... or why it's so hard to keep up with contemporary music.
This is what has shown up, unbidden, in the mailbox this week. I open it up, and music falls out. Unfortunately, work, family, and relationships have a way of getting in the way of listening time. Well, not really. It's all good. But it does make it difficult to keep up. Thus far I've made it through one of these albums in its entirety a couple of times, and about four songs on two of the other albums. There's probably some great stuff here. Maybe I'll find out. And maybe I won't.
1) Holly Brook -- Like Blood Like Honey -- Billed as a cross between Joni Mitchell and Fiona Apple. Probably not a roaring good time, but maybe poetic and insightful.
2) Susan McKeown -- Blackthorn: Irish Love Songs -- Sung in what appears to be Gaelic, if titles like "An Droighnean Dann" are any indication. No idea yet, but her last couple albums have been great. This is one I'll eventually listen to.
3) Milton and the Devil's Party -- What Is All This Sweet Work Worth? -- Billed as literary rock 'n roll made by a bunch of English professors in Pennsylvania who are enamored with Blake, Milton, Elvis Costello, and The Kinks. Sounds too good to pass up. I'll definitely listen, but at this point I can't comment.
4) Margot and the Nuclear So and So's -- The Dust of Retreat -- on Steve Earle's Artemis label. I'm expecting something rootsy, maybe country. We'll see. Named for the Gwyneth Paltrow character in The Royal Tennenbaums, so they win on style points alone.
5) Donald Fagen -- Morph the Cat -- This is the album I listened to twice, mainly because I had to review it for Paste. It sounds like Steely Dan, possibly because it was made by the main singer/songwriter for Steely Dan.
6) Hank Williams III -- Straight to Hell -- Hank sounds more like his grandaddy than his pappy. That's a good thing. One of the two songs I listened to contained the immortal chorus, "I'm here to put the dick in Dixie/And the cunt back in country/'Cause the kind of country I'm hearin' nowadays/Is a bunch of fuckin' shit to me." Yee haw. Whatever happened to cheatin' hearts and pickup trucks?
7) Sean Watkins -- Blinders On -- The guitarist in Nickel Creek, who is apparently trying his hand at Beatles/British Invasion power pop tunes.
8) Lila Downs -- La Cantina -- A self-described Deadhead who followed the band around in a VW bus, Lila's music apparently "digs deep into her indigenous Mexican roots, but with North American sonorities." Si, senorita. What a long strange trip this album sounds like. Again, we'll see.
9) The Roy Hargrove Quintet -- Nothing Serious -- Straightforward post-bop jazz from one of the world's finest trumpet players. I'm looking forward to hearing this one.
10) The RH Factor -- Distractions -- Hargrove's musical alter ego, this time showing off his P-Funk leanings. Okay.
11) Scott Miller and the Commonwealth -- Citation -- From the former leader of the V-Roys, I'm told. I remember the V-Roys. Great band. Legendary Memphis producer Jim Dickinson helps out. This could be very good.
12) Taraf de Haidouks -- The Continuing Adventures of Taraf de Haidouks -- And here I didn't even know they'd begun. Billed as the finest, wildest, and most soulful Balkan Gypsy band in the world. Includes a DVD, and an audio CD. It's a Balkan Gypsy multimedia extravaganza.
13) Kocani Orkestar -- Alone At My Wedding -- "A mighty Macedonian brass band" augmented by "vocals, clarinet, banjo, etc." I wonder what "etc." means.
14) Sussan Deyhim -- Madman of God: Divine Love Songs of the Persian Sufi Masters -- What it says, with contributions from former John Coltrane bassist Reggie Workman. Could be bizarre and impenetrable, could be absolutely wonderful.
15) Mark Pickerel and His Praying Hands -- Snake in the Radio -- The first solo album from the former Screaming Trees drummer. On Bloodshot Records, which usually means raw and rootsy, not what I would have necessarily expected from a former Seattle Grungehead. Again, we'll see.
16) The Pogues -- Complete Radio Sessions -- My favorite band of the '80s. A bunch of mid-'80s radio sessions recorded for the BBC. Should be wonderful.
17) Peter Walker -- Young Gravity -- No press kit. No info on the album cover. God only knows.
18) Tres Chicas -- Bloom, Red, and The Ordinary Girl -- Their first album was great. Caitlin Cary, former member of Ryan Adams' band Whiskeytown, is the main attraction here. I'm not really familiar with the other dos chicas.
19) Gus Black -- Autumn Days -- I listened to two of the songs. Gus sounds a bit like Cat Stevens, a bit like Sufjan Stevens. No evidence of Connie Stevens.
20) J. DiMenna -- Awkward Buildings -- Again, no PR materials. No idea.
21) 44 Long -- Hangover Heights Part 2 -- Apparently influenced by Neil Young/Crazy Horse, Son Volt, and Wilco. With those influences, it's worth a listen.
22) Soledad Brothers -- The Hardest Walk -- Detroit roots/blues stuff. Which could be great. A little local band called The White Stripes works the same territory. Lesser knowns The Detroit Cobras are even better, in my opinion. We'll see.
23) Hillstomp -- The Woman That Ended the World -- One guy with a guitar and a slide. One guy with a drum. See The White Stripes, above. Or The Black Keys. But supposedly more of a Mississippi Delta influence this time. I like it in theory. Again, we'll see.
That's the haul this week. I love my life.
Sometimes I envy you. Sometimes I don't. I worked for our college's radio station from 1993-1995 and was first to listen to some seminal albums by some seminal bands in the early "We all wish we were Trent Reznor" period. None of whom I can now recall.
I had to get out when all of it started to blend together and I realized that some of the stuff I thought was crap and refused to put into rotation ended up making onto mainstream radio. I thought I might be doing some of the bands a disservice by dumping their tapes into a dark culvert behind my dorm--not even college radio would give them a chance.
I suppose it all comes back to the ancient argument about aesthetics: how do you know when it's good? Or at least good enough for your radio station/magazine/personal collection/Library of Congress audio archive/indie music website/local public library/iTunes Store/etc. ?
Be interested to hear how the Scott Miller and the Commonwealth disc plays. His first "Commonwealth" release, "Thus Always to Tyrants" was great. One of my favorites from the last ten years.
?Have you ever reviewed a Martin Sexton release? And, if you have, what did you think?
Erik, the music I'm describing just shows up unbidden in my mailbox. I'm only reviewing one of the albums I listed.
Obviously it's the job of music PR people to get the music to the reviewers in the hopes that the album(s) they're pushing will make a great impression, and will eventually show up in a magazine review. And occasionally that happens, and sometimes I really do push for a review of an album that has arrived out of nowhere. But for the most part, I already know a couple months in advance which albums I'm going to be reviewing for Paste. They send me a spreadsheet listing about 100 albums, I pick five or six of them, and then write the PR people to obtain the albums.
So that takes the pressure off me. I can listen to the albums that randomly show up in my mailbox if I choose to do so. Or not. I do try, but lately I've been inundated, and there's no way I can possibly listen to all of this music, let alone listen to it critically, giving each album the three or four listens that I try to devote to albums I review. And today starts another week, and there will be another avalanche of music headed my way.
Then there are the pestering e-mail messages from musical publicists, who ask, "Did you get the hot new album from insertmybandhere? What did you think?" And then there are the phone calls from the music publicists. And then there are the nice folks who find my email address and who write, "Hey, I read your stuff in Paste. I wan't to be a rock 'n roll critic. Can you tell me how to do that?" Or "We want to start a magazine. Would you be willing to write an article for us that provides guidelines on how to write a music review?"
Sometimes I don't envy me either. I feel bad that I can't answer all of these questions. But I can't.
By the way, I have it relatively easy. The folks at the Paste office in Atlanta receive, on average, about 600 albums to listen to make a review determination on for every issue. I fully understand why albums just end up dumped in the dark culvert. There aren't enough hours in the day.
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