I've taken to making myself mixed CD's - one per month. I try to follow a theme, but sometimes - like Februrary's CD - I don't do that great of a job. I'm posting this so I can look back at it as I continue to make these for myself and see what I was thinking.
1. Watching The Wheels (John Lennon, Acoustic)
2. Heart Of Gold (Neil Young With The Stray Gators)
3. Trouble (Ray LaMontagne - KFOG to iTunes - EP)
Tracks #1-3 all speak to me a great deal right now. In fact, "Heart of Gold" might be my theme song of 2006. Both Lennon and Young are stoic; Lennon is just watching the wheels go round and round, and Young, even though he's worried that he's "gettin' old," he still doesn't sound desperate to find his heart of gold, despite his travels around the world. And LaMontagne, who is good enough that he fits right in with Lennon and Young, is haunted by the personified trouble, who finds him every time. I can relate. His lyric reminds me of Sam Shaber's lyric about her demons coming out to find her, and how they're so convincing. These songs speak to me because I, like everyone else, has these demons or troubles that seem to bubble to the surface no matter how much I think I've conquered them. Still, LaMontagne's haunt is cured by a woman, and even though the haunt in his soulful voice makes it seem like it could resurface anytime, his lyrics speak of conquering it. I like that.
4. Every State Line (Ani DiFranco, Live)
This one's jarring. Once one of my favorite DiFranco songs, its lyrics - "Are you an American citizen? Yes, sir, so far..." - fit better in my pre-9/11 view of the world. DiFranco is still spot on when she discusses relationships ("Gravel" is a sublime masterpiece; even the spare "Both Hands" stands the test of time), but her political songs from the late nineties now sound grating to me. I still like politics mixed in with my music, but I guess I prefer them coming from black kids who grew up in the city rather than sometime lesbians from suburban New York.
5. I Never Loved (The Way I Love You) (Aretha Franklin)
See, this would have been a better follow-up on Lamontagne's "Trouble" then DiFranco's song. Franklin - for my money, the best singer of the 20th century (her terrible Super Bowl performance, I'll ignore) - has a voice that is just as haunted as LaMontagne's, and the speakers in the two songs seem alike - both transformed by their love. Franklin seems less positive than LaMontagne that this is a good thing.
6. Atlantic (Live) (Bruce Springsteen)
Probably my favorite Springsteen song, but I've got to remember not to listen to his live songs - the damn crowd always sings along too much and ruins things for me. This is a bloated version of a song that I've always thought of as small, as the working class speaker with debts no honest man can pay (I can relate) doesn't stand up to the bombast that Springsteen's live songs apparently take. This is a song that needs to be stripped down live, maybe even just voice and guitar. A misstep for this mixed CD.
7. It Ain't Me Babe (Johnny Cash)
One of my recent rules for myself was that a Johnny Cash songs belongs on every mixed CD that I make. This one just doesn't work, though. I hate the sound of horns in anything other than a high school marching band, and this song is no exception. As soon as the trumpets start blaring, the intimacy of Cash's voice is lost. In addition, I don't understand the choice for a backup singer. The song's lyrics speak of not being able to live up to a partner's expectations, so there shouldn't be any harmonizing of voices. It should just be Cash, alone, saying he can't do it by himself. Another misstep.
8. Mad Mission (Patty Griffin)
A return to the focus of the CD, whatever that might be. Griffin's song starts with a joke - "We were drinking like the Irish, but we were drinking Scotch" - but by the end of the song we realize this is no drinking song. It's a song about life's journey, reminding me a little of the song I started the mixed CD with, "Watching the Wheels." But Griffin is less stoic than Lennon is; she's ready to sign up for the mission, but the song gets less hopeful as the verses wear on - only Griffin's seared vocals let us know she's strong enough to make it to the loving cup. And even then you're not so sure.
9. Gold Digger (Kanye West)
A strange choice, to be sure, but I'm happy every time the CD hits this one. I put the song on the CD because I made it right after the song was robbed at the Grammies. This was the song of 2005, and West was relegated to Best Rap Song while a seemingly ancient Green Day song won "Song of the Year." West has better songs, but he doesn't have any that are more fun, and even though it jars with the rest of the CD a little, I still like it here.
10. The Ballad Of The Devil's Backbone Tavern (Todd Snider, Live)
Like Griffin's song previously, this is another song about life that starts in a bar. Snider's is more humorous, and more reliant on characters, especially Miss Birdy, the old lady who runs the titular bar. Snider is so good live, and this song captures him well, from the storytelling to the scratched, lived-in vocals.
11. Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)(Jay-Z)
I was late to the Jay-Z game; my first CD of his was The Black Album. And, while I liked that album, it was so full of "I'm Jay-Z, hear me roar" that I didn't really understand why he's considered the best rapper. I still don't think he is, but this song helps me out - sampling a song and turning it on its head, this song features Jay less marble-mouthed and more nimble than I think he is on much of The Black Album, and the lyrics are both funny and poignant. My only misstep here was accidentally downloading the radio version, so there are silly cuts of curse words.
12. America (Simon & Garfunkel)
I squeezed this one in right after Jay-Z, and, maybe because of that, it sounds like a spiritual more than ever. And this song is just so moving to me, for the obvious reasons - "Michigan seems like a dream to me now" is a line that captures my feelings whenever I'm homesick - to the obscure ones - like the little scene of the speaker saying, "Kathy, I’m lost, I said, though I knew she was sleeping. I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why." Paul Simon could write a lyric, that's for sure.
13. If I Ain't Got You (Acoustic Exclusive)(Alicia Keys)
I hope my kids, if I ever have them, are listening to songs like this one thirty years from now, as I listen to my parents' music from thirty years ago. Keys sings her heart out here, creating one of the most moving pop songs in recent years. This one's stripped down, so its power is even more emphasized. Wow.
14. When I'm Sixty-Four (The Beatles)
A throwaway Beatles song that gets a little more attention on my mixed CD than it does in the middle of Sgt. Pepper when I listen to it. The song's tone is bouncy and light, but it still sort of is sad to me, as only two of the Beatles will make it to age 64. Katie Couric said that the morning that George Harrison died, and I can't listen to this song without thinking about that.
15. The Great Divide (Brenda Kahn)
Contains my favorite lyrics of all time - "It will be a long time ago, someday." Kahn is the best songwriter of our generation and nobody knows who she is. It's too bad. She's apparently retired to a life of being a mother, as she hasn't had a new album since 1998 and hasn't updated her website in ages. Her album Epiphany in Brooklyn is the current (four and a half years and running) namesake of this blog.
16. What Would You Do? (City High)
A song from my first year of teaching. LIstening to it now, I have some questions about it. For example, is the female speaker a whore or a stripper? Seems a bit of both. I can't believe that this turned into a hit single; the social issues it brings up don't seem very radio friendly, what with the father raping the girl and her sister. But it's certainly powerful, and I definitely wonder how this band fell off the map.
17. Magnolia Street (Catie Curtis)
Catie Curtis's best song. Like Snider's and Griffin's songs earlier, this one is built upon the small observations it makes. Great stuff, but I'm finding it a little too slow after the City High song.
18. Unsent (Alanis Morissette)
19. Sexual Healing (Ben Harper, Live)
20. Doubled Up (Heather Nova)
I haven't really enjoyed the last three songs' placement on the CD. Morissette's "Unsent" is a great song, but comes too close after Catie Curtis's similar song about relationships. Ben Harper's "Sexual Healing" is a great cover of the song, but is too long and slow to get into on a mixed CD. And Nova's "Doubled Up" just hasn't held up over time. In college, back when I was in love, it was one of my favorite songs; now, it seems treacly.
Now I've got to figure out March's CD.
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