There are two huge names in the music world who died this week. But I want to focus on a third: Wussy’s guitarist John Erhardt. This is a devastating loss for lovers of that great cult band. Erhardt played a great regular guitar, but it was on the steel that he truly excelled. Starting with Chuck Cleaver in Ass Ponys, he joined Wussy after they completed Strawberry and was critical to the joyful noise they have created starting on Attica. The steel guitar is usually played one way–the lonesome country style. He could do that and did from time to time (“Halloween”). But his genius was taking that instrument and making it a festival of swirling noise that was unlike anything I had heard before.
The thing that makes Wussy so great isn’t just Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker, though they are both very fine guitarists who sing great both together and alone. It’s that over time, they became an incredible band sonically because of what each member brought to table. Chuck and Lisa’s shimmery guitars. Mark Messerly’s bass but also his multi-instrumentalist work (and his sense of humor on stage). Then with Strawberry they brought in Joe Klug as a new drummer and he is just a beast back there that it already gave the band a whole new dimension. Adding Erhardt on Attica took that to a whole new level. It’s really an awful loss for one of my two most beloved bands. They have announced they won’t replace him because how could you? Check out this performance from the SXSW KEXP stage (always a big supporter of the band and they did a set featuring his work the day his death was announced) from right after he joined the band. Watching this over and over made me fall in love with the band even more than I already was. RIP. There’s also a GoFundMe to raise money for his family. So contribute to that if you want/can.
Of course the two other major deaths this week are Little Richard and Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider. About Little Richard, I don’t have too much to add to Scott’s post and the comments. Obviously a huge legend, a founder of rock and roll and really the first truly flamboyant performer who could pave the way for others who would realize that style and outrageousness mattered as much as music. This makes Jerry Lee Lewis the last original rock legend standing, which is not who I would have guessed given his life, though Chubby Checker is still going too and is just shortly behind the original founders in terms of when he got started. About Schneider, I will say a bit more. While Krautrock isn’t my very favorite genre, it’s incredible to think about how Schneider and the rest of the band got there. It’s so distant from Little Richard’s foundations with its almost intentional stripping away from anything black from the music and its replacement with an electronic robotics focused on repetitiveness and futurism. And yet, I happened to throw on Trans-Europe Express a couple of weeks ago and was again amazed at what a successful album that is. Kraftwerk should clearly be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were a finalist this year and I hope they make it next year. Too bad Schneider won’t be there to see it. Here’s a good piece on Kraftwerk’s enormous influence.
None of these deaths seems to have been COVID-related, so I guess that’s good, though it’s hard to even know these days what is and isn’t related to it. Other recent passings include hip-hop mogul Andre Harrell, Jamaican pop singer Millie Small, “You Turn Me On” singer Ian Whitcomb, Stranglers’ keyboardist Dave Greenfield, and Brian Howe, who replaced Paul Rodgers as singer for what was left of Bad Company when they were on the nostalgia circuit.
Dischord Records has put its entire catalog online for free, which is a pretty awesome gift to get us through this hell time.
Maybe the pandemic will inspire some good music.
There’s a very real fear that live music venues are going to start closing for good. Given that live music will be pretty late on the things to return, this is a real problem. Like restaurants, what I think will happen is that many of them will close permanently, but that when this ends, new people will want to reopen a new venue in the same place. At least that’s my hope.
Reliving the best jazz albums of 2010. This is an excellent list.
Whitney Rose, We Still Go to Rodeos
This Canadian country singer now based in Austin had released a few albums prior to this than had received some attention. But I hadn’t heard any until she put this out last month. I was highly impressed. This is confident country with a strong rock tinge and a lot of influences from the great country musicians of the past without sounding derivative or turning the music into a tribute. She’s a fine songwriter and the highlights of this album are really quite high. The first three songs especially really ring, with “Home With You” a particularly catchy favorite and “Believe Me, Angela” a great spin on the traditional cheating song. And if not every track is quite up to this standard, they are all nothing less than rollicking and fun.
Empress Of, I’m Your Empress Of
I like Empress Of. I like her voice and her attitude. I like the fact that it is offbeat and I like the fact that she’s not a model and has no intention of looking like on. She’s a fun pop star. And this album takes it closer to club music, which I don’t mind either. The one thing that makes me hold up a bit though is that these songs are not exactly lyrically consequential. But what’s wrong with the party?
Mitski, Puberty 2
So here’s the thing with Mitski and me. When I first heard Be the Cowboy, I was like, “what’s the big deal?” It was fine, enjoyable even, but I wasn’t totally blown away like everyone else. But then I listened to it 3 or 4 times and that started to change and now it is one of most played albums of the last year (which for me is like once a month, but still). Quite a few people said they liked Mitski’s earlier work even better. So I thought I’d check out Puberty 2. And I have that initial feeling again. So I am evaluating this album based on my first two times hearing it. But I bet I like it a lot better in six months.
Domenico Lancellotti, The Good is a Big God
A cool album from one of the most prominent Brazilian musicians working today. Lancellotti builds on traditional samba and bossa nova, but taking it into new sonic directions. He explicitly looks outward in his music while remaining deeply attached to his home; in fact, most of the tracks on this album were initially composed for a transnational collaboration around the London Olympics in 2012. Brian O’Hagan of the British band The High Llamas produced and he adds a lot to this album, particularly the rich strings. Very nice work,.
Lee Hazelwood, Requiem For an Almost Lady
In some circles, this is a classic album, a singer-songwriter masterpiece from 1971 from the guy who wrote “These Boots Are Made for Walkin” for Nancy Sinatra. But I struggle with this. It’s a series of songs that are so typical for the 70s singer-songwriter scene–the troubador and his many ladies who he’s known. Worse, there are some incredibly cheesy spoken word intros for most of the songs about love and lost or whatever. The upside is that not only is Hazelwood a skilled songwriter, but the sound of his limited voice and production actually isn’t bad. But I can’t get over the ridiculousness.
Willie Nelson, Ride Me Back Home
I’m just glad Willie is still alive and working and singing pretty well, even if his voice isn’t quite what it was in 1975. There’s some good stuff on here, his album from last year. The title track is especially nice and there’s a good covers of two Guy Clark tunes: “My Favorite Picture of You” and “Immigrant Eyes.” There’s a couple new songs on here, which is great, and a couple of songs he recorded long ago. But there’s also some highly unnecessary covers that do not work, especially Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” which is flat out annoying. The cover of Mac Davis’ “It’s Hard to Be Humble” with Willie’s sons is mildly amusing. Overall, this is a pretty average Willie album, which means I am glad it was made. Good news: he has another album coming soon.
SOB x RBE, Gangin’
This a prolific hip-hop band from the Bay Area. The four members of this group are fantastic writers and rhymers and this is a series of very strong songs about their world. With the concept and the production a little raw at times, there’s a strong NWA vibe here, at least to me. I am the first to admit that I lack the reference to the various hip hop scenes around the country that those who really write about the genre do. But I thought this was an excellent album.
John Anderson, Years
Anderson was one of the leading smooth country singers of the 1980s. Like Kenny Rogers, he brought a warmth to the music, even if he also brought the cheese. He’s been in bad health in recent years, but like a lot of old country stars since Rick Rubin revived Johnny Cash’s dead career, Anderson gets his late life rebirth, thanks to Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Despite the ravages of age, Anderson does still deliver the goods. It’s a well-produced album, looking back to the lush country production of the 70s. I respect the album, but the extent to which you will want to listen to this more than once depends on your tolerance for this style of country. I don’t overly care for the style. Like Don Williams or Rogers, this is listenable music, but also pretty close to some pretty boring easy listening. Glad he had his comeback chance though.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and absolutely no things politics or disease.