Archive for December, 2014


happy new year 2015


Happy New Year!


Groove of the Day

Listen to Kid Rock performing “Happy New Year”




A comment by reader Alan Yates to my post “The Gingerich Rule” has had me thinking for the last couple of days. He said “I don’t look at it as an issue of fairness…I believe one of the key issues with juvenile sentencing, is at what point does the imposed punishment become counterproductive?”

I agree that the issue of whether a punishment is counterproductive is important. How often have we heard that people come out of prison worse than they went in?

But so is also important the issue of fairness. Webster’s dictionary says that “fair” is “agreeing with what is thought to be right or acceptable,” “treating people in a way that does not favor some over others,” and “not too harsh or critical.”

The world, it is said, is not fair. It is, in fact, chaotic, random, arbitrary, helter-skelter. “Fair” is one of many templates which we lay on the world to create meaning and bend objective reality to our ideas of how the world should be. If we were to surrender to the way the world really is, we should be aimless and despairing.

I am not saying that in believing in ideals such as fairness, we are delusional. The fact is, the templates with which we try to bring order to chaos work remarkably well on a practical level. They are the source of genius which helps us to overcome impossible odds in our everyday lives. These templates are what make us human. But they are not consistent. The patterns they help us identify do not always line up.

wile-e-coyote2The economy is proof of that. Rational people and objective reality say the economy should have failed years ago, yet the common will of how the economy should be working keeps it going on, defying gravity like in the Wile-E-Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons.

I, for one, am not willing to give up the “delusion” of imposing templates on objective reality. The ideal of “youth justice” is one such template to which I am particularly dedicated.

fairnessBut I think we have allowed ourselves to become subject to some very fuzzy thinking. In adopting mandatory-minimum sentencing for the same crimes, legislators have conflated the concepts of equality and equity and thrown out consideration of the potential and needs of the individual “offender.”

This is unfair.

Are you, like me, unwilling to accept the random nature of juvenile justice in America? Are you committed to the concept of fairness?

I invite you to take advantage of these final days of the year and make a tax-deductible donation to the Redemption Project for 2014. Many readers have made year-end gifts and I am very thankful for their generosity. But more of you may wish to take advantage of the tax deduction.

If you’d like to make a year-end gift, I encourage you to do so now.

donate hands

To make a contribution to the Redemption Project, please use the link at the top of this page or click here. Thank you!


Groove of the Day

Listen to Sturgill Simpson performing “Life Ain’t Fair and the World Is Mean”


someone else’s picks 2

Public Radio’s 10 Breakout Artists Of 2014

December 15, 2014

Public radio hosts spend much of their time sifting through overflowing mail bins and inboxes as they hunt for as-yet-unknown musicians worth sharing. Their stations frequently help vault new artists to national success.

With that in mind, we asked our partner stations to tell us about their favorite musical discoveries of the year. The results include everything from a metamodern country singer to a heartsick Toronto surf-pop band, not to mention a whole lot of love for impressively viral Irish singer-songwriter Hozier. Read on for 10 hosts’ picks for the artists who broke out in 2014.

Cover for Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Sturgill Simpson

Sturgill Simpson demonstrates once again that there’s no such thing as “real” country music. Those who fetishize classic country or decry modern Nashville can sound just as conservative as previous generations did when they complained about long hair at the Grand Ole Opry. Country music sits on a constantly evolving continuum, and in mixing the modern with the classic, the charismatic Simpson arrives at Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. With psychedelic arrangements and a voice like Waylon’s, he starts gritty before launching himself both skyward and inward— a potent combination that sets him apart in a crowded field. —Art Levy, KUTX


Cover for Alvvays


Channeling a happier Beach House, or perhaps an even-sadder Best Coast, the music of Alvvays presents a familiar juxtaposition: The Toronto band’s songs marry upbeat, lovely, occasionally messy surf-pop melodies with bittersweet words. Throughout Alvvays’ superb self-titled debut, Molly Rankin unfurls line after emotionally open line, painting a portrait of romantic discontent in the matters of love and relationships. In “Adult Diversion” and “Archie, Marry Me,” Rankin perfectly encapsulates the conflict between youthful restlessness and a desire to settle down. Then, in “Party Police,” she articulates the confusion that comes with trying to decode the thoughts of someone you love: “Walking through the trees, I never really know what’s on your mind / Is it ever me, or just someone you’ve left behind?” In those moments, Alvvays reveals something more resigned and heartsick than those crisp guitars and singable choruses would have you believe. —Mike Katzif, WNYC’s Soundcheck

Agata Zubel, NOT I

Agata Zubel

Listening to Agata Zubel’s music, you get the sense of a composer who’s restless, searching, embryonic. Though still relatively unknown in the U.S., in her native Poland — where she’s on the faculty at the Academy Of Music in Wroclaw — Zubel is an ascendant voice whose music demands to be heard and seen. Her piece NOT I (for soprano and small ensemble) won the prestigious 2013 UNESCO International Rostrum Of Composers prize, and is based on texts by Samuel Beckett. It’s a work that rewards patient listening. If you abandon yourself to its slowly unfolding drama, it’s capable of reshaping neural cliffs and coastlines. —Alex Ambrose, WQXR’s Q2 Music

Niia, Generation Blue


Niia came to our attention on the strength of “Body,” a song from her Generation Blue EP. She’s enjoyed success working with Wyclef Jean, but this record marks Niia’s solo debut. Produced by Robin Hannibal, known for his work in Rhye and Quadron, Generation Blue has an infectious R&B feel that recalls classic ’80s pop. No surprise there: Hannibal’s work often channels the greatest hits of Michael Jackson and Sade. “Body” works its magic with a hushed vocal and a polished arrangement of piano, guitar and strings. The result is a song sure to leave you thinking, “Who was that?!” —Jason Bentley, KCRW

Cover for Benjamin Booker

Benjamin Booker

It’s funny to call someone who draws heavily from the traditions of blues and rock ‘n’ roll a “best new artist.” New Orleans-via-Tampa singer-guitarist Benjamin Booker infuses his songs with visceral energy, rowdy rhythms and blistering distortion — the sort of stuff you’d expect to hear in a Pacific Northwest garage rather than a Southern juke joint. Even his voice’s beyond-his-years rasp can’t dust over the youthful vigor of Booker’s incendiary, fully formed debut. —Jim Beckmann, KEXP

Hozier, 'Hozier'


It was clear from the beginning that Irish singer-songwriter Hozier would become one of 2014’s biggest breakthroughs. His hit “Take Me To Church” first started circulating last winter, and its haunting contrast of light and dark drew us in immediately. Once we saw Hozier perform live at SXSW back in March, we were all in. The soft-spoken Irishman is a huge talent with a strong voice and a slew of great songs. —Russ Borris, WFUV

Cover for Parker Millsap

Parker Millsap

Parker Millsap’s self-titled debut opens with an incredible one-two punch — “Old Time Religion” and “Truck Stop Gospel” — but the set’s middle third is just as potent, though not as prickly. Together, “The Villain,” “Disappear” and “Quite Contrary” demonstrate that Millsap knows how to craft and perform a song without gimmicks or games. The upstart singer has cited Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits among his influences, and it’s easy to hear them echoing through his refrains. They’re present in Millsap’s attention to and passion for the details of a scene or a character. Parker Millsap would be impressive coming from any artist, but it’s all the more remarkable given that Millsap recorded it when he was only 20. —Kelly McCartney, Folk Alley

Cover for Heal

Strand Of Oaks

Some of the best new music we heard in 2014 was sitting right in our own backyard. With his band Strand Of Oaks, Philly-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Tim Showalter released a knockout rock ‘n’ roll record called HEAL. On past albums, Showalter spun surreal, folk-leaning tales about alien abduction and John Belushi’s drug dealer. But this is Strand Of Oaks’ most personal record, and it resonates with amplified power, soaring guitar solos and a confessional approach to songwriting. —Bruce Warren, WXPN

Cover for Sylvan Esso

Sylvan Esso

What happens when a singer-songwriter wants to get her groove on; when a folkie just wants to let loose and dance? They might set down their acoustic guitars and pick up mixing boards, and they might sound like Sylvan Esso, which places Amelia Meath’s mesmerizing, whippoorwill voice over the top of Nick Sanborn’s skittering bell-tone beats and loops. On Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut, the duo occasionally flirts with bass drops and low-end rattling, but it keeps most of its compositions sparse, buoyant and airborne; few songs released this year encourage dance-like-no-one’s-watching movements quite like the sing-songy single “Coffee.” —Andrea Swensson, The Current

Kris Bowers, Heroes + Misfits

Kris Bowers

For many, Kris Bowers first came into view as a member of Jose James’ band for the album While You Were Sleeping. Observing the pair’s live shows together, it quickly became apparent how much James leaned on the keyboardist — not only for accompaniment, but also for shaping the band’s innovative blend of London electronica, crooner jazz and head-nodding R&B. All of these elements and more are at play in Bowers’ debut album, Heroes And Misfits. But what impressed me most about the 25-year-old, Juilliard-trained pianist was his poise. At a studio session for WBGO’s The Checkout, he exuded a calm kind of SoCal cool, which was surprising considering he was leaping off the deep end with a solo adventure on keys, piano and other gadgets. —Simon Rentner, WBGO

And one of my personal favorites—an extreme oldie—from the 2014 Grooves:


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Flamin’ Groovies performing “Shake Some Action”



eoh badge

Today is the first day of the fortnight (December 28 – January 13) governed by the rune Eoh.

Traditionally, the meaning of Eoh is “yew’, one of the most long-lived trees in Europe (up to two thousand years) with the strongest wood. Called the tree of life and death, it is said to represent the vertical axis of the world, the yew-column and cosmic tree Yggdrasill.

Yew wood was traditionally used to make the best, most powerful longbows. Such a weapon could be at once an instrument for inflicting death or, just as effectively, warning off conflict. Either way, a man with a longbow was likely to remain alive.

The fortnight of Eoh comes at a particularly dark and cold time of year when bitter conditions seem to invite despair. Eoh is, however, a rune which asserts the enduring power of life over death—indeed, of life reborn from death.

The form of the runestave suggests a strong hook traditionally used to hang an iron cauldron over a fire. As such, Eoh symbolically urges strength and fortitude, and offers the surety that life will prevail over death. Thus, the lesson of this rune is to “Hang on!”


Last night as I was meditating on the meaning of the rune, it occurred to me that a practical lesson of the rune is one of “strength through connection”: connection of ideas, materials, as well as between people. Steel, one of the strongest materials known to man, derives its flexibility and tensile strength from the fact that it is an alloy of iron and carbon.

Magically, this rune is used to lend strength to our strivings, to provide a firm foundation. We can rely on Eoh in time of need. It protects us by making one sensible and thoughtful.

 connection between people


Groove of the Day

Listen to Elastica performing “Connection”


someone else’s picks

David Dye’s Top 10 Albums Of 2014

by David Dye, World Cafe – NPR

December 17, 2014
Cover for Morning Phase

Beck, ‘Morning Phase’

Beck‘s Morning Phase is the rare animal, an album from early in 2014 with staying power. I was immediately taken with its Sea Change-like production, instrumentation and overall singer-songwriter vibe. It took my colleagues to point out its strength and consistency. A growing number of disparate people kept mentioning it as a favorite, leading me to revisit it at different times throughout the year. While I understand the criticism that it breaks little new ground in Beck’s work, Morning Phase‘s overwhelming beauty—strings, washes of reverb and memorable melodies—puts it easily among the best.

Cover for Turn Blue

The Black Keys, ‘Turn Blue’

Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach’s Black Keys are a band on a roll. Producer Danger Mouse has been along for the ride since Attack And Release three albums ago, and his contributions could be the reason for the band’s turn from the blues to psychedelia (though you could argue that Auerbach’s work with Dr. John and Bombino embraces groove-heavy psych touches, too). Ultimately, it is about the songs and Turn Blue has them. The opener “Weight of Love” is a turn toward unexpected territory. “Fever” provides stadium fodder. But it’s “Gotta Get Away” that transcends its ’70s origins to have a legitimate claim to “rock song of the year.”

Cover for Everyday Robots

Damon Albarn, ‘Everyday Robots’

This was Blur and Gorillaz‘s Damon Albarn‘s first actual solo album. As with a lot of his work, it may seem somewhat nonchalant vocally, but this was chock full of personal lyrics that took us back to his childhood. Sonically, he was more of a tourist, using of strings, choruses and Paul Simon-esque African pop. So much to love in this. It always pays to follow Damon.

Cover for Lateness Of Dancers

Hiss Golden Messenger, ‘Lateness Of Dancers’

Hiss Golden Messenger’s first album for Merge shambled its way into my heart. There is still anguish in MC Taylor’s voice on this his fourth album as Hiss Golden Messenger, but there is also light in these songs, even if it may be the artificial light of a Saturday night honky-tonk. The album combines what certainly sounds like a band playing live on the studio floor (what a band, by the way, with fellow North Carolinian’s William Tyler and brothers Phil and Brad Cook making major contributions) with sampled critters from outside that studio layered on the proceedings. The songs combine gospel’s swampy guitar with direct writing. A natural beauty.

Cover for Most Messed Up

Old 97’s, ‘Most Messed Up’

I include this refreshing rock blast from Old 97’s to make sure that long-time fans know that the boys have found their footing. They cranked up the guitar fader and sound as if they care. Which is interesting considering that the lyrics often reference Rhett Miller’s ambivalence about his life, particularly on the story-of-the-Old 97’s song “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive.” Give these fortysomethings credit for trying to do the impossible and re-capture youth.

Cover for They Want My Soul

Spoon, ‘They Want My Soul’

Spoon is another band, not unlike TV On The Radio or The Black Keys, in the middle of a pretty well-defined career. A band that has a well-loved sound, but is still ambitious in wanting to push any perceived envelopes. Did the band think they needed to retrench after the low key Transcendence? They certainly got in touch with the stuttering guitar stabs, fierce vocals and inventiveness we love. From “Do You” to “Inside Out” and the opener “Rent I Pay,” these are perfectly realized songs. They Want My Soul is up there with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

Cover for Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

Sturgill Simpson, ‘Metamodern Sounds In Country Music’

Like a Waylon Jennings for the 21st century, Sturgill Simpson speaks truth in an unvarnished way on his second album. The title may nod to Ray Charles‘ classic Modern Sounds In Country Music but the singer resides right here in a working country band with his back to the riser. My mantra is that good songs presented simply and authentically trump the rest, and that’s what’s happening on Metamodern Sounds In Country Music.

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Temples, ‘Sun Structures’

Another early contender for this list that time and subsequent releases have not budged. This is admittedly a genre play. Sun Structures is a retro-leaning psychedelic album home-made by Kettering, England’s Thomas Warmsley and James Bagshaw. Its songs charm by looking back. The band has the unabashed enthusiasm of youth for older forms. For me, it’s the strength of the songs — particularly the opening “Shelter Song” and “Mesmerize” — that give it that staying power.

Cover for Seeds

TV On The Radio, ‘Seeds’

So surprised to not see more mentions of this album among 2014’s best in others’ lists. Is there an acknowledged cut-off date I missed? Or do people feel that “the most important band there is” has somehow let people down by opting for accessibility? Maybe I’m a “Happy Idiot,” but that’s now how I look at it. The transparent nature of David Sitek’s production serves to better highlight these direct and memorable songs, all while remaining consistent with a sound we expect from TV On The Radio.

Cover for Lost In The Dream

The War On Drugs, ‘Lost In The Dream’

When a band makes the sudden leap in recognition that Adam Granduceil’s The War On Drugs has with Lost In The Dream, longtime fans tend to scratch their head. “Where was everybody before?” In his case while, the Dylan-esque debut Wagonwheel Blues and Slave Ambient have the body and structure of Granduciel’s current work and have thrilling moments themselves, one listen to Lost in The Dream and you can tell that the year the band spent refining the album in the studio was worth it. The album is relentless. The driving beat (in both propulsive and road-trip terms) may have been borrowed from the dad-rock past of Dire Straits, but the anxious swirl and haze is pure present. You hang on to the palpable anxiety and ride these songs. Be honest: How many albums from last winter still hold their initial charm?

And one of my personal favorites from the 2014 Grooves:


Groove of the Day

Listen to the Drive-By Truckers performing “Used To Be A Cop”


the gingerich rule


On Christmas eve, I was surprised to receive a call from Paul Gingerich, Paul Henry’s dad. Paul and I have become close friends since I took on Paul Henry’s cause, but receiving a call on Christmas eve—a time that one normally sets aside for family—bowled me over. Paul told me that Paul Henry was doing well, but he had another message to share.

For some time I have adopted the view that sentences for kids must be age-appropriate—something the courts have failed to take into account. They are just now beginning to recognize the scientific fact that brain development in most young people is not complete until the early 20s. But sentencing does not reflect this understanding. We have young people who are serving prison terms of 40 to 99 years for the act of parricide.

I have believed for some time that any time served beyond the age of full brain development is gratuitous, excessive, and constitutes “cruel and unusual” punishment. But I didn’t have a good way to put this belief across.

Until the other night. Paul Gingerich has been thinking about this conundrum, as well.

I think that most people would agree that time is perceived differently by a child of 10 or 12 or 15 than an by adult of any age. For the child, a sentence of 25 or 40 years is much more severe than a sentence of the same term would be for an older person. It also signals the message that society is willing to throw that child away—that their life is “over” and that society is willing to define the value of a young person’s life by a single act rather than looking at the totality of that child’s life and what they can potentially achieve. In saying that the murder of a parent—even the worst parent that can be found—is worth 25, 40, or 99 years of punishment, we are saying that the act of parricide trumps everything else—even the potential of the child. Most people would also agree that potential will never be achieved with what prison has to teach.

Paul has a brilliant idea. That with kids, a prison term should never exceed 50% of the years a child has already lived. If a child is 10, the maximum term would be 5 years. If 12 years old, the maximum term would be 6 years. If a young person is 15, the maximum term would be 7½ years. If 18 years, the maximum term would be 9 years, and so on.

This would shift society’s emphasis from punishing the crime (which is most likely a situational aberration) to rehabilitating the youthful offender.

One thing I have always admired about Paul Gingerich is his belief that his goal was never to help Paul Henry escape the consequences of what he had done. Assisting in the murder of another human being is a very serious offense for which punishment is required. But how much punishment is required for a child to “learn his lesson”? At what point does punishment become unfair?

The “Gingerich Rule” provides an easy calculation that any judge, prosecutor, legislator, or advocate can understand.


Groove of the Day

Listen to The Trews performing “What’s Fair is Fair”


merry christmas


I have heard from all of the most important people in my life, and I hope that your holiday has been filled with the love of your friends and family, too!


Groove of the Day

Listen to James Taylor performing “Deck the Halls”


the best gift ever


Maybe I have told you this story before, maybe not. I just don’t remember. But the most unforgettable gift I ever received was from my wife Holly three months after she had died.

In our family, one of the main holiday traditions we had adopted was the expectation that friends and family could escape the giving of expensive gifts with a Christmas decoration for our tree. We created a book where we listed the year, the ornament, and the name of the friend(s) who had given it. Whether the ornament was a glass ball or a paper bauble made by a child, it was listed in that book and was equally valued.

Year after year, our tree became more heavily laden with these tokens and reminded us that the true wealth we possessed were our many relationships with the people we loved. This tradition was one of the principal ways our family had weaned itself from the materialism that seems to have infected the season.

In 1993 Henry and I were facing our first holiday season without Holly. We had erected the tree and decorated it as in years past, but it just didn’t seem the same. Then one day a package arrived containing glass ornaments. Somehow Holly had arranged that they would arrive when we were feeling at our lowest. She seemed to be saying that she was still with us.

According to the Northern Tradition, the Yule is a time when the doors between the worlds of the living and dead stand ajar. Holly was reminding us of that, and since then, the distinction between the worlds has been forever fuzzy for me.


Groove of the Day

Listen to the Vienna Boys’ Choir performing “O Tannenbaum”


to lie or tell the truth?


Most parents know that lying to our kids is not a good idea—it’s not respectful or kind, and is likely to erode the trust our children have in us.

However, what about Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy? Surely these innocent ‘white lies’ are okay, aren’t they? Anyway, it gives parents such joy to see little faces light up as our kids indulge in the pleasure of make-believe.

Or is it a dangerous path that deeply affects our child’s capacity to trust adults when they eventually find out the truth? I know at least one man in his 40s who still feels a sense of betrayal at having been lied to as a child. He’ll probably never get over it.

It is not for me to tell other people how they should live their lives. But perpetuation of the Santa myth has been described by some as a way to condition children into becoming materialists par excellence, and one of the most valuable lessons of my life is that materialism is a dead-end street.

Yet Rich Cromwell of The Federalist has come up with Six Reasons to Lie to Your Kids About Santa Claus, and I like the reasons very much—especially the fact that you can blame any clunker gifts on the old fat man. He makes a great fall guy.

I think that we should give our kids every opportunity to figure out things for themselves. With Santa bell ringers at the entrances to shopping malls and on most street corners, it’s a pretty dense kid who doesn’t begin to figure out the truth about Santa by age seven or eight. Parents who go to great lengths to perpetuate the myth much beyond this age are not teaching their children the important lesson of the season: that this is a time to think of others, not ourselves.

Several years ago, a piece by Martha Brockenbrough appeared in The New York Times that answered the Santa question perfectly. Martha’s daughter had figured out the truth about Santa, which “left her mother grappling with how to explain that belief.” So she did it with this letter:

Dear Lucy,

Thank you for your letter. You asked a very good question: “Are you Santa?”
I know you’ve wanted the answer to this question for a long time, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say.
The answer is no. I am not Santa. There is no one Santa.
I am the person who fills your stockings with presents, though. I also choose and wrap the presents under the tree, the same way my mom did for me, and the same way her mom did for her. (And yes, Daddy helps, too.)
I imagine you will someday do this for your children, and I know you will love seeing them run down the Christmas magic stairs on Christmas morning. You will love seeing them sit under the tree, their small faces lit with Christmas lights.
This won’t make you Santa, though.
Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.
It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents, and in your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest moments.
Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy.
With full hearts, people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would otherwise be impossible.
So, no, I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.
I love you and I always will.


One of the reasons I like today’s Groove is that it is a gentle way to introduce doubt to children about the Santa myth.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Jimmy Boyd performing “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”


needles and pins



“Needles and Pins” is a song written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono. In his autobiography, Bono states that he sang along with Nitzsche’s guitar-playing, thus creating both the tune and the lyrics, being guided by the chord progressions.

The song was originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1963. Other versions of the song were recorded by The Searchers, Cher, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Stevie Nicks, Willie DeVille, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Smokie, the Turtles, Ultima Thule, and the Ramones. It was a number 1 hit in France when recorded in French by Petula Clark entitled ‘La Nuit N’en finit Plus.’

I was particularly disappointed by Cher’s version; my favorites include Jackie DeShannon’s and The Searchers’ versions. Yet for my money, I especially like the version below recorded in 1977.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Smokie performing “Needles and Pins”