I’ll Fly Away

Before we get started, let me just say that binge listening to a musicians’ entire library of music can be a difficult task at times. I like bluegrass and country, but I guess I must like it better in smaller doses or with more variety because this was one of those times.

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Bluegrass is characterized by its acoustic stringed instruments and its varied roots. I believe it evolved mostly from the Appalachian region with strong ties to the immigrants who settled there. The musical traditions of England, Scotland, and Ireland all heavily influence this genre, and it often seems quite Celtic in nature even when you can hear the southern blues and jazz influence mixed into it. I find it fascinating to have that eclectic mix of influence to create a genre.

But back to the artist at hand.

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Alison Krauss is pretty solidly on the country side of bluegrass as opposed to the Celtic side. She had a country radio hit in the mid 90’s you are probably familiar with: a cover of “When You Say Nothing At All.” I am pretty sure it was played at middle school and high school dances across the country for years.

As for her solo stuff, Alison Krauss makes the kind of music I would expect to hear piped over tinny speakers in a 60-year-old bar in the middle of nowhere somewhere in the Midwest. And I mean that in the best possible way. You know the kind of place: an old Ford or Dodge truck (you can’t really tell which anymore) from the 70’s that used to be a color other than rust permanently sitting outside, a big worn out sign that says something like “Watering Hole” or “Hitchin’ Post” and the same seven regulars that come every week. Not that I’m trying to be stereotypical here, that’s just what comes to my mind. Like this:

If that’s your kind of music, you will love her most recent Album, Windy City, and you should look into it. Tracks I would highlight include “Gentle On My Mind” and “Losing You”. She also did a great version of “You Don’t Know Me”

I will be honest in saying that when I listen to bluegrass I tend to pick bands such as Nickel Creek, The Wailin’ Jennys, or maybe Punch Brothers. I have learned my lesson, and have now added Alison Krauss & Union Station to that list; specifically with Union Station; of all her music that’s what I like best.

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When I started listening to her music for this project, I was a little intimidated by the amount of music she has out there between her solo career and her work with Union Station. As mentioned above, I personally prefer her work outside of the solo career. She recorded an album with Robert Plant in 2007 called Raising Sand that was especially good. My favorite track on that album is “Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us”.

Alison Krauss & Union Station’s most recent album together, Paper Airplane, produced in 2011, has some really great tunes on it such as “My Love Follows You Where You Go” and “Bonita And Bill Butler”. But their older stuff deserves to be heard as well. In particular, I would give “The Lucky One” a listen.

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The music I had from Alison Krauss that brought this post about was her contribution to the O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie or listened to the soundtrack, but you should. It’s very good, all around fantastic. “Down In The River To Pray” and “I’ll Fly Away” are the key tracks by my spotlighted artist today, but if you check out the soundtrack, listen to “Big Rock Candy Mountain” “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and “In The Jailhouse Now”

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Enjoy some bluegrass today. It’s calming, and there is something just flat out fun about banjos, fiddles, and dobro style resonator guitars. I must add one of each of those to my instrument collection one day.

Happy listening!

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The Sun Always Shines On TV

a-ha is one of those bands who just can’t seem to quit. No, really, They started up in the early 80’s and went until 1994 when they went on hiatus for 4 years. They released an album in 2000 and kept on releasing albums until 2009, and then decided to split up after one last tour (named the Ending On A High Note tour) the following year. But then they reunited in 2015 for another album and 2 more years together.

Scandinavian bands tend to flare in popularity in the US hot and fast. Until I started listening to their other stuff, I had assumed a-ha was just another one hit wonder from the 80’s. Not so, they have released no less than 10 studio albums and have been widely popular pretty much everywhere else in the world. They are even in the Guinness Book for largest paying audience. 198,000 people showed up to listen to them in Rio.

a-ha’s best years are arguably the first decade, when new wave was all the rage. And that’s definitely what they are: new wave. Also a little alt-rock and synth-pop, but I digress.

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How many of you know anything by a-ha other than “Take On Me”? To be fair, “Take On Me” is a fabulous song: fun, catchy, sing-able (even if that high note is nearly impossible for most guys), and it can really bring people together. Who doesn’t love that song?! Combined with an iconic music video, it’s a hit for the ages. Here’s a link to the video for it:

That will probably always be one of my favorite music videos of all time. However! We are not here to talk only about the music you already know, but also the music you don’t.

Three was so much more to listen to by a-ha than I anticipated, I had to spread it out over a week or so. Their sound changed a bit over the years, starting out your typical 80’s new wave with a few stand out tracks such as “Cry Wolf” and “The Sun Always Shines On TV” and “Crying In The Rain” though that last one reminded me a little of Talking Heads.

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One of the defining traits of new wave bands in my opinion is a strong synth keyboard sound. That sound is very apparent in the songs I listed above, but some of a-ha’s later albums (and here I’m talking mostly about the album Cast In Steel) the synth became more understated and the track became more orchestral in it’s arrangement. I was honestly reminded of Keane a number of times throughout that album. To anyone who is a fan of Keane, you should check it out for sure. My favorite from that album is probably the title track.

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There is a collection alum on Spotify titled Time and Again: The Ultimate a-ha that had quite a few good tracks on it. Firstly I would mention “Did Anyone Approach You” which was one of the songs that made me think of Keane. Secondly, there were some good remixes there, my favorite being “Summer Moved On.” It is kind of an epic song in the first place but the remix gave it a “2000’s cool” kind of vibe that really worked well.

Moral of the story here is that one hit wonders aren’t really just one hit wonders. I got on board the new wave train for this post and found some good tunes to add to my collection along the way.

‘Til next time!

Thank You For The Music

We will be backtracking for the next few posts, thanks to the music I added to Spotify this past week or so. So next up: ABBA!

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ABBA is truly a musical legend. As far as my young self can tell, everyone knew of and liked ABBA at some point since they started performing. They are one of the most successful musical acts in the history of pop music. Honestly, there are a lot of songs out there that have stood the test of time, but not many have done so as well as the music of ABBA. They are so well loved a musical consisting entirely of their hits was produced 17 years after they had disbanded. It was even made into a movie nine more years after that. I’m sure it is a favorite of someone you know, my grandmother and my aunt are both particularly fond of it.

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Arguably their biggest hit, “Dancing Queen” has been covered, adapted, parodied, and replayed more times than is possible to count, though Spotify has a running total for their service at 78,547,327 (at the time of this blog post). I am sure that is only a small fraction, since that only counts online streaming from one site and not  countless other websites, CD’s, tapes, vinyl records, etc. that have been played over and over again.

I have fond memories of listening to ABBA as a kid (we might have had a couple of cassettes, though I mostly remember a CD copy of ABBA Gold). I also have a memory from my teenage years when I was a part of my high school’s women’s choir; one spring we did an ABBA medley for our Pops concert. Fun stuff to sing along with at any time for sure, but it was especially fun for that concert, despite losing my breath during the part where I practically chanted “take a chance take a chance, take a take a chance chance, take a chance take a chance…” Go alto voices!

It’s just good, fun music. This is, for me, the height of disco (along with the Bee Gees, of course) and really epitomizes the genre for me. Even more than that, they have doubtlessly influenced hundreds of other artists in many different genres that have come after them and they have inspired at least one ABBA tribute band out there that I know of (the A-Teens). If any group out there has a strong standing legacy, ABBA does.

I heard a rumor the other day about ABBA reforming. Let me assure you: this is not true.

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What is true however, is that they are going to get together this year for a special virtual concert of some kind. I’m still a little hazy on the details, the different articles I looked at weren’t all that informative, but any ABBA fan should keep an eye out for that. After all, it is now 35 years since they disbanded.

I’m not gonna recommend specific songs (they are all pretty great) but if you want a nice comprehensive album to listen to, check out ABBA Gold. It is a collection of all their hits, from “Fernando” to “Waterloo” to “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and is really fun album to listen to.

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Check it out, and happy listening!

 

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P.S. Completely from left field here: So I was looking at that last picture above this and the expressions on their faces, and suddenly what came to mind were the characters from Frozen. I mean look at that picture up there: Brunette guy with a smirk, happy/laughing brunette girl, more calm yet still smiling blonde girl, and a slightly doofy looking blonde dude. This picture below doesn’t match expression at all, though the line up is right.

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And then I found this other one in my google search. Someone out there on the internet obviously had the same thought pop up in their head:

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Weird. Thanks for being on the same strange brainwave as me, Silvaniart at Tumblr!

Man, my brain is weird.

Homage/Fallin’

There are so many artists to talk about, so I decided to do a 2-for-1 special in this post. So without further ado, here you go.

Part 1: Alicia Keys

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Objectively, I am completely aware of the fact that Alicia Keys is a truly great musician. She writes and composes very well, and she represents the genres of R&B and Soul excellently. She has a large collection of very soulful music that most of it, for some reason, I just don’t really care about. I actually quite enjoy R&B and Soul music, though I typically go for the older stuff. I think Alicia Keys is a great artist, but her music just doesn’t really reach me. Everyone has their favorite genres, and even though I like this genre quite a bit and can enjoy her music when it is on, Alicia Keys is not an artist I seek out much at all.

Except, that is, her hit singles. These are possibly the exception because I have heard them so many times on the radio and being piped over speakers in various locations, but nonetheless they are great songs and I do really like them. My top 3 are “No One” “If I Ain’t Got You” and of course “Fallin'” I have to say “Girlfriend” is pretty good as well with, in my opinion, a Destiny’s Child kind of vibe. They are all ridiculously fun to listen to (and dance stupidly to if I’m hanging out alone in my apartment).

Here’s a video for “Fallin'” for your enjoyment.

Don’t get me wrong, if you like R&B at all, please go listen to her, she’s really good. I like her stuff, I just don’t listen to it often and wouldn’t bother trying to get a ticket to see her live. Make of that what you will.

 

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Part 2: Alien Ant Farm

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Alien Ant Farm is not my usual cup of tea either. I honestly have no problem with Metal (I believe this particular group is classified as either nu metal or alternative metal) or with Punk Rock (they also have that label) and in fact there are multiple bands in those genres I truly love. I guess I’m just a lot more picky when it comes to some genres.

I’m pretty sure most of you have no idea who Alien Ant Farm are. They are the band who did that alt-metal-punk-rock cover of “Smooth Criminal” that shows up on Alt-Rock stations. You know the one. It’s a pretty good cover; I like when a band covers a song and makes it their own a little bit. If you play it the same way as the original then nine times out of ten I’d rather just listen to the original. Anyway, “Smooth Criminal” is the reason they are on my Spotify.

While I was listening to their other stuff I did in fact find a few that I liked and have since added to my music collection, but other than that I didn’t much care about it one way or the other. A lot of their music is just filler for me, and didn’t leave much of an impression. The ones I liked more tended to be more on the pop rock side of their style as opposed to metal or punk, and most of them are from the album Always and Forever. Specifically, I like “Sidelines” “Movies” “American Pie” (not a cover of the Don McLean song) and “Homage”

That last one is my favorite, it’s pretty much nothing but music references. In fact I counted approximately 24 references. If nothing else, please listen to that song, it’s very fun and really hit home with me. In fact, here’s a link to a lyric video for you:

Well, that’s about it for me today. Two more artists down, hundreds to go. There is still a long musical journey ahead of me, yet I am undaunted! Onward we go!

All I Really Want

 

When you hear the name Alanis Morissette, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most, it is probably “angry rocker chick music” or possibly “90’s alt-rock angst.” Both are true to some extent. Let’s be honest, if you hadn’t heard her stuff before and then someone played “You Oughta Know” it would sound pretty angst ridden and angry rocker chick. Here’s the music video if you’re interested:

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Jagged Little Pill came out in 1995 when I was 6 years old. Most of my exposure to Alanis came about a little later on when I finally reached an age demographic that can appreciate the music she produces. I can’t remember the first time I heard her music, but it was likely on the radio when I was a kid. It was background music for a large portion of my life and I didn’t give it much thought other than, “hey that’s a good song.”

This project has been great for me in a lot of ways, but I am especially glad I looked a little closer at Alanis Morissette.

In my opinion her most critically acclaimed album, Jagged Little Pill, is her best album. If you haven’t heard the acoustic version of that album she released in 2005 (tenth anniversary of the original release) you should check it out, it is a great return to that album and has phenomenal versions of the tracks you know and love.

You can’t go wrong with songs like “You Oughta Know” “Hand In My Pocket” “Ironic” or “Head Over Feet”, but you’ve heard all those songs hundreds of times on the radio. The other ones on that album that I now love would have to be “Right Through You,” “All I Really Want” (both are even better on the acoustic album), “Mary Jane,” and “I’m Not The Doctor.” Those are some really fantastic songs and hit home her aptitude as a lyricist.

Here’s the acoustic version of “All I Really Want” for your enjoyment:

Everyone knows Jagged Little Pill, and that’s great. The album you should really check out aside from that is Under The Rug Swept. This was the first album where she was the sole writer and producer, and I have to say I was impressed. It is chalk full of the same awesome Alanis Morissette sound on some all new tracks.

I am especially fond of “Hands Clean” and “21 Things I Want In A Lover” but really the whole album is good. There’s also a really nice yet very simple bass line going on in “So Unsexy” and we all know I love a good bass line. 

Speaking of bass lines, go listen to the bass line in “You Oughta Know” which was actually played by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Similarly, Dave Navarro took on the guitar line for the recording of that track. 

 A lot of artists have the curse of having all their music sounding the same, and with such a unique voice it would have been easy for her to fall into the same rut. I am glad she tried out some new things on some of her other albums, though personally I don’t think it worked all that well for her on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, yet she managed to stay true to her original style on Under The Rug Swept while still keeping it interesting.

All in all, Alanis Morissette is a great song writer. I really got into her stuff during this and was pretty blown away by how much I really liked it. I feel like some of it can really stand the test of time and is relate-able to a lot of people in various circumstances, and not just jilted women in their 20’s. I really recommend you listen to some of the songs I mentioned in this post, especially if you haven’t heard it before.

That’s all for now, keep an eye out for my next post which will be a double whammy and cover two separate artists.

P.S. Who on earth knew that she’s done some acting?! I certainly didn’t, and I have never seen any of the things she’s been in. Admittedly, it’s not a huge acting career, but it’s there. Random.

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