Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Although it's been wiped away by fluctuating temperatures and rain these past few days, we've seen our first snow fall. And thus begins my favourite month of the year! With December in toe, and many frosty, snowflake-filled days ahead of us - something has to keep us going. This time of year - whether you're a student, in the working world, or anywhere else - can be notoriously trying at times. Trudging through snow, financial quams and a hefty workload proves to be discouraging, which is why I try to keep my favourite winter ditties on hand. The fact of the matter is, winter and it's plunging temperatures can be entirely pleasant if you're sporting the right coat and the right playlist. Suddenly, your chilly cheeks aren't the end of the world and the soft heaps of snow seem a lot prettier.

I make a note of re-vamping my iPod each year after the first snowfall, because let's face it - Camera Obscura doesn't sound so good when it's not a blistering day on the beach. The Black Keys aren't as perfect of a companion without a golden rural roadtrip in the summer heat. Similarly, the cooler, tinkering tunes make for a great backdrop to the lights and whites of the holidays. Some songs have been in closeted Rubbermaid bins for the past seven months, and here they are, happily resurrected for the winter! Here's a starter list of what will calm those winter woes, expect more to come...

1. I Love NYE - Badly Drawn Boy: THE winter essential. As soon as you see a little white flake stick to your coat, flip this track on immediately. This BDB instrumental is perfectly quaint and breathtaking from start to finish. Whether it's the floating orchestra, calm acoustic guitar or sweet-as-pie xylophone melody, this song captivates you through each of it's building phases. When you listen to it, don't be alarmed if you begin having visions of bright twinkle lights and a untouched winter streets - it's a natural symptom of the song.

Ingrid and Sara
2. Winter Song - Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles: Whoever advised these two indie power-females to join and record a haunting and unforgettable winter anthem is a genius. This song is truly powerful. Bareille and Michaelson's exquisite vocal abilities make for heavenly harmonies and the words they sing are equally as profound. These two ladies cause an infectious adoration and I find it hard to believe anyone could not fall in love with such beauty - "Ill be your harvester of light/ And send it out tonight/ So we can start again/ Is love alive?"

3. Faded from the Winter - Iron & Wine: A favourite from my past, Sam Beam can put me to sleep any day. This song tells an eerie but beautiful story worth listening to, and it's gentle redundance is one of a kind. His voice against a rustic acoustic loop is soothing to the ear and perfect for a calm winter stroll on your own, or a night spent in front of a cabin fire while the snow blows outside. Listen for the uppity country transition at the end, it will pick you up from the serenity of the song and carry you right into your bed. "Spoken words like moonlight, you're the voice that I like."

Strumming the Fisherman's Blues
4. Fisherman's Blues - The Waterboys: An odd choice, you're thinking. Well, hear me out. You know those opening scenes in the old flicks where the camera starts out on a quiet, blizzardy town street and then wanders inside the doors of the local watering hole, only to find that noisy debauchery and rowdy music fills the indoors? That's what I'm going for with this one. Go have a dark pint or hot special coffee in the front of an old pub and request this song while you're at it. It's a true Scottish jig lead by Mike Scott's passionate howls and the band's hopping strums, and although only a few words ago I advised you to sit in a window and take it all in, I immediately take it back. Stand up and dance wildly to this one, because after all these years, the Waterboys would want still want you to.

5. It's The Nighttime Baby - Josh Rouse: This one would go great with a leisurely ride around town (with your snow tires on, of course). Draw a few things on the foggy windows, enjoy the decorated city and let the narration of this happy little track do what it may. Rouse, who I always can pinpoint as a fairly blunt storyteller, will croon the words alongside a bouncy acoustic and country tempo to set the mood. It's a cute snowy sound, so snuggle up to your sweetie in the front seat and take a spin down the road.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Boogie Woogie Woman


"The Blues was like that problem child you may have had in the family. You was a little bit ashamed to let anybody see him, but you loved him. You just didn't know how anybody would take it." - B.B. King

Sounds just about right. Everyone's had the blues, or different forms of them. Whether or not it makes you want to sit in your house with a tub of ice cream, scream-crying to a Celine Dion CD, retract entirely, or write a song from the bottom of your broken soul about plain old heartbreak - everyone knows that slow motion ache that life can cause. The blues, originating from the deep American south, says it all when disguising isn't needed. It's harsh, it's a story, it's low - and it's the truth. Like hip-hop and country, music that is the in-your-face or slice of life truth sometimes has the greatest appeal. Everyone wants to say their piece.

One of my favourite used music stores has a truly superb blues section. I've been slowly dipping into my (probably shouldn't be dipped into) funds and building back up my music library again - and I've found myself ending up with a blues-heavy collection. Equal parts words and instruments - I love the raw blues. I get a real kick, and think anyone else would too, out of the scratchy, twitching voices keeping up with the dirty slide guitar and emotional horns. It's getting colder outside by the day, and there's nothing like a little radiator heat on your toes, bourbon and blues to keep you warm and in good company.

Here are some toasty blues greats, if you're feelin' lonely on one of these frosty winter nights:

1. Grits Ain't Groceries - Little Milton: Ooooh baby, sing it to me. Little Milton has a classically soulful and smooth voice. He demands"Hit me!" overtop hurried blues guitar, clashing symbols and slamming horns. This sound is soaked in soul and finished with a sprinkle of a good time - and you can hear it in the bluesy sarcasm of this flashy tune. "If I don't love you baby/ Grits ain't groceries/ Eggs ain't poultry/ And Mona Lisa was a man."

2. I've Been Loving You Too Long - Ike and Tina Turner: Ladies and Gents, welcome to the blues. This cover of Otis Redding's original is pure sex, pain and addiction all rolled into one. It's something anyone has had a part of, the feeling of someone you love being a habit that you recognize you need to detach from. This heated 1960's slow-jam is exactly what the blues are about - Tina aches every word of every verse, even practically simulating sex at one point as she begs for the closeness of the man she loves. Maybe this duet is a little foreshadowing of the tempestuous relationship between her and Ike? Who knows, but either way it is an absolute blues must.

3. Have You Ever Loved A Woman - Eric Clapton and Duane Allman: Iconic Clapton meets iconic Allman. Unbeatable duo cover a Freddie King song. Blues-Rock is born. This 1970 piece of music is absolute blues gold - a stomping combination of Clapton's silky smooth vocals and fiery licks against Allman's legendary slide guitar. The best part about this scorching epitomy of blues? It's a true story. As Clapton's vocals so accurately narrate - Patti Boyd, the woman he needed, craved and longed for was married to his best friend, Beatles great George Harrison. Not to worry, the hopeless pleading via blues paid off. He got the girl.

4. Dimples - John Lee Hooker: Monsieur Blues himself. A man of which I share the exact same initials, therefore must have a divine interconnection with. If I could go back in time, sit in a cloud of smoke (I would suck it up) with a strong drink and listen to JLH jam out behind his dark glasses, I would. His filthy guitar, redundant, hard-knock lyrics and searing harmonica are the textbook blues. This Mississippi-born originator of the "boogie-woogie" blues is who you can go to when you're sick of insincere people, he'll tell you exactly how it is.

6. Touch, Feel, Lose - Ryan Adams: A contemporary blues track, but nonetheless, a smokin' one. The rolling guitar and pounding horns work perfectly against Adams sweet country croon and all-female back-up. He's got the swinging tempo, the build-up and the angry regret of a heartbroken man - everything to put my main man in the big leagues with the rest of these blues cats.

5. Don't Give Up On Me - Solomon Burke: One of my absolute favourites of the bluesy love song category. This song is extroardinary - it's romantic, heart-filled and honest. If you are ever in the doghouse and desperate to apologize, this song is genuine and should conjure up a little redemption. Drop what you're doing and take the time for a slow dance under the moon with this one - the organs, desperation and simple acoustic melody are straight out of a dream.

JLH 1912 - 2001

Monday, November 22, 2010

In The Round With: Nana

I've decided to let someone else take the mic tonight! A recent run-in with my music and fashion-appreciating, down-to-earth, groovy soul man of a friend Nana made me think that it's important to incorporate some other opinions into the mix. Nana, a 24 year-old man of few words (good ones though) has aspirations to become a graphic novelist - and if all else fails, he plans on selling his soul to the devil for blues chops. Sounds like a plan to me!

He knows what he's talking about, trust me. Take it away Nana.

J: Nana bo-bana, describe yourself in 3 words (other than Nana, bo or bana)
N: Boisterous, boorish, bold.

J: Name your favourite childhood musical memory.
N: Listening to afro-beat and latin-jazz with my Pop. Runner-up goes to hearing Portishead for the first time through the walls, from my sister's room.

J: Favourite jazz artist(s) of all time?
N: Fela Kuti and Miles Davis, just can't pick one.

J: Favourite rock n' roll artist of all time?
N: Jimi Hendrix.

J: Favourite hip-hop artist?
N: Black Thought.

J: Guilty pleasure? Musical vice?
N: I have none, all music is relevant in some way.
J: Amen.

J: Musical artist you would have gotten along with?
N: Miles Davis, well I hope I would at least. And then I could chill with Coltrane too.

J: Name an album that never gets old.
N: Is This It? by The Strokes. Something about that record has always done it for me!

J: Name the album or songs you wish you hadn't overplayed.
N: Songs get overplayed for me....Right now I hate "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo Green and "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

J: What's your favourite thing to pair music with?
N: Cooking.

J: What's playing for you right now?
N: Terminal by Salome.

J: Who do you predict will break out?
N: Christian Mistress. Think of the child of Diamondhead and Manowar, with some modern sensibilities and break downs. And fronted by a woman with a voice that sounds like a belt sander.

J: Which musical artist will make their grand return?
N: Janet Jackson, her comeback is long overdue.

J: Do you have a favourite song of all time? I understand if you can't choose, I certainly can't.
N: It's too hard to answer this one, but "Weatherbox" by Mission of Burma has been stuck in my head for like a week.

J: Last and of course not least - is rock n' roll dead or here to stay?
N: It was never gone, and it never will be. It started off as fringe music and I don't really care if it goes back to the fringes, but it'll never die.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Good Lovin' Is Right

You know, I can attribute my deep love for music to all sorts of sounds and listening memories. I could source it to 1994 when I heard Mariah Carey's cover of  "Without You" and sang along while my Mom played guitar peacefully, putting up with me as a frightening replica of that prophane, shrieking YouTube child who couldn't get the note right. I could definitely source it back to the Top Gun Soundtrack and my strange enjoyment of the volleyball scene in which shirtless fighter pilots are frolicking in the sand to "Playing With The Boys" by Kenny Loggins. I could easily attribute it to all sorts of weird places that in some cases are now only a memory - Gloria Estefan, Glass Tiger, Star Search, the Great Expectations Soundtrack, CCR, The Cranberries, etc.

I won't even bother thinking it was just one of these musical experiences. It, of course, was a melting pot of weird musical influence and diversity that always made me want to know and hear more. But I can tip my hat to one very large and prevalent moment in musical history. One obviously notorious soundtrack that became a precedent-setting compilation, paving the way for future ingenious movie song collections like the Romeo + Juliet and Garden State Soundtrack, is bigger than all of these toddler musical notions I received.

For me growing up, The Big Chill Soundtrack, was bigger than big. IS bigger than big. It is an astounding roster of Motown legends and their powerful pieces of pop history. They are fast, slow, danceable, sway-worthy, sing-along hits that slide into eachother magically - as if all of the featured musical artists were in one room recording each single for the sole purpose of appearing together on one disc. The songs and the way they groove together still, to this day, causes me to hear one song end, and expect the next respective song on the Soundtrack to follow it. I hear the sexy bop of "Good Lovin'" by the Young Rascals, and expect to hear the familiar bass line of "My Girl" next. I still remember prancing around my house singing the sassy lead of "Tell Him" by the Exciters, expecting my tiny imitation growl to match that of lead singer Brenda Reid and cause my own toddler doo-wop troop to materialize out of thin air.


Procol Harem

The five songs on either side of my cassette tape brought me equal amounts joy. It taught me that music was everything from the magnificent, thumping slow dance of Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" (still one of my favourite love songs of all time, and aside from Annie Lennox I really don't like when people cover it), to rock infections like "Joy to the World" and the steamy "Heard It Through The Grapevine". This Soundtrack is one of those albums that, regardless of how great the movie was (pretty great), the music that backed it was an entity in it's own.



And, one track that stands on it's own (in honour of my Mom and I twistin' in the kitchen and squealing with laughter and the high notes), is the momentous "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by those Temptation soul preachers.

To this day, the album is fun for the whole family, and a prime lesson in excellence and how to feel good, if you ask me.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cozy Notes

Miles Davis by Leon Jimenez
We're starting to be able to see our breath outside and feel the cold in our bones as winter approaches. One of the best feelings about coming home, shaking off your excess outdoor clothing and cozying up with a glass of red wine - is the music that's the soundtrack. There's clearly a song for every occasion, but after the icey dry air sticks with you at the end of the day, the smooth melodies of a classic jazz ensemble is just about as good as it gets.

Jazz, for me, is a perfect fallback. Don't know what your mood is? Put on jazz. Not in the mood to think too hard about what's playing? Put on jazz. It's like this familiar feeling of warmth and intimacy that lies in the seamlessly improvised piano, crackly croons and the smooth, winding horns. Whether you like it or not, jazz is a best friend to everyone. It's something we've been conditioned to associate with all sorts of appealing imagery - rain dripping down the window pane of a brownstone home, a tiny fishing village asleep in the fog, the passion of two people. It's just one of those classic backdrops that can be added to some of life's most special and quiet moments.

It also, to my liking, is the greatest soundtrack to the city life. Despite how famous they became, great jazz voices like Tony Bennett, the Rat Pack and Ella Fitzgerald still epitomize the idea of a smokey bar filled with struggling artists and a vocalist pressed still against the microphone at the front, while the sleepless city buzzes outside the front doors.

A few jazz vocals that to me, say it all without getting old, are:

1. I'm in the Mood For Love - Louis Armstrong: A sleepy love song that puts your world on a cloud. This joyfully bouncy ditty is orchestrated by Armstrong's raspy hum and crisp horn combination, which make any day a sunny one.

2. The Best is Yet to Come - Tony Bennett: A jazzy, downtown anthem at it's finest. Bennett conducts the perfect tale of making it in the big smoke with his punchy, ageless monologue-singing. This man invented the notion of effortless cool.
 
Billie, belting.
3. The Very Thought of You - Billie Holiday: A woman of grace and elegance, Holiday's muffled romantic longing is like white silk on your ears. The gentle thumping of the strings against the hoppity horns defined the jazz of her era.

4. La Vie En Rose - Louis Armstrong: The beauty of Armstrong's bellows coinciding with the Parisian waltz of this dreamy rendition is just magical. "La Vie En Rose", originally Edith Piaf's 1946 signature song meaning "life through rose-coloured glasses", makes you see life exactly that way. Swirling piano runs and french horns (both subdued and powerful) have turned this version into a little slice of forever.

5. Learning The Blues - Frank Sinatra:  The sultry lounge groove and Sinatra's big band support means for one thing and one thing only - cheek-to-cheek dancing. Whether it's in the kitchen while the pots are boiling over or on a dance floor with clinking glasses as your percussion - it calls for it, so take your pick.

6. The Way You Look Tonight - Tony Bennett: Easily one of the most romantic and beautifully sung songs in history.

Now, there's nothing more harmless than a little instrumental jazz...


The legendary Bill Evans
 1. My Foolish Heart - Bill Evans: Bill Evans, ladies and gentleman. One of the most talented and beautiful jazz pianists of the 20th century, it's as if Evans wrote his music from the inside of a priceless bottle of vintage wine, ready to be gulped down and savoured with a gourmet pasta dish.

2. Blue in Green - Miles Davis: Miles, the man behind the smooth. This 1959 track is meant to be played on a walk home around midnight when there isn't a car in sight. Listen to this one alone, be a little introspective and don't worry, it's not weird. I'm assuming it's what it's meant for.

3. Moonlight in Vermont - Oscar Peterson:
A great Canadian composer hits home with this lullaby version of a popular classic. It's the mixture of his fluttering keys and a snoozy jazz guitar, not his nationality, that attract me to this one.

4. 42nd Street - Diana Krall: Let's get another gal on here, shall we? Krall's sleek piano fits like a glove into this well-rounded ensemble - and for her, it turns into just another sexy Manhattan jam with the boys.

Make a nice dinner, light a few candles and throw on this playlist. You're bound to enjoy it, even if you never speak of it again. Jazz - if nothing else, is certainly one of the world's best kept little secrets to feeling great.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Blown Back Open: Big Wreck

Clockwise from bottom left: IME (the originals), TEB,
Bush and those rebellious Everclear men
I must say, back in my youth (and by youth I mean elementary school), I was a proud and devoted follower of the 1990s alt-rock movement. Mind you, I didn't look or act the part of a rock n' roll obsessed rebellious child - I also had a healthy dose of Britney and choreographed solo recitals in my living room throughout these years. But nonetheless, I just loved the challenge these rock groups presented to the Clive Davis creations, the MuchMusic weekend countdowns, the outrageous amount of Big Shiny Tunes albums, and of course, I have a feeling my pre-pubescent self didn't mind the dreamy male fronts. The thing about those days and many eras before ours now is that the overplayed rock music wasn't generic or meaningless (cough, Nickelback and Theory of a Deadman). The music meant something and the overplayed nature of the songs wasn't tedious because similar to the 1970s when songs like "Let it Be" and "American Woman" ruled the radio, it was appreciated by most.

To get back to the point, it was and still is hard to believe that some of my childhood favourites like I Mother Earth (both singers), Everclear, Third Eye Blind, Bush and Garbage are now nothing but a faint and outdated memory. For the most part, these former rock powerhouses have faded into the background, or remain only in the fine-print writing of a dusty 1998 Summersault Festival flyer.

One of the bands I grew up admiring most was Big Wreck. I absolutely loved this band. Lead singer Ian Thornley had an unbelievable set of pipes, and released a few fairly memorable and dynamic rock singles. He made wise vocal decisions - knowing when to let his vibrado dance smoothly with the electric guitars and when to attack with his powerful range and natural-born rock talent. Watching any live footage of this guy, I find it quite baffling that his mature talent and ear for melodic brilliance maybe wasn't always appreciated as much as it should have been.


Probably the band's best musical moment was the grandiose and moving "Blown Wide Open", off In Loving Memory (Um, hello. The deep-v-neck Thornley wears in the video? Ahead of his time). This song possesses every ingredient to make a spine-tingling and reflective listening experience for everyone. The single, about burying baggage beneath a facade before it becomes undeniable and exposed, really shakes your core with it's melancholic build-up and soulful instrumentals. The song starts slow, with Thornley's voice drifting around the pleasantly-redundant message. After the bridge, the instruments, vocals and lyrics boil to a head and explode with Thornley's chants passionately conducting the profound finale to the song. That building guitar in the middle eight, man - that's something else. To this day.

So, while it may have been from the 90s, but unlike my Paul Frank shirts and pog collection, I refuse to retire this song.

"And I walk out the door/ Get blown wide open by the things I'd put away/ And I wasn't even warned/ Just blown wide open, now the mess is where I lay."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Everything But...The Credit.


Everything But The Girl. Anyone remember this boy-girl duo? Or does it just ring the faintest of bells the way it did for me - bringing me back to the days when I listened to the Women & Songs compilations and all of the sappy female singles blended into one?

Well, apparently credit is due. Probably not in every area of the band's musical history, but certainly in a few. Everything But The Girl is an 80s rock-pop pair from the UK who seem to have stood the test of time seeing as they are presently still making music (and babies, probably - they're a couple).

The reason I raise them is because I heard a song the other day in a store, and as I tend to do when I'm in public - I asked what it was. Yes, it's usually embarassing, a little painful for both you and the salesperson who is probably wondering why you are giving them such an irrelevant task - but I promise, it's always worth it. Anyway, the nice young man sped to the back of the store to find out for me, and came back sputtering, "Uh, something about the, everything about something." I looked at him puzzled at his slurring, cocked my head to the side and asked, "Not Everything But The Girl...or is it?" The little hipster leaped in the air as I cracked the code and said, "Yeah, yeah that's it!" The reason I was so surprised is because my only experience to date with this seemingly obsolete electro-duo was in the mid-90s, with their song "Missing" - an annoying but familiar trance-pop single on one of those Women & Songs albums I mentioned. Not memorable. In the least.

This song, on the other hand, was acoustic, pleasant, and tender with harmonies resembling those of The Weepies. The lyrics seemed simplistic, and even amidst the bustle of the store, I stopped to listen because whatever the lead singer was saying sounded as if it had some depth. It's called "25th December", and, I must say, it is really something. I think what threw me off about it being sung by Everything But The Girl was, first of all, that male vocalist Benn Watt was singing (I thought it was a female lead only - maybe someone should alert the Women & Songs police). And secondly, it sounded like an indie-smash-hit from this year - think again! This track is from 1994. In that case, immediate kudos was given to these two lovebirds for assembling such a timelessly pretty track with soft, harmonic vocals and both acoustic and swirling electric guitars. A great find.

So, naturally I did a little sleuthing after I found out they weren't too shabby of a listen. Sure enough, I discovered that EBTG has covered two of my very all-time favourite classic songs. The first is "The Only Living Boy in New York" by Simon and Garfunkel, and it's a fairly standard, by-the-book cover. Nothing wrong with that, but moving on!
 
The second (drum roll) ... is a truly creative and charming acoustic cover of "Tougher Than The Rest" by that's right, none other than Papa Rock n' Roll, The Godfatha, The Bauss, Brucey Baby. Ok, enough of that. EBTG covered my all-time favourite Springsteen song in a mellow but romantically haunting acoustic version sung by female-lead Tracey Thorn. I was really taken back by this cover seeing as the single off 1987's Tunnel of Love isn't exactly one of his most obviously famous. But, nonetheless, hats off to EBTG for pegging the breath-taking track as something worth a new spin. And, they fooled me again! What I thought was a modern-day attempt, was actually from a 1992 EP. The cover is enough to bring a tear to your eye, and I have to say, even as a huge fan of the token Springsteen harmonica, I love what EBTG did to the bridge of the song. They reduced it from Bruce's heartfelt, centre-stage harmonica solo to a combination of piano and plain old gospel harmonies. Touching and surprisingly appreciated by one of the original song's biggest fans.

I don't know where they are nowadays, if they're only recording solo material, or if they're still making love and music - but these unexpected diamonds in the rough will not be coming off repeat anytime soon. Now, I'm not suggesting we all go out and buy every single EBTG album ever made - in fact, I highly suggest you do not do that. But the moral of the story is, do a little sleuthing, don't judge a band by their Women & Songs affiliations, and never be afraid to ask what is playing - you just might find your next true love.

Bruce sings it to his long-time love Patti Scialfa


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Flashing Lights (ights, ights)

"Downtown Lights" - Leonid Afremov
"You see, I'm a bonafide city girl." - SJP in SATC (crack that code)

And, I really am! I love the city; I love everything about it. That's not to discount the country and the tranquil beauty of a rural area - but I have an obsession with the energy, diversity and look of a brightly lit, tall-standing city. To me, there's nothing like it. I walk everywhere nowadays and my particular routes cover a lot of good ground in the downtown. At dawn, the streets are hush, shiny with frost and the city lights bounce off them. At night, I'm walking again and the traffic roars while the sun fades. Two wonderful times to be marching along, music plugged in, head in the clouds.

I associate certain songs best with the city and, as I've covered before, I associate others better with a long drive in the country. But it's the great "city" or "downtown" songs that often grab me - they're indpendent and thrilling in their sound, whether fast or slow, and I can always put my finger on one when I hear it. For me, it's kind of like I envision certain song titles in front of a jagged skyline with neon lights flashing around them.

A few classics are:

1. The City - Joe Purdy: A unique city song in that it's slow and simple in it's make-up. Purdy's raspy longing vocals resemble Counting Crows lead Adam Duritz and perfectly accompany the layered guitar, shaker percussion and tinkering piano. The song's message about rolling with the punches both in city-living and love is made clear in the tempo and breathtaking wind-down at the end. "We were hiding from the rain/ We were riding on the train/ She was dancing on the midway, just kissing my face."

2. Hard to Live (In the City) - Albert Hammond Jr. - Off The Strokes' guitarist's debut album Yours to Keep, this track is multi-faceted and straight off the downtown pavement. The song completely changes directions from a garage-rock love song with a cute concept, to a horn-heavy Mardi Gras jam that's the jolly cherry on top of an already great tune. I love anything that is spun out of those Strokes boys.

3. I'm On Fire - Bruce Springsteen:  Bruce. The Boss. My main man. The man behind the legend. Singing a distant tale of desire, passion and darkness in a confusing city. Between his latently sexual message, the soft synth beat and the absolutely classic 80s music video (the man knew how to tell a story), this song screams old-school Boss. "At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet/ And a freight train running through the middle of my head/ But you, you cool my desire/ Oh, I'm on fire."

4. Searchlight - Young Galaxy: Last, but certainly not least. This sweet, up-tempo track from Stephen Ramsay (of Stars) and his indie-pop solo band is probably one of my favourite songs to stroll with in the city winter. Or just maybe one of my favourite songs...ever! Figuratively, the song is like a little cup of hot chocolate on an otherwise freezing day. Literally, it's the familiar story of hoping for an old love to come back and keep you warm on a chilly city night. And to top it all off, this song has one of my all-time favourite lyrics. I don't know why and never have, but I adore it: "Under the parklights, I remember the feeling of your hands up under my jacket." Something about the way Ramsay utters that lyric is just a little piece of heaven, and I always find myself re-playing from 1:09 to 1:25 in the song. Follow the link above, you'll hear.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sweet for Certain

"Celebrate we will, because life is short but sweet for certain." - Dave Matthews

The thing about Dave Matthews, is that everyone thinks they know him. And sure, everyone does to a certain degree. But really, only a particular breed of fans really know, love and pay attention to the intricate and overflowing two-decade long discography of this North-American (South-African born) musical prophet.

Up until about four years ago I really thought I knew Dave Matthews too. Yeah, yeah – the guy who sings “Crash Into Me” and “Don’t Drink the Water”, I thought. I figured he was an Average Joe family man who sang a lot of bayou-lounging songs that sounded the same. Man, was I wrong.

On my second day of university, my new buddy (and now life-long friend) began raving about her long-running obsession with Dave Matthews. It took a long and complex education of his more hidden tracks, live performances and hardly-mainstream gems before I realized that there is so much more to Dave. He is absolutely a natural-born performer, anything but average, uncontrollably romantic, and slightly genius. He, like many greats before him, really IS music.

After my tutorial, I slowly stretched the Dave movement to my close friends and family, and another clump of people who couldn’t hear what was so special were immediately converted. If you feel you’re in the same boat, I dare you to watch 10 minutes of Live at Piedmont Park or Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds (his loyal guitar-playing counterpart) Live at Radio City, and not believe that Dave is an instrument in himself. He sweats and twitches across stage, dances wildly to his own tune, and tells intimate tales in his sarcastic southern drawl – all with the roar of his infatuated fans humming behind him.

An example of a few songs that will let you in on the Dave Matthews secret society are “So Right”, a banging, instrumentally-packed jam with the boys about being crazy in love. “The Idea of You”, a ballad best heard in its live form. His lengthy, boiling cover of “All Along the Watchtower” is intense and notoriously a concert staple. We can’t forget about “You and Me” – a cozy one to pack away and take out on a rainy day.

And finally, for the good of everyone, make sure to listen to “Stay or Leave” with Tim Reynolds, as played live at Radio City Music Hall. Between Dave’s passionate vocals, Tim’s creative acoustic improvisation, and the ecstatic reaction from the seated crowd, this one gives me chills every time – every single time! The guitar and lyrical blend of the bridge – “Remember we used to dance, and everyone wanted to be you and me, I want to be too” – is just about one of the most beautiful pieces of writing you’ll ever hear in a song.