Saturday Music Interlude — Margo Price: A Midwest Farmer’s Daughter

Margo Price is a country music sensation, there is just no getting around it, but she has come to it the hard way.

Hailing from Aledo, Illinois, her Allmusic bio states that she dropped out of college at the age of 20 in 2003 and moved to Nashville to pursue her musical dreams.  She formed the band Buffalo Clover with bassist husband Jeremy Ivey in 2010, which released three albums until the breakup of the band in 2013.  Personal tragedy then intervened with the death of her firstborn son to a heart ailment.  After that unfathomable heartbreak her website bio confesses that she fell into a deep depression that involved alcohol abuse and a brush with her darker side that pitted her against the law.  Coming through that period with the help of family and friends led her to the conclusion that she was “going to write music that I want to hear.  It was a big turning point.”

Pain, heartbreak, tragedy, hardscrabble experience all lay the foundation for great art.  It is a great artist who can channel the energy from that passion and pain into their art without spinning out of control or falling into self-pity.  Margo Price is a great artist with an amazing instrument of a voice and it is great art that is achieved with her solo album entitled Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.

The first song from the album is entitled “Hands of Time” and here she is performing it at SXSW thanks to NPR Music Front Row:

My first impression of the video is that she looks and sounds for all the world much like the reincarnation of a young Lesley Gore.  One could make references to the obvious influence of Loretta Lynn, informed by the modernist attitude of a Kasey Musgraves.  But I say this with a great deal of self-doubt, because the music for this album is so special and so singular, that is sounds both familiar and new.  Margo Price has created her own tradition and it will be interesting to see where she goes from here.  For the fact of the matter is that her songs could be sung by either a man or a woman, and that’s what makes them special.  Rather than speaking from a overtly female perspective, as much of female country music has done in the past, Ms. Price speaks from the heart of some great consciousness that speaks to feelings and experiences that we all understand, with which we can empathize, and which we feel in our own psyches.

For something a bit more energetic, here she is performing “Tennessee Song”, also from SWSW 2016 and NPR.

 

Finally, here she is on CBS This Morning from March 26, 2016 performing “Since You Put Me Down” where she channels the spirit of Hank Williams Sr. and other country music pioneers.

 

 

 

Sunday Music Interlude — Adia Victoria, SHEL, and onDeadWaves

I haven’t written about music in a while, so it’s time to catch up on some of the more interesting new acts and new projects that I’ve come across.

Originally out of South Carolina, Adia Victoria now calls Nashville home.  Her interesting bio can be found at Allmusic.com here.  Her original music is a combination of country and electric blues, punk, garage rock, and a modern type of dark Americana roots music borne of the narrative tradition and neo-folk.  Her voice consists of a girlish rasp wrapped in an alto silkiness.  You can learn more about her at her website at www.adiavictoria.com.

She was named WXPN’s Artist to Watch for July 2016, and just performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.  The performance from this last appears below.

 

SHEL is a group of four sisters out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  I wrote about them back in September 2014 as they were just out of the egg, featuring their neo-folk music after an EP and first album.  They have since matured and have come out with a critically hailed album entitled Just Crazy Enough.  They just played live on Echoes.org with John Diliberto.   Here they are performing a couple of selections that reveal both their developing maturity and natural talent informed by that maturity.  The first is “Let Me Do.”  The song begins as a deceptively simplistic song that then changes both tempo and melody, carried by the ethereal combined voice of their harmony vocals in the call and response from narrative to chorus.

Speaking of ethereal, here is SHEL performing “I’m Just a Shadow.”  This is first class neo-noir folk and roots music.  The following Lyric Video highlights the emotional power of the lyrics.

It is probably time for a shout-out to John Diliberto at Echoes.org.  I actually came across John’s taste in music through the program Star’s End, which is still on-going.  There I was introduced to ambient and space music in the 1970s when I split time between visits to my home state of New Jersey and during trips from my job in Washington, D.C.  FM radio waves being as they were, especially in the early morning over weekends, I would occasionally be able to tune into the program, which memory serves was out of Philly, while driving down some deserted highway with the star-streaked night sky above, and wish that the feeling of my movement through time and space, the fresh air from the open windows, the firmament of the night sky, and the music–which seemed to transport me to some other dimension–would never end.  Then, after years traveling and at sea, I was reintroduced to John as music critic through his contributions to the long-missed CD Review magazine.  His thoughtful, eloquent, and informative reviews opened my world to new music and new musical genre’s that I would probably not otherwise have explored.  There are a few critics that fall into this category which, for me, includes Ralph Gleason, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, John McDonough, Robert Christgau, Gary Giddins, Orrin Keepnews, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Michael Cuscuna, and David Dye, among a few–all good company.

This serves as introduction to another project to which I was introduced through Echoes.org and Mr. Diliberto.  It is the group onDeadWaves.  The group consists of British singers Polly Scattergood and James Chapman.  Their maiden album is this month’s Echoes CD of the Month.  According to the review by John Diliberto, onDeadWaves’s sound is like “a meeting of Lanterna, driving across the desert in a 57 ‘Chevy, with Leonard Cohen and Lucinda Williams in the backseat.”  Their music, also called “shoegaze west”, seems more varied, especially when confronted by the 60’s Byrd’s-like guitar and unrestrained punk of the song “California.”  Overall, though, I can hear the influence of the moodier neo-noir song-styling of Lana Del Rey through most of the songs.  Perhaps Ms. Del Rey was onto something after all.

Here they are the song “Blue Inside”.  Other videos are also available at the Echoes site linked above.

 

Wednesday Music Interlude — Homage to Guy Clark

Guy Clark, famous luthier, songwriter, and singer died last week while I was on travel, and so this tribute is somewhat late.  I had heard Clark’s songs through other artists but came late to his music, being a sailor and preoccupied with other concerns.  But finding myself on dry land one day I picked up and listened to a copy of Dublin Blues.   The title song froze me in my tracks and I was hooked.

Here was a man with the ability to take the internal voice that animates and provides narrative to our everyday lives and put it to song with all of its emotional rawness and nuance intact.  That ability in itself marks a true artist.  To sing that way in front of others requires emotional honesty and courage that few possess.  Using that same courage he could also be topical, and his songs “El Coyote” and “Heroes”, both from 2013, are as topical as anything done by Guthrie, Seeger, or Dylan.

To me Clark was a folksinger–one of the most important this country has ever produced.  He led the Nashville progressive country music scene and was one of the leaders of the Outlaw country movement along with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard, among others.  His musical approach was deeply influenced by Townes Van Zandt, and you can hear his influence in the songs of both Steve Earl and Lyle Lovett.  A few years ago I had the pleasure of hearing him, along with Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, and John Hiatt in concert, unplugged as they say.  Just four old boys playing heartfelt music, like sitting around the campfire.  Waiting for Woody and Pete to show up; and maybe Doc and Hank Sr. too.

His voice will be missed.  Here he is singing the song that introduced me to his music.

Sunday Music Interlude — The Record Company performing “Off the Ground”

The Record Company consists of lead vocalist and instrumentalist Chris Vos, and multi-instrumentalists Alex Stiff, and Marc Cazoria.  They began as a band in 2011, using old equipment and self-recording in Stiff’s living room in Los Feliz, California.  They name classic blues players as their inspiration, mixed up with the gritty sound of early blues-inspired rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s like the Rolling Stones.  This article from L.A. Weekly from 2012 tells you all you need to know about the personality of the band during their woodshedding days: three talented musicians playing great music inspired by great musicians–the beat goes on.  They have opened for artists as diverse as Mavis Staples, the late B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Grace Potter, and Trombone Shorty.  Their album, Give It Back To You, was released earlier this year on the Concord label.  Given the commitment of Concord to the music of jazz and blues, getting a release under that label is testament to how highly their music is regarded.

The song that follows, “Off the Ground” was recorded live for WXPN’s excellent World Cafe.  Whenever I have the opportunity, I listen avidly to this public radio station out of the University of Pennsylvania.  It’s a national treasure.

Saturday Music Interlude — Shaver performing “Old Lump of Coal”

Billy Joe Shaver is one of those stories of a common man who overcomes many obstacles to achieve his potential.  He was a working man who became a little known, but much respected, songwriter, and–after a few false starts–has since become a successful singer-songwriter in his own right.  His songs, as those of any great folksinger, focus on the internal and external struggles, hopes, fears, and yearnings of everyday men and women.

I heard this song just last week on the radio.  It’s one those songs meant for an introspective Saturday.  Here he is performing it six years ago in concert arranged by AMSD.

Saturday Music Interlude — La Luz performing “You Disappear”

La Luz (The Light) is an all female surf guitar quartet out of Seattle, Washington consisting of guitarist Shana Cleveland, drummer Marian Li Pino, keyboardist Alice Sandahl, and bassist Lena Simon.  The band was formed in 2012 with original bassist Abbey Blackwell who left the band in 2014 and was replaced by Simon.  Both of their albums It’s Alive (2013) and Weirdo Shrine (2015) have received critical reviews.  Most recently they made Spin’s list of “SXSW 2016: The Five Best Things We Saw on Day Three.”

The band’s sound is, in their description, “surf noir”, greatly influenced by earlier artists such as The Ventures and Dick Dale.  Here they are performing “You Disappear,” which starts out with dynamic “Secret Agent Man” surf guitar supported by a rhythm section of driving drums and supportive bass, all leaning forward over a solid foundation of soul-influenced organ.  Above it all we are greeted with sparkling female harmonies, with Shana Cleveland’s vocals out front, that convey pop-inflected songs with deceptively simple lyrics that convey a depth of emotion that is at the core of the song.  This is nothing less than great musicianship and songcraft.

Thanks to the indispensable KEXP for this and other essential live sessions.

Sunday Music — Lucinda Williams performing “The Ghosts of Highway 20”

Since I listened to an album entitled Sweet Old World, I have been mesmerized by the gritty and poetic music of Lucinda Williams. At this point in her musical life, her torn and ragged voice fits perfectly with the subjects of her story-songs.  She has slowly worked toward being among the pantheon of the American folk tradition, updating a traditional form to fit in with our modern world.  Even when singing the blues, her songs are uplifting and full of hope and determination.  She records both the shortcomings and fulfillments of the American experience, the universal desire for human dignity and freedom, and living a life of meaning.  She has a new album out and here she is on Nic Harcourt’s Transmissions (apparently the website is still under construction) singing the title song, “The Ghosts of Highway 20.”