This has been one of the best live music weeks of my life. Sunday: Old Crow Medicine Show with Sturgill Simpson. Wednesday: Sufjan Stevens with Moses Sumney. Tonight: Jason Isbell with Horsehead. I feel a little like a dog whose owner opened up a brand new bag of food and dumped the whole thing on the floor. If one good thing about music is when it hits, you feel no pain, I’d say a second good thing is that when you gorge yourself on music, you don’t risk yakking it all back up. (Unless you count blogging about it, in which case I have a serious case of reflux.)
Hope y’all are having a spiffy Valentine’s Day and have someone sweet to buy something sweet for. Here’s a sweet song to add into the mix — Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer” covered by the married duo of Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires. The performance above comes courtesy of WNRN in Charlottesville, but the pair just released a recorded version the other day (iTunes link below).
Much love from my corner of the interweb.
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires — “Mutineer” (Warren Zevon cover) [YouTube/iTunes]
It’s customary to start year-end lists by chewing some fat about how making them is strange and difficult work, and in general, I find that these intros can be exceedingly skippable. Everyone knows that album rankings are subjective (even when they’re created on behalf of a publication or website), and no one needs to be reminded that the list maker didn’t listen — and couldn’t have listened, of course! — to every single thing that came out in the preceding 12 months. You don’t share Santa Claus’ knack for bending the space-time continuum. Understood. But before I get to my Top 10 albums, I would like to share a quick story about how I came up with my list, and how Beyoncé helped me find meaning in this whole strange and difficult exercise.
BK Music is one of my happy places. I could give you a slew of reasons why (Record Store Day acquisitions would definitely rank among them), but there’s a single, indicative vignette I want to share with you today:
Are you ready to play a kickass game of connect the dots? Since today’s edition largely takes place in the south, we’ll call it, affectionately of course, co-redneck-t the dots. I really think you’re going to like what we find, so let’s get started with the fine gents of Raleigh, North Carolina-based American Aquarium, who, on Friday at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, country-rocked their way through an amazing set opening for Jason Isbell, who hails from northern Alabama, just like former Drive-By Truckers bandmate Patterson Hood, whose father, David Hood, was the bass player for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also known as “the Swampers” — ya know, “They’ve been known to pick a song or two”), the legendary band that recorded with some of music’s most recognizable names, like Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, John Prine and many, many more, all of whom, in order to record with the Swampers, had to to make pilgrimages to one of two studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which is where American Aquarium just finished recording their new album, which was produced and recorded with the help of Jason Isbell, with additional contributions from the lovely Amanda Shires, Isbell’s girlfriend, who appeared on stage with both Isbell and American Aquarium last Friday night at the Jefferson Theater. Whew. Crazy, eh? And that run-on sentence doesn’t begin to cover how entertaining American Aquarium’s set was (a real-life love-at-first-listen experience) or the remarkable impact that Muscle Shoals has had on popular music. A few weeks back, I wrote about the idea of musical centers of energy, and Muscle Shoals most assuredly qualifies. Though the town’s population is just 13,000 or so, the area still has a tremendous amount of musical history. So many canonical musicians have been drawn to Muscle Shoals, and it’s wild to think about how the Swampers insisted on recording on their own turf. And Grammy wins for albums like the Black Keys’ Brothers go to show that the town maintains that gravitational pull to this day. Judging by the songs I heard at the Jefferson Theater, American Aquarium’s upcoming album is sure to be a hit as well, so to whet your appetite, I’m posting “Reidsville,” a song from their 2010 album Small Town Hymns that tells the story of a southern town with a very different legacy than that of Muscle Shoals. Listen below and snag the album on iTunes here.
American Aquarium — “Reidsville“
Your favorite band is playing in town, but the show is completely sold out. Fortunately, a local radio station is giving away a pair of tickets. You time your phone call just right. You dial the number… busy signal. Shit! You hurriedly dial again… Holy crap, it’s ringing… “Congratulations! You’re our ninth caller and you’re going to see [insert favorite band name here]!”
Before last week, I had never won tickets to anything. Like, ever. And even though the scenario I described above may be a little old-fashioned, winning tickets remains one of those those cliched musical experiences (like meeting an idol or catching a projectile guitar pick at the end of an encore) that everyone should have at least once, despite the fact that the interweb has dramatically changed the way ticket giveaways are conducted.
I have Charlottesville’s Starr Hill Brewery and [gulp] Facebook to thank for my very first clichéd, fist-pumping, ticket-winning moment. Last Wednesday, Starr Hill posted a video to Facebook of a mystery substance being pumped into a huge mixing tank alongside the promise that “If you can guess what style of beer it’s going to be, you could WIN A PAIR OF TICKETS to see Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit at The Jefferson Theater this Friday night!” Finally — an opportunity to combine my [cracks knuckles confidently] formidable familiarity with beer and my love of concert-going in a way that doesn’t involve fighting through a crowd to pee halfway through a headliner’s set! Alright! Two guesses later — “Wheat beer” was wrong; “Belgian IPA” was right — I earned two spots at Friday’s Isbell show, which proved to be nothing short of amazing.
Do you use Read It Later? No? You should! It’s a great way to keep track of all the content you don’t have time to check out right away. Apparently I haven’t had much time at all, because my Read It Later list has gotten crazy long. As such (and such as), I figured this would be a good opportunity to play another round of Read It Later Roulette. Let’s spin the nonexistent wheel!
You know what’s crazy to think about? England. And not just because the Prime Minister’s Questions is a real thing. What’s crazy is how so many of the most important bands are English. It’s bonkers. The Beatles. Led Zeppelin. The Rolling Stones. The Who. Radiohead. Or as I like to call them, Beatledzeppelingstondiwhohead. I could list many more, but you get the idea. Moral of the story? We must keep an eye/ear on them Brits. A great way to do so is The Mercury Prize. It’s given out to the best British album of the year, and I found out about it when Thom Yorke’s Eraser was nominated a few years back. The award show itself is amazing — this year’s included performances by nominees James Blake, Elbow, Metronomy, Ghostpoet and a wild one by winner (for the second time — she won in 2001, as well) PJ Harvey. If you like autoharp and antlers made out of feathers, this is your JAM. Given that I’m just starting to listen to her music, this fragile yet forceful rendition of “The Words That Maketh Murder” is quite the captivating introduction, and I’m excited to learn more about why some of my favorite musicians were so congratulatory in the wake of the ceremony (Jason Isbell tweeted his approval by saying “Screw you to the world for not already giving her EVERY prize we have”). Check out the video of her performance above, listen below and buy her Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake here.
PJ Harvey — “The Words That Maketh Murder“