Archive for the ‘2019’ Category

A few weeks back, I upgraded our meager 20-channel cable package to include ACCN, the cable network that provides coverage of the ACC – a necessity for a Tar Heels basketball fan like my wife. Cable companies being what they are, however, it wasn’t just a matter of adding the one station; I had to add bunches, most of which we’ll never watch.

That same day we discovered one of our favorite TV series of yore in a “binge-worthy” marathon on one of those new additions, WEtv: the original Law & Order. For those who’ve never seen it, the Dick Wolf-produced crime procedural followed a well-hewn pattern: cops investigate in the first half; and ADA Ben Stone or Jack McCoy prosecute the suspect(s) in the second half. Personal stories involving the principal characters are generally pushed to the periphery, though their personalities are on full display thanks to their interplay, wisecracks and conversations. There’s something oddly comforting about its predictability. Bad things happen; and good generally wins out in the end.

Which leads, in a roundabout way, to this:

Why certain artists and bands connect with some listeners but not others is one of the universe’s true mysteries. I had, have and will always have a wide range of likes and loves, for example, from pop to rock to country to R&B, from gritty to kitschy and all stops in-between, and can reel off many favorite artists and bands within each genre. And, as many other music fans, I had and have artists and bands that left and leave me…eh. Which is to say, when the Police came on one of Philadelphia’s rock radio stations, I sometimes tuned away but, as often, just bided my time. I didn’t actively dislike them, as I did other acts of that and other eras, but every little thing they did was not magic to my ears.

The Police, for those not in the know, were one of the few new wave bands embraced by the mainstream rock world during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. In retrospect, it’s understandable: The three principles (Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers) were clean-cut, conscientious, peppy and preppy – aka the kind of young rockers one could bring home to the folks and older siblings without setting off any alarms.

As political and pointed as they may have been on album cuts, their singles told another, less controversial story. In fact, as I wrote a few months back, when I was 14 in late ’79 or early ’80, I liked what I heard on rock radio enough to buy the “Message in a Bottle” 45 (which featured “Landlord” on the b-side). If they were sending out an SOS, like many other kids, I was listening.

And then I stopped.

Others of my generation, however, obviously heard something compelling in their music. Juliana, for instance, included a cool cover of “Every Breath You Take” on a bonus CD single that came with the two-fer bundle of her Beautiful Creature and Juliana’s Pony CDs back in 2000. I’m sure it left some fans walking on the moon, just about.

Anyway, Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police hews close to the peppy and preppy side of the Police, and mostly includes songs I’m not familiar with and/or just don’t remember. (I saw a headline somewhere describe them as “deep tracks,” a phrase I generally deride, but I suppose it’s accurate.) I have no inclination to seek out the originals and A-B them against Juliana’s versions, as – for me – Juliana’s versions are enough. “Hungry for You (J’Aurais Toujours Faim de Toi)” is my favorite of that bunch, as Juliana singing in French is a delight…

…and “Murder by Numbers” and “Landlord” rock with righteous abandon. (“Landlord,” actually, should have been the lead single. It’s killer, and the message remains as relevant today as ever.)

Of the four songs I do remember: “Can’t Stand Losing You,” “Every Breathe You Take” (a new recording, not the 2000 one) and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” are good fun; even if she wasn’t, I hear Juliana smiling through the microphone during each of them. But the guitar in “Roxanne” annoys me to no end.

In summary: By and large, cover songs and albums are akin to procedural affairs. If you like Juliana, you’ll enjoy this; and if you like Juliana and dream the Police, you’ll be in heaven.

(Photo by Diane Wilkes)

I witnessed the past, present and future of country music this week – not once, but twice.

Last night, before a sold-out house at Memorial Hall on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, N.C., Emmylou Harris and band traveled down country music’s historic highways and lesser-known byways, as well as a few roads she paved herself.

The 20-song set surveyed her storied career, in other words, which has often found her giving new life to old classics. Songs by the Louvin Brothers, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Bill Monroe, the Country Gentlemen and Merle Haggard – all of which she’s also recorded – were sprinkled throughout the show, though for me the night’s highlight was her rendition of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.” She recorded it for her 2008 All I Intended to Be album but, as she explained while introducing it, identifies with the lyrics all the more now that she’s 72. Other highlights included a rockin’ rendition of Neil Young’s “Long May You Run” (which she recorded back in ’82) and the encore, her own “Boulder to Birmingham.”

Two nights earlier, before a sparse crowd at the Local 506 club in Chapel Hill, Kelsey Waldon and her crack band razed the roof with a high-octane sonic concoction that barely left the rest of the building’s structure intact. The performance rocked the soul, in other words. Over the course of an 80-minute set, the Kentucky born-and-bred country singer-songwriter demonstrated that all the good press she’s been getting is well deserved. She’s a force to be reckoned with.

“Kentucky 1988,” from her recent White Noise/White Lines album, was one highlight:

Another: “Lived and Let Go,” which was the second half of a two-song acoustic set.

She also performed a few covers, opening with Bill Monroe’s “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road” (which she recorded on her 2016 I’ve Got a Way album) and including a rockin’ rendition of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country” mid-set. (In the past, as I discovered this morning, she’s also covered Neil’s “Powderfinger” – wish I’d heard that this night. But c’est la vie.) She also placed Bill Withers “Heartbreak Road” as the penultimate song of the night, right before her own “All by Myself.” The combination, and thematic interplay between the two, was perfect.

Back in the ‘70s, Emmy’s oeuvre was essentially a sonic bridge between country music’s past, present and future. It still is. And, in almost every respect, Kelsey’s doing the same. Maybe she’s not re-introducing yesteryear classics to modern listeners at the same rate that Emmy once did, but she’s definitely digging up and sharing the genre’s roots all the same. At its best, after all, country music relates and celebrates the ups and downs, foibles and fables, heartaches and heartbreaks, of common folk. That’s what Kelsey does in her songs. If or when she comes to your town, don’t think twice. Go see her.

Emmylou 11/8/2019: Easy From Now On; One of These Days; Millworker; How High the Moon; Ooh Las Vegas; Red Dirt Girl; Get Up John; Calling My Children Home; Kern River; Making Believe; If I Needed You; Pancho & Lefty; Goin’ Back to Harlan; Old Five and Dimers Like Me; Michelangelo; Tulsa Queen; Wheels; Born to Run; Long May You Run; Boulder to Birmingham

Kelsey 11/6/2019: Travelin’ This Lonesome Road; Kentucky 1988; Havin’ Hard Times; High in Heels; Anyhow; Sunday’s Children; Run Away; White Noise/White Lines; You Can Have It; Are You Ready for the Country; There Must Be Someone; New Song; Lived and Let Go; Black Patch; Dirty Old Town; Very Old Barton; The Heartbreak; Heartbreak Road; All by Myself

I listened to the new album from Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Colorado, this morning and a few more times this afternoon. To my ears, after those few spins, it’s a solid outing that mixes glimmers of greatness with a few well-meaning but mundane tracks – par for the course, in other words, when it comes to Neil’s output since Psychedelic Pill.

It should be noted that longtime Crazy Horse guitarist Poncho Sampredo opted out of rejoining the band, as he’s apparently happy in retirement in Hawaii (who wouldn’t be?), so Nils Lofgren – who first backed Neil on After the Gold Rush and played with the Danny Whitten-era Crazy Horse on their eponymous 1971 album, steps in. (He also played on Tonight’s the Night and with Neil’s Trans-era band, of course.) The shift results in less thud-thick chords reverberating like ripples through the soul and more stiletto-like guitar runs. One approach is no better than the other, mind you. It’s just different. And now that I think about it, It’s more akin to Neil and a less-woozy Santa Monica Flyers than Neil and Crazy Horse.

That said, the opening track, “Think of Me,” possesses a Broken Arrow-like gait that’s both comfortable and compelling. (And I mean the album, not the song.)

“She Showed Me Love” is a cacophonous track that clocks in at 13:37, with witticisms and broadsides set aside a chorus that seems borrowed from another work in progress. It matters not. The guitar histrionics and groove, as if often the case with Neil, matter more than the lyrics. Me, I get lost in the music; others, however, might find themselves bored after five minutes.

In “Olden Days,” Neil reaches out to an old friend who’s moved on. It’s a “Days That Used to Be”-type tune recast a few decades on, with the longing for the past replaced for a longing for friends who’ve passed. “Where did all the people go?/Why did they fade away from me?/They meant so much to me and now I know/That they’re here to stay in my heart.”

The ominous-sounding “Shut It Down” rages against climate change-deniers, and while I agree with the sentiments, the lyrics make less of a case than those of the questioning “I Do,” which closes the album proper.

The LP comes with two additional tracks on a 45 – a second helping of the “We’re a Rainbow Made of Children” rewrite, “Rainbow of Colors,” and “Truth Kills,” an acoustic ode in which Neil admits that “I don’t wanna be great again/First time was good enough/Truth kills in a world of lies/So I’ll be speaking up/Don’t wanna be great again.”

(He said it, not me.)

All in all, like I mentioned up top, it’s a solid outing with some memorable moments. Not Neil’s best, but far from him worst. Give it a go. (FYI: The single songs, along with the album in full, can be streamed via the Neil Young Archives.)

(Photo by Rob DeMartin)

Last night, at our favorite area theater, we took in Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars movie, in which he, a band and 30-piece orchestra perform his Western Stars album from start to finish before an audience of invited guests in the loft of his century-old Colt’s Neck, N.J., barn. (“It’s a place filled with the best kind of ghosts and spirits,” he explains.) What lifts the film from a mere replication of an intimate concert experience are the interstitial segments, which feature Bruce – now 70 years old – roaming the California desert while musing about the album’s songs, his life, and life in general. “Everybody’s broken in some way,” he says. “We’re always trying to find somebody whose broken pieces fit with our broken pieces, and something whole emerges.”

In a way, the movie is a cinematic extension of Springsteen on Broadway, in which crafted monologues introduced (and added depth to) a set of his classic songs. Yet, it’s more than that. It’s a collection of hard truths gleaned from a lifetime of personal failures and shared successes, of going it alone and going it together.

In short, Western Stars is a must-see film for Bruce fans past and present.

At one point, he talks about the fear of time passing him by – something many grapple with once they hit a certain age, when the rush of life often becomes a crush of unrecognizable realities. It’s an odd thing to consider, that a mega-star capable of selling out stadiums has the same fear we mere mortals do, but it’s true: Change discombobulates everyone.

So much has changed in the music industry since he released his first album, Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., in 1973. Back then, “playlists” were curated by deejays – aka music fans – and they actually spurred listeners to buy singles and albums. Legendary Philly deejay Ed Sciaky, for example, helped shepherd Springsteen, Billy Joel and Yes, among others, to local success long before they broke out nationally. (To quote Bruce, “His support for my work brought me to an audience in Philadelphia that has remained one of my strongest to this day.”) That won’t and can’t happen, anymore.

Here’s “Sundown” from the film:

(The soundtrack is slated to be released this coming Friday.)