THROUGH THE LENS: Larkin Poe, Will Hoge, and More Upcoming Roots Music Releases
Larkin Poe - Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival - Photo by Peter Dervin
In preparing this week’s column I asked myself, with the turmoil that’s going on all around us, what’s the point? What’s the use? But the turmoil has always been there, right beneath the surface, underneath the politeness, civility, fear, and denial of 500 years of our history. Now, more than ever, we need music, be it roots, rap, punk, whatever. All through the Jim Crow days, the civil rights movement, the anti-war demonstrations, labor struggles, the women’s movement, the LGBTQ movement, and more, there has been music. Far from being a mere soundtrack, music has been the embodiment of resistance and change. As Pete Seeger said, “How can I keep from singing?” It needs to remain so.
So, here are my mini-takes, followed by a collection of photos, on some upcoming releases you should know about.
Larkin Poe – Self Made Man (June 12)
On the album’s opening track, “She’s a Self Made Man,” the Lovell sisters deliver a gut punch by embracing their inner Led Zeppelin. By staking out a territory once dominated by insolent men strutting their stuff, this one-time bluegrass duo is amping it up, kicking butt with a mixture of rocking blues to make powerful, defiant statements: Don’t fence us in, don’t expect us to play nice, and don’t lay your worn-out expectations on us.
Perhaps the most arresting, and timely, track is “Holy Ghost Fire” whose lyrics stun with their timeliness: “All I got in pockets, holes / All I got on my back, bones / Burn, burn, baby, burn / With that Holy Ghost fire.” These words could be an apt metaphor for the nation-wide George Floyd protests, but before Floyd’s death Rebecca Lowell in a note said, “Music is a raw power. In tough times, music can galvanize your heart and help you rise above – all you’ve got to do is sing. ‘Holy Ghost Fire’ is our anthem dedicated to the healing energy of music.” In so many ways this album serves as a high-energy balm for these troubling times.
Will Hoge – Tiny Little Movies (June 26)
As I had only seen Hoge in solo acoustic sets, this rock-and-roll album certainly threw me for a loop. But just initially. The more I got into it, the more I saw Hoge as the Midwest’s answer to the urban backstreet sounds of 1970s Bruce Springsteen. Once I got on his wavelength, I went along for the rough and tumble ride, but with a sweet side as well.
The album’s title is an apt one. Hoge’s songs are cinematic, notably the opening track, “Midway Motel,” which evokes lost loves and lost lives in a lost country. My favorite track is “Even the River Runs Out of this Town,” which while framed as a heartbreak song can easily be seen as the death of small-town America. With a quick poet’s eye, Hoge seems to be saying the good days are all gone, it’s time to be moving on.
Eli Cook – All Night Thing (out now)
Cook’s latest may seem like a meager three-track EP, but it packs quite a wallop with a dusty, nitty-gritty sound that doesn’t easily wear off. Like being washed in the blood of the lamb, Cook not only gets down to it, but rolls it around, and comes up for more. This should as no surprise to those familiar with his music: Cook began playing the blues as a young teen, opened for B.B.King at 18, and now, at age 34 and eight albums later, has staked out his own territory, a realm that’s at once both electrifying and guttural while touching other sources, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival. It has taken me a while to catch up with him, I think you should as well.
Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks – Orange Crate Art (June 19)
I have been a Parks fan almost as long as I’ve been a Wilson one. From his early work with The Byrds and The Beach Boys to his string of solo LPs and soundtracks, Parks has always been a wunderkind. This original collaboration with Wilson came about in 1995, long after their earlier collaboration, SMiLE, that was intended to be the Boys’ follow-up to Pet Sounds. It finally saw the light of day in 2011 as The Smile Sessions, winning a Grammy.
This is a roundabout way of saying that now, 25 years later, we get to experience this album again in a far more complete way as it includes bonus tracks (all standards), and a second disc of Parks’ instrumental tracks. As the songs on the album are by Parks, Wilson’s participation, while ample, is in support of Parks’ vision. As Parks recently told Rolling Stone, “This would be my last studio album for Warner Bros. and I wanted it to matter to me.” His music has mattered to me for these past 25 years, and it still sounds amazingly fresh.
Various Artists – On The Road: A Tribute To John Hartford (June 26)
If there was ever any doubt in my mind about John Hartford’s significance, it was laid to rest at the 2018 ROMP festival in Owensboro, Kentucky, home of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and just miles from Bill Monroe’s birthplace. There, Hartford’s name was mentioned far more often than Monroe’s. Heresy? Not quite. Like Monroe’s influence on those who came after, Hartford has, in the past 50 years, also inspired those who followed.
The 14 artists on this album are varied, from Todd Snider to Railroad Earth, and demonstrate how widely and deeply Hartford’s music continues to resonate in the roots world today. Like Hartford himself, music is a powerful, uniting force and one that can still lift us up for a cause. One of those causes is MusicCares, which is helping artists during these trying times with health care funding, disaster aid, and more. All of the net proceeds from this album will go to MusicCares. Hartford, who lost his long battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2001, would certainly approve.
The gallery below includes photos of the above-named artists as well as some of those who appear on the John Hartford Tribute album, including Sam Bush, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Todd Snider, Keller Williams, The Travelin’ McCourys, and Jerry Douglas. Remember, the gallery may also be enlarged, and viewed as a slideshow, by clicking on any single photo and then either the forward or reverse arrow.