Music of 2016 #1

RIP Merle

Nothing in depth to say that would improve on pointing you to these reflections from Kaleb Horton and Amanda Petrusich.

The 1994 album Tulare Dust: A Songwriters Tribute to Merle Haggard (buy it here with a bonus disc from a live concert) put together by Tom Russell and Dave Alvin was very influential on me when it came out, and not just me – it was the first number 1 on a new thing at the time called the “Americana chart.” Both Russell and Alvin are native Californians who write from within the specific geography of that place in a way I discovered was done if not first then, perhaps, most powerfully by Merle Haggard.

Yes, the songs assert, there is a California outside the west side of Los Angeles.

In October last year I went to Bakersfield, intimately associated with Haggard of course, and I also ran that San Joaquin/Highway 99 corridor through the central valley up to Sacramento (where I saw Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin in concert) which is the dustbowl of the Okie migration and the stronghold of Cesar Chavez and the United Farmworkers. The four characters – Haggard, Russell, Alvin and Southern/Central inland California – are inseparable in my mind.   I did that trip via Greyhound (a very convenient and generally pleasant experience, naysayers be damned) to see all these places of song from ground level instead of pin marks on Google Maps.

So instead of Merle himself here’s Tom Russell’s “Tulare Dust/They’re Tearing the Labor Camps Down” and Dave’s “Kern River” from that tribute album – Tulare, Mount Shasta, Kern River, San Joaquin …. the poetic elements of the California of my mind are all there ….

OK so one Merle himself …. The album Yesterday’s Wine with George Jones does perhaps not have the gravitas of the best work of either, but dang if I don’t love  every song on that goofy record ….

Hag, we must’ve been out of our minds!

2016 Releases

The Grascals – and then there’s this …

Acquired via: eMusic

Jason Marsalis – Heirs of the Crescent City   New Orleans maestro of the vibes

Acquired via: Backed it on Indiegogo

Lucinda Williams – Ghosts of Highway 20   Every year I have my favourite of the year and a seperate category for the Dylan/Springsteen/Cohen albums of that year because those inhabit a seperate plane. They are ‘favourites’ simply because they are new chapters in a book I cherish and as such can’t be judged in the same way as your average release.  It is long past time I add Lucinda to this pantheon.    Guy Clark write a song which references Townes Van Zandt writing “hillbilly haiku” – there’s something of a hillbilly mantra or a hillbilly koan to Lucinda’s late period work, obviously influenced by her father’s tidy style of poetry but also a mature desire to sweep away the clutter of experience in favour of the essence of the thing.

This is a good album for a human being to own and to listen to.

Acquired via: iTunes

Freakwater – Scheheradze

Acquired via: eMusic

Austin Lucas – Between the Moon and the Midwest  A very pleasant outlaw country sound to this one.  The song below is of one of my very favourite genres: musician beaten down/defiant towards Nashville.

Acquired via: eMusic

The Waco Brothers – Going Down in History   A boatload of barnburners on this one.

Acquired via: eMusic

Caleb Caudle – Carolina Ghost

Acquired via: eMusic

Various – God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson  Star-studded tribute which, to be totally honest, usually means totally mediocre but it is not. It’s really very good, perhaps due to the fact it is on Alligator Records, the speciality blues label.  When I say star-studded I mean Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Cowboy Junkies, The Blind Boys Of Alabama, Sinéad O’Connor, Luther Dickinson, Maria McKee, Rickie Lee Jones.

Acquired via: eMusic

Carrie Rodriguez and the Sacred Hearts – Lola  I know Carrie Rodriguez from her collaborations with Chip Taylor this solo/with a band album is an excellent bilingual Spanish/English folk/Americana set. If you have been or are interested in going to Austin, TX the below video has a quite interesting section on her growing up there.

Acquired via: eMusic

Sarah Borges – Good and Dirty (EP)

Acquired via: iTunes

Various – Days Full of Rain Does the world need another Townes Van Zandt tribute album? On one hand, it needs no more. On the other, it needs an infinite number of more.  This is really quite good. And includes Michael Hurley (!) singing Pancho and Lefty.  Seeing Michael Hurley during the Sydney Festival is one of the thousand things I should have blogged about but never did. One thing I will say is there are a LOT of Michael Hurley super fans in Sydney which I would not have predicted. Don’t you feel happier knowing there are a LOT of Michael Hurley super fans in your city? I do.

This is some Pacific Northwest artists paying tribute with proceeds to various charities, other than Hurley you might have heard of Blizten Trapper.

No video!

Acquired via: eMusic

Grant-Lee Phillips – The Narrows

Acquired via: eMusic

Various – Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music   A crate-digging collection from Numero Group, nothing that makes you want to re-write the history of Americana but nice to put on and do the washing up.

Acquired via: eMusic

Hayes Carll – Lovers and Leavers

Acquired via: Label Promo

If you think it’s been a while since we had a Hayes Carll record, you’d be right. It’s been five years, pretty unusual for someone in the A List of any torrent of the music business. And yes Americana is a business llike any other.  Lovers and Leavers has no foot stompers like Drunken Poet’s’ Dream and it’s a far more introspective singer-songwriter  album. This is deliberate, in the promo material Hayes calls it “a record with space, nuance, and room to breathe.”  That’s what I was getting at with above with the Lucinda record. Room to breathe. “Sake of the Song” references a TVZ song in its title and is a love letter to all his singer-songwriter heros – I won’t give it away, see how many you can find in the lyrics.

Teddy Thompson and Kelly Jones – Little Windows

Acquired via: Label Promo

Teddy Thompson’s country covers album Upfront and Down Low is one my enduring favourites. I think it’s just brilliant.  I haven’t always been that enamoured of his other solo stuff which is worthy and fine without every seizing hold of me.  He’s struck gold again though I think with this Nashville-recorded collaboration with Kelly Jones. Thompson’s voice in harmony has such an irresistible … tugging quality to me I am helpless to do anything but follow along.     While these are original songs, country harmony fans will swoon over the classic-sounding tales of love and loss.



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