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Music Notes


A couple of weeks ago, I got to see Sarah Shook and the Disarmers in Boise. I had wanted to see her for a long time, but I got into her music about the time the pandemic hit and, well, there you go. She’s touring again and doing well. She’s sober now (a good thing given some of the craziness of her past) and her band kicks ass and it’s a fun show. She fully embraces the outlaw country world in some of the ways that Hank Williams III does (though I always felt bad for that guy since he clearly just wants to play metal). What I mean by that is that the original outlaws were ballad guys. Both Willie and Waylon were fundamentally ballad singers. Billy Joe Shaver really wasn’t so much, but his songs are also a bit on the unique side. What Shook has is basically a rock band playing country music. None of this ballad stuff for her. This is about drinking, about fucking up, about all of the rough side of life. That’s fun to see live, though one can argue that country music is at its best when it combines a variety of positions and songs. There is a bit of a sameness here. But it’s a solid show and I am sure I will go see her again when I have the chance again later this fall.

Really great profile of Amanda Shires. I have tickets to a show on her upcoming tour. I’ve seen one solo show before and it was outstanding.

I don’t really like Jonathan Franzen because he is such a misanthrope, including to his own characters. But I do like him using his huge platform to promote Wussy’s greatness.

I didn’t get to go to Newport Folk this year, but it’s good to see Joni Mitchell has worked herself back from near death to be able to perform a set. Would have been fun to see though I’m not the world’s biggest fan.

Ella Fitzgerald’s 1958 Hollywood Bowl concert was thought lost, but the tapes have been rediscovered and released.

One of the biggest problems in contemporary musical culture is the risible belief that music peaked between 1965 and 1976. But this is what people listen to. So let’s say you listen today on Spotify to most of your stuff. But you are sick of listening to Electric Light Orchestra or Foghat for the 50,000th time. How do you find new music? Here’s a guide with suggestions.

Like most rich people, Shakira has avoided paying taxes and now she might go to prison in Spain. Should pay your taxes like the rest of us schlubs.

We lost Michael Henderson, who was the astounding bassist for Miles Davis in the early 70s after a stint in Stevie Wonder’s band and then….went on to be an easy listening crooner.

Playlist for the last two weeks:

  1. Tom T. Hall, 100 Children (3x–a lot for me; Mama Bake a Pie, Daddy Kill a Chicken)
  2. R.E.M., Reckoning
  3. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out
  4. DJ Spooky and the Kronos Quartet, Rebirth of a Nation
  5. Jeremy Ivey, Invisible Pictures
  6. Julia Wolfe/New York Philharmonic, Fire in My Mouth
  7. Sarah Jarosz, World on the Ground
  8. Laura Gibson, Goners
  9. Myra Melford Trio, Alive in the House of the Saints
  10. Old 97s, Satellite Rides
  11. The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure
  12. V/A, Welcome to Zamrock, vol. 1
  13. Buddy Miller, Universal United House of Prayer
  14. Steve Lacy, Apollo XXI
  15. Steve Earle, Ghosts of West Virginia
  16. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
  17. Van Morrison, Saint Dominic’s Preview
  18. Angela Easterling, Common Law Wife
  19. Conway Twitty, Next in Line
  20. Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys, Good ‘n’ Country
  21. Rex Allen, Mister Cowboy
  22. T. Texas Tyler, Sings Deck of Cards
  23. Fontaines D.C., Skinty Fia
  24. Dave Dudley, Songs About the Working Man
  25. Goldie Hill, self-titled
  26. Tom T. Hall, Ballad of Forty Dollars
  27. Nickodemus & Quantic, Mi Swing Es Tropical
  28. St. Vincent, Daddy’s Home
  29. Waylon Jennings, Lonesome, On’ry and Mean
  30. Jim & Jesse, Y’All Come
  31. Webb Pierce, self-titled
  32. Curly Putnam, Lonesome Country of Curly Putnam
  33. Peter Rowan, Walls of Time
  34. Drive By Truckers, Welcome 2 Club XIII
  35. Billy Swan, I Can Help
  36. Tom T. Hall, We All Got Together And……
  37. Arthur Conley, More Sweet Soul
  38. Tom Russell, Love & Fear
  39. Tim Berne, Fractured Fairy Tales
  40. Speedy Ortiz, Twerp Verse
  41. No Thank You, Embroidered Foliage
  42. Candi Staton, Stand By Your Man
  43. Minnie Riperton, Perfect Angel
  44. Marika Hackman, Any Human Friend
  45. Drive By Truckers, The Dirty South
  46. Bill Monroe and Doc Watson, Live Recordings, 1963-1980
  47. Angela Easterling, Common Law Wife
  48. Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, Re-Facto
  49. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager
  50. Old 97s, Twelfth
  51. Juliana Hatfield, Blood
  52. Miguel, Wildheart
  53. Anteloper, Kudu
  54. Joseph Kabasele, Le Grand Kalle
  55. Priests, Bodies and Control and Money and Power
  56. Will Johnson, Hatteras Night
  57. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
  58. Bonnie Prince Billy, Arise Therefore
  59. McCoy Tyner, Sahara
  60. Silver Jews, The Natural Bridge
  61. William Parker, The Peach Orchard, disc 1
  62. Abdullah Ibrahim, Peace
  63. Wussy, Funeral Dress II
  64. Old Crow Medicine Show, Tennessee Pusher
  65. Wussy, Duo
  66. R.E.M. Out of Time
  67. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
  68. Screaming Females, Rose Mountain
  69. Miguel, War & Leisure
  70. Willie Nelson, Phases & Stages
  71. Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky
  72. Daddy Issues, Can We Still Hang
  73. Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee
  74. Fairport Convention, Liege and Lief
  75. James McMurtry, Where’d You Hide the Body
  76. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Fair & Square
  77. Siouxsie & The Banshees, Kaleidoscope
  78. Ike & Tina Turner, Her Man…His Woman
  79. Bill Callahan, Rough Travel for a Rare Thing
  80. Robert Earl Keen, What I Really Mean
  81. Boygenius, self-titled
  82. The Internet, Hive Mind
  83. Bonnie Prince Billy & Matt Sweeney, Superwolf

Album Reviews:

Tim Berne/Gregg Belisle-Chi, Mars

Interesting although in the end perhaps limited interaction between the legendary saxophonist Berne and the guitarist Belisle-Chi, who I did not know before this. I like it–the compositions and interplay are fascinating. I would say the music is a bit brittle and arch for my ideal of jazz. But that’s just a personal aesthetic and it’s not like people listen to Berne for an easy listen. Belisle-Chi is fairly new to the scene and definitely worth paying attention to.

The video is a conversation about the project since nothing from the album is on YouTube.


Magda Mayas’ Filamental, Confluence

A pretty powerful avant garde composition, with a score consisting of nothing but twelve pictures of the Rhône River merges with the Arve River, as well as a bunch of really amazing musicians. Mayas is a German composer and pianist who works the inside of the piano as much as the keys themselves. This sort of prepared piano material is not for all listeners. The person she most reminds me of in my world of music is the Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii, who does not exactly make easy-listening music. This is no Seals & Crofts album either. Instead, it’s a fascinating exploration of the edges of sound by primarily string players who are operating a low volume, creating nothing less than what I consider interpretations of the river itself and the world in which it inhabits, filtered through the intensive modernism of avant-garde music (versus the postmodern bullshit of the New Age). Zeena Parkins is the only musician on here I knew before and she’s one of the harpists. Here is the whole group:

Magda Mayas – piano, composition
Angharad Davies – violin
Anthea Caddy – cello
Aimée Theriot – cello
Rhodri Davies – harp
Zeena Parkins – harp
Michael Thieke – clarinet
Christine Abdelnour – saxophone


C. Tangana, El Madrileño

Tangana is a Spanish rapper (from Spain itself, not just rapping in it) and that’s a scene that has been long criticized for white people stealing from the diaspora. I can’t really evaluate those claims, but I am noting them. However, this feels pretty fresh and interesting to me. He had worked closely with Rosalía, helping create her great music that swept the world a few years ago. This was his attempt to build on that for his own career. This is a kind of global sweep, bringing in musicians from around the world and building on his own many collaborations for an album that combines hip hop, pop, electronica, and a lot of other contemporary pop trends. There’s a lot of chew on here and somewhat unusually, it seems to get stronger as the album goes along.


Smile Machine, Bye for Now

Fun indie EP by the well-known drummer. She recorded most of the instruments and all the vocals herself. A little shoegaze, a lot of punk, plenty of distortion, excellent for 15 minutes. Check it out.


The Pineapple Thief, Nothing But the Truth

Prog wankery created to service fans during the pandemic. Well, I respect the latter point, but this is still prog wankery, with overwrought lyrics, way overwrought guitars, and a lot of complicated time changes. I generally fail to see why people like this sort of thing. At least in the early 70s, it was a period of general experimentation in music. Today, bands like this are just genre music with complicated time changes. They all pretty much follow the same path. Say this for using flute or mellotron or whatever in the 70s, it might not have worked but they were trying something new. This is just hard rock for aging male computer technicians with longish curly hair and goatees, even though they are 52 years old. I don’t see how prog became a genre music. If anything should be avoiding the boredom of genre, it’s prog. If you are going to go genre, then the qualities of music come through in more subtle ways or through the lyrics. But there’s nothing subtle or lyrically interesting here. It’s just pretty bad, for people who think Dream Theater is the greatest band and want to see that repeated on loop.


The Regrettes, Further Joy

This is a good time to note just how bad Pitchfork can be at its worst. The Regrettes are an LA band and its lead singer is the daughter of some LA music insider. One could see that when I saw her, as this was a smooth performer who knew all the tricks even though she was like 20 at the time. But you know what, who cares? The Pitchfork review of this album was all about “authenticity,” as if that makes any sense anywhere, not to mention pop music! It was a huge bullshit review. And then…it got pulled. It doesn’t exist anymore. I assume there were complaints about it and the editors decided that yeah, this was garbage.

I don’t think this is a great album. I think it’s a good indie pop album. Lyrically, it’s not really breaking super new ground. It’s anxiety, it’s the need to self-love when we self-loathe. It’s getting through the bullshit of life. It’s also about dancing and having fun. I like this band, however “inauthentic” some Pitchfork reviewer might think them to be. They also move closer to pop here, a bit away from the punk of their past. It’s not as if that is some unprecedented move for a bunch of 21 year olds with stardom in their eyes. Anyway, it’s a worthy album.


Jesse Jo Stark, A Pretty Place to Fall Apart

The first three songs of this EP are kinda bland indie rock and then “Fire of Love” comes in to close it and just blows the rest of this off the table. That’s an outstanding crunchy rock and roll song. More of that please.


Jon Irabagon, Bird with Streams

I am generally skeptical of both pandemic albums and solo jazz albums. This is both. During the pandemic, the very fine saxophonist left New York and decamped to the noted jazz haven of rural South Dakota, where his in-laws have a place. So he hung out there, going outside, and playing his saxophone. He found some little space that wasn’t that isolated–you could hear the road from it–brought his recording equipment out, and made an album that combines his solo sax and the nature/road noises nearby. I wasn’t really that excited about listening to this, but respect Irabagon enough to give it a shot. And it works pretty well! Even as a solo sax player, Irabagon is warm enough to make this work and the outside noises provide almost a backing band. It’s cool enough to check out at least.

There’s nothing from this album on YouTube, but here’s another of his pieces.


Jillette Johnson, It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You

Pretty blasé singer-songwriter relationship-based Americana. It’s alright, but doesn’t stick to the ribs. “Jealous” is the main exception; easily the best track here, it rocks pretty hard and has real energy to it. “Graveyard Boyfriend” is at least an excellent song name and someone should steal that name for their band. It’s also a reasonably good pop song.


Kali Uchis, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)

A generally excellent and smart pop/R&B Spanish language album from 2020. She may be from Virginia, but she proudly exudes her heritage. When pop music is intelligent and the producers don’t get in the way too much, especially by requriing 18 songs on the album or something, it can be absolutely divine. I’m not sure this is quite at the divine level. This is at the highly enjoyable level that mashes together a million Latin and English musical forms. There’s no question this is a collaborative project; most of the songs have about 6 writers. That can be too many cooks in the kitchen and maybe Uchis can’t quite carry an album with her own writing, but who really cares. She certainly carries it with her vocals. Most of the guest artists work too, adding significantly on at least some of the tracks. Solid.


Liew Niyomkarn, I Think of Another Time When You Heard It

Another indescribable album from Chinabot, the label that puts out experimental Asian music. This is basically an atmospheric electronic music album that combines field recordings, women speaking in English and Thai, found object samples, and other sounds. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, well, I get that. But it’s really worth a listen. This is just a different kind of music. There’s nothing per se Thai about it in the sense that it connects to traditional Thai music or the always raucous Thai rock/pop scenes. But it’s the mind of a Thai composer bringing her own vision to her music that exists in both a Thai and an international context. Just listen to it.


St. Paul and the Broken Bones, The Alien Coast

When I saw this band in the spring at an Alabama music festival, I was a little skeptical going in and really skeptical going out. Basically, this is a white facsimile of Black music. He was trying so hard and then Brittany Howard and Mavis Staples just were like, dude, let me show you the real thing. He just didn’t have that level of entertainment in him (I will also say that doing Black music and having 8 of your 9 band members be white is not a great look). But I figured, look, the fans definitely loved this dude (naturally they loved the white guy making Black music safe for them more than the Black artists on the bill), so I should at least hear the latest album. So I did.

It remains a weak Al Green/James Brown impersonation. The band can rock, I grant him that. I was surprised how loud the band is on the album. And look, it’s far from terrible music. It’s passable soul-rock. I still don’t know why you’d go to someone who combines soul affects with some kind of cliched arrangements rather than listen to the real thing though.


Amigo the Devil, Born Against

So this is some kind of weird Tom Waits-They Might Be Giants-Mountain Goats kind of mashup guy and I like it. It’s this guy singing very earnestly but angrily about the world, but from an oddly unique perspective like Waits. It’s not really political so much as it is observational. This is about personal vulnerability. It’s about love lost and gained. It’s about people who die in bars and people who commit suicide. It’s about growing up and not growing up. It’s really just an incredibly fascinating album, closed by “Letter from Death Row,” which is more of a love song than some return to the writing of Merle Haggard. I’ve truly never heard anything quite like this. Remarkable work.

Also, “Lately, the matches seem to be the only book I’m reaching for” is just a goddamn great lyric.


Ruth Goller, Skylla

Experimental bass and vocal music. Goller is a well-known bassist and that’s the only instrumentation on this album. She uses an electric primarily and it sounds like the bells of doom at times. The vocals are more atmospheric, sometimes hers and sometimes some guests. It isn’t exactly jazz and it isn’t exactly classical and it isn’t exactly punk but it’s all of those things. Not a light listen by any means, but certainly a worthy one.


Onetwothree, Onetwothree

Three Swiss women post-punk veterans forming a side band. The thing about this album is that in part because of the accent, this just naturally has a little bit of a Kraftwerk sound too. So it’s a bit more unusual than a lot of this music, but mostly it follows a pretty typical post-punk template, with a bass-heavy recording over some rhythmic vocals, some jagged guitar notes, and some electronics mixed in with the drums. It’s pretty good, just won’t change your life.


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

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