The Best Songs of 2013 May-June: Fogerty, Mavis Staples, Daft Punk, Barenaked Ladies, Isbell and More

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When I wrote the April edition of this column I mentioned having hope that I might get May's article out at the beginning of June.  Here we are in the middle of July and I'm just now getting to it.  All I can say is that I'm sorry  and offer some tepid explanation.

My wife teaches at university and as the spring semester starts winding down I always have these dreams of how wonderful it will be when she's off for the summer.  I fantasize about all the free time I'll have.  I smile thinking about all the movies I'll watch, the books I'll read, the music I'll listen to and all that writing I'll get done.  

Reality, as it usually does, has different ideas.  Summer filled itself up fast with vacations, family visitations, yard mowings, garage cleanings and a million other chores that have have been put off for far too long.  Relaxation gets put to the back shelf and the writing never seems to get done. So for the second time out of three columns my monthly write up of the best songs for the year will combine more than one month.

As always I'm not saying these are the best songs of May and June, just ones that I liked.  I'm adding an additional caveat this time in that I'm absolutely sure I missed plenty of good stuff.  With all those things needing to be done my ability to pay attention to music let alone listen to it fell not only behind but almost became non existent.  As such not only are there relatively obscure songs that I missed (which I'm always gonna do because I just can't listen to it all) but there are songs by some pretty big bands that I just haven't had time to dig into (Hello Patty Griffin and Vampire Weekend.)

That's the chips, kids, deal with them.

"Almost Saturday Night" by John Fogerty with Keith Urban
From the album Wrote a Song For Everyone

For years John Fogerty was so angry at his former CCR bandmates and his old record label that he refused to play or have anything to do with all those old classic songs.  Eventually he started playing them live again and on Wrote a Song For Everyone he's buried the hatchet completely.  He re-recorded them with all sorts of big names.

I don't know anything about Urban except that he's a country star of some sort, but he's great here.  The whole album is really lots of fun but the country air that Urban adds to this one with the twang in his voice and some wonderful banjo picking really makes it stand out.  You can really hear Fogerty releasing all the anger he held with him for so long and bringing new life into his old songs.

Au Revoir (Adios) by The Front Bottoms
From the album Talon of the Hawk

The rest of this album is pretty standard, by the numbers indie rock, but this short (it clocks in at just under two minutes) is big time fun.  Lyrically its pretty harsh with the singer knocking his soon to be ex for not knowing the meanings of the simplest French and Spanish words but she gets the better of him by songs end by saying goodbye in multiple tongues.  Musically its filled with these marvelous according riffs and big rock-out chorus bashes.  

"Lose Yourself to Dance" by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams
From the album Random Access Memories

The kids these days love them some Daft Punk but I surely show my age when I listen to them and shout something along the lines of "this isn't music, its just noise."  And then add "get off my lawn, stupid punk kids."  

Mostly I can hear things that the cool kids and music critics would find new and inspiring, but my ears just don't dig it.  Except here.  "Lose Yourself to Dance" is a sly, slinky dance-floor groove with Bee Gee guitar riffs and enough hip shaking beats to get even an old fat guy like me up and moving.

"Smile" by the Barenaked Ladies
From the album Grinning Streak

I've always felt the Ladies were great pop smiths with terrible lyrics.  "Smile" is no different. With lines like "We had fun, so time went fast/You don't hop on; it goes right past/The water's high; it's overcast/You're a rotten egg if you're in last" you can't help but cringe and want to take away their rhyming dictionary.

The thing is the music is just so darn catchy I don't really care that the lyrics are senseless tripe.  Again we've got an accordian creating sounds that make me nothing but happy.  Add in a bevy of hand-clapping in the chorus and I've forgotten all about the words and am in summertime bliss.

"Drink Nothing But Champagne" by Future Bible Heroes
From the album Partygoing

Stephin Merritt has more bands than any sane man can keep track of.  Dude changes bands like I change pants - about once a week.  This track is exactly what I've come to expect from him in any of his incarnations - wacky electronic beats, wry deadpan lyrics and an emotionless delivery in Merritts deep baritone.  This one gives us some They Might Be Giant-esque vocals from his cohorts, but everything else is pure Merritt.

"Love Letter" by Clairy Browne & the Bangin' Rackettes
From the album Baby Caught the Bus

Over the years there have been any number of groups retrofitting the old 60s soulful girl groups to modern times.  From Amy Winehouse to Sharon Jones to the Raveonettes there's just something wonderful about taking those old pop sounds, amping them up and twisting them into something new.

Clairy Browne is the new girl taking on the formula and she does it with great verve.  Dig those big sexy sax beats, the Bangin' Rackettes belting out the back up vocals like they was on fire and a groove that just doesn't let up until songs end.  Girls got it and I want some more of it.

"Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus) by Mavis Staples
From the album One True Vine

You can't talk about '60s soul without mentioning the Staple Sisters. Mavis has had a very nice resurgence of late with thanks going out to Jeff Tweedy who has produced the last two albums and written some songs.

You can hear his influence here without ever pushing Mavis out of the spotlight she so very much deserves.  This has a great shuffling beat with tambourines and light percussions that remind us of both old church tent revivals and MTVs Unplugged.  Mavis' vocals are bright and brilliant not showing her age one little bit.  Its a gospel song that doesn't preach to the choir but brings even the staunchest atheist in for a listen.

"Elephant" by Jason Isbell
From the album Southeastern

I never got into Drive By Truckers but I've been digging Isbell's solo outings quite a bit.  Honestly I've not given this album the good listen it deserves but what I have heard playing in the background as I cook or clean or do any other mindless chore, I have very much enjoyed.

Our fearless leader here at Blinded By Sound tells me that if my list doesn't include this song then its wrong.  Well, the list is still probably wrong, but I do what I'm told.  

It is a beautiful song.  Its all light acoustic guitar strumming and elegant piano while Isbell sings with all the pain and hurt a fella can muster.  

"I'd Run Away" by Natalie Maines
From the album Mother

I've been reading a lot of interviews with Maines lately telling stories about how she never really fit into her Dixie Chick persona.  She's too wild, too liberal too rock and roll for your average Nashville Country fan.  That's fair enough, but if Mother is any indication of where she's headed musically I'd rather have the Chicks.

That's not really fair as Mother is more of a casual lets go to the studio and muck about sort of thing than a proper album.  Its full of covers from as diverse a crowd as Pink Floyd, Jeff Buckley and this Jayhawks number.  It isn't bad as far as those things go, but its not all that memorable either.  This one sticks pretty close to the original and its nice to hear Maines lovely voice taking on Mark Olsen's more gruff vocals.  A nice version of a great song.

"New Years Resolution" by Camera Obscura
From the album Desire Lines

This is another album that I need to spend more time.  There is nothing revolutionary here. It sounds just like you think a Camera Obscura album should sound.  This one could have come off of any of their other albums and you'd not notice.  Not that this is a bad thing by any means.  These fine folks make some of the best indie pop this side of Glasgow.