Tripping to the Music

So I just spent six hours alone in a car today, driving back home after taking the family for an extended trip to grandma’s house, and I was able to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes, listening to music in the car. Outside of putting on a pair of headphones in the middle of the night and marveling at the stereo separation in my vintage jazz collection, this is perhaps my favorite way of listening to music.

So what did I listen to, you might ask? I only took four CDs with me on the trip, with the knowledge that I’d be flying solo on the return trip, but they were my own ‘mix’ CDs, taken directly off this very laptop, of various songs downloaded in 2007 from blogs like Aquarium Drunkard, Stereogum, and elsewhere. Since I literally burned them the morning we left town, there wasn’t really any rhyme, reason, or forethought to their arrangement other than how many tracks would fit on each 80 minute CD-R.

Popping the first one in as I pulled out of my in-law’s driveway, I was pleased to hear the Blue Mountain classic, “Blue Canoe,” an old favorite I’d looked up online after a great show here earlier this year, followed by another of theirs, “Jimmy Carter,” which reminded me just how few really good men (or women, for that matter) are involved in politics any more.

A batch of Gram Parsons-related tunes from the Burrito Brothers, etc., followed as my trek parallelled the southern edge of the Shenandoah Valley, and they somehow fit the scene, with mountains in the distance and a long highway stretched out in front of me. It wasn’t the desert west, but on Christmas Day it was pretty deserted territory nonetheless.

That first CD got me almost to Danville and the Virginia/North Carolina line, which meant I was making good time even after hearing Band Of Horses, “Funeral,” and, “Is There A Ghost,” back to back, egging me on and daring me to bump up the cruise control over that safe margin of five miles over the posted limit. I’ve been traveling too long on unfamiliar out-of-state highways to take the chance on a cranky local cop working the holiday, however.

Some of what was on the second and third CD I didn’t even recognize, either the artist or the song, which means I downloaded a lot of stuff I never actually listened to this year. Most of it was pretty good, however, which says a lot for the filtering effect the sites listed above afford even a dedicated seeker of good music like me, not to mention the casual online music fan. There were gruff, baritone voices doing their best Jay Farrar impersonations, Josh Ritter and a live version of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” which sounded eerily identical to the original, at least in the beginning, and some Violent Femmes obscurities that I don’t remember downloading, though I instantly recognized Gordon Gano’s quavery voice.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings kept me alert on I-85’s most tricky stretch, where it goes from three to two lanes and back a couple of times, with the funky, soulful title track from her 2007 album, “100 Days, 100 Nights,” and the Black Crowes offshoot Foamfoot gave me a sing-along chance with their takes on “Take The Highway,” and, “In The Presence Of the Lord.”

Just as the trek was entering its final I-77 leg, the fourth disc offered up a treasure trove of 60’s garage rock rarities, the kind of songs you’d swear you’ve heard before even though you know you haven’t. I think Aquarium Drunkard posted this stuff in several batches, all of which I apparently drank up, to have it rev me up at a most opportune time.

As that last disc ended, I was less than ten miles from home, having enjoyed an almost perfectly timed selection of songs culled from the past fifty-plus years, all found online for free, and about as legal as anything like that gets these days. With a new year approaching, it’s time to get busy downloading stuff for next year’s trip discs, I suppose.

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