Has it really been two months since my last update on new and recent releases? Well, a lot has happened during that time -- not the least of all some more-than-noteworthy releases, roots and more. All of these are, one way or another, personal favorites of mine.
So, here's my take on some obvious choices, some under-the-radar folks, and a couple that I hope will rekindle interest in the artists' signifiant talents, in assorted formats: DVD, CD, LP and print. There are also some selections for Record Store Day.
While Tim Buckley has never seen a full-blown revival, as as have some lesser talents, his recordings have never gone out of print either, and every couple of years a new one emerges. Most of those have been live concerts (both albums and DVDs) from what most feel is his most creative period, 1967 to 1969. Despite Buckley's passing more than 40 years ago, in 1975, interest in his work remains strong. Now we -- both Buckley fans and folks who should be -- are fortunate to see two new studio recordings from him.
First up is Lady, Give Me Your Key: The Unissued 1967 Solo Acoustic Recordings. These are not mere demos that led up to his masterpiece later that year, Goodbye & Hello; they are pretty well-fleshed-out acoustic versions.
The year 1967 saw many significant records, from the Velvet Underground, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and others. But in Dylan's absence, the world was not standing still. Buckley was very much a part of that world. He took folk music into the realm of acid-folk, and then later, even further. Lady offers the stripped-down versions of many of those songs, along with some completely new ones never heard before. This is just Buckley's voice (and what a voice!) and his guitar.
The recordings that comprise this record were recently discovered at the home of Jerry Yester, Buckley's producer and friend. These are remarkable, complete recordings that sound as fresh today as they must have been then. It was released last week in all three formats, with a nice booklet.
The other Buckley release, Wings: The Complete Singles 1966-1974, contains all 21 A- and B-sides of his singles, including one that was never issued, from his first album until his last. Wings also features, for the first time anywhere, the studio version of "Lady, Give Me Your Key." This compilation shows Buckley's development from folk, to acid-folk, folk-jazz, folk-soul, to psychedelic folk-rock, taken to an emotional eleven.
Buckley was ever restless, always aware of his time but sometimes it seemed to me during those years he was not comfortable in his own skin. He sought to complete his "poet's wail" by not limiting himself to any one isolated genre. Instead he drew from all the seemingly disparate sounds around him. But in his music he was able to make all those sounds into one whole. His music was complete and obvious, as if it had been there all along.
Wings takes flight on November 18. To those unfamiliar with Buckley, these two releases will be revelatory. To his longtime fans, they are essential.
I bumped into Chely Wright in a parking lot on the first night of AmericanaFest 2016, but we did not have time to chat until the next evening at the Ryman, just before the Awards show. It was only then that I became aware that she had a new album coming out, her first in six years, and 22 years since her first. That many years between releases can feel like several lifetimes in country music's turnstile, with its churn-'em-out, fresh-face-du-jour business model. But, like notable others before her, Wright does not limit herself to country's strict constraints.
For I Am the Rain, she brought in some heavy hitters: Joe Henry, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, and the Milk Carton Kids -- not just to sing back-up, but also to produce and co-write some of the songs. Those influences nicely underscore these songs that climb the crevices and outcroppings of the mountain of love. While it is certainly country-based in the best of several traditions, I Am the Rain is also a reflection of where Wright has been these past few, if sometimes turbulent, years. It's as though these songs are her way of coming to terms with all that's gone down, mostly on her heart.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on "Pain," where Wright adroitly juxtaposes a children's lullaby with the inevitable experiences of adulthood. Then, gently segueing into the album's only cover, "Tomorrow Is a Long Time," she sings the line, "I can't speak the sounds that show no pain" -- continuing the theme, as if there's no escape.
That said, I do not take these songs to be autobiographical per se, but rather representative of an artist looking inward, using personal experiences to express some universal themes. Or, perhaps, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, only a phase before she gets her gorgeous wings and fly away. This wonderful album is out now.
I have followed Cantrell ever since her Thrift Shop days. Her dedication and unwavering reliance on real country music is without question. Little wonder then that it seems she and her roots are often more firmly appreciated in the UK than in her homeland. Several of Cantrell's recent studio recordings were first released there before they found their way to US stores. Unfortunately, this is also the case with her new one, At The BBC On Air Performances and Recordings 2000-2005.
This is a collection of 15 live performances Cantrell did during five John Peel shows on the BBC. It is a treat and sounds just the way I remember her sounding, when I saw her live for the first times around New York. Hopefully, since there is a time-span designation on this collection, we'll see two more volumes in the near future from Bob Harris' BBC show. This set is available now in the US as an import CD and LP, as well as digital versions.
Even though some, if not many, of the 21 tracks on Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg have been bootlegged ever since Revival was released over 20 years ago, these are a welcome addition to Welch's catalog. Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings must have thought that, since so many of her recordings have been bootlegged, they might as well join Dylan and put out the best possible versions, and unearthed some unknown songs along the way.
Boots is quite a treat for their fans -- we hear these tracks cleaned up and remastered, including demos, alternate takes, alternate mixes, and live tracks. Hopefully, there will also be some early photos to keep it authentic.
As with anyone who's heard some very early Welch and Rawlings songs, it becomes clear that their unique sound did not happen overnight. It was a process -- they didn't so much stumble around as they did hone it. It's as if they had a sound in their minds and it took awhile for their bodies to catch up.
Since Boots is identified as "number one," I'm sure we can expect more to come. Hopefully, they won't be too far apart and I hope for a live album as well.
Vocally, their albums match their performances, but to the unfortunately uninitiated, live is where Rawlings' instrumentality takes flight into several other dimensions. We witness its genesis here.
Like few before them, Gill and Dave (as their many loyal fans call them) seemed to come out of nowhere in 1996 to take the roots music world by storm. Street date is November 25 -- Black Friday and Record Store Day.
I am a longtime fan of Lambchop and Kurt Wagner, including his collaboration a few years back with Courtney Tidwell, and his most recent incarnation as HeCTA last year. FLOTUS (reportedly short for For Love Often Turns Us Still) subtly incorporates some of the electronic territory Wagner explored as HeCTA into Lambchop's easily recognized oeuvre. He eases us into it with what might be a summary of where Lambchop has been these past 20 years, with the 12-minute "In Care of 8675309" and ends with the 18-minute soft electronica of "The Hustle."
This album is all Lambchop, as if he's a carpenter working with a new set of tools, building a new house full of new paintings on the walls, new sculptures on the floors. Listening to the album is like watching the light fall over them, illuminating them in different ways during the different parts of the day -- soft light, shadows growing longer.
It's hard to describe Lambchop to an outsider, but anyone who has ever listened to, say, Nixon or Is a Woman, can attest that his albums eventually and generously reveal themselves to those who are patient and attentive enough to listen. The album comes out this Friday, November 4.
Additionally, if you are in the New York area, you are in for a treat. On November 13 at 6 p.m., at Rough Trade, Wagner and filmmakers Bill Morrison and Elise Tyler will screen two short films inspired by songs from this album, followed by a discussion and Q&A. Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan will host, and its free!
I remember the day I heard about Mark Sandman's passing in 1999 -- via his obituary in The New York Times. With that, not only had a significant life in music died, but my last vestige of a somewhat tenuous relationship with rock music also slipped away. While Sandman formed other bands, Morphine was the band that was most able to replicate the sound that he likely heard in his head and heart. Like the Velvet Underground, no band before Morphine could compare, and no band has since.
Sandman played the two-string bass, and along with drums and baritone sax Morphine blazed a trail, both in the US and Europe, that was startling and refreshing, direct yet all-encompassing.
Like Tim Buckley, in the years since Morphine has been out of the public eye, their recordings remain in print and vinyl pressings of some albums have finally been released. Cure for Pain was the first re-issue on vinyl a couple years ago, and when it arrived I played side one all evening. It was as if an old friend I hadn't seen in years had unexpectedly shown up on my doorstep, and his arrival reminded me how essential he was in my life.
Now comes Morphine: Journey of Dreams, a documentary by Mark Shuman. Ostensibly, it's listed as being about the band, which it certainly is, but is more so about Sandman and his journey towards the band's fulfillment. Told primarily by its surviving members -- Dana Colley, Billy Conway, and Jerome Deupree, and Sandman's girlfriend Sabine Hrechdakian -- the documentary centers on the creative process itself, including the group's necessary earlier musical efforts. The narrators, along with Henry Rollins, Joe Strummer, and Steve Berlin, are not mere talking heads; they provide an oral history of the band with insightful commentary. Significantly, there are also plenty of performance clips, photographs, notebooks, and diary entries to feast upon.
A word of caution, though: While some DVDs of the film are out there already, wait for the official release on December 9. Early copies contain a minor glitch -- seven minutes or so are repeated.
There have been two separate mentions of this album in ND within the past couple of weeks. But Highway Prayer, a tribute to Austin singer-songwriter Adam Carroll, was on my list ever since I got it a month ago and I want to give it a shout-out.
Most tribute albums focus on much better-known artists, but Carroll is no less deserving, telling the story, as it were, of a workingman's artist toiling beneath all the glamour and glitz of high Americana profilers. I say that tongue-in-cheek just to get your attention, as no one in this genre is in it for the money.
Carroll has a rich catalog of songs and sounds like a cross between Guy Clark and Robert Earl Keen, and on this album his better known contemporaries acknowledge their debt. They include James McMurtry, Hates Carll, Slaid Cleaves, Danny Barnes(!), Tim Easton, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Noel McKay, Brennan Leigh, Terri Hendrix, and others.
Open yourself up to Adam Carroll. The album was released last Friday, and you'll most likely be as pleased as I am.
On January 10, 2015, just three months shy of the 40th anniversary of her first Reprise album with her Hot Band, these folks turned out in Washington, DC to pay tribute to Emmylou Harris: Alison Krauss, Chris Coleman, Chris Hillman & Herb Pedersen, Conor Oberst, Daniel Lanois, Holly Williams, Iron & Wine, Kris Kristofferson, Lucinda Williams, Martina McBride, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Mavis Staples, Patty Griffin, Rodney Crowell, Sara Watkins, Shawn Colvin, Sheryl Crow, Shovels & Rope, Steve Earle, The Milk Carton Kids, Trampled By Turtles, Vince Gill, Buddy Miller, and Don Was.
Honetsly, that's all you need to know to go out and pick up a DVD and CD of the concert from that night. The Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris will be released on November 11. You can never have enough Emmylou Harris.
You likely already know about this, but in case you do not, another great book on a remarkable artist has just been published, titled, The Speed of Sound: Breaking the Barriers Between Music and Technology (A Memoir).
Those of us conscious in the 1980s remember Thomas Dolby's hit songs, but then it seemed he disappeared. Really he just went undercover.
This book explores where it all beagan, the decade before, in near-poverty in London, when Dolby was working menial jobs and hitting the clubs at night, catching Elvis Costello, the Clash, the Police, and many more when they were complete unknowns. Then, with the emergence of new technologies and outlets such as MTV, Dolby's talents emerged to take him light-years ahead.
When the inevitable newness wore off and the accountants took over, Dolby turned to scoring motion pictures and eventually developing software that enabled all sorts of electronic gadgets to do things unthought of just a few years before, including your smart phone.
This book is a chronicle of an examined life, illuminating the resilience of the intellect and the different avenues talent can take you. This indefatigable book is out now.
That cantankerous Nobel Laureate is up to it again. Not only did he release all of his studio recordings from 1965 and 1966 last year, but this year he goes a step further by releasing all of his 1966 live recordings in a massive 36-CD box set, The 1966 Live Recordings, on November 11.
Some of these tunes were recorded by his label, Columbia, some were soundboards presumably authorized by Dylan himself, and then there are a couple of audience recordings retrieved from the very bootleggers he detested. Most have been bootlegged to the nth degree, but not all.
Interestingly, there were only two US dates that year: the well-known one at Forest Hills, and one in Pittsburgh.
Additionally, this past Friday a Blu ray version of No Direction Home was released for that film's 10th anniversary. It contains over two hours of material not included in the original release.
I'll see Dylan live again, for the umpteenth time, tomorrow, November 2. I have a feeling I will be spending a lot of time with him this month. Maybe it's just a touch of nostalghia, but as the Peter Fonda character in Soderberg's movie The Limey said, "The 1960s were really just 1966."
Record Store Day
As noted above, Record Store Day will take place on November 25.
Be wary as there are two different kinds of releases on that day:
1) RSD exclusives
2) Early releases.
Dylan's Real Albert Hall concert in 1966, on vinyl, will be part of the lot, but I do not know into which category it fits. The more interesting roots-related exclusive releases include Chet Baker, Dickey Betts/Jimmy Hall/Chuck Leavell/Butch Trucks, Bill Callahan, Ornette Coleman, Gary Clark, Jr., Ben Folds, Frank Frost, Jimi Hendrix, Angel Olsen/Steve Gunn, Prince, Otis Redding, Paul Butterfield Band, Pop the Clutch (Obscure Rockabilly), Muddy Waters, Ben Webster, Sun Ra, Butch Walker, the Yardbirds, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, and Johnny Winter. Nearly all of these will be available only on 10" or 12" vinyl, and many are live recordings.
There will also be some interesting soundtracks, including two that have been long out of print, Chinatown (special edition, with regular edition also getting a normal release on the same day), Popeye (Harry Nilsson and Van Dyke Parks scored the underrated Robert Altman movie) and Jaco Pastorius (the documentary). Unfortunately, not every store will have those. Plus, as orders had to be placed before the releases were announced to the public, there was no way to let your record store know what you were interested in. Stores are not supposed to tell you ahead of time what they will have. Sometimes, even they do not know until the week or so before.
Like reality TV and a certain politician, I guess they want to keep you in suspense.
A couple of years back, after traveling to see Bob Dylan the night before, I stood outside a store in Akron, Ohio, for a couple of hours on a cold March morning just to find out that they did not have a single Americana or roots music release. All of this while my girlfriend sat in comfort in a cozy restaurant across the street, breakfasting on waffles, maple syrup, and Free Trade coffee, and reading. She glanced up, smiling, every now and then to wave.
So, you never know. You take your chances and hope.
The photos of Mark Sandman/Morphine and Tim Buckley were were provided by their respective estates.