This week’s musical highlight was seeing Neko Case at the astounding Emerson Colonial Theater in Boston. First, the theater. This is a really famous place. For many years, it was the place that Broadway producers would try out their plays first. There’s a plaque in there marking the place Neil Simon would stand when he was pacing back and forth hoping the audience didn’t hate what he had done. The list of plays that started there is truly astounding—Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, Porgy and Bess, The Diary of Anne Frank, Grand Hotel, etc. As such, it is decked out in the kind of fanciness that would make a Boston Brahim want to attend the play. It’s a beautiful theater.
The show itself was pretty good. This was my 4th time seeing her, not including a New Pornographers show. I went not because I felt it would take me to places I hadn’t gone. She doesn’t change up the setlist much. As you can see, the setlist from this show and when I saw her in this weirdly wonderful outdoor show in a Connecticut field in October 2020 when we all still thought we were going to die isn’t too different. It’s because sometimes what music does is make us warm inside. I just wanted to hear that voice sing some great tunes. And she checked all the boxes. I still think she would have done better to read more midcentury American literature instead of all the Brit lit that clearly has influenced her songwriting but at this point in her career, she can do whatever she wants.
I’d also point out here how few of the alt-country people have actually had long successful careers. Most of that group that came up in the late 90s and early 00s stalled out long ago. The big exceptions are Wilco and Neko. Arguably Drive By Truckers too but they were always really a rock band. Part of her success was not staying in that country lane but in performing exactly what she wanted to without concern for what anyone else thought.
I’ll also say a word for the opening act, Sean Rowe. I was unfamiliar with him, but I’m glad he was on the bill. Neko loves him and asked him to open the whole tour. He is a gravelly voiced singer songwriter type with a powerful sense of how to hold an audience with just an acoustic guitar, which is no easy task. Being in a seated show in a beautiful theater does provide a good assist for that sort of thing, admittedly. But he really held the audience well, playing a mix of originals and well-done covers. I particularly liked his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” myself.
I have a good set of fall shows I’m attending, so this will be fun. Good start, glad I went.
A huge loss this week with the surprise death of Wes Freed. He was not a musician really, he was mostly a painter. And you know him from designing the art for most of the Drive By Truckers albums, t-shirts, and stage gear. Good profile here in Richmond Magazine. The DBT community is just devastated, as are the many other southern artists that loved him. Jason Isbell told the story of how blown away he was when Freed did the art for Decoration Day, which was the first song he ever presented to the band and became the title track for the album. No Depression opened its vaults for a long story from 2019 about him.
25 years since the first Lilith Fair. I was not a big fan of the artists that were around this movement, largely because the extremely earnest folk world ain’t my bag, but the importance of a woman centered music festival in the midst of a very sexist decade in music (well, what decade isn’t super sexist in music) was super important.
Superb Fresh Air interview with Amanda Shires, who is such a smart person and very interesting to listen to. Plus she has a quality west Texas accent.
Contemporary artists discuss Alice Coltrane, whose reputation continues to grow.
Of course the FBI would have a file on Aretha Franklin. Can’t trust someone who wants equality for her own people.
The music that made Beth Orton doesn’t lead to a lot of surprises–Kate Bush, you don’t say…..–but glad to see Alice Coltrane there too!
Always good to see Afghan Whigs get attention.
I don’t know why Ozzy Osbourne was featured at halftime of the Thursday night NFL game to open the season, but the 10 seconds he got to perform live on NBC was even more pointless and outraged his fans, which to be clear, probably include a lot of crossover with the NFL.
The Lou Reed archives are opening up and there’s a release of very early tunes from 1965.
Jason Aldean is a massive douchebag, one of the worst of modern country. I am glad that Maren Morris has taken him and his transphobic wife head on in a rare public country music feud where the good guys win with Aldean’s PR firm dumping his racist, homophobic ass.
Fascinating piece on the mostly forgotten indigenous guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, who played on many of the legendary classic rock albums of the era.
This week’s playlist, very short because of listening to the tunes on shuffle mostly:
- Iris Dement, Sing the Delta
- Brandi Carlisle, By the Way, I Forgive You
- Lindi Ortega, Liberty
- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Theory of Ice
- The Regrettes, How Do You Love?
- David S. Ware, Surrendered
- Iron & Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days
- The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
- Burning Spear, Marcus Garvey
- Youssou N’Dour, Fatteliku: Live in Athens, 1987
- Greg Brown, The Poet Game
- Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
- Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, South Coast
- Smog, Dongs of Sevotion
- Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang, The Wonder Show of the World
- Bill Monroe & Doc Watson, Live Recordings, 1963-1980
- Daddy Issues, Fuck Marry Kill
- Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo, Siría
Jazmine Sullivan, Heaux Tales
Quite an exploration of female sexuality in a complicated world. This album combines stories of romantic life from other artists, from who controls the pussy to women fucking up their lives by cheating with their girl’s best friend, with Sullivan spinning tales singing about these stories. It’s a short and pretty profound album. I don’t know if it’s per se musically amazing so much as it is a sociological and artistic statement about the place of Black women in the world in a way that will be worth hearing for a long time.
Line of the album: “To be honest, money makes me cum.” Most depressing moment–the interview with the woman who knows she is great at sex but thinks that’s the only good thing about herself and the only way she can keep someone.
Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia
Dua Lipa is an Official Pop Star. One can see why. She’s very good at this. Now, the “this” is a fairly limited pop palette that is basically disco nostalgic, not future nostalgic. One could easily see Olivia Newton-John doing this album. That’s the inspiration. Within that vision, this is completely acceptable.
Wayne Horvitz/Sara Schoenbeck, Cell Walk
There’s a real lack of bassoon albums these days and Sara Schoenbeck tries to fix that. She’s a long time collaborator of the great organist/pianist Wayne Horvitz. In the 80s, he was a stalwart in the New York jazz scene, but then he moved to Seattle and took on a more chamber music tone, including his excellent work with Schoenbeck in his Gravitas Quartet, which I was lucky enough to see play in Albuquerque about 15 years ago. Now, they are doing a duet group. It’s a lovely duo, though it is worth noting that it sounds like it comes out of the Gravitas Quartet recordings, so it’s not necessarily breaking new ground for either musician. It’s also a wee bit longer than it really needs to be. But it’s quiet, contemplative, non-boring chamber music and that’s not that common of a combo given how quickly it can become boring.
Amanda Shires, Take It Like A Man
I often feel a bit bad for Amanda Shires. She’s a fantastic musician, singer, and songwriter. She lives in the shadow of her very famous husband and their very public marriage. As per always, he is the one seen as the real genius, even though she’s just as good as he is. But while she exists in his shadow (he recently was able to charge $150 for a show nearby to my home and it sold out, which good for him but….wow), she also would probably be fairly unknown without this marriage. That’s because there are a zillion great singers, musicians, and songwriters in Nashville, all fighting to get any piece of the pie. It’s twice as hard for women in Nashville. So she lives a paradox. It’s got to be hard.
But she kicks ass and I’m glad she has received attention for it. On first listen, I’m not sure that this is my favorite Shires album, but it is a brutally honest one, including about the problems in her own marriage. This is an exceedingly confident songwriter who had no compunction about the honesty being a middle aged woman requires. And she knows that despite what our culture wants to tell us, 40 is indeed the beginning of middle age and she is reckoning with that, in her relationships and in the rest of her life. Musically, she brings in more R&B than usual and she sounds good, though I could use a catchy rocker or two.
Aziza Brahim, Sahari
Lovely singer from Western Sahara who brings in all sorts of influences on this solid album, even a song in Spanish. Most people focus on her story, which like many of her people includes being a refugee from Moroccan imperialism. So she grew up in Spain, which explains the Spanish influences. But outside the story, this is still a real nice work and well worth your time.
Lee Morgan, The Complete Live at the Lighthouse
This is the 8 disc set documenting Morgan’s epic 1970 sessions at The Lighthouse, perhaps most notable for modern pop listeners as including Bennie Maupin in the band. This was a tough time for Morgan. He did not really imbibe either of new directions of jazz in the late 60s–either the electric experiments of Miles nor the free jazz of Coltrane and his followers. So he was slightly out of fashion. But he still sounds great here–at least on the first three discs that I heard. He was attempting a comeback at this time after years of drug addiction. As part of his effort to try new things, almost all the songs are by his bandmates as he saw his own work as old-fashioned. Maybe he would have brokedn out of this and started composing again. As the sets go on, he feels more comfortable moving a bit toward the modal playing of late Coltrane and undoubtedly, Wynton Marsalis shakes his head. Sadly, he was killed in 1972 by his partner in a domestic dispute. So we’ll never know if he could have reclaimed his position as one of the leaders of jazz. But this is real good stuff in any case.
Taylor Swift, Folklore
I’m never going to love Taylor Swift like a lot of people. I don’t necessarily think she’s a generational artist or some kind of pop genius. She’s fine. But I will say this for her and her pandemic album released in the summer of 2020–she is a good songwriter. She has a literary bent and knows how to tell a story. She connects this to entirely acceptable pop and indie rock, and a very very very long time ago now, country. If I had kids, I’d rather they listen to this in the car than a lot of crap they could listen to, including a lot of the garbage I listened to when I was a kid. However, like a lot of pop albums, there is no reason for this to have 17 songs. The bloat among contemporary pop star albums really needs to die.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics.