Lagniappe (la·gniappe) noun ˈlan-ˌyap,’ – 1. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit. 2. Something given or obtained as a gratuity or bonus.

Over the past 20+ years, I’ve had Dean Wareham to thank for numerous turn-ons via his interpretation of other’s work. Luna’s rendering of Michel Polnareff’s “La poupee qui fait non” immediately comes to mind, as does his re-appreciation of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Moonshot”. As such, it’s fitting we close out 2014’s Lagnappe Sessions with the artist taking on a pair of seasonal tunes — Eddy Arnold’s “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away”, and “Silent Night”. Wareham, in his own words, below.

My penpal Christmas Hollow (bassist in the Sandpebbles and a fan of your site) sends me a Christmas comp every year without fail, that’s where I heard Eddy Arnold doing “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away”. The song was written by legendary Nashville songwriter Boudleaux Byrant (“Love Hurts”, “Wake Up Little Susie”, “Raining in My Heart”).

Dean Wareham :: Christmas Can’t Be Far Away (Eddy Arnold)

This version is a mash-up, I sing the first two verses in the original German but the third verse is inspired by the Only Ones’ recording of the song, for which Peter Perrett seems to have written his own, somewhat darker lyrics.

Dean Wareham :: Stille Nacht (The Only Ones)


Weaving its way between vintage garage, folk, soul and pop, Solstice is the first of a series of upcoming collaborations with Portland, OR based record collectors Sam Huff and Colton Tong. At two hours, digging globally, Solstice is a mercurial, psych-tinged collection of late 60s and early 70s sounds assembled to compliment those long winter nights descending upon us all. Lots of reverb. . .


Here it is. Our obligatory year-end review. The following is an unranked list of albums that caught, and kept, our attention in 2014. Have at it.  – AD


The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground Super Deluxe: Mono mixes, closet mixes, 2014 mixes, whatever mixes. What makes the hefty price tag on this reissue of the VU’s masterful third LP is the inclusion of two disc’s worth of the legendary Matrix Tapes: 2+ hours of beautiful, high quality late-1969 multitrack recordings of the band onstage in full flight. Take a sip from the holy velvet grail. (buy)

Native North America: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966-1985: It’s telling that in 2014, the music and messages of the Native Americans featured on Native North America still feel present and vital. Compiled by musicologist Kevin “Sipreano” Howes, the rules here are loose musically, encompassing garage rock, country, psych, and folk. But while the music and approaches are varied, at their best these songs serve as powerful protest songs, like Métis singer-songwriter Willie Dunn’s “I Pity the Country,” and Willy Mitchell and Desert River Band’s “Kill’n Your Mind.” These are songs that address an uneven political landscape and the damages of colonialism, but also celebrate culture, life, and nature. It’s a complicated set of songs from a group of people whose voices have too often gone unheard. (buy)

John Coltrane, Offering: Live at Temple University: Coltrane came home in 1966, to Temple University in Philadelphia, and he brought with him all the beauty, wrath, power and glory he was capable of. With his wife Alice on piano, Pharaoh Sanders on tenor saxophone & piccolo, Rashied Ali on drums, and Sonny Johnson on bass, Offering is the sound of Coltrane cutting off ties with the ground, leaving behind the blues and pushing his sound into a new, more free reality. His horn ripples and he beats his chest. Coltrane would be be gone within nine months of the performance, but he imbues each note with everything he has. The effect is as lasting as it is shocking. (buy)


Amen Dunes – Love: Lighter and less solitary (probably more accessible) than Damon McMahon’s previous work, Amen Dunes strips some lo-fi to profess Love, in the realist sense of the emotion. It isn’t all dew-dripped and sun-drenched, but it also isn’t anxious and confused. It’s a bit of both dawn and dusk. McMahon’s voice, pitched and moaning, is more an instrument for sound than words here. Though there are infinite expressions of love, McMahon’s is singular and distinct. (buy)

Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness: Angel Olsen’s 2012 lp Half Way Home was a quiet, plaintive affair — a low-key country waltz with minimal, yet affecting instrumentation. Conversely, Burn Your Fire found her plugging in and turning up the faders. An album of closeness and distance, heartache and heartbreak. Olsen navigates these ups and downs with her voice as captain. It’s a mesmerizing instrument, sweet, tranquil then suddenly intense in an ascendant vibrato. (buy)

Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather: Hot on the heels of last year’s fantastic Time Off, Way Out Weather is a tour de force filled with a seemingly endless array of awesome guitar tones, fantastic interplay and powerful songwriting. It’s Gunn’s most lushly produced effort to date, and this approach works out perfectly — it’s a record you’ll get lost in, whether you’re playing it at home or taking it for a spin on the open road (we highly recommend the latter). (buy)


Jennifer Castle – Pink City: Jennifer Castle crafted one of the more beautiful records of the year. Hailing from Toronto, her voice recalls the energy of Laurel Canyon like some 40-year-old folk record might. But Pink City is much more than a yesteryear retread. Gentle rolling guitar, Owen Pallett’s lush string arrangements and Castle’s voice – an indefinable thing that is at once fragile, delicate and rugged – are just some of the elements that make up this collection of gorgeous, pastoral folk songs. (buy)

Daniel Bachman – Orange Co. Serenade: This American Primitive guitar upstart has been churning out LPs like his life depended on it for the past few years. But the dude just keeps getting better somehow. Orange Co. Serenade is his best yet — a wonderful, assured recording that splits the difference between Bachman’s love of timeworn, old-timey melodies and dronier, more “out” sounds. (buy)

Tinariwen – Emmaar: Tinariwen are the present masters of the Tuareg “desert blues.” Besides being at the peak of their craft, Emmaar stands out in the band’s discography as the first album in the group’s 30+ year history to be truly made in exile. Recent political violence in Northern Mali forced the band to relocate from the Sahara to the Mojave to record Emmaar. The result is heavy, electric, and urgent–a piercing lament for the “tenere,” their desert home. (buy)


Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers: Under the Hiss Golden Messenger banner, songwriter M.C. Taylor has committed to tape one of the most affecting and emotionally resonant catalogs of the 2010s. Lateness of Dancers, named for a Eudora Welty story, might be his most generous LP yet, tender, open, and deeply funky. There are strains of the Band, J.J. Cale, and Van Morrison in the grooves of songs like “Lucia,” “I’m a Raven (Shake Children)” and “Black Dog Wind,” but Taylor and company (fine company, it should be noted, including members of Megafaun, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Mountain Man, guitarist William Tyler, and Scott Hirsch) do more than emulate; they synthesize funk, reggae, American blues and folk, creating a sumptuous vehicle for Taylor’s humanistic musings, his reflections on duty, on family, and digging deep for any salvation that can be scrounged up. (buy)

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music: Sturgill Simpson doesn’t want to “save country music,” and he doesn’t want to burn the Music Row establishment to the ground. He doesn’t want to drop acid with you, man, and he doesn’t want to lecture you about sobriety. Sturgill Simpson just wants to sing about love. Love is the theme of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, the Kentucky-born songwriter sings about quiet love and also cosmic spiraling love, about finding transcendence in family and raising hell. It’s a twangy honky tonk record that occasionally sets off for outer space, and every sentiment reads like Simpson carved it into old, sturdy wood. (buy)

Joan Shelley – Electric Ursa: There’s very little flash to Joan Shelley’s Electric Ursa, but you don’t need flash when you’ve got songs this good. The Kentucky singer-songwriter is armed with a plaintive voice, quietly powerful lyrics and a group of backing musicians who know how to add sensitive and restrained color to the proceedings. An understated gem that sounds better and better with each spin. (buy)


Ryley Walker – All Kinds of You: You could probably convince someone that Ryley Walker’s debut long player is the work of some long-lost UK singer-songwriter from the 1970s — think John Martyn or Bert Jansch. But Walker is actually a 20-something fella from Chicago. Lucky us. The album is a beauty. Far from being a mere pastiche artist, Walker really inhabits these songs and the sound that accompanies them. (buy)

Songs: Ohia – Didn’t It Rain (Reissue): In 1996, Chris and Ben Swanson’s upstart label Secretly Canadian issued the One Pronunciation of Glory 7” and made Jason Molina a recording artist. Six years later, the brothers released Didn’t It Rain, a masterpiece tour of darkness and despair lit only by the light of Molina’s lantern and that ever-present Blue Chicago Moon. This month’s reissue would be essential in any context, but with the gray having already claimed its space over Molina’s midwest, it almost sounds like Didn’t It Rain was pulled straight from the sky. (buy)

Strand of Oaks – HEAL: Tim Showalter seems to have learned something that most of us don’t spend enough time thinking about: Back when we were growing up, that struggle with our sense of self against reliance on others – fighting to work through it alone while still needing so much – that thing never goes away. It’s 16 years old and 35 years old and 50. So smartly communicated through his own past, in “Goshen ‘97,” and in “JM” – a story about Jason Molina. This is big, bold rock music, even when it’s quiet. (buy)


Bessie Jones with the Georgia Sea Island Singers – Get In Union: In a word: stunning. These performances, captured by Alan Lomax between 1959 and 1966, are primarily a capella, but they are easily among the most powerful and moving recordings I’ve ever heard. Compiled by Lomax scholar/guitarist Nathan Salsburg, this gospel-folk gem might just restore your faith in humanity. It’s that good. (buy)

When I Reach that Heavenly Shore: Unearthly Black Gospel 1926-1936: Assembled lovingly by collector Christopher King and culled him from his collection of 78s, When I Reach That Heavenly Shore is another essential collection of gospel music from the crew at Tompkins Square. Concerned chiefly with eternal salvation, the artists here take wonderfully odd paths on the way there. Along with standard shouts of praise like the McCollum’s Sanctified Singers singing “Glory! Glory! Hallelujah,” there are stranger messages: Rev. J.M. Gates preaches of a “Dead Cat On The Line”; Rev. A.W. Nix warns of “Going To Hell & Who Cares.” All aim to glorify God, praising heavenly grace and speaking in intimate, corporal language. Mother McCollum sings “I Want to See Him” and it’s easy to believe that now she does. (buy)

Alexis Zoumbas – A Lament for Epirus, 1926 -1928: Haunting violin music that riffs on the ancient folk styles of Northwestern Greece. Alexis Zoumbas immigrated to NYC in 1910 and recorded his virtuosic, quasi-improvised tunes as a foreigner, accompanied by only a droning, bowed double bass. These ultra obscure recordings were compiled by 78-rpm obsessive Christopher King, who dug deep to demystify Zoumbas’ apocryphal bio. Plus, the LP’s cover portrait was penned by R. Crumb! (buy)


New Bums – Voices in a Rented Room: An equal partnership between Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasny and Skygreen Leopards’ Donovan Quinn, New Bums’ debut full-length is an instant psych-folk classic, filled with woozy balladry, wicked humor and skeletal melodies. Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth would be proud. (buy)

Bonnie Prince Billy – Singers Grave a Sea of Tongues: Will Oldham’s output is prolific, his identity fluid. The material on Singer’s Grave is mostly culled from his 2011 LP Wolfroy Goes to Town. That record’s mercurial spirit is wrangled: the songs are shorter, melodies more focused, the arrangements are both full-bodied and crisp. Recorded with producer Mark Nevers in Nashville, Oldham dresses songs like “We Are Unhappy” and “It’s Time to Be Clear” with fine adornment, tapping a well into Nashville’s deep-flowing foundation of country and western, gospel, and stately popular music. It is an unassuming but remarkable record – a document as much concerned with warmth as inscrutability. (buy)

Ned Doheny – Separate Oceans: Utterly smooth. This collection of Ned Doheny recordings – demos, alternate takes, and songs from his in-and-out of print LPs — is pop music for the unconcerned. Luxurious and melodic at every turn, Doheny navigates funk turns, mellow jazz textures, cheeky R&B and folk rock with a cast of stars including Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Steve Cropper of the MGs, members of the Eagles, Tower of Power, and Average White Band, but they never steal the spotlight from Doheny, who maintains an impeccable grace even on the collection’s rawest tracks. (buy)


Eno • Hyde – High Life: High Life is the second record Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde put out together in 2014, and like the blurred favelas and (sic)-spaced Ghanaian title, it both appropriates and reshapes cultures that are very much not its creators’ own. Standout “DBF” shuffles over a heavily chopped West African guitar, while opener “Return” drones its two chords through heady delay and heavy reverb before swiftly transitioning into a breezy shuffle exactly halfway through its nine minutes. Even the chilly monotones of closer “Cells and Bells” manage to scrape up some dust from a dank chapel floor, making High Life one of the most well-textured records of the year. (buy)

Jordan De La Sierra – Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose: Context can help enjoy the spacemusic of Gymnosphere: Song of the Rose, which was recorded by Jordan De La Sierra, a student of Terry Riley, and released by a small Bay Area label in truncated form in 1977, but the extra information is not required to experience the album’s sensory-enveloping stillness. This version of the record is as expansive as De La Sierra intended, released by Numero Group under the guidance of Stephen Hill of long running New Age radio program Hearts in Space, and it requires only a little patience and a quiet room to work its magic. Waves of reverberating piano echo, blurring the lines between classical, ambient, and avant-garde. These are pure sounds. (buy)

Noura Mint Seymali – Tzenni: Descended from a long line of Moorish griots, Noura Mint Seymali’s music interprets traditional sounds with heavy, rock-band grooves. Noura’s vocal prowess and range is breathtaking and she is a master of the ardine–a 9 stringed harp-like instrument. Psyched-out counterpoint is provided by her husband Jeiche Ould Chighaly who approximates the tidinit on wah-wah guitar. Tzenni is her first record to be released outside of Mauritania and it is a tour de force. (buy)


Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal: All it took was a single chord and four minutes of articulate ennui. Even if it had consisted only of its title track, the followup to 2012’s Light Up Gold would have been an instant classic. But the Brooklyn quartet have quietly expanded their palette of sound to include slow-burning love songs, minimalist honk, Delta-driven diatribes, and a Schoenberg-referencing song about being annoyed with the effects of their own success. These dudes paint the blues with a Xerox machine and a dog-eared copy of Maximumrocknroll. (buy)

Parkay Quartz – Content Nausea: The concept of “content nausea” should resonate with anyone who’s felt shackled to the PC, screen burning out the retinas. Andrew Savage articulates punk rock into a dry vernacular that sounds present, complex… for real. The band’s sound is angular, incisive, and immediate. Content Nausea contains two masterpieces that truly elevate the record: the lamenting, insurgent title track feels vital, while “Uncast Shadow of a Southern Myth” is a grisly, timeless murder ballad with a very contemporary gravity. (buy)

Quilt – Held in Splendor: Maybe when Quilt named the album, they were describing its sound. More mature – and significantly better – that their self-titled debut, Held in Splendor is more ornate, more psych, more 1967 than 1966. Though the psych-folk tossback trend of the last few years leaves mixed results (and source material that’s hard to outshine), Quilt has more firmly established their sound within the genre. Identity is everything when leaning so heavily on influence, and Quilt has found theirs. (buy)


Damien Jurado – Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son: Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son sounds a bit like a cult. The cover looks a bit like the home of one, too. Even song names sound like cult members: Silver Timothy, Silver Donna, Silver Malcolm, Silver Katherine and Silver Joy. And maybe that’s a start for describing this, Damien Jurado’s third effort with Richard Swift. It’s lightly tethered to reality, while searching for new opportunities just beyond reality’s realm. Eternal Son feels like last year’s Maraqopa dialed back a bit. Less assertive instrumentation, for a more tripped out, ethereal folk. Standout is the lounge-y cult leader “Silver Timothy.” (buy)

Robert Lester Folsom – Music And Dreams / Ode To A Rainy Day: Archives 1972-1975: Anthology Records dug up the recordings of this Georgia-native outsider artist and, while originally from the 70’s, this stuff is right on time in 2014. Music and Dreams was Folsom’s 1976 private press psychedelic folk record. Spacey synths, an art-pop sensibility and Folsom’s soft rock vocals combine for a fascinating listen. Ode to A Rainy Day contains earlier, more-stripped down recordings, but moments like the flute solo on “Lovels” and the shaggy Americana charm of “See You Later, I’m Gone” make this record an equally interesting listen. Like an entire record made up of Neil Young’s “Will to Love” vibe. (buy)

Mike Cooper – Places I Know/The Machine Gun/Trout Steel: NC based label Paradise of Bachelors brings adventurous multi-instrumentalist Mike Cooper into a much-deserved spotlight with this series of reissues from the early 1970s. Ranging from Dylan-esque excursions to wild free jazz/rock fusions, Cooper’s music climbs from peak to peak. (buy)


Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right: A partial list of those who should be thrown from the Tarpeian Rock, per Protomartyr’s Joe Casey: Greedy bastards, rank amateur professionals, alt-weekly types, internet risottos, smug urban settlers, adults dressed as children, credit-card users, most bands ever. Not included: Mark E. Smith, Gang of Four, Steve Yzerman. On the fence, per album standout “Ain’t So Simple”: Protomartyr’s Greg Ahee, Alex Leonard, and Scott Davidson. Seems about right. (buy)

The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream: Getting lost in the throwback and dad-rock references does a disservice to the anxiety and self-consumed emotion of Lost in the Dream, a product so clearly wrapped in the mood today. All unrelenting drums, poured-over keys, unfettered guitar folded within The War On Drugs’ synthesized haze and shimmery fog, it’s the songwriting – and astute editing – that makes this their most palpable emotional presence to date. Lost in the Dream is all sky above and road ahead and no direction to go but everywhere. (buy)

Elisa Ambrogio – The Immoralist: Just because you’re in a no-wave band doesn’t mean you can’t break hearts. The Magik Markers frontwoman slayed all softies on her solo debut, with the opening one-two of “Superstitious” and “Reservoir” staring into sincerity and refusing to blink. Then she tamed her own wild guitars and put them in service of stark character portraits and frozen-moment vignettes that make friends of Kim Gordon and Neko Case. (buy)


Kevin Morby – Still Life: Former Woods bassist and songwriter/guitarist of The Babies, Kevin Morby surprised everyone last year with a stunning solo debut, Harlem River. Capitalizing on that momentum, Morby wasted no time releasing its follow-up, Still Life, a coastal gem of ragged folk-rock. Morby showed a brilliant capacity for songwriting with Harlem River’s title track and has matched that greatness with this year’s “Parade,” a moment of pure pop perfection. (buy)

Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting: The latest in qualifiers of the statement that The Velvet Underground were the best and most influential band of all time, Ultimate Painting meets James Hoare of Veronica Falls and Jack Cooper of Mazes for a syrupy dose of late 70’s New York-inspired post punk. These dudes have quickly joined the ranks of Courtney Barnett and Parquet Courts in this current and potent wave of brainy but sauntering rock ‘n roll. What sets Ultimate Painting apart is their penchant for more grooving, baroque-leaning psych (see: “Riverside”) and droning, dreamy pop which makes them more akin to VU than the two aforementioned acts (see: “She’s A Bomb”). (buy)

Viet Cong – Cassette: A Calgary quartet made up of former Women band mates Matt Flegel and Mike Wallace, as well as guitarists Monty Munro and Danny Christiansen, Viet Cong exude shadows of their former incarnation – a certain spooky, claustrophobic, gloominess – but the band has also expanded into new sonic territories. Cassette kicks off in full-force, with the confident and wiry “Throw It Away.” (Echoes of Television’s self-assured debut). Waves of lo-fi psychedelic pop permeate throughout this record, but “Structureless Design” locks into in industrial groove and a propulsive drum-led séance. Shapeless, yes, but this band is not without direction or focus. Look out for their Jagjaguwar debut next year. (buy)

Michael Hurley

Travel country roads from Pennsylvania to Portland with Doc Snock and listen as he and his fellow Rounders take you on a long journey defying the limits of folk, transcending all previous interpretations of Americana music. Alternately titled: Rollin’ with Thorne Huber (aka Harry Hubcaps).

Michael Hurley: A Companion Piece


Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice, every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 368: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Steve Gunn – Way Out Weather  ++ Bob Dylan – The Man In Me ++ Nancy Sinatra / w Hal Blaine – Drummer Man ++ Michael Kiwanuka – I Need Your Company ++ Sandy Denny – Crazy Lady Blues ++ The Rolling Stones – Downtown Suzie ++ Harry Nilsson – Many Rivers To Cross ++ The Ansley Dunbar Retaliation – Watch ’n Chain ++ Odetta – Baby, I’m In The Mood For You ++ Scott Walker – 30 Century Man ++ Chuck Berry – Oh, Louisiana ++ Salt – Hung Up ++ Nina Simone – Save Me ++ Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – You’re A Song (That I Can’t Sing) ++ Arthur Lee – Everybody’s Got To Live ++ The Beach Boys – The Warmth of The Sun ++ Francoise Hardy – Till The Morning Comes ++ Cass McCombs – Dreams Come True Girl ++ Kevin Morby – Reign ++ Margo Guryan – Sunday Morning ++ Glen Campbell – Guess I’m Dumb ++ The Kinks – Supersonic Rocket Ship ++ Dutch Rhythm, Steel & Show Band – Down By The River ++ The Shangri-Las – It’s Easier To Cry++ Nico – Sixty Forty (Icon version) ++ Bob Dylan – Seven Curses ++ Richard & Linda Thompson – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight ++ The Blue Things – High Life ++ Arzachel – Queen St. Gang ++ Alton Ellis – Whiter Shade of Pale ++ The Graham Bond Organization – Early In The Morning ++ The Shadows – Scotch On The Socks ++ Crazy Horse – Dirty Dirty ++ Dion – Baby, Let’s Stick Together ++ T. Rex – Lean Woman Blues ++ Flo & Eddie – I Been Born Again ++ Vic Chesnutt & Liz Durrett – Somewhere

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.


Vic Chesnutt left us five years ago in December of 2009. We’re still listening.

Vic Chesnutt w/ Liz Durrett :: Somewhere

Songs- OhiaYou know, the dark didn’t hide it. But it came damn close. Didn’t It Rain, Jason Molina’s final release under the Songs: Ohia moniker, is seven tracks and forty-five minutes of long, dark blues that nevertheless carry within them a gentle light in the same way that a man carries his own blood; it’s that it’s all protected so well that you have to strike in order to see it.

Given all that came later — the depression, the alcohol, the disappearance, and ultimately Molina’s death last year at the age of 39 — you’d be forgiven for rooting through 2002’s Didn’t It Rain in search of signs. In its sparse, elegiac, and often hushed songs, it can be difficult not to think you feel the ping of a distress cry sent twelve years into the future. Four of those seven tracks have the word “Blue” in the title, after all, including centerpiece “Blue Factory Flame,” whose haunting refrain finds Molina gently mourning his own body, “paralyzed by emptiness.” The album’s skeletal arrangements plot banjos, Jennie Bedford’s soft voice, and Mike Brenner’s lap bass around Molina’s own voice like a circle of cautious friends; even the bright-chorded Telecaster that leads “Ring the Bell” doesn’t seem convinced of its own jangle.

Real truth about it is, there’s a willful, angry hope at the center of Didn’t It Rain. It’s a single little light refusing to be snubbed that Molina fans throughout the record. But his fire doesn’t burn for himself alone. There’s almost always a “you” here, some unnamed person to whom these songs are addressed. It’s the person whose presence his voice seeks as it probes the darkness like a lighthouse beacon through fog in the title track; “try to see the light of goodness burning down the track,” he pleads, even when that light is obscured by rain and wires.

While it was recorded in Philadelphia, Didn’t It Rain was largely written in Molina’s newly adopted hometown of Chicago. He was consciously trying to write in the blues tradition, but the album hardly reflects the swagger and sway of the Chicago masters. Instead, Molina makes his camp any one of the numerous decaying towns that fan out across the midwest. It’s not difficult to imagine that “the bridge out of Hammond” that forms the setting of “Steve Albini’s Blues” leads right into the empty smokestack silhouette of Gary. And from there, just thirty miles south of The Loop, where you can see Chicago’s southern edge wrap itself around the southwestern corner of Lake Michigan, the city looms like a threat: “Blue Chicago moon/Swings like a blade/Above the midwest’s heart,” goes the famous line in “Cross the Road, Molina.”

Like last year’s reissue of Molina’s first post-Songs: Ohia album, Magnolia Electric Co.’s self-titled debut, Didn’t It Rain comes packaged with original demos for most of the album’s tracks, along with a pair of songs he would later re-record. Because the sound of the raw demos so closely mirrors the finished album, they lack the standalone value of their MECo counterparts. But they also demonstrate just how finely Molina tuned his ideas before entering the studio. The vocal melody of the title track’s demo, for instance, lacks the subtle phrasing and rounded-off line endings that give the album version its power, while “Ring the Bell”’s vocal opens on a borderline staccato thump. Didn’t It Rain benefits greatly from the band’s embellishments, subtle though they may be, and from the confidence Molina brought to the studio. Still, it’s an incredible thing to hear all eight minutes of “Blue Chicago Moon” come spilling from a source no greater than that voice and a single guitar.

It’s that song, the album’s last, that brings the full force of Molina’s vision to bear. “If the blues are your hunter/Then you will come face to face/With that darkness and desolation/And the endless depression,” he sings, repeating “endless” over and again, drawing it out over a piano line that seems to plink into nothingness. “Help does not just walk up to you,” he’s sung only a little while before in “Ring the Bell.” “I could’ve told you that/I’m not an idiot.” It’s the record’s sharpest moment, the suggestion of self-pity and unbeckoned assistance forcing Molina into a fully present anger. And he brings it back again in “Blue Chicago Moon,” closing the album on that same idea, but here reversed into its positive: “You are not helpless,” goes the album’s final line. “I’ll help you try to beat it.” words / m garner

Songs: Ohia :: Didn’t It Rain

Related:  Jason Molina :: North Star Blues Session – Belgium, 2003 **essential listing

dylanIf you spotted our Late Autumn Light mixtape, you likely noted Bob Dylan’s woolen, gospel rendition of the traditional “Mary Ann”; via the widely, yet incomprehensibly reviled 1973 album, Dylan. One of the least appreciated albums in the Dylan discography, it was released without the man’s input and is comprised solely of cover songs. Hastily assembled, the record was released by Columbia, without Dylan’s input or consent, following his (brief) switch to Asylum Records.

These nine recordings were culled from the 1969-1970 sessions from Dylan’s previous two long players; the equally misunderstood but recently reconsidered Self Portrait and the low-key masterpiece New Morning. A fascinating period in Dylan’s career, it’s difficult to fathom how an album containing material from these sessions could be so maligned. After all, these are still Bob Johnston produced recordings — Al Kooper and David Bromberg were still in the room.

Occupying the same laid-back, pastoral charm as the aforementioned 1970 records, the magic that Dylan channeled into tunes like “Alberta,” “Copper Kettle” and “Sign on the Window” are on full display here – a collection of warm country, gospel and folk. “Lily of the West”, an old Irish murder ballad, has an acute John Wesley Harding vibe — a lawless western shuffle, with harpsichord and female backing vocals that are eerily hypnotic, like an ancient, yellowing photograph. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” lives in that same wintry, log cabin tranquility as many of the tracks on New Morning. “Sarah Jane” is a rollicking paean to domestic bliss. “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” written by Peter LaFarge, is the tale of a Native American World War II veteran and one of the six flag raisers on Iwo Jima, who died ten years later of alcohol poisoning. It’s the kind of unique tale of forgotten Americana that suits Dylan perfectly, and his piano-based, spoken word lament is a poignant and woeful tribute to the American hero that is too often marginalized and forgotten.

“A Fool Such As I”, a country funk barnburner, turns up the heat, and closing the record out is a flamenco-inspired rendition of “Spanish is the Loving Tongue” – a song based on the poem “A Border Affair,” written by cowboy poet Charles Badger Clark in 1907. Shades of “Wigwam” and Pat Garrett can be heard, as we find Dylan swaying, crooning and, yes, reveling in languid American West ease.

But it’s “Mary Ann” that is the album’s highlight. Dylan’s woozy, earthy vocals, the heavenly female backup singers and the casually grooving guitar all thread together into a warm, homey quilt of country, gospel and folk. “Oh, don’t you see that crow fly high/she’ll surely turn to white/if ever I prove false to you/Let the day turn to night.” He may have not written it, but damn if he wasn’t born to sing it. Gentle, warm and evocative; its cosmic Americana is up there with the best of Dylan’s early 70’s material.

Some allege that these recordings were frivolous and carefree, mere warm-up recordings for Dylan and his studio companions – and that may very well be true. But it’s the at-ease vibe of these songs and of Dylan, his band, and his backup singers that deliver this record with such grace and charm. One man’s trash is indeed another man’s treasure. words / c depasquale

Bob Dylan :: Mary Ann

Related: Bob Dylan :: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait


“We are the measure of all things. And the beauty of our creation, of our art, is proportional to the beauty of ourselves, of our souls…” – morning of the earth, ost reissue

2013 marked the 40th anniversary of seminal Australian surf film, Morning of the Earth. For the occasion, the film was re-released (along with a book) and director Albert ‘Alby’ Falzon did some press/events around the commemoration. At that time, he recalled a story that happened whilst shooting for the film in Bali. An Indian diplomat likened the beauty of the isle he was visiting to ‘the morning of the world.’ Falzon agreed, and there you have the peculiar title we are all familiar with. And, really, it’s quite fitting as this unique take on a surf film follows some exceptional surfers to beautiful locales, as they display not only their water radness but demonstrate their reverence for the world they play in.

Sustainable before it was even a thing, environmentally conscious before it was paramount; these surfers truly communed with nature. We’re talking: building their surf boards and huts from the land and ensuring they left no trace behind…all the while cruising to and fro some of the most perfect surf your eyes will ever see.

But, like any timeless film (surf or otherwise), the element that ties it all together is the music that accompanies these erstwhile journeys. Brooklyn based label, Mexican Summer (in partnership w/ Anthology Recordings) just released the original soundtrack – for the first time Stateside (along with similarly profound Crystal Voyager) – as part of their Anthology Surf Archive series.

Peter Howe :: I’m Alive

Now, you might be thinking: c’mon surf soundtracks…a couple grooves, some reverb. I’ve heard it before. Not here. The tracks that accompany Morning of the Earth sound like they were plucked right out of your favorite dive bar jukebox. Familiar, dusty, psychedelic/Laurel Canyon-tinged numbers; filtered through the skilled hands of Aussie musicians.

G. Wayne Thomas produced the record, gathering Australian folkies and surfer-players to lend their talents to the film’s themes. Love and happiness, accountability for your footprint, untouched beauty…deep stuff for a surf flick that resonates and lives far outside the realm of gliding through perfect Bali barrels and beach hang montages (but don’t worry, there’s plenty of that, too). The album went on to claim the distinction of being Australia’s first Gold record for a soundtrack and standout single, Thomas’ “Open Up Your Heart”, held on t0 the #1 spot for a bit. Clearly, sturdy music that held some weight well beyond the screen.

When approached to write about the record – I toiled with the angle I’d take but later that morning, as I was checking the local surf report…it became clear: the music would accompany my own journey.