Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Year's Best Music - 2013

Another year containing a paucity of posts, but have no fear -- I would never skip out on the highly anticipated publication of my favorite music of the year.  Compiling this list was possibly the hardest it's ever been due to the fact that this year there was an excess of excellent albums.  I was fortunate to see 9 of these artists in concert this year, and I have tickets to see two more of them in January.

In addition to my Top 25 albums, I have compiled a spotify playlist that includes a track from each of my top albums, together with some of my favorite songs of the year (limit one per artist).  That playlist can be found here.

The Moondoggies -- Adios I'm a Ghost

Ivan & Alyosha -- All The Times We Had

The Head And The Heart -- Let's Be Still

Typhoon -- White Lighter

Mazzy Star - Seasons of Your Day

Laura Marling -- Once I Was An Eagle

The Lone Bellow -- The Lone Bellow

Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside -- Untamed Beast

T. Hardy Morris -- Audition Tapes

The National -- Trouble Will Find Me

Trixie Whitley -- Fourth Corner

Kopecky Family Band -- Kids Raising Kids

Frank Turner -- Tape Deck Heart

Jake Bugg -- Jake Bugg

Neko Case -- The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight,
The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Charles Bradley -- Victim of Love

Iron & Wine -- Ghost on Ghost

Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite -- Get Up!

Frightened Rabbit -- Pedestrian Verse

Kurt Vile -- Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Low -- The Invisible Way

Yo La Tengo -- Fade

Kingsley Flood -- Battles

Jason Isbell -- Southeastern

Phosphorescent -- Muchacho

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Epic Summer Update -- Floydfest

Unfortunately we weren't able to ride out the weather and enjoy the last two days of Floydfest.  We woke up yesterday morning to a leaky tent and a forecast of rain for at least the next 24 hours.  Given that the girls would be cold and miserable, and we decided the best course was to head home and dry out for 36 hours before resuming our road trip (next stop:  Lancaster, PA).

I most hated to miss Michael Kiwanuka, Blitzen Trapper, Trampled by Turtles, and Ben Sollee (I only caught about 10 minutes of one of Sollee's sets and was planning to catch a full set later), but there definitely were some highlights in those first couple of days.  The back-to-back of Spirit Family Radio and Langhorne Slim & The Law to kick off the festival Thursday afternoon was awesome -- I was right at the front for those.  After dinner, Emelia joined me for an evening just the two of us.  First up was the Gogol Bordello set -- it was wonderfully frenetic, and Emelia had a great time with it -- dancing for part of the time and bouncing on my shoulders a little left her delighted.  Not surprisingly, her favorite tune was "Stop Wearing Purple."  We next went to the hula hoop place and hung out there a little bit -- the proprietress had befriended Emelia last year, and Emelia loved seeing her again (and again) this year.  We then walked around some, taking in the strange (to her) sights that start coming out in the evening -- last year Emelia was generally in bed by dark, so she delighted in seeing the funkier side of FF.

On Friday, I took in both sets of Jason Isbell, fully enjoying both performances.  The first was on the porch stage, a very small and intimate setting -- I got there early and was able to sit in the third row for it.  It was just Isbell, and he played a number of quieter tunes, and finished with a lovely cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho & Lefty."  For the second one, on the main stage, I moved up to the front, and ran into my Turntable friend Lua -- I had first met her in person at last year's festival.  It was great seeing her again, and we both took in a fantastic full-band set from Isbell.  Lua had been expecting just to take in part of the show, but was wowed by Isbell, whom she didn't know especially well before the set.  It didn't hurt that accompanying Isbell was a musician that she knew and who was filling in (or just now joining the band, something Isbell indicated when Lua asked him during the merchandise signing after the show) as the second guitar.

All-in-all, a shorter and less wonderful event than I would have wanted, but I/we still had a great time while we were there.

Emelia's Hoop Tower

Love is all you need

All dressed up at the Children's Universe

Getting feathers in her hair (as of this moment, they're still around)

The family during a more contemplative moment

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Epic Summer Update 1 -- MUSIC!!

We're just getting started on our summer, and it's kicked off with a feast of music.  

A week ago Thursday, my friend Tom and I went to see The National.  We tailgated some beforehand, as the rain rolled into the area.  When we went into Merriweather, we found our seats -- in the center of row 9, i.e., great location!  But then when the opening band, The Dirty Projectors, started up, we started to worry some.  They sounded awful -- the bass overpowered everything, lots of distortion.  We went outside and on the speakers outside of the tent it sounded much cleaner.  Not that we enjoyed it any more -- the harmonic dissonance (or whatever you want to call it) of the the band's vocals didn't appeal to either of us.  When The National finally took the stage, we were relieved to hear that the acoustics were excellent, despite what we heard from the opener.  

And the show was fantastic.  I would have preferred more songs from Boxer than we heard, and I didn't think much of one of the new songs, Fireproof, but no real complaints.  The closing trio of Mr. November, Terrible Love, and acoustic Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks was the highlight of my evening.  Evidently it's a common close-out for them, but as I hadn't seen them before, I was delighted.

The National (photo by Tom)
This past weekend, we finally made it up to the Clearwater Festival, a music festival on the Hudson River, created by Pete Seeger to restore the Hudson and keep it clean.  Our friends Kim and Larry have been pushing us to join them for years, but in the past we'd always had a conflict in our schedule. 

On Saturday our families went up there (our friends have two children as well), hung out in the back of the main stage area, and took the kids on little trips around the festival to see other attractions.  We also met up with friends of Kathy from back home, who also came for the festival.  The acoustics were great, even as far away as we were, but because I wasn't really able to see anyone, in many ways it didn't really feel like we were at a concert.  

Non-musical aside:  Later in the day, while the kids were playing at the beach, I was hanging at our base camp, and a lightning bug landed on my arm.  And started crawling along my arm, and hand, and fingers.  After around 20 minutes, I jokingly named it Sparky.  And when my family returned, I told Emelia that we had a pet firefly.  Since our dog Nora had died in January, we had been petless.  We're planning to get a dog at the end of the summer, when we stop traveling, but I had it in me to joke about having Sparky the firefly be our pet instead of getting a dog.  And Emelia jumped right on board with that idea.  She loves bugs of all varieties -- in fact, she was a pillbug for Halloween!  Kathy sent me to get dinner for the family, so I let Sparky climb onto Emelia's arm, and away I went.  I know I should have seen it coming, but I didn't -- upon my return Emelia was sobbing in Kathy's lap because Sparky had flown away in my absence.  I mean, it was inevitable that Sparky would leave at dusk, but poor Emelia hadn't thought about it (and of course, I hadn't thought about what that inevitability would do to Emelia).  Until I returned, Emelia had been doubly burdened, because she thought I'd be mad at her because Sparky flew away while in her care.  Kathy and I both did what we could to assure her that Sparky would be happier there where it lived, among its brothers and sisters, but it took quite a while to ease my daughter's mind.  Needless to say, Kathy has threatened to kill me if I ever do something like that again.

The sets I saw that day, in whole or in part -- 

  • Judy Collins
  • Antibalas
  • The Lone Bellow
  • David Bromberg Quintet
  • Acoustic Hot Tuna
  • Mavis Staples

Sunday we got a sitter to watch the four kids, and it was just the adults.  Kathy really enjoyed the down time that came from not having the girls around.  Needless to say, we took in a lot more of the music, and also set up closer to the stage.  It also was far easier to go to other stages to see other acts.  In addition, I got to meet in real life one of my friends -- fun!  The musical highlight of the day was seeing Jason Isbell, whose new album, Southeastern, is one I've been listening to constantly since before it came out last week.  A special bonus was having Patterson Hood, frontman of the Drive-By Truckers (Isbell's former band), join Isbell on stage, and then having Isbell return the favor during Hood's set.  Between those two sets and the closing performance by Son Volt, I was treated to a great afternoon of Americana.

Isbell (L) joining Hood (R) during Hood's set

The sets I saw on Sunday, in whole or in part --
  • Buffy-Sainte Marie
  • Pete Seeger and Lorre Wyatt
  • Vieux Farke Toure
  • Jason Isbell
  • Patterson Hood Band
  • Acoustic Hot Tuna and Pete Kimock
  • Keller Williams and The Travelin' McCourys
  • Son Volt

Relaxing on Sunday at Clearwater
We drove home on Monday, and after dinner I went out to one more show, this time with Mike Doughty opening for Low.  I got there right before the doors opened, and plopped down in the middle of the third row.  I was pretty beat from the weekend, but I'm very glad I went -- Low was fantastic.  Surprisingly, they also were happy -- frontman Alan Sparhawk isn't known for being warm, but he really did warm up and engage with the small crowd that saw them.  As for Doughty, I like how he sounds, but unfortunately, his songs lacked variety stylistically, and so got fairly boring all too quickly.

My next show isn't for another few weeks, which is a good thing, because I could use the rest.  Not that I'm getting any -- the next part of Epic Summer kicks off tomorrow morning with a 6:10am flight out of BWI.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Epic Summer

The best summer of your life is supposed to take place sometime in your childhood.  You’re off all summer long, going swimming most days, you have a great time at summer camp, and your parents scheduled an amazing 10-day vacation that included going to the beach &/or the mountains &/or an amusement park.  Maybe it’s when you’re six, or perhaps when you’re 13 (right before you’re supposed to make money during the summer), but at whatever age it does occur, it’s unquestionably during your youth.  It isn’t supposed to happen during the summer you turn 45.

But why shouldn’t it?  Kathy’s been a Stay at Home Mom for the past two years and will be going back to work in the Fall.  In the future, the kids are going to want to do their own thing, and Kathy’s time will be limited by work.  I’ve accrued lots of leave over the years, and I can’t imagine a better time to take a chunk of it.  Accordingly, I have dubbed this summer Epic Summer©, and we will be spending it camping, beaching, mountaining, flying, reunioning, amusement parking, music festivaling, swimming and....

How Epic does it look?  In April the parents of one of Emelia’s classmates invited us to join them for any weekend over the summer at their family place on the Jersey Shore.  We had to turn them down because the only weekends we had left are the ones that you need every so often to do things like laundry (Kathy is hoping to go up there with the girls during part of a week when I’m working, but I’m skeptical that she’ll pull it off).  It’s at the point where this weekend and next are the last consecutive weekends we have at home until September.

The Thursday before Memorial Day weekend is when we kicked things off.  On that day, Emelia and I drove to Mt. Catoctin for a school overnight trip, spending quality time and sleeping just the two of us in one of the screen-only cabins (we shared a bunk bed).  We loved being there and with each other -- we made meals together, did activities organized by her teachers, read a book to each other, told a story I had written together at the campfire, and much more.  We overcame the adversity caused by her too-tight water boots irritating her foot enough that she couldn’t walk for a few hours.  The heavy rain was kind enough to come just as we were turning in and leave before we got up.  The cold weather behind that front made the morning chilly, but couldn’t dampen our spirits, particularly with Emelia’s foot feeling ok again.

Emelia Hard at Work Mapping the Goon
We left Catoctin just before Noon on Friday, racing back to Capitol Hill to get Kathy and Hannah, and load up the car to go camping at Cape Henlopen State Park, just north of Rehoboth, in Delaware.  The beach traffic made the trip long, and the strong winds we found upon our arrival made setting up camp more than a little difficult -- we had to enlist Emelia to help set up the tent, because the wind made it more than a two-person job.  Once we got past those two challenges, however, we had a great time.  We were in a group of 30+ campsites set up by a work acquaintance -- mostly families, with plenty of kids Hannah’s and Emelia’s ages.  Common dinners, campfires, and hanging out, but plenty of time for our nuclear family to do things by ourselves.  We went to the beach briefly a couple of times in the unseasonably cool (but very sunny) weather, and did a nature walk as well.  We had a great time, and figure to return next Memorial Day weekend, hopefully even bringing other friends along.

Two Sweet Peas Girls in a Pod Hammock
Things are quiet the next couple of weeks.  I’m going to a concert (The National with The Dirty Projectors opening) this Thursday, and Emelia’s last day of school is the following day, but that’s about it.  After that, however, here are how things are shaping up:

  • June 14-17 -- drive to New York for the Clearwater Festival (June 15 & 16) with friends
  • June 17 -- see Low in concert (Michael Doughty opening) (just me)
  • June 20-26 -- fly to Minnesota for Kathy’s college reunion, plus a couple of days to enjoy Minneapolis
  • July 4 -- drive to Raleigh to visit friends
  • July 6 -- drive to Hilton Head for our annual trip with my side of the family (my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews), at a disgustingly over-the-top amazing house on the beach (thanks Mom and Dad!).
    • July 7 -- My 45th Birthday
    • July 10 -- My sister gets married
  • July 13-14 -- drive back home via Raleigh
  • July 18 -- see Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside in concert (just me)
  • July 23 -- see Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Wilco & Ryan Bingham with family and friends
  • July 24 - August 11 -- Roadtrip
    • July 24-29 -- Floydfest, camping at a music festival on the Blue Ridge Parkway
    • July 29-August 1 -- Lancaster, PA for Dutch Wonderland and other local activities
    • August 1-3 -- Visit someone TBD as we head North
    • August 3-10 -- Stay with friends at a very rustic cabin in Central Maine
    • August 10-11 -- Head back home
  • August 16-18 -- Campground Brewdown in Central PA.  Likely but not certain.
  • August 19 -- Presumably Hannah’s first day of school
  • August 31-September 2 -- Labor Day weekend camping at Big Meadows with friends
  • September 3 -- The official end of Epic Summer©.  Emelia’s first day of school, Kathy’s first day of work

I hope everyone else’s Summer will be every bit as Epic as ours looks to be!