Something is Roots Moderne if it embodies a strong link to a popular musical lineage that goes back beyond the last 50 or 60 years, while adding elements that make it relevant to the present. Such lineage would include blues, country, jazz, African, Asian, etc. It also needs to involve reinvention of the genre.
There were many terrific records in 2017. In another year, Charlie Rauh’s Viriditas, Dan Phelps’ Arc, and Rights by Manuel Troller’s band Schnellertollermeier might have fit on my “Best of…” list. But this year saw so many releases by modern guitar superstars that I just have to recommend reserving some money to also pick up their worthy efforts.
This list is mine; feel free to list yours in the comment section.
With his Bigsby-equipped 1953 Les Paul fitted with a Firebird pickup in the bridge and its P-90 in the neck, run through his Korg SDD-3000 digital delay into his Tweed Fenders, Daniel Lanois spews forth pure rock and roll emotion in this rehearsal video A bonanza for fans of his personal style of playing and unique sound.
Someone recently asked me to define roots moderne. Bursting Blue Bone Bark, the Berlin-based project of Knox Chandler and Eric Mingus, epitomizes the answer. Chandler’s combination of National steel guitar and iPad apps, joins Mingus’ guttural blues shouting and vocal noises for music as primal as the Aborigines and modern as tomorrow.
As I write this, I am not even halfway through this record and we are not even halfway through 2016. Still, Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20 already rates as one of the best Roots Moderne records of the year.
When I interviewed Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz about Guitar in the Space Age for Premier Guitar in 2014, they had just finished recording with Williams for Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. They appear together on a couple of tracks on that record, but Frisell told me at that time there was an amazing record in the can, made up entirely of the two guitarists interacting live with Williams and her rhythm section. The Ghosts of Highway 20 is that record.
Early Lucinda with a another pair of great guitarists, John “JJ” Jackson (Bob Dylan), and Kenny Vaughn (Marty Stuart) who studied with Bill Frisell as a young man in Colorado.
I often play a parlor game with friends. I say, “People always lament about what Jimi Hendrix might have accomplished if he had lived longer. Well, he might have done great things, or he might have reached a certain point and stagnated, like so many of the Sixties icons.” We then try to think of artists who had 40 or 50 year careers that have continued to grow, experiment, and change. The list proves to be a short one: Miles Davis, Jim Hall, right up until his death; Jeff Beck, for sure, Joni Mitchell, and always, Neil Young. His recent release of old Blue Note tracks is a step back. But this record, with Daniel Lanois, was a Roots Moderne, guitar noise masterpiece. Happy Birthday Neil.