Tag Archives: Jason Isbell

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.

 

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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]

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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…

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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.

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2015! Holy Crap! Part 5: Top Ten

10. Jamie xx — In Colour

Jamie xx

From when I first wrote about In Colour:

In Colour makes me wish I knew more about the electronic genres he’s citing/mining/channeling, so I can stop using EDM as a catch-all term. These songs feel elemental, like Jamie’s taken the basic ingredients of the music he grew up with and combined the best bits with a ruthless and discerning efficiency. I don’t know which ingredients are which — what synth sounds come from house vs. techno vs. drum and bass vs. something else on this hilariously detailed Wikipedia page — but for the first time I can remember, I want to know.

Jamie xx — “Gosh” [Spotify/iTunes]

9. Sufjan Stevens — Carrie & Lowell

sufjan stevens

I know I keep harping on how good 2015 has been for new music, but one (admittedly subjective and unscientific) measure of how good it’s been is how many albums could easily be considered the year’s best had they come out in another year. That’s one of the first things I think about when I check to see where Carrie & Lowell is ranked in other lists. In fact, it reopened what was, for me, a closed discussion: Which is the best Sufjan Stevens album? Illinoise. I used to be sure of it. Now, I’m not.

This here is an emotional sledgehammer. The Mike Tyson of chronicling a painful family history and your place in it. Sufjan is simply the best at this. No one else can take a profound sensitivity and turn it into a document that makes me want to compare it to a sledgehammer and Mike Tyson. It’s paradoxical, but that’s Sufjan Stevens, and Carrie & Lowell may turn out to be his best work.

Sufjan Stevens — “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross” [Spotify/iTunes]

8. Joanna Newsom — Divers

Joanna Newsom

Read the next entry and come back, OK? Done? Much of what I said about The Epic can be said here, except substitute an abundance of notes for an abundance of words. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all that Joanna Newsom has given us in Divers. I could actually say the same of Newsom herself. I found a used vinyl copy of Ys earlier in the year (after I heard “Sapokanikan”), and used that as a gateway to Newsom’s wild, intricate universe. I’m still getting my bearings inside her world, but here’s how I know I’m a happy citizen of it: When Jim DeRogatis panned the album on Sound Opinions, I got really pissed. I started mentally writing a blog post in reaction — here’s a sampling of the thoughts going through my head at the time:

  • “OK, now you’re just being mean.”
  • “Would you say these things to her face?”
  • “I’m boycotting the shit out of Sound Opinions.”

These are the knee-jerk reactions of someone whose feelings were hurt. I did not publish that post, and I have not been boycotting Sound Opinions. All the same, I learned that I’m on Team Newsom for good, even if I don’t yet fully grasp the game we’re playing.

Joanna Newsom — “Sapokanikan” [iTunes]

7. Kamasi Washington — The Epic

Kamasi Washington

Last year, Black Messiah was the album I ranked somewhat speculatively, because I hadn’t had all that much time with it. (Probably should have been higher than #7.) Kamasi Washington’s ranking is somewhat speculative as well, but for a very different reason: Because it’s so damn long, I’ve only listened all the way through once or twice. I’ve listened on Spotify a fair amount, and I’ve spun my vinyl copy a number of times, usually picking a disc and side at random, but I’m not sure I have a grasp on the thing as a whole yet. Regardless, there’s a magnetism to the project that makes it hard to discount or ignore. Some of that pull comes from the content and its scope, some from his connections to artists like Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and Kendrick Lamar. Some comes from how people are talking about Washington resurrecting a West Coast jazz scene that was flagging (I guess — I don’t really know much about that scene). Whatever it is, I’m not filing The Epic away any time soon.

Kamasi Washington — “Miss Understanding” [Spotify/iTunes]

6. Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood

Matthew E. White

This is White’s third appearance in the 2015! Holy Crap! series. It was one of my favorite physical releases, one of my favorite Richmond releases — only natural it resides here as well.

Matthew E. White — “Tranquility” [Spotify/iTunes]

5. Grimes — Art Angels

Grimes

“Kill V. Maim” sealed the deal. More specifically it was the cheerleader-y pre-chorus — one of those certifiable moments when you decide halfway through a song that you love it, you will always love it, and you love the tracks before and after for just being near it. In truth, if that moment hadn’t come during “Kill V. Maim,” it would have happened eventually, because Art Angels is unreasonably packed with excellent, memorable, marketable songs — “California,” “Flesh Without Blood,” “REALiTi,” “Artangels” — to the point where you start thinking that it’s just not fair. This should be a greatest hits collection, not an album of all-new material.

Side note — if you have a chance, look up “SCREAM” on YouTube and watch the craziness unfold. Can you imagine being there for that? I’m not sure I could even handle it, but I’d love the opportunity to try.

Grimes — “Kill V. Maim” [Spotify/iTunes]

4. Jason Isbell — Something More Than Free

Cover_hi_res

Doug Nunnally wrote some incredibly insightful words about Something More Than Free for RVA Magazine — I’d direct your attention there and zoom in on a particular passage here:

At times, it feels like a companion piece to Bernie Sanders’ campaign as it touches on similar themes of correcting issues that grew from grey areas while simultaneously voicing the frustration of blue-collar workers and the dwindling middle class.

This gets at something I’d been hoping to articulate about these songs, and about Isbell’s work in general. Isbell’s politics run counter to those of many with his accent, and I’d guess those politics are informed by something subtle but powerful that comes through in his songwriting: A consistency in the value he places on each person’s story. He gives his characters a fundamental sense of dignity — a generous allowance for imperfection that’s not apologetic as much as it’s understanding. Factual, even. No life is devoid of pain — not the father in “Speed Trap Town,” not the son; not the older generation in “Children Of Children,” not the younger — and when you build up from that basic sense of generosity, you get a worldview that’s compassionate and wise. It’s the kind I’d like to cultivate as I get older, and the kind I’d like to pass along to my daughter. Listening to Isbell is a good step in that direction, I think.

Jason Isbell — “24 Frames” [Spotify/iTunes]

3. Father John Misty — I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty

This album, while home to plenty of pretty singing and playing, is an ode to our ugliest impulses — those thoughts we fight against to get through the day and feel like a normal, contributing member of society. There’s a whole lot of “Fine, I’ll be the one to say it” on I Love You, Honeybear, and while I’d usually associate that kind of speech with attention-craving, I think Josh Tillman thinks this country (see “Bored In The U.S.A.) is operating at a severe deficit when it comes to self-reckoning, and I think he’s right. It doesn’t mean we should all be saying awful things to each other and following our ids wherever they lead us, but it does mean we should spend a little more time thinking about why we do the things we do and how we can collectively reach a more honest place. It might not be pretty, but that’s OK.

Father John Misty — “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” [Spotify/iTunes]

2. Kendrick Lamar — To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar

Going to retread what I said on Sound Gaze a bit here, but To Pimp A Butterfly reminds us that, despite 2015 being a phenomenal year for new music, not everything that happened this was year good. Police violence. Racism. Poverty. These problems aren’t new, but they’ve rocketed to the front of America’s consciousness (and conscience) as part of — what I hope will be — a movement pushing us closer to solutions. In that sense, TPAB is the perfect marriage of subject matter and timing — the album of the year, in more ways than one.

Yet its timeliness is only part of what makes it great. Lamar’s versatility, the depth and drama afforded by jazz instrumentation, the meta-narrative that builds as the album progresses… it all feels like proof that we’re looking at a once-in-a-generation talent. Let’s hope America listens.

Kendrick Lamar — “Alright” [Spotify/iTunes]

1. Natalie Prass — Natalie Prass

Record box

I wrote for RVA Mag that this album was “true north” for me in 2015, and there was actually a physical manifestation of this. Mrs. YHT got me this really nice wooden record case for our fifth wedding anniversary, and I decided at some point that it would hold current-year albums and be emptied each New Year’s day. One side effect is that I can’t help kinda sorta ranking the albums in the box, with the most played, most beloved ones working their way to the front. Natalie Prass’ album spent the entire year there. The top inch or so was visible in my living room all those months, giving me a zillion opportunities to consider and reconsider how much it meant to me, and the only time it wasn’t in the front of that case was when it was being played. Like I said — true north.

Just now realizing that the front of the case actually does face north. Whoa.

Natalie Prass — “Bird Of Prey” [Spotify/iTunes]

I did a full Top 25 for RVA Mag — here’s the rest:

11. Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood and the Rajasthan Express — Junun
12. Jr Jr — Jr Jr
13. Alabama Shakes — Sound & Color
14. Punch Brothers — The Phosphorescent Blues
15. Asaf Avidan — Gold Shadow
16. Shamir — Ratchet
17. Pokey LaFarge — Something in the Water
18. Phil Cook — Southland Mission
19. Mutoid Man — Bleeder
20. Daniel Bachman — River
21. Pops Staples — Don’t Lose This
22. Son Lux — Bones
23. Courtney Barnett — Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
24. Tobias Jesso Jr. — Goon
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25, 25. The Trillions — Superposition*

*Because of the principle of superposition, this album technically occupies every position in the Top 25.

More retrospective fun!

Part 1: Fav Physical Releases
Part 2: Blasts from the Past
Part 3: Excellent EPs
Part 4: Resplendent Richmond Releases
Bonus: Sound Gaze Retrospective Spectacular

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Bob Dylan

Somewhere along the way, I developed a disinterest in gear that bordered on distaste.

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Friday Cheers

Friday Cheers

Time to say goodbye to another Friday Cheers season. Sniff. It’s incredibly sad to think of how far off the next one is, but I figure I can suppress some of that longing by looking back at highlights from the shows I was able to make it to.

Without further ado, I present the inaugural YHT Friday Cheers Awards.

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