Kurt Vile – Back To Moon Beach EP (Verve)
When I first became familiar with Kurt Vile through his excellent 2011 album Smoke Ring For My Halo, his sound seemed to embody the same sorts of things that made Neil Young’s 1970s output so affecting, specifically the total honesty anchoring his lyrics. However, sometimes when artists of this ilk don’t have much to talk about, that honesty can easily slip into banal accounts of day-to-day life. I’ve felt that Kurt has been increasingly falling into such a pattern on his last few albums, making his laconic delivery sound dangerously like self-parody. Still, he remains above all else a fan of his favourite artists, with much of his audience sharing that belief. The result is in a strange symbiotic relationship that’s firmly embedded in Back To Moon Beach, a nearly hour-long “EP” that may be the best example yet of “Kurt being Kurt.” Opening stoner-country track “Another Good Year For The Roses,” sets the tone by paying tribute to the classic song Elvis Costello wrote for George Jones, albeit without offering any musical connection to it. It’s a lovely piece of music on its own, but the key line is, “Man, these days I do whatever I want.” Adhering to that philosophy, most of Back To Moon Beach was in fact recorded in 2019, and in some ways serves as a tribute to Kurt’s band mate Rob Laakso, who died earlier this year from cancer. There are several other death references throughout the record, most clearly on the lengthy “Tom Petty’s Gone (But Tell Him I Asked For Him),” which comes off like a stoned conversation in comparison to the more ambiguous and gently flowing “Like A Wounded Bird Trying To Fly” and the rickety piano ballad “Blues Come For Some.” The mood does shift with an unexpected cover of “Must Be Santa,” delivered in a more family-friendly way than Bob Dylan’s more recent version. As well, Kurt tackles the early Wilco track “Passenger Side,” which sounds as if it were written specifically for him. While the jury is still out as to whether Kurt is a “capital G” great artist, Back To Moon Beach presents him as his natural self and leaves it up to the listener to decide.
IV And The Strange Band – Hang Dog (Black Country Rock)
“Are you sure Hank done it this way,” has become a common refrain within country music circles, although his offspring haven’t always followed that advice. Most specifically, his grandson, Hank III, embraced heavy metal in equal measure to country, which added a new twist to his father, Hank Jr.’s concept of family tradition. Now comes III’s son Coleman Williams (simply known as IV), who seems determined to be the Hank this generation needs. Indeed, Hang Dog eschews any metal trappings, instead conjuring the expected haunted hillbilly sound through IV’s rough-edged band that retains traditional elements such as fiddle and pedal steel, along with his warbling vocals, which, on first impression seem more over-the-top than even hardcore Hank fans might be able to tolerate. Still, Hang Dog is a solid collection, with “If The Creek Don’t Rise” and “The Bleed” containing plenty of drama. It’s perhaps important to remember that Hank Williams was fired from the Grand Ole Opry due to his rough and rowdy ways and never reinstated as a member. His descendants have followed suit, and it appears that IV is happy to remain on the fringe as well.
Bob Dylan – The Complete Budokan 1978 (Columbia/Legacy)
With the release of The Complete Budokan 1978, it’s apparent by now that no corner of Bob Dylan’s career will remain untouched by revisionist history. When the original album was recorded, Dylan was coming off a horrible year marked by a bitter divorce from his wife Sara, and the commercial and critical failure of his film Renaldo & Clara, made during the Rolling Thunder Revue tour of 1975. These two events left him in a financial bind, prompting the need for a world tour that would draw big crowds clamouring to hear the hits, something Dylan was reluctant to do up to then. The show he ended up putting together, debuted in early 1978 on his first trip to Japan, soon found him being derided as a Vegas-style lounge act. In fact, the original Live At Budokan album was never intended to be released in North America, instead serving as a souvenir for the Japanese fans. But as with all things in Dylan World, a new generation of obsessives believe original assessments were incorrect and keep tying themselves into knots to prove the critics wrong. This new collection presents the full two shows in Tokyo from which Live At Budokan was drawn, and while Dylan’s singing was in great form, the often-bizarre arrangements, played with unspectacular efficiency by his hired guns, remain a minor curiosity. Notably, these shows took place before the recording of Dylan’s 1978 album Street-Legal, which completely altered the vibes of the rest of the tour. By that summer, the band was playing much more daringly, and it is a true shame that there doesn’t exist a professional recording of the show in Nuremburg, during which Dylan performed “Masters Of War” in the same venue where you-know-who held his largest rallies. Before the tour’s end, Dylan would also experience his famous “born again” spiritual awakening, which made Live At Budokan even less necessary. If you’ve ever longed to hear Dylan songs performed with saxophone, flute and cocktail piano accompaniment, then this new set is for you. Otherwise, no one will fault you for skipping over this confused period of his career.
SONG OF THE WEEK
J Mascis / “Can’t Believe We’re Here” (Sub Pop)