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Music Notes



Time for some music notes.

The only story I have about Chuck Berry is that he was the opening act for the only Grateful Dead show I ever saw. This was in Portland in 1995. The last tour. I was as excited or more so to see Chuck than the Dead. But the traffic was so terrible that by the time I got in, Berry had just finished. I was super bummed. But at least I got to wait an hour and a half until the Dead came on stage and that gave me time to watch people trip on acid in 95 degree heat.

Neil Young studio albums, ranked.

1) Tonight’s the Night
2) Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
3) On the Beach
4) After the Gold Rush
5) Zuma
6) Comes a Time
7) Harvest
8) Freedom
9) Harvest Moon
10) Ragged Glory

Interesting essay on the relationship between jazz and protest.

Ice-T continues to be a pretty interesting guy.

Here’s some cool color photos of Johnny Cash performing at the Grand Ole Opry in the 50s.

This is actually a really interesting piece on the disappearance of many Bob Seger albums from the market.

Jason Isbell has a new album coming out. The single is very good and very, very 2016.

Album Reviews:

Del McCoury, Del and Woody

Del McCoury may be the last great artist in a dying tradition of music. I am loathe to call any music dying, but it’s hard not to feel that way about bluegrass. And it’s really too bad. Basically created by Bill Monroe in the late 1930s and early 1940s, who combined traditional mountain music with jazz, western swing, and Tin Pan Alley, this was an inventive, commercial music, even if it was also primarily regional music. It continued to evolve through the more mainstream Flatt and Scruggs and more mountain music of the Stanley Brothers and then especially Ralph Stanley’s solo career. In the 1970s, it became a favored music of the counterculture and moved in a number of different ways from there, including John Hartford’s deep respect for tradition that he combine with goofing off in fun ways to the Newgrass stuff of people like David Grisman and Sam Bush to the neo-traditionalism of Old and In the Way, the Peter Rowan and Jerry Garcia fronted group that was the first introduction to the music for a lot of people.

As with many forms of music in the 1980s, bluegrass went into a real down phase, with people like Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley (who both played in Ralph Stanley’s band as teenagers in the mid 70s) leaving for mainstream country. But when bluegrass was revived in the 1990s and especially after the release of O Brother Where Art Thou, it came back as an utterly ossified dinosaur of a genre that did not allow for experimentation or innovation. When Karl Shiflett decided to add a snare drum to his outfit in the early 2000s, which was not uncommon in bluegrass in the 1950s, there was such an angry backlash to it from traditionalists that he had to dump the idea. And since then, it’s remained just as mummified, with very tight but also bound bands playing pretty scripted numbers the norm. It’s a real shame. The music just doesn’t live and breathe on the stage or the album. It serves to fulfill the very narrow expectations of a decline number of consumers.

Del McCoury has been around forever and has lived through most of these changes. In the 1990s, his band that included his two sons became probably the best working bluegrass band, even if it also reinforced some of that stiff new music. He’s a fine guitarist with a good sense of fun. His album with Steve Earle was pretty great and it got him a lot of fame, even if the two men ended their collaboration on pretty bad terms (McCoury claimed it was that Earle swore too much on stage, Earle said Del wanted more money. Could have been both).

For 20 or so years now, Woody Guthrie’s family has been commissioning artists to record some of his many songs that he never recorded or left music for. Who knows what Woody would have thought, but this takes his words and allows musicians to play with them. There was the two albums that Wilco and Billy Bragg collaborated on and another done by The Klezmatics. Now there’s this with Del McCoury. It works pretty well. He largely avoids the political songs, which is so central to Woody’s worldview that it does undermine the album slightly, even as the politics are often overplayed in public discussions of the man. But it’s a worthy experiment and a nice late career move by McCoury.


Bonnie Prince Billy/Bitchin Bajas, Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties

Will Oldham, aka, Bonnie Prince Billy, has had a long and varied career. At his best, some of his albums (Viva Last Blues, I See a Darkness, Superwolf) are among the finest of the last 25 years. At his worst, he is unlistenable. I respect him for continuing to experiment. And I am genuinely interested in his new Merle Haggard cover album that mostly covers obscure Hag songs. But this is awful. Bitchin Bajas is this sort of pointless post-rock sort of avant garde band that makes minimalist music. BPB mumbles some lyrics repetitively at low volume over this. Some friends of mine saw the tour of this album last year and said it was bad. So I was already a little skeptical. I should have taken their advice and not have given this a spin. Pitchfork called it a “jam session” created through “improvisational democracy.” Give me authoritarianism in the studio any day. Or if I can’t have that, at least make it loud.


Natalie Hemby, Puxico

Do you like solid country music by a good singer who writes good songs? If you do, you will find the new album by Natalie Hemby enjoyable. It’s not groundbreaking. But it’s good. And in the world of country music, there is something incredibly soothing and wonderful about a woman writing and singing heartfelt songs that don’t reek of the cheap nostalgia or cliched production of mainstream Nashville.


Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana

I feel in love with Foil Deer, one of the best albums of 2015. So I went back and listened to this 2013 album. It is a fine album, but not nearly to the quality of Foil Deer. The guitars are nice and loud and Sadie DuPuis has a great rock voice. But the songs aren’t quite there, as they would be on the second album. This is hardly surprising and this is certainly a good debut. “Plough” is a particularly excellent song. Hopefully the third album will come out soon.


Parker Millsap, The Very Last Day

I was ordered by a colleague to listen to Parker Millsap. Since my tenure decision doesn’t come for 6 days, what choice did I have? Millsap has a vibe pretty similar to Jason Isbell, although a bit more bluesy. A bit of Jimmy LaFave in this too, another Oklahoma songwriter you never have heard of. “Heaven Sent” is a particularly good song. And as a long-term believer in covers, I thought his version of “You Gotta Move,” the old Reverend Gary Davis and Mississippi Fred McDowell song of course made famous by the Stones on Sticky Fingers was pretty interesting. But I don’t love this. It’s completely fine, but then I am often a bit impatient with singer-songwriter material with a heavy blues tinge.


Beverly, The Blue Swell

Good quality indie dream pop on this 2016 album from this Brooklyn band. Drew Citron has an outstanding voice for this sort of music. Good lyrics, good guitars. I find myself listening to a lot of bands like this these days and I imagine Beverly will be the next.


Joey Purp, iiiDrops

This is a pretty fantastic piece of work. This Chicago rapper best known for his work with Chance the Rapper, he writes some great lyrics about the trauma of killing and about the social changes he sees in society. With lines like “Now up in the corners where killers used to inhabit/They built a row of new condos where they tore down project buildings” he sums up gentrification in cities like his own in about 2 seconds. As is all too common, his social observations don’t exactly extend to women. Alas. But great album nonetheless.


Angel Olsen, My Woman

The singing might be a touch melodramatic, but Angel Olsen certainly call pull it off. Ultimately an album about love and solitude and self-awareness, this also has consistently solid and interesting instrumental work. With a couple of long sounds telling big stories around tighter pieces and a stark piano tune at the end, this is a pretty good album.


Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

This is a classic rock album for the modern day. I was somewhat familiar with him from his work with Alejandro Escovedo, but then the latter’s albums over the last decade haven’t been very good. So I hadn’t ever really paid attention to Prophet before. But this new album got a lot of acclaim and I have to say that it is pretty impressive. It has a lot of classic rock influences in a way that I don’t listen to a whole lot anymore but which are enjoyable nonetheless and combines that with some really smart lyrics. The title track itself gives you a sense of what you are going to get here. This is primarily a rock album’s rock album, with songs about playing in crappy clubs, dead rock musicians, and Connie Britten, the actress who played the coach’s wife in Friday Night Lights. But it’s not apolitical either, closing with a paean to Alex Nieto, killed by San Francisco police, in a good rocker. A fine guitarist on top of it all.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music, or anything that is not politics.

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  • postmodulator

    No Rust Never Sleeps?

    And while it’s hardly anyone’s favorite, I have a soft spot for Weld because I mostly learned to play guitar from it.

    • Live album. Although admittedly it blurs the boundaries.

      • DavidGa

        It’s not live, though he does mix in some crowd sounds (from Woodstock, I think) into a couple tracks. Live Rust is the equivalent live album. I doubt that it would end up on many lists.
        I like this list, but I’d be inclined to swap in Rust Never Sleeps for (maybe) Comes a Time.

        • Rust Never Sleeps actually was recorded live; the crowd noise was just mixed out. Same goes for Time Fades Away. That said, Rust Never Sleeps also had overdubs applied in the studio, which is one reason Live Rust exists.

    • Woodrowfan

      Rust Never Sleeps is wonderful! I still have a softspot for his 1982 Berlin show recording. It has my favorite version of “Like a Hurricane”

      • howard

        the last true arena rock show i ever attended was young on the rust never sleeps tour at the boston garden: really, who knew 37 years ago that young, elvis, and johnny rotten would all still be part of my musical diet?

        • Scott Lemieux

          I saw the Ragged Glory and Broken Arrow tours in Montreal — fantastic.

          It’s good that Erik considers Rust Never Sleeps a love album, because otherwise I would have to consider his lost not merely wrong but objectively neoliberal.

  • shawn k

    I’d put Rust Never Sleeps up there too. “Pocahontas”, “Powderfinger”, “Thrasher”, It’s better to burn out than to fade away….

    It came out my freshman year of college and turned me into a Neil fan.

    • AlanInSF

      Definitely, essential Neil Young. Not just a live album. Hard to argue with any of thje ten, but the sentimental side of me loves Are You Passionate? and Neil Young (the album)

    • njorl

      I wonder if it suffers from the popularity of the title track. It was overplayed, and it isn’t really that good compared to Neil’s other stuff, or even the other songs on the album.

  • bender

    Policing the instrumentation of any genre of music is a bad idea.

    The last vinyl album I ever bought was Welcome to the Boomtown by David & David, two LA studio musicians. It came out in 1986, and was the pair’s one and only album, though they have worked with others. I liked it a lot. Amazon sells the CD version, and claims high ratings from customer reviews. Anyone else listen to it?

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      I never bought Welcome to the Boomtown but the title single- and there was another, less successful, single (can’t recall the title) which were really good

    • Bill Murray

      I saw David and David at The Zephyr Club in Salt Lake City in late 1986 or early 1987. Peter Case, previously of the Nerves and The Plimsouls, opened. Case was really drunk, but I enjoyed his show anyway because he writes great songs. My friends all thought David and David were headed for big things. IIRC, the title song was pretty representative of their sound as a whole, but that was more than 30 years ago.

      Good luck with the tenure decision, Erik. I went up for promotion to full Professor and have been informed by our hopefully soon to be departing President, your former Congressperson, Heather Wilson, that I was recommended for promotion, so unless someone on the Board of Regents hates me, I am in like Flynn.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    I see you got to the Isbell, would have mentioned it. I think some of the lyrics might be a bit over the top but if you think of the song as being written on Nov 10 it’s understandable

    local radio is playing the single from Chuck Berry’s new album, it’s not too bad. His singing sure sounds a lot younger than you might expect

    if rock wasn’t a marginal part of pop culture any more Chuck Prophet would be yuge. He can convey a sense of fun

    also (+) on Angel Olsen. Something nearby about her voice I like

    still trying to make up my mind on the Afghan Whigs’ single “Demon in Profile”- it’s the more lounge lizard side of Greg Dulli, but it does get airborne

    • Yeah, it’s hard to see that Isbell song being considered a great song in 2026 or whatever, but for right now, it’s a very necessary song.

    • Bill Murray

      Chuck Prophet was also in Green on Red, who were pretty good back in the day


      The Old 97sjust put out a new recording, too. I am only about 4 songs in, but am enjoying Graveyard Whistling quite well

  • David Allan Poe

    I’ve always felt that bluegrass divorced from its roots in white gospel music is fairly pointless. Most of the best early stuff is just soaked in religious feeling and doesn’t deal with secular themes (other than intense longing for home) that well at all – it’s kind of a humorless genre, and what humor there is is often pretty corny.

    Plus nobody’s ever really been better than Bill Monroe, and everybody since the 60s has more or less been either a fossilized uber-traditionalist, a jammy hippie, or a boring jazz-fusionist. It lends itself to instrumental virtuosity, which as anyone who’s listened to 80s shred-metal can tell you is often tedious as hell.

    I used to play in a band that looked a lot like a bluegrass band, but we weren’t virtuosos and didn’t really play bluegrass at all, which was a good thing on balance.

  • I liked Bob Seger back in the 70s, but I could happily live the rest of my life without having to hear “Old time rock and roll” ever again.

    • TroubleMaker13

      The early Bob Seger System stuff is bad-ass. Detroit dirty garage rock at it’s finest.

    • N__B

      I loved Seger in the 70s and have a number of the albums that are hard to find on 90s-era CDs. His problem is that his biggest hits were often the worst songs on their albums. Like A Rock was never any good but the truck ads played it to death. Old Time Rock and Roll is famous, Brave Strangers and Ain’t Got No Money are obscure, which suggests to me that DJs never listened to the whole album.

      Also, on Smoking’ OPs, he does my favorite ever version of Jesse James.

      • The Temporary Name

        This is a protest song against protesters.


        • N__B

          Yeah, and in 1968 he had 2+2=? which suggests that, unlike a lot of politicians, he is capable of learning.

      • shawn k

        I agree. My favorite Seger songs were off the beaten track on the older albums- “Sunspot Baby”, “Come to Papa”, “Get out of Denver”, stuff line that. But I hated “Old Time Rock and Roll” enough to swear him off for good.

        • los

          usually any song “celebrating” a type of music by name is overplayed.
          Real cause is probably insider bias.

          exception is
          Arthur Conley – Sweet Soul Music

          and which is also good example of name or categorization belying actual type of music.

    • ThresherK

      I am not a big fan of his, and agree with OTR&R.

      However, I find much of the “lonely” or lament songs he wrote back in his young days (up to ~35) to be more engrossing and wonderful performances now, as he’s passed his mid-50s.

      That’s a special kind of songwriting.

  • The Politicizer

    You scared me a little with the Young ranking. Of course it’s been in the news that he’s been sick this last week and when I saw the ranking I feared I had missed some bad news. Glad it’s just a random bit.

    I think most people’s top Neil albums will look roughly the same, allowing for some variance in ordering. It’s his second tier that fans seem to debate the most.

    I think the live/studio categorization is not real useful for him. Even his studio albums tend to have live recordings here and there. I prefer to classify of his albums as canonical/non-canonical. Rust Never Sleeps and Time Fades Away, for example, were recorded live, but contain all new material. They’re eligible for a “best albums” list. Live Rust, by contrast, is entirely live versions of previously existing Neil songs. It’s a different category from the other two.

    Still, keeping with Erik’s distinction, I’d drop Zuma off the top 10, though, and maybe sneak Sleeps with Angels in there. It’s my favorite of his post-Geffen albums. Americana is severely underrated, too.

    His new one isn’t half bad. Not a great Neil album but worthy of his catalog, especially compared to some of his recent stuff. Monsanto Years was pretty bad.

    • It is interesting to contemplate where Neil Young ranks in the rock and roll Pantheon. If we start from the premise that Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan are the apex, Young has got to be considered in nearly the same category, no? He’s no Little Richard, but he is in the neighborhood with Jerry Lee Lewis….

  • Neil Young is about the only artist from that era that I still care to listen to.

    • N__B

      You don’t cue up Freebird every night?

    • shawn k

      Neil, Ray Davies, Lou Reed and Van Morrison are the rare ones from that era who didn’t atrophy and live off past glory.

      • petesh

        I ain’t dead yet
        My bell still rings
        I keep my fingers crossed
        Like them early Roman kings

        And if he choose to spend his time covering standards (sometimes well, sometimes badly), hey, Dylan can do whatever he wants. He’s earned the right. And he hasn’t stopped.

        • shawn k

          True. I saw Dylan a few times in the late 80s and he was doing really interesting if somewhat incomprehensible things with his older material and still put out the occasional great song (Ring them Bells) and even a good album or two. He wasn’t coasting. But as much of a Dylan fan as I am, I’d be hard pressed to say that his late output was in the same league as his best stuff.

          Neil had great stuff in the 70s but had a bunch of albums that are just as good in the 80s, 90s and even recently.

    • Dennis Orphen

      T. Rex, Sweet, Mott the Hoople,Fleetwood Mac,Elton John Lennon,Bowie, More Bowie, Eno Jets/Tiger/AGW, Roxy Music,Faces.

      • los

        Fleetwood Mac
        largely because the major “creative force” changed out every few years.
        Peter Green Manalishi… catchy, though a little goofy. 3:30 with the “hippie bad trip” sounds :-)

      • los

        Some have added visual accompaniment, Fripp & Eno Baby’s on Fire, which is older (1973) than it seems.

      • Dennis Orphen

        ELO. How could I forget them? Cheap Trick’s first 4 records or so ( not easy to make this Blightycentric list, there’s a reason they’re called The Beatles of Rockford, California Man from Heaven Tonight ties it all together, Deep Purple MKII ( Woman from Tokyo/Space Trucking if you need convincing on that one, Steve Miller (Jungle Love, TTMAR, etc )

        • Dennis Orphen

          You treat me like I was your ocean
          You swim in my blood when it’s warm
          My cycles of circular motion
          Protect you and keep you from harm

          Hard to argue with that….

          Don’t agree on the Kinks between after Lola and before Low Budget, same with Van after Tupelo until his Celtic Mysticism phase (Beautiful Vision, Inarticulate Speech…., Into the Music, Live Belfast Opera House, Poetic Champions Compose (that one does what it says on the tin!), all later than the period defined, so I can’t count those).

          In fact, I would define the period from roughly Zeppelin IV to Rust Never Sleeps.

          • shawn k

            “Don’t agree on the Kinks between after Lola and before Low Budget,”

            I’ll give you Preservation et al, but I love “Muswell Hillbillies” and have a soft spot for “Schoolboys in Disgrace” and “Sleepwalker”. And even “Everybody’s in Showbiz” has Celluloid Heroes and Sitting in my Hotel Room.

          • shawn k

            “same with Van ”

            “No Teacher, No Guru” has some great songs on it. I like “Inarticulate Speech” although could see that as an idiosyncratic choice on my part. Even so, Van does bounce back with a bunch of great albums after Poetics Champion. Even Neil had a stinker or two along the way and Van kept trying new things.

  • efgoldman

    Poor Erik.
    Everybody else went out on a Saturday night and left you all alone to run the blog by yourself, nursing a bottle of vodka and trying not to add ketchup for a REALLY poor man's bloody mary!

    • It’s 10:30 PM and I have yet to complete my minimum work requirements for today. So yeah.

      • Peterr

        So there is a Freddie post on its way?

  • howard

    the seger article was really fascinating, but it also points to a whole world of music that appeared on smaller labels that is disappearing from musical memory: although i do sometimes stream something new to check it out (or to stay in touch with current hits), anything i really like i purchase (whether in the form of used cd or download, depending) to be sure it will remain available at least in my household.

    • howard

      p.s. i meant to mention that i have taken acid in 95-degree heat: i didn’t notice!

      • DAS

        You didn’t notice the effects of the acid due the heat, the heat due to the acid or that there was any, shall we say, synergy between the heat and the acid?

        Also, you didn’t notice but did the people around you notice?

        I regularly take acid on hot days: carbonic acid, citric acid, phosphoric acid … all in dilute solution, of course.

        • howard

          Lysergic, and I didn’t notice the heat.

    • petesh

      Quite a lot is, however, being reissued in compilation form, but they come and go too. That also explains why I have over a dozen versions of Koko Taylor’s Wang Dang Doodle (to name but one example) — redundancy has become normal in my collection.

  • Peterr

    From the link about jazz and protest, with emphasis added:

    Bruce Watson tells the story of how SNCC recruited the singer Harry Belafonte to help raise money for the cause. Belafonte, whose political beliefs were largely shaped by singer, actor and Communist activist Paul Robeson, had previously helped the group raise money for a March on Washington and he agreed to support them again. Belafonte’s celebrity influence was considerable and it crossed color lines. As a regular New York City club performer he was backed by a band that included Charlie Parker, Max Roach and Miles Davis . . .

    Now THAT is a show I’d love to have seen. Damn.

  • randomworker

    Lot of good stuff here.

    Neil Young. Wow looking over that list generates some crazy emotions.

    Good links. I had Night Moves – only Bob Seger album I ever owned and I played it for a while and that was it. Gotta put it up on ebay! Anyway, it is interesting what happens to some music over time. Does anybody play Yes albums anymore? I tried to a while back but for me it didn’t work. But…Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere? Fck. Ageless.


  • DrDick

    A bit of Jimmy LaFave in this too, another Oklahoma songwriter you never have heard of

    Heh. I own five of his albums.

    • You are from Oklahoma, so you don’t count in that equation!

      • Scott Lemieux

        I actually saw him in Montreal in 95 or 96. Really great show — was curious what happened to him.

        • He’s still out there plugging away. Never seen him though.

  • AB

    I grew up in a classical music family, the only other music in the house being the Almanac Singers record “The Talking Union,” Leadbelly, and the Soviet Army Chorus (singing, among other things, “Tipperary”). My first exposure to popular music (other than my college roommates’ Moody Blues and Laura Nyro records and the like) was Chuck Berry, who played on the Washington University campus (in St. Louis, his home town).

    • Dennis Orphen

      Rick James’ Bustin’ Out of L7 might be just right for you. Or any of us.

  • I actually had Body Count’s first record, including “Cop Killer” — but I had to get it on a mix tape (on cassette!) from my extremely conservative cousins. I might have the cassette stored somewhere, but I’m not sure I’d actually be able to find it easily. I have “Cop Killer” stored digitally, too.

    And from what I remember, most of the rest of the album was not very well done. “Cop Killer” was far and away the best song, and it’s still fun to listen to.

    • Dennis Orphen

      Soul On Ice from Power was a big one back in the day.

      No twitter or facebook there. And he namedrops Brinks, because what rhymes with Loomis?

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Goddamn, what a brother gotta do to get a message through to the red, white and blue?


      I respectufuly disagree. I think the song “Body Count” holds up well. I just wish all of the 25-35 year old songs in my noggin weren’t still so relevant.

  • pigpun

    i saw the Dead open at one show…they were follows by the Band, with the Allman Brothers then closing the show. i always felt the fool for being one of the fools who actually paid the $10 ticket price. But it was 1973, and of course there were no drugs back in those days, so my memory may be a bit fuzzy.

  • Bubblegum Tate

    Ice-T is a fucking legend, and he’s got incredible stories for days. I very, very highly recommend listening to his interview on The Combat Jack Show. It’s a history lesson on the birth of West Coast hip-hop, a rundown of how he became the icon he is, and an example of how intelligence and having a good relationship with your label can take you a long way. So good.

  • weirdnoise

    Bitchin Bajas is this sort of pointless post-rock sort of avant garde band that makes minimalist music.

    Just the sort of thing I might like. (Got to stay true to my ‘nym ya know.) But if the video you posted is representative, their attempt is effing AWFUL.

  • rm

    Have you not heard of the bluegrass band Crooked Still, which was together from about 2000-2010? I’d say it’s undeniably bluegrass, because it’s BG instrumentation with the addition of bass and cello (two cellos on the first album, I think). No drums, which I think is the main dealbreaker in defining not-bluegrass.

    The vocalist, Aoife O’Donovan, is becoming a pop star (in “Americana,” which still sounds like a made up genre name to me, but is more accurate than “folk” for singer/songwriters who have some roots). The instrumentalists are doing a lot of work in string bands and folk music and stuff.

    Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn still do some music that is all strings . . . isn’t that bluegrass?

    I hear a lot of current not-famous bands doing very Monrovian bluegrass when I am in range of Morehead State U. public radio.

    Bill Monroe is dead, so the genre can be messed with.

    • Judas Peckerwood

      Yup, there’s so much new, good, relevant bluegrass out there right now that it’s crazy. The only way the form would wither away would be if it were allowed to fossilize — and it’s not.

    • busker type

      What we mean when we say the word “bluegrass” can be very slippery. Crooked Still, although a great band, couldn’t get hired at a lot of southern bluegrass festivals because they don’t play the right style. Same for the Punch Brothers or Trampled by Turtles or any of a number of other more creative “acoustic pop” or “Americana” type bands.

      Loomis is exactly right that the genre, as defined in the community that created it, is being choked to death by traditionalism. It’s exactly the thing that we all wish would happen to the republicans… that the ideological purity demanded by their base makes them unpalatable to Americans at large. (And make no mistake, traditionalism in music is an ideology)

      I think Larry Sparks deserves a mention here though… in the 80s when Del McCoury was just another middling bluegrass singer grinding it out on the road, Sparks was producing some truly epic music, unfortunately for him he peaked early and by the time there was real money and glory to be had he was coasting along with replacement-level bands and a sputtering creative spark.

      But go see Del live, he’s amazing.

      • rm

        Yes, Del is great.

        There are indeed two worlds of bluegrass influence. I don’t call Punch Brothers bluegrass, and a lot of what’s being done in “Americana” (I can’t use that unironically) is either going back to pre-war string band music or moving forward into genre-bending fusion. So, the purists won’t acknowledge that bluegrass’s DNA is a huge ingredient in that stew, because they only count the pure traditionalists in the church of Bill Monroe.

        But I choose to look at that as BG being alive as part of a tradition moving forward whether it gets called by name or not. It is too bad that there is resistance to change.

        Some people feel the same way about pizza — only Neapolitan wood-fired pizza with the exact right ingredients deserves the name. In that example the purists are correct.

        • Richard Hershberger

          “Bluegrass is dead because it isn’t allowed to change.”
          “But what about [insert band names here]?”
          “Oh, those aren’t bluegrass.”

          If we allow the most conservative faction within the bluegrass community the power to act as gatekeepers, then yes, bluegrass is not allowed to change. In related news, what is the earliest date that has been declared the end of rock and roll? I’m not sure, but I would guess sometime in the early 1960s.

          But even on those terms, Alison Krauss and Union Station is acceptable in traditional bluegrass circles, yet doesn’t sound like a Bill Monroe cover band.

    • I agree that bluegrass remains a vital genre. Punch Brothers, Alison Krause and Union Station, Trampled by Turtles, The Devil Makes Three, The Infamous Stringdusters. You know who’s great and dips into bluegrass stylings from time to time is Bill Frisell.

      The Freshgrass Festival at MASSMOCA in North Adams is a pretty great way to spend a weekend if you are inclined to explore the range of contemporary bluegrass.

  • Nick never Nick

    This reminds me of a story one of my friends told me, going to a concert to see Aerosmith and Public Enemy sometime in the early 90s — he couldn’t believe Public Enemy would open for Aerosmith, so he got there right when they were wrapping up.

  • CDT

    Alejandro’s new album, Burn Something Beautiful, might be his best. He is on top form at present both acoustic and electric. Hep C finally gone.

    Lots of Chuck Prophet albums are terrific. Temple Beautiful is likely the best.

  • Judas Peckerwood

    I am loathe to call any music dying, but it’s hard not to feel that way about bluegrass.

    I don’t know if you’re just exaggerating for the sake of dramatic impact, but if you’re serious, you really need to get out of the bunker for a bit and see what’s happening out in the world (Portland, at least).

    If there’s one old-school music form whose future I don’t fear for it’s bluegrass.

  • zilch

    The first time I saw Chuck Berry was in 1968 with the Grateful Dead opening. The last time was in 1973 with Robben Ford’s first solo band backing him up. In 2000 I auditioned for Phil Lesh but didn’t get the gig because Robben Ford got it.

  • Dr. Acula

    I saw Chuck Berry once myself, at the Circle Star Theater in Redwood City in the 1970s.

  • Nathan Goldwag

    I finally got around to buying Girls in Trouble’s latest album from last year and I’ve just been blown away by how good it is, even by the very high standards of this band. Just heartbreakingly gorgeous. Man.

    (Girls in Trouble, is, to the best of my knowledge, the world’s only Jewish Feminist Bible-Folk band. It is extremely good.)

  • The introductory sentence here, “Allow me to observe that bluegrass musicians will cover anything,” contains fourteen links by way of demonstration.

    Here is a bluegrass version of “Turn the Page.”

  • Musashi

    Very interesting stuff as per usual. Nice to see Ragged Glory getting some recognition, I would say that one is probably Neil’s most underrated album. It’s just a fun record with some truly great tunes. Also underrated: Time Fades Away, probably my favorite live album of all time. It’s so raw and desperate and boozy, and real. You can really tell that Young is putting a great deal of pain into his music on that tour.

    • Thom

      I agree re Ragged Glory. Perhaps it was the fact that it came out when I was in grad school and I needed the emotional release, but Iove the sound and most of the songs. (Can’t stand that version of Farmer John or Mother Earth.)

  • DAS

    In re bluegrass: it’s beyond time for someone to do a biopic about Arnold Shultz. If Bill Monroe was the father of bluegrass, Arnold Shultz was the grandfather or at least the godfather.

    • busker type

      Apparently he also taught some of his guitar playing to Merle Travis

    • Dennis Orphen

      That wins this week’s Viable Concept You Won’t Have to Worry About Someone Stealing and Getting There First™ award. I don’t even know who Arnold Schultz is. Time to find out.

  • Howlin Wolfe

    To quote Gilberto Gil, “Chuckberry Fields Forever!”

  • Happy Jack

    I wonder what Bill Monroe would have thought about Hayseed Dixie.

  • rm

    This is going viral today, so maybe y’all have seen it.

  • Dennis Orphen

    1) Tonight’s the Night (this one could head a few more best of lists than just this one, a no-brainer)

    2) Zuma (Always saw this one and Tonight’s as two sides of the same larger single work. Stupid Girl and Barstool could be angry counterpoints to Tonights sadness, the common demoninator being the bleakness,the depression)

    3) Rust Never Sleeps (The Crazy Horse Sound™ at it’s most realized. Every song solid writing, shares this trait with Tonight’s)

    4) Take your pick from here to 10, stay away from Everybody’s Rockin’, Trans, Don’t go too heavy on the folky stuff, do go heavy on Crazy Horse grunge era.

  • I’m not sure what my top 10 Neil list would look like. Tonight’s the Night, On the Beach, and Rust Never Sleeps would obviously have to be the top three, but I’m not completely sure how I’d order them.

    I sort of feel like the best way to rank Neil albums isn’t in order, but rather by categorising them as “Canonical”, “Classic”, “Near-Classic”, and “OK”. The canonical ones are the three I mentioned as his best.

    Classics would include Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, After the Gold Rush, Ragged Glory, Time Fades Away, and Zuma. And possibly Greendale, even though a lot of people seem to regard it as a failed experiment; when you truly get into it and spend time with its characters, it’s emotionally affecting on a level few of Neil’s other albums are. It also contains some of his most cogent protest themes. You really need to listen to Live at Vicar St. a few times to gain a full appreciation of it, I think; he explains the characters, plot, and themes more within it, and it will make more sense once you’ve done so. Plus, his solo performances are quite engaging in and of themselves.

    Near-classics include Harvest, Freedom, Ragged Glory, and Psychedelic Pill. I sort of feel like Psychedelic Pill was weakened a bit by not including “Horse Back” on anything but the Blu-Ray version of the album. I understand why he didn’t include it – it’s basically a nineteen-minute jam on the riff from “Fuckin’ Up” followed by a nineteen-minute version of “Cortez the Killer”. But it’s one of his most engaging jams and contains some of his best ever guitar work. If they released a vinyl pressing of it for Record Store Day, I’d probably pick it up.

    This list is subject to change as, to be honest, there are still quite a few highly regarded Neil albums I haven’t listened to, including Comes a Time, the self-titled, and Harvest Moon, and there are even more not-as-highly-regarded that I also haven’t listened to. Neil has such a gigantic catalogue that I’m honestly not sure I’ll ever hear everything.

    FWIW, if I had to rank one song as his greatest, it’s probably “Cortez”. Though my favourite stanza he ever wrote is the one about Nixon that closes off “Ambulance Blues”. I think you could apply it just as easily to the president*.

    • I forgot Sleeps with Angels. Also belongs on the near-classics list at the bare minimum. Sometimes I’d be tempted to move that and Ragged Glory up to classics. Almost all his albums with Crazy Horse make fine repeated listening for me.

      • …I listed Ragged Glory in both the classics and the near-classics list. Whoops.

    • Nick056

      Agree on the defense of Greendale. It is a classic. The progression from Jed and Carmichael to Sun Green as the focus of the album is really exquisite.

      On the Beach is his best though, and I have never even found it a close call between that and Rust or Tonight’s The Night.

      • The only thing that keeps me from ranking On the Beach as his unambiguous best album is how much stronger its second side is than its first. If the whole album was that strong, there wouldn’t even be a contest, and it’s unquestionably the best album side he ever released. The first side of the album is great, don’t get me wrong; however, the second side is transcendent. I rarely find one half of an album to be that much stronger than the other half, unless it’s very clearly divided into two halves, and even then, sometimes I enjoy both of them equally (Rust Never Sleeps is itself a great example that).

        • Nick056

          Huh. I love the A side of On the Beach, though Side B is better. Revolution Blues and For the Turnstiles are extraordinary. Not sure he’s ever given a better, more raw vocal than Turnstiles, in the studio anyway. But it sounds like we’re disagreeing minutely about which of an amazing group of songs is the most amazing.

          Personal circumstances matter too. Listened to On The Beach a lot in 2004. (Actually so much that I had a dream Young won the 2004 election.) Went back to it heavily in November 2016.

          • Thom

            That is great re the dream of the 2004 election. What a Wonderful World it would be.

          • “Revolution Blues” and “For the Turnstiles” are great. I also really love “Walk On”, and the other two songs on Side A are pretty solid too. But the three songs on Side B are all-time career highlights.

            That said, there are few better albums to get you through tough times than On the Beach. That’s one more reason it’s one of my favourites.

            I would definitely vote for Neil as president. Let’s amend the Constitution and make it happen.

  • BigJimSlade

    For Chuck Prophet, Soap and Water is really good. I saw him at a little place in Arlington, VA, in 2009 or 10 (it was a great show) – he hung around after the show and signed and chatted. He had a funny riff about Texas versus California. He said Texas is alright, but in Texas, of course they have Texas chili, and they called the style of football played by the college teams Texas Football. Well, we have football in California, too. And you know what we call it? Football. (His delivery and story telling was better.)

  • JB2

    I always check in with my Apple Music new-music-for-you playlist, and thus this week discovered Bloodboy, nom de tun of one Lexie Papillion. Really good stuff. No album yet, but please listen to her various singles and E.P.’s.

  • njorl

    Is “Tonight’s the Night” for Neil Young gurus like “Exiles on Main Street” for Rolling Stones’ fans? People who bother to write about music always list those as the artist’s best, but people who just like to listen to music invariably disagree.

    For me:
    Everybody knows this is nowhere
    After the Gold Rush
    Rust Never Sleeps
    American Stars and Bars
    Then all the rest

  • Unlearner

    Sorry for the delay but the best Neil Young albums are the sequence from American Stars n Bars through Hawks and Doves.

    • hylen

      “Bite the Bullet”!!

      No love for Mirror Ball?

      Greatest single figure in the history of rock + roll.

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