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Music Notes

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Obviously the major event in music since I last wrote one of these posts was the death of Tom Petty. There is much to say, but I will simply link to this Patterson Hood remembrance, which is really outstanding.

Charles Bradley also died. I had the chance to see him a couple of times and never did, which was a mistake. His career started very late, but he was skilled soul singer with a great voice and sound. Victim of Love is a very good album.

This 1964 film about Leonard Cohen when he was at the height of his pre-music popularity in Canada is something to watch. The real takeaway was the raw, naked ambition of the man. This is very much worth your time.

I also watched It’s Great to Be Alive, the Drive-By Truckers’ documentary. I had avoided this for years because I figured that like most band documentaries, it would be strictly fans-only. And that is definitely the case here, although there are some highlights, such as watching a very drunk Jason Isbell stumble out of the band and his first marriage (glad he got it together!), hearing some of the band’s origin stories (too bad that Hood’s band Horse Pussy never went anywhere!) and listening to Cooley explain the origins of his great song “Space City,” which may actually be his greatest song. Still, this is really a fans-only piece.

Harry Dean Stanton is not known as a musician, but after his death, I watched the pretty great documentary about him, Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction. This is how you do an interesting film about an artist. Anyway, I didn’t know he was a huge fan of not only country music, but also Mexican music. There’s a lot of it in the film. Of course, his voice was pretty shot in the 80s but when he was younger, it was pretty good. In this clip of him singing, his voice isn’t good anymore, but then it’s not like it’s worse than Kristofferson’s.

Album reviews, all-female edition:

Bellafea, Cavalcade

Bellafea was the first band of Mount Moriah singer Heather McEntire. Whereas the wonderful Mount Moriah (saw a good show last year in New Haven) is basically a neo-country band with a strong rock influence, Bellafea was a punk band out of the Chapel Hill scene. Cavalcade, from 2008, sounds like an album by a good band in a local punk scene. McEntire’s great voice, recognized by many such as Angel Olson who have her sing backup, carries the band. When she sings country, she gets compared to Dolly Parton, singing punk she has a bit of Corin Tucker, although the songs are more inconsistent here. It’s telling that the album’s strongest song is when they slow it down and sing “Telling the Hour,” which was recorded again as the closer for Mount Moriah’s Miracle Temple. Good version here, great one later.

B

Jessi Colter, The Psalms

Jessi Colter is better known as Waylon Jennings’ wife. And that was no picnic. But she had a lot of talent in her own right. Her 1970 album A Country Star is Born is really fantastic, one of my favorite country albums of that time. She was already married to Waylon at that time and didn’t record again until 1976. She had a bunch of albums in the late 70s that were mostly pretty meh. I hadn’t thought of her much lately until she released this album of her favorite Psalms earlier this year. She grew up in the Pentecostal church and was the church pianist as a teenager (before she rebelled and married Duane Eddy and then Waylon). So this makes a certain amount of sense. Now 74, her voice is still really strong. The album concept is interesting and the execution is not bad. But it goes on way too long. This would be a great idea for a song on an album. Twelve is excessive. There are some attempts to add a fuller instrumentation to Colter’s piano that work OK. Her voice is still lovely. But this drags.

C+

Jenny Scheinman, Here on Earth

Scheinman is a very talented jazz violinist who has played with many people and in many styles, but is probably most known for her work on several Bill Frisell albums, particularly his Americana work in the 2000s. Here on Earth is very much in that framework, for better and worse. Frisell plays on it and it basically sounds like a Frisell album when he does. That’s not a bad thing by any means, but it’s also not breaking new ground. Moreover, this is a soundtrack for a documentary about the Great Depression-era photographer H. Lee Waters, who traveled the southern Piedmont during those years. Frisell has also scored similar projects, including with Scheinman. Still, this is lovely music by and large. Robbie Fulks shows up on a few songs and doesn’t sing, but rather plays the guitar better than you would think. Danny Barnes is on banjo and the great Americana guitarist Robbie Gjersoe plays the resonator guitar on a couple tracks. Overall, this is a good album and many of you may enjoy this very much, even if you aren’t really jazz people.

B+

Jade Jackson, Gilded

It’s always a great pleasure to hear an album by a rising country star with a great voice and good sense of how to make good albums, unlike the douche country that dominates Nashville radio. Her debut album is quite excellent and as is the case with so much good country these days, has strong roots in the rock and punk worlds. In this case, Mike Hess of Social Distortion not only produced the album but also discovered her after his wife and son heard her play in a coffeehouse. Good for them, because she’s really great. What’s even more surreal is that Social Distortion was the first show Jackson went to on her own! The story doesn’t make the music of course, but this is fine country music with strong hints of folk and punk. I can’t wait to hear her grow in the future. This does not sound like a first album. It sounds like a seasoned veteran of both music and life.

A-

Torres, Three Futures

The third album by Torres is another big step forward. Sprinter was a pretty fantastic second album, but this is even better. She is writing heavily about the body and accepting herself, inspired by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates (which is interesting). Blessed with a voice that can do a lot of different things, she exploits it to its greatest potential on this fascinating album. This has a somewhat more synthetic musical background as opposed to the guitar rock of the last album, but that works well too. But the reason Torres is so great is that she’s a flat out highly skilled songwriter and a very intelligent person and that really shows in the lyrics throughout this album.

I also saw Torres play last Wednesday at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, which is a quality club. It was also a really fine show. The intensity of her music is front and center in a live show of this very confident performer.

A

FKA Twigs, M3LL155X

FKA Twigs is one of those artists that I understand the kidz like and so I figured I should check her out at some point. This EP from 2015 is pretty good I guess, although I don’t know that I quite get what is going on in many places, largely I think because of the heavy use of vocal effects. She certainly blends a lot of styles very effectively and it’s largely enjoyable, but this is going to be one of those reviews where I sound like the neophyte writing about music that I am. Would be curious to hear a big fan of hers discuss this album

B

Given the number of new albums that have either just come out or are coming out very soon by many of my favorite artists–Ibeyi, War on Drugs, St. Vincent, Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile (who I am seeing in Portland on Friday!), Margo Price, etc., expect more of these posts very soon.

As always, this is an open thread for all things music or at the very least none things political.

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