Nothing But Time (2020)

In the first week of February this year my nephew & I drove to the Sheffield City Hall to see Britain’s best comedian Stewart Lee. Both Mike & myself have always enjoyed shooting the breeze about potential world-ending catastrophes, swine flu, climate change, the zombie apocalypse & in the spirit of the upcoming evening we lightly riffed on the infectious bother the Chinese, in particular the Wuhan clan, were suffering. That night, apart from a family wedding with a severely restricted list of guests, has proved to be my final social gathering of 2020. Five weeks on (two weeks too late), the double whammy of age & “underlying health conditions” indicating that it was probably “so long, it was nice knowing you” if Corona called, meant that social isolation it was then & mostly still is. Just me, that pile of books I’ve been meaning to start, intimations of my own mortality & worry about family & friends. A blizzard of depressing, ominous, confusing, changing speculation on the information superhighway hardly helped, relief from introspection & flatlining was called for & admiring my huge stash of toilet paper didn’t do it because that was imaginary. It has always been music that soothed…still is.

I’ve done a lot of listening in 2020, appreciating an opportunity to savour & appreciate the complete works of John Cale, to be stirred by the old-time Sixties idealism of Paul Kantner & Grace Slick & to investigate the dusty, neglected Reggae albums at the back of the stack. Van Morrison & John Martyn have been the ideal companions at the end of another day of not much at all. It’s not all comfortable immersion in my record collection. My end-of-year highlights usually includes at least one new release by an artist of my own generation who has been making music for longer than I & they probably care to remember. Not this time.

Pinegrove "taking some time off" as frontman responds to sexual coercion  accusation | NME

In January Pinegrove released their fourth studio album “Marigold”. A group that had immediately appealed, I bought their record “Cardinal” (2016) within 30 minutes of hearing them & looked forward to their progress. An accusation of sexual coercion against frontman Evan Stephens Hall, then a clumsy apology/statement on social media, followed by the self-release of the “Skylight” record & a year’s hiatus stalled their momentum. Inevitably these events informed listening to the new collection. Hall’s meticulous, contemplative & articulate lyrics are one of the reasons Pinegrove are so distinctive. Such a public airing of his situation was not something the songwriter would take lightly. It’s not all introspection on “Marigold”, Hall & the group are developing their palate & it’s their strongest album yet. The title track, a reflective six minute long instrumental, ties a soothing, ultimately optimistic record together. They are still a band to be reckoned with.

Elsewhere 2 | Pinegrove

Unable to tour in support of “Marigold” Pinegrove retreated to their Bandcamp enclave & released “Elsewhere 2” a short “pay what you can” live set expertly mixed by guitarist Sam Skinner. From what I’ve seen & heard it is on stage that the group really flourishes. The 2016 session they recorded for Audiotree, with sterling support from the sound engineer, is the best showcase of their early work. Playing live the band’s melodic Country-Folk tendencies have more Indie drive bringing late-period Teenage Fanclub to mind. I’m not tech-savvy enough to separate just the one track from “Elsewhere 2” so you’re just a click away from the full 30 minutes. It’s a great mix of new & old material , the rapport between the band & their audience is apparent & it’s this music that has given me the most pleasure in 2020. To close here’s a song from “Marigold”. “I wake up & feel totally the same. I woke up the same as yesterday with no news of any kind”, “Endless” still hits the spot as a song for these times. “When this is over hold me forever”. Damn right!

Daniel Romano's Outfit Merseyside Tickets, Future Yard, 75 Argyle Street,  14th Jun 2021 | Ents24

Bandcamp was also the place to be to try to keep up with Daniel Romano. As a devoted fan, even with time on my hands, it has been a stretch to get a handle on all of his new music this year. I reckon there have been 8 maybe 9 new albums in 2020, solo works, with his band Outfit & collaborations. It’s a list starting with “Visions of a Higher Dream” & perhaps ending with “How Ill Thy World is Ordered”. Daniel’s name got around playing artful old-time Country songs, a classic structure that Buck Owens, George Jones & Gram Parsons could have recorded. His move away from this, a progression that acknowledged his Punk roots while embracing Folk, mid-60s Dylan & psychedelic Rock, was a journey that I was glad to share. Each album has contained songs that linger & grow in stature. From this year’s torrent perhaps “(What Could Have Been) Infidels”, a re-imagining of Bob Dylan’s 1983 record inspired by his iconic TV performance with the Plugz, is a little esoteric while “Content to Point the Way” is a return to that Country thing he does so well. Pick a record, any of them & you’ll find a uniquely talented singer-songwriter with the ability to lasso & shape the many ideas he has about his music.

Daniel Romano's Outfit Announces US Tour - Closed Captioned

It’s another live album that is my pick of Daniel’s busy year. The aptly named “Okay Wow” came around in March, issued under the name Daniel Romano’s Outfit, recorded on their 2019 tour. With his brother Ian on drums, David Nardi (guitar), Roddy Rosetti (bass), Tony Cicero (organ) & Juliana Riolino (vocals) Daniel has assembled a blistering Rock & Roll unit. From the opening “Empty Husk” the band scorch through songs from his extensive back catalogue with a brio & energy that brings to mind fellow Canadian Neil Young’s Crazy Horse. His songs have always been dramatic & even the gentler country tracks benefit from this direct charge. “Hunger Is A Dream You Die In” from 2016’s “Mosey” makes the cut here because I think it’s the best of his many songs & I get to choose. This is 21st Century Rock not some Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen derivative & I can’t get enough. The Outfits set in Kristiansand, Norway was filmed & is an absolute delight. You are busy people, I hope that you can spare 45 minutes to enjoy one of today’s great songwriters & a band at the top of their game.

Here at loosehandlebars three is the magic number so I only have one more choice from 2020. More than honourable mention should be made to the fastidious Prog-Pop, gentle Psych of Tame Impala’s “The Slow Rush” & to “Punisher”, a radiant collection from Phoebe Bridgers, the heartbreak offset by her light conversational style & a dry sense of humour, marking her arrival in the big time. I read that as well as kicking over the statues Black Lives Matter, a timely, important reaction to violent institutional racism, is a Marxist organisation dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism. In the words of the British collective SAULT, “You Know It Ain’t”!

Sault: Untitled (Rise) review – mystery collective make best album of 2020,  again | Music | The Guardian

The two “Untitled” albums released this year by SAULT, a unit that eschews publicity & promotion, are a wonderfully crafted blend of R&B beats, Neo-Soul, house, disco & world rhythms. I don’t know much about SAULT but I know that they know. The seamless. insistent groove of “(Black Is)” & “(Rise)” recalls club nights soundtracked by Bohannon & Roy Ayers. The last time I heard musical influences so capably configured into a whole new thing was when Massive Attack came around. The lyrics concerning the Black experience, oppression, loss, resistance, strength & hope, are in the tradition of Nina Simone, the Native Tongues & even the Last Poets. It’s been 50 years since Marvin told us “What’s Going On”, it’s shameful that this discussion has still to be had & it’s important that it is. SAULT made important music in 2020.

After 9 months of diminished social interaction I am like many of us suffering from pandemic fatigue. Those “what the fuck now?” moments don’t come around here so often, I follow the news less closely, ignore the views of amateur epidemiologists & willingly wear a mask in consideration of the health of those around me. The one statistic that I still find relevant is the daily record of deaths in the UK, a number that is still shocking, saddening & too high. This awful toll confirms that the actions of the British government, a fetid cocktail of incompetence, insensitivity, mendacity & corruption, have not matched the sacrifice & effort made by so many & that they should be held to account for for their failures. I am optimistic that community responsibility & a programme of vaccination offers hope for a healthier future however here in the not-so United Kingdom we are facing further economic uncertainty after the similar mismanagement of our separation from our trading partners in the European Union. I have considered expanding the parameters of this blog to include “Tasty Ways To Cook Your Shoes”, proof indeed that I have had too much time on my hands in 2020. I wish you all a Better, Busier New Year.

New Music For January 2020

A new year & there’s always an intent (never a resolution though) to listen to more new music. I can easily fill my day with the tried & tested, records made by my generation that I have known & loved for so long now. People like us are surprised that stuff we consider “new” is now 20 years old! It may not last, this week’s discovery is “A Look Inside”, an LP that I hadn’t heard before, recorded by the late, great Joe South way back  in 1972. Anyway 2020 is off to a good start with a new, much-anticipated release from one of my favourite new American groups.

Back in 2016 there was no other music that seized my instant attention more than Pinegrove’s. Within 30 minutes of hearing tracks from “Cardinal” I was over at their Bandcamp site naming my price, handing over the going rate to support new talent. The quality evident in the band’s Audiotree session confirmed that this was no mere impulse buy &  from the opener “Old Friends” to the closing “New Friends” (geddit?) it became my favourite record of that year. The introspective, literate, concerned lyrics of Evan Stephens Hall matched to an attractive lo-fi melodicism, the punch of Indie-Rock with a folky, even Country tinge, sounded pretty modern to me at a time when older favourites seemed to be relying on familiar formulae. So far so good  then.

A second release,”Skylight”, was recorded & ready to go in late-2017 when a charge of sexual coercion was made against Hall by a former girlfriend. Hall, a thoughtful man, addressed this in a lengthy well-intentioned Facebook post which, considerate of the privacy of others, reluctant to be specific & including an admittance that he had previously objectified his female fans, didn’t really help matters. Dropped by their label the album was self-released, a tour was cancelled & Pinegrove began a year’s hiatus while Evan received counselling to address his issues. There are those on the Internet, talking loud & saying not very much, who claim to know things but really added nothing to the understanding of what happened.

Image result for pinegrove 2020The band is now signed to Rough Trade, touring again to promote “Marigold” which will be released on the 17th of January. Produced by Evan & guitarist Sam Skinner, two preview tracks are around on the Y-tube. The short, sharp, dynamic & very good “Phase” has a video which, in my opinion, distracts from the song. Of course my decision to listen to & support Pinegrove is a judgement call but it is a considered one. It’s not just that I like what I hear, the behaviour of Ryan Adams, whose records I have, means that he is cancelled around here. I do believe that Hall has reacted appropriately & with good intent since this all started & will end with a comment from a thread about Pinegrove’s new music, “Hopefully everyone involved in the shitty situation that derailed them for a bit has made some level of peace and their music can be the focus again – because it’s really good”.

Image result for drive by truckers new albumPhew…It’s been three & a half years since the last Drive-By Truckers record, the longest break since their debut back in the last century. “The Unravelling” appears on 31st of January & while the band may never emulate the run of albums before 2010, establishing themselves at the forefront of current US Rock, there was more than enough about 2016’s “American Band” to keep me listening. There was a time when I came for the songs of Jason Isbell & Patterson Hood & now I’m sticking around for Patterson & Mike Cooley who either improved as a writer or I’m listening more closely. With such a strong back catalogue the D-B Ts put on a great rocking show & I spend a good deal of enjoyable time over at archive.org listening to their recent gigs.

Image result for drive by truckers new album“Armageddon’s Back in Town” is the only finished track from “The Unravelling” around the Webs & it gets the motor running. The more familiar I become with it the better it gets. It doesn’t take a Sherlock to find versions of other tracks. Closer “Awaiting Resurrection” is 10 minutes long in the live set, “Thoughts & Prayers” concerns high school shootings & the inadequacy of official responses, “Babies In Cages” is self-explanatory. These are troubling times, Drive-By Truckers have always examined the dualities of the personal & the political. Now Hood & Cooley are mature artists in their fifties, I guess hard-living days are fewer & further between. They are obviously going to write about the things they see happening around them. “Compelled, but not defeated. Surrender under protest if you must”. Well now, what can a poor boy do except to sing for a rock n’ roll band?

Image result for andy shaufI first heard about Andy Shauf when his name was dropped by Nicholas Braun, the actor who plays Cousin Greg, the only barely sympathetic character (& he’s not to be trusted) in “Succession”, the best TV series of 2019. 2016’s “The Party”, on which Canadian singer/songwriter/multi- instrumentalist Andy does everything but play the strings, is a connected series of closely observed vignettes about a gathering at someone’s house. There’s a touch of Elliott Smith in Andy’s voice & melancholic perspective but the assured, accurate, sometimes anxious Folk Pop story-songs benefit from a crisp, clear, fresh production which brings to mind an early-1970’s acolyte of Paul McCartney. “The Party” is quite a treat.

Apparently “The Neon Skyline” repeats the trick of linked songs on the theme of a night out in the city. Over the new year I’ve needed a daily shot of “Try Again”,  another wry commentary on social interaction, short, sweet & absolutely addictive. I’m new to Andy Shauf, there are 4 solo LP’s before “The Party” & one from 2019 with his band Foxwarren. I’m a busy man & there’s all these old records that must be listened to. I’ll still be waiting for January 24th when “The Neon Skyline” is released.

Searching For Love In Forms It Never Takes (Pinegrove)

I was looking forward very much to hearing the new LP from Pinegrove, their third. “Cardinal” (2016) made an instant impression, it appealed as a fresh take on the kind of melodic American guitar music that I’ve always liked. I bought the record, heck I even ordered a tee shirt online (not from the band) which I paid for but never arrived! Robbing the fans of a fairly obscure group seemed such a niche crime & it was my first, hopefully my only, experience of such a 21st century crime so I bit it. “Cardinal” got played a lot but not as much as the sensational live session they did for Audiotree which captured the dynamism & clarity of Pinegrove’s sound better than the record. Ones to watch out for, for sure.

 

 

“Intrepid” is the first track to be found from the upcoming “Skylight album. It does that quiet-loud thing they do very well &, once again, a live version recorded for a radio station in November appears to be have more drive than the one released. The camera is mainly pointed at singer-songwriter Evan Stephens Hall. He’s pretty good but the contributions of Zack Levine (drums) who has been around since 7th grade (whatever that is) & Sam Skinner (guitar) should not be underestimated. Nandi Plunkett (vocals/keyboard) seems to have split & bass is played by whoever is around. Things were looking good for the arrival of the new record in March 2018.

 

So far so predictable until a couple of weeks later, a long rather rambling letter from Hall, responding to charges of sexual coercion by a former girlfriend, appeared on the band’s Facebook page. In consideration for the other person involved Evan kept the details vague & was possibly guilty of over-sharing about the emotional effect of the charges. An admittance that he has in the past abused his privilege as a performer & had sex with members of his audience seemed to be rather irrelevant (musician has sex with fans shock!). The band cancelled all dates, the hiatus has been extended & plans to release the new LP have been shelved. Let’s hope that Evan’s therapist can help him resolve his issues.

 

 

It is not my intention to minimise the charges made against the singer. I would appreciate if he & others accused of assault & coercion responded more directly to actual events rather than issue opaque apologies. If “Skylight” is never released & Pinegrove don’t return then so it goes. If wanting to hear it makes me an enabler of abusers then maybe I need a therapist. I do know that an insistence on moral rectitude from the artists whose work I admire would mean I have a lot fewer records & a lot less stuff. I’m still going to listen to & watch the “Aphasia” clip because there’s not much new music around that’s better than this.

Random Notes (January 2017)

For much of the time I am perfectly happy listening to music I know so intimately that a molecular transference has occurred & made it part of me. Lately, if I want to hear something previously unknown, there has been much satisfaction to be found in crate digging for Soul & Funk gems from the early 1970s. Whether it’s getting beyond the singles of ex-Temptation Eddie Kendricks & discovering the delights of his 7 solo LPs for Motown or grooving to the gritty Blues-Soul on the 4 records Little Milton made for Stax after leaving Chess, there’s much great music that passed me by at the time.

 

Image result for pinegrove cardinalAt the turn of the year I was checking for a “best of the year” list on one of the few message boards I trust (hey, it’s the Internet, be careful) & I heard something that just knocked me over. I bought the CD within hours &, a month later. have had no reason to regret my impulse purchase. Here’s just 80 seconds of Pinegrove, a song that’s not on their record “Cardinal”, an indie-pop blast that has certainly helped to lighten the mood in the weird times of January 2017.

 

 

 

Pinegrove are from Montclair, New Jersey, out near Paterson, the setting for Jim Jarmusch’s latest film. In 2015 they signed for Run for Cover records, tying up the loose ends of Bandcamp tracks & self-released cassettes on “Everything So Far”. “Cardinal” opens with “Old Friends” & closes with “New Friends”. They have made plenty of the latter with this assured collection. Evan Stephens Hall’s songs combine emotional lyrics with dynamic melodies, changes that are subtle while still having a real belt to them. The all-to-brief “Angelina” brings Teenage Fanclub to mind & that is never a bad thing.

 

 

Congratulations to the good people at Audiofeed who recorded 8 tracks with Pinegrove which are even better than the record. “Aphasia” is just a triumph, the whole band pulling together to make a good song even stronger & getting the sound it deserves. Both of the LPs are on the Y-tube, you can, as I did pay what you like for “Cardinal” at their website. Now over at Pinegrove’s Bandcamp there is the same deal for “Elsewhere”, 8 tracks recorded live on their last tour. Pinegrove are visiting the UK in late February/March. They are not playing too near my house but I will seriously try to go those extra 70 miles to catch my favourite new band.

 

Meanwhile the #1 in my heart for 2016, Whitney, continue to make an impression on the mainstream. I caught their “Golden Days” being used in an infomercial for one of those machines that you shout at & it plays music or turns off your lights. I don’t know what these things are called nor do I care. They monitor every move you & your family make in the name of progress & it’s a no thanks from me. The band also got to play that song again on their US TV prime time debut for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”. Here’s how that went…

 

 

There is, I guess, a touch of alt-country about both of these groups though they are hardly hanging out in the barn or whittling on the porch. It’s emotional Indie Rock that relies on melody & intelligence rather than a run along the effects pedals for impact. I’m hearing a freshness & an energy that I no longer hear in more established artists. I’m ready to put Wilco, Son Volt & Ryan Adams (though not Jason Isbell) on the back burner & look forward to Pinegrove’s & Whitney’s future music. I know…Just kick my ass, okay.

 

Well, that’s enough brand new modern music thank you very much. My album of the month was released in 1968. Joe South had success as a producer/writer for Billy Jo Royal before recording his own debut LP “Introspect”. The second single from the record, “Games People Play”, (you know it…”people try to sock it to ya, singing glory hallelujah”..great electric sitar) became a world wide hit. Capitol Records, wanting to reach this new audience, withdrew “Introspect” & quickly released an LP with the same title as the hit. Only 3 songs were retained, Joe’s versions of his better known songs included. It’s a good record but what the heck do record companies know ?

 

 

Image result for joe south“Introspect” is a Southern Country Soul classic, a little heavy on the strings but enough imaginative production flourishes to still surprise. Joe’s strong voice is matched to lyrics containing a strong element of social commentary (Joe had played on Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde”). “Mirror of Your Mind” & the 7 minute closer “Gabriel” step into Psych-Country Pop, not the most populated genre & South is really good at it. Even “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden”, a syrupy country hit for Lynn Anderson in 1970 & a song I was never too fond of, sounds tougher & better. I was lucky enough to catch Joe playing an acoustic set of his hits, he was a fine songwriter. “Introspect” (again the full works on the Y-tube) could be the template for when Elvis went to record in Memphis. I prefer the one that got there first.