Archive for the Top 5 Category

Friday Top 5: East Tennessee’s Own

Posted in Brendon James Wright, Knoxville Music, R.B. Morris, Robinella, Scott Miller, the everybodyfields, Top 5 on November 21, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Here at WDVX, we have a tagline that we add to most of our station ID’s and promo announcements. That tagline is “East Tennessee’s Own,” as in… “This is East Tennessee’s Own, WDVX.”

We use it a lot. It’s on our website. It’s on our t-shirts. It’s on our posters. It’s said roughly 2,147 times a day on the air. It’s a sort of branding that we use to distinguish ourselves from other stations and tell our listeners who we are and what we care about in three words or less.

It’s also a bit of a mission statement. Here in Knoxville, and East Tennessee, there is a thriving local music scene, and many of those local artists receive airplay on the station. Whether their CDs are in regular rotation or they pop up from time to time on one of our specialty shows or the Blue Plate Special (our daily live concert series)… local artists make up a large part of what we play.

It’s with that in mind that I bring you today’s Top 5… East Tennessee’s Own: My five favorite Knoxville artists.

Of course, anyone who’s read this blog for any time knows that I have to start with one of my favorite artists from any city, and the patron saint of A Fifty Cent Lighter & A Whiskey Buzz… Scott Miller. Scott is a Virginian by birth, but a Knoxvillian by choice. He’s lived here for the better part of the last two decades and claims Knoxville as his adopted home. Knoxville now claims him too. He brings a crowd anywhere he plays, and his annual New Year’s Eve shows are the stuff of legends.

I’ve written about Scott Miller several times in this space, and I will surely write more in the months ahead as Scott prepares to release his next studio album. The recording process is completed, and Scott says fans who bought one of his self-released Appalachian Refugee demo CD’s should have the chance to buy the new album before the end of the year.

Scott’s song, “I Made a Mess of This Town,” is the song this site took its name from, and you can hear the studio version by clicking the link to the right of the screen in the “About Me…” sidebar. A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to interview Scott on the air here at WDVX when he was promoting the demos album and an upcoming show at The Bijou Theatre. He played “I Made a Mess of This Town” that day in the studio along with some other music that I’ve promised not to share until the new studio album is released. Here is that solo, acoustic version of this blog’s title track along with some of Scott’s candid thoughts about the city of Knoxville. The “Buy Album” link for this track points to Scott’s online merch store.

Scott Miller: I Made a Mess of This Town (Buy Album)

Any post about Knoxville’s music scene would be incomplete without a mention of our city’s unofficial poet laureate, R.B. Morris. Morris is one of Knoxville’s best kept secrets and an artist who Lucinda Williams once called the “greatest unknown songwriter in the country.” On top of his songwriting talents, Morris is also an author, poet, and playwright… a one man literary wrecking ball.

Recently, Morris served as an writer in residence at The University of Tennessee. As part of the gig, writers in residence are asked to host monthly discussions with local and national poets and authors so students and aspiring writers can get the chance to pick the brains of established professionals and get a better handle of their future trades. Morris brought in the typical array of published authors, but he also brought in songwriters like Steve Earle and Scott Miller to share their secrets. Morris believes that a well written song can be just as moving as any piece of prose, and it shows in his well crafted narratives. This song is from R.B.’s recent E.P., Empire.

R.B. Morris: City (Buy Album)

I first became aware of Jill Andrews and Sam Quinn, the songwriting duo behind the everybodyfields, a few years ago when I was still working at Morehead State Public Radio. Jill’s father had just become president of the university and was touring the campus to meet some of the students and staff. He asked me if I had ever heard of his daughter and this new bluegrass band she was playing in. I hadn’t. A few weeks later, a copy of their debut album Halfway There: Electricity and the South arrived at the station.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much the first time I listened to the album. Dr. Andrews had described them as bluegrass, and I thought this would just be another generic bluegrass album. I was a little off base to say the least. The sound that came out of the speakers was a beautiful melancholy with soaring bluegrass harmonies and a strong indie-folk aesthetic that immediately caught my attention. This was not “just another bluegrass band.”

The everybodyfields moved to Knoxville from Johnson City, TN last year and have become a strong presence in the local music community. In fact, they just played a show last night at the Bijou Theatre. The track I’m offering here is from their debut album. It was the winner of the prestigious Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest in 2005.

the everybodyfields: T.V.A. (Buy Album)

Robinella is another local musical treasure who has been a fixture in Knoxville since her days as a student at The University of Tennessee. In 1997, Robinella co-founded a band called The Stringbeans along with fellow UT students Cruz Contreras and Jay Clark (Jay would be on this list himself, but he moved back to Alabama last year… he’ll probably pop up here soon). The group garnered some attention in and around town for the way they melded jazz, pop, country, and blues into a framework that relied heavily on bluegrass.

In 1999 the band’s lineup shifted, and The Stringbeans became Robinella and the CC Stringband. They released a couple of independent albums before catching the attention of Columbia Records in 2002. The group released an acclaimed self-titled album with Columbia in 2003. The follow up album (now billed simply as Robinella… but still featuring the band) Solace for the Lonely was released on Dualtone in 2006.

Sadly, Robinella no longer plays with the CC Stringband, but Cruz and the band can be found playing all over town. Cruz himself is one of the most sought after sidemen and session players in the region. Robinella can still be found every Sunday night at Barley’s Taproom & Pizzeria in Knoxville’s Old City. Her Sunday night set has been the way to close out the Knoxville weekends for several years now. Here’s a track from Solace for the Lonely.

Robinella: Down the Mountain (Buy Album)

Brendon James Wright is a relative newcomer compared to some of the other names on this list, but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying his self titled debut album with his band The Wrongs. I first heard Brendon’s music a few months ago as I was driving home from the radio station after my Wednesday night shift. I always listen to The Writer’s Block (a show here on WDVX that is dedicated to independent singer-songwriters) in the car on my way home, and on this particular night I heard a song called “This Old Town” from Brendon James Wright and The Wrongs.

The song was about a place called Pikeville, a relatively small mining town in Eastern Kentucky not far from my hometown of Paintsville. Brendon’s song perfectly captured some of the things I felt growing up in a town just like Pikeville. These Appalachian towns are full of hard working, God fearing people… coal mines and mud… and not much else. These are places where opportunities are sometimes few and you have to do what you can to get by. They are the types of places you’re proud to come from, but you know you have to leave even if a little part of you always wants to go back.

After hearing that song for the first time, I made it a point to find Brendon’s album and give the rest of it a listen. I was not disappointed. I got to hang out with Brendon earlier this week when he sat in as a studio guest for The Writer’s Block, and I was a bit surprised to learn that he didn’t grow up in Eastern Kentucky. He was born and bred in Knoxville and wrote “This Old Town” for a college buddy who had grown up Pikeville. The fact that Brendon could write a song that spoke to me as strongly as it did when he hadn’t even experienced what he was writing about should speak to his skills as a songwriter. Here is “This Old Town” from Brendon James Wright and The Wrongs.

Brendon James Wright and The Wrongs: This Old Town (Buy Album)

If you liked all of that… just remember that this is only a small sampling of Knoxville’s musical roster. I didn’t even mention Karen E. Reynolds, Hector Quirko, Medford’s Black Record Collection, Wade Hill, Alex Leach, Robert Lovett, The Maid Rite String Band, The Bearded, Mic Harrison, Christabel and the Johns, Brent Thompson’s Wandering Circus, or any number of other Knoxville artists.

Maybe another day…

Friday Top 5: Neko Case

Posted in Neko Case, Top 5 on November 14, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Has it really been a week already? Sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve been a bit busy, and at times a bit under the weather. Hopefully, I’ll be back up to full speed soon.

I don’t really have a list anywhere of artists that I should write about more in this space. I probably should, but I don’t. If I did… today’s subject would be near the top of the list. If I were being honest, I would probably admit that I haven’t written about Neko Case and her music yet because I’m not sure I have the words to do her justice.

Neko has one of those voices that can transport you from wherever you are to wherever she wants you to be. When she sings of her adopted home in the Pacific Northwest as she does in “Thrice All American,” you can smell the factory dust in the air. When she hits the dance floor as she does in “Honky Tonk Hiccups,” she pulls you out on the floor along with her.

Perhaps the best description of Neko that I have ever read is that she sounds like the ghost of Patsy Cline (I wish I could remember where I got that from). There is a resonance and grandeur to her vocals that you just don’t find too often. She can breathe fire on one track and then soothe your soul with a hushed whisper on the next. There is also an ethereal quality to her voice that can sound ghostly at times… almost as though it isn’t real. But it is real. I had the privilege of seeing Neko perform a few years ago in Lexington (on a night she claimed to have a cold), and her vocal instrument is just as pure live as is it on record.

Neko’s overall sound originally drew heavily on classic country while still keeping a fresh edge that updated the classic sounds. As she progressed from album to album, however, the nostalgia began to melt away and her own unique style was formed. As we progress here from 1997’s The Virginian to 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, you’ll be able to hear Neko’s evolution as an artist.

We’ll start with two songs that I’ve already mentioned here: “Honky Tonk Hiccups” from The Virginian and “Thrice All American” from 2000’s Furnace Room Lullaby.

The Virginian is Neko’s debut album and certainly owes a large debt to the early stars of country music. On this disc she covers Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, and The Everly Brothers while also adding a few originals and some less well-known covers. “Honky Tonk Hiccups” is nothing more than a rocking honky tonk number meant to fill the dance floor. Hey… it’s fun, and it does what it’s meant to do.

Neko Case: Honky Tonk Hiccups (Buy Album)

Furnace Room Lullaby found Neko’s sound maturing a bit. The country influence is still strong… but subdued and understated. Neko also starts to lean more upon her own pen on this record. She wrote or cowrote all twelve tracks, including this one about her adopted home of Tacoma, WA (Neko is originally from Virginia).

Neko Case: Thrice All American (Buy Album)

In 2002, Neko released the album that many consider to be her greatest work, Blacklisted. Where The Virginian was made up of mostly cover songs and Furnace Room Lullaby found Neko cowriting most of the songs, Blacklisted finds her going it almost completely alone. Ten of the album’s 13 songs are solo compositions. The finest of those is “Deep Red Bells,” a song about the Green River Killer who murdered nearly 50 women in the Seattle and Tacoma areas in the 1980’s. Neko was a teenage runaway in the Seattle area in the late 80’s while the Green River Killer was still at large. She must have been affected by the killings.

Neko Case: Deep Red Bells (Buy Album)

Neko’s next album was 2004’s live effort The Tigers Have Spoken. On this set, Neko is backed by Canadian group The Sadies as well as previous collaborators Jon Rauhouse on steel guitar and Kelly Hogan on vocals. The album provides a very accurate snapshot of the Neko Case concert experience while mixing a healthy dose of cover songs with a few original tunes. This is one of the originals.

Neko Case: If You Knew (Buy Album)

The Sadies stuck around for 2006’s studio effort Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Some other friends also stopped by for the recording… including Garth Hudson from The Band and Howie Gelb of Giant Sand. Rauhouse and Hogan are once again part of the proceedings as well. With this album you can really see the strides made since her debut. It is textured and layered in a way that none of her previous albums were. Neko has just finished recording her newest album at a studio in Toronto, and I can’t wait to hear what strides she makes with her newest effort. I guess I’ll just have to “Hold On, Hold On” until it’s released.

Neko Case: Hold On, Hold On (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Dave Alvin

Posted in Dave Alvin, The Knitters, Top 5 on November 7, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Dave Alvin perform live twice over the past few years.

The first time was at the 2004 Americana Music Conference shortly after the release of his 2004 album Ashgrove. His performance came a little later in the night, and by that time the crowd had thinned out a bit at The Mercy Lounge. I was able to score a spot near the front of the stage right next to one of the big stacks of speakers.

Big mistake.

Don’t get me wrong… The show was great. Dave and his band shredded through the highlights from the new album and even threw in a few favorites from his days with The Blasters, the roots rock band he started with his brother Phil back in the late 70’s. It was as good of a performance as I saw that weekend. And I saw a lot that weekend.

The problem came the next morning when I woke up in my hotel room with a muffled ringing still sounding in my ears. If Dave Alvin isn’t the best guitar player I’ve ever seen (and he’s certainly in the discussion), he was certainly the loudest and most powerful. Fortunately, the ringing stopped later that day, and my hearing returned to normal. When I caught Dave playing with The Knitters at the Mercy Lounge as part of the 2005 conference, I made sure to hang back a bit in the crowd far away from any Marshall stacks.

We honor Dave Alvin in the Top 5 today in part because he celebrates a birthday next week, and in part because his music has been on my mind a bit this week with the recent release of Dave Alvin: The Best of the Hightone Years CD. Dave is also very hard at work right now organizing a tribute album for his dear friend Chris Gaffney who lost a battle with liver cancer earlier this year. That album is tentatively set for a March 2009 release.

Anyway… here are some of my favorite Dave Alvin tunes.

“Ashgrove” is the title track from Dave’s 2004 album and is one of the main songs responsible for the temporary hearing loss I mentioned earlier. When Dave was growing up in California, he and his brother used to sneak into an old blues club called The Ashgrove to see the blues legends play. This song is a tribute to The Ashgrove, but it’s also a bit of a mission statement for Dave. When he shouts, “I’m gonna play the blues tonight man ’cause that’s what I do,” he sums up an emotion that so many of us feel from time to time. No matter the laundry list of problems that exist in the world or the daily annoyances that can bring a man to his knees… the music is here to take us all away. For Dave Alvin, the music gives him a reason to exist and keep going.

Dave Alvin: Ashgrove (Buy Album)

We’re going to stay in California for our next few songs as well. First is a gentle acoustic number called “King of California,” the title track from Dave’s 1994 album. The next two are slightly livelier numbers from an appearance on Austin City Limits in 1999. The entire performance was released last year on New West Records. “Dry River” doesn’t mention California specifically, but I’ve always envisioned the concrete banked L.A. River when listening to this tune. “Out in California” is simply a chance for Dave to flex his guitar muscle a bit while pining over the girl he left behind in his home state.

Dave Alvin: King of California (Buy Album)
Dave Alvin: Dry River (Buy Album)
Dave Alvin: Out in California (Buy Album)

We move to Texas for the final track, “Abilene” from 1998’s Blackjack David. The moral of this story is that you should know what you’re running into before you run away from where you are. Your heart breaks for the girl who never seems to run to the right place.

Dave Alvin: Abilene (Buy Album)

Bonus Track: Earlier, I briefly mentioned a band called The Knitters. The Knitters is a country side project made up of the members of California punk band X with Dave Alvin on lead guitar. Dave doesn’t sing much in this setting, those duties are handled by X’s John Doe and Exene Cervenka. Here is their version of Dave Alvin’s “Dry River.”

The Knitters: Dry River (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Blog Finds

Posted in Andrew Bird, Let's Active, Matt Pond PA, Okkervil River, The National, The Weepies, Top 5 on October 31, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

There’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere lately about the rash of takedown notices that were issued to several mp3 blogs last week. It seems as though certain labels have targeted blogs, and hosting sites such as Blogger have been removing entire posts without the knowledge or consent of their authors. At least one of my favorite blogs has called it quits over this… and others seem ready to follow suit.

Paul at Setting the Woods on Fire said it best when he said he always assumed he was doing the music industry a small favor by serving as an avenue of exposure for music and artists that might not otherwise have that exposure. I agree with that logic. I know that I have purchased music from artists that I would not have known simply because I found their music on one of the many blogs that I now enjoy. I also have anecdotal evidence to support the fact that people are going out and buying music that I feature here on A Fifty Cent Lighter and a Whiskey Buzz. The pie chart posted above (I have no idea where it came from or how statistically significant or valid it is) would seem to support the argument that responsible mp3 music blogging can be beneficial to the music industry and its artists. Some labels, obviously, don’t see things that way.

This week for the Friday Top 5, I thought it would be nice to take a look at five bands/artists that I have discovered through music blogs over the past year. These are all acts that I heard for the very first time after reading about them on-line and downloading a track or two from the blog where they were featured. I have since supported all of these artists by buying, either through itunes or at an actual music store, one or more of their records. I don’t think I would have bought any of their music had I not sampled it first through the efforts of my fellow bloggers.

Before I begin the Top 5, however, I feel the need to mention once again the band, The National.

I did not discover The National through music blogs. Rather, I discovered music blogs through The National. When Paste Magazine named The National’s Boxer as their top album of 2007, I had never heard their music before. My wife and I decided to do a quick google search to see what we could find. We found the blogs, and we found a whole new world of music.

The National: Slow Show (Buy Album)

Now… on to the Top 5. The time of year that I discovered mp3 blogs was the time of year when a lot of people were posting their “Best of” lists for 2007. Consequently, most of these acts are artists who appeared on multiple 2007 lists. For all of these artists, I will post one of the first tracks that I found online and one track that I purchased after the fact.

We’ll start with Andrew Bird. Andrew’s Armchair Apocrypha was seemingly on everyone’s list for 2007, and I was eventually tempted to test him out. As I mentioned last week, Apocrypha is a nuanced album that reveals something new on every listen. A dip into Bird’s back catalogue uncovers an artist who isn’t afraid to draw from a myriad of influences such as swing, jazz, folk, pop, and even ragtime. He is a former member of The Squirrel Nut Zippers and also teaches classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Here’s one track from Armchair Apocrypha and one from 2001’s The Swimming Hour.

Andrew Bird: Imitosis (Buy Album)
Andrew Bird: Core and Rind (Buy Album)

Next are Austin, TX based alt-rockers Okkervil River. Led by songwriter Will Sheff, Okkervil River is another group that just kept showing up on year end list after list with their sprawling 2007 effort The Stage Names. Unlike the “fake masterpiece” referenced in the first song I’m offering here, The Stage Names quickly became one of my favorites as well. It was a no brainer when the band released their follow up/companion album, The Stand Ins, in September of 2008… I had to have it.

Okkervil River: Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe (Buy Album)
Okkervil River: Pop Lie (Buy Album)

From there, we move on to Philadelphia’s Matt Pond PA, a band with a sound that infuses a healthy dose of pop into its indie-rock base. I was introduced to Matt Pond PA through the 2007 release Last Light and was instantly drawn to the buoyant sound and bouncy melodies on tunes like “Giving it All Away.” I later picked up a used copy of the 2005 effort, Several Arrows Later and found more of the same. From that album I’m offering an appropriate song for today… one called “Halloween.”

Matt Pond PA: Giving it All Away (Buy Album)
Matt Pond PA: Halloween (Buy Album)

On the more sensitive side of the spectrum is a husband and wife songwriting pair called The Weepies. I didn’t know it when I first found a few songs from their 2008 album Hideaway, but I had actually heard The Weepies before. It seems their music had been featured in television adds for The Gap and JC Penny as well as one of my favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother. The Weepies aren’t anything fancy, but I find myself comforted by their catchy folk-pop arrangements.

The Weepies: Hideaway (Buy Album)
The Weepies: Gotta Have You (Buy Album)

Finally, the only band on this list that is no longer active… jangle popsters Let’s Active. This is a band I’ve been aware of for some time due to lead singer Mitch Easter’s work with R.E.M. as the producer of some of their early albums. I had just never heard them before. Thank God for Setting the Woods on Fire‘s series on jangly music from the 80’s. I’m still searching for a copy of the 1983 EP Afoot that contains “Every Word Means No,” but I have found two of Let’s Active’s other albums. They’re both full of jangly goodness.

Let’s Active: Every Word Means No (Buy Album)
Let’s Active: Every Dog Has Its Day (Buy Album)

Again… this is just a small list of artists I’ve discovered through this wonderful community of music bloggers that I’ve recently become a part of. On the right hand side of this page you’ll find a blogroll with a list of other blogs that I enjoy reading. Each blog on that list has exposed me to something new or helped me learn something new about an artist I already enjoyed. Please take the time to check some of them out.

Bloggers are music lovers who simply want others to enjoy and experience the songs and artists they love. We aren’t out to wreck the system or destroy the artists we love. We just want to spread the word and spread the music. As always… If you like what you hear, please find some way to support the artists you’re finding on these blogs.

To help me support my earlier theory about people actually buying music they find out about from mp3 blogs, please leave a list of some of your favorite “blog finds” in the comments section. If you’ve purchased any albums you found out about on this site… that’s even better.

Friday Top 5: Top Five Most Listened to Songs on My I-Tunes

Posted in Andrew Bird, Josh Ritter, Rilo Kiley, The National, Tift Merritt, Top 5 on October 24, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

You’ve seen the commercials on TV where the straight-laced nerdy guy argues with the hip young guy about the merits of PC’s versus Macs? Well… for the record, I’m the straight-laced nerdy guy. I’m a PC. I’ve always had issues with Macs and Mac related programs.

I think that’s why I resisted I-tunes for so long. I had always used Windows Media Player to play any music I had on my PC, and it had always worked out fine. I didn’t feel the need to switch to anything else… no matter how much “easier” or “better” it was. I didn’t have that much music on my computer anyway.

About a year ago, something changed. I finally got my first I-pod and began the process of transferring my entire music library to my hard drive. Of course, the use of an I-pod necessitates the use of I-tunes. I was reluctant to use it at first, but now I can’t live without it. I have roughly 13,000 songs at my fingertips now anywhere I go. I can listen to them all randomly, make playlists, and do just about a billion other things with just one simple program. I’m converted.

One of my favorite features of I-tunes is the “play count” feature. It keeps track of everything you listen to on your I-pod and on I-tunes and counts how many times each song has been played all the way through. Since I first started adding songs to I-tunes roughly a year ago, I thought it would be fun to take a look at my play count numbers to see what I have listened to the most over this past year.

Here then, are the five songs that have been played the most over the past year on my I-tunes, my I-pod, and my wife’s I-pod. That means that most of these songs are ones that my wife and I both enjoy, and her extra listens have put them over the top. Most of these songs also appear on albums that got a lot of play around these parts in the last year. A few of these artists have more than one song in the Top 10. Anyway… here we go…

#1.) “Broken” by Tift Merritt
This one leads the count by a large margin. My wife and I both love Tift’s new album Another Country, and we saw her perform live three time in the last twelve months or so. This track was also nominated for Song of the Year at the Americana Music Awards, and I listened to it a lot when I was working on that post… and when I was working on my Tift Merritt profile post. There isn’t really a whole lot else I can say about this one that I didn’t say in those two previous posts. If you haven’t discovered Tift Merritt by now… I don’t know what else I can do.

Tift Merritt: Broken (Buy Album)

#2) “Squalor Victoria” by The National
This is another song that I’ve hosted here before from the band that really opened my eyes to the world of mp3 blogging (more on that next week). This is a track from the band’s 2007 album Boxer that highlights my favorite aspect of The National’s sound… the work of drummer Bryan Devendorf. Devendorf propels the song along with a complex beat that reminds me of a military march sped up to ten times its normal speed. Matt Berninger’s vocals are icing on the cake. Three songs from Boxer were in the Top 10… one of my favorite discoveries of the past year.

The National: Squalor Victoria (Buy Album)

#3) “Plasticities” by Andrew Bird
I can say without fear of hyperbole that Andrew Bird is my favorite whistling violinist working in the world of indie-pop today. His Armchair Apocrypha album is another that I seem to return to time and time again with each listen revealing a new layer of sound. The gentle pluckings of strings and lightly struck chimes in the verses give way to an anthemic chorus filled with brushed drums and fuzzy guitars. This is the one song that made the list almost solely through my listens. I put this on almost every playlist and mix CD I made over the past year. I wanted everyone I knew to hear this song.

Andrew Bird: Plasticities (Buy Album)

#4) “Kathleen” by Josh Ritter
All of the songs on this list were originally released in 2007 or 2008… except for this one. It comes from Josh Ritter’s 2003 release Hello Starling and contains what may be the greatest opening lyric ever commited to tape. When Josh sings “All the other girls here are stars/You are the Northern Lights,” he immediately sets the tone for the song and makes my wife upset that I’ve never said anything that poetic to her. I went on a huge Josh Ritter kick following the release of his 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (my favorite album of ’07), and I’m a little surprised that track got more listens than a few of the songs on Conquests.

Josh Ritter: Kathleen (Buy Album)

#5) “The Moneymaker” by Rilo Kiley
I mentioned this song briefly in last week’s Top 5 and provided a link to the video. This song is simply a boozy swagger through the world of adult entertainment. Blake Sennett’s guitar sets the mood for the song perfectly and provides the perfect playground for Jenny Lewis’ sex-soaked vocals.

Rilo Kiley: The Moneymaker (Buy Album)

So there you go… the five songs I’ve heard the most over the past year. On January first, I think I’ll reset the play counter and keep track of this all again next year.

Friday Top 5: Rilo Kiley

Posted in Rilo Kiley, Top 5 on October 17, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this band yet. I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned Jenny Lewis at all here actually. I need to catch up.

Rilo Kiley has been one of my favorite bands in recent years after my wife introduced me to their music following the release of 2004’s More Adventurous. I had been aware of them before that, but she became a fan first and then converted me.

Rilo Kiley was formed in L.A. in 1998 by former child actors Jenny Lewis (Troop Beverly Hills) and Blake Sennett (Salute Your Shorts). Over the course of the next decade Lewis and Sennett would prove that the move away from acting was a good one. The two would share “front man” duties for the band for much of their early work before the focus began to shift more toward Lewis.

For me, Jenny Lewis is Rilo Kiley. All five songs I list here today will feature her on lead vocals. I don’t dislike Blake Sennett… quite the opposite in fact. I just get so much more out of Lewis’ torchy lyrics and scorching vocals. Whatever IT is… she has it, and it sounds great. Even her two solo records (which I will have to revisit sometime soon) just have a certain sonic quality that I’m drawn back to again and again.

But let’s get to the music. Rilo Kiley have released four full length albums and one E.P. I’ll be drawing one song from each release for the Top 5 today.

Let’s start with the E.P. Initially issued in 1999 as a self titled release, the disc was re-worked and reissued in 2000, and again in 2001. For its third pressing, the disc carried the title Initial Friend. As you might expect, this album is not as cohesive as some of their later work. It does, however, give us an early glimpse into their sound and provide us with one of their catchiest songs to date.

(All versions of the Initial Friend E.P. seem to be out of print. The only copy I could find online was on craigslist, and the guy was asking $500 for it. The “buy album” link here goes to an amazon.com search for Rilo Kiley.)

Rilo Kiley: The Frug (Buy Album)

Rilo Kiley’s debut full length album Takeoffs and Landings was issued in 2001. Here, the band experiments with a vast array of sounds including sparse acoustic numbers and synthesized instrumental reprises. In the end, though, the album holds together quite nicely and that sense of experimentation that does not obscure the hooks that fill each song. “Plane Crash in C” plods along for a bit, propelled by a sparse arrangement and Lewis’ vocals before hitting the bridge. There, Lewis is wrapped in a blanket of horns and the song really catches fire.

Rilo Kiley: Plane Crash in C (Buy Album)

2002 saw the release of The Execution of All Things. As you might expect from the title of the album, some of the songs on this release deal with some dark issues, including the divorce of Lewis’ parents. The lyrics, however, are counterpointed with the bouncy, hook laden sound that was by then becoming Rilo Kiley’s calling card. The title track illustrates this perfectly. As you listen to all of these songs, pay close attention to the guitar work of Blake Sennett. My wife argues that his playing is as important to the band’s sound as Jenny Lewis’ vocals. She’s right.

Rilo Kiley: The Execution of All Things (Buy Album)

More Adventurous came in 2004 and was the band’s big commercial breakthrough, it was also the album that got me hooked, and the reason I decided to force myself to choose one song from each of their releases for this post. Otherwise, there may well be five tracks from this album in my Top 5. It would be easy for me to go with “It’s a Hit” here. That was the lead single and the song that sucked me in. Instead… here’s one called “Portions for Foxes.” It gets the nod for the palpable sexual energy that oozes through the whole track… especially in Jenny Lewis’ shouted command to her paramour roughly 1:50 into the song.

Rilo Kiley: Portions for Foxes (Buy Album)

Rilo Kiley’s latest effort, 2007’s Under the Blacklight, takes the muse for its lyrics from the underbelly of Los Angeles. The songs take us to nite clubs, sex clubs, and behind the curtains of the adult film industry. The song I want to feature here, however, is one of the lighter tunes on the album. “Breakin’ Up” is a fun faux-disco dancer that makes me want to strap on a pair of skates and head down to the local roller-disco (if any still existed). It’s a bit of a departure for the band, and may be a bit too bubbly for some. I just find it extremely fun.

Rilo Kiley: Breakin’ Up (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Ben Folds Five

Posted in Ben Folds, Top 5 on October 10, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Ben Folds recently released a new solo album called Way to Normal. I’ve been listening to it a bit here lately, and may have something to say about it later. If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun to listen to, and it drove me to go back and dig out my old Ben Folds Five albums to rediscover this music that I enjoyed so much in the late 1990’s.

Ben Folds Five was a three piece band (They said “Ben Fold Five” just sounded better than “Ben Folds Three”) consisting of pianist/vocalist/songwriter Ben Folds, drummer Darren Jessee, and bass player Robert Sledge. You’ll notice there’s no guitar player. The one thing missing from the band was one of the things that made them unique. Ben’s piano was the lead element in their sound, but it was the sheer fury and abandon with witch each member attacked his instrument that truly set the band apart from other piano pop acts. Ben was known to kick at the keys and pound away at his instrument with his piano bench. Their energetic punk posturing blended with their melodic song stylings to form a brand of music Ben called “punk rock for sissys.”

With that said, I’m not sure what it says about me that I like that music so much… but here are my favorites.

The first two songs come from BFF’s 1995 self-titled debut. This is probably my favorite of the three BFF releases.

Philosophy: I don’t really have a lot to say about this song other than I remember being instantly captivated by the sunny melodies mixed with the crashing bass and drums. Ben steals a bit from “Rhapsody in Blue” at the end of this song. Check out this video for an idea of the energy that the Five brought to the stage.

Uncle Walter: I think everyone has a relative like Uncle Walter. He knows exactly what everyone’s problem is… and what they need to do to fix it. And… Oh the stories he can tell. He’s been everywhere, seen everything, and knows everyone. Of course, all he ever seems to do is sit around the house all day watching television.

Ben Folds Five: Philosophy (Buy Album)
Ben Folds Five: Uncle Walter (Buy Album)

Next are two songs from 1997’s Whatever and Ever Amen. This was the first Ben Folds Five album I ever bought and the first album I had ever purchased without having heard one single song on the disc. I followed a recommendation from MTV’s Matt Pinfield… glad I did.

Song for the Dumped: Imagine you’re dating this girl. You’ve been together for a while, and you think things are going pretty well. You take her out for a nice dinner… for which you pay. After a wonderful evening, you take her home and walk her to the door. You move in for a goodnight kiss… But she breaks up with you instead. Just like that.

Oh yeah… and she still has your favorite black t-shirt that she “borrowed” and has yet to return. You’d probably be a tad upset too.

Selfless, Cold, & Composed: Now imagine you see that same girl a few weeks later. You’re a wreck. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep. She broke your heart. But there she is, smiling and laughing with her friends. She doesn’t miss you at all. Ouch!

Ben Folds Five: Song for the Dumped (Buy Album)
Ben Folds Five: Selfless, Cold, & Composed (Buy Album)

1999’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner was Ben Folds Five’s final album, and a nice way to go out.

Army: This one is a bit of an autobiographical song for Ben. Go to school… drop out… join a band… He did it all. What makes this song one of my favorites is what happens to it when Ben plays it live at one of his solo shows. One man playing a piano can’t possibly reproduce the horn section that plays so prominently on the studio version. Ben’s solution is to conduct the audience to sing the horn part while he conducts the crowd with one hand and plays the keys with the other. I’m including the studio track and a bonus live version.

Ben Folds Five: Army (Buy Album)
Ben Folds Live: Army (Buy Album)