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fifty-two 52




Mindy Smith – Falling


This song is a great summer morning song. I got my first “nice” guitar when this album came out, it was an inspirational time. Fun fact, that guitar has been stolen twice and returned twice. Mindy’s voice and songwriting reminds me a ton of Kacey Musgraves btw. Easy to listen to, killer melodies, slight tinge of bluegrass.

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Grandma’s Hands — Bill Withers


Grandma’s Hands will be familiar to many because of Blackstreet’s No Diggity, which couldn’t be a more different song. Bill Withers found me at a special time in my songwriting life. I was learning so much from those around me and Mr. Withers is one of the paramount teachers of calm confidence in writing and performance. This song is touching. Enjoy it.

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Falling – Harry Styles


You don’t need me to tell you that a song with over a billion streams is good. But holy shit, this song is pretty fucking close to perfect. Regardless of your feelings about HS, this song exists and is objectively good if objectively means you are weighing it against ballads from the 80s, 90s, 00s, and 10s. So if you disagree with 40 years of SMASH vanilla teenage angst hits, maybe you are the problem.

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I Want to Be Your Man – Roger


I Want to Be Your Man is a song with an iconic hook, iconic intro, and iconic use of the Talkbox. I hear this song’s influence from Dijon and Mk.gee (both of which i’m a fan). It was written by two brothers with a sad ending … a good reminder that many incredible pieces of art can be born out of incredibly broken circumstances.

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Nothing Better – The Postal Service


This band is my favorite side project outside of Chris Gaines. Being from Seattle, and also a human in the early 2000s, it was hard to miss Ben’s voice and writing style. TPS had some amazingly poppy songs, but as I listen back to them now, the production is pretty glitchy and gnarly in places, in a great way. This song holds a special place in my heart and reminds me of my first few tours in my old band.

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Mexico – Jump, Little Children


This is one of those songs that scratches my pop itch to the point where it bleeds. The affect of the time is almost at a dangerous level, it’s gratuitous in the perfect way. The production doesn’t exactly hold up, but I don’t think that was their goal. I could easily sing this song at karaoke and I hate karaoke. My favorite thing about this song is that it’s almost about nothing.

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Multi-Love – Unknown Mortal Orchestra // BTSTU – Jai Paul


I’ve been busy in the studio so here are two songs you should know! They are both kind of ridiculous in that they don’t follow many song “rules”. Just pure vibe. We listened to this UMO record while we painted our old apartment right before our son was born. Multi-Love is saucy fun. It’s like one big drum/bass/sitar solo. Absurd! Hooks for days! Go paint something!

Jai Paul is mysterious but I’m starting to think that was the marketing play from the jump. Either way, the limited material he has released to the world is special and probably one of the most influential writers/producers for many of the musicians I know. BTSTU came out in 2011, which is absolutely stunning given how cutting edge it still feels. My take is certainly not a hot one, but if you weren’t aware of him before, now you have something to talk to your hip barista/mixologist about while you wait for your drink.

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Damn These Forces – Mon Rovîa


I am a recent fan of Mon Rovîa. This song is so beautiful. It’s well written and well recorded. It feels careful and in control, which I think is important not just in the musical spectrum, but also to accompany our everyday lives. Janjay’s life has led him to a beautiful place where the music he creates aids in healing for everyone, including himself.

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By Your Side – Sade


This song found me in a formative era. I was just starting to find my singing voice, not to mention melodramatic high school relationships. Lyrically, it’s a classic love ballad that a 17 year old could cry to alongside a 67 year old. Production-wise, it’s very simple and of the time, nothing exceptional really (except for that muted B3), just a good vibe. It’s her vocal affect that still melts me. In fact, I think I still emulate some of that affect all these years later. She’s breathy and direct, a masterclass on vulnerable confidence. You should know this song if you don’t already, and good luck with your relationship if you are currently 17 and in a relationship.

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There Stands The Glass – Ted Hawkins // Sorry You’re Sick – Ted Hawkins


Ted Hawkins version of There Stands The Glass stands out among other amazing ones from Webb Pierce and Conway Twitty. I also included his song Sorry You’re Sick. Both of these songs are about drinking, specifically about how we use alcohol to treat suffering. It’s one of the oldest songwriting tropes but Hawkins used it in a surprising way. The lyrics in SYS are purely heartbreaking, but the melody and music are like a catchy pop rock song. Super weird, honestly. You should know about Ted Hawkins because he was almost a household name. He lived an incredibly hard life before dying too young. His care for music and how it can make some sense of a hard life is unique only to him and I hope you find more of his songs.

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Paper Tiger – Beck // Call Your Girlfriend – Robyn


A two for one week! I’m not the biggest Beck fan, but Paper Tiger is so great. The strings! The Serge Gainsbourg delivery! A real sonic treat. Now, I am a big Robyn fan, so it’s hard to pick one song to share. Call Your Girlfriend is as close to a perfect pop song as you can get. It is fun, has substance, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. Clean af. I’ll never get tired of this song.

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A Little Bit of Everything – Lizzy McAlpine


Lizzy is a special singer and writer, but I picked her cover of this Dawes song because it feels like she wrote it. That’s the sign of a good cover! This song is gutting and I love it. Every word is important. It paints a graphic picture. It’s your life story that you didn’t know you detached from. I encourage you to find the original Dawes version too because it is a totally different version of the same piece of art. Favorite lyric: “I think that love is so much easier than you realize. If you can give yourself to someone, then you should.”

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Cerca De Ti – Hermanos Gutierrez


This week’s song is short and sweet and has no words. If you are into music that plays in the background as you drink mezcal in the desert, then Hermanos Gutierrez is for you. Cerca De Ti is a great introduction into the songs these Swiss/Ecuadorian brothers write. Their music is consistent proof that you don’t need lyrics to be lyrical or words to be emotive. It’s full of dust and ready for you.

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Bless The Telephone – Labi Siffre


Labi Siffre has some great songs. Most famously, “I Got The Blues” was sampled for Eminem’s “My Name Is”. Another favorite is “It Must Be Love.” I picked “Bless The Telephone” because of how much in love he sounds. It’s the nylon-stringed guitar as much as it is his voice. It’s almost tripping over itself. My favorite lyric is “It’s nice the way you say my name . . . not very fast or slow . . . just soft and low.” Labi has had an amazing life as a renowned poet and activist, and can write a fucking BEAUTIFUL melody. You should know Labi Siffre.

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Easy – Son Lux, Rafiq Bhatia


A friend showed me this song 10 years ago, but it feels like it could have been yesterday. I will say at the top that my absolute favorite part of this song is how I can hear the pads clicking on the baritone saxophone. If you’ve been following along, you know how important space is to me in the music I like. Easy has SO MUCH SPACE! Son Lux is an amazing band who do amazing work (the score to Everything Everywhere All At Once), and I think it’s important to note that this song helped set the stage for other artists’ decisions to shine.

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We Might As Well Be Strangers – Keane


Keane was hugely inspirational for me in a time when I was learning to sing and write songs. Their first album, Hopes and Fears, is one of the strongest pop rock statements of the early 2000s. It might have been how I understood love at the time, but We Might As Well Be Strangers, in particular, is still a stunning piece of writing and performance. I remember watching a Keane tour documentary that came out a few years after this record and was struck by how success seemed to be affecting them in real time. It was beautiful, but it felt sad. Keane are certainly not the first band to have a complex relationship with success, but I found them during a formative time and their voice is undoubtedly part of mine.

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Teardrop – Massive Attack, Elizabeth Fraser


Massive Attack and Cocteau Twins are important because some of your favorite bands and songs wouldn’t exist without them. The songwriting, vocal affect, production quality and aesthetic level setting throughout their catalogs is astounding. Teardrop, specifically, is a masterclass on being dynamic with minimal elements. I feel like I’m in an epic hospital drama montage while I’m listening to it. What is happening? Who’s dying? Who’s giving birth? Who loves me? Find your own montage!

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Love Has No Pride – Bonnie Raitt


Love Has No Pride should make you cry. It was written by Bonnie and Crosby Stills and Nash. This song is so full of desperation, yet I wouldn’t describe it as desperate. It’s pleading but not pitiful. Bonnie’s voice is ridiculous and one of few that, subjectively, has gotten sweeter with time. I’ve linked to the original recording in the playlist but there is also a live recording with CSN from a Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction concert, which is amazing, but felt tacky to include. Go cry now.

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Jealous Guy – Donny Hathaway


John Lennon wrote this song, but this Donny Hathaway rendition is special.

First of all, it’s from a live album simply called LIVE, which feels beautifully audacious. Also, the vibe throughout this record is perfectly loose and tight, qualities I also envy. I found it when I was recording an album with my old band (which we recorded live). It taught me about craft and how there are literally no rules about how we work and create.

For instance, there’s a bass solo on another song that was taken from a totally different live performance that they liked, so they just spliced the tape to include it in a different live performance recorded across the country. I’m embarrassed to say I was critical, at first, of the clumsy edit and the decision overall. But now, I see it for what it is, and that is someone else’s art. Donny’s voice, keys chops, and the players he got to play alongside are next level, and should be an inspiration for us to create more than we judge.

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Luchini – Camp Lo


Camp Lo is important, especially if you like using the youthfully hip word “lit”, you can thank Camp Lo for “lit”. They aren’t the first artists to invent their own language, but when you hear it, the slang feels like you should already know it. The horn sample and beat are relatively slow, but the syncopated hits and overdriven mix give this song a great energy. Their flow is wordy but with great spacing at the same time, especially as it relates to the horns. This 27 year old song could be new today and I would believe it. I might even say . . . it is lit.

Listen to the fifty-two 52 playlist.