learning love songs

est. 2008




This is my new favorite performance to watch,and rewatch and rewatch….

Everything about it is pretty much perfect, and that is a word I do not like to use, but from the depth of the song, to this particular staging, to the absolute angel throat of Clare Bowen, this performance is stunning and captivating on every possible level. Last night, after listening to it probably a dozen times throughout the day, I showed it to a friend who, like me, has a deep love and reverence for artistry. “You will love this,” I said. I handed her my phone and she watched it speechless.

“Wow,” she said, and I nodded. “Yeah, I know.”

So this is from “Nashville,” a show I watch partly because I get to hear Clare Bowen’s superb voice and also because it’s a great hour-long reminder to pick up the guitar. I also love the idea of a show that creates its own original songs, because it’s given talented songwriters like Lucy Schwartz a chance to shine. Some of them are really country, really dumb or really country and dumb but some – like “Black Roses” – cut to the quick in the most sophisticated,contemporary kind of way. What a razor-tongued ballad, what a difficult dynamic to strike. To write a song about someone hurting you isn’t exactly unique – in fact, it’s pretty much the key ingredient – but there is a resiliency here  that adds a twist. Metaphors are tricky things, because they could become cliche, and roses of all things are overused. But they’ve been overused so much that using them right feels original and comfortable somehow – can’t you just feel the falling petals? The spell, cast and broken, the love, given and forsaken, these are real feelings and familiar tales to anyone whose heart has felt the magnetic pull of someone else’s only to have to tear themselves away. The battlefield, the knife, the burning bridges, – the first verse into the pre-chorus are six lines that immediately draw the listener into this really visible, danger-filled place. That’s arguably the strongest part of the whole, some context and wordplay in the second verse deepen the narrative before a powerful finale.

The recorded version of this is striking, adorned with military drums, but this live version is something else. Bowen’s expressions are not over-dramatic in the pop star sense, and on the demure side for her, but she is still so, so expressive, from the tops of her eyes to the joints of her fingers down to her apparently bare feet. I love how delicate her voice can be while still commanding so much sound and fullness and breath. Other than the sheer beauty of this staging (Those lights! Those gowns! Those crowd shots!), the intimacy of songwriter and performer here is such an interesting interplay to observe. There’s Schwartz, playing her song and watching her words and feeling come to life, she is laser-focused and half-smiling before the final verse and those just-high-enough-to-be-hard notes of the song, and I wonder if it pride or nerves for her, for Bowen, or simply sheer anticipation. The final chorus swells, the final grace notes and chords diminish with sadness and solemnity and poise, and then, the crowd is on its feet. Just perfect. Replay.

“I can see your eyes staring into mine,
But it’s a battlefield and you’re on the other side.
You can throw your words, sharper than a knife,
And leave me cold in another house on fire.

I lay low, lay low and watch the bridges burn
I lay low, lay low. What more could I have done?

Now you only bring me black roses,
And they crumble into dust when they’re held
Now you only bring me black roses,
Under your spell.

She told me twice all her good advice,
But I couldn’t see I was clouded by your lies.
Up in smoke, a vision she foretold,
She said, ‘Stay away ’cause that boy’s a warning sign.’

I lay low, lay low and watch the bridges burn.

And I’m done trying to be the one picking up the broken pieces,
And I’m done trying to be the one who says, ‘I love you dear but I’m leaving.’

Now you only bring me black roses
And they crumble into dust when they’re held
Now you only bring me black roses
But I’m not under your spell,

I’m not under your spell, 

I’m not under your spell,
I’m not under your spell,
I’m not under your spell.”
~Black Roses, 
Clare Bowen/Lucy Schwartz, Nashville On the Record


I’m such a sucker for a good country song. Like seriously, and I don’t care what that does to my pop-punk, rock-n-roll credibility. If it’s not from the heart, it’s not for these ears, and sometimes nothing’s got more heart than a good country tune.

Enter Kacey Musgraves, who is winning over radio waves and critics and iTunes and girls like me, or however you measure music success these days. She’s the one behind this beautiful song, “Merry Go’ Round,” this sad-town tale of the broken young girl. The first time I heard it, on a static-strewn radio station coming back from Lancaster, I knew I had to hear it again.

I could see why someone would put Musgraves in that slightly gimmicky category of a lot of other new female country singers, the kind who make no apologies for their cavalcade of redneck references and get them brandished on merch and tweeted by tweens. In most scenarios and songs, that’s not my cup of tea. But with Musgraves, especially on “Merry Go’ Round,” I hear the sadness in her voice more than I hear any act. I can feel the dust on the roads and the chipped paint on the trailer siding, and I can’t help but sing along to the quite brilliantly crafted chorus. Exploring the rest of her songs, I find them incredibly honest and far more introspective than you’d expect, and the references aren’t there for decoration so much as they’re reflecting her reality.

(Also: Kacey plays not just guitar but banjo, as I saw in this performance. And to the many who’ve picked up the four-stringed step-child of string instruments because of bands like Mumford and Sons, it was definitely a backwoods redneck country thing first, so reconcile that with progressive ways.)

“We think the first time’s good enough.
So, we hold on to high school love.
Sayin’ we won’t end up like our parents.

Tiny little boxes in a row.
Ain’t what you want, it’s what you know.
Just happy in the shoes you’re wearin’.
Same checks we’re always cashin’ to buy a little more distraction.

‘Cause mama’s hooked on Mary Kay.
Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane.
Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
We get bored, so, we get married.
Just like dust, we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go ’round and ’round and ’round we go
Where it stops nobody knows and it ain’t slowin’ down.

This merry go ’round.

~Merry Go’ Round
Kacey Musgroves, Same Trailer, Different Park

UPDATE:  Sooooo I just learned Kacey co-wrote “Undermine,” the song from the TV series “Nashville” that I was totally obsessed with and completely fell in love with…here is Kacey performing it. I like her even more now; again, honest, and introspective and cuts straight to the heart of the emotion. “Undermine” is a rather inspirational song that doesn’t sacrifice hurt or humanity to show strength. Truly beautiful and fun to sing.

“Sometimes good intentions don’t come across so well 
Got me analyzing everything that ain’t worth thinking about 
Just ’cause I ain’t lived through the same hand that was dealt to you 
Doesn’t make me any less, or make any more of you

I wouldn’t trade my best day 
So you could validate all your fears
And if I’ve only got one shot 
Won’t waste it on a shadowbox, I’ll stand right here

It’s all talk, talk, talk, talkin’ in the wind 
It always slows you down when you start listening
And it’s a whole lot harder to shine 
Than undermine.

First mile is always harder
When you’re leaving what you know
Won’t blame you if you stay here
Waving to me as I go
Always wished the best for you
Thought that you would see me through my wildest dreams
Yeah, the ones you thought I’d never meet

Still, you would trade your best day
Just to have your way
All these years

And if you only had one shot
Maybe all this talk
Would disappear

It’s all talk, talk, talk, talkin’ in the wind 
It always slows you down when you start listening
And it’s a whole lot harder to shine 
Than undermine.
Kacey Musgraves, as performed in February 2013


Got about three hours of sleep last night. Not because I was out particularly late, but I stayed up far longer than I should’ve waiting for a phone call that never came.

Got an early deadline for a project I’ve been working on for awhile (version 4, ack!),  and pretty sure I’m just going to keep my phone off until it’s done. Plus I’ve got electricians hammering away to get my lights back on and running my laptop off an extension cord. At least I get to sit here and listen to the Nashville soundtrack through headphones, and there’s no one around to judge me for it.

Whoever is writing these songs for Nashville would be a hell of a partner. Some, like the ones written for the “Juliette” and “Rayna” characters are intentionally campy, almost in a musical theater way, but “Scarlett” and “Gunnar” have some gorgeous songs….a lot of heart behind them. This song, “Change Your Mind,” is sad and hurt and almost a little vengeful all at once, I think it’s got the right balance of a rhyming structure and some really powerful lines. Also Clare Bowen has the voice of an angel, absolutely love her phrasing, she does this breathy pursed thing sometimes (maybe because she’s Australian?) but she can hit a lot of mid-range notes without

“In the early morning haze, when my kiss is all you crave, let it go 
Cause I don’t want  to do that dance, the push and pull, the second chance 
I already know, yeah I know 
You’ll just me promise me forever 
And then you’ll take it back, just like that, say you can’t live without me..

Then you’ll change your mind
So baby, don’t comeback this time 
Don’t want to have to say goodbye 
All over again…

So if you think there’s still a chance to make right, 
Change your mind 
Change your mind, 
Change your mind.” 
~Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio, “Change Your Mind”
OTS Nashville

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