For our cover story, The National let Laura Barton gatecrash their rehearsals for a TV appearance and live show, where she found the band re-energised after a difficult period characterised by writer’s block, self-doubt and depression. It’s a tale of friendships under stress, the power of music to nourish and, ultimately, unify. “It’s this intensely intimate relationship between five people,” says the band’s Aaron Dessner. “It’s complex. Sometimes it feels like a riddle that nobody can solve. But weirdly, the beauty of the music meant we found a way through.” The result is a strong new studio album, First Two Pages Of Frankenstein. Uncut has been on hand to document every National album since, I think, Alligator, so with the band freshly reinvigorated, what better time to elevate them to our pantheon of cover stars.
To complement The National’s first Uncut cover story, the band have compiled a tremendous free, 15-track CD of rarities, deep cuts, unreleased tracks, solo and collaborative hook-ups from their archive. There are cameos, too, from Michael Stipe, Robin Pecknold, Justin Vernon and Sufjan Stevens, but what strikes me most of all is the consistency of The National’s music – their willingness to push themselves and their music to its limits in the pursuit of creative goals.
Elsewhere in the issue, we have a bunch of new interviews with Ian Hunter, Lucinda Williams, Shirley Collins, Natalie Merchant, Fatoumata Diawara, Cian Nugent, The Orb and The Wild Swans, a report on Joanna Newsom’s live return and a celebration of Willie Nelson as he turns 90, while Jim Keltner shares his warm, funny and often moving memories of George Harrison. Among a heap of good things in our reviews pages – Sarabeth Tucek, Tinariwen, Jonathan Richman, Calexico – you can also read about Neil Young’s legendary ‘lost’ band, The Ducks. There’s a lot, in other words.
See you again next month.