Van Morrison could have made A Sailor’s Guide, but didn’t. Thankfully Sturgill Simpson did.

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Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (2016)

sturgill simpson sailorSturgill Simpson has just made the album Van Morrison coulda shoulda on his Nashville whistle stop 10 years ago. As listless as Morrison’s Pay The Devil was, Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth fairly leaps at you.

Critics spared no hyperbole in lauding the originality and vision of Simpson’s first two (self-made) albums, but it is Sailor that really pushes, nay disappears, the limits of what country is expected to be. Nine songs, 39 minutes and not one dull moment. He coos. He growls. He drawls. Strings swirl. Horns blast. Guitars rip. There’s even a twangy R&B Nirvana cover.

Inspired by his feelings toward his new son, Sailor combines the best of country storytelling and Steve Earle (the last fella to turn Nashville on its ear this much) country rockin’ with the same groovin’ soulful sounds that made a legend of Van The Man.

Simpson is just 37. Let’s call this Saint Sturgill’s Preview.


#FeelTheBurn America: PJ Harvey jumps into the presidential race fists aflying and horn ablowing

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PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (2016)

pj harvey hopeAmerica is very good at sermonizing from a safe distance and damning by drone, the acerbic Brit has noticed, not so good at sharing it’s daily bread.

Believing Jesus walked on water doesn’t mean you can, she warns as she beckons Doubting Thomases along on fact-finding pilgrimages to Kosovo or Afghanistan and through a shithole slum lying in the shadow of the haughty Washington monuments, where a drug-addled, zombie flock does not vote and has no money and thus is of no use to Republicans or Democrats.

Harvey is musically fascinating and challenging as usual, although this one, her 7th, often requires imagining how she meant it to sound. So not as primal as usual, but still as insistent on an answer as a generation of young Bernie Sanders backers: wtf America?

Lake Street Dive’s playful mix of Motown and Northern Soul has a sly twist – feminism

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Lake Street Dive  – Side Pony  (2016)
 * Edited because yesterday’s original wasn’t good enough to sleep on:)

Many of the older classic pop songs were built around sly double entendre, the saucy wordplay serving both to spice things up a bit and to help those without a voice get past the censors.

Named (with irony because that’s their way) for a dive bar district, Boston four-piece Lake Street Dive prompt an interesting question with Side Pony, their second major release: Why do modern divas, from Motown to Adele, act so subservient to their men in song?

Pony’s sound is the retro pop of Motown and Philly/Northern Soul, but you’ll not shed a tear over lost love or past mistakes here. Rachel Price is just fine on her own, with the occasional ‘side pony’ and the odd predictably doomed relationship – which, she hints, is the inevitable result when you take a man at his word.

So why don’t more women say so?

We’re all going to die: Lucinda Williams prepares to meet her maker somewhere down the road

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Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts Of Highway 20 (2016)

Everyone greets their mortality in different ways. Aging legends Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy – even Phil Collins – seem desperate to write their own legacy before they go. Others more selflessly share their personal journeys in ways that help us put our own houses in order.

“Scared I’ll get what I deserve, or maybe scared I won’t,” the once wild John Hiatt wrote in Terms Of My Surrender (2014). “But I can’t negotiate the terms of my surrender.”

Continuing on from Spirit Meets The Bone (2014), Lucinda Williams takes Highway 20 through Georgia, her childhood home and the setting for her 1998 breakout Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, to face some ghosts and fears – and seems surprised to find “I’ve got nothing left to repent.”

May it be so for each of us.

Listen to remember, listen to forget: There’s plenty of room on my playlist California


california 1FULFILLING A friend’s request for a California songs playlist was a bit like listening to Hotel California; the heady beginning lures you into a seemingly bottomless pit of choices until, in the end, you find it really is such a lovely place (such a lovely place) after all.

Hope it wakes you up in the middle of the night just to hear it play.

01. We are what we watch (Kardashians). 02. La la la liking LA 03. The Ray Davies of San Fran always swings for the fence 04. Young love on Santa Catalina island 05. The summer of ’68 at Frank Zappa’s Laurel Canyon house 06. Fun, fun, fun til Daddy has like totally a fit ya know 07. California is everything they say it is 08. No Mamas, just Papa John and a mother to be 09. We don’t know we need Tom until we hear him 10. Breaking up in 42 minutes and four movements of classical/progressive-bluegrass fusion. Only in California.

“WHOA,” YOU SAY, “you left out…”. Patience, Grasshopper. A hand can not hold every pebble. When it is time, you will know.

Merry Christmas world: Please enjoy this festive playlist


charlie brown christmas

Best songs and albums of 2015? Here’s mine:


2015 ALBUMS:

Kendrick Lamar (@kendricklamar) – To Pimp A Butterfly
Flush all memory of bling-laden rappers; the glitter in Lamar’s eyes is #blacklivesmatter and making music.
Otis Taylor (@OtisTaylorBand) – Hey Joe Opus Red Meat
Cornet, violin and muscular drumming add captivating variations on the Hey Joe theme. A right of passage for aspiring axemen (thanks to Hendrix), never before has it soared into such a visionary masterpiece.
Villagers (@wearevillagers) – Darling Arithmetic
Irish and Supreme Court votes and a witless Kentucky licence clerk made for a Hot, Scary Summer for same-sex couples and pulled Conor O’Brien out from behind his usual writing devices to lay bare what it’s been like.
Josh Ritter (@joshritter) – Sermon on the Rocks
Ritter’s two favourite things are intellectualizing spirituality and whiskey; hence the title’s play on words. Known for solemnity, he playfully “leaves a bottle on the table (for us) and the Bible open to the Sermon on the Mount”. Our choice what to make of them, he winks.
Courtney Barnett (@courtneymelba) – Sometimes I Sit and Think…
Mix John Cale minimalism, Black Angels psych guitars and Ryan Adams attitude, and you’ve got an honest to goodness, shit-kicking rock and roll record like they used to make.
Simone Felice (@SimoneFelice) – From The Violent Banks Of The Kaaterskill
The full scope of Felice’s literary intentions were sometimes obscured in a band setting (Felice Brothers; Duke & The Kings). This stripped down career retrospective gives new clarity to his writing and technique.
Public Image Ltd (@pilofficial) – What The World Needs Now
John Lydon has evolved from Sex Pistols’ call for Anarchy In The UK to a global appeal for solidarity against governments, corporations and any other powers that be. Great groove, and he’s still #NSFW
Craig Finn (@steadycraig) – Faith in the Future
Finn couldn’t write about witnessing 9/11 for more than a decade. He was at a rooftop party by chance, and fear and faith got all mixed up. He’s not over it yet.
Robert Earl Keen (@RobertEarlKeen1) – Happy Prisoner
The congenial alt-country raconteur’s bluegrass ‘vanity project’ brings warmth and unexpected song choices to a genre that too often descends into a picking race.
Lianne La Havas (@liannelahavas) – Blood
There is a Hepburn-like grace in the quiet spaces when the breathtaking young British vocalist sings; sensual, aching but hopeful.


Sean Rowe (@sean_rowe) – Soldier (Williams)
Glen Hansard (@Glen_Hansard) – Hold On Magnolia (Molina)
Darrell Scott (@darrellscott) – The One I’m Still Thinking About (Bullington)
Jazz Singers:
Cecile Mclorin Salvant (@cecilesalvant) – Growlin’ Dan
Dayme Arocena (@_HavanaCultura_) – Come To Me
Natalie Prass (@NataliePrass) – My Baby Doesn’t Understand
Barna Howard (@MamaBirdRC) – Quite A Feeling
Bill Fay ( – The Freedom To Read
Mark Erelli (@MarkErelli) – By Degrees
Beth Hart (@BethHart) – Tell Her You Belong To Me
Songhoy Blues (@SonghoyBlues) – Soubour
Shemekia Copeland (#ShemekiaCopeland) – Crossbone Beach
Brandi Carlile (@brandicarlile) – The Eye
Dave Rawlings Machine (@TheDaveRawlings) – The Trip
Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) – Speed Trap Town
Real Country:
Malpass Brothers (@Malpassbrothers) – I Met A Friend Of Yours Today (Strait)
Alan Jackson (@OfficialJackson) – Angels And Alcohol
Chris Stapleton (@ChrisStapleton) – Tennessee Whiskey (Jones)
Jazmine Sullivan (@jsullivanmusic) – Let It Burn
Ghostpoet (@ghostpoet) – Be Right Back, Moving House
Suffers (@TheSuffers) – Make Some Room
Lyrics Born & Ivan Neville (@lyricsborn) – Around the Bend
Brooklyn Funk Essentials (@BklynFunkEsntls) – Recycled

Please support the music you like!

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