Photo by Shervin Lainez
1. Jenny Lewis | Sing A Song For Them
Jenny Lewis is such a badass song writer. I love the arrangement of this tune, the mellow guitar riff in the beginning and then getting all fuzzy Rock in the end, the escalating string section. It’s a big beautiful Love song for all of the people that don’t usually get sung about:
To the never made its, and the unrecognized
To the alley rats and the tenement flies
To the weekend tweakers, the blond and the blind
To the ex-thrill seekers in the methadone lines
At the risk of sounding corny, it’s a dose of compassion for ourselves and each other. Also, I think this would be a great song for a political campaign. I would definitely vote for that person. In fact, I feel like emailing this song to every person I know in the political realm... Which means I won’t be doing any emailing today.
2. Morphine | In Spite Of Me
I first heard about Morphine from a very old friend of mine. We liked each other when we were 13 years old and went to School dances and did awkward stuff like that together. He had seem them play in Europe and played me this song while I was going through a break up. His voice is so hushed, almost a whisper, against these delicate guitar parts, maybe an electric banjo too? The sentiment is something we can all relate to and I think I will always be able to apply this song throughout my life to certain situations. We all have people in our life that we adore and eventually watch them move on, reluctantly, out of our immediate sphere... Last night I told a stranger all about you. They smiled patiently with disbelief. I always knew you would succeed no matter what you tried. And I know you did it all in spite of me. I’m proud to have known you for the short time that I did, proud to have been a step up on your way. Proud to be part of your illustrious career, and I know you did it all in spite of me. Late last night I saw you in my living room. You seemed so close but yet so cold. For a long time I thought you’d be coming back to me. Those kind of thoughts can be so cruel. To feel left behind can be so damn painful. There is something kind and forgiving in this song though, as oppose to resentful, that takes a little bit of the sting out of that kind of scenario and makes you feel less alone in it. I always feel strangely grateful when I listen to it.
3. Josh Ritter | Kathleen
I have a soft spot for this entire record. It has three versions of each song, him solo, live with a band, and the studio version. My friend has this little cabin in the Catskills that I like to go to during the summers. When I first went by myself I was a little scared at first. I asked her if she ever went by herself and got scared of ghosts at the cabin. She said, No. My grandparents built it, so if there are any ghosts, they’re nice ones. When I got up there I understood what she meant. That place just feels loved, every curtain and every pillow, every mouse poop.There are two enclosed porches. The one facing the backyard is where I listen to NPR with coffee in the mornings, and the other one is in front and I eat dinner there with candles and wine. I play this record and just let it cycle through a few times. I light a fire and get cozy with a little whiskey. It’s the most peace I’ve known since living on the East Coast. I always equate Josh Ritter and this song with that peaceful feeling. It’s just so sweet too, I wanna be the one to drive you back home, Kathleen. I know you are waiting and I know that it is not for me. But I’m here and I’m ready and saving you the passenger seat. That kind of sweet vulnerability is kinda missing in everyday city life, at least for me. I don’t want to speak for anybody else.
4. Connie Converse | One By One
I was first introduced to Connie’s music by a friend of mine recording an album of her work. So I knew her story before I knew her music. If you don’t know who she is, she was a songwriter in the fifties living alongside Dylan and other peers in NYC during the Folk movement. She only had one television performance on The Morning Show with Walter Cronkite. She never hit the mainstream and eventually moved to Ann Arbor in 1961. She continued to write, but only privately, and then one day she got into her car and drove off and no one knows what happened to her. So in 2009 someone found and released an album of all these songs she had recorded in a friend's kitchen in the fifties. One By One is probably my favorite. It’s so sweet and lonely. I can relate to it, the times I’ve walked through the city late and on my own. My friend and I did a residency at one of my favorite local venues in Brooklyn, Pete’s Candy Store, and we sang this song together A Capella. It feels so good to be apart of continuing her Music in any small way I can.
5. Lady Lamb The Beekeeper | Crane Your Neck
Oh wow, this song. I’m lucky to have seen it performed live more than once. This entire album, Ripely Pine, by Lady Lamb The Beekeeper is so magnificent. The songs starts with just her on the guitar, this picky rhythmic tone you start to dance too a little. Then it slows down and she lets her vocals rip against the incoming instrumentation. I love that this song is unconventional, and can be so many things within a 6 minute time frame. When I saw her live, solo, singing this song, everyone stopped breathing in the room at one point and then she just let out this singsongy scream/howl. I think any person who writes songs should have this in their Music library. It’s a good reminder to not let yourself get too confined by structure. She trusts herself musically and it shows. My dear friend who co-produced my last solo album produced Ripely Pine and I remember getting to hear this track in the studio. It feels so good to see people you care about making great things.
6. Jeff Taylor | Undead Lover
This is a new song for me but it’s so reminiscent of some of my favorite voices/bands growing up. It has this really earthy arrangement that reminds me of Paul Simon and Sting’s music. The build is slow and subtle while intense at the same time. There’s a really clean staccato horn section and then this loose and rusty echoey guitar part, at least I think it’s a guitar! Every element is so meticulously separate and distinct while serving the song as a whole.The lyrics are straightforward and uncluttered. Jeff Taylor’s voice is killer. It’s soothing and stimulating at the same time. The juxtaposition of his soft drawn out vocals and percussive elements underneath them are hypnotizing. I mean, I really like this song. I heard it live before I heard the record and it’s live interpretation and studio version are both fantastic. This record, Organelle, just came out recently and I think I’m just ecstatic to know there is a solo artist in the city making this kind of Music in a time where bands seem to be getting more attention and kudos. Singer-songwriters can have a bad connotation these days and I feel like Jeff Taylor defies that sentiment.
7. Noah And The Whale | Shape Of My Heart
This song reminds me of summertime in NYC, and I’m sure I’ll be listening to it this summer while walking through Prospect Park. It reminds me of picnic baskets, outdoor concerts, fireflies, bike rides and Brighton Beach. I love the arrangement. It’s so tight and has got such a great beat between the drums and the rhythm guitar. Horns repeat the melody of the verse and then expand underneath the chorus. It is pretty damn joyful, with these little melancholic interludes. His voice is also one of my favorite male voices. It’s strong but kinda shaky and has a lot of character.
8. Kim Carnes | Bette Davis Eyes
I had to include at least one karaoke go to. This song is so fierce, Kim Carnes and her raspy wit.
9. The Pierces | We Are Stars
When I was a kid one of my favorite movies was Splash with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. Not only did it have a mermaid walking through Manhattan, but as a West Coast kid, Cape Cod seemed like one of the most exotic places to me. My folks and I decided to spend a week in Cape Cod a few years back when they were visiting me from L.A. I’d been in NYC for almost 8 years but had still never made it there. We were across the street from the beach and at sunset I would go running on the sand and listen to this song over and over again. It’s so shiny and sparkly and melodic and sincere, I just wanna be loved by you. I see nothing worse, than to sail this Universe without you. It has that eighties vibe, that awesome romanticism that makes me sad and nostalgic in the best way. The vocals are gorgeous and the transition between verse and chorus is so lovely and effortless. It also talks about how we are, literally, made of Stars, which reminds me of this really funny Astronomy teacher I had in College.
10. Cat Stevens | Can’t Keep It In
Oh, man, this tune!!! I have the fondest memories of this song. One Thanksgiving when I was growing up in Maui, my mom’s friend, our neighbor, and my auntie chose this song to dance to while we all stood in a circle. She danced and swirled within the circle and stopped in front of each of us at some point singing the words, I can’t keep it in!... Her idea was that we should all do some kind of poem or song as a gift to each other, to show our gratitude for the people in our lives. Of course, we were 11 and had to make the utmost effort to stifle our laughter while this was going on. Now that I’m all grown up though, I wish we were all more like her and did things like that more often. She didn’t give a shit about money. Getting the scarf she had seen online didn’t make her feel loved or appreciated. A barbecue with friends and family did. She ended up moving to the Big Island where her husband built them a tree house in the forest.
+11. Maxence Cyrin | Where Is My Mind? (Pixies Cover)
Where Is My Mind? is one of my favorite Pixies songs. It reminds me of being a teenager in Maui, but listening to a Classical interpretation as an adult. A strange mix. We would all take long walks through my friend’s pastures behind her house until we found the trail to the natural pool. We would go barefoot, stepping on fallen tropical fruit. We would pick magic mushrooms and turn them into a spaghetti sauce. We would get rides around town in the backs of people’s trucks and go down to the beach. We would agonize over our Love interests around bonfires next to Eucalyptus groves. There was a very fine line between our internal worlds and the natural world around us. Maxence does a piano instrumental version of this song and it just about pushes me over the edge. It’s such a gorgeous melody. It’s so sad and introspective, but tender. For me, it’s a song to remember, relive, and then let go of the past to.
+12. Fionn Regan | Be Good Or Be Gone
This song never gets old. Sometimes I zone out and listen to his tight guitar picking, other times I focus on his intimate vocals and lyrics that read like stories. He is one of my favorite lyricists, I have become an aerial view of the coastal town that you once knew. Be good or be gone... Such a wonderful metaphor followed by a simple request. This album came out when I was living in Los Angeles and felt incredibly lost. This song was always so soothing. It transported me to that coastal town and out of downtown L.A. I remember watching the video with a friend of mine. Fionn sang it in all of these different places and pieced it together so one minute he’s singing the verse in a subway station and you can hear all of those subway sounds, and then it seamlessly continues with him on a beach with the sound of waves behind the guitar. So groovy.