Dig Me Out: Music We’re Thankful For

Thanks to the guys at Dig Me Out for inviting me to join a roundtable discussion about music I was thankful for in 2020. My choices weren’t obvious ones (ie – ones that are ending up on every other list) but they also aren’t the least bit obscure. I’m working on putting together a list to post here but in the meantime, check out Dig Me Out – Episode 517 – wherever you download podcasts from or just click the link.

Monday Roundup: Lowland Hum, Greta Van Fleet, Thelonious Monster

Obsession of the Weekend (Part 1) – Lowland Hum

Saw a recommended Paul McCartney video pop up on YouTube but didn’t check it out, moved on. Got to wondering if it was a video from his upcoming album which I’m anxiously awaiting and, I think, it’s more likely that his remastered “Waterfalls” is what YouTube was saying I needed to watch. So I did. Simple enough little song and it got me to wondering if any contemporary artists had covered it. Found out the husband-and-wife duo Lowland Hum put out a covers EP this summer on Bandcamp which included their take on “Waterfalls”. Led me down a rabbit hole, first was this video:

There are times when quiet, acoustic guitar-driven music is what I crave but it’s been a while since that has been a focus for me. When the song started, I thought, “Yeah, I’ll give it 30 seconds and move on” and yet, almost 5 minutes later, I was looking for more Lowland Hum videos, wanting to hear more.

Next up was the selfie-stick video for their cover of The Beatles “I Will” and, just like “Palm Lines”, I stuck around for the whole magical thing. I mean, no budget, just the duo walking through small, but quaint, studio singing and playing and then working their way into the yard. Pure. Wonderful.

Honestly not sure if I’ll dig any deeper, depends on how I’m feeling and if I think I need quiet music in my life (maybe night time listening?) but this was a pleasant surprise.

Obsession of the Weekend (Part 2) – Greta Van Fleet’s “Age of Machine”

Like many kids, my introduction to music was more through singles than albums. My mom would, on occasion, buy me cassettes but the reality is that I’d listen to the song I knew over and over (and over and over) and sometimes not even flip the cassette and listen to the other side until years later. The first album that I owned that I listened to front to back was Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Ozz, I was probably 11 or 12, which would have made it 1982 or 1983. Up to that point, I liked songs by REO Speedwagon, Van Halen, Air Supply, Alan Parsons Project, Blondie, Hall & Oates, and other artists I’d heard on Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 on the weekend but hadn’t moved onto full length albums. I don’t know when I became aware of Led Zeppelin, though I think I bought my first Zeppelin cassette after we moved to Ohio and I started middle school. Though I wouldn’t swear to it, I imagine I either heard “Stairway to Heaven” on the classic rock radio station (98.5) or my friends played it when I was at their houses.

Led Zeppelin put out their final album, Coda, in 1982 – before I was remotely music literate so while I did get to experience their entire collection for the first time many years after release and it was fresh, I never got to walk into a store and buy a Zeppelin album on release day and experience it in real time along with my friends who had also just purchased it. While the many soundalikes who followed toward the later ’80s were (perhaps justifiably) slaughtered in the press, I absolutely loved bands like Kingdom Come and Whitesnake who were, essentially, releasing new Zeppelin albums under different names. There’s a fine line between rip-off and homage and I like to think these bands were influenced by Zeppelin rather than trying to cash in by appealing directly to Zeppelin’s base.

A few years ago, I started receiving press releases about a new band called Greta Van Fleet but the name didn’t inspire me to click a link to hear what they sounded like – I would eventually become a full-fledged fan shortly after the release of the EP, but I can’t say I was an early trendsetter. Likely, I read somebody write “These guys are nothing more than a Zeppelin rip-off” which, to me, made my antennae go up. And, lo and behold, those Zeppelin references were right on the mark and I loved everything I heard. Because of the relationship I had with the publicist who sent the press release, I was able to interview Greta Van Fleet’s bassist Sam Kiszka in August 2017 and then see the band play a sold-out show at the tiny Basement shortly thereafter. Maybe that show won’t go down the same way as saying that I saw Nirvana play at Stache’s shortly after Nevermind came out, but Greta Van Fleet will never play a 300-person venue again so I can add that to my “saw a huge band in a small venue” list.

Greta Van Fleet just released a new song – “Age of Machine” – from an album due out in April. It’s the second single and while the first one – “My Way Soon” – has a groovy Black Crowes feel, “Age of Machine” is EPIC. Spotify told me Ruston Kelly’s “Anchors” was my most-listened-to song in 2020 with 15 plays and I can say that I’ve already listened to “Age of Machine” 8 times in the last 2 days. There may be other songs that I listen to more in 2021, but I’m sure this one will be in the top 10 when my 2021 Spotify Wrapped info drops a year from now. I posted about the song on a message board and somebody said they hated it, that it was essentially Greta Van Fleet’s version of “No Quarter” which makes total sense why I love it so much as “No Quarter” is a top 3 Zeppelin song as far as I’m concerned. I suspect an official video will be released at some point but, for now, here’s the audio version (added 2 more listens while writing this).

Interview Alert: Thelonious Monster

Just before Election night, I had the chance to do a Zoom interview with Bob Forrest of Thelonious Monster. I’ve been interviewing bands since 1991 – on the phone, in person, sending questions by email – but this was the first time I had done a video chat and, truth be told, I was really nervous about the technology even though, as I told Bob at the start of the call, since March, doing video chats is a big part of my daily job. Fortunately, I crossed my fingers, hit “Record” on Zoom, and then spent 90 minutes talking with Bob. It’s not the first time I’ve spoken with him but it’s been, oh, 27 YEARS since we last spoke. I don’t remember that one being 90 minutes long! Honestly, I could have probably talked with him for another hour or two but knowing I’d have to transcribe the whole thing, I wrapped up when I thought we had hit a natural stopping point.

I played around with YouTube captioning and Google Docs (voice to text) but neither provided the transcription the way I was hoping for. I was trying to do as little work as possible but, in the end, I wound up transcribing the whole thing myself – it only took me about a month to build up the motivation. Because it was a lengthy interview, I’m splitting it into two parts, the first of which was posted on the Big Takeover website today. I’ll wait a week to post the second part.

YouTube Recommends: John Wright Trio – South Side Soul

Though I can’t speak eloquently about jazz, I do love listening to it. Nobody in my immediate world is a jazz fan so I spend a lot of time just searching “jazz” on YouTube and Spotify. The easiest way to describe my sweet spot is that I like piano jazz that you’d hear at a country club or a dark, basement-level bar in a major city.

John Wright is not a familiar name to me, nor have I ever heard any of his music. I’ve learned that Soul Side Soul was the John Wright Trio’s debut album and was released on the Prestige label in 1960. Whenever I hear something like this, I contemplate cashing in my existing vinyl collection which consists mainly of rock albums, and starting a jazz collection. But, when searching for South Side Soul on Amazon, Discogs and eBay, I found that it goes for about $150 so streaming on YouTube will have to do.

Here is a fantastic feature on John Wright that appeared in the Chicago Reader in 2014. Three years later, John Wright would pass away at the age of 83.

Memories

The birth of the internet, my shift from print publications to a music site. The late ’90s/early ’00s were a glorious time to be a music journalist. Coming home after working and finding half a dozen padded manila envelopes with a rubber band holding them all together, all holding CDs that publicists were hoping I’d review. I guess I shouldn’t complain – these days, instead of the daily mail call, it’s the daily email call and I likely get more links to stream/download new releases (even though I barely write anymore) than I got CDs.

I somehow ended up on a few Christian label mailing lists despite not being religious nor focusing on Christian artists. That said, there were some real gems that landed in my mailbox, perhaps my favorite being Aaron Sprinkle’s 2000 album The Kindest Days. That thing was on repeat for months, maybe even a full year. The blog I ran before this one (Swizzle-Stick) is long gone and while some of the content can still be accessed by going to archive.org, my “Favorites of 2000” list may just exist in my memories these days.

For some reason, got to thinking about Aaron Sprinkle tonight and remember just how much I absolutely love this song. I’ve had it on repeat the past 20 minutes and it holds up 20 years later. SO GOOD.