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Music Notes


A couple of weeks ago, several LGM writers descended upon Athens, Georgia. The putative reason was the Drive By Truckers homecoming in Athens, which we had all wanted to go to. But the real reason…and this was a great reason!!!!…..was to see The Paranoid Style open for the Friday show! Scott, Rob, DJW, and myself all got to see Elizabeth play. It was, unsurprisingly, fantastic, not to mention super fun to get together as writers and talk.

Elizabeth kindly sent me her playlist.

  1. Numb It Up and Go
  2. National Sunday Law
  3. An Endless Cycle of Meaningless Behavior
  4. The Return of the Molly Maguires
  5. Expecting to Fly Economy
  6. The Ambassador’s Morning Lift
  7. Turpitude
  8. I Love the Sound of Structured Class
  9. I’d Bet My Land & Titles
  10. New Age Tricks
  11. Print the Legend
  12. Last Night in Chickentown
  13. Stumblin’ In (with Patterson Hood)

Well that was awesome!!! What a great set of songs.

A bunch of the songs off the new album, but then a great combination of older songs too. “Learning to Fly Economy” and “An Endless Cycle of Meaningless Behavior” (why don’t all bands have songs about Alan Greenspan) and “Turpitude” were a blast to hear live. But so were some of these astounding new songs such as “I Love the Sound of Structured Class” and “The Return of the Molly Maguires.” The addition of Peter Holsapple to the band wasn’t strictly necessary–they are great without him too–but he adds a new level of musical genius to the whole thing. Then the Suzy Quattro cover with Patterson Hood, what a blast. Really, if you ever get a chance to see Paranoid Style live, and they play very few live shows, I highly recommend it and I’d say that if I didn’t know her.

As for DBT, there’s nothing else to say that I haven’t said over the years as I saw shows 29, 30, and 31 except that the one fun thing about seeing them three straight nights in their home town is that you get a bunch of songs you never, ever hear anywhere else. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to hear 8 songs I had not heard in the previous 28 shows, but there you go. A bunch of them were the obscure Hood songs from Southern Rock Opera. I get why they don’t often play “The Southern Thing” and I was glad to see it there. But “Life in the Factory” is a kick ass rock song and really worthy of more plays. Got to see “Wallace” too, of all damn songs. It was the first time they had played that song in 16 years. Cooley plays a smaller selection of songs but he did pull out “Primer Coat” which is really a beautiful song. Also got to see “Steve McQueen” and “Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus), which are old old songs that do occasionally get played, but not very often, and then “Wife Beater,” which is such a rare play that it has fewer hits on the setlist site than their cover of Tom T. Hall’s “Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken) which they have not played since 2009.

So yeah, it was a great time by all.

Then I also got to see a sweet double header at Brown University of some of the greatest jazz bands working today. It was centered around the MacArthur Genius Grant winning cellist Tomeka Reid. The first band was Tomas Fujiwara 7 Poets Trio, which includes Fujimara on drums, Reid and Patricia Brennan on vibes. Then it was the Tomeka Reid Quartet, which also includes Fujiwara, but also has Mary Halvorson on guitar and Jason Roebke on bass. I don’t remember which commenter cued me into this a few weeks ago, but I thank you very much! It was great. I had seen almost all of these musicians before, mostly many times, except for Roebke. But I had not seen these particular bands. The Reid Quartet was especially fiery. The Fujiwara band was excellent too, but it felt that Reid was way, way down in the mix. Some of this is that she was plucking the cello like a bass more than she was using her saw on it and she did use that in her own set, but I also wondered about the sound on it. Brennan is a joy to watch play the vibes. Fujiwara is such a solid drummer. He’s not super flashy but he can be when he wants to, which is not too often and I appreciate that. Halvorson is of course a guitar god and Roebke certainly seemed like a fantastic bassist.

Now, the Music Notes never have anything about me personally in them, except for what I am doing and thinking. But in terms of music? Well, I have no talent. However, people do seem to think I have some talent as a labor historian (they are easy to fool). Thus, sometimes cool things happen to me and this one is relevant. On Friday, March 29, Access Contemporary Music in New York is presenting an evening of new music based on Studs Terkel’s great book Working. I will be there providing commentary in a Q&A, along with the writer Anna Tavis. The new music will come from Black Oak Ensemble(!) and…..John Zorn(!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Since I’ve only been listening to Zorn for 30 years now, this is quite a thing for me. The inevitable Zorn-Loomis collaboration could be next! Plus, the event is in a space named for Leonard Nimoy. C’mon out if you are in Manhattan or environs!

Other News:

The New York Times continues its “5 Minutes to Love Jazz” series with Don Cherry.

Great profile on the jazz drummer Kahil El’Zabar, one of the underrated figures of the last half-century.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s red hot guitar solos.

Roni Stoneman died. The first woman to play banjo in a professional bluegrass band (bluegrass was insanely sexist from its beginnings and founders such as Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin were beyond horrible to women), she worked in her family band but then also on Hee Haw. At least she got work.

Coming up is Big Ears 2024! Who should I see? It’s a hell of a lineup, once again. I’ve made some preliminary plans but am open to change! Luckily for me, in the last month, I’ve seen a few of the jazz groups I would usually be dying to see (Mary Halvorson’s Amaryllis project, Tomeka Reid Quartet, Tomas Fujiwara’s 7 Poets Trio) and so I can go see some other things whereas normally those shows would be at the top of my agenda. That helps make some decisions. I’ve also seen the Jason Moran Harlem Hellfighters project, which I would completely pay to see again, but even though that was a year ago, I feel like I can explore some other stuff there too and I’d probably see the Hurray for the Riff Raff show anyway. But there are some tough decisions here. That’s what happens at Big Ears–Hurray for the Riff Raff or Jason Moran’s Harlem Hellfighters. At least you can’t make a bad choice.

The nostalgia of pop producer Jack Antonoff.

I laugh at Paul’s Ariana Grande Theory of Politics, which works well. I should say that though you should listen to Ariana Grande. She’s great! I am excited for her new album!

The Portuguese roots of pedal steel

Wes Montgomery gets a historical marker in Indianapolis. I wonder if J.J. Johnson has one since he’s from there too.

Since I haven’t done one of these months, I am going to leave off the playlist rather than try to reconstruct it. I’m sure 0 of you care.

Album Reviews:

Hassan Ibn Ali, Metaphysics: The Lost Atlantic Album

In 1965, the up and coming pianist Hassan Ibn Ali got busted for drugs and thrown in the slammer. Not wanting bad publicity (was it really bad publicity for jazz musicians to get busted for drugs?), Atlantic shelved his first recording for the label. Then the masters were lost in 1978. Ali died in 1980, with only one recording under his own name and even that was with the Max Roach Trio and listed Roach’s name first. Ali was troubled and while he was a hugely influential figure on many Philadelphia masters, including John Coltrane, he never broke through himself. A taped copy of the sessions was found in 2017 and received a release in 2021.

I can see why Ali would be so influential. His piano work is amazing. He really sounds like no other contemporary jazz pianist. So often, these kind of releases of lost legends end up being really sort of meh and you realize that fans hyped it up beyond what it deserves. That’s definitely not the case here. This was a masterful musician and you can place him right smack in the middle of the radical transformation going on in jazz in the mid 60s. I’m also surprised this sounds so good given that it doesn’t come off the masters. Really well worth your time. It includes Odean Pope on tenor, Art Davis on bass, and Kalid Madi on drums.


Mogwai, As the Love Continues

Never got the love for this band, still don’t. I have never been a post-rock guy anyway, what with the too long and not interesting enough instrumental pieces and the vocals that don’t matter much, either lyrically or musically. This just goes on and on. I’m not saying it is fair to compare something like to jazz, but the difference in what instrumental albums can do is striking when the players have a point. This is just for rockers who want their rock and roll to be background music, which I will never understand.


Boygenius, The Rest

The year of Boygenius concluded with a 4 song EP of stuff they worked up while touring the full album. It doesn’t add a ton to what they had already released, but it is certainly worthy as well. Plus, since they are all going back to their solo careers for the foreseeable future, why not throw out this EP of extra songs for the fans? I wouldn’t say this is a fans-only release. In fact, it’s completely fine as an introduction to the band and at 4 songs is an easy enough entry point. It’s just not where I’d start.


Brotzmann/Leigh/Lonborg-Holm, Naked Nudes

I enjoyed this release a lot. Part of a series of concerts for Peter Brotzmann’s (RIP) 80th birthday, this one brings the master blowing the hell of his sax, Fred Lonbong-Holm on cello, and Heather Leigh on pedal steel, who I didn’t know before this. I wish I had because she rules. This was a great use of pedal steel in a jazz context. Yet it’s not a total noise fest that one might expect from Brotzmann. Some of it almost touches upon the chamber music jazz that has taken over so much of the creative scene in the last three decades. It’s really just a fascinating interplay between three musicians who know they could have a blow out if they wanted, but they don’t really want to. Rather, they want to push each other in new directions for all of them. Let’s just say that I wish I was at this show and that I now need to check out the large body work that Brotzmann and Leigh recorded together toward the end of his life.


Blood Lemon, Blood Lemon

Heavy, great rock and roll from this Boise group. Kind of a one off it seems from stalwarts of the Boise scene, including Built to Spill bassist Melanie Radford. Lots of Zeppelin, lots of Dinosaur, plenty of Built to Spill, a ton of riot grrl. Complete throwback to the 90s, yes, but also very much a record of 2021. Loved it, even if I recognize it is not a profound statement or whatever. But it rocks and that’s more than enough, especially when it rocks like this. For Boise, it’s even better.


Bass Drum of Death, Say I Won’t

Finally checked out this band after years. Very Ty Segall grungy but melodic thing going on. It’s pretty much fine rock and roll. This has never been the precise combination of influences that appeals to me, but I could easily see listening to this as background music and being perfectly fine with it. Don’t want to think about it much though.


Belle and Sebastian, Late Developers

Another band that always left me fairly cold. I guess I’m not the biggest synth pop guy in the world, but they never seemed to be doing anything very interesting and they don’t really here either. They may be old now like me, but they are still twee as hell. It’s fine if that’s what you like.


Willi Carlisle, Critterland

I had heard Carlisle was good but I wasn’t quite expecting this combination of very smart songwriting with an almost Pete Seeger like way of singing in an earnest folk style. In fact, for all the wistfulness these days for the era when we all sang together or whatever, very few people actually sound like they could pull that off in a compelling way. Carlisle probably could. In fact, Carlisle does like people singing with him, or so I hear. I will see him later this spring. But these songs are not the folk songs of the past. They are about people beneath the radar dealing with love and loss, drugs, suicide, and being generally weird in small-town and rural America. Or for that matter, a two-headed lamb. It may not be happy or inspiring, exactly. But shouldn’t amazing songs about struggling people in fact inspire us? I need to go listen to his album titled Peculiar, Missouri, which is supposed to be at least as good as this, but my ex-wife was born in that town and so that’s a bigger mental step, you know.


Moonlight Benjamin, Siltane

While I get frustrated that any intense musician from Haiti gets connected in some way by reviewers to voodoo (which is evidently the only thing most people know about the country), Sitane releases some very fun music. It’s basically straight ahead rock and roll but with her Haitian vocals and lyrics. And that pretty much sums it up–this fucking rocks. Some have compared to her Patti Smith, which I have to think about more, but which on the face of it makes a certain amount of sense. Serious riffage from guitarist Matthis Pascuad too. Cool album, released all the way back in 2018, meaning it’s been on my to hear list for a mere six years. Need to get through this quicker!

And hell, her own website describes her as a “voodoo queen” so what can you do when reviewers go there too? Especially since she actually has been inducted into various voudou ceremonies. Whatever, I just get annoyed by stereotypes. But sometimes they are true.


Beyoncé, Renaissance

The true Queen of Pop. I have no opinion on whether Beyoncé’s recent songs are “country” or not. I will think more about it as I hear them more. But what I do know is that she can do whatever she wants and I will be fine with it. Taylor, you’re cool and all, but let’s give Bey her due, she’s the true queen. A gigantic mesh of basically every form of Black music from the last half-century, this pandemic written and recorded album displays Beyoncé at close to the top of her form. My only real critique is that like a lot of albums from Pop Gods, it’s too damn long, rocking at over an hour. Despite maybe benefitting from a couple of tracks cut or saved for the next project, this a super positive album about self-liberation, one that openly borrows from and respects the history of Black queer dance culture. And while I am the first to admit that’s not a scene I know much if anything about, not quite being the demographic for it, I believe that Beyoncé is smart enough to take the very best from it and make it her own.


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

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