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Tag: "music"

Richard Lyons, RIP

[ 34 ] April 21, 2016 |

Prince isn’t the only great musician to die today. Richard Lyons of the legendary cult band Negativland, RIP.


Music Notes

[ 92 ] April 16, 2016 |


Here’s an excerpt from a new book on the history of the banjo:

West African kings understood that music is power. They made sure their official audiences were accompanied by song. They traveled with music, too: when the king of Mali returned from a journey, wrote the fourteenth-century scholar Al-’Umari, “a parasol and a standard are held over his head as he rides,” while ahead of him came musicians playing “drums, guitars, and trumpets, which are made out of the horns of the country with a consummate art.” The legendary chronicler Ibn Battuta described similarly how when the king of Mali arrived for an audience, “the singers come out in front of him with gold and silver stringed instruments in their hands and behind them about 300 armed slaves.” A 1655 account of the court of Askia Mohammed-Gâo, the seat of the Songhay empire, described him surrounded by “instrumentalists who played the guitar” along with other instruments, sitting “under the pasha’s tent, behind the dais.”

These writers used various Arabic terms to describe the instruments: Al-Umari used tanbūr or tunbūr, a Persian term for a long-necked instrument, while Ibn Battuta used a term rendered as kanābir in the 1922 French edition, quinburī in the more recent English one. And the “Kano Chronicle,” first published in 1804 on the basis of earlier materials, mentions a stringed instrument called the “Algaita” that was requested by a Kano ruler for his court in 1703. But these writers were using the terms for their own familiar stringed instruments, so we can’t assume that this was the name used by the musicians themselves or draw conclusions about the construction of the instruments beyond a general analogy.

There is a fascinating glimpse in a series of metal plaques from the thirteenth-century Kingdom of Benin. These renderings, the earliest visual depictions of West African instruments, include only one figure holding a stringed instrument: a small harp. A gold sculpture from the Akan people of Ghana, however—dated sometime between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries—shows a musician playing a stringed instrument with a curved neck and a rounded resonator that looks as if made from a calabash.

Miles Davis, beyond Kind of Blue. Is it OK for me to say that I don’t even really love Kind of Blue all that much? I mean, I recognize its greatness, but I don’t actually like listening to it more than once or twice a year. I’d say it’s maybe my 7th or 8th favorite Miles album. Basically, I need more than an album of ballads. This is also why I don’t much listen to Bill Evans or Dave Brubeck in any regular rotation. Call me a Neanderthal, it’s OK.

I was lucky enough to see Wussy play in Boston a few weeks ago. It was typically outstanding. That band also excels at superior between song banter. A portion of the band was on KEXP last month. Check it out.

Some album reviews:

Cracker, Berkeley to Bakersfield
I’ve always mostly enjoyed Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker albums because I do like David Lowery. Of course, one of his strengths has also always been one of his weaknesses, which is that his songs are so ironic and cynical. So you listened to the albums, even if there were too many instrumental numbers, and you enjoyed them, but you could never take the songs all the seriously. But Berkeley to Bakersfield is a pretty-much irony free set of songs that make up what really are two entirely distinct albums. The first is a bunch of leftist political songs that revolve around Berkeley with a rock sound. The second is Lowrey’s ode to the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Wynn Stewart. So it’s a hard country album with the lovelorn and nostalgic lyrics typical of country albums, this time with a particular focus on working-class California. And both work really well. I thoroughly enjoyed both discs. This is a sure buy.


Sam Cooke, Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963
Somehow I had never heard this before. And while it might be kind of pointless to review classic albums, why not. It’s fascinating that RCA kept his under wraps for 20 years because it was too raw. It is a little raw and that’s a good thing for me. Sometimes I have found Cooke too smooth and I don’t listen to him a whole lot, but this was a real revelation to me. In the realm of live recordings by R&B artists of the period, I wouldn’t say this is as good as James Brown’s Live at the Apollo or Ray Charles at Newport. But those are true all-time greats. On the other hand, I like it better than Otis Redding’s Live in Europe, which I think really suffers from too much crowd noise. There’s plenty of crowd noise here too, maybe a little more than I like.


Tallest Man on Earth, Dark Bird is Home
Another lovely collection of songs for Kristian Matsson, the Swedish singer who performs as The Tallest Man on Earth. And while with his voice he sometimes gets called another Dylan imitator, I find it highly expressive. It’s really a very powerful voice, one of the most expressive in recent times. The lyrics are best not followed too closely; these aren’t story songs. There is also a bit more going on here musically than normal, with most of the instruments played by Matsson and he does well enough with them. I don’t know that I like this as much as I loved the brilliant The Wild Hunt, but this is a very solid collection of songs.


Los Hijos de la Montaña, Los Hijos de la Montaña

This is a pretty interesting collaboration between the unrelated Luz Elena Mendoza and Sergio Mendoza. The former is a singer in the Northwest, the latter in a band that is inspired by the mambo music of Mexico in the 50s and 60s. Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin got them together to combine her rich voice with his big sound. It mostly works as an interesting experiment in modern Mexican-American music. I think I would like his band better. The voice is big and rich and loaded but is a bit pastoral and folkie for me. The music is good but sounds like it’s straining to be louder than it is allowed to be in this setting. Certainly a worthy project, maybe not my very favorite thing. At the very least though, I think it is well worth a listen.


Finally, I was recently tagged in one of those Facebook memes that was “12 albums that stuck with you.” I assumed the definition of that was at least 5 years old. I chose the following:

1) Drive-By Truckers, Decoration Day
2) Willie Nelson, Phases and Stages
3) Waylon Jennings, Dreamin’ My Dreams
4) Wussy, Strawberry
5) Palace, Viva Last Blues
6) Old 97s, Fight Songs
7) Sonny Sharrock, Ask the Ages
8) Miles Davis, In a Silent Way
9) Bob Wills, Tiffany Transcriptions, Volume 4
9) Neil Young, Tonight’s The Night
10) Millie Jackson, Caught Up
11) Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On
12) Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out

If I went to 24, I guess it might look something like this:

13) Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
14) The Band, The Band
15) John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
16) Gram Parsons, Return of the Grievous Angel
17) Bill Frisell, This Land
18) Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Flatlanders, More a Legend Than a Band
19) Ray Charles, At Newport
20) Terry Allen, Lubbock (On Everything)
21) The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
22) The Who, Who’s Next
23) Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights
24) Velvet Underground, White Light, White Heat

Open thread for all musical thoughts and notes.

The Best of Haggard

[ 17 ] April 13, 2016 |

One more Merle Haggard post is necessary to commemorate of the career of one of the greatest musical artists in American history. I wanted to share with you 10 songs I think are just outstanding. My list might be a little different tomorrow and these aren’t his 10 more popular songs per se. Just 10 of my favorites and a bit about why.

10) “Wishing All These Old Things Were New”

Truthfully this probably isn’t my 10th favorite Haggard song but I wanted to represent his later career. But it’s a very good song off of a very solid album with one of the great lyrics ever to start off an album:

Watching while some old friends do a line
Holding back the want to in my own addicted mind
Wishin’ it was still the thing even I could do
Wishin’ all these old things were new”

Great stuff.

9) “Big City”

This 1981 hit was probably Merle’s best song of a lost decade. The 80s were rough on a whole lot of musicians of the 60s. This song doesn’t have the leftist politics that lots of people want from musicians to like them. It’s as incoherent as any Haggard song this way–he takes about how he just wants what’s coming to him when he leaves the city and moves to Montana, but he says to keep the retirement and the “so-called social security.” Which is of course what’s coming to him. Whatever. It’s a fine song about someone dying to leave his crappy job and the city and move to the country. A classic theme in country music and in American life.

8) “Swinging Doors”

Can’t do this list without a drinking song.

7) “Sing Me Back Home”

One of the great all-time prison songs.

6) “The Farmer’s Daughter”

Merle gets so much guff for his anti-hippie songs, and fair enough. But sometimes the characters he portrayed in his music had more space for accepting hippies. This lovely song is a good example. It’s also a good reminder that Merle was a pretty fair fiddler.

5) “Today I Started Loving You Again”

One of the great all-time broken heart songs, a staple theme of country music.

4) “Carolyn”

Haggard mostly avoided the big string arrangements of the 60s and 70s that came to the fore with Owen Bradley’s production of Patsy Cline and others are reached their apotheosis with Billy Sherrill’s productions of George Jones. I like that stuff fine. I also like that Haggard kept it simple, cutting through the overproduction for straight-forward unpretentious lyrics and arrangements. I think one reason I like “Carolyn” so much is that it is Haggard deciding to change things up and including some big arrangements. This version also benefits from Merle’s red leather jacket and Glen Campbell.

3) “Silver Wings”

The last time I saw Haggard, he dedicated this to the families of soldiers. My understanding is that this has nothing to do with the song as written, but it really gives the song it another meaning. Whether a military family or anyone else, there’s little as sad as watching a loved one fly away (or after 2001, leave them at security.

2) “Mama Tried”

I don’t think I need to explain this one. It’s Haggard’s most widely beloved song, for obvious reasons. Not sure about that set though.

1) “If We Make It Through December”

Simply one of my favorite songs of all time. This version is from 1978.

On the Hag

[ 98 ] April 7, 2016 |


A few disorganized thoughts on the death of Merle Haggard.

This death is a tremendous blow to the world of American music. One of the finest singers and songwriters of any genre in American history, what to me makes Haggard stand out from the crowd is his directness. There’s very little of the pablum that infects country music in Haggard’s music. Yes, he can engage in nostalgia, but it’s a different sort than the backwards-looking rural romanticization so common in country music, a sensible position by the way for many of those musicians to take given that such a large part of their audience were themselves recent urban migrants. But Haggard’s nostalgia is both sweet and bitter because of the tremendous poverty he grew up in. Of course people respond to poverty in different ways. Many try to escape it. But Haggard (same goes for Loretta Lynn) didn’t. Instead, he tried to give dignity to the Okie working class of California in the 1930s and 1940s. That was ultimately his core nostalgic theme. So you have songs like “California Cottonfields,” “Tulare Dust,” and “Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” which is just a tremendously powerful piece of work.

What Merle was of course most famous for is his anti-hippie songs, primarily “Okie from Muskogee” and then his less defensible “Fighting Side of Me.” And then he also became well-known for his occasional liberal stances in his late life. What was the political Haggard? Like most of the rest about him, it was a ball of contradiction. He could go from supporting Obama in 2008 to saying Obama was destroying the Constitution through the ACA to supporting Obama again and there was little reason to bat an eye. This was the same in his music. What Merle Haggard fundamentally believed in was writing hit country songs without selling out to bad music or bad production. That meant he was all over the map. He could from the horrible “Fighting Side of Me” or the utterly execrable “I’m a White Boy” to writing powerful songs about racial injustice like “Go Home” and “Irma Jackson” within a matter of months. The real lesson about Haggard and politics is not to look to musicians for political guidance (see also Neil Young and his Reagan support). Judging Haggard by his bad politics is just as big a mistake as judging him by his good politics–this mass of contradictions is just not the kind of political lodestar you want to be following. He claimed he renounced “Fighting Side of Me” but then played it at pretty much every single show up to the end of his life. Just accept the great songs and reject the bad ones.

And then there is prison. Of course Haggard, even well after his prison days, was a crazy man. He was nearing the point in his life where he was going to be involved in murder, as his friend who he thought about escaping from prison with ended up. He actually saw one of Johnny Cash’s prison shows live. So when he got out, he managed to turn his life around. He always had a complicated relationship with his prison time. He evidently didn’t really like to talk about, but he did like to sing about. And he did that very well. Some of this was self-mythologizing. But while that was a big part of the outlaw country movement in the 70s, he did it in a lot less egotistical way than say, Waylon Jennings who wrote a lot of songs about how rowdy he was and how his wife needed to wait in line for him and the like. Instead, he wrote those prison songs with the same straightforward nature that he did the rest of his music. “Mama Tried” is of course an all-time American song classic, but there are so many others–“Sing Me Back Home,” “Lonesome Fugitive,” and many others.

But in the end, outside of genre or politics or his crazy life, Merle Haggard was just a great writer and performer. I saw him twice, once in Knoxville in 1999, which was great. The other was on the blacktop of a New Mexico casino parking lot on July 4, 2004 (I think). It was crazy hot and the stage had Merle facing into the sun and it wasn’t all that great, but who could blame him for that. The only time I ever sang karaoke was at Farley’s dissertation defense. I figured there was just no way to deny the man at that moment. There was only one song I could sing, arguably one of the finest songs in all of history.

I will one more Haggard post (at least) detailing my 10 favorite songs. Right now though, just keep listening to this great voice of American music.

Merle Haggard, RIP

[ 187 ] April 6, 2016 |


Fuck everything. Life is no longer worth living. Merle Haggard is, in my opinion, the greatest artist in country music history. Much more later.

If you have never read the legendary New Yorker profile of Haggard, do so. This is near the beginning:

In Hampton, Virginia, at five o’clock one drizzly, cool January morning, Theresa Lane, Merle’s girlfriend (no one addresses Merle as Mr. Haggard, though his friends often refer to him as Hag), summoned me by phone to Merle’s bus. As I walked across the parking lot of the Coliseum Sheraton a half hour later, the Strangers’ bus was the silent, dark one. Merle’s emitted a dim golden glow and rumbled on high idle. Theresa, a tall, slim, attractive woman in her late twenties, with tousled blond hair and muscular arms and shoulders, met me at the door and escorted me through the living room and down the narrow hallway, past a framed photograph of Hank Williams and another of Dolly Parton, into the kitchen, where Merle sat on the floor, his eyes closed and his bare legs stretched straight out under a small table. Naked except for a plaid flannel shirt and après-ski boots, he greeted me with a slight nod. I took a seat at the table, summoning faith in what one of the Strangers had told me months earlier at a Merle Haggard-Willie Nelson concert in Las Vegas—“Don’t knock on his door if he don’t tell you to. Don’t not knock on his door if he does tell you to”—and Theresa stood behind Merle to knead his shoulders, now and again pulling his head up hard, until his neck was stretched taut.

“Goddam, my head feels like it oughta be lifted right outa my skull,” Merle said. He reached for a pack of unfiltered cigarettes and a lighter on the table, where several packs were scattered among cigarette papers, sheets and scraps of notebook paper, cassette tapes, and empty cassette cases. On the counter were a few dirty dishes, glasses, and some silverware.

It goes on from there.

Music Notes

[ 81 ] March 26, 2016 |

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?

Music Notes

[ 115 ] March 12, 2016 |


A few musical items of interest.

One of my ten favorite albums of all time is back in print. That is Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages. The great guitar player died soon after making this album, just as it landed him a major label deal. This is a perfect album that moves from swing to free jazz and back. Great band too, with Elvin Jones, Pharaoh Sanders, and Charnett Moffett. This is a great review of the brilliance that is Ask the Ages. If anything 10/10 is too low. What’s interesting about the album is that it is far and away the best album he ever made. While Seize the Rainbow is pretty solid, his early work isn’t very good and when he was coaxed back into recording in the mid-80s, it was something of a mixed bag. The album he did with Nicky Skopelitis really doesn’t work at all, for instance. But Ask the Ages is transcendent. Really makes me wonder what would have come next.

I saw the Drive-By Truckers on Wednesday. It was my 10th DBT show, which is the most of any band in my life. Oddly, not only has it been 10 different venues, but 10 different cities. So I’ve seen them in big halls and small clubs, dives and beautiful old theaters. I’ve seen them with Isbell, on The Dirt Underneath tour after the band almost broke up and when the legendary Spooner Oldham was touring with them to play keyboards, and in all their iterations since. I saw the epic 36-song show at Terminal 5 in New York (an awful, barren space) on New Year’s Eve 2010 that included Patterson Hood’s dad coming out to cover some of the Muscle Shoals soul hits he had played on, playing “The Flying Wallendas” while the Flying Wallendas were performing above them, followed by set break sword swallowing, followed by Cooley covering “Delta Dawn,” followed by walking through Times Square at 3 am on January 1 during the cleanup.

This show was good, but not the best I’ve seen, largely because Patterson Hood’s voice was completely shot due to a throat thing and he was really struggling to sing. Still, he wasn’t actually sick so the music was great and of course Cooley was wonderful and singing more songs than usual. Moreover, they had the organist for the Boston Red Sox sitting in with them on keyboards for the whole show. He was great. Also, they have a new album coming out this fall. Played a few songs off of it, sounded good.

I guess I should note that Keith Emerson, keyboardist in arguably the worst band in rock and roll history, has died.

Finally, a few short reviews of some recent albums I’ve heard.

Wussy, Forever Sounds. My favorite band turns up the noise for the new album. I love it, but I don’t love these songs as much as usual. There are some gems–“Dropping Houses,” “She’s Killed Hundreds,” “Hello, I’m a Ghost,” “Donny’s Death Scene.” But at least so far I haven’t really enjoyed the second half of the album much. And there’s not the great lyrics on any song that characterized songs like “Yellow Cotton Dress,” “Motorcycle,” or “Halloween,” to name a couple from the past. Of course, it’s pretty common for Wussy albums to grow on you as you listen to them because they are so designed as albums. So I may enjoy it more going forward. Still really good, but not in love with this. B+

This video makes me wonder if there’s some weird presidential bust collection in a field somewhere I need to go visit.

Richard Thompson, Still. I’ve listened to RT for more than 20 years now, having gotten into his work in college, around the time Mirror Blue came out. I stopped buying his new albums though after Front Parlour Ballads. Still is fine–I don’t think he is capable of a bad album–but it’s not something I can see listening to frequently. His guitar work is still great and the lyrics good enough. For someone working this long, his productivity and consistency are amazing and a late-career slow fade is entirely respectable. However, I found “Guitar Heroes,” where he intimidates the guitar playing of his favorite guitarists of the past, a really annoying song. B-

Laurie Anderson, Heart of a Dog. This was Christgau’s favorite album of last year. I could barely get through it. I respect Laurie Anderson but I’ve never liked any of her albums. The arrangements are great. Her talking about her damn poodle for 75 minutes is however not something I am ever going to listen to again. Yes, I know it’s also about her husband Lou Reed dying, etc. But it’s mostly about the dog. Might be more interesting in the movie form. C

Matthew Shipp, The Conduct of Jazz. This was my favorite Shipp album in a long time, an equal to those great albums he did for Thirsty Ear in the early 2000s like Pastoral Composure and Equilibrium. This is also for Thirsty Ear so maybe it really comes together when he records for that label. With Michael Bisio on bass and Newman Taylor Baker on drums, The Conduct of Jazz is just a lot of fun to spend time with, with Shipp in full improvisational glory. This I will buy and listen to frequently A

This can also serve as a Saturday evening open thread on anything music, or really anything unrelated to the damn election.

Buy New Music!

[ 209 ] February 21, 2016 |


Since this primary season makes me want to melt my own face in acid, I imagine many of you feel the same way. So here’s a good argument about nothing political at all–stop listening to the music of your teenage years and explore new tunes. Nothing says “I stopped trying to listen to music years ago” than a person saying, “The kids these days just aren’t making good music.” Of course, exploring older music also has value so even going beyond listening to Dylan and Stones records to explore Sir Douglas Quintet albums is a good idea. But this is most important for listening to new music. Which you need to do.

In early 2012, Fusilli wrote about the Gee-Bees in a column for the Journal and started a website called, devoted to introducing out-of-touch listeners to some of the best new music being made today—from Bon Iver to D’Angelo, Frank Ocean to the Arctic Monkeys, Janelle Monae to St. Germain. And the idea led to his new book, “Catching Up: Connecting with Great 21st Century Music,” which compiles 50 of his columns with short essays on the generational bias that too often passes for deep insight or sturdy critical thinking.

“We’re surrounded by people who, despite a narrow perspective, insist the music of their youth is superior to the sounds of any other period,” he writes. “Most people who prefer old music mean no harm and it’s often a pleasure to listen to them talk about their favorite artists of the distant past. But others are bullies who intend to harangue is into submission, as if their bluster can conceal their ignorance. They ignore what seems to me something that’s self-evident: rock and pop today is as good as it’s ever been.”

This is an important idea, especially in 2016, when pop music seems like a uniquely apt medium for a range of expression. Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé, among others, are addressing African-American identity and police brutality in stirring songs like “Alright” and “Formation.” Adele and Taylor Swift are writing eloquently about female desire, while Sturgill Simpson and Kacey Musgraves are helping to overturn the gloss-country establishment in Nashville. And if guitar rock is your thing, look to Australia, where acts like Courtney Barnett, Royal Headache and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever are producing some of the most exciting indie-rock anthems of the decade.

The idea that these young artists should be considered alongside the Beatles and the Stones and Dylan might be easily dismissed as another form of generational bias if it came from a millennial or even a Gen-Xer. But Fusilli is a Baby Boomer who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s and has been writing about music for most of his life. He has a deep knowledge of pop history and even penned an excellent book on the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” (as part of the 33 1/3 series), but more crucially he possesses a driving curiosity about the new music. That makes “Catching Up” a galvanizing read even for those listeners who can name every jazz artist on “To Pimp a Butterfly” or every sample on Kanye’s “The Life of Pablo.” But Fusilli says he wrote the book for “people who are the opposite of the Gee-Bees—that is, secure in their status and welcoming of new ideas.”

In that spirit, I’ve really enjoyed the music of John Moreland in recent weeks. This is off his 2015 album, “High on Tulsa Heat,” which I strongly recommend.

And the new Wussy album is coming out soon. The first song, “Dropping Houses” is typically great.

And in the spirit of older music you might not know if you aren’t of that age, allow me to introduce you to Sir Douglas Quintet, led by the single most underrated individual in the history of rock and roll, the late great Doug Sahm, not to mention Augie Meyers on the organ. Evidently Hugh Hefner had his own late-night show where he wore a tux, interviewed people, and danced to rock and rollers like Sir Douglas Quintet. If you look carefully, you can see Michael Caine dancing as well. 1969, what a time.

Glenn Frey, RIP

[ 277 ] January 18, 2016 |

Glenn Frey is dead. It’s a hard January for fans of aging rockers.

The Eagles are about as polarizing as any band in rock history. Yet I am oddly indifferent. I find The Eagles pretty listenable but don’t own any of their albums. If a song comes on, I don’t go full Lebowski and get thrown out of the cab. I also don’t understand why their greatest hits remains one of the top selling albums of all time.

How Starsky and Hutch Shaped World Culture, Part the Zillionith

[ 57 ] January 17, 2016 |

Starsky & Hutch

Oh, OK:

When Mr. Bowie moved to Berlin, Mr. Pop occupied a room in Mr. Bowie’s apartment there “over the auto parts store,” he said. The title song for Mr. Pop’s next album, “Lust for Life,” germinated in that apartment.

Mr. Pop and Mr. Bowie, seated on the floor — they had decided chairs were not natural — were waiting for the Armed Forces Network telecast of “Starsky & Hutch.” The network started shows with a call signal that, Mr. Pop said, went “beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep, beep beep beep,” the rhythm, which is also like a Motown beat, that was the foundation for “Lust for Life.” Mr. Pop recalled, “He wrote the [chord] progression on ukulele, and he said, ‘Call it “Lust for Life,” write something up.’”

The amount of cocaine involved in this story is unknown at this time.

I Want to Sign Up for Professor Ra’s Class

[ 29 ] January 3, 2016 |


You need Sunday School today. Specifically, to listen to Professor Sun Ra lecture in his course he gave in 1971 at UC-Berkeley titled “The Black Man in the Cosmos.” The best part about this is that you can actually hear him writing on the chalkboard. I can only imagine what a whole semester of this was like. Also, what was on the final?

Sun Ra’s level of total awesomeness in all forms is unmatched in the history of American music.

Eleven Albums I Loved in 2015 And Nineteen More I Thought Were Worthy

[ 96 ] December 31, 2015 |

I don’t know how people really come up with definitive Top 10 album lists. But everyone loves them. Even the AARP has one! I listen to a ton of music, at almost every waking moment, and unless you are dedicated strictly to listening to new music in order to produce a list like this, I don’t see how you can come up with anything definitive. The number of albums compared to, say, the number of films released in American theaters makes the latter a possible task and the former impossible. Plus I still buy a lot of older albums as well (for whatever reason most of the new jazz I got in the last year is actually 2-5 years old so that’s really underrepresented here) In any case, here are my 10 favorite 2015 albums, a list that will probably look way different a year from now when I listen to a lot more 2015 albums in between listening to 2016 albums and all my older albums.

1) Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love. A perfect comeback album for one of the 10 best rock bands to ever exist. Let’s just embed an entire show.

2) Torres, Sprinter. I thought this was just great. MacKenzie Scott has a tremendous amount of emotion in every note of her voice. I’ve heard her songs described as storms because of that voice. A really powerful album.

3) Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. On everyone’s list and deservedly so. “Pedestrian at Best” was my most listened to 2015 song.

4) Ibeyi, Ibeyi. This is hard to describe. These are twin sisters, daughters of a famous Cuban musician, who sing in English and Yoruba using fairly sparse and often minimal instrumentation. And it’s just great.

5) Bomba Estéreo, Amanecer. This is a Colombian band combining elements of hip-hop, electronics, and traditional Colombian folk music, including a lot of traditional instruments. Really glad I ran across this.

6) Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color. I like the first Alabama Shakes album OK, but thought this was a huge artistic jump, with a serious move into psychedelic music.

7) Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp. Call it whiny hipster music if you want. The problem you’ll face is that Katie Crutchfield is really good at what she does.

8) Tal National, Zoy Zoy. This band from Niger is another of my favorite finds of 2015. Incredibly enjoyable music

9) Kurt Vile, B’lieve I’m Goin Down. Guitar rock for the 21st century.

10) DJ Spooky and the Kronos Quartet, Rebirth of a Nation. DJ Spooky decided to create his own soundtrack to Birth of a Nation. You can read about his thoughts on it here. He recorded it with the Kronos Quartet. Makes for one of the most interesting albums of the year.

Live Album of the Year is far and away Drive-By Truckers, It’s Great to Be Alive. This amazing live band had never put out a proper live album. At this point in their career, even a 35-song, 3 1/2 hour beast doesn’t feel like enough because a lot of your favorites weren’t on there. Songs that are often overlooked like “Sounds Better in the Song” and “Space City” are great while “The Devil Don’t Stay” is just awesome. Great stuff.

Others albums I liked to various degrees in 2015, many of which I will no doubt listen to a lot more next year:

1) James McMurtry, Complicated Game
2) Sufjan Stevens, Carrie & Lowell
3) Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
4) Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer
5) Ashley Monroe, The Blade
6) Christopher Paul Stelling, Labor Against Waste
7) Joanna Gruesome, Peanut Butter
8) Dave Rawlings Machine, Nashville Obsolete
9) Daniel Romano, If I’ve Only One Time Asking
10) Robert Glasper, Covered
11) The Go! Team, The Scene Between
12) Olivia Chaney, The Longest River
13) John Moreland, High on Tulsa Heat
14) Fred Thomas, All Are Saved
15) Shamir, Ratchet
16) Mbongwana Star, From Kinshasa
17) Dave Douglas, High Risk
18) Dwight Yoakam, Second Hand Heart
19) Sarah Gayle Meech, Tennessee Love Song

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