Music plays a role in shaping all of our lives, especially those of us who work at The Sun and the Sentinel & Enterprise. These artists, songs, albums and genres made all the difference for us.
Jacob Vitali: Zach Bryan, ‘Something in the Orange’
Zach Bryan is a young artist who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable in his music. The song “Something in the Orange” showcases his simple, yet poetic prowess.
Written after gazing out into a Wisconsin sunset, we find the song’s narrator lamenting lost love. The wound of his love leaving is still raw. He is the one who drove her away and he is coming to terms with this reality.
When we are forced to accept loneliness and the consequences of our actions, there’s a sinking feeling that accompanies that. Longing for his partner’s touch, he describes the weightlessness of when his partner would rest her head “between his collar and jaw.”
As he sings the lines “And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t/’Cause if I say I miss you I know that you won’t …” we see him grappling with the question of whether or not he should reach out and tell her how he feels.
He knows she doesn’t miss him. He can’t bear to face that rejection that would come with reaching out.
“To you I’m just a man, to me you’re all I am/Where the hell am I supposed to go?” Bryan belts out on the song’s chorus. “I poisoned myself again/Something in the orange tells me you’re never coming home.”
Poetically, Bryan continues, “If you leave today, I’ll just stare at the way / The orange touches all things around / The grass, trees and dew, how I just hate you / Please turn those headlights around.”
Lyrically, Bryan is taking us to a place we have all been at some point or another — some of us more than we’d like to admit. Musically, his reliance on minor chords played on an acoustic guitar, flawlessly draws us into his desperate mindset.
The song is one of 34 outstanding tracks on Bryan’s major label debut album “American Heartbreak” which was released on May 14. The album closed out the year at 54 on the Billboard 200, but peaked at fifth place. “Something in the Orange” peaked at spot 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year.
No longer active duty in the U.S. Navy, Bryan is now free to focus exclusively on his music career and has taken his job as a modern day troubadour seriously. He followed “American Heartbreak” with the nine track EP “Summertime Blues” in July. He closed this year by releasing “All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster” a live album recorded at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. The latter’s title stemmed from his opposition to unfair ticket prices and fees set by the corporate giant.
With well-earned commercial and critical success — penning songs that paint pictures of his soul — Bryan seems destined to be the voice of a generation and produce numerous top-shelf compositions.
— Sentinel & Enterprise City Editor Jacob Vitali
Bruce Castleberry: Nat King Cole, ‘Stardust’
I was not a Limp Bizkit fan during their heyday, so when my Spotify Wrapped listed “Break Stuff” as my most played song of the year I was a little dismayed. It’s a great rock song, no doubt, but … Limp Bizkit?
As I write this I am grateful 2022 is almost over. It could have gone better. But new year, new start, right?
The song I turned to over and over this year (when I wasn’t choosing “Break Stuff” SMH) was written almost 100 years ago. Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” has been recorded in dozens of languages by more than 1,500 artists. It’s an indisputable American classic, a song of aching poignance and emotion. Willie Nelson’s version is a favorite, but nothing really is better than the late Nat King Cole’s version. The string arrangement is perfection; legendary arranger Nelson Riddle worked with Cole (and Frank Sinatra) a lot during the 50s, and this 1957 gem has to be Riddle’s work. It’s just timeless, beautiful and will touch people’s lives for centuries to come.
— Senior Editor/Regional Sports Editor Bruce Castleberry
Melanie Gilbert: Rockin’ it with classical music
Nerd alert. I was Baby Mozart before there even was even a thing called Baby Mozart.
My mom was a classically trained pianist and contralto soloist who performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and various music companies in the Detroit-Metro area. She performed right up to the moment she birthed each of her six children, so we had a front-row seat to high-performance music. Two takeaways from that: I still love classical music, and I love applause.
Classical music was the slippery slope that led to my love for the rock operas of Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Who and Jesus Christ Superstar. This year, though, I’ve been revisiting two of my favorite artists: pianist Glenn Gould and violinist Hilary Hahn. Like in my writing for The Lowell Sun, I favor the long form, and classical music does long-form music like nothing else.
Gould’s interpretation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” – both his debut album, released when he was 24, and his later interpretation at age 50 – are distinctly different works. Listening to his changes in tempo, intonation and coloring between the two performances cheers me that even Old Coots can reinvent themselves and create beautiful music.
Hilary Hahn’s playing is flawless, but her style never veers toward mechanical because she brings so much emotion to each piece. I saw her perform Beethoven’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra” with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and can affirm that one can hold their breath for 50 minutes. She’s been performing for almost 30 years, yet her music never gets old.
Life is short, but by listening to classical music, I feel timeless. And, if you ever need a plus-one for the opera, you know who to call.
— Sun reporter Melanie Gilbert
Christopher Hurley: Avatar, ‘The Dirt I’m Buried In’
Since 2019, my musical tastes have led me directly to Avatar Country.
Not to be confused with the James Cameron movie, this Avatar is a Swedish heavy metal outfit that’s been producing quality riffage since early Y2K. They’ve got an Iron Maiden-ish swagger meets AC/DC-ish groove, which fits perfectly into my wheelhouse.
Their ninth album “Dance Devil Dance” comes out in February, but three singles have already been released, and are currently cranked accordingly in my car. From the brilliantly brutal title track, to equally effective “Valley of Disease,” Avatar continues to hit all the right notes with me. However, their most recent single “The Dirt I’m Buried In” is a refreshing change-up in terms of tempo and style, showcasing their dynamic range.
I first discovered Avatar in Portland, Maine in 2019. Unfamiliar with the band, I was originally going to bolt after seeing Devin Townsend open the show. Other Devin fans urged me to give Avatar a look, so I gave them three songs to impress me. By the time they got to the second verse of the opener “Statue of the King,” I was sold (and this never happens with me). Not only did I stay for the entire show, I bought the new disc that night, as well as several signature tracks like “Hail the Apocalypse,” “The Eagle Has Landed,” “Let It Burn,” and “Torn Apart.” I’ve been listening to them non-stop ever since. And based off the newer material, I’ll be a loyal citizen of Avatar Country in the years to come.
— Sun sportswriter Christopher Hurley,
Sara Arnold: They Might Be Giants, ‘Flood’
My song of 2022 is actually an album from a band both unique and trend-setting in alternative rock — “Flood”, by They Might Be Giants.
I saw TMBG twice this year on their 30th anniversary tour celebrating their groundbreaking and seminal record “Flood”, which I insist is one of the best albums of all time. Except the actual anniversary was in 2020, during the height of the pandemic. The tour was rescheduled several times, but I didn’t care how long I had to wait. I’ve been going to see TMBG since the ’90s, at various venues in New England, New Orleans, and overseas (including in a Scottish bookstore).
To hear this cult classic but Grammy-award-winning band play every song on “Flood” — including “Sapphire Bullets of True Love” fully backward, completely correctly, at every show — was an absolute treat. They’ve only ever performed all of “Flood” in 2022. I don’t think they’ll ever do it again.
“Flood” has been and remains one of the soundtracks to our lives for every nerdy and weird kid stuck somewhere between Generation X and the Millenials — and since TMBG also makes geeky kids’ music, for our children’s lives as well. It has carved out a place in history for decades, but it’s still the best of 2022.
— Correspondent Sara Arnold
Danielle Ray: Music is a source of comfort
For me, song of the year is less about one tune in particular and more about a whole mood — comfort music.
Over the last few years I’ve found myself drawn back to familiar music that’s as comfortable as an old friend and a soothing salve for my pandemic fatigued soul.
Achingly beautiful and oftentimes haunting love songs by greats such as Otis Redding (“These Arms of Mine”), Sam Cooke (“Bring It On Home To Me”), and Whitney Houston (“All The Man That I Need”) have been in heavy rotation along with a genre on the opposite end of the musical spectrum that shaped my formative years — rap. The late great Notorious B.I.G. has long been my favorite rapper, I must have listened to “Ten Crack Commandments” and “Juicy” dozens and dozens of times each this past year alone and a concert I went to this past summer featuring Wu-Tang and Nas instantly transported me back to 19-years-old driving around with JAM’N 94.5 cranked up on the radio — I felt incredibly carefree and happy and danced with my friends for four hours straight.
I’ve always been a music-lover and am fond of just about everything out there, from Beethoven to The Beatles to Bob Marley, and my three kiddos have inherited that bug. Music is always playing in our home, with each of us contributing their own unique spin and tastes to the soundtrack of our lives. It brings people together, it’s a universal language, it’s a way to connect with one another. Which is more important than ever in these divisive times.
— Sentinel & Enterprise Reporter Danielle Ray
Cheryl A. Cuddahy: Andrea Bocelli, ‘The Prayer’
I remember this one beautiful summer day this past year that my sister and I enjoyed time with our mother, talking, laughing, and listening to music outside on her deck.
The sun was shining that day and when the song “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli came on over the radio, my mom stated, “this is my favorite song.” She looked like she was in Heaven, singing the song with a big smile on her beautiful face.
Bocelli wasn’t just a performer to my mother, he was also a connection to her Italian heritage, which she held close to her heart.
We didn’t know just how significant that song would be on that day as we fast forwarded to September, when our mother unexpectedly passed away.
In the days to come, we kept this song close to our hearts, it was an important song to our family now, bringing us comfort and peace.
My brother, sister and I decided to have this song played during her funeral Mass, the church was silent and still, as the stunning voice of Bocelli resonated the perfect tribute to our perfect Italian mother.
As fate would have it, this past Christmas season, my sister and I were fortunate to see Bocelli in concert.
As his extraordinary voice overcame our emotions, we were reminded just how thankful we were to have been blessed by our mother’s love and the love of her Italian heritage. This love was something that she instilled in her three children, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.
I now catch myself humming this song daily and it is something I will hold deep in my heart going into the new year.
“Prego che troveremo la tua luce e la terremo nei nostri cuori, quando le stelle si spengono ogni notte, ricordaci dove sei – Lascia che questa sia la nostra preghiera.”
“I pray we’ll find your light, and hold it in our hearts, when stars go out each night, remind us where you are.”
— Correspondent Cheryl A. Cuddahy
Alana Melanson: The Mars Volta
To be truthful, I didn’t listen to a whole lot of music this year. But when I did, it was mostly to rediscover old favorites that had fallen out of play.
That rediscovery journey — buoyed by the announcement of a reunion tour — starred one of my absolute favorite bands, The Mars Volta.
The Volta are not for the faint of heart. Their cryptic lyrics can be very confusing for many, often seeming like oddly composed collections of obscure words. They effortlessly slide between English and Spanish, weaving disturbing tales that seem ripped out of hellish nightmares. Progressive rock is probably the best way to describe their style, which takes inspiration from a wide range of genres including metal, jazz and Latin.
Despite all of the albums that have been released since, “De-Loused in the Comatorium” remains my favorite, followed by “Frances the Mute.” They came out during a musically formative period for me, and have stuck with me since.
I’d seen The Mars Volta a couple of times years ago, and around 2012 was treated to a surprise appearance from singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala at an Omar Rodríguez-López project show in Boston. My nostalgia peaked when the band returned for its reunion tour in October, resparking my love for this oddball group. Though the lineup has changed some since those earlier years, founders Omar and Cedric still have the magic that first drew me to them.
Another album I turned to time and again this year was Morphine’s “Cure for Pain.” Something about Dana Colley’s baritone sax just always has a way of making me feel better when I need a little pick-me-up.
— Sun Enterprise Editor Alana Melanson
Cameron Morsberger: John Mayer, ‘Stop The Train’
John Mayer is my (not-so) guilty pleasure, and I’ll be the first to admit that. So, in preparation for my five-and-a-half-hour car ride home to Bucks County, PA for the holidays, it made sense to queue up “Continuum,” arguably Mayer’s best work.
It’s an album he’s performed front to back for special concert-goers over the years, notably at Madison Square Garden for a sold-out crowd in 2019. I was lucky enough to see Mayer perform at Boston’s own Garden in May this year, just days before my graduation from Boston University.
“Continuum” is packed with hits: “Vultures,” “In Repair,” “I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You),” “Gravity.” “GRAVITY” — I mean, come on. And though Mayer didn’t perform the 2006 album in full for me, he did pull out some of those iconic songs.
One was “Stop This Train,” which details the pains of growing older, seeing your parents age and watching your life change around you. We have no control of time, but sometimes it’s difficult to confront that painful reality. The realization that you’ll never be in high school or college again, that you’re no longer a child in your mom and dad’s house and that you can’t relive the memories of your youth.
Hearing Mayer sing that song, before I had to walk across a stage and accept my diploma and leave BU behind, I got emotional.
“Stop this train/I want to get off and go home again/I can’t take the speed it’s moving in/I know I can’t/But honestly, won’t someone stop this train?”
I welled up with tears when I heard the song again last week, as I drove alone and reached the rolling hills and farmlands in my hometown. I may not be able to stop this train and may be “scared of getting older,” as Mayer sings about, I’m excited for what this next chapter and new year will bring.
— Sun reporter Cameron Morsberger