An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, October 18, 2021
Music: Current count 36480  rated (+47), 159  unrated (-29).
Picked up a couple new (and one old) music tips from Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide: October 2021. I can note that I previously reviewed both Dave albums, Homeboy Sandman's Anjelitu, and Kalie Shorr's I got Here by Accident, all four at A-. Also Baloji at B+(***). While I had missed this particular Howlin' Wolf edition, the same 20 songs are also available in the same order on The Definitive Collection (released 2007), previously graded A+. It's depressing to compare the pitiful one below to the one I wrote back then:
Otherwise, last week was like the week before, except even more depressing. Going through a sad, miserable patch, but at least I do take a little pleasure in crossing previously unplayed CDs off my "unrated" list -- at least as I cross them off my list, especially ones I didn't much enjoy listening to. Still, two of those records made the A-list this time (Ian Dury, Bert Williams). The other "old music" records -- most of the ones not marked [cd] -- continued my scan through the unheard Christgau-graded albums list, starting with Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, up to Dwight Yoakam this week. Deep down in the alphabet there, but still only 73% through (lot of various artist compilations to follow). Also, I'm aware of a few records I skipped that I can find on Napster or YouTube (shit I've really been avoiding -- Robert Cray is the name I'm most conscious of, probably because there's like three albums by him).
By the way, I don't seriously believe that anyone needs all three Cleanhead A- albums this week. I think he's terrific, but damn little difference between them, and any one will give you a good sample. (I probably prefer Clean Head's Back in Town.) By the way, he's also on two somewhat more varied records I'm also a fan of: Cleanhead and Cannonball, as in Adderley, and Blues in the Night Volume 2: The Late Show, filed under Etta James, and marginally better than Volume 1: The Early Show.
I wound up showing covers of two albums not reviewed below. The alternate Howlin' Wolf is really the same record, and when I looked up the review (above), I found I already had the cover scan handy. The Double Dee & Steinski EP didn't actually have a cover: it was just a sleeve with the label showing through, not that you'd ever find a copy anyway. The pictured Steinski comp starts off with those three pieces, then adds two more hours of brilliance. It's a desert island disc (well, two).
Reviewing old compilations always presents maddening, perhaps even impossible, trade-off questions between multiple editions. When I pointed out the Howlin' Wolf equivalence, Robert Christgau left his review unchanged, but tweeted:
Punctilious as I am, I also work mostly from my own shelves, plus a few things that are readily streamable. So sometimes I pull obsolete (out-of-print) compilations off my shelf. Since I've been checking up on old Christgau grades, I look for the releases he reviewed, even if they are long out-of-print, superseded by more recent editions -- even if that requires assembling an approximate playlist. That doesn't seem like ideal consumer guidance, but some kind of compromise is necessary. One odd artifact this week is that I've ignored the 2004 release dates on my Jethro Tull reissues in favor of their original dates, since that seems like a better baseline. I own a copy of A + Slipstream, but since the latter is just a live DVD, I limited the review to A. On the other hand, it's possible that on occasion I devalue an old LP compilation in favor of later CDs. That's likely with Don Williams below, as I at least partly explain in the review.
The Ezz-Thetics reissues continue to bug me. After I reviewed four a couple weeks ago, a reader pointed out that the series is curated with great care, with detailed liner notes from reputable critics. I review two more below, and find them slightly more useful than the original releases. I will get to more later.
I had to make my own scan of the Bert Williams, a release that seems to have escaped notice on the Internet. Archeophone's three volumes are probably the preferred source, not least for sound quality, but my single disc fills the bill nicely. I didn't write it as such, but that final trio of A-list albums (Williams, Betty Wright, Yo Yo) says much about the trajectory of race in America (and you can fill in a few gaps with Wynonie Harris, Howlin' Wolf, Cleanhead Vinson, and Marion Brown. Bought a new HP all-in-one printer in hopes of doing some scanning with it, but hadn't tried it, and it turned out xsane couldn't work with it. Very unhappy about that, and I blame HP -- for business tactics I hitherto mostly associated with Apple.
Started reading Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future -- the first novel I've tackled in close to 20 years. I've long said that when I finally get so disgusted with the world I give up, I'm going to give up and switch to fiction. I'm not sure if that's what this signals. For one thing, it's been touted as a superb wonk book. I've been writing a bit on annotation for a KSR article in Financial Times (paywalled, but I secured a samizdat copy). I'm despairing of getting it into publishable shape, but we're not so very far apart: he's both more pessimistic (maybe I mean panicky) and more optimistic (a faith in geoengineering I'm not convinced of), but we share common ground in believing that survival depends on fundamental changes in attitudes and beliefs, especially toward each other.
That would be difficult in any case, but the degree of stupidity and vileness exhibited lately on the US right is mind boggling. I haven't written a Speaking of Which in nearly a month in large part because words seem so insufficient. Another problem, by the way, is that my sources have been drying up, increasingly blockaded by paywalls. Latest seems to be Politico. I've never put much stock in them, but occasionally issues are so obvious they break through their studied bipartisanship. I don't see how an informed electorate is possible when everything's pay-to-play.
This week is countdown to my 71st birthday. I usually make a big dinner, and a month ago was looking forward to this one. As of today, I have no fucking idea what I'm going to do. (Well, the minimum is probably cake.) Have some other projects around the house to work on, so might be a good time to take a break from the usual grind.
New records reviewed this week:
Thomas Anderson: Ladies and Germs (2021, Out There): Singer-songwriter, debut 1988, ten albums since, nice unfancy melodies, clever words that mature into stories. Christgau considers this his best since that debut. I'm not so sure, but this is another good one, getting better as I try to write. A-
Mickey Guyton: Remember Her Name (2021, Capitol Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, first album after four EPs and a Grammy nomination for "Black Like Me." More than a bit overproduced, sometimes over the top, although she has her points, and make some so convincingly, I wish I could leave it there. B+(***)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Albert Ayler Quintet: 1966: Berlin, Lörrach, Paris & Stockholm. Revisited (1966 , Ezz-Thetics): Scattered live tracks from a November, 1966 tour of Europe, tenor saxophone backed by trumpet (Don Ayler), violin (Michel Samson), bass, and drums. This repackages material previously on two Hatology CDs, returning to the same pieces each concert: "Truth Is Marching In," "Omega (Is the Alpha)," "Our Prayer," "Ghosts," and variations on same. Ayler was "far out," but rooted in a spiritual primitivism. B+(***) [bc]
Marion Brown: Capricorn Moon to Juba Lee Revisited (1965-66 , Ezz-Thetics): Alto saxophonist (1931-2010), born in Atlanta, wound up in New York with the avant-garde. This recycles some of his ESP-Disk records, with two tracks from Marion Brown Quartet sessions (with Alan Shorter and Rashied Ali), plus two (of 4) tracks from his Septet Juba Lee. A- [bc]
Keola Beamer: Wooden Boat (1994, Dancing Cat): Hawaiian slack key guitarist, first record was called Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar in the Real Old Style (1972), has a couple dozen more up to 2012-13, this the only one I bothered to pick up. Sings some here. Very slack. B+(*)
Bingo: Songs for Children in English With Brazilian and Caribbean Rhythms (2005, Soundbrush): No artist credit, but not a "various artists" compilation: one band, one sound, throughout. Christy Baron is the singer, and pianist Roger Davidson is the critical factor, a master of the Latin groove that conveys these nursery rhymes (and a couple pop songs simplistic enough to pass), and organizes the percussion and the horns. B+(*) [cd]
The Contemporary Piano Ensemble: The Key Players (1993, DIW/Columbia): James Williams produced, is one of five pianists here, along with Geoff Keezer, Harold Mabern, Mulgrew Miller, and Donald Brown (on 4 tracks), backed with bass (Christian McBride) and drums (Tony Reedus). They (minus Brown, with different bass/drums) recorded a second album called Four Pianos for Phineas (Newborn, 1996). This is a mix of original and trad pieces, ending with an Ellington medley. B+(**)
Don Dixon: Chi-Town Budget Show (1988, Restless): Singer-songwriter, debut in 1985, did production for R.E.M., Marshall Crenshaw, and others. Wife Marti Jones recorded a good album in 1985 (Unsophisticated Time), and she appears here, introduced at the start. B+(*) [cd]
Double Dee & Steinski: The Payoff Mix/Lesson Two/Lesson 3 (1985, Tommy Boy, EP): DJs Doug DiFranco and Steven Stein, cut and pasted these three "lessons" (14:43), landmarks in dance music history, but rarely precedents rarely followed, probably due to legal complications, but one might think because no one did it better. I searched for this for 20+ years before the three tracks appeared to lead off Steinski's 2-CD What Does It All Mean? [cover right], which gets even better, and is the one to search for. A
Ian Dury & the Blockheads: Live! All the Best, Mate (1990 , Music Club): Past his prime, but his oldies haven't aged, and while he skipped a few great ones, he worked in a couple pleasant surprises. Originally issued in 1991 on Demon as Warts 'N' Audience (Live: 22 December 1990), reissue with two extra tracks and a nicer title came out the year he died. Twenty years later he's even more missed. A- [cd]
Shirley Eikhard: The Last Hurrah (2000, Shirley Eikhard Music): Canadian singer-songwriter, debuted as a teen in 1972, I filed her under country -- she won Juno Awards for Best Country Female Artist 1972-73 -- but at this point her phrasing draws more on jazz, as does her band, including horns: Kevin Turcotte (trumpet) and Mike Murley (tenor sax). B+(**) [cd]
Shirley Eikhard: End of the Day (2001, Shirley Eikhard Music): All songs written by Eikhard, all vocals, all instruments too, recorded in her home studio. I'm most impressed by the bit of tenor sax, but the vibes are nice too. Mostly instrumental pieces. B+(*) [cd]
Shirley Eikhard: Stay Open (2002-03 , Shirley Eikhard Music): Definitely a jazz singer, and back with a band she can focus on her vocals. One choice song philosophizes: "Aren't we clever? But not very wise." B+(***) [cd]
Dan Fogelberg: The Essential Dan Fogelberg (1973-90 , Epic/Legacy): Singer-songwriter, first six albums through 1981 went platinum, singles did best on the Adult Contemporary list. Early cuts were fairly upbeat, but aren't very interesting. One early album got help from Don Henley and Graham Nash -- seems about right. C+
Forgetting Sarah Marshall [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (, Verve Forecast): Nicholas Stoller film, written by Jason Segel and produced by Judd Apatow, starring Kristen Bell. I've never had any interest in soundtracks, especially random (or eclectic) ones, so I certainly didn't buy this one. Still, I can report a few oddities: "Fucking Boyfriend" (The Bird and the Bee), Desmond Dekker, Os Mutantes, and three Coconutz songs in Hawaiian, including "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'." B [cd]
Gimme Indie Rock V. 1 (1984-99 , K-Tel, 2CD): As a genre, "indie rock" always struck me as vague, more a business plan than an aesthetic not that either has held much interest for me. Three pairs of groups I do know stake out the domain: The Fall/The Mekons, The Minutemen/Hüsker Dü, The Feelies/Yo La Tengo. Maybe a fourth: The Meat Puppets/Black Flag. I recognize most of the other groups, although I doubt I could pick them out in a blindfold test. B+(*) [cd]
The Golden Gate Quartet: Travelin' Shoes (1937-39 , RCA/Bluebird): Gospel group, formed in 1934 in Virginia, appeared in John Hammond's famous 1938 Spirituals to Swing Carnegie Hall concert. This is the original group: William Langford left in 1939, replaced by Clyde Riddick, who retired in 1995, as the group carried on with new members. B+(***) [cd]
Barry Harris: Live at Maybeck Recital Hall Volume Twelve (1990 , Concord): Pianist, from Detroit, started around 1960, has about 30 albums, more side credits. This is solo, part of a series that just about defined who's who in mainstream jazz piano. Still living at 91, but nothing since 2009. B+(**) [cd]
Wynonie Harris: Rockin' the Blues (1944-50 , Proper, 4CD): Rhythm and blues singer, started in big bands (Lucky Millinder, Illinois Jacquet, Johnnie Alston), had a dozen or so R&B chart hits 1945-52, the latter missing here due to the arbitrary cutoff date -- for a superb one-CD overview, seek out Bloodshot Eyes: The Best of Wynonie Harris (Rhino, long out of print so good luck). This goes for quantity (81 tracks), which given his limits should be monotonous, but isn't. A- [cd]
Tish Hinojosa: Dreaming of the Labyrinth/Soñar del Laberinto (1996, Warner Brothers): Folk singer-songwriter from San Antonio, sings in Spanish as well as English. B+(***) [cd]
Robin Holcomb: Robin Holcomb (1990, Elektra): Singer-songwriter, plays piano, interests include Civil War songs and Charles Ives, married jazz pianist Wayne Horvitz, and they've recorded piano music together. Second album (not counting one where Horvitz, Butch Morris, Bill Frisell, and Doug Wieselman Play Robin Holcomb). Those (save Morris) also appear here. B+(*) [cd]
Howlin' Wolf: His Best (1951-64 , MCA/Chess): Part of The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection, a series you can pretty safely buy on sight (but now mostly out-of-print). Somehow I missed this one. Still, nothing here I didn't already have in The Chess Box (3-CD), or later in The Definitive Collection, a 2007 compilation that recycles these 20 classic songs in order, which I previously graded: A+
Ella Jenkins: Little Johnny Brown (1971 , Smithsonian/Folkways): Folksinger, born in St. Louis in 1924, her specialty was songs for children, her first collection recorded by Moses Asch in 1957 as Call-and-Response: Rhythmic Group Singing. This album was originally co-credited to Girls and Boys From "Uptown" (Chicago). Some message songs that would upset the Trumpist thought police: "Freedom Train," "Be Ready When Your Freedom Comes." Most likely, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" too (not to mention "Mexican Hand Clapping Song"). B+(***) [cd]
Jethro Tull: Live: Bursting Out (1978 , Chrysalis, 2CD): British prog rock band with some folk-rock airs, debut 1968, led by Ian Anderson, who sung and played flute. Big deal through the 1970s, less reliably in the 1980s. I never was much of a fan, but heard a few albums and liked the occasional track, so parts of this have a pleasant familiarity later albums lack. Patter helps too, but nothing helps much. B- [cd]
Jethro Tull: Stormwatch (1979, Chrysalis): Twelfth album. Losing interest. C+ [cd]
Jethro Tull: A (1980, Chrysalis): Thirteenth album, chart peak 25 in UK, 30 in US. Nothing much here. [I have 2004 reissue called A + Slipstream, which adds a DVD I have from Slipstream tour.] C+ [cd]
George Jones: The Definitive Collection 1955-1962 (1955-62 , Mercury): One of the all-time great country voices, his early records for Mercury contain many honky tonk classics -- Cup of Loneliness: The Classic Mercury Years fills two CDs and only gets to 1959. This condensation hits many of those, then adds a few United Artists hits that remained signatures ("The Window Up Above," "Tender Years," "Achin' Breakin' Heart," "She Thinks I Still Care"). So great not even Billy Sherrill could ruin him. A
Kartet: The Bay Window (2006 , Songlines): French quartet -- Benoît Delbecq (piano), Guilaume Orti (alto sax), Hubert Dupont (bass), Chandler Sardjoe (drums) -- recorded five albums 1991-2001, this their sixth, one more in 2014. Tricky postbop, the pianist most impressive. B+(***) [cd]
Alan Morse: Four O'Clock and Hysteria (2007, Inside Out Music): Guitarist, only album under his own name but he recorded quite a few in Spock's Beard ("American symphonic progressive rock band" active from 1995 at least to 2018). Brother Neal Morse plays keyboards, co-wrote and co-produced. B [cdr]
Genesis P-Orridge & Astrid Monroe: When I Was Young (2001 , Important): Former was born 1950 in Manchester, UK as Neil Andrew Megson, died 2020. Best known as lead singer in Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, but also has 24 solo projects/joint credits (Discogs). In 1993 met Jacqueline Breyer (aka Lady Jaye) in a BDSM dungeon in New York, and underwent multiple surgeries to make both look alike, merging into one pandrogenous being. All I know about Monroe is that's her real name, and she's "a real artist." Music is much less weird than the artists, with nice beats and spoken word (evidently male). CD has no booklet or print. B+(**)
Mike Rizzo: Webster Hall's New York Dance CD v.6 (2003, Webster Hall NYC): Dance mix, high-powered techno, a dozen artists I've never heard of, but they keep it going. Commes with a DVD I haven't seen. B+(**)
Daryl Stuermer: Go (2007, Inside Out Music): Guitarist, played with Jean-Luc Ponty in 1975, also a fairly long term with Genesis, so figure fusion and/or prog rock with emphasis on rave ups. B- [cdr]
Swans: Soundtracks for the Blind (1996, Young God/Atavistic, 2CD): Experimental/noise rock band led by Michael Gira, had a run to 1997 as a prolific fringe band, broke up, then restarted with other musicians in 2010 (some early members returned in the 2019 lineup), finally gaining a critical following. This is long (72:06 + 69:31), sometimes loud, mostly plodding, with occasional words and/or groans. B [cd]
UTD [Urban Thermo Dynamics: DCQ/Ces/Mos Def]: Manifest Destiny (2004, Illson Media): Hip-hop trio, front cover stresses UTD under the artist names, back cover spells out the acronym. B+(***) [yt]
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson: Clean Head's Back in Town (1957, Bethlehem): Debut album, cover proclaims "Eddie Vinson Sings" but the smaller-print seems to be the title. From Texas, came up playing alto sax in swing bands -- with Milton Larkin (along with Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet) and Cootie Williams -- but only sings here, a dozen songs, including a couple he later built whole albums around ("Kidney Stew," "Cherry Red"). Lots of horns here, but not his: Joe Newman (trumpet), Henry Coker (trombone), various saxophonists -- Bill Graham on alto with Charlie Rouse on tenor (4 tracks), or Frank Foster or Paul Quinchette. A-
Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson: The Original Cleanhead (1970, BluesTime): Sings blues and plays alto sax, backed by a swing band with Plas Johnson (tenor sax), Joe Pass (guitar), and Earl Palmer (drums). [Ace's 2014 reissue adds three live tracks, including an "I Had a Dream" where he meets "President Nixon."] A-
Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson: Kidney Stew [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1969-78 , Black & Blue): From France, the first 10 cuts were recorded and released as Wee Baby Blues (by Black & Blue) and as Kidney Stew Is Fine (by Delmark) in 1969, with Hal Singer on tenor sax, Jay McShann on piano, and T-Bone Walker on guitar (plus bass and drums). CD adds 2 cuts each from 1972 and 1978 -- both sets are backed by organ (Wild Bill Davis and Bill Doggett) with Lockjaw Davis (tenor sax) on the latter. A-
Bert Williams: "It's Getting So You Can't Trust Nobody": The Songs of Bert Williams Volume One (1901-22 [199X], Vaudeville Archive Records): Comedian and singer (1874-1922), born in Antigua, moved to New York, easily the most famous black entertainer of the period. Archeophone reissued all of his recordings on 3-CD in 2002-04, and that's probably the way to go, but this 1-CD selection (total time 71:55) is the one I found. What I haven't found is a release date, or any evidence on the Internet of the label's existence, but the cover sheet has the dates for all 25 songs, and a brief but informative bio. W.C. Fields described Williams as "the funniest man I ever saw -- and the saddest man I ever knew." A- [cd]
Don Williams: The Best of Don Williams, Volume II (1975-78 , MCA): Mild-mannered country singer (1939-2017), started with Pozo Seco Singers (but forget that), started cranking out solo hits in 1973. The implied Volume I was actually titled Greatest Hits, although there are many more comps muddying the waters. Not sure how good his early singles were, but he hits his stride here: 11 songs, 6 topped the country chart, most of the rest came close. No complaints here, but later compilations offer more worthy songs over a slightly longer period -- e.g., 20 Greatest Hits (1987) and The Definitive Collection (2004; both start in 1973 and end in 1986), or for that matter the short 20th Century Masters best-of (2000). B+(***)
Bobby Womack: Greatest Hits (1972-89 , Capitol): Soul singer, name stuck in my mind as the author of "It's All Over Now" (the Rolling Stones hit in 1964, originally released by Womack's group, The Valentinos), but his solo records didn't start until 1969, when he caught the tail end of Minit. While he had some hits in the 1970s, they were pretty minor (biggest was a re-recording of another Valentinos song, "Lookin' for a Love"). B+(*)
Stevie Wonder: Original Musiquarium I (1971-82 , Motown, 2CD): Singles from his 1972-80 era, centered on 4 albums worth owning whole -- albums which everyone who cared at the time actually did own -- providing cover for 4 new ("previously unreleased") songs, of which "Do I Do" -- 10:30 upbeat funk with Dizzy Gillespie guesting -- is the most interesting. B+(***)
Stevie Wonder: In Square Circle (1985, Tamla): "Part-Time Lover" strikes first. The other songs take longer to sink in. B+(***)
Stevie Wonder: Jungle Fever (1991, Motown): Billed as "Music from the movie," the movie "a Spike Lee joint," the marketing angle boosting a relatively unspectacular album. B+(**)
Betty Wright: Danger High Voltage (1974, Alston): Debut album (My First Time Around) when she was 14, big hit ("Clean Up Woman") at 17, died last year at 66. This was her fourth, produced by T.K. in Miami. A-
Betty Wright: Live (1978, Alston): Extends her hit into a medley, closing with some burners. B+(***)
Yo Yo: You Better Ask Somebody (1993, EastWest): Rapper Yolanda Whitaker, four albums 1991-1996, a fifth album (1998) unreleased (although some promo copies were sent out). After first two (both, like this, Christgau A-) disappointed me, I skipped this third album. Not sure that was a mistake, as there's little chance this twist on old school/gangsta would have sounded as good then as it does now. Especially waking up in a bad mood. A- [yt]
Dwight Yoakam: Just Lookin' for a Hit (1986-89 , Reprise): Country singer, best-of after three albums that could use a bit of trimming, plus two new songs -- covers, actually, "Sin City" and "Long Black Cadillac," which raids country-rock canon for depth. B+(***)
Limited Sampling: Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Henry Threadgill Zooid: Poof (2021, Pi): Also sax and flute player, has had a brilliant run on this label (which used to be the best in the world at servicing critics, but no longer is). Quintet with Liberty Ellman (guitar), Jose Davila (tuba/trombone), bass and drums. [2/5]: +
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: