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I just finished reading Steacy Easton’s Why Tammy Wynette Matters. This is one of the books in the University of Texas Press’ Why X Musician Matters series and the first of this relatively new series I’ve read. It’s really a fantastic queer reading of Wynette, a great piece of criticism by a trans writer who had thought very deeply about Wynette. Moreover, Easton takes her seriously and part of the story is why people take Loretta or Dolly seriously, not to mention the many male country artists of the era, but not Tammy Wynette. Some of this was her own deep fragility and her terrible life choices that came out of a deeply flawed childhood and personality, not to mention addiction. But Wynette was a major figure in American music for a long time and we can speculate, as Easton does, on just how much she was playing games with us, how aware she was of her camp appeal, and of course the way her image, both in terms of hair and songs, shaped our memory of her. Mercifully, Easton also decenters George Jones from her story, which is important given how often her story is told through his, as if he was any more reliable or as if his antics were somehow more acceptable than hers. In any case, this is one of the best pieces of country music criticism I’ve ever read and I will be checking out more of these books, which range from Marianne Faithful to Bushwick Bill (by my friend Charles Hughes, who some of you may be familiar with).

You aren’t going to find a better cumulative poll of the best jazz albums of 2023 than this one. I’m happy I’ve heard a good many of them, but also surprised of the number of albums I didn’t even know were released.

Jason Isbell reflects on his work on Killers of the Flower Moon. One thing I am again reminded of–Robert DeNiro is a huge dick. DiCaprio however seems to be a genuinely pretty good dude. And of course Marty is the best, but everyone knows that except for superhero movie jagoffs.

New documentary coming out on June Carter Cash. That should be good. Worthy subject, to say the least.

Patti Smith made her first public appearance since being the hospital to honor Lily Gladstone from Killers of the Flower Moon.

Rage Against the Machine is never playing live again.

86 anticipated albums coming out this year. Some of them do seem to be more wishing on a star than an actual album in the works.

I question that it is any good and I’m not going to listen to it, but 20 minutes of footage from Led Zeppelin playing in Detroit in 1977 has emerged. Given how much I hate The Song Remains the Same, I am skeptical. I actually like the band generally, but boy the bloat and egos and drugs got to them in a hurry and by 77, woof.

Linda Sharrock can no longer speak due to aphasia. And yet, she still performs, just using vocal sounds instead of the words she cannot speak. Fascinating!

I’ve never been to the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in Owensboro, Kentucky and I would like to go. In any case, they are opening a Jerry Garcia exhibit soon.

I don’t really care about Lil Nas X, but anyone who makes right-wing Christians cry as much as he does has a point in his favor in my book.

A shorter playlist than usual for the last two weeks, based on all the time I am spending eating pork and visiting awesome sites in Spain (plus a high-end flamenco performance at a Michelin-starred restaurant and let’s just say that was a good night of two great art forms working together):

  1. Buddy Tabor, Writing on Stone
  2. Willie Nelson, Phases and Stages
  3. Bill Frisell, This Land
  4. Richard Thompson, RT: The Life And Music Of Richard Thompson, Disc 2
  5. Sonny Sharrock, Space Ghost: Coast to Coast Soundtrack
  6. Laura Gibson, La Grande
  7. Merle Haggard, Someday We’ll Look Back
  8. John Moreland, LP5
  9. The Magnetic Fields, Love at the Bottom of the Sea
  10. Kevin Morby, This is a Photograph
  11. Tal National, Tantabara
  12. Lucero, Among the Ghosts
  13. Illegal Crowns, Unclosing
  14. Artemis, self-titled
  15. William Tyler, Goes West
  16. Wayne Shorter, Emanon
  17. Arexibo, Counter
  18. Jamila Woods, Legacy! Legacy!
  19. Cupcakke, Ephorize
  20. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can
  21. Joanna Newsom, Divers
  22. Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana
  23. Drive By Truckers, It’s Great to Be Alive
  24. Rhiannon Giddens, There is No Other
  25. Adia Victoria, Beyond the Bloodhounds
  26. Frente Cumbiero, Frente Cumbiero Meets Mad Professor (dub tracks)
  27. Sun Ra, Singles
  28. Plains, I Walked With You a Ways
  29. Alejandro Escovedo, A Man Under the Influence

Album Reviews:

Papercuts, Past Life Regression

Perfectly acceptable dream pop. It fits a niche in that and if that is your bag, you will like this. Hard to say anything particularly interesting is happening here though, even if you do like that kind of thing.

B-

Brian Blade/Christian McBride/Brad Mehldau/Joshua Redman, Long Gone

This is an interesting moment to discuss an issue. These guys are total masters of jazz. No one can question that about any of them. This is a supergroup that really couldn’t be more supergroup in the age of modern jazz. They write great tunes and of course their playing is perfect. But they also sound like 1965. This basically could be a lost second Miles quintet album (OK, without the trumpet but bear with me here). So the question about an album like this to me comes back to the issue of pushing the music forward. For me anyway, jazz is not a genre music. The point of jazz is to push the envelope forward. That doesn’t mean it has to be noise or something like that, though I do like those things. But for me, it needs to be doing something that is different or new or exploring new territory. That’s very much not what this group does, nor this entire post-bop world of people playing today. So even though this is great work by masterful musicians, it is going to have a limited upside for me.

B+

Ashley McBryde, Presents: Lindeville

In the past, I have respected more than loved McBryde, who I never thought had quite the songs to pull off the super smart woman outlaw thing she goes for. But goddamn, this is a great album. A collaborative effort with a ton of artists, including many who take over entirely for a song, this is an album about how fucked up small towns are. Everyone is fucking everyone else except their spouses and nothing good comes of it. It is a funny album, but it is also a depressing album because this is real life for a lot of people and….yikes. “Gospel Night at the Strip Club” sums up the topics of this album. “Jesus loves the drunks and the whores and the queers, would you recognize him if he bought you a beer” is a quality lyric from that song.

A

Heather Trost, Desert Flowers

A basically fine singer-songwriter psych-pop album from this Albuquerque-based songwriter, who used to be in Beirut, among other lesser known bands. This is one of those projects to me that combines a few things that make me a bit indifferent–a lot of densely layered production with an attitude to make a soundtrack of a chill out day without a lot of lyrics that really grab you. That’s fine as far as it goes and within these confines, this album is about as good as it gets. It’s pleasant enough, but it also becomes background music more quickly than you’d like.

B-

Buddy & Julie Miller, In the Throes

It’s great to see Julie Miller playing again after being sick for a good bit and Buddy having to perform solo. She still doesn’t work a ton and it had been five years since they had released anything with her on it. Well, this is a solid and welcome set that goes down some pretty well-worn roads–a mix of country, rock, whatever Americana is, blues, etc. It’s a perfectly nice set of songs. But that’s all it is. It’s a worthy addition to their catalog with plenty of songs about heartbreak. It’s nice. And that’s good enough.

B+

Big Search, Slow Fascination

Fair to middling power pop album, enjoyable enough in that relatively optimistic sense about the world, at least trying to put a positive spin on it, which admittedly is not the same thing. Of course, like a lot of this stuff, it is wearing all its influences right on its sleeve, and it’s not really until artists figure out how to move beyond it that they are really able to nail the landing. But it’s fun enough.

B

Young Fathers, Heavy Heavy

This I enjoyed a good bit. Young Fathers has been around for awhile now, an Edinburgh-based band that represents the colonial legacy of the UK, like so much of the best music coming from that nation at this point. In this case, the lead Hew Locke is Guyanese in origin. Since the last album, Locke visited Ethiopia and Ghana and you can really hear the influences here. Now not only is this good hooky music, but it’s also musically interesting good hooky music. If this album is slightly less political than the previous, I think it’s because Locke and friends have realized that resistance comes in many forms. It’s a short album, but honestly, most albums should be shorter, so I am OK with that.

A-

Zach Bryan, self-titled

OK, this is fascinating stuff for me. Why is Zach Bryan so popular with mainstream country fans? I ask because he’s a man who is not a fucking right-wing douchebag, which makes him basically sui generis among male Nashville stars. He was one of the only people with any success to tell the racist Morgan Wallen that he sucks after he was using the N word, which the rest of mainstream Nashville just laughed off, outside of Maren Morris and a few others. He’s also really a folk songwriter who doesn’t sing much about nostalgia or drinking beer with your friends while your girlfriend sits in a bikini top in the back of your pickup truck while thinking about how great high school was or whatever. He doesn’t really try to fake it either. One way to tell how a singer wants to represent themselves is who they collaborate with. And in this case, Bryan works with The War and Treaty, Sierra Ferrell, Kacey Musgraves, and the Lumineers. No douchebags there.

So the commercial success is surprising here. I suppose some of it is that he crosses over into some of the Midwestern roots rock world of Mellencamp. As for the album itself, I think it’s fine. He’s a good songwriter and functional enough singer. Sure, there’s some hooks here, but there are hooks all over the place on lots of albums that don’t make it big. I am not sure there are ton of great songs here, but he’s certainly a worthy addition to the country scene.

In any case, the whole package is real interesting to me.

B+

Marcos Toledo, Hunch

Mexican guitar jazz from Guadalajara. These guys are perfectly good players and Toledo is an excellent guitarist in the Wes Montgomery style, but the feel of this is more what I can see at my local jazz club than something that moves beyond nostalgia. It’s perfectly acceptable and there’s no reason for me to ever listen to it again.

B-

John Moreland, Live at Third Man Records

John Moreland’s great songs absolutely translate live, though a live album isn’t per se going to add a ton to the original album. So that’s what this is. It’s another committed performance from one of the great songwriters of this century, but it’s just him and his powerful lyrics so sonically it’s basically whatever. That said, those songs. THOSE SONGS! Hearing those songs in any new form is great in my country. So this is a quite welcome addition to his catalog.

A-

Goat, Medicine

Pretty fun Swedish psych-rock. This is kind of a wall of sound sort of thing, which lends itself to a sort of mystical approach that really does carry you along like you were on some trip. Even the flute is useful in this process. It’s perhaps a bit jammy for me, but it ain’t Phish or something, as the songs aren’t ever lost in the jams. The influences are all over the place–African, South American, metal, psych, the Dead, all sorts of things. This shouldn’t work for me, but it kind of does.

B+

Motorists, Surrounded

Driving down the road with the top down, listening to some jangly pop, yep, it’s a big time nostalgia trip and not much than that.

C+

As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things music.

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