Posts Tagged ‘Kurt Cobain’

Album Review: Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer – ‘Not Dark Yet’

August 17, 2017

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer

Not Dark Yet

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In the summer of 2016, under the direction of Richard Thompson’s son Teddy, Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer entered a studio in Los Angeles and made good on a promise to one day record a collaborative album. The result, Not Dark Yet, is a ten-track collection of eccentric covers and one original tune.

The songs span genres, from classic country to rock and even grunge. The album, though, has a unifying sound, with Thompson using flourishes of piano and guitar to bring the tracks together. These aren’t by-the-numbers faithful interpretations, but rather the sisters’ take on these songs.

They open Not Dark Yet with “My List,” solely penned by Brandon Flowers and featured on The Killers second album Sam’s Town in 2006. Their version begins sparse, led by Moorer’s naked vulnerability, before unexpectedly kicking into gear halfway.

The title track was written and released by Bob Dylan in 1998, from Time Out Of Mind. Moorer is a revelation once again, with the perfect smoky alto to convey the despair lying at the center of Dylan’s lyric.

As one might expect, the album explores the feelings surrounding the horrific death of the sisters’ mother, at the hands of their father, who then turned the gun on himself. They were teenagers at the time, a period in one’s life where you arguably need your parents the most. They acknowledge their heartbreak with a trifecta of songs, culminating with the album’s sole original tune, which they composed themselves.

They begin with Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms,” the lead single from his 1997 album The Boatman’s Call. The song, which proves the benefit of turning to rock for expert lyricism, is about a man’s devotion to his woman and the push to bring them together. Lynne and Moorer continue with Kurt Cobain’s “Lithium,” from Nirvana’s 1992 masterpiece Nevermind. The dark ballad, which they make approachable, details the story of a man turning to God amidst thoughts of suicide.

The most personal, “Is It Too Much” was started by Lynne and finished by Moorer. The track details the bond they share as sisters, knowing each other’s pain, and wondering – is it too much to carry in your heart? It’s also one of the album’s slowest ballads, heavy on bass. I’m not typically drawn to these types of songs but they manage to bring it alive.

The remaining five tracks have ties to country music and thus fall more within my expertise. “Every Time You Leave” was written by Charlie and Ira Louvin and released in 1963. The backstory is a tragic one – Ira wrote this for his wife, saying that although they would eventually get back together, their separation was inventible. The wife he was married to at the time, his third, would also shoot him five times after a violent argument. It’s no wonder the pair feel a connection to the song, which they brilliantly deliver as a bass and piano-led ballad.

“I’m Looking for Blue Eyes,” written and recorded by Jessi Colter, was a track from Wanted! The Outlaws in 1976. Lynne and Moorer’s version is stunning, even if the pedal steel is just an accent and not a major player throughout.

Two of the album’s songs first appeared in 1969. “Lungs,” written by Townes Van Zandt, was featured on his eponymous album. The pair interpret the song nicely, which has a gently rolling melody. The album’s most famous song, at least to country fans, is Merle Haggard’s classic “Silver Wings,” which first appeared on Okie From Muskogee. Their version is slightly experimental but also lovely.

The final song is arguably the most contemporary. “The Color of a Cloudy Day” was written by Jason Isbell and is a duet between him and his wife Amanda Shires. The song first appeared at the close of the British documentary The Fear of 13 and was given a proper release as part of Amazon’s “Amazon Acoustics” playlist in 2016. Moorer and Lynne give the song a bit more pep, which isn’t hard given the acoustic leanings of Isbell and Shires’ duet.

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but Not Dark Yet is considered one of the most anticipated roots releases of the year. It’s a beautiful album, and while it won’t be within everyone’s wheelhouse, it’s difficult not to appreciate just how brilliant Lynne and Moorer are as a pair. They are two of our finest voices and have an exceptional ear for song selection. I don’t usually have trouble grading albums, but Not Dark Yet is hard record for which to assign a grade. It might not be completely my cup of tea, but I can’t ignore how expertly it was crafted.


She went back to black and said no to rehab

July 24, 2011

I may be a country music fan at heart, but I’m still deeply saddened by the death of Amy Winehouse. I recognize quality music when I here it, and Back To Black was as solid any album as any to see release in 2006.

I was first exposed to her music in August of 2007 when my Godmother played me her song “Rehab,” while on a visit to her house. Being naive, I thought the song was a declaration of her not traveling down the path into destruction.  Obviously, I was dead wrong.

It would be the following winter before I’d hear Back to Black  in its entirety. I wouldn’t even think about her music again until she swept the Grammy Awards. After purchasing  the album, I was blown away. That voice mixed with those songs came together to create an irresistible combination. She may not be anything close to a country singer, but it didn’t matter. I felt her music.

Much has already, and will be, written about her inclusion into the famed “Forever 27” club – rock legends (Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain) who all died at that young age. Much will also be made about her importance in the music industry. She’ll always be included in that legendary company, but does she deserve to rank among those great artists?

The short answer is really, only time will tell. Her legacy is just being mounted. It’s going to take a long time for the public to look at Winehouse solely for her music and not for the public spectacle she made of herself. Sure, her demons will always cast a shadow, but future generations will likely learn about Winehouse through her music, not her addictions. I know because that’s how I’ve grown to love Joplin, for her music.

I can’t really explain why, but Back To Black is a classic. It’s an album and not just a couple singles surrounded by filler. Back To Black is her Pearl, just released during her lifetime. In way, it’s criminal to think it won every major Grammy Award except Album of the Year. I’m glad for Herbie Handcock’s River – The Join Letters, but Winehouse had the best album that year.

In essence, Winehouse is the first member of this “forever 27” club I will have known during her life. I remember watching her Grammy Awards performance blown away by what I was seeing. I had to it look up the  to refresh my memory, but it all came flooding back – she was denied a visa to leave the UK and had to perform in a British club. The sultry Winehouse in the smoky club had a real old-fashioned vibe to it. You kind of knew you were witnessing something special.

In the years since that night, she wouldn’t release any more music, but her influence was felt far and wide. Winehouse ushered in a British-soul invasion that has captivated America. In her wake, artists like Duffy, Adele, and Estelle have all made their marks. They all had a similar sound to Winehouse, but also their own individuality.

Arguably, the most successful in this post-Winehouse group is Adele, who’s sophomore album 21 and single “Rolling In The Deep” have been 2011’s biggest mainstream success stories not named Blake Shelton. I have her album as well and its fantastic. Pure talent doesn’t come along very often but Adele has it.

And so did Winehouse, which is why I find it sad that it takes death to bring appreciation to talent. The whole world is saddened, yet hardly surprised, that we’ve lost another raw talent so quickly, but we’re not above revisiting her albums and taking another look at her music.

When I heard about the now famous Belgrade concert last month, I kind of laughed it off as just another episode. I viewed her fumbling around on stage as just another train wreck moment and not another notch in her downfall. I’ll always think she was screwed up that night, but I never thought it was as bad as it was. In reality, I don’t think anyone did.

Thankfully, though, the addictions aren’t the only reason we know Winehouse’s name. The most important part of her legacy is her music and that will always be there to draw the attention of new fans.

I would like to see Winehouse remembered for her most valued asset – her voice. It was so unique and expressive.  The way a white girl could sound black was just incredible. There wasn’t anyone else who sounded like her.
Listening to her music was like going back in time to another era, which is why her Grammy performance worked so well. She found the perfect venue to capture the essence of her voice.

Which is why it’s such a shame she couldn’t have found a way to get herself together. If we learn any lesson in her death, it’s to make sure we tell those around us how much we value them. That little compliment may make all the difference because all we really want to know is that we matter.

In honor of Amy Winehouse, lets go Back To Black.