***3 Albums was a semi-regular music series I wrote for the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library between July 2016 and January 2018.
All 3 Albums posts can be found in their original published form HERE***
Alright-alright-alright…take a gander at that! Slick new artwork for the new and (hopefully) improved 3 Albums Blog!
Let’s get to it and talk some tuneage!
Man, the task of recommending tunes to ya’ll really sets my music mind a-spinning. My thoughts keep drifting to one question:
How do we come across the music we end up loving?
The answers to that question seem infinite. I can imagine the giant spider web of my musical connections that crisscrosses through the years and all around me. All gloriously interconnected to me and my friends and my experiences. Every song and artist in my web carries the potential to lead to the next great discovery.
Think about the myriad ways you stumbled upon the music you love and keep around. How did those strands get woven into your soundtrack? It’s mind-boggling to think that your next favorite musical discovery could be right around any corner… maybe even in a lil’ ol’ library music blog. (Here’s hoping!)
3 more albums I’m stuck on that you should spin into your web and WHY… GO!
1. Twin Forks – Twin Forks (2014)
“I can sing the lead and you can sing the harmony
We can play out on the porch… let it blow off in the breeze” – “Can’t Be Broken”
It took approximately 15.25 seconds into Track #1 to know I was likely going to become a Twin Forks fan. 30 seconds later they doubled-down and tore into a good stomp-clap chorus and I handed over my heart.
I can’t fully explain what it is about a stomp-clapper that I love so much. Such a simple beat, but it can rattle you down in your bones and stir up some fire. (“Fire Bones” is awesome when it is musically induced, however, if you are experiencing Fire Bones outside of a great stomp-clap chorus, consult your doctor immediately.)
Twin Forks is pure Americana-Folk-Pop-Rock bliss. Seriously – consult the Americana-Folk-Pop-Rock-Checklist:
Hand claps/Foot stomps (check)
Quirky percussion (check)
Engaging lyrics (check)
A string of sing-along choruses belted loud above the buzz of acoustic strings (Affirmative)
This album reminds me of losing time with your friends around a blazing bonfire…singing songs and telling stories. It’s Bonfire-Rock: the perfect tunes for this post-summer/pre-autumn cusp of a season that we currently find ourselves in.
If the lead singer’s voice sounds vaguely familiar you are certainly astute. Twin Forks is a side project of Chris Carrabba who is also the voice of Dashboard Confessional and Further Seems Forever. The Emo scene that Dashboard helped create in the early oughts never managed to win my affection. (Hey, the heart doesn’t want what the heart doesn’t want!)
Luckily for me: you take a talented Emo artist, age him about a decade, and put some Americana-tinged tunes in his head and Voilà! Another strand woven into my web.
(Favs: “Can’t Be Broken,” “Cross My Mind,” “Scraping Up the Pieces,” “Something We Just Know”).
2. In The Heights – Original Broadway Cast Recording (2008)
“Everybody’s got a job – everybody’s got a dream” – “In the Heights”
Musical anthropology can add stellar threads to your musical web.
Musical anthropology 101:
Find an album that really hits the sweet spot.
Compulsively go back and dig up everything that artist has ever done.
Increase your musical enjoyment by seeing where this artist came from.
Start this right now with Lin-Manuel Miranda.
I’m a fan of musical theater but I wouldn’t say I regularly have my finger on the pulse of Broadway. So I missed the fact that the creator of Hamilton actually first made a splash on the scene back in 2008 with his Broadway debut as both the songwriter and lead actor of In The Heights.
It netted the Tony for Best Musical that year and gave Lin-Manuel Miranda his first Tony for Best Score (which, of course, he would repeat in 2016 because Hamilton won basically all things Tony this year.). From the very first line of In the Heights, Ham-fans will recognize that distinct voice and style as Miranda does what he does – fusing freestyle hip-hop with every other genre of music out there to tell a compelling story.
In the Heights takes place in the NYC neighborhood Washington Heights during a few (HOT-HOT) summer days. This is Miranda’s real-life old stomping grounds and he expertly weaves the tales of its Dominican and Puerto Rican inhabitants into the larger story of the American Dream. There’s blossoming romances, a game-changer lotto ticket, memorable characters, and plenty of Latin American flavor and culture.
Observant listeners will catch plenty of similarities between In the Heights and Hamilton:
Thematically. I mean, does immigrants from the Caribbean working non-stop to rise up and not throw away their shot for a better life ring a loud Hamilton-sounding bell?
In addition to Lin in the lead role you also get the fabulous Chris Jackson (AKA: Here comes the General! George Washington) playing Benny the rapping taxi dispatcher.
For theater buffs: Miranda always includes a lot of self-referential theater humor. Consider the opening line: “Lights up! on Washington Heights…” This is very present in Hamilton as well: “Don’t modulate the key then not debate with me!”
It’s clear why Miranda was drawn to the story of Alexander Hamilton. He was busy telling his version of this very American tale when he first read Ron Chernow’s Hamilton bio. His experience creating In the Heights allowed him to push farther and deliver the masterpiece that is Hamilton. So if you are in Lin-Manuel Miranda withdrawal and need more of his unique Broadway magic give In the Heights an immediate spin.
(Favs: “In the Heights,” “Benny’s Dispatch,” “$96,000,” “When You’re Home”).
3. Ryan Adams – 1989 (2015)
“Love’s a fragile little flame… it could burn out… it could burn out…” – I Know Places
In my debut blog o’ music, I lambasted Train for doing an exact replica cover album of Led Zeppelin II. (I’m still cringing). But cover albums aren’t always a bad idea. It’s what you do with the songs that matters. Don’t copy… create.
Like a crafty kid with some Legos, a good musician can break apart a song and then rebuild something totally new and awesome with the same pieces. Here is a perfect example.
No one in a million years would have expected brooding singer/songwriter Ryan Adams to cover a bunch of Taylor Swift songs. Not only did he do just that but he transformed each of her songs into something new. He didn’t release a Taylor Swift cover album… he released a Ryan Adams album that happened to be written by Taylor Swift. THAT is how you make a cover album great.
2015 was a very Taylor Swift year in general, and unexpectedly so for myself. Our library did a T-Swift inspired parody video for National Library Week ’15 (perhaps you were able to #checkitout!). While we were producing and shooting, I was busy injecting over 100 nods to Ms. Swift into our video. Our hope was that this abundance of Easter Eggs would aid in our video going viral and possibly being seen by Taylor. While our video did not make it to Taylor’s eyes (that I know of) it did reach 170,000 other sets of eyes which is still pretty darn cool. (Taylor, if you’re reading this: It’s not too late… we’d still love to hear from you.)
Although I wasn’t remotely a Swiftie before #checkitout, I listened to A LOT of Taylor during that process and I did come to have a fondness and appreciation for her 1989 album. Say what you want about her (anything and everything has already been said); Taylor Swift is a great songwriter and with 1989 she made a terrific pop record.
So when I heard that one of my favorite artists was working on a cover album of 1989 I was confused but excited.
Ryan Adams makes music that lives on the corner of beautiful and melancholy. He’s one of those artists that can create magical art from gloomy places. At the end of 2014, as Taylor’s album was blowing up the world, Ryan Adams’ marriage was falling apart and he found himself alone at Christmastime taking solace in an unexpected place – recording some rough demos of songs off of 1989.
Knowing that this was the origin of this project, the difference in mood becomes quite apparent. 1989 (like most of Taylor’s music) focuses on relationships. Typically these relationships have gone south, but I would never call Taylor’s album melancholy. It’s infused with pop beats and has a bounce-back-move-on quality. She sings “Shake it Off” like it’s her new official life mantra. Ryan Adams sings “Shake it Off” like it’s something he’s praying he will be able to do at some point.
2 records that are saying the same words with the same melodies, but they are speaking from two different places and somehow communicating very different things. That is a well done cover album (Train… take note.).
For added effect: Listen to Taylor’s 1989 too.
(Favs on Taylor’s 1989: “Out of the Woods,” “Shake It Off,” “I Wish You Would,” “I Know Places”).
(Favs on Ryan’s 1989: “Welcome To New York,” “Blank Space,” “Style,” “I Know Places”).
PS: Keep those webs spinning ya’ll… and if you catch an album you love that you think I’ll dig send it my way in the comments below!