Some music news and notes for a Saturday evening.
Steve Young died last week. The country songwriter of the 1970s produced hits for a lot of people, including Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. He made the decision not to be the road warrior that might have seen him have a commercial breakthrough but he wrote a lot of good songs for the country music world. He’s best known for his song “Seven Bridges Road,” although I love “It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way,” which Willie Nelson did on his fantastic Phases and Stages album.
I see that AC/DC is considering having Axl Rose sing on its next tour. That sounds incredibly dreadful. Although no doubt those of us feeling nostalgic for bad hard rock of the 80s will be interested.
I haven’t heard PJ Harvey’s new album, which comes out in a couple of weeks, but it sounds like the people in Washington DC she wrote about are very unhappy with her take on them and their city.
There’s a big ol’ new Grateful Dead tribute album coming out. It is curated by The National. Don’t know how good it will be. There’s some interesting performers and some that are less interesting. And I don’t know why you have some acts do multiple songs, but whatever. Anyway, at least Courtney Barnett covering “New Speedway Boogie” is an interesting and pretty good choice.
Reviews of recent albums I’ve checked out.
Mates of State, You’re Going to Make It
In the 2000s, Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel’s couple band made albums that were broadly referred to as “joycore” for their alt-indie songs about relationships and parenting that lacked angst. Rather, this was happy pop music for happy people and even the songs about relationships that could go bad end up going pretty well. For those who liked more irony in their music, this was not really for them, and sure, it can be pretty twee, but I liked 2008’s Re-Arrange Us and 2011’s Mountaintops a great deal. Those albums remain in relatively regular rotation today. But they disappeared after Mountaintops. Finally, last year, they released an EP. But You’re Going to Make It does not really capture much of that old magic. There’s just not a whole lot going on here. The music is still as happy as ever, but the songs don’t really resonate. Maybe this is more or less the end for this band if this is all they could muster after four years.
Joanna Newsom, Divers
Joanna Newsom will always be divisive. Some will love her odd voice, others will hate it. Her career has been pretty inconsistent. The Milk-Eyed Mender I thought too cute for its own good. Ys is one of the best albums of the 2000s. Have One on Me had potential if it wasn’t a three-album behemoth. There are good songs there, but it mostly fell flat. Editors are important. Use the discarded songs for record-day throwaways, don’t expand your release to three separate albums unless the songs are solid gold. After five years between albums, she released Divers last year. The reviews were pretty solid. I held back, not sure I was ready after the disappointment of Have One on Me. However, lately, as those songs have come up on shuffle, I have found myself enjoying them more and more. Perhaps the album’s size combined with the difficulty of her voice and the expectations after Ys for me to give up on it too quickly.
I enjoyed Divers thoroughly. While it is going to take a few more listens to figure out the typical knotted lyrics, the music and her voice really washed over me. The vast numbers of instruments used on this album certainly helps differentiate the songs. And I didn’t think there was a weak song in the bunch. I moved back into thinking she’s has a brilliant vision. I may feel differently later. But not now and I don’t think after listening to this album another 15 times this year, which I imagine I will since I will buy it.
Say what you will about Joanna Newsom, she’s truly a unique figure in the history of American music.
Buddy Miller, Cayamo Sessions at Sea
The country songwriter and singer also co-hosts a show on XM with Jim Lauderdale. They did this cruise with a bunch of fans and musicians. Miller decided to record it. This is the result. It’s perfectly pleasant. No one is going to complain about hearing him do “After the Fire is Gone” with LeeAnn Womack or “Love’s Gonna Live Here” with Kacey Musgraves. Some performances are better than others. You’d think Lucinda Williams singing “Hickory Wind” would be great but it really isn’t. Miller and Shawn Colvin covering “Wild Horses” is nice. In fact, the whole album is nice enough. But I can’t see ever really needing to listen to it again.
Mothers, When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired
Mothers is an Athens, Georgia band led by Kristine Leschper. This is a solid debut with some major bummer songs but a pretty solid sound. I don’t love this, but I like it and I will be curious to see where this band goes.
What has been on your playlist this week?