To describe James Wallace as a Nashville-based songwriter and bandleader isn’t incorrect, but requires several asterisks. His latest release, More Strange News From Another Star, was born in the winter of 2009, when Wallace toured China with Abigail Washburn’s band, and was approached by Beijing indie label Tag Team about featuring his left-field folk-pop in their upcoming summer cassette series. Energized, Wallace hunkered down in a Virginia studio with friend Matthew E. White (whom you might recognize from his own solo work, or his contributions to Mountain Goats’ Transcendental Youth) in the producer’s chair, and completed the record in a marathon 10-day session the following April — only to find that the label had closed its doors.
Undaunted, Wallace decided to manufacture his own cassettes, which he’s continued to promote through nonstop touring with The Naked Light, a six-piece backing band whose membership rotates between stalwarts from Richmond, Va., and Nashville, and whose effervescent live show earned them a Cafe Where slot at Bonnaroo 2012. April 30 of this year, More Strange News received an official vinyl and digital release via Richmond’s Dialogue Records.
Stream the record and read my full review after the jump.
"That guy has some thoughts about texting," said one audience member after the conclusion of Ansari's roughly hour-long set. Indeed, the comic — who's of course known for his active social-media presence — riffed at great length on the rudeness of ignoring text messages, the apparent desperation of double-texting and the ease with which social obligations are now shirked thanks to, you guessed it, text messaging.
A blues enthusiast since his teen years, Guralnick’s body of work rests on a foundation of three seminal studies of the stuff we call “roots music”: Feel Like Goin’ Home, a portfolio of profiles on blues musicians published in 1971; Lost Highway, a similarly styled text that expanded his reach into country, rockabilly and R&B; and Sweet Soul Music, an exploration that broadens its focus to include producers, promoters, talent agents, songwriters and record executives, as well as the incredible musicians whose fusion of gospel and R&B took the world by storm in the '60s. Guralnick’s other work includes Dream Boogie, an extensive biography of Sam Cooke that further explores the origins of soul, as well as key roles in several music documentaries, including Sam Cooke: Legend, and the Solomon Burke biopic Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, as well as a forthcoming biography and completed film about Sun Records’ visionary founder, Sam Phillips.
Arguably, Guralnick’s most ambitious project to date is his biography of Elvis Presley, published in two volumes by Little, Brown in 1994: Last Train to Memphis covers the star’s rise, while Careless Love details his decline. Few if any public figures are surrounded by as much myth and legend as Presley, whose first recording became a hit when the singer was just 19. Like any figure born poor but full of quiet persistence in his aspirations, Presley is easy to canonize: the 20th century Atlas who, when faced with the choice, chose to shoulder the whole country’s dreams and desires. He became a transformational cultural figure, whose work changed the face of popular music. He was profoundly human, struggling constantly with questions of purpose and identity: Even his personal faults make him into a larger-than-life figure. In Elvis’ case, it seems like enough work to separate fact from fiction, but Guralnick takes extra pains to make the eminent singer and movie star as real as possible, as he explains in this passage from his author’s note:
In 2007 and 2008, Chapman sat down with 15 diverse individuals who have “made it” in Nashville. Some are old hands, some are young guns: Willie Nelson and Bobby Bare Sr. have topped charts since the ‘60s, while Miranda Lambert set out to conquer Music City almost 40 years later. Some are household names, like Emmylou Harris and Kris Kristofferson, some you might not know unless you frequent The Bluebird or read liner notes — though if you did, you’d have seen Gary Nicholson and Don Henry hundreds of times.
Each artist is introduced via a bio sketch, focused on their relationship with Chapman. From any other interviewer, this could be construed as hubris, but with a person like Marshall Chapman, who happens to things more than things happen to her, they are adventure novels in miniature. Though some of the asides and detours could be pared back, the book wouldn't be quite as realistic without them. The editor made a wise decision to leave the dialogue as close to its original form as possible; the way Chapman interrupts to clarify a point or encourage a more complete answer brings you right into the room in a very subtle way.
A career music journalist and historian born in Memphis, Gordon grew up during a crucial boom when the whole world wanted a piece of the blues, and he's closely followed its ups and downs ever since. Representing 20 or so years of research, intentional and otherwise, ICFM tells the story of a group of artists, musicians and other misfits 10 to 20 years Gordon’s senior, whom he calls “the witnesses.” This designation comes from a conversation quoted near the end of the book, which I’ll reproduce below for context. (Whether or not you know the rest of his catalog, you probably know Jim Dickinson as a contributor to The Rolling Stones’ sessions for Sticky Fingers in Muscle Shoals, Ala.):
While on a world tour with Ry Cooder in 1983, Jim Dickinson reunited with Memphis entrepreneur Isaac Tigrett in London. In the course of the day, Tigrett played a tape by a since-deceased Memphis barrelhouse piano player, Big Sam Clark. "I made some sort of bitter remark," says Dickinson, "and Isaac got furious. 'You have no right to be bitter,' he told me. 'You were fortunate enough to witness the end of something truly great, and intelligent enough to understand some of it.' On the road, alone in a hotel room, I thought about that a lot. He is absolutely right. I’m not bitter anymore. I may remain pissed off, but I’m not bitter."
On the surface, Useless Eaters’ new LP, Hypertension, is a genre exercise: a raw, mid-fi slice of moody and raucous garage punk, which would sit nicely alongside the 1978 catalog from formative UK indie Rough Trade. Razor-sharp guitar riffs and spare, nervy keyboards swirl above relentless beats and prolific mastermind Seth Sutton’s often heavily treated vocals. Many players in the current garage revival borrow the bent and bubbling takes on pop music that create a pleasant sense of discorporation in late-‘60s psychedelia. While no less disorienting, the warbling modulations on Hypertension are cold and industrial, an influence one might credit to post-punk artists like Swell Maps, Wire or Gang of Four — or even Gary Numan and Devo, minus the heavy synthesizers.
However, it would be a mistake to let the strong pull of nostalgia shift focus from the social conscience behind the sounds on Sutton’s latest full-length. A self-described army brat and high school dropout, 23-year-old Sutton has found himself on the social fringe for most of his short life, an experience which has sharpened his distrust for the prevailing trends toward fragmentation and compartmentalization that touch nearly every aspect of present-day society. Outsiders saw these forces as withering creativity and critical thinking in the 1970s and '80s, and throughout Hypertension, Sutton reminds us that they're just as powerful in the Information Age.
Sometimes, Megajoos' Ween-y sense of humor comes to the fore, as on tracks like “C20H25N30 (Acid),” about confronting the ‘rents under the influence of LSD, or “Domino’s,” in which they metaphorically marry carnal appetites and those of the regular kind, with a snarl reminiscent of Ghostfinger’s Richie Kirkpatrick. They don’t shy away from heavier topics, as when they discuss relationship boundaries in “Paris Hilton” and “Honey Money,” but there are no lengthy, brooding meditations here — with the longest track clocking in at 3:34 and the grooves often doing most of the talking, the core of the album is feeling and instinct. Whether they get you by singing about something close to home (who hasn’t been the kid in “Always Turn It up Way Too Loud”?) or shaking your rib cage with blasts from Joosy’s Mascis-worthy amp stack, Megajoos are bound to get you bobbing along in recognition.
The gap between the two albums was only six months, but Deuce is thicker, louder and more confident than the first effort — thanks to lots of live dates at home and on the road and upgrades at Screen Door Records, the studio piloted by engineer Justin Kirkland, where the Joos tracked each of their albums in a single day.
There's no way a 350-page book could hope to be the definitive work on such a complicated subject, and the text is filtered through Byrne's own biases. However, by repeatedly developing concrete examples, often drawn from his work with Talking Heads and oblique strategist pal Brian Eno — and defining their place in larger social and historical contexts — Byrne creates starting points for the reader's own thinking. For my money, that's more valuable than another “aging rocker bio,” as Byrne calls the burgeoning genre.
As Nashville’s contemporary culture flirts with being canonized by the national media, one of the most relevant chapters to us may be "Making a Scene," featuring a set of eight hitherto unwritten rules that, in Byrne's view, kept New York's world-famous CBGB at the center of a vibrant creative community for many years. The "Business and Finances" chapter may not give you all of the details and analysis you'll get from a semester in Survey of the Recording Industry, but it breaks down two album cycles in enough detail that you might pass a mid-term if you’ve also read This Business of Music.
Recorded in Franklin, Tenn., at Tony Joe White's home studio while The Swamp Fox himself was, for the most part, out of town, Torres is the debut album by the eponymous Torres, aka Mackenzie Scott, a soon-to-be-22-year-old Nashville singer-songwriter freshly graduated from Belmont University's songwriting program. Originally from Macon, Ga., Scott took up the Torres moniker — "a family name," she says — as a way of officially delineating a fresh artistic start after performing and releasing an EP under her own name. (Acquiring an electric guitar had something to do with the decision, as did fear of disappearing in a sea of Nashville first-name-last-names.) While uncertain in places and unrealized in others — side effects, perhaps, of a fast and ad-hoc recording process — Torres marks a promising and occasionally staggering first effort.
If the descriptors "Nashville singer-songwriter" and "Belmont University songwriting program" carry some expectation baggage — Music Row aspirations, soulless professional polish — Torres sheds them easily. Skeletal arrangements gird hauntingly personal songs, and slightly misplayed notes go uncorrected by Pro Tools or other digital wallpapering.
The impossibly delicate "November Baby," which features a beautifully sung harmony from fellow Nashvillian Natalie Prass, whom Scott calls a friend and inspiration, shows off Scott's quietly assured songwriting. But more than anything, it is Scott's voice that carries the album — at times haltingly intimate, at times wounded and fierce, at others some combination of the three. There's nothing showy about the way she sings, even if she verges on overt theatricality at times, but not many indie rockers can pull off such an honest, untrained-sounding timbre and still harmonize so ably on tape at little more than a whisper.
The first time around, Raitt and her top-flight, longtime band were just getting back into playing together, and still shaking some of the dust off. By the final night of their tour, they had energy to burn and navigated the set list with perfect, locked-in fluency. Follow along below for my review, in considerablly less fluid, real-time fashion.
7:41 p.m. Opener Maia Sharp explained her unorthodox, all-woman rhythm-and-lead-guitar-plus-cello power trio this way: “We’re setting out to prove you don’t need a drummer, a bassist or even a guy to rock.”
7:46 p.m. “I just realized my set is riddled with Nashville writers.” The first of many such shout-outs throughout the night.
7:55 p.m. Sharp traded guitar for keyboard. Turns out there isn’t much of a place for cello in confessional funk-pop songs.
8:00 p.m. Should’ve seen Sharp’s soprano sax solo coming on a song with those sophisticated jazz chords. She’s got a lot more in her musical bag of tricks than your average singer-songwriter.
8:08 p.m. Summoned to the stage for a guest appearance — on a song Sharp wrote and she recorded — Bonnie Raitt sounded happy about the prospect of helping to right the gender imbalance: “It’s about time there were two women lead guitar players in the same state.”
8:40 p.m. “Double-dipping”: the term Raitt used for her return to the Ryman.
well fuck you anon! Go and Catch fire!
The guitar is a custom made Gretsch he used on the Raconteurs tours...sweet. I couldn't…
Sometimes I think snowman69 makes good points. But I think he's way off the mark…
You obviously don't have a clue what touring is actually like snowman69. We all know…