August 1, 2016
Lori McKenna – The Bird And The Rifle (2016)
Lori McKenna was once described to me as a songwriting ninja, and that she is. The Bird And The Rifle finds a master songwriter in her prime, Dave Cobbs’ production is sure but gentle, and the highlight songs are an easy jump for new fans awakened by last year’s writing successes with Little Big Town (Girl Crush) and for Tim McGraw (Humble and Kind). It’s less a complete album than some of her others, most notably 2013’s Massachusetts or 2004’s Bittertown, but the kids won’t care.
My real issue is little seems to have changed for Lori personally since her debut, Papers and Halos in 2000, began to lay bare the pain of life with a flawed man and the melancholy of youth lost. She was 32 then and burning furniture for heat, and had few options.
Now she’s got millions (one supposes) in royalties rolling in and friends in high places yet still airing the same complaints about her man and the unfulfilling marriage. Her early life and songs were tremendously empowering for women leading similar trapped lives; she risks now leaving them hanging.
June 22, 2016
Chip Taylor – Little Brothers (2016)
Famous brothers: Chip Taylor, actor Jon Voight and volcanologist Barry Voight.
Grandpa, now 76, sets on his porch with a well-worn guitar and probably a tall glass of lemonade and starts conversing on thoughts and remembrances as they come. Yawn, right? Please tell me to get off your &#@* grass. A brother’s golf trip, a dream he had, revisiting a Swedish resort, the grandkids; it’s great living history stuff to record for the family scrapbook before the old guy kicks it, but too amateur hour for public sharing.
Except if Grandpa is a Hall of Fame songwriter, because the muse still strikes and when it does, it’s stunning. As it does when he sings about his long-time wife Joan.
FORE: Taylor turned to music when golf didn’t work out and the passion remains. His next project is an EP called I’ll Carry For You about teenage golfing phenoms Brooke and Brittany Henderson (from my hometown Smith’s Falls, Ontario!) who caddy for each other. Brooke became the youngest to win the LPGA Championship in June… and won a car, which she gave to caddy Brittany.
June 20, 2016
Eric Clapton – I Still Do (2016)
Pick any of Eric Clapton’s 23 solo albums at random and chances are you’ll find it dull, indifferent or ill-judged. Sorry. It just is. Point him in the right direction and light the right fires, though, and he truly is one of the signature greats of his generation.
I Still Do is a perfectly judged return with producer Glyn Johns to the JJ Cale-influenced swamp blues of Slowhand (1977) days; minus the heavy drinking, though, it has a quietly reflective, grown up feel that belies the fire that – surprising to many – still burns inside the old sock. This is that sublime Clapton mix of the raw and the refined not heard in a decade.
I Still Do wasn’t so much a plan as a welling up of music that needed letting out. And it doesn’t sound like the well is dry, yet (barring Stones in the Passway🙂 )
June 19, 2016
Augustines – This Is Your Life (2016)
When a bandleader freezes midsong so emotionally wrought by his words that tears stream down his face and he is unable to continue, as so often happened to Billy McCarthy in the past decade, are you a piece in his recovery or a tabloid voyeur?
Happily, this time it appears to have been the former. Having laid bare every shred of despair and torment from a life so tragic most indie rockers’ seem, well, just kinda whiny with 2011-12’s Rise Ye Sunken Ships [Tincanland 2012: “I tried the bible, I tried the bottle, I tried the needle, I tried it all”], McCarthy poked a head above the parapet with Editors-style celebratory stadium anthems on 2014’s Augustines, and This doubles down on the newfound evangelism of living life full.
He still has his moments, but there is an irresistible new triumph in big numbers like This‘ title track and the featured, Are We Alive, which features a real, larger-than-life Bristol Everyman who dances along with virtually every band who comes to town – 3,500 and counting. “…bury me in like a cast-iron straight jacket with about 200,000 million tons of cement somewhere deep in the ocean…Still wouldn’t stop me. Going out to watch live music is an absolute joy. It’s the best thing about being alive.”
Never stop, Big Jeff. Welcome to the dance floor, Billy.
April 21, 2016
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (2016)
Sturgill 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.
April 15, 2016
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (2016)
America 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?
March 13, 2016
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?