Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You had me at female singer songwriter

The universe heard my call for new music. Recommendations have leaked from the ceiling and dripped into my laptop. Friends, both lifelong and the FB variety, have managed to share titles, artists, suggestions, and here's a keeper from a Utah pal: Maria Taylor. Her voice is lovely. The fighting geisha mime vibe of the video is a bit trippy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A great band name

I've always kinda wondered what the band's sound was like. With a name like TV on the Radio, you know they're thinking outside the box. Turns out I like TV on the Radio. Gives me lots of potential band name combos too.

Hey rowdies in the crowd?!!? - Zip it! Trying to listen to "Family Tree" over here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Might as well upload the whole record now!

Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is just, to use a "Thoroughly Modern Millie" phrase, terrif. The album has pulled a trick from the Spoon-in-my-life playbook, which is to nudge a previously wallflower-ish song to the forefront. This weekend, it was "Girlfriend". Now the track is pulsating in my mind.

Good news, good news. Phoenix is coming to Texas in April. I have my pick of Houston or Austin, and a confirmed date. Corinna said she's in! Now I just have to get her a copy of the album. No worries, however, cause this is one guaranteed home run of a record.

p.s. the singing here is a bit pitchy & reminds me of a joke Jonathan told, something about an old opera singer's response to the auto pitch correct features commonly used in recording. "In my day," said the curmudgeonly baritone, "we called it singing in tune."

Idealized version of moments in a marriage

I love the movie "She's Having a Baby." Oh John Hughes, I'm missing you today. The story of a man learning how to be a husband and father, a man who is also learning how to be a writer, with mentions of the woman who is teaching him, may be corny and oh so 80s, but for those reasons and many more, it stays on that shelf in my heart where I put my favorite film treasures.

I love Kate Bush's voice too. Ethereal, floaty, tinny at times. A British goddess of vocal soaring.

So we put those two together, toss in a little Kevin Bacon, and serve!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Freeform Jazz Exploration"

There's a funny scene in "This is Spinal Tap" where the band plays a sparsely attended outdoor show, and end up trying this jazz riff song that falls apart, a freeform jazz exploration, as a last-ditch effort to please the listeners and themselves. Like everything else in that movie, the scene is understatedly spot on and hilarious. But this song is nothing like that Spinal Top moment, except for the exploration. It's nearly 9 minutes long, and Phoenix has slipped in a secret, perfect love song in the last two minutes. It's a hidden gem in this beautiful instrumental unfolding. And for once, I can recommend that you watch the clip. Someone got pretty clever with timelapse photography. Enjoy.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Anthems rev up my heart and hands. Here's the anthemic theme song for the 2010 World Cup. Nothing says world fanfare like the World Cup, right? I think they (the official song choosers, of course) choose right with K'Naan's song "Wavin' Flag." He's a Somali hip-hop artist, and just listen to this wonderful song. It's world music with a smart political message filled with hope.

When I get older, I will be stronger, he sings ... it's what we all want.

Negotiations & Love Songs #14: "Poison Cup" by M. Ward

Here's something I love: M. Ward's guitar.

One or two won't do
Cos I want it all

And a sip
A sip
A sip or a spoonful won't do
No, I want it all

And I hope
I hope
Hope you know what I'm thinking of
I want all of your love
I need all of your love

She said "If love
If Love
Is a poison cup
Then drink it up"

"Cos a sip
A sip
Or a spoonful won't do
Won't do nothing for you
Except mess you up"

And I hope
I hope
Hope you know what this means
I'm gonna give you everything
I'm gonna give you everything

Negotiations & Love Songs #13: "Cowboy Take Me Away" by the Dixie Chicks

Can't believe they made the list. Twice! But I was sitting here this morning, remembering the silly "Landslide" video, and admitted to myself that this is one of my most very super favorite love songs - the happy kind, the functional relationship kind - and I think it's pretty and hopeful. Can we just have a taste of that too?
(Now ladies, the video direction has got to be item #1 on our next meeting agenda. What is going on here?)

Negotiations & Love Songs #12: "Till Kingdom Come" by Coldplay

Another Coldplay tune on my Valentine's playlist, but I wouldn't be telling the truth if I didn't include this song on the list. It's one of those over-and-over songs for me. It feels good to my ears. (Also, I think Martin's guitar is beautiful.) This is a song about waiting and waiting, but not begrudgingly. It's about holding on, and that kind of longsuffering takes courage.

Negotiations & Love Songs #11: "Purple Rain" by Prince

I've been loving this song for 23 years.

Sometimes, when I start listening to a song, I wonder if it's going to hold up under repeated listenings. Will I wear it out? I wonder.

This one doesn't wear out. Ever.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Negotiations & Love Songs #10: "Landslide" by Stevie Nicks

The Dixie Chicks' foray into goofiness got nuthin on this reigning mistress of strange, flowy dresses. Ms. Nicks is definitely her own creature (please step away from the guitarist - oh my, it's Lindsay Buckingham, didn't catch that on first viewing, well, okay, you can stand by him then), and no, Marni, I don't want to hear her sing "O Holy Night," but I love this song.

I believe her when she sings: "I've been afraid of changing cause I built my life around you." I believe her singing.

Negotiations & Love Songs #9: "Landslide" by the Dixie Chicks

Look, I like the Dixie Chicks. I like Natalie Maines' voice a bunch. I like the tight harmonies too. And I love this song - "Landslide", originally performed by Fleetwood Mac (see #10). But this video is so kookie, I just had to share it. What is going on with Natalie Maines in the living Salvador Dali painting? And Emilie and Marty (can't remember their married names) playing their instruments while rubbing bellies and strolling down Wall Street? And the outfits? Oh no, you didn't!

Oh no, you did - two doors just opened into an ocean. Ladies, ladies. Stick to making wildly controversial political statements that'll haunt you for years, not cornball videos like this.

Negotiations & Love Songs #7, #8: the Indigo Girls

"Virginia Woolf" is a love song in that I LOVE it, and it shares the love the Indigo Girls have for Virginia Woolf, and the love of each of us for each other, our human family members. Not really a Valentine's Day song, but truly, one of my favorites. I worked hard to learn that little guitar riff in college, and I managed to get the notes. I spent quite a little chunk of time one semester thinking about and hearing that song, and it touches me.

Oh, poor Virginia Woolf.  These artists and their tortured souls. My senior seminar covered the short fiction of Virginia Woolf, and my senior seminar paper analyzed her party fiction. I can't remember much, except for the pain experienced by characters (including Clarissa Dalloway) during the transitions between being alone and being with others. Life was not easy for them, or for her.

NOTE: this video clip is taken from "The Hours" and it shows Virginia Woolf's walk into the river and Julianne Moore's goodbye. Don't watch if you're not ready for that. Makes me weep.

The second song - "Ghost" - is simply one of the best love songs I've ever heard. Yearning and hurting expressed through the brilliant lyrics that all Indigo Girls fans enjoy on a regular basis. These two, oh these two, with their beautiful guitar work and sweet, pure harmonies. I love that "Ghost" alludes to Lake Itasca and the start of the Mississippi River. That's smart pop music. I go to the lake in my mind, cross the pebbly walkway, and enjoy a good cry.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Negotiations & Love Songs #6: "Footprints on My Ceiling" by Social Distortion

I asked my friend Kevin for a love song recommendation. Here's his song suggestion performed by one of his favorite bands (singers), Social Distortion: "i like this song because mike talks about frustration, vulnerability, the difficulty of being together, but then he reveals the need for communication and the denial of self-righteousness, which, in my understanding of God's design, is the real definition of love: exaltation of another person. so i really appreciate this song. it's one of the most honest, most authentic love songs this side of bill mallonee's 'love cocoon.'"

Negotiations & Love Songs #5: "Rise Up with Fists" by Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins

Jenny Lewis used to be a child star. It's the first thing every magazine profile mentions about her. Then she was the lead singer of Rilo Kiley. She has a mean head of hair, doesn't she? I like her singing - kind of throaty, very pretty. My friend Rob reminded me today of this terrific song, so here we go. It isn't about romantic love, but is still a love song, I think - the love of a second chance.
But I still believe
And I will rise up with fists
And I will take what's mine mine mine
There but for the grace of God, go I

"If you believe they call it rock and roll"

Just Britt and a guitar and a mic. This song is usually a full-band show stopper, but he does it justice with this scaled down performance in some record store. One fun detail is the way this song references out other songs ("I Summon You" and "They Never Got You") on the Gimme Fiction album; "The Beast and Dragon, Adored" is track one of that record. He said in one interview that he got the idea of a roll call like that from Prince. The title of the tune he got from a book on Medieval French tapestries that sat on his grandmother's coffee table. (Nope, didn't have to look that up. Knew it. Pick me, pick me!)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Negotiations & Love Songs #4: "Ice Cream" by Sarah McLachlan

Psst ... I'm noticing that there's a quality consistency problem on youtube. Apparently, just ANYONE can upload a video. Some people might oughta spend a bit more time in the old home studio. Oh well.

Somebody wanted to do a nice job with this Sarah McLachlan tune. I dig the image ideas, but why the misspellings? And the weird crying faces? And the strange messages to the singer?  And the random cell phone pic? Look, my recommendation is to listen, but not watch this clip.

I love this song, really love this song. I sang this song as a duet at my wedding reception, so that pretty much sums it up right there.

Negotiations & Love Songs #3: "Rome" by Phoenix

Two songs a day as my Valentine's Day gift to myself. Then I have a tidy playlist ready to go on the big holiday!

The whole album is catchy. We've established that with "1901." It's a tasty genre, synth pop. I suppose the 80s girl in me likes the keyboard flourishes. This song presses up against my heart too. I really love the way Mars sings Rome over and over. It means something, even if I can't quite put my finger on it. The chord progression during the instrumental break and during the rest of the song (building, building, building) is just right, and Mars' falsetto feels delicate, vulnerable. The voice isn't perfect, but that isn't the point.

Fall fall falls. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Negotiations & Love Songs #2: "The Scientist" by Coldplay

First of all, you have to see this video - the real video - the way Coldplay made it. You'll have to click on this link because all of the clips I found had the embedding code disabled. The video is clever, and its reverse motion echos the backward glances of the lyrics. My kids loooooove it, of course ("Is she hurt?" "No, she's pretending!")

Here's what the Wikipedia entry for this song (yeah, now songs have their own entries?!?!!): "When asked about the development of the song, during a track-by-track reveal, Martin said: "That's just about girls. It's weird that whatever else is on your mind, whether it's the downfall of global economics or terrible environmental troubles, the thing that always gets you most is when you fancy someone."

Sounds shallow, mate, but I'll give you the point.

To go back to the start. Tempting, eh? Possible? Maybe. Part of my healing process has included this kind of backward glancing: Before now there was the home I owned, and before that, a home rented, and before that our first apartment in Bryan. Keep going back to the start ... I was a student teacher, and before that an undergrad in College Station. Idaho comes next in this journey, or came first, and then I return to Minnesota, my first home.

Negotiations & Love Songs #1: "Marching Bands of Manhattan"

Countdown to February 14th - 14 Love Songs in 7 Days

Yep, I'm okay with Cupid's holiday. There is love in my heart for my children and my life, my family and my future. And my cookie jar.

I've already shared "re: Stacks" by Bon Iver, and that's definitely my most listened to love song of 2009, and it's still holding strong in 2010. It's the most atmospheric love song on my playlist ...

... But this Death Cab for Cutie might just be the sweetest/geekiest, with cumbersome lyrics (check) and pretty vocals (check) and surprising depth ("Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole").

Please excuse this person's homemade video. At least the lyrics are visible, but come on, can't you find a better font than this one?

Hymn #30

To be a Latter-day Saint is to love the hymn "Come, Come Ye Saints." Oh my, the singing of this song is a powerful communal experience, whether at a Pioneer Day celebration or an ordinary Sabbath service: "All is well, all is well." For as much as we sing it, however, there isn't much variety in the arrangement. It probably feels just right the way it is, and yet ...

Clayton Pixton's arrangement, sung by his sister, is stellar. The driving piano combined with her clear vocals pleases me very much. His entire album Hymns Anew was a gift to me from Heather, and one I deeply appreciate! His collection is filled with beautiful hymn arrangements and sibling singing. For example, after I inserted the new CD Heather sent me into my mini-van CD player and listened to the selections, I fell madly in love with the hymn "Adam-ondi-Ahman." It hadn't been a favorite, but now it is! Pixton's arrangement is plumb gorgeous and spiritually uplifting. This CD is our Sunday, go to meetings music, as I've mentioned before. It has enough musical momentum to rev me up, and enough spiritual messages to focus our minds/hearts.

So, here are the steps:
1) go to
2) click on the listening samples on the right side of the page
3) download - for free - "Come, Come Ye Saints"
4) listen to the "Adam-ondi-Ahman" sample (not the full tune, but a full verse)
5) consider purchasing the CD. You won't regret it.

Friday, February 5, 2010


This video kinda makes me laugh. "I've Been Waiting" to show it to you! So much about it screams early 1990s. The psychedelic backdrops, the anime spliced in, Matthew Sweet's floppy bangs. "It's a lot of look," I say. (Tim Gunn!)

But the song itself is a perfect example of power pop, the kind I learned about from Kyle.  Kind of nice to trace some of what he gave me, because his musical tastes and insights were an important shaping influence on me. We saw Matthew Sweet perform two or three times over the years, and we loved singing harmonies on Matthew Sweet songs. I dig the whole sound package.

There's Top 40 pop music (what you hear on the radio), and sometimes it's well done, but many times it's pre-fab, meaning not written by the performers, overly produced, quite synthetic. In that scenario, the vocalist is non-essential (Britney Spears, etc.) or at least secondary to the other elements. That's not to say those kinds of pop songs aren't catchy. They are. But the primary creators are the producers, etc. The singer is eye candy, dancing eye candy. Pitch can be adjusted, timbre can be faked.

But there is another kind of pop music (not just one other kind either, obviously). Other kinds of pop music. The granddaddy of the Matthew Sweet kind is Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Wilson's harmonies and songwriting skills are often under-appreciated, in part because of his strange/self-destructive tendencies, though why that should be a liability in the entertainment world is beyond me. Everybody knows the Beach Boys, of course, but not everybody knows what a genius Wilson is. When someone tells me he/she likes "Pet Sounds," it means something, usually that the person in question is a fan of this kind of smart pop music.

Someone who loves Brian Wilson probably also loves Matthew Sweet. Matthew Sweet writes jangly, bright pop harmonies in the same tradition, and in his kind of music, the vocalist/songwriter is central, but not necessarily because that vocalist has a traditionally beautiful voice. There are other sounds going on too. Can you hear the 60s style guitar? His kind of pop, especially the flavors found on this seminal album Girlfriend, blends sweet, tart, salty, with a dash of another decade. Love this record! Love the Tuesday Weld picure on the cover (it'll show up at the end of the video. If you're not too dizzy, look for it.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

9 minute Spoon mini-feature

Divorce soundtrack

In any relationship, there are events that carry significance greater than what one would expect or predict. Greater significance than is realized at the time. Going into it, you don't realize how much is riding on this particular moment. If you had known, well, things might have been different.

One such event in the story of my marriage involved an Okkervil River concert in Austin. I'll spare you the details, but the bottom line was, I didn't attend the concert. Would have liked to have been there, but I wasn't there. However, the CD purchased at the concert ended up in my hands, and the more I thought about what the Okkervil River show meant, the more I listened to the CD, and the more that the CD - The Stage Names - became a kind of soundtrack for the breakdown that was taking place. (I also love the Okkervil River album The Stand Ins, but it isn't a part of the soundtrack.)

This song in particular, "Our Life is Not a Movie or Maybe" just spoke to the confusion I was trying to wade through; the song's premise is that things do not always wrap up in a tidy fashion. Will Sheff, the lead singer, gives it his all too. He just lays it out there in his signature wail.

How can you not love a band whose name comes from a Russian short story? 

p.s. I like this song even better NOT live, but feel a bit reluctant to post the band's video because I don't want to offend anyone. 

It’s just a bad movie, where there’s no crying
Hand in the keys to me in this Red Lion, where the lock that you locked in the suite says there’s no prying. 
When the breath that you breathed in the street screams there’s no science. 
When you look how you looked then to me, then I cease lying and fall into silence. 
It’s just a life story, so there’s no climax. 
No more new territory, so pull away the Imax. 
In the slot that you sliced through the scene there was no shyness. 
In the plot that you passed through your teeth there was no pity. 
No fade in: film begins on a kid in the big city. 
And no cut to a costly parade that’s for him only. 
No dissolve to a sliver of grey that’s his new lady where she glows just like grain on the flickering pane of some great movie. 
It’s just a house burning, but it’s not haunted. 
It was your heart hurting, but not for long, kid. 
In the socket you spin from with ease there is no sticking. 
From the speakers your fake masterpiece is serenely dribbling. 
When the air around your chair fills with heat, that’s the flames licking beneath the clock on the clean mantelpiece. 
It’s got a calm clicking, like a pro at his editing suite takes two weeks stitching up some bad movie.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hip Hop moooooves/grooves

Let me start by saying that the pink shirt in the first video doesn't seem like appropriate office wear. Business sensual? I don't think Ne-yo was going for a realistic workplace setting for this video. I definitely do NOT have my finger on the pulse of corporate America, but that's my take. But hey, "Miss Independent" is the song we spent our first dance class dancin' to, and it was fun.

The song has interesting counting, and honestly, our teacher was a better dancer than teacher. But that's okay - she was subbing for the real teacher. She was great to watch - fluid legs, beautiful arms, expressive shoulders. It is definitely the case, however, that talent in an area is not synonymous with the ability to teach that talent. But by the end of the night, I had most of the combination, and could feel blisters forming on my feet. Proud moment!

Was I scared to walk in that studio? Yes. Was I intimidated to freestyle with the rest of my classmates? You betcha! (But also excited - all those mirrors are much better than dancing in my living room.) Did I manage to hold my own? I think so, mostly because everyone was consumed with watching their own awkward reflections.

There were 6 college students and 4 other adult women. After class, we adults gathered together.
"I think I'm in the wrong class," said one of them, shrugging her shoulders.

"No, no," I said, encouragingly, since I obviously want the other adults to stay put in this class. "This is just week one."

"Easy for you to stay," she said. (Yes, she said stay.) "But I think I'm going to sign up for Sassy Dancing instead," she continued. "It's the class with chairs and feather boas."

"Whoa," I said. "That is NOT the class for me. I need to stay far, far away from feather boas."

I'm looking for some transformation, but not of the *sassy* variety.

Our other class warm-up, stretch out and freestyle song was "I Can Transform Ya." Did you hear that one last year? I played it for my kids this a.m. as our wake up call, and Graham kept saying, "I know this song! I know it!" It was, after all, the hook-filled theme song of that big popcorn flick (which I did NOT see), starring that actress I can't stand, you know the one? What was it called?  "Megan Fox Runs From a Robot"? "Optimus Something or other"?

Re: the song. Look, it's complicated with me and Chris Brown. He makes me SO mad, but I like his voice. I want to wipe that smug menacing scowl right off his face, but man, the boy can dance. Maybe I should separate his violent personal life with his obvious singing/dancing talent? Maybe it's okay to like the performer but despise the behavior? That's a tough question for another day.

For now, yeah, I liked the beats on this. Speaking of, Swizz Beatz is good. Lil Wayne is skilled too, albeit in a scuzzy way, and it's fortunate that he can rap; the man is not, as we say, "a handsome cub scout."

"Crazy and deranged"

I start my intermediate hip hop dance class tonight, and am suuuuper excited. Could break out a few of the moves that Annie and I have perfected with this number, although our moves are definitely partner necessary. We have a nice little combo going where I dip her to the right, then to the left (she holds her back very very flat & still), then she crawls through my legs and I pull her up, fast. Then Graham kinda wanders in during the Jay-Z part and flashes a peace sign or two.

"When the family gets together ..."!

p.s. there is a, um, memorable video starring Beyonce's red heels and short shorts, but I figured I'd stick with the song only.

My TX county

A new band with a sweet sound. They call themselves Brazos. That's enough right there to get me listening. Can't breathe in this town without inhaling that name. Do any of you remember when G. Rollie White was called Holler House on the Brazos?

ACL Stage Left - Brazos - Mary Jo from klru tv on Vimeo.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Adventures in youth dances

On my other blog, I once shared that "Somebody" by Depeche Mode is the song that takes me back to college dances, specifically the giant Mormon hugs we called Ricks College dance nights.

But this song takes me back too, to high school dances held at the high school ... and to the collective swoopy hairstyle so many of my fellow adolescents of the 80s shared.

Watching this video, I can see how much MTV changed things for all of us. This is obviously an early video effort (hello, Magritte hat allusion?!?!!), and it's pretty clear that bands have gotten better looking than these guys since young people demanded their MTV!

Nonetheless, I can't fight this feeling anymore.

Geaux Saints

They probably won't be using this as their triumphal entry music at the 2010 Super Bowl, but Alec Ounsworth, the lead singer of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, entitled this solo effort "Holy, Holy, Holy Moses (Song for New Orleans)," so there is a connection. (His band efforts are totally worth checking out too. I get the feeling at least one of the guys is playing a tin can, and I love it!)

I think that I once described Ounsworth's voice (on this song and ... elsewhere) as sounding like Bob Dylan's younger stepbrother performing the Broadway musical version of "The Grapes of Wrath." Also, he sounds really nasal.  But once you get past the dust bowl era patina, you might find something compelling in his phrasing. I did. I've been liking Clap Your Hands Say Yeah since Allen Renfroe recommended them to me (summer '09, was it?), and then I heard this song on our local community radio station, and it grabbed me.

On Eagles' wings, for real

I've always liked this song, particularly its truthful lyrics. I mean, I've been liking this song since I owned it on cassette tape. Mr. Don Henley, Texas-based environmentalist activist and reassembled classic rock band front man, you done good! Here are a few of your phrases that ring true to my ears:

What are these voices outside love's open door
Make us throw off our contentment
And beg for something more?
But I think it's about forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore
The trust and self-assurance that can lead to happiness
They're the very things we kill, I guess

And since I'm posting Eagles songs, might as well put "7 Bridges Road," my favorite Eagles' song. I like the harmonies and the finger picking. Country-fried ear candy. (That sounds gross.) The voices sound a little aged on this clip, but hey ...  Thanks, Aunt Sherry - here's the actual band (blush, blush - darn you blurry youtube clips!)

Gleeful singing

Courtney and I spent much of Christmas vacation singing this song: "Defying Gravity." Oh, how I love it. Gorgeous melody line! We are looking forward to seeing Wicked on our mom/daughter weekend. But until then, we have to make do. For now - until we have the thrill of seeing the Broadway show - this "Glee" version hits all the right buttons.

Rock Star

Annie wanted me to put something Hannah Montana up here, and here's one of my favorite HM tunes. This is a surefire get up & dance number! I think it's a bee-boppy narrative of Miley Cyrus' life, actually.

Wouldn't life be just a bit nicer if we had more exploding fireworks and smoke displays?

"Time to wake up, kids!" I could call, and boom! Pink smoke then floods the room, helping everyone to feel wide awake.

Up and at 'em: "Black Dog"

Monday morning. Yawn. Been up since 4 a.m. (well, 4:45 a.m. if you want to count the moment I was actually awake. Sitting upright isn't the same thing.)

This song is one of my 'get pumped to teach' tunes. I have a CDr with several such rip-roarers. Turn up the old mini-van stereo, blast "Black Dog", and before you know it, I'm ready to teach MLA documentation styles.

"How do you have so much energy?" asked one of my students last Monday morning. Apparently the clicking of my heels on the tiled hallway sounded bouncy.

Well, first of all, I don't. I'm just polite & manage to ask students how they're doing when I enter the room. Do not mistake my congeniality for energy.  However, whatever spring is in my step can be traced back to whatever I was listening to as I pull in the parking lot.

Enya, be gone. The music has gotta achieve momentum on a Monday morning.