A Consumer Guide to the Trailing Edge: September, 2011
Recycled Goods (#89)
by Tom Hull
This is the thinnest collection here since January 2011, but a week ago the stash was even more bare. I should be tracking this stuff better -- actually, if you look at my metacritic file you'll find lots of reissues and compilations and such. On the other hand, I haven't gotten much, and I've had a tough time finding stuff I wanted but didn't get on Rhapsody, and then there are things I'm not all that interested in. One big subset of the latter are the expanded editions of albums that often weren't that good in the first place. So to pad this out, I did some research and added a few of them under ACN: I figured it might be useful to note the recycling of albums where I've graded previous editions. In those cases I note what I've read about the extras, but haven't heard them, and as a rule of thumb I'd say they're probably not worth the extra money. I've also built up a list of ones where I haven't even heard the original, which I may (or may not) do something with in the future. (I would at least like to hear the original albums in the UK-only Kinks series, but I'm not so sure about all those Thin Lizzy sets, let alone that Ozzy Osbourne monstrosity.)
Added more than the usual number of album scans this time, mostly on the theory that more graphics are nicer. This started with the realization that I already had the Ebo Taylor scan as it was one of Michael Tatum's "Downloader's Diary" picks, so why not link it here? Then I figured why not do Balkan Brass Battle, another high B+. After that it's been hit and miss, going from high grades to low, top section to bottom. But as I started explaining that they should no longer be taken as "pick hits" it occurred to me to just move the real pick hits to the top and add a little divider. Hope that's intuitive enough I don't need captions.
Mahmoud Ahmed & Imperial Bodyguard Band: Éthiopiques, Vol. 26: 1972-74 (1972-74 , Buda Musique): Far and away the biggest star in Ethiopian music, he hit his stride just as "swinging Addis" was opening up from the dark ages of Emperor Haile Selassie and just before it was shut down by the political terror of Mengistu. His 1972-78 recordings now fill four volumes of Francis Falceto's remarkable Éthiopiques series -- one wishes every nation could be given such painstaking attention. These are relatively early, his mellifuous voice attached to the Emperor's house band, which is a bit creaky at first but learns soon enough to do his bidding. B+(***) [R]
Cartagena! Curro Fuentes & the Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound of Colombia 1962-72 (1962-72 , Soundway): Colombia's "largest record label" dates back to 1934 but enjoyed a heyday in the 1960s. The cumbias and so forth sampled here remind me more of New York salsa than the Motown others have discerned, but it is less slick, less brassy, more basic and more communal -- similar to the ideas that drove salsa's boogaloo offshoot, but you don't get the sense of this being a fad. A
The Jayhawks: Tomorrow the Green Grass [Legacy Edition] (1995 , American/Legacy, 2CD): Minnesota group founded in 1985 -- can't say they invented Americana but their folksie voices, guitar twang, and subtle pop hooks anticipated many other groups like Old '97s. Still, the only hook on the original album that nabbed me was the Grand Funk cover. The bonus stuff starts with the title song left off the original LP, then gets thinner and slower as it sprawls over the second disc, mostly "mystery demos" from 1992. [Original LP: B+(*)] B
Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra Versus Fanfare Ciocárlia: Balkan Brass Battle (2011, Asphalt Tango): Both big brass bands, the former father-and-son team from Serbia, the latter from Romania, have worthwhile records on their own. Smashed together like this they're, well, louder -- reminds me a bit of that 1961 record faced off the Count Basie and Duke Ellington Orchestras (First Time! The Count Meets the Duke), not a high point for either, but too much fun to skip. In fact, one of the pieces they do here is "Caravan" -- twice, actually, which remains irresistible even when it goes beyond silly. B+(***)
Ebo Taylor: Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 (1973-80 , Strut, 2CD): From Ghana, b. 1936, not sure that I've ever heard of him before he cut a new record with a German afrobeat group last year, but this provides some background which starts to piece together a history. The big names in highlife I do know have little to fear, but the music is so infectious that even exploring the backwaters is enjoyable -- if indeed that's what this is. Part of Taylor's obscurity is due to he sixteen tracks coming from various bands: Taylor's role isn't clear (although I hear the booklet, which I haven't seen, is a good one), but I see that he wrote fifteen of them (the other one is by that old standby, Traditional). Several early cuts strike me as rather rote, but the latter half snaps to smartly. B+(***) [R]
Lobi Traoré: Bwati Kono "In the Club" (2007-08 , Kanaga System Krush): Nice to have recording dates here since the Malian guitarist-singer died in 2010 -- posthumous releases always cry out for context. But he was very much alive here, the subtitle "Raw Electric Blues from Bamako" is a fair opening description: "blues" is a handle for marketing Malian guitarists, but for once he earns his John Lee Hooker plaudits, not so much by sticking to the 4/4 as by sounding older and meaner than anyone has a right to. Raw and electric, for sure. A
Grin: The Very Best of Grin Featuring Nils Lofgren (1969-73 , Spindizzy/Epic Associated/Legacy): A countryish rock group from a time when such groups were in vogue, led by a young -- 22 by the time we're done here -- singer-songwriter who subsequently became just famous enough to leave his name on the cover; I found them late via a 10-cut 1976 Best Of that this 19-track CD should supersede but mostly contextualizes, dropping three tracks including the memorable "Heavy Chevy." A- [R]
Kambar Kalendarov & Kutman Sultanbekov: Jaw (2011, Cantaloupe Music): Traditional jaw harp music from Central Asia, Kirghizstan to be specific; simple melodies with lots of reverberating overtones, some sounding like their worked up from deep in the throat. B
Mamani Keita: Yelema (2005 , No Format): From Mali, sang on a pretty good 2003 record called Electric Bamako with electrobeats by Marc Minelli; here she moves on, replacing Minelli with Nicolas Repac, which moves this back more toward Malian norms although you still hear those beats; subtle, dry by West African standards, but the desert is nearby. A- [R]
Ocote Soul Sounds: Taurus (2011, ESL Music): Afro Latin funk from Brooklyn, a spinoff group led by Martin Perna and Adrian Quesada, speaking truth to power while maintaining a groove that groove that sets your ass free. B+(**)
A Tribute to JJ Cale, Volume 1: The Vocal Sessions (2010, Zoho Roots): The Okie singer-songwriter favored blues forms because they were easy, but shied away from making them work, a scruple minor bluesmen from Greg Skaff to Jimmy Hall never had, so they take Cale's songs as readymades and add volume and swagger; the sole exception is the Persuasions, who revert to doo-wop. B-
True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax (1960s-70s , Now-Again): Looking down on a north-up map of the US, Little Rock is indeed left of Stax's Memphis, but not so far that these guys -- Thomas East, John Craig, York Wilborn, Ren Smith; groups Right Track, Classic Funk, Conspiracy, and Leaders -- could have scored the busfare if they were better; still, Smith comes off pretty gritty, and the horns on "Psychedelic Hot Pants" are blistering; haven't seen the booklet, but it's a big one. B+(***) [R]
True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax, Volume 2 (1960s-70s , Now-Again): Repeats much of the first volume's roster, their decline into the ordinary suggesting that none had much depth; however, two cuts from Lechance get down (a title, the other is "Gigolo" endlessly repeated over a deep funk groove) and the "full version" of Soul Mind and Body's closer engages all three. B+(**) [R]
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 88, see the archive.
Additional Consumer News
Looking through this year's release list I see a lot of reissues (often expanded with an extra disc or two, maybe a DVD) of records I've heard and rated in some previous edition(s). Majors like Sony and Universal have been doing this for a few years not, but the approach -- often combined with whatever anniversary is handy -- seems to have metastatized this year. I have very little interest or motivation in tracking down all the demos and outtakes and live shots that make up the miscellany. Same for less elaborate reissues of old stuff, which often happens when an artist's catalog is sold from one megacorp to another -- e.g., as Sony picked up Paul Simon's Warner Brothers backlog. But I figured it might be useful to note some of the new packages and old grades. Hence:
Copyright © 2011 Tom Hull.