Friday News and Notes

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  • First, a quick follow-up to yesterday’s American Tunes post — if you have any songs you’d recommend for the series, please let me know. Would love to get more people involved.
  • I’ve been on a serious Steve Gunn binge. After getting the split Record Store Day 12-inch he released with Angel Olsen, I’ve snagged used copies of two of his older albums, Time Off and Way Out Weather. Deep Groove had both, and after chatting with Chris at the counter about Steve Gunn for a bit (he said this era of Gunn’s career was when his John Fahey and Jimmy Page influences intersected), I decided to keep the pair together.
  • I’m very much digging the new Ryan Adams tune, and I got way too many chuckles out of the “interview” he did with Lil’ Bub. “Do You Still Love Me” has signifiers that date its influences pretty clearly (it’s hard to hear that first big hit without thinking of Survivor), but his use of space on the song is really interesting. It sounds so empty, and given the emotional place he was writing from, there’s a solid form-theme relationship happening there. Really neat, I think.
  • Noam Pikelny — the banjo player from Punch Brothers — has a new album coming out soon, and he’s shared a track called “Waveland” that’s simply amazing. If this is any indication, Universal Favorite could pick up on some of Punch Brothers’ more classical tendencies, which would be very exciting.
  • I was so excited to see Lucy Dacus on Bob Boilen’s top 10 list. She’ll certainly be on mine.
  • Heading to Gallery5 tonight for Nels Cline’s sold out show. Very psyched. I haven’t heard much of his non-Wilco work, and I haven’t done much research on the other two members of this trio, but all that was intentional. I know his jazzier stuff can get way out there, and I’m walking into Gallery5 tonight with no expectations. Blank slate. Let’s get weird. If you’re not headed there, I suggest Strange Matter, where Futurebirds, The Trillions, and Camp Howard will be playing. Great night for music.

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American Tunes

allen-toussaint

Since the election, I’ve been trying to think of ways to make this little corner of the Internet more… something. Productive isn’t the right word. Influential? Helpful? I just don’t want to keep feeling like there’s more I could and should be doing to make a difference, especially when it comes to the political realm.

A week or so ago, I decided to start a series of quick posts that each share a song that reflects what’s happening on the national stage. Protest songs. Thoughtful, incisive songs. Songs that help when you’re feeling like all is lost. Who knows what the next four years have in store, but I know this much: We’re going to need to stick together and motivate one another. The only thing stopping me from starting the series was a title. I was coming up pithy crap like “2020: Are We There Yet,” but I don’t want to count down the days until this crazy person is out of the White House. We need to make these days matter, and sarcasm doesn’t feel like the right the way to do that.

I was mulling this over on the way to lunch with a friend. We were going to Mission BBQ, a spot that has great brisket, pretty good mac and cheese, and more patriotism than any other restaurant I’ve been to. Tributes to various branches of the military and first responders line the walls and everything stops at noon each day so patrons and employees alike can stop, remove their hats, and salute the flag while the National Anthem is played over the PA system. There’s even a flag hanging down in the middle of the dining area that everyone faces. It reminds me so much of the start of NASCAR races at RIR (minus the flyover).

I started going to those races not long after I graduated college, when George W. Bush was president. That was a time when patriotism had been strategically claimed by the political right, and in some ways, being at those races and participating in gushing displays of patriotism felt transgressive. Like I was signing off on something I didn’t agree with. At the same time, it felt transgressive in a positive sense, like I was reclaiming something that should never have been taken from me in the first place. Being proud of where you’re from can certainly go off the rails and turn into an ugly form of nationalism, but patriotism isn’t inherently bad — and it’s certainly isn’t exclusively owned by the party that won the most recent election.

While I was driving to Mission, I caught myself dreading their noontime ritual. I wasn’t looking forward to standing there and wondering how many people in that restaurant voted for Donald Trump, but I thought back on those late 2000’s NASCAR races, and that’s when it hit me: American Tunes. That’s what I’ll be sharing. Some will be quiet, some will be loud. Some will be sad, some will be angry. Some won’t even be by Americans. But my hope is that each one will help on the rough road that lies ahead, because I’m not willing to let the right wrap themselves in the flag and claim this country as theirs. Let’s stay focused, stay inspired, and maintain our stake in a shared and crucial project that’s been going on for nearly 250 years.

Each post will include a song, maybe a few key lyrics, and a recommendation for when I think the song will be most useful. We’ll start with Allen Toussaint’s version of the Paul Simon classic that this series and Toussaint’s final album borrow their names from. I’ve been listening more closely to its lyrics, and they describe this perplexing and worrisome moment in America pretty aptly:

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
But I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
But it’s all right, it’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on
I wonder what went wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what went wrong

This one’s for when you need to be reminded that we’ve made it back from the point of despair before, and we can do it again.

Allen Toussaint — “American Tune” (Paul Simon cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

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Skinny-E

skinny-e

Back in October, I had the opportunity to see Evan McKeel perform at In Your Ear studios for one of their Shockoe Sessions. I even got to chat with him before his set. We talked about basketball — Duke, the NBA, how the Warriors would fare with Kevin Durant joining the team — and we talked about Richmond’s music scene and his excitement at immersing himself in it.

His set at In Your Ear was short, but he needed only sing a few lines for me to hear what millions of fans of The Voice had already heard — a truly incredible singing voice, able to ascend with ease and smokier than his years, with a natural distortion that provides texture and complements his precision. When I thought about the literal and figurative stage that he’d occupied on TV, sitting in that studio listening to him seemed like such a gift. It quickly sank in that he could sing pretty much any song he wanted to, which begs the question: What do you do when you can do anything?

The immediate answer for McKeel is a forthcoming album of earnest and original compositions that will be released under the name Skinny-E. The lead single from the album, “Love Again,” was just made available last Friday, and it’s an impressive, poised opening salvo. It’s sparse — vocals and guitar dominate the mix — and while that sense of space puts his voice front-and-center, it also gives you a chance to appreciate McKeel’s amazing facility with chords and structure. In that sense, I hear a great deal of Stevie Wonder’s influence (Wonder is a stated point of reference, and “Overjoyed” figured prominently in McKeel’s Voice run).

It’s crazy to think of “Love Again” as a starting point, but here we are, and it’ll be interesting to see where Skinny-E goes next.

Skinny-E — “Love Again” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Feral Conservatives

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I know I’m late to the Giving Tuesday party, but it’s not too late to support three great organizations (the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood) via the 42-track Friends for Equality compilation.

This got on my radar thanks to Feral Conservatives’ inclusion, and wow is the track they contributed a winner. “Captivated” is a beautifully harmonized piano ballad about striking out into the great unknown, and the massive size of the song’s sound wonderfully reflects the abyss that lies over an uncertain horizon. Best of all, the lyrics leave lots of room to pour your own experiences in. I’m guessing that, whatever you’re longing for in the near or distant future, “Captivated” will offer a few minutes of inspired reflection, if not some outright motivation.

And that’s just one of the songs on the Friends for Equality comp. 42 previously unreleased tracks for $5, man. Pretty amazing. Click here to check the rest out and make your contribution.

Feral Conservatives — “Captivated” [Bandcamp]

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Frank Ocean

frank-ocean

I tend to overrate coincidences — or worse, imbue them with meaning — and Black Friday’s got me all twisted up.

I woke up early this morning to line up outside a record store in hopes of landing a copy of The Lagniappe Sessions — the Aquarium Drunkard-facilitated covers compilation I wrote about on Wednesday. Those hopes were dashed, unfortunately; the store I chose to wait outside had disappointing Record Store Day policies that involved letting regulars in earlier than everyone else in line and not letting customers browse the exclusive stock themselves. It was weird, but hey — I am a visitor here.

It wasn’t a total loss. I multitasked during the chilly, hour-plus wait by listening all the way through Frank Ocean’s Blonde for the first time. Before I left this morning, I saw that Ocean has opened up a one-day window to order Blonde on vinyl, and because I had, for months, incorrectly filed it under “Albums I can’t listen to on Spotify and will wait to buy on vinyl,” I hadn’t gotten to know these songs very well.

After listening once while in line and a bunch more while driving around Northern Virginia, I was still on the fence. With shipping factored in, the price point is pretty high, and I’m not sure I’ll end up connecting with Blonde the way I did with Channel Orange. I reread Pitchfork’s glowing review to see if that would help me decide, then remembered I’d saved the link for a recent New York Times interview with Ocean, and that’s when I saw it: lagniappe. The titular word I’d waited faithfully for this morning. The word I’d uttered timorously to a clerk at the record store just after 9 a.m. and just as shakily to two other area stores over the phone later on.

Ocean used lagniappe — which is defined as “An extra or unexpected gift or benefit” and pronounced “lan-yap” — to describe how it felt to release Blonde after maneuvering out of unwanted business entanglements:

With this record in particular, I wanted to feel like I won before the record came out, and I did, and so it took a lot pressure off of me about how the record even would perform after the fact. Once the goal is met, everything else is lagniappe. It’s not essential for me to have a big debut week, it’s not essential for me to have big radio records.

Seeing that word again brought my day into sharper focus. How much of what we buy on Black Friday is extra? A bonus? I can certainly live without that Aquarium Drunkard compilation, just as I can carry on if I’m forced to keep listening to Frank Ocean via Spotify. And I promised myself, in the wake of the election, to slim down to a leaner, meaner version of myself. More exercise. Less excess. I bet there are a zillion ways I could use my record budget to fight the oncoming storm of discrimination and shortsightedness our government is set to unleash in the next four years. Austerity suddenly feels righteous. Political, even.

Then again, records make me happy — listening to them, reading about them, writing about them, keeping them organized. Is turning away from that happiness wise? And the monetary reward I’d send Ocean’s way by buying a vinyl copy of Blonde is greater than I’d ever be able to send via Spotify; is denying him that money helping in any meaningful way? I really don’t know. I’m scared about the future, like a lot of people are, and I’ve built up this particular decision to the point where it seems like there is no right answer. Things feel very hazy right now.

How’s this for a coincidence: The first song of Ocean’s I could find to embed (after failing to find anything official on YouTube) was “Self Control.”

Frank Ocean — “Self Control” [Spotify/iTunes]

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Turkey Trottin’ Tunes

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Remember my friend Gormie? He wrote guest posts a while back about the Flight soundtrack and about listening to blues in an MRI machine. During a post-election postmortem phone call, he mentioned that he had a Turkey Trot coming up and was looking for some new running music.

I made a Spotify playlist, and while the majority of songs on there wouldn’t necessarily be described as new, it should do the trick. If you have a third helping of stuffing and gravy tonight and need to run a few extra miles tomorrow, I reckon it’ll help you along. (Especially if you like the Pitch Perfect soundtrack.)

Check out the playlist below. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving.

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Record Store Day

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The YHT crew is heading up to Northern Virginia for Thanksgiving, which means I won’t be making my semiannual early morning pilgrimage to BK Music for Record Store Day festivities. I haven’t decided if I’ll seek out a participating store near Alexandria. Previous attempts to celebrate RSD out of town have been haphazard, but if you have suggestions, I’m all ears.

That said, uncertainty hasn’t stopped me from drooling over a few of the limited releases that will be hitting shelves on Friday…

Angel Olsen/Steve Gunn — Live at Pickathon

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Two people I admire and respect tremendously, both of whom I’ve gotten to see live — Olsen at Strange Matter and Gunn at Steady Sounds. Sign me up for this split live LP, which features some seriously snazzy cover art.

Angel Olsen — “Acrobat” [Spotify/iTunes]

Otis Redding — Live at the Whiskey A Go Go

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I know that, when I need a live Otis fix, I can turn to one of the Stax/Volt Revue albums, or my copy of the Historic Performances Recorded At The Monterey International Pop Festival album that features Jimi Hendrix on the other side. But I seriously doubt I’ll be able to put Live at the Whiskey A Go Go down if I pick it up. (I’m just realizing how fitting it is that Redding and Hendrix share that Monterey album — both would be very, very high on my list of acts I’d travel through time and/or raise from the dead to be able to see live.)

Otis Redding — “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (live) [YouTube]

Aquarium Drunkard — Lagniappe Sessions Vol. 1

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This is the one I’m dying to find a copy of. I’ve followed along with Aquarium Drunkard’s Lagniappe Sessions, and Matthew E. White has done two now. One of those featured a cover of Randy Newman’s “I’ll Be Home,” and that’s the track that was chosen for this compilation. Given White’s prominent role in helping me find my way to Newman’s music, this feels like the nexus of something important.

Matthew E. White — “I’ll Be Home” (Randy Newman cover) [Aquarium Drunkard]

 

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