Seattle alt-country star Jesse Sykes recently wrote an interesting article in City Arts Magazine on our musical culture of consumption. Her take was that there's simply too much music being turned out these days for us to adequately absorb great art. You can read the article HERE. I don't totally disagree, and it echoes one of my favorite quotes from Seattle indie rock pundit John Roderick: "The people making records are still spending months and years on them, while the people buying them are munching through them like corn chips. Slow down." It's certainly true that the amount of music being turned out right now is staggering. I can't keep up, and I don't think anyone of us can really keep up. It's just too much! HOWEVER, I've found that even though I spend 80 hours a week listening to music, and even though I have stacks of CDs I need to listen to and review on my desk, I do keep coming back over and over to the really special, stand-out tracks. That's why I started the "Songs We Can't Stop Listening To" blog. Because even though I'm swamped with music, somehow this only makes me want to listen to more, and when a really wonderful song comes across my desk, I'm not afraid to hit the repeat button and spend half a day (or more) with it. Check out some of these songs now:
Tim Eriksen: "O Come, Emmanuel"
from Star in the East, 2011.
Like everyone else, I have a love/hate relationship with holiday music. I love the thoughtful, beautiful acoustic renditions, and loathe the inevitably stale and horrific covers. But when I heard that acoustic song grandmaster Tim Eriksen had released an online album of holiday songs, Star in the East, I knew I was in for something special. And this track is special. Tim's voice is soft and rough at the same time, his accompaniment is dark and eerie, as belies his punk-rock goth roots, and the lyrics are so deeply beautiful. It all comes together to make a perfect sound. I'm not really into the "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" stuff (Christmas is a pagan holiday, folks), but this would make a believer out of me. This is what religion should be about, something so deep and beautiful that it accesses our minds at a deeper level, touching on what makes us universal.
Ralph Stanley: "Lift Him Up, That's All"
from A Mother's Prayer, 2011.
Dr. Ralph Stanley's new album, A Mother's Prayer, is another home-run for this venerable bluegrass elder. No surprise really, Stanley taps the coal-black heart of Appalachian music unlike any other artist before or since. He breathes the music and lives the music and knows it inside and out. I hope his latter-day recordings (which he's been releasing regularly) end up like Johnny Cash's last series of recordings: an indelible portrait of true Americana. On A Mother's Prayer, he brings back the song "Lift Him Up, That's All," an old hymn from Washington Phillips, which he'd previously recorded on his last album. But here he adds the most sublime and wonderful guitar accompaniment I've heard in a long, long time. I don't know why the guitar is so perfect. It's so simple, yet so powerful. I swear this song is gonna give me a religious experience if I keep listening to it!
Johnson, Miller & Dermody: "The Rain Don't Fall On Me"
from We Heard the Voice of a Porkchop, 2011.
It's pretty easy to make me fall in love with your country blues. Just cover Blind Willie Johnson. Don't try and mimic his playing (nobody can), but take his songs, which are all beautiful vignettes of country gospel, and play 'em straight. I guarantee I'll love you forever. NW country blues super-group Johnson, Miller & Dermody nail this out the gate on the first track of their new album, We Heard the Voice of a Porkchop. They take on my favorite Blind Willie Johnson song too: the critically underrated "The Rain Don't Fall On Me". Of course, this has special meaning to me as we slide into another rainy Seattle Christmas. But it's also one of his sweeter and least-covered songs. On the original recording, it's a simple plea, asking for trouble to move along elsewhere. His wife, Willie B. Harris, sings the refrain behind him. I've always loved the recordings he made with her, and it's a shame she gets written about so infrequently. Here, Orville Johnson, John Miller, and Grant Dermody deftly cover the song, bringing the kind of weary resignation to rain and trouble that only a life in Seattle can lend us. It should be noted that I'm currently promoting Grant's solo album, but I didn't even know he had a new one out until I saw it for sale at the Seattle Folk Festival. What a nice surprise! The whole album is a great romp by three master players through the back alleys of the country blues.
Elizabeth LaPrelle: "Cold Mountains"
from Bird's Advice, 2011.
Elizabeth LaPrelle is one of the best young Appalachian ballad singers today. She's learned from the masters, and soaked up the culture, having been born in Virginia in a musical family. On her new album, she brings this family together for some beautiful known and unknown ballads. We brought her out to the Seattle Folk Festival a few weeks ago and she was one of the highlights. There's something so deep and eerie about her voice. She really taps into the soul of the mountains through her singing. This is a song off her new album, Bird's Advice, from Texas Gladden. It's a fragment of a song, but the lines "Cold mountains, they are here around me/Cold waters gliding down the stream" is just so beautiful. We've got a longer article coming on Elizabeth, but this should be a nice sample for now...