Since March is women’s history month, I think it’s a good time to say a few words about the three women that have dominated my listening as of late, namely Valerie June, Courtney Barnett and Eilen Jewel.
Currently, I can’t stop listening to Valerie June’s latest release The Order of Time. Her previous release, Pushin’ on a Stone was good. But Order of Time is on a whole different level. It incorporates diverse and distinctive sounds ranging from Saharan Blues (Man Done Wrong, Shakedown) to Appalachian roots, folk and soul. At times, I hear 70’s Van in the mix as well as a touch of Billie in her vocals. Yet it’s all very different. The songs are unique and mesmerizing. Shakedown incorporates African rhythms with searing electric guitar. Slip Slide On By and Astral Plane are ethereal masterpieces - simply beautiful.
In the last year or so, I’ve probably listened to Courtney Barnett more than any other band or artist. Last summer I was in Philadelphia for a business trip. The great WXPN played some Courtney and I finally really heard her. Hats off to XPN for that. She currently has two albums released, a few singles and a new album that she released with Kurt Vile. My favorite is her 2014 release Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
She sings in a sort of deadpan style with rambling, observational and sometimes funny lyrics (“Janet insists that we buy organic vegetables and I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first, a little pesticide can’t hurt”). Sort of a rocking Seinfeld with the humor muted and the energy turned up to eleven. Her guitar style is raw, punky, and sometimes grungy. Pedestrian At Best is a raw grungy rocker with her distinctive rambling, and in this case angry, lyrics (“put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you, tell me I’m exceptional I promise to exploit you, give me all your money and I’ll make some origami honey, I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny”). Great stuff.
I’ve also been spending a lot of time with Eilen Jewell’s 2017 release Down Hearted Blues. Eilen is from Idaho, but used to live in Boston and became a fixture in the Western Mass music scene where I’ve seen her many times. I’ve long loved her Sea of Tears album and her beautiful country infused debut album Boundary County.
Eilen combines elements of country, blues, rockabilly and surf (yes surf) to create a unique retro Americana sound. The surf component comes courtesy of her great guitarist Jerry Miller. Down Hearted Blues was named one of the 50 best albums of 2017. It features Eilen’s take on vintage blues tunes penned by the likes of Willie Dixon and Alberta Hunter. Eilen doesn’t try to recreate the originals by any means. Instead she uses these well chosen songs to serve as a perfect catalyst for her unique sound.
Ok, while I can’t say I’ve been listening to her much lately, I also want to give a women’s history month shout out to Linda Thompson. Linda is the lesser known half of Richard and Linda Thompson. R&L divorced and stopped recording albums together ages ago (although he does appear on her latest albums). But while Richard is deservedly revered, you hear little praise for Linda. So for now I’ll just say that her last three releases, Fashionably Late, Versatile Heart and Won’t Be Long Now are simply gorgeous.
Alan Likes Music