Music

Waylon Jennings / Willie Nelson: Live! at the US Festival

The US Festivals took place during the post-Woodstock/Altamont and pre-Live Aid years, when rock festivals were equated with hippie values and squalid sanitary conditions.


Waylon Jennings

Live! at the US Festival

Label: Shout Factory
US Release Date: 2012-02-28
UK Release Date: 2012-02-28
Amazon
iTunes

Willie Nelson

Live! at the US Festival

Label: Shout Factory
US Release Date: 2012-02-28
UK Release Date: 2012-02-28
Amazon
iTunes

The US Festivals occurred at a strange time both in American life and in the history of rock festivals. The events took place during the early eighties when Ronald Reagan was in his first term as President and the country was recovering from a major economic recession. Despite the media attention (Does anybody else remember Sting giving newsman Ted Koppel a spontaneous kiss on the lips during “Nightline”>), host Apple Computer mogul Steve Wozniak lost tens of millions of dollars sponsoring a wide diversity of talented and popular artists such as the Grateful Dead, the Talking Heads, Ozzy Osbourne, Van Halen, the Pretenders, the Police and many others at a newly created amphitheatre in the desert. Many people blamed the heat for the failure of the fests to attract more of a live audience.

The US Festivals took place during the post-Woodstock/Altamont and pre-Live Aid years, when rock festivals were equated with hippie values and squalid sanitary conditions. Country music, which was considered the antithesis of rock during the ‘60s (think of Joan Baez at Woodstock singing “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man”) had become linked with rock in the ‘70s (The Eagles, Lynryd Skynyrd, and others were among the decade’s most popular acts). Therefore, the fact that Wozniak scheduled a Country Day in addition to a Heavy Metal, New Wave and Rock Day, was not a surprise. The Country Day line up included Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris, and Hank Williams Jr. in addition to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. The Shout Factory label has just released live CDs and DVDs of Waylon’s and Willie’s performances more than 25 years after the original shows.

Waylon performed first on the bill. The one thing about Waylon is that he makes every tune he sings sound like it was written by him, even when this is not the case. He has a distinctive style that can turn everything from Little Richard’s “Lucille (You Won’t Do Your Daddy’s Will)” to Mel Tillis’ “Sweet Mental Revenge” into a Waylon song. Waylon performs these, and twenty other cuts in a manner that shows off his distinctive approach to music. It’s sort of like a Mack truck that flattens everything in its way, but because it does so with power and grace one is awed rather than scared. However, it does make similar sounding material seem the same. How different are songs like “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way” and “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” anyway? The instrumentations and vocal inflections greatly resemble each other.

The biggest problem with this disc is that Waylon seems to be tired. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe he was partying too hard the night before. Who knows? While Waylon is enough of a professional to perform the set without faltering, he never really gets charged up. The intensity of his singing never changes. He blurs the differences between the songs by never altering his style, even when he is joined onstage by his wife Jessi Colter for her composition “Storms Never Last”. While Waylon fans would be happy hearing the man canter through some of his best-known material such as Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love),” “Only Daddy That’ll Walk That Line,” and “Honky Tonk Heroes,” there are no revelations or outstanding moments here.

While all the songs blend together on Waylon's set, Willie’s never been afraid of singing the same song twice in a set. His concerts are usually like one giant medley anyway where he rarely takes a break between tunes but just rushes right into the next one. Waylon and Willie were a popular duo during this time period, so it’s not surprising the Willie invites Waylon to perform with him during his set. The first time, Waylon doesn’t show up, so Willie sings “Good Hearted Woman” by himself. Waylon had sung it solo earlier. Then Waylon does show up, so the two sing “Good Hearted Woman” for a third time (along with “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”). Again, Waylon seems tired, especially compared with Willie’s vigorous performance. Waylon’s voice is somewhat flat and scratchy compared with his compadre.

Willie’s 23-song set shows the Texas Outlaw in fine form. He weaves standards such as “Stardust” and “Blue Skies”, self-penned classics such as “Crazy” and “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”, and other wonderful songs by such luminaries as Lefty Frizzell, Mickey Newbury, and Tommy Duncan together into a tight program that varies in tone and tempo according to the material. While Willie is almost five years older than Waylon and 50 years old at the time of this recording, he sounds like a young kid. He whips through cuts like “Bloody Mary Morning” as if it’s a rockabilly barn burner. Even when Willie slows down on tracks like “Georgia On My Mind”, his voice brightly conveys the contentment celebrated in the lyrics.

Waylon’s been dead for 10 years now. Hoss should still be remembered for all the marvelous music he created and performed. He’s left a solid chunk of country music that serves as a monument to his talents. This disc does nothing to enhance or detract from this. Willie will soon be 79-years-old. He’s still releasing great albums and giving concerts. This live recording is just one of many that reveal he may be one of country music’s greatest artists. Maybe the disc is not essential listening, but it sure is a hell of a good time to hear.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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