St. Paul & the Broken Bones Stand for Something in “All I Ever Wonder”

All I Ever Wonder St. Paul & the Broken Bones are releasing their second album, Sea of Noise.  The songs on the new album, including their first single “All I Ever Wonder,” address a variety of themes.

The Birmingham, Alabama band gave us some throwback soul music with their 2014 debut, Half the City. And the new single maintains much of the sound of the first album. But while the songs on Half the City mostly focused on love and heartbreak, the band with lead singer Paul Janeway are going for broader issues with the new album.

Janeway recently explained to Entertainment Weekly that he did not want to just focus on heartbreak songs because “I’m a happily married man. I wanted new sounds and ideas.” So, the new album brings that great St. Paul & the Broken Bones sound to address some modern societal issues.

The first single from the album, “All I Ever Wonder,” is a call to action of sorts. Janeway explains how it is easy to be apathetic, but, “You’ve got to stand for something.”

I can’t tell what side I’m on;
I can’t tell what’s right or wrong;
We can’t ever just sing one song;
Love goes hate goes now I’m left all alone.

Check out “All I Ever Wonder,” complete with the band’s brass instruments and a touch of the band’s throwback Otis Redding sound.

Sea of Noise hits stores and the Internet on September 9, 2016.

What is your favorite song by St. Paul & the Broken Bones? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Sturgill Simpson: “You Don’t Miss Your Water”

    You Don't Miss Your Water

    Although Sturgill Simpson’s voice is most often compared to Waylon Jennings, his choice in music often connects him to a wide variety of artists. So it was pretty cool recently to see he had performed “You Don’t Miss Your Water” live.

    “You Don’t Miss Your Water” was written by William Bell, who released his own version of the song on Stax Records in 1961. Most people, however, may be familiar with Otis Redding‘s version that appeared on his 1965 album Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul.

    Sturgill Simpson, however, is not the first person to take the soul song into country territory. The Byrds covered the song on Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968), with Roger McGuinn doing lead vocal work on the official release even though Gram Parsons had originally recorded the lead.

    With such a rich history, a lot of people still do not know the song. So, it was great to see that Simpson performed “You Don’t Miss Your Water” at First Avenue in Minneapolis on Sunday, June 5, 2016. Check it out.

    “You Don’t Miss Your Water” is a heartbreak song. The singer explains how how he took his lover for granted, but then he only realized what he had when the lover left: “You don’t miss your water/’Till your well runs dry.” It is a perfect song for both soul and country artists.

    Simpson’s most recent album is A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (2016).

    What is your favorite Sturgill Simpson song? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Sweet Victory . . . and Sweet Forgiveness

    Basketball Forgiveness The Cleveland Cavaliers won one for the ages when they came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Championship. In doing so, they became the first major professional team from the city of Cleveland to win a championship since the Browns won in 1964. There are so many great stories out of the basketball series, including the greatness of LeBron James and the epic story of his departure and return to Cleveland. But wrapped up in that story is the fact that Cleveland never would have won this championship were it not for some instances of forgiveness trumping pride.

    The Break Up and Reconciliation

    There’s no way that I could make up,
    For those angry words I said.
    Sometimes it gets to hurting,
    And the pain goes to my head.

    — Iris Dement, “Sweet Forgiveness”

    James left the Cavs in free agency for the Miami Heat in 2010. He notoriously announced the departure on an ESPN primetime special, outraging many in Cleveland. James, who grew up in northeast Ohio, had brought so much hope to the championship starved area. But now he was walking away. Of course, James had the right to look after his own career. But Cleveland had a right to be heartbroken too, even if the city held him to an impossible standard.

    After James’s “The Decision” special, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert posted a letter to the teams’s website. Gilbert referred to the star’s decision as a “cowardly betrayal” and worse. His letter, while angry, also reflected his dedication to the city of Cleveland. Meanwhile, many in the city burned their LeBron jerseys.

    Some people outside the Cleveland area did not understand the animosity. But having lived in Cleveland and experiencing many of the infamous sports heartbreaks there, I understood completely.

    But in 2014, James returned to Cleveland because he wanted to bring a championship to the city. This time, he announced his decision in a heartfelt letter to the fans on the Sports Illustrated website.

    It would have been hard to blame him if he stayed in Miami or went elsewhere, especially after the way Gilbert and some fans treated him. Of course, there were ways it made sense for him to come back. The return would help seal his legacy if he could bring the city a basketball championship. And, yes, Cleveland benefited from the reunion too.

    But in order for him to return, it also took a bit of forgiveness. When there is a breakup, nasty things are said that can make it difficult to reconcile. Even with all of the nastiness and anger, James and Gilbert put that anger aside. And James and the fans somehow found some love and forgiveness. In his Sports Illustrated announcement, he asked, “Who am I to hold a grudge?”

    Championships are built on a lot of things like talent, skills, money, sweat, luck, and effort. But this one also was built on forgiveness.

    Forgiveness in Song

    Sweet forgiveness, dear God above.
    I say we all deserve,
    A taste of this kind of love.

    There are not as many songs about forgiveness as one might expect. The first one that probably comes to mind is Don Henley’s “The Heart of the Matter” because of the way the song repeats the word “forgiveness”: “But I think it’s about forgiveness/ Forgiveness / Even if, even if you don’t love me anymore.” The song about a lover forgiving someone who broke his heart and moving on constitutes one of Henley’s greatest songs.

    Another excellent song about forgiveness is my favorite song by Daniel Johnston, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances.” If you are not a fan of Johnston’s unusual voice, a cool version of the song by Clem Snide appears on The Late Great Daniel Johnston: Discovered Covered.

    Johnston based the lyrics of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievances” on several Biblical phrases in Ephesians 4. His song is both advice about not going to bed angry and encouragement to “keep that chin up.”

    A more appropriate forgiveness song for the occasion is Iris DeMent’s “Sweet Forgiveness.” Like a lot of other forgiveness songs, “Sweet Forgiveness” seems to be about forgiving a lover or former lover. But it mainly is a tribute to the idea of forgiveness.

    In the song, the singer is not the person doing the forgiving but the person being forgiven. The singer recognizes she is not deserving of forgiveness: “There’s no way that I could make up,/ For those angry words I said.”

    Forgiveness often constitutes a first step toward healing. And it does not necessarily need to be earned to be given. That gift may accomplish a lot for the forgiver and the forgiven, because as DeMent sings, forgiveness is a “kind of love.”

    We do not know for sure who first gave forgiveness in Cleveland, whether it was LeBron James, Dan Gilbert, or “the fans.” But forgiveness brought some love and joy. And it was a first step toward a world championship.

    Below is a live version of Susan Tedeschi covering Iris DeMent’s “Sweet Forgiveness,” which first appeared on DeMent’s album Infamous Angel (1993).

    Photo by Austin Bjornholt via Creative Commons. What is your favorite song of forgiveness? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Fathers, Birth, and Rebirth In Springsteen Songs

    Phoenix For Father’s Day weekend, we discuss two of Bruce Springsteen’s songs about adult life, fatherhood, rebirth, and birth: “Long Time Comin'” and “Living Proof.” Early in his career in songs like “Independence Day,” Springsteen explored the relationship between sons and fathers with a focus on his experience as a son. But later in his life, some of his songs, like the two discussed below, focused on the joys and fears of being a father.

    “Long Time Comin'” and “Living Proof” explore some similar themes connecting the singer’s rebirth to the birth of a child. But although they were written less than five years apart, the singer’s perspective changes significantly between the two songs.

    “Living Proof,” which appeared on Springsteen’s 1992 Lucky Town album, is about the joy and the celebration of starting a family. The singer tells us about his own struggles in life and about “crawling deep into some kind of darkness.” Through that, he sought some type of rebirth: “I went down into the desert city / Just tryin’ so hard to shed my skin.” Ultimately, he found faith and hope in his lover and the child she gave him.

    Well now on a summer night in a dusky room,
    Come a little piece of the Lord’s undying light,
    Crying like he swallowed the fiery moon;
    In his mother’s arms it was all the beauty I could take,
    Like the missing words to some prayer that I could never make;
    In a world so hard and dirty so fouled and confused,
    Searching for a little bit of God’s mercy;
    I found living proof.

    “Living Proof” was written after Springsteen’s future wife Patti Scialfa gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, on July 25, 1990. As such, it reflects the happiness Springsteen was feeling at finding a happy family life following a period that included a divorce in 1988.

    “Long Time Comin'” officially first appeared on Springsteen’s 2005 solo album Devils & Dust. But Springsteen wrote the song much earlier around the time of his 1995 album, The Ghost of Tom Joad. Thus, he wrote “Long Time Comin'” within five years of the birth of his first son and around the time of the birth of his third child. Springsteen and Scialfa had a daughter born in December 1991 and a second son born in January 1994.

    “Long Time Comin'” is set somewhere in the Western United States (“The wind in the mesquite comes rushin’ over the hilltops”) out under the open sky. The singer in “Long Time Comin’,” like the singer in “Living Proof” is seeking rebirth: “Tonight I’m gonna get birth naked and bury my old soul / And dance on its grave.”

    Unlike “Living Proof,” the father in “Long Time Comin'” focuses more on the future of his children, and he fears what his children may face. The singer is happy, but he worries that he will transfer his own failings to his children.

    Thus, with a few more years with experience being a father, the songwriter of “Long Time Comin'” creates a character who wonders about his own abilities as a father. It is a weariness earned by experience.

    Well now down below and pullin’ on my shirt,
    Yeah I got some kids of my own;
    Well if I had one wish for you in this God forsaken world, kid,
    It’d be that your mistakes will be your own,
    That your sins will be your own.

    The lyrics written by Springsteen-the-father contrast with the lyrics written by Springsteen-the-son in his earlier song “Adam Raised a Cain,” which appeared on Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978). In the song from Springsteen’s early years, the singer concluded, “You’re born into this life paying,/ For the sins of somebody else’s past.” Additionally, recalling his father’s pain, the singer warned, “You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames.” That son’s understanding of his own father’s burdens resulted in the son’s hope not to pass on those sins and flames.

    In the end, the father of “Long Time Comin'” looks at his two kids in sleeping bags, and then he looks at his pregnant wife, promising that he will do better this time around (even using the f-word for the first time on a Springsteen record). It’s one of the most touching and honest moments in the singer-songwriter’s expansive catalog of songs full of honesty and faith.

    Image of rebirth of Phoenix via public domain. What are your favorite songs of birth and rebirth? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Ewan MacColl: “My Old Man”

    My Old Man

    English folksinger Ewan MacColl, who was born January 25, 1915, wrote a number of great songs like “Dirty Old Town” and “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face.” One of his most touching songs combines his political work with a personal story about his father, “My Old Man.”

    In “My Old Man,” MacColl sings about his father. Socialist parents raised MacColl, who was born with the name James Miller, and their own activism surely influenced their son’s political work.

    MacColl’s father was a Scottish foundry worker who was blacklisted by most factories because of his union activity. In “My Old Man,” MacColl uses song to indict the capitalist system that can destroy human lives.

    In “My Old Man,” MacColl also reveals his fondness for the man who helped bring him into the world. But he also reconsiders his father’s life: “He abandoned hope and the will to live / They killed him, my old man.” And he sees the life as a warning that he can pass on to his own son: “And my advice to you, my son,/ Is to fight back while you can.”

    “My Old Man” is a tragic story and a touching song about fathers. I first heard the song during a performance by folksinger Charlie King.

    MacColl’s performance of “My Old Man” below was made for Grenada Television in 1984. It features MacColl’s usual style of singing while cupping his ear. The recording was made only about four years before MacColl died in October 1989.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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