Andy French of Raven Sings the Blues gets lifted and takes his turntable and speakers outdoors to create the ultimate deep listening playlist
Andy French, founder of the music website Raven Sings the Blues, has made it his life’s mission to mine rare musical gems. He’s especially roused by indie, psych, garage and experimental music. As a writer and promoter, he’s steeped in music from sunup to sundown, and knows just how to attain the perfect state of mind for concentrated listening.
Heads Lifestyle: Hi Andy, where are you now?
Andy French: Hudson, New York.
HL: What do you do with your time?
AF: I operate the blog Raven Sings the Blues (est. 2006), curate and host the monthly radio show Crawl Out From The Fallout on Hudson freeform station WGXC, and up until the pandemic, I’d been booking a series of shows at local venues in Hudson, Kingston, and surrounding areas, which I hope to pick back up soon.
HL: Do you get high when listening to music?
AF: Well, I have two little ones right now, so to be honest, not as often as I’d like, because they never let me rest. I wouldn’t say that music is specifically reserved for me in that capacity— dedicated listening, which lends itself to getting high. With the site and my day job, I’m often listening to music the whole day through, but it is nice to be able to set aside some time when things calm down at the house for some focused listening to let things sink much deeper.
HL: Describe a typical music-weed session?
AF: Our area is just starting to get dispensaries, and given the chance, my wife will hop to one nearby. I’ll snag an edible from her, turntable and speakers for some more concentrated listening. With the monthly radio show, it’s been nice in the summer to set up the speakers on the porch and listen outside. That in itself is a Zen experience up here in the greener parts of New York. I record the show ahead of time and set it up like a mixtape, which has been a nice way to sink into music as well.
HL: What is your earliest memory of connecting the dots between music and cannabis?
AF: It seems like, for my generation, there was always a discourse between The Beatles and The Stones. But to be purely fair, I grew up in a house filled with Moody Blues and Emerson Lake and Palmer LPs at the forefront. The realization that these records went hand in hand with my parents being high in college came pretty early. It’s hard to look at the cover of Tarkus and imagine any other outcome. As a result, the tumble down the rabbit hole of 60s psychedelia and prog came pretty early on in my teens, though I wouldn’t make the personal connection with music and cannabis until college, when the two halves clicked.
Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears
Stoned listening, especially in a playlist or mixtape, is all about the flow. The list here moves from sunshine to darker corners, mixing quite a few new gems in with the old. Right now there aren’t a lot of labels embracing the West Coast psych sound better than Curation Records. Their upcoming release from Sean Thompson’s Weird Ears is a cosmic Americana classic in the making, full of country-fried twang and sunshine strums. Sean’s a Nashville session stalwart who’s shown up on records from Spencer Cullum, Eric Slick, Curtis Harding, Pujol and more, but his Weird Ears is poised to be one to watch in 2022.
Ode To The Road
Speaking of cosmic Americana stalwarts, Horne has made time in bands like Circles Around the Sun, The Skiffle Players and the widely loved Grateful Shred. Behind the boards, Dan is a key producer for the new wave of cosmic artists, having helmed releases by Mapache, Pacific Range, and Allah-Lahs. Following up an EP last year, this new single is a blissed ode to van life in the style of Beachwood Sparks.
Naturally, this leads me to follow with a tune from Beachwood Sparks themselves. The band kept the cosmic flame lit in the early aughts, and while the smeared strains of Once We Were Trees is a constant favourite, the more twanged moments on their debut pair well with stoned listening on a sunny day.
High and Low
Another new band on the rise is the West Coast duo Color Green. They started out with a more homespun EP a few years back, but on this pre-album single, they give hints of funk-scraped JJ Cale, digging into the motor oil choogle before going full Gimme Shelter with the background vocals. Their debut LP is one of the best of 2022, and likely this song will wind up on every mixtape I make for the next couple of years.
Teddy and the Rough Riders
The Nashville band have remained underdogs of the cosmic country scene, but with members of The Paperhead, Natural Child, and Sean Thompson himself sitting in, they’ve got the fried country credentials on lock. The band’s debut EP has long been a favourite around here and Goldmine gets the Parsons meets Purple Sage vibes just right.
Next I’ve headed back into the West Coast charms of Curation Records for one of their earliest releases. I’m always a bit surprised that Pacific Range hasn’t been held up higher in the new jam pantheon. The band nails nimble jazz touches that work best in sun-soaked West Coast psych, all filtered down from the Dead lineage. Studio Walk percolates with an ease tossed with some salt air breeze. The whole album is perfect, but this one’s a standout every time.
Rose City Band
Perhaps the only band outdoing Pacific Range and Garcia Peoples as heads of the new psych wave is Rose City Band. The unassuming moniker graces Ripley Johnson’s (Moon Duo, Wooden Shjips) country-psych persona and he’s worked up a trio of essential releases over the past few years. The sun-baked strums of Morning Light whisper California more than his Pacific Northwest environs, but every time this one plays on the stereo, I’m transfixed until the last notes fade into the air.
Really My Friend
It’s easy to slip into tried-and-true—and honestly overdone—territory with 70s picks, but Country Funk is a glossed over gem that always deserves a shout. While leaning a bit further into the country than the funk aspect, Country Funk rolls dusted twang and Byrdsian harmonies into a heat-quivered bliss on Really My Friend.
Jag Älskar Sommaren
Kosmiche and German progressive often get the heavy share of praise for the early 70s but the Swedish psych scene holds a lot of weight in my heart. Kebnekajse’s debut on the venerable Silence label is one of the best of the era, and this 10-minute psych workout is the highlight of the record. Featuring members of Baby Grandmothers and Mecki Mark Men, the band rolls laid-back riffs and a feel that’s somewhere between Santana and surf into a monster jam that was sure to have expanded into a burner on stage. Love this one!
James Matthew VII
Nickel & Dimin’
Dipping into the new bin once again, this gem from a few years back has a low and dirty sway to it. JMVII is a Canadian crooner with a power pop past and a present spent playing Matthew ‘Doc’ Dunn and Young Guv. While a lot of his record Stoned When I Pray can swerve into a Beachwood downline, this track has a strange funk to it that’s perfect for stoned listening.
The Court & Spark
I’ve been digging back into this one hard; the band never really got their due. Featuring a pre-Hiss Golden Messenger M.C. Taylor, the band worked through glossed indie rock and country swagger long before the combination was finding a new heyday. There’s a bit of a smoked haze on this song that billows out of the speakers with a JJ Cale-tipped cool.
The other songwriter in The Court & Spark was Hirsch, and if his Cale-shades came out on Hallelujah I, they glow in blacklight brilliance on No No. Few songs from the past few years have achieved this kind of effortless baked-in feeling. No No drives slow around the mind—seat reclined, hand atop the wheel, streetlights blurring out the windows.
70s Japan is packed with perfect psych gems, to the point that many comps have already tackled it. Happy End is one of the best, and honestly, any of their songs could probably fit this list, but I like the restrained, narcotic feel of かくれんぼ (Hide and Seek). The guitars slink on the song, offsetting the strum in the right ear with snaking, oiled leads in the left.
There are few bands to have picked up the 70s rock mantle and really made it work. Garcia Peoples has done just that. Obvious name references aside, the band skirt prog and psych like seasoned pros despite their median age skewing fairly young. The band’s fourth album saw them come into their own with psych-folk touches and dips through German progressive. This one, laced with flute from the excellent P.G. Six and a heady swirl, is always a favourite.
Laila, Part 2
One of the influences on the Garcia Peoples' album Nightcap At Wits' End that seemed to surface the most was this Agitation Free album, which can often get lost in a sea of lists full of CAN and Ash Ra Tempel. The taut playing and jazz interplay between members of the band gives this song a nicely tensile feeling, moving like honed musical muscles. I highly recommend this whole album!
Possum is one of the new bands I’ll shout out each and every time. These Canadian artists just aren’t getting enough coverage outside of their bubble. Their first album had a lot of promise but they topped it and then some with last year’s Lunar Gardens. Psych-jazz touches, scorched guitars that leave charcoal residue on the speakers, and a dry ice darkness to the whole song.
Al Doum & The Faryds
Al Doum & The Faryds is yet another band that should have praise heaped on them. The Italian band has a new record out that plays more into psych-folk territory, but their 2018 album is pure psych-funk odyssey. I’m a sucker for flute in a psych jam and this one barrels out of the gate with overblown intensity atop a tumble of rhythm. The whole album is a scorcher, but Light Up is a highlight.
Badge Époque Ensemble
Jazz flute over the top of psych grooves gets me every time and Badge is one of the best bands out of Canada these days. Slim Twig anchors the bunch with plenty of players falling in on their last couple of records. This one has a cold humidity about it that I always love in a song, plus it’s hard to beat Dorothea Paas’ vocal turn on this one.
Stanley Stood Still
Stanley Stood Still is off of Rhyton’s most recent album, and it is midnight psych at its best. A gnarled, greasy blues riff that’s all pelvis and leering eyes. In the right state of mind, this cut tears through the listener, rattling them to the marrow.
75 Dollar Bill
Speaking of unsanded blues riffs, I’d be remiss not to follow up with a hackled cut from 75 Dollar Bill. It’s hard to pass up a junkyard beaten boogie like this, dedicated to one of the best guitarists around. The rhythmic slap, chewed iron guitars, and 100-degree sax line burn this song into the back of the skull.
To See Darkness
To conclude my playlist, I’ve got to cool it off—but just a little bit. Elkhorn is one of the best trips to the inner mind around. The band’s psych-folk reverberates to every point in the body. Liquid mercury guitars and dusted acoustic strum before the song burns up in the desert sun. This song is off their excellent Sun Cycle record from a few years back.
Editorial note from Andy: I've been a pretty ardent proponent of not using Spotify on my site, just because the pay structure and politics are so abusive. Mixcloud at least pays radio rates, which isn't perfect, but it’s better than the meagre pieces of pennies from the alternatives. Plus, for a mix, I always like the idea of letting the songs bleed into one another rather than the hard stops on a Spotify list. For something like this, that feels key.
For readers who prefer Spotify, here's the Playlist with a couple of the more rare and hard to find tracks missing.
Andy French is the owner and curator of the site Raven Sings the Blues, a daily music review website in operation since 2006. He is the host of Crawl Out From The Fallout on Hudson, New York's independent, freeform station WGXC. The show can be heard every 2nd Tuesday of the month from 8-10 PM. Andy has been helping keep the Upstate music scene vital, booking shows in Hudson and Kingston, New York at venues like BSP, The Half Moon, and Tubby's. He's the founder of the upcoming Deep In The Valley Festival, which brings together cosmic Americana, psych, jazz, and folk at the scenic farm brewery From The Ground on August 20th in Red Hook, New York. He lives in Hudson with his wife, Dani, and their two daughters, Florence and Mae.
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