Monday, December 19, 2022

Is Cookeville Ready For Its Homegrown Avant-Garde? The Revolutionary and Redemptive Graphics of Jesse Filoteo

I have a complicated relationship with my chosen home and the small city (or college town, if you prefer) of Cookeville, in Tennessee’s upper Cumberland region. That is to say, the larger political poisons of the last six years have infected us in their own cruelly contextual way. That is also to say how I hunger to celebrate the beautiful and amazing aspects of this place, when they sweep me off my feet, which most thankfully, is quite often, as of late. 

A short drive down Spring Street between Willow and Jefferson will expose you to a blossoming alternative arts and wellness scene. Not that there aren’t comparable epicenters of coolness on Cedar or Broad or elsewhere in town, but all the new galleries and shops (and such) along Spring speak to an expanding scene with a leading edge that we might not be ready for yet. 

In your own wandering around town, you might have missed The Silver Fern (@the.silverfern) in the suites at 145 East Spring Street, but now you can check it out, if you have not already. From jewelry to gifts to teas to cards to decks of wisdom, it’s a curated and eclectic space. That Cookeville got The Silver Fern around the same time we got The Tiny Cloak (where I am honored to sell some books and vinyl) is just sweet serendipity, a true “wow” to me. 

Now, I could start name-checking a bunch of our other new and needed niche spaces (maybe in a future post), but that would distract from where this review-essay is going. Because as cool as all the other new spaces are, that is not what I sat down today to write about. 

Because Cookeville currently has a provocative new exhibit of Jesse Filoteo’s original posters, sculpture installations, and protest art that can turn your world upside down, inside the Fiddlehead Gallery, which is a room inside The Silver Fern. This show could even turn our town or world upside down in ways that it needs. And it is only on display now, for less than a month to go as of this writing, until its closing party on January 14th. Even as I see the entire show as a kind of visual protest, or even direct action, Jesse emphasizes that his goal is “a point of conversation, not contention.” 

Start with the artist’s statement on The Silver Fern website (   ) or the teaser images over on the artist’s Instagram (@jesse_filoteo). But seeing these will hopefully draw you to see the show itself, especially for the 3D sculptures, which must be encountered and experienced, which are what Jesse calls “the final execution” of ideas first explored as 2D images.

Unlike many of our town’s artists and activists who moved here as adults for a whole host of reasons, featured designer Jesse Filoteo is from here for his entire life, and his training in the arts started at Cookeville High School and continued at Tennessee Tech. He is also a second-generation Filipino-American. When I first met Jesse more than six years ago, he absolutely blew my mind with his perspectives and aesthetics, expressed at that time with a poem about the ecological crisis, a poem that took first place in a writing contest that I was helping to judge. Full disclosure, he then worked with me lots during his time at Tech, largely as an undergrad teaching assistant in the now phased-out Treehouse learning village. 

Familiar as I am with Jesse and his work, I can imagine a world where new work from him would be expected, where it would not floor me, as if encountering Jesse Filoteo again for the very first time. But with this new show, Jesse is not just bringing any old thing from his already brilliant bag of tricks. This show has such a cutting and cohesive message that will stick in your mind long after you leave the gallery.  

“The Impracticality of Youth” is an assessment and indictment of what Jesse calls our “complex, cynical zeitgeist.” It might offend you with its take on the themes Jesse owns in his artist statement: “consumerism, nationalism, race, gender rights, and sexual identity.” The show might also floor you with its fierce vision and flawless technique and make you again furious with the frightful world depicted, because this is our world. 

Everything is skewed, and Jesse Filoteo skewers everything. His art carves its space in our consciousness with incisive insight and a masterful command of any and every software or platform needed to render his brutal and breathtaking vision through a digital and physical palette. 

The world that Jesse flips and flips again is cruel and chaotic, and his radical response is refreshingly, if at times disturbingly, revolutionary and redemptive. Don’t be deterred by the allusions to sex and violence, to racism and homophobia, but settle into the scathing and oddly salvific messages, beyond the brutality of the critique at first glance.

This show is also a kind of seminar in subversive art in general, an example of an emerging voice finding his place in the best lineage in radical graphics. I have not quizzed Jesse on all his influences for this show, but I could not help but to see the exhibit as part of a larger tradition of recontextualizing popular brands for the purpose of rhetorically toppling and mocking their brand management. In this show, I sense a solidarity with the “subvertising” style of the ‘zine scene, made most evident by the Canadian “super zine” Adbusters. Or we could go all the way back to the exuberant fliers, pamphlets, and graffiti of the Situationists (or any of their descendants, like the Zapatistas or the Occupy movement, to only namecheck some). 

Cookeville’s own Jesse Filoteo is looking way beyond our small city or college-town-culture with the vision of this far-ranging show, and I am not alone in hoping he takes this show to some galleries elsewhere, in bigger cities, down the road. Cookeville really isn’t ready for this show, and no disclaimer or trigger warning, which the artist and gallery gratefully provided, will protect one from being shocked by this show. I am secretly hoping that at least some of our local folks who don’t “get” what art like this is after, I hope that they see it anyway and experience all the therapeutic discomfort that an experience of this potency might bring. 

-Andrew William Smith (Sunfrog) 
19 December 2022

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Best of 2022 - Top 100 Albums

Here it is: this insane ADHD ENFP maximalist Top 100 (which was a top 75, which was a top 50....& so on). This is a TOP 100 ALBUMS, with an accompanying playlist of 100 songs. (The top 25 were also included in the December 5, 2022 radio show).

Warning -- I added some wild prog, sludge, & angry punk music in the last frantic hours of composition, most of it is super mellow folk music (playlist in the comments). 

Please remind me when you post your best of lists, too! All y'all list makers, check it out & then show us yours!!

Since posting this, I have been non-stop consuming everyone else's lists. At the end of the year, I will have a "Best of List from records that I only found out about yesterday & stole from other folks' Best of lists."

Listen to 100-song playlist here:

Teacher On The Radio's Top 100 of 2022

1 Adeem The Artist - White Trash Revelry

2 Willi Carlisle - Peculiar, Missouri 

3 Florence & The Machine - Dance Fever 

4 Lee Bains + the Glory Fires - Old Time Folks 

5 The Dead Tongues - Dust 

6 Avi Kaplan - Floating On A Dream 

7 Band Of Horses - Things Are Great 

8 Black Angels - Wilderness of Mirrors 

9 Tedeschi Trucks Band - I Am The Moon  

10 Amy Ray - If It All Goes South 

11 Tyler Childers - Can I Take My Hounds To Heaven? 

12 Ian Siegal - Stone by Stone 

13 Cloud Cult - Metamorphosis 

14 Mat Callahan - It Is Right To Rebel 

15 Jake Blount - The New Faith 

16 Miko Marks & the Resurrectors - Feels Like Going Home

17 Sam Burchfield - Scoundrel 

18 Will Hoge - Wings On My Shoes

19 Miraculous Mule - Old Bones, New Fire 

20 Dawes - Misadventures of Doomscroller

21 Greensky Bluegrass - Stress Dreams 

22 Bonny Light Horseman - Rolling Golden Holy 

23 Kevin Morby - This Is A Photograph

24 Mt. Joy - Orange Blood 

25 The Pinkerton Raid - The Highway Moves The World 

26 My Politic - Missouri Folklore 

27 Hayden Mattingly & Honeybrook - The Next Moonlight

28  Ghost of Paul Revere - Goodbye 

29 Ryan Adams - Romeo & Juliet 

30 The Hanging Stars - Hollow Heart 

31 Gungor - Love Song To Life 

32 Madeline Edwards - Crashlanded

33 Shemekia Copeland - Done Come Too Far

34 Sarah Shook & The Disarmers - Nightroamer

35 Wilco - Cruel Country 

36 John Fullbright - The Liar

37 St. Paul & the Broken Bones - The Alien Coast 

38 Fantastic Negrito - White Jesus Black Problems 

39 Jack White - Entering Heaven Alive 

40 John Craigie - Mermaid Salt 

41 Nikki Bluhm - Avondale Drive 

42 Early James - Strange Time To Be Alive 

43 Anais Mitchell - Anais Mitchell 

44 Shovels & Rope - Manticore

45 Bitch - Bitchcraft 

46 Ethel Cain - Preacher’s Daughter 

47 Erin Rae - Lighten Up

48 Damn Tall Buildings - Sleeping Dogs 

49 Flamy Grant - Bible Belt Baby 

50 Stillhouse Junkies - Small Towns 

51 The Brothers Comatose - Turning Up The Ground

52 The Sadies - Colder Streams

53 American Aquarium - Chicamacomico

54 Andrew Bird - Inside Problems  

55 Hurray for the Riff Raff - LIFE ON EARTH

56 The Harlem Gospel Travelers - Look Up!

57 Ruthie Foster - Healing Time

58 Jim Page - THE TIME IS NOW

59 Jeb Loy Nichols - United States of the Brokenhearted

60 Taj Mahal & Ry Cooder - GET ON BOARD

61 Deslondes - Ways & Means 

62 Mary Gauthier - Dark Enough To See The Stars

63 Valerie June - Under Cover 

64 Caamp - Lavender Days 

65 Paolo Nutini - Last Night In The Bittersweet

66 Ben Harper - Bloodline Maintenance

67 Drive By Truckers - Welcome 2 Club XIII

68 Ondara - Spanish Village No. 3

69 Paisley Fields - Limp Wrist 

70 The Boys of Perpetual Nervousness - The Third Wave of

71 Big Thief - Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You

72 Fireside Collective - Across the Divide

73 Jonah Tolchin - Lava Lamp

74 Seth Avett - Seth Avett Sings Greg Brown 

75 Amanda Shires - Take It Like A Man 

76 Joan Shelley -  The Spur 

77 Trampled by Turtles - Aspenglow 

78 Black Country, New Road - Ants From Up There 

79 Brent Cobb - And Now, Let’s Turn The Page

80 Zack Bryan - American Heartbreak

81 Jon Moreland - Birds in the Ceiling

82 Peter Rowan - Calling You From My Mountain

83 - 49 Winchester - Fortune Favors The Bold 

84 Old Crow Medicine Show - Paint This Town 

85 The Reds, Pinks, and Purples - They Only Wanted Your Soul

86 John Clark & Harry Waters - Sea Oddity

87 The Paranoid Style - For Executive Meeting

88 Cheekface - Too Much to Ask 

89 Frank Turner - FHTC

90 GA - 20 - Crackdown

91 The HU - Rumble of Thunder 

92 The Mars Volta - The Mars Volta

93 Morrow - The Quiet Earth 

94 The Dog’s Body - The Dog’s Body

95 Petrol Girls - Baby 

96 Soul Glo - Diaspora Problems 

97 Wild Pink - ILYSM 

98 Animal Collective - Time Skiffs 

99 The Smile - A Light For Attracting Attention 

100 Porridge Radio - Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky

image from one of Adeem's fans as excited about the new album as I am.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Warning Signs - Best of 2022 (TOTR 441)

Originally aired on Monday, December 5, 2022 on WTTU 88.5FM

Audio archive will be posted after the live broadcast. 

Some of the best music of 2022 - a totally subjective, imprecise science!

#25 - The Pinkerton Raid - "Merseybeat" from The Highway Moves The World 

#24 - Mt. Joy - "Evergreen" from Orange Blood

#23 - Kevin Morby - "A Random Act of Kindness" from This Is A Photograph 

#22 - Bonny Light Horseman - "Sweetbread" from Rolling Golden Holy 

#21 - Greensky Bluegrass - "Worry For You" Stress Dreams 

#20 - Dawes - "Ghost in the Machine" from Misadventures of Doomscroller

#19 - Miraculous Mule -"I Know I've Been Changed" from Old Bones, New Fire

#18 - Will Hoge - "Queenie" from Wings on My Shoes

#17 - Sam Burchfield - "Scoundrel" from Scoundrel 

#16 - Miko Marks & The Resurrectors - "Trouble" from Feel Like Going Home

#15 - Jake Blount - "Give up the World" from The New Faith

#14 - Mat Callahan - "Say Yes" from It Is Right to Rebel

#13 - Cloud Cult - "The Best Time" from Metamorphosis

#12 - Ian Siegal - "Onwards and Upwards" from Stone by Stone 

#11 - Tyler Childers - "Way of the Triune God" from Can I Take My Hounds to Heaven?

#10 - Amy Ray -"Chuck Will's Widow" from If It All Goes South

#9 - Tedeschi Trucks Band - "Fall In" from I Am The Moon

#8 - The Black Angels - "Empires Falling" from Wilderness of Mirrors

#7 - Band of Horses - "Warning Signs" from Things Are Great

#6 - Avi Kaplan - "Floating On A Dream" from Floating On A Dream

#5 - The Dead Tongues - "Garden Song" from  Dust 

#4 - Lee Bains + The Glory Fires - "God’s A-Working, Man" from Old-Time Folks

#3 - Florence + The Machine - "Girls Against God" from Dance Fever 

#2 - Willi Carlisle - "Rainbow Mid Life's Willow" from Peculiar, Missouri

#1 - Adeem the Artist - "Baptized in Well Spirits" from White Trash Revelry

Friday, December 2, 2022

Going to hell and heaven and to the protest and the church and the honky tonk and the trailer park with queer folk singer Adeem the Artist (they/them)

 Going to hell and heaven and to the protest and the church and the honky tonk and the trailer park with queer folk singer Adeem the Artist (they/them)

Music streaming services get buckets of bad press, especially Spotify. Forgive me for not rehearsing all the moral indictments against the model and confessing my sin as an addict. I am hooked to the tune of or to the statistics (according to them) of 87,000 minutes or almost two months of 2022, being spent with the streaming songs rocking my long walks on my Bose bluetooth headphones or shaking up my morning ecstatic meditations with an Alexa speaker shot through a banging sound system. I only say all this, because their Pandora-like abilities to suggest music are actually fantastic and factor into this long-winded review of an album that dropped today.

I am an ADHD maximalist, whose cup always overflows. My appetite for new music is so insatiable and then some. So when I was looking for more stuff in the Bob Dylan-meets-Utah Phillips-meets John Prine-meets-Pete Seeger lineage, but I wanted it to be a little weirder and wilder than my steady diet of Jason Isbell, Avetts, Brandi, et. al., the recommendations provided by the app on my phone were truly delivered. Were it not for the algorithm recommendations for a massive playlist I was building last January of agit-folk utopia, my audiophile soul may never have crashed into my radical sibling from a short eastern jaunt down I-40. 

Very early in 2022, I discovered a favorite album of 2021 that didn’t make my list, mainly because I had never heard it. 

“Cast Iron Pansexual,” by Knoxville’s “Adeem the Artist,” really got inside and changed me. The album has everything I adore about folk music, from the sonic scaffolding of addictive earworms, to adorably insecure and contagiously courageous expressions of gender fluidity, to their theological trilogy about the possibilities for an afterlife, to talking-blues takedowns of the heterosexist capitalist white supremacist patriarchy shit-show of post-Trump America. 

Wait, they also have a song about gentrification and Asheville hipsters from the perspective of a hick from Boone? I am head over heels already!

To say that “White Trash Revelry” (released today, wherever you get your music) was my most anticipated album of 2022 would be a gross understatement. I mean I was just hanging out waiting for it with a hunger not unlike the one described in their 2021 track “Fervent for the Hunger.” 

Discovered them in January, had to see them in February. In the dark of winter and early days of this phase of the Russia-Ukraine war, I drove to Nashville to see Adeem at the Basement where they are back, celebrating the new album tonight. I drove to the Exit In back in September, to see them open for Sarah Shook and American Aquarium during Americanafest (my first and hopefully not last of that amazing event). Then I drove to Newport, Kentucky to see them open a show in a converted church called Southgate House Revival. I would have seen them even more, if time or schedule allowed. So tonight will be my 4th Adeem show if I finish the review and get there, and I hope to continue to count myself as a superfan. Should we be dubbed Deemies? I deem that a possible nickname!! 

Basically gushing my heart out at their merch table in Newport, I begged Adeem for the review copy. Within minutes, I had the private reviewers’ link in my Soundcloud. 

In an ideal world I would write multiple record reviews each week. But music journalism is not my day job, so I only squeeze in a couple of proper record reviews each year, if that. And this one is more of a fanperson’s diary entry of biased beatitudes and sacred scribbles. But I must pause to celebrate this album. 

Yet yesterday, I got some really bad personal news, so that I almost jettisoned penning this review, but instead I am sucking expresso and sitting in a coffeehouse in South Indianapolis (after catching another show up here last night), before driving back to Tennessee for the album release. 

The real singalong even-in-your-sleep hit for me is “Going to Hell,” the third chapter in their aforementioned trilogy about the afterlife. Because they say “shit,” I could not play it on the college station where I am a volunteer DJ. The other two tracks in the trio--”Going to Heaven” and “Live Forever”--were on “Cast Iron,” and in recent sets, Adeem has placed all three together, interspersed with some high-brow theological banter. If you can imagine Adeem as a former music pastor turned Episcopal Atheist Evangelist turned witchy apostate, you can begin to grapple with the significance of all this. That the song successfully merges references to Robert Johnson and Charlie Daniels only verifies Adeem’s intertexual cultural literacy in their genres and the attendant messages about mystical and existential matters.

Keep in mind I love Adeem’s voice, charisma, melodies, all of it, but it’s their lyrics that are true genius. They just slay me, keep me listening again and again. They are already at the level of Bob Dylan and John Prine, Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlile, all to whom they have been compared by people other than me. This stanza from “Going to Hell” needs to be part of the grade school music and religion curriculum:

“Well, I met the devil at the crossroads and I asked if we could make a deal

He seemed puzzled, so I told him the story, and he said, ‘None of that shit's real’

It's true I met Robert Johnson, he showed me how the blues could work

But white men would rather give the devil praise than acknowledge a black man’s worth”

Their most popular single off the record is “Middle of the Heart” which is a tragic narrative disguised as sentimental bro-country. For someone unfamiliar with the rest of the Adeem canon, it is jarring, tricking you into thinking it is a crossover to the kind of Nashville radio ballads that get blasted by teary-eyed truckers. But the last stanza of the song is an anti-war sucker punch to the horrors of humanity just being humanity. As one chapter in this 11-song masterpiece, it truly digs. 

But I confess that I hate the truth that this is the introduction some people get to Adeem, as opposed to every song on this album’s predecessor, and that is just me, being like this “I loved him ten months ago,” a real fan snob. So forgive me. Adeem has made an expansive tent revival out of their subversive intervention with so-called Tennessee values turned upside down, and once a person tracks the whole record, they will not be able to think “Middle” is an indicative track, but rather a testimony to the far breadth of Adeem’s talents. 

Past the singles, some of the deep cuts are so profound and cutting. But it all breaks my heart, revs up my rage at injustice, and encourages me because I get to breathe the same air as Adeem and fight the fascists with them, arm in arm, their songs on our lips, their convictions in our hearts. 

Their songs also teach me about our shared experience as Christ-haunted heretics. The second track, even more than “Going to Hell,” lays it all out. It is speculative fiction about a gay love affair between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ, and it is emotional, heartfelt, believable, beautiful, exhilarating. Take that, all y’all homophobic and transphobic Chrisofascist jerks! This, not on your “Onward Christian Soldiers” on January 6th BS, it is the new wild hymnal, y’all. We are taking the American flag out of your churches and waving our trans and rainbow flags within the ecumenical ritual instead. 

“Heritage of Arrogance” is a stunning musical manifesto crammed into a country track, from and for folks who know by intimate experience that the KKK and white evangelicals are often the same people, and we cannot stay quiet about that anymore. This is lament and liturgy and prophetic plea:

“I saw Rodney King on the TV screen

Turn slowly into Trayon

I heard my parents make excuses

For the man who fired the gun” 

Both “Painkillers & Magic” or “Baptized in Well Spirits” are the funky fuel in the engine of this thing, the inebriated musk and mud of a working class Southern subculture soaked in whisky and tweaked on pills. They are each hootenannies of sorts, keeping up the reveling in this Revelry, reminding us that even amid such strident preaching, this shindig is a party too. 

“Rednecks, Unread Hicks” includes extra collaborations on vocals and banjo with the band that Adeem assembled for this recording. (Including Jake Blount and Jett Holden; there are many other collaborators throughout, and I apologize for not name-checking them all.) This track is another take on the all-inclusive queer-leftist social-justice takes that are the Appalachian babbling brook that this whole disc takes us swimming in. 

Even though I have listened countless times, I am still trying to track all the activism, religion, and pop culture references within just this one song. It’s got a slinky, side-two fuck-it-all jam-session groove to contain all the ridiculously rebellious references. I can’t say I have a favorite track overall, but this one packs everything I love about Adeem & is also another song that is singing in my head sometimes by surprise. 

The most heartfelt and comforting track for me is “Books and Records,” for it just resonates to other parts of me than the rest of the album. It’s a confession about not making your bills. Rather than going to the payday loan place or to sell plasma or to sell sex like in a Townes Van Zandt song, the narrator is selling, no please say it isn’t true, their books and records. See this is one of those tracks that kicks my heart in a harder way. When I had to say goodbye to the booze and drugs when entering the 12-step family so many years ago, of all my replacement vices, coffee and pastries among them, record and book collecting are obsessive habits to surpass them all. And to be blunt, I can imagine a world where I have to sell them all, just to eat or make rent. That just doesn’t seem even remotely far-fetched to me and the melody here makes me cry.

Even though I am close to 2000-words, this still feels like a rushed summary. If you made it to the end of my review and you have not listened to this album yet, please give it several spins to see if it carries the same kind of ugly cries and joyful flights that it does for me. It is the apostate gospel that makes us feel loved and seen and somehow makes it safer to be a southern leftist revolutionary mystical freak. Adeem, we love you and are grateful for this record in ways we are still just beginning to learn. 


2 December 2022

typing in a coffeehouse in Indiana