Box Full of Letters from Issue #68
“Continue pushing the envelope”
Thank you for your insightful article on Lucinda Williams in your last issue of No Depression, with a spotlight onto Lucinda’s irrepressible songwriting journey, and its latest surging incarnation.
I love all Lucinda Williams’ albums. Though at times it’s true I have found myself longing for the songwriting style of her early albums — with songs as tangy and bittersweet as “Maria” and “Abandoned”. At age 20 I had never heard anything like them: Her quivering voice, lifting on gentle waves above the melody, mounted in me and seemed to be the most perfect “pure” honest and touching song creations on every level. The “innocence” she has spoken of when describing these songs perhaps mirrors my own at the time, both musically and emotionally.
You describe the “claim” so many feel is necessary when paying homage to Lucinda, and mine would be (after many thwarted attempts, including a concert at South By Southwest in 1995) piling into a packed and smoky Tramps in New York City, at long last, stretching my neck around the massive structural pillar, to see the woman live who had so culminated in my mind. Just to prove she was real.
I’m so rarely affected by music this way anymore. Is it the quality of the songs out there? Am I just jaded? Who is a “new” Lucinda, who can affect me to the core? When I saw Lucinda last, I was flooded with ripping guitar solos, a more intense level of disillusionment in her songs, and the darker longings of which she crooned.
But in your story and in the hints of West to come…it seems here she is yet in another place with deceptively simple slices of yearnings and life. If not full circle then yet another rung in the staircase which I’m climbing too.
Isn’t it the nature of a true artist to continue pushing the envelope, for themselves, and for we the listeners? I hope “Lu” continues to leave all other songwriters behind her in the dust and keeps pushing what’s in the music of her heart. She certainly will always have a chamber in mine.
— Tanya Braganti
New York, New York
Dylan deserved it
I was happy to see Modern Times had been chosen by your critics as the best album of 2006. Then I read the introductory essay (by the editor, no less) explaining why this was a bad choice. Talk about a pat on the back with a knife in your hand! There are better ways to handle this: Make a rule beforehand to not pick Dylan, fire the critics, white-out line one of the list. He won the vote, so allow him the accolade and shut up. Let someone who can explain why it was the best album write the essay. There are songs on this album that stand up with the best of his career (“Thunder On The Mountain” alone is worth the price of the CD).
Another thing: the snoozefest by Decemberists is on the list but there is no mention of Joanne Newsom’s Ys? This was a beautiful, intelligent album fitting the genre quite well.
Gnarls Barkley? Sheesh. Keep trying and you’ll get that display spot up front between Rolling Stone and Blender yet.
— Dale Posey
Lake Worth, Florida
No he didn’t
I have faithfully purchased your mag for about ten years or more. I have come to know the work of many great young (and old) artists through reading No Depression. I even agree with your liberal politics and say “screw you” to those right-wing wimps who still think that Bush/Cheney are looking out for their best interests. This war has sucked truth from the git-go. As a humble purchaser of ND I have a small request and I am sure it is shared by a large segment of your readers: PULEASE drop those dreadful year-end Best-Of polls.
Perhaps just change the format to 20 albums our critics loved this year and list them in alphabetical order. With all due respect I love Bob Dylan and could probably recite all of the songs from Highway 61 Revisited on a good day. Time Out Of Mind and Love And Theft brought me back into the fold, but Modern Times the best album of the year? When I play Modern Times on my CD player (not too often), there are about four songs that I “skip track” through. Sure there are about three masterpieces, but the “piffle” to use another critic’s term renders this album terribly uneven.
It is more than ironic that numbers 34 and 35 in your poll, Greg Brown’s and Chris Smither’s albums, both are stylistically related to Modern Times and are both top-flight endeavors but ranked pitifully low. As an opinionated music critic myself I would rank both of these above the Dylan album.
You say on the cover of your magazine that you are “Surveying the Past, Present and Future of American Music” but what the critics’ poll communicates to me is that most of your critics are mired in the same old names ad nauseum. If your critics really cared about the “future” part of American music, Cat Power would have fared better; M. Ward’s Post War might have shown up on the roster along with Robyn Hitchcock’s Ole! Tarantula, Bonnie Prince Billy’s The Letting Go and Beck’s The Information. All that these polls do is help keep people from experiencing music from outside of the collective tastes of your pollees.
Please just drop those misleading “taste” polls and keep doing what you do best, and that is exposing us to new (and old) artists and reviewing their work with integrity. (And keep sticking your fingers in the eyes of those lamentably misled rightees!)
— Michael Northuis
Greensboro, North Carolina
I noted that in your best of 2006 lists, no one mentioned Snake In The Radio by Mark Pickerel & His Praying Hands. I found the album because of your Town & Country feature on Mark last spring, and it’s been the best album I heard this year, beating out first-rate new rock records from punk legends the New York Dolls and Radio Birdman.
Speaking of punk legends, it seems to me that there has been very little mention of ’80s cowpunk groups that in many ways led to the alt-country bands that filled the pages of your magazine in the early days. Rank And File have gotten a mention here and there, but I have yet to see any thing about Blood On The Saddle, The Screamin’ Sirens, the Divine Horsemen or Jet Black Berries.
Anyway I am still digging No Depression, and look forward to each issue.
— Eric Peterson
Ax the rich
As a longtime subscriber (actually in my wife’s name), I’d like to suggest an idea for future Top 60 albums. Get rid of the millionaires (i.e., major-label artists)! I also read some of the ’70s punk magazines, and they consider groups such as the Offspring and Green Day to be “mainstream millionaires” and do not include them on their “best of” lists. Think of your list like this; here’s the millionaires to get rid of:
Bruce Springsteen. Did you ever consider the fact that Bruce hand-picked the band for this album, which has two excellent lead singers in it, and he never lets either of them sing on any of the 20-some cuts? Not to mention his wife, also an excellent singer, and the mother of his children. You’d think out of all those songs, the little bastard could let someone else sing.
Vince Gill (and I add him with a heavy heart because my adult nephew is friends with him and says he’s one hell of a nice, regular guy for a millionaire star).
Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris
That moves everyone else on the list way up. I read interviews with people who are in Americana and punk, and they often say things like, it’s nice of their boss in the sandwich shop to let them off at noon on Fridays so they can play music on the weekend. A little different sentiment than Springsteen with his millions of dollars in McDonald’s stock!
— Clayton Mitchum
A rose, by any other name…
Is Joan Osborne just confused? On page 37 of ND #67 she mentions the Grateful Dead record American Rose. I’ve heard of American Beauty but not what she mentioned. Well, I’m no Deadhead; neither is she. Is she confused and were your editors asleep?
— Bryant Liggett
[Editor’s note: Our bad, not hers; the writer says he most likely transcribed her words wrong, and we didn’t catch it.]