Indeed we do. When Texas was hit hard earlier this week with a historic snowstorm and cold snap that drove temperatures well below zero in some parts of the state for the first time in more than 80 years, our Music Editor, Lauren Halliday, lost power, heat, and water in her new home in Houston. Things have improved slightly in her neighborhood (before going dark again), but we’re letting her focus on her immediate needs and family this week. Please keep everyone in Texas and Louisiana in your prayers. The Record Lady will be back next week. She also has some fantastic equipment from Pro-Ject and Cyrus on its way and will be reviewing both of those items soon.
People are suffering in Texas. Please donate to the American Red Cross if you can.
I guess you’re stuck with the rest of us. We’ll do our best to not botch things up that badly in Lauren’s absence.
We’re also not following any hard rules this week — but we did all agree that it had to be good music that Lauren would probably enjoy and approve of for her column.
R.L. Burnside – A Ass Pocket of Whiskey
R.L. Burnside found success later in life; the Mississippi blues singer and guitarist became a commercial success for the first time in the 1990s on the Fat Possum label and enjoyed that ride until a heart attack in 2002 derailed his ability to tour. Burnside passed away in 2005 but left behind more than 50 years of recordings (his earliest music was recorded in 1967). Burnside often remarked that he “couldn’t play without his whiskey,” and it’s clear that his Delta-inspired blues were influenced by his hard living. He did enjoy success on the road in Europe for many years — long before any N. American audiences knew his name.
A Ass Pocket of Whiskey is a raw sounding recording of a bluesman with not one ounce of pretence. Burnside was the quintessential Juke joint musician who developed his sound up and down the Delta; his powerful voice and driving guitar playing made him an electric performer live on stage. The man played as hard as he lived. – Ian White / Buy at Amazon
Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain
I visited Spain for the first time in 2013, and it was everything that I imagined it would be after a lifetime of Orwell and Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain. Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia captured the events leading up to the Spanish Civil War which started in 1936 and his time in Spain throughout. Davis’ recording landed in my lap. Literally. My grandfather passed away in 1989 and I inherited multiple pressings of the Davis-Gil Evans collaboration and have never stopped listening to this unbridled masterpiece of music. There is nothing traditional about this recording which allows Davis to push the boundaries of his playing. A hauntingly romantic and beautiful anthem that encapsulates the culture, people, and complicated history of Spain and its many regions. – Ian White / Buy at Amazon
John Prine – In Spite of Ourselves
One of the finest songwriters of his generation, John Prine captured life in all of its many facets with humor, poignance, and a genuine understanding of the average person. His passing in 2020 was a massive blow to the world of music, and those who prize the craft of songwriting. His musicianship was beyond reproach; his ability to use the guitar to create such a strong foundation for all of his music was perhaps his most underrated skill. John Prine told stories about people; regular human beings struggling like the rest of us to make their way through the joy, pain, and tumult of the universe. He pivots on this wonderful album and pays tribute to country music that he grew up with. In Spite of Ourselves offers Prine the opportunity to work with some of his favorite singers like Iris Dement, and it delivers some of his best music. – Ian White / Buy at Amazon
Nick Cave – Idiot Prayer (Alone at Alexandra Palace)
I have to admit to not being the biggest fan of Nick Cave through most of his career. I found him a bit all over the place and hard to pin down, and couldn’t get my head wrapped around his oeuvre. All that changed with Ghosteen in 2019; the edge was gone, the music grabbed me, and the album quickly became one of my favorites; this for me was the perfect album he’d been working towards for all his decades in music.
Idiot Prayer came about early in the Covid pandemic as a one-time performance replacing the cancelled Ghosteen tour, with Cave performing solo; just him and a piano. The “concert” was recorded June 19, 2020 and streamed globally in July. The online event was intended to be a one-time thing, but plans changed (due partly to some viewers having video issues during the live stream) and in November there came both a movie (with 4 extra tracks not shown in the initial streaming event) and a live, 22-song double album.
I haven’t seen the Idiot Prayer movie, but the album is a surreal, dreamlike tour-de-force. There’s something other-worldy about the record; the vast, empty ambiance of a live performance alone in the Alexandra Palace concert hall, with just a handful of video and production people in the background, is palpable. Songs span Cave’s entire career, with only 3 songs from Ghosteen. The music is intimate, stark, introspective, minimalist, skeletal. Each song is a mini “Sonata for Voice and Piano,” with the essence of each song revealed in stripped back glory; the album draws you in and doesn’t let go from start to finish.
I don’t typically have the patience to work through a double album in a single sitting, but I’ve had multiple 4-side sessions with Idiot Prayer. It really is that good, and it continues to reward with repeated listens. Worth a spin if you haven’t had the pleasure yet.
Favorite tracks: “Waiting For You,” “Girl In Amber” and “Black Hair.” – Eric Pye / Buy at Amazon
The The – We Can’t Stop What’s Coming
This single was released in 2017 for Record Store Day and has been reissued in “old English white” vinyl. This is just a single (with no B side) but a very good one as Matt Johnson’s voice is as good as its ever been and Johnny Marr plays guitar on this track and describes this song as one the pieces he is most proud of. Making this a must have for not only The The fans but Johnny Marr and The Smiths fans as well. Released on Cineola, ‘We Can’t Stop What’s Coming’ was The The’s first new single in 15 years.
The single is available on their website. – Jeremy Sikora