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West Central Tribune staffers Ron Adams, left, and Dan Burdett pose for a photo in a game of musical poker in Willmar, Minn. The duo, who share an unbridled passion for all things music, were wagering their list of top songs of the year during the friendly game. (Tribune illustration/photo by Gary Miller)

Music Matters: West Central Tribune music aficionados take a look at the songs of 2013

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By Ron Adams

WILLMAR - When I was asked by colleague and music compadre Dan Burdett to co-write an article about our top music choices from last year I was intrigued by the idea mainly because I felt the span between our ages could give such an article some real credence. Then I found out that Dan wanted to select just songs rather than albums, which I found much more challenging to narrow down since I tend to view a musician’s album as a single unit of work. So I set out to listen and re-listen to each album to find the single song that embodied that collection of songs.

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These 10 songs I picked are representative of the songs that fell on my ears during 2013 that impressed me the most.

No. 1 “(You Will) Set the World on Fire”

From David Bowie’s 24th studio album “The Next Day,” this song is an ode to the folk musicians of the early 1960s somewhat incongruously performed as a hard rock shout-out to the folkies use of fame to shine a light on social issues.

“Kennedy would kill for the lines you’ve written/ Van Ronk says to Bobby she’s the next real thing” Bowie sings in reference to Bob Dylan’s songs of war and peace. The song and entire album — note for note — would not have been out of place during the 66-year-old Bowie’s peak in the early ’70s. I was unaware of how great my admiration for this album was until it came time to pick a top recording from 2013 and this one landed effortlessly at the top.

No. 2 “Stuck on the Treadmill”

Once again Richard Thompson proves on this song from his CD “Electric” that he is the untouchable high master of the electric guitar. On this piece Thompson uses his guitar skill to emulate the sounds of a factory as he sings “The money goes out, the bills come in/ Round and round we go again/ I come close but I never win/ I’m stuck on the treadmill.” A sentiment we can all relate to for sure. “Treadmill” is merely one gem among 10 others on this album, however this composition showcases Thompson’s enormous talent like none other.

No. 3 “Remember Me This Way”

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell combined their talents to produce the bluegrass album “Love Has Come For You,” which features this melancholic song about aging. Brickell sings “Painter would you paint me a portrait/ Paint me wearing the finest clothes in town/ Make me look like somebody/ Make me a little younger than I am now.” Throughout the album Brickell’s clever lyrics, coupled with Martin’s proficient banjo attributes, result in a bluegrass masterpiece, with “Remember Me This Way” being the champion.

No. 4 “Early Days”

Paul McCartney uses his song “Early Days” from his magnificent album “New” to reminisce back to a time before he was famous singing “Dressed in black from head to toe/ Two guitars across our backs/ We would walk the city roads,/Seeking someone who would listen to the music/That we were writing down at home.” This is a rare introspective moment for McCartney to pen such an autobiographical story. The song, accompanied by McCartney himself on acoustic guitar, would have felt right at home on The Beatle’s “White Album” from 1968.

No. 5 “Normal Person”

From Arcade Fire’s techno-disco dance-floor rave called “Reflektor,” “Normal Person” starts off with an announcer introducing their punk-band persona that breaks into a wild rant about what is considered normal in society. “And they break down/ Till everything is normal, I know/ If that’s what normal now/ I don’t want to know.” The song — which bashes the virtues of being so called normal — epitomizes the two-record, 75-minute collection with its stomping Velvet Underground-like beat creating one of this Canadian indie band’s finest moments to date.

No. 6 “Devil’s Backbone”

A haunting murder ballad by folk/country duo The Civil Wars, this is from their self-titled CD. On this gothic melodramatic song, Joy Williams and John Paul White use their stark, crisp vocals to paint the chilling scene. “Oh Lord, oh Lord, he’s somewhere between/ A hangman’s knot and three mouths to feed/ There wasn’t a wrong or a right he could choose/ He did what he had to do.” Sinewy emotion oozes from the duo’s music throughout their second album executed with harmony perfection on this heart-wrenching ballad.

No. 7 “(She Might Be A) Grenade”

By veteran rocker Elvis Costello and neo soul band The Roots from their collaboration album “Wise Up Ghost,” this song is a layered, imaginative composition that mixes a cracking, biting drumbeat intertwined with Costello’s clever lyrics and smooth, eerie strings and jazz riffs. The lyric analogizes a woman removing a hair pin to pulling the pin on a grenade on this song about infidelity is genius. “She’s pulling out the pin/ That lets her hair fall down/ She’s pulling out the pin/ She shakes her head/ And it goes tumbling.” The combined musical knowledge of Costello and The Roots results in an explosive assemblage of smart textured grooves.

No. 8 “My Quicksand”

This one by Elton John from his CD “The Diving Board” is a winding weary ballad that chronicles of an aging man ruefully reflecting upon missteps he has made in his life that is highlighted by a superb improvised piano solo. “I thought I had a plan/ I woke up with an accent/ I wound up in quicksand/ My quicksand.” On this entire collection of songs Elton returns to his roots moving his piano once again to the forefront, yet the spirit of the compositions are miles away from that yellow brick road he once trod. “My Quicksand” personifies this new road he is traveling, that of an artist who is in touch with who he is.

No. 9 “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”

I consider “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” by David Bromberg from “Only Slightly Mad” my favorite blues performance of 2013. The multi-talented Bromberg puts his usual twist to the traditional gospel song first recorded in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson making the song his own. “Yes I’ve got a Bible in my home/ Of I don’t read it and my soul gets lost/ It’s nobody’s fault but mine.” The blues number is but one of several standout performances on this eclectic group of melodies ranging from Iris fiddle tunes to country and bluegrass presentations. But Bromberg’s ragged vocal and roaring slide guitar work on “Nobody’s Fault” genuinely catches your attention like no other.

No. 10 “Ash and Clay”

By the indie folk duo the Milk Carton Kids, “Ash and Clay” is from their album of the same name. The two perfectly matched voices and acoustic guitar work of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan coupled with impressive poetic lyrics make this song the standout folk arrangement of 2013. “The swing sets are empty like dirt turned the dark of the night/ the center of this town it used to whirl in the glow of twilight/ it might look like God’s away with all the trouble these days.” The Milk Carton Kids’ use of stripped down, pure folk music makes them one of the finest folk bands producing melodious sound today.

To hear all of these songs check them out on You Tube or other internet sites by simply entering the song title into your search engine. Each of the songs cited here represent some of the foremost music beings made today. All of them being part of albums that I would highly advocate as great listening.

By Dan Burdett

dburdett@wctrib.com

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the online music site Pandora, when I started thinking about some of the great songs of the past year. In the process, I recalled a piece Tribune photographer Ron Adams wrote some time ago that chronicled his favorite albums of that particular year. Ron and I share a boundless appreciation for music, and I thought it might be interesting to document the songs that got our blood pumping last year — a sequel, if you will, to his previous compilation I found so enjoyable.

The result of that contemplative afternoon is these songs. As you read through this list — comprised of singles released after January 2013 — please consider that it is merely my fallible opinion. I hope you’ll find something to your liking.

No. 1 “Afterlife” from the album “Reflektor” by Arcade Fire

This walk through the aftermath of a longtime relationship gone sour strikes at the core. “When love is gone, where does it go?” asks front man Win Butler. It’s a question that can send you down a road of unpleasant ponderances, but a question that deserves to be asked. Arcade Fire are masters of taking the listener on a journey told from different perspectives. “Afterlife” might be the best journey yet.

 No. 2 “Beautiful War” from the album “Mechanical Bull” by Kings of Leon

“Love don’t mean nothin’, unless there’s something worth fighting for.” Clichéd? Sure. But in the context of this ballad from the Southern rockers, it may as well be Shakespeare. Front man Caleb Followill — whose cigarette-laced growl and Oklahoma drawl is reminiscent of a young Steve Earle and has to be one of the most satisfying voices in rock and roll today — offers a glance into a tortured soul, one who despite the fights, the tears and the drama can’t escape the allure of his partner. And vice versa. The song builds slowly, exploding for a brief moment in a barrage of guitars and drums, before fading out on Followill’s final and near muted observation: Love is “a beautiful war.” It’s a beautiful song.

No. 3 “Glory Days” by Basia Bulat and recorded for A.V. Undercover Season 4

Haunting but absolute in its beauty, this cover of Bruce Springsteen’s classic from 1984’s “Born in the USA” brought me to tears. Bulat, with just a pianoette at her disposal, recorded this version for the A.V. Club, a non-satirical entertainment newspaper and website published by The Onion. Like many of Springsteen’s accounts of the disillusionment and opulence that was 1980s America, this song’s theme is a contrast to its sanguine arrangement. It’s a terribly sad song about lost youth and the death of a dream. The protagonist is a man holding on to memories of the past while clearly astute to his current plight. In his mind, life is what it is. Springsteen has long been apt at nailing the disenchantment that comes with the realization that the American Dream may be just that — a dream. But in the warmth of Bulat’s soft delivery and the beauty of the chords she plays, there’s hope … if only for a moment.

No. 4 “Joan of Arc” from the album “Reflektor” by Arcade Fire

In this ode to Régine Chassagne, his wife and fellow band member, Win Butler pours his heart out. Arcade Fire have never been conformists, and no one in the band may embody that more than Chassagne, a multi-instrumentalist and music prodigy who grew up in Haiti and emigrated to Canada during the dictatorship of François Duvalier. Fans wasted little time in making Chassagne their villain as the band took on a more experimental tone following the success of the albums “Neon Bible” and “Funeral.” They slowly began to dismount their collective high horse, however, with the release of Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), a high point from the Grammy-winning “The Suburbs” and one featuring Chassagne on lead vocals. It’s a shame they were slow to come around: the songstress is a rare talent and one whose roots in jazz add an unbending grace to the band’s often expansive and hybrid sound. On “Joan of Arc,” Butler declares he’ll always follow his muse. You’ve got good taste, Win. She’s a keeper.

No.5 “Diane Young” off the album “Modern Vampires of the City” by Vampire Weekend

This song has been fodder to numerous interpretations since its release last summer. Some have said it’s about a girl. That might be the case. To me, “Diane Young” is far more intriguing as a homophone for dying young. When Ezra Koenig sings “You got the luck of a Kennedy, so grab the wheel / And keep holding it tight, ’til you’re tottering off into that good night,” I found myself in a brief state of morbidity, thinking Chappaquiddick, anyone? I’ve long felt a great song’s finest attribute leaves the listener contemplative, and few songs I heard last year achieved this more than “Diane Young.”

No. 6 “Queenie Eye” from the album “New” by Paul McCartney

Fifty years on, the old master is still churning out stellar pop songs at a breakneck clip. Part Beatles, part Wings, all McCartney, “Queenie Eye” is fast, catchy and reverberating. It’s pop music at its finest.

No. 7 “Hopeless Wanderer” from the album “Babel” by Mumford and Sons

I was never really sure where the banjo-strumming Brits were going with this song. Lyrically it’s beautiful. But it’s also annoyingly cryptic. Maybe it’s about love, a fear of love or finding your place in the world. In the end, does it really matter? It’s a corker of a song — worthy of any playlist — and its third-act explosion of rock and bluegrass is a foot-stomping treat.

No. 8 “Sirens” from the album “Lightning Bolt” by Pearl Jam

“Sirens,” a reflective and hypnotic ballad, is one of the best from the ’90s grunge gods turned rock mainstays. Older and wiser, front man Eddie Vedder croons about love, while Mike McCready’s punchy guitar solo alludes to the darker side of romance.

No 9. “Get Lucky” from the album “Random Access Memories” by Daft Punk feat. Pharrell and Nile Rodgers.

This funk-infused summer jam is as good and as catchy as a great pop song gets. Granted, I could do without the auto tune effect — a reminder of why disco was a significant down period in music — but that’s a minor criticism. “Get Lucky” makes me want to dance. Vocally, Pharrell hits it out of the park. The song is a testament to his skill as a producer, while also hinting at what still remains an untapped eminence as a recording artist.

And Chic founder Nile Rodgers is no less than jubilant on guitar.

No. 10 “The Outsiders” from the album “Outsiders” by Eric Church

I am not one for modern country, but I couldn’t help myself with this bold and rebellious anthem. In what feels like a sequel to “Beast,” Nico Vega’s unapologetic statement on today’s America, “The Outsiders” is the heaviest “country” song I have heard in years. A fusion of country, rock and metal, Church has crafted a jam likely to long echo through the shadows of a late-summer night at the lake, as a nearby campfire spits and a cooler sweats.

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