An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, October 12, 2020
Music: Current count 34182  rated (+40), 212  unrated (-5).
Let's get this over with quick. Seems like it's been a slow, annoying, frustrating week. I wanted to get a book piece done, but didn't. At the moment, I have about 20 tabs opened to possible books, and I want to get through them before I upgrade my computer software (Xubuntu 18 to 20), so I need to move on to that. I did manage to publish a batch of answers to reader questions last week. One of those questions was really just encouragement to follow through on a previous week's threat to mock up a 50-album all-time best ballot, which I sort of did.
Phil Overeem did his own ballot exercise, which is the source for the "old music" listed below. A lot of Memphis psychobilly on his list, which I'm naturally inclined to like but not revere, so my (usually one-play) grades are muted. I didn't jot down a proper checklist, so I missed some things -- mostly old albums by groups I know well from compilations (e.g., The "5" Royales). Double checking, I found two more albums I once owned but hadn't listed in my database (Drifters, George Jones), but remember well enough I feel I can assign them grades (A and A-; a better Jones comp is the earlier Cup of Loneliness, although my first pick is the career-spanning 2-CD box, The Spirit of Country: The Essential George Jones; as for the Drifters, Rhino's 1993 The Very Best of the Drifters is perfect for the 1959-64 group; the 2-CD All-Time Greatest Hits and More: 1959-1965 doesn't fall off much; and while all of the above ignore the early Drifters, Let the Boogie Roll: The Greatest Hits 1953-1958 is also solid A-, as is Clyde McPhatter's post-Drifters Deep Sea Ball: The Best of Clyde McPhatter).
I had more trouble with the various artist picks. It Came From Memphis, Volume 1 is probably the 1995 blues comp on Upstart -- Napster has a Volume 2 but not this one. I'm far less certain about Sweet Soul Music: as best I can tell, the choices are: a 1980 Atlantic (16 songs, with Arthur Conley's title hit); a 1987 J&B (17 songs, Conley again, Atlantics leaning heavy on Franklin-Redding-Pikett); a 1988 Stax (subtitle: The Stax Groups, 13 songs, most obscure); a 1992 Sire (subtitle: Voices From the Shadows, a tie-in with Peter Guralnick's book; and a 1995 K-Tel (26 songs, leads with Sam & Dave's cover, mostly great songs but scattered as far as "One Fine Day" and "Midnight at the Oasis"). My guess is that Overeem probably means the Sire, with its relatively obscure Memphis focus -- he seems to have a thing for Memphis (also for New Orleans).
Could be that some of the B+ records might kick in after a few plays. I listened to Fairport Chronicles on YouTube, which is never ideal, but I've never been that big of a fan. I've never liked the Ramones as much as many friends do, so while It's Alive was pretty good, it didn't strike me as special. If memory serves, I saw them once live, as the opening act for Iggy Pop (or was it the Clash?); either way, they were good but not that great. I'll also note that I was in a particularly bad mood when I played Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes, which didn't start to clear up until "Mack the Knife." For the record, I also have her 1960 Ella in Berlin at B+, which puts it behind a lot of superior records.
Will get back to the book post after this. Should finish catching up the Trump book draft this week. Not sure what else, other than some cooking -- red cooked ham tonight, with stir-fried bok choy; will do twice-cooked pork sooner or later this week, and have a few more things in the refrigerator that need attending -- and some yard work, while it's still nice out.
Applied for mail-in Kansas ballots, but haven't received them yet. Looks like they're being sent out later this week. It's important that all Americans vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and for all Kansans to vote for Barbara Bollier for Senate. I'm also looking forward to voting for Democrats down ballot, especially James Thompson for one of the judgeships. If you don't understand why, download the book link above start picking out random pages (there's 2,346 to choose from).
New records reviewed this week:
Ammar 808: Global Control/Invisible Invasion (2019 , Glitterbeat): Sofyann Ben Youssef, electronica producer from Tunisia based in Brussels, alias comes from South India, and this was recorded in Chennai, with Indian vocalists and percussion. B+(**)
Angel-Ho: Alla Prima (2020, Hyperdub, EP): South African singer-songwriter, "gypsy of the world," released Death Becomes Her in 2019, returns with a five track, 14:55 EP. Credits are her (vocals) and Bon (production), but most vocals sound male and hip-hop: "you can either be an angel or a ho/ the choice is yours." B [bc]
Valentin Ceccaldi: Ossos (2017 , Cipsela): French cellist, younger brother of violinist Théo Ceccaldi, solo album, occasionally harsh and/or abstract. B+(*)
Jay Clayton/Jerry Granelli: Alone Together (2020, Sunnyside): Jazz vocalist, very skilled even if sometimes she just seems to be talking, accompanied by a drummer. Pretty spare, but not as limited as you'd expect. B+(*)
Brent Cobb: Keep 'Em on They Toes (2020, Ol' Buddy): Country singer-songwriter from Georgia, released a couple albums on Elektra, self-released here. B+(**)
Marie Davidson & L'OEil Nu: Renegade Breakdown (2020, Ninja Tune): Canadian electronica producer, formed a band (trio) here, and sings (or talks) throughout. Title cut notes: "there are no money makers on this record/ this time I'm exploring the losers' point of view." Most interesting songs, wander a bit. B+(***) [bc]
Nir Felder: II (2020, Ropeadope): Guitarist, based in New York, debut album 2014, this is his second, with a dozen or more side credits. All originals, also plays banjo, mandolin, electric sitar, and keyboards, backed by Matt Penman (bass) and Jimmy Macbride (drums). B+(*)
Noah Haidu: Doctone (2019 , Sunnyside): Pianist, born in Virginia, based in New York, fourth album since 2011, tribute to Kenny Kirkland (1955-98), half trio with Todd Coolman and Billy Hart, half with added sax (Steve Wilson, Gary Thomas, and/or Jon Irabagon), one track with extra percussion. B+(**) [cd]
Mary Halvorson's Code Girl: Artlessly Falling (2019 , Firehouse 12): Guitarist, often brilliant, follows up her widely praised 2018 2-CD album with a sequel, the group slightly rejiggered -- Adam O'Farrill takes over trumpet, and Maria Grand is added on tenor sax; bass, drums and voice return (Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara, Amirtha Kidambi), with Robert Wyatt on three tracks. As with Code Girl, I hate the way the vocals are tortured to wrap around unsingable lines. Without vocals the music is slippery and devious, which works for the trumpet. B [cd] [10-30]
Loraine James: Nothing (2020, Hyperdub): Electronica artist, based in London, 2019 album (For You and I) was a breakthrough, follows that up with 4-track, 18:12 EP. Kind of murky. B
Alicia Keys: Alicia (2020, RCA): Soul singer-songwriter, debut was a big hit in 2001; 2016 album Here was one of her best. B+(**)
Adam Kolker: Lost (2019 , Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist (also soprano), sixth album since 1999, quartet with names on the cover: Bruce Barth (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), and Billy Hart (drums). B+(**)
Christian McBride Big Band: For Jimmy, Wes and Oliver (2020, Mack Avenue): Bassist, third Big Band album since 2011, a tribute to Smith and Montgomery, who dominated their instrumental niches in the 1960s and played together as "the dynamic duo," and Nelson, a saxophonist better known as a big band arranger (Blues and the Abstract Truth is his masterpiece). In addition to the usual suspects, Joey DeFrancesco plays organ and Mark Whitfield guitar. They certainly hit all the right notes, but we're barely removed from a world where practically everyone tried to sound like Smith and Montgomery. McBride's choice of Nelson as his arranger idol isn't any more far-fetched. B+(**)
Johnny Nicholas: Mistaken Identity (2020, Valcour): Bluesman, from Rhode Island, recorded an album called Too Many Bad Habits in 1978, played in Asleep at the Wheel (1978-81), took a long hiatus (albums in 1988, 1994, 2001, 2005) before picking up the pace recently. B+(**)
Michael Olatuja: Lagos Pepper Soup (2020, Whirlwind): Bassist, born in London, raised in Lagos, based in New York. Second album. Core band: Terreon Gully (drums), Aaron Parks (piano), Etienne Sladwijk (keyboards), plus numerous guest spots, including five singers, also spots for Lionel Loueke, Regina Carter, Brandee Younger, Gregoire Maret, and Joe Lovano (by far the best). B+(*)
Potsa Lotsa XL: Silk Songs for Space Dogs (2019 , Leo): German alto saxophonist Silke Eberhard's project, originally a wind quartet, augmented here to tentet, with two brass, three reeds, piano, cello, bass, vibes, and drums. All originals by Eberhard. A-
Rempis/Rosaly Duo: Codes/Myths (2018 , Aerophonic, 2CD): Sax-drums duo, Rempis playing his usual alto/tenor/baritone, Rosaly a frequent collaborator, especially as one of the two drummers in Rempis Percussion Quartet. Each disc is manageable, with one long and one shorter piece (totaling 40:05, 41:19). B+(***) [bc]
The Ridiculous Trio: The Ridiculous Trio Plays the Stooges (2020, Modern Harmonic): Trombone-tuba-drums trio, no vocals -- not so ridiculous, given that the concept could be applied to all sorts of music. Bandcamp tags are: punk, jazz, stooges, Chicago. Not sure they've crossed into jazz -- most songs are done up pretty straight, although the tonality is novel. B+(**)
Sault: Untitled (Rise) (2020, Forever Living Originals): British electronica group, little known about them, fourth album in two years, first two reminded me of Chic. Choice cut: "You Know It Ain't." B+(***)
Ray Suhy & Lewis Porter Quartet: Transcendent (2020, Sunnyside): Guitar and piano, second album together, Porter is a well-known educator with a bunch of records since 2007. Backed by Brad Jones (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums). B+(**)
Luís Vicente: Maré (2017 , Cipsela): Portuguese trumpet player, quite a few projects since 2013. This one is solo, holds your interest longer than most. B+(**) [cd]
Amber Weekes: The Gathering (2020, Amber Inn Productions): Jazz singer, has a couple of albums, this one planned for Christmas. Played it by accident, and found it tolerable enough, fairly secular aside from "Silent Night," which oddly enough I found most appealing. B
What Happens in a Year: Cérémonie/Musique (2018 , FiP): Josh Sinton (baritone sax/bass clarinet), Todd Neufeld (electric guitar), and Giacomo Merega (electric bass), group debut, ambles gently, leaning more toward chamber jazz than fusion. B+(*) [cd] [10-09]
Walter White: BB XL (2020, Walter White Music): Trumpet player, has one of those names that make searching difficult, but has one previous record in my database, maybe more in the real world. Very splashy big band, some originals, also jazz standards like "Cantaloupe Island," "Blue Rondo a la Turk," "Nica's Dream," and a Latin bash ("Yo Conecto"). B [cd]
Nate Wooley: Seven Storey Mountain VI (2019 , Pyroclastic): Trumpet player, prolific since his 2005 debut, released his first piece based on Thomas Merton's famous meditation in 2011, a trio with C Spencer Yeh (violin) and Chris Corsano (drums). This is done with a much larger group,with guitars, keyboards, pedal steel (Susan Alcorn), and voices. Starts in a dense murk, clarifies as the voices rise. B+(*) [cd] [10-16]
Yo La Tengo: We Have Amnesia Sometimes (2020, Matador): Short album (37:16), pandemic filler, with (per Pitchfork) "five formless, comforting drones, recorded with a single microphone placed in the middle of their Hoboken practice space." The exception is the rather likable "Thursday" piece. B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Ella Fitzgerald: Ella: The Lost Berlin Tapes (1962 , Verve, 2CD): Recorded two years after Ella in Berlin. She turns in a superior "Mack the Knife" here, and I like her blues closer, but seemed pretty typical before those. B+(**)
The Cramps: Songs the Lord Taught Us (1980, IRS): Garage punk/psychobilly band, seems like I must have seen them 5-6 times in the late 1970s, mostly an opening act at CBGB, never the one I looked to see. Christgau loathed them, and I never heard anything that convinced me he was wrong. First proper album, after an EP called Gravest Hits (1979), and they lasted a long time, finally breaking up in 2009 (last studio album 2003). Seems fairly tight to me. Closes with not-bad covers of "Tear It Up" and "Fever." B+(*)
The Cramps: Bad Music for Bad People (1977-81 , IRS): Compilation was a mop-up operation for the label once the band went elsewhere, combining their best-known songs ("TV Set," "Garbageman") with leftovers -- not really sure if anything here was recorded after their second/last IRS album in 1981. More covers, mostly rockabilly. B+(*) [yt]
The Dirtbombs: Horndog Fest (1998, In the Red): Detroit garage punk band, first album, Mick Collins rushes through 12 originals in 29:31. The opener skitters on the edge of pure noise, but the second song ("I Can't Stop Thinking About It") has too good a bass line to ruin. Goes back and forth like that, a bit attenuated over time, or maybe just sloppier. B+(**)
The Dirtbombs: Ultraglide in Black (2001, In the Red): Second album, soul and funk covers, from the 1960s and early 1970s. Good chance I'd like a compilation of the originals better, but some kind of thing in its own right. B+(***)
The Dirtbombs: Dangerous Magical Noise (2003, In the Red): Less noise than their debut, no less loud, they've given themselves permission to write songs with melodies and hooks even, but not too nice. B+(**)
Fairport Convention: Fairport Chronicles (1968-72 , A&M, 2LP): Genre-defining English folk-rock group, originally Simon Nicol (guitar/vocal), Richard Thompson (guitar/vocal), Ashley Hutchings (bass guitar), and a drummer (first in a long series), with fiddler Dave Swarbrick and Sandy Dennis becoming the voice of the group in 1969). B+(**) [yt]
Tav Falco/Panther Burns: 10th Anniversary Live LP: Midnight in Memphis (1989 , New Rose): Rockabilly revivalist, or psychobilly pioneer, formed his band in 1979 and returned to the obvious spot for this anniversary. Gets sloppy toward the end, then wins me back with "Bourgeois Blues." B+(**)
Lee Perry "The Upsetter" Presents: Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread (1978 , VP): Reggae star, started with the Upsetters in 1969, found his niche in dub, remains active after 50 years. One of his first records to use his name, and one of the last not to feature the nickname "Scratch." Island had released his Super Ape, but rejected this one. Hard to hear why now, given how popular dub was to come. A-
Ramones: It's Alive (1977 , Sire): London show, three good albums in, bashing through 28 songs in 53:49. Approximately the same as the albums, which may make it redundant, or a reasonable substitute, or nothing much at all. [Pretty sure I had this as a 2-LP import, but didn't register a grade in my database. Christgau didn't review it until a 1995 reissue. In 2019 it was reissued in a 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition: 4-CD comprising all 4 concerts, plus 2-LP reprising the original release, plus a hardcover book.] B+(***)
Shaver: Unshaven: Live at Smith's Olde Bar (1995, Zoo Entertainment): Country singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver, debuted in 1973, was mostly distinguished by his wit until 1993, when he teamed up with his guitarist son Eddy Shaver and went with the common denominator band name. Band recorded six hard rocking albums up to Eddy's death in 2000. This is the live one, with many of his old songs revved up -- not as high and hard as this band could get, but this is fast becoming my favorite setting for his best-of. A-
Link Wray: Rumble: The Best of Link Wray (1958-79 , Rhino): Guitarist, cut instrumental rock singles after Duane Eddy and before surf guitar, but only the first two ("Rumble" and "Raw-Hide") were minor hits, with "Jack the Ripper" grazing the charts (64 in 1963). He got a second brush with fame in 1977 when Robert Gordon recruited him for a rockabilly revival project that didn't go very far, but got him a new record with the best track here ("Switchblade"). Five tracks have vocals. B+(**) [yt]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: