Favorites bands and favorite chord progressions

My favorite band is the Old 97’s. However, Freakwater would also be an honest answer (as would Gillian Welch). I can thank a super cool friend from high school for introducing me to the Old 97’s, a Bloodshot compilation for introducing me to Freakwater, while one of my college roommates properly introduced me to Gillian Welch.1  

A (not very good) photo of Catherine Irwin & Janet Bean from a Freakwater show in Atlanta (November 2005, I don't remember the venue)

A (not very good) photo of Catherine Irwin & Janet Bean from a Freakwater show in Atlanta (November 2005, I don’t remember the venue)

Freakwater appeared on Bloodshot’s first compilation album (way back in 1994), and subsequently was on Thrill Jockey for years. BUT coming in February 2016, according to the Freakwater Facebook page, “We will be releasing our eighth studio album this fall with our dear friends Bloodshot Records!!” So… since I wrote a dissertation on Bloodshot Records and all, and what with loving Freakwater, I’m really, really, REALLY excited about this.2   As Bloodshot noted today, you may have thought that Freakwater was already on Bloodshot, but this upcoming studio album is, in fact, the band’s first with the record label. You can hear the first single from the album here, and you can pre-order the album and/or get the 7″ single here.

The announcement of this single inspired me to listen to pretty much the entire Freakwater catalogue throughout the day today. As I listened to the song “Cricket Versus Ant” (Thinking of You, 2005), I was reminded of my most favorite chord progression, which is in this song: V/vi – vi, or III – vi, or a major three chord to the minor six. This song is in D Major, so the chord progression is F-sharp major to b minor. The first time it happens, the lyrics are “If it all goes terribly wrong” at 1:27 in the video below.

I have done absolutely no research on this progression; I just know that I always love it when it happens. I think I first noticed it when I had to play chord progression for a piano proficiency exam or something equally dorky, but I remember first LOVING when I heard it in a Dixie Chicks song, “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” (Wide Open Spaces, 1998).3   This song is in F Major, and in this case, the magical chords are A major to d minor in the chorus. The first time it happens, the lyrics are “Bartender, pour the wine” at 0:47 in the video below.

Isn’t it great? Sure, there are other secondary dominants that are nice, but this one is by far my favorite (and the best). Hooray for a new Freakwater album & hooray for V/vi – vi! Feel free to share examples with me!

1. The same high school friend likely introduced me to Bloodshot, or at least I was with her at CD Central (a fantastic record store in Lexington, KY) when I bought that compilation album.

2. At this point, I’m probably more excited about the album, rather than the research possibilities, but that’s a topic for another post.

3. This is the first song I look for if/when I ever karaoke. Seriously. Feel free to judge me.


Happy Friday Music Fun: Son Volt version

I’m going to see Son Volt tonight. After iconic alternative country band Uncle Tupelo broke up in 1994, Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco, and Jay Farrar formed Son Volt. Although both of these bands have experienced success, I think it’s fair to say that Wilco has fared a great deal better (in many ways). However, Son Volt released Honky Tonk last month, and is now touring to support that album. I’ve only seen them play live once, in addition to seeing Jay Farrar live once, so I’m excited for tonight.

Two bits of related information:

1. Sometimes I’m an idiot and I just can’t help it. Last weekend, I purchased my ticket for the show online, and headed to Atlanta — only to realize, upon my arrival at the venue, that the show is tonight. Duh.

2. Uncle Tupelo was/is a great band. Despite the fact that my dissertation will, in some ways, attempt to decenter the alt.country narrative away from this band, they’re still in my Top Ten.

So here’s some Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo for your Friday enjoyment…

Son Volt’s “Hearts and Minds” off the new album:

And Uncle Tupelo’s take on the Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers song “Sin City” (which sort of begs for an intertextual/framing academic discussion, and won’t happen here right now):

Happy Friday, y’all

Guitar Slide Wednesday: Whiskeytown Version

I buy a lot of music. And sometimes, it takes a while to get around to listening to it. However, two recently released albums required immediate listening: (the ever dreamy) Rhett Miller’s The Dreamer and Kelly Hogan’s I Like to Keep Myself in Pain. While listening to the former, the pedal steel work on the album as a whole, but specifically on the song “Long Long Long,” reminded me of Whiskeytown. So then I listened to all of Faithless Street (1995) and felt a little old and nostalgic, and also remembered what a freaking great band they were. And then I listened to all of Strangers Almanac (1997), and well, you get the picture.

I have mentioned Ryan Adams around here before, but never Whiskeytown. The Raleigh, NC band has legendary status in alt.country lore, despite, or maybe due to its (relatively brief) five-ish year existence (three full-length albums and one EP). Although I’ve seen Ryan Adams live many times and Caitlin Cary a couple of times, I still hate it that I somehow never saw them live, er, back in the day.

I love the ALL of the guitar work and tones on the song “Everything I Do” (not to be confused with Bryan Adams’ song “Everything I Do I Do It for You”), and it even has a few lovely slides. Unfortunately, the video is nowhere to be found on the magical internets, and/or has been completely removed. Here it is on Spotify: Whiskeytown – Everything I Do (you really should check it out, or heck, go buy the whole album). Great, great song, and there’s a perfect subtle slide at the beginning of each chorus (and a few other places), but the best one, I think, is at the beginning of the second chorus (around 2:05).

But for the purpose of the post today (and for those Spotify-averse), here’s another fine Whiskeytown song. “Tennessee Square” features pedal steel and is a pretty good representative of Whiskeytown’s sound in general.

Guitar Slide Wednesday: You’re Still on My Mind

I first learned about The Byrds and Gram Parsons because of alt.country. My very first encounter with Parsons was a tribute album, Return Of The Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons (1999), featuring alt.country types and others (Wilco, Whiskeytown, Gillian Welch, Beck, David Crosby, etc.).*

My favorite tracks on that album are (other than all of them. seriously.) “Sin City” by Emmylou Harris and Beck, “$1000 Wedding” by Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield, “Return of the Grievous Angel” by Lucinda Williams and David Crosby, and a lovely Gillian Welch-y “Hickory Wind,” appropriately by Gillian Welch.

After this album, I acquired a few Gram Parsons recordings, including The Byrds’ “classic country” album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968). I like this album. I don’t love it, but it’s fun to listen to every now and then. Initially, the track that spoke to me the most (in a positive way) was the cover of the song, “You’re Still on My Mind.” George Jones released this song in 1964, however, it was originally written and recorded by Luke McDaniel (who also recorded as Jeff Daniels) in 1959. Freakwater also covered the song on their album, Dancing Underwater (1997).

So here we have a bounty of “You’re Still on My Mind”… The George Jones version has a lot of sliding fiddle, but no actual guitar slides, and is the slowest and saddest of the bunch. The Byrds version on the album has a fun piano part, but the only version I could find unfortunately doesn’t have the piano on it. It does, however, have some twangy guitar. The Freakwater version features the pedal steel, and in my opinion, is the most fun of these versions. Enjoy!

George Jones

The Byrds


Finally, if you’re interested in hearing the original version of the song as recorded by Jeff Daniels/Luke McDaniel…

*There’s a great deal to be said about Gram Parsons and alt.country, the way that alt.country embraced him, and how his version of “country” was an acceptably “cool” version of country, but maybe we’ll get around to that later around here.

Happy Friday: ’90s Music!

Yesterday, I encountered a lot of stuff (tweets, fb posts, public radio features, etc.) related to Nirvana and R.E.M. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Nevermind, and in case you managed to miss it, R.E.M. announced their break-up on Wednesday.

As a person who researches “alternative” music (obligatory disclaimer acknowledging the contentious and multiple meanings of “alternative” and other genre categories), I can’t help but owe a debt to both of these bands and appreciate their roles in popular music history. The “alt” of alt.country is a (not-so-distant) cousin of the genre designation/lucrative marketing category that these two bands (in addition to countless others) helped create.

At the time, that is in the ’90s,* I wasn’t really into these two bands (although my first ‘big’ concert was R.E.M. at Rupp Arena for the Monster tour). I didn’t NOT like them, but in retrospect, it would have been much cooler for present-day me had I been bigger fans of both bands at the time.

Nevertheless, based on all the hubbub, I decided to listen to the entirety of Nevermind today (thanks, Spotify), and ended up spending more time with Nirvana than I had planned (professional procrastinator). I was surprised that I knew the album–and not just the famous songs/released radio singles. Maybe I had the cassette tape, but in any event, apparently I listened to this album way more than I remember.

It is impossible to separate all of the information I know about the band, Kurt Cobain, and the band and album’s place in popular music history from my listening experience today, but wow, I loved it. I’ve read that Cobain hated the “over-produced” sound of this album, but I think it still sounds pretty visceral, raw, and powerful, and anywhere from a little to a lot punk. I’ve mentioned before here that the aesthetics of “indie” and/or “punk” speak to me, and even though this is much more produced than <insert your favorite punk/indie band here> or even Nirvana’s debut album Bleach, it’s still rockin’ pretty hard (consider also that this album is always mentioned in the context of Michael Jackson on the pop charts).

So here’s a snippet to remind you…

If you haven’t heard Nevermind in its entirety in a while, I’m pretty sure you’re going to bump into it in the near future (cf. special 20th anniversary cd’s, dvd, boxed sets, etc.). Either way, give it a listen. And even if you don’t like it, you can appreciate it’s historical importance in relation to my research.

*I apologize for previous inconsistent and incorrect usage of apostrophes when it comes to decades. I intend to change my ways.

Another shot of bourbon… or a list of drinking songs

This isn’t a very Sunday-friendly post, particularly here in the South… but based on my love of the song featured on the most recent Guitar Slide Wednesday post, I’m putting together a playlist of high-quality drinking songs.* This is neither new nor novel, as a rather large portion of the musical genre called country (and the one called alt.country for that matter) has relied quite heavily on such a trope.

Here’s what I have so far with very little thought and one sweep through my iTunes catalog…

Obvious (and old):
The Bottle Let Me Down, Merle Haggard
If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will), George Jones
Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind), Loretta Lynn
There’s a Tear in My Beer, Hank Williams
There Stands the Glass, Webb Pierce (John Doe sang a version of this song when he was on Fresh Air recently-ish. And it was amazing. You’re welcome.)
Whiskey River, Willie Nelson
You Never Even Call Me By My Name, David Allan Coe

Slightly Less Obvious/More Oblique (and mostly new-ish and kind of alt.country-ish):
Whiskey and You, The Star Room Boys
Portland, Oregon, Loretta Lynn and Jack White
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Wilco
Wish the Worst, Old 97’s
Picture in My Mind, Freakwater
Return of the Grievous Angel, Gram Parsons
Caleb Meyer, Gillian Welch

Any suggestions to add?**

*This is the closest one can get to a footnote here at WordPress. I refer to songs about drinkin’ rather than songs one could drink to. Further, I also refer the quality of the song in question, not the quality of the drink (which may or may not affect the quality of the song). I reserve the right to judge said quality (or lack thereof) of song or drink.

**And just so we keep things above board here, this little album featuring Bloodshot artists is a lot of fun: The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides.

Also, so you don’t have to look it up: