Monday, October 7, 2013

Actively listening...

When I was growing up (and even after I had thought I had stopped growing up), I was totally hooked on music. In early days, I would spend most of my disposable income on new tapes (or my free time taping favorite songs off the radio). Then as technology shifted, so did I, moving on to CDs and then on to digital music files. The first thing I would do when I got home from classes or work would be to turn on the stereo. I always have the radio on in the car. I would listen to albums over and over, absorbing the music and memorizing the lyrics until I could sing along with the band. And I loved discovering new music and new bands to increase my collection. Music was my passion, my obsession.

I don't know what it was, but during the last few years, I just haven't been feeling quite that way about new music. I still loved my old favorites, but I just wasn't letting anything new into my heart. Even in the car, I was listening to Sirius' XMs' First Wave pretty much exclusively and not going into any music newer than the late 1990s. Sad. Seriously sad.

However, something changed over the summer, and I am now totally receptive to new (alternative/indie) music. I play Pandora in the house and don't skip over the songs I don't know. In the car, I move the dial up to listen to Alt Nation and Sirius XM U. Right now, I am in a bit of a not quite country music singer/songwriter milieu, and the (new to me) artists I am loving include Neko Case, Aoife O'Donovan, and Luka Bloom. (The kicker about this: I don't like country music. But I do like bluegrass. And I like rockabilly. And Steve Martin and his banjo. So I think that it isn't really that I don't like country music; it is that I don't like pop country.) Anyhow, here are my top three albums of late.

Neko Case: I heard one of her songs ("I Wish I Was the Moon") in a random episode of "True Blood", and I thought it was so cool I went surfing around the internet to find out who wrote it (because TB doesn't list a song credit at the end of the episode.) I downloaded the album the song was on, Blacklisted, and I was immediately hooked. Now I have all of her solo albums. I have pretty much worn out the newest one, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, from listening to it in the car.  Her music is totally a "sitting on the porch after work, drinking a beer, having a smoke (if you do that anymore), watching as the sun go down and the light fades away while debating to have another beer or actually make dinner" kind of sound. It's been described as country noir, and I think that description describes her sound to a T.

Aoife O'Donovan: I've listened to her dad on WGBH radio (he hosts "A Celtic Sojourn") and a friend of mine went to New England Conservatory with her, but it wasn't until hearing her on NPR's "Weekend Edition" that I decided to look into her music. Her newest album, Fossils, is fabulous. It is a perfect "quiet Sunday morning, drinking coffee, and reading the papers while sitting on the porch" kind of sound. It's a little bit folk, a little bit country, a little bit rock; the instruments create a rich, layered sound. Her lyrics are stories set to music, and her vocals tell those stories with a sweet, occasionally husky sound. Even if I just put this on in the background, I catch myself listening to this album more closely each time I hear it.

Luka Bloom: Until this past summer, I was more familiar with Luka Bloom's brother, Irish folk singer Christy Moore, than with Luka himself. But after hearing a couple of his songs on the Spectrum channel on Sirius XM, I realized that his was a male counterpart to the music of both Neko and Aoife. I bought two of his albums from iTunes and created a Luka Bloom channel on Pandora, which sadly, ends up having a lot more versions of "Whiskey in the Jar" than I would like it to. (But it also has Loreena McKennitt and Clannad which are two of my all time favorite bands so I don't mind too much.)  Luka's sound is a lot more mellow than his brother's and also more melodic. (The only Christie Moore song that reminds me of Luka's sound is "Sweet Music Roll On".)  I would call it a good "reading on the porch on a Saturday afternoon, drinking lemonade, and basking in the warm sunshine" kind of sound. Great stuff!

So these three have done a great job in reconnecting me to the world of contemporary music, and I am looking forward to finding more new favorites in the days to come.

(Quick disclaimer: my friend MMH said something to me about my playing sad music when I was playing Neko while we getting ready to go to Je Glide's bridal shower. I don't think that this music is particularly sad, but happy Katy Perry pop music this isn't. Not knocking Ms. Perry. She is very good too. Just these three are better!)

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