Welcome to “Noteworthy,” your weekly update on new music and related news. This week’s noteworthy picks are:
Plexi Soul (vinyl edition) by Tom Bukovac
Tom Bukovac is not only of the most creative and tasteful studio musicians in Nashville, he’s a truly sweet human being. The first time I saw him at work, he was using his short break between songs to offer advice to an up-and-coming guitarist. And when COVID lockdowns shut down the studio business for months on end, “Buk” or “Uncle Larry,” as he’s affectionately known, started “Corona Lessons”—quickly renamed “Homeskoolin”—a YouTube channel where he plies his decades’ worth of experience in the business to teach guitar and answer questions from musicians and fans all over the world.
The show (which he started at the prodding of A-list engineer Steve Marcantonio) led to another blessing: It got Bukovac posting his own musical ideas for the enjoyment of his now tens of thousands of followers, quickly leading to demand for higher-quality recordings of his original music. It may come as a surprise to some that only a relative handful of Nashville’s crème de la crème session players release their own music (Bryan Sutton, Guthrie Trapp, and Brent Mason are the only ones who spring to mind). It is one of those artistic injustices that many of the world’s most noteworthy musicians while away their days helping create some of its least noteworthy music. “It drives me up a wall,” says Buk about how music is now shaped for the short attention span. “I feel like it’s the musical equivalent of eating a giant box of Cap’n Crunch. There’s just nothing in there good for you.”1
Plexi Soul, just released on vinyl, is for those hungering for something significantly more musically nutritious. In fact, for an instrumental album—with no lyrics to help in painting its scenes—it conveys an unbelievable amount of vivid imagery. Drawing on the tools of classic rock, blues, jazz, and beyond, Bukovac crafts what could be imaginative pop songs but with gorgeously lyrical guitar leads in place of vocals. The result is an album that can serve as a soundtrack to a nice drive, brainstorming session, or the like, but it’s more appropriately enjoyed as a sort of sonic film. So, instead of movie night, throw this record on, pour yourself a glass of something nice, and let Buk and his fellow musical storytellers take you on a journey.
“Cardboard Cutouts” and “TV Dinner” are studies in contrasts. The first sounds like a pained struggle that pays off big-time, leading to beachy relaxation so refreshing that it emboldens one to dive back into work with renewed vigor. “TV Dinner” does the reverse: Its playful Pink Floyd-esque melody—conveying what could be a relaxing morning—builds up to a power rhythm section and searing guitar solo, peaking and slowly descending. “Fall Is Here” also features a slowly downward-floating melody, like golden leaves making their way to the ground—then morphs into a sort of march that conjures crunching through a bed of brown and orange.
“I’m not saying that all new music is shit and all this crusty old-guy stuff that you hear,” he says in a recent episode of “Homeskoolin.” “I hate when old guys talk about music, and how the old days were better,” he continues, “but they were better.”2 That’s at least in part because true creatives were behind the wheel. Not content merely to be cast in someone else’s film, they directed their own. Plexi Soul is an all-too-rare glimmer of the magic possible when a Nashville treasure steps out of the shadows and serves his own song.
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“Now and Then” by The Beatles
Speaking of the good ol’ days, The Beatles just released a new single (never thought I’d get to write those words). John Lennon wrote “Now and Then” in the mid-seventies, years after the band broke up, and when Yoko Ono found a rough demo of the song on cassette in the nineties, she forwarded it along to his old bandmates. Paul, George, and Ringo recorded parts for the song, but because John’s piano and vocal parts were recorded together and could not be separated, making a proper mix was impossible, and the song was shelved. There it remained until Peter Jackson, while working on the Get Back documentary, informed Paul that new machine-learning technology made prying the piano and vocal apart relatively simple. Paul got Giles Martin (son of honorary fifth Beatle, their legendary producer George Martin) to arrange powerful string parts, and now, five decades after it was conceived on cassette—thanks to wizards of computing—we have “the last Beatles song.” It’s a heart-wrenching one, featuring a chorus in which John and Paul sing, as if to one another,
Now and then
I miss you
Oh, now and then
I want you to be there for me.
Some have criticized the song’s more modern production as sounding out of place in the Beatles catalog. Perhaps it will be remixed someday to sound more like Rubber Soul or Revolver. Until then, it is what it is: a technological marvel—like musical time traveling—enabling a poignant parting message between friends.
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Accentuate the Positive by Van Morrison
We have only so much time in life, and the whole point is to enjoy it to the max. Van Morrison’s Accentuate the Positive is all about that. Aptly named after one of its nineteen cover songs, it’s a full hour’s worth of good vibes, mixing swing, honky-tonk, jump jive, R&B, and ol’ time rock ’n’ roll for what must be the perfect party album. As Al Horwitz wrote, “Morrison and his top-shelf musicians knock out these songs as if they’re hanging around the studio, having a party playing music they love without knowing tapes are running.”3
At seventy-eight, Morrison’s singular voice sounds as boundless as it did decades ago on such classics as “Into the Mystic” and “Brown Eyed Girl.” Amid hot horns and rowdy guitars, he not only keeps up but seems to set the pace. If there were any mystery about this, Morrison gives the answer on “Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes.” As a saxophone bounces atop bluesy piano trills, he sings “this music’s got a beat that will keep you alive.”
That speaks to the album as a whole. Some music is for listening, and some is for dancing. True to the cover art, featuring a colorful group of revelers, this is definitely dancing music. (Heck, I could barely hold still long enough to write anything.) Add it to your holiday party playlist and enjoy an outpouring of positivity.
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Resavoir by Resavoir
When you’re ready to chill, check out the latest from Resavoir, a Chicago-based musical experiment in combining the jazz roots of bandleader and trumpeter Will Miller with (primarily) electronic elements of R&B and hip-hop.
“Heavenly” opens with atmospheric horns and keys seemingly melding into one and ascending, up and up, until relaxing as if upon a cloud. A lo-fi acoustic guitar roves through kick-snare patterns on “Inside Minds,” deftly trading places with piano leads, like a casual conversation unfolding in one’s own mind. “Sunday Morning,” one of only two tracks with vocals, is a sultry tune about a couple who prioritize making love and enjoying breakfast over going to church. On “Future,” trumpet melodies float over a moving three-note keys pattern, conjuring a state of staring off into the distance, dreaming up plans, and—when the drums kick in—getting down to the oft-difficult task of enacting them. A nimble sax solo sounds like hurdling obstacles, effortfully but gracefully.
So, when you want to relax, give the new Resavoir album a spin. (It’s the one with the blurred sunset on the cover, not the 2019 release by the same name, which has leaves on the cover). Let its ethereal textures lead you into a reverie from which you’ll emerge—refreshed, restored.
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1. Tom Bukovac, “Homeskoolin’ Volume 252, ‘The Evolution of the Short Attention Span,’” YouTube, November 5, 2023, https://youtu.be/6E6obhkLvHs?si=N_jkrCd1gPUciBDw&t=1170.
2. Bukovac, “Homeskoolin’ Volume 252.”
3. Hal Horwitz, “Review: Van Morrison Accentuates the Positive on Yet Another New Release,” American Songwriter, October 31, 2023, https://americansongwriter.com/review-van-morrison-accentuates-the-positive-on-yet-another-new-release/.