6 Songs Say A Lot

I’ve seen this on a few blogs around the web and figured I’d take a shot at the meme. The premise originated on NPR and asks you to basically define yourself with a few songs. I’d love to know your songs, too.

What was the first song you ever bought?
One Christmas I received two copies of Huey Lewis and the News’ Fore! and for the first time in my life I was given the choice of what music I wanted. Of course, I opted for Wang Chung’s Mosaic because of the song “Everybody Have Fun Tonight.” I have no regrets. It’s still a great song even if no one knows was it means to Wang Chung tonight.

What song always gets you dancing?
I’m not a dancer, but it never fails that any time I hear Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” I lose control and have to move to it. I dare you to try and sit still while you hear this song.

What song takes you back to your childhood?
Star. Wars. Theme. What you expected depth?

What is your perfect love song?
Since 1987, the answer’s been the same. “With or Without You”

What song would you want at your funeral?
They wouldn’t be my all-time favorite band if they didn’t show up on this list more than once. U2’s “Bad” has always been on the short list for favorite song ever. One of my favorite performances of it was captured in Rattle and Hum.

Time for an encore. One last song that makes you, you.
Maybe I’m being a little nostalgic, but underneath the overwhelming 80s influence, The Boss will always make me think of lifelong friends, growing up in the ‘burbs, and make me wish I could write songs. “No Surrender” brings it all.

Unexpected: Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside

It’s pretty rare for a lower 48 musician to release an album and immediately be playing a show in Alaska. In fact, I bet this is a first, but that’s exactly what happened this week with the full length debut from Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside. On Tuesday, they released Dirty Radio with lots of deserved praise. I started hearing some buzz about them early this year, mostly because I try to keep my eye on the Portland music scene.

When listening to Dirty Radio, a strange sensation of both feeling like it’s something new and something classic at the same time. It’s retro with an edge. Unique to today’s landscape with shades of 50’s and 60’s pop music with a little Regina Spektor or Thao Nguyen mixed in. Dirty Radio is definitely worth adding to your collection.

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside – I Swear from Matthew Ross on Vimeo.

I happened to see a Brandi Carlile Facebook post mentioning she was playing Anchorage and when I clicked the link to Whistling Swan, I saw that Sallie Ford was playing Snow Goose.  Putting the pieces together it looks like they were previously booked for the Trapper Creek Bluegrass festival and were looking for somewhere else to play while they were up here. I’m grateful that they came to town and the show was pretty fantastic. Sallie has just the right amount of goofy to offset how seriously she takes her songs when she’s playing them. The band is solid, too.

SALLIE FORD – “Rock & Roll” from More Dust Than Digital on Vimeo.

My Ten Favorite Albums of 2010

2010 was a great year for music. While seven of these ten albums were previously featured in my Everyday Album series, I wanted to do an official top 10 list. These are my ten favorite albums from 2010.
I created an 8tracks mix of 10 songs from the 10 albums, so go ahead and press play now.

10. Best Coast, Crazy For You ($5 on Amazon)
When I heard that Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward were releasing a second album as She & Him, this is what I expected as a follow up to their first album. Sweet syrupy pop with an edge.
9. The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart ($7.99 on Amazon)
A wonderful group you probably haven’t heard of. I hadn’t until this year when their self-titled album started getting a lot of buzz.
8. Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More ($7.99 on Amazon)
This album has a lot of great sounds on it and fits into a lot of genres. I heard it on the Adult Contemporary radio station in Portland, and streamed on the Adult Alternative radio station in San Francisco. Plenty to like and plenty to look forward to from Mumford & Sons in the future.
7. Kasey Anderson, Nowhere Nights ($8.99 on Amazon) (Everyday Album)
6. Broken Bells, Broken Bells ($5 on Amazon) (Everyday Album)
5. Mates of State, Crushes ($6.99 on Amazon) (Everyday Album)
4. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs ($7.99 on Amazon) (Everyday Album)
3. The Black Keys, Brothers ($9.99 on Amazon) (Everyday Album)
2. The National, High Violet ($7.99 on Amazon) (Everyday Album)
1. Josh Ritter, So Runs the World Away ($8.99 on Amazon) (Everyday Album)

(Prices subject to change, of course)

Everyday Albums of 2010, Kasey Anderson, Nowhere Nights

Everyday Albums is a series of album reviews wherein the album could be listened to everyday. This series will examine the best of those from 2010.

I hadn’t heard of Kasey Anderson until I was in Portland to see Matthew Ryan play in February of 2010. He was opening for Matthew Ryan. Earlier in the evening Matthew Ryan and Kasey Anderson played a brief set at Music Millennium. One of the photos I took was even grabbed and put on Kasey’s Facebook page
Nowhere Nights is a great collection of songs. There’s a tone to the songs that stitches them together into one cohesive work.
Being from the Pacific Northwest, I can identify with one of his themes. There are good things and bad about your hometown and sometimes it seems what you miss isn’t the right stuff. In the opening track “Bellingham Blues” and “Home” both have this sense.

“In a town this small, either play your hand a little closer to the vest or you don’t play at all.”

There’s a sea of singer-songwriters out in the industry these days, and as unique and genuine as Kasey Anderson’s music is, he’s largely ignored by the big business music world. With Anderson’s voice and the darker tone of his songs, Nowhere Nights reminds me of a Pacific Northwest version of a Drive-By Truckers album. Another must listen track is “Like Teenage Gravity.” With the piano and guitar working together it delivers the message.

“And all my friends told me, you don’t need laws to tell. If it feels like falling, boy, you probably already fell. The whole table saw your hand, you might as well just play it. You ain’t foolin’ no one, you might as well just say it…I guess I’m in love.”

The album has a great balance between Kasey just singing and playing guitar in the way that I saw him play in Portland and utilizing his band to fill in the mood. On “Real Gone” the electric guitar and drums help drive home the emotion of the chorus.
The album is brilliant and should be added to your collection. I’m already looking forward to hearing the next collection of songs from Kasey. You can find Nowhere Nights at Amazon or iTunes. Also, follow Kasey on Twitter for pithy observations, cultural criticism, and gigs from the Portland based artist.

Matthew Ryan’s City Life in Portland, OR

When the topic of favorite music comes up and I mention Matthew Ryan, most people ask who he is.  Sometimes I just explain politely that he’s an independent artist, other times I tell an anecdote about how my friend Riche found him on World Cafe or Mountain Stage or something like that years ago and introduced me to his music.  Either way, I usually go on to explain that he’s one of the most underrated singer songwriters of our generation.

Paste Magazine recently had an issue exploring the idea of Indie music.  Much like the film industry, the indie label has become just that; a label not a definition.  Record companies like movie studios create or buy smaller subsidiaries to operate as their independent machine.  Matthew Ryan has a record label, a publicist, a booking agent, etc.  But he writes, records, performs, and produces his music himself in his Nashville home.  He interacts with his loyal fans through Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter.  I recently said that Matthew Ryan is unique in that instead of building fans on Facebook he’s building friends.  He’s responsive on Twitter not just to mentions of himself, but often interjects himself into a question I throw out to the masses or make a comment on a Bon Jovi joke or classic rock moment of realization.  The independent artist has an incredibly loyal fan base, and Matthew Ryan is no different with his social engineering with friends around the world.

A number of coinciding events had me in Portland last weekend.  Matthew Ryan’s West Coast swing of his tour supporting Dear Lover was in town.  He was playing Berbati’s Pan and a pre-show in-store at Music Millennium on Burnside.  Of course I jumped at the chance to see him play at both places.  Pulling up to Music Millennium, I’d been listening to Dear Lover and specifically “City Life” as I drove down Burnside past the maxed out homeless shelters, commuters, and the lyrics seem to fit right in with Portland.  As I turned the corner of 32nd Avenue, mind you listening to Matthew Ryan, there he was standing on the sidewalk.  He was inside by the time I parked and made my way to the store.  He played a few songs off of Dear Lover, even pausing mid title track because he was sensitive to there being children in the store and the song called for some strong language.

Between the Music Millennium set and the main show at Berbati’s I met up with my friend Jamie.  She had me tell several anecdotes about Matthew Ryan while we walked the few blocks from her work to Berbati’s.  By the time we got in the door, Kasey Anderson was already well into his set.  Instead of hanging out “backstage” or off in the shadows, Matthew Ryan was standing right near the entrance to the venue greeting his fans, remember, he’s been building the loyalty capital for years and while I seem like a fanatic, I assure you there are plenty of people with just as much enthusiasm as me across the world, including Portland.  We shook hands again (we briefly greeted each other at Music Millennium) and I introduced her to my friend Jamie.  Jamie said it seemed like I was introducing her to an old friend and that he was very gracious and down to earth.  We settled in with a few beers to watch the last few songs of Kasey Anderson’s set.  Jamie and I watched Matthew Ryan meet and greet others as warmly as he’d greeted us, and in no time it was time for him to take the stage.

Despite having the support of dozens of friends in the crowd, it’s still hard for a singer-songwriter to command the attention of a venue known much more as a bar that happens to have live music than a hall built for music.  No band for back up, just you your guitar and your voice.  It was Thursday night and people were out after work to have some drinks not to sit quietly and listen to a musician, whether he deserved their respect or not.  Rushed because of two more bands to take the stage that night, Matthew Ryan jumped right into his set and when he couldn’t hear himself over the din of chatter from around the bar, he jumped off the stage and into the crowd to share the rest of his set with the people who were there to enjoy it.

Into the crowd has become a common theme for Matthew Ryan’s performances.  It shows the pain and difficulty of being an independent artist, but also that when you surround yourself (literally) with like minded people who love and appreciate your music, magic moments happen.  He continued through his songs often getting the whole crowd to sing right along with him, even echoing him where he sang his own background vocals on the studio track.  It seemed like he was rushed, and he was, but it felt like he was truly playing for his friends.  A few songs that stood out from his performance in the round were “Jane, I Still Feel the Same”, “It Could’ve Been Worse” and closed the show singing U2’s “Running to Stand Still” with a little bit of a Neil Diamond flair to it.

After he’d finished and was packing up his guitar, Jamie and I approached him on stage and invited him to go outside for a cigarette (I don’t smoke).  When we got out there, he explained that it isn’t anyone’s fault that the venue didn’t work out.  We discussed music, songwriting, Echo and the Bunnymen and cigarette smokes habit of targeting non-smokers.  We stood in line to buy some merch from him.  I bought a CD I’ve now bought 4 times (but that’s how you support an independent musician, pay them for their music) and with each CD purchase he was giving a poster he would autograph.  Jamie bought Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State and he wrote “Jamie, here’s to beauty and the future.” I bought Dear Lover and he wrote “Matt, genuinely thank you for what you’re doing” on my poster.  I assume he’s not talking about telecom product management, but rather doing my part to tell people about his incredible independent music.

Matthew Ryan’s music is available in the iTunes Music Store, AmazonMP3, eMusic, and available in record stores all over the place (if you have one in your town).

Vanity Fair Article
USA Today review

“City Life” video with fan/friend participation

Matthew Ryan on Twitter.

The Everyday Albums of the Decade Currently Referred to as the 2000s

The past decade has been an interesting one for the music industry.  We rolled into the decade with both artists and record companies fearing the internet and electronic distribution.  Now buying music that is digitally delivered to your computer has become the norm.

In my previous life as a blogger, I had a series called Everyday Albums. These are albums that can be listened to everyday without tiring of them.  I used the same approach to ranking these albums.  I expanded on the top 10 but also listed an honorable 40 albums.

The Top 10

10.  Pete Yorn – Musicforthemorningafter (2001)

Pete Yorn’s name had managed to get passed around quite a bit prior to me ever hearing anything from him.  What I’d heard: young musical genius plays all his instruments bridging genres with Jersey swagger.  What was clear when I finally got my hands on Musicforthemorningafter was that it was real.  It was fresh and new with a raw feeling.  Even today, there’s a genuine quality that keeps it fresh nearly a decade after release.

“Stories and cigarettes ruined lives of lesser girls”

9.   Mates of State – Bring it Back (2006)

I didn’t know anything about Mates of State when I saw them listed on the 2005 Austin City Limits Festival lineup.  On the ACL Fest site, there were samples and bios from most of the artists.  When I listened to their samples, I put them on the must-see list for the festival.  Despite it being upwards of 1000 degrees and no shade in site, I managed to sit through their set and knew I had found a new favorite.  Their sound is unique and 2006’s Bring it Back is packed with honest, fun music.

“And you will surely find this news pleasing to your ears”

8.  Matthew Ryan – Regret Over the Wires (2003)

Matthew Ryan has become a favorite of mine in this decade.  A true independent artist, with a unique voice both in sound and from the fresh songwriting perspective.  He’s certainly not alone in creating amazing music without fanfare, but it seems as though anyone I introduce to his music comes away a fan.

“Am I talking too much about a girl from nowhere?”

7. Travis – The Invisible Band (2001)

In the summer of 2001, I drove a truck from Chicago to Portland, OR.  I did this alone and somehow ended up without any CDs for the 2200 mile trip.  It wasn’t until Minneapolis that I got tired of jumping from station to station on rural (probably because I was wrapped up in an Art Bell show about monsters).  I walked into one of the original Target stores and bought three CDs.  Unapologetically, I bought Bon Jovi’s Crossroads, Weezer’s self-titled green album, and The Invisible Band from Travis.  I rotated the 3 albums all day for 3 straight days.  I have nothing but fond memories of that trip and that Travis album.

“The grass is always greener on the other side, and the neighbor’s got a new car that you want to drive”

6. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head (2002)

This is one of a handful of CDs that got me through my first Alaskan winter.  I moved to Alaska in the late summer of 2002, and while the fall lasted unusually long, once winter hit I needed all I could get to keep me going through it.  This album is a perfect companion for cold, dark days.  I still consider this a near flawless album.

“And the truth is I miss you”

5. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

I’ll admit it, the first I heard of Arcade Fire was when “Wake Up” filled the San Diego Sports Arena on March 28th, 2005 as the house lights dropped on the opening night of U2’s Vertigo tour.  The intro music would have been an appropriate time for many in the crowd to whip out their smartphones and fire up Shazam to find out who it was.  I remember it was much like the scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack puts on The Beta Band and gets everyone to listen.  I had no insight into their existence before that moment. I was not cool enough to know who they were before Bono and the boys introduced me to them.  A few months later they were on every hipster’s radar at the Austin City Limits festival drawing one of the bigger crowds of the festival.  Funeral and their follow up, Neon Bible made a mark on the decade both in hype and substance.

“And since there’s no one else around, we let our hair grow long, and forget all we used to know”

4. U2 – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004)

I still remember sitting at my cubical with a coworker and lighting up U2.com while they were streaming their album in its entirety.  Something done quite frequently now, but at the time it was pretty rare.  Songs like “City of Blinding Light” and “Original of the Species” still amaze me at the way they were crafted.

“Of science and the human heart, there is no limit”

3. Josh Ritter – The Animal Years (2006)

The first time I heard this album it blew my mind.  I’d known about Josh Ritter and heard his name mentioned in different circles, but assumed that because the only song I knew from him seemed to be a bar sing along song (Kathleen).  The first song I heard on Animal Years was “Girl in the War” and it has become not only one of my favorite songs, but also an anthem for this decade of war against two countries and a concept.

“I got a girl in the war, Paul, the only thing I know to do is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through”

2. Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker (2000)

When I first heard Heartbreaker, I was headed out to the Wilson River in the Oregon Coast Range for some summer fishing.  The shade of the tall fir trees wasn’t the only relief I got that day.  The songwriting is incredible and the production is clean and pure.  I debated whether to include Gold or Heartbreaker in my top 10 and gave the nod to Heartbreaker strictly based on the power of “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “Come Pick Me Up.”

“I ain’t never been to Vegas, but I’ve gambled all my life”

1. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)

What haven’t I said about this album?  It’s Wilco’s Achtung Baby, their OK Computer, their Abbey Road.  The production and story of distribution redefined what being an independent artist mean for this decade.

“All my lies are always wishes”

The Honorable 40

(Secret: I started out putting these in ranked order, but quit halfway through and it kind of deferred to alphabetical order)

Damien Rice – O – 2002
Ryan Adams – Gold – 2001
U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind – 2000
The National – Boxer – 2007
Keane – Hopes and Fears – 2004
The Jayhawks – Smile – 2000
Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera – 2001
Coldplay – Parachutes – 2000
Band of Horses – Everything All The Time – 2006
Dixie Chicks – Taking The Long Way – 2006
Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism – 2003
Counting Crows – Hard Candy – 2002
She & Him – Volume One – 2008
U2 – No Line On The Horizon – 2009
Wilco – A Ghost Is Born – 2004
Damien Rice – 9 – 2006
The Swell Season – The Swell Season – 2006
Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter – 2007
The Killers – Hot Fuss – 2004
Mates Of State – Re-arrange Us – 2008
Matthew Ryan – East Autumn Grin – 2000
The Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way – 2002
Feist – The Reminder – 2007
Athlete – Tourist – 2005
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago – 2006
Death Cab for Cutie – Plans – 2005
Doves – The Last Broadcast – 2002
The Hold Steady – Boys and Girls in America – 2006
K.T. Tunstall – Eye to the Telescope – 2005
Kings of Leon – Because of the Times – 2007
Ray LaMontagne – Trouble – 2004
The Shins – Oh, Inverted World – 2001
The Shins – Wincing the Night Away – 2007
Snow Patrol – Final Straw – 2004
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – 2007
The Strokes – Room On Fire – 2003
Sufjan Stevens – Illinois – 2005
Weezer – Weezer (Green Album) – 2001
Wilco – Sky Blue Sky – 2007

Josh Ritter and Dawn Landes in Anchorage

I spent the week leading up to 1/31 trying to convince everyone I know to show up at UAA’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium on Saturday night for Josh Ritter’s show (mostly through Twitter). This was the third time I’ve seen Josh Ritter live. Once in a solo capacity like Saturday’s show and once with his band; so I knew to expect an intimacy between him and the audience.
I also spent some time leading up to the show getting familiar with Dawn Landes, who was opening the night. Her albums are rather eclectic mixing some blue grass, folk and even some rock. In her performance she immediately won the crowd over with her charm and anecdotes about her Alaska experience. She seemed to thrive in the solo acoustic format, and really seemed to be enjoying herself. Her music is great and I added her catalog to my library via AmazonMP3 and emusic.
Back in October of 2007, I saw Josh Ritter play in Seattle. I’ve blogged this story before, but it’s relevant… ReckenRoll and I were eating across the street from the venue and while I was juggling excitement to see Josh Ritter and excitement that the Red Sox were winning game 7 of the ALCS against the Indians (after trailing 3-1; they went on to win the World Series). I looked up at one point, probably in angst for a server to deliver food, and saw Josh Ritter wandering through the restaurant with a pitcher of beer looking for someone. I flagged him down, mentioned seeing him in San Francisco and being from Alaska. He mentioned that Alaska is on his short list of places he was dying to get back to. I told him, Anchorage supports musicians who are willing to make the trip and it would be a perfect opportunity for a solo show. I’m not saying he followed my advice, but Anchorage did show up and packed the auditorium. He looked happy to have made the trip and led the audience through a trip that only an Idahoan singer songwriter could pull off. There are plenty of Idahoans in Alaska, and they were very excitable at any reference he made to the potato mafia or Miss Junior Idaho. Fittingly he started the show with the song titled “Idaho.” He played a few new songs, one that he said was the first time he played it. The audience was very forgiving of him stopping mid song and starting over, because after all his charm and energy it seemed to work for him. I had a great time, my friends had a great time, people on Twitter had a great time. For all his talent, Josh Ritter is very down to earth and his stage presence (which really seems to just be his presence) gives the audience the idea that he’s a friend of theirs. After an encore that included a duet with Dawn Landes, he closed the show with an accapella version of “The Parting Glass.”
After the show both Josh and Dawn hung around in the lobby of the theater signing autographs and posing for pictures. I walked over to get my picture taken with Josh, and noticed a group of people giving me dirty looks as I sauntered over to him. Turns out there was a line and I was cutting. I walked towards the back of the line, and then decided against standing in line. I regretted it the second I got home (especially since Dawn Landes has quickly become a favorite in iTunes and she didn’t have a line), but not as much regret as those people who didn’t get to experience the show.