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Music Notes


Two weeks, I got to see Jerry Joseph play in Boston. It was so great. He’s such a fascinating figure. He’s one of these singer-songwriter types who never made it big but is a musician’s musician. He’s been around forever too. He played in some band with Woody Harrelson when Woody was high enough to decide he wanted to record an album and hired some guns for it. Joseph was a heroin addict at that time as well and he talked about that some, in the introduction of his song “Poison,” which was a crazy powerful song. See, Joseph thought he was HIV positive from the dope. In fact, he tested positive twice. This was the 90s. It was still a death sentence. So “Poison” is about your bodily fluids being poison to the world and how that makes you feel. Not for the light of heart! Then he cleaned up and he started this crazy project where he applies for grants to buy guitars and then goes into refugee camps around the world to teach kids to play guitar, leaving them the instruments of course. We are talking Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, like he’s been in the worst places in the world, trying to make it better by teaching kids how to play guitar. I sort of knew about him for like 20 years without really listening. Then Patterson Hood produced his astounding album The Beautiful Madness, with one of my favorite songs of all time, “Sugar Smacks,” I’ve linked to this song before and this is some serious punk attitude toward the horrors of the world, and as you can tell, this is man who does not shy away from the horrors of the world.

Well, he’s still an underground dude, but there were like 50 people in the audience and he was really happy about it! He had this amazing bassist with him, a young woman, probably in her late 20s, a friend of his who lives up here and wanted to play with him on his east coast tour. I did not catch her name, but she sure was good and she was game. See, she wanted to know what songs he was likely to play. He gave her a bunch. But then he admitted that he was winging the songs he wanted to play and she didn’t know most of them. But she was cool about it and he kind of talked her through what the song was going to look like beforehand, and then she killed it. Her boyfriend (I assume) was in the audience too and that didn’t hurt.

So yeah, it was a great show. Just a fantastic artist. Sure, he’s got kind of a rough voice, but he’s a remarkable human and a great writer.

Roger Waters’ publishing company dropped him for anti-Semitism. I mean, there’s being opposed to Israeli policy and then there is actual anti-Semitism and Waters is well across that line.

The new Paranoid Style album was reviewed on Fresh Air!!! And here’s another review, by Charles Hughes, who happens to be a friend of mine, but he’s also a great critic, as some of you know.

Need some new country music? Here’s a promising list.

Not sure how I feel about the idea of a Lana del Rey country album. , though I am basically OK with her music, as discussed in the reviews below.

Universal Music Group v. Tik Tok. Let the injuries begin.

In the realm of old men who need to shut the fuck up, Bill Maher goes off on how kids these days are all into materialist music, as opposed I guess to the great artists of the 1970s, who would never ever no way ever never profit off their music. God I hate that guy.

Some tributes to the late, great Wayne Kramer. I think it was Steven Erickson, an excellent critic, who noted last night in comments that none of the MC5 albums really work that well and I tend to agree with that. I like those albums fine. I am never not going to turn up “Sister Anne.” But sure, there’s not a great album there. Some may disagree with that point.

We also lost Toni Stern, who wrote a lot of Carole King’s lyrics, including on Tapestry.

25 years since the release of Bonnie Prince Billy’s I See a Darkness, one of the greatest albums ever made.

Help me out here. I’ve mentioned in the grave series that I am going to New Orleans. Since URI funds only one conference a year but as an active scholar and someone who does a fair bit of professional service (as opposed to university service; you can go fuck yourself if you think I’m serving on assessment or curriculum committee ever, nor faculty senate. Union work or nothing, which actually counts for service thanks to our collectively bargained contract. You really should all have a union in your workplace.), I need to attend at least two a year. So I have to attend Organization of American Historians for the next couple of years for a few reasons and you all have paid for it based on the grave series. Thanks so much for that! But the reason I mention it here is that it turns out that OAH coincides with French Quarter Fest. This means I will be attending the conference when I need it and not one second more since there is live music to see! Now, I don’t know New Orleans style music all that well. There are some acts here I am familiar with–Irma Thomas of course, The Iguanas, various Nevilles, Kermit Ruffins, etc., but I don’t know it all that well. So who should I see? Help me out here! Moreover, I am bringing a scholar from Japan over for the conference and he loves American music and has never been to New Orleans and is really excited for this. So I need to show him the best time and the best music. Should be fun!

This isn’t music, but I did want to note the death of N. Scott Momaday as well, the superb New Mexico based writer. House Made of Dawn is one of the most important novels of 20th century American literature in my opinion. I mention this though to tell a short story. I met Momaday once, about 20 years ago. I was in my PhD program at the University of New Mexico, which was such a special place at that time. So many great professors, with such connections to the broader complexity of the New Mexico community. Many people hated grad school, but it was the best period of my life and most of my best friends today were made at that time, not to mention meeting my wife. It was a wonderful community that sustains me today. Well, one of the graduate students at the time, who was older and had a bit of money, ran an inn in Jemez Springs, in the Jemez Mountains between Albuquerque and Los Alamos. I was taking a course with the great John Wunder, visiting from the University of Nebraska, who died not long ago and was a great man. Well, we stayed at his inn one weekend and had a seminar meeting outside up there. Momaday lived across the street. So my colleague invited him over. Wow, we were with Scott Momaday. Anyway, I tried to make some kind of humorous comment when I met him and he was so extremely unimpressed. Add it to the list of famous people who have been irritated or mad at me.

This week’s playlist:

  1. The Meters, Look Ka Py-Py
  2. Last Exit, Headfirst into the Flames
  3. Richard Thompson, Small Town Romance
  4. John Moreland, LP5
  5. Tacocat, Lost Time
  6. Joseph Kabasele, Le Grand Kallé: His Life and Music, disc 1
  7. Bikini Kill, Pussy Whipped
  8. Wussy, Strawberry
  9. Girlpool, Powerplant
  10. Jason Isbell, Something More than Free
  11. The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
  12. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
  13. Neil Young, Comes a Time
  14. Ray Charles, The Genius After Dark
  15. Webb Pierce, self-titled
  16. Morgan Wade, Reckless
  17. Tracy Nelson, Mother Earth Presents Tracy Nelson Country
  18. Conway Twitty, 25 Number Ones
  19. George Jones, The Essential, disc 2
  20. Mitski, Laurel Hell
  21. Neil Young, On the Beach
  22. Billy Joe Shaver, I’m Just an Old Chunk of Coal
  23. Ray Price, Another Bridge to Burn
  24. Johnny Paycheck, Bars, Booze, and Blondes
  25. The Paranoid Style, Rolling Disclosure
  26. Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple
  27. Old 97s, Fight Songs
  28. Dwight Yoakam, Second Hand Heart
  29. Ray Price, I Fall to Pieces
  30. Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud
  31. Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
  32. The New Pornographers, Whiteout Conditions
  33. Pavement, Slanted & Enchanted
  34. Marty Robbins, Saddle Tramp
  35. Bonnie Prince Billy, Ease Down the Road
  36. Neil Young, After the Gold Rush
  37. Butch Hancock, West Texas Waltzes
  38. Wussy, Forever Sounds
  39. Elizabeth Cook, Aftermath
  40. Bonnie Prince Billy, I See a Darkness
  41. REM, Automatic for the People
  42. Adia Victoria, Silences
  43. Patti Smith, Horses
  44. Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano, From Wolves to Whales
  45. Yousour N’Dour, Fatteliku
  46. Miles Davis, Agharta
  47. Sun Kil Moon, Tiny Cities
  48. Michael Nesmith, And the Hits Just Keep on Coming
  49. REM, Document
  50. Jason Moran, Black Stars
  51. Ornette Coleman, This is Our Music
  52. Sonny Rollins, Live at the Village Vanguard, Vol. II
  53. Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
  54. The Coathangers, The Devil You Know
  55. Spider John Koerner, Raised by Humans

Album Reviews:

Jakob Bro with Arve Henriksen and Jorge Rossy, Uma Elmo

It’s very much an European jazz ECM release, a genre unto itself. It’s interesting in that I never, ever love any of these albums. I can’t say how many ECM releases I’ve heard over the years–over 100 for sure. I think I’ve found every single of them perfectly fine to pretty good, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard one I loved enough to go buy. This is a great example of the form. It’s a very solid piece of work from the Danish guitarist Bro, the Norwegian trumpeter Henriksen and the Spanish drummer Rossy. Bro has songs that are tributes to some of the greats he’s worked with who are no longer with us–Paul Motian and Lee Konitz. He has the chops, he has the pedigree, he has the vision. It all adds up to solid jazz. And yet….as with every other ECM album, it remains too staid at times. Someone needs to go into the label and just kick some ass. But the label might explode.


Tom Skinner, Voices of Bishara

This is an interesting and enjoyable short jazz album by the British drummer, who has been a key part of the avant-garde scene across the pond for a long time. Among other things, he helped found Sons of Kemet with Shabaka Hutchings and who doesn’t like Sons of Kemet? Hutchings and Nubya Garcia both play here, so this is pretty hot stuff. I don’t know that this is exactly a favorite of mine, but it sure moves with alacrity through a number of genres and shows just how good the jazz scene is in the UK right now.


John Carrol, Kirby, Dance Ancestral

Pretty interesting electronic music here. The idea (evidently, I’m not sure the music really sells it) is that this album would take one through an everyday experience. Working with the producer Yu Su, it may not really be that exciting for what it is trying to do, but it is at least a pleasant listening experience. I guess where it really works is background music to your everyday life. Not my thing, but whatever, it’s legitimately fine.


Lana del Rey, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

I’ve always been mixed on Lana del Rey. I actually had the opportunity to see her at Newport Folk last year, but I was tired and it was such a scene (including kids being rude to the other acts as they got to the front to see Lana) that it just seemed like it was time to rest my legs, get a beer, and stretch out on the grass. I have no regrets. A friend of mine did see it and said it was both heartfelt and boring. Not surprising. But there’s no question that she has a lot of talent. “A&W” is one of the very best pop songs I have heard in years, since Billie Eilish’s first singles probably. Like, this is a great song. But then she cuts against it with a 4 1/2 minute sermon from a minister that she comments and laughs over and which does absolutely nothing but get annoying very quickly. The whole album is kind of like this, switching from good to annoying and sometimes to boring. There’s no shortage of guests happy to work with here–Jon Batiste (incredibly overrated himself) and Father John Misty (about whom I have extremely complex feelings). So overall, I guess it’s solid enough and if you cut about 5 tracks off of it, I think you’d have a better album.


Built to Spill, When the Wind Forgets Your Name

Hey, a Built to Spill album. Sounds about like all of them. Grunge lives!


Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Sticks and Stones

I never was that excited to check out the nepo baby of modern music, Willie’s son Lukas. But he’s pretty popular on his own so I figured I’d better. I will say this–there is not a cliche in country/blues/rock that Lukas doesn’t use. The songs are basically drinking and weed songs that are the same old thing. The riffs are boring. He’s an acceptable, but not great singer. He’s definitely not his old man. Well, OK, who could be. But this isn’t much though. However, I can see why he is popular with a certain segment of music fans–he can no doubt jam out pretty well, nothing is challenging or interesting, and everyone can get drunk and listen to music that hits the buttons they want without thinking about it at all. I guess that’s fine, but it’s not for me.


Marika Hackman, Big Sigh

My first 2024 album and it’s one I’ve been waiting a long time to see the light of day! Any Human Friend is one of my favorite albums of the 2010s, a great danceable album from a lesbian openly celebrating sex (her 70s ancestors, no doubt horrified by such talk). But then she had a nasty case of writer’s block. Historians don’t exactly get writer’s block since we aren’t that creative, but it’s hard enough to work from the sources that to create your own and just not feeling it sounds horrible. But she’s finally back, with an album that sort of splits the difference between Any Human Friend and her earlier folkie work.

“No Caffeine” is a fantastic cut, likely to be one of the best songs of the year. Generally, the album highlights her lyrics, which can be extraordinarily self-lacerating, though with less self-indulgence than the other young self-lacerated of our times, Julien Baker. I do wish the poppier and electric songs were more common, as they are the best songs on the album, again like “No Caffeine.” It’s a fine album. Not a truly great album. But still a quite worthy one.


Los Invasores, Demo 1987

There are a bunch of Latin American bands called Los Invasores, including bands I’m aware of at least from Mexico and from Ecuador, but this is the Argentine band of the 1980s that was a key part of the Buenos Aires rock scene of the time. Last year, a release of a 1987 demo from the band came available and you can listen to it on Bandcamp. The good thing about punk in Spanish is that since you mostly can’t understand the words to punk songs anyway, it doesn’t really matter. This rocks pretty hard, with a good strong Ramones vibe. Liked it.


Cecile McLorin Salvant, Mélusine  

OK, so I am never ever going to be the biggest jazz vocals person. Even the greats–Ella, Billie, Abbey Lincoln–are people I respect more than really want to listen to very often. But I’ll be good and goddamned if Cecile McLorin Salvant is not equal to them. Yes, I’d say equal. She’s that good. I saw her at Big Ears last year and it was like being in the company of one of the great artists of all time, someone with complete and unquestioned mastery of her craft, all while still exploring new material. It was genuinely impressive performance. So I definitely wanted to listen to her all French album Mélusine and I liked it a lot. In a sense, it’s a bit like the Spanish punk above. Given that I’m not the biggest jazz vocals guy in the world and having even worse French than I do Spanish, I actually enjoyed being able to listen to her vocal style without worrying about understanding too much of it (OK, I can understand a little bit). This makes for a weird review I guess, but then I’m no critic, just an asshole with a website. In any case, no one is going to listen to this and say that Salvant is not an absolute monster of an artist.


Dispatch, Break Our Fall

Dispatch was not a band I paid much if any attention to back in their heyday of the late 90s, but in the mid 2010s, they decided to get back together and released a few albums. This one from 2021 was on my list to hear for three years now, so I figured I’d give it a shot. At its best, it’s good, smart rock and roll. I mean, a song on Connie Hawkins’ point shaving scandal at Iowa is a good idea. The album is too long though and has a good bit of filler. It’s fine. It’s sone good Gen X rock and roll. I like Gen X rock and roll. Like the Built to Spill album above, I can like it while also realizing that nothing particularly interesting is happening here.


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

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