A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: November, 2010

Recycled Goods (#79)

by Tom Hull

When I restarted Recycled Goods in April 2008, I decided to date the columns by the month I wrote the material in, so everything I wrote in, say, July 2010 would appear in the July 2010 column, but the July 2010 column itself wouldn't appear until after the month ended: sometime in early August 2010. This has started to confuse me (and maybe you), since Downloader's Diary has come out using the month date it appears in. Since thus far at least I run Downloader's Diary first, this has resulted in such weirdness as the September Recycled Goods appearing after the October Downloader's Diary. The Rhapsody Streamnotes column also figures into this. Originally I wrote them whenever I felt like it, sometimes two or three in a month, and gave they the publication dates. However, for the last year or more I've been running them monthly, after Recycled Goods since I also archive Rhapsody-derived records I reviewed in Recycled Goods (and Jazz Prospecting). Just to keep these three dates more consistent, I've decided this should be the November column. That leaves a gap in the index for October.

Still taking this as it comes. Would have been even lighter this month but I decided I wanted to hear the John Lennon albums I missed -- not very good by reputation, and, well, not very good in fact. Also wanted to give Double Fantasy a second (or third) shot, since lots of people I like like it a lot, but I still don't get much out of it. Also started listening to the second wave of Apple reissues, which I'll save for next month.

African Pearls: Congo: Pont Sur le Congo (1967-76 [2010], Syllart, 2CD): I'm fishing around for dates here, in a booklet that has quite a few of them but isn't always clear what they refer to, and some songs are no doubt unaccounted for. The Syllart African Pearls 2-CD series is up to eleven volumes, the sort of thing I'd like to sample everything from but can't. The first Congo volume, Rumba on the River, was a dandy, starting in the 1950s and running up to 1969. This basically picks up the thread, running well into the 1970s, relying on proven names: Franco's OK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Docteur Nico, Verckys, Empire Bakuba, and Zaiko Langa Langa account for more than half. Rumba evolving into soukous, not as flashy or intense as the latter, just consistently engaging, another unstoppable Congo compilation. A

Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster (2004, Emergent): Eighteen Stephen Foster songs, including some of the most indelible remnants of 19th century American song, mostly done reverently by folk-oriented artists of minor renown. I recall this as a celebrated item when it came out but somehow missed it -- showed up while searching Mavis Staples, whose "Hard Times Come Again No More" is a highlight. John Prine's gravelly "My Old Kentucky Home" is another, but Roger McGuinn's Byrdsy "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" slips badly into shtick. B+(***) [R]

Walter Gibbons: Jungle Music (1976-86 [2010], Strut, 2CD): Subtitle: Mixed With Love: Essential & Unreleased Remixes 1976-1986. Gibbons (1954-94) was a DJ who produced a number of extended remixes of NYC dance music, especially for the Salsoul label -- haven't heard either of their presumably choice 2004-05 compilations, Mixed With Love and Disco Boogie, but this set of esoterica stretches out luxuriantly, wrapping pop and soul vocals up in long strings of danceable beats. B+(***) [R]

Lars Gullin: 1953-55 Vol. 8: Danny's Dream (1953-55 [2005], Dragon): One of the more obscure records ever granted a crown recommendation by Richard Cook and Brian Morton's Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings was The Great Lars Gullin Vol. 5, an LP that vanished from print shortly after it was cited in the first edition. Since then, Sweden's baritone sax great's recordings have been reshuffled into a new series, which has been coming out about one per year and has not reached Vol. 11. The sessions from the old Vol. 5 finally resurfaced in the new Vol. 8, along with a few extras that add a second sax (tenor) to a surprisingly light and tasty quartet -- Rolf Berg's guitar is often the secret, but Gullin himself is key. A-

Bobby Jackson: The Café Extra-Ordinaire Story (1970 [2010], Jazzman): Number seven in the label's "Holy Grail" series of "the rarest of the rare" funk/jazz LPs, a series that started with Uncle Funkenstein's 1983 Together Again. Jackson founded a Minneapolis jazz dive and played bass, caught here with a few locals playing music that aspired to funk but mostly just swung -- "Bobby's Blues" (by pianist Bobby Lyle) and "Paul's Ark" (by pianist Paul Akre and tenor saxophonist Morris Wilson) are typical titles. B+(**)

In Series: John Lennon

Born October 9, 1940 in Liverpool, UK, and was shot dead in New York City forty years later. For eight years in the 1960s he was one fourth of the decade's biggest rock group, the Beatles. He recorded eight albums in the decade after the Beatles split up, including one that his widow, Yoko Ono, finished posthumously -- arguably the only thing she ever did that improved on his work. But she's kept active, producing her own intermittently interesting albums but also coming up with new concepts for repackaging the estate. The latest is this 70th birthday bash, reissuing the old albums and boxing them up in various ways. The big ticket item is the $189.98 list Signature Box, with eleven CDs, a book, and a lot of packaging. I've heard all of it except for one song on the "Singles" disc ("Move Over Ms. L") and the "Home Tapes" disc -- presumably a subset of Anthology, the 4-CD excavation of Lennon's home tapes released in 1998, but with little in common with Wonsuponatime, that box's reputed best-of.

Also available this round is a new 4-CD box, Gimme Some Truth -- not on Rhapsody, so not below -- and yet another single-CD best of, Power to the People: The Hits -- the fourth such, following 1975's Shaved Fish, 1982's The John Lennon Collection, and 1997's Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon, with 2005's 2-CD Working Class Hero: The Definitive Lennon and 2002's 3-CD Instant Karma: All-Time Greatest Hits and 1990's 4-CD Lennon adding to the redundancy.

John Lennon: Plastic Ono Band (1970 [2010], Capitol): With the Beatles break up, all four principals scurried to release solo albums: George a double given all his pent-up auteurist ambitions, Paul and John the songwriting team of record and reputed rivalry, Ringo because, well, everybody liked Ringo and even Ringo could make money off that. The only album that defied expectations was Lennon's: while there are a couple of perfectly proportioned Beatles songs here, he mostly went anti-Beatles, and while he attributed a band on the cover, not to mention his wife, the record comes off as intensely personal, the introspective songs keyed to little more than piano and voice. A- [R]

John Lennon: Imagine (1971 [2010], Capitol): The title song transcends "Give Peace a Chance" as an antiwar anthem, resolving what troubled the author circa "Revolution" in a clear vision of no nation, no God. It may be too simple to think all it takes is imagination, but Lennon's genius was simplifying. "Crippled Inside" was every bit as deep, light only on the ricky-tick surface. The songs keep coming, easier and more self-assured than on the introspective debut, with "How Do You Sleep?" as final a final word on the Beatles as Lennon felt the need to work out. A+ [R]

John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Some Time in New York City (1972 [2010], Capitol, 2CD): Originally attributed to "John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band" with side comments about Elephant's Memory and other things wrapped up in broadsheet cover art. First disc features topical political songs -- John Sinclair and Angela Davis were trivial celebrity issues of the day, "The Luck of the Irish" one of songs that give politics a bad name, and the feminist anthems not much deeper. But there was something to celebrate in being in New York, and the sax adds grit to the dirtyass rock and roll. The second ("Live Jam") disc is more fun, even with Yoko still grinding her tonsils down thinking the point of art is to provoke. B- [R]

John Lennon: Mind Games (1973 [2010], Capitol): Lacks the personal feel of the first two albums. Lacks the socio-political thrust of Some Time with Yoko -- not that he's no longer against killing but he's stopped trying to belong to any sort of movement. He tries to make up with studio layering -- for a while I wondered if he was trying to out McCartney Paul, but his hooks aren't that tacky, and he knows better than to play up vapid as a virtue. C+ [R]

John Lennon: Walls and Bridges (1974 [2010], Capitol): Cover has some childhood artwork. "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" was an atypical single -- strikes me as uncharacteristically cavalier but at least it's catchy, which is more than can be said for the rest of the overproduced tripe here. Ends with a fragment of Lee Dorsey's "Ya Ya" -- a hint at what came next. C [R]

John Lennon: Rock 'n' Roll (1975 [2010], Capitol): Oldies album, a project that's always easy to think up and in this case promises to restart a career gone awry. Still, he makes it feel like a chore -- unlike Paul McCartney's 1999 Run Devil Run -- which it may have been in working off a law suit. Or it may just be that Phil Spector carries so much concept it's hard not to get bagged down. B [R]

John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Double Fantasy: Stripped Down (1980 [2010], Capitol, 2CD): After cranking out an album per year 1970-75, Lennon took a five year hiatus, a househusband with a new son, then returned to the studio on Yoko's terms, alternating his songs with hers. I wish I could say more. I don't disapprove of the idea, but despite real gains in Ono's songcraft that keep her side from unseemly sagging, I find the pieces spotty, their love less convincing the discursions on their "Beautiful Boy," which is something else I can only imagine but not relate to. Marketing gimmick this time is to provide two versions, the remastered original and a remix that unmixes the excess glitter. The difference mostly comes down to removing backing vocals, which should make the lead vocals clearer. If only they were. B+(*) [R]

John Lennon/Yoko Ono: Milk and Honey (1980-83 [2010], Capitol): Not sure whether Lennon's half of this posthumous release were outtakes from Double Fantasy or demos for a follow-up. I'm inclined to believe the latter because they are much stronger tunes -- indeed, Lennon hadn't sounded so distinctly himself since Imagine. The three-year delay also gave Ono time to sharpen up her pieces: "Don't Be Scared" has a bit of far east dissonance, and "O Sanity" resolves affirmatively only after raising the question. The relative simplicity may have suggested stripping down its more oblique predecessor. A- [R]

John Lennon: Power to the People: The Hits (1970-80 [2010], Capitol): The 11-CD Signature Box includes eight albums on nine discs plus two extras: a six-cut "Singles" to mop up non-album cuts and a thirteen-cut "Home Tapes" to sample the trivia troves that have been appearing regularly ever since Lennon's death. This compilation gets you five of those singles plus ten scattered album cuts -- three each from Imagine and Double Fantasy, none from Plastic Ono Band or Milk and Honey (or, no surprise, from Some Time in New York City). A pretty useless set: the good albums have better filler than can be rescued from the bad albums, and the political singles are much better framed on The U.S. Vs. John Lennon (Music From the Motion Picture). B [R]

Briefly Noted

African Pearls: Sénégal: Echo Musical (1970s [2010], Syllart, 2CD): A second set following 2009's Musical Effervescence, this one meant to focus more on the Cuban crossings, although it's mostly more, scratching the dry desert and exploding here and there with percussion and voice -- the best turns out to be Youssou N'Dour, of course. B+(***) [R]

Barbara Dane: Anthology of American Folk Songs (1959 [2006], Empire Music Group): Political singer, trained her voice to project from picket lines, then as she turned pro gravitated to jazz, working with George Lewis and Kid Ory, and blues, working with Lightnin' Hopkins, but cut this one album of thirteen trad folk songs plus two by known authors -- A.P. Carter and Woody Guthrie, solid and forthright but more important unflinching. A- [R]

Gamelan Madu Sari: Hive (2005-07 [2010], Songlines): Vancouver group, plays classical (or maybe not so classical) Javanese music, lots of gongs, some strings, more percussion, waves of voices; doesn't grab you, but in a dark room it reveals a wealth of subtle details; excellent booklet, too, to help you puzzle it all out. B+(*)

Grupo Fantasma: Sonidos Gold (2008, High Wire Music): Austin-based Latin funk group, fourth album, doesn't seem to be a compilation although it's hard to tell with this group; this one leans more Norteño than the later album, no doubt reflecting their roots, although eclecticism dominates, with the funk only clearly emerging when they do one in English. B+(*)

Grupo Fantasma: El Existential (2010, Nat Geo): More mish, more mash, sometimes like they're confusing themselves with the same-named Peruvian cumbia group, although mostly they lay the salsa on so thick I have a hard time digesting it all. B

Dave Holland/Pepe Habichuela: Hands (2009 [2010], Dare2): A small gem of a flamenco guitar record, featuring the Carmona family on guitar, cajón and percussion, with a little help from the renowned jazz bassist. B+(**)

Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody. The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments.

For this column and the previous 78, see the archive.

Additional Consumer News


Michael Tatum:

African Pearls: Pont Sur Le Congo and the remaster of Imagine are two of my favorite releases of the year, too. I wish companies would do as assiduous and comprehensive a reissue job on other artists as Capitol did on the Beatles & Lennon . . . one can only hope the money made on d those will make record labels reconsider what to do with the catalogs they're sitting on.

Copyright © 2010 Tom Hull.