Monday, April 8, 2019


Music Week

Music: current count 31344 [31312] rated (+32), 251 [249] unrated (+2).

Back in business. I figured all it would take to get Napster working again was a reboot -- it broke following a software update that didn't require one but involved a new Flash module, so I suspected that threw things out of sync. Still, I didn't want to do that for other reaasons, but was forced to when the computer freaked out and gave me a swizzle patterned screen. That suggested something far worse, but the reboot fixed that too.

Working Napster gave me a chance to catch up with the last couple weeks of Robert Christgau picks -- Stella Donnelly/Sharon Van Etten and Pedro the Lion/Jason Ringenberg -- where only the B+ record didn't disappoint. (Actually, I couldn't find Ringenberg's Stand Tall on Napster, but was able to fish a Soundcloud link from my email trash, so thanks to the publicist.) Guess I'm still missing the Ariana Grande/Amber Mark week -- I had the former's Sweetener way down at B, a grade split matching Mitski's Be the Cowboy, but haven't heard the more recent one.

Took a dive into George Strait after panning his new one, mostly because I noticed an unheard Christgau A- in the database (Something Special), and it panned out. I had his first Greatest Hits (1985) at A-, so it made sense to check out its source albums (just three of them). I'm not sure that grade holds up, but didn't recheck it. Still, after dismissing most of his songs as unmemorable, I've wound up with "You Look So Good in Love" stuck in my mind all week.

Other records suggested by various sources, most prolifically Phil Overeem. The tip on Angel-Ho came from breathless hype in The Nation ("Angel-Ho is the future of pop music"). I dug up Petra Van Nuis after she wrote to me (so sometimes that works). Strait and Mandy Barnett just showed up in Napster's featured lists.

Making fair progress on most projects, although not enough on moving the computer. (Will do that after I post this, I promise.) Biggest one is a new piece of badly-needed pantry shelving, which needs one more coat of paint before I drag it in and bolt it to the wall. I have a couple more projects in that space, ready to roll as soon as the first one is operational. Still, more projects seem to present themselves all the time. Dug up a couple plastic drawers full of CDs today, and my wife argued that I should get rid of them (something about the hoarding being psychotic). I had a plan a couple years back to start donating CDs to a local library, but never followed through on it -- partly because I was working on the Jazz Guide, maybe because they kept naming various buldings after the Kochs. The reason for having a substantial library is to look things up, but I'm fast losing my ability to do so, not to mention my prospects of ever writing anything worthwhile on the subject.

Still, the project I feel more pressing need for is to come up with a system so I can quickly identify where all my tools (and hardware) are. I'm forever thrashing, trying to find things I know I have somewhere, sometimes even having to buy more tools to replace those I've lost (most recently, a set of hole saws). In fact, thrashing seems to be the word for the week, maybe even the season.


New records reviewed this week:

Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her (2019, Hyperdub): South African electronica producer Angel Antonio Valerio, trans, veers between hip-hop and electro-noise, beat-heavy but not that simple. B+(*)

Art "Turk" Burton: Ancestral Spirits (2019, T N' T Music): Percussioist (conga and bongo drums) from Chicago, rooted in Latin jazz but also involved in AACM, playing in Muhal Richard Abrams' big band and Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble. Gathers up three more percussionists here, Eddie Beard on piano and organ, Ari Brown and Edwin Daugherty on saxes, and singer/narrator Maggie Brown. Opens with a nod to Mongo Santamaria, followed by "A Night in Tunisia" and "Killer Joe," and later adds memorable takes of "Summertim" and "Freedom Jazz Dance." Latin groove throughout, although the saxes sometimes get out of hand. A- [cd]

Romain Collin: Tiny Lights: Genesis (2019, XM): French pianist, studied at Berklee, debut album in 2007, joined here by Matthew Stevens (guitar), Obed Calvaire (drums), and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, with string arrangements by Kazuma Jinnouchi. Starts fusion, a hard groove album, gets fancier when they slow it down. Hype sheet promises two more volumes shortly, Blood and Gold. B+(**) [cd]

The Comet Is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery (2019, Impulse!): London-based band, names listed as King Shabaka (Shabaka Hutchings, tenor sax), Danalogue the Conqueror (Dan Leavers, keyboards), and Betamax Killer (Max Hallett, drums). Second album. Inspired by spiritual jazz artists like Alice Coltrane and extraterrestrials (similar but not quite the same thing) such as Sun Ra. B+(**)

Jordon Dixon: On! (2019, self-released): Tenor saxophonist, born in Baton Rouge, based in DC, second album, backed by piano-bass-drums (plus trumpet on one cut). Mainstream, original pieces, lovely tone, soulful. B+(***) [cd]

Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs (2019, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter from Perth, Australia, offers what Christgau calls "a catalogue of assholes" -- males, "boys will be boys" -- although I'm also struck by the allergies and bearers of infectious diseases. B+(***)

Steve Earle & the Dukes: Guy (2019, New West): Sings the Guy Clark songbook, marginally better than the originals but not significantly different or even distinctive. Could broaden Clark's audience a bit. B+(***)

Fleurine: Brazilian Dream (2018 [2019], Pure Imagination): Dutch jazz singer-songwriter, last name Verloop, fifth album since 1995, all self-penned Brazilian tunes here, plays some guitar, with a mostly Brazilian band -- Vitor Gonçalves, Rogerio Boccato, and Chico Pinheiro the best known -- augmented by Brad Mehldau and Chris Potter, strings on one cut, horns on another. Dreamy, indeed. B+(**)

George Freeman: George the Bomb! (2018 [2019], Blujazz/Southport): Jazz guitarist, born 1927 so he's edged over 90, leans heavy on funk and blues here, with the Southport house band, with vocals shared by Billy Branch and Joanie Pallatto. Couple of standout food songs: "Where's the Cornbread?" and "Home Grown Tomatoes." B+(**) [cd]

Polly Gibbons: All I Can Do (2019, Resonance): Jazz singer qua blues belter, third album, wrote 2 (of 12) songs, the best surprise from Prince. Backed with piano, organ and guitar (Paul Bollenbeck). B [cd]

Girls on Grass: Dirty Power (2019, self-released): Brooklyn alt/indie band, led by singer-songwriter Barbara Endes (also plays guitar), with girl drummer Nancy Polstein and two blokes. Second album. One lyric jumped out at me: "Capitalism ruins everything that's worth doing." Also something about "Commander in Thief." B+(**)

Pablo Lanouguere Quintet: Eclectico (2019, self-released): Bassist, from Argentina, based in New York, plays electric as well as upright, first album, original compositions that feature Nick Danielson on viola, backed by guitar (Federico Diaz), piano (Emilio Teubal), and drums (Franco Pinna). Struck me as avant-classical, so took me a while. B+(**) [cd]

Jenny Lewis: On the Line (2019, Warner Bros.): Singer-songwriter, fourth studio album (not counting her tenure with Rilo Kiley or various other ad hoc projects). She has good pop sense, but I'm not picking up much here. B+(*)

Helado Negro: This Is How You Smile (2019, RVNG Intl): Singer-songwriter Roberto Carlos Lange, born in Florida, parents from Ecuador, half-dozen albums since 2009. Woozy tempo with shifting shapes, reminds me a bit of Arto Lindsay at his most Brazilian, but even more deliberately -- so much I doubt I really caught much of it. B+(*)

New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Songs: The Music of Allen Toussaint (2018 [2019], Storyville): Directed by drummer Adonis Rose, a big band, several guest vocalists -- Dee Dee Bridgewater, Phillip Manuel, Gerald French -- nine songs, as advertised. B+(**) [cd]

Pedro the Lion: Phoenix (2019, Polyvinyl): Indie rock band formed in Seattle in 1995, broke up after their fourth album in 2004, singer-songwriter David Bazan going on to a checkered solo career. Bazan is an interesting guy with things to say, but his music never did much for me. The band beefs it up. B+(**)

Jason Ringenberg: Stand Tall (2019, Courageous Chicken): Country rocker from Illinois, called his first band Jason & the Scorchers -- their 1983 EP Fervor earned the name -- tried a solo album in 1992, occasionally recorded as Farmer Jason, this his first since a Christmas album in 2014. In 2017, he got a gig as artist-in-residence at Sequoia National Park, and wrote a couple of songs about the tall trees there, as well as the title instrumental. Added a Ramones tribute, and a few titles like "John the Baptist Was a Real Humdinger," "Hobo Bill's Last Ride," and "Many Happy Hangovers to You." Sixty now, and still scorchin'. A- [sp]

Royal Trux: White Stuff (2019, Fat Possum): Garage rock band from DC, formed 1988 by Neil Hagerty (ex-Pussy Galore) and Jennifer Herrema, released ten albums by 2002, regrouped here, as part of a deal to reissue their old records. Reports are they've already broken up again, beause Hagerty refuses to tour. I haven't heard their old stuff, and probably won't, but seems likely they have a cult following somewhere. B+(**)

Sir Babygirl: Crush on Me (2019, Father/Daughter, EP): Kelsie Hogue, started in hardcore bands, solo debut is a 9-track (but if you scratch the reprises and outro more like six songs), 26:24 mini. Christgau: "So fake they're funny and so shiny they squeak." B+(***)

George Strait: Honky Tonk Time Machine (2019, MCA Nashville): Dependable, predictable: his first two albums were called Strait Country and Strait From the Heart, but he was smart enough not to return to that well, moving on to One Step at a Time and Always Never the Same in the late 1990s, and more recently Here for a Good Time and Cold Beer Conversations. This is his 30th album, a little more explicit in honky tonk references, probably because the songs speak less. B

Terraza Big Band: One Day Wonder (2017 [2019], Outside In Music): Co-led by Michael Thomas (alto sax) and Edward Perez (bass), who composed most of the pieces, arranged the rest. Standard sections, mostly New York names I recognize, plus guitar and (3/9 cuts) extra percussion (Samuel Torres). B+(*) [cd]

Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow (2019, Jagjaguwar): Singer-songwriter from New Jersey, fifth album, finds an engaging groove and haunts it. B+(*)

Petra Van Nuis & Dennis Luxion: Because We're Night People (2018, String Damper): Voice and piano duo from Chicago. Fifth album for the singer (-songwriter?), including a couple of previous duos with guitarist (husband) Andy Brown. The pianist played with Chet Baker in the 1980s, and with vocalist Diane Delin -- Discogs credits him with one album each, but his own website lists 6 and 4, as well as a dozen more albums with various leaders. B+(*)

Dave Zinno Unisphere: Stories Told (2018 [2019], Whaling City Sound): Bassist, third album, all under this group rubric, a hard bop quintet with Mike Tucker (tenor sax), Eric 'Benny' Bloom (trumpet/flugelhorn), Tim Ray (piano), and Rafael Barata (drums). Bright and upbeat, except for the cover of "Michelle," which (Like most Beatles songs) is a tarpit for jazz musicians. B+(*) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Twentieth Anniversary Mixtapes: Groiddest Schnizzits: Volume Two (2001-17 [2019], Trugroid/Avantgroidd): Back in 1999 rock critic Greg Tate decided to try his hand at cosmic jazz, rounding up friends and acquaintances, his own credit most often "conduction" -- the Butch Morris term for a conductor trying to direct improvisers. Tate's a word guy, so he recruited singers. I'm not, so I've always had trouble following that aspect. For their 20th, they came out with three discs of remixes -- this is the only one I've found so far (otherwise I'd be tempted to review them as a set). B+(***)

Old music:

Mandy Barnett: I Can't Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson (2013, Rounder): She built her career in Patsy Cline tributes, and has the voice for the job. Turns her attention here to the writer of Cline's signature song, "Sweet Dreams," which she nails perfectly. Elsewhere I miss Gibson's own self-effacing swing, not that I mind her torching his laments -- she has the voice. B+(***)

The Comet Is Coming: Channel the Spirits (2016, The Leaf Label): First album, more groove and harder grind, but not quite all the way through. B+(***)

George Strait: Strait Country (1981, MCA): First album, ten songs none running more than 3:06 (27:51 total), mostly draws songs from Dean Dillon and Frank Dycus, relationship songs that understand it's complicated: "Every Time You Throw Dirt on Her (You Lose a Little Ground)," "She's Playing Hell Trying to Get Me to Heaven," "Her Goodbye Hit Me in the Heart." B+(**)

George Strait: Strait From the Heart (1982, MCA): Second album, marginally longer (28:45), recorded his first original ("I Can't See Texas From Here"), better than "Marina del Rey" let alone "Lover in Disguise." B

George Strait: Right or Wrong (1983, MCA): Another short one, but his voice is maturing, and his roots are spreading. After three albums the label decided they had enough to release a Greatest Hits, and I thought it was pretty good. But I won't complain about the filler here, except to note that he didn't write any of it. B+(***)

George Strait: Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind (1984, MCA): No fluff, his shortest album yet (25:55), the honky tonk songs done elegantly and/or plaintively, which is to say with a bit less inspiration than one would wish for. B+(**)

George Strait: Something Special (1985, MCA): Hits his stride here, even if he doesn't break a sweat trying. Better songs are the key, nothing especially classic, but tapping ten different writers/teams suggests he's looked high and low. And he's so relaxed singing them he delivers his longest album to date (32:49). A-

George Strait: The Best of George Strait [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1983-93 [2002], MCA Nashville): The standard Strait compilation these days is probably 50 Number Ones (2004), but rather than wallow in all that I thought I'd first check this short one (12 songs, 39:01), as I missed it last time I tried going deep on the series. But aside from one 1983 hit ("You Look So Good in Love") this sticks to a fairly narrow time slice, 1987-93. Given his career (even just to date), I doubt I'd pick more than 3-4 of these. B+(**)

George Strait: 50 Number Ones (1982-2004 [2004], MCA Nashville, 2CD): He released one album nearly every year from 1981 through 2009 (skipping 1995, 2002, and 2007), usually with 3-4 singles from each, so steady production adds up. He has four albums and no hit singles since 2009, but Wikipedia credits him with the most number one Billboard US country singles ever (45, disputing ten songs here) and the second-most top-tens (86, behind Eddy Arnold's 92). One new song here, making 51 total (and yes, it was released as a single and went number one). His always sounds fine, never rubs you the wrong way -- his consistency is truly remarkable, but I doubt he's turned out a stone cold classic, here or elsewhere. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (Pi, 2CD): April 26
  • Art "Turk" Burton: Ancestral Spirits (T N' T Music): May 3
  • George Freeman: George the Bomb! (Blujazz/Southport)
  • Wynton Marsalis: Bolden: Music From the Original Soundtrack (Blue Engine): April 19
  • Xose Miguélez: Ontology (Origin): April 19
  • Billy Mohler: Focus! (Make)
  • New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Songs: The Music of Allen Toussaint (Storyville): April 19
  • OGJB Quartet [Oliver Lake/Graham Haynes/Joe Fonda/Barry Altschul]: Bamako (TUM): May 17
  • Dave Stryker: Eight Track III (Strikezone): May 3
  • Fumi Tomita: The Elephant Vanishes (OA2): April 19
  • Dann Zinn: Day of Reckoning (Origin): April 19