The New Yorker has a great new profile on singer-songwriter / human treasure Phoebe Bridgers, whose new album, Punisher, will be released on June 19. Any interview with Bridgers is a delight, even if you're not a fan of her work. But what really makes this article stick out is its relationship to coronavirus quarantine.
Author Amanda Petrusich initially follows the standard form for one of these type of marquee-musician magazine profiles — embedding herself in the subject's life over the course of a few months, getting them to open up about personal stuff as the journalist explores their home and discusses the creative process, et cetera. I don't mean that to sound flippant; Petrusich is an absolute master of that form. Except the form itself is threatened when Petrusich and Bridgers both end up quarantined (separately) shorter after the initial embedding begins. But Petrusich endures, and finds a way to make it work, using FaceTime to tour through Bridgers' life in Los Angeles and even speak with the singer's mother in her childhood bedroom. This is almost certainly made easier by the fact that Bridgers is already a candid and confessional artist, but it still makes for a very unique profile that illuminates both the artist at the center of it, and the unprecedented time at which the journalism was happening.
It's also available to listen to on Audm.
Phoebe Bridgers’s Frank, Anxious Music [Amanda Petrusich / The New Yorker]
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Every musician has been trying their hand at livestreaming from quarantine. But of all the ones I've watched, none of them have filled me with as much joy as Swedish folk singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson AKA The Tallest Man On Earth celebrating the 10th anniversary of his album, The Wild Hunt.
There's so much to love here, from Matsson's confusion about buffering speeds, to his partner's helpful advice about commenters. Then of course there are the songs themselves, delivered with such adorable energy by Matsson. Ellen Johnson of Paste said that, "Matsson makes the acoustic guitar sound like an orchestra," and I think that accurately describes this video, and everything I love about The Wild Hunt as an album. As far as I can tell, Mattson is just performing straight into the camera, with no additional audio setup — yet it sounds exactly as it does on the record. This is impressive, but also impressive to Matsson's brilliant guitar work and charismatic voice. The record is raw, using clever open tunings to fill out the sound, and the same goes for the performance in the video.
If you're a fan of folk music and Dylan-esque crooning (but more on key), check it out.
The Wild Hunt Turns 10: How The Tallest Man On Earth Changed Indie-Folk For The Better [Ellen Johnson / Paste]
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As part of Rolling Stone's "In My Room" series, the legendary UK singer-songwriter, Nick Lowe, and his son, Roy, play a number of Lowe's recent compositions and his classic "(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding." He ends the 14-minute set doing a beautiful rendition of “I Read a Lot,” the title track to his 2011 album, The Old Magic.
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We are sad to report that, according to John Prine's family, he has finally succumbed to the COVID-19 virus that he'd been battling for the past nine days. Rolling Stone writes of Prine's career:
As a songwriter, Prine was admired by Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and others, known for his ability to mine seemingly ordinary experiences — he wrote many of his classics as a mailman in Maywood, Illinois — for revelatory songs that covered the full spectrum of the human experience. There’s “Hello in There,” about the devastating loneliness of an elderly couple; “Sam Stone,” a portrait of a drug-addicted Vietnam soldier suffering from PTSD; and “Paradise,” an ode to his parents’ strip-mined hometown of Paradise, Kentucky, which became an environmental anthem. Prine tackled these subjects with empathy and humor, with an eye for “the in-between spaces,” the moments people don’t talk about, he told Rolling Stone in 2017. “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” Dylan said in 2009. “Midwestern mind-trips to the nth degree.”
We say goodbye to this great American songwriter with this performance of "Angel from Montgomery," recorded for Austin City Limits, in 2018.
Fly, Mr. Prine. Fly.
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Folk legend Joan Baez, upon hearing the news that fellow iconic American singer-songwriter, John Prine, was hospitalized with COVID-19, decided to play Prine's classic "Hello in There" from her home and dedicate it to him.
News began to circulate yesterday through Prine's family that the 73-year-old singer was in the hospital and in critical condition with COVID-19. Today, his wife, Fiona, told SF Gate that the singer, who's been dealing with both lung and neck cancer in recent years, had improved overnight and was now in stable condition.
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First of all: if you haven't watched Netflix's Tiger King documentary series yet, then what the hell are you waiting for? It's got everything: tiger, ligers, lions, and bears; gay polygamists who are also straight; murder cover-ups galore; lots and lots of meth; fucking tigers; straight polygamists who are really just harem cult leaders who also own tigers; mullets; tigers; country pop songs about tigers and the Deep State; more meth mouth; more tigers; more polyamory; more conspiracies; FBI entrapment schemes; strip club owners who are also narcs; that libertarian campaign manager who actually seems like a decent guy; the multiple employees with amputated limbs who also seem like decent people in spite of their tragic stories; more guns and explosions; and of course, tigers.
But one thing it doesn't go into enough in its already-overpacked-seven-episodes is the Tiger King's alleged music career. While the series shows some clips from Joe "Tiger King" Exotic's country music videos, it doesn't explain who actually wrote and produced those songs, or let you hear any of them in their full WTF glory.
Slate was fortunate enough to interview the songwriters involved in such hits as "I Saw A Tiger" — and if you've seen the show, you won't be surprised that they were kind of conned by Joe Exotic, too, just like everyone else around him.
But perhaps even more glorious is that people like BJ Barham (above), one of my favorite alt-country singer/songwriters and the frontman for American Aquarium, has already taken to covering Joe Exotic's Tiger songs. Read the rest
Just in time for Valentine's Day, NPR's All Songs Considered spoke with a bunch of celebrated songwriters such as Phoebe Bridgers and M. Ward and asked them about the love songs that they wish they'd written — the masterful melodies and heartfelt turns of phrase that other poets envy and only dream to one day emulate.
It's also just a really great playlist of songs. And now it has me thinking of which song I would choose myself.
Since both "First Day of My Life" and "Love Song" were already chosen for this list, I think I'd have to go with "The Way I Feel Inside" by the Zombies or "She Is Beautiful" by Andrew WK.
What would you pick?
The Love Song I Wish I'd Written [Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton / NPR] Read the rest
"Overlooked" is a series of belated obituaries in New York Times for people of note who were overlooked at the time of their passing. Their most recent "overlooked no more" subject is Judee Sill.
Judee Sill was a 70s singer-songwriter, the first artist signed to David Geffen's Asylum Records. During her short-lived career in the early-to-mid 70s, Sill received little attention or airplay. While other singer-songwriters of the time sang about personal relationships and political protest, Sill's ethereal music explored themes of rapture, redemption, spiritual love, occult themes, and the deeper meanings of it all.
Sill's life was as troubled as her work was complex and under the radar. She was a juvenile delinquent, a junkie, and a prostitute for a time. Judee Sill died in 1979 of a drug overdose which was likely a suicide.
While she was not widely recognized during her lifetime, her music has had a significant impact on many modern artists and that influence only continues to grow. Liz Phair, Shawn Colvin, Greta Gerwig, XTC's Andy Partridge, and Warren Zevon have all cited her as an inspiration.
Read the rest of the obit here.
[H/t Jenny Hart]
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My friend, SF Bay Area post-pop singer-songwriter Matt Jaffe, has released the first smoking single and video from his forthcoming album The Spirit Catches You.
To my ear, Matt's unique sound lies at the intersection of power pop, outlaw country, and post-punk. He really digs Elvis Costello, John Doe, Townes Van Zandt, and Talking Heads and you can hear it in his playing and singing. (Indeed, Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads discovered Matt at an open mic night and produced his first record.)
Dig it. And support the album release via Matt's Indiegogo campaign.
(Video directed by Sarah Steinhart)
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Sean Rowe travels under the radar of many a music aficionado. This is a damn shame.
Playing songs from an early age, Rowe cut his musical teeth playing bass in a local band before he was even 12 years old. A year before hitting his teenage years, he was gifted an acoustic guitar by his father – perhaps as a ploy to get a stack of amps out of his house. New axe in hand, Rowe started playing solo gigs, punctuated by appearances with a percussionist. He wrote his first song at the age of 18 and well, here we are.
If you're digging it, Old Black Dodge appears on Rowe's 2009 album Magic.
When he's not out hammering on his guitar, Rowe spends his time teaching wilderness survival and wild foraging skills. If you want to learn more about his music, book a private house concert or learn how to survive off of the land, hitting up his website is the best bet you have for fulfilling those needs. Read the rest