The Best Songs of 2013: April Edition: Phoenix, Iron & Wine, Jake Bugg, Dawes, Steve Earle, Willie Nelson & More

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Welcome to the second edition of Blinded By Sounds best of 2013 songs.  My goal is to do one of these every month.  The first edition, released last month was so behind that I had to write about three months worth of songs.  This one will just talk about songs released in April. I'm still two weeks behind, but that's better than three months.  Maybe for May I'll get it out within the first few days of June.  I won't be holding my breath.  Neither should you.

As usual, I'm not saying these are the best songs that came out in April, I'm just saying these are the songs that caught my attention.  Did I miss one?  Have I completely missed the mark somewhere?  Let me know in the comments.

"Entertainment" by Phoenix
From the album Bankrupt!

People have been making a big deal over Phoenix since their last album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. To tell the truth I've not paid much attention to them.  I gave that last album a listen or two but didn't find anything in it that caught my attention.  Gave this one a initial listen and felt pretty much the same.  Then while preparing for this article I had a bunch of new albums in a special queue on my iPod and finally something about this track spoke to me.

It is probably a mood thing.  Phoenix makes big, bold dance tracks and I'm not much for dance tracks, big or not, bold or meek.  But after kicks and spurts and regressions Spring has finally sprung around these parts.  The sun is shining and my daughter has learned to love the big yard and the little sandbox and that makes me want to smile and shake my thing.  "Entertainment" is here to help.

Its nothing but one big rave-up with big bouncing rhythms and some electric keyboards that are ready to explode out your ear sockets.  I'm not yet ready for a real dance-floor but I can jump around my living room floor just fine.  This song has made me lose multiple pounds on its own so far.

ghost on ghost.jpg"Grace for Saints and Ramblers" by Iron & Wine
From the album Ghost on Ghost

The last time I checked in with Iron & Wine they were doing the whole Indie Folk thing.  Somewhere along the way they learned to groove, and groove it well.  This may be their catchiest song ever.  At least it stays stuck in my head for hours after I hear it.

"Murder in the City" by the Avett Brothers
From the album Live, Volume 3

Leave it to the Avetts to slow our dance party down to a tearful stop.  This is a very simple song musically, just some acoustic strumming. Lyrically it is a straightforward love song about fathers and sons, husbands and wives and the love they share.  It is plain, but beautiful. Maybe I'm just an old sap but that final line "Always remember there was nothing worth sharing/Like the love that let us share our name" gets stuck in my throat every time.

"Note to Self" by Jake Bugg
From the album Jake Bugg

So many people have gotten tagged with the label "the new Dylan" over the years its hard to keep track. Bugg is the latest and its easy to see why. He writes deceptively simple songs with plaintive, poetic lyrics. But like pretty much everyone else who gets that label, he's decidedly different as well.  Here he sounds like another 60s throwback, Donovan, with his high tenor and British accent.  It is retro enough that you could slip it into an oldies station and no one would notice, and yet it feels right at home amongst all this modern rock too.

"Ruin" by Cat Power
From the album Sun

This was technically released last year, but somehow it slipped past my radar and I'm just now getting to it.  With The Greatest Cat Power came out as a sultry lounge crooner, with Jukebox she showed off her rock and roll chops.  With "Ruin" she's gaming for some dance-pop mistress crown.  The beats are fast and fun while the vocals slink and bark.

mollyringwald except sometimes.jpg"Don't You (Forget About Me) by Molly Ringwald
From the album Except Sometimes

Except Sometimes can be thrown on that large trash pile of albums from actors who think they can sing.  Ms. Ringwald mostly plays it safe crooning accessible standards. Her voice, like the accompanying music isn't bad, it just lacks personality.  Its as if she was so worried about hitting all her notes that she forgot to add any soul.  This classic from her movie The Breakfast Club suffers from the same blandness but it is fun to hear the big 80s pop wonder transformed into a schmaltzy lounge act just the same.

"You Don't Know" by the Meat Puppets
From the album Rat Farm

Like quite a few people, I suspect, I first heard of the Meat Puppets from Nirvana's Unplugged album.  From there I went out and bought their recent at the time album Too High To Die which I thoroughly enjoyed.  For whatever reason after that I completely lost track of them and rarely ever thought of them except when I'd find "Backwater" on some mix tape I made years ago.  Then I'd think I should listen to them more and promptly forget about them once again.

I'm happy to say that Rat Farm finds them in fine form.  "You Don't Know" sounds exactly like I want them to. They've still got those fuzzy guitars and pop hooks.  The vocals are still raspy and grand, though the lyrics are no longer quite so weird.  I'll probably forget about them once again in a month or two, but its nice to know that there are some things you can still count on, whenever you want them.

gin wigmore gravel and wine.jpg"Man Like That" by Gin Wigmore
From the album Gravel & Wine

New Zealand born Gin Wigmore sounds nothing like the Shire.  She's more like Amy Winehouse if she started slumming in greasy rock joints.  Or maybe that's just my accent prejudice.  "Man Like That" is full of big "woo-woo's" and a host of girls singing back-up but its also got slinky guitar licks and and down and dirty grooves.

"Dreaming Without You" by Bleached
From the album Ride Your Heart

Bleached sound like every other psychedelic  indie pop band I've heard which is not at all a bad thing.    The guitars are nice and fuzzy, the vocals muddled and indecipherable, and the beat is exactly what an aging pseudo-hipster needs. Its summer music for kids who hate the sun.  Sometimes that's just what you need.

"Oh Me Oh My" by Deadstring Brothers
From the album Cannery Row

The Deadstring Brothers wear there 70's country rock influence right on there on their sleeve.  Take some Eagles, a little Jackson Browne and a big dose of "Take the Money and Run" and you've got a recipe for "Oh Me Oh My." There isn't anything surprising here, nor new, but that's all right by me.  This is sit on your front porch with a big glass of sweet tea in your bare feet music.  It is take your own sweet time, do a whole bunch of nothing on a Spring Sunday afternoon music.  It's you might not take it home and marry, but it sure is nice to make-out with in the back of the car music.  It's, well ok that's enough of that silliness but you get the idea.  If you dig that 70s country rock sound you'll likely dig this.

"From a Window Seat" by the Dawes
From the album Stories Don't End

The Dawes ride the same influences as the Deadstring Brothers but come to somewhat different results.  There's less Steve Miller in "From a Window Seat" and more America's "Tin Man."  There's more going on musically too as the beat is injected with some bouncy piano riffs and the chorus is more distinctly a chorus.  There's also a nice little rock jam there in the middle (and a guitar solo that would make Robbie Robertson proud.)  

steve earle low highway.jpg"The Low Highway" by Steve Earle
From the album the Low Highway

Earle is the very epitome of the lonesome traveller.  He's seen great highs with success and terrible lows with addiction and prison time.  He'd laid in the gutter and crawled out to the other side, not clean exactly but all the better for it.  He voice sings with the conviction of a prophet and writes songs like a man who knows.  "The Low Highway" speaks truth without preaching.  Its got his classic acoustic strumming but its mixed with some nice pedal steel and fiddle runs.  It is beautiful, meaningful and sad.  Much like the best of songs.

"Walking My Baby Back Home" by Willie Nelson
From the album Let's Face the Music and Dance

At this point Willie Nelson has been making music and playing on the road for so long he could cut an album and do a tour in his sleep.  The man just turned 80 and he's still making albums and going on tour.  Sure he's slowed down some and his output isn't nearly as great as it was back when he was a pioneer in outlaw country, but he's still got chops and more to say.  This standard is given the full Willie cover treatment and wouldn't sound all that out of place on his classic Stardust album.  He's not breaking any ground but the music is pleasant, his guitar picking still distinctive and his voice sounds just as Willie as it ever did.

"Leaving on a Jet Plane" by My Morning Jacket
From the album The Music is You: A Tribute to John Denver

While listening to this tribute album to Denver filled with alternative rockers, and indie stalwarts I keep wondering if its not just an exercise in irony  Its hard to believe folks like Dinosaur Jr. and Evan Dando are fans of Denver and all his cheesy seriousness.  But I suppose they are, or maybe it is snarky irony that brought them forth.  Whatever the reason the album is good and My Morning Jacket's take on this track is full of all the longing and sadness that the original is.  It sounds a bit too much like the original actually, but modernized.  Not that this is a bad thing at all.

"Pas Une Dame" by Carla Bruni
From the album Little French Songs

You got to love the French.  They elect a President with a wife like Carla Bruni who is beautiful, posed naked and continues to write lovely pop albums.  We'd never let someone like that get within a hundred yards of the Presidency.  "Pas Une Dame" is just wonderful pop music.  Bruni sings light and fast and fills the tune with playful guitar and keeps the beat with some hand claps or finger snaps or something that sounds just as fun.  I don't have the slightest idea what she's singing about, but I don't care.  I just don't want her to stop.