Guess what? I saw LIVE MUSIC! That’s right–LIVE MUSIC! Holy mother of God, LIVE MUSIC! Moreover, who was it? NEKO CASE! There’s a place called South Farms in Morris, Connecticut. I had never heard of it before and it mostly focuses on jam bands (even its slogan is “Life is Better on Grass,” which just stop it hippies). It’s a huge space and you rent a square on the grass. You can’t leave that square without a mask. You can’t go near the stage. The squares are well more than 6 feet apart–probably more like 20 feet. Yeah, you pay for that. The ticket was about $80, but how much would I have spent on shows over the last seven months? A lot more than that. So it was easy to justify.
The show itself was a little weird–a mostly acoustic show on a very cold night with Neko, A.C. Newman, and another guy filling that gigantic space with no one close to the stage. But Neko’s voice can certainly fill that gap. And she did. It was just great. I felt like a heroin addict getting a hit of methadone that might just keep me going long enough to see some live music next year without going through withdrawals that are too painful.
We lost Jerry Jeff Walker today. I can’t say that Jerry Jeff was my very favorite of the 70s folk-country-outlaw revival, but certainly he was a very important figure to that scene. Viva Terlingua is one of the most influential albums of that time. Like a lot of people in this scene, Walker wasn’t actually from the South. He is from Oneonta, New York. Meanwhile, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott grew up in a Jewish household in New Jersey, the bard of modern western music Don Edwards is also from New Jersey, etc.
The great Johnny Bush has also died. One of the most underrated figures in the history of country music and perhaps most known for his association with Willie Nelson (he wrote “Whiskey River”), no one more embodied Texas country music than Bush.
Spencer Davis has died. His moment in the sun was relatively brief, mostly discovering Steve Winwood, but he was a major figure behind the scenes for many years after that as a music executive.
Good story about Keith Jarrett’s health struggles. He had a stroke a couple of years ago and really can’t play the piano anymore because one hand is not just good enough to do so. It’s a vision about how one of the all time great musicians comprehends aging and physical decline.
A Biden ad featuring the struggle of music venues to stay alive thanks to Trump’s massive failures focused on the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. Of course they had to pull the ad after the owner of the Blind Pig came under the right wing hate attack machine and was receiving threats. Such terrible people in this country right now.
Good interview with the guy behind the Analog Africa label, which does such great work.
Glad to see Charley Pride get a little recognition.
Elton John does not like twerking, in case you were curious as to his thoughts on the matter.
Album Reviews. A couple of newer albums here but mostly work from the 2016-18 period as I clean up the to-listen list:
Aaron Parks, Little Big II: Dreams of a Mechanical Man
A technically and conceptually solid but not particularly revelatory mainstream jazz album from the pianist. With Greg Tuohey on guitar, David Ginyard Jr. on bass, and Tommy Crane on drums. A kind of post-fusion album that mostly keeps things at a fairly mellow level with occasional nods toward the avant-garde.
Cody Branan, Adios
Branan is a really talented musician who bounces between genres, not just between albums, but between songs. This can work pretty well–he’s a skilled songwriter with a good musical ear. However, while this may always appeal to him, at times the transitions are so jarring that it distracts from the album. There’s a really astounding song here about an old man watching his wife die in the hospital. It’s followed by this song with a terrible electrical start that one reviewer noted that it sounded like a jingle for a furniture commercial. A bit more discipline and editing would do him a lot of good.
Tracy Nelson, Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country
I’m not real sure how I have never heard of Nelson before this. This 1970 album is a really fantastic love poem to country music. Lots of classic covers from someone who came more out of the blues/folk world of the 1960s (Charlie Musslewhite was in her first band for instance). Just a really fun listen.
Shannon Lay, Living Water
This is a nice album that I have a little trouble describing usefully. This is a nice songwriter who expresses a sense of anxiety and beauty, fused with emotion but also leaving distance between herself and the listener. I dunno, just listen.
Sam Evian, You, Forever
I really don’t understand the current generation’s nostalgic love for 70s era soft rock and then making new versions of it. I suppose it might appeal to some to hear a cut rate rethinking of Dan Fogelberg, but this is awfully boring to me.
Solange, When I Get Home
Of course, Solange is a semi-legend in modern music. I don’t love her as much as a lot of people. As others noted about this, it does feel like a bunch of demos. And that’s fine, there’s been a lot of worse ideas out there. And an album that fundamentally is about her conceptualizing her home of Houston in her mind is an interesting approach to making music. It might a be a bit too smooth and glitzy for such a concept. But this is an interesting artist making an interesting album and how much more can we really ask than that?
Sufjan Stevens and Lowell Brams, Aporia
I can’t say I was expecting the new Stevens album to be an all-instrumental electronic album. Made with Brams, his stepfather, this is a fairly interesting exploration of the genre, but I never really find it a very interesting genre so take that how you will. I guess it’s OK if this is your thing?
Da Cruz, Eco do Futuro
This is an excellent Brazilian band named after its lead singer Mariana da Cruz. This is far less connected to traditions of Brazilian music (which can be good to leave behind) and feels more a combination of contemporary African dance music with electronic European dance music. This is also a highly political music with attacks on borders and racism. Very glad I heard this.
Ionnalee, Remember the Future
The Swedish singer Jonna Lee, using a slight change of her name, put out this slightly odd, quite engaging electro pop album. The lyrics are a little sci-fi for me, but whatever, that’s going to appeal a lot to others. More importantly, I appreciate the use of electronics here that is well-structured and not overwhelming.
Known as BCUC but with the full name of Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness, this is a fantastic South African band that builds on the traditional harmony bands of the region but with modern influences from the drums and bass of west African music and even a cover of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” that starts through a fairly traditional cover and then becomes pretty wild in its own way. Really fascinating album.
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN
Wow, this young whipper snapper really might have a future in front of him. Maybe I should listen to his albums before 3 years go by.
Kelly Lee Owens, Inner Song
Significantly more interesting for me than the average electronic album, partially because I like her vocals, which do not appear on every song. Sometimes, this goes a bit toward rather rote techno, but at other times is quite good. Nice collaboration with John Cale as well.
Flaming Lips, American Head
The last time I did one of these, I was somewhat surprised by the revival of this band that I had lost touch with during the 2010s. Their new album is also a real winner, where Wayne Coyne thinks about the kind of scuzzy rock band that might have opened for Tom Petty in Oklahoma in the 70s and then wrote an album about that fake band. They certainly aren’t shying away from the usual songs about drugs, but they mostly work and unquestionably this is a very interesting piece of work.
As always, this is a thread for all things music and art and none things politics.