Archive for Music

The Fire Hydrants of Knoxville: Joy in a Time of Heartbreak

In late March I traveled down to Knoxville, TN, for the Big Ears Music Festival. It’s one of the world’s great music festivals — “wonderfully weird,” according to Spin Magazine — famed for celebrating a wildly diverse array of music. Seriously, you can see and hear anything there, and sometimes, euphorically, for the first time in your ever-music-loving life.

For me, it was a beautiful experience, an expression of something we’ve missed during the pandemic: a sense of belonging, of togetherness. Most of us have managed to stay connected with our family and close friends, the inner circle, but it’s been those expansive concentric rings that I’ve missed, the outer spheres of our diminished community. In Knoxville, I talked to a lot of strangers, good conversations with people from all over. Across four days, I didn’t see one openly drunk person, didn’t witness a single example of bad behavior. The attendees came with ears and hearts and minds wide open. We listened, hard; we participated, gratefully.

One crucial feature of the festival is that music is going on simultaneously at a variety of venues. A Scottish bar, a cozy theater, a church, a dingy club, on and on. Attendees wander the streets of downtown Knoxville, seeking out a percussive string quartet in a church, a hot jazz band in a club, an exploration of ambient drone somewhere else, or, hey, Patti Smith in the Tennessee Theater. It’s all there. From the familiar to the experimental.

While I wandered from venue to venue, I kept noticing the blue-and-yellow fire hydrants of Knoxville. They made me think of Ukraine, each one a metal flag bringing to mind the unforgivable slaughter. The brutality of Putin’s attack, the senseless cruelty and inhumanity and suffering of our world.

A disturbing dissonance droned through my skull, plucked at the strings of my heart. I was happy, thrilled with a feeling of joy and discovery and community, encountering good people and magnificent art at every turn. Yet those fire hydrants of Knoxville kept reminding me of dropped bombs, toppled buildings & innocent blood, our sad & broken world.

And I guess that’s the challenge we face. Finding the joy, the deep pleasures and satisfactions, the reasons why life is so worth living — and yet not forgetting the heartbreak, the devastation, the important & necessary work that still needs to be done.

Oh sweet ravaged world, we need to do so much better if we hope to live, together.

My 3nd Annual “Year In Music” Review: Top 20, Honorable Mentions

 

End-of-year lists help me find music I missed, or prod me to listen again, more closely, to albums I may have dismissed too quickly. I heard 127 full albums that came out in 2021. It’s a challenge to pick out the albums that were fresh, distinctive, original, best. I enjoy the process of puzzling it out for myself. What am I saying? I guess I’m a cliche.

For the third consecutive year, I continued the project in which I try to listen to at least one complete album a day. Often twice through. In 2019, I got to 778 full albums, in addition to all the other random-scattered listening I do. Last year the number was 711. In 2021, I listened to 702 complete albums, starting with “Truth Walks in Sleepy Shadows” by SF Seals and concluding with “Living in the Material World” by George Harrison. For no rhyme whatsoever.

It was a pandemic year in music and many albums felt scaled back, smaller in ambition, more intimate and modest. Logistics played a role. And, also, context: people were dying; the world in general felt more introspective. For whatever reason, I don’t think this was a year when many truly “great” albums came out. 

Jimmy Fun Fact: When I got my iPod in April, 2008, I started making a 30-song monthly playlist. Part of that was a response to having nearly everything available instantaneously. Each month, I created a little home base full of new music as well as old reminders. I have now kept that up, switching to Spotify in 2017, for 165 straight months. Maybe that tells you something scary about me? As always, I don’t pretend that my taste is any better than anyone else’s.

 

TOP 20

Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders: Promises

Julien Baker: Little Oblivians 

Helado Negro: Far In 

         

Black Country, New Road: For the first time 

Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime

Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert: The Marfa Tapes

       

Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorry, Linda Oh: Uneasy

Cassandra Jenkins: An Overview of … Nature

Madlib: Sound Ancestors

Katy Kirby: Cool Dry Place

       

Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg @ 2021

Yes/and: s/t

Arooj Aftab: Vulture Prince 

       

Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams

Hayes Carll: You Get It All

Indigo De Souza: Any Shape You Take

Bonnie Prince Billy, Matt Sweeney: Super-wolves

       

Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future 

Michael Hurley: The Time of the Foxgloves

Myriam Gendron: Songs of Love, Lost & Found

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS (35)

Note: Ditching categories here because they give me such trouble. In alphabetical order . . . 

  

Rodrigo Amarante: Drama 

Amyl and the Sniffers: Comfort to Me

Marisa Anderson/William Tyler: Lost Futures

Bachelor: Doomin’ Sun

Courtney Barnett: Things Take Time, Take Time

Adrian Crowley: Watchful Eyes of the Stars

Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club

Dinosaur Jr.: Sweep It Into Space

Felice Brothers: From Dreams to Dust

Les Filles de Illighadad: At Pioneer Work 

Flock of Dimes: Head of Roses

Hand Habits: Fun House

Illuminati Hotties: Let Me Do One More

Pokey LaFarge: In the Blossom of Their Shade

Langhorne Slim: Strawberry Mansion

Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be an Introvert

Lorde: Solar Power

Low: Hey What

L’Rain: Fatigue

Midwife: Luminol 

Mountain Goats: Dark In Here

Navy Blue: Navy’s Reprise

Robert Plant, Alison Krauss: Raise the Roof

Gavin Preller: There Is Wonder

Allison Russell: Outside Child

Sturgill Simpson: Ballad of Dood & Juanita

Sonny & The Sunsets: New Day New Possibilities

Jazmine Sullivan: Heaux Tales

Tyler the Creator: Call Me If You

Adia Victoria: A Southern Gothic

Villagers: Fever Dreams

Nick Waterhouse: Promenade Blue

Yasmin Williams: Urban Driftwood

Faye Webster: I Know I’m Funny haha

Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend

 

EXTRA SPECIAL MENTION . . . 

Steve Earle: JT (covers album)

A beautiful tribute to his son, Justin Townes Earle, who died from a drug overdose. The last song, the only original, “Last Words,” slays me every time.

 

ABOUT MY “NOT NEW” INTERESTS 

Because I’ve now got this large file on my desktop, and I’m insane, I noted the not-necessarily-new artists I listened to most widely (by the arbitrary measure of at least 5 different full albums over the past three years). This list also reflects little jags I went on, where I’d get inspired and go deep on, say, Warren Zevon or Rickie Lee Jones, for extended periods. 

 

5X: Don Cherry * Bill Evans * Ahmad Jamal * Laura Cannell * Grouper *William Tyler * The Byrds * Hot Tuna * Bruce Springsteen * Steely Dan * Tom Waits * The Who * Bruce Cockburn * Joe Henry * Paul Simon * Jeff Tweedy * Courtney Barnett * Beach House * Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst/Better Oblivion Community * Death Cab for Cutie * Decemberists * Giant Sand * Robyn Hitchcock * Microphones/Mount Eerie * Silver Jews * Sufjan Stevens * Sun Kil Moon * Teenage Fanclub *Hayes Carll * Jason Isbell *Laura Marling/Lump * Alasdair Roberts * 6X: John Coltrane * Charles Mingus * Nick Lowe * Lou Reed * R.E.M. * Leonard Cohen * Joni Mitchell * Alex G * Yo La Tengo * Jayhawks * Lucinda Williams * Sam Amidon * 7X: Thelonious Monk  * Brian Eno * Frank Zappa * Rickie Lee Jones * Ryan Adams * Lambchop * Drive-By Truckers * Magnolia Electric Company/Songs:Ohia * 8X: Beatles * David Bowie * Kinks * Van Morrison * Bonnie Prince Billy/Palace Music * Mountain Goats * Steve Earle * Willie Nelson * 9X: Warren Zevon * Elliott Smith/Heatmiser * Kanye West * 10X-plus: Grateful Dead * John Prine * Wilco * Miles Davis * Rolling Stones * Neil Young * Bill Callahan/Smog * Bob Dylan.

Yes, I listened to 49 different Dylan albums over the past three years, often more than once.

CONCLUSION: It’s an impossible task, a fool’s errand, keeping track of things. It’s Schrodinger’s cat. Altered simply by being observed. I think I’ve gotten better at that, not thinking about the document as much as the moment. Screw it, I want to hear The Steve Miller Band right now and I don’t care what that does to the list. Nobody cares what I like or dislike, whether I have “good taste” or bad. The best part is the music itself, and the artists who put it out into our world. Always grateful for that.

 

My 2nd Annual “Year In Music” Review: Top 20, Honorable Mentions, and 100 Songs

For the second year in a row, I continued my album project in which I try to listen to at least one full-length album a day. In 2019, I got to 778 full albums, in addition to all the other random-scattered listening I do. This year the number is slightly lower, 711 (and counting). 

I enjoy reading lists like this, though haven’t used this blog to share my own until recently. I don’t pretend that my taste is any better than anyone else’s. End-of-year lists help me find music I missed, or prod me to listen again, more closely, to albums I may have dismissed too quickly. I heard 146 new albums that came out in 2020, up from 125 last year. I liked most of them, and really liked a lot. 

 

 

TOP 20


Microphones,
 Microphones in 2020

Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud

Run the JewelsRTJ4

Taylor Swiftfolklore

SAULTUntitled (Black Is)

Fiona AppleFetch the Bolt Cutters

LomeldaHannah

Bob Dylan, Rough and Rowdy Ways

Mac MillerCircles

Laura MarlingSong for our Daughter

Cut Worms, Nobody Lives Here Anymore

Adrianne LenkerSongs/Instrumentals

Oliver Coatesskins n slime

Alasdair RobertsSongs of My Boyhood

Rose City BandSummerlong

Low Cut ConniePrivate Lives

Ambrose Akinmusireon the tender spot of

Flaming LipsAmerican Head

Drive-By TruckersThe New OK

Shabaka and the Ancesters, We Are Sent Here

 

 

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS (35)

  

Jazz/Experimental

Nubya Garcia: Source

Mary Lattimore: Silver Ladders

Gia Margaret: Mia Gargaret

Makaya McCraven/G. Scott-Heron: We’re New Again

Yves Tumor: Heaven to a Tortured Mind

Max de Wardener: Music for Detuned Pianos

 

Songwriter/Folk/Acoustic

Ryan Adams: Wednesdays

Sam Amidon: s/t

Bonny Light Horseman: s/t

Bill Callahan: Gold Record

Jeff Tweedy: Love Is the King

Bill Fay: Countless Branches

H.C. McEntire: Eno Axis

Brigid Mae Power: Head Above the Water

  

Indie/Rock/Pop

A Girl Called Eddy: Been Around

Beach Bunny: Honeymoon

Fontaines D.C.: A Hero’s Death

Habibi: Anywhere But Here

Blake Mills: Mutable Set

Eve Owen: Don’t Let the Ink Dry

Peel Dream Magazine: Agitprop

Perfume Genius: Set My Heart On Fire

Frances Quinlan: Likewise

Jeff Rosenstock: No Dream

Andy Shauf: Neon Skyline

 

 Country/ Americana

Courtney Marie Andrews: Old Flowers

Sam Doores: s/t

Jayhawks: Xoxo

Chris Stapleton: Starting Over

Gillian Welch: All the Good Times

Jaime Wyatt: Neon Cross

 

Hip-Hop/Rap/Soul

Dua Lipa: Future Nostalgia

Freddie Gibbs, The Alchemist: Alfredo

Lianna La Havas: s/t

KeiyaA: Forever, Ya Girl

 

SUPER HONORABLE MENTION!

Amelanchier, Sparrow Inside

Amelanchier, Is This the Doorway?

 

Amelanchier is the name that my son, Gavin Preller, recorded under earlier in the year. These were his first two homemade albums, available on streaming services. He has a proper vinyl album coming out next summer under his own name, put out by Shimmy-Disk/Joyful Noise. Every year it’s the same for me: I listen to Dylan more than anybody else. But I gotta say, there’s nothing in this world quite like listening to your own kid. Move over, Bob, make some more room at the table.

 

Also for fun: Here’s a Spotify playlist of 100 best, new songs I really liked that represented 2020 for me, the only rule was only one song per artist. Feel free to follow. Again, of course, your mileage will surely vary.

 

 

 

ABOUT MY “NOT NEW” INTERESTS 

Because I’ve now got this large file on my desktop, I noted the not-necessarily-new artists I listened to most widely (by the arbitrary measure of at least 3 different full albums). This sub-list reflects little jags I went on, where I’d get inspired and go deep on, say, Giant Sand or Lambchop, for extended periods. Surprisingly, this part of my list — the supposed staples —  varied quite a bit from 2019.

Those included this year: Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Keith Jarrett, Ahmad Jamal, Pharoah Sanders, Radiohead, Brian Eno, William Basinski, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Prine, Nick Lowe, Freedy Johnston, Bill Callahan, Smog, Adrianne Lenker, Mount Eerie, Elliott Smith, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Silver Jews, Andy Shauf, Khruangbin, The Go-Betweens, Big Thief, Wilco, Jeff Tweedy, Waxahatchie, Lambchop, Stew, Liminanas, PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, Mountain Goats, Badly Drawn Boy, Alex G, Sufjan Stevens, Yo La Tengo, Bright Eyes, Flaming Lips, Giant Sand, Shelby Lynne, Drive-By Truckers, Jayhawks, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Ry Cooder, Willie Nelson, Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Company), Bonnie “Prince” Billie (Palace Music), Jason Isbell, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, Grateful Dead, Lou Reed, Kinks, Steely Dan, Jefferson Airplane, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Bert Jansch, Michael Chapman, Sam Amidon, Alasdair Roberts, and Kanye West. 

From 2019, but not listed in 2020: Aimee Mann, Arcade Fire, Avishai Cohen, Beach House, The Beatles, Beth Orton, Big Star, The Byrds, Cass McCombs, The Clash, Courtney Barnett, David Bowie, Death Cab for Cutie, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Florist, Frank Zappa, Genesis, Gillian Welch, Hayes Carl, Hot Tuna, James Blake, Joe Henry, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon,  Laura Cannell, Laura Marling, Leonard Cohen, Mitski, Pavement, Penguin Cafe,  R.E.M., Ryan Adams, Stevie Wonder, Sun Kil Moon, Teenage Fanclub, Thelonious Monk, Tom Petty, War on Drugs, Waylon Jennings, William Tyler, an Van Morrison. 

 

CONCLUSION: It’s an impossible task, a fool’s errand. Forget what I like or dislike, whether I have “good taste” or bad. The best part is the music itself, and the artists who put it out into our world. Thanks goodness for music. 

Amelanchier: My Favorite New Recording Artist, Musician

So: My 20-year-old son, Gavin, released two albums this past month on all the major music platforms (Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple, etc.). After dropping out of music school and traveling, he’s been home with us during lockdown, quietly recording in the basement with a primitive, lo-fi setup. Gavin records under the name AMELANCHIER. The first album is titled “Sparrow Inside.” The second one, “Is This the Doorway?” He plays all instruments himself, mostly a Martin acoustic guitar, along with some tambourine, cello, horn, shaky egg. The two piano tracks were written and recorded last year in school. There’s also two separate singles floating out there that aren’t on either album, 22 songs in all. A month ago, we’d never once heard him sing, never heard a song he had written. He just waited, and waited, and then, like a moonflower that blooms overnight, emerged with these incredible sounds. This is lean-in music, and we couldn’t be more impressed or prouder. You can follow him on Spotify and find him elsewhere. We’re curious to see where he’ll take us. 

 

2019 in Music: Year of the Full-Album Project, My Top 20 & Honorable Mentions

Okay, I’m going to move beyond the fact that most of my usual readers couldn’t care less about this, and just write what I want anyway.

It’s my blog after all. 

It occurs, typing this, that speaks to all my writing. If I worried too much about people reading it, or “liking” it, I wouldn’t have the heart to continue. You have to move forward regardless of approval. Like life, I guess.

Back to music: I listened to a lot this year. Always have, but this was the first year I kept track. My sons, Nick (26) and Gavin (20), came up with a “full album” project; I tagged along for the ride. We each approached it somewhat differently, but the basic agreement was to listen to at least a full album a day. I got to 778 full albums, in addition to all the other random-scattered listening I do.

It was Nick’s idea, motivated by the realization that the album is an underappreciated art form. For most listeners, and quite a few musicians it seems, music has increasingly become a singles and playlist experience. Nick’s rule was to never repeat artists, to listen to 365 albums by 365 different artists, because he wanted to expand his palette. I didn’t limit myself in that way. (Yes, I see now that I listened to 43 different Bob Dylan albums this year — hey, I was trying something — along with every album by Kanye West, including “Watch the Throne” and “Kids See Ghosts.” Overall, I’d say that my discovery of the year was Bill Callahan/Smog: I went deep there.)

I listened to 125 new albums that came out in 2019. I liked most of them, and loved a lot. There’s so much outstanding new music that comes out every single week. My success rate was high because if I didn’t like an album, I usually either 1) knew to stay away in the first place; or 2) didn’t bother to sit through to the bitter end. So when I listened all the way, it was because I enjoyed it or felt compelled to finish for some reason.

Personally, I enjoy reading lists like this. They help me find music I missed, or prod me to listen again, more closely, to albums I may have dismissed too quickly. I’ll paraphrase something Jeff Tweedy once said. When he doesn’t like an album — especially one that others might be enjoying — he doesn’t begin with, “This music sucks!” Instead, he asks of himself, “What am I missing here? What am I not hearing?”

That is, the problem might not be with “it,” but with the attitude of the listener. For me, that’s an interesting and a humbling notion.

ONE LAST THING ABOUT MY LISTENING HABITS/TASTES: Because I’ve now got this large file on my desktop, I noted the artists I listened to most widely (by the measure of at least 3 different full albums). Those included in 2019: Aimee Mann, Arcade Fire, Avishai Cohen, Beach House, The Beatles, Beth Orton, Big Star, Big Thief, Bill Callahan, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Byrds, Cass McCombs, Charles Mingus, The Clash, Courtney Barnett, David Bowie, Death Cab for Cutie, Don Cherry, Drive-By Truckers, Elliott Smith, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Florist, Frank Zappa, Genesis, Gillian Welch, Grateful Dead, Hayes Carl, Hot Tuna, James Blake, Jason Isbell, Jeff Tweedy, Joe Henry, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, John Prine, Joni Mitchell, Kanye West, The Kinks, Laura Cannell, Laura Marling, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Magnolia Electric Company, Miles Davis, Mitski, Mountain Goats, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Nick Drake, Nick Lowe, Paul Simon, Pavement, Penguin Cafe, Radiohead, R.E.M., Rolling Stones, Ryan Adams, Sam Amidon, Silver Jews, Smog, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Sufjan Stevens, Sun Kil Moon, Teenage Fanclub, Thelonious Monk, Tom Petty, Tom Waits, War on Drugs, Waylon Jennings, The Who, Wilco, William Tyler, Van Morrison, and Yo La Tengo. Safe to say that I love them all, and more.

 

TOP 20

Purple Mountains: s/t

Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising

Big Thief: U.F.O.F

Lana Del Ray: Norman fucking Rockwell

Billie Eilish: When We All Fall Asleep

Aldous Harding: Designer

Julia Jacklin: Crushing

Faye Webster: Atlanta Millionaires Club

Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka

Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow

Brittany Howard: Jaime

(Sandy) Alex G: House of Sugar

Solange: When I Get Home @ 2019

Joe Henry: The Gospel According to Water

Better Oblivion Community Center: s/t

Sudan Archives: Athena

Tinariwen: Amadjar

Lankum: The Livelong Day

Nick Cave: Ghosteen

Rhiannon Giddens: there is no Other

 

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS (35)

 

World

Brighe Chaimbeul: The Reeling

Ye Vagabonds: The Hare’s Lament

The Gloaming: The Gloaming 3

Mdou Moctar: Ilana

 

Hip-Hop/Rap

GoldLink: Diaspora

Summer Walker: Over It

YBN Cordae: The Lost Boy

Freddie Gibbs, Madlib: Bandana

Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!

Tyler, the Creator: Igor

Little Simz: GREY Area @ 2019

 

Jazz/Experimental

Avishai Cohen: Playing the Room

Penguin Café: Handfuls of Night

Jamie Branch: Fly or DIE II

The Comet Is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce

Caleb Burhans: Past Lives

Nivhek: After its own death … spiral

1000 gecs: s/t

 

Indie/Folk

Kacy & Clayton: Carrying On

Bill Callahan: Shephard in the Sheepskin Vest

Jake Xerxes Fussell: Out of Sight

Florist: Just Emily

William Tyler: Goes West

Jessica Pratt: Quiet Signs

  

Indie/Rock/Pop

Mannequin Pussy: Patience

Jay Som: Anak Ko

Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel

A.A. Bondy: Enderness.

Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile

James Blake: Assume Form

Big Thief: Two Hands

Wilco: Ode to Joy

 

Country/ Americana/Songwriter

Tyler Childers: Country Squire

Caroline Spence: Mint Condition

Hayes Carl: What It Is

 

CONCLUSION: Forget what I like or dislike, whether I have “good taste” or bad. The interesting thing for me was keeping track. So, come 2020, for the first time I’m going to do it with BOOKS. Yeah, it scares me a little.