TERRELL’S TUNE- UP
the realms of primitive rock, raw blues, and gritty soul in Booker’s music. (His record-company hype mentioned the Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson, and T. Rex.) But there is no obvious imitation at work here. Booker builds on the foundations of the music he loves and creates a sound that’s fresh, though somewhat familiar. time signatures and unpredictable twists and turns, with nods to Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, and Pere Ubu. 2014’s top 14 One of the most frequent questions I get from readers of this column, as well as from listeners to my podcast and radio shows, is “Where do you find this stuff?” I usually reply, half-joking, “I don’t find it. It finds me.” But the question underscores what has become the state of music in the early 21st century. It’s harder to find great music with the tightly controlled playlists on commercial radio, the consolidation of major labels, and all that other stuff we’ve been wringing our hands about for so many years. But with the magic of the internet, there are a zillion more choices if music means enough to you that you are willing to invest a little time to seek it out. Faced with that reality, 2014 didn’t produce any new Elvis, Beatles, or Nirvana. But it did bring breakout work by Sturgill Simpson, Benjamin Booker, and the Bloodhounds — plus a lot of cool sounds by old favorites and new favorites who deserve bigger audiences. Here are my favorites of the year. 1. Red Beans and Weiss by Chuck E. Weiss. The craggyfaced, mop- topped hierophant of the hipster underground (and Tom Waits crony) returned in 2014 with a new album that’s full of stripped-down rock ’ n’ roll, R& B, blues, laughs, post-Beat cool, hard-earned wisdom, and flashes of insanity. For sheer goofiness, listen to the crazy New Orleans-soaked singalong, “Willy’s in the Pee Pee House,” or “Hey Pendejo,” the greatest pseudo-Mexican tune by gringos since the Pogues’ “Fiesta.” And for some dead-on insight into the Holocaust, try “Bomb the Tracks.” 2. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson. This is truly one of the strangest country albums I’ve ever heard. It’s also one of the most authentic-sounding new country albums to cross my eardrums in a long while — even though there are a couple of spots where the music drifts from its sturdy, ’70s-outlaw foundations into raw psychedelia. And yes, this is “authentic country,” even with lyrics like “reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain” and references to marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT. And that’s just in the first song. Sturgill Simpson is a true hillbilly visionary.
3. Benjamin Booker (self-titled). I’ve been a huge fan of Benjamin Booker’s ever since his early days. In fact, I became a devoted, drooling Bookerhead right after the release of this, his debut album, in late August. A discerning ear probably can hear subtle musical nods to the young New Orleans-based rocker’s idols from