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Favorites of 2017 – Music / The Fab Five

27 Dec

I wrote in my first post of this series that my list of favorites wasn’t ranked in any order and/or that I can’t really produce the “5, 4, 3, 2, this is my very favorite” kind of list that most year-end “Best of” lists are. That said, after reviewing my listening habits, my purchasing trends, and my iTunes playlists I can say that these five records probably rise to the top as my favorites of 2017. A couple I listed in previous posts:

David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack

Valerie June, The Order of Time

Tyminski, Southern Gothic

Dan Tyminski is best known as the leader of Union Station, Alison Krauss’ band. He’s released solo records before, but Southern Gothic is something different. For an accomplished bluegrass picker, these songs rock. They’re also the kind of songs with catchy tunes that make you not really hear the words until the third or fourth listen and then … they go to a whole other place. This record has a lot to say.

Deb Talan, Lucky Girl

Deb Talan started out as a solo artist, making the rounds of the familiar singer-songwriter spots in Boston and throughout New England. Then she met Steve Talan. They would marry, form the greatly popular duo, The Weepies, and start and raise a family. And then, in 2013-2014, Deb was dealt and dealt with breast cancer. During her treatments, Deb and Steve wrote, produced, and promoted the record Sirens (2015). As I imagine happens to anyone after a life-threatening event, Talan says that after a whirlwind couple of years, she was forced to address some issues and feelings that needed to be expressed personally, i.e. as herself, solo, not part of The Weepies. Lucky Girl is the result. I pre-ordered it and, had it actually been an LP and not a digital recording, I’d have worn it straight out during the first week that I owned it.

Aimee Mann, Mental Illness

Okay! Okay! If you pinned me to the floor until I cried “Uncle!” to give you my favorite of the year, I’d cry, “AIMEE MANN!!” Start to finish, this is a magnificent work from an artist that, if you’re a fan, you expect magnificence. Maybe it was my year, but these songs so resonated with me. I bought the digital copy. I bought the LP. I bought the fun activity cards. This record will stick to my “Tops” list for many, many years to come. I’m sure of it.

So that’s it for my year, in terms of music. I’ll think about books and television next. Still got a few days left (and a few days off) before the New Year. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Favorites of 2017 – Music / Those Who Do Not Disappoint

27 Dec

Part 3 of my Favorites list for the year includes artists I know fairly well and who produced records in 2017 that did not disappoint in the least. You can easily like an artist without liking every one of his/her/their offerings. It happens. But when it comes to these recordings, it didn’t happen for me:

Iron & Wine, Beast Epic

Sam Beam can write a beautiful song, filled with sparse melodies and layered lyrics. His 2009 record, Around the Well, is a favorite in my collection. When I first heard Beast Epic, I thought to myself, “This is just as good.” His label, Sub Pop, makes the entire album available via YouTube. 

Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway

Giddens first caught my attention in her work with the fabulous Carolina Chocolate Drops. As a group, they are an American treasure and a very important link to our country’s musical heritage. As a solo artist, her EP Factory Girlher participation in The New Basement Tapes project, and her work on the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davisall demonstrate her abilities as both collaborator and singular performer. It’s no wonder she’s a recent recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Award. This is a beautiful and essential recording. Give it a careful listen.

Rodney Crowell, Close Ties

An offering from one of America’s finest songwriters and musicians, Rodney Crowell’sClose Ties, is a wonderful, reflective collection of songs from one who knows full well that he has more years behind him than ahead on the horizon. He shares the experiences and feelings of aging with humor, a little melancholy, and just enough “I’m too old to give a damn” to strike a chord with any of us past a certain age – physically, mentally, or emotionally. And of course, he recruits some of him many amazingly talented friends to accompany him through the songs. “It Ain’t Over Yet” is one of my favorite songs of the year. I’ve listened to it many, many, many times.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound

Whether solo, with his band, or with his wife (an artist who can easily stand on her own), Amanda Shires, Jason Isbell stands comfortably among the greatest of our contemporary singer-songwriters. His music is perfect for any Saturday afternoon or any road trip. It’s just got that kind of “sit back and enjoy it” vibe. 

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters, self-titled

I first became a fan of The Honeycutters a few years back at MerleFest. They were one of those Asheville, NC treasures you find at such events. Amanda Anne Platt has always been the lead voice of the band, but this year’s record placed her fully front-and-center as they opted to rename themselves, Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters. The name change seems to have given the group a boost, putting them back in touch with the groove of their earlier releases. I was personally delighted. 

Rose Cousins, Natural Conclusion

My favorites list rarely coincides with the lists that I read from music critics or others in the music business, but I notice that I’m not alone in putting Rose Cousins on my “Best of” list this year. I’ve been a fan since seeing her open for Mary Chapin Carpenter in Lowell, MA last summer. She was an incredible performer with terrific stage presence. She is no less the songwriter. This record is tops. And by golly … she’s from Prince Edward Island! What’s not to love about that?!

Ruthie Foster, Joy Comes Back

Another necessity for a difficult year, Ruthie Foster’s, Joy Comes Back could not have come at a better time. Her voice! Her incredible guitar playing! Her absolutely beautiful spirit! They all shine through in these songs. If you ever need a lift, see her live. You will feel better. You will!

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer, Not Dark Yet

I’ve followed Allison Moorer over the years more closely than Shelby Lynne, but the sisters together give us that magical harmony that really only comes from siblings. This collection of covers and one original tune will not disappoint for a long time to come. It was a nice gift from the sisters to their fans. 

The Sweetback Sisters, King of Killing Time

It seems like it took forever for this record to be released, but once out it immediately zoomed to the top of my “repeat” list in my iTunes. One of my absolute favorite live acts, if you live in New England and get the chance to see their annual sing-along Christmas show, treat yourself. With King of Killing Time, the gals (and guys) give us the harmonies and swingin’/stompin’/rockin’ music to love. Woohoooo!! 

BONUS

Two singles that came out this year that received much play in my iTunes came from Bob Schneider (an artist that I have loved, loved, loved forever) and David Myles (another Canadian jewel). I can’t put them in my favorites list, per se, since they didn’t release full albums, but it doesn’t mean that these aren’t worthy of a shout-out.

Bob Schneider, Lake Michigan

David Myles, Night & Day (will be included in 2018 release, Real Love)

Next post … my five favorites of 2017. A couple I’ve already revealed, but the rest are next.

 

 

Favorites of 2017 – Music / New Friends

26 Dec

Part 2 of my favorites list features some folks who were new to me in 2017. They aren’t necessarily novices to the music business, but until this year, I either didn’t know of them or I hadn’t listened much. That all changes now, thanks to these excellent entries.

Valerie June, The Order of Time

I looked up Valerie June after reading about her in an article featuring some of the best female guitar players, past and present. I was smitten from the get-go and “Astral Plane” is probably my very favorite song of the year.

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Souvenir

For me, there is no better lyric that sums up much of my feeling of the current state of affairs in the world than Holcomb’s“I don’t know about you, but I like to tell the truth. But the truth seems to change every Tuesday.” “Wild World” is a beautiful song of hope and a reminder of the best of people. It’s the core of a special record that makes my list this year.

Justin Townes Earle, Kids in the Street

Despite the fact that he was born into singer-songwriting royalty, I had paid little attention to Justin Townes Earle until Kids in the Street this year. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I queued up this record for my morning commute. “Maybe a Moment” is one of my top 5 songs of the year and I’ll likely be listening to the younger Earle for years to come.

Caroline Spence, Spades & Roses

I discovered Caroline Spence via an article in a magazine highlighting some “up and coming” folks to seek out. I took the writer’s advice and did such, coming away with a new favorite artist, not only a new favorite record. This woman is one blessed with that gift to be able to write songs that speak well beyond her years. Spence fills a void in my listening left by the sabbatical of Kathleen Edwards these past years. I look forward to more from her in the future.

Fleet Foxes, Crack-Up

Crack-Up is a record with more production happening than I usually prefer, but after hearing a local duo cover some of Fleet Foxes’ songs one night – two guys, two guitars, acoustic music with lovely harmonies – I was intrigued and sought out them out. Crack-Up became a favorite for quiet nights at home; the kind of record you used to put on, sit back, and simply listen to.

The Suitcase Junket, Pile Driver

Each year at the music festival, Freshgrass, I come across some new artists who utterly amaze me. Matt Lorenz, aka The Suitcase Junket, was that artist this past year. His website describes him as an “artist, tinkerer, tunesmith, swamp Yankee, and one-man salvage specialist.” I got to see him perform a second time here in my hometown in a small venue that allowed me to sit right up front, taking in … golly, just the dozens of things he can do at one time. Pile Driver is energizing to listen to, particularly with the volume turned up high! 

Rayna Gellert, Workin’s Too Hard

Around Labor Day, I put together a show around the theme of work and working. Searching out some new additions, I stumbled upon Rayna Gellert. Her lyrics, her playing, her haunting voice… I was immediately drawn in. Workin’s Too Hard is a terrific collection of tunes and Gellert easily a new favorite for me.

Offa Rex, The Queen of Hearts

Not new friends, but a new combination, Offa Rex is the combined effort of the band, The Decemberists, and the English folk singer and multi-instrumentalist, Olivia Chaney. Sometimes projects that sound enticing in mind don’t quite become such in reality. Silly! This is NOT one of those. It delivers as expected and makes my list without much thought.

That’s it for this entry of my new friends and favorites. Stay tuned for some more soon, including what is likely – if I’m forced to say – my favorite record of 2017.

Favorites of 2017 – Music / The Meryl Streeps

25 Dec

Woohoo!! It’s that time of year – the time when all of the “Best of…” lists come out. Ever since I was a kid and loved listening to Casey Kasem count down the “Top 100” each New Year’s Eve (I’d studiously write down each song as he played it), I’ve enjoyed finding and reading these lists. I also enjoy making them, so let’s do it! I’ll start with music. Subsequent posts will cover books, binge-worthy television shows, movies, and more. Check back for them.

I host a radio show every-other Thursday night on WCUW, the community radio station here in Worcester, MA. It’s called, “In the Tradition” and features folk, Americana, and singer-songwriter music. These are the genres that I listen to the most and you’ll see that clearly in most of my picks, though there are a few surprises.

This isn’t a countdown. I have too hard of a time picking any one record (or book, or movie, or…) over every other one. I certainly like some more than others, but this list represents the albums that I most enjoyed in 2017. Overall. I’ll make a stab at my 5 favorites along the way, but it’s basically a “no particular order” list.

THE MERYL STREEPS

As sure as Meryl receives an Oscar nod anytime she takes the screen, there are some musicians that I love so much that all they need to do is put out a record on any given year and it will make my list. Rosanne Cash, Gillian Welch, The Beatles, and these folks:

David Rawlings, Poor David’s Almanack 

David Rawlings and Gillian Welch didn’t release a record under the “Gillian Welch” umbrella this year, but gave us another offering with David leading the vocals. It’s an instant classic and an automatic entry on my list. It’s also one of my top five of the year.

Bruce Cockburn, Bone on Bone

An artist that I have followed longer than any other, I couldn’t have been happier to have new songs from him this year. It’s been a tough year and there are few voices better for tough times than Bruce. (The “Canadian Bruce,” in this instance.)

Catie Curtis, While We’re Here

I have had the blessing of sitting under a tent, looking out over the waters of Maine, and writing snippets of songs with Catie. What can I say? She’s a treasure and this collection of very upbeat tunes is another balm for the times.

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost on the Car Radio

My absolute favorite Mainer living in Texas. A year is never complete for me unless I catch Slaid live during one of his tours homeward to New England. An amazing songwriter. One of the best. And his twang and his yodel melt my heart.

Josh Ritter, Gathering

Another fantastic wordsmith, Josh’s latest doesn’t disappoint … though, when does he ever? At least not for me. He paints beautiful images with his songs (and with his prose) and his records often get stuck on auto-repeat on my listening devices.

That’s it for the instant entries. Next up, a few that I listened to over and over and over and over again.

Old Dog, New Tricks

5 Oct

I write often in this spot about professional development, the importance of continuing to expand the skills we need to remain relevant in our work, and how curiosity plays the biggest role, in my opinion, in keeping one ever-growing and ever-learning. I thought about the topic more last night as I was driving home from an absolutely fantastic evening at the Brown University Arts Initiative. The show was a songwriting master class and performance led by Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal. (Any regular reader of this blog knows of my admiration and “awestruckness” of Rosanne, thus I won’t repeat it here.) This was the inaugural program in this new series that features accomplished musicians and songwriters to the campus to both perform and offer critique of students taking part in Brown’s Songwriting Master Class. Four incredibly talented young people played one song each, followed by thoughts and comments and suggestions from Cash and Leventhal. It was such a rich time, being able to hear individuals so proficient in something talk about their processes, offer tips that work for them, provide insights into how they chose this over that, etc. I’m grateful to Brown for starting this new program and look forward to attending future events. If you’re in the neighborhood, I encourage you to do the same.

My 45-minute drive home had me thinking about youth – and how I am far from that time in life now. I thought about those young people and some of the comments that they received from Rosanne and John. I thought about how they have a lifetime ahead of them to hone a craft, if they so choose. It started to become depressing, given that I just started writing songs about a year ago (not counting silly songs about science that borrow familiar tunes others penned). How can I ever become good at it?

But before I spent too long at my pity party, I began thinking this … 

I decided to learn to play the drums when I was in my early 30s. I loved it. Still do. When we moved to an apartment that put a cramp on my pursuits in percussion, I picked up a mandolin, found some classes, found a teacher, and got to it. I was in my 40s then. I was knocking on the door of 50 when I performed for the first time ever at an open mic. I was 50 when I joined some friends in a band. And just last year, at the ripe young age of 53, I went to my first songwriting camp and began to write my first “for real” songs. At 54, I started hosting a radio show on my local community radio station and I’m about to launch a new podcast. At 55 … well, I’m not quite there yet, so we’ll just wait and see what comes next. 

Podcast-Art-1

Reviewing this timeline in my head, I realized a few things. One, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to music. While I have always – ALWAYS – been a fan and collector and a reader of the art, I came to be a participant later in life. True, I took piano lessons for years as a kid, but it was really to justify my mom buying a piano for the house. She loved to play and had done so her whole life. Me, I was the tomboy who was happier playing ball with my older brother and his friends. But I did walk down the street to Mr. Cornett’s house each week, faithfully, for a number of years. Until I was paroled. Looking back, I needed to find music. It wasn’t going to find me.

Second, it is my nature to meander. I have now been in the same profession working at the same place longer, by far, than anything I ever did or any place I ever worked previously. It is one of my favorite professional development activities to lead, having people write down all of the jobs that they’ve ever had in life and all of the things that they subsequently know how to do because of those experiences. My lists are long. I’ve done many things, I have many interests, and I have the student loans to back it up. And I’ve come to appreciate this characteristic of myself over time. I like that I like a lot of things. I enjoy dabbling in all sorts of stuff. I used to believe that the drawback to this quality is that I’d never become very good at anything – “Jack of all trades, master of none” kind of thinking. There’s some truth to it, but it’s a choice we have to make in life. Some people choose to live all over the world while others, like my grandmother, live 94 years within the same city limits. Neither is better than the other. They are both valuable.

Which brings me to the third thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as it pertains lifetime learning, professional growth, and the continuing work we do to find our place – whether professionally or personally. We can think of life in the singular or the plural. We can believe that we live one life or we can relish in living many. It’s a state of mind, I believe. I’ve surely lived more of my years already that I’ve left to live, but I’m drawn more lately to wondering about what to do with the different lives that I’ve yet to live and I like to believe that I’ve got maybe one or two left. 

What will I do with them? Maybe I’ll develop and lead more professional workshops around these things, encouraging other librarians to tap into and nurture their creative sides in their work. Maybe I’ll seek out something in the music industry that takes advantage of my skill set. Maybe radio. Maybe I’ll continue doodling data visualizations and writing reports about the cool things that happen via the UMCCTS. Who knows?

There are obstacles to thinking and living this way. We do live in a society that focuses much more on nurturing young people, those with years ahead to give to something, rather than older adults who may cost more and not give the ROI an entity seeks. It’s hard to find fellowships or internships or opportunities that allow one to learn a new profession later in life, but that said, it’s not impossible. (ProFellow is one helpful resource here.)

For me, I believe the most important thing is to remember that we don’t need to be young to either learn – or become good at – something new. It’s all in the mindset we choose to adopt. Let’s all keep growing together!

I think I’ll write a song during lunch. 

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Rabbit Rabbit!

1 Sep

Wild_Rabbits_at_Edinburgh_ZooHappy September, everyone! Cooler temperatures and warmer colors are on their way. Fall is my favorite season of the year and the arrival of the “-ber” months makes me happy. I know many are sad to see summer ending, but it’ll be back again soon enough.

I’ve stumbled across a few cool sites and tools and such to share. No better day than the first of the month to do so. I hope you find some of them as interesting and/or helpful as I have.

First off, The Pudding: A Weekly Journal of Visual EssaysWhat an amazing find! This is a fascinating (and growing) collection of articles about topics ranging from culture to politics to sports to music, each enhanced by some terrific graphs and tables. It’s a great way to see how data visualization can be used to make essays more readable, understandable, and fun. Check it out!

If you want to get cracking on your own data visualizations to accompany your writing, you can find all the inspiration and quick start you need at Stephanie Evergreen’s new collection of step-by-step guides to a whole host of charts. You will bookmark it and visit often. Guaranteed.

ChartsBin is a useful site for finding and creating data visualizations. If making dynamic/interactive visuals for the web isn’t your forte (it’s not mine), a site like ChartsBin can come in very handy.

Helping professionals write and speak without using the jargon of their field is a challenge. For scientists, the new De-Jargonizer tool can help. It’s a quick way to check how well a written piece translates to different levels of the general public. I’ve popped a few abstracts from articles into it and the results have been pretty good. It’s helpful to see which words/phrases might be edited for a lay audience. 

Lastly for today, my next big learning adventure in life is to launch a podcast. I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, but I struggled to come up with the right bent for it. I finally did and am now in the process of learning all about the ins and outs of creating podcasts. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll stay tuned for updates and tune in, once I take off. I can’t wait!

Podcast-Art-1

For those celebrating the long weekend ahead, Happy Labor Day! 

 

A Rose by Any Other Name…

9 Aug

Yesterday, I posed a question on my Facebook page:

question

I found the responses really fascinating and they got me to thinking a good bit about language, the words we choose, why we choose them, and the like. This is hardly a new fascination. I became a librarian, in part, because of my interest in cultural studies and linguistics; specifically, why research that involved females as subjects always stated such in publication titles, whereas the same involving males did not. Why were males the norm? Why could findings for men be generalized to the entire population, but the same never (or very, very rarely) be said for women? I was curious and it sent me down a path – and an independent study – that led me to discover that there are people within the field of library and information science who study this kind of thing. Who knew? And so I finished up my degree in exercise physiology and headed off to library school. Or something like that.

I asked the question about reading/listening to audiobooks because I was on the Audible website, trying to decide what audiobook to spend my monthly credit on and while reading the reviews, noticed that lots of reviewers referred to the experience of listening to an audiobook as “reading.”  A good number of my friends agreed, pointing out everything from the history of storytelling as a verbal act to the limitations of people with visual impairments. My friend and librarian colleague, Rachel, argued that it’s a “content/container issue,” that if we limit “reading” to absorbing a book through the eyes, then people with limited sight could never say that they “read” a book. It’s a valid point, though it also made me wonder if a person who’s hearing impaired would ever read a book and then say that they listened to it. Do people who are visually impaired recognize a difference between reading Braille and listening? And I also wonder about the neural pathways that form in the brains of individuals who have visual and/or hearing impairments, though that’s a topic that requires a lot more research on my part. It’s too much for discussion here.

People shared that they’re busy and/or have long commutes and if they didn’t listen to audiobooks, they’d never have the time to read anything. But still I wondered, why would you say, “I’d never read anything” when you admit that you listened? My friend, Matt, asked, “So what would be the right verb to cover either?” to which I replied, “How about just saying you listened when you listened and you read when you read?” Or something along those lines. Why do we need another word? Listening is listening and reading is reading. One is no better than the other, they’re simply different.

But do we really believe that? Do we believe that they’re the same? I did sense a slight tone of defensiveness about reading versus listening in some of the comments. I wondered if I didn’t unknowingly imply it when I posed the question in the first place. And I admit that I argued that we do place a lot of value in literacy, that we teach children to read for a reason. (For LOTS of reasons, actually.) So do I believe, deep down, that people who read books are just a little better than people who listen to them?

I wonder if I don’t think of reading as something that’s active, something we do, something we put some effort into, while countering it with a belief that listening is passive, somehow a little bit lazy? I think of the NFL Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders, who I once heard comment that he never quite understood the enthusiasm of fans; the exuberance of simply watching people play a game. “Playing is what’s fun,” he said, with a kind of, “Get up off the couch, lazy bones!” hint to it. I try to imagine everyone at work on Monday morning saying that they played for the Patriots the day before, instead of that they watched them. How nutty is that? Who would say that?

Maybe it’s some of this. Or … maybe I just prefer that people use the right word.

And it’s that last statement that’s stuck with me the most. A few friends commented that to say you’ve read a book when you’ve listened to it is lying. I find that a little harsh, though it’s exactly what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said about the president when people said he lied about the Boy Scouts calling him on the phone. “I wouldn’t say it was a lie. That’s a pretty bold accusation. The conversations took place, they just simply didn’t take place over a phone call. … He had them in person.” It’s harsh. It’s “pretty bold.” And does it really matter, anyway?

One can argue that there’s a pretty huge difference between the President of the United States lying and people lying when they say that they read something when they, in fact, listened to it. I’ll go along with that. But maybe it’s the times that we’re living in that made me ruminate on this topic for a good 24 hours. There’s an awful lot of excusing people for poor word choice nowadays. And some pretty big consequences in doing so.

Thanks for reading this post. When I turn it into a podcast, you can listen. 🙂