The Ballad Of Hank Williams

It’s darn near impossible for music from the past to affect me in the same way it affected those for whom it was written. ~ Ron Averill

The French Revolution was kind of a big deal in 1789. Beethoven wrote an opera about it in 1805 (Fidelio), but I cannot relate to the topic or the musical style with the same enthusiasm and sense of wonder as did 1805 concertgoers. Geography, economics, education, exposure to varied musical styles… all these things influence how we respond to music. And although it’s a bit closer to home, I can’t really put myself into the shoes of a dirt-poor sharecropper from the southern U.S. ca. 1950. So my take on Hank Williams comes from a different place than that of a large portion of his original audience.

Even so, I’ve loved the music of Hank Williams for decades and have performed many of his songs in a variety of bands. But it wasn’t until I recently watched Ken Burns’ Country Music that I really understood where Hank was coming from, what he was singing about.

Williams grew up in Alabama during the Great Depression, often moving for his father’s work, eventually losing his father to eight years of hospitalization. Additionally, young Hank was born with a spinal deformity that left him constantly in pain and later contributed to drug and alcohol abuse. Although this could just be me romanticizing, it seems like his existence was filled with sorrow.

Some of Williams’ titles obviously focus on sad topics: I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Your Cheatin’ Heart, Cold Cold Heart. But other upbeat tunes also lean towards misery: Move It On Over (infidelity), Why Don’t You Love Me (lost love), Honky Tonk Blues (struggling with life in the city). And while some songs depict having a good time (Honky Tonkin’) or falling head-over-heels in love (Howlin’ at the Moon), much of Williams’ work deals in despair.

But what beautiful despair it is! Weary Blues from Waitin’ is about a man who is hoping his woman will come back to him. We don’t know why she left, but now it’s winter and as he cries the man’s heart is surrounded by the chilled fingers of nothingness. The music is haunting, lonely and austere, the singer’s sweet voice filled with anguish and heartache. Seldom can one hear something as touching as this simple song.

Ramblin’ Man is the heartbreaking study of a man who can’t stay in the same place for very long. “I love you baby, but you gotta understand when the Lord made me he made a ramblin’ man.” You can feel his inner turmoil, wanting to settle down with a wife but unable to ignore the siren-call of a passing train’s whistle.

Fortunately for you all, Everett Public library is right resplendent in its Hank Williams collection. The Very Best of Hank Williams and Pictures From Life’s Other Side: The Man and His Music in Rare Recordings and Photos are available on CD, and a passel of other albums are available to stream through Hoopla.

So, no excuses! Check out Hank Sr. and have a good cry, cry, cry.

Listen Up! Spring New Music Arrivals

Faded collage of six album covers with the text "Listen Up!" printed over them.

Chase away the clouds with some great new music arrivals. Place your holds now:

Starchild & the New Romantic – Language (Ghostly International) – Down-tempo funk with a retro feel. Artist Bryndon Cook’s music may be a nod to greats like Prince, P-Funk, and Michael Jackson, but the album is far from derivative. It’s more of a homage to those who have come before with the sincerity of a creative and talented musician blazing his own path past the monuments.

Soccer Mommy – Clean (Fat Possum Records) – Dreamy, folky, a little gritty. Singer/songwriter Sophie Allison took what was more or less a home-grown scene of her making via her uploaded music and re-recorded her material into a robust full-length release for a wider audience. The album still has the intimate, personal feel of her earlier recordings, but is more fully realized with the backing of a band. Her material is stripped down, autobiographical, and highly relatable – giving you a window into the life of this very talented young artist on the rise.

Meshell Ndegeocello – Ventriloquism (Naive) – Ndegeocello’s vocals are spare, layered over production that has an almost dreamlike, ambient feel. Her work features interpretations of RnB hits that anyone who came of age in the 80s or 90s will recognize. Each track is less of a cover and more of a reinvention; there is a warmth and mystery to each that makes me think of them as throwback lullabies.

Shopping  – The Official Body (Fatcat Records) – A post-punk concoction that’s a little surf rock, pop, and new wave all in one. If the B-52s and The Slits had a love child, it would sound a little like this album.

No Age – Snares Like a Haircut (Drag City, Inc.) – Lush, full bodied noise-rock. No Age’s fifth studio album shows a maturity of sound that has developed over 13 years of collaboration. The mingling of beauty and turmoil creates an explosive mix of highly enjoyable tracks. Is polished roughness a thing? If so, they’ve nailed it.

Screaming Females – All At Once (Don Giovanni Records) – Alt rock with venue-dominating vocals and a punk vibe. Another release from a veteran act making the list, this is the 11th album for the Screaming Females. Clearly they haven’t lost a step as they continue to push the boundaries of generefication. Special treat for the fans of Fugazi – Brendan Canty makes a guest appearance on drums.

Dabrye – Three/Three (Ghostly International) – Hip hop with strong electronic production. Producer Tadd Mullinix returns to his Dabrye moniker after a long hiatus. His time ‘off’ has been fruitful for his work in different electronic music ventures, but fans of his hip-hop material have long been awaiting this latest release. Three/Three does not disappoint. This album boasts a long list of collaborators staying true to Mullinix’s Michagander roots by highlighting Detroit-area MCs new and old in particular.

Lindi Ortega – Liberty (Shadowbox Music, Inc.) – Dramatic ballads with a Spaghetti-Western flare. Ortega’s beautifully-emotive vocals lend an air of mystery to her tracks. Grab this album and be taken along on a wild ride as each track tells a tale of loss and salvation. I have a soft spot for albums that tell a story and this one delivers a Country Gothic tale worth hearing.

Listen Up! Winter New Music Arrivals

Mosaic of barely visible album covers in a tile formation of 3 x 3. Nine total squares. Superimposed over the album covers are the words "Listen Up!" in a deep red color.

Load up your holds list for all your New Year’s gatherings (or to provide a soundtrack as you have some alone time to recover from all that socializing) – it’s time for the final new music arrival round-up of 2017:

Lucinda Williams – This Sweet Old World (Highway 20 Records) – Twangy, mournful, and full of life’s hard-learned lessons. Williams revisits some of her back catalog, giving a new worn-in and worldly interpretation to some of her earlier works.

Moses Sumney – Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar) – Swoony, ethereal, loungy, and full of eclectic instrumentation with hints of electronic production. Sumney has the kind of falsetto that made me fall in love with Jeff Buckley. For an album that revolves around the rejection of romantic love, I find that kind of funny.

Lindstrøm – It’s Alright Between Us As It Is (Smalltown Supersound/Feedelity) – Bright, poppy, dance-floor-friendly house music with strong cosmic disco overtones.

Porter Ray –  Watercolor (Sub Pop Records) – Seattle rapper Porter Ray’s Sub Pop debut gives a very intimate look into his tumultuous life. Watercolor’s lyrics dive heavily into the artist’s processing of the murder of his brother, Aaron. The tracks have a dreamy, often ominous feel to the production with a blending of current and throwback styles.

Dale Crover – The Fickle Finger of Fate (Joyful Noise Recordings) – After 30 years with the Melvins and early work with Nirvana, drummer Dale Crover aims his skills at a solo project. The album at times can feel a bit disjointed as Crover jumps from style to style – gritty and driving, acoustic and meandering, or even slowly-unwinding noise-rock. If you’re not looking for an album to take you on a journey this shouldn’t be too much of an issue; the ground that’s covered here is covered well.

Simo – Rise & Shine (Provogue) – Simo ventures a little out of their blues rock comfort zone into the uncharted waters of funk, soul, and psychedelia. The resulting fusion leaves the listener with a solid album to jam to at home and promises heat on the stage when touring with this material.

Ariel Pink – Dedicated to Bobby Jameson (Kemado Records, Inc.) – With a title that is a homage to the turbulent life of an outsider musician who was once groomed to give The Beatles a run for their money, Ariel Pink’s latest seems steeped in references to his musical influences. The album has a whimsical though dark feel to it, somewhere between psych-pop and new wave.

Margo Price – All American Made (Third Man Records) – Price comes out swinging with “Don’t Say It,” a rowdy rollicking jam and one way or another she doesn’t let up. This is an album that pulls no punches; it’s a stripped down look at life in America through the eyes of a woman raised in rural America. While this listens like a classic country album, from start to finish it also has the feel of a collection of folk-inspired protest songs that would make Woody, Pete, Joan, or Buffy proud.

Talib Kweli – Radio Silence  (Javotti Media) – In his 8th studio album, Kweli brings you the kind of consistent, compelling music hip-hop fans have come to expect from him. As always, socially conscious lyrics are backed by beats of intricately-woven soul samples studded with collabs and cameos.

John Maus – Screen Memories  (Ribbon Music) – Ever the craftsman, Maus spent the six-year span between albums essentially trying to hand-create electronic music from wires to vinyl, going so far as to build his own modular synth. While he said that the experiment was largely a disappointment, as his creation didn’t sound wildly different from commercially produced equipment, his output on Screen Memories doesn’t let the listener down in any way. This similarity may have more to do with the fact that he’s carefully honed his sound over time, rather than any failings in his synth construction. It’s a nice complement to his older work, showcasing his brooding deep vocals and moody synth-pop aesthetic.

Sly 5th Avenue – The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute to Dr. Dre – This album brings me endless joy. It’s like the thrill of recognizing a favorite song in the QFC Muzak, but far funkier and infinitely more enjoyable. I think any fan of sample-driven music would appreciate what Sly 5th Avenue has accomplished here; it feels like an album just waiting to be remixed, sampled, and molded into new creations.

Ibeyi – Ash (Xl Recordings) – A powerful second album from Ibeyi. This eclectic offering of musical styles defies generification, blending vocal harmonies, minimal electronic production, hints of jazz, hip-hop, soul, and occasional flurries of West African and Yoruba percussive styles. The duo of twin sisters use their songwriting to address some of the violence they have faced as women of color in France, though this is less an album of protest than one of solidarity and strength with others engaged in similar struggles.

Julien Baker – Turn out the Lights (Matador Records) – Soft, slow builds with radiant finishes. Baker’s storytelling skills shine within the musical landscapes she painstakingly crafts.  Heartrendingly soft and beautiful, her often mournful vocals deliver what feels like a deeply personal collection of songs.

Odonis Odonis – No Pop (Felte Records) – Dark, minimal, almost elemental industrial music. No Pop is pretty much right on the nose with the title. This album kind of recreates the feel of early Nine Inch Nails for me. You get an overwhelming sense of a world falling apart, and the desolation that will surely follow the collapse.

Greta Van Fleet – From the Fires (Republic Records) – Short but sweet: if you like Led Zeppelin, you’ll probably find something of interest here.

Listen Up! July New Music Arrivals

Image showing nine different album covers in a tile-like formation. Album covers are faded out, and there is text superimposed over them that reads "Listen Up! July New Music Arrivals"

Here’s your short list of what’s been pouring through the doors at the Everett Public Library. Place your holds now, and pick up some new tunes to keep your summer moving.

Soulwax – From Deewee (PIAS America) – Infectious, dance-floor-friendly electro full of rich layers. Soulwax accomplishes the delicate balance of maintaining their tried and true sound, honed over two decades, without sounding kitschy and dated.

Faith Evans & Notorious B.I.G. – The King & I (Rhino Records) – Many people have mixed feelings about posthumous ‘collaborations.’ They can seem like a cash grab, and the departed musician’s artistic intentions and vision can never truly be represented. Regardless of these criticisms, this album is worth a listen. The interview clips of Biggie are of interest and Evans as a vocalist is a powerhouse who is clearly pouring love and affection into this project.

Somi – Petite Afrique (Okeh)– Gorgeous vocals, bright melodies, jazzy drumming, and an afrobeat undertone. Somi explores the African-American experience living in Harlem, as well as those of African immigrants blending cultures in the New York City melting pot.

Paramore – After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen) – The latest from Paramore kind of reminds me of classic Sugarcubes with loud vocals, cheery new wave instrumentation, and jarringly-contradictory lyrics, full of angst and anger.

Juana Molina – Halo (Crammed Discs) – Melodic, dancy, mysterious, and playful. I’ve seen this described as “folktronica,” and I think this fits the album nicely. Molina effortlessly merges synths and folk melodies to support a loose narrative based on the Argentinian and Uruguayan myth of the “luz mala” or evil light.

Saint Etienne – Home Counties (Heavenly Recordings) – Upbeat indie rock with lots of harmony and a sense of place very strongly tied to the commuter areas surrounding London. This eclectic album features some dance-floor tracks and sometimes even a little 60s go-go feel.

Harry Styles – Harry Styles (Erskine/Columbia Records)– This is Styles’s debut solo album after leaving the boy band juggernaut that was One Direction. I almost hate to mention his past work in the boy band genre because that may drive some people away from this record. In reality, Styles achieves a beautiful, melancholy mix of tracks that rocks when it needs to. His sound is a little folky with a tendency towards ballads; very minimal but satisfying.

Mali Music – The Transition of Mali (RCA) – Soul, RnB, and little hip hop mixed in. Mali Music has a smooth, sensual sound, with rich, multi-layered vocals. You can’t pin this very versatile album down to one genre; it switches from beats and samples to classical piano melodies and strings.

Roger Waters – Is this the Life we really want? (Columbia) – A moody, gritty, raw offering from the Pink Floyd frontman. Waters remains an unflinchingly critical analyst of modern society and popular culture.

Ani Di Franco – Binary (Righteous Babe Records) – The words that this album brings to mind for me could sound unflattering to someone who may not have ‘come of age’ with Ani playing in the background: comforting, no surprises, reliable. Ani Di Franco is an artist who, while always exploring collaborations with a very wide range of musicians from different styles, has created a signature sound that is unmistakably hers. Binary showcases her unique blend of folk, funk, and rock that lulls you into a groove while at the same time excoriating the shortcomings of the world we live in.

The Secret Sisters – You Don’t Own Me Anymore (New West Records) – Real-life sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers return from a dark period of court battles and bankruptcy to release their third album. Their hard-luck story and abundant musical talent attracted the interest of Brandi Carlile, who produced this latest offering. The result showcases the sister’s songwriting prowess and beautiful ability to harmonize in a mix of sleepy, soulful country and bluegrass sounds.

Little Cub – Still life (Domino) – Socially critical lyrics over a satisfying electro soundtrack? What’s not to love? The analog synth work on this debut album brings to mind the well-honed sounds of New Order or Depeche Mode in their prime.

Ifriqiyya Electrique – Rûwâhîne (Glitterbeat Records) – This album is really hard to define – the closest I can pin it to is tribal industrial music. François Cambuzat and Gianna Greco have teamed up with a group of Tunisian Banga ceremonial musicians to blend their traditional trance dancing chants with grinding guitar riffs and bass-heavy production. The end result is a bit ominous and absolutely mesmerizing.

Yola Carter – Orphan Offering EP (Carter Records) – Loads of twang and folky strings, backing raw and powerful vocals. Carter’s ballads can swing from sleepy to soulful at a moment’s notice. This album is a bit of a late arrival, having been released at the end of 2016, but it’s well worth the listen.

Listen Up! April Music New Arrivals

Here’s my quick take on what’s new and exciting in the EPL’s music collection. Place your holds now!

Julie Byrne – Not Even Happiness (Midheaven/Revolver USA) –sometimes life can be a little hectic; you need the ability to sit back and enjoy simplicity. Singer/songwriter Julie Byrne seems to have crafted this album understanding that need for balance. Not Even Happiness provides a very atmospheric mix of instrumentals, warm vocals, and even some well-placed silent breaks, to create just the right tone to showcase her dreamy, poetic lyrics.

Vagabon – Infinite Worlds (Father/Daughter Records) – harmonious, folky indie rock with a lot of slow builds and powerful breaks. This deceptively simple backing leaves singer Lætitia Tamko with full possession of your attention to deliver her thought-provoking vocals. Taking into account her immigrant origins (she came to the US as a teen from Cameroon) Tamko’s work feels very urgent as she tackles concepts of belonging, community, relationships, and the search for common ground.

Depeche Mode – Spirit (Columbia) – I feel like this album comes under the heading of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it (sorry, grammar!).’ Depeche Mode have developed a signature sound over their long career and at this point in the game there isn’t much need to deviate. In Spirit they tackle many of the key issues we face today as a global community with their own unique style. For long-term fans and new, there’s not much here that will disappoint. This album feels familiar and comfortable more than new and exciting, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – The French Press (Ivy League Records/Sub Pop Records) – light, upbeat, driving, and full of variety. With essentially three lead singers/guitarists a band like this has endless options. While RBCF may sound a bit like a seasoned act with vaguely 80s roots, this is only their second album since bursting on the scene in Melbourne in 2015.

Hurry for the Riff Raff – The Navigator (ATO Records)– Alynda Lee Segarra has cultivated a very laid back folk rock sound, which she makes captivating with her smoky raw vocals. In an interesting twist, this is a concept album broken into two parts: alter-ego street kid Navita struggles with oppressive city life and decides to visit a witch to seek release. In act 2 she wakes under the witch’s spell, far in the future, and must learn to live in a very new world where everything she knew has disappeared.

Spoon – Hot Thoughts (Matador) – While this album still has a solid footing in the indie rock style that has driven Spoon for over 20 years, there is a fair amount of synth dabbling that leans the overall feel towards the realm of poppy electronic music. At times the album feels a little scattered, possibly the side-product of the band exploring new sounds and expanding their range.

The Kernal – Light Country (Single Lock Records) – kind of what it says on the tin: light country. It’s a little country, a little classic rock, maybe a bit of folk and gospel. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of current country music, but this album showcases the aspects of the genre that have always appealed to me: the shared rural Southern musical roots that underlie so much of America’s current musical landscape.

Tinariwen – Elwan (Anti-) – bluesy with a West African flair. All language barriers aside, it’s hard to miss the deep and moody beauty of the vocals. Lots of groove, but all very understated – the simplicity is its strength. Each layer of sound or lyric seems perfectly, carefully placed to add to the progression of the track.

Newish Arrivals You May Have Missed!:

Various – Everett Sounds Volume 1  (Live in Everett) – this much-needed compilation was brought to you by Live in Everett. Check out a sampling of the local flavor that has been contributing to a very vibrant and growing Everett music scene. These albums have been checked out steadily since we got them in-house, so you’ll need to place a hold to snag a copy.

Number Girl – School Girl Distortional Addict (Toshiba EMI Lmtd.) – A solid garage band/punk rock release in Japanese – what’s not to love? Fans of the Pixies and Stooges might want to give this a listen.