3/30/19: Green

I’m in a great mood today because I have a new bass. It’s a little Hofner, and is an awesome shade of green.

There’s a lot of green around these days in general. Up here in the Northeast, it’s early spring, which is an enchanting time. A green haze starts to appear on trees and bushes as buds arise and bloom, and early spring flowers like crocuses and daffodils are appearing all over.

So I started thinking about songs about green things. Here’s a few that came to mind.




There are a lot of “green” songs out there and maybe I’ll revisit this color at a later date. But until then, let’s give Ken Nordine the final word.



Image by Sicnag. Creative Commons license 2.0.

3/19/19: Safe Travels

A dear friend of mine passed away recently. We had many wonderful adventures together. She was warm, funny, and life will be less fun without her.

This is a song we used to like to play on the jukebox at our local joint. Not because anyone was lying or anything like that – it’s just really fun to sing. Try it sometime, when you’re out at your local joint with a friend.

And to my friend, safe travels. I’ll be raising a glass of Blue Moon beer (with the coriander) in your honor.

2/2/19: Groundhog love

Every year, a bunch of poor groundhogs who never asked for any trouble get dragged out of their nice warm burrows by a bunch of humans in top hats. And then these very humans demand that the groundhog predict the overall weather pattern for the next six weeks. This is a very difficult task even if you do have opposable thumbs, which groundhogs don’t.

I have encountered a few groundhogs in my time, and I would recommend giving them a wide berth; they’ve always seemed pretty grumpy to me. And don’t let them drive.

Even if they can be cranky, they certainly deserve some respect. And maybe some other species can take over as resident animal meteorologist. And I’m going to play some sunshine-y songs in honor of these misunderstood rodents.




6/21/18: Happy summer!

It’s the first day of summer (and the longest day of the year). This is my favorite time of the year, and here’s one of my favorite sunshiney songs, by the Polyphonic Spree.

I saw this band twice – once at Maxwell’s, and once at SummerStage in Central Park, NYC. Both concerts were great. I loved the huge choir, and the french horn, and the joy. I’m so glad I had the chance to see them.



Image by Elizabeth Walsh


Walking home from work

One of my jobs is a couple of towns away from where I live. I get there by bus, which is about a 10 -15 minute walk from my house.

Lately, I’ve been listening to my iPod while I walk to and from the bus stop.

Last night was a beautiful evening. It had rained earlier in the day but now the sun was out and all of the greenery seemed happy to have been watered. The roses are out now, and I made a point to walk past two favorite rose bushes of mine: one that’s this gorgeous shade of coral, and another that’s a lovely traditional pink.

A lot of people were out on the normally quiet street. I think it was due to it being such a lovely evening, plus it looked like somebody was having sewer problems. A plumbing truck was out front, hooked up to some big expensive-looking piece of equipment, and all the neighbors were crowded around.

There’s a big old house down at the corner, and it has the most lovely plants. They have what I think is a tiny peach grove. Or it could be grapes (for all I know, they could be coconuts). I saw who I think was the main gardener in the family, an elderly lady who gave me the stink eye while she sawed a branch in half.

I’ve got an iPod Shuffle, because I like the randomness of it. Tonight the songs that came up seemed to be very appropriate for the scenes around me; kind of beautiful and weird and a little normal. Here’s what I heard.





Photo by Elizabeth Walsh

5/15/18: Seven Albums

I just did one of those Facebook things where you have to list seven albums that have been on your “active” playlist for years and years. You’re supposed to just post the cover of the album, and no need to explain why I like it. It’s probably some kind of marketing scheme that is actually collecting information about my shopping habits based on my listening habits. But what the heck, it’s fun. And it’s an interesting challenge – it’s not what I have officially designated as my Favorite Albums, but rather the ones I actually listen to.

Since I wasn’t supposed to talk about the albums on Facebook, I’ll do it here. Here’s my list:

Simon and Garfunkel: “Sounds of Silence”
Amy Rigby: “Diary of a Mod Housewife”
Rolling Stones: “Between the Buttons”
Leo Kottke: “Songs for 6 & 12 String Guitar”
Sam Prekop: self-titled
Love: “Forever Changes”
Joe Jackson: “Look Sharp”

There were a few albums that almost made the list, like the Beatles’ “Revolver,” James’ “Laid,” and Fugazi’s “End Hits” – they’re all great, and if I had been asked for 10 albums instead of seven, I would have listed them.

I think the qualities that draw me to these albums are strong songwriting and a pop music feel. They also all have a combination of great riffs, memorable melodies, and insightful lyrics. I would love to have written a lot of these songs. They’re all “hummers” – you can’t help humming them all day after you hear one. Even the Leo Kottke songs, with no vocals; you want to hum along to his guitar parts.


When I first started getting serious about playing the bass, I spent my practice time learning songs that I really liked. “Look Sharp” was at the top of my list, right after “Talking Heads ’77.” Both albums have great, melodic bass lines that hold the rest of the song together. At the time, I was unemployed, and set myself the goal of learning all of “Look Sharp” on bass. It was a challenging project, and I was having a great time. Unfortunately, somebody hired me and I had to put my “Look Sharp” plans on hold. But I’ve recently decided I’m going to take up the challenge again and finish learning the album.


I discovered Amy Rigby’s “Diary of a Mod Housewife” at exactly the right time. Have you listened to an album and felt like it was addressed directly to you? That’s how I felt with this one – I was the right age, the right gender, and going through a lot of the same things the songs talk about. She writes fantastic pop songs, and she’s a great lyricist. Plus, Elliot Easton from the Cars produced it, just to put the cherry on top of this awesome-flavored musical sundae.


I’ve known about Simon and Garfunkel for most of my life – my parents had “Bookends” and I think one other album. I’ve always loved the way they use harmonies (Simon and Garfunkel, not my parents) – tastefully, not too much, and just in the right places. Their lyrics paint amazing pictures of the darker side of life and love. Two characters kill themselves over the course of the album, and at least one other dies for some undetermined reason. But the high body count is balanced out by the beautiful darkness of “Sounds of Silence” and “I Am a Rock,” as well as the wonderfully goofy “We’ve Got a Groovy Thing.”


The Rolling Stones are another band I’ve known about forever. I can remember my uncle playing “Hot Rocks” on the 8-track back when I was a wee thing. “Between the Buttons” comes from a period in the Stones’ history that I particularly like – their songs were on the poppier side (see “Amanda Jones”) and they were experimenting with different sound sources, like the cello and recorder on “Ruby Tuesday.” And Charlie Watts drew a nifty little cartoon for the back of the record. “Connection” is probably my favorite song on the album, but there are a lot of great ones to check out.


As for Leo Kottke, if I could play any one of the songs on this album, I would be very happy indeed. It’s definitely complex music, but also very accessible. I could listen to this album over and over again (and I have). There are no vocals on this, but I wouldn’t call it a lack of vocals so much as just the right amount of guitar. And it’s a very catchy group of songs; Leo writes good riffs.


The Sam Prekop album is one of those records I had on continuous heavy rotation for weeks. It’s restrained, jazzy, spare, and compelling. But it’s still emotionally enthralling. You might know Prekop from the Sea and Cake, who are a little more rock & roll; this is a more minimal experience. Oddly enough, considering how mellow a lot of his music is, the only concert where I ever thought I might encounter violence was at a Sam Prekop show in the East Village. It was totally the venue’s fault; they packed in the fans until nobody could even move comfortably. A fight almost broke out right in front of me. Still, Sam played great and I enjoyed seeing him.


And of course, there’s Love. Even if you don’t like music from the 60’s, even if you don’t like complex song structures and surreal lyrics, even if you don’t like total awesomeness, it’s worth giving “Forever Changes” a shot. It’s really different from a lot of music of the time; I think that it would do very well if released today. There are a couple different songwriters in the band, which helps keep things interesting, and the songs themselves are so compelling that I feel like I learn something new every time I listen to them.

In fact, that’s another quality all of these albums have in common. It’s not just that they’re easy to listen to multiple times, but every time I do listen, I get something out of it. That for me is a mark of a successful piece – it continually entertains and informs over time.


Header image by Nan Palmero. Creative Commons License 2.0.

3/23/18: Springtime and snowstorms and saxophones

I wrote this two days ago during the snowstorm, and didn’t have a chance to post it until now.

It’s snowing out, which turns out to have been the phrase of the month up here in the Northeast. We’re on our fourth nor’easter of March, a time when crocuses and daffodils and little baby ducks usually show up and dot the landscape with color and love.

And that is happening, between snowstorms. I saw some crocuses the other day, as well as some petunias and daffodil shoots. The little baby ducks probably won’t show for a few weeks anyway, and all of this will probably be gone in a couple of days.

And until then, the snow really is lovely.

So in honor of things that are not what they were designed to be, but that are beautiful anyway, here are a couple of Vivaldi tunes performed on other instruments. First up, it’s L’ ensemble de saxophones de Strasbourg with the first movement of “Winter.”

Hearing a piece of music performed on an instrument it was not written for can be really enlightening. It often brings the piece to a whole new place that not even the composer dreamed of.

To me, this version does that. The performances are wonderful, and hearing this familiar music played by wind instruments brought out counter-melodies and rhythms I hadn’t paid attention to before.


And here’s the first movement of “Spring,” performed on 4 pianos by Yuja Wang, Emanuel Ax, Nelson Goerner and Julien Quentin.

Likewise, this cover version brings out aspects of the piece that I really hadn’t thought about previously. Again, a lot of that involves rhythms. Harmonies and counter-melodies really pop out in this version. It’s an enjoyable listen, but I think there’s a warmth to the original string version that is missing when the piece is performed on keyboards.



Image by Elizabeth Walsh

1/29/18: I made you a mixtape…

Do you remember cassette tapes?

They’re not making the kind of comeback that vinyl did, for a lot of reasons. Cassettes can get mangled pretty easily; the tape can get stuck in your tape player and then you have to get a pencil and wind it back up and hope the tape doesn’t get even more tangled. I was actually pretty good at reeling in unraveled tape (one of many skills I have that are no longer relevant).

But they were fun. They gave you the kind of control over the music that you don’t get on a CD or LP. You could tape stuff off the radio, or make mixtapes for your friends or latest crush. I don’t know what folks do now to impress potential dates – a Spotify playlist?

Bow Wow Wow put out a single about cassettes back when they were first introduced, about beating out big corporate record companies by recording music off the radio. They neglected to mention that artists don’t get any royalties when you do that, but it is a great song.

I was more a fan of buying the music and then making a cassette of it for my Walkman. And then I’d walk, man, all over town listening to the little audio universe I had created for myself.

I usually bought 90 minute tapes; you could fit an album on each side. You’d punch out the little plastic tabs at the top of the tape so you couldn’t record over it (when you did want to re-record, you put scotch tape over where the tabs used to be).

Generally there’s a little time left over at the end of the album so you can add two or three more songs. I remember on one tape, I put three different versions of “Around and Around” – here’s the Animals’ version, which has a really fun bass line.


Another tape had one of my favorite Madness tracks at the end:


And of course I made mixtapes. Generally I’d listen to the mix for a couple of months and then tape over it, but there was one I made in college that I loved. I think I still have it. I remember that it opened with Talking Heads:


Personally, I’m not done with cassettes. As part of my large unwieldy music collection, I have a milk crate filled with them, whittled down from at least 4 times that number of tapes. I still have a dual-cassette deck, and I have no plans to get rid of it. I even have my old Tascam 4-track recorder – I did a full album and many demos on that machine.

They may be out of date, but cassettes did contribute to a lot of happy hours of listening for me.




Image by stuart.childs
Creative Commons License 2.0

10/9/17: Monday Funday Dance Party

Ugh. It’s not just Monday, but a rainy, gloomy Monday. So I turned to one of my favorite feel better albums, Orchestre Baobab’s “Pirate’s Choice.” A fantastic album, it’s dignified and danceable at the same time.

But wait! There’s a new album! It came out at the beginning of the year, and I couldn’t be happier. Here’s a track from “Tribute To Ndiouga Dieng.”


My Monday just got infinitely better. Here’s hoping yours does, too.



Image by Jimmy Huang. Creative Commons license 2.0.

10/4/17: A bit of wicked wacky-wicky

Have you seen the Carioca? It’s not a foxtrot or a polka.

It’s a song, it’s a dance, it will be stuck in your head all day. I was listening to the Fireballs’ version this morning:

What do I love about it? The riff, of course. And the fact that it’s in a minor key, which adds a little mystery to it. Plus the song’s rhythm is unusual and fun to dance to. Play it when you’re alone in the house – I dare you not to dance along.

“Carioca” is a word used to describes things having to do with Rio de Janiero. The song first appeared in the 1933 movie “Flying Down to Rio,” and was sung by Etta Moten Barnett:

The thirties were a very difficult time economically. People were unemployed and hungry, and their only recourse was to perform highly choreographed dance numbers on top of airplanes.

Besides the irresistably catchy “Carioca,” the movie features Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire dancing together on film for the first time. I am a huge fan of Fred and Ginger, and heard the song for the first time while watching this movie.

The song has been covered frequently over the years – here are the Andrews Sisters doing it:

And here’s my personal favorite version, by Caetano Veloso. It’s haunting, like someone reminiscing about a very good time long ago.

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