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Tag: "music"

Throwback Thursday: The Wayfaring Stranger Song

[ 29 ] June 22, 2017 |

Joan Baez and her husband David Harris with their son after his release from prison for draft resistance, 1970

While I’m still technically on vacation and will be on a transatlantic flight on Friday, I had a burst of inspiration and had to write this one up a little early.

The Wayfaring Stranger song is an old American folk song that has been passed around the bluegrass, western, country western, folk and rock music scene for over 100 years. I’m unable to confirm an exact date of origin or an author, but the Bluegrass Situation says:

“Some historians have traced its genesis to the 1780s, others, the early 1800s. Depending on who you’re talking to the song may be a reworked black spiritual, a lifted native hymn, or even a creation of nomadic Portuguese settlers from the southern Appalachian region.”

That’s quite a variety of origins, if you ask me. No matter, the song has stuck with American communities of faith in their settlement and migration experiences. The song itself can be reworked into many different genres and contexts as it is simply about a narrator longing to end a life of toil and go on to the afterlife where his family resides.

Here are some of the more interesting versions that I’ve found that put a unique social and historical stamp on the interpretation of the song.

Johnny Cash (2000)

If I had to choose one version as the standard, it would be the Johnny Cash version. This particular recording was taken later in his career, and his voice carries that sense of age and weariness. Anyone want to fight me on it? Too bad. I don’t care.

Joan Baez (1969)

A legend of music for social justice, folk singer Joan Baez recorded a version of Wayfaring Stranger in 1969. It is from her album “David’s Album” which she recorded for her husband David Harris who was about to be imprisoned for draft resistance in the Vietnam war era.

Jack White (2003)

Jack White, a musician I love but wish he wouldn’t talk so we’d never know how much a jerk he was, recorded a version for the Civil War era romantic drama Cold Mountain, which he appeared in. I’m not an expert on music from the Civil War era, but it seems to me Jack made a point of making it sound like something that was authentic to the era. I’ve never seen the film, but the longing of soldiers to return to a physical home is a common theme of art about that era. While the song is clearly about dying, I can see it being about both death and a nostalgia for a pre-war existence.

Ed Sheeran (2011)

British singer song writer recorded this one take song using loops. An interesting method. But to me his version feels empty. He’s just singing an old song in his British pop artist vocals, no appreciation for the history and emotion. Ughhhh British cultural appropriation of American folk music, amirite?

Alex Boye (2014)

An incredibly talented London-born musician of African origin, Alex Boye has pushed his own unique brand of blending modern pop with African instruments and rhythm specifically for the YouTube crowd. Energetic and creative, he sometimes goes into dramatic territory. Especially with this song where he adds an incredible violinists and an African chorus while giving us sweeping vistas. To imagine a song about hardship and longing for death in an African context I think is a fantastic way to build new understandings, but Alex isn’t trying to turn it into a lecture. He’s just singing his song, and us social theorists can unpack it all by ourselves without ruining the show. If anyone recognizes the language Aleis singing in besides English, let me know.

Interestingly, there is also a video of Alex performing the song on a evangelical worship music show called “Hour of Power” where the song is listed as a “hymn”.


Other than the Johnny Cash version, Neko Case is my favorite.


Flashback Friday: Weddings Are For Memories

[ 57 ] June 16, 2017 |

Its June, the beginning of wedding season. I celebrated my second wedding anniversary this Tuesday and we’re in the States for another friend’s wedding this weekend. We’re running out of unmarried friends, so this is the only wedding we have this year, but we’ll still be wishing many others a happy anniversary in the next few months.

This is a season of memories. Bridal traditions often involve honoring a past family member’s marriage. Some of my friends had the bridal photographs of their parents and grandparents set up at the card table for their wedding. Jewish friends of mine carried heirlooms that their grandparents had fled Europe with. My mother offered to give me her wedding dress, but my parents divorced after I graduated college and my memories of their marriage are bad ones so I did everything I could to erase them from my own wedding. I wore my great-grandmother’s cameo as a necklace, given to me by my beloved grandmother whose marriage I idolized.

During the ceremony itself, you’re also conscious of making memories for your family. We want to remember the little details so that we can pass them on to our children on the day of their marriage. We also want to remember sharing the happy day with people we know might not be here for much longer. A number of our friends lost parents and grandparents not long after our weddings. Some friends lost a parents a few years before their wedding, and those memories play a precious role throughout the day.

With that in mind, let me share with you a few musical memories from our O Brother Where Art Thou inspired wedding. We had limited funds for a DJ, so we chose all the music ourselves and hooked up the playlist to some speakers while our theater director friend played emcee. Anything that could be done DIY, was.

The Hymnal

My uncle is an Episcopalian minister and we asked him to perform the marriage ceremony. He heard us playing Johnny Cash while people were arriving and decided that since we had neglected to put any music into the ceremony he was just going to add some. Everyone stood up and we all sang “Ring of Fire” together.

Entrance of the Bridal Party

The song played when the bridal party enters the reception site is a fairly new tradition. Our whole wedding involved homages to our favorite movies. I had to fit The Good The Bad And The Ugly in there somewhere for my husband. This seemed like the best spot.

The First Dance

The song didn’t mean so much to “us” as it did to me. I love romantic songs, but I didn’t want something overly sentimental. Watching my parent’s marriage disintegrate over a 25 year period did that. “Mine Is Yours” is all about the pitfalls of life and staying together through the bad times. And also an announcement of how much student debt I had and hahahaha its yours now. Sucker.

Father Daughter Dance

I chose this one for my dad. He of course broke down in tears for the third or fourth time that day.

The Surprise Serenade

Our friends are so wonderful they surprised us with an acapella version of this old Irish tune. Matt and I would be moving to the UK two and a half months after the wedding, so the whole event also functioned as a goodbye party. We were absolutely touched.

The Party Song

We really don’t need to get into what this movie meant to me as a kid, or what David Bowie means to me. I had very few childhood fantasies about what my wedding would be like. Playing this song felt like I was connecting to that kid I used to be.


In the comments, feel free to share music that you remember from precious moments at your wedding or weddings you’ve been a part of!

Rosalie Sorrels, RIP

[ 23 ] June 14, 2017 |

The great, wonderful, amazing songwriter Rosalie Sorrels has died at the age of 83. I have been a huge fan for a long time. She was almost totally unknown except by other songwriters. She never made any money at all. But this was a remarkable woman living an really self-directed life. She grew up in the Mormon culture of Idaho, had an abortion as a teenager, was raped and gave up the child that led to for adoption. She married and then started learning to be a folk singer. She married and had 5 kids, left her husband and traveled the nation with kids in tow. She wrote great songs and produced excellent albums. Many of those albums are out of print. That’s especially true of her excellent work from the 70s. I would start by pointing you to her 1976 album Always a Lady. The first two songs alone, “Mehitabel’s Theme” which is this weird song about insects and then her spoken word introduction to the old folk song “Baby Rocking Medley,” which is about telling the baby you want to kill it while slowly rocking it to sleep. These are amazing songs and if anyone knows about the perils of motherhood, it was Rosalie Sorrels. She helped revive the career of Utah Phillips and she wrote a heartbreaking song about her son that committed suicide: “Hitchhiker in the Rain.” That was on her outstanding 1995 album Borderline Heart, which at least was released on CD, which Always a Lady never has been. Here’s a few of her tunes.

I saw Rosalie in about 2002 in Albuquerque. We were the youngest people there by about 20 years. It was great. She sang great songs, swore a lot which was awesome coming from a woman in her late 60s (or so it seemed at that time), told great stories. It was a special night from a special woman. I knew her health was in serious decline for at least a decade so I always felt glad that I managed to see her.

Not many of those old folkies left, which is the natural course of life, but sad nonetheless.

Music Notes

[ 124 ] June 3, 2017 |

First, this is a good time to thank all those who gave a few pennies in our recent fundraising drive. Many thanks. While it is the blog’s 13th birthday, it was right around this time 6 years ago that I was brought on to ruin the site populated by centrists who thought this was the blog where they could be socially liberal and economically conservative. Seriously, that was pretty much the comment threads on my posts for the first year, until those people finally left. The whole experience has been good for me in many ways, including that Out of Sight would not have happened without it.

Now some music notes and a lot of album reviews.

I don’t have a strong opinion about Gregg Allman. Although I have some of the early live albums, the Allman Brothers is not a band I have thought much about in recent years. I certainly have nothing against them (although 44 minute jam songs are very tiresome, i.e., the entire second album of Live at Ludlow Garage). But listening to a few songs from their peak after Allman’s death, at its peak, that band worked very well. Moreover, while they were borrowing from black music as much as any other white rock band of that era, unlike the Stones or Led Zeppelin, Gregg Allman was always very open about his influences and didn’t try to steal credit from them.

Jimmie LaFave has died at the age of 61. He wasn’t my favorite of the Texas/Oklahoma country music scene, but he had a lot of good songs.

If you like to pair your metal listening with the appropriate beer, this could help you. Personally, I would just go with anything from TRVE out of Denver, the great black metal brewery there.

I’ve long felt that Sorcerer was a highly underrated album in Miles Davis’ canon. Now there is a font based on the song “Masqualero,” from that album.

20 years since Radiohead released O.K. Computer. We are all old.

So Roger Waters seems to have released a new album. Huh.

Now for an unusual number of album reviews that happened basically because I keep forgetting my external drive with all my music when I go to work for the day. Have to listen to something. Was a good opportunity to clear the deck of a lot of albums that I had been meaning to hear for awhile. Lemons into lemonade and the like.

Laura Gibson, La Grande

I really like Gibson’s recent album, Empire Builder. So I checked out this 2012 release, an album that is probably the only popular culture item named after or about La Grande, Oregon. The video below is even filmed there! La Grande may not be quite of the level of Empire Builder, an album that is a pretty sublime set of songs, but this is a solid singer-songwriter album. There are some great songs here and some songs I need to listen to again. I really liked the title track and Crow/Swallow. I will be listening to the whole album again as well.


Daddy Issues, Fuck Marry Kill

I saw Daddy Issues open for Tacocat in February. Loved them, almost as much as Tacocat. I thought this was just really solid girl band indie rock. So I finally checked out one of their albums. Fuck Marry Kill was released in 2015 and confirms everything I liked about Daddy Issues when I saw them live. Great vocals, punk sound with pop sensibility, songs about sex, with a chorus to “Riot Grrrl” of “Fuck me in the back seat, I’m so bored and you’re too cheap.” A very fun band. I will listen to this regularly.


Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway

This is really good stuff. Giddens, former singer with Carolina Chocolate Drops, was basically a cover artist, first of old-time black folk music and then, with her 2015 solo album, of a wider variety of 20th century music. I’ve always appreciated song interpreters as much as songwriters, whether Emmylou Harris or Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. We need more interpreters. But Giddens is writing more here. This album tells the story of the black freedom struggle. It begins with “At the Purchaser’s Option,” about the slave trade and then moves to “Julie” about a woman leaving her mistress after the Civil War. She then moves very quickly to the twentieth century, with a powerful cover of Joan Baez’s “Birmingham Sunday.” Not every song is so directly political or historical, but that’s the overall theme of the album, closing with The Staples’ “Freedom Highway.” Some of the love songs toward the end perhaps lag a bit, but if you want to say that Giddens’ songwriting is not yet that of Richard Farina or Pop Staples, that’s hardly an insult. Overall, this is a fine step forward for a tremendous talent.


Willie Nelson, God’s Problem Child

After all these decades, Willie Nelson’s amazing voice is beginning to slip. That’s the first thing one notices on his new album. The second thing one notices is that this is a really good collection of songs. Not surprisingly, many of them are about aging and losing friends, including one song about all the internet rumors of his own demise and another about the death of his good friend Merle Haggard. Old men doing old men records is now an old genre and can sometimes be a little depressing as well as kind of dialing it in. But while Willie has certainly dialed in his share of recordings over the years, this is a pretty fine album without a real clunker at all and some really nice tracks. It’s a worthy contribution to his sizable catalog. Who knows if it will be his last album, although he is 84 and not in the greatest of health. But it may well be his last really worthy album. It’s certainly worth a listen.


Ondatrópica, Baile Bucanero

Ondatrópica is more of a project than a band. It’s Mario Galeano of Frente Cumbiero and Will Holland, the British producer better known as Quantic, gathering a bunch of Colombian musicians and recording some songs. In this case, their second full album, they focused more on the English side of Colombian life, particularly the formerly English island of Providence Island, where much of this was recorded. This then brings in some English lyrics, including the opening song, which was a bit of a jolt from what I expected. This mashing of the many sounds of Colombia works pretty well. There’s no reason to evalutate the “authenticity” of such a project and who cares anyway. The only question is whether it is good and interesting music and in this case, these musicians certainly pass the test with a huge variety of sounds from over 30 musicians, playing in various combinations in the different songs.


Shamir, Hope

Shamir’s first album, Ratchet, was an amazing, out of nowhere work of pop genius from a young Vegas kid. As he puts it himself, he was an unexpected pop star. And it kind of freaked him out. He’s been struggling with what to do next. So out of nowhere, he recently dropped a new album on Soundcloud. I was excited when I heard about it. But in describing it himself, he admits that he just threw it together over the weekend, had it mastered in a hour, and sent it out. And it feels that way. He avoids the dance hall sounds that made his previous work so great and tries more of a low-fi sound. That’s fine in principle, but it doesn’t really work. The songs have no pop too them and it’s just pretty forgettable. I completely respect an artist just trying to figure out their way. In the digital age though, that can lead to some unfortunate self-releases without someone saying, “maybe this needs more work.” Shamir is a promising and curious artist and I look forward to seeing where he goes next. But this isn’t successful.


Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution

Having heard Spalding on several albums of others, I figured I would check out her album released last year. I know many are more familiar with her work than I am, probably because she unexpectedly won a Best New Artist Grammy that everyone thought was supposed to go to Justin Bieber, leading the Grammies to change the rule, because, hey, it’s all about reinforcing the beliefs of 15 year old girls and not about who is actually the best new artist. She became instantly famous, performed for the Obamas, and it sort of freaked her out I guess. Anyway, she took a couple of years off before releasing this album last spring. It’s a good one. “Funk the Fear” is very catchy and there’s a lot of songs about freedom. I don’t know that this grabbed me and made me want to listen again and again, but I should give it a few more spins at least.


The Lowest Pair, Fern Girl and Ice Man

I’ve heard about this band for awhile. But I was skeptical. A couple of banjo players from Olympia sounded like hipster faux-Americana, probably from Evergreen graduates, assuming people actually graduate from that school instead of becoming acid cases. But I was pleasantly surprised. I am of course a sucker for Americana if it’s well done. And this is indeed well done. Kendl Winter probably isn’t my favorite vocalist but especially when singing with her band partner Winter Lee, it works pretty well. I understand this is a fuller instrumentation than usual and it serves them well. The songs are fine, if not particularly amazing. This doesn’t travel far from standard rootsy Americana duos, but they do it well and it’s worth your time.


Julia Holter, Have You in My Wilderness

Several years ago I picked up the album Ekstasis, by the composer and singer Julia Holter. It’s pretty ethereal and works fine, but never really grabbed me. I might listen to it once a year and if a song comes on in the shuffle, that’s cool. But I hadn’t thought too much about her since. But her 2015 album Have You in My Wilderness is a real step forward because she combines her composition training with more of a pop sensibility, making a relatively straightforward album that’s a little less in the clouds and a little more in the heart. “Lucette Stranded on the Island” is a near epic song. “Sea Calls Me Home” and “Betsy on the Roof” are excellent as well. Sometimes this does slip back toward the background, but mostly this album brings the listener inside an intimate space, even if it’s not always entirely clear what’s happening in the lyrics.


The Coathangers, Nosebleed Weekend.

First, The Coathangers is an outstanding name for a girl punk band. The band itself is pretty good too, with catchy lyrics, lots of noise, and two very different vocalists, one of which sounds like she is singing with gravel in her mouth. This band started in Atlanta 10 years ago and finally found relative success with this album from last year. Now rock lifers, they keep on going and have a new EP coming out soon. “Dumb Baby” is fun, and you don’t get enough songs of women insulting men for their stupidity. “Nosebleed Weekend” and “Make It Right” stick in the mind, and overall, this is just a really solid album.


Will Johnson, Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm

The former Centro-matic singer has been playing his various versions of Americana for a long time now and while I never got super into his old band, I did enjoy this sonically interesting set of pretty intimate songs that revolve people dealing with “situations of tension,” according to Johnson. Worth a listen.


Finally, another thanks to a reader who purchased me a couple of gifts, including a new cast iron skillet and a collection of Elmore Leonard’s later novels. Again, it’s very kind when this happens and makes doing all this writing a little more fruitful.

Flashback Friday: “You Oughta Know”, By Beyoncé, Britney, and KoRn

[ 76 ] June 2, 2017 |

There have always been aggressive female rockers. But none of them achieved mainstream critical and commercial success like Alanis Morisette with Jagged Little Pill in 1995. It wasn’t her first album, the first two bubblegum pop records only selling in her native Canada, but it was the first time she was able to unabashedly her own woman. The teenage pop star who had once opened for Vanilla Ice was now full blown rock banshee.

The first single off the albumYou Oughta Know”, featuring the guitar skills of Dave Navarro and Flea, became the anthem of jilted women everywhere. I remember playing it on my cassette player a lot when my 6th grade boyfriend dumped me after a week and started dating another girl (we only ever just held hands and one year later he came out as gay, so don’t get too mad at him).

The video is mostly unremarkable. At least compared to the other hit single “Ironic” and the video parodies it inspired. Nick Egan directed the video of Alanis going through multiple costume changes as she sang in the desert. But it was fine, the song was strong enough to be memorable on its own. It went to number one on the US Rock charts and stayed in the Top 10 for mainstream charts in the US, Canada, and New Zealand.

On the cover of Rolling Stone her “angry woman” persona was solidified, and she was labeled “Miss Thing“. In a 2012 interview, Alanis revealed that she had been afraid of expressing her anger, anxious about receiving backlash. While her multiple albums since that record have been anything but subtle and subdued, her image seems to have softened somewhat. But perhaps that has more to do with age. No longer the messy young woman, she projects confidence and wisdom as well as assertiveness.

Like some of the other songs featured in this series, its also a fairly popular choice on international TV singing contests. It appeared on 2014’s The Voice of Brazil, 2015’s The Voice of Holland, and the French Canadian show La Voix. They had to tweak the lyrics for the family friendly American Idol in 2011.

For the 20th anniversary of the song, Alanis and Demi Lovato sang the song at the American Music Awards. So Alanis has no problem being known for her hit and for passing the torch on to a new generation of female artists.

Beyoncé (2010/11)

If Alanis proved that female aggression could be profitable for the mainstream, Beyonce proved she could take it even further. She made it so that men would have to dance to it at every wedding you will ever attend. Hats off.

Britney Spears (2009)

Britney covered Alanis’ song at a concert for which apparently only this one fan video exists. Its pretty trashy, if you ask me. But that’s what some people genuinely like about Britney and I don’t feel like inciting the ire of my gay guy friends so fine. Alanis certainly had no objections.

KoRn (1995)

Ok, maybe not quite a “cover” as it is backstage karaoke. But still fun if you were ever into KoRn.

Lauren Aquilina (2016)

Born the year Jagged Little Pill came out, English singer songwriter does what I unfortunately think is a snooze worthy cover from the famed Abbey Road Studios. But that’s what happens after Beyoncé goes first. And its tradition to have a drippy British version of each of these songs. So there.

There’s probably a lot of great analysis to be made on the gender/racial politics of female expressions of anger in music and what the acceptable genre is. Hit me up if you’ve got any!

Gregg Allman, RIP

[ 53 ] May 27, 2017 |

Gregg Allman is dead at the age of 69. I don’t think anyone is surprised that he did not live into his 90s.

Flashback Friday: Chris Cornell, RIP

[ 70 ] May 19, 2017 |

Yesterday Chris Cornell committed suicide at the age of 52. It is indeed a very sad day for rock music. We’ve lost not only a singular voice, but also many in the rock scene have lost a dear friend. The lead singer of Soundgarden in the 1990’s and Audioslave in the 00’s, Chris toured and sang with many other icons including Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam. Even until his death, he was still working as a solo artist and playing concerts.

I thought about compiling a list of Black Hole Sun covers, for which Postmodern Jukebox has a great one as does the soundtrack to Westworld. In my research, I discovered that Chris was actually a great cover artist on his own. So it feels much more fitting to remember his talent in the way he honored other artists and added his own value to their songs. There are so many of them, so I’ll post the videos of my top three and give you a list of links at the bottom.

“Nothing Compares 2 U”, Prince

“I Will Always Love You”, Whitney Houston

“Redemption Song”, Bob Marley

This is from his appearance on Jimmy Fallon back in 2011, but there is also a very sweet version of this song he performed with his daughter during a live concert in 2015.

The Telegraph reports that Cornell’s last performed song was from Led Zeppelin, “In My Time of Dying”. If there is such a video, I’m hesitant to post it because it would feel like romanticizing his suicide.

Other honorable mention that wouldn’t fit in this post:

“Hotel California”, Eagles

“Seven Nation Army”, White Stripes (performed with Audioslave)

“Billie Jean”, Michael Jackson

“Thank You”, Led Zeppelin

“One (U2 Music with Metallica lyrics)”

“Thunder Road”, Bruce Springsteen

“Long As I Can See The Light”, Credence Clearwater Revival

“Imagine”, John Lennon

Music Notes

[ 78 ] May 13, 2017 |


I saw The New Pornographers at House of Blues in Boston recently. For as much as I dislike the atmosphere of the two House of Blues venues I’ve been to (Dallas is the other), this was a very fun show. I haven’t heard the new album yet and so I didn’t know those songs but that doesn’t matter much. The great thing about this band is its faith in the sound of the human voice. With up to 5 people singing at once, it becomes a transcendent party of voices. And of course the songs are so fun and the music so happy that it is almost impossible not to have a good time at a New Pornographers show. It’s also interesting that A.C. Newman sings with an audible lisp, which is not something I think I have ever heard before. I say that only as a curious point, not that it adds or detracts from the music. From the point of view of justice and acceptance, it’s a pretty great thing. Another pretty great thing is seeing Neko Case play anything, but then I don’t have to convince anyone of this.

Waxahatchee opened, which was also great, even if Katie Crutchfield’s songs don’t quite translate that well to a big room with a crowd only half paying attention and a lot of talking. This is of course the peril all opening acts face. Sometimes, the opening act is the better act and while I wouldn’t necessarily say that here, it’s close.

On Tuesday I saw the Old 97s play in Millvale, Pennsylvania, which is just outside of Pittsburgh. It was outstanding. Old 97s has been one of my favorite bands for the last 20 years, yet the only time I had seen them was opening for Drive-By Truckers in 2013. Not sure how that happened. So I was glad to see a full show. Of course it’s Rhett Miller’s band and his party lyrics and ass shaking and windmill guitar have always made it work. But their secret weapon has always been guitarist Ken Bethea, whose driving riffs define the band’s sound and that really came through live. Being 2 feet from the stage always helps bring this out. They played a good variety of songs from their career, heavily focused on the new album (see below), their brilliant last album Most Messed Up, and their 1997 album Too Far to Care, which has many of their classics such as “Timebomb,” “Four Leaf Clover,” and “Barrier Reef,” all of which were played. Being the Pittsburgh area too, a city festooned with old Catholic churches from its steel days, the club was inside an old church and so that was also a cool venue.

I was in Detroit the other week. We stopped by this dive bar called Nancy’s Whiskey. At this bar was just some Detroit bar band. Except that this bar band was made up of old Detroit people doing Motown, soul, and 70s and 80s pop tunes. I could imagine all of these people around the Motown scene in the 70s or early 80s. And it was really outstanding. The bass player especially was sick. And there’s something about random musical experiences that blow your mind that are really great. Back in 1997, I was backpacking around Sumatra. I was walking down a road once and passed this house. There was this band playing, getting ready for what I think was going to be a wedding later in the day. There was this mix of Indonesian and western instruments. And these guys could really play. I just hung out outside for 30 minutes listening to these guys do their thing. I don’t know that this Detroit experience quite met that standard, if for no other reason than that the melding of musical cultures is a wonderful thing. But it was probably the best random no name, pick up bar band I’ve ever encountered.

I don’t have the same level of strong feelings about The Rolling Stones’ songs ranking as many of you did. “Bitch” is too low. And I don’t really agree with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as #1 either. Although I don’t feel strongly about the right song. “Sway” is my very favorite but that’s a personal choice. I suppose “Gimme Shelter” or “Sympathy for the Devil.” Or “Honky Tonk Women,” which is a long favorite of mine.

I’m not sure you were looking for a career retrospective interview with Kim Carnes, but here’s one for you anyway.

Revisiting the music of Midnight Oil in a new era of protest. I always thought this was a highly underrated band. Patterson Hood agrees.

When the American Federation of Musicians tried to stop British rock bands from playing in the United States.

The last time I wrote one of these posts, I noted that I had recently seen Wadada Leo Smith play in New Haven. Here is a lengthy essay on those shows and Smith’s legacy.

Allan Holdsworth died recently. He’s someone who I know is a great guitarist but I just did not like his music. He hated that some tapes were released as the album that became known as Velvet Darkness, but for me, that’s actually my preferred music by him. I didn’t care for his heavily processed 80s albums at all and while I hadn’t heard any recent albums, he just never moved me.

Col. Bruce Hampton died too. On stage, while playing his own 70th birthday concert. Thing was, his own bandmates thought it was an act at first, which did not help matters.

The recent Facebook meme of putting up 10 concerts you’ve seen and then people guess which one you are lying about was useful is learning what terrible taste a lot of people have in music. They probably eat ketchup too.


Lori McKenna, The Bird and the Rifle

One of the 8 million Dave Cobb-produced folk/country/Americana albums a year these days, McKenna provides a very solid set of songs and a good sound. McKenna is most known for writing songs that more famous country singers record. What’s interesting about this is that while mainstream Nashville is an open sewer, there are great songwriters making music that might get recorded by people I disdain, but whose own versions are not only far better but don’t even have that cliched Nashville sound. That’s McKenna, whose songs have been recorded by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, among others. In fact, the McGraw cover of “Humble and Kind,” which is on this album, won some country music awards. But whatever, McKenna is better. There’s no fake twang for one thing (McKenna is from Massachusetts). There’s just good songwriting.


Mikal Cronin, MCIII

For some reason, I occasionally listen to a Mikal Cronin album, like it a good bit, and then think a week later that I didn’t care for it that much. I feel the same about Ty Segall, who I frequently put together, as do many since they come out of the same San Francisco garage scene. But then I listen to a Cronin album again and think, “that’s pretty good.” And indeed this 2015 release is pretty good, with great melodies, good hooks, and a solid beach rock sound. I’m not sure the second half of the album, a song suite about loss and discovery, really works all that well.


Lyrics Born, Now Look What You’ve Done: Lyrics Born Greatest Hits

My musical journey over the last 20 years has been very willful, with little interest in what was popular or what anyone cared about it. What that has meant is a deep exploration of creative modern jazz and 50s-70s country, two genres with literally nothing in common. Over the past several years, the limitations of this has led me back to a lot of genres I had ignored for a long time. That is I think clear from the variety of albums I review in these posts. But it does often leave me at a loss for words about artists or even entire genres people have thought a lot about. I don’t worry about this too much; like anything else, the only way to get better about writing about these types of music is to keep doing it, sound dumb, and learn. Such it is for basically the entirety of black music between 1990 and 2010. That includes hip hop, pop, and soul. Now, that has changed a good bit in the last several years, but it means that I often lack the vocabulary to talk about those two decades.

I say all of this because there are pretty important artists about whom I am totally clueless. One is Lyrics Born, the Japanese-American hip hop/soul artist from Berkeley who had a number of well-regarded albums beginning in the early 2000s. This greatest hits collection from 2016 is a great intro to a really strong artist who I wish I had known earlier. He’s a very solid singer, even if his voice isn’t perfect, he has tons of great guests on his songs, and this is music that holds up very well.

And if this is kind of vague because I don’t have the right language to talk about it fluently, that’s OK too.


Old 97s, Graveyard Whistling

When I heard that Old 97s was putting out an album about being on the road, drinking, and drugs, I was very skeptical, for as much as I have loved this band over the years. But Most Messed Up was an awesome album. So I had high hopes for Graveyard Whistling. And mostly this is a good album. This band is good enough with the rock and Rhett Miller is a good enough vocalist that it’s hard to imagine a bad album in any case. This first couple of songs here keep up the great rock and roll. There are some gems in other places as well. “Jesus Loves You” is pretty fantastic: “He makes wine from water, but I just bought you a beer.” The second half of the album doesn’t quite hold up and there are a couple of tracks that sound like cuts that didn’t make Most Messed Up. They have the same drinking and partying theme, but aren’t of the quality of that great masterpiece. Still, this is solid listening at the worst and there are several tracks I will listen to a lot.


John Moreland, Big Bad Luv

Moreland is a national treasure. His last two albums were absolutely mind-blowing, full of hard songs about love and loss and Oklahoma. Seeing him live last spring was also just wonderful. With his newest album, he brings a bigger sound that keeps him firmly within the Americana world, but with the same great lyrics as usual. “Sallisaw Blue” is a great opening track that really jumps out with the fuller sound. “Old Wounds” and “Latchkey Kid” are a couple of others that instantly grabbed my attention. Reviewers have wondered if all these stories are dealing with some personal trauma of terrible relationships. For his sake, I hope he just knows how to write a great song than has to draw too much from his own heartache.


Jyotsna Srikanth, Call of Bangalore

Srikanth is a master of the violin in the Indian Carnatic tradition, who also plays western classical music. This is squarely in the former, a masterful recording of Indian classical music, replete not only with her violin, but also outstanding percussion and stringed instruments. Usually this music is vocal-heavy but the violin serves effectively as the vocal here. The extent to which you like this or not depends on your interest in 39 minute compositions of Indian classical music, which is the length of one song on this album, but I find it pretty amazing.


Kelela, Hallucinogen

The Pitchfork hipsters loved this 2015 EP when it came out. I found it to be reasonably mediocre pop music on top of a lot of annoying synthesizers. Not terrible, but not something I will be revisiting.


Finally, thanks to a couple of commenters for their gifts to me. One bought me an awesome Asian cookbook and another a couple of really cool Hawaii based gifts. As I’ve said before, we make peanuts from all this work and so the occasional unexpected benefit is a really wonderful thing and you can pull down our Amazon wishlists under our names at the top of the screen.

As always, this is an open thread for all things music.

Flashback Friday: Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” and Hype Williams’ Reign

[ 23 ] May 12, 2017 |


In 19976, the R&B group Blackstreet recorded a song with Dr. Dre and Queen Pen that Wikipedia tells me ended the reign of the Macarena on the music charts. “No Diggity” hit the number one spot on several US Billboard charts including the Hot 100 and R&B. The group continued to record music, switching new members in and out, but never got as much attention for any other song. In 2014, original founding member Teddy Riley declared that the group was pretty much over.

“No Diggity”, however, continues to endure. The phrase “no diggity” is supposed to be another way of saying “no doubt”. The song is mostly sung to a woman about how great she is at dancing and how great the guys are at making music she wants to dance to. So in other words, its the perfect party song. There’s no deeper meaning, no groundbreaking visuals, just pure clean fun. Do a quick search on YouTube and you’ll find it is a favorite acoustic choice for TV singing contests, from Sweden to New Zealand, and was featured in the acapella girl group movie Pitch Perfect, sung awkwardly by Anna Kendrick.

The video was directed by Hype Williams, who come to be known for a number of other big name music videos for Beyonce, Cold Play, and Kanye West. He was awarded a Video Vanguard award at the 2006 MTV VMA’s. The No Diggity video is by no means one of his memorable, but it does seem to mark the beginning of a fairly lucrative career for Williams. If you want my personal recommendation, go watch every Missy Elliott-Hype Williams video because nothing rocked the music video scene of the 90’s quite like those two. (Missy would go on to rock the 00’s scene with Dave Meyers.)

Featuring dancers, a beach house party, and coordinated outfits for the band, its not the most visually remarkable video. But Wikipedia also tells me that the marionette who plays the piano in the video is a metaphor for society, so there’s that.

Let me know in the comments what your favorite Hype Williams creation is.

Prince and Chance Howard

If you don’t care to listen to any of the other covers, you can go ahead and stop here. This video comes from a live concert in Washington, DC circa 2003. According to the fan site, Prince would cover the song during several of his concerts with the last known performance being in 2007.

Postmodern Jukebox

YouTube stars Postmodern Jukebox have made a great career for themselves doing retro covers for a number of top pop songs. Lead by Scott Bradlee and featuring a rotating cast of singers and instrumentalists, the band has achieved great success offline as well, even performing at the Kennedy Center. I had the chance to see one of their shows when I was living in DC and they do not disappoint. They bring old school live performance into a new generation. You’re probably going to see a lot of them on this series. So check out their slow, jazzy cover of “No Diggity” above.

Trivia piece: Bioshock fans may recognize Bradlee’s sound as he was hired to contribute to the game’s soundtrack.
Alice Jemima

This artist is much lesser known, but the cover caught my attention because (a) it is British, (b) not acoustic, and (c) they actually made an interesting video for it. I have a penchant for music that brings back the trip hop era, and this one falls into that category. Plus cool guys doing tricks on roller skates.

Ugggh. Folk Covers.

If you absolutely MUST have a British acoustic performance, you can have Ed Sheeran and Passenger mixing “No Diggity” with Macklemore’s Thrift Shop but zzzzzzzzzz. I don’t mind folk covers of R&B/hip hop songs but they are just so ubiquitous and when the singer has such a thick British accent it just feels pretentious.

Flashback Friday: Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game

[ 68 ] May 5, 2017 |

wicked game

In 1990, Chris Isaak recorded a music video with supermodel Helena Christensen where the two mostly rolled around shirtless on a beach in Hawaii. The video’s director Herb Ritts was a successful black and white fashion photographer who had worked with stars like Madonna and Janet Jackson. The result is one of the most predictable entries on every “Sexiest Music Videos Of All Time” list. The song itself broke into the top ten on a number of global Billboard charts, including in the US, UK, and Canada. And let’s be honest, it broke into your heart too. (womp womp womp)

In 2015 Issak did an interview with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for an exhibit honoring Herb Ritts (who passed away in 2002) about the song and the video where he revealed that he didn’t think it was sexy enough to get played on the air. Ritts convinced him he had to sing in the video. Think about the implications of that: the male in the duo was expected to seduce for the benefit of the audience. They couldn’t rely on just “the girl” to bring the heat. To my knowledge, there is no hard data analyzing the ratio of men to women who call the video “sexy”, but if I may conjecture I’ll say its a pretty good mix. Men get the half naked supermodel and women get a handsome man who is wet and in emotional anguish. Everybody gets what they want.

Chris Isaak frequently collaborated with director David Lynch on soundtracks for his films, even playing a principal role in the 1992 Twin Peaks movie Fire Walk With Me. Wicked Game appeared on the 1990 soundtrack for Wild At Heart. But I’m going to hazard a guess no one thinks of David Lynch first when they hear it.

By today’s standards of “sexy” in music videos, its astonishingly plain. But I think this Bustle writer hits at heart of it: the song isn’t about the act of sex. Its about the complications of desire and longing that will ultimately lead the singer to their doom. Unrequited love songs, like the experience itself, have a powerful hold on audiences. Perhaps not the most original topic in art, people know broken hearts when they hear/see it and respond with a love for the product all their own.

The song has of course been covered many times over the years, but I want to highlight the ones that occurred within the YouTube generation. And also note, many of these artists have their own penchant for writing songs about unrequited love.

Lykke Li

This one is my favorite. Weird and moody Swedish pop singer Lykke Li covered the song for a benefit concert featuring music from David Lynch film and television. I love Lykke and I love that she’s a David Lynch muse. I don’t have any other reasons.

By the way, Lykke Li has an entire album devoted to an unrequited love affair that was received to much critical acclaim.

Peter Jöback and Sia

Swedish stage musical singer Peter Jöback recruited Australian pop artist Sia for a cover. There are trumpets, so that’s fun.

The song is available on Peter Jöback’s  album East Side Stories on iTunes.

James Vincent McMorrow

The Irish folk singer’s cover was featured in one of the trailers for season six of Game of Thrones. In my head, this is a song that Jaime would sing about Cersei. In season six, Jaime starts putting the pieces together about his sister/lover’s fragile psyche, she is now the Mad King. But that takes us down a path of spoilers, so let’s table that until the show returns in July for its final season.

A few live versions of the track are available on iTunes from various performances, but you might have to buy the whole album in order to get it. But if I may be so blunt, why bother? Sure its lovely, just like the original. But why not just download the original? This version is just bland.

London Grammar

Did I say before that Lykke Li’s performance was my favorite? Because I lied. The sulky vocals of London Grammar (who I featured in the last flashback) are actually my favorite.


Now go take a cold shower. Or three. And stay away from that ex’s Facebook page.

Flashback Friday: The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”

[ 28 ] April 28, 2017 |
You're a slave to money then you die

You’re a slave to money then you die

In what I hope to make a regular trend for myself on LGM I present to you a special new feature: Flashback Friday where I bring you songs and music videos from the past that linger in the present.

Today, it’s London Grammar covering The Verve’s 1997 hit “Bittersweet Symphony”.

Let’s travel back to the late 90’s when the Brits were ruling the alternative music scene. Frontman from The Verve, Richard Ashcroft, with his shaggy hair and pouty English lips stomps through a London street ignoring everything in his path and BOOM. So. Damn. Cool.

“Bittersweet Symphony” was nominated for Best Music Video of the Year, Best Group Video, and Best Alternative Video at the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. NME magazine has listed it as one of the 50 best Indie Anthems. Every time the song comes up on my Spotify while I’m walking through London, I feel a sudden urge to bump into someone and then fail to apologize. Blogger Sam Keeper dissects the “irony” of the video when examined in the context of its lyrics here.

The video itself is a long one-shot take directed by Walter Stern, who also directed a number of videos for other English musicians like Massive Attack, the Prodigy, and David Bowie. More recently he’s directed commercials for the NHS and Vodafone and yes, they’re all kinda creepy.

London Grammar is a modern indie rock band that released their first album in 2013. Maybe they haven’t had a massive chart topper yet or won any awards, but I am in love with the deep vocalizations of Hannah Reid and their melancholy style.

From Australia, the band E^ST covers the song for Triple J‘s live cover series Like A Version and then shift into Massive Attack’s Teardrop. The band reveals they were born the year the song came out. Well, good for them for learning from their elders.

Unbeknownst to me before researching this song, this flashback was based on another flashback from The Rolling Stones. There were some legal disagreements, but they all seem to have worked out and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were added to the credits. Read more about the debate over corporate control and copyright over the song here.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 80

[ 38 ] April 23, 2017 |

This is the memorial stone of Glenn Miller.

2016-05-07 11.53.20

Born in Clarinda, Iowa in 1904, Glenn Miller moved around the Great Plains in his early years, eventually settling in Fort Morgan, Colorado where he became a prominent high school football player. He picked up the trombone at an early age and became especially interested in the dance band music of the early 1920s adapted from jazz. He attended the University of Colorado, playing music more than attending classes. He dropped out and joined a series of bands. By 1928, he realized that he had a greater future as a band leader than a trombonist. He started writing and publishing his own music while playing in bands with Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman to keep himself fed. He struggled to make his name as a bandleader He finally managed to have success in 1938 when he developed a new band around clarinets and saxophones that made his music standout compared to the other white jazz bands. By 1939 he was a national star. He got his own radio show sponsored by Chesterfield cigarettes, appearing three times a week until Miller joined the military in 1942. His biggest hit was his recording of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” in 1942, which went gold. Despite making up to $20,000 a week in 1942, he wanted desperately to volunteer for the war. He was too old for a volunteer soldier, but he convinced the army to bring him on to develop military bands. He was very successful at this, bringing the military’s music into a post-Sousa era and creating another popular radio show around this music. He based his military band first in New Haven, but then in New York and London, where they performed over 800 times. After the Allies retook Paris, Miller planned to move his band there to continue supporting the fight against fascism. However, flying there on December 15, 1944, his plane went down over the English Channel, probably for mechanical reasons. His body was never found.

Miller appeared in a couple of films, Sun Valley Serenade in 1941 and Orchestra Wives in 1942. He was also a band member in the 1935 film The Big Broadcast of 1936. Of course, he was also famously portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in Anthony Mann’s 1954 film The Glenn Miller Story. Ray Daley also played him in the 1959 Melville Shavelson film The Five Pennies.

I suppose I should say something about Miller’s music. I personally don’t think it holds up real well and it’s hard for me to hear it, or that of the Dorseys and Goodman, that it’s a black cultural form completely bleached so white that even mid-twentieth century white Americans don’t feel threatened by it. Of course, he had a great sense of melody and the band was successful for a reason, but listening to Miller and then listening to Ellington or Armstrong, well, it’s hard to think so much of Miller.

Glenn Miller’s memorial stone is in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut.

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