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Music Notes


Saw the wonderful Mary Halvorson in Cambridge last Saturday, which I believe is the 5th time I’ve seen her play. 5 time club is actually a pretty big deal in a sense–there’s not many acts you don’t like that much you are going to see that many times and I think it’s less than 10 people I’ve seen that often. This was in support of her new Amrayllis project, Cloudward. I haven’t heard the album yet, but I thought the first album from 2022 was outstanding. This was a very fine performance. What was so great about it is how Halvorson has utterly subsumed herself in the project. If anything, I wanted more Halvorson. But she is such a generous musician that much of this is about letting her fellow musicians shine. Another point is that jazz clubs are often not really designed for people to actually watch the show properly. What I mean by that is that they don’t have an angle to them, so depending on where you are sitting, you are going to see part of the band and not another part, unless you are in the front row. For this show, the one person I absolutely could not see was Halvorson! So I got a ton of Nick Dunston on bass, Jacob Garchik on trombone, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, and Patricia Brennan on vibes. This is such a first rate band. I can’t wait to hear the album, but if you do get a chance to see this project, do so!!!

I also saw Brittany Howard in Boston on Monday. I had seen Howard once before, at one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. That was a festival in Huntsville a couple of years of just Alabama-born or based artists. That was a lot. Alabama has a lot of legs when it comes to music. So Howard was headlining a day and playing in front of her family and it was alike a psychedelic Aretha. My god. This maybe didn’t hit those levels, but that’s an unfair comparison. She rules live. Her band is absolutely killer, with an amazing drummer and keys. She can shred on guitar, although she doesn’t on every song. I haven’t heard her new album yet either, but I can’t wait to hear it. She played most of that and then most of the last album, which I know well.

As for Toby Keith’s death, fuck that guy. Much of his foolishness was discussed at the moment of his death. His open embrace of the worst kind of militarism and “patriotism” after 9/11 was gross. There’s the infamous moment with Kris Kristofferson, which people later tried to downplay but which totally happened. Then there’s him basically inciting violence against Natalie Maines. Among the other ways Toby Keith was a piece of shit was stealing from Robert Earl Keen, who then wrote a song about what a piece of shit Toby Keith is. I know people who made the point that he actually had some good music and had talent. Other people noted that in fact, his personal politics were more contradictory that openly fascist. I believe that he was perhaps more a really dumb asshole than an actual fascist, but after 9/11, that was a distinction without a difference given the way he acted. I hate basically everything about Toby Keith and everything he stands for. And if there are some good songs in there, well, fine whatever, I don’t need to do the work to go hunt them out.

Speaking of such subjects, Beyonce announcing a country album is dropping a nuclear bomb in the racist country music world. This is the good kind of nuclear bomb. I don’t know if country will ever quite be the same, not musically, but in terms of its world being so starkly white and right-wing. We will see, but the initial pressure on right-wing stations is real.

Boygenius decides to hang up the supergroup for awhile, do their own stuff. Makes sense, but boy was 2023 their year.

The Times continues its “5 Minutes to Make You Love Jazz” series (don’t worry, the 5 minute time limit has been blown to smithereens in this series already).

Marshall Allen turns 100 and still leads the Sun Ra Arkestra!!!

We lost Henry Fambrough, the last of the original members of The Spinners. What a great band they were. I am not that knowledgable about the world of conductors, but I sure knew who Seiji Ozawa was. And then there’s blues promoter Dick Waterman, who died at 88. Finally, they didn’t call Aston Barrett “Family Man” for nothing, since he had something like 41 children. This also is a good object lesson at the misogyny at the heart of the Rastafarian movement. Oh, and right before I published this, I saw that Randy Sparks of the New Christy Minstrels passed. Never did care for the early 60s folk movement, but perhaps it was necessary to spark the better music that came in its wake.

This truly is the worst set of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finalists ever. I mean, it’s just terrible. The hip hop acts are the exception–Eric B & Rakim, Tribe Called Quest, and Mary J. Blige are legends. But the rest of it? My god. Frampton? Foreigner? Fucking Oasis, c’mon now. Cher? Really? God bless Sinead O’Connor, but she’s a one-hit wonder in terms of popularity and in terms of influence, she wasn’t that influential. This nomination is strictly a memorium thing, which doesn’t mean she won’t get across the finish line given the way these things go. And then Dave Matthews? GTFOH. If I had to choose 5 out of this incredibly weak crop, it would be Ozzy (surprised he’s not in as a solo artist already), Blige, Tribe, Sade, and I guess Mariah Carey just for sheer record sales. Certainly Eric B & Rakim and Kool and the Gang you can make a good case for. But given the bands that aren’t in that museum, this is an atrocity list. I have been assured from the one HOF voter I know that the voters have no say over the nominees. That is generated by the Hall itself. Makes sense since the voters would probably do a much, much better job on this front.

This week’s playlist:

  1. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
  2. Bill Withers, Best of
  3. Ray Price, Sweetheart of the Year
  4. Johnny Bush, Whiskey River
  5. Merle Haggard, Prison
  6. Iron & Wine with Calexico, In the Reins
  7. Natalie Hemby, Pins and Needles
  8. Neil Young, Harvest Young
  9. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Sidelong
  10. Wet Leg, self-titled
  11. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Spinning Around the Sun
  12. Bill Callahan, Woke on a Whaleheart
  13. Norman Blake, The Fields of November
  14. The Coathangers, Parasite
  15. Daddy Issues, Deep Dream
  16. The Tubs, Dead Meat
  17. Jerry Joseph, Tick
  18. Steve Earle, Guitar Town
  19. Curtis Mayfield, Superfly
  20. Fontaines, D.C., Dogrel
  21. Nick Drake, Pink Moon
  22. Drive By Truckers, The Unraveling
  23. Tom Russell, Poor Man’s Dream
  24. Sugar, Copper Blue
  25. Kate Davis, Fish Bowl x3 (listening to any albums 3 times in 2 weeks is a lot for me!)
  26. Cat Power, Sun
  27. Stevie Wonder, Talking Book
  28. The Postal Service, Give Up
  29. Grateful Dead, Europe 72 disc 2
  30. Peter Gabriel, Us
  31. Tommy Jarrell, The Legacy of Tommy Jarrell, disc 3
  32. Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
  33. Palace Music, Viva Last Blues
  34. Sleater-Kinney, One Beat
  35. Screaming Females, All at Once
  36. Julia Jacklin, Pre Pleasure
  37. The Beths, Future Me Hates Me
  38. Drive By Truckers, The New OK
  39. Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die
  40. Maggie Rogers, Heard It in a Past Life
  41. The Paranoid Style, A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life
  42. Jerry Lee Lewis, There Must Be More than This
  43. Amanda Shires, To the Sunset
  44. Marianne Faithfull, Broken English
  45. The Beths, Expert in a Dying Field
  46. Steve Earle, Ghosts of West Virginia
  47. PJ Harvey, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
  48. George Jones/Melba Montgomery/Judy Lynn, A King and Two Queens
  49. Lilly Allen, Alright Still
  50. Hank Locklin, Please Help Me I’m Falling
  51. Chuck Cleaver, Send Aid
  52. Bikini Kill, Pussy Whipped
  53. Tony Rice, Manzanita
  54. Kasey Chambers, Dragonfly, disc 2
  55. Patsy Cline, Live at the Opry
  56. Old 97s, Too Far to Care
  57. Jason Isbell, The Nashville Sound
  58. John Prine, self-titled
  59. Ray Price, She Wears My Ring
  60. Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time, Songs from the Workbench
  61. Joe Ely, Live at Liberty Lunch
  62. The Tubs, Dead Meat
  63. Billy Joe Shaver, Old Five and Dimers
  64. Son House, Live at Gaslight Cafe 1965
  65. Bois Sec Ardoin, Allons Danser
  66. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
  67. Medeski Martin and Wood, It’s a Jungle in Here
  68. Peter Gabriel, Security
  69. Doc Watson, Doc on Stage
  70. Fairport Convention, Unhalfbricking
  71. The Beatles, White Album, disc 1
  72. Buena Vista Social Club
  73. Leroy Jenkins, Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America
  74. H.C. McEntire, Eno Axis
  75. Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck
  76. Joe Ely, Honky Tonk Masquerade
  77. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One
  78. Miles Davis, Live at Fillmore East, disc 2
  79. Drive By Truckers, Welcome to Club XIII
  80. Parquet Courts, Sympathy for Life
  81. Lee Bains and His Glory Fires, Old Time Folks
  82. Roscoe Mitchell, Distant Radio Transmission
  83. Blood Orange, Negro Swan
  84. Delta 5, Singles and Sessions, 1979-1981
  85. Horace Andy, Midnight Rocker
  86. Lucy Dacus, Home Video
  87. Drive By Truckers, Go Go Boots
  88. Houdmouth, From the Hills Below the Sea
  89. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in County Music
  90. Algiers, Shook
  91. Run the Jewels, self-titled
  92. Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith, A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke

Album Reviews:

The Paranoid Style, The Interrogator

We hardly need to discuss Elizabeth’s brilliance on this site. We all know it. Plus next week’s Music Notes, well, it will have all the detail you need on this point. But a couple of points here. First, adding Peter Holsapple from the dBs to The Paranoid Style just took the level of awesomeness up like three branches. I happen to really like the straightforward production of the earlier albums, but everything he adds here is a huge thing. This sounds like a very carefully produced rock and roll album and fits with Elizabeth’s aesthetics so perfectly. Second, the references on this album are astounding. From the Molly Maguries to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to the entire history of rock and roll, this album just is a master class in how a unique voice in contemporary American music writes and delivers her lyric Great, great album


Laurie Styvers, Gemini Girl: The Complete Hush Recordings

Styvers was one of those early 70s hippies who did a lot of drugs and wrote a lot of songs about doing a lot of drugs. She briefly had a record deal, had Bob Christgau somewhat notoriously hate on her as he could some times regrettably do, and then disappeared as a result of the drugs and the mental illness. But looking back at this release of her work after a half-century, this is mostly pretty solid singer-songwriter stuff. I don’t get why Christgau so despised her. This stuff is fine. It beats a lot of other strummed guitar music of the time and that includes the sleep-inducing James Taylor. Now, this collection is too much. I don’t need 2 1/2 hours of it. But listened to a chunk at a time, it works reasonably well.


Marissa Nadler, The Path of the Clouds

I really fell in love with Nadler’s For My Crimes album from 2018, with its dreamy rock. But then I never explored anymore of her work and I don’t know why. So The Path of the Clouds is her 2021 album and it is also a solid release. It’s an album mostly of murder songs accompanied by her own piano, which she didn’t play well until the pandemic and was bored and, well, we all had those projects. Remember the sourdough starter discourse of 2020? Anyway, she brought in some great collaborators here, including the always welcome Mary Lattimore, working remotely. Those were the days. A lot of these pandemic albums were kind of second-rate in the artists’ catalog, though you work with what you have. But this is a pretty nicely textured release. And while I am not really a true crime person, for reasons I have stated plenty of times around these parts, it certainly makes for excellent subject matter for a song!


Guerilla Toss, Famously Alive

Art pop band with a lot of 70s and 80s influences and this is a sort of psychedelic self-actualization album about feeling good about your body in the era of Covid. That’s all fine and good I guess, though who really feels good about their body anyway. We all deserve to at least, so good luck on the journey the band takes here. Musically, this is pretty whatever. This just feels like one of those bands that recycle and rework so many bands of the past that it ends up feeling like pastiche. But it’s alright I guess. It doesn’t suck, I will say that. Sometimes that can be enough to at least consider an album OK.


Sarah Jarosz, Polaroid Lovers

A bit of a move toward something like adult contemporary, which she can certainly pull off, but which takes some edge off of the music. That’s my concern with Jarosz. She has a great voice and is an excellent songwriter and musician. But she does operate at that specific place that can turn American roots music into some kind of adult contemporary boredom. She’s a bit too close to the edge of that than she has been in the past and I worry about it a little bit. This is a completely acceptable album, yes, but let’s hope there’s a touch more edge going forward.


Andrea Centazzo & Henry Kaiser, Beyond Protocol

Two legendary improvisers get back together after their 1978 album Protocol (I have not heard this) for this 2020 release. Centazzo is a percussionist (I don’t really know her work that well) and Kaiser is of course one of the most important improvising guitarist in the modern history of the instrument. But most important doesn’t always mean most successful and Kaiser’s personal interests don’t always lead to the greatest releases. This is worthy, but not great. If you really love pure improvisation without much interest in tune, this might well be right up your alley. For me, I respect it more than love it.


Cowboy Junkies, Such Ferocious Beauty

Hadn’t heard a Cowboy Junkies album in a good long while but they are touring a lot this year, so figured I’d check out their latest album from last year. Will it surprise you that it is a strong, if not transcendent release, like basically every Cowboy Junkies album? It should not! This is a sad album because it is about the Timmins’ father dying of dementia. Having just been through this with my mother-in-law…..yeah, it ain’t great. Turning grief into art is one of the great things music can do and this venerable family band does an admirable job with the topic. It’s a bit more lyrically interesting and less pretty than some of their work, which is usually a good thing and is here too. Solid album, might could buy it.


Tommy Stinson’s Cowboys in the Campfire, Wronger

Decent rockabilly from this Replacements legend (as well as GnR but I try to forget about that). I guess it makes sense that someone like this would move in a rockabilly direction, as did the members of X. In fact, John Doe appears on this album a bit too. American punks always did love the attitude of older American traditions and the music of punk fits so well into that of early rock and roll and 50s country. I don’t know that this is some great album. I do know that I am glad I heard it. It is fun.


Torres, What an Enormous Room

I got into Torres very early on in her career and watching her grow from album to album has been a great joy. We are now in what I would guess is her mature phase. The albums aren’t changing as much and maybe are a bit less immediately grabbing, but what has replaced it is the wisdom of years, a sharpened sense of just who she is (coming out has been part of that lyrical growth over the albums), and an increasingly perfected musicianship. She revisits her adoption once again here and that’s been interesting to follow as well over the years. This isn’t a perfect album–sometimes the production overwhelms or the songs extend a touch too long–but it’s a good one, probably about middle of the pack for her career. And what a career it is.


Fanclubwallet, You Have Got to Be Kidding Me

This is kind of a like splitting the space between Daddy Issues (the sadness of being a young woman but the poppiness of expressing it) and Wet Leg (the vocals and some of the straightforward arrangements). I like both of those bands a bit better than this Ottawa-based outfit, but that’s not a slag against the band. This is a pretty good project that benefits from repeated listenings. I guess this is heavily influenced by comic books and the singer also draws comics, but I don’t know enough about that world to comment on it. What I can say is that while this resides, like a lot of young artists, with their influences spilled on their clothing like my father-in-law after dinner, it also is an honest statement of life from a young female songwriter and one that has some witty insights.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art and none things politics except about how Toby Keith sucks. Though food is art, so have at that if you want.

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