Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Alynda Segarra’s Past Is Still Alive: Poem-Songs Of Grief For Our Slow Show Apocalypse


To say a folk record is filled with narrative concepts and literary world-building might just be the fancy way to say that the words were so vivid that they crushed you under the weight of their epic emotion. In this season of over-listening and so many things to love, you just wanted one more album to destroy you with a soggy ugly cry, but now it is happening again and again. Such is the prolific unkempt bent of ragged American folk music during this slow show apocalypse. 

It is only 6am, and I am weeping into my first cup of coffee in hopes that someone somewhere will start their day with the new Hurray For The Riffraff record called “The Past Is Still Alive,” and that the set’s threadbare hope and relentless grief will give to that strange somebody else: such a catharsis as this. In their aching sense of their poetic song lineage, the album opens with a momentary nod to Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend,” and Alynda Segarra’s word-turning Nuyorican-Beat debts to Bob Dylan, Eileen Myles, and Pedro Pietri drop-in-and-out-of-lines that stitch themselves to the listener’s soul with the superglue of forever human grit and hunger. 

The “songwriter as poet” was a big idea and book topic during previous folk revivals, but has seemed perhaps too simplistic since. But then Dylan grabbed the greatest literary award on earth, and we are talking about singer poets again. Just recently, a musician and a scholar clarified with the “poetic song verse” concept to always situate the lyrical poetics in their comprehensive ineffable sonic package. Alynda Segarra is a master class in these sung poetic bursts. With listen-after-listen to this new joint, it was stunning-stanza-after-stunning-stanza that would slay me in my shoes, take my breath away, and rip my beating heart right out of its chest. So many words on this record are ready made for graffiti, for postcards, for tattoos, and yes, for social media sharing. It already feels like these lyrics are scars on the ancestor-tree-trunks of our lives. 

Why do these characters suddenly know me better than I know myself and why I am thinking about my dead father too -- and why I am crying again, but I am also dancing too. Maybe it is because I left Detroit in ways that Segarra left New York and those same Woody Guthrie post-Kerouac hobo yearnings define my life too, as do all the compassionate weirdos and nomadic drifts and cultic solidarity in our marginal niches of defiance and desire. 

I can imagine other poet songwriters have tried to write a record this timeless for these times (actually have a few that I would keep in the same revered company as this), but there’s gentle but ceaseless gravity to these themes and to these lines, whereas this record joins its enclave of myth and legend already great, as if it was already written and already here, as coherent of a prayer to address our collective incoherence as I can dream or imagine. 

Maybe climate grief and familial grief are the same thing? Maybe we were really born to watch our nation dissolve and our world burn with such wide-eyed vulnerable open-armed intensity? Maybe when my counselor acknowledged that my music fandom was a highly reliable and recommended form of self-care, he intuitively understood how a record like this will help me cope with things that I otherwise couldn’t manage?

As our counterculture pasts and fates will have it, I remember encountering the younger Segarra as the fabulously-fringe traveler-character who populates these songs, when I first saw them sing at a rural southern DIY queer music festival around 20 years ago. As they would periodically pierce the indie music veil and as critics would sing their praises, I would whisper to myself: I remember them; I knew about them back when; I really like them. I would always say that I need to see them live, but then, I would just miss them. I finally caught their hometown set at the 2022 New Orleans JazzFest, when they were out supporting the “LIFE ON EARTH” album. 

Over the decades, I would learn one or more acclaimed tracks from each new Hurray For The Riff Raff drop every few years, but I never gave their catalog the deep-dive or hours-long headphone rabbit-hole that it deserves and requires. Until now. Now I am falling in, all in. 

If I am to believe all the buzz in the handful of days since “The Past Is Still Alive” dropped everywhere you get your music, I am not the only person who has temporarily ditched all their other artists and listening agendas to bask full-time in the powerful magnetic storytelling and loving queer protest art of Alynda Segarra and Hurray For The Riff Raff. 



27 February 2024

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Now or Never (TOTR 468)


[pictured The Unlikely Heroes]

-for Black History Month, an episode of black and brown folks in punk and punk-adjacent music

-originally aired on WTTU 88.5 FM The Nest on Saturday, February 17, 2024

-audio archive posts after the live episode

The Black Tones - Rivers of Jordan

The Black Tones - Ghetto Spaceship

Brittany Howard - Power To Undo

Pure Hell - These Boots Are Made For Walking

Death - World In Disguise

The BellRays - Cold Man Night

Bad Brains - I Against I

TV On The Radio - Wolf Like Me

ESG - Dance

Fire Party - Walls of Mind

Shift - In Honor of Myself

JER - Breaking News! Local Punk Doubts Existence of Systemic Racism

Big Joanie - Fall Asleep

Guitar Gabby & The Txlips Band - Die Today

Generals of Monrovia - You Bring This On

Bloodplums - Trouble

Radkey - Seize

45 Adapters - Now Or Never

Xnecessityx - Humanifesto

Xnecessityx - If Not Now, When?


Thirdface - No Hope

Turnstile - Better Way

Alliteration - Reuse

Alliteration - Spinn

Skip the Needle - We Ain't Never Going Back

Unlikely Heroes - Sun

The Beatnigs - Burritos

Love Equals Death - Pray for Me

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

On the traveler’s trail with folk-punk messenger Average Joey and their new album Impermanence

 When folk-punk found me in need of folk-punk, more than 20 years ago, folk-punk fostered scruffy joy and defiance under clouds of anxiety and apocalypse. 

I keep craving and coming back to folk-punk today for the same honesty, the same over-sharing, the same grit and gravity that doesn’t do “toxic positivity,” but does do radical self-care and inclusive community and unconditional love as revolutionary survival skills. 

Enter the artist known as “Average Joey,” as one of the more real and relatable one-mand-bands in current folk-punk, a person who is doing all the things, and the things include a nomadic path, in a modestly tricked-out camper van, a life of voluntary subsistence that is ravenous with lived poetry encounters and festive eruptions, out on the margins. The political and existential crises have shifted a little in the intervening decades since my first folk-punk fits, that is, things have gotten even worse, but the ache for love and community to cope with daily life, while agitating and subverting “the powers,” has not.

I’d seen folk-punk coming on as a genre, long before I was fully immersed in Against Me! and Defiance, Ohio records and organizing a folk-punk festival on one August night in a rural Tennessee barn around 2003, because even before that I was reading Boxcar Bertha and watching my friends hop trains while we explored “the vanlife,” long before it was called the vanlife. We were ready for folk-punk as its all-encompassing thing that it would become, as soon as we saw a punk with a fiddle, a traveler kid with a banjo, maybe camping with friends on their communal land in remote California, maybe busking for dollars and change on the Asheville streets. 

Folk-punk helped me survive my last decade on the rural commune, helped me navigate the grief of war, and was as-safe-a-place-as-any to “act out” my last years of active addiction. Folk-punk was there when I got in heaps of trouble at work, when I wondered if the meager material and social benefits of “selling out” and getting a “real job” were actually worth it after all. 

Not unlike the account called “folk punk dad” and their great podcast “Back on the Grind,” I am that graying folk-punk grand-dad who still craves the visceral salve to every moral crisis that folk-punk-addresses. I am not necessarily saying folk-punk is a “new religious movement,” but as a generous form of outward anarchist praxis, it might be in the themes it explores and the mutual aid it practices. And now, the new Average Joey joint arrives to break and remake the hippypunk heart of me as spiritual seeker in the holy headphones, to supplement the typical places where one heals, in counseling sessions, on yoga mats, and at 12-step-meetings.

I first discovered Joey on the “Roots, Rednecks, and Radicals” podcast and was all-in right away, immediately blowing up their inboxes on multiple accounts with fanboy appreciation. Songs like “Cliche” or “Bro, I Told You I Contain Multitudes” or “Anarchists Who Don’t Do Anything” had me tapping along and whispering “that’s right” and “amen.” 

A quick scan of their web presence, and I learned they were also a prolific poet and zine-publisher, even releasing an audiobook of radical analyses of our collective context. Next thing you know, we are co-organizing a gig for Average Joey, in a storefront Unitarian Universalist church, in this-here micropolitan-college- town, because the venue Joey had played at previously when in these parts, that brewery had been essentially shut down by a coalition of cops, actual nazis, and anxious landlords, after said venue did the next right thing, by hosting one too many drag brunches.

Joey’s latest (Impermanence, out everywhere since 2/2/24) knocks the listener from the first bursts of the opening track called “Hello, Hell.” The raunchy keyboards get saucy from the gate, and it’s clear some crazed circus caravan has rolled into the town square. The piano suggests there might be a roadhouse saloon nearby, because how did that hobo fit that Steinway in his rucksack anyway? The tattooed-dancing-girl-vaudeville-vibes immediately made me think of mismatched striped stockings and early 00s Dresden Dolls and maybe crave some episodes of Carnival Row. The entire set is so laced with wonky samples, as to almost make us want to listen to this by candle-light on headphones, in the wee hours while microdosing (don’t worry my fellow sober pals, my default setting is psych-enough to not require microdosing). 

This 12-song and 45-minute album is a weird monk’s mindmeld, and everyone knows that Teacher On The Radio mainlines the mystical in most everything, but this is next-level real heart balm, the sacred seeking in practically every song surely gives this album a moral center and a narrative arc. As I finally scribble this review-essay from a modest Mardi Gras on the eve of the Lenten season, I am drawn again and again to the ripping revelation contained in “WTFWJF?”

Inspired by Joey’s readings in radical and historical Christianity, the opening lines lay out the thesis of my religious deconstruction that began in 2020: “Christ was crucified for sedition/Not for your sins.” That is, following Jesus meant public sedition against police brutality, not private atonements and liberal hand-wringing. Then with a refrain, Joey warns us about the war within every imperial church, one which spirit is surely losing: “Who do you serve/A Higher Purpose or authority?” Then: “Who do you worship/A Higher Power or powers that be.” I don’t practice Lent like I used to, but I reckon every leftist-Jesus-lover could gain strength from meditating on this track during the coming fast between feasts.

“Jesus Christ & Diogenes Walk Into A Bar” follows that, and tracks like “Indifference” and “Impermanence” and “Zen Tanks” and “No Thing,” all take different angles and many takes to explain our endless existential crises. The conclusion of “Impermanence” places the “poetic prophet” face-to-face with militaries and police and admits the difficult: “The pen is not quite as mighty/as the truth/That a Big Man With A Gun /Will do what he wants to.” Such honest admissions are also found in “Toxic & Fragile.” Talk about accepting some stuff that I cannot change. Talk about what is already one of my favorite new albums, released so far in 2024.

Look for Joey down the road. Imagine that he bags and instrument cases and canine companion are packed into the van and who knows who he’ll meet or what he’ll see as one called to the vagabond path, like the circuit-rider gospel barkers and painted carnies and holy medicine shows of old. This road show is because of Joey, a mystic-poet spun from a milieu that might include Walt Whitman and Willi Carlisle and always Dylan and maybe the Fugs or Holy Modal Rounders, not to mention their many folk-punk fellow travelers, and this all translates to politically-grounded transcendental troubadour with a box overflowing with left-adjacent empowering fanzines and stickers and patches, instead of gospel tracts. all available at the merch table. 

He’s humble about the itinerant singer’s actual mission while the world burns around us, the grief about avoidable tragedies that won’t keep Joey from trekking on. Amid it all, Joey is there, the traveling mendicant with a Patreon begging bowl. Watch their socials, because Average Joey might be on his way to your town, to shake up your day, to sing you a song in exchange for a bowl of soup, to tell a story and another story, recite some poems, park in your driveway or on your street, and enrich you from weariness again to a totally hungry human’s unreal hope. 

Fat Tuesday/Ash Wednesday 2024

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Prove It To You (TOTR 467)


Prove It To You (TOTR 467)

-originally aired on WTTU 88.5 FM The Nest on Saturday, February 10, 2024

-archive drops after the live broadcast

Eurythmics - Power to the Meek 

Brittany Howard - Prove It To You

Carsie Blanton - Ain't We Got Fun

The Third Mind - Groovin’ Is Easy

Home Is Where - yes! yes! a thousand times yes!

Flying Raccoon Suit - Witch's Streak

Laura Jane Grace - Birds Talk Too

Laura Jane Grace - Hole In My Head

Short Fictions - Self Betterment in a Time of Loneliness

Liquid Mike - 2 Much of a Good Thing

Liquid Mike - Mouse Trap

Death Lens - Cold World

Spiritual Cramp - Talkin' On The Internet

MSPAINT - Post-American

Dollar Signs - Bless Your Heart

Taking Meds - The Other End

Hot Mulligan - Gans Media Retro Games

Hotline TNT - I Thought You'd Change

Single Mothers - Forest Fire

Beige Banquet - Ornamental Hermit

SPRINTS - Up and Comer

Spanish Love Songs - Exit Bags

Spanish Love Songs - Re-Emerging Signs of the Apocalypse

Trophy Eyes - Runaway, Come Home

Average Joey - Toxic & Fragile

Frog Legs - The All Is Lost Moment

Walter Etc. - Manic Pixie Misanthrope

AJJ - Disposable Everything

Sincere Engineer - Blind Robin

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Greenfire/Goodnight Loving Trail (TOTR 466)


[image - Lone Wolf Circles from the CD jacket for Oikos -Songs for the Living Earth]
-originally aired on WTTU 88.5 FM The Nest on Saturday, February 3, 2024

John Trudell - Look At Us/Peltier (AIM Song)

Dana Lyons - Native Forest Song

Lone Wolf Circles - Greenfire

Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon - Where Are We Gonna Work (When The Trees Are Gone)

Casey Neill Trio - Hallowed Be Thy Ground

Casey Neill - Breathe Life

Ani DiFranco - Rockabye

Bitch & Animal - Zen Lane

Jolie Rickman - Emma Goldman

The Dolly Ranchers - WWJCD (What Would Johnny Cash Do)

Utah Phillips & Ani DiFranco - The Most Dangerous Woman

Utah Phillips - We Have Fed You All For A Thousand Years

Evan Greer - Santa Fe Song

Pistol Pete & Popgun Paul - evolution of love

Adeem The Artist - Redeck, Unread Hicks
Darrell Scott - Southern Cross

Darrell Scott - It's A Great Day To Be Alive

Darrell Scott - The World Is Too Much With Me

Willi Carlisle - Higher Lonesome

Willi Carlisle - The Money Grows On Trees

Willi Carlisle - Goodnight Loving Trail 

Willi Carlisle - Critterland

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Big Tent of Willi Carlisle's Critterland Tour is Coming For You!

Willi Carlisle’s Critterland Tour

Opening Night at The Southgate House Revival

Newport, Kentucky


upcoming tour dates here: SHOWS | Willi Carlisle

The football-player-turned-poet-turned-traveling-folksinger stands before us in his worn hat and brown boots and blue jeans and multicolored western shirt and striped suspenders. Arkansas’s Willi Carlisle is barking and bantering outside a circus tent, inviting the crowd in, with a spoken word invocation about the houseless but heart-filled Americans in every city on the itinerary. Big bold and beautiful hand-painted banners decorate the stage, as the Critterland traveling medicine show has recently decamped in your town. One banner reads, “Why have a god if no one is saved,” while the other declares, “love is a burden if it isn't brave,” all lyrics from the title anthem of the hippy-hillbilly hymnal of an album that is Critterland. Get ready mid-market towns of the midwest and south, another queer leftist country singer is on the road again.

Willi’s perfectly-paced setlist switches from slow songs to fast songs from happy songs to sad songs to downright-ugly-cry heartbreaking songs. The energy on stage is greatly amplified, though, because Willi has brought out a band on this tour. Not that that there was ever anything lacking in the bardic wonder of Willi’s solo gigs, this trio is simply fantastic and fabulously furious in sharing Willi’s intoxicating stage-presence, so a big hug of a Critterland welcome to Grady Drugg on guitar and Sophie Wellington on fiddle, guitar, and stomp box. Y’all simply brought it! 

With an obvious focus on Critterland, and these already-classic songs rip-your-heart-out even more in person, the stunning 20-song set was also career-spanning, with the venue frequently transformed into folk-punk inclusive-secular church (okay the Southgate is an old church, a point not lost on Willi one bit) for rowdy singalongs. It could have been a house-party or even a campfire, but in darkest February near the banks of the Ohio, probably good that we were indoors.

This is only my 4th time seeing Willi Carlisle, but I am totally obsessed, and this new album has quickly catapulted my fandom far past the average listener. From Willi’s welcoming stage presence to a fascinating and transparent backstory, this live show feels so deeply welcoming, the convener so deeply connected. Sure we have some genuine things in common, such as trying rural anarchist communes but leaving, or surviving adjunct teaching in the field of English, but there is even more to why these songs now live so deep inside my consciousness, yet so bundled up in my bones, and yet so far out on the wind or down dirt holler roads with critters galore, it’s like they have always existed as their own canon, their true sacred folklore, their own songbook (he made one, an actual songbook). 

In addition to the stellar pacing and catalog scavenging of the set, it’s not a folk set without the banter. Some of it was spitfire radical incantation as the poet-as-pentecostal-preacher fired up the congregation, some of it was prickly pop culture commentary. I lost track of the references at some point, but we got mentions of all kinds, of Taylor Swift and Morgan Wallen and Tim McGraw and Chris Stapleton and ProTools and the Ken Burns country music documentary and the confession that our tickets and merch-purchases were paying for the singer’s therapy. Not all the references were like the others, but you can kind of get the idea.

While it’s not clear to me that Willi walks the abstinence path (it’s not clear that he doesn’t, and if he doesn’t specify either way, it’s really not my business), but the album and this performance, among many other things, are true and profound testaments to the tragedy of addiction and overdose and self-harm. It’s really a prayer, if I can use that word, for self-care and against self-harm. Although I didn’t have time to ask Willi more about this in our brief chat after the show, and I cannot pinpoint a spot in the many interviews and podcasts I have devoured, it seems way more of a harm-reduction model than a prohibition one that sits behind these incredible songs, a model that’s gotten lots of hatred in the media and state houses of late, as some cities seek new ways to care for the drug users in our communities. 

As an addict and drunk in recovery, it all feels just so radically healing, even and especially the grief that Willi leaves on stage with buckets of spit and sweat coming off his grand frame as he puts everything he has into these performances. As I have already written about the album, it’s one for repeated listenings for this time, and without doubt, this is the show weird-of-center folk and country fans to catch in 2024. - Andrew/Sunfrog

P.S. The Golden Shoals are warming up this leg of the tour. Get there early for this wonderful folk duo and songs like “Coffee in the Morning” or “Everybody’s singing.”


What The Rocks Don’t Know

Life on the Fence

Tulsa’s Last Magician

Dry County Dust


The Great Depression

I Want No Children

Singing Knives


The Arrangements

Higher Lonesome

The Money Grows On Trees

Two Headed Lamb


The Small Things

Boy Howdy, Hot Dog!

Cheap Cocaine

When The Pills Wear Off

Your Heart’s A Big Tent


I Won’t Be Afraid