Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Six Best Songs From 'Nashville' Season One

It's been a week since ABC's Nashville wrapped up its first season. I blogged about the finale, but this week I thought it would be cool to look back and round up the best songs featured on the show. By the end, music didn't always figure as prominently as it did early on when we could count on a knock out final number and something spunky up front. Regardless, the songs have been pretty solid, and really well written. In part, that's probably because the producers use actual Nashville songwriters. That decision lends a certain authenticity that would be otherwise missed. (Check out the On the Record video series.) Also, Nashville benefits from how great the Stella sisters are. But I digress. Here's my list of the six best songs from season one.

06 : "Fade Into You" : Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio
Scarlett and Gunnar can be annoying as hell, but they've had some great duets when they're not fumbling around like  a wisp of cotton candy and a dumb puppy trying to make a love connection.

05 : "No One Will Ever Love You" : Connie Britton and Charles Esten
We learned everything we needed to know about Rayna and Deacon's past when they sang this heartbreaker at the Bluebird Cafe early in the season. On a related note, Deacon should get to sing more.

04 : "Telescope" : The Stella Sisters
Technically, it's Juliette's song, but Rayna's girls and their sweet harmonies essayed it when they performed it at a school talent show.

03 : "Wrong Song" : Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere
When Rayna and Juliette set out to write a song together for the Edgehill Records anniversary at the Ryman Auditorium, it could have been a total disaster. Thanks to the magic of television, they instead wrote a strong tune with some teeth, made even better by Teddy sweating in the wings pre-Cumberland deal reveal.

02 : "Gun For a Mouth" : Sam Palladio
Gunnar lifted this song from dead brother Jason's notebook. Forget the shadiness of passing it off as his own. It should be a hit.

01 : "Undermine" : Hayden Panettiere and Charles Esten
Back in the days when Juliette and Deacon were losing their shirts by undisclosed creeks, this song was how the show started trying to convince us that maybe there was more to Juliette than a Swift-shallow pool of talent.

Ellie Goulding Covers Alt-J + A New Look

First thing's first– if you've visited The Musically Inclined before, you'll notice a bit of a revamp. I'd been wanting to draw a cartoon for the banner for sometime but hadn't lighted upon what that would be. Then yesterday I was in the backyard with my sketchbook and it came to me. I also switched over to a (hopefully) easier to read typeface (give it up for Verdana!) and a page navigation at the top which will be conducive to organizing future additions. Anyhoodle. That's that. Hope you like it.

Now to the good stuff. Ellie Goulding released a cover of Alt-J's "Tessellate" off last year's An Awesome Wave. It is silky. And great. And maybe better than the original. She worked with producer Xaphoon Jones, also known as the dude responsible for the greatest mashup of all time: The Jackson Pit. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mixtape Philosophy: What We Trade Our Hearing For

When I was 16 I split the cost of a blue iPod mini with my folks. It was right before my (June) birthday, just at the edge of the summer. I bought an iTunes card and downloaded a set of 14 songs that largely shaped the feel of that summer. Those songs sounded the way that summer feels in the late afternoon. I get antsy. For some reason, this season alone feels like just about anything could happen. You've just got to get out there.

That's the basic idea I started working with for this new mix. This past weekend was great, and a lot happened, but most of all, it felt like summer started. With an excess of ideas, I put together "What We Trade Our Hearing For" in about two days instead of my usual month.

The songs came mostly from a playlist I keep called Mix Material. I started with "Stairway" by Yukon Blonde, which has the kind charging bassline that makes multiple appearances on the mix. The other quality it has is this big, fresh sound on the chorus. That's partly how I matched it up with "You Know Me" by Air Traffic Controller and "Shout it Out" by Mikal Cronin. With regard to "Shout it Out," holy smokes does that song live on an awesome album. If you haven't heard MCII, get a hold of it as soon as you can.

I also followed a certain pattern with the sound of the vocals on the mix. It's mostly guys who don't have particularly deep voices, so the feel is airy, especially on a song like "American Dream" by ON AN ON that has some additional hazy-sounding production.

One song I'm excited about is "Shove Off," by Luke LaLonde (current frontman for Born Ruffians). I had this sparse, quirky, little tune filed away because it's only recently become available on Spotify. It worked out well because I also needed a more mid tempo song to balance out the rest of the mix which is pretty damn foot-tappy. One of the worst "offenders" in that respect is the jittery "High School Lover" by Cayucas. My immediate attraction is the California indie pop/surf rock sound. What's more summery than that? I offer this: Nothing.

Also earning a spot on the mix is "Mountains" by She and the Sun. I actually reviewed their debut album a few months back and really fell in love with song's dreamy build.

The real point of pride for me on this mix is "Camilo (The Magician)" by Said the Whale. It was the last song I threw in my Mix Draft 1 playlist, and one that I found because I knew I just needed something else. What can I say about this song other than I can hardly even listen to the rest of the mix because I keep replaying it. I love the exuberance, the halting guitar, the hooky chorus, and I like the idea of this guy asking a magician for help with a girl. It's like a modern "Love Potion Number 9." Most of all, I love that it makes me antsy and ready to get outside. That's how summer should feel: happy and boundless.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Q&A: Neil McSweeney on 'The Seventeen' EP

Pictured: Neil McSweeney; Photo: Andy Brown
U.K. singer/songwriter Neil McSweeney might just have the best summer EP you haven't heard. He's set to release The Seventeen EP May 27 in the run up to his third full length album slated for September. The EP showcases some of McSweeney's best qualities including lovely guitar playing and wistful songwriting– Zach Braff would have wanted to squeeze one of these tunes onto the Garden State soundtrack. That said, I got to talk to McSweeney via email about the EP, his musical style, and the irresistible urge to write songs. 

TMI: How did you get started? How long have you been playing and writing songs?

McSweeney: I started lugging a little practice amp about on foot to rehearsals when I was a kid. Me and a school friend formed a band. Everyone else in the band eventually moved on from music making and I just couldn’t. I tried to live without it for a couple of years, go straight so to speak, but I felt the loss; I’d become obsessed with the songwriting more than any other aspect of it. The most interesting thing when I stopped doing it so much was how much great stuff I heard. I think when you’re focused on writing and honing your own sound, you listen very critically and analytically to other people’s music. And I got a break from that for a bit – where I could just listen as a fan – it was great. But then it meant I had to get back into it. I’ve been writing, playing, and recording with some serious intent for the best part of a decade now.

Your press materials mentioned that "We Are Here" is about the generational need to make a mark, can you expand on that?

I can expand on it a bit. But it can be a bit dangerous to a lyric to spell it out too much. My songs tend to be a little careworn. And for this EP I wanted to do something that had a bit of confidence about it. Each little simile relates in some way to an image or idea from a period in my late teens and early twenties where I and my friends felt deep down (despite a lot of surface insecurity) that we could have a big impact on the world. But some of that confidence necessarily involved a destructive or dismissive impulse towards the achievements of the previous generation and a fairly selective approach to evidence and reason.

Tell me about why you decided to cover Townes Van Zandt's "To Live is to Fly."

I first heard that song on a Cowboy Junkies tape maybe twenty years ago and that was the only version I knew until fairly recently. If I’m going to cover a song, then the lyric has to feel like it fits somehow with my own material – this lyric says exactly what I wanted to say but Van Zandt did it first and did it so well it doesn’t need doing again. However, musically, for me to want to cover something, I need also to be able to play and sing it in a way that fits with my style. I had to rework the song quite dramatically from both the Junkies version and the Townes original, but because it’s a great song, I think it survives my mauling.

What's your songwriting process like?  

My approach varies a bit. The three originals on this record were actually fairly atypical as they were written quite quickly together as a batch. I signed up for a thing called February Album Writing Month. It was just on a whim – I’d never heard of it and then a link to the website popped into my field of vision on the evening of 31st January, so I thought I’d give it a go. It usually takes me a year or two to write an album and another year to record and release the thing, so a month was a bit optimistic. But I enjoyed the challenge. And whilst I didn’t generate an album I did demo a few tracks that were worth finishing.

The melody line in a song relies more on serendipity than hard slog - the more worked the line, the less immediate it usually is. So, if I’m trying to find a musical thread to pull I usually just sit with the guitar and let my voice wander around while I play. Something always comes before too long and the more relaxed I am the better.

In a perfect situation, a lyrical phrase will arrive along with the melodic hook. This often works best because the lyric and the musical frame are in agreement. Then there often comes a fairly extended period of reflection where I wonder what that phrase could be about – I imagine the context in which someone would sing that line in that way. I cast around through my experience to try to find something true that is worth saying that could include the line. Sometimes at this stage the original line gets altered to fit my developing idea about the meaning of the song.

Once we’re in seemingly purposeful territory I set about refining and completing the lyric. I can’t do this ‘til I’ve persuaded myself there’s a need for a song like this in the world. I don’t write using a flip chart and a rhyming dictionary, fitting words to syllables mechanically to complete the song at all costs. I reflect on what feels meaningful and true and if the lyric has a hollow heart then I’ll discard it.

I really love your guitar work on the EP, how did you develop your style? What influenced it?

Thank you kindly. Well, I think the foundation of my style came from two things. The first was finding myself without a band and trying to build melodic parts into my playing that might hold the listener’s attention better than just strumming along. And the second was seeing Dave Rawlings play with Gillian Welch about ten years ago in Sheffield. I tried to create the impression of that sound in my playing – I never got close to playing like him but it certainly influenced me. The only other guitar playing I’ve ever really loved is J Mascis’. Oh, and I enjoy watching Jonny Kearney (an English folk guitarist) play. With all these three guys it’s really the strength of the songs and the way their playing complements and supports the songs. I can’t compete with any of them but I have recently paid some attention to getting a bit better – I even practiced a bit for this EP (and I never usually practice).

Do you see a progression from your 2009 album Shoreline? If so, can you talk about that?

I think there is progression there definitely. Mainly in my own developing certainty of what it is I’m trying to do as a songwriter and as a musician. Also, the EP was recorded with a confidence and clarity of purpose that was missing sometimes on the previous records. Being a completely independent musician means working with very loose deadlines most of the time. This is vital ‘cos the budget is so small (you can only ever have two of the following – Good, Cheap and Quick). With the EP we booked the launch before it was recorded to apply some pressure to the process and fortunately, having come straight out of the sessions for the next full album, it all just worked really smoothly.

Your third album Cargo will be out in September, what can we expect?

Well, I reckon it’s the best thing I’ve yet done. If The Seventeen is a summer record, then Cargo is winter. The songs deal in various ways with that difficult, sometimes bleak, period that we’re all familiar with. The thing about winter for me is that, when you’re in it, it feels like it’ll never end – it’s more like a destination than a road. But in fact it’s just as transitory as every other season. And just as necessary.

The arrangements of the tracks are pretty subtle in the main but feature some very fine musicians, mainly from the traditional folk scene, but not entirely. There’s concertina and fiddle and banjo and mandolin, but also synth, musical saw, lap steel and touches of ragged distortion here and there.

Photo: Chris Saunders
You've got some tour dates coming up through the summer. Tell me about your live shows. 

I’m doing some of these solo and some with my band. In both cases I’ll be playing a fair bit of stuff from the EP and the album, plus a handful of my older songs. The band is a selection of some of the people who played on the record and includes Matt Boulter, Sam Sweeney, Lucy Farrell and Andy Seward. I love playing live and have been known to ramble on a bit between tunes. I think that’s because I like to think of gigs as being a collaboration between the folk in the room and the musicians on stage and when people really get involved you can get a sense of genuine warmth in the room. I think that’s special.

Connect with Neil McSweeney:
Twitter: @NeilMcSweeney

Review : 'Nashville' : 'I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive' [Finale]

Brad Paisley in the background: Accidental Cameo. 
Where to begin? This week Nashville wrapped up its first season as ABC's critically-loved primetime drama about beautiful Southern musicians in a beautiful Southern city. The show hasn't always known what it was or where it was going, but the finale's biggest success might just be reminding us that yes, Nashville is indeed, a soap opera. We had a funeral, a marriage proposal, a fight, a paternity dispute, and a car wreck. Here's what happened.

The last we saw Juliette, she'd just discovered her mother dead, feet away from sketch ball Dante. This week, the show opened with Hayden Panettiere gunning for an Emmy by not wearing any makeup, and talking to a detective about what did or did not occur. It doesn't look good for Druggie Mom. It's obvious that Juliette hasn't put together what happened and thinks that Jolene was doing something dirty. Back at home, Deacon comes to see her, and she basically tells him to get lost because she is Mad As Hell. She won't be the last to have explosive feels on this episode. Jolene or no Jolene, Juliette is determined to go to the CMAs and pick up her damn award for Female Vocalist. In her dressingroom backstage, still gunning for that Emmy, she lashes out at Marshal and Glen (who has decided to make an appearance after she fired his butt in NYC). They tell her she doesn't have to be there, that she should grieve and she flips out about how terrible Jolene was. "I should be celebrating that it's finally over!" she yells, quickly realizing how that sounds.

"I didn't mean that," she says deciding to go home. But instead of going home, though, she goes to the funeral home to see her mom and it's way sad because she's crying and she asks Jolene why she left her alone. Now she really has no one. We hit record levels of sympathy for country music's biggest brat (a title T. Swizzle takes MWF and Sundays 'til noon). The next day, Glen delivers the award to her house with a hug, and I wonder about the faux-Daddy trap she could fall into, but hey. Next season, right? The funeral is a small affair. Rayna, Emily the assistant, the body guard, Marshall. Juliette has a really solid exchange with Rayna about her childhood. "I grew up in the dirt. Everything was filthy." Rayna tells her that she is good enough. During the service, Avery ambles up because, why not? Back at the house, a detective tells Juliette they found a destroyed SD card in the garbage disposal. Can't get anything off it, but whatever. Right after he exits, Emily goes oh shit, there's a letter here from your mom. The return address says "Heaven" and it smells like freshly washed cotton t-shirts. I made the last part up. Because the writers knew I'd be pissed if Juliette never figured out the truth, Jolene sent a note to her daughter explaining what happened. More feels.

Me on my couch.
Juliette arranges a memorial service at the Bluebird. More on that later. From here on out, the story lines are going to overlap somewhat, so silence your cell phone and stay with me.

Rayna has the girls in the kitchen for breakfast. She tells them she and Deacon are special friends and that they'll be going to the CMAs together. She mentions how she and Teddy are public figures. I complete the sentence with "must prove actual malice in a defamation case" because I've taken Comm Law a billion times. Do we like Deacon? Sure, they say. Maddie is holding her tongue big time. That is, until she shows up at Deacon's front door, chin quivering, and tells him she thinks he's her dad.

At the CMAs, Rayna and Brad Paisley wonder where Deacon is. He is late, but shows up just in time to play for Brad and Rayna's performance while staring at her like, Is it really possible this woman is capable of lying to me about having a daughter? Oh, Deacon. He talks to her backstage and flat out asks her. "Tell me you haven't been lying to me every moment of the last 13 years," he says. Oh, Deacon. He takes off. She's in tears. It's a mess. From her car, Rayna calls Teddy. Meet me at head quarters! While Maddie comes unglued and stuffs clothing into a bag, Rayna and Teddy try to explain why they did what they did. The child is understandably unhinged. "You lied to Deacon and you lied to me!" She wants to live with Teddy. Things come full circle as Teddy promises he won't let Rayna lose Maddie. Meanwhile at a bar, Deacon is having a staring contest with a glass of whisky. It's a nicely shot sequence. Sadly, he kicks it back and asks for another. Rayna's sobbing to Coleman because Deacon won't answer her calls. Coleman will find him. For now, Deacon will spend the night in a bar booth. On the upside, she gets to talk to Maddie and the bespectacled 13-year-old responds in a more reasoned manner.

So, it's the morning after Gunnar and Will got arrested. Gunnar, sans leather jacket, goes to talk to his producer dude and tells him that the outlaw was his brother, not him, and that the songs were Jason's. Producer dude is. Not. Worried. Stealing songs is pretty outlaw, he says, and that mugshot is marketable. Yikes. What's more, producer dude isn't interested in the sweet, singer/songwriter Gunnar even if Scarlett is. You know what they say, "Bros before hoe(downs)!"Anyway, Gunnar tries to make nice with Scarlett vis-a-vis flowers and is taken aback when this does not seem to magically fix everything. She expresses doubts about what they've been doing. Later, Will tries to put in a good word for Gunnar. Avery once again shows up. I imagine him to be some weird modern day Rumpelstiltskin who pops up in times of need, but will ultimately be a bad business partner. He invites her to a gig that night. Gunnar find out, goes to the gig to lurk in the back and watch Avery invite Scarlett up on stage. The next day, Gunnar goes to visit Deacon, who is throwing up on his porch. Deacon shoos him away and Gunnar calls Scarlett about getting Coleman over pronto. What happens next is like a Whole Thing. Fighting, screaming, breaking shit– Deacon wants to be left alone and sure does not want paper mache niece Scarlett witnessing his descent into drunken madness. Between Deacon and Coleman, it turns into Coleman trying to break a bucking bronco. Deacon eventually passes out. It's hella unpleasant to see him like this. Later on, he wakes up to Coleman sitting guard in a chair and persuades him that he has seen the error of his ways and shall be attending an AA meeting, like right now. After a shower, Juliette calls him and asks him to come to the Bluebird memorial service. Deacon agrees, pops some pills, and pulls out a handle of Jim Beam from beside the toilet. (I keep my bottle there too!) Deacon stays at the Bluebird for about a second before Rayna follows him out into the parking lot and takes off in the car with him in an effort to keep him from driving. Elsewhere, Gunnar proposes to Scarlett. Her answer? No idea, it was a silent montage set to Juliette's Jolene tribute. Also silent, the car fight as Rayna swerves to miss hitting a car and flips the hell out of Deacon's car. It's like the end of season two of the O.C., another soap that featured its share of deaths, near fatal accidents, proposals, Will, and relationships best summed up like this:

And in case you aren't already emotionally drained, the Cumberland deal is about to explode on Teddy, Tandy quit, and Peggy is preggers.

So there you have it. All in all, I'd give this season a B. It did some seriously pointless wandering and often gyrated between nothing happening for weeks and burning through characters and plot lines, but you couldn't say it wan't interesting. I want to know what's going to happen to these twisty, tangled people, and I've honestly been impressed with most of the songs that have appeared on the show. (Just downloaded "Gun for a Mouth.") That's what will bring me back for season two. It's been a pleasure recapping this season and I hope to "see" you around the site. Here's to more Southern fried drama in the fall!

Stray Observations:
+ Too bad Liam didn't turn up.
+ Will is definitely going to be dealing with the reality of being a gay man in the conservative world of country music. If they play it right, this could actually be a substantive plot line.
+ Did I mention that Deacon tackled Teddy outside the Capitol? Because he did and it was awesome.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Avett Brothers Play the Bridgestone Arena

I found a few videos of the show on YouTube. 

It's been quite a weekend here in Nashville. On Saturday night, I found myself at the end of a six-year quest to see the great Avett Brothers live. By more than a few twists of the universe, I've managed to miss them for one reason or another more times than I can count, and across two different states. Even though these misses have driven me half crazy, I don't think I'd trade in Saturday's show for an earlier one because it so well punctuated a weekend that was marked in other ways by endings and shifts.

The Avett Brothers played a sold out show at the Bridgestone Arena. Though their reputation for wildly energetic concerts is well known, I was unprepared for just how much power they generated. They could give any rock band a run for its money. From the second their silhouettes appeared on a curtain at the front of the stage, they blazed through the show with a musicianship both scary precise and crazy raucous. Their set incorporated songs mostly from their past three albums, several traditionals, and a Buck Owens cover– The Avetts slid between amped up bluegrass and deafening rock, with just a little church in there to stay on the good Lord's good side.

When the show was originally announced at the beginning of the year, I wondered what might be lost in the move from playing a venue like the Ryman Auditorium, to playing the mammoth Bridgestone. The concern was unfounded. I love the Avett Brothers in part because for me their music is a little ragged and always poignant, much in the way Scott and Seth (who each did a traditional) sing with gravel and purity respectively. When they played "Down with the Shine," Scott Avett singing "Things change and get strange with the movement of time, it's happening right now to you" while gesturing at the crowd couldn't have affected me to any greater extent. The same is true for the sound of the arena singing "I and love and you" together back to the band. All those voices sounded so much sweeter than I could have guessed.

There were several moments when I could hardly believe I made it out to the show. When they played "Salvation Song," it felt so surreal and so good to hear what I've always thought to be something of their mission statement: "We came for salvation, we came for family, we came for all that's good, that's how we'll walk away. We came to break the bad, we came to cheer the sad, we came to leave behind the world a better way." And that's why I've chased them for so long. I can't think of another band that manages aspiration against life's struggles and confusions with more heart and reassurance.

I caught my white whale, which is proving to be slightly melancholic as things tend to be when they end. But most of all, I think how much I enjoyed this show and how far it surpassed my hopes, and it casts back a really nice hue on the past six years.

Here's to endings.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review : 'Nashville' : 'A Picture From Life's Other Side'

This week's episode of Nashville certainly had enough drama to satisfy the requirements of a season finale. And yet, we've got one episode left next week. Here's what the writers set up for us.

Rayna's just finished up the current leg of the tour with a show in Charlotte, NC. Bucky steps in for some house keeping. 1) Gotta finish the record. 2) Gotta find another act. But that's okay, because Deacon's there to suck face a while. Who even knows where Bucky went? Deacon and Rayna plan to have dinner with the girls. And they do! And it's damn heart warming. Mama Jaymes makes dinner and Deacon hangs out with Maddie and Daphne. They play "Ho Hey" together because the producers were like We can milk that song a little more. Everyone's so contented, we're a turkey away from a Norman Rockwell painting when Teddy walks in like:

He's not stoked to find Deacon there when he kept Peggy away at Rayna's request. He has the audacity  to acuse Rayna of having an emotional affair with Deacon the entire time they were married and she's like WHOA. I  loved you when Daphne was born despite the fact you have the personality and looks of a 2x4. (I may have embellished that last part.) The next day, presumably, Rayna gets two surprises. 1) Luke from the O.C. crashes Rayna's label auditions and does well. 2) Rayna gets served with a restraining order to keep Deacon away from the girls. She shows up at Teddy's office to ask what, pray tell, is wrong with him and he says, "I took your father's advice and grew a pair." So, Teddy thinks Lamar's words of wisdom are Mr. Rodgers-caliber now? Must-follow gems of guidance?

Maybe. Rayna goes to see Lamar and he's in a sweater drinking tea. Whatever. She asks him for help and he's like I'll take care of it. I shudder. Anyway, Rayna's in her bedroom recounting everything to Deacon on the phone, and Maddie overhears her saying "I love you." Rayna admits she was talking to Deacon. Maddie is like... You dated Deacon before Dad, yes? Rayna, in some kind of parenting gymnastics combo pulls the Trust Me/I'll Tell You When You're Older cards. Here's the thing, Maddie is a sharp kid. This isn't over. Rayna and Teddy go to a hearing about the restraining order. It's temporarily shelved. Later, they have a heart to heart where Rayna is like You gotta trust me, bro. She asks for a lot of trust considering. He agrees. Anyhoodle, later whenever, Rayna is at the Opry to introduce Scarlett and the new Highway 65 record label. Back at home, Maddie starts digging through her mom's closet and manages to find paternity papers. Sobbing on the phone, she tells a friend she doesn't think Teddy is her father. I intend on watching next week's episode from behind a riot shield.

After the Charlotte show, Avery helps Juliette with her monitors and suggests that whatever tune she's humming, she write down. Thanks Avery! They banter a bit about the drunken scene at the CMA party, and she tells him he's going to help her get that song down. That means he winds up at her house and she sort of opens up about how she dosen't believe in love (which is pretty cliched), and I find it contradictory because she's clearly starting something up with Avery, yet she's playing all jaded. Do you talk about personal feelings with randos? I didn't think so. Let's not forget Dante's still out there somewhere with a sex tape and the intention of blackmailing Juliette. At first he asks for $2 million, and then realizes he can ask for more. Juliette will have to sell off some stuff to come up with the new asking price of $10 million. While talking to her security team, Juliette dejectedly tells them Dante can release the tape. She'll get out in front of it. At least he won't make as much money. Jolene, who's just been to her old dealer for a bag of pills and... something else, is freaking out. What about the CMAs?! What about the new album?! Juliette's too broken down to care. So, Jolene gets Dante's number off her daughter's phone. That night at her place, she calls Dante and tells him she loves him and basically lures him over with the promise of money in exchange for the SD card. When he arrives, she demands the card because she in fact, is not in love with him, but is out to spare her daughter the humiliation of a tawdry scandal. When he asks for the money and stalls, she shoots him. Jolene calls Juliette who is about to do an interview about said tawdry scandal, and tells her not to. She says some nice words and Juliette is like WHAT IS GOING ON DRUGGIE MOM. By the time Juliette and various people in suits arrive at Jolene's apartment, they find Dante dead on the floor and Jolene dead on the couch from an overdose.

COME ON. I'm honestly sad to see Druggie Mom go. Despite many past transgressions, it's good to see flawed characters achieve some type of redemption. I think Jolene had a ways to go, or at least deserved a little better than skeazy murder/suicide, even if it means that she was trying to be selfless. Juliette cries while watching local news coverage of her mom's death.

Over in the political intrigue portion of the show, Tandy and Lamar are in a meeting about what to do with that land they've got. She wants a mixed use high rise. He still wants the ball park. She's like: Hey. It's OVER old man. Tandy, while stroking her well-worn copy of King Lear, meets with THE BOARD and they plot some kind of overthrow. At the end of the episode he shows up and kicks her out of his seat.

Over in East Nashville, Gunnar comes home looking like hell. "Are you ever going to have a recording session that doesn't end at dawn?" Scarlett chirps as birds help her with house work. No. It's an image thing. One must stop showering and only wear leather jackets in order to be a badass. She reminds him she's making her Opry debut that night. He runs off because his producer guy says that Vandy's radio station wants to do an interview with him. He tries really hard to be, (inarticulate and dickish) cool during this interview by responding "I do what I want" to just about every question, including one relating to his love life. Scarlett is listening in her car and is like:

When he gets home he's like Oh crap, you heard that? And she's like, Yup. I generally support the people I love, but apparently we're not dating. "I don't get what you're doing," she tells him. Amen, sister. Anyway, she does ask Luke from the O.C. to talk to Gunnar. Luke shows up at some bar where Gunnar is playing and looking even more like hell that before. Some guy at the bar challenges Gunnar's credibility. Luke defends. Gets punched. Gunnar punches the offender. BAR FIGHT.

Alas, they all wind up in jail. Backstage at the Opry, Scarlett is nervous. Deacon's there, though. She gets the special dressing room for artists making their Opry debuts. Someone delivers a present for Scarlett from someone in the audience. It's a whisk form Avery because of that one time he had her sing into a whisk in the living room. Good times. Sort of. Scarlett performs. It's great. Meanwhile in lock up, Luke and Gunnar talk. Gunnar doesn't even know what his deal is. Nevertheless, he thanks Luke for having his back. Luke apologizes about that thing and tells Gunnar about how his dad caught him and kicked him out of the house. He doesn't know his deal either, but he knows he's happy on stage. Scarlett bails the both of them out and basically breaks up with Gunnar. "I can't be with you like this. I fell in love with you, not your brother," she says. We feel better about her character. Three cheers for the lady with the backbone.

Next week: All hell breaks loose and Maddie apparently will play a round of Are You My [Daddy]? with Deacon.

Stray Observations:
+ Where do they store Liam through all of this?
+ I've been waiting so long to use that gif from The O.C.
+ Moment of silence for Druggie Mom.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Stream 'Trouble Will Find Me' by The National

If for some reason you haven't found your way to the iTunes stream of the National's new album Trouble Will Find Me, take this as your guidepost. Open up iTunes, and check the rotating banner. The album is pretty stellar so far, but in the immortal words of LeVar Burton, "You don't have to take my word for it."

Trouble Will Find Me will be available for purchase May 21.

Review: 'Tricolore' by Haiku Salut

You might remember I did a Q&A with U.K. trio Haiku Salut last month. Check out my review of their new album Tricolore from Consequence of Sound and find out why accordion and electronica work so well.


Friday, May 10, 2013

'Ramona' : Night Beds

This spring I've kept bumping into a band called Night Beds. At first, the name struck my ears because I saw a band called the Night Beats in March, and you know things go. Anyway, Night Beds are country-ish, a little bit alternative. They don't hit you over the head either way, but what you get is some really reflective, wistful music, lightly arranged and beautifully layered. It feels like more and more bands are occupying space in between genres, and I think it's a great thing. Damn the neat little labels, right?

Night Beds' newest album Country Sleep came out in February. They recorded it in a cabin here in Nashville that used to be Johnny Cash's guest house. How's that for a talking point? Happily, the group is putting roots down in my dear city. Take their music video for "Ramona," shot at Ocean Way Studios (above). And if I can direct you to one more thing, check out their cover of Robyn's "Dancing On My Own" for the A.V. Club's Undercover series. Frontman Winston Yellen could very easily channel some Brandon Flowers with his vocals. And for any Nashville folk, Night beds are going to be at the Mercy Lounge on May 24 with Tristen and Good Buddy.

Night Beds cover Robyn

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Five Reasons You Love Your Vinyl

Spinning Brendan Benson's Alternative to Love.
I love writing about things that interest people. Here's my latest from Consequence of Sound where I got a professional opinion on why we love our vinyl records. I'll warn you– it's not just because it's cool.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Review: 'Nashville' : 'Why Don't You Love Me'

It's another dark, twisty week on Nashville in the aftermath of last week's loves lost and reclaimed.

We find Juliette bristling the morning after Dante's swift departure. She meets with her security team, a bunch of middle-aged white dudes in suits. Whatever happens, it absolutely cannot get out that she trusted that skeeze and he took off with just about a half million. In the midst of the brooding, assistant Emily says Juliette got a CMA nomination for female vocalist of the year, which is crazy awesome since the CMAs are in November. Special circumstances, I guess! Anyway, snagging the award becomes the singular focus of the country star's life, and she feels it should be Edgehill Records' as well, but Marshall is all we have multiple artists to promote and only so many dollars. Juliette will use her personal (and diminishing) wealth to promote herself. And how will she do that? Bobble heads and booze! That's right, Juliette wants to send bobble heads of herself and little bottles of Dom Perrignon to all the voting CMA members. Assistant Emily brings up how Juliette's about to be out a million and methinks there's going to be a Juliette bankruptcy plot soon. Also, a trip of her own to rehab. Juliette drinks so much in this episode, Druggie Mom's warning her about laying off the mimosas while dress shopping. If that's not a red flag, I don't know what is. Later in the car with Emily on the way to the nomination party, Emily tells her credit card charges show that Dante bought a $17k engagement ring for Realtor lady. Low blow, Dante, low blow. Anyway, at the CMA party, Juliette continues to drink, even to the point where she pisses off Deacon who is trying to have a grown up discussion with Rayna and he splits. And then the moment we all saw coming finally does. Avery steps up and offers to play guitar for her. Somehow, Juliette, who has yet to be in a scene without a bottle so far, avoids what EVERYONE (in my house and my long distance tv-watching buddy WHAT UP LAURA!) thought would be a total train wreck. She holds it together and then winds up off sitting somewhere, still drinking, with Avery who looks confused by the world in which he finds himself. She asks him, "Do you believe in fairytales?" They have a lengthy and intelligent conversation about about the psychological implications of fiction on the expectations of regular folks. Sort of. Not really. Avery gets her back to her car and backs away when she tries to kiss him. When she finally gets home, Druggie Mom tries to attend to her sheer drunkenness. Juliette breaks down, mascara flowing freely, "Why doesn't anybody care??" It's actually a sad moment for her. Juliette just wants:


So, after last week's weirdness with Luke from the O.C. and Gunnar, the Bluebird universe continues to exist precariously. Luke tries to gauge whether Gunnar told Scarlett anything. No chance of that because Gunnar doesn't tell anyone anything. Ever. When Gunnar joins the two in the kitchen, Luke says, "We got so drunk I don't know what I was doing."

Sure. Gunnar just sort of eyes him and suggests he leave. Plus, Gunnar's being weird about that song that he lifted from his brother's journal– the same one that's now attracting the attention of producer man. And boy does he get super touchy when Scarlett asks, "Am I witnessing the death of the bromance?" Later, Gunnar gets ready to leave for his recording session  with said producer and he runs into Luke on the front porch who tells him he should tell Scarlett about the song. Gunnar looks murderous. Just then, Scarlett drifts in on a stray balloon that a child released into the sky, and tells them that she got invited to the CMA party. Since Gunnar's going to be recording, Luke offers to go with her. Later at the studio, producer man is stoked about that hot track Gunnar just laid down even though Gunnar doesn't strike him as the type of badass who would be responsible for writing such dark tunes. Gunnar just looks nauseous  especially when faced with the idea of recording more of Jason's songs. Meanwhile at the CMA party, Luke is in full-on schmooze mode, much to Scarlett's chagrin. When she finally gets home, she finds Gunnar on the couch listening to his demo through headphones. She pulls the jack out of the stereo and holds him down on the couch so she can hear. It's different! But then, Scarlett find the journal and realizes what Gunnar's been up to. "It's just a song!" he says, snatching away the journal and walking out of the room. Scarlett wonders why she can't date better-adjusted guys. Oh wait, that's what I was thinking for her.

Me on my couch. 
In the Teddy Conrad political intrigue portion of the show, we find Teddy trying to persuade Maddie to go to the father/daughter dance with him. She'd rather not. At the dance, he speaks some heart felt words to her about how the day she was born was the best day of his life, and how someday she'll understand all this grown up business. She says, "Already do, you're both weird." Preach it, child. Elsewhere in town, Coleman turns down Tandy's offer of an alliance and resigns from the assistant mayor's office. Clearly, Coleman's going to make a move of his own at some point.

If last week you were overcome with a sense of relief when Rayna showed up on Deacon's doorstep to confess her love, don't get too comfortable. At first it's nice. They're all happy in bed the next morning. Rayna's phone blows up with the news that she's been nominated for best female vocalist. Deacon offers to make breakfast. This is basically as good as it gets. Later on, Tandy and Rayna have some girl talk about Deacon and Tandy once again suggests that this should be a fling, like she suggested about Liam. That's a weird thing to say because she acknowledges that she knows it's all or nothing with those two... is that what Rayna wants? And just like that, the doubt starts to creep in on Rayna. But not enough to stop her from sneaking off into a closet to make out a little with Deacon at Soundcheck. They do a lot of mumbling in between sucking face. Pretty sure I heard something about a cabin. She tries to sound boring, talking about how mundane her life is now that she has kids to deal with every other week. He's all "I love your kids!" Funny you should say that... But yes. She tries to bore him away and he tells her he's ready for all the routine stuff. Bring it on. She looks like she might be regretting a few things. Later at the house before Teddy takes Maddie to the dance, he sort of apologizes to Rayna about the whole tabloid mess, which makes us hate him a little less, until she tells him about Deacon (why does she tell him about Deacon??) and he gets way intense about how she might let it slip that Maddie is Deacon's kid. She carries this heavy little conversation to the CMA party where Deacon immediately senses that she's pulling away. Of course, he's freaking out since he just broke up with Vet lady. Anyway, after having a minor freak out, he jumps in Rayna's car and tells her he doesn't even care if she's hiding something. At this point, what could it be? What could it matter? We shall see. They go back to Deacon's and sing. He tells her he wishes they'd gotten back together earlier. Maybe they could have had a family together.

Stray Observations:
+ Really the only thing I have to talk about here is how in the previews for next week, apparently someone will be "driven to kill." Best scenario: Gunnar offs Avery and we get rid of the both of them.

Video: 'Sea of Love' by the National

On its surface, The National's new music video for "Sea of Love" is basically just the group playing the song in a relatively small, unattractive room– pretty standard. That is, until some awesome little kid, in a suit, no less, jumps front and center, and totally upstages the band with his air guitar skills. Earning honorable mentions in the humor department are Matt Berninger bobbing for the hanging microphone and one of the Dessner brothers perched on a ledge in the corner. Take a look.

Monday, May 6, 2013

'New Girl' Gets Auto-Tuned

Apart from recapping Nashville, it's rare that I can find a way to bring the other types of pop culture that I love besides music onto this blog. That's why I'm a little bit giddy about this promo for Fox's New Girl starring Zooey Deschanel. If  The Musically Inclined had a TV section, I'd write with great frequency about how well the show's writers have navigated the will-they-won't-they relationship of roommates Jess Day (Deschanel) and Nick Miller (Jake Johnson). The characters have been circling each other all season, trying to claw their way to a decision on where to take a relationship that can exhibit everything from the worst habits of bickering siblings to the best instincts of good friends... and then there was that kiss. Now I get to blog about it because some dear person at Fox decided to slice together some clips from the show and Auto-Tune the damn thing a la the Gregory Brothers. And it's good– and every bit as satisfying to watch as the whole Nick/Jess wind up. I hope they never get together. Check it out.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Stream 'The Great Gatsby' Soundtrack

I don't remember the last time a movie soundtrack got this much hype, but I suppose when you have Jay-Z, Beyonce, Jack White, Gotye, and a million other people with generally good standing contributing tracks, it's going to be– in the words of Vice President Joe Biden– a big effing deal.

And now you can stream that big deal early via NPR. Of course, what remains to be seen is exactly how well this anachronistic music fits in with Jazz Age East Egg, but the previews have been so fun and exciting, surely we have nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review : 'Nashville' : 'Take These Chains from My Heart'

Just wait. 
While watching Nashville this evening, I sat on my couch gradually composing a nice little intro in my head for my recap, something about how the show treats change with relation to its characters. But you know what? That went out the window because ARE YOU KIDDING ME. Details below.

The show opens in a shower in Cincinnati, OH where Dante and Juliette are discussing buying a house together. Presumably after scrubbing behind their ears, they fly back to Nashville where Druggie Mom awaits them at the airport with daffodils and a request to work with Dante again instead of her lame-o new sober companion. Juliette and Dante basically ignore her. Later on at rehearsal, Juliette is lost in Dante's eyes and iPad while Deacon gets huffy about the lack of rehearing going on. Dante butts in, Deacon is like O RLY. "Maybe I just need to be done here," Deacon says threatening to quit. Juliette tells him he's replaceable and Deacon actually does quit. As Deacon exits, Druggie Mom enters, accusing Dante of kissing some random woman on Lower Broadway. Dante ninjas out of it feigning concern for why she's telling lies and apparently stalking him. The house shopping continues since Dante's got some real estate hook ups. They tour another antiseptic house like the one Juliette's already occupying. Fast forward to a show that Juliette and Rayna are doing at the Bridgestone, and Juliette's tracked down the realtor woman to inquire as to her relationship with Dante. "We're just friends!" The woman says because that's the most convincing phrase to use when denying a relationship. Dante had just helped her out of a tight spot once. Fast forward a bit more and Druggie Mom, Juliette, Realtor, and Dante are in Juliette's dressingroom fighting about how Druggie Mom seems like she's on the edge (not of glory, thank you very much) of using again. Dante pulls a baggie of pills from Druggie Mom's stuff and it's all THEY'RE NOT MINE! YOU'RE GOING BACK TO REHAB! If your bullshit radar is buzzing, then you'd be totally justified. Later on, Juliette realizes that there's no way the pills could be her mom's because Druggie Mom is allergic to that flavor of contraband. And just like that, Dante and Realtor slip away on a plane off to wherever with money from Juliette's operating account, never to be seen again. Juliette will never trust again.

Meanwhile in other parts of the city, Rayna takes advantage of a week in Nashville with no kiddos to watch over, to catch up on stuff, namely meeting back up with Liam and Scarlett... not at the same time. That would have made Rayna and Liam's little make out session pretty weird. But yes, Liam and Rayna make out. She says she wants to live in the moment, that she feels free. He's like O RLY. As they kiss, Buckey walks in for no apparent reason. Geeze, Dad. Knock first. Later that day, (or the next maybe?) Tandie and Rayna deliver Lamar back to his mansion, whose interior looks a lot like the Belle Meade plantation (murals in the foyer!), and I would know as I somehow toured that damn thing about five times in 7th grade. "I am neither dead nor doddering," Lamar says as demons far below the Earth dance for joy. On their way out, Rayna tells Tandie about Liam and they talk about how neat-o it is they can be girlfriends. The next time Rayna and Liam are together, they hold hands and he tells her to come away with him to St. Lucia. She is conflicted. Rayna and her conflict bring smoothies by Lamar's place later that night. He's busted out his clipping file of Rayna's career and the two ounces of sentimentality he keeps in a bottle in a safe in the wall next to his heart. "I had a lot of time to think laid up in that bed," he tells her like every wounded/recovering person we've ever seen in a movie. Regardless of the source material, he'd like to start over with Rayna.

Deacon's also trying to start over. He has dinner with Scarlett, Gunnar, and Vet Lady. Scarlett tells him, "Can you keep her because you're happy and she's lovely." Deacon tells Vet Lady he's coming off the road *because he quit because Juliette is a pill* but he doesn't mention that part. At that show that I keep referencing, Rayna and Ian awkwardly run into Deacon and Vet Lady. What's even more awkward is how steamed Deacon gets back stage watching Liam and Rayna get spicy onstage doing one of the "old songs." Deacon abandons Lady Vet to go get water and just doesn't come back. Lady Vet knows what's up. "Do you still have feelings for her?" she asks. "Yeah," he says as the first television character who would choose to tell the truth in this situation. But I'm trying, he insists.

Understandably, Vet Lady needs space. Immediately after, Deacon runs into Rayna who's like, Everything ok? NO, RAYNA. Everything is not ok. He tells her he's never been able to get over her and she's like, I'm going to St. Lucia with Ian. So, call Vet Lady maybe?  Well, that is until she shows up at his door that night. "I love you," she says. "Are you trying to kill me??" He sputters. Ah. Those crazy kids. To the bedroom!

As I am mostly bored with Teddy, I'll blow through this quickly. He's pissed at Peggy. He canceled all Lamar's contracts with the city. Coleman is not stoked. Tandie proposes an alliance with Coleman because Lamar has got to give it up sometime. OR DOES HE.

So, Gunnar's found Jason's journal with some half finished songs. Luke from the O.C. shows up with a freshly booked gig and a motorcycle. Said gig is at Rippy's on Lower Broadway in the middle of the day. The crowd is comprised of women flipping their hair at him and Gunnar in back at the bar. Some random girl gives Luke her number and he reveals himself to be a pig vis-a-vis comment about her boobs. CLASSY, BRO. Gunnar decides that he lacks swagger like Luke has. Luke instructs him in the art of being a douche. This will come into play later. Scarlett meets with Rayna and asks for another chance for Gunnar. Later that night, Gunnar performs at Tootsie's open mic night and tries out Luke's advice by attempting eye contact with the ladies. The song he sings isn't bad... I secretly wish it wasn't from the show. At the bar after the performance, Luke and Gunnar drink and some girl gives Gunnar her number because I guess he has game, or whatever the kids say. A guy approaches and wants to cut the song as a demo. I think he's supposed to be one of those magic people from the music industry who lurk in every bar in Nashville. Luke gets up and OH SNAP Avery's sitting right there. He'd been in the crowd watching Gunnar. He apologizes for prior behavior and Gunnar tells him about Scarlett's record deal. If you've read Harry Potter, you'll remember the part of Voldemort's backstory where he slinked around the dark corners of Europe, a diminished, half dead being after trying to kill baby Harry. That's pretty much Avery at this point. He's a mopey ghost wandering around town with regret and unfinished business. Anyway, the next morning Gunnar gets pissy with Scarlett because she got him the second chance with Rayna and he has zero good sense. Nope. He felt that magic at Tootsie's and now he wants to discover himself as an artist. Who needs a record deal??? That night he and Luke sit weirdly close on the couch as Gunnar confesses the song he sang was Jason's. Feels like bad juju. I chastise myself for making bad jokes in my head about what exactly is about to happen on that couch when Luke makes the misread of the century and tries to kiss Gunnar.

In case you thought this show couldn't try your patience any more for its sheer lack of logic, think again!

I think the writers are just messing with us.

Stray Observations:
+ The local news said that the show closed down an intersection in town to shoot an explosion for the finale, so prepare for even more unrealistic drama.
+ I'm exercising crazy amounts of restraint for not making a Brokeback Mountain joke.
+ Try as they might, Avery will never be a sympathetic character, especially as he plays martyr roadie. Dude should be happy he has a job vaguely related to music.