It’s a bit late this year, I know, but I’ve got a pretty good excuse as to why. We just delivered the final mixes of 15 tracks of original material (i.e. my own songs) to be mastered for a spring 2015 release.
THE FURIOUS LIGHT is the title I settled on, and it’s a rock & roll album produced by my brother Brian. It came out really well, and we’re very excited to share it with you soon.
First, though, here are the recordings that moved me most during the year we spent recording. Some were actually released in 2014, and others are tracks newly appreciated by me during the calendar year.
For ALMOST LIKE THE BLUES, I'm borrowing my friend Kevin Conaway's term "Mix Album," as these collections are always ordered and edited to feel like an album. Kevin makes cool companion videos for his mixes and posts them to his YouTube page. Inspired by his use of video, I created a 112-minute extended video album stream comprised of the songs, info and album-art intended to point viewers towards the original works. Much to my surprise, YouTube would not allow me to publish this video. It turns out you cannot host recordings of other people’s music on your own channel. Who knew?
I also spent entirely too much time compiling videos and song-streams of the available tracks included in the mix for a liner-notes-like 2,733-word multimedia blog post. Next year, in the interest of finishing this year-end project before Valentine’s Day, I’ll likely just go with the most appropriate and expedient distribution platform intended for just these purposes (thanks, Kyle): MixCloud.
I hope you discover something here that you dig!
Almost Like The Blues: 2014 Mix Album
“The Way” by California Breed.
I ain’t no money-maker you see, but I got soul / You got to believe!
My brother Brian introduced me to the band California Breed, which features former Deep Purple frontman/bassist Glenn Hughes, Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham’s son Jason Bonham and guitarist Andrew Watt. If you like this track, I highly recommend the whole of their 2014 self-titled album from which it comes.
“Gimme Something Good” by Ryan Adams.
All my life been shaking / Wanting something / Holding everybody back
Demanding ransom / Gimme something good
I love this song, but I would never have given it a chance had not my friend Sean Kammer made the effort to encourage me to first read a very long profile of Adams and his new self-titled album. After 8,267 words, I was willing to overlook the record’s infuriating cover image and give have a listen—albeit a skeptical one. Within 30 seconds, though, I downloaded the whole album on iTunes.
“Landslide” by Stuck In The Meantime.
Everyone is just a fault line that at anytime can go crashing into the sea
The first of five songs penned, recorded, and posted by my old friend James Robinson under the name Stuck In The Meantime, this is the best breakup song I’ve heard in a good long while. There’s a lot to love here, but my favorite bits are the guitars, the vocals (so good to hear dude singing again), and lyrics. I was even able to convince “The Ro,” as we call him, to let me post the EP (along with his 2006 album of the same name) on my Dreaming Out Loud Records site.
“Mercy Street” by Peter Gabriel.
Words support like bone
Having been released in 1986, this is obviously an older track. However, it was new to me this year. During one of my trips back to Ohio to record my forthcoming album, brother Brian and I were watching a VH1-re-airing of the Classic Albums series featuring Peter Gabriel’s SO. It’s an hour full of great stories, one of which was the way the lower harmony was recorded for this tribute to the poet Anne Sexton. In order to access the bottom of his vocal range, producer Daniel Lanois dragged Gabriel in front of the mic early one morning to get that gruff, “pre-coffee” voice. Watching this very late at night, Brian and I took our cue and rushed upstairs to do our version of this trick for a Gabrielesque song we were working on. Ours was more the 4am, haven’t-gone-to-bed-yet voice.
“Two Hearts Breaking” by Jewel.
I’m the teeth / You’re the heart / Together / We’re the start / Of the inhale
And a scream / You’re the not waking / I’m the not dreaming
I always catch hell for liking Jewel. Early in the year, I re-listened to her whole catalog (just as I had with Nine Inch Nails in 2013) and found her to be consistently smart, passionate, and brave. Folks seem to forget that she grew up on a homestead in Alaska, hitchhiked her way to Mexico at 16 by herself (writing “Who Will Save Your Soul” along the way, playing for bus-fare on the street), got signed to Atlantic Records at age 18 and was opening for everyone from Bob Dylan and Neil Young to goth bands like Bauhaus—armed only with her acoustic guitar! I don’t care what anyone else says. She’s a badass and a rare-bird in the music industry. “Two Hearts Breaking” is the new track on her 16-song greatest hits collection.
“I Don’t Mean This” by Derik Kroeze.
It don’t matter what I’ve been or what I’ve done here to anyone
Another face in the flock of all us fools / Do you see a difference / Cause I don’t see one
I first met Derik in Kent, Ohio somewhere around 2008 when his young band Eclyptic was still wearing matching stage attire while tearing through classic rock covers. Even in his late teens, Derik was a singer with a big ol’ voice, and I always appreciate that. He would stalk his side of the stage like a caged animal, often refusing to be tethered to the mic to sing his parts. I’m sure he’s doing the same now that he’s living it up down in Austin, Texas in a band called Fair City Fire. This song comes from his 2012 solo release WORLD UNKNOWN, which seems to be inspired by his move to this southern musical mecca from Northeast Ohio. As another unknown musician from similar roots having relocated to a faraway state fairly recently, I can relate all too well to this tune’s themes and lyrics.
“Down In The Hole” by Bruce Springsteen.
The sky above is turning, the world below’s gone gray / Though that I could turn and walk away
This haunting track from HIGH HOPES, Springsteen’s most recent collection of unreleased material, continues of the melancholy thread of the preceding song. Though, it’s definitely a metaphoric “hole” for me, as it’s always my go-to reminder when my work as a creative gets me down, “well it’s not like I’m digging ditches for a living!” As per usual, “The Boss” puts things into perspective.
“Walk Down” by Swallows.
The cellar door is open / The stairs are dark and broken
A Minneapolis-based band playing a witches brew of blues, folk and jazz, Swallows was introduced to me by Krista Vilinskis at Tinderbox Music. Krista gave me the group’s 2012 album WITCHING & DIVINING and recommended I reach out to Jeff Crandall and company about playing a gig together. Fortunately for me, they were into the idea. Swallows cellist, Aaron Kerr, even agreed to accompany me for half of my set and did an incredible job—without any rehearsal! Go see Swallows live if you can. One dude literally plays a metal trash can!
“Five O’Clock” by Katy Vernon.
“It’s five o’clock somewhere” seems to come a little earlier each day / The sorrows that I’m trying to drown never seem to float away
Katy and I crossed paths quite a few times in 2014. We met playing a house concert in St. Paul with batteryboy at the end of 2013, during which the British-born singer/songwriter teased me as though we’d known each other for years. I liked her right away and found soon after that I dug her music as well. Katy’s instrument of choice is the ukulele, the “happy instrument” on which she plays her “sad songs.” Even though I can play only one song on the ukulele, she invited me to play Ukefest 2014, which she hosted at the Aster Cafe in October. Good gal, that Katy. I think she’ll have a new album out this year, but this one is from her 2012 solo debut BEFORE I FORGET. My wife calls this “The Oprah Song,” referring to a charming story Katy sometimes tells before playing it live.
“Change It Up” by Phil Little.
Change it up / It ain’t workin’
When I first moved to Minnesota a couple of years ago, I started to go to open mics to check out local venues and try out the new material I was writing. The very first person I met at the very first open mic I attended was Phil Little. Phil is forty-years older than me, but it turns out we’ve got a fair amount in common—not the least of which is songwriting. However, while I’ve written something like 40 songs in the last 10 years, Phil is up to around 400 (I think)! This is one of my favorites that he’s recorded so far. It can be found on one of his three Soundcloud sites, as well as in the promotional video I made for the joint “storytellers” type show we played together last summer. “Change it up / It ain’t workin’ …” Great advice for anyone stuck-in-a-rut.
“Non Typical” by Chuck Ragan.
We can always build a world better than this
I had hoped to go to Ragan’s April 15th show at The Triple Rock in Minneapolis, but it didn’t quite work out. It would have meant leaving my dog Maggie home alone for a total of 16 hours, and I just couldn’t do it to her. I tweeted as much when I went home early, tagging Mr. Ragan and including a picture of Maggie looking extra-sappy that evening and got a reply from The Man himself! My preference would have been to bring home this album on vinyl, but I settled for an iTunes purchase and the reply.
“Ledges” by Noah Gundersen.
Here I stand on the edge of the ledges I’ve made
If I’m being totally honest, Gundersen’s breathy delivery bugs me sometimes. He’s also a dude whose twitter feed I wish I’d never seen. However, I do appreciate the things he writes and sings about. He seems, himself, to be totally honest in his songs.
“Global Tattoo” by Hamell on Trial.
Don’t tell me not to rock the boat / ‘Cause the boat needs rockin’ or it won’t float
I’d been waiting for about 4 years for Hamell On Trial’s new album to be released. I’ve been a super-fan since seeing him play his one-man show The Terrorism of Everyday Life at the Beachland Tavern in 2008. In the years since I’ve had the good fortune to open for him a couple of times, and I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign which helped fund his latest LP, which was ultimately entitled THE HAPPIEST MAN IN THE WORLD. My particular rewards bundle featured several CDs of demos, an out-of-print European download EP of an earlier incarnation of the album, and a very nice note from ol’ Ed himself. I have three different versions of this tune; and, while the album version is not necessarily my favorite, it is the most quintessentially Hamell: One guy. One guitar. Incisive. Incendiary. Inspiring.
“Fck the Beliefs (Demo)” by Saul Williams.
Beliefs are the police of the mind
I have to thank my friend Tess Wolfe for pointing me towards this one. More of a slam-poem set to a musical loop, this thought-provoking piece asks many questions of its listeners–many of which do not have easy answers.
“Almost Like The Blues” by Leonard Cohen.
There’s torture and there’s killing / There’s all my bad reviews
The war, the children missing / Lord, it’s almost like the blues
In what feels like a throwback to his 1992 album, THE FUTURE, Leonard Cohen reminds me of all the horrors happening around the world while I take my music, my mix cd, and myself too seriously.
“Cedarwood Road “ by U2.
Symbols clashing, bibles smashing / Paint the world you need to see
The Irish quartet came out with their best work in a decade with SONGS OF INNOCENCE. As long as you’ve iTunes, you’ve got this whole album in your library free of charge. If you haven’t already, find it and give it a listen. I’ve been a big U2 fan and staunch advocate for the band for the better part of twenty years, but I could not get into their last album (2009’s NO LINE ON THE HORIZON). INNOCENCE is an incredible return to form from Bono and the boys. Maybe it’s my overfamiliarity with the group’s history, maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s the singer, but most every time I hear the line quoted above I tear up or get goosebumps—often both.
“The Box” by Damien Rice.
I have tried but I don’t fit into this box you call a gift
I’ve long been in too happy a relationship to be listening to much Damien Rice, but I was still curious about his first album in seven years. I thought perhaps he had retired. Ever since the now 41-year-old Irish singer/songwriter entered the world stage with 2002’s O, he’s had an interesting relationship to the music “machine.” He refers to the financial success of his efforts as, “none of [his] business.” That’s one helluva luxury he’s got there, but I do appreciate the sentiment and have myself been struggling with the balance of creativity and commerce. This is the song from his new album, MY FAVORITE FADED FANTASY, which resonated the most with me.
“Till It’s Gone” by Yelawolf.
Ain’t much I can do but I do what I can
This song came to my attention when it was featured on the final season of SONS OF ANARCHY. That show introduced me to so much great music. I will miss it. I can’t vouch for any other Yelawolf songs, but this one is killer!
“American Skin (41 Shots)” by Bruce Springsteen.
You can get killed just for living in your American Skin
Inspired by the shooting of unarmed 22-year-old African immigrant Amadou Diallo by four New York City plain-clothed officers in 1999, Springsteen originally debuted this song at a concert in Atlanta during the 1999-2000 E-Street Band reunion tour. The shooting of Trayvon Martin prompted the song to be revisited during several Wrecking Ball Tour dates in 2012, and this version was recorded in 2013 with Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello and released on Springsteen’s 2014 collection of unreleased material, HIGH HOPES. It’s heartbreaking how topical this song remains.
“My Love” by The Ericksons.
When the rain came pouring down / I could only hear the sound of your voice calling me home
The opening track to Minneapolis’s sister-duo The Erickson’s 2014 album, BRING ME HOME, this song is a slice of synth-pop heaven.
“Copy of a” (Live) by Nine Inch Nails.
I am just a copy of a copy of a copy / Everything I say has come before
This year, my wife made me a birthday-gift-surprise of tickets to go see NIN play Red Rocks Amphitheatre. We made a trip of it and drove through The Badlands and The Black Hills as well. It was such an unforgettable experience, and the show was stellar. Trent Reznor and company played a searing set similar to those they were blazing through on the festival circuit in 2013. The recording I include here was taken from Niigata, Japan at the Fuji Rock Festival. It was the first song the band played together on stage after an extended hiatus from which they were not expected to return. In this incarnation of the show, Reznor walks out onto an empty and brightly lit stage alone and begins the song on his own–playing some kind of small electronic sequencer. Slowly, his bandmates join him. As the stage fills up, the sound intensifies. It was a remarkable thing to see in an unbelievably beautiful venue.
Pendulum” (Live) by Pearl Jam
Can’t know what’s high / Til you been down so low
Another nineties-born act I was able to catch up with this year. If I’m counting correctly, I’ve been to seven Pearl Jam shows in the last sixteen years. I skipped their 2009 tour; but, seeing them live in St. Paul last fall reminded me just how much I love this band in concert. Thanks to their “officially bootlegging” all of their shows since their 2000 tour, the version here is the very one I heard in St. Paul.
“New Dawn Fades” (Live) by Peter Hook and The Light
A chance to watch, admire the distance
Of the three surviving members of the English rock group Joy Division, bassist Peter Hook is the only one continuing to play their music. Hook and his backing band, The Light, which features his son Jack Bates on a second bass guitar, are known for performing Joy Division and New Order albums live. Thanks (a third time) to my wonderful wife, I was able to see Joy Division play The Fine Line last fall—well, as close as one can get these days. Sure, my buddy Brian and I had to wait through an hour of unknown new wave videos and left before the band played the main set (performing some New Order album or other); but, in between, it was a Joy Division fan’s dream come true. The set opened with “Dead Souls” and closed with “The Eternal.” Hook doesn’t attempt to imitate the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis visually (he mostly wears his bass guitar low and points a lot), but he does sing the songs similarly. Joy Division fans can hold out hope that the Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner will someday make peace with one another and start playing these sorts of shows together. In the meantime, catch Peter Hook and The Light if you get the chance.
“Purple Rain” by Prince & The Revolution
This classic song came on the radio during the snowy drive home from the Peter Hook concert and inspired me and Brian Yost to watch this early 80s classic–immediately. Yost had come from Brooklyn to record drums for my forthcoming album, and we were trying to do as many Minneapolis-centric things as we could in what little free time we had while he was in town. When 89.3 The Current elected to play “Purple Rain” late that Saturday night, we took it as a cosmic sign. Neither of us had seen the seminal music film before but had always meant to. Two hours later, we were forever changed. The movie is incredible. Aside from Prince’s on-stage performances, which are undeniably brilliant, there are some truly bizarre moments. In the first 10 minutes, a woman is literally thrown in the garbage. Prince, playing “The Kid” in the film, is selling out the best club in town every night but is somehow still viewed as the underdog of the narrative. One minute you’re watching a rock musical, the next an over-the-top melodrama, then some kind of soft-core-porn-music-video/exploitation picture. The movie even stops for 30-seconds-to-a-minute for Prince to have a voice-over-monologue moment with a tiny monkey in a cone-cup. “Let’s Go Crazy,” indeed. Rent or buy it today!
“Step out of the Shadows” by Glen Hansard.
Silent river, roll on / When the levees weak you’re gonna break it
Silent river, overcome / Closer to the sea now you can make it
This acapella track from the Irish singer/songwriter’s DRIVE ALL NIGHT EP seemed like a nice way to go out. As I type this, it’s not been a week since I saw Mr. Hansard play the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, so I’m sure there’ll be “more Glen” next year!
- David Ullman