Comfort Music

In times of stress and tribulation, some turn to comfort food. But I find my comfort in music. A single song can change the course of my day for the better. And so today I share with you my Post-Holiday Guide to Comfort Music.

bixOld-timey jazz is one of my go-to genres when seeking comfort. As a former trumpet player I admire the brilliance of Bix Beiderbecke (pronounced Bick Spiderbeck), an extremely influential musician whose heyday was in the 1920s. Bix, as I call him because it’s easier to type, played in a variety of dance bands during his short career (he died at age 28) and left a legacy that persists 100 years later. For your comfort, I recommend Bix Beiderbecke Volume 1, Singin’ the Blues.

bobwillsWestern swing is another source of succor for me, and so I turn to the king of Western swing, Bob Wills. Picture old-time country (you know, the good stuff) combined with big band, except the solos are played on traditional country instruments, and the musical language leans more towards country with a slight nod to jazz… Well, it’s a wonderful hybrid. And for your comfort, try Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys: 1935-1947.

yourhitparadeSpeaking of the 1940s (notice the clever segue), I do love me the purdy songs from those post-war years. Your Hit Parade, The Late ‘40s features fantastic jazz and pop from that golden age. Listening to those tunes I can just picture the yuge tube radio in my neatly trimmed suburban home, slipper-clad feet on the ottoman, wisps of fruity smoke climbing eagerly towards the heavens. Sarah Vaughn interprets Black Coffee as only she can, Tommy Dorsey delivers The Huckle-Buck. Comfort for all.

thompsonFor beautiful Celtic/folk/folk rock/rock, there is none better than Richard Thompson. One of the greatest guitarists ever, Thompson is also a superb songwriter and a most excellent singer. Walking On A Wire (1968 – 2009) is a nice career retrospective, albeit nearly 10 years behind now, ranging from early folksy work with Fairport Convention to more recent rockers like my personal favorite, Bathsheba Smiles. His music is intricacy veiled in the guise of simplicity, complicated guitar paired with delicate melodies, tunes that will stick with you for days. Listening to this man’s music is indeed a comfort.

buzzcocksMoving on to music from my college days, Buzzcocks are a British punk band that started in the late 70s, and 40 years later they’re still going at it! Singles Going Steady is a compilation of their early hits from the 70s and 80s. Unlike what you might think punk is, the songs are catchy pop gems, generally not political, often steeped in teenage experiences, and most assuredly wielding a hard edge. So many good memories, much comfort provided.

ecAnd as the sun sets on today’s music-of-comfort we turn to the best of them all, Elvis Costello. I was first introduced to his music at a high school dance, saw him at my first rock concert, have performed his songs and stolen his dry cleaning (well, not really). Stylistically, this guy is all over the place, from country to jazz to power pop to acoustic rock and everywhere inbetween. His first album, My Aim Is True, remains in my heavy rotation even after 41 years. Songs like Welcome to the Working Week, Alison and Mystery Dance are perfect pop masterpieces. Check him out and you too will receive comfort.

We all need comfort at times and music is an amazing healer. Check out some of these titles, or look into your own favorite genres to find nourishment for the soul. Oh, and let me know if you find my dry cleaning.

Both Kinds of Music

“Oh, we got both kinds [of music] … country and western.”

This sentiment from The Blues Brothers movie neatly encapsulates my understanding of country music in 1980. 

The first time I saw a record album by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys I mercilessly made fun of my friend Dave for purchasing cowboy music. (Of course, I also made fun of him for buying a [now valuable] Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar, but that’s not relevant to this story.) Having grown up in a household overflowing with the vocal stylings of Tammy Wynette and Charley Pride, my tolerance for what I assumed to be country music was quite low. How much I had to learn.

Some years later, for obscure reasons lost in the annals of time, I checked out a Bob Wills record from my local public library. The album, a prime example of Western swing, quickly became and remains one of my favorites. Ultimately my friend Dave was proved to be right (and he still has a very cool guitar).

Western swing, kind of a cross between country and big band, features cowboy singers, fiddlers, pedal steel guitar, a horn section, and sometimes even drums. The music is often referred to as “hot,” indicating speedy tempos and virtuosic soloing. Lyrics typically focus on rural life in the south of a bygone time. If you like big band but shudder uncontrollably at the thought of country music, you might be surprised to find yourself digging Western swing. Conversely, if you wear cowboy boots and sing Ricky Skaggs in the shower but find jazz to be a fruitless exercise in musical narcissism, you might still find enough country in Western swing to float your Conastoga.

Although Western swing flourished between the 1920’s  and 1940’s, it still lives on today in groups such as Hot Club of Cowtown and Asleep at the Wheel. Here are a few titles available at Everett Public Library.

 Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys 1935-1947         

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys – Tiffany Transcriptions Vol. 9

 Al Clauser and his Oklahoma Outlaws           Speedy West – Stratosphere Boogie

Hot Club of Cowtown – Wishful Thinking

Asleep at the Wheel