Working on a Building: The art and craft of songwriting

Working on a Building

A song is a built thing. As such, its creation is dependent on the efforts of a builder who deploys a combination of intentions, skills, and tools to achieve a finished result.

The Holy Trinity of Songwriting

The final barometer of whether a song can be considered a successful creation depends on whether it meets three related criteria:

  1. Vision: Is there a discernible, experience-able “intention” driving the song? Is there a “point” to it? Is there a worldview at work behind it? Is there a reason for the song to exist, and is that reason woven into the DNA of the song itself?
  2. Craft: Has genuine skill been applied to the creation of the song? Is there “talent” of a kind at work? Has the song truly been “built” through the application of technique?
  3. Aesthetic: Is the song pleasing in some way? Does it move a listener? Is it beautiful? Not pretty, mind you—beautiful.

By these standards, the raw one-chord majesty of Blind Willie Johnson’s “God Moves On The Water” is every bit the equal of Beethoven’s “Eroica,” and that’s as it should be.

The Due Diligence of Songwriting

As a builder of songs, you are remiss in your duty if you fail to evaluate every component of what you’re building, as you work to fruition. Lyric, melody, harmony, rhythm. It is your responsibility to consider these components, and ensure you’ve done your diligence. It is not required of you that you audition your composition in every single available time signature, but it IS required that you have experienced, understand the full import of, and have a reason for, the time signature you choose.

At The Crossroads

All that said, the best songs emerge from the holy crossroads where craft and spontaneity meet. You must practice all your life for those singular moments when you must act as if you know nothing at all. This, among so much else, is what both Bukka White and John Coltrane teach us. The critical moments of inspiration and composition depend for their success on the craft that you bring to bear on those instances. As with any craft, you must practice, and as with any practice, you must understand how to be free.

The Neil Young Use Case

If you want to understand how all the above inter-relate, listen to Neil Young. His transparency, and bizarre willingness to let us hear EVERYTHING from the terrible to the divine, offers a rare opportunity to bear firsthand witness to what a successful song requires in the way of synergy. Musically, he is often a mess. Otherwise potentially wonderful songs are marred by unimaginative melodies, repetitive chord patterns, and hopelessly sloppy execution. Lyrically, he falls into cliche so often it’s a wonder he is not concussed. Great lines are often surrounded by the most appallingly banal lines. Rhythmically, he rarely strays from the “Crazy Horse Beat.” Songs run one into another, hardly discerning themselves. But when it all comes together, he writes songs of otherworldly stature, that few songwriters in history can claim to have matched. We may all have personal preferences when it comes to songs such as the following:

  • Helpless
  • Pocahontas
  • Cinnamon Girl
  • After the Gold Rush
  • Old Man
  • The Needle and the Damage Done
  • Powderfinger
  • Only Love Can Break Your Heart
  • Heart of Gold
  • Cortez the Killer

But it’s hard to refute that they each in their own way represent remarkable convergences of spontaneity and craft, that they each meet the trinity of Vision-Craft-Aesthetic, and that they are each, in their own way, great songs.

The Complexity of Simplicity

Perhaps the most complicated concept, when it comes to the art and craft of songwriting, is the question of simplicity, because, what IS simplicity? Is this haiku by Basho simple?

An old silent pond…
A frog jumps into the pond,
splash! Silence again.

If you want to experience songwriting perfection, listen to the opening couplet of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”:

Jolene, I’m begging of you please, don’t take my man
Jolene, please don’t take him just because you can.

The melody is perfection. The instrumentation and arrangement are perfection. The lyrics are perfection. Her vocal is perfection. The great Zen master Dogen once wrote, “The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.” The whole world and the entire sky are reflected in the first two lines of this perfect song.

That said, don’t be fooled by the seeming simplicity. To understand the complexity of simplicity, listen to Thelonious Monk’s re-harmonizations of Harold Arlen’s “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” on the “Monk Alone” collection. To hear this performance is to experience a completely different enactment of the Vision-Craft-Aesthetic triumvirate.

Working on a Building

The point is, there is no right answer. There is no universal definition of perfection. There is only the work. The work of songwriting is to work your songs. To build.

My Baby Left Me, etc.

My baby left me,and I feel .....

Welcome to Episode 32 of …

Getting to the Art of the Matter:
In which we try to answer the really BIG music questions!

Q: Why are there, like, a million songs about “my baby left me?”

A: There are actually 4 possible answers to this very important question:

  1. It’s a metaphor.
  2. Somebody is lying.
  3. There are a lot of exceptionally promiscuous people out there.
  4. So-called “blues songwriters” are continuing to rely on an exceptionally short list of lame clichés.

Thank you for your question! Stay tuned for Episode 33, in which we address the question: “What happened to the saxophone in the 90s?”

10 Critical Songwriting DON’Ts


I’ll preface this list by saying that I KNOW you’ll look at each one of these, and immediately think of a pre-existing exception. So I’ll clarify my intentions. This is a list highlighting what should not be done EVER AGAIN. Even if it was a good idea once.

10 Critical Songwriting DON’Ts

  1. Unless you’re a woman named Maria, do not put any women in your songs named Maria.
  2. Do not write about, or even mention, walking on water.
  3. Do not write genre songs about a genre (e.g. do not write a blues song ABOUT blues music; do not write a rock n’ roll song ABOUT rock n’ roll music, do not write a jazz song ABOUT jazz music, etc.)
  4. Do not write songs about waitresses or prostitutes with hearts of gold.
  5. Unless you’re younger than 11, do not ever use the word “hater” in a lyric, or mention any social media platforms.
  6. Do not co-write with Diane Warren.
  7. Unless you’re Van Morrison, do not write choruses made up of words that are not words (Sussudio and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, I’m looking at you)
  8. Do not straight up copy someone else’s song and say you wrote it (Led Zeppelin, I’m looking at you)
  9. If you’re a comedian, don’t write songs. (Pay special attention to this order. It’s not necessarily a DON’T if you go the other direction.)
  10. Do not rhyme “love” with “dove.”

Abide by these rules. Thank you.

#365DaysOfAlbumRecommendations – The COMPLETE List


It all began on January 1, 2017, with Rare & Unissued, by Muddy Waters. Come December 31, it was all over. 365 albums, 365 days. I’d made a promise to myself, and I’d kept it.

Your comments and shares along the way made it all worthwhile. Together, we know these albums mean something. They freeze us in time, and they free us from time.

Are we a lost generation? Will our children listen to entire albums from start to finish? Will musical artists still sequence their tracks?

I have learned more about the music that moves me from liner notes than from any other source.

If this list moved you to listen to but one new album, I will have done something meaningful for you. Simply making this list meant meaning for me.

Thank you for reading, thank you for listening. Deep bows to the makers who made these albums.

Here, finally, is the complete list.

  1. Muddy Waters  – Rare & Unissued
  2. Skip James – She Lyin’
  3. Albert King – I’ll Play The Blues For You
  4. Dave Van Ronk – Folksinger
  5. Robert Pete Williams – Louisiana Blues
  6. The Best of Nina Simone
  7. Johnny Winter Progressive Blues Experiment
  8. Don’t Mess With Miss Watkins
  9. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Autobiography in Blues
  10. Howlin’ Wolf – His Best – Chess 50th Anniversary Collection
  11. Chris Whitley – Dirt Floor
  12. Bo Diddley
  13. Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol Kozmic Blues Again Mama
  14. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather
  15. Kelly Joe Phelps – Shine-Eyed Mister Zen
  16. Gil Scott-Heron – Pieces of a Man
  17. Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth
  18. The Victoria Spivey Collection 1926-1937
  19. Phil Ochs – All The News That’s Fit To Sing
  20. Joseph Spence – Good Morning Mr. Walker
  21. Clara Smith – The Essential Clara Smith1924-1929
  22. Mazzy Star – So Tonight That I Might See
  23. John Mooney – Comin’ your Way
  24. The Pretenders – Learning to Crawl
  25. Manifesto Mix Tape Vol. 1
  26. Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol I & II
  27. Jimmy Smith – Back at the Chicken Shack
  28. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
  29. Greg Brown – Slant 6 Mind
  30. Tim Buckley  – Dream Letter, Live in London, 1968
  31. Muddy Waters – Folk Singer
  32. Bukka White  – Sky Songs
  33. The Brothers Johnson  – Look Out For #1
  34. Ivie Anderson – It Don’t Mean A Thing
  35. Oscar Levant  – Levant Plays Gershwin
  36. Blind Willie McTell – Last Sessions
  37. Leon Redbone  – On the Track
  38. Guitar Slim – I Got Sumpin’ For You
  39. Soul Coughing – Ruby Vroom
  40. Fred McDowell  – Levee Camp Blues
  41. John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers – Crusade
  42. Angelique Kidjo – Oremi
  43. At Home With Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
  44. Bobby Rush – Porcupine Meat
  45. Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain
  46. Horace Silver and The Jazz Messengers
  47. Stray Cats – Built for Speed
  48. Charley Patton – The Complete Recordings 1929-1934 (Disc 1)
  49. Lonnie Johnson – Vol 1. 1937-1940
  50. The Electrifying Aretha Franklin
  51. Chuck Berry – After School Session
  52. Junior Kimbrough – Sad Days, Lonely Nights
  53. Mississippi John Hurt  – 1928 Sessions
  54. Stevie Nicks – Bella Donna
  55. Jelly Roll Morton – Oh, Mister Jelly
  56. The Mississippi Sheiks – Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Vols 1-3
  57. Kokomo Arnold – Restored and Remastered Hits
  58. Roy Rogers – Chops Not Chaps
  59. Irma Thomas – Wish Someone Would Care
  60. Woody Guthrie – The Asch Recordings, Vol 1-4
  61. James Brown’s Funky People (Part 3)
  62. Doc & Merle Watson – Down South
  63. Dolly Parton – The Grass Is Blue
  64. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River
  65. Albert Collins – The Complete Imperial Recordings
  66. Dolores Keane  – May Morning Dew
  67. Bessie Smith – The Complete Recordings Vol. I
  68. Lyle Lovett – Joshua Judges Ruth
  69. The Modern Lovers – The Modern Loves
  70. Robert Petway – Catfish Blues
  71. B.B. King – Live in Cook County Jail
  72. The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues
  73. Grant Green – First Session
  74. Son House – Father of the Folk Blues
  75. Alvin Youngblood Hart – Big Mama’s Door
  76. The James Cotton Blues Band
  77. The American Graffiti Soundtrack
  78. Willie Dixon – I Am The Blues
  79. Memphis Minnie – All The Published Sides 1929-1937
  80. Charlie Christian & Dizzy Gillespie – After Hours
  81. Blind Lemon Jefferson – The Complete Classic Sides Remastered Chicago 1926 Disc A
  82. Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan
  83. The Yardbirds For Your Love
  84. Bukka White – Mississippi Blues
  85. Hank Mobley – Workout
  86. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Safe as Milk
  87. Rickie Lee Jones – Rickie Lee Jones
  88. Mance Lipscomb – Texas Sharecropper & Songster
  89. The Beat Farmers – Van Go
  90. Sleepy John Estes – I ain’t gonna be worried no more
  91. Eric Dolphy – Outward Bound
  92. Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions
  93. Rev. Gary Davis – At Newport
  94. Bob Dylan – Bringing it all back home
  95. Robert Wilkins – The original Rolling Stone
  96. Edwin Starr – War & Peace
  97. Ma Rainey – Mother of the blues
  98. Jessie Mae Hemphill – She-Wolf
  99. Little Jimmie Dickens – Raisin’ The Dickens
  100. Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones
  101. Grant Green – The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark
  102. Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball
  103. Louis Armstrong – The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings
  104. Dock Boggs – Country Blues : Complete Early Recordings
  105. Thelonious Monk – Plays Duke Ellington
  106. 16 Horsepower – 16 Horsepower
  107. Dvorak: Symphony No. 9, “From The New World” / Symphonic Variations
  108. Bix Beiderbecke – 20 Classic Tracks
  109. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska
  110. Willie Nelson – Teatro
  111. Billie Holiday & Lester Young: Complete Studio Recordings
  112. Fred McDowell – Long Way From Home
  113. Dwight Yoakam – Guitars Cadillacs Etc, Etc.
  114. Benny Goodman – Complete Capitol Trios
  115. Blind Boy Fuller – Volume 1: 1935-1938
  116. Ella Fitzgerald – Sings the Cole Porter Songbook
  117. Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps – Blue Jean Bop
  118. Los Lobos – Kiko
  119. Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen
  120. Johnny Horton – The Spectacular Johnny Horton
  121. Hungry Dog Brand – Boy Meets Dog
  122. DI3 – Torch
  123. Eagle-Eye Cherry – Living In The Present Future
  124. Colin Brooks – Blood and Water
  125. Queer Eye for the Straight Guy – Soundtrack
  126. Dusty Wright – Elevened
  127. Will Scott – Gnawbone
  128. Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um
  129. Billie Holiday – Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia, 1933-1944
  130. The Clash – The Clash
  131. Nick Drake – Five Leaves Left
  132. Sam & Dave – Hold On, I’m Comin’
  133. Cream – Fresh Cream
  134. Big Mama Thornton – Essential Recordings
  135. Frank Sinatra – sings for Only The Lonely
  136. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Extra Width
  137. Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle
  138. Tracy Chapman – Our Bright Future
  139. Bob Log III – My Shit Is Perfect
  140. Joe Cocker – Mad Dogs & Englishmen
  141. Tomasz Stańko – From The Green Hill
  142. Paul Chambers – Whims of Chambers
  143. Booker T. & the MGs – Green Onions
  144. Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
  145. J.J. & Kai: The J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding Trombone Octet
  146. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
  147. The Shangri-Las – The Complete Collection
  148. Furry Lewis – In His Prime 1927-1928
  149. Phil Ochs – A Toast To Those Who Are Gone
  150. The Clash – Give ‘Em Enough Rope
  151. Skip James – Greatest of the Delta Blues Singers
  152. The Original Sonny Boy Williamson
  153. Leon Redbone – Champagne Charlie
  154. Curtis Mayfield – Superfly
  155. Gillian Welch – Hell Among The Yearlings
  156. Beth Gibbons – Out of Season
  157. Buddy Holly – A Rock & Roll Collection
  158. Mance Lipscomb – Vol. 5, Pure Texas Country Blues
  159. Jimmy Reed – Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby – Singles As & Bs 1953-1961
  160. Fats Navarro – The Fats Navarro Collection, 1943-50
  161. Jeffrey Halford & The Healers – Lo Fi Dreams
  162. Lennie Tristano & Warne Marsh – Intuition
  163. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Let Love In
  164. Bill Withers – Just As I Am
  165. Jacques Brel – Enregistrement Public à l’Olympia 1964
  166. Leroy Carr – The Essential
  167. Etta James – At Last!
  168. Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders
  169. John Mayall – Bluesbreakers (w/ Eric Clapton)
  170. Ted Hawkins – The Final Tour
  171. Elmore James – Slide Order of the Blues, The Singles As & Bs 1952-1962
  172. Ida Cox – Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Vol. 1, 1923
  173. Hoagy Carmichael Sings Hoagy Carmichael
  174. Blind Willie Johnson – The Complete
  175. Thelonious Monk – Monk Alone: The Complete Solo Studio Recordings of Thelonious Monk 1962-1968
  176. The Replacements – Tim
  177. Bad Company – Bad Company
  178. Duke Ellington – Money Jungle
  179. Bill Evans – Interplay
  180. Big Joe Williams – The Essential
  181. Kiss – Love Gun
  182. Mississippi John Hurt – Complete Studio Recordings
  183. John Lee Hooker – Boogie Chillen
  184. The Doors – The Soft Parade
  185. X – See How We Are
  186. Charlie Parker – With Strings
  187. Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
  188. Culture – Two Sevens Clash
  189. Billy Bragg – Back to Basics
  190. Sleepy John Estes – I Ain’t Gonna Be Worried No More 1929-1941
  191. Tommy Johnson – 1928-1929 Complete Recorded Works
  192. The Rolling Stones – Through The Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol 2)
  193. Lightnin’ Hopkins – The Complete Aladdin Recordings
  194. Ray Charles – Pure Genius: Complete Atlantic Recordings 52-59
  195. Aretha Franklin –  Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You
  196. Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus
  197. Townes Van Zandt –  High, Low And In Between
  198. Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard
  199. The Bodeans – Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams
  200. Junior Wells – Hoodoo Man Blues
  201. Mance Lipscomb – You Got To Reap What You Sow, Texas Songster, Vol. 2
  202. Johnny Cash – With His Hot And Blue Guitar
  203. Tony Joe White – Black & White
  204. The Ramones – The Ramones
  205. Cesária Évora – Café Atlantico
  206. Issa Bagayogo – Mali Koura
  207. Seán Tyrrell – The Orchard
  208. Malkit Singh – Sikh Hon Da Maan
  209. Anonymous 4 – Hildegard von Bingen, 11,000 Virgins: Chants for the Feast of St. Ursula
  210. Peter Tosh – Equal Rights
  211. Dmitri Shostakovich – The String Quartets
  212. Charley Patton – The Complete Recordings 1929-1934 (Disc 2)
  213. Blind Blake – All the Published Sides 1926-1932
  214. Blind Willie McTell – Classic Years: 1927-1940 (Disc 1)
  215. Leadbelly – Important Recordings 1934-1949
  216. Blind Lemon Jefferson –  The Complete Classic Sides Remastered: Atlanta & Chicago 1926 Disc B
  217. Johnny Azari – Songs From A Motel Room
  218. Legends of Country Blues
  219. Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’
  220. Bob Dylan – Another Side of Bob Dylan
  221. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
  222. Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
  223. Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding
  224. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
  225. Dr. John – Gumbo
  226. Dr. John – Gris Gris
  227. Nina Simone – Little Blue Girl
  228. The Carter Family – The Carter Family: 1927-1934
  229. Emmylou Harris – Red Dirt Girl
  230. Koko Taylor – Koko Taylor
  231. Social Distortion – Prison Bound
  232. Slim Harpo – The Excello Singles
  233. The Kinks – The Kink Kontroversy
  234. The Meters – Look-Ka Py Py
  235. Wilson Pickett – In The Midnight Hour
  236. James Brown – Live at The Apollo (1962)
  237. Woody Guthrie – Dust Bowl Ballads
  238. Hank Mobley – Soul Station
  239. Miles Davis – Birth of the Cool
  240. Bobbie Gentry – Ode to Billie Joe
  241. Joan Baez – Diamonds & Rust
  242. Patsy Cline – Patsy Cline
  243. Charlie Musselwhite – Stand Back! Here comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band
  244. Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown – Pressure Cooker
  245. Taj Mahal – Taj Mahal
  246. Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill
  247. Art Tatum – The Complete Solo Masterpieces
  248. Randy Newman – 12 Songs
  249. Waylon Jennings –  Lonesome, On’ry and Mean
  250. Hank Williams as Luke the Drifter – Beyond the Sunset
  251. Townes Van Zandt – For The Sake Of The Song
  252. Steve Earle – Train a Comin’
  253. Portishead – Dummy
  254. Ministry – Rio Grande Blood
  255. Neil Young – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
  256. Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Original Quartet: Complete Recordings (Master takes)
  257. Link Wray – Link Wray & The Wraymen
  258. Hüsker Dü – Warehouse: Songs and Stories
  259. Professor Longhair – Mardi Gras In New Orleans – Complete Recordings 1949-1962
  260. Little Eva – The Locomotion
  261. Tom Waits – Frank’s Wild Years
  262. Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica
  263. Christy Moore – Back Home In Derry
  264. Sinead O’ Connor – Sean-Nos Nua
  265. The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy & The Lash
  266. Charlie Parker – The Complete Savoy & Dial Master
  267. Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours
  268. Mississippi John Hurt – Last Sessions
  269. Louisiana Red: My Life With Carey Bel
  270. John Lee Hooker – The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker
  271. Frank Stokes – The Victor Recordings (1928-1929)
  272. Dire Straits – Dire Straits
  273. The Supremes – Where Did Our Love Go
  274. The Staple Singers – Be Altitude: Respect Yourself
  275. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – Damn The Torpedoes
  276. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – Southern Accents
  277. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers
  278. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – Long After Dark
  279. Chris Whitley – Living with the Law
  280. Chris Whitley – Perfect Day
  281. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Bad Reputation
  282. “Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – United
  283. Thelonious Monk – Brilliant Corners
  284. Django Reinhardt – The Classic Early Recordings
  285. “Townes Van Zandt – Rear View Mirror
  286. Ministry – The Land of Rape and Honey
  287. MC5 – The Anthology: 1965-1971
  288. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Creedence Clearwater Revival
  289. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bayou Country
  290. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys
  291. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory
  292. Pink Anderson – Carolina Blues Man, Vol.1
  293. Big Bill Broonzy – The Young Bill Broonzy
  294. Sam Collins – Cryin’ Sam Collins and his Git-Fiddle: Jailhouse Blues
  295. The Doors – The Doors
  296. Duke Ellington – Mrs. Clinkscales to the Cotton Club, Vol. 1: 1926-1929
  297. John Fahey – Railroad
  298. G. Love & Special Sauce – G. Love & Special Sauce
  299. Alberta Hunter – Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order
  300. The Impressions – The Complete A & B Sides 1961 – 1968
  301. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking
  302. Killing Joke – Night Time
  303. Solas – The Edge of Silence
  304. The Modern Jazz Quartet – Complete Atlantic Studio Recordings of the Modern Jazz Quartet 1956-1964
  305. Big Maybelle – The Complete Okeh Sessions 1952-1955
  306. Phil Ochs – Rehearsals for Retirement
  307. Tom Waits – One From The Heart
  308. Catfish Keith – Mississippi River Blues
  309. The Del Fuegos – Boston, Mass.
  310. Lone Justice – Lone Justice
  311. Half Deaf Clatch – The Life and Death of A.J Rail
  312. Gene Ammons – Boss Tenor
  313. Elmo Hope – Trio & Quintet
  314. Jim Croce – You Don’t Mess Around With Jim
  315. Sade – Diamond Life
  316. Massive Attack – Protection
  317. Tricky – Maxinquaye
  318. Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
  319. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things
  320. Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come
  321. Otis Redding – Otis Redding Sings Soul
  322. AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
  323. The Clash – London Calling
  324. Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey
  325. Albert King – Born Under A Bad Sign
  326. Neil Young – Harvest
  327. The Pogues – Red Roses For Me
  328. Seasick Steve – Dog House Music
  329. Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder
  330. Coleman Hawkins – Body & Soul
  331. Sonny Rollins – The Bridge
  332. ZZ Top – Tres Hombres
  333. Alejandro Escovedo – A Man Under The Influence
  334. King Solomon Hill – The Gone Dead Train
  335. The Clash – Sandinista
  336. Elvis Costello – Spike
  337. 16 Horsepower – Sackcloth & Ashes
  338. Cab Calloway & His Orchestra – The Early Years: 1930 – 1934
  339. PJ Harvey – To Bring You My Love
  340. Tori Amos – Under The Pink
  341. Richard Shindell – Blue Divide
  342. Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3
  343. John Hammond Jr. – The Best Of
  344. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
  345. Ornette Coleman – The Shape of Jazz to Come
  346. The Smithereens – Especially For You
  347. Duke Ellington & John Coltrane – Duke Ellington & John Coltrane
  348. Morphine – Yes
  349. Fugazi – (EP/7 Songs)
  350. Great Bluesmen at Newport
  351. Van Morrison – Astral Weeks
  352. Van Morrison – Moondance
  353. Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow
  354. The Stone Poneys – Evergreen, Vol. 2
  355. Townes Van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter
  356. Stevie Wonder – Talking Book
  357. Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True
  358. Chet Baker – Chet Baker Sings
  359. Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song
  360. Neil Young – After The Gold Rush
  361. The Bar-Kays – Soul Finger
  362. Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (Rock n’ Roll)
  363. Motorhead – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith
  364. Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
  365. Dylan Thomas – Reading His Complete Recorded Poetry



Way Over Yonder: What Happened to the Minor in Blues Music?

Way Over Yonder

It CANNOT yet be said (fortunately!) that the very people who were purporting to preserve the blues, were in fact those who strangled it to death.

However, it CAN be said, that this WILL be the case, if certain things don’t change.

The preservationist ethos. It’s a dangerous thing. Potentially fatal. That whole, “This is how Muddy did it, that’s how I’m doin’ it, and that settles it” attitude. It’s scary.

Muddy Waters almost single-handedly architected an astonishing artistic transformation by connecting the dots between the country and the city. There was no precedent for him. His music was revolutionary. So if you truly want to stand on the shoulders of giants, walk in the footsteps of the masters, and embody the spirit of the greats, shouldn’t you be engaged in revolution?

Instead, to put it bluntly, we just get the same old shit.

Which brings us to the core of the question posed in the title of this post: What Happened?

We can ask this question about many things in the blues music tradition. Today, the question is about minor chords, and minor keys. Where’d they go? Robert Pete Williams and Skip James—two of country blues music’s most transcendent, visionary talents—regularly worked in minor keys. Robert Johnson, arguably one of the most influential blues musicians of them all, gave us perhaps his greatest creation when he recorded “Hellhound on my Trail”; a straight-up homage to his minor-key master, Skip James. Tommy Johnson, another legendary figure in the annals of blues music history, derived much of his sound from the tension created by moving back-and-forth between major and minor tonalities.

It’s not as simple as just having a token song in G minor on an album. Great blues music IS NOT simple. It’s about COMPOSING. It’s about tonalities, and colors, and feels, and imagination, and creativity. It’s about the raw, and the beautiful.

Preservationist be damned. Let’s have the weird back. Way over yonder in the minor key, something special is still happening. Go find it. Quick.

What Great Blues Music Is NOT: A Lil’ Somethin’ From The Wee Bully Bulpit

“The point is, if you hear Blues Musicians writing and singing about the same old thing over and over, that’s not universal truth, that’s just willful mediocrity.”


As an old acquaintance used to say, here’s a lil’ somethin’ from the wee bully pulpit:

Great Blues Music is NOT about the things we ALL share and experience. To borrow a concept from the late, great Cultural Anthropologist Alan Dundes, Great Blues Music is not some sort of catalog of jump rope rhymes that transcend geography to express a kind of universal unconsciousness.

Rather, Blues Music is about the totally unique, personalized, rough-hewn translation of immediate experience into an almost haiku-esque poetic form. Put another way, it’s about musician’s turning their lives, and the lives around them, into song, with a Haiku master’s flair for capturing direct and immediate experience.

Think of Charley Patton’s “High Water Everywhere.” Sleepy John Estes’ “Fire Department Blues.” Skip James’ “Washington D.C. Hospital Bed Blues.” These songs represent the very best of what Blues Music is capable of.

Robert Pete Williams once said his songs came to him on the wind. Bukka White famously called his songs “Sky Songs” because they came to him from out of the sky.

The point is, if you hear Blues Musicians writing and singing about the same old thing over and over, that’s not universal truth, that’s just willful mediocrity.

Coming Soon: Black Market Crow

Preacher Boy - Black Market Crow - Cover 2

Release Date: 2.1.18

“Black Market Crow” is a legacy edition offering from Coast Road Records, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the original release of Preacher Boy’s groundbreaking album “Crow.” This special collection features eight remastered tracks from the original album, plus seven never-before-available outtakes.

Originally released in the UK in 1998, “Crow” was by every measure the most ambitious album of Preacher Boy’s career. Featuring the virtuoso talents of The Backyard Funeral Band (Daniel Andrews, Brendan Rush Dance, Paul Johnson, and Danny Uzilevsky), the album offered a multi-instrumental soundscape that pulled together elements of blues, folk, jazz, and rock to provide a darkly textured complement to Preacher Boy’s rough-edged vocal delivery. The songs featured lyrically brooding narratives, with a dark theatricality that lent a junkyard noir effect to album as a whole. Famed music publication Melody Maker perhaps captured the album’s eclecticism best when they published the following review of “Crow”: “Country blues that marry Nick Cave, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie and Tom Waits, honeymoon in the barroom with accordions and banjos and line the wedding bed with sheets of mutant folk, deviant campfire country and beatnik jazz.”

Despite earning some of the best reviews of Preacher Boy’s career, the album ultimately got lost in an unfortunate series of record label shuffles. It was never released beyond a small geographic circle, and ultimately went out of print. Not only would the songs on the official release disappear into the past, but so too would a number of outstanding outtakes.

The release of this legacy edition marks the first opportunity for Preacher Boy fans to finally acquire remastered tracks from the original release, as well as a selection of never-before-released outtakes.

The original artwork that graces the cover is by artist Amy Marinelli.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 31

Dylan Thomas – Reading His Complete Recorded Poetry


For 364 days, I have been writing about albums that have moved me in my life. And today, finally, it comes to an end. Day 365.

I have been thinking for a long time about how I should end this series.

Ultimately, I realized that this whole effort has been one long celebration of beauty; the beauty of artistic creation, and the sharing of it with others who will hopefully be moved, as I have been moved.

I am still stunned by how many have followed along as this series has progressed—literally thousands of you. Thank you to each and every one of you.

I can think of no better way to distill down the essence of what this effort has been all about, than to present as a final recommendation, an album that is in itself a distillation, down to the bare essentials of artistic creation.

Here, we have just a poet, and his words. No adornment of any kind.

And yet, the album is mysterious, ambitious, and so, so beautiful.

In less than 24 hours from now, in California, where I live, it will be 2018. Someone else will perhaps take up the challenge in the new year, and recommend 365 more wonderful albums. As for me, I am now done.

And so, with that, this series goes gentle into that good night.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 30

Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back


If you’ve been following this series at all, it will hopefully be clear to you that there are certain traits and characteristics I really admire in music. Among them: lyrical precision, vocal authenticity, and conceptual aspiration.

In addition, I admire those artists who are able to balance and reconcile the raw and the sophisticated. Who are able to be both incredible improvisers, and incredible craftspeople. I like rule-breakers with one foot in the past, and one in the future. I like music that’s a little bit scary, and a little bit smart.

When it comes to specific albums, I really prize completed circles; albums that are an entire world unto themselves, that are fully realized. I like artists who make actual albums, who understand narrative continuity, who think big and work small.

I like artists who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Who aren’t afraid to go deep within themselves, even if they risk overt melodrama to do so. I like artists who take being funny as seriously as they do being serious. I like artists who respect the right things, and disrespect the right things.

This album by Public Enemy achieves everything I’ve described above, and more.

From the moment Chuck D. said “Bass,” the world was no longer the same. This album is that profound, that powerful. Nothing has matched it. Not even “Fear of a Black Planet,” which is in some ways an ever more perfectly realized album. But nothing has the fire in its belly like this album has.

The album will be 30 years old next year. Very few albums age as well as this one has, particularly when the content is topical. But this is still as fresh and as powerful and as relevant today as it was when it was released. That may be sad commentary on our world today, but it’s also testament to just what an extraordinary achievement this album represents.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 29

Motorhead – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith


I’ve often heard it claimed that “Live at Leeds” by The Who is the greatest live album of all time.



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