The music world goes on, without shows, with many clubs unlikely to ever reopen. But albums continue to be released because, well, what else are musicians going to do.
Leonard Cohen: Soundtrack for the Trump era. I’ll buy it.
Long oral history of Elektra Records. Lot of you will find this pretty interesting.
I was annoyed by LGM readers’ comments about Elizabeth’s Charlie Daniels post. Saying that someone is musically worthless because they have bad politics is no better than Republicans boycotting Bruce Springsteen or something because he supports Democrats. It’s just dumb. Daniels was a complex character and a great musician who was a critical part of both Nashville Skyline and Songs from a Room. He also ended up being a totally insane gun nut fascist. Both of these things can be true. I’m also curious how many of his albums those of you hating of Daniels have actually heard. Be better, or at least don’t judge art by the politics of its creator.
High school basketball players now have their own hip-hop soundtracks. Guess there’s nothing particularly surprising here.
In bad news for taste, Florida Georgia Line is not breaking up. Not sure what is worse, this band or actually being on the Florida-Georgia border.
Jazz Times has a list of the best albums of the first decade of the century. These would not be my choices.
Everyone has probably already seen something about Dolly Parton helping fund the Moderna vaccine. You just can’t beat the Queen.
Google Play has died, just in case anyone remotely cares.
Guy Clark, My Favorite Picture of You
Guy Clark was a great songwriter, but there’s no question his albums could be pretty inconsistent, especially after the 1970s. There are some good ones, no question, such as Cold Dog Soup. But there are some kind of whatever ones as well, such as Boats to Build. His songwriting had also become less personal over time, moving more toward the observational songs he was always pretty good at, but missing the jawdropping honesty of “The Randall Knife” or the beauty of “L.A. Freeway.” I had not heard his final album, released shortly before he died. But it really is a winner, probably his best album in the last 20 years of his life. The whole thing is very good, but the title track, dedicated to his wife and comrade Susanna, who died a few years before him and who put up with an awful lot of craziness is just a killer.
I really enjoyed this debut album by the British band Sorry. Irreverent and sometimes silly while also being good songwriters with a really excellent singer in Asha Lorenz, this is a band to keep an eye out for as they move forward. Not every song is nailed here but the potential for greatness is clear.
V/A, Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa
Another good release from the enormous archives of African music from the 60s-80s. This Grammy nominated release has a fascinating story. When Somalia descended into its civil war in the 1990s, a bunch of music lovers who worked at the nation’s most important radio station did all the could to pull out and hide the decades of albums and radio performances archived there before the inevitable bombing took place. Some were buried in bunkers, others sent to Djibouti and Ethiopia until the war ended. This collection is a small portion of those saved recordings. So this is the story of Mogadishu went it was a happening city in the 70s and 80s. I don’t know if the Somali modern tradition is quite the equal to that of Ethiopia or Nigeria or Mali or the Congo. This didn’t blow my mind like some other nations. But it is certainly a historically important and quite worthy release.
Gary Stewart, Out of Hand
Stewart is one of the unsung heroes of country music, someone who was a contemporary of the outlaws but who was more comfortable in the bars with the mechanical bulls than out in Lukenbach. This means that he doesn’t get mythologized in the same way as Willie or Waylon. But for a short time, his work is the equal of anything those legends ever put out and Out of Hand, from 1975, might be his best work. The song titles are epic “She’s Acting Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles)” is a real classic of the genre. It’s also simply a great, great song. There are so many classics on this album, which I had never heard all the way through before. If you are unfamiliar with Stewart, you really need to alleviate that gap in your life.
Vampire Weekend, Father of the Bride
I’ve always been slightly hesitant about Vampire Weekend. The band was so Ivy League, filled with references to Hyannis while appropriating Afro Beat guitar. But hey, at least the story was true to the life of the elites making the music and at least the music was good. A decade later, on 2018’s Father of the Bride, the African influences are long gone. But so is the interesting music. Ezra Koenig has given his album an appropriate name because he is now making boring dad rock. Capable boring dad rock, yes. The collaborations with Danielle Haim and Steve Lacy are fine. But I just never found anything in this album interesting and at 18 songs, that’s a lot of dull. It’s not a bad album. It’s just kind of meh.
Russian Circles, Blood Year
It takes a lot for instrumental rock to excite me. This g/b/d trio produces relatively well executed post-rock/metal on this 2019 album (these terms often lack much value, but it eases well toward metal on many of the tracks). I just can’t see why I would listen to it again. If this is your bag, you may enjoy it.
Sun Ra, Thunder of the Gods
This 2017 archival release from the great Ra and his amazing Arkestra is a tale of two halves. The first is a fantastic set from the early 70s, when the band had a long residency as Slugs’ Saloon. To see this live must have been an astounding experience. It’s a classic performance. The second side are deep cut recordings and there’s kind of a reason they weren’t released. Ra gave his band string instruments of various kinds that they didn’t know how to play and then told them to play some stuff without any notes. It’s actually pretty interesting to hear once, but in the end it is still a bunch of great musicians sawing away at unfamiliar instruments to make difficult music.
Earl Sweatshirt, Some Rap Songs
I don’t think that this 2018 album is at the edge of avant-garde jazz like the Pitchfork album suggests (a bizarre claim even there are a few horns here and there), but this is a superb set of short hip-hop songs from a tremendously original artist. Dealing with the death of his father, who was a major South African poet, Earl works through grief with the sharp and incisive commentary on race that we come to expect. In fact, the first voice one hears here is not his, but James Baldwin. The low-fi sounds here work incredibly well. In some ways, it sounds like something thrown together, but it’s actually a masterfully produced and constructed album.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Barefoot in the Head
It’s been a million years since I paid any attention to Chris Robinson and at least that long since I really thought about The Black Crowes. But that’s not out of malice really. The Black Crowes was a decent southern rock band. So I thought I’d check out this 2017 album. And it’s….basically exactly what you would expect. It’s a solid southern rock album with some fine songs, some songs with slightly eye-rolling lyrics, some interesting music, some cliched music. If you like The Black Crowes, you’ll like this.
En Attendant Ana, Julliet
This French pop group that sings in English put out a real solid album earlier this year, a fast set of pop-punk songs (or post-punk perhaps, again labels….) replete not only with guitar/bass/drums but also a healthy dose of trumpet that I think works pretty well. The general tenor of the album is to try and move on from where you are at to find something a little better. When Margaux Bouchaudon asks “So what’s the point of being so sad?” it’s at the very least something to think about. Lot of energy, lot of fun, if not absolutely life-changing.
Willie Nelson, Last Man Standing
I’ve caught up to most of Willie’s old man albums, but he still plugs away. This is his 2018 release. It’s remarkable how solid he remains. I thought this was excellent. Each song is written by Willie with his current writing partner Larry Cannon. Many are about death and growing old. “Last Man Standing” is about the complexity of being alive and liking that but the sadness of losing his friends like Ray Price and Merle Haggard. “Me and You” is about holding on together while the world burns around you and your old friends start watching Fox News. Musically, this covers a lot of Willie-friendly genres, from straight ahead country to western swing to even a Ray Wylie Hubbard-esque blues swamp in the last song. Very nice work. May he live forever.
Ruen Brothers, All My Shades of Blue
This British group is basically a nostalgia act recreating late 50s and early 60s rock. The singer basically is doing a Roy Orbison imitation. Some people really, really like this. Me? I find it as derivative as it claims to be and would rather just listen to Orbison or Carl Perkins.
Simon Nabatov with Chris Speed, Herb Robertson, John Hebert, Tom Rainey, Plain
This very solid jazz album from a quintet headed by the Russian pianist Nabatov. His wide-ranging interests are throughout this recording, including jazz from all eras as well as classical, electronics, and even Brazilian music. Some of it gets pretty free, quite a bit of it remains simmering just under a boil, waiting to explode. Throughout, Nabatov keeps that pot right where it should be. Not the greatest jazz album I’ve ever heard, but a quite worthy one. Chris Speed’s saxophone is especially powerful here.
Kuzu is a Chicago-based jazz trio working in some of the most outré reaches of the genre. This is pretty out there too, but it’s really fantastic. Really, one of the best jazz albums I’ve heard in the last couple of years. This is Dave Rempis on sax, Tashi Dorji on guitar, and Tyler Damon on drums. And this is just hot, raw, pulverizing music.
Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt, Brace Up!
Excellent album of what perhaps is best called thrash jazz from this drummer and guitarist. The title is quite appropriate for what listening to this is like. While having so many 30-40 second songs is something I find a bit distracting, the longer pieces especially are really first rate experimental work. The best comparison to this is Henry Kaiser or Fred Frith. If those wild experimenters are your cup of tea, this will be too.
Rodney Crowell, Acoustic Classics
Crowell is one of the great talents of country music over the past 50 years. But while this probably sold quite well (such as Richard Thompson’s album of the same title did; in fact it was the best selling album of his career), there’s something a bit eyerolling about the clear money grasping of rerecording your old hits for your aging audience in a slightly different way. The overall quality of these rerecordings varies a bit. “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” is fun but some are a bit bland. It is at least a full acoustic band and not just A Man and His Guitar. But I’d rather listen to Crowell’s original material, not rehashing his old stuff.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music or art and none things politics or disease.