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Ten Musical Notes and New Music for the Week of February 3, 2018: Prine, Simon, Ozzy and More

Legendary singer/songwriter John Prine is releasing “The Tree of Forgiveness,” his first album of new music in 13 years. The first video, “Summer’s End,” is above. The Guardian has a story on the folk singer Linda Watson. Below is “October Song” from The Yarrow Acoustic Sessions, which was released last month.

Paul Simon announced this week that he is retiring from live performances. Simon will end performance with the nicely named Homeward Bound tour, which will hit Europe and the United States. In a statement, Simon said:

I love making music, my voice is still strong, and my band is a tight, extraordinary group of gifted musicians. I think about music constantly. Sadly, we lost our lead guitarist and my friend of 30 years, Vincent N’guini, who died last December. His loss is not the only reason I’ve decided to stop touring, but it is a contributing factor. Mostly, though, I feel the travel and time away from my wife and family takes a toll that detracts from the joy of playing. I’d like to leave with a big Thank You to the many folks around the world who’ve come out to watch me play over the last 50 years.

The Guardian said that Simon has released 13 solo albums, won 16 Grammys and sold more than 100 million records – so far.

Ozzy Osbourne is another institution who is aging out. Like Simon, he is not retiring from music – just from touring. Rolling Stone’s Kory Grow takes a look at what may be his ten best live performances captured on video.

The CD is being put out to pasture. Billboard reported that Best Buy stop selling the discs on July 1. Ironically, the chain will continue to sell the product CDs buried – vinyl LPs – for the next two years to fulfill a commitment it made to vendors. Target is going to sell CDs on a consignment basis, which is not good news for the format. Those two pieces of news continue a trend: CD sales fell 18.5 percent last year.

Streaming is hot, and Apple Music may be on the road to passing Spotify. The Verge reports that Spotify said earlier this year that it has 70 million paying subscribers, which seemed like a safe lead over Apple Music. But Apple is growing at a higher rate – 2 percent per month versus 5 percent per month – in the United States. Apple Music has told The Wall Street Journal that it now has 36 million subscribers. The Verge says that Apple Music will surpass Spotify this summer.

At this year’s Grammys, only one woman – Alessia Cara – won a solo award. That result didn’t sit well with powerful music industry women, who sent a letter to the Recording Academy suggesting that the group is “woefully out of touch with today’s music, the music business, and even more significantly, women.” The letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, was signed by Michele Anthony (Universal Group’s executive vice president), Julie Greenwald (Atlantic Records’ co-chairman), Julie Swider (Sony Music’s general counsel), Sylvia Rhone (Epic Records’ president) and Desiree Perez (Roc Nation’s chief operating officer).

John Prine and Lyle Lovett. Prine is releasing new music for the first time since 2005. (Photo: Eric Frommer)

Any Jimi Hendrix fan can tell you that a musician’s death doesn’t end his or her commercial career. The Los Angeles Times reports that a galaxy of stars is recording a 16 track album based on recently uncovered Johnny Cash poetry, lyrics and letters. The album, entitled “Forever Words,” is being recorded mostly at The Cash Family Cabin in Hendersonville, TN. It is slated for release on April 6.

The list of musicians is massive. The story says that Chris Cornell, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Kris Kristofferson, Carlene Carter, Brad Paisley, John Mellencamp, Kacey Musgraves, T Bone Burnett, Jamey Johnson, the Jayhawks, Jewel, I’m With Her, Dailey & Vincent, Robert Glasper, Ro James, Anu Sun and Ruston Kelly are participating. It is being “masterminded” by Johnny and June Carter Cash’s son John Carter Cash.

Quincy Jones’ interview last week with GQ was really something. Read some of the most interesting bits at Paste. They involve Hendrix, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Frank Sinatra and others. Here is the whole interview.

Spin has a very interesting and well done tribute to John Perry Barlow, the Grateful Dead lyricist who died at age 70 this week. His association with the band emerged from his friendship with Bob Weir. He went on to collaborated on “Estimated Prophet,” “Black Throated Wind,” “Cassidy,” “The Music Never Stopped,” “Mexicali Blues” and others.

Barlow, who was born and raised in Wyoming, was important beyond the band. He was a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Barlow, who the piece says was in poor health since a heart attack in 2015, had one odd association: He worked on Dick Cheney’s congressional campaign in 1978.

Nas released a video, “We Continue to Rise,” in honor of Black History Month. The video features images of great African-American musicians of the past. He makes special mention of Robert Johnson, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong and Slick Rick.

Rap has hit China, but now the government is hitting back. PRI reports that the genre had begun to gain traction due a television program called “The Rap of China.” The country lacks the racial issues and street culture upon which western rap is based. However, an indigenous form that draws on growing economic disparity and uses ancient Chinese philosophical references and local dialects, had taken root. A backlash set in, driven at least in part by lyrics and accused bad behavior of some of the rappers. A directive banned “artists with tattoos, hip-hop music” and other content that could hurt Communist Party morale. A second season of the program is in doubt. The report was written by Dan Martin of AFP.

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Here’s What’s Here

The Daily Music Break explores every genre of music, from hip hop to opera. It's simple: Boundaries are dumb. It's all good. Here is more about the site and here is our index:

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

--Indigo Girls to Queen Ida (I to Q)

--Radiohead to ZZ Top (R to Z)

Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.