This week I was inspired by artists I saw on the Grammys, as well as thoughts about rap music and explicit lyrics in both rock and rap.
C-Jam Blues: Accomplice One, Tommy Emmanuel, 2018 This track came on my Spotify "Release Radar" playlist this week. Tommy Emmanuel is one of the best classical guitar players alive today, trained in the style of Chet Atkins, which is basically country music fingerpicking. This is from his newest album, which is a series of duets with fellow guitar legends. Icky Thump: Icky Thump, The White Stripes, 2007 From acoustic to ripping electric here comes Jack White and his sister Meg tearing it up on the White Stripes' farewell album. I saw them perform in 2005 at the Berkely Greek, and it was a completely amazing show. Closer: The Downward Spiral, NIN, 1994 The first NIN album was a soundtrack to my adolescence. I also saw Trent Reznor perform at the first Lollapalooza in 1991. I was transformed; rock and roll was seared into my soul as Reznor tipped over his drum kit and amps and lit them on fire. Life would never be the same again. Being part of that experience would drive my attendance at live music shows for the rest of my life. Contact: Random Access Memories, Daft Punk, 2013 This album was such a pleasant surprise when it came out a few years ago and was awarded Album of the Year. I was not familiar with them that much before this album came on the scene, except for one of my dorm mates in college who was really into early EDM and spun some Daft Punk vinyl for me in 1995 when they were just starting out. Although they were not my thing at the time, they are a fundamental and enduring fixture in electronic music.
Play Dead: Greatest Hits, Bjork, 1993 Bjork was another part of my teenage musical landscape since her iconic album Debut came out in 1993 when I was in high school. I was actually already familiar with her celestial, otherworldly vocals from her first band, The Sugarcubes. Yeah listening to the Sugarcubes in the late 90’s was uber hipster before hipster was a thing, ha! At any rate, I was reminded this week of this track which was actually from a 1993 movie soundtrack but appeared on her 2002 Greatest Hits album. Liability (Reprise): Melodrama, Lourde, 2017 I am slowly becoming a Lourde fan. Her voice is amazing, I’m impressed by the raw talent she displays for someone so young, I like her creative artistry. I haven’t listened to this entire new album yet but I’ve liked everything I’ve heard so far. I heard in an interview that Lourde has synaesthesia, which means that when she hears music she also sees colors in her head. Stevie Wonder and Pharrell also have this condition, and there is evidence that Mozart did as well. Broken Clocks: Ctrl, SZA, 2017 I was introduced to SZA via her performance at the Grammys. Like the rest of the world, I’m pretty bummed she didn’t win best new artist. She is reminiscent of Lauren Hill with her combo of rhythm and sweet vocal ability. I feel like she’s also giving a fresh female perspective about sex and love from a specific, marginalized cultural perspective. I’m a white woman and when I think about the work I need to do to understand and dismantle institutions of systematic racism, patriarchy, and oppression, I know that it is my job to learn about the experiences, struggles, desires, goals, and successes of women of color. SZA is telling these important stories and it is crucial that we listen, understand, and include these narratives in the dominant narrative of women’s experience. HUMBLE.: DAMN., Kendrick Lamar, 2017 Same as for SZA, but he’s a man so… he got to open the Grammys. #sorrynotsorry. Kendrick Lamar is undeniable right now and everyone who can handle it needs to listen to this album. When To Pimp a Butterfly came out, a younger latina co-worker recommended it to me, which I consider an honor because, again, as a white woman I feel a lot of respect that a young person of color would recommend this album to me, knowing I would “get it” and appreciate what Kendrick was saying about race, culture, and society. That album was an amazing cultural landmark that opened my mind to what modern rap could be. I think DAMN. is one of the most important albums in the American cultural tableau today and encourage everyone to at least listen to one track, preferably DNA. HUMBLE. is my favorite track, and truthfully I’m still trying to figure out why. That’s one of the reasons I like the album so much. It’s accessible and yet not, because I live at the edge of rap, at the edge of Kendrick’s lived experience. I also struggle with the explicit language on this and other rap albums. I’ll write more about this in a future post but in short, my tendency to place more value on “correct” standard American English is social conditioning, and “explicit” language, or any dialect regardless of it’s content or origin, is not inherently less valuable, necessary, or important than speaking “correctly.” Isn’t Kendrick really telling me to sit down, to be humble about the privilege inherent in my whiteness and to step aside for someone else to speak for once? Is this the cognitive dissonance of the rap listening experience? The fact that listening to this album inspires these questions in me is a good indicator that putting it on repeat will help in my deprogramming. City Too Hot: The Best of Lee Perry, Lee "Scratch" Perry A roots reggae classic. Living in Santa Cruz for the past 20 years has given me a deep appreciation for reggae of all types, but the OG roots hold a special place in the heart of most beach bums. Run for the hills with Lee Perry on this slow smooth track. I'm Waiting For the Man: Beck A cover I did not know existed from a mystery Spotify album. Obviously, I love Beck, and I’m interested in everything he does. I have mixed reviews about this track. He doesn’t sound quite raw enough to be waiting for his dealer. This is actually one criticism I read of Beck’s most recent album Colors as well: it’s too perfect, too planned, too rigidly designed and executed. This quality doesn’t necessarily work against him on that album with its upbeat dance tracks. In this case, however, I find myself wanting more grit in my Velvet Underground cover. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?: Lioness: Hidden Treasures, Amy Winehouse, 2011 I heard this playing in a Ross store of all places. Winehouse has an immediately recognizable voice that grips you with its power and emotion. I hadn’t heard this cover before. It’s timeless and a fitting tribute to the singer’s legacy. The House of the Rising Sun: 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, Dolly Parton This came on when I was shuffling through my songs on Spotify and I had to include it because it is too much Dolly all over the place. Seriously watch out for those horns though. The arrangement is painfully cheesy but Dolly’s vocals and lyrical interpretation are spot-on and you do actually believe her when she sings about being lost in the House of the Rising Sun. Plus, it’s DOLLY. 'Ol 55: Closing Time, Tom Waits A beautiful, haunting, early morning freeway anthem. I like songs about driving on the freeway because I grew up in Southern California where driving far and fast way of life. Even though the location is never mentioned in the lyrics to this song I’m pretty sure he’s talking about a Los Angeles experience here. Wildflowers: Wildflowers, Tom Petty This song was performed beautifully by Chris Stapleton and Emmylou Harris at the Grammys during a tribute to artists that passed in 2017. RIP Tom Petty. Helpless: Deja Vu, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young I saw a cool interview with Neil Young on Dan Rather’s show The Big Interview. He is just so in tune with a progressive, spiritual agenda that it was refreshing to hear him saying the same thing he has been saying forever, just being himself. I was reminded of this classic album and Neil’s vocals in this haunting tune. As always, thanks for reading and happy listening!