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Archive for the ‘Uncle Tupelo’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: JAY FARRAR-NonComm (May 17, 2019).

I didn’t like Uncle Tupelo back in the day. So when they broke up I didn’t really care.  I was supposed to care about the alt-country movement, but I didn’t. So I wasn’t interested in Sun Volt or Wilco.

Years later I have really gotten into Wilco and I feel like I’m supposed to dislike Jay Farrar because of the acrimonous split back in the day. But heck without the split, there’d be no Wilco.

I’ve never given Jay Farrar or Son Volt much thought.  So here’s my first real listen to him.

In this setting I find that he sounds a lot like John Doe, a deep soulful voice with acoustic guitar and electric accompaniment.

Jay Farrar‘s soulful folk sound graced the NPR Music stage Friday afternoon for the last day of NonCOMM. While he softly strummed his acoustic guitar, his Son Volt bandmate Mark Spencer backed him up on electric.

This set was made up of Son Volt songs.

He started with “The Reason” a thoughtful song and an indicator of what the rest of the set would sound like.  Calm music, lovely harmonies and pretty backing guitars.

Up next was “Reality Winner” which he introduced as saying “she was put in jail for sharing the truth.”  It’s a powerful song about a real incident that made news at the time but, like so many other things, it was eclipsed by the daily insanity of our government.  From The Boot:

Reality Winner, born in the South Texas town of Alice, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. On June 3, 2017, Winner was arrested after leaking a confidential document to an online news site, The Intercept.  “It’s a really unjust situation where Reality Winner leaked information for the right reason,” Farrar tells The Boot. “She proved that there was Russian interference in the 2016 [presidential] election.”

The lyrics:

What have you done, Reality Winner?
Reality Winner, what have you done?
This jail is a stone-cold answer
The biggest mistake of a Texas lifetime
In this ballad of the commander-in-chief
Is there any mercy for this standing belief?
Felt like gaslighting, not something to just accept
Proud to serve, just not this president
Those that seek the truth will find the answers

Up next was “Devil May Care”

Spencer harmonized with Farrar on a few songs; their vocals joined beautifully together for the chorus of “Devil May Care.”

There isn’t a lot of diversity in these songs.  Farrar’s voice is great but doesn’t change all that much.  They are good folk/country songs.  But I think it might be his presence that makes these song work so well:

The crowd was singing along to Farrar’s set and there was a feeling of mutual respect flowing between the performer and his audience. He has a stage presence that’s just plain cool. Not everyone can wear sunglasses inside without looking like a total jerk.

He introduced the next song saying that these songs are on the new Son Volt album of protest songs.  You may say “What is there to protest and I’d say Just about everything.”

Before singing “Union,” Farrar made a statement about there being protests about everything lately. He continued to tell this story through song while Spencer killed it on steel guitar.

This is a simple song that lays out our country’s divide and recounts Farrar’s father’s belief about the need for something to bind the country together: “He said national service/ Will keep the union together.”

“The 99” is also straightforward.  It may not be timely in the title (I don’t think people use that phrase as much anymore), but the sentiment is spot on:

Journalists in jail covering the scenes
The profit columns rise for the corporate machines
Take the stand now, protest and holler
Desecration of the land for the almighty dollar
Ninety-nine percent
Ninety-nine percent
It’s a trickle-down world
Like you’re stuck in cement

All of the songs were from the new album Union, but he ends the set with an old song.

The mood was brought back up as the set concluded with “Windfall”, a two-decade-old Son Volt song [from Trace].

It is certainly more positive, I guess from back when things were a bit better (the 90s).

[READ: June 3, 2019] “A Dream of Glorious Return”

It’s not often that people intentionally read twenty-year old news.  Maybe for historical reasons or, in my case, because you want to read a piece by a particular author.

So here is a twenty-year old essay from Salman Rushdie about the first time he returned to India after the fatwa had been put on his head twelve years earlier.

He returned to India in April 2000 (I guess the 90s weren’t great for Rushdie).

But first he talks about the many times he left India.  First when he was thirteen and went to boarding school in Rugby, England.  While he was away his father sold their family home in Bombay.  Salman was devastated and is still angry about it.  He believes he would be living there today if they still owned it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JEFF TWEEDY-Live at NPR Music’s 10 year Anniversary Concert (December 2, 2017).

I’m going to be seeing Jeff Tweedy live tomorrow night.  So I prepped for the show by watching this 20 minute session from NPR Music’s 10th anniversary.

There were a lot of performers at this Concert but for me Tweedy’s 20 minutes was the highlight.  He stood on stage with his white jacket and white cowboy hat and he effortlessly played five songs that spanned nearly 25 years. (There’s a terrific version of “Born Alone” which Tweedy sings with Kronos Quartet here).

His guitar playing is simple but effective and works as a perfect backdrop for his the focus of his voice and lyrics.

Thankfully for us and the audience at our 10th anniversary concert on Dec. 2 at the 9:30 Club, Tweedy’s set managed to run the gamut of [his] celebrated career. From his beginnings as a slack, alt-country rocker (playing Uncle Tupelo’s “We’ve Been Had”) and A.M.-era Wilco (with “Passenger Side”) to his recent turn as Mavis Staples’ producer and songwriter (on “Jesus Wept”) and later, Nels Cline-era Wilco (“Locator”).

The constant in all this experimenting is Tweedy’s voice as a singer and songwriter — one that invites a deep trust, even when it courts darkness. Performing solo with an acoustic guitar, his voice was once again at the center of it all.

The first song, “Bombs Away,” was previously unreleased.  The lyrics were thoughtful and stark

“I leave behind a trail of songs / from the darkest gloom to the brightest sun,
I’ve lost my way, but it’s hard to say / what I’ve been through should matter to you.”

When he starts Uncle Tupelo’s “We’ve Been Had” the smoke machine sends wafts across his face.  “Is something on fire?  …  I am cooking!”  The song soars and is one of the more upbeat songs he plays.

He follows with “Locator” from Schmilco.  It’s certainly odd on the record, but this acoustic version lets you see the foundation of the song before all of the cool effects are added.

He plays the pretty but rather downbeat “Jesus Wept” which is something that he worked on with Mavis Staples for their collaborative album.  I don’t know her version, but his is delightful.  When it’s over he says, “I thought I’d pull that one out because it’s such a big celebration….  It’s a fun song.  Can anyone think of a song I should play that’s celebratory?”  [audience shouts out].  Jeff continues, “so you don’t know any of my songs, that’s cool.”

Someone shouted out “Passenger Side” and he plays that.

He ends with “I’m The Man Who Loves You” which gets lots of applause.  He has some fun with fast guitar playing, and he is clearly having a grand time.

I can’t wait to see what he does with a full set.

 

[READ: January 25, 2017] “I Didn’t Win Any Pulitzer Prizes This Year”

This piece was not in the magazine.  It was in the Daily Shouts section online.  I am refraining from writing about these online-only posts in general, but this one slipped past my print-only radar.

Just how do you stretch out a premise like this for an entire essay?

He explains that this egregious omission continues his twenty-nine year streak of not receiving even one of these prizes.

Overlooked in nonfiction: an email with the subject line “Re: (No Subject).”  The Prize committee did not conclude that the email was informative “but its brevity was what pushed it over the edge.” (more…)

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