Music to Smile By

Photo: Pecan Creek, Horseshoe Bay, TX

Alert Gazette readers will recall that last year we expanded our deck and added a pergola. We’ve enjoyed it a lot, although the relentless brutal heat this summer has meant that we just look at it through the breakfast nook and great room windows. But when it was physically and medically possible to sit outside, we did that every chance we had, enjoying a happy hour beverage and listening to music.

I’ve created a special Apple Music playlist for such occasions, one that’s creatively entitled Deck Music – Easy and we stream it to an Ultimate Ears Hyperboom bluetooth speaker*. As the playlist title implies, the music is generally such that it doesn’t impede on the peaceful surroundings of our back yard, or any conversation that might accidentally take place. But it’s not elevator music, IYKWIM. It contains tunes from diverse acts such as the Mavericks, Alicia Keys, Sergio Mendes, Neil Diamond, Pink Martini (LOTS of Pink Martini), and Santana.

Thus far, I’ve filled the playlist with more than a hundred tracks, totaling just over six hours of listening, so putting it on random shuffle should provide enough variety to stave off boredom. And in the process, I’ve been discovering a lot of new musicians whose music fits neatly into the category.

It seems that much of this music is available only via YouTube, and and the lightly-produced live performances create an intimate feeling that fits in nicely with a relaxing late afternoon outdoors. I have software that allows me to extract the audio from the YouTube videos and edit it as necessary before importing into the playlist. The only downside is that watching some of the performances makes the music even better; seeing how much the musicians enjoy what they do amps up the shared enjoyment of the audience.

And, as the title to this post implies, all of these performances make me smile.

I want to share ten of the most recent performances I’ve discovered, and perhaps you’ll find some new music to add to your own collection.

Allison Young and Joshua Lee (Josh) Turner: Stardust

Allison Young is based in Nashville, and Josh Turner (not to be confused with Joshua Otis (Josh) Turner, the country singer) is based in Brooklyn. Both are excellent singers as well as multi-instrumentalists, and they frequently collaborate to make beautiful music, like the following classic from the Great American Songbook. (You’ll see and hear more from each of them later, because one song just wasn’t enough.)

Stardust…a Hoagy Carmichael classic

Reina del Cid, Toni Lindgren, Josh Turner, Carson McKee: Harvest Moon

This one gets a bit complicated. Reina del Cid is the stage name adopted by Elle Cordova (aka Rachelle Cordova), and she created a video to explain this nomenclature progression, if you’re really interested. (Interestingly, her website,, still shows her name as Reina del Cid. See, I told you it was complicated.) Anyway, she’s the glue that holds this ad hoc group of musicians together, a group that includes two virtuoso guitarists (Toni Lindgren and Josh Turner) as well as Josh’s occasional/frequent collaborator Carson McKee (they perform together as the folk duo, The Other Favorites).

They filmed the following video in Oregon while on a Left Coast tour, and it’s one of the prettiest renditions of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon I’ve heard.

I don’t dislike Neil Young’s original version, but this one…just wow…

Mary Spender: Crossroads

Mary Spender is based in the UK, and is another virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, as the following video clearly shows…the “trio” in the video is all her.

Crossroads is one of my favorite blues songs…I have four versions in my Apple Music library, and Cream’s take is probably my favorite, but it’s hardly a soothing rendition.

I think Robert Johnson would approve.

SingitLive featuring Zkye Compson-Harris: Tennessee Whiskey

Zkye (pronounced “sky”), as she prefers to be called, which seems logical since that’s her name, is an Australian singer who fronts a blues band called Zkye Blue (again, logical). More difficult to explain is SingitLive, which is more of a platform than a band…it’s a collection of musicians who get together in various combinations to produce music, mostly covers and primarily for online consumption (but they also tour, and have put out a couple of albums).

Tennessee Whiskey became an instant country classic when it was recorded by Chris Stapleton, and deservedly so. The SingitLive version is simply what I would call a separate but equal answer, to borrow Pogo’s line.

Stefan Hauk‘s guitar sets this one apart from the original.

Josh Turner and Allison Young: Crazy

As long as we’re strolling through the country portion of the musical landscape, let’s take a moment to bask in this winsome treatment of what is perhaps Willie Nelson’s crowning achievement as a composer. And we’ll turn once again to the duo of Turner and Young…and let’s dwell on the insanity of kicking off a song like this with whistling in two-part harmony (although if you’ll watch to the end — and why wouldn’t you? — you’ll learn the importance of thinking about sad things).

Patsy Cline set the bar…possibly a bit too low, but that’s just me.

The Other Favorites: Sittin’ on Top of the World

I’ve already introduced Josh Turner and Carson McKee as The Other Favorites, so there’s no need to repeat their bios. I’ll let the music speak for itself as they perform another blues classic, this one written by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon and first recorded in 1930. It’s been covered by everyone from Bob Wills to the Grateful Dead, and I have Cream’s version in my collection. The following version is my new favorite.

If I was a guitar player, I’d throw mine away after watching Josh Turner.

Reina del Cid and Toni Lindgren: Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right

Reina/Elle and Toni team up again, this time on a living room couch, to bring some smooth style to Bob Dylan’s 1962 composition. Dylan’s version was the B-side to the perhaps better known Blowin’ In the Wind, and it’s another song that’s been covered from here to there and back again. Lindgren’s mastery of her Paul Reed Smith (PRS) guitar is absolutely spellbinding.

Oh, yet another guitarist who would convince me to learn the clarinet.

Mary Spender and Josh Turner: Sultans of Swing

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t instantly recognize Sultans of Swing when it comes on the radio? Mark Knopfler wrote it and it was released by his band, Dire Straits, in 1977, with Knopfler playing lead guitar. If you find it hard to imagine anyone playing it better…well, sir or madam, this video is for you. I give you the team of Spender and Turner:

It wouldn’t make it on MTV…and that’s a Really Good Thing.

The Other Favorites: Folsom Prison Blues

If Johnny Cash’s original version of this song was a 1955 Chevy Bel-Air with a 350 small-block V8 and glasspacks, this take by Messrs. Turner and McKee is a Tesla Model S Plaid. Yeah, I don’t know what that means either, but maybe it’ll make more sense when you watch how they handle this country standard.

Are either of these guys out of high school yet?

Reina del Cid, Toni Lindgren, and The Other Favorites: Bad, Bad Leroy Brown

We’ll wrap up this musical tour with a more light-hearted number, possibly the only time in history that this Jim Croce song has been recorded in a field outside of Prague (in Austria, not Nebraska), although I could be mistaken.

This one’s just for fun.

*At the top of the post, I mentioned that we listen to music on the deck via a bluetooth speaker called the Hyperboom. I cannot recommend this speaker highly enough. The sound quality is superb and the speaker is well-designed and rugged. We elected not to have a built-in sound system on the pergola because we wanted to be able to place the speaker in different locations. The Hyperboom has proven to be a very wise investment. [Return]


  1. I love live performances (got spoiled in Austin) and still love when local singers/bands play terrific versions of cover tunes with their original songs. Very nice playlist, Eric. Since your DJ days at KFST you’ve had a way with music appreciation and putting together song lists. Music making others smile too. thank you

    1. Helen, thanks for checking in! I’m amazed that anyone remembers my DJ days at that broadcasting powerhouse (🤣), so thanks for that as well. The live music scene in Central Texas is still dynamic, as you probably know, and it’s important to keep supporting it.

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