Year End Music Review

The Elucidator offices are quiet this time of year. Partly because everyone is burning their last vacation days. But, mostly because our casual dress Fridays have gotten a bit out of hand. Honestly, when Scott Harrington worked my desk last issue, nobody cared that he was showing up in little more than a washcloth. But, I forget to tie the belt on my bathrobe one time and this place is a ghost town!

This is also the time of year that I usually like to spend as many of my days in the office as possible. Maybe it’s the Holiday music piping in from Centre Square, maybe it is the calming glow of the Peace Candle. More likely it’s the scavenger hunt game of finding all the bottles of hooch that Ryan Woodring hid around the office.

The main reason I spend so much time in the Elucidator offices is that it is the last place that My Editor Dawn would think to look for me, knowing full well that I am week past my deadline. So, I sit back, sip a little Scotch, and reminisce on what has been a pretty kick-ass year in music.

My Editor Dawn came through in a big way with some pretty stellar gets on the interview front. I got to meet Mike Love of the Beach Boys. Scott Harrington talked to Darius Rucker. It was a year of pretty hefty national acts for this local mag.

The genius machine that is Mercantile Home put out a spectacular series of shows again this year with Christopher Paul Stelling, Barbara Lica and Hedda Lettuce in Lettuce Rejoice at the State Theatre.

The festival season was unbridled excellence with Garlic Fest, Bacon Fest, Riverside Festival of the Arts, Heritage Day, and Clam Jam all providing a wide audience to an even wider array of talented local artists and bands.

I made my first foray back to Musikfest in over a decade and was thrilled with the experience. I got to see Roi and the Secret People make their debut at the Fest and blow the doors off the joint. I was reintroduced to Cracker at Volksplatz. Yes, Cracker. Of “Euro-Trash Girl”, “Get Off This”, and “Low”. Yes, they are still playing and they are writing some of their best material ever with a double album released in 2014. I’m looking forward to giving MusikFest another shot again in 2016. Who knows, maybe I’ll be playing there soon!

We saw the birth of the Mic Hop Tours video podcast series where Kenny Maze and Shawn Cav take a local musician out of their comfort zone and travel to different cities around the country to get a taste of the local open mic scene.

Some music journalists pride themselves on objectivity. I work very hard to cultivate a deep level of ignorance surrounding modern music for the express purpose of being able to write this Year-in-Review column. That’s right. I starve myself of any musical opinion about new music, popular trends, etc. I deliberately shun all new releases until the very last possible second so that I can participate in my favorite game: Snap Judgments ™! Where I will listen to a short selection of this year’s biggest releases and give you my unbridled and purely uneducated opinion. So, here it is, my 2015 Naughty / Nice list:

  1. Adele – “25”: This album became the best selling album of 2015 in three days. That’s some heavy commerce, folks. 2.3 Million copies sold (that is 2.5 albums for ever person in the entire Lehigh Valley if you are keeping score at home) in THREE DAYS! So, do sales always equate to talent? Is popularity always deserved? For Adele, it is. Pipes for days. This woman’s voice is truly otherworldly. Or rather, just worldly. As in, it has earth and fire in it. It is a cool stream on a hot day and a hot lick of whiskey on a cold night. It makes you feel whatever part of yourself you’ve been neglecting. Adele’s voice will drift like smoke through your earholes, find a deep wound, and caress it.
  2. Wilco – “Star Wars”: This one didn’t do much for me. Sorry, boys. I feel a little guilty for saying so because I once admitted that I wasn’t nearly as into Wilco as much as I probably should be. But, if I’m not into Wilco as much as I should be, it’s because of albums like this. There was just not the resonance. The sense of something deeper. The dreams were not there this time. Just some fuzzy guitars and a voice that sounded like it might have better things to do, as if he were checking his Facebook while recording the tracks.
  3. CHVRCHES – “Every Open Eye”: This album could have been called “Songs that would work as background music for car commercials”. The first time I saw the name of this band spelled out, I thought it said Ceviche. I prefer Ceviche.
  4. Jason Isbell – “Something More Than Free”: This album told Nashville to shush while the grown-ups were talking. A self produced number one album from a guy who doesn’t even wear a cowboy hat! This album is a ray of light that casts its own, very long shadows. Isbell’s storytelling is mesmerizing. His voice is energized by a deep past where there is hurt, love, sadness, longing. He boils these emotions with some amazing music leaving space for the words to matter and the musicians to shine. Jason Isbell reminds me why there is a Nashville in the first place. This is not just songwriting. This is craft. Pure and simple.

2015 was a great year for local music. Open mics are thriving in the Lehigh Valley. Live, local music is everywhere. 2016 promises another great year of festivals, new albums releases, videos, and a few special announcements. Get out there and support your local musicians. By which I mean BUY their music, make sure they are getting PAID for their efforts. Share the love and make the scene your own!

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