Shuffle of the week #54

1. Steve Earle – Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left (Guitar Town, 1986) [singlepic id=144 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Although sounding like the Bakersfield sound with a small touch of Elvis Costello, it’s a real Texan singing here. Steve Earle spent his youth following his idol Townes Van Zandt throughout the Lone Star State and seemed to remain dubious about whether to stay there or move to Nashville, Tennessee for the rest of his life. This hesitation was translated into his music as being a mix of pure country and a rather raw Springsteenesk sound (Earle was in fact the working man people thought Springsteen was: having a daytime job and playing music at night). 1986 finally brought Earle his break-through with this debut album, recorded in Nashville and delivering two country hits (title track and this song). Later Earle received a Grammy for his anti-Iraq war album The Revolution Starts Now, with the title track being used for a TV commercial of… General Motors.

2. Sonic Youth – Tuff Gnarl (Sister, 1987) [singlepic id=79 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Same era, same country, totally different planet. Founded in 1981 after Thurston Moore joined his later wife Kim Gordon’s band, quickly accompanied by guitarist Lee Ranaldo. Like often, the position of the drummer would remain unstable for a few years, on the noisy and experimental debut album Confusion Is Sex (1983, moderate success in Europe) as well as the dark and gloomy Bad Moon Rising (1985). Not coincidentally, they are finally recognized in their home country with their third album EVOL (1986), after Steve Shelley had become the unchallenged drummer and Sonic Youth definitely opts for alternative rock with a melodic touch. This fourth album, which I consider not a highlight, was recorded during EVOL’s supporting tour. However, everything (even the introduction of a loose concept) pointed to the fact that the band was working his way towards another peak, which was released the next year.

3. Sufjan Stevens – Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run (Illinois, 2005) [singlepic id=407 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Beta Band, Broken Social Scene? It’s the instrumental closing track of Sufjan Stevens’ most notorious album, in contrast with the works of his mentioned indie-colleagues containing a serious dose of pop and baroque. Illinois is full of affluent pop arrangements, shaping the musical background for lots of places, people and historic events that took place in that state, and all composed with instruments played by the prodigy himself. Already on his debut album (A Sun Came, 2000), he brings together 14 instruments. After giving electronic influences a try on his second album, he starts his so-called ‘Fifty States Project’, an ambitious idea that (just like Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley-plan) quickly goes through the shredder. Instead, after Michigan (2003) and Illinois, Stevens accepts an even greater challenge by trying to appreciate Christmas. Can’t call him a coward.

4. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Our House (Déjà-Vu, 1970) [singlepic id=10 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Third single from the album after ‘Woodstock’ (Mitchell) and ‘Teach Your Children’ (Nash), another super soft song from Nash written when he lived with Joni Mitchell in LA’s Laurel Canyon. Contrary to the other album tracks, which were rerecorded numerous times until the four excellences considered them good enough to release them (this way easily lifting the total studio recording time over 500 hours), this song was written in about an hour according to Nash.

5. Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends Theme (Bookends, 1968) [singlepic id=406 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Another couple of flawless harmonies, in the version that closes side A on this record. The album is often called the most ‘intellectual’ one from the duo, and the sober, nerdy album cover is completely in line with that idea. Paul Simon was struck by a writer’s block after the release of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966), but came back with this half concept-album, depicting the course of life from childhood till old age on side A. It became a musical triumph especially for Simon, who, thanks to outdated contract terms (the label paid for the sessions, assuming that a folk duo will never cost that much) chose to push all limits. Completely in CSNY-style, Simon brought the recordings to perfection, not shying away from spending 50 studio hours on a barely two minutes lasting song. Still, because of the two different sides, the album sounds a little incoherent: why not use both sides for the concept? Did the label want ‘Mrs. Robinson’ to be on it to earn back the high production costs?

6. Led Zeppelin – The Battle of Evermore (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971) [singlepic id=249 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Third song from the excellent fourth album, with a Celtic touch due to the mystical intro (folky Plant with mandolin). It will always remain the only Led Zeppelin song featuring a guest vocalist, Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention, in duet with Robert Plant. Led Zeppelin didn’t end up coincidentally with her, as she was considered an authority in the field of traditional British folk back then. The fact that Led Zep moved from London to a Victorian cottage in East Hampshire for the recordings of this record, will without any doubt have to do something with this revived interest in traditional folk.

7. Bruce Springsteen – Something in the Night (Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978) [singlepic id=404 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Characterizing bells and piano-intro, followed by a howling scream of the master himself: this is the real Springsteen. Just like Led Zeppelin on Headley Grange and Bob Dylan in the basement of Big Pink, Springsteen withdrew to a farm in New Jersey after the success of Born to Run and the lingering conflict with his former manager Mike Appel. That’s why it lasted three years before Springsteen came up with the successor of his big break-through album, which was considerably less bombastic (as reflected by the sober album cover). Most of the material from the sessions by the way didn’t end up on the album, but was lent out to other artists or released on The River (1980). Luckily this third track was not rejected, as it remains one of his unrivalled classics.

8. The Beatles – Rocky Racoon (White Album, 1968) [singlepic id=137 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Of course The Beatles also withdrew to distant places now and then, like in 1968: it was down in Rishikesh, India where most of the material for the White Album was written. Just like Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, this album meant the beginning of the end for them. The unlimited studio time in London took away all the pressure to play together and the constant discontentedness with each other’s songs led to the point of Ringo leaving the band. In that point of view, it may not be surprising that the four of them are only heard on 16 of the total of 30 tracks. This song is obviously one from McCartney (‘Gideon’s Bible’…), about a triangular relationship that seems to stem directly from the Deadwood script.

9. Nick Drake – Place to Be (Pink Moon, 1972) [singlepic id=405 w=80 h=50 float=left]

A guy that was later imitated by numerous less authentic and less talented songwriters. Also a guy that liked to withdrew himself, as Drake locked himself in his sober house in London after the poor reviews of his previous album, Bryter Layter (1970). This album became as sober as the environment it was written in, without backing band and with only Drake himself on vocals and acoustic guitar. Despite the legends that rose afterwards, Drake would have been very proud of the album, which was nevertheless followed by his suicide two years later, at the age of 26.

10. The Twilight Sad – Cold Days from the Birdhouse (Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, 2007) [singlepic id=408 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Contagious Scottish vocals from indie rockers The Twilight Sad, consisting of the trio Graham (responsible for the accent), MacFarlane (walls of sound, also producer of the album) and Devine. This is the opening track of their debut album, that was (contrary to some work mentioned above) recorded in only three days. Cheers.

Shuffle of the week #12

This is an ode to the shuffle. How better to get a good insight in your digitized album collection than by a classic shuffle? Finally discover the albums you never got into, finally throw the ones away you will never get into and worship those classics that never grow old again. The Shuffle of this week:

 1. White Stripes – I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself (Elephant, 2003) [singlepic id=145 w=80 h=50 float=left]

About time that I was going to put this album on again. Didn’t hear this for a long time although it was one of my favorites a few years ago. One of those albums from the past ten years that can easily be classified ‘classic album’ already. This is the only song from it that was not written by White himself, but by Burt Bacharach (with Hal David), who was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award for his tremendous contribution to pop music. Released earlier in 1964 by Dusty Springfield.

2.   Beach Boys – Sail On Sailor (The Beach Boys in Concert, 1973) [singlepic id=136 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Opening track of the Beach Boys’ second live album, which had just been released as a single at the time this concert was recorded. It originally appeared (or in fact it didn’t, as it was added after the official recordings due to the lack of a potential hit on the album) on their album Holland, as the group tried to find some inspiration there during the early seventies. Brian Wilson, who co-wrote the song, had (temporary) left the band during this tour.

3. Eels –Going Fetal (Blinking Lights and Other Revelation, 2005) [singlepic id=139 w=80 h=50 float=left]

From a double album that I should give another try one day. Later, maybe.


4. Beatles – Birthday (The Beatles (White Album), 1968) [singlepic id=137 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Talking about double albums, this one probably being the most famous one of them all. This song is of course the uptempo kick-off of side 3, with a great guitar/bass riff. Described by Lennon as a piece of garbage, but highly recommendable to those who like Macca best with an occasional scream.

5. Marvin Gaye – Wholy Holy (What’s Going On, 1971) [singlepic id=141 w=80 h=50 float=left]

A song about Jesus of one of music professor Hofmeijer’s all-time favorite albums.  However, when Marvin would have sung about a gnu in this song, many people would have believed him too. Great album.

6. Otis Redding – Mr. Pitiful (The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, 1965) [singlepic id=143 w=80 h=50 float=left]

More soul this week with one of Otis’ best known songs, two and a half minutes of pure joy I have to admit. The song was written by Otis and his guitarist Steve Cropper (one of Booker T.’s M.G.’s), after a disc jockey had described Otis’ voice as sounding pitiful when singing his ballads.

7. Fats Domino – Honey Chile (This is Fats Domino, 1957) [singlepic id=140 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Fats Domino then! Gotta love an occasional shuffle.


8. Steve Earle – Down the Road (Guitar Town, 1986) [singlepic id=144 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Time for something completely different then. One of my favorite tracks from this country rock album, which was Earle’s debut as well as breakthrough album.

9. Mogwai – The Precipice   (The Hawk is Howling, 2008) [singlepic id=142 w=80 h=50 float=left]

Finally time to catch a breath then, after all those short songs after another. This track guarantees you seven minutes of dark, mystic atmosphere from the sixth album by Mogwai. Time to compare this one to Rock Action, released 7 years earlier, which I listened elaborately after a previous shuffle.

10. Creedence Clearwater Revival – I Heard It Trough the Grapevine (Cosmo’s Factory, 1970) [singlepic id=138 w=80 h=50 float=left]

And we’re also taking our time to fade out easily this week, after such a rush. And there’s Marvin Gaye again, as he gave this song its fame of course with his 1968 version (however, the song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barett Strong for Motown). It sounds kind of weird to say that those eleven CCR-minutes are pure nostalgia, when you were only born 15 years after the record came out. One of the first albums I met that contained music instead of sound…

“Just cause it starts off slow babe, doesn’t mean it don’t have a heart.”: It Still Moves (My Morning Jacket)

[singlepic id=28 w=320 h=240 float=left]



Year: 2003

Genre: Rock, Alternative Country

Preceded by: At Dawn (2001)

Followed by: Z (2005)

Related to: not available yet



It was a couple of years ago when a friend of mine recommended me this album. I was in the middle of exploring all the music out there that was made in the sixties and seventies and I was a little sceptic about music from a more recent age. But this strange band name kept fascinating me in some way and when I saw the album cover with this giant stuffed bear combined with the album title It Still Moves, I decided that this record deserved to be listened to at least one time. Seventy minutes later, this album had proved that solid rock ‘n roll and beautiful melodies did survive through all those years, I just didn’t search well enough.

It was singer-songwriter and guitarist Jim James who formed this American band in Louisville in 1998. He recruited the rest of the band out of the emo-punk band Winter Death Club, where his cousin Johnny Quaid played guitar, Tom Blankenship was the bass player and J. Glenn was on drums. During those early days, My Morning Jacket principally was an alternative country band. This genre came into existence during the nineties, parallel with the upcoming success of alternative rock. It contained a range of musicians that were playing beyond the borders of traditional country. As such, they drew inspiration from country rock (fusing country with rock ‘n roll) pioneers like Gram Parsons and Steve Earle, with themselves opting for a more lo-fi sound.

As this new alternative country, lo-fi band, My Morning Jacket debuted in 1999 with The Tennessee Fire, which became a hit in Europe. But it was only with their second album, At Dawn, that their popularity started to grow at home. Just like It Still Moves that would follow later on, this album started to show more classic rock influences, featuring more electric guitar sounds than on the previous album. This makes that the sound of the band on It Still Moves always reminds me of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, with its typical screaming classic rock guitars. Another thing that is very characteristic for the album is the use of reverb, continuously producing a lot of echoes throughout the songs.

So there we are, comfortably lying in our couch, headphones on our heads and the album in our hands, counting twelve songs. Seventy minutes you said? Yes, the band takes its time to tell their story, but don’t worry, it’s constructed in a genius order. It all starts with ‘Mahgeetah’, a fantastic opening track, which immediately became my early favorite. Why wait with long, drawn-out vocals and powerful guitar riffs in reverb when you can throw them in right from the start while singing about the love for ‘my guitar’, that’s what Jim James must have thought.

During the next two songs, James takes us on tour with the band and that guitar. First we hike across nightjails and poolhalls on ‘Dancefloors’, escorted by a sweet guitar riff which is towards the end suddenly supported by a great horn section. But all the touring and dancefloors exhausts us and besides, we are starting to miss the things we left behind. So James makes us a campfire, pulls out his acoustic guitar and lets us dream about golden shores. On ‘Golden’, the band returns to the alt-country from the earlier albums for a moment, adopting the style of The Band.

We travel further and we end up at the, as the title already presumes, masterpiece of the album: ‘Master Plan’. It seems like Neil Young and his Crazy Horse have hit the empty highway again, surrounded by tumbleweeds and a haunting sunset. James’ voice is the most important instrument here, telling us the best plans end up really sweet, even if it looks like a routine. The classic rock party continues with ‘One Big Holiday’, the band’s greatest hit and traditional encore of every live show. This song is entirely built around its catchy guitar riff, which almost automatically makes you pick up your air guitar.

Put away this guitar again and drop into your couch again for ‘I Will Sing You Songs’. On ‘Master Plan’, James sings ‘Just cause it starts off slow babe, doesn’t mean it don’t have a heart’. This really applies to this song, with a long instrumental intro and outro. Beautiful fragile song with a riff that somehow always reminds me of Pink Floyd‘s ‘Us and Them’. After this moment of rest, we salute the ‘Easy Morning Rebel’, with again a very ‘Crazy Horsesk’ jam in the end. We ‘Run Thru’, one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitar Songs, not to mention the fantastic drumsolo in the middle of the song which lets the song explode right again when you think it’s over.

Personally, I think the following two songs, ‘Rollin’ Back’ and ‘Just One Thing’, are the least of all. But the album has another peak towards the end, with ‘Steam Engine’ and ‘One In The Same’. The first one, just like ‘I Will Sing You Songs’, mainly is about James’ voice and a basic drum beat, this time accompanied by a softly whimpering guitar and fantastic drawn-out vocals in the end. The final track of the album is another personal favorite. The band is gone, and only Jim James and his acoustic guitar remain in the empty hall, trying to fit the pieces of his mind together again. It’s hard to think of a more beautiful way to end an album as with the line “It wasn’t till I woke up that I could hold down a joke or a job or a dream. But then all three are one in the same”.

My Morning Jacket continued to make music after this album, widening their sound with all kind of other influences, ranging from funk through reggae. Some members were replaced by others because they couldn’t endure the heavy touring anymore, but don’t hesitate if you ever get the chance to see them live, as their performances are still breathtaking. But start with this album first.

Top Tracks:
1. Master Plan
2. One In The Same
3. Golden