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.

The Avett Brothers New Album, "True Sadness"

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Long time listeners of the Avett Brothers are familiar with the continually evolving sound of the folk rock band, both in recording and on stage. Growing from the original line-up of Seth Avett, Scott Avett, and Bob Crawford playing homegrown Americana, they have expanded through the years to incorporate rock, pop, and orchestral sounds, playing with the energy of a punk band and the heart of storytellers. Live shows now consist of seven players, filling performance venues with a contagious vigor no listener can resist and leaving audiences singing, dancing, and crying both tears of sadness and of joy. Their upcoming release, “True Sadness,” is their most unique album and the latest example of the band’s constant maturation. It’s a journey through sounds previously visited in past albums and unification of elements new and old.

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The first single and energetic opener, “Ain’t No Man,” is a soulful sing-along with catchy percussion. The listener finds it difficult to resist clapping their hands and joining in on the chorus before the track’s end. “Mama, I Don’t Believe,” opens with a harmonica reminiscent of The Refreshments or Springsteen. The sweeping strings are a callback to the album “I And Love And You,” and the full sound that came out of the addition of cellist Joe Kwon to the band. It’s with “No Hard Feelings” that we get into the deep of the album, a journey that takes us through feelings both personal and far-reaching. In light of events in Orlando, in Stanford, and around the world, this mellow tribute to love, forgiveness, and compassion are especially relevant and emotional. The final lyrics of the song, “I have no enemies,” repeated over and over, are a lesson for us all in our reactions to the difficulties around us.

with no hard feelings…lord knows they haven’t done much good for anyone.

The album continues in stride, exploring traditional music with banjo, fiddle, and tambourine, before spinning us around with technological rhythms and percussion. By the time we’ve reached the second single, “Satan Pulls The Strings,” we have experienced the most prominent merging of sounds, with visits from the Hammond B3 organ and the electric violin.

The album’s title track makes use of one of my favorite Avett Brother tricks, carrying us along lyrically to a particular emotional space, eventually shifting the music to match the tone mid-song. It’s a message of communal penitence and somber reflection, but the music reminds us of hope and recovery. The message and sentiment, especially in the frame of world events, were enough to make me cry on the first listen. The statement, perhaps, is that “true sadness” is of the most genuine and beautiful aspects of life.

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The Avett Brothers are skilled most in their ability to communicate the shades of life we each experience. Rarely are the subjects of their lyrics grandiose or out of reach and, even then, they manage to find the commonality of humanity within them. The fierce emotional response to their music by fans from varied backgrounds is the result of their artistry. With “True Sadness,” they have continued that path, expanding into musical realms that are technological, ambient, and catchy, all while managing to keep in touch with their roots in acoustic music and Americana themes. Their musical evolution is much a reflection of that of society. The affecting love and hope it communicates is an example both of their musical prowess and of the paths we should each take forward.

 

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“True Sadness” releases today, June 24th. Tour dates and information on the band is available at theavettbrothers.com.

What's In The CD Changer?

It is not actually a CD changer. I long ago traded up to the world digital technology, using either my beloved 160GB iPod Classic or the laptop I am using to type this piece. The spirit is the same, however. The playlist I titled “CD Changer” is the collection of albums, EPs, and other music I have most recently discovered or, for whatever reason, has found a place back into my active playlist. This is the default listen when I am not seeking out a specific song or artist, the go-to source that takes the place for me of commercial radio or digital streaming.

Though the idea is to occasionally purge the playlist, moving out one well-worn album to make space for a new one, the digital freedom of virtually unlimited space often leads to a monster. As of now, the list that was emptied at the beginning of the year contains no less than 28 albums, over 400 songs, and a literal day of unrepeated listening. One could say 2016 has been a good year for my listening pleasure.

A number of titIMG_1527les were acquired this past holiday season, albums long on my wishlist that family and friends so graciously help me taper down at each year’s end. This includes my most recent attempts to fill out my Bruce Springsteen catalog, with the long missing “Nebraska” album and The Boss’s tribute to Pete Seeger, folk music and the Americana tradition, “We Shall Overcome”. Bettye Lavette‘s “Thankful N’ Thoughtful”, has a home there as well, another example of her skillful soul once ignored in the MoTown era, but brought to light in recent decades.

As a writer, blogger, and podcaster, I receive my fair share of digital submissions that make their way into the “Changer.” The odd rock sounds of Idiot Glee‘s self-titled roguish and mirthful LP have led to more than one embarrassing “caught singing at the stdeepseadiveroplight” moment. Ellis William‘s activating jazz-rock effort, “Call To Battle”, is a definite listen when I don my headphones. Midwest Soul Xchange‘s elevated, atmospheric roots-rock album “New American Century” is still getting plays. Try as I might, I cannot yet bring myself to move indie rockers Deep Sea Diver‘s latest, “Secrets”, down the playlist line.

I recently attended a show at South Bend’s McCormick’s Coney Island Bar so I could catch one of our great local bands, The Rutabega. I was sure to attend early to catch all of the opening musicians because, as I publicly stated prior to the show, “the other bands should be awesome too…I know this because Joshua (of The Rutabega) told me and he wouldn’t lie.” As usual, he delivered, bringing together a collection of excellent acts including South Bend’s Infinite Buffalo, the North Carolinians Maple Stave, and Kalamazoo’s Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts. I came home from the show with pockets stuffed with new music. JSTLG’s “No Better”, in particular, has had no shortage of rounds of listening.

It is just the beginning of Spring and the options are overwhelming. I look soon to add the anticipated solo debut from former Fifth On The Floor frontman, Justin Wells. The Flobots, are working diligently on their two-album release funded by fans and fueled their activist and community oriented energies. This past weekend, Grand Rapids The Crane Wives delivered the latest in their catalog of indie-folk rock. I am still digging my way through NPR’s “The Austin 100”, a collection of some of the best in unknown and up-and-coming music to come out of the recent South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.

With over 24 hours of listening, I have hardly touched the contents of the “CD Changer”. We exist in an ever-connected age of art and music, with creators given renewed freedom to experiment and share, so the list is only to grow. Whether you are a maker or a listener, tell me what you are listening to in 2016 by emailing me at contact@anywheretheneedledrops or Tweeting at #AtNDPlaylist.

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Idiot Grins

Long have I been a proponent of more horns in my music and Idiot Grins have brought us what I desire with their new toe-tapping album, Big Man. The addition of horns represents a change from their last album. They’ve blended their energetic country-rock sound with the sounds of soul & R&B, bringing on the assistance of Johnny Bamont and Mic Gillette. The mixture works beautifully and, as Randy Strauss of the band puts it “soul and country come from the same place…the heart.”

Check out the first single, Poppy Piss:

That track and the entire Idiot Grins album is available on iTunes and Amazon. Check it!

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