Nick Cave – Idiot Prayer. Nick Cave had a world tour planned for 2020 to promote his and The Bad Seeds excellent 2019 album Ghosteen. I bought tickets to a show scheduled for October in Seattle but, as with all the other shows on the tour, it was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. No live shows? What could he do? He booked the andra Palace and livestreamed a pay-per-view live show of just him at piano in a venue that can hold 7,500 people. Okay, so we all know Nick’s voice is a beautiful instrument, but what about that piano? Nick and Files:
The piano I played at Alexandra Palace was a Fazioli. There were limited pianos I could access during lockdown. There was, however, a Fazioli. I had never played one before but Dom Monks, the guy who recorded the Alexandra Palace performance, highly recommended this piano. The moment I sat down at the Fazioli, its warm, soft, nuanced sound spoke to me like no piano had spoken to me before. I was swept away by its extraordinary tonal range. It whispered to me. It roared at me. It was the most beautiful instrument I had ever played.
I watched the livestream show on July 23rd and was blown away by the intimacy of the performance. The songs take on a whole new character when performed without The Bad Seeds. You can’t help but focus on every word and Nick’s delivery of them.
Nick wrote in the liner notes for the album released in November:
On 19th June 2020, surrounded by COVID officers with tape measures and thermometers, masked-up gaffers and camera operators, nervous looking technicians and buckets of hand gel, we created something very strange and very beautiful that spoke into this uncertain time, but was in no way bowed by it.
The title track of the album was taken from the song of the same name on the 1997 release, The Boatman’s Call. There are six songs from that piano-based album, a few from Ghosteen, and other albums plus two Grinderman songs, including “Palaces of Montezuma”, which is one of my favorites on this album. As of now there are only two clips from the film available on YouTube. Here’s “Galleon Ship” from Ghosteen.
2. Lucinda Williams – Good Souls Better Angels. Lucinda unleashed the devil when she put this album together. It’s visceral, raw dirty blues with a punk edge. With the lyrics she attacks the evil subjects in her songs, like Donald Trump in “Man Without a Soul”. She never says his name, but you know who she’s talking about. I’ve been a huge fan of hers at least since way back in 1998 when she put our her masterpiece, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. Here she is performing the opening track of Good Souls Better Angels – her new masterpiece.
3. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Reunions. Another great collection of songs by Jason Isbell. I chose “Overseas” because of the infectious guitar part – especially at the 3:05 mark of the album version and at 3:39 when Jason throws in some Crazy Horse like harmonic distortion. The video here is a live at-home recording for The Late Show, and it’s a wee bit longer than the album version. Enjoy!
4. Porridge Radio – Every Bad. I think I learned about this band by reading this review in The Guardian. From there I watched and listened to several YouTube videos, both “Lilac” and “Sweet” really got my attention. Dana Margolin’s voice is a very powerful instrument she uses to belt out some angsty screams. She is a very talented songwriter and singer, and she’s only 26, so I expect more great things from this band in the future. Here’s the closest thing to a pop song on the album. Pop is good!
5. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death. Just over a year after their first album, Dogrel, was released to great acclaim, they dropped their second album. It’s different than the harder rocking first album. It’s a bit dark and brooding, and that’s probably why I like it. Check out this very weird video for the single, “A Hero’s Death”. Sort of Lynchian…
Here is part two of my list of top twenty albums of 2020.
6. Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas. This eponymously titled album is her third following Blood from 2015 and Is Your Love Big Enough from 2012. I had not heard of her until I saw her on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in 2015 when she sat in with the Jon Batiste and Stay Human band and performed “Green and Gold” from Blood. It was an and incredible performance backed by a great band, so I bought the album and began to learn more about her. She was born in London to a Greek father and Jamaican mother. Her father taught her how to play piano and guitar, and she sang in her school choir. She got a big break in her career when she was featured on Prince’s album Art Official Age, and sang with him in and it’s brilliant. Enjoy!
7. Bonny Light Horseman – Bonny Light Horseman. This album was released in January, and I think it was the first new album I bought this year. As I wrote then, “I was struck by the clarity of their sound and their perfect vocal harmonies.” I must still be because I continue to play this album a lot. The group is made up of Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman, and Eric D. Johnson, who in the press materials wrote of the reworked traditional folk songs they recorded: “This record is about timeless humanity. These 500-year-old lyrics are so deeply applicable. ‘The Roving’ could be the plot of an ’80s teen movie: ‘I had a wild summer with this awesome girl then she broke my heart!’ How incredible is it that as humans we still just want to love and have sex and feel sad and fight? It’s ancient music that feels, emotionally, right now. It’s thoroughly modern.”
8. and the Panhandle Mystery Band – Just Like Moby Dick. Terry Allen has been putting out some strange form of Texan alt-country absurdist songs and music since the seventies. He is also an accomplished writer, playwriter, sculptor, and visual artist. Check out his label bio here. This album includes his stalwart band, some family members who play various instruments and add backing vocals, and Charlie Sexton as co-producer, plus Shannon McNally, a new collaborator, provides prominent vocals on some songs. It’s a great collection of odd people and strange stories that’s well worth listening to over and over again. Here’s one of the odder songs about a circus visiting a city of vampires.
9. Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? Well these days sometimes I think I have, and this album is the perfect for when I feel that way. I don’t think many people know of Fantastic Negrito (real name Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz), but I think many people should – like you! His music draws on blues, R&B, roots music, a little psychedelia, and some great guitar work. Check out this video for “Chocolate Samurai” which features home videos solicited by Fantastic Negrito that show what his fans were doing to entertain themselves during quarantine.
10. Jerry Joseph – The Beautiful Madness. This the most powerful political album I’ve heard in years. The album is produced by Patterson Hood of Drive By Truckers, who’ve put out their own great political music, but this one is a gut punch. Jerry Joseph is new to me this year, which is surprising. I’d like to be able to say I first heard Jerry Joseph on KEXP, but I cannot recall ever hearing him on the station (must be too many f-bombs in his songs), so I only know of the album because it was mentioned in a weekly No Depression email, and I read and I immediately bought the album. Here’s a little snip from the review:
On Jerry Joseph’s new record, The Beautiful Madness, he walks the line between darkness and light, good and evil, and does so masterfully as he somehow speaks into the current realities of life with songs that were written well before a virus ravaged the globe and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd erupted protests and movements in the name of justice.
In other words, The Beautiful Madness is both prophetic and apocalyptic, quickly becoming a revelation for all who have ears to hear.
“Putting down the torch, surrender to the swell,” Joseph sings on opening track, “Days of Heaven.” “Ready for the dive, these are the days of heaven.” Co-written with Drive-By Truckers’ founding member Patterson Hood (who also produced the album), “Days of Heaven” sets the foundation for what’s to come on the rest of the record: living life on the brink of beautiful madness.
Here’s the bottom half of the top twenty albums of 2020.
11. David Ramirez – My Love is a Hurricane. If first heard David Ramirez in 2015 when he released his first album on the Thirty Tigers label titled Fables. I’ve been paying attention to his music ever since. His 2020 release is more fleshed out with rich arrangements of guitar, piano, synths, and even a little electronic stuff that work really well with this breakup-themed album. “Coast to Coast” is standout track about hitting the road together with your lover to somehow escape a failing relationship.
12. Chuck Prophet – The Land that Time Forgot. Chuck Prophet consistently puts out great rock ‘n roll records, and this new one has to be one of his best. The closing track, “Get Off the Stage” got some good airplay in the runup to the election because the calls to get off the stage are directed at Donald Trump. Hopefully he will be off the mainstage a few weeks from now. The best track on the album is this one.
13. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher. I’ve known of Phoebe Bridgers for a while, because she’s done some work with one of my favorite artists, Julien Baker, but I had not bought any of Phoebe’s albums until this year. Like Baker’s songs, Bridgers’ are very personal and draw you into her world – sometimes troubling, sometime not. Check out “ICU”.
14. Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways. Bob Dylan, age 79, has released 39 albums during his long career. On this album, he reflects on history and people and events that have shaped his life and his music. The 17-minute single, “Murder Most Foul” about President Kennedy’s assassination, was released on his YouTube channel a couple of weeks after we all went into quarantine. Fiona Apple plays piano on that track. The album was highly ranked in the best-of-2020 list of many major publications. Both MOJO and Uncut magazines ranked it number one.
15. Jim White – Misfit’s Jubilee. I’ve been a fan of Jim White ever since when in 1997 I mistakenly bought his first album, Wrong-Eyed Jesus, because I thought it included a song about a guy picking up a hitchhiker who ends up being Jesus, who pulls a gun on him and steals his car. The song I was looking for was “Gimme a Ride to Heaven” by Terry Allen on the 1983 album Bloodlines. Anyway, I was glad to have bought Jim’s first album, and I still listen to it often. Here’s what No Depression says about his new album:
A cross between a hysterical lunatic and a road-weary sage, Jim White really lets loose on the electrifying Misfit’s Jubilee, the latest installment in his ongoing quest to make sense of reality in all its dazzling weirdness.
Check out “The Divided States of America”.
16. Drive By Truckers – The Unraveling. This is another political album they wrote and recorded before the coronavirus quarantine started and it was released in early February. The album addresses many of America’s most troubling problems like opioid addiction, mass shootings, racial violence, extremism, and divisiveness. “Thoughts and Prayers” got a lot of airplay oh KEXP (#74 non their list), and it’s a very good song. I think “Rosemary With a Bible and Gun” is really great. (They released another new album last Friday titled The New OK. I bought it today and I’m listening to it right now for the first time, but it’s too late for consideration on this list or the accompanying cd I made a few weeks ago.)
17. Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You. Bruce is getting old. He’s 71, but he keeps writing great songs and sometimes releases them as solo albums but most times with the E Street Band. Interesting thing about this release is the cover does not say “and the E Street Band” after his name, but when you listen to it, it’s definitely them backing him up. Curious as I am, I read the fine print at the end of the liner notes, and found “Performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band”. I don’t know why they aren’t named on the cover. They were named on SNL last week. The music business is weird. Anyway, this album includes a couple of songs that he wrote when he was just a New Jersey punk trying to make a name for himself, and he’s revisited them and freshened them up for the better. Check out “Janey Needs a Shooter” and “Rainmaker” to hear what I’m talking about . The title track is also very good.
18. Lydia Loveless – Daughter. It’s been four years since Lydia put out a new album. She’s been through a divorce since then, and more! Americana Highways says:
Since the release of Real, Lydia Loveless has been the subject of a documentary, got divorced, moved from her native Ohio to North Carolina, came forth with allegations of sexual harassment at her former record company and started her own label.
For fans and artist alike, it has seemed like an eternity. With the release of Daughter, (Honey, You’re Gonna Be Late Records), Lydia Loveless returns with songs of trials and tribulations and the detailed self-analysis of someone one who has been performing publicly for nearly half of her life.
The single “Wringer” is a great track. Check it out.
19. Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess. This album contains the stripped down versions of the songs on last year’s All Mirrors. These recordings are pretty much just Angel Olsen singing with her own accompaniment on guitar. There are some quiet organ tracks on some songs. It’s all pretty raw and spacious sounding. It reminds me of what Nick Cave did for Idiot Prayer, and maybe even what Bruce Springsteen did on Nebraska. This video for “Waving Smiling” captures its essence.
20. Pretenders – Hate for Sale. Chrissy Hynde finally found a suitable replacement for James Honeyman-Scott and put out a Pretenders album this year that sounds like it fits right in with the band’s first two albums from the early eighties. The new guitarist is James Walbourne. Listen to the title track and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
The results of all 50 states were called on November 7th, and the Electoral College count was Biden 306 and Trump 232, so everyone but Donald Trump and is henchmen have recognized that Joe Biden is now President Elect Joseph R. Biden and soon to be the 46th president of the USA. To celebrate this Democratic triumph, I have created a bright blue cocktail somewhat based on the famous French 75 cocktail and named it the American 46.
2 oz sparkling wine – American sparkling wine is probably best for this one, because AMERICA – Argyle from Oregon is a good choice, and Domaine Carneros from California or Domaine Ste. Michelle from Washington are great too. If champagne is all you have, go for it.
Combine the gin, blue curacao, lemon juice, and bitters in a shaker with five or six ice cubes. Shake for twenty seconds or so and then strain into a chilled champagne flute. Top it off with some good American sparkling wine, garnish with a lemon wedge and an American flag – and voilà!
The quantities of ingredients in this recipe are set for an 8 oz. champagne flute, so if you are using something bigger, adjust accordingly.
You’ve got some time to experiment with this one between now and inauguration day or the day that Trump finally concedes. I’m betting inauguration comes first, because Trump will never concede.
First, some background. More than 2,000 Americans fell at the battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918 and are buried in the cemetery. They were part of a force composed of the 2nd and 3rd United States Infantry Divisions rushed to reinforce French troops on the Marne River front who were fighting desperately to stem a final German offensive to end the war. Belleau Wood became the focus of the German thrust in this sector but they ran smack into the US 4th Marine Brigade, comprised of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments, part of the 2nd Division. The Marines had arrived just in time to see French troops retreating. When urged by the French to do the same the legendary reply came back from US Marine Captain Lloyd Williams: “Retreat? Hell we just got here!” The Marines dug in and repulsed the German attack.
From the 3-26 June the ferocious battle raged back and forth until the Germans were finally ejected from the wood. In that time the Marines endured thunderous artillery, devastating machine gun fire as they advanced through open wheat fields, hand-to-hand fighting using bayonets, knives, rifle butts and fists and, perhaps most frightening of all, poison gas. During one gas attack, Gunnery Sergeant Fred W. Stockham gave his gas mask to a wounded Marine whose own had been shot off. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Some 10,000 Americans were casualties of whom over 1,800 Marines were killed. In their honour the French renamed Belleau Wood “Bois de la Brigade de Marine” or Wood of the Marine Brigade and awarded them the Crois de Guerre.
Against this backdrop and some 100 years later Donald Trump, when confronted with the prospect of a two-hour road trip and a rainy, possibly windy day that would play havoc with his hair, declined to attend the ceremony honouring the American fallen of Belleau Wood. To his chagrin, travel by helicopter had been nixed owing to inclement weather and rather than sucking it up as any other president would have done Trump, true to form, cancelled his appearance and hid behind the fiction that the logistics of moving his motorcade to the cemetery was beyond the organizational ability of his entourage; this despite the fact that several world leaders attended centennial events in the rain that day. There was strong criticism at the time, none more eloquent than this piece from Eliot A. Cohen in The Atlantic.
So Trump skipped an event to honour our heroic soldiers and Marines who had given everything they had to give in service to their country to avoid a bad hair day or maybe simply because he couldn’t be bothered. Trump doesn’t need words to show his contempt for those who have served and sacrificed for their country. His actions speak far more loudly than his words.
In his Atlantic piece, Cohen includes a poem from Alan Seeger as a sort of rebuke to Trump from beyond the grave. Seeger was an American who volunteered with the French Foreign Legion prior to the entry of the US into the Great War. He died of his wounds sustained during the Battle of the Somme on the 4th of July 1916 at the age of 28. I can think of nothing more appropriate:
I have a rendezvous with Death At some disputed barricade, When Spring comes back with rustling shade And apple-blossoms fill the air— I have a rendezvous with Death When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
It maybe that he will take my hand And lead me into his dark land And close my eyes and quench my breath— It may be I shall pass him still. I have a rendezvous with Death On some scarred slope of battered hill, When Spring comes round again this year And the first meadow-flowers appear.
God knows ’twere better to be deep Pillowed in silk and scented down, Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep, Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath, Where hushed awakenings are dear … But I’ve a rendezvous with Death At midnight in some flaming town, When Spring trips north again this year, And I to my pledged word am true, I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Now that this brutal election season is well underway, and fall is just around the corner, it’s time for a smooth bourbon-based drink that will keep you warm and cozy while you watch the debates or while you try to forget them.
This cocktail is made from much more common spirits than the Trump cocktail. The Biden cocktail has about half the ingredients – all of which are very common and not too expensive.
Today I was doing some very entrepreneurial stuff that included linking out to a service I just signed up for to help me figure out how to manage and invoice clients when working freelance gigs. When I grabbed the link from my dashboard, I noticed a big “Invite friends, get rewards” link and it occurred to me that I could maybe pay for my account if my link gets used.
So I signed up as an affiliate for FreshBooks.com. You actually join a larger affiliate advertising network and FreshBooks approves you for linking from your site, so now I’m an affiliate marketer! I’ve never made money from ads on any website ever, so my hopes aren’t high that this will bring in any Covid relief for me and my family, but I had a little fun explaining to them why I want to advertise for them. It turned into more of a HariKari blog post than a note about my business plans…
There’s little that Democrats and Republican Trumpers agree on to be sure, but on one issue at least they may be united: the need to end America’s forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in each of which we’ve been involved for almost two decades.
Trump has threatened to abandon both places. He’s already betrayed the Kurds in Syria who fought so well and loyally essentially as our infantry against Daesh, and he seeks to do the same by withdrawing all American forces from the country in which the plan for 9/11 was hatched.. But Trump is an idiot and his desire to withdraw from Afghanistan has less to do with strategy or a hardheaded reassessment of our commitments abroad than winning brownie points with his base before a tough re-election campaign. But such a withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a serious strategic and moral mistake and I really hope a Biden administration, if there is one, will agree, even if it means the commitment of a modest force indefinitely.
Of course the case for staying isn’t helped by the fact that its strongest advocates are some of the same nincompoops whose enthusiast cheer led us into the 2003 Iraq invasion ordered by George W Bush, such as Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute and retired army general Jack Keane joined by a guy I’d hoped never to see or hear from again, Joe Lieberman and we all know how that went (although as an ardent opponent of that war it would be churlish indeed not to acknowledge that the United States plucked a solid military victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to the 2006 surge of forces under a more capable general and the fortunate timing of an alliance with the Arab Sunni Awakening; but at a bitter cost to both Iraqis and Coalition forces). We still live with the unpleasant reality that the principal beneficiary geopolitically has been Iran who lost a formidable enemy and found a new best friend in the now Shia-dominated Iraqi government.
But just because they were wrong about Iraq doesn’t mean they’re wrong now and O’Hanlon in particular makes a compelling case for retaining the current residual force of between 5-10,000 American and NATO forces. And whilst both O’Hanlon and Keane emphasize the critical counter-terrorism role of such a force, and rightly so given the ongoing threat of Daesh (ISIS-K) and the ever present possibility of a rejuvenated al-Qaida, I would argue that we should also help to thwart a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. We can do this by continuing to provide training, logistics and even air support to Afghan forces. And let’s not forget the all-important moral support our presence provides.
Why should we do this? Because of the effort and sacrifice our Allies and ourselves have made to the cause; and because Afghanis, especially women and young girls, have come too far to be sent back to the 15th century by the fundamentalist rigidity of another Taliban regime. And make no mistake, that is the alternative if we fail to continue helping the Afghans.
Fulfilling our obligations and commitments is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue. And betrayal doesn’t sit well with us, nor should it.