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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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.

Samples From The Avett Brothers "True Sadness"

True Sadness, the newest album from the Avett Brothers, releases June 24th. Preorder now.

Satan Pulls The Strings

True Sadness

Ain’t No Man (Official Music Video)

Preorder True Sadness:

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Songs (And More) That Make Me Cry

One of the markers of the current decade of my life has come in my emotional response to the stories around me. It is not an entirely new occurrence to find myself tearing up during a sad movie moment or a particularly moving song, but where my younger self would resist such feelings, in my 30s, I am now more frequently affected and have all but surrendered to the wave of emotions.

While still living in Bridgman, I would make my commute to Niles while listening to podcasts. One of my favorite shows was The Moth, a podcast released by the storytelling organization of the same name. The Moth draws it’s title from the insects attracted to the porch lights where founder George Dawes Green would gather with friends to spin tales and share the human experience. He brought the concept to stages around the world and to the ears of listeners on the Internet, helping people average and extraordinary share their stories. The most affecting of these, for me, is the story of comedian Anthony Griffith titled “The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times.” In the story, he tells of the period in his life when he experienced the parallels of career success, being asked to perform his comedy on The Tonight Show, while simultaneously suffering the biggest loss of his life in his young daughter’s failing fight with cancer. Between Niles and Bridgman, there’s a patch of country road next to an apple orchard where I stopped and sobbed while listening to the story that still draws a tear when I pass today.

In the earlier days of my relationship with my fiance, Kristin, we watched a movie titled Sarah’s Key. Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner and based on the novel of the same name by Tatiana de Rosnay, it follows a modern-day journalist researching the story of a young Jewish girl in German-occupied Paris in 1942. With an obvious amount of difficult content, the events told through a child’s eyes hit me particularly hard and I remember, for the first time with another person, allowing myself to cry at a film without an attempt to mask it.

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This leads to the television show, Parenthood. Though I am more known for watching science fiction and fantasy such as Firefly, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural or crime-filled dramas such as The Shield, Boardwalk Empire, and The Sopranos, I somehow found myself sitting with Kristin and binge-watching the entire Braverman family drama. Such an effect was felt from the show that it is the subject of my newest podcast series, where I will be discussing my connection to the episodes and how many times each one caused me to shed a few tears.

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Of course, we cannot forget music. Some songs draw tears due to the lyrics, while others because of the memories they bring.

I think first of a song known originally not for making me cry, but for having that effect on my coach and friend, Ron. I was drawn to him not only because of the outdoor adventures I would find while joining up with his college classes and tour groups, but also because he unashamedly wears his heart on his sleeve. On a journey toward rock climbing and rafting in West Virginia, it became known that John Denver’s “Country Roads” was known to bring a tear to his eye and it became tradition to load it into the jukebox at any opportunity. Now, thinking of adventures past and those we are still having, the song has the same effect on me.

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I will leave you with what is likely the most emotionally affecting song I know, “Murder In The City” by The Avett Brothers, from their EP “The Gleam II”. The song approaches with a dark tone, opening with lyrics “if I get murdered in the city,” but it is actually a message of love, hope, forgiveness, and, ultimately, family. By the time Scott Avett is urging you to “make sure my sister knows I loved her,” the tears have come.

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Which songs or stories give you your own emotional reactions? Let me know and tell your tale by emailing me at contact@anywheretheneedledrops.com.