Shows I’ve Seen: American Acoustic Festival, Part II

Annnnnd, here is Part II! (See here for Part I)

One of the things I loved about living in Baltimore (take me back!) was being close enough to DC to commute down for events such as the American Acoustic Festival, while not actually having to live there ūüėČ No offense to my DC-based friends – it’s a beautiful city, but it’s hard to really feel at home when you’re forking over an unholy percentage of your paycheck for rent.

In addition to several nights of ticketed shows, the festival included free events that were open to the public. On Saturday, Mom and I attended two back-to-back workshops – “How to Play With Others” & “How to Sing With Others” – hosted by Chris Thile and featuring some the same musicians we saw the night before.

I thought watching these people play from the side balcony of the Kennedy Center was crazy, but seeing them from a mere 15 feet away in a small room was priceless. I sound like a credit card commercial, but I speak the truth. I hope to increase my interest rate in this blog.. har har har.

I knew the Kennedy Center was filming the workshops for their website, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the full-length, professional videos on YouTube. I’ve included them below.

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American Acoustic @ The Kennedy Center ‚Äď Washington, DC on 6/25/16

How To Play With Others, hosted by Chris Thile and ft. the Punch Brothers

How To Sing With Others, hosted by Chris Thile and ft. Sarah Jarosz & Aoife O’Donovan

Instead of separating the workshops out too much, I’m just going to write what’s popping into my head, which is working in stream-of-consciousness mode at the moment.

  • I definitely developed a thing for Noam Pickelny, banjo player of the Punch Brothers. What can I say? I like ’em dark, handsome, and armed with a banjo. Is a 9 year age difference too much? I didn’t see a ring… Are you into unemployed women with beer guts who live with their parents and have a man-eating dog?

Okay, I think that was the only stream-of-consciousness thought I had, really, and now that that’s out there, I can focus on the finer details. By finer, I mean “Damn, he so fine.”

I promise, I’m stopping now.

Watching these workshops made me realize how much I miss playing music with people. When it works, there’s a tangible connection between the players, a weird sort of electricity that is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. These ladies and gents have “it.” All the memories of what I’d been taught while playing jazz in college came flooding back during this lecture, as I listened to them discuss how important it is to know your material well so that you can really focus on interacting and listening to each other during a performance.

My hang-up as a musician is that my nose is always in sheet music, chord charts, or lyrics. When you do that, you’re not interacting with the people around you, adjusting your playing to compliment them and vice versa. Even if you’re playing solo, there’s something missing. You’re using part of your brain to see what’s in front of you, when what you’re playing/singing should be second nature. Only then can you give your all to the music.

You can play the music proficiently, or you can play it at the caliber that gets you to the Kennedy Center. Listening, engaging, and musical talent/intuition is what makes the dynamic work. That seems like a “duh” sort of moment, but it’s something that really hit home when I watched the magic enfold right in front of me. Learning the music and working on the technical proficiency to play it belong in a practice room. Growing, developing, interpreting, and bringing the music to life evolve from being comfortable enough in your mastery of it to be able to focus solely on those elements within the dynamic of people you’re playing it with.

Maybe it’s just because I’m an awkward person, but I’ve found that the dynamic is easier to achieve when you’re with people you’re genuinely comfortable with outside of the musical realm. Chemistry is a weird thing, and comes in so many forms – friendship, romance, music, etc. You can have crazy musical chemistry with someone, but the idea of ever kissing them makes you want to hurl. (In all honesty, it’s better this way… otherwise some of our favorite duos would probably be defunct, if they aren’t already..)

With those same forms of chemistry come corresponding feelings of loneliness. I’ve been lonely for friends, for romance, and whatever else at times. After this show, I found myself achingly lonely for music.

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The other element I really took away from these workshops should also seem fairly obvious, but it’s something else that really differentiates the good from the great. The devil may be in the details, but so is perfection.

I said the gist of this before, but it’s easy, relatively speaking, to get up on stage and play/sing all the notes correctly. During the vocal workshop, Aoife and Sarah discussed their I’m With Her harmonies, and how they once realized that they had all started simultaneously phrasing the end of a line a different way than they had previously, without ever having discussed it ahead of time. As musicians, they’re so in-tune (pun intended) with each other that they’re able to detect small cues that enable them to better sing/play as a unit.

As a listener, you may not consciously hear these ladies finish a harmonized note a couple seconds apart. The ear can be surface-level if we let it, and it’s great to be able to focus on the whole instead of analyzing each part. Four years of music school, however, turned me into an analyzer. Hearing a crisp, clean end to a phrase where each singer wraps the line with the same rhythm and resonance sounds very different than when their timing is a bit off and the ending is unintentionally slurred. You may not be able to pinpoint why one sounds better than the other upon comparison, but it does.

Ending the note at the same time. Adjusting your voice to blend better with the people you’re singing with. Breathing in the right places. Paying attention to dynamics and subtle changes in rhythm. Listening, really listening, to what the other players are doing, and adjusting yourself accordingly. Pushing your ego aside and doing what is best for the music.

I’ve always been so wrapped up in playing the right notes that I forget to do these things. That’s probably a good part of the reason I’m not playing at the Kennedy Center, aside from possessing only a teensie fraction of the raw talent these people have.

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In summary..

I never really thought about the Punch Brother’s reason for positioning themselves around a single condenser microphone, but their explanation during this workshop really ties all of this together. The single-microphone technique forces them to self-mix. If Noam (*swoon*) plays a banjo solo, the rest of the group steps away from the microphone so that his instrument cuts through more prominently. If they need the fiddle melody to sound softer in the overall texture, Gabe has to step back. These are details that a listener might take for granted, but if they all played at the same level and position around the microphone for the entire show, something would be off. They would probably still sound good, but this practice forces them to really listen to each other, which makes them great.

Looking through YouTube, I originally wanted to post a video of Chris and Aoife singing her song “Porch Light,” which I’ll admit, made my eyes well up at the workshop. It’s in the “How To Sing With Others” video above, but for a separate performance, see here.

However, with everything I just talked about – listening, details, and chemistry – this video, despite the poor quality, really brings all the elements. Look at the way these people interact with each other, the genuine joy, the way that every detail – instrumental and vocal – clicks together. I posted a different version of this song yesterday, but check out this video.

Okay, fine. This one, too. I can’t get enough of these damn people.

Thank you, Chris Thile and the Kennedy Center, for putting on these free events that made me realize how much I love music ‚̧

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shows I’ve Seen: American Acoustic Festival, Part I

This festival took place the weekend of June 24th, and it’s taken me till July 20th to review it. Total fail, though really this series of shows was so memorable that I could probably write this a year from now and still remember every detail.

To be fair, the week after the festival was spent moving my insane amount of crap out of my apartment in Baltimore and into a storage unit…

The next week I was sick with a crazy fever + puking… (I did NOT get the job I interviewed for while running a fever, but it’s fun wondering what kooky things I may have told the interviewer over the phone while my temperature was 102.)

The next week was an existential crisis over the fact that I’m basically George Costanza right now, unemployed and living with my parents. I am not, however, anywhere near bald. Trying to look on the bright side, here ūüėČ

So I guess this is the week I’ll be updating my blog that nobody reads! (Hey, not that I blame you.. I mean, why read George’s blog when you could read Jerry’s?)

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American Acoustic @ The Kennedy Center ‚Äď Washington, DC on 6/24/16

Evening show ft. Chris Thile & the Punch Brothers, Edgar Meyer & Bela Fleck, and I’m With Her (Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, and Aoife O’Donovan)

Wow. My mind couldn’t wrap myself around this lineup. My mother reared me on all kinds of music, but what resonated with me the most were the classical/Americana/bluegrass-fusion albums recorded by Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma, and Mark O’Connor as a trio. This genre-mesh continues to fascinate me, and has only evolved since these albums were released in the mid-90’s. Chris Thile has been recording with Edgar Meyer in recent years, and joined him and Yo-Yo Ma with the addition of Stuart Duncan on 2011’s “The Goat Rodeo Sessions.” Mom and I saw Edgar Meyer in concert several years back, and also enjoyed hearing him with Bela Fleck on “Music For Two” and “Uncommon Ritual.” These guys are true masters of their craft, using incredible musicianship to mix genres in a modern way while still paying homage to old traditions. Needless to say, Mom was the perfect date for this show.

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During the first half of the evening, each of the three groups performed some of their own material. For the second half, they all sat in a semi-circle and took turns joining each other in the middle of the stage for some truly amazing collaborations.

I’ve been dying to see the Punch Brothers live for awhile now, and they did not disappoint in the slightest. Thile leads the band with his own quirky sort of hip geekiness, but the guys play as a true unit. No detail is left unaccounted for – dynamics, technical proficiency, rhythm, or emotion. I could do an entire post on my love of all things Chris Thile, but I’ll try to contain myself in this one and save that for another time. Prepare yourselves.

If the Meyer/Ma/O’Connor albums adapt bluegrass and Americana to a classical idiom, the Punch Brothers build on this by doing the opposite. They take pop-oriented songs and play them on traditional bluegrass instruments, but treat them like classical pieces. When I first heard Thile sing, I thought he sounded eerily similar to a Backstreet Boy. Nowadays, I appreciate the way his voice weaves in and out of this crazy tapestry of instrumental layers, wailing pop metaphors while he and the band play meticulous melodies that spur and slow in the vein of a dynamically-charged classical piece. Don’t believe me? Check out his 40-minute classical suite for bluegrass instruments featured on the first Punch Brothers album.

Edgar Meyer & Bela Fleck’s set featured some of the beautiful music on the aforementioned “Music for Two” album. Mom and I watched the album’s making-of bonus DVD back when I was in high school, and laughed ourselves silly when Bela Fleck freaked out over the piece Edgar wrote in 15/8. I love Edgar Meyer, but he goes way over my head… and even over Bela Fleck’s head, it seems. That’s saying a lot, since Bela is one of the greatest banjo players in the world. The music they play together continues the theme of classical bluegrass seen on the “Uncommon Ritual” album,¬† but with only two layers. The beauty of the duet lineup is that that you can clearly hear the way Bela’s haunting banjo melodies compliment the low, resonant dance of Edgar’s bass.

I was insanely excited to hear I’m With Her, a band comprised of three women with stellar careers in their own rights. Sara Watkins blew me away when I saw her live for the first time in March, and Sara Jarosz… Well, read my review of her new album to get the gist on why I love her. The member I knew the least about was Aoife O’Donovan, but that changed REALLY fast after I saw her sing live, and I’ve been blasting Crooked Still albums for weeks.

These ladies’ voices blend together in a way I never really knew was possible. Sometimes they sound as though they’re one voice, and sometimes the harmony is so sweet you can’t imagine that even heaven could sound that good (Thile said something along those lines during the show). These women do with their voices what the Punch Brothers do with their instruments, using the subtleties of dynamic, rhythm, melody, and harmony in such a way that the result is overwhelming and achingly beautiful to the ear. Sara Watkins’ sweet voice, jumping easily between a high falsetto and a pure lead, blends perfectly with Aoife O’Donovan’s crystal-clear, airy counterpart, while Jarosz’s low, sometimes husky croon holds down the bass for the trio. I can’t figure out if these ladies are greater than the sum of their parts or not. I love them together just as much as I do apart.

The collaboration between members of the three groups is where things got really interesting. I’m With Her sang a beautiful song with Edgar Meyer backing them on bass. One of the great thing about Meyer is that he knows when pull out all the stops and when to hold back. He can be flashy, or he can compliment another group perfectly by stepping back and using simple lines that bring them together as a whole.

Jarosz sang a song with the Punch Brothers that left me spellbound, and it took me the longest time to figure out if it was a Punch Brothers song or a Jarosz song. Turns out it was neither and both. It was a cover of Radiohead’s “The Tourist,” a track which Jarosz released on her second album, backed by Punch Brothers.

My favorite performance of the evening was a haunting rendition of “Here and Now” from the aforementioned album, “The Goat Rodeo Sessions.” This song featured the Punch Brothers + Meyer on bass + Aoife O’Donovan on lead vocals. I could feel the chills the minute O’Donovan and Thile started to sing together. The harmony is perfect, driving, and intense. These two are pure magic together.

This amazing group of musicians continued to impress throughout the evening as they paired up, paired down, and even played all together. I couldn’t imagine a better show, and I was in awe by the end of the evening. That night, I saw what they could do, but the next day I was able to get a good look into how they do it through two FREE workshops.

Stay tuned for Part II, and be prepared for some major fangirlisms ūüėČ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albums I Love: Sarah Jarosz – “Undercurrent”

I am so incredibly excited for the weekend.

Chris Thile + The Punch Brothers, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, Aoife O’Donovan… ALL IN ONE SHOW!

Perfect timing, because Sarah Jarosz’s new album came out on June 17th, and Sara Watkins’ will be out on July 1st. My ears are very, very happy.

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Sara Jarosz – “Undercurrent”

To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of child prodigies. They tend to be all flash and skill, too many notes and not enough soul. I love a fast guitar solo as much as the next guitar nerd, but it has to make me feel something. If you show me a ten year old who can play guitar miles and miles above anything I can do (not hard, these days), I’ll tell you I’d rather hear him again in 15 years when he’s had his heart broken and gained some life experience to give meaning to those five million notes. It’s pretty judgemental, cynical, and presumptuous, I know. I also sound like a total hypocrite, considering Chris Thile and Sara Watkins got their start in the child prodigy supergroup, Nickel Creek. The greatest thing to me is hearing them develop past the flash of their younger days. I hear something new every time I listen to a Punch Brother’s album, and seeing Sara sing “Lock & Key” live in March brought me to tears. While I love Nickel Creek, what I love even more is seeing these phenomenally talented child prodigies continue to grow as musicians with something to say.

And now to the child prodigy of the hour!

Born and raised in Texas with a voice straight out of Appalachia, Sarah Jarosz released her first album while she was still in high school. I had NO IDEA she was that young when I first heard it. Something about that album really resonated with me, and I’ve been hooked ever since. This girl is a year younger than me, and I feel totally slayed when I watch her, much more than I ever do when I see a 10 year old play the “Beat It” solo on YouTube.

This is Sarah in 2009. Her song and sound are full of innocence with none of the contrived flash. I hear an old soul resonating through the sweet voice of this young woman who is just beginning to tap into her potential.

With several Grammy nominations, three albums, and a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music under her belt, Ms. Jarosz released “Undercurrent” just a week ago.

I’ve been listening to all of her albums on repeat in an attempt to connect the dots of her musical evolution. There’s also an element of camaraderie since we’re so close in age, went to music school, and eventually ended up in NYC. While she was recording that first album, I was obsessing over Gillian Welch and contemplating majoring in Appalachian Studies. I want to see if she grew to see the world the same way I did in o Continue reading

Shows I’ve Seen: Jason Isbell & Chris Stapleton

Whew, it’s been awhile. I’ve had so many post ideas, but not enough head space to take them on. The past two months have been complicated and a little up in the air, to put it lightly.

Anyhow, Ani DiFranco, Part II will be posted eventually. I had the pleasure of seeing The Lone Bellow play with the Baltimore Symphony a couple of months ago, which was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime show. Sarah Jarosz released a new album on Friday, which I’m itching to review. Robert Ellis, Lera Lynn, and Margaret Glaspy have also released new material I’ll be circling back to in the coming weeks/months/years – You know, however long it takes me to get my life straightened out. *insert begrudged emoji here*

In the meantime… Here is my review of a dual-headliner show that made me melt the minute it was announced.

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Jason Isbell & Chris Stapleton @ Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia, MD on 6/18/16

Act I: Jason

Jason. Freakin. Isbell. I saw you play in 2009, I believe it was, opening for Gov’t Mule. I bought your album and freaked out (in a good way) over how gritty, honest, and angst-ridden it was. Four years later, I rediscovered your music when I heard Southeastern, one of my favorite albums of all time. Several summers ago, I listened to this album for about 3 weeks straight during a particularly self-indulgent bout of existential angst. I used to say it made me want to wrap myself in an American flag and roll down a hill into a pyramid of empty PBR cans.

I guess that’s my version of gritty.

I’ve always thought of your songs as being more story-like than other artists. They’re so full of imagery, wit, and insight that sometimes I feel like I’m listening to Southern Gothic poetry set to music as opposed to country songs. Seeing you live, belting out these stories about who you are and where you came from, really brought that into perspective for me. And oh my, those slide solos! Nothing brings out the ache in a tale like a dueling slide outro.

The great thing about you, Jason is that you manage to take these archetypes of country – booze, women, the workin’ man – and turn them into something smarter and more poignant than a drunken tale of chugging too many Buds and getting in a brawl (although you do this very well in the song “Super 8.)

One minute, you’re singing the plight of the working man:

“When I get my reward, my work will all be done
And I will sit back in my chair beside the Father and the Son
No more holes to fill. And no more rocks to break
And no more loading boxes onto trucks for someone else’s sake”

The next minute, you’re singing the achingly beautiful song, “Cover Me Up,” about how your wife, fiddle player and renowned musician Amanda Shires, rescued you from your spiraling alcoholism by sending your drunk ass to rehab.

You’ve been sober ever since, and I appreciate the sentiment you expressed on stage as Amanda stood beside you, a twinkle in her eye and a fiddle in her hand.¬† You said “This is a song about my wife. She’s here tonight, but I play it for her at every show, even if she’s not there.”

“But I made it through, cause somebody knew I was meant for someone.”

Okay, I might have cried a little. To the total of two people probably reading this blog: Try watching this, and see if you don’t join me in this tear-fest.

“But home was a dream, one I’d never seen ’till you came along.”

Jason, you were perfect. I’m going to stop writing this like I’m talking to you, and instead try and narrate this experience like a normal person.

My one problem with this double Isbell-Stapleton bill? The venture into the Cult of Bro.

Act II: Stapleton:

Stapleton started packing major bro-cred ever since his duet with Justin Timberlake at the CMA’s went viral last year. Don’t get me wrong – this is GREAT for him. He’s been hanging in the Nashville scene for years, writing killer songs for other people and getting himself nominated for Grammys with my favorite bluegrass band, The Steeldrivers. “Traveller,” his first solo endeavor, is a phenomenal album full of great songs made even greater by his whiskey-tinged blues voice and haunting harmonies provided by his wife, Morgane. When they launched into their prolific version of “You Are My Sunshine,” the chills were real, and they were frigid.

I saw Chris live at the American Roots Festival in Raleigh, NC this past October, right before he blew up the charts. He was known more as a musician’s musician rather than a household name, and played during a crappy early afternoon time slot. Hardly anyone was in the audience except for crazy Stapleton-hipsters like myself. Let’s be real, y’all, “I liked him before he was cool.” I hate myself for saying that, and I hate myself even more for saying what I’m about to say, which is that I said that ironically. I’ve become such a dirty ole hipster that it’ll take slugging copious amounts of Bud with the fratbros to knock myself out of it.

Anyhow, turning the clock back to this show at Merriweather, the fratbros were clearly there for Stapleton. The Isbell-diehards were all in the seated section, tears streaming down their faces for all to see on the jumbotron. I hate myself once again for sounding like a snob, but the fratbros do not understand the genius that is Isbell. They don’t hear the prose and subtle wit that make up each masterpiece of a song. They like Stapleton because he sings about whiskey (God love him). I saw so many Bud-slugging, wifebeater-wearing, girlfriend’s ass-slapping good ‘ole bros that I thought I was at a Florida Georgia Line show. They knew every single line to those songs on “Traveller” and hollered harder with each subsequent reference to whiskey. I was very impressed by Stapleton’s rollicking electric versions of Steeldrivers songs. The fratbros did not know any of the words to these oldies, despite the ever-present whiskey references.

Okay, I’m done being a self-loathing snobby hipster. I’m going to actually talk about the music instead of the fans.

What impressed me the most about Stapleton is that he essentially performed as a country/blues/rock power-trio, plus his wife on harmony vocals. I never thought of him as a guitar player as much as I did a powerhouse singer and songwriter. The man can freakin’ PLAY, and he holds his own without a rhythm guitarist or keys player to back him up. The muscle lies in his skill as a guitarist just as much as it does in his voice or his songs. That man is a force to be reckoned with.

Verdict:

Show: A++++++ (Ralphie, go get yourself a Red Rider BB gun)

Fans: C (I had to wash my hair three times to get the Bud smell out of it)

Oh, oh, oh. After that bout of judgemental hipsterness I just spewed onto you, my two readers, I will now proceed to mount my feminist high-horse (though I won’t apologize for that!)

One of the things I love about the alt-country genre is the idea that you can mix the great parts of the past with the changing ideals and values of the future. We can love whoever we want and treat people with respect while still singing in the style (but not mindset) of people who may think otherwise.

Thank you, Jason and Chris, for your obvious respect, love, and appreciation for these strong, talented women that sing beside you. Both men made a point of expressing gratitude towards their partner during the show, and have spoken fervently in interviews about their strength and talent.

Partnership > Patriarchy.

P.S – Jason and Chris, will you please run on a Presidental ticket with the slogan “Make Country Music Great Again? Or better yet, Amanda and Morgane could run. Please and thank you.

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That’s all, folks! Stay tuned this week for my review of the new Sarah Jarosz album, Undercurrent,” and my experience at the upcoming American Acoustic Festival ft. Chris Thile!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artists I Love: Ani DiFranco

When I was in high school, Ani DiFranco scared me a little bit.

There I was, so unsure of my own opinions, relatively insecure, and living within a small worldview. I was a huge fan of the jam band scene,¬†and heard Ani¬†for the first time on a “Live At Bonnaroo” compilation album. Here was a woman who had albums worth of opinions, spoke out very publicly about her beliefs through speech and song, and wrote about people, experiences, and raw emotion though a wise, insightful eye. It was so different from anything I’d¬†been exposed to at that point that that I shied away, unsure of how to dig into¬†the music of this strong, seemingly brash woman.

I believe that everyone goes through some sort of metamorphosis every 2-4 years.¬†One of my most significant transitional periods happened¬†during the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. I loved being a music major, but was sick of living in a practice room. I¬†no longer felt like I fit in with my old friends, but wasn’t even sure¬†how to fit in with my current classmates, much less make new ones. I had been running a million miles an hour, taking too many classes and not taking the time to think about what I really wanted. As per usual in these types of stories,¬†there was a boy tugging on my heartstrings. I was mentally and emotionally burnt-out.

In desperate need of empowerment, a Google search for the perfect feminist song led me to Ani’s famous track, “Not A Pretty Girl.” I¬†loved the anger, frustration,¬†and¬†hope that sprung through the recording, “bread-crumbing”¬†me to the realization that I didn’t have to be a certain way;¬†that I could find the power to stand on my own two feet.

As the summer droned on and I began to find my bearings, I picked up Ani’s album “Imperfectly” on a whim at my favorite used music store.

Throughout our lives, we hear so many love songs, lamenting failed relationships or “The One That Got Away.” As I listened to track #2 of “Imperfectly” – as song called “Fixing Her Hair,” I began to question all of this. Ani sings about a friend who is¬†engrossed in a relationship with a man who is not worth her time or energy.

The story is told through Ani’s musings during a brief conversation this friend, who is fixing her own hair in the mirror. Women have been doing since the dawn of time¬†– beautifying themselves and talking about men. While Ani listens to her friend make excuses for this man’s behavior, she starts to question this female entire ritual.¬†She concludes her that her friend

“still doesn’t have what she deserves
but she wakes up smiling every day
she never really expected more
that’s just not the way we are raised
and I say to her,
you know,
there’s plenty of really great men out there
but she doesn’t hear me
she’s looking in the mirror
she’s fixing her hair”

(full lyrics here)

Digging into this song, I realized how easy it is for¬†us women to fall into this trap. We convince ourselves that if we’re pretty and complacent, we’ll get the guy, the job, the friends, etc., and everything will work out.¬†Society has created a mold for us, and while it continues to morph and change, there foundation is always there: Look nice, smile a lot, and accept the bullshit.

If you’re going to get anywhere in life, you can’t stick to anyone’s mold¬†or accept those who bring you down.¬†While Ani’s focus in this song is on a male/female relationship, her sweetly-sung commentary¬†on that subject opened my mind to life lessons in other areas that are much easier preached than practiced:

  • Don’t¬†let yourself be weakened by someone else’s power.
  • Don’t stick with people who don’t treat you in the way you deserve to be treated.
  • There is no mold for how to live your life.¬†We all forge our own path, and while others will judge us for our choices and beliefs,¬†they can’t knock you down if you’re sure of yourself and who you are.

The last one is the most difficult. If you know and trust yourself, the first two will fall into place. I tend to blame myself when someone else brings me down, thinking that maybe I messed up or deserved it in some way. While it’s important to own up to your mistakes, it’s easy to blur the line and cower when someone makes you feel unworthy for no real reason. If you’re mindful and aware of who you are, you’ll know when it’s them, not you. You’ll know what you deserve, and be able to sense when you’re not getting it from that person. It’s easy to breeze through life without this sense of self, simply reacting to situations instead of taking them above face value.

The message in this¬†music was, and still is, exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you, Ani, for making me challenge society, myself, and even, at times, you ūüôā

Throughout the course of that summer, I shifted¬†my perspective on who I was and what I was doing with my life. While no one ever really reaches that¬†final point¬†of self-actualization, it’s very fulfilling to know you’ve made some progress – to look back on moments in your life and realize that you do, in fact, feel more complete than when you started.

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Stay tuned in the next week for a review of a very different Ani album. This particular record of hers wavers beautifully between feelings of emotional vulnerability and empowerment. Ani fans, I’ll let you guess which one I’m talking about ūüėČ

Thanks for reading!