Category Archives: music


Favorite Music of 2013


There was a time when I spent considerable energy seeking out great new music. The nearly simultaneous rise of algorithm-based advertising and MP3 blogs made for a powerful workflow. I would set aside hours plugging in bands and albums, listening to a few songs or a few seconds of Amazon’s recommendations, and have a fistful of great discoveries at the end. There were plenty of misses, but enough hits to make it all worthwhile.




In the age of algorithm-based internet radio, it’s even easier to find unknown gems. Somewhat paradoxically, it also makes it easier to learn about older music, tracing sounds back through influences of influences. Most of my favorites now are at least a few years old, and I’ve lost much interest in keeping up with new releases. Still, there’s something appealing about a year-end list, and here are six albums from 2013 that I loved.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Phoenix – Bankrupt

Lucius – Wildewoman

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle

Various – ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ Soundtrack


Nine Earworms for October 2013

There is so much great new music these days from the likes of Lucius, The National and Phoenix. With the cooler weather and changing colors, it’s also a fine time to revisit some older stuff that still stands up. Here are nine songs I’ve been listening to these lately, and I hope you enjoy them, too.

  1. Lucius – Tempest
  2. Townes Van Zandt – When She Doesn’t Need Me
  3. Iron & Wine – Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
  4. The Strokes – Under the Cover of Darkness
  5. Phoenix – Entertainment
  6. Felice Brothers – Whiskey in My Whiskey
  7. Delta Spirit – The Flood
  8. The Rosewood Thieves – Honey, Stay Awhile
  9. The National – HumiliationOctober Earworms

My Interview With Frank Fairfield

I arrive at the Black Cat soon after the doors open. I’m here to see the opener, Frank Fairfield, rather than the headliner (Horse Feathers). In the corner of the bar, a man with a thick mustache and a wavy mop of hair stands behind a pool table, sinking balls by himself. It’s Frank, and it’s too good an opportunity to pass up. I order a beer and walk over.

Me: Hi, Frank. Can I buy you a drink?
FRANK FAIRFIELD (softly): I’m not much of a drinker.
Me: Alright. Do you want to play a game?
FRANK: Sure, I’ll play. What’s your name?
Me: Brian.
(We shake hands.)
FRANK: Do we know each other?
Me: No, but I saw you perform in Golden Gate Park at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass last year.
FRANK: Well that’s on the other side of the country!
Me: I know, I’m a big fan!
(Frank stops, appearing somewhat touched.)
FRANK: Well, what do you want to play?
Me: How about 8 ball?
FRANK: Alright, what kind?
Me: Is there more than one kind? I don’t know.
(Frank mumbles something and racks the balls.)
FRANK: Would you like to do the honors?
Me: Sure, thank you.
(I break, but sink nothing. Emily walks up.)
Me: Frank, this is my friend, Emily. She’s a fiddler, too.
EMILY: Yeah, I played at their wedding.

Frank gets excited and they talk while we play. We’re evenly matched, neither of us particularly good. Frank is methodical in measuring his shots, and takes small leaps in response to near misses. The stage manager comes out and tells him that he’s starting in a few minutes. I offer to call the game a draw, but he insists we finish. I’m winning, but scratch on the 8 ball. We shake hands. He collects his long, rough coat, walks to the stage and gets ready to perform.

Frank Fairfield at the Black Cat
Washington, DC
November 15, 2012

Frank Fairfield – Going Down the River #2

Frank Fairfield – Those Brown Eyes

Frank Fairfield – Some Day You’ll Be Free

Frank Fairfield – The Dying Cowboy

Frank Fairfield – Rye Whiskey/Texas Farewell

Favorite Albums of 2011

As someone who rarely consumes music from some genres, I don’t feel justified in making a “top” list for 2011. The “favorite” appellation should give me latitude to feature those albums that I liked best, free from any obligation to consider music from genres that I don’t enjoy as much. My listening habits have skewed more folk in the last year or two, though I don’t think I’m pigeonholed just yet.

2011 was an interesting year, musically. Reflecting on the albums that came out, there were a few disappointments. Among others, Radiohead, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, tUnE-yArDs and Wilco released albums that weren’t nearly as gripping as their previous work. On the plus side, I got to see more live music than ever, including most musicians on this list. Here are my eight favorite albums. Enjoy!

  1. Frank Fairfield – Out on the Open West (Poor Old Lance)
  2. Tristen – Charlatans at the Garden Gate (Matchstick Murder)
  3. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (Minnesota, WI)
  4. Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings – The Harrow & The Harvest (Down Along the Dixie Line)
  5. Adele – 21 (Someone Like You)
  6. Beirut – The Rip Tide (Payne’s Bay)
  7. Tom Waits – Bad as Me (New Years’ Eve)
  8. Jolie Holland – Pint of Blood (Little Birds)

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

This year, P and I took advantage of her west coast work trip to catch Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free music festival in the heart of San Francisco. We stayed with her college friend, Joe, and got to see some great performers, eat some tasty food, meet some new folks, unexpectedly run into old folks and walk a lot.

The lineup was great for any festival, let alone a free one, though the price of easy access was a massive crowd of people who seemed to prefer altering their minds with drugs rather than music. Not that I’m opposed to honoring a soulful rendition of “If the River Was Whiskey”, but I do prefer attentive listening. Due to crowds and transport logistics, we didn’t quite get to see everyone we wanted; Jolie Holland, AA Bondy, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn were a few victims of circumstance. We did get to see M Ward (good), Robert Plant (not so good), Robert Earl Keen (pretty good), The Felice Brothers (quite good) and Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings (very good). The clear standout, though, was Frank Fairfield.

A cynic might suggest that Fairfield’s style and personality is an affectation or a schtick. The man looks and talks as if he stepped into the outhouse beside his southern Appalachian cabin in 1870 and stepped out 140 years later. From his clothes to his humility, there’s very little that seems modern about him. Seeing him live, it’s clear that he’s genuinely a man out of time.

Frank Fairfield

We were running late and were thrilled to discover him playing the smallest stage of the festival. Despite a decent crowd, we walked right up to the front row and got to watch him from about 20 feet away. He played with vigor and feeling, and the instant he stopped, he was bashful, awkward, almost autistic. He was also the most consummate musician I’ve ever seen, starting with the fiddle, then moving to the banjo, then to the guitar, then back to the banjo, then to the fiddle again. The speed of his banjo playing seemed supernatural, and he played with the fiddle so ardently that he barely had any horsehair left on his bow by the end of his song. When he was done, he took a couple of quick bows, picked up his three instruments and walked off the stage to really good applause. It was great to see people lined up to buy his newest album, Out on the Open West, from his wife, who P tried to convince to come to DC.

As a treat just for you, here’s “Chilly Winds”, with a little background chatter, recorded from Frank Fairfield’s set:
Frank Fairfield – Chilly Winds (Live at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2011)