2015 Best Music pt. 5 – Aching ballads

2015 was a strong year for songs to tug at the heartstrings, with several of them gathered on one of my favorite albums of the year, Tobias Jesso Jr.’s Goon.  I can’t think of another album in the past ten years that has captured the sound of the 1970’s-early 80’s singer-songwriter (think: Jim Croce, Christopher Cross, James Taylor) better than Goon. The song I include here is clearly Beatleseque, perhaps a lost McCartney track from Red Rose Speedway.

Tobias Jesso Jr. – Can We Still Be Friends

Actually, the little piano trill that leads to the songs repeated melody is very similar to the theme song from “Cheers,” and part of me hopes it is an intention homage….but being that Jesso is probably 25 years old (I just looked it up: he’s 30, and Canadian, which makes him 40…there goes my argument), he more than likely didn’t consciously steal from this theme.

And the theme of the song, hoping to remain friends with someone you have known for a long time after a big fight; it’s like the platonic version of the romantic “I’m sorry, can we get back together” tune that is much more common in pop music. I mean, how many other songs about male friendship are out there?  If you like this song, I highly recommend seeking out the entire album.

Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield – Twilight 

I will admit that although I appreciated Elliott Smith’s music in the 90’s and early 2000’s, I always felt that I was supposed to like it more than I did. That somehow his shyness and sensitivity, which usually sucked me in closer to an artist, instead kept me at a distance and I couldn’t find a way into the heart his songs.

I think it’s this struggle I had with Smith’s music that opened up space for me to dive deep into the Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield tribute, Sing Elliott Smith. Avett and Mayfield were able to somehow bring out the raw emotions in Smith’s best songs while at the same time adding new layers of musicality that took the songs to new places while still honoring the original. My favorite songs on the album feature Mayfield on lead vocals, her hauntingly fragile voice a perfect match for Smith’s compositions.

I’m betting that many Elliott Smith fanatics don’t love this album, as it’s hard to accept and welcome new versions of songs that own a special place in one’s musical heart. But if you, like me, never had such a connection with Smith’s originals, this album might be the one to find a home in that special place.

 

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