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Streamnotes: April 26, 2021
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (16734 records).
Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Long Tall Sunshine (2021, Not Two): Drummer-led free jazz trio, Altschul played on several major albums in the 1970s, never really went away but rarely appeared as leader until he put this group -- with Jon Irabagon (saxes) and Joe Fonda (bass) -- together in 2013. (Irabagon had sought him out for an album in 2010, Foxy, and Fonda was in his FAB Trio with Billy Bang.) Irabagon has been erratic lately, but in the right company he still has tremendous chops -- and this is that, as they show even when he lays out. A-
The Anchoress: The Art of Losing (2021, Kscope): Catherine Anne Davies, born in Wales, grew up in England, got a PhD in "literature and queer theory" (published a book, Whitman's Queer Children), played in Simple Minds 2014-18. Second album, debut was Confessions of a Romance Novelist. Makes a strong impression here, although I'm not prepared to try to figure out whether she's as smart as she seems. B+(***)
Tamar Aphek: All Bets Are Off (2021, Kill Rock Stars): Israeli singer-songwriter (in English), plays guitar and keyboards, and plays them hard. Ends, improbably, with "As Time Goes By." B+(**)
Julien Baker: Little Oblivions (2021, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Tennessee, third album (not counting all-star trio Boygenius). Rocks a little harder than her "sad girl" works. B+(*)
Yaala Ballin: Sings Irving Berlin (2021, SteepleChase LookOut): Standards singer, from Israel, moved to New York "in 2004 to study with Sheila Jordan," fourth album -- her second, On the Road (2011), was a personal favorite. Backed by a swing-oriented band -- Michael Kanan (piano), Chris Flory (guitar), and Ari Roland (bass) -- hard to go wrong with Berlin. B+(***)
Rahsaan Barber: Mosaic (2020 , Jazz Music City, 2CD): Saxophonist (alto/tenor/baritone, sometimes two at once -- who does that remind you of?), third album, quartet with piano-bass-drums, guest trumpet and/or trombone on some tracks. Roland Barber's trombone is a nice touch. B+(**)
Jon Batiste: We Are (2020 , Verve): Pianist, from New Orleans, debut 2005, upped his profile in 2015 as music director of Stephen Colbert's Late Show. Title song, with its New Orleans marching band backup, was released as a single in June 2020, inspired by Black Lives Matter protests. Vocals abound -- I count 11 credits, but that includes Gospel Soul Children -- so slot this under r&b, not jazz. Choice cuts: "Freedom," "Sing." B+(**)
Benny the Butcher: The Plugs I Met 2 (2021, Black Soprano Family, EP): Buffalo rapper Jeremie Pennick, has a bunch of mixtapes since 2004, two albums, five EPs -- this one's more like a short album (9 songs, 28:33). B+(**)
John Butcher/Veryan Weston/Øyvind Stonesund/Dag Erik Kriedal Andersen: Mapless Quiet (2018 , Motvind): Tenor/soprano sax, piano, bass, drums; one 49:28 piece, recorded live in Norway. Some strong patches, but seems to run out early. B+(**) [bc]
Cabaret Voltaire: Dekadrone (2021, Mute): British new wave/industrial pioneers, debut 1978, disbanded 1994, returned as an alias for founder Richard H Kirk with a 2020 album. Early stuff was hit and miss, but they found an awesome groove in the mid-1980s (e.g., The Original Sound of Sheffield '83-'87: The Best of the Virgin/EMI Years). Not much groove here, with a single 49:55 track, ambient that prods you incessantly. I enjoy short stretches, but find it a bit tedious at such length. B+(*)
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Carnage (2021, AWAL): Singer-songwriter from Australia, started 1970s in the Birthday Party, has fronted the Bad Seeds since 1983. I've never liked his albums, but many critics do, and it's possible someone could compile a best-of I'd have to show some respect to (a concession based mostly on use of their songs in Peaky Blinders). Ellis joined the Bad Seeds in 1994, and has done a number of side projects with Cave (mostly soundtracks). His trademark is the murky darkness his voice strains against. A couple spots here test my resistance, but I still came away with no interest. B
Sarah Mary Chadwick: Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby (2021, Ba Da Bing!): Singer-songwriter from New Zealand via Australia, Discogs lists his as her eighth album since 2012, mostly on labels I've never heard of (like Bedroom Suck and Rice Is Nice). Lo-fi, cut in her living room, stark and barren. I don't much care for it, but if you let it in, you may care a lot. B+(**)
Avishai Cohen: Two Roses (2020 , Naive): Israeli bassist, based in New York since 1992, couple dozen albums since 1998. Co-credit to Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Alexander Hanson) is earned, but my rule of thumb is to omit extra credits below the title. Mostly originals, but arranges Arab folk songs and standards like "Nature Boy." Also sings, too much. B
Damata: What's Damata (2021, Dugnad): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio (Torstein Slåen, Karl Erik Horndalsveen, Ola Øverby), first album, tempted to describe it as ambient but that's just a starting place. B+(***) [cd]
Michael Dease: Give It All You Got (2019 , Posi-Tone): Trombone player, originally from Georgia, more than a dozen albums since 2005. Jim Alfredson can lay the organ on a bit thick at times, but Gregory Tardy (tenor sax) and Anthony Stanco (trumpet) impress. B+(*)
Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg (2021, 4AD): English post-punk band led by singer Florence Shaw, first album after EPs and singles. Talks over rock solid riffs. B+(**) [Later: A-]
Scott DuBois: Summer Water (2021, Sunnyside): Guitarist, sixth album since 2008, consistently impressive. This, however, is solo. Has its moments, but also limits. B+(**)
Paul Dunmall/Percy Pursglove/Olie Brice/Jeff Williams: Palindromes (2020 , West Hill): Tenor sax, trumpet, bass, and drums, live set at Café Oto in London. B+(***) [bc]
Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By: Side B (2020, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope): Sequel to the "Side A" January, 2020 release, again playing off Alfred Hitchcock samples. Physical package recycles "Side A" as a second CD, but we'll ignore that here (I just deleted the extra tracks, which I gave a marginal A- to back in February). This is a bit more scattershot, but while his shtick isn't new, he can still dazzle. B+(***)
Joe Fahey: February on Ice (2021, Rough Fish): Minneapolis singer-songwriter. Has a couple previous albums, but nothing Discogs or Wikipedia have noticed. Rocks some, chills out, lyrics tend to ramble, but unique enough he may be worth the trouble. Or maybe not. Choice cut: "Fuck the Republicans." B+(***)
Jared Feinman: Love Is an Obstacle (2021, West of Philly): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, plays piano, first album, title song appeared as a single in 2018. Offers "four clusters of love songs for the lovelorn and murder ballads in time for Valentine's Day in the midst of a global pandemic." A bit overwrought, reminds me of some long-forgotten 1970s songsters (i.e., not quite Billy Joel, let alone Elton John). B+(*) [cdr]
Focusyear Band 2021: Bosque (2021, Neuklang): "International ensemble from Basel presents a multi-faceted album," the most prominent facet vocalist Tatjana Nova, although I prefer it when the horns do the talking. A student ensemble, this year produced by Wolfgang Muthspiel. B+(*) [cd]
For Those I Love: For Those I Love (2019 , September): David Balfe, Irish, first album self-released in 2019, given a proper unveiling this year. Heavily accented spoken word over electronica. B+(***)
Girl in Red: Chapter 1 (2018, AWAL/Human Sounds, EP): Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven, started recording songs in her bedroom and releasing them on Soundcloud, her debut ("I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend") getting 100 million streams. It leads off five songs here, 13:25, understated jangle pop. B+(*)
Girl in Red: Chapter 2 (2019, AWAL, EP): Five more songs, 15:53. B+(*)
Binker Golding/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Moon Day (2020 , Byrd Out): British tenor/soprano saxophonist, best known for his duo Binker & Moses, appears here with a veteran free jazz bass-drums combo. Long (73:18), strong work. B+(***)
Frode Haltli: Avant Folk II (2021, Hubro): Norwegian accordion player, albums since 2002 including folk and classical as well as jazz. Assembled this group for a 2018 album, with Hardanger fiddle, violin, sax, trumpet/goat horn, organ/synth, guitars, bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]
Hennessy Six/Colorado Springs Youth Symphony: The Road Less Traveled (2020 , Summit): Four tracks composed by Sean Schafer Hennessy (trumpet), the others by band members Cully Joyce (tenor sax/alto flute) and Colin McAllister (guitar). The Symphony adds to the kitchen sink effect, mostly strings. I find it all a bit excessive, but it does have some moments. B+(*) [cd]
Joseph Howell Quartet: Live in Japan (2018 , Summit): Clarinet player, second album, dedicated his debut to Buddy DeFranco, mostly plays Joe Henderson songs here, along with three swing era standards. Backed by a Japanese piano trio -- pianist Keigo Hirakawa is most impressive. B+(**) [cd]
Kari Ikonen: Impressions, Improvisations and Compositions (2020 , Ozella): Finnish pianist, new to me but eight albums since 2001. Nominally solo, but in spots the strings produced so much resonance I wondered whether a guitar or bass had slipped in. B+(***)
Vijay Iyer: Uneasy (2019 , ECM): Pianist, has a new trio, with Linda May Han Oh (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). B+(***)
Yvette Janine Jackson: Freedom (2021, Fridman Gallery): Sound engineer, based in Kansas, two pieces (22:09 and 19:42), plus two excerpts from same. Electroacoustic "radio opera," occasional words. LP has liner notes by Gregory Tate. B+(*) [bc]
La Femme: Paradigmes (2021, Disque Pointu): French "psych-punk" band, some women in the band but founders wee Sacha Got and Marlon Magnée. Third album since an EP in 2010. Genre strikes me as iffy, but first album was called Psycho Tropical Berlin, and I don't have any alternative suggestions, especially as each song points them in another direction. B+(**)
Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: Tone Poem (2020 , Blue Note): Tenor sax legend, also plays some flute, third group album, with Bill Frisell (guitar), Greg Leisz (steel guitar), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). Three originals, after two Ornette Coleman pieces and Leonard Cohen's "Anthem," a 10:26 stretch on "Monk's Mood," a couple others. B+(***)
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Soundprints: Other Worlds (2020 , Greenleaf Music): Poll winners at tenor sax and trumpet, at least when they convened this quintet in 2013. Third album, with Lawrence Fields (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). Five compositions each for the leaders. Too much talent here to make a bad record, but that talent is wasted on the unison riffing. B+(*) [cd] [05-07]
Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun (2021, BMG Modern): Popular jazz guitarist, composed two suites here, the first ("Four Paths of Light") played by Jason Vieaux ("perhaps the most precise and soulful classical guitarist of his generation"), the title set played by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Wraps up with Metheny playing a solo piece by Arvo Pärt. B
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 4: Azymuth (2020, Jazz Is Dead, EP): First three albums listed Younge first. No idea why they swapped, but Muhammad is older (1970 vs. 1978), and his tenure with A Tribe Called Quest may have made him more famous (not that I recognized the name). Focus here is the Brazilian jazz-funk group, dating from 1972 up to 2016. This runs longer (8 tracks, 41:25), but is less engaging. B
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 5: Doug Carn (2020, Jazz Is Dead): Eleven tracks, 41:03, so they've outgrown the series' EP start. Carn is a soul jazz pianist, husband of singer Jean Carn, recorded 1969-77 and occasionally thereafter, changed his name to Abdul Rahim Ibrahim by 1977. He mostly plays organ here. High point is a sax solo, probably Gary Bartz. B+(***)
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 6: Gary Bartz (2021, Jazz Is Dead, EP): Alto saxophonist, cut some avant-soul fusion albums in the early 1970s with his Ntu Troop, later struck me as a pure bebop player. His sax nudges this entry back into jazz territory, no matter where the producers go with the rhythm. Eight tracks, 27:35 B+(***) [bc]
Nortonk: Nortonk (2020 , Biophilia): New York freebop quartet, none over 26: Thomas Killackey (trumpet), Gideon Forbes (alto sax), Stephen Pale (bass), Steven Cramer (drums). Short (32:39), but retains your interest. B+(**) [cdr]
Nubiyan Twist: Freedom Fables (2021, Strut): Large British jazz-funk group, third album. B
Dax Pierson: Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction) (2021, Dark Entries): Played keyboards in band Subtle (2001-08) before an auto accident paralyzed him from chest down. Returned as a techno producer, with Live in Oakland in 2019, now this. B+(**)
R+R=Now: Live (2018 , Blue Note): "All-star jazz collective," formed in 2018 for a studio album and a live stand at New York's Blue Note club, Robert Glasper (keyboards) cited as leader, with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (trumpet), Terrace Martin (sax/vocals), Taylor McFerrin (synth), Derrick Hodge (bass), and Justin Tyson (drums), plus spoken word on one of the better tracks, but pretty hit-and-miss. B
Dan Rose: Last Night . . . (2017 , Ride Symbol): Rose cut an album in 1979, a couple in the 1990s, released two this year. This one is solo guitar, cautiously feeling his way through standards, some in medleys. B+(*) [cd]
Dan Rose/Claudine Francois: New Leaves (2019 , Ride Symbol): Guitar-piano duo. Francois is French, has an album from 1984 but not much since. Four originals (two each), five more pieces, mostly from pianists (Monk, Silver, Waldron, Bley, Swallow). "Señor Blues" is especially tasty. B+(**) [cd]
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Soné Ka-La 2: Odyssey (2020 , Enja): Saxophonist, from Guadeloupe, debut 1999, released Sone Ka-La in 2006. Band with piano, bass, drums, and extra percussion, incorporating gwoka rhythms. So far, so good, but I'm less fond of vocalist Malika Tirolien, scatting along like an extra horn. B+(*) [cd] [05-21]
Irène Schweizer/Hamid Drake: Celebration (2019 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, will turn 80 this year, ranks as one of the all-time greats, her specialty duos with drummers. This is something less than her duos with Han Bennink or Pierre Favre, but is still very impressive. A-
Serpentwithfeet: Deacon (2021, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter Josiah Wise, from Baltimore, grew up in his mother's church choir, studied classical music and was infatuated with opera. Second album, short (11 songs, 29:09). Choice cut: "Fellowship." B+(*)
Skarbø Skulekorps: Dugnad (2020 , Hubro): Norwegian drummer Øyvind Skarbø, several albums since 2009, second under this group name, which includes trumpet, three saxes (Signe Emmeluth, Eirik Hegdal, and Klaus Holm, who also plays clarinet), guitars (including pedal steel), and bass, with a couple guests. B+(**)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Breathe (2021, Blue Note): Organ player, not to be confused with his contemporary Lonnie Liston Smith (more of an electric piano guy), has wavered between soul jazz and pop, never impressing me much, but this is pretty agreeable. Produced by Don Was, half trio with Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar) and Johnathan Blake (drums), half adding horns (John Ellis, Robin Eubanks, Sean Jones), with two vocals toward the end (Alicia Olatuja on something gospelly, and Iggy Pop crooning "Sunshine Superman"). B+(**)
Todd Snider: First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder (2021, Aimless): I never read those "most anticipated albums" pieces, but if I had to write one, this would lead. Given that, this feels a bit slight, but I can't complain about the tributes to dead homies -- he's always been a "reality-based" bard, and that's to be expected after 2020. I will complain a bit about the "agnostic" shtick: if you can't believe, why not let it go? I reckon his answer is "hope and wonder," but why presuppose a cause beyond oneself? Main innovation here is in the rhythm, where he breaks from folk tradition, probably for good. A-
Veronica Swift: This Bitter Earth (2021, Mack Avenue): Jazz singer, semi-famous musical parents (Hod O'Brien, Stephanie Nakasian), cut a record when she was 10 with Richie Cole and her father's piano trio. (O'Brien was pianist on Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer, which is my favorite Sheila Jordan album ever.) Second big label effort, backed by Emmet Cohen (piano), bass, and drums, occasionally others. Standards, some common but most not, done with authority and panache. B+(***)
Aki Takase/Christian Weber/Michael Griener: Auge (2019 , Intakt): German piano-bass-drums trio, the pianist moving from Tokyo to Berlin in 1987. Explosive. A-
Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Keshin (2020 , Libra): Trumpet-piano duets, the former getting top billing, probably because for once he's louder and more demanding. B+(**) [cd]
Three-Layer Cake: Stove Top (2020 , RareNoise): Trio: Brandon Seabrook (guitar, banjo, tapes), Mike Pride (drums, glockenspiel, bells, organ), Mike Watt (bass). Percussion is most striking. B+(***) [cdr] [05-28]
Thumbscrew: Never Is Enough (2019 , Cuneiform): Guitar-bass-drums trio (Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara), sixth album since 2014, nary a false step -- a fine context for the guitarist. B+(***) [dl]
Tony Tixier: I Am Human (2020 , Whirlwind, EP): French pianist, has a couple albums. Originally released as a 6-track EP in 2020, reissued with an extra track (bringing it to 25:12). Two solo pieces, the others duets, including a lovely "Someone to Watch Over Me" with his twin brother Scott Tixier on violin. B+(*)
Michael Waldrop: Time Frames (2019-20 , Origin): Plays marimba and vibraphone here, drums elsewhere. Mostly percussion, including djembe, bongos, and congas. B+(***) [cd]
The Weather Station: Ignorance (2021, Fat Possum): Canadian band fronted by singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman, folkie roots, fifth album since 2009. B+(**)
Rodney Whitaker: OutroSpection: The Music of Gregg Hill (2020 , Origin): Bassist, leads a piano trio with occasional horns -- trombonist Michael Dease only plays on two tracks, but I looked up both times -- and vocals (Rockelle Whitaker 4 times). Hill Hill is a Michigan composer, a mentor to the bassist, who released a previous collection of Hill compositions in 2019. B+(*) [cd]
Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 3: Marcos Valle (2020, Jazz Is Dead, EP): R&B producers, first volume entertained several guest artists, but the second one focused on a single artist (Roy Ayers). Valle is a Brazilian pop star, started with the bossa nova craze in 1963, and still working at 77. Not sure whether these are new performances or remixes, but the luscious samba groove argues for the latter. Eight tracks, 27:29. B+(***)
Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo: El Arte Del Bolero (2020 , Miel Music): Alto sax and piano duo, from Puerto Rico and Venezuela respectively, but have played together often over the last decade-plus. Six songs by as many composers, taken at a leisurely pace (51:47). B+(***)
Miguel Zenón/Ariel Bringuez/Demian Cabaud/Jordi Rossy: Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman (2019 , Miel Music): Alto saxophonist, one of the major players of his generation, has spent most of the last decade cultivating his Puerto Rican roots, looks another direction here, for this live set from the Birds Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland. The others, from various points in Latin America, play tenor sax, bass, and drums, on seven Ornette Coleman compositions. The tunes are as radical ever, and played with aplomb. But for some reason I'm not nearly as blown away as I was on first hearing The Shape of Jazz to Come. A-
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Gary Lucas: The Essential Gary Lucas (1981-2020 , Knitting Factory, 2CD): Guitarist, from Syracuse, played with Captain Beefheart circa 1980, and memorialized him with his Fast 'N' Bulbous tribute band (again in 2017 with Nona Hendryx). This is billed as a 40-year retrospective, with 36 songs from 30+ widely scattered albums. Hard to find details online, but first disc is fairly conventional singer-songwriter fare (with better-than-average guitar), with second more eclectic/experimental (often, but not necessarily, better). B+(*)
Roberto Miranda's Home Music Ensemble: Live at Bing Theatre: Los Angeles, 1985 (1985 , Dark Tree): Bassist, born in New York, parents Puerto Rican, long based in Los Angeles, teaches at UCLA, most of his recordings are connected to the "four giants" here: Bobby Bradford (cornet/trumpet), John Carter (clarinet), James Newton (flute), and Horace Tapsott (piano). Band also includes two members of the bassist's family: Louis R. Miranda Sr. (vocals/percussion), and Louis R. Miranda Jr. (drums), along with a few others. Starts with some brilliant piano, works around to give everyone a spotlight, some better than others. B+(***) [cd]
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 1 (2007 , Stony Plain): Blues supergroup, names on the cover: Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson. (The elder Dickinson died in 2009; the younger ones are better known as the North Mississippi Allstars.) B+(**)
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 2 (2007 , Stony Plain): More from the same session. More obvious songs, but that's not a bad thing. B+(**)
Spoon: Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon (2001-19 , Matador): Indie band from Austin, founded in 1993 by Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, seven albums 2001-17 (plus reissues of 1990s work). Conceived of as an introduction/overview, but does have two hit singles ("Don't You Evah" and "Got Nuffin"), two more chart songs (30, 31). Given how many Spoon albums I've A-listed (4), I'm surprised I don't find this more engaging. [Songlist from other sources.] B+(***)
The White Stripes: My Sister Thanks You and I Thank You: Greatest Hits (1998-2007 , Third Man): Critically acclaimed alt/indie band from a period when I had lost my interest in same, so while I heard (and sometimes rated favorably) their records, I don't remember anything on them, or recognize anything here except for the occasional cover. This is a generous selection (26 songs, 79:28), probably a useful substitute for their six albums, not that you need one. Despite some impressive guitar I can't say as I enjoyed it much. B+(***)
Neil Young: Young Shakespeare (1971 , Reprise): Between After the Gold Rush and Harvest, Young did a solo tour, his set captured here at Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, Connecticut. B+(**)
Black Uhuru: Chill Out (1982, Mango): Major reggae group, with singers Duckie Simpson, Michael Rose, and Puma Jones, and Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare for riddim. This one was sandwiched between their two masterpieces (Red and Anthem), along with poorly-regarded dub and live albums. A bit chill, as advertised. B+(**)
Blake Babies: Innocence and Experience (1986-91 , Mammoth): Alt/indie trio, named for the poet (via Allen Ginsberg): Julia Hatfield, John Strohm, Freda Boner. Odds and sods collection, assembled after breaking up after their most sucessful album. This picks up quite a bit midway, with "Sanctify" (repeated from Sunburn), and finishes strong, especially with the live Neil Young song. A-
Boogie Down Productions: Sex and Violence (1992, Jive): Fifth and last album, rapper KRS-One continuing under his own name, but this "group" had really been him since 1987, when DJ Scott La Rock was murdered. He's got this rhythm down where he's always coming at you, punching hard and punching often, which he can do because he never overcomplicates things, even when he admits complication. A-
The Books: The Lemon of Pink (2003, Tomlab): Duo -- Nick Zammuto (guitar/vocals) and Paul De Jong (cello) -- make extensive use of sound and speech samples, producing a disjointed effect. B+(*)
The Books: Lost and Safe (2005, Tomlab): Third album, duo both credited simply with "music, mastering, mixing, recording." Pays off in more flow, sometimes even tunes, with less pastiche. B+(***) [yt]
The Books: Thought for Food (2002, Tomlab): First album, played it out of sequence. Introduces their musique concrète approach, with the prominent cello smoothing off the rough edges. B+(***) [yt]
The Bottle Rockets: 24 Hours a Day (1997, Atlantic): Country-rock band from Missouri, founded in 1992 and a going concern up to 2018, with Brian Henneman (guitar/vocals) and Mark Ortmann (drums) in for the long haul. Third album. B+(***)
Cybotron: Enter (1983, Fantasy): Electropop group, founded by Detroit techno pioneers Juan Atkins and Richard "3070" Davis (both electronics and vocals), with John "Jon-5" Housely (guitar). Group is inspired by Parliament/Funkadelic and Kraftwerk, but only has the chops for the latter. [Album reissued as Clear in 1990, and as Enter with unheard bonus cuts in 2003, both Fantasy.] B+(*)
The dB's: Stands for Decibels (1981, Albion): Jangle pop group, although they might prefer Big Star, with three members who went on to notable solo careers (Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby). First album. B+(**) [yt]
The DeBarges: The DeBarges (1981, Gordy): Motown vocal group, siblings (four on cover, five in credits), first album, group name later shortened to DeBarge, with Eldra eventually going solo. Light funk, even lighter harmonies. B+(**)
DeBarge: All This Love (1982, Gordy): Second album, slimmed down group name, gaining chops both instrumental and vocal. Change of pace ballad ("Life Begins With You") works too. B+(***)
DeBarge: Rhythm of the Night (1985, Motown): Fourth album, their third gold record and chart high at 19. Cover shows the five siblings in separated boxes, with El's much larger, anticipating their break up? Six new songs padded out with three recycled from earlier projects. Title song is a choice cut. B+(*)
El DeBarge: El DeBarge (1986, Gordy): First solo album from the family's star, although the remaining brothers (no Bunny, either) went on to release Bad Boys (1987), and to regroup (with Bunny but not Eldra) as The DeBarge Family for the gospel Back on Track (1991). Pleasant enough, but not much here. B+(*)
El DeBarge: Gemini (1989, Motown): Second solo album, more focus on rhythm, stiffer eats: one step forward, one (or two) back. B
The Del-Lords: Get Tough: The Best of the Del-Lords (1984-90 , Restless): Old-fashioned rock & roll band from New York, 3-5 songs each from 4 albums plus 3 previously unreleased tracks (including covers of Johnny Cash and Dr. John) for a solid 73:08. Establishes their populist cred with a straight rock rendition of Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand These Times and Live?" The other high point, also from their debut, is a song about working one's aggressions out by playing the drums. B+(***)
Descendents: Milo Goes to College (1982, New Alliance): Los Angeles punk band, formed 1977 with drummer Bill Stevenson, adding singer Milo Aukerman in 1979. This was their debut, 15 tracks in 22:20. [Later reissued with Bonus Fat as Two Things at Once.] B+(***)
Descendents: Bonus Fat (1980-81 , New Alliance, EP): Combines the 5-track "FAT" E.P. (1981) with a single and a spare cut from a label comp, adding up to 8 tracks, a mere 10:22. B+(**)
Descendents: Somery (1981-87 , SST): Compiles 28 songs from Fat EP and four albums plus odds and sods, total time 53:12. B+(***)
Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can (1970, Polydor): New Orleans singer, producer Allen Toussaint does the writing (aside from a cover of Joe South's "Games People Play"). Dorsey's best known for 1960s singles like "Ya Ya" and "Working in a Coal Mine," but only cut two albums in the 1970s, and no more before he died in 1986. This doesn't blow you away like 1960s comps like Holy Cow! and Wheelin' and Dealin', but it's funky and grows on you. A-
Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can . . . and Then Some (1970 , Polydor): Reorders his 1970 album, omitting one track (why?), adding five singles and four previously unreleased tracks. Probably the better deal, not least thanks to his spin on the extra covers. A-
Lee Dorsey: Night People (1978, ABC): Second 1970s album, turned out to be his last. Again depends on Allen Toussaint for songs and production. "Babe" suggests he's listened to Al Green during his time off. A-
Lee Dorsey: Working in a Coal Mine: The Very Best of Lee Dorsey (1961-78 , Music Club): Christgau was very fond of this UK label, reviewing 32 of their cheap, short (16 cuts max), poorly documented oldie anthologies (counting the Merle Haggard set he misjudged and withdrew). Hard to find now, but I was able to peace a songlist together to get the effect: mostly 1960s singles, with a couple 1970s tracks slipped in. I doubt the latter recommend this over Wheelin' and Dealin', but they don't hurt, either. A
Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band: James Monroe H.S. Presents Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Goes to Washington (1979, Elektra): Founded by half-brothers Stony Jr. and Thomas Browder, the latter better known as August Darnell, even better as Kid Creole. With singer Cory Daye and percussionists Mickey Sevilla and "Sugar Coated" Andy Hernandez, their eponymous debut in 1976 looked retro but invented a whole new synthesis of mambo, swing and disco. I totally loved that album, rejected its sequel (Meets King Penett), and missed this one altogether. B+(***)
Earth, Wind & Fire: Open Our Eyes (1974, Columbia): Soul group, founded by Maurice White in Chicago in 1969, fifth album, first four panned by Christgau before he called this one "a fucking tour de force." I wouldn't go that far, but it's their best seller to date, an agreeable funk album with sophisticated vocals. B+(***)
The English Beat: I Just Can't Stop It (1980, IRS): Ska revival group from Birmingham, known as the Beat in the UK, but disambiguation was needed for the US market. First album, of three before their 1983 break up. Since 2016, both singers (Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger) have recorded with their own Beat groups. I still prefer the later albums, but this is nearly there. A-
Etoile 2000: Dakar Sound Volume 1 (1980-81 , Dakar Sound): Etoile De Dakar spinoff, as the band, especially founding singer-songwriter El Hadji Faye, revolt against the Youssou N'Dour's takeover. They recorded three cassettes, and this picks out six songs, most pointedly one called "Boubou N'Gary." Rougher, nothing to hold against them. [Christgau reviewed this as Etoile 2000; 4/6 tracks] B+(***) [yt]
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 3: Lay Suma Lay (1981 , Sterns): Senegalese band, formed in 1978 and broke up in 1981, best known for young singer Youssou N'Dour but exceptional all around. This series of compilations ran to four volumes 1993-98, then a fifth later (2009?), but the 2-CD Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981 is probably the one you want -- or you could scrimp with the 1-CD The Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour and Etoile De Dakar, which only goes to 1982. Still, there's very little here that falls below their highlights. A-
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 5: Maléo (1981 , Sterns): Seems to be an afterthought, appearing a decade after Volume 4, but matches an undated cassette, itself titled Maléo: Vol. 5. Two (of six) songs appear at the end of Once Upon a Time in Senegal. El Hadji Faye's "Nataludie" is the most exciting thing here, but everything else comes close. B+(***)
Eurythmics: Greatest Hits (1982-90 , Arista): Electropop duo, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, released six albums during this period (one earlier, one more in 1999 after breaking up, with Lennox going on to a steady solo career, and Stewart focusing on soundtrack shlock). Seems like there should be enough high spots for a compilation, but the one song I love, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," is the outlier -- the later singles are just straighter and harder, although I rather like "Missionary Man" (maybe because I agree with the message). [NB: I pieced together the 18-cut "international version" CD; the "vinyl version" drops back to 14 tracks, as does the US CD, with 4 songs in alternate versions.] B+(**)
Mose Se 'Fan Fan': Belle Epoque (1970-82 , RetroAfric): Congolese guitarist Mose Se Sengo (1945-2019), started with Franco's TPOK Jazz, led the band Somo Somo. A soukous pioneer, back cover describes this relatively leisurely music as "Lingala rumba." B+(***)
Mose Fan Fan/Somo Somo/Ngobila: Hello Hello (1995, Sterns): Slashes separate typographic shifts, which presumably mean something, but for me mostly raise questions. Somo Somo is Fan Fan's long-running band, but Ngobila? Six slices of fairly classic soukous. A-
Fellow Travellers: Things and Time (1993, OKra): "World's only country/dub band," recorded three albums 1990-93, this the third, with Jeb Loy Nichols country (originally from Wyoming but based in Wales), Martin Harrison dub, and Nichols' wife Loraine Morley vocal help. B+(***)
Fine Young Cannibals: Fine Young Cannibals (1985, IRS): British ska group, formed after the English Beat broke up by Andy Cox (guitar) and David Steele (bass), with singer Roland Gift -- also an actor, most memorably in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). B+(**)
Fine Young Cannibals: The Finest: The Rare and the Remixed (1985-89 , MCA): Group produced a superior second album, The Raw and the Cooked, then hung it up, This picks 5 songs each, a single from a soundtrack, and three previously unreleased tracks. Not sure this improves on the second album, but it suffices. A-
A Flock of Seagulls: A Flock of Seagulls (1982, Jive): New wave pop band, first of four albums through 1985, allegedly silly, catchy enough. No reason to favor this over their 1987 The Best of a Flock of Seagulls. B+(**)
Tennessee Ernie Ford: Sixteen Tons (1949-56 , Capitol): Artwork looks like this could be the original LP his big hit was on, but there was no such thing. I loved the single as a child, several decades before I heard Merle Travis's original, so Ford's version is the one indelibly etched in my mind. He parlayed his hit into a TV career, wasting his exceptional voice on hymns. From 1949 to his death in 1991, he recorded tons of records, but smart compilers look for filler among his early singles, especially ones with "boogie" in the title. This has 4 (of 12), plus one I hadn't heard before, "Milk 'Em in the Mornin' Blues." B+(**)
Freestyle Fellowship: Inner City Griots (1993, 4th & B'way): Los Angeles hip-hop collective, released two 1991-93 albums, two more since (2001, 2011), all four principals (Aceyalone, Myka 9, Peace, and Self Jupiter) went on to solo careers -- the only one I've followed is Aceyalone. All over the place. B+(**)
Gilberto Gil: Louvaçao (1967, Philips): Brazilian star, Discogs credits him with 72 albums since 1967. This was his debut. Hard to tell, but hints of where he was going next, along with some strings and ballads that depend on words I can't follow. B+(**)
Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil [Frevo Rasgado] (1968 , Universal): Second album, differentiated from other eponymous albums by its first song title, widely regarded as one of his best, although I've only heard a couple, and have no sense of his career arc. First thing I'm struck by here is how radical a break he makes from the MPB norms of samba and bossa nova. Backed by Os Mutantes, famous in their own right. The shock of the weird wears off to reveal uncanny melodies and flights of fancy. CD extends the surprise with 4 bonus tracks. A-
Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil [Cérebro Eletrônico] (1969, Philips): Third album. Lead song dominated by organ, but later tracks are guitar-driven. B+(***) [yt]
Gilberto Gil: Expresso 2222 (1972 , Philips): Arrested by the military junta in 1969, freed on condition that he leave Brazil. He cut this on returning to Bahia, which seems to be the funky corner of Brazil. B+(**)
Grandaddy: Just Like the Fambly Cat (2006, V2): Alt/indie band from Modesto, California, principally Jason Lytle, recorded four albums 1997-2006, a fifth in 2017. B+(***)
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message (1982, Deep Beats): First album by one of the first rap groups. The singles go back a couple years, and I recommend Rhino's 1994 Message From Beat Street for the extra range, backed up with Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: More of the Best. Still, only three songs here made the best-of, and "She's Fresh" is as good as any of them. Most editions of this add "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," a mash-up I probably hated at the time but like just fine now. I was pretty slow on the uptake here. A-
Woody Guthrie: Hard Travelin': The Asch Recordings, Vol. 3 (1944-49 , Smithsonian/Folkways): Folk singer, from Oklahoma, recorded some 300 songs for Moses Asch in New York, a fair sampling organized into four CDs. This one is long on union songs: not only does he see unions as the foundation of freedom, he reminds us that Hitler's against them. A-
Hamell on Trial: Big as Life (1995, Mercury): First record appeared in 1989, but this is the earliest I've found, first (or two) on a label anyone has heard of. B+(*) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword (1997, Mercury): Second Mercury record. Seems to be on his best behavior, although he cranks it up a bit toward the end. B+(**) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: Choochtown (1999, Such-a-Punch): Ed Hamell, debut album 1989, fifteen since. This is number five, the first Christgau reviewed (after two HMs). His "one-man punk band" shtick strikes me as still rooted in folk, just louder, his stories darker, more nuanced, and more literate. [2019 reissue on New West adds nine alternate takes, reiterating the album's best songs.] B+(***)
Hamell on Trial: Ed's Not Dead -- Hamell Comes Alive (2000, Such-a-Punch): Selected from a tour where Hamell was opening for Ani DiFranco, then self-released after an auto accident laid him up for nine months. Hamell's live strategy is simple: play faster and harder. B+(***)
Hamell on Trial: Tough Love (2003, Righteous Babe): First of three records for Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label. More resources, but doesn't quite know what to do with them. B+(**) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: Yap (2003, Such-a-Punch): I was looking for Rant & Roll, to no avail, but this popped up as Dec. 2020, so I figured I should check it out. Turns out it's old: spoken word, hardly any music, done on the side while he was working on Tough Love for Righteous Babe. Stories, like the memoir of Rupert Smiley ("ideas man"), a cop who sells Amway, a bit of "Star-Spangled Banner" for "the great and true patriots," a eulogy for a friend named Glover. B+(**)
Hamell on Trial: Rant & Roll [Live From Edinburgh: The Terrorism of Everyday Life (2007 , Righteous Babe): Cover reads Rant & Roll, but Bandcamp lists it as The Terrorism of Everyday Life. Discogs shows this with a different cover, where Live From Edinburgh gets the larger type. As Christgau noted, this is "basically a comedy album," where about half is stand up, sometimes with guitar riffs, leading into songs, mostly from previous albums. Possible you won't return to this often, but that's not because his rants need only be heard once. More because they demand attention, but his music also refuses to fade into the background. A- [bc]
Willie Headen: Blame It on the Blues (1954-60 , Ace): R&B singer, recorded singles for Dootone/Dooto, a dozen of which were collected in a 1960 LP with this artwork, except his name appeared as Willie Hayden. Reissue doubles the length, picking up some previously unreleased takes. Has a bit of Bobby Bland in his voice. B+(***)
Justin Hinds & the Dominoes: Carry Go Bring Come: The Anthology (1963-72 , Trojan, 2CD): Ska singer, worked with Duke Reid from 1963, recording scores of singles to 1972, none bigger than the title song in 1964 (original credited to Billy Ward & the Dominoes, with a second version later), which stand out, with dozens of other songs coming close enough. A-
Justin Hinds and the Dominoes: Jezebel (1976, Island): After leaving Reid, Hinds worked the Jack Ruby. This is the first of two albums Island released, which got lost behind the bigger names. Rasta roots, plenty of groove. B+(***) [yt]
Justin Hinds and the Dominoes: Just in Time (1978, Mango): Second album, also produced by Jack Ruby. Opening songs are "Let's Rock," "Let Jah Arise," "Help Your Falling Brother," but the one that hooks is "Bad Minded People." Second side goes pop, with a bubbly "(On) Broadway" and the self-evident "Groovin'," but the originals are even more seductive. A-
The Itals: Early Recordings 1971-1979 (1971-79 , Nighthawk): Reggae vocal trio, roots oriented, issued four albums on this label 1981-88, plus this compilation of early singles and other tracks I can't trace. B+(*)
The Itals: Give Me Power (1983, Nighthawk): Second album, after Brutal Out Deh (1981). B+(**)
The Itals: Rasta Philosophy (1985 , Nighthawk): Third album, a short one (CD has 7 songs, 26:25, one more song than the original vinyl), but some of their best harmonies. B+(***)
The Itals: Cool and Dread (1988, Nighthawk): Fourth album, can hold a groove, have something to say. Still, at the end of the album, I found myself carrying on, with some other song in my head. B+(**)
The Plastic People of the Universe: Apokalyptickej Pták (1976 , Galén): Czech rock band led by bassist Milan Hlavsa, founded in the "Prague Spring" of 1968, drawing inspiration from Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground. Went underground in 1970, and were tried and imprisoned in 1976, shortly after this concert was recorded. They broke up in 1988, with some members joining the similar-minded Pulnoc, and regrouped in 1997, continuing after Hlavsa's death in 2001. Live artifacts detract somewhat, and I suspect the bouts of Zappaesque artiness, but the instrumental stretches are extraordinary. A-
Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons/Clifford Jordan/Don Cherry: It Is Revealed (1963, Zounds): Flute/alto sax/tenor sax/trumpet, with Fred Lyman (fluegelhorn), two bassists, and the drummer dropped from the cover credit. B+(**) [yt]
Midi, Maxi & Efti: Midi, Maxi & Efti (1991, Columbia): One-shot Swedish trio, twin sisters Midi and Maxi Berhanu from Ethiopia and Efti Tehlehaianot from Eritrea, all born in 1976 and arrived in Sweden in 1985. Opens with "Ragga Steady," which sounds more Indian than Jamaican to me, but world beats turn crystaline in the Swedish pop machine. B+(***) [yt]
Duke Reid's Treasure Chest (1964-70 , Heartbeat, 2CD): One of Jamaica's top producers in the ska and rocksteady eras, set up his sound system in 1953, died in 1975. This collects his work for Treasure Isle Records. Some classics here, lots of also-rans. B+(**)
Sonny Simmons: Staying on the Watch (1966, ESP-Disk): Alto saxophonist, cut a couple records with Prince Lasha before this debut, a quintet with wife Barbara Donald (a blistering trumpet), John Hicks (piano), bass, and drums. B+(***)
Sonny Simmons: Music From the Spheres (1966, ESP-Disk): Quintet with Barbara Donald (trumpet), piano, bass, and drums, plus tenor sax (Burt Wilson) on one cut ("Dolphy's Days"). Fast and bracing. A-
Sonny Simmons: Manhattan Egos (1969 , Arhoolie): Alto saxophonist, also plays English horn. Original album with trumpet (Barbara Donald), bass/congas (Juma), and drums (Paul Smith). CD adds four tracks from a live set in Berkeley, with a different group -- no trumpet, but add Michael White (violin). A-
Sonny Simmons: Burning Spirits (1970 , Contemporary): Original 1971 2-LP credited to Huey Simmons (his given name). Plays tenor sax as well as alto and English horn, six tracks (79:01), with violin (Michael White) on five, trumpet (Barbara Donald) on four of those, piano on just two, plus bass and drums. B+(**)
Sonny Simmons: American Jungle (1995 , Qwest/Warner Brothers): The alto saxophonist hit a rough patch after 1971 (divorce, homelessness, no new records). He survived by busking in San Francisco, eventually worked his way into the clubs, and cut records from 1990, eventually landing two albums with a major label. This is the second (after Ancient Ritual), a quartet with Travis Shook (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), and Cindy Blackman (drums). Four originals plus "My Favorite Things." Hard to imagine what more the label could have hoped for. A-
Sonny Simmons Quintet: Mixolydis (2001 , Marge): Back cover credits Quintet, front names Simmons in large type, smaller type for "with": Eddie Henderson (trumpet), John Hicks (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Victor Lewis (drums). B+(**)
Sonny Simmons Trio: Live in Paris (2001 , Arhoolie, 2CD): With Jacques Avenel (bass) and George Brown (drums). Long, has some dull spots (and I don't mean the bass solos), but also some genuine hot streaks. [Missing 1 track, 14:00] B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Think! (1968 , Blue Note): Played organ on George Benson's early albums, which led to his own 1967 debut, Figer Lickin' Good Soul Organ. Then, as Benson moved into pop, Smith went with a fading but still powerful jazz label, picking up Melvin Sparks (guitar), David Newman (tenor sax/flute), Lee Morgan (trumpet), and lots of percussion. B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Turning Point (1969, Blue Note): With Bennie Maupin (tenor sax), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), Melvin Sparks (guitar), and drums. Two originals, three covers: "See Saw" up his alley, "Eleanor Rigby" not nearly as awful as one would expect. B+(*)
Lonnie Smith: Move Your Hand (1969 , Blue Note): Third Blue Note album, live from Club Harlem in Atlantic City. Four 8-11 minute tracks, two original and two covers ("Charlie Brown" and "Sunshine Superman"). Two saxes (Ronnie Cuber and Rudy Jones), guitar, and drums. Vocal on the title cut. B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Live at Club Mozambique (1970 , Blue Note): Live set from Detroit, issued 25 years after the fact. Two saxes (Ronnie Cuber and Dave Hubbard), George Benson on guitar, extra percussion. Six originals, including a vocal on "Peace of Mind," followed by covers from Sly Stone and Miles Davis. B+(***)
Lonnie Smith: Mama Wailer (1971, Kudu): After Blue Note, one album on Creed Taylor's soul jazz subsidiary (released 39 records 1971-79, 8 by Grover Washington Jr., who plays tenor sax and flute here). Two Smith originals, two covers ("I Feel the Earth Move" and "Stand" -- the latter running 17:20). B+(**)
Lonnie Smith/Alvin Queen: Lenox and Seventh (1985 , Black & Blue): Reorded in Paris. Original release listed drummer Queen's namme first, and added "feat. Melvin Sparks," but the reissue (with an extra cut) swapped the order, and left Sparks on a sidebar, where the organ player's name starts with "Dr." Like everything on this label, leans hard on the blues. B+(***)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Boogaloo to Beck: A Tribute (2003, Scuffin'): Smith recorded for minor various labels in the 1970s -- Kudu, Groove Merchant, LRC -- and doesn't really pick up until he signs with Palmetto for Too Damn Hot in 2004, or this from a year earlier. First record I can find credited to Dr. Lonnie Smith was The Turbanator in 2000, recorded in 1991. No idea why he'd record a tribute to 1990s rock star Beck unless he was just hard up, which he was. Eleven Beck songs, larded out with plenty of boogaloo (the only one I recognized was "Loser," although Odelay was my favorite album of 1998), with guitar, drums, and "special guest" Fathead Newman (tenor sax) on five. B+(*)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Rise Up! (2008 , Palmetto): He cut four albums 2004-2009 for Palmetto, this the third, and only one I missed. Mostly quartet with Donald Harrison (alto sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and Herlin Riley (drums). B+(**)
Spoon: Telephono (1996, Matador): First album, a trio with singer-songwriter Britt Daniel (guitar), Andy Maguire (bass), and Jim Eno (drums). Fourteen tight, twisted songs, 34:59, intense, bass cranked up. A band with a future, even if as something else. A-
Spoon: Gimme Fiction (2005, Merge): The one album I missed from 1998 on, probably because Christgau's B+ review made it seem inessential, and I hadn't discovered streaming yet. I won't swear he's wrong, but this seems every bit as consistent as the "best of," and if anything the relatively light touch on the vocals is a plus. B+(***)
Uz Jsme Doma: Hollywood (1993 , Skoda): Czech group, founded 1985, influences list starts with the Residents and the Damned and goes on to add Pere Ubu and Uriah Heep, emerged from the underground in 1990, Discogs credits them with 17 albums through 2020 but this is the one most noticed. With intense acoustic strum, sudden time shifts, and touch-of-opera vocals, this could be some kind of masterpiece. Just one I'm not inclined to appreciate. B+(**)
Neil Young: Eldorado (1989, Reprise, EP): Released in Japan only, shortly before Freedom, which it shares three songs with (different mixes), plus two songs that don't appear elsewhere, totalling 25:30. B+(**) [yt]
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Arc (1991, Reprise): Edited from their 1991 tour, picking out noisy bits from various songs and piecing them together into a single 35:00 mixtape. Originally appeared along with two CDs of live songs, packaged as Arc-Weld, then split into separate releases. I skipped both at the time, then accidentally queued up this one while looking for that one. Not as unlistenable as I had been led to believe. B
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Adeena Karasick/Frank London: Salomé: Woman of Valor (2020, Nuiu Music): Canadian poet, klezmer trumpet/shofar player: [bc: 1/14, 3:53/?]: +
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
DeBarge: In a Special Way (1983, Gordy): Christgau has this at A+, and reiterated his love for the album in a recent podcast, singling it out among his top 50 in Rolling Stone's all-time album poll, with Carola Dibbell concurring. I've never much cared for it, but since I was listening to their earlier albums, I figured I should give it another chance. I played it twice, and didn't get much: "Be My Lady" opens nicely, "Queen of My Heart" is a stand-out track, and I like the upbeat "I Give Up on You." On the other hand, none of those are among the four Wikipedia honored with their own entries: two singles -- "Time Will Reveal" (18), and "Love Me in a Special Way" (45) -- and two two tracks that have been widely sampled/covered ("Stay With Me," "A Dream"). After two spins of the whole album, I singled out those four for a third pass. Christgau wrote: "I know of no pop music more shameless in its pursuit of beauty." The singles bear that out, without convincing me it's the high praise intended. Still, there's enough distinctive craft here to nudge it up a notch. [was: B+] A-
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 2: Thiapathioly (1980 , Sterns): Not sure what turned me off this when I filed my CD -- perhaps the polyrythmic perversity, which is the band's calling card. At times it can interfere with the groove, making this a bit rougher than the other volumes, but the effect is pretty amazing when it works. Covers notes "featuring Youssou N'Dour & El Hadji Faye," as did Volume 3. Volume 4 and 5 add Mar Seck, but Volume 1 only features N'Dour. [was: B] B+(***)
Woody Guthrie: Muleskinner Blues: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 2 (1944 , Smithsonian/Folkways): With the canonical classics pooled in Vol. 1, and the political fare saved until Vol. 3, this is the folkiest set of the Moe Asch recordings. Makes it less interesting, since performance was never his forte. [was: B] B+(***)
Additional Consumer News:
Grades on artists in the old music section.
Current count 35282  rated (+141), 220  unrated (+8).
Excerpts from this month's Music Week posts:
Music: Current count 35184  rated (+43), 209  unrated (-3).
I had less trouble finding records to listen to last week. I picked some obvious new records off Napster's recommendations list, and decided to follow up Dr. Lonnie Smith's new one with a dive into old catalogue. Aside for a few CDs, most of the rest came from Chris Monsen's 1st quarter round-up, and AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2021. I had heard 6 of 20 records on Monsen's (only 2 from promo CDs), so I scrambled to add 9 more, including both of this week's A- records. (Actually, I wrote up Miguel Zenón's Law Years before Monsen posted, so at the time I claimed 7/20, but the review is in this week's batch.) The other five don't seem to be available online, at least complete enough to review.
I'm not tracking reviews this year, so had no idea which albums might be on the AOTY list, and indeed had no idea most of them existed. (The ones I had previously reviewed were: Floating Points, Ghetts -- the former is on the Monsen and Phil Overeem lists, while the latter was the first thing I checked out from the AOTY list. Julien Baker is also on Overeem's list. I've heard 15 of Overeem's 30 records, counting Baker this week.
Just saw Dave Sumner's Best Jazz on Bandcamp: March 2021. I've heard 3 of 14 records. More alarmingly, I haven't heard of most of the artists. More evidence I'm falling far behind.
I'm a bit chagrined over the two A- records this week. Zenón's publicist still sends me most records. I got some email on this one, but the CD never showed up. Takase's label was sending me promos up to some time in 2019, so not getting this one was less of a mystery. I made up for the lost promos by streaming most of their releases on Napster, which is where I found this one. I'd be happy to continue in that way, but their more recent releases aren't on Napster, and one by Alexander Hawkins that came out the same day as Takase's has been withdrawn. Intakt does use Bandcamp, but don't offer complete albums there, so they're no substitute for reviewers. I count six A- records on Intakt last year, so not being able to review their releases will be a major loss.
April should be less stressful -- unless, as forecast, we get hit by an exceptionally rough tornado season, or the earthquakes on the east side of town get more severe. (It is established that they're caused by injection wells between Wichita and El Dorado.) I got my second Covid-19 vaccination a couple weeks ago, and Laura got hers on Saturday. Perhaps we'll soon be able to entertain for the first time in more than a year.
Music: Current count 35216  rated (+32), 211  unrated (+2).
Allergies kicked in with a vengeance this week, which is one (but by no means the only) reason I'm miserable and in a deep funk. That may have taken a toll here, as all of the recommended albums are in the "old music" section. Still, nothing new came close enough to make me suspect my mood overrode my objectivity -- except maybe the Spoon and White Stripes best-ofs (from 2019 and 2020, respectively). On the other hand, more A-list in the Old Music section than usual.
Was looking forward to Robert Christgau's April Consumer Guide, but got very little from it. I had previously given B+ reviews to the records from Mike, Dua Saleh, and Neil Young, so didn't revisit them. Couldn't find If I Have to Wreck L.A., but I did scrounge up a pretty good collection of earlier Willie Headen songs. I played White Stripes twice, and can imagine why fans like them, but wasn't moved to bump the grade up. The Spoon collection mentioned in the White Stripes review wasn't available anywhere, but I was able to create a songlist with everything on it. I always liked that band, but can't say their songs stand out, even from an average album (like the one I previously missed, Gimme Fiction). On the other hand, that early Spoon album was quite a surprise (but also note, I liked A Series of Sneaks).
Music: Current count 35256  rated (+40), 214  unrated (+3).
Thought I'd sample some records from Chuck Eddy's 150 Best Albums of 1992/'93, but I didn't get very far. He does have two of my A records in his top ten (David Murray: Shakill's Warrior, and Justin Warfield: My Trip to Planet 9), and another dozen-plus albums I like further down the list, but nothing I played came close to A-. I gave up three cuts into Caifanes' rock en español El Silencio, not feeling like even trying to write something on it.
But also my mind moved on to another idea: why not try to stream Christgau A-list albums that I had missed? One of those was on Eddy's list: Uz Jsme Doma's Hollywood. I vaguely remembered assembling a crib sheet like that. When I had trouble finding it, I constructed another one (although my method wasn't flawless). Looking for A/A+ records mostly gave me comps I had different versions of. For instance, Christgau reviewed three different but overlapping compilations of Lee Dorsey's 1960s singles, all graded A. I had the 1985 Holy Cow! The Best of Lee Dorsey on LP, and the 1997 Wheelin' and Dealin': The Definitive Collection on CD, so didn't see much need to pick up Music Club's shorter/cheaper 2001 package -- or review it now given how long it's been out of print. But as an afterthought, I did construct an equivalent playlist, and gave it a couple spins just to see how it fit together. Pretty good, of course.
I've built playlists to match unavailable albums a few times. While there's always a risk of picking out the wrong version, I've found it to be useful -- especially for assembling original albums from later, more expansive box sets. The other thing I tend to do is to drop bonus cuts from stream albums, to get back to the original excuses. Christgau recently commented that it's hard to go back and do retrospectives of pre-CG years (1960s) because so many reissues add extraneous material. If streaming works for you, it's actually pretty easy. It also has the advantage of establishing a stable baseline, which later reissues can preserve or deviate from.
I got an invite to vote in DownBeat's Critics Poll. I worked through the ballots today, trying to put as little thought into it as possible. When I was first invited, I wound up spending a couple days turning over each question. I became increasingly frustrated, then annoyed. To speed things up, last year I wound up leaning heavily on my previous year's picks. I raced through the thing today, complete in less than four hours. Here are my notes. Maybe I'll do some research on it later. But one thing I've noticed in recent years is that my own votes have next to zero effect. One indication of how out of step I am with the critical consensus is that I gave A/A- grades to only 8 of their 97 album of the year nominees. Conversely, they only nominated 8 of my 84 A-list albums from my 2020 Best Jazz file. OK, they (wrongly, I think) offset the year by three months, so the lists don't exactly line up. On the other hand, they nominated zero of my 8 (so far) 2021 A- jazz releases. (I'm most surprised they missed Miguel Zenón's Law Years. I haven't figured out how any 2021 releases they nominated, but the answer must be not many. On the other hand, they nominated a Sons of Kemet album, Black to the Future I hadn't heard of, probably because it doesn't drop until May 14.)
Music: Current count 35282  rated (+26), 220  unrated (+6).
Didn't listen to much new music this week, allowing the pending queue to expand to 17 albums. Part of my lack of urgency is that more than half (11/17) of those aren't scheduled for release until May. Meanwhile, I've been combing through my list of records that Robert Christgau graded A- but I hadn't heard. This week's slice runs from E-H, although I skipped a few, some because I couldn't find them, some because I didn't fancy them at the moment). The list I'm working off has 2550 lines (326 A- grades, 31 A, 4 A+ -- the latter are comedy albums, something I've never got in the habit of listening to, even though I have the Richard Pryor box on the shelf), and it's certainly not complete, so will take a fair while to process. I'll probably tire at some point, but at the moment it's easier and more fun than trying to figure out what's new and worth the trouble.
Saw a comment on Facebook last week claiming that Jorge Ben's 1970s albums constituted one of the most impressive runs of any recording artist anywhere. I had a couple of his LPs back in the 1970s, but don't recall being very impressed, and they're currently ungraded in my database. The only one Christgau reviewed was Gil E Jorge (1975), which he had at A- and I have at B. It's the sort of record I should revisit (as I did this week to previous B grades for Etoile De Dakar and Woody Guthrie).
Thought I had froze this Sunday night, but as I was writing the intro above, played a few more records, and figured they'd be better here than held back until next week. (Especially the early Hamell on Trial records, which I couldn't find when I initially looked for them -- also had that problem with Rant & Roll.) One thing I didn't get to was doing the indexing for the April, 2021 Streamnotes compendium. I'll wrap that up later this week.
We didn't watch any of the Oscars last night. Thanks to streaming, we wound up seeing more nominated movies this year (6 of 8 nominated for best picture, missing The Father and giving up on Sound of Metal), but nothing especially great there. I would normally be delighted to see human-scaled small films come to the forefront, but that's because they're usually much better.
Finished reading Russell Cobb's The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America's Weirdest State. I learned a few things there, but I would have preferred a better organized history, as opposed to the loosely stitched mosaic of standalone articles.
Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade: