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The 25 Songs I Digged Most in 2013

No better way to close out the year than with my version of The Best Songs of 2013.  Like all such lists, it is very subjective.

My process began by making a list of the songs I enjoyed most from this year's blog entries.  Then I listened to these songs - over and over - trying to determine the ones that I considered the best.  Things like strength of songwriting and vocal performances mattered significantly, as did vibe, groove, musicianship, and originality.

Here is the list:

1.  Marshall Dear - Savages

2.  Wakin On A Pretty Day - Kurt Vile

3.  I Built a Town - Mount Moriah

4.  Song For Zula - Phosphorescent

5.  You Found Another Lover - Ben Harper with Charles Musselwhite

6.  Lightning Bolt - Jake Bugg

7.  The Fall - Rhye

8.  Retrograde - James Blake

9.  Drop The Game - Flume & Chet Faker

10.  Liquid Spirit - Gregory Porter

11.  Waltz About Whiskey - Mandolin Orange

12.  Master Hunter - Laura Marling

13.  Sneak Out The Back Door - Ron Sexsmith

14.  Demons - The National

15…

Summer Of Ska - Bim Skala Bim

from the album Chet's Last Call (2013)

I woke up this morning in a very happy mood.  I will be wrapping up the last leg of my Wales trip tonight and driving to London tomorrow.  London excites me.  It is one of the few cities on this planet where I am itching to live.

When I think of London, I always think of ska.  The Specials, Madness, The Selector.  What I wouldn't do to have been there in the day and frequented their gigs.

So in their honor, here is one of my favorite ska tunes of 2013, Summer Of Ska by Boston mainstays, Bim Skala Bim.  This song combines a relaxed summertime feel with the ska vibe that I love.  Hope you dig it.

Click Here to listen to Summer of Ska of the Nimbit Music website.

Mozart In Da Ghetto - Mister Modo & Ugly Mac Beer

from the EP Liqid (2013)

Why listen to The Nutcracker when you can listen to Mozart mixed with some hip electronic stylings?  Beats me.

Check out this short musical piece by Paris-based DJ/Producer combo Mister Modo & Ugly Mac Beer. Mister Modo is a master of beats.  I dig the way he keeps a lo-fi aesthetic to the beat and groove.  It makes for a vibe I better relate to that the slicker, more polished stuff.  Ugly Mac Beer is usually responsible for scratching on the turntables.  Here he mixes up some Mozart.  I think it sounds pretty cool.

I find myself increasingly drawn to Parisian music these days.  It feels like an island, doing its own thing, creating its own vibes, while turning a deaf ear to the rest of the world.  It serves them well.

Click Here to listen to Mister Modo's Christmas Soul & Funk Party posted three days ago on SoundCloud.

Click Here to listen to a two-minute sampling of the Liqid EP on SoundCloud.  Note that the music playing from 1:07 to 1:50 is Mozar…

Hello Stranger - Julia Holter

from the album Loud City Song (2013)

I always dig it when someone puts a new spin on a great old tune and transforms it into their own statement.  On Hello Stranger, Julia Holter turns Barbara Lewis' 1963 Soul classic into a magnificent ambient soundscape.  She accomplishes this by capturing the essence of the songs lyrics in her vocal performance and musical accompaniment.

Hello Stranger is the story of two people - who perhaps flirted with or shared a romance - meeting many years later.  When they do, something reignites, time stands still, and nothing else in the world seems to matter.

Hello Stranger
It seems so good to see you back again
How long has it been?
It seems like a mighty long time
It seems like a mighty long time

The vocal delivery is perfectly pure and distant, unfurling patiently to a slow sine wave of music.  It creates the space and isolation that the lyrics demand, placing the singer and stranger in a world all their own.  The music starts with gulls, waves rolling o…

Satellite Of Love - Morrissey

from the single Satellite Of Love (2013)

I am spending this week in a seaside village on the coast of Wales.  The laid back local vibe gives me time to reflect on the past year.  It has been a hectic twelve month sprint, filled with highs and lows, but the sensation I feel most is that of being unfulfilled.  I thought that this was the year that I would breakthrough on several of my long standing pursuits.  But in spite of all the hard work and support of my friends - cosmic and otherwise - I'm not there yet.

So here I sit, recharging for the coming year.  During this time, I have become curiously enamored with Morrissey's cover of the Lou Reed classic Satellite of Love.  Perhaps it is the juxtaposing of Morrissey's croon with Lou Reed's lower-pitched street poet style, but this song grabs me.

I find myself sitting around late at night, drunk on wine, singing it to myself.  The melody haunts me.  As I listen, I can't help but think of Lou Reed's passing this ye…

Form And Function - Hookworms

from the album Pearl Mystic (2013)

Hookworms are a five piece band from Leeds, England.  I dig their debut album - Pearl Mystic - because it is loud and has a raucous energy that you should expect from a young rock and roll outfit.  The difference with Hookworms is the quality of their songwriting and performance.

Form And Function is my favorite song on the album.  At just under six minutes, it is much longer than standard debut album outbursts.  The organ introduction quickly gives way to guitars that hook you with a catchy progression.  Then enter the almost unintelligible call and response vocals.  It took me several listens to understand what they are saying, but I sure do like it.  When the lead guitar comes in, I am sold.  It's been a long time since I've rock and rolled.

The ending of the song is also noteworthy, with the drums and guitars playing with a keen intensity that does not let up.  Turn it up and enjoy.

Click Here to listen to the album version of Form And Func…

D To The A - Dafuniks

from the album Enter The Sideshow Groove (2013)

Dafuniks are a hip-hop band from Denmark.  This year, they released Enter The Sideshow Groove, a record loaded with cool vibes and grooves that has become a mainstay when my funky friends pop by for a visit.

I've been delayed in writing about them because I could not decide which tune I digged most.  Not enough records stump me this way.

But after holding a gun to my own head, I chose D To The A.  Not only does the bouncing groove put you in a party mood, the song's title instructs you how to play along.  If so inclined, you can pick up your Fender Jazz, bounce some octaves on D and A, and wallah, you own the funk.

Also of note are the vocals by another great Danish artist, Barbara Moleko.  She is one of my favorite artists this year.  If you have a chance, check out her single Sugar Man.

I urge you to give Dafuniks a chance.  They will likely put a bounce in your step.

Click Here to listen to D To The A.

Shichangani (Remix) - Penny Penny

from the album Shaka Bundu (2013)

1994: Johannesburg, South Africa.  Joseph Shirimani is producing Tsonga (a form of Afro-Disco) records at a local studio.  He is solicited by the janitor, who is anxious to make a record.  They work together and produce Shaka Bundu, an album that initially sold 250,000 copies.  However, the reach of that album never extended much beyond South Africa.

Twenty years later, this album has been reissued globally, giving it a chance to reach music lovers like us.  This album is loaded up with great tunes that help get your groove on.  My favorite is the remix version of Shichangani.  It is a curiously timeless song, bringing together elements of London dub, a disco lounge vibe, and Jamaican dancehall stylings.  This is all wrapped in something uniquely african. I keep listening to this song and try to pick apart its elements, all the while thinking "this is brilliant."

So, what is Penny Penny up to today?  That is the best part of this story.  Aft…

Vortexas - Howe Gelb

from the album The Coincidentalist (2013)

Well, welcome to the desert
It's becoming increasingly more expensive
It used to be much cheaper
To find a love and to keep her
To play guitar and reiterate
To embrace the heat or just hibernate
A little tin foil on the windows works just great

What I dig about Howe Gelb is that he reminds me of a great painter.  His music creates soundscapes of the desert southwest in-and-around his Tucson, Arizona home.  He is a master of establishing space in his music and framing it with well crafted instrument and tone choices.  From there he weaves in lyrics that ring with honesty and visual imagery.

The song Vortexas is a beautiful representation of his art.  On this track, the band plays with a looseness and warmth.  Brushes lightly working the drum kit.  Electric piano delicately navigating the chord changes.  Weathered vocals delivered like a soft conversation.  It creates and maintains a feel that is distinctly Howe Gelb.

He adds color to his intimate …

Get Smart - Melbourne Ska Orchestra

from the album Melbourne Ska Orchestra (2013)

I have the ability to obsess.  It is a blessing and a curse.  At times, it allows me to accomplish fantastic things. But occasionally, my "damm the torpedoes" attitude puts me on a non-sustainable path.

I was reminded of this earlier this week when my most fervent obsession appeared to have me on the road to disaster.  Fortunately, I caught it in time and am making the necessary adjustments.

I had a long talk with myself and said, "Hey Mister Gigolo, you need to get smart."

So what could be more appropriate for today than the Get Smart TV Theme song performed by the Melbourne Ska Orchestra?

Hope you enjoy.

Click Here to listen to the Melbourne Ska Orchestra perform Get Smart.

Jackie Boy - Scott & Charlene's Wedding

from the album Any Port In A Storm (2013)

Craig Dermody is the brainchild of Scott & Charlene's Wedding.  He is a Melbourne, Australia native who now makes music in Brooklyn USA.  I find that pretty cool since I consider those to be the planet's two best places for aspiring music artists today.

The band name is taken from the long running Australian Soap Opera, Neighbours.  In July 1987, two popular characters - Scott and Charlene (played by Kylie Minogue) - got hitched to an audience of over  20 million viewers across Australia and the UK.  For US readers, it was kind of like Luke and Laura's wedding on General Hospital.

The band plays a lo-fi indie groove that is driven by guitars and fresh, unpretentious lyrics.  It is the kind of music I used to admire in my younger NYC daze, hangin' out in scuzzy East Village and Hoboken joints.  Back when Brooklyn was where your grandmother lived.

I've been most enjoying the song Jackie Boy.  Guitars are blaring over bass…

Colette (Subie Subie) - The Low Frequency In Stereo

from the album Pop Obskura (2013)

I dig bass.  I dig a meaty subwoofer.  I dig it in the song Love Rollercoaster when the baritone vocal comes in with his "Say what?"  If you've got a spectrum analyzer, you will find me digging the stuff on the left side of the screen.  So, is there any doubt I would dig a band called The Low Frequency In Stereo?

Hailing from Hagesund, Norway, this band plays with an energetic, art pop feel and a vibe that - at times - reminds me of bands like Joy Division and Stereolab.  Their new album Pop Obskura is strong from beginning to end.  My favorite song on the record is Colette (Subie Subie).

This song hooks me from the opening measures.  The primary guitar track is chunking out chords with a treble tone that sounds like you are prying open a metal box with a seagull.  It is an original tone that I dig.    This is coupled with a straight, uptempo drum beat hammered out on a closed hi-hat.  The hi-hat adds to the metallic feel.  Behind it in …

Phantom Ride - Lost Ragas

from the album Phantom Ride (2013)

Lost Ragas are a four piece band from Victoria, Australia led by frontman Matt Walker.  For those unfamiliar with Matt, he has one of the most impressive resumes of any indie artist I can think of, having toured with Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, & The Black Keys.  How cool is that?

I stumbled across their debut album - Phantom Ride - shortly after Lou Reed died. The straight-forward  bass-guitar-drum combo with deadpan vocal stylings seemed to have a foundation in Lou Reed's solo and Velvet Underground work.  Then again, I hear his influence everywhere.

Reminds me of the famous Brian Eno quote that although the first Velvet Underground record initially sold only 30,000 copies, "everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band."

My favorite song on the album is the title track.  Aside from the vocals and visual imagery, I totally dig the way varied classic guitar tones are intertwined to craft the vibe.  Not only a…

There Can Be Only One - Cass McCombs

from the album Big Wheel And Others (2013)

Have you ever driven across a desolate plain towards a majestic mountain?  When you first see it, your heart starts pumping and you start to speed up.  A little later, you can feel the engine working harder as you subliminally begin your climb.  Then more and more time passes and you think "Holy shit, am I ever going to get there."  So you kick it in a little harder, you hear the engine hum, staring through the windshield at a mountain in distance.

That kind of sums up 2013 for me.  I have set a course and worked my ass off, but I'm not there yet.  Personally and professionally.  When I look in the mirror, I see a guy who has aged at an accelerated rate.  I am sun drenched and burnt, beaten and worn, but still kicking it into that next gear.  I will stand on that mountain.  There is no doubt.

I realized on a flight the other day that the music I've been gravitating towards matches the guy I see in the mirror.  Songs like The…

History Eraser - Courtney Barnett

from the album The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas (2013)

Every year, new artists create original music that evokes vibes from the past.  This year, bands have been putting a new spin on 80's new wave, Pink Floyd, and - surprisingly - Nancy Sinatra.  I dig it all.  But the artist who has most captivated me with her incorporation of yesteryear is Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett.

I suppose that is because her new record A Sea Of Split Peas brings to mind classic Bob Dylan and psychedelic spirits while remaining firmly planted in a modern presentation.  If forced to pick one, my favorite song on the "double EP" would have to be History Eraser.

The craftsmanship on this song is superb.  The foundation is created by a frenetic drum beat and garage-tinged rhythm guitar whose repetitive patterns create a trippy vibe.  This is heightened by a keyboard track that one might equate with a acid-induced bus ride across India.  The result is pure psychedelia.

The engineer…

Christmas At The Airport - Nick Lowe

from the album Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family (2013)

In a few hours, I will start yet another leg of my "never-ending tour."  December will consist of 20+ days on the road with stops in NYC, London, and Texas.  So much for being home for the holidays.

One of the downsides of flying this time of year are weather related delays.  A few years ago, I almost spent Christmas in Memphis after my flight was diverted there due to an ice storm in my hometown.  Another time, I had a flight from Tokyo that was delayed one-hour for twenty-six consecutive hours due to weather and de-icing equipment issues.  The one-hour delays prevented anybody from leaving the gate, almost causing a riot.  I share in the blame for that.

Nowadays, I have learned to channel my inner zen and put my trust in the travel gods.  Digital music and good headphones certainly help (as does a good book).  So now, while other people are flailing their arms at the gate agents, I am kicking bac…

Waltz About Whiskey - Mandolin Orange

from the album This Side Of Jordan (2013)

The waltz is a musical style with roots dating back to 16th century Germany.  It may truly be the first "world" music, having first spread across Europe before being carried by settlers to South and North America.  I find the American varieties to be most satisfying, particularly in its cajun and bluegrass forms.

Nowhere is this better represented than on the song Waltz About Whiskey by Mandolin Orange.  The band's website quotes Ashleigh Phillips of Independent Weekly as saying:

"Mandolin Orange carries an understanding of tradition and shapes it into a thing of beauty.  They craft simple songs that go beyond chord progressions and vocal harmonies, leading somehow to something pure."

On this song, the North Carolina duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz deliver a new American classic consisting of mandolin, acoustic guitar, and beautiful harmonies.  The studio version subtly adds brushes on a snare, piano, steel guitar,…

Bodybabe - Spleen

from the album Voices (2013)

Bodybabe is a sexy, R&B tune perfectly suited for late night listening.  It is one of many excellent songs on Voices, the latest album by Parisian singer Spleen.

Vibe and groove are magnificently constructed on this record.  It is done by layering instrumental and vocal tracks to create an avalanche of sound that keeps coming at you.  The foundation is created by a simple snare beat that transverses the entire song coupled with a six-note bass line that is equally simple.  Together, they comprise a bouncing groove that hooks me.

The vocal layering is inspired.  Spleen has the ability to sing in multiple formats, alternating from a rap-styled delivery to an R&B falsetto.  Beneath this are a combination of male and female vocals delivering runs, siren calls, and yelps of "sexy, sexy."  My favorite part is when Spleen delivers a Prince-inspired spoken word breakdown of:

She wants me
But only for my body
She's crazy
But sexy like nobody

In the…

Crazy Bitches - The Dirty Heads

from the album Home Phantoms Of Summer: The Acoustic Sessions (2013)

Crazy Bitches represent an important demographic for the music industry.  Not only do they serve as the inspiration for countless songs - from the "woman goin' crazy down Caroline Street" to "sweet, sweet, little Ramona" - they also buy a lot of records; particularly when they are convinced that the song is about them.

Well there is no mistaking who The Dirty Heads wrote Crazy Bitches for.  Rejoice girls, this song is for you.

I'm sure you will dig the style of acoustic guitar playing.  It is cool when an acoustic player can create a reggae-ska-alternative-punk vibe.  And the meter to the vocals is certainly inspired.

The lyrics, on the other hand, are not very nice.  After all you've done for these fellas from Huntington Beach, California, you would think they could be a little sweeter.  But that's what you love about them.   They are thinking about you, writing songs about you.  …

Drop The Game - Flume & Chet Faker

from the EP Lockjaw (2013)

Australia continues to produce some of the best new music on the planet.  So, it is exciting to have two of their top rising artists come together and record a collection of songs.  It is even more exciting that the results are dazzling.

Flume is an electronic musician, producer and DJ who - at the age of 22 - has achieved wide notoriety and praise.  His 2012 self titled album reached the top of the Australian charts and earned him over a dozen awards and nominations.  Do yourself a favor and check out his song Holdin' On.

Chet Faker is also an electronic artist who specializes in downtempo.  He is differentiated from other artists by the quality of his vocals.   I became a fan of his music in 2012, when I first heard his album Thinking In Textures, including cover version of  Blackstreet's No Diggity.

Having these two fine artists come together is a very special treat.  I am particularly smitten with the song Drop The Game.  I like how the song uses…

Seven Wheels - MC Yogi

from the single Seven Wheels (2013)

Several years ago, I began getting into electronic and hip/hop music from India.  It was a new world of vibes and grooves.  Of all the artists I uncovered, MC Yogi was my clear favorite.

The cool thing about MC Yogi is that beyond the trippy, hippy vibe were a set of positive lyrics that always taught me something new.  My favorite song was Be The Change which chronicled the life of Gandhi.  Its chorus was like a mantra "You've got to be the change that you want to see in this world, just like Gandhi."  Then there was his fantastic album Elephant Power, where I learned enough about the Hindu religion and culture that I seemed enlightened to the locals during a month in Mumbai.

During that trip, I shot lots of video riding thru the crazy, crowded streets in my tiny taxi cab.  The video of these rides put to MC Yogi and other Indian hip/hop artists is incredible.

His new single is Seven Wheels, from a forthcoming album titled Mantras Bea…

If You're Looking For A Way Out - Tindersticks

from the album Across Six Leap Years (2013)

The band Odyssey struck disco gold in 1977 with their classic, Native New Yorker.  However, the rest of their catalogue contains some of the finest - and most underrated - soul and R&B of that era.  I discovered this back around the turn of the millennium when the British indie rock band Tindersticks released a righteous cover version of Odyssey's If You're Looking for A Way Out.

Fast forward to 2013 and Tindersticks has released an album of re-recorded versions of their greater hits, including an updated version of their Odyssey cover.  It is one off the best late night downtempo soul grooves of the year.

Rather than dissect all the greatness in the guitar, keyboard, and orchestration tracks, or fawn over the vocals, production, and vibe; simply open a bottle of wine, get your chill on, and listen to this fine song.  It is really good.

Click Here to listen to Tindersticks performing If You're Looking For A Way Out from their …

Texas & Tennessee - Lucero

from the EP Texas & Tennessee (2013)

I caught Lucero live tonight for opening show of a three night stint at Terminal West in Atlanta.  These shows are being recorded for a future live album.

"Live Recording" gigs are often tricky as band members often play for the tape rather than the audience.  In addition, newer songs in the set often sound "obligatory" mixed in with the proven numbers.  Fortunately, neither of these realities was true tonight.

In fact, the two best songs of the set were from their latest EP Texas & Tennessee.  The title track from this releases the song I most enjoyed.

First of all, Texas & Tennessee is very well written with a catchy melody line and sharp lyrics.  The lead vocals by Ben Nichols.  His whiskey-soaked voice carries an authenticity that attracts my discerning ear.  Also noteworthy is the country piano track, that carries lifts the song with a quality that I equate with Bob Seger.  A two-piece brass section is also used…

Fight To Keep - Run River North

from the forthcoming album Run River North (2013)

I am in Los Angeles for a few days, which always means catching some great live music.  In advance of my trip, I bought tickets to a Howe Gelb show at the Hotel Cafe, a great Hollywood venue.  It was an early show.

Feeling somewhat knackered, I decided to take a late afternoon "disco nap."  Unfortunately, I did not set an alarm and woke up 40 minutes before showtime.  I channeled my inner fireman to get dressed and out the door in about 4 minutes.  Two minutes later I speeding down the entrance ramp to the 405 and BAM a wall of traffic.  This resulted in me getting to the show an hour late.

The "will call dude" shared my pain but advised that the rest of the bill was strong.  I grabbed a Stella and settled in for the next band.  They were more than good and sounded familiar, but I couldn't place them.  Their third song turned out to be Wishing You The Best.  It was Campfire OK, playing one of my favorite songs o…

Integratron - Dengue Fever

from the album Venus On Earth (2013)

Dengue Fever is a band with that rare ability of laying down unique vibes that sound great.  I recently gave a copy of their 2009 album Sleepwalking Through The Mekon to a close friend who was "lost in the 80's".  He tells me that the album is the only thing he listens to these days, particularly the song One Thousand Tears Of A Tarantula.  I am glad to help, because 80's habits are hard to break.

On their new album, Venus On Earth, the magical vibes continue.  I am hooked on the tune Integratron.  This song sounds like an acid-laced 60's spy movie soundtrack with a woman singing lead vocals in Cambodian.  Another writer described their sound as "Pre-Pol Pot cheesy psychedelic-cum-lounge-surf-garage pop."  What could be better than that !!!

The heroine of Dengue Fever is their enchanting singer, Chhom Nimol.  Her conviction and glorious intonation are evident on every song she sings.  The rest of the band is equally …

Atomic Bomb - William Onyeabor

from the album World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who Is William Onyeabor? (2013)

Back in the 1980's, western musicians such as Paul Simon and David Byrne began collaborating with African musicians and introduced the sounds of that continent's music to a more global audience with wild commercial success.  However, I find a dark lining to this silver cloud.

As musicians, these westerners became enthralled with the polyrhythms and layering associated largely with South African music.  Of course they would be, as it provided a new foundation for their creativity to blossom from.  However, the mass market came to associate this as "the" sound of Africa.  In reality, there are many styles and sounds of African music and the spotlight on South African genres marginalized the fantastic music of countries like Nigeria and Ethiopia.  This is an unfortunate result.

In the decade preceding Graceland, artists like Fela Kuti were infusing western jazz and soul with African music to pr…

Half About Being A Woman - Caroline Smith

from the album Half About Being A Woman (2013)

One of the life lessons that nobody ever taught me was knowing when to pivot.

In each phase of life, I have considered my path, charted my course, and worked hard to reach my goals.  Inevitably, each phase has taken me further - but never far enough - and in order to advance I've had to pivot.  In virtually every case, I've waited too long, determined to make the current path work.  This has cost me valuable time and made the realization of these goals more remote.  Still I try, supremely confident that I will succeed.

I have the utmost respect for Caroline Smith for pivoting with her new album, Half About Being A Woman.  Until now, this Minnesota musician has attempted to make her way in the world of indie rock.  Despite her valiant efforts the results have been lukewarm.  So with her latest release, she has elected to chart a new course with an R&B record.

Her performance unleashes an inner R&B spirit that is genuine and…

Do What You Got To - Afrolicious

from the album California Dreaming (2013)

I am back in my little corner of the world for a day, after a week of rambling from city to city.  But rather than collapsing across the finish line and recharging for the next round, I am all juiced up, jamming to the funk and groove.

Reminds me of a James Brown story.  When JB was a young boy, he was sitting in a Georgia movie theatre with his mother, who was growing aggravated with his moving around.  "Stop your fidgeting" his mother said, to which young James replied "How can I do that, I'm all molecules".

Afrolicious is playing on my back deck this morning and I'm out there drinking espresso and dancing in the drizzle.  It feels good to unleash my molecules.  The song I'm digging most is Do What You Got To Do.  This is a five-and-a-half minute funk instrumental, played brilliantly by these fine Bay Area jam masters.  You can hear a little James Brown, a little Fela, and a whole lot of Afrolicious in this tu…

Five Hundred Miles - Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, Stark Sands

from the original soundtrack recording Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Most songs never make it far from the place they were written.  However, a rare few travel the world and span generations.  One such song is Five Hundred Miles.

When Hedy West was a little girl living in the north Georgia mountains, her grandmother used to play banjo and sing her folk songs from the region.  Years later, as a young folk singer in Greenwich Village she patched together recollections and fragments of these songs to create this beloved folk classic.

Remembered best by the versions recorded by The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, & Mary, this song has been covered by dozens of other artists ranging from Elvis to Nick Cave.  Even Jim Nabors sang it on an episode of Gomer Pyle.

Today, this song has been resurrected by T-Bone Burnett for the Coen Brothers forthcoming film Inside Llewyn Davis.  Here it is performed by cast members Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Stark Sands.  Classic Folk is not exactl…

We Got A Love - Shit Robot

from the single We Got A Love (2013)

I get excited hearing the words Shit Robot, knowing that I'm about to get my groove on.

Shit Robot is the pseudonym of Irish DJ and Musician Marcus Lambkin.  I first stumbled onto his album From The Cradle To The Rave in 2010 and felt that he was an artist worth tracking.  On that album, he presented an encyclopedic knowledge of dance vibes and a propensity to combine them with superior results.

This fall, Shit Robot returns with the song We Got A Love.  This is a big beat, club track complete with high-octane keyboard playing, lots of echo, and a deep bass groove.  I really dig that the synthesizer riff that enters during the fifth measure reminds me of a classical number by Richard Strauss.  I also dig the vocals by Reggie Watts, one of the few people who can belt out a disco tune and do stand-up comedy.  Cool dude.

Click Here for the official music video.

Click Here to watch Shit Robot spin some tunes.

No Stranger - Small Black

from the album Limits Of Desire (2013)

Small Black is an indie band from Brooklyn.  Their song No Stranger has been a staple of my playlists for the past six months.

The song is a modern uplift of an 80's new wave vibe.  Led by synthesizer tracks, great guitar technique, and falsetto vocals, this song could have found its way straight onto the Pretty In Pink soundtrack, back in the days when "Tommy was tubular and Jimmy was just tripendicular".

What I dig most about this song is its arrangement and choice of tones.  When listening to No Stranger on a good set of headphones, the craftsmanship of the arrangement really stands out.  Laid out with an orchestral flair, the oscillating keyboard tracks interwind and serpentine with the guitar and vocal tracks, lifting the listener and softly laying them back down.

The choices of tone further enhance the arrangement.  The lush reverb on the vocals, the echo on the drums, and the equalization of the bass groove all stand out.  Th…

The Man Who Wants You - Amos Lee

from the album Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song (2013)

It has been a while since I've heard a song that combines Country Funk and Southern Soul as well as The Man Who Wants You by Amos Lee.

This song sets a vibe that comes straight from the 70's.  It is a strong piece of songwriting that contains several great hooks and a memorable melody line.  The musicianship is also excellent.  I am drawn to the rhythm section, with the beat and groove capturing that odd balance between loose and tight that the other musicians trigger off of.  This is particularly true of the country piano track, a stand out on this record.

I also dig how the lead guitar track by Amos Lee is roughed up in a more modern way than the rest of the song.  This gives it an air of relevance than helps make this song connect with the listener.  His vocals are spot-on, with tone and inflection that match the vibe.  The backing vocals are equally well-suited and provide several of the hooks that draw me into this…

Bigger Than War - Boy George

from the album This Is What I Do (2013)

It begins with the low-volume click of a simple beat and evolves into a full drum roll.  It is followed by vocals and electric keys.  The vocals are crisp and clear, with a rich texture and confident delivery.  Enter backing vocalists and muscular horns that add big soul to the R&B vibe.  All the while, the band is inching towards that sweet celebration.  The crescendo arrives with the chorus:

Bigger than you
Bigger than me
Love is bigger than war

The melody line created by the vocals and horns is stellar.  The horn add punch.  The background singers throw a little church to the mix.  The result is irresistible.  Downshift to the verse, and the lead vocal stylings become reminiscent of Michael Hutchence-era INXS.  The longer this song goes on, the deeper I lose myself in the groove.

This is the new Boy George song.  I really dig it.  It is modern and on-point, while still having a retro club goodness that makes me smile.  Check it out.  I hope …

Bissao - Francis Bebey

from the album Francis Bebey (2013)

I woke up way too early, turned on the tube, and watched this crazy world.  Mayors smoking crack.  Girl avatars luring pedophiles.  A faster, more lethal, spy plane.  Did I drink too much tequila last night?  Naaa, but maybe too much sour mix.  How does one cope?  African House Music, that's how !!!

Bissao by Francis Bebey is the perfect tune.  Although Francis died in 2001, electronic producers have been rediscovering his 20+ albums,  along with those of others he worked with, including the great Manu Dibango (if you are unfamiliar, check out Soul Makossa).  I dig Francis Bebey.  He was not only a great musician and composer, he was also a sculptor and a celebrated author.  He makes Cameroon proud.

The Pilooski Edit of this song turns me on.  The African vibes and a big dance beat have me dancing around my hotel room like a trippin' dead head.  The bass groove is deep and infectious.  And the myriad of hooks has my head spinning like a wobbl…

Try Again - Resonators

from the album The Constant (2013)

I am in Florida this week but nowhere near a beach.  I have been dreaming of having my toes in the sand and an icy liquor bomb in my hand.  When these fancies hit me, I find myself listening to reggae tunes.

Resonators play a brand of reggae that is more London than Kingstown.  The UK Reggae Guide has this to say:

"… true understanding and passion of roots music.  Resonators undoubtably have a real ear for taking original roots reggae and imprinting their own modern, innovative stamp which is both unique and extremely refreshing in modern roots music."

The first thing that hits me about this song is its classic roots reggae vibe.  The meter and tone are spot on, with horns adding extra delight.  Then enter the soulful vocals of their two female vocalists, Faye Houston and Kassia Zermon.  As I listen to this song - over and over - I am in awe of their singing.  It is as good as reggae vocals get.  I also dig the light touch of the guitarist.

Shame On Me - The Cocktail Slippers

from the single Shame On Me (2013)
The Cocktail Slippers are a girl rock band hailing from Oslo, Norway.  David Fricke of Rolling Stone Magazine had this to say: "In full hosanna, The Slippers sound a lot like The Go-Go's but with gats instead of L.A. Cheer, and a mule kick in their high heels."  That works for me.
Their new single is titled Shame On Me.  It will be included on a new album set for January 2014 release.  I dig this tune right from the opening guitar riff with its roughed up tone.  It is no wonder the guitarist calls herself Rocket Queen.  Playing alongside her is strong drumming, a pulsing bass groove, and sustained keyboard accents.  This is a driving rock song with the right amount of attitude.
Hope is the vocalist for The Cocktail Singers.  I like the lower tones in her voice.  They add muscle to the vibe and give the song a dark seductiveness.  I also like how she can raise her dynamics and climb over the music for full-throated glory, when necessary.…

Retrograde - James Blake

from the album Overgrown (2013)

It is mind-boggling how awesome some human voices sound.  James Blake has one of those voices, as witnessed on the song Retrograde.

Throughout the song's introduction, he sings wordless falsetto runs over a simple beat and sustained piano chords.  It is chillingly good.  I've been racking my brain trying to equate it with some other male vocalist.  Perhaps D'Angelo on Brown Sugar, but that is not quite right.

I am also fascinated with the music on this song.  It is fairly minimalistic - just beats, electric piano, and keyboards - but manages to create a full soundscape and vibe that serves as the perfect backdrop for the soaring vocals.

I believe that when people look back on 2013, this song will be one of the year's highlights.

Click Here to watch Retrograde performed on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Click Here to watch Retrograde performed live in the studios of KEXP.

Gypsy Epilogue - Tony Joe White

from the album Hoodoo (2013)

I used to hang out with the bluesman Jack Yoder.  It is from him that I gained my appreciation for tone.

Tone is a lifetime pursuit for the conscientious musician.  Finding that right guitar, experimenting with different gauge strings, playing thru countless amps - manipulating the dials - trying to match the sounds you hear with the sounds inside your head.  It is an obsession.  And for some, it never ends.

Tony Joe White is a Louisiana guitarist who has been releasing great music since 1969.  The arc of his 40+ year career has as much to do with tone as it does with great songwriting and recordings.  Along the way, he has transcended the traditional music of his region thru his tone.  It is like a $400 bottle of wine.  Within it, you can hear the music that bubbles up from the swampy ground.  However, what makes it special are the other elements, including Memphis country, Texas blues, and a soul that can only come from God.

On his new album Hoodoo, I ke…

Whole Wide World - Sister Jane

from the single Whole Wide World (2013)

I was feeling a little kajagoogoo yesterday.  Better than a blue Monday.  Regardless, it seems like 80's flashbacks are everywhere.  Somebody bring me edelweiss !!!

I tried to break the spell by listening to some new Australian music.  Melbourne - together with Brooklyn USA - are my picks for the best new music cities these days.  Of all the great tunes I listened to, the one that really grabbed me was Whole Wide World by Sister Jane.  Strange thing, this song sounds like it could have been released by The Alarm, The Cult, or other such 80's acts.

The bass player pulsing eighth-notes over a steady-four beat.  The guitar's tone and riff.  The high-theatrics keyboards.  All the things you love about great 80's rock are tightly packaged here, including the anthemic chorus, roaring screams, and a Billy Idol-inspired breakdown.  It sounds fantastic.

I forget sometimes how great those 80's bands were.  Then you hear a new band like…

Ritmo Universal - G-Flux

from the single Ritmo Universal b/w Menieto (2013)

I dig it when genres collide.  On the song Ritmo Universal by the outstanding Mexico City producer G-Flux, the worlds of cumbia and electronica come together to create a sound that is instantly appealing to reggae dub listeners, as well as fans of The Clash, like myself.

For those unfamiliar with cumbia, it is the music of the Latin American working class.  Instruments including drums, calves, guitars, bass, accordion, and flute are often found in these songs, which are an amalgam of Native Columbian, African, and Spanish influences.  It is a root music that has spawned countless sub-genres in spanish speaking countries, and increasingly in the United States.  In fact, on weekends I often hear my Hispanic neighbors blasting it late into the night.

Ritmo Universal features vocals by Guatalajara-based duo Los Master Plus.  Their vocals sound great over the deep groove.  But it is the accordion track that really makes me smile.  I usually…

Calling Cards - Neko Case

from the album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (2013)

When Neko Case took the stage the other night, her sweet smile and down-to-earth nature was like seeing a dear, old friend.  Time and distance instantly fell away, leaving me relaxed and happy.  Smiling and laughing.  As the night rolled on, I can remember every detail, never wanting it to end.

My favorite song from her new album is Calling Cards.  It is a pretty song that Gram Parsons would have referred to as Cosmic American Music.  The tender composition recalls times long gone but forever close at hand.  I really dig the lyrics:

Singing we'll all be together
Even when we're not together
With our arms around each other
With our faith still in each other
I've got calling cards
From 20 years ago

It was great being in a theatre crowded with people who still believe in songs like this and a performer who knows how to deliver the message with an inviting grace.  It was an evenin…

Golondrina - Dom La Nena

from the EP Golondrina (2013)

There are few things more romantic than a Brazilian girl singing a tender song.

Dom La Nena is a Brazilian cellist, singer, and songwriter who currently calls Paris home.  I totally dig her new song Golondrina.  The beauty of her voice is only surpassed by the way she plays her instrument.  The two elements are all that is needed to create a timeless song for late night listening.

Early in the song, she simply plucks octaves in the pattern a tuba might play.  But as the notes ring, the melancholy of the cello's overtones affect you and play off the innocence of her voice.  The plucking track continues throughout the song.

Midway thru, she overlays a second track with her playing with a bow.  The vibrato she achieves with her left hand adds a magnificent tension over the the plucked track.  Few instruments sound better than a cello in the hands of a master.

The production of the song has outstanding fidelity.  I also dig the way that overdubbed vocals …

Ringo - Joris Voorn

from the single Ringo (2013)

So, I've had all these groovy thoughts swimming around my head for the past few days.  Rather than dissect them - which would only suck their lifeblood - I've cleared my mind, jumped into the aquarium, and got kicking.  It is a good place to be.

The song playing down here is Ringo by Joris Voorn.  This Dutch DJ is based in Amsterdam, where his house vibes must sound great in the local chill joints.  It is one of those electronic instrumentals that constructs all these oscillating vibes that shift in and out of phase over a dance beat and subliminal groove.  Sit me in a SoHo lounge and pour me a strong one.

Much of the music I listen to has lyrics.  Sometimes it forces me to listen more carefully than you care to.  Today, I am going instrumental and finding my own truths in the vibes.

Click Here to watch the official music video to Ringo.

Don't Want Lies - The Rides

from the album Can't Get Enough (2013)

The Rides are a blues-rock super trio consisting of Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield, CSNY), Barry Goldberg (Electric Flag), and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.  This group is something of a resurrection of a classic 1968 Super Session that featured Stills, Goldberg, Mike Bloomfield (Electric Flag), and Al Kooper (Blood, Sweat, & Tears).  The band also includes drummer Chris Layton (who plays with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and formerly Stevie Ray Vaughan) and bassist Kevin McCormick (CSN, Jackson Browne).

I've been digging their song Don't Want Lies, which features Stephen Stills at his finest.  The song sounds like it could have been recorded by Crosby, Stills, & Nash.  It is cool how good Stephen Still's vocals sound after a 40+ year career.  Also of note is his guitar playing, as well as the lead by Kenny Wayne Shepherd.

If you are looking for a new classic rock tune, check this one out.

Click Here to watch Don't Want Lies perfo…

Not Too Late - Brett Dennen

from the album Smoke And Mirrors (2013)

Brett Dennen zigs while the world zags, leaving behind a collection of memorable pop-folk tunes that have been staples in my playlists for the past five years.

He possesses the two crucial elements required to make a great record:  superior vocals and songwriting.  His voice is that of a quirky angel, with an uncanny ability to soar that can leave you with goosebumps.  His songwriting has an incredible melodic sensibility that draws from the great singer / songwriters that populated 1970's AM radio.  On this foundation, he layers thoughtful, intelligent lyrics with keen visual imagery that can't help but hook you.

This morning he releases his fifth album, Smoke and Mirrors.  The album sets its tone with its cover photo of a dry valley, presumably in Northern California, that lets you know he is more interested in the smoke and mirrors of peaceful lake than those of deception.  This is the album you listen to while driving thru places lik…

Paper Trails - Darkside

from the album Psychic (2013)

Paper Trails is a song that stands at the curious intersection of downtempo electronica and dark, Tom Waits-inspired blues.  Together these sounds create a vibe that leaves you a bit off-balance.  When I listen to this song, I imagine myself zoned out in a seedy, multilingual Los Angeles club.

The band consists of acclaimed 23 year old producer Nicolaas Jaar and Brooklyn-based guitarist Dave Harrington.  I really dig that Jaar's preference for downtempo music is based on the philosophy that the really interesting stuff happens between the beats.

I also dig the combination of tasty guitar licks coupled with modern electronic beats.  These hybrid sounds put in the context of spacious music really helps you get lost in the groove.  Of course, that requires masterful hands for success.

Their band name of Darkside puts a big grin on my face.  It seems that everywhere I go lately, I am struck by some unexpected Pink Floyd reference.

Click Here to watch Darksi…

Pretend Friends - Tape Deck Mountain

from the album Sway (2013)

I always dig it when a band lays down an introduction that hooks me.  Nirvana is probably the best example.  Songs like Come As You Are and All Apologies allow you to become completely absorbed in the vibe long before the vocals enter.

Pretend Friends by Tape Deck Mountain is another song that accomplishes this.  The opening drum beats let you know this is lo-fi rock and roll.  Then a guitar gives a quavering trill before joining the bass guitar in the central riff.  This riff establishes the song's authenticity thru its raw simplicity and unpretentiousness.  It hooks me.

I always dig a good three piece band.  To me, there is nothing more pure than bass, guitar, and drums played well.  As for the balance of this song, Tape Deck Mountain delivers the goods.  The band's dynamics are impeccable, rockin' out hard and falling back into the groove in perfect unison.  That only comes from practicing as a unit.  It makes all the difference.

Click Here to l…

El Señor Surf - Surfer Joe

from the album Señor Surf (2013)

Earlier today, I really upset a bunch of people by speaking the truth.  Perhaps they would have preferred me to play surf guitar.  You know, something with a melodious riff over a predictable beat.  Not a song like Wipe Out.  That would be far too offensive.  I bet they'd fancy Walk Don't Run ...

This has led me to empty a growler and crank some of the best new surf tunes on the planet.  One song that I've been particularly digging is El Señor Surf by Italian surf icon Surfer Joe.  In this delightful little ditty, he lays down no less than five variations in his tone.  Each transition feels seamless and the tones are reminiscent of great 60's artists like The Ventures and Dick Dale.

I also dig that Lorenzo Surfer Joe is something of an entrepreneur.  Based in the port city of Livorno, Italy (just south of Pisa), he runs a booking agency for surf bands, owns a surf diner, and hosts the Surfer Joe Summer Festival, featuring three days of …

Tin Star - Lindi Ortega

from the album Tin Star (2013)

One of the benefits of writing this blog is receiving emails from the artists I write about.  Of the 238 entries I have posted over the past eighteen months, the sweetest note I have received came from Lindi Ortega.  In my humble opinion, her 2012 song Cigarettes & Truckstops is the greatest country song of this millennium and her kind note has been a source of motivation and encouragement.

As fate would have it, I have been in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee for the past six days.  It has been a hazy, crazy blur where my buddies and I actually drank a bar out of Pabst.  It has been 120 years since they won the blue ribbon, but my Milwaukee brethren should still be proud.  Anyhow, it so happens that Lindi released her latest album - Tin Star - today.  The title track is my favorite song.

As always, the songwriting, vocals, and musicianship are impeccable.  Just listen to the opening.  The guitar tones, the piano, and Lindi Ortega's voice.  O…

Shortyville - Trombone Shorty

from the album Say That To Say This (2013)

I became enthralled with Trombone Shorty back in 2010, when I first heard his album Backatown.  On the record, this New Orleans musical icon stepped away from his jazz zone to embrace elements of urban music.  The song Something Beautiful - featuring backing vocals by Lenny Kravitz - became a staple of that year's party mixes.  It is a great record.

Sometime after that record was released, I caught a live show.  It was a revelation.  Perhaps the best show I have ever attended in a small venue.  He and his band delivered thrilling, high energy music that left me breathless.

On his latest release - Say That To Say This - the song Shortyville brings me back to that live performance.  This instrumental has the feel of a tight New Orleans brass band, featuring a rousing solo by Shorty himself.  On the right set of speakers, it will give you goosebumps.  Not to be outdone are his fellow musicians.  With each listen you uncover something new and…

We Come In The Sunshine - The Dirtbombs

from the album Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey! (2013)

Feel the magical vibe of The Dirtbombs doing that special something I've been waiting to hear for ... ever.  Someone laying down a righteous vibe based on The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations.

Rooted in one of the greatest songs in rock and roll history, this tune by Detroit garage super-duper-stud, Mick Collins, gives me the thrills, the chills, the spills, and the pills.  From the opening horns, I've questioned whether this song is schlock or something amazing.  But after a few dozen listens, I am convinced to proclaim it inspired.

Brett Callero, of Fuzz Factory fame, turned me on to this track.  Bless him.  If you have a chance, be sure to listen to his radio show (it is the best thing on the Internet), Thursday's at 8pm ET on http://www.scadatlantaradio.org

Click Here to listen to the album version of We Come In The Sunshine from Spin Magazine, who named Ooey Gooey... their album of the week.  Note that you will need to s…

Horsemouth - Ghost Wave

from the album Ages (2013)

Ghost Wave is a band from Auckland, New Zealand with a fresh, psychedelic, indie rock sound.  On their debut album Ages, I am most drawn to the song Horsemouth.

The song opens with a guitar riff that recalls the opening to The Beatles' Daytripper.  Once the vocals enter, the sound morphs to something more aligned with The Jesus And Mary Chain.  I really dig this ability to couple 60's psychedelic music with 80's alternative.  On this song, the two are cleverly arranged to provide an effective one-two punch.

The band also has a Velvet Underground sensibility to their music.  This adds a hip, garage nature to the band's sound.  All these elements really come together nicely.

A good friend of mine is the frontman for a critically acclaimed garage band.  He often laments how differentiation in this genre is difficult, making the chances of achieving large scale notoriety remote.  I tend to disagree.  I believe that bands offering strong songwrit…

Kim Chee Taco Man - Kelley Stolz

from the album Double Exposure (2013)

If you are looking to lose yourself in a catchy little indie rock tune, then you should check out Kim Chee Taco Man by Bay-area singer/songwriter Kelley Stolz.

I really dig that Kelley Stolz is a fervent admirer of Echo & The Bunnymen.  In 2001, he released a track for track cover album of Echo's album Crockodials.  On the tune Kim Chee Taco Man, you can hear shades of Echo in the extended introduction.

There are many things about this song that I admire.  The drum beat, the simple and infectious bass line, the rough guitar tones, and the call & response vocals all stand out.  But it is the spirit of this song that resonates with me most.  It contains an element of freedom that I equate with riding fast on the open road, or speeding across a choppy bay.

Songs like this make my emoticon smile.

Click Here to watch the official video to Kim Chee Taco Man.

Moonbath.Brainsalt.A.Holy.Fool - Califone

from the album Stitches (2013)

Some people have a knack for naming things.  This band is no exception.

This Chicago-based experimental rock band derive their name for Califone International, a manufacturer of PAs, microphones, and soundboards commonly found in small churches and school auditoriums.  They first caught my ear three years (or so) ago with a record titled All My Friends Are Funeral Singers.  I get tickled by that title.

On their new record Stitches, I am most drawn to the song Moonbath.Brainsalt.A.Holy.Fool.  Musically, this song has all the tones of an americana song.  However, the arrangement also contains descending keys and feedback that you would associate with rock.  Listening to it, I get the sensation of a series of flashbacks from a solitary drive across the northern plains or the southern desert.

I really dig all the different instruments.  Their tones and the way they fit together is outstanding.  The way that piano, steel guitar, harmonica, and feedback are ea…

Mys - HNNY

from the EP Mys / Kela (2013)

Indie dance needs no vowels.  Just ask HNNY, whose song Mys has caught my ear over the past few weeks.

What I enjoy most about this house release is the way it leverages the vocals to create rich textures.  This grabs you from the introduction, with singing that sounds like something in the back of an old disco mix.

Below this, is a real good dance beat that rises and falls like an inflatable Ziggy Stardust.  I like how the music is minimal and subservient to the vocals without losing any effect.  This is not so common in dance tunes.

Hats off to Johan Cederberg.  If you are in the mood for Swedish House music, this is your ticket.

Click Here to listen to the original version of this track.

Click Here to listen to the Young Marco Remix of Mys.  I enjoy listening to differences between the two records, and how the additional instrumentation and placement of beats changes the vibe.