It’s a simple yet sublime pleasure, and just thinking about it can make you feel a little calmer, a little more content. Imagine: You bring out one of the good rocks glasses (or your favorite mug or a special occasion tea cup) and pour a couple fingers of amber liquid (or something dark and strong or just some whole milk). You drop the needle on the jazz platter (or pull up a blues album on your mp3 player or dig out that mixtape from college). Ensconcing yourself in the coziest seat in the house, you crack the spine on a classic (or find your place in that sci-fi paperback or pull up a biography on your e-book reader). And then, you go away for a while. Ah, bliss.
In this series, some of NTSIB’s friends share beloved albums, books and drinks to recommend or inspire.
Union Sound Treaty are based out of Morgantown, West Virginia, and Next Year is their first record. It was released back in November 2016, and the short version of my initial reaction is: “Awwwwwwwww YEAH.”
The long version: It’s the first record for a while now that I let go on repeat because I liked the songs and wanted to hear them again so I could get a better idea of the nuances of the lyrics. Musically, it’s solid, but the pedal steel is particularly great, like a cold glass of sweet tea on a hot day.
WHile I encourage you to go to their Soundcloud and listen to the whole thing straight through – this is a record which supports such an approach, in the sense that it is cohesive, complete work, not a collections of disparate tunes all going in different directions – here are some of the highlights:
Peaked: This is a song about playing a gig that is also a fashion show, and the attendant difficulties in concentrating on the task at hand. I was tremendously amused.
SW: Dreaming My Dreams, Waylon Jennings. My Grandfather is my biggest musical influence. He sang and played guitar, bass, piano, mandolin and banjo. In middle school I developed an interest in music, he began teaching me the basics of guitar and bass.
Along with instruments, he Introduced me to classic country music and bluegrass. We would spend entire weekends in the summer picking and listening to Waylon, Willie, Hank Williams and Gene Autrey. This album was a staple in our “set list.” Nearly every song on this album could have been a single. This was Waylon Jennings’ first album in which he was given complete control from RCA records. You can tell. Nothing sounds forced, and every song seems to blend perfectly. The simple melodies and warm bass lines are perfect. In my opinion, it’s one of the best country albums of all time.
RJ: One of my favorite albums to relax to is Before These Crowded Streets by Dave Matthews Band. Carter Beauford is a “drum idol” of mine, and I love the arrangement of that album.
NC: Whiskeytown, Stranger’s Almanac. I picked this album because it always gets heavy play in my car this time of year. Stranger’s Almanac is my go to answer when someone asks me to recommend an alt-country album. In my personal opinion, it’s one of the few albums that I feel are a near perfect 10/10 from start to finish.
The reason it gets such heavy play this time of year is its strong vibe of “back in your home town.” Maybe it’s the power of persuasion from songs with titles such as Inn Town, but when I’m back home for Christmas (like I am now), Stranger’s Almanac is always the soundtrack to meeting up with friends out at our favorite bars, staying out drinking beer all night, or sitting around a fire catching up.
So as I write this, Stranger’s Almanac is my “top of mind” answer. Additionally, and with more connection to the music we play, the pedal steel solo for Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart is probably the first time I fell in love with the idea of playing steel guitar. Most steel players cite guys like Buddy Emmons or Paul Franklin as their primary steel influences, and don’t get me wrong, those guys are gods behind the steel, but “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart” was the first time I had heard the steel utilized in a format that wasn’t expressly classic country. It’s really the only song on that album that has a strong steel guitar presence.
What had an impact on me was the steel guitar’s ability to influence the overall sound of the track. It took what would have been a traditional rock and roll sound (guitar, drums, and bass) and gave it a distinct country flavor. Adding that small instrumentation to the song makes the listener say, “this is a country song.” That’s what drew me to the steel guitar. Being able to introduce that type of influence is really attractive to me. So ultimately, that’s a song that helped me make the decision to dive into playing the steel guitar.
CWG: Little Victories by Chris Knight. It’s been a long year. A struggle. Hard times. Chris’ songs spoke to me in this one. I’m grateful for them.
A GOOD DRINK:
JS: I don’t start the day without coffee (two cream one sugar) and I have to agree with Nate’s endorsement of Yuengling. That’s one of my favorites.
SW: Big Wave, Kona Brewery. I discovered this beer while living in Hawaii. Fresh out of college I was used to party beers (Bud Light, Natty Light etc.) This was the first full flavored beer that I fell in love with. For the longest time you could only enjoy it in Hawaii and on the West coast, but in the last two years it has popped up everywhere. Do yourself a favor and twist open one of these sweethearts, you will be dancing the hula in no time.
RJ: I definitely couldn’t get through the day (or morning for that matter) without black coffee. As appears to be a band trend, I’m also big on Yuengling, Lagunitas IPA, and West Virginia brewed Halleck Pale Ale from Chestnut Brew Works.
NC: Yuengling. Not much to say here other than I think everyone else in UST would agree that this is the official drink of the band. Never gets old to me. Haven’t played a show where Yuengling wasn’t involved in some capacity or another. So Yuengling, if you’re reading this, we’ve been looking for a beer sponsor.
CWG: Chamomile honey tea. This gets me through weeks that I have 5+ shows. Without it I would lose my voice a lot.