Music serves many functions in our lives. It’s for dancing, probably more than anything else. It’s a conduit to sex. It’s for ritual. It’s for protest, outrage, anger, love. It’s for personal expression. It’s for joy. It’s also for mourning and finding the beauty within that.
As many of you know, my mother died unexpectedly last week. Her health was declining, but nothing like this was expected at all. It was quite a blow as you can imagine. I’d always heard that there’s nothing quite like your parents dying and having experienced this for the first time, turns out to be true. Anyway, I flew into Portland and then rented a car to drive home. Just as I was getting to town, I was listening to the harpist and composer Mary Lattimore, one of the real greats of the last decade. Then, about 5 minutes from my parents house, what song came on but “We Just Found Out She Died.” That was….kind of gutting. But these are the kind of things that randomly happen during mourning. I thought about just changing the song, but decided to listen to see what would happen. And…..it’s a stunning, beautiful piece of music that combines her harp and electronics with voices. It makes you feel like you are witnessing a soul rising to a better place. I don’t know that it helped me mourn. But it did help me process that and made me realize just what art can do for us. So here’s that song:
I did see one show recently. That was Lily Hiatt at the Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Harmaleighs opened. I enjoyed this quite a bit. Hiatt’s outstanding 2017 album Trinity Lane blew my mind. She’s John Hiatt’s daughter and I suppose that gave her an advantage, but she lived HARD before she got her shit together, got off the smack, and started getting serious music. For whatever terribleness she survived, it certainly has given her an edge in her songwriting and her attitude. She played quite a few songs off that album and quite a few off 2020’s Walking Proof, along with a great cover of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.” Very good. She also has a great rocking stage presence, but a band of dudes that look like rockers. Like if you saw these dudes somewhere, you’d think those guys are probably in a band and also roadies.
I had never heard of The Harmaleighs, but I am going to check them out. Basically, smart lesbian indie pop from two women who were a couple for years but then stayed together as a band after they broke off their relationship and who write kick ass tunes. Check them out if you can.
A very minor point compared to everything else I’ve been going through, but the time I have had to spend at home taking care of my father did lead me to miss John Moreland and The Tallest Man on Earth shows. Bummer.
We lost Mark Lanegan recently, speaking of musicians who lived hard lives. Screaming Trees was one of the more interesting grunge bands. Unfortunately, like of lot of those guys, he enjoyed the heroin just a bit too much. Then he also got nailed with a tough Covid case last year. He was a walking preexisting condition by that time. It doesn’t seem he ever fully recovered from that. Here’s a good essay on his legacy.
Gary Brooker from Procol Harum also died. While I know that the band had a number of successful songs, they are kind of a one-hit wonder in terms of cultural impact, since “Whiter Shade of Pale” remains one of the greatest rock songs of all time and there’s not much else that I at least would consider within a mile of that.
While I love country music more than almost anything in the world, the country music establishment and the fans of mainstream country music continue to disgust me. The rehabilitation of the open racist and total piece of shit Morgan Wallen (he also suffers from sucking at music) is just grotesque. When he got caught openly using the N word on video, it acutally led to an increase in sales! The fans of this shit want more of that! Many country musicians were utterly horrified. The alternative-country group in Nashville revolving around Jason Isbell and Margo Price that openly promotes Black artists such as Amthyst Kiah, Adia Victoria, Yola, and several other excellent artists spoke out strongly against this, but the conclusion in the end is that Nashville will never accept them, the Opry is as revanchist as it was Wanda Jackson dare wore a bare-shouldered dress, Bob Wills used drums, or Porter Wagoner invited James Brown onto the stage. What a nightmare. Luckily, there’s a ton of great country music made today by people who are not also awful human beings.
On the list of places I need to visit, an intrepid fan rediscovered the location of Lee Morgan’s grave.
We all need a guide to the music of Alvin Lucier. So here you go.
I hope Bandcamp being acquired by Silicon Valley bros doesn’t lead to what is so good about it being destroyed.
Another week, another example of Kanye being a complete piece of shit.
Does anyone get tired of British punk (or post-punk or post-post-punk or whatever) railing against the class system? I don’t anyway. Some naysyaers and authenticity fetishists have accused this band of not being the REAL THING and I guess some of their previous songs were pretty defensive. But this album from last fall is just a banger, a forceful run through the hell of the modern world.
Shannon & The Clams, Year of the Spider
If you like your indie rock bands with no shortage of influence from 60s girl R&B groups, this is the band for you. Come to think of it, why don’t we see these influences more often in indie rock? Everything else from the 60s is in there. I like some of these songs more than others.
Deerhunter, Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared
Another fine Deerhunter album, much like all of their albums. This is from 2019, it took me awhile to get to it. Not because I don’t like Deerhunter. Because I figured I already knew what it was and so kept going in other directions. That’s fine, also am glad I finally got to it. Solid garage rock, as one would expect. But garage rock also has a limited upside.
Aaron Lee Tasjan, Tasjan Tasjan Tasjan
Pretty fair power pop, but also you can really feel the influences. This song sounds like Fleetwood Mac, that one like Tom Petty. “Sunday Women” is a pretty fine opener. “Don’t Overthink It” is a good one too. Enjoyable, just not mind changing.
Ashley Ray, Pauline
Extremely solid country album from 2020. Yes, she covers the common ground of country singers these days, which is even more heavy drinking than it used to be, but she has a great country voice, mixes in the ballads with the kick ass bangers, and is just a very solid songwriter. Glad I ran across this.
Empress Of, Me
I’ve become a huge fan of Lorely Rodriguez’s act in recent years. She so expertly combines pop sounds with a strong voice that cuts through the noise to make some of the smartest pop music of the last decade. So it was time to reach back to her earlier work and check out this 2015 album. Unlike a lot of musicians who have a pretty OK first album and then grow into it, she was pretty great from the beginning. Possible this is her best album, which is a high bar, have to think about that more.
Cloud Nothings, The Shadow I Remember
Alright though fairly standard straight-ahead punk from this solid Cleveland band. Band has been around a long time now, though the sound hasn’t changed much. That’s fine, they are what they are. And that ain’t bad.
Alexander Hawkins featuring Evan Parker + Riot Ensemble, Togetherness Music (For Sixteen Musicians)
A truly impressive set of 6 beautiful improvised pieces that fill the gap between modern chamber music and free improv. Parker dominates the session, as he often does with his legendary soprano sax. But Hawkins is the composer here (as well as the pianist) and he gives all 16 people plenty to do in this mystical set of music. I don’t know any of the other musicians on this somehow, but they are Mark Sanders (drums), Matthew Wright (electronics), Rachel Musson (tenor sax), Percy Pursglove (trumpet), Hannah Marshall (cello), Louise McMonagle (cello), Marianne Schofield (bass), Neil Charles (bass), James Arben (flute and bass clarinet), Benedict Taylor (viola), Stephen Upshaw (viola), Mandhira de Saram (violin), and Marie Scheer (violin), as well as the conductor Aaron Holloway-Nahum to make 16. What I take from me not knowing any of these people is that I have so, so, so much to listen to. Better get back to that.
As sometimes happens with these jazz albums, there’s no YouTube clips. So here’s something Hawkins and Parker did before.
As always this is an open thread for all things music and art and absolutely positively nothing to do with politics or Ukraine or disease or anything else we don’t need to be talking about on a Saturday evening.