Archive for the Top 5 Category

Friday Top 5: Alejandro Escovedo

Posted in Alejandro Escovedo, Top 5 on September 26, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

This week on the Friday Top 5, we’re taking a look at the music of one of my very favorite artists… Alejandro Escovedo. I wrote a bit about Alejandro before in one of my very first posts here.

Of course, one of the things I love most about his music is how many styles and influences go into his sound. Escovedo draws from pop, country, punk, folk, border radio, and just about any other musical form you can imagine. He then manages to blend all of those disparate sounds into something new that is warm and familiar while also being totally unique to him and him alone. I think the five songs I’ve chosen here (from five different albums) do a good job of showcasing the wide range of his influences and talents.

The first tune comes from Escovedo’s debut solo disc, 1992’s Gravity. “Five Hearts Breaking” is one of the first Escovedo tunes I ever heard and one that certainly made me want to hear more. Acoustic and electric guitars, strings, organ, piano, and percussion all swirl together to create that sound that is totally his.

Next is “Put You Down” from 1996’s With These Hands. This song is simply obsession set to a loping bass line and building to a crashing, guitar fueled, chorus.

My favorite Escovedo song, “Castanets,” comes from my favorite Escovedo album (2001’s A Man Under the Influence), and is one of my favorite songs of all time… period. The guitar lick on this song sets the track on fire and refuses to be extinguished for the next 3:27. This is, in my opinion, one of the great barroom rock songs ever recorded, and I will not be happy until everyone knows this tune.

Following a nearly fatal battle with Hepatitis C, Escovedo released The Boxing Mirror in 2006, his first album in over four years. “Arizona” is a song about his brush with the disease (Escovedo collapsed and nearly died shortly after a performance in Tempe in 2003.) and his time spent recuperating in the Arizona desert. This is a deeply personal song dealing with sobriety and mortality.

Finally, I give you “Always a Friend” from Escovedo’s latest masterpiece, Real Animal. This is the song that Peter Blackstock of No Depression calls the best “single” he has ever recorded. It’s hard to argue with him… probably my favorite song of 2008 so far.

Alejandro Escovedo: Five Hearts Breaking (Buy Album)
Alejandro Escovedo: Put You Down (Buy Album)
Alejandro Escovedo: Castanets (Buy Album)
Alejandro Escovedo: Arizona (Buy Album)
Alejandro Escovedo: Always a Friend (Buy Album)

Bonus track: Above is the studio version of “Put You Down” from the album, With These Hands. The bonus track is a live recording of the same song from a double album called Room of Songs. This recording features Alejandro Escovedo’s string quintet and highlights yet another facet of his sound.

Alejandro Escovedo String Quintet: Put You Down (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: R.E.M.

Posted in R.E.M., Top 5 on September 19, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

A few weeks ago, when I did the first installment of the Friday Top 5, I mentioned how hard it would be for me to actually compile a list of my top five R.E.M. songs. This week, however, I was inspired by a wonderful post over at Pretty Goes with Pretty and the continued brilliance over at Pop Songs 08 to actually give it a try.

The problem with doing this is that there are so many R.E.M. songs to choose from (over 300 on my i-pod) that it’s nearly impossible to narrow the list down to just five. There are two or three that stand out as no-doubters, and then fifty or sixty fighting it out for the last couple of spots.

We’ll start with the no-doubters.

First is “Country Feedback” from 1991’s Out of Time. This has been my favorite R.E.M. song for some time, and Michael Stipe has mentioned it as being one of his favorites as well. The song is named for what it is… a country dirge with lots of feedback. Stipe’s lyric is an especially bitter one about the ending of a relationship in which both parties have tried to hold things together, but are now giving up. Stipe will typically perform this song with his back turned to the audience.

“E-Bow the Letter” from 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi is similar to “Country Feedback” in that the two songs share a similar sound. This song also retains its working title… Peter Buck used an E-Bow for his guitar parts, and the lyrics came primarily from a late night letter Stipe wrote but never sent. Hence, “E-Bow the Letter.” Stipe’s idol, and fellow Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, Patty Smith provides vocals as well.

Time to go old-school now with “So. Central Rain” from R.E.M.’s sophomore album, 1984’s Reckoning. The song made its national debut in October of 1983 when the band appeared on Late Night with David Letterman to promote their debut album, Murmur. After playing “Radio Free Europe” from that album, Letterman asked to guys to do a second song. Instead of playing something else from the album, they debuted “So. Central Rain”… a song so new, it didn’t even have a title at the time.

“I Believe” comes from 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant and is my favorite song from my favorite R.E.M. album. Peter Buck kick starts the proceedings with a short banjo riff before Bill Berry’s snare signals a sharp change of pace. Buck drops the banjo and returns to his Rickenbacker for the song proper. This song is also one of my Top 5 Mike Mills sing-along songs. I love to try to match the high harmonies Mills provides in the chorus and a few other places.

We’ll end things with “It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine),” one of R.E.M.’s signature songs from 1987’s Document. One of my fondest concert memories is wailing along with this song at my first R.E.M. show at Rupp Arena. The first time I made it through without the help of a lyric sheet was like a rite of passage for me. This song sounds like throwing a party at the apocalypse. An obvious choice… but there isn’t another song in their catalogue that inspires me to dance around and sing like an idiot as much as this one.

R.E.M.: Country Feedback (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: E-Bow the Letter (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: So. Central Rain (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: I Believe (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: It’s the End of the World as We Know it (And I Feel Fine) (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Buddy Miller

Posted in Buddy Miller, Top 5 on September 12, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

This week’s subject on the Friday Top 5 is none other than singer/songwriter/producer/guitarist, Buddy Miller. Buddy celebrated a birthday last weekend. Earlier this year, he celebrated being named Aritst of the Decade by No Depression magazine. Later this month, he’ll serve once again as leader of the house band at the Americana Honors and Awards show in Nashville. He is, afterall, the most nominated performer in the history of those awards.

Buddy Miller has worked with many different artists in many different capacities during the course of his career. He’s played in bands with Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Gurf Morlix, and Alison Krauss & Robert Plant. He’s produced albums for Solomon Burke, Allison Moorer, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore and played or sang on albums from Levon Helm, Kasey Chambers, Lori McKenna, Frank Black, The Chieftains, Trisha Yearwood, and Lee Ann Womack (to name a few). His songs have been recorded by Womack, The Dixie Chicks, Jim Lauderdale, and Patty Loveless.

Today, the focus is on Buddy’s solo work. Buddy has released a total of five albums on Hightone and New West Records (I’m choosing not to count 2001’s Buddy & Julie Miller… I’ll feature it later). All five are stellar recordings. That’s why I was a bit surprised to find that the five songs I selected for today came exclusively from 1999’s Cruel Moon and 2002’s Midnight & Lonesome.

I’ll start with the tracks from Cruel Moon

“Does My Ring Burn Your Finger” is my favorite Buddy Miller song, hands down. This was one of my first introductions to his music, and the classic country heartbreak contained within won me over.

“Love Match” was written by songwriter Paul Kennerly. In Buddy’s version (a duet with Steve Earle) you can begin to see that love gone wrong is a central theme of the album.

A slightly more hopeful take on love is offered up on “Looking for a Heartache Like You,” a song featuring co-writer Jim Lauderdale. I should note that Buddy’s wife, Julie Miller, also receives co-write credits on this and “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger.”

On now to Midnight & Lonesome

Buddy offers up more heartbreak on the Everly Brothers’ “The Price of Love.” “Wine is Sweet/And Gin is Bitter./Drink all you can/But you Won’t forget her.” That is the price of love… a debt paid in tears and pain. The song gets a rock & roll treatment from Buddy with backing vocals from Julie.

Finally, the title track from Midnight & Lonesome is another country weeper. This one was written by Julie.

Buddy Miller: Does My Ring Burn Your Finger (Buy Album)
Buddy Miller: Love Match (Buy Album)
Buddy Miller: Looking for a Heartache Like You (Buy Album)
Buddy Miller: The Price of Love (Buy Album)
Buddy Miller: Midnight & Lonesome (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Chris Knight

Posted in Chris Knight, Top 5 on September 5, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

Chris Knight played Knoxville last night with The Hackensaw Boys. I was, unfortunately, unable to attend due to this thing I have called a job. Nevertheless… Chris Knight’s appearance in Knoxville last night, coupled with the release of his new CD, Heart of Stone has inspired me to revisit my Chris Knight collection this week.

For this week’s Top five, I will be dipping into Knight’s back catalogue… nothing from the new CD is on the list. It’s still a little too fresh right now for me to really tell if anything will crack the list. There are several contenders, though… I posted a few of them in my review of the album here

“Love and a .45,” “It Ain’t Easy Being Me,” and “Framed” come from Knight’s self-titled debut album from 1998. “Becky’s Bible” can be found on 2001’s A Pretty Good Guy while “The Jealous Kind” is the title track from Knight’s 2003 release.

All of these songs are very representative of Knight’s writing style in that they all tell a story of someone who is desperate or down on their luck. The jilted lover of “The Jealous Kind” could easily be the same unjustly(?) accused killer from “Framed.” In “Becky’s Bible,” a poker game gone wrong leads our hero to look for salvation while running from the police. The protagonist from “It Ain’t Easy Being Me” just can’t seem to make the right choices, while the cop from “Love and a .45” makes a questionable choice himself.

The characters in these songs are mostly unlikeable. They are killers, prostitutes, dirty dealers, and jealous lovers… people you would probably distance yourself from in real life. In Knight’s hands, though, you can feel empathy for their situations and hope for them to come out on top. That’s not an easy thing to do, but Knight does it with ease.

Chris Knight: The Jealous Kind (Buy Album)
Chris Knight: Love and a .45 (Buy Album)
Chris Knight: It Ain’t Easy Being Me (Buy Album)
Chris Knight: Framed (Buy Album)
Chris Knight: Becky’s Bible (Buy Album)

Friday Top 5: Kathleen Edwards

Posted in Kathleen Edwards, Top 5 on August 29, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

It’s time to introduce a new feature here at AFCLAAWB. The Friday Top 5.

Every time my wife and I take a long car trip together, we inevitably end up playing a game we like to call “Top 5.” The rules are simple. One of us comes up with a category and the other has to name their five favorite things that fall under that category. She may start by asking me my five favorite Cincinnati Reds (E. Davis, B. Larkin, J. Rijo, S. Casey, T. Browning). I’ll counter by asking her to name her five favorite Washington Redskins (M. Rypien, D. Green, A. Monk, G. Clark, C. Portis), and we go on from there.

Eventually, the topics will always turn to music… and that’s when things get tough. Ask me to pick my five favorite R.E.M. albums, and I’ll agonize over the decision for hours. Ask me to pick my five favorite R.E.M. songs? It may take weeks… months even.

The point is that picking my five favorite songs from any artist isn’t always easy, but I’m willing to make the tough choices here every Friday. R.E.M. will have to wait a few weeks after I’ve actually narrowed things down to my top 50.

Today… it’s Kathleen Edwards.

Kathleen Edwards is a Canadian singer songwriter who now has three albums under her belt: 2003’s Failer, 2005’s Back to Me, and 2008’s Asking for Flowers. Probably the best way I could describe Edwards’ music to someone who had never heard it would be to tell them to imagine what Lucinda Willams’ and Tom Petty’s daughter might sound like if she grew up listening to Neil Young records.

In chronological order… My five favorite Kathleen Edwards songs are “Six O’Clock News” from Failer, “In State,” “Back to Me,” and “What are You Waiting For?” from Back to Me, and “Asking for Flowers” from Asking for Flowers.

“Six O’Clock News” was the first Kathleen Edwards song I ever heard, and the one that drew me in to her music.

“In State” is a sort of prequel to “Six O’Clock News”… Edwards’ failed attempt to avert the impending tragedy.

“Back to Me” was an immediate favorite of mine for the veiled sexual innuendo in the chorus and the Petty-style guitar solo.

“What Are You Waiting For?” delivers the quintessential Kathleen Edwards lyric roughly 1:45 into the song. If you wondered why she publishes her songs under the name Potty Mouth Music… wonder no more.

“Asking for Flowers” is, I think, one of the best songs Edwards has written. It chronicles a relationship gone south through the eyes of a woman who is tired of having to ask her man to be nice to her.

So many songs could have gone here… but there is only room for five. I stand by these choices.

Kathleen Edwards: Six O’Clock News (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: In State (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: Back to Me (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: What Are You Waiting For? (Buy Album)
Kathleen Edwards: Asking for Flowers (Buy Album)