FEATURED SONG OF THE WEEK
4th Day Prayer: Allison Russell
Allison Russell’s first solo album, Outside Child, has made such an impact at herecomesthesong.com we’ve chosen a second Song Of The Week from it, 4th Day Prayer, to end the year. It’s a harrowing tale of abuse but somehow, joyously, our artist of the year rises above the trauma. Hope conquers all.
The track, written by Russell and her husband and Birds Of Chicago partner JT Nero for our album of the year, tells of the unspeakable brutality inflicted on her as a child by her white supremacist stepfather in Montreal and her attempts to break free.
Father used me like a wife
Mother turned the blindest eye
Stole my body, spirit, pride
He did, he did each night
For the soaring chorus, the Nashville-based French Canadian with Grenadian ancestry is joined by Nero, Ruth Moody, Erin Rae and the McCrary Sisters…
One for the hate that loops and loops
Two for the poison at the roots
Three for the children breaking through
Four for the day we’re standing in the sun
Russell deserves all the plaudits and awards coming her way for the bravery of her redemptive storytelling, a compelling musical memoir. ‘When I first went to live with my mother and her new husband, after the foster home in Verdun, it was in a flat above an audiologist’s shop on Rue St Catherine in Westmount. He worked for the audiologist and we got subsidised rent. It was there that the abuse began. I was five. Westmount is a wealthy enclave although we were very poor – even the food banks were richer. And there was the park. I spent as much time as I could there – to get away from him.’
We wrote at greater length last May about her solo project and her achingly soulful vocal on the breathtaking Nightflyer, my personal song of the year just ahead of The Killing Fields by Rosanne Cash & John Levanthal and Anaïs Mitchell’s Bright Star. ‘Russell switches on her genre blender: Memphis soul, blues, folk, country and gospel. Nightflyer is her mission statement, the album’s unbroken spirit despite the breaking heart… It is difficult to grasp how a person could survive such an ordeal and recover sufficiently to create art this beautiful, this hopeful, this important. You’re on the inside now, Outside Child.’
On my list of 30 favourite albums of the year Russell is followed by other courageous women songwriters who have have taken up the baton on issues from racism and misogyny to social injustice and climate change as well as challenged the preconceptions of a music industry that does them few favours. We link to a recommended track for each. Here’s to the healing power of music...
My favourite 30 albums of the year
Allison Russell: Outside Child
The Weather Station (Tamara Lindeman): The Robber
Amythyst Kiah: Wary + Strange
Brandi Carlile: In These Silent Days
Afterlight (Thea Gilmore): Afterlight
Josienne Clarke: A Small Unknowable Thing
Valerie June: The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers
Yola: Stand For Myself
Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi: They're Calling Me Home
Lauren Housley: Girl From The North
Adia Victoria: A Southern Gothic
Joy Oladokun: In Defense Of My Own Happiness
Aimee Mann: Queens Of The Summer Hotel
Flock Of Dimes (Jenn Wasner): Head Of Roses
The Staves: Good Woman
Katherine Priddy: The Eternal Rocks Beneath
John Smith: The Fray
The Coral: Coral Island
James McMurtry: The Horses And The Hounds
Jacob & Drinkwater: More Notes From The Field
Big Red Machine: How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last
Latter Days (featuring Anaïs Mitchell)
Alison Krauss & Robert Plant: Raise The Roof
Lake Street Dive: Obviously
Watchhouse: Better Way
Lord Huron: Long Lost
David Crosby: For Free
The War On Drugs: I Don’t Live Here Anymore
Spell Songs II: Let The Light In
Red Is Your Art (featuring Kris Drever)
Declan O’Rourke: The Harbour
Ian Tasker: Losing Track Of Time
Samantha Crain: I Guess We Live Here Now
Phil Shaw’s Top 20 songs of 2021
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
I Don’t Live Here Anymore, the title track of The War On Drugs’ most melodic and accessible album to date, is our Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com. Guitarist-singer Adam Granduciel had been ‘trying to write a song like that forever’.
Frontman Granduciel was 40 and had just become a father nearly three years ago when the idea struck but he credits the song’s exhilarating evolution with Robbie Bennett who provided the mesmeric hook. ‘I sent it to Robbie,’ he told guitar.com. ‘It was like nine verses at the time, and he sent it back with that amazing arpeggio he wrote on guitar. It was around thanksgiving and I was walking into a shop to buy a roasting pan. I got his email and I couldn’t believe he’d pulled it off.’
Reverb-doused drums, shimmering synths and the lush harmonies of Brooklyn singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, aka Lucius, add to the glorious widescreen sound, produced by Granduciel and Shawn Everett and recorded in seven studios in LA and New York during the pandemic. ‘I need a chance to be reborn,’ sings Granduciel. If not a rebirth the Philadelphia indie rockers’ fifth album does mark a new direction. The record, he says, is about ‘growing up, getting older, but also growing out of yourself and into something new’.
Now time surrounds me like an ocean
My memories like waves
Is life just dying in slow motion?
I’m getting stronger every day
I never took our love for granted
You never left me wanting more
But you’d never recognise me, babe
I don’t live here anymore
Granduciel’s delivery is suitably Dylanesque as he refers to seeing his hero perform in 2002 at the Newport Folk Festival where ‘we danced to Desolation Row’. That incongruous image should raise a smile. He also borrows the line ‘A creature void of form’ from Shelter From The Storm. The effect, as with another earworm anthem Harmonia’s Dream, is more evocative of giant-arena Springsteen; after all, he did name his son Bruce. Fatherhood is a constant source of inspiration, as reflected by the intimate Old Skin and Rings Around My Father’s Eyes.
A tour of Europe and the UK is planned for the spring, variants permitting. For the album Granduciel’s core band of Bennett (guitar and keyboards), multi-instrumentalist Anthony LaMarca, Dave Hartley (bass), Charlie Hall (drums) and Jon Natchez (sax) was augmented by a cast of seasoned musicians such as guitarist Jim Elkington who delights on Occasional Rain. ‘I like putting people together and I try to get outside the band element when we make records, having people in the studio we all love and respect,’ says Granduciel. ‘I’m good at certain things but I can’t do it all and it’s exciting to have something to play off.’
I Don’t Live Here Anymore features in my colleague Phil Shaw’s Top 20 songs of 2021; it’s also on Barack Obama’s playlist. The Guardian described the album as ‘a series of meticulously crafted soundtracks for cruising down never-ending highways’, more personal and less heavily layered than 2017’s A Deeper Understanding. Granduciel told NME ‘music should be filled with wonder’. He was true to his mantra. Wonderful song, wonderful record.
Some of Shelly’s Blues: Michael Nesmith
Michael Nesmith’s Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash is a treasured album in our vinyl collection. Song Of The Week at herecomesthesong.com is the bittersweet Some Of Shelly’s Blues. The alt country crusader, who has died aged 78, was almost as influential as The Byrds and Gram Parsons.
This typically literate in-and-out-of-love song, covered like Different Drum by Linda Ronstadt, appears on the Texas-born troubadour’s 1973 album, the sixth of his post-Monkees career. It was intended as a Monkees track during his 1968 Nashville sessions. Those Seventies solo albums should have earned greater recognition for an underrated songwriting talent during and beyond all that Monkee business.
We were privileged to hear Nesmith perform the song, backed by pedal steel maestro Red Rhodes, at London’s Roundhouse in 1974 at a day-long concert celebrating the fifth birthday of the much admired rock magazine Zigzag. Also on the bill was John Stewart, who wrote the Monkees hit Daydream Believer, and other Zigzag favourites Help Yourself, Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers and Starry Eyed And Laughing.
Nesmith and Stewart were lured to London by Zigzag writers John Tobler and Pete Frame who had spent time in California interviewing a number of artists. Tony Stratton-Smith, of Charisma Records, who had just taken the Zigzag reins from founder Frame (creator of those wonderful illustrated rock family trees), underwrote the concert and the American singer-guitarist was persuaded by the label to produce Bert Jansch’s LA Turnaround album on which both Nesmith and Rhodes played.
The Monkees starred in their own madcap Sixties TV show about a rock ‘n’ roll band, singing songs largely written for them. But Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones, increasingly frustrated by the production company’s restrictions, eventually took full control of their music. ‘We were kids with our own taste in music and were happier performing songs we liked — and/or wrote — than songs that were handed to us,’ Nesmith told Rolling Stone in 2012. Give Listen To The Band a listen or You Just May Be The One and you appreciate how good a writer he was.
After filming a video for his memorable single Rio in 1977, Nesmith created a TV programme consisting entirely of promo clips. He later sold the intellectual property rights to Time Warner, sowing the seeds of MTV. When he was13 his mother, a secretary and commercial artist, invented what became known as Liquid Paper, a typing correction fluid. Her subsequent wealth allowed Nesmith to buy himself out of his Monkees contract and launch his own multi-media company.
They may have been a manufactured band but Nesmith and Dolenz were performing farewell Monkees tours until very recently; Dolenz is now the sole surviving Monkee. Nesmith’s musical legacy, built on majestic story-telling songs such as Propinquity, Joanne, Silver Moon and Dance Between The Raindrops, is indelible. That correction fluid will not be required.
Poco and those country rock family trees