Home in a Bit

Home in a Bit starts with an electric guitar. A simple riff. A good riff.

So good, that just for a second, I thought maybe there was an old Rolling Stones tune I hadn’t heard. Something from the Little Red Rooster era, but less bluesy and . . . I don’t know, recorded in a cleaner studio.

I really knew it couldn’t be the Stones, because I think I’ve heard every Rolling Stones tune ever written, but it made me very hopeful that I was about to discover a great new band.

When the vocals came in, and I heard that just like the guitar, they sounded slightly gritty, or maybe, ‘real’ is a better word. An aural impression of Jack White flashed through my brain.

As I listened to the unadorned edge of the singer’s voice, I realized that not only did I like the sound of his voice but that he was—thoughtful.

“Should I be, withholding?

. . . expressive when inspired . . .”

Ah, a sensitive guy who sings.

I’m hooked.

And suddenly the whole song changes, and becomes infused with hope. The production leans towards poppy—comes close to that boy band sound, and I mean that in good way—but keeps a dark sounding edge.

Then I realize the song is a love song, and the singer is comparing his love interest to an angel, and saying that this person is “his wish.” Ooh, the band is swoonworthy.

Halfway through the song I had to know who the band was (the tune was uploaded by someone who’s user name is a number) so I clicked on the track. I saw the band name, Open til Midnight and clicked on the url that Mr. Numbers had thoughtfully provided, along with the fact that the band is from NYC. On the site I found, among other things, including free downloads, these great pics from a live show.

Okay, so, I’ve been trying really hard not to say it, but . . .  these guys are, you know, hawt. I feel like I’m allowed to say that because, well, just look at the pics. And, confession time—if you don’t already know—I write YA novels, and well, these are the kinds of guys in my books. Seriously. Cute musician boys who are angsty and swoonworthy.

I’m really tempted to put an excerpt from one of my manuscripts right here, to show you what I mean but, I have something even better. Click on Mick.

The video shows that not only was Mick once über hawt, but he also loved creepy stuff, like . . . YA paranormal novels.

Special thanks to Open til Midnight who got someone to upload their song Home in a Bit just in time to make our weekend last an extra day and who I know will forgive me for goofing around a little and calling them hawt ;) I’ll definitely be adding Home in a Bit to one of my writing playlists. The best way to write a certain kind of guy is to have his voice in my ear.

Click on their photos to find out more about Open til Midnight, looks like they’re playing soon in NYC. Go see them. You know you want to.

On the Twelfth Day of Sirenstories . . .

I went with Anne Carley to Vinegar Hill.

Anne Carley appropriately calls Vinegar Hill a “Story Song” but I’m pretty sure there’s more than one tale being told in this deceptively simple tune that on first listen, sounds sunny.

Vinegar Hill seems simple on the surface, it opens with a lovely guitar riff in that hands you an invitation to kick back and relax. When Anne’s sweet vocal comes in, light and innocent, you think you know where things stand.

So, if you want to pour your coffee and squeeze your oj while a summer breeze blows through your open kitchen window (not sure why I keep seeing sunny yellow kitchens with country curtains during the last couple of tunes on Sirenstories) and pretend there’s nothing suspicious about this song, then read no further, just enjoy the music.

But  someone who refers to her music as “Brechtian tintype chamber-pop” probably isn’t going to write something simple, and sure enough, after one or two listens to Vinegar Hill, questions prickled my skin.

I started to wonder: why did the singer go to Vinegar Hill in the first place? The name doesn’t exactly sound like a vacation destination, so, it must be . . . ding! A metaphor.

Next. Who did she go with? Whoever it was, I’m a little worried about this character. The singer says, “One time I crossed that bridge (to Vinegar Hill) happy, the next time I crossed it, I crossed it alone.”

Am I just being haunted by John Laprade’s felon from yesterday’s post, or am I on to something?

The singer says going to Vinegar Hill felt like having all the time in the world, and yet, she doesn’t know the way back. I’m thinking, Lost weekend. You’ve seen that movie, right?

The biggest brain teaser is, why does Vinegar Hill remind the singer of Texas? It sounds like Vinegar Hill reminds her of Texas in a good way . . . and she sings about her oldest friend . . . but Anne Carley says, “Vinegar Hill is a neighborhood across the river from Manhattan” so I want to know, what’s the Texas connection?

Anne, you say Vinegar Hill is a story song. I want to know the rest of the story. Are we going to get a Vinegar Hill Part II? You know, if you don’t write it, one of the other Sirens is going to have to jump in and do it. John?

The singer took no pictures of the person she went to Vinegar Hill with, and she sounds slightly sad about that. But hey, pictures could wind up as evidence, right? Evidence of a broken heart? Or something more? ;)

Although you can’t learn more about the singer’s mysterious trip to Vinegar Hill now, you can learn more about Anne Carley—who I hope will understand I’ve had a bit of fun here with her beautiful song, which I obviously find inspiring—by clicking on the cover of her CD, Portfolio.

P.S. I know you know this, but Bertolt Brecht was a German poet, playwrite, and theater director who believed in collective and collaborative work methods. With that in mind, Anne would probably dig it if you wrote VH Pt. II and posted it on Sirenstories. Just sayin’.

World Class Faker

Meet the eleventh Siren, John Laprade.

For me, World Class Faker sounds best once you know the backstory.

Singer songwriter John Laprade says, “World Class Faker is the title track from my new album. I hope you like it. It was my attempt at writing from the prospective of a just released felon and what thoughts and feelings might be running through his mind.”

So did I do the right thing? Letting you read the story first? It explains everything in one line.

Without the story, I don’t know if I’d ever suspect this guy of being anything but nice, and maybe slightly wounded. His voice sounds so easy-going, I can imagine him sitting in my kitchen, singing while I . . . make breakfast. He wouldn’t mind that I’m not a good cook, he’s a nice guy. Eggs, toast, that would be enough. That’s what I thought on first listen.

But then, with one line of text, John Laprade changed everything. I would have suspected metaphor, but no. This is a Sirenstory. This sweet singer is one of those psychotically calm people who could snap at any moment. 1974? Yeah, this guy has a sweet voice—and a knife up his sleeve.

You really got me John. I Love World Class Faker. It gets better with each listen and the drums are addictive. I’d love to hear the White Stripes rev it up and spit it out . . . or maybe Morrissey could change a chord or two and make it his own. Imagine Nick Cave . . . You know, we’re going to have to do a remix day here on Sirenstories. You all could cover each other’s songs. Wow, that’s such a cool idea! What do you think?

I popped around online looking for more info on John Laprade (I can do that, it’s the weekend, but I’d LOVE to take a commercial break here to remind the artists who upload to the Sirenstories SoundCloud to PLEASE answer the half-dozen questions I ask so I have easy access to your info. Lyrics would be nice too!) and I found this video for his song Blind. I can’t wait to show it to my five-year old son, he hangs out with guys like this all the time.

Day 10 on Sirenstories is . . . Obvious.

Singer songwriter Patti Witten gets a 10 out of 10 for her song Obvious.

The tune is killing me—in a good way—with its Elliott Smith overtones.

Patti Witten has an ease to her singing, as if wandering around her wide range is simply a sweet ramble.

Listening to Patti’s casual vocal style, I imagine Joni Mitchell on a lazy day:

She’s on the couch, relaxing, maybe reading the paper. She’s not going to get up just to tell you something you ought to know. She looks at you over the top of her glasses, sighs, and puts her paper down. She gives you another look, then picks up her guitar. Maybe now you’ll get it.

As Patti sings, “You are the one I want, isn’t it obvious?” I’m thinking, she’s got the right idea. Life is short, people like Elliot Smith—who I am now missing so much I feel like crying—vanish overnight, so why play games? Just say it, whatever it is.

Patti Witten said this about Obvious:

“This is what it’s like to have an embarrassing, stupid crush — everybody knows — it’s obvious.”

To me, the singer doesn’t sound embarrassed at all. I imagine her steady gaze as she tells it like it is.

Obvious is such a great concept, I wish I’d thought of it. I’m kicking myself. It should have been . . . obvious.

But okay. Patti Witten is great songwriter and she wrote the song Obvious, so I can’t. However I’m telling you now People, I’m writing the book. YA romance. Totally. Obviously.

Thanks for the inspiration Patti. I’ll mention you in the acknowledgments. And we’ll use your song in the movie, okay?

Obvious has a mysterious guitar part and the drums play a shuffling groove. This simple instrumentation, with what I’m guessing are a few added effects on the layered guitars is perfect, and the song sounds somehow both small and momentous. But it’s the chord progression, with Patti’s voice sliding around on top, that makes me want to listen to the song over and over.

So I am.

Siren Number 9, Number 9, Number 9 . . . is Catrin Hol

To celebrate the 9th day of Sirenstories I’d like to introduce you to Catrin Hol from Cork, Ireland.

Catrin’s lovely voice is bare and without effect in this honest recording of her song, Endgame Checkmate.

I think Catrin Hol is the bravest of our Sirens so far, take a look at what she says about Endgame Checkmate:

“For this song, I used a few pre-written lyrics as a starter, and improvised the rest in front of the mic, so this is a one-take recording. As such, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but I like it anyway, and hope you do too. Although it is sad . . . ”

The other day somebody told me that one of the reasons people like to go out to hear live music is because people like to watch other people being brave. I’d love to know what you think about that comment, Listeners.

If you’re wondering why Catrin recorded and posted a song that may be considered by some as unfinished, I can tell you that she also wrote this about Endgame Checkmate:

“This is one of 14 songs written and demoed this February, for FAWM (February Album Writing Month). I only had 3 weekends to write and record in, so the pressure was on.”

I’ve never done FAWM, and like NaNoWriMo I think it’s a brilliant idea! For me, any parameter helps me write faster, and maybe better. Next February I—no, I don’t think so. I’ll be busy with Sirenstories, and hopefully another writing project . . . but February 2013 I’ll be there! Expect my CD in the spring of 2013. Gasp. I said it :) Thanks for the inspiration Catrin!

As far as whether or not Endgame Checkmate (a wonderful title) is finished, I guess that’s for Catrin Hol to say. No one is going to receive any negative feedback from me, if I post a song it’s because I hear something good about it, something I like. Also I believe that part of writing a song is sharing it, and Sirenstories is a place to share.

That said, I would LOVE to see every word in Endgame Checkmate turned over and over like a stone in Catrin’s hand until the lines of the song became so polished, they gleamed. Not because it would necessarily make the tune better (no judgement here) but because I would be fascinated to hear what happened.

Meanwhile I’ll keep loving the chorus to Endgame Checkmate.

8 Days a Week, I Love This Inti Rowland Song

After yesterday’s post, I just had to stay in the folk genre. But today’s tune, The Ballroom Ghost by Inti Rowland, although it’s folk like yesterday’s song Canadian Winds by Steve Kunzman, has a really different feel:

With its beautiful, bleak vocal line, The Ballroom Ghost is more of a contemporary folk song, and to my ears, it has some kind of connection with a style of music that is most haunting to me: dark dance music from the ’80s and its offspring.

Am I freaking you out? Maybe it’s the stark, simplicity of the song, or maybe it’s the artist’s name, which, because I first saw it as his user name all run together, intirowaland, makes me think—for no good reason—of a German industrial band, or maybe it’s the chord sequence or the melody . . . but something about this band (that’s another thing, for some reason although this artist is clearly a solo singer songwriter, I keep thinking ‘band’!) makes me think of Robert Smith’s dark looks and those Cure songs that I loved, that I still love. I’m thinking I’d like to hear IAMX or Depeche Mode cover this song. Am I alone here? Somebody please weigh in.

Ah! Maybe this is part of it. Here’s what the artist says about the song:

“Recorded in an old disused church in north-east london in March 2011.” Although that doesn’t support my aural based ’80s music connection, it somehow makes me feel better.

Inti also says, “The Ballad of The Ballroom Ghost features five tracks by Inti Rowland. Co-produced by Jackson Dimiglio-Wood and Inti Rowland, featuring contributions from Chloe Isacke. And video from Lewin St. Cyr. Released on the 11th of April 2011. Limited to 200 copies in CD format. Available for purchase, please contact: intirowlandmusic@gmail.com

I’m betting those 200 copies are long gone, but it’s worth a shot. I hope you get one.

And on the 7th day of Sirenstories . . .

I heard Canadian Winds, a beautiful song by Steve Kunzman that made me cry.

It’s only moonbeams
That shine through your window
It’s only sunlight
Puts stars in your eyes
I will always be here
Wherever you travel
Wherever you travel
Wherever you roam

You brighten the days that
Are covered in rain clouds
And warm up the days filled
With Canadian Winds
The scent of the water
That runs down from High Bridge
Helps me remember
The stories you told

Keep in your pocket
A map you can follow
Of dreams that lead you
To places unknown
The moon and the sun will
Be there to guide you
Be there to guide you
When you want to come home

When the North Wind blows
And the River runs cold
We can sit by the fire
Chip curled at your feet
And talk over old times for hours
Talk over old times
Talk over old times

The moon and the sun will
Be there to guide you
Be there to guide you
When you want to come home
When you want to come home

I don’t know if it was before or after I read what Steve wrote about his song that I started crying.

“My children are off to college and beyond. This is a song to them from my future aged self.”

Steve and I became friends at a workshop led by Rosanne Cash that she called The Essence of Songwriting. Years later I had the honor of singing harmony on one of Steve’s songs for his CD Find the Moon.

Click on Steve’s pic to learn more about him and his music.

Steve’s wife Jane Kunzman painted the painting on the cover of Find the Moon. Jane’s such a wonderful painter, I wanted to share something of hers as well.



Jane told me, “The pear painting is a family portrait. The six of us.”

In Steve’s words, Canadian Wind “is on my folkier side—somewhat of a lullaby—just me and my guitar. My other music is folk/country/blues- sort of.”

His other music is a lot of things, including really good. I hope you check out his site. Enjoy.

Summer Siren, Josh Zandman

NYC  sounds like summer.

As soon as the song starts, it sounds like a perfect summer song. It sounds like one of those timeless hit songs that you learn in the sun, one of those songs that you hear everywhere all summer long, so many times that it conjures up endless golden days when you hear it in any other season during the year.

The guitar part has a yearning and, I don’t know, what makes a song sound like summer? It’s got to be poppy, it’s got to have that ache.

Turns out I’m spot on. As I listened to the song I started to write, and after a bit I read Josh’s description of what the tune is about:

NYC is about returning home and remembering a summer romance that changed my life.”

I remember that summer. Do you?

Josh Zandman lives in NYC and you can find out more of his music by clicking on his photo.

I like this picture a lot. It’s bright, yet washed out. Memories, like long golden summer days, fade away, no matter how much we want them to stay. Immortalizing memories in music may be the very best way to hang on to them.

I haven’t heard any music from Josh in a while—I’m having a hard time writing while that guitar line is playing, so hooky, so poppy . . . so irresistible.

I’m really happy Josh Zandman uploaded to the Sirenstories Soundcloud, it’s been too long since I’ve heard his music. You’ll be glad to know that there are four more songs posted on Josh’s site. They’re just as good as this one.

Josh, if you read this post, tell me, what was the name of that song I was so in love with years ago in another life?

And that’s it today, Josh’s song is enough, and I’m running on 5 hours of sleep. Hope to see you here tomorrow.

Welcome Sunday Siren Gedeon Luke, Sirenstories Day 5

I can’t stop listening to this song.

So I just keep listening.

Then I write a sentence.

Then I delete my sentence. And I start another. But I delete that one too, because I can’t seem to finish it, and in fact I have no idea what I was going to say because I’m lost in that elegant descending piano line. The piano line is so simple, you might not even notice it at first because the voice of Gedeon Luke is a wonderful whisper in your ears.

A whisper, but not a quiet sound. A sound that has the color of a whisper, but is actually an intense sound that Gedeon Luke is controlling, that he’s holding back and shaping into a gentle croon on purpose, because he knows, the way to get attention is to whisper and he wants attention given to his message because his message is THE message. His message is love.

And that’s one of the reasons I’m so happy to bring you this song on a Sunday morning. This song is like a prayer, an insistent prayer. Gedeon Luke is Going Up, and he wants us to join him.

When I started this morning’s blog, I couldn’t think in a linear way. With Going Up floating in the air around me, all I wanted to do was listen. As soon as you hear the first clear notes of the acoustic guitar on Going Up, you know you’re in for something good. That ‘something’ is still there after the tenth listen, and I’m betting it won’t go away. I don’t know anything about Gedeon Luke except that he has this awesome song, and that ‘something’.

Going Up was co-written with Marc Swersky, who I can’t say enough about. Today I’ll just tell you that Marc is, for one thing, a professional music industry veteran who has somehow managed to not only keep his heart, but to share it. He shares it in this song and I’m so glad he does.

I bet when Marc and Gedeon are sitting in a room together writing, the light changes.
Heartfelt thanks to Marc and Gedeon for sharing their beautiful music with us.

The only other info that accompanied Going Up on the Sirenstories SoundCloud was this:

“A message of love,peace and soul!”

Yeah it is.

No messages from me this morning, and no free writing or words from my characters. I’m still in Princeton at the annual NJSCBWI conference. There are so many great writers here and the workshop sessions have been fantastic. Generous agents and editors conducting critiques, authors selling their books . . . it’s been great. I’ve been hanging out and sharing The Crankamacallit and just hanging out in general.

If you write books for children or young adults, join SCBWI. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for my writing.

Siren Saturday, Sirenstories Day 4

“Sensible Shoes rules the blues news!”
-Jonathan Demme, film director

An artist can’t get a better intro than that, except maybe this:

Talk is Cheap by Barbara Blaisdell, aka Sensible Shoes and Friends can be found on Sensible Shoes’ new CD, “My History”.

When asked to share what the song is about, Sensible Shoes says it was inspired by the film The Manchurian Candidate. “When talk is cheap, let the wah-wah speak.” If you haven’t see The Manchurian Candidate lately you might want to. The 2004 thriller—a reimagined version of the 1962 film—is eerie.

Inspired by Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, and Bonnie Raitt Sensible Shoes has a sound that’s comfortably familiar. As I listen I’m reminded of a day many years ago. I was hanging out with a friend who pilfered his older brother’s record collection. Full of bands like Little Feat and Steely Dan, the crate was a treasure chest. That was a good day.

This is going to be a good day too, because I’m starting my morning with Sensible Shoes.

Talk might be cheap in some circles, but not here. I’m at the NJSCBWI conference in Princeton today (see the link on the sidebar if you’re not familiar with NJSCBWI) where every word counts.

No time to let Sensible Shoes inspire my writing at the moment, but I’m going to turn up the volume and use Talk is Cheap as my morning coffee until I can make it down to breakfast. No way am I dealing with that little in room pot, and why should I? I’ve got Sensible Shoes.

Can you tell I love the band name?