We're living in unprecedented times amid the coronavirus crisis, where social distancing and self-isolation are the new normal. The adjustment has many (myself included) seeking greater comfort and connection through music. I asked some of Boston's musicians what they're listening to during this anxious time. From classical to jazz — and themes encompassing peace, hope, clarity, and change — their contributions are an encouraging reminder that what keeps us together is stronger than what keeps us apart. Here's what they had to say:
Tanya Donelly, Belly
"At the moment, I'm listening to a lot of Parkington Sisters, She Makes War and Angel Olsen. In general, I'm leaning toward women with beautiful voices who write warm, intelligent, clear, moving music and excel at blending honesty with hope."
Ryan Walsh, Hallelujah the Hills
"This deceptively simple song ('The Soldier' by Walter Martin) collapses about 80 years of personal and U.S. history into a little over seven minutes. It is one of the most touching creations I've encountered this year. It even features a truly surprising reveal near the end that causes you to rethink the entire song's purpose the first time you hear it. In the past few weeks, its meaning has changed for me; it's teaching me how big dramatic moments in life or a country will later, in some cases, be condensed down into a footnote, or a single memory, and we can never know that in the moment that it's all happening, only in hindsight."
Kay Hanley, Letters to Cleo
"At this moment, the songs I want to hear are breezy, dance-y, or happily nostalgic. I am allergic to anything that feels heavy or navel-gazing right now. 'Something About You' by Level 42 sounds really good today."
Bill Janovitz, Buffalo Tom
"The record I have listened to the most in the last couple of days is a new one to me, but an old album by Hank Mobley called A Slice of the Top. It is a gorgeous record that I have been playing repeatedly, and I will now go find on vinyl. A friend linked to an article about a Hank Mobley retrospective box set that referenced this particular album, which Mobley considered the best thing he did. Though he was a horn player who recorded (as both a session leader and a contributor to others' sessions) during the prime 1950s-70s bop and post-bop decades, and who played with many of the giants of the era (Max Roach, McCoy Tyner, et al.), his name recognition may not be as high as those he played with, among more casual jazz fans, such as me. Mobley pointed out that that the legendary label, Blue Note records, would regularly commission session dates and then hold the resulting recordings and not release them for years or even decades, as in this case, recorded in 1966 and unreleased until 1979. The album is catchy and accessible but also deep, with 4/5 Mobley original compositions, and technically brilliant with A-list players like Tyner and Lee Morgan. From start to finish, it makes me wonder why Blue Note held it up. I am sure there is a back story. But the album must have seemed classic and potential commercial success to anyone with ears, a brain, and a heart. But what do I know?"
"$ean Wire’s ‘Portrait Mode’ has been on repeat for me. It’s been bringing me peace in all this isolation."
Dicky Barrett, The Mighty Mighty BossToneS
"Whenever I am seeking solace, strength, and comfort during challenging and difficult times, there are certain musical artists, musical eras, and musical genres that have a tendency to provide those things for me. Having said that, I've been listening to a lot of Paul Simon/Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Diamond, Sinatra, 70's Punk Rock, and the soundtrack to Frozen 2 (I'm quarantined with my four- and my eight-year-old daughters.)
BossToneS bass player Joe Gittleman and I, along with the other BossToneS, have been pretty prolific during this crisis. We've been writing some really great new BossToneS songs that are more than likely going to be part of the next and hopefully soon to be released BossToneS offering. So far the plan is to create a high concept, double gatefold album tentatively called Quarantinedrophenia (I kid.) Everyone stay safe, we will get through this. Lot's of love from me and The Mïghty Mighty BossToneS."
Chadwick Stokes, Dispatch
"My three-year-old can't stop listening to "Gee Officer Krupke" from West Side Story. She asks to go to bed early at night because she knows we can listen to it a few times before bed."
"A song that I keep playing on repeat is a song called 'Motion Sickness' by Phoebe Bridgers. It seems to just fit my mood these days and is a great song to drive around to. I'm alone in LA, and there's not much to do, so getting out for a drive has been really healing most days, and this song is getting me through it. I feel pretty discombobulated and a little motion sick, as well as emotional, but still hopeful, and this song is all of that to me."
Brian Rosenworcel, Guster
"I think this album (Van Morrison's Moondance) is celebrating its 50th anniversary right now, and while the lyrics (to 'And It Stoned Me') aren't poignant in a pandemic sense, the pure nostalgia of it, the way it transports me to my teenage years, the way it instantly makes me feel — that's worth a lot right now."
Ryan Miller, Guster
"I stumbled into Guebrou's work a few years ago; it stopped me blind. Childlike and prodigious at the same time. It sounds like water."
Luke Reynolds, Guster
"I'm not so much interested in listening to music for pleasure right now. The reason I'm listening to music because I'm trying to learn from recordings, that's what makes me halfway normal right now. This track ('The Rip' by Portishead) is a good reminder (to me) of the kind of production decisions I think are important. I don't understand the song all the way; it twists my ear. It's crooked enough that it sounds unique, but also pretty straight forward enough that it isn't exclusive. It's mysterious, hasn't been edited to death, but it's also heavily edited. A slow-motion performance in and of itself. It's not perfect, not too clean. It's a perfect balance of mechanical and human."
"I loved 'How to Be Invisible' by Dietrich Strause the moment I heard it, but it's become a real favorite in recent weeks. The melody and unadorned vocal performance are achingly tender, and the message — that our willingness to be vulnerable and love is what makes us truly able to be seen by others — really resonates for me at this moment in time."
"I worked with Jenee Halstead for months to release this ('I'll Be Your Man') on my record label. We had big plans for it but bigger plans had something else in mind and where we are at this moment. But the song she made with my friend Dave Brophy is beautiful and it ties to the past that is now gone, the present where it provides relief and a future where we will release the whole album. It's a mini celebration in 3 minutes and 53 seconds."
"This album (Music for Saxofone & Bass Guitar by Sam Gendel and Sam Wilkes) brings me clarity and calm. It stirs up the creativity so the anxiety can't enter for the time being."
Devin Mauch, The Ballroom Thieves
"I've been doing a deep dive into a concept album rock opera entitled Rope and Ladder by Rope and Ladder. This project was written and recorded over the course of 10 years by two of his best friends (and old bandmates) from growing up and explores themes of war, love, and betrayal. It's a wonderfully thought-provoking album that takes the listener on an epic journey full of twists and turns."
Callie Peters, The Ballroom Thieves
"I've been listening to Mahler, Symphony 5, Movement IV, because Mahler."
Martin Earley, The Ballroom Thieves
"I've been listening to 'Get It Together' by Lyle Brewer, non-stop. I was already listening to it at a somewhat alarming clip before the quarantine began, but there's no record in our collection that imparts the same amount of quiet, restful, gentle introspection I find myself craving on a daily basis these days."
"We don't have to be in the midst of a pandemic for me to throw on some Lukas Nelson, but this song really checks all the boxes for me right now. It's a nice reminder to slow down and focus on what's most important — kindness and being there for each other. 'Turn off the news and raise the kids. Give them something to believe in. Teach them how to be good people. Give them hope that they can see.'"
Paul Wright, Tall Heights
"It's not because it's on the nose thematically, and it's not because I look up to him as a cellist/songwriter. I chose this song ('I Couldn't Say It To Your Face' by Arthur Russell) because it hit me like a ton of bricks. It forced me to process the overnight change in daily life and the loss of normalcy as a breakup, not with a lover but with the physical community — the pain in not knowing when we'll comfortably gather with family, friends and everyday acquaintances again."
"I discovered this song ('Grows Old' by Thirdstory) through Victoria Canal, the opening act on our last tour. At the start of that tour, COVID-19 was a secondary headline story about a contagion overseas, and then it became what it is, and it cut us short (we canceled the last four shows). As I processed the shock and losses of the pandemic around me, Thirdstory's song, both in the groove and lyrical content, gave me a feeling of consistency. It's a love song, yes, but it's a commitment song too, and I think staying in love with yourself, and all the people and this whole screwy world is an act of will in moments like these."
"Harold Budd is a soothing balm for me. The song 'Olancha Farewell.' I literally listened to that song for a year. I think wordless ambient music is really soothing in general."
"Two songs that are keeping me up right now are 'How Does it Feel?' (Banx & Ranx Remix) by Samm Henshaw & Banx & Ranx, and 'I'm Every Woman' by Chaka Khan."
"I love to dance, and I love Meg (Megan Thee Stallion). Sometimes during tough times, you have to pause and have fun and forget for a minute."
"He's (SeeFour) an incredible artist, and this song got me through a deep depression. It's also just a beautiful song ('Falling')."
"Can you tell I love to turn up and have fun? Twerking in my house is keeping me sane at this point. Super talented rapper (Cakeswagg) and super fun song ('Ice Cream')."