Scott Walker 101

 

This is...Scott WalkerA “virtual” single-CD overview of the music of Scott Walker.  He most definitely has more than one disc of great material, so this necessarily leaves off a lot.  I’ve tried to make sure important aspects of his music are represented somewhere, though not always as fully as each one deserves.

  1. “Prologue” from ‘Til the Band Comes in
  2. “The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated to the Neo-Stalinist Regime)” from Scott 4
  3. “Track 3” from Climate of Hunter
  4. The Walker Brothers “People Get Ready” from Portrait
  5. “The Lady Came from Baltimore” from Scott
  6. “Duchess” from Scott 4
  7. “Thanks for Chicago Mr. James” from ‘Til the Band Comes in
  8. “Joanna” (single)
  9. “I’ll Be Home” from Stretch
  10. “The War Is Over (Epilogue)” from ‘Til the Band Comes in
  11. “Montague Terrace (In Blue)” from Scott
  12. “It’s Raining Today” from Scott 3
  13. “Sons of” from Scott 3
  14. “We Came Through” from Scott 3
  15. “The Seventh Seal” from Scott 4
  16. “Hero of the War” from Scott 4
  17. “Rhymes of Goodbye” from Scott 4
  18. “Farmer in the City” from Tilt
  19. “Bouncer See Bouncer…” from Tilt
  20. “Jesse” from The Drift
  21. “Blanket Roll Blues” from Climate of Hunter

Insurgent Country Primer

A primer highlighting the development of Insurgent/Alt Country music, meaning the genre that blended country with punk, alternative rock and the like.  While primarily a phenomenon of the 1990s and early 2000s, it can be traced further back, and its roots extend even further back into the closely related but still somewhat different “country rock” genre.

 

Roots and Influences:

 

Rising Sons

Rising Sons

Rising Sons featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder (1992)

One of the earliest country rock bands.  They didn’t record much, and released almost nothing during their existence.  Nonetheless, a talented group that influenced many through their live performances.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo

The Byrds

Sweetheart of the Rodeo (1968)

Not the first country rock album (at the least, International Submarine Band beat them to it).  But this remains the most popular early country rock album.

Guilded Palace of Sin

The Flying Burrito Bros

The Gilded Palace of Sin (1969)

Probably the pinnacle of the country rock genre.  Note that Gram Parsons is starting to be involved with a lot of these albums.

Workinman's Dead

Grateful Dead

Workingman’s Dead (1970)

The Grateful Dead took a surprising turn with Workingman’s Dead and developed a bluegrass and country inflected sound.  They played a key role through the years in maintaining an interest in country music amongst rock audiences.

Lost in the Ozone

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

Lost in the Ozone (1971)

Though Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen tend to be associated primarily with the “outlaw country” movement, songs like their version of “Hot Rod Lincoln” were starting to inject a little more crazed rock ‘n roll energy into country rock.

Hi, Low and In Between

Townes Van Zandt

High, Low and In Between (1972)

Townes Van Zandt is probably the earliest example of the attitudes and sentiments that would dominate much of the golden age of alt/insurgent country.  Much of his material is fairly called straight country, or at times even of a folky singer-songwriter variety, but on High, Low and in Between he started using more rock-oriented instrumentation.

One Road More

The Flatlanders

One Road More (1980)

The Flatlanders took what Townes Van Zandt suggested and ran with it.  They paired a more retro early country flavor (think Carter Family era) with a lyrical sensibility that suggested they were also listening to the psychedelic rock the hippies were playing.  Their first recordings didn’t see a proper release for eight years, after member Joe Ely had hooked up with The Clash — which is a testament to how the sensibilities of insurgent country represented the common ground between rural folk and urban counterculture of the punk era.

Don't Cry Now

Linda Ronstadt

Don’t Cry Now (1973)

It would be unfair to ignore the contributions of both mainstream acts and female artists to country rock.  Linda Ronstadt blended country with pop (and rock) into a smooth, professional “L.A.” sound that bore many similarities to later insurgent country acts like The Jayhawks, Cowboy Junkies and even Alejandro Escovedo, particularly through an emphasis on detached expressions of personal identity in music that rarely appeared in “straight” country.

Grievous Angel

Gram Parsons

Grievous Angel (1974)

Gram Parsons was all over many of the earliest country rock albums.  His contributions, both solo and in various groups, cleared a space in which the foundations of insurgent country were laid.  He had a well-heeled, if somewhat troubled upbringing, and was something of a problem child who strayed from the most probable career path his elitist educational background would suggest, which actually says a lot about the social milieu that developed and gravitated toward country rock, etc.

Elite Hotel

Emmylou Harris

Elite Hotel (1975)

Emmylou picked right up where the late Gram Parsons left off, and brought an even more exquisitely sensitive voice to achy, twangy American folk music played over rock rhythms.

American Stars 'n Bars

Neil Young

American Stars ‘n Bars (1977)

Coming within a stone’s throw of insurgent country is this “black sheep” of the Neil Young catalog.  It’s not all country, but the parts that are inject a particular type of bleary, raucous rock sensibility that would carry forward into the actual insurgent country era.

 

Insurgent/Alt Country:

American Music

The Blasters

American Music (1980)

Although not exclusively “insurgent country” in sound, The Blasters were part of the earliest efforts to bring the energy of punk together with country music.  Many L.A. groups were involved with the evolution of the music.  American Music was one of the first examples of a recording you could start to clearly differentiate from country rock.

Reckless Country Soul

Jason & The Scorchers

Reckless Country Soul (1982) [EP]
Meat Puppets II

Meat Puppets

Meat Puppets II (1984)

Further efforts to explore country music alongside punk and psychedelic influences.

Fear and Whiskey

Mekons

Fear and Whiskey (1985)

Punk legends the Mekons delved into what some call “cowpunk”.

Guitar Town

Steve Earle

Guitar Town (1986)

Sort of the curmudgeon of the genre, Steve Earle also is frequently cited as one of its best songwriters.  After some substance abuse problems, he bounced back in the 1990s during the heights of the movement (I Feel Alright, etc.).

Prison Bound

Social Distortion

Prison Bound (1988)

Not as talented as songwriters or performers as many other alt-country types, Social Distortion still did connect a lot of punk rockers with country influences.

Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams (1988)

Lucinda Williams was one of the more critically acclaimed singer-songwriters of the golden age of alt country.  Her self-titled album from 1988 helped introduce country trappings to a “college rock” audience; later albums like Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998) were even better.

The Trinity Session

Cowboy Junkies

The Trinity Session (1988)

Insurgent/alt country was for the most part under the radar through the 1980s.  But Cowboy Junkies definitely raised its profile.  The more pop leanings of the group helped in that regard.

No Depression

Uncle Tupelo

No Depression (1990)

Although by no means the group’s best album (that would probably be Anodyne), No Depression really was the clarion call for the golden age of insurgent country.  Band members Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar later went on to form other influential groups.  The name of the album comes from a song (“No Depression in Heaven”) popularized by The Carter Family, and the leading magazine of the genre took the same name.  From this point on there was no denying that there was a broad and distinct “insurgent country” movement underway.

Tomorrow the Green Grass

The Jayhawks

Tomorrow the Green Grass (1993)

The Jayhawks were one of the more polished alt country groups.  Like The Blasters, their interests went beyond just country, but The Jayhawks had a more mellow pop sound.

New West Motel

The Walkabouts

New West Motel (1993)
Trace

Son Volt

Trace (1995)

Jay Farrar started Son Volt after the breakup of Uncle Tupelo, and carried on with a similar sound.

Wrecking Ball

Emmylou Harris

Wrecking Ball (1995)

Emmylou moved away from Gram Parsons-style country rock toward more straight country in the 1980s, but then made a comeback within the insurgent country fold in the mid-1990s.

Old Paint

Freakwater

Old Paint (1995)

Freakwater focused on “old timey” country, with more modern lyrical sensibilities.

Sackcloth 'n' Ashes

Sixteen Horsepower

Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes (1996)

16 Horsepower played goth country.

Too Far to Care

Old 97’s

Too Far to Care (1997)

Old 97s were one of the most loved insurgent country groups among audiences traditionally associated with “college rock”.  They were capable of better songwriting than most.

Strangers Almanac

Whiskeytown

Strangers Almanac (1997)

Led by Ryan Adams, Whiskeytown brought smooth pop and “heartland” rock sounds into the fabric of country music, with a laid-back demeanor but still capable of rocking a little harder too.  Adams went solo in short order.  Strangers Almanac was one of the more accomplished album-length statements in the genre.

Since

Richard Buckner

Since (1998)
American Water

Silver Jews

American Water (1998)

Among the more left field alt country groups (a territory also inhabited by Calexico and others), Silver Jews were sort of like country plus krautrock.

I See a Darkness

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

I See a Darkness (1999)

Will Oldham, a/k/a Bonnie “Prince” Billy, was another of alt country’s oddballs.  He makes clear the connections between that genre and indie rock.

Exposed Roots: The Best of Alt. Country

[Various Artists]

Exposed Roots: The Best of Alt. Country (1999)

Imperfect, but if you must have a sampler set this might satisfy you.

Nixon

Lambchop

Nixon (2000)

Lambchop are somewhat of an oddity, not clearly aligned with the insurgent country movement, but present throughout it.  Kurt Wagner’s enigmatic vocals have made them a favorite of fans lucky enough to discover the group.

Furnace Room Lullaby

Neko Case & Her Boyfriends

Furnace Room Lullaby (2000)

Neko Case arrived during the height of the insurgent country movement, and won over a lot of fans with her voice and songwriting.  Her later material is more indie rock than country though.

Tarbox Ramblers

Tarbox Ramblers

Tarbox Ramblers (2000)

A sometimes overlooked gem from sort of the tail end of the insurgent country golden age.

Heartbreaker

Ryan Adams

Heartbreaker (2000)

Though perhaps fame went to his head, Ryan Adams was surely among the better songwriters of the alt country world.  Heartbreaker is indicative of much of the last throes of the golden age of alt country, with more slower tempos and torch songs.  He would, however, still occasionally kick things up a notch, as he did later on Jacksonville City Nights, for instance.

The Magnolia Electric Co.

Songs: Ohia

The Magnolia Electric Co. (2003)

As insurgent/alt country shifted further towards a twangy version of indie rock, few acts had the earnestness, pathos or songwriting abilities of Jason Molina and Songs: Ohia — a band that subsequently assumed the name of this album.

Por Vida

Alejandro Escovedo

Por Vida (2004)

Alejandro Escovedo was named by insurgent country magazine No Depression as the musician of the decade in the 1990s.  It’s a fitting title, as he was one of the most talented and consistent voices of the movement.  His studio albums have tended to fall a bit short of the energy of his live performances, though Por Vida comes closest to the feel of his shows — which were hardly ever the same twice.  It bears mentioning that one of Alejandro’s studio albums like Thirteen Years, Gravity, or A Man Under the Influence might be a better starting point though.

For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records

[Various Artists]

For a Decade of Sin: 11 Years of Bloodshot Records (2005)

A look back from the leading record label of the movement.

Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners

Neil Hamburger

Neil Hamburger Sings Country Winners (2008)

A joke, surely, but a meta-joke above all.  This is the country album William Shatner never made.

Chomsky vs. Žižek

Under the category of “old news”, there was a long-distance argument back in 2013 between Noam Chomsky and Slavoj Žižek on the significance (or lack thereof) of each other’s work.

It began with Chomsky describing Žižek’s work as empty “posturing”.  Asked about the comments during a Q&A session for an unrelated presentation, Žižek responded (sort of).  Žižek’s initial “response” seemed rather stupid and full of baseless attacks.  So, Chomsky responded substantively, calling Žižek’s positions “fantasy”.  At that point, Žižek finally prepared a substantive written response.

The winner of this “debate”?  Žižek, clearly.  The early comments from Žižek were gibberish, but also possibly misquoted and certainly “improvised” as he later acknowledged.  But his final response points out some serious flaws in Chomsky’s “philosophy” and some clear hypocrisies.  Chomsky never responded thereafter, as best as can be seen.

For a worthy summary of the debate, and how it really represents a generic one between analytic philosophy (Chomsky) and continental philosophy (Žižek), see The Partially Examined Life.  This is much like the distinction between Isaac Newton’s (analytic) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (continental) views on color.

Zardoz

Zardoz

Zardoz (1974)

Twentieth Century Fox

Director: John Boorman

Main Cast: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton


The strangeness. The red diaper. The moustache and goatee drawn on with marker. Surely, if you’ve read any other review of John Boorman’s Zardoz, or even seen the movie, these things are all common currency. Despite that critical debris, or maybe even because of it, there is cause to look at little deeper and further. Surely, this is an unusual movie. But it’s also not as unprecedented as many reviewers claim. It was unusual mostly by the standards of Hollywood businessmen. And who should care for those standards?

Zardoz primarily concerns itself with a dystopian future as in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but fueled by the sort of elite/destitute class conflict that drives Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, as well as the psychological escapades populating Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo or The Holy Mountain. Yet, here, the emphasis is on a unique sci-fi setting, one that recalls the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and even Silent Running. But, really, the greatest influences seem to come from literature. There is a healthy dose of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (incorporated approvingly), a touch of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, and something of an attempt to rebut the sort of thinking that inhabited Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. There is a bizarre endorsement of violence as essential to human character, but seemingly in line with a Rousseauian pessimism about civil society representing a decay from the nobility of primitive culture.  There is something wrong, flawed, in this.  As an attempt at something meaningful, though, it’s intriguing.

Piketty – Capital in the 21st Century

French economist Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been published in English.  It has become something of a sensation.  My copy from the library can’t possibly be read before it must be returned, so take the following with strong caveat that I haven’t read it cover to cover!  There have been many reviews, and the following is only a selection. What does emerge in many is nothing more than a conclusory and self-serving complaint that Piketty has followed a different set of theories and policy recommendations than the particular ones the reviewer endorses. But the better ones actually provide a substantive analysis of where Piketty’s theory fails, and why. Against that backdrop, it seemed worthwhile to post links to some of the most intriguing comments and reviews, which generally come to the conclusion that the book is most valuable putting forward observational facts, and is less successful in terms of offering theory and policy advice:

Alan Nasser “Apolitical Economy: Democracy and Dynasty (Thomas Piketty and His Discontents)”

Nasser finds Piketty’s overall analysis flawed and muddled, because it is politically naive and neglects such factors as the role of worker and citizen militancy in promoting equality.  The thrust of the critique is that Piketty is in an awkward position where he fails (or refuses) to grasp the implications of his data, and rules out alternative political solutions for reasons he does not justify.  He labels Piketty essentially a neoliberal, yet still commends him for avoiding its “essentially apologetic assertions, the big ones that count[.]” Nasser comes at this from a perspective reminiscent of sociologists Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward (Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail).  It’s an analysis that Nasser fortunately backs up with a substantial number of historical references and well-documented countervailing theories.  Can’t wait for Nasser’s new book to arrive. 

James K. Galbraith, Kapital for the Twenty-First Century?”

Galbraith’s critique of Piketty’s book for Dissent Magazine is the one that has perhaps received the most attention.  “It is a book mainly about the valuation placed on tangible and financial assets, the distribution of those assets through time, and the inheritance of wealth from one generation to the next.”  He is most critical in concluding that Piketty “does not provide a very sound guide to policy. And despite its great ambitions, his book is not the accomplished work of high theory that its title, length, and reception (so far) suggest.”  To back up those statements, Galbraith makes the point that Piketty “conflates physical capital equipment with all forms of money-valued wealth, including land and housing, whether that wealth is in productive use or not.”  Galbraith ties this to the so-called “Cambridge Controversies”, implying that Piketty takes a basically neoliberal approach and has no meaningful response to the English side of the argument (from Joan Robsinson et al.).  He also questions some of Piketty’s claims about his data, noting that payroll data can be used instead of income tax data, but also that “income tax data are . . . only as accurate as tax systems are effective.”

Thomas I. Palley, “The Accidental Controversialist:
Deeper Reflections on Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital'”

Palley discusses the surprising popular success of Piketty’s book in English translation.  “The book’s timing is near-perfect because of awakened political interest in inequality, but its empirical findings are not revolutionary and rising income and wealth inequality have been documented for years, albeit less comprehensively.”  The tone of Palley’s review revolves around Piketty’s insistence that he “discovered” recent trends in inequality, when in fact many others have documented that phenomenon before–albeit less extensively.   In this regard, Piketty made such a “discovery” no more than Christopher Columbus “discovered” an inhabited continent.  Palley provides a useful compendium of sources that pre-date Piketty’s work and which tend to emphasize economic and political power (institutional factors) over the “growth” approach of neoclassical economics.

Michael Hudson, “The 1% and Piketty” and “Piketty’s Wealth Gap Wake Up” and “Piketty vs. the Classical Economic Reformers”

Hudson did interviews on The Real News Network and Renegade Economists both touching on Piketty’s book.  He says, “basically, he’s described the symptoms of what’s wrong. And people are very glad that at least he’s described the symptoms that everybody knew but nobody had spent the three or four years that it took to make all of the charts charts that he’s made.” In one interview Hudson says Piketty statistically “shows that wealth inequality is actually much wider than income inequality . . . .”  But in the other he says “The problem with Piketty’s statistics are that it vastly understates how unequal the world really is . . . .”  “He’s started the discussion by showing the fact of vast inequality. What needs to be done now is to explain how did this inequality come about and what do you do about it?”  He references the excellent Gustavus Myers’ book(s) History of the Great American Fortunes.  Hudson is critical of Piketty’s policy prescriptions.  “[T]he neoliberals love Piketty. That’s why Krugman loves Piketty. You can’t implement it. So he’s produced a book without any solution, and the free enterprise boys like that. The 1 percent don’t mind being criticized as long as there’s no solution to their problem. And that’s what the critics have come out saying . . . .”  “One of the things that Piketty does not discuss when it comes to making fortunes is the role of debt, that most of these fortunes that have taken off since 1980 have taken off because of the increased debt leverage. *** And what to me really has been accelerating wealth at the very top is the financial sector, is the ability of the 1% to get the other 99% in debt to them . . . .” 

EconoSpeak, “Inequality and Sabotage: Piketty, Veblen and Kalecki (for anne at Economist’s View)”

Points out that Piketty’s key arguments have been made by others like Thorstein Veblen long before.  Like Alan Nasser, this article also suggests Piketty is ignoring the role of unions and militant activism in relation to economic inequality.  The curious may also want to read Eric Zencey’s New York Times Op-Ed from April 11, 2009, “Mr. Soddy’s Econological Economy,” which made essentially the same points based on the work of Frederick Soddy.

Seth Ackerman, “Piketty’s Fair-Weather Friends”

Endorses Piketty’s efforts and data collection, but faults him for his confused neoclassical theories.  Goes so far as to say Robinson and Sraffa won the Cambridge Capital Controversies debates (this is in Jacobin Magazine), but actually provides a substantive analysis in support of that conclusion and how it applies to Piketty’s work.  The most significant conclusion here is that Piketty’s data does support the idea that “r” (rate of return on capital) does seem to remain relatively unchanged over time, but “g” (rate of economic growth) does change and the data shows a tendency for it to be lower relative to mid Twentieth Century levels.  The result is that large income inequalities, and ultimately large wealth inequalities, are the norm not an exception.  Ackerman then returns to the idea that a neoclassical, marginalist r > g focus basically misses the real drivers on a theoretical level.  When this review turns to alternative theories and data, rather than pure critique of Piketty’s book, the analysis is curt and less clearly explained.

Philip Pilkington, “Piketty’s Regressive Views on Public Debt and the Potential Impact of His Book”

Calls the book readable, though not well written.  Agrees with Galbraith’s critiques, saying “in some ways, the book is a mess owing to a lack of a solid macroeconomic framework.”  Also, “the history presented in Piketty’s book is selective and . . . ultimately untrustworthy.” 

John McDermott, “Piketty Is No Piketty: Of Capital and Wealth”

He notes that Piketty’s analysis is confused, because, “for Piketty . . . , people and institutions play an almost non-existent role. Only five social ‘phenomena’ escape this erasure; two world wars, the great depression, today’s fabulously rewarded ‘supermanagers’, and a middle class newly able to pass mini-riches to its heirs. For the rest, there are no people and, most notably, no institutions.”  This is a complaint that Piketty follows neoclassical dogma despite its obvious flaws.  To that end, he complains that Piketty’s equation of capital with wealth ignores necessary distinctions between wage-salary income and property income.  He also finds Piketty’s distinction between capital and human capital to be fundamentally incoherent.  Analogizing to Henry George, McDermott notes that Piketty’s proposed solution to the problem of gains from capital exceeding the growth of the rest of the economy is that “One must intervene from outside this process, not to correct it but to correct for it.”  He nonetheless praises Piketty for forcing “the needed discussion about the compatibility of hyper-hyper wealth with the sort of world most of us want to live in.”

Various Authors, Real-World Economics Review, Issue No. 69

An entire issue of this journal was devoted to a critique of Piketty’s book. 

Potemkin Review, “Piketty Interview”

An interview with Piketty in which he acknowledges some of the points raised in the reviews above.

And, to round out this listing, here are some other, sometimes good but sometimes less interesting (if not downright stupid) reviews: Adam David Morton, “Questioning Piketty,” Patrick Bond, “Can World’s Worst Case of Inequality be Fixed by Pikettian Posturing?,” Martin Wolf, “‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, by Thomas Piketty,” Rob Urie, “Off With Their Heads, Thomas Piketty Edition,” Jack Rasmus, “Economists Discover Inequality” (it’s too bad Rasmus doesn’t mention Michael Hudson as someone who has tried to explain what is identified as needing explanation), Slavoj Žižek, “Slavoj Žižek comments on Thomas Piketty’s ‘Le Capital au XXIe siècle’” (“my claim is that if you imagine a world organization where the measure proposed by Piketty can effectively be enacted, then the problems are already solved. Then already you have a total political reorganization, you have a global power which effectively can control capital, we already won. So I think in this sense he cheats, the true problem is to create the conditions for his apparently modest measure to be actualized.”), Roberto Savio, “Inequality and Democracy,” Moisés Naím, “The Problem With Piketty’s Inequality Formula” (argues that Piketty ignores corruption as a factor in inequality), James Howard Kunstler, “Piketty Dikitty Rikitty,” Paul Krugman, “Why We’re in a New Gilded Age,” Paul Street, “Avoiding the Capitalist Apocalypse,” Dean Baker, “Economic Policy in a Post-Piketty World,” Anthony DiMaggio, “On the Cowardice & Irrelevance of Social Science Scholars: Education in Crisis,” Eric Zuess, “The Economics of Inequality: The Wealth Chasm,” David Harvey, “Afterthoughts on Piketty’s Capital,” The Economist, “All Men Are Created Unequal: Revisiting an Old Argument About the Impact of Capitalism,” Larry Elliott, “Thomas Piketty: The French Economist Bringing Capitalism to Book,” Kyle Smith, “Six Ways Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital’ Isn’t Holding Up to Scrutiny” (perhaps the stupidest review in this list!), John Cassidy, “Forces of Divergence: Is surging inequality Endemic to Capitalism?,” Robert M. Solow, “Thomas Piketty Is Right: Everything You Need to Know About ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’,” Charles Andrews, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century: Its Uses and Limits,” Daniel Shuchman, “Thomas Piketty Revives Marx for the 21st Century,” John Palmer, “Book Review: Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty,” Stephen Colbert, “Thomas Piketty Interview,” Paul Mattick, “Much Ado About Something,” Doug Henwood, “The Top of the World,” Paul Street, “Saying Goodbye to the Piketty Summer: Labor Day Reflections” (a frequently self-contradictory critique), Bill Gates, “Why Inequality Matters,” Joe Firestone, “Piketty’s Neoliberal Capital”