Round Up Ready: Jolene Edition

This post is going to be a bit different from the usual fare, but hopefully enjoyable none the less. I am not sure what it is but the Dolly Parton and the song Jolene have seemingly been popping up a lot lately. Last week I was watching the PBS American Masters special Johnny Carson: King of Late Night, and it featured a clip of that famous interview with Dolly Parton. Earlier this week at trivia one of the questions was about the name of the first cloned sheep, the name of course was Dolly, as a tribute to Dolly Parton (note: if you are looking for the connection, the clone was derived from a mammary cell). Then today on CBC Radio 2 Drive with Rich Terfry, he had a segment called Junk in the Trunk where he looked back at the history of Dolly Parton and her split from Porter Wagoner and how that led to the amazing songs Jolene and I Will Always Love You. That same story has also been brilliantly told by Drunk History, as seen in the clip below (thanks for the tip Paddy!)

The song Jolene is quite beautiful, and NPR recently did a story on the song. The song is fairly simple, it only has 200 words, and a lot of those are repeated. But as Dolly herself notes in that NPR piece it is the very simplicity, along with the song’s haunting melody, that makes the character of “Jolene” and indeed the song itself, so memorable. Perhaps a true measure of how great a song really is, is to look at how other musicians respond to it. Jolene is quite loved by many musicians, and has been covered and interpreted many times over, including but not limited to Alison Krauss, Olivia Newton-John, Miley Cyrus, Mindy Smith, The Cast of Glee,  The Sisters of Mercy, and my personal favorite The White Stripes who, as you can see below, have made the song a staple in their sets.

While all of those covers are pretty great, they just can’t live up to the original, even when that original is slowed down by 25%

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The Indie Rock Roots of Alternative Comedy

The term alternative comedy is perhaps as over used and misunderstood as alternative music. Alternative comedy has been loosely defined as comedy where the audience has no pre-set expectations about the crowd, and vice versa. McSweeney’s offers a helpful FAQ for understanding alternative comedy. The current, working definition of alternative comedy was perfectly captured in the 2005 documentary The Comedians of Comedy, where Patton OswaltZach GalifianakisBrian Posehn and Maria Bamford took their unique brand of comedy and toured across the US, performing not at traditional comedy clubs, instead performing at smaller venues typically associated with indie rock.

By tapping into these smaller venues, these alternative comedians were able to gain followers that would typically support indie rock bands, a younger, more enthusiastic, and loyal (read: rabid) fanbase. As comedians took to these smaller, indie rock venues they became increasingly like indie rock musicians. But there in lies the rub of being an alternative or indie anything, with increased attention and fame, it is harder to maintain those indie credentials. Take for example the backlash from the past two years of the Polaris Music Prize where there was considerable shock and mild outrage that such big/mainstream acts, Arcade Fire in 2011 and Feist in 2012, won the award normally reserved for smaller more indie bands. So a question for some is whether alternative comedy and comedians can stay in style and keep alternative, or punk, without sacrificing the things that got them there, or moving into offending without purpose territory (great insights by Robin Ince on ‘its just a joke’ mentality, and comedy and offensiveness).

One comedian who has always had that alternative/indie/punk attitude is Tig Notaro. Notaro has had an incredibly difficult year to say the least, but has been dealing with the news of her recent cancer diagnosis in a very open, graceful, and humorous way. The performance where Notaro broke the news of her diagnosis is now available through Louis C.K.’s website. Tackling uncomfortable issues in an honest and humorous way will always be a mark of great comedy, and will never go out of style.

Music Awareness

One of my favourite music tracking websites is The site keeps track of your listening habits, recommends songs and artists you might like, and can put you in touch with other users with similar tastes. It turns out that the data generated by can also be mined for determining the musical trendsetting cities. A recent study examined  the hypothesis that some cities are consistently early adopters of new music, and are equally early to snub stale music. They tested this hypothesis using the geographic data and methods previously used to detect leadership in Flock of Seagulls  flocks of birds. The data is visualized below,

Leader-follower network between 20 cities in the USA and Canada with the largest number of users. The edges point from followers to leaders and are weighted by the lagged correlation.

The authors found that Atlanta has a significant contribution as being a musical trendsetting city, largely based on the predominance of hip-hop music. For some reason the authors were surprised by the prominent position of the Canadian cities, and make in my opinion a false statement saying that “New York City is presumably home to more prominent indie artists than Montreal.” While it is no doubt true that NYC may have more bands just as a result of sheer population, I think a lot needs to be said of the quality of Canadian indie groups, and not the quantity.

One of the neat things about this study is that the data used is freely available by This inspired me to examine some of my music listening habits from the data on my profile (this is based on music just played through iTunes, and doesn’t take into account my ipod, streaming radio, or cd listening – but is still pretty representative)

My top 5 most listened to artists (since joining on October 29, 2007):

  1. Old Crow Medicine Show (769)
  2. All of Your Friends (680)
  3. The Decemberists (591)
  4. Arcade Fire (397)
  5. Mumford and Sons (297)

My top 5 most listened to tracks

  1. Loose Change – All of Your Friends (63)
  2. Islands in the Stream – Feist & The Constantines (63)
  3. Local Celebrities Gather at the Watering Hole For A (Pre-Show) Dance Party – All of Your Friends (62)
  4. Un Estado – All of Your Friends (59)
  5. The Slow Descent into Alcoholism – The New Pornographers (57)

My music listening habits go through surges and tend to correspond with pre- and post- musical festival season. My most music heavy month was May 2010 (no doubt in preparation for Bonnaroo)

(My music listening habits)

Road Trip Rhythms

The drive down to Florida was 21 hours, so it afforded the opportunity to listen to lots of great music and podcasts. So here is a quick sampling of my top 5 favourite podcasts (and great individual episodes) that got heavy rotation on the drive to and from Florida

  1. This American Life (Retraction)
  2. Radiolab (The Turing Problem)
  3. Nerdist (Danica McKellar)
  4. Sklarboro Country (Taran Killam)
  5. Star Talk (Cosmic Cuisine)

The Danica McKellar episode of the Nerdist podcast talked about Tom Lehrer and his genius songs, and she sang a portion of “The Countries of the World”, so below is the Animaniacs rendition of the countries of the world,

And Daniel Radcliffe, letting his inner nerd fly singing “The Elements Song”


Surf Sessions

Sorry for the lack of posts, I was in Florida for the past week on a little vacation. I wanted to put up one last surfing post before getting into this weeks topic (Florida), so here goes.

Along with the sense of environmental responsibility, the lifestyle, the fashion, and the food, surf culture also has great music. Early music from Dick DaleThe Beach Boys, and Jan and Dean, set the tone for what would define surf music (Top 100 Surf Songs *note music starts playing when you open the link). Surf music has also evolved to be a little more laid back, less reverb, and less poppy, as exemplified by Jack Johnson and Donovan Frankenreiter. Not all surf music is laid back, the infusion of ska and even metal has made for some very upbeat songs. My favourite surf song of all time comes from the Canadian band, The Planet Smashers.

“Surfin’ in Tofino” is the most played song in my itunes library, in no small part due to my instance on playing it repeatedly on a road trip up  to Tofino a couple of summers ago.

Ending a surf session with Manni at Tofino's Long Beach

Swan Song

Last weeks featured musical artist was the New Pornographers, and this week again features a sort of indie super group, of the folk kind. Daniel, Fred and Julie, consisting of Daniel Romano, Frederick Squire, and Julie Doiron, released a self titled album of folk song standards in 2009 along with a couple of original songs. They have a great, low-fi sound and listening to them is just very comforting. The song that I want to feature is from Fred Squire’s solo work and is titled Pretty Bird. It is a beautiful and sad song, and in tribute here some galleries of pretty birds;

7 Most Beautiful Birds on Earth

10 Most Beautiful Birds

The 20 Most Brilliantly Colored Birds in the World

24 of the Most Beautiful Birds in the World

And that wraps up bird week, enjoy the rest of the weekend!