"Bob"

"That's the format used by KLCI 106.1 FM, and it's a mix of contemporary and older country that is apparently mimicked by many 'Bob' or Bob-like stations across the country. I love country music because I like the unabashed melodrama."

Trampled by Turtles

"Speaking of country, I'm a big bluegrass fan. I got turned on to this band by Tom Saxhaug, the state senator from Grand Rapids [Minnesota]. I thought it was a little suspicious that he spent most of our first meeting telling me how great their new album was. And wouldn't you know it, his son turns out to be the bass player. But the album really is great. This New Year's Eve, [wife] Franni and I will be at the TBT show at the Orpheum."

Fountains of Wayne

"Specifically, their song 'Better Things,' which is a cover of a Kinks tune. I think it's going to be our campaign song because of its message, which is that better things are up ahead."

The Grateful Volunteers

"OK, this is kind of a cheat. The Grateful Volunteers are a Dead cover band composed of some great DFLers who are kind enough to play at some of our events. And even kinder enough to let me sing once in a while. Specifically, 'Brokedown Palace.'"

Call Time: The Musical

"This warrants some explanation. As you know, running for Senate requires that I raise a great deal of money, especially since Norm Coleman has the deep-pocketed special interests on his side. So I spend hours and hours a week calling people to ask for support. To keep myself from going crazy, I've been entertaining myself and Kris Dahl, my 'call time manager,' by composing and singing hundreds—no, thousands—of songs for a musical titled Call Time: The Musical.

"Some songs are only 15 seconds long, such as 'I Left a Message and I Hope They Call Me Back.' Or, 'I Don't Think That Was His Office Number (I Think That's His Home).' Most of the songs have original music, but some simply use existing tunes, such as 'Pick Up the Phone, Arlen Lundahl,' to the tune of 'Don't Cry for Me, Argentina' from Evita.

"I should probably have just put 'Springsteen' for this, huh? I really like his new album." —Sarah Askari

San Francisco

David Harrington's Foreign Policy

San Francisco's world-renowned Kronos Quartet has charted an impressive course around the globe, commissioning more than 600 works—and releasing more than 40 records—with composers from China, Russia, Vietnam and Iraq since its inception more than 30 years ago.

Founding member David Harrington cites an unusual source of inspiration for working with composers from other countries: American foreign policy. Whenever the U.S. gets into a conflict or war, Harrington says it always makes him want to find out about the other country's music, a way of connecting to and partnering with cultures that American politics tears apart.

"We are trying to be a witness to some of the things that are happening," he explains. "Every concert we play is an attempt to find balance in a world that's very unbalanced."

With tastes both esoteric and populist (The Lawrence Welk Show first inspired Harrington to pick up the violin), Kronos' leader offers a list of musicians who brought his continents a little closer this year.

Damon Albarn, Monkey: Journey to the West

"Damon made this fantastic [theater] piece using a Chinese legend. It's like an opera, but it has acrobatics and dance. I met Damon in July, and he's now writing a piece [for Kronos]. But that event that he and his team created was just beautiful. He's really inspiring."

Valentin Silvestrov, Bagatellen und Serenaden

"Combine John Cage's touch on the piano with Morton Feldman's touch on the piano with my granddaughter's touch on the piano and you'll get the touch of Valentin Silvestrov. He's just exquisitely beautiful. He's from the Ukraine."

Alim and Fargana Qasimov, Music of Central Asia Vol. 6: Spiritual Music of Azerbaijan

"Alim Qasimov is one of the great singers of the world—after Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, there's Alim Qasimov. Fargana is his daughter. She's sung with him since she was a little child."

Joe Henry, Civilians

"I don't think enough people know about him. He's a great producer. He visualizes sound in a really complete way. His band is fantastic, and he's someone we'll be working with in the future."

Amiina, Kurr

"This is a group that started out as a string quartet. They're from Iceland. I think one of them is married to the keyboardist of Sigur Rós. I met them on tour when we were in Iceland and rehearsed with Sigur Rós. A lot of people probably wouldn't call Amiina a string quartet on recordings because there isn't a lot of violins and viola and cello; there's a lot of other instruments and sounds."

Valgeir Sigurðsson, Ekvilibrium

"Valgeir is an amazing producer. He produced a recording that we made with Kimmo Pohjonen. I would define Kimmo as the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion. We played with Kimmo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, opening their 25th season, and he wrote this amazing piece we did with Kimmo on accordion."

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