Top Music Takeaways of 2017

For me, 2017 has been a great year. Not only was it my first full year living in New York, but I made some amazing music discoveries and had life-altering musical experiences.  From being completely blown away by Paula Cole to seeing Kris Kristofferson in concert, it has been a good year for a music addict.

Below I have ranked my top music takeaways of 2017. So many sites are making “best of 2017” music countdowns, but this year has been full of experiences for me. Normally I don’t put my list in a ranking, but this one is in a particular order from least to most prolific.

5. Discovering St. Vincent

I know that I am late to the game on Annie Clark’s, i.e. St. Vincent’s, work. Her album MASSEDUCTION was hard to miss this year from its colorful cover to its raving reviews. I hope this is the “pop” of the future. This album is constantly spinning on my turntable and I am currently raking in her previous releases. Read my full review over MASSEDUCTION here.

Favorite Tracks: “Pills,” “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” and “New York”

4. Kris Kristofferson Concert

Small venues and legendary artists when put together, are amongst my favorite things. When I got word that Kris Kristofferson was going to be at City Winery in New York City, I knew I had to grab a ticket. Then, I found out I was eligible for a “meet and greet” ticket (Thanks MasterCard!). Seeing Kristofferson was one thing, but to stand by the legend himself was another. The show itself was the true highlight. His raw talent, sincerity, and gratefulness to all his fans was profound. It’s the only word I can use to describe the show. I wrote a full review over the concert here and come to find out the article was also featured on Kristofferson’s site  as well!

3. Discovering Griffin Anthony

As I was browsing Twitter one day I found Griffin Anthony. I looked up his material on Spotify and I was instantly hooked. There are two full-length albums and multiple EPs of Anthony’s on Spotify, but my favorite was his album The Making of A Man. Between Anthony’s songwriting and vocals and the record’s orchestration, this album should rank among Chris Stapleton’s Traveler and Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. Anthony has a deep reverence for country music, yet he finds a way to move it forward.

Favorite Tracks: “Lady Blue,” “What a Lie Looks Like,” “Alive”

2. Meeting Darlene Love

Darlene love is a musical masterpiece. She has one of the most vibrant and interesting careers in music, and she’s an amazing person! I was able to go back and meet Ms. Love after one of her Christmas shows at B.B. Kings in NYC. The show was absolutely stunning. Although many of the songs Love sings are from the 1960’s, she makes them sound brand new. I cannot say enough nice things about Love. She is beautiful inside and out. I am truly grateful for this experience. I even bought a new Christmas sweater for the occasion.

1. Listening to Paula Cole’s Ballads, Interviewing Paula Cole, Meeting Paula Cole

We all know Paula Cole from her smash hits “I Don’t Want to Wait” and “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone,” but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Cole’s music. As I was browsing new releases on Spotify back in August I found Cole’s newest album Ballads. This album literally changed how I listen to music. Cole’s voice completely overtakes every track, resulting in a jazz masterpiece. She intertwines classic jazz songs with songs you would never include on a standard jazz album (“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Ode to Billy Joe”). After bingeing this album for weeks I wrote a review with my rawest thoughts, but I knew there was no way I did the album justice.

To my surprise, Cole enjoyed my article and even retweeted it. Weeks later, her team sent out an email over her upcoming tour dates with praises for the album and there was a quote from Vinyl Culture. I was ecstatic! Then I had an idea. I decided I would take a chance and send her management an email and ask for an interview. I knew there was no way a Grammy Award-winning, Lilith Fair legend would ever answer my request. Again, to my surprise, Ms. Cole obliged. Although I wouldn’t call it an interview, it was a conversation. Read our conversation here

Then it came time for her show at City Winery in NYC. Again I had a meet and greet pass. I was nervous to meet Cole. By this time I had listened to every album she had released and had an even deeper understanding of her music. I was last in line and as I walked around the corner and said “Hi! I’m Gabe Crawford,” she instantly knew who I was. We chatted like old friends, but I can’t tell you anything we talked about. I was completely in awe. I had never met anybody as talented as Cole. We all have those moments in our lives, the ones we can’t describe, and this was one of those. This whole experience was divine and one I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Well with that being said, there isn’t much more to be said. I was truly blessed with amazing discoveries and experiences in 2017. Thank you to everybody who had a hand in making this list happen.

Honorable Mentions:

Music Review: A New Kimberley Locke Christmas Playlist

Live Music: Diana Ross- It’s Her House

New Music Review: Bond Villain – Simply Innovative

These are The Things I Lean On: A Musical Journey

I have loved music for a very long time now. As I have grown older, I am able to look back on music and artists and pinpoint exactly how they have impacted my life. Some of these impacts are very profound. I wrote an article over Reba McEntire and what she meant to my mom and me. She made an impact on our relationship through one of our families’ hardest times. You can read that story here.

wynonnajuddWell there must be something about country music superstars with red hair. Their art seems to consistently hold a special place in my heart.

To begin this story, I must preface it with a simple fact. I have listened to a lot of music in my 26 years on earth. I literally have 100’s of favorite songs and many favorite albums. I once heard that If you can pick out one favorite song and one favorite album, you must really have your life together. I’m far from complete.

Although I cannot choose my favorite song, I can tell you which song was my first favorite. That song was “Tell Me Why” by Wynonna Judd in 1993. It is close to being my first memory. I literally sang this song in my car seat.

Happy days at Grandma and Grandpas.

My dad was a country music DJ and my mom was a teacher. Life was perfect. I loved both my parents with all my heart and felt lucky to have this family. My dad brought home a promotional poster the radio station had received in the mail of Wynonna. This was also the very first time my mom had to deal with what has now been my numerous musical binges.

Then in two short years, my parents filed for divorce. My dad moved out. My mom cried. I attempted to put together parts of a heart that had not even formed.

As time progressed, my relationship with my dad became strained. A bridge of healing has now been built-in its place, but there will always be hurt. Love built that bridge. There were many years where we went without seeing each other but once or twice a year. It was a complicated time, but one I am glad to say I have now taken ownership of in my life.

Every time I would talk to my dad, I always took an interest in his career. It’s still a dream of mine to work in the music industry and he was the closest person I knew! I don’t remember a lot from these conversations. We often didn’t have much to talk about and I tended to default to music. My dad and I did not always have the same musical taste, but we always had one favorite artist in common: Wynonna and The Judds  When we talked music, everything was at peace.

One day my dad told me about a radio conference in Nashville with many other stations and musical artists. It was professional environment, so it was not polite or proper to ask for pictures or autographs.

img_7479As the story goes, he found himself in a room with Wynonna. He told her I was a big fan and he showed Wynonna a picture of me from his wallet. She then turned to a staff member and asked if they had a picture and a piece of paper she could write on. Ms. Judd took it upon herself to sign a picture for me and wrote a small note. To say I was excited would be an understatement.

Of course this made me an even bigger fan. I asked my dad if I could write her back, because I was convinced he had all her personal contact information.

Fast forward to when I was 11. I was in the seventh grade and my relationship with my dad had not strengthened at all. During this year my grandpa, his father, was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was terminal.

My dad took me up to northeast Oklahoma to spend time with my Grandpa and to tell him goodbye. I didn’t understand the severity of the situation and I was convinced that if I prayed enough Grandpa would heal. Prayer does heal, but when the Lord decides He wants one of our loved ones to be with Him we have to accept His choice.

41pwtcpmzvlOn the way up the turnpike, I had brought along a few CD’s with me to listen to in the car. One of these CD’s was Wynonna’s A New Day Dawning. I love this album. We listened to the entire album, and our favorite song was “Tuff Enough.” I still remember watching the Oklahoma countryside and listening to this album.

Throughout the following years, I continued to collect all of Wynonna’s recordings. I still remember buying What the World Needs Now from the local K-Mart. Are those still open?

In 2012 Wynonna had a concert booked in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I immediately called my mom and told her we were going. This concert was right before Wynonna and Cactus Moser got married. My mom and I had an absolute blast. We had great floor seats and beyond Wynonna’s near perfect live vocals, we were rolling on the floor in laughter. A person in the crowd heckled Wynonna about going and toilet papering Garth Brooks’ home. He lived in Owasso, OK, at that time, which is around the corner from Tulsa. Wynonna had a difficult time pronouncing “O-Wa-So,” but she assured us “Wy-No-Na” understood. My mom and I still talk about this concert today.

Two years later, Wynonna was making another stop in Oklahoma. This time she was in Shawnee, which was just around 45 minutes from where I lived. I followed Wynonna on every social media site and knew they were doing Wynonna trivia contests to win meet and greet passes. Well I got the answer correct and I exclaimed in the middle of work “Boom, guess who is going to meet Wynonna?”

fullsizerender-2After all these years, I couldn’t believe I was going to meet Wynonna. What was I going to say? This became an issue, but amidst my anxiety the day came. All of us who had meet and greet passes gathered in a tent beside the stage (the concert was outdoors). Then Wynonna walked around the corner. I had always thought Wynonna was pretty, but pictures don’t do her justice! She had a larger than life personality and image. Wynonna friggin’ Judd was in the room.

I waited patiently and I finally had my turn. Anybody who has been in a meet and greet line knows how quickly they flow. You maybe get 10 seconds to say what you want, get a picture, and move on. To be completely honest with you, I don’t remember the exact moment I spoke to her. I just told her I had been a lifelong fan and in her usual wit she asked, “Well how old are you now?” I told her I was 24 (at that time), and she just said “Oh Lord” or something along those lines.

I met Wynonna Judd. Lets end this anecdote here, because words don’t adequately express meeting a musician that has impacted your life through their music in such a profound way. To say I was star struck would be an understatement. Looking back, I wish I had just told her thank you.

fullsizerenderFast forward a few more years and Wynonna was again returning to Oklahoma. She was coming to Hinton, which also happened to be around an hour away from me. So I was going to buy tickets, that was a no brainer. Now by this time I had come across many of The Judd’s vinyl albums. My favorite cover is Rockin’ With The Rhythm. I remembered Wynonna often signed things people would bring to her on the stage. Now I wanted a record signed. Right during the break of a song, I ran to the stage and handed her the album. She looked at me, smiled, and signed my record.

I am now a Wynonna concert veteran, but I must warn you, when you see her live she will ruin other concerts. I have been to many shows and I have never seen anybody connect with their audience like her. She talks to people in the crowd directly. She cracks jokes with the crowd. She tells stories from her life and career. She plays the drums. She is a true performer. I call this the Wynonna effect, because nobody can quite connect to an audience like Wynonna. If you have a chance to see her, do it!! If she is within an hour of you, go and go every time! Each time she is spectacular and you’ll never see the same concert twice.

My ever growing Wynonna and The Judds vinyl collection.

Now we arrive at the beginning of 2017. I’m still a vigilant fan and have written about her many times. Today, as I have come to learn Wynonna’s story, I have also found inspiration through her strength and perseverance through her life. She reminds me of my mom, which in my world, is the highest honor I can give anyone.

Oddly enough, throughout all my years of listening to Wynonna, my most profound experience with her music was in 2016. Earlier in the post, I mentioned that my parents divorced. My world was in shambles and my little mind could not make sense of the situation, but there were always two constant people in my life. They stood like stone pillars. I call them Grandma and Grandpa.

Last May one of those pillars took a new heavenly form and went to live with the Lord, my Grandpa. He was 88 years old and lived an amazing life. My family had recently moved him and my Grandma to a nursing home for rehab. Grandpa had just suffered a medium rate stroke and a minor heart attack. He needed a little extra care to get him back where he could live in assisted living again. The nursing home was going to be temporary.

Grandpa and I.

Shortly after, my Grandpa became sick once more and he had to go to the hospital. This time they told us he wasn’t going to make it much longer and they called in hospice. He was placed on a ventilator and I rushed to the hospital. I sat and held his hand. As I looked him in the eyes I began to sing…”Grandpa, tell me ’bout the good ol’days.”

I didn’t know all the words to the song and I googled them. Every verse fit him. That song remained in my head all day. As they were making plans to send him back to the nursing home, I went to my house, which was about an hour away, to get some clothes and things to stay with Grandpa through his final days. God had different plans and within those two hours Grandpa met Jesus.

My mom then went home to southern Oklahoma to begin planning the funeral. I went home a few days later to be her support. We went to the funeral home and we were going to have a picture video made of Grandpa. There was a full section over just his grandkids. The funeral home asked us what song we wanted to play. I told my mom that we had to play The Judds’ song, “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days)” and we did. I now think about him every time I hear that song and it has become another one of my favorites.

Music is more than just art. Artists are more than just talent. When you become a fan of a particular artist, they become a companion to you. The records are there for you through thick and thin and are always ready for a spin.

As these artists become your companion, they begin to hold a special place in your heart. Wynonna and her music has been there for me my entire life. Her songs remind me of the happiest moments in my life and they provide comfort for me at my lows.

Grandma in 1947.

Today, not even a year after my Grandpa’s passing, I moved to New York to pursue a job opportunity. I miss my Grandma terribly and wish I could be with her, but I know she wants me to pursue what makes me happy. She has stood as solid as ever through Grandpa’s passing. She struggles, but I have never seen strength portrayed the way my Grandma has these past 6 months. She is truly the most beautiful person I know.

And remember when I said there was just something about red heads I liked. My grandma has red hair.

Thank you, Wy, for everything. I’ll catch you on the next tweet.

A Journey, The Brush, and The Canvas

Life is full of journeys through family and friends, through your career, and through different life experiences. Everyday we wake up to embark on a new excursion, yet we are losing a subtle and contributive art form that has long been a companion through these journeys…the album.

imagesThe music album is being lost in-between gigabytes and a microwave society. In today’s time we want things quick and perfect. We don’t have time to sit and wait. We need it now and if it’s not supplied, we move on. This is clearly seen in the evolution of music and how it is now being produced. No longer do we buy full albums of artists, but instead we purchase the individually well-produced singles. The rest of the album has turned into perceivable waste.

Oddly, this evolution finds its root in the once archaic distribution of music. In the 1940’s and 1950’s, music began to be widely distributed by 10” vinyl records often called 78’s. These 78 RPMs (rounds per minute) often contained one song on each side of the vinyl disc. Although due to movie soundtracks and artists who recorded more than two songs at a time, these discs began to be provided in a book with individual sleeves for each vinyl.They would range from 10-20 pages, essentially creating an “album” of vinyl records.

$_1Artists began to embrace this concept and the 33 RPMs, 12” record was born. It could
now contain anywhere from 8-13 songs or more depending on the manufacturing of the disc. Artists were now given a larger canvas to paint their recordings on. One or two songs per release was not any longer a restriction. As time kept rolling and thousands of albums were being made, a new art form started to appear on these 12” discs, the concept album.

Concept albums began with the great American songbook musicians, including Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. They would record an album with one general theme. Each song was a new stroke of the paintbrush and by the end you had a full picture.

Towards the mid 1960’s into the 1970’s, concept albums took another turn. Instead of creating an over all theme, they began to create a story. Picture a pure audio movie. This is seen distinctively in The Beach Boys Pet Sounds and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band and later in albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall and David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane.

Similarly, this trend then carried on to the idea of recording concerts live and releasing them on vinyl discs. In this regard, people who were unable to attend a concert of a particular artist were able to experience the sensation and aura of a live performance. Each recording was “one of a kind”, providing listeners with a more candor approach to artists. Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive and Aretha Franklin’s Aretha in Paris are perfect examples of this impression.

digital-music-converter-1Today, this art form is being lost in the array of music distribution and format. This began with the creation of file sharing sites Napster and Limewire. Once those were deemed illegal, the creation of the iTunes store and the purchase of individual tracks on sites like Amazon now provided this service. No longer did you have to buy an album for a particular song. One was not automatically forced to listen to the rest of the artist’s picture, but one could now create their own image of artists by downloading songs fitting their prerogative. This movement has forced record companies and artists to focus all their energies in a select few tracks of an album. These tracks are the singles and the others just become mediocre fillers that barely see the light of day.

Incidentally, this has resulted in the degradation of the album, which has also resulted in the simplification of individual artists. It is not often we find the overall performer who can sing and touch on every kind of song to create any concept.

Now there are still artists and albums that champion this idea, such as Adele’s 21 and Eminem’s Relapse, but these are few and far between. Yet, the music industry is going to continue to follow down the path of dumbed down albums at the price of genius singles.

$T2eC16V,!zEFIfKbzlz-BSYQl55-MQ~~60_12Although artists are beginning to take back this art form with the resurgence of the 12 “,
33 RPM, vinyl record. Nevertheless, the sales of these records are not enough to save the album. In the larger picture, these are appreciated by a few, while the majority are simply satisfied with the iTunes top songs chart or Spotify’s “Today’s Top Hits” play list.

In the end, the concept album evolved to take listeners on journeys essential to life. Music is the one intangible object that occupies nearly every part of your brain. This gives music the power to channel emotion like no other medium, providing every set of feelings imaginable. This is the essence of what is being lost through an ever-evolving negligent and impatient society. We want quick music to give us a quick high, yet we are robbing artists of their full potential and our own solace in the art of the full, concept album.

Most importantly, we are erasing creativity for the sake of time. We now lose ourselves in data and work, while neglecting how we can take part in art and its many forms. The album and its concepts provide the escape, relaxation, and comfort desperately needed in today’s society. Albums and their concepts provide journeys and escapes that everyone needs, but we just simply don’t have the time. Society no longer gives the artist the brush to paint the full picture. We barely get finger paintings.

Selena Lives On….

By Guest Blogger Amanda Adamez, Follow her on Twitter: @AmandaAdamez

Selena_Quintanilla-PérezTwenty years after her untimely death, fans of Selena are anticipating a bittersweet celebration of her life. Multiple news sources have reported “Fiesta de la Flor,” scheduled for April 17-18th, a day after Selena’s birthday, was given approval on Tuesday by Corpus Christi City Council to be held at Bayfront Park. Born in Lake Jackson, Texas, Selena’s father identified her singing talent when she was very young. Abraham Quintanilla was a former musician himself, and soon began to nurture his children’s musical talent. By the time she was 9, Selena, her brother, and sister were already performing at public venues. Not long after the formation of Selena y Los Dinos, her father booked his children in so many Tejano shows that Selena had to withdraw from school and she had to earn her high school diploma through correspondence. In addition to her music, Selena owned several clothing boutiques in South Texas. The family ultimately relocated to Corpus Christi Texas where her family still lives today.

The 1994 release of her album, Amor Prohibido, from the EMI Latin label, continues to be a favorite amongst Selena fans. A promotional tour for the album included her audience record-breaking performance at the Houston Astrodome, complete with Selena’s carriage ride around the stadium. The Houston performance also provided the inspiration for the opening scene of the 1997 Gregory Nava film, Selena, staring Jennifer Lopez. The Houston show was recorded on February 26, 1994 and it eventually became Selena’s last televised concert.

R-3056075-1318463615.jpegThe Amor Prohibido album contains not only the title cut, but also the pitter-pattering hit “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and “El Chico del Apartamento 512,” a fun dance tune weaved with disco-like four-on-the-floor beats. The album also features “Techno Cumbia,” which isn’t your average Mexican cumbia, but rather an amalgamation of a hip-hop sound and Spanish lyrics. The songs on this album were soon heard blaring nonstop from the car stereos all around South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. Continuous radio play and album sales in 1994 were a foreshadowing of the album’s future; its immense popularity lead to Amor Prohibido earning certified 20x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in February of 2010.

From a beloved regional singer to a megastar after her death, the memory of the “Queen of Tejano,” the little girl from Texas who embodied the American dream, still lives on.

Elvis is More Than a Set of Coasters

To be completely honest, I did not realize that today was Elvis’ birthday. Oddly, I was reading about his involvement with Buddy Holly at the time I found out. I then figured that he deserves a post since he is the King of Rock and Roll.

This isn’t going to be over one album. Actually, I don’t have many of Elvis’ trailblazing downloadalbums. I have a couple of reissues and a lot of his later recordings, nevertheless, I’ve always been a fan. Recently I have begun to do research on the origins of Rock and Roll and the history of Rockabilly and Elvis is at the forefront. This has made me realize a different depth of what it means to be a trailblazer or simply a popular artist.

When Rock and Roll today came on to the scene in the 1950’s they didn’t have a name for it. It contained bits of R&B, hillbilly music, gospel, country music, and some crazy new guitar riffs. It was a melting pot of every genre spiced with innovation. There were many who helped move this music in, but Elvis has risen as the icon of that movement. Without Rockabilly music would sound drastically different today.

download (1)I now see a larger picture.  Elvis may be dead, and he may have quit recording Rockabilly later in his career, but all this is alive today. His style is still heard in the likes of many artists. His aggressive stage presence and “movements” are still being imitated. His songs have been covered by almost every artist under the sun. His career demands respect.

Unfortunately, I now feel that Elvis’ legacy has been trivialized through various forms of memorabilia and marketing schemes. I can walk into almost any music store (or Wal-Mart) and find at the least, a set of playing cards with his likeness or a set of coasters with his album covers. I can adorn my fridge with every image he ever posed for and I can decorate a full Christmas tree with different figures depicting his likeness. I have even seen Elvis themed underwear.

So for this post, I would like us to remember what the King of Rock and Roll was, a ElvisPresleyAlohafromHawaiitrailblazer, an innovator, and someone who pushed the envelope. When I listen to Elvis’ voice I hear someone who wasn’t scared of the mainstream, but I hear someone who wanted to move music a little further and create a new canvas of music for artists to paint on. He asked what if and then he did..