Bursting your news bubble.

Brett Newski is an indie musician. (Or, per Wikipedia: Brett Newski is a North American nomad, songwriter, illustrator, and folk punk guitarist from New Berlin, Wisconsin.) Times are tough for musicians these days, especially the nomadic types. Brett played a very entertaining house concert at the home of my friends Dave and Jacqui, back in the Before Times when house concerts were still a thing. I sure miss those days.

Brett’s newsletters aren’t the cut from the same cloth as most musician’s. They’re deeper, wider, not so much music-centric as life-centric. A recent one really hit home for me – I think you’ll find some wisdom in it as well:

If there’s one thing we can agree on as people, it’s that politics really suck. 
 
I don’t care how divided we are right now, deep down we want to be buddies. 
 
It breaks my heart to see us at odds based on what political team we are on.   
 
We have more in common with our fellow citizen than we do to Trump or Biden. 
 
The old white guys in the control tower of politics want us to be at odds. If we are at each other’s throats, it makes it very easy for these old white guys to run the show. 
 
Right now, the big guys are winning. They’ve got us emotional and angry and scared and confused. That’s what they want. But we don’t have to keep drinking their poison. 
 
A small boost to healing is this…
 
Seek out those on “the other side” and chat them up, but not about politics.
 
If you see a man in a red Trump hat, chat em up about sports or recreation or the nice park you’re standing in together. If you see a purple-haired fedora wearing liberal, chat them up about Modest Mouse or community-farming or whatever feels right in the moment. 
 
I did this for 3.5 hours on the beach yesterday. I swear it injected positive echoes between the 10-12 people I talked to. Those echoes will reverberate into their future interactions too. It’s a spiderweb of productive energy. Maybe this sounds tiny and insignificant, but it beats sitting in the car, absorbing more news, and getting more fearful toward our fellow people. 
 
Deep down we all want to be buddies. 

It’s easy to get trapped in your own news bubble, your own Twitter-verse, your own echo chamber. But understanding starts with reaching out. Let’s find the humanity in our fellow humans.

You can sign up for Brett’s newsletter here. His new album is here on Spotify.

https://brettnewski.com/#home-section

An old soul

Chuck Cleaver is one of the best songwriters in the known universe. He’s also a funny dude, in his own unique, gruff-yet-lovable way.

Chuck’s in a band called Wussy, and he and the other lead singer/songwriter in that band, Lisa Walker, do a live set of songs every other Friday night on Facebook. (On the alternate Fridays, their bandmate Mark Messerly plays a set. All the videos are here and are well worth checking out.)

The songs are brilliant. The between-song banter is the icing on the cake. It’s funnier than most network sitcoms. Here’s Chuck from a few weeks ago, going on a rant about old folks. (At age 62, he counts himself among that number). I can relate. My daughter drags me up to St. Vincent de Paul nearly every Sunday because if you’re 50 or older, you get a 25% discount:

Preach on, Brother Chuck! This old man loves it!

R.I.P., J.P.

Below is a blog post I wrote in 2018, when John Prine’s most recent album came out. We lost him to COVID-19 10 days ago. It was a massive loss not just to the music community, but to literature, and humanity. Because he had a way with words like few others, and he was by all accounts a kind, funny, caring, gracious, humble person. We could use a few more cats like that.

I’ve got another blog for most of my music musings, but John’s bigger than that. Check out the post below, and I’ve added a YouTube video of a house concert he did in 2018. Well worth a look and listen.

Blog post from April 2018:

John Prine has a new album out tomorrow.

Friday the 13th is our lucky day, because the new album is fantastic. Which is par for the course for Mr. Prine, a living legend who ranks right up there with Dylan and Townes Van Zandt in the songwriting pantheon. If the old adage about the Velvet Underground is true — they only sold 1,000 copies of their albums, but every person who bought one started a band — then for John Prine, every person who bought one of his albums became a songwriter. His music can best be described as “Americana” but really HE is Americana. A boy from the ‘burbs of Chicago, an Army vet, a former mailman, a cancer survivor, a folkie whose music is both timely and timeless.

You can stream the entire album on NPR.

You should stream the entire album on NPR.

You must stream the entire album on NPR.

It’s good for your heart and good for your soul.

(Or if you’re a lazy bum, you can just check out this song from the new release, featuring background vocals from Brandi Carlile.)

God bless John Prine.

House concert from 2018:

So close, and yet so-cially distant.

In case you missed it (and there’s a 99.9% chance you did miss it), the podcast that I co-host is yesterday’s news! Er, I mean, it was in yesterday’s Cincinnati Enquirer. What do you mean you don’t subscribe to a newspaper? What do you mean you don’t even know what a ‘newspaper’ is?

“Daddy, this iPad is broken…”

Luann Gibbs wrote a “Top 10 ways to practice social distancing” article, and there we were, right at the top of the list. OK, eight spots away from the top of the list. But still, we got some ink!

Full disclosure: Luann Gibbs used to work at 97X, the station that is the focus of our podcast. But neither Dave nor I knew that she was going to mention us.

“Extra, extra… two old guys talk about a radio station that died a decade ago!”

It was our “the new phone book’s here” moment.

Actually, Dave and I don’t harbor any delusions of grandeur. (Occasionally, we do have delusions of adequacy, but we lie down until those go away.) Our podcast is extremely niche. Some podcasts have thousands of regular listeners, some have hundreds… we have “tens” of listeners. As I often say, “we’ve made about 50 people very happy” by bringing back fond memories of a small-but-mighty and much-beloved indie rock radio station. But it’s always nice to get a bit of recognition for the hard work you’ve done.

And now that we’re all under house arrest, there’s never been a better time to check out some new podcasts.

Bill Janovitz saved my life last night.

Back in my Catholic grade school days, the nuns talked about the Corporal Works of Mercy, one of which is “feed the hungry.”

William Shakespeare said “if music be the food of love, play on!”

Bill Janovitz, the lead singer of my favorite band, Buffalo Tom, hosted a “Virtual Happy Hour” yesterday afternoon, via the band’s Facebook page. After mixing himself a martini in his kitchen, he headed down to the basement to play songs from throughout his career, usually on acoustic guitar, occasionally on piano. It was like manna from heaven. A feast for the music-starved masses.

I’ve seen Buffalo Tom several times — in Cincinnati, in New York, L.A., Chicago — and have loved every second of every show. But last night’s solo gig was not just something I wanted to see, it something I desperately needed after a long, long week of work and worry and weirdness. And it wasn’t just me that needed this catharsis — a thousand folks tuned in from around the world. Australia, Italy, England, Abu Dhabi…

I’m not big on the FaceGrams and the InstaTweet and the other social mediums, but yesterday, it sure came in handy as a way to bond with like-minded fans. It provided a true sense of close connection in a social distancing world.

Bill was in his basement, sipping a martini and playing his songs. 800 miles away, I was in my basement, singing along at the top of my lungs (something I’d never do at a regular Buffalo Tom concert – I respect the other fans too much to torture them with my off-key warbling) and crying in my beer at the sad songs. It was more than music, it was magic.

In addition to being a fabulous songwriter and performer, Bill is also a caring dude. He’s heavily involved in the Hot Stove Cool Music fundraisers that provide scholarships for kids and families in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Boston. Yesterday’s gig raised more than $4,000 (via Venmo and PayPal “tip jars”) for local venues, promoters and musicians who are out of work during the coronavirus lockdown.

Bill’s already booked another “Virtual Happy Hour” gig for this Saturday, March 28th, at 4:30 EDT. Grab a beverage and belly up to the basement bar for some musical salvation. And tip generously.

Until then, why not use a bit of your “house arrest” free time to check out Buffalo Tom’s most recent album Quiet and Peace. It’ll be good for what ails you.

Favorite albums of 2019

Yes, I realize that it’s nearly March of 2020. And yes, I realize that I have another site that’s dedicated to musical musings. But one-fourth of Leap Day really belongs to 2019, so I’m sneaking this one in today.

Below are my favorite albums of last year. Not that you asked… and you probably don’t care. But I do. Music is my happy place, and these albums took me to the mountaintop.

Please note that these are listed as my “favorites” and not the “best albums of 2019” for 2 reasons:

  1. I don’t claim to be a music guru.
  2. Music is a very personal medium – just because I love a particular album or artist doesn’t mean you will, and that’s fine.

And now let’s get back to the countdown…

The National – I Am Easy To Find

Gotta give some props to the Cincy boys (even though they didn’t really coalesce as a band until they regrouped in Brooklyn).

Ex Hex – It’s Real

A girl power power trio (no, I didn’t stutter) from D.C., these women really rock.

Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel

In this case, “D.C.” means “Dublin City” and this punk band from Ireland has a great sound.

Bob Mould – Sunshine Rock

Bob’s been around the block a few times – first with Hüsker Dü, and later Sugar, and he’s been putting out solo albums since 1989, but he hasn’t lost any speed off his fastball. Check out this sweaty, glasses-fogged solo performance of the title track.

Pernice Brothers – Share the Feeling

After a long layoff, Joe Pernice (and his brother Bob and friends) come back with another pop masterpiece. The album is tough to track down (I bought the digital version on Bandcamp) but well worth the effort.

Purple Mountains – self-titled

David Berman also returned from a long layoff with a brilliant release… sadly, he passed away shortly after the album came out.

Charly Bliss – Young Enough

This one is more poppy than most of my musical leanings, but it’s so darn good. I also saw Charly Bliss live at a small club with a tiny crowd… easily my favorite concert of 2019. This KEXP live session captures their blissful, youthful energy.

Caroline Spence – Mint Condition

Speaking of concerts at small clubs with tiny crowds… Caroline and her band played for less than 20 people (yours truly included) at a small room in the Cincy area and absolutely tore it up. Great voice, fantastic lyrics.

Bleached – Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough

Led by sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin, this band can go from girl-group harmonies to all-out rockers. Well worth a listen.

Jay Som – Anak Ko

Melina Mae Duterte, the California daughter of Filipino immigrants, goes by the stage name of Jay Som. She describes her style as “headphone music” and her album is dreamy, ethereal… magical.

Black Belt Eagle Scout – At the Party With My Brown Friends

From the artist’s website:

My name is Katherine Paul and I am Black Belt Eagle Scout.   

I grew up on the Swinomish Indian Reservation in NW Washington state, learning to play piano, guitar and drums in my adolescent years. The very first form of music that I can remember experiencing was the sound of my dad singing native chants to coo me to sleep as a baby. I grew up around powwows and the songs my grandfather and grandmother sang with my family in their drum group. This is what shapes how I create music: with passion and from the heart. 

Jesse Malin – Sunset Kids

Jesse Malin is one of my favorite under-the-radar artists. Sadly, he’s been “under the radar” for more than 20 years. This album, produced by Lucinda Williams, showcases Jesse’s amazing range of song styles.

Better Oblivion Community Center – self-titled

Phoebe Bridgers teamed up with Conor Oberst for this surprise release, and it’s an absolute gem from start to finish. I just can’t stop listening to it. (The ad-hoc band also features Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes on drums!)

I’m usually not fond of fan-shot videos, but this is my favorite song on the album.

There you have it, my top picks to click for the year that was. Happy Leap Day!

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