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Good in 10

Over the last few weeks I’ve attempted to create a playlist of ten songs (including one from 2023) that together paint a picture of what “good music” is to me. It was a lot harder to put together than I thought it would be, and I’m sure that I’d end up with a different list if I did it again next year.

Each song was chosen to showcase something I LOVE about music, standing in for other songs and artists that I wish could have made the list. Because of that, some of my favorite songs and artists didn’t make the cut, simply because other songs were better suited to represent my tastes. Whole genres are missing, and that’s a shame. Special shout out to Classic Rock, Musical Theatre, Classic Jazz, Cowboy Country, Ambient Country, Funk, Soul, and electronic music in general. Listen online at

For each song I’ve plucked out one of my favorite lyrics, and I’ve attempted to describe why I think each song is great and in some cases provided a little personal history. Song order isn’t any indication of priority or preference.

Vampire Empire – Big Thief (2023)

You turn me inside out, and then you want me outside in
You spin me all around, and then you ask me not to spin

Vampire Empire is my 2023 song. My son Josiah is a big fan of Adrianne Lenker, the lead singer of Big Thief, and he brought this song to my attention. While Lenker’s solo releases are quiet and lovely (see 2020’s “songs”), Big Thief is rough, dynamic, and raucous—at times almost unhinged. You can FEEL that this is a live recording when you listen. It’s got space and rough edges but never feels wobbly or too tight. While I can’t quite figure out what these lyrics are about, they’re evocative enough that I don’t really mind because to me this song is about energy and dynamism and rawness. Also, that electric guitar tone? I LIKE IT.

Flower Moon – Vampire Weekend (2019)
Father of the Bride (with Steve Lacy, Danielle Haim)

It was the right place, wrong time
Another night at the borderline
Another night in the sway of the flower moon

Father of the Bride is the best arranged, best produced indie rock/pop record that I’ve ever heard, and this is my favorite song on the record. I love the way this song builds upon itself, looping and growing and changing as it progresses. It’s stunning the way the melody is repeated and interpolated throughout, using differing instrumentation and vocal layers. When the bridge comes at 2:40, the swirling woodwinds’ response to the female vocals are a perfect set up for the breakdown and slight re-build. For me, it’s a masterpiece.

Random Rules – Silver Jews (1998)
American Water

I asked the painter why the roads are colored black
He said, “Steve it’s because people leave
And no highway will bring them back”

David Berman is my all-time favorite lyricist. He deftly juggles sincerity, humor, cliche, and surprise in his lyrics in a way that deeply resonates with me. This style of singer-songwriter indie-country has been a favorite of mine for a long time. I saw Silver Jews play in Chicago on a rare tour in 2006 and it was a great show. Sadly, David took his life shortly after releasing a record under the moniker Purple Mountains in 2019. My favorite Silver Jews record is The Natural Bridge (1996). This song stands in for a number of my all time favorite artists working in this vein, notably Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy) and Bill Callahan (Smog). +5 points for any song with pedal steel guitar!

Once – Richard Buckner (1998)

I dreamed of a couple dancing close
and drunk in the spray of lights they made
And once I was dug up, I was sinking
but now I’m longing to be saved

Richard Bucker’s Devotion + Doubt (1997) was the first record I ever loved that was obviously country music. At that time in my life, I had only heard radio country and wasn’t a fan (still not). But Buckner’s voice and poetry snared me and helped me get past my country music misgivings. His voice has an intense gravity—I’ve seen him play a room with just a guitar and you could hear a pin drop. I didn’t realize it when I created this list, but “Once” is the only song that was on my “good music” list in 2002 that made it on again this 20+ years later.

Fire Truck – Andy Shauf (2020)
The Neon Skyline

Now that I’m standing in the ashes
I just want it to be whole

The Neon Skyline is a concept/story album that I highly recommend hearing in its entirety, but this song stands well enough on its own. On this and many of Shauf’s songs, he tells a specific story but crafts the lyrics in such a way that they open up to feel universal and relatable. When he describes the conversation in verse one I see myself: “sometimes I feel like I should never speak again.” The mixture of regret and hope and new beginnings resonates with me. Sonically, I love the juxtaposition of the intimate verses and build to swirling guitars over all the“do do do.”

Gnarciss – Jeff Parker (2020)
Suite for Max Brown (with Makaya McCraven, Josh Johnson, Paul Bryan)

Jeff Parker first hit my radar as guitarist for the incredible instrumental post-rock band, Tortoise. In many ways, Tortoise was my gateway back to Jazz after a long hiatus. This composition is an interpolation of Joe Henderson’s “Black Narcissus” but doesn’t sound much like Henderson’s 1969 recording. Parker marries beat-music aesthetics popularized by hip-hop producers such as J Dilla with improvisation-driven jazz. I love the way the beat and bass thump you through the composition while the strings, sax, vibes, and guitar undulate in and out through the recording. I saw these guys play Gnarciss live at the Chicago record release for Suite for Max Brown and it was other-worldly. This track features Makaya McCraven on drums and Josh Johnson on sax, two contemporary jazz musicians/band leaders who release fantastic albums of their own.

Ultralight Beam – Kanye West (2016)
The Life of Pablo
(with Chance the Rapper, The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin)

We on an ultralight beam
This is a God dream
This is everything

Kanye is crazy, right? Sure, but he’s also an innovator and collaborator on a whole ‘nother level. I love how this song mashes up gospel, hip-hop, and soul into one tight package. I love the swells that drive the opening section and the sporadic staccato drum hits throughout. Those moments when the choir syncs up to the primary vocal are arresting. The way the beat drops out completely for the first half of Chance’s verse before the drum hits again and the horns join in gives me shivers. One of Kanye’s greatest skills is getting a bunch of talented people together to collaborate and thatgift really shines on “Ultralight Beam.”

Everything – Jeremy Cunningham, Dustin Lorenzi, Paul Bryan (2020)
A Better Ghost

I’m learning to be able to really absorb the fact that it’s all good.
You see? And in that, my greatest joy is everything.

Ever since I first heard this song in 2020 it’s been my favorite jazz recording. Something about “Everything” just satisfies every craving I have when listening to jazz. The quiet wanderings, the near loss of structure just in time for it all come back together again. Lorenzi’s sax playing is at times soulful and sweet, and other times striving and raw. Paul Bryan lays down the grooviest bass and Cunningham’s drumming is exquisite and interesting without getting in the way. I like the way that the seam of the looped sample (from Sonny Rollins, jazz legend) is obscured as the instrumentalists take turns putting themselves forward. I’ve probably listened to this song more than any other single jazz tune and I’m still not tired of it. Might never be.

Built Then Burnt [Hurrah! Hurrah!] – Silver Mt. Zion (2001)
Born Into Trouble As The Sparks Fly Upward

Good words, strong words, words that could’ve moved mountains
Words that no one ever said
We were all waiting to hear those words and no one ever said them

Theatrical, dramatic, ambient, emotive. Ridiculously tragic but somehow hopeful. The reverbed-out guitar and the string arrangement take me to the limit. I don’t have the words to properly describe why I’m drawn to this music, but I keep coming back to this song even after twenty years.

Fool’s Game – Glen Hansard (2019)
This Wild Willing

It’s a leap of faith
Lover, that we blindly take
I’m taking it with you and no other
No hesitating

I like it when a song takes me on a journey, and this one sure does. This arrangement is so ridiculously good: the subtle ticks of the cymbals, the swelling bass and background vocals, the plucking of strings, the electronic effects on the vocals, the woodwind melodies. And then, just when you’re lulled into a state of relaxation, the whole thing opens up WIDE. Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever just been walking in the woods and taking it all in, when you turn a bend and it’s like God just turned the whole world up to eleven? As if that wasn’t enough, when we’ve drank through the firehose of sensation the song comes back to quiet, and a beautiful voice sings in a language we don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Beautiful.

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Good in 10 (2002 version)

The inspiration for “Good in 10” was a playlist I made in 2002. Around that time I started an mp3 music blog and what follows is the inaugural post (with minor edits). It’s interesting to see how my tastes have both changed and stayed pretty much the same. Here is the 2002 version of “Good in 10.”

In November of 2002, a few friends and I each agreed to form a list of 10 songs. The songs could be formative, addictive, whatever—but the list was to epitomize each person’s idea of “good music” and had to include at least one track released in 2002. If i were to do this again i’m sure the list would look different, but here’s the list and notes and you can listen online here:

Anisette – June of 44 (1996)
Tropics & Meridians

Tell all the people that he’s fine
So fine, he’s fine, so fine

June of 44 helped me cross the sea of Heavy Metal and “Alternative” genres to the greener pastures of indie-rawk. In 1994 my best friend Markus Lunkenheimer introduced me to June of 44 (then Rodan) and (Steve Albini’s) Shellac. This was the most aggressive but dynamic and sonicly rich music i had heard. This particular song is incredible to listen to on walkman while walking – the groove is such a pushing and pulling (oh my i love it!) I love how they juxtapose the two guitars and bass with similar (but different) loops that mix and mingle. the quietness and the screaming – the anxiety and the peace…

Cut Your Hair – Pavement (1994)
Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

I remember lying
I don’t remember a line
I don’t remember a word
But I don’t care, I care, I really don’t care
Did you see the drummer’s hair?

At the time i heard this record i was listening to a lot of more ‘heavy’ groups and some jazz. My friend Jim brought this CD along with us on a road trip from Ames, Iowa to Eureka, California. Pavement’s catchy hooks and good humor kept me going on the road. i must have listened to the tape i dubbed of this a hundred million times walking across campus and singing to myself in the car. Listening through it the other day i guess i was singing along pretty loud… my boss walked in and i realized that i was basically belting it out.

I Was A Stranger – Smog (1997)
Red Apple Falls

Why do you women in this town
Let me look at you so bold?
You should have seen what I was
In the last town

For a depressing year this album was my life. Not only do i love pedal-steel guitar – Bill Callahan (Smog) always seems to sing what i would sing if i were blatantly honest and unredeemed. Here he makes an interesting statement: it’s worse to be well-known than it is to be a stranger…

New Partner – Palace Music (1995)
Viva Last Blues

Now you’ll haunt me, you’ll haunt me
‘Til I’ve paid for what i’ve done
It’s a payment which precludes the having of fun

My studio mate gave me a mix tape that had a song called ‘come little dog’ by The Palace Brothers which didn’t stand out a great deal to me at the time, but later that year i was flipping through records and saw this album and picked it up out of name recognition. Now Will Oldham (AKA: Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy) is my all-time favorite artist. I love how Will’s lyrics create a visual picture in my mind’s eye, and the chorus melody and harmony are both a treat to sing along with.

Pretty Eyes – Silver Jews (1996)
The Natural Bridge

I believe that stars are the headlights of angels
Driving from heaven to save us, to save us
Look in the sky
They’re driving from heaven into our eyes

David Berman, singer/songwriter for Silver Jews writes the most beautiful, touching, and tragic lyrics. This song and album kicked off for a period where I started thinking about music at the level of the ‘song’ – rather than: hook, voice, riff, instrumentation, lyric. Something about the rambling connections that the lyrics make through this song endears it to me. David has a way of taking cliches and putting them to use – poking fun at the shallow nature of cliches while acknowledging the power that the phrases wield.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points Is a Straight Line – Simon Joyner (1993)
Room Temperature

The light bulb above your head has burned out
We hope that doesn’t mean you’re uninspired
All your bright ideas are
Now suffering in the dark

This is the album brought me out of pop music. Was lucky enough to borrow this tape when i was still hungry for DIY musicians. Simon and his friend Chris ran a tape-label called ‘Sing Eunuchs!’ in Omaha. I used to send them tapes of my music in hopes of getting distribution. Chris and Simon always wrote encouraging letters in reply even when (as i look back) most of what i sent them was formative at best.

Magazine – Pedro the Lion (2002)

Oh look you earned your wings
Are you an angel now, or a vulture?
Constantly hovering over
Waiting for a big mistake

I began hearing about David Bazan within Christian circles in 1998 but at the time was sorely disappointed with all Christian music and had only a passing interest. In late 1999 i went by myself to see Pedro The Lion (David’s band) at Schubas before i had ever heard his music. I was blown away. The lyrics were honest and the music was tight. Pedro has gone from small shows at Schubas to packing the Metro and the music just keeps getting better. This is my favorite track from their newest. David has a way of using sarcasm to communicate truth to the cynical and pessimistic.

Once – Richard Buckner (1998)

Even my heroes are almost gone
Almost folding from the flame
But how low can your fuse glow and warm you
until your torch begins to fade

I first encountered Richard Buckner when i was reviewing CDs for my college radio station. There was a ‘reject’ bin that was free for the taking so i would grab about 20 every time i went in (most ending up back in the reject pile.) One reject batch included Buckner’s album ‘Devotion + Doubt’ – which really threw me for a loop. it was clearly country music, but had what I considered to be a higher level of musicianship and lyrics/writing than I would have previously connected to the country genre. it became a guilty pleasure of mine – what I was then calling indie-country (and now refer to as ‘insurgent country’). this song is an example of what i like Buckner for: impossibly sad- moody lyrics, melody driven tunes, great musicianship, country twang. His show at Schubas was incredible in 2000.

Over The Ocean – Low (1996)
The Curtain Hits the Cast

If I belong, then I’ll be longer than expected
And if I’m wrong, the mighty and strong will be rejected

So smooth, so slow… sweet harmonies and a sadness that’s not devoid of hope. Basically, this song gives me the shivers i find it so beautiful.

Autumn Leaves – Cannonball Adderly (1958)
Somethin’ Else (with Miles Davis, John Coltrane)

I went through a big jazz phase for a few years (94-97) but don’t listen to it much anymore. this song is one of my favorites. I always want to hear it near the first snowfall of the year. something about the melody here that gets me going. the line-up on this is like late 50s jazz all stars. When these three were playing together—magic.

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Poem: The Celebration

The Celebration

Coyotes are celebrating
a fresh kill

on the hillside up from
my bedroom window.

The frenetic loops
snuck into my dream

a record skipping,
the volume too high

on a soundtrack
of horror-movie knives

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Recipe: Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

Ever since we moved to the country, I’ve been refining my home-made pizza process. I’ve finally documented the recipes and instructions for making dough, sauce, and cooking it all up to perfection. I hope you enjoy making and eating it as much as we do!


  • 5 grams (2 tsp) dry active yeast
  • 625 grams (4.5 Cups) all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 5 grams (2 tsp) salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) olive oil
  • Extra olive oil for coating dough


  • Finely chopped or sliced garlic
  • Olive Oil for coating pan and drizzling on dough
  • Pizza sauce and toppings


  1. Put 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water in a stand mixer bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water and let dissolve, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add flour, salt and olive oil and mix/knead in a stand mixer for about 5 minutes.
  3. Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Turn dough out onto surface and knead lightly until it looks smooth, a couple minutes.
  4. You have a choice at this point to either cut the dough to weight before putting in the fridge, or putting all the dough in the fridge and cutting to weight after it’s risen. Your total dough weight for this recipe will be around 1000 grams.

    Dough weight per pan size
    • 12″ pan – 350g
    • 10.5″ pan – 260g
    • 9.5″ pan – 210g

  5. Lightly coat dough (or individual dough pieces) in olive oil and place in a sealed container with room to double and refrigerate for several hours or (for best results) overnight.

For pizza sauce, I either buy a jar at the store or make something really simple by mixing up something like what’s below and heating it up, simmering a bit.

  • 6oz tomato paste
  • 15oz tomato sauce (pasada, etc)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp oregano
  • 2 Tbsp italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • crushed red pepper to taste
  • salt to taste


  1. Take dough out of refrigerator for 1-2 hours before cooking. (2 hours if you didn’t cut it to weight before refrigerating – cut to weight after it’s warm).
  2. Put iron pans in the oven and heat to 450°F. When pans are hot, put a bit of olive oil in the pan, and take the appropriately-sized dough ball and form the dough into its matching pan. Drizzle olive oil and some fresh garlic and a bit of salt on top of dough and cook in oven for about 5 minutes, or until the top of the dough is no longer doughy (has formed a “shell”).
  3. Pull pizza pan from oven and top with toppings. Be sure to put a fair amount of mozzarella cheese around the edge of the dough where it meets the iron pan. This will become caramelized and will be delicious. Advice: don’t overdo the cheese, it’s the mistake we make most often.
  4. Cook the pizzas until the top cheese is golden brown all around and edge cheese is caramelized. Pizza should be firm enough to slide out of the pan onto a cutting board or plate to cut and serve.


  • Fresh Basil
  • Italian sausage crumbles (cooked)
  • Pepperoni
  • Sauteed shrimp (olive oil, garlic, smoked paprika, salt)
  • Fresh garlic
  • Bacon bits
  • Ham bits
  • Olives
  • Mushrooms (fresh or sauteed)
  • Mozzarella
  • Crushed red pepper
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Recipe: Collard Greens with Ham Hocks and Beans

The first time I ever tried making collard greens was in 2008. The recipe and my process have evolved a lot since then, and I figured it was time to write it all out. I use a pressure cooker, but i’ve included instructions for stovetop or pressure cooking.


  • 2 Smoked Ham Hocks
  • 2-3 boxes of chicken broth/stock
  • 1-2 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3-6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp or more crushed red pepper
  • 2-3 Tbsp bacon fat/olive oil/lard
  • Ham, cubed (optional)*
  • Collard Greens (4 typical grocery bundles, maybe 2 pounds?), washed, cut, dried**
  • 2 cans Pinto or White beans, drained and rinsed (or home cooked equivalent)

If you’ve got a pressure cooker, this is REAL easy. If not, it’s still easy but it’s a long long simmer to get the base broth done. I’ll give instructions for both.

Phase 1, broth it up

Over medium heat in a stock pot (or saute setting in your pressure cooker), heat the bacon fat, then add the onions, paprika and crushed red pepper, then cook until onions are soft. Add the garlic and stir continuously for a minute or so (don’t burn the garlic), then dump in one box of chicken stock. Mix/stir this mess up, then put the ham hocks in.

If pressure cooker: 90 minutes pressure

If stovetop: Add box #2 of stock. Bring to a boil, then low simmer for a few hours.

Phase 2, bring it all together

Once the broth is cooked, pull out the ham hocks to remove bones and skin and non-edible-ham material. Leave the good ham chunks in the broth. If you pressure cooked, move the broth to a stock pot on the stove and add the second box of stock. If you cooked on the stove, you may need to add more stock to your desired consistency to compensate for reduction.

With the broth on a good simmer, start adding the collard greens and stirring. After a minute or so in the hot broth they’ll take up a lot less space, so if it seems like you can’t fit all the greens in from the start, just do it in batches until it’s all in. If you’re adding extra ham, go ahead and do that now.

Bring back to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the beans and feel free to add stock now to get to your desired broth consistency. Simmer for another 15 minutes or until you feel it’s right.

Additional notes:

*I usually add a bit of extra ham, or sometimes cooked sausage if i have something on hand. It’s not necessary. One thing to watch out for is that if you add a lot more ham, you may end up with a dish that’s too salty (all the salt in the dish comes from the ham)

**Here’s how I wash and cut my greens. Fill a sink with water, dump the collards in and wash thoroughly. One or two leaves at a time, I cut the thick rib out for compost or to cook in a stock (I don’t like thick collard ribs—I don’t enjoy the texture). Once you’ve got 6-8 big leafs with ribs out, roll them up like a big doobie and then cut into 1 inch slices (you’ll end up with strips). Spin or towel dry. Keep doing this over and over until you’re done. This is the only laborious part of the entire recipe, and I often do it one or two days before I cook the recipe and keep it in a loose plastic bag in the fridge.

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