I had a discussion with my nephew recently, about the Tragically Hip, Jason Collett, and Jack Johnson. To my amazement, he had seen all of the above in concert recently, and enjoyed them. To his amazement, there were actually compact discs with these artists’ music on them. “Oh,” he said, “I’ve never seen a Hip CD before.” Well, the times they are a-changin’, and there is a Bob Dylan Christmas CD this year, Christmas in the Heart, complete with a somewhat tremulous version of “Little Drummer Boy”, which I admit I would rather listen to than Johnny Cash’s version, recorded back in 1959. Be that as it may, or as Buffalo Springfield has it, for what it’s worth, there probably has never been a more exciting, energizing time to be a consumer, aficionado or fan of popular music.
Monsters of Folk are a so-called supergroup, though I prefer the term composite, and in a good way. Any band that has both Jim James and Conor Oberst in it, actually efforting their work, cannot be bad. The precocious, effortlessly pleasing song “Say Please” is just the tip of the iceburg. Iceberg? Another such band is called the Dead Weather. I am not a rabid fan of the White Stripes, to be honest, but this project, with Jack White taking turns at the microphone with Alison Mosshart of the Kills, and searing and roebucking his way through so many memorable guitar moments it makes you think of Jeff Beck on a very, very good day, is a complete rock of ages. If you close your eyes, on some songs you may feel like Keanu Reeves, but confused as to whether you are him as Neo or Ted. Timber Timbre is a Canadian artist worthy of the tag (that is, artist, since he is incontestably Canadian) with a great voice and a little something to say. He was scheduled to play Vancouver recently, and the venue was St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church, on Burrard. Unfortunately the main act had to cancel, but with his devout following, Timber Timbre made a religion of his own at the Biltmore, instead.
Two bands that seem inextricably linked are Eels and Wilco. Neither is anything but an acquired taste, to some degree, although Eels hit it big with “My Beloved Monster and Me” on the Shrek soundtrack. Predictably, I suppose, that is one of their least interesting songs. Wilco’s new work is called Wilco (The Album), anachronistically enough. And the first track is “Wilco (The Song)”. You will forgive the potentially overbearing irony once you listen to it, since Jeff Tweedy and his band hit all the right notes, and are basically on a huge winning streak, since this is their third uniformly excellent disc in a row.
Finally, it may well be time to revisit Steely Dan. How they sourced their band name is something you can Google, and I promise you it is not nearly as fascinating as many have made it out to be. But the music, especially on the two magisterial pop homilies called Aja and Gaucho, will have you forging the tenets of your own desert island commune any day now. Wine and beer, no Kool-Aid. The only thing that will bring it all home is the 50th anniversary of the Miles Davis collaboration with Gil Evans, called Sketches of Spain. Yes, 50 years. The remastered anniversary edition has some great notes, but the sound is sterling, a reminder of how great Miles was, and how great jazz is. But also, a reminder, via Steely Dan among many others, that jazz music is not an isolated thing, but rather, part of a musical dreamcoat whole.