Great lyricists: Jason Isbell


I’ve written a post on the impressive music of Jason Isbell, but I didn’t quote my favourite two songs on that album. Firstly, “Yvette” which is so powerful it brings you to tears. Talk about stark imagery in a song…

The second song “Relatively easy” reminds us (most of us) that we have it relatively easy.


I can barely make out a little light from the house on the cul-de-sac
bedroom upstairs, it’s a family affair.

I’ve watched you in class, your eyes are cut glass and you stay covered up,
head to your toe, so nobody will notice you

I might not be a man yet,
but that bastard will never be,
so I’m cleaning my Weatherby
I sight in my scope
and I hope against hope.
I hope against hope.

Your mother seems nice, I don’t understand why she won’t say anything.
As if she can’t see who he turned out to be.

I might not be a man yet,
but your father will never be.
so I load up my Weatherby,
and I let out my breath,
and I couple with death.
I couple with death.

Saw your father last night, and in the window the light made a silhouette.
Saw him hold you that way, he won’t hold you that way anymore, Yvette.

Relatively Easy

Are you having a long day
Everyone you meet rubs you the wrong way
Dirty city streets smell like an ashtray
Morning bells are ringing in your ear

Is your brother on a church kick
Seems like just a different kind of dope sick
Better off to teach a dog a card trick
And try to have a point and make it clear

You should know compared
To people on a global scale
Our kind has had it relatively easy
And here with you there’s always
Something to look forward to
Our angry heart beats relatively easy

I lost a good friend
Christmas time when folks go off the deep end
His woman took the kids and he took klonopin
Enough to kill a man of twice his size

Not for me to understand
Remember him when he was still a proud man
A vandals smile a baseball in his right hand
Nothing but the blue sky in his eye

Still compared to those
A stones throw away from you
Our lives have both been relatively easy
Take the(a) year and make a break
There ain’t that much at stake
The answers could be relatively easy

Watch that lucky man walk to work again
He may not have a friend left in the world
See him walking home again to sleep alone
Or step into a shop to buy a postcard for a girl

I broke the law boys
Shooting out the windows of my loft boys
When they picked me up I made a big noise
Everything to blame except my mind

I should say I keep your picture with me everyday
The evenings now are relatively easy
Here with you there’s always
Something to look forward to
My lonely heart beats relatively easy
My lonely heart beats relatively easy

Atmosphere – Camera Thief

I’ve always enjoyed listening to good lyricists no matter what genre. Atmosphere is one. Just check out a his latest tune Camera Thief from the record (people still record “records” you know) Southsiders. I realize I already wrote a post on Atmosphere’s great lyrics – it’s here and about the song called Yesterday.

Camera Thief

[Verse 1]
Camera thief
Take pictures
Run like the parallel stitches
Attach my feet to the path I beat
Teach myself to keep the answers brief
Gnash my teeth like the last to feast
Imagine me on that abandoned beach
Sand and sea as if the jazz was free
I’m Ice cream mixed with gasoline
Direct attention to the craftsmanship
Neglect to mention that the past will stick
Like initials carved in the concrete
Like the tattoo that hides on your mommy
I still kick it with angels
The difference is instead of the bar, I’m at my kitchen table
The starlight shines through the glass
But you feel safe underneath that mask

[Verse 2]
Ferris Wheel, give rides
The scars healed in time to get high
Lock the doors and hide the keys
Let’s go describe how to climb a tree
Don’t sign the lease just cop a corner
For you to curl up and try to sleep
Those cheap police won’t find my wings
I keep my dreams inside my dreams
And If I had a time machine
I’d probably use it like a vacuum and try to clean
It kind a seems, quite more than a handful of these regrets have been circumstantial
Now give me all the cash out the drawer
Touch that mustache down on the floor
And I’ll be in court holding a pitchfork
‘Fore I let the contest outlast the sport

[Verse 3]
Pocket watch, impatient
Find a mate then make the migration
Break the rules, but first break the rulers
And keep it moving like a rumor
I don’t need to defend my defensiveness
I keep to myself, my family, and friendships
I’ve got enough people I could disappoint
If you disagree I think you missed the point
Now go ahead and grab a chair
Let me tell you about the last few years
Pulled out a sack full of Samson’s hair
And put it on the dash like a dancin’ bear
I wrote you a horoscope
It won’t fit on this post-it note
But if I had to sum it up into a shorter quote
It goes fuck it, you might as well row that boat

Christian rock rocks sometimes

If you’re not a devoted believer or (a person named Christian or Chris Rock – bad joke), you don’t exactly get excited by the phrase “christian rock”. That’s how my prejudiced brain works. But thanks my Spotify subscription I “discover” lots of new music without preconceptions. And lots of it is very, very good.

Recently, Spotify has recommended Christian artists like Josh Garrels, Kings Kaleidoscope and Judah & the Lion. And what amazing music they make. Maybe their strong belief makes the music even more heartfelt and real? I don’t know. Religion can turn into cheesiness but at its best it’s raw and true power.

Makes you think.

A selection of good songs:

Felix Culpa by Kings Kaleidescope (Spotify)
Felix Culpa by Kings Kaleidescope (Youtube)

Back’s Against the Wall by Judah and the Lion (Spotify)
Back’s Against the Wall by Judah and the Lion (Youtube)

Farther Along by Josh Garrels (Spotify)
Farther Along by Josh Garrels (Youtube)


How to React to Tough Feedback According to John Mayer


You have to be able not to get your way. Cry a little bit. Take a bump.  And let it send you back to the lab. Even if you have to say “I’ll show him!” It’s all gonna be better for it – John Mayer.

I watched an inspiring video today with one of my musical heroes, John Mayer. He’s doing a Q&A at Oxford and there are some insightful bits in the 50-minute long interview. You can watch it here. If you’re pressed for time, this outtake about his friendship with Steve Jobs really resonated with me.

I really like the part about tough feedback where John describes how Steve Jobs or any good manager could kill off bad ideas down with just one rhetoric question. That’s how a great leader acts, he doesn’t say NO! – he poses a question that lets you find “no” yourself, which strengthens you and your ideas immensely.

John then talks about how the “independent” artist world can be too soft, where the artists have too much say and that’s why the end product is poorer. You can obviously argue this back and forth, but even as an independent author I have to admit that there’s something there. To develop as an artist/individual/employee/whatever you need feedback, you need to hear when your stuff’s not up to par. And when you have the power to cut out that vital criticism and just go ahead and do what you want anyway, there’s a risk that the art/you/everybody suffers.

Everyone needs a filter. Or like John says:

“I miss bosses in general, I miss editors, I miss people who tell me – don’t do that! We wanted it and we got it and I don’t think it’s that great for an artist to have a manager whose job is to filter out all of the ideas and then meet them out accordingly with patience and grace.”

That’s not the way to do it. Take criticism for what it is, and be honest, then go back to the lab and improve.

Remember: everybody benefits from that.

Listening to right now: The Lumineers


Thanks to Conan O’Brien’s talk show I found about a band called The Lumineers and a song called Ho Hey and then another song called Stubborn Love. It caught my attention and after listening to a couple more songs, I’m really hooked. (My personal favorite song is Submarines)

Since I’m lazy, I quote the Wikipedia article on the Lumineers:

“The Lumineers are an American folk rock band, based in DenverColorado. The two founding members and songwriters of the Lumineers are Wesley Schultz (lead vocals, guitar) and Jeremiah Fraites (drums, percussion). Schultz and Fraites began writing and performing together in New Jersey in 2005. Neyla Pekarek (cello, vocals) joined the band in 2010. Stelth Ulvang (piano), and Ben Wahamaki (bass), joined the band as full-time members in 2012.[1][2] Their self-titled debut album was released on Dualtone Records on April 3, 2012, eventually peaking at number 2 on the Billboard 200 chart in January 2013. As of December 2012, their debut album has been certified gold in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and platinum in Ireland.”

I think the founder Jeremiah Fraites said it well about they’re take on music:

“We’re not reinventing the wheel or doing anything that different, the songs are super simple. The ideas themselves are very simple ideas. Anyone who can play an instrument can play a Lumineers song. I think there’s a certain cinematic aspect of our music that I really like.”

And to that I can only add: there’s no need to reinvent the wheel when you write good songs.

Elliott Smith, a sad genius

Grammy award winning musician Elliott Smith stabbed himself to death in 2003 and left a huge void of unwritten magical music. He was a victim of child abuse and talked about setting up a foundation for kids who’d suffered from the same horrible thing before he died. Smith never escaped his self-loathing and it was evident in many of his songs. Despite the sad theme, he often managed to craft the most beautiful melodies and was also a very talented lyricist.

In this clip (Waltz #2) he sings about his mother and stepfather. Lyrics you find here

It’s hard to grasp the genius of Elliott Smith and the sadness of his passing. His memory tells us to love ourselves and each other a little more.

Here’s what information I found about The Elliott Smith Memorial Fund.