Sam’s Choice: My Top Songs for 2015

SamsI’m pretty pumped about this list. It isn’t as long as others, but man, it is really good and I think it’ll stand the test of time. Previously, the one list that I kept coming back to and kept listening to over and over was the 2011 one, but I think that this 2015 list has the potential to outdo even that stellar list (If you’d like to stream that 2011 playlist on Spotify, you can do so right here!). As I have for years past, I make lists based on the seasons and then add songs that catch my ear to them. As I listen more and more the ones I really like rise to the top and those are the ones that end up making this list. If you’re so inclined, here’s all my past top songs posts if you’re interested – 201420132012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. Anyway, onto the songs, which aren’t really in much of an order expect that I feel like they sound good in this order.

The Wolf – Mumford & Sons

Whenever a band goes in a new direction it usually doesn’t end up going well. But for Mumford and Sons it couldn’t have gone better. The Wolf is an absolutely phenomenal song that showcases the newer, edgier, electric, and less banjo-y side of the Mumfords. This is one of those songs that got a lot of radio airplay and even after like 7 months of hearing it I’ve never gotten tired of it. It’s a roll-the-windows-down and top-of-your-lungs type of a rock song that is so catchy and so fun. And as an added bonus, the whole album Wilder Mind is just fabulous. Give it a chance, you’ll enjoy it.

Rock & Roll is Cold – Matthew E. White

Another catchy rocker that is best played loud and preferably with some sort of air percussion. And like The Wolf before, this song hasn’t gotten old either. There have been many a day when I’m not feeling so great and this song comes on and things just start to look up. It’s that bright and happy and catchy and fun.

All Across This Land – Blitzen Trapper

Are you sensing a theme here? I’d be hard pressed to come up with a three song opener that would be stronger than these three right here. This song came out in the fall and now every time I hear it I think about those first blasts of cooler weather and driving up the large hill near my home with the sunroof open and the volume up and for 3 minutes and 52 seconds nothing else in the world mattering but some guitars and drums. Good stuff.

Sedona – Houndmouth

The landscape in this video is EXACTLY what I imagined in my mind when listening to this song over and over. It’s sort of a dreamy, earthy tune that pulls you in and builds and builds while maintaining a carefree attitude. The rest of this album, Little Neon Limelight, and Houndmouth’s other albums are all really, really good. So good that I debated picking some of the other songs for this slot, but we’ll just stay with Sedona. Catchy tunes and smart lyrics all around and well worth a further listen if you aren’t familiar with them. Definitely check it out.

Until The Night Turns – Lord Huron

I was pretty excited for Lord Huron’s new album Strange Trails and they didn’t let me down. The ethereal sound is still there, but it’s been bumped up a level with a new tightness that really draws you in. Until The Night Turns is a great example of this and I love how this song alternates between floating along and pushing you forward. And again, this is another phenomenal album that is well worth a listen.

Shoegaze – Alabama Shakes

I had more trouble picking a single song off of Alabama Shakes new album Sound & Color than any other album I heard this year. Shoegaze is one of the catchiest songs of the year and my twin 2-year-old sons love it. We spent a fair amount of time dancing and twirling and shaking to this song this year. It’s just a flat out jam and it’s indicative of just how good this entire album really is. Alabama Shakes really delivered the goods on this one.

Random Name Generator – Wilco

The only thing better than waking up and having an email sitting there telling you that your favorite band has released and surprise new album is a link at the bottom of said email for a free download of that album. Wilco stunned everyone by dropping this album on the world and just giving it away. And it isn’t just a bunch of terrible leftovers either. This is a good album as evidenced by this vintage Wilco track that rocks in all the right places and sticks with you long after it has ended. Well done Wilco, and it’s stuff like this that keeps you at number 1 in my musical heart.

Jackie and Wilson – Hozier

I’m not sure anyone else hit it bigger than Hozier in the last year, but despite his other songs being more popular, this is the one I love. After 10 days in Cambodia I was flying home and Hozier was one of the featured music people on the Delta Entertainment thing and I think I listened to this song 4 or 5 times in a row. And this is another song that my boys love to dance and clap and jump around too. Such a catchy and fun song.

Things Happen – Dawes

Another new album by a favorite band, another home run. I really love this song and the way it ebbs and flows and how smartly the lyrics are put together. It seems like whatever Dawes does, they do really well and their Americana rock is always great to listen to. So check out their album All Your Favorite Bands too.

I See That Hand – The Lone Bellow

Oh. My. Goodness. Take the Lone Bellow (I just love them and I don’t care who knows), add in an inside church joke that everyone that’s spent any time in an altar call will laugh at, and then put the rollicking guitar on top of it and my brain just might explode. What a great song, so well done, and so fun and dance-y.

Getting Ready To Get Down – Josh Ritter

Our second entry in “Church joke songs that made me laugh” and the runaway winner in “Videos that make no sense and I don’t understand but still made me laugh too”. This is such a catchy and smart song and it always reminds me of a song by a band from college called “All you sinners get down and let the saints bring the car around”. So brilliant. And for what it’s worth I’m pretty sure Jesus is ok with dancing.

I Need Never Get Old – Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Not their biggest hit of the year, but for my money, actually the better song. It’s catchy and fun and smart and hits all the right notes. And it has a horn section, which, when done right, makes almost any song better.

So there you go, there are my top songs for 2015. Listen and enjoy!

Sam’s Choice: My Top Songs for 2014

SamsYeah, so it’s been awhile.  And I can’t really fault you if you’ve stopped coming here since I haven’t posted in ages, but something about having twin 1 year-olds really takes up a lot of time and energy.  But that still didn’t stop me from finding some new music to enjoy in 2014 and as I do pretty much every year, I’ve put together the songs that were new to me this year and which I’ll remember 2014 by.

I’ve also done something new and put them all in a Spotify playlist that’s at the bottom so you can easily push play and let them roll.  They aren’t really in any order, since that would take more time and effort than I have right now.  And finally, here’s all my past top songs posts if you’re interested – 20132012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. Anyway, onto the songs.

1. Southern Skies by Matrimony – A breezy upbeat song that has a shouty chorus.  If you’ve read any of my past lists you can definitely see why this one made the list.

2. Stronger Than That by Bahamas – Love me some Bahamas. His new album is really good and this is my favorite track off of it. Showcases all of his best qualities, namely that insanely catchy guitar hook and smooth vocals.

3. Scarecrow by Counting Crows – The first single off the new Crows album and about what you’d expect from them now. Tight sound, fun lyrics and all around goodness.  For whatever reason there has been an abnormal number of days that I’ve woken up with this song in my head the past year.

4. Southern Sun by Brother Bear – The second entry with Southern in the title.  It’s like I live in the South or something. But this song is also one of those songs that as soon as I heard it I knew it’d end up here. Catchy and fun.

5. Buttons by The Weeks – This is one of those songs that just gets the blood pumping and the feet tapping a little bit. It cemented its place here one afternoon when it came on as I was in a bad mood and I rolled down the windows and turned up the volume and just let it wash over me.  And afterwards I felt better.  So there’s that.

6. Then Came The Morning by The Lone Bellow – New album out in 2 weeks and with their sophmore release the Lone Bellow aim to capture some of the magic that they have in their live shows that doesn’t really translate on their recordings. I love this song for all of its twangy sensibilities and the fact that it really sounds like Brooklyn country to me.

7. Only One by John Butler Trio – Vintage JBT. Fast paced dancy song that keeps you moving. there’s something aobut his voice that is so distinctive but in a familiar and wonderful way.  All of it makes for a great song.

8. Hey Rose by Streets of Laredo – A new artist to me and a really great song that has all the requisites to make it here on this list.  And I love the ending flurry as well.

9. Low Key by Tweedy – My favorite song off of the solo project by Jeff Tweedy, lead singer of Wilco. Vintage sound here, catchy and whimsical while sounding so solid.

10. We’re All In This Together by Sam Roberts Band – Another great offering by Sam Roberts and co. Vocal harmonics and great pacing with an anthemic chorus all make for a fun song.

11. Ash & Ember by Augustana – One of the few good songs on their new album.  I love Augustana but the new album that came out this year was not phenomenal, especially given the high level of their previous work.  But this song is still vintage Augustana and warranted an inclusion here.

12. Light Will Keep Your Heart Beating In The Future by Mike Doughty – This song grew on me progressively throughout the year and the beat and way he sings ultimtaly won me over.

13. Congregation by Foo Fighters – I absolutely love Sonic Highways multipart documentary that Dave Grohl and the boys put together for HBO this fall.  It’s been a cool look at some famous music cities and various artists that are identified with those places.  This is the song from Nashville recorded with Zac Brown in his recodring studio, which is an old church.  Vintage Foo’s here.

14. California (Cast Iron Soul) by Jamestown Revival – What a phenomenal song. I had a rough February and this song was on repeat over and over and it always made me feel a little better when I heard it.  Probably my favorite song of 2014.

So there you go. All the songs I’ll remember 2014 by. Enjoy.

Love and Sweatpants.

Sam’s Choice: My Top Songs for 2013

SamsAnother year has come and almost gone and with it I have discovered more new music.  And since I’m such a swell guy I’m going to share my favorites with you here.  If you’re interested in my past lists you can take a look at 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009.

And just a qualifying note before I get started…while most of these songs came out in 2013, that isn’t necessarily my criteria since I make playlists according to seasons of the year and then cull my year-end list from them.  So if a song catches my ear and I’ll always remember it for whatever season it was, then that’s where it goes.  So without further ado, I present to you the songs I’ll remember 2013 by…

Teach Me To Know by The Lone Bellow

Look, I can’t say anything more about The Lone Bellow that I haven’t already said, but just trust me, if you aren’t listening to them you’re missing out, and if you haven’t seen them live, then you haven’t lived.  Right, right, Zach is a friend of mine and I am likely the most biased observer of theirs ever, since I’ve been going to Zach’s shows for 10 years now, but these folks bring an energy and vigor to their music and stage that most bands would only dream about.  To be in the audience when the show turns from concert to sing-along is remarkable and I’m just selfishly glad these guys are finally getting some national recognition because that means they’re touring more now and I get to see them play live more.  Just buy their album already.  Also, might be worth it to buy stock in guitar strings since Zach kills about 2 sets per show.  Dude is intense!

Always Alright by Alabama Shakes

I first heard this song when my Wonderful Wife and I went to see the movie Silver Linings Playbook and I remember thinking “Hey, that sounds like Alabama Shakes but I have all their songs and I’ve never heard this.” Of course the song was released on the soundtrack to the movie and then about 2 weeks later Alabama Shakes played on SNL and laid down the above performance.  As my Wonderful Wife and I watched she turned to me and said “Holy cow, when did they get so tight?”  And she was right, these kids went from local band made good to legitimate stars with this phenomenal performance.  It’s a toe-tapper of a jam and definitely one of the best songs of the year.

Most People by Dawes

Dawes was one of those bands that I always kinda liked and thought were good but never really paid too much attention to.  And then they opened for the above Alabama Shakes at a show we went to this summer and I really enjoyed their set.  Like a lot.  Enough to re-evaluate my previous position on them and they are now one of my favorites.   They’ve got a good laid back rock vibe while telling cool stories in their songs.  This song is a perfect example of why I like them so much and why they made this list this year.

Miracle Mile by Cold War Kids

I’ve been a big fan of the Cold War Kids since their debut album so I was pretty excited about their new stuff coming out this year and this song definitely did not disappoint.  It’s vintage Cold War Kids, catchy, fun, and edgy without being too much of any of those things.  And I love that these guys have such a distinct sound that you can always know when a song is theirs, even if you don’t know it.  The piano, the voice, the vibe; it all combines to make great music and that’s why I love it.

Time to Run by Lord Huron

Lord Huron was probably my favorite band discovery of 2013.  My best mate James texted me one day and said “I’ve been listening to this band Lord Huron and I really think you’d like it”.  Since he and I have similar taste in almost everything (seriously, music, movies, sports, sense of humor; all the same) I had a pretty good inkling I’d like them and I was right.  Their entire album is fantastic and I actually spent a ton of time listening to them as I went on my runs this summer and fall.  Their music has a sort of fast-paced dreaminess to it that seemed to make my running pace work well and so I just kept listening to them.  And never tired of them either.  Really good stuff. (Sidenote: My Wonderful Wife is way cooler than I am.  After listening to Lord Huron for about a week I said to her “Hey, I really like this band Lord Huron.  You should check them out.” I played her a song and she said “Oh yeah, these guys are great.” Pretty sure the lesson here is marry someone cooler than you and you’ll always have good music around.)

Down Below by Overseas

I really like Pedro the Lion so it is no surprise that another David Bazan project would end up on this list.  But if you read the note about my Wonderful Wife above, then let me also say that she got me a gift subscription to Paste Magazine for our anniversary this year.  It is a digital release that includes a sampler of music each week and one of the first weeks I got it, this song was on it.  It drew me in and now here it is on this list.  I’ve definitely gotten a good amount of great music this year from that subscription and if you’re looking for some good new tunes, I’d highly recommend you check it out.  Have I mentioned my Wonderful Wife is cooler than I am?  She is.

Birmingham by Shovels & Rope

Besides Paste Magazine, the other ways I discovered new music this year was the greatest local radio station ever, Birmingham Mountain Radio, a public radio station out of Minnesota that I discovered on a business trip, The Current, and NPR’s music show The World Cafe (quick tangent: One night I got in my car to run an errand and as I turned it on The Lone Bellow were being featured on The World Cafe and I heard Zach speaking and it was weird and awesome at the same time…).  If I am driving in my car from 7-9pm there is a really good chance I’ll be listening to The World Cafe and likely hearing some new music and that is how I first heard Shovels & Rope.  Their song Birmingham is not only named for the city in which I currently live, but is also a great modern folk song, so here it is as one of my favorites for this year.

The Ceiling by Wild Feathers

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a catchy song that breaks down into a rollicking jam that has 4 guys on guitars rocking out, jumping up and down, and standing on drum sets.  It’s just a given.   So yeah, when I heard this song I knew that it’d end up here because it encompasses so many of my favorite elements like a slow build, a frenetic peak, and a catch rift to hold everything together.  I am nothing if not consistent.  Enjoy.

Wake Me Up by Avicii

Speaking of catchy, this song takes the cake for this year.  It falls into some nebulous category that I like to call Pop Rocks (not to be confused with Pop Rock) and I can’t really define it but to say that it contains some kind of an unexpected dance/synth break in it that is so dang catchy I just want to listen to it over and over again.  It’s another toe-tapper head-bobber that I always am a sucker for and that’s why it ended up on this list for 2013.

Ride On/ Right On by Phosphorescent

This song is a funky jam that has an insanely catchy hook and any song that makes use of an organ is usually going to be something that I enjoy.  I first remembering hearing this song in the background while working and as The Current continued to play it, I finally stopped and listened to it and realized that I really enjoyed it.  Plus the whole Ride On/Right On thing strikes me as kind of a cool play on words, so there’s that too.

Heavy Bells by J. Roddy Walston & The Business

I have no idea what in the world is happening in this video, but this song is pretty awesome.  It’s a hard-edged funky song that really rocks and is yet another product of The World Cafe.  And there is something about the crazy hard chorus combined with the catchy hook from the verses that contrasts together to make a whole song that just kinda feels like a frenetic episode of something that just leaves you out of breath when you’re done.  Might not be for you, but I love it.

Shake by The Head and The Heart

This is the first single off of their new album that came out this year and in my humble opinion it is the best.  It showcases all of the things that have made this band take off into the national consciousness including a driving beat, a meandering piano rift, strong vocal harmonies, and general music making merriment.  And handclaps.  I’m always a sucker for handclaps.  So anyway, these guys are good and their sophomore album is good stuff.

Wildfire by John Mayer

It has never been a talent issue with me and John Mayer.  Dude has absurd guitar skills, there is no doubt about that.  But I banished him to the No-Listen List for a few years after a few of his less-than-desirable interviews came out and he did a few things that I found kind of objectionable.  But with his apparent transition to bohemian hippy and the movement of his music with him, I’m back.  I really love this song (and to be honest I went back to his last album and really liked some of the songs there too) and just how light-hearted and fun it is.  It’s just a good song and I’m glad he’s back to making good music and seems to be happy and free and not all moody and weird (though sometimes you go through those phases to come out the other side, so it’s cool John).

Tape Deck by Jack Johnson

This is my favorite track off of Jack’s stellar album that came out this fall.  It just seems to capture the innocence and excitement of a high school garage band and having seen Jack play this song live in Nashville I could that he just really enjoyed it.  In fact, getting to see him play at the historic Ryman Auditorium (the Grand Ole Opry used to be there) was an incredible night.  He seemed so relaxed and into his songs and really seemed like he was having the time of his life playing with his band.  He played a bunch of old stuff to go along with his new stuff and (The Lone Bellow notwithstanding) that show was one of the better shows I’d been to in a while.  So if by some small chance you’ve not picked up this new album, you need to check it out.

When We Were Younger by The Careful Ones

This was a pretty late entry into this list…like I was working on this post and this video got posted by a good friend of mine that knows good music so I checked it out and I loved the song.  Such a hauntingly beautiful sound that drew me in immediately.  Apparently this is the first song from their new album that comes out later in 2014, so check back with me next year to see if they have another song that makes the list…but for now, just enjoy this lovely song.

So that’s about it for now.  Sorry I haven’t been more bloggy in recent months but having twins is kind of a time/energy/free time drain.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys and wouldn’t trade them for anything, but blogging hits low on the priority list right now…but hopefully things will level off in 2014.  But thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed all the songs.

Love and Sweatpants!

Music that Moves Me and Makes Me Move

I just spent the last hour or so watching and listening to music and performances that really get me fired up.  I’m not sure the connecting trail that led from one to the other, but I thought I’d share nonetheless so that you could get your head bobbing and your toes tapping.

Started out with The Lone Bellow and their brilliant performance in this tiny little barn thing.  Seriously, no idea what is going on there but whatever, they kill it anyway, as always.

From there I moved to the Alabama Shakes and their funky song Always Alright played to perfection in Australia.

That in turn lead me to Wilco shredding the song Hoodoo Voodoo complete with shirtless roadie killing it on the symbol (wish I had moves like that dude).

Next came Damien Jurado losing himself in the song Let Us All In as he and his band absolutely hammer away at it.

After that I watched John Mayer and company make Jimi proud by taking on Wait Until Tomorrow.

And I finished things off by watching The Gourds take apart and put back together the Snoop Dogg song Gin and Juice (along with a few other songs mixed in) but the lyrics are pretty rough so I’m gonna let you find that one for yourself…

Well, at least I thought I was done until I started looking through my iTunes to see what else might work for this little post…and so I then added in The Avett Brothers doing At the Beach with what can only be described as joyful glee.

And it went on from there but I’ll just leave it with that…

I can’t exactly put my finger on what the unifying thread of all of these songs are besides the fact that I can’t listen/watch these performances without being totally and completely caught up in all of them, bobbing my head, tapping my toes, and knocking my desktop.  So maybe you got some enjoyment out of it like I did and just maybe these fun songs all brought a smile to your face.

Things I think I think on a Wednesday

Here are some things that I think I think…

1. I think that seeing The Lone Bellow play a show here in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago was incredibly awesome.  It had been way too long since I’d see Zach Williams play live in person and I have been lacking because of it.  You know it is a good show when you go home and listen to the band’s music for the next week.  If The Lone Bellow are playing anywhere near you you owe it to yourself to go see them.  The live experience of wonderful people making amazing music and leaving it all on the stage is not to be missed.

2. I think that speaking of music, I can’t stop listening to the following bands: the aforementioned Lone Bellow, Lord Huron, and the Alabama Shakes.  If you aren’t familiar with any or all of these guys you need to check them out.

3. I think that I’ve ventured into some new and unknown territory.  Yes, I broke down and joined Twitter.  You can follow me at @samfielder22 but I can’t really promise anything remotely interesting or entertaining.  I’m trying to think of things that I can live tweet that might be funny, like standing in line at airport security, riding the rental car shuttle, or conference calls.  But I suspect those things might A) get me on the TSA no-fly list, B) be too short and uneventful, or C) get me fired, so I’ll keep on working on my ideas.  If you can think of things you want me to live tweet, hit me and let me know.

4. I think that this was the WORST pollen season EVER.  My long-suffering wife disagrees and tells me that I say this every year (I don’t) and has seen/read an article about exaggeration where pollen/allergy season was used as the example, but I still stand by my assertion and I promise that next year I will NOT say the same thing.  (Unless it actually IS the worst season ever, even worse than this season, then I will gladly bestow the title to 2014).

5. I think I was right when I was worried that winter was going to slide right into summer with little to no spring.  It was nice for about a week here in Alabama and now it is muggy and hot.  I want my spring back.

6. I think that having 3 dogs is great.  When we only had 2 the thought of 3 was ridiculous and insane, but now that we have 3 I can’t imagine not having all of them.

7. I think that putting seeds into soil, watering them, and then watching them grow is one of the coolest things ever.  If our garden manages to produce about half of what we planted we’ll be having you over for plenty of veggies…

I think that is about all for now, but thanks for reading.

Love and sweatpants.

The Lone Bellow – Debut Album Review ~ Sam’s Choice

SamsIt’s always nice to see a band that you’ve been following for a long time start to get some much deserved love from the music industry.   Zach Williams has been making music that speaks to me for the past 8 years and now, this week, his debut album with the latest (and I’d venture to say best) group around him has finally come out under the name of The Lone Bellow and it’s finally getting recognized for what it is, which is a fantastic album.

It took awhile for some wise music executive to get wind of the musicians that compose The Lone Bellow but now that it has actually happened, the result is astounding.  Zach’s songs have lost none of their gripping authenticity that first drew me in, but they’ve added a layer of musicianship and polish that brings this self-titled debut to a whole new level.

The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow’s self titled debut album

The album kicks off with the song Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold, a powerful song with vocal harmonies blending together with a strong beat and intricate guitar work.  It has the feel of deep Southern roots colored by time in the big city (which is the story of the band members so it’s appropriate) and it also showcases the main strengths of this album, namely a vibrant feel of soul from the vocals to the instruments to the lyrics.

From the driving push of Green Eyes the album moves to Tree to Grow,  a slower ballad that resonates the same intensity as it grows into a climax that finishes with a quiet smoothness.  Two Sides of Lonely picks up right there, quietly and subtlety drawing the listener in with the tones of Zach’s voice, a guitar, and a piano.  As the rest of the band comes into the song, one is pulled along for an emotional ride through the poetry of the heart-felt lyrics.

And so goes the rest of the album.  You Never Need Nobody (free on Amazon.com here) is another slower ballad punctuated by a strong backing chorus and a definite Southern Gospel feel.  You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional (one of my all time favorites from Zach for awhile now) has quite the twang to it but in the scope of the entire album, it really fits.  The country vibe carries over to You Don’t Love Me Like You Used To which features the amazing vocal talents of Kanene Pipkin at their best.  Fire Red Horse is a more subdued song but no less intense, and then there is the iTunes Free Single of the Week, Bleeding Out, a whirlwind of a song that brings in all of the previous elements that I’ve previously talked about in the other songs.

Looking For You gives the listener a chance to catch their breath as it is a quiet respite that still resonates.  The tempo of things begins to pick back up in earnest with Teach Me to Know and its chorus of “Carry the Weight”.   There is such a strong sense of community in this song as handclaps and more voices join as the song progresses, finally pushing the end where everything else drops out and it’s just the voices and claps.  And then comes the finale, I Am The One You Should Have Let Go.  I confess that this is my favorite song that Zach’s ever done so I’m not sure that I can objectively review it but it has a little bit of a harder edge than the rest of the album, while still managing to retain the soul and feel that make the rest of the album so enjoyable.  It’s The Lone Bellow at their best, intense and fun, soulful and playful, and altogether refreshing.  The iTunes album also features the bonus track of Button, a jazzy tune that sounds like it was recorded in the roaring 20’s and just showcases the diversity and talent of this band.

If you’re still not convinced to run out and buy this album, you can take a listen over at NPR’s First Listen and hear this wondrous album for yourself. Or you can check them out on Conan O’Brien on Tuesday Jan 22, 2013, friend them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter.

The Lone Bellow is clearly the next step for this talented group of musicians.  Their sound is familiar without being stale, comforting without being smothering, and original without being a duplication.  It is an outstanding effort from start to finish and whether you’re familiar with Zach’s older stuff or not, you’ll definitely like this album.