every few months for ten years or more, i've been checking itunes for the van morrison live album it's too late to stop now, which is my candidate for best live rock album (but really, if i were assigning it to a genre, it'd be soul, though soul and rock aren't perfectly distinct by any means). i have it on lp, but i wore it out in the 70s so bad that's it's mostly unplayable. anyway, it is up, the original two-record set along with multiple further volumes. i'm not sure just what those are, but will explore.
the thing is just great: it's a big band with horn section and strings, recorded with no overdubs. van is wildly improvisational and eccentric, but also working perfectly with the band and the arrangements, and there are so many great songs, some of them in quite their best versions, like this:
it was released in '73, and i have always speculated that the early springsteen albums would be impossible without it; the instrumental configuration is similar, as also the street-corner symphony of the lyric themes and even the vocal style. only, van is so so much better: there's always a lilt, a subtlety, an idiosyncrasy, a change of tempo or emphasis, a sense of play. in contrast, i hear springsteen as pretentious, big for the sake of big, with a bludgeoning and unsubtle rhythm and bellowing vocals that i associate with my chronic headaches from the era. bs might get whytheysucked pretty soon by the way.
the new brandy clark album, big day in a small town, is certainly the best country album so far this year, and brandy is the best songwriter working anywhere near mainstream country music, and one of the very best singers. it might be better than twelve stories, which is saying something. there are no weak songs. the specificity, realism, narrative structure,and phrasemaking are incomparable. what would she charge to write the whole next kacey musgraves album?
the biggest shift from 12 stories is the production. that one used a very stripped-down acoustic frame; she sounds great like that. believe it or not, i think she's been listening to taylor swift and stuff. well, she wants some hit singles, and if anyone should have them, she should. and i think that all the different production styles work beautifully with the songs, and it is all country no matter the frame.
i've been on the other side of that, which is a long hard road, so to speak. perhaps i should write a reply, or maybe joe maphis already did. but don't think that it's all that poppy; she uses a variety of approaches, including more trad things (but it is all more 'produced' than the last album). how about this lyric?:
anyway, just great song after great song; i'd like to post them all.
i really don't have any twitter skills. i'd like to launch #whytheysuck, though. and in any forum, i'd like to hear your candidates: people who are more or less universally adored and horribly overrated, or who face untreated sucking issues. it's like an intervention; we're doing it because we care, for the suckers' own good. they will never stop sucking and start blowing until they admit they have a sucking problem
the debut of sister sadie is the best bluegrass album i've heard in some time. beautiful singing and virtuoso picking.
just like the original runaways, one of them's a banker and one is the director of academic advising at belmont university. and just like the original runaways, they love jesus and feature the great dale ann bradley.
the mandolin is killer; watch her chop the rhythm on the one below. these vids don't give you the quartet vocals, which are so lovely.
"Depart from me this moment" I told her with my voice Said she, "But I don't wish to" Said I, "But you have no choice" "I beg you, sir", she pleaded From the corners of her mouth "I will secretly accept you And together we'll fly south".
Just then Tom Paine, himself Came running from across the field Shouting at this lovely girl And commanding her to yield And as she was letting go her grip Up Tom Paine did run "I'm sorry, sir", he said to me "I'm sorry for what she'd done".
if you need me to start explaining why that sucks there's no hope anyway.
Winterlude, Winterlude, my little apple Winterlude by the corn in the field Winterlude, let's go down to the chapel Then come back and cook up a meal Well, come out when the skating rink glistens By the sun near the old crossroad sign The snow is so cold but our love can be bold Winterlude, don't be rude please be mine.
Winterlude, Winterlude, my little daisy Winterlude by the telephone wire Winterlude, it's making me lazy Come one, sit by the logs in the fire The moonlight reflects from the window Where the snowflakes they cover the sand Come out tonight everything will be tight Winterlude, this dude thinks you're grand.
Something there is about you that moves with style and grace I was in a whirlwind, now I am in some better place My hand's on the sabre and you've picked up on the baton Something there is about you that I can't quite put my finger on.
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your mouth Blowing down the backroads heading south Idiot wind blowing every time you move your teeth You're an idiot babe It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe
Old man sailin' in a dinghy boat Down there Old man sailin' in a dinghy boat On there Gonna pull man down on a suckling hook Gonna pull man into the suckling brook Oh yeah !
these five examples are drawn from the first seven songs i looked at. the other two weren't good either. 'overrated' doesn't even begin to cut it. there has never been a less competent lyricist.
watcha listenin to, exprofcrispy? my candidate for the most underrated recording artist of all time: ann peebles, everything i can get ahold of. she is at once in the mainline of great soul singers - aretha, for one - but also with something completely distinctive. man she sounds both letter-perfect and perfectly spontaneous, every time out. without checking, i'm going to say that 'i can't stand the rain' (one of the great songs in pop music history) might have been her only top ten hit. but there is a truckload of great material. for one thing, it's the hi record shop (responsible also for all those great al green songs): comparable to the stax/volt or muscle shoals soul shops, but with a groove at once mellower and more evil.
man the horn charts just kill me. gonna also direct you to 'i'm gonna tear your playhouse down' and 'feel like breakin up somebody's home,' which i've blogged before. the albums straight from the heart and tellin' it. also i'm strongly recommending hi records: the soul years, with the great o.v wright, among others.
He admitted that he lived in Nashville because that was where the work was for him, but he as Texan as you can be, and all in a good way. Work hard, drink some whiskey, sit around with friends and talk shit while passing the IW Dance and a guitar. Be tolerant, kind, and take no shit. He was a frequent visitor to the "Guitar Pulls" at Johnny Cash's home. People would show up, play their stuff, and pick and grin and bullshit. Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Rodney Crowell, John Anderson, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris,Bobby Bare and whomever else was around would show up. Showcase their new stuff casually -- somewhere between "I've been working on this one" and "networking." Get ideas, add and steal licks, sing some harmony and learn from each other how their music could sound.
my fred eaglesmith playlist at this point consists of 202 songs, albums stretching from 1983 to 2013. I'm shocked i wasn't aware, actually, before i was martyred to miranda lambert's version of his 'time to get a gun.' it might be the greatest body of songwriting in a country vein in that period, and one of the greatest of recording artistry. over and over and etc he is just an astonishing lyricist: these songs are so beautifully and poetically crafted, and yet so connected to country and blues traditions, with a rare combination of skill and simplicity.
though the songs have some things in common across the whole body - especially a melancholy-to-devastated mood - the work is remarkably varied. it's hard to believe listening to his recent stuff, but in the '80s he could do a classic bluegrass tenor, with excellence and also rough authenticity, and plus he could write bluegrass/acoustic country songs that sound like classics from the late 1940s and '50s, that could have been recorded by the stanleys, for example.
the combination of simplicity and subtlety makes him sound classic to me. stuff like this is framed in a more electric country vein:
what a beautiful piece of writing. fucking perfect.
several of the albums, such as 'cha cha cha' have really very distinctive sonic approaches, and whatever he gets into, eaglesmith handles beautifully; the instrumental and production frame comes out intrinsic to the lyrics and singing.
for example, i'm always a sucker for that farfisa/texmex thing, which he pulls out on tambourine.
the oeuvre is too vast to really do justice to without really going long, but i'd urge you to explore. rarely has someone so great been so underappreciated.
that's audrey auld on the duet, i believe. he does often return to guns, one way or another. of course, that's very traditional in country music (as hip hop, for example), and i would urge the police and academic administrators even in oklahoma not to construe the songs as death threats.
i'll say again that this one is just an astonishing composition:
sometimes he sounds like ralph stanley, sometimes like prine or dylan, sometimes like steve earle or vice versa, often only like himself.
geez, what happened? i must say, i think prince compares extremely favorably to michael jackson, for example. also davidbowie. i reviewed his albums early and through the eighties, including at his apex moment, with 'when doves cry' and 'purple rain.' i finally saw him around 2000 at the meadowlands; we were up in the rafters. it was one of the best shows i ever saw: so clean, so propulsive: he was really throwing down the funk with maceo parker and stuff on that tour. he had many great songs; maybe i don't need to do the playlist, even. every few months 'raspberry beret' starts playing on repeat in my mind, e.g. i particularly liked the whole aesthetic of 'kiss': so stripped down to the essence; one of the great pop singles of its era.
now, there were problems too, very often. you don't really want to watch the movie purple rain now, except for kitsch-value and to watch morris day and the time get down. the movie after that (i've repressed the title) was far worse. he wrote some great riffs, but many songs were built on boring, repetitive or unattractive little figures; i think he had a bit too much faith that everything was genius. even listen to '1999': now whistle or hum the riff; it's just boring. and as he went on, his music got less interesting i feel, though i stopped listening at a certain point. but i don't think i would recommend a marathon of all his albums; there's a lot of non-good or just puzzling stuff.
still, as his appearance in baltimore last year and many other things showed, he stayed so much sharper, saner, and more relevant than michael or a lot of other people who reach that level. i don't actually think it's good for anyone to get that level of adulation, and no one quite deserves it anyway. but lord that boy could get it.
michael and prince (and madonna and me) were all born in 1958; the attrition rate is rather disconcerting.
After reading an article in the New Yorker that seemed to confuse Merle Haggard with Jean Paul Belmondo and maybe Johnny Holiday, I gave up. Lucinda Williams recommended a piece and that made me think it might be really possible to still communicate authentically in English. So, while this is kind of a review of the writer's piece, it's really my tribute. Haggard was a lot of things but one thing no one ever accused him of to his face, anyway, was being some kind of auteur. So, in a probably misguided attempt at authenticity...Melancholy Honkytonk.
Being authentic and honest has it's dangers and downsides -- ask Crispin -- but if you work at it, you might be surprised a bit. Maybe even in a good way. --Mike
i hope people take this chance to listen beyond the first couple of cuts to merle haggard, especially the early stuff. packages i'd recommend: i'm a lonesome fugitive and swinging doors and the bottle let me down.
also, i think 'the strangers' is the best name for a country band.
speaking of chinese philosophy, william michael morgan is the best new male country singer i've heard in awhile. plus i believe his name is straight from general hospital. anyway, he's working in that mode i love: george strait/alan jackson/randy travis early-90s neo-trad (now that's a good name for a genre). he's both letter-perfect and heartfelt along those lines, i believe.
when i was writing my country music column, i used to get dozens or a hundred cd's every week or two. so you really have to comb quickly, plus it was the very height of 'alt.country', which came to be called 'americana'. you'd get thirty cd's that were competent renderings of similar styles. it got hard to hear. anyway, i think i did get fred eaglesmith enthusiastically once. but going back to the albums '6 volts' and 'lipstick, lies and gasoline': he is just one of the greatest country writers and singers who has worked in this era. an obvious comparison would be steve earle; they do sound similar vocally and so on. and i love steve earle. but the weakest songs on those albums are comparable to earle at his best, and the best are just trascendently excellent compositions, the kind of thing that only a handful of people in a generation can possibly do. so, i want you to concentrate on this song and really hear the lyric. it is deep; it is amazing; it is profoundly moving (to me, anyway!) i do love the melodies - simple and beautiful country constructions - and the performance/recording style too.
i reviewed a couple of fred eaglesmith's albums when i was doing a country music column for the nypress, early 2000s. like a doink, i sort of forgot him after that. i assumed without checking and maybe even said, that miranda lambert wrote it. man she owned it like she wrote it, and she is a fine songwriter. someone reminded me about eaglesmith somewhere; man i appreciate that, on many grounds, because the man is frigging beautiful.
shit! i also forgot that i already have a couple of hand-held missile launchers in my basement. calling all janes! load up the trunk with the mawfuckin arsenal, sweeties! (i hurt my back.) we goin skank hunting!
i have a terrifying admission to make: my work is plagiarized from ludwid wittgenstein. that's why my work sucks so bad that it tastes like sperm. (wait does that work? what is sucking, what ejaculating etc in this metaphor? fuck it i just don't care anymore. anyway i plagiarized that from ludwig too, of course.) worse than that, my actual favorite song by the rolling stones, whom - as you know - i have proven mathematically to be the greatest band in history, is this one. i feel that proof of the transcendent greatness of this song - which is transcendently greater than any other song in the very history of songs - is unlikely to emerge through the mathematical disciplines as currently configured, though each of these, of course and incomprehensibly, is a non-denumerably infinite realm. this will certainly require the profound yet logically impossible development of trans-non-adenumerable infinite infinities, or whatever. fortunately i have some free time, and i'm devoting my next 57 years to scratching futilely, like a cute little kitten, at this impermeable surface. when i get it, as i inevitably shall, i shall dedicate the non-denumerable or entirely nonexistent nobel to jane irish and jane sartwell.
christ i had forgotten how hilarious and great this whole album is. you'd think that would be hard when you listen to it twice every day for five years. right now i'm hearing it as their best album, which is ridiculous since i'd also rank sticky fingers as the greatest album in rock history, this one outside the top 50. i have overcome rationality itself and finally realized the teachings of my dear teacher soren kierkegaard. when i was attacking him during his office hours once at the university of beaumont (texas)... man, he was hard to deal with; he'd just sit there laconically, his face invisible underneath that stetson, loading and unloading that fucking colt; like my dearish rorty, he'd just revel in his irrationality, glorying epiphanically in every reductio ad absurdum with which i battered him. that shit sucked too, like..whatevs. but i'm suddenly finding it very encouraging that i can forget literally anything. i used to be able to forget literally nothing.
plus i am so over these giant reflections on the whole shape of my life, like out and loving the woman artist: a how-to-guide, though these contain my most beautiful and honest writing (eds.? best am essays, etc?) but that shit is sysiphean or however one might spell that. i'm so over that shit. ok, am i certifiably sane now? then why the rubber room?1
1[did i make up this mode of comedy? absolutely not. it is what is known in theories of hilarity as 'high burlesque.' i have fucking perfected it though.]
remember i told you to go out and like listen to and download and pay for immortal tech's revolutionary, vol.2? you didn't, did you? ok. loadin' up the trunk with the mawfuckin arsenal, headin to your place. ok you got it?
i registered republican this year so i could vote for rand in the primary. now i'm stuck with competing fascists in my own fucking party! but...at least i'm not a democrat. if i were i'd dangle myself from my belt in this cell, where the oklahoma state troopers have tossed me after the beat-down.
so, we republicans have all been asking, since it was way too late, how we can stop trump. i am voting for tech, and one vote would be enough. yeah true he and his boys could just jump trump and rodneyking him. but i'd much rather have him in the twitter war or on the debate stage. people keep thinking no one can handle trump verbally; so adept, so funny and fun, so kicking your ass around like jeb bush was his rape victim. just because marco rubio is palpably incapable of besting a turnip in debate doesn't mean a goodly portion of the population couldn't blow up the dump truck.
admittedly, putting anyone on a debate stage with tech, much less a republican, is like vivisecting rabbit eyes. it's like watching mike tyson up against a white boy in those first few fights, or ronda rousey taking on jennifer aniston. still i'd tune in. just like i'm definitely tuning in when terrorists capture the president and torture him on live tv.
slower the better. can you imagine the ratings for that shit? let it run over like an american idol finale.
can i tell you a story? it's late '83 or early '84. i am living in poverty in london with my gf (eventually wife) rachael in a bedsit in chiswick. she is cleaning nice british people's houses illegally, i am busking on the tube and writing for melody maker (i'm in there like every week, sometimes with multiple pieces. but they are paying...5 lbs a pop or something? more for a big score like when i interviewed cyndi lauper, or would have interviewed chrissie hynde=my crush except she slammed the dressing-room door on (not in) my face at the hammersmith odeon. that only made me love her more, but made it 5 again.) anyway, they give me a plum assignment: fly to paris for two days, interview inxs and see two shows (they had the #1 right then i think), and see how far you can get inside the scene. ok, they were supposed to be these insane australian guys, the hardest-partying pretty boys the world had ever known. plus i actually thought they were a good pop band.
i was not necessarily the person you'd choose for this. i did drink and do drugs, but there was nothing i hated like some big party scene; i prefer to drink alone, actually, etc. this is fine if you're a record reviewer. not if you are doing big tour features and the like. but they were not only flying me to paris, they were paying me like what i'd made for the last 40 pieces or whatever. not saying no.
somehow i hooked up with the dude from new music express on the plane over; we might have known each other from gigs. he had gotten the very same rap: here are the passes. we talked to their people. do not go to the show and then back to the hotel. get the real story. he was this geeky-tall dude fresh caught from oxford. we actually looked at each other with some fear.
so, we cabbed over to the gig at a theatre. i think it was one of those things where the stadium-type band plays like five straight nights at a middle-sized venue. good show, just what you were expecting, very pro. michael hutchence was a pretty paradigm lead singer/showman/sex symbol type, kind of the next iteration of jagger and tyler. i was going to write about that. so, we go backstage. not only are they glad to see us, they were drinking whatever was the best champagne available in france and doing coke from these little mounds (if i had ever done coke, and if i had done it then, i would describe it as not quite like any coke i had ever done before, like if i had ever lived in bethesda with a coke dealer, say). that was trivial, but also there were a bunch of the world's most beautiful women in there, like nothing i had ever seen in my fucking life, seriously. and no other guys but my boy and me.
plenty to go around! said hutchence in his aussie thing. oh har har! i am trying to enter into the spirit of the thing, but to begin to form the picture think about how me and my boy look in this context. i was wearing clothes from london thrift shops (wait rumble shops? they had a term). i cut my own hair without a mirror before i came because the old lady down the hall would use the bathroom for two hours. i am 5'7" and not the very worst in maybe a gradschool context, but i am standing next to hutchence and co. with women whose sudden appearance would flummox any heterosexual man. i'm 22 (oops let's make it 24; i felt 14). also, just for the hell of it, sex was already not going well with my darling.
we split up into two limos? one crit to each limo with some band guys and plenty of girls? we hit multiple stops; i have no idea; socialites' special parties where there's margaret trudeau or something? it got to where we were the most hilarious thing ever, like they said, we brought our writing staff! they say they want to do a biography of michael! he's a redneck american! he was at oxford last year! he's 5 feet tall; he's 7' tall! aren't they scruffy? let's see how far they'll go! we did our part, because we were easily the most verbal people in the region and we were competing madly with each other; the whole way over it was music history trivia and assessments of the gigging bands in london etc. he was so wrong about everything. anyway: my god don't they talk! it's hilarious! let's see if we can shut them up!
after that it is a complete blank. i have this vague notion that they literally rolled me out of the limo in front of the hotel. both me and nme guy missed the gig the next night. but the paris paper said they played great (my boy read french, the fucker). we had collapsed into one room somehow and we sat there groaning, thinking about how to approach our editors. we had this notion that we could help each other fabricate stories that would like be long enough and seem plausible and still have some hijinks etc. we offered to write them for each other; oddly enough we each had little bundles of our own clips along, and we decided that - though each of us regarded ourselves as unique geniuses and disagreed about every pop act who ever played - our prose styles might be indistinguishable for general reader or editor. we thought it would be fun to try; well we were trying to comfort ourselves, like curling up and rocking back and forth for awhile. like we thought we'd tell michael, and he'd still think we were hilarious, and he'd invite us to the next tour, and we'd remember this time and write genius articles.
i think he had a girl who was still at oxford, or maybe u london. both were worried about our drinking, as i recall; maybe we'd both promised to be temperate and chaste. we had to figure out some fabrications there too, and we were helping each other. we could confirm each others' stories and meet each other's lovelies! we never did get any of the pieces to fit, like how we missed the plane, and why the stories looked wrong when they came out and so on and we just sort of gave up eventually over lunch in london. we were each engaged in covert self-examination for clues as to what might have happened with whom. then we drank a little more and passed out and missed our plane back in the morning, as foreshadowed.
i made 5, but he sent me out again as soon as i returned because he did like the review of the show. he just sat there shaking his head as i kind of vaguely drew the picture. he'd seen it before.
hutchence died in 1997, by auto-erotic asphyxiation. it has rather a mythological quality. that is the origin of my personal life telos, the single principle to which my very soul has been dedicated ever since, as often stated on this blog: never die of auto-erotic asphyxiation. the obits are excruciating.
I was screwing around a few years ago looking at YouTube and stumbled on Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks at either a Crossroads or a New Orleans Jazz Festival. She was playing her blonde D'Angelico and with that sweet little girl speaking voice she has said, "This is an old Junior Wells Song" and then proceeded to build a roof over the grounds, set it on fire and send it up to the sky. She was playing with passion and riffing with Derek and just making you know that old Junior, if he is conscious in the universe, was smiling, riffing on the harp and turning to Muddy and saying, "See, that's what I'm talking about..." and then she stepped back and handed the lead duties off to the one basically amazing guitarist who as usual, on his Gibson SG Classic, proceeded to remodel the whole damned stadium, again making his kind of adopted Uncle Dwayne, sitting on the other side of Muddy and leaning forward, to take a swig of Jack Daniels, and scream" Cook it, Kid, Cook it!"
Supposedly the Derek Trucks band and the Susan Tedeschi band are still in existence, but since most of both bands plus some others are in the TTB, I suspect that occasionally everybody just needs to take some time off. In this recording of their complete performance at ACL this year, Susan alludes to the fact that when they started talking about having one band, they watched Mad Dogs and Englishmen and said, "Yeah, that looks like fun...the whole traveling circus." I suspect that they're a lot more disciplined than that was, but still..not a bad inspiration.
There are other great bands out there doing something like this, but they remind me of one of the early 70s Van Morrison tours, maybe The Band and Street Choir -- full horns, double drummers, chorus, and so on. This is a privilege to listen to and fun to watch. Enjoy...
I heard the Burritos out in California could fly higher than the Byrds/ Roger McGuinn had a 12 string guitar, it was like nothing I ever heard... David Allan Coe, "Willie and Waylon and Me"
One of the joys of occasionally invading Crispin's space is to remind the world through my amateur efforts that we're dealing with a guy who should probably be music editor for Rolling Stone or at least their head critic. I always enjoy Crispy's criticism, and while I disagree with him on, well, most issues I do think he has great knowledge and insight on music, musicians, trends and so on. That obeisance paid, Guitar World published one of those lists of the greatest or most important or "Recorded in FSharpMinor" examples that are always fun to pick apart. In this case they are stalking the elusive 12 string guitar, and it's an interesting example of why most music magazines suck.
These things are always open to argument and while we recognize some 12 string work, a lot of it is just there. So some people appear to make the list because, well, they made the list. Either surprise that someone was playing a twelve and it sounded OK, or it's a great song and the band was famous for having a 12 String lead player. Go figure. Or a double-neck guitar -- critics love double neck guitars. So did I when I was fifteen. Unless the guy waving that ax around is Jimmy Page, I inevitably think of Cheap Trick or The Cyrkle when I see one.
the most interesting, and best, pop act i've seen emerge in several years is the duo twenty one pilots. my fifteen-year-old daughter and her set have been listening to them for a couple of years, and as she has adolesced, she has replaced me as the dj for long car rides. anyway, every time one of the pilots' songs came on i'd be all "whoa, who is that?"meanwhile they've suddenly hit with 'stressed out', which, amazingly, is #3 on the billboard chart right now (#1 and 2 are bieber). it's an eclectic and varied approach, a lot of complex play with genre and tempo and melodic changes within the same song and across songs. they'll tell you 'this is not hip hop', but they've definitely got hip hop on board. reggae. rock. synth-pop, punk, neo-folk, and, you know, that max martin current poppy thing too. just gonna assert that they have the best lyrics i have heard coming out of my various playback devices in a long time, both sort of randomly but suggestively poetic and really quite philosophically wild and potent, both intervening in the contemporary culture and pulling you into much deeper reflection. they have three albums, and i'm in the process of assimilating them, but here are a couple of pretty damned amazing examples from blurryface.
and think how many styles you've heard already, and how well they are accomplished and synthesized. i like every single song on the whole album, of course some more than others. there's nothing i just want to skip over. there's some hope that this is the harbinger of the next phase.