Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Top 25 Albums of 2012

This has been an amazing year in music for me. What with seeing New Mutltitudes, Langhorne Slim, The Lumineers, Josh Ritter, Bruce Springsteen, Samantha Crain, William Elliott Whitmore, First Aid Kit, Damien Jurado, and Sharon Van Etten, in addition to dozens of artists at FloydFest and another handful at Silopanna, I've seen more live performances this year than any other year of my life.

And of course, there were so many great albums released this year.  While I knew many of the artists with new albums, I found many of the albums through blogs to which I subscribe, and many more through my friends on TurnTable.  I got a bunch of them, and listened to many others thanks to the wonders of Spotify. This excess of access made it much harder to narrow my selections down to 25 albums than it was in previous years. In some ways, ignorance is bliss, as I remember not too long ago I felt that a Top 10 list was sufficient. Regardless, here are my favorite 25 from 2012.

25.  Field Report -- Field Report

24.  Avett Brothers -- The Carpenter

23.  Andrew Bird -- Break It Yourself

22.  The Lumineers -- The Lumineers

21.  Bob Mould -- Silver Age

20.  Beth Orton -- Sugaring Season

19.  Matthew E. White -- Big Inner

18.  Kathleen Edwards -- Voyageur

17.  Leonard Cohen -- Old Ideas

16.  Punch Brothers -- Who's Feeling Young Now?

15.  Chuck Prophet -- Temple Beautiful

14.  Lee Fields & The Expressions -- Faithful

13.  Of Monsters & Men -- My Head Is An Animal

12.  Langhorne Slim & The Law -- The Way We Move

11.  Jay Farrar, Jim James, Anders Parker, Will Johnson -- New Multitudes

10.  Audra Mae & The Almighty Sound

9.  Heartless Bastard -- Arrow

8.  Bruce Springsteen -Wrecking Ball

7.  Anders Osborne -- Black Eye Galaxy

6.  Various Artists -- Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan

5.  First Aid Kit -- The Lion's Roar

4.  Otis Taylor -- Otis Taylor's Contraband

3.  Damien Jurado -- Maraqopa

2.  Patterson Hood -- Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance

1.  Alabama Shakes -- Boys & Girls

Here's a playlist with a song from each of these albums:

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):  ALO -- Sounds Like This; Black Prairie -- A Tear in the Eye Is a Wound in the Heart; Cold Specks -- I Predict A Graceful Expulsion; David Byrne & St. Vincent -- Love this Giant; Dr. Dog -- Be The Void; Dr. John -- Locked Down; Craig Finn -- Clear Heart Full Eyes; John Fullbright -- From the Ground Up; Great Lake Swimmers -- New Wild Everywhere; Michael Kiwanuka -- Home Again; Lord Huron -- Lonesome Dreams; Plants & Animals -- The End of That; Shovels & Rope -- O Be Joyful; Sonny & The Sunsets -- Longtime Companion; Sharon Van Etten -- Tramp

Lastly, while I didn't include live albums in my top 25, I wanted to give special mention to my favorite two live albums of the year -- Live From Alabama by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit; and Everybody's Talking by the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The End of an Era

In DC United's last game of the season, they tied at home.  Because they lost the aggregate score 4-2, they don't advance to the MLS Cup.  Given that they hadn't been to the playoffs in a few years, I consider it a fine result to get as far into the playoffs as they did.  It was particularly impressive that they made it one game away from the championship game despite losing their best player to injury for the last few weeks of the regular season (and all but 29 minutes of the playoffs). 

Even though the future looks bright for United, I have made the difficult decision not to renew my season tickets for the first time since 1997 (I had a half-season plan that year). In my cost-benefit analysis, I decided that the costs have gone up and the benefits have gone down to the point where it doesn't make sense to renew.  Costwise, ticket prices keep going up, and with Kathy not working and Emelia now attending a private school, the ticket plan is now a significant amount of money for me.

Benefitwise, we traveled a lot this year, which resulted in not being around for a lot of games, and we plan to do more of the same next year -- I just don't see myself going to enough games to justify a full-season, or even a half-season, ticket plan.  But there's also another reason, one that I hardly noticed until recently -- I miss my family when I go to games.  The obvious answer would be to bring them along -- Emelia had a great time at the game she went to this year, enough so that her attention didn't flag and we didn't have to leave early.  The problem, however, is that United rarely plays day games.  This is consistent with what I believe to be United's business model, i.e., their target audience is young singles.  Until yesterday's playoff game, United had not scheduled a home game for before 5pm.  And only two games started between 5 and 6pm.  I feel confident that this approach is one developed by DC United rather than being an MLS policy -- when I looked at this year's schedule, I saw that six regular season road games started before 5pm.  United's policy wasn't much of a problem when I was a childless middle-aged adult going to games, but it is a problem for families with children, a demographic to which I now belong.  So while I'd like to take Emelia regularly, for the most part the games are just too late for her. 

All told, I'll still go to games, but not as many.  Friends will have extra tickets now and again, and I'll keep my fan club membership (Screaming Eagles) active so I can buy tickets through them.  Hopefully, some of the games I go to will be early enough that I can take Emelia, or even Hannah.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Happy Ending

We had to punish Emelia last week.

At the parent-teacher conference on Monday, Emelia's teacher told us that Emelia wasn't listening to any of the other adults in school, just the teacher.  And even then, it was a struggle.  So we talked to Emelia about it afterwards, while the family was driving me to work.  And I followed up with it on Tuesday, when I walked Emelia to school.

So we were rather surprised when later on Tuesday the teacher called Kathy, and said that Emelia was misbehaving and being disruptive.  And even more surprised when the teacher called Kathy a second time, because Emelia was still acting up.  Kathy spoke with Emelia on the second call.  It didn't matter -- Emelia remained awful for the rest of the day.

We threw the book at her, at least as much as we were willing to do given that she's five.  She wrote an apology (her words, our help with spelling) that she delivered the next day; and was placed on two weeks of no dessert and no video. 

Kathy was the one who set most of the punishment, but it didn't take long before she was contemplating making exceptions.  I wanted us to hold firm -- at the time Kathy handed down the sentence, she had told Emelia that she wouldn't have s'mores while we were camping, even though her friend (and everyone else) would.  I reasoned that if Kathy was going to make that a feature of the punishment, it wouldn't do any good to remove it.  Kathy ultimately agreed, so we didn't make exceptions.

During the first week of punishment, the teacher reported that Emelia was behaving well at school.  At home, Emelia also behaved well, and didn't complain about the punishment.  She even reminded Kathy that she was on punishment a couple of times when Kathy forgot.  During camping, she sat around while everyone else ate s'mores, and didn't complain at all.  

In short, she was great for the whole first week, including Tuesday, her first day back at school after the long weekend that included an overall lack of sleep.

Tuesday evening, we ended the punishment after one week, making clear that we ended it because of her good behavior and because she didn't complain.  The point had been made, and Emelia responded positively.  We didn't see what more a second week of punishment would accomplish.  

On Wednesday, with the punishment lifted, Emelia's teacher said Emelia was excellent during the day, and at home she was great too.  

Monday, May 14, 2012

Another Letter to Emelia and Hannah

Weekends like this past one will hardly be a blip in the girls' memories when they're older, so I thought it best to try to capture it for them. Because in my mind it truly was a special one -- making a special weekend doesn't require a special trip or (much) special planning. All it requires is special people.

About the girls, May 2012

Emelia. Emelia at five is fiercely independent, except when she isn't. She's engaging, snuggly, and determined, but also she has trouble accepting things that aren't how she wants, be it with her peers or her parents. She has a strong sense of justice, usually centered on how she's being falsely "accused" of misbehaving. In sum, she's very much how she's been for the past two years, except wiser, more stubborn, more eloquent, and more creative. And even more delightful, if that's possible.

Hannah. Hannah is three months past her second birthday, her happiness that never flagged in the past now tinted occasionally by bouts of two-ness. Still, strangers regularly come up and tell us what a happy child she is. She's talking up a storm, loves to jump and do all sorts of physical activity, and she generally can't be left unattended. She's no longer napping every day, and Kathy especially isn't happy about it. She loves balls, dolls, and vehicles.

The weekend

Friday. Kathy, Emelia and Hannah headed up to College Park after school to visit with Shizuka, Kaz and Michiko (Eric was away) -- I Metro'd up there after work to meet you for dinner and a little hanging out, before I took the car back to tend to Nora, leaving the three of you to have a sleepover. I stayed up too late on TurnTable, and from what I hear, Emelia and Kaz also stayed up pretty late, chit-chatting away, best friends just like their Moms. Still, I was up the next morning before Kathy called for me to head up for a bagel breakfast.

Saturday. Up there, play and good times continued around a delicious bagel breakfast. After breakfast, Kathy, Hannah and I made a trip to the nearby REI, then came back to grab Emelia and all of us headed home. Lunch at home was followed by Hannah's (and my) nap. We woke Hannah and
away we went to a Street Art Festival down at Yards Park. Actually, the girls' highlight was less the festival and much more the fountain and little pool, where I think they both would have stayed had I not pulled them away so we could see what we (I) came for. Truth be told, however, there wasn't much that interested us in the festival. The one exception was a troupe of acrobats that Kathy and I enjoyed, but Emelia and Hannah were pretty bored. Emelia eventually turned to performing her own acrobatics, far more impressed by what she could do than could the members of the troupe. After that we headed home for a simple dinner and an early bedtime for the girls.

Rather, an early bedtime for Hannah. After dinner I reminded Emelia that she wanted to make a Mother's Day cake for Sunday, so we set to work on that. Mother's Day is not traditionally known as a cake holiday, but last year we inadvertently started a tradition -- since I had a special grown-up surprise birthday party for Kathy three days earlier, we assuaged Emelia's feeling of being left out by making a Mother's Day cake. She remembered it well this year and wanted to make one again. Both before and during the making, Emelia must have referenced the "surprise" about 100 times, always making sure Kathy didn't know what we were up to. Emelia's bedtime followed the baking.

Sunday. I woke up early, and Emelia followed quickly (as did Hannah when Emelia got up). I got some milk for Hannah while Emelia and I set to work with the frosting and sprinkles.  Being clueless about such things at the time I purchased the cake mix, I quickly discovered that devil's food cake crumbs off very easily if you apply frosting, so I ended up having to do that, even though we both wanted Emelia to have the honors.  Instead, she got to put the sprinkles on.  I left her to spell out "MOMMY" with them, or "MOM" if the letters got too big, but even that was a bit too optimistic.  Let's just say that I was able to perform a salvage job so that the "O" wasn't a solid block of sprinkles.

Kathy came down and opened Emelia's card and my present, a 16x20 canvas collage of the girls using photos from last month's beach trip.  

After poking around for a bit, I was going to suggest we go to the Arboretum, but Kathy beat me to it.  Great minds and all, at least that's what I tell myself (and her).  We enjoyed walking a lot with the girls, and only had to carry Hannah a little bit at the end.  Sadly Hannah didn't want to let us take photos of her, but we snuck a couple in.  And Emelia got a couple of Kathy and me -- she liked taking the photo of us kissing.  

Kathy decided she wanted lunch at Franklin's, so that's where we went.  Again Kathy and I were in harmony, ordering the same beer and meal -- it's like we were celebrating our anniversary a few days early (the 16th).  Back to the house afterwards, for naps for Hannah and me.  I slept, but no luck with Hannah.  Kathy was a bit frazzled when I came downstairs, so I grabbed Emelia and we walked to the grocery store.  When we got back, we got the house ready for the return engagement of Shizuka and the kids, this time with Eric in tow.  A nice dinner was followed by the surprise cake, which was well received by all, much to Emelia's delight.  Our dinner guests didn't stay too late, and we put the girls as soon as the company left.  

A busy weekend gave way to a quiet evening, as Kathy and I relaxed in preparation for the week.  So ended a wonderful Mothers Day weekend.

Caveat.  Were there low points in this amazing weekend?  Of course -- it's too recent to wipe those clean via the nostalgicator.  Still, they were relatively small and insignificant compared to the multitude and intensity of the high points.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Race is On

Now that Romney's nomination has become a certainty, we've got about six months ahead of us where the two candidates engage in a race to the bottom.  As the saying goes, the only ones certain to lose this race are the American people.  Liberal friends have recently asked me about my previous statement that I plan to vote for a third party candidate rather than "risk" a Romney presidency.  And while I understand their fear, I feel that keeping Obama for another four years is a disaster in its own right, and a campaign slogan of "The Less Disastrous" candidate doesn't sell me.

There's a new opinion piece that unequivocally puts the blame on the dysfunction in government squarely at the feet of the Republicans.  And as far as it goes, I have no qualms with its assertions -- in Congress, the Republicans are determined to be obstructionist and unreasonable.  But I've seen folks point to that article as a defense of Obama's record, and I think that's ridiculous.  The Obama Administration has the power to do many things.  Many of the things he has done (or failed to do when he could do them) are abominable.

Suppose there was no limit on how many terms a president could serve, and W not only ran but won re-election in 2008.  And suppose that he's running for office again in 2012, and in the past four years, his administration:

Some of these are more important than others, but this record is awful -- I would never consider voting for Bush with that record behind him (and I'm sure I'm forgetting plenty -- these are just the ones that come to mind, and so they're slanted toward more recent events).  Yet these are things that Obama has done (follow the links) -- not Congress or Republicans, but Obama.  That the name and party behind those in/actions is different gives me no reason to reconsider my position.  Nor does the fact that in some instances Republicans have proposed even more radical things.  Even the fact that Obama can both nominate federal judges and serve as a check against such radical proposals is inadequate given how awful he's been without Republican involvement.

Of course I've focused on the bad, and it's only fair to consider the good he's done.  Sadly, many of the good things he's done are qualified successes.  The two unqualified things I give credit for are signing into law the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and nominating Justice Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.  The stimulus bill was a lot better than nothing, but it was still too small and poorly designed to get us out of the recession, and its effect was dampened by deficit deals he later made.  Health care reform was a lovely idea, but the law that got enacted is from a template from the very conservative Heritage Foundation, and keeps getting watered down.  Leaving Iraq is a good thing, if you overlook  that the Obama Administration tried to stay longer (ironically, it was bound by an agreement made by Bush that the Iraqis wouldn't budge on).  The Dodd-Frank Act may be an improvement over the status quo (or not, I'm honestly not sure), but what it mostly did was create confusion and give industry a chance to negate its effect.

I have a couple of individuals I'm considering voting for.  But I can safely say that the person I'll decide on isn't the nominee of a major party.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Kathy stopped work in June to be a full-time stay-at-home Mom, and we started living on a budget last April in anticipation.  Suddenly, the money we were permitted to spend on ourselves was restricted significantly.  It had never been limitless, but we've always been fairly responsible to the point that we never really felt restricted.  We feel it now.

And so my trips to buy new beers have dropped off -- hard to keep to a budget when a stop at State Line eats up all your money for a month.  And even though I spend far less per visit to one of my favorite bars than I do at State Line, those trips have tapered off too.  To be honest though, that started in earnest when I went on a diet at the first of the year.  

At the same time as I've been cutting back on beer geekery, I've been undergoing (as Kathy put it) my once-a-decade move to a new online community.  In the '90s, it was jumbalaya, a community of people who like playing boggle.  In the '00s, it was ratebeer, a community of beer geeks.  In both these instances, I've made a number of friends that extended beyond the virtual into the real world.  

And now, I've discovered, a music site where you dj for others in a chat room.  I'm finding new music, and meeting folks who enjoy the same music I do.  Given that I love music but had given up on radio long ago, this is a wonderful discovery.  And let's face it, listening to music in a chat room costs no more than one's internet connection, whereas there's only so much enjoyment one can get talking about new beers without spending on the beer itself.

And so instead of spending on beer as much, I'm now spending on concerts.  I spent about the same at each of two shows in March as I would have for a night at a bar.  And while I can't remember a single beer I had the last time I went to my favorite beer bar, I expect the great memories of the last show I attended, Langhorne Slim at Iota, will be with me for quite some time.  

I haven't stopped there either -- my passion has resulted in our summer plans including a trip to a music festival.  We'll see how it goes with the whole family camping at a four-day music fest, but fingers crossed it's the beginning of a family tradition.

This isn't about a rejection of beer -- I'll still drink and rate beer as the opportunities arise (and for the fifth year in a row, we'll still be doing at least one camping beer weekend).  I would love to try more beers and go to a bunch of shows, but the budget and the time isn't available.  And at this point in my life, to the extent I have to choose, I'm choosing music over beer.  

Sunday, March 25, 2012

She Doesn't Deserve This Shit

On March 15, the teacher's aide in Emelia's pre-Kindergarten classroom asked Emelia to move, and when she explained that she was allowed to sit where she was, the aide picked up Emelia by the arm and moved her to where he wanted her to sit, leaving a bruise where he grabbed her.

The weekend following the incident was one of concern and anxiety, as we heard nothing from our inquiries and complaints. On Monday the 19th, I went to the school alone, because if the aide remained in the classroom, we weren't going to let Emelia go. Fortunately, the assistant principal told me that the complaint was being handled, and that while it was pending, the aide would not be in the classroom. I called Kathy to let her know that she could bring Emelia after all.

The teacher has been ecstatic since the suspension started. Only after the incident did we learn that (1) there was an injury-causing incident with another student last semester; (2) the aide allegedly has been bullying the teacher in addition to the students; and (3) allegedly the aide has been doing very little in the classroom, leaving the first-year instructor to do almost everything. Last Monday Emelia told us about her day in far greater length and detail than she ever has. On Tuesday night Kathy noticed that Emelia wasn't grinding her teeth in her sleep.

Kathy and I have established three priorities in our efforts to deal with this incident. First, that he no longer be in Emelia's classroom, and we seem to have achieved that objective. In conversations with the teacher, she has indicated that the principal has let her know that regardless of the outcome, the aide would no longer be in her classroom. Second, that he no longer be at Emelia's school. That issue has not been resolved yet, but we are hopeful that the investigations (District school board, criminal, and Child Protective Services) will result in this happening -- meeting this objective is made more likely given that the incident was witnessed by the school's visiting artist. Third, that he no longer be employed in a position, inside or outside of DCPS, that places children in his care. I don't think this will happen, but we are doing what we can to achieve this objective as well.

Once we learned that the aide would no longer be in the classroom the anxiety that we have been feeling mostly went away. While we can't help but question why the aide was in the classroom despite the problems the school was made aware of previously, at least there has been no serious injury to anyone.  

For what it's worth, this is the second incident we've had with a teacher at Emelia's school. Last year, while Emelia's class was between teachers, the substitute decided to make an example of Emelia after she had an accident by making her stay in her pee-soaked clothes all day long. That teacher is no longer a substitute for DCPS. 

Two teachers in less than two years -- hopefully, there won't be any others.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Letter to Emelia and Hannah

We take photographs for all sorts of reasons, but mostly to capture a moment in time. In this post, I will try to capture a moment in time of roughly 72 hours. It's not about the family, though everyone is part of it; instead it's about your father, as he is at age 43, an age that probably means little to you personally when you'll read this, but also an age/time in my life that you'll have scant memories about me as a person. I can't say that these are typical days -- I think it might be the first time since we've become parents that I went out three days/nights in a row. To Hannah I apologize -- you're only two at the time these events transpire, and so even as our interactions are wonderful, they're not particularly memorable, or more accurately, distinctive for purposes of this letter. As such, Emelia features more prominently than you do in this letter.

This has been a winter of no winter. I had used my heavy coat for three days of the entire winter. It was in the 40s on Saturday, but in the 60s on Sunday, and the 70s and 80s Monday through today.

On Saturday night, I went to DC United's season opener, a game that ended in disappointment because despite getting outplayed, the scoreless draw was in reach until an added-time goal sent the team to defeat. In the stands we engaged in gallows humor to pass the evening, a sadly too familiar past time at United games these past few years. Still, it was nice to be with the gang again after the five month offseason, even though I have little to do with them outside of United games.

Sunday morning as we were adjusting to Daylight Savings we all went to visit Sharon, Gary, Andrew and Declan for breakfast, a visit that was pretty enjoyable. When Hannah showed signs of needing her nap, I drove everyone else home, and headed to a beer tasting. I had just lost 19 pounds from a diet I went on at the start of the year, and this was my first local tasting in several months. Between cuts in my personal budget and my waning interest in beer gatherings/ratings, this was something of a treat. While there I watched FSU defeat UNC to give the team its first ACC championship. And I tried a lot of beers and ate way too much food. A beer tasting doesn't involve a lot of volume -- most beers I only drank a couple of ounces, so that the 35 or so beers I drank was about a six-pack of volume -- that's a sizable amount, but not so much when the consumption was spread out over 7 hours. As with the soccer match, it was enjoyable even though I'm not close to any of the other attendees. Where once I had close ties to some of the local beer geeks, the ones I've cared about have moved or moved on, and the current regulars generally aren't people that I'd ever do something socially with outside of tastings.

I got home at a decent hour -- Kathy was still up, and we chatted a bit before we both went to sleep. Alas, at 12:30 or so, Hannah woke up because her pacifier fell out. Kathy responded to it, I woke up when she went to attend to Hannah, and I never could fall back asleep. Two hours of sleep on the night left me pretty tired the next day. I had had visions of going to a concert on Monday night, but lacking sleep and a ticket to the sold-out show, I gave up on that. At 4pm, however, I was offered a ticket, and went to an amazing show. Back around 11, I still stayed up another hour or so because I was so pumped up from the show. Six hours of sleep left me in pretty bad shape in light of the sleep shortage the previous night as well.

Tuesday morning I had the pleasure of walking Emelia to school. We both were enjoying the fantastic weather on the walk. As is often the case, our conversation was all over the place. It started with my trying to convey how wonderful the concert experience was, and Emelia claimed to completely understand, because she's five. I told her that we would go to Floydfest that summer, where I looked forward to sharing some music experiences with her. At some point the conversation shifted to dreams/goals, and Emelia informed me that she intends to marry her best friend (for the past two weeks), Timothy. I asked what happened to Jonah, as she had said she was going to marry him just a couple of weeks ago. Emelia explained that when our families had last gotten together, Jonah indicated that he probably was going to marry someone at his current school, so Emelia had set her sights elsewhere. And it made sense to me that she would select Timothy because Kathy had just recently explained that she was married to her best friend. Emelia had been changing her designated best friend quite frequently, and I couldn't help but wonder whether/how Kathy's statement was coloring Emelia's perspective.

On my way to work afterwards, I had a most unusual experience. As I was leaving the L'Enfant Plaza metro station, a man was going down the up escalator. He stopped a little in front of me, and I walked past him. A few seconds later a second man was walking down the up escalator, and he was completely naked. He had a shirt or something loosely covering his genitals, but that was about it. I have no idea what was going on, only that I had no interest in trying to find out. His shoes and the rest of his clothes were at the top of the escalator, unable to follow the conveyor as it slid underground.

Tuesday at work (yes, I was working amid all these activities), we released a big item that I had worked on for a couple of years. I had a bit of pride in completing it, but the greater feeling was one of relief. It was a challenging, difficult, and often frustrating process, and I was glad to leave this portion of the project behind.

Tuesday evening, when I got home, Kathy was set for us to enjoy the nice weather to go to Lincoln Park for a picnic (Emelia's idea). I was beat and not up for it, and Hannah was showing signs of being tired too. Still, I did my best to rally and we went. Hannah insisted on holding both Kathy's and my hands on the walk over, and got upset when we weren't doing that. At one point she threw herself to the ground in a decidedly two-year-old way; unfortunately she's more used to the floor at home, and hurt herself on the harder surface. After a few cries she rebounded, and we got to the park a couple of minutes later. We stayed there for a few minutes, but it started to rain, so we hurried back home and ate the rest of the picnic on the living room floor. Hannah went to bed shortly after that, and with that, the 72-hour window into my life has elapsed.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

New Multitudes

After two hours of sleep on Sunday night, there was no way I was going to go to the Birchmere on Monday to buy a scalped ticket to the sold-out New Multitudes show. My craigslist posting in search of a ticket had yielded no responses, and between my exhaustion and the likely fruitlessness, I was giving up.

Then at 4:00pm, I got a text asking if I was still interested, and my fatigue was washed away by the adrenaline my body started producing -- I was going to the show!

Things kept getting better once I committed to going. The seller wanted $50, but I got there before he did and someone outside was selling a ticket for face ($30), so I jumped at it. I spotted a single seat in the middle of the room, directly in front of stage right -- perfect. In response to my asking if the seat was available, I got a response that it was, but that I should be warned that the conversation was going to be about beer.

Bobby Bare, Jr. offered an entertaining opening set, mixing his songs fairly evenly between the depressing and the absurd, occasionally serving up songs with a healthy heaping of both qualities.

As for New Multitudes, let me start off by telling who they are, because the name isn't familiar to many people yet. For that matter, if I had recognized the name early enough, I probably would have bought a ticket before it sold out and saved myself a lot of anxiety. Billy Bragg and Wilco plumbed the Woody Guthrie archives a decade ago to compose songs from lyrics that evidently had never been set to music, resulting in the highly acclaimed Mermaid Avenue albums. Now, in honor of the centennial of Guthrie's birth, a different set of musicians have released a different set of Guthrie lyrics they've set to music. New Multitudes consists of Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket), Jay Farrar (Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt), Anders Parker (Varnaline), and Will Johnson (Centro-matic). Despite my long-held appreciation of the music produced by the first three of those men (nothing against Johnson, I'm just not familiar with his music), I had never seen any of them perform.

The first half of the show was a live performance of the 12 songs on the New Multitudes album, in the order in which they appear on the album, with virtually no dialogue. Each performer led the band for three songs. Johnson was mostly behind the drums, but on the occasions he stepped out from there to take the lead, Parker squeezed his rather large frame into the small space on the stage for the drummer. Meanwhile, Yames mostly played bass, and Farrar stayed on guitar. I'd only played the new album a couple of times prior to the show (I purchased the deluxe version, which includes 11 additional songs performed by Farrar and Parker, further diluting my familiarity with the new album). At times the compositions didn't involve all four band members, leaving one or two of them to stand uncomfortably idle for a couple of minutes. Still, their evident comfort with each other during the songs where they all performed overcame those awkward moments. Highlights of this set included the Johnson-led "Chorine My Sheba Queen" and the Yames-led "Talking Empty Bed Blues."

Something that surprised me in this portion of the show was the expansion of the album versions in several instances, with the resulting jams leaning toward garage/psychedelic -- the live version of Yames' "My Revolutionary Mind" particularly stood out in this regard. Regardless, the differences from the album were quite enjoyable, giving me a further appreciation of the songs. At some point during the show I remembered that the collaboration between the musicians began as early as 2006, so that even though the songs are new to the audience, no doubt ideas have continued to percolate and be passed among them in the time since the songs were arranged.

Once the band had played the 12 songs from the album, they took a short break, after which each member came out to do a solo acoustic tune. For me, the highlight of the show was when Parker played "Song," off the 2001 Varnaline album Songs in a Northern Key. I've loved this album for many years and had hoped he'd play something off it, though I thought the odds were rather slim -- what a delightful surprise! I was silently screaming along as Parker played -- it was all I could do not to sing along to probably the quietest song on the night. For Americana, "Song" is a fairly electric song, but Parker's stripped-down acoustic version added a staccato element that gave the song a greater sound of urgency than the original.

Their solo acoustic numbers complete, the entire band came back out for five more songs. Each man led one of the first four songs from his own catalog of songs, before the band closed with Guthrie's "Pastures of Plenty." This was the band at its integrated best, particularly for Son Volt's "Bandages & Scars" and the Guthrie tune, the latter transformed into a sprawling 12-minute tune that had the band leave the stage one at a time, until finally Johnson was along on stage pounding the drums with a fierce intensity and backed only by the feedback playing throughout the final song.

All told, it was one of my favorite concerts ever, and it left me so pumped that after coming home I still needed another hour to settle down enough to drag my exhausted self to sleep 24 hours after I'd last awoken.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

My Top Albums of 2011

2011 was a revelatory year for me musically, thanks to For those who don’t know, is a website at which people play music for each other in a chatroom. That quick and dirty description doesn’t capture the effect it’s had on me. In the five months since I first checked it out, I’ve been introduced to a wealth of great music that I never would have discovered, including several of this year’s favorites. In addition, I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the people that comprise the community there.

Without further ado, here are my Top 25 Albums:

25. William Elliott Whitmore -- Field Songs
24. Tedeschi Trucks Band -- Revelator
23. Steve Earle -- I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive
22. The Jayhawks -- Mockingbird Time
21. Gillian Welch -- The Harrow and The Harvest

20. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit -- Here We Rest
19. Iron and Wine -- Kiss Each Other Clean
18. Deer Tick -- Divine Providence
17. Old 97’s -- Grand Theatre, Vol. 2
16. The Mountain Goats -- All Eternals Deck

15. Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside -- Dirty Radio
14. Gary Clark Jr. -- The Bright Lights EP
13. Wye Oak -- Civilian
12. Low -- C’mon
11. Charles Bradley -- No Time for Dreaming

10. Middle Brother -- Middle Brother
9. Abigail Washburn -- City of Refuge
8. Ivan & Aloysha -- Fathers Be Kind EP
7. The Low Anthem -- Smart Flesh
6. Wilco -- The Whole Love

5. Dawes -- Nothing Is Wrong
4. Drive-By Truckers -- Go-Go Boots
3. Fleet Foxes -- Helplessness Blues
2. Frank Turner -- England Keep My Bones
1. The Decemberists -- The King Is Dead

To hear tracks from these albums, in addition to other tunes I’ve enjoyed in 2011, you can check out this Spotify playlist.