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Tim Finn Reviews New Releases From Tipper, Bones Owens, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings And Steve Earle

Tim Finn Reviews New Releases From Tipper, Bones Owens, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings And Steve Earle

Posted by Timothy Finn (For over 20 years Tim was the Music Editor for the Kansas City Star and currently contributes to In Kansas City magazine and 90.9 the Bridge.) on 24th Mar 2021


TIPPER || Broken Soul Jamboree

David Tipper is a British composer, producer, DJ, turntablist and sound alchemist beloved by those with the patience and imagination to appreciate his unique and nimble ways of assembling, weaving and collating sounds (found, organic and artificial) into other-worldly compositions.

Over the course of 13 tracks that span an hour, Tipper renders a series of aberrant but fetching soundscapes, the kinds that have earned his music nicknames like glitch-hop or blip-hop – or come up with your own word that signifies the many sharp deviations from its trip-hop roots. For example, the opener, “Big Question Small Head,” features a dozen or more noises: handclaps, keyboards, wind chimes, congas and various electronic screeches, burps, farts, tweets, etc., as it floats and ambles from start to finish.

The mood changes throughout, from ethereal to sinister to soul-lifting to ominous and bleak. But it sticks close to its hypnotic/narcotic core, like a soundtrack to a sleepwalking-dream haze.

Don't expect “Jamboree” to service your need for latent background noise, however. Tipper's way of unleashing the unexpected will invariably arouse your sense of wonder and apprehend your attention.

BONES OWENS || Bones Owens

Like Nathaniel Rateliff, Owens was raised on the music of his native rural Missouri: gospel, bluegrass, country, folk. And it showed on his initial recordings, which fit neatly under the “Americana/roots” tent. On his self-titled full-length, however, he swerves into other classic dimensions: early rock, garage rock, psychedelic rock and other big-mouth-guitar-laden sounds of the '60s and '70s, with a few curve balls in the mix.

The opener, “Keep It Close,” sounds like an Oasis anthem hijacked by the Black Keys—a reference that arises throughout the album, like in the opener “White Lightning,” a gritty blues assault that reeks of beer, sweat and motorcycle exhaust.

“Good Days” is a stormy, leather-clad pop-blues ditty. “When I Think About Love” opens with a riff that will make you think of “Rock and Roll, Hootchie Koo” before careening into another melodic blues-rock frenzy (with some heady background vocals in its sidecar). And “Waves” deploys a pastiche of groove-happy traits from the early days of the rock-blues communion.

File under: heavy pop with lean, mean guitars and homage to its elders.

GILLIAN WELCH and DAVID RAWLINGS || All the Good Times

This odds-and-sods collection of covers puts the words and music of various masters into different shadows and lights.

Most poignant: John Prine's “Hello In There,” with Welch on lead vocals, which bears a heavier message in the wake of Prine's death from Covid-19 in April 2020: “You know that old trees just grow stronger / And old rivers grow wilder every day / Old people just grow lonesome / Waitin' for someone to say, 'Hello in there, hello.'”

Elsewhere, with Rawlings singing lead, the pair deconstruct and re-fashion Dylan's “Abandoned Love” and “Señor” and turn “Jackson” into a memoir that is warm and breezy—nothing like Johnny and June's fiery pepper sprout.

Longtime fans will embrace this unvarnished reel-to-reel recording, which delivers the duo's most vital virtues:

supernal harmonies and bursts of inventive guitar play.

STEVE EARLE and THE DUKES || J.T.

“J.T.” stands for Justin Townes, Earle's only child, a songwriter who inherited more from his father than a way of composing poetic phrases and setting them to appealing melodies.

Like his dad, Justin suffered battled substance. Unlike his father, who has been clean/straight/sober for decades, Justin succumbed to his illness, despite nine separate stays in rehab clinics. He died in August 2020 of an accidental overdose of cocaine laced with fentayl.

Several months later, Steve Earle, gut-punched and aggrieved, announced he and his band would record a tribute to his son and his music. This is the result: a collection of nine Justin Townes songs, plus a valediction/eulogy at album's end written from father to son.

The album's tragic backstory infuses each song with an emotional heft – a mix of sorrow, melancholy, grief and love – that brings into keener focus Justin Townes' refined musical and literary gifts. He is the rare songwriter who spares neither words nor melody in crafting his songs – something his father could fall short of at times. And Justin's studio albums typically bore a precision and sheen that his father had little use for.

Here, though, Steve Earle's touch is sincere and appropriate. The arrangements feel live and earnest; his voice raw and gritty. The gothic “Harlem River Blues,” one of Justin's best-ever songs, is transformed nimbly into a bittersweet gospel-ish anthem that is at once bittersweet and joyous—a cathartic letting of anguish and love.

Earle focused primarily on his son's early material, songs that address neither himself nor J.T.'s mother but, instead, express the sentiments and sadness that tormented his son: feelings of loneliness, isolation and wanderlust; and with titles that now bear a different weight: “I Don't Care,” “Ain't Glad I'm Leaving” and “Turn Out My Lights.”

The album ends with “Last Words,” a dark, austere hymn from father to son – birth to death, first breath to last – that recalls the last words they shared: “ Last thing I said was 'I love you' / Your last words to me were … 'I love you, too.' ”

As if we needed a reminder these days, Earle leaves us with an advisement, which is also this album's lesson: Hold your loved ones close and appreciate their talents and virtues often because … you never know.