A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge:
Recycled Goods (#31)
by Tom Hull
I keep begging for more world music to add to this column, but most
of what I wind up hearing is Latin and more/less jazz. As recent pro-
and anti-immigration actions make clear, Latin is a part of the world
that increasingly overlaps the US. It's close enough that most record
stores make a distinction between Latin and World, yet it's still
exotic enough that gringos like yours truly are perplexed. And like
many things, the more I learn, the more questions occur to me. I'll
be dropping more in here as I figure it out, or failing to figure it
out at least acknowledge its presence. The big chunk this time is
a survey of Adventure Music, an Oakland-based label that mediates
between Latin America there and here.
Hallelujah Chicken Run Band: Take One (1974-79
Thomas Mapfumo's chimurenga -- the Shona language music of struggle
against the white settler government of Zimbabwe -- starts here. The
band was formed by the owners of the Mangura copper mine to play for
their workers. They attracted some young pros like Mapfumo, and won
a recording contract in 1974. Mapfumo left soon after due to a pay
dispute: he only appears on four tracks here, but the band tracked
his progress, providing a broader context to Mapfumo's Chimurenga
Singles (various overlapping collections on Shanachie, Zimbob, and
DBK Works). As the map suggests, Zimbabwe's music is a mix of South
African melodic elements and Congolese guitar charge. This delivers
on both counts.
Ham Hocks and Cornbread: The Pounding, Pulsating Roots of
Rock 'n' Roll (1945-53 , JSP, 4CD):
Before bebop took over, jazz was a social music, meant for dancing
and getting down. The output of the small swing groups that dominated
jukeboxes in the late '40s is better known now as rhythm & blues
or jump blues. The major records by major artists have been compiled
into several near-canonical sets -- the first disc of Rhino's 6-CD
The R&B Box, the two jump blues volumes in Rhino's Blues
Masters series, and most usefully Hip-O's 3-CD The Roots of Rock
'n' Roll. None of the classics on those show up here, and half of
the names are folks I don't recognize -- most of those I do recognize
survived the period as minor blues or jazz artists. In other words,
this is the average matrix the gem collections were extracted from.
Indeed it succumbs to sameness, with sax lick after sax lick, blues
shout after blues shout, boogie piano break after boogie piano break,
all reiterated ad infinitum. But sameness at this level of excitement
amounts to consistency: just goes to show how broad and fertile the
George Jones: The Essential George Jones (1954-99
If I had free hand to put an introduction to George Jones together,
I'd insist on three discs. The first would cover his years with
Pappy Dailey, 1954-70, where he started as a hardcore honky tonker
and peaked with such classic country fare as "The Window Up Above"
and "She Thinks I Still Care." The second would cover the Billy
Sherrill years, 1972-88, when Jones evolved into the definitive
country crooner. The third would pick through his later work --
his reign as the godfather of neo-traditionalism. The three eras
aren't perfectly balanced, but filling the third would be no sweat,
and the first two force painful omissions. Maybe I'd add a bonus
fourth disc -- fill it up with duets and novelties. No such comps
exist. The closest is a 2-CD box called The Essential George
Jones: The Spirit of Country (, Columbia/Legacy), then
this one, with four fewer songs -- only one post-1988 -- as well
as an abbreviated title. Turns out that only 21 songs were deemed
essential enough to make the cut both times, but how indelible the
other halves are just proves my case. On balance, the changes
balance out, but one absence strikes me as glaring: "Walk Through
This World With Me." My mother was a big fan, and we played this
song at her funeral.
Mott the Hoople: All the Young Dudes (1972 ,
At a time when English rock bands were going heavy metal or prog or
both, this one just wanted to be a rock 'n' roll band, but didn't
have a clue how to do it. Ian Hunter had an earnest Dylan imitation
and liked to conceive of himself as the subject of sweeping ballads.
Mick Ralphs was ready for groupies, and willing to associate with
Bad Company to attain his dreams. Three quick albums stiffed, but
the band started to cohere on the fourth, Brain Capers. Then
along comes David Bowie, who slaps on a little makeup, has them cover
Lou Reed's "Sweet Jane," writes them an anthem that namechecks
T-Rex, and voilà -- glam rock, what punks listened to before punk
rock came along. Mott, the follow-up, was a more coherent
album; this one you can still see the scattered pieces, including
"Sea Diver" -- the first Hunter ballad to prove transcendent. Too
many bonus cuts, but it doesn't hurt to rough this music up a bit.
Roy Orbison: The Essential Roy Orbison (1956-88
, Monument/Legacy, 2CD):
He was America's greatest opera singer, possessing a high, piercing
voice that expanded with volume to mind-boggling proportions. But
while his voice always amazed, his hits came from a short 1959-64
window, when pre-Beatles rock was ruled by Brill Building schlock.
Orbison grew up in the oil patch, got his first break with a Sun
rockabilly hit, and spent much of his career plowing Marty Robbins
country, but Fred Foster's strings set his voice free, letting the
hits flow: "Only the Lonely," "Crying," "Blue Bayou," "Oh, Pretty
Woman." This is touted as his only career spanning compilation --
"Ooby Dooby" from 1956, five cuts from Mystery Girl, his much
hyped comeback album, posthumously released in 1989, plus the usual
ephemera from soundtracks and concerts. The first disc, ending in
1964, is magnificent, but the same thrills are available elsewhere:
e.g., For the Lonely: 18 Greatest Hits (Rhino), 16 Biggest
Hits (Monument/Legacy). The second disc is surplus -- the voice
breaks free on occasion, but more often lurks indecisively.
Bebo Valdés: Bebo de Cuba (2002 , Calle 54,
Bebo was a prominent Cuban bandleader in the '50s. Following the
revolution, he left Cuba, settling in Stockholm in 1963 and falling
out of the public eye. His son Chucho rose to fame in the '70s as
the founder of Irakere and as an outstanding pianist in his own
right -- try to imagine Art Tatum with congas. Bebo resumed his
recording in the '90s, finally scoring a worldwide hit with
Lágrimas Negras, featuring Flamenco singer Dieguito El
Cigala. The two sessions here -- the large canvas of his "Suite
Cubana" and a more intimate retrospective called "El Solar de Bebo" --
cap his comeback, and in many ways returns us to an ideal, blissful
remembrance of Cuban music. Unlike Chucho, Bebo plays piano with a
measured elegance, but his orchestrations are so generous you feel
like you're witnessing the full flowering of classic Cuban music.
Porter Wagoner: Misery Loves Company (1954-69
, Masked Weasel):
I grew up watching Porter's medicine show, broadcast from West
Plains MO, a few miles over the border from my mother's ancestral
Arkansas homestead. Hated it at the time, but eventually it came
to signify the weird hypocrisy endemic to country music. Since
then I've searched for the records that would secure his place
in the pantheon, but the final judgment seems to be that he was
just a hack in a flashy nudie suit. RCA's 20-cut The Essential
Porter Wagoner is slight but basic, but now gone from print,
replaced by the even slighter 16-cut RCA Country Legends.
This budget comp reduces him even further, to 11 cuts, a mere
29:36, and doesn't provide much history, but the selection hits
most of what he's remembered for: the patronizing "Skid Row Joe,"
the creepy "Cold Hard Facts of Life," the creepier "What Would
You Do If Jesus Came to Your House," and the marvelous "Green,
Green Grass of Home."
Western Swing and Country Jazz: An Expertly Selected
Package (1935-40 , JSP, 4CD):
Another mop-up operation, this time collecting sizable chunks of
obscure western swing bands: Ocie Stockard & the Wanderers
(14 cuts), the Range Riders (6), Bob Dunn's Vagabonds (5), Roy
Newman and His Boys (15), Modern Mountaineers (11), Jimmie Revard
& His Oklahoma Playboys (25), Smoky Wood & Wood Chips (8),
Cliff Bruner & His Texas Wanderers (3), Swift Jewel Cowboys
(14). Bruner is the best known, but Stockard, Newman and Wood show
up in John Morthland's bible (The Best of Country Music,
published in 1984 and still the only country music guide
worth owning), and "Everybody's Truckin'" (Modern Mountaineers)
shows up on the occasional comp. Western swing has been preserved
as country music, obscuring its jazz roots and referents -- for
a revelation, compare Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills, then seek
out Hank Penny and Hank Thompson working their way through the
Woody Herman songbook. But jazz is the common denominator here,
and not just a preference for horns over pedal steel -- the jazz
here is race music, and not just the "darkies truckin'." We get
two versions of "Black and Blue" -- a song all the more painful
for those of us who grew up on James Brown, but there can be no
doubt that Harry Palmer worships Louis Armstrong. Maybe these
guys had more black inside than they figured.
Mike Marshall founded Adventure Music in 2003. I've puzzled
over their records since 2004, so this represents about two-thirds
of their catalog -- including synopses of three albums I've reviewed
previously. Marshall grew up in Florida, where he learned mandolin,
guitar and violin, winning bluegrass contests and joining the Dave
Grisman Quintet at age 19. He's steadily expanded his musical
interests, moving through groups like Psychograss and the Modern
Mandolin Quartet. But most relevant here was a fateful trip that
led him to decide that choro is the bluegrass of Brazil. And that,
in turn, led to founding Adventure Music. The name sounds like one
of those tour packagers, but the concept is more like a bridge.
Most of the musicians on the labels were born in Latin America --
Brazil is central but by no means the only connection -- yet are
based in the US. One lesson here is that if it sometimes seems
like Latin America is poised to swallow the North, it is partly
because there are those in the North who relish the prospect.
- Mario Adnet & Zé Nogueira Present Moacir Santos: Choros
& Alegria (2005, Adventure Music): Afro-Brazil's 80-year-old
sax legend only appears on a couple of vocals, but his arrangements,
dating back as far as 1942, are lovingly developed for this textbook
- Marcos Amorim: Sete Capelas (Seven Chapels) (2005
, Adventure Music): One thing that makes Brazilian guitarists
sound so much alike is the soft chime of nylon strings; matched with
bass, drums and flutes, this veers close to stereotypical samba, a
mild seasoning that disguises its cleverness with innuendo.
- Antonio Arnedo: Colombia (2000 , Adventure
Music): The grand tour with folk instruments and trad tunes, but
reconstituted in Brooklyn, with the leader's light sax and flutes --
think Gato Barbieri, then tone it down a bit -- and critical beats
by the amazing Satoshi Takeishi.
- Weber Iago: Os Filhos do Vento (Children of the World)
(2004, Adventure Music): A Brazilian pianist, with a quick, sure touch
on his solos, but here he aims for much more in a series of complex
orchestral pieces, culminating in the 32-minute title ordeal; fleshed
out mostly by flutes, bass/cello, and percussion, plus Paul McCandless
on two cuts.
- Gui Mallon: Live at Montreux (1999 , Adventure
Music): Brazilian guitar, thickened by strings and percussion, with
flute and sax for decoration -- weight not specified, but figure on
soprano; centers on the long "Brasil, Brazil Suite," culminating in,
of all things, a rap.
- María Márquez: Nature's Princess/Princesa de la Natura
(2003 , Adventure Music): Venezuelan singer, based in Oakland;
the music has an unfamiliar latin feel, evenly paced and wrapped in
lush arrangements, but her sharp, almost arch, voice is at best an
- Mike Marshall: Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso
(2004, Adventure Music): A bluegrass mandolinist falls in love with
choro, but can't play it without reminding you of bluegrass, and to
make the fusion even more auspicious, he throws in a klezmer-ish
- Mike Marshall: Brazil Duets (2005, Adventure Music):
The label head continues his move from bluegrass to Brazil, playing
mandolin or guitar with various second instrumentalists; interesting
as exercises, but with just two parts, none more percussive than
Jovino Santos Neto's piano, it runs a little thin.
- Modern Traditions Ensemble: New Old Music (2003
, Adventure Music): New versions of Brazilian choro classics,
done by a five piece group led by pianist Benjamin Taubkin; runs
toward the nice side, which is often the point with choro.
- Jovino Santos Neto: Roda Carioca (Rio Circle) (2005
, Adventure Music): Perhaps it's the northeast roots or the 12
years he's lived in Seattle, but this is one Brazilian record that
doesn't pull its punches; Neto plays piano, melodica, flutes, and
accordion -- the latter on the exuberantly Tango-ish "Coco Na Roda"
is what kicks the album into overdrive.
- Orquestra Popular de Camara (2004, Adventure Music):
World music twice removed, as when a song from Turkmenistan, cribbed
off Peter Gabriel's label, gets refracted through Brazilian ears and
- Moacir Santos: Ouro Negro (1965-92 , Adventure
Music, 2CD): It's tempting to think of Santos as a Brazilian Quincy
Jones, minus the business skills; Santos toiled as arranger, composer
and conductor behind stars like Milton Nascimento, Gilberto Gil and
João Bosco, who sing a track each here; his own pieces were typically
named "Thing" followed by a number, a modest appelation for the basic
building blocks of Brazilian popular music -- all revealed here.
- Ricardo Silveira/Luiz Avellar: Live: Play the Music of Milton
Nascimento (2004, Adventure Music): Stripped down to a trio --
Robertinho Silva's percussion adds significantly to Silveira's nylon
string guitar and Avellar's piano -- the simple eloquence of a famous
songbook comes clear.
- Nicola Stilo/Toninho Horta: Duets (1999 ,
Adventure Music): Horta plays guitar and sings in Brazil's chanson
lite; Stilo plays flute, inevitably more lite; the only thing that
keeps this earthbound is its unpolished charm.
- Symphonic Jobim (2003 , Adventure Music, 2CD):
Recorded by members of the Orquestra Sinfónica do Estado do São Paulo,
conducted by Roberto Minczuk, according to a project by Mario Adnet
and Paulo Jobim; an honor, no doubt, but symphonic Jobim is symphonic
first, much like symphonic Beatles and symphonic Stones, and no more
appealing than symphonic anything else.
- Claudia Villela/Kenny Werner: Dreamtales (2004,
Adventure Music): She's a singer from Brazil, but based in the Bay
Area and working here at least exclusively in English; Werner is
a fine accompanist on piano, but the intimate improvisations here
have an uncertain, deracinated feel.
- Angá: Echu Mingua (2006, World Circuit/Nonesuch):
Afro-Cuban, Yoruba to be more specific; mastermind Angá Díaz plays
congas, timbales, cajones and guiro, and pursues so many big ideas,
ranging from Argentine bandoneon to "A Love Supreme," in so many
ways with so many musicians -- strings, horns, choruses, legendary
bassist Cachaito, turntablist Dee Nasty -- that it overwhelms and
confuses, even if now and then you suspect he might be on to
- Gaby Lita Bembo and Orchestre Stukas du Zaïre: Kita Mata
ABC (1974-83 , RetroAfric): This is classic soukous,
not all that cleanly recorded, but this wasn't a very clean group;
the stock line on Lita Bembo was that he was a "great showman" --
i.e., he never missed an opportunity to kick a high energy level
even higher; played so fast and hearty, it's remarkable that the
silkiness of the guitars still shows through.
- Richard Bona/Lokua Kanza/Gerald Toto: Toto Bona Lokua
(2004 , Sunnyside): Three vocalists, more or less removed from
Africa and relocated into the non-specific wing of the world fusion
genre; Bona plays a wide range of instruments, none of which locate
this firmly in a groove or lift it much above indistinct.
- Charles Brown: Black Night (, Masked Weasel):
Booklet says these come from the '40s and '50s, but one tell is that
the "brother in Korea" from the 1950 original of "Black Night" has
moved on to Vietnam; few of these 14 songs show up in his Complete
Aladdin Recordings (1945-56, Mosaic) or in the Classics' series
(six volumes so far, up to 1951), but they do show up in redundant
comps from the usual suspects (Cleopatra, Madacy, St. Clair) and the
lineup song-for-song matches Stardust's The Very Best of Charles
Brown Featuring Shuggie Otis -- Otis started recording in 1969
and worked with Brown in 1975, but that doesn't cover it all either;
if you don't care about such things, this does capture the sound of
Brown's sly piano blues, and the three Xmas songs are better than
- Cliff Bruner and His Texas Wanderers (1937-50 ,
Bear Family, 5CD): A western swing fiddler, historically notable, but
only available in this overly complete, overly expensive, but lavishly
documented German box -- further proof that nobody appreciates classic
American music more than Europeans, much less is able to afford it.
- Dr. John: Right Place, Right Time (1989 ,
Brinji Brim/Hyena): Second installment from the good Doc's stash of
private tapes; first was the self-explanatory All By Hisself,
which showed hisself to be a sly self-interpreter and a funky one
man band; this one comes with a searing band who add much volume
but little light.
- Does Anybody Know I'm Here? Vietnam Through the Eyes of
Black America 1962-1972 (1962-73 , Kent): A sequel
to A Soldier's Sad Story -- haven't heard it, but it got
first helpings to the songs, but both volumes are pretty obscure;
starts out ambivalent, turns sad and/or bitter, but never jells
into political critique; stylistically runs the gamut of a decade
of hope and fear and frustration.
- The Electric Light Orchestra: No Answer (1970-71
, Epic/Legacy): First album, with Roy Wood as well as Jeff
Lynne, so this is basically the tawdrier, more pretentious side of
the Move on cellos; not following in any evolved footsteps, they
lumber and blunder their way through classical sounds in rock time.
- The Electric Light Orchestra: ELO II (1972 ,
Epic/Legacy): Roy Wood still plays on two cuts, but Jeff Lynne has
taken charge; back in the Move Lynne contributed the pop hooks while
Wood provided the oblique humor, so you can see where this is going,
but it's not there yet; meanwhile, Lynne gets his humor on the cheap,
rolling over Chuck Berry to let Beethoven have the last word.
- Merle Haggard: 40 #1 Hits (1966-96 , Capitol,
2CD): The automatic selection criterion leads to lazy documentation,
which with Haggard is always suspicious; unlike the 43 Legendary
Hits he re-recorded for BNA in 1999, these appear to be legit,
right down to the rare studio "Okie From Muskogee," with licensing
dues as necessary from MCA and Epic; he's done so much there's no
simple way to organize it, but his best songs didn't always go #1,
and those that did weren't always tops.
- Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Long Walk to Freedom
(2006, Heads Up): Twenty-some years after South Africa's great
mbube group first gained our attention with Induku Zethu
(1984, Shanachie), the limits of their a cappella concept have
become obvious; still, they carry on, with gimmicks for variety:
guest stars this time, like Taj Mahal and Emmylou Harris, and a
cover of the song Paul Simon introduced them on.
- Souad Massi: Honeysuckle (Mesk Elil) (2005,
Wrasse): A singer-songwriter, born in Algeria, based in Paris;
no need to ask why; she's just trying to enjoy her life and
music, which is personal and poignant -- more troubadour than
the electrified dance music of the chebs and chabas, although
they remix one impressively -- as if the ideologues and idiots
of the world could be safely ignored.
- Liza Minnelli: Liza With a "Z" (1972 ,
Columbia/Legacy): The soundtrack to Bob Fosse's concert for
television, a career climax capping her star role in the film
of Cabaret; she was a singer in her mother's tradition,
dated and campy after rock took over; several songs feel like
hand-me-downs, but not "Ring Dem Bells" nor the 10:22 "Cabaret
Medley" -- all the more powerful for its concision.
- Mott the Hoople: Mott (1973 , Columbia/Legacy):
One of the great rock albums of the '70s; the artistic direction had
resolved in favor of Ian Hunter, whose Dylanizing had become his own
voice, but the band -- Mick, Verden, the perfectly named bass player
Overend Watts, the one who's "just a rock 'n' roll star" -- was still
intact, and never stronger.
- Mott the Hoople: The Ballad of Mott: A Retrospective
(1972-75 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Still in print, at least until
the inevitable The Essential Mott the Hoople comes out, unlikely
to be an improvement unless they snatch "Death May Be Your Santa Claus"
from Atlantic; contains 15 of 18 songs from the two reissues, "Rose"
from the bonus tracks, plus useful stuff fore and aft.
- Putumayo Presents: Brazilian Lounge (2000-05
, Putumayo World Music): Another smooth-flowing mix disc where
the new samba generation recapitulates the old, proving that newer
technology needn't make any significant difference; most promising
artist here: BossaCucaNova.
- Putumayo Presents: Turkish Groove (1999-2005
, Putumayo World Music): In Attaturk's nationalism, anyone
who spoke Turkish was a Turk, a declaration that kicked all the
cosmopolitan diversity of the Ottomans into a modernizing hat;
Turkish music remains a mix of Arabic and Balkan influences with
Euro pop-beats, especially when you select for groove.
- Las Rubias del Norte: Panamericana (2006, Barbès):
Led by singers Emily Hurst and Alyssa Lamb, both formerly of the NY
Choral Society, backed by various suspicious characters -- the cuatro
player comes from France, the bassist "speaks better Latin than
Spanish," etc.; at times they sound like the Roches en Español,
but I suspect they are just smartass students, and what they like
most about the polymorphuousness of Latin music is its perversity.
- The Best of Shel Silverstein: His Words, His Songs, His
Friends (1965-85 , Columbia/Legacy): a few songs he
wrote and performed ("A Front Row to Hear Ole Johnny Sing"), more
he wrote and others sung ("A Boy Named Sue," "Freakin' at the
Freakers' Ball, "Cover of the Rolling Stone"), spoken bits from
his children's books (A Light in the Attic); any of these
might be worth exploring on its own, but together they're merely
- Nina Simone: Sings the Blues (1966-69 ,
RCA/Legacy): She has the pipes to be a great blues singer, and she
can boogie a little on piano, but she's too fussy to turn in a
straight blues album, even when that's the concept; this comes
close enough to make you think she could do better; "Backlash
Blues" belongs on her message tape, "I Want a Little Sugar in My
Bowl" on her hits, "Since I Fell for You" is a good cover with
a little harmonica.
- Nina Simone: Forever Young, Gifted and Black: Songs of
Freedom and Spirit (1967-69 , RCA/Legacy): She was
meant to sing her secular civil rights hymns, but "Backlash Blues"
and "Mississippi Goddam" slip a bit in live versions, so the only
song here that delivers all she can do is "I Wish I Knew How It
Would Feel to Be Free"; filler from Dylan, the Byrds, and Hair
don't cut it, and two takes of the title song have been permanently
scorched by Bob & Marcia's ska version.
- Nina Simone: Silk & Soul (1967-69 ,
RCA/Legacy): It's hard to convey just how awful her "Cherish" is,
but how much can you penalize an album for one song? Depends on
whether there's anything else on it you'd ever want to hear again.
- Nina Simone: The Soul of Nina Simone (1963-87
, RCA/Legacy): Aside from one much later Verve track thrown
in for no obvious reason, this is a rather arbitrary selection of
her '60s tracks, with no discernible theme except that life is
hard but she's hard too; half of the tracks are remarkable, and
not even the "Porgy and Bess Medley" sucks, so figure this to be
one of her more consistent comps.
In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already
exists somewhere. We find more each month:
vintage Afro (Hallelujah Chicken Run Band, Orchestre Stukas),
modern Cuban (Angá Díaz, Bebo Valdés), country hams (George
Jones, Porter Wagoner, Roy Orbison), young dudes (Mott the
Hoople, ELO), JSP boxes (jump blues, western swing),
adventures in and beyond Brazil;
many more (46 records).
Copyright © 2006 Tom Hull.