April 2002 Notebook
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Friday, April 19, 2002

Slow gettin' back in the saddle again. One thing that's public knowledge by now is that Tom Carson, Kit Rachlis, and Jeff Salamon have edited a festschrift for Robert Christgau's 60th birthday, called Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough. I wrote a short piece for this, called "A Rock & Roll Critic Is Something to Be".

I want to start a second record rating/review list, to cover backlist records (not in the Phoenix/Austin roundup below):

  • Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology (1982-95, Rhino 2CD). A useful condensation, I think, although everything she did, at least up through Strange Angels, holds up as well (or better) on its own. A-
  • India Arie: Acoustic Soul (2001, Motown). B+
  • Blackalicious: Blazing Arrow (2002, MCA). A-
  • Boukman Eksperyans: Libète (Pran Pou Pran'l) / Freedom (Let's Take It) (1995, Mango). B
  • Cannibal Ox: The Cold Vein (2001, Def Jux). B+
  • Johnny Cash: American III: Solitary Man (2000, Sony). He's a great singer, and Rick Rubin provides nice clean arrangements. Still, this is the least attractive of the series, probably because the songs are running out. B
  • Cee-Lo: Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections (2002, Arista). A
  • Kasey Chambers: Barricades and Brick Walls (2002, Warner Bros.). Sounds a bit like the Iris DeMent of Australia: "If you're not pissed off at the world/Then you're just not paying attention." Not as sharp a thinker, but damn near as arresting vocally. A-
  • Cornershop: Handcream for a Generation (2002, Beggars Banquet). A
  • Donna the Buffalo: Positive Friction (2000, Sugar Hill). A pretty good country-rock band, without a distinctive voice or an intriguing concept. B
  • Missy Elliott: Miss E . . . So Addictive (2001, Gold Mine/Elektra). She's arrived more as an impressario than as a singer, but she's got songs, three of which I like even better than "Get Ur Freak On" (the consensus single-of-the-year); more memorable still is Busta Rhymes' "the shit that's so addictive" rant. Flawed, but great often enough to register. A-
  • Einstürzende Neubauten: Strategies Against Architecture (1980-83, Mute). Reputed to be a classic of the "industrial" music genre, like many music concepts it is more interesting to read about than to actually listen to. I can handle the clatter, just can't discern the direction. So, provisionally: B-
  • Duke Ellington/Mahalia Jackson: Black, Brown and Beige (1958, Columbia). Tough sledding: the 23rd Psalm has never sounded like music to me, and Ellington's suite is similarly slowed down by Jackson's ponderous vocals. B-
  • Ghostface Killah: Bulletproof Wallets (2001, Epic). Probably need to go back to the old shit now that this one has connected: the music works hard, the cuts form coherent stories, and the annoying skits have been cut to the bone. A-
  • Handsome Family: Twilight (2001, Carrot Top). Such an affectless singer, it takes several passes to zoom in on just how weird he gets. B+
  • The Highlife Allstars: Sankofa (2001, Network). The most consistently grooveful African album of the year. A
  • Jay-Z: The Blueprint (2001, Def Jam/Roc-a-Fella). He's still fulla shit because fulla shit still pays. B+
  • Khevrisa: European Klezmer Music (2000, Smithsonian Folkways). A-
  • Klezmer Pioneers: European and American Recordings (1905-52, Rounder). Eclectic collection, mostly archival interest. B
  • The Lovin' Spoonful: Anthology (1965-68, Rhino). Folkie, jugband music, elevated to pop heaven. Sometimes, anyway. A-
  • Marian McPartland: Personal Choice (1982, Concord). One of the great jazz pianists of our era, but just a typical (i.e., perfectly fine) session. B+
  • Thelonious Monk: Plays Duke Ellington (1955, Riverside OJC). If Basie was the pianist distinguished by the notes he left out, Monk was the pianist distinguished by the notes he misplaced. His own compositions were built around such misplacements, and with horns he could orchestrate them into marvelously unexpected concoctions. But Monk was never much of a pianist; his greatness was conceptual, but his execution was rarely more than suggestive. Ellington, on the other hand, always put everything in its right place, and fleshed it out with a lushness that Monk couldn't commit to even if he wanted to. The juxtaposition is abstract; in effect, it is deconstruction before its time, interesting in spots but never compelling. B
  • Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information (1974, Luaka Bop). A psychedelic classic, it says. IOW, mostly incoherent, occasionally pleasant, sometimes sickly so, perhaps interesting to the drug addled. B-
  • Bonnie Raitt: Takin' My Time (1973, Warner Bros.) I'm pretty sure I had this on LP, but couldn't recall enough to offer a grade. I got to Raitt too late (I think Home Plate was my first) to be blown away by her freshness, and now I'm too jaded to fall for her roots moves. This has flashes of both -- the best songs would fit just fine on the earlier (and I now think definitive) Give It Up -- but feels forced together. For example, the closer "Guilty" is fine pro forma roots, but we know better, don't we? A-
  • Mem Shannon: A Cab Driver's Blues (1995, Hannibal). A pretty soulful blues hollerer. The interview snatches are rather interesting when you pay attention; dead spots otherwise. B+
  • Silkworm: Developer (1997, Matador). Amerindie rock band with a heavy VU debt, they sound good as background, don't sound bad when you bother to listen a bit. They have eight or nine albums; this is the only one I've heard. B+
  • The Standells: The Best of the Standells (1965-68, Rhino). With only one hit, that leaves a lot of filler. As filler goes, this rocks with an appealing mid-sixties stolidity. B+
  • Stray Cats: Blast Off (1989, EMI America). Rockabilly revivalism, sharply produced by Dave Edmunds. I should be a sucker for such, but this one hardly moves me. What gives? B
  • Them (1964-65, London). Van Morrison, in his grunge period. A-
  • James Blood Ulmer: Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions (2001, Label M). Probably his most conventional blues album, the neoclassicism embedded in an unusually sharp mix. But often as not the retreaded classics remind you that what was so great about Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, et al., wasn't the sharp mix. B+
  • Muddy Waters: The Lost Tapes (1970, Blind Pig); Muddy Waters: Mojo: The Very Best of Muddy Waters Live (1971-76, Music Club). Two slices of late (but pre-Hard Again) Muddy, pretty much interchangeable. The Blind Pig session is smoother, a bit more authoritative; the Music Club dates are hotter (especially the earlier, sequenced to climax). B+, B+

Sunday, April 14, 2002

Got back from road trip last night. 16 days, 4853 miles: Wichita KS, Tucumcari NM, Flagstaff AZ, Sunset Crater / Wupataki / Marble Canyon, Panguitch UT, Bryce Canyon / Zion, Las Vegas NV, Death Valley / Joshua Treee, Phoenix AZ, El Paso TX, Davis Mountains / Big Bend, Austin TX, Oklahoma City OK, Wichita KS. Good weather (except for that cloud over Fort Worth), great scenery, fabulous trip. Felt good for just about the first time this year. But as a working trip it failed severely: I only turned the computer on once, after I had dropped it, and the only thing I wrote was a short paragraph on a scratch of paper somewhere. So, while it's still semifresh, I'll try to retrospectively assemble a notebook here.

Picked up a few records in Phoenix / Austin / Oklahoma City. I'll list them in this entry (may be historically interesting, or maybe just evidence of derangement), and as I sort them out will add grades / comments.

  • Thomas Anderson: Bolide (1998, Red River). A-
  • Atmosphere: Overcast! (1997, Rhymesayers). A-
  • Franck Avitable: Right Time (2000, Dreyfus).
  • Ginger Baker and the DJQ20: Coward of the County (1998, Atlantic). Unlike Baker's other jazz records, this isn't a showcase for his drumming: it's an ensemble that he anchors. Nice music, at when it's just the DJQ20; when guest James Carter cranks up it is a good deal more than nice. B+
  • Lester Bowie: American Gumbo (1974-75, 32 Jazz 2CD).
  • Peter Brötzmann/Hamid Drake: The Dried Rat-Dog (1994, Okkadisk).
  • Buck 65: Language Arts (1997, Metaforensics). Clearly, this is for us. Who knew? B+
  • Buck 65: Vertex (1999, Metaforensics). The mixmaster as philosophe: "The older I get, the more I understand life, and the less I care." A-
  • Charlie Burton and the Texas Twelve Steppers: Rustic Fixer-Upper (1997, Lazy SOB). B+
  • June Christy: Something Cool (1953-55, Capitol).
  • John Coltrane: The Complete Africa/Brass Sessions (1961, Impulse 2CD).
  • Guy Davis: Give in Kind (2002, Red House).
  • Miles Davis Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970) (Columbia/Legacy 2CD). An afterthought to Columbia's 5*2CD orgy of live Miles-goes-electric, this one is extra-harsh both in sound and concept. B
  • De La Soul: AOI: Bionix (2001, Tommy Boy). More of the "Art Official Intelligence" schtick, flow is as good or better, but the Dr. Do Good skits don't amuse me as much as Ghost Weed. A-
  • The Descendents: Two Things at Once (1982-85, SST). Too late to get excited, but this is punchy hardcore that holds up to its rep. A-
  • DJ Screw: Sentimental Value (2002, Wreckless Entertainment). Looks like a memorial for the late Houston DJ who's reportedly knocked out dozens of unheard tapes. The dirt's dirty, the mix's heavy, Mama Screw touches nonetheless. B+
  • Christy Doran/John Wolf Brennan: Henceforward (1988, Leo Lab).
  • The Drifters: All-Time Greatest Hits & More (1959-65, Atlantic 2CD). The second of two 1988-released 2CD sets that brought the polymorphuous Drifters into the CD era, it's been superseded by the single CD The Very Best of the Drifters, an easy A+. This one has filler, which given the group's gestalt isn't as interesting or fun as the cuts that fluffed up 50 Coastin' Classics, but there are no clinkers either: slick, professional post-doowop. A
  • Dungeon Family: Even in Darkness (2001, Arista). B+
  • Kahil El'Zabar/Billy Bang: Spirits Entering (2001, Delmark).
  • Graewe/Reijseger/Hemingway: Saturn Cycle (1994, Music & Arts). Reijseger's cello is a stronger lead instrument than your basic bass, which makes this avant-jazz trio a more equitable community. But Graewe's sharp, measured keyboard work invariably triumphs over the clamor, in one of the most invigorating, enticing trios I've heard. A-
  • Freddie Hubbard: Open Sesame (1960, Blue Note).
  • Idlewild: Hope Is Important (1999, Odeon).
  • In Griot Time: String Music From Mali (2000, Sterns Africa). A-
  • Jay-Z: Unplugged (2001, Def Jam). B+
  • Johnny King: Notes From the Underground (1995, Enja).
  • Kruder Dorfmeister: The K&D Sessions (1998, !K7). A-
  • Lady Saw: Raw: The Best of Lady Saw (1998, VP). A bit pinched, and more monochromatic than one would hope. B
  • The Very Best of Ella Mae Morse (1942-57, Collectables). One of Nick Tosches' "Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll"; what made her unsung was the mediocre big bands she sang in front of. B
  • Maria Muldaur (1973, Reprise). A-
  • David Murray Big Band: Live at Sweet Basil Vol. 2 (1984, Black Saint).
  • N.E.R.D.: In Search of . . . (2002, Virgin). A
  • Greg Osby: Symbols of Light (A Solution) (2001, Blue Note). An arty, ambitious romp, with the estimable Jason Moran on piano, and a string quartet for good measure. I can't say that I like it much, but when I think back on Osby's long string of B records, at least this one is different. B
  • Panthalassa: The Remixes (1999, Columbia). B+
  • Michel Petrucciani: Solo Live (1999, Dreyfus).
  • Don Pullen: Tomorrow's Parties (1976-77, Koch). A funk/fusion album, not what I expected, even with a lineup which includes Randy Brecker. Pullen's electronic keyb work is not just funky, it's awesome. But after having established its groove, it throws you a straight change I could do without. B+
  • Sun Ra: Pathways to Unknown Worlds/Friendly Love (1973-75, Evidence). Reissue combines a couple of those strange, noodling albums that Sun Ra occasionally indulged in. Too amelodic to be atmospheric, too arhythmic to be enchanting, nonetheless nowhere near unlistenable, nor even especially difficult. I'm half tempted to rate it higher, but not inspired enough to sort out its pecking order amidst all the other strange, noodling albums he churned out (or even the smattering that I happen to have). B
  • Sarge: The Glass Intact (1998, Mud).
  • Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Thesis (1997, Hatology).
  • Matthew Shipp String Trio: Expansion Power Release (2001, Hatology). B+
  • Ska All Mighty: Top Ska Classics From the Treasure Isle Label (2002, Heartbeat). Delightful vintage ska collection, Duke Reid division. Wish it had some discography. A-
  • Souls of Mischief: '93 'til Infinity (1993, Jive). A-
  • Otis Spann: Best of the Vanguard Years (1966-69, Vanguard).
  • Glenn Spearman: Blues for Falasha (1998, Tzadik).
  • Stompin' Western Swing: Roots of Rock 'n' Roll Vol. 2 (1936-41, President).
  • Dave Stryker Quartet: Blue Degrees (1992, Steeplechase). Another tenor/organ record, pretty good one in fact with Goldings on organ and the always-impressive Rick Margitza on tenor. Stryker strums along. B+
  • Taraf de Haïdouks: Band of Gypsies (2001, Nonesuch). B+
  • Totally Hits (1998, Arista).
  • The Vandermark 5: Acoustic Machine (2001, Atavistic). Despite some rough spots, this is a pretty convincing, occasionally inspired avant-garde romp. Like Target or Flag, the pieces are conceived as dedications, and vary accordingly -- the one for Stan Getz is appropriately lyrical, the one for Archie Shepp is strident and nasty. A-
  • Waco Brothers: Electric Waco Chair (2000, Bloodshot). Loved their first (most countryish) album, but after three relative disappointments, I figured I'd at least wait for used. Waited a long time, in fact. This one isn't so countryish either, but it rocks hard, and the voice and tone are Amerindie heaven. Good work. A-
  • Dinah Washington: The Best in Blues (1943-53, Verve).
  • The White Stripes: White Blood Cells (2001, Sympathy for the Record Industry). Last year's consensus indie rock of the year. A-
  • Tex Williams: On the Air (1947-49, Country Routes). Leans heavy on the Bob Wills songbook. In fact, almost everything that registers comes from Wills, which makes me a bit suspicious. B

Saturday, April 13, 2002

Austin TX to Wichita KS.

Friday, April 12, 2002

Austin TX.

Thursday, April 11, 2002

Ft. Stockton TX to Austin TX.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Van Horn TX to Ft. Stockton TX, via Big Bend National Park.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Phoenix AZ to Van Horn TX.

Monday, April 08, 2002

Phoenix AZ (J.D. Burns).

Sunday, April 07, 2002

Phoenix AZ (Dewayne Hixson).

Saturday, April 06, 2002

Twenty-Nine Palms CA to Phoenix AZ (Thelma Swenson).

Friday, April 05, 2002

Beatty NV to Twenty-Nine Palms CA, via Death Valley Natl. Park and Joshua Tree Natl. Park.

Thursday, April 04, 2002

Las Vegas NV to Beatty NV, via Death Valley Natl. Park.

Wednesday, April 03, 2002

Las Vegas NV. We hit the bookstore for the latest news, then headed toward Henderson to see my uncle, Bob and Nellie Hull. Went to a new casino in Henderson for the buffet spread, which was as impressive as I've ever seen: chinese, mexican, italian, something more/less american, lots of dessert options. Bob explained that they seem to rotate their good chefs throught the new casinos, so this one is the best in the neighborhood right now. Laura and Nellie went off to do some gambling, but that didn't last long. Then the four of us drove downtown. Laura and I did the deed, with Bob and Nellie as our witnesses. We went back to drop them off, then started to head out, but we were indecisive about where to. Thought about staying in a casino hotel, but no vacancy. Went to a Persian restaurant, then walked out when the menu had nothing interesting on it. Went to the Chinatown mall, and wound up with a mediocre dinner. Wound up in the same motel as last night.

Tuesday, April 02, 2002

Springdale UT to Las Vegas NV, via Zion Natl. Park.

Monday, April 01, 2002

Panguitch UT to Springdale UT, via Bryce Canyon Natl. Park and Zion Natl. Park.


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