August 2002 Notebook
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Friday, August 23, 2002

Music:

  • Classic Reggae: The DeeJays (2000, Music Club). From the '70s (a little discographical info would be appreciated), notably U Roy, I Roy, Big Youth. B+
  • Gregory Isaacs: The Prime of Gregory Isaacs (1998, Music Club). Early cuts, mostly from 1975-76 (although the singles are likely to be earlier). The honeyed voice is already in evidence, and while the rhythmic lilt became softer and smoother on his fine Heartbeat anthologies, the straightforwardness here becomes him. A-
  • Tommy McCook: Down in Bond Street (1966-68, Trojan). Reggae instrumentals, which in a music renowned for its samey-ness tends to push its luck. Most of it is quite listenable in a very non-intrusive way; what does intrude isn't the samey-ness but the overfamiliarity of some of the melodies: "Ode to Billy Joe," for instance, flows nicely, but the born-to-queasy-listening "What the World Needs Now" doesn't. B
  • Shabba Ranks: Rappin' With the Ladies (1990, Greensleeves). He's basically a groaner (think Mahlathini), so the timbre contrast helps (think Mahotella Queens). But his pallette is more limited, a problem intrinsic to dancehall moderns. (The classics, by contrast, drew on a vein of spirituality that Ranks is too hip to even want to fake.) B+

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Big gap here, guess I should write something. Time has gotten chewed up every which way. I spent 3-4 days shopping for replacement windows for the house -- bottom line there is that every product is overpriced and oversold, and every business is only marginally evolved from scum (except, of course, those not evolved at all). Had guests from Boston -- spent one day showing off the sights, and the other cooking up a batch of mostly Turkish grilled things (rock cornish game hens, quail, swordfish kabobs, red mullet), salads (orange/onion/olive, cucumber/yogurt, eggplant/tomato/yogurt, fattoush), bulgur pilaf. Another serious illness in the family. Don't remember what else, other than a lot of updates to the Christgau website. Now I need to get back to my own work.

Music:

  • Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls (2001, Atlantic). Not sure whether dull is a concept here or just a result. Nor am I sure just what the concept is, but if it's genderfuck the execution is a major failure. How dull is it? What's the singular form of Cowboy Junkies? C+
  • The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever (2002, No Label). I don't much care for the concept -- take pieces of songs and mash them together in unlikely combinations -- but ethics has nothing to do with it (sounds like "fair use" to me) but simply because it makes it all the more impossible to keep track of what's going on. Still, as upbeat entertainment this blows away Totally Hits, and often enough the juxtapositions are worth a laugh or at least a snicker. My favorite by far is the Public Enemy rap riding on a Herb Alpert riff. A-
  • Destiny's Child: Survivor (2001, Columbia). The title cut was a cliché back when Gloria Gaynor surveyed the territory. The sex was fresher then too -- maybe not dirtier, but I'd still take "Love to Love You Baby" and "More More More" over "Bootylicious" any day. But the hits sound fine, even with these caveats. Where they really get in trouble is in the recycled gospel -- perhaps the defining characteristic of '90s r&b, yet their medley sinks like a rock. B-
  • Guns N' Roses: Appetite for Destruction (1987, Geffen). I'm old enough to have missed this when it broke. I mean, it broke ten years after I saw Led Zeppelin play Madison Square Garden, which was about all the arena rock I've ever needed. Still, I suppose if you were about 12 in 1987, this would've sounded a lot fresher than your uncle's Led Zep albums. For one thing, it has more crunch, as well as more pretension. In fact, it reminds me more of the Who than Led Zep, but they don't have the range, the wit, the pop sense, nor the artiness (for better and worse) of the Who. They're just a good, loud band, with nothing much to say, and too many awkward moments. B
  • Permanent: Joy Division 1995 (1995, Qwest). Never figured out what the concept is here, other than raking through the catalogue one more time. It's a good catalogue, but was fresher when we didn't know how it would turn out. B+
  • Orchestra Super Mazembe: Giants of East Africa (1977-86, Earthworks). The first half of this could be dubbed the "Roots" of Guitar Paradise of East Africa, until the familiar "Shauri Yako" links the two albums up. This half is crude, churning Zaïrean rumba; the second half smoothes out, Paradise attained. A-

BTW, I see that Spin has just concocted a list of the 40 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums Ever, annointing Appetite for Destruction as took #2, then Black Sabbath #3. Don't recall what else made the list (don't have it here, and it hasn't hit their website). I always thought that the first side of Blue Oyster Cult's Tyranny and Mutation was perfect: "The Red and the Black," "O.D.'d on Life Itself," "Hot Rails to Hell," and "7 Screaming Diz-Busters." But after punk hit, heavy metal came to seem like just so much excess bombast.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Wrote a comment on a rather appalling piece in the Village Voice:

Sylvana Foa's "Palestine 101: A Short Take on a Long History" [July 31-August 6, 2002] lays the irony on much too thick. I mean, Foa starts by quoting Goebbels ("If the lie is big enough and told often enough, it will be believed"), then proceeds to tell one whopper after another. However, most of Foa's fables are mere history -- even if they were true they'd be no help in sorting out the tangled wrongs that have kept millions of people in a state of perpetual war. But the last one gave me pause: this is where Foa wrote, "the majority of Israelis are willing to give Palestinians the West Bank, Gaza, and half of Jerusalem for their state." If this is true, I have to wonder how someone like Sharon got elected and evidently remains popular. I mean, Israel is a democracy, right? Or is that just another whopper?

Sunday, August 04, 2002

Music:

  • George Lewis: Changing With the Times (1993, New World). Not promising: spoken voices with sound effects. But when you tune in, the words fascinate. And while the sound effects clang and clatter, in context they range from edgy background to something approaching momentum. B+
  • Howard Riley: The Day Will Come (1970, Columbia). A crowned album in the Penguin Guide, recently resurfaced UK only. Riley has a long, distinguished career as an avant-garde pianist, but this is his only title that I've managed to track down. Impressive. A-

Saturday, August 03, 2002

Movie: The Road to Perdition. B+

Thursday, August 01, 2002

Music:

  • Thelonious Monk: The Complete Blue Note Recordings (1947-58, Blue Note, 4CD). This always struck me as a superfluous box: the four CDs are relatively short as these things go; the first two duplicate the early sessions long available as Genius of Modern Music, and the fourth is the notoriously ill-recorded live Coltrane session. Disc 3 combines a 1952 session with Kenny Dorham and Lucky Thompson with a couple of 1957 Sonny Rollins cuts. The first two CDs are "must have" for anyone with a serious interest in jazz history, but they've always struck me as tough listening: this is the crucible of Monk's canon, yet the early pieces demonstrate how difficult his compositions could be to play by how poorly his accompanists handle them, and the bits of Monk's own crude solo piano and some seriously awful vocals don't help either. Still, several rotations through this box keep surprising me: the sound has been improved, which helps both the first genius disc and the Coltrane session a lot, with some the early material that I had never much cared for gaining ground. And the third disc is quite a thrill. There are, I think, better things in the Riverside series, but superfluous this music is not. A-
  • Thelonious Monk: The Columbia Years (1962-68, Columbia, 3CD). Already a genius in his Blue Note years (see the 4CD box), turning brilliant corners during his Riverside years (good for a 15CD box), by the time he got to Columbia was troubled, shaky, coasting. Best known as a composer, his famous tunes were almost all written early and rehashed endlessly as the world struggled first to play them and eventually managed to play with them. But while Monk's Columbia years were his swansong, they are hardly without merit: not only do the songs bear up under endless scrutiny, but Monk had found his most sympathetic saxophonist in Charlie Rouse, and it is Rouse's warm tone that carries Monk's best records from the peroid. This is a fair sampling of the period, including some of Monk's solo work (which I've never thought much of). A-


Jul 2002 Sep 2002