My new Nation column is called What Ailes the Media? (A biography by Gabriel Sherman clarifies the Fox impresario’s role in his network’s deceptions.)
Alter-reviews: Jason Isbell, Suzy Bogguss, Steve Earle, Loser’s Lounge and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis
1) Jason Isbell
I’ve seen a lot of music of late and felt pretty lucky to have done so. It began with a performance of Jason Isbell and his terrific band at the American Songbook series at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Jason put out what many people think is the most worthwhile album of last year, Southeastern, and I see that he won all kinds of awards. The show was being filmed and the full 400 Unit, named after after the psychiatric ward of a hospital near Muscle Shoals, (with horns flown in from Birmingham that day) and while the show had a certain amount of hyper-seriousness, it also rocked in a way that justified all of the accolades and then some. Isbell has a remarkably winning stage presence and a fine band, and the songs sound even better live. Yes, "Cover Me Up" and the powerful "Elephant" kicked proverbial posterior but my favorite was the unlikely encore of “Can You Hear Me Knocking.” We can all look forward to many more such albums and shows, now that Isbell has straighened out his life and has an excellent fiddler/wife Amanda Shires to keep him on the straight and narrow. Check out the rest of their schedule.
2) Suzy Bogguss
A second recent highlight of my music-going year so far was the Highline show to celebrate the release of Lucky, Suzy Bogguss's 12-song album of Merle Haggard songs. Merle is one of the weirdly under-rated songwriter, which is particularly odd, given that he has sold more records than almost anybody else on earth and nobody disputes what a terrific singer he is. But there it is and so Suzy Bogguss’s idea to bring her beautiful voice and appropriate reverence to these songs was an inspired idea. The performances themselves are beautiful and she had her band with her from Nashville and, while the performances were loose—it was their first gig—they had depth and warmth—a lot like Suzy’s voice. The highlights, if I were forced to pick them, were "I Think I'll Just Stay Here And Drink," and "Today I Started Loving You Again."