15 Influential Albums [Meme]

Ever since I was first tagged in this, I’ve been thinking about my personal 15 most influential albums.  And, yes, I kind of cheated since there are actually 21 albums here (and I didn’t even get to Pink or The Police who I also have much love for).  I defined “influential” a couple of ways:  either they taught me something about myself (for example, Public Enemy and Ice Cube), taught me what it means to take people on a personal journey (Lauryn Hill), I write to (Miles Davis and Annie Lennox), admire as genius (Prince and Stevie Wonder), move me (Sounds of Blackness), or simply are must haves (read: always loaded on my computer).  You’d be surprised how many of my novels/short stories sprang from the music on this list.  Or, maybe you wouldn’t.

1.  Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back / Fear of a Black Planet

2.  Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

3.  Annie Lennox – Diva

4.  Prince – Sign O’ the Times / Purple Rain

5.  Stevie Wonder – At the Close of a Century

6.  Sounds of Blackness – The Evolution of Gospel

7.  James Brown – Star Time

8.  Bob Marley – Songs of Freedom

9.  De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising

10.  Parliament – Tear the Roof Off / Funkadelic – The Best of Funkadelic

11.  Outkast – Stankonia / Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

12.  NWA – Straight Outta Compton

13.  Miles Davis – Kind of Blue

14.  Sly and the Family Stone – Anthology / Jimi Hendrix – Experience Hendrix

15.  Ice Cube – Amerikkka’s Most Wanted / Death Certificate

Mother Grove Interview

Brad Sprauer, lead vocalist and song-writer for Mother Grove has come a long way since we shared a place and screamed Public Enemy lyrics at one another. Their song “All Right” remains at # 2 on Celtic Radio and their song, “The Ballad of Miles O’Toole,” has moved to #4! So I thought that I would poke around in Brad’s brain for a bit.

Tell me a little bit about how you guys got together. What does the name Mother Grove mean?

Mother Grove came together at a Christmas party back in 2000. I was working on shopping a demo of my originals to form a standard rock band and met Gary Booth. He said, “I’m a bagpiper” to which I thought “Oh yea? Uh, that’s nice”. He proceeded to fully educate me on the merits and originality of Celtic rock including handing me a fistful of Celtic Rock CDs. After the first listen I immediately heard my songs with the Celtic instrumentation. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The name, “Mother Grove” is a Druid reference. Druidism (or Druidry) is an ancient religion of the Celtic Isles, specifically Ireland and Scotland. A “grove” of druids is basically a group, or a congregation. The “Mother Grove” is a more modern word meaning a gathering of several groves who work together. I suppose it’s like an archdiocese. The name evokes the ancient Celtic but yet sounds cool enough to work in the modern age. So many Celtic bands try to name themselves some Gaelic word that looks cool and has some cool meaning, but is impossible to pronounce, which is like #1 in the list of 101 worst marketing ideas.

Why Celtic rock? What led you down that musical vein?

I’ve always wanted to do something a bit different. The typical rock outfit has been played out for me. I’ve always like bands with different instrumentations outside of the “standard approved rock instruments”. It really allows you to be more creative and think outside of the box a bit. Bagpipes are loud, in your face and unmistakable in sound. Who needs a screaming electric guitar when you have bagpipes?! No one can deny their presence. The energy they lend to the music is awesome. Fiddles are more of the yin to the pipes yang. They’re beautifully melodic and really balance out the energy of the music. Plus they’re versatile. Many bands have violins/fiddles but the styles of the players and the songwriting lend themselves to fit in with any song. We’re an original rock band first and foremost, and then we’re a Celtic rock band.

You write a lot of your own music. What drives you to write? What is the passion that drives you?

The passion is the drive to create art, to make the listener “feel”; no matter what feeling that is, just evoking emotion. When someone tells me a particular songs moves them or touches them in a certain way, that’s success to me. It’s wonderful to know that something I created can make someone happy or feel any number of emotions. It sounds a bit selfish, aye? It’s actually quite the opposite; I see it as a gift to give away. Once a song is out there, it’s not mine anymore. It’s like a child, you help create the child, help her grow and eventually she goes off to live her own life.

The way I explain the need to create, is pretty simple; just like everyone needs to eat and breathe to survive, I need to create. It’s not really an option. If I couldn’t create I’d be locked up or in a nice cozy padded cell somewhere. I’ve learned over the years that it’s at the core of many issues in my life. If I go too long without writing, I get very cranky, disoriented and sometimes even become physically ill. The Buddhists say: “speak to the mind and the body will listen.” It’s very true for me. Music, writing, creating is the ultimate therapy…and much cheaper.

My method of song-writing is probably a bit different than most. I can’t sit down and say, “Today I’m going to write a song about…” it just doesn’t happen that way. I like the song to evolve and appear on its own. Sort of like automatic writing, but the catalyst is the music. I’ll start playing chords and just humming or scatting random words or phrases and eventually I’ll come up with a line or two. Once I have that foundation, the rest of the song sort of writes itself. You won’t hear many storytelling songs from me; it’s mostly like free verse poetry with a very loose theme. It’s all about the metaphor. 10 people can listen to the same song and get 10 different meanings out it and they can all be right.

Occasionally the song will be about an event or a topic; for instance; the song “Kiss You Goodbye” was written just after 9/11. But I didn’t want to make this “rah rah, kick ass USA” song or some sappy, sad ballad about loss. I wanted it to have different perspectives; the victims, the perpetrators and the soldiers. I wanted to make it human, to make people think beyond the knee-jerk, “us against them” mentality. So that song is an exception. Love songs are another exception, even though they’re more often metaphorical, they are inspired and written specifically for my wife…who by the way is my ultimate muse. I’ve written more songs since meeting her than I can remember.

Oh, and magnetic poetry. Some crazy stuff has been written with the help of those little guys. I keep them on a big cookie sheet so I can take it from room to room with my notebook and spread them out without losing any words. I have like 4 sets that I rotate in and out.

There do seem to be a lot of spiritual themes in your music. In your live shows you perform a verse of Amazing Grace. Is this a “bagpipes are expected to play ‘Amazing Grace'” thing or is there a greater meaning behind this? Can you talk a bit about your faith?

You know, I’ve been through an incredible, wonderful ride with my spirituality. Right now I’m in the most comfortable place I’ve ever been spiritually. I was raised Catholic and was immersed in non-denominational Christianity for many, many years and it served me very well for those times in my life. I have nothing but fond memories of my spiritual growth as a Christian. But now I feel I’ve moved beyond any religion. I can read any sacred text, sit in any temple or church, participate in any ritual and gain an immense amount of peace and spirituality from them. I take the good, the common elements and teachings from every path and incorporate it into my daily life and personal philosophy. The biggest thing is, I’ve removed any need to answer the unanswerable questions (I have four of them: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go when we die? Is there a god?). On a day-to-day, live your life, interact with others world we don’t really need to pontificate on the origins of the universe, the validity of any particular deity, or the proper way to worship him or her. It’s really unnecessary. It really forces me to focus on the things we have in common as human beings; we all feel love, anger, frustration, sadness, loneliness; each and every one of us. I know that it feels good to have someone smile at me, or hug me, or tell me they love me. It doesn’t matter if they believe in God, Krishna, Buddha, or a rock that keeps away zombies. All that matters is we’ve connected as human beings and learned to live in peace; period. Adding the supernatural, the focus on the unanswerable, eternal salvation (or damnation) only serves to keep us further apart a
s humans. Most of the songs on our last 3 CDs deal with this kind of spirituality. If you look at the lyrics to our first CD “Listen to Your Mother” they were all written when I was a devout Christian. I even performed most all of theses songs in churches long before Mother Grove came about. But even then, they’re pretty metaphorical. By the time we recorded the CD, I had moved beyond the Christian themes of the songs. I was asked if I wanted to re-write the lyrics to reflect my new stage of spirituality. That was unthinkable. Those songs are snapshots of where I was at that time and there was no way I was going to take away the message and the sentiment behind them. Especially if they could help someone gain inspiration or insight into their own path…no matter what path that may be.

This is spirit in which we perform “Amazing Grace”; togetherness, everyone knows the song and is moved by it in some way or another. Plus Laura our fiddler can belt out the tune like nobody’s business. It’s like a tent revival every time we perform it. She’s a preacher’s kid and very strong in her Christina faith, so with all the eclectic spiritual and pagan themes in our music, we’re all about balance, diversity and equality.

And yes, there’s some sort of unwritten law that if a bagpiper is present, Amazing Grace must be performed.

How does your faith impact your music?

I think music is my faith. At the core of faith is trust. Music has proven herself trustworthy to me. I know that after a performance I’m going to feel spiritually high. I know that after I write a song, I’m going to feel peacefully satisfied; I know that I can communicate with anyone through the language of music. Music is at the heart of humanity, so there is really no difference between faith, spirituality, religion and music. It’s like the Native American way; everything is religion and religion is everything.

What message do you want to convey to audience? What do you want your audience to go home thinking or feeling?

Pure joy. I want to bring a crowd to their crescendo, then take them a little higher, then leave them smiling and satisfied. When a crowd is responsive and there’s this exchange of energy, it’s truly spiritual. Call it what you will, but THAT’S religion to me. I just want to know that what I’ve just given them, makes them happy, or makes them feel, or think or just forget about everything else for awhile and live in the moment, the music and sharing in the collective joy.

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Mother Grove “Live at Dublin Pub”

“You gotta breathe in life gotta taste the air/Gotta feel the earth beneath you see the beauty everywhere/Gonna be my brother, gonna be my friend/Gonna leave the fear behind you and listen from within” –Beltane

My big fear about listening to Celtic rock groups is that I fear all of the music will sound like an Irish Spring commercial. With their fourth release, “Live at the Dublin Pub,” they attempt to capture the spirit and enthusiasm of their live show. Featuring songs from their previous CDs: Tri, Mother May I, and Listen to Your Mother, the live CD is like a one stop sampler/introduction to the band.

Brad Sprauer’s impassioned, raspy vocals sounds like someone you’d want to go drinking with. Apparently some folks at the Dublin Pub in Dayton, Ohio agree. We only get hints of the banter that makes the MoGro live experience. There are songs they obviously enjoy playing more than others (“The Ballad of Miles O’Toole”) and songs that obviously mean a lot personally (“Amazing Grace”) – the songs that bookend the CD. They eschew the easy, pop crafted tunes that would play well for mainstream radio ears in favor of a more unique sound.

“We got a holy man trying to be a police man/We got a ways to go to cross the road.” –The Road

What they may lack in technical virtuosity and vocals, they make up for with heart and imagination. A mix of more romantic songs sit side-by-side with bar song sing-alongs. Also, there is a sense of humor to their music (there’s no other way to explain them yelling “Get jiggy with it” in the middle of a Celtic rock song).

“Sometimes we need faith to swallow whole/Sometimes we need/Sometimes we need/A will to carry home/ But I don’t mind/I don’t care no, I don’t mind/Give me away/Give me peace to mask the pain/’Cause I will not follow man’s – Great Religion/You’ve got to believe in something/Or you’ll fall for anything/Take some time to say, Hey/’Cause you’re never obligated to the chains of earth/Just spread your mind and pray.”–Rev. Darwin

The album has the thread of a spiritual journey winding through it, reflecting a spiritual journey that we are all on and questions that we are all asking. The story, if there was a conscious story at the heart of the collection, examines modern expressions of religions (“The Road”); looks for connection within the human experience (“Beltane”); meditates on the mystery of falling in love (“As I Fall”); lives life in all of its excesses (“A Whiskey and a Friend”); tries on the idea of defining yourself in the story of your culture (“Listen to Your Mother”); finds answers, and the limits to those answers, in reason over man’s religion (“Rev. Darwin”); and ends with contemplating God and His grace (“Amazing Grace”).

On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone’s an honorary Irishman. Live at the Dublin Pub will help keep you in touch with your inner Irishman all year round. All Mother Grove needs now is the one break out album to reach that wider audience they deserve.

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.