Todd Burge: My Top Tunes of ’12

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Happy End Year!

WOUB has asked me once again to come up with my top 10 favorite records/musical experiences of the year. We’re talkin’ 2012, and here it goes.

My listening as always has been strongly influenced by some of my friends, my touring experiences and new music I’ve happened to hear on the radio and internet.

Mostly, it comes from the musicians and friends I perform and tour with.

In no particular order:

O’Brien Party of 7, Reincarnation: The Songs of Roger Miller: I’ve loved the works of the late Roger Miller (“King of the Road,” “Dang Me”) since I was about five years old, when my mother would put me down for a nap and play, at my request, Roger Miller’s Greatest Hits. Tim and Mollie O’Brien, Mollie’s husband Rich and their kids (Tim’s two boys, Mollie and Rich’s two girls) have put together a fun and damn good recording of tunes by this classic artist that few are able to cover and do justice. There are some real obscure Miller tunes on here, too.

Favorite tune: “Swiss Maid”

The Carpenter Ants, Ants and Uncles (Featuring Bill Kirchen): Every time I hear the Carpenter Ants live, I think that there isn’t better music anywhere on the planet. This recording is full of swampy soul and grit. The Ants don’t need help, but Bill Kirchen is here on just about every track, and the man cooks. This album, recorded and engineered by Wayne Moss (in the oldest running studio in Nashville) and mixed by Don Dixon, captures them at their best.

Favorite track: “Ling Ting Tong”

The Black Keys, El Camino: I don’t know if it is hip or not to dig The Black Keys and I don’t care. This band, made somewhat famous from TV placements of their music, simply rock and the grooves are irresistible. I’m behind the curve here as this is the first album of theirs that I have downloaded. The music on El Camino makes me feel five years younger and it makes me wanna be 10 years younger. I first heard “Gold on the Ceiling” on WOUB a couple months ago and thought it was the best sounding rock n’ roll I’d ever heard. I’ll think that again and again about other songs, but for now, this is one rocking record in my book.

Current favorite song: “Run Right Back”

Loudon Wainwright III, Older Than My Old Man Now: Loudon Wainwright III has influenced my music for close to 20 years now. His honesty makes me wince at times and he can be serious, dark and hilarious all at the same time. That’s what makes a great tune. I feel like I’m getting away with something with I listen to his music. The same feeling I had when I was 7 years old and my brother bought the soundtrack to Easy Rider. Well, kind of the same. Loudon is now older than his father was when he passed and this work revolves around that notion. I love that he has his kids singing backup on the first tune, “The Here And The Now:”

In the 70s I made it big..

I took a wife, we had some kids

Screwed that up and went on…

In the 80s I started a brand new life

Had another kid, I took another wife

I don’t know why, I’m not sure how

I wined up here to the here and the now

(and then Loudon’s children sing)

He don’t know why, he’s not sure how

He made it here to the here and the now!

Favorite tune: “I Remember Sex”

Arlo Guthrie and the Guthrie Family with Pete Seeger, Clearwater Festival, Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., June, 2012: I was on tour with Tim O’Brien this year and we played some historical folk venues along the way, including Club Passim (Cambridge, Mass.) and Caffe Lena (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.) both in the same week. These venues have been around for decades, hosting such folkies as Dylan, Baez and Seeger. The sound man at Caffe Lena had been working there for 40 years! We ended up at The Clearwater Festival at Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y. Tim and I were weaving through the beautiful highway over Bear Mountain, listening to Dylan’s Bootleg Series on our way to this folk music jewel.

We celebrated the 100th birth year of Woody Guthrie this year, and on that June evening, the past, present and future met on stage. Woody’s grandkids singing his lyrics. Arlo and his kids singing songs that Wilco and Billy Bragg had written with Woody, long after Woody had passed. That is folk music, and this particular festival was the center of the universe for folk music on that perfect June evening. I felt this and I don’t think that is an overblown thought.

At the end, 97-year old Pete Seeger, Woody’s contemporary, joined the Guthries along with his grandson, Tao, and sang and played, fist in air. This music is part of the nervous system of America. We know it whether we know it or not.

Pete Seeger, The Complete Bowdoin College Concert: I downloaded this immediately after the concert mentioned above. Some say Pete Seeger started “the college circuit” after he was blackballed and labeled a communist in the late 1950s. Seeger was, and still is, a walking, talking search engine for the folk music of the world. This recording predates Bob Dylan’s explosion on the folk scene and it is interesting to listen to it with that in mind.

Favorite Song: “Big Rock Candy Mountain”

Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie at 100: Centennial Collection: This is a flat-out amazing 65-song retrospective of Woody’s work. I went on my first beach vacation this year and would take morning walks while the kids swam. I watched a cross-section of America getting away from their troubles as I walked and listened to Woody.

Favorite song: “Riding in my Car”

Tim O’Brien and Darrel Scott, We’re Usually A Lot Better Than This: If the title of the album is true, I’d like to hear that. As Tim and I were leaving the festival mentioned above, he played me some of this recording: A flat-out amazing live set by Tim and Darrell. Darrell, as you may know, is a fine songwriter and performer. He is also, like O’Brien, in high demand as a sideman for many artists. Last year he toured in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy at about the same time Tim was recording with Mark Knopfler. Something crazy cool happens when these two are together.

Favorite performance: “Long Time Gone”

Fresh Air Remembers Hal David: Lyricist Hal David died this year. Best known for his many collaborations with composer Burt Bacharach between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s, many of their songs were recorded by Dionne Warwick, who had a string of hits in the 1960s. I loved listening to him talk to Terry Groce about his collaborations with Bacharach and then digging through his massive catalog.

Favorite Tune: Dionne Warwick’s “Do You Know The Way To San Jose”

Old Man Luedecke, Tender is the Night: This recording by Old Man Luedecke, a banjo player/songwriter from Chester, Nova Scotia, just came to my attention. Down-home and downright real. Even though I’ve never met the man, I feel I know Luedecke, as he basically used the same musicians on this album as I have in the past, and well, he’s singin’ songs I wish I’d written.

Favorite Tune: “Tender is the Night”

Many other recordings, documentaries and shows come to mind, like a performance by Rachel Figley at the Adelphia in November, revisiting John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy and so on, but these are the recordings I’m thinking of most on this particular day.

Over the last two decades, Todd Burge has played everything from alternative rock to bluegrass, performing over 100 shows per year in such diverse venues as CBGB’s, The Country Music Hall of Fame and The Kennedy Center. He resides with his wife Lisa and two young children, Sophia (6) and William (8) in Parkersburg, W.Va. To learn more about Todd and his music, visit