The weather is extremely bad. These songs are extremely good. Listen to them.
1. The Mountain Goats – “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”
If you want to be a good songwriter, be specific. “I’m haaaapppyyyyyy” Why are you happy? As a listener, that’s what I want to hear. I’ve heard all of the cliché platitudes, and overall vagueness before, but I want to empathize with your specific experiences in the world. That’s interesting to me. Your unique perspective as a person.
The Mountain Goats have been doing this their entire career. And that’s why I love them. Not a lot of artists will get into the pedigrees of regional wrestling families, recall tag team partners from 25 years ago, and explain how participating in the theater of professional wrestling was an avenue for escape as a troubled young child. That is exactly what this song is about. And that’s why I think it’s interesting.
- Listen if you like: concept albums about wrestling, narrative songwriting, songwriting as therapy
2. Chadwick Stokes – “Our Lives Our Time”
Chadwick Stokes gave me the shirt off of his back once.
I was 17-years-old and I was going to play one song on bass for my Uncle’s band which was playing the Casio local music stage at Summerfest in 2007. At this point inflation in Zimbabwe reached 1 trillion percent, and I was concerned. My uncle was driving us through the artist parking lot when I saw a group of people just standing and chatting by the inlet. “Oh my god, that is Chadwick Stokes. That’s who I’m gonna see tonight,” I told my uncle. And he said, “Well, you know, you can go talk to him.” The idea had not occurred to me. So, out of breath for no reason, and my palms sweating I walked up to Chadwick Stokes and when I was able to look up past my shoes and at him, I saw that he was wearing a T-shirt for a Zimbabwean relief organization. We hit it off right away.
I played my song with my uncle. I went over and saw Chadwick Stokes’ band, State Radio play. And I waited patiently at his merch tent after set. When he got there he noticed me right away. “Justin, how did your set go?” he remembered my name. I told him that it went great (even though I was a less than adequate performer). I thanked him for putting on a great show, and asked him to sign a CD and he said, “Here, I’ll give you this.” And he took the shirt off his back, signed it, and gave it to me. It meant a lot to me. I still have that shirt.
Stokes has a new album out. This song in particular shows the good-natured attitude and the big heart of Chadwick Stokes.
- Listen if you like: State Radio, Dispatch, social justice
3. Bahamas’ pick – D’Angelo and the Vanguard – “Ain’t That Easy”
UPDATED 2/8/2018: Bahamas returns to Milwaukee’s Turner Hall Ballroom on March 9. Tickets and more info: http://pabsttheater.org/event/bahamas2018/
Every week I invite an artist onto 5 Songs to make a pick and talk about a song that they love. This week Afie, who is Bahamas, picked “Ain’t That Easy.”
Getting Afie to pick a song was not that easy. He was very quiet and he told me that it was hard for him to listen to a lot of music when he played so much. Understandable. But once we started talking, Afie had a lot to say. He had great insight into hip-hop and told me that if a singer songwriter could figure out how to talk about contemporary issues like hip-hop artists do, that they would be, “the next indie savant.”
- Listen if you like: new funk, new gospel, new D’Angelo
4. Faith Healer – “Again”
I once read that producer Rick Rubin refused to work with a band because they didn’t have enough metaphors in their lyrics. A well-placed metaphor is like a new coat of paint on an old song subject. It can give a fresh perspective on an old topic.
Faith Healer uses the line, “It’s a pain to stretch yourself out after being through the wash, but being run through often makes the fibers soft,” as a sweet metaphor for an ended relationship that she is reflecting on. And even though the breakup song is a theme that has been warn thin, Faith Healer brings in a new perspective, and makes it fresh.
- Listen if you like: Dream pop, lo-fi, metaphors
5. Saskwatch- “You Don’t Have to Wait”
My mom, Debbie Barney, hates music. She’s very open about it. “There’s just so much noise,” she’ll say. In the car with her- silence. I can’t even imagine her at a concert, god forbid. But, if there is soul music on, my mother loves it.
There is just something about soul music that is just so universally likable. I’m not sure if its in the tone of the keys, or a little guitar upstrokes, or the way the brass section glides in so nicely. It’s probably the feeling of soul in the human voice that everyone, even my mom, can agree on.
- Listen if you like: neo-soul, great vocals, my mother
6. BONUS TRACK
Tom Waits- “Cony Island Baby”
I am a total sucker for the simple love song. “Coney Island Baby” is pure affection. Tom Waits waltzes languidly, drunk on pleasant thoughts of a girl who fills him up with joy. Waits’ voice is blown-out and smoke-filled as he stretches it out to sing, “she is the moon and the mist to me.” It’s a little daydream, and it’s perfect.