Saturday, March 28, 2009

400' Blasts: The Left Field 100

About 2 1/2 months ago, I introduced what I had planned to be this blog's next ongoing series of posts, that being my top 40 all-time sports moments. I then worked on finalizing the list, and even wrote a rough draft of what would have been my first entry, but subsequently got side-tracked by things like my all-lifetime baseball team, my favorite songs of all-time, and now this latest tangent.

I've been working on a list of my top 100 albums of all-time. In doing so, I'm re-listening to all of the contenders and ranking them in order as I proceed through the alphabet. In fact, I'm already almost through the E's, although since I started this project about a month ago, my expectation is that I'll complete it in about three more months.

In a continuing effort to use sports analogies to describe all things music-related, I'm calling these albums 400 foot blasts. I don't think I need to explain this one, but I will. The idea is that these records are analogous to home run balls that are hit so well that's there's no doubt about them.

I'm not sure exactly how I'll roll out the list once it's completed. I'm certainly not going to do a write-up about each and every album. Most likely, I'll do ten at a time, and say a few words about a few of the albums each round. So, stay tuned for this, as well as that top 40 sports moments list that I'll get to eventually.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Frequent Spins (2009.2)

Beirut - March of the Zapotec / Realpeople - Holland
This is actually a double EP release from Zach Condon, the brainchild of Beirut. So, what is a double EP exactly? It's a full-length album. But, in this case, he's calling the second EP a different project altogether, one that goes by the name of Realpeople. The two EPs are stylistically quite different, with March of the Zapotec's Mexican influences being a far cry from Holland's electronic textures. Despite their differences, both still feel like Beirut to me, and this album—or double EP—is another impressively eclectic indie pop offering from Condon.

Clem Snide - Hungry Bird
This album was shelved a few years ago, when Clem Snide disbanded. [Hey, that's a bit of a pun, isn't it?] I've read varying accounts as to why it's being released now. Either it's to celebrate the band's decision to get back together, or it's their much delayed swan song. It doesn't quite measure up to their best albums, The Ghost of Fashion and Soft Spot, but with under-stated and quirky pop songs like "Born a Man", "Burn the Light" and "With All My Heart", it's certainly a welcome return...or a fine farewell.

Dan Auerbach - Keep it Hid
The Black Keys are one of those artists that I keep giving chance after chance for one of their albums to finally resonate with me. It just hasn't happened yet. They're definitely a quality band, but they just seem to overdo it with that raw blues-rock sound, to the point that I'm starting to tune them out at about the two-thirds point of each record. Well, that is, until the debut solo release from Black Keys singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach. It doesn't stray too far from the formula employed in his day job, but adds a little more diversity, and simply doesn't bludgeon the listener to death as his main band does with their trademark sound.

Strand of Oaks - Leave Ruin
Quiet, spare and, at times, beautiful, I've been wracking my brain, but just can't think of who this album reminds me of. Nebraska-era Springsteen is one comparison I've read, but to me, that doesn't quite describe the spare folk of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania school teacher Timothy Showalter. I'm sure a few Iron & Wine references are forthcoming, especially considering the teacher angle. This album doesn't even come close to blowing me away like The Creek Drank the Cradle did, but there's definitely some potential here.

Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel - Willie and the Wheel
Bob Wills has, for quite some time, been my favorite country pioneer. Frequently called "The King of Western Swing", Wills' music combined country and jazz influences to create a sub-genre that also influenced early rock 'n' roll. In fact, Wills is one of only nine members of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Asleep at the Wheel have been paying homage to Wills' sound since the early 70s, but they've somehow managed to remain only in my peripheral. There are three Bob Wills songs on this collaboration with Willie Nelson, along with standards by a few other forefathers of Western swing. All of these versions remain fairly true to the originals, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bloc Party @ House of Blues

Last night was my first visit to the new House of Blues in Boston, which occupies the space formerly inhabited by the nightclubs Avalon and Axis, just across Lansdowne Street from the Green Monster. While I had envisioned the wall between the two clubs knocked down to create a monstrous general admission venue, in reality the concert space is the old Avalon, but with an additional wrap-around balcony and a much improved atmosphere. Since I'm not very good at describing why I found it more aesthetically pleasing, I'll just say that it's brighter and more colorful than the old Avalon. I guess dark and bland was a hip thing for that now defunct club.

This was the first time I'd seen Bloc Party live. In a certain way, they're a band that has really snuck up on me. That is, one that I don't usually consider among my favorites, until I realize they've been in my top 15 with their last three albums, all in four years time. They didn't disappoint, although I feel there were some sound issues—particularly early in the show, but sometimes I think that's par for the course—that I won't delve into too deeply.

I'm usually fairly adamant that post-concert complaints about what songs they didn't play are ridiculous, but I was pretty disappointed that they didn't play "I Still Remember". Could it have been because I only gave that song an honorable mention in my recent post about my favorite songs of all-time. Come on! That still ranks it in my top 20 out of hundreds of thousand of songs I've heard in my lifetime. I actually thought it was generally considered to be their best song from A Weekend in the City, their second of only three albums to date. But, not surprisingly, the most well received songs were those from their critically acclaimed debut, Silent Alarm, and—of course—their recent hit "Mercury".

All in all, besides being entertained by Bloc Party’s performance, I have to say that I’m fairly pleased with Boston’s newest concert hall. With no legitimate options for artists whose popularity had outgrown the roughly 600 capacity Middle East Downstairs and Paradise Rock Club, but had yet to reach the level of larger places like Bank of America Pavilion, nightclubs that moonlighted as music venues were their only choices. Now, it appears that there is finally a worthy mid-size concert venue in Boston. All I can say is, it’s about time.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

WBC/Toronto Highlights

My trip to Toronto for the opening round of the World Baseball Classic certainly had its share of highlights, some related to baseball and some not. The following is a wrap-up of some of the trip's most memorable moments and some of my favorite observations, about subjects ranging from Canadian beer to Dutch coaches.

Canada certainly is not known for its quality beer, but that's not to say I didn't check out a few of their offerings. I have to say that nothing I drank in Toronto really changed my opinion, though, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale was a very drinkable brew, but they have no business calling it an IPA, as it went down more like an above average golden ale. Rickard's Red was my most commonly ordered selection, despite the fact that it was quite mediocre. I didn't realize it was brewed by Molson Coors until I got home and read about it on their web site. I drank a couple Sleeman Cream Ales at the Rogers Centre and, although it was served in plastic cups and is far from my favorite style of beer, it was probably the best I had on the trip.

One myth that was debunked during my time north of the border was a prior impression that Canadians are much nicer than Americans. Not only did I find out that this is not true, I came away feeling that Toronto fans may actually be almost as obnoxious as their counterparts in Boston and New York. In case you're scoring at home, this would rank them as worse than your average Americans. Their primary targets were Adam Dunn, apparently for having the nerve to defend himself against completely undeserved criticism from Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi; Ted Lilly, because Toronto's former manager, John Gibbons, was an even bigger idiot than Ricciardi, and came out on the wrong end of a confrontation with the former Jays pitcher; Derek Jeter, due to the fact that he's the captain of a franchise that puts theirs to shame; and Frank Catalanotto, because he was only good enough to make an Italy team that embarrassed Canada by knocking them out of the Classic.

On the other hand, Venezuelan fans—who, by the way, greatly out-numbered fans of Team USA—had a much better reason for booing Magglio Ordonez and Victoria Mata. Ordonez is a supporter of Hugo Chavez, and Mata—the country's sports minister who threw out the first pitch prior to last Sunday's game—is one of the Venezuelan president's minions. It was interesting being there and getting to ask the opinions of these very proud people first-hand.

The Rogers Centre, although built prior to Major League Baseball's wave of modern stadiums, was a pretty nice place to witness a game. Our seats were seventh row and just to the first base side of directly behind home plate, so I have to admit it would have been difficult to not be in awe considering that. One unique thing about the park that my traveling companions and I got a real kick out of were the vending machines that dispensed 20-year old packs of baseball cards, with the original gum still in them. We didn't chew the gum, but I got a John Smoltz rookie card in the first pack that I bought.

While the USA-Canada game last Saturday was quite exciting, the most memorable World Baseball Classic action we witnessed was on television. On Tuesday night, on our way back to the hotel after Venezuela's second victory over Italy, we stopped off at a bar to watch the final few innings of the elimination game between the Dominican Republic and the Netherlands. During one of the Dutch team's frequent celebrations—they even poured out of the dugout when Gene Kingsale, representing the potential winning run, went from first to third on Carlos Marmol's throwing error—I noticed the name Meulens on the back of one of their jerseys. When I commented to my friend Dave that it must be former Yankee Hensley Meulens, he didn't know who that was. This was a little surprising considering that Dave's extensive knowledge of the game rivals that of almost anyone I know. Then, following the Netherlands' exciting come-from-behind 11th inning victory, we opened the packs of cards we had purchased from the Rogers Centre vending machine earlier in the evening. One of Dave's cards was none other than Curacao native Hensley Meulens.

We did do some non-baseball related sightseeing while we were there. The Hockey Hall of Fame was, as expected, nowhere near as impressive as its baseball counterpart, but it certainly measured up to the museums celebrating immortality in the other "lesser" sports—football and basketball. The CN Tower provided some awe-inspiring views of the city, but the day we visited it was too windy to go all the way up to the skypod of the Western Hemisphere's tallest free-standing structure.

I find the concept of international baseball to be pretty exciting, but there are a number of factors preventing the Classic from truly rising to the level of a tournament to determine the champions of the world. That discussion, however, will have to wait for a later post.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

WBC Update #3

Without either Felix Hernandez or Armando Galarraga available, and with Victor Zambrano the starting pitcher for Venezuela—coming off a rough outing in his last appearance versus Team USA—it seemed the pitching matchup for Wednesday night’s Toronto pool finale favored the U.S. team. But, in fact, the Americans’ fourth starter, Jeremy Guthrie, turned out to be the weakest link. After starter Ted Lilly gave up one run in three innings of work, and relievers LaTroy Hawkins and John Grabow combined for a scoreless fourth, Guthrie’s ineffectiveness turned out to be the United States’ downfall. Allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks in two-plus innings of work in a 5-3 loss, Guthrie’s outing was easily the worst of any U.S. pitcher in the Classic so far.

Venezuela rested their regular catcher, Ramon Hernandez, and second baseman, Jose Lopez, and it was their replacements who provided the spark the team needed, both at the plate and in the field. Henry Blanco—filling in for Hernandez at catcher—and Marco Scutaro—starting for Lopez at second base—combined to produce four of their team’s five runs, and both contributed key defensive plays. Blanco’s, though, was the game-changer, as he alertly threw out Derek Jeter on the back end of a double steal in the 9th to thwart a potential US rally.

Neither of Team USA’s stars from Sunday’s victory over Venezuela—Chris Iannetta and Mark DeRosa—started in Wednesday’s game, but Iannetta came off the bench to hit a two-run homer that cut a 5-1 deficit in half and got them back in the game in the 8th. However, an ill-conceived double steal—or base-running mistake by Jeter—and a rare poor at bat by Kevin Youkilis spoiled a potential 9th inning rally against Venezuela closer Francisco Rodriguez. These outcomes also prevented an interesting matchup between K-Rod and his new teammate David Wright, who was in the on-deck circle when Youkilis struck out to end the game.

The win for Venezuela makes them the winner of the Toronto pool, although in a true double-elimination tournament the two would square off for one more game to decide the champion. But, that’s basically a moot point, as both teams earned a berth in the next round. Venezuela will take on the Classic’s dark horse, the Netherlands, while Team USA draws a matchup with the winner of the San Juan pool, Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

WBC Update #2

For Saturday’s game versus Team USA, the pro-Canadian crowd exceeded 42,000 and provided a considerable amount of energy to their strong effort and near upset of the bracket’s favorite. On Monday night, in an elimination game against lowly Italy, only 12,000 were in attendance. Was it because a victory over the Italians was a foregone conclusion? Apparently not, as Italy pulled off a 6-2 upset to knock the hosts of the Toronto bracket out of the tournament.

Italy scored single runs in each of the game’s first four innings, with center fielder Chris DeNorfia plating the first run on an infield single, doubling and scoring the third, and doubling home the fourth run. Overall, the Oakland Athletics prospect was 4-for-4, with three doubles, a walk, RBI and two runs scored.

Trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the 4th, it looked like Canada’s vaunted offensive attack was poised to get them back in the game when Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Jason Bay started the inning with three consecutive doubles. But, the two runs those hits produced were all the scoring the Canadians would generate for the entire game, as Mark Teahen and Pete Orr would strike out to spoil that rally, and the team would be held to just three hits and three walks for the remainder of the game.

Italy used only three pitchers in the game, with left-handers Dan Serafini and Chris Cooper playing critical roles in shutting down Canada’s predominately left-handed lineup. Right-hander Jason Grilli pitched effectively as well, after a rough outing against Venezuela in the opener, pitching the final 3 1/3 innings and allowing no runs on just one hit and two walks, while striking out two.

After the loss, Team Canada is left to ponder what overall was a disappointing showing, considering the optimism that their upset victory over the USA in 2006—and near upset this year—provided them with. Italy’s celebration was short-lived, though, as it meant another showdown with Venezuela on Tuesday night.

I use the term showdown lightly, though, as the game was anything but. Once again, Tuesday night’s Italy-Venezuela game was scoreless for a few innings, but in the bottom of the 4th, the cream began to rise to the top. After Italy’s starter, Adam Ottavino, was removed following three innings of one-hit, no-run ball, Tiago DaSilva came on and was touched up for four runs—two unearned due to a Nick Punto error on a double-play ball that could have gotten them out of the inning with only one run across—on three hits and a walk, before he was relieved by Kasey Olenberger.

Italy’s third pitcher got out of the 4th without any further damage, but did not fare as well in the 5th. That inning started with back-to-back moon shots from Bobby Abreu and Miguel Cabrera, followed by a Magglio Ordonez double that chased Olenberger. After Italy’s fourth pitcher, Luca Panerati, retired Carlos Guillen, B.J. LaMura came on and was promptly greeted by Jose Lopez’s two-run homer on the first pitch he threw. Five pitches later, Ramon Hernandez added Venezuela’s fourth home run of the inning and the rout was officially on.

Italy did, however, manage to avoid the mercy rule, losing by a final score of 10-1, but I’m not certain they considered that much of a moral victory. As was the case with Saturday’s Venezuelan victory, their pitching staff completely shut the Italians down, with starter Enrique Gonzalez’s four innings of no-run, two-hit ball setting the pace.

A USA-Venezuela rematch on Wednesday night will determine seedings for the next round, but with both teams advancing regardless of the outcome, it will be somewhat comparable to when Major League Baseball staged one-game playoffs to break division ties in which the loser was still going to earn the wild card. Regardless, given the passion of the Venezuelan fans—who significantly out-numbered their American counterparts in Sunday’s game—and the fact that there is something to play for—even if there is zero motivation to go all-out by bringing Jake Peavy back on three days rest, for instance—the game should still provide a good deal of excitement.

Monday, March 09, 2009

WBC Update #1

The Toronto bracket of the 2009 World Baseball Classic got off to an exciting start on Saturday with the opening game between the USA and Canada. What looked like a pretty one-sided pitching matchup between 2007 NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy and Mike Johnson turned out not to be, as Johnson performed commendably, and Canada led 2-1 after three innings.

Canada’s staff ace looked impressive in the first inning, as he yielded a one-out double to Derek Jeter and fell behind Chipper Jones 3-0, before coming back and striking out both Jones and Team USA cleanup hitter David Wright. His luck ran out in the 4th, however, as he gave up a leadoff home run to Kevin Youkilis and—two batters later—a two-run homer to Brian McCann. The Americans later built a 6-3 lead after six innings, powered by another two-run homer, this time from Adam Dunn.

Canada wasn’t going down that easily, though, as they rallied with single runs in the 7th and then in the 9th. But, J.J. Putz got Jason Bay to fly out to right, with Joey Votto—following his RBI double that capped a 4-for-5 performance, including a solo homer off of Peavy in the 3rd—representing the tying run at second base.

In Saturday’s night cap, Italy gave Venezuela a surprisingly tough battle in a game that remained scoreless until a 4-run Venezuela rally in the bottom of the 5th. By that point, Italy had squandered several opportunities, as they hit Venezuela starter Carlos Silva hard, but had nothing to show for the seven hits and one walk he gave up in his four innings of work.

Italy’s Mark DeFelice turned in the strongest performance of any starting pitcher in the bracket so far, holding Venezuela scoreless—on three hits and no walks—through four innings. But, it was Italy’s bullpen that proved to be their undoing—in addition to their lack of timely hitting—as relievers Jason Grilli and Lenny DiNardo were the victims of Venezuela’s 5th inning rally. Another run allowed by the Italians pen in the 7th and two more in the 8th added to the deficit, and Venezuela came away with a 7-0 victory.

Venezuela’s key offensive performances came from Melvin Mora, who went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBI, and Jose Lopez’s 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored. Carlos Guillen also added a solo homer and Bobby Abreu two hits and two RBI for the victors. Felix Hernandez was the star, though, throwing four innings of one-hit ball in relief of Silva, while striking out four and walking two.

Sunday night’s winners bracket matchup between the USA and Venezuela was certainly the most highly anticipated showdown of all, but the Americans put on an offensive display in a 15-6 rout. The game clearly exposed the Venezuelans major weakness as their bullpen. Starter Armando Galarraga left after four innings with a 3-2 lead, but relievers Victor Zambrano, Carlos Vasquez and Yoel Hernandez were roughed up in an 8-run Team USA 6th inning rally that was keyed by Chris Ianetta’s three-run double, Dustin Pedroia’s two-run double and Youkilis’ two-run homer. Interestingly enough, the inning had started with Youkilis reaching first on a strikeout and wild pitch, as he chased a curve in the dirt that then deflected off the catcher and over the backstop.

Another highlight of the USA's impressive rally was the following photo of Derek Jeter giving a high-five to Pedroia, which also provides a pretty good indication of how good our seats are for the games:

Mark DeRosa was also a key offensive performer for the USA, contributing a two-run double, bases-loaded walk and sacrifice fly, for a total of four RBI. Adam Dunn and Ryan Braun also added solo homers in the 7th and 9th innings, respectively. Team USA’s bullpen wasn’t dominating, but turned in an important collective performance, allowing three runs over the final 5 1/3 innings, after starter Roy Oswalt struggled, giving up three in 3 2/3 IP.

This weekend’s two victories mean that Team USA has assured that they will advance to the tournament’s next round in Miami. Tonight’s matchup is between the losers of Saturday’s game—Canada and Italy—for the right to take on Venezuela on Tuesday. The winner of Tuesday’s matchup will play the USA in the finals of the Toronto bracket on Wednesday, but the game will be virtually meaningless, as both teams will have already clinched a berth in Miami.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

World Baseball Classic

On Friday, I head to Toronto for Pool C of the first round of the World Baseball Classic. Call me crazy for choosing to go north to witness an international tournament that doesn't have too many people genuinely excited, when I could have gone south for Spring Training. But, for some reason, I'm quite interested in the concept of international play, and I'll also be meeting up with a couple of old softball teammates who have since moved out of town.

Pool C's entrants are the USA, Canada, Venezuela and Italy. USA is clearly the pool favorite, as well as co-favorites with the Dominican Republic to win it all, particularly due to the fact that Johan Santana and Carlos Zambrano have bowed out of the competition and off of Venezuela's roster. Their starting rotation will likely consist of Felix Hernandez, Armando Galarraga and Carlos Silva or Ramon Ramirez, with Francisco Rodriguez holding down the back end of the bullpen. Venezuela's offense is looking fairly strong, powered by Tigers teammates Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen, in addition to Bobby Abreu, Melvin Mora, Jose Lopez, Endy Chavez and super-sub Marco Scutaro.

USA's roster has taken a few hits recently, but remains strong with starting pitchers Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Ted Lilly and Jeremy Guthrie; and a deep, but not star-laden, bullpen of Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton, J.J. Putz, Scot Shields, Brad Ziegler, Joel Hanrahan, Matt Lindstrom and J.P. Howell. Offensively, the USA squad features several serious position battles: catcher (Brian McCann, Chris Iannetta); shortstop (Derek Jeter, Jimmy Rollins); and third base (Chipper Jones, David Wright); but have only four outfielders on their roster (Adam Dunn, Curtis Granderson, Shane Victorino, Ryan Braun), thus making utility man Mark DeRosa all the more important. I believe they use the DH rule in the WBC, making it likely that both Jones and Wright will be in the middle of the lineup together, making for a potent offensive attack that will also include Red Sox teammates Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

Canada has some offensive star power, including first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Jason Bay, who team with catcher Russell Martin, first baseman Joey Votto, and outfielders Matt Stairs and Mark Teahen to make for a pretty solid lineup. They had better be able to score runs, though, as their team's pitching staff is unimpressive, with Scott Richmond (5 starts in 2008) and Mike Johnson (32 career starts from 1997-2001) being the only players on the roster with any experience as major league starters. Twins relief pitcher Jesse Crain will probably be there to close out a win over Italy, but that's about all the success this squad should expect to have.

The biggest names on Italy's roster are Frank Catalanotto and Nick Punto, so it will be interesting to see how competitive they are on the field. Most likely, they'll leave Toronto winless.

Two of the four teams from each pool will advance to the next round, so it's probable that we'll see the USA and Venezuela move on, but all it will take is one upset victory by Canada to put them in the mix. I suppose stranger things have happened.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Double Eagles

A friend of mine, who writes the blog All of It, a month ago posted an entry on his top ten songs of all-time, and encouraged others to contribute theirs. Well, it was a nearly impossible undertaking, but after much laboring over my decisions, I finally narrowed my list down to a dozen. Of course, the nature of an all-time best songs list is that it could potentially change weekly. That said, I decided, as I'm sure most music lovers would, that a major criterion would be that these selections not only are great songs, but also have special meaning to me.

In golf, a double eagle is three strokes below par. On a par four, that's a hole-in-one. In other words, virtually a perfect shot. In my world, these songs are as close to perfection as possible.

"Brass Buttons" Gram Parsons
I recall reading somewhere that Parsons wrote this song as a memorial to his mother. I'm not sure where, though, as anything I've subsequently read about it assumes it's in reference to an ex-lover. Regardless, my first impression is what's stuck with me, and although my mom never wore brass buttons, green silks and silver shoes, the lyrics "And the sun comes up without her—It just doesn't know she's gone" will always make me think of her.

"Cortez the Killer" Neil Young & Crazy Horse
I could easily do a similar list of all Neil Young songs, of course. What isn't easy is deciding which one I like the most, but Cortez has always been my unofficial favorite. It has that Neil Young guitar epic quality and covers the kind of lyrical territory that always drew me in with his songs. The entire song is written in the third person and seems to be about the Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, who conquered Mexico in the 16th century. However, in the last verse, it becomes personal, as Young sings "And I know she's living there—and she loves me to this day—I still can't remember when or how I lost my way", the last line of which is a reminder of how quite often things don't turn out as we planned. Of course, that's not always a bad thing.

"Fight Test" The Flaming Lips
The first track on the album that kicked off my love affair with The Flaming Lips—Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots—"Fight Test", to me, is about facing life's difficult decisions, and remaining strong in the face of adversity. "I don't know where the sunbeams end and the starlights begin, it's all a mystery. I don't know how a man decides what's right for his own life, it's all a mystery", pretty much sums up that sentiment for me.

"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" Bob Dylan
Not only is this my all-time favorite Dylan song, and that's an almost impossible decision in and of itself, but it also reminds me of a pivotal time in my music listening history. While attending a party in Albany in 1995, I made some stupid joke about how when "...gravity fails, negativity can't pull you through" in response to a keg malfunction. It was later that evening that I engaged in a conversation about my newfound interest in Uncle Tupelo with some guy I'd just met. He raved about the song "Box Full of Letters" from Wilco's forthcoming debut album, which I hadn't heard yet. We talked about other bands as well, and he made a few recommendations, but that night sticks with me as a reminder of the time when I transformed from being a pretty big music fan to an obsessed consumer of music. The following year, the tradition of ranking my top 10 albums of the year was born.

"My Life" Iris Dement
I once said that this was the one song that I couldn't listen to without shedding a tear. It's a very personal song on a personal album for her, and it also has significant meaning to me. Particularly what gets to me is the refrain, "But I gave joy to my mother—and I made my lover smile—and I can give comfort to my friends when they're hurting—And I can make it seem better for awhile." The song kind of sums up a certain "comfort in being sad" vibe that Kurt Cobain wrote about on that Frances Farmer song on In Utero. Other than that, it's also the title track on what is possibly the first album that I turned my Dad onto. Believe me, I had tried before, but My Life was my first successful attempt.

"Northern Sky" Nick Drake
Nick Drake's short-lived existence is heartbreakingly sad, as he died from an overdose of a prescription antidepressant. To me, this song is the ultimate representation of just how tragic a figure he was. His stature as a cult icon rose to the level of documentary treatment with the release of A Skin Too Few in 2000. That film produced a moment of beautiful sadness as the closing credits ran to images of Drake as a toddler playing on a beach while "Northern Sky" provided the background music. One couldn't help but think that we were viewing a time when his thoughts weren't tormented as they were later in his life.

"Ooh La La" The Faces
It was Golden Smog's cover of "Glad and Sorry" that introduced me to the songwriting brilliance of Ronnie Lane. Overshadowed in The Faces by Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, Lane nevertheless wrote many of their finest songs, and "Ooh La La", the last song on the band's final album, was their absolute best. Co-written by Lane and Wood, it's actually the shining moment of Wood's career as a vocalist. The song's lyrics may be a little trite, but who among us can't relate to the sentiment, "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger—I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was stronger".

"September Gurls" Big Star
The ultimate power pop song by the ultimate power pop band, this is the only song to make this list without the benefit of lyrics that really resonate with me. Packed with loads of pure rock energy, and possibly the catchiest opening guitar hook ever recorded, I can say with almost absolute certainty that this tune has made it on at least 90% of the party mixes I've made in the last ten years. It wouldn't be inaccurate to say I've got it bad for "September Gurls".

"So Come Back, I Am Waiting" Okkervil River
I believe this is actually the longest song on this list, even longer than "Cortez the Killer", believe it or not. Black Sheep Boy was such a surprisingly brilliant album for me, and this song just sums up its somewhat schizophrenic nature. It's a dirge-like ballad that also packs an unbelievably powerful emotional punch, one that really strikes a chord with me. In 2005, I developed a strong friendship with a part-time co-worker who also happened to be a full-time amateur philosopher. One of the subjects we talked about frequently was my romantic past, and at one point she aptly pointed out that this entire album reminded her of one particularly heartbreaking story I had related. Nothing reminds me of that time in my life—the subject of the story and the subsequent telling of it—than the final two minutes of this song.

"Still Be Around" Uncle Tupelo
About half of Uncle Tupelo's songs are about drinking, or at least are stories of life's desperations that lead some folks to hitting the bottle. In the time we lived together in Albany in the mid-90s, Scott and I fully embraced the ideology of escapism, and although we knew we didn't have it nearly as tough as the characters Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy were writing about, we could still relate. There was no song that better epitomized Farrar's knack for clever wordplay that elevated his material beyond the trappings of cliche than this one, particularly with lyrics like "Alcohol doesn't have much that matters to say—Can't imagine where you and time to kill will stay" and "When the bible is a bottle, and the hardwood floor is home—When morning comes twice day or not at all".

"This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" - Talking Heads
I actually first heard this song on Shawn Colvin's Cover Girl. I love her version as well, and her femininity may better capture the romanticism of the song than the original, but when I heard the Talking Heads' version for the first time, I instantly knew it was superior. Its blissful, light dance groove adds to the beauty of some of the most moving lyrics that have ever been sung, particularly on lines such as "I can't tell one from another—Did I find you, or you find me?—There was a time before we were born—If someone asks, this is where I'll be".

"Unsatisfied" The Replacements
Paul Westerberg's ode to frustration and bitter disillusionment is one of the most passionate expressions of angst ever put to music. It also is practically the antithesis of every other Replacements song. Instead of Westerberg's vocals stabilizing the loose and sometimes sloppy dynamic of the band, on "Unsatisfied" he's the one who's out of control while the band holds it together. There is no better exercise in blowing off a little steam for me than belting this one out in the solitude of my own home, and maybe shedding a few tears—usually of determination—in the process.

Honorable mentions: "All the Wine" The National; "Come Pick Me Up" Ryan Adams; "Dry Your Eyes" The Streets; "I Still Remember" Bloc Party; "Romeo and Juliet" Dire Straits; "Songbird" Fleetwood Mac.