CODA

     After taking a few days to reflect and look back on the experience of writing this blog, there is so much for me to be grateful for, and so many people I have to thank for my life in music.  I will tackle all of that today.  I didn’t know exactly what to expect from all of this, but in addition to hundreds, if not thousands of new songs I learned, many of which have since been added to my many playlists, I gained so much knowledge and understanding of music from the past 100 years.  As I hoped, I saw so many cases where one album or performance helped to shape and influence the next, and so many of the legends resurfaced throughout the journey as their songs were performed by others and leaned upon for lyrical and musical inspiration.  I plan to spend the rest of my life working more diligently to find new music to discover, share, and enjoy, while also never walking away from the music that has shaped my life since the beginning.  For me, whether it is an album, CD, tape or digital stream, or even memories made at Red Rocks, McNichols Arena, Tipitinas, and several other stadiums, arenas, amphitheaters and clubs, I hope to never take any of those experiences for granted.  As I prepare to list my appreciation and gratitude for so many who helped me arrive at this point in my life, I have to start with the thousands of artists who made it their life’s work to share their talents and gifts with all of us.  As a point of access to all of this music and the knowledge I acquired, I am grateful for Spotify and Wikipedia, both of which were constant companions each day along the way.

     When it comes to my love for music, I have to start by thanking my parents, Jim & ML.  Their tastes in music couldn’t be more different, but there are songs and albums that will always be a part of me, that I remember from my earliest days thanks to music always being on and around our home.  This also has to include my sister Amy, who has attended shows with me since the 1970s, and along with Scott, has embraced the Struts as I have as a current favorite act in 2022.

     Three of my friends served specifically as inspirations and mentors as writers.  Two of them also blog, they helped me figure all of this out.  Thanks to Mike www.thedrunkenrepublican.com and David www.wanderingdave.com for their entertaining reads and their helpful advice.  I also want to thank my former boss, Chris.  He wanted to prove to himself and others that he could write and publish a novel, and he did just that, publishing “Creek of Bones”.  Any of you out there can do this, if you are so inspired.

     Next on the list, I have to again thank a select group of friends and family who went above and beyond with their support of music in my life and this blog in particular, as you saw a tribute to each in previous postings.  To the Mikes, Jim, Scott, Nils, Wandering Dave and especially Christie and Zach, I love and appreciate each of you for love, support, and encouragement.

     My infatuation with music ramped up in my teen years, and so many of my friends from junior high and high school were a part of this daily immersion.  Trips to records stores, camping out for concert tickets, attending shows, late night discussions and debates, and even the occasional air guitar contest, how could I ever forget those moments?  Thanks not only to Mike & Jim, but also to Matt, Doug, Shane, John & John, Joe, Chris, and the many people of Parker who made that experience a real treasure to recall.  And for those from that world who left us way too early, like Brandon, Eric, and Andy, among others, your impact on my life was meaningful and I only wish you were here with us to look back and laugh like we do.

     We just added to our club in college, and people like Monument Mike, Darren, Tim, and Sam, among many others, all helped me expand my aperture and musical reach.  It wasn’t always completely coherent, but for pure entertainment and absurdity, those four years spent in Greeley were probably the most fun I ever had, at least up until now.

     As I began my career, I was so blessed to make friends with Matt.  A phenomenal saxophone professional in his own right, we shared a trip to New Orleans with Shane and established a life-long passion for funk, jazz and all things spicy and lively from the Big Easy.

     As I neared and reached my 30s, a new circle of friends formed around our love for running, and while the primary objective was torturing ourselves on the open road, we often talked about and shared music with each other.  Wandering Dave, Dr. Mike, Dwayne, Steve, Jim, David, and Mike were the regulars at the time, and each remain an important part of my outdoor and musical life to this date.

     For the next 20 years, most of my time was spent at work.  The friendships I formed there remain a fundamental component of my daily interactions even now, and although many of them have preceded me in retirement, their influence on my life and the music and laughter we shared still makes me smile constantly.  The Drunken Republican himself, Mike, was my office companion for some of the most ridiculous times we shared, and along with Mark, Todd, Thunder Dan, Jeff, Brent and Mark, among others, the exchanges of concerts, experiences and stories carry on.

     For the first half of the 2010s, my focus shifted to watching my son perform and entertain in all different settings and venues.  I expressed this previously, but raw talent is only a part of the equation, and he and I would not have been able to share those irreplaceable moments of pride were it not for the guidance and friendship from Natalie, Jeff, Anne, Melissa, Gary, Steve, Kim and James, among so many others.  As he moved from the Music Shack to the Orlando Shakes, Orlando Repertory Theater and Lake Howell High, all of those voices played a key role in who he is, and also who I am, today.  He was also able to make lifelong friends like Phil and Ivan.  As he moved to Amherst College, he joined the Zumbyes, and added to that list with friends like Markus and Jacob, along with Stuart, Eugene, Brian, Emma and so many others, all of whom I enjoyed meeting and seeing perform.

     Around 2015, my life changed notably, and Charlie, Eric, Eric and Kurt were a huge part of helping me laugh and enjoy again.  Music was always around us, whether it be good or awful, but we always had fun, and you always had my back, just as you do today.

     Work and fun tended to intersect a bit more as my live continued to move forward, particularly as I relocated for several years to Virginia.  The workdays could be long and draining, but thankfully that allowed for some tradeoffs in fun at night.  To my dear friend Morgan, we probably spent as much time listening to Disney music as we did rock and roll, but your friendship through some pretty isolated times will be treasured forever.  To THE TODD, MICHAEL, and Christine, the ability to commiserate while rocking out to 80’s hip-hop at the Big Stick remains one of my favorite and most entertaining phases of a career that is nearing its end.

     Even within work, I found coworkers who love music like I do.  It started with Kelly, Nils and Debbie, and in my current role, it has been a great and unexpected surprise to realize how musically influenced Greg and Tess are, as the topic frequently bleeds its way into our daily grind.  I appreciate learning these common bonds that bring us closer as we take on one stressful situation after the other.

     As I have relocated to Florida, a new circle of friends has formed where I live, and I have quickly discovered how much music means to them.  For people like Joe, Jimmy, Brian and Bobby, music is a clear and constant passion, and for other friends like Chuck, Lewie, Vince, Dick and Christy, not only are they always thinking and talking music, but several of them have also encouraged and supported my journey as a blogger, as so many of these entries have been written since that relocation.  We tend to share most of our time together on the golf course or close by, and music is a constant presence in our surroundings.  I’m sure there are others I have overlooked in this list, and to all of my friends and family from everywhere I have visited, thank you so much for giving me a reason to laugh and put my music back on each new day.

     The deepest bonds and most enduring connections always come back to family, and thankfully, this is yet another constant source of discussion and exchange of music.  To my son Zach, my partner in life, Christie, her beautiful daughters Cailynn and Cenna, and our parents and family around us, thanks to each of you for making me laugh and inspiring me to think and listen to music new and old every day.  I am so grateful to have you in my life, and I look forward to a lifetime-plus of music together as family for as long as we can.

     There will be one more posting to come as I conclude this blog.  I will come forward with my Top 50 Favorite Albums of All Time, as if I was a voter in this process, after I review and look back through all of my writing over the last two years.  Until then, be well, and listen to as much music as you possibly can.  I can promise you I will be doing the exact same thing.

Me With The Struts

“We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight…”

“Just let me hear some of that rock and roll music…”

“It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled…”

“Keep on rocking me, baby…”

“It’s wasn’t a rock, it was a rock lobster…”

“Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution…”

“Rock the Casbah…”

“I wanna rock!”

Rosalia “Motomami” (2022) & Fontaines D.C. “Skinty Fia” (2022)

     After more than a year and a half, we have arrived at the 536th and last album(s) review of my blog journey.  It has been more rewarding than I could possibly imagine, and I will follow up this post with two more posts.  The first will be my parting thoughts on this entire process, and the second will be my personal ballot for Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, even though they didn’t ask me.  However, ubefore all of that, we have some more music to address.

     My original plan was to have yesterday’s blog featuring the top selling album of 2022 be the last entry, but my son asked, and I conceded, to make his album pick the last review of the blog.  His first pick was “Motomami” by Spanish singer Rosalia, and he later amended his pick to add the album “Skinty Fia” by Irish punk band Fontaines D.C.  As always, Zach opens my aperture to music I would never have otherwise listened to, and I remain grateful for his endless list of suggestion and his creative tastes.

     “Motomami” is an exotic record with a very foreign and unusual flavor. I actually struggled to pin down what language I was hearing, and part of that is due to the highly produced and processed sound on some of the songs, as well as the Spanish dialect versus a more Latin sound.  The record reminds me of a blend of jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and flamenco.  I didn’t realize it when I was listening to it at the time, but my favorite song “La Fama” features The Weeknd and his contributions in Spanish are flawless.  Other favorites include the quirky tune “Chicken Teriyaki”, the poignant ballad “Hentai”, which is Zach’s favorite, and `I have to acknowledge the song title that is “CUUUUuuuuuute”.  When we were in junior high school, we had a P.E. teacher name Bruce Hall, who we called Bruce Fonzahalli because of his ridiculous over-confidence.  His favorite line when one of us would mouth off was, “Ahhhh Cuuuuuteeee”… drawn out way too long.  I’m glad Rosalia can also appreciate Bruce Fonzahalli. More importantly, I’m grateful for her beautiful voice and this collection of songs she created with her gifts and talents.

     “Skinty Fia” is a much darker and intense sound, not surprising given the origin and genre of the band named Fontaines D.C.  Named for Johnny Fontane, the Vegas singer in The Godfather, with D.C. representing Dublin City, they set the tone intensely with their opening track “In ar gCroithe go deo”.  The music fits perfectly with my vision of the dark and dingy side of industrial northern Europe.  Some  of the tracks, like “How Cold Love Is”, “Bloomsday”, and the closing track, “Nabokov”, are just a bit too far down that hole for me.

     Fortunately, they do diversify their sound, and tracks like their lead single, “Jackie Down The Line”, the title track, and my favorite, “Roman Holiday”, are great listens and I imagine would be phenomenal in a dark club late at night.  “The Couple Across The Way” is a beautiful ray of warmth, featuring lead singer Grian Chatten on accordion.  This band has its roots in the decades-old punk sound of Europe, but brings a unique and modern approach and talented playing to their music.  I look forward to seeing what comes next.

     I didn’t realize when I began how introspective and autobiographical this collection of thoughts, observations and memories would be, but like everything else I own, someday it will all belong to my son, and thus, it stands as the most complete record I can produce of a life lived loving music and celebrating the beauty of the art.  I never could have imagined that my son Zach would not only take an interest in music, but also make it one of his passions in life, even to the point of being a remarkable performer and vocalist in his own right.

     I love you dearly, my son.  You are my greatest accomplishment and I remain immensely proud of you and appreciate your friendship and support and love through life’s ups and downs.  I selected the photo below as it serves as a representation of accomplishment.  For years, we said we would climb that mountain together, after you climbed your own figurative mountains, and we stand here together in 2022, continuing to take on the challenges of life.  Don’t ever give up and don’t ever stop believing in yourself, any of you… and spend your days and nights surrounded by the music you love.  What more could we possibly want?

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Ed Sheeran “=” (2021) & Harry Styles “Harry’s House” (2022)

     Starting with Harry Belafonte and “Calypso” in 1956, one of the criteria I have included for my list is the top selling album of every year.  A select number of artists have even seen their album be #1 in sales for two years in a row.  The music has evolved greatly since then, but it is still one of the best reflections of the taste and times of music in America.  For 2022, I can only go with the best-selling album to date, and for good measure and completeness, I listened to the top TWO selling albums so far this year.  The top-seller goes to Ed Sheeran, as he continues his dominant run on the charts and in streaming totals with his album “=”, which was released in late 2021, and the next highest seller is “Harry’s House” by another UK pop sensation, Harry Styles, who got his start singing in the boy-band One Direction.

      There are a lot of similarities on these two records.  Both artists are monster stars in today’s times, and they are major contributors to the songwriting as well as the vocal performances.  Sheeran is three years older than Styles, and has a longer track record, and as such, his song themes tend to lean a bit more on the adult side, both in lyric and sound, but both of these records are immensely listenable pop records.  There isn’t a song on either record that blows me away, but I do have several favorites on each.

     On Sheeran’s album “=”, I like the hit single “Shivers”, the autobiographical “First Times”, “Overpass Graffiti” and “Visiting Hours”, which is reminiscent of “Supermarket Flowers”.  He absolutely understands the art of writing a song that connects with emotions we all face, and love him or not, he is a gifted singer and performer.

     If I had to choose, I would probably pick “Harry’s House” as my preference between the two records, but again, the concept and delivery are similar.  Part of why I chose to listen to this record was the discovery that Monument Mike’s daughter was in the second row at Madison Square Garden watching Mr. Styles the same night we embraced Robert Plant and his legacy at Red Rocks.  Generation to generation, music is a gift and a treasure, and one best enjoyed in a live setting.

     My favorite track on “Harry’s House” is probably “Grapejuice”, which isn’t among the singles (yet) but is a highly catchy pop song.  “Late Night Talking” is another wonderfully crafted pop single, and it is great to hear the gift of musical hooks continuing to live on.  “As It Was” starts off in a similar vein to “Take On Me” by A-ha, and it is a cool and subtly delivered melody.  I’ll add “Keep Driving” to the list, and the rest of the record is similarly crafted with catchy choruses and very smooth production.

     Who knows what music will top the charts next year, ten years from now, or forty years from now?  I hope I’m here to listen to it all, and if I have learned nothing else on this journey, one should never stop shutting off sounds of the present and future.  We all know that person who says, “Today’s music is terrible, I only listen to…”.  There are times in my life when I was that guy… hopefully, never again.

     Only one album (or so) left to go…  what a ride.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss “Raise The Roof” (2021)

     As I mentioned previously, two of my biggest musical influences in life couldn’t think of an appropriate new album to include in my blog, so I told both of them I would pick one in their honor.  Today’s selection includes the vocalist I have listened to more than any other singer in my 55 years, and I have chosen it in honor of my friend Mike, who I have spent more time listening to and sharing music with than any person in my 55 years.  In a great twist of fate and irony, on the day that I started working through this album for the record, Jim, Zach, Monument Mike and I went to see Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at Red Rocks, and they played most of the songs from their new album, “Raising the Roof”.

     The album itself is a continuation of the sound and theme from their 2007 record, “Raising Sand”.  Low-fi, reverberating guitar from T-Bone Burnett sets the tone, and the unique harmonies from Plant and Krauss create a beautifully blended sound.  On certain tracks, they alternate lead and backing harmony, and on others they sing in tandem.  They even alternate between who takes high and who takes low in the blend, and it creates a very unique and alluring glow of sound.

     Among my favorites on the album are “Quattro (World Drifts In)”, which has a lost and lonely sound of sadness to it.  On “The Price of Love”, Krauss takes the lead with another beautifully slow drifter.  Two songs were of particular interest to Monument Mike, and I love them both.  “Trouble With My Lover” is a bluesy tune written by New Orleans legends Allen Toussaint and Leo Nocentelli, and “High and Lonesome” is a more aggressive rocker that harkens back to the “murky past” Mr. Plant referred to at the show.

     “Can’t Let Go”, written by Randy Weeks, is another up-tempo track that served as the encore for the show, and one that has a very infectious chorus.  “You Led Me to the Wrong” opens with a mystic feel that blends bluegrass sounds with the desert exotica that once gave us the epic song “Kashmir”.  If you need evidence that Robert Plant continues to evolve and excel as a performer, even though he has been singing professionally as long as I have been alive, don’t look any further than this track.  Krauss is remarkable on fiddle in this tune; it really is the best of both of them together on record and on stage.

     You can’t see or hear Robert Plant and not look longingly at the catalog of music he created with Led Zeppelin.  On this perfect August night, they gave us rockabilly “Rock and Roll”, a magical mix on “The Battle of Evermore”, and they closed us out with a powerful update of “When the Levee Breaks”.  As much as I still live in the past myself, I respect his ability as an artist, way more so than any of his contemporaries, to look forward and not live and prosper off the music of his youth.

     Mike and I first developed our affinity for Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin when we were friends in junior high school.  Along with Jim and others, we saw him live together in 1983 and 1988, and we revisited the magic again about four years ago.  At that time, he told me it was the best show he had ever seen, and I sure wasn’t going to disagree.  In between, while we savor new and undiscovered music, we always come back to our collective love for Led Zeppelin.  One of my favorite recent memories is devoting 3.5 hours and at least 3.5 beers to a night at his place, embracing a live mix playlist of the best of Led Zep live performances.  We frequently still share new and old passages, and my day is always better when Mike is there with all of us in our lives.

      We missed you the other night, but way more importantly, your friendship and the person you are, the kind and giving person we all want to be more like, is one of the greatest gifts of my life.  I love and miss you Mike, and I look forward to many more miles, many more breakdowns of “Ten Years Gone” or “The Rover”, and more times spent laughing and watching the world around us.

The Charmer

Zac Brown Band “The Comeback” (2021)

     One sub-genre that has been somewhat overlooked in my blog is modern country music.  I included the Top 10 Country albums of all time as selected by tasteofcountry.com, but the last of those 10 albums was released in 1986.  Country music today is a massive industry, particularly when it comes to live performances and summer outdoor touring, and perhaps no other artist is more visible and embraced in this rotation than the Zac Brown band.  Known for his amazing live shows, which I have not seen yet, his fanbase is passionate and devoted in their support.

     Christie and I have made a commitment to make this happen, and I’m glad she opened the door to discuss all of this music in today’s blog when she recommended “The Comeback”, the 2021 album from Brown.  I have been somewhat suspicious of some artists in this category, as I see them as models who can sing, with minimal creative contributions to their own music.  Zac Brown breaks both of those molds, as the core songwriter and performer, and he doesn’t necessarily look like he is a cover model either.  I will gladly acknowledge there are certain songs by other artists like Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and lesser-known country artists like Hardy, that are fixtures on my play list.  Even Zac Brown makes that list with his legendary hit “Chicken Fried”, which is just about as Americana of a song that exists in modern music.

     As for this album specifically, I really enjoyed it.  I embraced it as if this was the setlist when I DO attend that show, and it was a very pleasant and easily listenable collection.  The opener, “Slow Burn”, is a high energy and infectious track, and “Out In the Middle”, which was the second single, was another song that stood out on the record.  Blues-rock guitarist and singer Marcus King emerged again in my blog, this time on the collaboration “Stubborn Pride”, and for this song and this entire album, it is honestly a bit blurry looking at the line of demarcation between modern country and southern rock.  “Same Boat”, which was the lead single, pulls directly from the vibe of “Chicken Fried”, and it has to be a high-energy fan favorite in amphitheaters across America.

     Two songs on this album bring me back to the person who first recommended this album to me, my partner in life, Christie.  I love her beyond words and I am incredibly blessed to have her to share music and everything else with in life.  She may not remember this, but I’m 99.99% sure she played me the title track on one of our awesome road-trips, and it is one of many songs of 2021 that speak to a world reacting to the COVID pandemic, this time with a dose of rally and recovery.  The other song, “Us Against the World”, addresses a challenge we all encounter when a relationship hits a tough patch or some other challenge to endure.  There is a reason why we fall in love, and as long as those values, feelings, priorities and long-term goals remain intact, that initial spark and the foundation we build is what we have to return to as we remind ourselves what brought us together in the first place.

     I’m grateful for the recommendation of Zac Brown, and a day spent contemplating modern country music, and I’m way more grateful for the person who led me down this path.  Christie, I love you so… it’s Us Against the World, and The Comeback starts today.

Us Against the World

Imagine Dragons “Mercury – Acts 1 & 2” (2021/2022)

     I am frequently reminded why I began this project.  The core purpose was to learn and expose myself to music I would never have listened to otherwise, and today is a shining example of why we should never stop searching for new music.  The albums “Mercury – Act 1 &2” were suggested by my friend Scott, who I have a lot more to say about in a moment, but I have to say, not knowing any of this material, I didn’t know if I would find it interesting.  There are songs I like by Imagine Dragons, especially “Whatever It Takes”, which I think is a great training song, and I have seen them live in concert before.  They have to be just about the only act I can ever recall not playing a single encore, so it was unique, but then so is this band. 

     Much to my surprise, I enjoyed almost this entire album.  There were about ten songs that I really liked, and two that were transformative and instant anthems for me, so I have to rate that as a major success.  I shouldn’t be that surprised, because this is just another thing that my friend Scott does so very well.

     I first met Scott in 3rd grade when I moved to Parker, so I have known him as long as any friend I have.  Scott was the guy we all wanted to be. The best looking, the best athlete, always good in school, he was a no-brainer for “Most Likely to Succeed”.  We didn’t always cross paths growing up, but we were always friends and shared a lot of laughs together through the years.  We were together for one of the most tragic and traumatic days an elementary school student could ever experience on terrible Friday in late May, and we both know what it truly meant to grow up in the open and seemingly limitless life that was our beautiful neighborhood.

     After high school, we chose our separate paths, and we didn’t see each other again until our 30th high school reunion, hosted in Jim’s punk rock bar, no less.  Scott remained everything I always saw in him, but most of all, he has proven since to be one of the most supportive, positive, and encouraging people in life, not only for me, but now for my son as well.  I love the times we get together to try a new brewery and catch up, and when I started this blog, he immediately became one of the dedicated few who encouraged me to keep going.  There were many times when I would hit a slow spot and I pressed on because I knew people like Scott were on my side.

     This all weaves together, as I found two of the tracks to have the same depth and emotional meaning that I get from friendships like I have with Scott.  Before I talk about those, I should also mention these other songs that I really liked: “Enemy (with JID)”, “My Life”, “Wrecked”, “Monday”, “#1”, “Follow You”, “Symphony”, “Sharks”, “Waves”, “Peace of Mind”, “Younger”, and the album closer “They Don’t Know You Like I Do”.  I guess I could have just said the entire two albums, as they released “Act 1” and “Act 2” about 6 months apart, but there were songs that stood out and were worthy of mention.

     One of my favorite things about “Imagine Dragons” is the person that is Dan Reynolds, the lead singer.  He has experienced a lot of battles with mental illness and depression and has taken a very vocal and powerful stance working to destigmatize that battle.  I know this is something most of us can relate to, and it is certainly very personal to me.  Coming from a religious background (Mormon faith), he has also taken an impactful stance on LGBTQ rights, another issue that means a lot to me.

     The two songs that are instant hits for me both speak to the struggles we all face feeling good about ourselves, and the challenges others present for us in this process.  Both are very catchy melodies as well, which seals the deal, but it is their message that makes these songs keepers for me. “It’s OK” and “No Time For Toxic People” are songs you all should give a listen to, especially on a day when it seems like nothing is going right or the world is conspiring against you.  I know someone who had a tough week, and I plan to send her both of these songs as soon as I hit “publish” on today’s blog.

“It’s OK to be not OK, It’s just fine to be out of your mind.  Breathe deep, just a day at a time, cause its ok to be out of your mind.”

     We are all going to have those moments in life that just hurt, but thankfully we have the best gift in the world… family and friends who love us and accept us for who we are, just was we embrace them in our lives.  Scott – Thank you for being one of the best people I know, and I truly appreciate your friendship and encouragement.  Thanks for helping me find meaningful music, and I look forward to many more shared moments together.  We have known each other for almost 50 years… and I’m grateful for every one of them.

Scott – Most Likely to be Awesome

Danny Elfman “Big Mess” & Hans Zimmer “The Art and Soul of Dune” (2021)

     My friend David is one of a kind.  He is one of the most unique people I have ever met, but even more so, he is one of the kindest, most selfless, and genuinely good people I have ever encountered.  I discussed him previously when we listened to Oingo Boingo, and as a fellow blogger and music fan, he is definitely a recurring source of motivation and inspiration on this project.  We met as coworkers in the mid 90’s and we came together with several other friends to form an alliance of runners that continues to limp on (literally) to this day in 2022.  We have logged thousands of miles together over the years, and music is just one of many topics that comes up when he and I, along with others like Dr. Mike, Dwayne, Steve, and past participants like Jim, Mike D., Dave the Sloth, and our runner friends du jour.

     As I asked him for a contribution to the nearing end of my blog, he was the first to suggest two albums, asking me to choose between them.  I decided that for my friend, I certainly could and would invest the time to listen to both albums.  The first taps back into his love for Danny Elfman and Oingo Boingo, with Elfman’s second solo album “Big Mess”.  For all of the music Elfman has produced over the years, I’m shocked this is only his second solo album.

     I expected more bouncy 80’s pop and I was caught off-guard by the darkness and intensity of this record.  My first reaction was that it reminded me of Nine Inch Nails, and I wasn’t surprised to learn of some involvement by Trent Reznor in some of the follow-up production on the album.  It may have been a little dark and daunting for me, but if I had to pick out three tracks as favorites, I will go with the opener, “Sorry”, a really intense but enjoyable grind, “Dance With The Lemurs”, which gets me a bit closer to the Oingo Boingo sound I expected, and “Insects”, which actually was a reconfigured Oingo Boingo song that was originally released in 1982.  The new version of “Insects” still had that Nine Inch Nails edge to it, so I went back to the original and was surprised to hear how intense that song was 40 years ago.  Maybe I don’t know Oingo Boingo or Danny Elfman as well as I thought I did…

     His other pick was the recent new score of “Dune” by Hans Zimmer.  This was a hypnotic, trance-like sound of monochromatic sounds and chords that lasted for nearly two hours.  I don’t see myself coming back to this one often, but it did serve as the ideal soundtrack for a grueling run in the summer sun, and I could only think of my friend David as he battles the heat and elements in a much more profound and extended manner than I.  One of the tracks, “Arrakis”, opens with a middle eastern drone, and I am reminded of when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant performed their tribute to the sands of Kashmir with an Egyptian orchestra.

     For the past two summers, interrupted by wildfires, David is working his way down the entire Pacific Crest Trail.  He has already covered all of Washington and Oregon, which is just mindboggling to think about, and is currently just past Lake Tahoe as he works his way towards the last 1,000 miles down to Mexico.  I highly encourage you to subscribe to his daily blog, wanderingdave.com.  His stories are hilarious and adventurous and moving and unforgettable, just like David is.

     The thousands of miles we have logged together have made me a stronger and healthier man, but it is my soul that is truly enriched by David.  He is a church deacon, a master homebrewer, a disc golfer, a home gardener and farm-ranch owner, a deceptively good pool player, a passionate sports fan, and a devoted lover of music (particularly Danny Elfman), family and friends.  I can’t say enough good words about this man, but hopefully this blog and even more so, his blog, will fill in the gaps where I fall short.  I love David and all of my running friends, and I look forward to many more miles, stories, and songs together.

David, Dwayne, me, Pete, & Dr. Mike – How Many More Miles?

Lord Huron “Long Lost” (2021)

     Sometimes people come in and out of our lives for inexplicable reasons.  One of the greatest gifts of my adult life is rekindling my friendship with my friend Mike.  We first met in McCowen Hall in 1985, as two clueless college freshmen trying to figure out life as “adults”.  Within this community, Mike became a part of a bigger pack of friends, most of whom came from one of three high schools in Colorado, Ponderosa, Smoky Hill and Boulder Fairview.  He joined our pack from Lewis Palmer in Monument, and from the get-go it was apparent Mike was one of the kindest, most generous and best individuals I was ever going to meet.  After we all somehow survived and escaped Greeley, we went in our different directions, and even though he remained close with Jim, we really had minimal interaction for 25+ years.  I don’t even know how or why we initially reconnected, but since that time, I am reminded every day why Mike is just about the best person and friend a person could ever hope to have.  When my son moved to Colorado, he was there on Day One with a truck and open arms, and he has continuously been there for both of us through it all.  He has even helped me to expand my circle of friends within his own world, and meeting his friend John, aka JMac, has served as another treasured friend and music lover who is now a part of my world.

     On top of all of his great traits as a person, he also is an avid music fan, with a rabid appetite for new sounds and inspirations.  His choices are provocative, thoughtful, and of the highest quality, and I learn something new from Mike every time we share music.  When I asked him to give me an album from 2021-2022 for this blog, more so than any other, I knew which album I was getting, as he has frequently shared this pick with me as his favorite album of 2021.  I also know him well enough to know that if it comes with that kind of high praise, it will not disappoint. 

     Like many of the artists he leads me to, I had never heard of the indie rock band Lord Huron before his introduction.  Looking at the album cover for “Long Lost”, my first guess was that it was metal, which would not have been an unreasonable assumption coming from Mike.  On the contrary, their sound is remarkably calm and soothing, and the entire album brings me peace, and who couldn’t use more of that in their life?

     After a brief intro track, the first full length song is “Mine Forever”, which is a great representation of their vibe.  The band is led by songwriter and singer Ben Schneider, and they have a very distinct feel that pulls from many influences.  I hear the Byrds, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Chris Isaak, and a multitude of other sounds that collide in this record.  “Love Me Like You Used To” has more of a country feel, and it feels like it would be a fantastic road trip tune.

     Of all the songs, I would rate the title track as my absolute favorite song on this album.  The melody is lush and haunting, and as Schneider’s vocals kick in, I’m transported to an empty cantina somewhere in the southwest desert, lost in the summer sky that never ends.  I love this airy, open sound and it will serve as my most enduring reminder of this musical gift from Mike.

     One more highlight I will call out is “I Lied”, featuring Allison Ponthier on duet vocals.  It is a sad song where two life partners celebrate the end of their relationship, but the world is not without heartache, and nothing captures that sense of loss better than a beautiful song.  The album ends with an instrumental blur of chords that runs a full fourteen minutes, on “Time’s Blur”. Again, it takes me back to the converging digital imagery at the Mall at Millenia in Orlando, or a large but empty aquarium, and the sounds take hold of you in the most hypnotic manner.

     Words can’t always express how you feel about someone you love and care about in your life, but thankfully we have music to help us fill in the gaps.  Mike… I’m beyond grateful for your friendship and I look forward to a lifetime ahead of music, new sounds, new destinations, all bound by a common past experience few could possibly understand or believe.

Men In White (And Black)…

Viagra Boys “Welfare Jazz” (2021)

     Music is something that has been shared between friends and family as long as I can remember.  As many different influences as I have had in my life, nobody has ever challenged my tastes and preferences for as long and as consistently as my dear friend Jim.  We first met in junior high school, and as we both discovered the magical world of rock and roll, our friendship blossomed.  We even performed together in our first air guitar performance, representing as Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones in the classic act that was Fred Zeppelin.

     As we moved into high school, our friendship only became stronger, even as we established our own identities and slightly different circle of friends.  By then, Jim was fully embracing the many alternative sounds of the early 1980s as we were learning how to push back against the world around us while also trying to conform.  Jim dove deeper into the world of punk and alternative, and even took me (briefly) to my first hardcore show, the Circle Jerks at the Rainbow Music Hall.  I only lasted about three songs before I went across the street to look at records at K-Mart, but I’m still grateful for his introduction to me to all sounds different and unique.

     After high school and dozens of shows that we saw together, we went off to college as roommates and friends.  College opened my eyes much further, but Jim was always at the cutting edge of new sounds for me.  We had some of the greatest times, and endured some unbelievable tragedies during that time, but somehow, we both made it out, and started on our remarkable separate paths to happiness and fulfillment.  To this day, Jim remains one of the most influential people in all of Denver with regards to music and counterculture… what better compliment for a friend for a guy who has spent his life working for “the man”?

     As I asked for his recommendation for a new album to appreciate, I knew it would be outside my circle of familiarity, but I never could have imagined how much I would love it.  Today’s selection is the Swedish band Viagra Boys, and their second studio album, “Welfare Jazz”.  I could make some terrible jokes here, but honestly, I think they might taint what has been a really phenomenal experience learning this album.

     If I had to classify their sound, it would be some byproduct and evolution of punk, with an extensively sophisticated sound quality.  The closest I can come up with for a comparison is when the Butthole Surfers gave us the song “Pepper”, but this record is really unique and a true gem.  Most of these songs will be automatic adds to my playlist, but I will highlight some of my favorites.

     Three songs that I love for their raw vocals from Sebastian Murphy as they are blended into a diversified sound background are “Secret Canine Agent”, “I Feel Alive”, and “To the Country”.  I honestly can’t believe this band is Swedish, as their sound comes across as genuinely American.  Even above those three tracks, there are three other songs that are my absolute favorites.

     The first is the album opener, “Ain’t Nice”.  As Jim would say, this song just rawks, and it absolute demands your attention and energy for the rest of the ride.  “6 Shooter” is another fast-paced rocker, and the basslines from Henrik Hockert just blow my mind and race my heart.

     Oddly enough, my favorite song of all turns out to be a cover but excuse my ignorance for not recognizing it as such until Christie showed me the light.  The last song of the album is a truly enjoyable rendition of “In Spite of Ourselves” by John Prine.  There is a cosmic air surrounding this rendition, and I love the vocal combination of Murphy and guest Amy Taylor.  I adore the message of this song, as it reminds each of us that no matter how many issues we have and see in ourselves, there is always the hope that someone else out there will love us despite of, and perhaps because of, our many unique flaws and traits.

     So, Jim, you hit a home run with this pick.  I honestly think I will be hard-pressed to find another new album I enjoyed as much as this one and yes, leave it to you for finding me Swedish punk rock that is not only rocking but very moving as well.  Just like you my friend… I love you tons and I’m grateful for the 40+ years we have been rocking out together.  Don’t ever change a thing.

Fred Zeppelin (1982)

The Struts “Strange Days” & The Foo Fighters “Dee Gees – Hail Satin” (2021)

     As you may recall, I left the last few album slots open for 2021 & 2022 releases that didn’t even exist when I started writing this blog.  To be consistent, I included the 2021 best seller (Adele and her record “30”) and another personal favorite of mine and will also include whatever is the best-selling album to date in 2022, but I decided to leave the last few slots to be determined by those closest to me, musically and personally.  Anyone in this group is not only someone I care about a lot, but I also appreciate their love for music and their support and inspiration for this entire project.  I asked each one of them to give an album to include, but it had to be from this current timeframe.  Most of the participants were able to give me a selection, but two of them did not.  I promised both of them that this did not diminish their significance in my blog and my life, and that I would choose on their behalf.

     The first person in this category is my friend Nils.  Nils is a one-of-a-kind person, to say the least.  His physically imposing presence is impressive, but what really stands out when you get to know him is his compassion for others, his pursuit of all things interesting, and his love for music.  We were introduced by a mutual co-worker, Kelly, who connected the dots with our respective tastes in music.  We quickly connected on classic acts like Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, and it gave me great joy to realize he was also a fan of my current obsession, The Struts.  This led to many long discussions on the topics of music and life, including a monthly scheduled call we still conduct to this date.

     Nils was an early thought leader for me in this process, as he also does his own writing and recommends music of many genres and tastes, sharing playlists and narratives with a distribution list of friends.  I have learned a lot from his suggestions, and I look forward to digging back in to more of his new music ideas once this blog is complete.  He also teaches a spin class each week, and proudly posts his weekly mix on social media each week for all to enjoy.  I have recently introduced him virtually to my friend Mike, who shares not only common musical interests but the same heightened sense of curiosity, and I look forward to many more years of this conversation and collaboration.

     When I asked Nils for an album to include, his response was “I don’t have an album for you.  I do not listen to whole albums and I frankly can’t speak to any music that has grabbed me enough over 2021-2022.”  I can’t really argue with that, but he must be included, so I told him I would pick one on his behalf.

     I started with one album, and it morphed into two, and both connect me to Nils in different ways.  The first is the album “Strange Days” by The Struts.  I previously discussed this album a bit in an earlier blog when I did not intend to include it here, but here is why I chose it on Nils’ behalf.  One, they are a band we both enjoy.  And beyond that, there are several high-profile features on this album that lead me back to Nils.  First, we have Joe Elliott and Phil Collen from Def Leppard on “I Hate How Much I Want You”, which is one of the best songs on the record.  Nils attempted to see Def Leppard live this summer, but I think somewhere between torrential rain and lightning, Tommy Lee’s phantom drumming with Motley Crue and his man-crush on Bret Michaels, he was halfway down I-66 when Def Leppard took the stage.  It doesn’t matter, it was a great night for him and a great night for rock and roll.

     Tom Morello from “Rage Against the Machine” plays on the album’s best track, which is “Wild Child”, and Albert Collins from The Strokes makes an appearance on “Another Hit of Showmanship”.  In another odd connection to Nils, British pop artist Robbie Williams, who Nils and I have laughed about his ongoing property line debates with Jimmy Page, appears on the title track.  I think Nils even visited this rock star HOA nightmare in person in London, so who better than he to appreciate Robbie and Luke Spiller singing “Strange Days”.

     If I were to call out two more tracks to enjoy, I would highlight “Burn It Down”, which sounds like an excerpt from “Exile on Main Street”, and the sultry and unique closing track “Am I Talking To The Champagne (Or Talking To You)”.  This album was an unusual project for the band; they recorded it in ten days in quarantine during the initial height of the COVID pandemic.  It is a much harder-edged album then their last release, and for those who love guitar rock, you should enjoy the intensity and vibe of this collection.

     As I was searching for any last links between The Struts and Nils, another light bulb turned on in my head.  The Struts have had many high-profile stints as an opening act, and Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters has stated they are the best opening act they have ever had.  Yes… that Dave Grohl, the same Dave Grohl that Nils grew up with, watching him play hardcore punk in the Washington D.C./9:30 Club era, well before Kurt Cobain roped him into Nirvana.  With this in mind, I also knew that my list was incomplete without some inclusion of the Foo Fighters, especially in light of the recent loss of Taylor Hawkins.  One of my favorite Foo moments is when they performed “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, and Taylor Hawkins and Luke Spiller from The Struts sang the altering vocal lines of Bowie & Mercury.

     So… with all of that in mind, I went into the discography to see what was recently released by the Foo Fighters, and I was thankfully greeted by their wonderfully absurd “Dee Gees / Hail Satin” project, which is inexplicably five Bee Gees covers (OK, four Bee Gees plus “Shadow Dancing” by Andy Gibb) along with some alternate versions of recent songs they recorded in their more traditional sound.  Grohl is surprisingly on point with his Barry Gibb falsetto, and Taylor is equally capable when he takes over on “Shadow Dancing”.

     I have never been a huge Foo Fighters fan, but I have always been a huge fan of Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins.  They appear to be universally loved by all people across the music industry, and I can’t help but admire their versatility as artists on the drums, guitars, and vocals.  As much as I loved their version of “Under Pressure” with Luke, I think my favorite moment aligns with what Dave called the “greatest night in the band’s life”, when they played Wembley Stadium and performed “Rock and Roll” and “Ramble On” with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, with Hawkins and Grohl each singing a track.  How can you possibly top that?  You can’t.

     It is tragic and sad that Taylor Hawkins is no longer with us.  Dave Grohl and his band are about to perform two tribute concerts in his honor, and not surprisingly, both John Paul Jones and Luke Spiller, among many others, are on the bill.  It is this showing of love, music and friendship that connects all of us, including my dear friend Nils.  Thank you for all you have done to inspire, challenge, and support me, and I look forward to many more years of trading songs back and forth, not to mention going to see The Struts live!