Here’s a digital browsing success story: I was on Hoopla (free with your library card) trolling through the new music releases and selected an album from an artist I knew and liked. Don’t even remember which it was, but I saw that the Similar Artists under the album showed a band called Mountain Man. Had never heard of them, but I figured a group with a name like that couldn’t be bad. Turned out I was correct. It’s a trio of women doing mostly a cappella folk serenades, and I can’t wait to play them as lullabies to my incipient child. Choice song: “Agt”
Since 2010, when I first got my MacBook Pro, I’ve used GarageBand to record song ideas. Some of them remain fragments and half-songs, but many have become full songs. This album is a collection of the songs that became something.
Most of the songs were written and recorded in 2010 when I was in Colombia, or in 2011 after I returned home and had a good amount of spare time. None of them are professionally or even decently recorded; I did them all myself, usually just with the MacBook’s built-in microphone in a bedroom or other non-soundproofed space. (Piano and drums were recorded at Reba Place Church.) Except where noted I did all the singing and played all the instruments. I am not a good singer, but I am proud of how I composed and arranged many of the songs. Some turned out well, some make me cringe, some I’m just happy I finished.
I’m releasing them now for two reasons:
Now in my thirties with a kid on the way, I’d very much like to just get these out into the world and achieve some sense of closure rather than let them languish on a hard drive. They represent a formative time of my life for which I’m very grateful, but it’s time to say goodbye and thanks for the memories.
Without a band or reason to record them professionally, I’d rather release them as demos, lo-tech warts and all, because something is better than nothing.
Keep reading for some short liner notes on each track. Thanks for listening and sharing. And thanks to Richard Polt for the authentic Royal Executive typewriter font for the cover.
1. “The Wonder Of It All”
The most recently written and recorded song on the album, from 2015. Initially had some drums towards the end, but between that, the guitar, and piano, the rhythm got too choppy. Just realized how much the beginning sounds like “Hero” by Family of the Year (a.k.a. the Boyhood song).
2. “It All Comes Back To You”
Originally called “Shouldn’t Have Done,” written by my friend and former bandmate Taylor, I changed the chorus and wrote two more verses for this new version. (Original version is track 14.) The random children shouting in the background were playing in the Colombian church where I was recording.
3. “Minor Lovers (feat. Taylor Martin)”
With a little banjo and stand-up bass help from Taylor.
4. “Be Still Your Fears (Christmastime Is Here)”
Once I started coming back around on Christmas music in general, I figured I should try to write my own. A bit strange putting this together in a warm Colombian winter. Should have added some sleigh bells in the interludes.
5. “Rejoice Evermore”
Proud of the backing vocals on this one. Can you tell I was listening to Mumford & Sons a lot around that time? This and track 13 are the most explicitly worship-songy I think—not a surprise given I was living with a Colombian pastor’s family and heavily involved at church.
My “sad bastard” emo song. Added the harmonica interludes after I got one for my birthday one year.
8. “I Will Find A Way”
Went through several different tempos and feels before landing on this more upbeat version. Regret not adding some foot-stomps to give it some meat and drive.
9. “Long Gone Days”
Also went through several different tempos and feels before landing on this slow rock rendition. Needs some bass or low-end.
10. “Today Starts”
Wrote this all the way back in high school, and even recorded it with Taylor on a 4-track mixer. But couldn’t locate the recording, so I tried it again. The original was better, and not just because Taylor sang it.
11. “I Carry Your Heart”
Chorus lyrics are quoting an e.e. cummings poem, which I first heard in the good movie In Her Shoes. Had fun stacking harmonies throughout.
12. “What Love Looks Like To Me”
Kinda funny that I wrote this before ever actually being in love and having botched two different shotgun relationships. Call it a creative writing experiment.
13. “Awake And Alive”
Another fun vocal one. Not sure what I was thinking with the claps but why not.
14. “It All Comes Back To You (feat. Taylor Martin)”
The original “Shouldn’t Have Done” with me on guitar and Taylor singing.
“Strange American Dream” by Rayland Baxter, Wide Awake Recently I decided I wanted to find a way to regularly hear new music. If only there were a podcast, I thought, from a renowned media company that featured new music every week. Then I realized that was NPR’s All Songs Considered, a podcast I’ve known about for years but never listened to. The first episode I heard featured this song. I was hooked right away, dove into his back catalog, and then found out he was playing in Chicago exactly when I could make it. It was a great show: he’s like the lovechild of Tom Petty and Steve Miller Band, with a dash of U2.
“Waiting on a Song” by Dan Auerbach, Waiting on a Song I was on a Black Keys-adjacent kick and realized I hadn’t listened to Auerbach’s solo stuff. I didn’t care for Keep It Hid, but Waiting on a Song is a sparkling mix of pop, rock, and soul.
“To the Great Unknown” by Cloud Cult, The Seeker A buddy of mine told me about Cloud Cult in the midst of a deep conversation about the mysteries of the universe. Turns out Cloud Cult is a great guide in that journey. I can’t decide if I actually like Minowa’s voice or not, but the combination of stargazing lyrics and indie rock just does something for me.
“The Last Goodbye” by Uncle Earl, Waterloo, Tennessee Pretty sure I have Abigail Washburn’s Wikipedia page to thank for stumbling upon this band she was in before her solo work. Combining her voice and banjo-fueled folk music can never go wrong.
“Steamboat Whistle Blues” by John Hartford, Aereo-Plain Without realizing it, the first Hartford song I heard was Sara Watkins’ cover of “Long Hot Summer Days” almost a decade ago. It took until recently to look into his stuff, and the banjo-heavy “newgrass” of Aereo-Plain emerged as the favorite. It has several straight-up weird songs, but this one ain’t one of them:
This is a great profile of Steve Miller of the Steve Miller Band, written by musician Max Marshall, whom Miller befriended as a middle schooler and has mentored ever since. In one part Marshall describes the enduring appeal of Miller’s music:
To a lot of Steve Miller Band fans, the seventies hits are like “chocolate cake.” They’re warm and pleasurable comfort food, reminiscent of a Summer of ’76 picnic. They’re rock without the chaos, the blues without the pain, an America with the freedom of an endless road trip.
That’s exactly right. Though I was born long after the Steve Miller Band and his contemporaries were popular, growing up with 94.9 WOLX in Madison helped introduce me to all the good stuff long before I even knew which bands wrote which songs.
More recently I’ve started compiling a list of the songs that—at least for me—fit into that “chocolate cake” vein. Ranging from pop to rock to country, their strong hooks and smooth rhythms are perfect for long summer days and windows-down road trips. (My wife, to my shame, is not a fan, so I usually have to save it for solo driving.)
For a long time I couldn’t figure out a good name for this subgenre, but chocolate cake rock works for me. Suggestions for further additions welcome:
“Take the Money and Run” – Steve Miller Band
“Danny’s Song” – Loggins & Messina
“Dance With Me” – Orleans
“Running On Empty” – Jackson Browne
“Ramblin Man” – Allman Brothers
“Rich Girl” – Hall & Oates
“Come and Get Your Love” – Redbone
“The Weight” – The Band
“Amie” – Pure Prairie League
“Reelin’ in the Years” – Steely Dan
“Lake Shore Drive” – Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah
“I Just Want to Celebrate” – Rare Earth
“Brandy” – Looking Glass
“Time in a Bottle” – Jim Croce