Washington Square Serenade
In l974, Steve Earle left Texas for the Greenwich Village he saw on the cover of Bob Dylan’s classic Freewheelin’ record. He landed in Nashville instead, where he found success, but also alcohol, heroin and politics. After jail, rehab and a spiritual awakening, Earle finally arrived in New York, and never has he sounded so happy. This is a gritty-but-sweet record in early Dylan mode. Earle sings to girls (“Sparkle and Shine”), New York (“Down Here Below”) and immigrants (“City of Immigrants”), among other loves. Just when America gives up the long quest for the fabled “next Bob Dylan,” here he comes — and where should we find him but in Greenwich Village?
Download: “Down Here Below,” “City of Immigrants,” “Sparkle and Shine”
— Kit Stolz
The Scene of the Crime
In 1972, Bettye LaVette put out a soul record Atlantic thought would be big. When that deal fell apart, she sings on The Scene of the Crime, “it nearly broke my heart.” She pours her soul into this record, sounding a bit like Tina Turner, with a bigger catch in her voice. She plumbs the depths in songs like “I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now.” So why isn’t this more enjoyable? Maybe it’s the seriousness: Even Aretha Franklin (back then) or Amy Winehouse (now) showed flashes of wit, but this record is always earnest, be it loving, regretful or proud. Impressive, but not much fun.
Download: “Choices,” “I Guess We Shouldn’t Talk About That Now”
— Kit Stolz
Wasted Orient (DVD)
“I think the whole world is a toilet,” opines a member of Beijing-based punks Joyside. That statement surmises the band’s good natured nihilism, on display throughout Wasted Orient, a document of the group’s tour through the dingiest rock clubs in China. Director Kevin Fritz may have gone in hoping to capture something unique about Chinese youth culture, but aside from the food — which includes roasted dragonfly and, yes, cooked dog — this could be anywhere. The subjects eat, drink, puke, fart, drink, play sloppy, shambling rock’n’roll for small but enthusiastic young audiences, and drink some more. No political discussions, though the musicians do offer some personal philosophizing. “If you love something, you must also hate it,” says one — which must explain their song “Music Sucks.”
— Matthew Singer