2019 Year End Wrap-Up

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Another year, another favorites of the year blog entry.   I know it’s been quite a while since my last post (about a year, actually) and I don’t know if I’ll be returning to more frequent posting again, but  I can’t resist making lists. Lists, wonderful and succulent lists! Okay, moving on…

These are the songs that I listened to the most in 2019.  Approximately half of which were released in 2019…interestingly all my 2019 songs but one are by women artists. C’mon contemporary male musicians, you have some catching up to do!

It’s an eclectic gastronomy of sound, as my blog subtitle says… some folk, some rock, jazz, prog, pop, even an honest to goodness country song.

[I’d be remiss in not mentioning Neal Casal‘s music as well. Though there wasn’t really a particular song of his I listened to a lot this year, except perhaps “Traveling After Dark“, his death in August had me taking out some albums of his I hadn’t heard in a long time, as well as listening to a variety of older interviews he gave.]

“Morgengruss II” by Popol Vuh (1975)
What does “morgengruss” mean?  Well, it translates from German to either “morning greeting” or “sun salutation.” An apt name for this shimmering, achingly beautiful short instrumental. This is an alternate take of a song which came out on Popol Vuh’s previous album Einsjäger und Siebenjäger. It appears here on Aguirre, which was sorta the soundtrack of Werner Herzog’s classic film of the same name. Though the album shares the film’s name, most of the tracks – including this one – were not in the movie.  Stranger still, this guitar song was written and primarily played by the drummer. Yeah, he played the guitar too (obviously), but he’s known much more for his percussion skills. Go figure. On a Herzog film watching spree in the summer, I was inspired to buy this album, and so also increase my Popol Vuh collection. One can never have too much Popol Vuh.

“Gaviota” by Joachim Cooder (2018)
From Ry Cooder’s son’s Fuchsia Machu Picchu EP, an album title I originally thought was kind of stupid but I like now. For me, this is the best track on the EP.  It has a bit of a Daniel Lanois / Robbie Robertson feel to it, but with more warmth and less remove than how their music sometimes strikes me.  On a podcast interview Cooder talked about this song – Gaviota Drive is a small residential street in Laguna Beach, CA where his wife’s family has a house. Cooder used to take his baby daughter on long early morning dawn walks down Gaviota and that’s what the song is basically about. The chimes that run through the song as if stirred by early breezes while the sun brightens the dark blue sky.

“Tailwhip” by Men I Trust (2019, original 2017)
Not sure where the title of this song comes from, but it and other tracks by electro-pop Men I Trust are very “chill”…very soothing and lush.  I feel like I’m on a Mediterranean yacht or something when I listen to them. Even though they’re from Quebec.  Their 2019 release Oncle Jazz is a rambling collection of remixed singles from the last few years, plus some new tracks. The prominent bass highlights their music, but its Emma Proulx’s soft and sleepy vocals that set it apart from the pack.

“Once In a While” by Rosemary Fairweather (2019)
Fairweather is a talented pop / dream-pop artist in her mid 20s from Toronto. I think she plays most of the instruments herself (though I could be totally wrong about that.) I do know she started as an indie artist when she released her debut back in 2016 and became noticed for the addictive track “Chemicals” from that one (about brain chemicals, not drugs). She releases singles periodically and then collects them into albums (kinda like they did back in the early 60s).  “Once in a While” is from Heavenly: A Second Collection of Songs – which wins the award for most unimaginative album title since her first was called Heavenly: A Collection of Songs. I was recently reading that her career has been delayed for the past year as the result of a debilitating concussion she suffered, though I think she’s on the mend. I love the music  – a mix of wispy soft with edgy, power pop touches and bass-y dance grooves. Though, every time she sings “Wait, I’m awake, I’m awake / Can you tell me of a time of a time of”, I hear “Wait, I’m awake, I’m awake / Can you tell me I’m Italian Italian Italian.”

“Lonely City”, by Hollins Ferry (1977, reissued 2019)
Rich guitar tone from this one album band, named after their Maryland hometown (or, if not their hometown, a town near them.) I probably never would have heard of them if not for a compilation of tracks by obscure 70s singer-songwriters and singer-songwritery bands called Sad About the Times which came out in 2019.  A buncha other groovy songs on the album, but “Lonely City” is the one that jumps out.  With the right promotion, this (or any number of songs on their album, from what I’ve heard on YouTube) coulda been a hit. “Coulda been a contender”, as Brando said.

“Cowboy Dreams” by Prefab Sprout (2001)
I missed Prefab Sprout when they had their time in the public consciousness (80s and early 90s predominantly). Thanks to a friend at work, I’ve been catching up on what I missed. “Cowboy Dreams” is from a relatively later work of theirs The Gunman and Other Stories, a loosely themed collection of songs by band leader and songwriter Paddy McAloon (a guy who started out looking a bit like a pretty boy synth-pop type and now looks like Gandalf or Dumbledore from Harry Potter.) Skilled craftsmanship abounds in this song – the unabashedly romantic lyrics, the widescreen melody, the tribute to old-time cowboy movies, down to the banjo at the end.


“Sparrow” by Sasha Bell (2019)
Somehow I got a copy of this song early in the year (through her Soundcloud page maybe?) even though the album wasn’t released until November, but I didn’t know the title. I kept coming back to it, thought of emailing Bell to ask her what it was called and deciding instead to wait for the album…hoping the song would be on it! Luckily it was. I did end up emailing her eventually to ask what the word was she was singing at a certain part…it was “aviary” (“Set the aviary free…”) Sasha Bell is part of long-lived 60’s influenced pop/folk-rock band The Essex Green and this album is related in sound, but a little more unified and personal sounding – no surprise there, since she’s not sharing songwriting and singing duties with her bandmates. A distillation of 60s baroque pop through a modernist lens (a mid-century modern lens perhaps?)

“Hanging on the Telephone” by Blondie (1978)
Blondie. What can ya say that hasn’t already been said? Such a trendsetting, musically diverse band. And Debbie Harry was/is such a cool frontwoman.  Even before I read her new autobiography this year, I kept listening to this track, originally on their Parallel Lines album (an album I should get, since I only have a hits collection currently.) One of their most “rock” songs, its actually a cover of a song by semi-obscure power pop band The Nerves (which featured a young Peter Case.) Harry makes it her own, with the growl in her voice and the New York attitude in her singing style.

“Bye Bye Pride” by The Go-Betweens (1987)
Featuring the best oboe solo in rock! And I’ve heard them all (ha ha.)  “A white moon appears like a hole in the sky / The mangroves go quiet…” It’s well-known that songwriter Grant McLennan fell head over heels for multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown (who plays said oboe) when she joined the band, but I only recently read that this song is about her.  Apparently, he’d always held himself at a safe remove from romantic commitment – until her. Bye bye pride, indeed.  Such a joyful, splashing in the sunshine kind of song.

“And So to F” by Brand X (1979)
I’ve never owned a Brand X album and still don’t, but I’ve got an mp3 of this song and I keep listening to it. Who was/is Brand X? They were Phil Collins’ mid 1970s through early 1980s jazz rock fusion band… as if he wasn’t busy enough with the demands of Genesis’ rising star at the time. Though he didn’t appear on all their albums, generally the best ones had him. If you like Genesis’ proggy years and tracks like their “Los Endos,” “And So to F” is for you.  Phil Collins is a monster drummer – don’t let his descent into treacly late 80s love ballads fool you.

“Flyin’ Low, Maria” by Gun Outfit (2013)
Gun Outfit first appeared on my radar a few years ago with their frenetic, thumping “Sally Rose.”  In 2019, they uploaded a lot of old albums and limited edition cassettes and the like to their Bandcamp page and I did some exploratory listening.  Much of it is less polished than the album “Sally Rose” came from, but man, what a good band musically. Lying somewhere on a matrix where Sonic Youth, old R.E.M, the Meat Puppets and Uncle Tupelo collide, they can harness a lot of energy, which often threatens to break free, hanging on the edge of abandon.  Yeah, vocalist Caroline Keith’s voice isn’t always great – especially in these early tracks, but it’s got a Joan Jett-style appeal. “Flyin’ Low, Maria” is energy, plain and simple.

“Verde River”, by Kassi Valazza (2019)
You know those irritating ads that appear on your Facebook wall promoting this or that, that Facebook thinks you’ll like?  Unsurprisingly, a lot of the ads I get are music related. I usually ignore them, but this one paid off.  Valazza is young, but an old-school type of country singer – the good kind of country music, not the generic pop-country that dominates the airwaves these days.  She’s got a classic voice, which (at the risk of using a cliché) sounds timeless.  Yet, she’s mysteriously unheralded, even by publications like No Depression, which covers this kind of Americana country music. This would seem to be right up their alley.

“Not So Much a Garden More Like a Maze” by Michael Chapman (1969)
From Chapman’s first album, way back in 1969. Recorded (did they have recording equipment in them days?) during the full flowering of the psychedelic folk bloom, this combines Chapman’s trademark sandpapery vocals with jaw-dropping acoustic guitar playing, here with a touch of the exotic by way of India mixed in. Woulda been cool to hear what an accompanying sitar or tabla player could have done here in tandem. Light in the Attic re-released his first few albums a few years ago (original vinyl copies go for big bucks) and I took this one off the shelf one rainy morning and spent a while getting reacquainted with it, this song staying in repeat since (via mp3). It’s like he arrived fully formed on the scene – amazing for a first album.  The cover shot makes him look like a dwarf, due to the angle and big-body guitar, but Chapman says he’s always liked it. Hmmm.

“Ride on My Bike”, by Rosalie Cunningham (2019)
A super confidant, self assured psychedelic hard rock album, or as Cunningham calls her music, “vaudeville carny psych.” She merges all that late 60s/early 70s British acid folk aura with a Deep Purple/Black Sabbath/early Thin Lizzy vibe. She used to be the frontwoman for a band called Purson, dabbling in similar sounds to what’s on this, her first solo album.  “Just like a hybrid future creature flying through an electric evening sky.”

“Behind the Veil”, by Mariee Sioux (2019)
Graceful, but gently disturbing. “Gossamer” is a word that comes to mind…and I’m not even sure what gossamer means.  Okay, just looked it up- “Gossamer is something super fine and delicate — like a spider web or the material of a wedding veil. The original gossamer, from which these meanings come from, is the fine, filmy substance spiders excrete to weave their webs.” Well, that definition goes perfectly for this song with lines such as “All time is deaf / Loss we’ve all heard to expect / Blanketed in fig leaf and death / Oh, the fleeting caress / The end merely a guess.”

“Tucson Train”, by Bruce Springsteen (2019)
Wow, this is by far my favorite Springsteen song since the mid/late 1980s.  Nothing he’s recorded since those days has done it for me but Western Stars is such an unexpected and strong album, with quite a few memorable tracks, including “Tucson Train.”  It’s odd in that looking backwards – paying tribute to the mood and style of classic late 60s songwriters such as Jimmy Webb – he seems to have invigorated his art. I have a soft spot for Tucson, too, having lived there for a very short time in my younger days.

“Poly Blue”, by Jessica Pratt (2019)
Pratt’s voice is, you might say, an acquired taste. I guess I’ve acquired it, ‘cause I like it. It’s a toss-up between this song and “This Time Around” for which I’ve listened to more by her this year. “Poly Blue” is more accessible, and has a more obvious Laurel Canyon vibe. Hazy music like remnants of forgotten dreams.

“Aviatrix”, by Jack Frost (1995)
A short-lived duo composed of Steve Kilbey of the Church and Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens, Jack Frost only released two albums – both pretty damn good, if little known.  Snow Job is the more cohesive of the two and “Aviatrix” is its shining star of a song. Up into the clouds on a chorus of guitars, a case of two songwriters bringing out the best in each other.

“Le Jours Heureux”, by Keren Ann (2019)
From Keren Ann’s first all-French album in a long time, “Le Jours Heureux” (translates to “Happy Days”…but don’t worry, this isn’t the theme song to the old TV show!), is so mellow, so calm that you may find yourself floating out to sea on under a chiarascoro glassy water sky.

“Feet in the Sea, Head in the Stars” by Dan Arborise (2009)
On first listen, one might be tempted to write Arborise off as a John Martyn acolyte, due to his echoplexed guitar – a technology pairing/style first explored by Martyn a few decades previous.  But Arborise takes it to other levels and applies his own stamp.  This track, the last song on his last album, is deep (at the risk of using that word, since it sounds a bit ostentatious). Starts off slow, but once the echoplex really kicks in around 1:50 you’ve got waves of sound across the seas and cosmos. I say “last” song and album because it appears he’s retired from music to become an organic farmer. At least, that’s what he’s been doing since this. A loss for music, but a gain for carrots!

Thanks fer reading and listening!

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