Album Reviews: “Marfa Tapes” By Miranda Lambert And Her Songwriter Buddies In Texas Is A Rude Wonder | Culture & Leisure
Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert and Jon Randall
(Vanner Records / RCA Nashville; 3.5 stars)
Miranda Lambert and her pals Jack Ingram and Jon Randall first visited together in 2016 to Marfa, Texas. a country concert staple the size of a Lambert arena on a return trip.
So with a pandemic putting an end to the music industry, what were the three friends of Lone Star State to do if not return to the high desert home of sculptor Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation and the atmospheric phenomenon of the Marfa Lights? ? Last September, Ingram, Lambert and Randall gathered around the campfire, seeking to regain the in-person intimacy that COVID-19 has robbed of so many musicians.
Documenting their efforts on a voice notes app for iPhone, “The Marfa Tapes” is a wonderful spontaneous hit. It is intentionally unpolished: logs crackle, the wind howls, border patrol helicopters fly overhead. Laughter and mistakes are not suppressed.
Of course, this lack of polish could appear as a display of performative authenticity. But “The Marfa Tapes” avoids such pitfalls, thanks to quality writing. “Tin Man” and “Tequila Does” are covered, but the other 13 loosely played songs are all new high-order traditional country songs.
Lambert is the focal point, and it’s a big deal for an artist of her size to take a legitimate musical risk. But while she handles most of the lead vocals, Ingram and Randall are also featured, and their musical camaraderie is undeniable.
When Randall sings the lead on “Homegrown Tomatoes” (not Guy Clark’s song), Lambert’s focus on his vocal harmony is evident. “Nailed!” She compliments herself, before the moment passes. Yes you did.
Marianne Faithfull with Warren Ellis
“I was half in love with easy death,” recites Marianne Faithfull on “She Walks in Beauty”, her album of romantic poems set to ambient sound by Warren Ellis, the Dirty Three and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds.
She seems sincere and engaged in this line from “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats. Faithfull, 74, is a survivor of Rolling Stones and suicide attempt scandals, heroin addiction and homelessness, breast cancer and recently COVID-19.
His long career has gone from classic ’60s British pop to punk fury (“Broken English” from 1979) to masterful performances (“Strange Weather” from 1987) to wise ruminations (“Negative Capability” from 2018, including the title is also comes from Keats).
On “She Walks in Beauty,” Faithfull performs canonical poems from the early 1800s by Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson and others. The gravity of her chic, weathered voice suits familiar lyrics such as “Ozymandias”, “To Autumn” and “The Lady of Shalott”.
Faithfull started “She Walks in Beauty” before the pandemic, and she and Ellis completed the project after her fatal battle with COVID-19. Ellis mostly stays away from Faithfull’s captivating vocals, content to create shimmering and wavy musical backgrounds with the help of Brian Eno, Nick Cave and cellist Vincent Ségal.
The readings are respectful, but not heavy. They sound both traditional and contemporary.
“Don’t go tell your mom”
(New Funk Academy / Black Canopy; 2.5 stars)
“Don’t Go Tellin ‘Your Momma” makes a lot of sense when you learn that rapper Topaz Jones, of Montclair, NJ, is the son of a funk musician dad and an activist-college mom. His music combines a funky, Sly and Family Stone philosophy of ensemble creation with a radical social conscience, a powerful blend best taken in one session.
Jones sings and raps alongside choirs, recordings of his friends and family, and his own layered voice. Crooning, exhorting or simply letting the bars fly, each voice on the album demands the same recognition: that their darkness and their humanity be treated as one and the same.
It’s a common affair, from the image on the cover to an accompanying visual album that undermines Jones’ hometown for material. The mood is more hazy than the house party, but creating that group intimacy seems like what Jones was aiming for.
For all the sonic inspiration the album draws from the past – velvety guitars, outer-space keyboards – Jones’ eyes are on the future. The things worth preserving will continue to be passed on, as he sings on the standout “Herringbone”, but what’s next? Could the generation of new forms, new ideas and new expressions be the answer?
On “Baba 70S” Jones remembers when it seemed like a pair of Nikes was all he needed. “But by the time I got them, they were no longer in fashion,” he recalls. “God has a sense of humor, learn to smile.”
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