Music in My Car

Mogwai, The Heartless Bastards, Kurt Vile, Jeff Buckley, Todd Rundgren.

Mogwai, The Heartless Bastards, Kurt Vile, Jeff Buckley, Todd Rundgren.

Music has always been a big part of the Jim Baumer Experience. Every blog I’ve ever maintained at least occasionally brushed up against music, especially music with a big beat, albeit, rock and roll.

The term rock and roll isn’t what it used to be. When the first electric guitars got plugged in and amplification changed modern music, rock was a rebel yell into the conservative abyss and a kick in the teeth to the status quo. Now? Not so much.

My very first blog, set up by a co-worker in 2002 on a platform called Greymatter, had a choice of a “song for the day” when posting. It was a feature I appreciated at the time.

While I don’t buy the volume of “new” music that I used to, I still shop for CDs at music establishments, like the Bull Moose stores here in Maine. I’ve never forgotten that thrill at 12, when my mother would drop me off during her Friday shopping trips to Lewiston, and I had an hour to kill looking through the record bins at DeOrsey’s, and later, the Friday night record runs my high school buddies made down the road to Manassas, Ltd. In Brunswick.

My five-year-old sedan, dubbed “JBE1,” has a CD player, as well as an adapter for an MP3 player. I even now have the capability to stream audio from sources like Pandora through my hands-free, Jabra Freeway Bluetooth Speakerphone. I’m much more apt to go the CD route and always carry a cohort of various CDs in the holder that also serves as my armrest. Ford knew me well when it designed the cabin of its Taurus sedan.

I must admit that there are now times when I listen to very little music, and spend my time on the road with an audio book, or news and sports talk radio. The latter two, however, have dropped down considerably on my list. I’m sick of politics and when WEEI spent a week fancying itself as a news station post-Boston Marathon bombing, especially given some of the hate rants and jingoist propaganda it was spewing, I turned to my music CDs.

This post is really a tribute to some of the other prior blogging I’ve done about music. My favorite blogging long player focused on music was the series of posts I did called, “Shuffle play Fridays,” back in the days of Words Matter, on the Blogger platform. I may even have dusted it off once or twice here at the JBE. This was a fun series of musings about the music and other things going on at the time, in late 2009. Here is the SPF archive in one link.

I’ll call this one, “music in my car,” at least for this week.

Kurt Vile “Smoke Ring for My Halo” (Matador)

Kurt Vile was driving a forklift and unloading trucks. He had a dream of playing music. Music was his passion. He believed in himself even if no one else did. After working all day, he’d go home at night and write, play guitar, and record songs onto his four-track into the wee hours.Then he’d get up, after three hours sleep, and provide eight more hours of toil for the man.

Matador came along and released this disc, his first full-length, after a couple of critically received EPs on smaller, indie labels.

“Smoke Ring for My Halo” has that indie, lo-fi feel to it, like it was recorded at 3:00 am after too many beers and you’ve been noodling around on your guitar for a few hours.

My favorite song is “Puppet to the Man,” which sums up how I feel sometimes, just like “I’m a puppet to the man.” Surely Vile felt the same way, driving a forklift and wanting something more.

Kurt Vile is everyone’s anti-hero that believes that there’s a way clear of that dead-end job if you just believe enough in what you’re doing during your off time.

Hell yeah!

Jeff Buckley “Grace” (Columbia)

If you are familiar at all with rock history, you know that Jeff Buckley drowned while taking a spontaneous evening swim in the Wolf River, in Memphis. He was caught in the wake of a passing boat.

Jeff Buckley was also the son of Tim Buckley, which musicologists will recognize as an important pedigree.

When you listen to this disc, it’s hard to believe that Buckley’s gone and that we’ll never know exactly what would have followed this amazing disc. It’s one of the great rock records, and every fan of the genre should have it in their personal collection. I’m glad I got off the snide and picked “Grace” up at Bull Moose in their used section.

It’s hard for me to select a favorite. If forced, then it would be “Hallelujah,” with its religious/spiritual overtones, intimating the Biblical story of David and Bathsheba.

There’s not a weak track on this disc.

Another example of an artist whose time with us was far too short.

Todd Rundgren “The Very Best Of Todd Rundgren” (Rhino)

I remember picking up Creem, the quintessential 1970s rock rag at Robert’s Pharmacy in Lisbon Falls, reading about Todd Rundgren, his move toward progressive rock in the mid-70s, his spiritual leanings with his band Utopia, and wanting to know more. Life in small town America at 12 was like that, at least for me. This was pre-Internet, and we relied on Creem, Rolling Stone, and others, as well as its contributors to tell us what we needed to know at the time.

This Rhino disc pulls together the best of Rundgren spanning his career from 1970-2004. Rhino’s retrospective gathers the cream of both the visionary singer-songwriter’s adventurous solo work and his output with prog-rock trailblazers Utopia. There’s the Rundgren Top 40 hits that most people will recognize, alongside “Love in Action,” and my favorite, “Love Is The Answer.”

Hearing the latter and the lyrics makes you long for a world where love really was the answer. If it was only that simple.

Heartless Bastards “Arrow” (Partisan)

Heartless Bastards are one of my recent “discoveries.” I heard a track on Pandora and wanted to know who that voice was? The voice is Erika Wennerstrom, and it is one of the great set of rock pipes around.

Fans of the band know the story, but Wennerstrom was the product of a home where her parents split at 9. She dropped out of school at 17. Her life was hanging out in Dayton (Ohio) bars, and then there was a period of drugs. All during this time, however, she had a vision of being a singer, leading a band.

Wennerstrom recounts that a friend gave her the push to finally start singing.

“I was always telling him I wanted to sing, and he was just, like, ‘Well then, just do it,’ ” she said. He gave her a Peggy Lee song he loved and said, “ ‘I bet you can sing this.’ He encouraged me to belt it out. He was like, ‘Come on, I know you can do it.’

Ah, for friends like that one, friends who encourage us to greater heights.

After learning a few chords, she started playing electric guitar, and as they say, “the rest is history.”

Actually, there’s a lot more history, but you can look it up on the interwebs. For today, please know that Wennerstrom can belt out a tune, caterwaul, and her singing is like no one else’s, at least not the run-of-the-mill type of karaoke blandness foisted on us by endless Tee Vee knockoffs and contests between musical wannabes.

Wennerstrom is the real deal and The Heartless Bastards just might be the next great American rock and roll band.

Mogwai “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” (Sub Pop)

Mogwai are post-rock. Post-rock might be like post-Xianity. You pass through it and come out the other side, aware of the experience and moving forward with new possibilities, not hindered by previous restraints.

Mogwai are Scottish, from that fertile musical hub, Glasgow. Mogwai don’t rock much, but when they do, it’s worth waiting for. I love pretty much everything else in-between.

There are few lyrics, but this isn’t background music. This is music for fans of music that want something more than verse, chorus, verse….that’s rock and roll, and that’s why Mogwai are post-rock.

Unlike many other CDs I own, the song titles mean very little to me, other than as track identifiers. I like them, they make me envision what might be behind the music, but Mogwai are a band that pushes you to expand your ideas about rock, pushing beyond the parameters and filters that define what’s “good” and “bad” when it comes to tuneage.

Track 2, “Mexican Grand Prix,” reminds me of Stereolab. This has human singing, run through a processor, so it’s distorted. Track 5, “San Pedro,” and Track 7, “George Square Thatcher Death Party” come the closest to full-blown rock.

This is excellent music for churning blacktop to.

Another recent Bull Moose (carrying on the fine tradition of record stores, ala DeOrsey’s and Manassas, Ltd.) purchase off the strength of a track I heard, this time streamed from KEXP, one of my favorite online haunts for new music.

Dashboard display of  MIMC artists for the week.

Dashboard display of MIMC artists for the week.