Tag Archives: iTunes

Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 4

1. “In Step” – Girl Talk, Feed The Animals

This track kicks off with Drama’s “Left, Right” over a mash of Roy Orbison’s “You Got It” and Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off.” Gotta love that spray paint can rattling noise over Orbison singing. Second part kicks off with “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa over Nirvana’s “Lithium,” which is an insanely creative appropriation of that grunge riff. It’s interesting that Girl Talk opted out of the instantly recognizable (to ’90s kids) hook of the Salt-N-Pepa song, that synthey “bah, BAH bah bah bah…” and instead just used the rap and some of the beat I think.

This track definitely starts low and crescendos by the end, with Ludacris’ verse from Fergie’s “Glamorous” over Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” The “take your broke ass home!” chant over EWF’s “bah-dee-yah” refrain is just awesome. The song caps off with Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” over what I’m assuming is chopped up beats from Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine’s “1-2-3” OR Diddy Feat. Keyshia Cole’s “Last Night,” but in reality I can’t hear the beat element in either of those original tunes.

Overall, not one of my favorites off of this album. There are some alright mash-ups (EWF x Luda is pretty great), but no real “oh no he didn’t!!” moments like many of the other tracks.

2. “Choux Pastry Heart” – Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae

One of the many understated beauties off of Corinne Bailey Rae’s self-titled debut album. The entire album is essentially an experiment of combining jazz, folk and soul genres and seeing what happens. The result is fantastic, and it’s probably only made better by the fact that you can occasionally hear CBR’s soft English accent in her voice. So pretty. This song is, as many of this album’s songs are, easily ignored. “Ignore” has too negative of a connotation, what I mean is that it very easily fades into the background of the listener’s environment. If you want to truly hear this song, get some headphones and quiet everything else down. What is she singing about? I never know. I never really need to though, because her voice naturally emanates a kind of melancholy in the way she hits notes, how she controls her breath and the cadence of her lyrical lines. I just gave this song a solid three listens in a row, and I still don’t know what the song is about, but I sure do know she’s heartbroken. I love CBR and this song for that reason; she has this emotional command over her voice that is memorizing, but only if you work for it. The second you start to pay attention, she’s got you hooked.

3. “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson, Thriller

I’ve been a little nervous to get a song like this in this series. What the heck do you write about one of Thriller‘s deeper tracks, let alone the arguable grand daddy of them all? I’m just going to take it at face value and run with it.

So I’m a huge fan of this song, mainly because I’ve only really known it for no longer than 10 years. One of the very few advantages of not growing up on secular music is the older-aged discoveries of all of this incredible music I essentially missed out on (I’m looking at you, Doobie Brothers’ “What A Fool Believes”). This is one of those songs that I never listened to as a kid and subsequently never got sick of. However, contrary to popular belief, I hate hearing this song at weddings or organized group events where I’m expected to dance to it. As much as I love this song, it’s just a little too slow for me (or most white people at the weddings I go to) to feel comfortable dancing to it. It’s almost too stripped down for reserved people to feel able to let loose and dance.

But it’s exactly that sparceness that makes this tune so great. The drums, that ridiculously catchy bass line, the funky rhythm guitar, each element here has been meticulously chosen to form this cohesive end product. Like nearly everything on Thriller, it’s a beautiful example of how MJ knew how to write an infectiously catchy tune and what a genius producer Quincy Jones was/is.

4. “Something About Us” – Daft Punk, Discovery

Easily one of my Top 3 Favorites off of Discovery, my favorite Daft Punk album. One of only two legitimately slow songs on the album, this is just a heartfelt and romantic song sung by a robot. One of the greatest things that Daft Punk has ever been able to do is play with this robot persona they’ve had for almost 20 years and juxtapose it alongside true emotion in their music. This song is all blips and bloops and synth and yet it’s got this inherently sad feeling to it. This robot is pleading for love and connection. This song exudes the most authentic emotion capable from artificial intelligence. This song is the best way to slow down the relentless pace of great song after great song on Discovery.

5. “Dreams” – Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

My iPod must be sad today cause it grabbed three sad songs out of 1000. Here is another pretty depressing song about the heartbreak of being left and the remorse of leaving. This is one of the songs that originally hooked me from Rumours. I’m not in love with Stevie Nicks’ voice, but it grabs me in this song. “Dreams of loneliness, like a heartbeat, drives you mad, in the stillness of remembering what you had…” Yikes. Hell hath no fury, amiright Justin? I also love the under-instrumentation in this tune. The verses are basically just the steady drum beat and heartbeat-like bass line, with the occasional sliding guitar riff thrown in. There’s not a lot more on top of that, and that serves to highlight Stevie’s part even more. This is a very pretty, very sad song off of a decently happy album.

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Shuffle Lessons, Vol. 3

1. “Love Gun” Feat. Lauren Bennett – Cee Lo Green, The Lady Killer

This is one of my lesser played tracks off of Cee Lo’s genius 2010 solo album, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad tune. It’s probably got a much higher skip count than it should. What’s tough about an album as solid as The Lady Killer is that it’s easy for strong tracks to fall through the cracks while one is obsessed with the four or five truly stand out tracks.

This one starts with the cocking and shooting of the eponymous “love gun” and it sounds like Cee Lo’s audition for a James Bond theme. The guitar sounds lifted directly from a Bond movie’s opening credits, and the orchestral strings sound like they’d be accompanied by stylized “BANG!”s and “POW!”s, a la the old Batman TV show. Cee Lo’s got this fantastic way of nailing down very specific genre sounds with his music, and this whole tune is a perfect example of that. It’s also maybe the most thematic tune on the whole album (The Lady Killer…love gun…). It might not be immediately catchy like “Wildflower” or “Cry Baby” so it’s easy to skip, but it’s a fun, albeit slow, song.

2. “I Love N.Y.E.” – Badly Drawn Boy, About A Boy

This is an instrumental from the soundtrack to the movie adaptation of Nick Hornby’s book, “About A Boy.” Good book, and surprisingly even better movie. About a self-centered rich guy whose life runs into that of a socially outcast boy with a depressed single mother. The whole soundtrack is awesome too, Badly Drawn Boy’s got very unique sounds that lend themselves well to the feel of the movie. I believe this particular song plays during the scene where Will first meets Rachel and is completely floored by her. The musical theme of the song is carried through much of the soundtrack, but it’s teased out most thoroughly on this track, and it is a very simple melody over achingly beautiful chords. Add some strings and you’ve got a tear-inducing instrumental piece that I’ve loved since I first heard it.

3. “In Repair” – John Mayer, Continuum

This is a great JM tune, an anthem about coming back to the land of the living after a particularly bad break up or other such depressing life event. I don’t think I’ve heard him do this one at any of the shows I’ve seen, but I’ve heard several live versions of the tune, and boy does it have room to open up and be a pretty kick-ass show closer. Even on the album, JM’s got an extended chorus that he just riffs on, so multiply that by 100 and you’ve got the live version. In this very cool documentary video of the writing and recording of this song, it was done in one afternoon and as soon as he found that weird reverbed, delayed pedal tone that made his guitar sound like an organ, the rest of the song came quickly after. What I love about that video is that it completely breaks down how this song was put together from the very first seed of the idea to the end product. You hear JM find the pedal combo that gets that organ sound, you see Charlie Hunter (guitarist featured on D’Angelo’s Voodoo) come up with the transition to the bridge completely on the fly on his 8-string guitar. You can even hear lyrics that were eventually scrapped once JM got the lyrical theme hammered down, but you can hear him sing the lyrics before he’s got the final melody in place. The most impressive thing is how he rips the actual guitar solo you hear on the finished product not 6 hours since the song was born. Watching that documentary gave me a completely new respect for a song that I originally kind of shrugged off. This tune is a great example of what happens when great musicians get together and get inspired.

4. “No Pause” – Girl Talk, Feed The Animals

I’ve been afraid of getting a Girl Talk song since I started the Shuffle Lessons series. But it was bound to happen, so let’s get into it. The song starts with Missy Elliott’s “Work It” and it really blasts off at 0:18 with Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” providing the backdrop over the chorus of “Work It.” It then transitions into Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without A Pause” over Heart’s “Magic Man.” We then jump over a short interlude of mixed songs and get into “Shake That” by Eminem Feat. Nate Dogg over Yael Naim’s “New Soul.”

As with every Girl Talk song, this is an insanely complicated mash-up of tunes new and old. Obviously I did not list every single sample that Girl Talk used for this particular track, but the easiest ones to hear are covered. In terms of lyrics, the “Rebel Without A Pause x Magic Man” is an awesome mash-up, but musically I like the “Work It x I Can’t Wait” portion, as the musical foundation from Nu Shooz elevates Missy Elliott’s original song. The end of this track kind of tailspins for me and seems to jar my ears with the transition from Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” lyric into the bouncy jingle of “New Soul.” It’s just not the smoothest transition and my ear doesn’t like it.

5. “Captain Jim’s Drunken Dream” – James Taylor, In The Pocket

This is a fantastically sad song about an alcoholic old boat captain who has forsaken his love of the sea for the safety of the mainland and can’t get over his regret. This is one of those killer JT tracks that I serendipitously stumbled upon because it is the song after “Woman’s Gotta Have It” on the album, and every few months or so I go on a tear of listening to that song because it is awesome. But letting the iPod play on after that one ends led me to this tune and the melody is what kept me from skipping back. JT’s got this great skill of mixing lyrical melodies so well with the rhythm of his tunes; they just live so harmoniously together. His line that begins “All I need is the sea and the sky…” is not only a heartbreaking lyric, but the way his melody jumps in time with the rhythm sounds so good.

And yikes, talk about a terribly sad song. Why did Captain Jim leave the sea? He doesn’t get into that, which is a great move for the song. Sadness that comes from feeling like you’ve got untapped potential is common, but even worse is the sadness that comes from having what you loved and being the reason you don’t have it anymore. Captain Jim is completely cognizant of the position he’s placed himself in, that he’s looked at like a crazy person and that he’s lost his mind in The Bottle, but the memories of where he belonged, where he fit and where he found purpose is such a downer. Captain Jim is the case for better never to have loved at all than to have loved and lost, because he loved and lost and he’s continually paying that price through depression, alcoholism and social ostracism.

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iTunes 11

Warning: Odds are that you will find this blog incredibly boring.

I’ve been a faithful iTunes user for 7 years now, never even bothering to look at alternatives. With the release of iTunes 11 last November, it might finally be time for me to start the search for a music player that will better suit my needs.

And that’s not as much of a dig on iTunes as it seems. It’s more an arrogant statement of my own music snobbiness. iTunes has also been a user friendly, intuitive music player. It held me for so long solely due to the fact that it was an Apple product, and for that reason alone I figured most other players would be inferior. I have yet to really examine the alternatives so I still can’t make a judgement on that.

Here is the single biggest problem with iTunes as a software: it thinks I’m dumb. At its core, it is designed for users who don’t care to use it well and who don’t care to curate a kick ass collection of digital documents. The ideal iTunes user is the flippant music listener, the one who votes on The Voice by downloading their preferred artist’s iTunes single, the one who doesn’t give a hoot about album art and whose collection consists mainly of greatest hits collections and the last ten Now! releases, the listener who has lots of albums entitled “unknown album” by “unknown artist” featuring tracks like “track 01” and “track 02” and so on.

Did any of that describe you? That’s fine. I don’t hate you, and I don’t look down on you. We just have different priorities, and a huge priority of mine is meticulously organizing and curating my expansive and exhaustive digital collection. I am a humongous nerd when it comes to this stuff. And iTunes is tailor-made for the non-nerd listener. It does so much for you now, like automatically populating album art, song titles, etc. It recommends new music you might like based on what you and others listen to.

My problem is that I don’t want any of that. I want a player that allows me to add in not only the year an album was released, but also the month. That way, I can see that Otis Redding released The Soul Album earlier in 1966 than Complete & Unbelieveable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, and not the other way around because C comes before S in the alphabet.

I want loads of other metadata fields as well though. I want guest artists, associated artists, more robust genre fields (as with most of my music, it is nearly impossible to pick only one genre for a particular artist), the option of tagging songs. I want a music player that allows me to create my own Genius type of networks within my music rather than doing it for me.

3 Worst Things of iTunes 11

1. Syncing issues

I had no idea how frustrating this problem was going to be, much less that it would be a problem at all. With 11, Apple has added a LOT of new iCloud syncing, syncing with iTunes Match, etc. The problem is that it’s not accurate. There are consistently syncing problems, and they happen with zero prompting from me. I don’t use iCloud to sync my music, nor do I use iTunes Match. You’d think that would solve all syncing problems, but for some unknown reason, iTunes will occasionally change my metadata without my knowledge. This eats at my insides. iTunes has no business changing any of the content it holds without me telling it to do so. And this is the single biggest problem with 11. I love Apple products, and I’ve never had this many problems with one single piece of Apple software. It’s 2013 Apple, let’s try and get proper syncing functionality or none at all.

2. The new interface

This is a misleading bullet title because I’m not actually let down by the new look of iTunes, especially the album view. The sidebar is gone (and easy to get back for the whiners), which is also fine with me. There are ways to navigate without the sidebar. All of these are fine, it’s just that with the new interface, there is a severe lack of flexibility that comes along. The album view is probably the coolest new way for me to absorb my very large library of music, but it stops there. I have loads of albums and every single album has the corresponding album art, and the drop down menu feel when I click an album cover is pretty awesome. It’s past this that I can’t do much. I can’t add anything to the album view format at all. When I click an album, all that is displayed is the album art, title, artist, year, track number, track title, and track length. I can’t add anything to this view, not play count (which is the field I most want to add), date last played, etc. I understand why; the inherent space of this view does not allow lots of real estate for extra fields. But by not allowing any fields to be added by the user seems very minimal. I want to be able to do more.

3. Misc.

This is just all the minor stuff that’s bugged me, albeit not as much as the other two main problems. For example, in previous iTunes iterations, if you organized your music library by year, it divided the years up with a banner for each, so there was a clear delineation between years. It was so simple, and it looked fantastic. If you organize album view by year in version 11, there are no dividing banners and all the albums are just lumped together. It’s just kind of obnoxious. The whole program seems to run a lot slower than previous versions, although that could very well be my Mac, as it causes every single program to run slowly. It’s a 2008 model, so it makes sense. I also wish songs could be tagged. An iTunes library can essentially get tag functionality with some workarounds (use the comments field, playlists, etc.), but having tags built in so you could just quickly tag a song with whatever tag you’d created would be sensational. Yes, I understand that’s what playlists are for, but how easy is it to accidentally delete a playlist? Actually pretty easy, if you’re not careful. Tags could eliminate that issue. And then they could add a Tag View, which would be insanely cool.

Again, I have done little to no research on iTunes alternatives, but what I’ve done has not yielded any options with features this specific. So I’m giving it back to the genius guys and gals at Apple to take care of this. Get moving Apple, and make iTunes 12 into the music player that blows our socks off with its simplicity, non-bloatedness, and no features that don’t work. Let me know if you need more of my input.

-Jon

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Shuffle Lessons, Volume 2

The only note I want to make before I launch into this set of songs is I’m shuffling my Top 1000. Rather than my whole library, I’ve chosen to shuffle just the Top 1000 playlist because I’ll have loads more to say about any of these songs rather than say, “A Horse With No Name” by America. That said, here we go.

1. Take Your Time Feat. Corinne Bailey Rae – Al Green

I believe this is the very first song I ever heard off of Al Green’s Lay It Down, way back in the spring of ’08. I was in Spain and this tune had leaked a few months in advance and I remember thinking, “Whoa. He might have a massive, modern classic on his hands.” That was correct. The whole album is just the densest, richest, lushest music he’s ever made. It’s absolutely as good as his prime albums from the early ‘70s, but with a whole new layer of depth, thanks to master producers ?uestlove and James Poyser. But enough about the album. This tune is just a sweet love song about slowing things down. Corinne Bailey Rae guests on this song, and she adds just a great voice alongside Mr. Green’s. He does his little talk-ish ad-libs and she sings a more straightforward part, but when they combine during the chorus it’s just a fantastic blend that sits perfectly on top of the rest of the tune. And talk about a lesson on incorporating string arrangements into your song. Yowza, the strings float this tune along like a leaf on a crick. There is nothing here that needs to go any faster.

2. The Only One I Know Feat. Robbie Williams – Mark Ronson

This one is one of the more forgettable tracks off of Mark Ronson’s Version, his album of (mostly) covers with guest artists. This particular track is a cover of a song by the UK band The Charlatans, a band I know nothing about. As I’ve never heard the original before, this is the definitive version of this song for me, which means I lose out on any artistic critique due to its nature as a cover song. Most of this album consists of covers out of left field, spun with Ronson’s trademark “‘60s soul with a modern twist” sound. Lots of great horns, addictive rhythms, etc., but while this tune has most of those elements, it just falls flat. The featured artist here is Robbie Williams, another UK singer I know nothing about. He adds little to the song that makes me want to keep playing it. And most often, this tune gets a skip from me.

3. The Cave – Mumford & Sons

I don’t think I’d heard banjo played in such a grand, majestic way before I heard Mumford & Sons, and specifically this song. I was a little behind on the Mumford train, heard them (and this song) for the first time when they played with Bob Dylan and the Avett Brothers at the 2011 Grammy Awards. The performance was great for a lot of reasons, but this was the song they played, and it made an impression on me. These guys are great. The biggest criticism I’ve read of their album Sigh No More is that it’s lots of the same, which I get, but what they do, they do so well. What’s the problem with having an album that stylistically sounds very similar when that style is awesome? This song especially just has the best hook in the world. Best I’ve heard with a banjo anyway. This album helped me recognize a completely original and unseen (by me) part of folk music. Up until this song I had heard folk as primarily a quiet genre. This song blew that misconception out of the water. Yeah, folk can be quiet and beautiful, or it can be raucous and beautiful. One could almost label this song folk-rauc.

4. Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois – Sufjan Stevens

Keeping in mind the goal of writing succinctly for these Shuffle Lessons, it is unfortunate that iTunes landed on a song by Sufjan Stevens. Sufjan has an incredibly literary form of songwriting that feels at home among Emerson or Thoreau. One could easily write a seminary dissertation on his Seven Swans album. This tune, the Side 1 Track 1 of Illinois, is a perfect example. Clocking in at just over 2 minutes, the song captures the fear and wonder of those involved in an alleged UFO sighting in Highland, Illinois in 2000. If you doubt, listen to the song again. He uses the word “revenant” not four words in. Are you kidding me? What a songwriter. Listen to all of 10 seconds of any Sufjan song and you know the guy is a deeply talented artist. He can write (“John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” is a profoundly dark and beautiful song about the innate horror of our fallen human nature) and he can play. I don’t know how he seems to write music that seems so unheard of. Like when I first heard this song (even more so this whole album), it was like I was hearing a new genre for the first time. Or seven new genres for the first time. He just combines instruments and time signatures and melodies and song structures in such unique ways and creates something wholly his own. This song is just perfect though. Haunting, short, mysterious, affecting, and perplexing. Much like a UFO sighting?…

5. Quiet – John Mayer

This was one of the first JM songs I ever heard, more than 10 years ago. Holy cow that is a long time. But this is originally the kind of music that originally hooked me, super simple guitar yet incredibly melodic, and lyrics that encapsulate feelings I hadn’t heard communicated so well in song before. This song is a perfect example of what a great songwriter JM is, even from the get-go. This whole song is about the Sunday Night Blues, which I had always felt but never really heard discussed in real life. Like Sunday nights always just felt off to me. I felt extra lonely or weird or sad or unmotivated on Sunday nights. It just felt like the world was cold and had nothing to offer that made me feel alive and happy. Kind of the same thing as the feeling I got on Christmas night. But then I heard this song, and I heard this feeling being sung. And played. Like exactly. He paints perfect word pictures here that explain exactly how I was feeling but couldn’t say. “3:02 / the space in this room / has turned on me / all my fears / have cornered me here / me and my TV screen.” He completely captured the Sunday night angst that so many 15-25 year olds (and probably others) feel. He played this song in Iowa City in 2003, and he introduced it by saying, “Sunday nights cannot be trusted.” Feel free to hold whatever opinion about the guy as a person, but damned if he can’t write.

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Shuffle Lessons, Volume 1

I have an iTunes playlist named Top 1000, and it is the 1000 songs with the highest playcounts. Last night, Colleen and I were hanging out and listening to some music, and I had a great idea. I am going to put this playlist on random and write about the first few songs that play. Might be my personal review of the song, or what influenced the song or who it influenced. Not only does this give me a chance to relisten to songs I probably have listened to in awhile, it will help me learn more about the incredible music I own. Let’s get to it.

1. “Levi Johnston’s Blues” – Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, Lonely Avenue

This might be the easiest to unpack on this first set of five. This is a song off of Lonely Avenue, the joint album between Folds and Hornby. It’s written from the perspective of poor Levi Johnston, an Alaskan kid whose life would be completely different had he just worn a condom. When they were just 18 years old, he and Bristol Palin announced (via Sarah Palin’s campaign) that they were pregnant. And getting married. Poor kid. And that’s essentially the message of the song. He clearly had no idea what he got himself involved in and was in over his head. Obviously, this song paints an unpleasant picture of the entire gang involved. Johnston, the Palin women, and the moral value system their campaign was based upon is not looked on in a favorable light. But whatever your political view is, the song does get its message across in an effective way as most Ben Folds songs do. It takes the pretty awful protagonist and makes him relatable, so rather than judging the kid for being a douche bag (which he clearly is), you’re left shaking your head at how much of a kid he was when the whole thing happened. This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it makes me feel bad for him and Bristol more than anything else. The song has a very pretty pre-chorus too.

2. “The Root” – D’Angelo, Voodoo

Definitely my favorite of this set of five, and the most dense. I listened to this song during my break outside tonight. As the song gets into the penultimate chorus, my head bob got increasingly inaccurate. That’s where the groove lies. The interplay between ?uestlove’s drumming and Charlie Hunter’s bass guitar playing is so laid back. It sounds like they’re playing a game to see who can be behind the beat more often, and they each have their turn. It’s a crazy beat to follow. And the guitar is insane. I mentioned Charlie Hunter; he not only plays bass for this tune, but he is simultaneously laying down the guitar track. The guitar he used was an 8-string guitar/bass combo, so the three low strings are actually bass strings, and the top five are guitar. The way he marries the two sounds so good.

Now focus on D’Angelo. This is how good his whole album is; when I listen to it, I often find myself overlooking his vocals because of how good his instrumentation is. And his vocals are from another world. His voice is saturated with soul. His voice is so strong and stirring that he doesn’t need to stand on the shoulders of the giants of soul, he stands among them. And this song is a perfect example. He sings of the emotional remains of a love that has broken down. This woman has done worked a root on our man D. What I love is the drama he brings to this tune. He speaks about his failed love in terms of life and death and all things in between. “In the name of love and hope, she took my shield and sword, from the pit of the bottom, that knows no floor. Like the rain to the dirt, from the vine to the wine, from the alpha of creation, to the end of all time.” While this might seem a bit sensational, this is how it feels to have love mess you up. Clearly this poor guy is wrecked. But his emotional trauma makes for the funkiest,dirrtiest break-up song ever.

3. “Midnight Cruiser” – Steely Dan, Can’t Buy A Thrill

Not much to say about this one. This is off the album Can’t Buy a Thrill, which is a great album, and that’s the reason this song made it into the Top 1000. While not a terrible song, it is one of the more forgettable tracks from the album, with Stewart Mason of Allmusic.com* calling it “musically faceless.” A great description.

4. “Up With The Birds” – Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto

One of my lesser favorite tunes off of Mylo Xyloto. Musically I feel like this belongs way more with Prospekt’s March than this album. Or maybe this whole album is really just a continuation of that EP. I’d say due to a few key musical elements (specifically Jonny Buckland’s super fast guitar riffs), there is a big connection between that EP and this new album. And while this particular tune has some nice sounds (first half), the second half reminds me so much of Now My Feet Won’t Touch The Ground. Just kind of a bland way to end a pretty cool, large album.

5. “Like A Star” – Corinne Bailey Rae, Corinne Bailey Rae

This was the second song I ever heard by CBR. The acoustic version of Put Your Records On was offered as a free download of the week by iTunes and I remember thinking I had to hear more of this voice that just oozed British soul. Whenever I can hear a woman sing the word “can’t” and it sounds like “caaaan’t,” I very nearly fall in love. So once I heard this tune, I lost my mind. The way this song is set up is so perfect. The feeling of the song sounds like one acoustic guitar following this beautiful chord progression, but then when the drums and strings comes in just before the 1:00 mark, it brings it to this other level of sexiness that really draws the listener in and overwhelms them. I don’t know how CBR spans so many different music genres and blends them together so seamlessly. It’s R&B/soul with the genetic code of jazz. While I’m sure creating a song this fluid is not easy, it’s a credit to her talent that she is able to make it sound so effortless.

-Jon

http://www.allmusic.com/song/midnight-cruiser-t2372527

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Steve Jobs: 1955 – 2011

The passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs came as quite a surprise to me. I knew he had been battling cancer for many years now, and his resignation as Apple’s CEO got many people wondering if his health was significantly failing. I looked at his step down as just a way to slow his pace of life down, to get away from his job and focus on things that were more personal to him. So I was a little shocked when I saw the headline announcing his death.

And I’m surprisingly saddened by the news. I don’t find myself mourning the death of strangers too often. The news of someone’s loved one passing or a young child dying in a tragic accident is always sad to hear, but I’m rarely personally affected. While I certainly wouldn’t say I’m personally affected by the passing of Jobs, I do feel more sorrow than I would expect.

I think it’s because of this man’s legacy. Steve Jobs was an original. His work was groundbreaking and changed the shape of information and how we take it in and experience the world around us. He played a far bigger role in popular culture of the last thirty years than most people would think to attribute to him. A musician or actor can do their craft well and move people and affect change by their status or societal role. But Jobs did more than that. His creativity has changed the scope of an entire industry forever.

Jobs’ work in personal and portable computing has essentially defined how I listen to and digest music. That blows my mind. When I became a legitimate musical consumer, it was early on in the decade. That’s when Apple released the first iPod. And while I didn’t have my own personal iPod until about five years later, the invention of iTunes and its subsequent ubiquity on computers created the essential music listening experience for me. When I think of the absolute best way to really listen to and take in, to digest and absorb and consume, to really engage in a new album, the perfect scenario for me is in my apartment after 9 pm, one lamp on the lowest notch, room temperature about 68°, window open, light breeze, rum and coke in hand, and my laptop hooked up to my Bose computer speakers playing music from iTunes. I love to see those play counts increase. Adults who grew up in the ’70s mourn the loss of analog formats and are sad to see so many people not listening to turntables anymore; in fifteen or twenty years I’m going to be sad to see that my kids are listening to music on whatever the new hip thing is rather than on iTunes.

In essence, Jobs provided me with a fundamentally important part of my life experience. Music is so important to me, and I listen to it with his program and his devices. I owe a great deal to his legacy.

Aside from that, it’s rare to see such a perfect mix of talent, creativity, business savvy, innovation, and personal and professional aesthetic in our culture today. It’s sad to see such a creative mind leave the world. Thanks for everything, Steve. You gave my musical world a home.

-Jon

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Musical Connections

Uncovered a new gem in my music collection last night. As is my custom with the new year, I am currently listening through my entire collection in a systematic fashion. I have two different playlists I choose from: all albums with 0 play count (just ones to which I haven’t listened), and albums with a “last played” date from the year 2010. I was getting ready to read in one of my class books so I went to my jazz section to choose something light. I stumbled upon Cannonball Adderly’s classic Somethin’ Else. I’ve listened to this one quite a bit, it’s a really great album featuring Miles Davis. I’ve had this album in my library for probably five or six years, at least since 2005. And originally, I only got this album because the cover art for John Mayer Trio’s album Try! was essentially an exact copy of the cover art for Something’ Else. Cool connection there. Thanks John.

Anyway, I play the first track, entitled Autumn Leaves. Again, nothing special, I’ve listened to this tune quite a few times and have enjoyed it. But this time, I hear the melody kick in right around the 1:30 mark. Normally with jazz tunes, my ear isn’t good enough to actually know what the melody line is unless I’ve heard the tune in some other context (i.e. John Coltrane’s cover of My Favorite Things, as that’s a famous song outside of Coltrane’s recording, I know when he plays the melody line). This was the case with this song. The previous times I’d heard it I wouldn’t have been able to pick out the melody line. This time, however, I heard something familiar around the 1:30 mark that pricked my ear. I couldn’t figure out where I’d heard it before. I checked the song title (I hadn’t really thought about what I was listening to other than the album title) and realized this was a song I fell in love with a few months ago after I got Eric Clapton’s latest album, Clapton.

It was a pretty good album; I’d given it a few listens but didn’t go nuts over it. Except for the closing track, Autumn Leaves. I didn’t know when I first heard it that it was a cover, I just thought it was a beautiful, heart-breaking, gorgeously-played tune written by Clapton. It didn’t seem like an off-base assumption; many of his songs feature chords that fit so well together iced with breathtaking guitar lines. I listened to this song over and over when I first got the album, I could not get over how simple and how beautiful the chords sounded. And his solo at the end just blew me away. More than anything the tone of his guitar sounds so rich.

So I loved the song. I had no idea the song was 65 years old. It was originally a french tune written by Joseph Kosma entitled “Les Feuilles Mortes” (“The Dead Leaves”) and English lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer, a stalwart contributor to the Great American Songbook. It has been recorded by a variety of different artists, and is a fairly common jazz standard due to its simple yet creatively beautiful chord progression.

This was mainly an exciting find to me because of the potential that still lies in my music library. I’ve been listening to it, adding to it, trimming it, editing it for years now, and still, I just now found a new musical connection that blew me away between two completely unrelated albums. What other awesome links are waiting for me to find?

Here’s what I found:

-Jon

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