Southeastern (2013) :: Jason Isbell :: Album of the Week


Southeastern (2013) :: Jason Isbell :: Album of the Week


A Little History:

Southeastern is Jason Isbell’s fourth studio album, released in June of 2013, from Southeastern Records. The album was produced by David Cobb. The album followed a stint Isball had in rehab. He has stated regarding the album, and the timing of recording,

“This time I want to remember it all.”

This album was recorded without full participation of Isbell’s regular backing band, The 400 Unit, mostly due to the fact that Isbell wanted this to be more of a solo, acoustic album. That said, Chad Gamble and Derry deBorja, of The 400 Unit, do appear on drums and keyboards, respectively, on the album.

Isbell’s producer, Cobb, encouraged him to record his vocals in one take. The album was finished a day or two before Isbell’s wedding to fellow musician Amanda Shires.

Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires

The album isn’t named after geography or direction, Isbell explains:

“(geography) wasn’t actually the reason I named the album that. That came from a tool and die shop in Alabama that my dad worked at when I was very young. He came home with terrible stories; I thought of the place as a dungeon. So I wanted to reclaim that for my own purposes.”

The album debuted at # 23 on Billboard 200,and # 7 on Top Rock Albums, selling 18,000 copies in its first week.

My thoughts:

Though I was aware of Jason Isbell, it was not until the Fall of 216 that I started to really listen to his music. The opening track from this album, “Cover Me Up”, was gifted to me as part of a significant playlist that meant a lot to me at the time. Though the playlist was full of other amazing songs, it was this one that stood out and stuck itself into me. I listened to it so much that it made the list of most played songs of 2016 (#12).

The song is about hope, about love, about getting clean and grabbing hold of life again. It is one of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard, real and raw, emotional, flawed, confessional, hopeful, and what feels like — true.

It is by far my favorite song on the album, but there are many others that I love, as well. “Elephant” was the second song on this album to grab a hold of me. It is heartbreaking, and again, so raw and real, and true feeling. “Flying Over Water” is a newer favorite. It feels like the retrospective, 20/20 vision we all seem to get after a relationship is over, the way we (finally) see things clearer, even if it is too late.

My second favorite track, coming in after “Cover Me Up” is “Songs that She Sang in the Shower”. This one is hard to listen to some days. Music being intertwined in love, and becoming part of the loss and heartbreak when love is lost, hits pretty deep with me. This is a turn it up and sing-a-long, and cry, in the car alone – though, to be fair, “Cover Me Up” is one I now turn up loud, sing-a-long, and it definitely makes me cry now… but once it didn’t.

“Super 8” belongs on my next Road Trip Mix (its in the works, as is a plan for a road trip…SOON). “Yvette” is another hard to listen to song, which hits on a personal level, and makes me cry, too.

Honestly, there is not a song on here that I have not embraced, and fallen musically in love with. Jason’s voice, his songwriting, his lyrics, and the guitar work, weave into me deep and stay there. The album feels like a story, or a string of stories, about love, about relationships – and their life spans, about loss, about hurt, about redemption, about survival, and really just about living.

I am really hoping he tours this year, as I would love to hear him, and all these songs, live.


My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Cover Me Up


So girl leave your boots by the bed,
we ain’t leavin’ this room,

’til someone needs medical help,
or the magnolias bloom.

It’s cold in this house,
and I ain’t going out to chop wood,

so cover me up,
and know you’re enough,
to use me for good.”

2. Songs that She Sang in the Shower

“And the songs that she sang in the shower,
all ring in my ears,
like ‘Wish You Were Here.”
How I wish you were here
And experience robs me of hope that you’ll ever return,
so I breathe,
and I burn.
I breathe and I burn.”

3. Flying Over Water

Take my hand,
baby we’re over land.

I know flying over water makes you cry.”

4. Elephant

“If I’d fucked her before she got sick,
I’d never hear the end of it,
she don’t have the spirit for that now.
We just drink our drinks,
and laugh out loud,
and bitch about the weekend crowd,
and try to ignore the elephant,

5. Yvette

“I’ve watched you in class,
your eyes are cut glass,
and you stay covered upstairs
head to your toe,
so nobody will know it was you.”


Quintessential Albums :: Whip-Smart (1994) :: Liz Phair


Quintessential Albums :: Whip-Smart (1994) :: Liz Phair


A Little History:

Whip-Smart is the second released album by Liz Phair, released in 1994. It was the follow-up album to Phair’s well-received debut album, 1993’s Exile in Guyville. Despite not being as critically embraced as Exile, Whip-Smart debuted at #27 on the Billboard 200, and ultimately achieved “gold” status.

Although obscured by its famous predecessor, the album has gained more recognition with time and is largely considered a key record to Phair’s legacy as an artist, along with her other two Matador Records releases and the Girly Sound tapes. 

After the success of Exile in Guyville, expectations ran high for Phair’s sophomore release. Exile had sold over 200,000 units by the spring of 1994, and was Matador’s most successful release (so far). The success of Exile was part of the reason that many major labels were looking to for distribution deals with Matador, most prominently Atlantic Records, which would form Phair’s next album deal.


Because of this, Whip-Smart was one of the most anticipated albums of 199. Danny Goldberg, then-president of Atlantic Records, stated that the record would “hit gold quickly”, and both Rolling Stone and Spin were interested in featuring Phair on their covers.

Phair stated that Whip-Smart was particularly difficult to make because, at the time, she didn’t have many songs that weren’t about the music industry, which displeased her manager. In fact, a substantial part of the final album was composed of songs already written in 1991, when Phair recorded under the Girly-Sound moniker, namely Chopsticks, Shane, Go West, Whip-Smart, and parts of Jealousy (previously known as Thrax).

In total, Whip-Smart took about one month to record. The album was recorded in two distinct sessions. The first one took place in August 1993 in Chicago, while the second one took place in February 1994 in the Bahamas.


Guitarist Casey Rice stated that the initial sessions at Idful Studios in Chicago were not going well because of distractions, such as “the phone ringing, people dropping by the studio, and so on“. Because of this, Phair wanted to continue recording the album in New York. However, because of financial constraints, the band ended up deciding to contact the Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas.

The same team that worked on Guyville worked again on what would become Whip-Smart. The album was recorded and mixed by Brad Wood, with the assistance of Casey Rice.

Brad Wood stated that the recording process was very much spontaneous, saying that “[Liz would] bring in a song and we’d record the whole thing that day. I’d have to write a drum and bass part right on the spot.”


There was, however, a pressure to improve on the sound of the previous record, to meet the expectations of Phair’s newly formed fanbase.

Liz Phair has stated that the songs on Whip-Smart chronicle the beginning, middle and end of a relationship: “a rock fairy tale, from meeting the guy, falling for him, getting him and not getting him, going through the disillusionment period, saying ‘Fuck it,’ and leaving, coming back to it.

Phair has also commented on the sound of the album saying that it sounds more confident and playful, and less frustrated, tense, and sexual than Exile in Guyville.


Liz Phair was also responsible for a great part of the artwork design. The cover art of the album is taken from a Soviet poster. In the original poster, there is an elderly person (as shown in lyrics booklet) in the middle of the star, however the album cover shows a somewhat out-of-focus photo of Phair.

The booklet features a collage of several polaroid photos of the band members and words composing the children’s counting rhyme “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe“.


What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

I was working at Tower Records. I was living back home again, me and my young daughter. I was recovering from a failed relationship/marriage/attempt at a “family”. I was twenty-five and trying to figure out who I was (would that now be called a “quarter-life crisis”?). I was in that state where I was making mistakes and missteps, but also was being bold and brave and daring.

Music was everything…but when isn’t it?

Women in music were my go-to, my source of strength, my collaborators and muses and map to this so-called life of mine.

I’d fallen hard for Exile (who hadn’t?), but it was Whip-Smart came around and stole my heart just the same. The album was filled with songs that begged to be played loud, to be the musical accompaniment to road trips and trysts in backseats with pretty boys and girls. It was part of my undisputed, “quintessential” soundtrack of being twenty-five. I needed these songs so fucking much.


My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

5. Jealousy

“I can’t believe you had a life before me.
I can’t believe they let you run around free.
Just putting your body wherever it seemed like a good idea –
What a good idea…”

4. Go West

“And I’m not looking forward to following through,
but it’s better than always running back into you.”

3. Dogs of L.A. 

“The sawed off tree-trunks stand among the living palms,
you were beaming as I focused in and I panned along.
And I raced you to the top,
kicking snakes up from dusty rocks –
Young Abe Vigoda plays Frankenstein.”

2. Whip-Smart

“And I’m gonna lock my son up in a tower,
’til I write my whole life story,
on the back of his big brown eyes.”

1. Supernova

“Your kisses are as wicked as an F-16,
and you fuck like a volcano,
and you’re everything to me…”


Quintessential Album Series :: Bachelor No. 2 (2000) :: Aimee Mann


Quintessential Album Series :: Bachelor No. 2 (2000) :: Aimee Mann


A Little History:

The third studio album from Aimee Mann, Bachelor No. 2 was released in 2000 under the full title of Bachelor No. 2 or, the Last Remains of the Dodo. The album is notable because it Aimee sold the album through her website because initially she was without a record company/label support. The album went on to gain a worldwide release and achieve respectable sales, aided by the success of the Magnolia soundtrack, which shares material from Bachelor No. 2.

The first release was a limited-run 7-song preview EP which was sold at concerts and via her website.


The full album was slated for a release through Interscope, but they did not think the material had commercial appeal. Mann purchased back the rights and began selling the album online. It was one of the first albums to be successful with only online sales, eventually selling 25,000 copies from Mann’s website.

After attracting attention, a distribution deal to traditional retail channels led to sales topping 200,000.

The Japanese version of the album contains bonus material, the European version has a different track listing and slightly different material.

The album was remastered and released in 2004 by the audiophile record label Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) as a hybrid stereo SACD and as an LP on 180-gram virgin vinyl.


 What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

I have a long-standing love relationship with Aimee Mann’s music. Ever since her work with ‘Til Tuesday, through labels and independent web releases, holiday shows and movie soundtracks, I’ve been there, loving her songs. There is something so genuine, so melodic and catchy, and lyrically smart and emotional, that I relate and embrace. Her music is literate to me, personal and poetic, but more than that, each song feels like a story, a confession, and revelation. Each album works that way for me, too, some of them “reading” like a collection of short stories.

Bachelor No. 2 feels like a break-up and the recovery process that follows. The endings that are hard to maneuver through, the ones we get stuck in, even when we want not to be. There is complex emotions at work here, regret, longing, wistful wanting, love, and loss. There is strength and there is vulnerability, and so many stories that run the gamut of both, volleying between wanting to love and wanting to be free.


This album reminds me of a particular time in my life when I listened to it a lot, and when my emotions and life were volleying between wants and wishes. I took risks for love the year this album came out/the year this album was in my life, and later, years later, when that same love’s bottom fell out, it was still there for me. On both sides of love, and in-between, it seemed to get me.

It was more then just a love story/break-up companion though. This album, and Aimee’s music, would connect me to friends in that way that only music does. Red Vines and Driving Sideways would spark conversations that would lead into other, bigger conversations that would lead into friendships that withstand time and distance, and other love stories/break-ups. I would play Ghost World, while dressing up as Enid from the comic/movie of the same name, one Halloween with good friends at my side, wearing thrift store glasses that looked the part, but had such a strong prescription that I’d end up with a two-day headache.

Deathly would stand-out and stick the longest, those opening lines hitting hard and deep, still haunting me today.

The album, as a whole, is loaded with meaning and memory, and still emotionally moves me just as much as the first times I played it.


My Top 5 Songs:

1. Deathly

“Now that I’ve met you,
would you object to,
never seeing each other again.”

2. Red Vines

“Are cigarettes and Red Vines,
just close your eyes,
’cause, baby –
you never do know.”

3. You Do

“You write a little note that,
you leave on the bed,
and spend some time dissecting
every word he said.
And if he seemed a little strange,
well, baby, anyone can change –
and you do.”

4. Just Like Anyone

“And I will wonder.”

5. Driving Sideways

“And your companion,
will not help you to navigate –
for fear she may be wrong.”


Quintessential Albums :: Grace (1994) :: Jeff Buckley


Quintessential Albums :: Grace (1994) :: Jeff Buckley


A Little History:

Grace is the only complete studio album by Jeff Buckley. It was his debut album which was released on August 23, 1994. While the album initially had poor sales, peaking at #149 in the United States, and received mixed reviews, it gradually acquired critical acclaim and commercial success, and as of 2007, had sold over 2 million copies worldwide.

On the album’s tenth anniversary, an extended version subtitled the “Legacy Edition” was released.


“Grace is what matters in anything—especially life, especially growth, tragedy, pain, love, death. That’s a quality that I admire very greatly. It keeps you from reaching out for the gun too quickly. It keeps you from destroying things too foolishly. It sort of keeps you alive.” ~ Jeff Buckley

The above quote came from interview footage featured in the 2004 documentary, Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley.

The album has been regarded as a classic and is now frequently on many ‘best-of’ music critics’ polls. Rolling Stone magazine selected Grace as one of its “500 Greatest Albums of All Time“. Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which appears on Grace, was chosen for the Library of Congress National Recording Registey.


In Rolling Stones “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” they described Grace as follows:

Buckley had a voice like an oversexed angel, and the songs here shimmer and twist. The fierce rocker “Eternal Life” upends Led Zeppelin’s take on the blues while honoring it: Instead of a hellhound on his trail, Buckley, who drowned in 1997, evokes immortality bearing down on him.

More on Grace:

People ask me what kind of music was it,” Buckley’s former bassist Mick Grondahl said on Amazing Grace, “and I just say, ‘Well, it’s somewhere between Billie Holiday and Led Zeppelin.’”


What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

It didn’t hit me right away, though I was exposed to the album often. It was one of those favorites that my Tower Records co-workers would play in the store, and talk about. The song, and video, to Last Goodbye, played heavily on MTV, as one of their buzz songs, around the time that MTV played episodes of My So-Called Life. Somewhere I have video tapes of the show and Buckley’s Last Goodbye was constantly part of the commercials.

Subsequently, Last Goodbye would be the song I first associated with Buckley, and with the album, Grace. It also would come to signify a relationship I had around this same time, one that was fraught with the ghosts of “what if“, and the regret of not saying just how I felt. The lyric “must I dream and always see your face” would slay me, over and over again.

Then, one day, I bought the album and took it back home with me. I played it, and played it, and played it some more, often writing in moleskin journals to it, or online, as this was around the time where I started to discover “online“. I fell in love with this album, feeling every song deep beneath my skin, trading favorite songs for the other, and wondering how I missed the amazing beauty and wonder and heartbreak of this album for so long.

My love for Grace, and for Jeff Buckley, grew even more after I read what would become my all-time favorite book, God-Shaped Hole. Jacob Grace, one of my greatest fictional loves, is very obviously inspired by Jeff, not in his story necessarily, or his complete construction, but the album, and Jeff, are in there. I feel him, and Trixie, and their story when I listen to the album almost as often as I feel myself, and my story, in the songs.

Musician Jeff Buckley

My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

5. Hallelujah

“And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch,
and love is not a victory march –
it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

4. So Real

“I love you,
but i’m afraid to love you.”

3. Forget Her

“Don’t fool yourself,
she was heartache from the moment that you met her.”

2. Last Goodbye

“Must I dream and always see your face?”

1. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over

“And maybe I’m too young,
to keep good love from going wrong,
but tonight,
you’re on my mind so
you never know.”


Quintessential Albums :: Little Earthquakes (1991) :: Tori Amos


Quintessential Albums :: Little Earthquakes (1992) :: Tori Amos


A Little History:

Little Earthquakes is Tori Amos’ debut album (not counting her Y Kant Tori Read effort).  It features four released singles:  Silent All These Years, China, Winter and Crucify.

Following the end of her synth-pop band, Y Kant Tori Read, Tori wrote and recorded 12 songs at Capitol Records in Los Angeles with Davitt Sigerson producing.

Tori took the album to Atlantic Records in December 1990, with a 10-track demo tape, some being newer songs, but most of them from the June recording. Atlantic did not care for the songs initially presented. In response, Tori and her then boyfriend, Eric Rosse, recorded a few new ones. They had limited budget to work with, so most of it was done at Rosse’s home studio, using his 3M 24-track analog tape machine and a Yamaha CP-80 piano. They also took to Stag Studios to us a Yamaha grand piano for some of the songs.

Atlantic accepted the album, removing a song from the original demo, and adding four from the December sessions.


Tori moved to London to work with Ian Stanley; Atlantic thought Tori would have an easier time of achieving success, because of English appreciation for eccentric performers. Here she recorded what would become two of her early singles. Me and a Gun was the last song written for the album, while China was an early track, originally titled Distance, that she wrote in 1987.


The second final version of the album was accepted by Atlantic. However, this was still revised before the final release; a 13-track promo cassette shows that the song Little Earthquakes was to appear after Happy Phantom on side one, with side two closing with Flying Dutchman. The latter track was presumably dropped due to the physical restraints of the vinyl LP format.

Atlantic’s European counterpart, East West, promoted the record extensively. Amos spent much of 1991 performing in small bars and clubs in London and playing for music executives and journalists, often in her own apartment.


When the album was finally released in the UK in January 1992, it reached # 14 and remained on the Top 75 charts (UK Albums Chart) for 23 weeks. A month later, it was released in the USA to breakthrough critical success and also announced itself as a chart mainstay, despite peaking outside the Top 50 on the Billboard 200.

The accompanying singles (along with Me and a Gun and Silent All These Years) were China (January 1992 UK), Winter (March 1992 UK/November 1992 US) and Crucify (May 1992 US/June 1992 UK), the US EP version of which featured covers of songs by artists including The Rolling Stones (Angie) and Nirvana (Smells Like Teen Spirit).


What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

1992 was the year my life changed in significant ways. It was the year I turned 23, the year I became a mother, the year I (temporarily) moved back home, the year I broke up with the father of my baby daughter. I felt like everything I’d ever known of myself was being turned inside out, and I was examining all the pieces, trying to find myself, and trying to find strength and conviction, too.

Tori and Nirvana came into my life together, or just about. Their voices, their songs, their lyrics, their albums, they were there for me, they helped me get through the year, they helped me get through myself. Tori especially, and Little Earthquakes as an album, helped give me a voice, helped me face things I’d never dealt with before, and gave me the courage to be myself. The songs were solace, too, like a dear friend holding my hand and just listening, occasionally murmuring softly that I was going to be okay.

The songs, each and every one of them, are so loaded with memories, with pieces of me, with emotions that are evoked whenever I revisit the album. Listening now, 23 years later, I still feel so much of my younger self in the songs, but also, I feel an older me, my lived experiences, and a complexity of emotions, a then and now meet-up, that may be even more moving.


My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Precious Things (live, 1992)

“I wanna smash the faces of those beautiful boys,
those Christian boys.
So you can make me come –
that doesn’t make you Jesus.”

2. Silent All These Years

“Years go by,
will I choke on my tears
’til finally there is nothing left?”

3. Leather

“I could just pretend that you love me,
the night would lose all sense of fear.
But why do I need you to love me,
when you can’t hold what I hold dear?”

4. China

“You’re right next to me,
but I need an airplane –
I can feel the distance as you breathe.”

5. Little Earthquakes

“We danced in graveyards with vampires
’til dawn,
we laughed int he faces of kings,
never afraid to burn.
And I hate and I hate,
and I hate and I hate,
watching us wither –
black winged roses that safely changed their color.”


Quintessential Albums :: Recovering the Satellites :: Counting Crows


Quintessential Albums :: Recovering the Satellites :: Counting Crows


A Little History:

Recovering the Satellites is the second album by Counting Crows, released on October 14, 1996 in the United Kingdom and two days later in the United States. Released three years (and two years of worldwide touring) after their debut album, it reached #1 in the United States and was a top seller in Australia, Canada, and the UK as well.

For this album, the quintet became a sextet, with fellow San Franciscan Dan Vickrey added, contributing a second guitar as well as sharing in songwriting credits on four of the fourteen tracks. Steve Bowman was replaced as drummer by Ben Mize.

Counting Crows brought in producer Gil Norton for Recovering the Satellites (The track Miller’s Angels was produced by Marvin Etzione).


Lyrically speaking, the album is full of songs in which Adam Duritz contemplates his loss of privacy and sudden change of fortunes, among other angst-ridden subjects. Sleep, and the lack thereof, is also a recurring theme, as is failed relationships and weather (all three common themes in most of Counting Crows music).

Angels of the Silences was the lead single and is the second track from the album. The song peaked at # 3 on the U.S. Modern Rock Tracks chart, making it the highest-placing single from the album. Adam said of the songs on VH1 Storytellers as:

I write quite a few songs where the sort of issue is faith–having faith, keeping faith. And this song in particular is about the difficulty in having faith in things, and finding things to have faith in, in yourself, in God, in like he said, a woman. Faith is a weird thing, it in a sense it is all about waiting. It’s not actually about getting anything, you know, faith is about the wait, because once you get something there is no need anymore. So a lot about faith is just the willingness to sort of throw yourself on a fence and hang there for a while. That’s a very difficult and bitter thing, you know. In this song, I keep saying the main character, *I*, I said, “All my sins, I would pay for them if I could come back to you.” It’s not just about finding things to believe in, it’s about wanting to be able to believe in anything too. And it’s about all the voices that get inside your head and whisper for you to do it or not to do it as well. And it’s called “Angels of the Silences.


A Long December was the second single and thirteenth track from the album. The song peaked at # 5 on the U.S. Hot Modern Rock Tracks and # 1 on the Canadian Singles Chart.

The music video featured Courtney Cox, who Adam once dated.

Adam said of the song, also on VH1 Storytellers:

“In the middle of December of ‘95 my friend Jennifer got run over by a car, and just creamed; and I spent that whole month, while we were just beginning the record and most of Jan & Feb in the hospital, each like, morning and early afternoon then I’d go to the studio, the house where we were recording, and we’d play all afternoon and all night . It was a very weird time because ya know, there is a lot of stress ; not that it’s a big deal being a second album, but any album. There just not that easy to make. It’s a very stressful process, and especially when you’re first starting out. And like I said, I spent a lot of time in the hospital which is pretty weird. But one day I just left the studio about 2 in the morning, and I went to my friend Samantha and Tracy’s house which is Hillside Manor; and uh.. That’s what we call it anyway, it’s just a little house and I sat there talking with them, I woke ‘em up, got ‘em out of bed and made ‘em talk to me for a couple hours, then I went home to my house. “And I wrote this song between about 4 and 6 and then went to the hospital the next day, and came to the house and I played it for the guys before dinner and … and taught it to them after dinner. And we played it about 6 or 7 times ..and .. do you remember which take number it was? Take number 6. We just stopped, that was it. We recorded the song, it was done. We all went in to the kitchen and had a cold beer, I grabbed Brad our engineer and ran back out about 5min later, had him play the tape three times, just recorded all the harmonies …and uh..we’ve never touched it since, that was it. It’s a completely live song except for the harmonies. “It’s a song abo ut looking back on your life and seeing changes happening, and for once for me, looking forward and thinking… ya know…things are gonna change for the better ‘maybe this year will be better than the last’ and uh… and so, like a lot of songs on the end of album it’s not about everything turning out great, but it at least is about hope…and the possibilities …”


Daylight Fading was the third single and also the third track of the album. This song, along with previous releases such as Mr. Jones and A Long December, had video rotation on MTV and VH1. Adam said about this song:

“At some point, it’s always going to happen…it’s a lifetime commitment. (Life’s) always going to go up, it’s always going to go down…. for me, at least. It may not be as extreme as it once was. There’s always going to be periods where I don’t write for a while, where I get sort of bitter. Maybe life will change and get better that way. But, you know, I wouldn’t…wouldn’t bet on it. It’s a one in a million thing to get what we got. Everybody that’s in our position wants….all of our friends at home, everybody wanted to be in a rock band. And, we have a lot of friends who are still playing music who are really good who haven’t had the success. We’re together, spending our lives playing music, unless we screw it up. I wouldn’t trade that for anything….any happiness… any peace of mind…there’s nothing in the world that I would trade for being able to do this with my life. Instead of having some wasted life like I thought I was going to have. At the same time, if you have difficulties coming into this sort of a situation, fame doesn’t necessarily fix them. It fixes some things, but it doesn’t fix any problems you might have with yourself. If you have problems dealing with people, all you have now is more people. Some of it actually exacerbates. It’s not a black and white thing, it’s a gray thing. There’s really parts of it I wouldn’t trade for the whole world, and parts of it I have trouble with, adjusting to those things. I’d really gone into hibernation and I didn’t know how to deal with the fact that the thing which was most important to me in my life was causing me the most pain and…um….fear that I’d ever been through. Fear….really, fear over what was happening. I was very scared dealing with all those people all of the time. Everywhere I went, I was really freaked out by that. Honestly, I can say “have you ever been scared of anything?” I was just scared. I didn’t dislike the people or anything, I just was….scared. And that was a weird thing to have…that the thing that you wanted the most in your life was causing you this sort of thing…this tape-loop you can get onto and it’ll drive you crazy. And I didn’t see any way out of it. Those songs are kind of about that…I just don’t know how to deal with this… I *didn’t* know how to deal with it. Now I just pretend its not happening. Because I’m not on the road yet. (In trance-like voice) I AM NOT HERE…I AM NOT HERE….THERE IS NO AUDIENCE HERE.”


What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

It would be near impossible for me to choose my # 1 favorite Counting Crows album. Some days, of course, I lean towards their freshman album, August and Everything After, like the majority of fans, I think. Much like Pete Yorn’s debut, musicforthemorningafter, sometimes August and Everything After overshadows all the other albums, which does an injustice to the other great music that came later. Thing is, there are so many songs on the other albums that have been so monumentally important to me that it would be tragic and wrong, and impossible, to not include some of them in my “quintessential” lists.

This one, their sophomore endeavor, is so important to me and over the years, and through the re-listens, endears itself to me more and more. There are so many songs that hit me emotionally in that deep and bittersweet way, songs that hold in them memories of mine that are opened and unraveled with every new listen, songs that remind me of love and loss and significant moments in my life.

The sleeplessness, the losses, the longing, the questions of love and hope and faith, and all the wishes for a better new day all resonate so strongly with me. And the “Los Angeles” and “California” in the songs, I relate to them so much, too. There is a beautiful sadness in this album, a gorgeous melancholy, and an unforgettable desperation that is so real and raw and wonderful. This album has an edge to it, too, a rockier sound than its predecessor, and an overarching theme that is timeless, to me.


My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Goodnight Elisabeth

“If you wrap yourself in daffodils,
I will wrap myself in pain.
And, if you’re the queen of California,
baby, I am the king of the rain.”

2. A Long December

“And it’s one more day up in the canyon,
and it’s one more night in Hollywood.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean,
I guess I should.”

3. Catapult

“All of these quiet battered voices,
wait for the hunger to come.
we got little revolvers,
and stupid choices,
and no one to say when we’re done.”

4. Mercury

“She’s entwined in me,
crazy as can be.
Yeah, but she’s all right with me.”

5. Recovering the Satellites

“Maybe you were shot down in pieces,
maybe I slipped in between,
but we were gonna be the wildest people they ever hoped to see,
just you and me.”

Quintessential Albums :: Pictures For Pleasure :: Charlie Sexton

Charlie Sexton

Quintessential Albums :: Pictures For Pleasure :: Charlie Sexton


A Little History:

Pictures for Pleasure, released in 1985, is the first studio album released by singer/guitarist Charlie Sexton. The album was the first solo effort by the then 16-year-old musician who had already secured a reputation as a skilled guitarist.

Pictures for Pleasure can best be described as a combination between Sexton’s blues rock roots and the more commercially viable (at the time) new wave genre. The album produced the Billboard Hot 100 # 17 hit Beat’s So Lonely.

Before its release, the teenaged guitarist had been bashing out blues and roots-rock around his native Austin, Texas, but the market for that music was limited — hence the decision to layer the record with drum machines and synthesizers, and go for a more “new wave” sensibility.

The album was recorded in Los Angeles, California. The album was produced by Keith Forsey, who also produced Billy Idol’s biggest 80’s hit albums.


Charlie Sexton’s mother was 16 years old when she gave birth to him in San Antonio, Texas. When he was four, he and his mother moved to Austin, where clubs such as the Armadillo World Headquarters, Soap Creek Saloon, and more notably the Split Rail and Antone’s Blues Club later exposed him to popular music.

After a brief period living outside Austin with his mother, Sexton moved back to Austin at the age of 12.

charlie-sexton-11Charlie & Stevie Ray Vaughan

By the early 1980’s, while Charlie and his brother Will Sexton were still young boys, they were both taught how to play guitar by the local Austin legend W. C. Clark, known as the “Godfather of Austin Blues”. With the help of Joe Ely and other local musicians such as Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sexton developed his talents as a musician.

charlie-sexton-2What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

My best friend and I discovered Charlie Sexton’s album in the bins at one of our favorite record stores of the past, Music Market. We had never heard of him before, but in a very “judging a book by its cover“, or in this case album sleeve, we were taken in by how beautiful Mr. Sexton was, and decided to take a chance and buy it. Luckily, the chance was worth it, as it would soon become one of our favorite albums.

I would later notice Beats So Lonely in the film Some Kind of Wonderful, and get gleefully happy to hear it, thinking “our Charlie” was featured in the movie. I couldn’t help it really, it felt like he was our discovery.

My immediate favorite song remains my favorite off the album, the song Impressed, that is overflowing with literary and cinematic “coupling” references. It remains one of my favorite love songs, the sentiment that the kind of love the singer is crooning about is better than any fictional/famous love story always resonated with me, because don’t we all want that, a real love that puts all the other loves of the past, real and imagined, to shame?

I still listen to this album, and obsess over certain songs on it. I think I always will, which, to me, makes it “quintessential“.

Now I just need to a) get a copy of this on vinyl (again), and b) seek out some of Charlie’s more recent music.


Did you happen to notice him in last year’s film, Boyhood?


My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Impressed

“I am not impressed,
I love you the best.”

2. Beats So Lonely

“Come on, baby,
you know there’s something missing,
don’t find nothing,
no more coincidences.
Ready, baby,
look in these eyes and you will see,
the things will happen,
but only if they’re meant to be.”

3. Restless

“Always someone out there that is calling my name.”

4. Hold Me

“Hold me,
darlin’ won’t you hold me,
never let me go.”

5. You Don’t Belong Here

“You don’t belong here,
you know it’s true.
Oh, you look all wrong here,
don’t know how to act or do.
But, you know sometimes I think,
I don’t belong here, too.”


Quintessential Albums :: All Your Favorite Bands :: Dawes


Quintessential Albums :: All Your Favorite Bands :: Dawes

1428335794150113_dawes_la_cutlass_0802_wide-68527cff5a9bd1ae18841ff420a964dba3cba185-900x673A Little History:

All Your Favorite Bands is the fourth studio album by American folk-rock band Dawes, released on June 2, 2015.

Dawes is composed of brothers Taylor (guitars and vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), along with Wylie Gelber (bass) and Tay Strathairn (keyboards).

The band was formed from the band Simon Dawes after the departure of co-songwriter Blake Mills, subsequently abandoning a post-punk sound in favor of folk rock. Dawes has been described as having a Laurel Canyon sound in the vein of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.

All Your Favorite Bands is said to maintain a theme of sentimentality and nostalgia, looking backwards and wishing well friends and lovers with a very universal thought that all your favorite bands stay together. To me, it iterates the idea that music is personal and vital to human existence, that love may fade, friends may drift apart, but your favorite music, and bands, they stay with you forever.

I think that summation has some truth to it, but I also feel the album’s other theme is understanding and clarity, the kind that comes from growing older and looking back with a different perspective. It is about the complications of relationships, the complexities of existing in this world, and the consequence of reaching goals (in the case of Now That It’s Too Late, Maria, the goal is fame), or not reaching them (in the case of Somewhere Along the Way, not achieving fame). There is a jadedness, as well as a sense of peace, and maybe a tiny bit of hope, embedded in these songs that I believe connects directly into that sense of understanding, and growing up. That said, it could all circle back to that sense of sentiment, of looking back fondly (or at least with forgiveness) and wishing all of them, including your past “self”, the best.


What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

I fell hard for Dawes after hearing Time Spent in Los Angeles, off of their second album, Nothing is Wrong, and have been a fan ever since. It was North Hills (debut album) and Nothing is Wrong that I loved the best (and still consider both quintessential), but when All Your Favorite Bands came along, and I heard the album played live the day of the album’s release (read my review here), it became something more than my favorite of theirs, it became something more personal to me, more intimate, the way only music can. It is one of those albums that I love from start to finish, and can listen to, over and over again, without it wearing thin. The songs hit me deep, hitting on my own sentimental nature, speaking to my penchant for nostalgia, and my own complicated feelings about love and relationships.

There is a cynicism in the songs that feel like the consequence of “time spent in Los Angeles”, and of growing up. There is loss in the lyrics, but there is also gain, even if the gain seems to come in the colors of forgiveness, understanding, clearer view post-breakup, and a not so easy to admit weakness for certain people that would leave a door open, despite one’s best intentions, to take that one person back no matter what. I think we all have it, those weak spots for people, and I think we also all come to some resolution with others. The ability to reach that point where you can look back without screaming, or crying, and say “okay, I get it now, even if it’s too late for it to matter” are here in the songs. There is also so much love here, too, even if it hurts sometimes to love, even if you can only love at a distance, or in a never-ending sense of “maybe, someday”.

The only thing I wish this album had was Duane Betts, who was amazing as part of the band at the live show I saw. He added a dynamic, and some fantastic guitar solos, that I miss on the record.

This album makes me think. This album makes me feel. This album makes me want to listen to it, over-and-over again.


My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. To Be Completely Honest

“To be completely honest,
I think I know how it ends.
The universe continues expanding,
while we discuss particulars of just being friends.”

2. Somewhere Along the Way

“She was my lullaby personified,
my vision in the mist,
but her contacts were all promoters and a westside therapist.
The 5ams,
the worried friends,
the parting of her lips.
But I needed to witness someone wrestle with what it means to just exist.”

3. All Your Favorite Bands

“I hope that life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be,
I hope your brother’s El Camino runs forever,
I hope the world sees the same person that you’ve always been to me,
And may all your favorite bands stay together.”

4. Now That It’s Too Late, Maria

“There will always be a part of you that’s with me,
And you sure as hell had better feel the same.”

5. Things Happen

“I can’t help how I feel,
I don’t think anyone can.
Sometimes we’re lovers,
sometimes we’re friends;
behold the magnetism between two dead ends.”


Quintessential Albums :: Nightcrawler :: Pete Yorn

dj.mlwmkbst.1200x1200-75Quintessential Albums :: Nightcrawler (2006) :: Pete Yorn


Keep Art Alive :: Photo by Jim Wright

A Little History:

Nightcrawler is the third full-length studio album released by singer Pete Yorn.

On release of Nightcrawler, in 2006, the album was described as exploring, and bringing full circle, the day-for-life metaphor (morning-day-night) which had begun with his debut album, musicforthemorningafter, in 2001, and continued through 2003’s Day I Forgot.

Pete was quoted as saying, “This new record is not so much for the night,” says Pete, “but for a later period in my life. The perspective I have comes from having lived more and experienced more.

On release, the album was described as being perhaps the most musically complex and fully realized album of Pete’s career (thus far), a wealth of striking harmonic textures and sophisticated chord shifts framed in a lyric sensibility that’s dark and hopeful and knowing and funny all at once.

Jason Killingsworth, writing in Paste magazine, said that Nightcrawler is “More daring and challenging than anything Pete Yorn’s done up to now.”

Pete was also quoted as saying in a 2006 interview with, in regards to Nightcrawler, and the so-called “trilogy” of albums:

“I didn’t mean like a Star Wars trilogy where it’s one story at all.” Pete expressed, describing the albums as less than a “trilogy”, but more as a diary of sorts; a person gaining new life experiences and simply commenting on them in linear order. “So it’s a sort of continuing analysis of those topics, and the Nightcrawler LP would represent a later phase,” Pete said.

Nightcrawler included a few special guests. Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) played drums on the track For Us, Butch Walker who produced, and played synth strings, piano, bass, percussion on the track Alive, and Martie Maguire played fiddle and Natalie Maines (Dixie Chicks) added backing vocals to the track The Man. The album includes a cover of the Warren Zevon song, Splendid Isolation.

The song, Same Thing, includes audio from the film, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? in the background.

The closing track, Bandstand in the Sky, was written shortly after Jeff Buckley’s death.

With the release of Nightcrawler, Pete toured extensively in support of it. He preceded every show with an instore acoustic appearance at an indie record shop in the town he was passing through, coined the You and Me Acoustic Tour (much like the recent tour Pete did at venues across the United States). All of these in-store performances were recorded, thus creating an extensive series of Live EP’s.

Nightcrawler was named one of the Top 20 records of 2006 by Paste magazine.

190047_10150190867017425_8082041_nKeep Art Alive :: Photo by Jim Wright

What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

I could easily write about each of Pete Yorn’s albums as “quintessential” to me, and may do that eventually, as they all have tremendous musical meaning in my life, each for different reasons, but all have left an indelible mark. Nightcrawler specifically was a grower for me as a full album, mostly because the songs were not as initially linear as past albums, which caused the album to come off somewhat disjointed, at first.

After a few listens, though, that became part of what I love about this album. It feels like a great mix tape, with mood swings and tempo shifts, highs and lows, and emotional changes to create a flow and intensity to it that makes the best mixes, and this album, listenable. I look forward to the different places and stories each song takes me to, and find that each time I re-listen I decide on a new favorite song.

This album, out of all of Pete’s, is my favorite to drive to, and is a “must-have” on any road trips I take. It has all these great songs to sing-a-long to, and the every-changing feelings match the ever-changing scenery of a good road trip, especially up the coast, or through the desert landscape.


Keep Art Alive :: Photo by Jim Wright

My Top 5 Favorite Songs:
(this one changes all the time, but for today…)

1. The Man

“It’s clear to me,
you’re like the oceans and the light;
try and you’ll remember what you used to be.”

2. Maybe I’m Right

“I let you go,
you never put me out.
Stop it now,
just stop now…
And say, ‘I will’,
say, ‘I will’.”

3. Broken Bottle

“And your love is like a broken bottle.”

4. Splendid Isolation
(live version, at Bing Studios)

“I want to live alone in the desert,
I want to be like Georgia O’Keefe
I want to live on the Upper East Side,
and never go down in the street.”

5. Ice Age

“Those Summer years,
have long since gone.
Throw your arms around my neck,
and whisper softly,
of a thing that we will get.”


Keep Art Alive :: Photo by Jim Wright

Quintessential Albums :: Sam’s Town :: The Killers

album-sams-townQuintessential Albums :: Sam’s Town (2006) :: The Killers


A Little History:

Sam’s Town is the second studio album by American rock band The Killers, released on October 2, 2006 in the United Kingdom and the following day in the United States. Regarding the album, vocalist and primary lyricist Brandon Flowers noted that he “wanted to create an album that captured, chronologically, everything important that got me to where I am today“.


The album takes its name from Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall, a hotel-casino in Las Vegas, the hometown of the band. It is also a local nickname for Las Vegas. Sam’s Town was also a huge sign that was visible by band member Mark Stoermer through his room window when he was young.

4155According to photographer Anton Corbijn, the band initially wanted a “chic, gypsy look,” for the album, and that “out of those discussions [for the sleeve] came these elements of faded glory.” The album’s co-producer, Flood, is dressed as a Native American in the CD booklet. The artwork inside the album booklet is taken from a Downtown Las Vegas mural painted by Suzanne Hackett-Morgan, a local painter. The cover artwork of ‘Sam’s Town‘ features model and singer Felice LaZae. Sam’s Town, and each of the singles from Sam’s Town, use a script typeface for the titles, Archive Roundhand Script from Archive Type, or Gigofonts’ Gf Script No 2.


The album has been said to be influenced by the works of U2, Duran Duran, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Electric Light Orchestra & Dire Straits among others.

In the October 2006 issue of Giant magazine, Flowers was quoted as saying that Sam’s Town would be “one of the best albums in the past twenty years” and in Entertainment Weekly he remarked that it would be “the album that keeps rock & roll afloat.”

Flowers later said of production techniques used on the record, “We didn’t use too many vocal effects. On the first album, we used auto-tune, and I didn’t even realize what was going on with these machines and the computer. I was adamant about not using it this time. You really hear what my voice sounds like, for the first time.”


The Killers dropped a controversial song about murdered schoolgirl Jodi Jones from the album. Flowers wrote “Where Is She?” after watching a TV news report about the 14-year old’s murder when on tour in Scotland.”

The album debuted at # 2 on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling about 315,000 copies in its first week. It became the band’s second number 1 album on the UK Albums Chart, selling about 260,000 copies in its first week. It has been certified Platinum or multi-Platinum in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Argentina, and Ireland. Sam’s Town also produced multiple charting singles including the Platinum chart topping single When You Were Young. It was the second album by The Killers to receive Grammy nominations.

In December 2009, Sam’s Town was voted by Rolling Stone’s readers as the most underrated album of the decade.

Q magazine ranked it as the 11th best album of the decade.

Sam’s Town is estimated to have sold over 8 million copies worldwide to date.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine name-checked U2 (Bono) and Springsteen (The Boss) in his review of the album:

The ghosts of Bono and the Boss are everywhere on the Killers’ second album, Sam’s Town. They’re there in the artful, grainy Anton Corbijn photographs on the sleeve, and they’re there in the myth-making of the song titles. 


For me, I feel like this album is a rock opera, of sorts, unraveling a story as the songs play. I hear U2 and Springsteen, Queen, too, and even some Alice Cooper and The Eagles thrown in. The Duran Duran reference? I heard that more on their debut, but you can’t really escape the influence, especially in the bass lines.


What Makes This “Quintessential” to me?

The first time I played this album in its entirety it was on my way home from Amoeba Records. I was with my then boyfriend, and fellow music obsessive, and both of us were initially let down by it. I think we were waiting and wanting another Hot Fuss, though looking back I do think this album was more us (we just didn’t realize it that night). I can’t speak for him, but knowing us then, and somewhat now, we were/are both writers and storytellers, and this album is one hell of a story.

I grew to love this album so much that it overtook Hot Fuss and became my favorite Killers’ album. Even though I enjoyed, and love, the albums that followed, this one is still my favorite. Sam’s Town reminds me why I love albums so much, and why it matters to listen to them from start to finish, from side A to side B (if you still spin vinyl), and to see how each song works into the next. This album reminds me of the desert, and my love and curiosity I feel for it. It reminds me of writing, and stories. And, this album, helped to inspire a novel I’m writing that takes place in the desert.

Sam’s Town also contains my all-time favorite song by The Killers, Read My Mind.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to that night in the car, on our drive home, and say to both of us – LISTEN to this…really, really listen to this. But, we’d probably protest, insisting that how we felt right then was HOW WE FELT, and go back to discussing music, or pulling off to the side to make out. So be it. I wouldn’t want to disturb us back then.

I’m just glad I hear it, and love it, now.


My Top 5 Favorite Songs:

1. Read My Mind

It’s funny how you just break down,
waiting on some sign.
I pull up to the front of your driveway,
with magic soaking my spine.
Can you read my mind?

2. Bones 

“Don’t you want to come with me?
Don’t you want to feel my bones,
on your bones?”

3. Sam’s Town

“Why do you waste my time?
Is the answer to the question on your mind.
And I’m sick of all my judges,
so scared of what they’ll find.”

4. Why Do I Keep Counting?

“Am I strong enough to be the one?”

5. When You Were Young

“He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus,
but he talks like a gentlemen,
like you imagined,
when you were young.”