Notes – Unplugged Sessions – 2018
Posted on December 22, 2018
Here are some notes on the songs in my year-end play list of Unplugged Sessions. I’ll be revising this entry until such time as this sentence disappears, in case you see additions and changes.
Foreign language songs.
This year’s list includes songs in German, Dutch and Spanish. A few explanatory words might help the English listener.
Let’s start with ‘Zoutelande’ by ‘Blof’. I would have ranked this song much higher, personally. I resisted doing so because of the language barrier. The verses of the song tell a bit of a story about a Dutch couple who have no money for an exotic vacation, so they decide to hang out in her Dad’s cottage in “Zoutelande” and drink his vodka. Vodka in Dutch is pronounced “vodka” so you can listen for that. Sauble Beach, Grand Beach, Elkwater Lake – Canadians will relate to this song well. Catchy song, and the performance is overlaid on to aerial drone shots of the “Zoutelande” area. In the chorus, you’re suddenly there. The sky is grey and your hands are cold, and you decide you love it. You’ll here this one line repeated over and over. “Ik bin blij dat je hier binnt”, which just means, “I’m glad you’re here”. However – in Yoda like Dutch, the word order is “I am glad that you here are”. It works so much better that way. If anyone ever translates this song into English, it must be sung that way.
So that’s the Dutch song. The rest are easier. ‘Fur die liebe’ is a German song. The chorus is powerful, translated as follows:
“I decide for love
And for humanity
Because who is not loved
Stops being human
“I decide for peace
And always listen to my heart
We should start loving each other
I know for sure we are worth this”
The entire translation can be found here –
The song “Nunca es suficiente” means “Nothing is enough [for me]” and is a Spanish love song. It’s by Natalia Lafourcade and presently has 286 million views, the most on our list. Can you believe it? There’s only eight songs on the list with over a million views. If you’re interested, the following videos have attracted over 1 million views: Berge, Natalia Lafourcade, Halsey, Passenger, Sigrid, Blof, Stormzy and Tom Odell.
Low view count videos.
One selection had only 27 views when I found it. That song is ‘Sound’ by Michela Sheedy from Okotoks, Alberta. It’s always great to find a song like that. In fact, most songs under 1000 views are un-noticed for good reason, but there’s plenty of good ones as well. The following videos are currently attracting under 1000 views: Michela Sheedy, Hush Kids, The Sea The Sea, The Maes and River Whyless.
I think it’s important to your level of enjoyment to give a song a chance if it sounds interesting or different to your ear. Pop songs always have a hook for instant appeal. Nothing wrong with Abba. But a song like ‘Game to Lose’ by “I’m with Her” can be more difficult, although not so much if you know the bluegrass genre. Many of the songs on this list will reward on repeat listening. Whereas if I play an Abba track once, I’m good again for a while.
Another bluegrass song I’m wild about is “Golden Embers” by “Mandolin Orange”. The problem here for many listeners is that the simply chording and laid back voice of Andrew Marlin seem, at first blush, mundane. But there’s quite a bit of nuance as there are in many slower bluegrass songs. Listen for the grace notes and gentle harmonies. There’s a superb, haunting instrumental bridge part way through, that I wish was longer. The strength of this song is a melody that endures on repeat listening, tapping a vibe from some higher source that makes you want to listen to it again and again.
Here’s a breakdown of the top 10, and why they are, where they are.
10. Little Changes by Frank Turner with Choir!Choir!Choir! Frank Turner has a great rock singer’s voice, and also knows how to turn a phrase in the songs he writes. This has a great lyric, and has the added bonus of exuberant accompaniment from Choir!Choir!Choir! Notice how the choir members keep casting sideways looks that say, “Isn’t this fantastic, all of us singing along with Frank Turner, and I BELIEVE in what this song is saying!”. Don’t you wish you were there?
9. Zouteland by Blof with Geike Arnaert Catchy song, great lyric, fine voices, and, if you’re Dutch, a very emotional song. In Canada, the wilderness has been identified as our collective Other, in Art and song. In Holland, the Other is the Sea. The Dutch have battled the North Sea for centuries and while the Dutch are wary of it, there’s also a love, caught in the song’s mention of grey skies, cold hands, a tired beach house and the father-in-law’s vodka. These elements form a bond between the couple and also with the enduring North Sea. “Ik ben blij dat je hier bennt”, “I’m so glad that you’re here”, as only the Dutch can fully understand.
8. Us by James Bay A very good song, but it’s the Voice that takes this to the heights.
7. Blinded by your Grace by Stormzy, et al. First, the song itself is an instant classic in the inspirational/ gospel genre. This is a reprise recording, as the original version was top 5 last year. And then, you’ve got Stormzy’s warm expressive voice and personality, and the harmonies of everyone else. Note that the song does not begin until the 1:50 mark.
6. Softly by Rhye There’s no question that Rhye is the top counter-tenor functioning in the indie/folk/world genre today. He has the field. Aside from that this song is smooth, crafted to perfection, original and arresting. Ratchet your brain back a couple of notches in order to maximize your appreciation of all the subtleties going on here.
5. Golden Embers by Mandolin Orange Mandolin Orange is just too laid back. Too laid back for some people to get this, but definitely not too laid back for those who do. Check out their extended ‘Live at Fraser’ set and settle in to catch the vibe. Or put this song on repeat for at least 10 times. Glorious in its melancholy, is it not?
4. Chicago by Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker This is going to become a classic. I know this isn’t quite “unplugged” but Clarke and Walker are an acoustic folk act. And this is the first video they’ve done with even a modicum of production applied. And it has so much going for it: Clarke’s voice, the best performer’s pain lyric since ‘Stage Fright’ and a superb melody. Good, good stuff. (And here’s hoping Clarke and Walker get in to KEXP or Mahogany or one of the youtube channels so that we can hear the rest of their stuff properly.)
3. Like Everybody Else by Lennon Stella Lennon Stella is a 19 year old Canadian star in the making, and this song tells part of what that’s like. Generally, musicians of that age can not articulate what it’s like in lyric, melody and voice, the way Lennon Stella can. So, this is to be listened to, and it’s a grabber.
2. Undertow by Lisa Hannigan Lisa Hannigan’s voice is so entrancing that you almost miss the superb guitar work on this track. Hannigan is building a significant body of musical work, first with the album Passenger and then with the less accessible but musically significant and ambitious album At Flow. This song is from the latter album and aside from the strength of the song and voice, this video is exceptionally well produced.
1. Half as Good as You by Tom Odell with Alice Merton Let’s start here: I don’t care for the sentiment behind this song. It has the same problem as Adelle’s ‘Someone Like You’ . I like to see a bit more anger in my favourite ‘end of relationship’ songs, and an effort to find someone better than the cad that did not work out. Not someone the same, or in this case, only half as good. Aside from that issue, this is a superb pop song. Tom Odell writes well for the piano and has a great, expressive voice. Enough to sell millions, maybe, but what puts this session over the top, is the moment Alice Merton shows up to sing “I kissed a stranger in the hallway late last night …” Great line, great voice, over the moon moment.