Stephens College Conservatory Ace Sophie Davis Parses the Virtues of Lewis Capaldi’s Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent

As I mentioned below, I am teaching an asynchronous pop music class to a group of Stephens College conservatory students this summer, and enjoying it. One day a little over a week ago, I was scanning the latest hot takes in a Facebook music group I belong to that is made up of avid fans of the hoary but still effectively hortatory pop music critic Robert Christgau. Yes, nerds. It just so happened that Xgau (as he is known to us) had just laid a very positive review upon the Scottish pop person known as Lewis Capaldi in his monthly “Expert Witness” column, concerning his new album Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent. I had skipped Capaldi’s debut album, honestly because Bob’s positive review of it contained phrases that signaled I need not waste my finite seconds exploring it (also, he is an 81-year-old who sometimes tries too hard, it seems to me, to stay relevant to the kiddies). Well, it appeared from my skimming of reactions in that Facebook group that a bit of poptimist vs. rockist acne was breaking out, and, like acne, some of it was funny.

Later in the day, I was grading some student work, suddenly sat bolt upright (usually face down into the keyboard is my usual response), and wrote the class, “Hey, is anyone a Lewis Capaldi fan?”

I waited a few hours, and finally, a lone response popped up in my email: a bright, hardworking, and enthusiastic student named Sophie Davis reported that she loved the album. Rubbing my hands together in mischievousness, I offered her a deal (well, we kind of collaborated on it): if she’d write a full-length review of Broken By Desire, breaking it down to its essence, I’d excuse her from three of the five weekly assignments she had coming up. Of course, it had to be good, but her previous work had already shone, so I felt confident about that part. Also, I did take the dive and listen to the rascal’s record–and kinda kinda liked it. As the descendent of two Scottish lines that began in castles that don’t look so good right now, I was now rooting a bit for him, but mostly, I was hoping Sophie might nudge me off the fence. She did. Here’s what she came up with:

Lewis Capaldi’s Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent: A Tour of That Rollercoaster Called Love.

A review by Sophie Davis, Stephens College Conservatory

Lewis Capaldi’s Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent” is an album that speaks about love as a whole: the good, the bad, and the ugly. When I say that listening to this album is an absolute rollercoaster, I mean it wholeheartedly. While studying this album and searching for common themes, I found myself thinking I had found the overall theme multiple times, only for it to change every other song. With this in mind, I will be taking you through each theme, as well as dissecting the emotion behind it and its effect on my soul.

Capaldi starts off the album strong with “Forget Me.” My immediate reaction to this song was that this album was about to be a breakup album, but not in the typical sense. It’s true—this is a breakup album in many ways, but it’s still very unique and well-crafted. “Forget Me” is the kind of break-up song that makes you want to dance around the room and scream along to the lyrics. It perfectly captures the moment of feeling betrayal, as you realize the other person is moving on and, in turn, forgetting you. This is the perfect way to start an album, as it gives us our first theme: the fear of letting go of an old love.

Moving forward in the album, we are met with “Wish You The Best.” This song perfectly captures the realization that you don’t always get the closure of telling someone how much you still love them even after breaking up. This is the moment of acceptance—realizing that you just want what’s best for the person you love, even if their best is without you. He contemplates everything he did wrong that could have possibly led to the parting between him and his previous lover. In the end, we see fully his acceptance of the fact that all he can do is be happy for her and everything she has accomplished without him. (Also, as a side note, this music video is soul crushing and beautiful.)

“Pointless” is one of my top three songs on Broken By Desire. When first listening to it, I was immediately under the impression that he was talking about a current lover. However, upon listening to it more, I realized that he could very well be talking about a love that is yet to come into his life. The lines “I’ll wait for you/ You’ll wait for me, too” make me believe this is a possibility. Plus? The very solid understanding about what he gets from her and what she gets from him makes me think this is about someone for whom he is patiently waiting. This song is truly talking about the purest form of love that any human can experience. It fills my soul with so much joy and reveals the good parts of love. One thing that is very beautiful about Lewis Capaldi’s voice is that, because he has such a raspy belt, it adds such a one-of-a-kind sound to the ballads on this album, especially including this song. So, not only are we getting this beautiful ballad that perfectly captures a healthy and balanced love, but we have the rawness of Capaldi’s voice to add to that. “Pointless” is the first song on the album that introduces us to a fully positive aspect of love and gives many hope for a future love that they have yet to meet.

“Heavenly Kind of State of Mind” is another song that you can dance around the room to. It perfectly captures the excitement of finding new love and the joy you get from that. You can roll the windows down and listen to it with the love of your life. The lyrics “Now I think about you all of the time/ What a heavenly kind of state of mind” perfectly capture how beautiful life becomes when you are in love with someone who is good for your soul. “Heavenly Kind of State of Mind” is how it feels when you start to see life in color again when you have someone to love who also loves you so fully.

“Haven’t You Ever Been In Love Before” gives us a chance to see how two very different people view love. While Lewis is singing about a man who is ready to jump in and lay everything out on the table with his heart on his sleeve, the chorus reveals the girl’s perspective: how love hasn’t treated her well and is something that she has a hard time viewing positively. While he is completely ready to take this love by storm, she is hesitant. This is the point in the album when we start to see the less pretty parts of loving someone, because, despite it seeming perfectly balanced, we still see the struggles that come with relationships.

“Love The Hell Out of You” is another song that is among my top three on Broken By Desire. Its theme is simple: loving someone on their hard days, especially when their mental health is low, is never an issue when they do the same for you. Capaldi gives his loved one a little pep talk throughout the song as a way to show that he is here for them, no matter what they are going through. This song is exactly how a long warm hug from the right person feels. It’s simply lovely, because it shows the imperfections in a relationship and how to work through them with each other.

“Burning” is when the album starts to return to the heartbreak side of love: it deals with the realization that a relationship may no longer be healthy for either person, and staying in it is only going to make this realization more prominent and true. It’s about realizing that putting forth the energy it takes to keep this spark alive is no longer worth it and is only causing more pain for each person. It discusses the importance of knowing when to let go, even when you don’t want to. The exhaustion of holding onto something that no longer serves you is far too difficult to deal with and, after a while, it is better to let it all go.

“Any Kind Of Life” explores the struggle of wanting to hold on when you know it won’t do you any good to. The lyrics “Hope, have you some that I could borrow?” are heartbreaking to hear for anyone who has ever felt the fear that comes from leaving someone who was once such a huge part of their daily routine. One large theme we can now see in this album is the stages of grief that we go through with those who are still living. This song is the definition of denial, as Capaldi struggles to let go of this love that was his everything. His desperation to save this love conjures for me an image of someone struggling to keep water in their cupped hands. No matter how carefully you move, the water begins to slip through the cracks in your hands until it’s gone and there’s nothing else that can be done about it. This is the unfortunate and ugly side of heartbreak and love.

“The Pretender” is the last song of my top three from Broken By Desire: the definition of putting on a mask in order to fit into the world of someone else. This song is features Capaldi begging someone to tell him who to be so that he can be loved. As far as stages of grief go, he is bargaining with the person he is singing to. The idea of “I’ll do anything” in order to be loved is gut-wrenching, but so well evoked by the artist. Not only does it capture this bargaining mindset, but it also sheds light on something that many people of all generations experience: hiding how we really feel and who we truly are in order to make others feel comfortable and happy around us. Pretending like one isn’t “on the edge of a knife” is a very common problem for those who struggle with their mental health, and it’s oddly comforting to hear it represented in a song.

“Leave Me Slowly” reminds me of a classic Eighties heartbreak ballad. This is the kind of song that could be playing as you slow dance with the person you love for the last time, and you both know it. It’s conveys the feeling of deeply taking in the last moments you have with this person before you part ways. You get to eavesdrop as he returns to the time when they first met, and the appealing moments they shared together in this relationship. This is him asking the one he loves to take one more moment before they leave to just be with him. This song is how it feels to hug someone for the last time.

“How This Ends” is fueled by the anger that comes with heartbreak. Capaldi sings about how much time he wasted on this love and how it has all been for nothing, completely forgetting all of the good moments they shared. His anger can be felt in everyone’s chest, as we have all gone through this moment. This song presents the image of someone tearing their apartment apart as they try to destroy any trace of the person who caused them this much pain, feeling betrayed, used and defeated. Capaldi treats this whole experience as if his love for her was nothing more than a mistake, something he could have easily avoided had he chosen to not fall in love in the first place. The ending is too difficult for him to handle, and he longs for it to change—immediately.

“How I’m Feeling Now” ends the album in a very sad way. When we think of self-obsession, we usually imagine someone who is in love with themselves and is sort of narcissistic. We don’t usually think of a person who is trapped in their own mind. This is brilliant writing, because it gives everyone an idea of just how paralyzing mental illness can be, and how much it affects every aspect of our lives. The chorus is where our eyes are opened to the depth of Capaldi’s view of the world when facing mental illness: “So here’s to my beautiful life/ That seems to leave me so unsatisfied/ No sense of self but self-obsessed/ I’m always trapped inside my fucking head.” It is a not-so-happy toast at the end of a dinner party as someone reveals that they are miserable and broken, a sort of “in case you were wondering” moment where this person is confessing that their life is still difficult despite all the time that’s passed. Despite the misery communicated by this song, hope still flickers at the end, as Capaldi reasons that, one day, he will be okay—a fitting end to this brilliant album.

Many themes power this album: love—the good, the bad, and the ugly; the stages of grief as experienced through love; and (my personal favorite, I now realize) non-linear healing. We have our good days and we have our bad days, and, if we are lucky, we have someone who is with us through all of it. However, when those people aren’t around or when they leave, although healing slows, it’s still in motion. Love is the purest emotion anyone can feel. It can either fill a person with joy, or with utter despair—depending on who you ask. In the end, love is truly what gets each of us through the day. The beauty behind Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent lies in the fact that Lewis Capaldi does not hold back when taking the listener on a tour of every aspect of love. His singing communicates so much raw emotion through these songs and the story they tell taken altogether. Capaldi has fully shown us what love is and how magnificent and awful it can be, in a complete pop music masterpiece.

Blogmaster’s Note: Very nice job, Sophie! I am glad I’ve been off the rollercoaster and on solid ground for a couple-three decades–but even so, much of the Capaldi wisdom you extracted still occasionally applies. Thanks for being game!

THIS STUFF! FEELS GOOD!: 110 Truly Interesting Records We’ve Received So Far in ’23 (not bad!)

Hi! I hope summer is off to as dazzling a musical start for you as it has for me! Not only have the records come marching in, but I am teaching a very enjoyable asynchronous class for Stephens College that’s built around Susan Rogers‘ and Ogi OgasThis Is What It Sounds Like (you yourselves might well love not only the book but its fun associated website), which take a look at why our brains push us toward certain kinds of music and not others. My students are doing excellent work: I will send an essay by one of them up very soon, in which the author will enter the current Lewis Capaldi fuck-him/marry-him/kill-him scrum in enthusiastic form. They have to construct, explain, and interpret their unique listening profiles (see the book) for their final project, and I’m definitely looking forward to that.

Nut Notes:

*Boy howdy, that boygenius album has subtle and often barbed charms. Is it just me, or has the counterattack begun?

*It’s quite a boast, but Buck 65 wins this month’s “Truth in Title Advertising” award by a hair over

*…JESSIE WARE, who got extra points for punctuation and makes me feel young again–seriously. For the record, I am currently 61, and can someone put her and Roisin Murphy on a US tour so I can go dance deliriously and live deliciously?

*The Dropkick Murphys dropped their second (?) album of (literally) unsung Woody Guthrie songs last month–how’d I miss the first, which came out LAST YEAR (it just came in the mail yesterday)? While I was blasting it on Memorial Day, Nicole remarked, “Does his stuff stay relevant or what?” She’s an Okie, so she might be biased–but she’s also correct.

*Wild Up released their third record interpreting the amazing minimalist (but not exactly) work of Julius Eastman. This one is a bit more in your face, which is partly the particular Eastman compositions they chose to work with, but I bet they’ve spent some time with Eight Songs for a Mad King, where he makes one particular unforgettable vocal appearance.

*Nourished by Time…that is one eccentric but impressive r&b album. I was lazy sampling it and assumed from the cover it was going to be a rap album–I know next to nothing about this act–but it sure as hell is not.

*Little Rock, Arkansas’ Kari Faux has a special title message for you that she backs up on her new record.

*Simply put, you’re gonna want that Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens record at the top of the “old stuff” list. I can’t believe it looking back, but I saw a show on that tour–I should have been too ignant to know–and

*You think harp and jazz is a twain that never should meet? Brandee Younger does not agree, nor did Dorothy Ashby, whose very convincing soon-come 5-LP reconsideration by New Land Younger contributes notes for.

*”If you’re doing business with a religious son of a bitch, get it in writing!” It is SO nice to hear William S. Burroughs‘ inimitable and often prophetic voice coming from my speakers again, via Dais Records’ sharply assembled compilation of 1960s recordings. (That italicized quote isn’t on the record–look for Uncommon Quotes, if it’s still available–but many other worthy utterances are.)

*MARK LOMAX II never makes a foolish move.

*Brazil in the house…always. Check out #27 and #31 for sure.

*Kate Gentile‘s new free/experimental/jazz record is like walking blindfolded through a wind-blown percussion forest in the middle of the night.

*I have a feeling that The Gennett Suite, in which the artists “elasticize” the sound of the original classic recordings released on that label (think Bix), may meet with some jazz argumentation. I stand with Buselli and Walarab–the originals are strong enough to be stretched. They shine in this new light.

*Many (of the few) readers of the blog probably already know that Lux Interior and Ivy Rorshach of The Cramps were ace 45 collectors. I’m a BIG fan of theirs, but even I was not aware that Righteous Records is more deeply mining their collection, getting past that legendary stuff (“Love Me,” “I Can’t Hardly Stand It,” “The Strangeness in Me,’ “Bop Pills”–I can go on) and finding even more pretty worthy curiosities. Don’t miss the latest at the very end of the list, and it’s just the latest volume.

(Bolded items are new to the list)

  1. Gina Burch: I Play My Bass Loud (Third Man)
  2. 100 gecs: 10,000 gecs (Dog Show/Atlantic)
  3. boygenius: the record (Interscope)
  4. Buck 65: Super Dope (self-released?)
  5. Jessie Ware: That! Feels Good! (Universal)
  6. billy woods & Kenny Segal: Maps (Backwoodz Studios)
  7. Liv.eGirl in The Half Pearl (Real Life / AWAL)
  8. Kelela: Raven (Warp)
  9. National Information Society: Since Time is Gravity (Eremite)
  10. Allen Lowe and the Constant Sorrow Orchestra: In the Dark (ESP-Disk)
  11. Rodrigo Campos: Pagode Novo(YB Music)
  12. Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Spirit Gatherer—A Tribute to Don Cherry (Spiritmuse)
  13. Yaeji: With a Hammer (XL Recordings)
  14. Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records)
  15. London Brew: London Brew (Concord)
  16. Fire! Orchestra: Echoes (Rune Grammofon)
  17. Wadada Leo Smith: Fire Illuminations (Kabell)
  18. The Mark Lomax II Trio: Tapestry (CFG Multimedia)
  19. Dropkick Murphys: Okemah Rising (Dummy Luck Music)
  20. Islandman (featuring Okay Temiz and Muhlis Berberoglu: Direct-to-Disc Sessions (Night Dreamer)
  21. Parannoul: After the Magic (Poclanos/Top Shelf)
  22. Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers (Matador)
  23. Satoko Fujii & Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (Ayler Records)
  24. The Urban Art Ensemble: “Ho’opomopono” (CFG Multimedia 16-minute single)
  25. The Necks: Travel (Northern Spy)
  26. Kali Uchis: Red Moon in Venus (Geffen)
  27. Marina Sena: Vicio Inerente (Sony)
  28. Wild Up: Julius Eastman, Volume 3—If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? (New Amsterdam)
  29. Willie Nelson: I Don’t Know a Thing About Love—The Songs of Harlan Howard (Legacy)
  30. Allen Lowe and The Constant Sorrow Orchestra: America—The Rough Cut (ESP-Disk)
  31. Edward Simon: Femeninas (ArtistShare)
  32. Tyshawn Sorey: Continuing (Pi Recordings)
  33. Nourished by Time: Erotic Probiotic 2 (Scenic Route)
  34. Walter Daniels: “From Death to Texas” / “Seems Like a Dream” (Spacecase Records 45)
  35. Tyler Keith & The Apostles: Hell to Pay (Black & Wyatt)
  36. Algiers: Shook (Matador)
  38. Withered Hand: How to Love (Reveal)
  39. ensemble 0: Jojoni (Crammed Discs)
  40. Henry Threadgill: The Other One (Pi)
  41. Kari Faux: REAL BITCHES DON’T DIE (drunk sum wtr records)
  42. Kiko El Crazy: Pila’e Teteo (Rimas)
  43. Kill Bill—The Rapper: Fullmetal Kaiju (EXO)
  44. Lewis Capaldi: Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent (Vertigo Berline)
  45. Rough Image: Rough Image (WV Sorcerer Productions)
  46. Ingrid Laubrock: The Last Quiet Place (Pyroclastic)
  47. Rob Mazurek & Exploding Star Orchestra: Lightning Dreamers (International Anthem)
  48. Kaze & Ikue Mori: Crustal Movement (Circum/Libra)
  49. DJ Black Low: Impumelelo (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
  50. Rocket 88: House of Jackpots (12XU)
  51. Taiko Saito: Tears of a Cloud (Trouble in the East)
  52. JPEGMAFIA x Danny Brown: Scaring the Hoes (self-released)
  53. Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind)
  54. Mat Muntz: Phantom Islands (Orenda)
  55. Satoko Fujii: Torrent (Libra Records)
  56. Javon Jackson: “With Peter Bradley”—Soundtrack and Original Score (Solid Jackson)
  57. Das Kondensat: Anderen Planeten(Why Play Jazz)
  58. Iris DeMent: Workin’ On a World (FlariElla)
  59. David Mirarchi: Ink Folly, Orchid Gleam (Unbroken Sounds) (coming soon….)
  60. Baaba Maal: Being (Atelier Live/Marathon Artists)
  61. Romulo Froes & Tiago Rosas: Na Goela (YB Music)
  62. Buselli – Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: The Gennett Suite (Patois Records)
  63. Florian Arbenz: Conversation #9—Targeted (Hammer Recordings)
  64. James Brandon Lewis: Eye of I (Anti-)
  65. Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double: March On (self-released EP—coming in March)
  66. Ice SpiceLike…?(10K Projects / Capitol Records EP)
  67. otay:onii: Dream Hacker (WV Sorcerer Productions)
  68. Sylvie Courvoisier & Cory Smythe: The Rite of Spring—Spectre d’un songe (Pyroclastic)
  69. Nakimbembe Embaire Group: Nakimbembe Embaire Group (Nyege Nyege Tapes)
  70. Karol G: Manana Sera Bonito (Universal Music Latino)
  71. Andrew Cyrille: Music Delivery / Percussion (Intakt)
  72. Kate Gentile: b i o m e i.i (Obliquity)
  73. Yves Tumor:Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) (Warp)
  74. Lonnie Holley: Oh Me Oh My (Jagjaguwar)
  75. Lana Del Rey: Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd (Polydor)
  76. Yonic South: Devo Challenge Cup (Wild Honey)
  77. Rudy Royston: Day (Greenleaf Music)
  78. Lankum: False Lankum (Rough Trade)
  79. Staples Jr. Singers: Tell Heaven (EP) (Luaka Bop) Note: the vinyl gets you more great minutes of testifying.
  80. Brandee Younger: Brand New Life (Impulse!)
  81. Heinali: Kyiv Eternal (Injazero)
  82. Tri-County Liquidators: “Flies” / “Weep Then Whisper” / “Bitter” (self-released)
  83. Vinny Golia Quartet: No Refunds (Unbroken Sounds)
  84. Black Country, New Road: Live at Bush Hall (Ninja Tune)
  85. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: From Paris to Paris (Rogue Art)
  86. Clarence “Bluesman” Davis: Shake It For Me (Music Maker Foundation)
  87. Aroof Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad, Ismaily: Love in Exile (Verve)
  88. Asher Gamedze: Turbulence and Pulse (International Anthem)
  89. Angel Bat Dawid: Requiem for Jazz (International Anthem)
  90. Kara Jackson: Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? (September Recordings)
  91. Billy Valentine: Billy Valentine and The Universal Truth (Flying Dutchman)

Excavations and Reissues

(Note: These are not in order of my love for them–still sorting that out.)

  1. Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens: Music Inferno—The Indestructible Beat Tour 1988-89 (Umsakazo Records)
  2. Dorothy Ashby: With Strings Attached (New Land Records)
  3. Walter Bishop, Jr.: Bish at the Bank—Live in Baltimore (Cellar Live)
  4. William S. Burroughs: Nothing Here But the Recordings (Dais Records)
  5. Balka Sound: Balka Sound(Strut)
  6. Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon (Flying Buddha / Sony Masterworks)
  7. Dream Dolphin: Gaia—Selected Ambient & Downtempo Works (1996​-​2003) (Music from Memory)
  8. Various Artists: Purple Haze from East, Volume 1 (WV Sorcerer Productions)
  9. Various Artists: Purple Haze from East, Volume 2 (WV Sorcerer Productions)
  10. Shizuka: Heavenly Persona (Black Editions)
  11. Jacqueline Humbert & David Rosenboom: Daytime Viewing (Unseen Worlds)
  12. Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind Stripped Naked (Columbia)
  13. Various Artists: Blacklips Bar—Androgyns and Deviants / Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels 1992-1995 (Anthology Recordings)
  14. RP Boo: Legacy Volume 2 (Planet Mu)
  15. Les Raillizes Denudes: ’77 Live (Temporal Drift)
  16. Luther Thomas: 11th Street Fire Suite (Corbett vs. Dempsey)
  17. Eddie Lockjaw Davis and Shirley Scott: Cookin’ With Jaws and The Queen(Craft)
  18. Professor James Benson: The Gow-Dow Experience (Jazzman Records)
  19. Various Artists: Strontium 90, Shrimps & Gumbo—Lux & Ivy Dig Motorcycle Boots & Mutants (Righteous Records)

“I Will Not Stop Til They Bury Me”: A Talk with American Music Scholar, Composer, and Musician Allen Lowe

Allen Lowe is certainly one of the most prolific, deep-digging, and insightful scholars of American music ever. His groundbreaking book (and accompanying nine-CD set) American Pop: From Minstrel to Mojo on Record 1893-1956 set the standard for traveling the crooked path of songs that led to the rock and roll revolution, and the works that followed, among them Really The Blues: A Horizontal Chronicle of the Vertical Blues, 1893-1959, That Devilin’ Tune: A Jazz History 1900-1950, God Didn’t Like It: Electric Hillbillies, Singing Preachers, and the Beginning of Rock and Roll, 1950-1970, and “Turn Me Loose White Man”Or: Appropriating Culture: How to Listen to American Music 1900-1960, demonstrated that one journey up the path was not enough to get one’s head around our music (a few of those books reinforcing that belief with 36-CD sets). However, many of those who’ve read or at least heard of the those books are dimly aware, if at all, that Lowe has also been a composer and player of considerable power for nearly 35 years, often playing with some of the most forward-thinking instrumentalists in jazz and regularly navigating in notes and harmonic collaboration the same territory his books did in words. His song titles often “speak” to his scholarship; his compositions often serve as commentary on contemporary (and original) jazz. A struggle with cancer sidelined Lowe for much of the last few years, but recently he exploded back onto the scene with a three-disc set, In the Dark, Volume 1, which seems to lovingly survey, in swinging, grimily funky, and woozily emotional style delivered with a crack band, a range of large-ish group approaches to jazz composition; a single-disc set, America: The Rough Cut, on which Lowe is backed by a smaller group (plus one beauty of a piece from 2014 featuring the late trombonist Roswell Rudd) and which earns its title partly due to the unpredictable, explosive, and inventive guitar of Ray Suhy, as well as Lowe’s most fiery playing (he also plucks guitar plangently on two cuts, including his second wrestling match with Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground). As the title of one of the album’s songs implies, Lowe’s response to staring mortality in the eyes, at least by virtue of the quality of this new work, is “Eh, Death.” Lowe’s albums are available via his website and Bandcamp, and, unsurprisingly, he’s also just published a collection of his critical observations, Letter To Esperanza: Or: The Goyim Will Not Replace Me – Looking for Tenure in all the Wrong Places.

This interview was conducted through a series of emails. I have edited Mr. Lowe’s answers to my follow-up questions into the original transcript in the most logical possible fashion.

Phil Overeem: The health travails you have been battling have taken you to the wall (and fortunately not through it), and you’ve documented many of them on social media. In the notes to one of your two new releases, you mention that, somehow, those struggles have resulted in music that’s on another level from anything you’ve composed and played before. Having followed your work for quite a few years, I can hear what you’re talking about. Why, and how, do you think that happened?

Allen Lowe: Tough question – desperation, focus, fear, and the help of a lot of incredible musicians who just came to my rescue. It’s hard to know what leads to that kind of inspiration, and material reasons tend to just sound like a rationale for something you cannot explain. But even when I was unable to play I was always playing and composing, in my head. And also, I gotta admit, I was and am motivated by general frustration with the poor state of jazz composition, which led me to write these things as essentially an answer to the industry, about what I think the music can and should be.

PO:  Another social media-related question: I think it’s fair to say that you regularly engage in battle on Facebook with other music aficionados about theories of the development of American popular music. Is this something that’s helped you as a theorist yourself, do you wish you’d never gotten sucked in, or is your experience somewhere in between. I have to say, some of the conversations are as interesting as your books, and those set a high bar. In fact, it seems the job of any writer who is looking at the development of our music should be seeking to complicate rather than simplify the narrative, yet even current young writers seemingly committed to revealing the truth in fiery terms seem to steer clear of or dismiss complication.

AL: I enjoy the give and take, and I take inspiration from the high-level intellectual goals and battles of the old New York intellectuals of the 1930s on: Harold Rosenberg, Irving Howe, Richard Gilman, Theodore Solatoroff, Stanley Kauffmann, Isaac Rosenfeld, Susan Sontag, Diana Trilling, Delmore Schwartz – largely, but not solely, a group of dedicated and intellectually-heightened Jewish intellectuals whose work was probably nurtured by the in-grown alienation of American Jews in general, who were perpetually kept at arm’s length by much of the official world. I have suffered that same kind of otherness, twenty years of complete isolation in Maine, where I was treated like a freak and an outsider. As for public debate, I enjoy the give and take, though I am aware that when one opposes certain kinds of received wisdom it pisses people off, and they regularly take it personally because it questions some of their more sacredly-held opinions and beliefs. I try to avoid the personal stuff, and on my own Facebook timeline I think it stays pretty civilized. And I have to say I have met some of the smartest people I have ever known through social media interactions.

And yes, there are times I get sucked in obsessively to arguments, feel like I have to answer that Midnight comment; and there is one particular guy on Facebook who likes to remind me that I am an old white guy who everybody of color should ignore and avoid, and he does so offensively and with nasty intent. Though the great thing is that he thinks he is a person of color but, as I pointed out to him, his ethnicity is Aryan, which makes him as white as me. Sometimes Google is a good thing.

PO: Something that fascinates me, as someone who reads and listens to your work, is how your compositions (and wry song titles) speak to or from your arguments about American music. Sometimes I think I hear it clearly; sometimes I can’t find it; often, I realize I shouldn’t be expecting your compositions to do that. Are your compositions ever extensions or articulations of your viewpoint, and if so, how often? Not to make this seem like an essay question, but could you talk about a composition of yours you feel most successfully achieves that?

AL: Oh, pretty much everything I write is a form of debate and argument with somebody (sometimes myself). There is a polemical aspect to what I do musically, though at the end of the day it isn’t worth shi* if the music isn’t good, if my playing isn’t good, if it is not well recorded and smartly presented. Too much of the contemporary artistic world of all genres, in my opinion, is better at writing rationales for the work they do than at actually producing the work. Look what wins grants – all sorts of high-falutin’ intellectual presentations on worthy social goals followed by crappy work in every discipline. As I pointed out recently, by these granting standards Samuel Beckett, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Jean Genet and maybe even Shakespeare would not have received foundation funding for lack of the kind of social linkage that gets money. And don’t get me started on diversity – the more diverse we get, the more everyone looks and sounds alike, forced as they are to fit into acceptable socially-woke categories. Republicans love this shit, it plays into all the myths about Progressive shortcuts and stereotypes. And then there is age discrimination, which is a constant. For recent compositions: “Elvis Don’t You Weep,” “Castles in the Sand,” “Ralphie’s Theme” – all make my point about the integration of historical knowledge, historical necessity and aesthetics, about the need to face all of old American music head on. Honestly, just about everything on both projects is a point of formal and musical advocacy. Just to add, my compositions are all about triadic harmony, which I feel is the soul of jazz but is really not well understood in the context of jazz history and American standard song form. Almost no one writes anymore with a real understanding of old-line song form except, I say immodestly, for me and a few others. And I think the free-jazz world has gotten lazy and sloppy, painting itself into a musical corner. I admire the concept of open improvising and we use it a lot on those recordings, but we use it structurally and in complicated ways. I am proud of the compliment that the late jazz historian Larry Gushee paid me when hearing some of my prior recordings: “You have re-invented free jazz.”

PO: Just for clarification’s sake, I’m not too familiar with the grant-writing process for arts projects, so could you elaborate on that? And I think I’m following you on the “diversity in the arts” paradox, but could you clarify that, too?

AL: I won’t name names, but they know who they are. But seriously, anyone who has ever written a piece on Climate Change or Minstrelsy (there was one obscenely awful project on minstrelsy that got a grant a few years back, or on diversity (today’s favorite fake buzz word) ought to be removed from the practice of music. We need a Hippocratic oath for music; don’t do any harm, Every socially-linked piece and grant supporting it does irreparable harm to the music, so you can see we are in big trouble. Want an  example? Try the recent thing written by the pianist Chris Smythe called Smoke Gets in Your Eyes which is about….you guessed it – wild fires and the damage they do. Now that is very controversial – I know a lot of people support wild fires, like to set ’em, like to run through them, like to dance in circles around them as their homes burn down.

Ok, the whole diversity bullshit – I favor affirmative action, I favor reparations for African Americans. What I don’t favor is the racialist ideal which, instead of looking for balance and redress of racial grievances by seeking out quality, simply considers every artist of color to be a great artist without critical discernment. Some is good, some is crap, but they are all accepted if they meet gender standards or satisfy a desire to have everyone look different than they used to look, though ironically now they all look all the same. The arts people who most specifically call for diversity don’t really want diversity – they want to be looking into a mirror, where every artist looks like them, and any art or art form that does not conform to their expectations is excluded, often, as well, by age. I have worked too long and too hard to bow to this kind of trendiness, which tends to support forgettable creations and mediocre expression. This is not diversity, it is uniformity and conformity. It is an excuse for artistic inaction, as though by “making a statement” we have already done our job.

PO: Your saxophone playing on America: The Rough Cut and In the Dark is the most eloquent, allusive, and powerful I’ve ever heard from you. Its controlled intensity is very consistent across all four discs. This relates back to my first question in some ways, but what physical frustrations related to your condition did you have to overcome as a horn player, and in any way did the time off give you the time to make mental adjustments to your attack?

AL: Well, it took me a while to get those recorded takes right, and I confess I did some overdubbing to re-do certain solos because in some of the earlier sessions my embouchure sort of fell apart (which goes back to the 2019 high-intensity radiation which destroyed my jaw muscles and embouchure, which I had to rebuild). I am ok, thanks to a good mouthpiece and a mouthpiece maker who did a lot of amazing work on it. But it is not just that – when I retired in 2016 it was really the first time in a 40-year career I was able to focus on my playing without a difficult day job and raising kids. Things were going extremely well until I first got sick in 2019, which knocked me out of the box for about a year, but then I just said to hell with it, I am going to do this again even if it kills me. But yes, there is an emotional element of desperation in my current playing due to a fear of imminent death, though this is no longer a likelihood (I am cancer free now). But I remember Pee Wee Russell’s admonition to “play every solo like it’s your last,” and that is my working technique. Plus, learning and re-learning harmony, which is at the basis of almost everything I do, and I should mention the constant inspiration of Bud Powell, who occupies a permanent space in my head. I am not a great technician but I think I play with feeling. Add to all this that I am old and regularly a bit dizzy (see below; a post-Chemo effect). But I wrote two books and mastered 30 CDs while I was sick, and I just push on; there is nothing that makes me feel better than composing and playing. And when I play I feel like it is a great flow of consciousness. There is no better reason to do something; it has a purity and sound that cannot be matched by anything else in my life.

PO: Ray Suhy, the primary guitarist on Rough Cut, and Lewis Porter, the keyboard player on In the Dark, have long been major contributors to your music, yet remain very underrated in jazz conversation (as far as I’ve been involved in it). Both musicians are at their best on the two albums, and Porter especially does some amazing things on synthesizer (evoking Augie Meyers’ work with Doug Sahm was not something I was expecting, but should have been)—if you’re the mind and soul of the music, he seems the heart. Could you talk a bit about how they are particularly suited to your musical vision?

AL: I love those guys, personally and musically. They are also the absolute best in the world on their instruments, in my opinion (one thing I have realized while working with these musicians is that the best players now are NOT the ones who regularly appear in clubs, in polls, and in reviews). Yeah, nothing of my work would be half as good without them – but please let us also mention Rob Landis, Aaron Johnson, Brian Simontacchi, Ken Peplowski, Alex Tremblay, Lisa Parrott.

Back to the original question: both Ray and Lewis (and all I mentioned above) understand my method of composing and playing, which is a type of extended harmonic exploration in tandem with a lot of personal freedom to create improvisations at will. I don’t tell them what to play, I just give general guidance, and everything they do works better than anything I would suggest, anyway. They always surprise and delight me – Lewis does some synth things on In the Dark, which are astoundingly inventive, and Ray is a post-blues and rock and roll delight on America: the Rough Cut. I am the luckiest guy in the world to have run into all of these musicians; they saved my life in more ways than one. (And by the way I think Aaron Johnson is the greatest saxophonist alive).

PO: When you described how you ask your fellow musicians to play your compositions with you, that sounded A LOT like Mingus’ method. How could he not be an influence, but I must ask to see to what extent.

AL: Oh, I am sure, yes, Mingus, materially and subliminally. I tend to think I am too dumb musically to competently copy anyone else but myself. Duke Ellington has a way of writing – like it’s one long sentence – which I love, and he is a combination of conventional and quirky, and his voicings are just beyond profound; Monk of course, and Bud Powell is one of the greatest jazz composers, and when I play or compose I hear him in my head. As a composer I am torn between classic triads and extended form, integrating various kinds of improvisation into the form. My biggest difficulty is that I so rarely work, which makes it harder to get a band to perform in an organized way, but these players are so brilliant that they make it sound like that.

PO: I recently read an anthology of Stanley Crouch’s uncollected work—I am among the few music junkies I know who liked the first (and sadly the last) volume of his Parker biography, and I do not admire his vitriol (it dishonors his mind) and forcefully reject his seeming condemnation of what I’ll call “free innovation”—and frequently found parallels in his best moments with contentions I’ve heard you make. You may have addressed this in one of your books I haven’t gotten to yet—and possibly in one of your social media scrums—but where do you stand on Crouch, Murray, and Ellison (not that I mean to conflate their viewpoints into one)?

AL: I admire all of them intellectually (well, I gotta say I don’t find Murray to be that great, which is a very unpopular opinion), and I particularly love Ellison, the one novel and his essays, but really all of them fail when it comes to the entire concept, philosophy, and range of “modernism.” I define modernism, per Richard Gilman and Alain Robbe Grillet, as the need to constantly renew art forms, to reject old gestures and forms in favor of either new gestures and forms; or to alter those gestures and forms into fresh and radically new approaches. Their kind of cultural conservatism – and Murray is the most conservative, followed closely by Crouch and then Ellison – is death to music and jazz in particular. Now some people today think I am too culturally conservative because of my disagreements with the latter-day school of Free Jazz, but I am not. I am just bored, bored with Free Jazz’s self-referential postures, its repeat of the same-old-same-old ways of improvising, the laziness of just getting up and faking it – it is just too damned easy to play that way. I was able to do it when I was a teenager, but I moved away from it because I knew it was too easy (and there is an interview with the great saxophonist Archie Shepp in which he talks about his health problems and how at one point he was playing poorly but people could not tell the difference “because this is Free Jazz.” Yes, he really said that). I am in favor of complete artistic freedom, but that does not mean we can’t make personal artistic judgements. But Albert Murray thought the 1950s Basie band was too radical, and he put down Genet and all of modern expression in a really dumbass way (in his book The Omni Americans) and, honestly, I am tired of his views on The Blues. I love the blues, have written a book on it, but it has become a One-Size-Fits-All aesthetic crutch to describe or criticize too broad a range of music.

And I have to admit I still look to the first and second generation of post-bop modernists – Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Paul Bley, Ornette Coleman, Shipp, Eric Dolphy, Sonny Simmons, Gil Evans, Johnny Carisi – for inspiration. I feel like we have not adequately explored the implications and possibilities of their music but at least I have tried, unlike most of my contemporaries – because, really, it takes too much time for most jazz musicians, who just want to play and who lose perspective on the art form itself.

PO: I had a feeling your feelings about the current state of free jazz would come up (“painted itself into a corner”) made think of the limitations of the solely impressionistic approach of many current free players). I have listened to quite a bit of it over the years, and I’m probably a bit more tolerant than you, but mostly agree that SOME form—some composition, even if only in fragments that would probably have to be discussed by the musicians beforehand—has to be present for me to really enjoy it. I haven’t heard too many performances that have “become” compositions as they were played, though I know, just for example, that Ellington and Strayhorn were adept at hearing phrases played by Ellington’s soloists in one composition and later turning them into a wholly different one. Are there other players you know of and listen to today–excluding yourself, because I agree with that wonderful compliment you were given–that ARE composing satisfactorily (to your ears) while allowing a considerable amount of freedom?

AL: Probably: is Anthony Davis still active? Threadgill is great, Roscoe Mitchell when he really writes it out. But I have to admit I tend to turn to the oldies – Speckled Red, Cow Cow Davenport, Clarence Lofton. Their ways of playing inspire me compositionally. The way old insane gospel tunes are performed as in a state of delirium – that inspires me as a composer. I love that kind of anarchy – and I love the way Albert Ayler composed and performed.

PO: Thinking back to that Archie Shepp anecdote, as much as you’ve covered most of the history of American music in your books, you must know of some stories (whether about individual players, bands, periods, etc.) that need to be told in book form. Are there any you hope to write, or hope someone else will write?

AL: I have to say that I am basically done – with this last book, being tired (and retired) in general. I am feeling much better, but I don’t think I will ever really be back to where I was before the cancer. Books take too much energy, and Turn Me Loose White Man feels like my intellectual eulogy. As for others – I don’t know. I find most music books to drone on and on. I still turn back to the old favorites – Francis Davis, Dan Morgenstern, Max Harrison. And for criticism on other fronts, Richard Gilman (who has effected me more profoundly than anyone else), Stanley Kauffman, and Susan Sontag. From now on, my energies will go into the saxophone,composition, performing, and recording.

PO:  Truly, very few music academics of your stature have created even a fraction of the quality music you have—I can barely think of any (Porter, for sure, in his Coltrane book and on-line presence; Crouch—but did he even play enough to prove himself; have you heard Ishmael Reed’s new piano record?) who have played, period. With that in mind, how would you like to be considered, 25-30 years down the line? I don’t mean to bring mortality up at a point where you probably haven’t been thinking about it as much, but there’s nothing like a legacy of writing and recorded music to establish a kind of immortality.

AL: Yeah, I have not heard a lot of academics who impress me musically, though there are probably a lot I haven’t heard at all, and I do think things are improving on that end. I mean, people like Gerald Cleaver are now teaching, and there are more like him. And, of course, Lewis Porter is not only a brilliant historian but my favorite pianist.

I do think about legacy, but in a very concrete way; I honestly tend to think that when I am dead my followers will fold their tents and leave and forget about me. One book described me years ago as having a “cult” following, and I wish this were true, as I would like to experience that kind of slavish and uncritical dedication from people who would wash my feet and serve me grapes if I ask. I actually have more of a following for my book and history projects, I think, which is fine; I actually made a decent amount of cash on Turn Me Loose White Man.

PO: Once in the past, I spoke with you on the phone about the prospects of bringing you to mid-Missouri to speak and/or play as part of a music series here. This is certainly related to a couple of my previous questions, but have you received offers for combined playing and speaking appearances? I would think you’d be irresistible, and you’d be hard to cancel because you’re…complicated. Is that something you’d be interested in doing in the first place?

AL: I would love to do that but have only done it maybe once (a friend of mine hired me); I can print you out a collection of my unanswered emails. Put end to end, they would probably reach from here to the farthest university Jazz Studies program. I may try it again, but I am a bit exhausted these days from constant rejection.

PO: On America: The Rough Cut and In the Dark, I think I am hearing different stylistic allusions from song to song to other horn players. Who are the players who have most influenced your own style? And…whose music in particular helped you through your health struggles? I know you suffered long periods of insomnia; reading about them, I imagined music in the background keeping you company. As well, and if my recollection is right, reading was sometimes complicated if not impossible for you. Were there books that helped you endure?

AL: Oh, that’s a complicated one. Players: Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Bird, Dave Schildkraut, Eric Dolphy, Pete Brown, Louis Armstrong, Jabbo Smith, Bud Powell, Bud Powell, Bud Powell –James P. Johnson, Donald Lambert, Aaron Johnson (soloing after he plays is like getting into a barrel to cross Niagara Falls); Wardell Gray, Al Haig – well the list could go on. But truthfully I am a bit of an idiot savant of improvising, I don’t really imitate anyone else because I can’t. I actually did not listen to a lot of music when I was so damned sick, except in my head. I am addicted to 1920s COGIC gospel, which is incredible, insane music; and really early jazz, pre- 1930; those six months I stayed awake I was too delirious to focus, so instead I wandered in circles in the dark and ate a lot of food (gained twenty pounds, which I have since lost). But I heard it, as I said, in my head. I love and am inspired by what are called Songsters, black singers of the old, old days who did not sing the blues but instead sang folk-type ditties, minstrel tunes, and other oddities. That old music is so old it’s new, and the old screaming gospel is where I got a lot of my ideas for America: The Rough Cut; it is blues and pre-blues and parallel to blues, but the damn blues, as I said above, has become a crutch for critics who don’t know anything else. I also love white hillbilly music, like Harmonica Frank and Doc Walsh, the rougher the better. I put a lot of that into Turn Me Loose White Man. But the racially-altering gospel music is the free-est music I know, technically and emotionally, and where I (at least subliminally) developed my ideas on “free” improvisation, which is really a form of emotional liberation put in check by the constant fear – or chill, as Mingus said – of death and hell. Book-wise – I still can only read on my Kindle, as my eyes are still troubled. I like books on the Mafia, but more personal are stories by Bruno Schulz, criticism by Richard Gilman and Stanley Kauffman, poems and prose by Pessoa, Vachel Lindsay. My eyes still hurt, and it’s a struggle. Not much of this was a true comfort, but reading Richard Gilman, who was the smartest guy I ever knew (I studied with him briefly) makes me feel, if only temporarily, that all is right with the world. For a few hours I stop worrying that my cancer will come back and kill me like some kind of stealth-music critic.

PO: I enjoy your sense of humor (in the song titles and in your writing) and feel like I hear it not only in your playing but sometimes in the structure and mode of your compositions. Am I imagining things?

AL: My wife thinks I have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old, though maybe a very mature 12- year-old. You are hearing correctly; I try to take things lightly. What else can I do? When I was certain I was going to die imminently I figured I had better prepare for what seemed like the inevitable, and so I just started to contemplate it all and try to accommodate the certainty of losing consciousness permanently; I got nowhere. I had nothing. I thought nothing, I felt nothing but more fear and uncertainty, so I just gave it up. Better to watch Marx Brothers movies and think of bad-taste things to write. There’s a Mary Lou Williams tune called “Little Joe From Chicago,” so I wrote one called “Little Jew From Connecticut.”

As for humor in my horn, I don’t know. It probably seeps in, though not in any larger-picture sense, at least that I am aware of, but I do like to think that my lack of maturity bleeds through in places.

PO: I cannot imagine you without a project in the offing, though after releasing four discs of music and a kind of memoir, you may be resting. However…are you already working on something new?

AL: Yeah, I got a bunch of stuff in the works. Depends on my health and energy level. I am still feeling post-Chemo effects, and they wear me down. I go through periods like recently when I have little appetite (and I still have that Chemo-metallic taste in my mouth on occasion, and have neuropathic dizziness; don’t believe what they tell you about Chemo leaving your body after 30 days. I am two years on from my last chemo – I had it twice – and it is still in my body and in my head – though it was the radiation that almost killed me, but that’s a whole other story which has led to about 6 surgeries in the last year to reconstruct the damage done to my face).

But back to the question, yes, I have to keep recording. I will not stop until they bury me. I am a bit fed up with jazz’s official complacency, the bad composing, the Free Jazz b.s., and I feel I have to take an aesthetic stand. I feel like I am the only one who does what I do, for better or worse. Right now I want to to do a session that is “about” Bud Powell, another “about” Julius Hemphill. Not tributes, but “inspired by.”

PO: No one has covered the growth of American music, song-by-song, genre-by-genre, decade-by-decade, as you have. What I am very fascinated to learn are the artists who have most moved and intrigued you SINCE, oh, say, 1977, and especially RIGHT NOW. Does your work keep you from getting to more recent developments?

AL: I am hopelessly out of date, but I find the really old music to be more inspired and inspiring than most of the new, in all genres. I prefer the old ways of recording, the old sonic clashes of instruments, the old analog feel of expression (which digital can recapture if you have the will to do it). It is a little bizarre that I cannot name much music after 1970; I almost always go back and further back, to early black music, early white music, jazz of the 1950s, bebop, country and hillbilly music; these are sounds that soothe my soul.

PO: You mentioned raising kids. What are they listening to? Do you talk to them about music, and have you talked them into learning to play? Also, what’s your wife’s taste in music like?

AL: My kids are pop music fans, no jazz really. My wife likes jazz, particularly singers. She tends to think my current work is a little too far out.

PO: This probably qualifies as a nag, since I kind of already asked this in a way, but what’s the most recent record you’ve listened to that you really enjoyed? I remember popping into a social media thread of yours and recommending Ricky Ford’s The Wailing Sounds of Ricky Ford—Paul’s Scene, which I hope you sampled (not that I’m hoping that’s the answer to the question).

AL: I listen to so little current music, except in snippets on bandcamp and youtube. Very little holds my interest; there’s Randy Sandke’s Inside Out, which I love, Jeppe Zeeperg, a Danish pianist who is brilliant. Anything with Lewis Porter and Ray Suhy and Aaron Johnson.

PO: On that note, let’s end on a “historical dig” question—there’s no one better to ask it of. Are you aware of the guitarist, historian and author of a new Merle Travis bio, Deke Dickerson? He wrote some Bear Family liners awhile back. In the new Travis bio, diving into Travis’ influences and touching on Ike Everly and Arnold Schultz, Deke posits one Kennedy Jones as the first thumb-picking guitarist in Muehlenberg County (as opposed to Schultz) and thus an overlooked influence on Travis and many others. Deke mentions that the only known recording Jones made was on King with Texas Ruby and Curly Fox. Thoughts on this?

AL:Is he playing the electric or the acoustic? [PO’s note: According to Dickerson, he’s the one who’s plugged in.] The electric is very interesting, in that kind of playing I always think the lineage is Blind Blake, Ike Everly, Merle Travis and – damn, what’s the name of the other guy? He never made any formal recordings, there’s a bio of him – Mose Rager (there are some clips on youtube, or used to be)! That kind of guitar playing is fascinating to me, it feeds into one side of the rock and roll equation, Elvis and Scotty Moore – as opposed to the more shrill, single line approach of James Burton, Roy Buchanan, etc. A lot of people don’t seem to be able to hear this, especially the Blind Blake origins, but to me it is obvious.

PO: Allen, I know you’ve got projects to attend to, so thank you so much for your time, writing, music, effusiveness, humor—and physical indomitability!

AL: I think I am pretty domitable (as opposed to indomitable). The thing about hitting a certain age, especially when it has been preceded by all the physical problems I have had, is that you have a feeling you are just treading water while your body prepares to self-destruct. I try to imagine the moment at which life finally slips away, and though I’ve got some idea of how it will feel – I’ve been put under 15 times in the last four years  –  I refuse to believe it is going to happen; sometimes delusional thinking is the best defense -so I carry on, as though there are no lasting consequences to the passage of time.

Lowe’s Highs: Music Scholar Crashes The 2023 Record Pull / girlgeniuses get it very together (Best New Records, Reissues, and Excavations, January 1st – April 26th)

Rushed Ramblings:

I’m headed down to Bentonville, Arkansas this weekend, so I’m pushing this out a bit early. Why Bentonville, you ask? Yes, it is a corporate town of Wal-Mart’s devising, but the Crystal Bridges Museum one heir has established is the cat’s ass, currently features a Diego Rivera exhibit, and hosts The Roots and Congolese electronic band Kokoko! Saturday night, so don’t be so snobby! Northwest Arkansas is a GREAT place for all this to be, whatever the machinations behind it. You can tell, I know, that I don’t fully trust it myself, but it’s the only place I’ve ever seen a Black Power Art exhibit and viewed an actual top-flight Basquiat–with my parents, no less. So….

  1. My big news is the return of American pop music scholar, composer, horn man, and occasional guitarist Allen Lowe to the record hop. Lowe’s probably best known for his fascinating book American Pop: From Minstrels to Mojos (other books of his that followed are just as fascinating), but his recorded output is very high quality, and his survival of and recovery from sinus cancer and related health struggles have actually helped propel him to perhaps his best composing and writing ever–four total discs worth. I hope to post today an interview I conducted with him recently in which he speaks of those subjects and many others, but the single-disc America: The Rough Cut is likely to appeal most strongly to those of you who are rockists as well as jazzists: aside from songs that range from raucous to reminiscent to romantic–with the blues always threaded through them–many feature the very underrated electric guitarist Ray Suhy, who’s full of creative and often explosive surprises and has worked with Lowe for years. Marc Ribot fans should proceed directly to this disc. The second set, a three-disker, is called In the Dark, Volume 1, and strikes me as not only a survey of jazz styles Lowe admires but, as Lowe admits in our interview, also a response–or answer, if you will–to what he has heard as a lack of interest and imagination in composing in current jazz circles. That’s not a small claim, but the range of structures Lowe leads the Constant Sorrow Orchestra through (both records feature a unit by that name, but on In the Dark the band’s much larger with mostly different personnel) is stunning. Three disks is a lot to ask of a listener, but they frequently swing–when they don’t, they do very interesting other things–and the playing is fabulous, especially by Lowe, who is truly on. You may have read keyboard master Lewis Porter’s Coltrane bio; he’s Lowe’s frequent collaborator, and on these recordings his playing is regularly eyebrow raising–especially when he imitates Augie Meyers and Jimmy Smith through a synthesizer. So…check ’em out, pronto.
  2. Though I was a very early convert to Julien Baker’s writing (thanks to a songwriting former student), I’ve found it hard to cozy up to boygenius, Baker’s collaborative group featuring her good friends Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. I’m not a fan of mope for the most part, and that’s how their early work struck me. the record, their new release, however, has stunned me. The writing is full of razors and barbed wire, which I don’t associate with mope, and I find it hard to think of a better time for women to respond to this world with songs like these. I can’t get enough of them, truly. When that happens, I buy vinyl for my imaginary offspring to enjoy after I die.
  3. Without a doubt, much of the new additions here are of the jazz variety. I’d like to call your close attention to London Brew, a kind of tribute to/interpretation of Miles’ Bitches Brew by players you should know from that locality; National Information Society’s Since Time is Gravity and Fire! Orchestra’s Echoes, both of which evoke Northern Africa is an exciting way; the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble’s tribute to trumpeter Don Cherry, which continues a streak of fairly magical releases by long-time AACM ace Kahil El’Zabar; and that indefatigable font of pianistic ideas, Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii, who hasn’t let hitting her 100th album last year stop her from releasing several more already, including her fantastic soon-come solo album Torrent. She’s got an album at #35 below, Torrent‘s at #43, and her occasional collaborator, vibraphonist Taiko Saito, has Tears of a Cloud at #39. Those rankings may seem unimpressive, but folks, that’s out of a lot of records, and I don’t take the rankings that seriously (other than the Top 10) until November. Satoko is the bomb, as the kids no longer say.
  4. Speaking of “The East,” if you are a fan of dissonant, ambient, and atmospheric noise, check out pretty much anything WV Sorceror Recordings has been putting out. I am definitely a fan of such stuff, and I can play their releases twice a day (especially when I need such stuff, the dissonance of which tends to calm me). Also, if anyone who reads this blog took me up on my strident recommendation of Les Raillizes Denudes’ reissued work on Temporal Drift last (and this) year, check out the reissue of Shikuza’s Heavenly Persona on Black Editions, which features several guitar eruptions by LRD’s Maki Miura.
  5. It is obvious below, but I finally separated reissues and excavations from the brand-new work. Not that anyone had written in to complain, but I think it helps for some of us who are still obsessed with reaching backwards through the years (to complement our love and desire for the new).

New, Reissued, and Excavated Albums I’ve Found Most Delightful, January 1st-April 30th, 2023

(Bolded items are new to the list)

  1. Gina Burch: I Play My Bass Loud (Third Man)
  2. 100 gecs: 10,000 gecs (Dog Show/Atlantic)
  3. boygenius: the record (Interscope)
  4. Allen Lowe and The Constant Sorrow Orchestra: America—The Rough Cut (ESP-Disk)
  5. Allen Lowe and the Constant Sorrow Orchestra: In the Dark (ESP-Disk)
  6. Liv.e: Girl in The Half Pearl (Real Life / AWAL)
  7. Islandman (featuring Okay Temiz and Muhlis Berberoglu: Direct-to-Disc Sessions (Night Dreamer)
  8. Kelela: Raven (Warp)
  9. National Information Society: Since Time is Gravity (Eremite)
  10. Rodrigo Campos: Pagode Novo (YB Music)
  11. Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Spirit Gatherer—A Tribute to Don Cherry (Spiritmuse)
  12. Yaeji: With a Hammer (XL Recordings)
  13. Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records)
  14. London Brew: London Brew (Concord)
  15. Fire! Orchestra: Echoes (Rune Grammofon)
  16. Wadada Leo Smith: Fire Illuminations (Kabell)
  17. Parannoul: After the Magic (Poclanos/Top Shelf)
  18. Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers (Matador)
  19. Satoko Fujii & Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (Ayler Records)
  20. The Urban Art Ensemble: “Ho’opomopono” (CFG Multimedia 16-minute single)
  21. The Necks: Travel (Northern Spy)
  22. Kali Uchis: Red Moon in Venus (Geffen)
  23. Willie Nelson: I Don’t Know a Thing About Love—The Songs of Harlan Howard (Legacy)
  24. Tyshawn Sorey: Continuing (Pi Recordings)
  25. Karol G: Manana Sera Bonito (Universal Music Latino)
  26. Andrew Cyrille: Music Delivery / Percussion (Intakt)
  27. Walter Daniels: “From Death to Texas” / “Seems Like a Dream” (Spacecase Records 45)
  28. Tyler Keith & The Apostles: Hell to Pay (Black & Wyatt)
  29. Algiers: Shook (Matador)
  30. Henry Threadgill: The Other One (Pi)
  31. Kiko El Crazy: Pila’e Teteo (Rimas)
  32. Rough Image: Rough Image (WV Sorcerer Productions)
  33. Ingrid Laubrock: The Last Quiet Place (Pyroclastic)
  34. Rob Mazurek & Exploding Star Orchestra: Lightning Dreamers (International Anthem)
  35. Kaze & Ikue Mori: Crustal Movement (Circum/Libra)
  36. DJ Black Low: Impumelelo (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
  37. Lonnie Holley: Oh Me Oh My (Jagjaguwar)
  38. Rocket 88: House of Jackpots (12XU)
  39. Taiko Saito: Tears of a Cloud (Trouble in the East)
  40. JPEGMAFIA x Danny Brown: Scaring the Hoes (self-released)
  41. Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind)
  42. Mat Muntz: Phantom Islands (Orenda)
  43. Satoko Fujii: Torrent (Libra Records_
  44. Das Kondensat: Anderen Planeten (Why Play Jazz)
  45. Iris DeMent: Workin’ On a World (FlariElla)
  46. Baaba Maal: Being (Atelier Live/Marathon Artists)
  47. Romulo Froes & Tiago Rosas: Na Goela (YB Music)
  48. Florian Arbenz: Conversation #9—Targeted (Hammer Recordings)
  49. James Brandon Lewis: Eye of I (Anti-)
  50. Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double: March On (self-released EP—coming in March)
  51. Ice SpiceLike…?(10K Projects / Capitol Records EP)
  52. otay:onii: Dream Hacker (WV Sorcerer Productions)
  53. Yves Tumor: Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) (Warp)
  54. Aroof Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad, Ismaily: Love in Exile (Verve)
  55. Angel Bat Dawid: Requiem for Jazz (International Anthem)
  56. Kara Jackson: Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? (September Recordings)
  57. Lana Del Rey: Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd (Polydor)
  58. Yonic South: Devo Challenge Cup (Wild Honey)
  59. Rudy Royston: Day (Greenleaf Music)
  60. Lankum: False Lankum (Rough Trade)
  61. Staples Jr. Singers: Tell Heaven (EP) (Luaka Bop) Note: the vinyl gets you more great minutes of testifying.
  62. Brandee Younger: Brand New Life (Impulse!)
  63. Heinali: Kyiv Eternal (Injazero)
  64. Tri-County Liquidators: “Flies” / “Weep Then Whisper” / “Bitter” (self-released)
  65. Vinny Golia Quartet: No Refunds (Unbroken Sounds)
  66. Black Country, New Road: Live at Bush Hall (Ninja Tune)
  67. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: From Paris to Paris (Rogue Art)
  68. Billy Valentine: Billy Valentine and The Universal Truth (Flying Dutchman)

Excavations and Reissues

(Note: These are not in order of my love for them–still sorting that out.)

  1. Balka Sound: Balka Sound (Strut)
  2. Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon (Flying Buddha / Sony Masterworks)
  3. Dream Dolphin: Gaia—Selected Ambient & Downtempo Works (1996​-​2003) (Music from Memory)
  4. Various Artists: Purple Haze from East, Volume 1 (WV Sorcerer Productions)
  5. Various Artists: Purple Haze from East, Volume 2 (WV Sorcerer Productions)
  6. Shizuka: Heavenly Persona (Black Editions)
  7. Jacqueline Humbert & David Rosenboom: Daytime Viewing (Unseen Worlds)
  8. Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind Stripped Naked (Columbia)
  9. Various Artists: Blacklips Bar—Androgyns and Deviants / Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels 1992-1995 (Anthology Recordings)
  10. Les Raillizes Denudes: ’77 Live (Temporal Drift)
  11. Luther Thomas: 11th Street Fire Suite (Corbett vs. Dempsey)
  12. Eddie Lockjaw Davis and Shirley Scott: Cookin’ With Jaws and The Queen (Craft)
  13. Professor James Benson: The Gow-Dow Experience (Jazzman Records)
  14. Walter Bishop, Jr.: Bish at the Bank—Live in Baltimore (Cellar Live)

I do not really care if there is a tunnel under Ocean Boulevard: 55 Pretty Snazzy Records Released This Calendar Year, barely including that one, January 1 – March 28, 2023

Happy Spring! It’s hit me like 100 gecs new album did when I first listened to it at 4:45 one morning before my first sip of coffee. And like the buds on our quince bushes, very interesting new records are popping up all over the place, but in all colors and shapes. A few thoughts:

  1. At least I always give her albums a try, but I’m pert-near unmoved by the charms (?–weird word for her, though I suppose The Sirens were charming) of Lana Del Rey. Rather than figure out a new way to say it, I’ll just copy and paste what I replied to a good friend who loves her (and I DO NOT begrudge him or anyone else their Lana-love): “To quote Neil Young, ‘It’s all one song.’ I’m still not buying in. I mean, it’s far from bad, but I just don’t resonate with Cali femme fatales (or femme fatales in general) in 2023, plus she works the same levers every album. She is interesting, but she reminds me of another interesting artist I only like in VERY small doses, Nick Cave (whom I’m fairly sure you like a lot). They just trade on stuff I’m somehow invulnerable to.
  2. Clearly, though, I love former Raincoat Gina Burch’s new album. From the title (justified) to the songs to the attitude, she’s living proof that growing old and thinking younger is no sin. She’s still playing the game of life to win.
  3. Note to my friend Kevin Bozelka: you are the first person I remember mentioning 100 gecs. As I have before, I undervalued your enthusiasm. I did try them, and sillily thought them silly. I did kinda like “Stupid Horse.” I am now among the convinced. Will I never learn, K-Boz?
  4. Trance-state-lovers: please check out the Islandman record, Aftab’s collab, the Necks’ new one (no surprise but fans are fine with that), and Dream Dolphin’s carefully selected compilation.
  5. Last year, I don’t think I convinced anyone I know to sample Temporal Drift’s excavations of the late Sixties-early Seventies Japanese rock scene, especially the folkie–>drone–>skronkensqueal performances of Les Raillizes Denudes. The band was one of a kind, and noise junkies who can forgive often out-of-tune singing (in Japanese)–I do not know one who cannot–seriously need to take the plunge. I mean now, Buster Brown.
  6. Fans of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives / Private Parts recordings might just HAVE to try Jacqueline Humbert and David Rosenboom’s Daytime Viewing (just reissued on Unseen Worlds–great and accurate label name, by the way), which was recorded around the same time. Where Ashley is droll, they are simply slot-mouthed as they roll out tales of domestic damage regularly communicated by the title TV machine.
  7. Numbers 7 & 37: “There’s one thing that I’m certain of / Return, I will, [always], to [new] Brazil.”
  8. I am reading with great absorption, edification, and enjoyment Irish intellectual Fintan O’Toole’s ingenious pairing of memoir and social history, We Don’t Know Ourselves, which has actually given me hope for my own country. My inclusion here of Black Country, New Road (to which I’ve previously been invulnerable) and Lankum (a little slow and moody for my taste–but they have something I can’t quite put my finger on yet that beguiles me), both of whom hail from the Emerald Isle, may be more than slightly influenced by O’Toole’s magic–especially in proving the title thesis.
  9. Beware jazz octogenarians and septuagenarians–they bedazzle to the end. Wadada Leo Smith just keeps rolling out fetching records–this one has electricity–and Threadgill, though he does not play on his new release, justifies his recent honors with his pen and conduction. As for the younguns? If in the past, you’ve found Angel Bat Dawid a bit much (I’ve been on the verge a few times), she’s gone a very imaginative new direction to create her best record yet.
  10. Because of the rampant idiocy, cruelty, and hatred we are having to fight but endure from chunks of our fellow citizens, I strongly recommend that you either buy a physical copy or pay for a download of the very moving and powerful Anthology Records compilation Blacklips Bar—Androgyns and Deviants / Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels 1992-1995.

(Bolded items are new to the list; * = Reissue; # = Archival release).

  1. Gina Burch: I Play My Bass Loud (Third Man)
  2. 100 gecs: 10,000 gecs (Dog Show/Atlantic)
  3. Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind)
  4. Liv.eGirl in The Half Pearl(Real Life / AWAL)
  5. Islandman (featuring Okay Temiz and Muhlis Berberoglu: Direct-to-Disc Sessions (Night Dreamer)
  6. Kelela: Raven (Warp)
  7. Rodrigo Campos: Pagode Novo (YB Music)
  8. Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers (Matador)
  9. Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records)
  10. Dream Dolphin: Gaia—Selected Ambient & Downtempo Works (1996​-​2003) (Music from Memory)
  11. Walter Daniels: “From Death to Texas” / “Seems Like a Dream” (Spacecase Records 45)
  12. Balka Sound: Balka Sound (Strut)
  13. Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon (Flying Buddha / Sony Masterworks)*
  14. Algiers: Shook (Matador)
  15. Aroof Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad, Ismaily: Love in Exile (Verve)
  16. Wadada Leo Smith: Fire Illuminations (Kabell)
  17. Parannoul: After the Magic (Poclanos/Top Shelf)
  18. Satoko Fujii & Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (Ayler Records)
  19. The Urban Art Ensemble: “Ho’opomopono” (CFG Multimedia 16-minute single)
  20. Angel Bat Dawid: Requiem for Jazz (International Anthem)
  21. The Necks: Travel (Northern Spy)
  22. Kali Uchis: Red Moon in Venus (Geffen)
  23. Various Artists: Purple Haze from East, Volume 1 (VW Sorcerer Productions) *
  24. Karol G: Manana Sera Bonito (Universal Music Latino)
  25. Andrew Cyrille: Music Delivery / Percussion (Intakt)
  26. Tyler Keith & The Apostles: Hell to Pay (Black & Wyatt)
  27. Jacqueline Humbert & David Rosenboom: Daytime Viewing (Unseen Worlds) *
  28. Henry Threadgill: The Other One (Pi)
  29. Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind Stripped Naked (Columbia)#
  30. Various Artists: Blacklips Bar—Androgyns and Deviants / Industrial Romance for Bruised and Battered Angels 1992-1995 (Anthology Recordings) #
  31. Ingrid Laubrock: The Last Quiet Place (Pyroclastic)
  32. Kaze & Ikue Mori: Crustal Movement (Circum/Libra)
  33. Lonnie Holley: Oh Me Oh My (Jagjaguwar)
  34. Mat Muntz: Phantom Islands (Orenda)
  35. Das Kondensat: Anderen Planeten (Why Play Jazz)
  36. Iris DeMent: Workin’ On a World (FlariElla)
  37. Romulo Froes & Tiago Rosas: Na Goela (YB Music)
  38. James Brandon Lewis: Eye of I (Anti-)
  39. Les Raillizes Denudes: ’77 Live (Temporal Drift) #
  40. Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double: March On (self-released EP—coming in March)
  41. Ice SpiceLike…?(10K Projects / Capitol Records EP)
  42. Yves Tumor: Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) (Warp)
  43. Yonic South: Devo Challenge Cup (Wild Honey)
  44. Eddie Lockjaw Davis and Shirley Scott: Cookin’ With Jaws and The Queen (Craft)
  45. Taiko Saito: Tears of a Cloud (Trouble in the East)
  46. Lankum: False Lankum (Rough Trade)
  47. Staples Jr. Singers: Tell Heaven (EP) (Luaka Bop) Note: the vinyl gets you more great minutes of testifying.
  48. Heinali: Kyiv Eternal (Injazero)
  49. Tri-County Liquidators: “Flies” / “Weep Then Whisper” / “Bitter” (self-released)@
  50. Lana Del Rey: Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd (Polydor)
  51. Various Artists: Turkish-Syrian Earthquake Relief (Canary Records) #
  52. Vinny Golia Quartet: No Refunds (Unbroken Sounds)
  53. Black Country, New Road: Live at Bush Hall (Ninja Tune)
  54. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: From Paris to Paris (Rogue Art)
  55. Gee Tee: Goodnight Neanderthal (Goner)

February Fudge: The Best Records I’ve Heard in 2023, with Exceptions Real, Imagined, and Past Due That I Allowed So I Can Invite a Top 25 + One to My Party

I have resolved not to whine this entry, because, a few days after posting the last one, I realized that a) great new music tends to arise slowly but regularly from the creative volcano and will soon erupt, and b) I should never again imagine that I am going to quit listing albums every month. To quote Coach in LETTERKENNY, it’s fucking embarrassing.

So, though I had to resort to tossing in a couple of new singles, a fantasy EP that I created from a young group’s singles from 2022, and some November ’22 LPs, I have tried to make up for the previous mope by unfurling a long-for-February list of damn fine stuff.


  1. I am finding myself increasingly seduced by electronic r&b (or whatever it’s properly called), and, though I am no expert, I find no reason why I shouldn’t consider Liv.e’s new record a model of the subgenre–I even have it listed above Kelela’s, which is splendid, too.
  2. Singles: I mentioned Dr. Mark Lomax’s Urban Art Ensemble’s very therapeutic “Ho’opomopono” last month as a kind of footnote, but it belongs in a more significant way than that, especially during February in all its rampant hostility toward black (in other words, our) history, learning about the depths to which humans can sink along with our many triumphs, and tranquility in general. Also, the great Texas harmonica master Walter Daniels (I first came to know him as a member of the long-gone Jack O’ Fire) has released a truly rock and rolling 45 on the ever-interesting Spacecase label that I can’t quit playing.
  3. Fake EPs: see my note below about mid-Missouri’s Tri-County Liquidators, who I believe will become a force beyond the tri-counties.
  4. I listen to a LOT of music, so I was surprised while reading Dan Charnas’ terrific JDilla bio Dilla Time that I’d never even heard of the Australian unit Hiatus Kaiyote, who’d Dilla-ized themselves in a very interesting way. Seeming seconds after I looked them up, the reissue below was announced. No coincidence, I’m sure. It’s bound to fascinate many of you.
  5. I did not know Japanese psychedelia was a thing–and, truly, that word doesn’t perfectly fit VW Sorceror’s out-there but also excitingly varied two-disc comp Purple Haze from East. Note: no Hendrix covers are therein.
  6. The title of the Dylan excavation I have listed is a joke, but much more accurate than the actual title.
  7. I’m actually sitting on a fence with Iris DeMent’s offering, because it sometimes seems like a checklist of our ills; I often feel similarly about recent DBT records. But her vocal performance is very powerful and passionate–even for her.

(Bolded items are new to the list).

  1. Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind)
  2. Liv.e: Girl in The Half Pearl (Real Life / AWAL)
  3. Kelela: Raven (Warp)
  4. Satoko Fujii & Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (Ayler Records)
  5. The Necks: Travel (Northern Spy)
  6. Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers (Matador)
  7. Parannoul: After the Magic (Poclanos/Top Shelf)
  8. Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records)
  9. Walter Daniels: “From Death to Texas” / “Seems Like a Dream” (Spacecase Records 45)
  10. Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon (Flying Buddha / Sony Masterworks reissue)*
  11. Algiers: Shook (Matador)
  12. The Urban Art Ensemble: “Ho’opomopono” (CFG Multimedia 16-minute single)
  13. Various Artists: Purple Haze from East, Volume 1 (VW Sorcerer Productions)*
  14. Karol G: Manana Sera Bonito (Universal Music Latino)
  15. Tyler Keith & The Apostles: Hell to Pay (Black & Wyatt)
  16. Staples Jr. Singers: Tell Heaven(EP) (Luaka Bop) Note: the vinyl gets you more great minutes of testifying.
  17. Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double: March On (self-released EP—coming in March)
  18. Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind Stripped Naked (Columbia)
  19. Mat Muntz: Phantom Islands (Orenda)
  20. Iris DeMent: Workin’ On a World (FlariElla)
  21. Various Artists: Turkish-Syrian Earthquake Relief (Canary Records)
  22. James Brandon Lewis: Eye of I (Anti-)
  23. Ice Spice: Like…? (10K Projects / Capitol Records EP)
  24. Yonic South: Devo Challenge Cup (Wild Honey)
  25. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: From Paris to Paris (Rogue Art)
  26. Tri-County Liquidators: “Flies” / “Weep Then Whisper” / “Bitter” (self-released)@

*Technically, these are 2022 releases, but they didn’t show up until November, so I’m letting them under the fence.

@The Tri-County Liquidators are a blossoming young band from Columbia, Missouri, though I assume its members are drawn from beyond Boone County. I’ve taken their three 2022 singles and turned them into a 2023 extended play single. Yes, I’m biased because I’m a Columbian; yes, I’m biased because I taught one of them (bassist, songwriter and vocalist Marielle Carlos), and have known her and one of the guitarists (Spenser Rook, who entered Hickman High School with a blonde Rob Tyner White Panther ‘fro and can play inventively in any style—he also writes and sings) for over a decade; BUT they have a flexible, dynamic sound that’s both delicate and intense, and a reliable local music scene source informs me that these recordings do not capture the intensity they transmit live. I don’t get out to shows much, and they play at a great punk venue at which I’d feel like Tucker Carlson at a Juneteenth picnic, but I hope to see them soon. They are legitimately talented and my crusty listening veteran hypothesis is their potential has barely been brushed. Check ‘em out on Bandcamp.

Gooba Gooba Gooba Gooba, Goodbye: So Long to Huey Piano Smith, last of the New Orleans Professors, and (at long last) a 2023 Top 10.

The great New Orleans piano “professor” Huey Piano Smith–one the last living architects of rock and roll–passed on February 13. Between that date and his first recorded music in 1952 is almost the same span as the distance between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II. Smith had not played in public for quite a long time, and his catalog is not too deep, but the best of what he did wax is timeless, spirit-liberating, deliriously anarchic rock and roll. Whenever Nicole and I have thrown house parties, regardless of the nature and tastes of the guests, we’ve always included his classic with the Clowns, “Don’t You Just Know It” (anyone who attended one particular party we threw will remember me swinging between two rooms by the door jamb yelling the P-Funk-prophesying “Gooba gooba gooba” refrain), and few documentaries have begun so sublimely as Les Blank’s Always for Pleasure: ships arriving at New Orleans docks to the sound of “Sea Cruise.” I watch that film every Mardi Gras (often forcing it on whatever class I’m teaching, along with King Cake), and the coming celebration will be no exception. I urge you, if you are not familiar with Smith’s music with the Clowns, a group that included at various times some great musicians you probably know, to stream the above album then hit Discogs (your best bet).

Also–and, looking back over my posts from the last few years, I realize I ALWAYS do this–I finally have a Top 10 list of excellent new albums for 2023, though it took me until mid-February to compile one. This portends nothing; I have no doubt my December list will sprawl. I need to cease whining. Here ’tis–kind of a motley crew, but they pack a punch:

  1. Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers (Matador)
  2. Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind)
  3. Satoko Fujii & Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (Ayler Records)
  4. Parannoul: After the Magic (Poclanos/Top Shelf)
  5. Kelela: Raven (Warp)
  6. Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records)
  7. Tyler Keith & The Apostles: Hell to Pay (Black & Wyatt)
  8. Yonic South: Devo Challenge Cup (Wild Honey)
  9. Staples Jr. Singers: Tell Heaven (EP) (Luaka Bop) Note: the vinyl gets you more great minutes of testifying.
  10. Mat Muntz: Phantom Islands (Orenda)

I’m a day late for Valentine’s Day, which was sort of the occasion for its release (but also not really, since Dr. Mark Lomax’s compositions are always created with the listener’s spiritual sustenance in mind), but this 16-minute “single” by The Urban Art Ensemble, titled “Ho’oponopono,” is a true gift. The song title translates to the name of a traditional Hawaiian “practice of reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Here’s a peek at the trailer for a related production by Dr. Lomax and friends:

Five I Missed That Woulda Made The 2022 List: New Discoveries from the Year That Was (+ a 2023 Addendum)

I don’t need to tell you that you can’t listen to everything. In my darkest moments, the thought that if I chose to step off the edge of the world I might miss a fantastic record has brightened my corner; my (and maybe your ambition) to hear it all is doomed to thwartation, but it never keeps me from trying. I didn’t know about these five records until late last month, but they certainly would have made my 2022 Top 40. Thank the stars or whatever for other blogging rekkid obsessives!

Santigold: Spirituals (Little Jerk Records) — During her early years she was a favorite of favorite students of mine, and thus she was a favorite of mine. I’d largely forgotten about her until I was tipped off about this moving, grooving, and consistent record that, despite the title, begins with this track:

Moonchild Sanelly: Phases (Transgressive Records) — 2022 was a great year for South African dance music, and I stayed well-informed, so don’t ask me why I just know learned about this act. Sanelisiwe Twisha began her career, according to Wikipedia, in “sex entertainment,” and she ain’t shy, for sure, but when I read (not on Wikipedia, though it’s there, but two days ago from a source I already can’t remember) that she called her music “future ghetto punk,” I was all in. Clicked to sample it and was dancing and bouncing around the house. I am 61 and have vestibular neuritis, so that’s saying something. Would’ve been in my Top 20, methinks. I think I’ll send a copy to the the Missouri state capitol of creeps.

Various Artists: Ghost Riders (Efficient Space) — Talk about “other blogging rekkid obsessives”: I am not alone in being grateful for Chuck Eddy‘s existence. He’ll try anything, which is a compliment, and he recommended this Australian collection of strangely moving, eerie, and funny songs from what one Bandcamp user called “garage nobodies” early enough for me to get it onto my 2022 list. I didn’t get it in the mail until late December, then it sat on a stack waiting for me, then in early January I finally dug in. Aside from those other adjectives I used above, it’s also…naively ethereal and lovably camp. Special prizes are a non-country sequel to “Ode to Billie Joe” and a seemingly ill-advised cover of The Beatles’ “Here, There, & Everywhere,” probably my favorite McCartney-sung tune of theirs, that The Common People (heh heh) not only survive but excel on. Thanks, Chuck!

Mary Halvorson: Belladonna and Amaryllis (Nonesuch Records) — A) For some reason I back away from any artist no matter how much I enjoy their work when they release two records at once (except for Ka). B) I have usually been disappointed by “with strings” albums by artists I’m not totally nuts about (Belladona is such). C) I didn’t have time for this project. I’m just being honest. Plus Mary with strings did not appeal to me, despite the fact I dearly dig her even if it were just for this clip that I always show my women’s college students. BUT the strings album is quite beautiful especially because (not in spite) of plectoral soundwave warping, and I discovered too late that the Halvorson-influenced vibraphonist Patricia Brennan, whose 2022 record More Touch is mesmerizing, plays with and around Halvorson on it. So…fuck me, live and learn!

Mary J. Blige: Good Morning, Gorgeous (300 Entertainment Records) — One of the records my wife and I courted to was What’s The 411? I happen to think her team-up with Method Man, “All I Need”, is ETERNAL. I’ve liked everything I’ve heard by her, and enjoyed her in the film Mudbound. I recently taught the mother of her road band’s guitarist (Ma is three days older than me!), who told me many stories and showed me cool pics. I have no reason not to keep up with Mary, but I don’t. Too bad, because I think I love this record more than others who also do–there’s something about the production (by 17 different individuals? but it coheres!) that fits her like a silk glove. Now, I need to play it for Lady O.


Alaide Costa: O Que Meus Calos Dizem Sobre Mim (Tres Selos) — Truly one of the most gorgeous and richly detailed recordings of last year. It’s bossa nova of the highest order sung by the 87-year-old Costa couched in imaginative settings created by the Brazilian production team of Marcus Preto, Emicida, and Pupillo. Thanks to the intrepid Rod Taylor at Brazil Beat, my connection to the country that seems to create a wider and more consistent variety of interesting music than any I’m aware of. I would love a vinyl copy of this but it’ll be a pretty penny. Yesterday was pay day, so maybe I’ll jump. Check this out:

NOW, if you’ve read this far, last post I was moping about being driven half-insane by listing records month by month, year by year–it feels like a competition, governed by the law of diminishing returns, that inhibits my actual full enjoyment of music. Maybe I was in a bad mood–or maybe that post and this post are the emerging answer (now I need to quit Goodreads). Anyhow, here are two records from this year I inexplicably left off that post! I think I was trying not to lean to jazzward, but fuck it–this is good stuff, Maynards!

Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind) — Saxophonist Benjamin’s previous album was a tribute to John and Alice Coltrane that held up very well. In between that and this, she was involved in a car wreck that literally busted her chops. She’s rehabbed that problem–and how. This is a blazing set of original compositions augmented by some very notable guest appearances (Angela Davis? Sonia Sanchez? Wayne Shorter? Georgia Anne Muldrow? Patrice Rushen (my favorite of those names to see the light), and I’m not sure they’d have appeared if they hadn’t recognized the power of Benjamin’s playing and writing. Strongly recommended to Trane fans, but she’s got a sound all her own–and style. Dig:

Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records) — Moran’s last tribute, to Fats Waller on his last album for Blue Note, didn’t move me, and as a deep-down Wallerite that was deeply disappointing. This tribute (in Moran’s words, “a meditation on”) to the magnificent and hugely important bandleader and 369th Division Harlem Hellfighter and bandleader, the ill-fated James Reese Europe, is something else entirely. It is going to take a minute for me to fully unpack this varied, exciting, educational, and RICH record, but my sense is it will be in many Jazz Top 10s in December. It mixes takes on Reese’s tunes (and others they played), Moran’s compositions, and even a perfect contribution by none other than Pauline Oliveros, and makes a unified statement about someone most of us don’t know or at least know little about. Here’s a good original starting place: Europe’s “Memphis Blues.”

What To Do?

For several years this has been the spot where I have created gradually expanding lists of my favorite new albums and archival releases that turned my crank for each calendar year. It’s been quite fun most of the time, and recently got me on a few lists to receive review copies, many of which are actually pretty damn good. Thing is, doing so seems to encourage me to have to keep up with everything I hear about that sounds cool. That motivation, plus my natural curiosity and fear that I might miss something, inflates this seemingly fun project into a major pain in the ass too frequently and causes something that I really don’t think is healthy: I spend so much time cramming stuff in my earhole that I spend far less time listening to music I have loved for years. I’m freshly into my sixties, and I am not sure I want to keep doing it. Face it: when you keep hearing “Watching the Wheels” in your head and feeling upbraided by poor ol’ doomed John, you might wanna shift down. Also, so many of my talented, sharp-eared and big-hearted friends–many via the kind graces of Substack–are already doing the work; when you take their work together and add in the indefatigable Tom Hull–and these people do a lot of writing–I have to question what need have you/they of me. Seriously. I ain’t fishin’ for compliments. I mean, I know all that this has been and what it hasn’t.

So…I have some ideas. Obviously, if I only wrote about a few records I liked each month–wrote about them, much more fun than listing–regardless of vintage, I’d solve two problems: 1) I could watch the wheels more frequently, and 2) I’d have time and be motivated to listen to time-tested favorites. I could supplement that new practice by scribbling a bit about how music has manifested itself in my private and professional life, which it always does in interesting ways every month. I could write about ONE new record and ONE old one that really knocked me for a loop–and, again, give the reader a peek into music’s impacts on my domains (I think I actually have more than two, if I get out of the private – professional split and subdivide them. I could just look back into the history of this blog–some readers may not have noticed I’ve done several different things with it over the years–and pick up where I left off with something that was working when real life knocked me off the tracks for a bit.

I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, jeez, at least 10 new records have been rattling my bones by the end of January since I’ve been posting lists. I really can’t say that right now, but I can say this:

Tyler Keith’s seldom if ever disappointed me, going back to the earliest days of his I know, when he co-led The Neckbones, a Southern-fried Voidoids in more than a few ways. Keith wrestles with sin and salvation as regularly but more explicitly than Jerry Lee, he’s a reminder to listeners that much of the best rock and roll–and that’s what Hell to Pay is, even if a violin sneaks in–has come from the working class, and he’s got a way of conjuring desperation that always feels like the United States to me. His first new record in awhile, Hell to Pay, on Black and Wyatt Records, shows his commitment to those values has waned not a whit, and that his musical attack coheres with his excellent dark ‘n’ pulpy ‘n’ sweaty Southern noir novel The Mark of Cain, published last year. I highly recommend both vinyl and book, the latter his first.

Japanese pianist and bandleader extraordinaire Fujii released her 100th album as a leader or co-leader in 27 years (Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams–check it out), sending me on a backwards binge through her catalog that’s yet to hit an impasse. Fujii can do it all scintillatingly: lead big bands and ensembles, duet with all manner of instruments (with other pianists, with violin, and here, with electric guitarist Yoshihide), play like petals falling and landing or a rockslide rattling down to the road. She’s been a “Where have I been?” artist for this listener, and I suspect I’ll spend the year continuing to get caught up. On Ayler Records, and that should tell you something about her intensity.

Am I the only one who mourns the death of the hard-copy music guide? (It sure put the damper on my bathroom reading.) Moping the other day, I was thumbing through an old Penguin Guide to Jazz–I always loved them because they covered European jazz very well and very reliably–and came upon this 1974 **** record I’d overlooked. I then hit Discogs, found a decently-priced copy, and there weren’t many, then waited for Mr.Postman. I’ve played it 4-5 times since then (a few months ago); the band was a cooperative that notably included Sun Ra vet Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet and a young William Parker on bass. At many points on the record they sound like the Arkestra as if led by Ayler: almost magically structured, but intense–intensely martial. I can’t get enough of it; it’s out of print, so if you want to sample it…well, you knows what to do (RIP Barrett Strong). On No Business Records, and good luck. And here’s your luck–whaddya know?

Views from the Campus: Students from my Freshman Composition/Pop Music Fusion Class at Stephens College, Fall 2022

Last semester, I posted some of the best writing my Stephens students did for my “Groundbreaking Women in U. S. Music” class, and I’d like to continue this practice. Stephens, alas, did not offer that class in the fall, but I usually infuse my freshman composition instruction with popular music study–I usually learn much more about that from them than they do from me. Here are some of my favorite final exam research papers from that class; the task was to make a case for a woman who is a “figure of impact” in pop music. Note: I feel funny about editing these before posting them, because a) I instructed them on fine points throughout the class and gave plenty of feedback; b) it feels too much like tampering for my own benefit, if that makes sense; and c) it might land a powerful point with the authors about leaning into some of their writing issues harder than they did for me. Any weird margin problems are the result of my failed battle against WordPress.

Again, most of these students are freshmen. And these are their subjects–the essays follow the slide show.

Ashley Cole

(I could have posted all of Ashley’s essays for this class here. She is a writer of impact.)

Strutting in Your Straitjacket

Many Americans struggle with Mental Health issues. About 20% or 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness yet the issue is still considered taboo on a broad spectrum (, 2022). Even more so in the LatinX communities. It was not until the 1980s that the Spanish speaking communities were even considered to be part of studies that accessed the possible mental health (, 2022). Language, economic and cultural barriers have led many to mask or bury issues that they are dealing with. Music has always been an outlet for artists to deal with the problems they face. Sometimes it is hidden under metaphors and easily digestible lyrics and for others it is aggressively noticeable that the artist is “unhinged”. Today’s musical artists have been more open in their struggles of the mind in interviews and not just chocking it up to the “rock & roll” lifestyle. As a culture, people have recently come to see that representation is a focal point using fame as a medium in the media. Jessie Reyez is one such artist who has checked many boxes in representation and is an artist who is making ripple effects in both the music industry and fans worldwide bringing to light the authenticity of mental health singing, “I’m trying to heal, but it’s a process. I’m told I should cut my losses.”

Jessie Reyez an up and coming urban contemporary artist was born in Ontario, Canada to immigrant parents from Columbia. Many listeners may not be familiar with her, however she has collaborated with many house-hold names. Calvin Harris, Sam Smith, Dua Lipa and Eminem to name a few. It took just one line from her 2017 EP Kiddo to see that she would be an artist to follow. With a raspy unsteady but guttural bellow she sings “my straight jacket’s custom made!” Not only is she owning her issues she is almost dare one say proud? This is relevant in many ways. The first step to healing or overcoming any kind of substance disorder is admitting you having a problem (, 2022). Normalizing mental health issues leads to conversations that lead to healing and to hopefully a support group.

Included In her 2017 EP is the track “Gatekeeper”. The song tells the sordid tale of being sexually assaulted by a music producer to advance her career; “Spread your legs open up you could be famous.” (Reyez, 2017). At the time the song came out the antagonist being referenced was nameless. About two years after the song was released, the same producer, Noel “Detail” Fischer, was accused and eventually charged with sexual assault and rape charges. At this point Reyez confirmed the song was her account of their meeting together. Reyez reported that the shame of what happened kept her quiet (Donoghue, 2018). A shame that was not hers to hold. But how many sexual assault survivors tell themselves that “it’s my fault” or fear of judgment that will follow their accusations. To date, Fisher has been accused of assaulting nine women and is currently awaiting trial. Jessie was quoted in saying that she is “standing in my truth and standing in self-respect, to make sure that I’m not accepting anything less from other people.” (Mapes,2019)

One mental health crisis in the LatinX communities is post-partum depression. During the 1980’s there was an “English only” movement. This was an increase in objection to Hispanic people and immigration. During this time there was also an increase in Hispanic poverty and community isolation. Latino women are seen as the quiet “back-bones” of their households. To say that you are unfit at your most basic duty, child rearing, would be unheard of in the community. Since the Hispanic women were huddling together because of the nation’s poor treatment of their community, they would gravitate to each other which may ease symptoms but left little room for problem solving a “cure”. One must also consider the language barrier. Only in recent history have Spanish-speaking people have access to various translating options. In the 1980s parents would rely on their English-speaking children to relay information. Could you say in front of your child that you did not know why you were unable to love her? The Spanish speaking population now have the option of having a translator assigned, they have to go to a third person to get their message across to a doctor. Could you tell a stranger how your mind is failing you?

While Reyez hails from Canada, her roots are traced to the country of Colombia. As raw as her emotion is in English the same can be said of her Spanish lyrics. She takes command and is upfront with her listeners in “Un Vuelo a La” with Romeo Santos\ that she has 20 personalities and is unapologetic about it. Latino culture is a very prideful one. Not often do you see person admit to having mental illness, especially a woman. What Reyez is able to do lyrically is to give voice to these women, especially in the LatinX communities building truth and honesty around her lyrics almost as if to say, “I am here, I hear you, and it is ok to speak your truth.” This is a drastic change for voices to be heard compared to only a few decades ago. It was not until 1982 that a survey was conducted to evaluate Hispanic mental health disorders and barriers to treatment (Kanel, 2002). The research ran from 1982 to 1984. Only in the last 25 years has there been an increase in Hispanic health in the United States. Latinas that elevate their voices to share their pain hopefully will give young Latinas the courage to come forward and ask for help and know that they are brave for doing so.

My own experience with Jessie Reyez music is very personal. While on my first military deployment I was left heartbroken. If I were state-side my experience may not have been left with such guilt, anxiety, or depression. However I was in a foreign land, suffering in 130 degree heat, wiping tears that were mixed with sweat as sand met my face like beestings. I felt completely abandoned. I was on duty though and could not succumb to my natural instincts. An emotional breakdown translated to failure. I was sent the song “Shutter Island” from a friend and the lyrics resonated with me instantly. “My straitjackets custom made… for a second I forgot I was a bad bitch!” That song played on repeat the rest of my deployment. I couldn’t let myself slip and forget who I was. I was in a foreign land fighting for my country. I was THE definition of a BAD BITCH. I saw in Reyez this young Latina. Messy hair, thick eyebrows, she could have been my sister telling me to embrace my hurt, sit in it, then LET THAT SHIT GO. There she was reminding me that I had the power to give myself grace and was strong enough to move on.

Jessie Reyez has many times over been that iconic artist for me in the short amount of time that she has been on the music scene. So many lyrics that I could pull to place in the pages of my own life. From my military involvement, to love, even politics the lyrics in both Spanish and English helped me understand my pain and start a journey to share my truth. What would a world look like if we embraced our flaws? It was spring of 2019 that my military supervisor told me that she was sexually assaulted in the military. Only two weeks later I came to her crying sharing my own traumas. In that moment she called our local veteran social worker and had a session with me at 7 o’clock at night. Looking back Reyez’s music has been part of my journey helping me taking charge of my life, the willingness to share my truth, my story, to encourage others to do the same. We are NOT living in a world set back in the 1980s, we are here, now and have voices that are no longer silenced, or judged due to mental illness, trauma, or stigma. We are changing what is known and are a part of a movement, like Reyez, that will see future generations take hold of what “has been” and what “will be”. For me, that has led to three years of sobriety and my mental health being managed. Everyone’s story is different, however we all have the ability to take ownership and take control of our lives. I feel more empowered today that I have ever felt in my life, and I can look back on how a single lyric, “My straitjacket’s custom made” has paved the way for change.

References, retrieved December, 2022, retrieved December, 2022, retrieved December, 2022

Reyez, J., 2017. Gatekeeper

Donohue, C., May 2018.

Kanel, K., February 2002.

Mapes, Jill. “The Chorus of #MeToo, and the Women Who Turned Trauma Into Songs.”, 23 Oct. 2019,

Alena Harper

2006 to the Present: The Era of Taylor Swift

There is no talking about the 21st century, without talking about Taylor Swift. Swift is the most influential artist of the 21st century. She has been in the industry for more than a decade. She started her career and to the day continues to make headlines and break records. Taylor Swift is long past being a household name, she is a historic pop icon.

The country music genre is well-known for its themes of trucks, heartbreak, and farm-living, and while Swift may not have escaped these tropes, she was staying true to her experience. Taylor Swift grew up on a Christmas tree farm in Pennsylvania (a fact she shared gleefully in her 2019 holiday single aptly named “Christmas Tree Farm”). She developed a love in music early on and by the time she was eleven she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Philadelphia 76ers basketball game (Ray). At thirteen years old, her family made the decision to sell their farm and move out to Tennessee, close to Nashville, so Swift could pursue a career in music (Ray). It wouldn’t be until Swift was sixteen years old that she finally released her self-titled debut album. As of now, following her debut, she’s proceeded to release nine more albums: Fearless, Speak Now, Red, 1989, Reputation, Lover, Folklore, Evermore, and Midnights. This is sure to still be only the beginning of Taylor Swift.

One of the reasons Swift is such a force in the music industry, is her domination when it comes to award shows. According to her page on IMDb, she’s a ten-time nominee, five-time winner at the American Country Music awards. A one-time nominee, twelve-time winner at the American Music Awards. A thirteen-time nominee, five-time winner at the Grammys. She’s even been nominated for three golden globes and has won an Emmy. On top of that, her newest album Midnights broke more than seventy records (Young). One of those records being that she was the first artist ever to sweep the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 for herself (Unterberger). This is only to name a few of her achievements, the list goes on and on. Swift is sixteen years into her musical career and shows no signs of stopping or even slowing down. She will continue to break records and boundaries with her music.

Along with making headlines for accomplishments, she’s also made headlines for controversy. Most notably, her conflict with popular rapper Ye (Kanye West). The first butt heads when West ran up on stage and took the microphone away from Swift during her acceptance speech for Video of the Year at the 2009 Music Television (MTV) Video Music Awards (VMAs), and famously said “Yo, Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time!” (Gavilanes and Dodd). A few days after the incident Swift claims West called her and apologized (Gavilanes and Dodd). Up to 2015, the pair seemed to have reconciled, with Swift even presenting West with the MTV Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 MTV VMA’s with a reference to his interruption, “So I guess I have to say to all the other winners tonight: I’m really happy for you, I’mma let you finish, but Kanye West has had one of the greatest careers of all time!” (Gavilanes and Dodd). This unfortunately would not be the happy ending it
seemed to be. In 2016, West debuted his song “Famous” in which he name-drops Taylor, calls her a bitch, and later uses a wax sculpture of her naked body in his music video for the song (Gavilanes and Dodd). West’s then-wife Kim Kardashian claimed Swift approved the lyric in a phone call with West, and while Swift agrees there was a phone call, she says she never approved the lyric in which she was called a bitch (Gavilanes and Dodd). In 2016, Kardashian leaked an edited recording of the phone call in question on her snapchat, which lead to Swift’s social media comments being spammed with snake emojis, calling her a liar (Gavilanes and Dodd). Instead of simply letting her haters push her out, she decided to take that bad publicity and run with it. In 2017, she announced the release of sixth studio album Reputation, in which she seemingly references the feuds in many of her lyrics. The full phone conversation was later leaked in 2020, which revealed Swift really was not told the full lyric and had been telling the truth (Gavilanes and Dodd). While, the importance of this controversy is certainly debatable, the impact it has had on pop culture is undeniable. It’s hard to think of any other celebrity feuds which has been able to consistently make headlines for over a decade. Even now still, people question if Swift continues to reference West in her music, and with West’s recent fall from fame with his spiral into far-right politics, it’s no wonder Swift sings so confidently about “Karma” in her latest album Midnights.

Swift has always been a staunch supporter of artists’ rights to their work, and while she’s certainly not alone in this belief, few are able to actually put it into practice. To do so could mean rejecting the very record labels that could make a small artist a star. Swift however, was in an extremely lucky position in which she was able to challenge the big corporations against her. From 2005 to 2018 Swift was signed with Big Machine Records (Bruner). When her contract expired, she switched to Universal’s Republic Records, where she was able to get ownership of all her future masters (Bruner). However, Big Machine Records retained the rights to the recordings of her first six albums (Bruner). Big Machine Records decided to sell these recordings to Ithaca Holdings, which is owned by a man named Scooter Braun (Bruner). Braun later resold them to another company, Shamrock Holdings, all of this without the involvement of Taylor Swift (Bruner). While Swift figured her previous recordings would be sold, she did not know they would be sold to Braun, who she claims has always been a bully to her (Bruner). Understandably upset, she decided to rerecord her old albums, so that she could – in a way – take back ownership of them, and discourage the profit of the originals, since it puts money right into Braun’s pocket (Bruner). This move has opened the eyes of the public to the atrocities of recording label contracts and brought awareness to the movement of artists fighting for the rights to their own work. Her decision will and has already affected the music industry in a huge way as she brings up these questions of the autonomy of artists.

Swift’s lyricism is unmatched. She has jumped from genre to genre effortlessly and continues to challenge herself in every way possible. She has an extensive discography that’s hard to describe in only a paragraph. But, there is one standout album of hers which completely changed the game. That album is Folklore. Folklore was released in the middle of the 2020 pandemic. It’s best known for being very different from Swift’s previous albums sonically, as well as lyrically. This album has a folksy and acoustic sound, as opposed to her usual bright pop hits. Her inspiration for her music has typically come from her personal life, but in this album she decided to writer her own stories, about experiences that weren’t her own. For example, there are three songs within Folklore which truly exemplify her creative ability for storytelling and songwriting. These songs are “Cardigan,” “Betty,” and “August.” Each songs tells the same story, through a different perspective. Betty, a girl in high school, gets cheated on by her boyfriend James over the summer. In “Cardigan,” Swift sings through the eyes of Betty, as she copes with the heartbreak. In “Betty,” Swift steps into James’ shoes and sings of regret while begging for Betty to forgive him for his mistake. In “August,” Swift lets us in on the thoughts of the girl James’ cheated with, as she grapples with the fact that she was in love with James, even though she knew his heart really belonged to someone else, Betty. The songs give each other small nods through similar lyrical phrases, but besides the fact that they all tell the same story, they have their own distinct sounds. Taylor is, at her heart, a poet. She has grown lyrically in ways no one could have ever imagined, and she continues to mature with each song she drops.

I have listened to and loved Taylor Swift for basically my entire life. I’ve grown up with her and continue to grow with her. Though it’s always hard to pick favorites, I have to say my favorite song of hers is probably “You Are In Love.” This song might just be one of her cheesiest love songs ever, but it is perfectly Taylor Swift. One lyric in particular from the song has always stuck out to me, “And why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words.” Here she is referring to love. As a Creative Writing Major, I’m not necessarily a romance genre writer, but I still relate to this lyric a lot. The whole point of writing really is to put our crazy, confusing, and sometimes stupid feelings and experiences into words. Though I haven’t done even half the things Taylor has, I’m still transported to her world every time she sings. I hope to one day have the same effect in my own writing and be able to communicate every emotion in a way everyone can understand and feel themselves. So, while Taylor certainly has all the awards and power to make an impact on the music industry. To me, the biggest impact she has is on all the young writers of the world. From the newer hit artists Olivia Rodrigo, and Conan Gray, to me, and maybe even to you.

Taylor Swift has overcome sixteen years in the industry, and here’s to hoping she’ll continue to dominate sixteen more. She’s moved states, switched genres, had celebrity drama, and taken ownership of her art, all in the name of her love for music. The music industry is lucky to have her, and would not be the same today without her. Suffice to say, she has proven her spot as the most influential artist of the 21st century.

Works Cited

Bruner, Raisa. “Here’s Why Taylor Swift Is Re-Releasing Her Old Albums.” Time, 25 Mar. 2021, taylor-swift-is-rerecording-old-albums/.

Gavilanes, Grace, and Sophie Dodd. “Inside Kanye West and Taylor Swift’s 10-Year Feud: A Truly Comprehensive Timeline.”, 2 Sept. 2022,

Mapes, Jill. “Taylor Swift: Folklore.” Pitchfork, 27 July 2020,

Ray, Michael. “Taylor Swift | Biography, Songs, & Facts.” Encyclopædia Britannica, 9 Dec. 2018,

“Taylor Swift.” IMDb,

Théberge, Paul. “Love and Business: Taylor Swift as Celebrity, Businesswoman, and Advocate.” Contemporary Music Review, EBSCOhost, 2021,

Unterberger, Andrew, and Andrew Unterberger. “Five Reasons Why Taylor Swift Was Able to Make Chart History with Her “Midnights” Debut Week.” Billboard, 31 Oct. 2022,

Young, Alex. “Taylor Swift Broke 73 Records with Release of New Album Midnights.” Consequence, 31 Oct. 2022,

Isabel Massud

Possibility of Truth in a Sea of Hypocrisy

Shannon Sims for The New York Times “Loved icon on an emblem of gender fluidity” (2017); Dom Phillips for The Guardian “Symbol of resistance for a minority that recently had a number of achievements in the country’s cultural war” (2017); Andrew R. Chow for Times Magazine “One of the next generation leaders” (2020). That is Pabllo Vittar. But just the tip of her impact on the world as a performer and human being. This research paper intends to prove that her contributions representing the LGBTQ+ community, putting Brazilian rhythms in the international market, and playing a big role in the political storm the country faced, makes her of extreme relevance and importance to culture on a global scale.

To achieve this goal, the paper has been organized into three sections. The first section will be focused on how Pabllo Vittar was a pioneer in the music industry by advocating and amplifying the LGBTQ+ movement in different ways. In the second section, I will present a more political in-depth analysis on the importance of Vittar against the conservative movement in Brazil. Last but not least, the third section goes around a take on her impact on showing rhythms that are part of Brazil’s history to the world, specially in her 2021 album Batidao Tropical. Before the study begins, however, the artist’s background is of great importance to understand how she became the drag queen she is today.

Phabullo Rodrigues da Silva was born in Sao Luis, Maranhao[1], on November first, 1993, and started dance lessons at a very young age. In the next few years, he joined the church’s choir and started to make covers of famous artists like Beyonce, falling in love with music (Soutello). However, living in a poor rural small city made him a target of constant bullying in school because of his high-pitched voice and delicate gestures. “Since I was a little boy, I have always known I was different and that I was not going to follow the steps of a conventional man,” said Pabblo in 2018 in an interview at the show “Encontro com Fátima Bernardes” (Noticias Financeiras 3).

When he was 17 years old, Phabullo had his first contact with the art of drag after watching the show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Impressed with the versatility within drag, he immediately was enchanted by the possibility of externalizing and expressing his essence with makeup and production (Soutello). The singer always knew he needed to leave his mark in the world, and becoming Pabllo Vittar was the best way he could have done it.


From the beginning, just by sharing her art with the world, Pabllo Vittar was a symbol of resistance against homophobia, gender intolerance and every prejudice against the community. She gained national recognition with her song “KO” in May 2017, and just two months later she successfully launched her international career with a feature on Major Lazer’s song “Sua Cara” (Aires 10), a fact that is hardly accomplished that early in anyone’s career. Since then, she has dominated the world: [she] was the first drag queen to perform at Coachella in 2022 (Cooper 55); [she] was in the Cover of Vogue Magazine in 2017; [she] was nominated “Person of the Year” 2017 on Rolling Stone Brazil (Aires 28); [she] was the first drag queen to be nominated for a Grammy in 2018 (The Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences); [she] is the most listened drag queen in the world on Spotify; [she] did world tours with only six years on her career (Aires 42); [she] was nominated 2018 “Sexiest women of the year” (IstoE magazine); and 2020 “Men of the year” (GQ Brasil magazine).

All her achievements happened because of her music, performance, and what they translate to today’s society. Firstly, her lyrics mostly celebrate sexual freedom and self-love in a world that could be safe and happy for people like her (Codinha), but one song has the biggest impact from her repertoire. “Indestrutivel” speaks of hope, positivity, and
overcoming—or bypassing—the hardships of life that are a common experience for many people living under threat (Silva 241-242): “Everything will be ok/ And my tears will dry out/ Everything will be ok/ And these scars will heal up/ If I receive pain/ I give love back” (Musixmatch). Every queer people that listens to this song can identify with her words and starts seeing Vittar as a role model. The well known Brazilian pop music critic Ed Motta said: I really cried seeing her, because I didn’t imagine this musicality, beautiful timbre in low notes and strong quality in the high notes. […] Her talent is truthful and genuine […] but the hatred army is profoundly bothered with what it represents in the obedient and close-minded society we live in. (Qtd. In A Tarde)

Secondly, when it comes to her performances, Pabllo breaks down the social stereotypes that reinforce the binary as the rule, normalizing all the versions a person might have, and spreading the comfortableness she has with her body and gender fluidity as an expression of freedom, character, and art (Aires 33). Vittar defends diversity in the media and brought her queerness to the big names.

Historically, black people, women, and the LGBT+ community have been mistreated by brands and the media in general. So, having inspiring and representative content from artists like Pabllo Vittar is an enormous step (Aires 24). As a big mediatic influencer, her channels can elaborate opinions and shape minds, a fact that has been capturing the attention of different brands such as C&A, Coca Cola, Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Trident, Instagram, Calvin Klein (21- 22).

The omnipresence of Vittar as an artist is jaw dropping. She participated in the biggest programs on national television, covered magazines, had her own talk show, several international appearances, and created partnerships with big brands. That said, her importance and fierceness representing the LBGTQ+ community in the music industry and in the media is unmeasurable as she opened the doors for other drag and queer artists to pursuit their dreams.


Pabllo had and still has a big importance in the fight against the conservative movement in Brazil, considering that the continuous regress that has been showcased in politics is worrying, and powerful people like her are much needed to a brighter future. According to the data collected by the NGO Transgender Europe in 2016, Brazil is the country with the most transgender and transsexual murders in the world. In 2019, the Forum magazine stated that with the victory of Jair Messias Bolsonaro in the 2018 presidential election, the country went from 55th to 68th on the safest countries to LGBTQ+ people rank (Aires 11). The openly racist, sexist, homophobic and misogynistic ex-president stated that homosexuality is a result of drug abuse, and it should have the same punishment as pedophilia (Codinha); [he] prohibited, during his mandate, the use of any word from the LGBT spectrum in political campaigns; and removed the restrictions on conversion therapy (Aires 33).

On the face of fear for the community, Vittar fights for the deconstruction of hateful and prejudiced thoughts that became part of not only Brazil’s, but the world’s culture. In an interview to Epoca Magazine in 2018, the artist said, “I will always be showing that, regardless of your sexual orientation, you can do everything you want.” Pabllo ended all the brand partnerships that declared support to Bolsonaro and, in 2022, she dedicated her social media with over 12 million people to support the new president, Lula Inacio da Silva, preventing the reelection of Bolsonaro (Aires 33). “Good music creates Union,” said the drag queen to Epoca Magazine in 2018, but her effect on the political context was the actual factor that successfully united the community for a greater good.


Even though the main movement she represents is the LGBTQ+ community, Pabllo Vittar also has a big role in the popularization of native music genres throughout the world. As a big star, the singer brought Forró, tecnobrega, and Carimbo[2] rooted anthems such as “Ama Sofre Chora ” and “Zap Zum” to the spotlight. Her 2021 album, Batidao Tropical, was created as a homage to her origins and a dive into the brilliant rhythms the country has to offer (Soutello).

From a bittersweet romance to a happy dancing song, Vittar’s team produced a musical landscape referencing famous songs and melodies inside her own creations. Her high-pitched timbre altogether with exciting powerful instruments not normally used in pop music such as Accordion, Triangle, Berimbau, Afoxe, Pandeiro, Reco-Reco[3], turned the eyes and ears of the world to a previously unknown and underappreciated side of Brazilian music (Ribeiro). The happy and contagious energy on the album makes it impossible to stand still and not smile, especially if it is the first time in contact with the piece. Batidao Tropical was Pabllo’s way of showing the pride she takes in her background, and she did it astonishingly. The album is a key landmark for Brazilian pop music, once it was presented in an accessible and appealing way to a wider public by the best-positioned artist to take it to the next level (Facchi).

Growing up, I had a hard timing coming to peace with the fact I was queer for several reasons, but the main one was I did not have someone like me to look up to and say, “It Is ok.” TV shows, movies, music, cartoons, and no one like me was presented as a successful, happy person. Identifying with other people’s struggle and seeing I was not alone felt like taking weight out of my back, and Pabllo Vittar had an important role in all of these. I remember watching her first music video and thinking I want to be as free, joyful, and confident as she was, not caring about other people’s hatred and society’s norms. Pabllo Vittar is a synonym of respect, inspiration, and courage, with a life changing importance to young queer kids like me, proving how relevant she is to the world and future generations. Pabblo Vittar is an example of talent, perseverance, and representation that has made one of the biggest impacts in the music world, by bringing visibility not only to drag queens and other LGBTQ+ members as serious artists, but also to Brazil and what it has to offer. In addition, she had unimaginable value to the political war and the positive outcome the country experienced. Many may argue that her influence did not cross borders, but the countless awards such as Social Artist of the year 2022 in the Latin American Music Awards (Weinberg) or Musical Artist 2020 in the British LGBT Awards (Butterworth), on top of many appearances in big concerts, magazines, rapidly disputes them. Putting on the drag is much more than just fun: it is an act of resistance and expression that creates union and, with Pabllo Vittar, is a historical world culture event.

Works Cited

Maturana, Joao. “Entenda a importancia de drag queens como Pabllo Vittar e GloriaGroove no topo”. PRBK, 2022. Access 29 November 2022.

Soutello, Gabriela. “Pabllo Vittar: Conheça a trajetória de vida e a carreira na musica”.Deezer, Access 4 December 2022.

Codinha, Alessandra. “O que Pabllo Vittar, super estrela pop, significa para o Brasil (e oresto de nós) atualmente”. VOGUE, 2018. Accessed 29 November 2022.

Aires, Jonathan. “A Visibilidade de Pabllo Vittar na Midia”. Julia Maass, UniCEUB, 2019, pp. 10- 44.
Silva, Daniel. “Papo Reto: The Politics of Enregistrement amid the Crossfire in Rio de Janeiro”. Signs and Society, volume 10, number 2, edited by Asif Agha, The University of Chicago Press for the Semiosis Research Center, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, 2022, pp. 241-242.

CE Noticias Financieras: Portuguese, sec. News, 23 Apr. 2019. NewsBank: Access World News, AB5D4B8. Accessed 10 Nov. 2022.

Cooper, Alex, et al. “12 More People of the Year.” Advocate, no. 1124, Nov. 2022, pp. 50–61.

Butterworth, Benjamin. “British LGBT Awards 2019 nominations”. 2019 lifestyle/people/british-lgbt-awards-2019-full-list-of-nominees-254245

The Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. “Nominados 19a Entrega Annual del Latin GRAMMY”. 2018. Accessed on 4 December 2022.

Nunes, Caian. “Pabllo Vittar se emociona ao receber prêmio de “Drag Hero”. 2019 Accessed on 4 December 2022.

Weinberg, Lindsay. “2022 Latin American Music Awards Winners: The complete List”. 2022. Accessed on 4 December 2022.

Antunes, Rodrigo. “Letra de Indestrutivel”. Vai Passar Mal, Bmt Produções. 2017.

Ribeiro, Ana Clara. “Pabllo Vittar shines light on brega music with ‘Batida Tropical’”. Pop Matters, 2021. Accessed on 10 December 2022.

Facchi, Cleber. “Pabllo Vittar: “Batidão Tropical”’. Música Instantânea, 2021. Accessed on 10 December 2022.

Estadao. “Ed Motta elogia a voz de Pabllo Vittar: ‘Talento verdadeiro e genuíno” ‘. A Tarde (Salvador, Brasil). 2018.


[1] State on the Northeastern region of Brazil

[2] Music genres born in poor peripheral regions far from the epicenter of Brazil’s mainstream industry

[3] Musical instruments very popular in the Northeastern region of Brazil.

Shannon Riley

The Impact of SZA’s “Love Language”

“Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?” SZA asks in the fourth track of CTRL titled “Drew Barrymore.” So, why is it so hard to accept when something such as a relationship or a monumental event ends? SZA explores this through her music and other issues such as growing up, bad relationships, vaginas, and much more. By talking about these subjects, SZA makes her own version of R&B catered toward people who don’t fit in, people who need a space to feel seen and understood. She also advocates for different causes such as the elimination of environmental racism and even has her own sustainable clothing line. Through her music, SZA pushes the boundaries of R&B and creates a space for people who don’t fit in while advocating for causes such as sustainability and mental health awareness.

SZA grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, and her birth name is Solána Imani Rowe (Carmichael). She wasn’t very popular in school and stated “I wanted to be liked and have a good time, but it just wasn’t in the books for me (Carmichael).” Her lack of connection with peers led her to skip prom and party in a club in South Beach instead, which inspired her (Carmicheal). After the trip, she said “Fuck this, I don’t have any friends anyway. There’s nothing to stick around for. I might as well go chase more (Carmichael).” She went on to write her first studio album CTRL in 2017. She won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding New Artist for CTRL in 2018 (The Hollywood Reporter Staff).

SZA’s music is unique and filled with references and packed full of emotion. Emma Carmicheal from The Rolling Stone described CTRL as “…a vulnerable twentysomething’s stream of consciousness, brimming with anxieties, discontented love stories, and a range of pop-culture references one can only absorb from growing up on the internet.” “Doves in the Wind,” the third track on CTRL, is all about vaginas. SZA, along with Kendrick Lamar, sings:

Real niggas do not deserve pussy
Meaning it’s more, you see right through walls
Ain’t talkin’ about pussy
Meaning you deserve the whole box of chocolates
Come with me, Forrest Gump had a lot goin’ for him
Never without pussy, y’know, Jenny almost gave it all up for him
Never even pushed for the pussy
Where’s Forrest now when you need him?
Talk to me, talk to me, hey, ayy, hey

Through the references to Forrest Gump, SZA explains that men don’t deserve her because she has a lot more to offer than just sex. Her lyricism is clever and witty and she uses pop-culture references to back up her points. She’s confident and sure of herself, and she seems very powerful. However, in “Supermodel,” SZA expresses insecurity. She sings:

Leave me lonely for prettier women
You know I need too much attention for shit like that
You know you wrong for shit like that
I could be your supermodel if you believe
If you see it in me, see it in me, see it in me
I don’t see myself
Why I can’t stay alone just by myself?
Wish I was comfortable just with myself
But I need you, but I need you, but I need you

SZA shows a sensitive, insecure side where she is unsure of her looks and needs reassurance from a man. She knows she has flaws and sometimes they get the best of her, which is what makes her human. Author Ta-Nehisi Coates said “When I hear SZA’s lyrics, it feels like it’s definitively her — this really human, young, black woman who is sometimes insecure about her body, other times feels really sexy, sometimes falls really hard,” Coates says. “That’s what an artist is supposed to do. Once they get into that specificity of who they are, that’s when they’re touching the most human aspect of it (Carmicheal).” She pushes the bounds of R&B with her music. SZA is relatable and touches on topics many people don’t discuss. She stated “I’ve spent most of my life being really unpopular and nerdy in school. I’ve always been super empathetic. My main goal is to make everybody feel included (Mlaba).” SZA is dedicated to making a safe space for her fans to feel included and understood.

While SZA makes the world a better place through her music, she also is dedicated to helping save the Earth by fighting against environmental racism and making her own sustainable clothing line. She has partnered with Tazo Tea and American Forests to plant trees and give jobs to people in marginalized communities (Finley). This hits close to home for SZA, she said “I think I’ve always been super aware of the inequity and experience. I always thought growing up in Maplewood, a place that’s named after its trees, that it was super weird and, like, not commonplace for other Black children to have access and exposure to the beach, to trees. Even though we live in a coastal city, whether it’s New York or New Jersey, Black children still have an uncomfortability with water and with outdoorsy activities. I feel like I just recognize the difference even between Maplewood and Irvington. I guess the taxpaying dollars only pay for a certain amount of trees? Literally a one-block difference, and all of a sudden it all disappears. It’s just straight concrete, and it smells different (Finley).” Environmental racism is a significant cause to her and she is doing her part to combat it. SZA is also working with Slow Factory to create a sustainable line of merch (Kia). The clothes will be made of landfill fabrics and recycled clothing and there will be patchwork tops, embroidered pieces, and sweatshirts (Kia). SZA also is dedicated to mental health awareness and has “…teamed up with shoe brand Crocs, to release a
limited line of shoes during Mental Health Awareness Month in the US in May. The brand and SZA partnered with advocates for mental health awareness in Black communities to help drive positive change in their own communities and around the world. With every shoe purchase, Crocs donated to the mental health organizations of their choice (Mlaba).” SZA struggles with anxiety and depression and wants to help her fans and others going through similar experiences. Through her music and creative lyrics, SZA has had an important impact on my life and my music taste. She has shown me that you can be a powerful, confident woman who still has insecurities and problems to work through. Her music has also helped me get over my past relationship with someone who wasn’t right for me. While writing this paper, I was anxiously awaiting her second album, SOS. It came out on December 9th and did not disappoint; from talking about killing her ex in “Kill Bill” to the iconic lyric “my pussy proceeds me” in “Blind,” I absolutely adore this album. By using her personal experiences and being emotional and open in her music, she allows us to cope with our experiences and relate to her struggles and successes. I believe SZA is pushing the boundaries of R&B and creating her own space in the genre. Her impact cannot be ignored and I am sure she will go on to win many more awards and get more recognition for her new work.

Through SZA’s clever lyrics, pop-culture references, and emotional delivery, she has not only created her own space in the genre of R&B, but she also formed a place for people who don’t fit in or feel alone to come together and feel seen and understood. Through her own struggles with her mental health, she has become dedicated to helping others going through similar things. Her care for the environment, sustainability, and improving life in marginalized communities shows just how much she wants to use her platform for good and change. While SZA is a relatively new artist with only two studio albums, her positive impact on people, the music industry, and the world cannot be ignored.

Works Cited

Carmichael, Emma. “SZA.” Rolling Stone, no. 1337, Mar. 2020, pp. 48–51.

Finley, Taryn. “SZA Wants to Turn Your Attention to Environmental Racism.” HuffPost, 17 Feb. 2021, Accessed 3 Dec. 2022.

Kia, Kara. “SZA’s Clothing Line.” POPSUGAR, 4 Mar. 2021, https:// Accessed 3 Dec. 2022.

Mlaba, Khanyi. “5 Times SZA Helped Show the World ‘Good Days.’” Global Citizen, 6 Sept. 2022,

The Hollywood Reporter Staff. “NAACP Image Awards: Full List of Winners.” The Hollywood Reporter, 16 Jan. 2018,

Alex Stalcup

Halsey: A Modern Music Maniac

It is not every day that a suicidal seventeen-year-old turns into a singing sensation, but that is exactly what happened in the case of young Ashley Frangipane. Ever since her first song, Halsey has been an advocate in the music industry who has always worked to remain uncensored and unlimited in her music. Her music has broken barriers and built bridges for so many artists who came after her. She is an icon and a beacon of hope in the male-dominated music industry. Halsey’s impact comes from her willingness to utilize her platform and their refusal to conform to what others may want.

From day one, Halsey has incorporated very serious themes into her music and has never once shied away from darker subjects. Halsey’s very first album, Badlands, already supports the dark narrative that Halsey’s music spreads. According to Halsey, Badlands is a concept album focusing on the fictional dystopian society known as The Badlands. A desert wasteland surrounds the city, keeping the inhabitants of The Badlands captive. (Rome) She used the Badlands as a metaphor for her struggles and mental health issues. These issues, according to her, created barriers she could not surpass and held her captive in her mind. (Morris) The Album’s tracks cover topics like insanity, mental health, anxiety, death, and drug use. At the time, most of these topics were rarely discussed and were certainly not subject matter that an artist would want to start their career with; but Halsey did not care. Every song that she writes tells a piece of her story and she refuses to censor herself. (Morris) Ever since that first album, Halsey has never been anything but honest with her fans. She never once hid her mental health issues and has been incredibly open in interviews and when simply answering questions online. Halsey has always been one to prefer transparency. As her music and influence have evolved, so too have the messages she has given. One of her most recent albums, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, is a “concept album about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth” (Lawson) Its music explores themes of feminism, abortion, self-control, self-worth, and so much more. It is clear that Halsey’s passion for these subjects runs deep within her veins and burns bright within her heart.

Her support for certain causes extends far beyond her music, however. Halsey has never hesitated to use her platform to support the causes she believes in. In her earlier years, she started small, primarily only posting about the causes on Twitter and other social media sites. Slowly but surely, however, Halsey lost her shyness and became much bolder in her activism. In June of 2017, Billboard magazine hosted a pride issue where artists were able to write letters to the
LGBTQ+ community and those letters would be published. While most of these letters were written from an outside perspective, Halsey was able to write hers as a thank-you letter to the community. She writes about all the people in the community who have helped her and whom she looks up to; writers, musicians, fans, drag queens, and even just everyday individuals who don’t let the hate slow them down. (Halsey) Halsey shows unwavering support for the struggle faced by the LGBTQ+ community because she is a piece of it. Halsey has never hidden her sexuality and has become an idol and an icon for LGBTQ+ fans all across the world. This letter, however, is far from the only thing Halsey has written for a cause. In January 2018, amidst the rise of the #MeToo movement, Halsey wrote a poem entitled “A Story Like Mine.” In it, she tells the story of her own experience with sexual assault as well as the experiences of those close to her. The poem is truly heart-breaking as she tells about her best friend’s rape at age 14, her own assault at age 7, and her continued assaults well into her adult life. (Halsey) She talks about how she thought that fame might protect her and how she was quickly proven wrong, how she realized that no one is ever truly safe, and how “we are not free until all of us are free.” (Halsey) Later, in November of that same year, Halsey unveiled another poem. This one was read at the 2018 Glamour’s Women of the Year Summit where Halsey was nominated. This poem, similar to the last one, is about the struggles and hardships faced by women around the world and is titled “Inconvenient Woman.” (Halsey) In the poem, she tells the stories of women all around who have suffered due to being seen as inconvenient; from work and from home, no woman is safe from being inconvenient. In the end, Halsey finishes her statement with one line that sums up what the poem was intended to say; “You were not put on this earth to make everybody else’s life easier. So please, be inconvenient.” (Halsey)

As years went by, Halsey never stopped being inconvenient to those who tried to stamp out her passion. Both 2019 and 2020 saw her becoming more and more active on various social media sites as she pushed for changes that she believed in. She raised money, raised support, and raised spirits for causes across the globe. In 2020, amidst the rallies and protests originating from the Black Lives Matter movement, Halsey decided to make some things very clear. Halsey herself is of African American descent as her father is black and her mother is European. Despite being biracial, Halsey has readily admitted on Twitter that she is white-passing and that “it’d be an absolute disservice to say ‘we’ when I’m not susceptible to the same violence.” (Willen) This was the beginning of a long stream of tweets and replies in which Halsey speaks about her experience as being biracial and how she feels it is not correct for her to claim a place in the Black community because she has not experienced the same issues that they have. Regardless of the criticism she has faced, Halsey continues to be a very vocal supporter of equal rights and a powerful figure in the fight against racism. Notably, Halsey was seen during the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred in Los Angeles as she was treating the injuries sustained by the civilians that were struck by rubber bullets in the ribs, face, and back. (Tannenbaum) Even when the protests and rallies died out, Halsey continued to be vocal on Twitter and other social media. Due to certain circumstances, a majority of her tweets and posts have been deleted or removed but several screenshots and records of them still exist out there in the infinite expanses of the internet.

Given all of the information stated in the previous paragraphs, what genre would fit Halsey’s style and music most accurately? Would her loud, angry songs land her a place in the Rock genre? Perhaps some of her darker songs may land her in the Alternative genre? Quite a few of her songs seem to fit in the Pop genre, so maybe that is correct? No one has ever been able to place Halsey inside of just one genre, not even the artist herself. According to interviews from as early in her career as 2016, Halsey openly believes that the concept of genres is just absolute bullshit. “Half the records on hip-hop radio are pop records at their core, and half the records in fucking alternative radio are pop. And pop radio doesn’t even know what the fuck it’s doing.” (Marsh) In the same interview, Halsey reveals that her debut album, her only album at the time, was being refused by several radio stations because it didn’t fit with the station’s primary genre. Eventually, she went to various alternative-based stations and pleaded her case to have it played there, saying that ”My music is too dark for pop, too pop for alternative, and urban radio won’t touch it — so we have a record that doesn’t fit in. And what is more alternative than that?” (Marsh) Eventually, several Alternative stations did pick up her music and, when it became clear that the audience enjoyed it, several other stations eventually joined in. Her unique brand of music has been nominated for awards in several different genre sections and it has annoyed critics to no end when they cannot confine her. (Visnyei) Eventually, Halsey was labeled as an alternative-pop artist, combining the two genres she fits most. This designation opened the gateway for more artists to push the boundaries of genre norms and create new and exciting subgenres. As the years have gone by, Halsey’s impact has been seen in the rise and fame of so many artists and songs that are inspired by her. Though few artists have outright stated that Halsey was an influence on them, the changes she inspired in the music world are undeniable.

Another thing that is undeniable about Halsey is her confidence and passion. When I first encountered her music in the spring of 2016, I was blown away by the raw emotion that seemed to leak from headphones and infect my brain. I couldn’t get her voice out of my head. I was only 12 when Halsey’s voice penetrated my soul and ignited a fire that burned me from the inside out until I was forced to stand face-to-face with my inner self. When I stared into my own eyes and saw the desperation and fear that I had tried so hard to bury, I couldn’t deny myself any longer. I began a spiraling path that led to new discoveries and a powerful confidence that I almost lost a few times. These discoveries came to a climax when, at the tender age of 14, I discovered a recording from Halsey’s 2014 performance of “Hold Me Down”. (maddi rath) I watched her dance across the stage with a confidence that I could only dream of having when, at the beginning of one chorus, she dropped to her knees and began to move in a way that made my face grow warm. Part of me wanted to look away and spare myself but my eyes were glued to the video as it continued to play unhindered. That one little clip that I found purely by chance sparked a part of myself that I now wear proudly on my sleeve. Looking back, I can clearly see that that moment was what sparked my discovery of my sexuality. I can proudly say that I am an omnisexual. This discovery was kept secret for a long time as I simply didn’t feel safe being out in my hometown or even amongst my own family. As I grew up, I began to use Halsey’s music as a refuge and her activism as a guide. Her encouragement and poems lived in my head and her passion resided in my heart. I used her words, her poems, her music, and even her tweets to guide me through life. I would not be who I am today had it not been for Halsey.

After everything that Halsey has experienced and seen, it is no wonder that she has such a powerful passion for her art and her influence. Halsey has shown no restraint in utilizing her platform and making her opinions known. She is a fearless artist whose impact, not only in the music industry, is undeniable. From the powerful themes that she makes prevalent in her music to the burning passion she has for social justice, Halsey is one of the most influential artists of
her time. She may not have broken records or won hundreds of awards, but she has set the stage for so many artists who come after her and has made a clear imprint on the music industry. She was one of the first female artists to really put her foot down and say that she was going to run her career how she wanted it rather than what others wanted. She is an inspiration not only to me but to artists and fans across the globe, she may not be the absolute most influential artist, but her impact is undeniable.


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