Many bands have combined minimalist composition with maximalist guitar noise. Yo La Tengo does this best, carrying on without so much as a chord change while guitarist Ira Kaplan screeches and wails away. But the trio also stands out because this is far from its only trick. YLT brings an encyclopedia of influences and a knack for moody, tasteful arranging.
On Mermaid Avenue (1998), Billy Bragg and Wilco wrote and recorded music for some of the 3,000 tuneless lyrics Woody Guthrie left behind. The stunning result was so much more than a reverent, Pete-Seeger-and-friends tribute album could ever be: the great Guthrie expanded in our cultural imagination and introduced to a new generation.
I once wrote that the Felice Brothers have one capable lead singer at best: while Ian Felice sings more expressively than his brother James, it’s not a pretty sound. But I was overlooking the Catskills folk-rockers’ third brother, Simone.