New Classic Country by Midland

The Washington Post Magazine ran a great article today about Midland, a country trio two albums into a what looks like a very promising career.  The band has racked up commercial success and critical recognition since the release of its first album, 2017’s On the Rocks.  They’re written up as channeling the neo-classic country style of George Strait and Dwight Yoakam (the band took its name from one of Yoakam’s songs), mixed with the polished sounds and high harmonies of the Eagles.   I’m not qualified to judge country music lineage, but I really like nicely crafted songs with great vocals and harmonies, and Midland is putting out some beauties.

Their sophomore album, 2019’s Let it Roll, features “Cheatin’ Songs”.   No video out yet for this one, but it’s sweet to just listen to.

If you want video entertainment, here’s another song from Let it Roll, “Mr. Lonely” featuring Dennis Quaid getting his comeuppance from every lady in the bar.   Midland’s base player, Cameron Duddy, turns out to be a big time music video director as well, whose work includes Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” video.

Here’s where it all started for Midland, their first single,”Drinkin’ Problem”, with an award winning video directed by Duddy.   Nuthin’ says “classic country” like cow horns on a Cadillac.

Chrissie’s Still Got It

The Pretenders will release their eleventh studio album, Hate for Sale, this coming Friday, 40 years after their eponymous first album.  And at 68 Chrissie Hynde is still one of the most compelling voices in rock & roll. We’re not talking “can still sort of sing the old stuff”, we’re talking “good as ever”.

The line-up for this album includes Chrissie and drummer Martin Chambers from the original Pretenders line-up.  It’s guitarist James Walbourne’s third album with the band since he joined the group in 2008.  Every one of the tracks released so far are great.   The title track has old school punk attitude,  “Didn’t Want To Be This Lonely” has the Bo Diddley beat, and “The Buzz” sounds like classic-era Pretenders to my ear.   But this post is about Chrissie’s singing, so give a listen to “You Can’t Hurt a Fool”.

Had it not been for the pandemic, the album would have been released earlier this year, and the Pretenders would be on tour. But making the best of a bad situation, Hynde and Walbourne took inspiration from Bob Dylan’s release of his new album to do some home recordings of Dylan covers.   This cover of “Standing in the Doorway” is gorgeous.  I think Bob should give this song to Chrissie and James for keeps.

After this year’s cancelled tour, the Pretender’s website teases at concert date in late September 2021.  To get you ready for their return, here’s Chrissie belting out the anthem “I’ll Stand by You” just 12 months ago.

Fourth of July

As we step back from our usual flag-waving, fireworks-filled celebrations of America, this year’s subdued Fourth of July feels appropriate as we question the functioning of our nation and how its promise has gone unfulfilled for so many after twelve score and four years.  The tension between America’s promise and reality has been explored in some great music.

Of his song “American Tune”, Paul Simon said, “I don’t write overtly political songs, although ‘American Tune’ comes pretty close.”   Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on, I wonder what’s gone wrong.  I can’t help but wonder, what’s gone wrong.  Here’s a live performance recorded a couple of years after the song’s 1973 release.

An iconic song about the reality of America, in this case from the perspective of Vietnam veterans, is Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.”.  The anthemic chorus contrasted with the story line reminds you of why Springsteen is for many of us, America’s true poet laureate.

Jimi Hendrix was the final performer at Woodstock on the morning of August 18, 1969. His set included a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” which drew controversy, as it wove sounds of sirens, explosions, wails of pain and a few bars of “Taps” into the national anthem.  Performed during one of the most turbulent eras in America’ history, it’s hard to imagine an instrumental performance delivering more complex meaning.

A more recent take on America’s promise vs. reality is Rihanna’s 2015 “American Oxygen”.   Written by an international collaboration of artists from the U.S., Great Britain, and South Africa, along with Barbadian Rihanna, it is regarded that she brought to the song a mix of hurt and hope from the perspective of a black woman come to America.  Here she is performing it on Saturday Night Live.

Beck and Cage the Elephant

In November 2019 Beck released his fourteenth studio album, Hyperspace. The album was co-produced by Pharrell Williams who shared song writing credits on most of the tracks.   Here is an entertaining rendition of “Uneventful Days” from an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel in December.  Prescient lyrics.  And the set starts out looking like a bad home office fading into one of those Zoom virtual backgrounds.

Earlier in 2019 Cage the Elephant released their fifth album, Social Cues, and took home their second Rock Album of the Year award at the 2020 Grammy’s.  Here’a the psychedelic video for the title track.  I’m not sure what happens if you text the phone number.

Beck appeared as co-lead singer on “Night Running” from Social Cues.   The song gave its name to the 2019 concert tour Beck and Cage the Elephant co-headlined.

If you feel like watching a couple more videos, definitely check out the career-launching songs of Beck, “Loser”, and Cage “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked”.  You’ll see why Cage’s lead singer Matt Schultz said, “Beck’s tunes have helped shape my life and musical palette.”

Ocean Bridges

Last month, a fascinating new album, Ocean Bridges, was released on independent label, Redefinition Records.  The album features Raw Poetic (Jason Moore) and his uncle, avant-garde jazz legend Archie Shepp, stitched together by DJ/multi-instrumentalist and Redefinition Records co-founder, Damu the Fudgemunk (Earl Davis).  Thanks for being on the lookout, Helga!

Damu has been incorporating jazz and soul samples into his hip hop recordings for many years, but adding Archie Shepp creates something the likes of which I’ve never heard.   So, check out “Tulip” with open mind and ears.

Shepp, now in his 80’s, played with John Coltrane in the early 1960’s, assembled a catalog of politically focused solo work, performed in sessions with Sun Ra and Fela Kuti, and was a professor of music at U. Mass Amherst for 30 years.   Much of his work is pretty “out there”, but here is one of his more accessible tracks, “You Don’t Know What Love Is”.

Poetic and Damu have collaborated before.  Philadelphia native Poetic, has spent a lot of time in Damu’s hometown of Washington D.C.   Here is “Hole Up” from 2012.

Damu mines his classic hip hop vein with many other collaborators.  Here is “Rather Unique” from 2017’s Ears Hear Spears featuring fellow traditionalist, Insight The Truncator.