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Lenten Listen #40: Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild April 2, 2012

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I’ve continued my Lenten discipline of listening to at least one full album per day for the past 12 days, even though I’ve gotten a little lazy when it comes to recording them on the blog. Oh well. Since this is Holy Week, I figured I should jump back on the wagon again.

There are few vocalists that move me to the extent that Eddie Vedder, the voice of our generation, does. This work, composed for the excellent movie version of Jon Krakauer’s incredible book chronicling the Thoreauan journey of young idealist, Christopher McCandless, is one that strikes a particularly deep chord with me, as I toil away in the cubicle wasteland, yearning for the sun and the open sky, the green grass and the Edenic paradise of even a small garden plot. Someday I hope to escape the stifling confines of corporate America, but until then I’ll live vicariously through the music of Eddie Vedder.

“Guaranteed” is my favorite song from the album and probably one of my favorite songs of all time.

On bended knee is no way to be free
Lifting up an empty cup I ask silently
That all my destinations will accept the one that’s me
So I can breathe

Circles they grow and they swallow people whole
Half their lives they say goodnight to wives they’ll never know
Got a mind full of questions and a teacher in my soul
So it goes.

Don’t come closer or I’ll have to go
Holding me like gravity are places that pull
If ever there was someone to keep me at home
It would be you.

Everyone I come across in cages they bought
They think of me and my wandering
But I’m never what they thought
Got my indignation but I’m pure in all my thoughts
I’m alive

Wind in my hair, I feel part of everywhere
Underneath my being is a road that disappeared
Late at night I hear the trees
They’re singing with the dead
Overhead.

Leave it to me as I find a way to be
Consider me a satellite forever orbiting
I knew all the rules but the rules did not know me
Guaranteed.

Something Rotten in West Memphis August 19, 2011

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As you might expect, the big news today in the Memphis area is the release of the West Memphis 3 after 18 years in prison for a crime that they likely did not commit. It’s been quite interesting to read about this sudden change in the Arkansas Judicial System, which convicted these three as teenagers all those years ago, putting one of them on death row and the other two in prison for life, despite the ineptitude of the West Memphis Police Department and the lack of evidence against them.

Though I agree that it’s about time justice was finally served, I can’t help but be disappointed in the state’s actions in this matter. According to reports, they were given the opportunity to take what is called the Alford Plea, a guilty plea in criminal clourt where the defendant asserts their innoncence, but admits that evidence exists by which the prosecution could convince a judge or jury to find them guilty.

According to some I have heard talk about this (again, not confirmed), they walk free today, but this would make them unable to pursue legal action against the state of Araknsas for making them spend 18 years behind bars for a crime of which they are likely innocent. Thus, the state gets off free and clear, and they do not even have to expend any effort to find the real killers. It stinks, but I can’t say I blame the WM3 for taking the deal after spending so long behind bars.

The Moral of the Story? Listen to Eddie Vedder more often.

The Best of 2011 … So Far, Top Ten June 30, 2011

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As I said in Tuesday’s honorable mention post, this year has been a great one for music. So, my list of the best in the first six months of this year continues today with the top ten. Enjoy.

10. Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts
While I have listened to Sonic Youth for many years, I had never quite felt the urge in indulge in side projects from the band. And though was no particular reason behind this bit of negligence, I pretty much ignored those works amid the glut of releases each year. Then my friend Lynn posted a tweet in which he called it the “best album of the year,” and I knew I had to check it out. Once again, I found that he and I were on the same page. If, like me, you are accustomed to the chaotic noise of Moore’s work with Sonic Youth, this Beck-produced collection of acoustic numbers by the elder statesman of alt-rock guitarists is a wonderful surprise. With strings a-plenty and lyrics bending to the abstract, this is a truly wonderful work. From his first words, “With benediction in her eyes / Our dearest gods are not surprised,” over a strummed guitar, it becomes clear that this is another stellar work from an amazing talent. Whether or not you like the experimental noise of Sonic Youth, this is something you should hear.

9. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
The Thoreaun legend behind Justin Vernon’s debut as Bon Iver, For Emma, Long Ago, was perhaps as intriguing as the simplistic and beautiful music contained therein, but it also left questions regarding his future as an artist and whether or not he would be able to duplicate the spellbinding efforts of his initial work. The simple, lone acoustic guitar has mostly been replaced by a talented band and a virtual cornucopia of sound and warm textures, yet Vernon’s remarkable and unmistakable falsetto, still aching, remains intact. Incredibly, despite adding so many pieces to the puzzle, Bon Iver is still a very intimate album, one that will hold your attention and stretch your emotions. “Holocene” (And at once I knew I was not magnificent / strayed above the highway aisle / jagged vacance, thick with ice / I could see for miles, miles, miles) is a stunning achievement in and of itself This is an album that will stick with you, even haunt you, long after you finish it and, really, what else can you ask from an artist?

8. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
At the risk of sounding like someone far beyond my years or mindset, they just don’t make music like they used to when it comes to soul and R&B, so there has long been a gap existing in the music community, waiting for some eager people full of that special, heart-wrenching spirit to fill. Last year hip-hop artist Cee-Lo stepped up, producing an album of incredibly fun tunes with a sound akin to a potty-mouthed Stevie Wonder. This year another artist who has been around for some time, Raphael Saadiq, is picking up the soulful baton and taking his own turn. Saadiq first came to prominence in the late 80’s-early 90’s R&B group Tony! Toni! Tone! (“Feels Good,” “If I Had No Loot”) and since then he has worked as a producer for other top-selling artists as well as creating his own acclaimed music, but this is the first solo work of his I have acquired. Needless to say, I’m hooked. Listening to Saadiq, I hear a huge Sly and the Family Stone influence, particularly on the opener “Heart Attack,” while other tracks seem to draw from the likes of Ray Charles and other greats of times past. Make sure and check out songs like “Over You” and the title track and I’m sure you’ll agree: this is old school soul at its best.

7. Yuck – Yuck
Having come of age in the 1990’s, it’s only natural that I would be a bit nostalgic for the music of that era, so it is refreshing to find artists whose vision of the past is similar to mine. Over the years, the results of this endeavor have varied wildly, but occasionally a band breaks through the ever-thickening shroud of time and channels the energy of that fondly recalled time with such flair that you feel as though you’ve stepped into a flannel-covered time machine. Yuck, despite their name, is one of those wonderful memory-laden bands, their loud and fuzzy guitars eliciting a sense of euphoria rarely felt any longer. If Thurston Moore and Stephen Malkmus had a child who was then raised by J Mascis, it would sound like Yuck. It opens with “Get Away,” and a guitar that sounds as though it’s being played through a wall of white noise and the repeated intonation to “Tell me when the pain kicks in.” From that point on, the band rolls through a grunge litany long thought extinct, from the lovely “Georgia” to the distortion-filled “Operation,” making us believe again that stalwart indifference may be the answer to all of life’s questions.

6. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2
The Beasties have been doing this a long time and, after listening to their latest release, it’s obvious that there is still plenty of gas left in the proverbial tank. Originally set to be a two part album, Hot Sauce Committee, Part 1 was to be released two years ago, but after Ad-Rock’s cancer diagnosis, his bandmates (Mike D and MCA) put the project on hold until his treatment was complete. With a joking nod, they kept with the original release schedule and entitled their latest Part 2. Hot Sauce is full of the old school jams you would expect from the band, with record scratching, loads of samples, and those long familiar voices belting out song after song of danceable fun. Album opener “Make Some Noise” is a joyful blast from the past, with both the best music video in years and a great nod to their 25 year old hit, “Fight for Your Right to Party.” Their collaboration with rapper Nas on “Too Many Rappers” shines as well, and even though they acknowledge their veteran status, “Grandpa been rappin’ since ’83,” they more than hold their own and show once again that they are and have always been a force to be reckoned with in the rap community. With another eye on their pre-Party, punk rock past, the Boys blast through “Lee Majors Come Around” with a ferocity that belies their age. The Beasties are just pure, rocking fun. Turn up the volume and, as they would say, it’s time to get ill!

5. Hayes Carll – KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories)
I had never heard of Hayes Carll before I caught him opening for the Drive-By Truckers a couple of years ago and, though I enjoyed his short set of country-tinged rock, particularly the irreverent fun of “She Left Me For Jesus,” it wasn’t until this album that I purchased any of his work and I was instantly hooked. Carll is a smart songwriter who reminds me at more serious times of a young Steve Earle and at more playful times of Todd Snider. His boozy vocals complement the bar band music perfectly, creating a sound that would be at home in a smoky honkytonk, but infused with originality and intelligence that belie that sort of lowly presentation. His one liners (I’m like James Brown, only white and taller / And all I wanna do is stomp and holler) will make you chuckle out loud while unconsciously moving to the catchy brand of southern rock. “Grand Parade” is a bit of light, summer fun, while the rocking title track tells a story of the Afghanistan war and drugs, but it is the funny back-and-forth wordplay of Carll and Cary Ann Hearst in, “Another Like You,” that takes the prize as the most memorable song. The two meet in a bar and begin an insult-laden conversation that runs from politics (Her: Well, you’re probably a Democrat / Him: What the hell is wrong with that? / Her: Nothing if you’re Taliban) to personal barbs (Him: I bet you slept with half the South / Her: Don’t you ever shut your mouth? / Him: How much did you pay for that tan?), before they finally leave together. Overall the album is a lot of fun and one of the most played ones on my iPod from this year.

4. My Morning Jacket – Circuitous
Over the past ten years, there have been a number of bands that have entered and become fully planted in my consciousness, so much so that I wait with great anticipation for every release and passionately yearn for them to visit our city. There are those like the Drive-By Truckers who I have seen numerous times and then there is a band like My Morning Jacket, who I follow religiously but have somehow has never made their way to Memphis. Their latest release, Circuitous, is another stellar release, complete with their trademark hazy, reverb-drenched sound and a bunch of excellent songs from Jim James and the boys. Following the incredible Z and the psychotropic freak out of Evil Urges, which I loved even more, MMJ fans wondered about the direction in which the band was headed. Would they return to their earlier sound or continue down the rainbow hued path to the always-elusive hallucinatory nirvana? Well, the answer is somewhere in the middle and this may be just as good, if not better, than either of those releases. The trippy seven minute “Circuital” (Circuits / Connect the Earth to the moon / And link our heavenly bodies / Not a moment too soon) is a must hear, as is the wonderfully weird “Holdin’ on to Black Metal” (Oh black metal, so misunderstood / Don’t turn yourself into Lucifer’s fool), but it is the carefree joy over somber tones of “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” (I’m going where there ain’t no fear / I’m going where the spirit is near / I’m going where the living is easy / And the people are kind / A new state of mind), that for the moment is my favorite cut on the album. It’s really a great work all around and I wholeheartedly endorse it.

3. Fleet Foxes – Hopelessness Blues
The 2008 debut album from Fleet Foxes was a pleasant surprise with its Crosby, Stills & Nash style folk harmonies over acoustic guitars, and songs that lent a natural feeling of forest-covered hills and bubbling brooks, of a quiet sunrise in a gentle meadow. But, despite the success of their first release, there were some questions over how the band would proceed with their career, and whether or not they would suffer that inevitable problem of popular music acts – the sophomore slump. After one listen, though, all doubts were put to rest. The music is hypnotic and beautiful with just enough tweaks to the formula of their first album to keep their creations interesting. “Montezuma” starts the work off with a melancholic fingerpicked guitar, followed by ___’s words, “So now I am older than my mother and father / When they had their daughter / Now what does that say about me,” his voice filled with yearning and feelings of youth lost as he continues the nostalgic and sad litany, “Oh man that I used to be / Oh man, oh my, oh me.” There is an interesting dichotomy at work in the Fleet Foxes, with their simplistic music against complex lyrical themes that I find fascinating and ultimately wonderful. In the title track, he offers up incredibly deep and penetrating stanzas like, “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique / Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see / And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be / A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.” This is an album full of difficult themes, and one that certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but to those who do put forth the effort, it is a veritable treasure trove.

2. TV on the Radio – Nine Types of Light
First off, I must admit that I’m a bit of a late comer to TV on the Radio. Sure, I had heard some of their stuff in the past, but had never been moved enough to reach out and grab any of their albums. But the overwhelming positive reaction to the band was more than I could hold out on any longer and I grabbed a copy of Nine Types of Light soon after it came out. Needless to say, it was a great decision. This genre-hopping outfit is not easily defined, but that fluidity is perhaps their greatest asset as they effortlessly flit between soul to the sound of early 80’s post-punk to jazzy excursions, from electronic bleeps to distorted guitars, mixing it all together into a glorious whole, turning chaos into a sublime experience. You can feel the heartbreak in songs like “You,” where Tunde Adebimpe sings “You gave no reason for letting go / I just thought you might like to know / You’re the only one I ever loved,” and then the hopes for reconciliation in “Will Do,” (But I’ll be there to take care of you / If ever you should decide / That you don’t want to waste your life / In the middle of a lovesick lullaby). It’s a very personal work and one that requires several listens to fully appreciate, but once it reels you in there is no escape and that’s really the best thing you can ever hope for with an album.

1. Eddie Vedder – Ukelele Songs
I could easily cajole you once again with stories of my long-standing love for all things Pearl Jam, of the times I’ve seen them and frontman Eddie Vedder in concert and of the extensive collection of their releases I keep on file in my iPod, but perhaps the best thing I could do with this latest addition to one of rock music’s greatest catalogues is to tell you to leave your worries and cares at the door and just listen. Much like his solo work on the Into The Wild soundtrack or on recent Pearl Jam songs like the heart-wrenching “Just Breath,” Eddie strips away the noise and opens a door straight to his soul, using little but his unmistakable voice filled with yearning and loss and love and a lone, unlikely instrument – the ukulele. The simple beauty of each and every song will squeeze your heart, bring a smile to your face and maybe even a tear to your eye. Of all the iterations of Eddie Vedder that I’ve followed across the years – from his early days as a spokesman of the disaffected grunge rock youth, to his anti-corporate stands, to his political diatribes – today’s may be my favorite. There is something quite special about watching a man finally come into his own after years of fighting and discover contentedness, to find love and hope and beauty in life. The muted strums that open his version of Pearl Jam’s “Can’t Keep,” kickstart the album with a burst of energy that it rarely reaches again, and that’s a good thing. It’s the loveliness of “Without You” (For every wish I hold a star / That goes old and sets in the dark / There is a dream I’ve dreamt about you), the forlorn “Goodbye” (I’ve got our love to remember / That will never change / I have you in my head / And though I’ll never hold you / And I’m still asking why / I guess that this is goodbye), and the playful duet with Cat Power “Tonight You Belong to Me” (Yes, the song from The Jerk), that make this my favorite album so far this year. It’s an offbeat, moving, and utterly beautiful masterpiece from one of the greatest artists of our generation.

Thoughts?

Free Music Friday: Thank God for Eddie Vedder May 27, 2011

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For twenty years now I have dedicated a part of my musical life to the work of Pearl Jam, collecting all of their releases and carefully and joyously listening to each and every one with rapturous devotion. I saw vocalist Eddie Vedder on his solo tour a couple of years ago and it was an incredible, transcendent experience, so when I heard that he was going to release a second solo album this year, my joy knew few bounds. And when I heard that it would be entitled Ukelele Songs, my intrigue grew even more.

The album is set for release next week, but until then you can stream the entire thing for free on NPR. Yesterday I listened to the entire thing, from beginning to end, twice and truthfully I was nearly overcome. It is without a doubt one of the most joyous, beautiful works I’ve heard this year. There are too many highlights to mention, but there was one song in particular that brought a smile to my face – a duet with Cat Power on the old tune, “Tonight You Belong to Me,” which you might recognize from the movie The Jerk.

Check out the song “Goodbye” below and I bet you’ll agree that this is a wonderful addition to the canon.

Spring Music Preview March 22, 2011

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As you know, I am an avid collector of music and take great pleasure in tracking upcoming releases to further expand my fairly large list of albums. The pre-Summer season brings us several highly anticipated releases from a wide variety of artists, but for the sake of this blog, I have chosen a handful of them in which I am particularly interested.

6. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (May 3)
According to reports, Hot Sauce Committee Part One was scheduled to be released back in the fall, but when the deadline passed, the band took the songs, added to them and renamed it Part Two. Even though their last album, 2004’s To The Five Boroughs, was not a classic a la Paul’s Boutique (one of the top 5 albums of the 1980’s), it was still a fun romp with a group that we’ve all known for many years. Whether the Beasties reinvent hip-hop again with Hot Sauce or merely have a good time, this will definitely be one to pick up.

5. The Raveonettes – Raven in the Grave (April 5)
I first came across The Raveonettes and their noisy, Jesus & Mary Chain-esque shoegazing style a few years ago on emusic with their killer 2007 noise-ridden debut Lust Lust Lust. Their 2009 follow up, In and Out of Control, showed a bit more song structure, yet still retained an indie rock edge. I’m looking forward to seeing where the masters of noise will take us on Raven in the Grave. This will be a must-have.

4. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (May 3)
Fleet Foxes took the indie music scene by storm in 2008 with their self-titled full-length debut and its Crosby, Stills, and Nash-style harmonies and lightly picked guitars. According to the band, their sophomore release will be “less poppy, less upbeat and more groove-based.” If that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will. Sign me up.

3. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far (May 10)
This Austin indie rock band has been creating waves for more than a decade, but perhaps never more so than with the double punch of 2007’s The Stage Names and 2008’s The Stand Ins, and hit songs like “Lost Coastlines,” (aka “The La Song” according to my then – 6 year old). I’ve become a big fan of the band’s tight instrumentation and hyper-literate lyrics, and I expect big things from them here.

2. Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (April 26)
Earle is one of the great treasures of American songwriting and every one of his releases, from those espousing controversial political views to experimentation that stretches the bounds of country music, deserves to be heard. His last release, 2009’s Townes, was a nice tribute to the late, great singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, but I’m really anticipating a collection of new, original material.

1. Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs (May 31)
Eddie Vedder is one of my favorite vocalists of all time and is widely thought of as one of the great voices of my generation, so every time he is involved in a project, I am interested. Vedder’s solo work on the Into the Wild soundtrack was incredible, as was the solo show I caught him at back in 2009, so, despite the seeming strangeness of a ukulele album, this is a must buy.

What are you looking forward to?

That Secular Spirit March 29, 2010

Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs, music.
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It’s no secret that I love music of almost all kinds – from heavy rock to hip-hop to older country to blues and jazz – but there are some genres that just grate like fingernails on a blackboard to my ears. One of these types is that atrocity known as Contemporary Christian Music. Few things make me want to jab sharpened pencils in my ears like the squeaky-clean, emotion-manipulating, poorly written songs for Jesus. I’ll bet they even get on Christ’s divine nerves.

True story: A couple who are close friends of ours were recently at our house. Knowing the disdain I have toward all things CCM, they made the announcement that they were going to see some well-known act at a local church. After saying it, they looked at me expectantly with smiles on their faces, waiting for me to throw myself to the floor in a demon-induced tantrum, but I just looked back, and confusedly asked, “Who?” Truthfully, I have been so successful at divorcing myself entirely from the world of Christian music, that I had (and still have) no idea who this act is.

Recently my friend Coleman wrote a piece about Christian music, which in turn caused me to think about it again. Though I avoid all things overtly Christian in the music world, there have always been certain songs from secular bands through which I find certain spiritual truths. Without bludgeoning the listener over the head with the name “Jesus” 600 times in a three minute span, the artists find a way to avoid preaching and convey these ideals.

The first work I thought of that fit these criteria was Pearl Jam’s latest release, Backspacer, an incredible album which I have written about in the past. Sticking with the Eddie Vedder motif, I would also include his work on the Into The Wild soundtrack. I know there are a ton of other recordings I would also need to include – Radiohead’s The Bends, maybe Elliott Smith’s Either/Or, some great Dylan tunes, and I’m sure there are many others I can’t think of off the top of my head.

What about you? What secular albums/songs do you like that convey spiritual truths?

Free Music Friday 2: Eddie does Bruce January 29, 2010

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At the recent Kennedy Center Honors, Eddie Vedder paid tribute to the great Bruce Springsteen by performing and incredible solo version of “My City of Ruins.” The song is available for download on Itunes with all of the proceeds going to the relief effort in Haiti, so not only will you get a great version of the song, but your small purchase will also go to help others. Enjoy.

Best of the Decade – Music Edition (61-70) December 8, 2009

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Today we continue our voyage through the past decade of music, this time taking on those ranked 61-70. You can click the links below for our past entries:
91-100
81-90
71-80

70. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha (2007)
Armed with a college degree in violin performance and proficiencies in a number of instruments, Andrew Bird created this gem of an album from 2007. Bird has great pop sensibilities and an even more impressive vocabulary, one that will keep you searching through the nearest dictionary. The song, “Imitosis” has one of my favorite lines – “What was mistaken for closeness / Is just a case of mitosis.” In addition to that, check out the excellent song “Plasticities.”

69. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You (2009)
The Avetts made a name for themselves on the indie circuit with their energetic live shows and a unique neo-bluegrass-alt rock fusion sound. For their latest release, however, the brothers reign in the banjo a bit, opting instead to focus on piano-driven ballads. In so doing, they created one of the most beautifully crafted albums of the decade. Check out tunes like “January Wedding” and “Tin Man” to get a feel for the band’s sound and then grab the whole album. It is truly great.

68. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (2008)
The Ivy League-educated guys in VW must have been raised with a copy of Regatta De Blanc close at hand, for the influence of The Police permeates throughout this excellent debut album. Their sound is light and poppy, mixing Afro-beats and alternative rock in a altogether fun conglomeration. I greatly anticipate their sophomore release, scheduled to come out 2010. For now, though, check out “Mansard Roof” and “A-Punk” to get a feel for the band.

67. Sinead O’Connor – Theology (2007)
It is no secret that I heap tons of disdain upon the contemporary Christian music industry, but that does not equate to an outright abhorrence of all things both musical and Christian. This double album, one which you will probably never hear of on K-Love, is the perfect example of one that is definitely in that vein that I absolutely love. The release consists of two discs, both of which contain most of the same songs but with differing presentations. One of the discs employs a full band, but my personal favorite is the other one which, for the most part, consists of only her and an acoustic guitar. Songs like “Something Beautiful” and “Out of the Depths” are incredibly beautiful and heartfelt.

66. Jay-Z – The Black Album (2003)
Bold, brash, and inventive, Jay-Z separated himself from most of the rap world over the course of the late 90’s-early 00’s as the best around. Utilizing samples from artists as diverse as Madonna, Mountain, and Run DMC, mixed with his own prodigious skills, this release is really a great work in a community not always known for producing good albums. “99 Problems” and “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” are killer, hard-hitting tunes.

65. Coldplay – Parachutes (2000)
Say what you want about Chris Martin’s ultra-popular band – that they are conventional or guilty of plagiarizing – but, regardless of that, they have had quite a run in the first decade of the new millennium. This, their debut album, vaulted them atop the music world back in 2000, largely on the back of “Yellow,” (which, in my opinion, is one of the least interesting cuts on the album) their lead single in America. Check out the songs “Don’t Panic” and “Spies” instead for better representations of the release.

64. Bruce Springsteen – The Rising (2002)
Written in response to the attacks of 9/11, the album is brimming with both sadness and hope in a way that only Springsteen, America’s everyman hero, could do. For this grand return The Boss reassembled the E Street Band for the first time in 18 years and was soon on top of the world again. This is probably my least favorite of his three E Street Band releases from the decade, but it is still very, very good and deserves a spot in the top 100. The release is full of great songs, but my favorites are probably “Lonesome Day,” “The Rising,” and the poignant “My City of Ruins.”

63. Michael McDermott – Noise From Words (2007)
My friend Scott introduced me to singer-songwriter Michael McDermott with the release of this album and I quickly became a fan. “Still Ain’t Over You Yet” is an excellent piece of sad, lovelorn Americana and “I Shall Be Healed” is a spiritual tour-de-force that should be heard by everybody.

62. Josh Ritter – The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007)
Over the course of the past decade, I’ve become more and more convinced that Josh Ritter is the best songwriter of my generation. In a truly just world he would be our Springsteen or Dylan, but, as things currently stand, he still resides just below the radar playing small venues like the one I caught him at last year in Little Rock. This release diverged a bit from his prior albums, which were mostly acoustic folk rock pieces, but it is no less interesting. I’ve listened to it over and over again and have yet to tire of the entire work, but my favorite songs are probably “The Temptation of Adam” and the Dylanesque “To the Dogs or Whoever.”

61. Eddie Vedder – Into the Wild (2007)
What do you get when you combine one my favorite writers (Jon Krakauer), a tragic story of self-discovery, and the vocalist for one of my favorite bands of all time? Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam fame lends his voice and a mountain of heartfelt understanding to this soundtrack to the tale of Chris McCandless. The music itself is stark and lonely, yet hopeful and idealistic, much like the protagonist of the book and film. I love the song “Guaranteed” and its message of avoiding a life of quiet desperation, something that I strive to do in my own existence. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to see Eddie Vedder solo and found it to be quite touching when he talked of writing the song “No Ceiling” for his kids. You need this album.

God, Eddie Vedder, and a Dark and Lonely Road October 25, 2009

Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
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Headlights cut a swath through the dark canvass of night, lighting the two lane path through the rural Arkansas night as my car sped along the lonesome, unlit road. On either side of the vehicle lay fields of cotton and other assorted crops, flat, seemingly endless planes stretching unseen into the black horizon. The sky was dotted with what seemed to be an infinite number of stars to this boy from the city, where light pollution erased any semblance of star gazing, and I fought the urge to stare into the depths of space normally unseen. The road and the darkness were my only companions.

This had been a quick trip to my hometown of Beebe, some 130 miles from our current home on the outskirts of Memphis, on a Saturday evening in order to give our chocolate lab, Hershey, a new and better home with my in-laws. The drive usually takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes, give or take for traffic and construction, of which about half is on a two lane highway between Beebe and Brinkley, Arkansas, passing through small towns in various states of decay like Des Arc and Cotton Plant, before hitting I-40 in Brinkley for the second and faster moving leg of the trip through the eastern side of the state and across the river into Memphis. It is a rather boring drive, so I made sure to load myself up with an amount of caffeine that would no doubt qualify as liquid speed, beginning with a 5 hour energy shot before I left Memphis and finishing with a couple of cups of after dinner coffee at my parents’ house. As would be expected, I was flying high with energy.

Those of you who know me well know that there are few things more important to me than the soundtrack I choose to listen to each day. Music carries a special significance in my life for it is the fuel that powers my very being, it challenges and inspires in a way that few other things can. So I thought for a few minutes about what album or playlist I wanted to treat my ears and mind to for the drive ahead but it did not take very much time before the answer became clear.

This has been a stellar year for new music, but there is one title in particular that has truly grabbed me from the first time I listened to it. This powerful collection of songs bored directly into my very soul and I knew that it was something special, something transcendent that I would not soon forget. Of course, as most of you probably know, the album of which I speak is Pearl Jam’s newest release, Backspacer. As I’ve spoken of before, Pearl Jam have held a special place to me ever since their 1991 debut, Ten, and I have followed them diligently ever since that time, lapping up every melody and lyric that Eddie Vedder and the boys saw fit to release – and some that they did not. They were there during the confusion and challenges of my teen years, they accompanied me as I left school and began wading my way through the world, they shouted angrily alongside me at the perversions of justice during the first 8 years of the new millennium, and today, perhaps more than ever before, they stand beside me like a good friend, a companion into a new world, one where I am now in my 30’s with a wife and kids and a job, in which their accompaniment is as important as ever. It is hard for me to put into words how I feel about this new album, but this past Saturday night I experienced something that I have not in many years, if ever and that is the story that I want to tell.

Soon the loud Johnny B Goode-style riff of the album opener, “Gonna See My Friend,” filled the car and settled back, head bobbing to the driving guitar, but as I listened my mind began to wander, picking through the lyrics and the sounds and mulling over their meaning, and at some point it was a sudden realization struck my brain with an unknown force, an epiphany of Biblical proportions under whose weight I would have staggered if I had not been seated in a minivan. This was their story and, in turn, this was my story. The first four songs on the album are among the loudest and most upbeat as they tell stories of living fast and for the moment, dealing with their flaws (in their songs this includes what sounds like drug addiction, which is certainly not my personal problem, but I know we all have shortcomings with which we have to cope) and personal failings. I see within these songs the story of youth, a time filled with exuberance and mistakes as we hammer out our small place in the universe.

This section is followed by perhaps the most powerful piece on the entire album, a song entitled, “Just Breathe,” in which the narrative takes a sudden turn, for our heroes have discovered two things that change everything: love and mortality. This is really the point where my spirit perked up as I listened to Eddie Vedder’s emotion filled voice crack over a beautifully finger-picked guitar as he seemed to struggle through many of the words.

Yes I understand that every life must end, uh huh,..
As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, uh huh,..
I’m a lucky man to count on both hands
The ones I love,..

And this was it. The point where my eyes teared up a bit, my mind raced and I realized that something had just struck me like a spiritual lightning bolt – the Divine was suddenly here, sitting alongside myself and Eddie. I thought of my wife and kids and how I don’t always show them how much I appreciate them in our busy lives. I thought of my own life and the short time that we have to walk this earth with the ones we love.

I’ve long had a feeling that I’m going to die young, but can’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I have already cheated death once, barely escaping its icy grip, and that the chances are low that I will once again evade it. Perhaps it is just general paranoia, though the idea doesn’t really fill me with fear, just some degree of sadness at the thought of missing my family.

And the rest of the album is filled with incredible songs having similar themes – ones of loss, regret, love, time and mortality. It is here that my melancholic soul found inspiration.

And so I press forward, inspired as a new man. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that love is the most powerful thing. All else will fail you in the end, whether it be your money or fame or religious dogma. It is all for naught. Love is what will carry you. Grasp it and don’t let it go and hold onto it until your dying day and all will be right.

The aptly titled final song on the album, “The End”, puts this in perspective when Eddie sings in the first person of someone nearing death begging their loved one to stay with them.

Don’t leave me so cold
Or buried beneath the stones
I just want to hold on
And know I’m worth your love

But the end comes suddenly as he sings the last words of the album,

The End
Comes near
I’m here
But not much longer
And the music abruptly stops.

It was as though the finger of God suddenly reached through the clouds and touched me for all seemed clear, like a new plane of existence had been reached, one in which this realization was made plain. Eddie Vedder is a prophetic voice in the wilderness, a man preaching the Divine in a way that I had never heard nor felt from a preacher or church before. This is true. This is right. I smiled knowingly through watery eyes and I knew what had to be done. I had to tell my family how much I love them for nobody knows how much time is left.

It is love and only love that matters.

When Eddie Vedder Came to Town June 22, 2009

Posted by Matt in concerts.
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Pearl Jam, and by extension Eddie Vedder, has been an integral part of my life for nearly two decades. They were a part of my personal soundtrack as I came of age in the early-mid 90’s, their angst-ridden songs resonating loudly in my adolescent mind. Over the years my taste in music has matured and PJ has been accompanying me along the path, walking beside me like a good friend. The baby boomers had Dylan, the younger boomers/older generation X had Springsteen, and the rest of us thirty-somethings under the moniker of generation X have Eddie Vedder. His is a generation-defining voice, a passionate declaration against injustice and corporate greed and corruption, that has thankfully burrowed its way into our very being and we are all better for it.

I had seen PJ twice before, once back in 1993 on the Vs. tour and again in 2000 supporting Binaural, and I had been wishing for several years to see them again, so it was with great excitement that I was able to purchase tickets to Eddie Vedder’s solo show that took place Saturday night. The short, 18-date tour was partly in support of Vedder’s solo work on 2007’s Into the Wild soundtrack and partly to give the hordes of rabid fans a chance to see the man himself in an intimate, more personal setting, one that was truly about the songs rather than the spectacle of a rock concert. Saturday’s event took place in Memphis’ Orpheum Theater, a place that, at first glance, does not seem well-suited for a concert with its chandeliers and pillars and multiple balconies, but, for an event like this, it worked perfectly and even Vedder took a moment to remark about how beautiful the venue was.

The opening act of the night was the duo of Liam Finn and Eliza Jane Barnes, whom I was completely unfamiliar with. Perhaps if I had been prepared for what to expect the experimental set would have made more sense to me and I probably would have even enjoyed it. Finn took turns going back and forth between his loudly distorted guitar and a drum set, occasionally setting one on a loop that he recorded live while playing the other. Barnes swayed around, singing backup and playing the tambourine and occasionally, for some odd reason, holding drumsticks. Though he was obviously talented, the overall strangeness of the songs, which often consisted of him either pounding madly and noisily on one instrument or the other, made them the butt of our jokes for the night. So, every once in a while I would quietly call out, “Time for another random drum solo!” But overall it was fine, just, ummm…, unexpected.

Soon Vedder hit the stage to echoing applause from the excited audience. He walked onto the stage, bowed, sat on a stool and motioned for everyone in the crowd to sit as well, saying something to the effect of, “I’m sitting down for this so you should too.” Then, after picking up one of the acoustic guitars propped behind him, he began the show with what seems to be his standard solo opener, a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Walking the Cow.” Following that, a verse of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” led into Pearl Jam’s “Sometimes,” the opening cut from their underappreciated No Code. The main set consisted of several older PJ songs, including a very unique version of “Better Man” on a ukulele, five consecutive numbers from the Into the Wild soundtrack, and a few more interesting covers, including James Taylor’s “Millworker,” the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door.” In addition to those, he also played a fantastic cover of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” saying that it was from Johnny Ramone’s request. I remember seeing the band do that song in a really cool punk rock style back in 2000 and it was nice to hear it again from Vedder. The first set ended with “Porch,” a tune from PJ’s classic debut album Ten. Once the tune ended, Vedder exited the stage, but we all knew the evening was far from over.

After a short break, Vedder emerged to the roaring delight of the crowd. Taking his seat and picking up a guitar, he launched into John Doe’s “The Golden State,” another song with which I was not too familiar. Finn and Barnes then joined him for the next two memorable numbers, “Society” from Into the Wild and a cover of Hunters & Collectors’ “Throw Your Arms Around Me.”

A show with Eddie Vedder would not be complete without an appeal from him regarding issues of politics or justice in the world, and this was no different. Pearl Jam have long been supporters of the three young men who were imprisoned as teenagers for the horrific 1993 murders of three young children in the West Memphis area. There have been questions surrounding the police investigation of the incident ever since it occurred, but, despite that, the accused remain in jail to this day, one of them on death row. Vedder spoke of this for some time, saying that he would be visiting death row inmate Damian Echols the next day, before dedicating “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” to the incarcerated. An incredible cover of Dylan’s “Forever Young,” which he also dedicated to somebody that I don’t remember, came next and the set ended with a strange, haunting rendition of “Arc,” as done acappella using the recording device that Finn had employed earlier. Vedder recorded layer after layer of meditative sounds, placing them one on top of the other and building a veritable wall of wordless vocals. It was a transcendental sort of moment in which he seemed to be exorcising some personal demon right before our eyes. After building to a crescendo, the mass of vocals began to diminish before finally ending before the stunned crowd in utter silence and he again left the stage.

The ravenous crowd continued in their adjurations for more and soon Vedder again emerged from the back, bowing and taking his seat before us for two final songs. The first was an unfamiliar one entitled “Pullin’ Into Santa Cruz,” but it seemed to fit a nice, comfortable fireside sort of vibe. The night’s closer was another cut from Into the Wild, “Hard Sun,” a tune that was written to be a big sing-a-long and the crowd didn’t disappoint at all in that aspect. Soon we were all singing out the chorus, “There’s a big / a big hard sun / beating on the big people / in the big hard world,” and all was right with the world. Eddie Vedder had deftly grasped up in his hand and carried us to this higher plane, one above the rest of the population, and it was good.

Having seen the band twice before and heard very few spoken words from the mouth of Vedder, I was a bit surprised to hear just how often and how easily he spoke to us in the crowd. It was as if we were merely having a conversation with one another. He told a story about his 3 year old daughter who was around while he was recording the movie soundtrack and how she became fixated on the fact that there was a bear in the story. He spoke of how she would constantly ask questions about the bear – was he a big bear? A small bear? A nice bear? A mean bear? – and I just laughed knowingly because I understood. It was really great to hear him in this intimate setting for it felt as though he were just a normal person chatting about family and life events and telling jokes and just generally having a good time. It was an amazing experience and one that has me ready for the next PJ tour. Come on, we’ve got a nice arena ready for you in Memphis!

Below is the complete setlist from the show:

Walking the Cow (Daniel Johnston cover)
Brain Damage tease (Pink Floyd)
Sometimes (No Code)
Last Kiss (Lost Dogs)
Better Man (Vitalogy)
Millworker (James Taylor cover)
No Ceiling (Into the Wild)
Far Behind (Into the Wild)
Guaranteed (Into the Wild)
Rise (Into the Wild)
You’re True
Drifting (Lost Dogs)
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away (Beatles cover, I Am Sam soundtrack)
Can’t Help Falling in Love (Elvis cover)
Let My Love Open the Door (Pete Townshend cover)
Wishlist (Yield)
Porch (Ten)

Encore:
The Golden State (John Doe cover)
Society (Into the Wild)
Throw Your Arms Around Me (Hunters & Collectors cover)
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town (Vs.)
Forever Young (Bob Dylan cover)
Arc (Riot Act)

Encore 2:
Pullin’ Into Santa Cruz
Hard Sun (Into the Wild)

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