Category Archives: Mike

Mikes Faves of 2019

So I’m a day late with my list. It’s been that kind of year. We’ve been a bit absent from the blogosphere but make no mistake, I’ve been listening and these are some of the albums that made up my 2019 soundtrack.

10. Revivalists.  “Oh No” actually a 2018 album but this song was released in 2019. Just a great tune which only gets better live.

9. Strumbellas “ Running Scared”  this band had a minor hit with “ Spirits” which was one heavy rotation in the OConnor house a couple years ago. This album by this Canadian group has a nice strummy good vibe feel.

 

8. Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real “Turn off the News and Build a Garden”

Every year I manage to find an album that becomes my sittin’ on the beach album. This one by Willie Nelson’s son was it for this year. It checks all the boxes for me and the theme definitely resonates with me these days

7. Frank Turner “No Man’s Land” Frank went in a different direction with this one. An album dedicated solely to under appreciated musical or historical women that he wrote and performed with a female producer and an all female band. He paired the album with a series of podcasts highlighting the subject of each song. Worth a listen. This song got played at 11 in my car.

6 Vampire Weekend “Harmony Hall’

Ive not really been able to totally appreciate this band but this album just clicked for me.

5. Black Keys “Lets Rock” After being away for a while on side projects, these guys came back with a simple mission. The album title says it all.

4. little Steven and the Disciples of Soul “Summer of Sorcery “ Steve has come back the last couple of years to bring us a master class in music. This latest album does it again with rock , R and B with a touch of soul.

3. The Menzingers. Quickly becoming one of my favorite bands. Love the hooks, love the music .

 

2. Bruce Springsteen “Western Stars” I wasn’t sure what to expect when this album was coming out. I was actually afraid this might be the first Bruce album that I might not like that much. Boy was I wrong. This album from a 70 year old man spoke to me. It’s not trying to be music for kids. It’s mature, thoughtful and really spoke to me. It was my driving with the dog on a Sunday morning or sitting on the deck on Friday night album all summer long.

1. Dave Hause “Kick” A couple of years ago, the song “We Could be Kings” got my attention, and then Dave Hause (rhymes with paws) opened for Frank Turner and ever since, I’ve been hooked. This album has one great song after another. Definitely influenced by 1980s rock with a touch of punk. Absolutely got the most play of any album I listened to this year.

 

 

 

The Smithereens (with guest lead vocalist Marshall Crenshaw)

Last night I got to see some live music. That’s not a shocking statement for me. I love live music. A friend and I went to see the Smithereens play at musikfest café in Bethlehem. It’s a small venue seating about 350 people.

The Smithereens made a name for them selves locally mostly in the late 80s and early 90s. They had several top 50 hits and a few videos on VH1 and MTV. They never made it really big but over the years they’ve  continued to record on and off.

Founding member, lead vocalist and principal songwriter Pat DiNizio unfortunately passed away in 2017 after a series of injuries and other  health problems. That was seemingly the end of the band however they are embarking on a tour this year and recruited veteran singer Marshall Crenshaw,who had done some work with the band in its early days, to take over as lead vocalist. After watching their two hour plus show last night I can say that they made the right choice.

The band sounded great, they were tight and the vocals were terrific. The show felt like  part tribute to their lost brother and part pure celebration of the music. They spoke lovingly at times of Pat and how some of the songs were created. They still played with the passion and joy that often seems to elude musicians who’ve been playing much of the same music for 30+ years. These guys were childhood friends and it still shows.

They of course played their hits, including “Only a Memory”, and closed the show with “A Girl Like You” their biggest hit but the stand out for me was “Blood and Roses” They also threw in a couple covers including the Beatles and Interlude in the middle of one long guitar solo where the  Who popped in.

By now, people my age are used to seeing their rock ‘n’ roll heroes perform and tour well into their 60s and 70s. Jagger and Springsteen and Townsend though, are playing in front of 50,000+ fans and are getting PAID.

These guys are playing in front of 350 really appreciative fans. They’re not getting rich and they’re not going to be famous* but they’re doing it for the love of the music. They are soldiering on without a key founding member and that’s pretty cool

  • They HAVE been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame!

Concert Review: Flogging Molly and Lucero 3/1/19

Penns Peak is a concert venue in Jim Thorpe PA and my first experience there was last night when I was lucky enough to see Flogging Molly and openers Lucero.

I have seen both bands previously when each was touring with (oddly enough) Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. The prior performance by Lucero was as an opener for FT and like this one was abbreviated to about 40 minutes. This band has been around for over 15 years and has produced a 12 albums of new and live material and after a deep dive into their music last year I can attest to how great this band is. Unfortunately, a short opening set only wets the appetite. The band members are top notch musicians and they got the show off to a great start, hi lighting material from their 2018 release  “Among the Ghosts” By the time they got to the barroom rocker”For the Lonely Ones”  the band was in high gear  but ended their set. This band is one my watch list for headlining shows when they can really stretch out and dig deeper into their catalogue.

Flogging Molly has produced 8 albums since their debut “Swagger” in 2000 including Live at the Greek Theater from 2010. (A must-hear if you’ve never seen the band live. the accompanying videos are a great intro into how great this band is live). Their blend of Irish folk, punk and rock and energetic live shows ( complete with mosh pit) have gained them a reputation of one of the best touring bands around.

2 great versions from the Greek theater concert ( Yours truly had a technical glitch with his phone during these 2 songs at last night ‘s show)

FM played music spanning their entire career hi lighted by crowd favorites Drunken Lullabies and Seven Deadly Sins. An unexpected high point for me was Float which is a concert staple for the band but seemed to take on added resonance last night. Dave King definitely placed himself in the top tier of frontmen that I’ve ever seen with his energetic acoustic guitar playing , his stories and banter between songs, references to his early life in Ireland and loving, funny shoutouts to his departed parents.

It only adds to the everyman vibe of the band that after the final encore, the lights come up and the PA  plays “Always look on the Bright Side of Life” (a song all Monty Python fans will know) while Dave King stays on stage to dance around and say hi to the crowd.

All in all , a great first concert of what I hope to be another great year of live music for me.

Mike’s Top 10 albums of 2018 (imho)

So 2018 was an up and down year musically  but as it happens every year when I look back I realize that an up and down year can produce some great music. My spotify mix (created by some algorithm) seemed to think I was primarily interested in country rock and to some extent , I was, but as you’ll see in this list my favorites, as in most played, are all over the spectrum.

1. Honestly this album could have been written in as #1 the day it was released. Its no secret I’ve become a huge Frank Turner fan. His live shows are amazing and on this record he diversified his style without sacrificing the passion. FT produced a perfect elixir for our tumultuous times with Be More Kind. Here’s an alternate live version of Little Changes

2. I’ve become huge fan of the Wild Feathers over the course of three stellar albums. The crisp harmonies , multiple vocalists and crack musicianship won me over. They are the closest thing I can imagine to a modern version of the Eagles, except from the South. From “Greetings from the Neon Frontier”:

3. i knew one song by Lucero before I saw them open for Frank Turner this year but what I saw prompted me to dig in to their catalogue and now I’m hooked. This band from Tennessee  has been around for years . Their 2018 album “Among the Ghosts” has been in constant rotation for me since its release in August

4.The Record company followed a good first record with a great second album. This songs just blew me away (involuntary dancing alert)

*bonus track cuz its soooooo cool ( a Beastie Boys cover) not on album

5.This seemed to be the year when I “discovered” bands that have been around a while. This album caught my attention literally a couple weeks ago and blew up my top ten list. Rock, pop with some R&B influence for good measure. Cant stop playing this song from from the album “Take Good Care”

*bonus- My 19 year old with her own college radio show loves this song……but I found it first

6. This years top ten is chock full of FTRP (Frank Turner related product) in the sense that I first encountered these bands because they toured with him. Here’s another one. The Arkells are a great band from Canada that reminded me of Fitz and the Tantrums who made this list a few years ago. Great pure pop music

7. Death Cab for Cutie “Thank You for Today” Ive liked a song here and there by this band but I like this album top to bottom, especially this one.

8. The Vaccines are a London based indie band. Their album “Combat Sports” is great English pub rock. This song demands demands a sing-a-long every time I hear it

9. Some bands have the ability to make you feel like you’re standing in a small club listening to them play. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats do just that. This song channels Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in the best possible way.

10. One of my favorite songs of the year came off Ryan Culwell’s album “The Last American”. He captures the feeling of everyday people struggling to get by the way Bruce Springsteen did on Darkness and Nebraska

 

Thats just a smattering of some of my favorite albums of the year. Wishing everyone a great 2019.

Thanks for checking us out,

Mike

Swim (for Kristin)

 

Swim

I have what some may call an overinflated idea of the power that music has in our lives. I often feel that I haven’t fully experienced something until I’ve associated that event with a “soundtrack”. 

So after my little sister Kristin revealed recently that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer I began to think about music’s value to a person faced with such a challenge. Could I gather a few songs that might , just a little, inspire, provide support or encouragement or maybe distract, for three or four minutes from the daily grind of treatments, appointments and side effects. 

I recognize the conceit of doing this. To assume I understand what it feels like to deal with such a diagnosis would be crazy. The shock, the fear, the uncertainty and anticipation of the upcoming battle and even the work of presenting a brave face to the world when the effort to do it is to much to bear is something I’ve been blessed not to have personally experienced.

 On top of all of that, what if the music I pick is not even music she  likes. So I decided this doesn’t have to mean anything more than this: Little Sis here’s a few songs that mean something to me and I hope they might mean a little something to you as you fight your fight. 

“Swim” by Jack’s Mannequin is pretty direct. The lead singer wrote this while undergoing treatment for leukemia. Obviously he gets it.

 

This Tom Petty song is especially poignant. Stevie Nicks on backing vocals. This was recorded at his last performance.

 

“Waiting on a Sunny Day” was written by Bruce after 9/11. I choose to view it as an ultimately optimistic song. Today may not be sunny but “things are gonna be ok”.

 

One of the most powerful uses of music in my lifetime was Live Aid. A mostly unknown singer Bob Geldof organized a trans continental daylong concert from most of the top artists of that time. Bowie’s performance of this song was one of the highlights. The song has been co-opted more times than I can count but I believe there are heroes in every cancer center who are heroes “just for one day” , who get up the next day and say it again.

 

U2’s catalogue is overflowing with majestic inspirational music. This one in particular got me. “ The Lights if Home” to me means that when you are struggling, keep your eyes on home,” your loved ones, family and friends to help you get through.

 

 

Of course this song pretty much explains itself. 

So there it is. Just a few songs for whatever that may be worth. Maybe they’ll give you a few minutes of distraction or a smile.

Love,

Your big bro

Worst songs ever _mikes list

Ok we’ll start with the admission that we can be snobs when it comes to music. With that in mind , Paul and I decided to compile a list of some of the worst songs ever .  I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder so our apologies if we offend anyone. Feel free to offer additions (or defenses) if you choose.  Mike’s requirements for his list:

  • the song needs to have been at least a modest hit
  • done by an established artist (people who should know better)
  • no 1 off novelty songs
  • extra credit for bad songs from artists who’ve done otherwise good work
  • no Christmas songs. That’s a special list we’ll do in December

 

I start with a twofer because these two bands are the same band.  The level of “look how sensitive I am” is staggering. Creed is sensitive in the “I’m spiritual but not religious” kind of way.  Nickelback  is sensitive in a “high school jock who just got high for the first time” kind of way.

 

 

This bit of lyrical magic should explain the inclusion of this hit should explain its inclusion

           “And I try

        oh my God,

 do I try!

Try all the time

in this institution”

Starship is like a great TV show where they kill off your favorite characters, the main writer quits and the Network CEO’s screwup nephew gets to write, direct and star in an episode.   80’s Schlock at its best

Special mention for bad duets. Incredible because this one includes two first ballot rock and roll Hall of Famers.

*Extra credit for this lyric video which tells us who is singing which lyrics (because no-one can tell the difference between their voices) and manages to spell Michael wrong  EVERY SINGLE TIME.

The first song I thought of when started to make this list. Exemplifies everything about what was ,ummm ,  not so good about a lot of 80s music.

 

If music video is supposed to bring the artist’s vision from audio to the visual world, I’d hate to see what else was going on in Dennis DeYoung’s brain when he wrote this song for Styx.

 

I. CAN’T. EVEN.

Where to start. 80s pseudo- metal hair bands could fill this list but I’ll choose this representative gem from Warrant. The lyrics, if you choose to pay attention, have what I think is supposed to be sexual innuendo ( as envisioned by horny 9th grade boys)

 

In the “I can’t , I won’t and you can’t ” category we have…..

 

I’m riding Paul’s coattails on this one with the Grammy screw ups…….. but uggh….. this one annoys me.

Chris Cross won best new artist  in 1981 at the Grammys over the Pretenders, Best Album, over The Wall by Pink Floyd, Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra, Best Record over New York, New York by Sinatra

*(oh and by the way , the Clash released London Calling that year. “Why theGrammys Suck” , could be a future column. Stay tuned.)

 

Billy RayCyrus should be on this list if only for owning some responsibility for popularizing the mullet.

Frank Turner – Be More Kind

Image result for be more kind

Frank Turner is an English singer whose songs have been described as folk punk.  A former member of the punk band Million Dead, his songs as a solo artist are folk songs with a punk asthetic – fast paced, aggressive, fist pumping and easy to sing loud to.  What we really love about his songs though is the message inherent in his lyrics: to be true to yourself, experience life to the fullest, and be authentic.  Very inspirational and life affirming at any age, whether your adult life is just starting or you’re facing midlife and questioning what comes next.

Turner has never shied away from the political, but it hasn’t been as much of a focus as earlier in his career.

Early in his solo career he wrote  songs bursting with youthful indignation and righteous anger. They were sometimes political, sometimes blasphemous and occasionally profane.

The last two albums, 2013‘s Tape Deck Heart and 2015‘s Positive Songs for Negative People found Frank focusing more inwardly; somewhat pessimistically, on TDH and then with a somewhat  sunnier outlook on Positive Songs. Those albums chronicle a personal emotional journey from a darker emotional place to new promising relationships. 

2018 has Frank turning his gaze back outward to the rest of the world.

His latest album, Be More Kind returns to  earlier themes.  The election of Donald Trump in the US, and Brexit in his home UK, have made him contemplate the meaning of these events in our time, and how to continue to be authentic when the world is “slipping over the brink,” as he states in the punk tinged ‘1933‘, an allusion to the years before WWII and the start of the rise of Hitler in Germany.  The song is a direct slap in the listener’s face to wake up and pay attention to what’s going on, a pretty terrifying take on the current state of world affairs.

While 1933 (along with the one off song ‘Sand in the Gears‘ that he premiered right after Trump’s election in Jan. 2017) are directly confrontational, Turner’s larger question on his current album is how to move forward to a better place given the situation we find ourselves in.  His answer, as you may have guessed by now, is answered in the title track ‘Be More Kind‘.  Starting quietly with just acoustic guitar, the song slowly builds to a full  yet restrained melody as Turner implores us to show more kindness towards each other, try to better understand each other and find common ground, regardless of our political views or beliefs.

We’ve stopped talking to each other
And there’s something wrong with that
So before you go out searching
Don’t decide what you will find
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind

 

In other songs, Turner explores this theme of connection by focusing on finding individual connection with another within a futuristic nightmare landscape where the world is already over the brink (‘20th Century Survival Blues‘)  or when faced with a literal and figurative ‘Blackout‘:

Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
Bring a burning candle with you
Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
I will be there waiting for you

Musically, this is Turner’s most expansive album to date, incorporating not just his trademark punk folk as well as rock style, but also the most pop influenced songs of his career.  While ‘There She Is‘ is a lovely slice of acoustic pop balladry, ‘Little Changes‘ uses an upbeat and bouncy melody to impart the message that “the big things stay the same until we make Little changes” – change, whether in your personal relationships or in society as a whole, cannot happen all at once but needs to start one step at a time, always moving forward.

In our mind, the highlight of the album and the song that brings it all together is ‘Make America Great Again‘, where Turner brilliantly turns the Trump slogan on its head, using the conceit of an Englishman using the US/England “special relationship” to give advice to his country’s former colony.  After suggesting in the chorus that we make America great again by “By making racists ashamed again, Let’s make compassion in fashion again” Turner ends the song by saying:

Let’s be a friend to our oldest friends
And call them out when they’re faltering
Remind them of their best selves and then
We’ll make America great again

Be More Kind provides a compelling reminder for finding our best selves again, for showing kindness, love and tolerance of others, as the only way to make it through these challenging times.