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DISH’S YEAR IN SOUND
THE BEST MUSIC RELEASES OF 2013


by Carol Candeloro






2013 will be remembered as the year former Disney moppet Miley Cyrus gracefully entered adulthood by twerking and violating Robyn Thicke at the MTV Video Music Awards. We get it, Miley. You’ve had sex, fancy hip-hop culture and dabble in recreational drugs. Can we move on? Her attempt to shock did nothing but move whatever talent she has to the back pages. Not worth clutching your pearls over, America.

Miley’s headline-making, assault-on-our-eyes was more of an affront to the year’s biggest music stories; Linda Ronstadt being silenced by Parkinson’s Disease and the death of NYC rock legend Lou Reed. Ronstadt, one of the greatest singers of all-time and the biggest selling arena act of the ‘70s, conquered Broadway, effortlessly resurrected big band torch songs and, who, devoutly sung the Mexican music of her ancestors, informed the world she can sing no more. Reed, whose avant-garde work with The Velvet Underground in the 60s and 70s influenced every indie, punk and rock band from R.E.M. to Sonic Youth to U2, died at the age of 71 from complications after a liver transplant six months earlier. Never before had a musician combined tales of drugs and NYC drag queens with doo-wop song structures and simple poignancy,  creating a modern, cutting edge sound that now sits in the Library of Congress’ registry.

With these two great musical losses, 2013 would wrap up to be one of the most heartbreaking years in memory. And yet, here at DISH, we’ve found some praiseworthy sounds to ease you in to 2014:



BILLIE JOE + NORAH “FOREVERLY” BILLIE JOE + NORAH
“FOREVERLY”

($9.99, Warner Bros.) billiejoeandnorah.com


Put this in the completely-out-of-left-field file…Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones joined forces to cover The Everly Brothers’ 1958 album, “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us”. Huh?! Adorably titled “Foreverly”, the punk front man and the critics’ jazz/folk darling make a sweet team, complementing each other effortlessly as they duet on such classic country Phil and Don tracks as “Kentucky” and “A Long Time Gone”. Armstrong, who fell under the spell of the Everly’s sophomore effort years ago, thought it would be great to cover the album song for song with a female singer. Credit to Armstrong’s wife for suggesting Jones.



ELIZABETH MITCHELL AND FRIENDS “THE SOUNDING JOY: CHRISTMAS SONGS IN & OUT OF THE RUTH CRAWFORD SEEGER SONGBOOK”ELIZABETH MITCHELL AND FRIENDS
“THE SOUNDING JOY: CHRISTMAS SONGS IN & OUT OF THE RUTH CRAWFORD SEEGER SONGBOOK”

($11.79, Smithsonian Folkways) youaremyflower.com


A “Best Of” list wouldn’t be complete without at least one holiday album and this year the honor goes to kiddie folk songtress Elizabeth Mitchell who gathers family and friends (Natalie Merchant, Dan Zanes, Joan Osborn and more) to sing yuletide odes from Pete Seeger’s stepmother, American folk music expert, Ruth Crawford Seeger and her 1953 book “American Folk Songs For Christmas”. A strictly acoustic, set of piano, guitars, harmonies and clapping hands, Mitchell soars on the tender “Joseph and Mary (The Cherry Tree Carol)” and rings clear as a bell on “Joy To The World”. Peggy Seeger, sister of legend Pete, delivers “Christmas Day In The Morning” as merrily as can be while Merchant summons those from far and wide on “Singing In The Land”

Mitchell and her friends’s dreamy and wonderous vocals (especially on “Cradle Hymn”, “Silent Night” and “Oh, Watch The Stars”) will lull you in to the warmth of the holidays…cynics be damned!



NEKO CASE “THE WORSE THINGS GET, THE HARDER I FIGHT, THE HARDER I FIGHT, THE MORE I LOVE YOU”NEKO CASE
“THE WORSE THINGS GET, THE HARDER I FIGHT, THE HARDER I FIGHT, THE MORE I LOVE YOU”

(ANTI Records, $11.96) nekocase.com


Album after album, Neko Case never fails to deliver remarkable music that is smart, singable, poignant and, this time out, the most life affirming melancholy you’ll ever here.

For “The Worse Things Get…”, Case sets aside her usual songs of nature and animals to focus on her own experiences. The deaths of her grandmother and parents, the grief-induced depression that resulted, former long distance loves and defining herself by herself. She’s armed with sheer force on “Man” and breaks her heart wide open on the winsome “Calling Cards”. Case, at her core in song, is a protector of the most vulnerable and does it most notably on the acapella “Nearly, Midnight, Honolulu”, a play-by-play of a real life incident of child abuse. With a heart as big as hers, she flawlessly expresses the all too inherent risks of simply being alive.


JAY FARRAR “FALLING CARS AND JUNKYARD DOGS”JAY FARRAR
“FALLING CARS AND JUNKYARD DOGS”

($10.85, Soft Skull Press) softskull.com

The quiet and self-contained Son Volt front man surprised everyone with a memoir recounting his midwestern upbringing, colorful ex-Merchant Marine father and teenaged first steps in to playing music that would evolve in to a critically acclaimed career. Writing vividly and effectively, often entering a story already in progress or exiting mid-action, Jay Farrar pulls back the curtain just far enough for long-time fans to get some insight in to his life, including the end of Uncle Tupelo, a band formed with his high school friend and Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy. Their bitter split is one for the music history books that Farrar never spoke of, until now. Honest yet enigmatic, Farrar’s biographical vignettes are a refreshing, must read.


“AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH: A FILM ABOUT LEVON HELM”“AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH: A FILM ABOUT LEVON HELM”
(Kino International and Film Buff, $26.95) levonhelm.com


2013 introduced Obamacare to Americans just in time for this documentary on Levon Helm, The Band’s legendary drummer as he battles cancer, records a new album and wrestles with a bitter relationship he has with the music industry. While National Health Care and its rocky roll out might be a weak parallel to Helm’s life, they both illustrate a need for a fairer playing field in terms of affordable health care and, the bigger idea, of being fairly compensated for a lifetime’s work. Helm notoriously felt the sting of The Band’s front man Robbie Robertson taking the biggest slice of the group’s profits while he experienced bankruptcy and had to hit the road at the age of 70 to stay solvent. Helms died two years after the film was shot and what viewers witness in the short time left is a big-hearted, often frustrated, funny and talented man whose love of music keeps him grounded and keeps him going.


 JANELLE MONAE “THE ELECTRIC LADY”JANELLE MONAE
“THE ELECTRIC LADY”

(Bad Boy Records, $9.99) jmonae.com


Love, love, love this cutie pie dynamo! Janelle Monáe and her sophomore release were made for “Best Of” lists. Dazzlingly smart funk, disco, pop and R&B erupt from the 20+ tracks that will get you on the dance floor without delay. From the cheerleading anthem “Dance Apocalyptic” to her flawless duet with Prince on the sultry “Givin Em What You Love”, Monáe’s musicianship is stellar and her artistic maturity and versatility are unmatched by any of her contemporaries. Guests on “The Electric Lady” include Erykah Baduh (“Q.U.E.E.N.”), Miguel (“Prime Time”) and Solange Knowles (“Electric Lady”), just a few of the lucky ones who had a front row seat on Monáe’s ascent to the top.


KACEY MUSGRAVES “SAME TRAILER DIFFERENT PARK”KACEY MUSGRAVES
“SAME TRAILER DIFFERENT PARK”

($9.99, Mercury Nashville) kaceymusgraves.com


Taylor Swift’s dominance might soon be over thanks to Kacey Musgraves, the breath-of-fresh-air singer/songwriter whose whip-smart and edgy songs make you realize Swift has backed herself in to a corner that is an endless loop of her dating life. Musgraves goes broad, singing about the fear of taking chances (“Blowin’ Smoke”) and the monotony of life in the suburbs (“Merry Go ‘Round”). With simple instrumentation and harmonies, this 24-year old sounds a bit like Patty Griffin and tackles societal themes like Loretta Lynn did when she sang about “The Pill”. Musgraves’ radiates wisdom on “Follow Your Arrow” pointing out this judgmental world of ours, so you might as well do what you want…just “Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/If that’s something you’re into”.


DAWN McCARTHY AND BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY “WHAT THE BROTHERS SANG”DAWN McCARTHY AND BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY
“WHAT THE BROTHERS SANG”

($13.99, Drag City) dragcity.com


Another ode to The Everly Brothers comes from indie singer/songwriter Bonnie “Prince” Billy and his frequent collaborator Dawn McCarthy (Faun Fables). “What The Brothers Sang” resurrects Phil and Don’s lesser-known material. Deeper cuts that are unhurried, tender and complement the pair’s gentle abilities. The languorous “So Sad” and soaring “Omaha” should gain McCarthy and Billy a lifetime membership in the Grand Ole Opry thanks to the tenderness they show one another, rivaling that of Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. The fact that The Everly Brothers are still inspiring musicians of all stripes more than 50 years after they launched their career is a testament to the two-part harmony.


VARIOUS ARTISTS “INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK RECORDING”VARIOUS ARTISTS
“INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK RECORDING”

($11.59, Nonesuch) insidellewyndavis.com


In an attempt to recreate the off-the-charts success of their “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen teamed up with music producer T Bone Burnett again for “Inside Llewyn Davis”, the brothers’ latest film about the week in the life of a young troubadour in 1960s Greenwich Village. Ripe with the sweet and delicate folk songs of the era and loosely inspired by real life folk singer Dave Van Ronk, the album offers a dozen tracks of the era featuring Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), The Punch Brothers, actors Carey Mulligan and Stark Sands, Justin Timberlake (who appears in the film), and newcomer and star Oscar Isaac, whose voice is pure honey and soul. Isaac and Mumford evoke the best of Simon and Garfunkel on the duet “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” while the loveliest track is Sands (an impeccable singer!), Mulligan and Timberlake on the classic lament “Five Hundred Miles”. The end of the album features an unreleased version of “Farewell” by Bob Dylan and “Green, Green Rocky Road” by Van Ronk himself, just to show by comparison that Burnett knows exactly what he’s doing.



LUCIUS “WILDWOMAN”LUCIUS
“WILDWOMAN”

($9.99, Mom + Pop) ilovelucius.com


Berklee College of Music voice majors Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig pack everything they learned in to this 11-song album that is sonically busting at the seams. From the precision in production to the genre jumping (alt-country, 80s rock, 60s girl group) to the matching haircuts and clothes, Wolfe and Laessig have the credentials and the chops to pull it off brilliantly. “Turn It Around” and “How Loud Your Heart Gets” shimmer with Phil Spector-like styling while the title track, “Wildwoman”, and “Go Home” are dense folky tracks with the loveliest of harmonies. And yet there’s a kind of punk rock ethos (loud, messy and singular) that is streaming throughout. The joy of hearing this type of reinvention from two woman who formally tended to their musical talents and ambitions by going to Berklee should give us all hope that, in this recession-era economy, higher education really isn’t a lost cause.


www.Dishmag.com / Issue 154 - September 2018
Turnpage Blk


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