The Riff

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A Playlist music series

Almost there

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Photo by Julian Schiemann on Unsplash

I sit in the mountains of Virginia, a relatively blue state, though from where I sit, there are more orange plague signs than not. I passed a sign a couple of days ago that said:

“Jesus is My Savior
Trump is my…”

The car slid past, and I couldn’t read the rest. I didn’t back up because I don’t need the bullshit. Equating Jesus and the orange plague, believing that they share guiding moral principles, feels like believing that a soap opera, the Kardashians, Jerry Falwell Jr, and Franklin Graham represent models of true love and sanctity. Or sanity.

We’ve taken long hikes over the past few days and looked at houses that we’re considering for our mountain retreat — a place to be near our older daughter and son-in-law as life continues to unfold. …


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Image by Inkubus from the video to Wake Up The World

We are living in uncertain times. It feels like the world as we know it is creaking, no longer able to support the modern lifestyles of homo sapiens. The result is an alarming array of crises and challenges, ranging from social unrest and the threat of systemic collapse to increasingly frequent extreme weather events, a global pandemic and the ultimate existential threat of climate change and mass extinction.

For musicians and music-lovers, it’s a particularly challenging time. We’re all trying to come to terms with the ever-changing rules that are standing in the way of artists and audiences connecting with one another and the authorities making these rules seem to have no empathy whatsoever for this vitally important cultural sector. Now they’re even suggesting (presumably via an algorithm) that musicians discard what makes their souls sing and retrain in completely new fields. So we have classical musicians being advised to retrain as boxers or composers being told to consider cake decorating. All these professions involve many years of dedicated training and commitment and to suggest that people can simply abandon their raison d’être and switch to a new vocation is insulting for musicians, boxers and cake decorators alike. …


A Playlist Series

Directions Home

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Photo by Ahmet Sali on Unsplash

Yesterday I discovered that when he was in school back in Syracuse, my therapist knew Delmore Schwartz and Lou Reed quite well. In fact, they sat at a bar called The Orange one night when a tune came on the jukebox that made them jump up and clap and eventually sing along once they learned the words.

That song was something about wanting to hold someone’s hand back in the winter of ’64. Kennedy was dead and everything, and four years later so would be another Kennedy, because in order to get a punk band called The Dead Kennedy’s….

But I’m losing my place here. I am being analyzed by a man who was good friends with Lou Reed, and I’m not sure how to process that information. Not that I’m struggling through any angst or pain because of it, but finding out that I am two degrees from what was once the Rock and Roll Animal is truly heady stuff.


Bruce Springsteen — Born in the U.S.A.

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Camera Eye Photography

It’s a strange time of year. A time when some people who probably ordinarily don’t listen to rock and roll music or blues music and definitely don’t dance in public to it, clamber onto stages, bars and flatbed trucks with certain songs blasting out of speakers. The intention of this bizarre ritual is to make other people dig them.

No song suffers this fate more than Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.


A Music series

How long has this been goin’ on?

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Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

Been keeping up with the news lately? No? Did you know that “Schitt’s Creek” swept the Emmys? That was so last week, you say? …


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Free Your Mind by Amnesty. Source: Amnestyfunk on Bandcamp

Amnesty, The Whitest Boy Alive, The Vibrations.

This edition of Recent Decents slipped right out of my fingers. Having only just discovered the first track, “Can I Help You?” by Amnesty, in the last week, I instantly knew it would be straight into this mix.

Despite being a fan of the longer slow-build tracks, rightly or wrongly, I tend to judge a new song from the first couple of notes. “Can I Help You?” was one of those that gripped me straight away. It starts with a drifty guitar and a few brass notes but pretty soon it’s a heavy, heavy beat that hooks you in.

At that point in my musical discovery, I check to see if any part of my body is tapping something. If it is, I’m in. …


Check out some of our favorite tunes

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Image by Okan Caliskan from Pixabay

Above And Beyond (piano) — Jhené Aiko

The stripped back production is the perfect backdrop for Jhené’s weightless vocals. She soars across this piano ballad with incredible emotion and potent heartbreak. This is a fantastic start to an impressive deluxe album.

Source: YouTube

Invisible String — Taylor Swift

Taylor channels her inner folk star on this undeniable album highlight. “Invisible String” is one of the only tracks on Folklore that is autobiographical. It is both a comfortable return to form and a welcomed reinvention.

Source: YouTub

I’ve Been Down — HAIM

This spectacular tune features stellar live instrumentation and a unified message. “We need to come together” is a prescient message from an album that feels very comforting in these precarious times. …


“I Am Woman” was a #1 Hit While America Fought Over the ERA

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Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Helen Reddy’s experiences as a singer in the 1960’s left her with a yearning to express her desire for equality. In 1972, the then-obscure vocalist brought her own definitive female empowerment anthem to the top of the pop charts.

The powerful vocalist passed on September 29, 2020, at age 78.

Helen Reddy’s authoritative voice offered 1970’s pop listeners healing, through serious wisdom and sage advice. But her chart career got started with a song about a more unusual problem: what do you do if Jesus is your boyfriend?

I Don’t Know How To Love Him (#13, 1971), from Jesus Christ Superstar, became Reddy’s first hit. The song explored Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus, the man. It was just waiting for a pop singer to cover it. Yvonne Elliman, the brilliant singer from the theatrical production, had recorded it for the cast album, but the release as a single was delayed. Reddy and her manager, husband Jeff Wald, jumped at the chance to do it on a deal to record a single for Capitol Records. …


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Sleaford Mods. Source: New Noise Magazine.

Sleaford Mods, JGrrey and Maribou State ft Khruangbin

As with the rest of the world, there is a lot happening right now in the UK.

Despite 4 elections in a decade, we’ve been through 10 difficult years of Conservative rule who started the decade with bleak austerity before branching out into divisive Brexit politics, then ending it with a record-breaking poor showing against the pandemic.

It's hard to pick out the positives from this. But there are a few and Sleaford Mods are one.

They are a visceral shove back against 10 years of punch-down politics and working-class oppression.

Musically, they are hard to describe and best understood by watching them live. …


You don’t have to be American to feel the crisis

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Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

I’ve been dreaming about people I lost: my mother, my friend Owen, my cat Morgan. My recurring dreams of what I used to have. At least my mother wanted to hug me in this last dream and she held on, something she hardly ever did in “real life.”

What are my dreams saying? Why don’t I get the lessons they’re teaching the first or the twelfth time (I picked “twelfth” because it’s so damned hard to spell)?

My wife tells me that if I learn nothing else from her, then get this: when my mind starts — at the very start — to wander, I should start counting my breaths instead. This is supposed to help me sleep, and it is a practice also found in yoga where, like reality, my mind also tends to wander.

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The Riff

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