2017 in Review: Live Albums

Let’s get this retrospective party started! Five posts to come, hopefully over the next five days.

A few notes:

  • No rankings this year. I do reference what might have been ranked the album of the year, however.
  • Everything is listed alphabetically. I think. I hope.
  • There are five categories: Live Albums, Blasts from the Past, Americana, RVA, and 25 Favorites. I usually do an EPs category, but everything I was planning on listing seemed to fit better elsewhere this year.
  • Aside from the last category, I didn’t shoot for a certain number in each. The main priority was writing about as many albums as possible — around 60 total.
  • Each album appears in just one category. And if something could reasonably be placed in the RVA category, it was. So Butcher Brown’s excellent Live at Vagabond album isn’t listed here, even though it was one of my favorite live albums of the year.

Without further ado, here are the other live albums I enjoyed in 2017:

Animal Collective — Meeting of the Waters

My biggest regret from this year’s Record Store Day. I saw it with my own two eyes. I could have picked it up, taken it home, and there wouldn’t be this empty feeling in my soul. Oh wait, that’s because of the current political climate. Still, though… I thought this wouldn’t be my cup of tea because Panda Bear isn’t involved, but it’s great. Loose yet intense. Wild yet measured. Seeing it described somewhere as a return to the style employed on the group’s earlier recordings helped. By the way, 2017 turned out to be the year I got an OG copy of Sung Tongs. Good stuff.

Animal Collective — “Blue Noises” [Spotify/iTunes]

Drive-By Truckers — Live In Studio · New York, NY · 07/12/16

I did snag this one on Record Store Day. I’m likely not alone in saying that many of my most meaningful DBT experiences have taken place in the live setting, and it’s great to hear tracks from American Band come to life like this. Especially “Ramon Casiano,” which showcases the great combination of depth and specificity that makes Mike Cooley’s songwriting so interesting.

Drive-By Truckers — “Ramon Casiano” [Discogs]

Steve Gunn — Dusted

Tour-only live album. No digital version, as far as I can tell, so no sample track to share. Just grab it if you see it. Gunn and frequent collaborator James Elkington at their best.

Jason Isbell — Live from Welcome to 1979

This is what I was obsessing over while I was overlooking that Animal Collective jam, in large part because of the cover of “Atlantic City.”

What can I say about “Atlantic City”? It’s on a very short list of “All Time” favorites on Spotify and I wrote a mini-essay on the song after spending time in the city for the first time, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Isbell perform it. I’m sitting here trying to think of a combination of artist and cover that would make we wake up earlier in the morning… Thom Yorke singing “Hallelujah”? Donald Trump singing “2 + 2 = 5”?

Jason Isbell — “Atlantic City” (Bruce Springsteen cover) [Discogs]

Old Crow Medicine Show — 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde

Say what you want about “Wagon Wheel,” ban it from being played by cover bands in your bar, whatever. I’ll always love the song, and I think it’s genuinely inspiring how it founded a mutual admiration society between Dylan and the Old Crow folks. The respect the band has for the man really shines through on 50 Years of Blonde on Blonde.

Old Crow Medicine Show — “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” (Bob Dylan cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell Live

I do a spectacularly shitty job of keeping track of the shows I see. In the alternate universe where I manage to put together a “Top Shows I Saw this Year” list, Sufjan’s set at the Altria in May of 2015 — less than two months after Carrie & Lowell came out — would likely have topped that year’s list. This was recorded later in 2015, in November, but if I close my eyes and let it take me away, I can picture myself in the intense atmosphere of that Altria show, especially during the extended “We’re all gonna die” coda to “Fourth Of July.”

Sufjan Stevens — “Fourth Of July” (live) [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review

2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: Americana
2017 in Review: RVA
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

 

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Lucy Dacus

I’ve been in the list-making bunker, trying to figure out how to wrangle a whole mess of albums I really enjoyed this year, but I thought I’d step out briefly to join in the celebration of Lucy Dacus’ new tune, “Night Shift.”

It’s the lead single off her upcoming album, Historian (out March 2, pre-order here), and it’s a triumph, bursting at the seams with the brilliance that made “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” such a breakout success, including:

  • Astoundingly vivid and memorable lyrics, with an opening that grabs your ears like few I’ve heard: “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit I had a coughing fit.”
  • Emotional intelligence that permeates every word, with brutally incisive lines like “You don’t deserve what you don’t respect, don’t deserve what you say you love and then neglect.”
  • Vocals so rich and ranging that you feel like you’re along for the journey the lyrics describe.
  • A lengthy coda that opens the song up dynamically in a cathartic combination of resignation and hope.

It was that exceptional coda that stood out when I saw her perform “Night Shift” at The National in 2016, but having an opportunity to sit with the quieter moments has been rewarding, as is always the case with Dacus’ music. Forgive me if I’ve said something similar in the past while singing her praises, but Dacus’ lyrics comprise some of my favorite writing anywhere, in much the same way that John Darnielle’s Mountain Goats lyrics feel like they transcend their form. Maybe award-winning novels are in her future, as well.

On more than one level, this song makes me look forward 2018. 2017 was a year in which I found myself enjoying more new music than ever while feeling less inspired to write about it in personal terms. Some of that was time scarcity, some was political-shitstorm-related paralysis, some was focusing on writing assignments in which my life didn’t figure prominently. But “Night Shift” brings me back to a place of excitement and energy. Some musicians make you want to run to the nearest instrument and start noodling; Dacus makes me want to start typing.

Speaking of which, back to the bunker for me. Hope y’all enjoy “Night Shift” as well.

Lucy Dacus — “Night Shift” [Spotify/YouTube]

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Grace Vonderkuhn

Exciting things afoot at EggHunt Records…

Earlier this month, the Richmond label announced that it signed Grace Vonderkuhn — an exciting and explosive garage/psych artist who hails from Delaware. Full details on her upcoming album have yet to be announced, but I wanted to go ahead and start spreading the word for two reasons:

  • Her 2015 self-titled EP is well worth a listen. While her intense guitar work is a big part of why I’m looking forward to the release of her upcoming album, I’ve latched onto a more low-key tune from the EP called “God Bless Your Soul,” which is embedded below.
  • She’s playing at Strange Matter tomorrow! More info here. I’d imagine folks in attendance will have their souls blessed with a healthy helping of her new material, and three other bands — The Smirks, Black Naked Wings, and Don Babylon — round out the bill. Should be a hoot.

Grace Vonderkuhn — “God Bless Your Soul” [Bandcamp]

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Was just in a crowded kitchen, mashing potatoes, listening to Dori Freeman’s new album, and thinking about how great a Thanksgiving soundtrack it makes. It hit me during “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog,” a tune written by Freeman’s grandfather, Willard Gayheart — Letters Never Read is what it sounds like to be surrounded by family. Carrying forward traditions and putting your own spin on them. Enjoying the company and quirks of aunts, uncles, kids, and in-laws. Her arrangement of “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” is as simple as it gets — just her voice — like an old recipe rendered with care. It made for a moment of calm contentment amid a chaos for which I’m very fortunate.

Whatever you’re spinning, I wish you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving.

Dori Freeman — “Ern & Zorry’s Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” [Spotify/iTunes]

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CD Monday: RSD Black Friday Edition

The return of CD Monday! Well, not really. This is a more of one-off, given that my daughter is still threatening to melt down if she doesn’t get to determine the playlist during rides to and from work/daycare. (Potential DJ name: DJ Emotional Blackmail.) But I can listen to whatever I want while running lunch errands (!), and this week I’m getting reacquainted with Side Trips: Volume One, which is being issued for the first time on vinyl as part of this year’s Record Store Day: Black Friday event.

It’s a pretty snazzy album. Howard Wales wails (GET IT?!?) on Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes, and you get to hear how Jerry Garcia acts and reacts in a jazz setting. Parts can feel less like jazz and more like the middle of a Dead jam, but whatever. The vibe is fun and intuitive and exploratory, and it makes for great unfocused listening. Zone in. Zone out. Your call. It’s also perfect dinner music, assuming your guests are cool with meandering, guitar-driven jam-jazz. OK so maybe it’s better this is being reissued after Thanksgiving.

See y’all in line at BK Music on Friday!

Jerry Garcia & Howard Wales — “Space Funk” [YouTube]
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejiG81DipCc

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Sid Kingsley

Think about one of your favorite singers, and try to remember the very first time you heard him or her sing. Did it stop you in your tracks? Did you look around the room, like “What the hell is happening right now?”

That was my experience hearing Sid Kingsley for the first time. Listening through Good Way Home on its release day back in May was an uncanny experience, both because of the jolt I got from his voice and because the album includes covers of songs by artists who are near and dear to my heart. A new favorite vocalist. New versions of favorite songs. It was such a trip…

…which made having the opportunity to sit down with Kingsley and interview him for River City Magazine even more of a trip. We chatted on the patio outside Cary Street Café, and in case you’re wondering, yes, I did nerd out and bring my vinyl copy of Good Way Home for him to sign. He did so graciously, and the article that resulted from our conversation hit the interweb this week. Click here to check it out, and click here to see where you can snag a physical copy of the magazine.

Want to know what’s really crazy? The uncanny experiences with Good Way Home haven’t stopped. I’m seeing two concerts in the next two nights, and Kingsley’s album features versions of songs either written or made famous by both of them: “Moonshiner,” a traditional tune previously recorded by Bob Dylan, and “Sam Stone,” by John Prine. Both are embedded below.

If you haven’t heard Good Way Home yet, you’re in for a treat. Maybe you’ll even have your own “What the hell is happening right now?” moment.

Sid Kingsley — “Moonshiner” [Spotify/iTunes]

Sid Kingsley — “Sam Stone” [Spotify/iTunes]

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VOTE

Hey, Virginia! In case you hadn’t already gotten the hint from the terrifying commercials they’re showing between Jeopardy! segments, there’s an election today! A big one, too — we’re choosing a new governor, and we’ll either be promoting current lieutenant governor Ralph Northam (recommended by this blog) or handing the keys to the race-baiting Republican who turned our state into a gerrymandered mess and is suddenly retweeting Donald Trump (gross).

I’ve already voted, and I’d love it if you followed my lead and voted for the folks with a “D” next to their names, but regardless of which bubbles you fill in, I hope you vote. There are so many important choices being made today, and more people being involved means better choices. I truly believe it.

Here’s some info on what to bring with you to the polls:

And here’s a song to listen to on your way there. It has nothing to do with politics, as far as I know, but it’s what my phone decided to throw at me while I was driving to the polls. Then again, I guess a voting booth could qualify as an A/B machine? I dunno, just please go vote, y’all.

Sleigh Bells — “A/B Machines” [Spotify/iTunes]

 

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