Saturday, June 26, 2010

Running Help

If it seems like I refer to running quite a bit in my posts, it’s not because I am an avid, gifted runner- quite the opposite actually. I like to refer to myself as a “special needs” runner, or if that is offensive to anyone, it could also be referred to as “disadvantaged”. My disadvantage is that I am slow and laborious in my efforts to run. I do not take this label lightly. I attribute the origin of my disadvantage to the fact that I did not run in my teens when, based on my observations, it is not nearly so difficult. In addition to being a Music Mom, I am first and foremost just a mom, and in that role I always volunteer to be a timer at my high school daughters’ track meets. It’s in this context that I can appreciate just how disadvantaged I am. The winning girls usually make the long distances look easy, but there are always those who are far behind the others, obviously struggling as everyone claps for the effort as they finish last, murmuring things like, “Well, good for her just for being out there.” It was while timing and with great dismay that I realized that these very slow girls run a mile many minutes faster than I do, so my label as special needs is well informed.

Several years ago, a charitable friend coached me through the training to run a 10K, which I successfully completed and was happy to retire on that accomplishment for many years afterward. For some reason, last year I decided that completing a marathon should be on my to-do list before I die. Though the training was very difficult (to say the least), I did finish and should have retired from running altogether a second time; on to the other items on my to-do list, such as going to Vegas. After a winter of inertia, I inexplicably signed up to run the marathon again this year but decided not to run with a group as I did last year. An energetic new coworker who is a decade older than I am and is built like a well conditioned jockey got wind of this and stopped by my desk recently to suggest that we run together with his friend during the marathon. I actually did LOL at that, assuring him that he is quite a bit faster than I am, having previously heard his times. He was undeterred and reassured me that his friend is a single-leg amputee- how comforting! Unfortunately, the times he suggested were still faster than my time from last year, so I politely declined and decided to plod along independently.

It is with this long buildup that the music comes into play. Because running does not come easily or enjoyably to me, I use a bit of trickery on myself during my training. I only do my long runs on a path that has the miles well marked to keep from accidentally running too far, I intentionally live in the flattest part of the country possible, and you can bet I cross to the inside of a curve in the street. One other thing I do is divide my runs into little 4-minute increments, which is mentally much more manageable than miles and includes a short walk during each such increment. (I should note that this run/walk technique is a valid method that is designed to help people reduce their times and avoid injury since the body has frequent opportunities to recharge; it’s commonly known as the Galloway method for the guy who developed it and is, of course, scoffed at by “real” runners. Since I already know I am not a real runner and would rather walk than run, I do not care about the scoffing and have embraced the Galloway method) To help me, I sorted the library on my iPod by time and took all the songs that were between 3:55 and 4:05 minutes to make a playlist and therefore have a new song for each block of running. I ended up with 178 songs that fit those parameters and will often use the playlist for my runs. Because I did not weed out slow songs, it’s quite a mix, some more conducive to running than others. Here are some that I feel are the best, meaning that they either motivate me or distract me:

· 1 Thing (Amerie)
· Roll on Down the Highway (BTO)
· Crazy in Love (Beyonce)
· Havin’ a Bad Day (Blue Flannel) – this song is hilarious, the singer is so grumpy
· When the Stars Go Blue (The Corrs feat. Bono)
· Hello Again (Dave Matthews Band)
· Survivor (Destiny’s Child)
· I’m Your Villain (Franz Ferdinand)
· Cupid’s Chokehold (Gym Class Heroes)
· Touch the Sky (Kanye West fea. Lupe Fiasco)
· Wasting Time (Kid Rock)
· Superstar (Lupe Fiasco)
· About You (Mary J. Blige feat. Will.I.Am)
· Little Secrets (Passion Pit)
· SOS (Rhianna)
· Barely Legal (The Strokes)

Good luck and enjoy!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Singles IV

Another post with singles, some newly released (Tom Petty, The Roots) and some recommendations that have (apparently) been around for a while. As a busy working music mom, there are occasional songs that slip through the cracks, and I’m always grateful when people bring those to my attention in the form of recommendations. As usual, it’s a mixed bag of singles, which always keeps me on my toes. I’m kicking it off with two Tom Petty songs. I would say in general I’m a bit neutral on the subject of Tom Perry; I used to be a big fan but haven’t really kept up with him for years. However, Rolling Stone gave his new album a really good rating, so here we are.

· Running Man’s Bible (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) – For the second week in a row, I did the first listen of my new music while doing my weekly long run for marathon training (Week 2 of 18- yay!). I became particularly excited when I noticed the name of the first song on my playlist: Running Man’s Bible- how apropos! I had no idea Tom Petty was a runner- perhaps he is also training for a marathon! I pictured myself passing him on the running trail with his blond hair and buck teeth; we’d give each other a little nod (due to lack of excess oxygen we would not actually speak). Alas, in this song the context of running is more like on the run, Thelma and Louise style. I began to become suspicious that Tom has actually been a fugitive while I haven’t been paying attention to him when the second song started:

· First Flash of Freedom (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) – Okay, Tom, what’s up with the jailbreak business? Both of these songs are similar in that they have a bit of a bluesy feel to them and both take their time, clocking in at almost 13 minutes between them. I kind of like the sound and you have to admire his staying power, but I think overall I’m going to maintain my fairly neutral Tom Petty stance.

· Dear God 2.0 (The Roots & Monsters of Folk) – I wouldn’t say I’m super familiar with The Roots having only one other song by them on my iPod. I bought this song again based on a RS recommendation (Running Woman’s Bible, you could say) and it is a really intriguing song. It starts with a very soulful sound and the words, “Dear God, I’m trying hard to reach you,” and when you start to think you might be headed toward Christian rock, the rapping starts with lyrics (are they lyrics when it’s a rap or is it just rap? Not cool enough to know) that questions all the “bad” things wrong in the world, ultimately asking God why there is suffering. I really like the juxtaposition between the lyrics, which are pretty heavy, and the rapping. Rappers have feelings, too! Good song from a brand new album.

· Clemantine (Sarah Jaffe) – This was a recommendation, but it happens to be from a new(er) album (April). I’m not familiar with Sarah Jaffe, but I like this first try with her. Clementine has a haunting sound to it and her album is called Suburban Nature, which is endearing. Her sound reminds me a bit of Ani DiFranco; I’d be willing to try more from her.

· Again & Again (The Bird and the Bee) – This group was actually recommended to me in the form of an album they did covering Hall & Oats songs (???). Since that seemed like it might be for a more hardcore fan and this was my foray into The Bird and the Bee, I opted for the most popular song on iTunes. The lyrics are really repetitive (again and again and again and again), and it seems pretty inane the first few times, but it’s strangely addictive. I even caught my 14-year old son singing it around the house. The female vocalist has a pretty voice, which gives it some legitimacy.

· I’d Rather Be With You (Joshua Radin) – Again, a recommendation of someone I’m not familiar with. Joshua Radin is similar to Jack Johnson or James Taylor: very sweet lyrics and pleasant melody, but not necessarily the song you’ll be singing to yourself (a very unscientific standard that I keep referring to, but it’s an indicator to me that it’s either different somehow or strikes a chord somewhere in my subconscience).

· Boys With Girlfriends (Meiko) – This song is supposedly one of Meiko’s (a female) more popular hits, although I wasn’t familiar with it. It’s a good song, though: “I know better not to be friends with boys with girlfriends”. Words to live by, Meiko! Not necessarily something Suburban Music Mom needs to ascribe to frequently, but perceptive nonetheless. Using my previously described method of evaluating a song, this one will stick with you, and her sound reminds me of early Liz Phair (a good sound, if you wondered whether that was good or bad).

· Grace Kelly (Mika) – It was confusing to get recommendations from the same person, one being Meiko and another being Mika, neither familiar to me. This song sounds to me at times like Franz Ferdinand and at other times like Queen (I know, weird). The title of the song comes from the singer’s desire to try to be like Grace Kelly and lamenting, “Why don’t you like me?” Great song!

· Catch My Disease (Ben Lee) – Although I didn’t think I was familiar with Ben Lee (possibly due to his generic name), I bought his most popular song on iTunes and realized that I have heard this song and like it. I’m a sucker for catchy lyrics and this delivers: “Open your heart and catch my disease”. It’s hard to actually recommend this song since it’s several years old, but it’s one I’m happy to have (accidentally) added to my library.

Sorry, none of the new songs seem to have videos yet. To recap, none of the songs in this group were duds, but the ones I particularly liked were (bolded indicates my top pick):

· Dear God 2.0 (The Roots & Monsters of Folk)
· Boys With Girlfriends (Meiko)
· Grace Kelly (Mika)
· Catch My Disease (Ben Lee)

Incidentally, if it seems that I recommend a high percentage of the songs I review, it’s partly because I really try to just listen to songs and albums I think I have a high likelihood of liking, although sometimes I’ll take a risk (Grace Potter & The Nocturnals). Enjoy!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Country Songs: A Tribute to Dad

I thought it would be nice to have a post on Father’s Day that focused on songs paying tribute to fathers. What I found when I began to compile such a list was: a) there aren’t that many songs that have to do with fathers; b) many of the ones I did find were depressing or sort of inappropriate. Eric Clapton sings about wishing his father was still around to guide him in My Father’s Eyes, Harry Chapin laments not spending more time with his kids in Cats in the Cradle, and Mary J. Blige sings about needing to find a significant other who also fills the void from her own absentee father. Happy Father’s Day! The only one that I could think of or find in my library that is really sweet is Paul Simon’s Father and Daughter, but one song a good playlist does not make.

I decided to take things in a different direction and pay tribute to my own dad. He is kind of a Suburban Music Dad (now Gramps) himself, but strangely, despite being born on the south side of Chicago and raised in the western suburbs, his tendency leans heavily toward country music. This gene apparently hits every other generation as neither of my sister or I have that tendency; however, it has struck my oldest daughter. Therefore, while I should be out shopping for a gift for Dad before we head to my parents’ house later this afternoon, I am making an attempt at compiling a good list of country songs that I like. Since that isn’t normally my preferred genre, the songs would probably be considered kind of wimpy by true hardcore country fans- I call it Country Lite. I can appreciate a good twang, though, so here is my best effort. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

· The Long Black Veil (Johnny Cash)
· Summertime (Kenny Chesney)
· Love Don’t Live Here (Lady Antebellum)
· Portland, Oregon (Loretta Lynn)- confession: Jack Black is also on this one, weird combo
· That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas) (Lyle Lovett)
· Here Comes Goodbye (Rascal Flatts)
· Please Read the Letter (Allison Krause and Robert Plant)- note: also a weird combo, but this is a really good album (Raising Sand- won a Grammy, I think)
· Killin’ Kind (Shelby Lynne)
· It Happens (Sugarland)
· Chicken Fried (Zac Brown Band)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

Last Saturday, not having an idea what I wanted to listen to next, I perused the top 10 albums on iTunes. I noticed that #8 was someone I had never heard of, Grace Potter & the Nocturals. Intrigued and a little bothered (because I should at least recognize everyone in the top 10), I read a couple of the reviews and took the plunge. This all coincided nicely with my first “long” run for my marathon training. My plan is to listen to new music each week for my long runs, which will distract me to the point that I hardly even notice I’m running. I have to admit that I did pay more attention to the music itself than I normally do on a first listen when I’m usually reading the paper on the train or working in the kitchen. The downside is that when I’ve listened to the album since then, I can literally picture where I was on my run when I first heard each song. No!!!! I’ve taken perfectly good music and now associate it with exercise- it’s had the wrong effect!

Anyway, on to Grace Potter and the Nocturals. As I mentioned, I have never heard of them and know nothing about them, but one of the reviews I read quickly described the sound as Janis Joplin meets Norah Jones. What??? I don’t think it’s necessary to take the opposite ends of the female vocal spectrum to describe something in the middle. I would say she sounds like an energized Norah Jones, although I guess the Janis Joplin comes from her ability to hold a note indefinitely. I would compare her most closely to Joss Stone, although she’s a notch calmer. Some of her songs have a hint of country (not good enough at country to tell you who she sounds like) and many have a kind of bluesy feel. She ranges from quite loud to very mellow, a nice mix. I keep saying “she” because I do not hear any vocals from the Nocturals (must investigate).

Again, without knowing anything about her, I would say she’s a single gal who is experiencing (and signing about) all kinds of single gal issues: being excited by new love, not answering the phone when her ex calls, not having enough money, the usual stuff, but the lyrics are a bit unexpected in places, which keeps things interesting, and she’s obviously more mature than a Taylor Swift. I am really enjoying this album. It’s a good mix of upbeat and soulful, and seriously it’s only $7.99 and has 14 songs- you can hardly find a better deal than that! Apparently the group was on Good Morning America this morning, so I can hardly get credit for discovering something new, I guess.

Now that I’ve visited the offical Grace Potter & the Nocturnals website, I’ve learned that Grace herself is 26, is from Vermont, and The Nocturals comprise the band: three hippie-looking dudes and one other girl. When I pay attention, I can hear them backing up on vocals, but it’s subtle- nice. I’m including what seems to be the only “real” video below, although I am hesitant because it gets a little screamy toward the end, which isn’t representative of all their songs whatsoever. Here are my recommendations from the album (although I am thoroughly enjoying the whole thing). I probably should have mentioned earlier that the album is self titled.

· Paris (also the most popular song on iTunes from the album)
· Tiny Light (video below)
· Colors (really pretty song)
· Fooling Myself (second most popular song, also the quietest song)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

R&B Favorites

Before I was a suburban music mom, I was a suburban music girl and teenager, comfortably protected in relatively homogenous surroundings, happily listening to Bruce Springsteen day and night. That changed when I was shipped off to the large public state university, which contained both people of other religions and (gasp) minorities. At some point early during my freshman year, I was brushing my teeth in the large communal bathroom on my dorm floor and at the same time there was an unseen girl singing in the shower (yes, singing loudly in the shower!), belting out Anita Baker’s Sweet Love. She was singing with such power and emotion that I literally got chills. I am certain no one at my Catholic high school could sing like that! Thus began a love of R&B music and a slight deviation from all Bruce all the time.

Over the years since, I have grown to love Mary J. Blige and John Legend in particular, but there is something about all R&B music that is comforting to me. I recently picked up a free song card at Starbucks and it happened to be a song by Leela James. The song is pretty good but got me thinking in general about some of my favorite R&B songs. I compiled a playlist and have been listening to it for the past couple days, tweaking it as needed.

This morning my teenage daughters and I left for a little road trip to visit some prospective colleges and had to leave at the ungodly hour of 4:00 a.m. Being the good teenagers that they are, they promptly got bored of entertaining their driver and fell asleep, at which point I turned on my new playlist (the girls would never have tolerated that while conscious) and let my inner Anita Baker come out. It was while singing along that I nearly dropped my favorite Alicia Keys song because I discovered that it’s sung at a pitch that is unmanageable for most humans, but I kept it in because Alicia seems to manage it fine and likely didn’t intend for it to be sung by suburban moms. While we might all have a little R&B in us, mine will probably be limited to the car- turns out I sing better in my mind than in real life.

As I write this, my student driver is behind the wheel and we are heading from Indiana to Kentucky, both relatively far from R&B, I believe. Anyway, the girls are awake and we actually have a country station on, which the car radio probably feels more comfortable with in this area. Here is my list (*Mary J. and John Legend songs are simply representing all songs by those artists):

· Family Affair (Sly & The Family Stone)
· Let’s Stay Together (Al Green)
· Sweet Love (Anita Baker)
· Better Things (Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings)
· Just Fine (Mary J. Blige)
· Mercy Mercy Me (Marvin Gaye)
· She Don’t Have to Know (John Legend)
· If I Ain’t Got U (Alicia Keys)
· Killing Me Softly With His Song (The Fugees)
· A Change is Gonna Come (Leela James)

Groovy playlist!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Misc. Singles III

Here are some new singles (including one from Jack Johnson, as you can see), which were obviously chosen fairly randomly- it’s all about what I’m interested in and from there I recommend what I think everyone should listen to. Read on…

· OMG (Usher) – I’ve liked Usher in the past and this song has been #1 on iTunes recently. It is pretty catchy and you’ll find yourself singing to yourself. I call artists like Usher hip hop lite, not too hardcore.

· Rill Rill (Sleigh Bells) – I had never heard of Sleigh Bells, but I read two reviews of their album in two days earlier this week. They’re a pretty new male/female due from New York and have a cool, kind of quirky sound. The actual vocals belong to a female with a really pretty voice, and the lyrics are clever and unexpected. I’ve read that this song is actually their least “alternative”, but I like it and might try the whole thing.

· You and Your Heart (Jack Johnson) – If you are a Jack Johnson fan, you are really never going to be disappointed with a new song because one of his greatest strengths is his predictable mellowness. He is a Hawaiian surfer dude, not a rocker, so he has perfect music to relax to and you don’t have to work very hard to like his songs. The downside is that you’re never really going to be surprised by what you get. That being said, this song is actually a bit livelier than his usual, meaning there is some electric guitar action and he sings a decibel or so louder than usual.

· Southern Pacifica (Josh Ritter) – I have seen this name around and was elated when I saw that the song was being offered free at Starbucks since those songs are often by artists I’ve never heard of. What luck that it was one I’ve wanted to try anyway! He has a cool mellow song but with a bit more of an edge to it than a Jack Johnson, for instance. I’d definitely try other songs by him, although I have to stop thinking that he used to be on Three’s Company.

· Not Afraid (Eminem) – One thing you can say about rappers is that they should never need therapy because absolutely every thought and emotion comes straight out their mouths- and beware of the “explicit” versions (I have no idea how they make a song like this “clean”). This song is no exception, but one thing about Eminem is that he has really interesting lyrics if you’re not offended by them. This song is basically about Em getting his life together, cleaning up and coming back to his fans after a hiatus. It has a good message but requires some concentration to sort through it (I’m always distracted by the complexity of his rhymes!). I tend to like Eminen because I think he’s actually really talented, but he’s never for the faint of heart.

· You’ve Got a Friend (James Taylor and Carole King) – due to absolutely no forethought about the sequence of my playlist, this song followed Eminem. James’ voice always feels like being wrapped in a really comfy blanket, especially after being emotionally exhausted by the previous song. This album is from a 2007 live show he and Carole King did at the same theatre where they first performed in 1970, the Troubadour in West Holleywood, California. This album contains some of his songs and some of hers. They sound great together, just as they always did, so you can’t really go wrong if you like either of them. One thing that’s always fun about live albums is the bits of chatter that’s included, which this has.

· My First Kiss (3Oh!3 with Ke$ha) – I’ve been reading about this 3Oh!3 guy (I think he chose to do the duet with Ke$ha because he was drawn to the special characters in her name- kindred spirits) and discovered that his “name” refers to his area code (303 in case you are having trouble interpreting it) as he’s from one of my favorite places: Boulder! I don’t really picture Boulder as producing sounds like this, but it’s pretty lively and will be a temporary chart topper but doubtful on a long-term presence. Good to dance to (if I was about 20 years younger).

· Rock That Body (Black Eyed Peas) – I think the Black Eyed Peas are just systematically going through every song on this album and when one starts to dry up they release another, so this is the latest, although none are ever going to beat I Gotta Feeling. Not crazy about what sounds like The Chipmunks singing on this song, but all Black Eyed Peas songs are clever, memorable and different- they can’t be accused of doing the same song over and over.

Recommendations? None that I really disliked from this group, but the ones I particularly liked are:

· OMG (Usher)
· Rill Rill (Sleigh Bells)
· Southern Pacifica (Josh Ritter)

Here is the song Rill Rill, although there’s no video. At least you’ll hear the song.