New year, new music. And some old, newly issued music, a music TV series, and a music biography, too. This is a list of 11 things — because 10 wasn’t enough — that have perked up my eyes and ears this month, as the stream of new songs and albums start to flow again and the pop music year revs itself up for 2023.
1. Margo Price, Strays
Ever since she emerged in 2016 with her Midwest Farmer’s Daughter debut and its classic honky tonk drinking song “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle),” Margo Price’s brand has been badassery. She’s a country music rebel too strong-willed to contemplate fitting in with the Nashville establishment.
That continues on her fourth album Strays, which maintains a Loretta Lynn-inspired spirit of independence with a collection that follows the 2022 release of her memoir Maybe We’ll Make It. Price and her husband, Jeremy Ivey, began working on the album in a rented house in South Carolina while experimenting with magic mushrooms. That psychedelic influence is most apparent on “Been To The Mountain,” which opens the album with the declaration “I’ve got nothing to prove, I’ve got nothing to sell.”
Highlights include “Lydia,” a stark, powerful character sketch about a woman and her her unplanned pregnancy; “Radio,” a fruitful collaboration with Sharon Van Etten, and “Anytime You Call,” a vow of undying love written by Ivey that features Lucius on vocals. Price plays the Theater of Living Arts March 3.
2. Justmadnice, “Shadow”
Philly singer-songwriter Alex Farr was commissioned by rapper Chill Moody to contribute this track to the Eagles Gameday Poster Playlist. Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles. The playlist series featured songs local artists released each week throughout the season.
Paired with the Birds’ Week 17 opponent the New Orleans Saints, “Shadow” is a ruminative mood piece with a horn arrangement that displays their musical depth.
3. Zach Bryan, All My Homies Hate Ticketmaster (Live from Red Rocks)
The Oologah, Okla., bred country star — who now lives in Philadelphia — surprise released this live album on Christmas Day. The super-prolific songwriter, who broke out in 2022 with his triple album American Heartbreak, has been a persistent Ticketmaster critic. He often decries the injustice of high ticket prices on Twitter, where he also extols Philly sports teams. All My Homies captures the electric atmosphere of a Bryan live show and is a sweet way to wrap up his boffo year.
4. El Michels Affair & Black Thought, “Grateful”
In 2021, Black Thought told me he had eight albums of unreleased music stored on his iPhone. Was a collaboration with New York “cinematic soul” El Michels Affair one of them? The Roots rapper will follow up Cheat Codes (which made both mine and Barack Obama’s year-end lists), with Glorious Game, a full length teaming with the band led by Leon Michels. The promising first single is “Grateful,” in which Black Thought chronicles the costs of pursuing the American dream while rhyming “business as usual” with “resistance is futile” and “blow out your wig like a French poodle.” Glorious Game is out April 14.
5. PJ Harvey, B-Sides, Demos & Rarities
This box set works like Bob Dylan’s Biograph or Bruce Springsteen’s Tracks. Its 30-year-plus arc covers the entirety of Harvey’s career and doubles as an alternate universe shadow history. It’s a reminder of the British rocker and poet’s greatness, and culminates with a piano ballad cover of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” from the Peaky Blinders soundtrack.
6. Christian McBride’s New Jawn, “Head Bedlam.”
The West-Philly-raised bass player, bandleader, and host of NPR’s Jazz Night in America has a new album, Prime, with the quartet he previously released a self-titled album with in 2018. The first track out is “Head Bedlam,” a robust excursion that starts off at breakneck speed and features saxophonist Marcus Strickland. Next month, McBride is up for his ninth Grammy. Prime is due on Feb. 24.
7. Chuck Berry: An American Life
RJ Smith calls Chuck Berry “one of the great American makers of the 20th century.” What he made — not singlehandedly, but with as important a role at the creation as anybody — was rock and roll.
Smith, whose James Brown biography The One is also superb, is a sharp critic with a thorough grasp of a brilliant musician and songwriter and “prophet of Black mobility.” Smith doesn’t sugarcoat the flaws of a man who went to prison for violating the Mann Act — transporting a 14-year-old girl across state lines for “an immoral purpose.” The book is an enthralling story whose backbeat pushes ever forward, even as its complex subject remains slippery. “You can’t catch me,” Berry sang in one of his greatest odes to the road, “because it you get too close, I’m gone, like a cool breeze.”
8. Iggy Pop, Every Loser
Iggy Pop is rocking again. The shirtless wonder born James Osterberg sounded less invested in the search and destroy aural assaults he’s been known for since the Stooges on 2016′s Post-Pop Depression and 2019′s Free. But working with producer Andrew Watt, Iggy now comes out charging. “My mind is on fire when I oughta retire,” the 75-year-old shouts convincingly on “Frenzy.” And Every Loser does have its wizened, philosophical moments on tunes like “Morning Show,” in which he confronts mortality with a positive attitude: “A future that is hopeless,” he sings, “just makes each day delicious.”
9. George & Tammy
I finally broke down and subscribed to Showtime to watch this series starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain as the iconic country couple George Jones and Tammy Wynette. It’s a fairly conventional biopic, but the performances, particularly Chastain’s, are terrific. They do their own singing, and handle themselves admirably, though Shannon has an impossible task trying to recreate the anguished mastery of arguably the greatest country vocalist of all time. All six episodes are streaming on Showtime.
10. Quasi, “Doomscrollers”
There’s cause for celebration: Janet Weiss, the Sleater-Kinney drummer who left that rock trio after 2019′s The Center Won’t Hold, is back making music with her ex-husband, Sam Coomes. Their first album in 10 years, Breaking The Balls of History, is due Feb. 10. “Doomscrollers” sounds like prime Quasi, pairing Weiss’ powerhouse playing with Coomes’ wry delivery. They play Johnny Brenda’s on March 17.
11. Sun Ra Arkestra, Prophet
The remarkable institution that is the Sun Ra Arkestra continues to carry on with 98-year-old sax man Marshall Allen at the helm. Meanwhile, the vast catalog the Germantown-based interstellar jazz outfit recorded before Sun Ra’s death in 1993 continues to be reissued. This out-there set recorded in Boston in 1986 is so named because it was the avant garde bandleader’s first encounter with the Prophet VS keyboard, an innovative electronic instrument he was clearly fascinated by. Sun Ra Arkestra is playing Arden Gild Hall in Wilmington on Jan. 21, and Marshall Allen’s Ghost Horizons are at Solar Myth on Jan. 27.
Leave a Reply