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An old friend from high school googled my name the other day, found this blog and sent me an email. It was nice to hear from her (Hi, Liza), and her email was helpful in reminding me that, hey, I have a blog. I’ve been spending a lot of time here at my desk, some of it quite productive, but none of it blogging. What better way to start up again than with navel-gazing, and there’s no easier navel-gazing than talking about music. *

On a whim, I downloaded Son Volt’s “Okemah and the Melody of Riot” from iTMS a couple of months ago, and then I went to see the band live downtown.

 

The show and the album were great, prompting me to listen to more. I had owned the band’s “Wide Swing Tremelo” for years, but never ventured beyond that. I’ve begun to remedy that, having picked up and put into regular rotation Uncle Tupelo’s “No Depression,” “Still Feel Gone”, and “Anodyne,” plus “Okemah” and Son Volt’s “Trace”. Without entirely renouncing my late 80s-early 90s love for prog rock,** I must nonetheless say, wow this is good stuff. I know that Uncle Tupelo was the icon for alt-country, but “Still Feel Gone” is a striking rock and roll album, first and foremost. The middle third of the album—the five songs from Still Be Around to D. Boon—is one of the best sets of tracks on any album I own. “Trace,” similarly, is just extraordinary, though much more rooted in the alt sound.

The good people at Cheezeball introduced me to another brilliant set of musicians, the band Richmond Fontaine, whose “Post to Wire” was picked by Cheezeball as one of the best albums of 2004. It’s just fine if bands like Son Volt and Wilco don’t quite fit the alt-country genre any longer, because Richmond Fontaine are redefining it entirely anyway. Not many bands can put together well-crafted and lyrical songs about places like Winnemucca, Nevada; you might wonder, “why should they even try?”, but that would betray your shallow heart and misplaced loyalty to your more metropolitan alt-country.

Also in the lineup: The two-CD soundtrack to the recent Bob Dylan documentary, “No Direction Home.” This was on sale for the scandalous price of $14.99 at my local record store and is stocked with wonderful alternate takes of your favorite Dylan tracks. Then the Calexico / Iron and Wine collaboration “In the Reins.” This is a good album, but for my taste it has a little too much of the latter and not quite enough of the former. And, “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,” from Bright Eyes. I can’t make up my mind about Bright Eyes. Some of the songs from this album are great, but others, well, on the matter of other songs I quite agree with the reviewer of a recent Bright Eyes show who just couldn’t buy the hype: “Conor Oberst could have tied and re-tied his shoes for 90 minutes Tuesday night at the Brown Theatre and he would still have gotten a standing ovation from the army of 15-year-olds there to adore him and his band, Bright Eyes.”

To top it off, I’ve also employed this iTunes trick to generate interesting playlists and re-discover some of the music that’s become lost on the hard drive. Works nicely.

 

Update: Via Pandagon, here’s another Bright Eyes review. To call it “not complimentary” would fail to capture the venom. (Also, the Printculture blog publishing that article looks to be a really nice addition to one’s scholar-blogger blogroll.)

 

Another update: I’ve found that In the Reins gets better live.

 

* Okay, I suppose there are easier sorts: Cats, getting the lids off of jars, the weather, and so forth.
** By the way, FOR SALE: One barely-used Dream Theatre CD. What was I thinking?