I’ve been slammed with work and the joys of owning a 99-year-old house recently, which means my ability to see concerts has been severely compromised. And it’s too bad, because there are a number of shows I’d like to see these days.
A number of new and relatively recent releases have caught my eye and found their way to my Apple Music account, however. I’m really enjoying the latest albums from Hayes Carll, Patty Griffin, Josh Ritter (produced by Jason Isbell), Jack Ingram, Ryan Bingham and Steve Earle. And I can’t wait to hear all of “Breakdown on 20th Ave. South,” the long overdue album from Buddy and Julie Miller. Three of the 14 tracks are available now, and each is stellar.
There are no surprises to be found with these artists, because all are among my favorites. I’m also enjoying Maren Morris’ new album, and Kacey Musgraves’ award-winning “Golden Hour” has snuck into heavy rotation. “Dying Star,” by Musgraves’ husband Ruston Kelly, has remained there since I saw him at The Anthem earlier this year.
Two that you need to seek out and find are “Alive in Tennessee,” a live album that captures what makes Anderson East’s live shows so much fun, and Rhiannon Giddens haunting “There is No Other,” recorded with Francesco Turrisi.
Meanwhile, here are some other music-related thoughts from the past several weeks:
• Your ability to survive a MRI could depend on your tolerance for Lou Reed's “Metal Machine Music” album. I had one recently and hated it, but have to say that hearing punk and metal bands close up over the years came in handy when I was in the tube.
• Quote of the day, from an appearance Bruce Springsteen made to promote the Netflix documentary of his Broadway show: "I think as you get older, that’s what you grow comfortable with: Faith is faith. It’s trust. It’s about all of the mysteries and the answers that you’re never going to come up with…But if you let it be, that’s when you find a little bit of peace. That’s what I’ve found anyway.”
• I saw a music press release that made me realize journalism and P.R. copy editing have really taken a hit over the past few years. Check out this lead and tell me what’s wrong with it: “The late Alex Chilton, former lead singer of Big Star and the Box Tops, will release two new LP’s, Songs From Robin Hood Lane and From Memphis to New Orleans."
I’m pretty sure that Chilton had little to do with the current releases. But with holograms of Elvis, Selena and Prince floating around, who knows?
A few thoughts on music from a 50-year-old white guy… (Photos are mine, too.)
I’ve spent my life trying to explain to people why I enjoy the music I like, and (usually unsuccessfully) why they should, too.
Leave it to Jason Isbell to explain it better than I could: “It’s punk, but it doesn’t sound like punk. It’s punk with different instruments and different songs.”
Isbell then goes on to explain, “It’s people who are trying to do the right thing. When it’s at its best, it’s people trying to make music because they love music, and they’re not trying to swindle anybody, they’re not trying to get rich and famous immediately, they’re trying to make music that goes back to their roots, they’re trying to have some credibility, they’re trying to be authentic.”
I recently saw Isbell at the UNITE to Face Addiction rally in Washington, D.C., where he was on the bill with Joe Walsh, Sheryl Crow, Steven Tyler, the Goo-Goo Dolls, and The Fray, among others. As a freelancer, I received a press pass to take pictures at the event, but my primary interest was seeing Isbell live for the first time.
All afternoon, I found myself telling people about Isbell’s music. Despite critical acclaim, especially for his last two albums, and growing awareness, many in the crowd didn’t know who he was.
“Just listen,” I said. “Then you’ll know.”
I turned around to look at the crowd during “Cover Me Up.”
I wish I could be a music critic or a concert photographer. I love capturing live events and think I’m pretty decent at it, but I'm not sure I'd be the most objective critic (if there is such a thing). I know what I like, what I don’t, and even though I’m open to anything that catches my ear, I’m reasonably sure my opinions wouldn’t gibe with much of what passes for criticism these days.
That said, here are some things I’ve heard recently that I’ve enjoyed and put into heavy rotation:
• Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats: “SOB”
The best, most unrepentant song I’ve heard since “Rehab.” It brings a smile to my face everytime I hear it, and the video is terrific. Their self-titled album gives me the same warm feeling that “St. Paul and the Broken Bones” did last year.
• Tommy Stinson: “Can’t Be Bothered”
I’m a huge fan of The Replacements, but only recently have gotten into Stinson’s solo work. This is his latest, a single from a yet-to-be-delivered album, and it’s really good. It made me go back and revisit Bash & Pop’s “Friday Night is Killing Me,” the first Stinson solo effort and best album that came from The Replacements ashes. That is, until Paul Westerberg delivered “Mono.”
• Keith Richards: “Crosseyed Heart”
“Live at the Hollywood Palladium,” an out-of-print live album from 1988, remains in my rotation because it represents the best of what made the Stones great. And that, at least for me, is Richards. His new album is more of the same, which is plenty good.
• Dave and Phil Alvin: “Lost Time”
The follow up to the brothers' “Common Ground” is better, more lived in, and always welcome, although I find myself yearning for an album by Dave and his Guilty Men lineup.
• Amy Helm: “Didn’t It Rain”
On what is an admittedly male-centric list, the solo debut by Levon’s daughter more than holds its own. Terrific harmony, nice songwriting, and a couple of cuts that feature Helm’s late father on drums.
• Ryan Adams: “1989”
Everyone it seems has an opinion on Adams’ track-by-track cover/reinterpretation of Taylor Swift’s multiplatinum album. No matter what you think about Swift, and I’m an admirer of her talent (although I could do without the rest), Adams’ effort ranks up there with his best and ballsiest work.
• William Harries Graham and the Painted Redstarts: “Foreign Fields”
Damn, this is good, and Graham is at least 20 years younger than anyone on my current list. Jon Dee Graham’s son contributes an album that is nothing like his father’s work musically. And when it’s this good, who cares?
Great quote: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.” — Lady Gaga
Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of The Replacements, and saw them twice on their all-too-brief (though highly entertaining) reunion. Still I couldn’t help but laugh after reading this comment recently: The Replacements and REM were the Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the fucked up.
An EP not on my earlier list but also worth mentioning is Glen Hansard’s tribute to Jason Molina, the Songs: Ohia and Magnetic Electric Co. singer/songwriter who died two years ago from alcohol-related complications at the age of 39.
“It Was Triumph We Once Proposed: Songs of Jason Molina” is Hansard’s five-song tribute. It includes loyal covers of two of Molina’s best-received compositions, “Hold On Magnolia” and “Farewell Transmission,” either of which makes the entire EP worth owning. “Farewell Transmission” is especially melancholy and beautiful, and a reminder of how too many musicians leave us too soon.
To see Molina perform “Farewell Transmission,” just click on the video. (Song starts at the 1:20 mark)
Great quote finale: From Jason Isbell, pretty much summing up my attitude toward writing about music in this or any other space — “I’m happy [for] anything that’s given me more of a home to do what I like to do.”