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Listening: ‘Ctrl’ by SZA.

Photo from Rolling Stone magazine.

Morning! I am still very much dealing with stress and grief, and I think it’s safe to say I’ve entered whatever stage messes with my sleep. I’ve been having nightmares nearly every night, and even on the weekends, I can’t seem to get on a sleep schedule that leaves me feeling rested.

But still, I am working to comfort myself by looking to things that have comforted me in the past. One thing that has always helped me is music, so I have been scouring the shelves of my local library’s CD collection and checking out whatever looks good.

A few months ago, I bought a few songs on iTunes from SZA, and decided to get her entire album, “Ctrl” at the library so I could feel it out before buying.

“Ctrl” is SZA’s debut album and it was released in the summer of 2017. It’s mostly R&B, but definitely has hints of soul. I would venture to say she’s got a bit of an Amy Winehouse sound (that is so difficult for me to admit, if you have ANY idea how much I love Ms. Winehouse), and she’s not afraid to come out and say whatever is on her mind.

After releasing many singles from the album, including “Broken Clocks”, “The Weekend”, and “Drew Barrymore”, “Ctrl” went Platinum as of March 2018 – hitting more than 1 million sales.

Last year, SZA was nominated for 5 Grammy awards, but walked away empty-handed. According to an interview she did with GQ magazine (read it here), SZA was “mad as hell” she lost, especially the Best New Artist award, which was (wrongfully) given to Alessia Cara.

But of course, she didn’t create the album to succeed at the Grammy’s, and this is precisely why Grammy Awards don’t matter – everyone loves mediocrity… don’t even get me started.

Even after listening to the album, “Broken Clocks” remains to be one of my favorite tracks, but I also love “Normal Girl”. “The Weekend” is one I’d love to dance to in my stiletto class, and I do like the very first song, “Supermodel”.

I ain’t had a smoke break
In about two days don’t break
Been about three years since I dated you
Why you still talking ’bout me like we together?
I moved on for the better
You moved on to whoever

-SZA, Broken Clocks

SZA has a very unique voice and style, and I’m excited to see what else we hear from her (there is a rumor that she will be collaborating with Missy Elliott).

On another note, I do want to throw something out into the universe that I have been grappling with for some time now, and that’s telling people “no.” I don’t mean telling people “no” in the sense of making plans that I’m too busy to have or taking on too much work, I mean telling people no because I am really just not interested in a relationship with that person.

For whatever reason, I keep getting confronted (often in front of other people) by the same person about spending time together and I feel like I have tried everything – explaining how I felt offended by things that happened between us, blocking phone numbers, posting things on Instagram about rude things they’ve said to me, ignoring them to their face, skirting invitations to hangout… I am at a loss here.

I don’t want to be mean, but I am also not trying to force friendships. I truly feel like I have nothing in common with this person, and I do not want to go to lunch, or discuss books, or even talk. I am just not interested.

Why am I struggling with this? Because I feel like everyone else loves this person and, well, I do not. I’m not going to get into reasons why, but I just cannot shake the anxiety that comes from this situation. Has anyone else dealt with something like this?

Either way, I’ll figure it out.

I’ve got another book to review this week and I think you guys are going to love it – see you then!

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Listening: ‘Traveller’ by Chris Stapleton.

This album was the last one in my pile I gathered at the library last month. I was searching for new tunes to keep me distracted enough from crying every time I got into my Jeep to go somewhere.

If you’ve listened to Chris Stapleton’s debut album, “Traveller”, you probably know how and why it ended up on the bottom of my pile. I was driven to check it out from the library after seeing a news feature about Stapleton on “Sunday Today” (my favorite news program).

The feature aired the morning of the Grammy’s, as Stapleton was nominated. It also covered the entirety of his career, a major highlight being his performance of “Tennessee Whiskey” with Justin Timberlake at the 2015 Country Music Awards.

I will admit it was a moment that caught my ear and put Stapleton on my radar – his sound was bluesey, and that’s something I love.

But Stapleton has shared his story about his very popular debut; a piece of work he created after his father died in 2013. He took a road trip across the country with his wife, stretching across the West in an old Jeep.

Today marks one month since my dad passed away, and listening to this album over these last few weeks has been half-difficult and half-cathartic. Above all, I admire Stapleton for putting such raw emotions into a beautiful piece of art that will be enjoyed by many for years to come.

That’s the thing about being a creator – some of the best stuff comes from the darkest of places, and can be so helpful and rewarding to others.

The title track is one of my favorites, and honestly makes me think of every road trip I’ve ever taken – it’s upbeat, nostalgic, and it just gives me this image of driving with the windows down, overlooking a vast desert. I love it.

My heartbeat’s rhythm is a lonesome sound
Just like the rubber turning on the ground
Always lost and nowhere bound
I’m just a traveler on this earth

There’s a lot of talk of whiskey on this album; from “Tennessee Whiskey”, “Whiskey and You” and “Parachute”, it seems dark, but is probably honest.

My other favorite track has to be “Sometimes I Cry” – it basically sums up my life lately, and it was so bare and raw I can’t help but love it.

The entire Stapleton sound reminded me so much of Marc Broussard, an artist I’ve admired for many years. I don’t know who came first, but they have fantastic similarities.

I’m looking forward to checking out more of Stapleton’s music – I know there’s a few more albums to listen to for me to catch up. Blues music can bring out those deep cuts – it’s not pop music. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear, but there are times for that, too.

This month has been so hard, this week probably being one of the worst. When all of life’s distractions fall to the side, I’m sort of left with a feeling of what to do next. For now, I’m going through the motions, going easy on myself, and I’m starting to get a few things in an order I can appreciate.

On Thursday, I was half-listening to a webinar, when I heard a few things that caught my attention: “Your best work comes from a place of elegant excellence.”

Hmm… perhaps there’s some truth to that.

I’ve had so many memories and thoughts swirling around in my head, I’m due for a journaling session. I’ve got a few ideas brewing and I know I’m on the brink of something big – something that may help heal, too.

There are days that I can walk around like I’m alright
And I pretend to wear a smile on my face
And I could keep the pain from comin’ out of my eyes
But sometimes, sometimes,
Sometimes I cry
                               -Chris Stapleton

Listening: ‘Pain Killer’ by Little Big Town.

Continuing on my journey of listening to country albums form 2014… I’ve been jamming out to Little Big Town’s “Pain Killer” the past few weeks.

This was the first album from Little Big Town that I’ve listened to, and really the only song from them I’d paid much attention to was “Girl Crush”, which is track 5 on the album.

Although I like “Girl Crush”, I ended up liking a few songs even more! My favorite song on this album is “Stay All Night” and I could see it being my summer anthem for… well, the rest of my life.

Oh, wish this drink would never end
Hell, I just caught my second wind
Why don’t the good stuff ever last
It comes and goes and it goes so fast
They’re shuttin’ it down and turn on the lights, yeah
Wish we could stay all night

I also really enjoyed “Day Drinking” – “Don’t want to wait til the sun’s sinking, We could be feeling all right, I know you know what I’m thinking, Why don’t we do a little day drinking.” This song reminds me of game days, and also anytime I’ve been on a boat. It’s a fun track.

“Good People” is another lighthearted one, and it was fun to sing along to. And finally, I love “Live Forever”, even though it made me tear up a few times – it’s a beautiful song and I found it got stuck in my head a lot.

One cool thing about Little Big Town is that the group is comprised of so many different voices, each track has a little bit of a different sound. Of course, that doesn’t work out well if you’re not a fan of everyone in the group, but I liked it.

The tracks were fun, but they were also soulful at times, and I heard a few hints of Bonnie Raitt in there that I really enjoyed.

Little did I know that “Pain Killer” is the groups’ 6th album, so it looks like I’ve got some catching up to do – I’ll have to check and see what the library has in stock!

Listening: ‘Platinum’ by Miranda Lambert.

A semi-oldie but a real GOODIE.

It should come as no surprise that I’ve been going through some tough times lately, and one of the most difficult things for me has been driving in my car – I cry all the time in my car.

I realize how pathetic this sounds, and it is frustrating for me because I’ve always enjoyed taking drives – just for the sake of it – especially when my mind needs clearing. But, as I’ve mentioned, things that once worked for me aren’t really working anymore, so I’m left searching for new solutions.

Which brings me to this 2014 Miranda Lambert album. I thought that maybe if I changed the atmosphere within my Jeep – I’d do a little less crying. So, when I went on my most recent library trip, I dug through their selection of country CDs.

I knew the songs from a total bad ass such as Ms. Lambert would help me.

I didn’t grow up on country music, but I came to love it the summer I left Indiana and headed South. I have always admired the soul behind the songs, and when country went “nautical”, I love dreamin’ about the beach while listening (and sippin’ a cold beer).

I have been honored to interview many country legends (ahem, Tracy Lawrence) including Ms. Lambert, during a nationwide tour when she was married to Blake Shelton. She remains to be one of my country favorites for her ability to stay strong, and show her true roots. I love that about her!

While I hadn’t heard “Platinum” in its entirety, I’d heard hits such as “Little Red Wagon” and “Automatic”, both of which I love.

You can’t ride in my little red wagon
The front seat’s broken and the axel’s dragin’
No you can’t step to this backyard swagger

My favorite song has to be “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” featuring Little Big Town – it’s totally nostalgic and has all the fixins of a perfect country song (smokin, drinkin, love, and campfires).

But even though Lambert and Shelton didn’t announce their divorce until mid 2015 – this record makes it OBVIOUS that things were on the rocks between them. Take into consideration the lyrics of “Priscilla”?

Priscilla, Priscilla
He’s always in high demand
How do you or don’t you get the love you want when everybody wants your man?
It’s a difficult thing being Queen to the King
And I feel ya
Priscilla

It’s a fun track, but I heard that and knew it had to be written about her marriage troubles (especially since Lambert was his mistress in a previous marriage).

My other two favorite songs are “Somethin’ Bad”, which is a duet with Carrie Underwood, and “Another Sunday in the South”, a hazy song about day drinkin’ and night fishin’ (what more could you want in life?!).

Overall, this is a fun, well-rounded album. I’ve been listening to it all week (and have not been crying), and I realized I needed to listen to the other CDs I picked up: one of Little Big Town and one from Chris Stapleton.

You’ll be seeing my reviews of those, too!

Review: ‘The Search for Everything’.

John Mayer’s latest album, “The Search for Everything”.

I’m so excited for today – a new semester of my Blog Class kicks off at UT – plus, we’re halfway through the week! I know I was pret-ty skeptical of John Mayer’s latest album a few months ago, when we were only given a measly four songs per month.

But, now that it’s been released in its entirety (I actually got a free copy with the purchase of a concert ticket), and I’ve had a chance to listen to it – in my car and in my earbuds – and have heard a few songs from it live, I think I’ve got a grasp on my opinions.

From the jump, in general: I like it. Is it my favorite album? Nope. But there are definitely some gems that cannot (and will not) be ignored in the entirely of Mayer’s career. Here’s my take.

Best song: In the Blood 

If you’re looking for one of those typical John Mayer songs that’s got genius lyrics and is going to cleverly teach you some life lessons, THIS is the one.

Although we’ve been told from Mayer before that he’s aware of his ways (you know what I’m talking about), this song really seems to drive it home, while also discussing his family life – which he’s alluded to in a few previous songs.

“In the Blood” has been released to country radio stations as his next single.

How much of my father am I destined to become?
Will I dim the lights inside me just to satisfy someone?
Will I let this woman kill me, or do away with jealous love?
Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?

I can feel the love I want, I can feel the love I need
But it’s never gonna come the way I am
Could I change it if I wanted, can I rise above the flood?
Will it wash out in the water, or is it always in the blood?

I still really like “Love on the Weekend”, and it will probably remain to be a favorite of mine – I’ve had too many long distance relationships and understand what he’s singing about all TOO well.

There’s two upbeat tracks that are really fun: “Still Feel Like Your Man” (which Mayer admitted was about Katy Perry), and “Moving On and Getting Over”, which I had the pleasure of hearing live. It was fantastic. Many critics said this album was Mayer’s “return to pop”, but I disagree, and I think these two tracks are fair proof that he’s still going his own way.

And finally, there’s “Rosie”, which reminds me of early 90’s Lenny Kravtiz – loungey blues with desperate love lyrics. It’s catchy as hell, and makes for a good ear worm.

Yes, there’s a few other tracks stuffed in… and they may as well go forgotten. I’m not even going to pretend like a song titled “Emoji of a Wave” is worth my shit. Not even for John Mayer.

It’s no “Battle Studies”, but I definitely feel like we got a lot of hype for this one that was perhaps unwarranted. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll hold me over, but I can’t help but wonder if Mayer is suffering from a little bit of writer’s block.

In albums’ passed, we’ve gone on a journey with him over heartbreak (admittedly the ones we saw play out in the tabloids), his life as a famous person (before moving West), his family, and his struggle with getting older.

But is his journey over? His life is quiet now, and although that’s good for him, it sometimes isn’t good for the art. Been there, done that.

We were spoiled with the release of “Born and Raised” and then right afterward (#blessed) with “Paradise Valley”. It miiight be awhile before we hear from Mayer again, despite his claims that he’s got a vault of songs that were meant for “The Search for Everything”.

Guess we’ll see…