Get twangy with these tunes by public media troubadours

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Earlier this year we asked public media’s musicians to send us songs so we could compile a playlist. We heard from 40 musicians from across the country, covering a wide variety of genres. This week, we take a stroll down a country road with some Americana-style tunes. 

If you’ve ever been to West Philadelphia, you know it’s less about spending your days on the playground and more about spending them on a porch. Stoop-kid culture thrives in Philly. In fact, it has entire fests dedicated to bands on porches. 

This is all vital background information for listening to Philly-based radio producer Alex Lewis’ submission. “Porch Stasis” is by Lewis’ band, Flat Mary Road. Lewis and bandmate Steve Teare, an independent illustrator, have both worked for WHYY. Lewis also recently produced Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, a podcast from WXPN and NPR about gospel music. 

“I think lots of freelancers choose the lifestyle because they want to make room for multiple creative pursuits. So in addition to our primary pursuits as media makers (often for public radio), we’ve both played in bands for a long time,” Lewis wrote. “We met at a bar in our West Philly neighborhood a few years ago, hit it off as friends, and soon after Steve invited me to play lead guitar in his band. The rest is history.” 

Teare wrote “Porch Stasis” after his grandmother passed away. 

“I remember I had just driven back from South Carolina where the funeral was held and I was sitting on a West Philadelphia porch with my girlfriend for what seemed like hours,” Teare wrote. “And I actually felt quite happy as we sat there drinking spiked tea together. But soon, all of a sudden, I started to long for my grandmother deeply. I began to finalize the reality of not just her death, but all death. At the same time, I felt my love for this woman — the one sitting right there with me on the porch — strengthening intensely.”

Our next submission takes us from a West Philly porch to a suburb in Madison, Wis. “Suburban Summer Shine” is an original song by The Getaway Drivers. At one point the band also included two public media people — Wisconsin Public Radio music librarian Sheila Shigley and Steve Pingry, who was involved with WRST in Oshkosh. Pingry died in 2011. 

“Suburban Summer Shine” “was inspired by a sense of technology escalating out of control,” Shigley writes. As the song’s lyrics say, “The days look the same, but something’s changed. … All the children play in cyberspace, they’re running from the human race, and one day we’ll all look just the same.’” 

Addiction to technology was part of the inspiration behind the song “Blue Sky Glory” by the band MARS, or Middle Aged Rock Stars. (Which has to be my favorite band name ever?) Michael Amundson, who works for the PBS science show Nova at WGBH, was inspired by the Boeing 767 airplane customized by Google’s founders. 

“The song is sort of a cross between the daydreams many have at one time or another of being rich, and the sad reality of the times — the stock market just going up and up while average people saw their dreams and expectations sort of evaporating,” Amundson wrote. “A longing for simpler (analog) times, and a call to reject the addictive new technologies … to stay grounded in what’s real.”

American Public Television’s Eric Luskin submitted “Dance Malinda (Pre-Cumberland Blues),” an original song by his band Side Street. 

“The story is based on an imagined prequel to Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s ‘The Cumberland Blues,’” he wrote. “But the original was missing something. … Finally, we decided that the “You make me roar” lyric called for a roaring saxophone solo.” 

Can’t lose with a sax solo, honestly. 

Other Americana-tinged tunes we received included “The One” by Louisville-based Bridge 19 and “Where Are You Now” by Sugarkane and Co. Bridge 19 drummer Meg Samples hosts a music show on WFPK. Kenneth Simmons of Sugarkane and Co. works for KIXE-TV in Redding, Calif. 

Hear these songs and more on the full Public Media Rocks Playlist.

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