March 2013: Nashville

(See a short essay about the Country Music Hall of Fame that was originally attached to this playlist.)

The Black Crowes – Black Moon Creeping I won't vouch for what happened to the Black Crowes after this album, but the whole album bangs, bumps, and just sounds SO GOOD. The production and engineering are just impeccable. Every instrument sounds like a hot bath, and is the epitome of how it should sound. This is the band Kings of Leon wished it could be. Soulful, rocking, ragged in all the right ways and none of the wrong. I still own the cassette of this album I bought in high school. There's a section on side B where I accidentally hit record on my tape player and you can hear the sound of me fumbling with the buttons. Mmm.

Deathfix – Dali's House While I don't think this debut from this new group (featuring Fugazi's Brendan Canty) isn't great all the way through, this song just knocks me out. Funny, smart, accessible, catchy.  The reference to James Murphy isn't only funny it's a sly way of acknowledging what seems like  clear influence. "I wish I was Kanye West's house, 'cause he tells you when people suck even if it makes you mad." Great.

Ernest Tubb – Walking The Floor Over You Ernest Tubb is all over Nashville, with the Ernest Tubb Record Shop (not a piece of vinyl in sight, naturally) being a major anchor of the downtown tourist strip. I'm not sure I'd ever even heard of him before setting foot in Nashville, and it was nice to have this piece of the puzzle in place.

Brainstorm – She Moves Heard this on the All Songs Considered podcast and immediately thought, "Every element of this song is something I would be inclined to like in a song. In fact, I like this song." Sometimes it's not rocket science.

The Carter Family – Are You Lonesome Tonight? Thank god for the Carter Family. There's something so elemental, so foundational about their sound. Even though I grew up with their songs, and experience the same kind of spiritual relief when hear them as when I hear my mom sing, there's still so much of their music I've never heard. I feel like their large catalogue will be an evolving source of comfort and inspiration into my old age. I'm looking forward to that.

Bob Dylan – Isis This is simply one of my favorite songs. I could probably listen to Howie Wyeth's delicious drumming and Dylan's extraterrestrial phrasing over and over again for weeks. After probably hundreds of times singing the words along with Dylan, I have a firm grasp on the story they tell, but I still can't help but wonder why he's telling it. The whole thing seems utterly unanchored from any specific time or place, almost like a hippie folk-rock version of A Princess of Mars.'s Stephen Thomas Erlewine says the album is spotty and incoherent, but I think the  uniting theme is Dylan's project of updating and reinvigorating the ballad (in the old sense of the word, i.e. a song that tells a story) and that Erlewine should probably lock himself in a room with the record and a bottle of absinthe for a day or two.

Jerry O'Sullivan – Colonel Fraser In honor of St. Patrick's Day. I had the pleasure of DJing on CHIRP that Sunday, and loved the hell out of playing a bunch of actual Irish music. This piece of bagpipe gymnastics still wows me every time I hear it. I've never played the uilleann pipes, but I've heard plenty of other people do it and none of them have come close to this. Just keep in mind as the song builds, this is one guy, a glorified goat bladder, and a few pieces of tube with holes in them.

Jessica Lea Mayfield – (David Bowie I Love You) Since I Was Six [feat. Dan Auerbach] Came upon this by accident when a friend made an incredibly half-hearted attempt to listen to some David Bowie on Spotify. I'd never heard of Jessica Lea Mayfield or (or the original version by The Brian Jonestown Massacre for that matter), but I find it really charming. I'm a sucker for that deadpan female singing, and the toy piano doesn't hurt.

Ry Cooder – I Got Mine I picked up Cooder's 1976 Chicken Skin Music during a particularly fruitful visit to Reckless Records. The more I hear of his stuff the more I love it. Just can't get enough of that mid-70's California sound, in all of its permutations.

Jimmie Rodgers – Gambling Bar Room Blues Another one of those musicians who seem so familiar, but who I've actually listened to very little. Of course, Rodgers and the Carter Family were both famously "discovered" by Ralph Peer during the same day in Bristol, TN. It's the guitar he was playing that day which is in the CMHF. This song strikes me as uncharacteristically dark, but it sounds good on him. The narrative arc of the song is kind of screwball, the way the singer seems to evade being arrested for murder by winning a drinking contest with a cop. Can you imagine if that's the way our criminal justice system worked?

Bobby Womack – I'd Be Ahead If I Could Quit While I'm Behind Picked this up on that same trip to Reckless. A perfect illustration of what used to (and should still) be a more porous border between country and other genres. I don't think Bobby Womack is going to fool anyone into thinking he's not a soul singer, but I love how well this mash-up actually works. Plus, the picture on the cover is pretty awesome.

Lee Fields & The Expressions – You're the Kind of Girl Got turned on to this great song courtesy of DJ Jenny Lizak while listening to CHIRP one day. So smooth and heartfelt. Made me think of my lovely lady.

The Magnetic Fields – Papa Was A Rodeo The long road trip back and forth to Nashville from Chicago was the perfect chance to introduce my girl to the genius of 69 Love SongsThis song is just so incredibly well-written, and the fact that it clearly stands out in this treasure trove of outstanding songwriting says a lot. Funny, heartbreaking, subtly surprising. A perfect example of the way Stephin Merritt constantly twists traditional gender roles in songs to add layers of meaning and texture.

The B-52's – Mesopotamia My parents came to visit, and I finally went with my dad to the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which he's been trying to get me to check out since I started working a few blocks away two-and-a-half years ago. It's a pretty incredible experience to come face to face with so many different ancient cultures, to see just how long humans have been at the work of, well, being human. You know, laying down laws, etc. I, of course, couldn't help but think of this ridiculous but funky song, and be reminded of how absurd and fun it is. "Before I talk, I should read a book!" Somebody asked if I think Fred Schneider talks this way in real life, and I really like to imagine that he does.

Office – If You Don't Know By Now Stumbled on this while trying to find local Chicago music to play during my CHIRP DJ set. I actually saw Office during their residency at Schuba's shortly before they broke up and enjoyed them, but never really listened to them afterward. They're clearly very good at what they do, and I'm glad to have been reintroduced.

Gene Autry – Red River Valley This song was a potential request when we were being tourists watching a great honkey-tonk band at Robert's Western World on the main strip in Nashville. I wasn't familiar with it, but the incredible number of different versions that turn up on Spotify alone demonstrate what a classic it is.

Ellen Allien – LISm Although this long track is much more of an album than an individual song, I have to put in on this month's playlist. Some day I'll actually learn something about Ellen Allien and the Berlin scene, but in the meantime I'm just going to keep raving about how great the music coming out of it is. I don't know if there's some kind of one-upsmanship going on between her and Apparat, but both of their latest releases are versions of music written for dance or theater performances. His Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theatre) also abandons the concerns of the dance floor and gets way outside of the digital world. Just beautiful music, with the electronic sound woven in with many others. Currently on repeat all day at work.