An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, January 17, 2022
Music: Current count 37117  rated (+49), 137  unrated (+4).
First thing I should note here is the passing of Elsie Lee Pyeatt. At 88, she was my oldest living cousin -- a status she was fifth to hold, so perhaps one should stop keeping track -- the second child of Ted Brown (1902-81), who was in turn the second child (eldest son) of my mother's parents (Ben Brown, 1868-1936, and Mary Lou Lakey, 1877-1946, who both died before I was born; Elsie Lee was the last person with any direct memory of Ben Brown). My mother's family grew up on a farm near the long-defunct town of Vidette, Arkansas (east of Henderson, east of Mountain Home). After Ben died, Ted bought out his siblings and took over the family farm. The rest of the family scattered, some to Oklahoma and Kansas, some as far as Washington and California. Ted's other children left for Washington, with Max coming back to Kansas in 1956, but Elsie Lee stayed close to home.
When I was young, we visited Ted (and Hester) and Elsie Lee (and Pete Pyeatt) about once a year. Ted lived on a farm, in a stone house he had built, with a wood stove that Hester cooked masterfully on. Elsie Lee and Pete lived on a farm about 4 miles west (although the backroads route my father invariably took made it seem much farther), in a log cabin which had been encased in concrete -- the original interior walls were about 2 feet thick -- with extra rooms slapped on most sides. We would usually spend a week, split between the two houses. Elsie Lee and Pete were married in 1956, so I always remember them together in that house, with three little girls, and eventually a son. They were the people I felt closest to there.
I spent several decades running away from my family, then gradually started reacquainting myself. After moving back to Kansas in 1999, I started visiting Arkansas regularly, usually once a year. Pete had died, and Elsie Lee was living alone back in her old farmhouse -- she had spent much of the intervening years living in Mountain Home, close to her work, but kept her farm, and Ted's until its upkeep became too much. The farm remains in the family, but she left it over a decade ago: she lived with daughter Brenda in the Fayetteville area for a while, then moved back to Mountain Home, and spent her last years in a small house next to Rhonda, another daughter, with her other children also in or near Mountain Home. Last time I saw her was a stop off on a drive back from the East Coast, 3-4 years ago. I haven't been anywhere since. Elsie Lee has been in poor health for some time, and suffered from a bit of dimentia, so talking to her became increasingly difficult. But the family did a good job of keeping touch, and I greatly appreciate their efforts.
Since getting the news, I've been in some kind of depressed daze -- not unlike after Devoe Brown's death 18 months ago. At least I got a chance to talk to Devoe regularly in his waning days, when he worked harder to cheer me up than I did for him. More to this I don't want to talk about. Unless something changes for the better (and the other direction seems much more likely), I can see myself pulling back and fading away.
One special source of aggravation this week is Hewlett-Packard. Sometimes I think I should put a boycott page up to identify companies that I consider to be especially egregious. I bought a HP 9015 OfficeJet printer a few months back, largely based on the widespread view that the HP had particularly good Linux support. It doesn't. I'm unable to scan using Xsane (which recognizes the scanner and does test scans, but craps out during data transfer; SimpleScan works, barely). Then there's the proprietary ink problem. Their whole engineering operation seems to be built around locking you into their proprietary ink scam. I signed up for their subscription program (6 months free), and they sent me replacement ink, then also bumped the monthly price up 33%, while limiting the carryover allowance to 3 months. However, I ran out of initial cyan and magenta ink (despite printing approx. zero pages in color), and that locked the machine (despite having quite a bit of black left). For the last two weeks, I've been too upset to figure out how to change the cartridges (no obvious hints either on the machine or the cartridges). I bought my first HP printer c. 1981. I'll never buy anything else from them. (Myriad minor annoyances not noted above. Some of this is probably due to me not being hip to the new ap-based wireless world, but when I can't figure something techy out, I doubt it's all my fault.)
Meanwhile, I did manage to slog through a fair number of records this week. I got some tips from Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. (I previously had Carly Pearce at A-; Kasai Allstars, Morgan Wade, Baiana System, McKinley Dixon, and Ka at ***.) I also spent a lot of time going through Saving Country Music's 2021 Essential Albums list, which yielded most of this week's A- records. By the way, previously reviewed A- records listed there: James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds; Hayes Carll: You Get It All; Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone; Sierra Ferrell: A Long Time Coming; John R. Miller: Depreciated; Margo Cilker: Pohorylle; Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough.
Added some EOY lists. I added a bunch of individual ballots from Jazz Critics Poll, which increased the pro-jazz skew of my EOY Aggregate: Floating Points bumped Little Simz from the number one spot; James Brandon Lewis rose to number nine; Sons of Kemet (15), Vijay Iyer (23), Henry Threadgill (34), Ches Smith (36), Charles Lloyd (38), William Parker's Mayan Space Station (44), and Wadada Leo Smith's Chicago Symphonies (47) cracked the top 50 (with Anna Webber next at 51). I expect most of those to settle down a bit if/as I keep adding non-jazz lists, but Floating Points seems to be pulling away. I'm not a big fan, but it seems to have hit a chord for the times, and I don't disapprove. (I do disapprove of Low's Hey What, in 6th place with grade C.) Also note that a jazz record is currently the highest ranked among those I haven't heard yet: William Parker's 10-CD box, Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World. (I got a sampler but wasn't blown away by it, not that I don't love almost everything Parker does; by the way, see Britt Robson's A Guide to William Parker, also my own dated but still useful William Parker, Matthew Shipp & Friends: A Consumer Guide.) Alternatively, I've tended to ignore metal-only lists this year (even more than usual), so suspect an anti-metal skew. (The only other unheard albums down to 160 are: Every Time I Die; Gojira; Deafheaven; Mastodon; Converge. After that you get into perennial disappointments like James Blake and the Killers.) Among other lists, the long one at Aquarium Drunkard sent me off on some interesting searches.
New records reviewed this week:
Aeon Station: Observatory (2021, Sub Pop): Kevin Whelan, formerly of the Wrens -- three albums 1994-2003, the last got some critical acclaim, but a 2014 album was never released -- not sure if this is a new group or just a solo project. B+(**) [sp]
Alfa Mist: Bring Backs (2021, Anti-): British producer, real name (probably) Alfa Sekitoleko, part of "creative quartet" Are We Live, third album. I've seen it grouped as jazz, and it does have a bit of saxophone on it. B+(*)
Riddy Arman: Riddy Arman (2021, La Honda): Country singer-songwriter, from Ohio but went to Montana for a video, and Portland to record this short debut album. B+(***)
Blackberry Smoke: You Hear Georgia (2021, 3 Legged): Southern rock band, from Atlanta, 2003 debut called Bad Luck Ain't No Crime. True to form, but I jotted down two lines from the opener: "it's a helluva thing to break your back just to make another man rich" and the refrain, "let's live it up until we can't live it down." B+(*)
Garrett T. Capps: I Love San Antone (2021, Vinyl Ranch): Likes Austin but loves San Antonio, proclaimed in the first song then underscored with Tex-Mex accordion in the second. Seems almost too easy. B+(***)
Melissa Carper: Daddy's Country Gold (2021, self-released): Country singer-songwriter, also plays upright bass, second or third album, plus one as The Carper Family. B+(***)
Sharel Cassity/Rajiv Halim/Greg Ward: Altoizm (2021, Afar Music): Three alto saxophonists, from Chicago, I've seen them ordered every which way, with alphabetical making as much sense as any. Rhythm section: Richard D. Johnson (piano), Jeremiah Hunt (bass), Michael Piolet (drums). Seven tracks (2-3-2). Bebop throwback, like a Charlie Parker tag team. B+(***)
Anansy Cissé: Anoura (2021, Riverboat): Saharan blues groove from Mali, second album, nothing spectacular but true to form. B+(***)
Kiely Connell: Camulet Queen (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Indiana, based in Nashville, first album. Strong voice, some grit to her songs. B+(**)
Jesse Daniel: Beyond These Walls (2021, Die True): Country singer-songwriter, third album. Fine trad sound picking and singing. One in Spanish is high-octane Tex-Mex. B+(***)
Bobby Dove: Hopeless Romantic (2021, self-released): Country singer-songwriter from Canada (Montreal), third album. Reviews display a curious lack of pronouns, but are right as to the classic form and depth of the songs (aside from the one in Spanish, which I still have doubts about). A-
Hope Dunbar: Sweetheartland (2021, self-released): Singer-songwriter from Utica, Nebraska (pop. 800), with a husband and three kids and enough housework to keep her down, but sometimes she'll write a few words and pick up her guitar and sing. Sometimes she oversings, coming off like Bruce Springsteen. B+(***)
Hope Dunbar: You Let the Light In (2021, self-released): Third album, recorded in Nashville. Powerful singer, songs strike me as a bit more generic. B+(**)
Vincent Neil Emerson: Vincent Neil Emerson (2021, La Honda): Singer-songwriter from Texas, third album after East Texas Blues and Fried Chicken and Evil Women, evidently had second thoughts about calling this one "High on Gettin' By" or "Saddled Up and Tamed." Flashes a bit of John Prine early, more Rodney Crowell (producer here) later. Part Choctaw-Apache, good for the deepest ballad here. A-
John Escreet/Pera Krstajic/Anthony Fung: Cresta (2022, self-released): Keyboards, electric bass, drums, eighth album for the leader since 2008. B+(*) [bc]
Flatland Cavalry: Welcome to Countryland (2021, self-released): Lubbock, Texas country group, singer-songwriter Cleto Cordero, fiddle hinting at western swing, third album. B+(*)
Béla Fleck: My Bluegrass Heart (2021, Renew, 2CD): Banjo player, born in New York, has long straddled jazz and bluegrass, with occasional forays elsewhere (one of his best albums is Throw Down Your Heart, recorded in Africa, and another features Zakir Hussain). Instrumental, aside from the occasional giggle, with a few recognizable bluegrass stars dropping in to jam. B+(*)
Linda Fredriksson: Juniper (2021, We Jazz): Finnish saxophonist (alto, baritone, bass clarinet, guitar, piano, synthesizer, voice), first album. With keyboards-bass-drums, soft edges, a bit of space ambiance. B+(**)
Charles Wesley Godwin: How the Mighty Fall (2021, self-released): Country singer-songwriter from West Virginia, second album. Saving Country Music's album of the year. Can't fault it for craft, but a bit too mighty for my taste. B+(*)
John Hébert: Sounds of LoveChanges-era Mingus, with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Tim Berne (alto sax), Fred Hersch (piano), and Ches Smith (drums). B+(***)
Tom Jones: Surrounded by Time (2021, S-Curve): Welsh crooner, seemed like part of an earlier/obsolete tradition when he had his first hit in 1965, but 40 albums later it's fair to say he's proven resourceful and resilient. Past 80 he's found his blues voice, and backed it with a harsh mechanical grind. All covers, of which "Pop Star" (Cat Stevens) and "Talking Reality Television Blues (Todd Snider) are most striking. B+(*)
Koreless: Agor (2021, Young): Welsh electronica producer Lewis Roberts, first album after a couple EPs. B
Mac Leaphart: Music City Joke (2021, self-released): Nashville singer-songwriter auditioning for the next generation John Prine, aiming high and failing amiably. Aesthetes may seek originals, but many of the rest of us will settle for compatriots. And when you think about it, that's the rule for folksingers. Bob Dylan imitated all sorts of people before he became himself. A-
Rob Leines: Blood Sweat and Beers (2021, self-released): Country singer-songwriter, born in Georgia, bounced back and forth to California, second (or third) album. B+(**)
John McLaughlin: Liberation Time (2021, Abstract Logix): British fusion guitarist, pretty much invented the genre, returned to form after a sabbatical delving into Indian music. B+(*)
Mike and the Moonpies: One to Grow On (2021, Prairie Rose): Austin-based country band, albums since 2010 -- the first two announced their intentions: The Real Country and The Hard Way. B+(*)
Nation of Language: A Way Forward (2021, PIAS): Electropop trio from Brooklyn, second album. B+(**)
NTsKI: Orca (2021, Orange Milk/EM): Kyoto-based J-pop artist, debut album (although her website lists other albums, as well as EPs). B+(**) [bc]
Poppy: Flux (2021, Sumerian): Pop singer Moriah Rose Pereira, fourth album, started closer to bubblegum but moved on to flirt with metal, but the extra heft hasn't harmed her pop sense. B+(***)
Connie Smith: The Cry of the Heart (2021, Fat Possum): Popular country singer for RCA 1965-72, although I can't recommend a compilation from the period (The Essential Connie Smith is part of a generally exemplary series of single-CD compilations, but a B- for me). She moved on to Columbia through 1976 and Monument to 1978, and has recorded a few things since -- produced by Marty Stuart since they married in 1997. One I like a lot is 2011's Long Line of Heartaches, on Sugar Hill. At 80, she still has quite a voice, and more faith in Jesus than seems warranted. B+(**)
The Steel Woods: All of Your Stones (2021, Thirty Tigers): Southern rock group, founded by singer Wes Bayliss and guitarist Jason "Rowdy" Cope (d. 2021), based in Nashville, third album since 2017. Best line was about not being able to feel a broken heart, but that's a pretty low ceiling. B
Billy Strings: Renewal (2021, Rounder): Bluegrass picker William Apostol, main instrument is guitar but also plays banjo and mandolin, and sings. Third album. Classic sound. B+(**)
Aaron Lee Tasjan: Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! (2021, New West): Singer-songwriter, filed under country but latest album listed as "power pop." Indeed, sounds a bit like Marshall Crenshaw, except, you know, not as good. Sample lyric: "cartoon music for plastic people, who don't know how to feel." B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
The Beaters: Harari (1975 , Matsuli Music): South African "Soweto soul" group, first album, changed their name to Harari thereafter, going on to record another dozen albums up to 1986. Not sure who plays sax on the closer. B+(**) [bc]
Chuck Berry: Live From Blueberry Hill (2005-06 , Dualtone): I lived a couple years in St. Louis: one on Eastgate, across from a bagel bakery, at the east end of what was even then known as the Delmar Loop. Blueberry Hill was the local pub, and I spent a fair amount of time in there -- only Left Bank Books and Streetside Records saw more of me. I don't recall any music there, but Joe Edwards built his empire around it. His biggest coup was getting Chuck Berry to play monthly from 1996 to 2014. This picks 10 tracks from the middle of his run. His voice is shot, and the lean elegance of songs you certainly know has thickened, and the band/sound is far from spectacular, but his excitement is still palpable, and he throws in some ad libs you'll want to hear. After all, "if you love it, you ain't never too old." A- [sp]
Chuck Berry: Toronto Rock 'N' Roll Revival 1969 (1969 , Sunset Blvd.): Remastered complete set of a live concert that's been variously available at least since 1978. The 9:41 "My Ding-A-Ling" is either a high- or a low-point. No debate over the 6:32 "Reelin' and Rockin'." B+(***)
Essiebons Special 1973-1984: Ghana Music Power House (1973-84 , Analog Africa): A compilation of from Ghana's Essiebons label, long headed by producer Dick Essilfie-Bondzie, leans more toward Afrobeat than the earlier highlife style. I usually prefer the light grace of highlife, but this overwhelming deluge of rhythm works too. A- [bc]
Harari: Rufaro/Happiness (1976 , Matsuli Music): Formerly the Beaters, second group album, kept the name of their debut album. B+(**) [bc]
I'll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to the Velvet Underground & Nico (2021, Verve): A project of the late Hal Willner, evidently his last, recreating the Velvet Underground's first album cut-by-cut, with different artists tackling each song, with widely varying degrees of inspiration. I got to the album late. I remember going to at least two people's homes, playing their copies, and having them come into the room and ask me "what is this shit?" The record soon enough became my kind of comfort food, so it's a bit unsettling to hear other people fuck around with it. B+(***)
Khan Jamal: Infinity (1982-84 , Jazz Room): Vibraphone player, born in Florida but raised in Philadelphia, a founder of Sounds of Liberation in 1970. Died January 2022, at 75. Group includes Byard Lancaster (alto sax/flute), plus piano, bass, drums, extra percussion. B+(***)
Leo Nocentelli: Another Side (1971 , Light in the Attic): Guitarist from New Orleans, played for the Meters back in their heyday, side credits include Labelle, Wild Tchoupitoulas, Albert King, Etta James, Taj Mahal, Trombone Shorty. Recorded this one solo album, unreleased until now. B+(*)
Tom Prehn Kvartet: Centrifuga (1964 , Centrifuga): Danish pianist, recorded some remarkable free jazz as early as 1963 but I'm not sure he continued after 1970. John Corbett was a fan, reissuing some of his work in Atavistic's Unheard Music Series, and later on his Corbett Vs. Dempsey label. This is half of a 2021 reissue, but I've only been able to find the original self-released album so far. Quartet with tenor sax Fritz Krogh), bass (Poul Ehlers), and drums (Finn Slumstrup). One 44:09 piece. B+(***) [bc]
Ritmo Fantasía: Balearic Spanish Synth-Pop, Boogie & House (1982-1992) (1982-92 , Soundway): From Spanish islands in the Mediterranean, most famously Ibiza, collected by Berlin-based DJ Trujillo. B+(**)
Star Lovers: Boafo Ne Nyame (1987 , Hot Casa): High life group from Ghana, cover proclaims "Highlife Is Back with Star Lovers," and notes: "Frimpong Manso Production." B+(***) [bc]
The Velvet Underground: A Documentary Film by Todd Haynes (1954-70 , Polydor, 2CD): Soundtrack, 11 group songs not all tied to the four studio albums, one from Nico's solo album, four more including a pre-VU Reed group (The Primitives), pieces from the Diablos, Bo Diddley, and La Monte Young -- the latter a 6:21 minimalist sax solo. The VU songs are mostly live, and often magnificent (especially the 19:04 "Sister Ray"), but they're available in other packages, so I wonder how useful this particular one has. I haven't seen the movie. [PS: Napster credits most of these songs to Amon Tobin, but other sources, including a scan of the booklet, cite the group. My ears concur.] B+(***)
Precious Bryant: Feel Me Good (2002, Terminus): Blues singer from the Georgia side of the Alabama line, learned her guitar from an uncle, George Henry Bussey. Got recorded as early as 1967, but didn't release this debut until she turned 60. Live set, solo, just acoustic guitar and voice. B+(**)
Precious Bryant: The Truth (2004, Terminus): Second album, same sensibility but gets a lift from the extra depth of a band, not that you notice it much. Not sure of the provenance of the songs: some I thought I recognized, but not the titles. A-
Precious Bryant: My Name Is Precious (2005, Music Maker Relief Foundation): Label is a non-profit, got some recognition a couple years back with the compilation Hanging Guitar Doors, but it dates back to 1994, and started working with Bryant a decade before this album appeared. She runs through 26 songs here, nice and simple. B+(***)
Anansy Cissé: Mali Overdrive (2014, Riverboat): Guitarist-vocalist from Timbuktu in Mali, first album (at least known to the outside world), finds an undulating groove that many others have pioneered. B+(**)
Hope Dunbar: Three Black Crows (2017, self-released): First album, a dozen homespun songs, but she got some production (from Emily White), strings and percussion and backing vocals. B+(***)
Vincent Neil Emerson: Fried Chicken & Evil Women (2019, La Honda): Title song continues, "will be the death of me," and is followed by "The Bad Side of Luck." His songs flow as easy and natural as anyone's since Billy Joe Shaver. A-
Booker Ervin: Structurally Sound (1966 , Blue Note): Tenor saxophonist from Texas, rarely included in the list of "Texas Tenors" but should be. Emerged as a dominant player with Prestige in the early 1960s, but less known for his late 1960s work, before his death in 1970 at 39. Standard quintet here, but Charles Tolliver (trumpet) and John Hicks (piano) were barely known at the time. Really kicked in for me on Ervin's one original, "Boo's Blues." Reissue adds four tracks. [PS: Allen Lowe included this in a list of life-changing records he first heard at 14. It was the only one I didn't know.] A-
Booker Ervin: The In Between (1968, Blue Note): Last release before Ervin's 1970 death, first actually on Blue Note (which later reissued his two Pacific Jazz albums; also this one in 2004 with no extra material). Richard Williams plays trumpet on 5 (of 6) tracks, with Bobby Few (piano), Cevera Jeffries Jr. (bass), and Lenny McBrowne (drums). Sounds very strong. 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.
The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band: Both Ways (2017 , self-released): Holy Modal Rounders redux, download only and very skint on the samples. Bandcamp page touts this as "The Great Lost 2017 Double-Album." Christgau likes it. Maybe. [3/26 tracks] ++
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: