It is early September here in Nampyeong. For those of you who don’t know, this means it’s desk warming time for those of us who work at the English town, which starts its programs on September 17. As you can imagine, this has been a time spent reading, writing blog posts (stay tuned for more!), and listening to copious amounts of music. As I was listening today, it occurred to me that a music series could be a wonderful addition to this blog’s repertoire. As those who know me are aware, I’ve long been a bit of a nerd when it comes to music, and hosted a radio show for five years during college and graduate school. There is something about the spirit of music and the spirit of travel the complement each other so perfectly: both offer so many opportunities for adventure, excitement, adventure, exploration, and introspection. And on a more practical level, as every traveler knows, music can offer hours of pleasant immersion on long flights, train and bus rides.
There is no special rhyme or reason to the selection of music I’m sharing here. It is simply music that I have enjoyed over the past month or so that I would like to share with a larger audience. As was always the case with my radio show, it will cover several genres and generations. Whatever journey you find yourself on, I hope these songs help you enjoy it to the fullest.
“Going Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” – Grateful Dead (Live in London – 5/23/72)
This song, originally written by folk legend Woody Guthrie in 1940, became a staple of the Grateful Dead’s live performances. This version, from the Dead’s Europe ’72 series of concerts, has a bluesy groove to it that builds slowly and provides fertile ground for some excellent jams. Fans (and future fans!) of the Dead will enjoy continuing to listen to the show, as the track transitions beautifully into Not Fade Away —> Hey Bo Diddley –> Not Fade Away —> Uncle John’s Band. The entire show (along with a treasure trove of live recordings) is available for free at the Internet Archive, along with a massive library of the band’s live recordings.
“The Maker” – Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds (Live at Radio City – 2007)
Written by Daniel Lanois, this song was also a staple of live performances former Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia’s side project, the Jerry Garcia Band. You can check out Jerry’s wonderful take on the song here. DMB also performed a 13-minute version of the song live with the Dead’s rhythm guitarist, Bob Weir, in Berkeley, California back in 2016. You can see that performance here.
“Worried Man Blues” – Pete Seeger & Johnny Cash (Live – 1970)
Surely the oldest song on this list, “Worried Man Blues” was first recorded by the Carter Family in 1930 and was later recorded and performed by Woody Guthrie, Van Morrison and countless others. Like many old American folk songs, nobody knows who the original author was and the lyrics are flexible depending on who is performing and when.
I first discovered Pete Seeger’s music after seeing him appear in videos from Farm Aid with Dave Matthews, Neil Young, and others. By that time he was in his 90s, and he passed away in 2014. His music, however, lives on, and he’ll be remembered as one of the great American folk singers and songwriters of the 20th Century, penning such classics as “If I Had a Hammer,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and known for his performances of timeless classics like “This Land is Your Land,” “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Little Boxes,” and “We Shall Overcome,” which became the most memorable anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. He had been “blacklisted” during the McCarthy Era for his politics and activism, and this 1970 appearance on the Johnny Cash Show was the one of the first times he appeared on national television in 15 years. This behind the scenes interview shows how Cash had to fight with CBS to have him on the program.
Seeger’s style might take a bit of time for modern earns to get used to, but his deep message, good humor, and joy for playing music are timeless. This Rolling Stone retrospective is a good introduction to his work for those who are interested.
“Born and Raised” – John Mayer (Live with David Crosby & Graham Nash – 2014)
Say what you will about John Mayer. He started his career in pop and had his fair share of tabloid exposure in the past. The man is an enormously talented guitarist, songwriter, and musician in general who has played with the likes of Eric Clapton, B.B. King, and many others over the years. Since 2010, he has been living in Montana and his music has taken an interesting direction. His 2012 album Born & Raised was heavily influenced by the folk and Americana traditions, and the studio version title track features David Crosby (The Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash) on backing vocals. This live version features Crosby and Nash. Mayer also performed CSN classics “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Wooden Ships” with the group. Since 2015, Mayer has been on tour with three surviving members of the Grateful Dead, billing themselves as Dead & Company. While many Deadheads were initially skeptical, the shows are arguably the best reincarnation of the Dead since Garcia’s death in 1995. I highly recommend checking out their live performances on YouTube. Start with this amazing performance of “Sugaree.”
“Depth Over Distance” – Ben Howard (Live at KCRW – 2012)
London-based singer-songwriter Ben Howard draws influences from such legendary acts as Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Simon & Garfunkel. While his folk-rock style and beautiful vocals lend themselves well to studio recordings, he really shines this intimate live recording at KCRW. The harmonics and percussion he is able to make with just an acoustic guitar are unreal, to say nothing of the vocal harmonies and arrangement in general. This recording still has me saying “wow” long after hearing it for the first time.
“GBA” – Xavier Rudd (Live 2008)
In this early live performance, Australian roots-rock artist Xavier Rudd plays a 12-string guitar with his hands, plays didgeridoo and sings with his mouth, and plays the stop box with his feet. The result is an impassioned and full sounding performance of one of his lesser known songs. Some of my other favorites include “Choices,” “Better People,” “Time to Smile,” and “Love Comes and Goes,” which he also performs beautifully below.
“Love Comes and Goes” – Xavier Rudd (Live at Bing Lounge – 2011)
I’ve been listening to a lot of Xavier’s music in the last few months, so I would be remiss not to feature this beautiful solo recording as well. It’s amazing what one man with a slide guitar and sense of the human condition can do.
“Temple Caves” – Mickey Hart’s “Planet Drum” (1991)
The Grateful Dead drummer and percussionist has been producing word music for over 30 years, and has had a lifelong interest in musicology. Since the late 1980s, he has worked with archivists and ethnomusicologists at Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institute to record the unique musical traditions of various indigenous cultures at risk of dying out. He has become a well known figure in the world music community, and details his interest in the music of various cultures in this fascinating interview with Public Radio International.
To be continued . . .
I hope you enjoyed this selection of music, and I’ll be sure to keep the “music for the journey” series going with periodic updates. Let me know in the comments what you liked best as well as any recommendations!