Last night, I saw Bonnie Prince Billy and Matt Sweeney at the Columbus Theater in Providence. This was my first indoor show since the pandemic began. There was a vaccination requirement and a masking requirement. This, my friends, is the definition of safety.
The show was great. Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham) is known for his extreme inconsistency, both live and on albums. Some of his albums are among my all-time favorites. Others are among the worst I’ve ever heard. I’ve only seen him once before, back around 2002 or 2003. And that was a great show. But his last show in Providence, which I was out of town for, was evidently so bad that a friend of mine refused to see this show on principle. It was when he toured behind that awful Bitchin’ Bajas album where he wrote lyrics based on fortune cookie messages….I mean…..ugh.
But the 2005 Superwolf album he did with Matt Sweeney was outstanding. 16 years later, they decided to come back with another album titled Superwolves. I reviewed it a month or so ago. I’m not sure it’s as good as the original, which is genuinely one of my favorite albums of all time (only Viva Last Blues and I See a Darkness can compare in his vast catalog). But it’s quite strong.
So last night, they played almost all of both albums, plus a couple of covers. It was really good. Sweeney is such a good guitarist that he can just use that guitar to handle all the sound. This leaves Will Oldham to just sing and, well, act. People often forget that he’s a very talented actor who just doesn’t choose to do that very often. But not only was he good as the child preacher in Matewan all the way back in 1987, he was really great in another modern classic, Kelly Reichardt’s 2006 film Old Joy, as well in smaller roles in films ranging from Wendy and Lucy to Junebug. He can really bring that to the stage. His songwriting is very physical, in the sense that there’s lots of lyrics about body parts. Not holding an instrument means he can use his hands to produce visual effects by touching or waving to the relevant parts of the body.
So yeah, that was a really, really fun show. And also, a safe show.
Eric Clapton has been getting dragged for his lifelong horrible politics now manifested in anti-mask extremism. That has led some people to also, correctly, note that Clapton is massively overrated as a musician and hasn’t released a worthy album in 50 years. You might say, well, this is just letting disgust over politics affect how you see someone’s music. But let’s bring in the professionals:
Cream was the outside edge of where Clapton was ever gonna go with guitar. He had no interest in where Jack & Ginger were capable of going. None whatsoever. It’s been variations on “Lay Down Sally” since Derek & The Dominos. https://t.co/pfQ19RCGYJ
— Vernon Reid (@vurnt22) August 29, 2021
Ouch! That’s real talk from a guitarist who is much better and more interesting than Clapton ever even approached. In the replies to Reid, someone noted that Clapton is like the young superstar professor who got tenure and rested on his laurels the rest of his career without ever trying again. That’s…..accurate.
Speaking of controversies, last week I reviewed the Olivia Rodrigo album and noted it was really good for an album geared toward 17 year old girls. People have said she stole ideas from other artists. But what does that even mean? Isn’t that the entirety of music? Anyway, one Elvis Costello spoke out this week in favor of her, noting that this is also his career.
— Elvis Costello (@ElvisCostello) June 28, 2021
Again, Costello didn’t have to do this. It was absolutely the correct statement to make. Good for him. Lot of respect there, as if I didn’t respect him enough already.
We absolutely need to say a few words about Lee “Scratch” Perry, who died this week at the age of 85. I’m not even really a fan of dub, but his innovations were unbelievable, a man who basically created a whole genre of music on his own, something very few people can claim (Bill Monroe and…..). Just an unbelievably important figure.
Basically all of Kid Rock’s band has COVID. Wow, what a shock. Bet vaccination rates are high in that crew……
Mike Posner, A Real Good Kid
This is conceptually interesting, but a mess in execution. Posner starts by telling everyone to turn off their cell phones, get off line, and listen to his album for the next 40 minutes. And if they can’t do that, well, they should wait until later. Pretentious, but understandable. The problem is that he then doesn’t deliver on a 40 minute album worth the time. OK, he wants you to hear about his now deceased father and family issues. But the styles are a jumbled mess, him moving close to hip-hop should never be repa
Miranda Lambert, Revolution
I came to Lambert late, put off by her mainstream success. Now, you might say that’s shallow. And maybe it was! But you have to understand the sewer that is Nashville-based radio pablum to really understand this. There’s often very good reason to dismiss what is at the top of the charts. But so many people talked up Lambert and still do today that I got curious. Then there were the excellent Pistol Annies albums with her songwriting friends Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. So I’ve gone back and started working through her earlier catalog. This is her 2009 album. There’s solid work on it. Lots of songs are written with the great Nashville songwriter Natalie Hemby, who is coming up in these posts every week or two these days. It’s a good album. But it’s not a great one. It’s too long at 15 tracks. It’s so intended to attract a rock audience that it never lets up on the rock production. It’s very much a mainstream Nashville radio album. It’s just among the better ones of the genre.
Blitzen Trapper, Holy Smokes Future Jokes
A pleasant but not overly substantial band makes a pleasant but not overly substantial album.
The Bug, Fire
Well, this is something. Another outstanding album out of the British hip-hop and club scenes (seems like every week or two I’m hearing something that just blows my mind from across the pond), Bug really delivers here. I’m not real familiar with him, but he’s been around for nearly 20 years as a leading producer and artist. This has big sounds, angry lyrics, music for politicized pandemic world of genocide and violence. Bug is rightfully angry and he throws everything he has into the booming music he creates here. With different guest artists on nearly every track, each has a unique sound that blends together in one of the most powerful albums of 2021.
Torres is one of my favorite artists of the last decade and since I got in on her early, it’s been interesting watching her grow as a songwriter and a producer. Now in a happy relationship with the artist Jenna Gribbon, she just lets go and creates kick-ass rock songs. Her early albums were the kind of self-doubt and longing that one often sees in young songwriters. She followed that with the sonic and sexual explorations of Three Futures, which was an intentionally difficult album and one that almost led her to quit after her label dropped her for not selling enough copies. She came back with Silver Tongue in 2019, a solid work and now has this. Going with big production is a good way to think about an album for coming out of the pandemic and back on the road. She’s still an intense singer with an intense sound, but now it’s been direct outward in joy rather than inward. Not a truly great album perhaps, but certainly a very worthy rock and roll record.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things music or disease, though I’m sure some commenters will be outraged that I am going to see music right now, despite being vaccinated and masked like everyone else in the show.