A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: July, 2006

Recycled Goods (#33)

by Tom Hull

The theme this month is no theme. If anything, there's been an explosion in minor genres: comedy albums, soundtracks, children's albums, some recent Latin jazz, a piece of semi-classical solo piano by an Ethiopian in Israel. Originally I had the idea that the pie could be cleaved into four roughly equal pieces, but now it looks like it's fragmenting into many more. Some records aren't recent -- Faces, the Zombies -- but I only recently got hold of copies. Also thought I'd throw in an old Harry Nilsson anthology to compare to the new reissues. Sometimes ad hoc is the order of the day.

Alabama: Livin' Lovin' Rockin' Rollin': The 25th Anniversary Collection (1980-2000 [2006], RCA/Legacy, 3CD): Randy Owen, Teddy Gentry, and Jeff Cook are cousins. Like the Allmans and the Van Zants they had the nucleus of a southern rock band, but they settled for steady work on the country circuit, where real bands were first a novelty then a niche, and their home state proved to be a viable brand name. They're quite a business story: 42 #1 country hits, 70 million records, Country Music Hall of Fame. But one reason they stuck as a band is that none of them had the talent or ego to stand out. And their hit songs aren't memorable so much as they remind you of others. Indeed, it's hard to think of a Nashville cliché they haven't marched to the top of the charts. Since they faded into the sunset, RCA has made many attempts to sum them up -- mostly parades of hits good for grins and groans. This box substitutes live takes for many of the hits, framing them more as a southern rock band -- an improvement. Still, three discs is a lot for any artist whose success was so superficial. B

Johnny Cash: Personal File (1973-82 [2006], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The title was taken from a label on a box of tapes found in Cash's studio, mostly from July 1973, with a few later additions. Nothing more than voice and guitar, some original songs but mostly covers -- one a spoken poem, several stories. In form and content they anticipate Cash's endgame, where Rick Rubin pitched songs for no more reason than he wanted to hear Cash sing, and Cash kept singing even past his point of no return because in the end that's all he really was. These cuts have none of the unsteadiness or frailty or heroism of the later records. They are the fruits of middle age, confident both in experience and skills. The compilers split them up into one secular and one sacred side. The latter falters early on, but closes with three great songs so definitive I forget who made them famous. A-

Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up ([2005], Numero Group): The former British Honduras is a small Anglo enclave facing the Caribbean from the Central American mainland. Its music connects through language to the expected places -- Jamaica, Trinidad, the United States, maybe even the old country -- but judging from this sampler, Belize has yet to develop a distinctive sound of its own. Or maybe the exuberantly recycled '70s soul and disco was what most flattered the compiler's ears? It's hard to fault "Back Stabbers" and "Shame Shame Shame" except for their obviousness. No dates in an otherwise informative booklet, except that the earliest tracks here date from Lord Rhaburn's 1967 sojurn to New York. It's doubtful that later cuts go much past the '70s. Two standouts: Lord Rhaburn's "Disco Connection" boils up as advertised, and Nadia Cattouse's "Long Time Boy" is the odd track out, a folk ballad with a proper English accent. B+

Brian Eno/David Byrne: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1979-80 [2006], Nonesuch): Coming out in 1981, this sounded like work tapes to Remain in Light with Arabic-sounding vocals spliced in -- surplus product, in the form of a remix. That sort of recycling eventually became unremarkable, but at the time it was unheard of. Talking Heads fleshed out Byrne's unmistakable rhythms into fully developed songs, but here they are scraped bare, naked concepts. But taken as an Eno album -- an experiment in fourth world cut and paste, along Jon Hassell's lines -- what distinguishes it is its rhythmic impact. Not transitional so much as one of the first real examples of deconstructivism in world music. For better or worse, this is increasingly the globalization we inhabit. A-

The Ex: Singles, Period: The Vinyl Years (1980-90 [2005], Ex): Following the Clash, there was a sudden explosion of radical punk in Britain, most notably the Mekons and the Gang of Four. Across the North Sea in Holland the Ex had the same idea, appearing in 1980 with a four-song 7-inch called "All Corpses Smell the Same." They were crude musically and lyrically -- at least in the English lyrics that outnumber the Dutch 21 to 2 here -- but they packed a punch from the start, and they developed over time. By the end of the '80s they had hooked up with Jon Langford and the Mekons, and in the '90s they delved into noisy free jazz. But they remain deliberately obscure: "My revolution will be secretly done, it keeps me away from dying." They didn't die: the desperation of youth wanes even if the determination carries on. Now they can look back in jaded amazement at what they've done. [US release on Touch and Go] A-

Faces: Five Guys Walk Into a Bar . . . (1969-75 [2004], Rhino, 4CD): When Steve Marriott left Small Faces in 1969 Ron Wood and Rod Stewart moved in. They did more than take up the slack. Stewart's solo career, producing his best albums ever, took off at the same time, but the band was his party, and with Stewart party has always counted for a lot. This is stitched together as much from live shots and demos as from the group's five albums, and provides a remarkably consistent picture of a working band good enough and fun enough to yield one superstar, one quality replacement each for the Stones and the Who, and yet another overlooked genius: the late, much lamented Ronnie Lane. A-

Dexter Gordon: Bopland (1947 [2004], Savoy Jazz, 3CD): This July 6, 1947 concert in Los Angeles is remembered as a landmark in the creation of bebop, but it could just as mark one the last days of jazz as popular music. The Elks Club was a dance hall, large enough for two thousand. This particular night featured three groups -- Howard McGhee, Al Killian, and Wild Bill Moore. McGhee, whose group was retroactively named the Bopland Boys, was the only leader famous enough to get his name on the cover, and his group members are even better known: Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Sonny Criss, Trummy Young, Hampton Hawes, Barney Kessel, Red Callender, Roy Porter. The concert is famous for the 18:08 joust between Gordon and Gray called "The Hunt." It's easily the high point here, but placed in the whole night's context I'm less struck by its bop moves than the pitched rhythm and blues rumble that resonates throughout the crowd. For one thing, it reminds me that at first bop had more to do with showboating for the fans than driving them away through artistic overreach. All these guys meant to please, and Dexter merely had more tricks up his sleeve than a blues honker like Moore. Studio records from the period were necessarily short, so it's only in these rarely recorded live concerts that we get a chance to listen to the musicians stretch out. Some of those are legendary: Ellington at Fargo and Newport, Gillespie at Pleyel, the '44 and '46 Jazz at the Philharmonics. This isn't as consistent, but it peaks at that level. A-

Tsegué-Maryam Guèbro: Éthiopiques 21: Ethiopia Song (1963-96 [2006], Buda Musique): Born 1923, the daughter of a noted Ethiopian writer. Like her father, she was educated in Switzerland, learning a half-dozen languages, as well as piano. After Mussolini conquered Ethiopia, she was deported to an island near Sardinia. After the war she returned to her studies in Cairo. In 1948 she entered a monastery, becoming a nun. She later made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, staying there as an interpreter for the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarch. She recorded two solo piano albums in Germany in 1963, another in 1970, one more in 1996. She also cut an album of liturgical music where she played organ, but this album just collects her solo piano music. It strikes me as neither the classical music of her teachers nor the native music of her country, and it certainly isn't jazz. Mostly small figures, delicately played. Several songs refer to rivers, reflected in the easy flow and quiet contemplation of the music. A-

Thomas Mapfumo: Spirits to Bite Our Ears: The Singles Collection (1977-1986 [2006], DBK): Comparisons to Bob Marley if anything understate Mapfumo's impact on Zimbabwe's anti-colonialist movement, but unlike Marley, Mapfumo's lyrics, mostly in Shona, don't travel. Instead, what we hear are mbira-based chimurenga souped up with electric guitar, bass and drums -- he doesn't exactly rock out, but combines sweet and sour with an undertow of strength that signifies he means business. The music here has been anthologized before: this one takes the sixteen songs from Zimbob's The Singles Collection and adds one more, with useful notes but no translations. A-

Zanzibara 1: Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club (2004-05 [2006], Buda Musique): The 21 volumes of this label's Éthiopiques series provide a unique, extraordinarily detailed survey of one small, little known pocket of African music. One wishes someone would take on a major center with comparable dilligence -- Nigeria, Congo, Senegal, South Africa, even Mali -- but for a second series they've again aimed small, starting with the small trading island off the coast of East Africa. As I understand it, Werner Graebner's series will expand to cover Swahili popular music from Somalia to Mozambique, but the starting point is the island, for chronological reasons as much as any other. Ikhwani Safaa Musical Club was founded in 1905, a band first then a building. I'm not sure how the next hundred years unfold, but the Arab-influenced taraab of the current group is a venerable style, with its oud, accordion, strings and percussion. It is a music of broad contours, its gentle sway dominating the marginal beats. B+

Briefly Noted

  • Charles Brown: Alone at the Piano (1989-94 [2004], Savoy Jazz): Informality was always the key to his style, just a soft-spoken line, then a little flourish of piano, the essence of a dark, weary, smokey after-hours joint; his fifty years of albums are mostly interchangeable, but never so informal as on these solo air shots. B+
  • The Johnny Cash Children's Album (1971-73 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): I have no special insight into this one's utility, but it sounds like Cash, most of the widely scattered songs aren't pointed plainly at children, I've heard "Old Shep" on a comp before, and I got a chuckle out of the previously unreleased "Why Is a Fire Engine Red." B
  • Cluster: 71 (1971 [2006], Water): One of the first defining examples of what came to be known as Kraut Rock, precision crafted by Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius from electronic treatments of sundry sounds: drones, whines, warbles, rumbles, clangs, sonic detritus of all sizes and shapes; it was a great novelty at the time, and still holds interest. B+
  • Cooper-Moore: Outtakes 1978 (1978 [2005], Hopscotch): This hodgepodge shows two things: that David S. Ware already had his sound together a decade before he emerged leading a Quartet that was to the '90s what Coltrane's was to the '60s, and that the brilliant, reclusive pianist Cooper-Moore had already adopted ashimba and diddley bow into his idiosyncratic toolkit. B+
  • Fountains of Wayne: Out-of-State Plates (1996-2005, Virgin, 2CD): Two new pop-rockers -- "The Girl I Can't Forget" is the great one, evidently the flipside of "Maureen" -- plus a short decade of throwaways, could almost have fit on one long disc but they're generous enough to give you two short ones; not the first odds and sods comp I've liked better than their studio fare -- for one thing it's more varied, but also their trash is funnier than their cash. A-
  • Herb Geller/Rein de Graaff: Delightful Duets 2 (2002 [2005], Blue Jack Jazz): A typical case of American jazz great goes to Europe and gets lured into a studio for a quick jam with the locals; the songbook is standard fare -- "Ornithology," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Perdido" -- but the Dutch pianist has been preparing for this all his life, and the alto saxist has been playing it. B+
  • Ghostbusters: Original Soundtrack (1984 [2006], Arista/Legacy): Title song is catchy, which is why Ray Parker Jr. rushed it out on his Greatest Hits; but they can only cram three versions of it in here, which hardly makes up for the Elmer Bernstein drivel; there are better places to find "Disco Inferno" too. C
  • Nachito Herrera: Bembé En Mi Casa (2005, FS Music): Afro-Cuban jazz at its most flamboyant, a flashy tour of traditional forms -- danzón, bolero, guaguanco, guaracha, cha-cha, many more -- and more complex inventions, led by Herrera's piano but cranked up with brass and great cascades of percussion; all bembé, all the time; makes me dizzy. B+
  • Keep on Truckin': The Very Best of Hot Tuna (1969-78 [2006], RCA/Legacy): Jefferson Steamship Inc.'s spinoff for the ever popular Grateful Dead niche market recycles old blues -- Robert Johnson, Gary Davis, Lightnin' Hopkins, the ever-dependable "Traditional" -- while draining them of pain and intensity, as if the secret to retro is nonchalance. B
  • The Worst of Jefferson Airplane (1965-69 [2006], RCA/Legacy): The inclusion of their hits suggests that the title was commissioned, if not necessarily compiled, as irony, but they were sloppy enough, and perverse enough, you never can be sure; stuck in their time warp, I doubt that anyone not yet in their fifties can glean that this was once an important band. B+
  • Seu Jorge: Cru (2005, Wrasse): From Brazil's favelas to the silver screen -- The Life Aquatic and City of God are two movie credits -- Jorge's "raw" can just as well be cute or clever, a soft touch not uncommon even in the hardest corners of his country; often just sung over his own crudely strummed guitar, he can win you over one moment, then lose you the next. B
  • Yungchen Lhamo: Ama (2005 [2006], Real World): From Tibet, she crossed the Himalayas to India in 1989, refined her devotional folk music in refugee camps, then worked her way to Australia and finally New York; haunting vocals with simple string backup and tasteful concessions to the West, like Annie Lennox taking a verse in English. B+
  • Cheikh Lô: Lamp Fall (2005 [2006], World Circuit/Nonesuch): Originally from Burkina Faso, Lô is a one-man melting pot of West African influences from Mali to Senegal, plus some stray bits from Cuba and Brasil -- gives him a sound that is both generic and cosmopolitan, often on the verge of tying it all together, but sometimes it's hard to tell. B+
  • Robert Lockwood Jr.: The Complete Trix Recordings (1974-77 [2003], Savoy Jazz, 2CD): Despite his opportunistic Jr. in honor of Robert Johnson, this Robert never sold his soul at the crossroads and never found hell hounds on his tail; his blues was an easy way to make a hard living, and is most pleasing when he keeps it plain -- even the sax can be too much. B
  • Los de Abajo: LDA v the Lunatics (2006, Real World): I suppose rock en español runs much the same stylistic and qualitative gamut as rock in English, which makes me dread Journey or Genesis en español, but this is much closer to the Clash, or at least to the Specials -- the source of the album title; but note that the English version of "The Lunatics," with Neville Staples on board, rocks much harder than the Spanish. A-
  • Lulendo: Angola (2005 [2006], Buda Musique): A singer-songwriter from Angola, plays guitar and likembe, based in Paris since 1982, sings in four languages, picks up stylistic bits from all over the map; used to be world music came from somewhere, but this goes everywhere, cancelling itself out. B
  • Gatemouth Moore: Cryin' and Singin' the Blues (1945-46 [2004], Savoy Jazz): The best of the three bands here was led by Budd Johnson with some Ellington sidemen, but all swing hard behind one of the day's more powerful blues shouters; Moore lived to be 90, but he worked the sticks until these breakthroughs for National, then got religion and slipped back into obscurity. A-
  • Eddie Murphy: Comedian (1983 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): His second stand-up album, when he decided that singers get all the pussy but wasn't quite ready to make the switch, still thinking he had a future following Richard Pryor; funny bits about James Brown, shoe throwing mothers, and coprolite furniture. B
  • Fred Neil (1967 [2006], Water): A singer-songwriter before before they came into vogue, with a guitar and a deep, rich voice that takes some getting used to; wrote everything here, even "Everybody's Talkin'," which Harry Nilsson covered for Midnight Cowboy and parlayed into a top ten hit; Neil remained obscure, his few semi-legendary albums justly prized by obsessive reissue vendors; inspirational verse: "you know they'll probably drop the atom bomb the day my ship comes in." A-
  • Everybody's Talkin: The Very Best of Harry Nilsson (1967-77 [2006], RCA/Legacy): At 14 cuts, 44:57, this doesn't push its luck; most are pop gems, evidence of genius with no obvious game plan other than indulging his every whim, but even the hits are out of sorts, off in some other world. A-
  • Personal Best: The Harry Nilsson Anthology (1967-77 [1995], RCA, 2CD): At 49 cuts, 146:23, this does push its luck, which could be dangerous with a guy who thought schlock was just a rough cut for something that could become transcendently fabulous; de trop pour moi, not that I regret having heard "Good for God" or "You're Breaking My Heart." B
  • Harry Nilsson: Son of Schmilsson (1972-73 [2006], RCA/Legacy): Haven't heard the progenitor, reportedly his masterpiece; this seems typically scattered, with a couple of clear-headed rockers rising from the string-drenched matrix and singalongs like "I'd Rather Be Dead" ("than wet the bed"); three of four bonus tracks are. B+
  • Harry Nilsson: A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night (1973 [2006], RCA/Legacy): Old songs, wrapped in strings and sung with remarkable delicacy -- never realized that "Makin' Whoopee!" could offer such scant hint of fun; six bonus tracks are par for the course. C
  • Putumayo Presents: ¡Baila! A Latin Dance Party (1996-2005 [2006], Putumayo World Music): As a sucker for groove, this seems functional enough, but not all Latin music is the same, and rummaging from East Harlem to Buenos Aires to Los Angeles to Stockholm doesn't improve the odds of fitting it all together. B
  • Putumayo Presents: Paris (1995-2005 [2006], Putumayo World Music): La nouvelle génération du chanson français, which means no one you're likely to hear of -- excepting Keren Ann, who was just passing through from Israel -- but that won't matter: as long as the food and wine are up to spec, they're atmosphere. B+
  • Red Rodney/Herman Schoonderwalt Quintet: Scrapple From the Apple (1975 [2005], Blue Jack Jazz): A live radio shot with the trumpeter Charlie Parker used to pass off as Albino Red, blowing through a standard bebop set with a fine Dutch group led by reedist Schoonderwalt; terrific out of the gate, very solid throughout. B+
  • Rocky IV: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1985 [2006], Volcano/Legacy): These "energized anthems" (to quote the cover sticker) are as pumped up as the cold war storyline, where the scrappy little hero takes on the big bad blond Russian, striking a blow for underdogs everywhere. C+
  • The Rough Guide to Boogaloo (1964-74 [2005], World Music Network): Salsa, but historically specific, not least because it was intended as trashy sell out -- why else drop so much of it in English? actually, it brings back early '60s dance craze for an extra shot of rhythm and silliness. A-
  • Santana: Santana III (Legacy Edition) (1971 [2006], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The original rock en español, always better than their rock en inglés, but rarely as good as when they kept it zipped; the original album is more grooveful, as opposed to tuneful, than the first two, but not much one way or another; the bonus tracks are a plus, and the "Live at the Fillmore West" better still, for the usual reason -- more percussion. B+
  • Sonido Isleño: ¡Vive Jazz! (2005, Tresero): An interesting jam of Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican jazz moves from "New York, the largest Caribbean City in the world"; the chef is Benjamin Lapidus Ph.D., whose guitar is the steady center everyone else hangs off of, or on to. B+
  • Marlo Thomas and Friends: Free to Be . . . You and Me (1972 [2006], Arista/Legacy): A children's album that challenges the limits of gender roles through skits and songs, feminist revelation from when it was fresh; I'm no expert, but the music strikes me as hitting the right notes, with the New Seekers setting the theme. A-
  • Wayfaring Strangers: Ladies From the Canyon (1969-76 [2006], Numero Group): A bevy of Joni Mitchell wannabes, mostly one-shot obscurities doing original material -- except for a "Sister Morphine" that feels out of place, not that any would be right; that the sharpest chords are closest to the mark says something, like that Mitchell herself was unique. B
  • Robin Williams: A Night at the Met (1986 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): After some foreplay about Reagan and Khadafi -- check the date -- this turns into everything you ever wanted to know about sex, and then some; some insight, too, like "the first purpose of alcohol is to make English your second goddamn language." B+
  • Women of Substance (1945-2002 [2003], Savoy Jazz): Useless cross-generational label comp, with six cuts from the old Savoy catalog, three from Muse, one from Denon, three from Savoy redux -- the two latest from the skinny-voiced Carol Welsman; high point is Houston Person's sax solo for Etta Jones. B-
  • Zanzibara 2: L'Âge d'Or du Taraab de Mombasa (1965-75 [2006], Buda Musique): The Arabic influence seems stronger here, most likely the age of the recordings, even though the music is modern enough to be sung in Swahili rather than Arabic; many of the various musicians come from Kenya or Tanzania, suggesting that Mombasa had a cosmopolitan attraction before it got wrecked by war lords. B+
  • The Zombies: Odyssey and Oracle: 30th Anniversary Edition (1968 [1998], Big Beat): One of the sharper mod groups to show up in the flotsam of the British Invasion, they followed Sgt. Pepper's lead into concept album land, but the lush vocal harmonies, not to mention the smiley smile quirks, remind me more of the Beach Boys, even with the limey accent and sense of humor; this packs more than all you need: both the stereo and mono versions of the album, plus a couple of alternate versions and lots of documentation. A-


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month: radical foreigners (Ex, Los de Abajo), bebop brawlers (Dexter Gordon), scattered world music spots (Belize, Tibet), especially Africa (Thomas Mapfumo, Cheikh Lo, Ethiopiques and Zanzibara), Anglo pop (Faces, Zombies, Harry Nilsson), comedians (Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams); many more (43 records).

Copyright © 2006 Tom Hull.