Since maybe late February (when it leaked online), my favorite record of the year has been the Flaming Lips’ The Terror. The record’s unyielding tone of desperation and desolation appeals to me. Its abstraction and noise play nicely with the cacophony one might experience in one’s head, particularly when one finds him- or herself in a particularly despairing mood, for whatever reason (or no reason at all), in which every voice encountered, every sentiment expressed, every attempt made at connection, everything slips down a hole somewhere inside one’s heart and disappears. Everything tastes sour. Everything sounds like static, like Psychocandy and Loveless, with melodies extracted from them, turned up way too loud. The Terror finds space in the fuzz, like a seed in soil, germinating in all directions. Still, The Terror is merely an acknowledgement, proof of life inside and outside the noise. What it isn’t is a balm—an agent of comfort. For that, one might turn to new records by Americana artists I have long revered—Steve Earle (The Low Highway), Patty Griffin (American Kid), …
When it hurts so bad, you need a soundtrack of songs that that put your pain to music. This week’s Weekly Mixtape is a deeply blue playlist for just such an occasion.
Emmylou Harris burst on to the music world when the late Gram Parsons brought her into his band. Over the course of two albums and an endless number of tour dates, Parsons and Harris created some of the most beautiful harmonies since Johnny and June Carter Cash in the ’60s. As much as I love Roy Orbison, I feel that the Parsons/Harris duet of Orbison’s “Love Hurts” remains the definitive version of the song. When Parsons became another victim to drugs, Harris forged her own legendary career, while almost single-handedly keeping Parsons’s legacy alive. She also continued to lend her lovely voice to the work of some of music’s most important artists, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Cash and Orbison, while championing many up and coming singer/songwriters, much as Parsons had done for her. To this day, her harmonies will appear backing up some of the finest musicians around. Here are just six of her most memorable appearances in the past 20 years.
Nanci Griffith is arguably the most important folk-music artist of her generation. That statement is risky not so much because there are so many other contenders for the throne, but because we live in an era when the term “folk music” itself has lost considerable meaning — falling victim to record-biz economics and radio-industry pigeonholing. Indeed, during the most successful period of her career Griffith shifted (or, on occasion, was shifted) from indie-folk to country to pop and back to folk — pardon me, I meant “Americana” — based as much on the demographic-targeting whims of industry marketers as the evolution of her music. Griffith herself describes her music as “folkabilly,” which fits about as well as anything else.