Buckle your seatbelts folks, the show is about to get really good. If you’ve been on the journey so far, we’ve covered the Crucial Tracks for both Chris and I, as well as some administrivia and end-of-year music picks. Standard fare…but NOW it’s time to dig in and we have some really amazing people lined up for you – starting with today’s guest: Rachel Shelton. Enjoy. — Jason and Chris

A little about me before we dig in: I was born in Buffalo, moved to Cleveland for art school & stayed for the better part of a decade, eventually moved back to Buffalo for grad school, and then opened Mirabo Press shortly thereafter with two partners. I’m a studio artist focusing on printmaking, enamel, and sculpture, as well as a collaborative printer and Co-Founder at Mirabo.

Listen, this was a lot harder than I imagined it would be. I can’t choose the 10-20 most important songs to me. The pressure! The inevitable misrepresentation! The sheer amount of songs I love! Parts of the process were a blast, though. I went for a deep dive through my ancient iPod and combed through my digital listening platforms, which turned out to be wholly unnecessary but induced some real glee.

At the end of the day, I chose songs that stood out when I thought back to certain eras in my life. They sort of go in order of chronological relativity to those eras, but that gets murky. Admittedly, a couple of them are just straight up favorites, but having to think about why that is was an intriguing exercise. It’s not necessarily a list that’s indicative of my taste and it’s leaving out a LOT – multiple entire genres full of music that are biographically important. Looking at the list as a whole, the most common thread is that many of these songs, in one way or another (immediate or via slow burn) made an impact on the way I think about art – the experiencing of it and the making.

Cortez the Killer – Neil Young & Crazy Horse (Zuma)

Neil was a regular in my parents’ homes and when I grew up and moved out, he became a regular in mine. And in my car. And at the studio. I love Neil Young. That dude does whatever the hell he wants regardless of the stipulations of his record deals, pressure to be consistent, critical reviews, whatever… plus the fact that he absolutely does not have the voice for mainstream popularity is impressive given his success. I have many top Neil songs like Old Man, Down By the River, Dreamin’ Man, Harvest Moon (come on, the literal sweeping broom as a background layer…) and then you’ve got what I think of as the real and humorous sketchbook pieces like Piece of Crap or F*!#in’ Up. Cortez takes the cake for me, though.

The song takes its time unfolding, beginning with some undeniably great sounding guitar. It starts out with a vignette of the conquistador, Cortez, but also references Aztec rule, and then mysteriously switches to a romantic first person tale late in the song. We’re looking at a minimum of three time frames here, all linked by who knows what. It’s a narrative with room for wonder and I’ve always been a pretty big fan of that.

Great Gig in the Sky – Pink Floyd (The Dark Side of the Moon)

A lot of Pink Floyd’s music, as well as Gilmour’s solo work, has been bread and butter listening for me my entire life. We had the Pulse DVD on at home regularly and I remember being a kid and completely in awe of these strong female vocalists who took the spotlight during Great Gig in the Sky. Despite being lyricless, you can deeply feel those vocals. When you watch these women sing you can just tell how good it feels. They’re IN IT.

As I got older, not just the rawness of it got me, but realizing that it was one of my introductions to abstraction. This song doesn’t need language to communicate, there’s nothing representational about it. But, you can feel it. You can read the narrative. It’s human, it’s sheer creation, it’s gorgeous. And chasing that feeling of being “in it” is an endless cycle which begins the moment you’re out of it again.

Free Man in Paris – Joni Mitchell (Court and Spark)

This was another childhood intro thanks to my mom. I knew all the lyrics from an early age and had pretty rich visuals associated with the story. I think I sort of understood it then. I remember not wanting to be like the subject of the lyrics, constantly held back from freedom by what I’d now describe as the commodified, capitalist side of the music/art world.

As happens, the meaning changed for me over time. While I’m clearly nowhere in the orbit of the level of the subject of the song (Mitchell’s friend, agent David Geffen) I’ve worked in commercial galleries and I run a collaborative printmaking studio, I know what it’s like to have people wanting things from you and for so much of your social life to also be your professional life. I also feel that it applies within my own practice – not letting the “professional” side of things hamper the creative.

I love that the song is describing something that’s ultimately a bummer – this man gets to have a brief spell of freedom during vacation, but not to live that way regularly. However, the melody and instrumentation is lighter, it’s got layers that feel happy… It captures well the relief associated with a true break.

Children of the Revolution – T. Rex (single)

I was introduced to T. Rex through the film Billy Elliot. Their songs were the perfect vehicle to carry the story of a boy with a secret talent for ballet through coming of age in a working class English family during a tense mining strike. You’ve got I Love to Boogie, Cosmic Dancer, and others. They fit all the moods, and they’re all fun to listen to. And then there’s Children of the Revolution.

I was in early high school and this was the shit. It was an anthem hitting my teenage brain at exactly the right moment. Simple and to the point, “you won’t fool the children of the revolution” says it all – it challenges the norm, it tells the adults they can’t manipulate or control us, it’s energetic and exciting and glam. Honestly, it still serves that younger, louder, less complicated sense of rebellion when I listen to it now.

La Mer – Nine Inch Nails (The Fragile)

I used to listen to Nine Inch Nails a lot. I was even wearing a NIN shirt in my senior photo (oh my god…) A lot of their music is obviously dark and angry and achy and aggressive. But, La Mer stuck out – it’s beautiful. The lyrics, which are in French (cue high school attraction to anything remotely mysterious), are about freedom from fear. What could be more appealing than being relieved of that burden?

I was full of respect for Trent Reznor and his significant musical ability. I was interested in the way he wrote music, played many of the instruments, and I was starting to think, probably unknowingly, about process at this point. Of course, thinking about process eventually became the backbone of my entire studio practice. An industrial, gritty musician making softer songs about finding light in the darkness struck me as very romantic and that search is something I returned to again and again.

Born in 55 – Ben Bullington (White Sulphur Springs)

I first met Ben Bullington during a family trip to Montana in my teens. Ben was a stellar songwriter and a close family friend. He started out as a geologist, then became a doctor, and was always writing and playing music in his spare time. He received a cancer diagnosis in his late 40s and with that, he left his profession to pursue his passion and recorded as much as he could, playing in singer/songwriter circles in Nashville and touring with his remaining time. He introduced me to Tom Waits, Springsteen’s album Nebraska, and some country music traditions that I thought I wouldn’t like but ended up loving. In the last exchange we had before he passed, he shared some advice – “make art that moves you and it will move others”- and that has been a core tenet for me ever since.

I was lucky to not only see Ben play in music venues but at our kitchen table and on the back porch. His ability to paint a picture was seemingly innate. While he sang about things wholly alien to my own experience, like life in a tiny ranch town in Montana, he did it in a way that made the scenario feel completely familiar. Instinctually understandable. His music captures being human, a difficult thing to do genuinely. Some of Ben’s music makes me cry, some makes me feel quiet, or warm, but my favorite song in the way of storytelling is Born in 55.

The Chain – Fleetwood Mac (Rumours)

What can I say, it’s Fleetwood Mac. I grew up with their music playing in both my mom’s and dad’s houses and it’s just… fun. Later, my dear friend and studio mate in art school brought a record player into our shared space and we would blast Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks (and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks and Dusty Springfield and, and and…).

I remember being in high school and repeatedly watching an early YouTube video of Stevie Nicks in her bright, breezy dressing room singing what must’ve been a very early iteration of Wild Heart, and not being able to pinpoint what was so appealing, but knowing that it was. I think that sort of sums up the majority of my feelings about Fleetwood Mac.

Take Off Your Cool – Outkast ft. Norah Jones (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below)

I don’t have tons to say about this one, it’s just one of those songs that sticks to your ribs. When I came across it, I was taking a course on collaboration with other artists, so the logistics and outcomes of combining creative practices was front of mind. Intellectually, I was excited by hearing quite disparate styles of songwriting and performance melded into a single structure. On a more intuitive level, the song just felt good. It’s comfortable and sounds good and has a little sultry spice. Hearing it during those years of rapidly going through outward identities before settling into myself, I remember interpreting the lyrics as a sort of standard by which to judge closeness and realness in various relationships: could I just be myself around this person or did I find that to be difficult? In order to truly collaborate, I think you do need to shed any pretenses, so I guess it’s all connected.

The Visitors – Ragnar Kjartansson

I realize this doesn’t exactly fit the prompt but it does involve a song and it is one of the deepest impressions for me. The Visitors, a multichannel video installation by Ragnar Kjartansson happened to be on view in the University at Buffalo Art Galleries while I was in grad school and I feel immeasurably fortunate to have been able to bask in it repeatedly. It felt like an experience that subtly made a mark on the molecular level.

To briefly set the stage, the installation involves a dark gallery with multiple screens. On each is a musician, simultaneously playing an hour long song in unison in different rooms of a big old house in the Hudson Valley. One plays a grand piano in a grand room, some play in the light of gigantic upper floor windows, another is naked in the bathtub with his guitar, and so on.

Through few words and very gradual, collaborative evolution, the song loosens up and unfolds. With an oft repeated refrain of “once again I fall into my feminine ways,” and wide ranging, dreamy instrumentals, this song is frankly stunning. If you ever have the chance to see The Visitors, you must, and you need to stay for the whole thing. It’s blissful. Kjartansson, who wrote the song, describes it as “a feminine nihilistic gospel song” and I can’t imagine what else might sell you on it.

Spitting off the Edge of the World – Yeah Yeah Yeahs ft. Perfume Genius (Cool it Down)

One morning during the summer of 2022 I woke up early and it was bright and sunny and warm in my bedroom. I looked at my phone and had a notification that Spitting off the Edge of the World was released. The first new Yeah Yeah Yeahs song in almost a decade! I was cautiously psyched, if that’s a thing. I immediately put on my headphones and proceeded to listen to it from my bed on repeat for an hour and a half. I think I might have smiled the entire time. I was definitely totally focused. I don’t know about you, but that level of attention for that length of time is pretty rare for me these days.

I’ve been a Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan since my first semester of college. They were on all the time in the foundation art studios and I was immediately in. Y Control, Date with the Night, Maps, so good. Poor Song, SO GOOD. Karen O’s solo work on Where the Wild Things Are, so very good. But I’m pretty sure this song is my absolute favorite.

I also have to note that between a lot of the music I listen to either being on around the house growing up or from any of the mass mp3 downloads at my desk in high school, it’s not that often I can remember the exact circumstance in which I first heard a song before college. This was definitely one of those rare and fantastic times.

Listen to this issue of Crucial Tracks

Find this issue’s playlist on Apple Music and Spotify. (Editor’s Note: at least one track wasn’t available on each service. Sorry!)


Thanks to Rachel for sharing her Crucial Tracks! You can find Rachel online: website / Instagram.

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