I haven’t written a Music Notes column in a long time, largely because I’ve been traveling so much, often for shows. So let me highlight a couple and then I will hold the show I saw last night for the next edition, since I don’t have another show scheduled until February.
Since Drive By Truckers is the Official Band of LGM, it only seemed appropriate that I finally see a show with a fellow LGMer. Dr. Lemieux and I met in Brooklyn last weekend to see DBT at the Brooklyn Bowl, which is a great little place to see a show. I had gone the Friday night by myself and was fortunate to see them toss in some pretty rare songs–“Wednesday,” “When The Pin Hits the Shell,” “The Night G.G. Allin Came to Town,” “One of These Days.” That’s why it’s always great to see them when they play a series of nights somewhere. They know people will go to all the shows and they don’t use much of a setlist anyway, so they throw in obscurities. The Saturday show had fewer obscurities but also more of the newer stuff, which they aren’t playing much. I guess that’s because they aren’t feeling playing a lot of the political songs these days. Can’t blame them for wanting a break from “What It Means” and the like. I was happy to see songs such as “Grievance Merchants” and “The New OK” and “Heroin Again.” As always, they absolutely rocked. Just massive levels of fucking rock and roll. It was loud and beautiful and brilliant. It was also my 20th and 21st DBT shows.
I actually do go to see bands that are not Drive-By Truckers. The day before the DBT shows, I went to Fall River, Massachusetts to see Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express. You may not know Prophet-he was a minor player in the 80s west coast punk scene and has matured into a really sophisticated songwriter with a great band. Think literary rock and roll, which given how much I love DBT and our own Paranoid Style, suggests a theme. He started with “Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins,” which is a great song. Then he sang his also excellent “Nixonland,” inspired by growing up in Orange County and being taken on a field trip as a kid to the site of Nixon’s first law office (!!). Another just great song. He’s also worked a good bit with Alejandro Escovedo and if you’re a fan of Escovedo, you’ll be a fan of Prophet. Check him out when he swings through time.
A few deaths in the music world. Graeme Edge died the other day. He was probably the worst member of the terrible band The Moody Blues. Yeah, Edge was the guy with the horrific poetry on every song. Ugh. Those are bad albums.
A couple of the very oldest living country musicians also passed from the earth. I had no idea that Don Maddox, from The Maddox Brothers and Rose, one of the true great California country bands, was still alive. But now he’s not. To be fair, he was 98. Rose Lee Maphis died as well, another huge loss.
On Black Jazz Records, the Oakland-based Black nationalist jazz label.
There was this weird conversation in the Travis Scott show disaster post expressing surprise about concerts being dangerous. I don’t understand this. Was no one ever in a mosh pit? I hate to tell LGM readers this, but new music and bands have come out since the fans died at The Who show in Cincinnati and they also sometimes engage in a questionable behavior.
The hell of Christmas music is upon us. I hope none of you fall for this crap. I do love this hate op-ed on Christmas music: “Christmas music tends to spread like an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico.” LOL.
Album Reviews–there’s a lot because I haven’t done one of these in so long:
Ezra Furman, Transangelic Exodus
This is a fascinating if inconsistent 2018 album. Furman is a gay Jewish guy and this album is about a gay Jewish guy and his supernatural vampire lover on the run from the law in a dystopian world. Interesting concept. He’s also a somewhat unique singer. Him nearly screaming “Suck the blood from my wound!” in the opening song is certainly arresting enough. There are highlights like this through the album, as his disgust with traditional heteronormative masculinity and the entire crap that is being an American these days is plenty apparent. No, the conceit doesn’t quite work through the entire album. But it works well enough for a worthy listen. Maybe a few worthy listens.
Cassandra Jenkins, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
Fascinating and promising indie folk album here. Really quite beautiful at times. These are stories about particular people in New York that ends up sounding like a series of short stories than a somewhat thrown away concept album, which such things can end up resembling. She’s a good songwriter and nice singer. Some interesting instrumentals here too. Overall, this is something that deserves some repeated listening.
Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, Re-Facto
Lorelle Meets the Obsolete is probably my favorite Mexican band. De Facto, from 2019, is one of the best albums of the last few years, a combination of Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo with Spanish lyrics, if that makes any sense. Re-Facto is a remix album. This sort of project usually leaves me pretty cold. But giving such great songs to various artists to remix and take down weird paths still works in this scenario, in part because the music itself is so drone-rock oriented to begin with rather than club oriented. Couple of new songs only make this stronger. Not saying I would frequently listen to this over the original, but it’s a worthy project on its own.
Nite Jewel, No Sun
I generally like divorce albums as a theme. I think this is because they are the ultimate in music for adults–all the saccharine bullshit of teeny bopper songs is stripped away and, well, welcome to life folks! Nite Jewel is Ramona Gonazlez, a LA-based songwriter and producer and this is her divorce album after 12 years of marriage. She is a pretty strong songwriter. But I don’t much care for her production, which relies on older forms of electronic music that I don’t see enhancing this music in very useful ways. I don’t want to fetishize the guitar–far from it–but sometimes it is useful to put the synths away.
Josephine Foster, No Harm Done
This is the kind of old-timey throwback album that both shows the potential of tapping the older styles of American music and some of the limitations of how it often works in reality. Foster’s 8 songs here are deep within the well of American folk traditions, particularly those from Appalachia. She’s most definitely not from there–she’s a white girl from Colorado–and while that doesn’t necessarily matter, sometimes it feels like a put-on that is replacing her ability to speak with her own voice. As for her actual voice, it takes a bit of getting used to. It’s certainly a powerful instrument, but sometimes operates in a tone that feels intentionally obscuring. I’m probably sounding more negative here than is really intended. It’s a fine enough piece of work.
Tangents, Timeslips & Chimeras
Somewhat interesting but also repetitive improvisational electronic music. The real benefit of this is slightly more ear-catching background music than some. But it’s background music, at least for me.
Los Lobos, Native Sons
It would be impossible for Los Lobos to make a bad album. They are too good of a band for that. But a covers album is almost always inessential and so is this one. The idea of covering your home town artists is hardly a new idea and they have some nice arrangements of good songs. They mix up your standards (“For What It’s Worth”) with obscure songs they love and of course some covers of the great Spanish language artists of the mid-20th century such as Lalo Guerrero. But it’s really a fans-only album. And that’s OK.
Merry Clayton, Beautiful Scars
A solid enough gospel album. I often find a lot of contemporary gospel doesn’t have very interesting music behind it, which seems odd given the genre, but a lot of this is backed with some pretty tepid arrangements. This puts the entire operation on Clayton’s voice. She can certainly handle that, but it makes this an acceptable album rather than a really good one.
Bobbie Gentry, The Delta Sweete
I had never actually heard this 1968 seminal country album from one of the biggest stars of her era and who simply disappeared by the late 70s. In fact, she remains in isolation from the world today, though people believe she is still alive. So I decided to change that. I don’t think it completely holds up today, but I can see why people thought it was a revelation at a time. Her big smoky and husky voice can carry the ball a long ways. Now, the album didn’t sell that well at the time. It wasn’t “Ode to Billy Joe,” her huge hit from the previous year. It is an actual concept album. There are traditional folk songs on it. But it later became seen as a classic and I get it. A lot of it relies on atmosphere and if there’s one demerit to the album, it’s that that reliance becomes too pronounced as the album goes on. But still, glad I finally heard this.
Twenty One Pilots, Scaled and Icy
I dunno, this kinda sucks. This is a pretty limp set of quasi-electronic tracks with some poorly designed hip hop, mediocre lyrics. It’s just not interesting music, regardless of the praise this band gets in many circles and reviews.
Carly Rae Jepsen, Dedicated
Jepsen is a big deal in the pop world, but I don’t really get it. This album is pretty vanilla synthpop in my view. The lyrics are whatever love songs, the music is pretty banal, and of course I really hate the Auto-tune stuff. It’s also too damn long. A 15 song pop album really does need to be good to hold attention. Even within the broader indifference I feel toward this album, 15 songs is just too damn many. Meh.
Jamie Saft/Steve Swallow/Bobby Previte, You Don’t Know the Life
Fun organ-based jazz trio from three modern legends, released in 2019. Saft is an amazing organist, Previte a great drummer, and Swallow a very fine bassist. But it’s not that much more than fun. For all the brilliance of the musicians, much of this is surprisingly straight-forward, well done covers of standards such as “Alfie” rather than pushing the music forward. That’s fine. Again, it’s a good listen. It’s just not a great album.
Kim Gordon, No Home Record
Kim Gordon’s autobiography may be a terrible book (it literally ends with her deciding not to fuck a guy in the backseat of a car), but she is still plenty capable of making good music. The pieces of Sonic Youth always worked better together than alone, but Thurston has released some strong albums and so did Kim in this debut 2019 solo album. Part of what makes this work is that she moves away from the guitar and toward modern electronic sounds, which work really well with her voice. Of course the guitars are still there too, but this is a very different and very contemporary sound for the olde school punk goddess. Cool stuff.
Smokescreens, A Strange Dream
An OK dream pop EP with a surprising political song on it with “Streets of Despair.” Lot of hooks, lot of midtempo ballads, mostly fine.
Jyoti, Mama You Can Bet!
One of Georgia Anne Muldrow’s myriad projects, this has a lot of potential but really lacks focus musically. The theme, the police slaughter of Black people, of course hits home. The Alice Coltrane influence rings loud and clear in this jazzy album, for that matter so does all of her other myriad influences. But it also springs from genre to genre repeatedly to the point of distraction. I seem to be in the minority of this well-reviewed album so maybe I should revisit it. But this is where I am at right now, I think partly because of the strange vocal effect choices that several reviewers did note but perhaps bothered me more than others.
This is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics or disease.