Music Of The Month: September 2023

Jenny Owen Youngs Avalanche

September was a bit of a weird month. Toward the end of August I saw the list of upcoming releases, and it was chock full of new goodies from quite a few of my favorite artists. But alas, as they came rolling in over the course of the month I didn’t find most of them to be very interesting at all. The only one that really grabbed my attention is Willie Nelson’s latest, simply called Bluegrass. Way, way back in the day when I was playing bluegrass in Touch Of Grass and The Southland Ramblers, we covered Willie Nelson songs routinely. But somehow it never occurred to me that Willie himself might make a bluegrass album someday. But here it is, and it’s pretty great. Good song choices and an absolutely stellar lineup of bluegrass pickers.

Adding to the weirdness, I also really like More Than A Whisper: Celebrating The Music Of Nanci Griffith. Generally speaking I mostly find tribute albums to be kind of all-over-the-place and, perhaps understandably, more than a little uneven. But this one is good throughout, and also offers up what is very easily my favorite individual song this month: John Prine & Kelsey Waldon’s duet on Love At The Five And Dime. Every single thing about this track is perfect.

And so it is that, as so often happens, despite any expectations I may have had, my pick of the month for September comes from someone I never heard of before, Jenny Owen Youngs. Her new release, Avalanche, is apparently her third, and together with a few EPs along the way, it’s a catalog I definitely need to explore in more depth. Back during the thick of the pandemic I happened upon and fell in love with Becca Mancari’s first record (from 2017), Good Woman, and then as her subsequent records came out she ventured onto a musical path that led away from what I’d loved about that record. While I don’t want to take away from Youngs’s own originality, and she certainly doesn’t sound like a Mancari clone, one of the first things through my mind during my initial spin of Avalanche was that it starts to fill in the space where I had hoped future Mancari records would be. I also hear echoes of Edie Brickell, and maybe just the slightest hint of Regina Spektor in Youngs’s vocals. There’s not a bad song on Avalanche. The lyrics are solid and interesting, the melodies infectious, and the production is top-notch. And it turns out she’s originally from Newton, NJ, about 20-ish minutes from our house. We’re practically neighbors.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

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Music Of The Month: July 2022

Tami Neilson Kingmaker

I’m getting to this a little later than usual this month, but here we are:

Right off the bat, it must be said that the best thing that happened in popular music during the month of July has to be the surprise return of Joni Mitchell to the Newport Folk Festival.  Those of us in attendance had already been treated to the unannounced appearance of Paul Simon on the previous night. Even so, we all expected Brandi Carlile to have an ace up her sleeve to close things out on Sunday, and there was rampant speculation that it might be Joni. But I don’t think any of us realized just how powerful the moment would be when she actually walked onto the stage. Read about it here, and seek out all the videos on YouTube.

Before leaving the subject of Newport, let me point you toward Arooj Aftab, who came to my attention when she was announced as part of this year’s Friday lineup. Aftab is a Pakistani vocalist, producer, and composer, and I am now completely in love with her work. Do yourself a favor and give her a listen.

Another thing that hit my radar in the month of July was the album Good Woman by Becca Mancari. The song “Summertime Mama” popped up on the radio (The Loft, on SiriusXM) on my way to work one morning, and as soon as I got to my desk I searched for the album. If I had been writing these little monthly reviews in October 2017, this would have been my pick of the month without a doubt. I love every note of every song on the record; can’t stop playing it.

So now onto this month’s new releases:

The Deslondes put out a great new album this month called Ways & Means. Apparently the band had been on hiatus for five years, and I would say if this is the result of taking such a refresher, it was well worth it. Not a bad song on it. For most of the month I was expecting this record to be my July pick, and it would have been perfectly deserving of the honors.

But then, along came Kingmaker, from Tami Neilson. As far as I know I’ve never heard of Neilson before, but I can assure you I will hear more of her from now on. What a voice! If I had to describe this particular record in only one word, that word would have to be “cinematic.” Listening to it for the first time, I was convinced (mistakenly) that Neilson was the lounge singer from the casino in the third season of Amazon Prime’s legal drama, Goliath. It also strikes me that almost any song on the record would be right at home in almost any David Lynch project. And there are several passages throughout where the string arrangements seem like they may have been lifted directly out of the Sean Connery era James Bond movies. All that said, I think it’s really a rockabilly record at heart. But whatever it is, everybody needs to hear it.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

(click image to go to artist’s website)