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Tuesday, Feb 1, 2011
Each of these songs, in my mind, would fit Alison Krauss and Union Station’s unique blend of bluegrass traditionalism and progressionist spirit.

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.


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Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011
It would be interesting to hear back from PopMatters' esteemed readership about the best singular musical moments that you can remember.

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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Wednesday, Nov 24, 2010
It’s not surprising that the intense curiosity about Lady Gaga’s music and aesthetic is being brought into undergraduate classrooms.

With a mix of journalistic curiosity and slight bewilderment, various American and international news sites have reported that a course called “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of the Fame” will be taught next spring at the University of South Carolina. Taught by Mathieu Deflem, a tenured sociologist, the course will use discussions of the pop star’s music and sartorial flare to build his students’ “empirical knowledge of some of the most important social dimensions of fame as exemplified by the case of Lady Gaga”. According to the course website, students will read academic studies that include fundamental works in the sociology of pop music by Simon Frith and others, Elizabeth Currid’s The Warhol Economy, and my forthcoming article in the Journal of Popular Culture, “Memory, Monsters, and Lady Gaga”. Although a University of Virginia writing course called “Gaga for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity” also garnered substantial media attention, Deflem will likely offer a unique perspective. He also manages the gagafrontrow.net website and even owns the studded cane and wheelchair used by Gaga during her blood-soaked 2009 MTV Video Music Awards performance.



Tagged as: lady gaga
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Thursday, Nov 18, 2010
Why do we write about music? Why do we try to surround ourselves with people who either share that love or are at the very least part of the reason we feel the way we do? And why, if we sincerely love when those lines cross, can't we do something about it?

There’s not a lot of money to be made in music criticism these days. I don’t know that there ever really was, because I’ve seen where Lester Bangs’ last known residence was and it wasn’t exactly palatial. And these days, gosh knows, there just isn’t a ton of dough being thrown around the music industry, and what is ain’t exactly trickling down to us hacks.


So what compels us to slave over a hot keyboard, our spines twisting into cartoon question marks, our fingers bent and gnarled and cracked from contemplative overuse?


Is it the perks? I won’t lie, I do enjoy sometimes not having to pay for CDs, though I’m not sure anyone pays for CDs anymore, so what the fuck am I so happy about? And though I don’t take nearly enough advantage of it, tickets to shows aren’t that tough to come by. And I suppose I could—gasp!—meet the band, though Twitter has probably robbed the romance from the mystery and majesty of the rock star. Nothing is sacred or secret when you discover that the only difference between us lowlifes and those who trod the boards in the name of the holy rock and/or roll is access to better drugs.


Tagged as: music criticism
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Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010
Can we, finally, begin pondering how cultures outside of the West—outside of London and New York—conceive of terms like indie and punk?

I’m writing this (relatively) brief blog entry because I want to start what I hope will be a long discussion in the comments section.  I’m also writing today from a position of genuine ignorance, which is why I want to hear from you, PopMatters Readers the World Over.


Jake Cleland’s recent piece here on the evolution of punk culture struck me for a few different reasons, not the least of which was because it began with an apparent breakup over punk music.  Jake, for what it’s worth, my wife loathes my collection of My Bloody Valentine, Mogwai, and Merzbow records, and we’ve been happily together for eleven years now.  Don’t let punk rock get in the way of love—or, I suppose, sex.  It’s not worth it, my friend.


Tagged as: indie rock, lo-fi, punk
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