Sunday, February 21, 2010

Timeline of My Life - George Strait

As I'm sure is the case with many people, music has a way of taking me back in time. When I hear certain songs, I am instantly transported back to another time and place. Many songs by many artists have this effect. Tupac takes me back to the 10th grade. Phish...11th grade. Whiskeytown reminds me of my first year of college, and Dierks Bentley will always remind me of Ole Miss.

Few artists have been making relevant music long enough to bring back memories that span my entire life. As a matter of fact, the only one that comes to mind is George Strait. The only time in my life I would have considered him one of my top 10 favorite artists was probably around the time of Pure Country in the early nineties, but he's always been there. He had his first #1 single in 1982 when I was just 3 years old, and his most recent just last year.

In my first memories riding with my dad in his Chevy Silverado car hauler taking his 68 Camaro to the drag races, "Amarillo By Morning" was playing. On the first country music award show I ever watched, George played "If I Know Me," and Crystel and I danced to "I Cross My Heart" at our wedding reception.

When it comes to albums, Strait has a reputation as "Mr. Consistency," which can sometimes mean making the same album time and time again. However, he does have a tendency to release his best work around the milestones of my life. Greatest Hits came out when I started 1st grade, Pure Country when I hit junior high, Strait Out of the Box in high school, Carrying Your Love With Me around the time of high school graduation, Honkytonkville right before I moved to Oxford, and Somewhere Down In Texas right before my first international travel. One of his best albums of the last decade, Troubador, was released shortly after Crystel and I got married and moved into our new house. Any time I hear anything from any of these albums, I instantly think back to these times.

I find it strange that I still listen to George after all these years. He doesn't have many of the qualities I look for in an artist. He doesn't write most of his own songs, he rarely uses his touring band in the studio, he isn't much of a guitar player (his guitar is mainly a prop), and he has been a mainstream country artist for most of his career. He does, however, record songs that he believes in (even if he doesn't write them), and I could argue that he has never catered to mainstream country radio. Mainstream country radio has always allowed him to be the exception to their standard playlists. In the age of Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift, he still gets radio play by recording his brand of Texas country music.

In my opinion, most of his singles over the last 5 years or so have been pretty dull, but his album cuts have been much better. Almost all of his albums are perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon on the back porch with a cold beverage. George is one of the few country artists making music today that I still care when he releases a new album. The critics care too. His latest album, Twang, showed up on many year-end best-of lists by self proclaimed "music snobs." Many artists will bash other musicians for not writing their own songs, but in the same interview claim George Strait is one of their favorites. This is the mystery of George Strait. He's done this for over 3 decades.

I'm looking forward to seeing what George releases for the future milestones of my life. He spends his downtime riding around his farm listening to demos to select songs for his next album, and he could be listening to the soundtrack some major life event as we speak.

Are there any artists that have been there your entire life? What about any songs or albums that transport you back to an earlier time in your life.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Life's Playlists: Deck Music

Due in part to the fact that our back yard is a mud pit and has virtually no grass growing anymore (mostly because of Porter, our 1 year-old black lab), Crystel and I have decided to have a deck built. I think we finally settled on a contractor this morning, so we're pretty excited. Me being the music fanatic that I am, I'm mostly looking forward to hanging out on the deck with friends and listening to music.

In anticipation of our finished deck (hopefully within the next couple of weeks), I decided to make a playlist of songs that I find perfect for relaxing with food, friends and drinks. After breezing through my iTunes library, the playlist had grown to a whopping 60 songs. Since I figured no one would read all the way through a list that long, I narrowed it down to 35, roughly 2 hours of tunes.

These songs weren't necessarily chosen for lyrical content, but for their vibe. This is the music I'll be listening to while lounging in my Adirondack chair as soon as the weather permits. Here's the playlist in no particular order.

1. It's Alright - Big Head Todd & the Monsters
2. Crush - Dave Matthews Band
3. Jacksonville Skyline - Whiskeytown
4. Hollow Moon - The Central Standards
5. Dreams - Fleetwood Mac
6. Country Comfort - Elton John
7. Tryin' To Reason With Hurricane Season - Jimmy Buffett
8. Summer Skin - Death Cab for Cutie
9. Here Comes the Sun - The Beatles
10. Going to California - Led Zeppelin
11. Feelin' Better - Hank Williams Jr.
12. Constellations - Jack Johnson
13. Love Street - The Doors
14. Carolina In My Mind - James Taylor
15. Blue Indian - Widespread Panic
16. A History of Lovers - Iron & Wine with Calexico
17. Natural Mystic - Bob Marley
18. Lookin' Out My Back Door - Creedence Clearwater Revival
19. Question - Old 97's
20. Wildfowers - Tom Petty
21. Without a Struggle - Golden Smog
22. California Zephyr - Jay Farrar & Benjamin Gibbard
23. Knockin' Over Whiskeys - Hayes Carll
24. California Stars - Billy Bragg & Wilco
25. New Slang - The Shins
26. Four Strong Winds - Neil Young
27. Perfect Timing - Drive-By Truckers
28. The Right Place - Monsters of Folk
29. South Georgia Sugar Babe - Justin Townes Earle
30. Gumbo - Phish
31. Grandaddy - Patterson Hood
32. The Boxer - Simon & Garfunkel
33. Ripple - Grateful Dead
34. And It Stoned Me - Van Morrison
35. Livin' Part of Life - Eric Church

What are some of your favorite songs for outdoor relaxation?