The Year In Music 2019: Legacy Albums

Høydepunkter fra den store mengden historiske plateutgivelser i 2019, i alfabetisk, ikke rangert rekkefølge:

Arthur Russell – Iowa Dream (Audika)

The Beatles – Abbey Road (Apple)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Live at Woodstock (Fantasy)

Ernest Hood – Neighborhood (Thistlefield)

Gene Clark – No Other (4AD)

John Coltrane – Blue World (Impulse!)

Neil Young – Tuscaloosa (Reprise)

The Replacements – Dead Man’s Pop (Rhino)

Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band ‎– Pedal Steal + Four Corners (Paradise of Bachelors)

Various Artists – Kankyō Ongaku (Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980 – 1990) (Light in the Attic)

Year In Music 2019: Nye Album

Albumåret 2019

Her er noen av svært mange plater det er verdt å hedre litt ekstra. Topp 10 i alfabetisk rekkefølge, og med et knippe andre godbiter under:

Big|Brave – A Gaze Among Them (Southern Lord)

Chelsea Wolfe – Birth of Violence (Sargent House)

 

Drugdealer – Raw Honey (Mexican Summer)

Gatecreeper – Deserted (Relapse)

Ian Noe – Between The Country (National Treasury)

Lankum – The Livelong Day (Rough Trade)

Lumen Drones – Umbra (Hubro)


Purple Mountains – s/t (Drag City)

Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between (Matador)

Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)

Honorable Mentions:
The Comet is Coming – The Afterlife
The Delines – The Imperial
The Dream Syndicate ‎– These Times
Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind
Inter Arma – Sulphur English
Jamila Woods – LEGACY! LEGACY!
Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell
The Long Ryders – Psychedelic Country Soul
Marcus Hamblett – Detritus
Michael Kiwanuka – KIWANUKA
Moor Mother – Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
Numenorean – Adore
Paul Cauthen – Room 41
Red River Dialect – Abundance Welcoming Ghosts
slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
Tomb Mold – Planetary Clairvoyance
Tyler Childers – Country Squire
Zonal – Wrecked

GospelbeacH: Where Breezy Songcraft Meets Sunny Harmonies

This article was first published on November 17, 2015. This piece also serves as a loving memory of Neal Casal who sadly passed away on August 26, 2019. Forever love, Neal. Thanks for all your music.

GospelbeacH might be a new acquaintance, but there’s something warmly familiar about them.

Led by singers, guitarists and songwriters Brent Rademaker and Neal Casal, and featuring guitarist Jason Soda, bassist Kip Boardman and drummer Tom Sanford, the band includes members of beloved acts Beachwood Sparks, The Tyde and Ryan Adams and the Cardinals. Just like the music itself, this prestigious collective defies the boundaries of time and style.

GospelbeacH takes us down on a warm and wonderful journey where breezy songcraft meets sunny harmonies, somewhere along the same ways The Flying Burrito Brothers, Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield once tread.

Their recently released debut album, Pacific Surf Line – referring to the replacement of the once-mighty steam engines of the Santa Fe Railway by the modern Pacific Surfliner that now traverses the Southern Californian coastline – forges five creative forces into one steamrolling train of cosmic American music.

We hooked up with Rademaker and Casal for this offbeat Q&A.

* * *

What’s the first thing you thought about this morning?

Brent Rademaker: Why did they try to make 12 Monkeys into a television show?

Neal Casal: Are there waves today?

What’s the best gift you ever received?

Brent: This year my wife bought me a Martin acoustic guitar. Materialistic, yes, but it was my birthday and it came from her so it’s the best hands down.

Neal: A job in GospelbeacH

Who were your musical heroes growing up?

Brent: Chicago, Kiss, Maynard Ferguson and my dad.

Neal: Brian Jones, Randy Rhodes, Sly Stone, Kate Wolf.

In case of fire, what three things would you rescue?

Brent: My wife, my dogs and my Martin.

Neal: My Gibson J-50, my Leica M-6 and my Source 9’10 longboard

Name an album, artist or experience that changed your perspective on music?

Brent: Gram Parsons.

Neal: Peace And Love by Ras Michael and The Sons of Negus

Most unlikely album, song or artist that inspires your own music?

Brent: Foreigner

Neal: Aerosmith’s Draw the Line.

Best new song you recently discovered?

Brent: “Something to Believe In” by Tall Tales and the Silver Lining

Neal: “Mrs. Gristle’s Reel” by Nathan Salsburg

Can you share a fun fact about your new album?

Brent: We recorded the name “Lompoc” by over-pronouncing it “Lom-Poke,” and then “Lom-Pock,” as it seems there is some controversy about just how the California city’s name is pronounced. The correct way is “Pock” but the locals say “Poke.” We sing it both ways in concert… oh well.

Neal: We honestly had a good time making it and we’re still friends after it was finished.

Explain your music to your grandparents?

Brent: It’s like what they played on the jukebox at Garbers Tavern in Emden, Illinois in 1974.

Neal: I’m guessing they would have dug it.

What’s your favorite activity besides music?

Brent: I enjoy writing these days.

Neal: Making photographs.

What’s your greatest fear?

Brent: Fear itself.

Neal: Running out of half & half.

What’s a place you’ve never been that you want to go?

Brent: The Bahamas.

Neal: India. I’d like to hear Indian classical music at its source.

What’s your favorite piece of gear on stage?

Brent: I love my thick curly black Vox guitar cable because Mick Jones had one just like it.

Neal: My tuner.

Can you share the recipe to your favorite dish.

Brent:
1/2 avocado (not too ripe)
1 slice of sprouted grain bread
1 pad of butter (optional)
1 pinch of course sea salt
extra virgin olive oil

toast bread
apply butter (optional)
spread and smash avocado onto toast
crumble salt and drizzle olive oil
EAT.

Neal: Capn’ Crunch and milk.

And finally, describe your music as if it were in physical form.

Brent: A red, white and blue vessel full of a golden flowing effervescent magic liquid that brings instant joy to everyone. Oh, wait, that’s a can of Miller Lite… yeah that!

Neal: An eraser.

Jay Som: Mild and Spicy

This interview was first published on March 20, 2017

Emerging indie artist Melina Duterte, AKA Jay Som, has managed to impress critics with her every release to date. After originally planning to pursue a conservatory program for jazz, Duterte rather enrolled in community college, studying studio technology, songwriting and music production instead. It was around this time that she began writing and recording demos in her bedroom studio, subsequently releasing them on Bandcamp in 2015 under her Jay Som moniker. The original 9 track EP has since been re-released twice to rave reviews. Everybody Works is just released on Polyvinyl Records to great acclaim.

Who is Jay Som? Can you please introduce yourself?
Hello!! Jay Som is me (Melina Duterte). I am 22 years old and I live in Oakland, California

Tell us a little about your new album. What’s it about, and what do we get?
It’s about whatever you want it to be about, nothing too specific. You get to hear 10 songs.

Who were your musical heroes growing up?
Karen O, Avril Lavigne, The Donnas, Beyoncé, DCFC.

When and how did you first get into music?
My mom bought me a tiny acoustic guitar for my 8th birthday and I taught myself for a while, then I picked up the trumpet and that shaped most of my musicianship skills.

Name an album, artist or experience that changed your perspective on music?
The Glow Pt.2 by The Microphones

What’s the best new song you recently discovered?
“To You” by Andy Shauf

Can you share a fun fact about you or your music?
I am very good at catching small things in my mouth (popcorn, candy, etc.)

Any other favorite activities?
I love to binge watch Netflix shows and movies until 4am.

What’s coming next for Jay Som?
Getting ready for hefty touring for most of 2017, I’m also working on some demos for the new record; definitely want to spend a lot of time on the next one.

Looking one year ahead, where would you like to see yourself?
I would like music to still be a consistent part of my life next year. Maybe I’ll be in a different city working on multiple projects in a house with a pool and a dog.

And finally, if your music was a food what would it be?
My music would for sure be a nice soup, kind of mild and spicy but pleasant.

J Hus: An English Mercedes Benz

This article was first published on July 10, 2017

Momodou Jallow is a British born genre bending singer and rapper of Gambian descent, better known as rapidly rising J Hus. The 21-year-old has already collaborated with high profiled British MC’s Stormzy, Nines and Dave, to mention a few, and fully broke through as a solo artist with the hit single “Did You See” earlier this year. In May he followed up with his debut full length, critically acclaimed Common Sense.

Pitchfork described the album as “the best of grime, Afrobeat, dancehall, and early ’00s hip-hop into a vibrant, wholly unique sound”, and this boundary-dancing playfulness is unquestionably one of J Hus most striking qualities.

London, the southern and eastern parts in particular, has for a long time been an artistic hub for urban globetrotting, and this scope is an aspect that makes J Hus a poster-boy for the sound of 2017. His flawless flirting with different cultures, including Jamaica, Ghana, London and Atlanta, would almost be unheard of just a couple years back. Now, this is the direction to the future of music.

J Hus has gone a long way towards this status. He was a name to watch already back in 2015, when he caught a buzz with the break-out track “Dem Boy Paigon” and mixtape The 15th Day. On a sour note, that same year he was stabbed multiple times and sparked a fury while “making gang signs from the hospital bed” according to British press.

He was tipped by the BBC in its Sound of 2016 list, and has constantly been in the limelight for the last couple of years – at least among the insiders of the scene. Without compromise and no sense of debutant nerves, Common Sense is a remarkable strong debut from a young, skilled and confident artist set for worldwide domination.

Who is J Hus?

I’m everything you’ve heard before, and nothing you’ve ever heard before…

Tell us a little about your recent album debut Common Sense. What do we get and what’s it about?

It’s a big mix of a lot of things; there’s rap on there, afro beat, bashment, some ballads, even a little garage. The opening track, “Common Sense”, is a statement for me. I wanted to start the album very confidently, 100%. People often think of me as a singer, and I wanted to reaffirm myself as a rapper. I’ve got bars!

Who are your musical heroes?

I love 50 Cent, he’s been a massive inspiration of mine, from Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, which is one of the first albums I ever bought and listened to from start to finish.

When and how did you first get into music?

I always used to freestyle infront of the mandem but didn’t take music serious. 2014 I sat down in the car with one of my managers and spoke about taking it properly. Then started dropping freestyles, which people were feeling. Tried to put character in the freestyles, do and say things rappers wasn’t doing.

Name an album, artist or experience that changed your perspective on music?

50 Cent – Get Rich Or Die Tryin’,

What’s the best new song you recently discovered?

Mr Eazi – “Leg Over”

Can you share a fun fact about you or your music?

You don’t know what to expect

What’s your favorite activity besides music?

I love boxing, I’m gonna take it up properly soon and get real hench.

What’s coming next for J Hus?

I’m still just grinding in the studio. Even since I finished the album, I’ve been recording more songs with my partner Jae5. I’ve got at least one EP’s worth of music ready to go, and loads more to come. I just wanna keep surprising people. I’m never satisfied, I always want more.

Looking one year ahead, where would you like to see yourself?

Want to still be the same J Hus but advancing in my music and still the most diverse. Hopefully I can achieve much more next year and continue just getting better and better.

Finally, if your music was a car what would it be?

Mercedes Benz

Half Moon Run: 5 Albums That Shaped Us

This article was first published on November 11, 2015

Montreal-based quartet Half Moon Run just returned with their sophomore album Sun Leads Me On, a lush and dynamic effort eschewing alt-folk melancholia while remaining guided by beauty. The album was written mostly between their hometown and a surfing sojourn to California, and recorded at the idyllic Bathhouse Studios in Ontario with acclaimed British producer Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele).

Half Moon Run surely have found a balance between powerful heartland rock, majestic chamber pop and art rock complexity, crafting a musical space somewhere around My Morning Jacket and Coldplay, as The Guardian once stated. Hard to pigeonhole, but easy to like, Half Moon Run manages to be both immediately appealing and remarkably intriguing at the same time. This is 5 albums that “changed their lives”:

Chosen by Dylan Phillips (vocals, drums, keyboard)
Patrick Watson – Love Songs for Robots (Secret City, 2015)


Patrick Watson (and his band) have been a big influence on us. We toured with them in Europe / USA / Canada and became good friends in Montreal. Their originality and musicality, on the record and live, leave us jaw-dropped. Love Songs for Robots is the record I currently spin most frequently at home.

Chosen by Devon Portielje (vocals, guitar, percussion)
Stars of the Lid: And their refinement of the decline (kranky, 2007)


This is an amazing ambient album with mastery of arrangements and tones. I use it in a functional way as a sleeping aid and to de-stress. I would listen to this record when I was living in difficult circumstances, and it reframed my experience, softening the edges as if it were in a film. Even after many listens, I still discover new elements regularly.

Chosen by Isaac Symonds (vocals, percussions, mandolin, keyboard, guitar)
Burial: Untrue (Hyperdub, 2007)


This album has been a huge influence on all of us. I particularly love the lo-fi, saturated drum tones, with the undeniable beats. The mood of this album is dark and groovy. It was my soundtrack for biking home each night from our rehearsal space in Montreal while writing Sun Leads Me On. Untrue has a permanent spot on my playlist.

Chosen by Conner Molander (vocals, guitar, keyboard)
Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (Warner, 1968)


There’s something magical about this album… it sounds very spontaneous, as though it flowed straight out of an ancient Celtic spirit. The lyrics are mystical yet lucid, and Van Morrison’s vocals are wonderfully soulful. It drifts on and on like a dream, and I love it more with every listen.

Chosen by Conner Molander (vocals, guitar, keyboard)
Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia, 1965)


The first side is good, but the second side is some of the most powerful songwriting that I’ve ever heard. Resonant, timeless, prophetic…just listen to the sorrowful longing in his voice in “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. In my opinion, this is Bob Dylan at the peak of his powers.

The Record Collection: 1989 – 4

Beat Farmers | The Pursuit of Happiness | Curb, 1987 |

The Beat Farmers managed to combine hard hitting Southern fried rock with just the right amount of twang and jangle, including a ragged sense of humor, mighty fine songwriting and great musical skills. Now, that’s the recipe for a damn fine band in my book. Even though they never were spectacular, in terms of being visionary vanguards or anything, they were pioneers for roots based rock and paved way for numerous bands to come. Back then it was labelled as ‘cowpunk’, but in heart this is really classic all-American rock ‘n’ roll.

I bought The Pursuit of Happiness (1985) prior to this one, and it’s still my personal favorite – regardless of this here iconic cover art. But, standout tracks like “Hollywood Hills” and “Make It Last” ranks among their finest work ever, as does (as always) the deep sound of Country Dick Montana (“Big River”). The band dissolved after Country Dick passed away in 1995, while performing on stage.

Sidewinders | Witchdoctor | Mammoth/RCA 1989 |

Tucson, Arizona’s Sidewinders sure stepped up the game with their sophomore album Witchdoctor. Their mix of jangly guitars and hard rocking songs, acoustic beauty and electric rage, melted together just perfect on this album. On standout tracks like “Cigarette,” “Bad Crazy Sun” and the exquisite cover of Neil Diamond’s “Solitary Man” they’re not too far from the sound of city comrades like Naked Prey and Green On Red, but Sidewinders always had a more approachable side to their music. It all comes together on “What She Said”, just one of those great moments where melodic sensibility takes a turn and starts to explore the unknown. This close to 10 minute epic track is the highlight of an album that has plenty to give, even 30 years after it was first being released.

Rich Hopkins might never have received a massive commercial breakthrough, but he sure is an underrated songwriter and bandleader – and he’s a true desert character. Sidewinders later turned into Sand Rubies, and Hopkins has continued up until this day as Rich Hopkins and the Luminarios.

Various artists | Time Between: A Tribute to the Byrds | Imaginary, 1989 |

“It’s hard to believe that 25 years have elapsed since The Byrds took their first faltering steps into World Pacific Studios to open the chapter on a fascinating period of creative growth and bestow upon the music world an influence that is still felt to this day.” So says the album notes by Lyndon Noon. Well, it’s also hard to believe the fact that it’s 30 years since I purchased this here LP. However, the influence of The Byrds continues to live on, their songs will endure forever. More so than many of the bands honoring them on this tribute album. But the reason I bought Time Between was not first and foremost because of The Byrds, even though I already loved them in 1989, but the fact that so many of my favorite bands contributed here: Giant Sand (“Change Is Now” for sure), Thin White Rope and Dinosaur Jr. (“I Feel a Whole Lot Better” after this) all chip in, as does honorable names like Miracle Legion, The Chills, Richard Thompson, The Barracudas, The Moffs and many more. This is a wonderful homage, serving many of the purposes of a such a project: Paying respect to the mother band, creating unique versions of their original songs and expanding the understanding of their legacy. You want to dive into the original versions while listening to the covers at the same time. Well done.

Band of Susans | Love Agenda | Blast First, 1989 |

Band of Susans came from the New York City underground, and even though they basically remained there during their whole career, the band, made up of remarkably many Susan’s, sure left a mark in the history of art rock. They were students under composers like Rhys Chatham, and contemporaries with other NY bands like Sonic Youth, Live Skull and Swans.

Their second album Love Agenda, with Page Hamilton, later of Helmet fame in the line-up, has aged remarkably well. Here’s plenty of layers and layers of loud guitars and the start-stop dynamics we later came to love from Helmet, but restrained vocals and sweet melodies buried underneath the pillows of noise were not too far from British acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine. But, Band of Susans sure went their own way. As a matter of fact, it’s possible to map out several different schools of noise rock, with Sonic Youth as kids from the school of no wave, The Jesus & Mary Chain following the path of British post-punk and My Bloody Valentine doing what is now known as dreampop/shoegaze. Band of Susans is related to all of this, but also turned a slightly different direction with minimalistic mantras characterized with a wall of sound and a sea of noise. It all comes to life on Love Agenda.

The Denver Mexicans | The Denver Mexicans | Still Sane, 1988 |

A rather short lived band, The Denver Mexicans only released a couple albums during their time span. This is their eponymous debut, made up by legendary LA bassist Dave Provost (The Dream Syndicate, Droogs and many more), Aaron Price on guitar and vocals and drummer Steve Bidrowski (The Unknowns). This album is packed with raw and ragged tunes, ranging from garage rock and surf to cowpunk and desert rock not too far from other contemporary artists like Naked Prey and Green On Red (check out the centerpiece “Lonesome Road.”) Add some sweet acoustic numbers (“Ezras Parade”), cool instrumentals (“Dogs of Surf”, “Denver Mexican Theme”) and a more than decent version of The Dream Syndicate’s “John Coltrane Stereo Blues” in the mix, and you get a pretty wild ride of late 1980s underground rock Los Angeles style. Sadly, I never finished up ordering the t-shirt (slide 3), guess it’s too late now?

Various Artists | ‎Only 39,999,999 Behind “Thriller” – Down There Records 1981-1988 | Down There/Restless, 1989 |

The Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn started up Down There Records in the early 1980s. The label catalog is more qualitative than sizable impressive, with early and classic albums from The Dream Syndicate, Green On Red and Naked Prey as part of the roster. Down There also gave us awesome releases from The Romans, Russ Tolman and Divine Weeks, and quite simply ranks as one of the finest labels to document primarily a very vital Los Angeles music scene. This compilation is a pretty awesome place to start digging, it even includes several unreleased tracks, but I highly encourage chasing down the original albums right away. Highlights include Dream Syndicate’s untamed version of “Outlaw Blues” and Green On Red’s early tune “Tragedy.”

Neil Young | After the Gold Rush | Reprise 1970 |

I grew up on Neil Young. Old Ways played on repeat as the soundtrack to endless family summer trips when I was a kid, Ragged Glory and Weld being as heavy as any grunge album in the early ’90s – and later on in life, the thrill of discovering so many gems in this man’s astonishing catalog. It’s fair to say that Neil Young is one of my all time favorite artists, and After the Gold Rush is one of his finest albums. This is classic Neil at the dawn of a long career peak. You’ll find all his signature moves on this, his third solo album: The acoustic, husky folk tunes (“Cripple Creek Ferry”), the ragged, loud guitars (most notably on “Southern Man”), heartbreaking love songs (“I Believe In You”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “When You Dance I Can Really Love”), cowboy nostalgia (a slow version of Don Gibson’s “Oh Lonesome Me”), piano-led ballads (“Birds”, the eco-friendly title track)…. You know it’s a classic album straight from the get go: ‘Sailin’ hardships through broken harbors/Out on the waves in the night’ (“Tell Me Why”). Neil Young made some mighty fine albums before this one, and a whole lotta legendary ones after, but his long, sprawling career is compressed into these two sides of timeless music.

The Long Ryders | Native Sons | Frontier/Planet 1984 |

Native Sons is in many ways a seminal 1980s album, as a highly influential predecessor to the alt-country resurgence a couple years later, a cornerstone in the Paisley Underground movement, a blueprint for tons of rootsy/psychedelic indie bands to come – and of course a damn fine album on its own. Still is. The Long Ryders combined jangly guitars and sweet vocal harmonies (hey, even Gene Clark joins in) with a raw, ragged garage rock attitude, often cited as the missing link between Gram Parsons and punk rock.

This is The Long Ryders’ first full length, produced by Henry Lewy (Joni Mitchell, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen) and a tour de force of timeless songwriting from start to finish. Love it just as much now as when I purchased it 30 years ago.

Sonic Youth | Bad Moon Rising | Homestead/Blast First 1985 |

Bad Moon Rising is a dark, gloomy nightmare, slowly dragging us through post-apocalyptic city streets and desolate, industrial wastelands, a disturbing postcard from 1980s America. Just a couple years later Sonic Youth gave us Sister and Daydream Nation and forever shaped the face of alternative rock with their merge of underground noise and mainstream glam.

Wrapped in drones, decay and dissonance, there is not much glam to spot on songs like “Ghost Bitch”, “Society Is a Hole”, and “I’m Insane.” The frantic guitar riffs that would become a key signature element for the band, mostly comes to light at the tail end of the album on “Death Valley ’69” featuring Lydia Lunch. Already at this point in their career we find this clever mix of high and low culture, as they give references to Creedence Clearwater Revival, the painter Edward Ruscha and Charles Manson just to mention a few. This is pretty bleak and abrasive stuff, and even though it’s not an easy or immediate album to digest it’s highly rewarding.

Over the years Bad Moon Rising has become one of my favorite Sonic Youth albums.

Rank and File | Sundown | Slash 1982 |

The Kinman brothers, Chip and Tony, were part of the bourgeoning Southern California punk scene as members of the Dils when they decided to relocate to Austin and shift towards a more roots orientated sound.

For the debut LP Sundown they brought in phenomenal guitarist Alejandro Escovedo (formerly of the Nuns and True Believers, and still going very strong) and drummer Slim Evans. This is nothing but a seminal precursor to the whole alt.country and Americana movement, later popularized by Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown et al. At the time this vital combination of punk rock and country music came to be known as cowpunk. Rank and File stands next to the likes of Jason & the Scorchers, The Beat Farmers and The Blasters in pioneering this kinda lovely music, especially here on their debut album that is by far their finest moment.

Three For Christmas

Low: Christmas (1999)

On our way from Stockholm
Started to snow
And you said it was like Christmas
But you were wrong
It wasn’t like Christmas at all

By the time we got to Oslo
Snow was gone
And we got lost
The beds were small
But we felt so young
(“Just Like Christmas”)

Sometimes, the most precious gift comes in the humblest of packages.

Low shared this seasonal joy to the world in 1999. Christmas is only 8 songs, consisting of five covers and three originals, as a gift to their fans it was released between the Duluth, MN trio’s masterful full-lengths Secret Name and Things We Lost in the Fire. As years went by, Christmas has turned out to be one of the most beloved holidays albums of recent times. The musical DNA of Low is perfectly tuned for December songs; with their hushed and heavenly harmonies, solemn sound and affinity for beautiful melodies that slowly falls down from heaven and melts like snowflakes on our tongues.

Low turn their backs on the hustle and bustle, away from flashy decorations, shopping sprees and fussy preparations, while never ending up in some sort of typical cool, indie irony. No, their gift to us is given with sincerity and grace.

This utterly wonderful collection of songs is nothing but a sacred and holy embrace of the true spirit of the season. This is Christmas.

If you were born today
We’d kill you by age eight
Never get the chance to say

Joy to the world and
Peace on the earth
Forgive them for they know not what they do
(“If You Were Born Today”)

Sufjan Stevens: Songs for Christmas (2006)


Back in 2001, Sufjan Stevens began to record Christmas songs and release them as gifts to friends and family. This turned into an annual tradition (except in 2004), where Stevens invited friends over for a session of homemade recording a week in December, supplied with a Reader’s Digest Christmas Songbook and using whatever musical instruments available around at the time.

In 2006 the five EP’s were being repacked as a box-set and shared with a broader audience, making it into a wonderful collection of lovable traditional carols (“Joy to the World”, “O Holy Night”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”) as well as some brand new holiday-themed favorites (“Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!”, “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!”).

Songs For Christmas is unmistakably Sufjan Stevens, ranging from the sparse, folky to more grandiose and complex arrangements, and should be considered a must-have either you file it under S for Stevens or C for Christmas.

John Fahey: The New Possibility: John Fahey’s Guitar Soli Christmas Album (1968)

John Fahey is considered as one of the greatest country blues fingerstyle guitarists, and the master of American Primitive Guitar. Armed with his steel-string acoustic guitar, John Fahey recorded numerous classic albums since his debut album Blind Joe Death (1959) and up to the posthumously released Red Cross in 2003.

His biggest commercial success is The New Possibility, released in 1968. Mojo magazine rightfully described how it “possesses a deliciously deep and spooky ambience, a disjointed jauntiness coupled with a frost-fall morning melancholy, Fahey’s guitar somehow sounding like an Elizabethan harpsichord grown wild and mad out in the Appalachian mountains.”

This edition also collects his second Christmas album, Christmas with John Fahey Vol. II. (1975).

Dori Freeman: A Weeping Willow

Dori Freeman (Photo: Kristen Horton, press)

This interview was first published on October 17, 2017

Singer-songwriter Dori Freeman is about to drop her sophomore album Letters Never Read, coming October 20th, 2017. Freeman has again teamed up with renowned folk-rocker Teddy Thompson as the producer.

“I knew I wanted to work with Teddy again and just try to continue and evolve what and we did on the first record”, Freeman says.

She collaborated with Teddy’s even more acknowledged dad Richard Thompson (of Fairport Convention fame), Canadian psych-folk duo Kacy & Clayton and Irish-American songbird Aofie O’Donovan. ”I wanted to collaborate with them because they are all musicians I listen to and admire greatly, plain and simple”, Freeman says.

Dori Freeman hails from the Appalachians, born in Galax, Va, a small town with a rich heritage of old-time music. She grew up in a family of bluegrass musicians, and learned the legacy of Doc Watson and the Louvin Brothers from an early age. At the age of 22 the hard working single mom reached out to her musical favorite Teddy Thompson on Facebook for a possible collaboration. Thompson quickly replied, and went on to produce her critically acclaimed 2016 debut album.

Letters Never Read is a triumphant follow-up, including cover songs by her grandfather Willard Gayheart, and Richard & Linda Thompson, equally rooted in traditional Appalachian folk and sophisticated singer-songwriter pop music, more optimistic and light-hearted without ever compromising on the craftsmanship of poignant storytelling and ‘drawing from inspirations all over the map’.

We caught up with Dori Freeman for a chat about her new album.

***

Congratulations with a new album on the way. What do we get and what’s it about?

10 songs, six originals and four covers. Hard to sum up in a few words what it’s about, but it’s got songs I grew up listening to, one written by my grandfather, a song written by Teddy’s father, and some originals that ponder love from differing perspectives.

What was your initial idea for this album – what inspired you the most?

I was inspired by a lot of things – paying homage to the music I grew up on and pairing that with the originals that have a very different feel. Family inspires me always, a new relationship, reconciling living with depression, pairing of percussion and voice, etc. Inspirations all over the map.

Did you have a clear idea on how Letters Never Read would be from the get-go, or did the album gradually evolve as a process?

I’d say it was more of a gradual evolution. I just try to write and record things from a genuine place and hope by doing that everything will come together into something good.

What is the biggest difference or development compared to your debut?

I was in a much different and more positive place in my life when I made Letters Never Read compared to my debut. I think the record reflects that.

You worked with Teddy Thompson again, producing the album. Can you shed some light on the recording sessions? How did you work out the songs and what kind of sound did you look for this time?

Teddy is wonderful to work with. He has a very clear vision in the studio and he’s very good at coaxing that out of people. Generally, I play all the songs for Teddy on acoustic guitar and then from there we come up with a groove for each song. My husband, the drummer on this record, Nicholas Falk, is also responsible for a lot of the arranging and overall feels on many of these songs.

Unfortunately I wasn’t in the studio at the same time as Richard Thompson, but unsurprisingly he nailed the vision for “If I Could Make You My Own.”

What would be your preferred setting to ultimately enjoy the LP?

While this won’t be immediately released on LP, my favorite place to listen to any recording is in the car.

How would you pair this album with a meal or beverage?

Fizzy water and anything chocolate.

Which albums or songs inspired you the most in the making of this album?

I guess this is an obvious answer since I record songs by each of them, but Fairport Convention and my grandfather were both really inspiring.

Any other artists you would like to recommend that you don’t feel are getting deserved attention?

Kacy and Clayton, Erin Rae, Kaia Kater, Logan Ledger, Zephaniah OHora…

And finally, if your music was a tree what would it be?

A Weeping Willow that also bears delicious neon fruit.

David Berman: Writing Sad Songs, Gettin’ Paid by the Tear

Written July 18, 2019 for the new album from David Berman’s new moniker Purple Mountains. Berman passed away on August 7, 2019.

Her doorbell plays a bar of Stephen Foster
Her sister never left and look what it cost her
We’re gonna live in Nashville and I’ll make a career
out of writing sad songs and gettin’ paid by the tear

(Silver Jews: “Tennessee”)

David Berman is not a great singer. A superficial listen to his music under the moniker Silver Jews, now Purple Mountains, will only reveal his characteristic gravel-voice and easily recognizable baritone drawl. Sometimes it’s half-spoken or mumbled with a drowsy attitude as if he’s doesn’t really care about what he has to say.

But like many of the finest songsmiths of his generation (think fellow musical and lyricist peers like Kurt Wagner, Stephin Merritt, Bill Callahan), Berman transcends such technical limitations in favor of something of much higher value: the enduring power of impeccable storytelling.

He might not be a technically perfect singer, but he is a scholar-writer. Berman studied under the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate at UMass, published his acclaimed collection of poetry Actual Air in 1999, and, with his remarkably precise pen, he manages to turn seemingly simple songs into profound prose.

He can be compared to authors like Nelson Algren (A Walk on the Wild Side), Bukowski or Denis Johnson (Jesus’ Son), and he has named Emily Dickinson an inspiration. “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant” might as well be a guiding light to Berman’s work (the phrase also coined Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted LP).

It takes more than trained skills to dive into the world of the outcasts, outsiders and outlaws that make up Berman’s lyrical universe. It is no secret that he’s fought through some harder struggles than most folks: drugs and overdoses, depression and suicide attempts, and a public fight with his wealthy, conservative alcohol- and gun-lobbying father (as he proclaimed in a public statement when he first retired from music in 2009: “My life has been riddled with Ibsenism. In a way I am the son of a demon come to make good the damage”).

This is the personal backdrop to his writing, even though his lyrics never solely embrace a dark, self-loathing melancholia that could be expected from his experiences.

Berman is grasping a broad range of the American songbook and psyche, transforming his inner demons and tumultuous past into a poignant, poetic tapestry of wry observations, wit and a sly sense of humor. Always with a keen eye on life off the beaten path, of people whose lives have gone astray, he populates his vivid stories from all across the Americas, from the alleys that are the footnotes of the avenues: the Latin teacher that always smells like piss, suburban kids with Biblical names, honky-tonk psychiatrists and hitchhikers going from Odessa to Houston for the midnight execution.

And he’s a true master of quotable one-liners: “Punk rock died when the first kid said ‘Punk’s not dead,’” “Won’t soul music change now that our souls have turned strange,” “I know that a lot of what I say has been lifted off of men’s room walls.”

Berman first started out performing as Silver Jews in the late 1980s, together with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, before they turned indie icons as Pavement — later with a revolving set of musicians. The sound of his music has also gradually evolved over the years, seamlessly moving between raucous lo-fi, indie and slacker country/Americana.

Notoriously known for being a reclusive and some kind of an enigma, Berman has always followed his own path, off from the limelight, but he nevertheless made a career as a cult hero for a few but growing number of devotees.

Despite his personal issues, he has never made a weak or half-hearted album. There is a strong consistency of high quality from the sprawling 1994 debut Starlite Walker to the Jews’ final album Lookout Mountain Lookout Sea (2008) — with American Water (1998) as a possible artistic peak.

He spent the best part of the 21st century straightening up his life, writing poetry, drawing, reading and perhaps living just an ordinary life without releasing any new music for so many years. And, now, David Berman has returned with yet another extraordinary effort. This time with members of ever-so wonderful Woods as backing band, and with a set of songs that sounds more positive and confident than ever. Has he ever written a more upbeat song than “All My Happiness is Gone,” a warmer, more comforting tune than “Darkness and Cold”?

It’s almost as we can see his sardonic grin when he opens the album to tell us about just the way that he feels:

Well, I don’t like talkin’ to myself
But someone’s gotta say it, hell
I mean, things have not been going well
This time I think I finally fucked myself
You see, the life I live is sickening
I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion
Day to day, I’m neck and neck with giving in
I’m the same old wreck I’ve always been
(Purple Mountains: “That’s Just the Way That I Feel”)