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Music Notes

CANADA – JUNE 28: “Ramsey Lewis performs during the third annual Ontario Jazz Festival, June 28, 1981, at the Forum in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Ron Bull/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

I was supposed to see Amanda Shires in Providence Friday night, but a band member tested positive for Covid, so the show was cancelled. Life in the late pandemic I guess. Hopefully, she reschedules. But that was also going to be the lede for the this week’s music column. So I don’t have anything totally obvious to go with here. But who really cares. Here’s some news and notes.

Nick Cave lost two sons. It’s terrible. The road has saved him.

I am going to go ahead and say the Red Hot Chili Peppers are not the band of a generation. I was never a fan but I have gained a sort of grudging respect for them over the years. Plus Flea is a good actor. But let’s not overstate them here–they are a good representation of the LA scene in the late 80s and early 90s. Whether that is even a good thing or not, I don’t know. I still don’t own a single album of theirs and I have trouble seeing why I would.

We lost a couple of important people in the music world this week. Paul Kwami was the director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and was only 70, so that’s a big bummer. Art Rosenbaum was more of a painter than a musician, but his subject was often the old-timey music left in America and he also mentored the Athens scene, including REM in its early days. And then there’s Ramsey Lewis, one of the most important jazz musicians of the 60s and then one of the founders of the soul jazz movement in the 70s when he was also playing pop and rock. He wasn’t particularly a huge favorite of mine, but he was most certainly a key figure.

Krautrock is not dead!

On Dylan’s Tempest album, now 10 years old and kinda forgotten about.

Joe’s Garage is a piece of trash and, no, we should not hang out with it again.

For the zero people in history who have asked for a biopic of Sublime, you are in luck.

Greatest albums of all time lists get very tiresome because they end up being exercises in canonical repetition and they lead to the same arguments every time, but if you want a list of the top 100 albums of all time, here’s a new one.

It’s kind of hard to imagine that Cannonball Adderley is underrated, but i think other than real jazz aficionados, that’s absolutely correct. Here’s the case on why that should not be.

New Bill Callahan song. It’s great and makes me really look forward to the album dropping next month.

This week’s playlist, pretty good for a single week:

  1. Rusty and Doug Kershaw, Louisiana Man
  2. Wussy, Funeral Dress II
  3. Porter Wagoner and Skeeter Davis, Sing Duets
  4. Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, You Were There For Me
  5. Christopher Paul Stelling, Itinerant Arias
  6. Jerry Joseph, By The Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars
  7. Bomba Estereo, Deja
  8. Jason Isbell, Something More than Free
  9. Orquesta Akokan, self-titled
  10. Ray Charles, The Genius of Ray Charles
  11. Don Gibson, Oh, Lonesome Me
  12. Doc Watson, Riding the Midnight Train
  13. Margaret Glaspy, Born Yesterday
  14. Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man
  15. Joey Purp, iiiDrops
  16. Traffic, John Barleycorn Must Die
  17. U.S. Girls, Heavy Light
  18. Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
  19. John Moreland, LP5
  20. Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins
  21. Ray Price, Invitation to the Blues: Live 1957-1964
  22. Patterson Hood, Murdering Oscar
  23. Tom T. Hall, New Train Same Rider
  24. Grateful Dead, Binghamton, New York, 5/2/70
  25. The Hacienda Brothers, What’s Wrong with Right
  26. Tom T. Hall, Faster Horses
  27. V/A, Festival in the Desert
  28. Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues
  29. Drive By Truckers, The Big To-Do
  30. Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, Years
  31. Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else
  32. William Parker, Voices Fall From the Sky, disc 3
  33. Tropical Fuck Storm, A Laughing Death in Meatspace
  34. Chris Stapleton, Traveller
  35. Sleater-Kinney, self-titled
  36. Townes Van Zandt, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt
  37. The Paranoid Style, A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life
  38. Husker Du, New Day Rising
  39. Christopher Paul Stelling, Labor Against Waste
  40. Fairport Convention, Liege and Lief
  41. The Beths, Future Me Hates Me
  42. Charlie Hunter Quartet, Natty Dread
  43. Mulatu Astatke, Afro-Latin Soul
  44. Emiliana Torrini, Fisherman’s Woman
  45. The Beatles, Revolver
  46. Richard Thompson, Mirror Blue
  47. Harry Nilsson, Pussy Cats
  48. Allman Brothers Band, self-titled
  49. Daddy Issues, Can We Still Hang?
  50. Emmylou Harris, Elite Hotel
  51. Dwight Yoakam, Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room
  52. Vampire Weekend, self-titled
  53. Merle Haggard, Someday We’ll Look Back
  54. Webb Pierce, Fallen Angel
  55. Fontaines D.C., Skinty Fia
  56. Screaming Females, All at Once
  57. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
  58. Joe Ely, Honky Tonk Masquerade
  59. John Coltrane, Crescent
  60. Parquet Courts, Human Performance
  61. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There?
  62. Sunny Sweeney, Trophy

Album Reviews:

John Moreland, Birds in the Ceiling

Moreland is a generational songwriter and fits very much into the Man and His Guitar genre, but he’s never been fully comfortable with that. He was a metal guy originally. The one time I saw him play electric, it was LOUD, so much so that the older audience partly there to see James McMurtry was disturbed. On LP5, his last release, he started bringing electronics into his recordings. On Birds in the Ceiling he really leans into that. This has alienated some listeners, but I can’t see why except for the fetish around A Man and His Guitar. There are boops and beeps that surround some of these songs but it’s for me to see any principled different between this and strumming a guitar. As for the songs themselves, Moreland has shifted over time to these self-lacerating love songs more toward an ambivalent vision of the world where he, now a man in his late 30s, is trying to figure out how to live. I don’t know if he will ever quite reach the glories of In the Throes or High on Tulsa Heat, but those albums are so astounding that it’s unfair to compare anything to them, including other Moreland albums. This is simply put, an excellent album that has to be under consideration for a top 10 album of 2022.


Royal Jesters, The Westside Sound

This is a 2017 release of recordings by an old San Antonio doo wop band. A few interesting things here. First, doo wop was really one of those musical movements that transcended race. Yes, it came out of Black music, but there were lots of white doo wop groups and, as this band suggests, plenty of Mexican-American bands too. Anytime you could find a few guys who sang well together, you had the opportunity for a good band. The musicianship here is actually pretty strong here, with some good organ work and serious influences from other forms of R&B. A totally worthy archival release.

Another note here–Frank Zappa was the worst. He wasn’t funny but he sure thought he was funny. Instead, he was permanently 17 years old. And while he sort of respected doo wop vocals, his own sarcastic doo wop albums are awful, like any other time he wrote lyrics, except for “Trouble Every Day,” which makes him not even trying to write real songs even worse. Talk about just missing the point. As if there’s something wrong with writing earnest songs about love.

There’s nothing directly from this album on YouTube, but this is close.


Wanda Jackson, Encore

It’s nice that Wanda Jackson has hit senior legend status. She deserves it. She was never treated well by the musical establishment but in recent years, she’s become a hero to women rockers. Unlike so many forgotten people, she lived to see herself revered.

Last year, she even released a short album with assistance from Joan Jett. Of course, you can’t expect too much from someone in their 80s doing rock and roll. But this is fine. This is her last album. She had a stroke in 2018, came back to record this in 2019, and announced her retirement upon its release in 2021. This isn’t a great album, but it’s a fun one. Her voice certainly isn’t as clear as it was in 1960 and you can hear some traces of the stroke, but it’s a good solid rock album in that now old timey style.

Also, Joan Jett rules.


Joel Futterman/William Parker/Chad Fowler/Steve Hirsh, The Deep

So this is awesome. A one song blowout with these four masters improvising like crazy. They walked into the studio, the engineer hit the record button, and an hour later, an intense musical experience was preserved for the world.

Some people can really channel the spirit of this music in writing. I am not a very good writer so it’s harder for me. Here’s a bit from the Bandcamp description:

There, in the tick of time toward transition, lies the mystery. The extended interaction and reaction immediately following is as pure as it is miraculous. Like the point of contact between wave and shore, or the moment when day ceremoniously joins night, Hirsh’s majestic solo crashes, glides and ultimately descends toward eddies of tone, timbre and the asymmetrical repetitions attendant to the deepest listening. There, at the center of the maelstrom, time doesn’t simply stop; it suspends. As Edgar Alan Poe demonstrated with such narrative force, a magical relativity is achieved, an equity in which each element balances the others while transcending its own boundaries. Each piano fifth, parabolic saxophone emotive, bass pizzicato and gently stroked tom or cymbal unite even as they propel. Each harmonic progression is both a point of departure and a nostalgic return, an entity in and of itself, a resolution to the connections drawing all into and from its Protean surfaces. Each pitch iteration tells a tale beyond words, an instantaneous narrative whose incalculable depth is matched by the simplicity of a tear, a smile, the abiding warmth of an embrace.

Well, OK. It’s pretty kick ass, I can say that. None of this chamber jazz today. This is the fire of the spirit speaking through four amazing musicians.


Blue Lab Beats, We Will Rise

A fine little funky EP that is basically good background music for a party. That has value, yes, but I don’t know how much value this really has outside of that. Lyrically, it comes out of a good place–it’s attempt by these British dudes to provide something for their American comrades suffering from police violence. All due respect for that and there are good guests here such as Alex Blake and Ghetto Boy. But musically, it’s a bit tepid.


The Weather Station, All of It Was Mine

A very quiet floaty folk album in the tradition of Kath Bloom or, perhaps more recently, Laura Gibson. It’s fine, but I find this kind of thing hard to grab a hold of. These songs are fine in the sense of touching upon emotions, but they don’t ring home, in part because both the vocal style and the guitar stay in space rather than hit you in the soul. “Nobody” is the biggest exception, where all of a sudden drums enter the picture and one’s attention is actually drawn to the words, somewhat ironically. More of that please.


Wild Billy Childish & CTMF, Where the Wild Purple Iris Grows

Garage rock the way it is supposed to be–loud and raw. Childish is one of these semi-underground guys who puts out a ton of music that doesn’t get much attention. But this rocks in the way that Crazy Horse rocks or that The Sonics rock. Intensely sung and intensely played, including this great cover of Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown” that catches the spirit by rocking it out, not slowing it down as too many Dylan covers do. The only downside to this really fun album is that like most garage albums, it ends up all blending together by the end of the album since the singing and playing are a little one note. But good stuff overall.


Justus Proffit, Speedstar

Firmly in the Brian Wilson/Meddle-era Pink Floyd orbit of chill out indie rock. As such, it’s completely functional music. It just doesn’t have any deeper meaning and sounds exactly like a zillion other albums over the last half century. Melodic and catchy though in that DIY way that could probably use a better producer to mix things up more.


Travis Linville, I’m Still Here

Nice singer-songwriter Americana stuff. Good voice, not the greatest most expressive voice ever, but good enough. Excellent cover of Willie’s “Yesterday’s Wine.” Completely functional and enjoyable album. Good writing by and large, some originals, some work by the great Nashville songwriter Natalie Hemby. Would like a bigger voice I think or something with a little more texture. But solid.


Lifeguard, Crown Can Talk

Excellent 4-song punk EP from this Chicago band. These are just a bunch of teenagers too. They know their rock and roll history, or at the very least they know how to rock, which is all that actually matters. But really they do know their rock history as they are the kids of Chicago area rockers, so they grew up with all of it, they’ve played together since they were friends as little kids, and they know how to kick some ass. They also played all this stuff live a bunch before putting it on the album, which always is a good idea. Promising band, well worth your time.


Matthew E. White/Lonnie Holley, Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection

I saw Lonnie Holley on a very memorable night about 10 years ago. First, he was opening for Bill Callahan. Second, later that night, after I went home, my car was stolen (it was one of those early 2000s Hondas that you could steal with a screwdriver and a piece of gum). So it’s driven into my memory. But it’s also driven into my memory because I had never heard of Holley before and it was a remarkable thing to see live. Holley is one of these outsider artist types who does both physical art and music out of his little home in some Birmingham neighborhood. His performance was just him at a keyboard with his weird voice doing improvisational lyrical and music pieces that were largely about civil rights and freedom in a spiritual way. It was really something. So I bought one of his albums and….well, the problem is a classic one: something that is awesome live doesn’t necessarily hold up to repeated listenings. That especially true of an oddball like Holley.

I decided to check out the album he did Matthew E. White last year. I was curious why White was listed first, as he’s mostly just the producer. But in this case, there’s a case to make for it. That’s because the production really makes a difference hear. Bringing in a band that can complement Holley’s strength and fill out the sound really transforms the listening experience. I often find this to be the case with jazz as well–people like solo albums but with some quite notable exceptions most of these artists really are better with the interplay of a band. So this takes Holley’s weirdness and his idiosyncratic freedom struggle songs and combines them with a real listening experience with a fairly short album so that it doesn’t begin to grate on you. Good choices all around.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics, I don’t care how many comments there are keep the goddamn politics out of it.

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