Charley Crockett – Live From The Ryman (Son Of Davy/Thirty Tigers)
Anyone who was fortunate enough to see Charley Crockett on his first-ever Canadian tour this past summer (as I did in Toronto) should be thrilled that his current live show has now been officially documented, fittingly at country music’s spiritual home. The best live albums always mark an important milestone in an artist’s career, and that was certainly the case for Charley when he made his debut at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville late last year, soon after the release of his previous studio album The Man From Waco. While this double vinyl set naturally leans heavily on that album, including the breakthrough single “I’m Just A Clown,” newcomers to Charley’s catalogue are treated to standouts from past albums such as “Music City USA,” “Trinity River” and “Paint It Blue,” along with covers of Jerry Reed’s “I Feel For You” and Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley.” With stellar support from his band the Blue Drifters, Charley’s boundless charisma and performing skills are on full display, and offer a counterpoint to many of today’s male stars who go overboard in presenting themselves as average beer guzzling dudes. Instead, Charley—through his immersion in country music history—has created his own mystique, which is sure to outlast most of his peers. Will Live At The Ryman be his Frampton Comes Alive? One can only hope.
Wilco – Cousin (dBpm)
Since its landmark 2001 album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco and its creative centre, Jeff Tweedy, have managed to grow sonically without alienating much of their core audience, a winning formula that Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and David Bowie (among others) began perfecting in the 1970s. It’s been risky to be sure, although Wilco’s 2022 album, Cruel Country, revived memories of the band’s carefree early days for many longtime fans. Now just a year later comes Cousin, the band’s first collaboration with Welsh artist Cate Le Bon, whose other production credits include Kurt Vile and Deerhunter. On paper it suggests Jeff longing for another shake-up on par with Wilco’s divisive Yankee Hotel Foxtrot follow-up, A Ghost Is Born, but while opening track “Infinite Surprise” does contain atonal elements that may reflect some clutter within Jeff’s brain, things come into focus right after with “Ten Dead,” a song that anyone who follows the news can relate to. Its sense of exhaustion over life’s daily struggles soon becomes Cousin’s overall theme, as Jeff sings a majority of the songs barely above a whisper. The rest of the group picks up the slack, seemingly approaching each song with their own distinct vision, and somehow achieving cohesion by the end. With some notable lyrical references to medication, the result is arguably a “drug” album, albeit of the prescription variety—at times disturbing, at times soothing, but unlike some of Wilco’s past experiments, thoroughly compelling.
Buddy & Julie Miller – In The Throes (New West)
Although they’ve been married since 1981, In The Throes marks only the fifth album Americana stalwarts Buddy and Julie Miller have made together, a cause for some sort of celebration. The combination of Julie’s unflinching songwriting and Buddy’s instrumental and production prowess remains as powerful as ever; no matter which of them is singing lead, the depth of emotion within the performances is often overwhelming. That’s particularly evident on the lament “The Last Bridge You Will Cross,” “Tattooed Tear” and “Don’t Make Her Cry,” the last inspired by a story Bob Dylan told about what the father of one his gospel-era backup singers said to him before they headed out on tour. Of course, its inevitable that any new project by the Millers will be compared to the great records Richard and Linda Thompson made, but by this point their body of work stands tall on its own. This is music made by people who continue to experience almost everything life can throw at them, and they still manage to find beauty in it.
SONG OF THE WEEK
Jamie Wyatt / “Althea” (New West)