The Best Songs in Life are (Mostly) Free, 2009

18 Jan

When the office building you work in pipes relentless John Tesh Radio Show for 6 hours hours a day, you are bound to dig for some musical gems and experiences to load up the iPod. My journey of songs for 2009 took a very cheap and fruitful path. It felt like being a hunter-gatherer. So, if you live in J.T. Hell, don’t worry, I’ve found all the medicine you need. And made lists–many lists…

Seems like tons of free goodness out there these days. The world is googlefied. Some of it is for real, and some is just bait. There are free web apps (and for you stubborn PC’s out there too), free cell phones, free DS homebrew games, free TV and movies on Hulu, free recipes (from lots of places, including Food Network), free super saver shipping, and Freecycle (check this article about my FreeCycle cred).  There’s even a book.

App Love

Free apps rule the world right now. (It doesn’t fit with my general unappreciation for corporate giants, but Google f’ing rocks.) There’s the megahits I use almost every day like Gmail, Skype, Google Docs, iTunes, Google Earth and Firefox. And my current, lesser-known faves: Dropbox for sharing and syncing files between my computers, DropSend for sending large files, Doodle for easy scheduling, Delicious for simple bookmarks, CombinePDF for combining PDF docs (duh), Flickr Uploader, Seesmic Desktop to manage my social web, and (of course) WordPress to pretend to be a blogger–all free.  I also use these handy freebies on our windows machine: CC Cleaner, AVG Anti-virus, CutePDF and

And the Tunes

Enough about geeky stuff–I did set out to tell you about free music. So, the lists…

Best Sources of Free Music in 2009:

Free music used to just be a radio thing. Then, it was a guilty-feeling Napster thing. Now, lots of artists are giving it away. So, my favorite places to find the free stuff, in no particular order:

  1. 2009 was the year I found a bit ‘o magic on MySpace (which I was not nearly cool enough to find earlier). It’s free music to the wazoo. MySpace is so messy it gives me a headache, but it’s a great way to give a band a preview listen (like, the whole songs).  Yes, now that it is becoming passe, I finally started using it.
  2. Pandora Radio was the coolest thing ever. Then came the ads. Still pretty cool–free music, matched up to your faves. My favorite “station” is Kaki King.
  3. NPR Music features way cool stuff all the time. You can listen to full albums, and groovy collections, all for free. They even let you listen to albums before they are released on “First Listen.” The best of 2009’s First Listen, in my book, was an early earshot of Norah Jones’ new stuff.
  4. I fell for the eMusic trap again. You sign up for a free trial, and get 40 or 50 free song downloads that play with any software or player. Cool, right? Until you get logged in and learn they have very little stuff you actually want. But, this time I really did some digging and research, and ended up finding a big pile of awesome tunes. This was in December, and so plenty of “Top new songs/albums/artists of the year” lists were readily available. And super handy.
  5. Rock Garden Tour. Yes, on a real, old fashioned radio, with tuner dials and everything. In between witty rock garden banter, Flowerman kicks out the goofiest stuff you’ve never heard. And some of it truly rocks. There’s one song that’s been bugging me for months. I heard it on the show sometime this past late Summer or Fall, and can’t find it. Something about a girlfriend’s sister being kind of hot, or something.  Maybe by Hooks…Please help me Flowerman.
  6. iTunes is obviously cool. Free music Tuesdays are hit and miss, but sometimes the hits are smashing. It’s one song, for free the whole week, starting every Tuesday. The best one of 2009 came late: Dan Black’s Symphonies is stuck in my head forevermore.
  7. Jazziz Summer 2009. Not sure how you can get this one. I got my greedy little hands on it in a sponsor gift bag from JazzFest 2009. It’s a CD compiled by Jazziz Magazine. It’s very eclectic, and has some great songs–especially some world flavor and instrumental stuff that gets played a bunch during the John Tesh prison hours.
  8. Festivals. I’ve never been much for the smoky bar or club scene, and I could count the number of live concerts I’ve been to on one hand of a careless feed grinder operator. But festivals, I love thee.
  9. Spin Magazine. No idea where it came from. Curiously, it just began to appear once each month in our mailbox. Addressed to my lovely wife, no less (if you know Jaim, then you know why that makes it particularly odd–she pretty much despises anything that would be found in Spin). Turns out, I enjoy reading it (though I wouldn’t pay for it). Besides lists that got me through the eMusic digging, they gave away a whole album (10 free downloads) from the 10 to Watch in 2010 list. Go get ’em.
  10. From the Artist. Some artists give away a few songs to hook you on their music before the album comes out. My friend Tim Merry’s band, Merry and Durkee, did it well. And it worked (I bought the CD on the first day out)… One day, whilst waiting for a panini at Black Sheep Coffee, I saw a stack of business cards on the counter touting a free album download from local Rich Show’s newest experiment. I found Oxford Comma’s debut album, free in it’s entirety (sorry, I can’t seem to find the link now). It worked differently than the successful bait thrown out by M+D. I love the album, but since they gave me the whole thing for free, I didn’t buy the plastic disc (or the MP3s). And so far, I don’t think they’ve made a penny because of me… My buddy Matthew Mayer also re-released a classic album, though it isn’t free. But you should buy one.
  11. Amazon’s 25 Days of Christmas Songs. Last and least, this one started out OK. I like really great holiday music–not so much the basic stuff. Amazon had me coming back each day (they released a new free track every day in December), until Lady Gaga asked me to look up her christmas tree. That was about the end of it.

My favorite FREE songs and albums of 2009:

Many sources, mostly eMusic. In no real meaningful order, my faves of the past year:

  1. Rave On and Never Had Nobody Like You by M. Ward on Hold Time. This dude is fresh and awesome.
  2. Oh No by Andrew Bird on Noble Beast. Another tune stuck in my head many a day since it’s download.
  3. The Black Keys on Rubber Factory. OK, so this album is not really new in 2009, but my biggest and happiest find of the year. These guys rock the blues like nobody’s fuckin’ business.
  4. Caterpillar Scar by Oxford Comma on Oxford Comma the album. My favorite song on a great, totally free album. (See Local list below too.)
  5. My Girls by Animal Collective on Merriweather Post Pavilion. How the hell did I miss this one until December?
  6. Song Up In Her Head by Sarah Jarosz on Song Up In Her Head the album. The next folk great, at the ripeness of 16 years old.
  7. Symphonies by Dan Black on UN. At first listen, too techno poppy, but it just keeps growing on me (and getting stuck up in my head). Thanks iTunes Tuesdays.
  8. Dream City by Free Energy on SPIN Presents 2010: A Look Ahead. Reminds me of something good.
  9. Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear on Veckatimest. Another great one that almost got away from me in 2009. Apparently, they’re the next huge thing.
  10. Bejing and Big Bird in a Small Cage by Patrick Watson on Wooden Arms. This dude’s band plays awesome music on kitchen pots and other ordinary objects. I first heard Patrick and the Wooden Arms Band when they were making up a song on the spot after given a couple lines by a host on NPR. Amazing.
  11. Red Light Love by Those Darlings on Those Darlings~. Another iTunes Tuesday gem. Trashy country rock, in a groovy way.

The best new songs and albums I paid for in 2009 (because some stuff is worth a buck):

I paid for more music last year than I care to tell my wife. Most of it was only new to me, not to 2009. The new stuff is listed below, but I also really fell into The White Stripes, Cloud Cult (also mentioned below), Jane’s Addiction, Sufjan Stevens, Muse, My Dad Vs. Yours, Rev. Gary Davis and TV on the Radio. I picked up some instrumental and jazz stuff too, that, for some reason, doesn’t show up on my fave lists but I really enjoy.

  1. Merry and Durkee on Everyone Else Is Taken. Not like anything else on any of these lists. Merry is a slam poet, and Durkee plays some acoustic guitar. It’s the message that’s powerful, and the magnetic energy from Tim.
  2. Be a Tree by Lunar Funk Theory. Fell in love with it on MySpace, and then paid for it. (Also see on Best Local Bands below.)
  3. Norah Jones on The Fall. Listened to entire new album for free on NPR Music First Listen, several times in one day. then bought a few songs. Nobody drowned out Tesh better all year.
  4. Oumou Sangare on Seya. The very best from Africa. She is magic.
  5. Just Breath by Pearl Jam on Backspacer. I figured PJ was tired. But I love me some Eddie Vedder, and this is one of the best yet.
  6. Just You and Me by Zee Anvi on Zee Anvi the album. Folksy voice from heaven. And YouTube star.
  7. Poker Face by Lady Gaga. Don’t you dare tell any body. Ever. She had me at “Love you with my muffin.”

The best local songs and bands new to me in 2009;

There’s just something about “Still Made Here.” Much like locally grown food, music from the home turf is fresh, and often more fabulous than you could have known. For some reason, I’ve been blind to the Sioux Falls region’s music scene for a couple decades. What I learned in 2009: It’s good. Real good.

The local list:

  1. We All Have Hooks For Hands. Thank you Flowerman and Oil Can.
  2. Burlap Wolf King. Saw him come sing one from the crowd at Paramount one night, then jump on a bike and pedal away. Hairy man with good pipes.
  3. Wumpus. My friend Kat’s hubby, singing scary stuff about zombies and such. Gotta love anybody who sings a song titled Bolivar T. Shagnasty, right?
  4. Cloud Cult.  Not quite local–Minneapolis area–but definitely a tie with the Black Keys as my very favorite listening discovery of 2009. They make eco-music from a shack in the Northwoods. Beautiful stuff.
  5. Lunar Funk Theory. Hosts of the Dirty Foot Family Reunion at Terrace Park. And they sing about being a tree. No more reason needed.
  6. Oxford Comma. As mentioned above, Rich Show’s new group is much appreciated. Just wish I could find a website to link to these days.

That’s it folks. A big, long hairy post of freebies and goodness for you. Now, what’s your list look like?


Posted by on January 18, 2010 in music


Tags: , , ,

4 responses to “The Best Songs in Life are (Mostly) Free, 2009

  1. Greg

    January 19, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Joe i am ashamed to admit i am the brother of a full grown man who likes lady gaga. (Also dissapointed there was no mention of “Pants on the Ground”)

  2. joebart

    January 19, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Wow, a Greg appearance. I told you not to tell anybody about the Gaga thing.

    There’s been plenty of “lookin’ like a foo which your pants on da groun'”around here, trust me. But that was not 2009.

  3. joebart

    February 4, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Another free music gem: Thanks Jerry!


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