Music Of The Month: July 2023

Joni Mitchell Joni Mitchell At Newport

Well folks, due to prepping for, attending, and catching up after the Newport Folk Festival, it took me longer than normal to listen through the month’s new releases. So now that we’re halfway through August, I’m finally getting around to posting the July episode of my little monthly reviews.

Cut Worms released a new self-titled album I enjoyed. Straight-ahead pop-y tunes delivered in comfortable arrangements, it’s an easy listen for a summer afternoon. Similarly, Colter Wall’s new record, Little Songs, retains his signature lived-in vibe throughout. As I’ve said before about Charley Crockett, I’m not 100% sure I can distinguish one Colter Wall album from another, but I really do love his sound when I’m listening to it. Also on point in the relaxed listening category is Dream Box, the latest from guitarist Pat Metheny. Sorted from a forgotten folder Metheny found on his computer while on the road last year, these are ultra-stripped-down versions of standards, covers, and original compositions played on two guitars: Metheny with Metheny, adding overdubs to the tracks in the found files.

July also brought us Elizabeth Moen’s new release, For Arthur. This five-song EP is a tribute to Arthur Russell, a musical prodigy, cellist, pianist, hippie, and spiritual seeker who passed away in 1992. Russell’s music came across my radar via The Tweedy Show, the nightly Instagram show put on by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and his family during the pandemic shutdown, as they often covered Russell’s songs. Moen’s record shows these songs in a new light, without losing any of the very personal nature of the originals.

Speaking earlier of the Newport Folk Festival, however, this month’s pick absolutely has to be Joni Mitchell At Newport. I’ve been fortunate to experience an awful lot of indescribably transcendental musical moments in my life, many of them at Newport Folk, but very few even remotely compare to the moment Mitchell walked on stage in 2022. Fifty-three years after her last Newport Folk appearance, 22 years after her last public concert, and 7 years after having been stricken with a brain aneurysm, a live performance from Joni Mitchell seemed, at best, entirely unlikely. And yet that’s exactly what happened. The experience was so profoundly moving that Suzy and I struggle to talk about it to each other even today.

Now, I’m not going to claim that this album will convey that same experience to you. I can guarantee it won’t. In fact, I’ll admit that I will almost certainly listen to all the other records I listed above more often than I listen to this one; Joni Mitchell At Newport is a good record, not a great one. But it’s my pick of the month because it is the best document available of one of the best moments of my life, plain and simple.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

(click to go to artist’s website)

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)