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: May 2022

Wilco Cruel Country

Early  this month, Sharon Van Etten released We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong, my favorite of her albums so far. About a week later, Kevin Morby brought us This Is A Photograph, which turns out to be my favorite album of his, too.

Then along came the release of Carry Me Home, a live recording from 2011 of Mavis Staples and Levon Helm. Boom. Purely delightful. If you can listen all the way through this record without tapping a toe or bobbing your head, I’m pretty sure something about you ain’t right.

My pick of the month, however, is Cruel Country, the new “double album” from Wilco. (Quotation marks because, as of the time of this writing, this record exists solely in the form of a digital download.) There’s a lot of internet chatter about this record being a return to Wilco’s alt-country roots, but to my ears it doesn’t have much in common with their early records. I’m more inclined to say just the opposite: as pointed out by Chris Deville in his review at Stereogum, the band has never embraced their country roots as fully as they do here, even while still managing to push and pull the genre in different directions.

Finally, as a bit of an aside, I’ll mention that about half the songs on Cruel Country made their debut on The Tweedy Show, more than 200 hours of which was livestreamed from the Tweedys’ living room while we were all in various stages of pandemic shutdown. Seeing and hearing these songs develop from a single guitar & vocal on the Tweedys’ sofa into the full band arrangements on the record has been a rare treat.

Get some music in your ears, everybody!

click image to go to artist’s website