An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Music Week [0 - 9]
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:
Monday, October 11, 2021
Music: Current count 36433  rated (+63), 188  unrated (-15).
Almost no new jazz (or new anything else) this week. I continued with the Christgau unheard list, moving from B.B. King to Merle Travis, although I couldn't find most of the A-list records in the bottom half of that list. (This is my second pass, and while I skipped a lot of A-N albums in the first pass, I had made a more diligent effort further down.) Note that 4 of this week's A-list items are albums I didn't buy because I had previously heard/rated most of the music from other editions (Fela, Lovin' Spoonful, Roy Orbison, Merle Travis). I've noted some of those other editions below.
The other thing I did last week was to rifle through a shelf unit which (at least originally) had old CDs from my unheard list, and played what looks like a random selection. I had bought a ton of CDs early in the 2000s, especially in "going out of business" sales, and many of them languished. I've been keeping track of "unheard albums" since 2003, when the total was over 900. Eventually I got it down to the low 200s, but as I've streamed more, I've scrounged less, and I was getting frustrated at my inability to drop the unrated number below 200. Well, I made a dent in that list this week. To my surprise, three of those albums made this week's A-list, in very different ways (folksinger Ewan MacColl, Mardi Gras Party, and a hip-hop mix). The remaining unrated albums are listed here. Where they are in the house is anyone's guess, but I figure this is at least in part a housekeeping task.
One excuse I have is that the new promo queue has shrunk to the point where I only have one album past its release date (and that was one I received last week, by a group I had never heard of). That doesn't count downloads, which I don't keep very good track of. Actually got a fair amount of unpacking last week, mostly into November. I'll do them when I get around to it. Things are pretty messy right now.
Wichita suffered a catastrophe last week: the city water system broke down, leading to a "boil water alert." The pumps were shut down by an electrical failure. Then when they started up again, the restored pressure broke a 42-inch main a couple miles east of us, flooding streets and dropping pressure again. We spent a few days working around the various restrictions and warnings, thinking about how critical it is to have a safe, reliable source of water. And contemplating how callous and stupid Republicans (and a couple Democrats) are in their opposition to sorely needed infrastructure investments.
Wichita (and most of Kansas) set a record high temperature on Saturday. I've set up a fairly fancy weather station here, so we're keeping a close watch. Got 1.55 inches of rain yesterday. We've generally been pretty lucky this year: hot but not exceptionally so, a bit drier than usual but not quite enough to call it a drought, and the jet stream has been well to the north, so we haven't seen much smoke from the fires out west.
New records reviewed this week:
Jü: III (2021, RareNoise): Avant-rock trio from Budapest, guitar-bass-drums with some vocals, sound like they might be onto something but tend to wear out their welcome. B+(*) [cdr]
Jo Berger Myhre: Unheimlich Manoeuvre (2021, RareNoise): Norwegian bassist, also does electronics, third album since 2017 (or fourth if you count the one headlined by Nils Petter Molvaer). Three solo tracks, the others have 1-3 guests -- acoustic guitar, keyboards, percussion, narration (Vivian Wang). B+(**) [cdr]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Nick Lowe and Los Straitjackets: Walkabout (2013-19 , Yep Roc): Originally a promo for an Australian tour of Lowe backed by the Nashville-based band: first half credited to Lowe (from two recent EPs), second credited to the band (Latin-tinged instrumentals of Lowe songs from 2017's What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets plus an earlier "Friday on My Mind"), plus "Heart of the City" from both. B
Fela and Afrika 70: Zombie (1976 , M.I.L. Multimedia): Christgau's first Fela Kuti review, a 1977 release not in Discogs, which lists alternatives on Coconut (Nigeria), Polydor (Ghana), and Creole (UK). Later reissues add two 1978 tracks to the original 2-cut, 25:24 LP -- I own and recommend the MCA from 2001, but Wrasse (2001) and Knitting Factory (2010) follow suit. All have the same cover, depicting the musician standing out against military oppression. The groove pieces are immensely satisfying, and if you get the extra cuts, they don't wear down. A-
Hard Times Come Again No More Vol. 1: Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardships (1924-37 , Yazoo): As a fan of Vol. 2, I had to check this one out. Title comes from an old Stephen Foster song, sung here by the Graham Brothers, up last as the fourth song with "Hard Time" in the title, outnumbered by eight "Blues." About half of the songs pre-date the Depression. More whites than blacks, but that just underscores how poverty cut across the other social fissures. A-
B.B. King: The Best of B.B. King (1969-71 , ABC): Bluesman, first singles date from 1949, so this offers a narrow slice, even at the time -- he recorded for another 35 years, before dying in 2015. I can recommend his 1952-62 Flair compilations (Do the Boogie: Early 50s Classics to 1956, or The Best of B.B. King, Volume One, or Blues Kingpins). He moved on to ABC in 1963 (Mr. Blues, their catalog later picked up by MCA), but this skips their early albums, starting out shortly before his Live at Cook County Jail. B+(***) [yt]
B.B. King: The Best of B.B. King [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1967-85 , MCA): Guessing at some of the dates as many of these songs appear multiple times, but safe to say they all come from ABC/MCA masters. The key period there is 1967-74, with an outlier from 1985 ("Into the Night"). Searching for dates suggests it shouldn't be hard to construct a better best-of, with more songs like "I Got Some Help I Don't Need." B+(***)
B.B. King: Blues Summit (1993, MCA): Eleven duets, each with one from the cover menu: Ruth Brown, Robert Cray, Albert Collins, Lowell Fulson, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Koko Taylor, Irma Thomas, Joe Louis Walker, Katie Webster. The twelfth song is a 8:57 mash of two King originals. "And more" includes Ben Cauley (trumpet) and Lee Allen (sax), and some featured names hang around to play elsewhere (especially Robert Cray). B+(***)
B.B. King: His Definitive Greatest Hits (1963-93 , Polygram, 2CD): With so much ABC/MCA material to choose from, it shouldn't be hard to pick out a first-rate compilation. This hits about 80% of the time. A-
B.B. King: Deuces Wild (1997, MCA): Another album of duets, but instead of pairing off with his blues peers, he entertains a wide swath of the pop universe, from Van Morrison to Willie Nelson. I particularly like the Dr. John piece. B+(***)
B.B. King: Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan (1999, Geffen): He's game to sing this songbook, but the original's voice is funnier, and I find myself noticing that on 16/18 songs. King does take command on blues fare (or non-hits?) like "I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town." The band is also game to swing, with Dr. John (piano), Russell Malone (guitar), and an all-star horn section (Marcus Belgrave, Hank Crawford, Fathead Newman). B+(**)
Ali Hassan Kuban: From Nubia to Cairo (1980 , Piranha): Born 1929 in a Nubian village near Aswan, moved to Cairo but continued to identify as Nubian. Several records up to his death in 2001, followed by a fine Rough Guide summary. B+(***)
Fela Ransome Kuti and His Koola Lobitos: Highlife Jazz and Afro-Soul (1963-1969) (1963-69 , Knitting Factory, 3CD): First disc collects the singles, second their 1968 Parlophone (Nigeria) album, third some live tracks. The only Fela this early I had heard before was the six Koola Lobitos tracks included in the 2001 reissue of The '69 L.A. Sessions. The highlife connection is clear from the early tracks -- being a saxophonist, he styled his take as "highlife jazz" -- with the James Brown impact still in his future. While much of this is unformed, there are patches of wonder and brilliance, including an exuberant "Highlife Time" and some real jazz. [Knitting Factory originally released this in 2005, with a different cover. VampiSoul reissued this on 2-CD in 2008 as Lagos Baby 1963-1969.] B+(***)
Lady Saw: Passion (1997, VP): Jamaican "Queen of Dancehall" Marion Hall, fourth album. B+(*)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (1975-85 , Shanachie): South African male choral group -- a style known as iscathimiya or mbube -- led by Joseph Shabalala, many records since 1973, with a US breakthrough in 1984 (Induku Zethu) on Shanachie, which followed up with several other albums (both earlier and later) and 1990's Classic Tracks. I was quite taken by the latter, but my interest in the others soon flagged. Surprised to see a second compilation just two years later, especially one with three repeats. B+(***)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Gift of the Tortoise (1994, Music for Little People): After Paul Simon featured them on Graceland (1986), the world opened up a bit to them, leading to projects like this one: narrated in English and pitched as music for children. The animal-themed songs are mostly in Zulu, which passes as the language of the animals. B+(*) [cd]
Tony Lakatos/Al Foster/Kirk Lightsey/George Mraz: News (1994 , Jazzline): Hungarian saxophonist (tenor/soprano), albums since 1982, this quartet was recorded in Brooklyn, about 8 albums in. Four Lakatos originals, one each from Lightsey and Foster, one from Dave Brubeck, the last one a Jerome Kern song ("The Way You Look Tonight"). Nice mainstream tone, rhythm section makes it look easy. B+(**) [cd]
Jim Lauderdale: Pretty Close to the Truth (1994, Atlantic): Alt-country singer-songwriter, second album, has stuck with it with a new album every year or two since. Songs and voice are somewhere between not bad and pretty respectable. B+(*) [cd]
Linx: Intuition (1981, Chrysalis): British soul/funk duo, first of two albums before splitting in 1983. B+(**)
Living Things: Ahead of the Lions (2004 , Jive/Zomba): St. Louis band, Discogs tags them as "Glam" -- probably reminds someone of Iggy Pop, or maybe because the Rothman brothers renamed themselves Lillian, Eve, and Bosh Berlin. US label had qualms about their Black Skies in Broad Daylight debut, so held it up, reshuffled, and finally released this title, keeping 7 songs, replacing the other 6 with 5 new ones. I replayed the new ones, and two are worthy additions ("Bom Bom Bom" and "Monsters of Man"). So I give the edge to the original, but "Bombs Away" is on both. B+(***)
Love: Da Capo (1967, Elektra): Famous rock band from Los Angeles, second album, led by Arthur Lee with Johnny Echols on lead guitar. Six first-side songs offer scattered looks that impress without convincing. Second side perks up with the 18:57 "Revelation," with highly charged guitar, harmonica, and sax against a commanding beat. B+(***)
Love: Four Sail (1969, Elektra): Fourth album, only Arthur Lee remaining from the original group, or for that matter from their third (and possibly best) album, Forever Changes. Still sounds like a band. Just less like a great one. B+(**)
Love: Out Here (1969, Blue Thumb): Two LPs (69:23) of what were basically outtakes from Four Sail. A couple good things here, like "Stand Out" and the 11:20 guitar bash "Love Is More Than Words or Better Than Never." But some things are truly awful ("Discharged"). B-
Love: False Start (1970, Blue Thumb): Jimi Hendrix, whose career intersected with Arthur Lee's before, leads off, which you kinda forget by an end that's more confusing than not. B+(**)
The Lovin' Spoonful: Greatest Hits (1965-68 , Buddha): Pioneering folk-rock band, principally John B. Sebastian, had a two-year stretch with 7 top-ten singles, two more years where they charted lower and lower, then they were done (although Sebastian had a mediocre solo career to 1978, and has occasionally resurfaced). This covers them generously, as did 1990's Anthology -- both run 26 tracks, 23 in common. A-
Nick Lowe and His Cowboy Outfit: The Rose of England (1985, Columbia): Missed this one after a couple disappointments from the middle of his Nashville period -- he was married to Carlene Carter 1979-90 -- so I felt I should rectify the omission and was pleasantly surprised. Granted, it's only half new originals, and that's counting the instrumental featuring Duck Deluxe Martin Belmont, and it tails off a bit toward the end. B+(***)
Nick Lowe: Untouched Takeaway (1995-2001 , Yep Roc): Live album, billed as his first ever, divided into two parts: from his 2001 European tour after The Convincer, and a 1995 set at Gino's Stockholm after The Impossible Birds. Mostly songs (I've heard but don't know) from those recent albums, but a few old ones (usually slowed down) and a couple country covers ("Tombstone Every Mile," "I'll Be There"). B
Luna: Slide (1993, Elektra, EP): Dream pop band, led by singer-songwriter Dean Wareham, first album the excellent Lunapark (1992), followed by this 6-track, 27:00 EP. Repeats two songs from the debut (including the title, one of their best), adds three covers and one original. Seems like the very definition of redundant, but sounds pretty impressive. B+(***)
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Nuthin' Fancy (1975, MCA): Jacksonville natives, the most legendary of the Southern rock bands that followed the Allmans, also marked by tragedy when leader Ronnie Van Zant perished in a 1977 plane crash. I thought their first album was pretty great -- I particularly related to the cowardice (or prudence) of "Gimme Three Steps" -- but their Second Helping filled me up, and I didn't bother with their following albums (especially the post-1977 revival, which continues to this day). Christgau was even more attached, going so far as to follow them on tour for a feature -- a personal connection he rarely indulged in, and one I've never touched -- so their albums loom large on my unheard-but-Christgau-rated list. This was their third, pretty much as advertised. B+(**)
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gimme Back My Bullets (1976, MCA): Perhaps a bit funkier, also meaner. "You won't hear me crying, because I do not sing the blues." B+(*)
Lynyrd Skynyrd: One More From the Road (1976, MCA): Double-LP live set from Fox Theatre in Atlanta, 14 songs, 81:30, including an 11:30 wind up of "Freebird" and most of their obvious hits. [Initial reissue in 1986 dropped two tracks to fit onto a single CD. In 2001, reissued on 2-CD as Deluxe Edition, with restored cuts and edits -- e.g., "Freebird" grows to 14:48 -- and other extras.] B+(**)
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Street Survivors (1977, MCA): Released three days before the plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant and others -- the emergency landing killed 7, while 7 more survived, enough to keep the band going despite the immeasurable loss. Leads off with one of their best songs ("What's Your Name"). B+(***)
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Gold & Platinum (1972-77 , MCA, 2CD): Serviceable best-of the Ronnie Van Zant period, pulls two tracks from their first album (1972, unreleased until parts appeared in 1978's Skynyrd's First and . . . Last), slips in three cuts from their live double (including a 14:10 "Freebird"), because that's the kind of band they were. Probably should grade it higher, but I'm running out of patience with them. B+(***)
Yo-Yo Ma: Classic Yo-Yo (1992-2001 , Sony Classical): Classical cellist, parents Chinese, born in Paris, studied at Juilliard and Harvard, "has recorded more than 90 albums and received 18 Grammy Awards" (14 through 2001, so the pace has slackened). Side interests include tango (Astor Piazzolla) and bluegrass (Mark O'Connor). Despite my deep-seated aversion, he's often pretty tolerable. [I previously reviewed a 2-CD 2005 compilation: The Essential Yo-Yo Ma: B+] B+(*)
Ewan MacColl: Black and White: The Definitive Collection (1972-86 , Green Linnet): Folksinger, born 1915 in Lancashire of Scottish parents, died 1989. A "lifetime communist," political themes abound: "I may be a wage slave on Monday, but I'm a free man on Sunday." Not a style I'm fond of, but remarkable in its way -- not least when he sings unaccompanied. A- [cd]
Mardi Gras Party (1971-90 , Rounder): Mardi Gras Indians, Professor Longhair on "Big Chief," James Booker on Professor Longhair (and yet another "Tipitina"), "Mardi Gras Mambo" and "Mardi Gras Zydeco," "Hey Pocky Way" twice (by Art Neville and as part of Irma Thomas' "Second Line Medley"). I was on the fence until midway, when Rebirth Brass Band blasted out "Do Whatcha Wanna, Pt. 3," followed by the Thomas medley. Ends with Tuts Washington playing "Saints" as a brief coda. A niche record, but earns it. A- [cd]
The Master Musicians of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar: Apocalypse Across the Sky (1992, Axiom): Jbala sufi trance musicians from the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco. Group (loosely speaking) dates back to the 1950s, with a bit of international fame coming with Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka, recorded in 1968, but various splits and permutations followed. This is one, led by Attar (born in 1964; his father was on the 1968 album), and produced by Bill Laswell, again providing a conduit to the west. B+(***)
Johnny Mathis: The Ultimate Hits Collection (1956-86 , Columbia): Possibly the squarest crooner of the 1950s, doesn't even have the excuse of having started before rock and roll exploded in 1956. Perhaps we can blame Mitch Miller and Ray Coniff (producer and orchestrator, respectively, of his early hits), but his clear and supple voice practically begged for their lush adoration. He recorded over 70 albums with more than 110 singles (up through 2017, when he was 82), and has been compiled dozens of times. I've sampled several of those, always impressed early on -- "Chances Are" was his biggest early hit, and deservedly so -- before my patience wore thin, even if I refrained from gagging. Christgau recommended this one, but even so concluded: "Give him his due -- and then use your programming buttons." B+(**)
Moby Grape: Moby Grape (1967, Columbia): Debut album from one of those San Francisco bands that demonstrated the promise and perils of psychedelia -- per Jeff Tamarkin: "The Grape's saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak." He went on about "great music," something that previously escaped me. (I've heard two comps: Vintage: The Very Best of Moby Grape, which starts with this album complete, and Listen My Friends: The Best of Moby Grape, and left both at B.) I can note a slight country streak, a loose sense of time, and a bit of thrash that could be extended live. Also one song that's kinda catchy. B+(*) [yt]
Moby Grape: Wow (1968, Columbia): Second album. Easier to accept that this is godawful -- Christgau: "one of the worst cases of Pepper-itis on record" -- than that the debut was brilliant. [Looks like this was originally released with a 2nd LP called Grape Jam. The initial CD reissue combined the two LPs into one CD, but later reissues treat the two as separate albums.] C+ [yt]
Moby Grape: Moby Grape '69 (1969, Columbia): Third (or fourth) album, intended as a return to "normal" after the over-produced Wow and the departure of resident genius/psycho Skip Spence. Some regard this as early country-rock ("predating the more popular first country rock releases by Poco and The Eagles"), but country is rarely this plain or uninteresting. B- [yt]
M.O.P.: Handle Ur Bizness (1998, Relativity, EP): Hip-hop duo, Billy Danze and Lil' Fame, acronym for Mash Out Posse, gangsta shit, best known for their 2000 album Warriorz. Raw and hard. Nominally an EP: eight tracks, 31:12. Reminds me why I soured on so much 1990s hip-hop, though from today's vantage point, I'm more embittered by the era's attention-grabbing critics Bill Clinton and Tipper Gore, with their censorious overreach. In such times, "You think your bullshit bothers me?" is reasoned defiance. B+(*) [cd]
Bill Morrissey: North (1986, Philo): Singer-songwriter from Connecticut, folkie division, died 2011 at 59, debut in 1984. This was his second album, just voice and guitar. Rather low-key. B+(*)
Bill Morrissey: Bill Morrissey (1991, Philo): New recordings of the songs from his 1984 debut album, plus three more. Basic guitar and vocals, songs have some weight. Probably no reason to prefer one version or the other. B+(*)
Bill Morrissey & Greg Brown: Friend of Mine (1993, Philo): Similar folk singers, Brown a couple years older, still alive, and somewhat more prolific. Only one original, the rest scattered blues and country and rock, with "You Can't Always Get What You Want" especially true. B+(**) [cd]
Pablo Moses: I Love I Bring (1975 , United Artists): Reggae singer-songwriter Pablo Henry, first album, produced by Geoffrey Chung, originally released as Revolutionary Dream. Simple, well-meaning songs, the appeal is obvious. Sound seems a bit off, especially the rattle of percussion. B+(**) [yt]
Motörhead: No Remorse (1979-84 , Bronze): English heavy metal band, nonsensical umlaut, led by Lemmy Kilmister (1945-2015), debut 1979, this initial 2-LP compilation celebrates 5 years and adds 4 new songs, a closer for each side. I have no use, let alone desire, for metal, but this is one of the few such groups I can listen to, and took this 83:34 in one sitting (as background for writing about the decline and fall of Western Civilization, but that's not why I selected it). One saving grace is that it's squarely rooted in classic rock. Another is that Lemmy himself isn't full of shit. I won't try to figure out just how good this particular set is, but I'll note that Christgau gave the group's next four albums all A- grades, and I concurred on the latter two, demurring only slightly on the others. [Initial CD reissue omitted 2 songs to fit on 1 CD; later (1996, 2005) reissues restored the cuts and added 5 bonus tracks, 3 from the 1982 EP Stand by Your Man.] B+(***)
The Walter Norris Quartet: Sunburst (1991, Concord): Pianist (1931-2011), originally from Arkansas, played on Ornette Coleman's first album, moved to New York in 1960, recorded a dozen or more postbop albums, mostly trios although this one adds tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson -- a definite plus. B+(***) [cd]
Roy Orbison: 16 Biggest Hits (1960-64 , Monument/Legacy): Remarkable voice, so extraordinary he's often compared to opera -- but while divas may compare for range and phrasing, I've never heard one with his sense of rhythm. His songs soar and swell and dance in your head. He started earlier with Sun, and he held on a long time, but his signature output was concentrated in five years with Monument. I have two other compilations -- Rhino's For the Lonely: 18 Greatest Hits (1988), and The Monument Singles: A Sides (1960-1964) -- which are slightly longer but effectively equivalent to this budget item. No real reason to favor one over the others. A
Annette Peacock: I Have No Feelings (1986, Ironic): Original name Coleman, wrote songs from an early age, married bassist Gary Peacock in 1960, developed a Synthesizer Show with second husband Paul Bley, recorded vocal albums in 1972 and 1978 (X-Dreams, a personal favorite). Her compositions were later featured in tributes by Bley and Peacock (with Marilyn Crispell and Paul Motian). But this vocal album is rather plodding, arch, scattered. B- [yt]
Annette Peacock: An Acrobat's Heart (2000, ECM): Piano and vocal, all original pieces, backed by the Cikada String Quartet. Another slow one. B
Ken Peplowski: The Other Portrait (1996, Concord): Clarinet player, mainstream, goes semi-classical here, with his quartet backed by the Bulgarian National Symphony. They do short bits of jazz standards, from "Anthropology" to "Lonely Woman," but the features here are classical: Witold Lutoslawski ("Dance Preludes"), Darius Milhaud ("Concerto for Clarinet & Orchestra"), Plamen Djurov ("Cadenza"). B [cd]
Ralph Peterson Quintet: Art (1992 , Blue Note): Drummer (1962-2021), apprenticed to Art Blakey in 1983, led his own bands from 1988 on (most often his Fo'tet), did more than anyone to keep Blakey's memory alive, including this tribute two years after the master's death. Quintet with Graham Haynes (cornet), Steve Wilson (soprano/alto sax), Michele Rosewoman (piano), and Phil Bowler (bass), plus trombone and tenor sax on the opener ("Free for All"). B+(*) [cd]
Prodigy Present: The Dirtchamber Sessions: Volume One (1998 , XL): DJ mix by Liam Howlett of the British techno group The Prodigy. Wikipedia has a long list of samples, mostly from hip-hop records -- first track hits up Run D.M.C., Mantronix, Sugarhill Gang, Double Dee & Steinski, Chemical Brothers, Ultramagnetic MCs, Afrika Bambaataa, among others -- with a little Sex Pistols, James Brown, Barry White, and Wild Magnolias. This sort of mash up that briefly looked like the future of music, before the copyright tyrants quashed it. [Volume Two never appeared, but they must have cleared the samples, as this is still in print.] A- [cd]
Dr. Krishna Raghavendra: RARE Pulse (2001, GEMA): Founding member of USA-based Ragha School of Music and a senior member of the Karnataka College of Percussion (KCP), acronym for Raga and Rhythm Ensemble. First of at least 14 albums, plays veena, a plucked string instrument from South India, not far removed from sitar. May have some spiritual/healing claims. B+(*) [cd]
Remember Shakti [John McLaughlin/Zakir Hussain/U. Shrinivas/V. Selvaganesh]: The Believer (1999 , Verve): Shakti was guitarist McLaughlin's Indian fusion group, formed in 1975 with Hussain (tabla) and three others, recording three albums, and revived for three more albums from their millennial tour. B+(**) [cd]
Remember Shakti: Saturday Night in Bombay (2000 , Verve): The quartet is expanded for this big show, including vocals by Shankar Mahadevan. B+(**) [cd]
Jimmy Rogers: The Complete Chess Recordings (1950-59 , MCA, 2CD): Bluesman (1924-97), born in Mississippi, raised in Atlanta and Memphis, moved to Chicago in the mid-1940s, played with Little Walter early on, had a minor hit with "That's All Right" in 1950. Journeyman blues player with some soul moves, intriguing here but not very developed. B+(**) [cd]
Nate Ruth: Whatever It Meant (2002, Soundless): Shoegaze, lots of fuzzy noise, throws in one off-speed track that's clearer but still marked by fuzz. Seems to be a one-shot. B [cd]
Jeremy Steig/Eddie Gomez: Outlaws (1976 , Enja): Flute and bass duo. Steig (1942-2016) was one of the few jazz flute players of the 1970s not established on other instruments (Frank Wess and Yusef Lateef were poll-winners, and primarily saxophonists; James Newton debuted in 1977; Sam Most and Herbie Mann preceded Steig). He plays alto flute here, lower-pitched and airier. Gomez is best known for his Bill Evans Trio work -- Steig joined the trio for a 1969 album, What's New. B+(***) [cd]
Swayzak: Himawari (2000, Medicine): British tech house duo, James S. Taylor and David Brown, name adapted from a Polish word for union. Third album, good beats, bits of spoken word -- I like the one in German. B+(***) [cd]
Swayzak: Dirty Dancing (2002, !K7): Beats broken up in interesting ways, but could be more danceable, or for that matter dirtier. B+(**) [cd]
Train Don't Leave Me: Recorded Live at the 1st Annual Sacred Steel Convention (2000 , Arhoolie): Fourteen songs from ten artists, each led by pedal or lap steel guitar, not all with vocals, a mix of originals and gospel standards. Gets increasingly heated. B+(**) [cd]
Merle Travis: Sweet Temptation: The Best of Merle Travis 1946-1953 (1946-53 , Razor & Tie): Country singer from Kentucky, especially renown as a guitarist, had a string of big hits in the late 1940s, leading off with "Cincinnati Lou," "No Vacancy," and "Divorce Me C.O.D." (all from 1946). I know him most from Rhino's The Best of Merle Travis, but can also recommend Hot Pickin' (2-CD on Proper), and individual albums like Songs of the Coalmines -- his original "Sixteen Tons" is much different from the Tennessee Ernie Ford cover I first loved. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, October 4, 2021
Music: Current count 36370  rated (+47), 203  unrated (-4).
Spent much of the week whittling down the unheard Christgau list, this week starting at Grateful Dead and working my way to Jaojoby (B.B. King next, playing now). Took a couple side trips along the way. I was excited to hear that Hat Hut's Ezz-Thetics reissue label has a Bandcamp page, then chagrined to find that many of their "Revisited" sets were purloined from other labels (probably aided by Europe's 50-year copyright limit). Hat was an important label for new jazz from the early 1970s on, so they have a lot of important music in their vaults, but they've always had certain business quirks. Another diversion was Michaelangelo Matos publishing a 2021 top-ten ballot on Facebook, so I checked out the half I hadn't heard (or for that matter heard of). The Matos list also led me to find a couple Burnt Sugar albums I had missed.
My other big diversion (a/k/a waste of time) this week was to play around with singles lists. What I have so far is tucked away in the notebook, but I'll probably move it into a standalone file if I ever get it close to presentable. (Temporary link here, but this is very short of ready, and also the numbers are for counting, not rank -- each list is alphabetical by artist.) My methodology was to start by looking at the Rolling Stone list (via Rock NYC and the ballots by Robert Christgau and Carola Dibbell and Chuck Eddy, and pick out what seemed most indubitable. Then I started looking through my database to find various artists compilations I liked. I would then pull them up on Discogs or Wikipedia for song lists, and pick a few more titles from them. Once I decided I wanted something from an artists, I would go on to Wikipedia to look at artist discographies (especially singles, which are usually presented with chart numbers).
Two insights occurred after I got started: (1) I decided to break up the list by decades, otherwise comparisons became difficult (too many apples-to-oranges) and would ultimately just prove my period prejudice: as someone born in 1950, the 1960s and 1970s were my peak exploration period, where everything was new and much of it exciting. I've continued to follow (and enjoy) new music since then, but after I stopped writing rockcrit in 1980 (and listening to radio a few years earlier, and stopped buying singles) I thought about it differently. If I tried to balance out a life-spanning singles list, it would wind up being about 80% pre-1980 (and 60% pre-1970), which says something about singles vs. albums -- the latter really came into their own around 1967-70 -- but mostly that I'm just an old fart. (2) is that after starting to pick one song per artist (per decade), I decided it would be worthwhile to add a few alternatives -- in case I wanted to refine my choices later on, or simply because some songs were too good to omit, and I started to get greedy.
I initially decided to leave jazz out completely -- no disrespect, but they became different things, with different aims, about the time LPs split off from singles in the 1950s. I may revise this to make vocals the dividing line. That would leave some rock instrumentals out, but not many were ever likely to be considered ("Rebel Rouser"? "Pipeline"? "Honky Tonk"?) And post-1970 I've picked the occasional album-only track (I think the first one I jotted down was Mott the Hoople's "I Wish I Was Your Mother"). I'm doing this almost exclusively from a memory that since the late 1970s has almost exclusively been formed from listening to albums, so it's no surprise that many of the songs that stuck in my cerebellum like singles used to were never marketed as such. (Note that not every critic has experienced this the way I have: in the late 1970s 12-inch singles became favored by DJs; in the 1980s MTV started the flood of video singles; and from the late 1990s the Internet has done much more to break singles than radio, which for all I know is nothing but senseless blather these days. Younger critics started with these media, much as I started with AM radio.)
So far I mostly have records from 1955-70, not just because that's my prime period, but also because that's where I've looked most intensively. I'm starting to think the 1960s and 1970s need to be broken into two halves, both due to quantity but also due to the rapid rate of change in those two decades, with 1964 and 1976 especially pivotal dates. As I recall, the first halves of both decades were much disparaged, although looking back I find them to be especially fertile (albeit as extensions of the previous half-decade).
One side effect was noticing one of Capitol's 2002 "Crescent City Soul" compilations that I had missed. I had to construct a playlist to review it, but it was worth it. (Still, not as good as the Minit-based Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet.) Tried to do the same with David Toop's Sugar and Poison, but couldn't find all the songs.
I also depleted enough of my promo queue that I inadvertently reviewed records as far out as November 12. (I've been sitting on the Fiedler and Balto albums for longer than I could stand.) Haven't done anything yet with the latest Phil Overeem list, but nice to see William Parker's Painter's Winter high on the list (higher than Mayan Space Station, which got first notice).
I finally bought a copy of a novel: Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, based on Robert Christgau's review, although I had previously linked to the New Yorker essay Christgau cites. (Has it really been that far back? First piece linked to there is titled, "As death toll passes 60,000, Trump's team searches for an exit strategy." As you probably know, the US death toll passed 700,000 last week.) I quoted Robinson there:
I'm beginning to wonder whether the only forum for serious discussions of viable solutions to ongoing crises isn't science fiction. I've long wanted to collect my more harebrained ideas under a recycling of Paul Goodman's 1962 title, Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals, but it's getting hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Indeed, in the minds of certain "centrist" Dems all variants are equally impossible, precisely because they are held to be inconceivable.
I also ordered William T. Vollman's Carbon Strategies for reference. I've thumbed through the two volumes at the library, and can't imagine reading them through, but thought they might be useful as references (although I have to wonder whether the deep discounts at Amazon don't imply that they're already obsolete).
I've added a link at the bottom of every blog post to "Ask a question, or send a comment." This links to my old Ask a Question form, which I've hacked a bit on. You can now choose "Question" or "Comment." The former gives me input for my Questions & Answers page. The latter sends me a comment without expectation of answer. I'm not going to be a stickler on that point. There's also a new form field for "URL Context." Eventually I'll figure out how to set this form from the referer context, but I don't have that working yet. In the future, I could add this link to many more pages, and could even develop some kind of comment system. But for now, these changes haven't been given much of a test. I appreciate your feedback, and would like to see more. Thanks.
New records reviewed this week:
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Angels Over Oakanda (2018-21 , Avantgroidd): Ace critic Greg Tate's jazz project, co-led by bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, 20 years and about that many records into their own long, strange trip. Conducted improv, but rarely strays far from its seductive groove. B+(***) [bc]
Whit Dickey/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Village Mothership (2020 , Tao Forms): Drums-bass-piano trio, joint song credits so auteurs listed alphabetically, though it may help that the drummer has raised his profile significantly over the last couple years (also that this is his label). Shipp honors him with some of his most percussive playing. A- [cd] [10-15]
DMX Krew: Loose Gears (2021, Hypercolour): One of several alias used by British electronica producer Edward Upton, many records since 1996. Nice beats, not supercharged, but don't fade away. B+(***)
Hernâni Faustino: Twelve Bass Tunes (2020 , Phonogram Unit): Portuguese double bass player, probably best known for RED Trio, but has a fair number of side credits, including work with Rodrigo Amado and José Lencastre. Solo bass, as advertised, the format limited as usual, but his execution thoughtful as ever. B+(***) [cd]
Thomas Fehlmann: Böser Herbst (2021, Kompakt): Swiss electronica producer, based in Berlin, been doing it since the 1980s, not a huge number of albums (Discogs lists 13). Title translates as: bad (or evil) autumn. Written as soundtrack for a documentary, related to Babylon Berlin (previous alsum was 1929: Das Jahr Babylon). Ambient in tone, but never fades into background. A-
Joe Fiedler's "Open Sesame": Fuzzy and Blue (2021, Multiphonics): Trombonist, debut album 1998 but more recent, with one called Open Sesame in 2019. Quintet with trumpet (Steven Bernstein), soprano/tenor sax (Jeff Lederer), bass, and drums, plus a couple vocals by Miles Griffith (hated them at first, still not a fan but they do sorta fit in). Not far removed from Bernstein's postmodern take on swing (although he could have backed into it). B+(***) [cd] [11-12]
Kazemde George: I Insist (2019 , Greenleaf Music): Tenor saxophonist, from California, studied in Boston, wound up in New York. Debut album. Bio talks about African diaspora music, including hip-hop. My guess is that he's aiming at the kind of crossover that's popular in London recently, but has rarely worked in the US. Backed by piano/keyboard, bass, and drums, his groove is engaging and solo flights majestic. Also features vocalist Sami Stevens, who I am less taken with. B+(***) [cd] [10-22]
Julia Govor: Winter Mute (2021, Jujuka, EP): Russian techno producer, based in New York, has more than a dozen singles/EPs since 2014. This one has 4 tracks, 20:14. Nice beats. B+(**)
Eunhye Jeong: Nolda (2021, ESP-Disk): Korean pianist, fourth album, solo, impressive strength and daring. B+(**) [cd] [09-24]
Rochelle Jordan: Play With the Changes (2021, Young Art): R&B singer-songwriter, born in UK, grew up in Toronto, based in Los Angeles, fourth album since 2011, atmospheric electronica with some gravitas, not sure how danceable (if that's the point). B+(***)
Kuzu: All Your Ghosts in One Corner (2020 , Aerophonic): Free jazz trio -- Dave Rempis (saxophones), Tashi Dorji (guitar), Tyler Damon (drums) -- played for noise, at the limits of what I can stand, but sounded pretty great when I got to it. Hedged because I didn't feel like repeating the experience right away. B+(***) [cd] [10-05]
José Lencastre Nau Quartet + Pedro Carneiro: Thoughts Are Things (2021, Phonogram Unit): Portuguese saxophonist (tenor and alto), fourth album with this group -- two-thirds of RED Trio (Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano and Hernâni Faustino on bass) plus his brother João (drums). Guest Carneiro plays marimba, neither here nor there, but the saxophone is superb, even when he slows it down. A- [cd]
Bryan Murray & Jon Lundbom: Beats by Balto! Vol. 2 (2021, Chant): Saxophonist Murray (aka Balto Exclamationpoint) provides the beats. Lundbom plays guitar, was credited first on Vol. 1, and claims all of the compositions here. Joined by Jon Irabagon (more saxophones), Matt Kanelos (keyboards), Moppa Elliott (bass), and others. A little more erratic than their previous effort, but the concept of free jazz over fractured beats is sound. B+(***) [cd] [11-07]
Q'd Up: Going Places (2021, Tantara): Long-running group of faculty at Brigham Young University School of Music, founded in 1983 by Ray Smith (as Faculty Jazz Quintet), adopting its current name in 1998. Discogs lists two albums, one from 2009, another from 2018. Percussionist Jay Lawrence composed 6 (of 11) tracks. Pleasant, easy-listening jazz. B [cd] [10-08]
Rebellum: The Darknuss (2021, Avantgroidd): "Burnt Sugar Arkestra's Avant Funk & Roll Splinter Cell": down to five musician credits, but with guests and four vocalists, they make for a postmodern Funkadelic. B+(***) [bc]
Matthew Stevens: Pittsburgh (2021, Whirlwind): Guitarist, originally from Toronto, based in New York, third album, solo, on a 1956 Mahogany Martin 00-17 with "warm, brilliant steel-string tone." B [cd]
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & The MaXx: Live (2018 , MNJ): Norwegian big band, more than two dozen albums since 2005, each co-credited with a guest, in this case a "power pop/indie/fusion trio" -- Petter Kraft (guitar/tenor sax/vocals), Oscar Grönberg (keybs), Tomas Järmyr (drums) -- with one EP on their resume, and credit for these pieces. Finds a compelling groove when the vocalist (Mia Marlen Berg?) enters on the second track ("Orgelbla"). Next cut rocks harder, which brings out the noise in the free jazz contingent, but that's not all they do. B+(**)
Trondheim Jazz Orchestra & Ole Morten Vågan: Plastic Wave (2020 , Odin, 2CD): Bassist-composer Vågan was previously featured guest on 2018's Happy Endings. Lots of interesting looks here, starting with Ola Kvernberg's violin, but the piece that really takes off is "Pickaboogaloo" on disc 2, so much so everything else gets sharper. A- [bc]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Albert Ayler: New York Eye and Ear Control Revisited (1964 , Ezz-Thetics): Straight reissue of the 1966 ESP-Disk album (3 tracks, 43:27), previously jointly credited with Don Cherry (cornet/trumpet), John Tchicai (alto sax), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Gary Peacock (double bass), and Sunny Murray (drums). B+(*) [bc]
John Coltrane Quartet: Newport, New York, Alabama, 1963 Revisited (1963 , Ezz-Thetics): Live recordings from a year when Coltrane and his Quartet (even with Roy Haynes sitting in, as he did at Newport) could do nothing wrong. First three tracks were previously on Newport '63 (released 1993 with a fourth piece). The other five tracks (including two actually recorded at Van Gelder Studios) were released in 1964 as Live at Birdland, one of Coltrane's masterpieces. "Alabama," by the way, is just a song title, although you probably knew that. Total 79:56. My big question is how and why they wound up on this legendary Swiss label offshoot (Hat Records by another name). Docked a bit for the confusion. B+(***) [bc]
John Coltrane: Chasin' the Trane Revisited (1961 , Ezz-Thetics): Another retitling of a Coltrane live classic, the master takes from Live at the Village Vanguard, plus an alternate take of "Spiritual" to bring the time up to 79:29. Eric Dolphy (bass clarinet) joins for 3/6 tracks. Grade docked, but this is some of his greatest music ever. A- [bc]
Mike Taylor: Trio, Quartet & Composer (1965-68 , Ezz-Thetics): British pianist, drowned in 1969 at 30, released a trio album in 1967 (Jon Hiseman on drums, bass split between Ron Rubin and Jack Bruce, all here), and a quartet in 1966 (with Dave Tomlin on soprano sax, one cut here, "A Night in Tunisia"). Last three tracks here were pieces he composed for Cream's Wheels on Fire (with Ginger Baker lyrics), which is an odd way to stretch a rare and historic jazz CD to 71:17. B+(*)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Live From Minnegiggle Falls (2004 , Avant Groidd): A Greg Tate conduction of a nine-piece group (plus vocals) recorded in Minneapolis. B+(**)
Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All Ya Needs That Negrocity (2008-11 , Avant Groidd): Looks like the group generated a lot of music from 2000-07, slowed down through this 2011 release, then started a comeback in 2017. Conduction with 27 musicians (total, probably not all at once), starts with a riff on "Cold Sweat," moves on to "Libertango," then mixes it up further. A- [bc]
Thomas Fehlmann: 1929: Das Jahr Babylon (2018, Kompakt): "Original Filmmusik" for Volker Hesse's documentary meant to provide historical background his series Berlin Babylon. Watching the latter offers the odd sensation of knowing that no matter how things work out at the time (and like most drama they like to cut it close) it would all go to shit in the near future. Listening to this gives you an ambient background of carefree industrial hum, which also could get worse. B+(*)
Grateful Dead: Dozin' at the Knick (1990 , Grateful Dead, 3CD): I liked some of their early stuff, especially their most tuneful Workingman's Dead, but never saw them and never understood the fascination some people have for them. I got the impression they stopped caring about studio albums in the mid-1970s, but they kept touring, and from about 1992, some business type decided to make up their losses by dumping dozens of live tapes onto the market. I bought Two From the Vault, which was of Live/Dead vintage and not bad, but not enough to keep me interested. This is the other one that Christgau -- who saw them early and connected enough he's often rhapsodized about them -- has recommended, and it's much later. First disc is quite good, especially the Dylan cover ("When I Paint My Masterpiece"). Second disc wanes, and third wanders, but I liked the drums bit, and enjoyed much of the rest. B+(**)
Grateful Dead: Crimson White & Indigo (1989 , Grateful Dead/Rhino, 3CD): From Philadelphia, July 7, starts promising, but they do go on and on and on. B
The Guess Who: The Greatest of the Guess Who (1969-75 , RCA Victor): Canadian rock group, founded 1962 as Chad Allan and the Reflections, with Randy Bachman on guitar. Keyboardist Burton Cumming joined in 1966, taking over vocals when Allan left. They broke into the US charts in 1969-70 with "These Eyes," "Laughing," "Undun," "No Time," "American Woman," "Hand Me Down World -- the first side here. Second side picks up after Bachman departed for Bachman-Turner Overdrive, as Cummings held on, through 1975, turning out catchy tunes that didn't quite chart as high, perhaps because they felt a tad light. B+(*)
Jimi Hendrix Experience: Radio One (1967 , Rykodisc): BBC radio shots, scattered from February to December around the May release of Are You Experienced (5 songs repeated here, plus 2 from Axis: Bold as Love, 10 others, 6 of them covers. The covers shade this a bit toward blues, although they also have fun with "Day Tripper," and write a "jingle" for "Radio One" that's miles above what you're used to. B+(***)
Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock (1969 , MCA): The rare rock musician who's live performances transcended the redundant (and whose innovation, fame and early death left hope of finding more gems among his detritus), Hendrix's posthumous discography soon dwarfed the three studio albums released during his lifetime -- the only comparable figure was John Coltrane, whose heirs still struggle to compete. The early phase was spent scouring live tapes and studio outtakes for said gems. A second phase started more/less here, as the focus shifted to whole concerts. This CD was edited down to 63:46, only to be replaced in 1999 with the 2-CD (96:38) Live at Woodstock -- the latter adds five songs, plus patter that stretches most of the rest of the recording times. I couldn't find the former, so constructed a playlist from the latter, getting all the songs in the edited order (but missing the 1:54 "Farewell"), but with the introductions still wasting time. I'm not enough of an aficionado to compare versions, but the "Jam Back at the House"-"Voodoo Child"-"Star-Spangled Banner" sequence is pretty amazing. I'm not a big fan of the latter, but will note that he neither shreds the anthem nor flinches from its ugliness. Rather, he makes something not beautiful but powerful out of it. I could see MAGA enthusiasts embracing it, but I doubt they will. "Purple Haze" comes next, continuing the high level streak. A-
Jimi Hendrix: Hendrix in the West (1968-70 , Experience Hendrix/Legacy): Live album, originally stitched together with performances from Royal Albert Hall, Isle of Wight, San Diego Sports Arena, and Berkeley Community Theatre and released relatively early (1971) in the posthumous sweepstakes. I can't find/reconstruct the original album, as legal disputes forced the reissue to replace the Royal Albert Hall tracks ("Little Wing" and "Voodoo Child") with other versions, while adding extra tracks to expand the album from 40:21 to 65:16. I've never been a huge fan, but this "Voodoo Child" is pretty amazing. B+(***)
Jimi Hendrix: Valleys of Neptune (1969-70 , Experience Hendrix/Legacy): Studio tracks, post-Electric Ladyland, may or may not have been intended for a fourth album (but no dupes from First Rays of the New Rising Sun, which appeared in that niche in 1997). This one needs work (even after it got some posthumous help), but if you can listen to Hendrix for background music -- and I'm finding I can -- this fills the bill, without too many distractions. B+(**)
Jimi Hendrix: Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight (1970 , Experience Hendrix/MCA, 2CD): Expanded edition of a concert previously released in 1971 (Isle of Wight) and 1991 (Live Isle of Wight '70), opening with the "God Save the Queen"/"Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" sequence that led off Hendrix in the West. Recorded three weeks before his death, runs long, sounds typical enough. B+(**)
Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection (1967-70 , Experience Hendrix/Universal, 2CD): Useful, I suspect, for young 'uns -- and 50 years after his death that's 'most everyone -- who are looking for a starting point or an expertly balanced overview. First disc draws on three good-to-great studio albums, with some extras or alternates mixed in. Second draws on his now-numerous live albums, repeating three songs ("Fire," "Hey Joe," and "Purple Haze"), with a couple legendary pieces ("Star Spangled Banner" from Woodstock, "Wild Thing" from Monterey). Of course, you might find yourself wanting more. But if this doesn't do it for you, he's really not for you. A
Jimi Hendrix: Fire: The Jimi Hendrix Collection (1967-70 , Experience Hendrix/Legacy): Generous single-disc compilation, 14 songs from his three studio albums, 6 more from posthumous sources, including 2 from the simultaneously released Valleys of Neptune. First half could hardly be better. After that, just go with the flow. A
His Name Is Alive: Stars on E.S.P. (1996, 4AD): Fringe rock band from Michigan, principally Warren Defever, first release 1988 (I Had Sex With God), still active (at least through 2020). Not clear who else is doing what. Karin Oliver sang on earlier albums, but Lovetta Pippen appears here. Not that it matters much. B+(*)
The Hollies: In the Hollies Style (1964, Parlophone): Manchester's answer to the Beatles, second album, released in UK and Canada but not US. Three songwriters (Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, Graham Nash, jointly credited as L. Ransford), but nearly half covers (e.g., "Something's Got a Hold on Me," "It's in Her Kiss," and "Too Much Monkey Business"). Not the Beatles, of course, but no other band distilled the sound more completely. B+(*)
The Hollies: The Hollies' Greatest Hits (1965-72 , Epic): But they did come up with some hits that established their own sound (perhaps more Byrds than Beatles). The breakthrough came from non-member songwriter Graham Gouldman (later the cleverer half of 10cc), with "Look Through Any Window" and "Bus Stop," but most of the rest came from their core (but dwindling) trio, with Graham Nash leaving in 1968 and Allan Clarke in 1971 (returned in 1973). Only one of the three post-1967 songs earns its keep ("Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress," where they started listening to CCR). B+(***)
Hüsker Dü: Everything Falls Apart (1982 , Reflex, EP): Minnesota hardcore group, a big deal while they lasted (1982-87), with guitarist Bob Mould going on to a long solo career along the same lines, drummer Grant Hart occasionally writing a song with a surprising hook (his solo career was much less substantial, 4 albums before he died in 2017, and bassist Greg Norton (co-wrote 2 songs here). First album (aside from the live Land Speed Record, a 19:22 EP (despite 12 songs, including 1:51 of "Sunshine Superman"). [1993 Rhino reissue expanded to 42:07.] B+(**)
Irakere: Irakere (1978 , Columbia): Stellar Afro-Cuban jazz band, founded and led by pianist Chucho Valdès in 1973, at this time including Arturo Sandoval (trumpet) and Paquito D'Rivera (sax), who later left Cuba for fame and fortune in the US. Third album, first of two picked up by Columbia. Recorded live, intense, possibly brilliant. [4/5 cuts also on The Best of Irakere, along with 6/8 from Irakere 2.] B+(***)
Ronald Shannon Jackson: Pulse (1984, Celluloid): Drummer, from Texas, joined Ornette Coleman in 1975's electric free funk Prime Time, led his own group (Ronald Shannon Jackson & the Decoding Society) from 1979. This is one of the few albums from the 1980s solely under his own name, as it's almost all drums and spoken word. B+(*)
Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society: Decode Yourself (1984, Island): Sixth group album since 1980, septet follows in Ornette Coleman's Prime Time footsteps, with added violin and trombone, saxophonist Eric Person doesn't come close to Coleman's magic. Bill Laswell produced. B+(*)
Ronald Shannon Jackson: Red Warrior (1990, Axiom): Post-Decoding Society, straight fusion with three guitarists here and there spinning up to tornado force, two bassists, impressive drumming. Laswell co-produced. B+(**)
The Jacksons: The Jacksons (1976, Epic): First album after leaving Motown (for which the Jackson 5 recorded 10), the name change partly reflecting a lineup change, with Jermaine leaving and younger brother Randy joining, and Gamble and Huff producing, with MFSB the Philadelphia house band. Seems pretty generic, with Michael nearly undetectable. B
The Jacksons: Destiny (1978, Epic): Opens with a template for Michael's solo career, identifiable even if it's not particularly deep ("Blame It on the Boogie"; better still: "Shake Your Body"). B+(***)
The Jacksons: Triumph (1980, Epic): First group album after Michael's blockbuster Epic debut (Off the Wall -- he had four previous and inconsequential solo albums on Motown), doesn't seem very satisfying to merge him back into the group, even if it's a family thang. B+(**)
The Jacksons: Victory (1984, Epic): With Jermaine back, the only album with all six Jackson brothers -- although Michael and Marlon left afterwards, only appearing on the title track of the 1989 album that would mark the group's terminus. Easily their best group album, at least for the second side -- "We Can Change the World" convinced me, as did "The Hurt." B+(***)
Jaojoby: Aza Arianao (2001, Label Bleu): First name Eusèbe, from northwestern Malagasy, plies a local style called salegy, not unlike many other local African styles. B+(**)
Let the Good Times Roll: 20 of New Orleans' Finest R&B Classics 1949-1966 (1949-66 , Capitol): Part of their Crescent City Soul series. I was surprised I didn't have it listed, as two other albums in the series are among my favorites (The Fats Domino Jukebox and Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet -- a Minit Records compilation). This draws on (mostly) earlier Aladdin and Specialty releases, most recorded by Cosimo Matassa. Easy enough to construct a playlist, but may not have all the right versions. Two Shirley & Lee hits, the others more obscure than not, but they live up to the party cover. A-
Shirley and Lee: Let the Good Times Roll (1952-59 , Ace): New Orleans duo, Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee. The title song was their big hit, of five they charted through 1957. They split up in 1963, he died at 40 in 1976, she had a freak hit in 1975 as Shirley & Company ("Shame, Shame, Shame"), retired, and passed in 2005. Goes through a dull stretch, then picks up with "Feels So Good," and finishes strong (e.g., "Marry Me"). B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, September 26, 2021
Music: Current count 36323  rated (+52), 207  unrated (-13).
Only four Mondays in September, so the monthly archive (link above) is closed with 188 albums. Breakdown is 77 new music releases, 15 new archival releases, 90 old albums, 5 limited sampling, 1 grade change. This week's albums were split 23-3-26, as I finally took a bite out of my demo queue. Most surprising stat of the month is only 4 new music A-list records (none this week). I have 63 in my 2021 Music Year list, so average so far is close to 8 per month (discounting January, which usually is mop up for the previous year, so first 8 months this year; at that rate, I'll wind up with a bit less than 100 A-list new music albums for the year. That's way down from 156 (+6 post-freeze) in 2020. This year's Tracking File shows 701 new albums (including archival) graded, vs. 1637 in 2020. So my pace for rated records this year is down 35.8% from last year, and my pace for A-list new music is down 39.5%.
I expected my listening to tail off when I decided not to compile a metacritic file this year, so that part is no surprise. I'm a bit surprised that A-list has dropped more than total, as I'm still listening to nearly every well-publicized, well-regarded new album out, but the variance may not count for much. But I'm still listening to a lot of records. I'm just cribbing more from old lists than new ones. The main one I've been using lately is of albums Christgau graded but I haven't. The list is longer, but I've been picking out the A* records -- a big part of the reason so many of these albums hit the spot. This week I scanned from Devo to Go-Betweens -- but wasn't able to find or construct items from Dramarama, Stoney Edwards, Fat Boys, The Fever, Franco, and Go-Betweens (2-CD Spring Hill Fair and The Peel Sessions). I had scanned through this section of the list before, so this time I was checking out things that hadn't appealed to me before. I started off surprised by how much I liked The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified and War on 45 -- two groups I'd never cared for before. (Ferron was another pleasant surprise.)
As I noted below, I've never bought comedy albums, but lately I have wondered whether I might enjoy streaming a few. Christgau reviewed them with some regularity in the early 1970s (but rarely since), so I didn't flinch when Firesign Theatre popped up. Made for a couple unpleasant days -- I do think I got better at hearing them over time, but mostly that just increased my certainty that I don't enjoy them. The few comedy albums I have heard (and some merely heard of) are in my Unclassified file, along with spoken word/poetry, children's music, and a few more things I never managed to classify. I wrote about Lenny Bruce here. Re-reading it, it occurs to me that if I had focused more on politics, I might have wound up more generous to Firesign Theatre (also Credibility Gap, maybe even Month Python).
I will note that while I played everything I could find in this week's section of the file, I did skip Bill Cosby last week. I can compartmentalize with the best of you, but that's one I didn't care to try. Next in my (not Christgau's) file was Redd Foxx, who might still be fun. But I figured I'd had enough for now, and wanted to move on to some music. Go-Betweens. Grateful Dead next.
I've neglected Robert Christgau's website this week. He has two pieces I haven't announced yet: Xgau Sez, and Favorite vs. Best vs. Whatever, on the Rolling Stone song poll. I'll get to that when I'm done here. Maybe I'll add write up my own take on the songs list -- not that I'm sure I can construct a ballot. My idea of singles is still rooted in the era when that's what I listened to on radio (something I rarely did in the 1970s, almost never since -- one time I recall was driving a rental car for hours around Boston in 1984; during that time, only 4 songs I liked came on, Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life" and three by Madonna).
Finished Ed Ward's deeply enjoyable two-volume History of Rock & Roll, only to be disappointed not to be able to turn the page to 1977. Reportedly there is a third volume written, but never published. Finished it late one night and was looking for something to take to bed, when I saw Read This Next shouting off from the shelf. I've often been tempted by meta-books (which is how it got on the shelf in the first place). Not sure whether it's good or bad that I haven't even heard of at least half of the 500 recommended books here. I've only read a few dozen, with a similar number I've seen movies or TV series based on. Probably worth a list.
Jimmy Kimmel runs a bit fairly often with clips of a dozen-plus TV heads declaring "I can't believe that it's already [insert month/season]." Well, I'm having trouble recognizing the end of September, mostly because it hit 94°F again today. I expect the first two weeks to be miserably hot here, but this year it's going down to the wire. I haven't gotten a God damn thing done this month. (Well, other than to have written up 188 records.)
New records reviewed this week:
Air Craft: Divergent Path (2021, Craftedair/Blujazz): Pianist Doug McKeehan wrote and produced, a fairly slick suite with occasional vocals. B [cd]
Arab Strap: As Days Get Dark (2021, Rock Action): Scottish indie rock band (vocalist Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton), six albums 1996-2005 (haven't heard any of them), reunion album after 16 years. Slow and talky, more interesting than expected. B+(**)
Baby Queen: The Yearbook (2021, Polydor): South African pop star Bella Latham, first album (or mixtape, as it's presented -- a distinction I don't begin to understand) after my favorite EP of 2020. Her moniker was bound to be ironic, but she's outgrown it pretty fast. B+(***)
Lena Bloch & Feathery: Rose of Lifta (2019 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Israeli tenor saxophonist, moved to Europe in 1991, on to Brooklyn in 2008, recorded the album Feathery in 2012, kept that as a band name, replacing the guitarist with pianist Russ Lossing (Cameron Brown and Billy Mintz remain). B+(*) [cd] [10-08]
Butcher Brown: #KingButch (2020, Concord Jazz): Jazz-funk group from Richmond, VA; half-dozen albums since 2013. Keyboardist Devone Harris (aka DJ Harrison) seems to be the main writer/arranger, with Marcus Tenney (aka Tennishu) rapping on several pieces, playing trumpet, tenor sax, or drums on others. B+(*)
Butcher Brown: Encore (2021, Concord Jazz): Not a great idea for a jazz-funk band to slow it down, especially when your vocalist is a rapper, who makes only a token appearance. Five tracks, 15:26. B
George Cables: Too Close for Comfort (2021, HighNote): Pianist, 76 now, cut his first album in 1975, caught my ear playing on some of the best Art Pepper albums of his last couple years. Trio with Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis, with a couple solo cuts. B+(*)
Mike Cohen: Winter Sun (2021, Blujazz): Saxophonist (alto/soprano), based in New York, has a couple albums, including one recorded in Uganda, another in a klezmer group called Kletraphobix. Mainstream quintet with trumpet (Ron Horton), piano, bass, drums. Bright and cheery. B+(**)
Graham Dechter: Major Influence (2018 , Capri): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, fourth album, quartet with piano (Tamir Hendelman), bass (John Clayton), and drums (Jeff Hamilton) -- Dechter started out with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Nice postbop lines, first-rate rhythm section. B+(**) [cd]
Satoko Fujii: Piano Music (2021, Libra): Solo piano, but focus is more on coaxing unusual sounds from the instrument than more traditional pursuits. B+(*) [cd]
Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction (2021, ArtistShare): Alto saxophonist, albums since 1989, offers a nonet (or two) here, rich in horn interplay and harmony. B+(**) [cd]
India Jordan: Watch Out! (2021, Ninja Tune, EP): British DJ/electronica producer, pronoun "they," house (I guess; optional adjectives: ecstatic, euphoric). Five songs, 25:24. B+(**)
Timo Lassy: Trio (2021, We Jazz): Finnish tenor saxophonist, debut 2007, trio with bass and drums, but also strings (Budapest Art Orchestra) on most cuts, extra keyboards and percussion. B+(***)
Adam Nolan Trio: Prim and Primal (2021, self-released): Alto saxophonist, from Ireland, backed by bass (Derek Whyte) and drums (Dominic Mullan). Impressive free jazz, with glances back at tradition. B+(***) [cd]
Alexis Parsons: Alexis (2021, New Artists): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums. Backed by two piano trios, one led by David Berkman, the other by Arturo O'Farrill. Striking vocalist, faded a bit toward the end. B+(**) [cd] [10-01]
Lukasz Pawlik: Long-Distance Connections (2017-19 , Summit): Polish composer, second album, plays piano/keyboards and cello. Prominent among the musicians are Randy Brecker (trumpet), Mike Stern (electric guitar), and Dave Weckl (drums, co-producer), so the temptation to slot this as fusion is strong. Bright and shiny, for sure. B+(**) [cd]
Houston Person: Live in Paris (2019 , HighNote): Tenor saxophonist, one of the great mainstream players of his generation, started playing soul jazz in the 1960s, backed by organ trios much like this one: Ben Patterson (organ), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Willie Jones III (drums). B+(***)
Mauricio J. Rodriguez: Luz (2021, self-released): Bassist, from Cuba, moved to Venezuela in 1994 and on to the US in 2001, teaching at University of South Florida and Miami Symphony Orchestra Composer-in-Residence. Latin jazz, originals and pieces by Vicente Vioria and Chucho Valdes, plus "My Funny Valentine" -- sung by Adriana Foster. B
Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Petite Fleur (2019-20 , Storyville): Drummer, debut 2007, took over as Artistic Director of NOJO in 2017, following founder Irvin Mayfield -- the big band goes back at least to 2005. Second group album with Rose in charge, featuring singer Cyrille Aimée, who wrote the closer. Two French titles, some interesting standards, most inspired "It Don't Hurt Anymore." B+(***) [cd]
Renee Rosnes: Kinds of Love (2021, Smoke Sessions): Canadian pianist, still a big deal there with 5 Juno best albums, 20 albums plus 2-3 times that many side credits (most recently the septet Artemis). Third Smoke Sessions album, quintet with Chris Potter (sax), Christian McBride (bass), Carl Allen (drums), and Rogerio Boccato (percussion). Impressive solos for Rosnes and Potter -- no surprise there. B+(*)
Saint Etienne: I've Been Trying to Tell You (2021, Heavenly): English "indie dance" group (mostly electronic but I've never thought of them as especially danceable; I'd hazard something more like "esoteric pop"), two rock critics backing singer (often songwriter) Sarah Cracknell, 10th album since 1991, based on samples and field recordings from 1997-2001 ("the optimistic years twisted into half-remembered afterimages of a dream"), tied to a film project. B+(**)
David Sanford Big Band Featuring Hugh Ragin: A Prayer for Lester Bowie (2016 , Greenleaf Music): Doesn't play, but composed six pieces and arranged "Dizzy Atmosphere," while Ragin (trumpet) offered the title piece. Twenty-piece big band, brash and eager. B+(***) [cd]
Pauline Anna Strom: Angel Tears in Sunlight (2020 , RVNG Intl.): Electronic music composer, started in the 1970s with synthesizers and a 4-track recorder, recording six albums 1983-88 as Trans-Millenia Consort, before she quit and sold off her equipment. A reissue in 2017 got her interested again, and she prepared this new album shortly before her death in 2020. Mix of rhythm and atmospheric pieces, the former especially appealing. B+(***)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years (1995-2009 , BMG): Fourteen selections from five appearances at Montreux Jazz Festival, four songs from Broken English, other highlights include the Van Morrison opener, Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song," and an expert take on "Solitude." B+(***)
Jim Snidero: Strings (2001 , Savant): Alto saxophonist, albums regularly since 1985, rehearsed this quartet plus 10-piece string orchestra on 9/10/2001, then had to postpone recording, the record finally released in 2013 on Milestone. The basic formula for strings + sax is to lay down a lush backdrop, then let the saxophone soar majestically -- something the alto's tone is superbly suited for. In that respect, this one is utterly conventional, just exceptionally gorgeous. A- [cd]
Pauline Anna Strom: Trans-Millenia Music (1982-88 , RVNG Intl.): Compilation from six 1982-88 albums Strom released as Trans-Millenia Consort. Synth pieces, not much beat but color and flow aplenty. B+(***)
50 Cent: The Massacre (2005, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope): Rapper Curtis Jackson, got rich with his debut (12 million sales worldwide), so decided to double down on the dying, and got richer still. Eminem produced six songs, Dr. Dre two more, with Needlz, Scott Storch, and Hi-Tek picking up the slack. So it's decent enough, sure, but who cares? B+(**)
The Credibility Gap: A Great Gift Idea (1974 , Reprise): Comedy group, organized by a Los Angeles radio station in 1968, originally led by Lew Irwin, dropped from KRLA in 1970, but kept going through 1979, recruiting Harry Shearer, and recording four more albums. Skits, much easier to follow than Firesign Theatre, helped by one song ("You Can't Judge a Book by Its Hair"), impressions of Johnny Carson and Don Rickles. Some of the jokes are rather dated, but some at least are recognizably funny. B+(*)
Devo: Greatest Hits (1977-84 , Warner Bros.): New wave band from Akron, cartoonish, robotic electropop. I loved their first album (three songs here, but the first taste only shows up mid-way through this, with "Jocko Homo" saved for last), after which I fairly quickly lost interest. B+(***)
Devo: Greatest Misses (1976-82 , Warner Bros.): Redundancies include the original demo of "Jocko Homo" and a "Booji Boy" remix of "Satisfaction." Otherwise, there's not much difference between their "Hits" and "Misses," probably because the "Hits" don't sound much like hits (marginal exception: "Whip It"). B+(*)
The Dismemberment Plan: The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified (1997, DeSoto): DC-based post-punk band, although on this second album they don't sound punk at all -- more like a slightly harder and cruder Pavement. I've never been a fan, so my piqued interest this time is a big surprise to me. It may be I've misjudged them elsewhere (including a compilation that draws from this album), or it may just be a miracle that all the junk they juggle doesn't crash all over them. A-
The Dismemberment Plan: Change (2001, DeSoto): Last of four albums from their initial 1995-2001 period -- they regrouped in 2011 and released one more album in 2013, Uncanney Valley. Smoothed out their delivery, making it less weird, and less exciting. B+(**)
D.O.A.: War on 45 (1982, Alternative Tentacles, EP): Vancouver, BC hardcore punk band, founded 1978, still kicking around, 8-song, 20:32 mini-album after two slightly longer albums. Cover exclaims: "8 Great Tunes!" "8 Songs to March By!" "March Into the 80s." Five originals by "Joey Shithead," plus covers of "Class War," "War," and "Let's Dance" (retooled as "Let's Fuck). Sounds crisp and punchy, with crystal clear lyrics -- not exactly the way I remember 1980s hardcore going. [Haven't heard the 2005 CD reissue, expanded to 18 songs.] A- [yt]
The Doors: Morrison Hotel (1970, Elektra): Fifth album, a back-to-basics effort after the horns and strings of The Soft Parade, and after Jim Morrison was arrested for indecency, among other public embarrassments. Starts promising "Hard Rock Café," ends in "Morrison Hotel." B
The Doors: 13 (1967-70 , Elektra): Slightly premature best-of -- Morrison died the following July, after L.A. Woman appeared in April -- with three cuts from their debut, four from Strange Days, and two each from the other three albums. It's been superseded by other compilations, like The Very Best of the Doors (2001). B+(***)
Marianne Faithfull: Come and Stay With Me: The UK 45s 1964-1969 (1964-69 , Ace): A singer and actress who looked the part of mod London in the 1960s, as famous for her relationship with Mick Jagger as for any of her own accomplishments, which included 4 UK albums (two top-20) and 4 top-10 singles in the UK. Her first hit was a cover of "As Tears Go By," and her last B-side was "Sister Morphine," between which you get unremarkable covers of songs that never needed them, like "Blowin' in the Wind," "House of the Rising Sun," and "Yesterday." Her career ended after breaking up with Jagger in 1970, but she returned with a little-noticed album in 1976, then reinvented herself in 1979 with Broken English, with a new voice that would never again be tethered to anyone else. B
Marianne Faithfull: Marianne Faithfull's Greatest Hits (1964-69 , Abkco): Cover recycled from her 11-track 1969 Greatest Hits, to which this CD reissue drops one song ("Scarborough Fair") and adds six (including "Sister Morphine"). Shorter should concentrate the high points, but only if you actually have some. B
Marianne Faithfull: Faithfull: A Collection of Her Best Recordings (1964-94 , Island): Leads off with five songs from her first Island album, Broken English, then fills out with one song each from four later albums, a previously unreleased Patti Smith cover ("Ghost Dance"), and her one keeper from the 1960s. A-
Marianne Faithfull: Vagabond Ways (1999, IT/Virgin): A new batch of old songs -- "Tower of Song" sounds like it was made for her -- into which she's slipped four originals, coarse and hardened, as usual. B+(**)
Marianne Faithfull: Before the Poison (2005, Anti-): Five tracks written and produced by PJ Harvey, three collaborations with Nick Cave (who produced with Hal Willner), one piece each written by Damon Albarn and Jon Brion. I'm not especially impressed by any of these alignments, although she continues to add gravitas. B
Freddy Fender: Canciones De Mi Barrio [The Roots of Tejano Rock] (1959-64 , Arhoolie): Born 1937 in San Benito, Texas, real name Baldemar Huerta, bounced out of the Marines and all around, changed his name in 1958 and started recording (also a 1961 album attributed to Eddie Con Los Shades). This collects 24 songs, almost all in Spanish, from Ideal Records, and as far as I can tell doesn't mention Huey P. Meaux, who Fender also recorded for (but when?). B+(**)
Freddy Fender: The Best of Freddy Fender (1974-77 , Dot): I count 8 albums during his 4-year stint on Dot, but for practical purposes you can skip the live one, the Xmas, and Canta En Español. Although that's only one sliver of his career, it's the only one that registered on the charts, and he was so hit-and-miss you might as well look for a compilation. This was the first, and remains the best -- although you get 10 (of 12) of these songs on the CD-available The Millennium Collection (the extras here are marginally preferable to the extras there, particularly "The Wild Side of Life"). [PS: Wikipedia erroneously footnotes my review of the Millennium Collection CD under this album. All the more reason to grade this one.] A-
Freddy Fender: Swamp Gold (1978, ABC): Newly recorded, produced by Huey P. Meaux, who had been reissuing his earlier work with Fender on his Crazy Cajun label. Fifteen songs, sweet spot toward the middle when he tackles ones you know (e.g, "It's Raining," "These Arms of Mine"). B+(**)
Ferron: Testimony (1981, Philo): Canadian folk singer-songwriter Deborah Foisy, third album, publicly lesbian at a time that got her segregated into a "women's music" section in the few record stores that carried her (alongside Holly Near; as I recall, there also was an even thinner "men's music" section). First half didn't blow me away, but second won me over anyway. A-
The Firesign Theatre: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (1969, Columbia): I never bought comedy records, figuring that I'd never want to listen to them more than once (even pretty great ones). But I also never listened to comedy (or drama) on radio -- the "golden age" was before my time -- so I never developed the discipline to hang on every word. On the other hand, I have enjoyed my share of stand-up and sketch comedy on TV and films, so I should be able to stream comedy albums and attach fair and reasonable grades, but until I've surveyed a few dozen one can't be sure. With two Christgau-certified A+ albums, this quartet seemed like a good place to start (but I did buy their Shoes for Industry! 2-CD best-of, graded A, and shelved it after one play, grade B). Album cover parodies a Communist parade review, with a poster hailing Marx and Lennon (Groucho and John), but the cover's relevance to the content isn't evident. Fractured, hard to follow, bits of wit you can recognize but don't have to enjoy. Second side is a 1941 radio play, "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger," where Roosevelt surrenders after Pearl Harbor. B-
The Firesign Theatre: Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers (1970, Columbia): Divided between "This Side" and "That Side." Most of the fun comes from slight-of-word gags, and I suppose they deserve some credit for lampooning advertising so savagely, but the cut-up is way too extreme for my brain to piece it back together into something sensible. B-
The Firesign Theatre: I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus (1971, Columbia): Christgau: "everything you would expect from the Firesign Theatre except funny." I could say the same about the earlier albums. C+
The Firesign Theatre: Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974, Columbia): Skipping forward four albums, you get this epic dive into egg-shaped flying saucers and nudist aliens. Helps a bit to watch the video -- at least there it's clear when they've switched scene, or simply cut to a parody commercial -- also to crank up the sound to it's a bit less garbled. Neither of which make it very funny. B [yt]
The Firesign Theatre: Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death (1998, Rhino): Group split up in 1985 (David Ossman left a couple years earlier), but reunited in 1993 for a 25th anniversary tour. Their optimism over Clinton's 1992 election ("when we kicked the fascists out of office it was time for the Firesign Theatre to come back") doesn't seem to have lasted much longer for them, as this album kicks off their We're Doomed trilogy. Presents a broadcast for Dec. 31, 1999, obsessed with the Y2K bug, or more ominously the megacorp that owns "the idea of America." B
The Firesign Theatre: Boom Dot Bust (1999, Rhino): In a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment, the Y2K bug caused very few computers any inconvenience, but crashed the dot-com bubble and the high-tech industry that fed it. But this middle installment in their We're Doomed trilogy remains mired in fiction, its strangeness reeking of frenetic desperation. They're looking old on the cover. I'm feeling older listening to them. B-
The Firesign Theatre: The Bride of Firesign (2001, Rhino): Supposedly the climax of their We're Doomed trilogy, but the Y2K/millennium having passed, they return to floundering. The opening dick joke bit is amusing enough (still early enough the VP fits right in). Then they revive Nick Danger and Rocky Rococo. Typical interchange: "Don't spend all day on your cell phone." "You can have a phone in your cell?" Or: "Maybe take out her heart?" "That's a little Aztec, Danny." Or: "These insightful interior monologues really need writers." B-
The Go-Betweens: Metal and Shells (1983-84 , PVC): Australian band, two major singer-songwriters (Robert Forster and Grant McLennan), founded 1978 but didn't get a US release until this best-of compiled from two albums, Before Hollywood and Spring Hill Fair, which didn't get US releases until 1990 and 2002 (the latter as a 2-CD I still haven't heard). I bought and lost this LP (and the next few -- 1987's Tallulah was the one I finally fell for), but know most of these songs from their superb 1978-1990 compilation. A-
Grade (or other) changes:
New Millennium Doo Wop Party (1954-61 , Rhino): Twenty-two songs, a little more eclectic/unconventional than Rhino's earlier, much revered The Best of Doo Wop Uptempo, but this is the CD I'm most likely to grab on my way to the car (perhaps because I initially undervalued it, so omitted it from the less convenient "A shelves" or the travel cases -- which are overkill for a mere errand). So I've wound up playing it hundreds of times, loving every moment. [was: A-] A+
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, September 20, 2021
Music: Current count 36271  rated (+41), 220  unrated (-11).
I have nothing much to say about music (or anything else) this week. Lots of things been getting me down, although I had a respite over the weekend when niece Rachel came for a visit. I managed to come up with one decent Chinese, then totally blew my attempt at maqluba (rice never cooked; I've made it successfully before, but can't find the picture).
Only things I did manage to write during the week were a few Facebook rants, which I collected in the notebook.
New records reviewed this week:
Eivind Aarset 4tet: Phantasmagoria, or a Different Kind of Journey (2021, Jazzland): Norwegian guitarist, stradles jazz and electronica, ninth album since 1998, long association with Nils Petter Molvaer. Quartet with bass and two drummers, plus guests like Jan Bang (samples) and Arve Henriksen (trumpet). B+(***) [cd] [09-24]
Adult Mom: Driver (2020 , Epitaph): Originally a Stevie Knipe solo project, since added a guitarist and a drummer, third album. B+(**)
Lauren Alaina: Sitting Pretty on Top of the World (2021, Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Georgia, spent much of her childhood pursuing talent contests, leading up to a runner-up placing on American Idol and her first album in 2011. This is her third, more than a bit overproduced and overvoiced (especially her male duettists: the Lukas Graham duet is a spoiler), and the songs aren't so interesting, either. B-
Bomba Estéreo: Deja (2021, Sony Music Latin): Colombian band, sixth album since 2006. B+(**)
The Bug: Fire (2021, Ninja Tune): British electronica producer Kevin Martin, has a number of aliases but most often appears as The Bug (8 albums since 1997), drawing on dancehall, dubstep, and grime. He's rarely been denser or more oblique. B+(*)
Marc Cary: Life Lessons (2020 , Sessionheads United): Pianist, grew up in DC, worked early on with Betty Carter and Abby Lincoln, debut album 1995, plays a fair amount of electric keyboard as well as acoustic piano in this trio. B+(***) [cd]
Charley Crockett: Music City USA (2021, Son of Davy): From Texas, but he's been around -- New Orleans, New York, Paris, Spain, Morocco, Northern California (got busted "working the harvest in clandestine marijuana field in the northwest"). Ninth album since 2015, including ventures into blues and honky tonk. Cultivates an old-fashioned style, but doesn't have an outstanding sound, so songs make or break him, and several here are near-classic. B+(***)
Sasha Dobson: Girl Talk (2021, self-released): Napster filed this under country, but she's a jazz singer -- the scat is a hint, but Peter Bernstein's featured guitar cinches the deal -- one I didn't immediately recognize because I hadn't heard anything by her since her 2004 debut. (Among the items I missed was a trio with Norah Jones and Catherine Popper called Puss n Boots.) The band also includes Ian Hendrickson-Smith (alto sax), Steven Bernstein (trumpet), bass, drums, vibes and percussion. B+(**)
Chet Doxas: You Can't Take It With You (2019 , Whirlwind): Canadian tenor saxophonist, from Montreal, has played with Dave Douglas. Original pieces reflecting on jazz tradition, with spare backup by Ethan Iverson (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). B+(**) [cd] [09-24]
Gerry Eastman Trio: Trust Me (2021, self-released): Guitarist, debut 1986, just a few albums. Organ trio dominated by Greg Lewis, with Turu Alexander on drums. B+(*) [cd] [10-01]
Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound Orchestra: The Other Shore (2020 , Outnote): Trumpet player, also credited with santur and voice, born in Chicago, parents Iraqi (father a physicist), incorporates Middle Eastern tonalities and rhythms, albums since 2006. Got some notice for his 2007 album Two Rivers and has used Two Rivers Ensemble as his group name since then, scaled up here (17 pieces). B+(***) [cd]
Family Plan: Family Plan (2020 ,Endectomorph Music): Piano trio: Andrew Boudreau, Simón Wilson, and Vicente Hansen. Postbop, strong and dramatic. One piece adds tenor saxophonist Kevin Sun, who also produced. B+(***) [cd] [09-24]
Alon Farber: Hagiga: Reflecting on Freedom (2020 , Origin): Israeli saxophonist (alto/soprano), with a second sax, piano, bass, and drums, extra percussion on 5 tracks, vocals on 3, steering the vibe toward Brazil. Don't care for the extras, although the saxophonist is fine without them. B [cd]
The Felice Brothers: From Dreams to Dust (2021, Yep Roc): Country rock band, albums nearly every year since 2005, Ian and James Felice remain from the original trio. B+(**)
Gordon Grdina/Jim Black: Martian Kitties (2021, Astral Spirits): Guitar/oud and drums/electronics, two exceptional talents. B+(**) [dl]
Lyle Mays: Eberhard (2020 , self-released, EP): Keyboard player, died last year at 66, member of Pat Metheny Group from 1978-2005. Single track, 13:03. B [cd]
Aakash Mittal: Nocturne (2018 , self-released): Alto saxophonist, born in Texas, debut album, trio with Miles Okazaki (guitar) and Rajna Swaminathan (mrudangam & kanjira). B+(***) [cd]
Kacey Musgraves: Star-Crossed (2021, MCA Nashville): Singer-songwriter, started out in country, fourth album, even more pop-flavored than her platinum crossover (2018's Golden Hour), but I like it more -- has a nice, comfy feel. Ends with one in Spanish. B+(**)
Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge: Within Us: Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge (2021, MAMA/Summit): Composer, arranger, big band leader, teaches at University of South Florida, debut 1995, recorded this seventh album in May, 2021. Six originals plus pieces by Chick Corea and Miles Davis. Usual horn sections, but adds some unusual touches: Warren Wolf (vibes/marimba) is guest soloist, Sara Caswell (violin) and Corey Christiansen (dobro/nylon-string guitar) are prominent, and Owen himself plays accordion and hammered dulcimer. B+(*)
Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone (2021, Big Machine): Singer-songwriter from Kentucky, moved to Nashville at 19 to seek her fortune, and got a (not very good) album released at 27. At 31, this is her third album, a 15-song expansion on a 7-song February EP. Title song reflects back: "29 is the year that I got married and divorced/ . . . the year I was going to live it up, now I'm never gonna let it down." All songs have co-writers, with Brandy Clark contributing to the first one that stands out ("Dear Miss Loretta"), but after two plays they're all fitting in. A-
The Scenic Route Trio: Flight of Life (2021, self-released): Bay Area piano trio, led by bassist Ollie Dudek, with Genius Wesley on drums and Javier Santiago on piano. Seems to be Brice's first album, but Santiago hails from Minneapolis, splits his time in the Bay Area, and has several previous albums. B+(*)
Tropical Fuck Storm: Deep States (2021, Joyful Noise): Australian group, third album. Lead singer Gareth Liddiard, plus three women in the band. Don't know what you'd call it, but has some psych and some politics but isn't really folk-punk (or vice versa). Until they do something that makes me care (which doesn't seem inconceivable): B+(*)
Yuma Uesaka and Marilyn Crispell: Streams (2018 , Not Two): Young (b. 1991) saxophone/clarinet player, debut album with his Ocelot trio earlier this year, but this duo with the piano great was recorded earlier. His compositions. B+(***) [cd] [10-15]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Sheila Jordan: Comes Love: Lost Session 1960 (1960 , Capri): Original name Dawson, born 1928 in Detroit, grew up in Pennsylvania but returned to Detroit in 1940. Hung around jazz clubs ("chasing Bird"), married pianist Duke Jordan (1952-62), made an impression as a singer in 1962 with a striking rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" for George Russell, then her debut album, Portrait of Sheila, but didn't record again until 1974, when she sang on Roswell Rudd's utterly marvelous Flexible Flyer. So this 1960 session (34:19) is a find, although it doesn't deliver as much as one might hope. Backed by literally forgotten musicians on piano, bass, and drums, a mixed bag of eleven standards, with some hints at the phrasing that made her legendary (e.g., "They Can't Take That Away From Me"), but not quite there yet. B+(***) [cd] [09-27]
What Goes On: The Songs of Lou Reed (1967-2019 , Ace): I know all of these songs intimately, but I've rarely heard anyone but Reed play them. The selection ranges widely, yet familiarity binds them together, one pleasant surprise after another. Makes me finally recognize that Reed's songs aren't just for him. They're for all of us. A- [dl]
Eivind Aarset: Électronique Noire (1998, Jazzland): Norwegian guitarist, first album, although he had already carved out a niche as the first-call guitarist for jazztronica experiments -- he appeared on Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz and Nils Petter Molvaer's Khmer in 1997, and they both return the favor here. Lineups vary, occasionally dabbling in dance or industrial, turning up the heat or chilling out. A-
Eivind Aarset's Électronique Noire: Light Extracts (2001, Jazzland): Like the previous album, the guest spots are mix and match. A little softer in some spots, harder in others. B+(***)
Eivind Aarset: Connected (2004, Jazzland): Wires on the cover, guitar and electronics inside, with some bass grooves. Tones it down a bit, gets atmospheric, then tones it down a bit more. B+(**)
Eivind Aarset: Sonic Codex (2007, Jazzland): Diversifying, not least by rocking harder, impressive here and there, but I'm still partial to the early jazztronica drums. B+(**)
Eivind Aarset & the Sonic Codex Orchestra: Live Extracts (2010, Jazzland): Undated tracks, album the band name is based on released in 2007, so probably from a tour following the album. Probably wrong to describe this as his arena rock move, but it's definitely bigger and louder. B+(**)
Autosalvage: Autosalvage (1968, RCA Victor): One-shot rock band, founded in New York with a couple of Boston folkies and the brother of the Lovin Spoonful's drummer. They cut one album, scored no hits, disbanded and were quickly forgotten -- except by Ed Ward, who designated this a "lost masterpiece." The time shifts and guitar flash mark it as psychedelic, although I'm more impressed when they feel their roots. B+(***)
Gene Chandler: The Duke of Earl (1962, Vee-Jay): Soul singer from Chicago, more than a one-hit wonder -- he released eight albums through 1971, and posted 5 top-40 pop singles, and 8 top-10 r&b singles, one as late as 1978 -- but his number one in 1962 defined and haunted his career. Nothing else comes close here, but he does credible versions of other people's hits ("Stand by Me," "Turn on Your Love Light"). B+(**)
Gene Chandler: The Girl Don't Care (1967, Brunswick): The first of three 1967-69 albums for Brunswick. Shows some Motown influence. Title cut was a minor r&b hit (16). B+(*)
The Chi-Lites: (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People (1971, Brunswick): R&B vocal group from Chicago, started in high school in 1959, first as The Hi-lites, then as Marshall [Thompson] & the Chi-Lites, demoting Thompson when Eugene Record took over. Third album, first hit (12 pop, 3 r&b), the title song (an anthem of the era) rising to 26 and 4, "Have You Seen Her" to 3 and 1. A- [yt]
Carly Pearce: Carly Pearce (2018-19 , Big Machine): Second album, played this after the new one, so I'll note the big changes here: she only co-wrote 4 songs here, vs. all 15 on the new one, and while she has 2 duets on both albums, they're with guys here (Lee Brice, Michael Ray), vs. Patty Loveless and Ashley McBryde there. I saw something recently about how "artists have to suffer for their art." While she was 29 when this appeared, her pivotal year hadn't sunk in yet. Or maybe she was in denial: why else could one pick out a long as clichéd as "Love Has No Heart." B
Carly Pearce: 29 (2020, Big Machine, EP): Seven song EP, 22:14, released in February, superceded by her 15-song September album, 29: Written in Stone, but after two slabs of bland Nashville pap, maybe she felt the need to market-test this turn to real person songs. Co-produced by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Jimmy Robbins, who helped with the songs without taking them over. B+(***)
Puss N Boots: No Fools, No Fun (2013-14 , Blue Note): Alt-country vocal trio on a jazz label: Norah Jones (guitar/fiddle), Sasha Dobson (guitar/bass/drums), Catherine Popper (bass/guitar). Each contributes a song (or two for Popper), and they cover Johnny Cash, George Jones, Neil Young, The Band, Wilco, and others. B+(*)
Puss N Boots: Sister (2020, Blue Note): A second trio album, with more original material: 3 group songs, 2 each by Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson (plus one by Dobson and Don Was), the 3 covers less country (Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, "Same Old Bullshit"). B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, September 13, 2021
Music: Current count 36230  rated (+36), 231  unrated (+1).
Today is the 50th anniversary of the massacre at Attica Prison in western upstate New York, ordered by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who managed to have almost twice as many people killed as his grandfather John D. Rockefeller did in Ludlow. This is all documented in the HBO Max film Betrayal at Attica. Amy Goodman did a feature on Attica today, drawing most of her visuals from the film (with a lot of blurring and bleeping): see here and here. Also, here's a 2:14 clip just of Michael Hull's summation at the end of the show.
I wrote a fair bit about Attica in Friday's Speaking of Which. Also on the journey from 9/11 to the end of the road in Afghanistan -- or what should be the end, unless they decide to further indulge their neuroses and keep fucking with the country long after the troops left and their delusions were shattered. As you can still see in Korea, nobody holds a grudge as long or as obsessively as the U.S. of A. I wrote more on this in a bonus Sunday Speaking of Which. I think it's fair to say that America is on "suicide watch" now. Unless people definitively reject this Republican talking point bullshit, the country is doomed.
Here's one example from today's news: Blinken pledges $64 million in aid to Afghanistan, vows to circumvent Taliban. This is a pittance compared to the billions of Afghan funds the US froze when the Taliban came to power, reminding us that the US would always put political considerations above the welfare of the Afghan people. This may feel like an end-run around the Taliban, but NGOs will only be tolerated in Afghanistan as long as they help stabilize the Taliban government. Blinken appears before Congress today to get savaged by Republicans for surrendering to the Taliban, so he'll be pushed to act tough and resolute, at a time when the US really needs to show some remorse, and some modesty.
: Virtually everything that Biden gets slammed for these days is the culmination of problems that festered during the Trump reign. Which isn't to say that previous administrations, including Obama's, weren't also culpable, but things really go to hell when you put a Republican in charge. Covid-19, the pandemic-cratered economy, the disaster climate, and Afghanistan are prime examples. Deregulation, pollution, inequality, monopolies, racism are slower burn disasters, but all advanced significantly under Trump (as they did under Reagan and the Bushes, not that Clinton or Obama made any heroic efforts otherwise). But as costly as its direct acts were, the biggest charge against the Trump administration may turn out to be the squandering of four years. Economists call this opportunity costs, and they may wind up being staggering. That climate has moved from a long-term to an everyday concern shows how seemingly inconsequential delays can add up until they turn catastrophic.
Although I harbor an optimistic streak that leads me to repeatedly suggest ways the US could learn from its failures, I suspect that Nesrin Malik is right in Why the west will learn no lessons from the fall of Kabul:
Rated count is down this week, although if you count the Braxton box as 13 and the Futterman as 5, the rated total would hit 52. Took me most of the week to work through Braxton, but it was great fun, and I was pretty clear what I wanted to say about it midway. The Futterman box was a closer call, and it almost certainly helped to have the actual CDs and box on hand. For many years I considered 30 records to be a banner week, but this year I've been streaming to a lot of old music, which building on prior knowledge takes fewer replays and less attention. Last week I noticed that Napster had Vol. 2 and 3 of Roy Milton in the "Legends of Specialty" series, so this week I decided to check out everything else in the series I had missed. Again, I heartily recommend the first volumes of Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins, Percy Mayfield, Art Neville, Lloyd Price, and Little Richard. I especially love Specialty's Creole Kings of New Orleans, so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to its Volume Two. It's not as good, but makes me wonder why they never put out a Professor Longhair comp.
Christgau reviewed More Girl Group Greats in his September Consumer Guide (a B+). It's not on Napster, but I had no trouble constructing a playlist with everything, and decided not to be so picky. Very little in this CG I hadn't heard before: the Leroy Carr is one of three I know (all A-). I dismissed recent records by Lucy Dacus, Front Bottoms, Dylan Hicks, and Tune-Yards with various B/B+ grades, but agree with the A- for James McMurtry. I remember checking out the 2011 Front Bottoms album after Jason Gross EOY-listed it, and thought it was pretty good, though maybe a little slick. I haven't had much interest in even the catchier alt/indie bands since Christgau took me to a Sloan/Fountains of Wayne show I found totally boring, so the group is much more up his alley than mine (even if it took him longer to get to it). But I suppose I should replay the new one, and maybe some of the in-betweeners. But I'm really sick of Tune-Yards by now.
The other new stuff this week mostly comes out of a Facebook list from Sidney Carpenter-Wilson, plus some related discussion. Dan Weiss seems to really like the Turnstile album, but I have no idea why. The one I probably should have given a second spin to is YSL -- some very catchy stuff toward the end.
Alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc died last week. Most sources have him born in 1951, but the first obituary says he was 76 when he died (then gives Aug. 5, 1946 as his birth date, which works out to 75). I had two of his records listed as A-: New World Pygmies (2000) and Live at Glenn Miller Café Vol. 1 (2002), so I felt like checking out some more things. Much to my chagrin, the records on Eremite Bandcamp are only available as fragments, but I felt like checking out what I could, under "limited sampling" below.
I should note that jazz impressario George Wein has died, at 95. I don't have anything personal to add about Wein (or for that matter broadcaster Phil Schaap, who died a couple days ago), but I was touched by Matt Merewitz's exclamation, "What a life!" Actually, I do have one thing on Schaap: Liz Fink, who generally didn't do that sort of thing, used to do a hilarious impression of Schaap.
One more housekeeping item. When I wanted to make a generic reference to Music Week above, I wished I had some way to just pull out the Music Week blog entries. I thought about writing a new program, then it occurred to me that I could just add a little argument hack to my regular script. I did, and added the link to the nav menu under Blog, upper left, as well as a couple other titles I've used repeatedly.
Moved into the second volume of Ed Ward's History of Rock & Roll.
New records reviewed this week:
Benny the Butcher: Pyrex Picasso (2018 , Rare Scrilla/BSF, EP): Buffalo rapper, pulled this short session (7 tracks, 19:01) from the vault. B+(*)
Eric Bibb: Dear America (2021, Provogue): Mild-mannered blues songster, just hit 70, surprised to see that he's approaching his 50th album. Many of them are collaborations, and half of these songs have "featuring" artists -- two with bassist Ron Carter. B+(**)
Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Standards) 2020 (2020 , New Braxton House, 13CD): European tour, the alto saxophonist picked up a rhythm section in Britain: Alexander Hawkins (piano), Neil Charles (bass), and Stephen Davis (drums). With 67 tracks, median close to 10 minutes, way too much for anyone to work through, especially streaming, but Braxton's previous forays into standards -- especially the 2003 Quartet, which filled up two 4-CD boxes -- have often been brilliant. I've been sampling this between other records, rarely for more than an hour at a time. It's not brilliant, at least not in the sense that his Parker, Monk, and Tristano sets were, but it's engaging and often quite delightful. A- [bc]
Chubby and the Gang: The Mutt's Nuts (2021, Partisan): British hardcore/punk band, Charlie Manning-Walker singer, a couple guitars, bass, and drums. Guitar is a bit fancy for punk, and they drop a slow, acoustic one in the middle ("Take Me Home to London"). B+(**)
Homeboy Sandman: Anjelitu (2021, Mello Music Group, EP): New York rapper Angel Del Villar II, debut 2007, prefers EPs to albums but often blurs the line. This one's 6 tracks, 18:44, produced by Aesop Rock, who joins in on the closer, "Lice Team, Baby" (after the duo's Lice albums). Leads off with "Go Hard," and keeps with it. All six songs are powerful, prickly, even if I'm not even considering swearing off beef, or drinking cow's milk. A-
Mushroom: Songs of Dissent: Live at the Make Out Room 8/9/19 (2019 , Alchemikal Art): Bay Area psych band founded in 1996, fairly active through 2007, reunion here with three original members, including drummer Pat Thomas (not to be confused with the British pianist or the Nigerian juju star), extra guitars and synths and percussion and a bit of sax. B+(**) [cd]
Polo G: Hall of Fame (2021, Columbia/Only Dreamers Achieve): Rapper Taurus Bartlett, from Chicago, third album at 22, titles show an advancing concern with fame. B+(*)
Sturgill Simpson: The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (2021, High Top Mountain, EP): Country singer-songwriter, pre-pandemic seemed aimed at high-concept fusion, took a turn last year with two excellent volumes of bluegrass, veers again here with a short album (10 tracks but more like 6-7 songs, 27:46), a concept "about love among the legends of the Kentucky frontier." B+(**)
Cleo Sol: Mother (2021, Forever Living Originals): British r&b singer, Cleopatra Nikolic, second album. Soft voice, stripped down groove, grows on you. B+(***)
Turnstile: Glow On (2021, Roadrunner): Baltimore band, started hardcore, third album is merely hard, and not a little catchy. B+(*)
We Are the Union: Ordinary Life (2021, Bad Time): Ska-punk band from Ann Arbor, the horns are the giveaway, fifth album since 2007. B+(*)
Young Stoner Life/Young Thug/Gunna: Slime Language 2 (2021, YSL/300 Entertainment): Atlanta label, founded 2016 by Young Thug, could be a label various artists compilation but most of the roster seems to also be organized as a group, with Young Thug and Gunna getting extra billing because, well, maybe you know them. B+(***)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Marshall Crenshaw: The Wild, Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw: Live in the 20th and 21st Century (1983-2018 , Sunset Blvd., 2CD): Singer-songwriter with power-pop hooks, debut 1982, thought he was major in the 1980s, haven't heard much I've liked since (although his latest, 2009's Jaggedland, was pretty good). First disc here is a live set from 1983, when he released his second album, Field Day. Second disc is 10 live songs collated "from the last 25 years" -- could be better specified. Could be wilder, more exciting too. B+(*)
Joel Futterman: Creation Series (2008 , NoBusiness, 5CD): Free jazz pianist, originally from Chicago, debut 1979, several records with Jimmy Lyons from the 1980s, then mostly with Kidd Jordan or Ike Levin. Solo here, spread out over five dates, also plays some soprano sax. Five disc-long sessions (71:57, 76:15, 59:24, 57:13, 68:25), stretches rivaling Cecil Taylor, with the occasional change of pace. I'm rather overwhelmed, but certainly impressed. Helps to have the box. A-
Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carter/John Stevens: Detail-90 (1990 , NoBusiness): Successor to Detail group formed in 1982 by Gjerstad (alto sax), Stevens (drums), and South African bassist Johnny Dyani (1945-86). B+(***)
Total Music Association: Walpurgisnacht (1971-88 , NoBusiness): German free jazz septet, two tracks from 1971 (30:37) plus one 21:20 "Improvisation" when the group reunited later. Three horns, viola, rhythm, none I recognized but I gather Andreas Boje (trombone) has a reputation, and I should have known Helmut Zimmer (impressive on piano) played in Modern Jazz Quartet Karlsruhe (subject of a previous NoBusiness box). Starts rough, but bursting with energy. A- [cd]
Childish Gambino: Because the Internet (2013, Glassnote): Second studio album (after a bunch of mixtapes). Spreads out with a lot of new moves and looks, few of which connect. B-
Creole Kings of New Orleans: Volume Two (1950-58 , Specialty): Art Rupe's label started in Los Angeles in 1945, signing local gospel and jump blues groups, and started picking up some New Orleans groups in 1950 -- only a few who wound up big enough for CD compilations (Percy Mayfield, Lloyd Price, Art Neville, Larry Williams), but the first volume sampler is one of my all-time favorite New Orleans compilations: chock full of classic songs, even from more obscure artists. As with all of Specialty's compilations, this second volume dials it back, dipping into obscurities (although somehow they found more Professor Longhair, who gets a 4-song stretch). Still good for the general vibe. A-
Floyd Dixon: Marshall Texas Is My Home (1953-57 , Specialty): Piano-playing bluesman from Texas, moved to California in 1942, succeeded Charles Brown in Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, recording for Aladdin 1949-52. Title song is a conventional blues, but when the sax enters this starts to jump. B+(***)
Paul Gayten & Annie Laurie/Dave Bartholomew/Roy Brown: Regal Records in New Orleans (1949-51 , Specialty): Two cuts with both Gayten and Laurie, 15 just Gayten, 6 just Laurie, plus two cuts each headlined by the others, although Gayten's band backs Brown, and Bartholomew's band backs Laurie. Dates for those given, about half of the total. B+(**)
Guitar Slim: Sufferin' Mind (1953-55 , Specialty): Guitarist-singer Eddie Jones, from Mississippi, moved to New Orleans after WWII, had a brief career and died at 32 in 1959. Opens with a great blues, "The Things That I Used to Do," and there are more solid tunes, but resorts to alternate takes and false starts to fill up 26 songs. B+(***)
Camille Howard: Vol. 1: Rock Me Daddy (1947-52 , Specialty): Pianist and sometime singer in Roy Milton's Solid Senders, recorded some on her own. Unusual in "The Legends of Specialty Series" to have a Vol. 1 explicit, but by the time they got to her they had added a Vol. 2 to their bigger stars. Born Deasy Browning in Galveston, Texas (1914), changed her name when she moved to California in the early 1940s. By this evidence, she could hold her own against the boogie-woogie greats (several cuts here are instrumentals). As a singer, she reminds me a lot of Dinah Washington, though not as risqué. That's quite some combination. A-
Camille Howard: Vol. 2: X-Temporaneous Boogie (1947-52 , Specialty): Similar mix, a bit less consistent, a bit more boogie (8 songs with "Boogie" in the title, vs. 1 "Blues"). B+(***)
Tommy James: The Very Best of Tommy James & the Shondells (1964-71 , Rhino): Ohio rocker Tom Jackson, called his first band the Echoes, then Tom and the Tornadoes, then the Shondells in 1964 (when they first recorded "Hanky Panky"), finally breaking in 1966. They recorded six top-ten songs before James went solo in 1970. The hits are pretty striking, but the other singles fell short for good reason. This wraps up with a solo single. B+(**)
Jimmy Liggins & His Drops of Joy: Vol. 2: Rough Weather Blues (1947-53 , Specialty): Guitarist, singer, younger brother of Joe Liggins. Band has the usual complement of horns and rhythm, but sticks pretty closely to blues material, which may be why it comes off so consistent, even through this second album. One song I recognize here is "Drunk." A-
Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers: Vol. 2: Dripper's Blues (1950-54 , Specialty): Piano player, singer, born in Oklahoma, moved to California when he was 16, eventually Los Angeles, band named for his 1945 hit, which often shows up toward the beginning of "roots of rock & roll" compilations (also Rhino's The Soul Box). B+(***)
Percy Mayfield: Vol. 2: Memory Pain (1950-57 , Specialty): A sly, self-effacing singer, nowhere more clearly than on his first big hit, "Please Send Me Someone to Love," which opens here in an alternate take. I haven't cross-checked to see if there are any more duplicates from the superb Poet of the Blues, but the middle third ranks with his best work. B+(***)
Jemeel Moondoc: Muntu Recordings (1975-79 , NoBusiness, 3CD): Alto saxophonist, originally from Chicago, studied under Cecil Taylor in Wisconsin, moved to New York where he joined the flourishing "loft scene." This collects his two Muntu albums -- with William Parker (bass), Rashid Bakr (drums), Arthur Williams or Roy Campbell (trumpet), and Mark Hennen (piano, first album only) -- and adds an earlier live trio piece (called "Muntu": runs 36:35). Some fine work here, deep and expressive. Box comes with a 115 pp. booklet, which I haven't seen. B+(***) [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc Trio: Judy's Bounce (1981 , Soul Note): Live set in New York, with Fred Hopkins (bass) and Ed Blackwell (drums). Four pieces, the "One for Ornette" is especially sharp. B+(***)
Jemeel Moondoc Sextet: Konstanze's Delight (1981 , Soul Note): With Roy Campbell (trumpet), Khan Jamal (vibes), William Parker (bass), Dennis Charles (drums), and Ellen Christi (voice). The voice blends in with the instruments, but I always find that an iffy proposition. B+(**)
Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper's House (2013 , Relative Pitch): Five tracks, trio with Hilliard Greene (bass) and Newman Taylor Baker (drums), two of them with Matthew Shipp (piano), the other two with Roy Campbell (trumpet) and Steve Swell (trombone). A- [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc & Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickelodeon (2015 , Relative Pitch): Alto sax-bass duo, one of Moondoc's last albums. B+(**) [bc]
More Girl Group Greats (1958-66 , Rhino): I miss the old, pre-Warners Rhino. Back in the 1980s/early 1990s they seemed to be able to license from everyone, allowing them to put out dozens of seemingly definitive compilations. Of course, they never quite had free reign. Their two 18-cut CDs of The Best of the Girl Groups (1990) couldn't dip into Phil Spector's catalog, which was kinda like trying to do the British Invasion without the Beatles or Stones. But there was still a lot of great material available. They made another attempt in 2001 with Girl Group Greats and this second volume. The former, even with no Spector, is near perfect. It's in my travel cases, and gets replayed here every few weeks. This set isn't nearly as perfect, with its over-reliance on Motown (5 cuts) plus 2 each by the Shirelles, Chiffons, and Lesley Gore limiting the chances for discovery, but for each of those there's another forgotten gem -- who knows how many more are yet to be found? A-
Lloyd Price: Vol. 2: Heavy Dreams (1952-56 , Specialty): New Orleans great, the first volume starts with his hit "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," and picks up the big ones plus a lot of atmosphere. This one's just atmosphere. Opening song sequence: "Chee Koo Baby," "Oo-ee Baby," "Oooh-Oooh-Oooh." B+(**)
Joe Turner/Smilin' Smokey Lynn/Big Maceo/H-Bomb Ferguson: Shouting the Blues (1949-53 , Specialty): By-product of the label's exceptional reissue series, sweeping up scattered artists who's tenure with the label wasn't long enough for their own collections. Turner (8 tracks) was between Aladdin/Imperial and Atlantic, sounding exactly like he always did. Big Maceo Merriweather (4 tracks) ended at RCA/Bluebird in 1947, and only had a few years left (d. 1953). The others are less famous: Lynn, a big band shouter much like Turner, appears on 8 tracks (3 with Don Johnson's Orchestra), and Ferguson has 2 tracks, the only ones post-1950. B+(**)
T-Bone Walker/Guitar Slim/Lawyer Houston/Al King/Ray Agee/R.S. Rankin: Texas Guitar: From Dallas to L.A. (1950-64 , Atlantic): Volume 3 of the label's "Blues Originals" series, with its colorful, ornate logo centered on a flat black background. Eight tracks from a 1950 session by William Lawyer Houston (aka Soldier Boy Houston), fleshed out with six more tracks by Texas-to-California blues guitarists (two by Walker, one each by the others). B+(*)
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Jemeel Moondoc With Dennis Charles: We Don't (1981 , Eremite): Alto sax-drums duo, links to Cecil Taylor. [1/4] + [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc Quintet: Nostalgia in Times Square (1985 , Soul Note): With Bern Nix (guitar), Rahn Burton (piano), William Parker, and Dennis Charles. Only heard the Mingus tune, but three Moondoc originals suggest he's thinking through tradition. [1/4] ++
Jemeel Moondoc & the Jus Grew Orchestra: Spirit House (2000, Eremite): Ten-piece group, with two trumpets (Lewis Barnes and Roy Campbell), two trombones (Steve Swell and Tyrone Hill), two more saxes (Michael Marcus and Zane Massey), guitar (Bern Nix), bass, and drums. [2/6] ++ [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc Vtet: Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys (2000 , Eremite): Quintet with trumpet (Nathan Breedlove), vibes (Khan Jamal), bass, and drums. [1/4] + [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc Quartet: The Astral Revelations (2016, RogueArt): Quartet with piano (Matthew Shipp), bass, and drums. Last recording? [1/4] + [sc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, September 6, 2021
Music: Current count 36194  rated (+56), 230  unrated (+4).
Fell further behind the promo queue. Haven't paid much attention to it given that nearly everything there isn't scheduled for release until later in the Fall, but I did start to get into the recent NoBusiness package. Good stuff there if you're into free jazz, although I might have given the archival material the benefit of doubt. I guess I'm not as much of a flute hater as I thought.
Judging from Facebook discussions, lots of people love the Kenny Garrett album. I like it quite a bit when the sax is up front and running away from the pack. Wish there was more of that (as there is on most of this week's saxophone records).
Old music (and there's quite a bit of that this week) is mostly from the unheard Christgau A-list, basically Dave Bern to Childish Gambino. The latter's impressive Culdesac mixtape grade is hedged, because I had to switch streaming sources midway and I'm not sure I heard it all, but also because it's so rich and varied it should take several plays to get it sorted. I moved on to one of his later albums after the cutoff. It's all over the place, too, but nothing I ever want to hear again. The other old music clusters are for the late Larry Harlow and Lee Perry -- neither comes anywhere near qualifying as a deep dive, although I wasn't starting from scratch with Perry.
Finally, I noticed Specialty's Vol. 3 Roy Milton compilation, but had to hear Vol. 2 first. I highly recommend the initial Roy Milton & His Solid Senders, and found the others damn enjoyable as well -- I toyed with the idea of bumping them all up a notch, but got lazy and figured that was just me (jump blues ranks high among my favorite music). This reminds me I should track down all the rest of those early-1990s Specialty CD compilations. I'm aware of A/A- sets by Jimmy Liggins, Joe Liggins, Little Richard, Percy Mayfield, Roy Milton, Art Neville, and Lloyd Price. Also one of the all-time great New Orleans compilations: Creole Kings of New Orleans.
By the way, skipped one cover scan to the right: Chuck Berry's Gold is identical but for the cover to The Anthology. I figured I'd list them both, given that they have different titles, but I just preferred the earlier cover -- even though you're more likely to find that later reissue. I'm not going to look up examples, but UME has done this before in their Gold series. Probably no worse a practice than swapping an arbitrary title to make a token change.
Lead article in the Wichita Eagle this morning was about how Gov. Laura Kelly and leading Republican legislators had agreed on a bill to increase the pay of nurses increasingly stressed by Covid work. However, other Republicans are threatening to hold up the bill unless it includes a proviso that none of the money can be channeled through hospitals that require their staff to be vaccinated against Covid. This crosses some kind of line, of sanity for instance. I've generally held to the belief that most Republicans are decent people who happen to have some mistaken opinions -- indeed, I recognize that many have similar views of Democrats, but that's just one of the many things they are wrong about. But I think we have to recognize that a small but growing segment has turned malignant and sociopathic. Nor is their promotion of the pandemic the only example. Take guns, where they've moved way past defending the rights of honest, law-abiding citizens to guaranteeing that criminals will have unimpeded access.
New records reviewed this week:
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Field (2019 , NoBusiness): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, one of the most adventurous anywhere, trio with cello (Miguel Mira) and drums (Gabriel Ferrandini), live in Vilnius, with the avant-pianist sitting in. One 56:10 improv, wanders a bit, but the piano is especially impressive. A- [cd]
Dmitry Baevsky: Soundtrack (2019 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Russian alto saxophonist, based in New York, first album in 2004 (with Cedar Walton and Jimmy Cobb). Two originals, mostly picks with jazz standards from the 1950s-60s. With Jeb Patton (piano), bass, and drums. B+(**)
Nat Birchall: Ancient Africa (2021, Ancient Archive of Sound): British saxophonist (tenor/soprano), debut 1999, sounds an awful lot like John Coltrane -- reminds me of that time when someone was accused of copying Charlie Parker, and replied: here, let's see you copy. I don't see any credits, but last time he appeared on this label, he dubbed in his own bass, keyboards, and percussion, so that may be happening here (or maybe he's just sampled Jimmy Garrison's bass lines). B+(***) [bc]
Chvrches: Screen Violence (2021, Glassnote): Scottish electropop group, Lauren Mayberry the singer, fourth album. Big pop sound. B+(***)
Lao Dan/Deng Boyu: TUTU Duo (2019 , NoBusiness): Recorded in Guangzhou, free jazz from China, at last. Alto sax and drums duo, the former also playing Chinese (bamboo) flute. First I've heard of them, but Dan Lao has a substantial Discogs entry, with albums back to 2016. B+(***) [cd]
Caroline Davis: Portals, Volume 1: Mourning (2020 , Sunnyside): Original name Anson, parents British and Swedish, born in Singapore, moved to Atlanta when she was six, PhD from Northwestern. Albums since 2011. Alto saxophonist. Group is a quintet -- trumpet (Marquis Hill), piano (Julian Shore), bass, and drums, plus a string quartet. Both halves have their moments. B+(**)
Kenny Garrett: Sounds From the Ancestors (2021, Mack Avenue): Alto saxophonist, major postbop figure since he signed with Atlantic in 1989. Groove-oriented band with piano, bass, drums, and percussion, plus a roster of guests, including too many vocals. I don't mind the groove, but the payoff is when the sax outraces it. B+(**)
Georg Graewe & Sonic Fiction Orchestra: Fortschritt Und Vergnügen (2020, Random Acoustics): German avant-pianist, recorded for FMP 1976-77, several dozen albums since then -- one a piano trio called Sonic Fiction from 1989, but hard to see a connection between it and this group, with clarinet, bassoon, guitar, harp, strings, vibes, and drums. Title translates as Progress and Pleasure. B+(**) [bc]
The Halluci Nation: One More Saturday Night (2021, Radicalized): Electronic duo, Tim Hill and Ehren Thomas, Canadian (I think), Native American (for sure), recorded three albums as A Tribe Called Red (2012-16), the third titled We Are the Halluci Nation, which they've decided makes a better group name. I've seen this described as a fusion of dubstep, pow wow, and hip-hop, but the electronics are more flexible, as with the guest spot for Tanya Tagaq. B+(***)
Walker Hayes: Country Stuff (2021, Monument, EP): Country singer-songwriter, moved to Nashville in 2005, debut EP 2010, two albums, back with another EP (six songs, 18:26). Engaging songs, not much depth, but note featuring spots for Carly Pearce and Lori McKenna. B+(**)
Marc Johnson: Overpass (2018 , ECM): Bassist, originally from Nebraska, played in Bill Evans' last trio (1978-80), lots of side credits, tenth album since 1986. Solo bass, pretty interesting for that sort of thing. B+(**)
Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021, Age 101): British rapper Simbiatu Ajikawo, Nigerian heritage, fourth album, follow up to 2019's breakthrough Grey Area. This is mostly as sharp, although several cuts keep kicking me out. B+(***)
Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet: Rested Turquoise (2018 , NoBusiness): Most often plays viola, born in Serbia but Discogs identifies him as "Hungarian free violinist." He plays double bass here, along with three others, plus Kornél Pápista on tuba. Doesn't plod as much as you'd expect, but does take its own sweet time. B+(***)
Liudas Mockunas/Christian Windfeld: Pacemaker (2018 , NoBusiness): Lithuanian saxophonist (tenor/soprano, contrabass and prepared clarinets) and Danish drummer, duo. Slow start, a bit abstract. B+(*) [cd]
Nils Petter Molvaer: Stitches (2021, Modern): Norwegian trumpet player, started in the 1980s in Masqualero (a group with Arild Andersen that picked up an interest in electronics from George Russell), developed as the star of jazztronica, much like Miles Davis in fusion. The electronics, mostly by producer Jo Berger Myhre (who also has most of the writing credits), are more subdued here, making for interesting atmospherics. B+(***)
Pink Siifu: Gumbo'! (2021, Field-Left): Rapper Livingston Matthews, from Alabama, handful of records since 2019, plays around in ways that often aren't recognizable, with fractured rhymes and beats. B+(**) [bc]
Penelope Scott: Hazards (2021, Many Hats, EP): Young singer-songwriter, 2020 debut Public Void blew me away, back with 6 short tracks, 14:48, nothing smashing but she's still plenty clever. B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
John Coltrane: Another Side of John Coltrane (1956-61 , Craft): Before Coltrane latched onto the concept of modal improvisation and rode it through the avant-garde and into the cosmos, he was a much-in-demand sideman -- here with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Art Taylor, Red Garland, Tadd Dameron, and Sonny Rollins (as sparring partner in Tenor Madness). Most of these cuts come from A-list albums, but I don't really see the point. B+(***)
John Hiatt: The Confidence Man in Canada (1989 , Hobo): Hardly any info available on this, but front cover adds "Classic FM Radio Recording" (note singular) and his intro to "Drive South" notes it was recorded "last year." B+(*)
Itaru Oki Quartet: Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (1975 , NoBusiness): Japanese trumpet player (1941-2020), also plays flute, moved to France in 1975 shortly after his first album, but recorded this in Fukuoka, with alto sax/flute (Yoshiaki Fujikawa), bass (Keiki Midorikawa), and drums (Hozumi Tanaka). Free improv, has some strong stretches, especially toward the end. B+(***) [cd]
Lee Scratch Perry: The Specialist: The Pama Years (1969-71 , Pama): British reggae label, active 1967-73, revived in 1978 as Jet Star (although the Pama name has been restored for recent reissues). Discogs shows they released one Upsetters album (Clint Eastwood, in 1970) and a few singles, but eventually offered two volumes of The Best of Lee Perry and 'The Upsetters', which is roughly what's collected here. [PS: Part of a series that includes volumes on Laurel Aitken, Alton Ellis, Winston Groovy, Pat Kelly, Derrick Morgan, and Rico Rodriguez.] B+(***)
Sam Rivers Quartet: Undulation [Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 5] (1981 , NoBusiness): Quartet with Jerry Byrd (guitar), Rael-Wesley Grant (electric bass), and Steve Ellington (drums). Starts with one of those "what is this shit" moments, but rights itself fairly quickly in a torrent of inspired tenor sax blowing. But that only covers the first 21:20, then you realize the tracks are organized by instrument: Drum solo, piano solo/section, guitar solo, flute solo/section, with a 5:21 bass solo tucked in the middle. Rivers also plays the piano (dense and impressive) and flute (veers toward funky), and scats a bit. A- [cd]
Mototeru Takagi/Susumu Kongo/Nao Takeuchi/Shola Koyama: Live at Little John, Yokohama 1999 (1999 , NoBusiness): Tenor saxophonist from Japan, albums from 1971 up to his death in 2002, in a group with two more saxophonists (alto and tenor, doubling on flute and bass clarinet) and a drummer. Free jazz, considerable poise and balance. A- [cd]
Dan Bern: The Swastika E.P. (2002, Messenger, EP): Singer-songwriter, bunch of albums since 1997, can't say I was much impressed by his debut, and I didn't bother with this one because, well, I don't think EPs are worth my time, nor do I care much for swastikas (even in jest). Still, it's on the list, and on the last weekend of America's occupation of Afghanistan, his Dylanesque "Talkin' Al Kida Blues" has proven not just smart but prophetic. Five songs, 27:24, including his 11:05 sage of "Lithuania, which proclaims the end of Kristallnacht." SFFR. A-
Chuck Berry: The Anthology (1955-73 , MCA/Chess, 2CD): Everyone should own a single-CD compilation like The Great Twenty-Eight (1984) or The Definitive Chuck Berry (2006, with 31 tracks, adding his late novelty, "My Ding-a-Ling"). The Chess Box expands to 3-CD, 71 tracks, arguably a stretch toward the end, but remains interesting when it isn't flat out genius. This splits the difference, 50 songs on 2-CD. A
Chuck Berry: Gold (1955-73 , Chess): Reissue of The Anthology, repackaged to fit Universal's 2-CD compilation series. One could complain that sells Berry short, especially with the generic cover art, but nothing else is changed. A
Big Brother and the Holding Company: Be a Brother (1970, Columbia): San Francisco acid/blues group, Janis Joplin stole their second album (Cheap Thrills) then took off for her brief solo career, leaving Nick Gravenities et al. to lick their masculine egos ("feel like a man/ act like a man"). Still, as a change of pace, they offer "I'll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle." B+(*)
Black Flag: Damaged (1981, SST): Hardcore punk band from California, Greg Ginn plays guitar, Henry Rollins sings. Several songs I know from elsewhere. B+(**)
Mary J. Blige: Herstory, Vol. 1 (1992-97 , Geffen): Major R&B singer, made pioneering use of hip-hop beats, 1992 debut was a big hit, a dozen more albums followed, plus lots of remixes (8 of 16 tracks here are flagged as such), many with featured rappers, two tracks her own features with Method Man and Jay-Z. No subsequent volumes so far, but the Vol. 1 is earned by sticking to the mid-1990s. I've never been a huge fan, but this makes a good case. A-
Mary J. Blige: Love & Life (2003, Geffen): Big album, runs 70:41, tries my patience, but much of it makes me suspect she deserves more attention. B+(***)
Kurtis Blow: The Best of Kurtis Blow [20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection] (1979-86 , Mercury/Chronicles): Old school rapper Kurtis Walker, had a hit in 1980 called "The Breaks," preceded by his "Christmas Rappin'." He cut eight albums for Mercury, sampled here, very scattered releases since. One cut that rises above his norm is "Throughout Your Years"; another "Party Time." But he was pretty hit and miss. B+(***)
Burning Spear: Creation Rebel: The Original Classic Recordings From Studio One (1969-72 , Heartbeat): Winston Rodney's earliest recordings, for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, a little more subdued than the norm, but then he was never going to be a source of fun. A-
Burning Spear: Reggae Greats (1975-78 , Island): Winston Rodney's deep rasta roots group, was picked up early by Island for a series of more/less classic albums -- Marcus Garvey and Social Living are the best, with the 1979 compilation Harder Than the Best an alternative. This comes from a later label-wide compilation series. It's redundant in that it repeats 8 (of 10) songs from Harder, but adds 4 more (most notably "Lion"). A-
Burning Spear: People of the World (1986, Slash): He seems settled here, into a nice groove, with nice songs. B+(**)
Burning Spear: The Best of Burning Spear [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1975-91 , Island/Chronicles): Sticks to the series' 12-cut max, but includes a couple extended mixes, plus two title songs from 1990-91 albums. As satisfying as any of the single-CD compilations -- I doubt that it's possible to rank them, but you could punt and splurge on the 2-CD Chant Down Babylon, which covers the same extended time period. A-
Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers (1983, Alternative Tentacles, EP): Hardcore band, formed in San Antonio but soon departed for California. Given their name, lyrics, and slasher noise, clearly had no commercial ambitions, but stuck with it long enough their 7th album (Electriclarryland) cracked the charts (31) and went gold. This EP (7 tracks, 18:39) introduced them. Christgau reviewed it as "nihilist grossout . . . crests and roils like a river of shit," and that was from a favorable review. They weren't that bad, but that didn't make them very good either. Note how "Hey" goes downhill when they add vocabulary to the title. B+(**)
Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers/Live PCPPEP (1982-84 , Latino Buggerveil): Combines the initial EP with the live album that preceded their first studio album by a month, plus four bonus tracks, for a historical document of no major import. B+(*)
Butthole Surfers: Electriclarryland (1996, Capitol): I suppose it says something about America that a major label was willing to pick them up in 1993 without insisting on changing their name. That album (Independent Worm Saloon) grazed the charts (154), and this one rode the single "Pepper" to 31. I didn't get much out of it, but I do rather like the country-ish "TV Star," and I'm impressed by the creeping professionalism of "Ah Ha." I wouldn't say they've sold out, but it's hard to be an asshole all the time. B+(*)
Childish Gambino: Culdesac (2010, Glassnote): Atlanta rapper Donald Glover, mixtapes and EPs from 2005, writer for 30 Rock, acted in Community, and did it all in Atlanta, so his 4 albums since 2011 have been big sellers. This was his 5th free mixtape, dropped shortly before EP and his first album, Camp. Some stuff here that I love, which is something I can't say for his later albums (at least the ones I've heard), but I'm hedging because I don't trust my stream source(s). B+(***) [os]
Orchestra Harlow: El Exigente (1967, Fania): Led by pianist Larry Harlow (1939-2021), last name Kahn, from Brooklyn, father was a bandleader who performed as Buddy Harlowe, mother was an opera singer, he got into Latin music and studied in Cuba in the 1950s. His band was one of the first signed by New York salsa label Fania, and he wound up producing 260 records for Fania. This is one of his better-regarded early albums, "a blend of salsa dura and bugalu music," with punchy horns and lots of percussion. B+(***)
Orchestra Harlow: Hommy: A Latin Opera (1973, Fania): Inspired by The Who's Tommy, "the story of a deaf and blind boy who could play the drum." Doesn't sound like opera, or The Who. Does include a feature for Celia Cruz. B
Orchestra Harlow: Salsa (1973 , Fania): Vocals by Junior Gonzalez. Izzy Sanabria claimed to be the first (in 1973) to use the word "salsa" as a generic term for Latin or Cuban music. This may have been Fania's first album with "salsa" in the title, but by the end of the 1970s the term had proliferated. B+(***)
Larry Harlow: Greatest Hits (1971-79 , Fania): Described as "the perfect introduction" in an article on "5 Essential Albums by Larry Harlow" -- along with three albums above and one for Ismael Miranda below -- and indeed it is very consistent, the horns strong, the rhythm furious, the singers, well, a tad operatic at the end. If you find salsa too slick and too thick, as I often do, this won't convert you. But it's pretty impressive for what it is. A-
Roy Milton & His Solid Senders: Vol. 2: Groovy Blues (1945-53 , Specialty): Drummer-led jump blues band out of Los Angeles, first volume highly recommended, not sure of all the dates here but mostly 1947-51. Sings most of the songs, with a couple turned over to pianist Camille Howard. Leans on standards, and really makes them swing. B+(***)
Roy Milton & His Solid Senders: Vol. 3: Blowin' With Roy (1945-53 , Specialty): A third helping, from roughly the same years, falls of a bit but not much. B+(**)
Ismael Miranda Con Orchestra Harlow: Oportunidad (1972, Fania): Salsa singer, from Puerto Rico, grew up in New York, was just 17 when he joined Orchestra Harlow (El Exigente), his second album there called Presenta A Ismael Miranda, got top billing on 1971's Abran Paso!. B+(**)
Lee Perry: Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle (1973 , Auralux): Artist credit reads: "Produced and directed by Upsetter Lee Perry." Album was originally titled Black Board Jungle, a pressing of 300 copies, then reissued in 1981 as Blackboard Jungle Dub, but this edition is credited with restoring original order. Almost universally considered part of the Perry canon, deservedly so. A- [yt]
Lee Scratch Perry: Upsetter in Dub: Upsetter Shop Volume One (1970s , Heartbeat): Compilation of dub singles (mostly B sides), with some unreleased cuts, unclear on dates. My first guess was that this must precede the 1969-73 Upsetter Shop Volume Two, but then I heard snips of "War Ina Babylon" and "Police & Thieves" (1976-77), and the one B-side I was able to locate was 1976. Also, the Black Art logo suggests 1975-79. The search wound up fatiguing me more than the musical murk, about what I expect from early dub. B+(**)
Lee "Scratch" Perry: Soundzs From the Hot Line (1970s , Heartbeat): Undated "incantations from the vaults," a "missing link in the Lee Perry legacy," "recorded during the heyday of the Black Ark in the Seventies." B+(***)
Lee "Scratch" Perry: Meets Bullwackie in Satan's Dub (1990, ROIR): Bullwackie is Lloyd Barnes, a protégé of Prince Buster's, ran the label Wackies. B+(*)
Lee "Scratch" Perry: From the Secret Laboratory (1990, Mango): Doesn't seem to be a compilation. Also doesn't seem to have been recorded in the now-famous "secret laboratory" in Switzerland that burned down in 2015. Main clue is that Adrian Sherwood is a co-producer, and Skip McDonald plays guitar and sings harmony. B+(***)
Lee "Scratch" Perry + Subatomic Sound System: Super Ape Returns to Conquer (2017, Subatomic Sound): Refers back to the 1976 Upsetters album Super Ape, and its 1978 sequel Return of the Super Ape. Partly recorded live, which may explain such old songs as "Chase the Devil," "War ina Babylon," and "Super Ape" itself, but the remix is new, going well beyond dub. Maybe not the "dubstrumental mixes" at the, but after the main show, they're a bonus. A-
The Upsetters: Clint Eastwood (1970, Pama): Lee Perry's studio group's first batch of records played off Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, with titles like Return of Django and The Good, the Bad, and the Upsetters. B+(***)
The Upsetters: Blackboard Jungle Dub (1971-73 , Clocktower): The more common, reordered Black Board Jungle reissue, found by me later due to the artist credit on the cover and the Various Artists linkage at Napster. Should grade the same, but slipped by a bit too easily. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 30, 2021
Music: Current count 36142  rated (+49), 226  unrated (+5).
A couple weeks ago I wrote a critical comment on an egregiously bad piece by Matt Taibbi (on what he called The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama). Next week, Taibbi wrote a pretty good piece on the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan: We Never Learn. He always cultivated this idea that he could prove his independence by attacking "both sides" -- e.g., in The Great Derangement, he added a chapter attacking "9/11 truthers" as a left-wing analog to the right-wing crazies who gave him so much to write about -- but lately his ravings about mainstream media and centrist Democrats have become increasingly arbitrary and gratuitous, especially given how far off the deep end right-wing media and politicians have plunged. But the fact that many Democrats are wed to the dysfunctional fantasies of the military-security-mercenary complex gives him a chance to put his contrarianism to good use. And now, he's managed to merge his best insights with his worst instincts, in To Stop War, America Needs a Third Party.
Look, I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. We had just moved to Kansas, and it was clear the Democrats didn't have the slightest interest in campaigning in Kansas. When I voted, the thought occurred to me that Nader might even outpoll Gore here. Well, I was wrong. Without trying, Gore got 11 times as many votes as Nader (399,276 to 36,086; although in Douglas County, the Gore/Nader ratio was down to 4). Even so, Gore lost to Bush by 20.8 points, had Gore received all of Nader's votes, the margin would only have dropped to 17.4. I've never blamed Nader for Gore losing, and I get irritated when other people do. Gore ran the campaign he chose to, figuring he would make up more center votes (and cash) than he could possibly lose to a left that New Democrats had nothing but contempt for. Even as the true horror of the Bush administration became evident after 9/11, I've never doubted that Gore would have gone to war as readily as Bush did. (Well, maybe not Iraq, which Bush had a peculiar hard on for, but Afghanistan was the original mistake.) While Nader wasn't especially concerned with foreign affairs, I'm pretty sure that he would have held back, preventing the 20-year debacle that's only now becoming obvious to many people. So, at least in that respect, the divide between Nader and Gore was more important than the difference between Gore and Bush.
Taibbi is right that both parties have deeply invested in the imperial military mindset. In some ways, the failure of Democrats to find any sort of alternative foreign policy is more galling. Republicans' core belief in using military power to cow poorer nations is consistent with their faith in using police and courts to trample poor and dissident people at home. Both intend to fortify and protect privilege classes, and are not tempered by concerns for democracy, freedom, or individual rights. You'd think that Democrats would understand that by now. (They've been slow on the uptake, but Republican efforts to rig elections finally seem to have caught their attention.)
You'd also expect that they'd reflect back on the principles and promise of international institutions, which they worked hard to establish under and after FDR. Yet even now we see Biden acting rashly and unilaterally to order the wanton death of drone strikes while still committed to exiting Afghanistan.
But Taibbi is dead wrong about third parties. What I realized in 2000 was that the people we needed to convince to support a progressive agenda had already committed to one party (the Democratic), in large part because the other (the Republicans) were clearly committed to causing them harm. That fundamental truth has only become more obvious since 2000. The other change is that the neoliberal clique that took over the Democratic Party with Clinton can and has been challenged, both in primaries and through public organization. We've made progress, but still need to make the case to rank-and-file voters, the media, and even the elites -- especially on war, which is hard to do as long as Americans are being deployed in conflicts, with inevitable casualties and hardships, and a tendency to get wrapped up in their putative heroism. It's hard to heal while you're still getting beat up.
It's painful to listen to bystanders and opportunists decry Biden's airlift from Kabul. Many of the loudest complainers shared responsibility for the slow-moving train wreck, so much so that it's rather astounding that they can still feign surprise. Before the 13 soldiers killed in a freak suicide bombing, the US had enjoyed a respite from conflict for over a year -- a result that was only possible thanks to negotiating with the Taliban. The hawks who wish to renege now (the same ones who complain about the present chaos) have no idea how bad the situation could deteriorate if the Taliban decided they'd have to once again fight Americans for their freedom. One can always nitpick, but I'm actually impressed that Biden is handling this as well as he has -- and I'm disgusted with those who think otherwise.
I have very little to add about the recent deaths of Charlie Watts and Lee Perry. I've read much less about the death of Larry Harlow, a major figure in the development of salsa in New York. But I haven't listened to him much myself. My grade list for Perry is here.
A lot of old music this week, as I fell back on the unheard Christgau A-list, going back to the top after I lost my place. Some records there I skipped over during my first pass.
Finished Rana Foroohar's Don't Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech, with mixed feelings I should probably try to articulate at some point. I'm especially bothered by her evident belief that stronger patent laws would increase competition, at least by making it easier for some other company to challenge the FAANG giants. I think that's exactly wrong. I also doubt her assertion that information is the new oil -- the comparison to railroads isn't quite as far off. Oil converted to energy which turned into a huge increase in the amount of work people could do, so it mostly added to the world's wealth. Information may help companies exploit people more efficiently, but it's ultimately more redistributive than not. That's why I expect we'll see diminishing returns from information technology.
On the other hand, I think the case that Foroohar makes about how the big FAANG companies depress innovation is valid. I'd like to see them partially broken up, but I don't think competition is a solution in and of itself. A lot of things that these networking companies do shouldn't be done at all. That can be addressed through a combination of regulating harmful activities, replacing useful ones with open source software, and subsidizing common infrastructure.
Afterwards, I picked up Ed Ward's The History of Rock & Roll: Volume One 1920-1965. As with similar books, a lot of emphasis early on is put on labels and entrepeneurs, which makes an interesting contrast after reading about the FAANG monopolies. But rock & roll is a pretty good example of what capitalism is actually good for.
August had five Mondays and nothing better to do, so this month's Streamnotes compilation is one of the largest ever.
New records reviewed this week:
Iggy Azalea: The End of an Era (2021, Bad Dreams/Empire): Australian rapper Amethyst Amelia Kelly, moved to US at 16 and picked up a local accent, had a big hit with her 2014 debut. Third and "final" album, supposedly a throwback to her "mixtape roots." Having survived my self-destructive impulses, I'm feeling kind of weird liking a song where the refrain is "I love drugs," or another explaining "You need a good girl/ I'm just a good time." I suppose I could blame the beats. A-
Alan Broadbent/London Metropolitan Strings: Broadbent Plays Brubeck (2021, Eden River): Pianist from New Zealand, back story is that he transcriptions of Brubeck Plays Brubeck in 1961, when he was 14, and played through it "as written, without any knowledge of, or feeling for, jazz rhythm." No such excuse now. Harvie S (bass) and Hans Dekker (drums) should help, but the strings drain the rhythm right out. B+(*)
Greg Burk/Ron Seguin/Michel Lambert: Sound Neighbors (2020, Tonos): Pianist, originally from Minnesota, studied at New England Conservatory, currently lives in Rome, albums since 2000. Trio with bass and drums/maikotron (probable source of synth sounds I originally thought might be prepared piano). The others are Canadian, although Seguin is also based in Rome, and has a connection to Lambert through François Carrier. B+(***) [cd]
Greg Burk: Simple Joys (2019 , Tonos): Pianist-led quintet, recorded in Rome (where Burk lives), Italian names, none I recognize -- alto/soprano sax, guitar, bass, drums. Sleek postbop. B+(*) [cd]
Xhosa Cole Quartet: K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us (2021, Stoney Lane): British saxophonist, grew up in Birmingham, debut album, parens not evident on the cover (which has a spurious exclamation mark) but used in the doc. Quartet adds trumpet (Jay Phelps), bass, and drums, with guests Soweto Kinch (sax, 2 cuts) and Reuben James (piano, 3). B+(**) [bc]
Lorraine Feather: My Own Particular Life (2019-21 , Relarion): Jazz singer, as was her mother, her father the famous jazz writer Leonard Feather, her full name also including "Billie" for Holiday and "Lee" for Peggy. Recorded a couple albums in 1978, continued more regularly since 1996. Feather wrote lyrics here, to music by others (mostly Eddie Arkin). B+(*) [cd]
Bob Gorry/Pete Brunelli/Peter Riccio: GoBruCcio (2021, NHIC): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in New Haven (label acronym is for New Haven Improvisers Collective). Seems to be Gorry's first album, but he hosts a jazz program, curates a series with Joe Morris, and has some side-credits with Allen Lowe. B+(**) [cd] [09-01]
Halsey: If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power (2021, Capitol): Pop singer-songwriter, Ashley Frangipane, fourth album, also "an hour-long film experience set to the music" of her album, co-written and produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for that soundtrack feel. The trailer, perhaps the whole concept, is way too grandiose. but the music is remarkably tight. B+(***)
Inawhirl: Streugebilde (2020 , Trost): Filed this under veteran pianist Georg Graewe, whose name appears first but not always. The others are Sara Kowal (harp) and dieb13 (turntables), so another reason for favoring Graewe might be that his is the only instrument that you really notice. Still, I've noticed him more elsewhere. B+(*) [bc]
Jake Breaks: Breaksy (2021, Wide Hive): Artist name given as Jacob B., credited with "breaks and cuts" (so, turntables?), band includes members of Throttle Elevator Music, with Gregory Rustall Howe credited with "songs, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, drums, quika, cymbals, and percussion. Label lists genre as hip-hop, but I filed these funk groove pieces under pop jazz, not that that's right either. B+(*) [cd]
Ka: A Martyr's Reward (2021, Iron Works): Rapper Kaseem Ryan, based in New York, sixth album since 2008. Dense and severe. B+(***) [yt]
James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds (2021, New West): Singer-songwriter from Texas, father was noveist Larry McMurtry, 10th album since 1989. Counts as Americana, with a feel for language and an eye for detail, over guitar which carries you along gently. I wasn't as quickly taken by this one as by his previous few albums, but enough comes through in the end. A-
Roscoe Mitchell: Dots: Pieces for Percussion and Woodwinds (2021, Wide Hive): AACM founder, Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonist, 80 when this was recorded. The percussion works are too pointilist to generate any flow, but that was probably the idea. I don't see other credits, but this is sparse enough to be solo. Besides, everyone in AEC doubled on percussion (especially Mitchell). B+(**) [cd]
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 8: Brian Jackson (2021, Jazz Is Dead): Always a struggle to figure out whether the album credits belong with the producers or the guest artist, or whether the latter is the title. The feature artists (so far at least) are still-live veterans from the 1970s, so presumably these are new tracks rather than remixes. Jackson, who plays various keyboards, is best known as Gil Scott-Heron's music collaborator. The albums are all short, but at 8 songs, 32:09, we won't ding this as an EP. B+(*)
Nelly: Heartland (2021, Columbia, EP): St. Louis rapper Cornell Haynes Jr., debut album in 2000 was called Country Grammar, one of the year's best for me. He's always been on the pop side of hip-hop -- soft beats and chorus hooks, nothing gangsta or underground. Concept here is to feature country acts, kicking off with Florida Georgia Line on an irresistible ditty called "Lil Bit." Nothing else that catchy, and not just because the headliner fade pretty fast as you go down the list (George Birge? Chris Bandi?). Eight tracks, 23:47. B+(*)
Kevin Sun: <3 Bird (2021, Endectomorph Music): Tenor saxophonist, plays clarinet on one piece, fifth album since 2018 (including one as Mute), all aces. "The implications of Charlie Parker's art are fathomless." (Is that somehow different from unfathomable?) The thing that most impressed me about Sun's debut was the depth of his understanding of saxophone history and lore, so I suppose it's not surprising that he would want to work his way through Parker's legacy. Mostly originals here, with two Parker pieces plus "Salt Peanuts" (Dizzy Gillespie/Kenny Clarke), so he seems to be signing Parker up for his own purposes. [By the way, title is sometimes transcribed as ♡ Bird, but with the heart on its side.] A- [cd] [08-29]
Tinashe: 333 (2021, Tinashe Music): "Rhythmic pop" singer-songwriter, last name Kachingwe, born in Kentucky but grew up in Los Angeles, fifth album since 2014. B+(***)
Jim Yanda: A Silent Way (2019 , Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): Guitarist, originally from a farm in Iowa, has a couple albums (including one recorded in 1987 but released only in 2017). Studied with Paul Smoker. Recorded this in his living room before that became de rigeur. With Herb Robertson (trumpet) and Phil Haynes (drums). I admit I lost the thread midway through the second disc, but didn't mind trying to find it again. B+(***) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Peter Brötzmann: Love Comes Like Sour to Milk (1993 , Trost, EP): One 21-minute track, originally released as a cassette by Galerie Erhard Klein, solo reeds (tenor sax, bass clarinet, tarogato) from a period when he released such abrasive albums as Die Like a Dog and The Dried Rat-Dog. This is easier to handle, perhaps because there is less to it. B [bc]
Jan & Dean: Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings (1966 , Omnivore): Supposedly the original master of the live/comedy album that appeared on Liberty in 1967. The duo could be quite funny, but the album has is a pastiche, with a lot of crash-and-burn sound effects that don't wear well. The songs are hits, only rarely theirs -- "Cathy's Clown," a Beatles section, "Lightning Strikes" (the album's high point), and for a closer, "Hang On Sloopy." B
ABC: Beauty Stab (1983, Mercury): English new wave band, from Sheffield, led by singer Martin Fry, with Mark White on guitar and Stephen Singleton on sax. Second album. Threatened to turn annoying, so I skipped this one, then trashed their Millennium Best Of, but I'm finding this a bit amusing. B+(*)
The Allman Brothers Band: Live at Fillmore East (1971, Capricorn): Southern rock band, brothers Duane (guitar) and Gregg Allman (keyboards, vocals), established the concept with two studio albums, then released this live jam. Duane died in a motorcycle crash a year later, and Berry Oakley (bass) died a year later, but Dickey Betts partly filled the gap and the band kept going into the 1980s, with solo careers and occasional reunions following. B
The Allman Brothers Band: The Best of the Allman Brothers Band -- Live [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1971 , Mercury/Chronicles): Six tracks, 49:59, all drawn from the 1971 Fillmore East sessions, which originally appeared as At Fillmore East in 1971, and has grown by leaps and bounds since, culminating in a 6-CD box, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings. Three of these were on the original album, the rest on 1992's 2-CD The Fillmore Concerts, but the times most precisely match the 2003 remasters in At Fillmore East [Deluxe Edition]. Better than the original album, probably because they focus on blues they didn't write. Still doesn't help much when they go long. B+(***)
The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes On Forever: A Collection of Their Greatest Recordings (1969-73 , Capricorn): Best-of compiled from five albums plus some (4?) extra live recordings, totals 1:24:11. Pretty much lives up to its billing. [Reissued 2001 on 2CD with 67:38 extra material, including album tracks up to 1979.] B+(***) [yt]
The Allman Brothers Band: The Best of the Allman Brothers Band [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1969-79 , Polydor): First attempt at a budget series best-of, with 11 songs, only one after 1973's Brothers & Sisters, only one live, a shorter and cheaper (and still in print) alternative -- not that shorter is what fans especially want. B+(***)
Amadou & Mariam: Je Pense À Toi: The Best of Amadou & Mariam (1998-2002 , Circular Moves/Universal Music Jazz): Known as "the blind couple from Mali," Mariam Doumbia sings, as does guitarist Amadou Bagayoko. They've recorded at least since 1985. This picks songs from three French albums, solid work that doesn't quite delight me. B+(***)
Archers of Loaf: Archers of Loaf Vs. the Greatest of All Time (1994, Alias, EP): Punkish rock band from North Carolina, fairly major 1993-98, with Eric Bachmann heading off for a second group (Crooked Fingers) and a less distinguished solo career. Five songs, 17:29. B+(**)
Archers of Loaf: The Speed of Cattle (1992-94 , Alias): Eighteen scattered outtakes, singles, radio shots, leftovers, the fallout of a group with two albums done and two more to come. B+(*)
Archers of Loaf: Vitus Tinnitus (1997, Alias, EP): Six-cut live album, plus two remixes from All he Nations Airports. Reminds me that I like their sound, even if nothing particularly stands out. B+(**)
Ashford & Simpson: So So Satisfied (1977, Warner Brothers): Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, a songwriting team at Motown before recording together in 1973. Fourth (or fifth?) album, all barely grazed the charts before Send It gave them their first gold record. B+(***)
Ashford & Simpson: Send It (1977, Warner Brothers): Christgau's review places this before So So Satisfied, but most other sources list it later, and the chart order makes more sense that way: So So Satisfied peaked at 180, Send It 52, Is It Stil Good to Ya (20). Also, two of Send It's singles didn't appear until 1978. High points are more funk or more disco, but I'm probably missing the point. B+(**)
Ashford & Simpson: Stay Free (1979, Warner Brothers): Seventh album, further into the disco era, which is the part I prefer to the strings and romance, but that's still their default. B+(*)
Ashford & Simpson: Solid (1984, Capitol): Title single hit lifted this to their fourth gold album. B+(*)
Bad Religion: All Ages (1982-94 , Epitaph): Punk rock band from Los Angeles, formed in 1980, 17 studio albums through 2019, only one I've bothered checking out after I shit-canned their early Christgau A-listed Into the Unknown. This is a compilation, baited with two recent live tracks, occasioned (perhaps) by the exit of Brett Gurewitz, leaving singer Greg Graffin in charge. They were consistent enough I can't detect much change over this decade, but then my ears glazed over. Only lyric I jotted down: "I got ideas too." No doubt, but do I care? B
Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force: Planet Rock: The Album (1982-84 , Tommy Boy): DJ/rapper Lance Taylor, first-generation compilation built around the same four singles that key the compilation I've recommended since 2001, Looking for the Perfect Beat: 1980-1985. The other three cuts here are less generous than seven on the other, but in its time, this gave you a pretty good sense of how hip-hop arrived. A-
Bang on a Can: Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing (2005, Cantaloupe): Classical group, founded 1987 by three composers not in the credits here (although Wikipedia says they are still "artistic directors"), achieved a measure of fame with crossover covers of Brian Eno's In Airports and Terry Riley's In C. Kyaw Kyaw Naing is a Burmese percussionist, a master of the pat waing (also credited with pat ma, si wa, gong, and drums), the composer of four tracks, with five more from other Burmese sources. A- [bc]
Count Basie: The Best of Early Basie (1937-39 , MCA): As the owner of The Complete Decca Recordings, I didn't feel any particular need to buy this sampler, but recommended it to Christgau, who couldn't help but give it an A. Same here. Basie moved his band from Kansas City to New York and took the City by storm, becoming the very definition of swing. The band was loaded with stars, like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, and Dickey Wells, and Jimmy Rushing sings a few classics. The next period, on Columbia up to 1950 also has a definitive box (America's #1 Band: The Columbia Years) as well as a superb 1-CD compilation (One O'Clock Jump: The Very Best of Count Basie). A
Count Basie: Count Basie and His Great Vocalists (1939-50 , Columbia/Legacy): Part of the label's Best of the Big Bands series, which offered "Great Vocalists" volumes for Les Brown, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Harry James, as well as this Basie set. Like many big bands, Basie kept both a boy and a girl singer on tap, but they appear on less than a quarter of Basie's early sides, so I thought it might be interesting to concentrate them -- especially as he started off with two of the greatest singers, Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes. This probably would have been better had they stopped there, but this also includes two tracks with Earl Warren (a classic crooner), three with Lynne Sherman (good but not great), and one with Ann Moore (a jumping "Jivin' Joe Jackson"). Still, hard to complain given the way Rushing opens ("I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me") and closes ("Blue Skies"). A-
Count Basie: Frankly Basie: Count Basie Plays the Hits of Frank Sinatra (1963 , Verve): Original 1963 album title was More Hits of the '50's and '60's, with pretty much the same cover art, making me wonder if they weren't treading gently to avoid ruffling feathers. They were, after all, in the middle of a series of lucrative albums with Sinatra, so they would have been especially conscious of his songbook. Still, not the same without a singer, or a suitable soloist to focus on. B+(*)
Count Basie: Basie Jam (1973 , Pablo): In 1973 Norman Granz, having sold off his Verve Records catalog to MGM, decided to round up the old gang and get back in business, as Pablo Records. His first new album was by Oscar Peterson, but Basie wasn't far behind. As with his old Jazz at the Philharmonic shows, he organized a jam session, with Sweets Edison on trumpet, Zoot Sims and Lockjaw Davis on tenor sax, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Irving Ashby (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Five tunes, only one under 8:50. B+(*)
Count Basie/Joe Turner: The Bosses (1973 , Pablo): Recorded a day after Basie Jam, with the same group credited, plus Turner shouting the blues. The horns are rarely deployed, but things pick up when they do appear. B+(***)
Count Basie/Oscar Peterson: Count Basie Encounters Oscar Peterson: Satch and Josh (1974, Pablo): Two very different pianist, but if you've ever seen them together, you'll know that they loved each other. Basie was famous as the one who knew what to leave out, and Peterson threw more extraneous notes in than anyone short of Art Tatum. B+(**)
Count Basie/Zoot Sims: Basie & Zoot (1975 , Pablo): Hard-swinging tenor saxophonist, backed by Basie's piano trio with John Heard (bass) and Louis Bellson (drums). B+(***)
Count Basie: Get Together (1979 , Pablo): Jam session, cover split between pictures of Basie and Freddie Green (his long-time guitarist), with other names after Green's: Budd Johnson and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Harris (tenor saxes), Harry Edison and Clark Terry (trumpets), Gus Johnson (drums), and John Clayton (bass). Another nice swing session. B+(***)
The Bats: Compiletely Bats (1984-86 , Communion): Rock band from New Zealand, sounds a bit like jangle pop, released three EPs before their 1987 debut album, and those (minus one song) are collected here). B+(**)
Delta 5: Singles & Sessions 1979-81 (1979-81 , Kill Rock Stars): English post-punk band, formed in Leeds alongside the most explicitly political bands of the time, Mekons and Gang of Four, and shared an EP with the Slits and the Pop Group. I remember "Mind Your Own Business" from Wanna Buy a Bridge? (also covered by Chicks on Speed), but wasn't aware of their only album (See the Whirl, from 1981). This rounds up 16 scattered songs, front-loaded, tailing off a bit toward the end. A-
Ella Fitzgerald/Count Basie/Joe Williams: One O'Clock Jump (1956-57 , Verve): Wiliams was a regular singer with Basie from 1954-61, moving up to headliner on 1955's Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings. Probably more Joe than Ella here. B+(*)
Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley P.T.A. (1968, Plantation): Country singer from Texas, second album, title song a number one crossover hit skewering the "Harper Valley hypocrites." The then-unknown Tom T. Hall wrote that song, and three more worth hearing ("Widow Jones," "Mr. Harper," "Sippin' Shirley Thompson"), but the rest of the album is pretty remarkable, with "The Cotton Patch" and "Satan Place" reprising Hall's rhythm close enough he could sue, and "Run Jeannie Run" sounding like her own story. A-
Jeannie C. Riley: Yearbooks and Yesterdays (1969, Plantation): She never duplicated her initial success, but had 5 more top-ten country hits through 1971, her album chart positions tailing off 9-14-25-34. Three more songs by Hall, four more by Margaret Lewis and Myra Smith (including "The Girl Most Likely"). B+(**)
Frank Sinatra/Count Basie: Sinatra-Basie (An Historic Musical First) (1962, Reprise): Basie reinvented his band in the late 1950s: the soloists weren't as distinctive, but the "new testament" band's arrangers powered up the ensemble work -- the best sampler from the period was called The Complete Atomic Basie. In some ways, Basie's evolution tracked Sinatra's 1950s big bands, but richer and subtler. By 1962, both were famous and starting to decline, so this meeting helped both. Neal Hefti arranged ten songs Sinatra had long mastered. He sung them impeccably, and I doubt he's ever fronted a stronger horn section. Basie himself dropped out (except for the cover pic), with Bill Miller taking over the piano. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 23, 2021
Music: Current count 36093  rated (+57), 221  unrated (+3).
Tom T. Hall died last week. Obituaries tended to overlook his 35 albums, but invariably mentioned the number one single he wrote in 1968, "Harper Valley PTA," for Jeannie C. Riley. Growing up in Wichita, I knew a little bit about country music -- mostly from watching, with bemused detachment, Porter Wagoner -- but I wasn't a fan. My brother and I got turned away at the door of a Grand Ole Opry show downtown, the doorman correctly surmising that we wanted the car show next door. I managed to catch a set by Ronnie & the Daytonas there: the first time I saw live music, and probably the only time until I saw Sly & the Family Stone in St. Louis.
That's was shortly after the first time I heard of Hall. I went to a party thrown by one of the Sociology professors. When I introduced myself to a guest, he responded: "I got all your records." I had a little speech problem, and never managed to say Hull clear enough not to be transcribed as the more common Hall. When I did finally hear Hall -- probably at the behest of George Lipsitz, who was taking time before going to graduate school, and was very much into country music at the time (although I also recall him introducing me to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and to Johnny Otis).
I only slowly got into country music, picking up occasional albums over the 1970s -- from Hall: We All Got Together and Faster Horses, finding In Search of a Song later -- finally making a serious effort in the 1990s to catch up with (damn near) everything I had missed. The best Hall compilation ever came out in 1988: The Essential Tom T. Hall: The Story Songs, 20 of them, originally on 2-LP, later on 1-CD. In 1995, I finally felt confident enough to write something about a new (and disappointing) Hall box, combined with a more favorable review of the 3-CD Roger Miller box. (Of course, I remembered Miller vividly from his mid-1960s TV show and crossover hits.) I called this Kings of the Road, and submitted it to The Voice, but elicited no interest (other than, I suppose, that a year later Robert Christgau invited me to review Rhino's series of jazz compilations, which I called Jazz for Dummies).
One thing I'd have to correct from the Hall piece is my claim Hall "hasn't recorded anything very interesting since ." I finally got around to Hall's 1978-80 RCA releases below, and a couple of them are pretty good. I wanted to dive into his early Mercury records, but I only found In Search of a Song on Napster, plus Ballad of Forty Dollars on YouTube. There are some post-1978 Mercury albums on Napster, so I may return to them.
Another son of Kentucky died last week: Don Everly. He seemed like an earlier generation, but he was a year younger than Hall, and his brother Phil (d. 2014) was younger still. They started off in their teens in the Everly Family group, then as a brother act had their first big hits in 1957 ("Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie"), when Phil was 18. Beyond radio singles, my first introduction was 1964's The Very Best of the Everly Brothers -- disparaged now because they re-recorded their pre-1960 Cadence hits to juice up their less famous Warners songs, from "Cathy's Clown" to the ultra-maudlin "Ebony Eyes." I replayed it, and also Rhino's Cadence Classics, but didn't have much luck digging further, and didn't look into their solo careers or their reunion -- they were famous for not getting along.
Before Hall died, I mostly picked unheard records of Christgau's graded list, from Youssou N'Dour to Lobi Traoré. A couple reggae albums were suggested by a Sly & Robbie list of their favorites, but further down the list got hard to find. Tried to catch up with the demo queue, picking off the things with the earliest release dates, but wound up losing ground. Got a package from NoBusiness today. They'll be listed next week.
Bought a package of "shaved pork" last week. Seemed like the perfect thing for bulgogi. It's cut so thin you can't grill it. I dumped it into a cast iron skillet and boiled the marinade off. Pretty intense. Picture here
I saw a tweet recommending Josh Marshall: Notes from the Press Paroxysm as the Evacuation Flights Continue. I hadn't looked at TPM when I was writing up my Speaking of Afghanistan post last week because, well, most of what they publish is behind their firewall never struck me as worth the cost. (Also, I find it especially aggravating that much of what they hide consists of letters from readers, which presumably cost them nothing.) Still, it's a good article, both for pointing out that there is a substantial but rarely reported level of ongoing negotiation between the Taliban and virtually everyone, and for the term "press paroxysm." When I flipped through the Wichita Eagle this morning, I was appalled at the level of ignorance and cynical exploitation in everything they published on Afghanistan (and not just from columnists like Marc Thiessen, whose very existence is an affront to intelligence and human decency).
I tracked down a couple of earlier Marshall articles. You Wouldn't Know It From the US News Coverage, But . . . points out that the top US-backed Afghan politicos are all actively engaged in negotiating with the Taliban: Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, even (from Doha) Ashraf Ghani -- who precipitated this Taliban offensive by refusing to negotiate while US troops remained, and who affirmed the government collapse by fleeing Kabul. On the media, see: The Fall of Kabul, Washington and the Guys at the Fancy Magazines. The latter talks about the "feeding frenzy" reporters are prone to: seeing a politician flounder, they're more than happy to jump in and take a few shots. (Kind of like how my dog gives chase only after she sees the other animal turn away.) Anyone who expects sober analysis from such creatures is bound to be disappointed.
For what it's worth, I'm delighted that Biden has taken a firm stand for withdrawal, showing both courage and a grounding in reality. He has far from an unblemished reputation on Afghanistan, but there's little value in bringing that up now that he's learned the lesson, except to underscore that the lessons are clear enough to convince even him. What I worry about is that in the current din we won't learn what we need to from this 20-year failure. Even if their complaints aren't accepted, the endless repetition of their shared delusions crowds out the clear thought we need.
New records reviewed this week:
Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol 1: Sonar (2020 , Orbit577): Credited with "Horns and Reeds" here, first of three volumes, a single 28:58 piece, group includes Luisa Muhr (voice), Ayumi Ishito (sax), Nord piano, two guitars, bass, and drums. B+(*)
Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 2: The Middle (2020 , Orbit577): Same group, one 31:32 piece. B+(**)
Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 3: After Life (2020 , Orbit577): Another piece, this one 30:24. Starts with a bluesier voice, remaining more prominent here than on the other volumes. B+(*)
Tom Cohen: My Take (2021, Versa Music): Drummer, leads a set of organ trios through "Without a Song" and four pieces by 1950s saxophonists (Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson, Sonny Stitt, Wayne Shorter). With Joey DeFrancesco or Dave Posmontier on Hammond B-3, spots for saxophonists Tim Warfield and Ralph Bowen, and guitarist Steve Giordano. B+(**) [cd]
Paul Dunmall & Mark Sanders: Unity (2020 , 577): British sax & drums duo, Dunmall playing alto, tenor, and C melody saxophones. B+(**)
The Go! Team: Get Up Sequences Part One (2021, Memphis Industries): British alt/pop group, sixth album since 2004. Pretty upbeat, almost deliriously so (especially the finale). B+(***)
Jared Hall: Seen on the Scene (2018 , Origin): Trumpet player, from Seattle, second album, fairly classic-sounding hard bop quintet, with Vincent Herring (alto sax), piano, bass, and drums. Two Tadd Dameron pieces along with the originals. B+(**) [cd]
L.A. Cowboy: The Big Pitch (2021, Reconcile): Vehicle for singer-songwriter J. Frederick Millea, alias L.A. Cowboy. Discogs credits him/them with six albums 1997-98, nothing since -- evidently, a spat with industry execs caused him to give up. Hype sheet calls this "post-modern rock/swing fusion." Sounds like a Sinatra wannabe to me, but maybe there's something deeper going on. B [cd]
Lorde: Solar Power (2021, Universal): Pop star from New Zealand, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, third album. Laid back, somewhat dreamy, sinks in slowly, perhaps too much for my jaded pop reflexes. B+(**)
Francisco Mela: MPT Trio: Volume 1 (2020 , 577): Cuban drummer/percussionist, studied at Berklee, albums since 2006. Trio with Henry Paz (sax) and Juanma Trujillo (guitar). B+(**)
Lady Millea: I Don't Mind Missing You (2021, Reconcile): Jazz singer, from Los Angeles, daughter of L.A. Cowboy J. Frederick Millea, who wrote and arranged these nine songs. Nice voice. Songs are a mixed bag. B+(*) [cd]
Dave Miller Trio: The Mask-erade Is Over (2021, Summit): Piano player, "(49)" at Discogs, ninth trio album since 2010 (including 5 with his daughter, singer Rebecca DuMaine), 1 original, 13 standards, about half from jazz musicians. With Andrew Higgins (bass) and Bill Belasco (drums). B+(*) [cd]
Steve Million: What I Meant to Say (2019 , Origin): Pianist, based in Chicago, records at least since 1995 (title then was Million to One, followed up by Thanks a Million). Quartet reunites him with Steve Cardenas (guitar) and Ron Vincent (drums), who played together in Kansas City in the late 1970s, plus bassist John Sims. B+(*) [cd]
Mankwe Ndosi and Body MemOri: Felt/Not Said (2021, Auspice NOW): Vocalist, ties to Chicago and Minnesota, self-released debut from 2012, part of Nicole Mitchell/Black Earth. Backed with cello (Tomeka Reid), bass, and drums. Rather abstract, finding it a bit hard to follow. B+(*) [cdr]
Trineice Robinson: All or Nothing (2021, 4RM Music Productions): Teaches jazz voice at Princeton, seems to have a distinguished academic career, waited until 40 for her recording debut. Strong, skilled voice, resonant of gospel and r&b, co-produced by saxophonist Don Braden, with Cyrus Chestnut in the band. Wrote one song, lyrics for Wayne Shorter (used Jon Hendricks' for Monk), wide range of standards, including "What's Going On." B+(**) [cd]
Kalie Shorr: I Got Here by Accident (2021, Tmwrk, EP): Nashville singer-songwriter, originally from Maine, self-released an impressive debut album in 2019, then re-released it in 2020 on this label. Big, punchy sound, produced by Butch Walker. Five songs, all substantial, 15:02. A-
Alfie Templeman: Forever Isn't Long Enough (2021, Chess Club): British singer-songwriter, debut album at 18, EPs back to 2017. Plays lots of instruments. Has a rudimentary understanding of pop hooks. B+(**)
Waterparks: Greatest Hits (2021, 300 Entertainment): Houston band, suggested genres include pop punk and electropop, but none of those seem quite right. Released EPs from 2012, first album in 2016. This is their fourth album, not a compilation, and not much chance that any of these songs will be hits, but that's not for lack of hooks. B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Cold Wave #1 (2017-20 , Soul Jazz): British reissue label, picks relatively recent records that were supposedly inspired by the the late 1970s/early 1980s "cold wave" genre: synth-based dance tracks, rare vocals, everything compact and, well, cold. B+(**)
Cold Wave #2 (2015-20 , Soul Jazz): Opens with three pretty good cuts, but Job Sifre's "At Least We Try" raises the level, and everything else rises with it. First volume took the chill too seriously. This reminds you that lots of interesting electronica has been happening in obscure corners, but sometimes it helps to mix it up a bit. A-
Paul Dunmall/Keith Tippett/Philip Gibbs/Pete Fairclough: Onosante (2000 , 577): Saxophones (plus fife and bagpipes), piano, guitar, and drums, released with a run of 100 back in the day, and unpacked in memory of the late pianist -- who is indeed remarkable here, but also in fine company. A-
Dave and Ansell Collins: Double Barrel (1971, Big Tree): Jamaican duo, singer Dave Barker and keyboardist Collins. Title song is one of the greatest rocksteady classics (lyric starts: "I am the magnificent"). Nothing else in its league, not much where Dave even gets a chance to sing, much less toast. The instrumentals are pretty seductive. B+(***)
The Everly Brothers: Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958, Cadence): Brothers Don (1937-2021) and Phil (1939-2014), from Kentucky, sang in close harmony, scored two big hits in 1957 both on country and pop charts: "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie." Their first album was hits and filler, but for this second album they got conceptual: all old country songs, done simply with just bass (Floyd Chance) and their guitars, no singles, nothing with hit potential (well, except for Gene Autry). B+(**) [yt]
Tom T. Hall: Ballad of Forty Dollars and His Other Great Songs (1969, Mercury): First album, already trading on his reputation as a songwriter (soon to be storyteller), especially after Jeannie C. Riley sung his "Harper Valley PTA" to the top of the charts in 1968. Three songs made his first (1972) Greatest Hits, and "Cloudy Day" wouldn't have been amiss. Too many flowers among the rest. B+(**) [yt]
Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971-75 , Mercury): Nowadays, best to start with The Definitive Collection or, better still, The Essential Tom T. Hall: The Story Songs (but not the 2-CD Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher box, not that someone couldn't compile 2 or 3 CDs worth of prime material, but the compilers are often tempted to dilute the shrewd observations with his more mawkish sentimental fare). At one point, it was possible to get this and the 1972 Greatest Hits on one CD, a real bargain, since superseded. Hall released 7 albums from 1972-75 (vs. 5 1969-71). Even so, this plucks two more songs from 1971's best-ever In Search of a Song. And like every other compilation, this inexplicably omits "Pamela Brown" (here in favor of "I Love" and "I Care" and "I Like Beer," not that I mind the latter). B+(***)
Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits: Volume I & II (1967-75 , Mercury): An artifact of the early CD era, when the things cost twice as much as an LP, but sometimes could hold two. Re-reading Christgau on the separate volumes (graded B and D+) convinced me to nick the latter a notch, but until better compilations came around, this offered at least a dozen genius songs, and if the filler gets sappy or soppy, I don't buy that as simple marketing shtick. It's just who he is, and a big part of what made him such a treasure. A-
Tom T. Hall: New Train Same Rider (1978, RCA Victor): New label, not quite the same songwriter, but sometimes he sounds like he could be. B+(*)
Tom T. Hall: Places I've Done Time (1978, RCA Victor): Found himself a batch of stories this time -- "Grocery Truck," "Three Sofa Story," "Man Who Shot Himself," "Son of Clayton Delaney," "Great East Broadway Onion Championship of 1978" -- which lifts the personal ("I Couldn't Live in Southern California") and even the generic ("Gimme Peace"). None rank among his classics, which may be why he covers "Mr. Bojangles." B+(***)
Tom T. Hall: In Concert! Recorded Live at the Grand Ole Opry House (1979 , RCA Victor): Date not noted, but in Morello's twofer series this is slotted before a 1979 album, and he thanks RCA in his initial remarks -- aside from this, his RCA albums ended 1980. Highlight is the "I Like Beer" audience participation -- OK, but not what one hopes for. B
Tom T. Hall: Saturday Morning Songs (1979, RCA Victor): "For children of all ages," complete with "16 page coloring book." Second side has its own title: The "Is" Songs, as in "Easter Is," "Halloween Is," "Thanksgiving Is," "Christmas Is," "Your Birthday Is." Ten songs, all short, 22:07. Light and breezy, only occasionally shallow. Not something I expected to like at all. B+(**)
Tom T. Hall: Ol' T's in Town (1979, RCA Victor): One of his classic story songs -- "Greed Kills More People Than Whiskey," which would be more convincing if he tracked down the effects of greed on other people, not just the overstressed rich -- but his love and loss songs have gained some depth, and his sense of nostalgia is tuned about right. He was conscious enough about age to write "I'm Forty Now," and to retire a decade later. In between, the title may indicate that he's feeling old, or like his old self. A-
Tom T. Hall: Soldier of Fortune (1980, RCA Victor): Last album for RCA, aside from the live one released in 1983, when he returned to Mercury. Nothing especially memorable here, nothing terribly bad either (although "Me and Jimmie Rodgers" makes you wonder). B+(*)
Jackie Mittoo and the Soul Vendors: Evening Time (1968, Coxsone): Keyboard player for the Skatalites, second album under his own name. Instrumental, some classic grooves. A-
Youssou N'Dour: Djamil Inédits 84-85 (1984-85 , Celluloid): Not sure what the history of this is, but the covers suggest a live recording, a bit rough and ill-fitting. The star looks very young, but no doubt he is the star. The horns are a bit much. [Reissued 2005 with an extra track as Badou.] B+(*)
Youssou N'Dour: Eyes Open (1992, Columbia): Recorded in Dakar, but mixed in New York. Nonetheless, voice and rhythm uniquely his. B+(***)
Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Etoile: Lii! (1996, Jololi): Superstar from Senegal, has only sporadically had his work released in the US -- from 1986-94 on Virgin and Columbia, then 2000-10 on Nonesuch -- although there is evidently more released locally, like the series of late-1990s cassettes like this one. B+(***) [yt]
Negativland: Helter Stupid (1989, SST): Bay area "plunderphonics" group, constructs sound collages simulating the most annoying aspects of trying to listen to radio while someone else is twiddling the dial. Or, as they put it, "Negativland considers their music thought-provoking, even humorous." That, from a piece that claims their song "Christianity Is Stupid" is responsible for mass murder. B-
Yoko Ono: Season of Glass (1981, Geffen): Multimedia artist, including film and performance art, grew up in Tokyo, moved to New York in 1953, married John Lennon in 1969, shortly before the Beatles broke up, and they collaborated on several records -- two brilliant Plastic Ono Band albums of his, weird conceptual shit of hers, a separation and reunion, finally the collaborative Double Fantasy. This follows on his death, the songswiting and production straightforward, the singing a little wobbly. Nice sax solo on the opener, courtesy of Michael Brecker. B+(***) [yt]
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Between My Head and the Sky (2009, Chimera): The two songs Christgau picked out are better than I ever imagind. The others, well, are kind of all over the place. B+(*)
Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Take Me to the Land of Hell (2013, Chimera Music): I suppose what turned me off from her was the single-CD Walking on Thin Ice, the select subset from the 6-CD Onobox that Christgau graded A and asserted "ought to convert anybody with better taste than Albert Goldman -- namely, you." I hated it enough to grade it C+, then didn't like her 1995 Rising much better (B-, vs. A- for Christgau). This supposedly "outstrips" both the latter and 1981's less bracing Season of Glass. I don't know what to make of this smorgasbord of anti-genre exercises, even a hint of Marlene Dietrich. B+(***)
Earl Scruggs & Tom T. Hall: The Storyteller and the Banjo Man (1982, Columbia): Just two of Hall's story-songs ("The Enginers Don't Wave From the Trains Anymore" and "There Ain't No Country Music on the Jukebox"), one joint title ("A Lover's Farewell"). Hall is pictured on the cover with his guitar, but Randy Scruggs is the guitarist here, with Scruggs on two tracks (plus banjo, natch), Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Byron Berline on fiddle (and mandolin, though that's mostly Scruggs), so the bluegrass band is impeccable. Starts deep in Scruggs' songbook with "Song of the South," doesn't neglect "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms," winds up with a pretty nifty "No Expectations" (Richards & Jagger). B+(**)
Sly and Robbie: Sly and Robbie Present Taxi (1981, Mango): Sly Dunbar (drums) and Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Jamaica's most legendary rhythm section, played on many albums from mid-1970s on. They introduced themselves as producers here, 12 songs by 10 artists (two each for Wailing Souls and Junior Delgado; one track credited by Dunbar, the others including stars Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. B+(***)
Chris Smither: I'm a Stranger Too! (1970, Poppy): Folk singer-songwriter, first album of what would turn into a long career -- although he didn't get to number four until 1991, after which he's released an album every 2-3 years. Eight originals, but the title comes from one of two Randy Newman songs (the third cover is from Neil Young). The originals pick up with "Love You Like a Man," which Bonnie Raitt retooled for her own purposes. B+(**)
Chris Smither: Don't It Drag On (1972, Poppy): Second album, the four covers more diverse (Bob Dylan, Willie McTell, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead), gives you something to recognize while the originals slowly sink in. B+(***)
Chris Smither: It Ain't Easy (1984, Adelphi): Smither recorded a third album in 1973, but it was shelved when the label (United Artists) closed, and didn't appear until 2005 (Honeysuckle Dog). It took another decade before Smither recorded another album. Despite the title, he makes this one as easy as possible: just guitar and voice, only three originals, with eleven covers, tapping into Chuck Berry twice. B+(**)
Chris Smither: Small Revelations (1996 , Hightone): Seventh album, on a 2-year cycle since 1991. B+(***)
Omar Souleyman: Highway to Hassake: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1994-2006 , Sublime Frequencies): Syrian (and now world) pop star, his style honed as a wedding singer, featuring an intense, high-speed attack which threatens to make his many albums redundant. First of several compilations of early work (most before 2001), this gives him the occasional break, which helps. A- [bc]
Omar Souleyman: Dabke 2020: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1999-2008 , Sublime Frequencies): More from the same albums and sessions, the problem less that the quality declines than that it all sounds so much the same that one's interest starts to wane. B+(***) [bc]
Omar Souleyman: Jazeera Nights: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1996-2009 , Sublime Frequencies): A third compilation, pretty upbeat. Not sure what the date breakdown is, as the later releases have later end-dates, but most songs appear to come from early albums. B+(***) [bc]
Spoonie Gee: The Godfather of Rap (1987, Tuff City): Rapper Gabe Jackson, from Harlem, early rapper, first single was "Spoonin Rap" in 1979, cut more singles for Sugar Hill, eventually came out with this his only album. Old school before it became old. B+(**)
Tinariwen: The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2000 , World Village): Tuareg group, formed over the 1980s in exile in Libya and Algeria, returned to Mali (where they recorded this), eventually leaving to tour the world (especially as Mali fell apart). First album, B+(**)
Tinariwen: Amassakoul (2004, World Village): Second album, into the studio. B+(***)
Aaron Tippin: Ultimate Aaron Tippin (1990-97 , RCA Nashville/BMG Heritage): Country singer-songwriter, established his working class bona fides with his debut single "You've Got to Stand for Something" ("or you'll fall for anything at all"). He cut five albums for RCA, turned into four best-ofs between 1997 and this 20-track CD in 2004, before he got more jingoistic after 9/11, fading after Stars & Stripes in 2002 (aside from a set of truck songs in 2009). Strong voice, solid songs, still I'm not sure they hold up as well now as I thought back then. B+(***)
Lobi Traoré: Ségou (1996, Cobalt): Singer-guitarist from Mali (1961-2010), third album, has a blues groove, and keeps it tight. B+(***) [yt]
Lobi Traoré: Rainy Season Blues (2009 , Glitterbeat): Acoustic guitar and vocals, about as basic as blues gets, except I don't understand the words, or feel the anguish. But maybe anguish isn't the point. B+(**)
Warren Vaché: Iridescence (1981, Concord): Retro-swing player, debut album 1976, cornet and flugelhorn here, quartet with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, August 16, 2021
Music: Current count 36036  rated (+35), 218  unrated (-2).
Looks like a decent week, but count is off from recent weeks, especially given how much of what follows is old music. Had a couple days last week where I essentially gave up and just listened to oldies. Got a bit of a lift mid-week when Robert Christgau published his August Consumer Guide -- I'm linking to the time-locked website version, where everyone can at least get a list of records reviewed (there's a link there to the And It Don't Stop newsletter, where the text is paywalled). Five records below from this month's batch. Others I had previously checked out [my grades in brackets]:
That leaves two albums unheard: Mach-Hommy's HBO (Haitian Body Odor), and Star Feminine Band. I replayed Mach-Hommy's Pray for Haiti, but left my grade unchanged. (Needless to say, all this was before Haiti was wracked by another earthquake, soon followed by a tropical storm.)
I cheated a bit in building a playlist for the Ace Directions in Music compilation (substituted a Miles Davis take of a Wayne Shorter song for the latter's own Super Nova version). The swap almost certainly didn't hurt the album, but not having the booklet, I'm missing the compiler's explanation for his choices, not least why he talks about the emergence of "electric jazz" instead of "fusion." Either way, it wasn't much of a "new age of jazz" -- which isn't to say that no new and interesting things were happening then, just that they are poorly represented in this compilation.
This week's "old music" continued my scan through the list of albums Christgau graded but I hadn't. My fault I went so deep into 1960s Manfred Mann -- just a personal itch I had to scratch. On the other hand, I barely touched Sparrow -- surprised to find so much on Napster. Next up: Youssou N'Dour, but most of what I missed is pretty hard to find.
Seems like I've been neglecting my new promo queue, but only 5 records there have been released (3 just this week). August is always a lax month, which is part of the reason I've been slipping.
I should probably write something on Afghanistan, but I don't see much urgency at the moment. (E.g., this relatively sane Aug. 13 article still thinks "a possible Taliban capture of Kabul itself could be a matter of months, perhaps even weeks.") I, too, didn't expect the Taliban to take over so quickly and completely. After all, the Soviet-backed regime held out three years after the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the 1990s Taliban never quite consolidated control before the US intervened. That suggests several things, of which the least well documented in the possibility that today's Taliban may be much more skillful politically than the old one was. The most striking thing about the current sweep is that most towns have been taken over without fighting, and we haven't seen anything like the massacres that occurred in the 1990s when the Taliban conquered cities like Herat. This suggests that the Taliban have much more popular support (or at least tolerance) than we have been led to believe. It also underscores how ready the mercenary army stood up by the US and NATO were to switch sides. That means that any effort by the US to re-impose order will have to start from scratch. Given that degree of failure after 20 years, that should be a sobering thought.
Needless to say, a lot of neocon idiots are piling on Biden for "losing Afghanistan." That makes for seductive rhetoric, but there's no reality to it. The venture was doomed from the start, both because we didn't care about (let alone understand) the Afghans, and because we didn't understand (let alone care about) ourselves.
New records reviewed this week:
Emily Duff: Razor Blade Smile (2021, Mr. Mudshow Music): Singer-songwriter from New York, fourth album since 2017, surprised to find she doesn't have a Wikipedia page, also that producer Eric Ambel has both a personal one and a separate discography page (as well as the expected pages for his groups, the Yayhoos and the Del-Lords). A-
Rodney Jordan & Christian Fabian: Conversations (2019 , Spicerack): Bass duets, Jordan's first album as leader but he has side credits back to 1997, notably with René Marie. Fabian is from Sweden, grew up in Germany, studied at Berklee, wound up in New York, has several albums. B+(**) [cd]
Nas: King's Disease II (2021, Mass Appeal): Thirteenth studio album, sequel to his 2020 album. Nothing especially striking, but steady as it goes. After all, "We been doing gangsta shit for a long time." B+(*)
Pearring Sound: Socially Distanced Duos (2020 , self-released): Alto saxophonist Jeff Pearring, has a previous album from 2016, recorded these duos with a notable list of musicians: "these shared musical moments tell the story of the complex state of being brought about by the numerous events of 2020." B+(***) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Simigwa (1975 , Mr. Bongo): Highlife musician from Ghana, reissue of what seems to be his first album, although the eclectic mix of styles -- not lest a substantial shot of funk and a nod toward hip-hop -- strikes me as postmodern. B+(***)
Directions in Music: 1969 to 1973: Miles Davis, His Musicians and the Birth of a New Age of Jazz (1969-73 , BGP): Surveys the turn to fusion, for which Miles Davis broke up his famous 1964-69 Quintet, then cycled through most of the roster here, breaking artistic ground while filling arenas. His followers did less on both counts -- aside from Keith Jarrett, who reverted to acoustic piano and achieved stardom on his own terms. While the others sold a fair number of records, their "new age" quickly lost interest. Two vocals make you wonder why they're here, not that either is without interest. B+(**)
Amy Rigby: A One Way Ticket to My Life (1987-97 , Southern Domestic): Nineteen demos, the best a trial run for her brilliant debut album, the rest engaging and enticing but not quite as sharp as her songwriting became over the following decades. B+(***) [bc]
Joseph Spence: Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing (1965 , Smithsonian/Folkways): One of the few major artists from the Bahamas (1910-84), folk singer, guitarist, his 1958 Folkways recordings the standard this offers an encore to. Off-kilter, redeemed by gospel spirit. A-
Emily Duff: Maybe in the Morning (2017, Mod Prom): New York singer-songwriter, preferred genre rockabilly, first album, appeals immediately. B+(***) [bc]
Emily Duff: Hallelujah Hello (2019, Mr. Mudshow Music): A bit more drama, a lot more religion, which cuts back on the rockabilly spirit. "I'm going down, like my mother did, in a puff of smoke and alcohol." B+(**) [bc]
Manfred Mann: The Five Faces of Manfred Mann (1964, HMV): Brit Invasion group, had a few big hits, starting with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Sha La La," neither present on the UK version of this debut album. (As with other BI groups, the UK and US albums were different, and the UK version is the one I'm finding.) Led by South African keyboardist Manfred Lubovitz, who took exile in 1961, and used Manne (for jazz drummer Shelly) as his stage name -- the label shortened it, leading to a long series of Mann puns. Five original songs by singer Paul Jones, three with Mann. The nine covers were mostly blues, starting with "Smokestack Lightning" and ending with "Bring It to Jerome." B+(*)
Manfred Mann: Mann Made (1965, HMV): UK/US releases match, but Canadian slipped a single in. Nothing very appealing here. C+
Manfred Mann: Mann Made Hits (1964-66 , HMV): "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" still sounds great, "Sha La La" sounds like a silly sequel, "Pretty Flamingo" I'm not so sure about, three more top-ten UK singles (including the lesser of two Dylans) are long forgotten, the others just weirdly scattered, as the band started to fall apart. B
Manfred Mann: The Best of Manfred Mann: The Definitive Collection (1963-66 , EMI): With 25 cuts plus a bit of "Group Interview," more than anyone really needs from their early hit-making period. B
Manfred Mann: As Is (1966, Fontana): New label, Paul Jones and Mike Vickers departed, Michael D'Abo and Klaus Voormann arrived, ten originals with drummer Mike Hugg's name on most of them, covers of Johnny Mercer ("Autumn Leaves") and Bob Dylan ("Just Like a Woman"). By the way, HMV answered with the 4-cut EP As Was, credited to Manfred Mann With Paul Jones. B
Manfred Mann: Chapter Two: The Best of the Fontana Years (1966-69 , Fontana/Chronicles): I haven't found a Chapter One, which presumably would be populated with for their EMI-controlled 1964-66 hits (and misses). With Mike D'Abo singing, their second period dropped their blues roots, smoothed out their rough edges, but rarely offered hit material -- the Dylan-penned "Mighty Quinn" appears here, but not much more of interest. B-
Manfred Mann: Hit Mann! The Essential Singles 1963-1969 (1963-69 , Raven): Finally, a generous compilation (28 songs) that bridges the group's two "chapters," the early one on EMI with Paul Jones and the later one on Fontana with Mike D'Abo. The split is about right (19-to-9), all the memorable singles are present, and they get "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" out of the way first. Beyond that, they even present with a recognizable sound, which is rarely clear from the albums. Not an especially important group, but this finally gets them right. B+(**)
Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Glorified Magnified (1972, Polydor): The keyboardist's fourth venture featured guitarist-singer Mick Rogers as his significant other. Their eponymous 1972 debut, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, picked out catchy tunes and gave them a great deal of resonance. The tunes fall short on this second album, except for the Dylan cover. B+(*)
Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Get Your Rocks Off (1973, Polydor): Third album, released in UK at Messin', re-ordered with John Prine's "Pretty Good" replacing "Black and Blue" (from the Australian group Chain, supposedly thinking that Americans might find a song about slavery "unsuitable"). The UK title song was written by former bandmate Mike Hugg, the American one by Dylan, and the closing cover by Dr. John. B+(**)
Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Messin' (1973 , Cohesion): Reissue of the originally ordered UK album, plus two bonus tracks: "Pretty Good" (from the US Get Your Rocks Off release), and a single edit of "Cloudy Eyes." B+(**)
Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited: Mr. Music (1985, Earthworks): The chimurenga giant of Zimbabwe, his music (like his country) splitting the distance between Congo and South Africa. Five songs, 36:38. B+(***)
Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): Folk singer, second album, first of a series through 1978 on Philo -- I recommend her 1992 compilation, Things We Said Today: The Best of Mary McCaslin, which taps this album for five songs, and doesn't grab all the good ones. A-
Mary McCaslin: Prairie in the Sky (1975, Philo): Continues to play up the western in "country and," including a memorable take on "Ghost Riders in the Sky." B+(***)
Mary McCaslin: Old Friends (1977, Philo): Original title song plus nine covers, most cut against her grain, exceptional nonetheless, gently hooked by banjo and voice. A-
Mary McCaslin: Broken Promises (1994, Philo): After a decade in the business, she seems to have given up, only to stage this minor comeback after her 1992 best-of re-introduced her. Fewer covers, so fewer hooks. B+(**)
Mary McCaslin: Better Late Than Never (2006, Mary McCaslin Music): One more record, audibly older, couldn't be simpler, which works for me just fine. B+(***)
The Mekons: F.U.N. '90 (1990, A&M, EP): Six tracks, 28:30, reportedly covers, more obviously loops in samples, with some kind of electronica background. B+(*)
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: Collector's Item: All Their Greatest Hits (1972-75 , Philadelphia International): Now remembered, much to the nominal leader's chagrin, as Teddy Pendergrass' original group. They recorded four albums before Pendergrass left, and this first-generation best-of picks their four R&B chart toppers, three more top-tens, and one extra album cut ("Be for Real"). This is great every time "Wake Up Everybody" comes around, but then I start to nitpick. I have two later, longer best-ofs at B+. Concentration helps, but still has limits. B+(***)
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes Featuring Teddy Pendergrass: Blue Notes & Ballads (1972-75 , Epic/Legacy): In the intervening years, Harold Melvin became a footnote to Teddy Pendergrass, whose name is on the masthead for marketing reasons -- were it simply focus, why includes two Sharon Paige leads? And why include three songs already on Collector's Item? Aside from that the filler runs a little thin. B+(*)
The Mighty Clouds of Joy: It's Time (1974, ABC/Dunhill): Gospel group, formed in Los Angeles in 1959, recorded for Peacock from 1963-72, made their commercial move here, produced by Dave Crawford and recorded in Philadelphia. Crawford wrote 8 (of 9) songs, with occasional allusion to but scant mention of God. B+(***) [yt]
The Mighty Clouds of Joy: The Best of the Mighty Clouds of Joy Volume 2 [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (2005-10 , Motown Gospel): Discogs has no entry for a Volume 1, which could have usefully covered their 1974-77 secular albums on ABC, or their earlier (1963-72 on Peacock) or later (1980-83 on Myrrh) gospel periods. Nor do they have source info for these 10 songs, but they are clearly live, and all appear on three 2005-10 EMI albums (In the House of the Lord: Live in Houston; Movin'; and At the Revival). By then, only Joe Ligon (d. 2016) remained from the original group. B
[Mighty] Sparrow: King of the World (1984, B's): Slinger Francisco, born in Grenada but moved to Trinidad when he was one, started performing as Little Sparrow and before long became Mighty Sparrow. The four poorly annotated volumes on Ice mark him as the greatest of all calypsonians: I recommend them all, as well as the early First Flight (1957-59), and don't doubt that much of what they missed is still worthwhile. But before those compilations started appearing in 1993, this (the 53rd album in his Discogs list) was the first one Christgau reviewed (while recommending two others even higher, More Sparrow More!! and Hot and Sweet -- the cover is so familiar I must have once had a copy, but didn't get it into my database. "Soca Man" shows he can do the beat without letting it define him. The wordier cuts are where he shines. A-
Mighty Sparrow: More Sparrow More!! (1969, Ra): I'm not prepared for a deep dive here, but couldn't resist the opportunity to play this one, namechecked in the Christgau review of King of the World. I'm also not inclined to cross check the titles here against the Ice compilations, but if I haven't heard "Sparrow Dead" and "60 Million Frenchmen" before I got cheated. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard "Martin Luther King" before ("segregation must be destroyed"), so I got cheated anyway. Fine print: "Acc. by Conrad Little and his Big Band." A-
Mighty Sparrow: Hot and Sweet (1974, Warner Bros.): Starts off with another version of "Dead Sparrow," so there may well be many, but this one is, if anything, even livelier. Keeps coming, too. A-
Nas: God's Son (2002, Columbia): Rapper Nasir Jones, father a blues/jazz guitarist known as Olu Dara, made a big splash with his 1994 debut Illmatic. Sixth studio album. Don't think he's right about "I Can," but the album looks up from there. B+(**)
Nas: Untitled (2008, Def Jam): Ninth studio album, looks like it could be eponymous but seems like the more descriptive non-title has stuck -- evidently the original idea was to go with the most overused word here, but cooler heads prevailed. "Black President" dates this precisely, but too much else hasn't aged at all. While I'd quibble, "Fried Chicken" is mouth-watering. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: