Categories
Playlist record reviews

Playlist – October 2022

Last monthly playlist since December I’ll dedicate to my three best-of playlists (also glad there’s less paid writing in Dec because I churn out a lot of year-end words in those bloated gratitude exercises). Between working on this and writing it, I went to New York for the best trip – and the one that felt the most like a “real” NYC trip – since COVID first struck and my and Anne’s first trip to Mexico City (which I loved), but also got to enjoy my favorite season in town. It’s been a particularly good autumn at the end of a roller coaster year. To a holiday season filled with more joy than guilt. Onward, my friends.

https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/1174690c-c1f0-4ebb-aa95-02bb2d8e6343

  • Vieux Farka Touré and Khruangbin, “Diarabi” – I’ve really enjoyed all Khruangbin’s collaborations lately but Ali, their collaboration with Touré on a collection of his father’s classic songs, takes that love to another level. I’ve talked about seeing the elder Touré early in college and that being a huge gateway for me to other sounds and other connections across the world of music, and in a similar way, this re-imagining always keeps the vital core of the song but doesn’t treat it like a museum piece. Every track here is perfect, and we’ve got a reminder here of the covers album as an act of love.
  • Monophonics featuring Kelly Finnigan, “The Shape of My Teardrops” – Long one of my favorite psych-soul bands, San Francisco’s Monophonics, team up with vocalist/lyricist Kelly Finnigan for a concept album built around the artfully crumbling Sage Motel. This track puts them in that silky, saloon tempo they ride so well, drenched in strings and echoing background vocals. “Somebody’s crying over you.”
  • Brian Harnetty, “Thinking Out Loud in a Hermitage” – One of the brightest lights of Columbus composers, Harnetty has done some of his best work interacting with archives. I was sorry Anne and I were out of town for the live debut of this work. His new one, Words and Silences, takes on the American monk and scholar Thomas Merton, using recordings of his own voice. Not “takes on” in terms of grappling with but trying to understand, trying to see Merton as he is and as he presented himself. The arrangements around the vocals often have a cycling, hypnotic feeling, not getting lost in the details but letting them shine just like the diary entries, but those details are all massively important; the clarinet on this track breaks my heart open to let the light in. It’s the best, most fully realized work yet from someone I don’t think has ever made a bad record.
  • Gustav Lundgren Trio, “My Dear Country” – This bucolic title track off Swedish jazz guitarist Lundgren’s latest record teams him with drummer Karl-Henrik Ousbäck (who’s worked with Lage Lund and Ambrose Akinmusire, among others) and bassist Pär-Ola Landin whose melodic lines add some additional gravity and nuance to the gorgeous subtlety of the tune and Ousbäck’s textured drumming (those dancing cymbals around the three-minute mark) changes the complexion of the song’s atmosphere as well as adding propulsion.
  • Bruce Barth Trio, “In Memoriam – for George Floyd & so many others” – Pianist Bruce Barth’s gorgeous new record Dedication features bassist Vicente Archer (a key component of the last couple of great Jeremy Pelt and Orrin Evans records) and drummer Montez Coleman who I think I first heard with Roy Hargrove and it’s a perfect meshing between piano and rhythm section. Befitting the title, the record features beautiful tributes to fellow pianists McCoy Tyner and Tommy Flanagan but I kept coming back to this heartbreaking elegy to black men killed by police brutality.
  • Oren Ambarchi, “IV” – I’ve been a fan of Oren Ambarchi since finding his work with the eai crowd like Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M in the early ’00s and, not long after, his crucial contributions to several Sunn O))) records and side projects. His new one, Shebang, is his most immediately accessible and overall satisfying album to date. The four numbered tracks add layers and textures, climaxing in this burst of shimmering color, featuring Jim O’Rourke’s synths, BJ Cole’s pedal steel, Chris Abrahams’ piano, and Julia Reidy’s 12-string.
  • Tigran Hamasyan featuring Mark Turner, “All The Things You Are” – Pianist Hamasyan delivered his first record of standards with the stunning StandArt, and this take on one of the quintessential standards gave me chills all the way down. At times pulsing, floating in space, like the square in a Rothko painting or a Steve Reich piece, always coming back to that perfect melody, dancing with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner.
  • Meg Baird, “Will You Follow Me Home?” – I got into Meg Baird through her time in the Philly free-folk band Espers and have remained a rabid fan through multiple solo records, her time in Heron Oblivion (who were my absolute favorite part of the little Columbus psych fest Melted a few years ago), and various other collaborations. This advance track off her upcoming solo disc Furling is everything I love about her work, that stunning, pure-water voice front and center with backings that have a warm-light ’70s quality but with enough weirdness, enough gaps around the edges to keep it interesting.
  • Melissa Stylianou featuring Gene Bertoncini and Ike Sturm, “It Might As Well Be Spring” – One of my favorite contemporary jazz singers, I got into Stylianou through her work in the vocal trio Duchess (seeing them at the 55 Bar at a happy hour show, sitting down the bar from half a dozen big-name band leaders, is still a memory I treasure). She tears into one of my favorite standards – in a more straight-ahead take than the Hamayasan earlier – with a legend of jazz guitar, Gene Bertoncini, and the warm, swinging bass of Ike Strum.
  • George Strait, “Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me” – This song was one of my gateway drugs to Billy Joe Shaver, in the version by Tom T. Hall, and so it’s no surprise that this take on it by one of the great gods of the Olympus of Texas Music on the stacked-front-to-back-with-gold tribute album Live Forever would have been one of my standouts. The layers of George Strait in his Lion in Winter phase covering a song by one of his influences and doing a song that influence wrote as a young man trying to place himself in that great lineage of Texas singer-songwriters give this some additional juice for me, but it’s also just a stellar read on one of the great ballads. “Well, I reckon we’re gonna ramble till hell freezes over.”
  • Terence Etc, “In Contemplation of Clair’s Scent” – The hurtling, echoing but tightly controlled drums on this infectious track tied it together with the Andy/Sherwood collab of the previous track. I knew Terence Nance as a filmmaker, but this supernova of an album, VORTEX, was my first exposure to him as a singer and songwriter. The grooves are refreshing and surprising, the lyrics finely chiseled but also elliptical. I have no idea what this will be like live – if there are even any plans for it – but if it comes within 200 miles of me, I’ll have a ticket and be in the front.
  • Electric Shit featuring Walter Daniels, “La Bondad Y La Maldad” – This dovetails to help sum up a year of great but expensive and exhausting travel. While researching the fantastic Mexico trip Anne did most of the planning for, I discovered a show Electric Shit was headlining. Looking into them, I found their release from this year teamed the Ecatepec band with gnarled Austin harmonica master Walter Daniels (who co-led those South Filthy records I love and was so glad to finally see them live this year in Memphis) on a tribute record to the Atlanta band The Subsonics for this raging Spanish cover of “Good Half – Bad Half.”
  • Bad Manor, “Hallowed Ground” – This closing track from the black metal band Bad Manor’s delightful debut full-length The Haunting welds a sinister groove to lacerating guitars and a barbed howl, and hits a similar throw-on-your-old-leather-jacket-and-thrash-in-a-dark-room sweet spot for me as the last track.
  • Horace Andy, “Come After Midnight” – I liked reggae legend Horace Andy’s earlier record this year, Midnight Rocker, but I love producer Adrian Sherwood’s rework of Midnight Scorchers, especially this moody, seductive lead-off track. Summoning up a late-night dispatch with the loneliness and urgency of a broadcast from a dying star.
  • Lustre, “Faith” – I’m late to the party on this ambient/atmospheric black metal band, but sole member Henrik Sunding was in a band I liked quite a bit, Hypothermia. And their new record, A Thirst for Summer Rain enraptured me from the first few notes, especially this lovely instrumental that sprays acidic guitars over beds of synths.
  • The Delines, “My Blood Bleeds The Darkest Blue” – I love the Delines just as much as I loved lead singer Amy Boone’s (Damnations TX) and principal songwriter Willy Vlautin’s (Richmond Fontaine) previous bands, which I didn’t think was possible, my ardor for those earlier groups was so strong. But every record has grown that passion for this band, and the new single The Lost Duets actually has their voices directly interacting with one another, so it took me to the moon. The splashes of trumpet and organ stabs like dust swirling in the afternoon sunlight are among the details that make this tune feel like a hand-chiseled window into a world we shouldn’t see.
  • Oakwalker, “Future Lover” – This Memphis band features the lush multi-tracked vocals of Victoria Dowdy (who also plays rhythm guitar) and co-writer/co-leader Ethan Baker’s violin with a swinging rhythm section of Graham Winchester on drums (who’s the secret weapon of what feels like most of Memphis these days, including Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks, The Turnstyles, Devil Train, and the stellar reunited Compulsive Gamblers Anne and I saw this year) and Tyler Marberry. This walked a similar line through the landscape of the bloodied but unbowed as the previous track, tipping a bit more toward hope for the future.
  • Plains, “Problem With It” – I’ve been a big fan of Katie Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee since Cerulean Salt but this collaboration, I Walked With You a Ways, was my first exposure to Jess Williamson. Another almost impossible choice of a song, but this loping rootsy tune about holding the people in our lives – and ourselves – to the right standard, scratched an itch down deep in me. That electric guitar solo – not sure if it’s Brad Cook or Alex Farrar – is in my personal hall of fame for concise solos that sum up the complicated emotions of the melody and lyric. “I drive fast on high alert past the Jet Pep and the Baptist church. On the county line, I’ll be a songbird softly heard, my loose change falling out. Got a heartbreak burn, take the quickest route on this four-lane highway. I’ll trace it in the clouds.”
  • First Aid Kit, “Out of My Head” – This second single from the Swedish folk duo’s stellar record Palomino weaves hints of shadowy drone through a nimble dance beat and sticky harmonies. “All my dreaming, all my trials – where they’ll lead, does it matter now?”
  • Dawn Richard and Spencer Zahn, “Umber” – I’m still getting over Second Line, last year’s record that helped cement Dawn Richard among my favorite current R&B singers (and the incendiary set at Big Ears this year), so this collaboration with friendly acquaintance Spencer Zahn (his band Father Figure crashed on my floor but I didn’t formally meet him until the next year’s Winter Jazzfest) was right up my alley. Zahn’s textured chamber jazz arrangements meld with Richard’s dynamic, nuanced voice and lyrics in a way that makes almost too much sense. Every track on Pigments is winning, but the shifting of foreground and background on this one kept calling to me when I tried to choose one.
  • Urban Elegance, “Midnight Flowers” – This homegrown collaboration unites Columbus heavyweights producer/electronic musician Storm9000 with bassist/former guitar maker to the stars Phil Maneri and harpist Trista Hill. It’s not only a great example of community in my town; I believe this collab was sparked by a meeting at my friend Scott Woods’ invaluable Streetlight Guild space.
  • Batts, “All That I Need” – Nightline, her sophomore record with project Batts was my first exposure to Melbourne singer-songwriter Tanya Batts, and it took my breath away. The crunching rhythm section, Brendan Tsui and Lachlan O’Kane augmented by slipper synths, rubs against the soft-focus light around the powerful vocal. “How you feeling, babe? Has it hit you yet? I can see the whole wide world. Let’s never forget how we feel right now.”
  • Illogic, “Passion Fruit” – Illogic was the first rapper in Columbus I was a big fan of, seeing him on stages around campus and making great records with killing producers like Blueprint, DJ PRZM, and Blockhead in the early ’00s. I lost track of his work for a few years but his new record The Transition not only finds him growing into maturity without being boring, it also finds him coming into his own as a beatmaker with warm, classic tracks that speak to today as much as they conjure nostalgia.
  • Scratcha DVA with Tribal Brothers, DJ Polo, and Nasty Jack, “Pull Up – Rhubarb and Custard Vocal” – I’ve been a big fan of British electronic musician Scratcha DVA since I first heard his work a few years ago and I’m pretty sure the person lending some excellent rhymes to this is Nasty Jack but I couldn’t find any additional information about this track. The sliding clatter of the beat and those low tones speaks to me, a Saturday night rager but also with some wistfulness shot through it.
  • Micah Schnabel, “Dirtbag” – Schnabel’s solo work has gotten deeper and knottier, more complex but lit by a brilliant blue flame. He plants a flag against the encroaching wave of homogenization and for the pleasures of community, of being there for the people you love and letting that include yourself. And he ties that to a pulsating groove (anchored here by Jason Winner on drums and Micah on bass) and a singalong chorus that reminds me of my pal Angela saying “Everything of theirs is an anthem,” over a decade ago. “You can ridicule my resume. I did not ask how you get paid. So tell me, how do you get paid?”
  • Labretta Suede and the Motel 6, “Teenagers Gettin’ High” – This New Zealand-bred but Dallas-based retro rock group are putting out one fizzy, swinging stomp after another, and this burst of greasy energy might be my favorite yet.
  • Los Carnash, “Borracho” – Another band I discovered doing research for the Mexico City trip and I think they were the one band we managed to see at the Sonido Necrotico show. A pummeling drummer and a charismatic screamer of a frontman power these short bursts of metal-flecked punk (but on the opposite end of the spectrum from metalcore) power.
  • Damjonboi, “Top Shelf” – Rising Detroit rapper and producer Damjonboi works an appealingly easy going flow, sliding between and around a menacing beat that laces electronic handclaps and stuttered hi-hats with piano stabs and slashing strings.
  • Mali Obomsawin, “Blood Quantum (Nəwewəčəskawikαpáwihtawα)” – Bassist, percussionist, and vocalist Mali Obomsawin, of the First Nation at Odanak, made a powerful statement of purpose, using jazz, the chants of her people (those she grew up with and the contemporary chants like the one underpinning this piece, co-written with Lokotah Sanborn and Carol Dana of the Penobscot Nation, and every other form available). A paean to the beauty and hopefulness in defiance, with a crushing rhythm section that finds Obomsawin partnered with drummer Savannah Harris and guitarist Miriam Elhaji and a brilliant horn section of Allison Burik on alto sax and bass clarinet, Noah Campbell on saxophones, and co-producer Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet and flugelhorn.
  • Jake Blount featuring Demeanor, “Give Up The World” – Jake Blount’s at the fore of the much-needed corrective movement of artists reclaiming the banjo and old time music, tying it to its African roots and telling stories that speak to the here and now in a way that’s both beautiful and refreshing. This year’s The New Faith, is his finest statement yet. On this track, Blount teams with rapper Demeanor (Rhiannon Giddens’ nephew), bassist Mali Oobomsawin, and guitarist/violinist/coproducer Brian Slattery for a record that’s as catchy as it is sharp. “We must leave this world behind.”
  • Julianna Riolino, “Isn’t It a Pity” – Toronto-based singer-songwriter Riolino works with more contemporary roots forms, ’70s Laurel Canyon and ’60s pop soul (that marvelous carnival/cocktail party organ from Thomas Hammerton, Anthony Ronaldi’s bari sax and the shattering, rising guitar solo from I suspect Daniel Romano but could be producer Aaron Goldstein) around her voice like that first bolt of light coming onto the frost-covered window with a great cup of coffee, and witty lyrics with a strong point of view but room for everything else in the world. “A wily old cadaver, a velvet swinging hammer, a windmill of a force is what keeps us both apart.”
  • Rhianna, “Lift Me Up” – Generally I’m on record as preferring the dance numbers – even, or especially, the minor key tension-filled ones – of Rhianna’s catalog, but she his this breathtaking ballad so far out of the park I keep playing it over and over again, slack-jawed. “Burning in a hopeless dream. Hold me when you go to sleep.”
  • Shy Martin, “Wish I Didn’t Know You” – Swedish singer-songwriter Shy Martin splits the difference of the last couple tracks in this spiderweb of a track, seemingly fragile but detailed and incredibly strong.
  • Sunny War, “No Reason” – Bringing the tempo up a little with this more direct anthem – that still doesn’t skimp on the complications of the world singer-songwriter Sunny War aims to reflect. One of the acts I was sorriest to miss at this year’s Nelsonville Music Festival and I’m kicking myself even harder with every song she puts out. “Don’t know you well but I can bet you did some things that you regret.”
  • Nora O’Connor, “Follow Me” – Nora O’Connor’s one of those voices I think of whenever I think of the Chicago country scene, one of the not-in-my-town scenes I gravitated toward first, from her work with The Blacks, Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, the Flat Five, Robbie Fulks, and Mavis Staples. But I get even more excited when there’s new solo work under her own name. “Follow Me” doesn’t disappoint; it’s an easygoing stroll through a sunset when you don’t necessarily know where you’re headed.
  • Seth Avett, “The Poet Game” – Another stroll through memories and an understanding of the way they point toward the future, as Avett brother Seth takes on one of my all time favorite songs as part of a tribute EP to one of the great songwriters, Seth Avett sings Greg Brown. It doesn’t reveal anything new about the song but the little pauses, the way he finds a middle ground between the phrasing of the original and his style of singing, works for me on every level. “I had a friend who drank too much and played too much guitar, and we sure got along. Reel-to-reels rolled across the country near and far, with letters, poems, and songs. But these days he don’t talk to me and he won’t tell me why; I miss him every time I hear his name. I don’t know what he’s doing or why our friendship died while we play the poet game.”
  • Alela Diane, “Dream a River” – From that first line, “I just returned to say goodbye,” over the circling acoustic guitar riff, this song stood out to be on Alela Diane’s consistently excellent Looking Glass album and when those strings come in, I’m transported. “I hear her silver bracelets down the hall. That, and the lingering cry of a song. Everything’s exactly as we left it but where’s the sun come through?”
  • Loraine James, “The Perception of Me (Crazy Nigger)” – The surge in interest in Julius Eastman, a tragically overlooked composer of the downtown scene in ’70s and ’80s New York, has been a blessing to chamber music lovers and to me personally. Phantom Limb’s stellar work assembling and releasing his work also extends into projects like this where electronic composer/producer Loraine James uses some of his most iconic pieces as a jumping off point. This revisioning takes the original piece, which I first heard on Unjust Malaise for four pianos, and removes the percussive part of the hypnotic movements, stretching it out, pulling it back, and working it for different types of keyboard while retaining both its beautiful and its raging, powerful defiance.
  • Mavis Staples, “If It Be Your Will” – I always end with something that feels to me like a prayer and this is both one of the best examples of that form in a pop song, Leonard Cohen’s original closer from Various Positions, given a definitive reading by one of the great American voices. Blue Note’s stellar all-around tribute record to Cohen, Here It Is finds Larry Klein assembling an all-star core band of Bill Frisell (whose chiming guitar comping is crucial to the atmosphere throughout), the rhythm section of Kevin Hays on piano, Scott Colley on bass, and Nate Smith on drums (who fit together so perfectly, especially the drifting clouds of Smith’s brushwork here), longtime Frisell collaborator Greg Leisz on pedal steel, and Immanuel Wilkins on saxophone (following, teasing out the textures in Staples’ read on the song). It’s a perfect track on one of the few great-all-the-way-through tribute albums. Thank you all, as always, for taking this trip with me.
Categories
Playlist record reviews

Playlist – September 2022

Once again – as befits my favorite cultural season – a lot of writing for other outlets, so I’m racing to get this one done and out before New York this week. But also as befitting my favorite season in general, so much great work. A little more meditative maybe but also some hard partying tracks. Hope you’re all doing well, whether you inherently love fall as much as I do or not. Love to anyone who takes the time to listen to and/or reads these.

https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/94d5c558-a938-471d-a46a-1bb7945a4eed

  • Beth Orton, “Arms Around a Memory” – I was one of the many people who got my head split open by Beth Orton’s Trailer Park when I was 16 and every record through Sugaring Season blew me away, with 2002’s Jim O’Rourke-produced Comfort of Strangers as a personal high water mark. Her new one, Weather Alive, after a six-year wait, brings me back to the best parts of all of those records while stirring in new colors. This track, with a combination of English (including drummer Tom Skinner who knocked my face in this spring playing with Sons of Kemet) and NYC (bassist Shazad Ismaily who shows up here with so much regularity I should send him something, Antibalas’s Stuart Bogie on sax, Winged Victory for the Sullen’s Dustin O’Halloran, and guitarist Greg McMurray whose guitar is a key voice of the current chamber music scene) band centered around Orton’s piano and voice, became an immediate front runner in a record I have a hard time picking favorites from. The subtle, insistent rhythms and repetition and the expansiveness of the synths, backing vocals, and reeds feel like walking through streets you know almost too well, while Orton’s murmured vocal wrestles with ghosts and finds exactly the place to put that memory in a way I still struggle with more often than not. For me, this feels like walking through New York in the morning – helped by the specific reference in the first verse and the Johnny Thunders nod in the title – but I know it works just as well for those memories in the long shadows of London or Kansas City. “And I got to questioning my credibility like you’re the reliable witness to what I feel, though I can still taste the sweetness of what we had, and there’s no one will kiss me as deep as you know you have. Once that I saw how to see all of your love was looking back at me, it was hard not to fulfill the prophecy we could have been.”
  • Afghan Whigs, “Domino and Jimmy” – The new Afghan Whigs record is still sinking in for me; it’s a slower build than the last few post-reunion albums. But I loved this expansive, cracked ballad immediately, and not just because it reunites them with my pal and Scrawl co-leader Marcy Mays, reviving her character from “My Curse” and putting her in direct dialogue with the male half, voiced, of course, by Dulli. It’s a prime example of their rocket ride to the bottom songs, land they plow better than anyone else I can think of, giving glory to people in their worst moments. “You are lost in sight and lost inside my head. You seem to insinuate that I leave. I know it’s been a while. But, baby, if you were waiting for me, we’re going out in style.”
  • Terri Lyne Carrington, “Circling” – One of the great drummers, composers, and bandleaders of our time, Terri Lyne Carrington, turned her attention to a much-needed project to start redressing the place of women in the jazz composition canon with her editing of The New Standards Vol. 1, 100 pieces by women and including many of the best composers working now. This beautiful Gretchen Parlato song augments Carrington’s killer core group of rhythm section mates Kris Davis on piano and Linda May Han Oh on bass, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, and Matthew Stevens on guitar (who co-produces with Carrington), with guitarist Julian Lage, vocalist Michael Mayo, and percussionist Negah Santos – someone please correct me if I’ve gotten the vocalist wrong, I tried to piece this together from partial credits I could find googling. The warm, swirling melody and the perfect empathy of the group – Carrington’s cymbals on the verses, cutting through the dancing guitars, Davis’ piano at precisely the right moments; Payton’s trumpet solo that feels like liquid light – made this an immediate standout on another record that has so many highlights for me, and a song that hit me at a moment I really needed it. “Stop wishing on so many stars above. All that you’ve done has come from wanting love. What if we met at some other place in time? There’d still be rain. There’d still be sun to shine. Your happiness to give away is so much more than all the games they play. So be done.”
  • Garbage Greek, “Bad Habit” – I can’t believe I haven’t put something from this record – one of my favorites of the year and one of my favorite Columbus rock records in a very long time – on a previous playlist. I’ve long liked Garbage Greek, the harder garage project of guitarist/lead vocalist Lee Mason and bassist/vocalist Patrick Koch when schedules stopped their previous (also great) band Comrade Question, but hearing it stripped to a three-piece from five, those two with powerhouse drummer Jason Winner, occasionally augmented live (and on this record) with percussion and backing vocals from Adam Scoppa after the pandemic, shot up to favorite band status. And that added potency is distilled into their finest record, Quality Garbage, which is everything I want from garage rock: muscular hooks, grooves that work as well for a dance party as a fist fight, lyrics that stick but aren’t showy. This song hit me early, but there isn’t a bad track to be found. “I have a nasty habit of forgiving you.”
  • Black Thought and Danger Mouse, featuring Michael Kiwanuka, “Aquamarine” – Roots frontman Black Thought stretches in different directions on Cheat Codes, a stunning collaborative record with producer Danger Mouse. This track, featuring Michael Kiwanuka on the hook, combines dusty samples with gleaming synths and chopped guitar stings as the perfect backdrop for his laid back, layered rhymes. “Trying to find soul again, but my thoughts corrupt the vials and contaminate the console again. It’s a shame, but I cannot complain though I am not the same.”
  • Cory Branan featuring Brian Fallon and Jason Isbell, “When In Rome, When in Memphis” – Memphis Americana singer-songwriter Branan was the first small club show I saw in Columbus after getting vaccinated, and it was a wake-up call to just how good his songs are and his rich coffee after a long night voice just seems to get stronger and more interesting. His new record When I Go I Ghost is a similar reminder of the power of his work, full of interesting arrangements and, while it’s early in my listening, the equal of instant classics The No-Hit Wonder and Adios. This single, with Fallon and Isbell lending backing vocals, is a classic on-the-road rocker with a huge riff and big drums, but wrapped in a little more abstraction, leaning into the mystery that the genre tends to strip out.
  • Danielle Ponder, “Only The Lonely” – My first trip to Nelsonville Music Festival in many years had some frustrations, but it did my heart good to see how much so many of my dearest friends loved it, and it had a few sets that blew me away, including my first exposure to the torchy R&B of Danielle Ponder. Seeing her create such a degree of intimacy in a huge field from the main stage, then digging into her records, has me dying to see her in a club. The crisp crack of the drums under a phantom smoke choir and suspended electric piano chords underpins a vocal as rich and potent as any of the great soul singers of history. “There’s a truth in the dark. It’s gonna break you down, so steel your heart. ‘You don’t love me, you just lonely,’ that’s what my mind say. Your daddy left you guilty, that’s what you don’t see.”
  • The McCrary Sisters featuring Allen McCrary, “Run On” – I’m a sucker for classic gospel quartet music and I’ve been a big fan of the McCrary Sisters for about a decade; I think I came to them through their connections to the Fairfield Four. Coming on the heels of the sad news of Deborah McCrary’s passing, they released this stormy version of the gospel standard “Run On” I heard on one of my Grandmother’s records but snapped into my attention on the Blind Boys of Alabama 2001 record Spirit of the Century. The McCrarys give us a definitive version of a song done so well by so many.
  • Dr. John featuring Aaron Neville and Katie Pruitt, “End of the Line” – Dr. John’s posthumous album Things Happen That Way also features moving versions of “Old Time Religion” featuring Willie Nelson, “Funny How Time Slips Away,” and the Cowboy Jack Clement-penned title track, but I kept coming back to this laid-back swinging take on the Traveling Wilburys song, with fellow New Orleans icon Aaron Neville and Nashville singer Katie Pruitt. Wreathed in second-line horns like smoke, with subtle church-steeped grooves from the great drummer Herlin Riley (powering the best of the post-“Tain” Watts era of Wynton Marsalis) and Jon Cleary’s B3. Hearing those three voices come together on “I’m satisfied” touches me every single time.
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band, “Soul Sweet Song” – Sometimes the undeniably strong Tedeschi Trucks Band gets a little too jammy for me – hearing this as I was playing with the order of the playlist, Anne said, “What are you some kind of a hippie?” – but there’s a warmth and a love for the world their best work has that resonates with me and this is a prime example of them firing on all cylinders. Band members Gabe Dixon and Mike Mattison wrote this in tribute to the late multi-instrumentalist Kofi Burbridge and Susan Tedeschi gives it a vocal like a bonfire, the only sign of life for miles, in the darkness, the promise of warmth and the sun rising again. “In the memory of your melody, when the dawn breaks out, the birds all sing. And I feel your rhythm moving me, ’cause your soul’s sweet song’s still singing.”
  • Late Night Cardigan, “B-Movie” – I hear a similar play of sunlight and shadow to the previous couple of tracks on this tune by Memphis four-piece Late Night Cardigan from their terrific record Life is Bleak and It’s My Cheat Day. Vocalist Kacee Russell sells the loneliness of trying to make someone suddenly being gone make sense, as her and Stephen Turner’s guitars intertwine over the crunching rhythm section of Jesse Mansfield and Zach Mitchell’s steadily turning up the flames.
  • Rich Ruth, “Desensitization and Reprocessing” – For me, this centerpiece of Rich Ruth’s (Nashville musician Michael Ruth) simultaneously mournful and majestic record I Survived, It’s Over is one of the keystones of instrumental music as a way of processing trauma, especially of processing the pandemic we’re still in but I don’t want to make it sound like therapy. The compositional rigor, the delicate layering, the building to fiery free jazz horns and clicking back into the more placid textures of synth and pedal steel, all make it a piece that can stand up to whatever previous associations a listener brings to it.
  • Madison Cunningham, “My Rebellion” – I was a fan of Madison Cunningham’s work on Chris Thile’s Live From Here but never caught one of her own records until this year’s spectacular Revealer. This song’s staccato, repetitive pattern on Cunningham’s guitar ties it to the previous songs as it brings up the emotional intensity and forward motion of the playlist with a supple vocal that takes the melody into surprising places and leaves the lyrics rattling in the listener’s skull. “What is wrong? Have you forgot I’m not a stranger? You’re lead-footed and headstrong and the quiet turns me into a rambler.”
  • Sick Thoughts, “Someone I Can Talk To” – I’ve been a fan of New Orleans Sick Thoughts since first seeing them a number of years ago in Memphis when they were kind of the ur-Gonerfest band, punchy rhythm section in the intense undertow of frontman Drew Owen’s powerful presence and energy. But their new record Heaven is No Fun, and the drop-to-my-knees reminder of everything I love about rock and roll set Anne and I got to see at this year’s Gonerfest took them to another level, the songs are sharper, taking the ear candy riffs that would be tossed off on a bridge on earlier records and allowed to develop into whole songs. A heaping dose of Thin Lizzy in a stew of classic ’77 punk and early ’00s garage but done as well as anyone’s doing it, with more hooks in that scene than anything I’ve heard since Gentleman Jesse’s Leaving Atlanta. My rock record for the end of summer and my favorite record loaded in the barrel for next summer. “Well, there are sometimes that I don’t know where I am. And there are some things that I’ll never understand. There must be someone I can talk to about this. I never realized how much friendship can be missed. But it’s no good now, there’s no one but we two. And I’m alone in the city with you.”
  • Laura Benitez and the Heartache, “Let the Chips Fall” – San Francisco’s Laura Benitez and her crack band crafted one of my favorite sets of classic Bakersfield country/rockabilly in a while with California Centuries. Dave Zirbel’s pedal steel stands out on this track amid a tight rhythm section and Benitez’s clipped, punky vocal on the verses and soaring notes on the choruses. “It took me too many years to start to be brave, and I gotta move now while there’s still a part of me that’s left to save. I know that failing ain’t worse than doing nothing at all, so let the dice roll and let the chips fall.”
  • Snakehips featuring Tinashe, “Who’s Gonna Love You Tonight” – British electronic duo Snakehips reteam with one of my favorite current R&B singers, Tinashe, on this slinky sun-drenched beckoning/indictment rising to a powerful gospel-seared climax. “Who’s gonna tell you that you ain’t just high? Show you that you love this life.”
  • Makaya McCraven, “This Place, That Place” – I’ve been a fan of Makaya McCraven since the very first time I heard him – drawn to that first record because my old friend Tony Barba played on a track or two. And that fandom increased exponentially when I finally saw him life; he merges the repetitive, cell-based constructions of hip-hop, electronic dance music, and modern composition with the strengths of classic free jazz, a nimbleness on his kit, and a Mingus-esque talent for bringing out exactly the strengths of his players. When I interviewed him earlier this year to preview a (stunning) Wexner Center show Anne and I took her Mom to, he talked about the upcoming record, and how great it was that each of the labels he’d worked with recently, free jazz standard bearers International Anthem, British electronic stars XL, and legendary new music label Nonesuch, were teaming up to release In These Times. Hearing it, that almost feels like a metaphor. This record takes everything he’s learned and worked with up to now, especially in the larger band shows like the mind-blowing Webster Hall hit I saw at Winter Jazz Fest a few years ago and ties it all together while also moving forward. Brandee Younger’s harp is a key component of this track, tying the strings together with the horns and Joel Ross’ vibraphone.
  • Julian Lage, “Let Every Room Sing” – Julian Lage’s View With a Room reunites him with the crackling, empathetic rhythm section bassist Jorge Roeder, who I’ve been a fan of since hearing him with trombonist Ryan Keberle’s Catharsis, and Bad Plus/Happy Apple founder Dave King on drums, and adds the additional element of guitarist Bill Frisell who also has an extensive history with King. Their two lines snake and crack around one another in a way that always is surprising and invigorating. There’s enough crunchy noise on this Lage original to remind old heads of Frisell’s early work but without forsaking the Americana leanings and gorgeous melodies of both their more recent outings.
  • Nikki Lane, “Live/Love” – I was a fan of Nikki Lane’s songs and voice the second I heard All or Nothin’, and each record has deepened and broadened that appreciation, but Denim & Diamonds feels like the purest distillation of her magic yet. Whether it’s extra time on the songs, an affinity for Josh Homme’s sympathetic production – he also plays piano, percussion, and mellotron on this track – that works as well on gentle, west coast lopes like this one as the stomping dance numbers, or just a magic confluence of a number of factors, this is one of the most addictive albums I’ve sank into all year.
  • Ice Spice, “Munch (Feelin’ U)” – This Bronx-based rapper’s breakthrough single was all over this summer and coming to it a little late made me very nostalgic for the days I would have heard this in a club or coming out of a car rolling down the street. In less than two minutes, with a creeping track by Riot, it’s a perfect shot in the arm of low-key and well-earned braggadocio. “Sayin’ you love me but what do that mean? Pretty as fuck, and he like that I’m mean.”
  • Snarky Puppy, “Honiara” – Instrumental jazz-funk band Snarky Puppy returned this year with Empire Central, continuing the snarling crime-movie jazz tendency I loved so much on Culcha Vulcha (and the barn-burning live set Andrew Patton and I caught on that tour) but, true to form, bringing in elements from their various side projects and never staying still for too long. The woozy horns and bursting-at-the-seams production keep any part of this from getting too tidy, too clean, and it’s deep enough for the listeners but it’ll get a party out of their chairs.
  • Dmo!, “Save Your Soul” – I found this through one of my favorite local musicians, writer-keyboardist Brandon “BJazz” Scott who co-wrote and co-produced this with Aaron Hardin. I got to know BJazz’s work through his accompanying Talisha Holmes on some of her best thorny R&B and Hardin has a resume including Raheem DeVaughn and Eric Roberson, and this smooth and smoky cry into the darkness is squarely in both of those sweet spots. I couldn’t find much about the singer here but believe I’ll be checking for him going forward.
  • Madi Task, “Quitter” – A newer (or at least newer to me) Columbus singer-songwriter, with some similar gospel tendencies in the piano line and the way she leans way back behind the beat and the lunges at it. It’s raw and vibrant, powerful and a little unformed. “I fill up my cup but it tastes mediocre. The conversations are relying on me. There’s nothing to sip on and nothing to say; I’ll save my wit for a better day. Can’t take the silence? Go back to sleep, ’cause I don’t owe you a goddam thing.”
  • My Idea, “Cry Mfer” – I loved Palberta so I’m obviously interested in whatever else Lily Konigsberg is working on, and this collaboration with Nate Amos didn’t disappoint. The repetition and mix of warmth and chill groove feels like a cold breeze walking through a city and her voice cuts through it like streetlight daggers. “In all my life, I can hardly say I’ve been a light-caster. Found that talking to God was a lot faster.”
  • Courtney Marie Andrews, “These Are The Good Old Days” – The shimmering, mysterious keyboard riff that opens this track sets the tone of questioning memory even while the memory’s happening, interrogating motives, and is a magic springboard (along with other subtle touches on the arrangment: an acid trail guitar, brushed drums) for her candle-in-the-dark vocals in this standout from Andrews’ Loose Future album. “People like me think feelings are facts; falling in love gives us a heart attack.”
  • John Thayer featuring Tara Shupe, “I Couldn’t Find It In the Dark” – John Thayer from the SF band Monkey Lizards made a perfect slightly-bent Americana record with The Hottest Record Of The Year and this song, collaborating with Tara Shupe as co-writer and playing mandolin, piano, and bass along with adding magnetic harmony vocals to Thayer’s holy quaver and guitar and Brian Surano’s subtle, sauntering drums. “I been up every trail, down every road. I’d ask anyone, wherever I would go. Look for it in their faces, and I could see a spark. But I couldn’t find it in the dark.”
  • James Brandon Lewis Quartet, “Molecular” – Saxophonist James Brandon Lewis is killing it lately, from tracks with artists like Moor Mother, William Parker, and Alan Braufman, to one of the greatest contemporary jazz masterpieces Jesup Wagon. I was already sorry I hadn’t gotten to see him live yet, but this new live record with his stunning quartet MSM Molecular Systematic Music – Live rubs salt in that wound. Perfect, empathetic group playing with the insanely tight but never airless rhythm section of Brad Jones and Chad Taylor alongside pianist Aruán Ortiz who fully redirects gravity with that solo about four minutes in, playing killer compositions.
  • Wayne Shorter, Terri Lyne Carrington, Leo Genovese, Esperanza Spalding, “Endangered Species” – One of the great saxophone players of the 20th century, Wayne Shorter has never rested on his laurels or stopped searching, stopped question. This crack quartet of drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and pianist Leo Genovese (who all get front-of-record billing), tear into this Shorter composition originally heard on his oft-maligned ’80s record Atlantis with a fire that can make any of us who couldn’t hear past the shiny textures of that record feel like an idiot (I may be projecting). Every piece of this – recorded live at the Detroit Jazz Festival – is perfection.
  • The Paranoid Style, “Steve Cropper Plays Femme Fatale” – I was extremely late to this killer indie pop band from DC led by Elizabeth Nelson and Timothy Bracy, but John Wendland’s playing songs from For Executive Meeting including this one won me over. This jumble of images tying Memphis and New York, the past and the present together, over jangling, barbed guitars, makes my heart sing. “In the final estimation, in the final accounting, God have mercy on the man who believes what he’s been doubting. God have mercy on the man who sees her walking down the street. Before you start you know you are already beat.”
  • Giuda, “Medley (Get it over / Space Walk / Watch Your Step)” – One of my favorite contemporary pub-rock examples, this Italian band picks up where Slade left off and Dave Wallingford and I still talk about that one perfect time they came through Ace of Cups. While I’m still hungry for their next visit, Giuda’s raging Live at Punk Rock Raduno captures some of that power and the vibrating enthusiasm of a band and crowd playing one of the first shows after lockdown.
  • Off!, “Free LSD” – Anne turned me onto Off! in the days of their first EPs, drawn from her love of Burning Brides (another band I wouldn’t know without her) from which guitarist Dimitri Coates came, uniting with Black Flag/Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris, and new rhythm section of Autry Fulbright II (from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead) and Justin Brown (if the Discogs is to be believed, the same drummer who blew me away on Flying Lotus, Gerald Clayton, and Ambrose Akinmusire records). This is another slab of powerful, surging rock.
  • Cam’ron and A-Trak, “All I Really Wanted” – Even hearing about this collaboration with Dipset founder Cam’ron and downtown DJ A-Trak made the nostalgia molecules in my blood boil. Cam’ron’s mainstream rap hits were the soundtrack of my immediately-post-college years and around that time I started working at Chase and friends there said, “You need to check out the Diplomats double CD.” Around that time, A-Trak was getting a lot of buzz as a club DJ leading to touring with Kanye West and then founding Fool’s Gold records and exploding. This reunion doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel but is a magic example of how that music made so many of us feel, and still does. “By the time I turned thirty, I completed my bucket list. I don’t take threats likely, careful who you’re fucking with; dying’ll make you way more famous than your publicist.”
  • EST Gee, “Bow And Say Grace” – This standout track from Louisville rapper EST Gee’s debut full length I Never Felt Nun pairs a smooth rumble of a vocal delivery with a menacing, almost gothic beat that reminds me of the more underground stuff I was listening to around the time I first got into the music I mentioned in the previous blurb. “Roll over, play dead, wreck for the ‘gram – some of they other tricks. I sit back and watch all the rumors they be running with. All who been involved won’t call it off but it’ll never quit. Broke my Granny’s heart, she say her boy done let the devil in.”
  • Mary Bragg, “The Lonely Persistence of Time” – Singer-songwriter Mary Bragg drills down into an existential loneliness on her self-titled fourth record and it’s exactly the record I want in my headphones as I walk through streets covered in wet leaves. Soulful and sumptuous, with her voice and guitar perfectly set up by the rhythm section of Jordan Perlson (who also killed me on Becca Stevens and Joel Harrison’s records) and Ryan Madora, and Rich Hinman’s electric and steel guitars (who’s enhanced great records by everyone from Amythyst Kiah to Sara Watkins to k.d. lang). “It’s a quarter to you as I wait for the blue. How do you find another love that defies and colors the lonely persistence of time? I wanna know. Don’t you wanna know?”
  • Angelica Sanchez Trio, “Before Sleep / The Sleeping Lady and the Giant that Watches Over Her” – Talk about a record that punched me in the gut, especially by artists I already loved. Sanchez is one of the most consistently inventive pianists working in and expanding the jazz tradition and this record, Sparkle Beings pairs her with the astonishing rhythm section of Michael Formanek on bass and Billy Hart on drums, to attack a series of surprising selections from the canon and make them wholly their own. Here, Sanchez wrote an interlude to lead into the Duke Ellington classic for the record closer and, together, they capture the majesty, power, and delicateness of the original while shining powerful new light through it.
  • Redman/Mehldau/McBride/Blade, “Ship to Shore” – Anybody within 5-10 years of my age with even a passing interest in jazz got turned around by the quartet of tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Brian Blade. Those records blew my mind in High School and I can only imagine the punch they would have packed for someone seeing that band live. I still check for each of their records 25 years later – the first time Anne and I took her Mom to New York, maybe my favorite memory was taking her to see Redman at the Vanguard. I’m happy to report that the second reunion album, LongGone maybe even improves on Round Again. This sumptuous slow blues is everything I’m looking for from a certain kind of jazz and, like the last few, I think these three tracks in conjunction form kind of a prayer for a new day. Thank you all for reading this; I love you.
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"Hey, Fred!" books poetry theatre Writing Other Places

Writers’ Block Retrospective Extended Cut

The thrust of the story and the definitive version of this is in Columbus Underground here, and I want to thank my editors in CU for commissioning it: https://columbusunderground.com/writers-block-poetry-walks-into-the-sunset-rs1/

I also want to thank everyone – yes, again – for being so generous with their time. I go into a little more detail and let some folks run on at a little more length in this extended cut, and I hope the die-hards enjoy it.

When I heard the Writers’ Block Poetry Night –  with a rich history across seven venues going back 24 years – was calling it quits (at least as a weekly event) after the December 21 show, I knew it was something I had to write about. 

As someone who grew up in Columbus and turned 18 around the time the night started, I watched the poetry scene blossom into something that would have been unrecognizable just a few years later. And while I wasn’t the most regular attendee, I was always grateful when I made my way through those doors; I always left inspired and usually left with another poet I was checking for. If anyone from out of town was here on a Wednesday looking for something “Columbus,” it was one of my very first suggestions.  

I made it to an event recently,  and it’s as irreverent, moving, and powerful as ever – glowing with community and affection for its regulars but encouraging to newcomers. I intended to stay for an hour and get a few photos, but I ended up pushing my other plans back, getting a second drink and staying for the last poet; I was having that good a time. Do not miss these last shows.

I was lucky enough to talk with the three current runners of the event, Kerouac’s owner, and two poets from different periods of the event. I want to thank each of them for being so generous with their time and memories.  conversations were edited for clarity and length.

People interviewed:

Vernell Bristow: Poet and Co-Founder, Originating MC.
Scott Woods: Poet and Co-Founder, former President of Poetry Slam Inc.
Louise Robertson: Poet and Coordinator.
Sidney Jones, Jr.: Poet and Teacher.
Zach Hannah: Poet.
Mike Heslop: Owner of Kafe Kerouac

Pre-History

So, how did you originally meet? At [legendary downtown venue] Snaps and Taps?

Bristow: I had been to the poetry forum at Larry’s a couple times. And one day I saw a flyer in the Black Cultural Center, and I said, “Oh, maybe I’ll give it another try. It’s Black people.” I went to [the reading] and met brother Is Said [acclaimed Columbus poet and playwright]. He used to have a series: Poetry in the summer was his thing at Hot Times [Festival]. And poetry in the winter was always on campus in the Frank Hale Black Cultural Center. He introduced me to the series at the Marble Gang [restaurant].
I credit brother Is Said with starting me on my way with poetry in Columbus.

Woods: He was carrying the torch for Black poetry since the late ’60s, at least, early ’70s. And he was doing that pretty much by himself, I guess until Snaps came along. But he always crossed worlds. He was always at Larry’s. Always at Hot Times. He was known throughout the city. He was carrying the torch for us.

Bristow: Before Snaps & Taps, in the same location, was [James Chapmyn’s Living the Dream] theater company, and they had a weekly open mic poetry reading. When it was time for his theater company to go on their college tour, I started hosting it. [Is Said] saw me host. He was like, “Oh, you’re pretty good at that.” So, when Snaps opened and they were having a weekly open mic, they naturally asked Is Said if he would host that open mic. And he said, “Oh no, I’m too old for that commitment. You need somebody young for that. Sister Vernell can do it.” 

And one day, this guy, Scott Woods, came walking in with some love poems tucked under his arm and the rest was history.

Early Years

When did the series begin?

Woods: This is always the point of contention. Here… It was ’98. It was the year that the movie Slam came out. Because one of the first gigs that came through Snaps & Taps was getting poached to do a reading at the Drexel Theater for the opening of Slam.

Bristow: When we were at Snaps & Taps, the room was packed every week, but never the same people. Repeat poets would come out. But the audience was never the same people. It was more like people would come out maybe once a month, once every six weeks. Just bunches of people on the same schedule, but on different weeks.

Woods: That’s because it wasn’t a good time. Snaps didn’t serve alcohol. It didn’t serve food. And when it was packed, it wasn’t the most comfortable place to be. And you were subjected to three hours of poetry on a Wednesday night.  Those shows were long. 

Jones: [Coming to OSU after graduating from LSU,]  Snaps & Taps [was] the place to be. It was Love Jones but with way better poetry in a lot of ways. 

Bristow: That’s funny.

Woods: Highly debatable, but that was definitely the vibe. And then somewhere along the way, we started caring about what the show was doing.

Jones: Almost anyone I consider a friend today, I met at Snaps & Taps or through Snaps & Taps. I met Scott there, I met Vernell, [I met] a lot of the early poets and a lot of my early associations [moving to town]: Kim Brazwell, Jason Brazwell, Ed Mabrey, people like that.

Slam

For many years, this open mic was heavily associated with Slam in a way I don’t remember having seen in Columbus beforehand. When did that start?

Woods: Not long after we got going. For the record, we were not the very first slam event in the city; OSU used to put on these things they called slams. But technically, we were the first actual poetry reading to put on a slam. We were slamming not too long after we got going; maybe a year. We did our first regional slam in 2000. The first time we sent a team to nationals was in 2001, Seattle.

And I remember I had gotten hip to it online, and I was like, this sounds wild. And at some point, I saw [the documentary] Slam Nation. I kind of got hip to it on the internet, which was tough because back then, all there was, was, like, forums. There was no YouTube, there was no social media. So, I joined an email listserv for slam, and it was dope because back then, like everybody at the national level was tied into the same source. We just kind of did them for kicks. 

Bristow: It was just like bragging rights. Like, [Snaps and Taps owner Todd Tuney] he has like 20 bucks [as a prize].

Woods: And they were really rough affairs. Like again, like the poets didn’t really know what it was. We didn’t really know what it was. People were getting really invested in it, which made it appealing to us as a program.

Jones:  There used to be a Midwest poetry slam league. Columbus had a team; Dayton had a team. Let’s see. Detroit, Chicago, Kalamazoo, places like that. It was cool. 

Woods: Marc Smith, the founder of poetry slam of Chicago had become very uninvested in what was happening at the national level. I met [Marc] in 2000. And he had this idea: “Yo, the Midwest has this really special energy. Slam came out of the Midwest. I want to create a league. It’s basically like a bowling league. I want it to be fun again. I don’t care about all these points and all the stuff they’re doing at the national level. I don’t want to do any of that. But I want to keep it in the Midwest where we have a certain value.” And so, he started the Midwest Poetry Slam League, and basically venues in different cities would have a bowling team of poets.

Jones: This is how crazy we were, right? And this is how crazy I was as an early teacher: the Midwest slams would be during the middle of the week, right? And it would always be some time like… I don’t know. Let’s say 8:00 at night in Detroit. Everyone would get off work, leave school, meet at Snaps & Taps or carpool, drive the three hours or so to Detroit.

Slam would last like… I don’t know. Maybe an hour and a half, two hours. And you’ll slam off against at least Detroit, and maybe another team might be there. And it’s all about like bragging rights. And so, you would have that. And then you would drive back home. So, you get back home at God knows what hour, then I’m up for work the next day. Maybe I got papers graded. Maybe I didn’t. Luckily, I was conscientious about always having lesson plans. 

 There was a friendly rivalry between Columbus and Dayton. Sometimes Columbus and Cleveland, you had that going back and forth. There was also the Rustbelt Poetry Slam, that was a regional slam, that was an invitational that Columbus has hosted a couple times, Dayton hosted. 

Woods:  We had rules, but they were very short and not intense. But you had to do group pieces and stuff like that. It was a beautiful thing. Short-lived, because ultimately there was no money to be made in it. And so, it’s very hard to give people gas money. And our team was like 10 folks deep.

Bristow:  I think we even had a couple of Dayton people that ended up on our team, Columbus Thunderpants, in the second year [when their team folded].

Robertson: Rustbelt is a single tournament, and the Midwest Poetry Slam League was like, “Go here and then go here.”

Woods: Rustbelt was a two-day competition that would change cities. It was created by [Dayton Poetry Slam founder] Bill Abbott, and then it started bouncing. It was in Dayton for a few years. Then Columbus at least four times [some run by Ed Mabrey].  those were good times, good shows, good showcases of the region: when it comes to performance poetry, the Midwest’s got chops. Especially back then.

Jones: When [school slams were] first announced in the district, my department chair is like, “Hey…” Because they knew I was involved in slam in the past and I had done open mics. Like, “Hey, we’re going to send a team. You want to do this?” And I resisted. I was like, “No. I don’t know if I want to do it.” Because as much as I love poetry itself, I do have a love-hate relationship with slam. 

You love the competition, you love poetry events, but the thing about slam is the best poem sometimes, and maybe a lot of times, does not win, right? That’s the nature of the game; there are a lot of other factors that go into what an audience wants. I’m not going to be so bold as to say the audience is wrong. They like what they like. But if you are a listener and a poetry nerd of sorts, you’re like, “There’s no way this poem is as well-crafted as this thing that won.” Sometimes the audience and the judges want more entertainment than they want craft. 

 And my thought was, “I don’t know if I want to do this to kids.” I don’t know if I want to subject them to this because I know it gives and it takes. And it can lift you up, and you can have some heartbroken times, right? But they talked me into it, and we had a group, And I remember telling them our first meetings, “Look, guys, I’m going to tell you right now: we’re not going to win. We’re not going to win this. So, my job is, at the very least, I want people to know that you can write good poetry. I want you to be good poets. I want you to present good poetry.” 

In a lot of ways, I tried to model myself after the way that I was coached by Scott, right? And the things I had learned and seen from my experiences with especially Snaps & Taps, especially the slam team coming out of that venue, just pushing the craft and challenging them. Challenging [the students] like, “Hey, don’t use cliches. Give me something other than an angsty teenage poem about a breakup. And if you give me a breakup poem, make it original. Show me the breakup in a way I’ve never seen it before. This isn’t good enough. Try it again.” I tried to push craft more than anything. And then we worked on delivery. I think we spent probably 80% of our time working on the poems, beating the poems up, 20% of our time working on delivery.  

And maybe that’s me, because I never memorized anything, right? But I push that with the kids. I’m like, “If you want to memorize, I will help you with that. You don’t have to [but] if you decide you want to memorize, then I’m going to make sure you do it and I’m going to push you that way.” 

And the kids, by and large, they responded. They loved it. They became critical listeners themselves, of poetry. our first team, I think we tied for eighth, out of like 16. I think every school in the district had a slam team that first slam. Then we just kept getting better and better each year; kids got more into it, it got more competitive at the school level to make the team.

National Poetry Slams

Writers’ Block was the first Columbus reading to send representation to the National Poetry Slam (nationals) and sent teams every year from 2001 through 2013.

Jones: I was somehow lucky to be on that first slam team. I don’t know how, because it was a team of heavy hitters. I squeaked by. I don’t know. 

Columbus hosted the Women of the World Poetry Slam [another event run by PSI] twice.

Bristow:  It was amazing to experience what I had experienced in other cities that had hosted national events. But I got to experience them right here, in my city. Poetry Everywhere. People who weren’t a part of it, but were like, “What is happening?” Seeing the frenzy of everyone wondering what would happen. 

Robertson: [At one show, there] was a huge breakdown. [A slam] judge left the room to go to the bathroom, think. And Vernell flawlessly – seamlessly – kept the energy up; kept it even, because if you get too high or get too low, the poets are grumbling they’re not going to get points.

Woods: That [tourism piece] is important, too. The WOW events were not local events; they were not regional events. They were national events. Poets from all over the country, poets who’d been on television, poets who had been in movies, poets who had won prizes, name poets.

Robertson: A few of them international, Canadian, Caribbean.

Woods: [They] came to our city and walked away with this amazing impression of the city. That was like not easy to do, right? Because Columbus is Columbus. But we had to think really hard about putting [this on]. Because we only have a couple of local poets participating in that competition. Everybody else is from somewhere else. We’re talking like 60, 65, 70 poets, All from different places. All the side events, right? We were showcasing our city. Right? We were the reading that did that. We are the people who did that.

Poets, The Audience, and Community

Robertson: [In 2004, when the show was in] Barrister Hall, I had not been writing: job, kids, all that. I had started writing again, and they had a virgin night. I wrote a note to them saying, “I haven’t written in 10 years. Does that mean I’m a virgin?” Then Scott gave the most Scott answer ever. “We’ll see.”

Bristow: That is so Scott.

Robertson: I show up, and I just thought it was great. Then a couple weeks later, I came again and  I haven’t looked back. [Staffing came] about a year later; they needed press releases written. Of course, me, kids, jobs, everything, I’m like, “I could write a press release in the middle of the night.” And since I’m a web developer and email developer, I would do web stuff [because] you could do that in the middle of the night too. [When] we had a fundraiser, I set up the digital money [collection] and the microsites with the poets [pictures, bios]. Then I just insinuated myself. Because you really do need three people. You could do [run a show] with two. You can even do it with one; on those very rare weeks where it’s only one, you draft somebody to do the door, greet people when they come in, and you can do it, but it’s like hanging on with your fingernails.

Jones: There’s polite applause. You get that. But you earned the respect for your work too. But you always have to earn your spot too. That’s another thing about Snaps & Taps. even at Writers’ Block, [has] this idea of earning respect through your work. You earn your applause.

Hannah: I came at a time where I probably needed it more than anything else in my life. I needed community because I was a wild one. I had lots of wrangling with language over the years but never had really applied it to any one form or format or medium. Never really put anything into the ether. [About 10 years ago,] I Googled open mics in the city, and Writers’ Block came up. I never had community outside of, like, childhood church. I’d never even been a part of anything [that was] borderline community. Partying doesn’t count.

Robertson: We had a writer by the name of Rick Forman come through and drop these little two-line truth bomb poems that rhyme. Scott, every week would introduce him with a fantastical long, sometimes marathon, 12-minute introduction. And he could always weave into that fantastical castle of words, a lot about poetry. And both Vernell and I had moments when we could introduce Rick, and we had our different shticks and things, but we would also weave structure words. So in an ongoing way, Rick provided a way, not only to be fun and something people expected. It was funny. But we could talk about art overtly and have a great time with this really sweet guy who came every week. 

Bristow: When I first got involved, I wanted to celebrate poets. That’s why I loved Scott’s introduction of Rick. We celebrated Rick every single week [and] the essence of poetry. I wanted people to try to find community. Knowing Rick confirmed to me that we did what I wanted to do: create a community. I started running into Rick, outside of Writers’ Block. Rick was like in his seventies, and he had relocated back to Columbus. I would run into Rick’s younger sister. She never came to Writers’ Block, but I would run into her at the Jewish Community Center. One day, she stopped me and thanked me for giving Rick a home when he moved to Columbus. 

I think probably my most memorable moment is near the end of Rick’s life. He had been in the hospital  I went to go see him. Here he is with cancer, and he is so concerned about how Scott is doing, how Louise is doing, how Marshall [another poet] was doing, how I’m doing. One time, I went to go see him after a long day, and I was so tired. He was like, “Take a nap. I am.” I took a nap in his room. He took a nap in his bed.

But one night, one day when he was in that Wexner [Medical] Center, he was so concerned about poetry that he wrote a poem right there for me to share at open mic. We were his people. I think for me, he symbolizes what I hope Writers’ Block would accomplish, one of the things that it would accomplish, that it would give poets a home and a place to feel comfortable about sharing.

Hannah: Rick had me finish his feature. He brought me onstage to finish his feature for him. I didn’t know it, but it was about Herman the Worm. He didn’t know I had a speech impediment. But I went up there, and Rick probably slapped me in the mouth harder with the last poem he made me read for his feature. I’m reading it for the first time onstage to other people, and one of the last things of his feature is, “You don’t have to hurt for your art.” It was like, I’m reading that, and I’m like, “That’s it.” The crowd was clapping, and I’m like, “Oh, Rick just bodied me.” It was the community that pushed me in the right direction.

Robertson: We talk a lot about fostering good poetry, but we also make sure that [when] somebody comes, they don’t have to worry about the thing they might feel self-conscious about. That’s not the business here. Sometimes readings give a certain vibe, or a certain kind of person does a reading. [Here,] you see a lot of different ages, different groups, different backgrounds. 

Hannah: One of my good friends, one of the guys I started poetry with here, Dug of Happy Tooth & Dug, I watched him. It was when we were new. This might have been his fifth or sixth time onstage. He said a word that no longer is used as much – an ableist word – in a poem, and Izetta [Thomas] yelled out from the back and said, “You can do better.” And Dug is like, “What?” She explained to him why and how he can do better. Dug learned from that and Dug came back. Now, Dug is one of the more forward-thinking people I know. 

Hannah: I didn’t mention Izetta [yet]. That’s a shame. Jesus Christ, Izetta is one of the best, 

Robertson: It’s a community; you end up caring about everybody, no matter who they are. We’ve lost a couple other poets, and it’s just heartbreaking.

Bristow: Gina Blaurock. Oh God. [Gina Blaurock passed in 2015] Bill Hurley.

Hannah: Bill Hurley’s reading of “The Raven” every year, it wasn’t “The Raven,” but it was The Raven.

Hannah:  Gina Blaurock was one of the reasons why I felt like I started to gain community here. [She and] Vernell Bristow would go out to pizza with me after Writers’ Block for some five, six, seven months. I don’t know if I would have ventured outside of the stage here if it were not for those two. I had many features change my life on that stage, but the community I definitely got, through the crew: Scott and Vernell and Louise and at that point Gina, were just inseparable, [and] Ed Plunkett [Columbus poet  who wrote a beautiful tribute to Blaurock here.]

Woods: [A] definite one is when Marc Smith, founder of Slam, came to our show.[Him] being at the show, seeing the open mic, we did a slam that night. He got up, did his poem. But he said to me that he loved our show because it had the energy and the vibe of what he originally created.  “This is what slam used to be like; this is what the old-school stuff felt like.” He was just very proud of the show. I was like, “We’re doing it. This is it. This is the mountaintop. That’s it.”

Hannah: I know it had been going on for a few years beforehand, the murderer’s row of hecklers that used to be at the back. If it doesn’t get mentioned in the story as a part of the culture here, something’s wrong. You could hear the criticism of some of the less careful with their language onstage. You could be listening to both. You could hear the poets say some pretty unacceptable things and hear them in the back going, “What the fuck?” There was always that mid-level to where you could hear it. 

That was one of the wilder things about this place as opposed to other shows and other mediums, and other art forms that I’ve seen over the years. Because at a comedy show, a heckler gets singled out. At a music show, if you interrupt the music, if you stop the music, you are enemy number one. Burlesque, drag,  so on and so forth. But to have the poets be like, “Fuck him,” from the back as a guy’s reading a poem, that was where it was at. The judgment happened live.

Scott said this is not a safe space to make speeches over the years. I mean, because so many young, heart in a good place, generally white kids would really think like, “Hey …” They all have this knee-jerk reaction that you should not be allowed to say certain things on the stage. Scott proved them all wrong and why over the years because if you had something messed up that the court of general opinion did not agree with, you would find out. 

You know, poets aren’t quiet types. People sometimes pay money to hear us speak, you know what I mean?  that definitely happened years ahead of the conversation [about] safe spaces.  Way before Roxane Gay [and] articles are being shared on the internet, Scott is saying, “This is not a safe space.” I’ve run events over the years and if there’s any influence that Scott had on me was the idea that this is not a safe space, “Say whatever you want, but we’re going to hold you accountable.” 

Hearing young cis men poets use the word rape pretty [flagrantly] but to hear afterward over the years in different contexts and settings, different faces or whatnot, to hear them being told afterwards, “Okay, the poem is cool, but that actually hurt me.” To hear how they took it because some have learned. Some have moved forward, and some of them have realized the power they wield with their language. Then others just, again, wouldn’t last because they weren’t welcome here. Sign up. Go up onstage. We’re just not going to listen. 

[Once] a kid asked Scott, after Scott had given people some just history of things or whatnot because somebody had asked. A kid said, “If you’re so famous, why are you still a librarian?”

Scott laid into the kid verbally and then laid out a challenge. He said, “You want to write some poems and have a little showdown?” The kid very, very reticently – he was not excited about it – said, “Okay.” Honestly, my memory doesn’t serve me if it was that night or the next week. But they went outside, and I’ve been in a lot of poetry ciphers and people reading around. A lot of sex noises coming out of people listening. I have never heard like, “Ooh. Damn,” so much as when Scott obliterated that kid. 

He murdered him. It was violent. The very last line of that poem says that the kid is dead from the neck up. People lost their shit. They were spilling out into the road. So poetry got taken to the streets like rap battle style, sans mic.

Woods: We gave Hanif [Abdurraqib] his first feature.

Robertson: Gave a lot of people their first feature.

Woods: Yeah. But you know, only one that has a [MacArthur] genius grant.

Woods:  One of the purposes of the Writers’ Block Poetry Night, very specifically, is that I’ve always wanted to be a place where people could go in Columbus, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. I wanted it to be a place where you can still be surprised by art.

Venues

Between the early gestation period at Snaps and Taps and the stability of Kafe Kerouac, Writers’ Block went through five other venues, to mixed reception, growing pains, and sometimes scant audiences.

Woods: [We went through downtown coffeehouse] Skambo, Casablanca, which was an African owned bar…

Bristow: Down by the Courthouse. We showed up one day with their bartender, and we found out together that it had  permanently closed  the week before.

Woods: That was extremely short-lived. After that, we were in Barrister Hall [storied Columbus jazz and cigar bar, now closed] for a while [where Louise joined]. And then [we moved to] Columbus Music Hall [which was] like, “Y’all got to…” The show was almost dead at that point in the water.

Bristow: They had scheduled something else. We were on their website noticing that they had something else scheduled for our time [without telling us].

Woods:. In all fairness, nobody was coming to the show at that point. 

Bristow:  we had like eight people, 10 people [in a 100-capacity room]. 

Woods: I immediately hit up Mike at Kerouac because he’d been hitting me up at that point for at least a couple years. Kafe Kerouac is like the fourth Beatle here, right? There’s something to that space that lets you get away.

Heslop:  I  saw Writers’ Block back when they were in Barrister Hall. When I started Cafe Kerouac in 2004, I always wanted to get Writers’ Block involved in having a show there. It took a couple of years to lure them over. I think Writers’ Block poetry was a big part of helping us create our identity and expand our customer base to a lot more people around the city because they were able to draw in poets that may not have heard of us otherwise.

Woods:  I’ve always loved trying to figure out what we can’t do in Kafe Kerouac. I haven’t come across anything. Kafe Kerouac is very punk to me. Right? It’s very “old campus.” Once those doors close, we make no promises. We won’t physically hurt you. That’s all. 

Robertson: It makes you feel like you don’t have to be worried about breaking something. You can do your thing, and you can throw the paint, and you will not be a bull in a China shop. You will not be hurting anything. We really have to give a round of applause, and we do every week, for Mike Heslop. [He] is the most gracious [partner]. I’ve been around since Barrister Hall, and the relationship with the venue owner is sometimes rocky, sometimes filled with restrictions, because they’ve got a business to run. But Mike has been, do what you want. You are good for business. We have just found some degree of home.

Heslop: I opened Kerouac to have that old vibe where it was disappearing. There used to be other venues like Larry’s Bar that used to host poetry and things like that. I grew up at OSU campus, I went to Ohio State, and all those independent little quirky spaces have disappeared over time and been replaced by Targets and Starbucks and those type of things. I  see Kerouac as “Let’s push the limits a little bit; let’s have fun with it,” in the sense of art and simplicity of it, but I don’t take it too seriously. It’s supposed to be a casual artist hangout, and I think Writer’s Block did and does a great job in making everyone feel welcome.

Woods: For a long time,  as an MC, I was always trying to make this show more entertaining and engaging. I was always adding these games and little tricks to the show. And then eventually, it was just like, why does this feel like work? I was doing those things since I thought it would add audience. And the audience would fluctuate wildly. 

Ultimately, I just had to sit down and break everything down to its last compound and say, why do people go to poetry shows. Why that’s presumably to see poetry. Instead of trying to create this experience, I was like, “Yo, we got to strip this thing back down to the poetry, and then we can sprinkle some stuff on top.” And that would be the show. 

That’s essentially what we have now. We make it look easy, but that took years to learn. And a lot of people come to our show, and they see us engaging with the audience and the banter. But they think that we are like doing a process, right?  it’s not. We’re just greasing the wheels for the people who are actually here.

Robertson:  The modifications we make intentionally all foster better poetry in very subtle ways. We’ve gotten down to a system, and the introduction of the [one poem] rule was one. I don’t know if the rule came – it didn’t come first. But we made people only read one poem [instead of the standard poetry reading two-poems-or-five-minutes]. Two magical things are: if you have to pick one, you go for the good one. Like, not to say that there’s not good ones.

Bristow: And that one poem [rule], it kept that show moving really fast: get them up, get them down. You can get more poets, you know? Because when we were doing two poems, it would be a three-hour show, and sometimes we would have to tell poets, “Come next week, we’ll put you up early.” It would just be exhausting. I think one of the things [that led to that] was when we created a monthly show called First Draft [you could only bring new poems to].

Robertson: It changed the culture of the show. See that guy with that poem you heard 22 times, and you’re like, “It was a good poem the first time.” But it fostered the culture of writing. And now, sometimes I feel like we’ve gone too far. Because people are afraid to repeat, and you’re like, “No, no, no: good poem. I want to hear it again.” 

Woods: Which is why we killed First Draft.

Woods: We seem unassuming. If you’ve been around the block a little bit, when you walk in there, you don’t get the vibe like, “Oh, this is like the nationally lauded Writers’ Block Poetry Night. You’re just like, “This looks like just a regular poetry reading situation.” People who don’t really know what we’re about, they learn really quick that there’s something under the surface happening there. We’ll go pound for pound on the poems, on the awards, on whatever you want, publications? Like, how many books you got? Blam! Blam! We will run it all night.

Bristow: All night, all night. Every now and then, someone like that will come in, and they have no idea who we are. They will come in wanting to educate us about poetry slam. One of the most ridiculous moments is this young person gets on the mic and says, “I’m going to read a poem by another poet. You guys have probably never heard of him. His name is Buddy Wakefield.” It was just all out laughing. He’s like, “What? What?”

Woods: It’s like, you mean the Buddy Wakefield who slept on my couch? Is that the one you’re talking about?

Hannah: I tattooed myself [on that stage] during MeatGrinder. I’ve been in a gimp suit during a poem, being beaten and shocked and flogged. I wielded a chainsaw to my baby nephew.

Legacy in Columbus and the Poetry Scene

Bristow: Because people met at our nights, got married after meeting at our nights, spawned children after meeting at our night, sometimes got divorced after coming to our night.

Woods: So many things, probably an incalculable number of things, have sprung out of a little silly Wednesday night show, right?  Holler, because of what we do on Wednesday nights. Writers’ Block made all of that possible. The things that we brought, the things that we made possible in this city… You probably won’t even get those stories until we’re done. People will feel the impact of not being there, and they’ll recall it.

Woods: Half of the readings that have ever existed in the last 20 years are because of that show. Certainly, I would say 90% of good poets in this town have had to come to [our] show. I think most poets set out to change the world. The Writers’ Block Poetry Night didn’t set out to change the world, but it did change the city.

Robertson: One of our regulars, Su Flatt, had a project with Columbus State. She was creating an online resource of people reading Shakespearean, all the sonnets. She recruited from Writers’ Block and elsewhere and people were assigned or chose sonnets. Right in this room, they did a big day of recording. You had Scott, you had me, Vernell like all these different styles of writers and readers. That came out of Writers’ Block. She had that go-to resource of dozens of poets who could just come in and give their all to it. It was great.

Woods: It’s important to note that Streetlight Guild wouldn’t exist without the Writers’ Block Poetry Night. It’s a direct line because Glen Kizer, the guy who made this investment possible, was a regular attendee at the Wednesday night shows. He’s not there trying to be a better poet or anything. He just wants to connect with people. Be a part of a community. Every once in a while, he might read a little poem or something, but mostly he would just watch the shows. It was a place for him to kind of connect with people and laugh and be himself. He would get up and read these poems that were very personal, and he would occasionally cry. There was a place where you could do that.

Jones: There is no way I would have been a slam coach [in the Columbus City Schools] without first doing it through my experiences with Snaps & Taps and Scott. I think a lot of that is a stepchild of Snaps & Taps and Writers’ Block. And he would never admit this, but [the students] are like the Grandchildren of Scott Woods to a degree, just in the way they’ve been coached. A lot of them have found their way to Writers’ Block, right? They’re like, “Hey, I’m going to Writers’ Block. And Scott said hi,” or whatever, because Scott would ask them where they went to school. They would mention me. Then he would give him hell.

Robertson: Columbus got a reputation for being a fantastic place not only to put on an event, but how many times people have used the cliché: is there something in the water? Because of the number of just phenomenal writers that are here. Writers’ Block is a big part of the ecosystem that welcomes poets, meets them where they are, doesn’t force them anywhere, and yet somehow lets them flourish.

Hannah: Writers’ Block is my glue. This was the lab. This is where I tested all the crap that I do. I’m on a circuit of punk houses and such in the Midwest. I’ve built a pretty sincere network across these punk houses in the Midwest or whatnot of people who know that I will actually listen and engage with them if they need it. When I do these punk shows, I will start off being loud and catch their attention. Then make them feel things, which they’re not accustomed to. Bucking expectations is definitely something I learned there on [the Writers’ Block] stage.

Saying Goodbye and What’s Next

Woods: It was my idea. I had flirted with the idea of ending it in the past, but it was only an idea. And usually, I was coming from a place where I was really burned out. Usually, Louise would talk me off that ledge. But this time around, it just felt right. Columbus has changed a lot over the years and especially the arts scene. Once we got settled in Kerouac, you could pull a pin on a grenade in that room, and we would still do the show. You know what I’m saying? The audience would still show up, poets would still show up, and one of us would MC. Even when there was no power in Kerouac, we did the show. That show was basically indestructible in that way.

Jones: I don’t begrudge him for this, but it is going to leave a vacuum. It’s definitely going to be missed. And it’s something that I would like to think that someone or someones would follow this example, at least pick up the baton, and go forth  like, “Hey, let’s build on this legacy.” [So it doesn’t] just live on in people’s memories but lives on in someone taking this blueprint of what a good poetry night could be and maybe going in a different direction but still having some of those same elements. That’s my hope. And there are a lot of young and new poets who are doing similar types of things as Writer’s Block.

Woods: I’ve spent a lot of years doing stuff for everybody else. And I’m just in this season of my life where I really want to do certain things as an artist, as someone who creates things for myself. I have a lot of titles, but I am a writer. As a writer, it doesn’t take much to knock you out of your lane. An email knocks you out of the zone, a phone call knocks you out of the zone, social media knocks you out of the zone, taking the trash out knocks you out of your zone.

I  needed to get out of several commitments so I could get down to what I’m doing. Because I’ve got four books sitting on the table looking at me like, “When are you going to finish us?” I’m like, “Well, I think I’m going to finish one of you this year. Or maybe next year.” We’ll see what happens.

Hannah: The way Scott runs this show would prime the audience to be accepting of many different ranges of entertainment. At other open mics where the poetry largely runs the show itself, and a host just brings people up, the audience, I could see getting tired or having low expectations; they don’t pay attention. I think Scott and Louise and Vernell were the magic. They kept this space what it was, the irreverent open mic because of the essence of all the irreverent poets that kind of gathered here over the years didn’t hurt. But that irreverence is why the stage kept being fun.

Bristow: In previous times when Scott would bring it up, I would be like, “Yeah, I don’t want to hear that. No.” And then it was brought up at the beginning of the pandemic when we couldn’t gather and all that stuff. And I was emphatically: no

For all the reasons that we talked about. While Writers’ Block was wonderful, I did not want it to go out like that. I did not want it to be a casualty to COVID like so many other things in the city. Louise was like, “Let’s do Zoom.” And I was like, “yeah, girl,” because I thought at that time, we owed it to this thing that we created

Then we came back this April of 2022, and it was great. Every show has been great. And a couple weeks ago after a great show, the next day Scott [brings it up]. And I was like, “wow, we had such a great time last night.” But I thought about it for a second. And I thought about for me personally, what that would mean. 

My life has changed a lot in the past couple of years. I’m working full-time. I’m also earning a doctorate degree, and I don’t know what wonderful things will await me when I claim that degree in a couple years. For the first time when he said that, I wasn’t like, “No.” I was like, “Why do you want to end it?” And we had a conversation, the three of us. At least for me, every goal that we had for Writer’s Block, we had already achieved it. . I liked the idea of going out on top. I wouldn’t want to see it die on the vine. I wouldn’t want to see it trickle off with five, six people in the audience. Nothing lasts forever, let’s move on to the next thing while we’re still young enough to make it happen.

Woods: Wednesday night is awesome. It’s obviously working, but I’m like, “what are we waiting for? We’re not going to hand the show off [to someone else]. What are we waiting for? Are we waiting for one of us to die? We’re all 50 or older. I’ve been doing this show for half of my life. Louise was almost a completely different person when she started into the show. Let’s go out on top. Whatever it is that we have to offer, we have nothing left to prove.

And I will tell you that I still like doing poetry shows. If one of us gets an itch to do it, then we’ll go posse up, and we’ll do it. Every once in a while, Writers’ Block will poke its head up, we’ll do something that nobody else can do. We’ll do some wild, crazy show and then we’ll go home. We won’t have to move the chairs. We’ll just leave.

Let Columbus figure it out. It’s okay. We’ve been doing it for longer than a generation. I think it’s okay for another generation to figure it out.

For more information about Writers’ Block poetry, visit their Facebook.

Categories
Playlist record reviews

Playlist – August 2022

Almost as late as last month with some internet issues and work travel, but happy to finally be submitting this in Memphis as I also compile some notes at the midway point of a really stellar Gonerfest. Love to you all, and thank you all for listening and reading. Enjoy these first days of fall as we all dance on the cusp.

https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/d01499fd-af20-41e5-b09d-03e48f0dc74a

  • Call Me Rita, “Measure Twice, Cut Once” – This barn burner is my favorite track yet out of artist Vanessa Jean Speckman’s rock and roll project Call Me Rita, assembling a who’s who of Columbus rootsy rock superheroes in the service of a ferocious, all out rocker. Drummer Jason Winner and Todd May on bass and backing vocals power this train with Jay Gasper’s lead guitar and surprising, delightful bursts of synth skidding over Micah Schnabel’s slashing rhythm and backing vocals. “The creditors keep calling me. How much more can I bleed? I’m taking my autonomy.”
  • Lee Bains + The Glory Fires, “Post-Life” – I liked the Dexateens and I was really impressed with Lee Bains’ solo band when I saw them at Woodlands a couple years before the pandemic but it didn’t prepare me for how much I love their new record Old-Time Folks and how utterly blown away I was seeing them at Rumba a few weeks ago. An electrifying dance through the fire that reminded me of everything I love about a four piece rock and roll band: controlled fury, deep grooves, and more than a little hip shaking, with shout outs to the SCLC and the incisive puncturing of old lies and snake oil pitches as the icing on the cake. “It’ll rip your soul from your cooking, the home place from your voice, and the thunder from your songs. It’ll sell you back the bootlegs, stare at you with dead, flickering eyes, like it didn’t do nothing wrong.”
  • Bobby Previte, “HUNTER (remix)” – Drummer/composer Bobby Previte is riding a new wave of creativity and productivity lately and my favorite of the recent records is Nine Tributes (For Electric Band) with each track paying tribute to a guitarist he’s played with over the years. The centerpiece of this band, taking on the daunting challenge of inhabiting/paying tribute to these guitarists without doing an impression and exceeding my wildest expectations, is my friend since childhood, guitarist Mike Gamble, with the quartet filled out by Akron native Kurt Kotheimer who sounds like he was born to play with Previte, an extremely simpatico hookup; and interesting textures from keyboardist/reeds player Michael Kammers. I had a hard time picking a track off this, but I kept coming back to this loving take on Charlie Hunter’s approach. The band captures the ebuillance and greasy swing that’s made Hunter so beloved without giving up any of themselves in that take.
  • shark, “Torpedos in Leather” – My pal Ginny Riot is as good a barometer as quality as I’ve found in Columbus and we all know I have a few. While I was first introduced to her through her acoustic work, when I heard she was playing drums in a new outfit, shark, it shot to the top of my list to checkout. Within a song and a half of Anne and I seeing them at Rumba, they were my new favorite Columbus band and looking around the room I knew enough people dancing that I wasn’t alone. This track, with Ginny’s drumming and vocals in a sea of surging, grinding guitars from Hugh Man and Professor Zac Glickman is a snarling reminder of everything I come to rock and roll for, reminding me of The Cramps and the Gun Club and Twin Guns and Daddy Long Legs, but it’s own thing.
  • Ibibio Sound Machine, “Protection From Evil” – London’s Ibibio Sound Machine gripped me by the collar immediately and they’ve only gotten better. Eno Williams’ voice and powerhouse seven-piece band get an added assist from Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard and Al Doyle on additional keyboards and NYC techno legend Peter Matson on drum programming on this party track for the ages. I’m looking forward to finally seeing them live with Anne in New York in October.
  • Bad Bunny, “Tití Me Preguntó” – My pal (and former coworker) Mary turned me onto the new Bad Bunny record. His work before Un Verano Sin Ti I enjoyed select singles from but didn’t delve into a whole album but this hit at exactly the right time. The way he slides over the dembow rhythm on this track, the synthetic handclaps and sewing-machine drums sparking against the quavering synth, and his voice sliding from singing to rapping. It’s collared shirt dance club music, late enough on a hot night the breeze is reminding you this season won’t last forever.
  • Tonton Pal, “Furu” – A similar dance club track that makes me want to sweat but in a full suit. The flow of this Senegalese rapper has a give and take that makes everything feel alive, just a little improvisational.
  • Amber Mark, “On & On” – Another artst who’s earlier work didn’t grab me but either my ears got a little more open or the songs got a little sharper or both, because when I finally sat down with Amber Mark’s Three Dimensions Deep, she rose to the ranks of my favorite R&B singers. This song works an unhurried rhythm that’s part cat and mouse and part liquid anticipation, draped in sharp, glittering strings; the perfect showcase for the laser-precise longing she captures in her voice. A new 3 a.m. classic. “I’ve never been more confused; my confidence won’t come through. Lost so much it’s hard to tell what’s fake and what’s myself.”
  • Allison Russell featuring Brandi Carlile, “You’re Not Alone” – The creator of one of my favorite records of last year returns with this dazzling rework from a song Russell originally brought to the underappreciated (sadly, including by me) Our Native Daughters supergroup recast as a duet with Brandi Carlile. The kind of reminder we all need that we’re interconnected and we’re more than our pain and our damage. Those voices alone would put my heart in a vice grip, the surprising, tumbling arrangement for strings by Sista Strings, sends it into outer space. “Wish that I could keep you from sorrow and harm; none of us is here for long, but you’re not alone.”
  • Cole Swindell, “She Had me at Heads Carolina” – As contemporary country music has appropriated recent-past hip-hop and R&B tropes with greater and lesser degrees of artfulness, we’re seeing more sophisticated blending. This caught my eye on a bar jukebox on a sunny afternoon – and I loved everything about it. In a sober light the next day, I was still delighted. First, I love those first couple of Jo Dee Messina records, those songs felt like a cool breeze off coming over a frequently arid landscape – especially “Heads Carolina, Tails California,” her first single, written by Tim Nichols and Mark Sanders – so it hit the nostalgia bullseye it seems like Swindell’s aiming for with the end of his chorus, “She’s a ’90s country fan, like I am.” But the interpolation of the original melody – with the clever use of autotune’s uncanny sheen – and the sampling of Messina’s original as a harmony and texture underlines the way memory and nostalgia draw a lot of us like moths to that flame and the transitory, ephemeral nature of it. “I bought her a round and we talked till the lights came on. I still see that girl every time I hear that song.”
  • Country Rio featuring Tony Grvis, Dusty & Stones, Ervis Guerrero, Daniel Estampida, Orozco, Hunter Leite, and Chisum Cattle, “Neon Life” – The Mexican band Country Rio brings in an international supporting cast for this posse cut soaked in grim determination, including African country duo Dusty & Stones, Texas compatriots Chisum Cattle, and Argentinian Daniel Estampida Orozco. The steady march, led by a rolling banjo line, underlines the underlying grief and loneliness of the life they’re singing about but the mix of voices reminds us of the community and warmth that are found there if you’re willing to open yourself up to it.
  • Ruby Amanfu, “Make It Better” – Shining light on another facet of Nashville, Ghana-born Ruby Amanfu gets deeper and more interesting on every record I hear. This song feels like the end of summer for me, that search for comfort in someone but with an edge, a chill seeping in around the edges.
  • Ashley Paul featuring Otto Wilberg and Yoni Silver, “Shivers” – I met Ashley Paul through the above-mentioned Mike Gamble when we were all in college and, even then, her approach to the saxophone caught me off guard. That appreciation has deepened over the years, as she’s dug deeper into interests in installations and the human voice. There’s a rich, velvety melancholy throughout her stunning new record, I Am Fog, featuring Paul on voice, percussion, sax, and clarinet, backed by Wilberg’s bass and voice and Yoni Silver’s bass clarinet and viola. Had a hard time choosing a track from this, but I kept being drawn to “Shivers” like a moth to a flame.
  • Tarbaby featuring Oliver Lake, “House of Leaves” – I think I first saw the great reeds player Oliver Lake a few years before the meeting I describe in the previous blurb, in High School at our Jazz and Rib Fest, and when I was 21 with the World Saxophone Quartet. Both sets took the top of my head off and I started buying records just based on Lake’s presence, which, of course, introduced me to more artists than I could name. I think I found the collective trio Tarbaby because I’d already been turned around by drummer Nasheet Waits’ volcanic work with Jason Moran and was tentatively getting into pianist Orrin Evans and bassist Eric Revis (both of whom I’m a massive fan of), but my favorite work of the trio adds the voice of Oliver Lake. Dance of the Evil Toys is an extension and expansion of their beautiful collaboration. This sinewy track exemplifies the joys of the record, Lake’s snaking saxophone line cracking and scorching the delicate color fields of the rest of the group.
  • Mark Turner Quartet, “Return From The Stars” – Another favorite saxophonist who hit my radar more recently, Mark Turner has been setting my world – at least – on fire. His newest ECM record, inspired by the writing of Stanislaw Lem (another favorite of mine going back to high school), of which this is the title track, features remarkable interplay with his melodic foil, trumpeter Jason Palmer (those gleaming, braided lines in the introduction knock me all the way out) and the subtle, empathetic rhythm section of bassist Joe Martin and drummer Jonathan Pinson.
  • Jacob Garchik, “Collage” – One of my favorite trombone players, Garchik’s writing caught my attention with his work with the Kronos Quartet and especially his trombone choir The Heavens. The new record, Assembly, pairs him with soprano sax master Sam Newsome and rhythm section of pianist Jacob Sacks, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Dan Weiss. The collisions and disjunctions in these tunes, especially the one I chose, are as important as the beauty of the melodies and the moments of sublime synchronicity. It almost amplifies Garchik’s leanings toward the cinematic – check out his recent Guy Madden film scores – with a depth of field in the way the instruments fall together.
  • Thick, “Tell Myself” – This grimy trio out of the New York diy scene straddles the line between class of 77 punk and shimmery powerpop in exactly the right amounts. An irrepressible rhythm section meant to cause a riot in the middle of a dance party or vice versa with Shari Page on drums (that break at the end makes me want to leap out of my skin) and Kate Black on bass, buoying and jostling Nikki Sisti’s guitar with everyone singing. It doesn’t get much better than this, one of the bands I’m most looking forward to seeing live. “Used to talk about getting old; can’t believe all the lies we told then.”
  • Dead Horses, “Days Grow Longer” – This gorgeous, frayed lament speckled with faith and hope that things can get better, is one of the highlights from Brady Street, the new full length from Milwaukee’s Dead Horses, principally a partnership between Sarah Vos and Daniel Wolff.  “I miss LA and the twin cities and the open road laid bare in front of me. East and west across the continent, baptized by dissidents. Days grow longer now, we’ll move on, move on somehow.”
  • Rachel Sumner, “Strangers Again” – I spent a lot of time in Boston for a few years when my pal Mike Gamble was going to college then and fell in love with the singer-songwriter scene, at the time hovering around the pillars of Dar Williams and Bill Morrissey. Rachel Sumner carries that torch – or at least what I thought that torch looked like as a kid – on the beautiful Rachel Sumner and Traveling Light. This Gillian Welch/David Rawlings cover gets a bone-deep, empathetic, full-throated read, highlighted by Alex Formento’s pedal steel and Kate Wallace’s fiddle.
  • Matt Nathanson, “Beginners” – Another song that hit my radar because of Lori McKenna, who co-wrote it with Hilary Lindsey and Nathanson. The name was familiar to me because of a long-ago friend, Ann Dotzauer, who was a huge fan of Matt Nathanson in college or right after (she called him Matty Nay but I’m not sure if that was an accepted fan umbrella or something she coined). I had a record that didn’t completely click with me but it was nice revisiting those memories as I dug into his new one, Boston Accent. Butch Walker continues to prove himself the ideal producer for this kind of laid back singer-songwriter, giving the sound world enough definition and teeth, but (as a great songwriter himself) without changing the fundamental character of the song. That sliding, “Walk on the Wild Side”-ish bass caught my ears immediately and the rest of this burnished, acoustic slow jam about the seductive charms of memory and how close it is to death, reminded me of Kim Richey songs I loved in my 20s and burrowed right under my skin. “Used to get lost in the songs that I used to sing, used to get caught in the rush. Used to burn bright, used to fill the sky. I used to never get enough.”
  • Deejay Telio, “Bon Appétit” – This track from Angolan rapper Deejay Telio feels to me like it’s dancing on  the same sensual remembering axis as the Sumner and the Nathanson and that’s a mood that feels explicitly tailored for the end of the summer. The little guitar hooks and slippery mix of synthetic and organic percussion layer up to build that mood without every distracting from Telio’s voice.
  • Jesse Baylin, “That’s the Way” – I hear a little of that same twang of hope and desire in this perfectly crafted neo-honky tonk side from Jesse Baylin that could have fit perfectly in the early ’80s tug of war between sparkling shirts and fritzy neon signs with a rollicking piano lick getting it rolling and a whirlwind of hand claps and tambourine, around a stellar vocal, smooth but with an undeniable kick you’ll be finding flavors in for days. “Blows a kiss and it knocks me down – my heart skips a beat when it comes around. It tastes like freedom in a cherry crush. Gives me a reason, gives me all that stuff.”
  • Keith Jarrett, “Part III” – I never want to make too much of someone’s work immediately prior to a health crisis and understood in retrospect. But I will say, the examples of Keith Jarrett’s last tour before the massive strokes that have stopped his piano playing (maybe for good) show what an astonishing level he was performing at. I’m just starting to live with it but I might love Bordeaux Concert more than the earlier two, Budapest Concert and Munich 2016. This excerpt – thank you, ECM – drives home one of my favorite parts of a Jarrett show, especially solo: the sense of going along with the current, being bounced by the waves, then finding yourself in this space where you notice every note, you see melodies formed out of air into perfect crystals, that form into a structure within the structure and then disappear again. This is a lovely reminder of what a keen melodist Jarrett is, without sacrificing any of the more complex, intricate harmonies, what a lifetime of love for the piano and the history of piano music can drive you to if you’re lucky enough to stay engaged (and have a lot of other luck besides).
  • Harlan T. Bobo, “Must Be in Memphis” – Another beautiful look back, soaked in love for music and the world, though that’s about as far as I’m going to go with my comparison between Harlan T. Bobo, crown prince of the Memphis garage-rock scene currently living in France, and one of the great virtuosos of my lifetime. After hearing Bobo’s left hand had damage from lupus, I doubted I’d ever get another of his great, wry records bursting with big arrangements that were the result of deep friendships. And when I heard the new one, Porch Songs, was an intimate solo acoustic venture, my outsized joy at new Harlan T. Bobo songs was tempered with “Well, it’s what he had to do…” But Porch Songs undid all those biases with 13 of the best songs he’s ever written, reminding me he’s still the champion of seeing all the sides of frequently fucked up life and finding a way to make that picture beautiful without hiding or obscuring any of it. I hope I get to see one of his less frequent shows – Anne and I still talk about that Gonerfest set that calmed a rowdy crowd into attentiveness. “We crashed a big party, we drank all their whiskey, we wrote most of this song in the pool. I stripped off my breeches and I sat on the hostess; hell, no one around here cares what you do. I learned that this guitar could float but my guitarist, he don’t. We could drink underwater, it’s true. I’m feeling my best but acting my worst. Lord, I must be in Memphis tonight.”
  • Duke Deuce featuring Quavo and GloRilla, “Just Say That (Remix)” – Rising Memphis rapper Duke Deuce teams up with fellow Bluff City native GloRilla and Quavo from Migos for this piano driven adrenaline journey ready to burn the liars and imitators out of the system.
  • The Comet is Coming, “Code” – I saw The Comet is Coming a few years ago at a Winter Jazzfest and it was my first taste of Shabaka Hutchings live. A fireball of a power trio – Hutching’s saxophone backed with Betamax Killer (Maxwell Hawlett) on drums and Danalogue the Conquerying (Dan Leavens) on keys – this advance single from their upcoming Hyper-Dimensional Expansion Beam is another powerful groove, loaded with nuance and surprise.
  • Kokoroko, “Soul Searching” – Great friend Andrew Patton turned me onto Could We Be More, the debut full length by this London-based afrobeat and highlife band and it’s another example of him never steering me wrong. The eight piece band takes a lighter touch and incorporates some breezier textures into this four minute instrumental, with Ayo Salawu’s drums and Onome Edgeworth’s percussion dancing like light on the river of Duane Atherley’s bass line, lifted toward the sky on the intertwining lines of Sheila Maurice-Grey’s trumpet, Cassie Kinoshi’s sax, and Richie Seivwright’s trombone.
  • Meridian Brothers and El Grupo Renacimiento, “Poema del salsero resentido” – Bogota-based Eblis Álvarez’s Meridian Brothers project, known for fusions of electronic music and rock, collaborates with an imaginary salsa band for this eponymous record. He uses a New York-based form from the past to cast a light on very contemporary concerns and preoccupations in a way that honors the groove and subverts it at the same time, in a way that reminds me of a lot of Quantic’s best work.
  • Pillow Boy, “Once I Became One of Those” – Brad Swiniarski’s long been a stealth – or at least “in the know” – candidate for best songwriter in Columbus. Working in bands and, often, behind the drum kit live, he never got the immediate accolades of more self-aggrandizing candidates, but his songs for acts like Bob City and The Means have given me as much joy as anyone to walk the streets of the town I love so much (even when it pisses me off). This record I think (because I couldn’t find a lot of detail) is a frayed disco tune, its undeniable groove riddled with scorch marks and dents, and an excoriating dissection of the interior life of a character.
  • Closet Mix, “My Appeal to Heaven” – Another of my favorite songwriters in Columbus, Paul Nini, though he’s better known than Brad with years of leading the great band Log, putting out records under his own name, and getting the “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Paul Nini” shout out on Great Plains’ enduring classic “Letter to a Fanzine.” His newest project Closet Mix, with his brother Chris Nini on keys, Keith Novicki on guitar, and Dan Della Flora on drums, doesn’t record much but everything they’ve put out so far is a gem. This mix of jangle and mystery is aided by some excellent horn work from my pal Fred Gablick (long of Honk Wail and Moan) on reeds and New Basics Brass Band leader Tim Perdue on trumpet and writing the arrangement.
  • Julia Wolfe & Sō Percussion, “Forbidden Love” – Julia Wolfe might be my favorite current composer working in classical forms. Her triumvirate – with David Lang and Michael Gordon – Bang on a Can, was hugely influential on dilettante me in college when I was finding all this new chamber music that didn’t make sense but deeply resonated with me. And a New Amsterdam records showcase during CMJ at Le Poisson Rouge where I got to see one of her pieces in person, fully aware it was her, Lad for nine bagpipes (in this case, one live and the rest on tracks) was one of those physically almost overpower moments where I said “I’ve never heard anything like this” at the same time it’s making all these connections in my head – to Rothko, to Ayler, to Richard Serra – and I went looking for any record with her name on it. For the decade since that show, the strategy has continued to pay dividends, with Anthracite Fields, Steel Hammer, Fire in My Mouth. And this new, beguiling piece, pairs her with one fo my favorite percussion groups but assigns them the traditional string quartet format of two violins, viola, and cello, for an expansive meditation on an American mythology that humanizes it in a way I find incredibly moving.
  • Bonnie Raitt, “Down The Hall” – That flurry of warm strings and tones that end the Wolfe seemed to relate – at least in my head – to this striking closing track from Bonnie Raitt’s terrific record Just Like That… This song tells the story of an inmate trying to be with his fellow prisoners as they’re dying in a sort of atonement, with a power, understated vocal by Raitt backed only by her crystalline acoustic guitar and Glenn Patscha’s B-3. “I sit and wait outside his stall, to help him when he’s done. Whatever shame we might have felt, well, that’s all come undone.”
  • Armen Donelian, “Fresh Start” – This gorgeous title track from a new trio record matching pianist Donelian with bassist Jay Anderson and drummer Dennis Mackrel had a similar sense of story telling to me as the previous two tracks, and a warmth that seemed to resonate against its predecessors and here and the couple of songs that come after it. Donelian’s touch alone is breathtaking but the sympathy of the trio together is what keeps me coming back.
  • Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, “I Just Came Home to Count the Memories” – And talking about “gorgeous,” John Anderson’s early ’80s recording of this Glenn Ray tune set a bar for that when I was a child and, expectedly, Welch and Rawlings find every nuance in the loneliness of the text and the implicit hope in the way the character is still breathing and still choosing to stop by, the unspoken confirmation that they’ve got a future ahead along with the painful past they’re staring down right now. “That little Johnson boy from down the road was asking if the kids could come and play. Lord, I wish I could have told them yes, but I just said ‘I guess, son, not today.'”
  • Jim Lauderdale, “Lightning Love” – I like everything Jim Lauderdale does but most of my favorite work of his finds him playing with classic country music tone and texture and his new record Game Changer is rich with exactly that sweet spot of his writing and supple vocals.  Tommy Detamore’s pedal steel provides almost orchestral accompaniment around a tight rhythm section. “Holding on to what we’ve got that’s sent from up above. Sunshine, wild skies, deep in your eyes – lightning love struck us.”
  • Nicki Bluhm, “Feel” – Nicki Bluhm, best known for her work with the mostly-acoustic Grumblers, opens up her sound and reminds me of her alacrity for singing all kinds of material on her new one Avondale Drive. The horn (courtesy of the great Karl Denson)-and-organ dappled subtle groove on this soul song, and her transitions from clipped, rhythm phrasing into an open-hearted croon, made it an immediate favorite of mine. “Sometimes I wonder can I ever change?”
  • Julia Jacklin, “Love, Try Not to Let Go” – Another track in a subtle soul vein that also fits my macro-tendency to end with a song I can think of as a benediction or a prayer. Laurie Torres’ drums and the piano line (either Jacklin herself or Ben Whiteley) encompass a whole world of hope and drifting, and the low-key vocal on the verses to the hyper-controlled burst of the chorus, keep me coming back. “The echo of that party the night I lost my voice; the silence that surrounds it no longer feels like a choice. I need you to believe me, when I say I find it hard to keep myself from floating away.”

Categories
Playlist record reviews

Playlist – July 2022

Probably the latest I’ve ever been on one of these, due to two extensive projects in August, which should both be hitting the same week (one’s been scheduled, one I need to take some photos/get some art for). September’s mostly put together, just needs to be arranged and written about. I love you all; thank you for reading or listening. 

https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/dbe2d48e-4fe1-413c-8794-935eba8e01a9

  • Moor Mother featuring Aquiles Navarro and Alya Al Sultani, “Meditation Rag” – Jazz has always been an integral part of Moor Mother’s sound world and that influence comes to the fore in her breathtaking new record Jazz Codes. A tribute to influences and ancestors, she and her collaborators approach this history with the warmth, generosity of spirit, and intensity that stamps all of her work. Maybe my favorite album of hers yet. This track features trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, whose duet record with Tcheser Holmes is still in nigh-constant rotation for me, bringing his creamy, smoky tone and sense of melodic surprise, and British-Iraqi soprano Alya Al Sultani whose crystalline voice and sense of drama shines a different light through the layered beat and restrained Moor Mother vocal. “Maple Leaf Rag, Original Rag, Mississippi Rag, too much Jelly Roll. Too much Memphis blues. Bolden, Armstrong, cakewalk, Havana conga, hot jazz, Betsy and Duke. Dust jazz, musty Lester new ark, screams of justice.” 
  • Earl Vallie, “Prom” – I knew Earl Vallie what feels like a lifetime ago, as a bartender at my local scene hub, Café Bourbon Street, as a wildly inventive visual artist, and as one of my favorite conversation partners. Since moving to the west coast, he’s made a series of beautiful, artfully askew singer-songwriter records under this name, and this new one, Ghost Approaches, made in collaboration with drummer-producer Greg Saunier from Deerhoof and bassist Joel Crocco, feels like a breakthrough. This track, rich with drama and texture, pairs Vallie’s rippling Roy Orbison vocal and that throbbing rhythm section with Heidi Alexander’s lilting backing vocals and Josh Theroux’s stinging electric guitar for a cracked look at an idealized past that never quite was, embroidered with vintage hipster slang. 
  • John Scofield, “You Win Again” – From the first time I heard John Scofield in high school – on our NPR affiliate WCBE’s locally programmed music shows, I believe the one hosted by Maggie Brennan – his sound resonated with me. And seeing him live, from that first time at one of the Bump release shows with longtime pal Mike Gamble, through many other visits, that impression’s never changed. He’s taken a couple turns I wasn’t as interested in, but his ability to bring in and synthesize everything he loves without his playing feeling overstuffed or rococo, filtering everything through his love of the blues, his clarity, and his flow of ideas, continues to astound and delight me. For such a long and varied career, this eponymous record on ECM is his first solo album, and this delighted investigation of one of the greatest songs of the 20th century, Hank Williams’ “You Win Again,” sums up everything I love about Scofield as an interpreter. The bluesy slurs and unhurried nature, the deep understanding of the lyrics, and the refusal to use the song as a showcase for the technique are all wonders to behold. 
  • Charles Ruggiero, “Altered States” – Drummer-bandleader Ruggiero’s seventh album, Roo Gee Air Oh!!! Is his first album of strictly his own compositions, and it’s a clear sign he should be writing more; each one of these tunes is catchy and enticing, with real meat for the players and listeners to sink our teeth into. Ruggiero’s drumming is perfect on tracks like this, laying back and hitting hard when the moment demands. Bassist Ugonna Okegwo’s warmth and depth are a highlight, exemplified by his melodic solo around five minutes into this tune. I didn’t know Jeremy Manasia’s piano playing very well, but it’s like slipping into a bubble bath here. And Stacy Dillard’s tenor feels custom-made for these songs, melting right into this one and leading us on a journey. 
  • Bad Bunny featuring Tony Dize, “La Corriente” – My pal and former coworker Mary McCarroll turned me onto the new Bad Bunny record, Un Verano Sin Ti, and this quickly became one of my favorite songs on a record full of songs I love. The high moan of the synths and thudding bass around flattened drums adds up to a record I can’t get enough of. 
  • El Alfa, “Chu Chu Pamela” – Dominican rapper El Alfa (Emanuel Herrera Batista), the reigning king of dembow, built an enduring and immediate dancefloor smash with “Chu Chu Pamela.” The undulating rhythm buffets and raises his snapping vocal, with interesting little touches as accents.
  • David Nance, “Amethyst” – Coming out of a more standard rock and roll background but featuring a similarly twisting, slinky rhythm, Nebraska’s David Nance’s 20-minute epic closer to his Pulverized and Slightly Peaced, featuring Nance playing all the instruments, is everything I want and too seldom get out of this kind of guitar jamming. Like my favorite Magnolia Electric Company or Oneida excursions, this jets through space but never feels formless, every digression leads to something else, and every shift has a sense of dramatic importance. This made me even more excited to see him with Anne at Gonerfest.
  • Vladislav Delay, “Isosusi” – Sasu Rupatti’s music has been a key part of my understanding of the world for so long that I’m not sure I can put my finger down on what I heard first, but I think it was his work under the Vladislav Delay name. The newest album under that guise, Isoviha, is a bursting picture of the overheated world we’re all facing. Taking the strains of techno, improvisation, and 20th-century composition, especially musique concrete, Delay places them together but leaves the seams, like a Julian Schnabel broken-plate portrait. With synthesized textures instead of Nance’s guitars, he paints a similar quest for a world that might never be. 
  • Wormrot, “Seizures” – This Wormrot track, a standout from the Singaporean grindcore band’s fourth record Hiss, to my ears, plays with similarly abrasive and similarly searching textures as the Nance but makes them the fuel in the tank for a furious, raging vocal, vintage blast beat drums and wraps it all in a concise under-three-minute package. 
  • Water Damage, “Reel 2” – This expansive track rides a taut, crisp groove featuring three drummers – Swans’ depth charge Thor Harris, visual artist Greg Piwonka, and Mike Kanin (Magic People, Expensive Shit) – two bassists – Marriage’s Jeff Piwonka and USA/Mexico’s Nate Cross – Spray Paint and Tuxedo Killer’s George Dishner on oily, grinding synth, and Travis Austin on bowed guitar. It kicks up the right amount of noise in the right proportions. 
  • Winged Wheel, “Passive Jag” – We come into clearer but still complicated light with this track from a Detroit supergroup full of bands/artists I’ve loved for a long time, including recent Columbus ex-pat Mathew Rolin, Expensive Shit’s Cory Plump, Matchess’ Whitney Johnson, and Tyvek’s Fred Thomas (who Anne and I were just talking about recently in Detroit and are very much looking forward to finally seeing again at Gonerfest next month). In a lot of ways, it reminds me of one of my favorite Chicago bands, Disappears, but it’s without question its own thing, flecked with krautrock and shuddering post-punk, addictive, down-in-the-mix (maybe wordless) vocals and that gleaming guitar sound. 
  • Maisie Kappler, “Fit for a Queen” – I’m a recent convert to Columbus singer-songwriter Maisie Kappler, but after she played an outdoor show recently, friends came back raving about her performance and her songs on a bill of some of our sharpest and most innovative bands of the moment. This perfect song weaves finely etched portraits of a grandmother into a thick, shimmering fog of drone and a melody that keeps me chasing it. “When I was younger, I asked my grandmother how she held on to her youth. She stared at her whiskey, then she answered, ‘vanity.’ Surely, it must have been true; and if so, I’ve nothing to lose.” 
  • Johnny Gandelsman, “New to the Session” for Violin – Violinist Johnny Gandelsman’s magnum opus This Is America is part of a wave of classical/new music/whatever you want to call it records that have given me a lot of hope this month, engaging with the present moment in all its fucked-up-itude and still finding beauty in all of it. This Rhiannon Giddens composition is a standout, but I’ve gone back to the well of this album over and over again. 
  • Kirk Knuffke, “The Sun Is Always Shining” – I think I fell for Kirk Knuffke’s cornet work when I was lucky enough to see my first Butch Morris conduction at the Bowery Poetry Club in the mid-’00s. That impression was cemented with the Steve Lacy tribute collective Ideal Bread (which also turned me onto Josh Stinton), and it’s grown deeper with every record since. His new trio, Gravity Without Airs, links him with two titans of the NYC improvisation scene from the previous generation, Matthew Shipp on piano and Michael Bisio on bass, and it’s every bit as good as you’d hope with those players. A marvel of coiled control and explosive joy, often at the same time, it moves and shakes, what feels like tossed-off fragments recur in surprising ways, and the ball is tossed from one player to the other in a way that only works with deep empathy and deep listening. 
  • Ches Smith, “Mixed Metaphor” – Ches Smith is one of my favorite percussionists and drummers going way back, I think I first heard him with Mary Halvorson, but in recent years he’s blown me away time after time holding down the drum chair in Tim Berne’s Snakeoil (which took Anne and her Mom by surprise when we saw them in Chicago) and Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog as well as last year’s mind-blowing deep dive into Haitian music We All Break. His Interpret It Well takes the fascinating trio of violist Mat Maneri, keyboard player Craig Taborn, and Smith and brings in the melodic mystery of guitarist Bill Frisell. It’s a quarter that has all the mysteries of life in it and understands the beauty of quietness but can conjure a fiery meteor shower as easily as rain on the roof, then make you really see the smoldering ash in the aftermath. 
  • Carole Nelson Trio, “Chrysalis” – Irish pianist Carole Nelson, with longtime foils bassist Cormac O’Brien and drummer Dominic Mullan, works with slightly sharper edges but conjures a sound world that reminds me a lot of the Knuffke and Smith with her terrific Night Visions album. This leadoff track highlights delirious, melting arco work from O’Brian and a rhythmic assurance in Nelson’s touch that never wavers no matter how much space she leaves her partners. 
  • Kali Malone, “Living Torch I” – Stockholm-based composer Kali Malone trades the organic textures of a pipe organ for a bank of synthesizers and brings in the voices of Mats Äleklint on trombone and Isak Hedtjärn on bass clarinet. The textures in this, the evolution, takes my breath away. 
  • John Moreland, “Claim Your Prize” – Tulsa singer-songwriter John Moreland expands his palette and view of the world on every record, and his sweeping and ferociously intimate Birds in the Ceiling hits buttons in my story-song-loving chest I don’t think have been pushed so hard since Fred Eaglesmith’s Dusty 18 years ago. Producer Matt Pence – who got my attention with Slobberbone offshoot The Drams’ Jubilee Drive, still one of my favorite summer-coming-on records and a couple of the best Glossary albums – adds sparse, unsettling drums to three tracks, including this one. John Calvin Abney’s keyboard textures and Bonnie Whitmore’s atmospheric, empathetic bass (and cello) work help put these dark songs that couldn’t help but draw you in inside an entire world of pain and reward. “I wasn’t sleeping. The moon was high this morning when your certain kind of sorrow came and touched me without warning. And the lies you tell yourself to try and feel okay, well, they all come at a price that somebody has to pay.” 
  • Kimberly Kelly, “Person That You Marry” – Songwriter Lori McKenna is about as close as I have to a sure thing these days, and I think I found Kimberly Kelly through McKenna (who co-wrote this with Kelly and Brett Tyler) posting something on her Instagram. This finely chiseled high point of her rock-solid debut album, I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen is an excellent showcase of the warmth of her voice and a stellar example of the power of country music to pay tribute and memorialize the moments we might all let slip past, given their proper beauty and weight through attention. “He didn’t drink that much. He didn’t just give up. He didn’t yell that loud; we would’ve worked it out, somehow. I knew you in love, but this is war: nothing’s fair, nothing’s sure.” 
  • Vieux Farka Touré, “Les Racines” – One of my landmark musical moments – even still – was catching the Malian master Ali Farka Touré at the Southern Theater the summer between my first and sophomore years of college. I’d only recently discovered his records, but seeing it live in one of the best-sounding theaters I’ve still ever seen, made me feel like I was floating. His son Vieux Farka Touré has carried on and expanded upon that hallowed tradition with one great record after another, and Les Racines (French for “Roots”) is no exception. This title track centers on Touré’s lilting, thoughtful guitar melody and sets it amidst subtle percussion from Moussa Dembele and Madou Sidiki Diabate’s kora. 
  • Isaiah Collier and the Chosen Few featuring Osunlade, “Guidance (Yoruba Soul Remix)” – Chicago saxophonist Isaiah Collier and his band the Chosen Few grapple with the pervasive spiritual and seeking influence of John Coltrane on last year’s Cosmic Transitions, which I’m sorry to say I missed until this remix by St Louis producer Osunlade hit my radar. It uses melody to get at a deeper truth, and it uses smoothness to create a backdrop for its searching; Collier’s solo around the five-minute mark feels like gold bubbling up through a stretch of desert no one’s walked upon in many years. 
  • Feli Colina, “Diabla” – The sharp, hard-hitting piano driving this infectious dance smash from Argentinian Colina felt like it tied together with the tones of the previous couple of songs even though it operates on a different level of rhythmic intensity. 
  • Tumi Mogorosi, “Walk with Me” – I don’t know a lot about the South African jazz scene. I assume I found this through Phil Freeman’s essential Stereogum column, but Tumi Mogorosi, a drummer and composer’s Group Theory: Black Music album, grabbed me and didn’t let go. The chorus mingles with some juicy horn writing for Mthunzi Mvubu on alto (who also gets an unhurried solo but with teeth here) and Tumi Pheko’s trumpet. Reza Khota’s guitar strings perfect diamond-bright-and-hard notes with a sense of melodic surprise and well-timed snarled warmth, all on the foundation of a stellar rhythm section of Mogorosi and Dalisu Ndlazi on bass. 
  • Laura Veirs, “Signal” – I’ve been a fan of Veirs for a long time, probably starting when she was coming to the Wexner Center in 2007, but – as I was telling her occasional collaborator, video and film director Devin Febboriello when Anne and I had dinner with her and her husband Mike Gamble last week her new one, Found Light co-produced by Veirs and Shazad Ismaily, feels like a new statement of purpose, another level of feeling and clarity. The saunter of this track with drums that sound like they’re sneaking up on everything from around the corner and the flickering organ set up one of my favorite melodies and lyrics on an album I couldn’t find a bad track from. “I know you’re somewhere turning into your best self. I’m over here yearning, passing time best as I know how.” 
  • Tyshawn Sorey Trio, “Enchantment” – Drummer Tyshawn Sorey has made waves in the last several years with his compositions, for his own groups, and for chamber ensembles, and I’m as big a fan of that as anybody. But his new album, Mesmerism, finds him assembling a record of standards, firmly in the jazz piano tradition with two of the finest exemplars of the form working today, Columbus native Aaron Diehl on piano and bassist Matt Brewer. Their take on this Horace Silver composition retains the beauty of its melody and pushes the groove a little, a similar rhythmic intensity but at a right angle to Silver’s always right-on-time funkiness. Hearing Diehl go slightly outside of his comfort zone (and I’ve been a big fan of his last several records) and experiencing Sorey applying his signature drumming to a series of classics is an unalloyed delight. 
  • Quiet Sonia, “No Weeping Melts the Armor” – I fell for the expansiveness of this seven-piece Danish folk-rock band; I like the crescendoing beginning, the swells, the ebbs and flows of this 15-minute track that at times reminds me of The National and Destroyer around songs by Nikolaj Bruus that almost dare you to make a linear narrative out of them. “Now salvage your last scraps of dignity, show some guts, soul, and presence. ‘Cause I’ve seen the last of the human cities, and tears welled up in my eyes.” 
  • Wade Bowen featuring Vince Gill, “A Guitar, A Singer, and A Song” – Wade Bowen carries the torch of various strains of Texas country, and his lovely, lived-in tenor gets a damn fine showcase in this Lori McKenna co-write, a standout from his new one Somewhere Between the Secret and the Truth, with a gorgeous assist on the bridge from one of the genre’s finest modern harmony singers and guitarists, Vince Gill. “So, I’ll write you a thousand songs, and I’ll play you a thousand shows. It’ll feel like a thousand years. Some will remember me, and some won’t.” 
  • Alessandro Napolitano, “I’ll Remember Jimmy” – Italian jazz drummer Alessandro Napolitano assembles a quartet of Columbus B-3 titan Tony Monaco, guitarist Fabio Zeppetella, and vibes player Mark Sherman for a swinging eponymous record NZMS including this romp through a Monaco composition in tribute to the great Jimmy Smith. 
  • Nicky Egan, “This Life” – This title track from Brooklyn singer-songwriter Nicky Egan’s debut album on Colemine Records, who can seem to do no wrong lately, plays with similar themes of memory and acceptance, and similar tone worlds, bathed in the August light that spills in the windows of a bar or coffee shop in mid-afternoon. 
  • Bree Runway, “Somebody Like You” – Racing headlong into the yearning the last few songs hinted at, and following it straight up to the stars, Bree Runway crafts a tribute to the person she hopes to meet, wrapped in blankets of liquid synths and a cracking drum machine part under a soaring melody. “Don’t wanna wait till morning hours. Don’t wanna wait too long; let’s dive in.” 
  • Claudia Valentina, “Extra Agenda” – A more up-tempo R&B track, this infectious Claudia Valentina tune feels like youthful infatuation and makes me miss those days you could find me in the club as often as at a show. That layered autotune at the very edge of the uncanny valley, and the flattened, synthetic drums drive that catchy melody to the back of the stands. “When I need your taste, don’t walk; run it.” 
  • Brooklyn Queen, “Mentions” – Turning up the intensity, this track from Detroit-based rapper Brooklyn Queen recalls the wider social aspects, glee, and frustration of youth, at a barreling pace. “Why you in my mentions with the bullshit?” 
  • BAYLI, “think of drugs” – I’m a sucker for a good love-as-drugs metaphor, and this powerful, intimate track by Brooklyn’s BAYLI is the best take on that I’ve heard in years. BAYLI balances heaviness and joy in this perfect three-minute pop song, piecing together her own Queer identity, facing childhood trauma, and building her identity, with a melody that sneaks up on and surprises you. “I don’t care, truth or dare – I was never really scared. I’m not sad, I’m not sad, I’m just letting go of tears. Caught the bag in my lap for the cold, hard pill, it don’t matter how I feel, ‘cause the pain is really real.” 
  • Esthesis Quartet, “Cricket” – This leadoff track from the exciting debut album of Esthesis Quartet, written and rehearsed over Zoom during the lockdown and recorded in Los Angeles, exemplifies the sense of joy and tactile play inherent in creation I get throughout their eponymous record. The fluid melody from flute player Elsa Nilsson in the intro returns in more of the mode of flute on the classic James Brown records after some raucous barrelhouse piano from Dawn Clement, held together by the melodic power of Emma Dayhuff’s bass work and Tina Raymond’s surprising, funky clatter on the drums. 
  • Mariel Buckley, “Shooting At The Moon” – Mariel Buckley commands a more straightforward groove with the same sense of reckless abandon as the last couple of songs. I enjoyed her previous two records, but the new one, Everywhere I Used To Be, really knocks me over. The smears of pedal steel and swinging bounce of the bass against the straighter time of the drums feels like a sniper’s sight being narrowed at memory the character just can’t shake. “I hear the echo bouncing off the walls; it sounds a lot like me. All the other voices sound so sweet, but honey, they don’t know who I used to be.” 
  • Rose Gold, “Addicted” – Baltimore R&B singer Rose Gold gives us a torch song for the ages, with crisp, subtle drumming, sweeping strings, and a sweeping melody sung with finesse and control. She doesn’t bite off lyrics like “I hear my mama, like, ‘Why am I not fucking perfect?’ Why can’t I kick this shit? I think I’m addicted,” she drizzles them over you, letting the pain sink in over time. 
  • Lera Lynn, “Eye in the Sky” – Lera Lynn’s Something More Than Love zooms between the wide angle and the close-up. Co-written and produced with her partner Todd Lombardo, this closing track takes advantage of every crevice and nuance of her voice, with a subtle, sympathetic backing as the record leaves questions hanging in the air, telling an elliptical story that’s always colored with a sense of hope and promise and burdened with expectations. “High on pride, you thought you were flying, but you might be wrong. Eye in the sky like someone was watching you all along. Mmm-hmm. But you might be wrong.” 
  • Tami Neilson, “The Grudge” – The lacerating strings arranged by Victoria Kelly and oily banjo-led creep of the tempo on this sleek narrative from her excellent fifth album, The Kingmaker, part warning and part beckoning, and the coiled restraint of Tami Neilson’s muscular voice recalls Bobbie Gentry, murder-ballad Dolly Parton, and a slew of artists who came out of that still-beguiling swamp after, like Neko Case, Arum Rae, and Grey DeLisle, but she threads the needle of nodding to that rich history without being too beholden to it. 
  • MELD, “Eye on the Road” – Nashville’s MELD’s new single has enough sunshine bounce to appeal to the jam band crowd, but her background in both Americana and vintage soul gives the tune enough ballast and grit to keep it grounded. That chorus, a cry in the dark, playing with the classic metaphor of the road as life – ending in the same “final destination” and paying tribute to someone gone, with a horn arrangement I can’t get enough of, pushing and supporting her golden voice. “Now it’s time I find my way away from the hands that shelter me.” 
  • Dylan Triplett, “All Blues” – I’m pretty sure I have John Wendland’s excellent KDHX radio show – Memphis to Manchester – to thank for turning me on to St Louis’ 21-year-old R&B phenom Dylan Triplett. Somehow, I’d missed the Oscar Brown Jr lyrics at some point grafted onto this Miles Davis classic off Kind of Blue, but I love the jaunty, swinging Friday night take Triplett gives this tune I’ve played a thousand times. 
  • Anna Butterss featuring Josh Johnson, “Number One” – This first solo album from LA bassist Anna Butterss who’s logged time with Makaya McCraven and Phoebe Bridgers, is a perfect example of music that encompasses the entire world as she sees it. Her flowing, twisting bass lines and synth stabs build whole landscapes out of light with Johnson’s (Chicago Underground Quartet, Jeff Parker and the New Breed, Leon Bridges) alto sax. 
  • Lyle Lovett, “The Mocking Ones” – Someone else with one foot in jazz and one in lyric-oriented songwriting, Lyle Lovett’s never made a bad record, but his new one, 12th of July, was even more of a boon than usual. With a mix of great takes on standards and some of his sharp and warm originals, I wrestled with which song to put on this list. I kept coming back to this tribute to friendship and the pleasures of continuing to live. “I said before, and now the long time’s come to wait, forget, and still remember some. To hold our heads above the laughing tongues falling from the faces of the mocking ones.” 
  • Horace Andy, “Try Love” – Another of my favorite voices – of an earlier vintage though I probably discovered the great roots reggae singer-songwriter Horace Andy around the same time I found Lovett’s work. This highlight off his new record, Midnight Rocker, pairs him with Adrian Sherwood of On-U Sound, and the arrangements make his voice pop without obscuring any of the wear or wisdom age has bestowed on that great instrument. 
  • Omah lay, “Bend You” – This low-key but neon splashed seduction from Nigerian singer recalls the Andy to me in senses of timbre and control. A three am classic when the lights are about to come on too soon. 
  • Sampa the Great featuring Denzel Curry, “Lane” – Zambian-born, Botswana-raised rapper-singer Sampa the Great teams up with Florida rapper Denzel Curry on this defiant, potent track about not staying in your lane, over smoky production from Power Pleasant (those suspended organ chords toward the middle get me every time). “Look at that now. You were staying in your lane. You was thinking that I had one. Thinking you’re Geppetto, pulling strings. You ain’t get the memo.” 
  • Theo Croker featuring Jill Scott, “TO BE WE” – I came to know trumpeter-bandleader Theo Croker through late-night sets at Winter Jazzfest, often leading stellar, star-studded jam sessions with simultaneous confidence. He brings that same unshowy ethos and gorgeous tone that can slice through any barroom conversation or anxious monologue to his new record Love Quantum. Featured vocalist Jill Scott I’ve been a fan of since her first record in 2000, which I bought the week it was released, only knowing she co-wrote the Roots single “You Got Me.” Her mix of slow-burn singing and spoken word still punches me right in the solar plexus, and she adds the right flavors to this expansive slow jam “Freedom is my favorite position.” 
  • Ruger featuring Harlem Richard$ and Jace, “Possession (Remix) – I couldn’t find much about this track by Nigerian singer-rapper Ruger, but I love it. The repeated, melting piano chords in the background, the stuttered typewriter drums, and the warbly, distorted backing vocals are like shadows on a brick wall. 
  • Ronnie Foster, “Swingin’” – I owe thanks to dear friend Andrew Patton for turning me onto organist Ronnie Foster’s return to Blue Note with the delightful Reboot. Best known for an appearance on Songs in the Key of Life and a long association with George Benson, this track brings Foster back to his organ trio roots with the simpatico camaraderie of Michael O’Neill on guitar and Jimmy Branly on drums. 
  • Binker Golding, “Howling and drinking in God’s own country” – Sax player Binker Golding is another light from that London jazz scene you all know I’m crazy about. His new record, Dream Like a Dogwood Wild Boy, is jam-packed with interesting melodies and intense playing. Guitarist Billy Adamson adds some unsettling accents and twangy texture that ties the previous song and the one after together, as does Sarah Tandy’s jaunty, running forward but always grounded piano (check that solo around the 4-minute mark) and the crisp rhythm section of Daniel Casimir and Sam Jones. 
  • Dan Tyminski with Dailey and Vincent, “Ten Degrees and Getting Colder” – Dan Tyminski, who I became familiar with as Allison Krauss’s baritone vocal foil, contributes an excellent addition to the canon of Tony Rice tribute albums with his EP One More Time Before You Go, pairing with bluegrass band Dailey and Vincent on this lovely read of a Gordon Lightfoot classic Rice sang on the eponymous JD Crowe and the New South album. 
  • Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, “Have You Felt Lately” – Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith uses the stretched-taffy tones, and bright, sharp colors of synthesizers and the stuttered drums and percussion of EDM and runs it through a filter of experience. The pitched-up vocals and the low, rumbling horn sounds collide against each other, painting a larger picture in the time span of a pop song. 
  • Amanda Shires, “Bad Behavior” – I’ve liked every Amanda Shires record more than the last, but the new one, Take It Like a Man, blew every expectation I had out of the water in the best possible way. Working with producer Lawrence Rothman, she found the most sympathetic collaborator I think she’s ever had for every element of her interests and curiosity. This swirling series of faded photographs of giving into our worst impulses, with an arrangement full of echoing synths, hard drums, and a come hither vocal for the ages, has kept me coming back again and again. “Call it bad behavior. Maybe I like strangers. So what if I do? Maybe I only think about you.” 
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Playlist record reviews

Playlist – June 2022

As I write (most of) this on July 4, I look at the world on fire with another senseless massacre of a young black man in Akron, multiple recent assaults on rights trying to drive us back to the stone age, and the recurring drumbeat of mass shootings – and the ever-present awareness that people of color, women, and people without a financial safety net always suffer first and worse. I’m donating to abortion funds, trying to donate to vulnerable senate races, and grappling for more direct action I can be of help with. 

So, I know putting together playlists and sending them out on the air is even less important than usual. But I also remind myself that staying in touch with art and people does matter and joy is important. The two best things listening with an ear for things that spark this and compiling/ordering it into a list give me are the feedback and spirited discussions from the handful who read this and the part it plays in my gratitude practice. Thank you to anyone who reads this. 

https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/8d9f9df7-01c1-4a7a-9020-65568ad4f0f3

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Playlist record reviews

Playlist – May 2022

Quicker and maybe a little dirtier this month as I try to use a few vacation days to wrench the schedule back on track. This month is helped by a long drive to test it out with Anne, some good friends, and right now a beach view with coffee and a cigar that all feels about perfect. I hope you’re breathing, drinking water, and doing well. 

https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/be48b8de-65c0-4d66-8a6e-c3402c99f242

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Playlist record reviews

Playlist – April 2022

This month was hard – competing obligations, day job stuff and other writing gigs, also some difficult headspace that mirrored the shifts between chilly damp gray and sweltering humidity. So, this may be a little shorter and the writeups are probably a little shorter, by this homestretch getting it done was paramount. But fuck, there was a lot of music I was happy to have in my life. 

https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/6c9b58f0-fd02-4a22-8eeb-85bf392c0c64

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Playlist record reviews

Playlist – March 2022

Slow getting going this month between Big Ears and a front-loaded slate of contracted writing for other outlets, but it was good revisiting and chipping away at this over a period of weeks. I’ve always loved Spring and there’s a bounty of music to celebrate it with. Hat tip to Andrew Patton for letting me know the embed in the preview that worked fine last time didn’t work on all browsers so this time I’m separately placing the embed and the link as a separate link. Fingers crossed. Thank you all for listening, reading, or both. 

https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/a2864c4c-843c-4018-a61c-380ebb3beaad

Categories
Playlist record reviews

Playlist – February 2022

Finally moved off Spotify to Tidal, I doubt this is the final stop but at least it has Joni Mitchell who I listen to just about weekly, and the interface didn’t suck – tried a couple that handled playlists really badly. And, of course, there are more important things to think about, and I make donations and try to stay informed, but nobody’s looking for my ill-informed take on the horrific invasion of Ukraine, so I try to stay in touch with beauty where I find it and tell people “Hey, this is great – it made my day or week or month better.” Thanks for reading and listening.