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Posts Tagged ‘Josh Ritter’

A first post of 2016, actually in a very early part of 2016!  Last year was a poor one for posting, as so many real-life situations took over my mental energies.  On the one hand, I started finding a lot of energy for my own creative writing, finishing several stories and poems, and even selling one of each.  On the other, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in January of 2015 and, after a round of chemo and radiation, passed away in July.  I’m sure the 2nd one fed the 1st one, as I’m sure my brain needed an escape from what was obviously a very difficult time.

So this post will be a bit scattershot, and probably not in keeping with the theme this blog has followed so far, which is a focus on folklore in music.  I’m rethinking that focus, because I think its narrow nature prevented me from posting as often as I liked. I think if I post about more general things as well, including some music that might not fit the site’s initial mission statement, I might get more done.  So with that said, let’s just do some lists!

My 10 Favorite Records from 2015

1) Josh Ritter – Sermon on the Rocks

So much energy and joy in this one; Ritter’s always hyper-verbal, but this time, it feels like it’s because he can barely contain himself.

 

2) Mountain Goats – Beat the Champ

When I gave this one a first listen as an album, it didn’t blow me away.  Maybe I was too focused on the wrestling angle.  But every time I heard one of these songs on the radio by itself, I thought to myself, “That’s one of the best songs he’s written in a long time, and I like how he uses wrestling as a metaphor.”   Went back to the album and loved it.

 

3) Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass

Kate Bush, Dusty Springfield, and Harry Nilsson all rolled up into one.  Gorgeous stuff, and there’s a live EP of some of these songs on Spotify with rougher edges that’s equally good.

 

4) Kristin Diable – Create Your Own Mythology

Don’t know much about her yet, as this one was recommended late in the year by a friend.  Great voice, great vintage sound.

5) Andrew Bryant – This Is the Life

Comparisons to Jason Molina’s music, which is my musical version of home and comfort food all rolled into one, jumped Bryant’s record to the top of my “to listen to” pile (even though I should have already been checking it out, since I’m a Water Liars fan). So glad I did. This is great, thoughtful late-night stuff.

 

6) Kasey Musgraves – Pageant Material

Even in a country genre that’s defined by wordplay, Musgrave’s lyrics stand out.  “Biscuits” is probably my least favorite song on the album, but it’s apparently the only one with a video.

 

7) Los Lobos – Gates of Gold

These guys are so consistently good that it’s easy to take them for granted.  At this point in their career, they seem incapable of making a bad album.

 

8) Calexico – Edge of the Sun

Their earlier forays into more conventional pop songwriting are paying big dividends now, and Edge of the Sun finds them successfully merging it with the border influences that have always defined their sound.

 

9) Jason Isbell – Something More than Free

Perhaps not as strong as his solo career-making Southeastern, but that’s a pretty high bar.  Very strong.

 

10) Bohannons – Black Cross, Black Shield

For when the late-night demons can only be beaten back by loud, distorted guitars.

 

Movies I Saw in 2015 (In No Order)

  • Grand Budapest Hotel – Almost, but not quite, overtakes Moonrise Kingdom as my favorite Wes Anderson film
  • Maleficent – Meh.
  • You’re Next – Home invasion horror with the twist of the “final girl” having been raised by survivalist parents.  Some good twists and turns in this one, although I thought the ending was a bit of a let-down.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road – I saw things on the screen I’d never seen before.  Wonderful, eye-searing things.  I was amazed from start to finish.
  • Inside Out – I really enjoyed it, and yes, it had the requisite part where the kids in the audience are looking in confusion at their crying parents.  A neat movie, and I find it really interesting (and encouraging?) that my daughter on the spectrum reacted so strongly and positively to it.
  • Two Guns – I can’t even remember what this one was about, which tells me I probably shouldn’t even bother IMDB’ing it.
  • Minions – I have kids. I was contractually required to see this one, although I’ll admit to a fondness for the Despicable Me movies. This one had some moments.
  • John Wick – Loved this one so much. How am I supposed to get to bed at a decent hour when this is on every time I’m flipping through the movie channels?
  • 47 Ronin – For every good Keanu movie, there’s (at least) one bad one, I suppose.
  • St Vincent – Found this one to be really charming. It went in several places I didn’t expect, and while the draw is obviously Bill Murray doing his cranky misanthrope thing, this movie had a lot of charm and heart.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – What’s that? This movie wasn’t perfect? Sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of my time machine hurtling me back to when I was eight years old in 1977 and falling in love with science fiction.
  • Jupiter Ascending – Good ideas here and there, but hoo boy, what a lifeless mess.
  • Kingsman: Secret Service – Fun, tongue-in-cheek take on Bond-type spy movies.  That scene in the church, though. Ye gods. That’s one that will make you sit for a long while and think about why it very nearly turned you against the whole movie, while you’ll gleefully watch John Wick 40 times.

Books I Read in 2015 (I really lost reading momentum this year)

  • Kelly Link – Get in Trouble
  • Neil Gaiman – Trigger Warnings
  • Kij Johnson – At the Mouth of the River of Bees (when I grow up, I want to write like Kij Johnson)
  • Daniel Woodring – Winter’s Bone
  • Daniel Woodring – The Outlaw Album (stories)

 

Graphic Novels/Comic Collections I Read in 2015

  • Rachel Rising, vols 1-5
  • Hellboy – The Midnight Circus
  • Saga, vols 1-5
  • The Sandman: Overture

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I’ll probably talk about Josh Ritter, one of my favorite songwriters, quite a bit on this blog.  He writes airtight songs, the kind where every word feels carefully chosen. It’s obvious that he works his tail off to make his songs as perfect as they can be, but he never loses that rare quality, that charisma and personality that makes the songs relatable.  Too many songwriters (and I’d be this type if I were one) over-edit themselves right into boring songs. Ritter can get a little sleepy, but I’ve never found him boring.

Anyway, he’s also fairly literary, so he touches upon folklore elements quite a bit, usually as allusions woven into more real-world tales.

“Bone of Song” comes from his excellent, fairly quiet 2003 album Hello Starling.  I think it’s a great way to kick off the blog because it’s not rooted in any one mythology, but goes straight to the heart of the idea of music as the product of some almost divine force in the universe, as something much bigger than ourselves.

In the song, the narrator finds a bone in the roots of a tree. Upon closer examination, etchings and engravings on the bone reveal its special nature:

I ran my palm along them and I heard
lucky are you who finds me in the wilderness
I am the only unquiet ghost that does not seek rest
the words on the bone of song were close and small
and though their tongues were dead I found I knew them all
in the hieroglyphs of quills and quatrain lines
Osiris—the fall of Troy—Auld Lang Syne
Kathleen Mauvoreen—Magnificat—Your Cheatin’ Heart
the chords of a covenant king singing for the Ark

All the great tales and songs, linked together and created via the same animating creative spirit.  I love that “unquiet ghost” line and, to me, “chords of a covenant king singing for the Ark” (above and beyond its killer alliteration) evokes Leonard Cohen’s too-much-covered “Hallelujah.”  And since we’re on Cohen, the whole song also brings to mind Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” in which Cohen envisions himself living in a tower many, many floors below luminaries like Hank Williams.

Interestingly, Ritter goes even further into the idea of the song as being larger than the artist when his narrator examines the bone further and finds:

a blessing written older than the rest
it said leave me here I care not for wealth or fame
I’ll remember your song – but I’ll forget your name
the words that I sang blew off like the leaves in the wind
and perched like birds in the branches before landing on the bone again

As my old “Introduction to Poetry” teacher used to say, “That’s good stuff!”  It seems to play a little bit with the idea of the Aeolian Harp, which makes music when the wind blows across its strings. Only in this case, the harp plays the narrator as much as the narrator plays the harp.

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