Tuesday, November 29. 2011
Tony Capaccio: Overrun Forecast in Boeing Tanker Work: Well, that didn't take long. The overrun is $500 million over the first $4.8 billion chunk of $7.1 billion in "development funds" -- the first actual aircraft, based on Boeing's now-obsolete 767 airframe, aren't scheduled for delivery until 2015. Moreover, the widely touted $35 billion program is now described as "planned as a 179-aircraft, $51.7 billion program that includes research, production, and aircraft support." Unlike the golden age of cost-plus-10% Air Force contracts, Boeing's on the hook for the overruns -- which is good news, unless you work there, in which case it just becomes more fuel for Boeing's psychotic efforts to squeeze its workforce, and to scam all of the political jurisdictions that think Boeing is doing them a favor by exploiting their labor. We've already seen the first of that with Boeing's threat to close its Wichita facility -- i.e., the one plant Boeing has that has almost all of the company's experience maintaining the Air Force's KC-135 tanker fleet. Still, despite all its attention to cost, delays and overruns have plagued Boeing's management for decades now. They've become so adept as scamming the system they've forgotten what got them into the game in the first place: the skills to build airplanes.
In another sense, the cost overruns are Boeing's fault: it was widely felt that they deliberately underbid the tanker contract to counter EADS. They had lost the previous competitive bid in large part because their numbers were way out of line, and only got the contract rebid through their lobbying clout. I wouldn't be surprised to find they found the right numbers through their revolving door contacts: they've had one VP go to jail for trying to fix the deal, and it would be surprising if the graft ended with her.
I keep returning to the Boeing tanker story because it seems so central to what is sick with America today. The tankers themselves are the platform upon which the American military empire is built: you can't project power to the far corners of the globe unless you can find a gas station when you get there. Any time some fool calls for a "no flight" zone, they're not only calling for the fighters and bombers to shoot down contraband flights, they're calling for the tankers to keep those fighters and bombers in the air over their targets. Making a $51.7 billion investment in new tankers shows us that the imperial command has no plans to back down from America's commitment to bully the world. On the other hand, if you do accept the need for the US to roll back its armed forces, the first place to cut funding is this $51.7 billion -- plus the untold billions it will cost to maintain and fly those planes if and when they ever get built.
On the other hand, stopping the new tanker program leaves the old one in place, and that KC-135 fleet has gotten the US to where it is today. Indeed, there's no reason why those planes can't stay in service for many more decades. They've been repeatedly rebuilt, periodically refitted with new wings and/or engines. They fly in spaces where they don't need to worry about being shot down. The main people who have emerged as opponents of Boeing's tanker scam have either been anti-graft imperialists like Sen. John McCain, or pro-graft ones like Sen. Richard Shelby who want more of the booty for themselves. So while opposing new tankers is one step, opposing the old ones is another. The main reason to shut down the old ones is to make it harder for the US to get involved in foreign wars -- most obviously the air-focused ones like Kosovo and Libya, although the ability to maintain the "no fly" zones in Iraq was what kept war with Iraq on the burner, making the 2003-11 war virtually inevitable.
But then there are a whole other set of reasons for opposing the new tanker program: those rooted in the management culture of Boeing, their vast political lobbying network, their revolving doors in and out of the Pentagon. For a while Boeing could market itself as a national treasure as America's number one manufacturing exporter. They may still be, but they've turned into a national disgrace. They've become poster boys for the collapse of business ethics that plagues the entire country. It used to make sense for the public to support corporations that in turn made useful things that built up the public's standard of living. That they made a profit in the process was tolerated, in large part because it was taxed -- another way corporations gave back to the society, and to the nationhood, that supported them. Now, however, they've become rackets, predators, out to suck as much profit as possible any way they can get away with it. Nor are they merely part of a bad trend: Boeing is an innovator here, a model for other companies to follow. This isn't so much because anyone at Boeing was all that clever. It's more because ever since WWII Boeing has been nursed by the Defense Department, a training that they wound up taking as their entitlement. Moreover, they built their commercial business the same way, through one crooked, cross-financed deal after another. Most notoriously, to sell planes in China, they agreed to build some of them there, and they went further and lent out their lobbying subsidiary to promote China's "most favored nation" trading status. (If you factor in the subsequent trade loss to China, Boeing no longer looks like much of an exporter.)
Some of this may be inevitable in the airframe business. Europe wound up nationalizing its various aircraft companies, consolidating them into Airbus. Airbus has two advantages over Boeing. One is that they can draw on public funds for development expenses -- actually, not that big of an advantage given how Boeing has been able to scam the US military and so many states and cities across the country for just that purpose. The other is that while Airbus has to break even to stay in business, it does so for the sake of the industry, its workers, and the nations that own it. It isn't compelled to strip and scavenge the way Boeing does. Those actually seem like good reasons to nationalize Boeing: run it as a unionized non-profit, allow it to borrow cheap through the Fed (even to finance sales, given sane regulation), cap the executive salaries and get rid of the crooks.
If I had much more time and patience than I do, I'd start a website dedicated to squashing the tanker program and smashing Boeing; maybe nomoretankers.org. It would be one way to start a reevaluation of what companies are good for in America, and a realization of what they are no good for. And armed forces, too. The tanker deal is a "teachable moment" -- and Boeing is an object lesson.
Monday, November 28. 2011
Not enough Jazz Prospecting to bother with this week -- only four records in the scratch file. Still waiting for the music editor at the Village Voice to do something/anything. Makes me wonder whether they'll get it up to even attempt a Pazz & Jop poll this year. I'm betting that Zach Baron proves irreplaceable. I do know that their annual jazz critics poll has been scratched, and that Francis Davis has arranged for it to continue and to be published at Rhapsody, where former Voice music editor Rob Harvilla landed. Invites are out on that, and that'll give me something to focus on this coming week: next Jazz Prospecting will skim the top of the deck instead of trying to fish off the bottom.
Good chance I will go ahead and post the ignored, long-delayed, presumably rejected 27th Jazz Consumer Guide column sometime this week. I haven't decided whether doing so marks a definitive break from the Village Voice or not. (I suspect it will.) I haven't found any other publishers interested in such a column. Admittedly, I haven't looked hard, and I'm also inclined to favor someone not exclusively focused on jazz, since I'd like to think the music still has some breakout/crossover potential. One of the lessons I drew from last night's confab was that the world would be a better place if more people listened to jazz. I'd like to think that's one way I've helped.
Sunday, November 27. 2011
Alice Powell organized a "jazz and politics" event at the Larkspur Restaurant tonight, for a group of "left-leaning" but RINO-friendly women who call themselves The Group. Following dinner we had a series of three presentations. Up first was jazz singer Ruth Olay, an old friend of Alice's who cut a half-dozen or so albums from 1958-67. She played two cuts from way back when, and talked a bit about them. I was scheduled second. Third was WSU jazz professor and Wichita Jazz Festival president Craig Owens, who talked about WJF, dried to drum up some money, and performed two pieces with Kansas City saxophonist Bill Caldwell. Alice kicked things off by reading a quote from Gilad Atzmon that focused on jazz and the US civil rights movement -- then ended expressing solidarity with the Palestinians.
For my part, I wrote some notes here, then proceeded to ad lib from them, reorganizing the "why am I here?" intro to start from my writing of the Jazz Consumer Guide. Then I dove into the history section, sometimes reading, sometimes extrapolating. About three-fourths of the way through that Alice signalled me that my time was up -- felt more like she rescued me -- so I never got to the third part about the current state of the art. Then I faced a little Q&A: an odd mix of things I scarcely remember, however one asked for the website URL so I figured it would help if I posted something self-identifying. People seemed appreciative for what little they got. Didn't notice anyone tweeting "you suck," so I figure I'm still running ahead of a certain Kansas governor.
On the hunch that some people will land here looking for more of my jazz material, some helpful links:
Probably forgetting something. I need to get better organized.
Crowson's editorial cartoon in the Wichita Eagle today, on Boeing's tanker scam bait-and-switch. In their big PR push to dislodge EADS's winning bid and rejigger the $35 billion contract in their favor, the PR flacks at Boeing had upped their usual 1,000 job promise to 7,500 -- counting all sorts of multiplier effects, something Republicans never believe in unless they hear it from a defense contractor. Now that the deal is done Boeing's decided maybe they don't need Wichita after all -- although there's always the suspicion that they may just be angling for yet another bribe, something they've repeatedly done in the past.
Molly McMillin has another article on Boeing in the paper today: Analysts: Loss of Boeing Would Hurt City, Region. Not much new there. One thing the analysts didn't factor in was the extent to which Boeing's presence corrupts local politics, but that was the subject of an anonymous Opinion Line comment:
Probably no Weekend Roundup today, but I do hope to get something else up this evening. One Kansas-themed story likely to lose out in the shuffle is Brownback Complaint About Student Tweet Lands Kansas Teenager in Principal's Office. As someone who's been there for doing something like that -- admittedly, long before Twitter made it easy to do and easy to get caught -- I can only applaud Emma Sullivan. Also, quote another Opinion Line commenter:
By the way, driving around Wichita a couple nights ago, I came upon several small roadside signs proclaiming "Christmas Doesn't Suck!" If Brownback's concerned about language, well, that horse has left the barn.
Saturday, November 26. 2011
On average, my book roundups come out every 4-6 weeks, but my one on November 16 came after a longer-than-usual period, and left me with enough stuff to suggest doing another the next day. I didn't get that done so fast, owing more to the day than to any shortfall in data. So here's a second November set (limited to 40 books, otherwise this could get ridiculous):
Theodor Adorno/Max Horkheimer: Towards a New Manifesto (2011, Verso): A 1956 dialogue -- maybe a sketch, maybe just an argument -- from the long-dead founders of the Frankfurt School, on what a contemporary revision of The Communist Manifesto should say. I doubt that they got very far: both much more skilled at tearing down bad propositions than forming good ones.
Richard Alley: Earth: The Operator's Manual (2011, WW Norton): PBS television series companion book, focuses on climate change and future energy issues, which he is moderate and optimistic about.
Robert B Archibald/David H Feldman: Why Does College Cost So Much? (2010, Oxford University Press): Interesting question, but this sounds like a piece of economic rationalization in service of the status quo. I have several rough theories, but not enough facts to judge them against.
Gilad Atzmon: The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics (paperback, 2011, O Books): Israeli-born, UK-based saxophonist writes a polemic about Jewish identity and the reflexive identification of so many Jews with Israel.
Thomas Barfield: Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (2010, Princeton University Press): Anthropologist and "old Afghanistan hand" (isn't that a CIA term?) goes way back, emphasizes geography, "the bewildering diversity of tribal and ethnic groups," how it became "a graveyard of empires" for the British and Soviets, "and what the United States must do to avoid a similar fate." Get out?
Kim Barker: The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2011, Knopf): Five years reporting, starting in 2003 "when the war there was lazy and insignificant"; reported to be funny (at least P.J. O'Rourke thinks so), which is one way of coming to grips with stupid and indifferent -- terms I'm more inclined to find applicable.
Daniel Byman: A High Price: The Triumphs & Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (2011, Oxford University Press): Right after 9/11, I recall both John Major and Shimon Peres pointing out that they could teach us some pointers on handling terrorism. At the time I thought the only thing they actually knew much about was spurring terror attacks along. I take it that this book is a brief intended to support Peres' assertion, although he would have been more circumspect about those failures.
W Joseph Campbell: Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): One way to explore how journalism likes to indulge in its own mythmaking, from William Randolph Hearst and the Spanish-American War to Jessica Lynch.
Bill Clinton: Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy (2011, Knopf): To the limited extent to which presidents can claim responsibility for the economy's ups and downs, Clinton is the only living president who has anything positive he can point to. That doesn't make him a genius, or even allow him to escape the most inane clichés -- e.g., "We've got to get America back in the future business" could have been lifted from Thomas Friedman (and probably was).
Council on Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs, ed: The New Arab Revolt: What Happened, What It Means, and What Comes Next (paperback, 2011, Council on Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs): Collects sixty "seminal pieces" including op-eds, interviews, and congressional testimony from our leading officially sanctioned area experts -- you know, geniuses like Fouad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, Richard Haass, Martin Indyk, Elliott Abrams, Aluf Benn, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Gideon Rose, Max Boot, Michael O'Hanlon (fave title: "Winning Ugly in Libya: What the United States Should Learn From Its War in Kosovo"), and some documents featuring people who's primary association of "seminal" is with a certain red dress.
Tom Engelhardt: The United States of Fear (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books): Probably another collection of his TomDispatch posts, rather quick on the heels of The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin, although it is a theme he knows as well as anyone and should be able to greatly expand upon.
Ezra F Fogel: Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China (2011, Harvard University Press): Big (928 pp) bio, covers a big chunk of Chinese history up to Deng's death in 1997, especially after 1978 when he became China's "paramount leader." Applauded for his economic reforms, condemned for suppressing the pro-democratic demonstrations at Tianamen Square in 1989. Vogel is a longtime region expert, and this is most likely a major book in what's still a sparsely documented history. (Not that there aren't a lot of superficial books on China's challenge to the West and who will dominate the 21st century and all that nonsense.
David Graebner: Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011, Melville House): Anthropologist, argues that credit (therefore debt) goes back a long ways, predating even money. His is one of those ideas that threatens to turn around much about how we think real economies have functioned throughout history. Has a bunch of books, including Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion and Desire (paperback, 2007, AK Press), and Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (paperback, 2004, Prickly Paradigm Press).
Jennifer M Granholm/Dan Mulhern: A Governor's Story: The Fight for Jobs and America's Economic Future (2011, Public Affairs): Democratic Governor of Michigan during some especially tough times, while America's business elites were doing everything they could to break labor, especially by closing plants and moving production overseas. So she has something to talk about.
Glenn Greenwald: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful (2011, Metropolitan Books): Title suggests he's moved beyond his initial concerns over civil liberties into seeing how a legal system that money buys inequal access to -- starting with Congress and every other legislative body in the land, moving on to every executive authority, and even to the courts (where, to put it bluntly, representation costs money and is therefore more affordable to them that's got).
John Michael Greer: The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered (paperback, 2011, New Society): Bounces his title off Adam Smith and E.F. Schumacher ("economics as if people mattered"); should provide a primer on externalities and how to properly cost them out, but author isn't really an economist -- styles himself as an archdruid, is into organic farming and autarky, that most uneconomist of concepts.
Tim Groseclose: Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind (2011, St Martin's Press): Ph.D. invented some math that he calls PQ (for Political Quotient) to measure left and right political bias; discovers that the "maintream media" is way biased to the left, much more so than right-leaning media like Fox. I bet I could come up with a formula that would show the New York Times on the far right. For instance, they'd score points for lying in the Iraq War buildup. I could even factor in support for Israeli militarism. I don't doubt that there is bias in media, but how does that bias affect "the American mind"?
Richard Heinberg: The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality (paperback, 2011, New Society): Peak oil crank, got there early and has been one of the deepest analysts of what's happening and what it means. I think Heinberg is righ in the not-all-that-long-term, but I wouldn't say that growth is over at the moment, if only for the reason that most current constraints are politically driven. The key characteristic of growth has long been a rising standard of living. In the US that's been halted by the right's dominance of political discourse. On the other hand, one possible explanation why the right's political agenda has moved beyond enriching themselves to impoverishing everyone else may be the sense that it's all coming to an end, and they merely want to get theirs while the getting's still good.
Will Hermes: Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever (2011, Faber & Faber): 1973-77, basically the New York Dolls to Talking Heads, although there was also disco and funk and salsa and some jazz regrouping in downtown lofts -- not sure the author has the latter covered. I moved to NYC to hit the tail end of all that. I don't recall Hermes being around then, but he must have worked his way back there many times.
Owen Jones: Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (paperback, 2011, Verso Books): Mostly on England, where "chavs" has become an epithet for ridiculing the working class, but the subtitle resonates here as well, especially when you look at the efforts of the Republican Party to defund not just labor unions but the workers as well.
Andrew Kolin: State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W Bush (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): How America became a police state, mostly under Bush, of course, but precedents go back to the Alien and Sedition Acts, more generally the distrust elites have always had about democracy.
Chris Lehmann: Rich People Things: Real-Life Secrets of the Predator Class (paperback, 2011, Haymarket): Looking at the TOC: Meritocracy, Populism, The Free Market, The Stock Market, "Class Warfare," David Brooks, Malcolm Gladwell, The New York Times. Each chapter is six pages long, suggesting a recycled stack of columns (or blog posts).
Giulio Meotti: A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism (2010, Encounter Books): Chronicles the long, sad story of Palestinian violence against Israelis -- attacks that have claimed 1700 lives and injured 10,000 people. Don't know whether it also notes that during the same period Israel has killed more than ten times as many Palestinians, injured many more, incarcerated many thousands, tortured many of them, driven nearly a million into exile, and enforced a regime where even nominal citizens of Israel are severely discriminated against. I'm sure those 1700 deaths have stories worth remembering, but it's a huge stretch to liken them to the six million victims of the Nazi Judeocide.
Immanuel Ness/Dario Azzellini: Ours to Master and to Own: Workers' Control From the Commune to the Present (paperback, 2011, Haymarket): A historical brief for worker-owned businesses, which I think is the way to go: the one scheme that ensures that workers and management will have the same interests, and align their interests for maximum productivity.
Martha C Nussbaum: Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (2011, Harvard University Press): Political philosopher, draws on work by Amartrya Sen that emphasizes creating capabilities as as the primary path for human development. Much of this seems to boil down to common sense human rights, something a lot of people here in the US have trouble grasping.
William Parry: Against the Wall (paperback, 2011, Lawrence Hill Books): An art book, drawing attention to Israel's gargantuan wall project by drawing on the wall. Also see: Zia Krohn/Joyce Lagerweij: Concrete Messages: Street Art on the Israeli-Palestinian Separation Barrier (2010, Dokument Press); and Mia Gröndahl: Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics (paperback, 2009, American University in Cairo Press).
Ilan Peleg/Dov Waxman: Israel's Palestinians: The Conflict Within (paperback, 2011, Cambridge University Press): Same subject as Ilan Pappé The Forgotten Palestinians, but more concerned with maintaining Israel's "Jewish identity" while at least ameliorating some of the more blatant discrimination.
Paul R Pillar: Intelligence and U.S. Foreign Policy: Iraq, 9/11, and Misguided Reform (2011, Columbia University Press): Career CIA spook, retired army reserve officer, had second thoughts about invading Iraq and became a prominent critic of Bush's Global War on Terror boondoggle.
Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011, Viking): I think the general thesis -- that today we are far more likely to reject and abjure violence than at any time in the past -- is correct, but worry that pontificating on the subject for 832 pp is likely to weigh it down in too much complexity, especially the kind that gets confused with human nature.
Frances Fox Piven: Who's Afraid of Frances Fox Piven?: The Essential Writings of the Professor Glenn Beck Loves to Hate (paperback, 2011, New Press): I first noticed Piven when she cowrote the eye-opening Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare in 1971, which has a second edition revised in 1993. Other books with Cloward: Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977, Pantheon); New Class War: Reagan's Attack on the Welfare State and Its Consequences (1982, Pantheon); Why Americans Don't Vote (1988, Pantheon); The Breaking of the American Social Compact (1997, New Press); Why Americans Still Don't Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way (2000, Beacon); also several books on her own (since Cloward died in 2001), including The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism (2004, New Press); and Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2006, Rowman & Littlefield). Someone everyone should take seriously.
Alex Prudhomme: The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century (2011, Scribner): Supply is relatively fixed, or actually declining as we deplete aquifers, and would get worse wherever global warming caused droughts. Demand is growing and not very elastic, which leads us to, well, what? Other water crisis books have been gathering since Fred Pearce's When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century (2007): Robert Glennon: Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What to Do About It (2009; paperback, 2010, Island Press); Cynthia Barnett: Blue Revolution: Unmaking America's Water Crisis (2001, Beacon); Peter Rogers/Susan Leal: Running Out of Water: The Looming Crisis and Solutions to Conserve Our Most Previous Resource (2010, Palgrave Macmillan); Susan J Marks: Aqua Shock: The Water Crisis in America (2009; paperback, 2011, Bloomberg Press); and Tony Allen: Virtual Water: Tackling the Threat to Our Planet's Most Precious Resource (paperback, 2011, IB Tauris).
Michael Ratner/Margaret Ratner Kunstler: Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in Twenty-First-Century America (paperback, 2011, New Press): From the Center for Constitutional Rights, basic info on what your rights are when the government tries to shut down your right to dissent.
Jeremy Sarkin: Germany's Genocide of the Herero: Kaiser Wilhelm II, His General, His Settlers, His Soldiers (2011, James Currey): Germany's late entry into the colonial partition of Africa left them with scraps, including South West Africa (now Namibia), where Germany instituted the first genocide of the 20th century in their effort to exterminate the Herero people. I actually first read about this in Thomas Pynchon's novel V, where it fills a key chapter. Sarkin also wrote Colonial Genocide and Reparations Claims in the 21st Century: The Socio-Legal Context of Claims Under International Law by the Herero Against Germany for Genocide in Namibia, 1904-1908 -- in contrast to Germany's deal with Israel, Germany has refused to pay reparations on this relatively obscure but truly brutal event. See also: David Olusoga/Casper W Erichsen: The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (2010, Faber & Faber), which goes on to explore how the Nazis remembered Germany's prior experience with genocide.
Robert Skidelsky: Keynes: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Short pocket-sized intro (144 pp, but rather densely packed), by the guy who wrote the premier biography on Keynes as well as a tightly argued brief on his continued relevance: Keynes: The Return of the Master (2009, Public Affairs).
Paul Starr: Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle Over Health Care Reform (2011, Yale University Press): Historical overview of the various attempts to reform health care in America. In 1983 Starr won a Pulitzer Prize for his The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Progression and the Making of a Vast Industry, which established him as the expert in the field. In 1993-94 Starr was on the inside of Clinton's reform team, which may (or may not) be good for some insight.
Mark Steyn: After America: Get Ready for Armageddon (2011, Regnery): "A modern day Jeremiah" says Mark Levin. Ripostes Ann Coulter: "Only Mark Steyn can write about the decline of America and leave you laughing." Sample Steyn wit: "When in Rome, do as the Visigoths do."
Clayton E Swisher: The Palestine Papers: The End of the Road? (paperback, 2011, Hesperus Press): Based on 1600 pages of papers leaked to Al-Jazeera in January 2011, detailing diplomatic moves that stalled any attempt at peace talks. Swisher previously wrote: The Truth About Camp David: The Untold Story About the Collapse of the Middle East Peace Process (paperback, 2004, Nation Books).
Joseph A Tainter/Tadeusz W Patzek: Drilling Down: The Gulf Oil Debacle and Our Energy Dilemma (paperback, 2011, Springer): Starts with the Deepwater Horizon disaster and attempts to explain why it was all but inevitable. Also see: John Konrad/Tom Shroder: Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster (2011, Harper); Stanley Reed/Allison Fitzgerald: In Too Deep: BP and the Drilling Race That Took It Down (2011, Bloomberg); Joel Achenbach: A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher (2011, Simon & Schuster); Bob Cavnar: Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risks, and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout (paperback, 2010, Chelsea Green); Loren C Steffy: Drowning in Oil: BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit (2010, McGraw-Hill); Peter Lehner/Bob Deans: In Deep Water: The Anatomy of a Disaster, and the Fate of the Gulf, and Ending Our Oil Addiction (paperback, 2010, The Experiment); William R Freudenburg/Robert Gramling: Blowout in the Gulf: The BP Oil Spill Disaster and the Future of Energy in America (2010, MIT Press); Carl Safina: A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout (2011, Crown); Antonia Juhasz: Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill (2011, Wiley); Mike Magner: Poisoned Legacy: The Human Cost of BP's Rise to Power (paperback, 2011, St Martin's Press); and, of course, The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling's "report to the president": Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling (paperback, 2011, self-published).
Peter Van Buren: We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (2011, Metropolitan Books): State Department insider, spent a year in Baghdad -- not sure which one, they were all so promising, so memorable, but more likely the recent year of the surge than the year of Paul Bremer. To quote: "pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world's largest embassy, who fail to realize that you can't rebuild a country without first picking up the trash." After all, who wants to pick up trash?
Elizabeth Warren/Amelia Warren Tyagi: The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (paperback, 2004, Basic Books): Written before the recent/current recession, this now looks like one of the definitive political tomes of the last decade (although others, like Tamara Draut and Juliet B. Schor, have written similar analyses). Another book along these lines: Kevin T Leicht/Scott T Fitzgerald: Postindustrial Peasants: The Illusion of Middle-Class Prosperity (paperback, 2006, Worth).
Erik Olin Wright: Envisioning Real Utopias (paperback, 2010, Verso): John Quiggin: "The general idea of the book was in line with my thinking that technocratic rationality, of the kind offered by, say Obama or Blair, is not a sufficient answer to the irrationalist tribalism of the right -- the left needs a transformative vision to offer hope of a better life, both for the increasing proportion of the population in rich countries who are losing ground as a result of growing inequality and for the great majority of the world's population who are still poor by OECD standards. So, Utopia matters."
No time to do a paperback section right now -- wouldn't be much on top of two weeks ago, unless I dug further, which is what I don't have time for. But given that I have nearly 30 books left over, plus another 15 that I have open tabs on, the next report shouldn't be too distant in the future.
Thursday, November 24. 2011
An atypical Thanksgiving day for me: first since I moved back to Wichita in 1999 with no family dinner, no guests, not even a movie. Spent most of the afternoon working in the backyard: assembled a new CD case I managed to cut out the day before, and took another stab at figuring out how to build a ramp for my new shed. Doesn't seem like much, and wasn't. Microwaved a chicken pie for dinner. Watched some TV. Worked a bit on a jigsaw puzzle. Fretted over a talk I'm supposed to give this weekend on jazz. When I agreed to do it I still thought of myself as the guy who writes the Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice, but now I'm just the owner of a large record collection: a "patron of the arts," as Ted Bayne described me before I started writing jazz reviews.
Finally, it occurs to me that I could get a bit of the spirit back by throwing together a Turkey Shoot. This was no sudden insight: I had it first when Michael Tatum did his November column, then thought of it again when I saw Jim DeRogatis' star-studded Biggest Turkeys of 2011, but in both those cases I decided not to bother, not having time to re-listen to old crap let alone seek out even more. But as a last-minute venture, I realized I could just recycle old writing -- mostly Rhapsody Streamnotes. Reminds me of a maxim I uttered many times back in my software development days: a project not worth doing is not worth doing well.
Arctic Monkeys: Suck It and See (2011, Domino): British group, fourth album since their 2006 breakout combined punk freshness with British Invasion inevitability, a formula they aged out of awfully soon. Now they aspire to "dogshit rock and roll" but they're way too tame and structured, not to mention mired in the "humbug" they named their third album for. B-
Beyoncé: 4 (2011, Columbia): Big star, launched in 1990s girl group Destiny's Child, sustained as much through her acting as by her music. I've heard two of the group albums, one of the solos, have seen her in two (of seven) movies, and don't recall ever seeing any of her numerous videos, so I guess I haven't done due dilligence. Still, I doubt that anything she's done would have prepared me for the overkill production of the latter half, especially the punk rigidity of "Run the World (Girls)" -- the lead single, I see, not that girls are ever going to run the world sounding like the Sweet. Easier to dissect is the ballad-heavy first half: every soul diva of her generation has dreamed of singing like Aretha Franklin, but only Beyoncé has had the ego to think she's done it. C
James Blake: James Blake (2011, Atlas): Electronica producer from London, UK, dropped three EPs in 2010 that collectively got a lot of attention -- The Bells Sketch, CMYK, and Klavierwerke -- setting up big hype for this full length debut. It would be easy to just dump all over this: morosely slow, tearful, pathos unseemly for anyone who's just, uh, 21, maybe 22. His bleak backgrounds have some tortured beauty to them; his vocals, though, are probably culpable for the torture. B
Chris Brown: F.A.M.E. (2011, Jive): Says he can "do it all night," but what? Sounds like "feel the bullshit," but that can't be right -- I'm pretty sure he's faking that. Starts with a pretty nasty break-up song. Acronymic title stands for "Forgiving All My Enemies." Good idea, especially for a dude who comes by them so readily. B-
Glen Campbell: Ghost on the Canvas (2011, Surfdog): A pop-country star in the 1960s with a reputation as a dependable studio guitarist and more TV exposure than I care to remember, he cranked out massive amounts of product -- close to 70 albums -- up to 1999, then took it easy until his atrocious 2008 Meet Glen Campbell. Diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he figured he's good for one more. He might have bid a respectable adieu had he picked more songs like Jakob Dylan's "Nothing but the Whole Wide World," but producer Julian Raymond buried the Paul Westerberg title song in strings so blustery they'd make Chet Atkins swoon. Looks like he wanted to pick songs that affirm his desire to stand up to his fate. Too bad nearly all were slaughtered by the producer. C+
Cold Cave: Cherish the Light Years (2010 , Matador): Hard synthpop band, emphatic beat, thick electronics, I've seen their lead-off song ("The Great Pan Is Dead") compared to early Eno, and recognize power-packed New Order down the stretch, things that should impress me more, but I found myself dialing the volume down to weather the storm. B-
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues (2010 , Sub Pop): Seattle group, second album, lot of fans in the indie rock press, broke #4 on US charts, #2 in UK. I've seen this tagged as Baroque Folk-Pop. About all the sense I can make of that is that sometimes this sounds like the Papas without the Mamas: it has a down home air of the familiar although when I consider it I doubt I really want to hang out there. B-
Gang Gang Dance: Eye Contact (2011, 4AD): New York group, lots of synths, lots of bounce, singer Lizzi Bougatsos. Some things to like here, but it mostly strikes me as garish, tarted up, bombastic, with nothing that quite qualifies as "redeeming social content" (a legal term I take to include porn). B
The Horrors: Skying (2011, XL): British group (not to be confused with a now defunct eponymous group from Iowa), third album. AMG classifies them as shoegaze and punk revival, which is to say they're pretty muddled, the former trait slowing and sludging the latter which no longer signifies anything but loud. I probably overrated their 2009 Primary Colours -- a soft spot for muted and melodic metal, perhaps, which this occasionally suggests but more often proves annoying. B-
Justice: Audio, Video, Disco (2011, Elektra): Duo from Paris, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay. Previous, probably eponymous album was universally identified as Cross since that was all there was on the cover. The wordless cover this time features a bigger and bulkier cross, but sources agree that this one has a title. This ups the pop ambitions, ups the bubbly synths, ups the vocals, drives me up the wall. C+
Low: C'mon (2011, Sub Pop): Duluth, MN slowcore band, husband/wife team plus bassist, 14th album since 1994 (not counting a 3CD decade of b-sides). Seemed like a promising idea, but most of their songs are little more than repetitions of some stock phrase, like "oh nightingale" or "nothing but heart"; that's bad enough, but wait until they unpack a lyric like, "just because you don't hear their voices/don't mean they won't kill you in your sleep" -- in a song dreary enough to be a lullaby. C+
Mastodon: The Hunter (2011, Reprise): Metal band, one of the few that gets much respect outside of the genre's self-imposed ghetto. I don't really have a theoretical reason why I don't care for metal -- I was, in fact, a fan back when Blue Oyster Cult recorded their perfect first side to Tyranny and Mutation -- so sometimes I think I should at least sample something much hyped. Then I do, and wonder why. This isn't awful, especially when the singer shuts up, but also isn't smart or funny or engaging or exciting or interesting -- a lot of negatives for such maximalism. B-
John Maus: We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (2011, Ribbon): Dark-toned synth pop, remind me of something like OMD but not as good, partly because the artist is a "rage against the dying of the light" guy. I might be more sympathetic if I followed better. For instance, one especially annoying song is called "Cop Killer," which may (or may not) have a subtext I didn't catch but sounds like a mantra, one I could damn well do without. B-
Owl City: All Things Bright and Beautiful (2011, Universal Republic): Synthpop group from Minnesota, mostly Adam Young. The pumped up synths are sort of fun at first, and "The Real World" is surreally catchy, but second cut in "Deer in the Headlights" suggests that no cliché is going to prove too ripe for Young, and before long he's so wild-eyed he probably believes that space travel lets you "touch the face of God." Recommended to your local FFA: "Plant Life." C+
Panda Bear: Tomboy (2011, Paw Tracks): Noah Lennox's side project from Animal Collective, up to four albums since 1998. Densely overlayered, vocally reminds me of classical choral music smudged up so you can't make out a word, tracked to an exaggerated beat. I don't really see the point. B
SebastiAn: Total (2011, Big Beat/Atlantic/Ed Banger/Because): French DJ, Sebastian Akchoté, from Boulogne, has a pile of EPs and remixes since 2005, but this looks like his first big deal. Squelchy house, loud and nasty sounding: I feel a victim of a practical joke who has to admit that, yeah, you really got me there, all the while plotting to never let that happen again. The exception is "C.T.F.O." featuring M.I.A., where the noise is regular enough you can build with it, as opposed to just splattering it all over the joint. B-
Ashton Shepherd: Where Country Grows (2011, MCA Nashville): "Look It Up" is a break-up song, slightly tougher and meaner than "Jesus May Forgive You (But I Won't)." She didn't write that one, nor the hopeful "I'm Good," but has a co-credit on the jingoish title song and the moanful "While It Ain't Rainin'," and sole claim to "I'm Just a Woman," which sounds like Helen Reddy after a prefrontal lobotomy. She's got the tools, except brains, which you'd think would be a necessary survival skill in her neck of the woods. B-
The Strokes: Angles (2011, RCA): Critics rave in 2001, sort of a grove-centric new new wave band, dropped a couple more records in 2003 and 2006, now return after five years which saw a dreadful Julian Casablancas album bomb. Hard to recall from this why anyone ever liked them: sufficiently upbeat, but the core sound is so soapy it's painful to listen to. Or maybe just damn annoying. C-
Tech N9ne: All 6's and 7's (2011, Strange Music): Aaron Yates, b. 1971 in Kansas City, has a dozen albums since 1999. I first noticed him at Best Buy, where the stocked a ton of this album, but I now see that they have their own exclusive edition (as does iTunes, FYE, and Wal-Mart). Muscled up on the cover, more machine than man in the grooves, this repeatedly bangs its head against irrelevance and annoyance until it arrives at "Promiseland" -- as usual, the last place one wants to be. B-
Thompson Square: Thompson Square (2011, Stoney Creek): Country music duo, husband Kiefer Thompson from Oklahoma and wife Shawna Thompson from Tennessee. Loud, overproduced, trivially anthemic ("One of Those Days," "As Bad as It Gets"), occasionally stupid ("would you drive my getaway car?"). Give them a few hits and they might make Lady Antebellum look like hippies. C-
Thought I'd include the new Drake album, but bagged my limit (20) without it, so that one will chill until December. Other B- and below albums (ignoring some truly ignorable jazz):
Of course, I wasn't hunting turkeys when I ran into these -- although I certainly had no reason to doubt that Owl City would be one. If I had tried, I would have started by devising a methodology for searching out the worst. Maybe low Metacritic scores, like Richard Ashcroft's 37 or Limp Bizkit's 38. (Owl City's is 47; the Lou Reed-Metallica mashup is at 37.) And factor in artists with proven track records, like Lady Antebellum. Then I could concoct a list of a priori turkeys, saving us all some time. It's not really below my principles, but I don't have a method yet. Not sure it would even be worthwhile.
Tuesday, November 22. 2011
Lead article in the Wichita Eagle today: Molly McMillin: Boeing Studying Future of Wichita Site. Lloyd Stearman founded Stearman Aircraft Corporation in Wichita in 1927. He later sold it to United Aircraft, which spun it off as a division of Boeing in 1934. During WWII the federal government built a huge expansion to Boeing's Wichita plant, where Boeing produced its legendary series of heavy bombers: B-17, B-29, B-47, B-52. From WWII up to 2005, Boeing was the largest employer in Wichita, and for most of that period Wichita was Boeing's largest plant outside of the Seattle area. In 2005, Boeing spun off most of its Wichita operations using the private equity firm Onex: the resulting company is called Spirit Aerosystems, and it continues to manufacture for Boeing. At the same time, Boeing retained its military division in Wichita, which is conveniently adjacent to McConnell Air Force Base. McConnell is the home base for the air force's KC-135 tanker fleet. Boeing has lobbied feverishly to replace the tanker fleet with new planes based on Boeing's now-obsolete 767 airframe, and we've been blanketed with promises of how many jobs the new tankers would bring to Kansas. As the article explains:
However, now that Boeing has prevailed over EADS in the tanker bid war, Boeing is having second thoughts. Much as 19th century railroads were more in the business of accumuliating government real estate subsidies, Boeing's manufacture of aircraft is just bait for their real mission, which is to auction off jobs for bribes. While there is no doubt that one big reason Boeing recently tried to move its 787 airframe production from Seattle to South Carolina was fervor for deunionizing its work force, the clincher was South Carolina coughing up a billion dollars for the favor of having its citizens underpaid by Boeing.
I've despised Boeing's tanker scam ever since its inception -- in its first incarnation it was presented as a lease program, as if the federal government couldn't finance its own purchases. The entire campaign has been as prime an example of crony capitalist corruption in Washington as you can imagine, but should be opposed for the simple reason that the last thing we should spend money on is a capability that would make it easier to get involved in wars around the globe. Needless to say, Kansas politicians signed up to the corruption immediately, and unconditionally. And, typical to form, their arguments highlighted all the promised jobs.
I've been saying all along that the jobs argument was bogus. In particular, nobody factors in the fact that the new tankers will eliminate all the jobs keeping the old tankers flying. Those old jobs are concentrated in Wichita -- some at Boeing, most at McConnell -- and it would be uneconomical to ever try to move those jobs. However, the jobs supporting the new tankers could be moved anywhere. As we've seen with the 787, Boeing feels no obligation to go with the workers who've built their planes in the past. (In fact, Boeing moved their headquarters from Seattle to Chicago so executives wouldn't feel any compunctions about laying off local workers and tanking their local economy.)
So this "study" is just the other shoe dropping. This comes less than a week after Bombardier started to shake down the city, county, and state governments to pay for a plant expansion in Wichita, or face the consequences of the (Canadian) company moving its work elsewhere. This portends yet another shakedown:
Back in Reagan's "greed is good" 1980s we somehow bought into the logic that companies have no reason for being other than to suck up as much profit as possible for their investors. Now we see that the logical end of this concept is that a plant in Kansas which exists exclusively to service the military, not exactly a pinch-penny buyer, will be shut down because workers in Kansas are too unionized and make too much money -- unless, of course, the local taxpayers cough up more cash than any other area that covets the ever-shrinking jobs. But we've been "chipping in" for Boeing for decades now. The only thing one can reasonably conclude is that they're insatiable: that no matter what sweetheart deal you cut them, they'll always come back for more.
The only way to put an end to this practice would be to pass a nationwide law that would tax all the gain out of local government deals, so companies would have no incentive to play off one locale against another. (Plus it would help to make unions the norm rather than the exception.) If Kansas politicians wanted to stop looking like fools they'd take the lead on this. On the other hand, asking Sam Brownback, Pat Roberts, Jerry Moran, Todd Tiahrt, Mike Pompeo, et al. to stop acting like fools feels like a dream.
Monday, November 21. 2011
Still weary blues from waiting. Shivering cold, too. My big plans this week to engineer a ramp for the shed turned into failure, then the weather went north and I had to give up. Had every intent of punting here, but ultimately decided that fifteen Jazz Prospecting notes are too much to hold back.
Fabian Almazan Trio: Personalities (2010-11 , Biophilia): Pianist, from Cuba, based in New York, first record. Ben Ratliff recently wrote him up as one of four young pianists doing innovative things, along with Kris Davis (whom I like a lot) and two others I hadn't heard of. The trio cuts, with Linda Oh on bass and Henry Cole on drums, offer an ambitious mix of postbop moves. Two more cuts add a string trio led by violinist Meg Okura, and they rub me the wrong way, especially the one written by someone named Shostakovich. B+(*)
Marc Copland/John Abercrombie: Speak to Me (2011, Pirouet): Piano-guitar duets, both long-time masters with a history of playing together -- I quickly found their Contact album in my HMs, but that was fleshed out with Dave Liebman, bass, and drums. In my note I talked about "each working their discreet charms." Here, without the rhythmic propulsion and the commanding voice of a harm, a better word would be "discrete." B+(*)
Phil Dwyer Orchestra: Changing Seasons (2011, ALMA): Composer, big band leader, plays saxophone and piano (only briefly here), b. 1965 in Canada; has at least three albums. This one adds a "Featuring Mark Fewer" byline -- Fewer plays the violin leads, and arranged the strings that supplement (and usually overshadow) the big band. Closer to classical than to jazz -- all swish and no swing -- with four movements, each named for a season. C+
The Jeff Gauthier Goatette: Open Source (2011, Cryptogramophone): Violinist, was involved in Vinny Golia's Nine Winds label back in the 1990s and launched Cryptogramophone around 2000, which has taken Golia's avant-garde tendencies and turned them into something more commercial -- Nels Cline is the label's star. Gauthier himself has five albums on the label (seven total). In this one four (of six) musicians are credited with effects -- Gauthier, John Fumo (trumpet), Nels Cline (guitar), and David Witham (keyboards, accordion) -- leaving only bass (Joel Hamilton) and drums (Alex Cline) with no extra tricks. The result is a semi-fusion, often impressive especially when everyone works in sync. B+(**)
The Gurdjieff Folk Instruments Ensemble: Music of Georges I. Gurdjieff (2008 , ECM): Gurdjieff was born c. 1866, father Greek, mother Armenian, in Armenia, then part of the Russian Empire, and died 1949, best known as some kind of spiritual teacher -- he described what he was doing as "esoteric Christianity" or "the fourth way." Along the way he wrote some music, often working with Thomas de Hartmann, drawing on Central Asian folk and religious music, Russian Orthodox liturgical music, and other sources. This is some of that, played on traditional instruments (oud, blul, kanon, santur, tar, saz, duduk, etc.) by a group in Yerevan, Armenia, under the direction of Levon Eskenian. This has a preserved-in-amber air: minimal, elegant, delicate, enchanting. B+(**)
Tim Hagans: The Moon Is Waiting (2011, Palmetto): Trumpet player, b. 1954 in Ohio, has had a rather scattered career with 11 albums since 1983 -- jazztronica fusion, tributes to Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard, seems like mostly big band work lately. This is straightforward postbop, a quartet with Vic Juris on guitar, Rufus Reid on bass, Jukkis Uotila on drums (and piano). Juris is as distinctive as ever, which throws everything off just enough to give Hagans his edge. B+(**)
Kevin Hays: Variations (2011, Pirouet): Pianist, 13th album since 1994, not counting his recent duo with Brad Mehldau on Patrick Zimmerli's Modern Music, which this seems to be a study for. Twenty-four short cuts divided into three sets, most of the pieces appearing in variations in each. B+(**)
Maria Jameau and Blue Brazil: Gema (2010 , Challenge): Singer, b. in Boston, middle name Billings, "has played piano for 30 years, with guitar, flute, and percussion as secondary instruments" (none evident here), has taught at New England Conservatory, based in Sebastopol, California, has one previous record. This is Brazil-themed, with pieces from Ben, Jobim, others less famous, and occasional hints of Africa. Local band includes guitar, "electric 8-string hybrid bass & guitar," percussion, and flute. Nicely done. B+(*)
Le Boeuf Brothers: In Praise of Shadows (2009-11 , 19/8): Twins Remy Le Boeuf (alto sax, bass clarinet, tenor sax) and Pascal Le Boeuf (piano), lead a New York group with Mike Ruby (tenor sax), Linda Oh (bass), Henry Cole (drums), slipping in Nir Felder's guitar for one song, with Adria Le Boeuf doing "ambient vocals" on another, Pascal singing one, and a string quartet somewhere. Attempts to draw together various strands into "a rich brand of modern jazz"; has its moments, but sometimes when you try to be cleverly eclectic you wind up with a mish mash. B
Will Martina: The Dam Levels (2011, self-released): Cellist, born and raised in Canberra, Australia; based in New York. Has a few side credits, including with Burnt Sugar. First album, trio with Jason Lindner on piano and Richie Barshay on drums -- both adding significantly which keeps this very balanced. B+(**)
Bill McHenry: Ghosts of the Sun (2006 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, leading a quartet with Ben Monder (guitar), Reid Anderson (bass), and Paul Motian (drums). Postbop, a bit off center, probably because that's all the foundation the drummer provides. B+(*)
Pilc Moutin Hoenig: Threedom (2011, Motema): Piano trio: Jean-Michel Pilc (piano), François Moutin (bass), Ari Hoenig (drums). Pilc, b. 1960 in Paris, France, seemed to explode on the scene in 2000 with a rapid fire series of fast and fierce albums. I don't get the same sense here: not just that he's slowed down but that he's working inside the pieces -- needless to say, his sensitivity, touch, and wit are clearest on the half he didn't write. B+(*)
Jake Saslow: Crosby Street (2011, 14th Street): Tenor saxophonist, debut album, inventive postbop with a soft edge. With Mike Moreno (guitar) and/or Fabian Alamzan (piano), plus bass (Joe Martin) and drums (Marcus Gilmore). B+(**)
Joan Stiles: Three Musicians (2011, Oo-Bla-Dee): The other two, their names flanking Stiles' somewhat less boldly, are saxophonist Joel Frahm (tenor, one cut on soprano) and drummer Matt Wilson. Stiles is a pianist, moved from classical to jazz in 1986 at Manhattan School of Music, and contiues to teach there and at the New School. Third album, the group here stripped down from the sextet she used on the remarkable Hurly Burly. Two originals, not counting "In the Sunshine of My Funny Valentine's Love" which is credited to Rodgers/Clapton/Bach. One from Mary Lou Williams, who is more than a research interest, followed by two Monks, which set up the remarkable interpolation of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?/Can't Buy Me Love." Frahm is superb, of course, in etching out the themes Stiles elaborates. B+(***)
The Tierney Sutton Band: American Road (2011, BFM Jazz): Sutton is a standards singer, ninth album since 1998; I don't know them all, but wasn't much impressed until she got happy with On the Other Side in 2006. After a good record idiosyncrasies start to look like character traits, although the confluence of the two would be pretty clear here in any case. She's in the band as a matter of principle, but singer's bands are meant to be invisible -- Betty Carter's excepted, of course, but we're not talking her here -- and this one is pretty anonymous. Her standards this time are well worn, and she piles the weight on, more than "On Broadway" can handle, enough to make "Summertime" and "It Ain't Necessarily So" creak. And I'm dumfounded by an "Amazing Grace" that isn't anywhere near graceful but remarkable nonetheless, and an "America the Beautiful" that isn't, that I'd just as soon not be bothered with. She's finally convinced me that she's kind of weird. But she's still not Betty Carter. B+(**)
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, November 20. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Thursday, November 17. 2011
Saw this in the Eagle this morning, and it turned my stomach: Ben Feller: Countering China, Obama asserts US a Pacific power. AP article. Some quotes:
There's a tendency to treat this as business as usual, but at a time when the US occupation of Iraq has nearly wound down and the operating assumption is that US troop levels in Afghanistan will start to decline, when there's nearly universal agreement on the need to reduce military spending, this is an unnecessary and provocative new venture, intended to, well, do what? Prove that the world's most genocidal Anglo-settler nations are still joined at the hip? Show that the US is planning on entering yet another generation of Asian land wars? Prove that Obama is still under the thumb of the Joint Chiefs?
Over the last few years, we've seen a virulent outbreak of books fretting over the looming threat that China, with its huge population and burgeoning economic growth, might challenge the US for dominant superpower status. Reading such books involves a lot of navel gazing, since the essential premise is that China in the future will wind up acting exactly like the US has in the past. Perhaps the most disturbing prospect from today's news is that Obama may actually be reading such rubbish. True, one might argue that the US has lost leverage recently in its ability to influence politics in the bottom tier of "developing countries" but this has nothing to do with lack of military resources, and everything to do with their uselessness.
Meanwhile, Obama has utterly failed to confront the real Chinese threat: the way its currency manipulation preserves a crippling US trade deficit. The core reasons here is that Chinese businesses think in terms of national (which is to say popular) interests, where US government policymakers have chosen to support the world capitalist class with little or no regard for Americans who merely work for a living. Such policies started in the Cold War when the US gladly built up the economies of former powers like Germany and Japan as as well as borderlands like Korea and Taiwan as bullwarks against Communism. At first the US could afford such largesse. Later, as we started sinking billions into foreign oil, the ascendant right was happy to repatriate our losses by swelling the financial sector and selling off assets for inflated prices: in effect, our trade deficits became a pipeline redistributing wealth from the working class to the very rich.
No one but the neocons really thinks China's going to be impressed by the US caching arms in Australia. That Obama's bought into their phallic fantasies -- the whole "real men go to Tehran" thing -- is just sad. That he would defend the country from military threats that exist only in the fevered imaginations of discredited neocons but has no interest or desire to stop companies -- after forty consecutive years of trade deficits as likely to be foreign owned as not, and certain to have massive foreign investments -- from shutting down US jobs and moving them overseas is cowardly and indifferent. That he would mourn the loss of soldiers abroad 70 years ago but won't stand up to banks throwing people out of their homes, to business owners shutting down factories, to schools closing, here in America today, is just plain perverted.
As for Australia, the people there need to ask themselves how many more Koreas and Vietnams and Iraqs and Afghanistans will they let the US drag them into, not to mention the possible Gallipolis our alliance promises them.
Wednesday, November 16. 2011
Last one June 21. I figured I was overdue for one of these 2-3 weeks ago. Indeed, without trying very hard I see I have 56 books left in the queue after separting out the 40 below, so I could do one more tomorrow and still have plenty of seed corn. I generally try to find books of possible interest on the current political state, but let my mind wander into other areas that interest me. I'm not very consistent in covering the right's rantings: sometimes I'll come up with something to say, often not. For instance, looking back at my collected book notes, I see that I've only written up one Ann Coulter book -- I guess I was struck by the image of "pro-Obamacare fanatics" rioting in the streets.
Alaa Al Aswany: On the State of Egypt: What Made the Revolution Inevitable (paperback, 2011, Vintage Books): Short book on the revolution in Egypt by a well-known novelist. I expect we will soon be deluged with books on Egypt: recent examples range from Joel Beinin/Frederic Vairel, eds: Social Movements, Mobilization, and Contestation in the Middle East and North Africa (paperback, 2011, Stanford University Press); to Alex Nunns/Nadia Idle, eds: Tweets From Tahrir: Egypt's Revolution as It Unfolded, in the Words of the People Who Made it (paperback, 2011, OR Books).
James R Arnold: The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913 (2011, Bloomsbury Press): After the Spanish-American War (1898), after the long bloody fight to put down the Filipino independence movement (1898-1902), a group of Muslims fought on against the American colonizers. This is their story. Also available: Robert A Fulton: Moroland: The History of Uncle Sam and the Moros 1899-1920 (paperback, 2007, Tumalo Creek Press).
Stanley Aronowitz: The Jobless Future (second edition, paperback, 2010, University of Minnesota Press): Originally published in 1994, now "fully updated and with a new introduction": we all know that technology destroys more jobs than it creates, but rather than using it to eliminate workers from the economy we should take a look at the social conditions under which such relief from work would be a blessing.
Jay Bahadur: The Pirates of Somalia: Inside Their Hidden World (2011, Pantheon): Journalist, went to Somalia and worked his way into the pirate havens, met people, talked shop, managed to get out and write a book about it. Probably knows more about the subject than any of us ever will, although I've seen at least one more book that makes a similar claim: Peter Eichstaedt: Pirate State: Inside Somalia's Terrorism at Sea (2010, Lawrence Hill Books); and there are others that approach the subject from a safer distance, like Martin N Murphy: Small Boats, Weak States, Dirty Money: Piracy and Maritime Terrorism in the Modern World (paperback, 2010, Columbia University Press).
Abhijit V Banerjee/Esther Duflo: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011, Public Affairs): What's radical is that it looks at how poor people live, rather than trying to deduce that from economic theory.
Jeremy Ben-Ami: A New voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation (2011, Palgrave Macmillan): Founder of J Street, a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" lobby meant to challenge right-wing AIPAC. The problem with J Street isn't so much their slavish love for Israel (although that can get to be pretty annoying) as their self-delusion that Israel is in danger of destruction if peace isn't negotiated, whereas Israel has clearly proven that they can fight forever. Indeed, since their identity is so wrapped up in the conflict, one can just as well argue that the only way Israel can continue to be Israel is to keep the fight going: that peace would start some inexorable decay of the Jewish State.
Jimmy Breslin: Branch Rickey (2011, Penguin): Short profile (160 pp), probably focuses on Rickey's tenure with the Dodgers given that Breslin is very much a home-towner. That would leave so much uncovered one almost hopes the book is more about Breslin himself -- one could do worse.
Dick Cheney: In My Life: A Personal and Political Memoir (2011, Threshold Editions): Saw a pile of this in the bookstore recently. The person I was with pointed out it belonged in the true crime section.
Terry Eagleton: Why Marx Was Right (2011, Yale University Press): Longtime Marxist literary critic, from Ireland, kicks back agaisnt the assumption that Marx is irrelevant to the post-Soviet world. Strikes me as an academic argument, not that Marxists haven't had much of value in the critique of capitalism ever since Marx started sorting it out.
Peter Firstbrook: The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family (2011, Crown): Probably an interesting book in its own right; possibly the first such book to trace back the roots of an African family -- I imagine it being somewhat like Ian Frazier's Family, except most likely not as well documented. On the other hand, Barack Obama has always been so far removed from those roots that it's unlikely to shed any light on anything having to do with him or his administration. (Not that Dinesh D'Souza can't hallucinate.)
Thomas L Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum: That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Two of the stupidest people in America -- Friedman needs no introduction; Mandelbaum has written his share of nonsense too, like The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century and The Frugal Superpower: America's Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era.
John Geyman: Hijacked: The Road to Single Payer in the Aftermath of Stolen Health Care Reform (paperback, 2010, Common Courage Press): Doctor, prominent in PNHP (Physicians for a National Health Program), has written a series of books on how the practice of medicine has been corrupted by corporate interests. Argues that Obama's reform act is just another instance of this.
John Geyman: Breaking Point: How the Primary Care Crisis Endangers the Lives of Americans (paperback, 2011, Copernicus Healthcare): Longtime critic of America's health care racket, a doctor and advocate for single-payer health insurance, turns his attention to the increasingly lost art of primary care.
André Gorz: Ecologica (2010, Seagull Books), and The Immaterial (2010, Seagull Books): Two final books of critical theory by Gorz, who died in 2007. More than any other Marxist critic, Gorz saw the need to transform increased productivity into a shorter working life. I more or less figured that out on the basis of something Paul Sweezy wrote in the 1950s, but Gorz pushed the argument further than anyone else. Also newly available is the second edition of Critique of Economic Reason (1989; 2nd ed, paperback, 2011, Verso).
Rod Hill/Anthony Myatt: The Economics Anti-Textbook: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Microeconomics (paperback, 2010, Zed Books): Picks apart classical micro, most likely by comparing it to the messy reality the models try to abstract from.
J Hoberman: Army Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War (2011, New Press): Longtime Village Voice film critic, goes back to the 1946-56 period in search of demons -- a period of purges and black lists in the movie industry.
Eric Hobsbawm: How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism (2011, Little Brown UK): Intellectual history, with sections on Marx and his period and influence, the struggle against fascism, postwar Marxism, up to the recent. An historian who knows both the period and the lore well.
Russell Jacoby: Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence From Cain and Abel to the Present (2011, Free Press): Barbara Ehrenreich wrote convincingly on this in 1997 (Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War), but Jacoby seems to stress the fratricidal aspect, extrapolating on to Hutu/Tutsi, etc.
Michio Kaku: Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 (2011, Doubleday): Physics writer, cosmology mostly; as I recall he got into the game with superstring theory, which is about the point when I lost interest in it. But this looks to be mere futurology, a literary genre that has never managed to get anything right.
Michael Kazin: American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation (2011, Knopf): Broad strokes history, but as Andrew Bacevich recently conceded, virtually every beneficial change in American history was advanced by the left and opposed by the right. Kazin's specialty is the populist period and William Jennings Bryan, but he also co-wrote with Maurice Isserman, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s.
David Kirkpatrick: The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World (2010, Simon & Schuster): Insider-ish history of the company and the thinking behind the social network tool.
Lawrence Lessig: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress, and a Plan to Stop It (2011, Twelve): Nothing could be more true. Tries to posit his critique of the corrupting influence of money outside of the right-left axis, but the essential point of the right is their subversion of democracy, which generally puts them in league with the corrupters -- at the very least, they figure the process works more for them than against them, and they're so desperate for power they'll take those odds.
Bernard Lewis: The End of Modern History in the Middle East (2011, Hoover Institute Press): The guy who understands so little about the Middle East that he's frequently consulted by neocons seems to be running out of things to write about.
Michael Lewis: Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (2011, WW Norton): Travelogues relating to high finance, or mischief, or both. The "new third world" means old first world countries saddled with so much debt they're sinking fast: you know, Greece, Ireland, Iceland, the United States.
Anatol Lieven: Pakistan: A Hard Country (2011, Public Affairs): Financial Times journalist, covered the Chechen Wars. I thought his America Right of Wrong was an uncommonly smart book, but I'm less sure about his coverage of America's terrorism wars. Still, this could be one of the better books on Pakistan, a country that America's political and military leaders cavalierly fuck with but don't begin to understand. Other recent Pakistan books: MJ Akbar: Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan (2011, Harper Collins); Pamela Constable: Playing With Fire: Pakistan at War With Itself (2011, Random House); Imtiaz Gul: The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan's Lawless Frontier (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books); Steve Inskeep: Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi (2011, Penguin Books); Maleeha Lodhi, ed: Pakistan: Beyond the "Crisis State" (2011, Cambridge University Press); Iftikhar Malik: Pakistan: Democracy, Terrorism, and the Building of a Nation (paperback, 2010, Olive Tree Press); Bruce Riedel: Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of Global Jihad (2011, Brookings Institution Press); John R Schmidt: The Unraveling: Pakistan in the Age of Jihad (2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
Dale Maharidge: Someplace Like America: Tales From the New Great Depression (2011, University of California Press): Photographs by Michael S Williamson. Starts back in the 1980s -- when GM had 618,000 employees and WalMart 23,000 -- and details the deliberate destruction of the middle class in America. Author previously wrote And Their Children After Them: The Legacy of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: James Agee, Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall of Cotton in the South; Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass; Denison, Iowa: Searching for the Soul of America Through the Secrets of a Midwest Town; and Heartland.
Charles C Mann: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (2011, Knopf): Previously wrote 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, which surveyed what little is known about American Indian history before 1492. This focuses on the exchanges between old and new worlds once regular contact was established, such as Europe's discovery of potatoes and tomatoes, and the introduction to the "new world" of smallpox, gunpowder, and slavery: truly an intercourse that profoundly changed both worlds.
Arno Mayer: The Persistence of the Old Regime: Europe to the Great War (1981; paperback, 2010, Verso): Part of a series reprinting prominent Marxist historical works. Mayer's classic works on the post-WWI settlement date from 1959 (Political Origins of the New Diplomacy) and 1967 (Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking), so this works backward, fleshing out his sketchy Dynamics of Counter-Revolution in Europe, 1870-1956. I've read most of the above plus Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? and Plowshares Into Swords but had missed this one.
Joe McGinniss: The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin (2011, Crown): Veteran journalist, wrote a book about Nixon's 1968 campaign, and later wrote a book about Alaska, so why not? Famously got on his subject's nerves by moving next door to her. Presumably dug up some dirt on her, rather than going for her more obvious political problems.
Siddhartha Mukherjee: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (2010; paperback, 2011, Scribner): Big (608 pp.) book, won a Pulitzer, by an oncologist who brings his patients in for a view as well as recalling the history -- mostly medical research and treatment since that's what we know the most about.
Sylvia Nasar: Grand Pursuit: The Story of Economic Genius (2011, Simon & Schuster): A survey of major economic thinkers. Not sure how many could be called geniuses, although some can. She previously wrote A Beautiful Mind about John Nash, a tighter focus that was converted into a successful movie. Maybe Ken Burns can find some old photos of Marx and Engels and Mayhew and Dickens and make something of this.
Ilan Pappé: The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of Palestinians in Israel (2011, Yale University Press): The Palestinians who didn't flee from Israeli armed forces during the 1947-49 war -- a story Pappé covered in The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine -- were given citizenship in Israel at the same time those who left were barred from ever returning. Supposedly the "Palestinian citizens of Israel" were integrated into the enlightened liberal democracy, but from 1948-67 they lived apart under military rule. In 1967 military administration shifted to the occupied territorites, but separation and discrimination against Palestinians within Israel has hardly stopped, and in some ways is worse now than it was, especially before the Intifada.
Christian Parenti: Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011, Nation Books): An effort to recast current and future conflicts as resource wars, the rate of which will increase as climate change stresses the peoples of the planet. There is possibly some truth to that, but there's also a wide room for error. Author previously wrote The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America From Slavery to the War on Terror.
Corey Robin: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011, Oxford University Press): "Tracing conservatism back to its roots in the reaction against the French Revolution, Robin argues that the right is fundamentally inspired by a hostility to emancipating the lower orders. Some conservatives endorse the free market, others oppose it. Some criticize the state, others celebrate it. Underlying these differences is the impulse to defend power and privilege against movements demanding freedom and equality." That's about right.
Jack Ross: Rabbi Outcast: Elmer Berger and American Jewish Anti-Zionism (2011, Potomac Books): Berger was a reform rabbi, head of American Council for Judaism, a forceful critic of Israel from before its founding up through the 1967 war.
Shlomo Sand: The Words and the Land: Israeli Intellectuals and the Nationalist Myth (paperback, 2011, Semiotext(e)): Focuses on the charged meaning of words in constructing the Zionist world view -- exile, return, Aliyah (which adds an exalted flavor to immigration. It's remarkable both how successful these semantics have been, and how effectively they imprison thought. Another book could be written on the Palestinian side, exile for exile, return for return, Nakba for Shoah.
Ron Suskind: Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President (2011, Harper): Great reporter, able to worm his way into inside info, which he plied into a couple eye-opening books on the Bush administration. Here takes on Obama and his crew, most evidently leaving their hearts and wallets back on Wall Street.
Peter Tomsen: The Wars of Afghanistan: Messianic Terrorism, Tribal Conflicts, and the Failures of Great Powers (2011, BBS): Former US Special Envoy to Afghanistan 1989-92, Ambassador to Armenia 1995-98, which may (or may not) give him some insight into the failures of the Muhajadeen warlord regime that gave rise to the Taliban. Huge (912 pp.) book, probably starts with Alexander but focuses on US difficulties with its nominal Pakistani and Saudi allies. Thinks "it is still possible to achieve an acceptable outcome, but only if our policies respect Afghan history and culture and we heed the lessons of past foreign interventions."
Robin Wright: Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World (2011, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, has written several books about the rising tide of Islamism in Iran and the Middle East, now turns around and discovers the Arab Spring movements.
Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World: Release 2.0 (2011, WW Norton): Looks like the answer book to the new Thomas Friedman/Michael Mandelbaum fiasco: whereas the other boys are stuck in their adolescent fantasy that the world can't work if America doesn't run it, Zakaria sees that it's too late for that, and to rub his point in he didn't even write a new book -- he just polished up one that his fellow pundits should have already read as a matter of due dilligence. The links are so obvious that Amazon has an "author one-on-one" between Friedman and Zakaria.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
David Harvey: The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press): English Marxist critic of neoliberalism, has a longer term and deeper view of the 2008 meltdown than your average analyst. Also writes a bit dryer, which makes this somewhat of a slog, but it's one of the most worthwhile books I've read on the subject. Paperback adds on a new afterword. [link]
Naomi Oreskes/Erik M Conway: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010; paperback, 2011, Bloomsbury Press): Not just a range of issues that PR firms hired scientist-hacks to obfuscate: we keep seeing the same scientists going from one con to the next.
Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History (2010; paperback, 2011, Spiegel & Grau): New subtitle -- old one was Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America. Some extra material too: the greed of the banking industry is a story that never ends. [link]
Monday, November 14. 2011
Don't know nothing. Don't have anything to report. Was tempted to punt this week, or to post the unpublished column, or I don't know what. Will be even more tempted along those lines next week. At this point, I don't see that it would hurt to complain to the Village Voice -- Maura Johnston is the editor avoiding me -- about their lack of jazz coverage -- not that I think it will do much good.
Meanwhile, this is what I got:
Emmet Cohen: In the Element (2010 , BadaBeep): Young pianist -- 20 on the cover and 21 on his website -- won third prize in this year's Monk competition. Debut album, mostly trio, with Greg Gisbert joining on trumpet for four cuts. Postbop, pretty much what talented young pianists do these days. B
Kali. Z. Fasteau/William Parker/Cindy Blackman: An Alternate Universe (1991-92 , Flying Note): New release, comes out same time as the reissue of Prophecy, a more scattered 1993 album documenting this same period -- guess you can call these outtakes. Fasteau has worked through several permutations of her name -- no idea why the period in "Kali." appeared, but "Z." once appeared as Zusann. She was b. 1947, childhood split between New York and Paris, lived in sixteen countries, picked up instruments from most of them. She married Donald Rafael Grant, a bassist who also played clarinet with Coltrane in his latter avant-garde phase; fifteen years her senior, he died in 1989, which is about the point when Fasteau started her solo career. (A compilation of her 1975-77 work with Garrett, Memoirs of a Dream, is fascinating.) She plays a dozen-plus instruments, none especially well although she is a fearless risktaker and sometimes makes it pay off. Here she rotates between cello, soprano sax, and electric piano, with bassist Parker on all tracks, drummer Blackman on 5 (of 8). The cello seems to grow out of Parker's bass, full of razor edges. The soprano is rough and warbly. The electric piano is played more for toy percussion, held back to let the bass and drums wander. B+(**)
Rob Garcia 4: The Drop and the Ocean (2011, Bju'ecords): Drummer, grew up in the Bronx (Pelham), studied at NYU and SUNY Purchase. Has at least two previous records (since 2005), short list of side credits. Quartet: Noah Preminger (tenor sax), Dan Tepfer (piano), John Hebert (bass). The first two are young guys who have gotten a lot of notice for their own albums; Hebert is one of those bassists who makes everything better. B+(**)
Otzir Godot: Kas Kas (2009, Epatto): Drummer, from Finland. First record, a few years old now, got it along with a new one. All improvised. Five cuts are duos with saxophonist Ikka Kahri, two more are duos with Robin DeWan on didgeridoo, the other four are brief solos. The sax-drums duos are smartly balanced, engaging. The deep hums less interesting but a nice backdrop for the percussion, which never pushes too hard. B+(**)
Otzir Godot: Drum Poems (2011, Epatto): Drummer, from Finland, second album, plays solo using a wide, world encircling range of percussion instruments. Thirteen pieces, mostly conceptual, have some interest but also have their limits. B+(*)
Mac Gollehon: Odyssey of Nostalgia (2011, American Showplace Music): Trumpet player. Website is a helpless piece of Flash, so I'm short on bio. AMG lists six albums since 1996: two with "smokin'" in the title, one "straight ahead," one In the Spirit of Fats Navarro. This one digs around various old blues bags, including "Brother Can You Spare a Dime" and "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," but also "Two Sleepy People" and "Dirtynogooder Blues" and "Over the Rainbow." Band includes Ronnie Cuber (baritone sax, flute), Bill Easley (clarinet, alto sax), Amina Claudine Myers (organ), Ron McClure (bass), Warren Smith (drums), Junior Vega (congas), and features Olga Merediz's vocals on about half of the tracks. Some work, some not so much. B+(**)
Keith Jarrett: Rio (2011, ECM, 2CD): Solo piano, recorded live in Rio de Janeiro on April 9, 2011, divided up into Parts I-XV spread across two discs. Sounds not unlike the dozens of other solo albums he's released since The Köln Concert sold five million copies, except that his general trajectory, like life itself, has been to slow down and smell the roses -- so one thing I can note is that he provides little (if any) of his own vocal accompaniment here. I've slowed down enough myself to find this more than moderately pleasant, although every time rapturous applause erupts I wonder what I missed. B+(*)
Paul Kikuchi: Portable Sanctuary Vol. 1 (2009-10 , Present Sounds): Percussionist, based in Seattle, has several recent records. He is rejoined here by trombonist Stuart Dempster, whose concept of "deep listening" -- mostly long, low drones -- is hegemonic here. With some guitar and electronics, and two extra percussionists. Intriguing, but sometimes hard to hear what little is going on. B+(*)
The Landrus Kaleidoscope: Capsule (2010 , Blueland): Brian Landrus, b. 1978, plays baritone sax, bass clarinet, bass flute, has a couple previous records: the first on Cadence planted him in free jazz territory, but two on Blueland have backed off. This one is effectively a quiet storm outing, lots of soft low sounds with swooning guitar (Nir Felder), backed with keyb (Michael Cain), acoustic bass (Matthew Parish), and drums (Rudy Royston). B+(***)
Brad Mehldau/Kevin Hays: Modern Music (2011, Nonesuch): Piano duo, actually just the front men appearing above the title for Patrick Zimmerli, below the title and "composed and arranged by" but in larger type. Zimmerli is a saxophonist, b. 1968, has five albums from 1998 (six if you count this one). He been working the boundaries between jazz and classical, and has a number of compositions commissioned for classical groups. Here he wrote 4 of 9 pieces, arranged an original each by Mehldau and Hays, plus ones by Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Ornette Coleman. B+(***)
Miles Español (2011, Entertainment One, 2CD): Only got an advance so I'm not sure how this is packaged. I filed it under Bob Belden ("conceived and produced by"), in large part because it seems like his kind of thing, although his only other credit is percussion/marimba on one track. I cribbed the credit list (36 musicians) from the hype sheet, which misspelled names, often omitted instruments, and was inconsistent between specifying percussion instruments and grouping them together. Most players only show up for 1-3 tracks (out of 16), with percussionist Alex Acuña way out front (10 tracks), followed by Sammy Figueroa (6). This remakes 4 of 5 titles from Sketches of Spain (omits "Will o' the Wisp," and smashes "Saeta" and "Pan Piper" into one track); adds two loosely related Miles Davis pieces ("Flamenco Sketches," "Teo/Neo"); and picks up extra pieces, mostly from its guest stars (Rabih Abou-Khalil, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Niño Joseles, Jorge Pardo, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, John Scofield). Four of the pieces go orchestral (flutes and bassoon and such, Abou-Khalil's oud and Edmar Castañeda's harp the only strings); the others stick with small groups, leaning a bit too much on piano, but otherwise the whole thing hangs together and flows. A step toward "jazz repertory," if that interests you. B+(**) [advance]
Nils Petter Molvaer: Baboon Moon (2011, Thirsty Ear): Trumpet player, from Norway, started out in Masqualero with Arild Andersen, emerged under his own name on a couple albums on ECM with drum machines: the first flush of what came to be called jazztronica, which led to a merger with Matthew Shipp's jazz-DJ synthesis label. Erland Dahlen handles the percussion this time, favoring log drums and steel drums over electronics, with Stian Westerhus plugging his guitars, keybs, pedals, and toys in -- all fitting background for Molvaer's trumpet, but it mostly leans atmospheric. Exception is "Recoil," which cranks up the volume for a rush of intensity. B+(***) [advance]
Colin Stranahan/Glenn Zaleski/Rick Rosato: Anticipation (2011, Capri): Front cover and spine mention surnames only. Piano trio, drummer's name first, probably because he has three previous albums with the label, whereas pianist Zaleski's only other credit is second billed behind Mark Zaleski, and bassist Rosato only has one other side credit. Six originals (Zaleski 3, Rosato 2, Stranahan 1), three covers ("All the Things You Are," "Boplicity," "I Should Care"). Solid work, a bit on the quiet side. B+(*)
Freddy V: Easier Than It Looks (2008 , Watersign): Saxophonist (tenor, alto), Fred Vigdor, basically an r&b guy, first album as such, with a band he calls Mo Pleasure. Background starts with playing sax and arranging horns for Average White Band, the most plainly soulful of the post-Allman white rock bands to emerge from the South in the 1970s -- a credit, I'd say, to the horns. A couple of soul vocals, a lot of tasty sax licks and easy going rhythmic raunch, which means it will be slotted with smooth jazz even though it's a cut above. AMG lists this as 2008, but the publicist swears the street date is Sept. 13, 2011. They do that. B
Giancarlo Vulcano: Unfinished Spaces (2011, Distant Second): Guitarist, from Manhattan, also plays synthesizers here. Second album I know of, both soundtracks. This one has something to do with the Cuban National Art Schools, Cuban culture and history. Twenty short pieces, small vignettes that avoid silence, filling in atmosphere, mood, occasionally a bit of movement. Strings, sax (Jim Bruening), trumpet (Laurie Krein), percussion (Dafnis Prieto!). B+(**)
Greg Ward's Phonic Juggernaut (2011, Thirsty Ear): Alto saxophonist, b. 1982, based in Chicago, has a previous record by Greg Ward's Fitted Shards. This is a sax trio with Joe Sanders on bass and Damion Reid on drums. Wrote all but one cover from Andrew Bird. Freebop, nicely constructed, not many surprises. B+(*) [advance]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:
Sunday, November 13. 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Saturday, November 12. 2011
Striking letter to the editor in the Wichita Eagle this morning, from Debbie Jabara. Don't know anything about her personally, but the Jabara family name is eminent enough that it adorns an airport. She was either born into money, or married into it. Either way she seems to have gotten the knack of being rich and privileged and ungrateful:
It wasn't too long ago when it was commonly understood that it was the rich who were the freeloaders, collecting rents through their control of property and exploiting workers -- the people who actually made things and provided services -- for their profits. Moreover, that understanding is certain to return as the ill effects of ever-more-concentrated wealth become too obvious to rationalize away -- as will the notion that the idle rich have become decadent and delirious and depraved.
The tea party movement will be remembered as a lot of hoo-ha bankrolled by right-wing billionaires and ballyhooed by the usual crowd of Fox demagogues to advance their political agenda, then abandoned when it became embarrassing. The government they railed about is one that flows both ways depending on who has the most political clout: it could be used to better serve the interests of those OWS recognizes as the 99% -- and indeed in a democracy that is how it should work -- or it can be used, as it increasingly has been over the last thirty years, to help the rich plunder the rest. Aristocrats, like the Jabaras, have always feared that democracy might permit the masses to help themselves. But they have never been able to choose the nature or manners of the mobs that rise up to counter them -- except to make them worse by violent repression.
Wednesday, November 9. 2011
Three of the A- albums below were high B+ on my first Rhapsody play, but got an extra kick after I picked up CDs and gave them a lot more play: Emperor X, Mayer Hawthorne, and Miranda Lambert. The former depends a lot on whim, but once you start leaning that way you figure why not? Hawthorne also depends on buying into the concept, but from the start seemed like the most likely album to move up. The Lambert album is a lot more troublesome: five or six real good songs -- "Mama's Broken Heart" (another one she didn't write) emerged as my favorite, but her own "Fastest Girl in Town" also kicked in -- plus some stuff I have doubts about, with the Blake Shelton duet the most annoying. I'm closing in on 100 A-list albums already this year -- last year closed out at 132, up from 112 in 2009 and 101 in 2008 -- and so many of them are so borderline I'm starting to think I'm slipping or softening up. Maybe I should go back and thin the list a bit?
I continue to shag after Christgau's Expert Witness and Tatum's Downloader's Diary (and, increasingly, Jason Gubbels' Cerebral Decanting) -- they're the best intelligence sources I've found, although I've been much more dilligent than usual at monitoring everything else. At lot of their picks show up below -- less than usual from Tatum since I only bothered with 5 (of 22) from this month's all trash list. Some rubbish follows, but as a rule I don't go looking for it.
Given my three promotions above, I have to wonder whether any of the 12 high B+ records below would have made the grade given more than my usual limited exposure. B-52s, the old Comet Gain, Deer Tick, and Jeffrey Lewis did for Christgau; Clams Casino (and Wilco at a notch below) for for Tatum and Gubbels; DaVinci and the new Comet Gain for Gubbels only. I have my reasons for each, which isn't to say I couldn't get comfortable with Wilco or Deer Tick if I felt like making the investment. On the other hand, I find Rod Picott and Sims more interesting, even given their limitations.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on October 5. Past reviews and more information are available here.
Alias: Fever Dream (2011, Anticon): Brendon Whitney, has been producing left-field hip-hop albums since 1999, including at least five on Anticon. No real rapping here, just some vocal sounds tucked in between the synth beats, the first few especially engaging (cf. "Goinswimmin"). B+(**)
The Belle Brigade: The Belle Brigade (2011, Reprise): L.A. sibling duo, Barbara and Ethan Gruska, from one of those "musical families," in their case including John Williams and a connection to Raymond Scott. Attractive mix at first, acoustic but pop (folkie pop?), both sing (and well together), but it does wear thin, especially when they grab and cliché and amp it up -- "Rusted Wheel" is probably the worst. B+(*)
The B-52s: With the Wild Crowd! (2011, Eagle): Live at the Classic Center in their home stomping ground of Athens, GA. The only time I ever saw them live was at Max's Kansas City when they opened for Nervus Rex (who?), who unlike them had an LP just out -- all the B-52s had was their "Lobster Rock" single, which was enough for an underground rep. I remember sitting at one of the long tables near the back, then turning around and recognizing Cindy Wilson right across the table, studying the headliners much more intently than they deserved. They worked hard to make a go of it, and as their 2008 Funplex showed they're capable of rekindling their fire. Here too, plus they get to recycle their best songs. No doubt this was a great concert, but the record seems a bit superfluous. Must say, though, I doubt that "Rock Lobster" has ever sounded better -- certainly never bigger -- even on that first single. B+(***)
Scott H. Biram: Bad Ingredients (2011, Bloodshot): Singer-songwriter, has cranked out four albums on my favorite cowpunk label, so I should have noticed him before. Guitar has a lot of blues overhang, loud enough he'd have to tone it down to go into heavy metal. Songs are brutal, too: not just the subject matter -- although "Born in Jail" and "Broke Ass" and "Black Creek Risin'" and "Killed a Chicken Last Night" qualify -- but melodically you can cut yourself on the broken shards. Should look into him more, but if he's this crude four albums out, I can't imagine how rough he must have started. B+(***)
Björk: Biophilia (2011, One Little Indian): I don't begin to understand the packaging concepts here, but if (as some reports suggest) it's only usable tied into various Apple iProducts, it's even more useless than my grade reflects. What I have to go on is the audio -- 13 tracks in Rhapsody's version, as few as 10 elsewhere. Some stuff sounds promising, especially where the rhythm fractures in dense electronics, but the whining over drones that she is also prone to wears thin fast. B-
James Blake: Enough Thunder (2011, Atlas, EP): Young English electronica producer, got a lot of attention for a series of EPs last year, and now his eponymous debut album sits in 5th place in my metacritic list -- one I only remember now as not being much of anything. Back quick with a 6-cut, 25:33 EP. Not much beat, sometimes the electronics give way to simple piano, so not much there either. That leaves his voice, which is turning into one of the most irritating in semipopular music. C
The Bloody Hollies: Yours Until the Bitter End (2011, Alive): Buffalo band transplanted to San Diego, fourth album since 2003, AMG classifies them as garage revival. More punk than garage, but more tuneful than punk -- I flashed on the Del-Lords for a while for sound but not songcraft. Ends with a nice change of pace, recounting the life and death of "John Wayne Brown." B+(*)
The Cambodian Space Project: 2011: A Space Odyssey (2011, Metal Postcard): Cambodian singer Srey Thy, picked up by Tasmanian Julien Poulson in a karaoke bar in Phnom Penh, seeding this Cambodian-Australian-French psychedelic rock group, the sort of thing Sublime Frequencies scours old radio tapes for, but with a cleaner sound, exotic only in the Khmer lyrics. Fitting that a country best known for its ruins even before the US, the Vietnamese, and Pol Pot conspired to wipe it from the face of the earth should have no folk music -- just an amusingly off-kilter mash of Lenny Kaye-worthy artyfacts. B+(***)
Clams Casino: Instrumentals (2011, mixtape): Some voices here, but nothing you'd call vocals. Beats clamber along, stomping hard with lots of reverb trying to compensate for their lack of velocity. B+(***) [dl]
Class Actress: Rapprocher (2011, Carpark): Singer Elizabeth Harper, not sure who or what else. Had a 6-song, 26:52 EP last year (Journal of Ardency), run full-length here. Mostly synths, clashing in patterns that ultimately prove danceable. Gave this the unfair advantage of a third spin, at which point it finally all meshed. A-
J. Cole: Cole World: The Sideline Story (2011, Roc Nation/Columbia): Rapper, officially his debut album but AMG lists three more -- that's what happens in the mixtape minor leagues these days. Flows reasonably well, nothing much sticking when he's done, other than the sense that he's all right. B+(**)
Comet Gain: City Fallen Leaves (2005, Kill Rock Stars): British group, cut their first in 1995 and are up to eight with their new Howl of the Lonely Crowd. Checked this out after I found myself uncertain about their new one and found it better written, more tuneful, with an extra voice I hadn't noticed elsewhere. B+(***)
Comet Gain: Howl of the Lonely Crowd (2011, What's Your Rupture?): Eighth album, first since 2005, feels like they wound up forcing this, going back to primal instincts, by which I mostly mean punk. B+(**)
Jonny Corndawg: Down on the Bikini Line (2011, Nasty Memories, EP): From Brooklyn, or so I hear -- not much info online that I can find. Christgau described this as "filthy and whimsical" -- some truth to that, but I can't say as I caught much of it beyond his friendly drawl. Six songs, 17:18, goes by fast. B+(**)
Crooked Fingers: Breaks in the Armor (2011, Merge): Eric Bachmann's post-Archers of Loaf outfit, active since 1999 without ever making much of splash. Mostly skeletal singer-songwriter fare, and better that way than on the occasions when he lets the band loose to fill something out. B+(**)
DaVinci: Feast or Famine (2011, SWTBRDS, EP): Frisco rapper, affinity group Sweetbreads Creative Collective, has a previous album. At eight cuts, 28:36, this doesn't feel skimpy, but maybe a bit sketchy. Sharp when he works at it. Noted one line -- "voted for change but my change didn't come" -- he could build on. B+(***)
Kimya Dawson: Thunder Thighs (2011, Great Crap Factory): Middle-aged anti-folker, at one point admits she didn't expect to live to 25 but now she's 37 and glad to be alive. As offhanded as ever, hitting good lines -- "because water is fluid and oil is crude" is one -- as often as not, and singing more about urine than would be my druther. B+(**)
Deer Tick: Divine Providence (2011, Partisan): Rhode Island group, basically a vehicle for John McCauley, who's developed a drawl and a flair for Americana. Fourth album, like Born on Flag Day a Christgau pick I admire but can't much get into -- maybe just takes more time than I'm willing to spend. Mix of fast and slow ones. Probably a good sign that the latter resonate more. B+(***)
Dels: Gob (2011, Big Dada): Kieren Dickins, British rapper/graphic artist/video producer, first album, has some urban stories and beats of interest. B+(**)
The Dirt Drifters: This Is My Blood (2011, Warner Brothers): The business cards say Nashville, but "Always a Reason" could hardly sound more like Springsteen's deepest Americana rock. Granted, these guys lack Springsteen's overinflated grandeur -- the full line "there's always a reason to drink around here," and another fully Springsteenian tune runs "nothing good's ever come from married men and motel rooms." They could be goofing, and they can get cute, as with their Willie Nelson sample in "I'll Shut Up Now" -- I'm reminded of those Dexter Gordon quotes which are wrong in theory and wrong in practice but are so recognizable you wind up looking forward to anyway. And just as they settle for recycling riffs they settle for ordinary philosophy, like "there ain't nothing wrong with feeling alright." Indeed. A-
DJ Shadow: The Less You Know, the Better (2011, Verve): Josh Davis, produced two masterpieces out of the box, not much since. Technique is to paste together found sounds, so all depends on his ear and his interest in the human condition -- rather scattered by this evidence, but his ear keeps returning to his past glories, including a self-sampled closer that's good to hear again. B+(**)
Electric Six: Heartbeats and Brainwaves! (2011, Metropolis): Detroit sextet, liked at the time but have since forgotten their 2003 debut (Fire), paying scant attention to them ever since. This is their eighth. Rocks hard enough, reminds me a bit of Alice Cooper, but not in any particularly appealing way. Cover capitalizes "AND" as if they're surprised that one can possess both. B-
Robert Ellis: Photographs (2011, New West): Country-ish singer-songwriter from Houston, second album, reminds me a little bit of Guy Clark, except that he doesn't have any great songs, and his domestic manners leave something to be desired. Stronger on the homestretch. B+(*)
Emperor X: Western Teleport (2011, Bar/None): Alias for Chad Matheny, who cut an album as far back as 1998 and a handful since then, getting classified by AMG as electronica for no reason evident here. Well, maybe tape mischief counts, the occasional odd sound effect, and an occasional fondness for volume, all of which separates his low tech guitar + voice from cheapo folk. The words are another story. A-
Evidence: Cats & Dogs (2011, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Michael Perretta, formerly one-third of Dilated Peoples, which had a run of underground hip-hop albums from 2000-07. Seems to be more producer than MC, with two previous instrumental albums, and this and a previous LP larded with guests (although also credited with a dozen other producers). The cats & dogs theme runs thin, but "It Wasn't Me" makes canny use of evidence, and KRS-One gets a nod. B+(**)
Feist: Metals (2011, Cherrytree/Interscope): Marginally interesting singer from Canada, fourth studio album -- the one from 1999 didn't get noticed, but Let It Die in 2004 did, and she's a star of some magnitude now. Appreciate her interest in letting the metals crash and fly apart, but can't get any traction on her ballads, some running on little more than her voice. B
Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside: Dirty Radio (2011, Partisan): Portland group, has a previous EP. Ford has a distinctive voice and the band tends to wander idiosyncratically. No real idea what they're up to. B+(*)
Ruth Gerson: Deceived (2011, Wrong): Princeton alum, studied "Jewish existentialism" and graduated summa cum laude, then threw all that education to the wind to become a peripatetic folk singer. Haven't heard her four (or six) other albums: I'd guess she writes but I recognize a lot of dovers here, grim country fare like "Down From Dover," "Delia's Gone," and "Ode to Billie Joe." Plainly done, they feel like the way of the world. B+(**)
Vince Gill: Guitar Slinger (2011, MCA Nashville): Yesterday's boring mid-level country matinee idol, had his heyday in the early 1990s and slowed down in the new century with only two other records in the past decade, the amusingly-titled Next Big Thing and the 43-song These Days (stretched out to 4CD). This time he comes out burning on the title cut, then gears down for some ballads. Gets a bit mawky in the middle with the Amy Grant duet "True Love," but trades the strings for pedal steel after that and turns out a series of strong songs, not that I approve of having to wait until heaven to get "Bread and Water." B+(**)
Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs: Nobody Will Be There (2007 , Damaged Goods, EP): Was looking for a new one called No Help Coming but found this instead, so figured why not? British rocker, dropped the terminal Smith from her name, edging that much closer to Truman Capote's heroine. Started in Thee Headcoats, Has great bunches of albums since striking out on her own in 1995 -- Wikipedia lists 20 (AMG is on the blink right now). The Brokeoffs seems to be her country move, and this started life as a bootleg. Ten songs, but only 29:25, trends dark ("Dark in My Heart," "Jesus Don't Love Me," a really moribund "Whoopie Ti Yi Yo"). B+(*)
David Guetta: Nothing but the Beat (2011, Capitol): French DJ/house music producer/remixer. AMG lists eighteen "main albums" since 2002, but the majority of them are remixes of Fuck Me I'm Famous, which seems to be most of what he's famous for. This got horrible reviews (Metacritic: 57) but since when have I been able to resist a big beat with a chintzy hook? B+(*)
Merle Haggard: Working in Tennessee (2011, Vanguard): Saw him live recently and first heard the title song there -- one of two in the set I didn't recognize, but it's so upbeat it fit right in. He's come up with a few more songs that don't let you down, and threw in some far-from-obscure covers -- things he wouldn't have done in the old days, but even with his reduced lung power he has the authority to get away with now. "Jackson" and "Cocaine Blues" resurrect Johnny Cash as no one else could, and adding Willie Nelson to "Working Man Blues" more than justifies the recycling. A-
Mayer Hawthorne: How Do You Do (2011, Universal Republic): Andrew Cohen, a milquetoast white guy from Ann Arbor who's been working hard on his Eddie Kendricks intonation. Cut a record two years ago for Stones Throw which was likably eccentric, but this time he hits his target so consistently you might think he's due for some backlash. Or you might just think back on how great the Temptations were, and wonder why nobody (else) makes records like that these days. Part of the reason is that he can't resist punching up the lyrics. A- [cd]
I Break Horses: Hearts (2011, Bella Union): Swedish synth duo, approaching shoegaze in terms of velocity and anomie. B
Justice: Audio, Video, Disco (2011, Elektra): Duo from Paris, Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay. Previous, probably eponymous album was universally identified as Cross since that was all there was on the cover. The wordless cover this time features a bigger and bulkier cross, but sources agree that this one has a title. This ups the pop ambitions, ups the bubbly synths, ups the vocals, drives me up the wall. C+
Toby Keith: Clancy's Tavern (2011, Show Dog Nashville): Nashville giant, been a country music machine since 1993, including some of the most shamelessly belligerent right-wing crap to come down the the pike. Still, nothing here I'd be embarrassed to play in public; mostly drinking songs, and now that he's getting on he's mellowing out a bit, which suits his vocal chops and his tendency to muscle up the guitar. Signature line: "Don't expect too much from me/and I won't let you down." B+(*)
Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers: Gift Horse (2011, Vanguard): Massachusetts band, led by a singer-songwriter who channels Americana for its clarity and lack of pretension. B+(**)
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis: Smoking in Heaven (2011, Verve Forecast): Three British siblings, were mostly teens on their first album (2008) and not that much older now (regardless of all the smoking on the cover). They draw on rockabilly and ska, keep it upbeat and unburdened even when indulging in a blues. B+(**)
Ladytron: Gravity the Seducer (2011, Nettwerk): Synthpop group from Liverpool, been around since 2000, has a nice, consistent bag of tricks which if anything works better on a long instrumental vamp (like the middle of "Ritual") than when Mira Aroyo or Helen Marnie or whoever tries to sing. B+(*)
Miranda Lambert: Four the Record (2011, RCA Nashville): Title on two lines: sometimes I parse an implicit colon between the lines, and that would work better here than to dwell on the pun. She didn't waste her best songs on Pistol Annies, but she didn't write the best ones here either: this peaks in the middle with "Same Old You" and "Baggage Claim," and most of the others I notice were picked out from the Nashville assembly line. Only one that rubbed me wrong was "Better in the Long Run" -- a pledge of allegiance where she used to assert her independence, joined by one of those husky Nashville muscle voices (probably husband Blake Shelton -- how long do you think that'll last?). She's past making her mark as a kerosene-fueled outside threat. She's a pro now, less interesting for that, but she earned the rank by making a difference, and she still sounds pretty different. A- [cd]
Jeffrey Lewis: A Turn in the Dream-Songs (2011, Rough Trade): Started out as a cartoonist, turned to anti-folk music -- folk because the songs are low tech and talky and anti- because they cut against the grain. Could be funnier, although the suicide song is pretty wicked, and could be more themeful, although maybe I'm just slow on the uptake. B+(***)
The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams (2011, Egyptian/Columbia): A dozen notebook lyrics, reportedly authentic, close enough for sure, set to the sort of music Williams would have knocked out easily, sung (or talked) by thirteen more/less country notables, seeking more to create a canon than to take liberties with it. B+(**)
Shelby Lynne: Revelation Road (2011, Everso): Started out as a fiddle-playing country singer, but this is mostly guitar, and her songs have become so stripped down there is little else to embellish it here. Even tempered, fully in control, a bit difficult to decipher. B+(*)
Martina McBride: Eleven (2011, Universal Republic): Nashville singer, from the dust bowl in southwest Kansas, eleventh album since 1992 (not counting a couple of Xmas efforts, which I'd hope to forget too). Usual Nashville overkill, which matters less when the songs hold up. The cancer song, "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," is one Newt Gingrich should study. The one about "Teenage Daughters" is just wise enough. B+(*)
Lori McKenna: Lorraine (2011, Signature Sounds): AMG classifies her as folk, probably because she doesn't have the taste for glitz that defines the other side of Nashville -- maybe because she hails from and still lives in Massachusetts. Sixth studio album since 2000, in her 40s now, has an eye for detail and can spin a melody, but doesn't stretch her talent enough here to turn my head. B+(*)
Murs: Love + Rockets, Vol. 1: The Transformation (2011, DD172): Nick Carter, first noticed his 2003 album, treats his fame with some distance, just meaning to keep his rhymes tight, and going with the flow. A gay intolerance saga ends badly; so does a run in with the cops with sums up the accidental gangsta genre. One moment I'm with him; the next, one of us is lost. B+(*)
Rod Picott: Welding Burns (2011, Welding Rod): A former construction worker from Maine, busked around Boulder before sojourning to Nashville, where he's quietly released at least five albums since 2001 -- the first named for a relative who boxed his way through the Depression. Songs about work have a lived in feel, especially the one about hanging sheetrock -- doesn't have the attitude of Todd Snider's sheetrock song, but has the core skill set. B+(***)
Real Estate: Days (2011, Domino): New Jersey group, second album after eponymous debut in 2009. Guitar group, with a lazy soft strummed sound, sweet harmony vocals, the sort of pleasant suburban pastorale that used to give Los Angeles a bad name. B
Rivulets: We're Fucked (2011, Important): Alias for singer-songwriter Nathan Admundson, has a lonesome voice on bleak, isolated songs, occasionally struck by dense storms of experimental noise. B+(*)
Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle: We Still Love Our Country (2011, Ninth Street Opus, EP): First noticed Rodriguez attached to a duet album with Chip Taylor, but she has more of a work ethic, so she's knocked out solos and now come up with a new duet partner. Kyle cut a couple albums with a Minneapolis group called Romantica, including the memorably titled Zwischen Liebe und Stolz. Eight songs here, a little slim for an album these days at 29:31. Mostly covers, a bit too well worn to get excited about. B+(*)
Roots Manuva: 4everevolution (2011, Big Dada): British rapper, ordinary name Rodney Smith, eighth record in over a decade. Forgot I had forgotten to forget about him, and probably won't remember this one either. B
Scroobius Pip: Distraction Pieces (2011, Speech Development): David Meads, the English rapper who teamed with Dan le Sac for two of the sharpest grime records of recent years, goes his own way, or at least captures the top of the masthead. Not sure who does the beats here, but with words this cutting even received concepts work -- especially ones that remind one of the Sex Pistols, then Public Enemy. A-
Sims: Bad Time Zoo (2011, Doomtree): Andrew Sims, rapper from the suburbs of Minneapolis, seeks "solid understanding in a society on the brink of dystopia" -- what the world's come to, I'm afraid, a far cry from my generation, the first (and evidently last) to stand accused of being too utopian. Smart guy, good beats, makes his points. B+(***)
Watermelon Slim/Super Chikan: Okiesippi Blues (2011, Northern Blues Music): Bill Homans, born in Boston, raised in North Carolina, turned to music after a 1970 tour in Vietnam, spent most of his adult life driving trucks and picking up degrees -- one in history from Oklahoma State, another in journalism from University of Oregon. Cut an antiwar album in 1973 as Merry Airbrakes, then picked up his music again after a heart attack, appearing as Watermelon Slim in 2003, with an album every couple years ever since. He must be the Okie here, because Super Chikan (James Louis Johnson) hails from Mississippi, has half a dozen albums in his own right. Blues are pretty gutbucket in tone, with muggers and cops and the health care system all culpable, but not even the singalong sounds quite so primitive as the "Diddley-Bo Jam" -- well, maybe the mbira, or whatever that is. B+(***)
Wilco: The Whole Love (2011, Anti-): Important band, eighth studio album since 1995, smart enough to pick up one of the most imposing jazz guitarists of the last 20 years even though they're not really much of a guitar band -- but does explain occasional dazzle. I never find them especially annoying (unlike, say, R.E.M.), but also find that I don't much care, and don't expect I ever will. Did notice one song reminded me of post-Beatles McCartney -- not as unpleasant as you'd think. So, in a way, does the gingerly cute "Whole Love." If I did care, I'd concede that there's more than usual to sort out here. Not sure how to handle the "Deluxe Edition": sure got my attention with a cover of Nick Lowe's "I Love My Label," and one other song caught my fancy, but there's only four songs on the disc. B+(**)