Top Four Randy Newman Albums (Excluding “Good Old Boys”)

Hi, I’m Josh Halper! I’m a guitarist born and raised here in Music City. I’m one of two hosts of WXNA’s “Hot Fudge Tuesdays” which airs every Saturday, from 2 to 4 p.m. We are the self-proclaimed “Randy Boys” on the WXNA lineup, so as a statement of my love for Mr. Newman, I’ve decided to make a list of my favorite Randy albums.

4. “Darkmatter” – Randy’s 2017 album serves as a Cliff’s Notes for the types of work you might find when digging through the songwriter’s expansive career. Songs such as “The Great Debate”, “Putin”, and “It’s a Jungle Out There (V2)” represent the scathing critiques of both governmental and societal hypocrisy that we, as Randy fanatics, have come to anticipate with a nervous reluctance. These songs ride the line of hilarious and cringeworthy, satisfying the listener’s appetite by the third or fourth listen. The rest of the album contains delicious historical vignettes (“Brothers” & “Sonny Boy”), heart-wrenching narrative, and seemingly autobiographical poetry (“Lost Without You, “She Chose Me”, “On the Beach”, and “Wandering Boy”). This is with a solid collection of songs that any Randy lover can be beyond pleased with.

3. “Little Criminals” – In terms of production, this album is a launching point for Randy Newman’s middle era, when he sometimes used distorted electric guitars and synthesizers instead of strings. Bringing in the Eagles as his backing band bridged the gap between crooner Randy and rocker Randy, giving his discography a nice dip into rock’s evil depths. The songwriting is just as whimsical as before, but something about the way the pieces are tracked makes them feel less silly and fun, even though the subject matter is relatively consistent with the rest of his work. His high energy songs see these changes, but the ballads remain pure and simple, creating a wonderful balance.

2. “Sail Away” – I consider this album to be the sister to “Good Old Boys”, which is a crowd favorite. A solid chunk of the cuts (“Sail Away”, “He Gives Us All His Love”, “Old Man”, “Dayton Ohio”, and “Burn On”) feel like they would fit right in with the following release. The string motion is in the same style, the instrumentation is almost identical, and the subject matter is just as romantic and somber. Thematically, the lyrics are geographically broader, outlining both critique and praise of the U.S. and the world, rather than focusing just on the South. Though this makes for an interesting trip around the globe, “Good Old Boys” reigns supreme in my ears. Something about a concept album…

1. “Randy Newman/Live” – This is my favorite Randy Newman Record (yes, over “Good Old Boys”). The record, which was originally released as a treat for Reprise’s fan club, feels like the most intimate and spontaneous thing ever put on tape. The image of Mr. Newman performing in a tiny club by himself, taking requests from and joking with the audience, makes it the most charming album of all. Songs like “Tickle Me”, “Mama Told Me Not to Come”, and “Lover’s Prayer” that are totally absurd (and almost creepy) become as cute as a shaved lamb in the solo setting. The solo performances of some of his heavier songs (“I’ll Be Home”, “So Long Dad”, and ”Living Without You”) are undeniably brutal. You can hear the audience’s awestruck silence as Newman spills his guts in song after song. This romance is immediately tossed aside when he jumps gracefully from “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” into “Lover’s Prayer” proving that he is an incomparable writer and performer who both recognizes the weight of his work and does not take himself too seriously. This is a combination that I have yet to see elsewhere.

Josh Halper(DJ Sweetbaby)
Hot Fudge Tuesdays
Sundays 2-4 pm

Back to School Bangers by the WXNA Fam!

School has started and we’ve got the ideal soundtrack for you!
Whether it’s you, your children, or your nostalgia looking forward to sharpening those #2 pencils, we’ve curated a playlist just for the occasion!


Thirteen by Big Star

It perfectly captures and brings me back to that time and age and all the conflicting emotions and hormones.

Joe Wolfe-Mazeres, Double Shot with Joe and Sue


Sacré Charlemagne by France Gall’s

DJ Natasha, The French Connection


Punk Rock Girl AND Bitchin’ Camaro by The Dead Milkmen

For me, this is SO high school!

DJ Sirena, Music for Grownups


Sister, Do You Know My Name? by The White Stripes

Everyone knows The White Stripes’ “We Are Going to Be Friends” (which I believe can now be found in childrens’ book form): a sweet, schoolish song. But “Sister, Do You Know My Name?” is my pick from their catalog, and not just because of the word sister. It can be found simmering in the middle of the tracklisting on their second album, De Stijl (2000), which was a huge back-to-school album for me circa junior year of high school. It was one of the first vinyl records I bought and then recorded with a vinyl-recording software that came with my record player (all very early-2000s). I remember listening to the crackly, too-quiet mp3 of “Sister” on repeat while biking around my neighborhood in autumn, crunching dry leaves under my tires. Yes, it’s a bit silly, but so is going back-to-school when you’d rather be listening to records. 16-year-old DJ LT was all about this dreamy, autumnal blues and its simultaneous indebtedness/reverence to Blind Willie McTell, whom the record was dedicated to. 

Meg White’s drumming is usually simple yet relentless, but here we find it almost sleepy, behind itself, like a lounging cat batting at the rug on the verge of slumber. The slide guitar fills in the blanks and overflows, coloring outside the lines and warming up the atmosphere perfectly for some sweet, boyish lyrics about longing: 

 

I didn’t see you at summer school

But I saw you at the corner store

And I don’t want to break the rules

Cause I’ve broken them all before

But every time I see you

I wonder why

I don’t break a couple rules

So that you’ll notice me

 

DJ LT, Shout, Sister, Shout!


Schoolhouse Rock by Billy Harlan

Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, rockabilly!

Fuck School by The Replacements

A classic from the Great American Songbook!

Drugstore Rock & Roll by Janis Martin

And one from the Female Elvis her ownself!

 

Randy Fox, Randy’s Record Shop and Hipbilly Jamboree


I Need a Teacher by Hiss Golden Messenger

This is more generally pro-education (countering the Replacements? ha) and brand new from NC’s Hiss Golden Messenger, which is coming to Basement East in November. Big ups to all our educators gracing classrooms AND the airwaves each week!

DJ Celia, What Moves You


Late for School by Ponytail

This one is mostly included here for the title, as the song itself doesn’t have lyrics — unless you count the odd whoops, hollers and general sonic craziness. So, y’know, just like being late for school.

Rick Pecoraro, contributor


A Summer Song by Chad & Jeremy

DJ Alexis, Free Association


Waitin in School by Ricky Nelson

DJ Blackcircle, The Root


(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party) by the Beastie Boys

High school would not have been bearable without the parties . . . believe it or not we listened to the Beasties on our way to the Science Bowl at TTU with our super school science teacher!

DJ Leanne, X-Posure and Double X-Posure


Another School Day by Hollywood Brats

DJ Michael, The Scattershot


Sunday Morning by No Doubt

DJ Caro


What Did You Learn In School Today? by Tom Paxton

Tom Paxton’s “What Did You Learn In School Today?” is not the cheeriest of back-to-school bangers, but it’s a banger nonetheless. Its call-and-response folk form displays a conversation between a little boy in school and his parents, who ask in each verse: “What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?” The boy responds with all kinds of plaintive answers, delivered with a touch of self-awareness to make it clear that Tom has an opinion on the matters at hand. Here’s an example:

What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?

I learned that policemen are my friends

I learned that justice never ends

I learned that murderers die for their crimes

Even if we make a mistake sometimes

And that’s what I learned in school today

That’s what I learned in school

 

DJ LT, Shout, Sister, Shout!


Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

Jason Waterfalls


Smokin’ in the Boys Room by Brownsville Station

Because it’s so punk!

DJ Houndog Hoover, Goin’ Down South


School’s Out for the Summer by Alice Cooper

Because I’d already be looking forward for this shit to be over.

DJ Ed, Eighties Schmeighties


 

Listen And It All Begins To Fit: On Dory Previn

Let’s be clear: I’m not here to discuss Father John Misty. However, I owe it to him to begin this piece by mentioning a playlist he began curating via Spotify a couple years back (in true Father John Misty form, it’s titled Father John Misty’s Father John Misty Playlist). I remember cueing it up with my boyfriend on a road trip one weekend in college, skipping the tracks we already knew and loved from folks like Harry Nilsson or John Fahey, hungry for new sounds to sink into. At some point in the shuffling, Dory Previn’s “Atlantis” began to play:

I lie in bed
beside him
and I know him
outside in
I’ve learned his body’s
line and length
and memorized his grin
I’ve counted
every crease
at the edges
of his eyes
I know his soul’s
complete circumference
I know
his lies

She unfurls these lyrics by way of a sensuous melody, yet her voice remains a bit withheld and guarded; there is no glimmer of a “come hither” sexiness. There’s a show tune-ish-ness to the melody, but no “All That Jazz” cuteness. She sounds kind of in awe, a little bit afraid, maybe wounded. She sounds wild, too.

Hearing “Atlantis” was all I needed. I immediately researched all that I could on Dory Previn née Dorothy Lanagan and learned that she’d passed away on Valentine’s Day in 2012. I found that her life was as complex and winding as her songwriting. She’d been both a writing partner and a life partner to the famous Hollywood composer André Previn before he had an affair and child with actress Mia Farrow in 1969. Dory’s already fragile mental state reached a breaking point when the couple divorced. And when André Previn married Farrow, Dory was hospitalized for her psychosis. Eventually, she began writing her own singer-songwriter tunes as a part of her healing process. One of the first was a song outlining her ex-husband’s affair called “Beware of Young Girls”:

Beware of young girls
Who come to the door
Wistful and pale of twenty and four
Delivering daisies with delicate hands

This track, among others exploring other vulnerable themes such as her childhood trauma (“With My Daddy in the Attic”), fear (“Scared To Be Alone”), and psychosis (“Mister Whisper”) appeared on her debut solo album On My Way To Where (1970). She went on to record five more solo albums in the ‘70s, and one live album at Carnegie Hall.

On her 1974 self-titled album on the Warner Bros label, her voice seems to have reached a new peak of gumption and ease. Tracks such as “Coldwater Canyon” and “Brando” present as a direct commentary on Previn’s zeitgeist in ’70s L.A., both lyrically and musically. Her observations and descriptions are as sharp (and often funny) as ever, but shadowed with a sinuous, poignant longing and self-awareness. Folky instrumentation like steel guitar and Latin-style drums are punctuated with a show-tune-ish urgency that Previn reappropriated from her past to support sophisticated and catchy melodies that effortlessly wield an emotional narrative.

These songs are at once self-deprecating, profound, feminist, dark, funny, sweeping, strange, unique to their time, and ahead of their time. One of my personal favorites is the last track on Dory Previn, “Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister?”:

Did she long to be the saviour
Saving everyone
She met?
And in private to her mirror
Did she whisper:
Saviourette?
Saviourwoman?
Saviourperson?
Save your breath!

The background vocals are searing on this track and the chord changes sound intuitive but are quite complex. There is a less groovy but equally probing song called “Woman Soul” off of 1976’s We Are Children Of Coincidence that brings wonderful nuances to the love song form. I think it speaks to what we might today call “toxic masculinity” with great empathy:

I love him ‘cause he questions all the roles he’s forced to play
‘Grown men don’t cry’: he sees the lie, and cannot change his way
Oh, but he does the best he can; that’s why I love that man
But I also love the woman in his soul

In addition to her records, Dory Previn also published a trio of autobiographies in her lifetime: “On My Way to Where”, “Midnight Baby”, and “Bogtrotter”. They feel like extended liner notes, her lyrics interwoven with stream-of-consciousness narratives and an occasional poem. Her books overlap non-linearly and further explore her troubled childhood and her rise to songwriting in L.A. after several odd jobs including salesgirl, secretary, and chorus girl. She details her inner world and psychosis with a disarming vulnerability. One of my favorite poems included in any of her books is titled “Listen”. I was thrilled when I came across a clip of her on Irish television reading this poem in her inimitably playful yet serene tone:

The feeling in my blood-flow
Is a simple thing you see
I am it
I am it
We are everything and nothing
But that’s how to play the game
In these weatherbeaten bodies
With these godforsaken brains
We can listen
Listen
Listen to the universe resounding
In the pulsing and the pounding
Of our infant ancient veins
Listen
Listen
Listen and it all begins to fit
You are it

Dory’s records have become an anchor for me when I yearn for music to be a space for making meaning beyond sounds and words alone. I find myself enchanted by her snarky honesty, her wistfulness, her admissions of uncertainty and her occasional turns toward nurturing. I am simultaneously shocked and comforted by her voice. And when I’m feeling weatherbeaten I will watch that funny little video, sometimes on repeat. Listen, and it all begins to fit. You are it.

Lauren Turner
Shout, Sister, Shout!
Sundays 1-2 pm

Is This America?

In observance of the upcoming July 4 holiday, this week’s WXNA blog post features a list of some of our DJs’ favorite songs about the U.S. of A.

Read as you listen with our Spotify playlist!


DJ ED
Eighties/Schmeighties
Fridays from 10 to Noon

“Little America”- REM

Songs that hit the sweet spot of celebrating America without dipping into cheap sentimentality, jingoism, or out and out nationalism are hard to come by IMHO. Little America hits it both in its particulars of recounting the band traveling around the south on tour—”Another Greenville, another Magic Mart”—and in general showing the pure pleasure of the road trip free and easy. I saw REM many times and for me this was their best live song. An exhilarating celebration of freedom. 


DJ Cranky Pants (Ashley)
Set Records to Stun
Fridays from 6-8 a.m.

“America”- Simon & Garfunkel

Ever since Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross plopped down on the back seat of that bus at the end of The Graduate (1967), disaffected middle-classers have questioned the American Dream. In “America” (1968), Paul Simon seems convinced that while the search may be eternal, the promised land remains an illusion.


The popGeezer
The English Breakfast
Saturday, Noon to 2 PM

“American Tune” (1973) by Paul Simon, from the album “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”

Paul Simon wrote this song, using the music of Renaissance era composer Hans Leo Hassler, after Richard Nixon’s re-election.

My emotional attachment to it is two-fold.

It’s the first Simon album I ever bought. Even though I wasn’t old enough to “get” any of it then, I really loved it. Now, over the passing decades, I return to the album, and this song, again and again.

“America Tune” is succinct, emotional, and very direct. And these lyrics especially stir a hard-won, but not cynical, patriotism in me:

“Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune”


DJ Lauren
Different Every Time
Mondays 3-5pm

This is Not America” is a song by David Bowie, Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny used in a soundtrack to the 1985 film The Falcon and the Snowman. But the reggae-fueled, Carla Bley arranged instrumental that I am thinking of is from Charlie Haden’s “Not in Our Name”, the Liberation Orchestra’s 2005 response to the Iraq War on Verve . In this context, surrounded by an ironic, dissonant Battle Hymn of the Republic and a stately version of Lift Every Voice, the tune takes on a new meaning. Haden believed that you could capture people with beauty and that the politics would follow. “This is Not America” reminds me that even with its set-backs, the journey to democracy is one worth taking, that politicians don’t always speak for me, and that dissent is patriotic.


Dave Brown
The Black Ark
Thursdays 11:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

“American Music”- Violent Femmes

You were born too late
I was born too soon
But every time I look at that ugly moon
It reminds me of you


Mike Mannix
Psych Out!
Wednesdays from 7-9 p.m.

“America the Myth”- Christ on Parade
The corporatization of our political system is destroying our country. No amount of empty rhetoric, fireworks, or flag waving is going to stop that. We are flying too close to the sun on wings of soft wax.


Hound Dog Hoover
Goin’ Down South
Monday 1-3 pm

“America”- Willie King
Sweet plea for togetherness from a late bluesman and community organizer from rural Alabama. Great soul blues groove and call-and-response vocals.


DJ LT
Shout, Sister, Shout!
Sundays 1-2pm

“Fireworks” by Irreversible Entanglements

Last thing we saw was fireworks symbolizing somethin’
Can’t tell the difference between America and the unknown
The forever-expanding and reshaping the landscape

Poet Camae Ayewa (a.k.a. Moor Mother) uses her words as an instrument in free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements. I can’t think of a better song to listen to on this day! It explores the symbol of fireworks, yes, but also Black trauma and liberation– all rendered by the lively collaboration of improvisation. In both form and content, this song is a true embodiment of American values such as democracy and freedom.


Drew Wilson
Loud Love
Sundays at Midnight

These are on my setlist every year:

“America Rules” by Murphys Law

“American Heavy Metal Weekend” by Circle Jerks

“Rock N America” by Catholic Girls


Chad Pelton
Dustbin Days
Wednesdays from 11pm-1am

“4th Of July” by Dave Alvin

Dave Alvin’s “4th of July”, particularly the version on King of California, expertly captures the desperation of a relationship quietly breaking apart, while simultaneously describing the sound of every small town backyard 4th of July celebration, ending with kids shooting off bags of fireworks into the night air. America in 6 stanzas.


DJ Michael Roark
Tuesdays from 12-2 p.m.
“Now That the Buffalo’s Gone” by Buffy Saint-Marie
Lest we forget the freeways we travel were built on Manifest Destiny, i.e. genocide, here’s a song to remind you of our ugly past, and our greedy not-so-pretty present.

Music Feels Pride

Being a gay man and deejay on WXNA (Slings & Arrows, Tuesdays noon to 2), and it being the month of June, I was asked by the station manager if I would consider writing a blog for Pride. My first thought was, Why not? I like to think I might have something to say on the matter. But then my mind went blank. So, it was suggested I might want to discuss music that affected me as a closeted youth and the powerful pull music can have to open hearts and minds, to be a solace or a catalyst.

Well, after wracking my brain, I couldn’t think of any music that spoke to me as a youth on that level. Of course, music enters the soul in ways unknowing, and surely the inner self hiding within was listening to the music that passed my ears in a way differently from the outer self. Dancing queens like ABBA and Donna Summer, or the witchy swirl of Stevie Nicks, were scratching an inner itch, and music my brothers brought into the house—The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Pretenders—scratching an outer.

The PretendersI remember my 12-year-old self hearing Pretenders I for the first time in my brother’s room. He brought it home, excited to listen, as a friend of his had suggested he get it. When that first song came on with its driving drums and thrashing guitars, I was hooked. But it was Chrissie Hynde’s vocal attitude that sealed the deal. Her incisive intensity scared the bejesus out of me, and I loved it. 

When she sang, “but not me baby, I’m too precious, fuck off,” I was (1) blown away by the fact that such language could be said on a record, and (2) excited that it was a woman who would say it. It was my first “fuck” in music. The lacey frills of Stevie Nicks twirled away. I wanted the staunch leather of this badass woman to reach into places I didn’t yet know existed.  On that album I discovered the essence of the preciousness within (a resource not to be wasted) and the rowdy and lawless swagger without. Selves coalesced. 

Of course, time moves on, and Tom Petty’s drawl prevails over Hynde’s as I get older. One can’t change the vicissitudes of time. Just like one can’t change the crucial way music makes you feel when you’re young and alone and scared and hiding within yourself. When you feel that the world rejects you. 

The music on the jukebox at the Stonewall Inn must have had that kind of powerful effect. It was stacked with the songs of its time, 1969, a year of revolution. (In 1969 it was illegal for gay people to congregate and drink—let alone dance—together. The Stonewall Inn was a place where they could do all three.) Witnesses claim that shortly before that historical raid, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was played. It has also been noted that one of the favorite songs to dance and sing along with on the Stonewall Inn jukebox was “Aquarius (Let The Sunshine In)’ by The 5th Dimension. Clearly, it is a song about transcendence: 

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation

The word “liberation” must have struck a chord and reverberated in the hearts of the young queer men and women and transgender individuals who frequented there. Along with “This Is My Life (La Vita)” by Shirley Bassey, with its refrain of “let me live, let me live,” and others, these songs must have forged feelings of rebellion, independence, and hope. 

So, when the cops came (with little backup at first, it must be noted) in the post-midnight hours on that hot New York City night, something burst. Liberation enflamed the dark. Love steered the stars. And here we are, a people on a road to vindication. Pride.

Michael Roark
Slings and Arrows
Tuesdays, noon-2pm

How Playing Music Has Helped with Making Music

Our very own DJ Anne McCue was recently quoted in a feature on how her show “Songs on the Wire” influences her work as a musician and songwriter: “For two hours every week, I’m listening to new music,” McCue says. “That’s been an incredibly inspiring experience. It’s really expanded my mind. That’s really helped with my creativity. You have to let go of the music business and just get back into the music.”

Little may our listeners know, Anne isn’t the only musician-DJ at WXNA. Read below to see how curating a radio show has informed the music-making of several of our DJs, and vice versa!


“I think, to a lot of musicians, listening and playing are almost inseparable. If you think of the most awful, confused, disjointed band you’ve ever seen, the foundation of their horribleness was probably a lack of listening. The act of listening, sometimes seen as mere fertilizer used to serve the playing / creation, is really the soil itself – at least half of the entire equation. If you are a musician, compare the flow states achieved when playing with a tight band where the synergy is palpable and powerful, and being absorbed into a beautiful record through headphones or what-have-you. They are not the same, but I think they’re intrinsically linked. If you’re not a musician, you actually are! Haha. Gotchya. At least if you’ve ever actually listened to music, you’re already most of the way there. For myself, combining the practice of listening with the communal nature of terrestrial radio broadcasting, makes for a ritual that directly informs and encourages good, perceptive performing. Come all, let’s listen deeply together!”

-DJ Trev of Our Golden Tones; making music as Trevor Nikrant and in Styrofoam Winos.


“The link between deejaying and creating music can be identified as mutual growth. All of us should strive to master our chosen craft and ideally we can link different creative endeavors to inform one another. For instance, if a musician is exploring a new genre that technically challenges them, why not explore similar music while deejaying on the radio? For a DJ it is important to allot time in the week to sit down, drop a needle on a record and listen to uncharted territory.  The unknown is the edge of understanding and future growth. As the student, if we only study what we know, then the creative in us has been sealed in a box, only to imitate our narrow scope of understanding. The next time a creative block obstructs our output, it may be time to listen to worlds and stories we do not know, because they may become our own.”

-DJ Brer Sunshine of The Black Gold Historical Society; making music as Brer Sunshine.


If you are a musician, how do you know when something is Done? Good? Decent? Listenable? Play it on the radio. The radio does not lie.  The airwaves are more Democratic than the Bill of Rights. Is loud or just full of volume? Does it sound deep or bassy? Is it loud or dynamic?  As a DJ, I’m flummoxed (flabbergasted) and surprised at how often records made by cool people under cool circumstances–impeccably dressed with excellent smelling hair tonic wearing never-seen-in-stores posh vines–will make records that do not hold up the thrilling prom-heard-round-the-block chaos that is The Kingsman’s “Louie, Louise,” the steel factory smoke of Bo Diddley’s “Pretty Thing,” or the shiny chrome of B.B. King’s “She’s Dynamite.”  

– Paul Burch of Works Progress Radio Hour; making music as Paul Burch.


“When Shout, Sister, Shout! used to be late at night, I’d often leave a show I’d either played or attended and race on over to the station with a new record in hand from the merch table. I loved cueing up some brand new vinyl and trying to quickly track down a song I’d just heard over at Betty’s or wherever. Nothing seemed more appropriate for Nashville’s airwaves than an echo of her own shows, still hovering in the air. I think there is a natural overlap between performing and playing music on the radio in their real-time urgency, their inescapable live-ness, never existing in isolation or a vacuum, like how recording or writing can sometimes be. Curating a playlist helps me think about “flow”– the way songs can move in succession as almost a meta-song of its own, another art form altogether. Doing this helps me to consider “flow” in my own music– how I want to ease into the hour or so of programming, how I want to transition or pause, when to play a cover song, etc. Digging for radio gems also keeps me on my toes with listening to new stuff for inspiration and never drawing solely upon the same well of influences over and over again.”

-DJ LT of Shout, Sister, Shout!; making music as Lou Turner and in Styrofoam Winos.

The Singular of Vinyl: Kiwi Jr.

Jay Millar from the Plural of Vinyl highlights his favorite album of the moment.

Kiwi Jr., Football Money (Mint Records)

Despite the plethora of current Aussie bands that find their way onto the playlists of the Plural Of Vinyl, it somehow figures that Kiwi Jr. are a Canadian band. And oddly enough, at times they remind me of turn-of-the-century canucks The Flashing Lights, especially on the emotive jangly “Comeback Baby.” The Flashing Lights led by Matt Murphy of Super Friendz, were a favorite of mine so mixing that with some Pavement-ish sounds gets me into a full blown nostalgia love fest. If I’m merely dropping one lazy comparison it would be later era Pavement.

Produced by Alec O’Hanley, guitar player from Alvvays, and released in March of 2019 via Mint Records out of Toronto, it’s an effervescent jangly ball of indie-pop fun with smirk inducing lyrics delivered with a slightly snotty deadpan tone. Largely guitar, bass, drums, & keys but it’s lightly sprinkled with some other fun sounds.

A couple lines I feel like pointing out because they make me smile:

“I’m a salary man, I want cigarettes from Japan… that taste like oranges.” – from “Salary Man”

“Gimme more Star Wars, gimme open bar chords, gimme more, gimme more more more!” – from “Gimme More”

“Last night your dreams were broadcast, but no one you know owns a television” – from “Comeback Baby”

If I had a complaint about this record it would only be that it’s too damn short. Gimme more!

Jay Millar
The Plural of Vinyl
Tuesdays, 7-9 a.m.

Freeform Love: WXNA Turns 3

My indoctrination into music nerd-dom came rather late in life. I spent my high school years as a science fiction/comic book/movie/comedy nerd. My primary access to new music was what I heard on mainstream Top 40 radio, most of which left me cold in the late 1970s. My only source for records was the Russellville, Kentucky, Big K (a local discount store chain that was devoured whole by Walmart in 1981) where I scoured the racks for movie soundtracks, comedy LPs, and Beatles records, the one musical group I was truly passionate about during my high school days.

Growing up in the boondocks of Western Kentucky meant I had no access to a local record store to discover artists I’d never heard before, and I lacked a music “mentor” to say, “You’ve never heard fill-in-the-blank? Here, listen to this!” Occasionally I might see an interesting act on TV like Blondie or Devo, but the musical infrastructure to nurture a budding fascination simply did not exist in my world.

My first year of college at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky, changed my life more completely than I could ever imagine. Not only did I feel like I was free from the rural “prison” of my high school teenage years, but I suddenly found the perfect means to express my teenage angst and frustration – punk rock. My first few weeks of college led me to records by the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Elvis Costello (back when he was one REALLY pissed-off skinny geek), and more. But along with the punk rock, I was also discovering 1960s rock beyond the Beatles: glam, ’70s hard rock, classic early rock’n’roll, and more. Albums like London Calling, Jerry Lee Lewis Original Golden Hits, The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars all arrived in my growing collection within weeks of each other.

The result was that I quickly developed very egalitarian tastes in music. For me, Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay was just as much “new music” as X’s Under the Big Black Sun. At the same time, I became aware of just how boring and timid mainstream commercial radio was. Records like R.E.M’s Chronic Town knocked my socks off, but you sure didn’t hear it on the big radio stations.

“Someone should start a radio station that just plays great music, no matter when it came out or what style it is!” became one of my frequent rants. “It might not be the highest rated station in town,” I bellowed at passing clouds, “but there are enough people who would dig it if someone just had the balls to just do it!”

It would take me three decades to finally put my time and money where my rant was. Of course in the meantime, I’d discovered college radio, but even it often fell victim to the “format” infection, and its entanglement with university politics and dependency on a young, inexperienced and constantly rotating management team meant that even the best station could be decimated with one graduation ceremony or an arbitrary decision by an institutional bureaucrat.

Around the same time I secured a community-volunteer spot on Vanderbilt University’s WRVU in 1997, I also discovered WFMU and other like-minded freeform stations that were just beginning to extend their programming to the internet. A similar station was what Nashville truly needed — an independent, community-focused radio station, founded on a belief that good programming, no matter how eclectic, would find its audience.

The death of WRVU as a terrestrial broadcast station in the summer of 2011 was a tragedy for Nashville’s cultural scene, but it also presented an opportunity. That’s why I jumped at the chance when Heather Lose called me in the March 2012 to ask if I had any interest in starting an independent, listener-supported community radio station in Nashville. At our first meeting, I said we had to be totally freeform, every DJ programming their own show, and I was pleased and surprised to find that everyone else felt the same way.

Seven years after that first meeting, and three years since WXNA officially began broadcasting that vision of freeform, people-powered radio is not only still going strong but is growing. WXNA is a testament to both our volunteers and our listeners. It demonstrates that real human beings sharing their passion for music, the arts, and the human condition can inspire hope, bring real change to the world, and share our humanity in the moment, right here and now, along with proving that punk fury-powered rants sometimes turn out to be right.

Randy Fox
Randy’s Record Shop
Mondays, 7-9 a.m.

Stuck Inside of DC with the Delta Blues again: The Story of Goin’ Down South

My journey to hosting Goin’ Down South on WXNA started when I was a Capitol Hill reporter, way back in 2001. Washington, D.C., was a stressful place back then. The 9/11 terrorists had crashed an airplane into the Pentagon, and envelopes containing anthrax started showing up in congressional offices. I’d been near one of these offices when one of these envelopes showed up and I couldn’t get a straight answer as to whether there was any chance I had been exposed to anthrax, bacterial spores that can kill you if you inhale them.

I decided it was time to get the hell out of Dodge. So I took a road trip — not just any road trip, but a Southern music pilgrimage. I’d been to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival a dozen times, but despite growing up in Tennessee, I’d never been to Memphis. I’d never been to the Mississippi Delta, despite my love for the blues. And I’d never been to Duane Allman’s grave. It was time to visit all those places.

So I drove south on Interstate 81, stopping first at the Carter Family Fold in rural Hiltons, Virginia, where Janette Carter was waiting for me on the porch of her father’s store. Janette was the daughter of A.P. Carter and Sara Carter, who teamed up with Maybelle Carter to go over the mountain to Bristol in 1927 to record some tunes for Ralph Peer — part of the Bristol sessions that made the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers the first big stars of country music. Janette, who was keeping the Carter Family tradition alive by hosting weekly concerts, explained to me the difference between old-time and bluegrass music — bluegrass is simply old-time “all sped up,” she said. Somewhere I have a tape of our conversation. Maybe I’ll dig it up and play excerpts on Goin’ Down South sometime.

Then I drove into Bristol, to hear a weekly bluegrass concert at the Bristol Mall, an event held by the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, which at that point was housed in a vacant space in the mall. Now the museum is housed in a grand old brick building in downtown Bristol, which has smartly capitalized on its place in country music history. Every September, thousands of music lovers crowd the streets of downtown Bristol for the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, a 20-stage festival whose headliners this year range from Wynonna Judd to St. Paul and the Broken Bones.

Next stop was Nashville, where I dropped in on the second-ever Americana Music Festival & Conference. I didn’t spend much time at the conference — I enjoyed hearing Rodney Crowell tell stories about the Nashville songwriter scene of the early 1970s, but I didn’t come to Nashville to be cooped up in a hotel meeting room. Instead, I spent hours looking through the 45s at Lawrence Record Shop on South Broadway, which had more singles than any record store I’d ever seen. The now-gone store was heaven for me, since I had a jukebox in my basement that hungered for new records to play.

AmericanaFest was just a small affair then. I saw the Drive-By Truckers at Springwater, of all places, with maybe 40 other people. They played a lot of songs from their newly released Southern Rock Opera album and blew me away.

Then it was off to Memphis, with a stop along the way at the Loretta Lynn Ranch. I hit Beale Street, of course, and Sun Studio, where I posed for a picture with the same microphone Elvis used. I was determined to go to a real juke joint, and I knew there weren’t many left in Mississippi, so I asked the Sun Studio tour guide if he knew of any in Memphis. He recommended Wild Bill’s, a small club far away from Beale Street’s tourist traps. I walked in and the place was packed. There was even a table of deaf people, who could feel the vibrations of the music through the floor. I ordered a Bud, and the bartender gave me a quart bottle and a glass. Until the next band showed up, I was the only white person there. I had found a real juke joint.

I stayed in a hotel downtown, across the street from Memphis’ minor-league baseball stadium. Big mistake — there was a late-night party at the stadium that night with hiphop music so loud that it rattled my hotel room’s windows. I couldn’t get to sleep. I complained to the hotel clerk the next morning, and she said, “Memphis doesn’t shut down at night.” It was Sunday, so I went to church — not just any church, but the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, where the Rev. Al Green preached. I was surprised there weren’t more people there, but Al Green didn’t care. The soul singer turned preacher gave it his all, singing with the choir, preaching a little, singing some more, preaching some more, and so on. After two hours I wondered if the service was ever going to end, and I wanted to get to Graceland before it closed. Graceland turned out to be an island in the middle of a low-rent commercial district. It’s not that big of a mansion, and its stone wall was covered in graffiti. Inside, it’s a trip to see it furnished just like Elvis left it in 1977, and the homemade memorials that had been placed around his grave were touching. Plus Elvis’s cars and his airplane, the Lisa Marie, were fun to see.

I headed to Mississippi as the sun began to sink and landed in Batesville, where I was disappointed to find that I couldn’t buy a beer on Sunday. The next day I headed to Clarksdale, where I visited the Delta Blues Museum and ate lunch at the Ground Zero Blues Club, a sanitized version of a juke joint owned by actor Morgan Freeman and a local lawyer. Clarksdale already was on the map for blues travelers, but it was nothing like the blues mecca that it is today. Since it was a Monday, there was no prospect of seeing any live music that night. So I went rambling.

With Robert Johnson playing on my car’s tape deck, I drove through a bunch of crossroads until I got to Rosedale. Prisoners under the watchful eye of an armed deputy were working on the side of the road. I parked my car when I saw what looked like a juke joint. There was a guy sitting on a chair on the sidewalk by the door. I asked him if I could go in, and he said it was closed, but I could take a look. Inside the walls were covered with graffiti, and there was a DJ station, but no stage for a live band. Hiphop, not the blues, ruled.

I decided it was time to find Sonnyboy Williamson’s grave in Tutwiler. The most direct route, according to my map, was through Parchman. I didn’t realize until I got to a gate manned by armed guards that Parchman wasn’t a town, it was the notorious Parchman Farm, the prison where many bluesmen spent time. I could drive through it, they said, if I didn’t have a camera. I admitted to having a camera, so that’s one site I didn’t see.

I had to drive back to Clarksdale in order to get to Tutwiler, and it was pitch black by the time I got there. I couldn’t find Sonny Boy Williamson’s grave, but I did see where composer W.C. Handy first heard the blues in 1903 while waiting for a train.

I was tired from all this driving around, but I was ready to leave the Delta. So I drove all the way to Tupelo, where I planned to visit the home where Elvis was born. I stayed in a cheap motel and woke up with a fright in the middle of the night — I had dreamed there was a man at the motel room’s door looking in at me. Too much Robert Johnson, I guess.

Elvis’ birthplace was small and simple — a two-room house built by his father, grandfather and uncle. It didn’t take much time to see. I spent more time in a chapel on the museum’s grounds, where I sat alone on a wooden pew surrounded by stained glass, listening to gospel songs performed by Elvis. I found comfort in this peaceful setting, as I did later on this trip when I visited the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, where I listened to the music of Thomas Dorsey, the father of black gospel music, in a replica of a church sanctuary.
The rest of the trip was anticlimactic — I did make it to see Duane Allman’s grave in Macon, as well as the graves of Elizabeth Reed and Little Martha, the inspirations for two of the Allman Brothers’ songs.

I’ve gone down south many times since then, including numerous trips to Clarksdale, but most of my journeys are now taken on turntables and CD players. Thanks to WXNA, you can go with me.

I left the Washington, D.C., area in 2016 and moved to Kingston Springs and opened a record store. Turns out records are a better hobby than a business, at least for me, and I closed the store after one year. I did get to know several WXNA DJs through the store, however, and I jumped at the chance to join the WXNA team.

You can find all kinds of music and public affairs programming on WXNA, and I get the chance to play everything from Celtic music to New Orleans funk when I fill in for other DJs. But Southern roots music is still my first love, and that’s what you’ll hear on Goin’ Down South. Let’s ride!

Hound Dog Hoover
Goin’ Down South
Mondays, 1-3 p.m.

Guilty Pleasures

When I think of Guilty Pleasures, my first thought is, “Why should I let somebody tell me what music I’m allowed to enjoy?” Then I think, “Whatever. I know they aren’t cool, but damn, I like The Carpenters.”

For the uninitiated, The Carpenters were a sister-brother duo that formed in the 1960’s and gained notoriety in the 1970’s for making inoffensive elevator-ready music. Tastemakers will tell you this is banal, Up With People-level grandparent music, but I’m here to tell you to quit paying attention to tastemakers. Why were you ever listening to those people in the first place? How on earth could they possibly know what kind of music you like? Let’s look at the facts:

  1. Singer Karen Carpenter had an objectively beautiful voice. If you don’t agree with me on this, just listen to it when all the instrumentation is stripped away and then apologize for trying to troll me.
  2. She also played drums. Are you trying to tell me that’s not worthy of consideration? WRONG.
  3. Ok, so maybe Karen wasn’t the best drummer in the world. Do you like musicianship? Because if you do, The Wrecking Crew is all over the place on many of The Carpenters’ albums.
  4. Sonic Youth liked The Carpenters. They covered “Superstar” wayyy back in 1994… without irony in the decade of irony! Even though Richard Carpenter absolutely hated Sonic Youth’s version of the song, who cares? Richard Carpenter always seemed like a completely humorless person to me anyway. Incidentally, I know The Capenters didn’t write “Superstar”, but the Sonic Youth version is on a Carpenters tribute album, so take it up with Thurston Moore.
  5. Speaking of cover songs, The Carpenters recorded their rendition of Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” in 1977, so if you think they were just some creepy suburban pie-eyed schmaltzball of a band, you’re wrong. You see, they also had some creepy interplanetary telepathic thing going on. That may or may not be cool, but it’s unquestionably interesting.
  6. Richard Carpenter was clearly a control freak and that means he was perfectly suited to compose intricate musical arrangements, which I always appreciate. The guy seemed like he was created in a lab for the sole purpose of sitting in front of a piano and cranking out hits that my parents would play while balancing the checkbook.
  7. Speaking of parents, The Carpenters may be the only band I like as much as my folks do. One of my earliest memories is riding around downtown Nashville in my mom’s VW Golf while listening to “There’s a Kind of Hush” on the easy listening station. Hell, we still listen to The Carpenters’ Christmas album every year and I hate Christmas music. THIS BAND KEEPS FAMILIES TOGETHER!
  8. Come to think of it, The Carpenters probably helped make a lot of babies in the 70’s. Yay for me, but eww.

Now that you’ve been fully convinced that this is the best band ever, I must warn you to slow your roll. Not everything they did was that wonderful, but the good stuff is very good. Where do you start? This is one of the rare instances where I recommend starting with the greatest hits compilations. Give those a shot first and if you’re still into it, start exploring their catalogue.

Brandon Spencer
Nashville Mixtapes