Recently Added: 60s Time Capsule

Goooood morning! It’s 0700 and I am waking up to another day of back to school excitement, this semester with an extra dose of crazy thanks to my new (minimum-wage) job as a teaching assistant. But thanks to the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack, I have a fresh batch of retro tunes to get me out of bed and kick-start my mornings. For those of you who can actually remember when some of these little gems first came out, you are so very welcome. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a very important caffeinated beverage to go inhale whilst I boogaloo around the kitchen.



International Songwriting Contest, 2013: My Picks

I enjoy browsing the winners of large songwriting contests. It’s always fun to discover  brand new talent, and it reveals something about my own musical tastes when a large selection of completely new music is put in front of me. Most recently, I took a listen to some of the musicians who placed in the 2013 International Songwriting Contest. There are certain genres I just avoid altogether (electronica, hip-hop, etc.) and others where the genre isn’t what it used to be (Top 40, adult contemporary). And then, happily, there are the genres where good music is still being made. This year, I kept coming back to the Americana, folk/singer-songwriter, blues and country selections. I guess I prefer music that says something to “music” that exists merely to put a worm in your ear.

The wealth of untapped talent out there is incredible. I laughed and cried over several of the songs that placed in these categories. In several cases, I actually preferred the 2nd or 3rd place finishers to the category winner. Below are some of my favorites. Think of this sampler as a little slice of “coffeehouse cake,” or alternatively, “songs that are too good for radio.”

Continue reading “International Songwriting Contest, 2013: My Picks”

Recently Added: A La Carte

Some guitar music, some Disney, some gospel, some Little River Band… enjoy. Special hat tip on the first one to reader Deanna Haney, who suggested the movie August Rush in my family movies post. For those who are interested, the two guitarists who actually wrote and played this piece are Doug Smith and Heitor Pereira. Also, hat tip to (who else?) Mom, for the Little River Band tune. Parents… they give us everything, including 70s music!

Recently Added: Billy Joel

Since he turned 64 the other day (cue the Beatles!) it seemed appropriate to showcase some Billy Joel songs I’ve been enjoying recently (which you may or may not recognize) and to try to capture in one humble little blog post why I’m such a fan.

As a child, I never listened to secular radio, and my knowledge of popular secular music was shaky beyond the 1940s. So my earliest memory of hearing Billy Joel’s music goes back a mere 5-7 years. I was hanging out with a neo-classical composer friend at a university roadhouse. We took turns making fun of the songs on the radio. Then the first few bars of “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” started playing. My friend paused, listening intently. “This…” he said, pointing to the speaker. “This is a great song.”  Continue reading “Recently Added: Billy Joel”

Recently Added/CD Review: Love Has Come For You

Love Has Come For You album coverIn past editions of “Recently Added,” I’ve featured artists, genres, or themes. Today, I’m sharing a whole album! Consider this a CD review in addition to a “recently added” installment.

Up until fairly recently, I knew Steve Martin only as a great comedian. But when I discovered the music of Paul Simon, I discovered that not only was Steve Martin a friend of Paul’s, he was actually a highly regarded musician in his own right. His instrument of choice? The banjo. Who under 50 would have guessed?

When I saw that Steve was writing and recording a new project with Paul’s wife, singer/songwriter Edie Brickell, I was very interested. After it came out, I immediately found that the record company had posted the whole thing on Youtube the other day.

It’s very rare for me to sit in one place and listen to an entire album all the way through. But for this one, I did. Continue reading “Recently Added/CD Review: Love Has Come For You”

Recently Added: Classic Rock

Okay. After turning in a massive linear algebra project that almost killed me single-handedly, it’s time to rock out a little bit, old school and classy-like. First, a song that my mom doesn’t think qualifies as rock music, but if the Doobie Brothers don’t count as rock and roll artists, well I don’t know who does. Anyhow, see if you aren’t singing that “I like to hear some funky Dixieland” hook at the top of your lungs and dancing in your seat by the end of this performance:

Continue reading “Recently Added: Classic Rock”

Recently Added: Marc Cohn

I featured Marc Cohn on this site last year in an entry for my Poetry in Song series, highlighting the ballad “Silver Thunderbird.” I claimed that Cohn was an underrated writer, who is justly famous for his smash hit “Walking in Memphis” but deserves more recognition for his other work. Since then I’ve listened to even more of his songs and am more convinced than ever that I was right. Most recently, I embedded his song “Old Soldier” at the end of my post on Steve McQueen. When that piece went viral, I took some satisfaction from the fact that I’d tucked away a little-known Marc Cohn nugget in there.

Marc Cohn’s music is kind of like bacon. It makes me thirsty… for more Marc Cohn music. Continue reading “Recently Added: Marc Cohn”

Recently Added: Phil Collins

We’re back with another installment in “Recently Added,” and today’s featured artist is Phil Collins (whose work I’ve spotlighted here before in a “Questions and Answers” entry). Collins is, in my opinion, one of the best singer/songwriters in pop music, but critics by and large don’t seem to agree. However, he has enjoyed great popular success, both as front-man for the 80s lineup of the British band Genesis and as a solo artist into the 90s. A master drummer, he wrote with a profound sense of rhythm, yet also had a keen ear for melody. His lyrics are often criticized for being overly sentimental, and maybe there’s some truth there. But I feel that more often than not, he made things work that would just fall apart in a less skilled artist’s hands. Having loads of talent always helps.

One of the most touching performances I added to my ipod recently is this acoustic rendition of a song he wrote in Genesis called “Since I Lost You.” It was written with his band-mates as a reaction to the tragic accidental death of their guitarist Eric Clapton’s little boy. Here Collins shares the story in his own words:

Some other recently added gems include “Strangers Like Me,” (from Disney’s Tarzan soundtrack), two rare B-sides (“High Flying Angel” and “It’s Over,”) and “Hero,” a collaboration with David Crosby. “Strangers Like Me” instantly caught my ear, first for the rhythm and second for the fresh chord changes, while “It’s Over” is a gorgeously sparse, introspective reflection on lost love. I love the way the bagpipes come out of nowhere in the middle of the quiet piano. “High Flying Angel” blends poignant lyrics about death with an exciting, fresh soundscape. But it’s “Hero” that I really haven’t been able to get enough of lately. Its exact inspiration is a mystery, but the lyrics seem to be telling the story of a father who has failed his family in some profound way. It powerfully and poignantly captures a man’s deep-seated desire to be the hero his family needs, like the hero of his child’s storybooks. I don’t toss around the phrase “great song” too often, but I’d say this one qualifies:

And the reason that she loved him

Was the reason I loved him too

And he never wondered what was right or wrong

He just knew

He just knew…

Collins’ versatility comes through even just in this quick sample, and there’s a lot more where it came from. Even if you write Christian pop, you can learn a lot from studying this guy’s craft. Just look at what he does with melody, rhythm and chord structure. This is what good pop music should sound like.