Tag Archives: music

New Year, New Month, New Project!

1 Feb

Podcast-Art-1

You may recall that I’ve mentioned more than once how I wanted to start producing a podcast called, “Don’t Quit Your Day Job.” The podcast features interviews with people who have interesting hobbies and/or activities outside of their regular 9-5 working life. People like an X-Ray technician who organizes ukulele clubs all over town, a biomedical researcher who plays drums in a rock band, a science center director who grows hops and brews beer, an IRB director who travels all over the country as a birdwatcher, a medical librarian who writes about baseball, and on and on. The thing is that while we may live in a society and a culture that tries hard to define us by our work, not everyone falls prey to such thinking. I’ve met many people who live full lives outside of their jobs and while their jobs are often quite meaningful, they get a lot out of the other pursuits, too.

One theme that I’m exploring with these interviews is the role of creativity and how being creative in one aspect of our lives influences and benefits others. It’s something that I’m always wondering about and thought it would be cool to explore it via these chats.

And so … I’m super excited to report that I published my very first episode yesterday! I’ll be posting future episodes to this blog (my goal is a couple each month), but you can also visit my Libysn site and subscribe to the RSS feed there. You’ll also be able to find the feed soon, i.e. by the end of this week, in iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Downcast, and other popular podcasting spots.

If you’re interested, I hope you tune in! (Click the link below to access my podcast page.) I’d love to get feedback and love even more to have volunteers for interviews. If you’ve got a cool gig outside of your workplace, tell me about it!

Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Episode 1: A Guy Walks into a Bar with a Ukulele

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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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Data Viz Sing-Along!

13 Sep

I was invited to give an 8-minute lightning talk at this evening’s SLA New England event in Boston called, Organizing Our Digital World. My topic is data visualization. Easy, right? Normally, yes, but in this case I have to give a talk on data visualization without the use of any visuals! I love a good challenge and this was just that. I mulled for weeks over how I might pull this off until it finally came to me, Schoolhouse Rock! Remember those? I loved them as a kid. I still know many by heart. And so I thought, if I can still remember conjunctions thanks to Conjunction Junction, maybe folks will be able to remember a few things about choosing the right chart for presenting data if I put the rules into a song.

Well, per my usual, my song became lengthy and wordy and without a good hook like, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function…” but I still think it will work for tonight. Now I just need 2 minutes of fill to get to the 8-minute mark!

A huge credit for the basis of this song goes to Stephanie Evergreen. Her book, Effective Data Visualization, is a constant companion in my work and what I know of choosing the right charts, I learned from her books, tutorials, blog posts, and more. If you need some expert advice in this area, do seek her out.

So here’s the song (truly, a one-shot practice filmed in my studio last night). You’ll find the lyrics below. Feel free to sing along!

Data Viz: A Lesson in Verse
Sally Gore

I was spending time looking at some data
Figuring out the story it could tell.
Taking time studying the data
Lots of rows and columns in Excel.
I needed to get a report to my boss,
I needed to get it to her quick.
And though I wasn’t shooting for form over function
I still wanted to make it something slick.

I took a moment, pulled some books from my shelf.
Seeking out some expert advice.
Two books by Stephanie Evergreen,
I think they’re worth much more than their price.
I flipped to the page that talks about the science,
The work of Cleveland and McGill
Turns out that humans aren’t innate at reading data
And choosing the right charts takes some skill.

One of the books has a “Chart Chooser Cheat Sheet”
That I find an awful handy tool.
Plus a deck of “Chart Chooser” cards
Together they help me learn the rules.
So when I was invited to give this talk
Without the use of any picture cues
I thought I’d try and turn the rules into song
To quickly teach them all to you.

So here we go …

When you’ve got a single number
That you’re trying to convey
A single number of great importance,
The simple, single thing the numbers say.
The easiest means to get that thought across,
Is forget about charts of any kind,
Just write that number big and loud on the page
There’s no need to clutter people’s minds.

Other times you need to describe,
How two numbers are alike or not.
Bars side-by-side or back-to-back,
Try these or else a dot plot.
If you’ve got one group in particular
That changes while the others stay the same
Consider how a slopegraph can easily show
The difference that you’re trying to claim.

Many times you’ll find you’ve got a benchmark
And the story’s all about meeting goals.
Often times we measure performance
It’s important when we’re talking bankrolls.
A benchmark line across a line of columns
Will easily get the point across.
So will a bullet chart or indicator dots,
Pick and choose from these for the boss.

Now you know we LOVE to give surveys,
So what the survey says, we’ll need to show.
For this task there are lots of choices
Involving bars stacked up in a row.
Stacked or diverging, aggregated, too,
Or a bunch of small multiples across the top.
And if you get tired of plain old bars,
Show the same thing with a lollipop.

What about when there are parts of a whole,
Like a bunch of demographics of a group?
It’s easy to default to that famous old pie chart
But listen up folks, here’s the scoop.
Pie charts are old, pie charts are boring
But most they’re often difficult to read
Try a histogram, a tree map, a stacked bar instead
Or perhaps no visual is what you need.

Sometimes you’ve got some data that shows
How things changed over time.
It’s really pretty common, we see it quite a lot,
Did our numbers shrink or did they climb?
Well a few chart types that I sung about already
In this case will also do the trick
Think line graph, a slope graph, a dot plot, too,
Or a deviation bar’s a perfect pick.

Now you might be asking, “How about a scatterplot?”
I learned of those in Stats 101.”
And I must admit finding patterns in a scatter
Really can be a lot of fun.
A bunch of points plotted ‘cross an “X” and a “Y”
Show relationships between “A” and “B” –
When “A” does this, “B” does that,
And is there any trend that you can see?

Sometimes your data isn’t numbers at all,
But rather lots of words said or wrote.
Qualitative methods produce the kind of data,
Where the words give the meaning to take note.
Callouts are useful, heat maps can help,
Or you can make a cloud filled with words.
Each of these is handy, each of these works,
And your meaning won’t get lost on numbers nerds.

So that’s a few tips, I hope you find helpful
When you think about the story you can tell
As you’re sitting there staring at a spreadsheet of data
And all you really want to do is yell.
Start at step one, learn the different charts
And when and how and where they work best.
Once you’ve conquered that you just need to learn to make them
Step-by-step, you’ll have passed the test.

And no one will sit there staring at your PowerPoint slide or your report or your article wondering, “What the heck does this mean?!