2014: A Surprising Year for Musical Discovery
I can remember periods of my life that, when I look back, are marked by the discovery of new music.
After I lost my “dream job” in St. Louis and returned home to this small, rural town, I was disillusioned and frustrated, so I split as often as I could to go to the nearest city and spend time in music and bookstores, soaking up these “new” sounds (what was then called “alternative country”). I learned about classic albums by Cash, Kristofferson, Nelson, Jennings, and many others. I’d spend hours poring over music, digging through books that described the new movement and anthologized the classics of the roots genre. I discovered No Depression Magazine, which served as a pipeline and valuable resource. That period of a few years laid the foundation of my musical tastes today.
A few years back, just before my daughter was born, I got really into the untamed raw blues of the Fat Possum label roster. That, in turn led to the exploration of other Delta, then Chicago, blues music. That was the same time I was digging deep into Tom Waits’ catalog for the first time. I found the first five Ramones records one day in the budget bin, bought them all at once, and finally “got it”. I watched Julien Temple’s documentary on Joe Strummer and a switch flipped; I went from being a casual fan of the Clash to finally seeing what the fuss was about. Joe Strummer became a hero and his music, both with the Clash and with the Mescaleros, remains among the most important in my life. For that year or two, everywhere I turned, there was new music just waiting to be discovered.
Those were times when I had extra time and disposable income. I now seem to never have any of either. There’s also the sad fact that there aren’t nearly as many music or book stores these days. Discovering new music happens in fits and starts, not in waves anymore. I miss that feeling of being flooded by new finds.
But in the past few weeks, I’ve been turned on to many great artists: Pony Boy, whose art I love so much and who I’m proud to say has become a fan and friend of this radio show; The Strypes, who completely blew my world apart and made me excited about rock and roll for the first time since I don’t know when; St. Paul & the Broken Bones, who shook me up on the soul side; Leo Welch, the first gutbucket blues release on Fat Possum in ages.
Bloodshot Records is the label I’ve worked with the longest when it comes to the hobby side of my radio career. I can always count on them for a few releases that really hit me just right every year, but they’ve been on fire so far in 2014, with incredible new albums by Lydia Loveless, Scott H. Biram, the Dex Romweber Duo, Bobby Bare, Jr., and more. It’s gonna take a mighty special album to knock Loveless out of my slot for top album of the year.
Jessica Lea Mayfield is an artist I was marginally interested in previously, but I’ve fallen in love with her new album. Johnny Two Bags, the guitarist for my all-time favorite band, Social Distortion, has just released a great new solo record.
And there’s so many more.
It seems that my list of favorite releases from 2014 so far outnumbers my entire year’s worth of favorites from the past several years.
I’ve accepted that there may not be entire periods of my life defined by the discovery of amazing amounts of new music anymore. The days of me spending hours and hours in music and book stores, absorbing sounds and information like an unquenchable sponge are, unfortunately, mostly over. And until I make the jump into exploring jazz (I will one day but have learned you can’t force that kind of thing), I may not have many more specific genres to jump deeply into. As fun as it was to explore massive amounts of blues music or alt.country music all at once, I’ll take one killer album from any genre these days. As long as it moves me.
It may just come in fits and starts now…but so far there’s been a lot that’s moved me in 2014.
It feels good
Dirty Roots Radio is a “Quentin Tarantino-ization of a spaghetti western style old-school record show” featuring renegade country, vintage gospel, raw blues, greasy soul, punk, and funk, hosted by Ryan Mifflin.
Tune in to Dirty Roots Radio Thursdays from 8 to 10 p.m. (central) at www.wgrn.net.
Ryan Mifflin blogs about music, life, and the weekly Dirty Roots Radio playlist at: www.DirtyRootsRadio.com.