100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #72: “The Joke” by Brandi Carlisle

The song at #72 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the stunning “The Joke” by singer-songwriter Brandi Carlisle. Written as a comment on the sociopolitical climate following the 2016 US presidential election, the song is a deeply poignant ode to the delicate boys and striving girls who continue to struggle in our society. In an interview with NPR, Carlisle explained her inspiration for writing the song: “There are so many people feeling misrepresented. So many people feeling unloved. Boys feeling marginalized and forced into these kind of awkward shapes of masculinity that they do or don’t belong in…so many men and boys are trans or disabled or shy. Little girls who got so excited for the last election, and are dealing with the fallout. The song is just for people that feel under-represented, unloved or illegal.”

Carlisle has a commanding voice and her stirring, passionate vocals on on this song send chills up and down my spine. Hearing her sing the defiant lyrics in her beautiful voice, backed by haunting piano keys and soaring instrumentals highlighted by gorgeous strings courtesy of the late Paul Buckmaster (a music genius who arranged Carlisle’s album By The Way, I Forgive You, as well as such legendary recordings as David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and many of Elton John’s early hits), is a religious experience indeed.

“The Joke” was nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award in four categories, including Record and Song of the Year, and won for Best American Roots Song and Best American Roots Performance.

You’re feeling nervous, aren’t you, boy?
With your quiet voice and impeccable style
Don’t ever let them steal your joy
And your gentle ways, to keep ’em from running wild
They can kick dirt in your face
Dress you down, and tell you that your place
Is in the middle, when they hate the way you shine
I see you tugging on your shirt
Trying to hide inside of it and hide how much it hurts

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

You get discouraged, don’t you, girl?
It’s your brother’s world for a while longer
We gotta dance with the devil on a river
To beat the stream
Call it living the dream, call it kicking the ladder
They come to kick dirt in your face
To call you weak and then displace you
After carrying your baby on your back across the desert
I saw your eyes behind your hair
And you’re looking tired, but you don’t look scared

Let ’em laugh while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #73: “Heartbreak Warfare” by John Mayer

The song at #73 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Heartbreak Warfare” by American singer-songwriter and guitarist John Mayer. My first introduction to Mayer was his wonderful debut single “No Such Thing” in 2002. The song was a poignant look back at the high school experience that really resonated with me, as it was played a lot on the radio during the time of one of my milestone High School reunions. I loved that song so much it ended up at #17 on my Top 100 Best Songs of the 2000s list.

“Heartbreak Warfare” is another of Mayer’s songs that I love. The darkly beautiful song is from his fourth studio album Battle Studies, and though it was released in October 2009, it became a hit in early 2010, so in my book, it should be celebrated as one of the best songs of 2010, and also of the 2010s. The song is has a mellow, almost hypnotic tempo, albeit with a haunting undercurrent. Mayer is a fine guitarist, and his work on this track is particularly good, and I love the sense of bitter frustration that comes across in his silky vocals. The lyrics speak of a toxic relationship, and are a plea for his lover to ease up on her poisonous behavior in the hope they can salvage what’s left: “How come the only way to know how high you get me is to see how far I fall? God only knows how much I’d love you if you let me but I can’t break through it all.”

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #74: “Just Give Me a Reason” by P!nk feat. Nate Ruess

The song at #74 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is the beautiful “Just Give Me a Reason” by P!nk, featuring guest vocals by Nate Ruess. The deeply moving piano ballad is one of my favorite songs from P!nk, and was the third single from her outstanding 2012 album The Truth About Love. The song was a massive worldwide hit, topping the charts in 21 countries including the U.S., and received unanimous critical acclaim.

“Just Give Me a Reason” was co-written by P!nk, Jeff Bhasker (who produced the album), and fun. lead singer Nate Ruess, who also provides his stirring vocals. The song is a heartfelt plea between two people desperate to hold on to a relationship that appears to be falling apart. It was originally intended to be sung just by P!nk, but she soon realized that she needed someone else to sing the song with her, as she felt it was more of a conversation between two people rather than from the perspective of just one person in the relationship. She asked Ruess to sing the song with her as a duet, and the result was magical. The raw emotional power achieved by their dual vocal harmonies gives me goosebumps every single time I hear it.

The lyrics are so honest and relatable that I feel compelled to include them in their entirety:

Right from the start
You were a thief
You stole my heart
And I your willing victim
I let you see the parts of me
That weren’t all that pretty
And with every touch you fixed them

Now you’ve been talking in your sleep, oh, oh
Things you never say to me, oh, oh
Tell me that you’ve had enough
Of our love, our love

Just give me a reason
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
It’s in the stars
It’s been written in the scars on our hearts
We’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again

I’m sorry I don’t understand
Where all of this is coming from
I thought that we were fine
(Oh, we had everything)
Your head is running wild again
My dear we still have everythin’
And it’s all in your mind
(Yeah, but this is happenin’)

You’ve been havin’ real bad dreams, oh, oh
You used to lie so close to me, oh, oh
There’s nothing more than empty sheets
Between our love, our love
Oh, our love, our love

Just give me a reason
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
I never stopped
You’re still written in the scars on my heart
You’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again

Oh, tear ducts and rust
I’ll fix it for us
We’re collecting dust
But our love’s enough
You’re holding it in
You’re pouring a drink
No nothing is as bad as it seems
We’ll come clean

Just give me a reason
Just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again
It’s in the stars
It’s been written in the scars on our hearts
That we’re not broken just bent
And we can learn to love again

Top 30 Songs for October 18-24, 2020

  1. MY OWN SOUL’S WARNING – The Killers (1)
  2. FEEL YOU – My Morning Jacket (2)
  3. CAN I CALL YOU TONIGHT? – Dayglow (4)
  4. IT’S YOU – The Frontier (5)
  5. DOWNS – Roadkeeper (6)
  6. IS IT TRUE – Tame Impala (7)
  7. BLOODY VALENTINE – Machine Gun Kelly (8)
  8. MONSTERS – All Time Low featuring blackbear (3)
  9. HOODIE UP – MISSIO (12)
  10. ARE YOU BORED YET? – Wallows featuring Clairo (17)
  11. MARIPOSA – Peach Tree Rascals (18)
  12. GIANTS – Dermot Kennedy (14)
  13. CARDIGAN – Taylor Swift (9)
  14. HALLUCINOGENICS – Matt Maeson (10) 20th week on list
  15. FAULT LINES – Callum Pitt (16)
  16. MY FUTURE – Billie Eilish (11)
  17. FOR SURE – Future Islands (17)
  18. WHAT YOU GONNA DO??? – Bastille featuring Graham Coxon (13)
  19. FRIDAY NIGHT – Heist At Five featuring Francesca Confortini (21)
  20. WATERMELON SUGAR – Harry Styles (15)
  21. COME & GO – Juice WRLD featuring Marshmello (23)
  22. MOOD – 24kGoldn featuring Iann Dior 24)
  23. IDENTICAL – Phoenix 25)
  24. TANGERINE – Glass Animals (26)
  25. THE LET GO – Elle King (27)
  26. AMOEBAS IN GLASS HOUSES – Moonlight Broadcast (28)
  27. VISITOR – Of Monsters and Men (29)
  28. BURN THE VISION – Amongst Liars (30)
  29. BEAUTIFUL ANYWAY – Judah & the Lion (N)
  30. VIRUS – Vanity Fear (N)

YARD OF BLONDES – Single Review: “Do You Need More?”

From humble beginnings in France as a folk pop duo making mostly acoustic music, Yard of Blondes have faced some of the same challenges and struggles as many young artists and bands experience since relocating to Los Angeles in 2014. Now a four-piece, they’re finally on an upward trajectory and making a name for themselves with their exciting and edgy style of alternative rock. The band is comprised of the hard-working French-born singer/songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Vincent Walter Jacob and bassist/vocalist Fanny Hulard, guitarist Burak Yerebakan, originally from Turkey, and Northern California native Forrest Mitchell on drums.

I’ve previously featured Yard of Blondes twice on this blog, first in July 2019 when I reviewed their marvelous bilingual single “Je veux danser tout l’été”, along with two alternative versions, then again this past February when I reviewed their single “Lowland”. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.) Now they’re back with “Do You Need More?“, the third single from their forthcoming debut album Feed the Moon, due for release early next year. The single and album were produced by Billy Graziadei (Biohazard, Powerflo), mixed by Michael Patterson (Nine Inch Nails, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) and mastered by Maor Applebaum (Faith No More).

In a recent interview with music blog TrueStyleMusic, Vincent provided some background on “Do You Need More?”: “It was one of the first songs we wrote for our upcoming album, and it’s the song we always play first at our shows. It’s a song that seems very straight forward, but it evolves into a more complicated piece as Fanny is adding more and more layers of vocals, and as we end up breaking the installed routine with some surprisingly heavy bridge. Regarding the lyrics, it’s also a tricky song. It feels like a love song at the beginning, but it’s actually a toxic love story where one gaslights another, and it ends up with kind of a Stockholm syndrome situation.

The song is a rampaging beast, storming through the gates like a bat out of hell with furious riffs of grimy guitars and a thunderous barrage of explosive rhythms. Fanny’s throbbing bass line propels the song forward while Forrest keeps pace with his pummeling drumbeats. Meanwhile, Vincent and Burak are busy laying to the airwaves with their aggressive, intertwining guitars, delivering chugging riffs of shredded distortion that threaten to blow out the speakers. Vincent and Fanny’s expressive vocals rise to the occasion, becoming downright feral in the chorus as they wail “Do you need more? Do you really need more? Gimme, gimme, gimme some more! I want it all!” Finally, everyone spent, the song fades out in a hum of reverb.

If the three singles released thus far – “You and I & I”, “Lowland” and “Do You Need More?” are any indication, Feed the Moon is guaranteed to be a terrific album.

Connect with Yard of Blondes:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram
Stream their music:  Spotify / Apple MusicSoundcloud
Purchase:  Bandcamp / Amazon

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #75: “Out of My League” by Fitz and the Tantrums

The song at #75 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Out of My League” by Los Angeles-based pop/neo soul band Fitz and the Tantrums. Although they’d been making music since 2008, I was not familiar with them until my musical awakening in late summer 2013. One day I discovered the Billboard Alternative Rock chart, and it was a revelation! I saw songs by lots of artists I’d either never heard of, or who I knew about but wasn’t aware they had new music out. One of the songs riding high on the chart at that time was “Out of My League”, and I instantly fell in love with it’s exuberant piano and bass-driven synth pop grooves. The song is so damned electrifying and catchy, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I became a huge Fitz and the Tantrums fan, and bought their CD More Than Just a Dream, which also features their terrific follow-up single “The Walker”. I loved that CD so much I played it nearly to death over the next six months.

Fitz and the Tantrums are headed by front man and lead vocalist Michael Fitzgerald, and includes the lovely Noelle Skaggs on co-lead vocals, James King on sax and flute, Joseph Karnes on bass, Jeremy Ruzumna on keyboards and John Wicks on drums and percussion. A unique aspect of their music is that they have no designated guitarist, but they more than make up for it with a strong rhythm section and generous use of King’s sax (though it’s not prominent on “Out of My League”). Sadly, their two follow up albums have been rather disappointing to me, as well as many of their early fans and music critics. They seem to have abandoned their earlier soulful, groove-based sound in favor of a more pop-oriented style that just sounds generic and predictable. Also, their newer stuff hasn’t utilized Noelle Scaggs’ great vocals nearly enough. I still like them though.

I saw Fitz and the Tantrums in concert in a double bill with Young the Giant (two of whose songs have already been featured on this list) at the Los Angeles Forum in August 2019. They put on a fantastic show.

EML’s Favorite Albums – PAUL SIMON: “Graceland”

One of my most beloved albums in my collection is the magnificent Graceland by the legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon. The iconic masterpiece is generally considered the finest work of his long and illustrious solo career, as well as one of the greatest albums ever recorded. When it came out in August 1986, I was living in the Los Angeles region and, like many who live in that sprawling megalopolis, had a long daily commute. I would record albums or make mixtapes onto cassettes so I could listen to my favorite music on my long drives to and from work. Graceland was one of the best of that time period, and I had it on repeat for many months.

Before digging into the album and songs, a bit of background would be helpful to provide some context for its creation. Following his successful run of hit albums and singles as a solo artist throughout the 1970s, by the early 1980s Simon had hit both a personal and professional slump. His relationship with Art Garfunkel had deteriorated yet again, his 1983 album Hearts and Bones was a commercial disappointment, and his marriage to actress Carrie Fisher had fallen apart. After suffering through a period of depression, in 1984 he became fascinated with a bootleg cassette tape of an album Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits, Volume II, that had been loaned to him by singer-songwriter Heidi Berg, with whom he’d been working as her producer. In his liner notes for Graceland, Simon described it as “very up, very happy music” that sounded familiar, yet foreign.

The album was by South African band The Boyoyo Boys, and was in a style of music known as Mbaqanga, also informally called “township jive”, the street music of Soweto. Simon was so smitten by the music that he considered buying the rights to his favorite track on the tape, “Gumboots”, and using it to write his own song, as he had years earlier with “El Condor Pasa”. Hilton Rosenthal, a South African record producer who Simon’s label Warner had put him in touch with, suggested instead that he record an album of South African music. Rosenthal sent him dozens of records by South African artists, which Simon immersed himself in. He began improvising his own melodies and decided he wanted to go to South Africa to record with some of the musicians whose albums he enjoyed. The problem was, at that time the United Nations had imposed a cultural boycott of South Africa due to its policy of apartheid. This forced “all states to prevent all cultural, academic, sporting and other exchanges” with South Africa and ordered “writers, artists, musicians and other personalities” to boycott it.

Despite this restriction, Simon was determined to go to South Africa, and told The New York Times: “I knew I would be criticized if I went, even though I wasn’t going to record for the government … or to perform for segregated audiences. I was following my musical instincts in wanting to work with people whose music I greatly admired.” Prior to leaving for Johannesburg, Simon participated in the recording of “We Are the World”, the charity single benefiting African famine relief. He spoke to producers Quincy Jones and Harry Belafonte about his wanting to record in South Africa, and though they had some reservations, both encouraged him to do it. The South African black musicians’ union also voted to let Simon come, feeling it would benefit their culture’s music by bringing it international attention.

At the time, musicians in Johannesburg were typically paid $15 an hour, and Simon arranged to pay them $200 an hour, triple the going rate for top players in New York City. He also offered writer’s royalties to those he felt had contributed to compositions. Nevertheless, he still received harsh criticism from organizations such as Artists United Against Apartheid, and anti-apartheid musicians like Billy Bragg, Paul Weller, and Jerry Dammers. At an album launch party, Simon bluntly clarified his position on the controversy: “I’m with the artists. I didn’t ask the permission of the ANC. I didn’t ask permission of Buthelezi, or Desmond Tutu, or the Pretoria government. And to tell you the truth, I have a feeling that when there are radical transfers of power on either the left or the right, the artists always get screwed.”

Simon and his engineer Roy Halee traveled to Johannesburg in February 1985, and spent two weeks recording with Lulu Masilela, Tao Ea Matsekha, General M. D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters, and the Boyoyo Boys Band. The album’s opening track “The Boy in the Bubble”, recorded with Lesotho band Tao Ea Matsekha, was one of the songs recorded at those sessions. The song has a powerful, bass-driven rhythmic groove, highlighted by an accordion that provides a lively, almost carnival-like vibe, setting a nice tone for the album.

Overall, Graceland is characterized by an eclectic mixture of music styles and genres, including pop, rock, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, and mbaqanga, and reflecting the various locations where the album was recorded. Consequently, some songs are clearly African, while others sound like songs that you’d hear in New Orleans or Nashville. The album has a wonderful flow, alternating between playful and more serious songs. Simon thought of it as like a play: In that New York Times interview, he explained “As in a play, the mood should keep changing. A serious song may lead into an abstract song, which may be followed by a humorous song.”

Every track on the album is great, but one of the standouts is the title track “Graceland”, a gorgeous, contemplative tune. The song features flawless performances by fretless bass player Bakithi Kumalo and guitarist Ray Phiri, as well as Simon’s childhood heroes The Everly Brothers on backing vocals. In his album liner notes, Simon remarked that the song had the feel of American country music, adding: “After the recording session, Ray told me that he’d used a relative minor chord—something not often heard in South African music—because he said he thought it was more like the chord changes he’d heard in my music.” The song is thought to be about seeking solace from the end of his relationship with Carrie Fisher by taking a road trip. “Graceland” was awarded a Grammy in 1988 for Record of the Year, a year after the album itself won for 1987 Album of the Year.

The album cuts featuring South African styles and sounds are pure delight. “I Know What I Know” is based on music from an album by General M.D. Shirinda and the Gaza Sisters, who collaborated on the song and sang backing vocals. I love the unusual guitar notes and distinctive lilting chant-like vocals of the Gaza Sisters. “Gumboots”, the song that got this whole thing started, is named for the term used to describe the type of music favored by South African miners and railroad workers, and refers to the heavy boots they wear on the job. With support by the Boyoyo Boys themselves, the song has an upbeat Cajun zydeco feel, highlighted by charming synclavier and dual alto and soprano sax. Another favorite is “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, a wonderful collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, one of South Africa’s best known and loved groups.

Another collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo is the sublime a capella track “Homeless”, with lead vocals by Joseph Shabalala, who co-wrote the song with Simon. With a melody based on a traditional Zulu wedding song, the lyrics are in both English and Zulu, and address poverty within the black majority in South Africa, telling of people living in caves on the side of a mountain, cold and hungry. “Crazy Love, Vol II” is a lovely, joyful song, with instrumentals played by guitarist Ray Phiri’s band Stimela.

Perhaps the biggest and best-known song from the album is “You Can Call Me Al”, a bouncy and clever tune about a man going through a mid-life crisis: “Why am I soft in the middle? The rest of my life is so hard.” The musical highlights are Simon’s six-string electric bass, the exuberant sax, trumpets and trombones, and the charming pennywhistle solo played by Morris Goldberg.  The names mentioned in the wonderful lyric “I can call you Betty, and Betty when you call me, you can call me Al” came from an incident at a party that Simon went to with his first wife Peggy Harper. Noted French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, who was at the same party, mistakenly referred to Paul as “Al” and to Peggy as “Betty”.

The humorous video for the song was actually a replacement, as Simon didn’t like the original video that was made. The replacement video was conceived partly by Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels and directed by Gary Weis, with SNL alum Chevy Chase lip-syncing Simon’s vocals and making silly gestures punctuating the lyrics while Simon lip-synced to the backing vocals and brought into a room various instruments to play. The huge discrepancy in their heights made the video all the funnier.

Unfortunately, some of the songs generated a bit of controversy. Simon invited Linda Ronstadt to sing with him on the lovely “Under African Skies”, for which he received criticism, as three years earlier she had accepted $500,000 to perform at the South African luxury resort Sun City. “That Was Your Mother”, recorded in Louisiana, features the American zydeco band the Good Rockin’ Dopsie and the Twisters. Dopsie felt Simon had derived the melody from his song “My Baby, She’s Gone”, and was upset over not being credited, but decided not to take legal action. And on the rousing final track “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints”, a collaboration with East Los Angeles-based Mexican-American band Los Lobos, the band felt they deserved writing credits. Band sax player Steve Berlin later recalled that Paul Simon “quite literally—and in no way do I exaggerate when I say—he stole the song from us. We go into the studio, and he had quite literally nothing. I mean, he had no ideas, no concepts, and said, ‘Well, let’s just jam’ and then goes, ‘Hey, what’s that?’ We start playing what we have of it, and it is exactly what you hear on the record.”

Be that all as it may, Graceland earned unanimous praise by music writers and critics, and was awarded the Grammy for Best Album of 1987. It’s Simon’s most successful solo album, selling more than 16 million copies worldwide, and in the recent update of their list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, Rolling Stone ranked it at #46 (up from #71 in 2012).

The last word comes from The Clash’s Joe Strummer, who in a 1988 interview with Richard Cromelin for the Los Angeles Times spoke of his love for the song “Graceland”: “I don’t like the idea that people who aren’t adolescents make records. Adolescents make the best records. Except for Paul Simon. Except for ‘Graceland’. He’s hit a new plateau there, but he’s writing to his own age group. ‘Graceland’ is something new. That song to his son is just as good as ‘Blue Suede Shoes’: ‘Before you were born dude when life was great.’ That’s just as good as ‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ and that is a new dimension.”

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #76: “Pink Lemonade” by James Bay

The song at #76 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Pink Lemonade” by British singer-songwriter and guitarist James Bay. He broke onto the music scene in 2014 with his wonderful hit single “Hold Back the River”, which I liked a lot, though I didn’t really follow him or his music very much. But with his earnest, low-key style of folk rock, combined with a casual look consisting of his signature hat and long hair, Bay quickly built a huge following.

On March 7, 2018 he released “Pink Lemonade”, and a few days later, appeared on Saturday Night Live, revealing a major change in both his look and sound. When I watched his performance on SNL, I nearly fell out of my chair! Bay had ditched the hat, cut his hair and replaced his casual clothing style with a hot pink sequined shirt and black leather pants, and he looked hot! I developed a major man crush on him right then and there. As my friend Anthea commented – “who knew all that beautiful bone structure lay hidden beneath the hat and long hair!

Not only that, I loved the song’s exuberant rock’n’roll vibe, with scratchy guitars and a soulful and sexy bass-driven groove that reminded me of some of the great songs of the 60s. The song actually has a rather rough, gravelly production sound, which some felt detracted from its overall quality. My feelings are mixed about it, and perhaps James wanted a more rugged sound. In any case, many seemed to prefer his mellower folk ballads to this edgier, heavier rock sound (not to mention his casual look with long hair, to which he has since returned), so “Pink Lemonade” was not as successful as his other singles. Oh well, their loss, as I love it and couldn’t hear it enough. The song spent five weeks at #1 on my Weekly Top 30.

The lyrics touch on escape and not wanting to commit to a relationship. The official video for the song is cleverly done, showing scenes of James dressed in a sparkling top and performing the song with his back-up band, alternating with scenes of him dressed in a silver spacesuit and sneaking into the garage while his parents are asleep to live out his childhood dream of building his own spaceship. He told People magazine: “The inspiration behind the video comes from the theme of escape that runs through the song. I was reminded of a time when I was about 4 years old and I told my parents I’d had enough of living with them and would be leaving home.”

Here’s his riveting and charismatic SNL performance, where he seems to channel John Mayer with a hint of early Elvis Presley swagger.

New Song of the Week – AU GRES: “Nervous”

Au Gres is the moniker of Michigan-based singer-songwriter Joshua Kemp, who’s just released his charming debut single “Nervous“. With a wry sense of self-deprecating humor, he states that “Au Gres was conceived, like many of us, in a bedroom, on a flimsy desk, with unimpressive equipment.” That may well be, but I say the results are quite impressive. Melding elements of indie rock, lo-fi and synth pop, with “Nervous”, he’s created a delightfully dreamy soundscape for his warm, pleasing vocals. His beautifully strummed acoustic and electric guitar notes are nicely complemented by sparkling synths and gentle percussion, resulting in a really lovely song that I’m happy to name my New Song of the Week.

About the song, Au Gres explained on his Instagram page: “‘Nervous’ is about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It’s awfully fitting, as releasing music often feels vulnerable to me, but some of the best things happen when we let ourselves be vulnerable.” “Nervous” celebrates the relationships that go deeper, for without opening ourselves up and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to another person, a relationship can never fully blossom. This is expressed by the honest and simple lyric “Cause you oughta know, nothing about you makes me nervous. I feel right at home.

I asked Joshua how he came to name his music project ‘Au Gres’. He responded that Au Gres is a town in northern Michigan. “Northern Michigan in general is a special spot for me. My family and I would vacation up north a lot when I was younger. Au Gres has Michigan roots, but it’s also French for “of sandstone” or the clay-like substance found in rivers. I felt like this name gave me permission to mold my sound into whatever I wanted, much like how clay can be molded into different shapes.”

“Nervous” is the first of many songs Au Gres plans to release over the next year or so, and I’m eager to hear them!

Follow Au Gres:  FacebookTwitterInstagram

Stream “Nervous”:  SpotifyApple MusicTidalSoundcloud

Purchase: BandcampAmazon

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #77: “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars

The song at #77 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Locked Out of Heaven” by the amazing Bruno Mars. Born Peter Gene Hernandez in Honolulu, Hawaii (but given the nickname “Bruno” by his father at the age of two, because of his resemblance to professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino) Bruno Mars is a hyper-talented singer, songwriter, producer, dancer and multi-instrumentalist dynamo with a style and showmanship reminiscent of Michael Jackson, James Brown and Little Richard all rolled into one. He comes from a musical family which exposed him to a diverse mix of music genres. His mother was both a singer and a dancer, his father performed Little Richard rock and roll, and his uncle was an Elvis impersonator, and encouraged three-year-old Mars to perform on stage. By the time he was four, he began performing five days a week with his family’s band The Love Notes, and became known in Hawaii for his Elvis Presley impersonations.

Mars moved to L.A. in 2003 when he was 18, and a year later signed a recording contract with Motown Records, but the deal went nowhere. Success eluded him until 2010, with the release of the successful singles “Nothin’ on You” by B.o.B and “Billionaire” by Travie McCoy, both of which featured his vocals. Soon after, Mars struck gold with his debut album Doo-Wops & Hooligans, which generated the hit singles “Just the Way You Are”, “Grenade”, and “The Lazy Song”. In 2012, he followed up with his hugely-successful second album Unorthodox Jukebox , the lead single of which was the fantastic reggae/pop/funk song “Locked Out of Heaven”. Among the producers who worked with Mars on the album and single were Jeff Bhasker (who also worked with fun. on Some Nights) and Mark Ronson (who produced the smash hit “Uptown Funk” that Mars sang vocals on).

“Locked Out of Heaven” was a massive hit, becoming his fourth single to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it held the top spot for six weeks. It also topped the Canadian singles chart for three weeks, and received mostly positive reviews by music critics. Tim Sendra of AllMusic described the song as “a breezy mashup of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’, The Police, and Dire Straits“, while Paul MacInnes of The Guardian called it “a brazen but successful welding of Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans of Swing’ and ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’ by the Police.” In fact, Mars stated that The Police were a strong influence for him in writing the song, which addresses the rapturous feelings of a loving and sexual relationship, something all of us can identify with. And I especially love the pounding drumbeats just before each chorus.