You can’t go far exploring the folk music tradition without stumbling upon your first murder ballad. The genre goes back hundreds of years and still plays a major role in blues, country, and Americana music today. Nirvana famously covered Leadbelly’s murder ballad “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” for MTV Unplugged. Johnny Cash sang murder ballads his entire career. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recorded an album literally titled Murder Ballads, adding Cave’s own compositions to the canon.
Ariel Zevon – Witness
Before YouTube will let you play “Witness,” it flashes an ominous black warning about how the video may be inappropriate for some users. Its a misleading label that makes it seem like it’s got nudity or something offensive. To be sure, the content in the video is offensive – in the sense of it should offend anyone to see police acting this way. But knowing it is happening is a civic duty. Zevon has accompanied the upsetting footage with a moving new protest song, doing her bit to fight the power.
Few genres get as ridiculed as rap-rock, and for good reason (two words: Limp. Bizkit.). But, in their new single “Sleeping On My Own,” three Vermont musicians recombine rock and rap in a much more palatable way.
Music festivals have been cancelled this summer – barring, of course, your occasional Smash Mouth-headlined superspreader event. In lieu of putting on new shows, established festivals have tried a variety of “virtual” events. Some have gotten a series of artists to perform from their homes; some have been re-airing a bunch of old performances. All are trying to make it feel like an event, with varying degrees of success.
We’re back! After a summer away on paternity leave (can a blog take paternity leave? well, we did), County Tracks returns with a supersized roundup of everything that went on while we were away.
This is, as always, “we” in the proverbial sense. It’s really just me, Ray Padgett. And I have my second book out this week! It’s about music, of course. Specifically the history of tribute albums, as told through the fascinating story of one in particular (1991’s I’m Your Fan: The Songs of Leonard Cohen – which, even if you don’t realize it, is the reason you know the song “Hallelujah”). It’s in the great 33 1/3 series of small books on specific albums. Hope you’ll check it out! Preorder links and more info over here.
Now, onto the music…
Abby Sherman Band – The Road
“The Road” is the first song on Bandcamp that Vermont singer-songwriter Abby Sherman has billed as being by the “Abby Sherman Band.” A minuscule rebranding, but one that feels significant. Whereas her best song last year was a stripped-down dirge, “The Road” features a muscular alt-country backing group giving her melody some heft. Special props to whoever played the country-Mark-Knopfler guitar solo.
Elder Orange – Stella
Matt Scott, aka Elder Orange, wrote his new EP Stella inspired by his ’71 Stella parlor acoustic guitar. But despite the acoustic guitar-influence, singer-songwriter music this isn’t. Scott’s a producer and composer who builds immersive instrumental soundscapes incorporating that guitar here and there, but not beholden to it. In this case, he says, “Stella is a blend of a lot of my favorite sounds; dusty 60’s funk rock laced with boom-bap alt-latin vibes and gritty electro-fusion.”
On March 26, two days after Vermont governor Phil Scott issued a Stay-at-Home order, a video appeared on local blues guitarist Seth Yacovone’s dormant YouTube page. Titled “Seth Yacovone’s Quarantine Video Single #1: ‘Welcome’,” it featured his own song of that name and what he called a “surprise B-side.” The surprise was – spoiler alert – a cover of the timely Pink Floyd song “Nobody Home.”
Amelia Devoid – Counters
It’s not clear if this song was written in our current self-isolation, but even if it wasn’t, lines like this have a new resonance: “I’ve been wiping down counters / and counting down hours / ’til i can lay in the flowers again”.
Dave Richardson is a Beatles fan.
I know – who isn’t, right? But Dave is a big Beatles fan. He’s also a singer-songwriter up in Vermont, so every morning during this period of self-isolation, he’s been posting a new Beatles cover. He calls it “Beatles with Breakfast.” Most are performed solo – naturally – on guitar or occasionally dulcimer, and all are totally charming. With each one, he holds up the corresponding record, often rare singles and 45s. He says he got them all at yard sales in the ’90s, before anyone cared about old vinyl.
I wish I’d come up with the “spaghetti western doom metal” label, but that’s how the band Wolfhand describes itself. And it’s been a while since I’ve come across a zany genre combo that was so dead-on accurate. Both components are equally present on this quintet’s debut album The Devil Arrives. They go together so well you wonder why it’s not a more common sound. They should have called themselves Mörricöne.