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Music Notes

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Before we go to the shows–and there are some good ones I have seen–we have two things to get out of the way. First and foremost, all hail the great Spider John Koerner upon his death. The late 50s/early 60s folk scene mostly sucked. That music is almost all horrible. The Kingston Trio is just one example. There are a few exceptions, the most of importance of which (pre-Dylan anyway) was the three lunatics from Minneapolis named Dave Ray, Tony Glover, and John Koerner. Koerner/Ray/Glover was THE band of the early folk explosion. Were they more or less imitating the Black bluesmen they heard on the rare records they collected? Of course they were, but my god, that’s so much better than trying to neuter that music for white college kids. They never had huge fame–how could they? But their influence was gigantic. Among other things, Koerner was Dylan’s first mentor before he ever got to New York and ran into Ramblin’ Jack Elliott while searching for Woody Guthrie. Second, the Doors, and I mean fuck the Doors, but still, signed with Electra because that label had put out Blues, Rags, and Hollers, a freaking fantastic album that 100% holds up today. I want to quote David Bowie on this band:

“Demolishing the puny vocalizations of ‘folk’ trios like the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Whatsit, Koerner and company showed how it should be done.”

Goddamn right they did. This was hard American music, sung not by the people who wrote it at this time, but by people who actually understood it and channeled it. Ray Wylie Hubbard’s song “Spider, Snake, and Little Sun” sums up their influence as well anything else.

Then Koerner went on to not exactly have a solo “career” exactly, but he released a number of albums at least into the 90s that range from pretty good to complete classics. Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Been is an A+ album for me. This is just one of the great folk albums I have ever heard. Again, the man channeled the American folk tradition not as something nice–fuck nice, it’s the worst thing one can say about music–but as something dangerous, sexy, funny, bawdy, hard. His cover of “Old Chisholm Trail” is a particular favorite of mine.

Back in the early 2000s, I used to know this truck driver who was part of the traveling folk scene when he could get off from trucking. This wasn’t playing festivals and things. This was more like a bunch of people rent a campground and hang out and play for each other. Koerner was the glue of this little scene and he knew him pretty well, said he was a great guy among other things. RIP you complete, 100% legend.

Speaking of complete 100% legends, Happy 100th Birthday to the great Marshall Allen, who still leads the Sun Ra Arkestra! In fact, Allen has a new album today with Matthew Shipp and Joe Morris! The man has been playing professionally since the 1940s!!!!! I bought a ticket to the Friday of Newport Jazz specifically to see him, let’s hope he has a few more months in him. But he keeps on trucking! I suppose Sonny Rollins started about then too, but he hasn’t been able to play for several years now, while Allen tours! Nice genes!

Now onto the shows:

Friends, I saw Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I had never see Neil before. I figured I never would. I missed him in his 90s revival, when I was going to some shows, but I didn’t really have much money in those years and Neil was pricey. Hell, I still regret not shelling out the $40 to see Johnny Cash play in Knoxville, which turned out to be the last full show he ever played. The next show, up in Illinois I think, he collapsed on stage and never played live again except a couple of very brief special things. So see the people when you can! Thus, I saw Neil Young. Oddly, there’s no other real old living rocker that I care that much to see. I’d see David Byrne I guess, but that’s a different generation. The Stones? Sure, if I got cheap tickets, but not at those prices, although the reviews of the latest tour have been strong. Neil though, yeah, I’ll pay for that.

Neil is an old man. But he still sounds great. He still rocks and his voice is fresh. Now, Molina and Talbot are not exactly holding the rhythm together well in 2024–they are in their 80s. But then again, they weren’t exactly good musicians in the 70s either. Micah Nelson–son of Willie–is on lead guitar for Neil right now and he’s good of course. But the point is that Neil is still well worth your time and money. Having never seen him before, I definitely had desires for songs to hear and I did pretty well. I figured he’s start with “Cortez the Killer,” as he’s been doing that first most of the tour. But to hear that song live? I mean, sure the history is bullshit–the Aztecs lived peacefully my settler colonialist ass–but it’s still a great fucking song and that’s what matters. On top of that, I got to hear “Powderfinger.” I got to hear “Fuckin’ Up.” I got to hear “Like a Hurricane.” He did “Human Highway” and “Comes a Time” in his short acoustic set. He did “Heart of Gold” too but I don’t really like that song much. Our seats were pretty fair for an arena type show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts. When I was there, I realized I hadn’t been to a show in a venue like that since…college? We were close enough and the sound was good.

However…the opening thing was one of the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It’s not even exactly an opening act. It is something Neil put together. Basically, he hired a guy to imitate a preacher, hired a bunch of backing singers, and then a little band too, to preach about environmentalism. It was unspeakably awful. Look, I’m a hypocrite like everyone else. My carbon footprint is not low! But still, literally every single person at that show drove to it since there’s nowhere you can walk. The idea of preaching about the need for environmentalism in freaking Mansfield is ridiculous enough, but the act itself was just awful. I think I’d rather attend a Trump rally than see that again. And then it’s not like Neil played any of his electric car songs or anything else environmental (and really thank god for that, no one wants to hear about his goddamn car). I suspect not a single person was moved by this performance. I sure wasn’t.

Other shows–how about my 6th Waxahatchee shows a few weeks ago! She’s so great! The newish album totally works live. She has leaned so far into being from Alabama and it’s refreshing to hear these songs rather than someone running away from where they are from. How about my 4th Robbie Fulks show, in which he was fantastic yet again. Patty Griffin opened for that one and I have to say–zzzzzzzzzzzz…..I am really glad Griffin recovered from the fall that could have paralyzed her (and should have actually, the doctors thought she wouldn’t walk again), but that was a very boring set and my wife was even more bored than I was, which is saying something. But Fulks is so funny live and his songwriting has gotten so good in the last 15 years. What a great set of tunes! I also saw Ratboys in New Haven a couple of months ago, which I almost forgot about. My friend wanted to see them, I had heard good things, and….yeah, it was cool enough rock and roll. I need to listen to the album, which is on my list.

In the jazz world, I saw Anna Webber’s Shimmer and Wince at Firehouse 12 in New Haven a couple of weeks ago. That was great. I almost saw them at the Bang on a Can Festival in Brooklyn I talked about the last time I did one of these, but I got there late and was going to have to wait in the rain and I was really tired and it was late, so I didn’t wait for someone to leave. Instead, I went to New Haven later. The band is Webber on tenor sax and flue, Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, Mariel Roberts on cello, Elias Stemeseder on synthesizers, and Lesley Mok on drums. It struck me a bit at this show how rarely one sees synths in jazz these days and I wonder why that is. Anyway, Webber writes tunes about feelings and they do shimmer and they do wince. I love Mok’s drums work (I’ve seen her before in the Myra Melford Fire and Water Quintet) and O’Farrill is so great on trumpet (he’s also in Mary Halvorson’s Amaryllis. Another thing about this is how the young people are taking over the modern jazz scene and leading it in awesome new places. No one in this band was over 40 or so. Given how long the olds have held on in recent decades in jazz, it’s great to hear new voices taking everything in completely new and awesome directions.

I have a few more shows too, but I guess I will save them for next post, since this is too long anyway!

Other notes:

Alan Braufman picks his Bandcamp favorites, which is great because his work deserves more publicity and because he picked a bunch of albums I’ve never heard before.

On Kosovo’s queer ballroom scene.

Speaking of great blues-oriented people passing from the scene, definitely need to mention the loss of Phil Wiggins from Cephas & Wiggins. I love that Piedmont blues style and he was a master of the harmonica within that.

Lists like this are pointless, but I do like Apple Music putting Lauryn Hill at the top of their all-time album list and kicking off the Beatles, just on the principle that Boomers do not own the history of popular music. I will however say that including Frank Ocean’s Blonde in the top 10 is the most absurd thing possible, as it is not even his best album, nor do I think even particularly good.

Musicians are not happy about Israel’s genocidal campaign in Palestine and there are at least 16 compilations out there to raise money for Palestine.

Playlist from the last two weeks:

  1. Kris Kristofferson, The Essential, disc 1
  2. The Weather Station, Ignorance
  3. Lydia Loveless, Nothing’s Gonna Stand in My Way
  4. Robert Earl Keen, Gringo Honeymoon
  5. Marissa Nadler, The Path of the Clouds
  6. Borderlands: From Conjunto To Chicken Scratch
  7. Drive By Truckers, Decoration Day
  8. Sons of the San Joaquin, From Whence Came the Cowboy
  9. Margaret Glaspy, Born Yesterday
  10. First Aid Kit, Drunken Trees
  11. Daniel Carter/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Gerald Cleaver, Welcome Adventure, Vol. 1
  12. Kae Tempest, Book of Traps and Lessons
  13. Curtis Mayfield, Curtis Live
  14. Bikini Kill, Pussy Whipped
  15. Merle Haggard, A Portrait of Merle Haggard
  16. Ray Wylie Hubbard, Crusades of the Restless Knights
  17. Joey Purp, iiiDrops
  18. Dave Alvin, Public Domain: Songs from the Wild Land
  19. Julien Priester & Sam Rivers, Hints on Light and Shadow
  20. Robbie Fulks, Gone Away Backward
  21. Patterson Hood, Heat Lightning Rumbling in the Distance
  22. The Beths, Future Me Hates Me
  23. Mitski, Laurel Hell
  24. Norman Blake, Back Home in Sulphur Springs
  25. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, self-titled
  26. Daddy Issues, Deep Dream
  27. Elizabeth Cook, Aftermath
  28. U.S. Girls, Heavy Light (x2)
  29. Blood Lemon, self-titled
  30. The Regrettes, How Do You Love?
  31. Janelle Monae, Dirty Computer
  32. Waylon Payne, Blue Eyes, the Harlot, the Queer, the Pusher, & Me
  33. William Parker, Mayan Space Station (x2)
  34. Irving Fields & Roberto Rodriguez, Oy Vey! Ole!
  35. Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free
  36. Lucinda Williams, Happy Woman Blues
  37. Jerome Harris, Hidden in Plain View
  38. JoAnn Faletta, John Luther Adams: Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing
  39. Wussy, Attica!
  40. Iris Dement, Sing the Delta
  41. Tropical Fuck Storm, A Laughing Death in Meat Space
  42. Bill Callahan, Dream River
  43. Bonnie Prince Billy, The Letting Go
  44. Blood Orange, Freetown Sound
  45. PJ Harvey, White Chalk
  46. George Jones, A Picture of Me (Without You)
  47. Wussy, Public Domain, Vol. 1
  48. Wussy, Getting Better
  49. Steve Earle, Ghosts of West Virginia
  50. Margo Cliker, Valley of Heart’s Delight
  51. The Del McCoury Band, The Family
  52. Ariana Grande, Sweetener
  53. Matana Roberts, Coin Coin Chapter Five: In the Garden
  54. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Theory of Ice
  55. The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz, disc 5
  56. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
  57. Lydia Loveless, Real
  58. Matana Roberts, Coin Coin Chapter Five: In the Garden
  59. Doc Watson, self-titled
  60. Jade Jackson, Wilderness
  61. Leonard Cohen, Songs from a Room
  62. Death Cab for Cutie, Plans
  63. Patsy Cline, Live at the Opry
  64. Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
  65. Buddy Tabor, Writing on Stone
  66. Richard Thompson, Finding Better Words (The Essential RT), disc 2
  67. Bobby Bare, Great American Saturday Night
  68. Run the Jewels, RTJ 4
  69. The Rolling Stones, Let in Bleed
  70. Waxahatchee, Ivy Tripp
  71. James McMurtry, Where’d You Hide the Body
  72. Morgan Wade, Reckless
  73. The Paranoid Style, The Purposes of Music in General (2x)
  74. Dilly Dally, Sore
  75. Sonny Rollins, Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. 2
  76. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
  77. Conjunto Music from South Texas, Vol. 3
  78. Soul Sok Sega: Sega Sounds from Mauritius, 1973-1979
  79. John Coltrane, Africa Brass
  80. Camper Van Beethoven, Telephone Free Landslide
  81. Sun Ra, Singles
  82. Bill Monroe, Live Recordings 1956-1969: Off the Record Volume 1
  83. Dave Alvin, Romeo’s Escape
  84. Dwight Yoakam, Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room
  85. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, One Endless Night
  86. Willie Nelson, Phases and Stages
  87. Tanya Tucker, Delta Dawn
  88. Hurray for the Riff Raff, Life on Earth
  89. Margaret Glaspy, Emotions and Math
  90. The Paranoid Style, The Interrogator
  91. Wussy, Left for Dead (x2)
  92. Eddie Hinton, Very Extremely Dangerous
  93. Freddie Hart, Super Kind of Woman
  94. Waylon Jennings, Waylon Live, disc 1
  95. Tom T. Hall, In Search of a Song
  96. Tom Russell, Blood and Candle Smoke
  97. H.C. McEntire, Every Acre
  98. Terry Allen, Juarez
  99. Juliana Hatfield, Pussycat
  100. Dwight Yoakam, Second Hand Heart
  101. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Live from the Ryman
  102. Charles Gayle|Michael Wimberly|Vattel Cherry|William Parker, Consecration
  103. Willie Nelson, 16 Biggest Hits
  104. John Moreland, In the Throes
  105. Big Thief, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
  106. Boygenius, The Record
  107. Sun Ra, Concert for the Comet Kohoutek
  108. Art Ensemble of Chicago, The Meeting
  109. William Parker, Painters Winter
  110. Top Country Hits of the 1960s
  111. Talking Heads, Speaking in Tongues
  112. Bobby Bare, Cowboys and Daddys
  113. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake
  114. The Osborne Brothers, From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom
  115. Drive By Truckers, Brighter than Creation’s Dark
  116. Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((world war))
  117. Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock
  118. Living Colour, Stain
  119. Townes Van Zandt, High, Low, and In Between
  120. Amanda Shires, Take It Like a Man
  121. Gillian Welch, Hell Among the Yearlings
  122. Purple Mountains, self-titled
  123. Matt Sweeney & Bonnie Prince Billy, Superwolf
  124. George Jones, The Essential, disc 2
  125. Virginia Wing, private LIFE
  126. Ensemble Pittoresque, For This is Past
  127. Matthew Shipp, Equilibirum
  128. Hacienda Brothers, Arizona Motel
  129. Robbie Fulks, Country Love Songs
  130. Drive By Truckers, Southern Rock Opera, disc 2
  131. James McMurtry, Just Us Kids
  132. Red Sovine, The Country Way
  133. Doc Watson, Doc Watson and Son
  134. Willie Nelson, Country Willie Sings His Own Songs
  135. Ray Price, Another Bridge to Burn
  136. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, Brooklyn Babylon

Album Reviews. I went so far in on the albums I own the last two weeks (136 in 2 weeks is a lot, even for me) that I only got a few new albums in there. No one cares though.

Brittany Howard, What Now

Howard is a tremendously powerful artist and she continues to more forward with her vision, even if you only get an album every few years. I appreciate what she is doing here. She continues to expand her sound palette and various songs have strong techno or jazz influences we haven’t seen before. The core remains her psychedelic soul-rock. I should like this more than I do. It’s fine. It’s good, even. It does not blow me away. There are solid songs here, but…it doesn’t explode like you’d expect.

B

Lake Street Dive, Obviously

I have felt this popular band was basically white person pastiche around soul music. I mean, if you want to listen to soul music, you can listen to people who are far better at it than Lake Street Dive or St. Paul and the Broken Bones or others of the long history of bands making Black music safe for white people. Brittney Howard is a great first place to start, actually. And I want to be clear, this is not about race and authenticity or any of that shit. I will listen to Alice Russell all day. Amy Winehouse was epically talented and she wasn’t making music safe for anyone, including herself.

But given the popularity, I figured I’d try again, this time with Lake Street Dive’s 2021 release, their last. You know, it’s not that this band sucks. Like, it’s OK. It just seems pointless–except for its purpose of making Black music safe for white people. It’s just anodyne pastiche soul/R&B.

B-

My Black Country: The Songs of Alice Randall

Alice Randall is the first Black woman to have a song hit #1 on the country charts. That was when Tricia Yearwood covered “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)” back in 1994. But although Randall is a very successful writer, her many country songs are less well-known and she didn’t personally have much of a recording career. She’s still very much around though and she recruited a whole bunch of the women at the center of the Black country scene that has exploded in the last decade to record her songs.

This is a really great compilation. Some of the songs are specifically different when recording by a Black woman, such as when Rhiannon Giddens covers “The Ballad of Sally Anne,” a lynching song. Some very much are feminist songs that work for any woman to sing, such as “Girls Ride Horses Too,” which is done here by Sistastrings. But the real key here is the combination of songs and performers. The performers love Randall and these are great songs. People such as Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Adia Victoria are in the prime of life and have their peak voices. They sound astounding, especially Russell on “Many Mansions.” I also somehow missed that Caroline Randall Williams is Alice’s daughter and she closes the album with “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)” with great love for her mom and everything her mom has stood for.

The last time I heard a country tribute album this good was the Johnny Paycheck tribute album that came out in about 2005. And honestly, this one might be even better. Fantastic work, no question will be near the top of my year end list.

A

Sylvie Courvoisier, Chimaera

I admit that I often find Courvoisier’s work too inaccessible, even by my standards. She is so deeply within the European chamber tradition and sometimes I need a little swing in my free jazz, you know? But release from last year is about as hot as her music gets and it mostly works pretty well. Some of it is a larger band than she usually works with, including Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Christian Fennesz on guitar and electronics, Drew Gress on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums and vibes. These six pieces, which span 86 minutes so it is no short lesson, are really at their best quite beautiful explorations of the boundaries between chamber music and jazz. I would start here if you are interested in hearing some of Courvoisier’s work.

A-

Winds, Look at the Sky

Entirely acceptable but not very interesting psychesque indie rock. Not much more to say than that. Shrug.

B-

As always, this is an open thread for all things music and art (and basketball!) but none things politics.

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