A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: March, 2007

Recycled Goods (#41)

by Tom Hull

Apologies to long-time readers here, but I got slammed and jammed close up on my deadline, the upshot being that March has been postponed until April. Meanwhile, I decided to recycle myself for this placeholder. I've done 40 Recycled Goods columns thus far, starting in February 2003. The idea has always been to do them monthly. We slipped a few gears early on, especially in 2004, but from January 2005 the column has been running like clockwork -- well, until now. The scheme below is pure formula. I pulled one lead section review from each 2003 column, then picked up a second from the first two. Starting with 2004, I switched to Briefly Noteds, picking one from each column, plus four extras from 2004. (Briefly Noted first appeared in the 4th column, in May 2003, although I had done something similar in the 3rd column with a quick rundown of 13 Willie Nelson albums.) The records are all solid A- or above -- not necessarily the best from each column, but all albums of continuing interest. The column dates are noted in brackets.

James Brown: In the Jungle Groove (1969-72 [2003], Polydor). This reissues (with the inevitable bonus track) a 1986 collection of Brown's leftovers, yet it may be the single most definitive record of his peak "Soul Power" period. Six of these nine songs also show up on Brown's Star Time box, but none in the same versions or mixes here. These cuts run long, with Brown barking out directions to the band, calling for stops and restarts, not to mention "take it to the bridge." The effect is not unlike Brown's live albums, but the sound is clearer and less cluttered, so the focus stays squarely on the beats. And the beats have never been so squarely on-the-one as here. A+ [Aug. 2003]

Buck 65: Weirdo Magnet (1988-96 [2002], Warner Music Canada). This collects early works from a Halifax rapper so underground that his works (now six albums) were all but impossible to find until he inked a deal with Warner's Canadian subsidiary in 2002. The beats and samples are minimal, just enough to set up the words, which catch your ear and make you think. One piece intones uncliched platitudes: "the most expensive indulgence is hate/the most dangerous man is the liar." Another warns: "he who plunders to embellish his techno style/should be the object of desire in the dreams of necrophiles." He even rhymes equations. A- [Feb. 2003]

Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet (1960-62 [2002], Capitol). Allen Toussaint's reign at Minit Records was the real shine on the golden age of New Orleans r&b: while his piano merely carried on the tradition from Champion Jack Dupree to Fats Domino, Toussaint's genius was in how he orchestrated voices and horns to add drama and humor to novelties by a motley group of minor artists -- Jessie Hill, Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, Aaron Neville, Irma Thomas, the Showmen. As Minit comps go, I still prefer the first disc of EMI Legends' (out-of-print) The Minit Records Story (1994), which is longer and odder, but this comes very close. A [Mar. 2003]

The Funky 16 Corners (1969-74 [2001], Stones Throw). One song proposes to fight drugs by introducing a new dance craze, "The Kick." Another, "What About You," is a rap challenge to get your . . . thing together. Some are just instrumentals. The title cut and a feel-good thing called "Dap Walk" are outstanding, but most of this is garden-variety funk, and the bands -- units from non-scene places like Indianapolis and Syracuse and Greenville, SC -- are total unknowns. Yet what separated them from the big leagues is more likely breaks than talent. My guess is that someone with a good ear and lots of patience could put together dozens of worthy comps like this, but it rarely happens. In this case, thank Egon, who cared enough to take Peanut Butter Wolf bowling. A- [May 2003]

The Guitar and Gun: Highlife Music From Ghana (1981-84 [2003], Stern's/Earthworks). John Collins' Bokoor Studios was one of only two working recording studios in Ghana during the 1980's, a tumultuous period wracked by revolution and civil war. These pieces were cut near the front lines -- the guitarist on the cover was a working soldier taking a pleasant break. The music here for the most part eschews the horn-laced dance bands of the big cities -- Wolfa Rockson is the mild-mannered exception. Rather, it rides on sweet guitar lines and lifts off with gospel-powered vocals: Francis Kenya's Guitar Band is sublime, while the Baptist Disciple Singers, Genesis Gospel Singers, and Cavalry Bells Supreme Christian Singers are exalted. A [Sept. 2003]

Niney and Friends: Blood and Fire (1971-72 [1998], Trojan). The title song is such a classic that they can do three or more variations on it and make it sound like a gift. But the filler is uncommonly fulfilling: spare, slow, repetitive, haunting. None of the clutter of great harmony groups, no soul stylizations, no dub toasts. This is the bedrock of reggae, as simple and sublime as Jah. A [Feb. 2003]

The Perfect Beats: New York Electro Hip-Hop + Underground Dance Classics 1980-1985, Volume 4 (1971-90 [1998], Timber). Disco was so '70s that with the turn of the decade it had to go into occlusion. The 12-inch single was the wedge that split dance club music from the radio, hence from popular music, as dance moved from pop to niche to cult. The cult arena, in turn, became the incubator of electrobeats and nascent hip-hop. The first three volumes of this series mined these trends with diminishing returns, but this conclusion cheats by looking at the bigger picture -- starting with James Brown in 1971 and going as far into retro as a 1990 cut with the Blackbyrds. They also saved "Looking for the Perfect Beat" to close with, capping the strongest and most consistent volume in the series. A [Oct. 2003]

Amy Rigby: 18 Again: An Anthology (1996-2000 [2002], Koch). This condenses three albums worth owning whole, and tacks on a previously unreleased song (marginal) and a demo (intimate) for the handful of fans who love her enough to buy anything; which is to say that the album's unnecessary, unless you missed out before Koch consigned her albums to oblivion. But it does focus on her songwriting, deconstructing marriage ("Beer and Kisses," "20 Questions"), reconstucting "The Summer of My Wasted Youth," and puzzling over the enigma of her non-stardom: "I put some makeup on/I dress like someone half my age/I write it in a song/I even get up on a stage/I'm still invisible." A [Mar. 2003]

The Vandermark 5: Free Jazz Classics Vols. 1 & 2 (2000-01 [2002], Atavistic, 2CD). These two discs originally appeared as bonus discs packaged with the first 1000 copies of the group's Burn the Incline and Acoustic Machine albums, so that makes this a reissue, right? Since he moved to Chicago in 1989, Ken Vandermark has conceived of dozens of bands, ranging from the pure funk Crown Royals to the purely improvised FME, but the Vandermark 5 has been his most consistent venue: the concept there was to have an explosive quintet fronted by two saxes (sometimes switching to clarinet) and trombone, which would exclusively play Vandermark's own compositions. So the idea of doing standards is out-of-concept, but even if you've heard these pieces before -- Ornette Coleman or Sun Ra maybe, Frank Wright very unlikely -- the arrangements here are startling. Vandermark describes these live recordings as an experiment to see what the band could do. The verdict is that this band plays free jazz like the Rolling Stones (at least used to) play rock and roll: they make it sound classic, and at the same time they make it sound bigger and bolder than ever before. A- [Nov. 2003]

When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 6: Poor Man's Heaven (1928-40 [2003], Bluebird). From Eddie Cantor's too-pained-to-be-funny "Tips on the Stockmarket" to Reverend Gates' hard learned "President Roosevelt Is Everybody's Friend," this chronicles America's Great Depression as definitively as anything I've heard. The blues here are as down-and-out as you can imagine, but they're outnumbered by paeans to the farmers and sprightly, morbid show tunes. But Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" is more like down-and-pissed, and many of these songs focus on the disgraceful gap between rich and poor. "Poor Man's Heaven" itself isn't much more than a revenge fantasy, but Bob Miller's "The Rich Man and the Poor Man" is sharply reasoned, and no less true today. But the most powerful songs here are the show tunes, because the everymen they appeal to feel more than the pain: they feel the loss. The poor may always be with ye, but when the middle classes find themselves in the same leaky boat, something is terribly amiss with the power classes. When this happened in the '30s that was a tragedy; if it happens again, as seems more and more likely with the Republicans dismantling the New Deal safety net, gilding the rich, stripping the poor, and flaunting their awesome power to destroy, that will be profoundly stupid. This disc won't help you figure that out, but if it don't get you thinking about it, you're part of the problem. A [July 2003]

X-Ray Spex: The Anthology (1977-78 [2002], Sanctuary/Castle, 2CD). Aside from the Yankees' August blowout of the Red Sox, my fondest memory of 1978 was snapping up X-Ray Spex as they unveiled themselves single-by-single: "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," "The Day the World Turned Day-Glo," "Identity," "Germ Free Adolescents." They evolved from howling punk yelp to shrink-wrapped plastic anthem, from "I'm a poseur and I don't care/I like to make people stare" to "I wanna be instamatic/I wanna be a frozen pea/I wanna be dehydrated/in a consumer society." Poly Styrene declaimed, Lora Logic wailed on sax, and the blokes banged on things. Johnny Rotten was an aesthete compared to them. This collects everything they ever did: their one studio album expanded to 16 cuts, 10 more rough mixes of the same, and the trashy sounding live tape from their second gig. Maybe you had to be there to love every moment of it, but I do. A [Apr. 2003]

Briefly Noted

Mahmoud Ahmed: Éthiopiques, Vol. 19: Alèmyé (1974 [2005], Buda Musique): this makes three Ahmed discs in this admirable series; he was the closest thing Addis Adaba came to growing a pop star during Ethiopia's brief flowering in the '70s; this sits midway between the earlier Almaz and the later Erè Mèla Mèla, chronologically at least, all other distinctions being too fine to bank on; most impressive here are the long slow ones, which wend their way through trance-like grooves and favor his rich and subtle baritone. A- [Nov. 2005]

Gato Barbieri: Bolivia / Under Fire (1971-73 [2003], Bluebird): two albums of latin rhythms and earthy exuberance from funkmeister Lonnie Liston Smith and Argentina's saxophone colossus; think of it as Coltrane with congas and his ass on fire. A- [Apr. 2004]

Gaby Lita Bembo and Orchestre Stukas du Zaïre: Kita Mata ABC (1974-83 [2005], 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. A- [May 2006]

Tina Brooks: True Blue (1960 [2005], Blue Note): a neglected figure: this was the only Brooks album to appear in his lifetime, and was only briefly available on CD as part of Blue Note's limited edition Connoisseur Series; Brooks played hard bop with uncommon eloquence and grace at all speeds; he's joined here by Freddie Hubbard, young and dazzling. A- [July 2005]

Cabaret Voltaire: The Original Sound of Sheffield '83/'87: The Best of the Virgin/EMI Years (1983-87 [2003], Superfecta): their proto-industrial mutated to post-disco, picking up a groove to go with the clangs, sometimes two as in the awesome "I Want You." A [May 2005]

Don Cherry: Where Is Brooklyn? (1966 [2005], Blue Note): after his apprenticeship with Ornette Coleman, after two ambitious large band projects, this is a rough edged, bare bones blowing session, with Pharoah Sanders bringing on the noise, and Ed Blackwell dicing up the rhythm; long out of print, this is a missing link in Cherry's discography -- an update of The Avant Garde, his 1960 meeting with Coltrane; a prequel to Mu, his 1969 duets with Blackwell. A- [Dec. 2005]

Cristina: Doll in the Box (1980 [2004], ZE): She's a disco clone programmed by August Darnell (aka Kid Creole), but no mere coconut; she takes charge with lyrics like "Don't Be Greedy"'s "I won't share you with another mate/I'm not that liberal and you're not that great"; and the bonus tracks include squeaky, breathless covers of "Drive My Car" and "Is That All There Is?" A- [Apr. 2006]

The Swinging Side of Bobby Darin (1962-65 [2005], Capitol Jazz): Atlantic groomed him as a rock star, but Capitol lured him away with an offer he couldn't resist: they auditioned him for Frank Sinatra's vacancy, and he was smashing, swinging with Billy May's powerhouse orchestra, winding his way through Bob Florence's more delicate arrangements; the songbook is a bit obvious, the time had past, and he didn't stick with it, but for a moment it was all he ever wanted to do; short (31:02). A- [Apr. 2005]

Miles Davis: A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1970 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): cleaned up for 2003's Complete Jack Johnson Sessions box set, which laid out all the working tracks before this ultimate edit; treated cavalierly by the label at the time, this survives as the toughest, most muscular, most dramatic of all the records Davis made in his Electric Period -- a career pinnacle to rival Kind of Blue. A+ [Jan. 2005]

Duke Ellington: Ellington Uptown (1947-52 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): in crisis, with Johnny Hodges gone, a daring LP with features for newcomers Louis Bellson and Betty Roché, and "A Tone Parallel to Harlem (Harlem Suite)" -- one of his most ambitious works; augmented with earlier suites, a tour de force. A [June 2004]

John Fahey and His Orchestra: After the Ball (1973 [2001], Collectors' Choice): the second of two Reprise albums, with more role for the orchestra, who sound more dixieland than before; especially striking for the way his guitar weaves in and stands out in the trad jazz setting. A [July 2004]

Irving Fields Trio: Bagels and Bongos (1959 [2005], Reboot Stereophonic): This could, and possibly should, be as tacky as its title and songs like "Havannah Nagilah" suggest, but it isn't, and that works too -- prim, proper, a light touch that keeps the piano up front, leaving the bagel- and bongo-rhythms wafting in the air, faint aromas of the exotic. A- [June 2006]

Flatt & Scruggs: Foggy Mountain Jamboree (1951-57 [2005], Columbia/Legacy): this is the classic sound of bluegrass -- after all, they invented it; this old comp, sonically spruced up with three bonus cuts, alternates vocals with instrumentals, letting them stretch out and pick between their prayers and revels; more consistent than their best-ofs, probably because it sticks to their prime. A- [Sept. 2005]

Jan Garbarek: Rarum II: Selected Recordings (1974-95 [2002], ECM, 2CD): ECM's flagship artist, 24 cuts from 23 albums from 22 years, a smorgasbord progressing from Keith Jarrett's European quartet through globe-straddling ragas and sagas and back again to his engagement with mediaeval choir Hilliard Ensemble. A- [Sept. 2004]

Night in Tunisia: The Very Best of Dizzy Gillespie (1946-49 [2006], Bluebird/Legacy): Three small group cuts with Milt Jackson and Al Haig lay out the principles of bebop, with the rest of the disc devoted to Dizzy's big band, including six key cuts with Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo; a narrow slice of a brilliant career, not the "very best" so much as the truly momentous. A [Oct. 2006]

The Essential Merle Haggard: The Epic Years (1981-87 [2004], Epic/Legacy): years that saw him getting older and crankier ("Big City," "Are the Good Times Really Over"), but also wistful ("I Had a Beautiful Time") and frisky ("Let's Chase Each Other Around the Room") and blessedly fortunate ("I Always Get Lucky With You"). A- [Nov. 2004]

Frank Hewitt: Fresh From the Cooler (1996 [2006], Smalls): A bebop pianist who almost slipped through 66 years of life without leaving a trace, Hewitt's long residency at Smalls inspired a label in no small part dedicated to his legacy; his fourth posthumous release steps gingerly around jazz standards like "Cherokee" and "Monk's Mood," showing a rare knack for the art of the piano trio. A- [Jan. 2007]

Andrew Hill: Pax (1965 [2006], Blue Note): Unreleased until 1975, this is as bright and fearless as you'd expect in a quintet fronted by Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard, but it Hill's piano is uncommonly shifty, and he spreads the horns further out than they'd normally go; some technical problems may explain the delay, but for sheer risk into music this is a high point of Blue Note's avant-garde. A- [Sept. 2006]

John Lee Hooker: Blues Kingpins (1948-55 [2003], Virgin/The Right Stuff): he's got the boogie in him, and it's got to get out, which it does again and again in this sample of his early recordings -- roughly equivalent to The Legendary Modern Recordings (1948-54 [1993], Flair/Virgin); he called a later album Endless Boogie, but it started here. A- [Feb. 2004]

Sheila Jordan + Cameron Brown: Celebration: Live at the Triad (2004 [2005], High Note): Her 76th birthday bash, but without the guests that marred Marian McPartland's 85th or the big band that lifted her mentor George Russell's 80th -- just bass and our last real bebop singer, with a voice that stops you cold and a restive, fearless quest for finding new connections in old pieces -- her free-roaming medleys are the highlights. A- [Jan. 2006]

Freddie McGregor: Bobby Bobylon (1980 [2006], Heartbeat): On the scene since he was a teenager, McGregor's first album for C.S. Dodd was his breakthrough, a thoroughly compelling mix of roots, reggae, and recycled riddims -- many songs had been retooled from early hits to give them a contemporary political edge; with eight bonus tracks, ending with Jackie Mittoo's long vamp on the title track. A- [Aug. 2006]

Thelonious Monk: The Very Best (1947-52 [2005], Blue Note): it doesn't surprise me that the most consistent of the samplers of Monk's early works features Art Blakey and/or Milt Jackson on 12 of 13 tracks -- Monk's always been a genius, but it took the world a while to get the hang of him, and Blakey and Jackson were the first to figure out where he was going, and help him get there. A [Aug. 2005]

Buck Owens: 21 #1 Hits: The Ultimate Collection (1963-88 [2006], Rhino): An Okie who didn't move to Bakersfield until he was 21, Owens' cornball mix of western swing fiddle and honky tonk domestic woes put his adopted home town on the country music map as the pre-Austin alt to Nashville; hosting Hee Haw made him more famous, but his hits dried up before the TV show aired -- the exceptions are the 1972 "Made in Japan" and a much later Dwight Yoakam duet. A- [Dec. 2006]

Augustus Pablo: Rockers Meets King Tubbys in a Fire House (1980 [2003], Shanachie): another meeting of the dub masters, a bit more spacious sounding than Uptown, some newer rhythm tricks as well, a groove worth hearing again and again. A [June 2004]

Les Paul With Mary Ford: The Best of the Capitol Masters: 90th Birthday Edition (1948-57 [2005], Capitol): Judging from his 1944 Jazz at the Philharmonic performance, he could have become a major jazz guitarist, but he broke through as a novelty artist instead, playing mad scientist against the light, sweet voice of his straight lady. A- [Feb. 2006]

The Best of Pérez Prado: The Original Mambo No. 5 (1949-59 [2006], RCA/Legacy): The original mambo king played piano and ran the band that kicked off all the other bands in America's short-lived love affair with Cuba; his instrumental hits are clean, sly, sharply etched, almost as crisp as the dilletantish tango; can't complain about the one vocal either, not with Benny Moré singing. A- [Mar. 2006]

The Amazing Bud Powell: The Scene Changes (1958 [2003], Blue Note): the word "amazing" is overused on Powell -- Art Tatum, who really was amazing, reckoned he could cut Powell with one hand, and Powell had to get really wasted to think otherwise; but what really distinguished Powell was how logically he developed his lines, and that has rarely been more clear than on the all-originals trio session, cut shortly before he moved to Paris. A- [Apr. 2004]

Rockpile: Seconds of Pleasure (1980 [2004], Columbia/Legacy): the first and only album from the Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe supergroup, a slight disappointment compared only to the awesome reports of their live show, augmented by their precious Everly Brothers EP and three live cuts that rock like they oughtta. A- [May 2004]

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- [July 2006]

Run-DMC: Greatest Hits (1983-93 [2002], Arista/BMG Heritage): with Jam Master Jay shot down, the sentiments of their previous best-of, 1991's Together Forever, buried with him, so why not concentrate on their prime, when they had the hardest beats and the hippest hop in town; Aerosmith owes them big time. A [Sept. 2004]

Sir Douglas Quintet: Live From Austin TX (1981 [2006], New West): They went fake English in 1965 when they broke "She's About a Mover" but their Texas roots and Mexican hobbies took over; this sums them up nearly a decade before leader Doug Sahm and organist Augie Meyers founded the Texas Tornados, so it still leans Tex, and still reflects the '60s when they finally opted for "96 Tears" over the Zombies. A- [Nov. 2006]

Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot (1897-1925 [2003], Archeophone): starting from the first recordings of the music of the day -- marches, rags, folksongs, minstrelsy -- this traces the emergence of a new art form, music meant to conquer the world, and its apotheosis, "Cake Walking Babies From Home." A- [July 2004]

Ernest Tubb: The Definitive Collection (1941-66 [2006], MCA Nashville/Chronicles): Honky tonk more or less starts with "Walking the Floor Over You," both in form and in theme, but Tubb did more than walk -- "Waltz Across Texas" nicely sums up his light touch and modest traditionalism; not just one of the major figures in country music -- a defining one. A [Feb. 2007]

Per Henrik Wallin/Johnny Dyani/Erik Dahlbäck: Burning in Stockholm (1981 [2004], Atavistic): Wallin's piano rocks, setting up huge cascades of rhythm, similar to Keith Jarrett's famous Köln Concert, but tougher; moreover, bass and drums are constantly engaged. A- [June 2005]

Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon (1976-2002 [2002], Elektra/Rhino): he emerged at a time when singer-songwriter had become a synonym for lame, but distinguished himself for literary flair -- his most memorable songs were bigger-than-life stories -- and responded to punk by raising the energy level; two covers here ("A Certain Girl," "Raspberry Beret") waste space for his songs, but hold up musically; the title song appears as an epitaph, making me wonder what an alternate reconstruction guided by the missing "Ain't That Pretty At All" might reveal. A [Oct. 2005]


In an infinite universe, all the music you'll ever need already exists somewhere. We find more each month, but for this month we found them in the archives of the first forty Recycled Goods columns (46 records).

Copyright © 2007 Tom Hull.