Reviews

It All Comes Back to Haunt You: "Cutter #3"

Artist Christian DiBari's black-and-white panels feel more than a little like a woodcut – roughly done with a pocket knife, all slash marks and scars, as if the killer herself is carving out this story with her bloody blade.


Cutter #3

Publisher: Image
Length: 32 pages
Writer: Robert Napton, Seamus Kevin Fahey, Christian DiBari
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2014-12
Amazon

A couple of years back, John Hiatt – American rocker, blues man, country singer – released an album that really got under my skin. He's got a new record out now. It's good too, but it’s not the one I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of the one before that. Mystic Pinball.

There are some good songs on Mystic Pinball. They are all pretty dark. Haunted sort of Halloween songs. "Bite Marks" could be about his vampire lover. "No Wicked Grin" is one of the saddest songs that I have ever heard – and also one of the sweetest; I must have played that one a thousand times. "Wood Chipper" is kind of scary, all about murder and the different ways that you can dispose of a body. The song I'm thinking about right now, though, is called "It All Comes Back Someday."

It's about the bad things you see and the bad things you do and about how no matter how hard you try you can't keep them from creeping back into your brain. Like, late at night maybe, when you can't sleep for tryin', or when you take a wrong turn and end up by mistake on that street you haven't been on in years, that street you’ve been avoiding ever since that night.

The chorus goes like this:

Now it all comes back to haunt you

Yeah, it comes back anytime it wants to

It all comes back through the holes and the cracks

Where you thought you let it slip away

Yeah, it all comes back someday

"Through the holes and the cracks." That's the line that gets me. I picture it oozing in, seeping in.

I like this line, too:

You're bound up forever to the blood on the trail

To the tires on the gravel to the rust on the rail

This stuff scares me, man. Halloween haints ain't nothing compared to what I've seen. And it all comes back someday.

So, I'm thinking about John Hiatt and his next to the last album – Mystic Pinball, I believe it is – I'm thinking about all of this because I've been reading Cutter, the four part mini-series published weekly this October by Image Comics. It's one of those revenge stories where someone from the past, someone who has been done wrong, comes back with a vengeance. It's sort of like Stephen King's Carrie, but with the violence delayed for twenty years and justice brought about, not through the power of telekinesis, but through the power of garden shears. It's not really anything we haven't seen a thousand times before.

Except that in this tale it seems like half the damned town is the target, as if the crimes were committed not once in the long ago by a group of stupid young boys or stupid young girls, but by everybody, as if the victim was victimized so often, by so many, that it is a wonder that anyone even remembers it as a crime at all.

Of course, as I'm writing this I haven't seen the final issue, haven’t seen how all of this is going to get resolved. There are some hints that the obvious, though long dead, suspect may not be the real killer after all. It may be that the bad things remembered by the citizens of this small town are not the worst things that were done. It may be that they've forgotten things that were even worse.

Artist Christian DiBari tells this tale in stark black-and-white. It feels more than a little like a woodcut – roughly done with a pocket knife, all slash marks and scars, as if the killer herself is carving out this story with her bloody blade. And then, on top of all the cuts and slash marks, things are shaded with Ben-Day dots, making it feel, oddly enough, like you're watching all of this play out on an old black-and-white television set full of background snow and fuzz, making it feel like it's 1982 and you've stayed up late to watch the horror movie on the local channel and the signal isn't very clear and that damned static is making it so hard to see that thing in the shadows, that thing hiding behind the door.

And I may have seen all of this before but it doesn’t matter. It's Halloween and these are the tales we tell ourselves, the stories we repeat year in and year out because we have to.

And all of this has got me to thinking about things done and undone. Things done and undone.

Things are seeping in through the holes and the cracks.

And that song is stuck in my head; it's playing over and over and over again on a loop in my brain.

Now it all comes back to haunt you

Yeah, it comes back anytime it wants to

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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