About Political Beats
Scot Bertram and Jeff Blehar discuss ask guests from the world of politics about their musical passions.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Adam Wollner. Adam is a Washington-based journalist who has covered national politics for CNN, McClatchy, and National Journal. Check him out on Twitter at @adamwollner. Adam’s Music Pick: My Morning Jacket A reverb-laden, indie-country band? Roots rock? Electro-funk? Jam band? All that and much more could be said to describe My Morning Jacket at various stages of their career. The constant has been solid-to-great albums and a dynamic live show that harnesses the power of the studio tracks and unleashes it upon the audience. Led by songwriter and lead vocalist Jim James, My Morning Jacket's music is most closely tied to the Americana folk scene, drawing comparisons, especially early on, with The Band and Neil Young. MMJ slowly adopted some of the moods and styles of the late '60s psychedelic/folk movement, as well. What results is a unique amalgam of genres, songs that seem to pick up new tricks and ideas from across a wide musical spectrum. MMJ has been around for 25 years but, if you're not in the right musical circles, you might not have heard of them before now. Which is, of course, a shame. As Scot explains in the episode, this is not music you need to work hard to love or enjoy. MMJ comes to you, arms open, holding a fluffy blanket. There are numerous ways to enter the world of this band. From there, wonder awaits.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Mark Hemingway. Mark is a writer at RealClearInvestigations and RealClearPolitics and an occasional contributor at The Federalist. Check him out on Twitter at @heminator. Mark’s Music Pick: Big Star How do you merit an episode of Political Beats when you've released only a handful of albums in your career? When two happen to be among the best pop/rock records ever recorded and a third is a fascinating “"lost masterpiece” that’s never had a real, official release and is steeped in so much mystery no one is even sure what the correct track order might be. That, and much more, is the story of Big Star. In actuality, there's a rich story behind the music of Big Star, from bad luck to poor distribution to bad timing to, much later, acknowledgement of the stellar work that was done. The songs they recorded form the rock solid foundation of power pop, influencing bands decades into the future. Some of your favorite artists likely learned numerous tricks from Big Star, bands like The Posies, R.E.M., Teenage Fanclub, Gin Blossoms, Wilco, Matthew Sweet, The Replacements, and many more. Only a few thousand copies of Big Star’s records sold upon release, both a comment of the prevailing tastes of the early 1970s and an indictment of the distribution strategy (or lack thereof) of the band’s labels. We try to explain the genius of both Alex Chilton and Chris Bell and come to praise the contributions of Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens to the arrangements. If you don’t know Big Star, this is a perfect introduction. As a side note, Mark Hemingway becomes our very first three-time guest on the show, opening the door for others to return again in the future. He’s been anointed “King of the Short Discography” after tackling The Replacements, Nirvana, and now Big Star on the show.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Noam Blum. Noam is Chief Technology Officer at Tablet Magazine and co-host of the Ambitious Crossover Attempt podcast and of All Crossed Out on the Callin app, both of which deal with pop culture, media, and politics. Find him on Twitter at @neontaster. Noam’s Music Pick: Tool Since Political Beats dealt with one of Gen Z's niche musical obsessions last episode in tackling The National, we've decided to double down in the new year and finally go after one of the Millennial generation's more beloved (and also, as we grant on the show, derided for their sincerity) bands with a discussion of Tool. Driven by the lyrical vision of Maynard James Keenan, the guitar geometrics/visualizations of Adam Jones, and the drumwork of Danny Carey, Tool was/is (though "is" is notional proposition, given that they've slowed their work pace to one album a decade) progressive heavy metal in their approach, a genre we haven't covered at all here on the show yet. We have dealt with many of their progenitors, particularly King Crimson (compositionally and musically) and Husker Du (lyrically and spiritually). And one day we'll get to Metallica, we promise. But Tool in many ways represents the final flowering of that line of intellectualized hard rock that began in the '70s, became unfashionable in the '80s, and then reemerged in the '90s. Their heavy sound and emotionally involuted lyrical obsessions would become endlessly imitated by many lesser groups seeking to recreate the intensity of their music, but those would be pale imitations. Here's the genuine article, a tool to use for yourself. Use wisely.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Phil Wegmann. Phil is White House reporter for RealClearNews and RealClearPolitics. Check him out on Twitter at @PhilipWegmann. Phil’s Music Pick: The National Let us tell you, we have had *a bunch* of listeners ask us for an episode on The National, and we are nothing if not responsive to our fans. Neither one of your hosts previously was extremely familiar with the band, which is why we called in our ringer, Phil Wegmann, who earlier helped to lead our path through the Creedence Clearwater Revival show. Looking at Wiki's description of The National -- “The National has been compared to Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, Interpol, Wilco, Depeche Mode and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds” -- you could be forgiven for thinking this already was one of Jeff’s favorite bands. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact there’s a lot of Arcade Fire in this music, as well. Much of your opinion of The National could hinge on how you feel about lead singer/lyricist Matt Berninger and his classic baritone voice. There’s not a ton of vocal modulation on these tracks! That, of course, makes for a distinctive sound and separates the band from many of its peers. The band’s self-titled debut is a bit of an outlier – there are sounds there they never quite would return t0 – but after that, a fantastic string of albums begins with Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers, one Scot argues actually is among their best. Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet make the case for The National becoming one of the most consistent acts of the decade while continuing to tweak their songwriting and performance at each stage. 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me ends up as a top choice of all three of your hosts. Maybe you’re new to the band, too! Don’t worry. Jump in and experience The National through the eyes of a superfan and two other hosts who were in the same position you’re in. And if you already love The National, well, there’s a decent chance our takes will somehow manage to irk each and every one of you in some way. We can’t all be “Mr. November,” after all.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Andrew Fink. Andrew is a member of the Michigan House of Representative (District 35 -- Branch & Hillsdale Counties). Prior to that, he was the district director for Senate majority leader Mike Shirkey. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewFinkMI. Andrew’s Music Pick: Otis Redding Ladies and gentlemens, we are so happy to be here with the Love Crowd tonight because we gotta gotta gotta gotta turn it loose about soul giant Otis Redding, a man whose recorded legacy looms large not just in the history of soul and R&B but in modern popular music as a whole. Redding is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest R&B vocalists of all time, and as a "soul giant," but what is far too less appreciated about him is that he was the first truly modern African-American popular musician, a man self-consciously carving out a sound, pushing sonic boundaries and the traditions of his genre, and working self-consciously to craft albums as complete statements at a time when absolutely no other black artist in the country outside of jazz was thinking along those lines. Redding's early singles established him, simply on their own terms, as an early Sixties soul great. ("Pain In My Heart," "Mr. Pitiful," "That's How Strong My Love Is," "I've Been Loving You Long," and "Security" are the sorts of timeless Redding soul belters that went immediately into the working books of countless English R&B bands, notably including The Rolling Stones.) His mid-Sixties albums demonstrated that he, alone among all major soul/R&B artists of his era -- long before Stevie or Marvin moved for their artistic freedom -- had a sound and vision that belonged to something more than a series of singles. And the music he was making before he suddenly died (in a December 1967 plane crash while flying between shows) was mutating both into chart-topping contemplative folk-pop ("(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay," his only #1 single) and forward-looking hard funk ("Hard To Handle"). Four albums of posthumous Redding material were released between 1968 and 1970. Much of it is great work. But one can only imagine where Otis would actually have been by 1970. He was growing so quickly as an artist. Join us this week, as we open with a long discussion of Stax/Volt and the nature of its "sound," and then engage in a celebration of one of the greatest popular musical artists of the Sixties -- and perhaps the most heartbreaking loss of modern musical history, in terms of what we likely missed when that plane went down on a cold winter's day in December 1967. Hail to The King of Soul.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Noah Weinrich. Noah is director of communications for Heritage Action, the grassroots and advocacy arm of The Heritage Foundation. Check him out on Twitter at @weinrich_noah. Noah’s Music Pick: Weezer What kind of a band starts its career with two stone-cold classic albums, takes a nearly five-year hiatus, and then returns to mixed results for a 20+ year tail? We're about to find out. Covering the good (Maladroit! Everything Will Be Alright In the End!), the bad (Make Believe!) and the ugly (Raditude!), we try to lend some perspective on what made the band great, why perceptions have changed over the years, and what keeps them going. Of course, we spend a huge portion of the show discussing Weezer’s twin pillars of excellence: the debut (Blue) and Pinkerton. One beloved from the moment of release and the other taking years for fans and critics to fully appreciate. The response to Pinkerton clearly changed the trajectory of the band and influenced musical decisions for years to come. The second self-titled (Green) album heralded a comeback in 2001, but it was a different kind of band, divorced from much of what made the first two albums so consequential. Regardless, fans, some new and some old, embraced most of these sonic moves. There’s lots to discuss about the last 20 years and how Weezer should be considered so long after the early success. There’s also Rivers Cuomo’s lyrical journey from sharing ultra-personal thoughts and desires to crafting pop songs from spreadsheets and syllable counts. It’s . . . weird. One of the longest-lasting rock bands of the 1990s, but should it be considered one of the best? That question and many more get tackled on this Political Beats.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are with guest Jesse Walker. Jesse is books editor at Reason and author of two books, The United States of Paranoia and Rebels On the Air. He can be found on Twitter at @notjessewalker. Jesse’s Music Pick: Willie Nelson In Part Two, we pick up Willie’s story at his commercial breakthrough, Red Headed Stranger (1975). This opens a window in which Willie records frequent number one albums on the country charts and often dents the pop charts with his records, as well. What’s changed? Well, Willie stops writing music for himself for an awfully long stretch. It’s somewhat ironic that his biggest successes in this era will come from other people’s songs after Willie’s writing helped so many artists move product in the years prior. Near the height of “Outlaw Country,” Willie takes a sharp left turn by recording an album’s worth of compositions from the Great American Songbook. Stardust becomes a huge hit and allows Willie to do what he wants. Specifically, that means a series of tribute albums and duet albums in the late '70s. The '80s would bring a string of crossover hits like "On the Road Again," "To All the Girls I Loved Before," "Pancho and Lefty," and "Seven Spanish Angels.” Always on My Mind was a HUGELY popular album at the time but signaled the end of a certain creative era for Willie. He writes again on Tougher Than Leather to mixed returns and the rest of the decade would see occasional hits among a plethora of releases. The 1990s kick off with Willie’s tax trouble and a pretty great release meant to raise money to pay back the government. We dive into Who’ll Buy My Memories and other highlights from an interesting decade of music, with Across the Borderline, Moonlight Becomes You, Spirit, and Teatro (with Daniel Lanois producing) among his best work. Willie has continued his firehose release schedule to this day, with a new album on the shelves just a couple months ago. We skim through the latter portion of his career, stopping to shine a light on a few of the more worthwhile albums. Over two parts and more than six hours, we hope to give both die-hard Willie fans and those new to the artist an overview of what made him so great.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Jesse Walker. Jesse is books editor at Reason and author of two books, The United States of Paranoia and Rebels On the Air. He can be found on Twitter at @notjessewalker. Jesse’s Music Pick: Willie Nelson Sure, in the past here on Political Beats we have dabbled in country-ish music. We've dipped our toes in the water of alt-country and country rock. But this, friends, is a full-fledged belly flip into the world of COUNTRY. Welcome to Willie Nelson, Part One. The show may never be the same. In Part One, we take Willie from his early songwriting days up through Phases and Stages. That’s right -- it’s 3+ hours and we don’t even get to Red Headed Stranger. That’s how much we have to say about Willie. We discuss much more than the music in this one. For example, we ask why country music's greatest albums are not considered among popular music's greatest as well? Why do we cabin them off to one side? How should we consider the songwriter versus the performer? Why would someone like Willie, early on at least, successful at one but not the other. And the voice. The delivery. What makes Willie truly Willie? From Liberty to RCA to Atlantic, all of Willie’s record labels are represented on the show. It's a straight-up crime that some of these records aren't routinely listed among the greatest American albums of all-time. However, that's the silo country music finds itself in, at times. We try to bust through that silo. It’s an exciting mix of styles and eras with entertainment and information for newbies and hardcore fans. Relax in any way you see fit, grab a bit of yesterday’s wine, and be amazed at how time slips away when you listen to Political Beats. You can even stay in your underwear, if you like.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Steve Miller. Steve is a veteran journalist and a reporter at RealClearInvestigations. He's also the author of Detroit Rock City: The Uncensored History of Rock 'n' Roll in America's Loudest City. Steve's Music Pick: Mott The Hoople Do you remember the Saturday gigs? We do, we do! Mott The Hoople are known outside of specialist rock audiences these days either as "one of those weird bands from That Weird Era with one of those memorably weird names" or as a putative 'one-hit wonder' performing a song most people associate with David Bowie. So that's where you're wrong, kiddo. Mott The Hoople was a band that managed to set Britain (and particularly London) afire during the early Seventies, even as they consistently eluded chart success. They were brought together by famed rock & roll madman/record-jobber/A&R man/heavy drinker Guy Stevens, who realized his dream of creating a band that sounded like both The Rolling Stones AND Bob Dylan simultaneously by pairing a chubby Dylanesque vocalist/pianist (Ian Hunter, hiding his insecurity behind enormous shades) with a workaday gigging band that hailed from within spitting distance of the Welsh border (the Doc Thomas Group, with Mick Ralphs). From that fusion came Mott The Hoople, and their 1969 self-titled debut album. The pure rock & roll energy -- gruff, with zero pretensions, utterly available to the fans and the audience, yet strangely literate and aspirational as well -- was there from day one. The only question was whether Mott could ever properly harness it in the studio. The gang argues that they actually did quite a good job during their pre-Bowie years (especially on Brain Capers, an album of such loopily memorable hard-rock ferocity that it must be heard to be believed), but the record-buying public certainly didn't agree. Which is where David Bowie stepped in, rushing to save the band after they'd announced their own dissolution in the UK music press. His song "All The Young Dudes" became their most famous number, and yet on this episode everyone is at pains to argue that neither the song nor its namesake album are the real highlight of Mott's career. So let us explain to you how a band you've more or less never heard of recorded one of the greatest albums of the entire decade after their involvement with David Bowie as we sing you the ballad of Mott The Hoople. And if it seems we've lost just a little bit on the journey, then please treat us kindly.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Andrew Heaton. Andrew is a comedian and political satirist you might know from Reason TV. He is the host of The Political Orphanage, a funny policy analysis show for people tired of tribalism. You can find him on Twitter at @mightyheaton. Andrew Music Pick: “Weird Al” Yankovic You should know a few things about Al before we start. First, Al is super smart. He was two years younger than all the other kids in grade school and was going to be an architect before music intervened. Second, Al is super nice. There are no bad stories (that we know of!), no scandals. He doesn't even do a parody unless the artist gives the "Okay," even though there's no particular reason for him to do that. Three, Al is a super-good songwriter. You might think of parodies when you think of “Weird Al,” but a goal of this show is to convince you that his originals & pastiches are even better. The short Al story begins with the “Dr. Demento” radio show. Al was a fan. He passed him a cassette tape with some songs when the Dr. visited his high school, one of which then was played on the show. After that, Al continued to contribute and people took some notice. Well before the first album was released, he got national airplay with the singles "My Bologna" and "Another One Rides the Bus" -- the latter was recorded live on Demento's show and not even re-recorded for the debut. That '81 performance also is where Al met his long-time drummer. The rest of the band was put together in '82 and they've been together since. Not bad when it comes to longevity and loyalty. There are essentially four types of "Weird Al" songs: 1. Straight parodies (think "Eat It," “Fat,” “Smells Like Nirvana”) 2. Pastiches (song in the style of REM, Devo, Talking Heads, Cake, Bob Dylan, etc.) 3. Pure originals 4. Polka medleys of current or past hits There are certain recurring themes – food, TV, movies, the sad sack in love, lyrics with escalating comedic situations -- but through Al’s lengthy career, he’s shown the ability to adapt to whatever is in front of him, both musically and culturally. There are ups and downs to be sure, but his last album, Mandatory Fun (2014), was Al’s first number one album, a sign he still commanded a sizable fanbase of nerds and weirdos. Of which all three of us are, of course. Join the crowd, shout it out loud! Dare to be stupid with Political Beats and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Scott Immergut. Scott is the CEO of Ricochet.com and the Ricochet Audio Network. He is the long-time producer of the Ricochet Podcast and the GLoP Culture podcast with Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, and John Podhoretz. He’s also the Executive Producer of The Hoover Institution’s Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson andGood Fellows, with Niall Ferguson, H. R. McMaster, and John Cochrane. Scott’s Music Pick: Squeeze They might do it down on Camber Sands and at Waikiki, but in the mainland U.S., Squeeze was mostly a rumor for much of the band’s career. Highest charting album? #32. Just two Top 40 singles. Squeeze, unfortunately, was destined to join the long list of very British bands that never quite crossed over to the States. If you know Squeeze at all, it might be because of the placement of “Tempted” on the soundtrack for Reality Bites. Or, perhaps a roommate at college had the Singles 45's and Under collection on CD, as most roommates seemed to in the 1990s. But there’s a heck of a lot more to the story. This is, of course, where Political Beats steps in to solve the problem. Because the truth is you won’t find music any better than what Squeeze produced, particularly at their peak from 1978-1982. The highly literate lyrics of Chris Difford, filled with sharp storytelling and British allusions, paired perfectly with the beautiful, melodic, and sometimes quite complicated music written by Glenn Tilbrook. Tilbrook’s soulful tenor took most of the leads (except, famously, on perhaps the band’s best-known song, “Tempted”) while Difford’s deep croaking voice contributed backing vocals. The duo were called the heirs to the Lennon/McCartney songwriting throne, though the comparison never really fit and actually harmed the band’s output, as we discuss on the show. But they were something special, producing some of the finest pop songs of the era, like “Another Nail In My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels,” “Up the Junction,” and “Is It Love”. The band broke up in 1982, making way for a pretty awful Tilbrook/Difford duo album that was a naked reach for the charts. Squeeze reunited in 1985, fell apart in 1999, got back together in 2007 and remain a recording and touring entity to this day. Pick up almost any album from their collection and you’re going to hear at least a handful of well-crafted, melodic, memorable tunes. If nothing else, you’ll learn about a whole bunch of British slang, like “argybargy,” “up the junction,” “that’s not cricket,” and “slap and tickle.” But we’re pretty sure you’re going to love this music, as well. It’s not just an East Side Story, it’s one everyone can enjoy on Political Beats.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Eli Lake. Eli is a contributing editor at Commentary, and fellow at the Clements Center at UT-Austin. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLake. Eli’s Music Pick: Prince, Pt. 3 (1992-2016) Eli rejoins the gang as they resume their discussion of the career of Prince Rogers Nelson, or as he was known for a significant part of this period covered during this episode, "[unpronounceable symbol]." Yes, this is the era where long-simmering tensions finally boiled over and Prince went to war with his record label Warner Brothers, resulting in his infamous decision to change his name to an unmarketable, unpronounceable "love symbol" ("The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" is the best people could do back then) in order to diminish the commercial impact of his work. What the gang are at great pains to explain here, during this final episode of our Prince spectacular, is that even though Prince was willfully obscurantist or difficult during this period, the music remained every bit as good as it had been during the earlier phases of his career. You never heard most of this music on the radio, and unless you were already a Prince fanatic at the time you likely didn't purchase it either, but up through 1999 or so, at least, there was no perceptible diminution in his talent. Welcome to the part of our Prince journey, where you'll be hearing music you had no idea even existed.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Eli Lake. Eli is a contributing editor at Commentary, and fellow at the Clements Center at UT-Austin. Follow him on Twitter at @EliLake. Eli’s Music Pick: Prince, Pt. 2 (1985-1991) Join us once again as we deepen our Strange Relationship with Prince! Eli rejoins the gang as they pick up their discussion of the amazing career of Prince Rogers Nelson in the aftermath of Purple Rain and Around The World In A Day and Eighties megastardom. Having conquered America his own way, yet endlessly restless and ambitious, Prince proceeds to wander through an ill-begotten movie project (Under The Cherry Moon, with the wildly underrated album Parade attached) and a period of indecision and various scrapped projects until finally he emerges with Sign O' The Times in 1987. Now widely hailed as his greatest achievement, it didn't sell at the time and inaugurated a period where Prince would increasingly go to war both with himself and his record label. Hear the early results on this episode, as we discuss the fascinating narrative that leads to Lovesexy (a CD he insisted be released as one single 44-minute-long track, to prevent listeners from skipping around), then Batman, then another unfortunate movie tied to a fantastic album, and finally his great commercial revival with Diamonds And Pearls. Yes, the dire rhymes of Tony M. are discussed. Yes, all the outtakes and discarded projects are discussed. And the story will only get stranger in our final episode, next time.
Eli’s Music Pick: Prince Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life. Electric word, "Life," and it's a mighty long time, but I'm here to tell you, there's something else: Prince Rogers Nelson. Known to the world by his first name, Prince was a self-made musical polymath who performed the singular trick of somehow altering the world to accommodate his eccentricity and musical genius rather than the other way around. We know Prince in our cultural memory as one of the classic 1980s MTV megastars alongside Madonna, Michael, and Bruce, but what is less appreciated is just how remarkable it is that he managed to vault himself so easily into that rarified company despite being so unapologetically weird. A Minneapolis kid who refused to ever give up his roots, Prince was so determined to carve his own path through the musical world of the late Seventies and Eighties that he recorded nearly every single note of all of his albums during this era. From his origins as an upstart in the R&B charts (as an heir to the autonomous tradition of Stevie Wonder, with crossover ambitions to match) to the avant-garde outrage of Dirty Mind and Controversy, to the world-conquering success of 1999 and Purple Rain, Prince moved with such method and purpose that the gang is almost in awe of the scope of his growth from 1978 to 1985. Join us for Part 1 of a three-part series where we celebrate the transcendent genius, and oddness, of The Purple One, his Royal Badness. We're living the pop life over here on Political Beats for the next few episodes.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Mike Long. He wrote the sort-of-bestselling book The Molecule of More and he teaches writing at Georgetown University, but mostly he writes things for other people to put their name on. He’s on Twitter at @mikewrites. Mike’s Music Pick: Robbie Fulks This is almost certainly the most obscure artist we've ever covered on Political Beats. Yet, when the three hours are up, we think you'll also consider him one of the best. Ladies and gentlemen, please say hello to the incredibly talented Robbie Fulks, an artist who would be a household name if there were any justice in the musical world. Scot has been a fan for more than 20 years, dating back to finding one of the artist's CDs in a stack he was to review for his college radio station. Jeff’s new to the music, but hit on something by describing Robbie as “the country Elvis Costello.” Like Elvis, Robbie has an encyclopedic knowledge of multiple decades of music and isn’t afraid to jump from genre to genre in his work. And like Elvis, his lyrics and stories can often take center stage with creative wordplay and rhyming. Whether you are a rock (Let’s Kill Saturday Night), folk (Upland Stories), bluegrass (Gone Away Backward), country (Country Love Songs, Georgia Hard), pop (50 vc. Doberman), or, in Jeff's case, post-punk fan, there's going to be something here for you to grab a hold of. And we haven’t even mentioned what might be his best album, Couples In Trouble. No, none of them have been hits on the charts, but the consistent quality of the music will impress any listener. Robbie has a keen ear for creating stunning instrumentals and picks wonderful partners for occasional duets. He can make you laugh out loud during one song while moving you to cry in your beer over the next song. He’s adept at road songs, love songs, murder ballads, and cheating laments. And if you’re not careful, he’ll even turn you on to some of the underloved classic country artists of the past. If you’ve never heard of Robbie Fulks, we’ve provided the perfect introduction. Join us and you’ll soon be a fan.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by guest Rory Cooper. He’s a partner at Purple Strategies, a corporate reputation and advocacy agency in Alexandria, Va., a former George W. Bush and Eric Cantor aide, and a longtime Republican strategist. He’s on Twitter at @rorycooper. Rory’s Music Pick: Paul Simon Here comes rhymin' Simon, right onto his own edition of Political Beats. This is the rare episode in which neither of your two esteemed hosts were intimately familiar with the artist’s music before preparations began for the show. Thankfully, Rory Cooper is here to fill in our blanks and guide us through Simon’s career. We begin with an overview of Simon’s partnership with Art Garfunkel (though the music itself largely will wait for a specific S&G episode) before the break-up which led to the self-titled solo debut (Ok, Ok, there was a Paul Simon album in 1965, but that really belongs to the S&G story) , an album that immediately engages the listener and highlights the artist’s firm grasp an the American musical songbook. As Jeff points out early in the show, Simon’s music is largely about rhythm and finding different places and sources to get that rhythm. His second effort, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, features one of the best and purest slices of '70s pop in “Kodachrome”. Following a Grammy Award for Album of the Year for Still Crazy After All These Years, Simon took five years off before returning to mixed results, though Jeff makes the case for Hearts and Bones as a minor classic. Simon’s career renaissance would come via a cassette handed to him by an artist he was supposed to be helping. Instead, he fell in love with the music and stole/borrowed the idea to compose and record an album inspired by the sounds. This would be Graceland, a miracle of an album that still holds up well today. Yes, we discuss the circumstances surrounding the recording, the accusations of “cultural appropriation,” and much more. That album served as a template for much of the rest of his career (though the less said about Songs From The Capeman the better). Simon continued producing quality albums every five years or so with a handful of gems and no real embarrassments up until what appears to be his final new studio album in 2016, Stranger to Stranger. Hop on the bus, Gus, and come along for the ride. There is a need to discuss much about Paul Simon on Political Beats.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by Andrew Prokop. Andrew is Senior Politics Correspondent for Vox, and you can find his work here. Follow him on Twitter at @awprokop. Andrew's Music Pick: Kate Bush Who? Unless you're an art-rocker, Englishman, or Lisa Simpsonesque girl-poet-dreamer, the name "Kate Bush" quite likely means nothing to you. Bush is something close to a beloved institution in the United Kingdom, where she has grown up in public to become the nation's officially designated Eccentric Bookish Aunt, but in the United States she is almost a pure cipher outside of music fanatics, a weird lady with a flute-like voice who occasionally shows up on '80s-era Peter Gabriel singles. Well get ready for a massive course-correction then, because this is an episode of Political Beats that has been brewing since the day the show began. And it doesn't take a psychic to figure out which of your hosts has been quietly lying in wait, ready to explain the deeply committed art-rock genius of Kate Bush to you for four years now. Bush began her career as a downright creepily preternatural child prodigy (she was writing at age ten, recording by age 13, professionally recording at age 15, and released her debut LP at age 18), swiftly gathered up complete creative control into her hands, and went to work from 1980 onwards shaping a career that stands for so many things, but perhaps most of all for the miraculous idea that gallery/exhibition-level art and "pop music" can still coexist within the same skin without shedding representation altogether. Instrumentally, this is piano-based music, but the real instrument here is the Fairlight CMI, a synthesizer program set that allowed her to retreat into near-complete isolation and play every single note of any instrument herself; Bush, more than nearly any other rock or pop artist with mainstream success during the 1980s, is the sound of Virginia Woolf's A Room Of One's Own made good. Ah, but it's not just about art! It's about love and beauty! Bush balanced all of her arty instincts with an achingly pure lyrical vision that magpied from every influence imaginable to take form in her own unique style: a literary fascination with artifice -- with the self-construction that knowledge and imposture makes possible -- combined with an elementally deeply fascination with men and the inscrutable mysteries of masculine anxieties, ambitions, and inchoate needs. So here we go! It's coming for us through the trees! Take your shoes off, throw them in the lake, click play, and before you're 20 minutes in, hopefully you'll be two steps on the water as well.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) with guest Bruce Edward Walker. He’s Midwest Regional Editor for The Center Square. He has written extensively on popular culture, literature and public policy for reference books, newspapers, magazines, and websites. He’s on Twitter at @bruceedwalker. Bruce’s Music Pick: Warren Zevon The show begins its 2021 finishing kick with a long-requested episode featuring the music and career of the great Warren Zevon. Zevon is an artist with passionate fans who, at the same time, also can prove to be difficult to grab onto for newcomers. We hope to provide a path. As a singer/songwriter, Zevon can be difficult to pigeonhole. He’s a cynic, yes. He writes about portions of society -- outlaws, sociopaths, drug dealers, villains -- that many others might like to forget. He’s full of humor and wit. He writes biographical songs yet also has a wonderful way with literary narratives. He was a drunk. He recovered. He was a drunk again. Personal demons often got the best of him. Yet the work stands up. As Scot mentions on the show, a trip through his discography is like a series of mini “We Are the World.” Zevon, for most of his career, was able to attract the biggest California rock stars and the best session musicians around to contribute to his albums. Hey, there's Bonnie Raitt! Lindsey Buckingham! Leland Sklar! Ben Keith! Don Henley! David Lindley! Jackson Browne! Linda Ronstadt! Jeff Porcaro! Steve Lukather! J.D. Souther! The three of us have very different opinions on various portions of Zevon’s career, so this one can be a spicy listen. Send lawyers, guns, and money … and get ready for Warren Zevon.
Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by our old friend Charles C. W. Cooke. Charlie is a Senior Writer for National Review, and you can find his work wherever quality Charles C. W. Cooke products are sold (i.e. mostly right here on this website). Follow him on Twitter at @charlescwcooke. Charlie's Music Pick: Fleetwood Mac "Oh sure," you think as you read what artist we're covering this week, "I know them. Everybody knows them." Well yes . . . and no. You know the hits (everyone does -- new generations of teens have been "rediscovering" Rumours since the early 1980s at least), but what you might not know about is the sheer artistic drive of this, the latter-era version of Fleetwood Mac. That force came from the addition of none other than guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist/songwriter Stevie Nicks. Buckingham and Nicks were also a long-time romantic pair just then slowly beginning to come apart at the seams when they joined Fleetwood Mac, a fact that would have certain consequences for their music and their career. Even though the story only covers a handful of albums, the journey is vast. From the 1975 self-titled album (a fitting title for a true rebirth of the band) to the world-dominating pop-rock perfection of Rumours to the willful obscurantism of Tusk and the retrenchment from Mirage and onwards, the Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac is populated with landmarks of modern music, and attests not only to the restless studio genius (and technical perfection as a guitarist) of Lindsey Buckingham but of an entire group. They were a three-headed songwriting behemoth backed by the finest and most organically creative rhythm section in all of popular music. The soap opera is the stuff you probably already knew -- though you might not have known the Stevie Nicks cocaine factoid Jeff lays on the audience during the show -- so come and stay for an appreciation of the greatness of this music. We'll save you a place.
Scot and Jeff discuss the first part of Fleetwood Mac’s career (1967-1974) with Charles C. W. Cooke. Introducing the Band: Your hosts Scot Bertram (@ScotBertram) and Jeff Blehar (@EsotericCD) are joined by our old friend Charles C. W. Cooke. Charlie is a senior writer for National Review, and you can find his work wherever quality Charles C. W. Cooke products are sold (i.e. mostly right here on this website). Follow him on Twitter at @charlescwcooke. Charlie’s Music Pick: Fleetwood Mac “Oh sure,” you think as you read what artist we’re covering this week, “I know them. Everybody knows them.” Well yes . . . and no. You know the hits (everyone does) but what most who only started paying attention with 1975’s chart-topping Fleetwood Mac album fail to realize is that the Mac had been together for a full eight years of legendary madness and great music prior to finally breaking big in America. From a hardcore electric blues band to a preternaturally self-assured and professional pop-rock act, from the East End alleys of London to Los Angeles, from a five-piece band featuring three separate lead guitarists to a shellshocked husk of a group without a single one . . . the story of Fleetwood Mac is one of the wildest, most improbable, least believable stories in rock history, and that’s all before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks join the group. This is a band whose manager once sent a fake version of the band out on tour to impersonate them, for crying out loud. And the music is utterly superb. Early Fleetwood Mac feels somewhat schizophrenic due to their rapid mutations and personnel changes, but every era of this band up to the 1990s brought something of value and there are few treats more pleasurable than the sound of founder and original bandleader Peter Green’s blues-guitar playing. From blues, to art-rock, to ’50s pastiche, to prog-rock, to solid Fleetwood Mac-style pop, this was a band that could play in pretty much every style due to the versatility of its rhythm section. Come along and join us on an exploration of the wonderful forgotten years of Fleetwood Mac — back when their secret weapons were a songwriter whose favorite lyric to use in songs was “la,” a balding SoCal post-hippie burnout, and a woman who was literally born Perfect.
The podcast Political Beats is embedded on this page from an open RSS feed. All files, descriptions, artwork and other metadata from the RSS-feed is the property of the podcast owner and not affiliated with or validated by Podplay.