Archive for the ‘Important Albums’ Category

I have been listening to a lot of violin lately. One of my current students is an immensely talented violinist and listening to her has piqued my interest in how this instrument is used in pop music. There are two contemporary bands I can think of whose prominent use of the violin significantly shapes the music’s emotional depth. One is Dave Matthews Band. I hardly think I need to discuss or introduce them. The other is Camper Van Beethoven.

They hailed originally from Northern California and performed in the late 80’s and early 90’s. They play everything. Rock, Country, Punk, Eastern European Folk Revival, and some songs that are all of the above at the same time. They opened for the Dead and R.E.M. Someone once described them as talented party animals with music degrees. The main violinist is Johnathan Segel. Technically he was a multi-instrumentalist and was largely responsible for their playful, eclectic sound. However, on their 1989 release Key Lime Pie, Morgan Fichter took over. She has a much warmer tone and the songs became darker. Key Lime Pie was released after the band had already started to splinter. And while the original band reunited in 2004 for an album and tour, they were never able to capture a huge following.  They continue to perform together occasionally.

The mix is made up of the following albums:

Telephone Free Landslide Victory (their first and truest “classic” album)

I and II (their second album, folkier and less cohesive than their first)

Camper Van Beethoven (The tour for this album is when I saw them for the first time. I was a freshman in college. They played at the U of O Ballroom and I can still smell the weed and patchouli)

Our Bloved Revolutionary Sweetheart (The closest they ever came to a perfect album)

Key Lime Pie (Their darkest, most serious album)


DOWNLOAD:  Camper’s Best (a single mp3 file)

Serious Songs (kinda)
1. When I Win The Lottery
2. All Her Favorite Fruit
3. Pictures Of Matchstick Men
4. Borderline
5. Sweethearts
These first five songs are from the Key Lime Pie (mmmmm, pie) album. Pictures of Matchstick Men is a remake of a popular song from the 60’s. Around 3:00 min. into All Her Favorite Fruit, Fichter breaks out and you know this is a song about wanting what you can’t have.

6. O Death
An old folk song made hauntingly contemporary. It was performed acapella on the O’ Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

7. She Divines Water
8. One Of These Days
These are my two favorite Camper songs and two of my favorite songs of all time. The violin carries both songs creating an ethereal, transcendent sound. These songs and number 6 and 12 come from Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.

9. Good Guys & Bad Guys This one always makes me smile.

10. Still Wishing to Course
11. Sad Lovers Waltz

No Singing Songs
No, these are not Romanian Folk songs from 1925. But I do feel like a Gypsy when I listen to them. Except for number 12, they are all off of the first two albums.
12. Waka
13. Vladivostock
14. 9 of Disks
15. Payed Vacation: Greece
16. No Krugerrands for David
17. ZZ Top Goes To Egypt
18. Skinhead Stomp

Silly Songs (All from the first two albums)
19. Wasted
A remake of a 30 sec. punk rock song by Black Flag

20. Take the Skinheads Bowling “I had a dream last night, I forget what it was.”
21. Ambiguity Song
22. Tina
23. I Love Her All the Time
24. Where the Hell Is Bill?
25. Opi Rides Again/Club Med Sucks
(“Club Med sucks, authority sucks, I hate golf, I wanna play lacrosse.”)


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How is it possible that so few Americans have heard of Paul Kelly? He has been called Australia’s Bruce Springsteen. He has also been called the greatest song writer you’ve never heard of. I haven’t coined my own clever moniker, but the breadth and depth of his work is on par with Springsteen. I was first made aware of him by an essay called Deeper Water by Brian Doyle from his book Spirited Men. I scoured the internet for free songs. I downloaded a couple and found myself unimpressed. A year later I had my ipod on shuffle and the following song came on.

If I Could Start Today Again

I was confused. I had never heard this song before. It was beautiful in its simplicity and sincerity. And it spoke deeply of regret without being maudlin. When I looked at the display and saw the name Paul Kelly I had no idea who the hell he was. So I got online and started looking him up. And then I remembered. I re-read Doyle’s essay. I went to Amazon and proceeded to order anything of Kelly’s that was used and cheap. (Much of his work is out of print in the States)

If you want to read more about him a link to Doyle’s essay is below:
Deeper Water

Below is a mix I have put together. Enjoy and consider buying something by Doyle or Kelly. A perfect place for Kelly is his greatest hits collection: Songs From the South Vol. 1 & 2.


Download: Paul Kelly


“Deeper Water”
Deeper Water

‘Where I’m going next, I’m going alone’

“I’ve Been a Fool”
Deeper Water
You could sell a poor man a bottle of air


“If I Could Start Again Today”
….Nothing But a Dream
I know my prayer’s in vain/But for a second I’ll pretend/That I can start today again

“Midnight Rain”
…..Nothing But a Dream
But not too loud ’cause the neighbours complain

“Every Fucking City”
.….Nothing But a Dream
Now I’m in a nightclub in Helsinki/And they’re playing ‘La Vida Loca’ once again/And I can’t believe I’m dancing to this crap but I’m a chance here/Yeah, every fucking city sounds the same


“From St. Kilda to King’s Cross”
And all around me felt like all inside me


“To Her Door”
Under the Sun
She said: ‘I’m not standing by, to watch you slowly die/So watch me walking, out the door’

Under the Sun
Now shadows they grow longer and there’s so much more yet to be told/But we’re not getting any younger, so let the part tell the whole


“From Little Things Big Things Grow”
Vincent said ‘uhuh we’re not talking about wages/We’re sitting right here till we get our land’


“When I First Met Your Ma”
Hidden Things
Then her dad came pounding and kicked me out of there/I walked two miles in Melbourne rain
I could have walked ten more/When I first loved your ma


“How to Make Gravy”
Words and Music
And later in the evening, I can just imagine,/You’ll put on Junior Murvin and push the tables back

“I’ll Be Your Lover”
Words and Music
One day you notice a change/And then nothing’s the same


“You’re 39, You’re Beautiful, & Your Mine”
Stolen Apples
You still take my breath away in the morning light


“Beautiful Feeling”
Ways and Means
You’re the one that breaks me open wide

“King of Fools”
Ways and Means
But a fool always has a song

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“I’ll be around/You were right about the stars/Each one is a setting sun”


My strongest memories of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot are of hot summer afternoons, drinking iced tea, and playing poker with my sons, my wife, and my nephew.  It is not an upbeat album, but it is fitting that it was the soundtrack for a lazy, domestic summer.

I have little to say about the album itself.  It is beautiful and brilliant.  Too much has been said already about this third and final album that Jay Bennett did with Wilco.  It ends the work started with Being There.  And the compassion that work was centered around sees the narrator through the “dark night of the soul” in Summerteeth.  He emerges here wounded but stronger and wiser.  Capable of loving the other.  You can hear the resolution in the final track as it fades out into a quiet, wistful dirge-like lullaby .  “I have reservations about so many things, but not about you.”  You can also hear it in Jesus etc. My favorite Wilco song.  Here is a live version of that song from a 2004 show at the Fillmore West.

Listen to:  Jesus etc.

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“There’s no love as random as God’s love”

“I’m always in love”


Deception.  What I thought I was hearing the first time I listened to Summerteeth is not what I was really hearing.  I thought I was hearing a joyful celebration of life and living.  But the deception is in the tension of the songs.  Out of all of Wilco’s albums Summerteeth has the best pop songs.  But these songs are not sentimental or pretty.  Listen carefully and you will hear:

“Something in my veins, bloodier than blood”

‘The ashtray says, you were up all night”

“Dreamed about killing you again last night and it felt alright to me”

Wilco deceives us by dressing up unrelenting imagery of suicide, murder, blood, bruises, skeletons, and assault in pop songs that are pretty, tuneful, and catchy.  However these are not angry songs either.  They are lamentations.  Expressions of grief and loss made all the more poignant because beauty sits elusively on the horizon.  The narrator in these songs knows what he is missing. When he says, “Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm” he is not speaking of narcotics but rather some kind of metaphysical injection that will bring back a sense of well-being that has mysteriously disappeared and been replaced with a vague sense of anxiety and unease.

And yet there remains tension:  in the center of the album we are given a fleeting and hopeful indication that “all manner of thing shall be well”  That maybe, just maybe love and beauty are real and lasting.  There exists at moments in Tweedy’s voice a desperate wish that the randomness of God’s love is not some ironic quip but rather an expression of how vast, complex, messy and ultimately worthwhile all our lives are.

“I rest my head on a pillowy star
And a cracked-door moon
That says I haven’t gone too far

I’m coming home
I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Via Chicago”

Listen to: Via Chicago

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Being There

“I am so/Out of Tune/With you”


Compassion.  This is Being There‘s overarching concept.  The album starts out at a fairly immature place…misunderstanding and the attendant feelings of isolation and loneliness.  But building carefully over the next hour is a meditation on our lives of quiet desperation and an examination of their worth.  Jeff Tweedy uses the vehicle of an alienated rock-star.  But the “dreamer in my dreams, swinging from the beam” is that element in each of us that struggles everyday with the tension and contradiction of “being here”.  I wake each day and am quickly reminded of the beauty and the imperfection of this world, this life.  I am reminded the moment I speak to another that our lives together are separate encounters with the unknown and yet we do encounter the unknown together.

Near the end of the album comes the question I try to ask myself honestly day after day:  “Why would you want to live in this world?”  It doesn’t seem to me that it is a weary question or an expression of hopelessness but rather a question at the center of wisdom and compassion.  We are all free to choose our response to circumstance.  We are all afflicted but we are all here together.  We are all separate but none of us are alone.

I can remember this dawning on me driving through Eastern Washington late at night as I listened to “Being There” for the thousandth time.  My family was fast asleep in the seats surrounding me and  I remember being appreciative and thankful for this album.  I still am.

Sunken Treasure

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jay_bennett5-thumb-500x394-7842 Jay Bennett died last week.  If you know who he was then you know he was responsible to a large extent for three of the best albums made in the last 15 years.  (Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)  We have lost a talented, original artist who loved making music for all the right reasons.  It is unfortunate that his legacy has become defined by lawsuits, lack of health insurance, and one ugly scene in a documentary.  Gossip.  I believe it says more about us than it does about him.  Over the next three weeks I will look at each of the albums that he made with Wilco.  I invite you to listen closely.

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Murmur by R.E.M. is older to my high school son than the Beatles were when I was his age.  Released in 1983 it doesn’t sound the least bit dated to me.  Perhaps that is what I responded to as a 17 year old in the midst of rapid change.  Murmur was not like anything I had ever heard.  Stipe claims in the opening song (Radio Free Europe), “this isn’t country at all”.  It wasn’t “like” anything at all.  It wasn’t like the outlaw country that my dad listened to.  It wasn’t like the jazz and midwest rock that my mom listened to.  It certainly wasn’t like anything else I was listening to.  As diverse as my tastes were even at the age of 17, everything else I listened to (with the exception of The Beatles and New Order) was defined music.  It had borders, it had clear direction, it had intention and agenda.  This sound coming out of the speakers of my ’76 Nova was not rock, blues, folk, techno, jazz.  Lyrically it was not about love, politics, change, anger or passion even though it hinted at all of them.  No, this was my first encounter with music of my generation that was concerned with truth and that recognized that truth was somehow transcendent.

And, as central and influential as R.E.M. has been, I don’t think it sounds like anything I listen to today.  Which is why both my kids always ask me, “who is this?” everytime I play it.  It is not haunted like Reckoning but there is still a solemnity present.  And it is a debut album.  How did 20-somethings from Athens, Georgia create a work of art this powerful, this resonant, this transcendent?  I cannot answer, analyze, or even pursue that question.  To do so would be foolish.  Art that lasts is always surrounded by mystery.  That is why it lasts.  For me, mystery is the handmaiden of the Divine.  It exists by grace to give us a glimpse into the eternal.

When R.E.M. spoke to me in 1985, “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world” I knew it to be true.  An alcoholic father, a mother with brain cancer, Ronald Regan, the Soviet Union, nuclear war.  These were my burdens.  My theology teachers had all told me that Christ would lighten my burdens.  I understood the idea yet it remained elusive.  But those lines from Murmur  touched my heart and allowed me to release my trouble.  To acknowledge that I was allowed to feel powerless and afraid.  “Talk about the Passion”  I realized was speaking to me about the passion of Christ.  “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”  I am not suggesting that R.E.M constructed a Christian allegory.  That would simplify and reduce the mystery.  I am suggesting that to my 17 year old heart and mind the central mystery of Christianity became real to me through this song by R.E.M.  Today I still struggle with the notion that, “Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.”  Today I still struggle with the central mystery of Christianity.  Today I know that the young people I teach struggle with the weight of the world.  Today I remind them and myself that as present and important as this world is, we must walk humbly “West of the Fields” in to the arms of mystery.

In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood-
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

TS Eliot East Coker

Please have a listen to the following songs I captured from vinyl:

Radio Free Europe

Talk About the Passion

West of the Fields


For information on the files above go to last week’s post.

For more on music, mystery, and the old, weird America I mentioned last week, check out the amazing Old Weird America.

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