Author Archives: M. L. Rio

TVD Live Shots: The 50th anniversary of Big Star’s #1 Record at Union Stage, 12/7

PHOTOS: RACHEL LANGE | DC’s Union Stage is an unassuming venue hidden in the maze of walkways that weave between buildings on the Wharf. Compared with the flashier Anthem, with its blazing marquee and baroque chandeliers, the vibe at Union is refreshingly chill. There’s no line at the door, security is a nice man in a beanie who casually checks IDs and handbags, and the lobby is sparsely occupied by people in Big Sar T-shirts pre-gaming with pints and pizza at tiny high-top tables. It has the homey, familiar feeling of a neighborhood bar where everyone’s a regular, even if they’re not.

Downstairs there’s more beer, more pizza, an unobtrusive merch table, and a few dozen people juggling cups and plates and comparing notes on what brought them here. Folks who don’t know each other slap backs and crack jokes like they do. For the most part they seem to fall into two categories: people old enough to be Big Star’s contemporaries (the majority) and people young enough to be partly responsible for the popular rediscovery of the band over the last three decades (a significant minority).

As the room fills it also shrinks, the crowd pushing up against a stage that seems to too small for the sheer number of instruments there. Besides a small army of guitars waiting in the nonexistent wings, there are at least six microphones, a keyboard, and, of course, the drum kit. It’s pleasantly cramped, and conspicuously Brechtian. Nothing is out of sight or out of mind, including the stage crew and guest performers who blithely come and go through the rear doors and curtain, or linger on the edges of the light to watch the action onstage or on the floor. It feels like a culty underground club show, which feels exactly right.

Despite the charmingly modest digs, Big Star’s #1 Record 50th anniversary tour is a star-studded affair. This iteration of the lineup includes—besides last surviving founding member Jody Stephens—Jon Auer of the Posies, Wilco’s Pat Sansone, Chris Stamey (whose musical endeavors and collaborators are too many to list), and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, with Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner guesting on keys and vocals. The band plays through the entire album in their first set, before returning after a brief intermission for a more eclectic second set, which leans heavily on the late Chris Bell’s catalog. It’s one part tribute act, one part supergroup.

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TVD Live Shots: Suede and Manic Street Preachers at the Fillmore Silver Spring, 11/18

PHOTOS: RACHEL LANGE | It’s a frigid November evening and the line outside the Fillmore Silver Spring stretches down the block and around the corner. Ticketholders squeeze through the doors one at a time, torn between anger and amusement at the exhaustive absurdity of the security checkpoint. It takes less time to get into the Vatican. Bags are dumped out, bodies patted down, each individual key on every keyring inspected with meticulous attention. “I’ve been waiting in this line longer than I’ve been waiting to see Suede!” someone jokes, loudly. A few people laugh, but others are beginning to grumble. They can hear the music from inside already, and they’re justifiably pissed to be missing it.

Some of them have waited decades for this. While the Manics have made their way Stateside a couple of times in recent memory, Suede hasn’t made landfall (except a one-off appearance at Coachella in 2011) in a quarter-century. The fans are out in full force, and while some are local to the DMV, others have traveled from much further afield. They have plenty of time to swap stories while they wait to have their keys and their tickets and probably their fillings examined. A couple on my left tells me they drove four hours to be here. They, at least, don’t seem to mind waiting a little longer.

When I finally make my way through the doors, the vibe inside is, well, manic. Nobody’s here just for the hell of it. Most of the crowd is about the same age as Suede and the Manics themselves, but they all seem to be seventeen again for the evening. They’re double-fisting 40s, sucking on vape pens somehow smuggled past the gestapo, hollering along to every song, and underscoring every riff with roars of adulation. Welsh flags wave from the balcony. A man wears an empty cup on his head like a party hat. People snap selfies like downtown tourists in front of the Lincoln Memorial. The guy beside me, already too drunk to stand up without leaning on his girlfriend or the bar, is criminally tone deaf but he’s having so much fun it’s hard to fault him for it. “This is the best night of my life,” he announces, to no one in particular.

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Suede’s Mat Osman,
The TVD Interview

I catch Mat Osman on a Monday morning, but he’s in London, where it must be nearing teatime. He doesn’t sound as if he needs a pick-me-up; as soon as he picks up the phone we’re off to the races. “I spend all of my life talking,” he says, which is one of the reasons he loves making music but hates writing about it. “I love the way music is kind of an older language than anything… it can express emotions that you can’t express in words. I’m always dissatisfied when I write about music because I can’t capture it.”

But he does capture the exhilaration of that primal, pre-verbal communion between performer and audience. His enthusiasm is palpable and genuine. He gives the impression of someone who loves what he does and doesn’t take a bit of it for granted. In an era of untouchable superstars and aloof, too-cool-for-anything auteurs, it’s refreshing to hear from someone who is unapologetically passionate about their art, and how they make it. “One of the things I love about making music is I spend my days with friends I’ve known for thirty years,” he says. “It’s not from the five of us but from some chemical reaction between us.”

That alchemical magic made Suede famous when their first LP won the Mercury Music Prize in 1993 and became one of the fastest-selling UK debuts in a decade. But almost from the get-go, they had a longer reach. “We were quite big in places that didn’t speak English very quickly,” Osman explains. “I think that people understood that we were singing about ordinary lives. Scruffy, poor, quite extreme lives in big cities. It’s dressed up in the clothes of London because that’s where we’re from, but if we had grown up in Tokyo, we’d be a Tokyo band. I think people respond not to the specifics, but the motion of it. We’re quite a dramatic, theatrical, aggressive live act.”

He and his bandmates hope to bring the infectious adrenaline of vintage Suede to their first US tour in 25 years. They haven’t played the States since then except for an appearance at Coachella in 2011. “We have no idea what to expect,” he admits. “It’s going to be absolutely fascinating.” They’re sharing the marquee with the Manic Street Preachers, whom they toured with back in ’94. “If you asked people which two British bands were likely to crash and burn,” he says, “it would have been us and them. It’s quite interesting that we’re the two left standing from those times.”

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The Fall 2022 DC Record Fair in Photos

PHOTOS: RACHEL LANGE | The DC Record Fair returned to Eaton DC on October 16th, 2022. The usual attractions—drinks, DJs, and the best of the waxmongers from all around the DMV—took over the second-floor exhibition space, with a special preview of what’s to come at next month’s Capital Audiofest, which runs from November 11–13th at the Twinbrook Hilton in Rockville.

The District always brings out a strong showing of hip-hop, blues, soul, funk, and punk, and a few hours’ crate-digging doubles as a crash course in the sonic history of the city. However, the 2022 turnout skewed younger and more diverse than ever before, and sellers came prepared with a healthy inventory of alternative, indie, pop, and new releases.

It’s a snapshot of the vinyl resurgence in action, veteran collectors bumping elbows—literally—with teens and twentysomething neophytes on the hunt for the freshest pressing of their favorite artist. But classic acts and albums are finding a new audience, too. A young couple on my left is delighted to find one of the two dozen copies of Bridge Over Troubled Water floating around, while a redhead with a nose ring on my right wants the Replacements and only the Replacements.

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TVD Live: Blondie
with The Damned at
the Anthem, 8/21

The crowd lined up outside the Anthem to see Blondie on a Sunday night in DC is about what you’d expect, which is to say eclectic. Some are there for the opening act, The Damned—for instance, the thoroughly bald but Viking-bearded man wearing his sunglasses inside, or my friend Marcus, a less conspicuous veteran of the punk scene.

The Damned themselves have aged with unexpected grace, despite a few tired jokes about not remembering the Sixties even if you were there. Dave Vanian’s vampiric melodrama and the mad scientist antics of Monty Oxymoron make it strongly reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show—as camp as it is macabre. Vanian’s voice isn’t what it was, but his performance is thoroughly committed and the set so thoroughly entertaining that it’s impossible to care if “Eloise” is missing a few fermatas.

Except for a nondescript white man memorable only because shitfaced and the woman in the ten-gallon hat who appeared to be his date, a good time was had by all. When the Damned left the stage, a slight shift in audience composition sent the Vikings back to the bar and brought GenX girls’ nights out and Blondie die-hards in old tour T-shirts to the front.

The third most populous group was young women somewhere between teenage and twenty-something, who’ve discovered in Debbie Harry a crush, a role model, or both. I’m one of the odd ones out—too old to get carded but too young for GenX, inkmonkey at large and garden variety vinyl dork, with more than the obvious Blondie records in my collection.

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Buffy Sainte-Marie,
The TVD Interview

Buffy Sainte-Marie has spent much of the last seven decades doing things people said she couldn’t do. Her youthful defiance comes to the fore more than once over the course of an hour’s conversation on what was—for her, in Hawaii—an extremely early morning. Her laughter is effusive, her joie de vivre inspiring as I cling to my coffee for dear life five time zones east. It’s not what you might expect of a self-identified recluse who lives “with a bunch of goats in the mountains,” but Sainte-Marie has made a career of defying expectations.

“I was told that I couldn’t be a musician,” she says. “I was told as a child, ‘You can’t be a musician because you can’t learn to read European music.’” At the same time, “I was told that I could not be indigenous. ‘You can’t be an Indian because there aren’t any more around here.’” She went home with a laugh and played “fake Tchaikovsky” or whatever she heard on the radio, “pretty happy just being [her]self.” You can still hear happiness in her voice, decades later. “I’m just like a kid who’s having fun,” she says—something she insists children naturally know how to do. “They don’t have to be told.”

But she did have a little help from her mother: “My mom told me when I was a kid that sometimes the grown-ups were wrong… She always told me that I could grow up and go find out for myself,” a refrain long-time listeners might recognize. “It was presented to me in that non-judgmental way, just, ‘You can go and find out.’ Not just music or indigenous issues, but whatever you want.” Exploration and open conversation would characterize the rest of Sainte-Marie’s career, which has spanned not only decades but a wide field of humanistic endeavors including music, visual art, activism, and education.

When I ask how she balances all her projects and personas, she makes it sound like the simplest thing in the world: “It all goes together,” she says. “My world and my lives… they all make sense together.” From the outset, her motivations have rarely wavered. Despite being the first person or first woman or first indigenous woman to do a lot of things (listed on her extensive Wikipedia page), she’s never had “any hunger of innovation” or any desire “to get a hit record for Buffy.” Instead, the unifying themes of her work are content and communication. Of her career as a folk singer, she explains, “These are not protest songs. We don’t really have a name for the opposite of a protest song. A protest song lays out what the problem is but there’s another kind of song that’s about the solution.”

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Bernard Fowler,
In-store with TVD at
DC’s Som Records

As 2020 comes to a close it’s not lost on us that we—and most likely you—spent very little time in a record store this year (if you even did at all). As we close the book on this trying year, this week we’ve been looking back at some of our favorite pre-pandemic visits to our local record shop to revive that record store experience—with a friend or ten that you just might know.Ed.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AUGUST 2019 | Bernard Fowler has been singing with the Stones since the ’80s and his CV reads like a Who’s Who of music legends. But this veteran rocker is anything but intimidating—in person he’s warm, charming, and full of great stories. Cratedigging with Bernard feels like cratedigging with an old friend, even if you just met him five minutes ago.

When we met up at Som, his most recent record, Inside Out, was up on the wall. It’s a collection of Rolling Stones songs, but instead of merely covering familiar tracks like “Sympathy for the Devil” or “Dancing with Mr. D,” Inside Out uses elements of free jazz, funk, and spoken word to completely reinvent songs you thought you knew. Nobody’s better qualified to do this than Bernard, with his impressive musical pedigree and years of personal experience with the Stones.

The day before the No Filter tour’s rescheduled stop at FedEx Field, I asked him what his favorite thing was about playing with Mick and Keef and Ronnie and Charlie. He’s got the best seats in the house, he said, with a laugh. What song would he add to the setlist, given the opportunity? “Dandelion.”

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Low Cut Connie’s
Adam Weiner,
The TVD Interview

I catch Adam on the phone on a Monday morning, which seems like an inauspicious time to ring up a rock and roller (his manager’s suggestion, not mine). But to call Adam Weiner a rock and roller feels reductive; after an hour on the horn we’ve talked about everything and everyone from the GOP and Atlantic City to the rodeo circuit and Jerzy Grotowski. Adam himself is best known as the frontman of Low Cut Connie, whose fans range as widely as our conversation—they’ve made the favorites playlist with Rolling Stone, Elton John, and Barack Obama, to name just a few.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, the band’s famously rambunctious live shows have even been transformed for a remote audience known as “Tough Cookies,” who tune in every Thursday to Adam’s living room instead of the news. Judging by the chatter in the sidebar when I join them for the landmark 50th show, many have made Low Cut Connie a part of their weekly routine. It’s not hard to see why; in the course of an evening, Adam and guitarist Will Donnelly not only play new hits, old favorites, and fresh covers, but make up songs, eat tacos, take questions, and pull records from the shelves to share with their fans. DJ sets are dutifully accompanied on the cheese grater, Tupperware, and air guitar. It’s the closest to a house party you’re probably going to get before the year is out—defiantly joyful and deeply cathartic.

That Adam is so generous with his fans comes as no surprise. He’s always been in it for the people. “I’m from New Jersey, but I’ve lived in New York City, Philadelphia, Montreal, Austin, Memphis, and I’ve traveled throughout the US, Canada, Europe, with my music, with some measure of success for the last few years, and with a of measure of no success for many years. And that allowed me to kind of meet people eye to eye,” he tells me. “I’d play anywhere that would have me. Nobody knew me, I didn’t have any fans. If an anarchist punk squat house on a college campus would have me and feed me I would stay over.” His songs are populated by characters at once larger than life and too real to be denied—drag queens and evangelists and everyone in between. “I always feel like I want to talk about the people in my songs with a sort of fascinated and sympathetic eye from how they’re living. I get that as much from movies and literature as I do from music.”

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Suzi Quatro,
The TVD Interview

Suzi Quatro knows exactly who she is and what she wants. That’s the impression she gives, even on a crackling Skype call across the Atlantic. I spoke to her in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, before either of us had any idea just how crazy the next six months would be. “It’s pretty scary,” she said, when I asked her how she was staying sane back in those early days. “I’m trying to be creative, I’m working on the next album with my son right now… and taking a six mile walk [with him] every day.” As she and the people who know her best readily attest, she’s always raced through life at a breakneck pace, and at 70, she shows no signs of slowing down.

In addition to working on a new album with her son, Richard Tuckey, she’s planning to put out another book, maintaining a presence on social media, and even cleaning up after herself. “Of course my cleaner can’t come so I’m going against my religion to clean it myself. I have to have music on when I clean so I’m dancing around to my Motown,” she says. “That just makes it a little quicker, when you can do the Temptations, you know? I was cheerful for about the last two weeks but that seems to have gone away…”

We chat about her other musical influences and what’s stuck with her since the Sixties: Otis Redding, Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan, and (of course) Elvis Presley. “The music that you listen to as a teenager really stays in your heart forever,” she says. “I saw [Elvis] on TV and knew I was going to do what he did.” Her preferred medium? Vinyl, of course. “Nothing quite like it. The old days you’d go and flick through the sleeves and hold it in your hands… just fantastic. There’s a whole new vibe in vinyl. It’s beautiful in its imperfection.” The same might be said of Quatro’s whole career.

She talks about her favorite tunes with the same electric energy that made her a household name in the music business in the 1970s, singled out for stardom by Mickie Most. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t… getting up and doing a number,” she tells me. “I was always a performer, always, from a little girl. And in fact that’s what I put on my first passport [with the Pleasure Seekers]. I was the only one that put down ‘entertainer’ as profession… It says a lot about my mindset back then.” This, in her own estimation and that of the friends and family who populate her upcoming rockumentary, Suzi Q, is the leitmotif of her life: uncompromising ambition. Suzi Quatro was determined to be a star.

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TVD Premiere: Datura4, “You Be The Fool”

PHOTO: BEN TAYLOR-VIVIAN | Old-school Australian rockers Datura4 return in April with their fourth studio album, West Coast Highway Cosmic, an ode to the open road and lost legends of rock and roll. Their latest single, “You Be the Fool,” takes us on a sun-soaked trip from the 1970s to now.

With its fuzzy blues-rock riff dipped in psychedelia, “You Be the Fool” sounds like “Roadhouse Blues” covered by Count Five. Reliable set pieces from the classic rock canon in unexpected variations make the song feel at once fresh and familiar: a wailing harmonica which might have been filched from Howlin’ Wolf by the Rolling Stones, a funk undercurrent that smacks of Stevie Wonder, a falsetto refrain which—down to the lyric “What you gonna do?”—seems to echo Gary Clark Jr. on “What About Us.”

“We’d had the main riff kicking around for a while. During our shows we’d regularly incorporate it into our extended jams of ‘Demon Blues’ from our first album. The more we jammed on it, the more I thought it would be cool to extract a song out of it,” says frontman Dom Mariani. “The verses came from another unfinished tune. I was able to marry the two together. The contrast between the straighter rocking verses and the funky blues groove of the main riff and chorus worked nicely.” Listeners will likely agree; “You Be the Fool” is eminently grooveable, and West Coast Highway Cosmic promises more good grooves to come.

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Sorry You’re Here: Beauty Pill’s Lost Record Sees the Light At Last

PHOTO: STEPHAN GIOVANNINI | “I didn’t want to put this record out,” Chad Clark tells me at the beginning of our conversation about Sorry You’re Here, the most recent release by DC-based band Beauty Pill. “It’s a pretty interesting journey.”

You’ll find the album filed under new releases in your record store or on your preferred streaming platform, but Sorry You’re Here was first conceived in 2010 as the soundtrack to a devised dance play by the Taffety Punk theatre company. The premise of tends to give listeners pause, because the text is taken entirely from real chatrooms of the late 1990s and early 2000s devoted to the subject of suicide—not how to prevent or avoid it, but how to actually do it, and why so many people felt the urge to take their own lives in the first place.

“I love the play,” Clark says. “I stand by it as a work of art.” It’s certainly not for everyone; because the text of the piece is gathered from real life—and death—online, it can be a disconcerting experience for audience members. “It’s sensitive, but it’s not a timid work,” Clark explains. “It doesn’t surprise me that it’s disturbing for some people. But artistically, at that level, I support it.” Given the difficulty of the material, his initial hesitation to release the music to a wider audience might seem obvious. “It’s not an area that I take lightly,” he says. “[But] my unease about releasing the music had a lot more to do with the fact that the style of the music deviated very strongly from what people expected from me or wanted from me at that time.”

Eventually, he decided to part ways with Dischord, not because the label imposed what he refers to as a “kind of an aesthetic straitjacket,” but because fans of other Dischord artists expected something different from what Beauty Pill had to offer. “This music is far out and away from what people thought I should be doing,” he explains. “I was nervous, I was insecure, that’s just the reality. And now I hear it, and what’s happened in the time since is people have really come around.”

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In the Light: Lez Zeppelin’s metaphysical ‘Physical Graffiti’

Steph Paynes meets me under the awning at the Gramercy Theatre, where the marquee smugly declares that Lez Zeppelin’s performance of Physical Graffiti tonight is sold out. She certainly looks like a rock star: long black hair, leather pants, sunglasses inside. She radiates cool. I feel conspicuously uncool standing beside her, but the bouncer gives me a guest pass anyway and I follow Steph into the auditorium, where a gaggle of roadies are setting up the stage rig. We trade handshakes and hellos and head downstairs to the greenroom.

The Gramercy has a tumble-down glamour about it, with that weird patterned wallpaper which could just as easily be an artifact of the psychedelic decades or the Victorian era. We make ourselves comfortable on the couch, already chatting. Steph is easy to talk to, and while I set up to record the interview, she tells me a story about how she once forgot to turn her tape recorder on while interviewing Ian Anderson—for Playboy, of all publications. “At the time they were a real magazine,” she says. Back then she was doing what I’m doing now: writing about music.

“I was working as a guitar player while I was writing for a long time,” she explains, when I ask how she got from there to here. “I was playing with Ronnie Spector, and I was a Ronnette, basically… odd but true.” Around the same time, she was rediscovering her love of Led Zeppelin. “After hearing so much music and playing so much music, this music just stunned me again with how really, truly great it was… So I just thought, oh it’ll be fun. I’ll get a bunch of girls together and we’ll just play this music.” Originally, her aspirations were modest; she didn’t expect to be playing more than one or two gigs a month, for “fifty bucks [and] a couple of beers.” A decade later, Lez Zeppelin has a jam-packed touring schedule and fans all over the world—including Jimmy Page. But more on that anon.

“I realized, If I’m gonna do this I really need to do it the right way,” she says. “Because if you do it badly, especially as a female musician… boy, you’ll not only be embarrassing yourself, but it would be bad for female musicians period.” Fortunately, Steph is no slouch in the rehearsal room, or as a recruiter. Finding the right women to join her on the Lez Zeppelin venture and passionate devotion to the project turned it into a phenomenon that soon surpassed her expectations. “The second we started to play out, people just lost their minds, because they really, really wanted to hear this,” she says. “And hearing it from women, who were delivering this power, was really unexpected. It was shocking people.”

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TVD Live Shots: The Winter 2020 DC Record Fair in Photos

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | The DC Record Fair, now in its eleventh year, just gets bigger and better.

Vendors arrived early to seize prime real estate before the venue opened to the general public at 11 a.m. on Sunday, January 26th, while early bird buyers paid $3 more to beat the crowds. Dozens were busy digging—upstairs and down—as soon as the doors opened. They surely weren’t disappointed: veteran vendors and freshman sellers alike brought their best discs, from high-priced collectibles to $10 must-haves.

At Penn Social, elbow room is in short supply, but most people didn’t seem to mind, gamely trading places and taking turns so everybody got a chance to eyeball everything and hopefully go home happy. The bar opened for business along with the doors for diggers to drown their sorrows or celebrate big scores.

Downstairs a rotating regiment of District DJs kept things grooving, while the coffee bar did a roaring trade in liquid pick-me-ups. Lindsey Mastis—ABC7 news anchor, vinyl enthusiast, and human pick-me-up—made the rounds, interviewing buyers and sellers and livestreaming the event on Instagram, complete with her trademark jumps for joy.

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TVD Live: Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening at the Fillmore Silver Spring, 11/26

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | Usually I spend three days before a concert plumbing the depths of the band’s discography, but this time there was no need. I know Led Zeppelin’s back catalog like the back of my hand. So I walked to the venue listening to an astrophysicist with a thick Italian accent explaining orbital mechanics over a poor-quality long-distance call. I mention this interview because it turned out to be an oddly fitting warm-up act for JBLZE—it’s as confusing as it is fascinating.

From the beginning, it’s unclear what JBZLE is supposed to be: cover band? Nostalgia trip? Both at once, or something else entirely? To the band’s credit, it’s also difficult to fuss too much about this performative identity crisis. JBLZE is undeniably fun. They’ve been opening for Peter Frampton recently, and they hit the much smaller stage at the Fillmore with the same energy—they’re loud, proud, and happy to be there.

So is the audience, a mixed collection of Baby Boomers out on Date Night, parents who have dragged their children along (or vice versa), and die-hard Led Heads difficult to categorize any other way. In the queue outside the venue, a teenager chatters at her father about other concerts they’ve clearly been to together. He catches my eye over her head and shrugs, smiles. She’s got the bug. It’s a familiar scene; ten years ago it might have been my father and me.

The family resemblances don’t stop there. Jason Bonham reminisces about his own father between songs, recalling how the resurgence of analog audio led him to an unexpected discovery: that the liner notes give Bonzo songwriting credit on “Good Times, Bad Times.” “He didn’t play an instrument [besides the drums],” Jason explains, “so how did he get the ideas across?” He sang them, according to Jimmy Page, who answered this question with an anecdote about “Out on the Tiles”—which started with one of Bonzo’s old drinking songs.

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Grounded and in contact: Roan Yellowthorn’s melancholy “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Jackie McLean knows how to make a cover—and a Christmas song—her own. Her most recent holiday single, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” arrived in stores on November 15, with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River” released earlier this month.

“River” might seem like a strange choice for a holiday single. While Christmas is mentioned, it’s not explicitly a Christmas song—but that’s just what McLean likes about it. “When I’m choosing something to sing,” she says, “I try to pick something that resonates with me and my emotional landscape the most. And for me, I think most of the time I do see kind of the more melancholy side of things.”

That includes Christmas. The holiday season can highlight feelings of loneliness and isolation just as easily as it can bring people together. Putting those conflicted feelings to music can be cathartic for McLean, the voice of indie-rock outfit Roan Yellowthorn. “If I’m able to sing a sad song that taps into the bluer side, it makes me feel more aligned, in a weird way.”

Her approach to the seminal “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” emphasizes the same sense of sadness. “It definitely is a traditional Christmas song,” she says, but “devastatingly sad… I imagine it being sung by somebody who wants to return to a place that doesn’t exist anymore, so we tried to sort of do it in that spirit.” The single is a piano-vocal collaboration with keyboardist Ty Bailey, who’s usually on tour with Katy Perry. “I loved working with him,” McLean says. “I just told him I had this idea of making the song into a weird, Twin Peaks kind of trippy, sad, weird moment and he just knew exactly how to give it that sound.”

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