Happy birthday Johnny Cash

Today is Johnny Cash’s birthday. The Man in Black, who would be 82 today, died in 2003.

Among the many highlights of his storied career and life, I love the prison records he recorded at Folsom and San Quentin in the late ’60s. Listen to a cut below.


Best new release: St. Vincent

The fourth album from Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is her first for a major record label. While the thought of her joining the ranks of a major made me cringe, I don’t feel that the unique and quirky St. Vincent pop sound is corrupted here. Yes, the self-titled release is the most accessible St. Vincent album yet. But maybe it was the guitar shredding just over the halfway mark of Huey Newton that won me over. Maybe it’s the fact the album has few flaws and Clark continues to surprise. I started to list tracks I’d highlight from the album and realized almost every song is a standout. This is likely Clark’s breakout album, one that appeals to the masses. No more small club shows. No more afternoon sets at Pitchfork fest.


Review: Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness

To review Angel Olsen’s new album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, I enlisted my new correspondent Andersonville Dan.

Punks: Angel Olsen made the best album I’ve heard this year. I love the diversity of the songs — the transitions from country to pop. It’s a far more exciting album than her 2012 release Half Way Home.

AD: This is a more exciting album than Half Way Home, although let’s be honest, that wouldn’t have taken much. I am a big fan of this album and increasingly of Angel Olsen. I’ll admit that when I first heard Half Way Home, the chirping of her relationship to Bonnie Prince Billy affected my listen. I eventually gave up and listened to his music. But that changed after seeing Olsen at Pitchfork last summer. She was fantastic. The Angel warble is best heard live. It feels like there’s a little less warble on this effort, maybe because Burn Your Fire for No Witness (how great is that title?) has more anger.

Punks: You’re right about the warble. On Half Way Home, it was a flat-out yodel. An endearing yodel but a yodel all the same. The anger is definitely there on this new release, especially compared with the last album. There’s a vitality to Burn Your Fire, a real contrast to some of the sad-sack songs on Half Way Home. By the second song on this new record, you realize this is going to be a much different approach for her. It’s much more sonic than anything she’s put out before. And how about Hi-Five? What a weird, cool song. It’s like a country ballad backed by a psychedelic band.

AD: That song is amazing. It’s definitely like a modern psych remix of an old Emmy Lou Harris song. But the direction is definitely a cool sound, something I think we relate more to St. Vincent. With Olsen’s old-style vocal it makes for quite a contrast. I like how she follows up Hi-Five with the haunting White Fire.

Punks: I love White Fire. I also really dig Stars and High and Wild. I don’t think I’d like the album nearly as much without the uptempo songs. The somber opening track Unfucktheworld is good, too. The sequencing for the first half of the album really works for me.

ADStars is my favorite song. What a great start for folk music this year: Angel Olsen, the haunt of Marissa Nadler and the stories of Sun Kil Moon. But I’m looking forward to seeing Stars and the upbeat songs from Burn Your Fire in concert.

Angel Olsen plays Lincoln Hall May 4. Her new album is out today (Tuesday) in the U.S.




Live in Chicago: Courtney Barnett

Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas is an overlooked gem from late last year. That’s to say it was largely overlooked in this part of the world. But after her signing to a US record deal this month, expect to hear more from Barnett. Available now digitally, the physical versions of Split Peas will be released in the US in April. She’s also heading into the studio to work on a debut album.

Barnett is playing a sold-out show at Empty Bottle Tuesday. Excellent Chicago band Radar Eyes opens along with another local group, Landmarks.


Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, Kendrick Lamar headline Pitchfork

Beck will be the Friday night headliner at Pitchfork fest in July, while Neutral Milk Hotel and Kendrick Lamar will be at the top of the bill Saturday and Sunday.

Some other acts announced include Grimes, Tune-Yards, Sharon Van Etten, DIIV, Factory Floor and Wild Beasts. See the rest of the announcement here. The lineup tends to look better as more bands are added but the initial announcement is pretty encouraging. The festival is July 18-20 again at Chicago’s Union Park.