Country music

Adrianne Lenker is a treasure for the ages 

You could very well sum up their differing approaches to American roots music from how they were dressed. Both wore cowboy hats and both wore trousers, but Adrianne Lenker’s were faded denim, while Lainey Wilson went with shiny brown leather. Lenker, looking austere and speaking and singing softly, played music plucked from eternity, demanding you concentrate on her stillness. Wilson, on the other hand, was here to make the crowd feel good; a little melancholy on the big ballads, sure, but she’s an entertainer in the grand tradition of country music. Wilson’s set was divided between bangers and ballads, and the best of them were very good You might draw

Clever, beautiful and sonically witty: Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter album reviewed

Grade: A+ Carter is a useful surname to have if you’re making a country album. So it is with Beyoncé: she married into the name when she got hitched to Jay-Z, but he is from New York, not Poor Valley, VA. Helps if you’re from Texas too – just to convince folks that this bit of genre-hopping is rooted in authenticity. It isn’t – but who cares? This is a clever, beautiful and sonically witty album. Country music’s conventions draw out of Beyoncé perhaps the most sublime melodies she has written, or part-written. There are cameos from Dolly Parton, half-forgotten black sharecropper’s daughter Linda Martell, Willie Nelson and the ghost

Monumentally good: John Francis Flynn, at the Dome, reviewed

John Francis Flynn is monumentally good. He’s kick-yourself-for-missing-him good. He’s so good that when he spoke between songs in the upstairs ballroom of an old Irish pub in Tufnell Park, it was almost a disappointment: how could the man making this extraordinary music be so normal? Flynn is part of a cohort of Irish musicians revisiting traditional music. There’s the Mary Wallopers, in broad terms the most Pogues-ish. There’s Lankum, shortlisted for the Mercury Prize for their eyebrow-raising, droning experimentalism. There’s Lisa O’Neill, subdued and stern. And there’s Flynn, whose music dances from the unadornedly old-fashioned and Irish – the ‘Tralee Gaol’ played solo, on tin whistle – into something

Brilliantly unhinged: Grace Jones, at Hampton Court Palace, reviewed

Some artists need flash bombs to make an impression on stage. Some need giant screens. Some need to run around like hyperactive toddlers. All Grace Jones needed was a hula hoop – not the delicious potato snack, but the plastic ring. For the ten minutes or so of ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ that ended her set on a balmy evening in the courtyard of Hampton Court Palace, she languidly rotated the ring around her hips, all while she strode across the stage, then climbed a set of stairs. Not a single revolution was missed. I realise that you don’t come to these pages for reviews of hula hooping, but by

In defence of country-pop

I am aware that the music I enjoy is widely considered to be the worst ever produced in human history. Worse than a roomful of children with recorders, cymbals and malice; worse than a poultry abattoir. Every so often, someone will ask me what I listen to, and I’m forced to tell them the truth. ‘These days,’ I’ll say, ‘it’s mostly country.’ Their nose will wrinkle, as if I’ve just let out a stealthy fart in their direction. ‘But old country, right?’ they’ll say, almost pleading. ‘Classic country?’ No, not classic country. I like Johnny Cash fine, I appreciate Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton and Waylon Jennings and all the

Lovely and wistful: Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Barn reviewed

 Grade: A I have persisted in buying everything Neil Young releases since I first heard On the Beach as a callow but pretentious 13-year-old. To tell you the truth, the past 27 years have somewhat tested this commitment. There has been a fatal laziness in the songwriting, lyrically and melodically, since 1994’s Sleeps with Angels and the preaching has become ever more tiresome. But I continued forking out in the increasingly forlorn hope that he’d turn out something if not wonderful, then at least reminiscent of wonderful things past. And for lo, the grizzled old troubadour has done exactly that. This is a subtler incarnation of Crazy Horse, helped incalculably

10 films featuring Dolly Parton

After the publication of Sarah Smarsh’s She Come By It Natural, the latest biography of the beloved songstress, here’s a look at Dolly Parton’s career in the movies. Admittedly, Parton’s filmography can be described as patchy (at best), but there are enough hits, curiosities, and why-on-earth-did-she-do-it? duds to merit a retrospective. And who knows – some of those movies previously deemed as clunkers may be worth a second look. Possibly. Before launching into my film rundown, it’s worth mentioning the frequent use of Dolly’s songs in movies other than hers, often used in a contrapuntal fashion. We’ve had 9 to 5 featured in Deadpool 2 (2018), Islands in the Stream in HBO’s Watchmen

Dolly Parton represents all that’s best about America

After the storming of Congress last week, numerous American commentators looked at the Proud Boys, the QAnon Shaman and Trump himself and said, in so many words: ‘This is not who we are.’ Undoubtedly true. It raises, however, an interesting supplementary question: who, in fact, are you? Looking through the ranks of those who might represent the best values of America, we arrive quite quickly at Dolly Parton. She came from a family in rural Tennessee of both grinding poverty and honest, decent aspiration. Sacrifices on their part, and a 30-hour bus journey to Louisiana, let her make her first recording in 1959, at 13. Her first LP, in 1967,

Livestream-hopping is just as irritating as being at a real festival

The ghost of Samuel Beckett oversaw the Hip Hop Loves NY livestream last Thursday night. Time and time again its host, the veteran hip-hop TV presenter Ralph McDaniels — known to all his guests, unnervingly, as ‘Uncle Ralph’ — tried to connect to some Golden Age legend. Time and time again, his attempts at a straightforward interview went wrong. We saw Uncle Ralph, on one half of the screen, ask a question about Covid-19, nod along to the answer, then say, ‘Thank you, doctor.’ But we didn’t have a doctor on screen, or on our audio. We had Ice T. ‘I ain’t no doctor,’ Ice-T said. Cut to Nas. But