Category Archives: music

Al Scorch’s Winter Slumber

Have you ever seen a bluegrass band that includes cello? How about a French horn? If that concept catches your attention, you’ve got to check out the music of Al Scorch.

Al and his band played an afternoon gig last Sunday at the Empty Bottle in Chicago, a monthly winter series dubbed Al Scorch’s’ Winter Slumber. It’s free, it’s fun and if you’re in the area, highly recommended.

Scorch’s music is bluegrass at its core, but driven by the energy of punk and the courage to mess around and see what works. Scorch dubs his ensemble as “country soul,” and that works, too—these days it’s tough to classify music. The point is, there was a tone of soul and spirit driving the show we saw on Sunday.

Continue reading Al Scorch’s Winter Slumber

New Discoveries: Woodkid’s ‘The Golden Age’

I just spent several hours going through a list of this year’s GRAMMY nominees, finding videos, for each nominated song, a task associated with my day job at Radio.com. It was at times tedious but also, in many cases, fun and eye-opening. There’s a lot of, shall we say, less-than-inspirational music on the list, especially among the categories that wind up on television. But dig deep and you’ll find some gems.

For instance, I knew nothing about Woodkid, a French singer-songwriter and director (real name Yoann Lemoine) who’s probably best known for the video work he’s done for artists like Katy Perry, Pharrell, Lana Del Rey and Taylor Swift. Woodkid was nominated for Best Music Video for his song “The Golden Age” (featuring Max Richter).

Taken from Woodkid’s 2013 album of the same name, both the song and the black-and-white video are quiet, dreamy and melancholy, sharing nothing much at all with the pop of singers like Perry or Swift. Carve out a few minutes (OK, actually more like 11) and watch it below.

Continue reading New Discoveries: Woodkid’s ‘The Golden Age’

‘America for Me’ – Alex Ebert’s Song from the Film ‘A Most Violent Year’

No question: A Most Violent Year is a powerful film, one of the best I’ve seen in the past year. I was a fan of director J.C. Chandor’s 2011 release Margin Call, and his new film takes a vastly different but equally compelling perspective on capitalism in America.

The story focuses on the expansion plans of a heating oil executive in New York City in 1981, which sounds potentially mundane yet is anything but. Again, this is New York in the early ’80s, ages before new regimes came in to ‘clean up’ the place.

The story is strong, the mood is tense, the cinematography is stunning and the acting is stunning, notably that of the two leads, Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. Both truly disappear into the roles.

One final treat is the song that plays through the closing credits. Titled “America for Me,” it’s a sparse, loosely constructed song by Alex Ebert. Listen below.

Continue reading ‘America for Me’ – Alex Ebert’s Song from the Film ‘A Most Violent Year’

Sturgill Simpson’s ‘Metamodern’ Country

With his new album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill Simpson has put out what’s currently my favorite album of the year. This is country music that is meaty and fun but also thoughtful and rich. It’s ‘metamodern,’ as he describes it — a play on the classic Ray Charles collection Modern Sounds in Country Music — but it’s also got boots on the ground, a sturdy honky-tonk sound by way of Merle Haggard and especially Waylon Jennings.

At the same time, the music is not that straightforward. Stop at Waylon and I’m often fine with that. But Sturgill has a wider scope here. After all, the lead single does bear the curious title “Turtles All the Way Down.” Watch the video:

Continue reading Sturgill Simpson’s ‘Metamodern’ Country

Tompall Glaser and Jack Clement: Country Outlaw Heroes

Two major players in country music passed away recently. Two key outlaw artists, and two of my favorite country artists, both of whom were involved in creating some of the finest music to come out of Nashville–or anywhere–in the last several decades.

Last week, we lost “Cowboy” Jack Clement. Recently elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Cowboy was someone who wrote songs for Johnny Cash; worked at Sun Studios and helped jumpstart the career of Jerry Lee Lewis; produced records for such artists as Townes Van Zandt, Charley Pride, and Don Williams; and was a key ‘outlaw’ innovator, producing what is arguably Waylon Jennings’ finest album, Dreaming My Dreams.

Continue reading Tompall Glaser and Jack Clement: Country Outlaw Heroes

‘Oxyana’ soundtrack features Jonny Fritz, John McCauley

Alt-country artist Jonny Fritz (aka Jonny Corndawg) joined up with Deer Tick’s John McCauley to create a moody soundtrack for the documentary Oxyana, which is about the oxycontin epidemic in Appalachia.

The film looks interesting (trailer above, or watch the whole thing).

And the soundtrack is haunting. Hear it via a Soundcloud link below.

Continue reading ‘Oxyana’ soundtrack features Jonny Fritz, John McCauley

Line of Fire

Another song that’s been haunting me this year is “Line of Fire” by the Swedish group Junip. The band features singer/guitarist José González. Mesmerizing — I can’t stop playing this song.

The video for the song, too, is haunting. It’s directed by Mikel Cee Karlsson, watch it below:

(Featured image at top is a video still that initially appeared on Trendland)

John Grant to release followup to ‘Queen of Denmark’

Three years ago I had never heard the name John Grant. But that year, Mojo named his debut solo album Queen of Denmark their favorite of the year. And like a lot of people who read that review, I was at first puzzled. Then I listened, and based on the deeply personal songs, his haunting vocals, and the warm arrangements (he was backed on the album by the band Midlake), I understood. It’s been a favorite album in regular rotation for me ever since.

It’s great news, then, that Grant finally has a followup album. Called Pale Green Ghosts, it’s already out in the U.K. and is due in stores in the U.S. on May 14.

Continue reading John Grant to release followup to ‘Queen of Denmark’

The Songwriters: Gene Crysler

The other day I posted the album cover for Freddie Hart’s The Neon and the Rain. The title track is credited to Gene Crysler, whom I knew little about.

Doing some digging, though, turns out he wrote some cool and unusual songs. Like this one, “I Didn’t Jump the Fence,” which has been cut by the likes of Red Sovine and Cal Smith:

On the surface it’s an oddball song about a guy who admits to eating the “fruit” from his neighbor’s “tree,” but says he wasn’t “stealing” because it just “fell” into his yard. It’s not hard, of course, to read between the lines of what he’s really talking about.

Another Crysler song was “Don’t Make Me Go To School,” cut by Tammy Wynette.

And I always loved this Crysler song cut by Billie Jo Spears, about a small-town Kansas woman who gets a big-city job as a secretary in New York, but who quickly gets fed up with the old boys’ club.

Spears’ version of the song–the title track from her second album–peaked at No. 4 on the country charts in 1969.

Spears just comes off so damn down-to-earth appealing in this video, the kind of honest country artist we could use more of these days. Sadly, she passed away in 2011.