Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Things we like: Sturgill Simpson, FZ, Courtney Barnett

1) It appears the universe doesn't want me listening to CDs. The player in my car -- which had become my "deep listening space" over the last few years -- went Tango Uniform the other day, after refusing to reject The Young Mothers' CD I'd been listening to for a week or so. Wha-wha. So it's back to NPR news, which might not be a bad thing. (I've also started turning off the 'puter around 8pm most nights. Sleep better that way.)

2) I'm a little slow on the pickup, so when I first heard Sturgill Simpson's Metamodern Sounds in Country Music a few months ago, I thought, "Gee whiz, he sounds like Waylon Jennings on acid." (He'd been reading A Brief History of Time and The Tibetan Book of the Dead, evidently.) When I got his A Sailor's Guide to Life, I thought, "Gee whiz, it sounds like Waylon if he'd recorded at Stax in '67." I perceive the strength in Sturgill's writing comes from his real-life experience, which includes long periods at non-musical jobs, including naval service. On A Sailor's Guide's "Sea Stories" -- possibly the best song about being in the Navy since Mike Watt's Contemplating the Engine Room -- when he sings, "If you get sick and can't manage to kick and get yourself kicked out of the Navy / You spend the next year trying to score from a futon life raft on the floor / And the next 15 trying to figure out what the hell you did that for," you know somebody lived that.

3) A customer recently got me back down the FZ rabbit hole for a minute. While I've written elsewhere about how my Zappa fandom has diminished over the years (a too-high chaff-to-wheat ratio, even in the heyday), and how DVDs have supplanted old favorite recs like Roxy and Elsewhere and One Size Fits All (in the same way as they have the audio-only versions of live Hendrix, post-Blow By Blow Jeff Beck, and '64 Mingus), I recently picked up a copy of Mothermania, the Mothers of Invention comp Frank put together for MGM when he broke his contract with them -- subsequently disavowed, and out of catalog for years (although I understand the Family Trust has brought it back digitally), but it includes all the tracks he cited as most satisfactory in his '68 Rolling Stone int save the "Pigs and Ponies" side of Lumpy Gravy. (The sequence of LPs that includes We're Only In It for the Money, Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets, and Uncle Meat as well as Gravy -- the result of an explosion of studio productivity while the Mothers were playing a residency at NYC's Garrick Theater during '67 -- is arguably the cornerstone of his oeuvre, although Money's snidely pompous social commentary hasn't aged well.) Missing from Mothermania is the talking blues "Trouble Every Day," inspired by the '65 Watts riots, which may prove to be Frank's most enduring work, along with his '85 anti-censorship testimony before Congress. Give him this: He predicted a "fascist theocracy" here 30 years ago, which is looking pretty prescient right now.

4) When a friend pulled my coat to Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit a couple of years ago, it quickly became my record o' that summer (with lines like "Gimme all your money and I'll make some origami, honey," how could you go wrong?). Her newie, Tell Me How You Really Feel, got my attention with a song called "Nameless, Faceless" that alludes to a quote attributed to Margaret Atwood, making it speak to our historical moment: "I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them / I hold my keys / Between my fingers." Barnett's an Aussie from Melbourne -- a country which, in the '90s, seemed to me like an alternative universe America where the Stooges, MC5, Flamin' Groovies, and Nuggets (the music I took much shit for liking when I was a snotnose) were actually popular. She's of a different generation, of course: the one that came of age to Nirvana. (More to the point, she's toured with Sleater-Kinney musos, and they even make a cameo appearance in her "Elevator Operator" video.) Her dry wit and poker-faced delivery mark her as something special among singer-songwriters. She's indicated that the new album's title refers to her "politely restrained" but omnipresent anger, which really comes across in the self-explanatory "I'm Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch." But "Sunday Roast" is a gently uplifting valedictory. Looks like I've got my record for this summer. Even without a CD player in the car.


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