I loved Tyler Mahan Coe’s podcast on country music Cocaine and Rhinestones. It really summed up the DIY nature of the early podcast era–a guy in his basement going on about a topic he loved. These days, like every other form of media, they’ve become pretty standardized and capitalized. Anyway, it’s been a long time since he finished that and while there’s been rumors of a second season, nothing has come of it until now. The entire 18 hours of season 2 is about George Jones and the world around him. I cannot wait. GQ has a long feature piece on Coe and it’s a really interesting take into a guy who grew up the son of an, uh, complicated figure in country music and played in his band for years, from the time he was a kid until his father remarried and cut everyone off from his old life. Growing up like that, man, that’s just not something anyone can relate to unless you’ve been in a similar situation, and who has been in a situation playing country music and dropping acid at the age of 16 surrounded by legends and weirdos and everything that comes with that? Anyway, check it out.
This is a pretty interesting essay from JSTOR Daily about why we listen to sad music. I don’t actually feel sad when listening to sad music. Maybe I’m immune to it by now.
Apple Music claims at least that it pays artists one cent per stream. Who knows if this is true, but I suppose it would really set them up for legal action if they lied publicly about this.
Here’s some profiles of the Black women now becoming prominent in country music. It’s been interesting to watch this happen. We’ll see how the core of country radio listeners respond to this, given their political and racial leanings.
Mills College in Oakland is closing. This is very sad from a musical perspective as it is has long been a critical incubator of American music. Among the people to attend that school as students or to teach there are Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith, Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Tomeka Reid, and Joanna Newsom, not to mention one Phil Lesh. So here’s a Bandcamp story and playlist to recognize its tremendous legacy.
Album Reviews, as I continue to clear the deck of older albums:
The Green Child, Shimmering Basset
Pretty fair Australian synth-pop band. This kind of thing rarely really turns my crank, but they are talented enough and it’s listenable enough that you people who think the 80s are the place might find it right up your alley.
The Gibson Brothers, Mockingbird
The Gibson Brothers are among the finest bluegrass bands of the last twenty years, mercifully putting more attention on the lyrics and song structure than the hot licks and solos that too often have taken over bluegrass, as if the instrumentation is more important than the words. Writing originals and not relying on traditional and Bill Monroe covers is nice too. The overall results are a bit mixed, as one might expect, but Bona Fide is genuinely outstanding album. They throw a curveball here. Getting Dan Auerbach to produce, they decided to make a lush 70s style country album. Mostly it works. I love that era and style of country music by adults for adults. I will say though that the songwriting isn’t quite up to the highest standards of their past here. The songs are fine, basically, just a bit less striking than I’d hope. Kind of interesting cover of REM’s “Everybody Hurts” as well, though that’s never been my favorite song.
Jessica Pratt, Quiet Signs
Pratt is an LA based songwriter who is on the edge of the “freak folk” scene, if that phrase means anything at all (and Pratt herself doesn’t seem to care for it but she’s often described that way). Here’s the problem–I really can’t listen to Pratt’s odd voice, which is sort of like Joanna Newsom’s but harder to decipher. Mostly, your feelings about this are going to depend on how you feel about her voice. The other thing, and again, this is really going to depend on the person, is whether you like that 70s Laurel Canyon scene-influenced music of the present, which is a highly mixed bag for me. Smart writer and interesting artist, however one might think of her voice and influences.
Hey Violet, From the Outside
“Guys My Age” is a very solid pop song in the “girl needs an older man because boys her age don’t know what to do with her body” genre. But most of this is really bog-standard pop that doesn’t stand out in any useful way. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s awfully forgettable.
Steve Lacy, Apollo XXI
Lacy is best known for his work with The Internet and has done a ton of guest appearances on other people’s albums. This solo album does represent both the upside and downside of that work. There’s a lot to like here. He’s so hugely talented, working in pop, hip-hop, and first rate guitar work. In addition, there is some brave queer lyrics here, the first time he’s really discussed being bisexual in his songs. However, he–and The Internet generally–could use from both moving away from the DIY nature of their music (stop recording with your phone!) and, frankly, not smoking so much weed, which I feels has to contribute to the sometimes wandering nature of this music that feels like it is indeed pot haze, which also plagues some Internet songs.
Lucero, Among the Ghosts
I always think I should listen to Lucero more than I do. In some ways, age and sound primarily, they are cousins to my favorite band, Drive By Truckers. Lyrically, they are not on that level of course, but this is most certainly a solid band. The lyrics here are also pretty solid, with a couple of pretty decent contributions to the Civil War-themed rock song and a general atmosphere of thinking about home and longing. Odd to say about a big rock band like Lucero, but this might could benefit from a little more rock and roll in what is an unusually quiet album. Anyway, solid work, as usual, if a bit of a different kind of solid than normal.
Goldfrapp, Silver Eye
When Goldfrapp is at their best, as they are in the first few songs on this album, they are great. When they are their more average, as they are on much of the rest of the album, they are still a pretty solid electronic band. A more than credible addition to this band’s history.
Jenny Scheinmann & Allison Miller’s Parlour Game, Parlour Game
A very nice somewhat Americana-themed jazz album that includes the violinist and drummer playing with Carmen Staff on piano and Tony Scherr on bass, everyone stars here. Maybe no one more than Scheinmann, who has been a bit hemmed in by her Americana interests over the years and perhaps by her work with Bill Frisell, but who shows her great ability and vision here. Miller of course is a beast behind the drum kit. Quite worthy.
Henry Kaiser and Ed Pettersen, We Call All Times Soon
Two legendary experimental guitarists create an atmosphere that I would best describe as raising the internal tension inside your brain to the breaking point and yet like perhaps a frog in slowly boiling water, it’s so cozy that you don’t want to leave, even as you feel like your internal heat is increasingly intolerable. This is very much not for everyone, but if you like experimental guitar (and in this case, weird guitar-adjacent instruments), this is definitely for you.
Whit Dickey Trio, Expanding Light
Dickey is such an assertive jazz drummer and this trio (Rob Brown on sax and Brandon Lopez on bass) just bangs through this set. Lopez is very young and really stands out here too. The free jazz world is populated with such astounding musicians and such a spirit of improvisation that it constantly renews itself with fresh sounds. Lopez working with these two old heads leads to a very nice release from last year.
Anthony Braxton/Taylor Ho Bynum, Duets (Wesleyan 2002)
I was a little surprised that a very young Bynum was playing with a legend like Braxton in live shows twenty years ago. Usually, this free jazz world does require the paying of an awful lot of dues before playing with the legends. But turns out that Bynum was Braxton’s student at Wesleyan, so there you go. Bynum released this all the back in 2003 and put it up on his Bandcamp page at some point. It’s an interesting document but it’s also an awfully challenging set, with Braxton’s difficult music dominating the proceedings. That’s fine–I like listening to that material. Braxton however is not overwhelming Bynum. There is full respect between teacher and student, a respect that has been well-earned over the years. But in the end, I’d say this is a relatively minor release in both of their catalogs.
Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns
Braufman was part of the post-Coltrane free jazz scene in the 70s, working with amazing musicians such as Cooper-Moore. He released an album in 1975 with C-M and some other excellent musicians. And then…well, he didn’t disappear exactly but he only released two more albums under his own name in the next 45 years. He worked, mostly as a backing saxophonist, touring with everyone from Carla Bley to Philip Glass. He taught at the noted jazz center of…..Utah State. But last year, he and Cooper-Moore finally recorded another album and…it’s really very good. Moving between accessible and outre, Braufman leads the band through big hooks, great solos, and good grooves. James Brandon Lewis (tenor), Ken Filiano (bass), Andrew Drury (drums), and Michael Wimberley (percussion) fills out the band on this excellent outing.
Jeff Parker, Suite for Max Brown
Parker is the guitarist for Tortoise but has long had a jazz side, recording with Joshua Redman among many others. For this project, you can definitely hear the post-rock, but you can also hear soul jazz and the Philadelphia soul scene of the 70s. Parker handles most, but not all, of the instruments. I don’t know how this would work live as it is heavily produced and layered in the studio, often with himself overdubbing one of his instrumental bits over another. Not that this matters of course. Influenced as much by electronics and hip-hop as all these other genres as well, it’s a quite fine album.
Raye Zaragoza, Woman in Color
This is a very fine modern folk album by this young multi-racial songwriter based out of Los Angeles but who grew up in New York. There’s a lot of sharp topical songs here. The closer, “Ghosts of Houston Street” is about gentrification on the Lower East Side, where she grew up but could never afford to live now. “They Say” is a pretty brutal look at the contemporary folk scene that has turned into $70 shows at wine bars. “Red” is about femicide against Native women and the legacy of colonization. “Change Your Name” imagines her Japanese grandparents’ migration to the United States. But none of this would work as music if Zaragoza also didn’t have a great voice, plenty of musicianship on the guitar, and really most important of all, a serious attitude about the bullshit of the world. For those of you who really like music that fits your politics, you are going to love this album. I loved it too, even though I don’t necessarily need great politics in music. But this is contemporary protest music at its finest.
Father John Misty, God’s Favorite Customer
I’ve been so mixed on Misty for a long time. He’s a genius in many ways. A great songwriter with a clear musical vision is a package you don’t get all the time. He’s also so louché, the kind of guy I feel I would genuinely despise if I had to interact with him. How many songs about drugs and rough sex do I really have to listen to here? Guy may be very smart but he also so clearly only cares about himself. So it’s hard. That’s why I didn’t get to his 2018 release until now. I liked it more than some of his other work because he takes a slight step back on his ridiculous character, whether real or put on. He’s still obviously a huge asshole. But there’s a little more self-awareness and a little less bombast. I still want to hold this guy at arm’s length, but this is a pretty listenable album that moves toward me outright liking it.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics or disease.