TS10

TS10: Sometimes

I fell in love with King’s X back in 1991. I loved their gut-level honesty and creativity. One of their early songs, Sometimes, is included in this week’s TS10. I love the tension is the song. I can relate to it. Stuck in the give and take of already/not yet. Hope deferred. Conflict in the pursuit of peace.

Those kinds of tensions are familiar to the TS10 and this week’s edition is no different. Take a listen and feel the tension. Maybe engaging in it will unlock some healing and/or freedom for you.

-Ed

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TS10

Tomme Suab’s 2017: Honors and the TS2017

Image above is entitled “Transition” and is featured courtesy of the artist, Denise Presnell (oil on canvas).

It’s been quite a year, huh? For a lot of us, 2017 cannot end quickly enough. Over the course of the year, I’ve touched on some of the stimuli potentially driving some of our eagerness to get to January 1. However, despite all the hard, there has been good as well, not the least of which has been deeply talented and creative artists making beautiful and provocative music. With that truth in mind, I want to take a moment to reflect on some of that music, especially the artists, experiences, and recordings which impacted Tomme Suab most significantly over the course of 2017, starting with some year-end honors.

2017 Tomme Suab Artist of the Year: Sylvan Esso

From Sylvan Esso’s Facebook page

Admittedly, I am late to the Sylvan Esso bandwagon. Back in 2014, I featured a track from their self-titled debut album on one of the very first TS10 playlists. However, I just couldn’t get into their music. Can’t explain it, but it just wasn’t speaking to me then.

Things have changed over the last three years. When I learned they would be playing at the third annual Eaux Claires festival this past June, I figured I ought to give it another go. Pretty soon, that first album was in regular rotation in my personal playlist. Their defiant spirit and pulsing sound took me prisoner and I’m still sitting in that cell. My fandom was cemented when I saw them play at the festival. Standing there in the midst of a crowd of thousands, this overweight, 40-something couldn’t help but move. So much energy. So much vivacity.

Their second release from earlier this year, What Now, has grabbed ahold of me more recently , sealing the “Artist of the Year” deal. Another great record full of creativity and emotional highs and lows. All of these factors combined, there’s no musician or band who has impacted Tomme Suab more in 2017 than Sylvan Esso.

2017 Tomme Suab Song of the Year: “Who We Are” by Gungor

There are several Gungor tracks which have grabbed my heart over the years (Beautiful Things, The Beat of Her Heart, and I Am Mountain among them), but none more so than Who We Are. This one, released this last summer, hit the proverbial spot for me. The right song done in the right way at precisely the right time.

The central question in the song, which is featured in the TS2017 playlist below, is “Will those who say they follow Jesus actually live up to those words?” The song represents a timely, poignant, and perhaps even prophetic question. As one who attempts to be like Jesus as much as I can, this question could not be more pertinent. The central human being in history, the one who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble, the embodiment of love, who calls us to love our neighbors, the strangers, the prisoners, the sick… the generally downtrodden, is the model for all who say they follow him.

And yet, here in America, we see the Evangelical church (again, among those who say they follow Jesus), playing a pivotal role in electing perhaps the most un-Jesus-like President in our history, a person who denigrates women, makes fun of people with physical disorders, and mongers fear and hatred against those who are not like him (the very downtrodden who Jesus loves and values). We, the church, have defended and made excuses for his behavior. We stand with his unbridled hubris and claim that he is more overt about Jesus than previous Presidents (thank you, Franklin Graham). We should be ashamed of ourselves. We are standing on the wrong side of history once again (just as we did during the 18th and 19th centuries when it came to slavery, just like we’ve done in our historical treatment and “Christianization” of native peoples, just like we did during the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century and on and on and on. More importantly, we are not aligning with the one we say we want to be like.

Gungor, not standing in a place of judgment or ridicule but in the midst of the Evangelical American church, calls us to question these things in Who We Are. It challenges the church to set aside it’s political allegiances and learn to love once again. It asks, “Will we be who we’ve always said we are?”, intimating the vast disparity between the love we are supposed to embody just as Jesus did and the hate and fear we support politically as well as the apathy we show toward those who Jesus treasures. For all these reasons, Who We Are grabbed a hold of my heart like no other song this year.

2017 Tomme Suab Album of the Year: J.E. Sunde’s “Now I Feel Adored”

There is no question that J.E. Sunde is a TS favorite. I am a fan of just about everything the man makes. In 2017, Sunde released Now I Feel Adored, his brilliant sophomore solo album and it did not disappoint.

His vocal prowess is on display from the very beginning as Monica Martin from PHOX joins him on I Will Smile When I Think of You and continues throughout, never more evident than in My Attempts to Grow a Beard. Sunde’s committed focus on detail and precision, as well as phenomenal craftsmanship, is pervasive and virtually palpable. But it’s his lyrical content that brings all of it together for me and makes it a beautiful package. I won’t go into great detail here as I shared my thoughts on the record earlier this year here on TS. Suffice to say, the groaning of Prism, the hope of Called By Our Names, the romance of Color Your Nails, the strained apathy of Fire on the Mountain, and the passion of Wedding Ring, along with various other themes and feels, make for a powerful record. And there was no record that spoke to me as deeply as this one.

 

The TS2017

The following ten songs, in one way or another, have held sway and depth of meaning for TS over the course of 2017. Below the playlist is a brief description of some of that sway and meaning.

Sylvan Esso, “Kick Jump Twist”

Please see above. Sylvan Esso makes even this old guy want to kick, jump, twist.

Gracie and Rachel, “Tiptoe”

I’ve just been getting to know Gracie and Rachel’s music this past year. While I LOVE what I have heard from them overall, Tiptoe is special for me as it served as an introduction to their music. Dramatic, intense, morose… I’ll have more to say about them soon from an TS-exclusive interview.

David Bowie, “Blackstar”

I’ve always had immense respect for David Bowie. Honestly, I think he was a genius. Having said that, I haven’t always stayed current on his releases. The album Blackstar, released in 2016, didn’t really hit my personal radar until early 2017, about a year after Bowie’s death. The titular track immediately seized my attention and simply did not let go. It is an epic (a little less than ten minutes long) and encapsulates so much of what I like about David Bowie’s music.

Gungor, “Who We Are”

Please see above.

Soundgarden, “Jesus Christ Pose”

R.I.P. to one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time, Chris Cornell. And, for what it’s worth, there something in this song which speaks to some of what’s wrong with the Evangelical church.

Solange, “F.U.B.U.”

I hate the “n” word, always have. And, full disclosure here, I don’t understand black folks calling each other by that name. I don’t get it. And, I think that’s the point of this song. Solange released A Seat at the Table on the same day as Bon Iver’s 22, A Million in September, 2016. Because of my obsession with Bon Iver’s record, I didn’t jump into Solange’s record right away. This song encapsulates well the mix of creativity and the roiling discomfort the entire album brings. And, for this guy, that roiling discomfort happened much in 2017.

Jetty Rae, “Can’t Curse the Free”

The spiritual defiance in this song resonates deeply with me. The darkness has no right over the free. Preach it, sister!

Jessie Smith – “Been in the Storm”

This song is great in and of itself. But, it also serves as a great reminder of the fun I had connecting this artist with local venues here in the Chippewa Valley and spending a little time with her and her husband. Good, good people (and AWFULLY talented).

Leon Bridges – “River”

Oh man… this song. What a beautiful song. Originally released in 2015, I had not been exposed to River until a buddy of mine pointed me in it’s direction earlier this year. There is both universal and personal truth here… there’s blood on my hands and my lips are unclean… take me to your river, I wanna go.

J.E. Sunde – “Called By Our Names”

Redemption and hope. That’s this song. Dreams of a day in which all is made right, when shalom reigns. Let it be so.

NOW, onto 2018!!

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Album Releases, Artist Focus

Getting Swampy With Jessie Smith

A couple of years ago, I came across an EP on NoiseTrade from an artist named Jessie Smith. Having been raised on sweet tea and hot, steamy summer days, the southern vibes of Smith’s sound were immediately appealing. I especially connected with the rawness and grit of her single, Secrets in the Hollow. I felt so engaged by the song that I included it on one of Tomme Suab’s weekly TS10  playlists.

Normally, when I share an artist’s music on the TS10, I start following them on social media. For what it’s worth, Smith is a “fun follow” on Twitter; funny, self-deprecating, and honest. Last summer, she tweeted about performing in Wisconsin. I replied back to her, telling her she really ought to get up to Eau Claire next time she’s in this neck of the woods. Thankfully, she’s planning to come up this way in August as she tours the upper midwest promoting her newly released album, Like the Sun.

Like the Sun is more of what drew me to Secrets in the Hollow (which is included on the record). As I mentioned above, having grown up in Dixie, I love the southern soul I hear throughout. That sound is what Smith would call “swampy.” I’ve been curious about that label and recently asked Smith about that as well as other aspects of her music and new release.

EH: Where does the “swampy” vibe come from? What drives that sound for you?

JS: I grew up in the hot, marsh-y, traditional south. Music in that neck of the woods was bendy, dirty, soulful, and used acoustic instruments. It was all about coming together and playing together. Though my immediate family was not musical, all the influences outside of them were there. In college, I tried on many different “styles” of music, but this swampy, messy, soulful thing was always what clicked with me the most. It also fit with my personality. I love the messy, darker life stuff, and I write from that place a good bit. And swampy-sounding music allows me to be the messy-deep chick I am on the inside. 

Image from Jessie Smith’s website

EH: What are your lyrics based on? What inspires them?

JS: I don’t write songs one particular way. The one thread that stays the same, though, is vulnerability. I figured if I’m going to write something, it better at least be real. I am always trying to understand the meaning of things. “Sitting Pretty” is my attempt to understand the culture of money and the pressures around it. My song, “Here With You” is about marriage and what I am trying to understand about love. I also have written songs about my struggles with depression, and “In The Morning” and “Lighting Up The World” shows this. I basically lay myself bare for my songs.

EH: What song on the record is the most meaningful to you?

JS: SUCH a hard one to answer! It’s a tie between two. “Been In The Storm” because it was one of the first songs I had written in my beloved “swampy” style, and it really solidified the theme of my music career. And “Take A Chance On Me” because that one was the first song I wrote that kind of wrote itself, and I still get chills singing it.

EH: How has the album been received thus far?

JS: It is doing well! I had some great album reviews on No Depression and a few other music blogs, and that was a great surprise. My favorite thing has been hearing from people who appreciate my rawness – it’s scary putting yourself out there on a stage, but there’s just no other way to do it, in my opinion, and to see it being well received makes me have hope in the world again, ha.

EH: Do you have any specifics yet on your potential visit to Eau Claire?

JS: I am currently looking to book shows in Eau Claire and surrounding areas for the first week of August. I am already booked to play for Band On The Sand on Crater Island in Brownsville, MN, August 4th and 5th.

You can catch some of her swampy vibe by checking out Like the Sun for yourself. You can stream or buy it by clicking the appropriate links on Smith’s homepage. And, if you’re in Wisconsin or Minnesota, plan to see Smith play live at the event in Brownsville (close to LaCrosse) or in Eau Claire.

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