Writing on the Wall

Bear’s Den is another in the category of great-bands-you’ve-never-heard-of. If I remember correctly, I found their song “Dew On The Vine” from an internet radio station. A fantastic find, and one I was very excited to more thoroughly dig through.

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This is a band that has toured with groups like Mumford & Sons and Daughter, as well as lesser-known but equally awesome bands like Nathaniel Rateliff, Ben Howard, and The Staves (if you love beautiful female harmonies please check them out – at the rate this project is going I won’t get to them till I’m in my 50’s, so I have to plug them now). That should give you an idea about the genre, but if not, let me break it down for you: Bear’s Den, according to Wikipedia, is described as folk-rock and alt-rock. They are definitely more in the folk-rock category according to their instrumentation, with a certain ambient style brought on by the vocal effects used by the singer, with a little Americana thrown in for good measure. I would describe them as Mumford & Sons crossed with Iron and Wine.

Here’s a video to give you an idea of their sound:

This music is awesome. It’s soothing and well-written, with a certain atmosphere building quality that is typically absent in more poppy tunes.

When I listen to Bear’s Den, I think of road trips through the Cascade mountains and foggy roads that cut through a forest. It may be possible I’m a little homesick for the pacific northwest as I write this, but that’s honestly what I picture. I keep meaning to make a playlist based on an image like this one:

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This music makes me feel at home, calm, and relaxed.

Bear’s Den is a great band to listen to in calm moments, maybe curled up with a cup of tea and a good book or on a rainy day. That said, I would absolutely still go see them live, and I’m happy to listen to them anytime they pop up wherever I listen to music.

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So, all that aside, what are their top tracks? In no particular order, I recommend:

“Dew On The Vine”

“Magdalene”

“Above The Clouds Of Pompeii”

“Isaac”

“Sophie”

“Broken Parable”

“New Jerusalem”

“Red Earth & Pouring Rain”

Those are just a few great songs, and if you like any of them please go check out more music by this band. I really like it and they got me on a huge kick of listening to other great bands like the ones I mentioned above, as well as groups like Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Peter Bradley Adams.

In fact, here are more recommendations: if you like this band, check out Admiral Fallow or Bootstraps who I will hopefully be getting to sooner rather than later.

All I can say is go listen to this band. See if you like what they have and explore something new!

Happy listening

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Get In Line

 

Barenaked Ladies are fairly universally liked. They are fun, energetic, clever, and their music is frequently uptempo and fun to sing along to. Add in excellent arrangements and instrumentation, and you have a pretty decent recipe for a band.

When someone mentions Barenaked Ladies the first thing to come into your head is likely their song “One Week” or possibly “Pinch Me” followed by “If I Had $1,000,000” or “It’s All Been Done”

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As a rock band, they are kind of in the novelty category, since many of their most popular songs are kind of random or silly with subjects that are humorous or sung about in a comedic way often showcasing rapped lyrics in a style nearly devoid of hip-hop or R&B. Personally, I love it, as I feel it’s always a good idea to mix things up and be unexpected in music.

They’re not entirely lighthearted though. Barenaked Ladies have many songs that deal with heavy topics in a poignant manner. I would especially point out “War On Drugs” which is about suicide and mental health issues. It’s a very powerful song centered around a bridge in Toronto where people would go to jump. Honestly it kind of stopped me in my tracks, and I think that coming from a group I viewed as fun and carefree made it strike home harder than it might have, had it come from a more typically somber group.

And that’s certainly not the only serious song they have. Before I began listening to their discography I was familiar with the song “Call and Answer” which is ultimately about the reconciliation of a difficult relationship. Which when you think about it, is not a common take on love songs, is it? More often you hear about love-at-first-sight, true love, breakups, cheaters, moving on, etc. It’s interesting to hear one that focuses on not just the difficulties of a relationship, but overcoming them as well.

Anyway, it is a beautiful song, the overlapping vocals and harmonies add a lot of power layered on top of the chiming guitar background. That is actually one of my all-time favorite songs by this band, and anytime it comes on I will absolutely sing along the entire time. There was a really nice version of this song on one of their live albums featuring Alanis Morissette that I found quite enjoyable.

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I wouldn’t neglect their upbeat and fun songs though, as that is arguably what makes them so well loved. They run a gamut of topics from the mundane to the serious to the outright ridiculous. Who else would write a song about getting unsigned postcards featuring chimpanzees? Weird, but a delightful and catchy song.

I’ll list all my favorite tracks at the end of this post, but if you want an album to check out I recommend either Grinning Streak or Stunt. They released an album this past year called Fake Nudes but I found it lacking their usual vim and vigor and wasn’t overly impressed by any of the songs.

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One thing about their discography, at least on Spotify, is the absolutely massive amount of live albums. They aren’t part of their official discography, but they are there nonetheless. From what I can figure, they released recordings of every live performance for their tour promoting the album Everything to Everyone, mixed and released as-is by the end of the show. I did not listen to all of these, as there were just too many and they were all essentially the same. If you don’t count those live recordings, since 1992 they have made twelve standard studio albums, one holiday album (which has some fun tracks), one kid’s album, a Shakespeare themed album (which is not on Spotify and I haven’t listened to yet), and a handful each of live albums, compilations, and E.P.’s. That’s a pretty solid career.

Based on the live albums I did listen to, I would definitely want to go see them live. They would be a fun show and great showmen, I’m sure of it.

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Well, I suppose it’s time for my “Top Tracks” list.

“One Week” “Another Postcard” “If I Had $1,000,000” “Get In Line” “Pinch Me” “Call and Answer” “Never Is Enough” and “It’s All Been Done” are the songs I knew well before this post, and they are all fantastic.

As for new discoveries:

“Bank Job” Probably my favorite find in this post. Absolutely hilarious.

“Odds Are”

“Easy”

“Testing 1, 2, 3”

“Did I Say That Out Loud?”

“Boomerang”

“Toe to Toe”

“Duct Tape Heart”

I added way more than just these to my Spotify, but they are the cream of the crop as far as I’m concerned. An overall good mix of fun and heartfelt, Barenaked Ladies is just a great band who puts out great music. If you haven’t given them a chance before, please do so now, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, here’s the video for “Odds Are” just for you:

I think I need to watch that one a couple times to absorb all the stuff going on.

Enjoy your listening, and if you have any new music you want to share with me, send me a message!

Lucille

Before we get started, it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I adore the blues. You can reference my post on Aynsley Lister as well and you’ll see what I mean so I’ll try not to rhapsodize about the many virtues of Blues again. Wouldn’t want to be redundant.

On with the post…

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It is a well-known fact that B.B. King’s guitar is named Lucille.

B.B. King said Lucille was a reminder for him, both not to brawl over a woman and never to run into a burning building. There’s a great story there, and if you listen to his song “Lucille” you’ll hear it in his own words. Playing guitar was B.B. King’s life. It was such a part of him and his style seems to have a personality all it’s own, so I’m not surprised in the least that his guitar had a name. Lucille’s sound is very identifiable, and it was strongly linked to King’s singing voice as well. He would essentially sing duets with Lucille, trading off lyrics in his voice and soulful expression from Lucille.

B.B. King is the prototypical blues guitarist, and the way he plays that lovely guitar Lucille is something that guitarists have striven to emulate for decades. I myself am primarily a bass player, but one day I hope to be proficient enough on the guitar to play delta blues like B.B. King, though I know I’ll never achieve his level of skill.

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B.B. King (whose name was Riley, actually) was heralded as the King of the Blues, along with Freddie King and Albert King, and rightly so. They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and boy was B.B. an expert at the Blues. Something I don’t think a lot of people realize is how much work is involved in being a professional musician. B.B. King wasn’t a great guitar player because he was just naturally gifted. He wasn’t just “discovered” one day – he set out to make it happen. He was a phenomenal musician because he dedicated his life to being so, even at the cost of other things. For example, his two divorces have been attributed to his heavy work schedule, something like 250 performances a year. In fact, in 1956 alone he had 342 performances and three recording sessions. He played and performed until he died, just as he said in his song “Riding With The King”

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B.B. set the stage for blues artists for decades. And let’s be real, if your career is playing a genre of music spans 60-odd years, you probably have had some influence over a lot of musicians.

In fact, B.B. King has more albums on Spotify than Aretha Franklin, more than 70, and I’m not ashamed to admit I lost count. He led an incredibly long career, spanning from 1949 to 2015 when he died. He was a dedicated musician as well as a philanthropist. He was very public about being diagnosed with diabetes, and ultimately it was consequences from his diabetes that led to his death.

If you want to know more about B.B. King’s life and career, I really recommend the official BB King website, there’s a great article on the main page that gets into it a bit more.

I fell into a Youtube rabbit hole in getting ready for this post, and there were too many great videos for me to share. Please feel free to check out some of it, there are tons of amazing videos of him playing with other renowned guitarists. For this post, I’ll stick with this simple version of “Sweet Sixteen”

There are obviously a lot of great songs and albums in his repertoire, though a number of them have repeats and a number are live albums. If I were to suggest any of his Albums, I would first suggest his collaboration with Eric Clapton, Riding With The King, it is now one of my favorite albums ever. I would also suggest Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. B. B. King, as a fantastic collection of all his best tunes. Don’t disregard his earlier work either, I was jamming out even when I made it back to his albums from the 50’s and 60’s.

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As far as individual songs go, I now have 26 of his songs in my own music library, though I could easily add more. I’ll spare you the whole list and just give you my top 10 favorite tracks. This doesn’t include his collab. stuff, by the way, so feel free to check that out on your own if you’re interested, especially the album Deuces Wild.

Top 10 tracks:

“The Thrill Is Gone” – this song alone has something like 50 versions by B.B. King on Spotify.

“Lucille”

“How Blue Can You Get” It took me a while to realise this was a song sampled in a super chill song I know called “Standing Outside A Broken Phonebooth” by Primitive Radio Gods.

“Ghetto Woman”

“Caldonia”

“Alexis’ Boogie”

“To Know You Is To Love You”

“Sneakin’ Around”

“Is You Or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)”

“Sweet Sixteen”

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Seriously go listen to some B.B. King. Right now. Don’t let this important part of your personal music education get away from you!

Águas de Março

Oh, how I have been looking forward to this post!

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As an avid music listener and an amateur musician I have opinions on many aspects of music, and the one we will discuss now is rhythm. Drum beats have a vast variety across the many genres. From driving and steady quarter note rhythms found in many rock and pop songs, to tripping little triplets in jazz, to alternate beats accenting reggae, to heavy half-time dubstep, rhythm is a huge indicator of not only the genre of a song but mood and emotion.

I have personally always enjoyed the subtle and intricate rhythms found in Bossa Nova music. Here is some sheet music of such rhythm for those of you that can read it.

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Bossa Nova emerged in the 50’s and 60’s from Brazil and is possibly the most well-known genre to have emerged from that country. It’s a very smooth sounding music, with gentle melodies and subtle instrumentation which typically consists of an acoustic guitar and drums with perhaps a few other instruments thrown in such as organ, piano, saxophone, flute, etc. It is in fact a jazz subgenre, and is a kind of combination of jazz and samba, making for a relaxed romantic music.

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But enough of me expounding the virtues of Bossa Nova, let’s talk about the artist of the day. Antônio Carlos Jobim, also known as Tom Jobim, was a Brazillian composer and musician and one of the more prominent factors in the emergence of Bossa Nova along with artists such as João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, and Stan Getz. As a jazz subgenre, and also true to its time period, these songs were often performed by multiple artists. As such, many of the songs I love by Tom Jobim have also been recorded by other Bossa Nova artists.

The songs composed and arranged by Tom Jobim are beautiful and relaxing, the kind of thing you would expect to hear in an upscale restaurant or at some fancy garden party, but I like to listen to it when I’m relaxing. Its a great way to let stress leave you and take life as it comes.

Even if you don’t think you have ever heard a Bossa Nova song before, I can almost guarantee you have at least in passing heard the song “Garota de Ipanema” or “The Girl From Ipanema” This song seems to be the most popular elevator/waiting room song in Hollywood, and I can think of a few movies off the top of my head that have used it. Indeed, Bossa Nova seems to be the quitessential elevator music.

For example, this scene in The Emperors New Groove. It’s hard to hear, but it is there in most of the scene.

Or in The Blues Brothers for this elevator scene.

Or how about this scene from Scrubs.

It really is just about everywhere. In fact, one of my older sisters once made a mixed CD with nothing but different versions of that very song on it, all of them very good. It’s an excellent song. Since I included all those clips above, I figure I might as well include the whole song, so here’s my favorite version:

But let’s not stray too far from the original point of this post. Bossa Nova is in my opinion, as you no doubt have figured out, a fantastic genre of music. I love the way Portuguese sounds when sung in this way (enough that I decided to start learning the language myself so I could sing it). Truly beautiful.

If I were to make a Bossa Nova basics playlist for you to listen to, it would likely include the following tracks: “The Girl From Ipanema” “Corcovado” “Wave” One Note Samba” “Agua De Beber” and of course my long time favorite, “Águas de Março” These are all amazing songs, but if you only listened to one of these songs, I recommend that last one. Here’s another video link for you. I especially enjoy hearing the smile in their voices at the end.

Well, you’ve probably had enough of the video links, so I think I’ll end this here. If you end up loving Boss Nova just as I do, happy listening! If not, well at least you tried something new, right?

So long, and thanks for the beautiful music, Tom!