1. Sara Watkins – Young In All the Wrong Ways
If you only know Sara Watkins as the fiddle player from Nickel Creek, the opening song on her latest album, Young In All the Wrong Ways, might be a minor shock. It’s an aggressive sound – big, boomy drums, crunchy electric guitars, and she comes out wailing. Not a fiddle in sight. “I’m going out to see about my own frontier,” she sings, and it seems best to believe her. This is her third solo album, and she’s done plenty of other work outside of Nickel Creek (I’m With Her, Watkins Family Hour), so it’s not declaration of independence. And the fiddle does show up a bit later, but Watkins isn’t bound to a particular sound or expectation. She lets loose again on “Move Me,” a great pop gem. And she uses dynamics really well, moving from delicate folky passages to soaring rock like a sucker punch. She just kicked off a fairly extensive tour of the US and the UK, and this would be a good album to catch her supporting.
2. Ranch Ghost – Lookin
There is a haze hanging over Lookin, the debut album from Nashville’s twangy and psychedelic Ranch Ghost. It sounds like it could have been produced in 1971, both in the style and in the production. Sonically, there’s something slightly muffled about it, like you’re listening to a band play in the next room at a house party. And that would be a fantastic house party. They’ve got the hip-shakin’ songs and the ominous sounding organs and guitars, and a healthy dose of slapback. They cite Link Wray and Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band as influences. Put them on a spectrum somewhere between the 13th Floor Elevators and White Stripes.
1. The Films of Albert Brooks on Netflix
These seven films written and directed by Albert Brooks aren’t new – the latest entry is 2005’s Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World – but they are all on Netflix together for the first time, and that’s great news for comedy fans. Brooks’ catalogue is as strong as anyone’s, and I miss his contributions to the cinematic landscape (he mostly acts these days, though he is working on a new animated show with Louis C.K. for FX). The core of this collection – Lost In America, Modern Romance, and Real Life – represents some of the smartest, most inventive film comedy you’ll ever find. Real Life famously predicted the world of reality television. Lost In America and Modern Romance are razor sharp. The collection is rounded out by Mother, The Muse, and Defending Your Life, which turns 25 this year. Here’s a special message from Brooks to Netflix on how this came to be, and why you’ll give all the films five-star ratings if you have any sort of heart beating in your chest.