Author: Nathan Empsall

Strong Women, Strong Albums

NPR just ranked “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women.”

Joni Mitchell clocks in at #1, and obviously Janis Joplin made the top ten as well. Lucinda Williams and Dolly Parton are also in the top 20. Also appearing from the genres this blog covers: Loretta Lynn, Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, the Dixie Chicks, Tammy Wynette, Shania Twain, Joan Baez, Bobbie Gentry, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Alabama Shakes, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Patty Griffin, and Iris DeMint.

Check out the full list. What do you think is missing? What would you put at #1?

Lots of great stuff in other genres from amazing, remarkable women, too, including many women of color. Check it out, and open up your Spotify to look up the artists and albums that are new to you!

Celebrating Transgender Americana and Folk Musicians

Earlier today, Donald Trump announced that he will be banning all transgender men and women from serving in the U.S. military, including the 15,000 currently in the military. This cruel bigotry strips these troops of their livelihoods simply because one man doesn’t like the way they were born, sending a signal to such patriots that they are not welcome here and that we do not thank them for their heroic service. An administration official admitted that this was not because of the negligible medical costs that the president cited in his Tweets, but because of crass political cynicism.

Hard Times No More stands with every patriot who serves and wants to serve in the military, their gender identity or sexual orientation bedamned. We also support transgender rights and persons in general. Every human being on earth is one of God’s children. People are people, and the best way a music blog can help show that is by sharing great music made by artists who happen to be transgender.

Let’s start with Joe Stevens performing “Beyond Me”. Anything that includes a steel guitar is fine by me. This is an artist I’ll be looking into more!

Second, here’s Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “Blue Ridge Mountain,” featuring Yosi Perlstein on fiddle. I love Hurray for the Riff Raff, and there’s nothing in this world like a good fiddle!

Next, Lucas Silveira covers Leonard Cohen.

Here’s Rae Spoon’s “I Will Be A Wall”:

Finally, Laura Jane Grace and Against Me with “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.”

If you’re a cisgender reader who opposes transgender rights, it’s easy to look at a post like this and say “Keep politics and music separate!” Yet if I tried to take away YOUR job, YOUR health care, or YOUR identity, suddenly you would say the conversation is not one about politics, but about life and basic fairness. And you’d be absolutely right – but we’re having that same conversation now, too, just about someone else’s job, health care, and identity.

This post isn’t about electoral politics. Only those who already have power and are already included see questions about basic, fundamental rights as electoral, partisan, or controversial. No, posts about transgender rights and talents like this one are simply posts about life. And when it comes to encouraging society to love EVERYONE and to treat everyone equally, art and art critics have always had a huge role to play.

(This post was largely inspired by Angela Dumlao’s article, “To the cis person angrily sharing news of the Trump transgender military ban.” In it, Angela points out that simply sharing news articles is not enough. They list a number of questions we need to ask ourselves to find out if we’re truly supporting those whose rights are under attack, including, “Do you intake media by trans people? TV? Books? Articles? Art? Music?” I knew Perlsetein was transgender, but realized Angela was right and that I had to go deeper than just one man.)

You Might be Surprised where the FM Radio Plays Hank Williams

When you Google “Washington is,” some of the automatic suggestions are “broken” and “too close to the banks.” Fair enough – when people think Washington, they think politics. But D.C., while a company town, is also the heart of a six-million person metro area, which can be a pretty dynamic place to live.

Why do I bring that up here, on a music blog? Just to give a quick shout to WAMU Bluegrass Country, 105.5 FM, one of the best radio stations in the country. Most local NPR stations focus on classical music, but in our nation’s capitol, it’s bluegrass and Americana, and they do a great job.

This may not be what you think of when you think Capitol Hill, but I just drove home across the Capitol Hill neighborhood cranking Hank Williams – on the FM dial, not a CD player. “The Dick Spottswood Show” played a short 15-minute radio show from 1949 hosted by none other than Hank himself. He sang Pan American, Lovseick Blues, and I Saw the Light, with some great fiddle interludes. There aren’t too many places in the country where you can drive through an urban area loudly singing along to I Saw the Light with a goofy grin.

So, thank you, WAMU. You keep doing you. And you don’t have to visit DC to hear 105.5 – you can listen along live online.

Gotta Love “We Hate Pop Country”

If you saw this morning’s post about my being blocked by We Hate Pop Country – know that it was all a mistake and the post has been deleted! I take it all back. Whether this was Facebook’s glitch or an accident on the part of WHPC editors, who knows and who cares. But it certainly wasn’t their page taking a ham-handed approach to comments, politics, or diversity. Quite the opposite. Many thanks to them for their speed, professionalism, and courtesy.

We know return you to your regularly scheduled meme sharing.


Three Hours of Springsteen Live Feels Like 30 Minutes

There are no more piano dancing or knee slides, but even at 66, the Boss rocked Hartford, CT, for more than three hours last night, even crowdsurfing across the entire pit as part of the E Street Band’s “The River Tour.”

IMAG6793_BURSTSHOT002_1While I will never get tired of screaming along to “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and “Dancing in the Dark” during the encore with the house lights up, the highlight of my fourth Springsteen concert in ten years was Nils’ extended guitar solo on “Because the Night.” It was the greatest guitar playing I have ever seen live, bar none, HOLY WOW. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing/seeing!!! I’ll remember that one forever.

As I noted, this was part of The River Tour, which means that every night, the band plays the 1980 album “The River” in its entirety. That made the concert a bit different than most E Street Band shows, with a lot of deep cuts showcasing the Boss’s excellent songwriting and the coherence of an emotional album (Drive All Night? Independence Day? The River itself?) to really create an intimate feel. It also meant less room for crowd favorites. There was no Born in the USA, no Glory Days, and nothing post-Rising. The band intros were also less theatrical than usual, and Patti Scialfa took the night off.

But there were plenty of other highlights to make for a great night:

  • Bruce’s emotional introductions to songs from the River
  • The inclusion of a “Shout” cover and “Cover Me” on the setlist
  • Amazing performances of Rosalita, Two Hearts, Hungry Heart, Ramrod, and more
  • As always, pulling up several women from the crowd for Dancing in the Dark (including a dance partner for keyboardist Roy Bittan – her sign said she wanted to dance with “Lil’ Boy Roy” on her birthday!)
  • Featured sax player Jake Clemons, four years in as a featured player, does his late uncle Clarence proud, but Clarence is definitely missed
  • And whenever Bruce, Nils, Stevie, Jake, and Suzie jam or sing around a single mic, they really seem like family. It’s such a close and fun feel. All the feels, in fact.

IMAG6791_1 (1)I think Springsteen will keep playing for another 20 years, but we’ll likely see more and more of his acoustic and folk-rock sides. As its members age – may Clarence and Danny rest in peace, we miss y’all – the E Street Band is probably nearing the end of its raucous run. I’m thrilled I’ve gotten to see them three times in the last ten years (in addition to non-E Street Springsteen shows); I hope this wasn’t my final one. Thank you for a great night as always!