Utne Reader is proud to premiere the latest from Seattle singer-songwriter Eric Anderson, a.k.a. Cataldo. Gilded Oldies, released today, finds Anderson making music less or the sake of his career or to please others, and more for the sake of musical growth, from a place of true inspiration. Below is the album's title track. Gilded Oldies is available now through Cataldo's Bandcamp page.
Utne Reader is proud to premiere the song "One In A Million" by Welsh singer-songwriter Judith Owen. On her latest album Ebb and Flow, Owens celebrates the 1970s troubadour sound with a backing band comprised of players that were on the landmark albums from the era including those by Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne.
Owen is married to actor and humorist Harry Shearer, and in addition to her solo work, she has for many years been Richard Thompson’s female foil of choice. Both have appeared on each other's albums and Owen played a leading collaborative part in Thompson's projects 1000 Years Of Popular Music and Cabaret of Souls.
What is the story behind "One In A Million"? What was the writing process behind this song?
It's a "Grass is Always Greener" song, based upon a conversation I once had with a friend whose disappointments and self-loathing barred her from seeing her own remarkable strengths and achievements. Hearing her talk not only made me outraged on her behalf, but allowed me to see how similarly I'd viewed myself and my own life to date.
Simply put, it's a plea for us all not to judge ourselves by how others seem to be doing, but on who we are as individuals. Like many of my songs it's about finding compassion through the shared experience. It's an uplifting and cathartic message and musically, that's the anthemic feeling I wanted when writing it.
How did you come to work with your backing band of Lee Sklar, Waddy Wachtel, and Russ Kunkel?
I spent some of my happiest family road trips singing along to the likes of James Taylor and Carole King, and when my dad passed recently, I decided to make one of my childhood fantasies a reality and finally work with those players. So I put my brave hat on, picked up the phone, asked them, and thankfully they said yes! It's been the most "hand in glove" experience of my career to date, a dream come true all the way from London to Laurel Canyon!
How would you describe the sound of 'Ebb & Flow'?
It's my love letter to the 1970's Troubadours. Equal parts James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell & early Elton John … the musicians I grew up listening to and who most influenced my style of singer-songwriting. Storytelling and beautiful melodies, a long drive home, or red wine by the fire—that's the mood!
After this album, what's next for you?
Touring and more touring—it's what I love the most. I have to say that the prospect of finally performing this album live with Lee, Waddy, and Russ, has me truly excited. I know once we hit the road the songs will just get richer and deeper. I've waited a long time to work with these legendary players, so I plan to indulge in their brilliance. Of course, I'll cry when it's all over (being a complete drama queen). After that, I'll have a quick lie down before gearing up for the next one!
Utne Reader is proud to premiere the song "Wallwalker" by D. Charles Speer & the Helix off their new record, Doubled Exposure, out Feb. 25 on Thrill Jockey.
While you're listening to the song, get to know the people behind the music a little better:
Band name: D. Charles Speer & the Helix
Hailing from: Brooklyn, NY
Band members and their instruments: Dave Shuford, guitar & vocals; Hans Chew, keyboards; Steve McGuirl, drums; Ted Robinson, bass; Marc Orleans, pedal steel guitar; and Margot Bianca, vocals.
Describe your music in one to five words: Voraciously engaged but cynical.
Been listening to lately: Dark - Round the Edges; Craig Leon - Nommos; Endless Boogie - Long Island; Fotheringay - Essen 1970; Greek Rhapsody compilation; Love Apple 12-inch; Men in Blazers podcast; Gene Clark - White Light demos.
Band’s spirit animal and why: Tiger - that is my Chinese astrological symbol (Wood Tiger). Plus, I am obsessed with felines.
Favorite moment from making Doubled Exposure: The live tracking of "Mandorla at Dawn." The session's intensity reached its apex and the walls seemed to move in kind.
Where can we get it? From Thrill Jockey and your favorite local record store!
D. Charles Speer & the Helix tour dates:
3/6 - Brooklyn, NY @ Trans-Pecos
3/7 - Philadelphia, PA @ Ortlieb's w/ Ron Tubman
3/8 - Baltimore, MD @ Holy Frijole's
3/11 - Chapel Hill, NC @ Nightlight
3/12 - Asheville, NC @ Static Age Records Back Room
3/13 - Atlanta, GA @ WonderRoot w/ Lux Noise, Jason Howell
3/14 - Nashville, TN @ Stone Fox w/ Cherry Blossoms
3/15 - Lexington, KY @ Green Lantern w/ Salad Influence
3/16 - Chicago, IL @ Empty Bottle
3/18 - Detroit, MI @ PJ's Lager House
3/19 - Pittsburgh, PA @ The Shop
Jazz singer/songwriter/guitarist Sean Sullivan showcases his ability to infuse Americana, folk, and blues into his signature Latin jazz sound on his new song "Ready," which Utne Reader is proud to premiere. "Ready" is a cut off his new album, Hereafter, which is out January 21 on SonyRed.
Sullivan is a New York City jazz scene-staple who was mentored by iconic jazz singer/lyricist Jon Hendricks. Through Hendricks, Sean also spent a lot of time with other influential jazz greats including Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Marsalis and more. Sullivan recently shared his thoughts on “Ready,” the new album, and his approach to jazz:
What is the story behind "Ready?" What's its message, and is there a story behind the songwriting/recording process?
Songs are gifts. "Ready" is the kind of no-frills-gut-level-blues I hoped would find me. There's a front-porch-southern-gothic side of me not unlike one of my favorite artists, Mose Allison, whose terse tunes wash away the non-essential like the mighty Mississippi of his birthplace, leaving behind our most endangered natural resource: the truth. As I recall, I was fooling around with a two-note descending melody line in the "guitar key" of E with a lazy "Sun Sessions" feel while maintaining the "one chord" with a relentless ostinato of E in the bass on the sixth string. Out of the blue came a lyric that wrote itself. The opening line of each verse follows the path of life, past, present and future: “I was born,” “I have lived,” “sometimes it kills me,” and “when I die.” “Ready” reminds me of the life I live and schools me every time I sing it.
How has spending time with your jazz mentors/idols (Jon Hendricks, Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Marsalis, Cab Calloway, etc) influenced you as an artist?
Jon Hendricks is an endangered species. He is one of the last enormously accomplished jazz legends who understands the necessity of being both an artist and an entertainer. It was invaluable in my early years to study, hang, and sing with him and watch him work the room with a showbiz wisdom that conjures even vaudeville. Through his invitation I was able to meet and bask in the glow of so many greats like Cab and Wynton, and cop a riff or two. Being hugged and encouraged by Ella felt to me like some folks might feel about being blessed by the Pope or the Dalai Lama!
What can you tell us about Hereafter? How would you describe the album?
The sound of Hereafter is an intuitively filtered expression of wide musical exposure and life experience that is both urban and rural. Equal parts city and country. Schooling and life-schooling. My music is an organic retro/present gumbo of the multi-idiomatic, multi-tempo and improvisatory mindset that fits label-wise most easily under the umbrella known as “jazz.” It has elements of the raw truth of the blues, the purity of folk, and the sweetness of soul. My travels and heritage have created my music. I am Scottish/Irish/English/French/Cherokee. I am a southerner and a northerner. I am an islander. I am a New Yorker. I am an American son.
Hilton Als plays with identity and sets the reader’s mind on uncharted courses of thought in his new book, White Girls.
Longtime New Yorker staffer Hilton Als has written an unusual book with White Girls (McSweeney's, November 2013) It’s been described as being “about” “white girls,” a category reimagined in his sensitive assessment of race and gender to include Richard Pryor and Michael Jackson. This is only partly true. Als writes about these people—along with his mother and sisters, Eminem, Louise Brooks and Vogue editor André Leon Talley—but in a way that shifts constantly and is impossible to categorize neatly.
In one piece he begins with an incisive reading of Eminem’s lyrics and ends on an imagined scene in a nonexistent Sam Peckinpah film of the artist’s life, in which Marshall Mathers the child is shot from above as he sings a song from Lee Breuer’s play The Gospel at Colonus. Another essay is a tender profile of Richard Pryor that originally ran in the New Yorker; the one immediately following it is a genre-bender told from the profane and highly intellectual point of view of Pryor’s sister, who describes her work as a porn film voice-over actress. This is cultural criticism as only Als can do it.
And though Als is a next-level thinker, the emotions in this book get dirty and real. When he rummages through his personal history his language is challenging and rough in its sadness, echoing the attitude of his only other book—first published 17 years ago—The Women. He has a tremendous, almost crushing affection for his subjects, but his treatment of them is often formal and slightly stiff, and insightful as an X-ray. Some of the pieces encourage further investigation (Did Richard Pryor have a sister? Looks that way. Did she work in the porn industry? Don’t know.) and that seems to be the point. Als plays with identity, raises as many questions as he answers, and sets the reader’s mind on uncharted courses of thought. He is above all a writer fascinated by people: their little habits and turns of phrase, their multi-layered sexualities, and their unfathomable relationships to each other or, in the case of his famous subjects, to the world.
In a recent event at Strand Book Store in New York City, Hilton Als talked about White Girls:
Essayist William Bradley shares his list of favorite resources for people interested in creative nonfiction.
Many of us are aware of the fantastic essays published in respected, high-profile magazines like The New Yorker and Harper’s. But for those of you looking for less well-known sources for compelling, thought-provoking essays, I offer the following list of magazines and other resources:
- Creative Nonfiction: There’s a temptation to call Creative Nonfiction “the magazine that started it all.” That’s not entirely accurate—Montaigne gave us the essay form in the 16th century, after all. Still, it’s impossible to understate the impact this magazine—the first that I know of devoted exclusively to nonfiction forms of literary expression—has had on this genre. Their website has a pretty generous selection of online reprints of pieces that originally appeared in the print magazine.
- Fourth Genre: Fourth Genre has been around almost as long as Creative Nonfiction, and it too specializes in nonfiction forms, the essay included. I particularly enjoy reading (and, occasionally, writing) their book reviews, which are longer than standard book reviews and function more like essays centered around literature in general and the reviewed books specifically.
- Hotel Amerika: Hotel Amerika is not, strictly speaking, a nonfiction magazine—they publish all genres. But their nonfiction is frequently bold, often formally daring, and is always compelling.
-The Normal School: Hands-down, my current favorite literary magazine. Founded by Steven Church, Sophie Beck, and Matt Roberts (among others) in 2008, The Normal School’s very first issue featured poetry from Philip Levine, fiction by Steve Almond, and nonfiction from Dinty W. Moore. They publish a healthy mix of established and emerging talents, too.
-The Pinch: Another multi-genre magazine, edited by Kristen Iversen, author of the acclaimed memoir Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. The Pinch may be most notable for finding new, up-and-coming voices, and the essays they publish are top-notch.
- River Teeth: I can’t really put it better than Robert Atwan, who wrote in this year’s Best American Essaysanthology, “Although the general reading public may not be familiar with the journal, [River Teeth] is well known to nonfiction writers for its exacting standards and wide-ranging topics.” So I won’t even try.
Online magazines and websites:
- Bending Genre: This online resource came about after Nicole Walker and Margot Singer published their essay anthology Bending Genre. The book itself sought to delineate and question the lines between fact and fiction in creative nonfiction writing; the website presents genre-bending work by the authors whose essays appear in the collection and, recently, other author the editors admire.
- Brevity: Founded in 1997 by editor Dinty W. Moore, Brevity is an excellent online magazine of brief (fewer than 750 words) nonfiction, from some of the best writers in the field including Sherman Alexie, Lia Purpura, Bob Cowser Jr, Jill Talbot, Judith Kitchen, and more. All of their back issues are available online, and for free. For news and commentary about essays and other creative nonfiction forms, check out The Brevity Blog, updated just about every day.
- Essay Daily: Established by Ander Monson (one of the most compelling essayists writing today), this blog is exactly what it sounds like—an ongoing discussion of essays, written by essayists both prominent and promising, updated every day. Indispensible for any lover of the form.
- Quotidiana: This collection of classical essays available through public domain is curated by essayist Patrick Madden. While many of these essays are available elsewhere online, many are not, and it’s rather amazing to see so many essays by so many essayists—from the fifth to the twentieth centuries—arranged in one place. You could spend days reading these essays, and still feel like you’d only scratched the surface.
- Sweet: A Literary Confection: I often think of Sweet —which was founded and is edited by Ira Sukrungruang, Katherine Riegel, and K.C. Wolfe—as “that new online magazine of poetry and creative nonfiction.” It’s not really new at all—it’s been around for years. And in those years, they’ve published some great works by the likes of Joe Bonomo, Lee Martin, Michael Martone, Brenda Miller, Maureen Stanton, Nicole Walker, and many others. It’s well worth your time.
William Bradley's essay"Acquiring Empathy Through Essays" was recently published in Utne Reader (January/February 2014). His work has appeared in a variety of magazines and journals including The Missouri Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and College English. Three of his essays have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and one,"The Bald and the Beautiful," was listed as a "Notable Essay of 2005" in that year's Best American Essays anthology. He lives in New York's North Country, where he teaches at St. Lawrence University and has recently finished revising his own essay collection.
Photo courtesy katerha, licensed under Creative Commons.
France-based singer-songwriter Piers Faccini unveils poignant, animated video for "Missing Words."
If you watch NBC’s “Parenthood” or ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” you’ve probably heard the music of singer-songwriter Piers Faccini. The songsmith is also a very capable director, as he proves with the video for “Missing Words,” which Utne Reader is pleased to premiere.
“Missing Words” is from Faccini’s latest album, Between Dogs and Wolves, and the animated video features more 200 paper silhouettes coming to life. The moving silhouettes are the perfect complement to Faccini’s lyrics about words unspoken and words fatefully left behind.
An intimate suite of songs on the themes of love and desire, Between Dogs and Wolves depicts the unknowable and indefinable spaces between these themes, spirit and animal, between the wild and the tamed. Faccini's haunting voice is front-and-center in the mix, and he performs on an eclectic collection of instruments (guitar, harmonium, dulcimer, kora, etc.) alongside special guests Jules Bikoko (bass, harmony vocals) and labelmate Dom la Nena (cello, harmony vocals). Between Dogs and Wolves is available now through Six Degree Records, and through iTunes.
Photo by Alice Dison