The big news over the last two weeks is of course the loss of Tom Verlaine. I don’t have a ton to say except what’s always been said. Amazing guitarist, underrated vocalist. One probably wishes there was more first rate work over the years, but Marquee Moon is plenty for one lifetime. I’m sure most of you have read Patti Smith’s lovely remembrance, but I’d also recommend Dean Wareham’s piece at Counterpunch about him. It’s also once again worth noting just how diverse the New York “punk” scene was. In fact, it’s too bad that it was even called punk, as if Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, and Blondie really had anything in common other than being cool bands playing in the same clubs at the same time. The reason it’s too bad is that now everyone debates whether various bands were actually punk, which is an utterly sterile conversation.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named its finalists and it’s an interesting list. It seems that they finally ran out of classic rock guitar bands who started between 1963 and 1971. So the list actually is pretty good instead of just retread butt rock central. I mean, Bachmann Turner Overdrive isn’t in there yet; I guess Randy Bachmann gave wrong a guy a sandwich. But any even remotely reasonable band of that sort is already in the damn thing. So this year’s list is a really a good variety of bands over a long period of time. Personally, I’d vote for Missy Elliott, Tribe Called Quest, Willie Nelson (never mind that he’s not rock and roll, neither was Dolly last year, whatever), Joy Division/New Order, and, of course, Warren Zevon. I think my LGM card would be revoked if I didn’t, but I would anyway.
But really, other than Soundgarden, a band with some of the worst lyrics in rock history, you can’t really complain much here. Sheryl Crow is pretty whatever imo, but she’s certainly sold enough for it and has all the right friends in the music industry. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see her inducted. I’m not a Maiden fan, but you can’t really say they shouldn’t be in there given their importance to metal. I feel the same way about Rage. Kate Bush is my first one out. White Stripes? It seems early, but it’s damn good rock and roll anyway. I could not complain about either Cyndi Lauper or George Michael. The Spinners obviously have a harder row to hoe given that they aren’t as famous today as anyone else on here, but yes, of course. This list still leaves off an amazing number of bands that are obviously acts of great importance–Sonic Youth, Sleater Kinney, Big Star, The Replacements, Sir Douglas Quintet, the list goes on. But you can’t say this is a bad list and when we are talking the Rock hall, that’s about as good as it is going to get here.
We lost the jazz singer Carol Sloane this week. Also, the super influential Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat died. Finally, Barrett Strong, the first hitmaker at Motown, died.
Oh, the Grammys are this week. Who cares.
Why R&B has gotten more explicit in its lyrics.
A discussion of Johnny Cash’s late-life American IV album.
In case you were worried that the retirement of Mick Mars was going to keep Motley Crue off the road, do not fear my friends, they found someone out of the old metal folks home to replace him.
50th anniversary commemorative edition of Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power album. Truly one of the great albums ever, even if no one listened to it in 1972. Also, somehow Iggy still lives.
Tonight marks the end of my two month drought of live music, assuming anyone has survived the day’s cold. Will write about this next week.
Playlist for the last two weeks. Lot of Wussy, as there damn well should be.
- Bill Frisell, Disfarmer
- Townes Van Zandt, Flyin’ Shoes
- Wussy, Wussy Duo
- Emmylou Harris, Pieces of the Sky
- Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal
- Skip James, Blues from the Delta
- King Crimson, Discipline
- Idles, Crawler
- Johnny Paycheck, Bars, Booze, & Blondes
- Melba Montgomery & Charlie Louvin, Something to Brag About
- Tom T. Hall, New Train, Same Rider
- Richard Thompson, Small Town Romance
- Wussy, Strawberry
- Lydia Loveless, Real
- Dilly Dally, Sore
- The Beatles, The White Album, disc 1
- Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer
- Steve Earle, Ghosts of West Virginia
- Sleater-Kinney, All Hands on the Bad One
- Bobby Bare, Detroit City
- Dwight Yoakam, Second Hand Heart
- Drive By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
- Silver Jews, Starlite Walker
- Case/lang/Veirs, self-titled
- The Tony Rice Unit, Manzanita
- The Harmaleighs, She Won’t Make Sense
- Sir Douglas Quintet, Live from Austin, TX
- Wussy, Funeral Dress x2
- Louvin Brothers, Tragic Songs of Life
- Frank Ocean, Channel Orange
- Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
- Marika Hackman, Any Human Friend
- Sunny Sweeney, Trophy
- Khan Jamal, Drumdance to the Motherland
- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Theory of Ice
- Mount Moriah, How to Dance
- Willie Nelson and Ray Price, San Antonio Rose
- Sarah Jarosz, World on the Ground
- Rattlesnake Annie, Rattlesnakes and Rusty Water
- Whitney Rose, We Still Go To Rodeos
- Wussy, Forever Sounds
- Wussy, What Heaven is Like
- Daddy Issues, Can We Still Hang
- Ennio Morricone, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
- Patsy Cline, Live at the Opry
- Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen
- Joe Ely, Honky Tonk Masquerade
- Dave Douglas, A Thousand Evenings
- Sonny Fortune, Long Before Our Mothers Cried
- Dolly Parton, Just Because I’m a Woman
- Tom Russell, Borderland
- The Meat Purveyors, Pain by Numbers
- Gary Stewart, Out of Hand
- Hank Thompson, Seven Decades
- Peter Gabriel, Security
- Al Green, Call Me
- Waylon Jennings, Waylon Live, disc 2
- Jerry Lee Lewis, A Taste of Country
- Chris Stapleton, From a Room, Volume 2
- Old 97s, Hitchhike to Rhome
- Dolly Parton, The Grass is Blue
- Gram Parsons, Return of the Grievous Angel
- Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
- Elizabeth Cook, Aftermath
- Sarah Jarosz, World on the Ground
- Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
- Purple Mountains, self-titled
- Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal
- X, Los Angeles
- Joe Ely, self-titled
- Stevie Wonder, Innervisions
- Robbie Fulks, Upland Stories
- Grateful Dead, Europe 72, disc 1
- Tom Russell, Road to Bayamon
- Waylon Jennings, Waylon Live, disc 1
- Bill Frisell, Quartet
- Guy Clark, The South Coast of Texas
- Ralph Stanley, Classic Stanley, disc 1
- Grateful Dead, One from the Vault, disc 2
- Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders with the London Symphony Orchestra, Promises
- Sonny Rollins, Live at the Village Vanguard, disc 2
Album Reviews. I got to listen to whole bunch of albums from 21 and 22 that I needed to check off the list and even got my first 2023 release heard.
J. Cole, The Off-Season
Generally good hip hop, despite some dumbness about not being able to be a homophobe in a cancel culture society. Yeah, so hard. A lot of people have a single issue with J. Cole, which is trying to hard. He’s so determined to be one of the greats of hip hop that he talks about it all the time and it’s clear that every album is intended to make that leap. This album at least steps back from that a little bit and is a little looser. I don’t think this is any great statement or anything, but it’s a good release. There’s nothing wrong with just being a really strong rapper even if you aren’t the GOAT.
Johnny Flynn and Robert MacFarlane, Lost in the Cedar Wood
A throwback to 70s British folk-rock. Pentangle fans are pumped. It’s a bit hard for me to hear through the sound of that scene into the lyrics. I guess it’s alright if you like to feel like rural England in some distant hazy past.
Wolf Alice, Blue Weekend
Solid enough rock and roll that could maybe fill an arena if the band was more popular, but maybe is at least little wary of that level of bombast. Some punk, some arena, some alternative, wish there was a little more soul. The more I listen, the more I feel there is something missing here, a lack of commitment perhaps. But the beating heart of rock and roll has a bit of a murmur there that is a bit concerning if you want to really love this band.
Brian Landrus, Red List
Jazz dedicated to preserving endangered species. Since there many lyrics, you just have to go with it. Either way, this is a solid if not amazing set of compositions in the post-Miles style that is most dominant among those musicians not engaging in either Wynton-like nostalgia or free jazz. Entirely accessible to anyone who likes jazz and with some very excellent players. Landrus is on sax, Steve Roach on trumpet, Ron Blake on sax, Geoffrey Keezer on keys, Ryan Keberle on trombone, Lonnie Plaxico on bass, John Hadfield on drums, Rudy Royston on drums, and Corey King on vocals. The only people involved here I really know is Royston, who I’ve seen play with Bill Frisell and with Dave Douglas, and Keberle, who I just learned about last week when I reviewed an album from his Brazilian project. So there’s a lot to know out there. For me I guess, it’s Keezer who really shines here, in part due to his use of the Fender Rhodes that brings a lot of the funkiest part of this music. In any case, I don’t love this, but I’d easily listen to it if you put it on.
Julius Rodriguez, Let Sound Tell All
Another jazz player who is new to me, though this makes some sense since he is only 23, which is shockingly young these days to be leading a jazz band. As a side note, when did jazz really start getting dominated by the old? It certainly wasn’t that way in the 60s. Miles’ second quintet was unusually young (not to mention unusually amazing) but it’s not as if there weren’t plenty of people in their 20s making amazing music for a long time before that. Maybe it was the 80s, as the classic jazz generation aged and the music wasn’t advancing that much at that time and so they just continued to dominate? And yes, Rodriguez does have an advantage–he dropped out of Julliard to play in A$AP’s band, so he knows the rap and funk world as well as he does the jazz world.
Anyway, Rodriguez is a kid, not that it really matters here. He certainly has the chops. I mean, he can really play that piano. This is pretty much in the new tradition of Robert Glasper or Roy Hargrove merging classic jazz stylings with more contemporary Black music. Mostly, this is a keyboard-trio, but there’s some R&B vocals on some cuts. Those songs have had some real play–“All I Do” has nearly a million Spotify listens, even though I’d argue it’s one of the more rote songs on the album because of some pretty blah 80s style R&B vocals. At its best though, this is funky as all hell. See “Two Way Street” for just how good this can be.
Lorelei Marcell, Stranger
An OK if fairly standard pop EP from Marcell, who works out of Los Angeles. She’s a good singer, yes. But it feels like nothing new under the sun here. The lyrics are your pretty standard love/heartbreak/love pop work. This is the kind of music that is intended to create the next Big Pop Star, but I don’t think it’s really there.
Jack Ingram/Miranda Lambert/Jon Randall, The Marfa Tapes
Hey, it’s modern country music stripped of the Nashville bullshit! These three longtime friends and songwriting partners, mostly for Lambert’s huge hits, went out to west Texas, camped, sat in front of a fire, and played some songs. That’s all this is. You can hear the campfire. You can hear cows mooing in the background. This is edited to some extent, but is really just three talented people around the fire, sharing songs. There’s something pretty beautiful about that. Lambert is of course the star here, having reached a point in her career when she can do pretty well whatever she wants without caring too much what anyone thinks. She can take a risk that takes her out of the overproduced Nashville world. She might be the queen of that world, but it’s still a frustrating world.
And not surprising, reviews were tremendously positive here. It’s not surprising. This is just warm, fun, delightful music.
Marianne Faithfull, Broken English
Time for a deep archival listen! I don’t really know this stage of Marianne Faithfull’s career well so figured her 1979 album Broken English would at the very least be worth hearing once. And yeah, this is really fucking good! The punk-disco-singer/songwriter thing is not something I’d think would work, but it totally does, more than a little bit like I’m Your Man era Leonard Cohen, which was recorded several years after this. Great album.
OK enough producer based DJ music, but I am reminded how much so much of this stuff ends up not that far from fancy elevator music. Despite the name that might suggest something Middle Eastern, this is a dude from Oakland. There’s some strong Brazilian influences here which keeps it at least somewhat interesting. The best stuff is the hip hop component, which works fairly well. But again, quite a bit of it could easily be high end elevator music. So….it’s alright.
The Devil Makes Three, Redemption & Ruin
Certainly nothing wrong with an album of country covers. But the drug songs are overdone here, as they often are with younger bands. These guys certainly have their share of supporters–Emmylou Harris shows up here among many other guests that include Jerry Douglas and Mickey Raphael. So the country music royalty were all in on this project. It helps. But there’s still a lack of moving beyond basic stereotypes and pastiche here. The world of country albums where one half is about sin and the other half is about salvation is quite long, but Marty Stuart did this concept with way more conviction on his Saturday Night/Sunday Morning album from several years ago. In the end, this is highly listenable, more than acceptable country music that doesn’t transcend the genre.
Sleaford Mods, Eton Alive
I got super into Sleaford Mods thanks to their last album Spare Ribs. So I figured I’d see what these electronic and beat oriented angry English punks have been up to before this. This is their 2019 album and while I don’t think it’s quite as profound as Spare Ribs, I do enjoy their irreverent anger that is as concerned with taking the piss out of people as super politicized outrage. They are as furious as the world as everyone else, but being a bit more hopeless, find more joy in making fun of it all. Works for me.
Margo Price, Strays
The new Margo Price album is my first listen from 2023. Is Price country anymore? Who cares is the only important answer. She’s whatever she wants to be and I imagine that will continue going forward. As a live act, she’s still pretty country, at least every time I’ve seen her, but her last album was intended to turn her into Stevie Nicks and I didn’t think it was that great. This moves toward rock, including Mike Campbell on guitar for one track, but remains I think a bit better rooted in her strengths. She’s many things, but a pop star really isn’t right for her. This mostly is. There are some really strong cuts her, especially toward the end of the album. “Lydia” is a killer track and “Landfill” is right there too. Looking forward to seeing her again soon and will of course report back here.
Qwanqwa, Volume 3
Good newish Ethiopian band. Many of us are familiar with the 70s pre-communist jazz scene out of Addis Ababa, with Mulatu Astatke as its most well known member. But I don’t hear much contemporary Ethiopian music these days and I was glad to check something out. This is definitely within that country’s tradition while working toward some new sounds. Interesting, if not life changing.
Thomas Dollbaum, Wellswood
Sometimes, you listen to enough singer-songwriter type albums and they blend together in a gooey mush of bleh. Uninspired, if earnest, songwriting, boring strumming, too many 70s Laurel Canyon influences, not much going on. But sometimes, songwriters transcend this and do really interesting things. I was quite taken with this Thomas Dollbaum album. A New Orleans-based musician who does carpentry to make ends meet, Dollbaum in not only a fine songwriter, but someone who understands the appeal of a fuller sound. At first, his voice sounds a bit like Mark Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon) which makes me fear 27 minute songs about some boxing match in 1986, but luckily that passes quickly. This is just arresting songwriting and good arrangements. Definitely need to hear it more but I like it a lot so far. And who can argue with the lyric, “Nothing good comes from Florida / Including you”? Not me. Some of it is pretty country, some 70s rock, some folkie, but all come with more interesting arrangements that you’d expect. Worthy.
Fred Hersch, Songs from Home
Another pandemic album. Hersch got out of New York during the pandemic and isolated in a home in rural Pennsylvania. There, he recorded a solo piano album that considers his own musical journey from growing up in Ohio to being one of the most famous jazz pianists today. So he covers Cole Porter and he covers Glenn Campbell, to give you a sense of the range here. This is a nice solo album. It’s tasteful, which is a word I usually use as a kiss of death, but not really here. I have trouble seeing myself listening to this repeatedly, but he does find space in these familiar songs for new interpretations and there’s more than nothing wrong with that.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics.