What We’re Listening to Right Now

DJ Jester & DJ Marz, Willie Nelson on Billy Joe Shaver, Lisa Morales, High Heavens, and ZZ Top

What We’re Listening to Right Now

DJ Jester & DJ Marz Are Made in USA

While listening to this cassette, I was overcome with a feeling reminiscent of watching one of those Death to 2020/21 year-in-review specials on Netflix. The hourlong mix – a collaboration between DJ Jester the Filipino Fist and DJ Marz & los Flying Turntables – unspools a cleverly constructed pop culture collage that might elicit both dancing and recent-nostalgia doom spirals.

Jester's side A rewinds us through the pandemic, starting by sampling a voicemail greeting from South by Southwest informing callers of the event's 2020 cancellation before flipping into the audio of a sourdough starter recipe. The ensuing 30 minutes intersperses interview clips, news reports, and mash-ups of classic songs (ranging from Sir Mix-a-Lot's surprisingly profound "National Anthem" to Fugazi's "Waiting Room") – all with ingenious connections, like a ditty using the World Health Organization's hand-washing standards segueing into OutKast's "So Fresh, So Clean." It also touches on the hate crimes and harassment of Asian Americans (of which DJ Jester himself was a victim) and the awkwardness of an under-attended livestream.

DJ Marz's half, while less contemporaneous, further pinpoints hilarious aspects of American culture with an adaption of the restaurant chain Sizzler's 1991 commercial jingle that swung for the fences like "We Are the World." Leaning on impressive turntablism, Marz lays the goofy patriotism on even thicker with Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." sequencing into Slim Thug's verse on "Still Tippin'," but also counterpoints with a genius George Carlin sample. If this tape came to be an artifact discovered by future civilizations, they'd be led to believe that the United States was a truly ridiculous place – and they'd be right. – Kevin Curtin


Willie Helps Billy Joe Shaver "Live Forever"

This October marks two years since Billy Joe Shaver passed away, and the seminal Texas songwriter gets honored with an all-star tribute treatment this fall, helmed by Charlie Sexton. George Strait, Miranda Lambert, Margo Price, and Ryan Bingham are among the artists covering the Honky-Tonk Hero's classics for the New West platter, but Willie Nelson aptly gets the lead single with title track "Live Forever." Nelson's voice leans richly into the lyrics, laced with distinctive licks on Trigger, while Lucinda Williams offers a shading harmony in the background that plays as an echo from beyond. A poignant, fitting ode to Billy Joe. – Doug Freeman


High Heavens' Existential Serenade "Life Is a Loan Shark"

A snare drum rolls into what feels like a crescendo, then cuts to a bed of moody atmospherics in High Heavens' "Life Is a Loan Shark." Those familiar with the duo's heavier leanings on debut 7-inch Vermouth on Ice and 2020's follow-up full-length, Springtime Don't Call, might be in for a shock as eerie synths breathe into a tensile bloom, trickle like rippling raindrops, or ring to a drone with encroaching dread. As if stuck in rush hour traffic after a 9 to 5, singer John Matthew Walker contemplates the day-to-day doldrums of ennui as he laments, "What you got to be sad about? Your bills are paid, your teeth are cleaned, your bed is made." – Alejandra Ramirez

Compassion Abounds in Lisa Morales' She Ought to Be King

The message of "love each other" need not be shrouded in metaphor or hinted at roundabout but directly declared as Lisa Morales does frequently on her third solo album. Opener "Reach Out" is an effectively forthright plea for compassion and communication that even breaks the lyrical fourth wall to ask, "Am I reaching you?" while "Freedom," with a lightly funky Latin feel and organ leads from Santana/Journey co-founder Gregg Rolie, frames the power of love in overcoming injustice. Meanwhile, "Flyin' and Cryin'," a superbly penned duet with Rodney Crowell, expresses how love can lift you and wreck you. The depth in Morales' agile vocals resounds especially clear on the Spanish-sung "Suéltame" over nylon guitar strings and dramatically dynamic percussion, overseen by producer David Garza. Altogether, a varied collection of Southwestern Americana, rich with emotion and motivated with a lot to say. – Kevin Curtin


ZZ Top Gets Raw

"In those deliriously brief Gruene Hall segments, ZZ Top's alchemic music miracle endures." So noted the Chronicle on March 20, 2020, about then-new Netflix doc ZZ Top: That Little Ol' Band From Texas. Ratcheting from festival-primed Club Listings to a column chronicling "What We're Watching," the free press also streamed helplessly those first weeks of COVID. Witnessing Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard tap blues magma at said 144-year-old honky-tonk thus felt distinctly historical. Raw soundtracks that convergence, jurassic opener "Brown Sugar" quaking off the group's 1971 debut and crushing follow-up "Just Got Paid" upticking into "Heard It on the X." Fandango's "Blue Jean Blues" stings. Hill passed in 2021, so consider this closure a lifeline. – Raoul Hernandez

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