Tag Archives: Jason Isbell

2018 in Review: Blasts from the Past

I know there’s virtue in living in the moment. We could all stand to put down our phones and more fully appreciate what’s happening right in front of us. Then again, escaping the present is pretty damn attractive these days. Nostalgia is a thriving racket, and to be fair, not all musical blasts from the past are about wishing for a time machine. From archival releases that uncovered hidden gems to reissues that made owning a piece of history a little easier, here are some noteworthy old sounds that were made new again in 2018.

Duck Baker — Les Blues Du Richmond

I picked up some pretty snazzy Record Store Day stuff this year, but this is a clear favorite. I didn’t actually get it on Record Store Day, though; it wasn’t really on my radar, but the more I read about Duck Baker and his Richmond connections, the more intrigued I was. Fortunately, a copy was still available a few days later. This set ranges from highly templated tunes like “Maple Leaf Rag” to discursive compositions that wander to unexpected places before reemerging. Really interesting, really fun. The folks at Tompkins Square do really great work with archival releases like this one. So glad I didn’t miss out on this.

Jack DeJohnette — Hudson

A blast from the recent past. This was released just last year, but it got a snazzy new vinyl reissue on Record Store Day in April of this year. I’m crazy for John Scofield’s guitar tone, so getting to hear him “sing” on creatively constructed versions of Dylan, Hendrix, and Band songs is a real treat.

Jonny Greenwood — Bodysong. OST

For a number of years, I’ve had a 45 with two “extras” from the Bodysong. score, so I was thrilled to see they were reissuing the score itself, which is wonderfully varied, creepy, and intense. Now I just need to see the film…

Hiss Golden Messenger — Devotion: Songs About Rivers and Spirits and Children

This was one of those “Whoa they made this just for me!” moments. Early Hiss. A rarities disc. Liner notes by Amanda Petrusich. I couldn’t resist, though parting with my old copies of Haw and Bad Debt wasn’t easy, even if it was the sensible decision. I think that copy of Bad Debt might still be at Deep Groove, if anyone’s interested. (And dammit you should be! It’s an incredible album.)

Jason Isbell — Sirens of the Ditch

I’d been meaning to get to know this album better, and I was happy to see some non-album tracks included here. While the new-old songs are well worth a listen, “In a Razor Town” remains a masterstroke.

Jess Sah Bi & Peter One — Our Garden Needs Its Flowers

An absolute gem from the gang at Awesome Tapes from Africa. This album radiates a powerful sense of warmth, even as it deals with themes as weighty as Apartheid.  I have the proprietors of Small Friend Records & Books to thank for this being on my radar. I saw it on their Instagram, listened, loved it, and zoomed to Shockoe Bottom to pick it up. I have a feeling it’s going to be an even more radiant listen in the spring.

Ben Kweller — Sha Sha

I’ve written about why Ben Kweller occupies such a special place in my heart. It has to do with my dad’s recommending Kweller’s old band Radish when I was young and in the process of learning how to play the guitar, and how the meaning of that recommendation has grown over time. I hope reissues of On My Way and Changing Horses are also (forgive me) on the way. The latter exists on vinyl, but I’ve never seen a copy in real life.

Joseph Spence — Bahamian Folk Guitar

While the reissue game can seem like a cash grab at times (especially when there are plenty of reasonably priced used copies available online), this is a great example of how upping supply can make spinning something really special — and Joseph Spence’s loose, complex playing is truly a wonder — less of a pipe dream. What a wonderful album to put on at home. If you have this on as background music, the air in the room feels lighter. If you listen intently, it’s like following discursive but gripping storytelling.

Sufjan Stevens — The Avalanche

If I could magically conjure stats on which I’ve listened to more — Illinoise or The Avalanche, I’m not sure The Avalanche wouldn’t win out. As far as extras albums go, it’s uncommonly strong. And I’d consider it an essential part of a full appreciation of Stevens’ gift. His is a story of impossible productivity, and few artists throw away ideas of this quality.

Gillian Welch — Soul Journey

I jumped on the Gillian Welch bandwagon with both feet when The Harrow & The Harvest came out in 2011, and I ended up ranking it as my favorite album of that year. But I’ve been slow to listen backwards in the Welch-Rawlings universe; so slow that — and I know I’m writing this on the Internet but please don’t tell anybody — I confused the announcement of the Soul Journey reissue with news of an upcoming album. WHATEVER. I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Welch and Rawlings perform a number of these tracks live in the last few years, though I’m not sure any of them tug at my heartstrings like “Back in Time” does. “I wanna go back” is right, am I right?

More 2018 in Review:

2018 in Review: EPs
2018 in Review: Jazz
2018 in Review: RVA
2018 in Review: 15 Favorites

2 Comments

Filed under #features

2017 in Review: Americana

My first time splitting Americana out into its own category. It’s an admittedly nebulous distinction that’s useful in this case because it means I can list a bunch more albums that meant something to me this year. Here they are:

Bright Eyes — Salutations

Combine a wildly positive Friday Cheers experience this summer with the fact that the Felice Brothers provide a different backdrop than I’m used to hearing in Bright Eyes tunes, and you have an album that feels distinctly 2017 to me. The Felice Brothers even served as his backing band at that Cheers show. Just excellent. And yes, I did grab an official Conor Oberst harmonica at the merch table. The inscription: “Sorry for everything.”

Bright Eyes — “A Little Uncanny” [Spotify/iTunes]

Elkhorn — The Black River

A late-breaking addition. Grabbed this at Steady Sounds with Christmas money. Didn’t know it included a Coltrane number until I had a copy in my hands and could peep the back cover.

Elkhorn — “Spiritual” (John Coltrane cover) [Spotify/iTunes]

Dori Freeman — Letters Never Read

Wrote about this album on Thanksgiving. It was the kind of peaceful moment you wish for and rarely experience:

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… 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.

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

Jake Xerxes Fussell — What in the Natural World

Year-end list are silly, but they can produce meaningful moments of agreement. Seeing this on Amanda Petrusich’s top-10 made me jump up and down on the inside. And if I’d gotten my shit together in time to do a top songs post, I would have put “Furniture Man” in it.

Jake Xerxes Fussell — “Furniture Man” [Spotify/iTunes]

Hiss Golden Messenger — Hallelujah Anyhow

If you’ve been to a Hiss show, you know leave about 157% more hopeful than when you walked into the venue. This album comes as close to instilling that feeling from afar as anything he’s recorded.

Hiss Golden Messenger — “When The Wall Comes Down” [Spotify/iTunes]

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — The Nashville Sound

“If We Were Vampires,” y’all. Kinda feels like that’s all you need to say, right?

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — “If We Were Vampires” [Spotify/iTunes]

The Kernal — LIGHT COUNTRY

From the cover art to the name “Kernal” to the fact that Taco Bell figures so prominently in the lyrics to my favorite song on the album… I have no idea what’s going on here. And I don’t want to know. I just want to spin this album and be happy. Light Country is about as quick a route from wherever I am to my musically induced happy place as I’ve found.

The Kernal — “At The Old Taco Bell” [Spotify/iTunes]

John Moreland — Big Bad Luv

Deep emotional intelligence. Earnest introspection. A testament to how profoundly sad music, when made honestly, can be a force for healing. Looking forward to his show at The Camel on January 14. Saw Black opening. Should be outstanding.

John Moreland — “Sallisaw Blue” [Spotify/iTunes]

David Rawlings — Poor David’s Almanack

I’m posting “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut” below because my daughter and I sang it together a few times and thinking about that makes me smile, but listen to the lyrics to “Yup.” Knocked me back when I saw it live at the National earlier in December.

David Rawlings — “Money Is The Meat In The Coconut” [Spotify/iTunes]

Willie Watson — Folksinger, Vol. 2

Got way into this after seeing Watson sing “Samson And Delilah” at that David Rawlings show in November. He also sang “Keep It Clean,” which is the last track on Vol. 1. I love that Rawlings passes the mic around like that.

Willie Watson — “Samson And Delilah” [Spotify/iTunes]

More 2017 in Review:

2017 in Review: Live Albums
2017 in Review: Blasts from the Past
2017 in Review: RVA
2017 in Review: 25 Favorites

5 Comments

Filed under #features

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

 

4 Comments

Filed under #features

Record Store Day

So this may end up being the earliest I’ve woken up to wait in line at BK Music on Record Store Day. The sun will not be out. The birds will not be chirping. The Mennonites won’t even be making donuts at the South of the James Farmer’s Market. I’m talking oh dark thirty. (The time, not the movie in which Andy from The Office kills Osama bin Laden.)

Why so early? Mostly because of this:

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit — Welcome to 1979

Let me count the reasons:

  1. I’m not sure which I heard first, the studio version on Here We Rest or the live version on Live from Alabama, but Isbell’s take on “Heart On A String” put Candi Staton on my radar, and it represents a crucial part of his own personal history, given that Staton’s original version was recorded at Fame in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The phrase “full circle” comes to mind when I hear Isbell perform “Heart On A String.” It makes clear that he both remembers and understands where he came from.
  2. I haven’t gotten to see Isbell do The Stones’ “Sway” live, but setlist.fm tells me that the cover closed his 2008 set on Brown’s Island here in Richmond, which is neat. I have seen him do “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” however, and he does a great job. It’s one of those “Man, that dude knows how to get just the right guitar tone” songs.
  3. John Prine, y’all. No need to for elaboration there.
  4. 400 Unit renditions of Isbell-penned Truckers songs make the world go ’round, and “Never Gonna Change” was the song with which he ended his outstanding 2016 Altria Theater performance. Man, was that show good. I said on Instragram at the time that he “pitched a perfect game,” and the experience has only gotten rosier in retrospect.
  5. 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”?

There must be something in the water, because four of the other titles I’m most hoping to see at BK are also live sets:

Would also be neat to snag the Lumineers’ Song Seeds 10-inch. As someone who’s contributed parts to music written by Wes, I like the concept of the album — hearing songs at different stages of fruition. It’s the same reason I was so psyched to hear the episode of Song Exploder that featured “Ophelia.”

I better stop there before I get carried away. See y’all in line on April 22nd.

 

1 Comment

Filed under #nowplaying

Doors Wide Open

Oleta Adams

Being there. It’s paradoxically simple and incredibly difficult. It’s also a great Wilco album, but that’s beside the point.

I struggle with balancing work and fun and music and running and writing and sleep in a way that ensures that I’m present enough. Home. Awake. Attentive. Resisting “the urge to live inside my telephone,” as Jason Isbell put it. Shit is hard.

I think that’s why seeing Doors Wide Open cover “Get Here” during last week’s Shockoe Session was so affecting. At first glance, it may seem like the lyrics beat the premise into the ground. Here’s just a sampling of the ways Brenda Russell wrote that her significant other can reach her:

  • Railway
  • Sailboat
  • Rope swing
  • Sled
  • Horse
  • Windsurfing
  • Magic carpet
  • Balloon

And that list isn’t even comprehensive. The repetition is silly, on a certain level, but it also reflects the paradox at work here. The increasingly absurd modes of transportation mirror how some of the most elaborate obstacles that stand between us and the people we care about are self-imposed. Maybe a more glass-half-full way of looking at things would be that, regardless of where you go, there’s always a way back. Or as Bill Callahan put it, “No matter how far wrong you’ve gone, you can always turn around.”

The irony here is that I had to spend time away from home to have this experience. But I really enjoyed seeing Doors Wide Open, and I hope to be invited to more Shockoe Sessions. (In Your Ear does a great job — good food, good drinks, good music, good people.) To help ensure it was time well spent, I’m putting Oleta Adams’ version of “Get Here” on my Rx playlist — songs with curative powers — alongside “Three Little Birds” and “dlp 1.1” of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops.

Oleta Adams — “Get Here” [Spotify/iTunes]

Leave a comment

Filed under #live, #rva

Friday News and Notes

Lucy

I’m having a really hard time breaking out of my Brexit WTF stupor, but here is a picture of my daughter wearing a hat that’s way too big for her, and here are a few news and notes items, for what they’re worth:

  • CD Monday update: Loved Mudcrutch’s second album. It’s tighter — doesn’t have that loose, spontaneous feel the first one had — but it’s a testament to the enduring efficacy of well-written rock songs. They just work. Remember when people would say things like “Rock and roll is here to stay” when the genre was first getting started? This is what they were talking about.
  • Congrats to Sleepwalkers on wrapping up their tour with the Lumineers. Joey Wharton’s photos continue to roll in, and they’re stunning. Funny story — I just missed them in Chicago. The last stop on that stretch of the tour (you might have seen the marquee in Wednesday’s record store report) was at the Chicago Theater the day after Mrs. YHT’s brother’s wedding. I think we were even in town at the same time. Not sure what hotel they stayed in, but I think ours was next to the ping pong bar in this Instagram post
  • Sara Watkins’ new album is well worth the First Listen. I was trying to remember if she played any of those songs when I saw her share the Modlin Center stage with Patty Griffin and Anaïs Mitchell… Not sure, but Young in All the Wrong Ways is definitely worth checking out.
  • Jason Isbell put on a pretty much perfect rock show at the Altria on Tuesday. This may sound hyberbolic, but I really believe it: He’s entering the Beyoncé zone, where you look at someone and say “You just can’t do that specific thing any better.” I hope y’all get to see him on this tour. Playing songs from two A+ albums, singing loud and clear, even during the quiet sections of songs, multiple standing ovations… It’s a demonstration of how firm the ground below your feet becomes when you speak and write and play from a place of self-knowledge and truth.
  • One more quick thing about that show: Frank Turner was great. I didn’t know a ton about him, but he was so engaging and fun, and his songs have this great spirit. Defiant. Resilient. It totally clicked why he would have called his last album Positive Songs for Negative People. I didn’t get a copy there, but it went on my Discogs wantlist.
  • Friday Cheers comes to a close tonight with Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors and Norfolk’s Major and the Monbacks. I’ll be gigging tonight at Triple Crossing, so I’ll have to miss it, but I’ve heard excellent things about Holcomb. And Fear of Music at the Broadberry would make a nice after party…

Leave a comment

Filed under #features

Friday News and Notes

Friday Arrested D

It’s Friday, y’all! Got a few items of note heading into a hard-earned weekend:

  • How’s about a 2+ hour loop of live Thai psychedelia? I managed to do 1:51:26 in one sitting. Reminded me a little of that time I went for a 5-mile run and listened to the same Lady Gaga remix on repeat the entire time. They’re called Khun Narin’s Electric Phin Band, and they have a new album coming in March.
  • I’m really enjoying what Negative Gemini (formerly of RVA) has been doing lately, especially “You Never Knew,” which came out late last year. She just released a new song called “Body Work.” According to the website of the label she cofounded, she’s slated to release something on vinyl in the “first half of 2016” — I’m wholly excited for it.
  • The Jason Isbell track on this Dave Cobb Southern Family compilation is excellent. Dude can’t write a bad song right now. Side note: If they ever make a Dave Cobb movie… Christian Bale. Just saying.
  • Pitchfork reviewed an incredible slate of albums on Monday, especially Anna Meredith’s. I am wild about this album. Before I even read the review I noticed how much “Nautilus” reminded me of listening to Battles’ Mirrored for the first time, and sure enough, Laura Snapes mentioned Battles in her review. The rest are great too. El GuinchoThao & the Get Down Stay Down (produced by Merrill Garbus). Jennifer O’ConnorMary Lattimore. All worth a read/listen.
  • Blackberry Smoke at the National tonight. My band has been learning their song “Up The Road” — really pretty. I think a few of the guys are going. I’d also recommend Marshall Crenshaw at the Tin Pan on Saturday night. My father-in-law is a big fan. Maybe I’ll start plowing through the Crenshaw albums he passed down to me and get a ticket for tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll just use this weekend to recover from another wild week.

Hope y’all’s weekends are wild in all the best ways.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized