Luck of the Irish…Music?

 

I realize I’m several days past St Patrick’s day but I really wasn’t inspired to write this post until this past weekend. On Friday evening, my husband and I bought a pizza for our daughter and her babysitter, drove 45 minutes to our state capital and attended a concert given by the Irish Rovers.

Earlier this month I heard on our local NPR station that they’d be stopping in our small New England state during the “farewell to rovin” tour. I decided I would buy tickets for us to attend the show as my husband grew up listening to their music and he has been singing the same songs to our little one since she joined us in this world nearly 2 years ago. Prior to the concert, to fully embrace our first date night in months, we went to a bar that I hadn’t been to since my days in law school. We had a couple beers, smoked some cigarettes (gasp!) and met several people who were also attending the show. (Most of whom were decades older than us.).It was fun to talk to other folks as excited about the show as we were.

The concert was wonderful, the group played for about 2 hours. The band formed in the early 1960s and has changed over the years and replaced members who have moved on to greener pastures or to the great pub in the sky, but the current accordion player is one of the original rovers. They played new songs and old songs, well known hits and less known drogues. People of all ages enjoyed the show, multiple generations were in attendance.

When it was all over, the band sat in the lobby to do a meet and greet. We were lucky to speak to all of the members of the group and we bought a compilation of their greatest hits and they all signed the CD cover. (What’s worth noting here is that neither my husband nor myself could remember the last time we bought an actual CD!!!!) My husband told the lead singer how much it meant to him that he saw them play, as their music had come full circle in his life with his father singing their songs to him and he now sings them to our child. The lead singer seemed very flattered and moved by this comment and took a few minutes to chat with us which really was nice.
It was great to hear some live Irish music again. I have had the opportunity to travel to been to Ireland a couple of times as a good friend of mine from college pursued her PhD in Dublin so I had a free place to stay and an insider to show me the city. On each of my trips we frequented many pubs and I got to hear a lot of real authentic Irish music which was a real treat. So anyway, on our drive home from the Irish Rovers show that evening (around 11pm–the latest we’d been out in years!!!) I got to thinking about bands from Ireland and wanted to write a post about them. Groups like U2 and the Cranberries came to mind (those are the obvious ones), but I did a little bit of research as to other Irish bands. I’ll use the most well known songs of the Irish groups I chose just to make the list more familiar and thus maybe more enjoyable. Let’s get started.

U2: “Where the Streets Have no Name”

So clearly we can’t discuss bands from Ireland without mentioning the powerhouse of U2. The Joshua Tree is in my top 3 favorite albums ever and would be one of the CDs I bring to the desert island should I ever become stranded! This is one of U2’s most famous songs and is the first track on The Joshua Tree. The song was released in 1987 and has been used frequently in sports, including on a commercial for the 2010 World Cup and as the entrance song for the Baltimore Ravens football team and the Vancouver Canucks hockey team. I have never been lucky enough to see U2 in concert, but apparently the band still plays this song during nearly every performance.
Snow Patrol: “Chasing Cars”


This song was very popular during my first year of law school. It is on Snow Patrol’s 4th album and to be honest, I never even heard of Snow Patrol until I heard this song. I actually purchased the album, “Eyes Open” but wasn’t too impressed with the rest of the tracks. Other popular songs by Snow Patrol include “Signal Fire” (featured on the Spider-man 3 sound track) and “Run” (from their 3rd album).

The Cranberries: “Linger”

The Cranberries have also been around forever and are one of the better known groups from Ireland. I remember them most well from the early 90s, when their album Everyone Else is Doing It so Why Not me? was released. They reigned the alternative music world for several years and in 2003 decided to separate and pursue individual careers. The band reunited in 2009. I picked “Linger” as the song to feature here because it was one of the first songs released in the United States and it’s the one I like best.
VAN Morrison: “Brown-eyed Girl”

Here’s a really well-known song by an Irishman! Van Morrison wrote this song in 1967 but he started his career in the late 1950s. This song has been covered by countless groups, including the elderJ’s high school band, whose version of course is my all-time favorite. Great fact about Van Morrison: He’s known as “the Belfast Cowboy.”
The Irish Rovers: “Drunken Sailor”


This is an old favorite of mine. My parents also used to sing it often. This song has been performed by several artists in addition to the Irish Rovers, including Pete Seeger. The Rovers play this song as their encore song in their shows and it calls for some pretty fun audience participation. We heard this song at the show last Friday, participated when they asked and sang along with the group. It was a lot of fun and the audience was lively and excited!
Seeing the Irish Rovers was a great experience and I am happy that I felt inspired to write this after thinking about Irish music and artists on our drive home that evening. Brothers, friends and random readers, feel free to add your thoughts or songs to this list!

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Running (Back) Songs: The Patriots Run to the AFC Championship

As I have written before, I have been a bit of a fan of the Patriots for some time although my love affair with their QB waxed and waned this season (or, rather, waned and waxed, because, hey, he figured it out!). One of the fascinating yet frustrating things about the Patriots over the past decade is that as their passing game has developed, the running game has faltered. Now, while the team’s points per game average has skyrocketed, the win/loss outcome in the playoffs has been, well, disappointing.

(Two losses to Eli? ELI!)

Blount’s most famous day before last weekend.

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Yearning for the Ukeladies!

This post has been a long time coming. Last summer I told the elder J I would write this entry, and several months later, I finally am getting it done!

Last summer I was driving down the highway listening to the local NPR station when I heard an advertisement for a performance of an all-female musical group in my state called the “Ukeladies”. Each member of the group spoke her name and said a little about herself and much to my surprise I heard the voice of a former professor of mine from law school!

I contacted her that very day when I got home and she told me when her group was performing again. A couple

Ukeladiesof weeks later on a very hot Saturday afternoon in August, my little one and I went to a ukelele festival at a local park and heard several ukelele groups play, including the Ukeladies. They played several songs including “Over the Rainbow” from the Wizard of Oz and a Beatles medley. The crowd at the park was like nothing i had ever seen. The ukelele culture is very unique and ranged from infants to elderly.

There were ukeleles of all colors and sizes. Now I took guitar lessons back in the day and my former law professor knows this and urged me to join the ukelele world, but of course I tried to change the subject as she tried to convince me. I sent a text to my brother while at the festival and his response? “Sounds like a blog post.” So here I am.

I really enjoy the sound of the ukelele. It isn’t an instrument I’ve heard too often in my life, but when I was thinking about which songs to use in this post I realized that some of my favorite songs feature the ukelele. Now a little bit of background for those of you who are not familiar with the instrument: According to wikipedia, the ukelele originated in the 19th century in what is now Hawaii. The ukelele is sometimes referred to as a “uke” and its name roughly translates as “jumping flea”, creating some both beautiful and amusing imagery. However, again according to Wikipedia, the last Hawaiian monarch claimed that “ukelele” means “the gift that came here.” Legend has it that Portuguese immigrants brought the instrument to Hawaii, so this interpretation of the word also makes sense. The ukelele comes in 4 sizes according to its tone: soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. This explains why I saw several different sizes of the instrument at the festival I attended.

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Northward: 10 Songs for Chicago

This weekend, while my native state digs itself out of a terrible snowstorm in obscenely cold temperatures, I fly to Chicago for a whirlwind trip to a conference. Yes, for 36 hours I will be separated from wife and kids and surrounded only by the pasty-cold denizens of my field at one of those professional conferences where people nervously check your name tag to see if you’re someone to talk to or not.

I’ve only been to Chicago once before and then I was barely into first grade. My primary memory is that the trip involved my first ever visit to Toys R’ Us. And it blew my little mind. (Maine didn’t have the emporium for another three or four years).

So, in the spirit of my trip, here are 10 songs that have something to do with the Windy City.

“Chicago”, Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens is odd. His music is quirky. But he (and his music) are damn good. The fact that I haven’t mentioned him before only underscores what a hack music-writer I am.

 

“Chicago, We Can Change the World”, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

When we grew up we had a family friend who played old protest and folk songs on his piano and Ovation Celebrity (though, not simultaneously—that would have been too cool). Although we each individually had fall-outs with this man, his musical taste and passion certainly made a tremendous impact on our lives.

This song was one of his standards. I still cannot hear the word Chicago without thinking of this song. The song reacts to the highly political and counter-cultural events of the late 60s when all went to hell at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The raw emotion and timeliness of the song always struck me, even as our friend sucked down Gennessee Cream Ales and chain-smoked in-between renditions of this and favorites by John Prine, Billy Joel and James Taylor.

“Jesus Just Left Chicago,” ZZ Top

No, this isn’t about Kanye.

How could I resist a song by this band with this name?

I have to confess that I really do wish I could grow I beard. I am not saying I could or would grow one to match one of these guys but I suspect that it would protect me against the vicious cold I’ll face this weekend.

“Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago”, Soul Coughing

My strongest memory of this song—by one of my favorite bands—is of the percussionist in my college band discovering that the lyrics developed from some type of drug-fueled existentialist fugue during which Mike Doughty contemplated the nature of what was and was not Chicago.

(And don’t think it is silly. What exactly is a city?)

Fueled ourselves by gin and tonics, there may have been imitative pointing and declaring that, yes indeed, this was not Chicago.

“In the Ghetto”, Elvis Presley (written by Mac Davis)

Yes, this is about Chicago.

True story: I was just in a sandwich place called Dave’s Cosmic subs and in the bathroom there was a fantasy painting of Elvis Presley crooning as Michael Jackson listened reclining on the hood of a car. It was all very creepy.

This ballad is so tortured and corny that it is transcendent. Less transcendent, of course, is the fact that Chicago leads the nation in murders and helps to round out some of our worst income inequality.

“Southside,” Common ft. Kanye West

Like all major US cities, I am sure that the class segregation will keep my conference and all of its attendees comfortably safe from the ghetto and from the working class neighborhoods. It is safe to say that the conference is not on the Southside of the city.

(Have I dared to mentioned that my respect for Kanye grows with each crazy thing he does? He is a performance artist.)

“If You Leave Me Now”, Chicago

One cannot have a list of songs about Chicago without including one by the band Chicago. Seriously, I am sure there is a law about this somewhere.

Chicago is one of those big-sounding, schmaltzy bands that I could care less about—the very over-produced and maudlin character that makes me avoid many bands from the time period. I hope I don’t feel the same way about the city.

“Chicago at Night,” Spoon

I haven’t talked much about Spoon on this blog, but it is a band that has great rhythms and writes some great songs. This album (poorly named Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga) wasn’t great, but it was still pretty damn good. I don’t remember spending any time in Chicago at night…but then again, I was barely reading the last time I was there.

 

“Tonight, Tonight,” Smashing Pumpkins

This song was written in Chicago and recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I had the double album (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness) but it was not oft used and I think my brother took it from me. Smashing Pumpkins are one of those alt-Chameleon bands that could have done almost anything.

At night in Chicago, I will probably be drinking too much. But I won’t be melancholy (or hanging out with dogs). This video, by the way, is fucked up.

 

“Train to Chicago,” Mike Doughty Cover

My brother has written about how much he loves this song. It is a beautiful song and a great cover by Doughty. If I had endless stretches of time, I might take the train North to Chicago. There is something old-world and peaceful about a good train ride. If anything, it doesn’t have the frantic pace and madness of air travel.

So, my brother, while I fly north and endure the actual and metaphorical cold, perhaps you can let me know which songs I have missed.

(Oh, and wish our sister a Happy Birthday).

Top Songs of (my) Year 2013

FatherTimeSomehow, another year has turned (as the Greeks would put it) and I find myself already contemplating writing retrospective and best of the year reviews. My sense of awe and disbelief derives not from actual disbelief since I can distinctly remember my life last year and where I was when I wrote the restrospectives of a year ago. No, my surprise comes from how fast it has all gone .

The alacrity of our passing years is in part perspective (the more you do something the fast it seems to go; objectively speaking, time itself has not been altered). And yet, in addition, the rapid transit of time is still accelerated more by our myriad modern distractions (I’m talking to you, 24 news cycle, twitter, social networks, etc.) and the busyness of my time of life—early career, young children, somewhat lame blog…

Is the enjoyment of life necessarily limited by speed and quantity? My suspicion is that the answer is yes. But the fact is that I don’t really want to contemplate the answer, because the only solution is to give stuff up. And I wouldn’t know where to begin. The fullness of my life is a blessing more than a curse.

Today isn’t about the busyness or the blog. I want to celebrate the fact that I still take time to enjoy music and that another year has brought me another group of songs I will always love. So, here are the ten songs I will most associate this year with in no particular order.

“New Distributor Cap”, Ed’s Redeeming Qualities

Some how I missed this alt-folk band years back. When I discovered it when I was writing a review of the Breeders’ Last Splash, I fell into one of those “wish I had been a different person reveries”. This song is sweet, and true. The central conceit—that the singer will fix the car for the girl he likes—is just so simple and universal as to be adorable. The fact that the music and recording is low-fi only brings into relief the greatness of the song even more.

(And this made me promise myself that I’d finally get around to writing about Small Rock. Just next year)

 “Best of Friends,” Palma Violets

I wrote about this song earlier. I listened to it every day for two weeks. Hell, I’m listening to it now. It is one of those songs that makes the rest of the album pale in comparison. It made me rethink Rancid. (And I’ll write about that next year.) It would be higher on the list if I had convinced my wife and children to like it.

“Dreams of Cannibalism”, Typhoon

When The Only D called me out on Typhoon and predicted I would like it, I was skeptical, but that crazy guy knows me too well. I love the album White Lighter. I love this song because it is so characteristic of how creative, dynamic and just damn musical this artist is. His songs are heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.

I have shed a tear listening to this music while running in the wee hours of the mourning. Thankfully, it was always in the dark.

Late March, Death March,” Frightened Rabbit

I am going to cheat on this one and add in two more songs. “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”, and “Twist”. Earlier in the year I wrote how it would be impossible for me to write about Frightened Rabbit. I haven’t changed my opinion, but I have grown to love this band even more. The group’s most recent release (Pedestrian Verse) isn’t their best, but it is still pretty damn good.  I have gone days with the line “like mother said, less heart more head” from this song bouncing around in my head. It is now nearly a mantra.

“It’s Time,” Imagine Dragons

Yeah, I wrote about this song. Then, my children fell in love with it. Then it exploded and Imagine Dragons turned up everywhere. (I still don’t believe that LeBron James listens to the band.) My kids call this the “clapping song”. When my daughter sings along with the last line “I’m never changing who I am”, it chokes me up. I won’t lie.

“Super Bon Bon.” Mike Doughty (from the release, Circles)

I never thought I would get so excited about Mike Doughty again, but I was really interested to listen to this release of Soul Coughing ‘covers’. When my children heard it, they loved it and were at first perplexed by the fact that there was another “Super Bon Bon” that sounded different. They named the original recording “Drum Super Bon Bon” and this one “Small Super Bon Bon.” I play whichever they ask for. So, Mike Doughty, you made the list.

“Closer,” Tegan and Sara

When Tegan and Sara released their new album I did my usual contrarian thing and reviewed what I hold to be their best album (The Con) instead. But this song has grown on me enoguh that I listen to it a few times a week. I love these artists. I will probably buy every recording they ever make.

“Let’s Go,” Matt and Kim

Matt and Kim have always been a bit of a curiosity for me. I think that they are maknig dance music but I really like to run to it. It is memorable but not always that deep. This song is a little more complex than some of their numbers. The real reason it made it to the list is that I have ehard the song 20 times in the past five days. My daughter fell in love with it and I cannot resist when she asks for a song.

“Some Nights”, Night Riot (Used to be PK)

I grew obsessed with the song “Berelain” which I discovered just around the time I finshed the final book of the Wheel of Time series. I actually like this song more. How did it end up as the penultimate song to this list? Every time I hear it, I think, hey, I like this song. And, every time, it seems like a new revelation. That’s a pretty neat thing in a time when repetition kills everything.

“Every Time she Turns Around it’s her Birthday”, Caribou

I have written about this song a few times. I love it. But that’s not enough. No, the progressive and somewhat unstructured music is not just entertaining but it is also transformative. I haven’t heard a song that makes me feel like my state is altered in a long time. This one makes me feel, well, different. Listen.

Happy new year. May next year be even better.

Wu Tang’s “Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers” is 20!

Something we missed over the weekend, the seminal album Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers was released on November 9th, 1993. This not only means that this album has been influencing artists and fans for more than half my life, but it also means that I am getting old, fast. I wasn’t listening to the Wu Tang Clan in 1993, but I should have been. My brother might have been ( but we all know he’s the cooler one).

Here’s a clip from Grantland.com where Method Man talks about it:

(Here’s a link where the Grantland staff talks about their favorite Wu Tang members. Who does one root for? RZA is a genius; Method Man is so very telegenic; Ghostface Killah is hysterical. Personally, the Ol’ Dirty Bastard always cracked me up.)

My brother and I both got wicked stirred up about Wu Tang earlier this year. He wrote a great review of the first album and its influence on his life and I tried to match him by talking about my late conversion to hip-hop and love of this album. Yeah, it may be a bit of a stereotype, but today I’ll be the one with two toddlers in the back of a blue Toyota Prius letting the bass rumble when I listen to this song:

Hail to the Champions!

On the evening of October 30, 2013, the elderj and I were able to see our beloved Red Sox win their 3rd World Series championship in 9 years. My daughter and I left the frigid north to visit him and his family down in their adopted southern state. It was the first time in recent history that I was away from New England while the Sox were playing in the fall classic, but it was a nice treat to be able to watch the games with my older brother. We hadn’t watched a playoff game together in 8 years, and we’d never seen a World Series game together. Our kiddos were all asleep as we sat glued to the television during game 6 in Boston, and when Boston badass closer Koji Uehara struck out St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter, we rejoiced, watched a little bit of post-game celebration coverage, then said goodnight to the TV to head off to dream about yet ANOTHER Red Sox World Series championship.stay strong

What a crazy several years it’s been for the Sox and their fans! After an 86-year drought, the team won championships on the road in 2004 and 2007, then finally clinched it at home this year for the first time since 1918. What a way to pay tribute to Boston, the greatest city on earth, after a hellish year. Boston and its baseball team belongs to the entire region of New England, and throughout the country, fans basked in the glory of baseball dominance. The 2013 Sox had the odds stacked against them and came through to deliver a well-deserved championship to its club and all of its fans!

As my little one and I flew back from the south back to the north, I started thinking about how I could pay tribute to the 2013 team on my brothers’ blog. I thought about which songs I could discuss, and composed a brief draft of this entry in my head while attempting to keep my squirmy toddler in our seat. There are some obvious songs that come to mind when thinking of the Red Sox–“Sweet Caroline” (Neil Diamond), “Dirty Water” (Standells), and “Shipping up to Boston” and “Tessie” by the Dropkick Murphys. Those are the obvious ones and the ones I WON’T mention further in this entry. I’ll dig a little bit deeper and choose some other ones…here we go!!!!

“Baby, I grew you a Beard.” –Neil Halstead (I couldn’t find a video of him actually singing it–this is a cover)

Anyone who watched even one Sox game this year would be able to tell you about the scruffy beards each player sported. Some of the most obnoxious beards belonged to Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia and David Ross. Others kept them short and close to the face–Jacoby Ellsbury, Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz. Rumor has it that Dustin Pedroia and Jonny Gomes didn’t shave during the entire season!!!!! Even if the beards were short, every single player grew one. The guys bonded together, and the beards represented team unity. This team may not have been the best team to ever play in Boston, but they really knew how to play as a unit and each guy could be described as a team player. While most of the beards looked ridiculous and even disgusting, they represented a team and showed the world that the Red Sox players would do whatever it takes to win the trophy!

“Three Little Birds”–Bob Marley

This song was Shane Victorino’s entrance song and it got to a point where the fans would sing along as he came to the plate. His acquisition during the offseason was frowned upon, many were shocked by the money spent to bring this mediocre player to Boston. He knew this team was special. He knew that despite losses, errors and odds against them, that everything would be alright and that this team could and WOULD come through. Victorino delivered a game-winning grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS, securing his spot in Boston Red Sox fans’ hearts.  He sat out Games 4 and 5 of the world series due to back pain, but he came through again in Game 6 of the World Series, when he hit a bases loaded, bases-clearing triple to put the Sox on top once again!!! During Game 6 of each best-of-7 playoff series, Victorino showed everyone he was worth every penny and that every little thing would be alright!!!!!

“We’re not Gonna take it”–Twisted Sister

When I think of the 2013 Red Sox, this song comes to mind because so many sportswriters and experts were against the team, spouting off stats that Game 3 losers only won the World Series twice in history, or that teams finishing in last place the previous season had no chance of taking it all the following year. (These are 2 examples of several odds stacked against them–and these aren’t the exact stats, just stated in general terms). But this team didn’t care about the negativity spouted by so-called experts. They weren’t gonna take the shit thrown at them, and they were going to be strong and play through the haters! And what did they do! They said screw you all, we can do this, AND THEY DID!

“Keep it Together”–Guster

I have to include this song because the Sox really kept it together and pulled off the World Series win. This was hardly the prettiest World Series ever played–it was full of errors, an OBSTRUCTION CALL TO END GAME 3,  and a pick-off to end game 5 (though this was in Boston’s favor!) Despite the errors made in the outfield and by seasoned players in the infield (Dustin Pedroia), these bearded ballplayers managed to keep their shit together and produce runs and play defense when necessary. The team knew what was at stake, and the outcome was exactly what they wanted.

“Hangin’ Tough”–New Kids on the Block

Because I am unable to think about any music without thinking of NKOTB, I had to include this song. However, it’s appropriate for several reasons. First of all, again, The Sox hung tough and pulled through to win the big prize. They overcame errors, injuries and negativity to capture Baseball’s most coveted trophy. But also…the members of NKOTB hail from Dorchestah, south of Boston, and are some of the most famous Sox fans out there! So how can I not include a New Kids song in this situation? The New Kids have played at Fenway, they wear Sox jerseys during their shows, and they, like my brother and me, grew up rooting for Boston sports teams. They experienced loss and heartache just like we did, and just like us, they have been lucky to see THREE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS IN A DECADE!!!!! This song is also a tribute to the entire city of Boston. After the marathon bombing tragedy in April, the city hung tough and got through all the bad times. Boston Strong, bitches, and Keep hangin’ tough!!!!!!!

“We are the Champions”–Queen

Does this song really need an explanation?????

World Series MVP David Ortiz said that the 2013 World Series was the best of the recent 3 championships. He is the only current member of the team who has played on each championship team in the past 10 years. My brother and I disagree with him and believe that the 2004 championship was the most special, after Red Sox Nation waited for years for a championship. Some people lived and died without seeing their Sox win a World Series, and now, my daughter, niece and nephew live in a time when the Sox are nothing but winners! What a crazy few years it has been for Boston baseball and Boston sports in general. We are lucky to be Sox fans and every playoff win feels a little bit better.

What about you brother? What songs come to mind for you when thinking about the 2013 Team???