Published on: Sunday, November 1, 2015 Takoma Park Newsletter

Music old or new?

By Ellen Robbins

The lines between old and new music are often blurred, especially when beloved standards are re-worked with understanding and sensitivity by younger musicians or even by their original creators. A sampling of our new music CDs is an evocative mixture that brings this idea home.

“Still the King: Celebrating the music of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys” is a tribute album that is imbued with new life in the hands of ninetime Grammy winners Asleep at the Wheel. Bob Wills was known as the “King of Western Swing” in the 1930s well into the 1950s. In this 22-track release, Willie Nelson joins Merle Haggard, George Strait, Lyle Lovett and Del McCoury and other virtuosos in a dazzling display infused with unabashed enthusiasm for this rollicking genre.

2015 is the centennial of the matchless blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday. It’s no coincidence that Cassandra Wilson’s new album “Coming Forth by Day” is released now. Music reviewer Stephen Thomas Erleine has abundant praise for her celebration of Lady Day: “It luxuriates in its atmosphere, sometimes sliding into a groove suggesting smooth 70s soul, often handsomely evoking a cinematic torch song… moods that complement each other and suggest Holiday’s work without replacing it.” (

Darlene Love is included among Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest singers. Her career spans 60 years from gospel to pop, and she appears in the academy award winning documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” (2013). Identified through much of her career with Phil Spector, who obscured her original style by attributing her singing credits to The Crystals, Darlene Love reemerges with her first solo album in 30 years. Produced by Steve Van Zandt, with songs recorded earlier by Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello among others, “Introducing Darlene Love” has had mixed reviews. Nonetheless, her vocal signature and prowess are abundantly clear. “This is likely the first album that Love has ever released to a wide culture of music fans who know her as the legend she always should have been rather than the footnote she once was” (Dave Bloom, Popmatters, 9/28/15).

A legend since he began his career with the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards is rated as fourth on Rolling Stone’s list of 100 greatest guitarists. “Cross-eyed Heart” is his first solo album since 1992. He has remained an unaffected original with unquestioned staying power. Elysa Gardner in USA Today observes that he is “one of the few vets in his field who has neither lost his edge nor devolved into a parody of his younger self. That enduring, effortless cool is rooted and reflected in his blues-based playing: muscular but not flashy, instinctively groovy, capable of brooding or stinging but also of expressing playfulness and joy.”

In their new album “Django and Jimmie,” Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard are invoking two icons that have inspired much of their music over the years: the gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt who was legendary in the 1930s and 40s, and countrywestern swing musician Jimmie Rodgers. Rolling Stone’s reviewer calls the album “a grab bag of new songs and rerecorded signatures fixed on the duo’s own mythology, largely sans blue yodels or gypsy jazz. Highlights are Haggard’s “Missing Ol’ Johnny Cash”…and “It’s All Going to Pot,” the “420 Day” single that shows two masters nailing the right song at the right time.”

In her album “The Trackless Woods,” vocalist and composer Iris DeMent is inspired by the poems of Anna Akhmatova, who was born in 1889 and died in 1966. Dement and her husband adopted a child from Russia when she was six, and this album is in part an attempt to build a “symbolic bridge” to her daughter’s homeland.” What is so amazing is that she is inspired by a past that is neither her own, nor strictly musical. According to NPR, “Iris DeMent makes music that celebrates humanity’s efforts toward salvation, while acknowledging that most of our time on Earth is spent reconciling with the fact we don’t feel so redeemed. Grounded in hymns, early country songs, gospel and folk, DeMent’s work is treasured by those who know it for its insight and unabashed beauty.”

Visit the Library soon to hear albums by some of the most creative and accomplished musicians recording today, who both celebrate and re-imagine their artistic inspirations.

This article appeared in the October 2015 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.