Overlooked, Neglected, and Abandoned: Other Music of 2014 That Needs a Home
When I did an article on overlooked albums and artists deserving wider recognition last year, I was reminded of a time in 1973 when I was living and writing in the great northeast, when I would play Waylon’s “Lonesome ‘Onry and Mean” or Willie’s “Shotgun Willie,” some folks would leave the room. Most chalked it up to my hillbilly roots. But, finally one guy asked me point blank how could I listen to, let alone promote, that shit kicker music? Without much hesitation, I shot back, “Aren’t you the guy who just a couple years back asked me the same question about the Velvet Underground?” “Yeah,” he mumbled, “just took me some time to catch up.”
I have also thought that we should not be doing “Best of” lists until 5 or even 10 years after the fact. To see what has held up, what we had grown into, and what we have caught up with. So, while not meaning to patronize fellow readers and hopefully without a shred of self-aggrandizement, here, in more or less alphabetcal order, is this year’s entry on what deserves wider attention.
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo are The Both. It had it’s genesis in a tour that featured Leo opening for Mann and ended with shows that exuded banter and a chemistry this side of Bogie and Bacall. After the tour, they teamed up in the studio and result is what has to be the most overlooked album of the year, especially considering their respective talents.
Maggie Björklund – Shaken
Perhaps better know as part of Jack White’s all female backup band, the Peacocks, Bjorklund’s second solo effort is a significant leap from her first. Apparently drawn heavily on her experiences tending to her ill mother, who recently passed away, sonically it’s as if David Lynch were taking you on his own private Wisconsin Death Trip. It has been described as melancholy and some of the Cohen-like lyrics certainly gives you that feel. But I liken it to more of a brave musician turning, becoming more inwardly focused. Along with the cello as a cohort, the pedal steel never sounded so ominous, full of American dread.
Kasey Chambers – Bittersweet
There’s a good reason why this one was passed by this year. It was released only in Australia and very few review copies made it to the States or anywhere else it seems. It’s hard to believe that this is her 10th album, and it just may be her best. She covers many bases on this one, bluegrass to something near pop. As she just split from her husband, she’ll be touring her homeland this Winter. No word on the states or a US release.
Barb Jungr – Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen
Jungr, who is quite well known in her native country England, is something of an enigma in the US. You see, she works in the world of cabaret but does so with contemporary fare from Motown to Dylan, especially Dylan. Her most recent take on the two most revered songwriters of our time is a daunting task and not for the faint of heart. Cabaret has its own rules and Jungr stretches and bends some of them to a near breaking point. Anyone who caught her sets at 59E59 this past fall in New York cannot forget her incinderary version of ‘Masters of War.’ Her take on Dylan may not be for everyone, but it is unique.
Red June – Ancient Dreams
I thought that coming on the heels of the excellent “Beauty Will Come” and winning the Chris Austin Songwriting title at MerleFest would bring about an even greater appreciation for this Asheville’s trio’s follow-up. But something got lost in translation it seems and while they continue to play to enthusiastic and sold out shows, this album got lost in shuffle. Natalya’s fiddle and vocals are second to no one. And while I heard that she and John are expecting, as well as working on a solo album, do not less this one pass you by.
Catherine Russell – Bring It on Back
With the recent renaissance in neo-soul as portrayed by Lake Street Dive and St. Paul, do yourself a favor and check out as close as we are likely to get to the real thing, Bettye LaVette, Candi Staton’s “Life Happens” or this one by Catherine Russell. She comes by it honestly as her father was Louis Armstrong’s long time music director. Russell is more blues and jazz than LaVette/Staton, who are more based in traditional R&B, and her music is an encyclopedia of singing from Billy Holiday to Lavay Smith with a voice and timing to match. Highly recommended.
Ron Sowell – Little Movies
While Ron can be heard every week playing acoustic guitar and the band leader on Mountain Stage, he has a deep and rich history of folk and roots music in such bands as Putnam County Pickers and Stark Raven, and his solo career is no less stellar. While not a live album, his latest perfectly captures his engaging live performances which are hard to resist no matter how many times you have seen him.
Arto Lindsay – The Encyclopedia of Arto
For the uninitiated, Lindsay is a longtime fixture of the downtown NY music scene who has recorded, in one guise or another, a couple of dozen albums. Born in Brazil to US parents, Brazilian music, especially bossa nova, but with a wicked turn, has heavily influenced his style from The Lounge Lizards and The Ambitious Lovers to his work with Kip Hanrahan and Anton Fier and The Golden Paliminos. But it is his solo work that sets him apart from his often better known contemporaries. This album is a two-fer: one CD is an oberview of that solo work and the second disc is a live set from 2012 recorded in the new Manhattan, Brooklyn, that is an excellent representation of his live work during the past half dozen years or so.
Soundtrack – Only Lovers Left Alive
Speaking of downtown fixtures, the director of the picture, Jim Jarmusch, has meant as much to his city’s underbelly asTom Waits is to LA. But the movie is set in the deadness of modern Detroit and the narrow alleyways of timeless Tangiers, using Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as two ultra hip, existential metaphors to explore and bemoan the self-inflicted plagues of humankind. Most of the album is by Jarmusch’s band Squrl, and one gorgeous track by the great Lebanese singer-songwriter Yasmine Hamdan. I suggest you see the movie first, if for no other reason to see the actor who is playing Hank Williams in “I Saw the Light” that will be released late 2015. Plus, Tilda Swinton in anything is as good as it gets.
Jazz singers. I thank Kevin Lynch for recently reviewing the new Andy Bey album in these pages and bringing him to the attention of ND readers. With the passing of Jimmy Scott this past year, Bey is the torch bearer of what jazz singing is all about. I have been fortunate to have seen both on many occasions, which leads me into a new crop of young female jazz vocalists who also appear on some Americana stages. Cryrille Aimee’s “It’s a Good Day,” Kat Edmonson’s “The Big Picture” and Jill Barber’s “Fool’s Gold” are some good places to begin a light jazz vocal journey. And some of the more established vocalists such as Tierney Sutton whose newest, “Paris Sessions,” was just nominated for a Grammy, and Laurie Antonoli’s “Songs of Shadow, Songs of Light” explores the vast Joni Mitchell catalog, not unlike Sutton’s previous “After Blue.” And if updated bossa nova is calling you, check out Bebel Gilberto’s “Tudo.” No, they are not female equivalents of Bey simply because no one sounds like him. But the more I listen to these youngsters, the more I know that somewhere Blossom Dearie is smiling.