Forget the famous erratic behavior, the cold unpredictability, the reckless early experiments with LSD, the Mandrax tranquilizer cocktails, the Brylcreem, the detuned guitars, the guitars covered in paint and mirrors, the fights with friends and family, the rudeness, the self-imposed seclusion, the willful aloofness, the misplaced jokes, the tiresome media diagnoses; forget the family history, the well-documented parties and the summer picnics, the class comparisons, the skipped check-ins, the ignored sound checks, the uneven gigs, the “scenes”; forget the angry girlfriends, the angry promoters, the angry studio executives, the bitter bidding wars, the deals gone bad, the deals unexplained and then abandoned; forget the unfulfilled expectations, the unattainable goals, the forgotten futures, the heartbroken well-wishers, the obsessive fans, the myth makers; forget the rules, the grief, the blues, the rejection, the royalties spent, the percentages, the bank accounts, the estate; forget the parents, the best friends, the enemies, the bandmates, the solitudes, the public displays, the unanswered questions; forget the labels, the nicknames, the legends, the fame, the falls from grace, the famous friends, the infamous detractors, the clueless critics; forget the Pat Boone interview, the Dick Clark interview, the John Peel interview, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; forget the “retirement,” the random sightings, the diabetes, the home in St. Margaret’s Square, the death from pancreatic cancer, the sad picking over of his possessions, and the bandwagon tributes. Forget it all. None of that matters now.
Just listen to the music, get lost in his songs. All of Syd Barrett’s solo records have been released on vinyl once again: “The Madcap Laughs” (Harvest/Capitol, 1970), “Barrett” (Harvest/Capitol, 1970), and “Opel” (Harvest/Capitol, 1988). When you hold one of these records, when you give it a spin, the years roll away to reveal a brilliant songwriter and a body of songs as fresh as any being written today. It’s like time travel, without bags or worries.
My most photographed alt-country recording artist, Sera Cahoone, with her full touring band playing a packed “holiday” show at the Tractor Tavern. It was an evening of hometown heartbreak, saying goodbye to another year, wind storms, power outages and darkened streets, and heavy rains. Inside, it was another performance of sad, sweet songs from her latest record, “Deer Creek Canyon” (Sub Pop, 2012). We heard a few new songs, so perhaps a new record is taking shape.
What an age we live in. New vinyl records are pouring forth from an ever-expanding roster of Indie record labels. New Indie bands are drowsily springing up in the green fields like wildflowers. Thorny old major labels are waking up to smell the spring-sweet breeze of change, realizing they too can bud anew, reissuing long-missed classics, because we want them. We need them. And why put limit to what you desire? These are just a few of the LPs that have inspired, this discovering year, that have drawn me out of myself, to walk beside crystalline lakes and streams of the mind, into a new, bright sphere of long-playing dreams. As I reflected on the many kinds of lists I might prepare in this fast-fading final month near, I realized how few singles caught my eye in Twenty Fourteen, as forty-five. I wanted pure flame in Fourteen, I wanted my music pastoral and sweeping, I wanted my hands overflowing with bounty from my keeping. So I went for roads measureless, and spent my days dear… side by side, song by song, heart by heart, taking my time to discover and to savor wandering song. As I compiled this list I decided to stick to records that any might buy. Easy it is to love the hidden and the scarce, but it’s vexing indeed to know of beauty one cannot possess. Mine is an accessible bouquet (almost all on vinyl, if one does not delay). You know you miss the romance, the poetry of vinyl. Go on, make Twenty Fifteen the year of your triumphant arrival at what’s real, what’s elemental, what’s personal; what’s haunted, what’s holy, what’s you. Walk into the green, green hills and fields, in self-trusting yield, follow your heart, and find your own dream-plucked flowers new.
Rowland S. Howard: POP CRIMES (Liberation, reissued 2014)
Bob Dylan & The Band: THE BASEMENT TAPES COMPLETE (Columbia, 2014)
Jack White: LAZARETTO (Third Man, 2014)
Jimi Hendrix: BLUES (Sony, reissued 2011)
The Shivers: MORE (Silence Breaks, 2011)
The Shivers: CHARADES (Keeled Scales, reissued 2014)
The Mastersons: GOOD LUCK CHARM (New West, 2014)
Fear of Men: LOOM (Kanine, 2014)
La Sera: HOUR OF THE DAWN (Hardly Art, 2014)
Will Johnson: SCORPION (Undertow, 2012)
Sleater-Kinney: THE WOODS (Sub Pop, reissued 2014)
Owl John: OWL JOHN (Atlantic, 2014)
David Gray: MUTINEERS (iht, 2014)
Maximo Park: TOO MUCH INFORMATION (V2, 2014)
Various Artists: WHILE NO ONE WAS LOOKING: TOASTING 20 YEARS OF BLOODSHOT RECORDS (Bloodshot, 2014)
“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears—it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more—it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” —Oliver Sacks
This film, about a guy who discovered something others have missed (or just didn’t want to see) for years, while doing some volunteer work, will change how you think music works.
Entering the world of Justin Townes Earle is always a dark journey. The lives of the people who emerge from his songs, record after record, live and die in borderlands, just out of sight of hope and happiness. Some of their hardships are self-made, others are just fate, caught in the timeless cycles of hard times. Some are lost in love, others are drinking and sinking fast, leaving notes and disappearing out windows or into dark waters. His latest record, “Single Mothers” (Vagrant Records, 2014), is filled with worry. But beware, Earle is a master fiction writer. It’s a serious mistake trying to divine facts about his personal life from any of his songs. It’s a subject that incurs his bark, and his bite, in interviews. The novelist in Earle is what propels his work into such successful emotional spaces with so much force. Even from New York, Earle keeps pushing his modern Nashville sound into rootsy new spaces, keeping to tradition, but forever searching and trying new textures.