Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Rest In Peace, Jennifer

Hello Music Lovers!  In case you haven't heard, Jennifer lost her battle with breast cancer last week.  Below is the life sketch written by her surviving family.
Jennifer Lynne Holmes

May 12, 1982 – March 28, 2018

Jennifer made her appearance into this world 8 weeks early while her parents were on a weekend trip to Vancouver British Columbia.  She started charming people at only a week old, as the army sent up 3 doctors and 4-5 nurses in a helicopter to bring her back to the states.  She stayed in the NICU for another week or so before she would join the rest of the family. One of the first times that Jennifer was around extended family, her uncle Mike nearly sat on her believing that she was a random doll laying on the sofa. 

As she grew her personality became vivacious and always curious.  From unplugging the cord from the computer with a question of “what dis do?” to “it’s a Fristmas free not a fristmas free” always questioning why and how and deciding when she was three that she was old enough to get in the star swing herself but getting stuck and not allowing anyone to help her get out.  Only dresses were worn and yellow was always preferable.  Fred the wonder horse was her constant companion for many years and Sleeping Beauty the only movie to watch.  School brought many friends and began a passion for learning things that pertained to the stars, music, rocks, writing and the ability to stand up for what she believed in, no matter what. 

Jennifer always had a passion for animals and wanted to become a Veterinarian. Life got in the way, so she settled for becoming the best barista she could.  Jennifer worked at Tulley’s and later Starbucks, always giving great customer service and superb coffee. Then following her passion for animals, she found a vet clinic to work at, as a receptionist but they soon realized she was capable of much, much more and they began to train her to become a Vet Technician.  She followed this path for a few years then took a break to follow another passion, geology and earth science.  She attended college for several years following this dream but ultimately the soft and furry animals won and she returned to be a Vet Technician, becoming certified with the assistance of her mentors at All Critters Animal Hospital. 

Life was good!  Jennifer made many friends in the music industry and attended countless concerts for a wide variety of artists.  Then the tragic day came that she discovered a lump in her breast, which after a barrage of tests turned out to be stage four breast cancer. She took on this challenge head on like everything else in her life and fought to live with everything she had.  When the treatments ceased to be effective against the cancer, Jennifer made a decision that no person should ever have to make. Try another round of chemo that might give her a few more months but at great risk to her already fragile body or choose to stop treatment and let the cancer run its course and kill her. Jennifer chose to face death on her terms. The cancer grew at a steady pace for about six months, then as she had been told it would, it exploded and quickly consumed her. She passed quietly, surround by family and friends.  Jennifer you were born too early.   And now you're gone way too soon.

Jennifer is survived by her parents, and siblings Jason, Neomi, Linda, Lydia, Emily, Michelle, Mathew and Tiffany and Jason.  She has too many aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews to mention, as well as friends all over the world, from her many trips and adventures, where she never failed to make new friends.  We all mourn her loss, and are inspired by the spirit in which she lived her life.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

An Outlaw Family

Artwork by Frank Germano

The last 12 months have been a crazy, crazy time for me. As some of you may know, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer (aka Metastatic breast cancer) in January of 2016. While this has been a year of growth, struggle, strength, and change, one thing has stayed constant, one thing has been there for me every step of the way: The Outlaw Roadshow.

Artwork by Frank Germano
How can a traveling music festival-like showcase be there for someone? Well, it's more than just a music showcase, the Outlaw Roadshow is a community, a family. Within days of my diagnosis multiple "family members" contacted me with their love, support, and positive vibes. One of these people, Golden Bloom and Brothers in Yarn's Shawn Fogel, contacted me with the idea of an Outlaw compilation album to help raise money for my treatments. This album would include many Outlaw Alums covering each other's songs. For an Outlaw fan, this was a brilliant idea. The idea of these bands getting together, while miles and miles apart, for me was very overwhelming. This is one of the greatest gifts (if one can call it a gift) ever. I've only heard a few bits of a few of the songs, one in it's entirety, but from what I hear, this is to be a fantastic record. I encourage all of you who haven't yet to check it out.

Cancer is a scary diagnosis. Very few people understand what it fully entails. This is where Dan Nicklin comes in. Now, it's no secret that Dan Nicklin, of Boston's Oldjack, is up there as my favorite Outlaw (but he'll tell you that Adam will always be number one.) The months following my diagnosis cemented him as such. Nicklin's family had also been touched by breast cancer, his mother is a survivor. There were many times I was feeling very down, and scared about what was happening to me. Dan would call, usually late nights after band practice, just to check in, to see how I was doing. If I had posted a vaguebook status on Facebook about how I was struggling with life, I could count of Dan Nicklin calling to check in. Most of the time it was him talking, and me on the other end crying, but I'm so glad he was there. He knew all the right things to say, he had been through this before. His words got me though some really hard nights.

More than just the amazing musicians I've befriended over the years, I've become friends with some beautiful people all around the world. From great friends in San Antonio, to Indiana, to Boston, to New Jersey. I thank the Outlaw Roadshow for making the last five years of my life so much better.

That's what the Outlaw Roadshow does. That's what the Outlaw Roadshow is. It's a community of music lovers who over the last several years have become a spread out, long distance extended family. On Oldjack's last album, the title track poses the question, "What is Home to You?," my answer is, and always will be, The Outlaw Roadshow.

Due to my cancer treatments I was unable to attend the Outlaw Roadshow in Austin this year, missing my first one in 3 years. One of my biggest goals this year was to be healthy enough to attend the Outlaw Roadshow in New York City in October. This was the big one, the NYC Outlaw is my favorite time of year. I hadn't missed one in 4 years, and I wasn't going to let cancer get in the way of not attending in 2016. Lucky for me, I had finished my chemo treatments in April, and my oncologist gave me the go ahead to have the best time ever is NYC. This is precisely what happened.

I'm sure my diagnosis played some part in the amazing weekend that was the 2016 NYC Outlaw Roadshow. People always seem friendlier when you're sick. Sometimes it was a little overwhelming, I'm not a big fan of attention. All three days brought the most sincere "How are you's" I've ever had in my life, some of the biggest hugs I've ever received; Outlaws truly care about one another. This year brought multiple invitations to The Garden, Thai food with favorite guitarists, tacos with favorite people, song dedications that made me cry from the greatest of outlaws. Late nights spent in New York City are the best late nights. I am so grateful to have these people in my life.

I'm cautiously hopeful of where the next 12 months will take me. I have three goals for 2017: don't die of cancer, get married to the love of my life, Jonathan, and to attend the Outlaw Roadshow in NYC next October. I hope that Ryan and Adam know just how much the Outlaw Roadshow means to me, and to my life. I can not thank these people enough for all they have done for me, directly and indirectly, over the last five years.

Thank you, all the Outlaws, for all the things.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Music Life - Best of 2014

2014 was another fantastic year for music. I got a lot of new music. Some from old friends and some from new friends, some from bands I've never actually met but admire greatly. A lot of the music this year, much like the last two, was discovered through The Outlaw Roadshow and Nekkid Armadilla Extravaganza, but some I found on my own. Thinking back on my year in music, thinking about what records to include on this year's list, I decided to include the records that meant the most to me, the ones I find myself listening to on a near daily basis. These are the records that made this year in music just that much more special to me. Some of the songs on some of these records have meant more to me than many in the last 32 years of my life.

So here you go, my favorite records of 2014:

~ Elbow - The Take Off and Landing of Everything
I discovered Elbow just a year and a half ago. But in those 18 months they have become one of my favorite bands. I had the opportunity to see them live back in May in Portland, Oregon, and it was an amazing show. I have a huge music crush on lead singer Guy Garvey. His voice is perfect, and he's adorable. Back in March Elbow released The Takeoff and Landing of Everything. (Full review here)

I instantly fell in love with the record. The lead off single, "New York Morning" remains one of my life changing songs. I came full circle with this song just a few months ago, listening to the song while walking down the street in New York City on a cool Autumn morning. As I listened to the record more and more, the song "This Blue World" became my second favorite song on it. There's one line that just keeps jumping out at me, and can be applied to so many people in my life, both current and past:

"While three chambers of my heart
beat true and strong with love for another
the fourth, the fourth is yours forever"

The Takeoff and Landing of everything is a beautiful record from start to finish. If you haven't listened to it, I highly suggest you do.

~ Star Anna - The Sky is Falling
Seattle singer/songwriter Star Anna released The Sky is Falling as a digital only album in April. I've been meaning, trying, to write a full review of the record since I got it. But I just couldn't find the right words. I couldn't find words that would express how brilliant the record is. I couldn't form sentences that would convey the feelings the record created. The songs are heartbreaking, but in a totally relateable way. The Sky is Falling was recorded before last year's Go To Hell, but wasn't released until the moment was right. Star Anna's voice is special. It's really not like anything else you'd find out there these days: smooth, but just a little but gritty, full of so much feeling and power, but not over powering.

My favorite song on the record is "Love Song." A sort of cynical love song, almost mocking those who believe in love, and love at first sight and fairy tale love. The song is a duet with Screaming Trees' Mark Pickerel, whose voice perfectly compliments Star Anna's. The best part of the song is the chorus:

"I don't believe in fairy tales
I think they're overrated
I think they're outdated
oh and I, I don't believe in love at first sight
it's only something you'd write, it's only something you'd write"

Other stand out tracks on the record are "Little Voices," "Annie," and "Easier to Shine," and "Only Guessing."
But seriously, the record as a whole is fantastic.

~ Counting Crows - Somewhere Under Wonderland
What can I say about this record that I haven't already said? (Read that here.) It's no secret that Counting Crows are my favorite band. I still can't believe that I can call lead singer Adam Duritz "friend," the whole thing is all still very weird and surreal, but it's my life. Somewhere Under Wonderland is Counting Crows' first studio album in 7 years and it's amazing. It's a little big different that their previous records, but still brilliant. "God of Ocean Tides," "Earthquake Driver," and "Possibility Days" are my favorite songs on the record. But I could listen to the whole thing over and over for days (and have.)

~Field Report - Marigolden
Field Report's debut, self titled album has been one of my favorites over the last two years, with "Taking Alcatraz" and "Fergus Falls" being in constant rotation on many of my playlists. Their long awaited sophomore album, Marigolden, came out in October. Just like the last, it is a colorful, lyrical piece of story telling genius. Chris Porterfield has a way of stringing words together in a way that makes you really listen, to take it all in, coz you'll miss the point if you don't. The songs come from life experiences and he weaves them into songs that you can't turn away from. One of the coolest moments for me this year was seeing Field Report here in Seattle a couple months ago. Seeing these songs live is mesmerizing. The best part though was the acoustic, on the floor sing-a-long to "Taking Alcatraz" and "Fergus Falls." Singing along with the songs, literally a foot and a half from Porterfield, was incredible.

Stand out tracks:
"Home (Leave the Lights on)," "Pale Rider," "Ambrosia," and "Enchantment"

~ OldJack - What is Home to You?
I know, I know, this record was also on last year's list. Well, it wasn't officially released until Nov. 2014, so there. I LOVE this record. Obviously, otherwise I wouldn't have included it on two "best of"
lists. OldJack, over the last two-ish years has become one of my favorite bands, and their lead singer, Dan Nicklin, one of my favorite people. My original review of the record still holds true, if not even more so. Every song on the record is noteworthy (but for the record my favorite track is "Lonely Alone," a song which I refer to as "my song.") The record is so full of feeling, heart, and soul. Now that is available to get on BandCamp, there's no excuse not to have this record.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Album Review - Man Against Machine - Garth Brooks

I hate modern mainstream Country music, but I love Garth Brooks. I have loved Garth Brook since his first album came out in 1989. I'm fairly certain he was my first music crush (though he was quickly knocked out by Bryan Adams, but that's another story.)

Brooks recently released his first record in 13 years. Man Against Machine is classic Garth. It sounds like nostalgia. It sounds like Nineties Country music. It sounds like the Garth Brooks I grew up listening to. Garth is back, and this makes me happy.

I have no idea how this album compares to any other Country music out there these days, as I don't listen to it. However, I love the sound of this album. None of the songs sounds the same, they all have their own distinct feel to them. Ranging from traditional country western, to country-rock, country-blues. Brooks' vocals are clear and as "Garthy" as ever. Listening to the album, you can't even tell that it's been 13 years.

I like to think that the title track, Man Against Machine has something to do with Garth Brooks hating the internet. But really what I get from it is a tale of the struggles of working Americans whose manufacturing jobs are being handed over to machines:

"Day in day out
Bust your back and turn it out
Next morning do it again
Hard job or two
So your children won't have to
That's just the way it's always been
But lately I swear the machines
Are living the American Dream"

What ever the song is about, it kinda makes you think. Or at lease sing along.

She's Tired of Boys is a story of a girl looking for a real relationship, or at least real to her, one with a mature man.

"She said I’m tired of boys
I’m tired of first dates and I’m tired of toys
I want a lover that will understand
Someone who will touch me with a knowing hand
I am tired of feeling emptiness inside
I want to be the one left satisfied
I looked around and now I've made my choice
I’m tired of big talk and I’m tired of noise
I’m tired of boys"

Really, though, how many times has a girl in her 20s, 30s, whatever, said something like that to herself? This is a very relateable song, and I love it. The background vocals from Trisha Yearwood make the song that much more awesome. (I just love that she and Garth ended up together.)

Cold Like That is an emotionally charged country ballad about a woman with a cold, uncaring heart. All-American Kid,  a story of the High School football hero who joins the military and makes it home alive, all the while his hometown cheering him on.

Rodeo and Juliet is a fun, up tempo, true country track about a rodeo queen laden with Shakespeare quotes (from Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.) I love this. Mostly because I love Shakespeare. But it's also a really catchy song.

Midnight Train is one or my favorite tracks on the album. It's another classic Garth song, though it reminds me just little of the Alan Jackson song, Drive, Not in an "oh my gosh, he ripped him off" way, but in a "I love this sound, this feel, this pace of song. Well done." way. The song plays on like a train chugging along.

Cowboys Forever isn't all about cowboys. It's about the spirit of the Cowboys. How cowboys aren't just farm boys, or cattle wranglers, or what have you, but cowboys have evolved over the years. Cowboys are heroes, humans.

"Now they're cops in the city with their lives on the line
They're truck drivers hauling that freight
They're young soldiers leaving their loved ones behind
They're the ones who pull their own weight"

People Loving People could be the unofficial sequel to 1992's We Shall Be Free from The Chase. Basically the song is saying that we need to love one another, that it will fix all the issues in the world.

"It's people loving people
That's the enemy of everything that's evil
Ain't no quick fix at the end of a needle
It's just people loving people"

Oh, Garth. If only it were that easy. The song is great, the message is great. If only people would heed the message.

Another favorite on the album is the bluesy track Tacoma. A painful story of running away, trying to, needing to, get away so fast that the hurt can't follow.

"I might make it to Memphis
And if that ain't far enough
I'll speed down the highway to Tulsa or Missouri
So fast that the hurt can't catch up
I'm burning your memory one mile at a time
All the way to Tacoma
By then I hope you're of my mind"

I am so glad Garth Brooks is back, His music shaped a lot of my childhood. I'm so glad that this album turned out to be so good. I am really, really enjoying it.  And for the record, I still have a music crush on Garth Books.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Outlaw Roadshow - NYC - October 2014

Poster art by Frank Germano @ Man On Fire Design

Another October, another cross-country plane ride to the once mythical city of New York for what has become my favorite musical thing, The Outlaw Roadshow. Just two years ago New York City, to me, was like a magical far away place, a place oft thought about, but never really meant much. But now, now New York City is something completely different, New York City is part of my life. New York City is Outlaw Roadshow territory. And for three days in October, New York City is home.

It's come to be expected that Ryan Spaulding (of Ryan's Smashing Life,) Adam Duritz (of Counting Crows) and their team of amazing Outlaws, will give the fans one heck of a three day musical party down at the Bowery Electric, with this year being no exception. 

The line up included old friends, new friends, and unknown friends. 



Some of the unknowns surprised me. Some I liked, some I didn't, But not everyone will like everything, right? What matters is I gave them a chance. I was thrilled to see some old favorites in the line up. Though most of them I had seen only seven months prior at SXSW in Austin, it had been seven long months since I'd seen them. The Outlaw Roadshow has become more than just a music showcase, more than just a mini music festival. The Outlaw Roadshow is a musical family reunion. Days began with friends leaping over railings to give you nearly-knock-you-over hugs, and scanning the crowded club each night I saw some of the same familiar faces, faces I'd seen the year before, faces I didn't know the names to, faces I knew and couldn't wait to see. The faces of Outlaws. 

     For me this year is was really the old favorites who were the highlight of each day. While I enjoyed several of the "new" bands, there really weren't any that I had to rush home and re-listen to as soon as possible (except maybe for the Longwalls, I really enjoyed them.)

Golden Bloom
Tallahassee's set opened Thursday. This was only the second time I'd seen Tallahassee play live, and just like the last, I was blown away. The blues/rock/country-esque band from Boston played a fantastic set which included my favorite songs of theirs, Old Brown Shoes and Minor Blues III.   

Boom Forest

   Following Tallahassee was a long time Roadshow favorite, Golden Bloom. Well, really it was Shawn Fogel of Golden Bloom, backed by Scott Thompson and Matt Raskopf of Tallahassee. Fogel is one of the best song writers out there right now. His catchy, poppy songs are laden with feeling, depth and thought provoking images. 

Fogel played several songs from the new record Golden Bloom is working on. Two of these songs are in my current favorite song rotation: Circles Round My Mind and Books You Never Read (I saw Fogel do a solo show Friday afternoon at Rockwood Music Hall. He played Books You Never Read on the piano. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. It seriously nearly made me cry (sure, it was mostly the lyrics really hitting me, but still.)) Their set ended with an on-the-floor acoustic Outlaw sing-a-long of Searching For Sunlight. Always good times when an Outlaw sing-a-long happens.

Boom Forest played a haunting, echo-y set. J.P. Roney, aside from being one good lookin' dude (yeah, I said it,) writes some amazing songs. I was immediately sucked into his set, it was one you almost couldn't get away from.

K Philips and DTP
The last set I saw Thursday night was another friend and favorite, K Phillips. K was accompanied not by his usual band of Concho Pearls, but only friend and guitarist Daniel Thomas Phipps. K's sets are always brilliant. The highlight for me was probably his new-ish track, Coal Burner. Such a great song.

Friday's line up held the Outlaw band who over the last two years has become one of my personal favorites, like listen to them pretty much all the frickin' time favorites. Also, the band is led by one of my favorite human people, Dan Nicklin, the band Oldjack.

Another Outlaw alum from Boston, Oldjack brings classic rock and soul in the form of a seven piece band. Oldjack's set was one of the strongest they had never played. Nicklin was on fire, and back-up singer Kelly Davis was in top form. The set included classic Oldjack and several tracks from their new record, What is Home to You?

     The highlight of the set, for me anyway, was just as the band is going into the song Lonely Alone, Nicklin gestured to me and said, "This is for you, Jen." Great moment. So yeah. If anyone asks, Lonely Alone is my song. 

Friday's show also included great sets from Hallelujah the Hills, The Silks and another favorite of mine, Air Traffic Controller. Another Boston band, Air Traffic Controller's brand of catchy, jubilant pop filled the Bowery Electric with an undeniable energy. Mixing new and old, The House, What You do to my Soul and If You Build it, Hurry, Hurry, You Know Me, and The Work, Air Traffic Controller had the whole room the whole set. I really loved the new stuff, and am looking forward to their new album (release date unknown.)

Air Traffic Controller
Saturday, day three, promised four Outlaw favorites: Filligar, Nakia, Mean Creek and Sonic Cow Grunt, plus a few newcomers: The Longwalls (the only new band this year who caught my attention,)  and Tigerman Woah (I did not care for this band at all. I'm sure some folks did, they just aren't for me,)

Filligar rocked their set. These guys are great. Always a treat to see them play. Following the Outlaw norm this year, Filligar played new and old stuff, favorites from The Nerve, Hexagon and the new record they just recorded. Highlight songs from their set included New Local, Money on the Dark Horse, and Robbery (Shocking Love)

Mean Creek is probably the most hard rock/punk band I'll ever listen to. Nothing against that genre of music, I'm just not that big a fan. But Mean Creek, well you have to experience Mean Creek to get Mean Creek. They have a fresh intensity about them, When they get going, you'd better watch out, they will rock your socks right off. Their whole set was incendiary from start to finish.Also playing a mix of new and old, highlights of Mean Creek's set were My Madeline, Johnny Allen and Young & Wild.
Mean Creek

The last show of the night was a solo set upstairs from Nakia. I didn't catch all of his set, but I did get to hear most of his cover of Counting Crows' Raining in Baltimore, and that, my friends, was awesome.

But, probably the best set of the night was that from Sonic Cow Grunt, who for those in the Outlaw loop, is a fragmented version of Counting Crows, this year only David Immergluck, Dan Vickrey and Adam Duritz.

Like I had the two years before, I had claimed my spot directly in front, and just to the right, of the stage earlier in the day (coz I'm that kind of crazy.) This was my idea of musical nirvana. It's no secret that Counting Crows are my favorite band, and being about to see them play literally less than two feet away from me is amazing. It's kinda like we're all singing together (especially during Rain King when the whole room was singing along together. That was a moment.) I didn't grab the set list that night, so I don't remember what order they played these songs, I'm pretty sure they played The Ballad of El Goodo, Scarecrow, Four White Stallions, Sullivan Street, High Life, Earthquake Driver, God of Ocean Tides, Richard Manuel is Dead,  Washington Square, and Rain King. 

Also, Dan is a pretty funny dude. Or at least he was that night. They told good stories, made us laugh, maybe even made us cry.  

Their closing number was a cover. Probably the most touching and surprising cover ever. A cover of a song written by a friend and fellow Outlaw. Adam didn't say whose song it was in the introduction, that "he'll figure it out when we play it.." Well, he did. A few bars into the song, which turned out to be Kat's Song (What I can't Have) by K Phillips. K was about 5 or 6 people away from me. The look on his face as Adam, Dan, and Immy (accompanied by Nakia on keys) played/sang that song was that of sheer disbelief and happiness combined. K is a great guy and a great songwriter. That must have been utterly amazing for him. I can't think of a better person to have the Crows cover their song. Finally K was able to get up on stage and sing with them. The moment was magical. The air of the room was full of Outlaw love.

After saying my goodbyes to my Outlaw family at the Bowery Electric, I headed out to Dan Nicklin's
South by Northeast showcase, For Liberty's Sake, at Carroll Place. Oldjack was playing again and I had to see them one last time before it was all over. Again, that set was amazing. Oldjack is one of the best live bands out there right now, well, one of the best bands in general.

Once again, New York treated me well. I had the most amazing time, but then I always do. Seeing all my Outlaw friends and hearing the music that had over the last two and a half years completely changed by life, has become one of my favorite things. The Outlaw Roadshow feels like home. Seeing an Outlaw band feels like home. I feel honored and blessed to be able to call these people my friends, and to say that this is my life; my music life.

Thank you to Ryan, Adam and everyone involved in making the Outlaw Roadshow what it is. Until next time, Outlaws!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Album Review - Somewhere Under Wonderland - Counting Crows

It's been seven long years since the music world has had an all-original Counting Crows record. Though they have released two records since 2008's Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, this is the first to contain all new, all Crows written tracks. The wait has been long. But the wait has been worth it. Somewhere Under Wonderland delivers the goods. The Crows are back.

I first heard three of the songs off Wonderland last October. In a crowded basement club in New York City, four members of the band, billed as Sonic Cow Grunt, preformed "Scarecrow," "God of Ocean Tides" and "Cover Up the Sun" for the first time. I felt extremely lucky to be able to hear these songs in their infancy, and couldn't wait for the record.

Though the whole album has been streaming on iTunes radio for the last week or so, I tried my best to not listen to it in it's entirety. I had the first four songs that had been released already ("Palisades Park", "Scarecrow", "God of Ocean Tides" and "Earthquake Driver") and heard a couple more at the show I went to on their summer tour. So, as soon as the record became available to download, I jumped on it. It couldn't download fast enough. I needed these songs. The songs I'd already heard were amazing, and I knew the rest of the songs would follow suit.

Somewhere Under Wonderland carries all the emotion a Counting Crows record should. All those angsty feelings from the 90's come rushing back. It's like running into an old friend you haven't seen in years, but getting along like you haven't missed a beat. Listening to the record the first time though is a little overwhelming. There's so much to soak in. The words, good gourd the words. I love words. I love the way random words can be so beautifully strung together. There are so many amazing words on this record. Adam Duritz has long been one of my favorite songwriters, and with the nine songs on Wonderland he just keeps drilling that fact into my brain.

One by one they played in my ears. One by one my heart soared. One by one the smile got bigger and bigger. There aren't many words I can use to describe the feeling of hearing the record play out. It's quite possible to go on and on for hours trying to decipher the songs, trying to guess just exactly what it is they are about, the symbology of the lyrics, the places, the people, the themes. But why try? It's best just to say how they make you feel, what the song means to you. Everyone gets something different out of every song, everyone likes every song for a different reason, not everyone will be head over heels in love with the same songs you are. I get that. I'll just do my best to represent the music, to explain it the best I can.

Several of the songs have lyrical arcs that connect them, keeping a kind of theme on the record, not a blatantly obvious theme, but a theme nonetheless. We have spacemen and aliens, "I was an alien in utero / somehow missed New Mexico" (Dislocation,) "Mary steers clear of the men from space... Ivan the ancient spaceman race fan / Corners the market on American tastes / And says 'Spaceman! Scarecrow! Peepshow! Freakshow!" (Scarecrow,) "There are aliens on motorcycles / Riding on the radio while we destroy the world" (Elvis Went to Hollywood.) Then there's the climbing, escaping through windows, "He said 'come outside / climb out your bedroom window / shimmy down the fire escape / and say goodbye'" (Palisades Park,) "If you decide to climb out your bedroom window / pain a picture on a cloud" (John Appleseed's Lament.) I love how that works out. I have no idea if it was done on purpose, of if it just kinda happened. Either way, I totally dig it.

"Palisades Park" was the first track released from the record. I did a little review on the song when it was relaeased back in July, so to quote myself:
"'Palisades Park' is a story. It's an epic. It's a feel good call back to the likes of Mrs. Potter's Lullaby. It's the prefect summer song. It's flows flawlessly from the distant sounding trumpet solo to Adam Duritz's vocals; fresh, refreshed, and slightly jazzy. I think the lyrics to the song might be the origin to the "come outside, come out your window...." lyric inserts Duritz has been adding to live versions of Round Here over the last couple years. Or maybe I'm wrong, who knows. But seriously though, the lyrics are good. And then there's the hook right before the chorus. Good gourd, the hook. But my favorite line, well, lines, the few lines out of the whole 8 minute song, that speak to me the most, right now anyway are:

"Andy said, "Man, I need a break from the world outside"
And these days my life just careens through a pinball machine
I could do so much better but I can't get off the tilt"

The last couple years my life has felt just like that.

The song builds as it goes, grows, grabs your attention every step of the way...Palisades Park is an instant classic"

"Earthquake Driver" is a trip. On the outside a jaunty, melodic ride of guitars and carefully timed hand claps. When you listen to the words, you realize it goes deeper than that. I hear it as someone who wants to be involved, someone who doesn't want to be alone, someone who wants to be. Maybe that's why I'm drawn to the song. Or maybe it's just the carefully timed hand claps.

The song that held the title of favorite up until the whole record came out is "God of Ocean Tides." For as much as I love the guitar driven, rocking Crows songs, I love those classic Durtiz ballads even more. "God of Ocean Tides" has a bit of a "Washington Square" twang to it, but a bit dreamier. The simple acoustic guitars flow flawlessly throughout the song, the piano dancing along beside them. There are so many lines in this song that I love. I won't list them all, it'd take to much time. So I'll just leave you with this one:
"Colored lights and birthday cakes
Candle wax on paper plates
Breathe the water
You can see through the water
All the way up to the sky"

The record jumps from electric guitar laden to acoustic and then back again. "Johnny Appleseed's Lament" is one of the heavy guitar laden tracks. It is also one of the songs on the record that surprised me the most. It's one that up until the record came out I hadn't heard. One that I had no idea what to expect. "Johnny Appleseed's Lament" is a confessional song. It opens much like "Round Here" but moves in a different direction:
"I stepped out the front door into winter and the world outside
I stepped out the door to New York City
My hair was barely dry
I could not remember where I was going
So I went back inside"

The song is like a narrative, with the writer expressing insights into thoughts and dreams and love and life: “Come on Adam, tell me what the hell is wrong with you
Come on Adam, what the hell am I supposed to do?
I could love you, I could leave you, but I can’t live with what you put me through”

In some ways the song reminds me of the unreleased, holy grail of Crows songs, "August and Everything After." Autobiographical, honest, whole:
"I cigarette the winter air
and then I Fred Astaire my way down 7th Street
Some chick yells 'Jesus loves you more than I know, but less than I need'
I parade down the Bowery to the Battery
and then I step off into the air
Point my sunglasses east toward Jerusalem
And then follow all the Pharaohs there..."

But I think my favorite part of the whole song, the part that gives me all the feels:
"I call the wind Maria because I do not know her face
I call the endless sky Amelia
Because she stays with me from place to place
I call the sun my love Emmanuelle
Because she cradled me in her embrace"

The damn song just gets better and better every time I listen to it. And those guitars. Holy cow.

The song that blew me away the most, the song that when I first listened to it left me breathless (literally, I had to remind myself to breathe, it hit me that hard,) the song that still after listening to it like three dozen times still gives me butterflies is "Possibility Days"

Why? It's amazing, first off. The words are ridiculously brilliant. The song is heartbreakingly beautiful. Adam's vocals are perfect, with a hint of yearning, a vulnerability, that makes them infectious. The lyrics tell of love, of love that just doesn't work, of love no one wants to admit isn't working, of love that falls apart. The personal aspect the story makes the song all that much better.

"It was a cold 3am at JFK
I guess you stayed because you wanted to stay
We went from zero to everything all in a day
And then Kennedy took you away...

You know that the worst part of a good day
is hearing yourself say goodbye to one more possibility day
it goes on and on...

And the worst part of a good day is knowing it's slipping away...

We were waiting for winter this year
But you came and it never appeared
Me and you, we know too many reasons
For people and seasons that pass like they weren't even here"

And on and on with word that mean so much. Word that stop my heart waiting for the next line. Words that I haven't been able to get out of my head since I first heard the song. Word to a melody that waltzes through my body with every beat. Words that with every note make me fall even more for this band.

Every song on this record is brilliant. Every song is worth everything it offers. This record is a long awaited collection of the most brilliant songs the band has ever put together. The band is sounding tighter than ever,  Duritz's writing is just as awesome as it's ever been, if not better and his vocals are sounding better than ever, refreshed, fresh, healthy. I listen to the record and am just so happy that I have this band in my life, that I can call Adam a friend.

I highly recommend getting your hands on this record, getting your ears on this record (If you haven't already)

If you want it, the track list:

1. "Palisades Park"
2. "Earthquake Driver"
3. "Dislocation"
4. "God of Ocean Tides"
5. "Scarecrow"
6. "Elvis Went to Hollywood"
7. "Cover Up the Sun"
8. "John Appleseed's Lament"
9. "Possibility Days"  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Single Review - Palisades Park - Counting Crows

Counting Crows have a new single out. It's called Palisades Park. It's the first track off their upcoming, 7th studio release (out September 2, 2014) titled "Somewhere Under Wonderland"

Within one listen there's one thing I know for sure: Counting Crows are back. Now, I'm not saying that they ever really left, but this single is reminiscent of classic Crows. "Somewhere Under Wonderland" is the bands first record of original music since 2008's "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings" and as a Counting Crows fan, I can tell you that this is a welcome, long awaited addition to their catalog. While 2012's "Underwater Sunshine" was a brilliant album, it was a covers album, and well, I know the world is ready for some Duritz originals.

And we get one. Palisades Park is a story. It's an epic. It's a feel good call back to the likes of Mrs. Potter's Lullaby. It's the prefect summer song. It's flows flawlessly from the distant sounding trumpet solo to Adam Duritz's vocals; fresh, refreshed, and slightly jazzy. I think the lyrics to the song might be the origin to the "come outside, come out your window...." lyric inserts Duritz has been adding to live versions of Round Here over the last couple years. Or maybe I'm wrong, who knows. But seriously though, the lyrics are good. And then there's the hook right before the chorus. Good gourd, the hook. But my favorite line, well, lines, the few lines out of the whole 8 minute song, that speak to me the most, right now anyway are:

"Andy said, "Man, I need a break from the world outside"
And these days my life just careens through a pinball machine
I could do so much better but I can't get off the tilt"

The last couple years my life has felt just like that. 

The song builds as it goes, grows, grabs your attention every step of the way. The band, Dan Vickrey, David Immergluck, Dave Bryson, Millard Powers, Charlie Gillingham, and Jim Bogios, backing with the talent we've come to expect from them, but always proves to exceed expectations.

Palisades Park is an instant classic, though that phrase has never really made sense to me. It's got to be one of the best Counting Crows tracks I've heard in a while (and I love all of them, so that's saying something.) If the first track is this good, I can't even imagine how ridiculously good the rest of the album is going to be.
Pre-order "Somewhere Under Wonderland" via iTunes, or to pre-order vinyl packages, go here.