Monday, February 18, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31145 [31103] rated (+42), 249 [251] unrated (-2).

Still killing time fiddling with the Pazz & Jop ballots and my EOY Aggregate list. As I'm only selectively adding P&J voters' ballots to the count, I've been perturbing the standings a bit, nudging Cardi B (which I like more) into 4th over Pusha T and Low (which I don't like, although it's far from their worst) down to 10th, under Noname and Parquet Courts (which I do like). Reminds me of something I used to do in my late teens, when I could create my own book lists by mixing real bestseller with other books I was drawn to, including a lot of titles from Pantheon, Grove Press, and Monthly Review Books. The EOY Aggregate remains more rooted in reality, but factoring in my own grades and lists from favored critics and fellow travelers does add a (useful, I think) bias to the thing.

Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists have evened out a bit, 63-58, with one late-discovered A- in each this week. Also found my first 2019 non-jazz A-, against 12 jazz A/A- records (although Leyla McCalla's Capitalist Blues could be called non-jazz, and two more of that dozen feature spoken-word poetry).

I pulled a couple old unrated CDs off the shelf this week, now in "old music" below. I should note that French blues collection is part of a series. I also own The Prewar Vocal Jazz Story (1923-45, released 1996), which is in my database as a full A. I gave it a spin last week, and it would be hard to improve on. Had I spent more time with The Prewar Blues Story, I might have concluded it's every bit as authoritative. There are more volumes in the series, all long out of print, but likely to be worthwhile if you stumble upon one. Booklets are pretty good.

After Christgau's Expert Witness, I spent some more time with Alex Chilton reissues -- although I was actually primed with last week's review of Big Star's Live at Lafayette's Music Room. I had reviewed Ocean Club '77 back when it came out, but gave it another shot, and a better grade.

Last week I started replacing my rated albums lists with my review notes. Working methodology is to collect the list in a scratch file and retain it in the notebook, while only swapping the reviews in for the blog post. Still a bit awkward for me, but I trust more timely reviews in smaller than monthly chunks will be more useful.


New records rated this week:

Asleep at the Wheel: New Routes (2018, Bismeaux): Ray Benson's fiddle band from West Virginia, moved west to Austin back in the 1970s and discovered Western Swing -- my favorites of their records have been Bob Wills tributes (Ride With Bob in 1999, Still the King in 2015), although 2009's Willie and the Wheel (filed under Nelson) was even better. Trying to stand on their own here, with Katie Shore writing more songs than Benton (2.5-1.5), but they're still better off with Guy Clark and Johnny Cash ("Big River"). B+(*)

Bad Bunny: X 100RPE (2018, Rimas Entertainment): Benito Antonio Martinez Ocasio, Latin trap singer from Puerto Rico, not far removed from reggaeton, all rhythm, choppy words included. B+(*)

J Balvin: Vibras (2018, Universal Latin): Colombian, full name José Álvaro Osorio Balvin, tagged as reggaeton, a little more rockish beat than cumbia, fifth album, groove with some bounce. B+(**)

Blueprint: Two-Headed Monster (2018, Weightless): Rapper/producer Albert Shepard, from Columbus, Ohio, got noticed for his Rhymesayers debut (1988 in 2005) but ignored for a steady stream of self-released albums since 2003. Guest shots here include Slug, Mr Lif, and Aceyalone. "Good Guys Get Ignored"? That's a shame. A-

Moses Boyd Exodus: Displaced Diaspora (2018, Exodus): Drummer, born in London, straddles jazz and electronica, best known as half of Binker and Moses, first album on his own or in this group -- if that's what this is: I count 17 credits, including three vocalists, four bata drummers (who also sing some), Binker Golding on tenor sax, Nubya Garcia on bass clarinet, synth and guitar in the middle, and tuba in lieu of bass. Opens and closes with African chants, strong pieces. B+(***)

BTS: Love Yourself: Tear (2018, Big Hit): South Korean boy band, one of the world's biggest K-pop bands, easily the best-selling one in the US. Big pop production, nothing very exotic other than the language, but nothing I've latched onto either. B

Mariah Carey: Caution (2018, Epic): Big pop star, or r&b diva, at least in the 1990s following her nine-platinum debut, although the two records I sampled -- the debut and a 1998 compilation of her #1's -- never tempted me to dig deeper. This is her 15th studio album, and while sales are a tiny fraction of her peak, this reached 5 on the charts, and seems to have gotten more critical respect than ever. Don't know why, but not so bad.. B

Hayes Carll: What It Is (2019, Dualtone): Country singer-songwriter from Texas, sixth album since 2002, Trouble in Mind (2008) his best, but this is pretty close, rocks a little harder, worries about "Times Like These," honors "Jesus and Elvis." A-

Cypress Hill: Elephants on Acid (2018, BMG): Pioneering Latino American hip hop group, first album 1991, only their second since 2004. Throws you a curve at first, then settles into something solid, with an impact. B+(**)

Michael Dease: Reaching Out (2017 [2018], Posi-Tone): Trombonist, eighth album since 2005, covers include Steve Turre and Conrad Herwig, "Live and Let Die" and Babyface. With Walt Weiskopf on alto/tenor sax, Ralph Bowen on tenor (8/11 tracks), piano, bass, drums, labelmate Behn Gillece on vibraphone (3 cuts). Trombone leads are fine, sax solos too, but the harmony gets mushy. B

Michael Dease: Bonafide (2018, Posi-Tone): Trombone choir (leader, Marshall Gilkes, Conrad Herwig, plus Gina Benalcazar on bass trombone), plus tenor sax (Sam Dillon) and rhythm (David Hazeltine, Todd Coolman, EJ Srickland). B+(**)

Michael Dessen Trio: Somewhere in the Upstream (2016 [2018], Clean Feed): Trombonist, fourth trio album, with Christopher Tordini on bass and Dan Weiss on drums. One title, split into eight parts. B+(***) [sp]

Jose Dias: After Silence Vol. 1 (2017 [2019], Clean Feed): Portuguese guitarist, first album, solo, improvised aside from excerpts from Man Ray dating from the 1920s. B+(**)

Erin Rae: Putting on Airs (2018, Single Lock): Folkie singer-songwriter, dropped last name McKaskle, first solo album, two previous albums as Erin Rae and the Meanwhiles. B+(*)

Kinky Friedman: Circus of Life (2018, Echo Hill): Self-billed "Texas Jewboy," used all the irony he could muster to cut a good record in 1973, coasted a lot since then, but at 74 heard Willie Nelson whispering in his ear to write more songs, so he did. Bring up politics and you'll find he's turned into a crank, but he's pretty mellow here. B+(*)

Joshua Hedley: Mr. Jukebox (2018, Third Man): Country singer-songwriter, from Florida, plays fiddle and guitar, first album, trad sound, often leading with the violin. Songs remind me of a number of better ones. B

Muncie Girls: Fixed Ideals (2018, Buzz): British post-punk band, second album, group name a Sylvia Plath reference, vocalist-bassist Lande Hekt and two blokes. Upbeat, almost cheery. B+(**)

Murs: A Strange Journey Into the Unimaginable (2018, Strange Music): Rapper Nicholas Carter, from Los Angeles, moniker stands for Making Underground Raw Shit, 25 albums since 1997. B+(***)

Thiago Nassif: Três (2015 [2018], Foom): Brazilian, third album, sings, plays guitar, bass, synth, with scattered guests, notably Arto Lindsay, who produced here, while Nassif co-produced Lindsay's 2017 album Cuidado Madame. Picks up where Lindsay's badly bent postpunk tropicalia leaves off. A-

Larry Ochs/Nels Cline/Gerald Cleaver: What Is to Be Done (2016 [2019], Clean Feed): Credit order from front cover, although label reverses the order. Sax-guitar-drums trio, more tenor than soprano, all joint improv, two 20-minute pieces, one 6:04. Starts with a strong sax lead. Ends with equally strong guitar. In between is murkier. B+(**)

Carly Pearce: Every Little Thing (2017, Big Machine): Country singer from Kentucky, first album, shares 8 writing credits (out of 13 songs). Generic writing-by-committee is topped by overkill production. B-

Rich Pellegrin: Down (2014 [2019], OA2): Pianist, third album on label, all original pieces, most quintet (trumpet, tenor sax, bass, drums), final piece uses the Mizzou New Music Ensemble (flute, clarinet, strings, percussion). B [cd]

Scott Robinson: Tenormore (2018 [2019], Arbors Jazz): Saxophonist, plays every one ever invented, settles on tenor here but gets uncommon range, starting with soprano notes. Quartet with Helen Sung (piano/organ), Martin Wind (bass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums), guest flute on one track, half originals, half classics, exceptionally gorgeous. A- [cd]

Shad: A Short Story About War (2018, Secret City): Canadian rapper Shadrach Kabango, born in Kenya, parents refugees from Rwanda, sixth album since 2005. Probably pretty smart, but the music got a little heavy for me. B+(*) [bc]

Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature (2018 [2019], ESP-Disk): Piano trio with Michael Bisio (bass) and Taylor Baker (drums). B+(***)

Jorja Smith: Lost & Found (2018, FAMM): British r&b singer, father Jamaican, first album, nice flow. B+(**)

Ricardo Toscano: Quartet (2018, Clean Feed): Cover seems straightforward to parse although Discogs, following the label, adds an implicit "Feat." to the three names below the title line: João Pedro Coelho (piano), Romeu Tristão (double bass), João Lopes Pereira (drums). Leader plays alto sax, debut album. B+(**)

Jeff Tweedy: Warm (2018, dBpm): Alt-country singer-songwriter, led Uncle Tuppelo 1987-94, Wilco through 2016, followed by a solo album of remakes and now this one of new songs. I doubt he's done with the band, but wanted something a bit more intimate and easy-going, and he's got that here. B+(**)

Jack White: Boarding House Reach (2018, Third Man): Former White Stripes auteur/impressario, fronted the Raconteurs, then he Dead Weather. Started in bare bones rock and roll, created a label specializing in Americana, revived Loretta Lynn's career. Third solo album, sounds like he's trying his hand at hip-hop, except this isn't hip and doesn't hop. B-

Kelly Willis: Back Being Blue (2018, Premium): Country singer-songwriter from Oklahoma, considered neotrad, first album in 1990, last two duets with husband Bruce Robison, so this is her first solo since 2007. Nice sound, but in one awkward moment she refers to Cassius Clay, who chose the name everyone uses even before she was born. B+(*)

Luke Winslow-King: Blue Mesa (2018, Bloodshot): Singer-songwriter from Michigan, based in New Orleans, dropped his last name (Balzuweit), filed under blues which may be technically right but he's more wistful than downtrodden. But he makes something of that. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Big Star: Live on WLIR (1974 [2018], Omnivore): Before the break up, a radio shot recorded in New York, reprising 9 of 12 songs from Radio City, 4 from #1 Record, 2 more. Two more cuts: "Motel Blues," and an awkward bit of interview wedged into the middle of the disc where it's uninteresting the first time and unwanted thereafter. This seems to be the same set released by Rukodisc in 1992 as Live. B+(**)

Alex Chilton: From Memphis to New Orleans (1985-89 [2019], Bar/None): Pop anti-star from Memphis, had a number one hit as a teenager, led a legendary pop-rock band in the early 1970s, recorded erratically as a solo act from 1978 until his death in 2000. Mostly this draws from EPs just before and after his 1986 move from Memphis to New Orleans, about half covers. I don't think this makes as good a case for his genius as 19 Years, the Rhino compilation which leans a bit earlier (including 5 Big Star tracks, plus 5 tracks that reappear here). A-

Fred Hersch Trio: Heartsongs (1989 [2018], Sunnyside): Early piano trio -- Hersch's first records appeared in 1984 -- with Michael Formanek on bass and Jeff Hirshfield on drums. Half originals (including one from the bassist), two by Wayne Shorter, one each Gershwin, Monk, and Ornette Coleman. B+(**)

King of the Road: A Tribute to Roger Miller (2018, BMG, 2CD): An obscure but first-rate Nashville songwriter until 1964-65, when a string of novelty hits -- "Dang Me," "Chug-a-Lug," "Do-Wacka-Do," most importantly "King of the Road" -- made him a star, landed him a TV show, and ruined the rest of his career, leaving him dead at 56 in 1992. Could be some of these pieces are old ("Old Friends" is one), and they've cut in bits of banter from Miller himself. I recognize, even love, nearly all of the songs, but the performances are hodge-podge, all over the place. B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

1930s Jazz: The Singers (1930-38 [1987], Columbia): Early 17-track CD era compilation of "Columbia Jazz Masterpieces," from the label's legacy catalogs, a time when only Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday were treated with full CDs (7 for Armstrong and 9 Holliday -- others like Ethel Waters and Mildred Bailey had to wait, while Bing Crosby and Fats Waller (and others omitted here) did most of their work on other labels. B+(**) [cd]

1930s Jazz: The Small Combos (1930-39 [1987], Columbia): Remembered as the decade when big bands roamed the earth and dominated the dancehalls, most of these groups are still called Orchestra, and I don't think any are less than sextets. Also avoids big name groups, although Jones-Smith Inc. was early Basie, and Henry Allen, Sidney Bechet, Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge, Stuff Smith, Wingy Manone, John Kirby, and others are worth knowing more about. And they do swing. B+(***)

1940s Jazz: The Singers (1940-49 [1987], Columbia): Sixteen fairly classic tracks, starting with Maxine Sullivan easing up to "St. Louis Blues" and ending with Sarah Vaughan torching "Summertime," some cuts closer to r&b, and Slim Gaillard's aptly described by his band name, the Flat Foot Floogie Boys. With Billie Holiday before she left for Decca (where Armstrong and Crosby were recording, so they drop out here). B+(***) [cd]

Best of Blues Records Presents: The Prewar Blues Story [La Grande Époque du Blues 1926-1943] (1926-43 [1994], Best of Blues, 2CD): Bought this used at least 15 years ago, and it's long languished on my unrated list. First disc is just less than half from the 1920s, while the second picks up in 1935 and isn't totally "prewar" even given America's delayed entry -- there's Doc Clayton's "Pearl Harbor Blues," Louis Jordan's "Ration Blues," and Josh White observing Jim Crow wasn't any different in the Army. Not essential as a primer -- I have a half-dozen comparable surveys in my database -- but nothing to complain about, and a few pleasant surprises. French title is on the jewel case, English on the slipcover. A- [cd]

Alex Chilton: Bach's Bottom (1975 [1993], Razor & Tie, EP): Recorded in Memphis, appeared in 1981 in Germany, 10 songs, 29:42, reissue grew to 15 cuts, but the Napster version (credited Razor & Tie, but 1975) I'm working off is down to 8 songs plus 3 alternate takes, 34:02. Any way you slice it, bits of genius thrown out with the garbage, often hard to distinguish. B+(*)

Alex Chilton: Like Flies on Sherbert (1979 [1996], Last Call): Originally 11 cuts released on Peabody, Napster's 15-cut selection corresponds to this French reissue, except they got the cover wrong. More crap, less genius, or maybe it just doesn't seem to repay sorting? B


Grade (or other) changes:

Alex Chilton: Ocean Club '77 (1977 [2015], Norton): Working solo, covering favored pop songs as well as "The Letter" and his non-hits from big Star. [was: B+(**)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Randy Brecker & NDR Bigband: Rocks (Piloo): February 22
  • Doug MacDonald Quartet: Organisms (self-released)
  • Nick Sanders Trio: Playtime 2050 (Sunnyside): March 15
  • Urbanity: Urbanity (Alfi) **