Monday, August 29, 2011

Joe Henry Bio

Joe Henry asked me to write his biography for his label, Anti Records. I did, and was honored to do so.

Monday, August 22, 2011


Every time I write a review for Christianity Today Magazine, I receive one or more strident comments from readers who wonder why CT is publishing such unedifying trash.

It's okay. It's kind of my specialty, I suppose. This is because I usually review "non-Christian" music -- genuine, non-religious, non-denominational, non-praise anthems (or not) from people of unknown or indifferent theological persuasions. Personally, I find a lot of this stuff edifying. Merriam-Webster tells me that means "to instruct and improve, especially in moral and religious knowledge," and that works for me, even with Jeff Bridges and The Hold Steady who, to my knowledge, wouldn't be caught dead in a catechism class. My latest review is an album by Jeff Bridges, a dude known for playing The Dude in the movies, and not previously known for any musical abilities. And sure enough, there were two comments left on the website that noted the lack of edification in the review. I presume that they were suitably warned off from the music by the lack of Christian content, although I did my best to note why I liked the album, and thought it worth hearing.

What is a little disheartening about this process is that those were the only two comments on the review. Based on an admittedly ridiculously limited sample, the Christian community is batting 1.000 against the Dude and non-edification. This is an album where Bridges sings a song called "Nothing Yet," which isn't about Jesus, and doesn't contain the words "loss," "cross," "grace" or "face," but which does contain a rather startling reflection on a life mostly spent, and regret, and sorrow, and a determined resolve to live the part that remains better than what has passed.

If only he had called it "Deathbed Repentance" it would have been so much more edifying. But he's a non-Christian, as far as I know, and probably a sinner of the first magnitude. We shouldn't be supporting this kind of stuff in a Christian publication.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Scud Mountain Boys -- Massachusetts

Such lovely misery. I've been revisiting early Joe Pernice, specifically his incarnation as the leader of the Scud Mountain Boys, and I've been reveling in the stark melancholia of Massachusetts:

They pulled her from a ditch last night
Somewhere down on 95
On the wrong side of the road
Found a needle and a pipe

Those are the opening lines of the opening song, and it more or less goes downhill from there. Too much of this and I can end up in a very bad place, but there's much to be said for stripping away all the busyness and pretense, and staring bleary-eyed at the abyss of 3:00 a.m. and too many memories, and Massachusetts is that kind of album. This one was released at the height of the Ryan Adams/early Wilco alt-country hype, and it disappeared with hardly a ripple. It's too bad, because it's a better album than Ryan Adams or Wilco have ever released; full of aching melodies, hard-won wisdom and regret, and gorgeous guitar/pedal steel interplay. Sometimes it boggles my mind that Joe Pernice is not a superstar.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Richard Buckner - Our Blood

So, here's another great Richard Buckner album that nobody will hear. It's par for the course for this master of miserabilism, and probably provides grist for the creative mill. The fact is, I could listen to Buckner sing almost anything. His husky moan of a voice perfectly encapsulates the sound of a sleepless night, brooding over too many memories. But as his small but dedicated coterie of fans already knows, he's a very fine writer as well.

The backstory on Our Blood is both fascinating and grisly. Richard's treasured tape machine bit the dust, his apartment was burgled, and, I kid you not, a headless corpse was found in one of his burned out trucks. The girl, for those who have followed the story, left several albums back, and I don't know if the dog died.

At any rate, "I guess I'm the one they warned you about," he sings on "Confession," and the lyrics take on a chilling weight given the pre-recording history. The basic ingredients here -- strummed acoustic guitars, lap steel, gently brushed drums, the occasional wash of strings -- belie the intensity of the songs. This is a man who has lived through hell, and who wants to tell you about it, albeit in startling metaphors and evocative poetry. Opener "Traitor" finds Buckner doing what he does best, wrapping that supremely ragged, soulful voice around a tale of relational disintegration, of the center not holding, yet again:

You woke up too late, but know what they thought
While you were waiting for the strangers that had gone
Somewhere to stay together apart,
Where everyone traded as they faded in the dark,
Caught in the lights they couldn't show through
And just beyond they'd always know you
Would give it away, even as dust
Falling just out of frame, leaving everything untouched

Buckner threw away a big-label contract to record a batch of songs based on Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, and his best-selling album (Devotion + Doubt) sold a whopping 27,000 units, and was recorded fifteen years ago. He's probably given up the big dream long ago, and he just keeps on recording one stellar album after another. He'll be coming to a dingy dive near you soon. If you get the chance, you should see him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lydia Loveless

Lydia Loveless is a Columbus kid via Coshocton, Ohio who sounds uncannily like Neko Case. She fronts a band that sounds like Drive-By Truckers and early Old 97’s (which, as weird as it looks, is not an oxymoron). For some of us, that’s pretty close to country-punk heaven, so I hope you’ll forgive the hyperbole when I tell you that she ought to be a big star, and you can help to make her one when her debut album, Indestructible Machine, is released on Bloodshot Records next month.

Nothing against Neko, whose big, twangy voice is a constant delight, but Lydia has both the voice and the memorable songs, and her emotionally cathartic tales of regret, rage, dissolution, and good, old-fashioned lust play out like the impolite, mouthy cousin to Neko’s art school co-ed. She’s also really funny, and writes a song about Steve Earle ostensibly so she can ingratiate herself with his son Justin. You do what you have to do.

She’s got the hard-living, I-don’t-give-a-fuck persona going, which frankly is a bit tiresome, but maybe that comes with youth. Apparently she’ll be 21 pretty soon. For what it’s worth, Lydia, that Indestructible Machine thing? It’s a lie.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Initial Thoughts on the New Hood

1) It's really bright in the middle of the city, even at 2:00 a.m. I wish I had not personally verified this on a Thursday night. I'm tired today.

2) One of our new next-door-neighbors, an old guy, said to me, "It's nice to have some older neighbors." Asshole.

3) It is evident, even on Day 2, that the books 'n music purge was not nearly deep enough. I have no idea where we're going to store the pared-down remnants.

4) There are black people and ethnic minorities in our lives now. Wow. Actually, I'm very glad about this.

5) Lawncare is a noticeably lesser concern. Some lawns probably haven't been mown in two weeks, and I haven't seen a single lawn that sports the cross-hatched/spreadsheet look that comes from mowing, and then immediately mowing again at a 90-degree angle.

6) People have front porches, not back porches. And they appear to use them. I've actually seen numerous neighbors, and talked to three of them.

7) I hate salmon-colored carpet, which we have in our upstairs spare bedroom. I hate salmon, for that matter. Nothing good comes from salmon.

8) Except for the upstairs spare bedroom, the rest of the house has beautiful hardwood floors. I like that a lot.

9) Certain boxes need to be found and unpacked ASAP. The one with my Kindle. The one containing the other three volumes of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. The one containing the new Lydia Loveless album.

10) We are within easy walking distance of restaurants, bars, parks, concert venues, church, and dozens of friends, as well as Methadone clinics, homeless shelters, halfway houses, Wiccans R Us shoppes, food pantries, and at least three tattoo parlors. And a university with 55,000 students, and all the attendant hoopla and craziness that entails. It feels like it might be home. I'm glad to be here.