Song of the Week: “Highway Anxiety” by William Tyler

by Douglas Cowie on 6 September 2019

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Highway Anxiety” by William Tyler:

At last weekend’s End of the Road Festival it rained for about an hour, or a little less. That rain coincided almost exactly with William Tyler’s set on the Garden Stage. It began to mist a little around the time he started, and after a couple of songs people had started to put on their rain jackets. Soon it was raining hard enough that two-thirds of the audience had left, but the third who had stayed had moved right down to the front. For a good twenty minutes or more it rained steady.

Before announcing “Highway Anxiety” as his final song, William Tyler made a short speech in which he remembered without naming two musician friends who had died recently, and how difficult that’s been. He also talked about the gift of music, of sharing music as a performer to gathered strangers, and the bulwark (that’s probably my word, not his) that act of sharing music can provide in times that are personally or politically difficult.

He then began to play this beautiful song. It was impossible, while listening to his music, not to think about what he’d said in preface, and it was impossible not to triangulate what he’d said and what he was playing with my own experiences, worries, sense of self. As he played, the rain began to lighten somewhat, and in the part of the song a couple minutes from the end where it begins to wind down, the crowd burst into applause. At some point while he was playing, I felt tears rising, though they didn’t spill over. William Tyler nodded to the crowd, along the front of the stage, several times, acknowledging, it felt to me, the moment that was now emerging, through his music, through our listening, through this space that opens up when notes, patterned, fill the air between people. As he played the final chord the sun burst through the cloud cover, the rain almost gone. My tears escaped. It felt good.

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Song of the Week: “Not” by Big Thief

by Douglas Cowie on 30 August 2019

Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Not” by Big Thief:

My friend José sent me this song last week. I love the way music and lyrics combine to create a building–a slowly building–tension here. The commitment to repetition to the word “not” but not–nor–without variation is total, and the urgency that builds in Adrienne Lenker’s voice until it almost breaks commands your ear. This song builds and builds and feels like it might explode, but–and this is maybe what I like most–it doesn’t explode. Instead, it overflows its edge and tumbles over, never really losing control, but just driving and hanging onto it and riding to the end, never releasing any of us into a chorus.

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Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “Black Sabbath” by Venetian Snares:

My friend Geoff shared this song a while back. It sort of speaks for itself. I love hearing familiar songs reinvented into new versions, because the listening changes the way you hear the original the next time, too.

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Each Friday I pick a song–new, old, borrowed, blue–that’s been on my mind and in my ears, and write a short post about it.

This is “The Dark End of the Street” by James Carr:

There are roughly a billion recordings of this song, give or take a couple, but I recently heard this, the original James Carr version, while having dinner at a friend’s house, and it made me stop eating or paying attention to anyone else just so I could listen. The song was written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman and this recording was made in 1966, and released in 1967. James Carr’s voice is just unbelievably beautiful, and the arrangement here is about as perfect as it gets, right down to that final quiet guitar chord.

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