Throwback Thursday: “Fidelity”

Looking through my blog posts, I haven’t done something for Throwback Thursday since March. That post focused on an album from the 1970s. This throwback is a bit more recent, from 2006. It’s also the first music video I’m throwing back to…travel through time with me to watch Regina Spektor’s fine video for her hit single “Fidelity.”

To say I’ve loved Regina Spektor’s music for a long time would be an understatement. While I can’t say I knew her music from the beginning, I was fortunate enough to find it (and subsequently fall in love with it) earlier than some. Like quite a few people, I’m sure, this was by and large my introduction to her incredibly beautiful, unique (and yes, a little bit quirky) brand of music, and what an introduction it was. I hadn’t watched the video in years, nor listened to the song in a while, and it being one of the music videos I bought on iTunes way back when (quite possibly the first video I bought on iTunes, if I recall correctly), I watched it on my phone out of curiosity today. I was struck even more than I was in the past by how wonderfully the video tells an engaging, heartfelt story. I really, really love how it illustrates the struggle of giving your heart to someone, and how difficult truly letting yourself fall in love can be. I can really identify with that. The imagery is gorgeous as well, and really adds to the effect of the song and the video. Looking at the song’s Wikipedia article today, I found out that the video was directed by Marc Webb, he of “(500) Days of Summer” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” fame. Makes sense that this is like a mini-movie, then.

It’s very possible you’ve heard of this song and you know it well (it became fairly popular)…if that’s the case, take a look at the video and remember how much you love it. If you haven’t heard it yet…it’s never too late to dive right in. You’ll be hooked, I bet, and Regina Spektor has lots more terrific songs for you to enjoy as well.

Stay tuned (hopefully) tomorrow for an Artist Spotlight I’ve been excited to share with you, and more great music here on Harmony Avenue. Thanks for reading, watching, and listening.

Song Sampler of the Day: “Profile of a Flag” & “The Star-Spangled Banner”

US_Flag_Backlit

I’m sure many of you are busy celebrating Independence Day today with your family and friends (or looking for fun plans to make), so I’ll try to make this Fourth of July post as brief as I can, but I couldn’t go today without sharing an absolutely stunning version of our beloved National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” by Millennial Choirs & Orchestras, with a prelude that ties in with their version of the anthem, “Profile of a Flag.”

I’ve elaborated before on who MCO is and their amazing mission, but recapping a bit for those of you who haven’t heard of them, they’re a fantastic all-volunteer group of choirs & orchestras (ranging from all ages) spanning 4 states and counting. As I mentioned in a previous post about them, I had the privilege of singing with them for a year back in 2011-12 in Arizona, and I can’t say enough about the caliber of their artistry and the dedication of each and every member to crafting such beautiful music. Last year, they released an album entitled “To Be American,” an outstanding collection of patriotic tunes. (It easily made it onto my Best Albums of 2014 list.) I wish I could share the whole album with you right here (I highly recommend you listen to it), but a particular standout on the album is the National Anthem. It’s performed like you’ve never heard it before, complete with a 2-minute prelude, “Profile of a Flag,” whose motif comes into play within “The Star-Spangled Banner” proper. A story I sometimes tell people is that I first heard these versions of the songs while working late-night custodial at BYU. I was naturally a bit tired, and as the arrangement kept making exciting twists and turns, I kept waking up more and more, but got more and more confused as well. I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of it all, but I listened to both “Profile of a Flag” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” later on, much more awake, and I was once again absolutely blown away by how brilliantly the anthem is reinvented…but at the same time, what utter respect it is given. This is certainly a very different take, but “The Star-Spangled Banner” loses none of the dignity and class that it rightly holds as our National Anthem. It’s a beautiful way to commemorate our freedom on this very special day.

A very happy Fourth of July to all of you, and may God ever continue to bless the United States of America, and all people across the world, with freedom. Enjoy your Independence Day.

Music Video of the Day: “Amazing Grace”

It’s the eve of the Fourth of July (this blog has been very patriotic this week, hasn’t it?), and I’d love to share an excellent, just-released video with you that helps celebrate Independence Day in a very special way. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice & renowned violinist Jenny Oaks Baker here team up for a stunning rendition of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.”

Hopefully I don’t get too political here, but let me say that Condoleezza Rice is one of my favorite political figures. One of the reasons I like her so much is that she is a trained concert pianist, and over the years has performed at various diplomatic and charity events, among other things. (I also recall reading an article once that talked about her involvement in a DC-based chamber music group, that often met in her apartment. How cool is that?) Jenny Oaks Baker is an outstanding violinist who has taken on some incredibly varied repertoire (her last two albums have been based on rock music and Disney songs, for example) with aplomb. Bringing these two incredibly talented women together for such an inspiring song and project? The result is absolutely wonderful. Both of them sound terrific here (it’s great to finally see Condi center stage at the piano), and it’s a wonderful way to commemorate the Fourth. Adding to that, the proceeds from sales of the song on iTunes and elsewhere go to the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity benefiting wounded military veterans. It’s a great combination of beautiful music and a very noble cause, and I’m grateful that both Condoleezza and Jenny made this all happen.

While I’ll likely be posting something tomorrow on the actual Fourth, I love the words that the video closes with: “May the grace of God continue to shine on lovers of freedom everywhere.” I echo that call, and there’s no better way to say that, I think, than through music.

Sketches: O Canada

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It’s Canada Day today, where Canadians across the world celebrate the unification of three colonies into the nation we know today as Canada, back on July 1, 1867. Although I’m not a Canadian myself, I’ve always been fascinated with, as they say, our “neighbors to the north,” and over the years I’ve gathered a few Canadian friends as well, which means I always like to commemorate the day in some fashion.

One way I usually celebrate a day such as this is theme listening, something I love to do. (You know exactly what I’ll be listening to this Saturday for the Fourth of July…) I’m listening to primarily Canada-based music today, and that got me thinking about Canadian music in general, its impact on me, and why I love it so much. There are many countries aside from the U.S. whose musical output is notable (if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed my particular passion for UK artists), but it’s long seemed to me that Canadian music has something truly special going for it.

Part of that might be personal. Looking back, Canadian artists have played some key roles in my growth as a music fan (and later on, as a musician). Growing up listening to country, I have countless childhood memories of playing Shania Twain songs. She was an institution in our house for a while, and I in particular became a huge fan of hers. If you can wear out CDs, I certainly wore out her last album, “Up!,” back in 2002, playing it so many times I probably had it memorized. (I’m excited that she’s finally gearing up to get a new album out, after nearly 15 years we’ve had to wait. I’d love to see her on her tour this summer, too, but you can’t have everything…) On the other end of the musical spectrum, the very first jazz song I remember hearing and loving was Diana Krall’s version of the Peggy Lee gem “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” way back in 3rd grade music class:

And of course, there’s Joni Mitchell. If I recall correctly, I actually first heard of her via her 2000 orchestral covers album, “Both Sides Now.” I heard her version of the standard “Sometimes I’m Happy” from that record on our local jazz station in about 2007 or so, loved it, checked out the rest of that album, and then, in a bit of a backwards fashion, fell in love with much more of her incredible catalog, including the seminal 1971 album “Blue.” I would be lying if I said she hasn’t had a profound impact on my musical journey. Her music has inspired me in many ways.

The list of Canadians whose music and artistry I’ve grown to love and appreciate is quite a long one. Jazz/pop phenom Nikki Yanofsky. (She memorably performed “O Canada” at the 2010 Olympics opening ceremony, and I recall my roommates thinking I was crazy for getting so excited about the Canadian anthem. I still listen to it today.) Legendary band Rush. Rufus Wainwright. Sarah McLachlan. Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, whose music I admittedly know best from outstanding covers of their songs. The incomparable voice of k.d. lang. (She paid tribute specifically to her home country in the exquisite covers collection “Hymns of the 49th Parallel,” which consists entirely of songs by Canadian songwriters.) Michael Buble. Laila Biali. Feist. Metric. Dan Mangan. Tegan & Sara. Ron Sexsmith. Arcade Fire (half-American, but still). The New Pornographers. And yes, even a bit of Nelly Furtado and Celine Dion in there somewhere.

I’m sure I’ve probably forgotten a few, and once in a while, I find a new Canadian artist to savor. For example, I had a Canadian roommate last fall, and he introduced me to some great stuff by Stars, an indie band originally from Toronto, as well as the solo work of frequent Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett (formerly known as Final Fantasy). I also recognize that not all Canadian music is created equal…I mean, there’s Justin you-know-who and Drake, for starters. (I’m still not sure how I feel about Carly Rae Jepsen, though. “Call Me Maybe” is just so darn catchy.)

That said…I’m incredibly grateful for Canada and its outstanding musical contributions to the world, contributions that keep on going. I highly recommend you celebrate Canada Day by listening to some of your favorite Canadian artists (you know there’s at least one you love, even if it is Bieber), and once more, for all of you Canadians out there, Happy Canada Day. Keep up the good work. To close, you can’t go wrong with that rendition of “O Canada” that I told you about:

May God ever keep your land…and all of our lands, really…glorious and free. Thanks, Canada, for the music.

Song of the Day: “Cavalier”

Today’s Song of the Day is a track I recently discovered thanks to a very great source for new music, the Fox reality dance competition “So You Think You Can Dance.” Take a listen to…

“Cavalier,” by Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow.

As I’ve mentioned in passing on this blog, I’m a big “SYTYCD” fan. That said, I don’t usually watch the audition episodes. These past few weeks, however, I’ve been staying with my family (also big fans of the show), and ended up catching one or two of said episodes. The dancing was terrific, and the music was very often top-notch…this song in particular, used for one of the auditions (a girl who has been recovering from an accident that badly damaged one of her legs) really grabbed me. I’ve had the chance to listen to it a lot since then, and holy cow…it will quite literally stop you in your tracks. James’s vocal is absolutely haunting (his falsetto is unreal), the lyrics, musical bed, and production are sparse yet gorgeous, and the whole thing’s just incredibly, devastatingly beautiful. It’s a bit R&B meets confessional singer-songwriter, in the best way. I’ve been listening to this song quite a bit, and it’s definitely got me excited to check out more of James Vincent McMorrow’s work. Thank goodness for aspiring dancers with excellent taste in music on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Thanks, as always, for reading and listening. Feel free to comment and leave feedback! I would love to hear from you.

Artist Spotlight: Lucius

Long time, no post. Even longer time, no Artist Spotlight. Let’s change that now (I’ve been wanting to get this one up for a while)…

While on my 2-year mission in Peru, I had the chance to work with many different fellow missionaries, and being together all the time, we had many different conversations. Quite a few of them were, of course, about how we could help the people we were teaching or the area we were serving in, principles we had studied, things we had learned, or about an appointment we were heading to, etc.

Once in a while, however, being 20-something-or-so year-olds, we’d talk about slightly more, as we called them, “worldly” things…like music, for example. Once while with a missionary who was not my regular companion but with whom I was working for the day, we got on that subject. We discovered we had very similar tastes in music, and he gave me an intriguing musical recommendation…a band called Lucius.

Lucius band picture

“Like Lucius Malfoy!”, I joked. (Yes, same name and pronunciation as the “Harry Potter” villain.) I told him I would be sure to check them out upon returning home (which in this case was a few months later), as the name alone really piqued my curiosity. I did end up sampling their stuff…and of course, as is the case with pretty much every artist I spotlight on this blog, the rest is history. I fell madly in love with their music.

New York-based band Lucius is a five-piece group with lead vocalists/instrumentalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig at the forefront. Their harmonious vocals are gorgeous, but that would be nothing if the music wasn’t interesting as well…and it most certainly is. The singing, the songwriting, the instrumentation, the whole vibe in general all combines to make something truly incredible.

Here’s a good introduction to the wonder that is Lucius–one of their singles, “Turn It Around.” It has kind of a girl-group sound, combined with a deliciously modern indie pop sensibility:

Another one of my favorites is “Hey, Doreen,” another wall-of-sound inspired, uptempo treat. The music video will perhaps remind some of you country fans a bit of “Goodbye, Earl” by the Dixie Chicks…it’s a bit left-of-center for sure, but I think it’s really cool and tons of fun:

Lest you think Lucius’ music is limited to peppy, 60s inspired fare, here’s two slower tunes…the title track to their album “Wildewoman,” and the riveting, acoustically driven “Two of Us on the Run”:

To wrap things up so you can get to listening to Lucius on your own, here’s one of my absolute favorites of theirs, the expansive yet haunting closing track of their album, “How Loud Your Heart Gets.” I know I use this phrase a lot, but you seriously can’t get much better than this:

Be sure to check out their album “Wildewoman” (available in an excellent deluxe version on Spotify as well), and I also highly recommend their great Tiny Desk Concert on NPR. Thanks, as always, for reading and listening. I’ll be back soon with more terrific music.

Music Video of the Day: “Unstoppable”

I haven’t done two Music Videos of the Day in a row in quite some time, but there’s a really terrific one I’ve been anxious to share…

“Unstoppable” by Lianne La Havas.

Lianne La Havas, a British pop/folk/soul singer-songwriter (you know me and my love for music from the UK), released her debut album “Is Your Love Big Enough?” back in the summer of 2012, and late last year I stumbled upon it…and wow, was it good. So good, in fact, that it garnered quite a lot of attention, even that of the legendary Prince, who even went so far as to hold an intimate concert in Lianne’s living room last year. She just has an incredibly unique and vibrant sound, and some top-notch songwriting chops, that really set her apart, plus her voice is stunning. She’s getting ready to release her sophomore album, “Blood,” pretty soon, and this is the lead single from it. (Funny how these two music videos I’m sharing in a row are both singles for an upcoming record. Did not plan that.) Her previous stuff is terrific, and I highly recommend you check it out, but this is yet another level. It’s confident, the groove is incredible, and it’s just a powerful, riveting, uplifting song. It’s wonderfully original, but at the same time, it really begs for repeat listening. (It might take you a bit to get used to it…I put it on my Spotify library, didn’t listen to it much, then rediscovered it a few weeks later and have been playing it frequently ever since.) The music video keeps things classy and intimate (another parallel I’m noticing with my last Music Video of the Day), featuring some outstanding dancing by Lianne herself. There’s no better way to just get this song, and the visuals are gorgeous…I’ve watched this whole thing three times now, and counting. I really think you’ll enjoy both the song and the video.

Thanks, as always, for reading, listening, and watching. More great music is of course coming your way here on Harmony Avenue.