For many, Billboard’s Top 100 used to be the way to go. Remember the days of tuning in to Casey Kasem and the Weekly Top 40 on the FM dial?
For me, it was the way I spent my weekends, transitioning at the age of 10 from Saturday morning cartoons to Saturday or Sunday morning radio with my little casette player Casio radio. Funnily enough, my 10th birthday present, that radio, is now being used by my 10 year-old brother more than a decade later… but he also has a cd player, and I make mix cds for him a couple times a year–oh, how things have changed…
I recently talked with a friend of mine about the ways people are learning about popular music “these days” and I felt a little archaic when she gushed about the things she’s found through iTunes’ top 100. This made me wonder, “Isn’t that what radio was all about once upon a time? Independent stations playing whatever they got their hands on and seeing what struck a chord?” (Music pun fully intended…)
From there, I turned the questions on myself–“Do any of the sites I go to even publish the weekly top tracks? And furthermore, what, exactly, constitutes a popular song on the world wide web, where tiny musical niches can work themselves up into a lather about songs and artists that will never make it on ClearChannel? Lastly, how does folk rock fit into all this?” Then the breakthrough–
Ah, yes, the CMJ charts. The College Music Journal http://cmj.com/charts.php?chart_type=1 gets lists from independent and college radio stations around the country each week and then compiles the findings into a comprehensive list of what’s being played around the U.S. Many of these radio stations are also listened to through online streams and podcasts, meaning that the music on them is still relevant in a world so heavily dependent on the internet.
While there is not a specific CMJ list for the folk rock genre, (as there are, for example, for Hip-Hop, Jazz and Loud Rock) a recent revival in different kinds of folk-influenced rock and independent music has been evidenced on the college charts in artists like Iron & Wine, Devendra Banhart, Sufjan Stevens, Okkervil River, Beirut, Bright Eyes, Great Lake Swimmers, and even in somewhat more pop rock-based acts like Joshua Radin, Josh Ritter, Damien Rice, Vetiver, the Decemberists, Cat Power, Ray Lamontagne and the Weepies.
Additionally, if you visit the CMJ website, found at http://cmj.com/ you will soon discover that, by clicking on the blue header bar titled “Download This” you find yourself at the CMJRelay Staff Blog (also powered by WordPress!) that has attached to it, drumroll please, more than half a dozen excellent free tracks by artists either already in, or soon to be making their appearance on, the CMJ Top 20 chart. Although this week’s offerings are not particularly folk-rocky, being a lover of all kinds of music, I encourage you to check out what they have to offer-you may just be pleasantly surprised…
In looking at this week’s listings, I’d have to say Cotton Jones (currently at #12) is the most folk rock-inspired, but there aren’t any freebies of the group posted on CMJ’s blog, which means I’ll have to jump the gun and introduce you, briefly to Daytrotter (http://daytrotter.com) where there are Cotton Jones tunes and a review available if you visit http://daytrotter.com/article/1559/cotton-jones-basket-ride.
Earlier this month, NPR had Cotton Jones on as a guest…check it out here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100146647
For those of you too lazy to do the prowling yourself, or trusting enough of my taste, below you’ll find a couple of my preferred tracks:
And for the musical trivia junkies out there, Michael Nau is the former lead singer of the indie band Page France. Both groups appeared on Suicide Squeeze records, but Cotton Jones began as a side project for Nau while he was a member of Page France and, for those who are confused, they aren’t Canadian, they’re from Maryland. Additionally, if you ever watched “Weeds,” Page France’s song “Chariot” was featured in an episode in 2006.