Her Name is Helen

I walked into Guitar Center tonight after a long, hard day of work with it in mind to buy some strings and maybe a pedal or something.  At the most, I thought maybe I’d walk out with a small practice-amp or some gadget to help me bring my big-old Fender amp down to bedroom volume so I can practice through it more readily…  But then I wandered into the acoustic guitar room and there was a guitar just hanging there, waiting for me…

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I saw her on my way out.  I had played a newer Martin and thought, “Cool guitar, but I’m not ready to pay that much for it–plays about like the Parkwood I already own anyway…”  Then I turned and saw the vintage, 1973 Martin D18 of my dreams.  I’ve bumped into D18s before, but the price has always said, “Not in your wildest dreams, kid” to me…but out of curiosity, I looked at the tag.  I won’t disclose what it was here, but the price was so low my first thought was, “What’s WRONG with it, then?”  (It was the kind of price that was comparable to finding a ’73 Camaro at an Enterprise lot and they said you could keep it if you just rented it for a couple weeks.)  So I wandered out and saw the same guy who’d sold me my Rickenbacker bass milling about.  He asked if he could help me and I said, “I’ve got a couple of questions I kinda hope I don’t like the answers to…” and I asked him to tell me more about the ’73 Martin hanging on the wall.

Zack pulled the guitar down for me and I strummed a few chords.  I saw some age-wear on it, but it was stuff comparable to your 1973 Camaro having scuffed paint on the rear fenders, a non-original tail-light, and one of the hub caps is there, but dented.  I asked foremost, if they were solid on the asking price and he said that it’d just come in on January 2, the previous owner trading it in to buy a Taylor guitar, and on the vintage stuff they don’t haggle in the first 90 days.  I nodded my way through that answer and said, “Well, it’s beat up.  There’s scuffs and the pick-guard’s peeling up, and that’s an aftermarket pickup in there…but honestly that stuff makes it look cool…  What can you tell me about the previous owner?”

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Considered making you wait to the end to see the whole thing, but why leave you hanging?

Zack told me that the previous owner was an older lady who gigged regularly.  She was the ORIGINAL owner, having and maintaining the guitar for all 43 years of its life.  (That’s good news.  Like if the Enterprise lot said that your 73 Camaro had a clean title and all of the service records in the glove box.)  At that point I said, “And she only drove it to church on Sunday, right?”  He laughed and said, “No, you can see it was used a lot, but if it’d been me, I’d have kept this instead of getting the Taylor.”  Out of curiosity, I asked if he remembered her name and he didn’t off the top of his head…  At that point, I played a little more, realized it plays as well if not better than any other acoustic I own, and said, “Well…let me walk around the store a little and think about it…” and put it back on the wall.

So I walked, and I texted my brother about it a little.  (I often consult Dave on guitar purchases…or sometimes he consults me into one I wasn’t even looking at…whatever…)  I did a few laps and knew it was a “once in a lifetime” price I’d have kicked myself over.  It’s a MARTIN D18.  It’s a classic, it’s around my price-range, and it sounds great.  I found Zack again and said, “Let me plug it in…”  So we plugged it in.  And Zack got paged over the intercom, so he left to deal with whatever was going on and I was alone with the guitar a while.  And I played and played, and knew what I was going to do.

Zack came back in and I asked if he could throw in a guitar strap and some new strings.  He said yes, and that it came with a case.  We talked about financing and all that…  (I’ve got 0% interest for long enough that I’ll have it paid off before I pay even a dime extra…and if that sentence read as anything other than fart noises to you, then you’re probably still too invested in the Camaro metaphor from earlier…)  Then he went to get the case.  And LOOK at this bad-ass, ugly-ass vintage, blue case!

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If I hadn’t already been sold, this would’ve done it.

It took a while to get the sale completed.  I hadn’t used my Guitar Center card in so long I forgot that I hadn’t activated the new card, so we had to work around that, and the place was under-staffed so Zack was also still answering phones while working with me.  (I was actually pretty impressed with his multi-tasking.)  We made some small talk in the interim and my brother texted me again saying he’d put the kids to bed so, “Where are we on this thing?” At which point I texted him the very first picture I ever took of her…

 

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I like how the warm lights in Guitar Center bring out the gold in the tuners.

As I was closing up the case, I said, “Hey, if you happen to remember the name of the lady that sold this to you, please shoot me an e-mail.  I’m just looking for her first name.  Don’t want to track her down or anything–I was just thinking I’d name the guitar after her…”  I think Zack could tell that was a big deal to me and he said he could look it up real quick.  He tapped a few keys, did a little reading, and told me…

“Her name is Helen.”

 

“Just like my dad used to say, ‘Sooner or later, everybody gets shot.'” – Moe Sizlak

Haven’t written anything in a couple weeks, so thought I should.  Random post…Simpsons quote in the title…you know the drill…

  1. Medically, I’m feeling a lot better physically.  I need to make an appointment with an actual primary care person.  I wanted to wait until the new pay-period at work, and we’re in it now.  So I should schedule something soon.  Although, I do still have some pills I’m taking from the Urgent Care and I think they’re helping, so maybe I’ll wait those out.  I dunno…I’m sure whatever I do, I’ll write about it.
  2. So the SuperbOwl happened.  When it became obvious that the Patriots were scripted to win it (I’m convinced it’s scripted every time they prosper) people at our particular party started looking pretty pissed off and bummed out.  To which I pointed out, “Whatever, I watched Florida turn red–this is nothing!”  Either way…  All told, I believe it was six plates of shrimp and like 8 brownies.  So I won.
  3. Since we last talked, I saw the Drive-By Truckers play in St. Louis.  It was a good show.  It was rewarding to be (more or less) in the city where Michael Brown got shot and where Black Lives Matter took off and hear them play “What it Means” which is all about those events.  Plus…y’know…big dumb rock show.  Always a good time. They played really well and put on a great show.  Might be the best I’ve seen them as a group since Jason Isbell was in the band.
  4. Looking for a church to play guitar at on Sunday mornings.  As I’ve noted, my church moved to Sunday night services and I can’t do that…so I’m looking to play where I can.  Posted about it on Facebook and I’m chatting with an old friend about it.  We’ll see what happens…  Loyalty is important to me, so if Pursuit ever went back to a morning service, I’d probably go back to that…but they took a road I couldn’t follow on Sundays, so we are where we are.  (And most of the time, I can’t make Wednesday nights either. 6:00 and “bring something to contribute to dinner!” don’t really go with having a 9:30 to 6:00 shift and eating for one 99% of your week.)  Anyhoo…I’m sure I’ll say more about that at some point too.  I just realized I’ve got a couple dozen guitars I’m not really playing in a band, I’m getting older, and it’d be nice to have somewhere to play as I get less marketable.  May as well be in a place that’s doing something I believe in, y’know?
  5. Went to Vintage Vinyl while on my lunch break and picked up a FIRST RELEASE copy of Lou Reed’s “Berlin.”  Very happy with that.  They also had a first-release of his first solo album, which is a great record, but today it was “Berlin” for me.  It felt weird not having it on vinyl to begin with, and when I found out it was an original, that sold me.  Very lucky to live in a city with so many cool record stores…  Only question is, does it go on my shelf, or in a frame on my wall?
  6. I have a gig with the Michael Feldman Group on Saturday.  Playing at a place called the Boschertown Bar & Grill.  I’ve played there before.  It’s about the size of my living-room, I think…but if memory serves, it draws a pretty good crowd.
  7. We’re experiencing something of a heat wave in St. Louis.  Been in the 60s today and should be tomorrow as well.  Climate change is very real and we’re definitely experiencing it.  I’ve worn a light jacket more times since Thanksgiving than I have in the previous three years combined.  This is ridiculous–and not just because I like Winter…it’s a serious, scary concern that we don’t get a real Winter in FEBRUARY IN THE FUCKING MIDWEST anymore.
  8. I’ve stayed up too late doing things at the last minute.  I’ve been making an effort to be in bed by midnight at the latest recently.  I’m not sure why…it started as a reaction to my health issues, but they’ve continued, so what’s the difference?  But tonight, I got motivated to fix a loose shower-knob, work a couple bugs out of an old amp I recently bought, and arrange some of my music downloads into proper folders.  (And then, of course, I wrote this…)  I get weird bursts of momentum like that and then suddenly it’s 1 or 2 and I’ve got work in the morning.
  9. Work’s been heavy lately.  I’ve got a good team working with me, which allows me to handle some of the more problematic stuff with more attention…but that means that the vast MAJORITY of what I do is the problematic stuff now.  It’s my own doing–I kind of set it up that way…but sometimes I wonder if I need to rethink it when I find myself getting tired and making mistakes.  Or walking face-first right into the door like I did on my way out on Friday!  (Someone had opened it behind me and I didn’t know. I’m not a complete idiot. Just like 85%.)  One of my team-members will be out of the office on Thursday and Friday, too…so I’m thinking it’s going to be a particularly long week this week!  Fortunately, it’s a supportive environment.  It’s just also a busy one at times.  (This might be the most I’ve written in one stretch about my job in the almost 8 years I’ve been there!)
  10. I made a playlist on my phone of “That Song Songs.”  A list of just the songs that stir something up in me–a specific memory or a deep emotion, etc…  There are 325 songs on the list.  I put it on shuffle earlier and it went from a Stone Sour song (the lead singer from Slipknot’s other band) directly to a Rich Mullins song.  It’s complicated living in my head.  Or MP3 player, I guess…

It feels like I’m missing something important that I meant to write about…but I think I’m too tired to remember it.  Well, maybe it’ll be a different post, later.  Until then!

————

Current Listening:

The last five songs on my “That Song Songs” list were (in this order) – “Skin Deep” by ALL, “Lazarus” by David Bowie, “Skyway” by the Replacements, “Love Boat Captain” by Pearl Jam, and “God Give Me Strength” by Elvis Costello.

Another Health Update

For those hanging on, I thought I’d provide a second medical update now that test results are in.  The CT scan they did of my head came back NORMAL.  Nothing weird in my brain.  So that’s good news.  The bloodwork showed that I have one liver enzyme a little high, and they think it’s weird that it’s only one, so they think even that could be a misread.  They advised that I follow up with my primary care physician…

…I don’t have a primary care physician, which is why I went to Urgent Care.  So that’s a problem.  However, the president of my company sent me the info for the guy he uses.  He’s near our office and obviously within network for our insurance, so I plan to call him tomorrow.  Here’s hoping he’s not one of those guys who insists I be on his patient roster for like two months before he’ll see me.

Physically, I feel mostly okay.  I’m self-conscious about the rash on my face/neck/shoulders, although that seems to be fading a little.  I’m nervous about what might be happening.  With all the reading I’ve done, nocturnal seizures keep popping up, so that’s kind of what I suspect–although I know I shouldn’t diagnose myself.  (I really only started Googling it to see if it was something as simple as “you’re getting too much Vitamin D, so dial that back…”)  But I don’t feel physically much different from normal, except for the fact that three of the four pills the Urgent Care gave me come with “may cause drowsiness” warnings.  And those warnings are telling the God’s-truth from what I can tell.

To be honest, I was kind of hoping the Urgent Care would come back with, “You’ve obviously got [***SPECIFIC DISEASE***] and we’ll give you some meds to start with, but you’re going to need to see a primary care doctor to get on a lasting routine.  But unfortunately, the Urgent Care said I basically look okay, except for one liver enzyme that may be a false positive.  I just want to know what it is, y’know?  If it had a NAME, I’d be more comfortable with having it.  If you can name it, the odds of being able to TREAT it go WAY up…

Sorry if I end up harping on this from time to time.  I’ve gone decades without seeing a doctor, and seeing them now kind of freaks me out.  It’s scary not knowing what’s going on with my own body.  This is helping.

Here’s hoping the next time I write about it, it’ll have a name.

Medical Update

Remember when I wrote about having a rough night’s sleep back in April of 2016Or again in October?  Well it happened again on Thursday/Friday.

I was sleeping like normal on Thursday night, heading into Friday morning.  In fact I even remember waking up, looking at the clock, and thinking, “Oh good! I’ve got one more hour to sleep!” and rolling over.  Then I woke up an hour LATE (so I’d slept two hours, apparently either turning off or disregarding my alarm).  My back hurt and I had a sense of, “What day is this? Should I be going to work or is this the weekend?”  I was disoriented.  I got out of bed, looked in the mirror, and found the same rash around my face and shoulders as before.  And I’d also bitten my tongue again, although not near as badly–I keep forgetting about it, in fact.

I called in to work and essentially said, “I think I’m having seizures in my sleep.”  I stayed home and talked through it with my dad a while, eventually deciding that I was going to take a nap (I was exhausted) then go to Urgent Care–but a different Urgent Care from the last time where the doctor just wanted me out of the room.

This is all preceded, by the way, by something weird that happened at work on Wednesday. It was late in the day and I’d been working like normal.  Around 5:30 at night, I felt my vision going blurry (like I was squinting).  It was distracting and felt weird.  I realized I’d not eaten all day (although that’s not unusual for me) and thought maybe my blood sugar was crashing.  So I went into the kitchen and ate some corn chips and drank a Dr. Pepper.  My vision cleared up almost immediately at that point, although I did have a headache.  Vision problems go hand-in-hand with migraines, so I still didn’t think much of it. Figured it was just a thing that happened.  But now I’m wondering if it was a precursor to what happened overnight on Thursday/Friday.

Anyway…  I went to the Urgent Care and disclosed all of that.  The doctor seeing me this time was pleasant, kind, listened to everything I said, and made me feel welcome.  She thinks I definitely have sciatica, based on the back pain I described, but we both knew that wasn’t the main concern I had.  (Nor would it be a surprise–I’ve had back pain for years.)  She agreed that I was possibly describing some seizure symptoms, particularly when I told her that over the past couple of years I’ll have brief moments where I feel like I’m trying to remember something, but I’m not–I believe in the seizure world they call that an “aura.”  That feeling is infrequent and when it comes along only lasts about 15 seconds from what I can tell, but it’s not a good feeling.

The doctor had my blood drawn and I’ll know more about that in about 48 hours from when it was taken (so Sunday or Monday, I think).  And she gave me an order to go to a different facility and have a CT scan done, which I haven’t done yet but will today or tomorrow.  (I only got up around noon and it’s just now 1:00 as I’m writing this.  I believe I need to call the place to let them know I’m coming.)

For now, I’d appreciate being in everybody’s thoughts and prayers.  If I’m having seizures, they’re only while I’m sleeping, and I have no idea when the onset of that would be.  I’ve never really cohabitated with anyone, so it could’ve been happening for decades…but even if that’s the case, I’m noticing it now.  On top of that though…even if it gets confirmed that I’m having seizures…why now?  What’s changed?  From what I understand, seizures are the result of unusual electrical activity in the brain…what could cause that.  Can stress cause that?  Can having more back pain than normal cause it? Is it just a thing that happens to some people?  Having a diagnosis of “this is what’s happening” would be great, but it’d be way better to know WHY, so I can treat it.

I don’t know…I’m just writing my way through it.  Once I have the CT scan done, maybe I’ll know more.  Or maybe the bloodwork will accomplish something.  Mostly I just want it to stop.  It’s scary not being able to trust your own body when you’re sleeping.

I’ll keep everybody posted, I’m sure.

On Jessi Zazu

I started writing something else.  I was going to do one of my “everything/nothing” posts and was about four entries in before I realized that I don’t think I’ve written about Jessi from Those Darlins here yet.  So you’re getting this instead.

Jessi is a really fun person. I got into Those Darlins because they opened for the Drive-By Truckers the night that the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series back in 2011.  I didn’t know it, but I’d heard “Red Light Love” in a commercial and I actually thought it was a Wanda Jackson song I just hadn’t heard before.  The Series meant that they were delaying the start of the show (despite the fact that the crowd showed up anyway and didn’t give two fucks about baseball).

The club decided to disrespectfully lower a screen in front of the stage and show the game instead of putting the bands on.  The Darlins said “fuck it” and went on anyway, putting on a fun set we were all grateful to hear.  Again, we’d shown up for a ROCK SHOW, not for baseball.  (The Pageant–mysteriously voted one of America’s favorite venues–was so disrespectful that night that they left the TVs on well into DBT’s set to the point that Mike Cooley asked if they wouldn’t mind “turning those fucking TVs off” to applause from the crowd.)  After the Darlins’ set, I went back to the merch area, found that the ladies (and gentleman) from the band were hanging out there signing stuff and hawking merch. I bought a couple of their records and got a “thank you kindly” from Jessi, who looked up from signing something for somebody else, saw I had the vinyl, and just wanted to say thanks.  (The “Screws Get Loose” record is on a beautiful gold vinyl that you don’t see very often, by the way.)

After listening to the records, I did the typical “fan-Googling” stuff and found out Jessi has an Instagram page. Started following her and she started displaying/selling some of her art.  I bought some of her sketches and Jessi’s Jesse James sketch is sitting in my kitchen right now.  We’re not close friends or whatever, but her Instagram gives a cool glimpse into her life and I feel a little bit like I know her as a result.  And that’s why I was heartbroken to learn that Jessi has stage 2 cervical cancer.  Before she had even been diagnosed, it had metastasized and spread to her lymphatic system.  If you’ve never known anyone with cancer, let me put those into different words.  By most medical estimates, a patient under those conditions is not expected to survive.

But Jessi?  She “Ain’t Afraid.”

Jessi is a fighter.  She’d have to be.  She’s an attractive woman in a touring rock band.  She’s seen things sleazier than cancer waiting in line for an autograph, and she knows how to kick a little ass if she’s got to.  So she’s fighting.  She refuses to lay down and die and instead is going to show us all how to live and laugh in death’s dumb, stupid, ugly face.  And I’m supporting her in that because I think Jessi’s the best.

Jessi’s a great song writer, a fun performer, and an excellent guitarist.  And she’s a great role-model for young girls–she hosts a “Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp” for young girls who want to make a loud noise.  She’s empowering–she speaks for equal rights in ways that are loud, but ultimately reasonable too.  (She’s the first person I saw sporting an “Impeach Trump” pin as early as November 9!)  She’s an artist who shows as much of herself in her work as possible, and if you’re a fan it’s hard not to feel a kinship with her.  Hell, she even liked a tweet I wrote wishing her well just before Christmas–she’s GOING THROUGH CANCER TREATMENTS and is taking time to like tweets her fans are sending her!  Who does that???

So…here’s the part where I post a couple links…  Like most indie musicians would, Jessi’s found herself in need in this time of struggle.  We’re in a time and place where our government is making it HARDER to be treated for a life-threatening disease, and Jessi–let’s not beat around the bush–needs money.  She’s selling “AIN’T AFRAID” t-shirts.  I bought one of those, and if you’re also the type of person who likes to get a shirt with your donation, you can too.  Or if you’re the more direct type and would just like to donate a few bucks, you can do that here, too.  (I’ll be doing that myself, as well, after my next paycheck.)  In the interest of full disclosure, Jessi’s already hit her initial goal…but this is FUCKING CANCER.  One goal met is not a cure and she’s going to need more.

If you don’t want to (or can’t) donate, that’s cool.  I get it.  But before you make that decision, click over to your Spotify account and listen to Those Darlins for a while.  Or click around her artwork on her website.  Get to know the person and see if it changes your mind.  And if you’re still not ready or able to donate, that’s still cool.  I know we can’t all give to everything…but we can all hope.  We can all pray.  And we can all do what we can to tell cancer we AIN’T AFRAID.  And I hope someday down the road you’ll take an opportunity to do that elsewhere if you’re not able to do it now.  Because cancer isn’t going away anytime soon.  I bet you’ve got a good heart and you’ll have a chance to pour it out someplace.  This is just where I’m pouring mine for now.

Thanks for reading that, and if it leads you to give, you’re fucking awesome.

Until next time…twang-it up!

No Resolutions, Just Revolutions (Per Minute)

First things first, I hope you all like the new blog design.  Took me a while to get it right and land on the look.  I dig it, and I hope you do too.

Now…

You all probably know that I’m not a fan of New Year’s Eve.  Wrote a whole damn thing about it.  Whatever.

As you might imagine, I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s a meaningless and arbitrary passing of time and if I want to change, I’ll do it when I’m ready to do it, regardless of the month.  However, one thing I’m always resolved to do is going to the record store.  (I have no idea if that sentence was grammatically correct.)  Since I ended 2016 talking about music I liked, I see no reason not to start 2017 talking about stuff I’m looking forward to picking up when it comes out this year.  There’s a lot of potential cool music on the horizon.  So here’s a brief list of upcoming stuff on my “to buy” list (in no particular order). I’m sure there’s more than this that’s coming out that I’ll be thrilled about when it happens…but this is the stuff of which I am presently aware.

  • Jason Isbell is promising a new one, but I don’t think it has a title yet. Regardless, I’m obviously very much looking forward to this one, since he’s been on the top ten list twice in the past five years; once at #1.
  • Craig Finn (aka that guy from The Hold Steady who looks like a nerd, but I bet he’s pretty cool) – “We All Want the Same Things”
  • Brian Eno – “Reflection” (I’m curious.)
  • Ryan Adams – “Prisoner” (Just got into him this year, so I’m glad I’ve got a new one to look forward to.)
  • Dropkick Murphys – “11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory”
  • There’s speculation that Flogging Molly will also put out a new one, just to keep up with DKM.
  • Overkill – “The Grinding Wheel”
  • Living Colour – Shade
  • Slipknot is supposed to have a new one. Liked their last one a lot.
  • Imelda May – Life Love Flesh Blood
  • Halestorm – “ReAniMate 3.0”
  • Pain of Salvation – “In the Passing Light of Day” (I have an on-again-off-again relation with PoS.  Hoping this will be good.)
  • Rick Wakeman – “Piano Portraits” (Again – curious.)
  • The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Damage and Joy” (Because…what?? There’s going to be a new Jesus and Mary Chain? I mean, I’m not a HUGE fan, but that’s significant!)
  • Arcade Fire’s supposed to have a new one, but no title yet.
  • Nine Inch Nails was rumored to have a new one LAST year, but no dice…so it’s probably happening THIS year.  (Although I think they put out an EP or something last year that I overlooked.)
  • And it seems like maybe Sloan was talking about a new one when we saw them? Or maybe I imagined that?

Other Music-Buying Goals:

  • Finish my collection of all the Sloan albums.
  • Finish my collection of all the Tragically Hip albums.
  • Finish my collection of all the Bowie albums (ashamed to say that I shocking don’t have them all…mostly because who really WANTS “Pin Ups?”  But whatever.)
  • Finish my collection of all the Elvis Costello albums.
  • Finish my collection of all the Tom Waits.

Specifically VINYL goals:

  • I’ve been working to get all the Who albums on vinyl.  Specifically older copies–not COLLECTOR grade–just the mixes I grew up with.
  • Been looking for a copy of “Sunflower” by the Beach Boys on vinyl for like a year to two, and it’s driving me nuts.
  • I’m also on a mission to find a copy of Over the Rhine’s “Ohio” record on vinyl.  I don’t know if they even ever released it that way, though…

And that’s as close to resolutions as I’m getting!  🙂

————

Current Listening:

  • Sloan on “shuffle.”

Top Ten of 2016

Alright folks!  Here it is!  Here’s my list of the Top Ten Albums of 2016 (as I see them, anyway).  It’s a diverse bunch.  As much as we lost this year in saying goodbye to Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Glen Frey, George Michael, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, and the ones I’m sure I’m forgetting…we gained a heck of a lot of great new records.  Here’s the short list of the ones that blew me away this year.  (Be sure to also check out the “also-rans” in my previous post!)  Let’s get to it!

The Top Ten of 2016:

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  1. David Bowie – Blackstar
    If you know me at all, you saw this coming.  How could this not be my album of the year?  Was there ever any doubt?  From the days leading up to release when I told the office manager at my work I’d be taking a long break to pick it up “because I do whatever David Bowie tells me to do” to the day a couple short days later when Bowie died (and the whole album suddenly made sense) to the hours and hours I’ve spent listening to it since–at times even weeping…  Of COURSE this was my album of the year.  A pop-jazz hybrid (I eventually landed on calling it “chamber pop”) that doesn’t just defy genre, it redesigns it–just like our David…  It would be impossible for anything else to come even close to the artistic statement this record would have been even if he had LIVED, much less what it became in the wake of his untimely death.  If you buy nothing else from this list, “Blackstar” is the one to get.
  2. Amanda Shires – My Piece of Land
    If not for Bowie, this would easily be my record of the year.  Such a warm, sweet mix of songs.  I’ve been describing this one to people as a record that wraps around you like a blanket by a warm fire–you get enveloped by it.  It’s not just a great country/folk record…it’s a great RECORD.  My fellow music geeks will likely know that Amanda Shires is also the wife of Jason Isbell (another favorite artist of mine), but with songs as strong as the ones on this record, there would really be no need to talk about that…if not for the last track, which I imagine is part for him and part for their little girl.  “You are my home, where-ever you go. Anywhere that you stand is my piece of land. You are my home.”  How beautiful is that?  On an album that seems to be entirely about what it’s like to be Amanda Shires, “You Are My Home” simultaneously pulls at your heart strings, rips your heart out, and warms it up all in just a few words.  Can’t say enough about this record.
  3. Drive-By Truckers – American Band
    No shocker to see this on the list, either.  I’ve been a Drive-By Truckers fan since about 2004.  I’ve followed them through some major highs and serious lows.  I’m glad to say that this record is definitely one of the former.  It’s written about the present day America.  About Donald Trump’s America, for whatever is going to be left when he’s done with it.  Songs about school shootings.  About Michael Brown.  About the killing of Ramon Casiano.  America has become a place where you’ve got to look through a lot of grey to see the red, white, and blue.  And this album fits it perfectly.  It both delivers the strongest commentary on our culture the band’s ever dealt out and also some of the strongest songwriting I’ve heard out of them in their last 5 records.  Great release.
  4. Dream Theater – The Astonishing
    It certainly was!  (Astonishing…  It certainly was astonishing… You know what I mean…)  I didn’t expect to like this album this much.  It’s a two-disc concept album about a future time where music is prohibited but someone with the gift of song becomes a savior.  That sounds like it’s going to be Styx’s “Kilroy Was Here” only way too long, doesn’t it?  But…it works.  Each time I listen to it I’m emotionally invested, I’m having fun, I’m enjoying the songs–they’re REALLY strong songs!  It’s just a great release with some really strong singles on it.  Probably the most pleasant surprise of the year for me.
  5. Tegan & Sara – Love You to Death
    I like Tegan & Sara a lot, which I really only learned by jumping on board with their previous release (“Heartthrob”).  I’ve since investigated their back catalogue and have enjoyed the whole repertoire.  On my first listen of “Love You to Death,” I thought “that sounds about right,” but didn’t go too much deeper.  I was in a prog-rock mood at the time and Tegan & Sara are anything but that, so I set it aside thinking I’d come back to it later.  Then a few weeks went by and I heard a single from the album on the radio.  Within three seconds I found myself thinking, “Oh, yeah, I know that song. It’s off the new Tegan & Sara.”  Which I had only listened to once.  I don’t care who you are…that’s a strong record.
  6. The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem
    I’m new to The Hip.  I’ve seen them open for at least one band before…I think more than one.  And I remember thinking, “They’re okay and seem like a lot of fun, but I’m here for somebody else” and I never really went any deeper to become a fan.  Then, this year, the band sadly announced that lead singer Gord Downie has inoperable brain cancer.  Even though I wasn’t a fan, I was saddened by that news.  Then I heard that The Hip was touring anyway…and that they would be broadcasting their final show live and uncut.  So I found the streaming broadcast online–it just seemed important to watch it for some reason–and I realized how big a disservice I’d been doing to myself in not being a fan all this time.  They write really gorgeous pop-rock music that I’ve been enjoying getting deeper and deeper into over the last several months.  That same weekend, I went out and bought “Man Machine Poem” (among others) and immediately fell in love with it.  Comparing it to their other work, it seems to be something of a late-career left turn for them, but it’s a very good one.  I’m glad I get to celebrate Gord’s work while he’s still with us.
  7. The Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence
    I’ve been a “Hevy Devy” fan since roughly the “Terria” record in 2001. I’ve drifted in and out during that time.  I certainly can’t claim to have all of his records–he’s got something like 25 of them if you count all his projects.  But I’ve liked a lot of his stuff.  I hadn’t picked up an album in a while and grabbed this one on a whim one day.  I was floored by a heavy, melodic, lush, powerful record.  It’s metal.  But it’s not.  It’s prog.  But it’s not.  It’s symphonic. But it’s not.  Whatever it is, it’s great.  That’s enough.
  8. Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker
    We lost Leonard Cohen this year.  I wrote about it here.  I’m still sad he’s gone, but happy that we had him for so long.  “You Want it Darker” is a wonderful bookend.  It sounds like a man who knows he might not have long left trying to put a bow on his long career.  At times, Cohen seems to self-reference his older work.  The opening track has melodic smatterings of “Anthem” throughout it (a personal favorite track of mine) and the lyrics throughout the whole record have an air of “we’ve come this far…let’s rest and talk about it.”  It’s an intimate-sounding record.  Like he’s there in the room with you.  And in the wake of his death, that’s a very comforting listen.
  9. Pixies – Head Carrier
    I haven’t listened to this one as much as I would have expected (I bought probably close to 100 records this year–I didn’t get back around to everything more than a couple times).  However, I’ve listened enough to know that it’s a great record.  For long time Pixies fans, it’s a little bit puzzling that it’s not too weird of a listen.  The Pixies are known for taking odd musical turns.  That’s largely absent from this record…but what it lacks in weird, it makes up for in GOOD.  There are some deep, deep hooks on this album that stick with you.  Even though I haven’t listened to it a lot, I can’t wait to get back to it.  And there’s not a lot in the “also rans” I can say that about.  So this belongs on the list.
  10. Todd Snider – Eastside Bulldog
    This is another one I haven’t listened to really regularly…but the first time I did, it blew me away.  Then the second time, it already felt like an old friend.  It’s immediately accessible, immediately fun, immediately exciting.  It’s got a raucous energy and bluesy edge that makes it jump onto the top ten list of anybody that picks it up, if they know what they’re doing.

And that’s it!  How badly do you disagree?  Doesn’t matter!  I still had fun!  🙂

Enough of my yacking…go spend some of those gift cards you got for Christmas at your local record store.  And look for at least a couple of the above records when you do!

Thanks for reading…see you in the new year, I bet.