Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Election season has begun, and President Obama has initiated his campaign for a second term in 2012. That means we can now start the conversation of what the man’s done for our country, whether we should trust him to lead for another four years, and whether he is worth our vote. For me, it’s the beginning of an unfortunate time, because I don’t think I will be comfortable casting a ballot for either of the sides from which I will be ultimately made to choose. We all know Obama sailed into the oval office on a wave of change, and the music immediately following his election reflected that virile surge of hope (Pearl Jam’s gloriously uncharacteristic optimist anthem, “The Fixer” comes readily to mind). But now, as it becomes an increasingly dreary task to parse out what has been made better in America under his first term, it is no surprise that music being released is beginning to echo the economic, social and political futility that exists now more than ever. It was in the start of the decade when this mentality started to take shape in music, and, in 2011, there is no escaping it. Although Hayes Carll is a country singer from Houston, Texas and Charles Bradley is a soul singer from Poughkeepsie, New York, the new albums from both typify this mounting negativity reflective of the state of the country.
Throughout KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories), Hayes Carll comes off as the true postmodern country singer. His voice is sloppy and unhinged and his lyrics are flippant, making the pain and hardship described in most of his songs far more endearing than anything Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift or even Jamey Johnson could write. In the title track, “KMAG YOYO,” Carll chronicles a hilariously fabricated series of events that unfold after he signs up for the army (Arms dealing, space travel. You’d have to hear it to believe it) and “Another Like You” pairs him with a lovable lass that’s just as deranged as he (--“Shouldn’t you be purging?” --“Well you’re probably still a virgin.” --“I can’t believe you’re not on The View.”). KMAG YOYO is an endlessly quotable album, apparent whether Carll is chiding love or politics. His finest moment, though, comes toward the album’s end, when he depicts a recessional holiday with devastating specificity on “Grateful For Christmas.” It’s a tear-jerking ode to imperfection, and, even if KMAG YOYO has some significant filler in between such highlights, it’s still nice to hear some country that’s clever and genuinely relatable for a change.
Charles Bradley toiled on the musical circuit for decades before Daptone Records picked him up a few years ago and finally gave him the platform for a debut album. Bradley, now 62, hefts all those years of disappointment onto that record, No Time For Dreaming. The first line on the album is indicative of its tone. “This world is going up in flames / And nobody wanna take the blame,” he rebukes amidst the retro instrumentation of the Daptones, No Time For Dreaming’s backup band. Often, Bradley’s fervent pleas sound on the verge of tears, a sentiment that is supported by the expressive instrumentation of trumpet player Dave Guy and saxophonist Leon Michaels. Together, they create the nostalgic soul not dissimilar to the work The Daptones have done with Sharon Jones, but, like her music, it’s hard to imagine the new-world perspective of No Time for Dreaming fitting in with the soul music of the 1960’s. The devastating sadness that often boils over in songs like “How Long” and “Heartaches and Pain” are wholly unique to Bradley, and the way he inhabits them makes for an overwhelming performance that rivals that of Otis Redding, a clear influence here. In “Why Is It So Hard,” Bradley tells the story of how he got to this point in his life, how he moved to Brooklyn from Florida and then to Poughkeepsie to escape his many stresses, bookending his verses by crying, “Why is it so hard to make it in America?” One would hope that the existence of No Time for Dreaming is an indication that things are looking up for Bradley. His voice and songwriting ability are somewhat of lost treasures, and it’s better late than never that we get to hear the genius this guy has been ceaselessly peddling for most of his life.