Friday, September 28, 2012

Happy Friday: 5 favorite Carole King songs

Happy Friday! This is an especially happy day because tomorrow night we get to perform at Dallas does the music of James Taylor and Carole King at Opening Bell Coffee. It's going to be an incredible show featuring Tito Ortega, Phoenix Hart, Julie Anne Turner, Joel Megli, Brice Beaird, Josh Cooley, and yours truly. I've had the pleasure of hearing most of these people perform, and, trust me, you are not going to want to miss it. $5.00 for all that talent performing some of the best songs ever written is a great deal.

In honor of the event, and as a follow-up to yesterday's "4 things I like about James Taylor," I decided to make a list of my 5 favorite Carole King songs -- which turned out to be a very difficult task. Do you know how many Carole King songs are out there? The answer is: a lot. This article provides a good beginning for some of the songs you might be familiar with from the sixties but didn't know were hers, usually co-written with her then husband, Gerry Goffin. I grew up on the music from the oldies station, which included all the sixties pop hits like "Locomotion," "One Fine Day," and "Take Good Care of My Baby" -- all co-written by King. Add to that her impressive body of solo work as well as her other collaborations, and it suddenly becomes very difficult to narrow down the list to five. So, based on not-very-strict criteria of personal taste, sentimentality, cultural importance and ear-worminess (that's a technical term), I present my 5 favorite Carole King songs:

Will you still love me tomorrow
This song was Gerry Goffin and Carole King's first big hit, made popular by the Shirelles. Like some of the songs mentioned above, it is an example of the kind of bubblegum pop hit that Goffin and King were churning out while the likes of Bob Dylan were busy penning "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's a-gonna' fall." (Actually, "Will you still love me tomorrow is from 1960, so Dylan was just moving to New York, but it would only be a couple of years before he'd start writing his groundbreaking work). Despite its sterile pop facade, especially in comparison with songs like Dylan's, "Will you love me tomorrow" takes the pulse of its time; the song's haunting questions about the status of a relationship the morning after a night of pleasure provides a good cultural marker of the burgeoning sexual revolution. In 1966, King would co-write the Monkees hit, "Pleasant Valley Sunday," which, in spite of its sunny pop sound, makes a satirical attack on the "Rows of houses that are all the same" in "status symbol land," and states that "Creature comfort goals...only numb my soul..." The pop hit could well have been a theme song for the counter-culture. Songs like these show that, though Carole King knew how to write a top-40 pop song, she was well aware of the changing times, and her work can be as serious-minded as other, more socially-conscious groups from the sixties.

Up on the roof: 
Another pop hit, this one appeals to me because it is made for an introvert: "when this old world starts getting me down/ and people are just too much for me to face..." I've definitely had that day, and the thought of getting away from it all, alone on a rooftop with the stars sounds divine. The song ends with an introvert's romance: "If this world starts getting you down/ There's room enough for two up on the roof." Since the idea of two introverts hiding from the world together pretty much sums up my own marriage, this song is bound to make me happy. (P.S. we're playing this one on Saturday)

Where you lead (I will follow): 
This song is one of many of King's songs about friendship, which is a surprisingly rare theme in pop music. Another, more famous song about friendship by King is "You've got a friend," which became a huge hit when James Taylor recorded it, and also scored Taylor a Grammy for best male vocal. I prefer "Where You Lead" for purely sentimental reasons: the song is the theme song for the TV show Gilmore Girls, on which King also makes an appearance as Sophie Bloom, the quirky owner of the town's music shop.

The title track of her follow-up album to the hugely successful Tapestry,  the song's expression of life in the mind of a songwriter is spot-on: "Music keeps playing inside my head, over and over and over again..." I also enjoy the free-jazz improvisation that goes on at the end of the song.

It's too late tied with So Far Away:
These songs are both hits from Tapestry and they're both bittersweet reflections on imperfect relationships. But I think what I like most is how smoothly they fit into everyday conversation on a regular basis. Since I like to pretend that life is a musical, it's important for me to have songs that work in the mundane places of life -- you know, places that would be much more exciting if they only included a song. For example, a student wants to hand in a paper after the due date. I could point to the appropriate section of the syllabus and read them the policy, or I could bust into a refrain of "It's too late..." Which do you think would make the day more fun? 

Come hear some of these songs and many more this Saturday night at Opening Bell Coffee!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

4 things I love about James Taylor

In honor of Dallas Does the Music of James Taylor and Carole King, which we are participating in this Saturday, Sept. 29th, I present four things I love about James Taylor in no particular order:

1. The music (duh). James Taylor's music combines folk and blues in this gentle, cheerful way that I don't think anyone else can do in quite the same way. Even when the song is sad, like "Fire and Rain," the sound of the music makes me smile and relax, and that is a wonderful quality for any music.

2. James Taylor's pleasant performance demeanor. Just like the sound of his music, JT's performance demeanor is pleasant. He smiles a lot, which is surprisingly rare for live performers. This makes him a joy to watch.

3. His live band is awesome. They're not called the "band of legends" for nothing.

4. James Taylor doesn't play a Taylor. He plays a Martin. Like me. :) Okay, he's also played Olsons and Gibsons and, I suppose it's possible that he sneaked in a Taylor somewhere -- I don't really know. The point is, at some point, he has played a Martin. I also play a Martin. Therefore, I'm as good as James Taylor. (I hope the logical fallacy police don't come and get me, now. Oh wait, this is the internet. No worries, there. )

Finally, the list seems incomplete at only 4 items, so for a fifth item, here's the one thing I don't like about James Taylor:

 "Shower thee people you love with love,/show them thee way that you feeeeel..."

 It just gets on my nerves. A lot. It makes me want to shower people with corrections in pronunciation. (It's standard in English to pronounce the word "the" as "thuh" when  it precedes a word beginning with a consonant sound and as "thee" when it precedes a word beginning with a vowel.) Here's a little video on correct pronunciation of "the" for you, JT:

See you tomorrow for a post on Carole King.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Midnight in Paris (TX)

We had a lovely long weekend of traveling and playing music. We headed out to Paris, TX on Saturday to play a concert at Leesville Baptist Church on Sunday night. We had lots of fun with the youth group and all the kind and lovely people we met. We were also quite impressed with the dedication of the people who drove for miles just to get to the concert (and, I'm sure, the free pizza :)) -- so thank you!

Midnight in Paris, TX is a little different from midnight in Paris, France (at least from what I know from that Woody Allen film). This is the TX Eiffel tower, and in front is Lucky Cat, who was our "travel mascot" for a while. Now she just sits at my desk and helps me do my school work.

On Monday morning, all the band was together in Paris, so we got in a practice session for the upcoming Dallas Does the music of Carole King and James Taylor show. While practicing "Natural Woman" with only my brother-in-law's cat for an audience, we witnessed YouTube gold -- and, of course, had no way to record it. Apparently, that song has some frequencies that are really attractive to cats, because when I would hit a high note, the usually stoic cat would meow, rub up against me, and actually jump up on her hind legs and paw at me. This has never happened with this cat -- she normally has eyes only for my brother-in-law. And she was pretty good at singing, too; it sounded something like this: "You make me feel!" -- meow -- "You make me feel!" -- meow -- "You make me feel like a..." --  mraaoaaow!" The best part was when I sang the lines, "You make me feel so alive" and the cat actually ran over to me from across the room in perfect timing with the music. I couldn't have choreographed it better.

We could have been an internet sensation, I tell you! Where's a camera when you need one?

Anyway, I can't promise quite such an entertaining concert this Saturday, but it will still be pretty awesome.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Happy Friday: Top 5 Music Biz Movies

I am a sucker for music business movies. You know the type, right?  Some of them are biopics, some of them are fictional, but just about all of them feature a recording studio/tour bus/concert montage alongside shots of the band's first hit climbing the billboard charts. I'll also watch documentaries along those same lines. I once spent a Saturday watching "Taylor Swift: Journey to Fearless," and I haven't seen the Justin Bieber movie, but never say never, right? (bad joke, sorry.) So, after much deliberation and some tough cuts (I love the movie Ray, but despite the stellar performances and music, I had to draw the line somewhere) I present my personal top 5 music biz movies:

5. Dreamgirls

It's musical theatre (which I love), it's a music business movie, and it's a thinly-veiled account of the Supremes. Did I ever tell you guys that I used to pretend to be Diana Ross and, as a kindergartner, I would sing "Stop in the name of Love" in the cafeteria with one of my friends -- with hand motions. So, it almost goes without saying that this movie would be on my list. Nobody sings "And I am Telling You" like Jennifer Hudson -- she's simply the best. Also, this movie showed me that Beyonce can act (did you know she also co-wrote the show's song, "Listen," which is now a featured part of the stage show?). In addition to all the great performances, I also enjoy the story's treatment of the darker side of the music industry.

4. Walk the Line

Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon singing; a great love story; remorse, addiction, redemption, and rags-to-riches success; Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis; a great Bob Dylan cover (It Ain't Me, Babe); and on top of it all, the fantastic music of the incomparable Man in Black. What's not to love?

3. Josie and the Pussycats

I feel like this film is misunderstood or underestimated. I know that when I first saw previews for it eleven years ago, I thought it was supposed to be nothing more than a teeny-bopper film capitalizing on the late nineties Rachael Leigh Cook craze. When I finally saw the film, I could not have been more happily surprised. The movie is a very funny satire of the pop music/pop media industry, and the music is actually good. Also, the send-up of boy bands with the group, "Du Jour," led by Seth Green is hilarious.

2. Almost Famous

There is so much to love about this movie, but the first place to start is the soundtrack, filled with classic rock and folk favorites like "America" by Simon and Garfunkel (my favorite song ever) and Elton John's "Hold me closer, tiny dancer" -- a song that makes the scene in which it is featured. Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, and Zooey Deschanel all make an appearance -- many of whom were "almost famous" at the time of the film's release. Kate Hudson won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her work in the film as "band aid" Penny Lane.

1. That Thing You Do!

If you ever have an annoying song stuck in your head, do yourself a favor and start singing the title song from this movie. The song is somehow magical in that it causes you to forget about the prior annoying song without getting itself stuck in your head. Of course if you did get "That thing you do" stuck in your head, you wouldn't be annoyed; you'd just be a little happier. You know what else will make you happier? Watching this movie. Right now. Go watch it.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dylan Diaries, part 2: Procrastination Sensation

Things I did last week while putting off working on my dissertation:

1. Facebook-stalked some friends.
2. Stayed up all night reading book three of the Game of Thrones books.
3. Stared blankly at my computer screen.
4. Drew a picture of my outfit:

You read that right; it was a $1.99 dress.

5. Read blogs
6. Watched The Vampire Diaries (I must have really not wanted to do my work, right?)
7. Thought about submitting a paper to a conference
8. Snuggled with Desmond
9. Snuggled with Molly (these are my cats for those of you new to this)
10. Ate candy corn
11. Drank excessive amounts of coffee. (Just one more cup will give me inspiration, won't it?)
12. Bought and read the book Writing your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day
13. Finally, miraculously, I wrote -- just a little.

This week I'm back on track, so maybe you'll get a "real" Dylan diaries post next week.

P.S. Today is my dad, Ed's birthday. He's our keyboard player/percussionist and also responsible for drums, bass, organ, piano, and background vocals on our latest record. He's pretty much awesome, and I wouldn't be who I am today without his love, wisdom, humor and musical influence! Happy Birthday, Dad!

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Secret to Musical Success

We've participated in several of the "Dallas does" events by now, which means that we've spent a lot of time learning some of the greatest songs of the 60s and 70s, including "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles, "Witchy Woman" by the Eagles, and "I feel the earth move" by Carole King, and I'm starting to see a common thread among all these enduringly successful songs:

They are deceptively simple. 

The songs of the greatest songwriters often appear on the surface to be nothing more than simple, hummable melodies with ordinary chord changes and rhythms. But if you ever sit down and try to play these songs, they are much more difficult than they seem. "I feel the earth move" is bursting with chords that usually only appear in jazz cafes, not pop radio; "Here Comes the Sun" has a bridge with three measures in three different time signatures:  11/8 + 4/4 + 7/8; and don't get me started on "Witchy Woman" -- I've never had such a hard time working out harmonies, and my dad and I are the sort for whom singing harmony parts comes naturally.

So I'm starting to think that I've discovered the secret to long-term songwriting success: a catchy pop facade to reel the listeners in and a deep well of musical (or sometimes lyrical) complexity to keep them coming back for more.

You know what they say about "still waters,"  right? That may apply to the greatest pop songs, too.

What do you think? Can you think of more songs that fit this formula? Adele's music comes to mind, but, surprisingly, so does much of Beyonce's music -- many of her songs have more complex chord structures than you might think. Of course several other Beatles songs fit the bill -- what songs would you add?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Happy Friday: My favorite fashion blogs

As those of you who read this regularly know by now, I'm a huge fan of fashion blogs; they've completely replaced fashion magazines for me and I can't get enough.  A couple of weeks ago, I even tried my hand at fashion blogging to document my back-to-school look. When one of our lovely readers asked for a list of my favorite fashion blogs, I knew a whole post was required, but I didn't know that making a list of favorites would be like trying to pick a favorite cat.

Shhh! Don't tell Desmond that I don't have a favorite. He thinks he's my favorite, and I can't break his furry little feline heart.

Difficult though the task was, I have assembled, in no particular order, my 7 favorite fashion/style/lifestyle blogs. I'd include pictures, but I really think you should click-through to the blogs themselves, because they're worth checking out. (Click on the titles for links.)

This blog, authored by two lovely sisters, Emma and Elsie, is a fashion, style, lifestyle, DIY, arts and crafts, cooking, and personal blog all rolled into one. The photos are always beautiful, the DIYs are Do-it-yourself-able, and the fashion is vintage, quirky, stylish, and workable for real-life.

I've just started reading this one, but it immediately jumped to the top of my favorites list based almost solely on the series on a building a remixable wardrobe. If mixing different things from your closet into new, fashionable, and money-saving combinations does not come naturally to you, this blog series is the answer, with practical tips alongside visual examples. It's great.

While the Christine who authors My Style Pill has a different personal style than the Christine who authors this blog (that would be me), hers was the first fashion blog I ever read, and my gateway drug to all other fashion blogs. I'm still a very loyal reader.

I enjoy the lovely vintage feel of the clothes on this blog, but what I love even more are the outfit photos, which the author takes herself with a tri-pod and a timer.

In addition to her impeccable style, Kendi, who writes the blog, is based in Dallas, as am I. Therefore, if she can wear whatever she's wearing in the current weather, I can too. And I love her witty writing.

I'm cheating here because this blog is no longer active, but I have so many things in common with this grad-student/teacher/blogger that her fashion choices are particularly helpful to me. Since it's only a fashion season later, you can probably still find lots of great looks in her archives.

Shauna Miller began this blog using only clothes from Wal-mart to create her stylish ensembles. Since I relish clearance racks and all-things related to saving money on clothes, I fell in love with this blog, which has, since I first started reading it, expanded its inexpensive clothing combos to include Target (my favorite place) as well as other low-cost retailers. 

I love Keiko's retro-pin-up style and her regular feature, Makeup Mondays, where I first learned how to do perfect cat-eye eyeliner.

There you have it: a small corner of the world of fashion blogging that I am proud to call my favorite.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dallas Does Carole King and James Taylor

Finding music that the whole family can enjoy is difficult, especially when some of those family members are musicians and some are -- well -- not. That's why I'll always remember the time I was enjoying an evening with some family members, flipping through TV channels, and we came across a special broadcast of the 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour with Carole King and James Taylor. I thought that someone would ask us (us being Adam and I, the musicians in the room, who happened to have the remote control) to change the channel, but instead, all of us were riveted by the incredible musicianship, easy stage-camaraderie, and, perhaps most of all, hit after hit after great hit, performed expertly and joyfully by Carole King, James Taylor, and their fantastic band. Check out clips from that performance (from PBS) below:

When we found out that the next "Dallas Does" concert was going to be an evening filled with covers of the music of these two, we immediately signed on. King and Taylor have performed together their entire careers, and she is responsible for many of his hit songs as well as the hit songs of a great many other artists from the sixties -- including the dance hit, "Locomotion." The combined talents of these two great artists made one of the best concerts I've ever seen, and I have no doubt that the group of Dallas songwriters and performers you will hear at the end of this month will combine their talents with the great music of King and Taylor to bring you one of the best evenings of music you'll find. We can't wait to be part of it! So mark your calendars for Saturday, September 29th at Opening Bell Coffee starting around 7:00. Join the event on facebook, here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Happy Friday on Saturday

I've been running a little late this week, thanks, in part, to Labor Day festivities, so I'm doing my Happy Friday post on Saturday.

So -- Happy Saturday! This Saturday is especially happy because, here in North Texas, fall weather blew in overnight. Of course, here, "chill-in-the-air" means 80 degrees, but that's so much nicer than yesterday's 100 degree temperatures that I'm already pulling on cozy sweaters and chugging down pumpkin-spice-lattes as quickly as I can.

You can go buy a Pumpkin-Spice Latte at Starbucks (which is how I usually do it) or you can make one like what you see above, using this recipe, here.

Also, fall means fall fashion, and I kicked off the season this Thursday by attending Dallas's Fashion's Night Out at NorthPark Center.  Go here to see some great pictures from the event. I got there late because I went after work, so this was my view of the big closing fashion show from my place behind lots of tall people:

It was still pretty fun, though. And now that this "cool" front has swept in, I feel like I can actually wear some of those fall fashions I saw.

That's it, for today -- pumpkin-spice lattes are calling my name. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dylan's Tempest: Such stuff as dreams are made on

As someone who studies Bob Dylan and literary classics side by side, it's difficult for me to avoid comparing Dylan’s latest album, Tempest, with Shakespeare's play of the same name. Both the play and the album were written toward the end of the respective writers’ careers, both represent the culmination of a lifetime of work, and both are infused with magic. When Dylan sings, “I’ve got a date with the fairy queen,” on the track “Soon After Midnight,” we could easily envision him on Shakespeare’s magical island, and over the scene of a sinking ship in the album's title track looms the hand of a dark Prospero figure, as "the wizard's curse play[s] on." The entire album is peppered with Dylan’s characteristic mystical visions interwoven with random bits of the Bible and pop culture references (a character named “Leo” with “a sketchbook” shows up in a song about the sinking of the Titanic, and “Roll on John,” a tribute to John Lennon, is full of snatches of Beatles lyrics). The lyrical pastiche is matched by the musical one, as Dylan weaves rockabilly, blues, 1930s jazz, folk, gospel, and Southern-Gothic spookiness into his signature -- magical -- style.

In addition to the similarities of career timing and magical tone between the two works are similarities of theme. Both Shakespeare’s and Dylan’s Tempests are works about endings. For Dylan, as usual, it’s all about the end of the world, from the opening track's train whistle, "blowin' like the sky's gonna' blow apart," to the album's closing image of John Lennon, who Dylan conflates somewhat with another John, the author of Revelation, as he sits "cooped up on that island" "like any other slave" (John of the Bible apparently wrote the book of Revelation while imprisoned on the island of Patmos).
Nowhere is the apocalyptic tone more evident than on the album's title track, which seems to be not only about the sinking of the Titanic, but about final judgment and destruction. For fourteen minutes, Dylan sings with a Celtic-influenced-lilt of the great ship's doom, which also involves "the sky split" into a "whirlwind," "the veil...torn asunder," "the changing of [the] world," and "the judgment of God's hand." 

In Shakespeare’s Tempest, the end is also at hand, but for his Prospero, it is the end of a lifetime of magic -- and for Shakespeare, the end of a lifetime of work. Like Shakespeare's Prospero, Dylan is at the height of his powers in his Tempest, but unlike Prospero, Dylan won't be drowning his magic book anytime soon. Though Tempest marks the 50th anniversary of Dylan's first studio release, this album does not seem like a statement of farewell. No -- Dylan is not finished yet, as he reminds us with that gravelly croon on "Soon After Midnight": "It's soon after midnight, and my day has just begun..."

Listen to Dylan's Tempest here; you can also pre-order it on iTunes or here on Amazon.
To brush up on your Shakespeare, read The Tempest here.

Dylan's Tempest

I just listened to Bob Dylan's new album, Tempest. It officially releases next Tuesday, Sept. 11, but you can stream the album in its entirety now on itunes.

I'm going to post an actual review, later, but I just wanted to say that if you are a fan of Dylan at all you should go listen to the album right now -- it's beautiful and mysterious and dark and lovely and the perfect way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dylan's first studio release.

More to come, later...