By: Tom Speed
Please, don't stop me if you've heard this one before, because it happens every year and there's nothing you can do about. It's the first day of the year that you kick off your shoes and go out into the world in your bare feet or, if you really must, a comfortable pair of flip-flops or sandals. It's spring, the annual season of rebirth and renewal and it feels like it every time. In the same way that you can't read the same book twice, each spring is necessarily different than every other one, and with it always comes new revelations, new joys and new enthusiasms. Yes, I know I ramble on about this every year but it happens every year, dammit.
If you're like me, the day you realize spring has sprung provides a euphoric rush. You find yourself unintentionally driving fast with the windows (or top) down, music blaring on an aimless country road ride that will most likely wind up at a body of water. Growing up as an inlander, those days meant an afternoon at the lake. If the sun was shining, the water (and the beer) was cool, and the air felt just right, the magnetic pull of the outdoors superseded everything else.
Of course, there was always, always, a soundtrack. In the ninth grade, when I got a driver's license and could therefore exercise 100-percent control over the car stereo, the soundtrack included Van Halen (I wished I had a Trans Am to play it from but I didn't), some Prince, Led Zeppelin, Talking Heads and quite possibly some Hank Jr. These were cassettes back then. I narrowly escaped the eight-track era, and for years I wondered what my sister's boyfriend (who did have a Trans Am) did with all of those eight track tapes of Led Zeppelin, Rush and Kiss. Now that I have a storage room full of cassettes and DATs, I think I know. We rocked these albums - Fair Warning, 1984, Speaking in Tongues, Controversy, Around The World In A Day and all the Zeppelin we could get our hands on - until we knew every nook and cranny. We knew the spaces between the notes. We dwelled in them.
In between listening to these albums, we'd listen to the radio and, on occasion, the DJ dude spinning the records seemed to be just like us, especially during the "Get The Led Out" segment. He'd string together a great run of tunes, each one building on the last. Sometimes high-fives ensued. And then, thunk! A dud. He'd ruin the momentum with a crappy song. It didn't take too many thunks until I hunkered down with my nifty new dual cassette deck and made a mix of my own: the right batch of tunes, in exactly the right order, with no thunks. DJ Dude had nothing on me.
Even now, 24 years later, I feel compelled to sequence my current favorite tunes together at the first hint of spring. It's something like a compulsion, not hindered at all by the fact that so much great new music seems to come out every spring. It happens every year!
This year is no exception. While my mix is mostly new stuff, it is all carefully calibrated to enter your eardrum at precisely predetermined intervals. Some of it isn't new at all, but is inescapable. By no means does this represent everything, most, or even a sizeable chunk of the great music coming out right now. Your mix would undoubtedly be different, but since I'm behind the wheel and currently have control of the stereo, here it is: Speed's Spring Mix Tape. Yes, I know it's not called a mix tape anymore. I know high schoolers are putting playlists on their iPods now, but I bet the windows are rolled down nonetheless. In the words of DJ Dude, turn it up and RIP THE KNOB OFF!
1. "I Can't Be What U Want" – Hyms
This song will make you smile. Horns wrestling with banjoes always do. It's from Hymns' recent release, Travel In Herds. I like it a lot.
2. "Mizzip" - North Mississippi Allstars
This song is so fun. I dare you to sit down while listening to it, especially during the little rave-up thing near the end. Double dog dare!
3. "Goodbye Daughters of The Revolution" - The Black Crowes
Did somebody mention rebirth and renewal? Oh yeah, that was me. Nothing speaks to that notion more than the Crowes' new record, Warpaint. It's a true return to form and a step forward at the same time. This tune is groovy in all the right places, and perfect for that windows-down country road ride. Try not to lift your hand over your head roller coaster style during the slide solo, and watch out for Dennis Cook. He's just up the road a bit, but he's probably driving pretty fast, too.
4. "Strange Times" - The Black Keys
The Black Keys have made their name on lo-fi punk-blues. That's one reason why their new collaboration with Danger Mouse, Attack & Release, is so satisfying. This one stomps, sways and swirls.
5. "Man Sized Wreath" - R.E.M.
After finally catching my breath from the suffocating hype surrounding the new R.E.M. record, Accelerate, I got a chance to hear it for myself. It's a rare case of living up to the hype. Accelerate sounds like R.E.M. in some kind of alternate timeline version of 1988, one in which they didn't become "Shiny Happy People." In that world, this record came right after Document. It's loud and fast and a little bit angry. Peter Buck's guitars blaze, Stipe murmurs, Mills nails the high harmony. This is the band I loved then. Welcome back.
6. "When You Were Mine" - Dent May & His Magnificent Ukulele
Alert readers might remember that I've been on a bit of a ukulele kick lately. Jake Shimabukuro is my new hero, and I've finally learned to play The Beatles' "Something" and "Honey Pie" on the uke (George Harrison was a ukulele aficionado). Dent May is a local Oxford, Miss. guy who also happens to play ukulele. That is, when he isn't singing country songs with his other band, Cowboy Maloney's Electric City, or spinning in his DJ duo, Airships. This track, from his free EP download, A Brush With Velvet, has the added bonus of being written by Prince. Dig the handclaps.
7. "Like A Ball & Chain" - Jackie Greene
Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Jackie Greene has been saddled with plenty of hype, but he shrugs it off by writing kick-ass songs. This catchy rocker is one of them.
8. "Top Yourself" - The Raconteurs
Consolers of The Lonely is a hefty chunk of heavy-duty retro rock. I've nearly given myself whiplash listening to this slide guitar assault, and it's one of the more mellow tunes on the record. If there was any doubt before, there's not now: The White Stripes is the side project.
9. "Boom Boom Boom" - Widespread Panic
This opening boogie from Panic's new album, Free Somehow, is prime fist-pumping material. Feel free to high-five.
10. "Soldier" - North Mississippi Allstars
Hernando, the latest album from the Allstars, is their best record yet. That's because they've finally come into their own and cemented their identity. They aren't a "contemporary blues band," though they've been nominated for Grammy awards in that category. They are a rock band, heavily influenced by and adept in the execution of the Hill Country Blues they were raised on. They've already made their mark by recreating the canon of that genre (Shake Hands With Shorty), writing their own tunes in the same vein (51 Phantom), paying homage to those heroes (Electric Blue Watermelon), and endured a slight detour (Polaris) along the way. Hernando is the fully formed Allstars - a blues-based rock band that sizzles and stomps, rips and roars. They now have solid original tunes that provide a framework to do all of that and more. This song proves it.
11. "No Better Way" - Donna Jean & The Tricksters
I didn't discover the Grateful Dead until the year after that first summer behind the wheel, but you can't un-ring that bell. This tune, from former Grateful Dead singer Donna Jean Godcheaux-McKay and her new band the Tricksters, has a great "Lovelight"-like groove that's lots of fun.
12. "Debbo Ndoogu" - Afrissippi
Alliance is an appropriate name for the new album from Afrissippi, a collaboration between Senegalese folk singer Guelel Kumba and a group of north Mississippi Hill Country blues players, including Junior Kimbrough protégé Eric Deaton on guitar and Junior's son Kinney Kimbrough on drums. Entrancing.
13. "(Late Night At The) Maple Leaf" - Stanton Moore Trio
Stanton seems to have found a real comfort zone with Robert Walter on keys and Will Bernard on guitar. This little slice of swing, from his forthcoming Emphasis! (On Parenthesis)! has the added funk of being co-written by the incomparable bassist George Porter Jr. It also comes with a warning: Listening To This Song May Cause You To Book A Flight To New Orleans.
14. "Suck The Head (Squeeze The Tail)" - The Radiators
It happens every year, and it happened yesterday. At the first crawfish boil of the year, this song gets stuck in my head and won't leave until the Rads close Jazz Fest on the second Sunday.
15. "Death Trip" - Yonder Mountain String Band
Speaking of Jazz Fest, I caught Yonder Mountain doing this Danny Barnes tune at the Fais Do Do Stage one year. This version from Mountain Tracks Vol. 5 reminds me of that day. It was a very good day.
16. "The Song Remains The Same" - Led Zeppelin
Because I still have to get the Led out.
There you have it. That's my Spring Mix - a little more than an hour's worth of music that ought to get you to the lake or beach and back. What's your mix? Let me know in the comments below.
See you at the lake.
JamBase | Oxford
Go See Live Music!