There's something about sweltering early summer days that makes me want to listen to something with a little twang in it. I'm not talking about that horrible garbage that pollutes the airwaves which popular culture calls "country" music when really it's just corporate radio rock packaged in a cowboy hat and some over-the-top wholesome American patriotism. That ain't country music folks...it's crap. Country music is kind of the opposite of that sound. Country music is raw and sorrowful and full of keen observations on culture. Now, I will confess to liking my country to be of the folk, roots rock, or y'alternative variety. If you do too, here's some great stuff I've been listening to of late.
Wilco - Wilco (The Album): This was the one remaining album from last year that I'd been dying to hear. I purchased it this week on vinyl ($22 but came with the album on CD as well...considering the CD alone sells for $18, that's a crazy deal). If nothing else, Wilco is consistent. This feels almost like a mirror album to their last, Sky Blue Sky. In my opinion, that's a good thing. Jeff Tweedy has an amazing voice and writes great heartfelt songs. Just solidly good music.
Carl Perkins - On Top: This 1969 album was a comeback album of sorts for one of the original rock pioneers. Like Elvis's Vegas concert or Cash's comeback, Carl comes out hard edged on this album. With tracks written by Bob Dylan and others, this is quite a good album. It doesn't sound like someone trying regain past glory, but rather someone who still has something to say from a wiser point of view.
Turner Cody - Great Migration: This is the second Turner album I picked up, after loving The Cody Choir. This wasn't quite as good, but still exceptional. He plays this kind of roots folk that is a hodgepodge of bluegrass, country, and indie rock. The result is a great back-beat and smart lyrics. I could see some people not really caring for his voice, but personally I enjoy it.
Eugene McDaniels - Outlaw: More psychedelic soul than country, but given its uprising feel, it sort of fits here in spirit. Personally, I didn't love this album but many people do. I will say that the charged atmosphere of this 1970 album did appeal to me and the music grooves for sure. Overall though, it just fell a little short. It's like a Dylan album on speed, and that doesn't quite work.
Eleventh Dream Day - Wayne: I picked up this 1988 EP yesterday on vinyl and was pretty psyched for it. I really love this bands debut Prairie School Freak Out (from the same year). This band for me is one of the earliest reinterpretations of Neil Young into something heavier. It's bands like Eleventh Dream Day that earned Neil his title as the Grandfather of Grunge. Though they definitely refer back to Neil (there's even a cover on here), they aren't simply reproducing his sound. Their songs are heavier and dirtier and really reflect a much under represented aspect of American life in the '80s.
The Jayhawks - The Jayhawks: This 1986 debut was reissued for the first time this past week and I quickly snatched it up on new vinyl. I read a review that said this album is before they found their sound and that they are basically a Gram Parson's tribute act here. I can't really argue with that, but personally, I think there should be more Gram tribute acts. A very enjoyable listen and interesting to see where a band begins and where they go on their journey.
Cat Power - You Are Free: For whatever reason, I skipped this album when it came out in 2003, despite having all previous and later releases. I guess at the time I was still into the others I had and there were other more pressing buys. That was a mistake. This is a real gem. Certainly there is a level of a Cat Power album being a Cat Power album, but this one is on the melancholy side, where I think her voice works best. A very powerful record of slowcore folk perfect for starting your day along with a hot cup of coffee before the sun spoils the afternoon with its oppressive heat.
Songs: Ohia - Protection Spells: As regular readers of the Round Up know, I love everything Jason Molina does. This is one of the few releases I hadn't yet had and picked it up recently. As with nearly all Songs: Ohia or Magnolia Electric Co. releases, it's pretty stellar. Whereas Eleventh Dream Day are Neil Young ramped up, Molina is Neil slowed down to its most fragile and beautiful. You can't go wrong with any of his albums.
Arlo Guthrie - Washington County/ Arlo Guthrie - Hobo's Lullaby: This past week, I gave both of these albums a shot, having never listened to any Arlo before but knowing a lot about him. These are both very much Bob Dylan disciple records (which makes sense since, in his early days, Bob was a disciple of Arlo's father Woody), but both are well-done examples of it. There's some great songs on both. "City of New Orleans" on Hobo's Lullaby is fantastic even if the song has been butchered by John Denver. Though all-in-all, I have to say I preferred Washington County for its more folky feel. Fans of Dylan would be hard-pressed not enjoy either of these records.