Posts Tagged ‘2018’

When we moved from the apartment to the house in the spring of ’14, I assumed the outdoor yard work would be a relative breeze – especially since we have a guy to mow the lawn. But the side of the house features a column of bushes and flowers and things that, quite frankly, I have no idea what they are, just that they’re green, grow, and grow close to and onto the front porch and house, and sprawl into the driveway. And the lawn guy just does the lawn. Which means that, every so often, I have to cut everything back.

And, this morning, I did just that. I spent close to two hours cutting this and grabbing that, and stuffing full four big paper refuse bags. All in all, I’d rather have been here, at my desk, reading this or that blog, listening to music new and old, or surfing the waves of YouTube, where one clip leads to another and then another and, before you know it, you’ve whiled away the day pruning the good from the bad.

There’s much good music, these days. And, as always, there’s much bad. If you’re on the lookout for the former, here are five artists and acts that, in my estimation, are worth the download. 

1) Whitney Rose – “Can’t Stop Shakin’.” I learned yesterday that the honky-tonkin’ Texas transplant from Canada – she hails from the land of Anne of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island –  is slated to play the City of Brotherly Love come November. Here, she and her band perform “Can’t Stop Shakin'” in the Netherlands:

2) Middle Kids – “Mistake.” I drove Diane to the airport early Friday morning – as in, we left home at 3:45am, as she had a 6am flight – and then headed into work, only to discover once I arrived that I left my work laptop at home. Argh! I dutifully drove home, and did the roundtrip in less time than it normally takes to go one way. And this intoxicating song from the Aussie rock band served as the perfect pick-me-up when WXPN’s morning show featured it at 5:25am. Here they are performing it on CBS This Morning’s “Saturday Sessions” a few weeks back:

3) Anna Calvi – “Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy.” The British operatic rocker – one of David Bowie’s spiritual heirs, in a way – unveiled this video today. It’s the first taste of her forthcoming album, Hunter, which promises to be a tour de force. She explained in a lengthy Instagram post on Monday that “I’m hunting for something – I want experiences, I want agency, I want sexual freedom, I want intimacy, I want to feel strong, I want to feel protected and I want to find something beautiful in all the mess. I want to go beyond gender. I don’t want to have to chose between the male and female in me. I’m fighting against feeling an outsider and trying to find a place that feels like home.”

4) Mikaela Davis – “Other Lover.” In March 2017, Diane and I were lucky enough to see the Staves at the World Cafe Live. Mikaela – who plays harp – opened. As I said in my review at the time, “When I first saw the harp on stage, I braced for a set of elevator music. Far from it. She was, in a word, hypnotic.” And those weren’t empty words on my part – they were preceded by action: I purchased her five-song EP, Pure Divine Love (The Mission Sessions), after the show. Anyway, next month – just in time for my birthday – she’s releasing her first full-length effort, Delivery. Here’s the latest teaser track…

5) Amilia K. Shirer – “Lightning.” Sometimes I hear an artist or band, like the Stone Foundation, and wonder why I’ve never heard of them before. Here’s another. Amilia K. Shirer released a few albums in the early 2000s, placed songs on various TV shows, and…well, I’m not sure of her entire backstory. But I am sure that the 2017 album this song is from, Wow and Flutter, is just plain great. After one listen, you’ll swear it’s been with you forever. (Among the supporting players: guitar great Gurf Morlix, former Lone Justice/X guitarist Tony Gilkyson, and bassist extraordinaire Daryl Johnson.)

And speaking of the Stone Foundation… I discovered the British soul band a while back via Paul Weller, who produced their 2017 album Street Rituals. They are, in a word, phenomenal. Here’s hoping that they tour the States someday soon…

A laconic four-track dispatch from far across the time-space continuum: That, in a nutshell, is Still. Three of the four songs are “new,” though two date to years long ago – i.e., 2000, when the band debuted seven new songs while on tour. For reasons known only to them, they failed to follow-up the live sets with a studio offering.

The opener, “Quiet, The Winter Harbor,” is one of those older songs. It features a melancholic piano motif and (typically) mesmerizing Hope Sandoval vocal, with the lyrics seemingly about being lost in the ocean of life: “Save me/‘cause I’m still sinking/and you got a harbor close to shore.” A guitar eventually wafts in, and the melody pushes forth and pulls back like the tide at dusk.

The second track, “That Way Again,” also dates to 2000. It’s primarily an acoustic-driven number, and is another hypnotic gem. The title track, then, is the only truly new song. It’s short, essentially a tone poem about love slipping away: “Your eyes are warm still/but inside you’ve just escaped.”

The final track is another older tune, this time a reworking of the title song of Mazzy Star’s classic 1993 opus So Tonight That I Might See. It hews close to the original with its spacey vibe, pulsating like a variable star…or a lost Velvet Underground track. Either way, it’s a guaranteed contact high. It, like the EP as a whole, is potent stuff.

I’ve taken the turnpike, a toll road, every work day for the past 18 years, save for those occasions when I work from home, but I don’t have – nor do I want – E-ZPass. For those readers who aren’t from one of the 16 states that offer it, it’s basically an automated toll taker. You place a transponder on your windshield, pay into an account online, and then, when you drive through the correct entry or exit lane, the payment is instant. There’s no muss or fuss, and – theoretically speaking – no backed-up lines of cars at the toll plaza. (In practice, however, at least for the times I enter and exit, the E-ZPass lanes are often backed up even more than the cash lanes.) Pennsylvania, my state, also offers a discount vs. the cash option.

In other words, I generally see the same faces collecting tolls, and often trade quick talk about the weather, traffic and other stuff. “Hey buddy.” “There he is.” “How you doing?” “See you tomorrow.” “Have a great day.” “How ‘bout them Eagles?” Or, sometimes, “You’re later than usual.” I always thank them, and bid them a good day or night. It’s routine. It’s nice.

There’s a larger point I could make about the downside of automation, but that’s for another day. Rather, I’m sharing my toll booth tales for no other reason than this: More often than not, music – though not too loud, as I always turn it down – engulfs the background of those short conversations. And yesterday morning, one of those same faces commented, “You’re always listening to something good. Who is that?”

Which leads to today’s Top 5: Toll Booth Tales (aka What I Listened to This Week)

1) Erin O’Dowd – “Wewoka.” The answer to the question the toll booth collector asked is Erin O’Dowd, whose Old Town has received many plays from me this week. My hopes were high when, just about this time last year, I pledged for it on her Kickstarter page. I suspected it would be good. But this good?! After a week of listening, I can safely say that everything I wrote in my First Impressions of it is an understatement. It’s one of my favorite albums of the year, thus far.

 2) Belly – “Shiny One.” Back in 1993, I fell under the spell of Star, the Rhode Island band’s debut album, and played it the only way I know how – again and again, and again after that. “Feed the Tree” was, and remains, freakin’ awesome – one of the greatest songs of the era. I’d love to say that I also played their 1995 follow-up, King, in the same fashion, but can’t – my main memory of it is one of disappointment. Anyway, leap forward to the present, and I can say without equivocation that the reformed Belly’s third studio offering, Dove, is a keeper. (Highway Queens has a great review of it.) Also, just as an aside, this song – the lead single – seemingly channels one of the great under-appreciated bands of the 1980s, Opal.

3) Mazzy Star – “Quiet, the Winter Harbor.” And speaking of Opal, there’s this, the lead single from the forthcoming Still EP from Opal’s successor, Mazzy Star, which I have on pre-order from Amazon. It’s the kind of dreamy song that takes you places. 

4) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Warning Sign.” One of my big regrets of recent vintage is not recording this killer song when Diane and I saw Courtney Marie & Band perform it in Philly. It collects and reflects a myriad of influences, so much so that you’ll swear you heard it buried somewhere on either the Complete Stax/Volt Singles or Beg, Scream & Shout: The Big Ol’ Box of ‘60s Soul mega-sets. And with that…here she is delivering a stirring rendition of it in Liverpool last month. (The video’s only negative: Dillon’s guitar gymnastics take place off screen.)

5) Juliana Hatfield – “Suspended in Time.” Juliana performs this Xanadu song, from her insta-classic Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John album, just last week in Somerville, Mass. (She’s not touring at present, which is both a shame and understandable.)

Australian country singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers returns to her roots on this, her 12th studio outing. In the press release announcing it, she explained that “I grew up in the remote outback of Australia living a unique lifestyle isolated from civilization. The campfire was the heart of our existence: for survival, creativity, inspiration. We hunted all our own food and then cooked it on the campfire. My brother and I did all our schooling via correspondence around the campfire. We used the campfire for warmth and light. We gathered around the campfire at night to play songs together as a family. Our connection to music and the land has developed through and around the campfire since I was born, so it has always stayed with me as a special part of my life.”

Accompanying her: Brandon Dodd of Grizzlee Train, who’s been part of Kasey’s touring ensemble for a few years now; Alan Pigram of the Pigram Brothers, a longtime family friend and Aussie indigenous elder; and the man who led her family into the outback all those years ago, her dad, Bill Chambers. Guitars often chug along, a harmonica wails, and voices come together as one or, as often, with a call-and-response that’s as joyous to hear as it must have been to sing. About the only thing missing: a campfire crackling in the background.

But make no mistake: This isn’t a collection of stereotypical campfire songs, many of which are kid-friendly sing-alongs that date to the 18th and 19th centuries. (Think “Home on the Range,” “Bingo Was His Name-O” and “The Hokey Pokey,” which I recall singing on a fifth-grade camp weekend.) No, by and large, these songs address such topics as life, love, longing, death, and (as evidenced by the above clip) David vs. Goliath. One speaks directly to Abraham, the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (“Oh we failed you Abraham, we’ve come unstuck/so many times you’ve bailed me out/oh we failed to understand and fucked it up/we laughed out loud/nobody’s laughing now…”)

Another highlight: “The Harvest & the Seed,” which features a guest appearance by Emmylou Harris.

Yet another spellbinding song is “Now That You’ve Gone.” Last year, after seeing Kasey in concert, I wrote that her vocals bypass the ears for the heart and soul – this is a good example of what I meant then. Built from the same cloth as “Ain’t No Little Girl,” it’s a vocal tour de force (and a guaranteed showstopper in concert, I think).

By album’s end, the darkness recedes with a few songs one can actually imagine singing with kids around a campfire – “This Little Chicken,” the metaphoric “Fox & the Bird,” and “Happy.” They’re sly and fun, and further burnish what is a stellar set of songs.