After her brilliant 2018 album America’s Child, blues singer Shemekia Copeland continues her blistering take on the state of her country with her new album Uncivil War. Working again with Will Kimbrough and her longtime collaborator John Hahn has resulted in a timely collection of protest songs about the way we live now. Continue reading “Album Review: Shemekia Copeland – Uncivil War”
Back in February, a lifetime ago, I was lucky enough to see Kelsey Waldon play live on a stormy evening in Glasgow. The rain that night was almost apocalyptic, leaking through the roof onto the stage and into the crowd. Even with the freezing temperatures and cramped venue there was a collective sense of joy and appreciation for the artists who’d travelled so far to play for us. We were all so blissfully naive about what the rest of the year was to bring.
Kelsey’s performance that evening was raw, intimate, intense. I’d liked her album White Noise / White Lines but live I connected to the songs on another level, in a way that is only possible when listening to someone sing in person. Until live music returns we have to try and find that same connection through the speakers, the screens, social media. It’s not enough but it’s all we have.
For the artists cut off from touring you feel deeply concerned for how their livelihoods have been snatched away and yet this year has also allowed for a pause and a focus on other projects. During a turbulent time politically Waldon has recorded this brilliant EP of cover songs which speak directly to the dark heart of the American experience. Continue reading “EP Review: Kelsey Waldon – They’ll Never Keep Us Down”
What a strange year it’s been. The Grammy nominations usually bring joy and frustration in equal measure and this year even more so when the music industry (and world) has become so discombobulated. Continue reading “Thoughts on the 2021 Grammy Nominations”
When the world was dark and all seemed lost there was one person we could rely on to bring some light, some joy, some sparkle, even a potential cure for coronavirus and that was Saint Dolly Parton. Some have called for her to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, others requested the vaccine she helped to fund be named after her (or Jolene). It’s Dolly’s world and we’re all just blessed to be living at the same time as this beacon of hope for humanity. Continue reading “Book Review: Dolly Parton – ‘Songteller – My Life in Lyrics’”
Earlier this year the lovely Balloon Machine blog decided to relaunch themselves as a record label and their first release, Laura Fell’s ‘Safe From Me’ is an absolutely stunning start. Continue reading “Album Review: Laura Fell – Safe From Me”
Last year in her song ‘The Greatest’ Lana Del Rey, with an eerie prescience, predicted the nightmarish world we are now living in. She sang about how the world was burning, how she missed New York, missed the music, how Kanye West was gone, how the livestream was on…calling it the greatest loss of them all. We didn’t know what we had til it was gone.
Some albums win end of year polls and are forgotten as soon as the year turns. Others define the mood of a whole era, and for me Norman Fucking Rockwell, with its bittersweet odes to our painful modern reality, does just that.
The final song on the album ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it’ is a necessary reminder that even in dystopian, pandemic hell we must need to cling to beauty, music, poetry, hope above all else.
In that song Lana described herself as 24/7 Sylvia Plath, which some may raise an eyebrow at – after all this is an artist who has long used such reference points as part of her glamodrama musical aesthetic. But this was no throwaway lyric. Lana was serious about writing poetry and has now published her first collection Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass. Continue reading “On Lana Del Rey and the sweet gift of ‘Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass’”
The human instinct to disconnect from the world has been with us long before the information superhighway made hyperfast, overwhelming connectivity a nightmarish reality. Artists have a long tradition of retreating into the woods to seek solitude and silence in the name of creativity. So much so that’s it’s almost a cliche now, with a million hipsters searching for enlightenment on Walden pond or the Pacific crest trail or at some wilderness retreat they paid thousands to attend.
However for some solitude is a vocation, not a vacation. Gwen John spent the latter part of her life in isolation, focusing on her art and writing in her notebook about how to keep the world away. Emily Dickinson chose to shut the door on the world, becoming the most famous recluse of all time.
Yet even she would be first to admit that being truly alone is impossible. Artistic solitude is accompanied by the pen, the brushstrokes, the guitar string, or just the sound of the mind whirring, the body containing the imprint of all who have lived and breathed before you. The outside world always gets in somehow.
Earlier this year Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker retreated to a cabin in the woods after the coronavirus ended her hectic touring schedule. Suffering in the wake of a relationship break up, this place offered her a chance to be at one with nature, to find comfort in the guitar, to listen to herself again. Continue reading “Album Review: Adrianne Lenker – songs / instrumentals”
Some artists set trends, others chase them and a few may be around long enough to do both. You can’t help but admire those, like Dolly, who refuse to exploit old glories or just fade away and have continually tried to stay relevant to the zeitgeist, no matter how difficult or desperate or futile the attempt.
White Limozeen and Eagle When She Flies were both hit albums because they combined classic country, a little of her eighties pop pizzazz and just enough of current country trends to return her successfully to the top of the charts. Slow Dancing With the Moon was a more calculated attempt at fully embracing the nineties pop country sound – line dancing and Billy Ray Cyrus included – ironically with more middling commercial results. Continue reading “Dolly Parton’s Discography – Slow Dancing With the Moon (1993)”
Recording her new album My Echo with her husband as the producer, while going through couples therapy which lead to an eventual divorce must have added more than a little tension to this new project by Laura Veirs.
However unlike say the Chicks angry and vengeful divorce epic Gaslighter, My Echo does not take aim at her partner, instead turning the disquieting feelings inwards. She accepts the crumbling reality of life and love, transforming her feelings into a quietly moving collection of songs. Continue reading “Album Review: Laura Veirs – My Echo”