Leaving Home with Barenaked Ladies

With Blue Ridge Mountain majesties in my rearview mirror and Mill Mountain Coffee in my hand, I crank up Barenaked Ladies on Spotify and sigh. Suddenly, the blue and green motherland is blurry and I consider pulling the car over for a moment. “Pinch Me” was always a feel-good song for me, but today it is a call to my messy life. “I feel fine enough, I guess. Considering everything’s a mess…”By the time the chorus comes, a sob finds its way out into the weary old Corolla. It’s interesting how some of the most fun songs can have such serious undertones.

Ever since I left the Blue Ridge Mountains, I’ve looked back in regret. I missed blessings that were right in front of my face because I kept looking back. Then, I realized them and was grateful for them. And I still am thankful for all of it. We all have a place that is home in our hearts, no matter where we are, and for me, that is the wonderful, magical world of Southwestern Virginia. A place where I grew up, made friends and swore I “had to get the hell out of” just like every other restless teenager does.

Well, guess what, restless 40-year-old? It’s okay. It will always be home to you, no matter what you’re doing or where you are. And until I’m back again, “Odds Are” I’m gonna be all right.

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

This is Shangrila

It can’t be said enough how amazing Mother Love Bone was and still is. Every time I hear Andy sing, I become this energized ten-year-old again, like when I first heard him. Apple is a great album to clean the house to or be at the gym to or “car dance” to as you take a road trip. So, what do you need to know about this fictional Shangrila? It’s a made up place from a James Hilton novel called, Lost Horizon. This fictional place, written out as Shangri-La, refers to a mystical valley of harmonious paradise. Let’s pause a minute. We don’t need a history lesson to know that Andy Wood saw music this way. “Love Rock awaits you people, lo and behold…” And you’re undoubtedly nodding in agreement with how Andy felt about this mystical monastery called music.

“Get me to the stage; it brings me home again, this is Shangrila.” For Andy, performance and music were everything. For most of us audiophiles, we can relate. Myself, I’m not a musician per se, but I have a collection of instruments that range from a kazoo to a bass guitar. But as a writer, I know the thrill of performance, and how it energizes the soul like this Shangrila of Andy’s. And you don’t have to be a musician at all to be completely immersed in music. Let’s face it, you’re reading my blog for a reason, right? And deeply, I thank you, because that’s what we writers live for.

This morning, “This is Shangrila” came on a shared playlist of mine, and I had to stop and write about it. Because we all know this mysterious and mystical place that taunts our brainwaves and dances between our ears, riding on the synapses of energy. For us, it is everything. For us, this is Shangrila.

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

What’s All the (Hot Fuss) About?

By now, you probably realize that I will review older albums. Thanks for reading. I like to keep the good ones alive. Today, at the gym, I heard “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers. So, I chose to listen to its parent album, “Hot Fuss” while on the treadmill. If it is possible for someone as uncoordinated as me to dance while walking on a moving treadmill, I did. In fact, I looked like a mall walker on speed, arms flailing and all.

What a great album this is, from start to finish. Its highlights for me are: “Andy, You’re a Star,” “Mr. Brightside” and my favorite, “Smile Like You Mean It” wherein there is a lilting chorus with a gospel background singing, “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier,” that could get anyone’s immobile grandma up and clapping.

I definitely recommend it for the gym; you’d only have to skip a slow track or two unless you save it for the cooldown phase. So, if you haven’t heard “Hot Fuss” in a while, or at all, do yourself a favor and give it a listen. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

More Butter, please

For the first time in seven years, Counting Crows have released a seven-track album that does not let its fans down at all. Duritz’s voice is as fresh it was when we heard it in 1994. Butter Miracle, Suite One offers trilling melodies, aching lyrics, and the crooning we’ve all come to love; it also offers us a raring trumpet solo. When the brief block of music closes, it leaves you wanting more.

One of my favorite tracks on this collection is the opener, “Tall Grass” and not merely because it was the first track I heard–as that often happens with audiophiles like myself. “Tall Grass” has a movement like a great symphony, shifting time signatures and melodies and keys and growing more urgent before returning to its subdued opening refrain.

“Butter Miracle, Suite One” is a must-listen and the fact that it’s called “Suite One” suggests there will be more brilliance that awaits us. We’ve been patient before.

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

Top 100

Can you pick only 100 top albums? Better yet, can you do it without repeating an artist? Challenge accepted! I’m up to 27 albums, all the while creating a list of “best songs ever” so I can make a playlist (and/or mix tape). I will share all this information as I go along. Lucky for you, the caveat is that yo don’t have to put them in order from least to greatest or vice versa. They can simply be 100 of your favorite albums of all time. You think it’d be impossible for me to choose a favorite Pearl Jam album, but I easily chose “No Code” because to me, that one has memories and melodies that I always come back to. One cannot forget such treasures as “In My Tree” and “Smile.” Truth be told, it is pretty impossible for me to pick a favorite Pearl Jam album, but this one is just so timeless.

Other artists you’ll read me yammering about will be: Neil Young, Rush, Johnny Cash, Led Zeppelin (of course), Tool, Mother Love Bone, Jimi Hendrix, and more. Stay tuned as I reveal my Top 100 with you. What are some of your “can’t live withouts?”

Christmas Tunes

If you’re like me, you typically don’t listen to, or like, the Christmas music on the radio this time of year. I will admit, however, I enjoy the Indie Christmas Pandora station on occasion. You probably listen to Pantera while wrapping gifts–now there’s a funny image; you try headbanging without ripping the wrapping paper. Just watch out for the scissors, please.

I tend to enjoy the oldies, even Elvis’s “Blue Christmas.” I love Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful World” around this time of year. But I have something so “un-rock ‘n roll” to share with you guys. My favorite Christmas pastime…(big deep breath):

Kenny and Dolly’s Christmas album. Yes, it’s true. First, Dolly Parton is a songwriting machine and I will always respect her. Second, I grew up wrapping presents and decorating the tree to this music, so it will always have a special place in my heart. Mom and I could be found decorating the tree, passing lights back and forth and pausing to have a song outburst at the climaxes or whenever we saw fit, which was usually at the same time, knowing us.

There was a time Mom had a very “country” boyfriend. I was around the ages of 7-9 in my CMT country phase. I still do have fondness for some of those songs, and especially for the girl who loved them. Then, I “met” Pearl Jam. I thought I had to renounce all things country to not “stain” my rock ‘n roll heart. But I later realized that we are the sum of all of our parts–even the ones who loved (cough) NKOTB.

So, my Christmas music challenge to you is this: find a new Christmas song you DO like or delve into those old favorites with NO SHAME and SING AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS.

Stay Safe and Rock On,

Rachael

P.S. I still have the original cassette of Kenny and Dolly, and later bought the CD. I’d take it on vinyl, too. 🙂

I’m the Girl in the Box…

Today, I was cleaning and organizing and emptying boxes. And when I found them, I screamed in delight. I thought that these treasured mementos had gotten lost in the moves of adulthood. No. There he was–Eddie. There they were: Pearl Jam, Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden–the pillars of my youth. Posters I hadn’t framed but was careful to put ring protectors around each thumbtack so they wouldn’t rip or fray. Original Rolling Stone magazines with Blind Melon, Pearl Jam, The Red Hot Chili Peppers…and the ones memorializing Jerry Garcia, Layne Stayley, and Kurt Cobain. The originals, in mint condition. I’m so excited, I can barely type.

I can’t tell you how these visages guided me, comforted me, excited me. Yes, I even have the larger-than-life-sized one of Eddie Vedder–one I loved so much, I mentioned in my memoir. The girl inside me danced and screamed and grooved out as I carefully parted the posters fold-outs from various magazines. I found one called Grunge Magazine that I had purchased two copies of, just to be sure I’d never lose it because it had my fab five on it. I’m sure you’ve guess that’s Pearl Jam by now.

Have you ever loved something more than the air that goes into your lungs? Well of course, because a lot of us take that simple act for granted. One thing that has been missing in life during this global pandemic is live music. That feeling of aspirating with tens of thousands of people–singing in unison, swaying like a big wave in an ocean, being a part of a larger collective. For us music lovers, it’s almost painful to be away from live music for so long. When I opened that box, I found the girl I was–the girl I still am–and it brought me all the joy that it did when I would gaze upon those images as I listened to their music over and over.

What’s your musical joy? Share in the comments and go enjoy it right now!

Rock on,

Rachael

No One Sings Like You Anymore

I know. I write about Tom Petty and Chris Cornell way too much. But you’re still reading, so yay! And thank you. The other day, I was feeling particularly drawn to Chris and chose a shirt with his image on it to give me strength for the day. Why didn’t we see it coming? Why didn’t someone really intervene? Why…is always the question that resounds itself time and again in the days, weeks, years following a suicide. Why? What if? Why didn’t we…? Why DID HE? How could…anyone…ah, but navigating the world of mental illness is tricky. And for those of us charged with unbalanced brain chemicals, we bow and give thanks to those musicians and artists who’ve come before us, or who are before us now, singing melodies or painting pictures or creating other sundry works of art that speak to us in our black hole suns.

Chris’s suffering was particularly apparent most of his lyrics, and though the lyrics of “Black Hole Sun” are not heavily poetic, they speak the truth rather easily. “Black hole sun, won’t you come and wash away the rain?” Everyone thinks about how “trippy” the video was, but if you examine the lyrics, you’ll see the plea for the darkness to evaporate. It’s a common thread in Cornell’s words. The most important of which, in this particular track is where he asks, with a prayer, “Heaven send Hell away…”

Let’s examine that for a minute. He’s asking the good to send away the bad, but not just any good or any bad force–the Ultimate Ones. Heaven, hey, man, send hell away. And he sings it not with the disconnect of sending away a well-tipped pizza deliverer–but with this urgency that often gets overlooked if you’re just singing along while riding in your car. But think on that at length. There are so many ways we could invoke the spiritual realms, and Chris did it in four words–shorter than haiku! Maybe this is what the Christians mean by “breath prayers.” Maybe I’ll invoke Chris next time and simply ask Heaven to send Hell away when I’m having a bad minute, hour, week, mental illness bender, what have you…

There is one thing for certain. His life, too short, was a gift, a salve, a salvation for some of us. And we are forever grateful, and left to say:

“No one sings like you anymore,” Chris. We miss you, and we always will.

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

Here’s One to Raise the Roof

Robert Plant said something akin to “when we go all out in England, we say ‘Raise the Roof.'” Therein, a phrase that must have inspired the title of his latest work with the lovely and talented Alison Krauss. They’ve done it before, and they’ve done it again. And yet, they keep doing it so well. This dynamic duo just released “Raise the Roof,” the second album they’ve collaborated on since their 2007 album.

“Raising Sands” was the first genius product from these two. Robert Plant journeyed to Nashville to infuse his solo career with the old country ways. I can think of no better partner for him to have found in his sojourn that the lovely and honey-toned Alison Krauss. I realize that there were naysayers, but you know what they say about naysayers. (Or do, rather, I as “thumb my nose at you”–not you–them.)

These naysayers were crying for a Led Zeppelin reunion and threw heavy criticism at Plant when he explored this new venue, and I imagine, for him, it must have been obnoxious to hear so much negativity. For true fans of Plant, however, this maneuver into a new world of sound was a refreshing and unique turn. I’m sure it’s not the first time he faced criticism. And listen, I love, absolutely love, Led Zeppelin. But I also adore Plant and Krauss’s solo collaborations. Yes, they’re mellow, yes they are infused with “old country blues” as I like to call it.

True fans know that when their favorite artist dares to be different, they follow suit with an open mind. No, you don’t have to love it, but you can certainly support it. As an avid Pearl Jam fan, I’m sure that Eddie Vedder faced criticisms with his 2011 ukulele album, Ukulele Songs. I, on the other hand, a never-failing optimist, dove right in and even considered playing ukulele to keep up with his latest passion. And maybe that comparison is a bit different from an English rocker gone country–but come on, guys, he did it so well.

I also can’t say enough about Alison Krauss and her amazing talent, but you know that. You don’t have to care for the genre to agree with me that she has the voice of an angel. Perhaps her most well-known track is, “When You Say Nothing At All.” Now pair her voice with Robert’s playful and deep tenor, and boom! you’ve got magic. Not only the delicious blend of vocals, however, but we listeners are treated to a funky interplay of attitude and roleplay between the two of them. They make the old country lyrics come alive between them as you listen and watch–either or both–the two of them dance and sing and interact with one another. It is truly a performance. And speaking of performance, while money is tight, I plan to rob my nest egg to see them on their tour.

I highly recommend you “Raise the Roof” and give it a listen–or twelve. It’ll be like “Cashmere” to your ears.

Be well and rock on,

Rachael

How Could I Have Forgotten?

The pandemic has been hard for all of us. I fell into a dangerous habit of NOT LISTENING TO MUSIC ENOUGH. What? you might ask. But you write about it; we know you live for it. Yes, I’d reply, but for some reason, I just didn’t put it on enough, or let myself enjoy it (depression is hard.) (Depression is hard but music is the salve.) To be fair, all my records and tapes and CDs have been in storage since 2018. Ghastly, I know. And I prefer those mediums to the overwhelming world of digital music. For Christmas, my husband even got me wireless ear buds, but they just sat on my shelf. Until today. I knew I had to start a schedule of housecleaning and get my act together. There were too many listless days in the last year. It was time to be productive. So, I put them in, chose Madonna’s album “Like a Prayer” and rocked the hell out. I don’t even know how long it took me to completely clean the kitchen, but it felt so good I didn’t care.

Admission: when I was seven, I used to listen to this album almost non-stop. I even made up an interpretive dance to “Like a Prayer” and made my mom watch. It included a dramatic “fall” off the coffee table, even. Needless to say, when those familiar sounds graced my ears this morning, I was off and running (or dusting, rather.) Then, when the album is over on Spotify, they usually play similar tracks. I got hit with Blondie and Roxette. How amazing. So, there are definitely upsides to digital music, don’t get me wrong. My spirit is light. My husband just came in to tell me his students, via Zoom, could hear me singing in my office. I suppose, while he teaches, I should tamp it down just a bit. Oops.

Don’t ever forget to cherish your tunes. They are what keeps us alive and well after all.

Peace, Love, and Music,

Rachael

By Far…One of the Best Albums of All-Time

Recently, a friend of mine was (sniff) giving away her CDs. She let me go through them all first. As we looked through them, documenting them or discussing them, R.E.M.’s Monster came up. My eyes got wide. “THIS,” I began, as she began to smile, “is one of THE. BEST. ALBUMS. OF. ALL. TIME.” She couldn’t disagree. If you don’t own this one, go get it. Give it an old-school spin on the record player, CD player, or, if you must, on a digital device somehow. You’ve read my past rants on R.E.M. genius. Or maybe you haven’t. Either way, they are one of my favorite bands of all time. I owned Out of Time when I was ten. It was the cassette, which shows my age a little, but hey, it was 1991.

This album is definitely included in my Top 100 albums of all time. What is it that we admire about R.E.M. so much? Is it that they got their name with a random finger-point to the dictionary? Is it the sugary croon of Stipe’s voice? The unique riffs? Maybe we won’t know, no matter how we ponder, but one this is for sure: this is one of the albums that really illustrates the band’s greatness. No offense to the other amazing albums. I have yet to uncover an R.E.M. track, or record, for that matter, that I don’t NOT like.

But enough of my obfuscating. Let’s get down to it. If you were a “radio listener” (gold star for that reference origin), then you probably heard and adored “Crush (with eyeliner).” Of course, the most played track from this album was undoubtedly, “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” But little known to most, “Let Me In” was a song written in the aftermath of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, and dedicated to his memory. When I learned of this and really gave it a new listen, I wept. Such raw emotion in the lilting “heyyyyyy yeah yeah…let me in” of Stipe’s voice. Distorted guitar and organ music keyboard bliss. Give it a listen when you’re alone and have an undistracted moment to yourself. What are those? Find them again. Let them in.

While the entire album reigns brilliance, my high point tracks are, in no particular order:
“Crush (with eyeliner)”
“Let Me In”
“Strange Currencies”
“I Don’t Sleep, I Dream.”

But the entire album is genius. Go on and take a listen.

Be well and Rock on,

Rachael