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I watched Summer of Soul recently. I don’t per se know if it is such an amazing piece of work that it was the obvious Academy Award winner; some of that was certainly it ticking certain boxes and the performances are what carries it. But the commentary was useful too. I did think at times that we could have seen more of the performances, but that’s a fairly minor critique. The best commentaries tended I thought to come from the musicians themselves. Mavis Staples talking about Mahalia Jackson passing her the gospel torch was very powerful. The 5th Dimension needing this festival to prove to Black people that they were in fact Black music was also quite interesting to hear about; my problem with that band is it being bad, but hearing this stuff was still useful. It was also great to hear everyone from Stevie Wonder to the great Sonny Sharrock in action. Hope there’s a later release that has more of the performances.

I also finished Joe Nick Patoski’s Willie Nelson: An Epic Life biography this week. I don’t know that it blew my mind in terms of completely changing my opinions about Willie, but it did reinforce a lot of useful things about him. Among those are just how hard it was for Willie to establish himself and the enormous risk he took in going back to Texas. Despite Old Man Willie seeming like such a nice guy today, he could be a real bastard in those early days. Part of the reason he became the stoner’s stoner is that he was a very nasty and violent drunk and he needed to stop that. So good for him. It also confirmed what I had long believed–once Willie got famous he just didn’t feel like writing songs anymore. Almost all his great songs are before 1975 and while there are a few after that, there’s not very many. His work in the late 70s and early 80s mostly holds up well, but it’s almost all cover and tribute albums, from Stardust to Willie Plays Kristofferson to the duet album he did to raise Ray Price’s profile with his new to country listeners. But he wasn’t writing much. Also, he was so, so, so, so bad with money. This was not a man programmed to get his taxes paid and we all knew how that blew up in his face in the 80s. Probably the one thing I did learn that interested me was the central role University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal played in the Texas country scene of the 60s and 70s. He was basically the biggest supporter of Willie and many other musicians through these years. Today, a coach listening to music would be seen as a distraction from watching yet more tape or texting recruits, but at this time I guess, Royal could just hang with Willie and even sit in on endless recording sessions. Anyway, it’s worth a read.

What does a week of album listening look like? Here’s the albums I listened to in the last 7 days of listening to full albums instead of shuffle. Also, it doesn’t count what I heard in the car.

  • Ennio Morricone, The Legendary Italian Westerns
  • Screaming Females, Ugly
  • Buddy Tabor, Edge of Despair
  • The Coathangers, Suck My Shirt
  • V/A, Bloodshot Sampler (there’s a lot of these but I’m not sure what number it is)
  • T.J. Kirk, self-titled
  • Peter Gabriel, Us
  • King Crimson, Vroooom
  • The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions
  • Drive By Truckers, The Big To-Do
  • Robbie Fulks, Georgia Hard
  • Big Thief, UFOF
  • Tommy Jarrell, The Legacy of Tommy Jarrell, Volume 1
  • Johnny Paycheck, The Lovin’ Machine
  • X, Los Angeles
  • Prince, Sign o’ The Times
  • Priests, Nothing Feels Natural
  • Jon Dee Graham, Full
  • Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks, Vol. 2
  • Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake, From the River to the Ocean
  • Ian Tyson, Cowboyography
  • Jimmie Dale Gilmore, After Awhile
  • Merle Haggard, I’m a Lonesome Fugitive
  • Chicago/London Underground, A Night Walking Through Mirrors
  • Margo Price, All American Made
  • Fiddlin Arthur Smith & Earl Scruggs, 1957 Home Recordings
  • The Allman Brothers, Live at Ludlow Garage, Disc 1
  • Shovels & Rope, Little Seeds
  • Rusty & Doug Kershaw, Louisiana Man
  • George Jones & Tammy Wynette, Golden Ring
  • Lydia Loveless, Real
  • Juliana Hatfield, Pussycat
  • Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise
  • V/A, African Music Today
  • Cindy, Free Advice
  • The Tallest Man on Earth, There’s No Leaving Now
  • Kasey Chambers, The Captain
  • Hank Thompson, The Capitol Collection
  • Leyla McCalla, The Capitalist Blues
  • V/A, Canto Libre
  • Dizzy Gillespie, The Dizzy Gillespie Story, Disc 1
  • Drive By Truckers, Heathens Homecoming 2020, Friday Show
  • Johnny Paycheck, Slide Off Your Satin Sheets
  • The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow
  • Sonny Rollins, A Night at the Village Vanguard, Disc 1
  • Larry Young, Lawrence of Newark
  • Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, Double Barrel Country (a kind of lame compilation but it’s there and is good for 20 minutes of country music when I need it)
  • Laura Veirs, Year of Meteors
  • Richard Thompson, Amnesia
  • Tom T. Hall, Ballad of Forty Dollars
  • Butch Hancock, You Coulda Walked Around the World
  • Terry Allen, Bottom of the World
  • The Allman Brothers, self-titled
  • Kitty Wells, Love Makes the World Go Round
  • Patti Smith, Horses
  • Led Zeppelin, LZ II
  • Pink Floyd, The Wall, Disc 1 (still don’t like it!)
  • Billy Joe Shaver, Old Five and Dimers Like Me
  • Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out
  • The Juliana Hatfield Trio, Whatever, My Love
  • Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt, Brace Up!
  • King Crimson, Discipline
  • Camera Obscura, Let’s Get Out of This Country
  • Fleetwood Mac, Then Play On
  • Neil Young, Hitchhiker

Pretty good sense there of what I listen to.

Nice profile of Kevin Morby ahead of his new album.

Phil Freeman, who frequently comments here under a different name, wrote this great piece about interviewing Tom Waits back in 2002.

The “Americana” scene in Australia and New Zealand.

Susan Jacks of The Poppy Family died at the age of 73. The rapper Lil Keed is also dead at 24.Not sure why, but you know it ain’t good.

On the Carter administration’s White House record library.

No one ever said Dolly Parton had good taste in food.

Album Reviews:

Helado Negro, Far In

I wanted to like this, but it felt a lot like some of Frank Ocean’s recent releases, where someone needs to grab this guy by the collar and tell him to make something that is other than floating through the universe in a weed-smoke haze. Even Pitchfork calls it “an afternoon barbeque in the back yard.” This is evidently seen as a good thing in a very positive review, but I just found this very frustrating, with a clear talent wasting it by putzing around. If I want backyard easy listening, I can get it lots of other places.

B-

Dawes, Passwords  

Another tepid release by the Goldsmith brothers and friends. Some of this is kind of catchy, but there’s just nothing here that breaks through the cheesy soft folk-rock sound. To paraphrase above, if I want to listen to chill out folk-rock that doesn’t challenge me at all, I can listen to better bands than this one. This album is just flat out pretty bad.

C

Brandy Clark, Your Life is a Record

I needed some goddamn country music by someone who can really write a song after the first two things I heard for this week. So I went with the reliable Brandy Clark and this 2020 release. Overall, this is a good though not great set of songs. While Clark is a fine singer, one can see why her songs have tended to have more success when performed by others, as there’s something of a sameness here over an entire album. But that’s a relatively minor criticism, even if it doesn’t sound so. I always love to hear country songwriters put together sets of a very good songs. Highlights here include “Bigger Boat,” a duet with Randy Newman which is about America no longer being able to survive together and “Who Broke Whose Heart” with the chorus line of “All I know is I love you so fuck the rest.”

B+

The Lumineers, Brightside

Not terrible but definitely unsubstantial. Given that this band is often compared to Mumford and Sons, who suck, I had very low expectations. This was better than low expectations. It’s just boring, not terrible. Americana for people who like boring music is I guess how I’d describe this.

B-

Rays, You Can Get There From Here  

Pretty fun little rock and roll album here from this Oakland band in 2018. This was on my list ever since and I wish I had heard it earlier. Good vocals, a bit of noise but within a pretty traditional rock concept, songs traded off between a male and female lead. I’m not saying this blew my mind. I am saying that it rubs me the right way. I’ll probably listen to this more going forward to a lot of A- albums I’ve heard. Worth your time unless you don’t like rock and roll and then I don’t even know what to say to you.

B+

Allison Russell, Outside Child

Allison Russell is a real visionary of melding Black music with Americana in a way that has gone far to dewhiten the latter genre. Her work in Our Native Daughters made her pretty well known, but she’s had a substantial career outside of that, mostly with her Birds of Chicago band. Her solo debut relives the incredibly horrible trauma of being sexually abused for a decade as a child to make music. I can see why an artist would never want to channel that into anything, but if it helps Russell, well it also helps the rest of it because this is a very fine album. Like most of us, I didn’t hear this on CD, but I guess the liner notes make it very clear what is going on here and only drives home the pain that she is working through here. You wouldn’t think you’d want to listen to an album like this, but it’s actually quite inspirational and uplifting. “Montreal” is a love song to the city that she escaped home to at 15 and found a better life sleeping in cemeteries and being homeless than she had as a victim. She is French-Canadian so some of this is in French, though most of it is in English. Anyway, just check this out.

A-

Willow, Lately I Feel Everything

Although I am hesitant to give the Will Smith-Jada Pinkett world more oxygen and I am a bit depressed by the number of musicians these days who are just the children of rich people, I had to give the Willow album a listen. It’s not bad pop-punk, on the face of it. Some of it is pretty silly and even childish. But she can play. She has enough attitude to pull it off, though I feel in a different era she would have just been a straight pop singer. It’s alright but not overly memorable.

B-

Dave Holland, Another Land

What a fantastic set of new tracks from the legendary bassist Dave Holland and his band for this outing from last year, including Kevin Eubanks on guitar and Obed Calvaire on drums. The interplay between these three guys just astounds. It’s not the most experimental music ever made. But within the general world of contemporary jazz, it’s one of the best sets I’ve heard in the last year or two. Eubanks especially really shines through this album, though that’s probably just me really enjoying his guitar work because I like guitar. When solos are needed by any of the musicians, they shine, and yet no one here is dominating the proceedings or taking anything away from the others. It’s really a first-rate set.

A

Emi Makabe, Anniversary

This is an extremely limited recommendation as only 3 of 11 songs are available. What I can say is that this Japanese vocalist is a highly interesting musician. Some of the songs are in English, some Japanese, some are just her making noises. The latter usually drives me to distraction, but at least in the example here did not. She also plays the shamisen. The band is certainly solid. Bill Frisell stalwarts Thomas Morgan on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums have played together for so long that they know each other incredibly well and it shows. Vitor Gonçalves is on piano and accordion and I don’t know his work so well, but he’s good here. It’s an interesting album, at least what I could hear.

Tentative B+

Ty Segall, Harmonizer

I like Segall’s guitar rock fine, but I think that there’s a very strong sameness to his work that can get frustrating. But this is an above average album for him and actually does stand out a bit. Propulsive is the way to describe this. It’s still a Segall album–garage rock’s garage rock. So your opinion about it will probably follow how you feel about that.

B+

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

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