The new Son Volt record, Electro Melodier, is the best collection of political songs in many years. I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Jay Farrar, songwriter and singer for the band, in July. I’ve written an essay on Son Volt, and the importance of protest music, for the July 30th weekend edition of CounterPunch.
I have a new essay at CrimeReads about Sean Penn’s screenwriting and directorial debut, “The Indian Runner” – a profound and deeply moving film that Penn based on the Bruce Springsteen song, “Highway Patrolman.”
“The Indian Runner” powerfully applies to America’s current crises, as it deftly and bravely explores the violence in American history and the American psyche. Read my essay to get the full story behind the movie, and my own interpretation.
I was recently a guest on the “Pause for Justice” radio program, broadcasting out of the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL. Gracious and thoughtful host, Allison Heard, and I had a great conversation about my book, “I Am Somebody: Why Jesse Jackson Matters,” as well as related issues of civil rights and social justice.
Ms. Heard also gave me the opportunity to select the songs that would play during the broadcast. Here were my choices:
- “Think” by Aretha Franklin
- “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye
- “I Remember, I Believe” by Lizz Wright
- “Peaceful World” by John Mellencamp with India.Arie
- “People Have the Power” by Patti Smith
Reigning queen of cool, Chrissie Hynde, recorded a magnificent new record using cell phone technology during the pandemic: Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan.
I was happy to review it for No Depression. Read my thoughts on Hynde’s singing and new arrangements, the mini-genre of Dylan tribute albums by women singers that has emerged in the past few years, Dylan’s songwriting, and the record itself.
I had the pleasure of interviewing singer/songwriter, David Huckfelt, about his new record, a collaboration with various Native musicians and writers. The album beautifully captures the synthesis between American folk and indigenous tradition – creating a musical portrait that is not only enjoyable, but also timely and culturally resonant.
Read at No Depression.
I was a 13 year old boy when I discovered the music of John Mellencamp. His songs were my usher into the world of writing, art, and creativity. A continual source of powerful inspiration in my work and life, I wrote my second book, Mellencamp: American Troubadour, about his music, and the ideas that surround it. The impact and influence of Mellencamp’s music on my life is so large that, without it, it is impossible to conceive of myself.
On Memorial Day, I had the incredible thrill and honor of driving to Nashville, Indiana to visit John Mellencamp in his recording studio. We sat for a long, fascinating, and fun conversation in the same room where he and his band have made so many of my favorite songs since 1983. Then, I watched he and the band rehearse for their upcoming tour, playing “Pink Houses” and “Paper in Fire.” To add to the pleasure and amazement of the experience, I also met the beautiful and soulful Carlene Carter, and had the opportunity to have a discussion with her.
Mellencamp’s first words to me were, “It is a good book.” That simple, but profound compliment is one I will always treasure (He was referring to my work of biography and cultural criticism, Mellencamp: American Troubadour).
Here is an amusing exchange from our conversation that did not make my essay: After Mellencamp explained that audiences have jeered and heckled him several times throughout his career, he added that, “not once has anyone said anything derogatory to my face.”
“Really, why do you think that is?” I asked.
“Because they know they type of person that I am. Would you say anything?”
Mellencamp laughed. “Well, I’m an old man now. So, you could probably kick my ass. Fifteen years ago, you would have kept your mouth shut.”
Richie Kotzen, an impossibly soulful singer, guitar virtuoso, and prolific songwriter, is one of the best and most underrated musicians in America.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kotzen before attending a recent live performance he and his outstanding band gave in St. Charles, Illinois.
At No Depression, I write about his storied career, and relay his insightful thoughts on songwriting, live performance, and what separates his approach to leading his hard rock band, The Winery Dogs, and creating and playing as a solo artist across a variety of genres.
I had the pleasure of attending the new exhibit on the history of The Rolling Stones, Exhibitionism, in Chicago with my friend – singer, songwriter, guitarist extraordinaire, Kev Wright.
The immersive and interactive experience is essential for any admirer of the Stones, or fan of rock. I was particularly struck by the aesthetic sophistication of the Rolling Stones. From commissioning Andy Warhol to photograph and artistically depict the band to finding inspiration for stage sets in classical philosophy, the Rolling Stones, most especially Mick Jagger, helped cultivate a rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic, at once capturing and projecting the imager and iconography of rebellion, creativity, individuality, and sexuality.
In an era of phony vulgarity, Alicia Keys represents wisdom, authenticity, and genuine artistic vision.
It is impossible to imagine how any sentient human being is not in love with Alicia Keys. Her beauty, no matter what she’s wearing, is so powerful it becomes as poetic as the lyrics of urban, street-smart gospel that animates her latest record, “Here.” Her sensual grace, and effortless charisma, find melodic accompaniment in her intelligence, wit and impassioned investment in the ongoing struggle to inspire individuals to dream without a leash, while attempting to tame the ugly impulses of sexism and racism rampant throughout society.
Read the rest at Salon.
In my new column for Salon, I review the new record, Hard Love, from Strand of Oaks; calling it a rock ‘n’ roll masterpiece. Tim Showalter, the chief songwriter and frontman for the band, brilliantly and movingly explores the ecstasy and agony of the search for adult pleasure.