My Favorite Music of 2017

Closing out the 2017 year. I haven’t blogged much, but I’m going to address that in a separate post. For now, let’s review the music that I loved the most in 2017

2017 Album of the Year
Propaganda – Crooked

I’m not sure if there is any album that summed up the year of 2017 better for me. This was a year where a lot of terrible things about my country and my culture were long whispered about and finally uncovered in harsh and unyielding light. There have been some prophets calling out both overt and subtle racism and sexism for a while now and Propaganda stands out among the truth-tellers. One of the things that makes his album this year the strongest is his ability to combine systemic awareness and self awareness. While some of his lyrics read like my Twitter timeline raging against the wrongs in our land, he is also painfully aware that he brings his own problems to the table. He works with Copeland’s Aaron Marsh in “Cynical” which I can identify so much with, sends up some love to his hometown Los Angeles with “Do Know Wrong” and old school hip hop with “Slow Cook” but the song that hits me most is “It’s Not Working (The Truth).” Propaganda lists a litany of wrongs against his color but comes to the stark realization that even if all of these issues were solved it would not free him, it would not satisfy him, it would not redeem him. “Hoping in a broken system to fix what’s broken in us. It’s not working, is it?” That to me, sums up 2017 and gives me something to think about in 2018.

The other albums that were so good in 2017…

Colony House – Only The Lonely
A perfect album for a long drive in the summer. I love how much fun this album is. I love that it reminds me of their father (Stephen Curtis Chapman) but it’s very much not him. It’s a nice connection to the past that’s fresh and new.

Eisley – I’m Only Dreaming
With Chauntelle and Stacy exiting the band, I wasn’t sure how good the band would be with Sherri DuPree-Bemis left as the only DuPree sister in the band, but it turns out that Sherri’s songs have generally been my favorite anyways. “Brightest Fire” and “You Are Mine” are sweet songs tinged with just a little bit of snark about a long term relationship that are my favorites.

Sean Michel – You Don’t Know (What the Lord Has Done For Me)
A joyful exploration of gospel music. Sean Michel rollocks through a set of new songs that sound like old songs. It’s the kind of album that makes you want to stand up and clap your hands and maybe even run up and down the aisles of the church.

Lecrae – All Things Work Together
Lecrae made an album that is both thankful and also calls people to justice which was an interesting mix in a year when people didn’t particularly feel like counting their blessings. He didn’t pull any punches though, when he’s not musing about how far he’s come and how thankful he is, he’s reminding the evangelical culture that’s he’s not their mascot and to keep listening. If I have any complaints about the album, it’s that he doesn’t really cover much new ground on this album musically but it’s otherwise a strong addition to his library of work.

Violents and Monica Martin – Awake and Pretty Much Sober
I was familiar with Jeremy Larson’s work under the name Violents but I had never heard of Monica Martin before. She’s a great addition to the list of great vocalists that have worked with Larson such as the aforementioned Dupree-Bemis and Kye Kye’s Olga Yagolnikov. Her vocals are smooth and Larson provides lush instrumentation over former Mute Math drummer Darren King’s beats.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie and Lowell Live
If I’m honest, I didn’t particularly love Carrie and Lowell but in a live setting Stevens’ anxiety about his childhood vibrates and is just a little more intense. I didn’t really expect to have much interest in this live recording but I found myself coming back to it time and again.

U2 Deep In The Heart of Texas

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Most of my early pop musical choices were influenced by girls. Of course they were. Once in middle school I asked a girl that was sitting across from me what she was listening to on her headphones. “Kansas,” she said, “do you like them?” YEAH I DO. *goes out and buys The Best of Kansas on cassette the next day.* I remember in middle school there was this one girl that exuded coolness. She wasn’t pretty like the cheerleaders but she had an aura around her of someone who was confident in who she was. She had a denim jacket and it had all of these buttons on it of all these bands that weren’t really on the radio much but had these crazy names. The Cure. The Alarm. Midnight Oil. She had a button with a white flag and the two characters “U” and “2”. I wanted to know about these bands.

The album The Joshua Tree came out and the band U2 went from being “the band the cool kids knew about” to “the band everyone knew about” and their songs were all over the radio. I loved the album. I was on board. I was with them until the 90’s when I drifted away. It took another girl, my wife, to pull me back in and appreciate Achtung Baby!, Zooropa, and Pop. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was released just a couple weeks before our wedding and we played the album driving around in our rental car on our honeymoon. The Elevation tour wrapped it’s arms around us after September 11 attacks. We were five feet from the stage on the Vertigo tour. Then, the U2 360 Tour happened and I had a gnawing feeling in my gut that maybe they were getting a step slower, maybe they had finally peaked.

Nagging feelings aside, when U2 announced a tour to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of The Joshua Tree I knew I wanted to see it. I wanted to be there to hear the whole album, the one that got me hooked on U2, from beginning to end. There was no show in Atlanta so Adriene and I had to figure out if we could make a trip somewhere work. As it turned out, many of friends from my days of going to Cornerstone Festival decided to meetup at the show in Dallas since that was close to where many of them lived in Austin. We hadn’t been to a concert together and made terrible jokes in some five years. It didn’t even matter that our seats were in the upper deck, some five rows beneath the rafters of the gigantic stadium for the Dallas Cowboys.

What a gigantic stadium it was, the sound echoed and bounced all around the cavernous stadium, particularly during the openers, The Lumineers, when there were more empty seats. By the time U2 started though, the stadium was full and the sound improved a little bit. The band started out setting up the Joshua Tree album with a couple of old hits playing on a small “b stage” shaped like the tree in the middle of the crowd. Up to this point, the gigantic video screen behind them had gone unused, but once they started into “Where the Streets Have No Name” the background went red and orange bringing back memories of the moment the “Rattle and Hum” video went to color and then the screen exploded into life behind them. I have to admit it was a little weird to have the climax of the album at the front and it did feel a little like this section of the show peaked with the first song, but every song on this album is a classic. There were some interesting arrangements, “Red Hill Mining Town” and “Trip Through Your Wires” were songs that were rarely (if ever) played in concert were changed up. “Bullet the Blue Sky” was played a little more straightforward. I expected Bono to summon down fire during this song with a sermon, but he was in a unifying mood tonight, more interested in bringing America together than taking it’s faults head on. “Exit” brought forth some fury but “Mothers of the Disappeared” was the most emotional song of the night for me as it brought the album to a close with some beautiful imagery on the screen.

Bono then announced that the show was moving into “the future” and “women are the future” as the screen told the story of a Syrian refugee girl during “Miss Sarajevo” and then pictures of famous women flashed on the screen during “Ultraviolet.” I have to admit though, I try to do a decent job keeping up with current events and many of the women (I’m guessing by their names involved in politics in the Far East) I did not know. I’m sure it was not a coincidence though that in the deep red heart of Texas the image of Hillary Clinton was accompanied by Laura Bush. Before the song “One”, Bono made special mention of the Bush family and George W Bush’s efforts as president to provide funding for AIDs medication which has saved an estimated 18 million lives in Africa.

A second encore followed with a brilliantly colorful “Beautiful Day” followed by “Elevation” before the band called an audible. Normally this was the spot for their new song they had been doing on their tour but they decided to play “I Will Follow” instead. Afterwards, it seemed like there was a little confusion, I was sure they would come back for another encore but awkwardly after a few minutes the house lights came up and that was that for a little bit of an unsatisfying conclusion.

I can’t really complain though, the band was a tight as ever. Adam and Larry were in lockstep for the show, not really showcasing too much. Larry got his traditional intro at the start of the show with “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and Adam thudded through “Exit” with some intensity. The Edge seared through solos, probably his high point of the evening was “Bullet the Blue Sky” for me. Bono sounded better than I’ve heard him in a long time. He didn’t take on some of the screaming high notes in songs like “Red Hill Mining Town” but otherwise he hit everything he intended to.

The Joshua Tree came out near the end of Reagan’s term as president and many of the songs tackle America at that period, both the good and the bad. I thought U2 might take on our current America with some updating of the songs and to some extent they did, but Bono was more interested in unifying the crowd tonight. He made sure to mention that as Irishmen, they were guests in our country and still appreciated it. He didn’t mention our current president once, but made sure to thank George W Bush as noted earlier and made nods to the women’s march and the Syrian refugee crisis. The band didn’t deviate from the plan much, my friend Jerry who was on the floor for the show noted that almost everything was read from a teleprompter so this was a U2 that was unusually scripted. But who can complain? A band nearing their 40th year that usually doesn’t dwell on nostalgia too much can be forgiven if they look back on the time when the became the world’s biggest band and want to share some good memories with us.

SETLIST
Sunday Bloody Sunday
New Year’s Day
Bad
Pride
The Joshua Tree
Where the Streets Have No Name
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
With or Without You
Bullet the Blue Sky
Running to Stand Still
Red Hill Mining Town
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires
One Tree Hill
Exit
Mothers of the Disappeared

Encore
Miss Sarajevo
Ultraviolet
One

Beautiful Day
Elevation
I Will Follow

Kerosene Halo in Birmingham

For the last couple years whenever Micheal Roe and/or Derri Daugherty started a tour, their first stop was always here in Atlanta. Unfortunately, the venue has closed so the opening date this time around for Keorsene Halo, the band project by both Roe and Daugherty, was in Birmingham, Alabama. I wanted to see the show and figure it would be a good opportunity to see some old friends, so I made a little weekend trip out to Birmingham.

Well, “Birmingham.” The location was as much “Birmingham” as Dallas, Georgia venue I used to see them at was as much, “Atlanta.” It was way out in the middle of nowhere, but it was a nice church venue with a nice large stage and decent PA (and a lighted cross above the stage that slowly changed colors which was kinda distracting.) Mike and Derri brought Steve Hindalong on drums and Paul Averitt on bass guitar for a full band sound. Averitt opened the show with three songs on acoustic guitar before the band played.

Let it not be said this tour is some retread of past efforts by Roe or Daughtery. The set list was pretty much all new songs except for the Lost Dogs song “That’s Where Jesus Is” (ironically, the only song that Roe flubbed the lyrics on.) They also brought a grand total of 5 new CDs for “new product” (the new Kerosene Halo CD, a covers CD, Steve’s solo CD, a little acoustic CD by Derri, and a live 2001 show with Roe and Dave Beegle.) It was definitely a “first show on the tour” show as they often had to ask each other who was starting the song and had their guitars tuned wrong for a couple songs, but once the songs started they sounded really good.

The set was broken up into four little “mini-sets.” The first set was three songs from the new album as a four-piece band and Roe was in fine form as always on electric guitar.

Mike said they didn’t want to do this tour as “The Mike and Derri Lost Dogs Comedy Hour”, but this part was the “Mike and Derri Lost Dogs Comedy Hour” as it was just the two of them on acoustic guitar. Derri told a story about how he and Steve tried to pitch “Beautiful Girl” to the show Nashville, but they never got a response and then the show folded. Oh well.

Steve Hindalong took the front of the stage next and he did “O Jimmy A” solo on guitar, explaining the lyric “never mind my lungs… roll me another one” was about how on their route 66 tour Jimmy A was always rolling cigarettes (tobacco, of course, though Steve noted that his sister is being treated for cancer with cannabis, and then looked a little sheepish for talking about marijuana in a Southern small-town church.) The rest of the band joined him and Derri played bass and Averitt played drums (seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do?) and they rocked out a little bit to two of Steve’s songs on his new CD.

The last “mini-set” was a couple of covers. Kinda funny hearing Tom Petty in a church. Mike went off on electric was Derri just played some shakers and Steve and Paul held down the beat. They then came back for an encore of “Blackbird” and “Goodnight Goodnight”

It was a really fun show, just because it was very different from the typical Lost Dogs/Mike Roe/Derri and Steve type of show. My only complaint was that it was kinda short (about 90 minutes). I got screwed up by the time change (show was in Central Time)… my phone didn’t change over to the Central Time Zone, so I thought it was a lot later than it actually was and didn’t hang around long after the show. I hope they can find some new place to play in Atlanta, but it was certainly worth the drive.

Setlist:
Don’t You Weep For Me
Sweet Girl
Ghost of Johnny Cash

Beautiful Girl
The Outlaw (Larry Norman)
That’s Where Jesus Lives
Leave It There

Hey Jimmy A
Love You Bad
Lucky and Blessed

Learning to fly (Tom Petty)
Not Fade Away (Buddy Holly)

Blackbird (The Beatles)
Goodnight Goodnight

Yes at Verizon Ampitheater

It’s pretty common for the band Yes to have changing members, but tragically this is the first time the lineup has changed due to a death. Long-time bass guitarist Chris Squire lost his battle to leukemia this summer and by his request, the band continued on for this tour. I’m glad they decided to carry-on because a Yes concert is always an opportunity to reunite with my college friend, Will. Will is one of the only other people I know in the Atlanta area who is as knowledgeable about the winding history of the band and also an aficionado of all of the phases of the band. We always have lively discussions about our favorite songs, favorite albums, but we don’t have any animosity towards any eras or band members. It’s also a great time for us to catch up on each others lives.

The set list was a nice mix of a couple lesser-known songs and standby hits. “Going For the One” was nice to hear in it’s original key as Jon Anderson preferred to sing it lower. I always love to hear “America” because it’s a Steve Howe showpiece as even in his sixties he bounces on the balls of his feet and duck walks through the solos. When Howe got his opportunity for his little acoustic guitar ditty “Clap” the sky started to light up with a thunderstorm in the area. We were under the shed of the ampitheater, but it never rained very hard. The show started to round into standards at this point, with “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Siberian Khatru” and Howe even looked more interested than usual in playing the radio hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. After “Roundabout” we decided to skip out from the encore as we had coasted into the parking lot on empty and wanted to avoid the nightmare scenario of getting stuck in parking lot traffic and running out of gas. That’s too bad as the band was starting to heat up “Starship Trooper” but it was probably the right choice.

This particular lineup of band members had never played live together before this tour. Jon Davison has assumed the vocal duties and while he might not be a good as Jon Anderson in his prime, he is probably better than 2015 Jon Anderson. He was effortless in his vocals, having a natural high pitched voice that never struggled to hit any of the high notes. Billy Sherwood assumed Chris Squire’s bass guitar duties and while he might lack a little of Squire’s charisma, he was more than capable of handling the wandering, thundering bass lines and his pedigree with the band makes him a natural to succeed the centerpiece member. I thought he was a little low in the mix, but I was really pleased with his performance. Geoff Downes was on keyboards and but for a couple flourishes here and there, he was buried in the mix. Alan White has anchored the band at drums for decades and has been nothing if not consistent. Really though, the show was all about Steve Howe. He may appear thin and frail, but he still is full of energy and can make every run up and down the fretboard. In the last twenty years or so, he seems to have become increasingly dedicated to making his tone as clean and clear as possible, which I actually don’t like. I long for the days of the old Yes bootlegs where his guitar crackled, hummed, and buzzed through the amps but that’s for days past I guess. Nonetheless, it’s always a treat to see him play. I don’t who the best guitarist in the world is, but there is no guitar player out there that plays like him.

Toto opened the night. I was familiar with their big hits like “Rosanna” and “Africa” but their whole set sounded very good, even their new material was enjoyable. They had a big ensemble on stage and they were well mixed. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a show where the opener had a better mix than the headliner.

Will and I both left with a very positive impression of the show, we were both very happy. I hope the band continues on even without Squire and they have a year’s worth of shows lined up, so maybe the band still have some more music to bring us. It’s been a nice touchstone for Will and I to sync up. Will and I have had our ups and downs and a winding road through our friendship, but I don’t have many friends that I spend one-on-one time with anymore (and even less these days in the hectic parenting of young children) Will and I used to sneak off of Tech campus when class and girls became just too much and split a pizza and bemoan the state of things and solve every problem. Not much has changed there as we grabbed a late dinner after the show. Like anytime I get together with old college friends, we sometimes slip away and leave nothing mister but boring stories of “glory days” (daaa-da-da-da) but we also to catch up on what people are up to though, those we still keep in touch with as we disperse farther and farther away. We have rare moments like these Yes concerts together and they become more and more valuable. I think of Jon Anderson and Chris Squire how they split in the band around eight years ago and I hope even if they weren’t in the band together anymore they still kept in touch up to Squire’s death. I’m glad my friend and I didn’t go different paths either so that we can still enjoy these shows.

The Oh Hellos at Terminal West

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Last night, I went to see The Oh Hellos at Terminal West and it was a whole lot of fun. Terminal West is a relatively new venue in an old industrial part of Atlanta that has become a hipster haven. There is a great coffee shop (Octane) over there and lofts and apartments popping up overnight. Terminal West is a relatively simple room that still feels new, it’s not nearly as dank as Variety Playhouse or terrifyingly spooky as the Masquerade. There’s a nice balcony (I didn’t venture up to the patio on the roof but I kinda wish I did.) and a restaurant next door. I hung out mostly by the bar where I had a decent view. The show was sold out and it was snug, but there was still room to move around if you weren’t up next to the stage. The crowd was mostly 20’s-30’s, maybe slightly more girls with their boyfriends in tow, but there were a couple of groups of bros, too. There were a few older couples, too. The crowd was generally speaking well behaved.

The show started at 9 PM, which feels so freakin’ late now that I am old, with Ruston Kelley who was ok, mostly nondescript ballads on acoustic guitar. He brought this sister out to sing some duets and they sounded nice together. The most interesting part of his set was when he told a story about breaking into a publisher’s recording studio and living there for seven months, even borrowing some of the artists’ clothes while there.

The Oh Hellos came on stage around 10:15. The downside of these bands with 10 members is that even a brief soundcheck seems to drag on forever. The violin player moved quickly around the stage to check all the instruments and mics but with that much stuff, it seemed to take a long time. The band itself is essentially a brother-sister duo Tyler and Maggie Heath and they are pretty static, but behind them is a swirling chaos of eight musicians playing two drum kits, violins, banjos, guitars, and other percussion and they are all leaping around the stage and whooping and hollering and generally having a good time. I liked how they introduced each member of the band with a generic 80’s sitcom soundtrack in the background and each member would pose like they were in a 80’s sitcom intro when their name was announced.

Their sound isn’t particularly original, they play a blend of Irish and American folk music similar to The Lumineers or Mumford and Sons, but it is singable and enjoyable. Their first album _Through the Deep, Dark Valley_ has a couple songs loosely based on the creation story. Those songs were the most popular with the crowd as they sang along, but the new stuff from their upcoming album _Dear Wormwood_ sounds really good as well. The title track was apocalyptic with a cathartic yell at the climax. The crowd was really chatty during the opener’s show and quieted down a little bit during The Oh Hellos, but after “Dear Wormwood” you could hear a pin drop.

By this time it was late and I didn’t want to get caught in traffic getting out of the parking lot so I bolted before the encore. I had heard everything I wanted to hear plus some new stuff so I was satisfied. All in all, a really enjoyable show, even if it was late for this old man. The last time this band played Atlanta they packed out Eddie’s Attic and now they’ve filled up a bigger venue and the new stuff sounds great, they seem to be a band on their way up. They are currently very independent, it will be interesting to see if they get corralled into a label or if they just keeping doing what they do. They kind of remind me of Caedmon’s Call around 1996 before they got pulled into the CCM machine, being from Texas with a large ensemble (though maybe not at as didactic as Aaron Tate’s lyric writing) playing folk music. I like having a new band fill that niche for me.