learning love songs

est. 2008


October 2016


Tonight I read through the 25th anniversary piece of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that Stereogum put out last week and I have to give it up for such a great, in-depth piece. It goes through everything — from the inspiration of its songwriters, to how it landed into the hands of the inimitable Bonnie Raitt, to how its legacy has lived on today in numerous covers and iterations. It’s one of the most beautiful songs that late 20th-century pop had to give, and I remember loving it as a girl, crying to it as a teen, and relating to it as a young woman, like so, so, so many others out there (it’s one of Adele’s favorites, too!) — so crazy to think all these years I thought I knew who wrote it, having no idea there was a songwriting duo behind the demo given to Bonnie.

What’s especially cool about this to me is the very concept of doing an anniversary piece for a song — mainstream music writing is largely focused on  what’s hot, what is trendy, but there is this growing appetite for revisiting older music and doing anniversary tours and re-issues and all that jazz, and stories like this show that music writers are paying attention, and finding new ways to tap into it. Reading about how Bruce Hornsby didn’t listen to the demo and tried to make it his own, how they at first tried to clutter it up with other sounds…it’s all a part of a story of how a meaningful song got made, one that listeners across generations have now embraced.

With an infinite buffet of options over what to read on the internet, it’s tough to get readers attention. But I think if you invest in pieces like this, you’re going to raise the bar by putting out quality works that are interesting and indulge in the creative process. It is one thing to write about how something sounds, it is another entirely to write about how it was made, and how that plays into what it sounds, and if we as listeners/musicians/artist advocates are going to make sure that musicianship remains respected in an age when some bro-dudes with a looper and Pro Tools can make the song of the summer, it’s going to take a semblance of education into what goes into making music. That being said, you’re not going make everyone read a piece this long, and you’re not going to get people to care about artists they aren’t invested in. But if you keep plucking on those heart strings of what audiences love, and give them something extra such as the story behind it, you might be creating audiences that have an even deeper connection to the songs they’re connected to.

Turn down the lights
Turn down the bed
Turn down these voices inside my head
Lay down with me
Tell me no lies
Just hold me close, don’t patronize
Don’t patronize me

‘Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t
You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t
Here in the dark, in these final hours
I will lay down my heart and I’ll feel the power
But you won’t, no you won’t
‘Cause I can’t make you love me, if you don’t
~I Can’t Make You Love Me
Bonnie Raitt, Luck of the Draw


Finally got around to listening to the newest record from Ingrid Michaelson, and I have to say she’s done it again. Her songwriting appears to flow so effortlessly, and she embraces conflicting, dangerous emotions with as much fervor and passion as the good ones. Her work has always had a vulnerability to it but this record has so much spine and I find it very inspiring, as well as atmospheric in sort of an 80s-chic way. While her past piano-driven work shined in its solo moments, on “It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense” she plays with texture and layers and flow in ways that feel really natural and mature. The emotional impact is more subtle, and so are the sounds, but the heart is just as strong, pure and authentic.

This song in particular is full of hope, but it’s hardly a celebration — it’s more like an anthem, something to sing while marching through mud to the final destination, not knowing what battles or beauty it may hold.

“I said ‘We’ve walked this way before
Now we know more,’
So raise a cup
I said ‘Let’s rule this kingdom now
Let’s live and love and tear it down
To build it up’
There’s a whole lot of heart in me
I feel it under my skin
And I know and I know and I know,
There’s a whole lot of heart in me
It takes a whole lot of heart to see
Everything’s coming down roses,
And I know and I know and I know
There’s a whole lot of heart in me.”
~Whole Lot of Heart
Ingrid Michaelson, It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense


Today is akin to a high holy day for rock, folk and alternative music fans: Jimmy Eat World, American Football, Kevin Devine, John. K. Samson and Dan Layus all put out new records today. I’ve given them all a listen through and they are all deeply fortifying and satisfying in different ways: JEW with it reliable rock and pensive hooks and some of their best instrumentation in years; American Football’s light and delicate touch is a blissful return to what was spawned 17 years ago, Samson’s poetry and imagery is as sharp as ever. Layus’ record was a surprise, but the Augustana frontman has leaned into his country and folk influences for some really fluid songwriting. But the song that has hit me hardest today comes from Devine’s “Instigator,” which might be his most succinct and polished effort yet.

KD hasn’t lost his introspective or his progressive politics, and he often embraces a clean-cut, bold guitar sound that feels very classic and full and realized, polished by years of touring with The Godamn Band. It’s a good contrast for his often dark narratives, which include some haunting refrains. The whole thing is a great listen and I’m sure to return to it constantly, just as his “Matter of Time” collection has been a go-to favorite this past here.

One song in particular is an early favorite, for both its almost lullaby-like melody and its message. It’s a ballad toward the end of the album called “No One Says You Have To” that previously appeared on a split last year, but I haven’t heard it before and it has slapped me upside the head with its message self-awareness and self-care, and its soft, cyclical melody. It has a beautiful parallelism of lyrics as far as repetition and it’s absolutely soothing and haunting and vulnerable and warm. We need more of this, this honestly, to counteract our own cynicism and ironic defense mechanisms that pull us apart from each other. I am so grateful for this kind of admission from a musician and human I admire and respect.

To me, this song is about our sort of useless need to apologize for being human. Maybe it’s largely a product of our success-driven society, but we always seem to want to beat ourselves up for not being *something* enough or for making decisions that maybe were the best we could do at the time. We shouldn’t feel sorry for being who we are.

I can’t say I’m underrated
I can’t say it, so
I can’t say I’m underrated
I know, I know, I know

She says, “Watch your ego, baby.”
She says, “Take it slow.”
She says, “That’s a bad look, honey.”
I know, I know, I know

It gets so lonely inside my mind
I’m surrounded in love all the time

I get stuck in simple phrases
Complicate straight lines
If there’s a knot that don’t need tying
I try, I try, I try

She’s no font of Christ-like patience
And neither, sir, am I
But she’s honest in her imperfections
I try, I try, I try

It just gets scary inside my mind
I turn straw men to monsters
And line their mouths with knives

I say, “I can’t race forever.
Can’t raise the rock so high.”
She says, “No one says you have to.
Let go and take your time.”
~No One Says You Have To
Kevin Devine, Instigator


I’ve been kicking off the weekend with a Johnny Cash listening spree — going through the whole damn American collection, live concerts and hymnals and all that jazz. It’s been absolutely enriching and calming, but also a window of discovery into new songs from a famed artist that I haven’t heard before. Sure I know “Ain’t No Grave,” “Ring of Fire,” and some of the classics, but there’s so many more songs I never knew existed that have the same depth of feeling and profound philosophical insight bundled up into these — rather simple melodically speaking — folk songs. It’s like falling in love all over again.

This song, “Satisfied Mind,” in particular got me thinking, as it is meant to, about the things we take for granted and what it means to be at ease. Cash is a great example of how we go to war with ourselves, fighting off demons in the form of addictions and vices and insecurities and weakness, only to let the best shine through; somehow when you break it all down into little pieces, the truth is all that is left whole. In our modern society it is so easy to want, want, want, there is always something more to want, but there is so much we can find in ourselves that we do not need to look outward for satisfaction.Cash knew this, he sang of this, but of course it is easier said than done, and it is not so much a choice you make once and move on from, but a daily committment you make in a thousand little ways.

“How many times have
You heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way
But little they know
That it’s so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind.”
~Satisfied Mind,
Johnny Cash, American VI, Ain’t No Grave


New band find alert!

I’ve seen references to You Me At Six more times than I can count on music sites, forums and tour line-ups but I never took the time to dive into their discography until tonight, with a new song they had released that was on the Spotify new release list last week, which was a fantastically melodic pop punk rock tune with plenty of lead vocal prowess and hook-oriented mentality. My ears immediately perked, and so I started clicking through their old songs, and voila, I found this song “Living a Lie” that has the most soaring chorus and do-it-or-die attitude — plus, marching drum beats.

I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for this new record, but it’s always interesting to become a fan of a pop punk/pop rock type of band later in their career. Their die-hard fans are often displeased with the new work, because it’s either too much of a departure or lacking the magic of the earlier releases, but as a newer fan, you can find a lot to get jazzed about because you don’t have these prior notions. I definitely feel that way about The Maine, who have legions of fans but didn’t cross my path until “American Candy,” which I think is a masterful little record. You Me At Six kind of reminds of them, in a way, it’s that pop punk with an emphasis on the “pop” as far as song structure, but with the bones of a rock band as far musicians playing real instruments, guitar solos, pedals and all that fun stuff.  It’s a sound that I’ve really come around to, finding it can fit many moods from the slightly bored and uninspired, to happy-go-lucky, when you just need something with a little bit of backbone to sing.

“Well somebody told me
That I would be a dreamer for life
Somebody told me I would never reach the other side
Well you say I’m old news, but cross your fingers
I’m yours to lose.
What if I told you, that things will never improve
And if I lived a lie
Would someone meet me on the other side
So I can burn up bright?
The grass is always greener,
Someone else’s past is always cleaner,
But I’m a believer, that there’s a fool in all of us
And if I lived a lie
Would someone meet me on the other side
So I can burn up bright?”
~Living a Lie
You Me At Six, Cavalier Youth


One of my favorite bands of 2016 has been Pinegrove, hands down one 0f the most original rock acts to come forward this year. Got to talking about them with an old friend today who recently discovered them and shared this great live acoustic recording, which I think captures the essence of their emotional, thoughtful lyrics and folk-rock  roots. As much as this band is an indie rock darling and can be aligned with more aggressive pop-punk acts, the stripped down, laid bare setting of the Schuylkill Sessions shows spine of Pinegrove’s music, and how truthful and touching they really are.

“Is there anyone here i know?
I look around the room, whatever, I let it go
Steve’s in germany
that’s it
I try to think of anyone else no, yea that’s it
so I resolve to make new friends
I liked my old ones but I fucked up so I’ll start again
What’s the worst that could happen?”
~New Friends
Pinegrove, Cardinal

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