Welp, Phil Spector died. He combined being a pioneering music producer with being one of the worst people who ever lived. It’s actually a good time to revisit the whole “art by bad men” conversation. The thing about Spector–as with Polanski and so many other men of this era–is that people not only knew they were crazy and awful but actively encouraged it. Spector was a gun nut going back decades before he finally killed someone. This is well documented and discussed. And he never suffered the slightest bit of criticism for it, not from people who mattered. This is actually why I really liked Quentin Tarantino’s vision of the 60s in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Critics said it was “reactionary” but it’s not; it just doesn’t buy into hippie bullshit about a world that was actually quite violent and awful. The Manson murders were the worst event in all of this, sure, but Spector’s behavior is another example, as is the Stones hiring the Hell’s Angels for Altamont, which they did on the advice of the Grateful Dead, who were buds with them. Enormous parts about that culture were just incredibly toxic and awful and many people suffered.
So what do we do with Spector’s work? The problem with just saying “I’m not going to listen to this” or “I’m never watching a Woody Allen or Roman Polanski film” is that it not only rapidly turns into judging art based on the personal behavior of who made it, which is an artistic black hole, but it also ignores the fact that most art is a collaborative process and you are also erasing a lot of great people in the process. Amanda Marcotte had a very good thread on this today.
I’ve always been skeptical of the idea that one can somehow self-purify by not listening to music from abusive men (or watching their movies or reading their books). It feels like narcissistic self-involvement as a replacement for actual activism.
— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) January 17, 2021
Anyway, long story short: Listen to what you like. It doesn’t make you complicit in abuse. Worry less about your own purity and worry more about systematic justice.
— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) January 17, 2021
Right. By erasing Woody Allen, you are also basically erasing most of Diane Keaton’s career and certainly most of her best films. Even in Manhattan, as problematic piece of art as exists, Mariel Hemingway’s performance is astounding and she deserves recognition for it. In the case of Spector, how does saying you aren’t going to listen to his productions help the Ronettes? Moreover, there is probably a scumbag involved in every production of nearly every movie, album, play, etc., that has ever existed. From Amanda’s thread again:
Ha, exactly. It can get really woolly. Do you know if the cinematographer on a movie you like was a good person? What about the people who made a song sampled in another song? Self-purity as a substitute for activism gets silly fast. https://t.co/e8AIHXOge9
— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) January 17, 2021
Again, it’s just an intellectual and aesthetic black hole to just memoryhole problematic artists. It might be different with a Louis C.K. stand up performance since it really is just him, but what about all the fine actors who are not sexual predators who worked on his show? There’s just not a sensible line to draw here.
I’m sure everyone will really focus on the album reviews after that discussion……
Sylvain Sylvain is dead. I can’t say I love the New York Dolls quite as much as a lot of rock critics, but certainly one cannot question their importance. Given how those guys lived at the time, it’s kind of surprising that he made it to 69. I did decide to listen to Too Much Too Soon today for the first time in quite awhile and I maintain the band was more decent than great, but that’s just me. Also, speaking of bad behavior in the music industry and the Dolls, the way people idolized Johnny Thunders as a hero despite and because he was such an awful guy who treated people terribly is just another example of the Spector problem. I also learned to my surprise that Sylvain Sylvain was his actual first and middle names. I always figured it was a dumb rock name, but his family were Egyptian Jews who left during the Nasser years.
Other musical deaths include the pianist Frank Kimbrough, known for his work with Maria Schneider, and Howard Johnson, widely seen to be the greatest tuba player in modern jazz, not that this is a deep pool.
This article on Justin Townes Earle’s problems that led to him finally overdosing is hard to read. The guy….I mean, he was just a complete mess from the get go. What do you even say here? So sad. Also, a huge LOL:
the time he said a polite hello to Andy Griffith in a hotel lobby, to which Griffith replied, “Fuck you, son.”
Ha ha ha, I kind of hope that’s a true story.
I just returned yesterday from 11 days on the road, seeing all the graves. And no, unlike Dave Dudley I did not need those little white pills to keep my eyes open wide. I happen to find driving quite relaxing and enjoyable. What do I listen to in the car? Albums and nothing but albums. No podcasts. No radio. Just albums. As a listmaker, here is what I heard, which actually does reveal a bit about how I listen to music:
- Joey Purp, Quarterthing
- Earl Sweatship, Some Rap Songs
- Whit Dickey, Matthew Shipp, and Mat Maneri, Vessel in Orbit
- Juliana Hatfield, Weird
- Brittany Howard, Jaime
- Tough Age, Which Way Am I?
- John Luther Adams and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Become Ocean
- The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure
- Girlpool, Powerplant
- Mekons, Deserted
- Kuzu, Hiljaisuus
- No Thank You, Embroidered Foliage
- Lori McKenna, The Balladeer
- The Del McCoury Band, Del and Woody
- Various Artists, Welcome to Zamrock!
- Lydia Loveless, Daughter
- Sarah Jarosz, World on the Ground
- Jamie Saft, Joe Morris, and Charles Downs, Mountains
- Freakwater, Scherazade
- Tracy Nelson, Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country
- Vijay Iyer Sextet, Far from Over
- Sonny Rollins, G-Man
- Sunflower Bean, Twentytwo in Blue
- Angeleena Presley, Wrangled
- Nick Cave, Skeleton Tree
- Elizabeth Cook, Aftermath
- Vince Staples, Big Fish Theory
- Margo Price, That’s How Rumors Get Started
- Marika Hackman, Any Human Friend
- Adia Victoria, Silences
- Tal National, Zoy Zoy
- Empress Of, I’m Your Empress Of
- Soccer Mommy, Color Theory
- Run the Jewels, RTJ4
- Sun Ra, Singles (which is 3 1/2 hours long!)
- Screaming Females, Ugly
- Sotho Sounds, Rough Guide to Best African Music You’ve Never Heard (Bonus disc to the compilation that Rough Guide put out that focuses on one artist, which is common for this valuable series these days)
- Ty Segall, Emotional Mugger
- Rough Guide to Unsung Heroes of Country Blues
- Neil Young, Hitchhiker
- Sonic Youth. Goo
- Yo La Tengo, There’s a Riot Going On
- The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt
- Mitski, Puberty 2
- Lizz Wright, Grace
- La Santa Cecilia, Amar y Vivir
- Mary Lattimore, At the Dam
- Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math
- Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
- Daddy Dreams, Deep Dream
- Jade Jackson, Wilderness
- Ass Ponys, The Okra Years Disc 1
- Alabama Shakes, Sound and Color
- Jason Isbell, Something More than Free
- Drive By Truckers, The New OK
- Whitney Rose, We Still Go to Rodeos
- Jade Jackson, Gilded
- Dave Rawlings Machine, Nashville Obsolete
- Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams
- Marissa Nadler, For My Crimes
- Mestre Cupijo e Set Ritmo, Siria
- Chris Stapleton, Traveller
- Sons of the San Joaquin, From Whence Came the Cowboy
- Dirtmusic, Bu Bir Ruya
- Rough Guide to the Best African Music You’ve Never Heard
- Father John Misty, Fear Fun
- Bill Callahan, Gold Record
- Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, De Facto
- Sarah Gayle Meech, Tennessee Love Song
- Joanna Newsom, Divers
- The Go! Team, The Scene Between
- Ryley Walker, Deafman Glance
- Leonard Cohen, Various Positions
- Tacocat, Lost Time
- Rhianna, Anti
- Mary Halvorson Sextet, Illusionary Sea
- Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 1
- Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt, Brace Up!
- U.S. Girls, Heavy Light
- Tom Ze, Cancones Eroticas
- Priests, The Seduction of Kansas
- Chris Stapleton, From a Room, Volume 1
- Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
- Charles Mingus, Mingus at the Bohemia
The only reason to list all of this, other than reveling in trivia, is to note how rarely I listen to even the artists I love the most. All that driving, all those albums and…1 DBT album, not a single Wussy or Old 97s or Sleater-Kinney album, 1 Sonic Youth album. I did get through a lot of recent albums I’ve purchased. But keeping things well mixed up is definitely the way I listen to music and I may be the last one, but I am deeply committed to the album and so while I do sometimes listen to music on shuffle on my computer, listening to the album is still my touchstone. I don’t listen to any band very often, as this suggests. I started using this current computer last January and full-time last March and the most I have ever listened to any one song in that is…..9, for Sleater-Kinney’s “Oh!” No other song has had more than 7 listens, until this morning when the version of “Bought It Again” off Wussy’s Funeral Dress II came up for its 8th listen. Otherwise, life gets boring. And thus, this ridiculous list offers some insight I guess into….something.
This is a fascinating and important discussion of sexism and jazz best-of lists. Basically, jazz musicians rely on critic lists to have any sales at all. And while there has finally been a recent uptick in the number of women making the top of these lists, the overall numbers of women-led bands getting votes remains static and quite low. That might be changing a bit. There are more women in jazz getting attention then there was 20 years ago. And a big part of the problem has been jazz itself, which outside of singers has been extremely male-dominated from its beginnings. Say this about country music’s terrible politics, but women have played a much larger role in shaping its popularity than nearly every other genre of American music, including jazz. I suppose we can take it as a sign of progress that this is even getting written about, but we’ll see if it changes.
Great story on Carolyn Franklin, Aretha’s forgotten sister who was queer, who was rougher than her sister, and who got routinely pushed to the margins of the music industry, despite writing many of Aretha’s best known songs. Even more sad, she died of breast cancer at the age of 43 and was mostly forgotten about in the decades since.
I recently watched the 1988 documentary Let’s Get Lost, about Chet Baker. I just didn’t like it. Some of it is that I just don’t like Baker’s music all that much. The West Coast cool jazz scene of the late 50s and early 60s featured a lot of talent and I get that it’s reflective of the beach and the SoCo lifestyle and the girls and the cars and whatever, but it’s also kind of boring. But some of it is that watching junkies is really boring. In fact, hard for me to think of something more boring than watching a high aging and unhealthy addict mumble about his career. The movie seems to romanticize all of this way more than it should, making Baker out to be a genius when that’s a bit of a stretch and moreover, seeming to mythologize the drugs, which is not good. Again, the romance and excuses for artists who aren’t great people.
Keith Jarrett, The Budapest Concert
Jarrett is of course a legend and one of the great pianists of jazz history. He also can’t play anymore because of his failing health. So this is his last album. His skill is still undeniable, as is his taste. At times, it is beautiful. However, I will state that solo jazz albums, regardless of the instrument, are always really hard for me, even those people who are heroes of mine. Take Wadada Leo Smith’s solo trumpet album tribute to Monk. It’s technically amazing but also just really requires a lot of patience because one instrument can only take you so far. With the piano, by far the most common solo instrument in jazz, for me it requires the virtuosity and experimentation of someone like Matthew Shipp to get me through easily. Jarrett has all the skill of Shipp of course, but his course and place in jazz history is different. And that’s completely fine, but for me, a solo Jarrett album simply has its limitations, especially when it starts fading into background music, which does sometimes happen here.
Josephine Foster, Faithful Fairy Harmony
I admit to having a bit of trouble of what to make of this 2018 album. Foster is a folk singer who’s been working for about 20 years, but with an opera background that is clear in the music. There’s a sort of mysticism and wistfulness throughout this, neither of which are my preferred aesthetic qualities. She is a fine instrumentalist and clearly has a vision for her music. It’s just not my favorite thing.
Hayes Carll, What It Is
Carll has been on my radar screen for a decade or more. He’s a warm voice in the alt-country genre and I’ve always enjoyed him, but never paid as much attention as I should have. I really enjoyed this 2019 album that he co-wrote with Allison Moorer and which consists in part of him rediscovering love (with Moorer) after a divorce, being at least somewhat political, and expressing annoyance at his own stupid decisions over the years. Sure, there’s the nostalgia at the heart of so much country music, but it’s a gentle nostalgia. Just a fine, very likable album.
Pusha T, Daytona
A very fine Kanye-produced release from 2018. I like short rap albums; the intensity of the genre (or other similar genres such as free jazz and metal) really is best appreciated in smaller doses, in my opinion. To me, this an album is a nearly perfect combination of Kanye’s beats and Pusha’s lyrics, neither muddled by much interference from the other. Things didn’t always come easy to Pusha T; his rise in the rap world was a slow one and this, only his third album, was released after he turned 40. It’s not that age really broadened his lyrical perspective much. The songs are still about selling drugs and buying the goods that only selling drugs can get you in impoverished Black communities, but he’s so tight in this delivery that it works wonderfully.
Bobby Bare, Great American Saturday Night
Bobby Bare is one of the country artists who most benefited from the rise of Outlaw Country, but who was not really an “outlaw” himself. Bare’s earlier career is one of a smooth singer who never quite fit the material. See his This I Believe album for an example; a gospel album just doesn’t work that well for him. But the 70s were a very good time for Bare. He was and is not a songwriter at all. Like many country singers, he always relied on other writers. For his truly great album Cowboys and Daddys, there was lots of Terry Allen and also quite a bit of Shel Silverstein.
Bare and Silverstein became quite the pair by the late 70s. This live performance consists entirely of Silverstein songs. Although he is far better known for his children’s books, he was a hell a songwriter. And he could work pretty blue. The Outlaw phenomenon was a also a huge boon for Silverstein. And I would have loved to be at the live show from 77 (I think) that made up this album. The first time Bare sings “fuck,” in the first song, you realize this is not your grandparents’ country album.
The only down side of this is that Silverstein could often be just a bit too clever for his own good and also more than a little misogynist for his good. The latter was pretty much a standard in the Outlaw movement, so it’s more frustrating than unexpected. The former though, on occasion these songs are just a little bit too silly or just a little bit too overthought. In the end, Bare was at his best working with a variety of songwriters that provided him with different moods than what Silverstein alone could give him.
Drive By Truckers, The New OK
Patterson Hood openly states he doesn’t have any much else going on in his life than music. So when he was unable to tour, he still wrote songs. The rise of American fascism has turned him into a full-fledged protest singer. So he wrote a few new songs about the current political system, including the violence in Portland, where he now lives. The band combined those with some unreleased cuts off their last album, The Unraveling, and just put out another release.
There are some highlights here. Hood’s new political songs such as “The New OK” and “The Perilous Night,” and “Watching the Orange Clouds” are strong. Matt Patton can’t sing, but it’s nice to hear a third voice on a DBT album again, especially since Cooley is in one of his occasional years-long writers block periods. Hood wrote “The Unraveling is Happening” for Patton to scream and he closes with a good version of “The KKK Took My Baby Away” that they’ve performed live for several years now.
But given that many of these songs didn’t make the cut last time, well, there’s a reason. There’s clear filler here. And Cooley’s sole contribution, “Sarah’s Flame” is both an interesting exploration of a woman who contributed so much to the rise of fascism and yet is almost totally forgotten about already and not that successful as a song.
Good release, but not what you’d introduce new listeners to.
Tori Kelly, Inspired by True Events
Honest and smarter than your average pop album. Kelly uses a bunch of home movie sound clips from her parents to ground this album and it actually works pretty well. There’s some great moments and again, the writing is a lot more honest and real than your usual overwrought and cliched pop songs. But at 18 songs and 51 minutes, it’s just too long for its own good. This could have been great at 40 minutes, but there’s filler here.
Azymuth with Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, JID004
JID stands for Jazz is Dead. It’s not and even if it was, I’m not sure this would be the antidote. The problem here is that this moves really quickly into something nearly easy listening. To me, this is often the cliff that Brazilian music rides, that precipice where if you can ride it you can be transcendent, but if you fall, it’s a big pile of cheese below. You bounce up off the cheese, but you bounce into a world of mediocrity and cliche. It’s not a bad album and some of you may like it a great deal, but it’s not my thing.
Angelica Garcia, Cha Cha Palace
I like this album from last spring quite a bit. Garcia got some attention when Obama included one of her songs on his playlists (the rare non-already hip song on these rather boring if decent lists). This is her 2nd album and it is a distinctive Latina take on rock and pop music, not just vaguely reflecting her Mexican and Salvadoran background, but centering it in both lyrics and sound. She has a ton of attitude and confidence that flows through the music. Interestingly, her first album, which I haven’t heard, was a deep dive into her other identity–country music as a southerner, as her family moved there when she was in high school and she embraced it. But she was born and grew up in L.A. and has spent a lot of time there and obviously channels those influences in astounding ways as well. As Garcia herself points out, both her Latina immigrant identity and her southern identity are both equally valid parts of the broader American identity. I’m not sure every song is gold here, but this is a very interesting release.
Thurston Moore, By the Fire
It’s a Thurston Moore album, which means lots of guitar and a good sound. But also probably too much guitar (I’m not sure he needs that many 10+ minute songs that are by no means necessary in length) and in need of what Kim and Lee brought him. Still, solid, especially if you want to hear Thurston talk about how much he loves hash, a video explicit enough in its drug references that I couldn’t embed it here because of YouTube rules.
John Hartford, Backroads, Rivers, & Memories: The Rare & Unreleased
This is a fantastic collection of largely early Hartford archival material. The brilliant banjoist/hippie/steamboat captain/fiddler was one of the most unique figures in the history of American music, an oddball who got famous by being a regular guest on the Glen Campbell Good Time Hour and who then was able to do whatever he wanted for the rest of his life because Campbell had such a huge hit with “Gentle on My Mind.” This first started in a bit of a predictable manner, with his raw early work, then some from his Hollywood years (honestly, not the best part of his career), and then working up to material recorded when he did his seminal Aereo-Plain album. But then it shifts to some earlier radio material, much of which Hartford was only a sideman on. And this is some real gold, bluegrass music for the people it was intended for, a document of a time and place by a band mostly forgotten if it wasn’t for their later famous banjoist. It’s just a really important document of American music.
Kidd Jordan/Joel Futterman/William Parker/Hamid Drake, A Tribute to Alvin Fielder
Alvin Fielder, a drummer associated with the AACM, died in 2019. At the Vision Festival later that year, the annual event which is one of William Parker’s great contributions to modern music, he joined with his long-time mate and great dummer himself Hamid Drake, the pianist Joel Futterman, and most importantly, the legendary New Orleans saxophonist Kidd Jordan, for a tribute to Fielder. From the first moments, this is a fantastic 45 minute set, a single song blowout that shows the amazing virtuosity and creativity of all four of these geniuses. What amazes me here most is Jordan, who is not only pretty old himself (84 when this was recorded), but who also is the rare figure to truly bridge the old New Orleans scenes, not only Dixieland jazz but R&B and blues and soul, and the most modern of free jazz. Parker has brought him on for several projects over the past 15 years, always to just fantastic results. Great album.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and none things politics or disease (except of course for the relevant issues brought up here around the issues of problematic artists).