January 2002 Notebook
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Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Went to Oklahoma City yesterday -- periodic pilgrimage to scrounge around the record stores. Didn't find much, but we'll try to sort 'em out here, along with other backlist items (leaning toward country):

  • Terry Allen: Lubbock (On Everything). A long-lost (1979) classic from the Lubbock renaissance. Good advice for budding artists. A-
  • Terry Allen: Human Remains. B+
  • The Essential John Anderson. Mid-'90s BNA recordings, the best BMG can come up with for their Essential series. Of these, only "Swingin'" would have broken into Anderson's first Warners Greatest Hits, but there is subtler fare here that remains insinuating, and he's still a fine singer. B+
  • Clarence "Tom" Ashley: Greenback Dollar. A-
  • Mandy Barnett. Her first. Good voice, tasteful settings, nothing especially memorable, but very nice. B+
  • Big Mon: The Songs of Bill Monroe. As tributes go, this one is a bit thin, but at least it's chock full of country singers who can sing, and backed consistently by Ricky Skaggs, who knows the book and can play a bit. B+
  • Blues Masters Vol. 12: Memphis Blues. Like Mississippi Delta Blues, this cleaves into distinct pre/post-WWII halves; it is slightly more useful/interesing because the halves are a bit less obvious. B+
  • Uri Caine: The Sidewalks of New York: Tin Pan Alley. Gave this another spin after Christgau CG'ed it -- three spins, in fact -- and it comes together on at least two levels: as a spot-on compendium of 1892-1914 popsongs, and as the fine edge that smart avant-gardists hone even when they're historically painstaking. Secret ingredient: Bob Stewart. A-
  • The Carter Family: Clinch Mountain Treasures. Hard to make fine distinctions here: what makes them great is the sureness of their vocal harmony, but it's also what makes them consistent. I might grade this higher if I didn't already have seven of their other albums graded higher. B+
  • Cher/Sonny & Cher: Greatest Hits. Dates from 1971-74 (not noted on cover), which means no '60s hits (did they have any later?), overproduction (Sonny learned his craft from Phil Spector, who really knew how to turn teenagers into heroes, and adults into assholes). Minor archive value for Cher's early solo hits, which were minor indeed. C-
  • Classic Patsy Cline (20th Century Masters). This series' 12-song limit cuts country artists short, but Cline takes these 12 so slow it's exhausting anyway. Gorgeous voice. Songs in common with 12 Greatest Hits: 0. B [PS: I wound up downgrading three other Cline collections backtracking on this. Of course she's great, but how come her records aren't? Owen Bradley can't be the only answer.]
  • Shemekia Copeland: Wicked. Talented young blues belter, solid/professional band, bites off a bit more than she can chew. B
  • The Drag 'Em Off the Interstate, Sock It to 'Em Hits of Dick Curless. His claim to fame is a trucker anthem that charted (#5 country) in 1965; nothing else topped #27, and the only other song I recognize is a pretty hefty "Nine Pound Hammer." In fact, the whole collection is fun. B+
  • Vernon Dalhart: The Wreck of the Old '97 and Other Early Country Hits. His rep as the first country singer isn't obvious -- this is the mold that Jimmie Rodgers and Conway Twitty came from? He is in fact rather plain, but his catalogue of country arcana is worth a listen. B+
  • Darby and Tarlton: On the Banks of a Lonely River. A legendary country duo (at least they merited a major review in John Morthland's The Best of Country Music, which carries more weight than the Bible in this household). But they have damn little in print, and this isn't good enough often enough. B
  • Tommy Duncan: Beneath a Neon Star in a Honky Tonk. No problem with his singing -- he is, after all, the best known voice of Bob Wills -- but this starts out awful lame, and only picks up a bit when they pull out the chintzy novelties, and only when there's a band good enough to crank them up. B
  • Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits. Way back when this seemed irritatingly inconsistent -- not qualitywise, but soundwise, a chronicle of young Dylan's mad search for a style; also overly familiar, and cynically baited with the otherwise unavailable "Positively 4th Street" (all the worse for being a great one). So I never had a copy, until now, when it just sounds like classic Dylan. A
  • Bob Dylan: World Gone Wrong. I'm on record as saying that his '90s records are all pretty good, so it's a relief that this one lives up to its billing. A-
  • Adolf Hofner: South Texas Swing. B
  • Honky Tonk Man: The Essential Johnny Horton. The good thing about spreading Horton's oeuvre out on two CDs is that he basically has two sides: the earlier honky-tonk anthems, which cut a nice, steady groove, and the later story-songs that were his big hits. Problem is, there's not enough of either to really fill out two CDs. B
  • George Jones: I Am What I Am. So when George and Tammy went separate ways, how come George got to keep the producer? B+
  • Hal Ketchum: Past the Point of Rescue. OK country singer, mostly OK album, except for the sugar rush of "Five O'Clock World," which is the only thing that jumps out. B-
  • Lonesome Bob: Things Fall Apart. The music doesn't offer much -- pretty straight rock with a slight twang -- but he's got a couple of real sharp lyrics: I admire "My Mother's Husband," and I'm tempted to transcribe the anti-Christian "Heaven's Gate." B+
  • Joe Maphis: Fire on the Strings. If western swing had continued to develop as jazz, Maphis might be Wes Montgomery, and this might be So Much Guitar. B+
  • Sam McGee: Grand Dad of the Country Guitar Pickers. Solo guitar, mostly sly instrumentals, although his occasional vocals show poise and grace. Not as tricky as Doc Watson; not as sublime as Mississippi John Hurt; not far short of either. A-
  • Mekons: Journey to the End of the Night. Rather quiet. I wonder whether it coheres if you play it dozens of times; I wonder whether anyone would take the trouble. B
  • Willie Nelson: Milk Cow Blues. Another of Willie's celebrity duet albums, if you buy the notion that Francine Reed, Johnny Lang, and Susan Tedeschi are celebrities. Great sound, fine Willie vocals, and a nifty piece of guitar from B.B. King (who is a celebrity), but all-in-all a lazy piece of work. B
  • Bonnie Raitt: Sweet Forgiveness. I can't say that I've ever been mad about Raitt, unlike most friends/acquaintances, but I do recall liking Give It Up, and I've been thinking it would be good to take another gander at her early work. I missed this one (#6) the first time around, but can't say I missed much. B
  • Jimmie Rivers: Brisbane Bop. Western swing, instrumental only (almost), which must mean it's jazz, right? Sort of. B
  • Eck Robertson: Old Time Texas Fiddler: 1922-1929. Yep, old time fiddle, sounding real purty, and complemented by the occasional vocal. A-
  • Jimmie Rodgers: Down the Old Road 1931-1932. Number 6 in Rounder's archival series, this takes a couple of missteps pairing Rodgers with the Carter Family, and never really gets back on track. B
  • The Best of Red Simpson: Country Western Truck Drivin' Singer. More of a trucker than Dick Curless -- so much so he's been known to take the truck's point of view. B+
  • The Skillet Lickers: Old Time Fiddle Tunes and Songs From North Georgia. Classic stringband (1926-31). If you're R. Crumb, Gid Tanner is God. If not, at least note that these cuts have both more top and more bottom than the norm, and that while they're standards-by-now, sometimes they sound modern enough that you expect to hear Peter Stampfel chirping in. A
  • Wadada Leo Smith/Thomas Mapfumo: Dreams and Secrets. Smith, operating mostly in Yo Miles!-mode, seems to have the upper hand in this unfused world music; Mapfumo adds subtle vocal chants for color, and subtle rhythm as well. Fascinating. A-
  • Timeless: Hank Williams. Sounded promising at first, then I had my doubts. The piece that first turned me off then won me over is Beck's "Your Cheatin' Heart," a most un-Hank-like lullabye. Yodelling from Sheryl Crow and Ryan Adams also grew from effects to tributes. Tom Petty oversings, Keith Richards undersings, and Keb' Mo' and Mark Knopfler are pretty forgettable, but Dylan and Cash nail down the corners. A-
  • Merle Travis: 1944-1949: Unreleased Radio Transcriptions. Three or four hits, two funny takes on "The Cat Came Back," some of the fancy picking you'd expect, but the radio chatter and secondhand sound detract considerably. B
  • The Best of Conway Twitty (20th Century Masters). He's a real good country singer, and he's been around for ages, so picking twelve songs should be a piece of cake, except that they all sorta sound the same, and they hit or miss on subtle twists of taste. Everything here sounds good, but some of it is pretty dumb, and only "It's Only Make Believe" is actually great. B+
  • James Blood Ulmer: Black and Blues. Quite a find, from 1990 (DIW). I've long loved Odyssey, and admired Ulmer's jazz playing, but I've never before been wowed by his blues shtick. But this one's avant-jazz with real bluesy tone and feel, a synthesis that works. A-
  • Uprooted: The Best of Roots Country Singer/Songwriters. Pretty good sampler. Starts with people I'm familiar with; ends with ones I'm not, but doesn't really tail off. B+
  • Billy Jack Wills and His Western Swing Band. Western swing goes to California. Makes for a nice little dance band, with Bob's little brother in the lead, and Bob-vet Tiny Moore on fiddle. B
  • Billy Jack Wills: Crazy, Man, Crazy. More of what you'd expect, done perhaps a bit better. B+
  • Bob Wills: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 1. It would be easier to rate the whole schmeer: ten volumes of late-'40s radio transcriptions that answer the need lots of folks feel for more western swing than the Columbia hits or the slightly expanded Rhino anthology (still the place to start). This one's jazzy, with a "Straighten Up and Fly Right" that Benny Goodman could sharpen up a bit (as well as make less rowdy), and a "Jumpin' at the Woodside" to close the show. A-
  • Bob Wills: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 3. Even jazzier, the book running from Pops ("Basin Street Blues," "I'm a Ding Dong Daddy") to Duke ("Take the A Train"). A-
  • Bob Wills: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 4. Par for the course: Tommy Duncan and the band sound great, and Wills sounds like he's having fun, which is the way it should be. A-
  • Bob Wills: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 5. The cover proclaims "It's Fun Dancing," and the book leans toward jazz standards like "At the Woodchopper's Ball." A-
  • Bob Wills: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 6. The book here leans to elemental country fare, which they're harder pressed to swing. B+
  • Bob Wills: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 7. This is the sort of payback this admirable series promises: little-known material, outstanding performances. I think it's the best so far (though the hit-centered Vols. 2 and 8, and the jazzy Vol. 3 come close). A
  • Bob Wills: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Vol. 9. Did Vol. 8 long ago -- it hits on more hits, which made its excellence obvious enough (A-). This is another near-great one. (BTW: I got Vol. 10, showcasing the McKinney Sisters, listed as a B.) A-
  • Hall of Fame: Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan. Such a long booklet for so little discographical information. I figure these to be 1960-61, and clearly Duncan is on board. Lots of remakes of classics here; the best thing about them is that they are well worn and comfortably paced. A beguiling record. B+
  • Bob Wills: Longhorn Recordings. Cut in 1964-65, pretty late in Wills' discography; Wills is still fun, but Joe Andrews is no Tommy Duncan, the band is a little creaky, the sound is shrill, and the latter half of the record is patter with brief instrumental interludes. So useless, it was released on Bear Family. C+
  • Bob Wills: For the Last Time. Recorded 1973, with Wills in a wheelchair, days before he died. Good band, good singers, but not so much Wills' last album as the first Wills tribute album. He was already missed. B

Sunday, January 27, 2002

Deadline for submitting comments on the "Proposed Final Judgment" of the DOJ vs. Microsoft antitrust case. Here's my two cents:

I would like to comment on the "Proposed Final Judgment" (PFJ) to resolve the USDOJ's antitrust case against Microsoft.

First, it seems to me very likely that if this PFJ is approved, Microsoft's leadership will proclaim themselves to have been vindicated (despite conviction, which was upheld on appeal), and that they will proceed to ridicule and demean this judgment much like they did the previous consent decree, the abrogation of which led directly to this antitrust case. The reason behind my assertion is that the PFJ neither punishes Microsoft for any of their illegal acts, nor remedies the effects of those acts, nor offers any substantial protection against the likelihood of Microsoft committing similar illegal acts in the future. The PFJ leaves Microsoft's monopoly intact, leaves Microsoft with an extraordinary amount of cash that they have obtained from their monopoly, and allows them to continue leveraging their monopoly to compete unfairly with other businesses.

It seem obvious that the only way to protect other businesses from unfair competition based on Microsoft's monopoly is to isolate the monopoly products and their profits from Microsoft's other business concerns. A crude way to do this would be to split Microsoft into two pieces: a monopoly platform software business, and an independent non-monopoly business. This is what the DOJ originally proposed and Judge Jackson ordered, so it is surprising that such a remedy is no longer under consideration. I wonder why that is?

There also exists an alternative approach to this problem that is simpler, may be more effective, and almost certainly would be much more beneficial to all sectors of the public: release Microsoft's monopoly platform software products under a strong open source license such as the GNU GPL. This would satisfy Microsoft's OEMs by allowing them full access to the source code and giving them the right to modify and reproduce the software freely; it would also ensure Microsoft full access to any further developments made to the code base; but the critical effect would be to eliminate Windows as a monopoly, therefore eliminating all prospect of Microsoft abusing that monopoly. (Microsoft would also have to give up the Windows trademark, which should be assigned to a standard group, such as has already been done with the Unix trademark.) While this may seem a bit unconventional, the basic fact is that open sourcing Windows would put it on the same footing (except for its vast advantage in legacy applications and hardware support) as its only remaining competition (Linux and BSD Unix). We also know from experience with open source software that it can continue to be developed and even become significantly more robust even without business sponsors.

I don't see how anything less than such a solution begins to solve the monopoly leverage problem. However, if you must limit yourself to a "behavioral" solution, the PFJ needs to be strengthened in several ways:

  • You should require that Microsoft publish and strictly adhere to a price list for all Windows-related operating system platform software, and all applications software that runs on Windows platforms. The PFJ limits this to the "top 20" OEMs, but the broader requirement would simpler and clearer to implement and monitor, and would be less tempting to Microsoft to abuse. It is important here to include applications software in order to limit (at least make public) any suspicion of Microsoft using their platform software monopoly to subsidize their applications software busienss. Moreover, there should be no exclusions for "market development" consideration, since any such exclusion would allow Microsoft to cut inequitable deals, and because with a monopoly already in hand there's no need for market development.

  • The prohibitions against Microsoft retaliation have too many exceptions. Is there really any reason to permit Microsoft to retaliate against an OEM other than non-payment or impropriety in accounting?

  • All Microsoft interface specifications and documentation that are made available to OEMs, IHVs, ISVs, etc., should be made available to all parties on equal terms. In particular, there should be no discrimination against noncorporate developers or users (especially open source software developers). There should be no restrictions in Microsoft licenses or contracts against reverse engineering.

  • There should be a requirement that formats for all data that is stored to disk by Microsoft platform software and/or operating systems be documented and freely licensed; this is intended to eliminate one significant method that can be used to lock current customers in and unfairly perpetuate Microsoft's monopoly position (although it would be a good rule to apply to software companies, as it protects users' investments in their data).

  • There should be some form of oversight to prevent Microsoft from using lawsuits to hobble potential competition, including open source software developers.

  • There should be severe restrictions against Microsoft buying other companies. In general, it would be much more appropriate for Microsoft to pay its monopoly profits out to shareholders as dividends which would be reinvested diversely than to allow Microsoft to extend its monopoly through acquisition.

  • The "security" loophole needs to be carefully monitored to prevent abuse.

  • It's not clear what the enforcement mechanism in the PFJ is. There needs to be a method to prevent Microsoft from acting in violation of the agreement, rather than depending on decade-long post facto litigation.

  • The Technical Committee proposal needs to be expanded to include some degree of oversight and review from more sectors of the public. The PFJ seems to be preoccupied with concerns of OEMs, but there are many other recognizable groups which have distinct concerns, including the open source community and several classes of end-users.

An important thing to note in these nine points is that not only do they fall short of a structural or open source remedy, they are actually much milder than traditional monopoly regulation, which often requires regulatory approval of prices and contract terms and strictly prohibits non-monopoly business activities. (E.g., AT&T before their breakup.)

Another thing to note is that while Microsoft has effectively destroyed any possibility of another commercial software company challenging them in the areas which they monopolize, it is still possible that Microsoft's behavior can be mitigated by market factors due to open source software. Open source already operates at a considerable disadvantage vs. Microsoft (look at Microsoft's balance sheet), so we need to be very careful that nothing we do here further disadvantages the open source alternative.

I've also read the dissenting States' counterproposal, which is much clearer and preferable regarding OEM contracts and retaliation, but contains several proposed remedies that are, I think, counter- productive. These include:

  • Open sourcing Internet Explorer: While this has some poetic justice, IE (assuming it is extractable from Windows, which Microsoft contends it is not) has no value as open source itself, especially without a strong commitment (which can hardly be mandated) from Microsoft to the open source process.

  • Requiring Microsoft to distribute Java: This strikes me as inappropriate direction to Microsoft (it is one thing to tell Microsoft not to do something, but forcing them to do something they do not want to do is not likely to be a happy solution for anyone); it also strikes me as inappropriate to mandate Java as a standard, especially given that it is controlled by a private company.

For whatever it's worth, I am a software engineer and writer. I've used Microsoft products extensively for over 20 years, as well as Unix for a similar period, and have worked on software products for a similar period -- both applications and system software, including operating systems and programming languages. I feel that Microsoft did some remarkable work in their earlier years, but I've noted that their products have deteriorated and become markedly more ominous, especially since Windows 95 and the advent of IE, although one might also dateline this against the emergence of Bill Gates as the world's richest man. When I was growing up it was often said that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" -- I think we've started to see the fruits of that truism in Gates and Microsoft. At the start of this antitrust case it was often opined that the case would amount at best to "too little, too late." If you accept the PFJ, that opinion will be affirmed, and it will be left to some future generation to stand up to the corruption of Microsoft's power. I pray that this court can and will stand up for us now.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Friday, January 25, 2002

Still in cleanup mode, but let's start a new batch of record ratings:

  • The Ace (Ms.) Blues Masters, Vol. 1: Sing My Blues Tonight. Good idea here to shuffle Charles Brown, who schmoozes soft, with Floyd Dixon, who rocks hard. B+
  • The Ace (Ms.) Blues Masters, Vol. 2: 4th & Beale and Further South. Early '50s gutbucket, sampling four minor artists, the best by far being Frankie Lee Sims. B
  • Barrelhouse Mamas. Another Yazoo concept: piano-backed female blues, vintage 1924-33. Tends to be slower than you'd expect from the title. Mixed bag as usual: one I like is Margaret Whitmire, "'Tain't a Cow in Texas"; another is Leola Manning, "Satan Is Busy in Knoxville." B
  • Lonnie Brooks: Roadhouse Rules. As solid and ordinary as any bluesman working the circuit today. B
  • Georgia Sea Island Songs. Recorded by Alan Lomax in 1935 and 1961, primeval vocal group music. B+
  • Great Blues Guitarists: String Dazzlers. Acoustic, early (1924-40), not quite as dazzling as you'd expect, but a very nice, very solid sampler. A-
  • Keb' Mo': Big Wide Grin. Americana, the sort of thing that Bill Frisell likes to putz around with, rarely with any degree of success, but never so shallow as this. With his big wide grin and stilted rhythm, Keb's "Love Train" sounds more like Cat Stevens than the O'Jays. C-
  • Albert King: Live Wire/Blues Power. Good showcase for his guitar, which is what he's about. B+
  • Masters of the Delta Blues: The Friends of Charlie Patton. B+
  • North Mississippi All Stars: Shake Hands With Shorty. Integrated rock group, cranking up the blues tradition -- if that's what you call R.L. Burnside. B+
  • Real: A Tribute to Tom T. Hall. Hall's songs are so plainspoken that it's possible that they only work in his own plainspoken presentation; indeed, most of these tributes fall flat, but the exceptions (Johnny Cash, Kelly Willis, Iris DeMent, maybe Syd Straw, though not Ralph Stanley) suggests that they just need some performers who can rise up over the alt-country murk that pervades this album. B-
  • The Roots of Robert Johnson. A short bag of Delta Blues, which doesn't really have much to do with Johnson (one can easily make a case for James, House, and Patton, but Lonnie Johnson?). Santelli ranked this #48, but I don't see the point. B
  • Whiskeytown: Stranger's Almanac. Hard to get a handle on: it seems richer musically yet more oblique than Ryan Adams' solo albums, which themselves are pretty hard to warm up to. B

Saturday, January 19, 2002

Movie: Gosford Park. Not sure this is a great movie, or even close (unlike, say, The Player or Nashville), but it's such a rich repast compared to such arid competition that we'll cut it some slack. A-

Thursday, January 17, 2002

Thought I'd clean up some of the unrateds last night, so I started down the blues list. This was such fun that it lapped into several more days. The grades tended to be tough calls -- probably why they were previously ungraded.

  • Pink Anderson: Carolina Blues Man, Vol. 1. Roy Book Binder calls him "old master." B+
  • Billy Boy Arnold: I Wish You Would. Very '50s/Chicago, very good. A-
  • Michael Bloomfield: Don't Say That I Ain't Your Man. Prime blues-rock, rich and thick, with and without Butterfield. B+
  • Blues Masters Vol. 8: Mississippi Delta Blues. Full of classic music, but trying to span both the raw prewar acoustics of Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton, et al., and its postwar electric apotheosis threatens to split this into two distinct and hostile halves, no matter how impressively the Muddy Waters piece bridges the two. That every artist in the second half can sustain a whole disc (most of them several), makes too much icing for a prewar anthology that could use a little leavening. B
  • Zuzu Bollin: Texas Bluesman. Working the catalogue; quite workmanlike. B
  • Hadda Brooks: Time Was When. Misfiled as blues; sounds more like "vocal" -- but nice piano, good voice, easygoing. B
  • Big Bill Broonzy: Do That Guitar Rag 1928-1935. A-
  • Clarence Gatemouth Brown: Pressure Cooker. Slick, tuneful, common. Gatemouth must have a dozen or more records like this in his catalogue. B
  • W.C. Clark: Lover's Plea. Nowadays the blues category is the refuge of old soul men, and this is one who has something to say. B+
  • Albert Collins: Ice Pickin'. Slick, tuneful, a cut or two above common. A-
  • Joanna Connor: Slidetime. Good guitar, strong voice, real lousy songs. C+
  • Robert Cray: I Was Warned. Great guitar, mewly voice, godawful songs. C
  • Reverend Gary Davis: Blues and Ragtime. This is the fourth title (including the 3CD box) that I've graded, all A-, which probably means I need to discriminate more. Or at least listen more. But this one is as good a guitar showcase as any, and if the grade has to budge, this one's more likely to go up than down. Still, for now: A-
  • Jimmy Dawkins: Me, My Gitar and the Blues. Everything you'd want in a modern bluez album, except spelling. B+
  • A Portrait of Champion Jack Dupree. Excerpts three late albums, the best of which is better than this, but this leans to the rockers. A-
  • Cecil Gant. Minor figure, major boogie-woogie. B+
  • The Great Race Record Labels Vol. 1: Paramount. A fairly pointless collection, other than to showcase a lot of old stuff, which sorely needs discography and some annotation for serious study. But I would like to hear some more Louise Johnson. B
  • Slip Harpo: Hip Shakin': The Excello Collection. Distinct gestalt, not sure whether the marginalia helps or hurts, but very likely 2 CDs are a bit de trop. B+
  • Homesick James: Juanita. The steel is interesting, but be stands up to his brother like Tommy to Hank. B-
  • Earl Hooker: Blue Guitar. Slick guitar, backing some obscure but enjoyable r&b. A-
  • John Lee Hooker: The Best of Friends. Conversation starter: Who's that? Van Morrison. What the hell is that? Carlos Santana. Superstars 2, Legend 1. B+
  • Son House: Delta Blues and Spirituals. Doing his thing. To death, like always. B+
  • Joe "Guitar" Hughes: If You Want to See the Blues. Sounds swell out of the gate, but finished before I noticed anything else. Played it again, didn't notice anything again. B-
  • Kelley Hunt: Inspiration. Kansas-bred Marcia Ball clone. Love her rap on "The Queen of the 88s." B+
  • Young Alberta Hunter: The 20's and 30's. Spotty, sometimes grandiloquent. B+
  • The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. Vanguard's "best of" series is a fraud -- just a live date that reprises a lot of good songs. But no other solo performer is as completely satisfying as Hurt, and he's really got it together here. A
  • Mississippi John Hurt: Last Sessions. Marvelous music, but the sound is damn near painful -- like fake stereo out of phase, or something like that. A-
  • Blind Willie Johnson: Sweeter as the Years Go By. No doubt he's got right with God. A-
  • Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers. He only spent two days of his short life in front of a microphone; you'd think someone could pick out a single disc that would at least give some support to his reputation. The one with the dingy blue-gray cover called King of the Delta Blues comes a lot closer than this one, which strikes me as offbeat and tortured. A-
  • Tommy Johnson and Associates. The six Johnson titles are ace, mostly in remarkably good sound. The balance wander a bit. Interesting archival music. B+
  • Leadbelly: Gwine Dig a Hole to Put the Devil In. Better than par, badass with two classics. B+
  • Leadbelly: Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen. Shouts, hollers, rants, whatever. B-
  • Furry Lewis: In His Prime 1927-1928. Sort of the middle-of-the-dirt-road of primitive Delta blues songsters -- a well regarded (Santelli #43) record, or an overrated one. B+
  • Little Milton: Greatest Hits: The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection. Great singer, who only rarely comes up with songs that can stand up to his technique. The 2CD Essential Little Milton is a lot more of the same thing; I gave it the same grade, but while condensation is called for, it really doesn't make much difference. B+
  • Little Walter & Otis Rush: Live in the Windy City. Otis I can hear, but Walter's damn near invisible. B-
  • Taj Mahal: The Real Thing. A live record from his heyday -- the more I tune into those records, they better they sound today. Love the tubas. A-
  • Carl Martin/Brownie McGhee: Carolina Blues. Not together (15 Martin cuts from the '30s, plus 6 McGhee cuts from the early '40s), archive material, in chronological order, but they fit well together, and more than hold up. B+
  • Memphis Minnie: Bumble Bee. Not sure how this holds up vs. the Columbias (Christgau thinks it's much better), but it provides fitting originals for 3-4 songs on the Maria Muldaur. A-
  • Memphis Slim: The Real Folk Blues. Soulful, but not much feel for the piano player. B-
  • Little Brother Montgomery: Chicago: The Living Legends. Nice jazz-tinged record, Ted Butterman's cornet adding warm colors. Real nice. B+
  • Johnny Otis: Creepin' With the Cats: The Legendary Dig Masters, Vol. 1. Jump blues/r&b, strong instrumentals, occasional vocals. B+
  • The Original Johnny Otis Show. Earlier r&b smorgasbord; secret weapon is Jimmy Rushing, but only on two tracks. B
  • Professor Longhair: New Orleans Piano. Early, which means he has to work harder, which he does. A-
  • Professor Longhair: Mardi Gras in Baton Rouge. Later, looser, lazier, longer. A-
  • A.C. Reed/Big Wheeler: Chicago Blues Session, Vol. 14. Perfectly good minor league session. B+
  • A.C. Reed: I'm in the Wrong Business. Singing saxist, like Cleanhead, but not as good in either department. B
  • Roy Rogers: Slide of Hand. Sounds like a very straight rocker, but I suppose he's classified as blues because he's a small fish looking for a small pond. B
  • The Rolling Stones: England's Newest Hit Makers. Sure, this is a ringer, filed properly under rock. Their first, mostly covers, but the only one they don't quite own is "Carol" -- pretty impressive. Muddy Waters did a song that went "the blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll"; this is revisionist history, but the Rolling Stones more than anyone else made it true, because they simply figured that's the way it had to be. A
  • Dr. Ross: Boogie Disease. Indeed. Rx? B
  • Otis Rush: Cobra Recordings 1956-1956. The lo-fi helps cut the grease, but maybe he wasn't as greasy then? A remarkably solid period set. A-
  • Robert Shaw: The Ma Grinder. Piano, sometime with vocal, both slight. No boogie disease here. B-
  • Johnny Shines and Robert Lockwood. At one point I figured Shines to be the most important bluesman I didn't have a record of. Now I got five, and never managed to figure them out. It's probably fair to call Shines and Lockwood the last of the classic Mississippi Delta bluesmen. Shines is the better singer -- deep and expressive -- but Lockwood has quite a knack for rhythm. This is early '50s, archival, worthwhile. Most of the following are Shines solo. B+
  • Johnny Shines. Got a band on this one. B
  • Johnny Shines: Traditional Delta Blues. Probably the best Shines solo, not least because of the driven guitarwork. Also has the fewest interruptions. A-
  • Johnny Shines: Too Wet to Plow. Solo, has its moments. B+
  • Johnny Shines: Hey Ba-Ba-Re-Bop. Solo, has more moments.B+
  • Hound Dog Taylor: Natural Boogie. Primitive, propulsive. Might've rated it higher if I could recall clearly why I didn't rate the best-of higher. B+
  • Henry Townsend/Piano Slim: St. Louis Blues. More solid trivia, closing hard with three dirty ones by Piano Slim. B+
  • Eddie Cleanhead Vinson: Kidney Stew Is Fine. Singing saxist, like Cleanhead, but better than usual. A-
  • T-Bone Walker: The Complete Capitol/Black & White Recordings. Three remarkably consistent CDs of Walker's funky r&b, hard to distinguish, not that I much care. B+
  • Mercy Dee Walton: Pity and a Shame. Maybe I'm getting tired here; this sounds fine, good piano, impassioned singing. B
  • Peetie Wheatstraw (1930-1941). Another minor legend, in somewhat crude archive. B+
  • Georgia White: Trouble in Mind. A rare female blues singer from the late '30s, or a '40s r&b prototype. B+
  • Big Joe Williams: Back to the Country. Powerful singer, powerful guitar. B+
  • Big Joe Williams: Going Back to Crawford. Fine print: "and Friends." B
  • Sonny Boy Williamson: The Bluebird Recordings 1938. Rice Miller liked the name so much he stole it, but the one-and-only John Lee Williamson was a pretty good harpman in his own right. B+
  • Jazz Me Blues: The Best of Jimmy Witherspoon. Some impeccable jazz musicians here, including a couple of very sharp big bands. B+
  • Juke Joint Saturday Night. Archival piano. B

I skipped over a few candidates, mostly multiple disc sets (Bobby Bland, Ida Cox, Floyd Dixon, Lil' Son Jackson, Elmore James, B.B. King, Blind Willie McTell, Jimmy Rogers, T-Bone Walker); checking back I missed a few other items as well, and some anthologies are proving hard to peg.

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Managed to get the back-room speakers installed. Doesn't seem like they're as loud as they ought to be, but they're cheap and small in pretty good size room, tacked onto a six-way speaker switch, so I guess that's par for the course. Other than that, mostly retyped CGs all day.

Got an unpromising pile of CDs from the library: Joan Baez (2), Doc Watson, Blood Sweat & Tears, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and three skinny Billboard Pop Memories anthologies. Despite low expectations, nothing prepared me for just how atrocious the Baez (her famous 1960 debut, and a mid-'70s A&M best-of) would be. The former had nothing going for it beyond Baez's clear, high-pitched voice; fifteen-some years later the voice had dropped a notch, and she finally had a clue how to modulate it, but her taste in material had become even worse. I'm reminded that I always hated "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," but I'd forgotten that she lacked the presence of mind even the shift the gender.

By contrast, the Watson (Doc Watson and Son, 1965) is solid enough -- the weakness here is that Watson used up his best material on his first Vanguard album, and this one follows too closely in its wake. Haven't figured out Knight/Pips yet -- a Motown act that didn't quite fit, and this collection (Hip-O's Essential Collection leans hard on post-Motown material.

Blood Sweat & Tears' eponymous 1969 record is one that I knew well, liked at the time, and didn't expect to hold up. My doubts started long ago, when a relative told me that she only started to like BS&T once she saw them on TV and discovered that they're white. I suppose I could have taken this to mean that they sounded black, but I never thought that; rather, their whiteness became their defining characteristic. Funny thing is, the record still sounds pretty good -- B+ good, anyway. Their innovation was to define a species of art-rock, built not so much on big bands (which unlike BS&T swung) as on archaic carnival bands, which they beefed up with blues and tarted up with Erik Satie. This turns out to have been a dead end, one of many late-'60s mutations that went nowhere.

The Billboard collections are too short and too predictable, and occasionally marred by attrocities. (The Eddie Fisher piece in 1950-1954 is one of the worst pop songs I've ever heard.) The 1930's is the most listenable: seeded with certifiable jazz classics from Ellington, Goodman, and Shaw; vocal signposts from Crosby, Astaire, Rudy Vallee and Judy Garland; and pleasant fluff from Guy Lombardo and Glenn Miller. The latter is what the series should have been about. (Speaking of Goodman, it occurs to me that the Carnegie version of "Sing Sing Sing," with Krupa both driving and showing off, was the first distinctive instance of arena rock.)

Sunday, January 13, 2002

Fleshed out the year-end list, and for once added some notes.

Saturday, January 12, 2002

Movie: Ali. The intro sequence, mixing Sam Cooke at a club date with Ali training, is an extraordinary piece of film with music; director Michael Mann repeats the technique several times, both to move the familiar story along and to underscore themes. Will Smith plays Ali with sufficient aplomb, and the vast array of hangers-on are rarely less than perfect. The story, of course, is chopped and channelled, but what remains is integral: most importantly, the Vietnam War/draft issue. Ali was our hero even before -- never before in the U.S. had a black man asserted himself so forcefully and flamboyantly -- but it is good to be reminded how courageous his stand was. The only quibble I have is with the fight scenes -- too much, and strangely alien, perhaps because we remember the fights through the dull medium of TV, perhaps because we remember the fights with the real fighters. A

Thursday, January 03, 2002

Reread Jeremy Bernstein's review of the John Nash biography that the film A Beautiful Mind was based on. This at least suggests a number of discrepancies between the film and history, particularly a much more complicated and problematic sex life and/or marriage and/or family life. The movie makes a number of judicious omissions: homosexual liaisons, a mistress and illegitimate child, a divorce from wife Alicia, his legitimate son's own mental illness. There are other discrepancies, although one would have to go back to the biography to try to sort them out. The story is interesting enough that it might be worth doing some further research. (It would certainly be more fun than the dull book on the Arabs and Israel that I've been plodding through.) I don't particularly fault the movie, in part because I know better than to look to Ron Howard for history, but also because it does manage to achieve a sort of literary integrity regardless of how well tethered it is to historical fact.

Jeremy Bernstein, by the way, is an extraordinary science writer, and this book (The Merely Personal) is chock full of fascinating pieces, much like his other volumes.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

Thinking a bit about the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll. Were I a certifiable rock critic, my ballot would be:

  1. The Coup: Party Music (75 Ark) 16
  2. Manu Chao: Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (Virgin) 16
  3. Lucinda Williams: Essence (Lost Highway) 11
  4. David Murray: Like a Kiss That Never Ends (Justin Time) 11
  5. Maria Muldaur: Richland Woman Blues (Stony Plain) 9
  6. Tricky: Blowback (Hollywood) 9
  7. Bob Dylan: Love and Theft (Columbia) 8
  8. Orlando Cachaito Lopez: Cachaito (World Circuit/Nonesuch) 7
  9. The Moldy Peaches: The Moldy Peaches (Rough Trade) 7
  10. Nils Petter Molvaer: Solid Ether (ECM) 6

I have a longer list, currently down to 35 A- or better records. Last year's list stretched out to 50; this year's list is, if anything, actually better down through #15 or so. Big difference is that jazz records are way down, especially saxophonists (from 11 to 1). Rap is also down, a bit.

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

Movie: A Beautiful Mind. Hard to see the beauty here, what for all the clutter and conflict on the surface, but it's not surprising that John Nash's (or anyone's) mathematics don't translate to the visual screen. The madness doesn't translate either: dramatizing paranoia inevitably makes it too literal, but at least the misdirection here seems necessary rather than capricious. Other pluses include the look and feel of the settings (elite academia, government think-tanks, sanitarium), the solid acting, the deliberate pacing. And where the storyline echoes Shine -- tormented genius salvaged by the love of a good woman -- what might be cliché is undermined by the suspicion that nothing less might have delivered an even modestly upbeat ending. The details here make all the difference, not least of which is that Nash is a much more accomplished artist in a much more rarefied field of endeavor. Still, there are more questions left than answers given. But then real life is much like that. A-


There are things in A Beautiful Mind that I can relate to. My own experience with schizophrenia was less dramatic, perhaps because I was rather more successful at avoiding diagnosis and especially treatment. I did spend a month in a lock-up ward, and went through several stretches of analysis. But my symptoms were mostly withdrawal -- borderline catatonia, not really the erratic behavior that shock therapy and tranquilizers were used to tame. But I knew people who were shocked and/or tranqued, and the damage done to shocked brains was palpable. The scene where Nash numbly allows himself to be strapped down and insulin-shocked is brutal and vicious, and the scene where Nash avoids being recommitted is key to his survival. Nash's conjecture is that his sanity is a problem to be solved. Same here. While I started by withdrawing -- from school, church, scouts, friends, family as much as possible given my inability to work or support myself -- I eventually found my own reason, and reasoned my way to some crude approximation of normal life. Not that I every really found it, but at least I've managed not to get locked up again.

In my early readings, I found Gregory Bateson's essay on "The Double-Bind Theory of Schizophrenia," where schizophrenia was treated not as the now-fashionable chemical imbalance but as a fundamental problem of logic. My adolescent life was full of contradictions that I was incapable of reconciling: standards that I couldn't attain, ambitions that I couldn't manage, beliefs that reality betrayed, injustices that allowed no hope, self-doubts that became overwhelming, and an astonishing lack of support or understanding. What I had learned before reading Bateson was that I did have one tool at my command: stubborn refusal to cooperate. What I got from Bateson was the idea that my problems were just problems that could be worked on by rooting out and examining the contradictions that bound my inability to act. And what I got from Thomas Szasz was the notion that what we think of as madness is social and cultural determination. My way out was to translate my beleagured psyche into a critique of the world-at-large. Hence my radicalism is deep-down rooted in my madness, but my madness is effectively the madness of the world, to which I've become a finely tuned instrument.


Dec 2001 Feb 2002