Latest Blog Posts

by Jacob Adams

1 Feb 2011

It has recently been announced that Alison Krauss and Union Station—the biggest band in bluegrass music today—will be releasing a new album, Paper Airplane, on April 12th.  This news has been greeted with much excitement from fans who have been waiting patiently since Lonely Runs Both Ways (2004) for a new full-length effort.  They now eagerly anticipate the record’s release to see what musical paths this veteran group will tread.  Will the remarkable critical and commercial success of the 2007 release Raising Sand, Krauss’ creative collaboration with Robert Plant, influence the course of the music Krauss makes with Union Station?

While Krauss has been known for working within the limitations of traditional bluegrass, no matter how far she might push these boundaries, it is interesting to note how much of her artistic success has been due to an apt and diverse song selection.  Although Krauss and Union Station fill their set list and album repertoire with traditional bluegrass standards by the likes of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, they mine the fields of many musical genres to turn previously recorded tunes into newgrass masterpieces.  Krauss’ past albums have included covers of the Foundations’ “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You”, the First Edition’s “But You Know I Love You”, Dan Fogelberg’s “Stars”, Woody Guthrie’s “Pastures of Plenty”, Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”, and Shenandoah’s “Just a Ghost in This House”, just to name a few.  Union Station often closes its live shows with a particularly rousing, jammy rendition of Bad Company’s “Oh, Atlanta”.  Krauss and Plant’s Raising Sand further solidified Krauss’ reputation as a bluegrass artist exceptionally willing to explore unchartered territory.  Under the guidance of veteran producer T-Bone Burnett, Krauss and Plant covered tunes by the Everly Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, Gene Clark, and Tom Waits. Notably, Krauss has stated that some of her primary musical influences include not just traditional bluegrass icons like Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, but also figures from the rock and pop worlds, like Journey and Steely Dan.

by Corey Beasley

31 Jan 2011

Isaac Brock claims the Pixies as a seminal influence on Modest Mouse’s sound, and Frank Black and co.’s general blueprints can be found in much of the band’s material: Brock’s sing-shout vocal style, the similarly soft-loud dynamics of his group’s music itself, the overall focus on guitar, guitar, guitar. Still, beyond this shared DNA, the Pixies’ grip on Modest Mouse’s collective brain doesn’t usually seem too overt. The band even seems to acknowledge that split on “Head South”, when Brock sings, “A surf rock band / From the land of plenty / Surf rock bands / With no surf, just pine trees.” In other words, Modest Mouse is missing that one crucial element of the Pixies’ formula: Joey Santiago’s riptide-ready fretwork. These dudes are from the Pacific Northwest—they’ve got evergreens in their sound, not board shorts.

“Shit Luck” is somewhat of a different story. No, you won’t mistake Modest Mouse for the Del-tones here. However, the track might be the closest thing to a Pixies song the band’s ever recorded. The arpeggiating riff that anchors the song sees Brock going as far as he’ll go toward aping surf-ish repetitive tremolo picking. It’s surf rock filtered through the dusty grit of The Lonesome Crowded West. Think rolling waves of cars on the highway instead of fresh blue-green salt water.

by Jason Mendelsohn and Eric Klinger

28 Jan 2011

Klinger: A couple weeks ago, when I was insufficiently ebullient about Ziggy Stardust, I recall you all but threw glittery pixie dust in my eyes and challenged me to a duel. Now that I suspect the shoe is on the other foot, and I’m afraid I must reciprocate.

Mendelsohn, if you refuse to acknowledge the brilliance of Born to Run, I shall hereby slap you with a sweaty bandana and announce my intent to test you on the field of honor. Pistols at dawn, Mendelsohn!

Mendelsohn: Klinger, man, I tried. I really did and after repeated listenings I’ve come to begrudgingly respect the Boss and his E Street crew, but only for rockers like “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and the slow-burner “Backstreets” and even the iconic “Born to Run”. But then I hit the back third of the album and all that goodwill disappears.

So I’m thinking that come tomorrow morning, one of us is going to be lying on the ground with a gut shot trying to stop the bleeding with a sweaty bandana. I may have hit you with a dose of Bowie’s pixie dust but I think you will find that I’m not so easily blinded by the light.

by William Carl Ferleman

27 Jan 2011

Paradise Lost author John Milton, a patriotic Englishman, was absolutely an aficionado of music; his father was, in fact, a composer of some 20 works.  Scholar Diane McColley recently notes that “Milton collaborated with a court composer, praised the church music that Puritans attempted to destroy, and in his epics represented choral and instrumental music in Heaven, Hell, and Paradise” (Milton in Context, 2010).  Notwithstanding, music is typically associated with the sacred among the devotional, and, for them, particularly and personally with God; in Paradise Lost, the angels endlessly, tediously sing to praise the heroic sacrifice of the Son.

This, I think, indicates that in some sense it is understandable that another Englishman and polemicist, Christopher Hitchens, refrains from citing music too frequently or specifically in his several endeavors.  “Why, if god was the creator of all things, were we supposed to ‘praise’ him so incessantly for doing what came to him naturally?  This seemed servile, apart from anything else”, professes Hitchens in his book God Is Not Great (2007).  Aware of both Milton and the Bible, he links music, generally, with “songs of praise” to the Almighty, and, of course, a loathsome variety of human slavishness and worship.

by Joseph Fisher

26 Jan 2011

Recently, I was having a conversation with Brian Flota, the author of PoMo Jukebox’s hilarious “Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding” column, and he suggested, perhaps somewhat grandiosely, that the best moment in the history of music comes in Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, right before the start of the last verse, and right after the band descends down the scale.  That singular moment is one of pronounced silence, when it’s pretty clear that the band, which seems to be comprised of about fifty orchestras, is winding up for the crushing blast of the song’s conclusion.  Flota’s reason for his claim was simple: sometimes the best moments in music are the ones when there isn’t much going on.

That comment got me thinking a bit more deeply about the reasons why I prefer some songs to others—why some remain immediate no matter how many times I’ve heard them, while others lose their visceral power mere seconds after concluding.  Clearly, any conclusions that I could draw—if I could ever draw any—would be entirely subjective and potentially irrelevant to anyone else’s listening experiences.  Nevertheless, given that we just wrapped up The Season of Lists, I thought it might be worthwhile to break things down a bit further—to get out of thinking in terms of the best albums, or the best songs, or the best playlists, or even things like the best guitar solos or drums solos or whatever.  Rather, I thought it would be interesting to hear back from PopMatters’ esteemed readership about the best singular musical moments that you can remember.  Those brief intervals where, to trot out a hackneyed literary allusion, you felt IT!  Where you heard that one note, that one drum fill, that one vocal tic that made the entire song for you—or, indeed, for the history of music.

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