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CORRECTS LOCATION OF DEATH TO DESOTO COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI – FILE – Jerry Lee Lewis props his foot on the piano as he lays back and acknowledges the applause of fans during the fifth annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival at New York’s Madison Square Garden on March 14, 1975. Spokesperson Zach Furman said Lewis died Friday morning, Oct. 28, 2022, at his home in DeSoto County, Miss., south of Memphis, Tenn. He was 87. (AP Photo/Rene Perez, File)

We lost the Killer yesterday.

Jerry Lee Lewis was the last of a generation. All of the major early rock stars are now gone (I think anyway). Moreover, Jerry Lee is my favorite of that generation, by a good bit. Early Elvis changed the world, but I don’t enjoy listening to him that much. I love Chuck Berry, but everything basically sounds the same. Little Richard, well, that’s a very inconsistent career. Same with Orbison. Bill Haley flamed out real fast. Buddy Holly died way too young. But the Killer? That crazy motherfucker had a lot of great albums. That’s because he made the shift after he killed his own career through his behavior away from his early rock and into hard country and was just as brilliant there as he was in rock and roll. All hail “Great Balls of Fire” and the other early work, that stuff is amazing. I love it. But it is also worth noting that Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the greatest country artists to ever work in the genre. It was in his blood–it was his blood. He probably always loved rock and roll more than country, but he could work either genre so well. And that’s why I think he’s ultimately a greater artist than anyone of that generation of rockers, other than Elvis.

As for Jerry Lee’s personal life….well…….OK, it ain’t good. He was a lunatic from a family of lunatics (he grew up with his cousin Jimmy Swaggart and his other cousin Mickey Gilley) and when he married his 13 year old cousin, it wasn’t a big deal in his family of crazy people. But for the rest of society, yeah, well….He was genuinely shocked that his behavior was seen as problematic. What can you say. As I’ve said many times, I evaluate art based on the politics or personal behavior of artists because it can’t be applied in any logical way. What Jerry Lee did isn’t really any worse than David Bowie, but tons of people who will criticize all sorts of artists they don’t like (Woody Allen) for terrible behavior will listen to and defend Bowie on specious grounds if you care about consistency. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to know Jerry Lee Lewis. But I can still think he was a great rock and country musician.

One recording I’d point you to is the Knox Phillips Sessions that was released several years ago. This is a late night session in the early 70s where a drunk Jerry Lee cut some great rock tracks produced by Sam Phillips’ son, which Jerry Lee thought was pretty cool. This is just him cutting loose and having a good time and being the crazy motherhumper he was (his word as you will hear over and over again in this recording). He starts by taking Jim Croce’s incredibly stupid “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” and turning it into something only Jerry Lee could do. I love this number and it’s what I’ll leave you with here.

This is an outstanding deep dive into Wonder’s Talking Book 50 years after its release, with those who were involved and those musicians were deeply influenced by it. It’s really great. A couple of thoughts here and about Stevie’s career.

First, it feels amazing that this music is 50 years old. It still feels incredibly fresh and dated in no way at all.

Second, it’s a little sad how long it has been since Stevie has released a good album. Now, I get it. Fame changes you. It changes your relationship with the world and it changes your art. I mean, how many good albums have the Stones released in the last 40 years? Zero? So he’s hardly alone here. But he was so young at this time and the future seemed forever. His early work may have been controlled by Motown like Berry Gordy controlled everyone, but Signed, Sealed, & Delivered is a great record (though I seem to like it more than a lot of other people) and there’s tons of good songs on the other records. Then Stevie throws off Gordy’s control, though he chose to stay at Motown, puts out a pretty good album in Music of My Mind and then just blows everyone out of the water with Talking Book. And it’s not like that was it! Boom, he hits again with Innervisions in 1973, which is an even better album! The next year, another masterpiece in Fulfillingness’ First Finale! Then, the greatest album of his career in 1976 with Songs in the Key of Life. At that time, he was 26 years old with a list of great albums perhaps surpassing any artist in music history.

And then…….nothing. Oh, he released music here and there. But The Secret Lives of Plants was a mess and then came the 80s and it just wasn’t good. The 80s wasn’t really good for anyone who came to fame in the 60s and early 70s, with just a couple of exceptions (Richard Thompson for example). It’s not as if Dylan’s 80s output holds up either. But there just wasn’t much of anything left by this time. He doesn’t have a single album after the age of 26 that people adore or even occasionally listen to. Even today, he’s only 72 years old. It’s not as if a great comeback album is impossible. But I think we all know that’s not going to happen.

Well, you take it as it comes. Some artists peak early, others late. You can wish that there were the number of great later Stevie Wonder albums you probably thought there would be if you were a fan in 1976, but you can also be incredibly thankful he created all those gems when he had the chance, energy, spirit, and genius.

A couple of losses in the musical world, including the singer Jody Miller and the young oud master Ahmed Alshaiba. Also, we lost Robert Gordon, among the first punkers to rediscover rockabilly and figure out that it was a great turn for them, both stylistically and musically.

Best country releases of this month

Touring is really tough on a lot of artists and exacerbates mental health issues. These stories go back a long time. Today, artists need to tour if they want to eat. So that makes things even harder. Here’s a story exploring the many recently cancelled tours for mental health reasons and what this says about touring more broadly.

How can Motley Crue survive without Mick Mars’ guitar work…..

Rick Rubin’s desert island discs

Ranking Bjork’s albums

I am interested to hear this collection of Lou Reed demos from 1965 that is getting some attention.

I’ve never read any of Patti Smith’s books and the documentary film on her isn’t very good but she keeps writing them and people do seem to like them.

This week’s playlist

  1. Neil Young, On the Beach
  2. L7, Bricks Are Heavy
  3. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Real Enemies
  4. Michael Nesmith, And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’
  5. Butch Hancock, Own & Own
  6. Edip Akbyaram, self-titled, disc 1
  7. Talking Heads, Little Creatures
  8. King Crimson, Red
  9. The Decembrists, The Crane Wife
  10. Bill Monroe, Live at the Opry
  11. George Jones, The Essential George Jones, disc 2
  12. Bob Dylan, Royal Albert Hall 1966, disc 1
  13. Tom Zé, Vira Lata na Via Lactea
  14. Laura Veirs, My Echo
  15. Aimee Mann, Mental Illness
  16. Pink Floyd, The Final Cut
  17. Palace Brothers, There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You
  18. Whitney Rose, We Still Go to Rodeos
  19. Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man
  20. Buddy Tabor, Writing on Stone
  21. The Freight Hoppers, Waiting on the Gravy Train
  22. St. Vincent, self-titled
  23. V/A, Dim Lights, Thick Smoke And Hillbilly Music: Country & Western Hit Parade, 1956
  24. Wussy, Public Domain, Volume 1
  25. Torres, self-titled
  26. Wussy, Forever Sounds
  27. Snail Mail, Valentine
  28. Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, self-titled
  29. Hank Snow, When Tragedy Struck
  30. Jemeel Moondoc Trio, Judy’s Bounce
  31. Willie Nelson, Country Willie Sings His Own Songs
  32. George Jones, Live in Texas, 1965
  33. H.C. McEntire, Eno Axis
  34. Bill Frisell, This Land
  35. Bois Sec Ardoin, Allons Danser

Album Reviews:

Logan Richardson, Blues People

I was intrigued by the conceit of this album, rethinking blues for the modern world, but these jams often don’t go too many places and it ends up being kind of boring in the end.

B-

La Santa Cecilia, La Santa Cecilia

These LA hipsters who usually sing Mexican music decided to take a turn on their 2019 EP and push the envelope by doing various forms of North American pop. The first song is a full-on disco track, which certainly surprises! Does it work? Yes. Absolutely. Marisol Hernandez totally carries this with her vocals and one might wonder what kind of success she could have had in the late 70s. Other songs are R&B and soul tracks. Then it ends with a New Orleans-style cover of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” In the end, this is a fun if not completely essential album.

B+

Star Feminine Band, In Paris

A project of young girls from Benin, ages 10 to 17. This is completely alright, but I’m not sure as to the why of the concept, other than impressing liberal western listeners with their commitment to diversity, thus creating a marketing opportunity for some smart people in Benin. I’m not really sure how this band got started but they are solid enough on the merits. It’s nothing exceptional in the world of west African music except for being a band of young girls singing of some of the oppression that young girls in Africa face. You probably won’t understand the lyrics, but if you want some nice African music where you know it reinforces your politics, then this is a fine enough album for you.

B

Bartees Strange, Farm to Table

Meh, a whatever album of someone trying to do too much and who thinks Maroon 5 is a sound one might want to have. He has an opera background and that is clear enough upon a listen. That’s fine and all but I’m not sure that this is the best combo of hip hop and indie that I’ve ever heard. It’s OK.

B-

Paul Dunmall/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver, The Bright Awakening

This isn’t exactly a review of the new album by these four guys because it doesn’t exist streaming. But there is a live show based on their collaboration on YouTube, so I went with that instead. You do what you can. Again, the fear of jazz labels to stream is one that is rooted in not understanding the modern market and it’s the only genre where labels make this choice. So often I want to review an album for here and I can’t because it’s not available. But how will I know whether I want to buy it without listening first, especially when I can test out all this other music before I buy it?

Shipp, Morris, and Cleaver are very well known to me, total masters of our time. I had never heard of Dunmall before this, but he’s an older British guy who was around in the 70s mostly playing in rock and Indian guru (eyeroll) bands such as Divine Light Mission. And now he’s a jazzman and has been for decades. I can see why you would want to play with him if you were Shipp, Morris, and Cleaver, who can play with anyone after all.

Well, I can see why they’d want to play with Dunmall too. This is a rocking set of free jazz. This was recorded at the Vision Festival in 2012 but was only released last year. Dunmall especially sounds great over the Morris and Cleaver rhythm section.

A

Shai Maestro, Human

This ECM release has nice players on it, with some really excellent drum work on it. But boy does it fade into background music fast. Sounds too much like something in the background of a nice restaurant for my tastes. Zzzzzz.

C

CLAMM, Care

Another excellent Australian punk band that gets at the core of this music is an ability to express your anger and your truths with some big riffing guitars and a pounding beat. It’s not that they are breaking new ground–I think they’d be the first to tell you that they are not. It’s that the punk really matters to them and you feel it in every song. Adding a new member who is a woman that can sing backing vocals also adds to what they did in their first album. They are pissed and they have their issues and don’t we all. Great album.

A

CHAI, Wink

There’s a bit of a circular fetish between Japanese and American indie cultures, which means that both feed off each other. That’s how you have a band like CHAI, a bunch of Japanese kids doing a kind of robotic pop, being asked to back up major American indie acts. I struggle a bit to see any reason for this, though just liking a band is a good enough reason to have someone open for you. In any case, this is marginally interesting pop but not really more than that unless you are into the robot thing.

C+

Meg Baird/Mary Lattimore, Ghost Forests

The harpist Lattimore is one of my favorite artists of recent years and here she plays with the guitarist Meg Baird. They sound great together and the occasional Baird vocal adds to the mix too. It’s not just that it is beautiful music–though it is–it’s that under the beauty is a surprising amount of complexity in this incredibly textured way. Neat album.

A-

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp, Live in Nuremberg

This isn’t the greatest work by either the legendary saxophonist or the legendary pianist, but any time these two guys are playing together, you would want to see it. The interplay is first rate and it’s just an honor to hear how they work together.

Nothing from this particular performance is on YouTube, but here they are performing in Linz. Close enough.

B+

As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics and especially elections or other non-art OT bullshit.

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