Pop & Rock
VOICES Notes and news on Pop & Rock releases
02 DEC 13 DAVID SHANNON
American Radical Patriot, Rounder’s recent Woody Guthrie compendium, peers deeply into the life and music of the bard of the proletariat, his Oklahoma origins and chronicling of the Dust Bowl migration and the songs he wrote traveling around the country as a performer and developing political activist.
Including five fascinating hours of the 27-year-old Guthrie storytelling and performing for famed musical archivist Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress in 1940, this limited release (only 5,000 copies) is a trove, also featuring a range of Guthrie ephemera such as radio dramas, songs written while working for the Bonneville Power Administration, public service announcements, and a host of other recordings that paint a vivid portrait of the man both as political rabble rouser and loyalist, all told through his own words and songs. This collection comprises six discs, a DVD, a 60-page booklet, a 78-rpm vinyl pressing, unpublished photos and Guthrie artwork, and a free 258-page download (in PDF format).
In terms of impact on American music, you’d be hard-pressed to find a musician as influential as Guthrie. He inspired a generation of songwriters in the '60s to change forever the way Americans listen to music, to understand how it could become a vehicle for protest and defiance and emblemize a social movement. Yet even that great legacy has humble beginnings, which is probably the whole point of Guthrie’s music and which this set celebrates.
15 NOV 13 CHRIS SLAWECKI
Even though Paul McCartney has been a solo artist five times as long as he was in The Beatles (you can check my math), it’s still so tempting to take songs from his latest release, NEW (Hear Music, 2013), and put this one in the "sounds like the Beatles" box, that one in the "sounds like Wings" box.
NEW is insightful and articulate pop with some rough edges deliberately left unfinished. Happening producers such as Giles (son of Sir George) Martin and Ethan (son of Glyn) Johns keep NEW as contemporary and in the moment as its title. The murky, moody "Appreciate" builds from looped vocals and guitar parts, its rhythm flickering on a hip-hop beat. The title track wraps up more sprightly pop with horns, vocals and strings that sound ornamental yet nicely tight.
But McCartney’s expert songcraft -- the real power in this music -- is nothing new at all, and its production allows his classic sound to shine through. Few songwriters could craft art from the thoughts and feelings they process "On My Way To Work" or explain so simply why they’re feeling "Scared" like this one can.
"Early Days" offers genuine treasure, tender but bruised reflections on McCartney’s fledgling days with the Fab Four (and personal shot across the bow of Beatles "experts" who weren’t ever there): "Now everybody seems to have their own opinion about who did this and who did that/As for me, I don’t see how they can remember when they weren’t where it was at."
12 NOV 13 DAVID VIENNA
The celebrated “bluegrass storyteller” James King was recently featured in a segment of NPR’s Fresh Air, on which critic Ken Tucker described King’s latest album, Three Chords And The Truth (Rounder), as a logical step into “hardcore country.” On the show, Tucker identifies King’s penchant for spinning yarns and shows how that knack informs his ability to take country narratives written over the last fifty years and stamp them with his signature bluegrass sound.
Opening track “The Devil’s Train” is the oldest tune on the album, recorded and made famous in 1949 by the bard of country, Hank Williams. King transforms it from Williams’ high lonesome campfire story into a bounding bluegrass burner, highlighting the familial connection between country and bluegrass. King hews closer to the original on songs like George Jones’ 1965 “Things Have Gone To Pieces,” a downtrodden tale that attempts to hold fast to the scattered bits of a dream. The surprise of the tune is that despite the similarities between the versions, King ushers it deftly into the bluegrass tradition, perhaps recognizing how well his arrangement suits the song’s blue tone.
In a way, the entire album is a story, each song a chapter representing some unique era of country music history, retold in the rich vernacular of bluegrass. King’s intertwining of two venerated oral and musical traditions places him firmly in the history of musical raconteurs.
08 NOV 13 DAVID VIENNA
If you missed the recent Country Music Awards broadcast, you missed seeing Taylor Swift honored with a Pinnacle Award, given to artists who become "international sensations." (The only other honoree was Garth Brooks, who received the award in 2005.) For the show, Swift put together a country supergroup that included Vince Gill, part of Rounder's own supergroup The Time Jumpers. Check out the video of the performance.
An old school country collective, the Time Jumper's self-titled album was released in September.
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