Music

Charlie Robison: Live at Billy Bob's Texas

Great songs and a great band distinguish Robison's latest live offering.


Charlie Robison

Live at Billy Bob's Texas

Label: Smith Music Group
US Release Date: 2013-06-04
UK Release Date: Import
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Something to mull over: what the hell is country rock? Is it the bland outlaw posturings of the Eagles, circa Desperado? Or, is it perhaps the weird, mellow lilt of Neil Young, circa Harvest? Is it both? If so, how can the term be applied to such radically different artists and works of art and retain significant meaning?

Beats me, and I guess now’s not the time or place to prattle on about such problems. What I do know is that country rock is the only fitting genre descriptor for a record like Charlie Robison’s Live at Billy Bob’s Texas. Formally speaking, much of the album is given to more or less straight country -- song structures, imagery, and Robison’s twang fit squarely within that tradition. That being said, everything here is played with an unmistakably rock ‘n’ roll attitude. Robison’s band is a damn good one, too, lending the proceedings a freewheeling feel that never devolves into sloppiness. To boot, the predominantly self-penned songs are terrific (in particular, the solo acoustic, multi-generational family epic “Indianola”).

The problem with this record, insofar as there is one, is that it is a live album. The whoops and hollers of the crowd distract, and the bits of showmanship that make a live concert special to the attendees don’t translate well to tape. Granted, that’s not really Robison’s fault -- it’s a failing of the form. Still, it does slightly diminish the impact of this otherwise excellent release.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

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From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

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