Category Archives: Music

GoodSongs: Well Worn Soles

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I get a lot of music to (hopefully) review.  Most of it is good.  Some of it is great. Every now and then a record matches up perfectly with my musical DNA.  Like the one I received recently from Well Worn Soles.  This record is wonderful from the first listen.  It sounds like what I want to hear when sitting on the porch at the farm.  It sounds like music I’d love to hear live.  It sounds like life.  Real, authentic, natural.  When I read their bio, I began to understand why .

They met while enrolled in the bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University and quickly recognized that there was something special about the two of them together.

Yes, there is.  Emerson Wells-Barrett and Chelsea Dix-Kessler make some amazing music.  I could share just about any of the 11 songs on their forthcoming record, “Country/Folk by Well Worn Soles,” which is scheduled for release on August 4, 2015, and you’d love it.  But when someone writes and sings “We were something, me and you.  Two happy spiders, all tangled up in our web,” well, that’s the one I have to pick.

Big Red Fire – Well Worn Soles

There’s a lot more to love on this record.  Chelsea plays a beautiful fiddle and Emerson plays a mean mandolin, among other instruments.  There’s traditional country, there’s bluegrass arrangements, there’s honky-tonk, and there’s even the right amount of humor (humor on a record is like whiskey; a little is good, too much makes my head hurt).  They remind me of so many of my favorite bands.  Freakwater, The Be Good Tanyas, The Everybodyfields (the benchmark for Tennessee duos), etc.

When this record comes out, buy it, stream it, heck, steal it if you have to (not really).  If you like well written, well-played rural American music, you’ll love this record.

I do, and I do.

Keep up with Well Worn Soles via their website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Apple Music Is Missing Some Notes

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“Apple Music is just too much of a hassle to be bothered with. Nobody I’ve spoken at Apple or outside the company has any idea how to fix it, so the chances of a positive outcome seem slim to none.”

via Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m done with it.

Here’s my conclusion.  Apple Music is geared towards young people who grew up in an era when few of their friends bought, listened to or cared about the entire album experience.  They just want to hear music they like, and maybe save (e,g,. buy, add or steal) a song or two here and there.

That may work out OK for lots of people, but it’s not going to work for people like me who have spent decades compiling, organizing and curating a vast music library.  I find the Apple Music experience to be a jumbled mess (compare just about any screen in Apple Music to the comparable one in Spotify; I gave up on Apple Music when I realized it was going to take more time figuring it out, slogging through its interface and getting things organized the way I want than I would spend enjoying the results).  I’m not interested in “personally curated playlists,” because no persons are curating playlists of the sort of music I like (and, as I noted the other day, no personally curated playlist will ever top Pandora when it comes to finding new music).  Neither am I naïve enough to think the marketing scheme feathered up to look like a way to “connect” with artists is anything more than a new age advertising platform.  America is celebrity-obsessed, so I understand the logic behind it.

But like the rest of Apple Music, it’s not for me.

GoodSongs: The Pollies

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The Pollies, a quintet from Florence, Alabama, is preparing to release its new record, Not Here, on September 25, 2015 via Single Lock Records/Thirty Tigers.  Recorded at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, Mississippi, and produced by Ben Tanner (of Alabama Shakes) and The Pollies’ lead singer and songwriter, Jay Burgess, the record is the band’s first for Single Lock/Thirty Tigers and the follow-up to their 2012 release, Where The Lies Begin.

This is a mighty fine, genre-defying, progressive southern, grab bag of ear candy.  The first song, Jackson, is an early clue that you’re into something good.  As a bearded, southern, country-raised social liberal, it makes my heart sing when other southern musicians take up the progressive flag.  “I’ve always been into revolutions—more specifically thinking about what things would be like if they hadn’t happened,” Burgess says.  “Obviously, a major movement in this country’s history was the Civil Rights movement.  I think about how long that effort took and how great the risk was, and it’s amazing to me.”  Jimmie Lee Jackson, a church deacon, was beaten and shot to death by Alabama State troopers in 1965 during a peaceful voting rights march. His death was one of the inspirations for the Selma to Montgomery marches.  It’s a great sounding song- one of my favorites of 2015, that tells a meaningful story (as an aside, I can’t wait for some southern bands to produce some great songs celebrating the marriage equality victory we joyfully witnessed this year, a movement that traces it lineage back to the Civil Rights movement).

Lost, the second song on the record, has a wonderful 70s-ish, alt. country vibe with some great harmonies.  I really dig this song.

The arrangements on this record stand-out, on almost every song.  She has a lot going on behind some wistful vocals.  A big shout out to whoever played the piano on this record.  Very nicely done (as another aside, best piano playing on any record ever?  Chuck Leavell on Brother and Sisters).

There’s a lot of range here as well  You Are alternates between a garage rock sound and a Cure vibe, and it works.  Losers is a rocker that would have fit right in on a dBs record.  Lonely Betty sounds like good Ryan Adams.

Like most good records, it changes as you listen to it.  Initially, I didn’t think much of Paperback Books, but then later, as the record was playing while I did other stuff, I though “damn, that’s a great song.”  Now it’s one of my favorites.

This is predominantly an alt. country record, but it has strong elements of folk rock, alternative rock, and the best parts of modern rock.  It’s easy to classify on first listen.  But the details blur the genre in a very interesting way.

Whatever you want to call it, this is an excellent record.  I put most of the songs in my primary playlist.  I suspect you will too.  Buy this record when it comes out.

Dead Flowers

I see you sitting there
In your silk upholstered chair
Talkin’ to some rich folks that you know.

There are a lot of covers of this song, and this is the best one.

Purchase Links:

Amazon
iTunes

Radio Test: Spotify vs Apple Music

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For the past few days, I’ve been experimenting with Apple Music.  While I am naturally skeptical of anything that involves iTunes, Apple has already proven, with the sale of music downloads, that it can revolutionize an industry.  Can it do for streaming and radio what it did for music sales?  That’s hard to say, largely because there are already a lot of streaming and radio options out there, many of which provide elegant solutions, and all of which have a head start on Apple in the streaming space.

I’m putting together a podcast about my views on Apple music overall, but I thought I’d take a look at one specific part of the music experience: radio.

First, if all you want is streaming, personalized radio, stop reading right now and stick with Pandora.  Pandora is, by far, the most effective and rewarding solution for personalizing radio stations.  Anyone who tells you different is confused or lying.  I have very specific music tastes (alt. country, meaning countryish songs played by rock musicians; as distinguished from Americana, which I view largely as old cats trying to be philosophical or clever), and I know virtually nothing about the artists that play on mainstream radio in 2015.  Nevertheless, Pandora does an excellent job of understanding what I like and providing me with music I’ve never heard that suits my tastes.

But if radio is merely a part of your overall music experience, and you also want the ability to listen to records on demand and to build custom playlists, etc., many of the broader music applications provide radio as a feature.  Let’s compare Spotify, my current primary music service, and Apple Music to see how they do with creating a radio station tailored to my musical preferences.

Again, because I don’t listen to much new, mainstream music, it’s important to pick a good starting point.  Both Spotify and Apple Music let you start a radio station based on a specific song.  Because it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard recently, and because I think the title makes a good name for a radio station, I decided to start with” Blue Light” by Jimbo Mathus.  Let’s see how each service does creating a radio station from that song.

For this experiment, I’ll start a radio station with “Blue Light,” play 15 subsequent songs, thumb the good and bad songs up and down and see what happens.  In the list below, Great means I thumbed up the song, Good means I didn’t thumb it up, but like it, and Bad means it got a thumbs down.  The number is my rating from 1-5 on how well I think it fits the vibe established by the initial song and any prior thumbs up or down.

Spotify

1. The Black Lillies – The Soul of Man (Good; 4)
2. Patterson Hood – 12:01 (Good; 3)
3. Otis Gibbs – When I was Young (Great; 5)
4. Slaid Cleaves – Horseshoe Lounge (Great; 5)
5. Catherine – The Black Lillies (Good; 3)*
6. Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel – Justin Townes Earle (Great; 5)
7. Tillamook County Jail – Todd Snider (Good; 3)
8. Moving On – Lauderdale (Great; 5)
9. Come Back Little Star – Patterson Hood (Good; 4)*
10. Gulf Road – James McMurtry (Good; 4)**
11. By the Wayside – The Black Lillies (Good; 3)***
12. Where Only the Graves Are Real – Otis Gibbs (Good; 5)*
13. Smile When You Call Me That – Jakob Dylan (Bad; 2)
14. Cemetery Road – Fred Eaglesmith (Great; 5)
15. Black T Shirt – Slaid Cleaves (Good; 5)*

* I didn’t thumb this down because I didn’t want to confuse the algorithm, but I consider it a fail if a station plays too much of the same artist.
** This excellent song would warrant a thumbs up, but I’m not generally a McMurtry fan, so I didn’t thumb it up because I thought that would result in more of his songs than I prefer.
*** 3rd song out of 11 gets a thumbs down on principle.

Summary: Spotify did a decent, but not fantastic, job with a pretty obscure song as a starting point.  Clearly, it has a harder time with a more narrow genre, which is a little surprising since there are a ton of songs on Spotify that fit within my target, including those on Rancho Radio, my hand-curated playlist.

Apple Music

1. Lonely Days – Deadstring Brothers (Great; 5)#
2. I Don’t Wear No Sunglasses – Watermelon Slim (Bad; 2)
3. Knockdown South – Jimbo Mathus (Bad; 2)
4. Ballad of Henry & Jimmy – Paul Burch (Good; 4)
5. Fightin’ – Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm (Bad; 1)
6. Goin’ Down South – North Mississippi Allstars (Bad; 2)##
7. Asked My Captain – Jimbo Mathus (Good; 3)###
8. Only Time Will Tell – The Better Angels of Our Nature (Great; 5)
9. John Henry – Furry Lewis (Bad; 2)####
10. Loose Diamonds – Jimbo Mathus (Good; 5)#####
11. Shotgun – Ashes and Angels (Good; 4)
12. Wild Bill Jones – Luther Dickinson (Great; 5)
13. In My Time of Dying – Alvin Youngblood Hart (Bad; 2)##
14. Self – Jimbo Mathus (Good; 5) #####
15. Goin’ Down South – Jake Leg Stompers (Bad; 2)

I have to add a 16, because it’s a great cover of a great song…

16. They Don’t Know – Lydia Loveless (Great; 5)

# Great, great start.
## This is an awesome jam of a song, but nothing like Blue Light.
### I didn’t thumb this down because I didn’t want to confuse the algorithm, but I consider it a fail if a station plays too much of the same artist.
#### Very clearly, Apple Music incorrectly made this a blues station.
##### 3rd or more song out of 11 gets a thumbs down on principle.

Summary:  Apple Music also struggles mightily with an obscure starting point.  I don’t like the excessive artist repetition, or the fact that it somehow decided I was making a blues station.  On the other hand, Only Time Will Tell  by The Better Angels of Our Nature was the best new song I heard on either station.

Conclusion:  As noted above, if you want radio, use Pandora.  As a part of a larger music service, neither Spotify nor Apple Music covered itself in radio glory, but Spotify is currently the better of the two.

GoodSongs: Sam Outlaw

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Somehow, I managed not to hear any Sam Outlaw music, until today.  On the way back from San Antonio, I heard a song that I knew I loved from the first few notes.

So I get home and, as I almost always do when I am exploring a new artist, I go to YouTube and discover not only another perfect country song, but one of the best music videos ever.

That’s a great piano track, and a great song.

I’m fixing to listen to every Sam Outlaw song I can find.

Awesome.  Highly recommended.

East of Old Dime Box

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Here is a fabulous cover of one of the best songs ever written, by Phil Cook & Amelia Meath.

I’m sitting here, about 22 miles southeast of old Dime Box, and about 18 miles southeast of current Dime Box.