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Music Notes

Hazel Scott, studio portrait, USA, 1950. (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)

I don’t have anything particularly profound to say on music today. But we all need a break from the Mueller report and I have listened to a bunch of new albums recently, so it seems to be time for a music open thread, or really anything artistic.

This is a largely outstanding profile of the forgotten pianist, singer, and justice activist Hazel Scott, though I wish it would have done a little bit more on the last three decades of her life.

Folkways has a new box set out focusing on political music and this is a cool essay about it.

On the path of Hank Williams. Now that’s a grave I need to see!

The new Neflix biopic of Motley Crue reveals a garbage film we did not need of a band that we definitely never needed. We have entered the era of terrible band biopics. I always hated Queen, now I hate them even more for starting this absurd trend. Why do we need an Elton John biopic this fall? As white people age, all their favorite bands are going to get their film. You know the Def Leppard one has to be coming! Heck, maybe we can have a Bad Company biopic soon. Paul Rodgers is so compelling!

Radiohead is evidently blowing off the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which leads to this discussion of other bands doing the same.

If you need yet another book on Springsteen, here’s an excerpt of the latest.

Album Reviews, in which I didn’t hear anything that totally changed my life but where I am again reminded that anyone who says music was better or more interesting back in the 70s or whenever is someone who has just stopped listening to new music.

Mary Lattimore, Hundreds of Days

The great harpist’s album from last year was recorded in a redwood barn in the hills outside San Francisco and, I don’t know, the worry about this kind of instrumental harp music is that it ventures toward the new age pablum that might well be recorded in a redwood barn in the hills outside San Francisco. Now, Lattimore is an inventive, evocative player, so I wasn’t too worried about her slipping. But I have to admit that for the first couple of songs, I wasn’t sure where this was going. In the end though, this is another solid album of evocative, lovely, and deeply felt playing, though I don’t think I like it quite as well as some of her other albums.


Gregory Alan Isakov, Evening Machines

Isakov is a farmer in Colorado who also writes songs. He seems to be in the Boulder area. It sounds like it. This is pastoral music by someone who grows organic veggies or whatever. I suppose that sounds completely dismissive, and I am poking fun at the whole image, but Isakov is also a pretty good writer. It reminds me somewhat of early Iron & Wine albums, which also went straight for that pastoral imagery and sound, although Isakov is a better songwriter than Sam Bean. That there are videos on YouTube of Isakov covering Iron & Wine, which I didn’t discover until I had already mentioned the comparison, seems predictable. But the guy can really turn a phrase and he is a solid talent.


Julia Jacklin, Crushing

This quite strong album from the Australian explores relationships in crisis, giving the album title its meaning. Her voice has a great vulnerability to it that fits these songs well. The first song, “Body,” doesn’t mess around. Her and her boyfriend break up while boarding an airplane. She’s ready to go through it. But then realizes he has a compromising photo of her she fears he will publish as revenge. She decides to go through with it anyway. This is very good writing and that permeates the whole album. This is someone with a lot of potential for greatness.


Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, De Facto

A really solid album by this band from Guadalajara. This is psychedelic rock expanded out into long noise jams not unreminisicent of Sonic Youth or the Grateful Dead, though also well within the modern world of loops and fragments. Lorelle’s vocals, though not featured on every track, provide a dreamy lyrical backdrop. She sings in English on other albums, but strictly in Spanish here. With a strong drum-based sound backing all this up, De Facto is a pretty impressive album.


Odetta Hartman, Old Rockhounds Never Die

So, kind of like Isakov above, I let Hartman’s story get to me a bit before listening to this. She’s actually named after the great singer Odetta. Then, in a script more than a bit on the nose, the daughter of parents who would name their white girl after Odetta attended Bard, where she wrote a thesis on John Lomax’s trips to the South collecting folk music, all the while playing folk music.

And look, I admit my cynicism can get in the way sometimes. But I was pleasantly surprised by what is a fairly interesting album, both lyrically and sonically. There’s plenty of banjo and singing here, sure, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But there are also short interesting soundscapes between more fully realized songs and Hartman’s voice is really fantastic. It’s both in the folk tradition, but also squarely within the contemporary singer-songwriter world and more interesting a voice than a lot of people who have a good bit of success in this genre recently. She calls her own music “cowboy soul,” and both words are doing too much work here and it is not really either of those types of music, but also, who cares if it is or not. The work flows really quite wonderfully together, demonstrating a real talent for playing, singing, arranging, and conceptualizing what is a surprisingly ambitious project that brings modern and ancient sounds together in a compelling vision.


Fatoumata Diawara, Fenfo

OK, this is a completely fine and very nice album from this extremely talented singer from Ivory Coast, via Malian parents. But it does fall into the trap that sometimes affects “world music,” a label that is only legitimate in terms of selling of a particular kind of sound from a non-English speaking artist to an English speaking audience, which is that it can turn into background music too easily. The difference between Diawara and, say, a band like Tal National, is that the latter never, ever fades that way, while she too often does. That’s not to say anything negative about her talent or her voice. This is a quite fine album. But in a very competitive world of music that will make me stand up and pay attention (and pay for the album), this doesn’t quite cut it.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music and none things politics.

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