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The highlight of my musical life in the last two weeks was seeing Ramblin’ Jack Elliott perform at WOW Hall in Eugene, Oregon. Eugene is a pretty rough music town if you aren’t into jam bands and the like so I don’t get to see much when I am home. A pleasant surprise that Ramblin’ Jack was coming through.

Now, if your first response is “Wait, Ramblin’ Jack is still alive?” well fair enough! He’s 92 years old and if not exactly going strong, he’s going. For those of you who don’t know who he is, Elliott Adnopoz was a Jewish kid from New York who got super into old folk music in the 1950s, hanging with his Beat friends before the folk boom really hit New York. He changed his name to something more “American,” idolized Woody Guthrie and got to know the increasingly ill man. By the time Bob Dylan came to town looking for Woody, the legend was hospital bound and Jack not only was doing a good bit of the caretaking but became the bridge between Guthrie and Dylan. The latter learned a ton through his mentor and then, being Bob Dylan, just threw Elliott in the trash once he was no longer useful to our ambitious young Minnesotan. Now, I’m not questioning that Dylan is a greater artist than Elliott–that’s unquestionably true. But for all Elliott did for Dylan in the latter’s early days, Dylan really treated him like shit. Bob Dylan is many things and many of them are good or great and being a huge asshole is one of those less good or great things.

Well, Elliott had a long and extremely sporadic career over the last seven decades. He had a bit of a comeback in the 90s, with a documentary about him by his daughter and a series of pretty good releases, particularly the South Coast album, which is also the definitive version of that title song. I saw him about 20 years ago in New Mexico. It was a windy day and an outdoor show and he wasn’t projecting that well. Mostly I remember him yelling at the audience about shitty New Mexico drivers and, well, we’ve all been there Jack.

So I wasn’t expecting a ton when I saw him. But he delivered a bit more than I did expect. He still sounds pretty good. I mean, he couldn’t really sing well anyway so the old age voice doesn’t change it much. He’s still decent on the guitar too, which surprised me a bit. He has a much younger friend accompanying him and doing a lot of the guitar work of course, but Jack can still play. The thing is, you are only going to get about 45 minutes here. But in that, you are going to get some stories and about a half-dozen songs or so. Someone asked him to sing “912 Greens,” one of his few real songs and a classic Beat tale of being on the road in the 50s. He didn’t, said it was too long, but then went ahead and told a bunch of the stories from the song. That was fun. He told a story of meeting the young Joan Baez too, before she had even heard of Bob Dylan. He remembered she had a great voice and nice hair. Well, a lot of people felt that way.

In terms of the songs, the highlights were a couple songs he’s done forever. Jesse Fuller’s “San Francisco Bay Blues” is a classic of the genre and the kind of blues related material that Elliott had added to his more white folk music influences as he got older. He covers that on South Coast. Of course this included stories of traveling and hanging with Fuller. He also did his nearly definitive version of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” which he has played almost since Dylan wrote it back in the day. It’s a great version of the song, with the best recorded version I think on his 1981 album Kerouac’s Last Dream, which is his best album period in my opinion. He then went back to Dylan for the closer, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” which I didn’t expect and which was a lot of fun.

So long as you go to this show understanding you are seeing a 92 year old man up there and don’t mind realizing you are paying like $5 a song, you will have a real good time if he rolls through your town working to the end.

In other news:

I was supposed to see a second show last week, the great trumpeter Dave Douglas with the Ehlan Mehler Sextet. But it was cancelled because no one in Eugene buys tickets to see good music. I guess a Phish cover band must be playing. Ugh.

Just asking a few questions here!

I have no idea of the truth of this, but this claims that Johnny Cash, then a young Air Force soldier, was the first American to learn of Stalin’s death because he manning the station when the communique announcing it was intercepted.

We lost Spot, the legendary record producer at SST who produced some of the iconic albums of the 1980s. He was 71 and the punk generation ain’t exactly young anymore.

Vinyl outsold CDs last year for the first time since 1987. Can’t say I ever expected that to happen!

There’s a terrible idea coming out of the government to vastly raise the cost of visas for musicians coming to the United States. Terrible and, frankly, another of the poor decisions around immigration coming out of the Biden administration.

Not sure anyone cares about Pearl Jam at this point. I don’t. But here’s a discussion of Yield, 25 years after its release.

Roger Daltrey says that The Who is done making new music. Good, considering they haven’t made any interesting new music in……40 years? 45?

Shania Twain is a terrible artist, but she’s right that the country music business is somehow getting even more sexist that it was in the last decade. Given how many of the best songwriters are women, there’s a great irony to this. But then no one listens to country music radio who has an interest in good music.

Real lengthy interview with Bill Frisell.

Big Ears is coming up and they’ve released the schedule for it. How does one even choose between the sets at many of these time slots? How does one balance the many John Zorn based sets spanning two days with all the other awesome music? It’s going to be tough for me!

I am amazed by Eric Clapton’s ability to surround himself with musicians who are somehow even worse people than he is. This leads us to the drummer Jim Gordon, who died a few days ago. I mean, maybe it’s hard to call Gordon a terrible person since he suffered from severe mental illness, but the man did brutally kill his own mother.

Playlist for the last two weeks:

  1. The Meat Purveyors, Pain by Numbers
  2. Bill Monroe/Mac Wiseman/Don Reno, Live, Berryville, VA, 8/14/60
  3. Sí, Para Usted: The Funky Beats Of Revolutionary Cuba, Vol. 1
  4. Willie Nelson, Country Willie: His Own Songs
  5. Matthew Shipp & Whit Dickey, Reels
  6. Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy
  7. Jethro Tull, Aqualung
  8. Johnny Paycheck, Slide Off Your Satin Sheets
  9. Lorelle Meets The Obsolete, Balance
  10. Tom T. Hall, Places I’ve Done Time
  11. Wadada Leo Smith, Solo: Reflections and Meditations on Monk
  12. Bobby Bare, Cowboys and Daddys
  13. Tom T. Hall, The Rhymer and Old Five and Dimers
  14. Neko Case, The Virginian
  15. Byron Berline & John Hickman, Double Trouble
  16. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jack Elliott Sings the Songs of Woody Guthrie
  17. Frank Lowe, Fresh
  18. Wild Billy Childish & CTMF, Where The Wild Purple Iris Grows
  19. Drive By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera, disc 1
  20. Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
  21. The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions
  22. Fontaines D.C., Dogrel
  23. Jose Gonzalez, Veneer
  24. Matthew Shipp, Equilibrium
  25. St. Vincent, Actor
  26. Illegal Crowns, self-titled
  27. Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math
  28. L7, Bricks are Heavy
  29. Tacocat, Lost Time
  30. Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
  31. Bill Callahan, Reality
  32. Wussy, Wussy Duo
  33. Neil Young, After the Gold Rush
  34. Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker
  35. Frank Zappa, Hot Rats
  36. Eddie Hinton, Very Extremely Dangerous
  37. Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Flatlanders, self-titled
  38. Cracker, From Berkeley to Bakersfield, disc 2
  39. Brandi Carlisle, By the Way, I Forgive You
  40. Adia Victoria, Beyond the Bloodhounds
  41. Elvis Costello, My Aim is True
  42. Frank Lowe, Black Beings
  43. Tom Russell, The Rose of the San Joaquin
  44. Wussy, self-titled
  45. Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain
  46. Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Hillbilly Music: 1960
  47. Merle Haggard, Ramblin’ Fever
  48. Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
  49. Bill Callahan, Dream River
  50. The Darjeeling Limited Soundtrack
  51. Joe Ely, self-titled
  52. Los Caimanes del Tampico, Sones Huastecos
  53. William Parker Violin Trio, Scrapbook
  54. Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit
  55. Merle Haggard, Down Every Road, disc 3
  56. Richard and Linda Thompson, Shoot Out the Lights
  57. Sault, Untitled (Black Is)
  58. Gang of Four, Solid Gold
  59. Norman Blake, Back Home in Sulphur Springs
  60. Willie Nelson, Teatro
  61. Connections, Midnight Run
  62. Mekons, Deserted
  63. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
  64. Merle Haggard, Down Every Road, disc 1
  65. The White Stripes, De Stijl
  66. Ray Charles, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music
  67. Joseph Jarman, Song For
  68. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Live at Vanderbilt, 1963
  69. Millie Jackson, Caught Up
  70. Butch Hancock, Own & Own
  71. Tonū Kõrvits and Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra & Risto Joosi, Moorland Elegies
  72. Waylon Jennings, Waylon Live, disc 1
  73. Sonic Youth, Goo
  74. Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks
  75. Smog, Supper
  76. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
  77. Lucinda Williams, self-titled
  78. Buck Owens, I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail
  79. Max Roach, We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite
  80. Townes Van Zandt, Delta Momma Blues
  81. Camera Obscura, My Maudlin Career
  82. Bill Monroe, Live at the Opry
  83. Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color
  84. Jason Isbell, Sirens of the Ditch
  85. Ali Farka Touré, Savane
  86. Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood & The Rajasthan Express, Junun
  87. St. Vincent, Masseduction
  88. Waylon Jennings, Lonesome, On’ry, and Mean
  89. Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool
  90. Drive By Truckers, Decoration Day
  91. Wussy, Rigor Mortis
  92. William Parker, Hamid Drake, Leena Conquest, Eri Yamamoto, Rob Brown, Lewis Barnes, Great Spirit
  93. Tangerine, Behemoth!
  94. Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock
  95. Steve Earle, Train a Comin’
  96. Rosalia, El Mal Querer
  97. The Go! Team, The Scene Between
  98. Doc Watson, Doc Watson on Stage
  99. The Tallest Man on Earth, The Wild Hunt
  100. Fairport Convention, Unhalfbricking
  101. Roy Orbison, Sings Lonely and Blue
  102. V/A, Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck
  103. Pink Floyd, Meddle
  104. The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia
  105. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
  106. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, South Coast
  107. Morgan Wade, Reckless
  108. Kitty Wells, Love Makes the World Go Around
  109. Miles Davis, Agharta
  110. Max Roach, Percussion Bitter Sweet
  111. Ray Price, Touch My Heart

Album Reviews:

Martha, Please Don’t Take Me Back

Like with their last album, Martha provides completely solid indie rock. Boy/girl duos never hurt. A bit twee at times, yes, though you kind of have to live with that with this kind of music. But a pretty good set of songs, mostly about relationships, the usual thing. Interesting stylistic change with the last song, with more of a strumming guitar background and more upfront vocals before a hooky guitar and chorus. I liked the last album well to buy it, not sure this quite matches that.

B

Naima Bock, Giant Palm

Not that visionary indie folk I guess, but yet kind of interesting. A bit of prog-folk in here, reminding of, say, Midlake. Bock is part Brazilian and you get a bit of that in here too, though not as clearly as I think a lot of reviewers like to claim until the last song, when she goes all in and sings in Portuguese too. It’s nice enough but also one you might forget 20 minutes after hearing it.

B

Black Midi, Hellfire

Not sure I’ve ever quite heard anything like this before. Not sure I really need to again either. The problem with the desire to go Big Prog is that it always ends up sounding somewhere between way too busy and total nonsense. These guys are certainly creative. But they lack the discipline to create very meaningful music. They have their own kind of discipline, yes. You don’t develop this level of sound without it. But as per usual with this kind of music, the discipline revolves around how many different things we can do at once rather than making music that has some sense or reason to it. Blegh.

C

Omar Apollo, Ivory

To be an openly gay Mexican-American R&B musician can’t be the easiest path. There’s a ton of overt homophobia in working class Mexican culture and Apollo is playing his version of Black music while being from a world with a ton of anti-Black racism too. I only note this to respect his openly queer lyrics and just being OK with whatever comes of it. As for the music itself, it is perfectly nice straight ahead R&B. I wish he would stretch some of these short songs out a bit. There are times when you are feeling like you have just gotten into the groove and then the songs end. The most remarkable thing about the music is the sexuality. If these were songs about men and women, you’d probably find this music more forgettable and maybe we should think that way here as well. But he has a vision for himself and he is grasping for that ring. It’s fine in the end. Would make excellent background music for a party. Also appreciated the Mexican-style ballad he threw in the middle of the album.

B

Lizzo, Cuz I Love You

Finally listening to one of the really big albums from 2019. And one can see why. “Cuz I Love You” is first rate R&B singing to start the album and then she moves right to hip hop with “Like a Girl.” She can do either with tremendous facility. Then “Juice,” a gigantic hit, blows you out of the water. The production is excellent as well. There’s no shortage of ambition–she has stated openly that she wants to be the next Aretha Franklin. Now, I don’t think we are there. Let’s put away the self-anointing oil. But is this is very solid album? Yes, absolutely. Some critics have said the production is too much and the whole album is nothing but attempts at hits….but so what?

A-

Rob Brown/Juan Pablo Carletti, Fertile Garden

Very fine release from last year. One thing I love about Brown is how soulful his sax playing is. Yeah, sure, there is a bit out there and sometimes difficult, but most of the time, it remains incredibly listenable for a duo like this. Moreover, Carletti’s percussion is really next level. A duo like this could lead to some aridity in the music when one person is soloing too much or the sound could use balance between the instruments, but that doesn’t happen here. Brown is such a beautiful player with such a conscious way of interacting with his collaborators that this is a very good duo album.

A-

Ladytron, Time’s Arrow

I generally like Ladytron, thinking they are one of the more interesting electro-pop bands of the last 15 years, but their new release is a sleepy affair. Some of it is that they are going for a lighter, more quiet material than usual, which is fine, but it means reducing some of their many strengths. They were great in the 2000s, took a long break, came back in 2019 with their awesome self-titled return, and then this is next. But this feels tired and I hope it is a one-off series of choices rather than a new norm. It doesn’t suck, but compared to the rest of their catalog, it’s meh. Mix up the tempos!

B-

Damon & Naomi, A Sky Record

What used to be 2/3 of Galaxie 500 and the Japanese guitarist Michio Kurihara came together during the pandemic to create this lovely album of folkie tunes. This is definitely chill out music, but it works because the songs are so plaintive and direct and because Kurihara is an awesome guitarist who gets a really unique sound out of the thing that makes this a lot more interesting than your average coffehouse folk thing. Of course these are super veteran musicians with high standards for themselves so they are unlikely to release something uninteresting anyway. I know they have a bunch of albums but this is the first I’ve heard and I will be checking out more. The only demerit to this album is that the slowness over the entire thing does lend to the songs blending together and, as one expects, some are stronger and more compelling than others.

B+

Joy Williams, Front Porch

Like a better version of Julian Baker, Williams, a veteran, provides that planitive, emotional female folk singing without going into the indulgence of self-hatred. This is a good set of solid songs, beautifully sung and created. The former Civil Wars singer could rely heavily on the kind of intensity of that band, one that had to end as the two singers, both married to other people, were quite clearly singing those to each other and they ended the band to save the marriages. But this is somewhat more relaxed affair of solid singer-songwriter material. Good for everyone from Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez fans to Waxahatchee and Julien Baker fans.

B+

Supercrush, Melody Maker

Quick EP from last year by this Seattle band. Pretty standard grungy indie pop, nothing overly compelling here but entirely acceptable for easy rock. Whatever you like, there are better versions of it out there.

C+

Nubya Garcia, Source

This is a largely acclaimed album from the British saxophonist. She is very rooted in not only jazz history but much of the music of the African diaspora. It’s pretty much all on display here. Technically this is very good. I do wonder a bit whether the solos are covering up some not that great compositions. This is funky stuff, but doesn’t really move the music ahead much. Overall, I think it’s a fine addition to the neo-post bop so common these days, often with some pretty funky rhythms below the solos. But I do think there are limitations to the music here compared to a lot of her contemporaries. In a sense, I feel here like I do about Kamasi Washington–that someone is trying very, very hard to be jazz for hip hop fans and, frankly, mostly succeeding. It’s appealing music in some ways. But it’s also trying very, very hard.

B

Fenella, The Metallic Index

Jane Weaver’s experimental spacey electronic side project made an album based on a psychic in 1920s London, which is not obvious except for being stated in the liner notes. This isn’t the kind of thing that I, or most people, are going to listen to real often, but in terms of the world of electronic experimentation and weird soundscape stuff, it ain’t bad at all. Fun for those who like Pink Floyd’s electronic instrumental stuff. If Weaver were singing her awesome songs over some these beats, I’d like it more. But hey, lots of people have side projects.

B-

Guided by Voices, La La Land

Figured I’d check out the latest Guided by Voices album, see if it sounds any different than any of their other albums. I’m not really bashing the band by saying this–I like GBV more or less and their best albums are pretty great, but it’s hard to argue that yet another album of short-ish dirty garage rock with nonsensical lyrics is going to be a heck of a lot different than the last 8 of them.

Well, I’m only half right. A GBV album is a GBV album but this is a tick better than quite a few of them. There’s even a 6 minute song–epic by the band’s standards! Some good thunder on some songs and some catchy lyrics on some others. And of course the base of the band is just very fine rock and roll so you know that’s here.

A-

Dirty Projectors, Lamp Lit Prose

I think this album was on my list to hear since its release in 2018. Figured I’d finally do it. But mostly I found the album annoying, from the limp white pseudo-soul singing to distracting arrangements. I suppose those arrangements are creative at least; no strumming guitar or cheap electronics here. But it feels so put on and, in some ways, really pretentious. I know some people love this band, but I don’t get it.

C

As always, this is an open thread for all things music/art and absolutely no things politics.

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