Monday, November 7, 2022

Music Week

November archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 39002 [38944] rated (+58), 43 [47] unrated (-4: 15 new, 28 old).

Rating count shot through the roof this week because I spent several days listening to the late Jerry Lee Lewis, and his Mercury albums rarely cracked 30 minutes, so they went fast. Nothing below impressed me as much as his best compilations and live albums, but I enjoyed almost every minute. There must be a solid A- Smash/Mercury best-of somewhere. (Christgau lists 1970's The Best of Jerry Lee Lewis at A- and 1985's Milestones at A, but those weren't available, and I didn't bother reconstructing them.)

Last time I looked, there was very little back catalog available from Loretta Lynn, but that seems to have changed recently, so she may be next week's focus. [PS: The first records are remarkable. I expected the country music norm of lots of filler around a famous single or two, but her voice is extraordinary, and the covers show it off.]

I spent a lot of time compiling my 2022 best jazz and best non-jazz files. I hadn't run any numbers before, so the big surprise was that I'm starting out with 73 non-jazz A-list new albums (which is a bit more than I usually wind up with) but only 49 jazz (which usually starts higher than non-jazz, but the numbers tend to even out as I scour EOY lists. On the other hand, B+(***) albums favor jazz 147 to 92, while lower grades are fairly even at 388 jazz, 376 non-jazz. In 2021, jazz divided at 77 A-list, 163 B+(***), and 455 lower; while non-jazz had 83 A-list, 122 B+(***), and 368 lower.

As best I recall, I used to get into November with a 2-to-1 jazz advantage overall, with somewhat reduced but still positive ratios in the upper grade tiers. The only thing I did differently this year was to track the metacritic file from early in the year, so I suppose that made me more aware of new non-jazz (especially hip-hop and country) records. The change in jazz grades suggests that I've shifted the line between B+(***) and A- down. I don't know about that. I could test this by going back to a few dozen B+(***) albums to get a sense of how many I had cut short. Probably a few, but I'd be surprised if they made up the deficit.

The thing that bothers me most about the lists is the ordering of the A-lists, especially for jazz. I have less sense of a top album, a top-five, a top-ten, etc., than ever before (e.g., I haven't played the Omri Ziegele album since I reviewed it, which is likely given that I streamed it, but I haven't played the top-rated CDs (Marta Sanchez, Andrew Cyrille, Rob Brown, Manel Fortiá) either, or anything else on the A-list. I'm sure that if I played them again, I'd like them again, but have absolutely no sense of how to order them. In such circumstances, what tends to happen is I add new records near the bottom of the list (this week's A- records are at 45 and 46), so early records wind up toward the top of the list. The non-jazz list is in slightly better shape, but I expect both will see a lot of reordering in the coming weeks. Plus additions, of course.

I arbitrarily nudged the Selo I Ludi grade up not due to any relistening but because I wanted to include it in the latecomer section of the EOY lists. Just seemed like the sort of record that belongs there. I'm not through reviewing the year's Streamnotes archives for possible additions. It's a slow, unpleasant process.

I should note that yesterday's Speaking of Which includes a long note on a piece by Brad Luen that Robert Christgau reprinted as a guest post last week. One more thing I want to stress is that it doesn't take a very high percentage of deaths (or other calamities) to produce a huge psychic toll. I'd say there is zero chance of all human beings being exterminated, and given that there is virtually zero chance of eradicating civilization (by which I mean our accumulated knowledge about the world). But there are a lot of bad things that can happen, and they reverberate through the living, often mutating into further bad things. One question I've been wondering about for at least 30 years is how close we are to the limits of Earth's carrying capacity. This isn't simply a question of population and resources, but varies considerably by organizational efficiency. The closer we are to the edge, the more fragile our world becomes. And if bad things create bad people -- which is suggested by the rise of neo-fascist parties around the world -- the risks of real systemic breakdown explode. These thoughts are the foundation for much of what I wrote yesterday.

I'm aiming to send out Jazz Critics Poll ballot requests by November 15. I've done some website setup, and should start assembling a mail list later this week. Sponsorship is still unsettled, but I'm not going to worry about that.

After I started writing this, I noticed that I still had unpacking to do. Next week for that.

New records reviewed this week:

Konrad Agnas/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Mattias Ståhl/Per Texas Johansson: All Slow Dream Gone (2022, Moserobie): Texas -- cover/spine only offers one name each, and that's how he appears -- plays clarinets (including bass and contrabass), an impressive showing over a first-rate rhythm section (drums, bass, vibraphone). A- [cd]

Daniel Avery: Ultra Truth (2022, Phantasy Sound): British electronica producer, 2013 debut called Drone Logic, this starts with a piano riff that expands into a reverb cloud. I prefer drums, and sometimes this delivers. B+(**) [sp]

Brian Charette: Jackpot (2021 [2022], Cellar): Organ player, debut 2009, seemed at first like he wanted to set out a new path for his instrument, but hard to do that when the temptations of soul jazz are so obvious. Quartet with Cory Weeds (tenor sax), Ed Cherry (guitar), and Bill Stewart (drums). B+(*) [sp]

Shemekia Copeland: Done Come Too Far (2022, Alligator): Blues singer, father was Johnny Copeland, 11th album since 1998. The high-minded opener should hit harder, but her formula for success isn't really "Dumb It Down"; it's catchier tunes, with a bit of humor. B+(**) [sp]

Trevor Dunn Trio - Convulsant Avec Folie à Quatre: Seances (2022, Pyroclastic): Bassist, electric as well as double, started in a band called Mr. Bungle, has a dozen or so albums as leader, a much longer list of side credits (Discogs lists 249). This revives his 2004 group Trio-Convulsant, with Mary Halvorson and Ches Smith returning on guitar and drums, and adds a chamber jazz quartet, consisting of Carla Kihlstedt (violin), Mariel Roberts (cello), Oscar Noriega (clarinet), and Anna Webber (flute). B+(***) [cd]

R.A.P. Ferreira: 5 to the Eye With Stars (2022, Ruby Yacht, EP): Chicago rapper, previously Milo, fell back on his own name, the initial standing for Rory Allen Philip. Starts brilliantly, doesn't fade so much as fracture. Short album: 9 tracks, 23:09. B+(***) [sp]

Joe Fiedler: Solo: The Howland Sessions (2022, Multiphonics): Trombonist, debut 1998, did a tribute to Albert Mangelsdorff in 2005, marks the 50th anniversary of Mangelsdorff's first solo performance with his own solo album. Tough going, but interesting. B+(**) [cd]

Fred Again: Actual Life (January 1-September 9 2022) (2022, Atlantic): British electronica producer Fred John Philip Gibson, third album, all stylized as time slices in everyday life. B+(*) [sp]

Satoko Fujii: Hajimeru (2021, Libra, EP): Japanese avant-pianist, very prodigious, slipped this 4-track, 29:01 digital album out with no publicity last year. B+(*) [bc]

Satoko Fujii: Bokyaku (2022, Libra): Concept here is to take found noises ("trains, airplane, helicopters, laundry machine, water drops, parked boats, constructers, etc.") and play a little music to go with them. Perhaps too little. B [bc]

Steve Gadd/Eddie Gomez/Ronnie Cuber: Center Stage (2022, Leopard): Credit below the title is WDR Big Band, arranged & conducted by Michael Abene, with the guest stars on drums, bass, and baritone sax. I don't know when this was recorded, but it came out two weeks before Cuber died (at 80). He sounds pretty good here, buoyed not less by the heft of the big band than by his rhythm co-stars, ably aided on a selection of funk tunes by WDR's guitar (Bruno Müller) and organ players (Bobby Sparks II). B+(*) [sp]

Gato Libre: Sleeping Cat (2022, Libra): Trumpet player Natsuki Tamura's group, ninth album since 2004, with trombone (Yasuko Kaneko), and wife Satoko Fujii backing on accordion (instead of her usual piano). Slow, a bit too sketchy. B+(*) [bc]

Buddy Guy: The Blues Don't Lie (2022, RCA/Silvertone): Chicago blues legend, 86 now, born in Louisiana, moved to Chicago and got picked up by Chess, his first recordings -- I Was Walking Through the Woods, from 1960-64 -- made Robert Santelli's top 100 blues albums list. I was less impressed by him than by the giants's of the Chess blues stable, at least until he teamed up with Junior Wells (Hoodoo Man Blues was number 8 on Santelli's list, vs. 78 for Guy's album). He's long since outlived all of them, developed as a singer, never had to make any excuses for his guitar, and I now find he's had a half-dozen albums between the last one I noticed (2010) and this one. He gets a lot of help here, but is just as effective on the closing solo take of "King Bee" (but he's still not Muddy Waters). B+(***) [sp]

Jupiter: The Wild East (2022, Moserobie): Originally (2004) a guitar-organ duo of Håvard Stubø and Steinar Sønk Nickelsen, soon joined by saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar, and eventually by drummer Johan Holmegard. Best when the sax breaks out. B+(*) [cd]

Kanda Bongo Man: Yolele! Live in Concert (2016 [2021], No Wahala Sounds): Congolese soukous star, emerged in the 1980s, got some US recognition when Hannibal several albums 1987-93 (from Amour Fou to Soukous in Central Park). B+(**) [sp]

Kanda Bongo Man: Kekete Bue (2022, No Wahala Sounds): First new album since 2010, although it includes "reinterpretations of some of his classic songs." B+(**) [sp]

Mavi: Laughing So Hard, It Hurts (2022, United Masters): Rapper Omavi Minder, from North Carolina, has a 2019 album after a couple self-released efforts. B+(**) [sp]

Bill Orcutt: Music for Four Guitars (2021 [2022], Palilalia): Guitarist, founded the noise-punk duo Harry Pussy (1993-98), released a solo album in 1996, a couple dozen fringe albums since. He plays all four guitars here, so a solo album with overdubbed overtones, more metallic klang around rough-hewn riffs. B+(**) [sp]

Phoenix: Alpha Zulu (2022, Glassnote): French indie pop band, sing in English, seventh album since 2000, of which their fourth (Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix) was an international breakout with solid critical support. They remain catchy, but I suspect a long popular slide is in order. B+(*) [sp]

Plains: I Walked With You a Ways (2022, Anti-): Alt-country duo of Jess Williamson (who has four albums since 2014) and Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee, five albusm since 2012, after her debut with P.S. Eliot). Starts with harmonies as tight as the McGarrigles, and develops from there. A- [sp]

Rufus Reid Trio and the Sirius Quartet: Celebration (2022, Sunnyside): Bassist, several dozen albums since 1979 plus hundreds of side credits. Trio with Steve Allee (piano) and drums (Duduka da Fonseca), plus string quartet on six (of 11) tracks. B- [sp]

Antonio Sanchez: Shift (Bad Hombre Vol. II) (2022, Warner): Mexican drummer, based in New York since 1999, usually a jazz guy, but he seems to have gotten into this via soundtracks, and has lined up guest singers for nearly every track. B [sp]

Josh Sinton's Predicate Quartet: Four Freedoms (2022, Form Is Possibility): Leader plays baritone sax, bass clarinet, and alto flute, played in the Steve Lacy tribute group Ideal Bread. Jonathan Finlayson (trumpet) is most impressive here, backed by Christopher Hoffman (cello) and Tom Rainey (drums). A- [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Crossroads Kenya: East African Benga and Rumba, 1980-1985 (1980-85 [2022], No Wahala Sounds): Seven singles (48:31) by as many bands, none I recall, but I couldn't name most of the bands on the so-far definitive Guitar Paradise of East Africa compilation. This may be second- or even third-tier, but that guitar sound is pretty hard to resist. A- [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Killer Keys of Jerry Lee Lewis (1956-60 [2022], Sun): Sun Records 70th anniversary series, remastered from original mono tapes, on vinyl, 14 "favorites, alternative versions & deep cuts." Seems like a fairly arbitrary collection, with two big hits but only a couple more obvious picks. B+(***) [sp]

Old music:

Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Lewis (1958, Sun): After his two breakthrough hits in 1957 ("Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On," "Great Balls of Fire"), and one last top-ten single in early 1958 ("Breathless"), Sam Phillips figured he'd try an LP. They seem to be throwing a lot of shit at the wall, with covers of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins not measuring up. But "Jambalaya" and "When the Saints Go Marching In" do get the blood pumping. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Essential Jerry Lee Lewis: The Sun Years (1956-63 [2013], Legacy, 2CD): Sure, a top shelf single-CD compilation like Rhino's Original Sun Greatest Hits is more choice, but Rhino's supplementary single-CD Rare Tracks was nearly as good. This isn't as consistent as either, but runs 40 tracks without breaking down. A- [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Golden Cream of Country (1956-63 [1969], Sun): Released by Shelby Singleton, who had produced Lewis at Smash, soon after he bought the Sun catalog. His earliest hits charted even higher on the country charts than on the pop charts, and by 1968 he had settled into a country music niche, so Singleton scoured the archives to construct a competitive album. No dates were offered, so I'm going with Lewis's Sun tenure, but most likely toward the end of that, and even so some pieces sound like they could be doctored (strings weren't big at Sun, and Linda Gail Lewis (who would have been 16 in 1963), joins for a duet). Eleven songs (none essential), 26:56. B [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: A Taste of Country (1956-63 [1970], Sun): Even his biggest early singles placed higher on the country chart than on pop, so it shouldn't be surprising that even when he was recognized as a rock star, he recorded a lot of country filler. He reinvented himself as a full-fledged country artist when he moved to Smash in 1964. When Shelby Singleton (who had produced Lewis at Smash) bought Sun in 1969, he cashed in with this "new" album of oldies: mostly ballads but Lewis can't quite contain himself when Hank Williams is concerned ("Your Cheatin' Heart," and better still is "You Win Again," one of the few covers Lewis owns). Short: 11 tracks, 26:37. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Songs for City Folks (1965, Smash): I guess the concept is that "city folks" wouldn't already know these 12 hit songs, but half of them I recall as hits from a time when I wouldn't be caught dead listening to country music: the biggest was "King of the Road," but it was hard not to also recognize "Walk Right In," "Ring of Fire," "Detroit City," "Wolverton Mountain," and "North to Alaska" (where little sister Linda Gail Lewis made her debut). B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Soul My Way (1967, Smash): Jerry Kennedy took over as producer, and toyed with the idea of flipping Ray Charles over, which works surprisingly well when he picks something upbeat (e.g., "Turn on Your Love Light") and turns on the Memphis horns. Not everything fit that mold, so this is remains a curiosity, a road not taken. Short: 26:56. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Another Place, Another Time (1968, Smash): This is where Lewis finally makes his commitment to contemporary country music, scoring two top-five singles (the title track and "What's Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)"). Eleven songs, 27:33. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis & Linda Gail Lewis: Together (1969, Smash): His little sister was 12 years younger, with a brash but not very artful voice. She appeared as a duet partner on a couple previous songs, but gets a whole album here (and another on her own, but just one). For a guy who famously married an underaged cousin (along with seven other wives), they don't have much chemistry, but his leads are solid enough. She finally got another shot in a rockabilly revival in 1990, and hung on for a couple dozen mostly good albums. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: She Still Comes Around (To Love What's Left of Me) (1969, Smash): Two more hit singles, the title track and "To Make Love Sweeter for You" (his first #1 since "Great Balls of Fire"). Eleven songs: 27:48. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 1 (1969, Smash): With a couple country hit albums under his belt, this must have seemed like the easiest way to get a third, and indeed this was his highest charting country album ever. This doesn't have the crossover novelties of Country Songs for City Folks, but if you listened to country music from the late-1940s into the mid-1960s, you should recognize them all. (Granted, "Sweet Dreams" did cross over for Patsy Cline, #44 in 1963, and Tommy McLain, #15 in 1966, but the original country hits were by writer Don Gibson and coverer Faron Young in 1956.) Of course, he sings them credibly -- not that you'd pick these versions over Williams or Frizzell or even Gibson -- and he adds his signature piano. But Linda Gail heats up "Jackson" enough to give Cash & Carter a run for the money. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Sings the Country Music Hall of Fame Hits, Vol. 2 (1969, Smash): Same deal here, extending the session to a second day, with Linda Gail returning for a second closing duet ("Sweet Thang"). B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: She Even Woke Me Up to Say Goodbye (1970, Mercury): New label, same producer (Jerry Kennedy), eleven short songs (26:51), most well-known filler ("Working Man Blues," "Waiting for a Train," "Brown Eyed Handsome Man," "Since I Met You Baby"), a formula that can easily be milked for three albums a year. He's enough of a stylist that he doesn't have to eclipse Chuck Berry or Merle Haggard to be entertaining singing their songs. And give him a song like "When the Grass Grows Over Me" and he'll own it. B+(***)

Jerry Lee Lewis: There Must Be More to Love Than This (1971, Mercury): The only Lewis to co-write a song here is Linda Gail. The rest (aside from "Sweet Georgia Brown") come from contemporary Nashville songsmiths, who have reams of songs for any situation, especially a crumbling marriage. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Touching Home (1971, Mercury): Another solid if unspectacular album, with the usual pair of modest hit singles. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Would You Take Another Chance on Me? (1971, Mercury): Feeling the gravity of the countrypolitan trend, but he doesn't let it sink him, partly because he can talk as well as sing through the murk. Or turn up the heat, as he does on "Me and Bobby McGee." B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The "Killer" Rocks On (1972, Mercury): "Me and Bobbie McGee" was enough of a hit -- his first top-40 pop hit since "High School Confidential" in 1958 -- that they decided to recontextualize it in an album of rock covers (if you count two tracks by Joe South). "Chantilly Lace" is in his wheelhouse, and his Elvis impression is getting better. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Who's Gonna Play This Old Piano? (1972, Mercury): Back in his country groove, the title song custom built for him, several others of note. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Sometimes a Memory Ain't Enough (1973, Mercury): Producer Sam Kesler provides the title single, and revives an oldie he co-wrote for Elvis. Of the rest, "Falling to the Bottom" fits Lewis best. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: The Session . . . Recorded in London With Great Artists (1973 [1984], Mercury): Originally released on 2-LP, trimmed down to 14 tracks (56:35) for CD (which matches my stream), later offered in a 2-CD "Complete" edition (2006, Hip-O Select, 25 tracks, 94:03). I'd be curious about some of the missing songs ("Be Bop a Lula," "Satisfaction") but chances are the editions even out. The "great artists" aren't so great: most famous are Albert Lee, Peter Frampton, Rory Gallagher, Gary Wright, Delaney Bramlett, and Klaus Voorman. Good enough for an oldies show, with a major in red hot piano. B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Southern Roots: Back Home in Memphis (1973, Mercury): So he does a couple soul songs with the Stax crew including Memphis horns ("When a Man Loves a Woman," "Hold On! I'm Coming"), but he's also being pulled back to Louisiana, with Huey P. Meaux producing, feeding him both "Blueberry Hill" and a Doug Sahm song ("The Revolutionary Man"). But he tops them all with "Meat Man." B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: I-40 Country (1974, Mercury): I-40 crosses Tennesse, passing through Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville, extending east across North Carolina to Wilmington, and west across Arkansas and Oklahoma on to Barstow, California (2,556 miles total). What the highway has to do with this record isn't evident: maybe the Memphis-to-Nashville path he followed, but he's usually more fun when he heads the other way. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Boogie Woogie Country Man (1975, Mercury): His 30th album, with two songs by a young songwriter named Tom T. Hall, he cuts back on the strings and powers through eleven songs in 28:55. Holds the title song back until the end. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Odd Man In (1975, Mercury): Picks up where the last album left off with another boogie woogie, then segues into "Shake, Rattle & Roll." Reprises "Goodnight Irene," and boogie woogies "Your Cheatin' Heart." B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Class (1976, Mercury): Eleven more songs. I wouldn't say he's just going through the motions, but nothing especially notable here. Ends with a creepy one about making love to one woman while thinking of another. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Country Memories (1977, Mercury): Opens with "Middle Age Crazy," where the line "trying to prove he still can" suggests self-revelation, but he distances himself a bit by taking it easy when a little crazy might have helped. He follows this with a real nice Ernest Tubb song, and includes a lovely "Georgia on My Mind." B+(***) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Keeps Rockin' (1977 [1978], Mercury): His last album for Mercury, feels a bit like contract filler, although he acquits himself well on familiar hits ("Blue Suede Shoes," "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Lucille"). I assume the recording date is 1977, because that's the year Lewis's Mercury compilations end. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Jerry Lee Lewis (1979, Elektra): After a decade-plus in Nashville cranking out 2-3 solid mainstream country albums each year, he goes to Los Angeles, where producer Bones Howe wanted him to rock a little. He obliges. B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: When Two Worlds Collide (1980, Elektra): After his return to rock and roll stiffed (186 pop, 23 country), the label beat a retreat to Nashville. This one didn't do any better (32 country). Title song from Roger Miller. Fave is a dixieland throwback. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Killer Country (1980, Elektra): Leans back toward rock, but scores his biggest hit in a while with another middle-age crazy tale, "Thirty-Nine and Holding." Includes interesting takes on "Folsom Prison Blues" and "Over the Rainbow." B+(**) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Young Blood (1995, Sire): After being dropped by Elektra, he released two albums on MCA and three more on off labels before this one-shot, recorded in five studios over a couple years. A mix of rockabillied country songs and countrified rock and roll. Voice isn't in great shape, but he can still boogie. B+(*) [sp]

Jerry Lee Lewis: Last Man Standing (2006, Artists First): Somehow, Lewis managed to outlive all the other major Sun stars from the 1950s, so he claimed the title with an album of 21 old songs featuring that many duet partners, where the median name is probably more famous than Lewis (and only certain exception is Delaney Bramlett, although in a better world Toby Keith and Kid Rock would count, and maybe Robbie Robertson, Don Henley, and/or Eric Clapton). Still, I'm not sure the guests add (or detract) all that much. B+(**) [sp]

Linda Gail Lewis: The Two Sides of Linda Gail Lewis (1969, Smash): Jerry Lee's little sister, appeared as a duet partner in 1967 (when she was 20, and he 32), raised her profile in 1969 with their Together and this solo album -- the only one she released until 1990. She sings with gusto, and wrote a couple songs, but not as good as the ones Hank Williams wrote. B+(*) [bc]

Grade (or other) changes:

Selo I Ludy Performance Band: Bunch One (2019, self-released): Ukrainian covers band, struck me as "pure corn," a favorite of Ukraine sympathizers in the first month of the Putin invasion. [was: B+(**)] B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Laszlo Gardony: Close Connection (Sunnyside) [12-02]
  • Ramsey Lewis: The Beatles Songbook: The Saturday Salon Series: Volume One (Steele) [01-06]

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