The Heliocentrics: From The Deep

I picked up this album because the damn cover looked so cool. That seems to be the way I’ve been choosing new music, and for the most part, it has been working out nicely. 

I mean, look at this cover. How could I resist? It reminds me of Star Wars, and that was good enough for me to snatch it up. 

Anyhow, The Heliocentrics‘ latest album, From the Deep, is a confusing listen at first. There are 19 tracks in all, and most of them only last a couple of minutes at best. I sat on my couch wondering what the hell I was listening to. Jazzy, funky, bee-boppy… it sounded like a collection of ready-to-be-sampled excerpts for beatmakers.

It then hit me that I was listening for a song, rather than for an album. I guess once I made that mind shift, the record made more sense. 

As a whole, the album works in that it constantly changes and creates a new mood with each piece. Since the tracks are so short (save a few), I never got bored. The rhythms and beats are super cool to hear. I found myself thinking how cool it would be to sample some parts for songs. 

Check out “The Five Thing” 

Super. Cool. 

I can’t say this album is for everyone. Those of you wanting to hear vocals, or melodies, or anything remotely pop will most likely get bored of this record quickly. Those of you that enjoy experimentation in the genres mentioned above may embrace the performances on From the Deep. Just be prepared to say, “What? The song is over already?” to the majority of the tracks. 

I can’t say that this record will be in my regular rotation, but for now it’s a fun listen and a great inspiration for stretching myself creatively. From the Deep reminds me of the fun of full albums. Sometimes it takes a complete listen to get the message. That’s pretty cool on my book. 


Sally Jaye: Too Many Heartaches, Pt.1

We’ve been blessed with rain here in Southern California. Much. Needed. Rain. These rainy days keep me in bed and thanking the computer gods that laptops were created. I’m enjoying the crisp, clean air as I type this… spinning the latest Sally Jaye record, Too Many Heartaches pt.1.

“Waaaaaitaminute, there… Sally Jaye? That name sounds familiar!”

Yup. You should know that name because we wrote about Sally back in 2008 when I came across her album, Amarillo, one of my favorite albums of that year. I still listen to it every now and then, especially the title track… one of my favorite songs of the century so far.

0003685250_10Too Many Heartaches, pt.1 definitely continues my goobing-out over her music. I’ve been listening to it for a few weeks now (it was released earlier this month), and just like Amarillo, I just know that I’m going to continue listening to this record for a long time to come. The reason why it’s just “part 1” is because the sessions were actually split into two parts: one before she was pregnant, and one after she discovered she was with her first child. Jaye states in her bio, “I was beyond thrilled that I was going to be a mom, but I also knew that meant I needed to get some more songs recorded from this chapter of my life before I moved on to a whole new one.” She went back into the studio and recorded what became part 2 (to be released early 2015). “When I came back to record Pt. 2, I felt like yelling them out a little more versus the softer approach I was feeling in the first sessions,” Sally explains.

I was so excited when I got an email from Sally, telling me about the coming of this record. Ignoring all of the liner notes, I went straight to the music and lost myself for about 30 minutes. Opening with “Maggie the Superstar,” Jaye sets up an album that is acoustic and rich with color with traditional country flavors. The record captures Jaye in a storytelling mood, with characters that we all have lurking somewhere deep inside of us. There’s regret, there’s longing, there’s misunderstanding, there’s envy… perhaps things we don’t usually want to face or admit, but it’s there. It took me multiple listens to each song to find out what her message is to me, and you’ll probably experience the same thing. The interesting thing is, though, that I think each person will find their own meanings, as the lyrics paint such a broad yet vivid picture.

One thing I have always loved about Sally’s voice is that it doesn’t get in the way of the story. Dynamic in delivery, her vocal highlights the lyric, propels the song forward, and lets the listener sink right into the mindset of the protagonist.

She has such a pure voice.

My favorite track off Too Many Heartaches, pt.1 has to be “All I Ask For.” Poignant and sad, the song discusses a family’s tragedy and how they not only deal with it themselves, but also how they must still face the knowing public each and every day. Jaye writes, “I just want my messed up boy to be all right / That’s all I ask for.” I got sucked into the story immediately and played the track a few times in a row even before moving on…

Take a listen to “All I Ask For.”

The record closes with her interpretation of Townes Van Zandt’s “At My Window.” Jaye’s performance is subdued to almost a whisper. You won’t want to miss this performance.

I could write a 2,000 word essay on why I dig this record… and another 2,000 on why you should pick it up… but I’m not going to do that because all the words in the world do not compare to listening for yourself. Lucky for you, Sally Jaye is giving the album away for free.

“FOR FREE?” you say. Yes, for free. That’s all Sally wants for Christmas (via her Facebook page)… “Dear Santa – All I want for Christmas is a ton of people to download this record (it’s free). Oh and I’d also like a new pocket knife, some warm shoes (that aren’t Uggs, because I just have to take a bunch of crap from my husband when I wear those), and a really high quality large skillet. Thank you. – sj”

I’m guessing that most of you want to make Sally happy, so do the easiest thing on the list: download the record.

“Where do I download it???” you may be asking.

Click on the image and WHAMMO! You will be instantly transported to how you will spend the next 30 minutes of your life.


Sally Jaye on: [Official] [Facebook] [Twitter]


Repost: George Winston – December

Here’s something I originally posted about 2 years ago, but felt it relevant to this time of year. I absolutely love this album and have been listening to it lately, so if you don’t know about it yet, I highly encourage you to read on! The show dates have been updated. I didn’t post a Top 5 Most Played Songs for this week because I played this record so much it… it pretty much dominated the entire week.
I know that I’ve mainly focused on rock music here on, but since it’s the Christmas season, I thought for this week’s “Spin of the Week,” I’d throw this one in for you to check out.

George Winston’s December is a classic within the “New Age” genre. According to Wikipedia, “New Age” music is ” peaceful music of various styles, which is intended to create inspiration, relaxation, and positive feelings, often used by listeners for yoga, massage, inspiration, relaxation, meditation, and reading as a method of stress management or to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home or other environments often associated with environmentalism and New Age Spirituality.”

Wow. I didn’t know all THAT. I always thought this genre was just filled with cool instrumentals, but I guess by the above description, even Enya can be placed in this category.

Anyhow, December was released in 1982 on the Windham Hill label. Windham Hill was an indie label, founded by William Ackerman in 1976. The label was well known for featuring beautiful instrumental music, bringing together artists like Mark Isham, Jim Brickman, Liz Story, and George Winston.

One fond memory of Windham Hill records was the packaging. Each vinyl record came in a plastic sleeve, which was a nice touch. The sound quality was always top-notch, as was the music. George Winston quickly became my favorite of the label’s artists because of A) his love for Vince Guaraldi (Peanuts music composer) and B) his absolutely incredible piano pieces.

For me, December sits at the top of his catalog.

The album has been described as “perfect,” “graceful,” “gorgeous,” “breathtaking,” and “frikkin’ awesome.” (that last one was mine) If these ten tracks do not put you in a Wintery state of mind, I don’t know what will. Maybe a nice, fat snowball down your pants?

I can listen to this album on the hottest of days and still feel the chill of a cold Winter’s night. That’s the power of music… in my opinion, a power that is unmatched by any other form of art.

Right from the opening track, “Thanksgiving,” Winston puts you in an uber-relaxed mood, and the feeling just never goes away. His playing is beautiful, flowing, and as expressive as a baby’s face filled with wonder. There’s not a single track to be skipped here, as each piece settles you in like an overstuffed chair before a warm fire. Throw in a cup of hot cocoa and you’re orgasmic, baby, orgasmic… but in a peaceful manner. Is that possible???

Here’s a live performance of “Thanksgiving.”

One of my favorite pieces is “Carol of the Bells,” which, according to the album’s liner notes, is a nineteenth century Ukrainian carol. Being a pianist myself, I love how versatile the tone of the instrument is. If you close your eyes, all you hear are ringing bells… interesting trivia regarding the the high register of the piano… there are no dampers on the strings, so the notes always sustain for their natural duration.

Perhaps the most popular piece on December is “Variations on the Kanon by Johann Pachelbel”. I absolutely love Winston’s performance here. The growing intensity of his playing brings out each variation like the coming of a new day: slow but sure, warm and inviting. I’ve included this magnificent rendition in the Dig-It section below.

For the 20th Anniversary reissue of the Cd, George Winston offers the sheet music for this piece, exclusively through his website. My brother and I have spent countless hours trying to figure out his exact notation… I just might order this to see how close we were.

This is a Cd that will become a treasure in your collection. If you don’t own it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. You’ll spin it every Winter, I can practically guarantee it. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy instrumental music or not… the music here is good for the peace within your soul

Strong words, I know, but after 26 years of listening to this album, I can honestly say that in times of struggle, sometimes the only constant is the majesty of this album.

Take a listen and have your credit cards ready, as operators are standing by.

Here are the remaining 2010 concert dates for Winston. He’s great to experience live, so if you have a chance, I highly recommend taking the time to catch a show.

Sat, 11-27 Westhampton Beach, NY at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center
Wed, 12-01 New York, NY at Baruch Performing Arts Center
Fri, 12-03 Old Saybrook, CT at Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center
Sun, 12-05 Londonderry, NH at Tupelo Music Hall
Wed, 12-08 Sellersville, PA at Sellersville Theatre 1894
Fri, 12-10 White River Junction, VT at Tupelo Music Hall – Vermont
Sun, 12-12 Ephrata, PA at Ephrata Main Theatre
Wed, 12-15 Edwardsville, IL at Dunham Hall Theater
Fri, 12-17 Waukegan, IL at Genesee Theatre
Sun, 12-19 La Crosse, WI at University of Wisconsin – Valhalla Auditorium
Check his official website for more info.

Your Dig-It Downloads:

Download: Thanksgiving
Download: Variations on the Kanon

George Winston on: [Amazon] [iTunes]

George Winston

George Winston: Love Will Come (The Music of Vince Guaraldi Vol. 2)

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I remember how special Sunday mornings were in my household. My dad would have one of us kids bring in the newspaper and we’d divide it up: my dad would get the main section, my oldest brother would get sports, my second oldest would get the entertainment, and I would reach for the comics. My mom was always so disappointed because I wanted the part of the newspaper that was the “least educated…” I”m glad she never saw me salivate over the coupon section.

Anyhow, the first comic read was always Peanuts. I would always crack up at the antics of Charlie Brown and the gang… my favorite character was Snoopy… he could do everything and do it well. The dog was Joe Cool, after all.

Like many of you, I watched every Charlie Brown television special and knew them by heart. One aspect of these specials – the music – has thankfully never been overlooked as an integral part of the presentation. Vince Guaraldi‘s scores played a major role in not only defining the cartoon and characters, but it also showed how jazz still had an influence on popular culture. I can’t tell you how many hours my brothers and I spent at the piano, trying to figure out “Linus and Lucy,” perhaps the most famous Guaraldi composition

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It’s been 34 years since Guaraldi’s unfortunate passing, and his music is still as alive today as ever, thanks to artists like George Winston Winston has already released a collection of Guaraldi’s pieces in an album called Linus and Lucy – The Music of Vince Guaraldi, and he’s continued this homage to one of his musical idols with another volume titled Love Will Come – The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2. This solo-piano album goes deeper into Guaraldi’s catalog while reimagining some of his classic Peanuts scores.

I’m always interested to know how one artist gets excited about another, so I was pleased that the CD’s liner notes included inston’s recounting of the first time he saw a Charlie Brown special:

“On Thursday, December 9, 1965, I saw the first broadcast of the Charlie Brown Christmas episode on TV. I was enjoying the show, and then the scene happened when Charlie Brown was trying to get the kids in line to rehearse for the annual Christmas play. He asks Schroeder to set the mood with some Christmas music, and instead Schroeder plays Linus and Lusy and the kids dance. As the song was played twice more in the episode, I went more and more crazy over it.”

He goes on to say, “I went with my friend Clark Cochran to a record store in Miami the next night, and I saw the soundtrack album of A Charlie Brown Christmas displayed up on the wall at the store. That’s when I realized that the soundtrack was by Vince Guaraldi… I could believe it, and I was so excited ‘that song’ might be on the record. I bought it, went home immediately, and played the beginning of each song until i found it.”

I own a few of Guaraldi’s Peanuts scores, so it’s great to hear Winston perform some of the pieces on the first volume, but much of Love Will Come – The Music of Vince Guaraldi, Volume 2 is unfamiliar to me. Winston has put together a fine tribute in showing the range of Guaraldi’s skills as a player and composer. You’ll find Lyrical and Impressionistic Jazz (as Winston categorizes it) in pieces like “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown,” or Mainstream Jazz/Bebop in “Air Music,” and then there’s the Up-tempo Peanuts Music found in songs like “Woodstock” and “You’re Elected Charlie Brown.” It’s a fun listen and suits me perfectly when I want to unwind and just enjoy what life has to offer at that moment.

My absolute favorite track off this album didn’t end up to be part of the Charlie Brown repertoire. “Love Will Come 2” was apparently a music cue that was never used… Winston’s interpretation is gorgeous and so very peaceful… and has been on repeat now for the past thirty minutes. I’ve included it in the Dig-It section below because it’s a must-hear in my book.

Here’s a video of Winston performing “Great Pumpkin Waltz / In Love Charlie Brown” with bits of an interview with Winston thrown in to boot.

I’ve been spinning this album for the past few weeks, and it’s brought back so many memories for me. It’s hard to imagine what the Peanuts television specials would have been like without Guaraldi’s score… and it’s even harder to imagine that some CBS executives at the time didn’t want jazz for the soundtrack. George Winston put it well when he said that “Vince Guaraldi and his music are so much a part of the deep heart and soul of SanFrancisco, and of the experience of childhood, and beyond.”

If you’re looking for an addition to your “chill out” music library, this will fit quite nicely. If you’d like another Winston album to check out, click here.

Your Dig-It Downloads:

Download: Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown
Download: Love Will Come 2

Buy George Winston on Amazon
Buy George Winston on iTunes

Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More

Man ALIVE I love discovering new music. That’s gotta be at the top of my list of “Favorite Things to Do.” Let’s face it… discovering new music is SO much better than NOT discovering new music. The only thing better than discovering new music is discovering new music while having sex at Disneyland… with a mermaid.

Waitaminute… I don’t know if I want to have sex with a mermaid. Do you want to have sex with a mer-person? That’s kind of weird, and my “weird limit” stops with an upside-down swing, HP toner, and a tripod.

Getting back to discovering new music… I have stack of CDs this high just waiting for me. These CDs are all part of my must-listen-to-soon list, and I swear I’ll get to them all. Unfortunately, I can only get to maybe one a week (two if I’m lucky). I’ve been eye-balling one in particular, Mumford & Sons‘ latest, Sigh No More. After getting a few emails telling me that I HAVE to listen to it RIGHT NOW, I spun it and said, “Wow.”

Maybe “wow” wasn’t the most expressive word to choose at the moment… I could have gone with “wowzers” or “wowabunga,” but since none of those came to me at the time, I’ll just run with “wow.” Mumford & Sons impressed the bejeezus out of me, and I have a crapload of bejeezus.

Here’s a bit of what their official website bio says about them:

“Since they formed in December 2007, the members of Mumford & Sons have shared a common purpose: to make music that matters, without taking themselves too seriously. Four young men from West London in their early twenties, they have fire in their bellies, romance in their hearts, and rapture in their masterful, melancholy voices. They are staunch friends – Marcus Mumford, Country Winston, Ben Lovett, and Ted Dwane – who bring their music to us with the passion and pride of an old-fashioned, much-cherished, family business. They create a gutsy, old-time sound that marries the magic of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with the might of Kings Of Leon, and their incredible energy draws us in quickly to their circle of songs, to the warmth of their stories, and to their magical community of misty-eyed men.”

The bio then goes on to explain all the great things the band has done since it’s birth… not surprising, considering the quality of music they put out.

My iTunes categorizes Mumford & Sons as “folk,” but I’m going to say that they’re “epic folk.” Their sound is simply that huge. My “Is this band epic?” test is to see whether I turn my head to the stereo while listening. I mean, there’s really nothing to see while listening to music on the stereo, but usually if something REALLY grabs your attention, you tend to look at it… ever notice that? As if the artist will suddenly appear as tiny little people on your speakers or something, playing their little itty-bitty hearts out. So anyhow, that’s how I test to see if the band has epic-ness in them.

And I stared HARD at my stereo throughout Sigh No More. I stared so hard that my stereo actually said, “What you lookin‘ at, punk?” which freaked the frikkin’ frik out of me.

The opening track, “Sigh No More,” is a fine example of their style. It may start of un-epic-ly, but just wait until 2:23 when they kick it into high gear. I LOVE the percussion here… it’s tribal, it’s primal, and it makes my foot stomp until it’s either broken or I break through the floor. This quality is found throughout the record, and I can’t get enough of it. I’m not going to say that all of their songs sound the same or follow a particular formula, I’m saying that IF they do, it works and they should stick to it for at least a little while.

“White Blank Page,” my current favorite track, is another song that I feel encompasses what they’re all about. There’s a certain kind of pain that one can only feel through acoustic instruments… it feels more intimate, if that makes any sense. It’s as if you resort to doing whatever you can to express it. Nothing fancy, nothing contrived, just the two of you and the need for one to conquer the other. “White Blank Page” captures this for me, and call me a masochist, but it’s the kind of feeling that, although tortuous, makes me feel alive… the build up to 3:01 does it for me completely.

Here’s a performance of “White Blank Page:”

Mumford’s voice needs to be recognized. I won’t even try to describe it because how many more times can one say that the lead singer’s voice is passionate, expressive, and powerful yet vulnerable? So I won’t even try except to say that it needs to be recognized. There. It’s been recognized.

I’ve posted a few tracks in the Dig-It section below from Sigh No More… it’s a must-hear and shouldn’t be just the Spin of the Week, but the Spin of the Month. It’s been a while since I’ve been floored like this and it feels good.

Now I can’t wait to get to the rest of these CDs.

Your Dig-It Downloads:

Download: The Cave
Download: White Blank Page
Download: White Blank Page (live acoustic)

[Amazon] [iTunesicon]

David Gray: Life in Slow Motion

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I have an external hard drive that (thankfully wasn’t stolen) houses the majority of my music collection. For some reason, I can’t access this hard drive through my new PC laptop. My friends have suggested that I hook up the drive to my dad’s Mac, grab some stuff and put it on a flash drive, then transfer the stuff onto my new laptop.

“You’re crazy,” I told them. “I like you, but you’re crazy.”

Well, turns out they weren’t crazy and I did it. So now I’ve transferred about 2 gigs of stuff onto my new laptop (let’s call her… “Moondance”) and I’m finally able to listen to some stuff I’ve been itching for.

One such itch was for David Gray‘s 2005 release, Life in Slow Motion. I haven’t sat down with this album for at least a year now, which is a tragedy. With so much music constantly being released, there’s just not enough time to revisit all the albums from the rich past. There’s GOT to be a way to implant a USB port into your brain and have it just download music at lightening speed right into your cerebrum so you can listen to music without having to hear it. Make sense? No? Well, then I’ll just have to invent it, patent it, and then get sued by Apple because they thought of it first.

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Stupid not-thinking-of-it-first syndrome.

Getting back to Life in Slow Motion, it marked the first time Gray entered a “proper” studio. In an article from, Gray says, “I really wanted to get away from that lo-fi bedroom programming. I don’t think you can remain the underdog forever and work in that way. I wanted to experiment All the records that have inspired me this time have been far more of a soundscape.” He goes on to explain how artists like Sigur Ros, Sparklehorse, Lucinda Williams, and Bjork were among those that inspired the album.

I love the opening track, “Alibi,” which was the third single from the album. It starts off reminding me of some movie scene where the guy is all sad because he lost the girl… the rain’s pouring down on him, and he’s having one of those “WHY, GOD, WHY??????” moments. I don’t know if that’s such a high note to start an album off on, but it totally worked for me. Maybe I’m a sucker for those “WHY, GOD, WHY?????” moments because it is then when we are the most honest with not only ourselves, but the world around us… either that or maybe I co-wrote that song and got paid massive guano in royalties.

Yeah, right. Stupid not-writing-a-song-with-David-Gray syndrome.

Life in Slow Motion debuted at #1 on the Irish and UK Album charts, and peaked at #16 here in the states. Three singles were born from the record: “The One I Love,” “Hospital Food,” and the beforementioned “Alibi.” Only “The One I Love” hit the top 10 in the UK Singles chart, and it does not appear that any of them made a big impression on the Billboard charts. That’s ok, though, because for Gray I think it’s all about the whole album experience.

And it’s been a great experience for me rediscovering the album. It’s not a “peppy” album by any means, but there’s enough on it to keep you just above the REALLY mellow line. That quality made Life in Slow Motion a perfect companion as I studied. I HAD to stop and listen when it came to songs like “Slow Motion” and the gorgeous closing track, “Disappearing World.” I must have hit repeat on that song at least ten times.

You’ll find a couple of tracks in the Dig-It section below, along with a live acoustic performance of “Shine,” a song off his debut record, A Century Ends. I just thought it’d be fun to include that song here.

If you’re a fan of David Gray but all you know from him is White Ladder, I highly recommend giving Life in Slow Motion a try. You’ll find everything you’ve come to expect from Gray’s remarkable talent here.

Your Dig-It Downloads:

Download: Alibi
Download: Slow Motion
Download: Shine (live acoustic, London)

[Amazon] [iTunesicon]

The Damnwells: One Last Century

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Ok, I gotta admit that I’m hooked on this record. A few days ago, our bud Matt at Addicted to Vinyl notified the world about how we could download The Damnwells latest album, One Last Century, for free. How many of you followed the links to get the record? I hope the answer is “All of us!” because it’s a GREAT set of songs.

Here’s what lead singer and songwriter Alex Dezen has to say regarding the free-ness of the album:

“I suppose the hardest thing to explain to people is why I’m giving this record away. “You’re just going to give it away?” seems antithetical to the human brain. “Is this just a bunch of b-sides or something? Some ‘give away’ material you don’t mind releasing into the ether?” No. Quite the contrary. I have never worked so hard or put so much of myself into a collection of recorded songs. It is for just this reason that I want to give it away. To me it makes perfect sense. I just want people to hear this music, and I don’t want them to have to enter into some kind of contractual agreement with a third party to do so.

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Download the record, copy it and give it to your friends, lovers, and enemies. Whatever. It’s so hard these days just to get the actual music into people’s houses and cars, let alone their ears. Besides, I know everyone’s broke, maybe I can supply the soundtrack. So, I just want to give this music away because I want people to hear it. I should have done this years ago. I’m starting over.”

Like I said above, I’m completely hooked on this record.

The Damnwells have had their share of trials and tribulations. They’ve toured the country with some huge artists like The Dixie Chicks and Los Lonely Boys, recorded an album, and then were shelved. There’s even a documentary about it called Golden Days. Here’s a brief description of the film:

In 2001, a photo assistant named Alex Dezen asked a couple friends to record a few songs with him. Shortly thereafter they would form the Brooklyn based rock band THE DAMNWELLS. Two years later they had toured the country, opened for rock legends, and had a song featured in a major motion picture. By 2004, they had signed a major record deal with EPIC Records (Sony/BMG).

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In March of 2005, THE DAMNWELLS went into the studio to record their first professional album. For six months, THE DAMNWELLS immersed themselves in preproduction, recording, and mixing. But as months passed, their release date was moved further and further away. In January of 2006, lead singer Alex Dezen received a call they never expected. The band was being released from their contract and the fate of the album was unknown. For the moment, it would sit on a shelf at EPIC Records and collect dust.

THE DAMNWELLS, who had previously recorded their albums in a storage space and their apartments, were not used to waiting. They had been in complete control of their music and their lives before they signed on the dotted line. Now, a year of their lives was sitting on a shelf waiting to be heard.

Will the band break up, will they go their separate ways, or will they take back their future?

Harp Magazine describes the movie as “A fascinating glimpse into the fabled but ubiquitous major label hell.” I’m putting this on the top of my “must see” list…

I’m not sure how long the album, One Last Century, will be available for download. I’ve heard that it’s up for a limited time, but I’ve also heard otherwise… either way, don’t miss out! You’ll find a couple of selections below in the Dig-It section. Take a listen and if you like it, GO GO GO and pick up the rest of it.

(if you liked this article, please vote for it by clicking on the button below!)

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The Damnwells on Amazon
The Damnwells on iTunes

Your Dig-It Downloads:

Download: Like It Is

Download: Say

Tift Merritt: Bramble Rose

We’re going to start highlighting artists that are scheduled to perform at Bonnaroo this year. Sure, the festival is about five months away, but it’s never too early to spread music around…

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There was a time when I used to watch a lot of music videos. I’d have one of those MTV-type channels (not MTV, because they don’t play videos anymore) on all day in the background, and every now and then I’d come across an artist that catches my ear. Tift Merritt was one of those artists… I remember hearing her first single, “Virginia, No One Can Warn You,” but I missed most of the video. I spent the rest of the day waiting to see if it would come on again. Lo and behold, it did, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’ll be honest, I became an even bigger fan when I found out that Ethan Johns produced her debut record, Bramble Rose.

I’m so excited to see that she’s going to play Bonnaroo this year. Too bad I can’t make the festival, but I’ll be there in spirit, and that’s the thing that’s going to make not only Tift Merritt play an amazing show, but Bruce Springsteen as well. You know, I’m going to go all the way and say that my being there in spirit will make ALL the performers put on amazing shows.

Yes, I am just THAT delusional.

The first thing that struck me when I first heard Bramble Rose was Merritt’s voice. She’s got the voice of an angel… at least that’s what I would think an angel would sound like… the femaie ones… the male ones would sound something like William Hung doing William Hung (two negatives make a positive, right? RIGHT???)

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From the very first notes she sings on the opening track, “Trouble Over Me,” you are reminded of the great country voices like Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. Her blend of folk/country/rock (Alt. Country) has a relaxed feel to it, but never gets too bogged down. Merritt penned all eleven tracks, which is always great to see on an album. She shows a wide range with up-tempo songs like “Neighborhood” and “I Know Him Too,” but also demonstrates her grasp on tradition with the title track, “Bramble Rose.”

The highlight of the album for me is the closing track, “When I Cross Over.” It’s a slow churner, but has such a memorable melody and guitar riff that you can’t help but have it running through your head long after it’s stopped. There’s an uplifting quality to it, which ties in with the lyric. At first I thought the song was about “crossing over” when one passes away, but I once read an interview with Merritt where she says that although that’s a common interpretation, the song is really just about moving somewhere, like Canada.

I get in a good mood just thinking about it
All those streets I’ve never seen
Nobody asking me for nothing
Nobody angry with me

She goes on to sing, “Seems like a woman in the morning oughta have nothing to worry about / Sit down and have a cup of coffee, hum a little while, think out loud.” Merritt seems to want to leave it all behind… “I’m gonna unpack all alone.”

“When I Cross Over” is such an effective closer. It is so laid back that it gives the entire album a sense of completion. I’ve posted this track in the Dig-It section below.

Here’s a video of Merritt performing “When I Cross Over” with her band.

She looks like she’s holding back an explosion brewing up inside of her, which is such a contrast to how she sounds on the record. I’m actually surprised that the entire album was cut live. Tift explains, “We decided that we’d go in the studio and that we were gonna do the record live. I know enough about [producer] Ethan Johns to know that we’d do the record live, but I didn’t realize that he wanted me to sing live as well.”

Bramble Rose is an album that set up Tift Merritt as a singer and songwriter to take notice of. She’s released two more studio albums, 2004’s Tambourine (which got a Grammy nomination for Country Album of the Year), 2008’s Another Country, a live collection called Home is Loud, and is about to put out a solo acoustic record on February 24 named Buckingham Solo. You can pre-order it here.

If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d pick up Bramble Rose. It’s a smooth running record that won’t ever feel like a piece of popcorn that you can’t get out from between your teeth.

I’ll leave you with a 2007 live video of the song that initially grabbed me, “Virginia, No One Can Warn You.” This was recorded at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville, TN.

Man, I love her voice! If you’re hitting Bonnaroo this year, be sure to catch her set!

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Your Dig-It Downloads:

Download: Trouble Over Me

Download: When I Cross Over

Heart: The Road Home

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I think everyone here knows who Heart is. They’re one of the most important bands in the history of Rock (how they haven’t been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame yet still escapes me)… they’ve had hits in three decades (70’s, 80’s, 90’s), they’ve been honored many times in the 2000’s by VH-1 (VH-1 Rock Honors, Decades of Rock Live), by various contemporary artists like Gretchen Wilson and Carrie Underwood, and they’ve even got a songs on all Guitar Hero video games.

Dude, if you make it on all Guitar Hero games, you’re doing pretty good.

VH-1 must love Heart, because they’ve placed the band at #57 on their 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock list. Rolling Stone probably put Heart at #2 on their 500 Top Bands Named “Heart” list… the top spot would obviously go to Rick Springfield.

In 1995, Heart released a live acoustic album called The Road Home. Produced by John Paul Jones, the bassist/keyboardist for The Mighty Zeppelin, the album contained many of Heart’s greatest hits. Take a look at the track listing:

“Dreamboat Annie (Fantasy Child)”
“Dog and Butterfly”
(Up On) Cherry Blossom Road”
“Back To Avalon”
“These Dreams”
“Love Hurts”
“Straight On”
“All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You”
“Crazy On You”
“Dream Of The Archer”
“The Road Home” (Unlisted Bonus Track)

In the words of Sam Dawson, “That’s a nice selection.”

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Most of these songs were sizable hits for the band, and that’s one reason the record is so enjoyable. They don’t just perform the songs acoustically, though… they rework some of them, turning them into a brand new listening experience.

For example, their 1990 hit, “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love You You,” is turned into a fine piano ballad. I have to be honest… I always thought this song was hilarious to listen to (primarily because of the lyrics), and turning it into a slow ballad just adds to the hilarity… but that’s another subject altogether.

The Road Home also contains a couple of covers: Elton John‘s “Seasons” (they played it because, as vocalist Ann said, “It just hit me right where I lived”), and Joni Mitchell‘s “River”. Both are beautiful in their performance and interpretation.

By far my favorite performance on this Cd is “Back to Avalon.” Found on their Desire Walks On album, this song was a “return to form” for the Wilson sisters. As Ann Wilson explains, “It was the first song that we’d (Ann and Nancy) written, just the two of us, in years. It was a moment where we came back together and wrote in the old “Love Alive” style, the old “Dog and Butterfly” way with just the two of us at a table. No tech stuff, nothing to make it easier. No computer in the room, just a guitar and a notebook.”

If you know their old 70’s music, you’ll LOVE this track. If you know their 70’s music, you’ll also appreciate the addition of “Dream of the Archer,” originally off thier Little Queen record from 1977.

The Cd booklet is packed with an interview done especially for the album. It’s a fun read and will give you some great insight on not only the songs, but the band as well. If you can pick up the actual physical Cd, do it… if not, download the record anyway. You’ll totally dig it. If you don’t, you can blame that guy who upset you on the freeway today. He’ll understand.

One of my favorite aspects of the album is that it is, as mentioned before, produced by John Paul Jones. Mr. Jones performs in the songs as well, handling the mandolin, piano, and bass. Funny bit of trivia on Heart… back in the 70’s, they were once nicknamed “Little Led Zeppelin” because of their sound and style. Their mega-hit song, “Barracuda,” has the same groove and riff as Zeppelin’s “Achilles Last Stand.” On Heart‘s Greatest Hits: Live collection, they perform Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Yeah, they’re fans of Zeppelin.

So what was it like to work with John Paul Jones?

As Nancy Wilson put it, “AAAAAAGH! This is so cool!”

And you’ll most likely say the same thing while listening to this Cd.

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Heart on Amazon
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Your Dig-It Downloads:

Download: Back to Avalon

Download: The Road Home

Lisa Hannigan: Sea Sew

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Lisa Hannigan is best known for her work with Damien Rice. Her voice graced his albums and, in my opinion, was a highlight of both. Their voices blended together so extremely well, and I’ve discovered that the most played songs off my iTunes from BOTH of Rice’s albums are the ones that feature her vocals. So it was a shame for me to hear that after six years, two albums, and various tours, the two have parted ways. In 2007, Rice announced that their professional relationship “has run its creative course.”

According to RTE Entertainment, “… Lisa will not be appearing at any of the upcoming live shows. Lisa is embarking on her own artistic endeavors and there are no plans for them to work together in the foreseeable future.”

What a shame, what a shame.

But that’s ok, because Hannigan resurfaced late last year, releasing her first solo effort, Sea Sew in Ireland. The album is already available on iTunesicon, but will be “officially” released here in the States on February 3rd. That’s kinda weird, but I guess that’s a sign of the times… digital downloads are fast becoming the way music is being sold… (I still prefer the actual jewel case, though!).

I was excited to take a listen to Sea Sew, as I was curious to hear what direction she would take. Would she continue down the same path as Rice, or would she go a completely different direction? It’s the ultimate test for an artist who is trying to separate themselves from a band that they are already known for… would their fan base accept their new music?

Turns out, though, she pretty much went the same way. PRETTY much.

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Sea Sew resumes the folk sound, something that I was hoping for. Her ultra delicate & smooth voice sounds magically delicious, and definitely demonstrates that she is an artist in her own right. She doesn’t have a powerful voice in the “Man alive she can belt it out!” sense of the word… her power comes through her ability to draw the listener in through the soothing quality of her delivery.

Cellos, violins, piano, horns, acoustic guitars… if you’re a fan of the acoustic sound, you’ll totally dig this record. The first single, “Lille,” is a shining example of what you’ll find throughout the album. Hannigan’s voice is barely a whisper, and the music is as lovely as you would expect from this singing style. You’ve probably heard this tune somewhere… I’ve posted a demo version below in the Dig-It section. This version isn’t too far off from the studio cut, but has some slight differences that make it worth grabbing. For one thing, there’s far less reverb, which further brings Hannigan’s voice to the forefront. Lovely, lovely…

Here’s the video to “Lille.” It’s a joy to watch, as the pop-up book is quite impressive.

By far my favorite track, though, is “I Don’t Know.” Frankly, I don’t see why this wasn’t the first single, as it’s a beautifully crafted pop-folk-indie tune. The song’s not too much of a stretch for Hannigan, but that’s the strength of it. “I Don’t Know” doesn’t really need a spectacular voice to carry the song, it’s that well written. This is NOT a knock on her vocals, it’s just how well put together the song is. Take a listen in the Dig-It section and decide for yourself, though. I totally dig this ditty.

I think that the main problem with Sea Sew is that, at times, I felt like Hannigan’s voice was the thing that saved the songs. I’m not going to say that every song is a home run… “Keep It All” didn’t really grab me after repeated listens, and “Courting Blues” practically put me to sleep. That’s pure taste, though. What I might love you may hate… what I might hate you may treasure as the greatest song ever written.

Waitaminute… it CAN’T be the “greatest song ever written,” because we ALL know what holds that title, don’t we? DON’T WE????? Say it… say it!!!!

All in all, Sea Sew is a great debut for a singular voice. Lisa Hannigan has truly stepped out into the light and put together a fine representation of what she can do. Her work with Damien Rice will always be remembered and cherished, but her future as a solo artist looks promising. Like I said, if you’re a fan of the indie/folk scene, then pick up this record.

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Your Dig-It Downloads:

Download: I Don’t Know

Download: Sea Song

Download: Lille (demo)