2016 Didn't Suck That Much (At Least Not Musically)

There’s a rule in music…well, there’s a rule in my musical world:

If they hang out with Josh and Garth of The Rutabega, they make damn fine music.

This has held true through numerous events and opening acts. Really, the only exception I can think of is myself and, well, I don’t make any music at all. The rule certainly applies to what I deem my favorite find of 2016 (I really should come up with a name for this…the Golden Needle Award? The Drop Of The Year? Or maybe I shouldn’t).

I’m speaking of Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts. I caught them while playing with The Rutabega at McCormick’s in South Bend and, while the late night show was making me feel a bit old, the music of JS&TLG revived me in a way I haven’t felt since I was a punk-ass kid watching Dave Kirchgessner of Mustard Plug hang from that weird bar above the two-inch stage at the original Intersection (cheers if you remember what I’m talking about).

JS&TLG make solid rock music, with high-energy dives into punk rock, blues, and, seemingly, whatever the hell sound they deem appropriate for each song. The bleeding guitars are best played on high volume and, hey, don’t be shy about singing along. Jake’s lyrics traverse the realms of quirky, angry, and sentimental, never once feeling anything but genuine.

As is often the case for me with my end of year favorites, most, if not all of the JS&TLG music I’m speaking of was released prior to 2016, but , hey, this was the year that I discovered it (you could chalk this up to my being slow and behind, but I prefer to blame it on the massive amount of great music being made today).

I’ve put together a Jake Simmons mixtape for you to check out some of my favorites. Make no mistake, though, as anything short of picking up the entirety of every release is simply shorting yourself of rock and roll greatness. And why would you do that to yourself? Check out that mix tape over on Spotify:

AtND Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts Mix Tape

As for the rest of 2016, well, many claims have been made as to the negative nature of the year thanks to numerous deaths of our heroes, bad news stories, and the embarrassing and horrific election of Trump to the White House, but remember, nothing is all good or bad. Whatever else aside, 2016 certainly was a solid year for good music:

(Note: If you’re playing catch up, click on the album or song title to purchase the music from Amazon and help AtND pay the bills at the same time!)

Car Seat Headrest gave us Teens Of Denial, a rock album that finds new depth with each listen.

Amanda Palmer has found a prolific stride thanks to her reliance on Patreon, using the direct support of her fans to give us a constant supply of new and excellent music. It was by fortunate coincidence that AFP’s tour had hit my region the weekend after the election (not to mention the death of Leonard Cohen), giving me a place to process my shock, disappointment, and upset. The concert featured an emotional evening of music, with sing-alongs, scream-alongs, stomping, and crying. Amanda brought along guests, inviting Peter Sagal of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and the Vice President of Illinois’ Planned Parenthood to deliver messages of love and action. Her husband, author Neil Gaiman, was in the room as well. He performed a reading (with Amanda backing him musically) of Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy” before spending much of his evening with their son in the back of the room, teaching him to walk a few feet from where I was standing (I put my fanboy away and just watched the moment in awe). Speaking of that reading of “Democracy”, you can pick that track up and, in the process, help out PEN America’s efforts to defend free speech by going here.

The Avett Brothers gave us their best album in years with True Sadness. You can check out my review of that here. I saw them too the weekend after the election, a last minute addition to my concert schedule that was the usual emotion packed evening from TAB, heightened so by current events. With protestors expressing similar feelings just around the corner from the Van Andel Arena, the crowd roared in defiance the line “your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected” during “Head Full Of Doubt, Road Full Of Promise“.

Swet Shop Boys brought us the Indian/Pakistan/American hip-hop album Cashmere, full of anger and commentary about our culture’s treatment of those of Middle Eastern descent (and not to mention all of those sick beats).

If you somehow missed it, Drive-By Truckers certainly broke new ground with American Band, giving us the American rock album we desperately need in our current culture.

And Charles Bradley gave us Changes, reminding us the true meaning of the word “soul” and recording an amazing cover of, oddly, Black Sabbath.

And we can’t forget all of the awesome coming from Grand Rapids’ The Crane Wives, giving us the epic Foxlore when I was still busy singing along with Coyote Stories and Safe Ship, Harbored. Watch for them in 2017. I expect amazing things.

Justin Wells returned from the ashes of Fifth On The Floor with one of the best American rock albums I heard all year in Dawn in the Distance, about his life as a musician, an outcast, and a father.

PUP gave us The Dream Is Over, a mischievous, loud, and ultimately fun punk rock record worthy of losing one’s voice while screaming along and playing far too loud.

So much good music. So whatever the “dumpster fire” view of 2016 you may have, remember unrest and upset makes for some fine music and certainly gives us a soundtrack for fighting the battles ahead. And, oh, do we have battles ahead.

I want to thank you all for another great year of support. Remember, if you love what we do, you can support us directly at our Patreon campaign or visit any of our sponsor links.

Let’s finish 2016 with our heads high and our hands ready for the battles of 2017. Until then, here’s to life.

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At The Bottom Of a Garbage Bin

A recent hunt for the “Weather” from a Welcome To Nightvale episode led me to Jason Webley.

I already knew the name…it was Jason who worked with one of our favorite artists, Amanda Palmer, on the Evelyn Evelyn project, a unique musical venture involving the duo performing as conjoined twins named, well, Evelyn and Evelyn.

I wasn’t familiar with Jason beyond the project, so I navigated over to his webpage. It was these words that hooked me:

An old scrapbook found in a San Francisco dumpster twenty years ago gives birth to an almost unbelievable story and a collection of heart breaking new songs.

Margeret. The tragic story of a poet, almost untold and lost forever.

It’s a pretty epic tale, both the story of Margeret Rucker herself and of the transformation from lost memories into music and words.

You can check out the full story of the discarded scrapbook’s journey to becoming a collaboration project from Jason and friends over at The Stranger. The collaboration includes an album of music inspired by the scrapbook and an 88-page hardcover book full of writings by Jason and Chicken John Rinaldi, the man who discovered that “there’s no such thing as garbage” while attempting to dump some of his own.

Check out the song that hooked me, Pyramid:

 

The project was released this past December in limited supplies, but you can still pick it up at the moment from Band Camp and JasonWebley.com.

Every Anthem Needs A Ukulele

A recent tale from Amanda Palmer (Eddie Vedder Gave Me A Trophy!!!!!) seemed like the perfect excuse to share this song and tales of my own with that beloved little instrument, the ukulele.  Enjoy.

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As it has been told to me, my grandpa would bring out the old ukulele for sing-alongs when he and my grandma would host gatherings at their house.  It goes along with another prized possession I have of my grandfather; the bar he built and served drinks from at their home during those very same gatherings.

A homemade bar and a ukulele?  Sounds like my kind of party.  I wish I’d been there to see it.

I remember music in my house as a child, but it always came from a record player or a tape deck.  We weren’t exactly the singing type…no instruments were in the house…no sing-alongs ever took place.  The thought of my grandparents strumming and crooning, it’s an unlikely scene in my mind, one that brings a smile, a chuckle and, perhaps, even a bit of envy.

I often wonder if those are scenes I can create within my own home.

We have all of the tools; a harmonica from my good friend Ethan, the guitar I named after the lead ladies of Veruca Salt, the bongos I purchased in Baltimore.  And that old ukulele.  Still, I’ve struggled to find my inner musician with any of them.  And Kristin and I aren’t exactly the performing types, though, I suppose we do have our moments.  We do randomly break into song in the privacy of our own home.  We do make music out of the most mundane of household tasks, where dusting and vacuuming become stage numbers to rival Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Perhaps the old uke will find some future use.

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I have memories of the old uke floating around my grandparent’s basement when I was a child.  Most of the time, it sat unused up on a shelf, yanked down occasionally by myself, my sister, or my cousin in the same space where we played with a dilapidated pool table and a still-in-use (at that time) rotary phone.

It wasn’t until my adult years that the little stringed instrument came into my personal possession.  We had a rummage sale or some such at grandma’s house and the uke had made it’s way up from the basement and onto the table where I sat taking money.  I had no real plans for the thing when I asked my grandmother to allow me to take it home.  For months it sat with no purpose.  One night though, it gained use, notoriety, and a title.

“The Ukulele Of God”

It was some time during my college years.  I was living with my parents, who had just taken off on a vacation away, leaving me alone in my childhood home, a house sitting near a wooded area back off the main road.

It must have been summer, as the windows were open.  We weren’t alone on our little dirt driveway…directly across from the house I was occupying sat a duplex owned by my grandmother and occupied by various renters.  One of the current renters worked nights, so it wasn’t unusual for him to arrive at late hours.  That was, of course, how I explained the sound that awoke me from a deep sleep that night.

Then again…had it been a sound?

It struck me that I wasn’t quite sure what it was that had pulled me from a deep sleep to an immediate and disoriented awake.  I peered outside to see the late-shift renter had not yet returned home.  Sound or not, it hadn’t been him.

I reminded myself that no one else was home, so it certainly wasn’t one of my parents using the bathroom or grabbing a late night snack.  I was entirely alone.

Alone.

But someone or something had roused me.

As I sat there in bed, now wide awake and aware, I knew beyond any doubt that something was very wrong with my world.  The sense of dread was a weight in my gut.   It occurred to me that something had woken me and that the obvious explanations had been eliminated.  Except for one…someone was breaking in.

I pondered my situation, quickly realizing I had to act.  At this point, cell phones were not as prominent in the world and, though I’m sure I owned one, it was likely sitting in the glove compartment of my car.  It was left to me, and me alone, to venture into the rest of the house to investigate.

I couldn’t, of course, go out unarmed.

I quickly assessed my room, scanning the area for anything weapon-like.  I wasn’t a baseball guy, so no bats were at hand and my book and CD collection were, at best, a cumbersome supply of projectiles.  But then my eyes fell upon the ukulele.

A ridiculous tool of self-defense, to be sure, but then, it was all I had.  And maybe the sight of me wielding Harmony of Chicago’s best assembly of glue, wood, and strings would be enough to throw the potential intruder off guard, gaining me the advantage in our duel.

I crept down the hallway, approaching each room, turning the doorknobs ever so gently before thrusting open the door, ukulele raised above my head, battle cry  ready on my lips.  And nothing.

Room by room, I found nothing.

I had journeyed past the hallway.  I had secured the living room and the front entry-way.  I found no sign of intruders, only a growing sense of silliness and skepticism at my previous sense of dread.  The ukulele now hung at my side.  The house was now entirely accounted for, other than the basement, a territory I decided I would best leave to my enemies, as any approach from that enclosed area would make plenty of noise and leave me enough time to prepare for battle.

I went back to my bed and I slept.  And you can bet I had that ukulele, the tool of my victory, the instrument of my enemies’ destruction, my four stringed sword of doom, in my arms as I slipped back to sleep.

The epilogue to the tale involves a news story a few days later.  An area a few states South of my own Michigan home, just before the time I had awoken and embarked on my ukulele adventure, had experienced a very small but still affecting earthquake, one that had been reported as far North as my own state.

The tale gained fame among friends and family, of my adventure through the house, of my choice of weapon, and the explanation for my sense of doom.

Out of shaking earth was born…the Ukulele of God.