Film Review: A Star is Born

**Please Note This Discussion Contains Spoilers**

Looking at the most popular movies of recent times you would have to conclude that most of us don’t want to see a tragedy set in the modern world. Maybe we feel safer, more reassured if the potential horrors are set in a post apocalyptic landscape or a world populated by superheroes. Telling the truth about the nasty struggles of everyday people is a tougher sell. Thankfully that fact did not deter Bradley Cooper from remaking A Star is Born, refusing to shy away from addressing some of the all too real complexities of life as a famous musician and an addict. Anyone who enters the theatre expecting a lightweight tale of the rise of a pop star will be surely shocked at the depths of despair this film is prepared to reach.

Tragedy on such an epic scale could only be set in the world of show business, where it seems even the biggest stars lurch from one inexplicable personal horror to another, with many dying young or in desperate circumstances. Another tragic element of the industry, and of life I guess, is that eventually your time runs out and another younger, fresher talent is waiting to step into your spotlight. To balance the downfall A Star is Born, as the title suggests, will also brings us the rise of a superstar, with music so good it will crush your heart in two. Continue reading “Film Review: A Star is Born”

Album Review: Amy Helm – This Too Shall Light

On the cover of her new album Amy Helm stands strong surrounded by the majesty of nature, the colour green, the cloudy sky and imminent light, suggesting this will be an album concerning the reality of the world around us. Musically the album is rooted in the rustic outdoor world where songs are sung to fight against approaching storms. With a varied mix of covers and originals This Too Shall Light offers a natural haven for the listener, a place of shelter, faith and community togetherness. Continue reading “Album Review: Amy Helm – This Too Shall Light”

Under Her Influence: Songs Inspired by Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’

After writing my recent post about Dolly Parton’s 1974 album Jolene, I thought I would delve a little deeper into the title song and contemplate its influence on country music and beyond. Of course this song has generated endless cover versions from artists as wide ranging as The White Stripes, Reba McEntire, Strawberry Switchblade and Olivia Newton John but what I’m interested in is how Jolene has inspired the songwriting of others.

Jolene connected with listeners because it was a nakedly vulnerable song, full of fear, desperation, panic and even paranoia. Partly what makes this song memorable is the simplicity of that repeated use of Jolene, sung over thirty times and the ominous beat underneath. But it is the characters that Dolly created who really make this song so iconic. We sympathise with the narrator because everyone has doubted themselves or felt that stab of jealousy when your beloved notices another. And the title character is so vividly drawn, with her ‘flaming locks of auburn hair…ivory skin and eyes of emerald green’ that you can’t help wanting to know more about Jolene’s story.

Here is a brief list of songs, some which are written in direct response to Jolene, others which just echo this modern classic but all of which owe a debt to Dolly. Continue reading “Under Her Influence: Songs Inspired by Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’”

Dolly Parton’s Discography: Jolene

From the ominous opening beat of Jolene, it’s immediately clear that this song is unlike anything else Dolly Parton had ever recorded in her career. Sonically the groove is dark and menacing, with the repeated ‘Jolene’ sounding more and more desperate as the song goes on. The simplicity of the structure adds to appeal of the song – three chords and the truth is no cliche when it is done this well. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography: Jolene”

Album Review: Loretta Lynn – Wouldn’t It Be Great

Having suffered a stroke and a broken hip in the last few years, you might expect living legend Loretta Lynn to be taking it easy now she is in her eighties. Instead, after a little delay for her recovery, she is releasing her third of five planned new albums produced by John Carter Cash and her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell. Loretta’s music remains steadfastly traditional and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Great’ contains a mix of re-recorded songs and new material in the classic country style which made her name. Continue reading “Album Review: Loretta Lynn – Wouldn’t It Be Great”

Music Book Club September: On ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ by Lily Allen

I had planned on discussing another book this month but then I happened to start reading ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ by Lily Allen and after finishing it in one sitting I knew I had to write about this blisteringly brilliant biography. In the introduction Lily explains the reasons behind her decision to write her story. I am writing this because writing is what I do, it’s both my living and the way I live, the way I make sense of things, the way I try to learn my lessons. Biography becomes another way to express her art, her truth. Women in music need a voice like Lily’s to be heard, someone who has been through the intense scrutiny of fame and survived. Continue reading “Music Book Club September: On ‘My Thoughts Exactly’ by Lily Allen”

Pistol Annies Are Back! Here’s Everything We Know About Their Return

Five long years have passed since the Pistol Annies’ second album Annie Up and in that time Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley have all released critically acclaimed solo albums and been through some serious living. Thankfully Holler, Hippie and Lone Star Annie have finally found time in their busy and dramatic lives to reunite and record a new album.

Over the last few days fans have been getting postcards in the mail from the band, which might seem retro but these slices of American life are signs which tell a story. Hidden on these postcards are clues to the new album, which fans have been encouraged to share on social media using the hashtag #PistolAnniesAreBack.

Here’s everything we know about the album so far (also keep checking the hashtag for real time updates). Continue reading “Pistol Annies Are Back! Here’s Everything We Know About Their Return”

Album Review: Kari Arnett – When The Dust Settles

Americana singer Kari Arnett is currently based in Minneapolis but like so many great artists before her she has a plan to move to Nashville. Her debut album When The Dust Settles is full of quality songwriting and has a rich roots sound which suggests her spirit is already haunting the hallowed streets of Music City. There’s also real resilience and grit in the wise heart of this album. Continue reading “Album Review: Kari Arnett – When The Dust Settles”

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