Musicians Who Are Aging (Very) Well
I’m pushing 60, and I find it encouraging when artists who are also beyond a certain age release some of the best work of their careers. In the last few months, there have been a significant number of CDs released by long-seasoned artists that are in my personal heavy rotation list. I realized this morning that I’m not listening to these CDs because of how old the artists are but because of how damned good the music is.
The best of these albums combine well-honed musical sensibilities with the wisdom that can only come from experience. Yet these albums are, for the most part, not somber, inward-looking affairs but, rather, celebrations of life and music in the light of maturity. These are artists who have only gained in skill as they’ve aged.
Here’s a brief summary of some superlative music, released since the beginning of the year by artists who are 55 years of age or older, that has captured my imagination. What they have in common is that these albums are largely comprised of new, original songs that easily equal and often surpass the artists’ earlier work. These are most assuredly not just old musicians strumming about what happened earlier in their lives.
How about you? Is there any recent music by older musicians that has captured your imagination?
Paul Simon (69): So Beautiful or So What. With a catalog as deep as Simon’s, it’s hard to say whether this is his best album ever, but certainly nothing by him has captured my attention quite so much since Graceland was released more than 20 years ago. This album crackles with life and wisdom. The opening song, Waiting for Christmas Day, is his most danceable song in a long time, yet it is also sadly nuanced. Some have criticized this album for sounding like some of his previous albums. However, I find it to be a beautiful and fresh synthesis of his music since Graceland.
Greg Brown (61): Freak Flag. This album does sound like some of his best albums of the past but, unlike those albums, this one doesn’t have a single throw-away song. Instead, it is warm, funny but through-provoking, kind of like being hugged by your grandmother who also happens to be a radical free thinker.
Steve Earle (56): I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive. Was he bored or trying to find himself again? I don’t know, but his last few albums didn’t satisfy me. While I generally agree with his politics, I thought the last few albums were often too didactic. And the “New York album” (Washington Square Serenade) was just plain soft. This one reverts to his earlier years in that the songs tell stories of folks just trying to get by in an often-hard world. The difference: A kindness and insight that just wasn’t always present earlier in his career.
Eliza Gilkyson (60): Roses At The End of Time. This is the sweetest, warmest and most consistent album from this too-often overlooked artist. And songs like “Death In Arkansas” contain an emotional power that wasn’t always present in previous albums.
Emmylou Harris (64): Hard Bargain. While I consider Emmylou Harris a goddess of American music, I’m still struggling with this album a bit. The Road is a reminiscence about her time with Gram Parsons, but it doesn’t shed new light on that relationship and I find the lyrics a bit heavy-handed. My Name is Emmett Till feels like a stretch. But the rest of the album is soft, sweet and touchingly personal.