Best of 2012 – Music January 25, 2013Posted by Matt in Best of 2012.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, albums, best of 2012, Bob Dylan, Dwight Yoakam, Jack White, Japandroids, Lucero, Mumford & Sons, music, Neil Young, Patterson Hood, Rodriguez
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I thought I would find the time to write synopses of all the albums I loved last year, but alas, the busyness of everyday life and the sheer amount of required words has made that dream impossible at this time. Instead of my rambling thoughts, I’ll just give you the list and you can look them up and listen as you see fit.
50. Green Day – Uno!, Dos! Tres!
49. JEFF the Brotherhood – Exotic Nights
48. Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal
47. Cory Branan – MUTT
46. Paul Thorn – What the Hell is Going On?
45. Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs
44. Soundgarden – King Animal
43. Titus Andronicus – Local Business
42. Fun. – Some Nights
41. Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse
40. Bobby Womack – The Bravest Man in the Universe
39. Calexico – Algiers
38. Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables
37. Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet on Sky
36. Aesop Rock – Skelethon
35. The Flaming Lips – The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends
34. Father John Misty – Fear Fun
33. Smashing Pumpkins – Oceania
32. Big Boi – Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors
31. Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth
30. Nas – Life is Good
29. Glen Hansard – Rhythm & Repose
28. Cat Power – Sun
27. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
26. Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
25. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city
24. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory
23. The Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten
22. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
21. Gary Clark Jr. – Blak and Blu
20. Dr. John – Locked Down
19. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
18. Baroness – Yellow & Green
17. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel
16. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
15. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
14. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter
13. Heartless Bastards – Arrow
12. Grizzly Bear – Shields
11. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
10. Rodriguez – Searching for Sugar Man
9. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
8. Jack White – Blunderbuss
7. Patterson Hood – Heat Light Rumbles in the Distance
6. Dwight Yoakam – 3 Pears
5. Mumford & Sons – Babel
4. Japandroids – Celebration Rock
3. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
2. Lucero – Women & Work
1. Bob Dylan – Tempest
Best of 2012 … So Far June 13, 2012Posted by Matt in Best of 2012.
Tags: Alabama Shakes, best of 2012, Bruce Springsteen, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Cory Branan, Dr. Dog, Dr. John, Heartless Bastards, Jack White, Jay Farrar, Justin Townes Earle, Leonard Cohen, Lucero, music, Neil Young, New Multitudes, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Sharon Van Etten
As the earth nears the halfway point in its annual journey around the sun, it is time we take a look back at the first half of this year, the highlights and triumphs and perhaps disappointments to date in 2012. In my strange little world, music provides the soundtrack and direction for each day, and I am always seeking to bolster my collection and to delve into the minds of artists, whether they are ones I’ve followed for years or upstarts of whom I may have only recently become aware. At my latest count, I’ve listened and paid attention to 35 new albums so far in this calendar year. These are my favorites.
Jay Farrar, Jim James, Will Johnson and Anders Parker – New Multitudes
Super groups are always kind of a crap shoot. I mean, not everybody can be the Avengers. So I approached this collection of unreleased Woody Guthrie material, as interpreted by Jay Farrar (of Son Volt / Uncle Tupelo), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Will Johnson and Anders Parker (both of Centro-Matic), with some trepidation. Fortunately, the group came through with a work that both evokes images of Guthrie’s Dust Bowl-era world and gives a timely statement on today. Jay Farrar has one of my all-time favorite voices and it’s a pure joy to hear him sing lines like “Music is the language of the mind that travels / It carries the key to the laws of time and space.” My favorite tune in the collection, though, is “My Revolutionary Mind,” as sung by Jim James. How can you not like lyrics like: “I need a progressive woman / I need an awfully liberal woman / I need a socially conscious woman / To ease my revolutionary mind.”
Download: “My Revolutionary Mind”, “Hoping Machine”
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Leaving Eden
I first became acquainted with the music of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, an African-American old time string band that seamlessly combines elements of folk and bluegrass with hip-hop and other music styles, after their 2010 release Genuine Negro Jig and songs like their spirited cover of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” so I eagerly awaited their latest release. Once again, the three piece struck gold with their modern take on an old style, successfully transporting the listener to the rural hill country where people young and old gather to make some of the original American music. Banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and an assortment of other instruments combine with an expert skill seemingly at odds with the youthful members of the band.
Download: “Ruby, are You Mad at Your Man?”, “Country Girl”
Dr. Dog – Be the Void
Dr. Dog has been writing and releasing some of the catchiest indie pop in the music world for years, and Be the Void continues in that fun, danceable vein. Having had the opportunity to see them live earlier this year, I can say this latest album captures the sing-a-long energy of their concerts – it’s unavoidable and impossible to dislike. This is music to make you smile, to enjoy life, to revel in the experiences that each day brings. “Lonesome” could make even the coldest, most indifferent listener clap and chant along in unison, while the spacey psychedelia of “These Days” will grab you up and carry you along on a strange and colorful voyage through interstellar regions often left untouched. It’s a fun ride and definitely worth the trip.
Download: “Lonesome,” “These Days”
Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hymnal
The 65 year old Ray Wylie Hubbard, perhaps best known for penning “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” has been in the business a long time, lurking just below the radar for more than four decades while influencing untold numbers of Texas singer-songwriters. This latest release shows that the aging outlaw still has quite a bit left in the tank and a seemingly infinite number of pearls of wisdom for following generations. Notable lines abound in songs like “Lazarus” (“At least we ain’t Lazarus / And have to think twice about dyin’) and in “Coricidin Bottle” (“If you ever get to heaven say ‘Woo, thank you!” / If you ever get scared say the 23rd Psalm”). But the highlight of the album comes in the autobiographical “Mother Blues” where Hubbard tells of being a young man who only wanted a “gold plated Les Paul and a stripper girlfriend.” Good stuff.
Download: “Lazarus,” “Mother Blues”
Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Americana
Did you ever wonder what it would sound like to hear Neil Young, with his grungy, loud guitar, and unmistakable, nasal voice, singing American standards like “Oh Susannah” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain?” Well, if you did, here is your answer and it’s awesome. This is one of those collections where you can imagine Young sitting around, jamming and saying, “What the hell, let’s record.” He turns American roots music on its head and totally rocks it out, blasting through versions of “Clementine” and “Tom Dula” in ways that you never imagined. Sure, it’s not an album of original music and it doesn’t have the poignancy of his greatest works of long ago or his more recent masterpiece “Le Noise,” but it is a lot of fun. Turn it up loud and enjoy.
Download: Oh Susannah, Jesus’ Chariot (aka “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain”)
10. Cory Branan – Mutt
I had heard of Cory Branan before he was name-dropped in a song by one of my favorite bands, Lucero, but it was after that quick reference that I started to pay attention to the work of this great Memphis singer-songwriter. Branan shows a diverse set of influences as he deftly transitions between styles, from the Tom Waits-esque “The Snowman,” to “Bad Man,” with its E Street Band piano riff and vocal styling of Tom Petty, the Mellencamp-like summer jam “Circa Summer 80 Somethin,” (with one of the best lines of year “You were dancing barefoot on the picnic table and dammit girl, truly goddamn it girl, truly goddamn it girl, truly goddamn”). The centerpiece of the album, though, is the great “Survivor Blues,” a tune that takes a darker look at the “Born to Run,” escapist mythology, with the refrain of “What didn’t kill you / Will make you wish you died,” ringing out as the stark voice of realism. It’s a very good album from an artist who stands as a musical treasure of this city.
Download: Survivor Blues, Yesterday (Circa Summer 80 Somethin’), Bad Man
9. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
One of the most interesting phenomena that has come to light in the past ten-to-fifteen years is the number of late-career releases from the elder statesmen of the music world, whether it be Johnny Cash’s incredible American Music run, the continued relevance of Bob Dylan, or even the great recent works of Bruce Springsteen (who, at 62, is a mere pup compared to the others), and the 77 year old Leonard Cohen continues in the interesting and poignant trend. Dark and beautiful, Cohen’s unmistakable voice continues to complement his superb songwriting in a way that few artists have ever and will ever match. Contemplating mortality with a wry sense of humor, he kicks off the album speaking in third person, “I love to speak with Leonard / He’s a sportsman and a shepherd / He’s a lazy bastard living in a suit,” then considering a life nearing its end in the context of a failed romance, he says, “I got no future / I know my days are few / The present’s not that pleasant / Just a lot of things to do / I thought the past would last me / But the darkness got that too.” It’s truly a late-career masterpiece not to be missed.
Download: Going Home, Anyhow, Amen
8. Dr. John – Locked Down
Truth be told, I’d never paid a lot of attention to Dr. John. Sure, I knew Gris-Gris and I knew how important he was to New Orleans music, but for some reason I had never spent much time with his work. But, when I heard that he was releasing an album with Dan Auerbach (singer/guitarist for the Black Keys), I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Turns out, I now see what I’ve been missing. Auerbach injects his sound into Dr. John’s funky voodoo R&B to perfection, turning out one of the best and most fun albums of the year. On this work, the 71 year old music legend displays the dual reality surrounding and affecting humanity since the beginning, the desire for personal pleasure against the hope for something more, the drive to be good. Perhaps this is no truer than in the album closer “God’s Sure Good,” when he says “God been good to me / Better than me to myself.”
Download: Locked Down, Revolution, Big Shot
7. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp
Poignant and beautiful, tender and angry, New Jersey’s Sharon Van Etten has released a true standout album of the first half of 2012. Her voice is one of melancholic beauty, one that at times reminds me of Cat Power, but that is decidedly her own. It will capture you, pull you into her world, a place where wants and desires battle with reality when she sings, “You’re the reason why I’ll move to the city / You’re why I’ll need to leave.” Songs like “Leonard” are heartbreaking beautiful with its opening lines of confusion and questioning, “There he goes / He finally closed the door / I turn the lock feeling more confused than before / What gives?” With releases as urgent and wonderful as this, Van Etten will not be flying under the radar for long.
Download: Warsaw, Serpents, Leonard
6. Heartless Bastards – Arrow
I first became acquainted with Heartless Bastards following their 2009 release, The Mountain, and was quickly taken by their classic rock sound and Erika Wennerstrom’s powerful vocals. Arrow takes that formula and adds excellent songwriting to the mix, crafting one of the best albums so far in 2012, one that may stand as a career-defining moment for the band. From the colossal build of the opener “Marathon” (And we all want to belong / To something more than, more than ourselves), to what may be the best song in their repertoire, “Parted Ways” (And the sun went down on this little ghost town / near the valley of the Rio Grande / I need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time / to ease my troubled mind), this is truly a great work and one that deserves to be heard. I missed the band when they played Memphis earlier this year, so here’s hoping they have a return trip planned in the near future.
Download: Marathon, Parted Ways, Low Low Low
5. Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now
In the music business, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to follow in the steps of your father, especially when your father is someone as important to the alt-country world as Steve Earle. And Justin Townes Earle does no doubt struggle with it at times, both the fame and the evils that seem to follow behind it, and you can hear the references to his famous dad in much of his music, including the opening lines of this album, “Hear my father on the radio / Singing take me home again / 300 miles from the Carolina coast / And I’m skin and bones again. / Sometimes I wish that I could get away / Sometimes I wish that he’d just call / Am I that lonely tonight? / I don’t know.” Despite his struggles with substance abuse, JTE has quickly become one of the most important and most prolific acts in the Americana world, releasing five albums, all of them good to excellent, over the course of six years. Earle employs a Stax-style horn section on this album, a curious and welcome trend also seen with a band still to come in this countdown, Lucero. For me, the highlight of the album is “Memphis in the Rain,” a rollicking number that makes you feel as though you really are rolling down the streets of the Bluff City. Now, if only we could get him to play another show here.
Download: Memphis in the Rain, Maria, Down on the Lower East Side
4. Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
Songs and performances of the Alabama Shakes have been bouncing around on the web for some time, building a huge buzz for this, their debut album. Soon the Athens, Alabama band was opening for personal favorites like Drive-By Truckers, Jack White, and a whole host of other greats, even scoring a gig at Bonnaroo. In a time when Southern music is making a huge grass-roots push, Alabama Shakes have vaulted nearly to the top, becoming relatively well known in a very short amount of time. When soulful singer Brittany Howard sings of herself in the album opener, “Bless my heart / Bless my soul / Didn’t think I’d make it to 22 years old / There must be someone up above / Saying ‘Come on Brittany / You got to come on up,” she does it with such conviction you can’t help but root for her. This is decidedly old school soul, similar to contemporaries like Sharon Jones & the Dapp-Kings, but with a southern flair that oozes authenticity.
Download: Hold On, Hang Loose, You Ain’t Alone
3. Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball
The Boss is one of those artists who, though past the age of 60, seem to have caught a second wind in their career, putting out some of the best, most relevant and interesting music they have in some time. Following on the heels of the excellent Magic in 2007 and Working on a Dream in 2009, Wrecking Ball had a lot to live up to and fans no doubt wondered where the artist would go from that point. Never one to rest on his laurels, Springsteen took an unforeseen curve and released what many have called his “angriest album yet.” The Boss takes aim at economic justice, landing punches on the financial meltdown and corporations who are seen as making a mockery of the American Dream. In songs like “We Take Care of Our Own,” his words drip with irony as he talks of those left behind and struggling. It’s been called his “Occupy album” and perhaps that is an applicable descriptor as he slams the advantage-taking institutions in songs like “Jack of All Trades” (“The banker man grows fat, the working man grows thin / It’s all happened before and it’ll happen again”). “Death to My Hometown” is an Irish-inspired anthem (They destroyed our families’ factories and they took our homes / They left our bodies on the planks, the vultures picked our bones) that serves as a grave indictment against the powers that be. This album is epic and deserves its rightful spot in the Springsteen canon.
Download: We Take Care of Our Own, Easy Money, Jack of All Trades
2. Jack White – Blunderbuss
Over the past several years there has been no shortage of Jack White music, but ever since the demise of the White Stripes following 2007’s stellar release Icky Thump, he just hasn’t sounded the same. Though much of it was quite good, the spontaneity and urgency seemed to be missing from his music al output with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. Well, I’m happy to say that his first solo album, Blunderbuss, is a hugely welcome return to form. It does what White does best: rock. “Sixteen Saltines” and “Love Interruption” sound like they could easily have been included on Elephant, while “Freedom at 21” displays all of the crazy, riff-magic that made White a guitar god. This existence of this album makes me supremely happy and I can only hope that White continues along this same road for some time. I had the chance to see The White Stripes live several years ago and it ranks as one of my all-time favorite shows and the wildly unpredictable Jack White is among the greatest guitarists I’ve ever seen.
Download: Sixteen Saltines, Love Interruption, I’m Shakin’
1. Lucero – Women & Work
I had liked Lucero for years, maybe even dating back to before I moved to the Memphis area in 2004, and had seen them a handful of times during that period, but it wasn’t until 2009’s incredible 1372 Overton Park, that I truly came to love the band. Last year alone I had the opportunity to see the band three times, including an epic 3+ hour show at Minglewood Hall just before Christmas when they debuted much of this, their latest studio work. Since that show in December, I’ve had the chance to meet a few of the guys in the band and have conversed with some of them online, further cementing my allegiance to the greatest current band from Memphis. From the first time I listened to it, streaming it online prior to its release, I was completely blown away by Women & Work. Though I love the older Lucero stuff, the “empty bottle and an old country song” greatness, their more recent work has taken a giant step forward, keeping the elements that made them favorites among country-punk fans while incorporating new, and decidedly Memphis, elements. Memphis-style horns were added and the vocals changed to something more full and soulful, as Ben Nichols turned a major corner as a singer. The album begins with two rollicking, upbeat numbers, “On My Way Downtown” and “Women Work,” both of which pull the listener in, setting their feet to tapping and head to bobbing. I think my favorite song on the album is the strange and different crooner, “It May Be Too Late,” which to my ears represents a very interesting and welcome twist to the new Lucero sound. When Ben sings those lines “It may be too late to save me little girl / Called the phone till the numbers wouldn’t dial,” it really hits the listener deep, just like great music should. In “Juniper,” my inner nerd loves the opening line, “She looks like a superhero down on her luck.” The imagery is perfect. My second favorite song is “Sometimes,” with its lonesome (Check out Steve Earle’s distinction between the words lonesome and lonely in his incredible novel I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive when you get the chance), mournful sound and it’s chorus of “The road from Tennessee, it shakes and rattles to the bone / The hills of Arkansas are filled with haunted lakes and ghosts / Oh, and sometimes I hear them on those lonesome nights / Sometimes they come out of the woods and up to the house.” This has been, by far, my most listened to album of 2012 and I hope you will give it a spin, too. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
Download the whole album.
Thoughts? What should I have included/not included?
Lenten Listen #20: Lucero – Women & Work March 13, 2012Posted by Matt in Lent.
Tags: Lent, Lucero, Sometimes, Women & Work
I knew of Lucero before we moved to the Memphis area eight years ago and even saw them a time or two live over the years, but it was not until the release of 2009’s 1372 Overton Park that became a diehard fan. Since then, I’ve racked up about six shows (including an incredible 3+ hour performance just before Christmas 2011) and have become an avid follower of the band, to the point that even my kids love them. My oldest, 9 year old Rachel, told me recently that the top thing she wants to decorate her room is a Lucero poster and even 3 year old JD asks to listen to them by name.
I streamed their latest release, Women & Work, several times last week before its official release and my subsequent downloading of it today, and I can tell you that it is a true testament to this band’s greatness. Like its predecessor, Women & Work has a distinct Memphis sound, with soulful vocals and horns aplenty, and that coupled with Ben Nichol’s gravelly vocals and excellent songwriting, makes this one of the premiere releases of 2012.
The album is full of great songs, some fun, some dark, and some gut-wrenchingly real, but I picked out some lyrics from “Sometimes” for you today.
The road from Tennessee, it shakes and rattles to the bone
The hills of Arkansas are filled with haunted lakes and ghosts
Oh, and sometimes I hear them on those lonesome nights
And sometimes they come out of the woods and up to the house
2012 First Quarter (Plus One Month) New Music Guide February 13, 2012Posted by Matt in Best of 2012, music.
Tags: 2012 new releases, Alabama Shakes, Andrew Bird, Bruce Springsteen, Heartless Bastards, Jack White, Justin Townes Earle, Lucero, M. Ward, music, Sleigh Bells, Todd Snider
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I’m a little behind on this, but I wanted to go ahead and give a quick head’s up on what’s new in the world of music. There have been a handful of interesting releases in the generally dead months of January and February: particularly Leonard Cohen’s hauntingly beautiful “Old Ideas,” Dr. Dog’s catchy “Be the Void,” and Craig Finn’s (frontman of The Hold Steady) solo work “Clear Heart, Full Eyes,” but other than those, few releases have caught my attention yet. Looking ahead to the next few months, the music calendar becomes more interesting, lucky for you, I’m here to dig through the plethora of releases and tell you what merits your listening. Here are the ten upcoming works I’m most anxiously awaiting.
Heartless Bastards – Arrow (Feb 14)
With the dark, Southern gothic imagery and the expansive, throaty vocals of Erika Wennerstrom, the Heartless Bastards have been on my radar since their excellent 2009 release, The Mountain. This is the one album on this list I’ve cheated on a bit and already listened to on NPR, and let me tell you, it’s great. You can hear “Parted Ways” here.
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror (Feb 21)
Noisy and loud, I was quickly drawn to Sleigh Bells last album “Treats,” and I eagerly await this follow up. The duo has a surprisingly full sound, with shoegazing-esque female vocals over crashing guitars. You can stream one of the new songs, Comeback Kid, here.
Andrew Bird – Break It Yourself (Mar 6)
Over the years I’ve listened to him, I’ve been drawn to the way that Bird can so effortlessly incorporate different genres, from jazz to indie rock, into his songs, thus I’m intrigued to see where this multi-instrumentalist goes with his latest batch of recordings. Stream the song, “Eyeoneye,” here.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Wrecking Ball (Mar 6)
Now into his 60’s, the Boss is still the boss and there are few people who can bring it was well as he can. His last few albums have been excellent and I expect nothing less from this, his first post-Clarence Clemons release. Check out the song “We Take Care of Our Own.”
Todd Snider – Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables (Mar 6)
Snider has been around a while, but his biting social commentary and funny lyrics never fail to disappoint. I can’t find any songs from this album, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Lucero – Women & Work (Mar 13)
Probably my second most anticipated album of the year (Sorry, guys, you lost out to the Boss), Lucero has been a favorite band of mine for years, and after seeing them several times last year, including an epic 3+ hour Memphis show just before Christmas, I’m more of a fan now than ever. Listen to me: Support this band. Check out the new tune “Sometimes.”
Justin Townes Earle – Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now (Mar 27)
This progeny of the great Steve Earle has carved out his own interesting niche in the music world, releasing a catalogue of excellent albums that would make any artist jealous. I have high hopes for this one as well. Check out the title track here.
Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (Apr 10)
Alabama Shakes have been making some noise on the Southern rock scene lately, backing up favorites of mine like the Drive-By Truckers, so I’m eagerly awaiting their full-length debut and perhaps a visit to Memphis. Check out the title song here.
M. Ward – A Wasteland Companion (Apr 10)
Singer-songwriter M. Ward has been quietly working the scene for years with mellow vocals and gentle, fingerpicked guitars and I’ve always found his work to be enjoyable. You can hear new song, “The First Time I Ran Away” here.
Jack White – Blunderbuss (Apr 24)
I’m a longtime disciple of Jack White, from the White Stripes, to the Raconteurs, to the Dead Weather, so I will quickly snatch up any recording bearing his name. This solo debut is no exception to that rule. His new song “Love Interruption” is an acoustic number, with the guitar god taking a different tact than his normal furious blasts of loudly distorted solos, but it is still quite good.
What releases are you most anticipating?
Nerds Unite! February 3, 2012Posted by Matt in music, random.
Tags: Ben Nichols, Dungeons & Dragons, Jason Isbell, Lucero, nerds are cool, Ryan Adams
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I always thought I was just part of a select group of weirdoes, for it seemed the road I and a few friends traveled growing up was certainly one less traveled, one that might induce eye-rolling, side-glances from others.
We played Dungeons and Dragons.
As a teenager, the made up fantasy stories and characters were an integral part of my life and my friends and I would gather together on a regular basis to put our fates in the rolling of oddly shaped dice. Sure, it was dorky, but it was a lot of fun.
And it turns out we weren’t the only ones.
A few months ago, I learned that Ben Nichols (to take it even farther, he reportedly thanked his D&D character in the liner notes of their album Rebels, Rogues, and Sworn Brothers), lead singer of Lucero, remains an avid D&D gamer. Then today, while perusing my Twitter feed, I see that Ryan Adams, perhaps the greatest songwriter of my generation, has posted a picture of an AD&D rulebook. And, not to be denied, former Drive-By Trucker and singer-songwriter extraordinaire Jason Isbell, expressed his own excitement at playing.
Did I somehow step into the Twilight Zone or something? Are all of my favorite artists really as dorky as me? Sure, I haven’t seriously played in nearly 20 years, but all those late nights of storytelling and dice throwing still hold a special place for me.
Lucero and a Bottle of Christmas Cheer December 23, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts.
Tags: Amy LaVere, Ben Nichols, Christmas, concert, Drink Till We're Gone, Lucero, Memphis, Minglewood Hall
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When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind? The Nativity? Santa Claus? Reindeer with mutant powers?
How about a concert by Memphis Southern rock heroes, Lucero?
If that last one isn’t on your list, it should be. Last night I had the opportunity to catch Lucero’s Holiday Show at Minglewood Hall in Memphis and it was truly a night to remember.
I arrived at the venue shortly before the listed start time of 8:00, grabbed a beer, and soon met up with friends from Arkansas and Memphis who were also in attendance. We took a spot pretty close to the stage, sipped our beverages, and visited, catching up on the happenings in our lives and chatting about our shared love of music.
Opening act Amy LaVere hit the stage around 8:15, grasping her upright bass tightly, plucking and caressing the strings with a lover’s touch. Her lovely appearance was enhanced by the macabre nature of her songs, as tales of death and murder poured forth in a fountain of Southern gothic imagery. Opening with the strong bass line of “Washing Machine,” she and her band tore through several numbers from her three albums like “You Can’t Keep Me,” “Red Banks,” “Stranger Me,” the timely and appropriate “Pointless Drinking,” and one of my favorite tunes of the year and one that she described as “the only love song I know how to write, “Damn Love Song.” It was a great set from an incredible Memphis artist.
Lucero hit the stage around 9:30, with vocalist Ben Nichols, skinny and heavily tattooed, taking the center. He smiled at the adoring crowd of several hundred, “We thought about doing a different opener, but, ah, what the hell?” and the band launched into their standard set starter, “That Much Further West,” the song building to a crescendo with Nichols’ whiskey-soaked vocals masterfully leading the multitude of fans in a huge singalong, taking on the role of pastor to his flock of loyal followers, turning them into a single organism, moving and singing as one.
It was obvious that he and the band were glad to be home and hugely grateful to their legion of fans, so much so that they played and played, tearing through an unbelievable setlist, one that lasted more than 3 full hours. There were old favorites like “My Best Girl,” “Raising Hell,” and the encore opening “Drink Till We’re Gone.” They played a killer “Chain Link Fence” (my 9 year old daughter’s favorite song), a church choir-like “Nights Like These,” and ripped through favorites like “She’s Just That Kind of Girl,” “Sixes and Sevens,” and “Can’t Feel a Thing.” The band was in rare form, laying their claim to not just Minglewood Hall, but the entire city of Memphis, showing once again that they are the city’s rock stars, and one of the greatest “unknown” bands working in America today. At some point, Ben broke out a bottle of tequila and in between the killer songs, he took time to address the crowd, talking and joking with everyone like they were old friends (and I’m sure many of them were). As they neared the end of their encore, my friends and I looked at each other, bewildered, running through song lists in our minds and wondering what could possibly be left to play. When the final song kicked in, my friend Chris and I looked at each other and nodded, a knowing look in our eyes, “Tears Don’t Matter Much.” Of course.
After the show, as the clock neared the 1:00 mark, we stood around as the building slowly emptied, soaking in the last bits of the atmosphere floating about, breathing it in before stepping back out into the cold December night of Memphis. We knew we had just witnessed something really special, a momentous occasion that would stick with us, perhaps even forever. Of all the Lucero shows I’ve seen, this one may have topped them all. But, before we exited the building, there was another pleasant surprise in store: the band came out to visit and meet with the few who stayed behind. I had the chance to say hello to Amy LaVere, to tell guitarist Brian Venable about my Lucero-loving daughter and the band shirt I bought her for Christmas, and I got to meet and visit with Ben Nichols himself after the show. And though I only had a few moments with them, you could tell that they were real, down-to-earth kinds of people who were grateful for their fans and happy to do what they do.
And Ben posed for a picture with me, which I thought was pretty awesome too.
“Life is short
In spite of your plans
So tell the girls they’re all pretty while you can
‘Cause one day they’re gone
And all you got left’s
An empty bottle and an old country song”
A Murky Monday Morning October 24, 2011Posted by Matt in personal stories.
Tags: charity. Ain't So Lonely, fog, homeless, Lucero, Memphis, morning commute
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It was not a good morning to be running late.
The fog hung about, thick and white, a cottony shroud covering the city, obscuring all bodies but those in the nearest proximity. The Dagobahan morass consumed my car, sucking it in with tendrils of water vapor and robbing me of the precious gift of sight. Plunging headfirst into the murky lagoon, I continued on, albeit a bit more carefully than usual, headlights alight with watchful eyes probing the depths.
The traffic was heavier than usual as nearly everyone seemed to be taking extra precautions on such an unusual morning, so I crept along with these tentative fellow drivers like submarines in a great ocean of white, immersed in the chaos of the unknown.
Running behind, but unable to proceed on my morning commute without music, I pressed random on my iPod, hoping the spirit of Steve Jobs hovering about somewhere in the nether would see fit to grace my car stereo with a fitting tune from my expansive library. As I neared the end of my short commute the great Memphis band Lucero came blasting from the speakers, and the gravelly voiced Ben Nichols filled my small metallic bubble.
She smiles, oh so sweetly
And I ain’t so lonely, I ain’t so lonely
She acts just like she don’t need me
I ain’t so lonely, I ain’t so lonely
We drive down to the corner drugstore
And I ain’t so lonely, I ain’t so lonely
Coca-Cola and pills, take a few more
And I ain’t so lonely, I ain’t so lonely
It seems as though there is always someone standing at the Brooks Road exit in this part of the city, holding a hastily scrawled piece of cardboard reading, “Homeless. Hungry. Need Help,” and this day was no different. As I pulled to the corner, I looked over, the man’s visage barely visible in the smothering vapor, and I wondered for a moment about he and others standing at this spot every day, watching vehicles pass by, SUVs and Mercedes and little economy cars like my own, with drivers not even giving him a second glance. Feeling a twinge of guilt, I grabbed a handful of change from my stash and rolled the window down, just as Ben Nichols hit the chorus.
It’s been a while since I was nineteen
It’s been a while since I’ve seen
Myself act like such a fool.
He shambled up to me, “Thanks.”
How long must this go on
His hair was dirty and unkempt, his remaining teeth brown and quickly dying, but he smiled at me. “Good music.”
I nodded back to him, “Thanks. Have a good one.”
I’m by myself on the long drive home
And I ain’t so lonely, I ain’t so lonely
‘Cause I like hearing the sad songs
And I ain’t so lonely, I ain’t so lonely.
Dude, Where’s My Car? September 20, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts, family, personal stories.
Tags: children, Levitt Shell, lost car, Lucero, Memphis, parking lot
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Over the years since my traumatic brain injury, I’ve had to deal with an assortment of problems and annoyances stemming from having a brain that does not always function at its full capability, but there is probably no side effect more bothersome than trying to find a parked car. Most days this isn’t a problem because I leave my vehicle in the same general area of the parking lot at work, but when I’m not in my normal environment, this deficiency in my brain power becomes far more pronounced.
I say this because it struck again last night. I took my daughters to the Jim Dickinson Memorial Folk Festival held at the Levitt Shell in Memphis. It is one of many free music events that take place on a regular basis in the park when the temperature is conducive to sitting outside and it also happened that this particular performance included one of our favorite bands from Memphis, Lucero. While I’ve seen better Lucero shows over the years, the girls really enjoyed it and we even got to hang out with my good friend Chris, so by all accounts, the night was a success.
It was getting late for a school night, so we left after Lucero’s set and before the North Mississippi All-Stars took the stage, and that was when I realized that I had no idea where the van was parked. We started off walking to one side and we trudged on and on through the dim street lights with the power of the North Mississippi blues blaring from some distance away, but eventually, we realized that our vehicle was not in that direction.
My younger daughter was sick of walking by then and started in on the whining, “Daddy, where’s our car? Daddy, why can’t you find it?” and on and on, until I finally picked her up and placed her on my shoulders, while still holding the blanket we sat on at the show in my hands. So, we then turned and walked the other way and again we walked and walked, moving between the darkness-piercing streetlights and hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe the van would magically appear in front of us.
After several more minutes of walking, my younger daughter again cried out, “I’m tired, I’m cold, I’m wet, and we’re NEVER going to find our car! Daddy it’s gone” and then she broke down in exhausted tears. I patted her leg, which was still draped over my shoulders as her increasingly heavy 6 year old from bore down on me, and we kept moving forward, placing one foot in front of the other in the darkness.
At some point we realized we were beside the golf course and it was like a light was suddenly turned on over my older daughter’s head. “Daddy,” she said excitedly, “There were golfers where we parked! I remember! We’re almost there!”
I assured her that she was right, that we were almost there, but truthfully I had no clue. There was a faint memory of golfers, but I can never be sure if we truly saw them or if I am creating the image in the hope that it is correct. So, we walked and we walked, until finally her finger shot forward in the night air, and I heard her call out, “Daddy, I see it! I see the car!” and she took off running down the street.
Being somewhat encumbered by a little girl who was beginning to make me feel like the mythical Atlas, I was lagging behind her, but we eventually caught up with her and, lo and behold, she was right. We had finally found the object of our hunt, the elusive Siena, nestled in its hiding place in the midst of a multitude of vehicles. And just like that everything was right in the world again.
So, today I downloaded the Find My Car app for the iPhone.
Free Music Friday: Lucero August 19, 2011Posted by Matt in free music friday.
Tags: live, Lucero, Nights Like These
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It’s a Lucero kind of day. Enjoy.
Nights Like These: Music Fest, Day 3 May 3, 2011Posted by Matt in concerts, Memphis.
Tags: Beale Street Music Festival, Gregg Allman, JJ Grey & Mofro, Lucero, Memphis in May, The Avett Brothers, tornado warning, Wilco
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Day 3 started out a bit rougher than its predecessors.
Overnight the skies had opened and dumped rain across the Mid-South and today more severe weather was predicted from the threatening atmosphere above which would no doubt throw our plans askew. I ate lunch with my family and then drove over to the park, where I was met by the two friends who stuck around for the whole weekend, Chris and Dan (Berry and Meredith had to go return to their home, Jerry was still not feeling well, and James didn’t have a ticket). We began our day with the southern rock sounds J.J. Grey & the Mofro, a band out of Jacksonville, Florida, whose sound I was really digging when one of the worst possible calamities that could have struck began snarling from the skies above. The sirens started to wail, the band cleared the stage, and we knew exactly what was happening. Tornado.
Yes, apparently a tornado had been spotted in Crittenden County, just across the river in Arkansas and the ETA to Downtown Memphis was reportedly a mere 10 minutes. Knowing that our cars, much less any sort of shelter, was far more than 10 minutes away, there was little we could do, so, like many in our situation might choose to do, we grabbed a drink found a spot in the torrential downpour, and decided to wait it out. I mean, if you’re going to die in a tornado, you might as well be doing something you love, right?
But, luckily the vortex of doom had other plans and moved just north of Memphis, leaving us wet but otherwise unharmed. Due to the fact that the warning was still affecting the county, though, the sirens continued to wail and the crowds cowered wherever it was that the rest of the people went. The finishing time for JJ Grey came and went, and soon the start time for the next band was gone as well, but just then something amazing happened. Something that made me believe that perhaps there was still a real spirit of rock and roll beneath all the corporate hype strangling away all that it once was. Lucero, Memphis’s great local band and the next performers on the bill, stepped out in the rain amid the sirens, and they began to play. My God, did they play. In what could have been a disaster of terrible proportions, Lucero gave the proverbial middle finger to mother nature and launched into a blistering, awe-inspiring set that saved the day, turning them into tattooed, musical messiahs. Vocalist Ben Nichols was like a man possessed, prowling the stage as the band ripped through a number of their better-known tunes like “Sweet Little Thing,” “Nights Like These,” “Chain Link Fence,” “That Much Further West,” before ending with an inspired, almost revival-like version of “Drink ‘Till We’re Gone,” a song whose prophetic lyrics are still giving me chills now as I write and think of that moment when a few hundred of us gathered together, huddled in the rain, with the wind whipping around us and the river at dangerously high levels just to our right, and sang these words,
Because this big old river
Will us in time
‘Till then we’ll drink it’s weight
In cheap beer and wine.
We can drink just as fast
As the river is strong
And we’ll drink ‘till we’re gone.
It was without a doubt one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever experienced in my 15 years of going to Music Fest. Thank you, Lucero. (I’ve got another idea for a post that has to do with this, so stay tuned. I’ll try to write it out this week)
When Lucero finished their incredible set, we were then treated to a legendary figure, one who has been at the forefront of Southern rock for more than 40 years, Gregg Allman. Allman looked and sounded strong, despite having undergone a liver transplant over the past year as he played a number of songs from both his solo catalog and that of his legendary band, the Allman Brothers. It was a good show and I’m glad that I can now add Allman to the list of artists I’ve been able to see over my nearly 20 years of concert-going.
Next up was another young folk band and one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend, The Avett Brothers. The Avetts play a really cool blend of folk, bluegrass, and rock music that few others can match because really there aren’t very many people who can rock a banjo like these guys. Their set was comprised of songs from across their album catalog, beginning with the great and upbeat “Tin Man” and including some really great versions of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “January Wedding,” the rocking “Paranoia in Bb Major,” a John Prine cover “Spanish Pipedream,” and “Kick Drum Heart,” before ending with the beautiful “I and Love and You.” At Music Fest there are few non-headlining bands who get the opportunity to play an encore, but fortunately for us, the Avett’s did and they chose a killer song in “Talk on Indolence.” It was, without a doubt, one of my top five performances of the weekend and I can’t wait to see them again.
So, we’ve been standing for three days. We’ve stared down a tornado, endured a thunderstorm, and had our ears blasted by hours upon hours of music. We’re soaking wet and have subsisted on little besides pronto pups and Budweiser. We’ve seen aural spectacles like the Flaming Lips, danced with Mumford and Sons, been moved by Lucero, and rocked out time and time again. We’re exhausted, but there is still one band left to go, one more group of artists to light our way home, and it is arguably one of the most important acts of the past two decades: Wilco. Jeff Tweedy’s & company open with the slow “Ashes of American Flags,” as if they realize our tiredness and are trying to ease us into the set to come, before then throwing out the piano driven verses of “Bull Black Nova” and reeling us into their groovy world. It’s an excellent set, with songs like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” “War on War,” “Impossible Germany,” “Shot in the Arm,” and “Jesus, Etc.,” but it’s the final song that really brings it all back home, that turns this night into something distinctly Memphis. For their final tune, the one they use to send us back out into the streets of the Bluff City and then into our regular lives is none other than a cover of the hugely influential and Memphis—based Big Star’s “In the Street.”
It was the perfect ending to an amazing weekend of music.