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Music Notes


The big music news for me this week was seeing Sarah Jarosz play at the Narrows Center in Fall River, Massachusetts. It’s a great venue, albeit with higher prices than nearly anywhere else you will go, always making it a bit of a tougher decision whether to attend a show there. This was a last second decision for that reason, not to mention that I had to teach the next morning. But I am glad I went. This was the first time I’ve seen her. She puts on a great show. She mostly was touring off her new Blue Heron Suite album, which is a real beautiful piece of music, at least live. I haven’t heard the album yet. I am most familiar with her World on the Ground album from last year and I wish she had played more of those songs, but that’s fine. What makes Jarosz so great to see is her triple threat–she is a very good singer, a quite fine songwriter, and also an excellent musician, playing guitar, banjo, and octave mandolin, which looks a lot like a guitar (I believe that’s what she’s playing in the above image) but with a different sound. She also has a great band, with a really great bassist (and how often does one say this about folk music) and a guitarist who can really shred. Check her out if you can.

The big news in the world of music that isn’t the shows I watch is the death of Michael Nesmith. There’s been a lot of outpouring of love for him in the last two days and it’s all deserved. I am surprised more of it hasn’t focused on his amazing 1972 album And the Hits Just Keep On Comin’ which I think is a masterpiece of 1970s singer-songwriter music. I also realize I need to hear more of his work.

We also lost the jazz pianist Barry Harris and the reggae bassist Robbie Shakespeare this week.

It used to be that you could probably get studio time pretty easily. But these days, even very talented artists have to crowdfund to make an album that no one will buy because they steal music on Spotify and even then, you pretty much need to get a recommendation from a site to get word out about your project. Anyway, here’s some of those recommendations.

I have not seen the new Beatles documentary yet, but this is a quite interesting conversation among a series of songwriters about what watching it meant to them.

I had missed this New Yorker profile on Pharoah Sanders when it came out last year. So check it out.

I realized I haven’t put up my recent album acquisition in a long time. So here’s what I’ve picked up since the middle of August, the last time I put these up:

  • Boldy James & Sterling Toles, Manger on McNichols
  • Jorge Ben & GIlberto Gil, Ogum, Xangô
  • Johnny Darrell, Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town
  • Justin Townes Earle, The Saint of Lost Causes
  • Mandolin Orange, Tides of a Teardrop
  • X, Alphabetland
  • Kim Gordon, No Home Record
  • Zo! Fourfront
  • Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee
  • Ches Smith & We All Break, Path of Seven Colors
  • Indigo de Souza, Any Shape You Take
  • Steve Earle, Ghosts of West Virginia
  • Prince, Sign ‘o’ the Times
  • Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad, The Midnight Hour
  • Dream Academy, Dream Academy
  • Jane Weaver, Flock
  • Peter Oren, The Greener Pasture
  • Candi Staton, Stand by Your Man
  • Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, Sidelong
  • Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt, Made out of Sound
  • Sault, Untitled (Black Is)
  • The Bug, Fire
  • Sad13, Slugger
  • The Paranoid Style, Rock and Roll Just Can’t Recall
  • Torres, Thirstier
  • Abjects, Never Give Up
  • Gloria Gaynor, Love Tracks
  • Kenny Wollesen, Jonathon Haffner & Dalius Naujo, Rasa Rasa
  • Jeremy Ivey, Waiting Out the Storm
  • James McMurtry, The Horses and the Hounds
  • Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Paycheck at Carnegie Hall

Welp, that ought to keep me going for awhile.

Album Reviews:

Ashley Monroe, Rosegold

Monroe is one of the finest country ballad singers today, better known for her Pistol Annies work than her very solid solo records. But for her latest album, she left country behind and decided to make a pop album. The problem is that it’s not very good. Heavy on the hip hop beats, her voice and lyrics just don’t work that well here. It’s cool that she is trying new things. But experiments can go awry and this just feels like an unfocused pop album. If I want to listen to a pop album, I’m probably more likely to listen to someone who really knows how to make one. That there’s not really much in the one of distinguished songs here doesn’t help. Often a very good songwriter, this feels like watered down versions of her earlier songs. Just a bad fit.


Kamasi Washington, Heaven & Earth

I have been a lot more hesitant on Washington’s work than many, largely because he has tapped into a market that is coming to jazz from other genres (great!) rather than people who have listened to jazz forever. That makes him a critically important individual in the history of jazz, one of very few people and the first in a long time (since Medeski, Martin, and Wood probably) to have brought rock and hip hop fans into jazz. That said, while he’s a great player, his albums are very long and really do sound like lost Pharaoh Sanders sessions. Now I like those sessions. But they aren’t that original or groundbreaking. It would probably help if he edited some of this down. That said, I thought his 2018 release Heaven & Earth was quite solid, if not amazing. That he starts with a cover of the theme from Fists of Fury certainly is endearing and it works pretty well, including the vocals. I do think he wears his influences too much on his sleeve to be a real legend of jazz, but if this sells, then by all means, great.


Denmark Vessey, Sun Go Nova

I’ve been a big fan of this Detroit hip hop artist for awhile now and so thought I’d check out his 2018 album Sun Go Nova. He’s a scattershot guy, but it’s a fun scattershot and this holds together pretty well. The Earl Sweatshirt production on much of it adds to the overall effect. I might say that I’m not really listening to this for all the instrumentals that are on the second half, but they are fine enough on their own.


Jose Gonzalez, Local Valley

Another lovely release by the Spanish-Swede songwriter. Among the great things about Gonzalez’s work is that this is acoustic singer-songwriter music with serious attention paid to rhythm and beat. This isn’t just boring strumming. Here is sings not only in English, but also in Spanish and Swedish. What I love about Gonzalez is how effectively he melds his voice and guitar in what are often fairly short songs. Unlike a pointless strummer, the guitar is central to his music and he wields it well. There’s serious energy here and that is so rare in this kind of music. I need to listen to the lyrics more to really grasp everything that is going on, but I also look forward to doing so since I am definitely going to buy this album.


Nigeria 70, No Wahala: Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987

The Nigeria 70 series has been a revelation over the past two decades. Just a great set of discs compiling the best of Nigerian music from the long 70s. This 2019 release brings the story into the 1980s with some great tracks that demonstrate the influence of western electronic music on the preexisting Nigerian scene. Idowu Odeyemi’s song to begin the album, a 1987 release that is a classic of late high-life with contemporary electronics, is a perfect choice. The songs bounce back and forth over the fourteen years span of the compilation, including Victor Uwaifo, Felixson Ngasia, and Rogana Ottah. Definitely worth your time. Just going to embed the whole album. Check it out.


As always, this is an open thread for all things art and music and none things politics or disease.

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