Sounds of Music

Christmas Songbook: Blue Christmas

To celebrate Christmas, which is my favorite holiday bar none and I’m not ashamed to admit it, all December songbook posts will focus on, well, Christmas. Here’s a classic rendered newer:

“Blue Christmas” by the Lumineers

Album: Blue Christmas (single)

Year: 2016

Category: Christmas playlist

Why it rocks:
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Elvis version. It’s been on my Christmas playlist forever, together with a ton of other Elvis songs. But I really like the way the Lumineers do covers and this one particularly. The way he seems to force those words out talks about more heartbreak than Elvis ever intended for this song and the simple arrangement underlines the truth of the voice. It also does justice to the pretty, pretty melody of the song.

Favorite lyrics:
I like how “blue snowflakes” turn into “blue heartaches.” It makes no sense but is true to the character of the cover.

Favorite moment:
His voice on “you’ll be doooooing alright.”

Best for: Dropping exhausted after a whole day of pre-Christmas cleaning. But the closer you get to actual Christmas, the more you should switch to Elvis’ version.

Advertisements
Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: To Ramona

It’s Dylan Time. I promised you we’ll be revisiting him regularly and here we go again, also continuing the unnecessarily personal Songbook posts. This is one of my favorites, not a funny little thing to admire the dry humor of his observations but one of those songs that are there for you when you need them.

“To Ramona” by Bob Dylan

Album: Another Side of Bob Dylan

Year: 1964

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
Maybe it’s the triple meter but this song rocks me like a lullaby in its simplicity and numbs existential anxiety (while also making me a little sad). This is not the most profound of Dylan’s songs but maybe the (relative) directness makes so many lines come to me so often and it has a certain spirituality to it. His voice has that intimate quality I love.

Favorite lyrics:
“And there’s no use in tryin’ / To deal with the dyin’ / Though I cannot explain that in lines” I find the strongest, of course, but it’s “Everything passes / Everything changes / Just do what you think you should do” that I usually remember.

Favorite moment:
I love the swaying rhythm introduced in the first line.

Best for: This time more seriously, this song helped me a few times in moments of pain so I say it’s best for when you need a bit of existential wisdom.

Sidenote: If R didn’t hate the name and if had a daughter, I think I’d call her Ramona because of this song.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: New Lover

This is another light song with somewhat heavy lyrics. And despite its theme it always makes me smile.

“New Lover” by Josh Ritter

Album: The Beast in Its Tracks

Year: 2013

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
Supposedly it’s a song about Ritter’s divorce, which I don’t know if it’s true. But it is an extremely observant, self-aware song about heartbreak, which manages to still be funny in a dark way. I like the constant tug-of-war between the insincere good wishes towards the ex and the much truer bitterness of someone who got hurt. If you ever tried to be a bigger person and didn’t exactly succeed (not necessarily only in romantic situations), so many things will ring true here. This is a song that relies heavily on the words but the music is there to back them up and build the emotional tension between breezy and serious.

Favorite bit of lyrics:
This song has so many smart moments. Take “I feel low and mean / For accusing you of stealing / What I offered you for free” and the mischievous “Praise the fonder that still grows / On the absent heart in fields.” But I like the simple irony of this bit the most: “I got a new lover now / I know that she’s not mine […] / And she only looks like you / When she’s in a certain light.”

Favorite moment:
Possibly the fragment with “As you go from room to room / Dropping handkerchiefs and daggers / Smoking guns and other clues” (which is another great couple of lines, too).

Best for: Thinking of old, failed relationships that you no longer care about.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You

Tom Waits. Ah, Tom Waits. I’ve got such mixed responses to his songs but I don’t think any of them are bad: some of them are just so difficult for me to access. This one, though, is one of my favorites.

“I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You” by Tom Waits

Album: Closing Time

Year: 1973

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
While this is not the deepest Waits can go, this song has such a good mix between a movie scene and a slice of life, all of it married to pleasantly flowing guitars. While very casual, it describes such a precise moment you are immediately transported to the smoky bar Waits’ voice fits so well. You also have to admire the emotional changes in the story. And I love how his voice sounds in this one.

Favorite lyrics:
Maybe this: “Well, I turn around to look at you, and you look back at me / The guy you’re with, he’s up and split, the chair next to you is free / And I hope that you don’t fall in love with me” for the pivot in the story.

Favorite moment:
The change of pattern on the “It’s closing time” line and the clear enunciation of the word “stout.”

Best for: Observing people in a melancholy bar and feeling on the verge of making a connection with someone.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: Man of Constant Sorrow

Let’s get serious guys: we will be talking lots of Bob Dylan here. Lots. Here’s one less conventional song for a good start.

“Man of Constant Sorrow” by Bob Dylan

Album: No Direction Home: Bootleg Vol. 7

Year: 1962

Category: Best of Dylan

Why it rocks:
Dylan’s bests are rarely covers but this one he completely makes his own (up to and including serious lyrics changes). It’s such a young Dylan, when he was flaunting the bad boy persona like nobody’s business and it’s fun to see him shifting the focus of this story into a more juvenile place where it’s all about a mysterious heartbreak. Also, I’ve always liked Dylan’s early harmonica (I mean since I taught myself to like it but it was so long ago it’s like in a different lifetime).

Favorite lyrics:
“I’ll say goodbye to Colorado / Where I was born and partly raised.” The “partly” is such a fun Dylan-like little shift. And people say he didn’t deserve the Nobel Prize. Heh. Basically, the best part of this lyrics is all the differences he makes to the classic version.

Favorite moment:
The last verse. But also, points for the long notes.

Best for: Arguments with people who think that version from that movie is better.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: Cleopatra

I think the Lumineers are a great band, one of my favorites among the current performers, but with this song they outshone themselves. I doubt I will even do it justice.

“Cleopatra” by the Lumineers

Album: Cleopatra

Year: 2016

Category: Recent-years favorites

Why it rocks:
For its incredible, heart-breaking humanism. Apparently, the lead singer listened to a Georgian taxi driver and wrote her story in a song. It’s small-scale and grandiose at the same time, random and feels so true to life, both tragic and commonplace. I love the imprecise rhyming pattern which makes the story feel even truer. I also love how simple and direct the song is despite all this emotional burden.

Favorite lyrics:
“I was Cleopatra, I was taller than the rafters.” I mean, come on.

Favorite moment:
This one: “So I drive a taxi / And the traffic distracts me / From the strangers in my backseat / They remind me of you.” But others are close.

Best for: Getting emotional.

Standard
Sounds of Music

Songbook: King of the World

This song by a Swedish (but-they-could-totally-be-American) band was, appropriately, suggested to me by Spotify a while ago.

“King of the World” by First Aid Kit

Album: The Lion’s Roar

Year: 2012

Category: Recent-years favorite

Why it rocks:
I like the tempo and the upbeat rebelliousness of this song. It’s such a good, light – and yet introspective – thing. It talks cheerfully of inner unrest and that’s always interesting.

Favorite lyrics:
“And once you asked me what was my biggest fear / That things would always remain so unclear / That one day I’d wake up all alone / With a big family and emptiness deep in my bones / That I would be so blinded, turn a deaf ear / And that my fake laugh would suddenly sound sincere.”

Favorite moment:
I love the bit with the waitress: so simple and so human at the same time and you can’t help but see the whole scene.

Best for: Swaying happily and feeling like you want to go on a roadtrip. Or maybe for having an existential crisis.

Standard