Vieux Farka Touré and Julia Easterlin- Touristes
Vieux Farka Touré. The son of famed Malian blues guitarist Ali Farka Touré, Vieux has lived in his father’s shadow his entire career. Julia Easterlin. A nascent talent in American folk music scene in the vein of Angel Olsen and Andrew Bird. The two met in 2014 and have crafted what is the first great work from both of them, and what has given them their own voice. Ali Farka Touré crafted some excellent albums but never before did he create such a cohesive brew of Malian and American music as Touristes. Vieux’s sings and picks with wise, mournful and evocative precision, while Easterlin’s voice is a weightless jewel of a voice that only furthers the ethereal beauty at bay. The covers, such as Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” and Leadbelly’s “In the Pines”, are masterfully arranged but Fever Ray’s “I’m Not Done” is given a lithe African funk treatment and subverts all expectations. The absolute highlight is opener “Little Things”, which begins with classic Malian guitar work and evolves into Easterlin taking stock of all she has. A wonderfully unique achievement.
Destroyer- Poison Season
Arch-cynic Dan Bejar lies at the heart of Destroyer. Middle-aged, detached and seeming to be in a perpetual state of displeasure, what gives Bejar’s music it’s gravitas and personality is his dry wit that coexists alongside the longing romantic inside of him. Poison Season is less interconnected and smooth as his previous effort, Kaputt but it is safe to say this was his intentioned. The music is similar to Kaputt, with a great volume of sax stabs and grooving yacht-rock. What separates these albums is a subtle affair, an allowance for Bejar to corrupt what he deems his “perfect sound”. There’s occasional dissonance, some drunken horns at times, and his weary voice takes on the horn’s personality and revels in a bit of toxicity itself. Perhaps Poison Season is quite apropos then. Even with the heavily Springsteenian “Dream Lover”, Bejar still doesn’t have that wide-eyed wonder that peppered “Born to Run” with the possibility of success. It’s a new wrinkle on the “lovers on the run” tale, and one that only fascinates even further.
Merle Haggard- Hag: The Best of Merle Haggard (2006)
Many of the great middle 20th century country stars seem to experience severe under-appreciation in the 21st century (well, unless you’re watching the CMA’s). Merle Haggard is one these unfortunate flock, and that’s a damn shame. This collection is one that gathers Haggard’s greatest songs into a perfect and accessible unit. Hag was a pioneer of “Outlaw country” and the “Bakersfield sound”, and those merits alone give him a hefty weight in the American musical landscape. Yet the real story of Haggard is not his influence, it’s the songs. And hell does he have a gaggle. 38 number one country hits, including 11 straight years of finding the top of the charts at least once (1966-76). The best songs here include “The Bottle Let Me Down”, “Branded Man” and “If We Make it Through December”, a few in a number of Hag’s perfect distillation of desperation, humor and those quotidian, working class crises. Simply put: Heartfelt, humdrum, Haggard.