Lukas Nelson is the son of country singer-songwriter Willie Nelson and his current wife Annie D’Angelo. Lukas was born in Austin, Texas but grew up in Maui, Hawaii. He learned guitar and had a talent for singing, which he pursued in order to spend more time with his famous father. He moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to attend Loyola Marymount University, but soon dropped out of college to pursue a music career full time. In October 2008 he formed his band The Promise of the Real.
During their early years the band performed in various SoCal venues and their music, according to AllMusic, the band self-described as “cowboy hippie surf rock.” Since that time he and his band have accompanied Willie Nelson on tour, and have performed as Neil Young’s backup band. Despite the pedigree and promotion, Lukas and his band has not drawn considerable attention nor reached stardom, but that seems to be changing as he approaches his tenth year of performing.
In the performance below the acoustic venue demonstrates the power of his songwriting and the powerful emotions that he elicits in connecting with the subject matter of his songs. His voice is very reminiscent of his father’s, but with a fullness and deepness of its own.
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.
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.
As promised, posts are in draft and will be rolling in on a host of project management issues. For now, however, here is the band The Little Willies, composed of Lee Alexander (bass), Jim Campilongo (guitar), Richard Julian (guitar/vocals), Dan Rieser (drums), and the incomparable Norah Jones. (And, yes, despite the assertion on the new FX series Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll many of us really do note the names of the rhythm section). These nouveau New Yorkers started up the band after a gig that was booked at the Living Room on New York’s Lower East Side where they enjoy playing classic country and Americana. I can’t find a website, but you can view their biographies and discography here and a Facebook page here. Here they are performing Dolly Parton’s classic song, “Jolene.”
Originally a roots rocker from the mid-1980s Steve Earle has become an American treasure, singing songs that cross genres that include folk, protest, country, rockabilly, Americana, and roots music. Born in Fort Monroe, Virginia, but raised outside of San Antonio, Texas, independent-minded and rebellious, Steve Earle has always followed his own musical vision. Since the appearance of Guitar Town in 1986, he has produced one milestone album after another, many of them scorned and ignored when first released. When I first heard his first album he seemed to possess a combination of the east coast attitude of Bruce Springsteen combined with the mid-west swagger and rebellion of John Mellencamp. Then came the neo-traditional country that was reminiscent of the songs of Dwight Yoakum, Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark, and Randy Crowell. Then from there he was off on his own and I have followed him and his muse ever since.
This should have been no surprise. He met and was influenced early by Townes Van Zandt and, after moving to Nashville, was part of Guy Clark’s backup band in the 1970s. He has since incorporated those influences and pushed the music forward, honoring the tradition, but incorporating new elements.
Steve Earle produces story-songs that trace and record the life of the common man and woman. His songs embody the hopes, joys, sadness, disappointment, and sometimes anger that is part of American life. His character role in the TV series Treme’, which itself was an artistic achievement that represents an archive and testimony of our own time: a view of early 21st century America as seen through the lives of the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the indifference, vicissitudes, day-to-day struggles, and political corruption they overcame in its wake. His song “This City” still rings in my mind. Aside from music and occasional acting, Earle also is a talented novelist.
His latest album, released last month, is entitled Terraplane. The song that follows is “King of the Blues.”
Not much more can be said of Guy Clark that has not already been written. I had the pleasure of seeing him in concert with Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, and John Hyatt a few years ago as they toured the southwest. Clark embodies the best of folk and what was called “country and western” music, with emphasis on western. His songs tell stories that are genuine and organic to their surroundings, embodying the best of what pure art should embody: clarifying and transforming what is apparent into something else–an insight into the human condition, recording it with all of its imperfections and in all of its embodiments.
“El Coyote” tells a story that has been much in the news the last few years, generating outrage and suspicion: the emigration of people into the United States from south of the border. There are many reasons for the migration just as our forebears had their reasons for coming to this land. The reasons in the American southwest are a bit more complicated than many would acknowledge, the border being somewhat fluid over the last 160 years, with trade and movement flowing both ways, which I learned first hand when I resided for many years in New Mexico. Clark’s story song is told in the third person, but from the perspective of the campesinos. As such, it harkens back to the music of Woody Guthrie, telling the story from the perspective of those whose lives and destinies are being recorded in song.
A few days ago I viewed for the first time the excellent biopic of Hannah Arendt starring Barbara Sukowa. Arendt is a philosopher whose intellectual power and influence marks her as the essential source for understanding the human capacity for doing evil. Her clear-eyed observations of people in extraordinary times and circumstances disturbed many of her contemporaries, but it is this intellectual honesty that marks her as one of the giants in recording and understanding human nature. Her first-hand insights confirmed what Joseph Conrad wrote sixty-three years before in “Heart of Darkness,” that “The mind of man is capable of anything–because everything is in it, all of the past as well as all of the future.”
Arendt’s insight in her work, but most especially in Eichmann in Jerusalem, was that human evil is not only banal, but in its most common form is derived by the denial of thought, which is the most basic human activity that defines each of us as human. By refusing to think about (and therefore take responsibility for) the consequences of his actions, Adolf Eichmann, a petty bureaucrat, was able to commit a very great evil, a horrendous crime. The humanity of the people being led to their slaughter became unimportant–a commodity–and so it became easy to do what he was ordered to do because they were stripped of their humanity by the absence of thought.
We must be mindful as a people, I think, that thought leads to the acceptance of the humanity of others, which leads to empathy, sympathy, and–eventually–to basic human compassion and decency. Stereotypes, euphemisms, and slogans are evils designed to deny people their basic humanity and there is no doubt that the purveyors of such devices do so with that harmful intent. We must resist the easy path of thoughtlessness, and appeals to fear and tribal loyalty.
People can be undocumented in coming into a strange land, but people can never be “illegal.” It wasn’t too long ago when my own swarthy forebears were pejoratively called “W.O.P.s”–a term that is derived from the acronym “with out papers;” that is, those of Italian descent who were undocumented and therefore, “illegal.”
We are a nation of immigrants. My sympathy and advocacy for decency is with the campesinos and with the children seeking safety in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” We simply need to live up to those words which, in the end, is what defines a people as exceptional, given the all too common penchant for cruelty in human history.
Been on a bit of travel the last few weeks and that has caused a short blogging interlude over the last week.
During this time I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately–usually after a pretty good flight as well. I have found that it is all too easy in today’s world of social networking, individualized transportation, and air travel to go from one’s oasis of choice to the airport, to the hotel, and to one’s conference or job site without actually interacting with the people and things of the locale. There is something of a dysfunctional Accidental Tourist vibe to it all that contributes, I believe, to making it too easy to be inure to the economic struggles and otherwise more commonplace realities of our fellow citizens.
Our advances in information systems have increased alienation in many ways, which is hard enough to overcome given the limitations of our perceptions, and we see the dysfunction caused by this condition: from the ability of people with money, power, and influence, to mold the perception of reality in the face of the facts; the proliferation of elaborate conspiracy theories; the denial of science and empiricism; and the brazenly public advocacy of solipsistic and sociopathic ideologies that harden us to the misfortune of others.
This lack of connectedness, however, is remedied by a good road trip, even if one that is dictated by necessity. Thus thrown into the real world, my virtual traveling companion includes the recordings of Steve Earle. His latest album “The Low Highway” was released last year and I find myself coming back to it often, my virtual narrator pointing out the details that I would have missed otherwise. Earle is probably the most important chronicler of the American condition in our time–our hopes, dreams, and those that have been lost–of no less importance to our national conversation than Woody Guthrie and Peter Seeger were to their own generations.
Courtney Barnett hit the U.S. music scene from left field, actually from Down Under. She is a singer-songwriter/poet who started her own label, Milk! Records. In the words of Betty Clarke at The Guardian, “(Barnett’s) music is intoxicating, blending country, garage and grunge-indebted rhythms with frank, focused lyrics that turn the mundane profound.” While the circumstances may not be exactly the same–“an anaphylactic panic-attack in the midst of an Australian heatwave”–we have all had days like this.
Johnny Cash’s eldest daughter caused a stir when she hit the music scene in Nashville, shaking up the traditionalists to tell idiosyncratic story-songs that crossed country, folk, rock, and what become known as Americana. Rather than walking in her father’s shoes and riding on his reputation, she has carved out a place in the musical pantheon on her own. Her new album, The River & The Thread is mesmerizing and it is hard to pick out any one song above the rest. But, in the end, her voice and her stories speak to us in individual ways, which is the strength of her music. For me, the standout is “The Long Way Home.” It speaks to those who have left home in search for their place in the world, which describes most Americans. Oftentimes we find ourselves retracing our steps. For her it is deeply personal.
Adventures in collecting "modern jazz": the classical music of America from the Fifties and Sixties, and a little Seventies, on original vinyl, on a budget, from England. And writing about it, since 2011. Travelling a little more widely nowadays, and at lower cost