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No, The Party System Will Not Crack Up

[ 196 ] May 9, 2016 |

Time to End The Two-party system - Republicrats and Democans

The Nation continues in this most befuddling trend of the 2016 election, seriously wondering if the 2-party system as we currently know it is about to fall apart. The answer is clearly no. Even the prospect of major realignment within the political parties is remote. Just because there is more grassroots insurgency against elite rule than normal does not mean the whole system is collapsing. To me, this reeks of journalists spending way too much time at cocktail parties with other elites bemoaning their loss of status. In any case, The Nation asked three people to discuss this issue. Daniel Scholzman has the best essay, because he pretty much dismisses the whole idea of realignment, while discussing that if the Republican Party was to really alienate its supporters, it would benefit the Democrats but would also greatly complicate the Democratic coalition because it would become much more ideologically diverse by attaching millions of conservatives to it.

 Given the pyrotechnics of 2016, these prognoses may seem mundane. A fundamental realignment along the lines of 1860, 1896, or 1936, however, would require not just movement in a few voter blocs or on issues such as trade, but a change in the basic divide between the parties’ competing positions. That’s a remote prospect. The New Deal still casts a long shadow, and party politics will likely remain a battle over the size and scope of government.

Danielle Allen sees the rise of social media promoting blocs within the political parties as the likely outcome. Tracing this over the last 15 years, she connects both the right and left-wing insurgencies to organized interest blocs within the parties, predicting that the future holds more division, with control going to those who can unite forces.

 Speculating on what the future holds for America’s political alignment requires thinking through a complex array of factors: voting rules, political egos, the time horizons of charismatic leaders, questions of succession, the intensity of various ideological commitments, and a famously mutable public opinion. What we are most likely to see is more of the new normal: incredibly bitter fights among plurality-sized groups for total—if temporary—control of one of the major parties. Will this also worsen gridlock at the national level, thereby exacerbating the intensity of those intraparty battles and further destabilizing our political system overall? If these dynamics play out simultaneously in both parties, the most unified side will triumph.

Maybe. I think that’s extrapolating way too much from the 2016 election, an election where a) the Democratic Party will almost certainly unite after Clinton officially wraps this up and b) the Republican Party is not particularly divided except around the candidate of the insurgency. The reality is that most Republican voters want a hard-right candidate of some sort. A future candidate uniting the Trump and Cruz factions is hardly impossible. It might be that Bill Kristol and Jeb Bush have nowhere to go in this new Republican Party, but the wealthy Republican elite are a tiny number of people. They don’t really matter outside of the Beltway.

Rick Perlstein’s essay rightfully points out the dangers of Trump and the potential for dictatorship if he were to win, which might be overwrought but is not impossible. But his analysis of the Democratic Party in 2016 is just a howler.

 What are the prospects for a realignment of American politics? On the Democratic side, practically nil. The presidential front-runner—the one with the endorsements of 15 out of 18 sitting Democratic governors, 40 out of 44 senators, and 161 out of 188 House members—is running a campaign explicitly opposed to fundamental transformation. Her signature campaign promise—no new taxes on households making $250,000 or less—renders serious change impossible. The chance for her opponent to win the nomination approaches mathematical impossibility. He is running as a “revolutionary.” But governing is a team sport. If, by some miracle, Bernie Sanders entered the White House in January, he would do so naked and alone—in command of a party apparatus less prepared ideologically, institutionally, and legislatively to do great things than at any other time in its history.

One side promises competence. The other promises the impossible. This is the Democratic Party in 2016.

Does Rick Perlstein understand the history of the Democratic Party apparatus? Less prepared ideologically, institutionally, and legislatively to do great things than at any other time in its history????? Um. How about than the 1880s? Or the 1920s? Or even the 1950s? Was the Democratic Party more ready to lead change when it was controlled by Dixiecrats? When it was nominating John C. Breckinridge or Horatio Seymour or John Davis to the presidency? When Senate committees were controlled by people like James Eastland or John Sparkman, by which I mean up until the late 1970s?

The Democratic Party has an apparatus has never been farther to the left than it is today. That doesn’t mean Hillary Clinton has a great vision for the future and isn’t in fact promising competence. And it doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party is ready to fulfill the failed promises of the New Deal and Great Society. But as an institution, the Democratic Party has never been less constrained by conservatives than in the present.

In any case, the two-party system, looking something pretty close to like it does today, isn’t going anywhere.


The Presidential Election Will Not be Decided by the House of Representatives

[ 174 ] May 9, 2016 |


Now that pundits don’t have a BROKERED CONVENTION to dream about, they can use discussion of a potential right-wing third part to fantasize about a election THROWN TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES. And of course Republican elites would love to think that the House could undo the choice of their primary electorate and impose someone more to their liking on the American public. As I think we’ve discussed before, however, this has no chance of happening for obvious reasons:

Right now Clinton has the inside track to a majority of the Electoral College. Polls are a little dodgy at this early stage of the race, but most forecasters assume Clinton would win something like the states President Obama won in 2012, and perhaps some more if Trump fails to consolidate his party. That assumption isn’t terribly important. What’s important is that adding a right-wing splinter candidate would not reduce Clinton’s share of the Electoral College at all. It would increase it. Every state gives its electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes. If Clinton wins 51 percent of the vote in Florida, she gets all 29 electoral votes from Florida. Crucially, states do not require a candidate to have a majority in order to win the state. And a right-wing independent candidate will draw overwhelmingly from Trump’s support. So an independent would not take any states away from Clinton.

Instead, that candidate would make it possible for Clinton to win a bunch of states without a majority. States where Clinton might otherwise fall a bit short of Trump would become blue states. Suppose in a two-candidate race that, say, Texas would give Trump 53 percent and Clinton 47 percent, giving Trump all 38 electoral votes from Texas. Then Ben Sasse jumps in the race and takes 10 percent of the vote, all of it coming from Trump. Now Texas is 47 percent Clinton, 43 percent Trump, and 10 percent Sasse.

Now, Halperin raises a different possibility — that an independent like Sasse could win purple states like Florida, Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado. But that scenario is completely fantastical. Winning purple states that Democrats have won each of the last two elections is hard. Doing it without a major-party label, and while splitting the vote with the Republican candidate, is impossible. Neither Ben Sasse, Bill Kristol, nor the reanimated corpse of Ronald Reagan is going to win a three-way race against Hillary Clinton in any purple state when Donald Trump is taking conservative votes and running under the Republican banner. The third-party candidate could push any number of states to Clinton, depending on how well they perform, but they’re not going to take any states away, which is the element required to make the plan work.

I don’t think the Texas example is the best one — even Trump will probably get more than 53%, and Clinton probably wouldn’t win it even in a three-way race. But North Carolina? Georgia? Indiana? Sure, at least. Facing an unfavorable electoral map with a weak candidate, Republicans don’t have a very good hand in any case. If a third party candidate from the right gets any traction at all, Republicans will be drawing dead.

In conclusion, as a liberal I find a Ben Sasse third part run very scary and the prospect makes me very angry. Think of how he’d bully pulpit the Overton Window! I sure hope he doesn’t run. And if he doesn’t, I hope Republicans will remember that not voting is a life-affirming consumer choice that will give you clean hands while preventing your brand from being diluted.

The right way to dominate women

[ 58 ] May 8, 2016 |
Use a pen, not a penis

Use a pen, not a penis

Picking up on Franklin Foer’s article about Trump.

On its face, Donald Trump’s hateful musings about women and his boastful claims of sexual dominance should be reason alone to drive him from polite society and certainly to blockade him from the West Wing.

Leaving aside how one defines polite society when dealing with Republicans – maybe the polite ones put the babies’ bones beside the plate instead of chucking them at the servants? And acknowledging that it is the setting of Trump’s comments that potentially puts him beyond the pale, this is yet another example of Trump doing what the rest of the GOP does, only louder. And not megaphone v. dog whistle louder. More like air horn from two feet away v. air horn from two yards away.

Consider Gov. Kasich, who wound up being cast as Mr. Reasonable Republican Candidate, not that it did him much good. There’s a man who knows the correct way to express one’s misogyny and assert sexual dominance over women is to mention women as little as possible. And be sneaky.

Since entering office in January 2011, John Kasich, Ohio’s governor and now a GOP presidential hopeful, has signed every abortion and women’s reproductive health provision that has landed on his desk. In four and a half years he has enacted 16 legislative proposals related to family planning funding and abortion access across the state. Although anti-abortion provisions are not limited to the Buckeye State — a July count from the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights advocacy group, showed that 31 states have enacted a total of 282 abortion restrictions since January 2011 — Ohio stands out for the rate at which it’s adopting this legislation. The measures have altered when, where and by whom a pregnancy can be terminated in the state. And although Ohio is seen as a wild success story for anti-abortion advocates, the details of Kasich’s hard-line stance are often obscured. As governor he concealed his administration’s role in the creation of several anti-abortion measures, and now he is viewed as one of the most moderate candidates in a GOP race that tips far to the right.

Once the stage is set by a few words about the Sanctity of Life, Christian Principles or even Balancing the Budget, other misogynists, their enablers and the Guild of Useful Idiots, Hand Wringers & Well Actuallizers will get to work, et Robert est votre oncle, a discussion that should be about the inherent violence of denying women control of their bodies will be heavily diluted by discussions about everything else.

That’s why when Trump (again) bellowed the parts Republicans say out loud by suggesting women who get an abortion ought to be punished, the press claimed this was contrary to standard conservative doctrine, even though that is the opposite of true.

In addition to the case of Purvi Patel who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for terminating an unwanted pregnancy, anti-abortion doctrine calls for the punishment of all women, with additional punishment for those who get pregnant when they don’t want to be. But instead of saying “All women should be sub-citizens and their bodies placed under the control of the state,” the well-mannered misogynist says “We must protect the innocent!” and burps up some anti-science about fetal pain.

If women must be mentioned, kinder, gentler sexual domination calls for making it clear that women are morons who need the protective arm of the state around their necks at all times. (Otherwise they’ll be lured into health clinics by signs promising free brow threading and chocolates and tricked into having abortions.) In his pivot, T-Rump showed everyone how its done.

If abortion were disallowed, he said in a statement, “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”

“The woman is a victim in this case, as is the life in her womb,” he continued.

And that’s one way to do misogyny.

Another way is the ever popular Oppression Switcheroo.

“They’ve already taken $90 million worth of ads,” he said. “And their ads are all woman-oriented. You know she is playing the women’s card… She’s going: Did you know that Donald Trump raised his voice when speaking to a woman? Oh, I’m sorry.”

“I mean. All of the men, we’re petrified to speak to women anymore. We may raise our voice,” he said. “You know what? The women get it better than we do folks. They get it better than we do. If she didn’t play that card, she has nothing.”

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 30

[ 31 ] May 8, 2016 |

This is the grave of Nathanael Greene.

2016-01-12 16.34.34 HDR

Nathanael Greene, Rhode Island’s biggest contribution to the American Revolution, was born in 1742 in Warwick. He didn’t do anything particularly unusual before the American Revolution, although he was a strong sympathizer with the colonists’ cause against the British government. He rose rapidly in Washington’s army, becoming a major general in August 1776 when he was placed in charge of troops on Long Island. When the army retreated from New York City, he advocated burning it to the ground so the British couldn’t use it. Besides, he argued that the city was a loyalist center anyway. Washington was interested in this idea but Congress rejected it. He managed as the quartermaster of Valley Forge, an extraordinarily difficult position. Congress kept interfering in the naming of generals in the South. After picking several disasters, it let Washington pick and he chose Greene. It worked well. Outmanned, he divided his forces, knowing the British would have to do the same, hoping it would lead to a victory. That was achieved at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, where British forces were decimated. He then engaged in a series of actions, including at Guilford Courthouse and Ninety-Six, that forced the British to flee to the coast.

After the war, Greene did what any Rhode Islander with a choice has done for over 200 years. He left. He bought a plantation outside of Savannah, Georgia and moved there full time in 1785. In doing so, he, like many northerners when given the opportunity, changed his mind about slavery. He previously had mostly opposed slavery as a Quaker, although his wife had grown up with them. He advocated freeing slaves in exchange for military service during the War. But after the war, he asked the states of South Carolina and Georgia to buy slaves for him, even as he still said the institution was bad in principle, he needed to provide for his family.

He was however, as a Rhode Islander, unprepared for the heat. He died there of sunstroke in 1786, at the age of 43. After his death, his wife hired a young man named Eli Whitney to teach their children. It was on his plantation that Whitney invented the cotton gin, ensuring slavery would become the backbone of the American economy.

Nathanael Greene is buried in Johnson Square, Savannah, Georgia

Come Back HA!, All Is Forgiven

[ 122 ] May 8, 2016 |


Salon has dug up yet another random hack to get in on the “if you’re an affluent white guy, there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between Clinton and Trump” racket:

Anecdote: There is a little lunch club in my village, guys who gather for soup and BLTs once a week just to get out of the house during our nine-month winters. It is a mixed bag. Yesterday a kindly, confirmed Republican of the old school brought me up short with this: “I’m sitting this one out. I’m not getting my hands dirty with either of them. I don’t want to have to say I helped make the mess.” This from an ex-State Department official with a long record of service.

I have long considered not voting a legitimate position—whether for the sake of clean hands or for any number of other reasons—but the stance now grows defensible among people who might have cursed it even an election or two back. Not voting is one form of political participation among countless others—an argument I have made scores of times. Look, we applaud people in other countries when they boycott elections that present no substantive choices. Low turnouts, depriving those contesting high office legitimacy, are viewed as honorable in such cases. They are political assertions, verdicts.

1)Clean hands is a particularly dumb argument for not voting; 2)the idea that Clinton v. Trump does not provide voters with a “substantive choice” is insane; 3)his sample of former Republican State Department officials is such a wonderfully self-refuting touch I’d assume it was parody at a different publication. Hopefully his next column will feature someone who used to be a liberal but was insulted at an apocryphal cocktail party and now favors ruling the Clean Air Act unconstitutional.

And now the punchline:

What about Téa Leone for president, on the other hand? Reagan cut the trail for entertainment stars and they named airports and parks after him when he was done. Téa has a lot of experience, given her show consults with State regularly. (Oh, yes. The long arm of official propaganda has many fingers.) And Téa, Madame Secretary, has far better hair than The Great Communicator’s. It deserves a casting credit all its own, in my view.

What a wit! I’m not sure if Salon doesn’t just doesn’t have editors anymore, or if an editor decided to let him keep misspelling Leoni’s name because there was certainly no chance anything else in the article was going to be funny.

So who is this guy?

Patrick Smith is Salon’s foreign affairs columnist.

Seems about right. And give him this: at least he’s not Paglia.


[ 10 ] May 8, 2016 |


Now this is certainly interesting.

The leaders of two of the nation’s biggest, most powerful labor unions — the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — are completing a plan that calls for unusually close cooperation in political campaigning, organizing and bargaining in states and cities across the United States.

The effort begins a process that could lead to a merger of the two organizations, an outcome that would create the nation’s largest labor union, with some 3.6 million members.

“While we recognize the differences in culture and structure between our respective organizations and the divisions that have hampered us in the past, the times demand that we build on our common purpose,” states a resolution the unions are expected to approve. It cites challenges like political attacks on organized labor, growing income inequality and deteriorating workplace conditions.

The document adds that the two unions will consider ways to step up the collaboration, including a formal merger.

The resolution — which was adopted by the Service Employees International Union board on Thursday and was expected to be considered by the American Federation board in June — also would need to be ratified at conventions the unions have scheduled for this year.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has 1.6 million members, most of whom are government workers. The Service Employees International Union has approximately two million members and is split nearly evenly between workers in the private and public sectors. About 80 percent of the unions’ membership is in roughly a dozen states, including New York, California and Illinois.

A merger would have some upsides and lead to a whole lot of questions. First, the two unions would stop arguing over who gets to organize who, since they both work in the public sector. This would be a positive. They would combine resources to be a huge power within the Democratic Party. It could come closer to uniting the House of Labor than anything in a long time. Of course, one supposes that would also include SEIU abandoning the now pointless Change to Win and rejoining the AFL-CIO. I think that would make a lot of sense. The Andy Stern era is long over and since Change to Win was his baby, it wouldn’t surprise me to see current SEIU leadership being willing to end it. So that’s one question. Another is how the two cultures would work together. Most union mergers consist of a big union taking over a declining union. When the union I wrote about in Empire of Timber, the International Woodworkers of America, was no longer viable in the face of widespread plant closings, it merged with the International Association of Machinists and became part of that union’s culture. But that’s not the case here. And since SEIU is a different kind of union than most, the merging of the union cultures would be a real challenge.

I don’t think this merger is that close to happening. This would be like a large corporate merger, except that the unions would have to care about what happened to the redundant workers. There’s a lot to work out. But if and when it does, it will make for one powerful organization with a whole lot of resources behind it. These developments are definitely worth watching.

Empire of Cotton: Clothes of the Dead White Man

[ 24 ] May 8, 2016 |


Last week, when I reviewed Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton, one of the key points I hoped I made was how Beckert connects the exploitation of cotton upon the peoples of the world as not only central to the development of capitalism but also closely connected to how the growth and production of cotton continues to exploit people today. When I read this very interesting essay on the problem of used clothing donations, I thought that this represents a number of other facets of this problem. In recent decades, our clothing purchases have skyrocketed on the backs on Bangladesh laborers. The low cost and low quality means that we are also donating clothing at record rates. But Goodwill and others can’t keep up, because we don’t actually buy that used clothing, because there is so much of it, and because so much of it is already falling apart. What does that mean? Two major things. First, a lot of gets sent to landfills. Second, they dump it on poor nations. That in turns undermines local clothing production, which in turn gets to a point Beckert makes repeatedly, which is that the West forced local producers out of production through all sorts of means, including making clothing so cheap that locals could not compete. That’s essentially what we are doing today.

It turns out that this market, born entirely of our unwanted duds, is thriving. Robert Goode is the owner of Mac Recycling, a company that ships enormous bales of used clothing purchased from charities to buyers all across the globe every week. “Pretty much you can pick any country and there’s a market for these items,” he says. The international roster ranges from Central and South America to Asia, Africa, and Europe. Though textile recyclers have endured their share of misunderstanding, they provide an inarguably valuable service to charities. To put it in numbers, the U.S. currently exports a billion pounds of worn clothing per year. Without the intervention of textile recyclers, our enormous surplus of charitable donations would be rendered useless and sent to landfills.

Still, this model is far from perfect. Dr. Andrew Brooks, the author of Clothing Poverty, argues that the flow of Western clothing to developing countries negatively affects them by disrupting local economies and putting textile workers out of jobs. For example, the market for used clothing has expanded so dramatically in Uganda that it now accounts for 81 percent of all clothing purchases. Brooks also points to Ghana, where textile and clothing employment fell by 80 percent between 1975 and 2000. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the constant flood of used clothing is so pervasive that it’s even part of the language. In his book, Brooks translates the colloquial Ghanaian phrase “obroni wawu” to “clothes of the dead white man.”

Very interesting and challenging piece about our consumption in a globalized industry.

Who Do We Nuke?

[ 2 ] May 8, 2016 |
Strategic Air Command B-47 Stratojets - 020903-o-9999r-001.jpg

“Strategic Air Command B-47 Stratojets” by US Air Force photo Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat looks at how the US planned its strategic nuclear campaign in East Asia in 1959:

A recent collaborative project between the Future of Life Institute and Nukemaps has created a visual representation of U.S. plans to use nuclear weapons against the Soviet bloc in 1959. The strikes, derived from a declassified list of U.S. nuclear targets published by the National Security Archive, reveals the big plans that the United States had for war in East Asia.


5/16/16 – Learn the shocking truth

[ 27 ] May 8, 2016 |

You might think you know commentarion efgoldman, the resident Trumpeter against Trump. But how much do you really know? Is he a Bach man or a Yamaha fan? Silver or brass? And what about those strangely persistent flugelhorn rumors?

Well, he and Mme. efgoldman are in the DMV, possibly because they’re plotting to steal the trumpet from Moroni on top of the Mormon temple in Kensington, possibly not.

If you’re in the area, you can scope them out Mon. May 16, at Fado Irish Pub, 5:30ish until the authorities arrive.

Fado is at 808 7th Street N.W., near Metro Center and Gallery Place stations, i.e. all of the Metro lines. Coming? Drop a line below. Not coming? Drop some irresponsible speculation about what Ted Cruz is doing right now.

The Ballad of Babe Colon

[ 67 ] May 7, 2016 |

I am agnostic-to-positive about the DH (truth be told, I like the status quo in which each league has a different rule, in part because I like the non-uniformity. I still hate that the NHL felt compelled to change its division names from its robber baron ones to generic geographical ones.) But this is obviously a nearly unanswerable argument against the rule:

Will Cohen be the best MLB play-by-play guy after Scully retires? I certainly can’t name a better one.

Who are the REAL victims in North Carolina?

[ 47 ] May 7, 2016 |, 3/24/2016.

The people who just want to be left alone to discriminate against people in peace, of course.

The Justice Department notified Gov. Pat McCrory in a letter Wednesday that the state’s House Bill 2, which restricts transgender bathroom access and has become a focus in the LGBT rights fight, violates sections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It gave the state until Monday to “remedy” the violations.

On Thursday, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said legislators would not meet the federal government’s deadline.

“We will take no action by Monday,” Moore told reporters in a video broadcast by the Raleigh News & Observer. “That deadline will come and go. Obviously, we don’t ever want to lose any money, but we’re not going to get bullied by the Obama administration to take action prior to Monday’s date. That’s not how this works.”

In a statement, McCrory said he would review the letter to determine the state’s next steps. “The Obama administration has not only staked out its position for North Carolina, but for all states, universities and most employers in the U.S.,” the governor said.

Yes, and that position is don’t discriminate, even if you think you can spin discrimination into a Noble Cause.

“The right and expectation of privacy in one of the most private areas of our personal lives is now in jeopardy.”

Yep, protecting people’s privacy by interfering with their ability to pee is exactly the sort of bonkers bullshit one expects from Republicans, who view restrictions on their ability to harm various groups of people as dreadfully unfair and will yell about government overreach even as they hold out their scabby little mitts for federal cash.

And in North Carolina, Gov. McCrory and the state legislature are more likely to stop being trash monsters for five seconds than they are to admit this all started with government overreach.

The North Carolina conflict initially began as a showdown between city and state. In February, the state’s largest city, Charlotte, passed an ordinance that expanded nondiscrimination protections to sexual orientation and gender identity and allowed people to choose restrooms according to the gender with which they identify.

All NC’s legislature had to do in response was – Nothing. But it chose to do something and it doesn’t like the consequences because these are people who have all the self-control of practicing addicts. I couldn’t begin to guess what the mean and stupid people who have made imaginary toilet fiends the hill they’re going to die on will do next, beyond some other mean, stupid thing. But I assume the Protect Our Potty PACs are hard at work gathering funds.

Music Notes

[ 49 ] May 7, 2016 |


Haven’t done one of these in a few weeks. Here’s some interesting articles, album reviews, and tidbits.

Country music humor is almost universally terrible as comedy, from “Uncle Josh” routines performed by any number of old-time and country bands through World War II to Minnie Pearl and Grandpa Jones to Ray Stevens. Some of the music related to it can be alright. Those old enough to remember Hee Haw have a sense of this. Anyway, there’s a new generation of country music comedy.

The only known film of Louis Armstrong recording has been discovered. Pretty cool.

This is a really interesting essay defending greatest hits albums and reissue discs, something that is rapidly being lost in the digital age. It’s a pretty convincing argument: collections and greatest hits help define eras, salvage lost musical genres, and make vast troves of music accessible to listeners in easily accessible collections.

This is the definitive obituary of Merle Haggard. Read it.

Some album reviews from things I have recently picked up:

Shamir, Ratchet

After Prince died, Janelle Monae said she could not be what she is (a gender-bending weirdo) if Prince had paved the way. It’s safe to say the same about Shamir, a gender-fluid, high-falsetto, dance-pop artist from Las Vegas, who previously played country music covers before figuring out the money was better in pop music. He’s a weird little hipster dude who makes some really fun music.


Ikue Mori and Zeena Parkins, Phantom Orchard

This 2004 collaboration between two titans of electronic and experimental jazz isn’t that easy to listen to. This is dense music of swooping sounds and effects from people used to composing and performing challenging music. But is largely a fascinating exploration of sound that I have enjoyed.


Sturgill Simpson, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

That Sturgill Simpson has been able to do precisely what he wants to do on a country album, making no compromises toward slick Nashville sounds, bro country, country radio, etc. while using string sections, the Dap Kings, and other production elements not common in modern country music that he then releases directly to the top of the charts, is kind of amazing. Hopefully it spawns a new wave of interesting country musicians pushing boundaries.

It’s quite an artistic statement. However, I don’t love the album and don’t think it is as good as Metamodern Sounds in Country Music. Basically, I don’t think the songs are of the same quality as the last album. Simpson got a lot of buzz because he covered Nirvana’s “In Bloom” but it might be the album’s weakest song. There are real highlights–“Keep It Between the Lines,” “Sea Stories,” and “Call to Arms” in particular. But there’s nothing quite as rousing as “Long White Line” or “Life of Sin” off the last album. It’s a good record, but it’s not a great record.


Chris Lightcap & Bigmouth, Deluxe

I saw this band in New Haven a couple of weeks ago. It was absolutely outstanding, as is this album. Lightcap is the bassist, the wonderful Craig Taborn is on piano and Fender Rhodes, Gerald Cleaver is the drummer, and the saxophonists are Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek. An outstanding band in any circumstance, but with great tunes and that Fender Rhodes, it plays almost as a rock band at times. This is accessible modern jazz for people who might want to explore a bit, but who might be intimidated by, say, the Mori/Parkins album I reviewed above. Outstanding show, outstanding album.


Robbie Fulks, Upland Stories

Although I liked several of the songs on Fulks’ last album, Gone Away Backwards, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that he retreated from the country of his earlier albums (and specifically the rich 60s country sound of his brilliant Georgia Hard) for a folk/bluegrass sound, which is kind of a default for a lot of country songwriters these days when commercial success doesn’t match hopes. He continues with that instrumentation on Upland Stories, but this is a pretty brilliant set of songs. He mostly eschews the silly (or sometimes downright offensive) humor of some of his earlier albums and the exceptions (Aunt Peg’s New Old Man) are pretty effective and funny. Mostly though this is a great set of songs about both classic country themes and hard life in the present. Really rewarding piece of music, although perhaps there are a couple of weaker tunes toward the end.


John Moreland, In The Throes

John Moreland’s latest album, High on Tulsa Heat, is a revelation. What a great songwriter. So I checked out his first album, In The Throes. It’s like a lot of first albums from very good artists, which is that it’s close to great, but not quite there yet. There are some outstanding songs, such as the one embedded below, and some not quite up to what appears on the next album. But this is a real talent and I look forward to his future work.


And, as part of my lifelong quest to explore the history of country music, here’s few older country albums I recently acquired:

Merle Haggard, A Portrait of Merle Haggard

How good was Merle Haggard in 1969? In this year, he released 6 full albums. A Portrait of Merle Haggard included two #1 hits. One was “Working Man’s Blues.” The other was “Hungry Eyes.” He didn’t even bother releasing another popular song from the album as a single. It goes by the name of “Silver Wings.” The country music strategy of flooding the market with albums during these years usually did not work out well, but when someone was working at this level, it could lead to an astounding number of outstanding albums.


Glen Campbell, Country Boy

This 1975 compilation (I think it’s a compilation anyway) is pure cheese. At its best, the big production of 70s country could work great to accentuate excellent songwriting and singing, such as Billy Sherrill’s productions of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. But with weaker material, it just adds to the weakness. Even with his big hits like “Country Boy” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” included, its primary value today is an exercise in nostalgia. Given that Campbell had more talent than the average singer of the era, the production quality of 70s country makes a lot of the period’s music unlistenable.


Jerry Reed, When You’re Hot, You’re Hot

Jerry Reed was a heck of a guitar player. And he certainly had a lot of energy. He could also sing some really dumb songs and some super cheesy songs too. This was his biggest hit. The album is, well, OK. Did he have the emotional range to cover “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”? Not really. Kind of interesting cover of “Thank You Girl.” Not my favorite version of “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town.” The songs he wrote were of mixed quality. The production of the hit song in the video below is very 70s.


Since I assume that you all, like me, listen to music for 12-14 hours of each and every day, this is your place for various and sundry musical conversations.

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