove him away
                            and I thought of a girlfriend or a young wife
                            and a State Trooper knocking in the middle of the night
                            to say "your baby died in a wreck on the highway."

Time goes on, and the narrator is still haunted by the images.  The song concludes with:

                          Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
                          and I watch my baby as she sleeps
                          then I climb back in bed and I hold her tight
                          I just lie there awake in the middle of the night
                          thinking about the wreck on the highway.

Then a couple of drum beats are heard, and the song comes to an abrupt end, only to start again, with just the rainy dark sounds of acoustic guitar and piano fading into the void.


"Used Cars," from Nebraska, 1982

Springsteen has famously written some of his most powerful songs about his relationship with his father, and how his failures and neurosis dominated Springsteen's childhood and shaped how he views the world as an adult. "Used Cars" is a short memoir about his childhood, and the endless parade of cheap used cars his dad would bring home. The song is about the pain and humiliation his father's failures caused:

                        Now the neighbors come from near and far
                        as we pull up in our brand new used car
                        I wish he'd just hit the gas and let out a cry
                        and tell them all they can kiss our asses goodbye



The song ends with some poignant imagery, and a measure of compassion for his father:

                        My dad he sweats the same job from morning to morn
                        me, I walk home on the same dirty streets where I was born
                        up the block I can hear my little sister in the front seat,
                        just a-blowing that horn
                        the sounds echoin' all down Michigan Avenue.


"Valentine's Day," from Tunnel of Love, 1987

This is my all-time favorite love song, even though in the end the narrator's still alone, and it's unclear whether he'll ever reunite with the object of his love.

The song begins with a guy driving alone in a "big, lazy car" at night on a "spooky old highway." He's scared and nervous, with "one hand steady on the wheel and one hand trembling " over his heart, which is "pounding like it's gonna bust right on through." He doesn't know what's driven him out there, other than "tonight I miss my baby, tonight I miss my home."  It's clear that he's been apart from both for some time.

Then he reveals what really has him so frightened:

                        They say if you die in your dreams
                        you really die in your bed
                        but honey last night I dreamed my eyes rolled 
                        straight back in head
                        and God's light came shining on through
                        I woke up in the darkness scared and breathing 
                        and born anew

After dreaming of his own death, he wakes with images of death fresh in his consciousness. Terrified, it's only memories of love that can still the nightmarish images of dying alone:

                        It wasn't the cold river bottom I felt rushing over me
                        it wasn't he bitterness of a dream that didn't come true
                        it wasn't the wind in the grey fields I felt rushing through my arms
                        no, no, baby,
                       baby, it was you

The themes of love, death and loneliness continue in the closing verse, where the key word is "lonely."

                       So hold me close 
                       honey, say you're forever mine
                       and tell me you'll be my lonely Valentine

Whether the epiphany experienced by the dream is enough to resolve the differences that split the couple apart is left unresolved. This is testimony to Springsteen's artistic integrity; he prefers to leave the central question the song asks unanswered, rather than tie things up in a nice little bundle.



"Brothers Under the Bridge," from Tracks, recorded 1993(?)

Since the '70s, Springsteen has been a quiet and consistent advocate for Vietnam veterans. Vietnam and its impact on the psyche of the country has been a central theme not only in Springsteen's art but in his life as well, as he lost two close friends, including the drummer in his first band. The disproportionate cost of the war that was paid by the working class has informed the lens through which he views the world.

"Brothers Under the Bridge" is a great example of the cinematic quality of Springsteen's story songs. It is obviously influenced by the work of the novelist Bobby Ann Mason. The song tells the story of a Vietnam veteran who's withdrawn to living with his "brothers" in the "dry brush" of the California hills, and the daughter who's been searching for him.

                     I come home in
                     seventy-two
                     You were just a beautiful light
                     in your mama's dark eyes of blue
                     I stood down on the tarmac
                     I was just a kid
                    me and the brothers under the bridge

                     Come Veteran's Day
                     sat in the stands in my dress blues
                     I held your mother's hand
                     when they passed with the red, white and blue
                     One minute you're right there,
                     then something slips ...

The music fades and the song ends, again, unresolved, the only explanation that"something slips," and it's another example where saying nothing says everything.



"My Beautiful Reward," from Lucky Town, 1992

One of Springsteen's most poetic songs, about a man searching for, and finally finding, peace.  It closes with one of my favorite verses:

                       Tonight I can feel
                       the cold wind at my back
                       I'm flying high over grey fields
                       my feathers long and black
                       Down along the river's silent edge I soar
                      searching for my beautiful reward.



"Highway 29," from The Ghost of Tom Joad, 1995

Another of Springsteen's mini movies, this is, simply put, a GREAT song. The scenes we're given and the detailed visuals are amazingly vivid. The story, about a shoe salesman and the  higher class woman who have a fling that goes terribly wrong, is complex and suspenseful.

The bank robbery the guy commits is described in images that are incredibly lean and vivid:

                     It was a small town bank
                     it was a mess
                     well, I had a gun
                     you know the rest
                    Money on the floorboards
                    shirt was covered in blood and she was crying
                    her and me we headed south
                    down Highway 29

They hit the road, the woman now a hostage, when sudden realization hits the narrator:

                     The winter sun
                     shot through the black trees
                     I told myself it was all something in her
                    but as we drove I knew it was something in me
                    Something that'd been coming
                    for a long, long time
                   and something that was here with me now
                   on Highway 29

The song ends with this vivid but enigmatic verse:
  
                    The road was filled with broken glass
                    and gasoline
                    she wasn't saying nothing
                    it was just a dream
                    the wind come silent through the windshield
                    all I could see was snow and sky and pines
                    I closed my eyes and I was running
                    yeah, I was running, then I was flying



"Nothing Man," from The Rising, 2002

The Rising is an album inspired by 9/11 that chronicles the time immediately after, when the trauma was still fresh in our psyche.  Songs like the title track "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing" deal with the loss and vulnerability that was felt. "Nothing Man" is often overlooked, and I can't understand why. To me, it's the best song on the album, and one of the best ten or so songs Springsteen's ever released.

"Nothing Man" is told from the point of view of a first responder who is having difficulty dealing with the trauma and guilt he feels. The song begins in the surrealistic days after with the narrator reading about himself and his "brave young life" in his hometown paper. Then he explains, in deceptively simple terms, how profoundly his world has changed in ways that others can't see:

                    Around here
                    everybody acts the same
                    around here
                    everybody acts like nothing's changed
                    Friday nights
                    the club meets at Al's Barbecue
                    the sky is still
                    the same unbelievable blue

It's that last line, about the "unbelievable" sky, that really resonates. I remember watching the twin towers fall against a perfect blue and cloudless sky, and I remember looking up at the sky here in my Wisconsin home, and it was just as blue and cloudless.  I remember that for the rest of the month of September it seemed as if the sky remained unchanged, blue and perfect and devoid of airplanes.

For the narrator of the song, however, everything has changed, and the blue sky only reminds him of the horror he witnessed. Haunted by the images of what he saw and riddled with survivor's guilt, he's coming undone:
         
                   You can call me Joe
                   buy me a drink and shake my hand
                   You want courage
                   I'll show you courage you can understand
                   the pearl and silver
                   resting on my night table
                   it's just me, Lord,
                   I pray that I'm able
               
                  Darling, with this kiss
                  say you'll understand
                  I am the nothing man

The courage he is praying for is the ability to take the gun on his night table and end his own life. It's heartbreaking, especially when the lyrics are juxtaposed against a lovely melody, and the "doo--doo doo--doos" Springsteen sings in closing the song are pure and haunting.



"All the Way Home," from Devils and Dust, 2005

"All the Way Home" is a simple but effective little rocker that asks the question can romance and innocence survive heartbreak and cynicism? It's about a middle-aged guy trying to pick up a middle-aged woman at a bar, and hoping against all odds to recapture some small scrap of the innocence time has taken from them both.

                 Now you got no reason to trust me
                 my confidence is a little rusty
                 but if you don't feel like being alone
                 baby, I could walk you all the way home

In the last verse, "closing time" is referring to more than the bar closing. The singer is realizing that time is running out, and there might not be many more opportunities. There's a hint of desperation in his words:

                Now it's coming on closing time
                bartender, he's ringing last call
                these days I don't stand on pride
                I ain't afraid to take a fall
                so if you're seeing what you like
                maybe your first choice he's gone
                well, that's all right
                baby, I could walk you all the way home

But in that desperation, in the longing for something long lost, there's dignity and heroism. It's the refusal to let past circumstances and future likelihoods destroy his longing. It's hope when all seems hopeless. This is another of Springsteen's recurring themes - the ability of good and simple people to hold on to their humanity against oppressive and corrosive forces of time and fate.



"Gypsy Biker," from Magic, 2007

Springsteen has been incredibly prolific in the 21st century, releasing no fewer than seven albums. My favorite of these is the 2007 release Magic, which I think compares favorably to his best albums from the seventies and eighties. Songs like "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and "Long Walk Home" are instant Bruce classics. Right up there with them is "Gypsy Biker," a guitar and harmonica blues rocker about the tragic death of a solider in either Iraq or Afghanistan (he does't specify which) and the cost of war to friends and family back home.

After getting word of the death, the motorcycle club the soldier belonged to has their own private ceremony in which they ritualistically say goodbye:

                We rode into the foothills
                 Bobby brought the gasoline
                 we stood around in a circle
                 as she lit up the ravine
                 The spring hot desert wind
                 rushed down on us all the way back home

The song ends with a description of the effect the death has on those who were close to him:

                To the dead it don't matter much
                about who's wrong or right
                you asked me that question
                I didn't get it right
                You slipped into your darkness
                now all that remains 
                is my love for you, brother
                lying sill and unchanged 
                To them that threw you away
                you ain't nothing but gone
                my gypsy biker's coming home

               Now I'm out counting white lines
               counting white lines and getting stoned
               my gypsy biker's coming home

Springsteen has written several songs detailing the difficulties vets have after returning home ("Born in the U.S.A," and "Shut Out the Light" as examples), but "Gyspy Biker" is the first to focus on the survivors of those who don't make it back.

                  
"Hunter of Invisible Game," from High Hopes, 2014

An amazing little gem of a song that manages to be charming and haunting while at the same time describing a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, Springsteen can't betray his own ultimate faith in the human spirit:

               There's a kingdom of love waiting to be reclaimed
               I am the hunter of invisible game



"The Wall," from High Hopes, 2014

Springsteen's reaction to Robert McNamara's (Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War) apology for his part in perpetuating the disastrous quagmire the war became. To put it bluntly, Bruce didn't appreciate it very much. What he created in reaction is a lovely and heartbreaking short prayer that takes place in Washington D.C., contrasting the halls of power with the names of those lost on the Vietnam War Memorial, "the Wall."

               On the ground dog tags and wreaths of flowers
               and ribbons as red as the blood
               red as the blood you spilled
               in the central highlands mud
               
               Now limousines rush down Pennsylvania Avenue
               rustling the leaves as they fall
               and apology and forgiveness got no place here at all
               here at the wall



Well, you've made it this far; I'd love to hear what you think. What did I miss? What did I get right or wrong?

And here's to Bruce: Happy birthday and best wishes for many more. As he once said, we'll "need a good companion for this part of the ride."





2015/08/16

"Everybody Loves Bluegrass; Many Just Don't Realize It Yet"

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a week in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee last summer, and when I started to work on this article, that experience kept coming back to me. Not only because of the connection between that region of the US and bluegrass music, but because of the feeling I had when I'd step out on the cabin's balcony, surrounded by treetops and looking right at the misty Smokies as the morning haze started to dissipate or dusk softened the landscape. Like those almost surreal moments in the mountains, there’s something about the music below that just reverberates within. I may know next to nothing about bluegrass as a genre, but I know when something (pardon the pun) strikes a chord. And like the quote that I used for the title, I had no idea how much I liked bluegrass until I discovered the artists that I'm about to talk about. Give them a listen; you never know what realizations are waiting around the bend.

Sara Watkins

I can’t remember how I found the video for Sara Watkins’ song “You and Me,” but it wasn’t one that took a few listens to grow on me. I became enamored with it immediately, and spent the next few days hitting the “replay” option. There was a quiet earnestness in her voice, the lyrics did one of the things that I like best in a song—set me down in the middle of a little story—and then there was the lovely, low sound of the fiddle, which Watkins was playing. Thank goodness for the handy suggestions of other songs in the sidebar, because I started seeking out more of her songs—and still liked what I was hearing.


As a founding member of Nickel Creek, Watkins got her start in music when she was just a little girl. Initially made up of Watkins, her brother Sean, and mandolin player Chris Thile, Nickel Creek is a bluegrass group that released six albums (and won a Grammy) before taking a hiatus in 2007. (Last year they announced that they’ll be releasing a new album and touring again.) During this hiatus, Watkins pursued solo projects, including the release of two solo albums, and working on a third that she hopes to release in the early part of 2016.

She’s worked with a bevy of well-known music-world names, including Jackson Browne and John Paul Jones (former bassist for Led Zeppelin), as she’s embarked on her solo career, and Watkins has done anything but pigeonhole herself or keep from being adventurous in her music-making. On her album Sun Midnight Sun, she collaborated with Fiona Apple on a re-imagined version of the Everly Brothers’ “You’re the One I Love.” Another song, “The Foothills” has a Celtic feel. Then there’s the stand-alone song she wrote with Switchfoot frontman Jon Forman called “Miss My Kisses”; the fiddle gives it a bluegrass flavor, but it has a catchy pop sound to it too. I could imagine it playing on Top 40 radio.

Lucky for me, being so new to Watkins’ music, there’s a vast catalog of work for me to go back to. Besides Sun Midnight Sun and the upcoming album she plans to release, there’s also her 2009 self-titled album to discover, not to mention all of the music she made as part of Nickel Creek. The BBC said that “Watkins’ time in the spotlight is a triumph, with her agile playing and the kind of voice that gives your goose bumps the shivers.” After all that I’ve heard so far, I agree, and encourage you to check out www.sarawatkins.com so that you can experience those shivery goose bumps yourself.

Della Mae

Watching a video of the women in Della Mae performing at a bluegrass festival, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how fast the bows flied while they fiddled and their fingers flew on the frets of their guitars and mandolin; it was truly impressive. With all of the members of the group playing instruments like that's more or less what they'd been born to do and contributing vocals on so many tracks, the result is a multi-layered, abounding sound that hits you with emotion; sometimes joyful, sometimes wistful, or maybe even a little bit of both.   

Originally from Boston but now based in Nashville, the group formed in 2009.  All of the women in the band play an instrument: Celia Woodsmith plays guitar, Kimber Ludiker plays the fiddle (and is the fifth generation in her family to do so), Jenni Lyn Gardner plays the mandolin, Courtney Hartman plays both the guitar and banjo, and Zoe Guigueno plays double bass. Although they usually all contribute background vocals and sometimes take turns stepping in front of the mic for certain songs, it’s often Celia who’s lead vocalist.


Their 2013 album, This World Oft Can Be, was Grammy-nominated, and they just released a new, self-titled album in May. (Their first studio album is I Built This Heart.) In addition to touring nationally, I was intrigued to find out that the group has also participated in the U.S. State Department’s “American Music Abroad” program. Traveling to places like Pakistan, Brazil, Uzbekistan, and Saudi Arabia (they wound up visiting fifteen countries last year), they played for locals, participated in music education programs for children, and collaborated with local musicians. Talking about the experience, Woodsmith said, “It’s really opened our eyes as people and as musicians, and hopefully it’s had the same effect on the people we’ve met on those trips. It’s strengthened our camaraderie, and it’s helped us become a better band…we came home feeling totally inspired, and wanting to create those kinds of connections with people in our own country as well.”

And I don’t see how someone could listen to Della Mae and not make some kind of connection; alternating between songs that make you want to jump up and dance, slower songs that strike a chord in your heart, and even occasional covers with a little Della Mae twist. Even though I’m pretty brand new to their music, I definitely plan to play catch up as I seek out more of their work. To find out more about the dynamic Della Mae, visit www.dellamae.com.

Alison Krauss

Until recently, Alison Krauss was on my periphery; I knew the name, but not much of her music. Then one day while I was listening to an online radio station that plays music based on your preferences, a song that I didn’t know popped up. It sounded like an old gospel song, sang by a delicate, almost ethereal voice, with subtle background vocals that allowed the lead vocalist to really shine through. It turns out that it was the version of “Down in the River to Pray” that Krauss had recorded for the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?


Krauss has had an impressive career, spanning at least twenty-five years, and she doesn’t show any signs of slowing her momentum. A fiddle player with that gorgeous voice that I mentioned above, she’s most often singing with her band, Union Station, comprised of Dan Tyminski (guitar and mandolin), Jerry Douglas (Dobro and lap steel), Ron Block (banjo and guitar), and Barry Bales (bass). With all of these instruments and the vocals that the band lends, the tapestry of sounds weaves together to create a rich background for Krauss' voice. That's not to say that "the boys" are always in the wings though; Krauss is more than happy to share the stage and let each of them, who are successful musicians in their own right, step up and into the spotlight too.

When Krauss isn’t with Union Station, she can also be found collaborating with other artists. She’s done duets with Brad Paisley (“Whiskey Lullaby”), James Taylor (“How’s the World Treating You”, “The Boxer”), Robert Plant, Vince Gill, Kenny Rogers, and many more. In 2013, Krauss even joined other musicians on stage to share the vocals with Vince Gill and Taylor Swift on Swift’s song “Red” during the Country Music Awards.

Krauss is quoted as saying, “The only thing you can do is record things that move you—that have a connection with you—and to represent yourself truthfully. Things have to be true that I sing or I can’t do it. Whether I write them or not, they have to be true for me to say it, and for the guys (Union Station) to play it. The only recipe is if it feels true, and true may be incredibly sad. But that’s the part that feels good, because it’s truthful. It might not be true for anybody else, but it is for us.” That sums up beautifully the instant connection I made that day when a plaintive voice came through the speakers, singing a Gospel song from well over a hundred years ago. There’s a genuineness in Krauss’ work that speaks to universal truths in anyone’s life. As with Sara Watkins and Della Mae, it’s fun to be standing on the threshold of discovering more of her music. If you’d like to join in, a good starting place is www.alisonkrauss.com.

So, readers, we'd love to know: has there been a genre of music that you stumbled upon that was new to you, but you quickly became a fan of? If so, please share in the comments.