Posts Tagged ‘2019’

(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.)

The transition to fall means that, weekday mornings, I’m on my way to work when the first glimmers of daylight seemingly push the darkness from the sky. 

“First glimmers” – that, I see now, is what I should have dubbed my “first impressions” posts. But as Diane Birch reminds us in her new single, “Wind Machine,” “Epiphanies knock around like loose change in your pocket.” They don’t mean much if one doesn’t act on them, in other words. The four-minute tune is an autumnal song, aka a slice of melancholic wonder that uses the transitional months between summer and winter as a metaphor for an end:

“November is comin’ on and the nights are getting longer/summer always deceives/little promises like the orange leaves/blowin’ in a wind machine…”

To borrow from what I wrote a few years back about the Church of Birch pastor’s Nous album, “Wind Machine” is – in many ways – Denise Levertov set to song; and if it’s a harbinger of things to come, let’s move the clock hands ahead ourselves so that DB’s new album – which was delayed due to the PledgeMusic collapse – comes out next week instead of next year. 

(The single is available via all the usual suspects, including Apple Music and Spotify.)