A shoutout: Left As Rain

Left As Rain is a music blog I discovered many years ago. Anytime I’ve recommended a song that has made me seem solidly cooler than I actually am? Well, odds are I heard about it here. The blog is simple. Songs are posted and you can listen to them. Shuffling songs is an option, too. That’s it. I love it.

Even though some songs were posted years ago, you’d probably never know it. They sound as fresh as ever. I’ve discovered things here that I find myself listening to over and over. My current obsession? Derek Simpson’s Baby Come Home. Before that? Big Data’s Dangerous and Car Seat Headrest’s Drunk Drivers Killer Whales, two really strong singles that are now in heavy rotation on the indie/college stations.

They have a great ear for timeless music. They pointed me to Chvrches way before they blew up.  Foster the People. Metric. Phoenix. Zero 7. All this indie cool stuff. And if you don’t like something? Skip it. On to the next song.

It’s just nice to have a place to find music that isn’t bogged down in its own BS reviewing music telling you if something is good or not. They offer it freely. Hell, your ears will review it shortly. They have two small ads on the side, sure, but the site is elegant so you barely notice them. I usually buy singles/albums of anything I’m obsessed with by just googling the artist. The guys aren’t getting some huge kickback. To quote their bio page, they’re, “simply dudes trying to share some good music while letting the listener know what’s on our mind”.

Oh – and they have a solid appreciation of covers, which are one of my favorite things ever, so bonus points.

So yeah. Check out a thing I like. As a side note, over the last couple weeks they have been the reason for my peace of mind at work. Some primo music to be the soundtrack of my flurry of activity has been so helpful. So yes. Is good. Go listen.

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The Pope Released a Rock Album.

The days when I post things I wrote for my school newspaper, it does feel a little like cheating. And I’m sorry for that. Maybe in the (holy) spirit of the subject of this article, I should repent in someway. …Ehh, I’m not going to do that. My schedule should calm down soon and I’ll have some time to get down some thoughts and really start writing again. Get you guys some new freshness. But I really did love this article. The nice thing about the internet is that I can share a sample of the album with you. Read, enjoy, and rock.

You may have heard a lot about Pope Francis lately. He’s kind of in right now! He recently visited the U.S., and with lots of audiences and photo ops, he has generally been catching everyone’s attention. He’s the star of a recent ad campaign by Twitter. The Pope has emojis. The Pope is trending. He has multiple hashtags. The Pope is cool. But what you may not know is that he’s cashed in on his “pope culture” moment and dropped an album. That’s right. The Pope has an album. I’ll give you a moment.

Pope Francis’ album, “Wake Up!” was released November 27. The album contains songs in several languages and though I must admit that I am no linguist, I have an appreciation for many diverse types of music and wanted to dive right in. It’s an album by the Pope, for God’s sake! That said, the album actually struggles for a few different reasons.

The songs themselves can be quite pretty, with catchy orchestration accompanied by many talented vocalists and choirs. What often distracts from that is His Holiness himself. The songs often drop out and the Pope’s Greatest Hits are overlaid on the track. Not any singing, just his words. Any enjoyment you might experience listening to the song is undercut by him interrupting. They’re mostly old recordings from him speaking in public places, so there’s feedback and echo. It’s grating. I do find it a very sweet move that these recordings often include the pontiff’s audience cheering or clapping. That’s legit. Include the crowd who cannot get enough of you on the album. Props.

I will say that I was surprised to hear prog rock blended in with the world music vibe. When I say prog rock, I mean bands like Rush and Pink Floyd. Heavy on the synthesizers, encouraging thoughts of our place in the universe – which I suppose is the sort of thing the Pope’s rock album should do.

Here’s the title track off the album – not as prog rock as some of the tracks, but there is some guitar riffs happening.

The Man and His Music

I don’t mean to brag. But my husband is a trumpeting prodigy.

You wouldn’t know it if you met him. He’s very reserved and very humble. But my husband… He has a gift. Please enjoy this write-up from Modern Aficionado magazine last year. It’s a treat.

trumpetbw

Meet Mr. Church

By Raymond “Mac” Jeffries

Jazz Critic, Modern Aficionado Magazine

If you met him, you couldn’t place him. But if you heard him, he’ll take your breath away.

I’m talking, of course, about Mr. Church. This trumpeter has made quite the name for himself. His origin story has a modest beginning, but that’s true of all great men.

Church got his start in the Detroit area in the 1980s. Even as a young man, he took naturally to trumpeting. “It just came to me. Easy as breathing.” He said, leaning back in his chair. “Though the air gets pretty foggy in those old, hazy clubs.”

“I remember I used to do it anywhere I could. My parents got tired of it at home, so I took my act to school.” He recalls having spent a lot of time performing in class, but the boisterous sound of his bubbling instrument was disruptive and he was frequently moved into the hall.

“I just couldn’t be stopped.”

He goes by Mr. Church, a rather formal moniker for this kind of talent. But his fans, known as “Church-goers”, love to come by and listen to him “preach”.

“It’s incredible. When I hear him, I feel so many things. I’m surprised, I’m delighted… Sometimes I feel a little sick, even,” said Marissa Flenderson, an avid Church-goer. “He’s just so prolific.”

Performing since those young days, his skill has only grown. Several times a day you can catch his act down at The Brown Note. Mr. Church is a man possessed and just keeps them coming.

When asked if he’d ever consider ending his career and going out on a high note, Church laughs and shakes his head. “There is no high note to go out on. I just have to keep producing. It’s just natural.” I liken this response to the kind of reply I’ve gotten from other addicts. Drugs and jazz are entangled; the dance of a devil and an angel. “Oh definitely,” he agrees, “It’s something inside me. I can’t stop it.”

So there it is. There’s no inspiration. No claim to be “artistic”. Just a man and his need to trumpet.

At his last performance, I took my wife. She was unfamiliar with his sound, but instantly found herself enveloped in the warm tones of his trumpet. I asked her what she thought.

“It’s a gas!” she said. And I have to agree.

photo credit: Getzen 300 Series Trumpet via photopin (license)

Hits Too Close To Home

I recently had occasion to reorganize my music collection. Since it is digital, I’m not shuffling around boxes of CDs and LPs or selling off anything, which I am thankful for. My parents’ music collections were always heavy and cumbersome to deal with. Modern music, though, has it’s own annoyances. I needed to transfer all of my songs, making sure my collections mirrored each other in a sort of “no song left behind” effort as I bailed from one service to another. This meant evaluating roughly 15,000 songs, downloading them from one place and uploading to another.

It took awhile. The good news is I knew that a majority of the songs had transferred already, so I could skip over certain sections. After some searching, the only thing I really needed to worry about were songs I’d purchased over the last three years or so.

Woven into this list of songs I purchased were a lot of classics like Nat King Cole and James Taylor. Then there was the pop stuff, Kesha and LMFAO. Movie soundtracks. Talking Heads. Ok Go. Thelonious Monk. Sia, before Chandelier was a thing. Phoenix and Metric. On and on.

There was a grouping of songs purchased over the course of one specific year: the year my husband and I were apart. Not separated, but living apart until he could be transferred to Michigan. A long distance relationship. That was a really sad and lonely year. I relocated to a place where I didn’t know many people and didn’t know when my best friend was coming home to me. I still don’t know that I could say I’ve really processed it.

To fill the hours, I drove in my car a lot and listened to music. I haven’t thought of these songs much since that time. I had them grouped together in a playlist called, “Hits Too Close To Home”, only rediscovered with the moving of my music. A mixtape for myself.

Hey Julie – Fountains of Wayne

This song has a cheeriness as it talks about the bleak reality of having to chip away at a job that keeps you from the person you love. It’s a bitterness I frequently felt as I spent hours working my ass off in my 20s. I had grown to accept it as just part of being an adult as the years rolled on, but revisited the sentiment during this time apart. I was working overtime because I had no one to go home to and not much else to do but wait. At one point, a tactless coworker asked me if I thought my relocation was a mistake (because it sounded like a mistake); a question I was too raw to give any answer to other than breaking down in tears in my cubicle. What an ass.

She Don’t Come Around Here Anymore – Bill Ricchini

There’s nothing like realizing you’re listening to breakup songs, you really get it, and then that you live in this painful paradox. They apply to you… but they don’t. A unique conundrum. A complicated situation that makes you feel like a husk, emotionally drained and wrung out. But you can tap your foot to it.

Hate It Here – Wilco

I try to stay busy

I do the dishes, I mow the lawn

I try to keep myself occupied

Even though I know you’re not coming home

This might have been a bit on the nose.

You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me – Dusty Springfield

In the movie version of this story, there’s a montage of a camera panning over half eaten containers of Trader Joe’s snacks before landing on me, laying on the floor, staring off into space. Then there’s a shot of me marking days off a calendar with frowny faces instead of Xs. It cuts to me leaving the house in his sweatshirt, driving in the dark with my windows down, singing at the top of my lungs.

Why Do You Let Me Stay Here – She & Him

He would come to visit on occasion and I would serenade him with this little ditty, until he had to leave again and it soured with my bitterness. The “AHHH AHHH AHHH” at the end of the song would be very cathartic.

Let It Be Me – Nina Simone

Okay, this one needs some context. In 2012, radio show and podcast This American Life did a live show in movie theaters called Invisible Made Visible that was just wonderful and is easily one of my favorite things This American Life has produced. It has some truly touching moments, including one of the last appearances of David Rakoff (one of my favorite authors) before he passed away. There’s a story of the man who discovered a hidden treasure trove of the photography of Vivian Maier, which is remarkable. The show features dancing from Monica Bill Barnes & Co. to this tune from Nina Simone.

I wish, WISH I could share the video with you. It was so beautiful and so spoke to my emotional state at the time. I’m rewatching it now so I can accurately explain.

Anna Bass, the dancer, is elegant and graceful. She is fluidity as she does her routine, with a little showmanship and jazz hands. There’s a moment where she’s arching her back and then someone offstage abruptly hurls a giant box at her chest. THUD. She catches it. There’s a beat before she walks it to the corner of the stage. She goes to center stage and resets with a pained look, showing a little leg and with her arm extended.

She does her best to keep up the enthusiasm, once again getting her rhythm and her wits about her as she dances. The next box comes and she takes it and sets it aside, trying her best not to acknowledge the interruption. Now her dance isn’t as loose. It feels more like she’s going through the motions, hurky jerky, building to more frantic movements, bigger movements, and soon box after box after box. She makes a stack of three boxes, seemingly organizing her issue when an entire row of boxes deploy from the ceiling onto the stage behind her.

She accepts things for what they are and then creates a stack of seven boxes, standing behind them, entirely hidden. With a laugh from Nina Simone, the final flourish of the song plays with a little leg and her arm sticking out from behind the stack. The petite dancer picks up the ten foot tall stack and without dropping a box she slowly slides off the stage.

I was reduced to tears. Everything about that sequence so perfectly encapsulated what I was feeling. I’m sure the other theatergoers were like ‘why is that woman crying?!’ But I couldn’t help myself.

Let it be me? That dance and that song and that memory were me. I heard Nina Simone sing and I remembered that no matter how many boxes were going to get thrown at me, no matter how hard it was to hear the lyrics, “So never leave me lonely/Tell me you’ll love me only/And that you’ll always let it be me”… I was going to be alright. This was just a balancing act. He already let it be me and we would be together again. I just needed to hang in there until it came to a close. 

And it did, eventually. He got his transfer and moved back in with me and it was like we didn’t miss a beat. We were still crazy in love with each other. Sure, I learned a lot about being independent and how to be alone. And I’m sure that was good for Lauren the Adult. But it sucked a lot and I don’t recommend it to anyone.

But if it happens to you, hang in there. You’re gunna be fine.

Hey Jude.

This week’s story is far away from the snow and ice of January. It’s almost twenty years ago in June. I was taken to this place while in traffic listening to music a couple days ago. The Beatles song ‘Hey Jude’ popped on and suddenly I was there.

To tell this story, I need to share with you a name I was called in elementary school: Retard’s Sister. It’s an ugly word in an ugly phrase. I know the term was medical jargon some years ago but in my childhood it was an insult, made all the more venomous by the fact that it was true.

My sister is, to use appropriate terminology, developmentally disabled. The details of why and what and whatever are unimportant here. What I will say is that I likely have an elevated level of compassion and empathy because of not only my experiences with her but others like her. In middle school I was at a school assembly where the head of the class for the non-ambulatory (read: wheelchair) kids said she needed a Teacher’s Assistant. I literally leapt out of my seat in the bleachers and ran down to her, “I can help! My sister is disabled!” I was gently told that we could talk *after* the assembly, but my concern was that someone would get to them first. Someone less qualified who didn’t care like I did.

I did that job for two years in addition to a smattering of other activities like softball, school field trips, plays… but the most memorable of these events was always the year end picnic. Every year at the end of the school year, all of the school district’s disabled classrooms would get together downtown at a rented pavilion at the park. The teachers, the aides, the bus drivers – everyone. The kids had everything you could imagine. Games and toys and BBQ and cookies. The tube fed kids would stick to normal diets, of course, but maybe they would blow bubbles or get their faces painted after lunch. It was just happy.

I can remember running around with kids, some I knew, some I didn’t. Disabled, autistic, Down’s, wheelchair –  it didn’t matter who we were or that we didn’t go to school together. We were playing.

And there was a karaoke machine.

I was such a ham in those days. But I had nothing on these kids. They lined up to put in their request and when their name was called? They jumped up like they won the lotto. And they would sing. Sing free of worry or judgement and fear. Just sing with all their heart. My sister was fond of country, so we did a duet of ‘Don’t Rock The Jukebox’. I would run around helping out on and off, but it all stopped when I was my sister’s belting buddy. I wasn’t Retard’s Sister – I never was. I was just ‘Sister’. Plain and simple.

When the song, ‘Hey Jude’ came up, there was a singalong. Over a hundred voices singing ‘na na NA naaaah, heeeey Jude’. Over a hundred voices having a great time.

Take a sad song and make it better.

I have a soft spot for cheesy holiday music.

I have been employed since I was 15. A lot of those hours have been spent listening to holiday music as I plucked away at a cash register, helping relieve holiday shoppers of their well earned cash in exchange for goods. It’s not a bad gig. But the music used to drive me crazy. Take for example the song Christmas Shoes.

A sappy song with an unrealistic sappy premise. Every time it would come on, which was once every two hours (that’s called a POWER PUSH in the radio world), I would scream out and claw at the sky. I hated everything about it. It wasn’t upbeat. It wasn’t joyous. It was just a goddamn downer. The opening notes actually make my shoulder sink towards the ground. Patton Oswalt has a great bit where he tears apart the song and everything about it, so I won’t rehash that.

I know the holidays for some folks are a goddamn downer. But part of what makes Christmas great is that the season itself can be infused with so much goofiness and cheer, you can’t help but crack a smile. I submit to you the song (and this charming video) for Dominick the Donkey. There’s so much cheese in the song you could sustain my husband for a year. (…okay so that joke didn’t quite land. I’ll work on it.)

You are smiling right now, right? Awesome. What a great song. It embodies everything about the spirit of the holiday season that is fun and joyous. Also, horse mask, am I right?

So I submit to you my contribution. I made this some years ago, after watching the Ludachristmas episode of 30 Rock, one of my all time favorite sitcoms. (If you haven’t watched it, do yourself a favor: make it your next show you watch over a weekend in sweats.)

There should be balance in the universe. For every Christmas Shoes, a Dominick the Donkey. With that in mind, here’s my weird mashup/parody/whatever, This Ludachristmas.

It’s Halloween, it’s Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

I wanted to share with you the strange and weird story of the band The Shaggs.

The Shaggs was comprised of three teenage sisters, formed in 1969 when their father sunk his savings into recording an album with them because his mother saw it in a dream. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, this is true. The girls were not musicians by any stretch of the imagination, and this is apparent in the album’s content (despite money and time spent on practice and music lessons). Here’s the title track from their album, “Philosophy of the World”. Note: I did not say anything like “hit song” or “award winning”.

There is a little bit of charming drumming in there! A little. But… yeaaaah. Not great. It’s really remarkable that something so bad would float to the surface like this some 40+ years later. (The internet strikes again.) I found out about the band from a friend who was going to college at the Boston Conservatory. The music was a novelty, sure, but especially so to the gifted and talented students attending there.

One could probably find something inspirational to take from the strange circumstances surrounding the band and their music. Perseverance? A deeper understanding of what art can mean and the forms it will take? The innocence of childhood and the meaning of family? …maybe. Or maybe it’s just worth saying that sometimes things are so bad they loop right back around to being good.

So I leave you on this spooky holiday with their song, “It’s Halloween”. Depending on your view, it could be a frightful addition to your Halloween festivities… or something better left on the weird blog you found it on. Enjoy.