Robert Plant & Alison Krauss “Raising Sand” (2007)

     Since the death of John Bonham in 1980 and the dissolution of Led Zeppelin, all of us Zeppelin fans have wondered and waited what comes next from Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones.  After the Page-Plant experiment of the mid 1990s came to a close, Plant retreated to his low-key and low-fi existence, essentially shunning his bombastic past as the front man for the dominant rock band of the 1970s.  He has always looked forward with an eye for something different and unique, and he certainly checks that box with his 2007 collaboration with bluegrass singer Alison Krauss, “Raising Sand”.  It is really a three-part collaboration, as producer and guitarist T-Bone Burnett played a lead role in the song selection and creative influence for this record.  It was highly acclaimed by critics and won a Grammy for Record of the Year, and while I’m sure it served as a source of frustration for Zep diehards who continued to clamor for a reunion, it was seemingly embraced and enjoyed by most of us as well… me included.

     Most of the songs are older covers, dipping into the world of country, rockabilly, blues, and other roads less traveled.  The vocal interplay between Plant and Krauss is compelling, with some songs a straight duet, and others serving with one on lead and the other complimenting with harmony backing vocals.  My personal favorite has always been the soft and effusively warm song, “Killing the Blues”.  Slow and classic in its tempo, the vocals are stunningly beautiful, and it’s hard to even believe this is the same voice who belted out “Black Dog” or “Immigrant Song”.

     Other favorites to check out include the sultry “Rich Woman”, and “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)”, which was the lead single and a sassy up-tempo pairing, written by the Everly Brothers.  “Please Read the Letter”, which was originally performed by Plant with Jimmy Page a decade before on the “Walking into Clarksdale” album is another great duet, and “Let Loss Be Your Lesson” is a countrified tune with Krauss on lead that evolves into an old school jam.  “Your Long Journey”, the last song on the record, is pure bluegrass, and another wonderfully subtle pairing of their voices.

     As a Zeppelin fan, if you center yourself on “Whole Lotta Love” and “Communication Breakdown” as the core of your playlist, this may not be your record.  However, if you are as equally attracted to “Going to California” or “That’s The Way”, and most certainly “The Battle of Evermore”, then this record should warm your heart and soul as it did mine.  Robert Plant’s fierce independence from his “Golden God” legacy is a source of frustration for many of us, but it also serves as a noble and genuinely inspirational slice of artistic integrity and pride.  I look forward to catching this duo later this summer with Jim and the Mikes at Red Rocks… you may want to mark your calendar as well.

Josh Groban “Noel” (2007)

     When I first read that today’s album was “Noel” by Josh Groban, I can’t say this was the beachside summertime album I was eager to crank up.  However, as the number one selling album of 2007, it is another mandatory stop along the way, and I will concede I enjoyed the experience much more than I originally expected to, for a variety of reasons.

     In fairness, Josh Groban is certainly a phenomenal singer, and his almost-operatic voice plays well on the songs he selected for this record.  For the purpose of this blog, I tend to divide Christmas songs into three categories.  The first are the truly old school classics, the ones that were probably big Christmas songs 50 to 60 years ago, or even before that, like “Silent Night”.  The second are more pop-oriented, but have been also around for generations like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”.  The third category are modern Christmas songs that have come to light in recent years (for me, this means they didn’t exist when I still was waiting up for Santa Claus) like “All I Want for Christmas Is You”.  For the most part, Groban appropriately sticks with Category 1, and his take on songs like “Silent Night”, a war-themed “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, “Ave Maria”, “Angels We Have Heard on High” (with Brian McKnight), and “The Christmas Song” are really well done.

     I loved Christmas when I was a child and when my son was a young boy, it was that magical exuberance and mystical excitement that was an annual highlight of my life.  I’m not a man of Christian faith by practice, but the holiday, including its original meaning, has always represented some of the best parts of our society, when it is focused on giving and caring and spending time with those you love.  Some people I know, and Christie is one of them, annually lifts her spirits and changes her mood when the Christmas music hits the airwaves.  I still believe in the magic of cold weather and a “White Christmas”, another classic featured on this album, and I hope the remainder of my Christmas holidays will be enjoyed in the snowy cold of my native Colorado.

     As my son aged into high school, and became a bit more pragmatic and practical about the holiday season as most adults do, I found another annual reason to celebrate this season, and my memory of this is directly prompted and triggered by this album.  Recorded first for the movie “The Polar Express” by Groban, the song “Believe” has become an all-time favorite for me, as it was sung each winter for several years by the vocal group my son performed in during high school, The Power Chords, sponsored by the Orlando Repertory Theater.  Different members of the group would take the lead on different tracks, but his voice, usually paired as a duet with one of many beautiful female voices in the group, really lined up with this song wonderfully, and when I first heard the Groban version of this song today, I was definitely moved to tears.  I don’t have that many artifacts from his childhood, but I do have audio recordings from all of those shows, and digging back into those recordings this morning was truly Christmas in June.

     For me, the bottom line of all holiday moments are the memories we create and share with those we love.  Some of them are better than others, but at their best, they are foundational to life and happiness.  I’m beyond grateful for my Christmas memories thanks to my parents, growing up in Colorado, and I love all of the Christmas and holiday memories I have shared with my son, especially when it came with a song from him.  As for the future, I’m hoping there is even more Christmas and holiday magic in my life to anticipate, just as I wish the same for everyone else around the world.

“Believe in what you feel inside, And give your dreams the wings to fly, You have everything you need…”

“If you just believe.”


Bon Iver “For Emma, Forever” (2007)

     Today’s album is an unusual choice.  It is another highly rated folk album, as we have “For Emma, Forever Ago” by Bon Iver at #2 on the Top 10 Folk Albums of all Time, as rated by  That said, like Bright Eyes, it feels more like indie rock than folk rock.  Bon Iver ultimately turned into a fully populated band, but for this album, it was essentially a 100% solo effort by leader, singer and songwriter Justin Vernon.  He recorded the album when he moved into a remote hunting cabin in Wisconsin as an escape from life and society as well as some medical challenges, and I really love that story.  I wish I could say the same about the album, but it just doesn’t really catch my interest.  I think my biggest challenge is the perpetual falsetto voice of Vernon, it just isn’t very appealing to me.  In general, I think falsetto is a great technique as a contrast, vs. the primary or solitary voice of a vocalist.  I know that doesn’t always apply as I know Brian Wilson and Aaron Neville are two of my favorite singers who almost exclusively sing in falsetto, but for this record it just doesn’t work quite as well, at least for me.  As a solo album, any of the vocals on a track like “The Wolves (Act I and II)” are Vernon’s voice double-tracked in harmony.

      Like almost every album, even the ones I don’t love, I can find a few tracks that stand out above the rest.  For me, the favorites on this record start with “For Emma”, which is one of the only songs to feature outside musicians with multiple horns that add nicely to the mood.  My second favorite track is the first song, “Flume”, which is a great mood setter and opening track.  Knowing the backstory, it is easy to see Vernon piecing this song together along in the middle of nowhere.  The first single from the album is “Skinny Love”, and this song feels a bit like a blend of Coldplay and Mumford & Sons. 

     Fortunately, my son has a wider lens for a lot of music than I do, and he was able to add some important context on Bon Iver, not the least of which was how to properly pronounce their name (Bone ee-VAIR).  He also mentioned their credibility across several genres and multiple collaborations with Kanye West.  Clearly, they are highly accomplished and well respected, and I can sense the legitimacy and sincerity of their music on this album.  Not an all-time favorite, but a positive experience, nonetheless.

Amy Winehouse “Back to Black” (2006)

     I have referenced the title track from today’s album by Amy Winehouse, “Back to Black”, on several occasions.  I have stated that I think this song is one of the greatest captures of the emotion of devastating sadness that I have ever heard, driven by the choice of her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend/future husband to go back to a former relationship.  It is the centerpiece of this album, but far from the only great song on this beautifully crafted record.  Rated #33 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I would be inclined to move it higher.  The collaboration of Amy Winehouse’s one-of-a-kind voice and her songwriting gift with the production expertise of Mark Ronson delivers a short, but very bittersweet musical gift.

     In 2006, I was fairly disconnected from the current music of the time, and Amy Winehouse was primarily known by me for her continuous troubles and public crisis played out in the tabloids and paparazzi.  She clearly had all of the signs of a tragic story waiting for her sad ending, which unfortunately occurred in 2011 with her death from alcohol poisoning.  It wasn’t until many years later when I watched the Academy Award winning documentary on her life that was filled with a lot of  personal footage from her life, when I finally discovered her beauty and grace.  I learned that while ultimately, she was accountable for her own choices like we all are, her brutal struggle with substance abuse was fueled by the constant betrayal of her boyfriend/husband and the indifference and exploitation by her own father as he kept driving her to record and perform, placing the family income ahead of her own health and well-being.   Both situations are well documented on this record, and it is very clear Amy brought all of her heart and soul, no matter how much they hurt, into her songwriting.

     Although her life was cut way too short, at the age of 27 like so many other performers in this blog, the impact she had in her career and in particular, this album is profound.  The music on this record is a delicious throwback to the pop-soul era of the 1960s, as well as the decades of beautiful R&B singers who preceded her in greatness.  The sultry, warm vibe, enhanced by horns, strings, and whatever other production magic Ronson chose to add, makes this album an all-time classic.

     The record opens with the painfully biographical track “Rehab”.  Where is that line between a fun lifestyle you control and a spiraling lifestyle that controls you?  I know many of us are still looking for some of those answers in our own lives.  By any fair measurement, it is safe to say Amy had probably gone well past that line, but as the song says, “I ain’t got the time, and my Daddy thinks I’m fine.  They tried to make me go to rehab, and I said, No, No, No.”  It’s a remarkably catchy melody and I have to assume most listeners at the time celebrated this song for their own defiance as they partied on. 

     Next comes “You Know I’m No Good”, another smoky self-portrayal that is impactful in music and in word.  “Me & Mr. Jones” is a sassier track that further diversifies the sound of this album.  There really isn’t a weak song on this album; it is remarkable all the way through.  Another landmark song from this record is “Tears Dry On Their Own”, which is perfectly retro and every day relevant at the same time.  I appreciate all artists who write their own material, and few have done it as well as Amy did.

     For all that I love about this record, I will always be most moved by the title song.  The chilling piano opening gives way to her state-of-shock numbness, and she lays out in the most graphic and blunt manner possible, the wallop of devastation she is wrestling with in this song.  She has entered that place where you are beyond mad, beyond tears, brought to the point of complete void of outward feeling or expression at the outcome of this broken relationship.  In some manner I’m sure most of us have felt this kind of complete loss of feeling and heartbreak at some point in our lives, when we are left with nothing but the void of the “Black” vacuum in our heart.  It doesn’t have to last forever, and with time and more positive subsequent discoveries, there is a way out, but it sure can flatten you in the moment.

     When I combine the emotion of this song with the tragic and unnecessary way her life ended when she was let down by the very people she needed the most, it is hard not to experience some emotions every time I hear this song.  It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Amy Winehouse, just like any life that short is never supposed to turn out that way, but thankfully she left us this enduring gift of music we can all turn to in our happiest and saddest times.

“We only said goodbye with words, I died a hundred times, You go back to her, and I go back to…   black.”

Various Artists “Soundtrack: High School Musical” (2006)

    With all of the continuing expansion of musical sounds and styles, I was surprised, but not shocked, to learn that the #1 selling album of 2006 was the soundtrack album to the Disney Original Movie, “High School Musical”.  As a parent, I was caught between the early years of Disney musicals and the future life I wasn’t yet anticipating full of high school theater, so when this craze hit, I was not familiar or up to speed in any way.  Ultimately, I never would have expected what a huge impact high school theater would have on the life of my own son and mine as well, nor would I have predicted that sixteen years later I would see a nervous young lady make her large-scale acting debut in her own version of “High School Musical”.

     The soundtrack itself is fairly innocuous, as performed by Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and others.  Efron would subsequently also star in the 2007 version of “Hairspray”, which is one of my overall favorite modern musicals for many reasons.  Even if the songs on this album don’t really do much for me, I’m very sentimental about this album and the varying emotions it triggered.  My only real experience with any song on this soundtrack prior to seeing this show and listening to this album this year was watching Phil Dunphy embarrass himself and his family with his hipster-dad attempt to pull off  “We’re All in This Together” on the television show “Modern Family”.

     As I noted, I have seen dozens of high school musicals in my life, primarily during the years of 2010 to 2014.  Some of them were amazing, some of them were OK, and some of them were train-wrecks.  None of that really matters, as what was important was that each was a showcase for young actors and actresses and their crew to learn the world of theater, take on the challenge of a new role, and experience the joy and celebration of weeks and months of hard work and preparation.  For my family, high school theater was a safe and happy space for those who may have previously struggled to find their place in life, and many of my favorite memories in life are watching my son and his friends perform in school and community theater musicals for almost five years.

     “High School Musical” is in fact, a musical about a musical, and it is a solid reflection of the drama, tension, and camaraderie that ultimately results in staging such a show.  I even reflect on my own theatrical career in high school, where I went from being the lead role in “You Can’t Take It With You” to being mercifully cast in the ensemble in “Oklahoma”, based on my disastrous singing and dancing skills.  I learned a lot about myself from both experiences, perhaps most importantly that any show, team, company or collaboration in life is much bigger than any one person, and that to be successful, we all have to prioritize the greater good of the larger group above our own needs and wants.

     It was very heartwarming and positive for me to return to this atmosphere this year, to watch another important person in my life take the leap into this show, and as such, it was my first “High School Musical” in many years, as well as my first time actually seeing this particular show being performed.  Through another set of eyes, I was able to witness the bonding influence the show has on all of those around it, and I was particularly happy to see the mom of this performer beaming with pride and love as she watched her daughter take the stage.

     I think Troy Bolton, Gabriella Montez, Sharpay Evans and even Phil Dunphy were all right.  We ARE all in this together, and the more we take the time to celebrate our youth and the beauty of the arts, the better off we all will be.

Luce “Never Ending” (2005)

     Next comes one of the most impactful and influential albums of my entire life, and chances are, most of you have never even heard of this act or certainly listened to this album in its entirety.  I discovered Tom Luce and his band Luce about the same time I came across Better Than Ezra, in the same fashion as well, by a random discovery on XM radio.  The most successful single of the album, “Buy A Dog”, is what first pulled me in, but it quickly became much, much more.  As a small independent artist from the Bay Area, Luce performed in similar circles with more commercially successful artists like Train, with much less acclaim.  I had to order the CD “Never Ending” from his website.  As I listened to it all the way through, I realized I really loved the entire record, not just “Buy A Dog”, which is a phenomenal track.  This CD assumed nearly universal control of my music listening for as long, and probably longer, than any single record in my life.  My obsession was fairly comprehensive, and I made or purchased copies for several of my friends to spread the gospel.  Like most albums, I latched on to a certain rotation of favorite tracks, and typically jumped chaotically from song to song depending on my mood.  It wasn’t for some time that I realized the true brilliance of this album.  Not only was it a great collection of tunes, the album from beginning to end, was actually a mini-novella of the “Never Ending” cycle of the birth, jubilation, hesitation, and crash-landing of a relationship, only to start the cycle all over again.

     The record opens with “From the World of the Lonely”, and the very first line completely sets the stage.  “The first time that I saw you, it just came to me, I was ready to remove myself from the world of the lonely”.  Aside from great story-telling and a catchy melody, even the production of this song contributes to the theme.  The album opens with the sound of scratchy vinyl, and the first half of the song, up to around the 2:40 mark, is very low-fi and restrained in its sound quality.  Then suddenly, as if the world is opening to new possibilities, the sound expands, the bass thumps in, and the song truly carries the weight and excitement of the potential of this new relationship.

     Next comes the previously mentioned “Buy A Dog”, which is simply a classic love song about the possibilities of starting a life together with the centerpiece being a shared canine companion.  The triad of devotion between two in love and their equally beloved dog has always appealed to me greatly, and it absolutely symbolizes a place of love and three-way affection I hope to experience once life is much quieter and simpler and less adventurous than it is currently and hopefully will be for some time.

    With each new song, the relationship and excitement builds.   “Amsterdam”, “The Sweetest Smile”, “Fortunately, I”, “Worth the Wait”, and “Wanna Be” all tell the story of that “honeymoon phase” when everything is seemingly flawless and perfect.  Yet, as we all know, most relationships don’t stay in that place of eternal bliss, and while the lucky few among us find or have found that happy landing spot of long-term love and devotion, we have all gone through the crashing down that inevitably comes with time in most failed relationships.  With “Never Ending”, the title track, we see the first cracks in paradise.  “Outside of It All” takes us to that place where you know things are in trouble, but your heart still wants to think and believe there is a way to make this right.  By the time we get to “With A Kiss”, it is acknowledged that the end is near, and “Diamond Lights” is a perfect song of lament, looking back in sorrow with a small dose of appreciation for the positive memories and impact each had on the other.  Lyrically, we even return to the same phrasing of “From the World of the Lonely”, except that now when we hear “The first time that I saw you, it just came to me”, it is sung sadly and with great regret. 

     And just when you think all hope is lost, and that one can never be happy again, the album concludes with “Maria”, and the rays of hope shine again.   “She worked at Denny’s, I met her there… Maria Lopez was her name”.  And so, it begins again, the eternal cycle of promise, hope and love. 

     Once I realized the full scope of this record, my appreciation, which was already sky-high, elevated to a new level.  Undoubtedly this was in no small part to my own private misery I was experiencing at the time, but the story and music blended together unlike any record I had every discovered previously.  Back to the music for a moment, it wouldn’t have worked and I never would have taken the time to unravel this mystery if the songs weren’t highly compelling from a musical perspective.  For me, “From the World of the Lonely”, “Buy A Dog”, “Worth the Wait”, the blend of “Wanna Be” and “Interlude One”, “Outside of It All”, and “Diamond Lights” are not only the best songs, but they serve as a great mini-version of the core theme of this story.  I would highly recommend at least listening to each of those, or as many as you can find.  And that’s where the last practical challenge comes in for fully appreciating this record.

     Something must have gone awry with the rights to these songs, the label on which they were released, or some other legal complication I can’t begin to decipher.  I say that because on my preferred streaming service, the version of this album is a butchered mess.  The songs are out of order, not sequenced with the original album or story, and in many cases, are slightly altered, perhaps to create a slightly different digital signature than the original version.  As such, at least where I listen, you can’t find this album in its original glory, and you can’t even find it on YouTube, as near as I can tell.  It does appear that there are still copies for purchase floating around the internet, (I went ahead and grabbed another), and some other streaming services may in fact offer the original and complete album.

     If I were to give you a short, short list of my personal recommendations, this album would be on it for the reasons listed above.  My obsession has healthily waned in time, but the memories of this record and the meaning behind it will always be with me.  For all the mistakes we have made in life, hopefully we can learn from them and get better at knowing what and who works in our life.  As one who is now very happily living every day in the first half of this album in my current state, thanks to Christie, my life lesson for finding the right person boils down to common interests, common priorities and values, ongoing physical attraction, and the vulnerability, desire and willingness to learn, love, and listen.  I hope each of you have found or will find the end to the never-ending search, and I hope this record gives you something to think about and experience along the way.  On a different album, Luce captured this state of extended bliss on his song “Good Day”, which is as equally infectious as the best songs on “Never Ending”.  I will leave you with a line from that song… “Well, it’s a pretty good day, I’m looking forward to tomorrow, To have a pretty good day, Yeah, we’ll have a good day.”  Check out Luce… I think you will be glad you did.

Mariah Carey “The Emancipation of Mimi” (2005)

     I was reminded today how far out of touch I was with “Top 40” pop music by the year 2005.  The #1 selling album of 2005 was “The Emancipation of Mimi”, considered to be a comeback album by hit machine Mariah Carey.  There are several singles that charted high, and obviously this record was a huge hit, and I did not recognize a single song I heard.  Like most Mariah Carey, this record isn’t really my cup of tea.  Overwrought riffing and the vocal gymnastics we have come to expect from Mariah aren’t quite as omnipresent on this record, and her intent was to produce a more stripped down sound, but for the most part, I probably won’t spend too much time coming back to this one in the future.

     Of the five singles on the record, “We Belong Together” is probably the easiest listen for me.  It is a pretty good groove, and it is growing on me a bit as I play it again.  Like most of the album, this song is co-produced by Carey and Jermaine Dupri.  The record starts with the biggest hit single, which I’m sure most people will recognize more than I do, “It’s Like That”, featuring Dupri and Fatman Scoop.  I’m sure this was all over the clubs, unlike me.  The third single, “Shake It Off”, is a good example of Carey trying to move her sound closer to the hip-hop vibe that permeates this album.  Even Snoop makes an appearance on this album, on “Say Somethin’”, but either intentionally or unintentionally, his contribution is extremely subdued and lingers under the surface, and the song doesn’t have much of a hook.

     Of the non-singles on the album, I would point to “Circles” and “To The Floor” as my favorites, and even though I’m not a huge fan of the record, I greatly respect Carey continuing to take ownership and control over her musical direction, and she obviously hit a home run with this album.  Her career has gone through many ups and downs over the years, but this major success will always be a well-deserved highlight.

Better Than Ezra “Before The Robots” (2005)

     This next album is not on the list because it made anyone’s “Top Anything” list, nor is it some artist that connects me to the amazing people in my life.  This one is a personal choice, and to my knowledge, I’m the only person I know within my expansive friend and family group who even remotely cares about this group.  They are another Louisiana act, although my interest in them has nothing to do with their origin.  Quite simply, I heard a song on the radio once upon a time, “A Lifetime”, and I liked it enough that I bought the CD and loved the rest of it.  To be more specific, I think it was some alternative station on XM Radio, and I remain grateful to this day for Better Than Ezra, even if nobody else around me cares about them at all.  My friend Jim once said to me, “I think I like Ezra better than Better Than Ezra”.  I know my son isn’t a big fan, and I have never really pursued this interest with any of my other music friends.  And honestly, I’m ok with that.  As much as I love the communal spirit as we gather around our favorite artists, I also savor the personal moments where a song or record can mean something to me, without caring what anyone else thinks.

     After seeing them once at the House of Blues in Orlando many years ago, I was given a second chance more recently.  Of all places, they played a pre-game concert at a UCF football game.  As I gathered around the tens of other fans who showed up to see them play, by myself once again, I sat back and enjoyed the entire set, oblivious to anything else around me.

     Why do I like Better Than Ezra so much?  It starts with the high-tone voice of singer-songwriter Kevin Griffin.  It is extremely unique, and I love how he transitions from his primary voice to falsetto with such ease.  As I mentioned, the song that first pulled me in is “A Lifetime”, a sad-but-melancholy reflection on losing a close high school friend to a car accident, something we knew way too much about growing up in Parker, Colorado.

     My favorite song on the album after all of these years remains “Daylight”.  I’m drawn mainly to the melody and chord progression, along with Griffin’s vocals, but if you listen to the lyrics, it is a pretty powerful song about imperfect love that is ultimately unbreakable, regardless of the perils along the way.

     There are several other songs on this album that I really, really like.  The opener, “Burned” is a great album kick-off and a good, standard driving rocker.  “It’s Only Natural” is an intriguing slow-groove that grows on you quickly.  “Overcome” is a more distant and cosmic trance that I had almost forgotten how much I enjoyed.  “American Dream” has always been another favorite, with a sadly poignant story about how our bright-eyed optimism of youth can quickly fall to the side with the realities of adulting.  “Our Last Night”, another of their singles from the record, is a very lush melody that is quite appealing.  I never knew this before tonight, but apparently Taylor Swift frequently covers this song in concert, which I absolutely take as a bit of validation for my BTE mini-obsession.  She has also covered “Breathless”, the last song on the album.  “A Southern Thing” is a much funkier rock track that completely taps into to their southern heritage in the best way.

     Oddly enough, my least favorite song on the album is probably “Juicy”, which was one of the most successful tracks on the record.  It sounds a little too much like Jagger’s falsetto on “Emotional Rescue”, and I just prefer Griffin’s more natural singing voice on the rest of the album.

     Better Than Ezra had their biggest hit early on in their career with the song “Good”, which was released in 1996, but by random circumstance I found this record, and to this day, it remains a favorite of mine and always will be.

Bright Eyes “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” (2005)

    As I started to listen to today’s album, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” by the Omaha-based band Bright Eyes, I assumed this was another eclectic selection by my son.  It turns out this album made the list as the #3 rated folk album by  I’m not sure I associate this record with folk music as it has more of an indie rock vibe, but A), I had never heard it before, and B), I enjoyed listening to it so I’m glad it made the list.

     Bright Eyes is primarily singer and guitarist Conor Oberst, with the other two permanent members being Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott.  There are at least a dozen other musicians who appear on this record, with the most recognizable being Emmylou Harris, who sings backing vocals on several tracks.

     The record opens with an unusual story about a last-minute celebration of life in the midst of a plane crash.  I’m glad I listened to this album after, and not before, my flight last night, but either way it leads into a beautifully happy-sad opening track, “At the Bottom of Everything”.  This album and this song in particular have a bit of a Mumford & Sons feel, but I find it more entertaining and interesting.  I also really like the “We Are Nowhere and It’s Now”, which is one of the duet vocals between Oberst and Harris.

     Overall, this is an easy listen, if somewhat nondescript.  Two other songs I will highlight from this record.  The first is “Land Locked Blues”, another soulful and solemn harmony between Oberst and Harris, which breaks into war hymn “Taps”, which is appropriate on Memorial Day.  The second is “Road to Joy”, which I correctly identified as a unique twist on Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”.  Forty-five years later, those piano lessons finally pay dividends!  Like most music of this nature, I would enjoy it best on a summer’s day in a bucolic and sunny rural setting, although I can also envision this playing in the corner of a sweet Virginia winery or brewery with my favorite girl.

Usher “Confessions” (2004)

     As you read this blog, it doesn’t take long to realize that modern R&B is not my favorite genre, and today’s album “Confessions” by Usher is no exception.  That being said, there are a few good takeaways for me, and of course one of the most iconic songs in the history of club and dance music, “Yeah!”.   Knowing that most of this album doesn’t do too much for me, I will focus on my favorite tracks as well as some stories on “Yeah!” and Usher himself.  “Confessions” is rated #432 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums of All Time, and was the #1 selling album of 2004.

     This huge record, featuring Jermaine Dupri, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on the production team, covers all the bases in pace and style.  After the album opens with “Yeah!”, I really liked the next track “Throwback”, featuring Jadakiss.  It has a great melody and the opening reminds me of a good Jay-Z tune, which I know is somewhat of an oxymoron for me in the first place.  There is a two-part set next, “Confessions” and “Confessions Part II”.  The second track was released as a single, and even though it is on the slower side, I do like it a lot.  It does sounds like Usher had some work to do on his personal life, but clearly his lifestyle as one of the world’s most famous singers is not one that I can remotely relate to in any way.  “Caught Up” is an up-tempo dance tune that is near the top of my list as well here.

     Back to “Yeah!”, it is an incredible song and one of the all-time dance floor classics.  Many like me will recall that “Yeah!”, which features Lil John and Ludacris, serves as the backdrop in the movie “The Hangover” as Phil, Stu, Alan and the groom-to-be Doug begin their infamous night.  Another memory of this tune is a personal moment of amusement for me and my son.  In high school, he was a part of a very successful performance troupe for the Orlando Repertory Theater, known as the Power Chords.  They even opened once for another rapper, Chingy (“Right Thurr”), but that is a story for another time.  Anyway, at one point, they added “Yeah!” to their set list, and as good as they were, this urban classic may have been just a step or two far for these talented kids.  Enjoyable memories nonetheless…

     One other great Usher memory comes from a June night in 2019, when my son and I fulfilled one of his life dreams by seeing Stevie Wonder in concert at Red Rocks.  Somewhere in the middle of the set, out came Usher, and he took the vocal lead on “Ribbon in the Sky”.  It was amazing to see those two legends from different eras come together on that historic stage.  After that, it really got interesting.  Usher was clearly there to do one song only, but Stevie was not having any of it.  Stevie started “Overjoyed”, and tried to feed a clearly confused Usher the lyrics.  It was a bit of a hot mess, but hilarious to watch.  Still not ready to let Usher off the hook, Stevie then kicked into “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”.  Usher tried and failed to keep up vocally, and then just gave up and jumped on Stevie’s piano and did some serious dancing, including some moonwalk action.  A memorable night for many reasons, not the least of which was this one of kind collaboration.