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Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Wrote a little letter today to Tom Engelhardt, of TomDispatch fame:

Tom,

I don't know what (if anything) your hometown newspaper has had to say about this, but my hometown newspaper -- the Wichita Eagle, as allergic to news as any in the country -- devoted its entire front page plus five more on Monday, with front page pieces and additional pages yesterday and today, to a report published in Seattle on Sunday that Boeing is planning on selling off its Wichita plant. Boeing directly employs over 12,000 workers in Wichita, about 5% of the total workforce, and probably accounts for about 20% of the economy. The bulk of the plant was actually built by the US government in the early '40s, and was central to America's manufacture of bomber aircraft (B-17, B-29, B-47, B-52) during and after WWII. As I recall, Boeing had as many as 40,000 employees in Wichita in the early '50s, and as recently as early 2001 had close to 18,000. My father worked there 38 years before he retired. My brother worked there 24 years before he was laid off late last year. Wichita has manufacturing plants of three other general aviation companies (originally Cessna, Beech, and Lear Jet; now Lytton, Raytheon, and Bombardier), and has since the early '30s claimed to be the Air Capital of the World. There are also hundreds of small aviation-dependent companies, and Airbus even has recently opened an engineering group here to work on wing design. Boeing is also attached to McConnell Air Force Base, which is the home of those KC-135 tankers that have suddenly become obsolete -- the mod work that has kept those tankers as well as the even older B-52s flying all these years has all been done in Wichita. It is also important to realize that Boeing has not only provided a lot of jobs to Wichita, it has (at least since the early '50s) paid significantly higher wages that any of the other aircraft plants -- the main reason being that the IAMAW contract has always been negotiated nationwide (i.e., for a long time centered on Seattle), whereas the other companies are local to ("right to work") Kansas. Selling the plant here may not mean that all of the jobs would vanish, but it is certain to mean that wages will be slashed here -- just look at Boeing's sale of their Spokane plant to see how this works. (Of course, folks in Wichita still remember last year, when Bombardier threatened to close the Lear Jet plant here unless they got major givebacks from the union, which they got.) Wichita has lost well over 10,000 aircraft jobs since you-know-when.

I hope someone tries to straighten out this whole story: from this town this is just the point where a whole, vast, sordid story hits home. It's interesting to see Kansas politicians who have obviously been in Boeing's pocket for years turn absolutely livid. (Pat Roberts also had David Kay's latest findings to deal with on Monday, so he had an especially bad day.) The local state politicos who pushed through a $500M bond issue for Boeing's 7E7 auction were all but speechless. (It turns out that KS has underwritten over $1B in bonds for Boeing over the years.) Boeing's bid to decertify the SPEEA office worker group here may also go up in smoke. (Wichita is the most thoroughly unionized plant in Boeing's empire, although it's scary to think about the conditions that led so many engineers and office workers to vote in unions.) Boeing has never been so completely dependent on its political connections to make its business viable, and this threat is very close to blowing up.

It's tempting to look at the company as an extraordinary case of mismanagement due to incredible greed, and of course you hardly have to look beyond Phil Condit's bank account to find evidence. (Although my contacts all tell me that Harry Stonecipher has been the real evil behind the scenes, and now he's Condit's successor.) But anywhere you look these days there's bad news for Boeing, and they look to me like they're headed straight for Chapter 11. They've managed to lose their market lead in commercial aircraft to Airbus, despite the fact that the dollar has lost 40-50% of its value against the euro, and the 7E7 announcement gives even their best customers reason to hold back (as if their business wasn't reason enough). They've bungled almost everything they've managed to get their hands on in military and space work. They're deep on hock to Japan and China -- when they started shipping work overseas they explained that it's okay because the only thing they have to keep control of is the wing development, but look who's doing the wings for the 7E7. They used to be America's biggest exporter; even if they still are I wonder for how long. Some of these problems are endemic to the industry, such as the practice of bundling orders with "set backs". (E.g., JAL buys Boeing planes on condition that Boeing do some of the production in Japan.) Some are just textbook stupid. (E.g., WalMart can get away with being anti-union because they don't already have unions that they have to work with.) Some is just a reflection of the rot in the US political system, which Boeing has contributed to as much as any company around. (China's "most favored" trade status was largely secured by Boeing lobbyists. Tack that onto Boeing's "trade surplus" and check for a negative sign.)

I could go on, but I haven't researched this, and I don't want to write the piece. Just want to vent. But one thing is sure: this stinks, and it ain't gonna go away. Keep an eye open (or at least a nostril).

Postscript [2004-02-23]: Engelhardt wrote back and urged me to get this published somewhere. He offered to forward it to someone he knows at Common Dreams (I think it was), but nothing ever came of that.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Music: Initial count 8815 rated (+30), 941 unrated (+8). The increase in records rated comes more from digging through old lists and racking my memory than from new listening. (This is described in a previous entry, and I'm far from done.) New listening has been hampered by a bout of something flu-like, which kept me in bed, away from computer, for three days or so. As I write this, a day late, I'm still beat, and I'm pretty confused on where I stand on any of this.

  • The Kinks: Well Respected Kinks (1964-65 [2001], BMG Special Products). Thin (10-track) compilation of early Pye material, leading off with "A Well Respected Man" and "Where Have All the Good Times Gone, with "All Day and All of the Night" and "You Really Got Me" on the backstretch. This dupes five of Reprise's 1966 10-song Greatest Hits, significantly missing "Dedicated Follower of Fashion." This dupes six of Rhino's 1989 18-song Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 too, also missing "I'm Not Like Everybody Else." Still, it all seems top drawer until "Don't You Fret" comes along. B+
  • New Orleans Party Classics (1955-91 [1992], Rhino). I've had this CD for quite a while, but it managed to slip through the list system. I can see where one would be tempted to ignore it: although almost everything here is just fine -- some party classics, even, but some not quite -- it doesn't satisfy as wel as compilations that make more conceptual sense, or that draw on more specific sets of recordings. Or maybe this just leans on the Meters a bit too much? B+
  • Betty Roché: Take the "A" Train (1956 [1994], Bethlehem). She is best known for having sung with Duke Ellington, and the title cut was her showpiece there -- although the words have always seemed like a quaint and rather forced afterthought to Billy Strayhorn's amazing melody. She is fond of scat, and has a bebop feel -- "I Just Got a Message, Baby" sounds like exceptionally inspired vocalese, and is probably the best thing here. Her singing has a slightly odd feel to it, like she's overly careful to make sure she enunciates clearly. The band includes fine performances by Conte Candoli on trumpet and Eddie Costa on vibes -- indeed, this is quite a showcase for Costa. B+
  • The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow (2003, Sub Pop). Second album (not counting some EPs going back to 1999), they've been picking up some favorable press, including a #2 placing in amazon.com's year-end list. I resisted them at $14.98, but when Best Buy dropped the price to $8.99, I bit. They're out of the alt world of music economics, but harmonically fit in the Beatles' wake, and they rock a bit harder than most other Beatles-influenced groups (like the Beatles did). That makes them a fit fancy for my taste, but they're good enough at it that I can imagine lots of people thinking this is some sort of masterpiece. After all, it is. A-
  • Wayne Shorter: The All Seeing Eye (1965 [1994], Blue Note). This was cut in the middle of a hot stretch of albums for Shorter, following Speak No Evil (1964) and preceding Adam's Apple (1966), while Shorter was on top of the world with the Miles Davis Quintet. Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter are along for the ride, with Joe Chambers on drums, and Freddie Hubbard as Miles, but two extra horns are present: volatile James Spaulding on alto, and Grachan Moncur III on trombone. (Plus Alan Shorter for the final cut.) Moreover, it's clear from the titles that the program is meant to be heavy: Shorter's originals are called, "The All Seeing Eye," "Geneis," "Chaos," and "Face of the Deep." (Wayne's little brother penned the finale, the slightly mischievous "Mephistopheles.") This comes off as a composer's album, the rhythm spare, the horns carefully deployed. B+
  • Art Tatum: The Complete Pablo Group Masterpieces (1954-56, Pablo, 6CD). These were originally released in eight volumes -- three of which I own and have dealt with before. (Volume 8, with Ben Webster, is the prize of what I've heard.) I was thinking that having the "Complete" series I'd be able to deal with the missing volumes as well, but that's going to take some jiggering, since the previous eight discs have been squeezed down to six here. (Big LP-sized box, with two double-wide jewel cases with three CDs in each, plus an LP-format booklet.) Here's a mapping from the eight CDs to the six discs here:
    • Disc 1: Cuts 1-14 (Vol. 1: Benny Carter, Louis Bellson). Note that this session was originally released on two separate LPs, then combined on a single CD; the original set had 9 LPs, then 8 CDs.
    • Disc 2: Cuts 1-8 (Vol. 2: Roy Eldridge, John Simmons, Alvin Stoller). Cuts 9-10 (previously unreleased, same group). Cuts 11-14 (Vol. 3: Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich).
    • Disc 3: Cuts 1-3 (Vol. 3: continued). Cuts 4-11 (Vol. 4: Lionel Hampton, Buddy Rich). Cuts 12-13 (previously unreleased, same group).
    • Disc 4: Cuts 1-5 (Vol. 5: Lionel Hampton, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Barney Kessel, Red Callender, Buddy Rich). Cut 6 (78 RPM single version of "September Song", same group). Cuts 7-8 (previously unreleased, same group). Cuts 9-11 (Vol. 6: Red Callender, Jo Jones).
    • Disc 5: Cuts 1-7 (Vol. 6, continued). Cuts 8-15 (Vol. 7: Buddy DeFranco, Red Callender, Bill Douglass).
    • Disc 6: Cuts 1-3 (previously unreleased, same group). Cuts 4-10 (Vol. 8: Ben Webster, Red Callender, Bill Douglass). Cuts 11-13 (previously unreleased, same group).
    I've written more on each of these as they break out. The session with Webster is extraordinary, a simply lovely meeting. The DeFranco is a very close runner-up, with the Roy Eldridge and Benny Carter sessions close behind. Tatum always preferred to play on his own, which may be why the trio seems to showcase his most vibrant piano, but the real value of these sessions is that they show that he can play in group contexts, and modulate his playing accordingly. The net effect is, I think, much easier to grapple with than his solo work, which like all solo piano sounds thin even though he gussies it up so extraordinarily. (The Penguin Guide, by the way, downrates the Eldridge session, describing it as two virtuosos of different temperaments uncomfortable in the same room. I suspect that our differences here have to do with our relative interests in the two virtuosos -- my own affection leans strongly toward Eldridge.) None of this should be taken as disparaging Hampton, who does fine work here. It just seems that the horns are better able to keep up with Tatum. A-
  • Art Tatum: The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 3 (1955, Pablo). With Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich. The first few cuts here start off with Hampton and Tatum at the races -- Hamp has the faster horse, but Tatum's the supreme jockey. Rich just keeps score, although he does get to lead a bit on "How High the Moon." This whole session didn't fit on one CD, so it's continued on Vol. 4. A-
  • Art Tatum: The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 4 (1955, Pablo). With Lionel Hampton and Buddy Rich. Starts with "This Can't Be Love" -- not quite as fast as the start on its predecessor, but perky enough. The following cuts, though, do slow down quite a bit, with "Lover Man" particularly lovely. But this tends to lighten out over the long haul. B+
  • Art Tatum: The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 5 (1955, Pablo). With Harry "Sweets" Edison, Lionel Hampton, Barney Kessel, Red Callender, and Buddy Rich. This session seems a little on the busy side, although it's hard to fault Sweets on anything he does here -- he's all aces. So I guess that means Hampton and Kessel are the spare wheels, even though they both do nice work in turn. The net effect is that Tatum doesn't get much space. B+
  • Art Tatum: The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 6 (1956, Pablo). With Red Callender and Jo Jones. This starts with 7:10 of "Just One of Those Things" -- a pure Tatum showcase. "More Than You Know" is even better: he plays so many notes for each one of Calender's that the whole surface shimmers. "If" is taken rather leisurely, but with trademark fillips and filligree. The rest is less eventful, but showcases a lot of fancy tinkling. A-
  • Art Tatum: The Tatum Group Masterpieces, Vol. 7 (1956, Pablo). With Buddy DeFranco, Red Callender and Bill Douglass. DeFranco's clarinet is just right for this session -- beautiful tone, effortless swing. His simplicity complements Tatum's fleetness. Delightful set. A
  • Tanya Tucker: The Upper 48 Hits (1972-97 [2002], Raven, 2CD). This is obviously too much, but I'm duly impressed that they can provide Billboard chart positions for all 48, and that most are in the single digits. The first song here that I really like is the 14th on disc 1, something called "It's a Cowboy Lovin' Night." The follow-up, "Dancing the Night Away," is pretty good too. The difference between those two and the songs that come before is a matter of production technique: these flow smoothly, whereas the earlier ones tend to sound junked up. "Delta Dawn" was junked up too, in a manner that made it a catchy breakthrough hit, but doesn't make it something you'd voluntarily put on yourself. Her take on David Allen Coe's "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)?" is similarly junked up, comparably catchy. She was jailbait when she hit with those two, which was part of the allure, or at least part of the bait. She was more like 19 when she started to get some cleaner production; by the time she hit 21 the hits started to thin out -- the first disc skips from 1980 to 1987 in its last seven cuts (saving 1986's "One Love at a Time" to start disc 2). Disc 2 takes her from age 28 up to, well, almost 40. She sounds a lot older there; lot slower, too. Very few of these songs make much of an impression on me -- "Hangin' In" (1994) is one that I did notice, and its follow-up "You Just Watch Me" isn't bad, either. Tucker's vocal skills are undoubted; her material isn't always up to snuff, and her producers are dangerous -- the net effect is that she's never quite managed to build a convincing persona. Useful booklet. Useful package. Good for reference. Nice to know that she never got really lousy, which in Nashville is something of an accomplishment. B

Also, continuing on my old list recovery project:

  • Black Sabbath: Paranoid (1970, Warner Brothers) B+
  • Blues Magoos: Basic Blues Magoos (1968, Mercury) B
  • Carmaig DeForrest: I Shall Be Released (1987, Good Foot) B+
  • The Kinks: Kinks-Size (1965, Reprise) A-

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

I started writing something about how I wish I knew how many records the various record critics participating in year-end polls actually had listened to. Thought I would explore this by building a table of top 40 Pazz & Jop finishes since 1979, and checking off which records I haven't heard. (Of course, in many cases I had some inkling that I wouldn't want to hear -- at least at the cost of buying -- said records.) This is what I came up with. [PS 2004-02-23: thought I'd add in the 2003 results here, just to keep them together. Although 2003 is the highest total ever, I expect it to drop into a more normal range soon.]

YearUNotes
200322 4. Radiohead; 7. New Pornographers; 12. Rufus Wainwright; 13. Jay-Z; 14. Cat Power; 17. Postal Service; 18. Belle and Sebastian; 19. My Morning Jacket; 20. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists; 22. Pernice Brothers; 26. Kings of Leon; 27. Junior Senior; 28. Fiery Furnaces; 29. Four Tet; 30. Grandaddy; 31. Darkness; 31. Johnny Cash: Unearthed; 33. Notwist; 34. Death Cab for Cutie; 36. Mars Volta; 37. Led Zeppelin; 40. Broken Social Scene.
200215 3. Flaming Lips; 11. Queens of the Stone Age; 12. Solomon Burke; 13. Elvis Costello; 15. Interpol; 16. Norah Jones; 23. Neko Case; 25. Sigur Ros; 26. 2 Many DJs; 28. Andrew W.K.; 29. Super Furry Animals; 31. Scarface; 32. The Doves; 36. Clinic; 38. Soundtrack of Our Lives; 40. Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
200118 5. Radiohead; 10. Rufus Wainwright; 16. Sigur Ros; 20. Gorillaz; 21. Weezer; 23. Pernice Brothers; 25. Daft Punk; 26. Macy Gray; 27. System of a Down; 29. Langley Schools Music Project; 30. Guided by Voices; 33. Fugazi; 34. Spiritualized; 35. Shins; 36. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; 37. Alejandro Escovedo; 38. Low; 40. Mary J. Blige.
200011 8. Yo La Tengo; 11. Aimee Mann; 20. Jurassic 5; 21. Marah; 25. Sade; 30. Coldplay; 33. Sigur Ros; 34. Elliott Smith; 37. Magnolia; 38. Primal Scream; 39. Jayhawks.
199912 4. Flaming Lips; 8. Wilco; 9. Beth Orton; 14. Nine Inch Nails; 17. Basement Jaxx; 19. Fountains of Wayne; 22. Built to Spill; 28. Richard Thompson; 29. Pavement; 31. TLC; 35. Underworld; 40. Santana.
199814 5. Elliott Smith; 15. Neutral Milk Hotel; 18. Elvis Costello; 20. Mercury Rev; 23. Cat Power; 26. Jay-Z; 27. Vic Chesnutt; 28. Bruce Springsteen; 29. Gang Starr; 30. Eels; 34. Monster Magnet; 35. Sheryl Crow; 38. Pernice Brothers; 40. Marilyn Manson.
199717 7. Erykah Badu; 14. Portishead; 18. Verve; 19. Beth Orton; 20. Elliott Smith; 25. Richard Buckner; 27. Ben Folds Five; 28. Stereolab; 29. Prodigy; 29. Patti Smith; 33. Ron Sexsmith; 35. Fiona Apple; 35. Daft Punk; 37. Supergrass; 38. Blur; 39. Jayhawks; 40. Primal Scream.
199614 11. R.E.M.; 12. Everything but the Girl; 20. Maxwell; 25. Soundgarden; 26. Sheryl Crow; 27. Cibo Matto; 31. Curtis Mayfield; 32. Joe Henry; 35. Neutral Milk Hotel; 36. Sebadoh; 37. Olivia Tremor Control; 38. Screaming Trees; 39. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion 40. Richard Thompson.
199513 7. Bjork; 8. Bruce Springsteen; 13. Son Volt; 14. Smashing Pumpkins; 15. Raekwon; 25. 6ths; 28. TLC; 31. Dionne Farris; 32. Alanis Morissette; 34. Wilco; 36. Ben Folds Five; 37. Jayhawks; 40. Dwight Yoakam.
199410 8. Guided by Voices; 16. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; 23. Jeff Buckley; 24. Kristin Hersh; 30. Luscious Jackson; 31. Elvis Costello; 32. Grant Lee Buffalo; 33. Nas; 36. K. McCarty; 39. Shara Nelson.
199320 6. Dr. Dre; 9. U2; 11. Smashing Pumpkins; 14. Pearl Jam; 16. Urge Overkill; 18. American Music Club; 19. Tony Toni Toné; 20. Yo La Tengo; 21. A Tribe Called Quest; 24. Stereolab; 25. Jane Siberry; 27. Me'shell Ndegéocello; 29. Cypress Hill; 30. Terence Trent D'Arby; 31. Sade; 33. Aimee Mann; 35. PJ Harvey; 37. Belly; 38. John Hiatt; 40. Dinosaur Jr.
199211 10. Basehead; 11. K.D. Lang; 20. Soul Asylum; 26. Faith No More; 30. Mary J. Blige; 33. Lindsey Buckingham; 34. Pearl Jam; 35. Unrest; 36. Tori Amos; 37. The Black Crowes; 40. Ice Cube.
199117 4. U2; 8. Metallica; 9. Chris Whitley; 11. Guns N' Roses; 16. Ice Cube; 17. Neil Young; 19. Seal; 20. Guns N' Roses; 21. Van Morrison; 26. Robbie Robertson; 27. American Music Club; 29. Billy Bragg; 31. Teenage Fanclub; 35. Dave Alvin; 37. Dinosaur Jr.; 38. Robyn Hitchcock; 40. Kirsty MacColl.
199011 2. Sinead O'Connor; 6. Ice Cube; 11. Replacements; 15. World Party; 21. Los Lobos; 23. Carl Stalling Project; 26. Iggy Pop; 27. Faith No More; 28. Van Morrison; 31. Black Crowes; 40. Midnight Oil.
19897 26. Kate Bush; 32. Batman; 34. Aerosmith; 35. Don Henley; 36. Daniel Lanois; 39. Cure; 40. NRBQ.
19886 23. Living Colour; 25. Graham Parker; 28. Stay Awake; 29. Van Morrison & the Chieftains; 35. Sugarcubes; 39. Metallica.
19875 5. John Hiatt; 21. Van Morrison; 34. L.L. Cool J; 36. Sting; 37. Smiths.
198611 4. Bruce Springsteen; 11. Janet Jackson; 16. Peter Case; 17. Billy Bragg; 21. Bodeans; 23. Anita Baker; 24. Throwing Muses; 26. Smithereens; 30. Smiths; 37. Robyn Hitchcock; 38. Crowded House
198514 7. R.E.M.; 10. John Fogerty; 11. Sam Cooke; 14. Sade; 16. Bob Dylan; 18. Kate Bush; 20. Dire Straits; 21. Sting; 24. Lone Justice; 28. Prefab Sprout; 29. Don Henley; 30. Luther Vandross; 33. Robyn Hitchcock; 39. Suzanne Vega.
19847 22. Smiths; 25. Van Halen; 33. Peter Wolf; 36. Everly Brothers; 38. Del Fuegos; 39. Special AKA; 40. Rickie Lee Jones.
198311 10. Bob Dylan; 11. Elvis Costello; 15. Big Country; 16. Jerry Lee Lewis; 21. Rolling Stones; 24. Malcolm McLaren; 26. Violent Femmes; 28. Graham Parker; 36. Fleshtones; 37. Linda Ronstadt; 40. Paul Simon.
198210 17. Joe Jackson; 25. Fleshtones; 26. Human League; 30. XTC; 31. Mission of Burma; 34. Paul McCartney; 36. Aretha Franklin; 37. Fleetwood Mac; 40. Ted Hawkins; 40. Squeeze.
198110 5. Rickie Lee Jones; 6. Squeeze; 17. Romeo Void; 21. Au Pairs; 28. Joe Ely; 29. Yoko Ono; 33. Fela Anikulapo Kuti; 35. King Crimson; 36. Joan Armatrading; 37. Lindsey Buckingham.
198010 11. Peter Gabriel; 14. Peter Townshend; 18. Dire Straits; 23. Smokey Robinson; 24. Squeeze; 30. Iron City Houserockers; 35. Carlene Carter; 36. Graham Parker; 38. Joan Armatrading; 39. Diana Ross.
19794 19. Rickie Lee Jones; 21. Fleetwood Mac; 24. David Johansen; 29. Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Actually, going through these lists led me to add a few grades on records that I did have/listen to back in LP days, but don't have any more. Obviously, these are based on loose and not especially reliable memories. Meanwhile, I'm looking back into my old lists for albums that I didn't bring forward when I created the current list system. This list is here.

  • Otis Blackwell: These Are My Songs! (1978, Inner City) B
  • Basil Coetzee: Sabenza (1986 [1987], Kijima) A-
  • Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders: The Game of Love (1965, Fontana) B-
  • Peter Gordon: Innocent (1986, FM) B
  • Peter Gordon: Brooklyn (1987, FM) B+
  • Let's Active: Cypress (1984, IRS) B-
  • Van Morrison: T.B. Sheets (1974, Columbia) A-
  • Alexander O'Neal: All Mixed Up (1989, Tabu) B+
  • Roy Orbison: Mystery Girl (1989, Virgin) B
  • Robbie Robertson (1987, Geffen) C+
  • Rolling Stones: Hot Rocks (1972, Abkco) A
  • Rolling Stones: Metamorphosis (1975, Abkco) B+
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto: Neo Geo (1987, Epic) B
  • Peter Stampfel & Steve Weber: Going Nowhere Fast (1981, Rounder) A-
  • Stiff Little Fingers: Inflammable Material (1979, Rough Trade) B+
  • 10,000 Maniacs: In My Tribe (1987, Elektra) B
  • Shelly Thunder: Fresh Out the Pack (1989, Mango) B+
  • The Troggs (1976, Pye) B
  • The Troggs: The Trogg Tapes (1976, Private Stock) B+
  • The United States of America (1968, Columbia) B
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Life (1987, Geffen) B
  • 2 Nasty 4 Radio (1990, Cold Chillin') C+

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Music: Initial count 8785 rated (+11), 933 unrated (+17). Year-end lists and comments done. The incraese in unrated mostly comes from a shopping trip to Oklahoma City. I used to go down there 3-4 times a year, and make the rounds of five Wherehouse stores. I hadn't been there in more than a year -- not since Wherehouse closed their Wichita stores -- but they're down to three stores now, and one was in the process of a closeout sale. Also finished writing my first column for Michaelangelo Matos at Seattle Weekly. I'll be doing a reissues column, called "Rearview Mirror," every three weeks there. From a practical standpoint it will be a subset of what I've been doing for Static, but it will probably spotlight new things first.

  • GG Allin: The Troubled Troubadour + Bonus Tracks (1982-90 [1996], Mountain). Starts with six songs -- "When I Die" and "Rowdy Beer Drinkin' Night" sound ok even though they're meant to be garbage. The other four, I guess, do a better job of realizing their ambitions. Then comes "Conversation #1," which seems to be an interview recorded while Allin was in jail. Aside from a cover of "Dead Flowers," the rest of the album is taken up with conversations and spoken word shit, which leaves this feeling pretty slight. C
  • Blues Story (1920-84 [2003], Shout! Factory, 2CD). The dates I've figured out by selective research. Mamie Smith's "Crazy Blues" is well known as the first blues record (1920), so that one was easy. The last one was harder to figure -- as I recall, it was Little Milton's "You're gonna Have a Murder on Your Hands." "Crazy Blues" is one of those songs you read about but never hear. Turns out that a good part of the reason is that it isn't all that great, but it makes a good anchor here, especially with Blind Lemon Jefferson coming next. A-
  • Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan (2003, Columbia). I suppose this was inevitable, which doesn't mean that it's a good idea. First time through I note three performances I wouldn't mind hearing again: Shirley Caesar's "Gotta Serve Somebody" (the only Dylan song I recognize here, done straight gospel, which is less humbling than when Dylan sings it); Aaron Neville's "Saving Grace" (Neville's voice wins it over); and Dylan and Mavis Staples doing "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" (at last a voice that fits the songs, plus some hard rocking). On the other hand, Chicago Mass Choir, Mighty Clouds of Joy, and Rance Allen are all dismissed. Dylan's God years were like Jesus off in the wilderness, being tempted again and again to put out bad music for dubious purposes. I ignored him then, and eventually he came back to his talents, if not necessarily to his senses. Ignore this one too. C+
  • Handsome Family: Live at Schuba's Tavern (2000 [2002], DCN). I've always found Brett Sparks' deep, affectless voice barren, which has been an obstacle getting into his barren songs. This live souvenir of their last days in Chicago is lightened by wife Rennie's interjections and monologues, but it is ultimately Brett's voice, as resonant and more surprising then ever, that puts these barren songs across. A-
  • Gaby Kerpel: Carnabailito (2003, Nonesuch). Seems to be Argentina's answer to Tom Zé, but where Zé is an urban modernist, Kerpel looks toward the dry side of the Andes, at least for cover inspiration. Built from samples, including voices that come off as unmusical, the rhythms come and go, and when they go there isn't much left to hang on to. In this year's globetrotting efforts, this is the record I find the most alien. Interesting, too. Perhaps some day I'll find a context that it makes sense in, but for now it's just one of many oddities in a not-infinite but pretty damn big universe. B+
  • B.B. King: Blues Kingpins (1951-62 [2003], Virgin/The Right Stuff). King recorded for various labels run by the Bihari Brothers, including RPM, Modern, and Kent. This overlaps various Flair best-ofs, such as Do the Boogie (1952-56 [1988]) and The Best of B.B. King, Volume One ([1986]). Only 7 of these 18 songs have escaped both of those anthologies. A
  • B.B. King: King of the Blues (1943-91 [1992], MCA, 4CD). This box has been sitting around for quite a while, King being a guy I recognize as important but don't have much real affinity for. But as I found myself warming to Blues Kingpins, I figured I could benefit from putting him into context, and this box should do for that. The intersection is thin: the first disc of the box goes from 1949-66, starting with a 1949 single on Bullet, followed by 5 songs on RPM, 2 on Kent, 1 on Chess, the rest on ABC and Bluesway. The 7 RPM/Kent songs are candidates for Blues Kingpins, and 5 of them are present. This early stretch is very solid work. More dubious is the ABC period, which starts with "I'm Gonna Sit In 'Til You Give In," sounding just like a Ray Charles outtake. It gets more typical after that. The second CD, 1966-69, contains material that was originally released on Bluesway. This is the period when rock 'n' rollers discovered their blues heritage (as opposed to the early '60s, when folkies launched the search for old legends like John Hurt and Skip James); which makes it the period when white America discovered King. Third disc covers 1969-75, mostly ABC plus two Bluesway cuts. A couple of all-time best-of songs here: "Nobody Loves Me But My Mother" ("and she may be jivin' too"), "I Got Some Help I Don't Need." Fourth disc covers 1976-91, mostly on MCA. Starts with a live cut with Bobby Bland, and goes back live several more times. Nothing much special on this one, but you have to credit the dirty old bastard for "Mother Fuyer" -- haven't heard that one in a while. All in all, I don't think this box is all that useful. He's a major artist as much by virtue of his longevity as anything else, but he has some high spots like Live at the Regal, and I'm growing fond of his '50s work. This does add a few things to those, but I figure there's at least a much missing. B+
  • Augustus Pablo: East of the River Nile (1977 [2002], Shanachie). A mere instrumental album, except that it feels so uncommonly right -- not a groove album, but an album full of easy momentum any way. Bound to reggae by the most inscrutable of beats, bound to Ras Tafari by title only. The river is the signifier here -- its movement as certain as gravity. A
  • Bonnie Rideout: Soft May Morn (1994, Maggie's Music). An American -- born in Michigan, grew up in Maine -- who plays Scottish fiddle. Touted on the back cover here as a three-time U.S. National Scottish Fiddle Champion. This has a little extra piano and guitar, but is very much her show. In general, this is one of my least favorite musics, but I was totally charmed by her other 1994 album, Celtic Circles (Maggie's Music), and this is much more of the same thing. The slow pieces are more eloquent than the jigs, and the time shifts detract from that. At its best, this is striking beautiful, but over the long haul it feels long -- 55:13 is the official time, which isn't obviously excessive (by current standards). B
  • Kate Smith: 16 Most Requested Songs (1940-45 [1991], Columbia/Legacy). Discographic information is sparse here, but this appears to be a fairly narrow slice from a career that started by 1931 and pretty much ended around 1954, although she lived until 1986. Sounds like proficient period pop: anonymous orchestras, which at least have the decency to keep out of the way; skilled singer, with good voice and not a lot of flair or personality; familiar songs, some great in other contexts, but good here. Can't hate it. Can't say that it's held up real well either. B-
  • Todd Snider: Live: Near Truths and Hotel Rooms (Oh Boy). He's settled into John Prine's record label, and the affinity is more than business. Snider fills Prine's shoes about as well as Don White fills in for Loudon Wainwright III. One thing all four have in common is that they open up agreeably in a live context (admittedly, I haven't heard Prine live on record that proves the point, but I've heard Prine live, which is close enough). Most likely this reaps the best songs from 4-5 albums -- none of which I've heard, so they're all fresh here. So are the monologues -- funny too. A-

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Music: Initial count 8774 rated (+25), 916 unrated (-5). Still working on year-end comments, although I've about given up thinking that any of my "pending" new 2003 records are going to make the year-end list any time soon. Still, the big push forward in ratings is because I've skipped comments on most of the records, and I may continue that policy, at least for another week.

  • The Beatles: 1 (1962-70 [2000], Capitol). 27 songs, from "Love Me Do" to "The Long and Winding Road." You know them all. They're all great. (Well, almost all: a more judicious ending would have been "Let It Be.") Of course, they evolved, so this loses the staged coherency of the individual albums -- not to mention scads of equally great songs -- and the retracing of their career in inevitable chronological order lends them a predictable arc that they didn't have when they originally cut these songs. It also compresses their career in a somewhat unseemly way -- as if to say is this all there is? (Of course not, as evinced by the single-less Sgt. Pepper.) Still, the opening stretch -- ten high profile songs concluding with "Help!" -- would be hard to improve on. And the stretch from #15 "Yellow Submarine" to the end is probably better than the albums they came from (or were dumped into). The similar Elvis record has the virtue of unifying a career commonly regarded as split between young and fat periods; but the Beatles don't unify -- they unravel, which is obvious in the last ten or so songs here, which nowadays are more interesting as history than as music. Of course, we always knew that -- or at least knew it from the point where they broke up, denial being what it is. So what does this collection add? Not much. I know someone who wanted to buy this to clue her son in on just what the Beatles were. Fair enough, but not as good a choice as three or four albums would have been. A-
  • Jeff Beck & the Yardbirds: The Yardbird Years (1965-66 [2002], Fuel 2000). The follow-up to Fuel 2000's Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds: The Yardbird Years, it suffers the same flawed logic of thinking that just because you have legendary guitarists, you get legendary guitar records. But the Yardbirds were just another British Invasion rock band with an eye to the singles charts, like all the others. The blues purism that Clapton aspired to had squat to do with their sound, and the successive waves of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page never made much difference. What makes this record better than its predecessor is that it gets further into their hits -- then as now, there's no substitute for good songs. But it doesn't get much better, because this comp (like its predecessor) is packed with trivia -- outtakes, instrumental versions, even a German single. B+
  • The Essential Bing Crosby: The Columbia Years (1931-34 [2003], Columbia/Legacy). Those Columbia years were relatively early -- Bing celebrated his 30th birthday toward the end of the stretch. Before them he made his initial mark with Paul Whiteman's orchestra, and here he's still working on the pop-jazz seam. This starts with a take on "Dinah" joined by the Mills Brothers; that would be about the same time "Dinah" was making the rounds of NYC jazz bands (Henry Allen, Don Redman, Luis Russell). "Sweet Georgia Brown" also falls on the jazz side. Even Crosby's more characteristic crooner ballads were usually accompanied by Eddie Lang, the finest jazz guitarist this side of Django Reinhardt. His "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" falls for the melodrama of the song -- it did, after all, come from a stage musical. "Young and Healthy" is a marvelous song, even with Guy Lombardo for backup. "My Honey's Lovin' Arms" brings back the Mills Brothers. The last 4-5 songs (the one I really noticed was "Temptation") fall hard into his matinee idol mainstream. I suspect that it's going to be a long time before I ever get much of a feel for his music -- it is, after all, very dated, even though the memory of the person and his movies is still fresh and warm. B
  • Fats Domino: Blues Kingpins (1949-55 [2003], Capitol/The Right Stuff). Domino's great hits have been packaged several times. The one I have is called My Blue Heaven: The Best of Fats Domino, Volume 1 (1949-61 [1990], EMI), which was basically a reissue of the old 2-LP Legendary Masters, reissued to tie into a movie. EMI's more recent Fats Domino Jukebox is pretty much the same thing. Fact is, anyway you slice it you wind up with basically the same hit songs, and going beyond that -- as in EMI's 1991 4-CD box, They Call Me the Fat Man -- just gives you a lot of surplus that isn't up to snuff. The other fact is that, aside from "The Fat Man" (1949), Domino's real hits start up around 1955-56, when he cut "Ain't It a Shame," "My Blue Heaven," "Blueberry Hill," "Blue Monday," "When My Dreamboat Comes Home," etc. Play this enough and you do find hints of the hits to come, but it is striking how little the compilers concede: in their efforts to recast Domino as a bluesman, they eschew hits like "The Fat Man," and lay on saxophone bits -- all of this was produced by Dave Bartholomew, a trumpet player in his own right -- but starting about two-thirds of the way through ("Going to the River") Fats starts to come through -- the key to his success being that he finally learned to take it easy. Given how recognizable his later piano work became, it's surprising how indistinct his early work was -- Champion Jack Dupree and Professor Longhair were already on the New Orleans piano circuit then, and guys like Amos Milburn and Floyd Dixon were near their peak. Still, there are hints of future greatness here. B
  • Elmore James: Blues Kingpins (1952-55 [2003], Virgin/The Right Stuff). Early material, this intersects heavily (12 of 18 cuts) with the old Virgin/Flair comp, Let's Cut It. This has three cuts in common with Rhino's definitive The Sky Is Crying, missing "Sho' Nuff I Do" from the latter's Flair singles. James' peak came later, with his recordings for Chief, Fire, and Enjoy -- the latter have now been compiled in 1-, 2-, and 3-CD packages, with little falloff. The most impressive thing about James' early work is how directly it channels delta blues into the era of the electric guitar. A-
  • Waylon Jennings: Honky Tonk Heroes (1973 [1999], Buddha/BMG Heritage). Widely regarded as a major album in Jennings' discography, perhaps the key one, the first thing worth noting is that 9 of the 10 songs were written by Billy Joe Shaver. The second thing to note is that the other one sucks. The two bonus songs on this reissue are also Shaver-penned, which helps get us past "We Had It All." Personally, I think Shaver sings his own songs just fine -- all Waylon has to add is gravitas and melodrama, or is that gravity and mush? Not a big problem in this particular case, but not a big credit either. B
  • Don McLean: American Pie (1971 [2003], Capitol). After the well-worn title hit, the next 5-6 songs are pretty ballads. "Everybody Loves Me, Baby" is uptempo, recycling some of the same effects deployed in the title cut, less seriousness (or superciliousness, as the case may be). Nothing really bad until we get to "The Grave" -- a really hideous war dirge. But then he pulls out the harpsichord for "Babylon," and starts arranging chorales. Two bonus cuts, only a bit better than the two former closers. C+
  • Nico, Rochereau, Roger: L'African Fiesta, Volume 1 (1962-63 [1994], Sonodisc). Nico is Nicolas Kasanda, aka Dr. Nico, a Zairean guitarist associated with Joseph Kabasele, aka Le Grand Kallé. (Not to be confused with the Nigerian, Prince Nico Mbarga.) Rochereau, of course, is Tabu Ley, the great vocalist of Zaire. Don't have a bead on Roger yet. Nice low key proto-soukous; fine, eloquent guitar work. B+
  • Nico, Kwamy, Rochereau et l'African Fiesta (1960-62 [1992], Sonodisc). Don't know much about this particular compilation. The booklet is four pages, with a piece of hand-written French in the middle spread, and no print at all on the back. One web source lists this title with the dates and note "Merveilles Du Passé 1960-1961-1962 (Mujos, Simaro Ét Kwamy)" after it. This actually sounds slightly simpler/older than the Nico/Rochereau/Roger record, despite the latter's "Volume 1" designation. Very similar work. I give this one a small edge, both for tunefulness and a bit more guitar. A-
  • Bubba Sparxxx: Deliverance (2003, Beatclub/Interscope). White southern rapper, but with Timbaland producing that doesn't seem to count for much. I count three, maybe four, terrific songs here -- none sounding anything like I expected, least of all the fastbeat finale, "Back in the Mud." I find myself liking it quite a bit, even though I'm not real certain just what it is -- other than first-rate Timbaland, that is. B+
  • Randy Travis: Rise and Shine (2002, Warner Brothers). Another great artist off on a Jesus kick. I figure I can handle almost anything, but his "we're living in the end of times" schtick, worked out in one called "Jerusalem's Cry," is way beyond the pale for me. You know, it just isn't irony these days when Christians pray for Apocalypse. After this atrocity, the next song starts out with nice, evolving into a fishing analogy, "Keep Your Lure in the Water." The two songs aren't juxtaposed -- they're antitheses. Most of the songs here are decent country arrangements -- most original, nothing from the gospel tradition. But the soaring ponderousness of "The Gift" is another major turnoff. And the closing "Valley of Pain" strikes me as sheer masochism. Somebody needs to save this guy. C

Friday, January 09, 2004

The New Yorker's ten favorite 2003 jazz CDs, in alphabetic order:

  • The Bad Plus, These Are the Vistas (Columbia)
  • Ron Carter, The Golden Striker (Blue Note)
  • Harry Connick, Jr., Other Hours (Rounder)
  • Roy Haynes, Love Letters (Columbia)
  • Shirley Horn, May the Music Never End (Verve)
  • Jason Moran, The Bandwagon (Blue Note)
  • Ted Nash, Still Evolved (Palmetto)
  • Greg Osby, St. Louis Shoes (Blue Note)
  • Wayne Shorter, Alegria (Verve)
  • Cassandra Wilson, Glamoured (Blue Note)

They sure didn't have to look very hard to find those. In the same article, Louis Menand wrote a facetious but not stupid piece on year-end top-ten lists. I'll quote a bit of it:

The first response to the appearance of the ten-best lists is simple gratitude. It is good to know that someone has been paying attention. Once upon a time, you had at least heard the names of pretty much all the albums and movies that came out. Today, a visit to Tower Records or the Virgin Megastore is an invitation to vertigo. It's not just that you don't recognize ninety per cent of the stuff for sale. You don't even recognize the categories. . . . You need, you realize, a list, and in exactly the same way that a drowning sailor needs a life preserver. The people who make these annual lists, the daily or weekly reviewers, have crossed the great sea of packaged amusement, pathos, and distraction for us, and they have emerged, clutching in their hands, just ten plastic jewel cases. Here, they say; these are the best. We can imagine the nausea and entertainment fatigue they must have suffered during their twelve-month ordeal. We admire their grit and their pluck, and we salute them.

I'd like to say thanks, but I'm not sure. Not least of all because my year-end list has now reached the 95 mark. And while I'm sure I don't intend to be esoteric, I have to admit that my #1 record is by a white rapper from Nova Scotia whose album isn't available in the US, and that my #2 album is by an avant-garde jazz bassist. My out-of-print for 25 years. And my #6 is a reissue of even older work by a Nigerian bandleader. The rest of the top ten, with one exception, is only marginally better known. But the fact is that I doubt that 85% of the adults in America have heard of my token smash hit either: test yourself now, who is Kelis?

Monday, January 05, 2004

Voted in Pazz & Jop poll today. Working on comments. One thing I did was to construct a list of pre-2002 records that I reviewed in the notebook this past year and graded A- or above. The idea was to do some research into what sort of things I've found belatedly. But on further thought, I decided that the A- list wasn't interesting enough for the comments, so I restricted the list to A and A+ records. But I had put enough work into it that I figured I should save the A- list somewhere. So here it is, in alphabetical (not rank) order:

  • Nat Adderley: Little Big Horn (1963, Riverside OJC)
  • African Salsa (1993-97 [1999], Stern's/Earthworks)
  • The Howard Alden Trio: Your Story -- The Music of Bill Evans (1994, Concord)
  • Amy Allison: Sad Girl (2001, Diesel Only)
  • Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt: God Bless Jug and Sonny (1973 [2001], Prestige)
  • Franck Avitabile: Right Time (2000 [2001], Dreyfus)
  • The Bad Plus (2000, Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Joey Baron: Down Home (1997, Intuition)
  • The Beat: Go-Go's Fusion of Funk and Hip Hop (1979-2001 [2001], Liaison, 2CD)
  • Blackalicious: A2G (1999, Quannum Projects, EP)
  • Essential Blondie: Picture This Life (1978-80 [1997], EMI)
  • Ken Boothe: A Man and His Hits (1967-84 [1999], Heartbeat)
  • Dave Brubeck: Ken Burns Jazz (1953-91 [2000], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Don Byas: Complete American Small Group Recordings (1944-46 [2001], Definitive, 4CD)
  • Sonny Clark Trio (1957 [1987], Blue Note)
  • Eddie Condon and His Band, Featuring Fats Waller, Joe Bushkin, and Joe Sullivan, Pianos: "Ballin the Jack" (1939-42 [1989], Commodore)
  • Ani DiFranco: Little Plastic Castle (1998, Righteous Babe)
  • Christy Doran/John Wolf Brennan: Henceforward (1989, Leo Lab)
  • Kenny Drew Jr. Trio: Secrets (1995, TCB)
  • Dave Edmunds: A Pile of Rock Live (1999 [2001], Castle)
  • Kahil El'Zabar/Billy Bang: Spirits Entering (2001, Delmark)
  • En Vogue: Funky Divas (1992, EastWest)
  • Mahmoud Fadl: The Drummers of the Nile Go South (2001, Piranha)
  • Fela: Shakara/London Scene (1970-71 [2000], MCA)
  • Fela: Roforofo Fight/The Fela Singles (1972-73 [2001], MCA)
  • Fela: Monkey Banana/Excuse O (1975 [2001], MCA)
  • Fela: Yellow Fever/Na Poi (1975-76 [2000], MCA)
  • Fela: Ikoyi Blindness/Kalakuta Show (1976 [2001], MCA)
  • Fela: J.J.D./Unnecessary Begging (1976-77 [2001], MCA)
  • Fela: Zombie (1976-78 [2001], MCA)
  • Fela: Coffin for Head of State/Unknown Soldier (1979-80 [2000], MCA)
  • The Best of Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (1956-57 [1997], Verve)
  • The Funky 16 Corners (1969-74 [2001], Stones Throw)
  • Funky Stuff: The Best of Funk Essentials (1973-79 [1993], Mercury/Chronicles)
  • Hal Galper: Portrait (1989, Concord)
  • Bellavista Terrace: Best of the Go-Betweens (1982-88 [1999], Beggars Banquet)
  • Dexter Gordon: Settin' the Pace (1945-47 [1999], Savoy)
  • Grant Green: Born to Be Blue (1962, Blue Note)
  • Marty Grosz & Keith Ingham and Their Paswonky Serenaders: Unsaturated Fats (1990, Stomp Off)
  • The Roy Haynes Trio Featuring Danilo Perez & John Patitucci (2000, Verve)
  • Gregory Isaacs: Ultimate Collection (1974-88 [2001], Hip-O)
  • Elmore James: Shake Your Money Maker: The Best of the Fire Sessions (1959-61 [2001], Buddha)
  • Etta James: Blue Gardenia (2001, Private Music)
  • Skip James: Devil Got My Woman (1967, Vanguard)
  • Keith Jarrett: El Juicio (The Judgment) / Life Between the Exit Signs (1967-71 [1999], Collectables)
  • George Jones: A Picture of Me / Nothing Ever Hurt Me (1972-73 [1998], Koch)
  • George Jones: I Am What I Am (1980 [2000], Epic/Legacy)
  • Le Grand Kalle et l'African Jazz (1966-1967) (1966-67 [1993], Sonodisc)
  • Freddy King Sings (1960-61, Modern Blues)
  • Freddy King: Just Pickin' (1960-64, Modern Blues)
  • The John Kirby Sextet: Complete Columbia & RCA Victor Recordings (1939-42 [2000], Definitive, 2CD)
  • Kirk Lightsey: Everything Is Changed (1986, Sunnyside)
  • Chérif Mbaw: Kham Kham (2000, Detour)
  • Mighty Terror: Pan Poetry ([1995], Ice)
  • Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet (1957 [1993], Verve)
  • Youssou N'Dour: Birth of a Star: 11 Giant Dakar Hits (1979-85 [2001], Manteca)
  • The Best of Rick Nelson, Volume 2 (1956-62 [1991], EMI America)
  • Willie Nelson: I Let My Mind Wander (1961 [1997], Kingfisher)
  • Willie Nelson: Phases and Stages (1974, Atlantic)
  • Willie Nelson: Red Headed Stranger (1975 [2000], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Willie Nelson: Old Friends / Funny How Time Slips Away (1982-85 [1999], Koch)
  • William Parker Trio: Painter's Spring (2000, Thirsty Ear)
  • William Parker/Hamid Drake: Piercing the Veil, Volume 1 (2000 [2001], Aum Fidelity)
  • The Perfect Beats: New York Electro Hip-Hop + Underground Dance Classics 1980-1985, Volume 2 (1981-84 [1998], Timber)
  • Sonny Rollins + 3 (1996, Milestone)
  • Renee Rosnes: As We Are Now (1997, Blue Note)
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Hawaii ([2001], World Music Network)
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Jamaica (1957-93 [2001], World Music Network)
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of South Africa ([1999], World Music Network)
  • Jimmy Rushing: Five Feet of Soul (1963 [1998], Collectables)
  • School Days: Crossing Division (2000, Okka Disk)
  • Mark Shim: Mind Over Matter (1997, Blue Note)
  • The Skatalites: Foundation Ska (1964-65 [1997], Heartbeat, 2CD)
  • Donna Summer: Endless Summer (1975-95 [1995], Casablanca)
  • The Donna Summer Anthology (1975-92 [1993], Casablanca, 2CD)
  • Scrolls of the Prophet: The Best of Peter Tosh (1964-81 [1999], Columbia/Legacy)
  • The Best of Hank Thompson 1966-1979 ([1996], Varese)
  • Tripleplay: Expansion Slang (1998 [2000], Boxholder)
  • Trojan Box Set: Jamaican Hits (1960-73 [2000], Sanctuary/Trojan, 3CD)
  • Chris Tyle's Silver Leaf Jazz Band of New Orleans: New Orleans Wiggle (1999, GHB)
  • Warren Vaché/Bill Charlap: 2Gether (2000, Nagel-Heyer)
  • The Vandermark 5: Single Piece Flow (1996 [1997], Atavistic)
  • Bunny Wailer: Communication (2000, Solomonic)
  • David S. Ware: Third Ear Recitation (1992 [1993], DIW)
  • John Zorn: Filmworks: 1986-1990 ([1997], Tzadik)

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Music: Initial count 8749 rated (+19), 921 unrated (-9). Frantically trying to close out my year-end list (Pazz & Jop ballot due Jan. 5; year-end work for Static due any day now). So I've started to list some records with just grades, especially things that I intend to get back to soon and write about then. (This usually happens when I play something but I'm busy trying to write about something else.)

  • Gato Barbieri: Bolivia (1971-73 [2003], Bluebird). Actually, a twofer, combining 1973's Bolivia with 1971's Under Fire, both originally on Flying Dutchman. The spine lists this as Bolivia and Under Fire, but the remaining artwork is based on the original album cover for Bolivia (the original Under Fire appears on the back of the booklet). The front cover also includes the credit "with Lonnie Liston Smith." A-
  • The Best There Ever Was: The Legendary Blues Performers ([2003], Shanachie). Front cover also claims, "Classic Recodings From the 1920's and 30's." Wish this thing had dates on the songs (ranges below represent a narrowing down of the years, based on compilations that the song is included in): Garfield Akers, "Dough Roller Blues" (1929-30); Tommy Johnson, "Big Road Blues" (1928-29); Son House, "My Black Mamma, Pt. 1" (1928-30); Mississippi John Hurt, "Ain't No Tellin'" (1928); Skip James, "Cypress Grove Blues" (1931); Blind Willie Johnson, "I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole" (1927); Blind Willie McTell, "Mama, Tain't Long Fo' Day" (1927-31); Jaydee Short, "Barefoot Blues" (1929-37); Robert Wilkins, "I'll Go With Her Blues" (1928-35); Ed Bell, "Squabblin Blues" (1927-30); Charley Patton, "It Won't Be Long" (1929); Frank Stokes, "What's the Matter Blues" (1928-29); Geeshie Wiley, "Last Kind Word Blues" (1930); William Harris, "Bullfrog Blues" (1927-29); Blind Blake, "You Gonna Quit Me Blues" (1927-28); King Solomon Hill, "The Gone Dead Train" (1927-35); Memphis Minnie, "Outdoor Blues" (1931-32); Blind Lemon Jefferson, "Prison Cell Blues" (1928); Sam Collins, "Graveyard Digger's Blues" (1929-31); Furry Lewis, "Big Chief Blues" (1927-29). A
  • The Jaki Byard Quartet With Joe Farrell: The Last From Lennie's (1965 [2003], Prestige). A-
  • Robert Cray: Time Will Tell (2003, Sanctuary). I don't like him; never have, don't expect I ever will. But the lead song here, "Survivor" tempts and escapes cliché -- "you take a little schoolboy and teach him who to hate/then you send him to the desert for the oil new Kuwait." Next song brings in the Turtle Island String Quartet, which isn't the only thing wrong with it musically -- MOR or AOR or some other crap genre I never listen to. "Back Door Slam" is a blues -- a pretty awful one. "What You Need" asserts that you need a good man, which disqualifies its protagonist. With "Spare Some Love?" he goes begging, but it strikes me as one of his few likable songs. "Distant Shore" has some decent guitar and organ. The closer, "Time Makes Two," is slow and patient and not utterly full of shit. With two good songs, 2-3 decent ones, not much completely awful, this may be his best record (at least of those I've heard) since Bad Influence. B-
  • Kimya Dawson: My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess (2003, Important). A-
  • Kimya Dawson: Knock-Knock Who? (2003, Important). By contrast, it feels like you have to listen to this one through a stethoscope. The music that barely exists in the other release is downright torpid here. The lyrics don't pounce on you either, but every now and then you get something like "the means justify the ends in the end." Toward the end the kiddie choirs start to pile on, too, and there's at least one unlistenable cut. B
  • Duke Ellington's Far East Suite (1966 [2003], Bluebird). I need to check this out against the 1966 reissue, called The Far East Suite: Special Mix. The latter I've long regarded as the most perfect of all Ellington records. This one has been stuffed to the gills (77:37 total length) with bonus tracks, which present a slight flow problem that I don't remember on Special Mix. (OK, there are slight time differences in the album tracks, which are otherwise in the same order. Special Mix added four bonus tracks: alternate takes of "Tourist Point of View," "Bluebird of Delhi," "Isfahan," and "Amad," reprising the first three pieces from the album, then the next to the last -- "Ad Lib on Nippon" runs 11:34, so the second "Amad" starts up 23+ minutes after the first ends. The new edition has seven bonus tracks, including two takes back-to-back of "Bluebird of Delhi"; "Amad" also appears second in the bonus tracks, so there is less time between initial and second appearances of pieces. Five of the seven bonus tracks are previously unissued; the other two are probably reprised from Special MixA+
  • Missy Elliott: This Is Not a Test (Gold Mind/Elektra). Just got this, and I'm rushing it to slide it into the year-end list. Don't know how far it will rise, but it's already distinguished itself above last year's Under Construction. Dense. Complex. Lots of shit to sort out. Conservatively: A-
  • 50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin' (2003, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope). It's got that Dr. Dre sound -- it's as hard to quibble over his production as it is easy to snipe at his lyrics, which 50 Cent has no problem topping. Not that he aims high -- the closest thing to an aspiration here, aside from getting rich, is "High All the Time." It's hard to take his thuggery seriously, since the only thing here that whips up a scare is the one where the white guy takes the mike. I hear this is the biggest selling record of the year. What I don't hear are hits, which suggests that this sold on hype. That might be worth exploring. But I don't hear anything here that moves beyond competent. B
  • Anders Gahnold: Flowers for Johnny (1983-85, Ayler, 2CD). A-
  • Stan Getz: Bossas and Ballads: The Lost Sessions (1989 [2003], Verve). A-
  • Merle Haggard: Like Never Before (2003, Hag). This is as short and slight as his old Capitol albums -- typical Nashville back then, with a couple of indelible classics and some quick filler. But filler like "Garbage Man" and "Philadelphia Lawyer" (joined by Willie Nelson) is timeless. The cut mangled for the title is a perfectly good tired-of-the-road song. "That's the News" isn't much more than most folks get off the TV, and its you won't have much trouble dating its war-is-over theme. "Yellow Ribbons" is his war-is-not-over song, and it's a silly one -- not that we ever went to Haggard for political analysis, but the key phrase there is "doing what we dare." The broken love songs are of a piece with his whole career, and if he seems too old for that sort of thing, you haven't heard him sing lately. Not as solid as If I Could Only Fly, but it doesn't miss by much. A-
  • Andrew Hill: Passing Ships (1969 [2003], Blue Note). This was roughly the end of the line for Hill at Blue Note, and has set in the vault until now. It is a large group -- nine pieces, with five brass instruments, Joe Farrell on various reeds, Ron Carter on bass, and Lenny White on drums. As such, it prefigures Hill's more recent, highly regarded (although not necessarily by me) large group records on Palmetto. I like it a good deal better than the recent records: it strikes me as much more cleanly organized, with superb arrangements for the two trumpets (Woody Shaw and Dizzy Reece), and excellent work by Farrell. It also gives Hill's piano more of a roll, and Hill is always worth listening to. A-
  • Ndala Kasheba: Yellow Card (2002, Limitless Sky). A-
  • Kid Koala: Some of My Best Friends are DJ's (2003, Ninja Tune). A-
  • Ludacris: Chicken-N-Beer (2003, Def Jam South). Another snap year-end judgment, but after playing this while driving around town today, I'm hooked. "Blow It Out" is great. "Stand Up" is great. The "Rob Quarters Skit" is the second best skit I've heard all year (untoppable is Lyrics Born's telephone operator). "Splash Waterfalls," where the chick answers every line with "make love to me" alternating with the more emphatic "fuck me," is best of all. That's as far as it wrapped around today, so I'm not totally clear on "Screwed Up" or "P-Poppin'" or all the gunplay toward the end, and I don't have all the Bill O'Reilly ripostes worked out. Nothing fancy here, but a dozen times or more I'm impressed by the rhymes, and the music is over the top. A-
  • Thelonious Monk: Monk in Paris: Live at the Olympia (1965 [2003], Hyena). A-
  • Murs: . . . The End of the Beginning (Definitive Jux). A-
  • Mutant Disco: A Subtle Dislocation of the Norm (1978-82 [2003], ZE, 2CD). Back around 1975 disco had crossed over from black dance music to the Bee Gees, and the Trouser Press rockers -- the ones who were waiting for punk and new wave to happen -- hated disco. By 1985 disco and new wave were over as pop music, but underground, in the dancehalls, they were hard to distinguish, eventually merging in bands like New Order. In between strange things happened, like August Darnell dropping the names of new wave clubs on the debut album of his latino-retro-disco band, Kid Creole & the Coconuts. Darnell recorded for Michael Zilkha's ZE Records, along with no wavers like James Chance (dba James White & the Blacks), studio freaks like the Was Brothers, and disco divas like Lizzy Mercier Descloux. This compilation keeps the dance beat steady, even through the demented "Contort Yourself." It is long on obscure one-shots, limiting Kid Creole to two cuts, while lavishing three (including Ringo's "Drive My Car") by the deliciously tacky Cristina. Which makes it a useful resource while we wait for the classic Kid Creole records to finally make their way back into print. And goes to show that the most interesting mutations are to the gene that codes for humor. A-
  • The Neptunes Present . . . Clones (2003, Star Trak). The most obvious problem with this compilation is that it turns their pet tricks into the common denominator. Some great cuts. Most good. A couple are crap. Closes strong, with Clipse, N.O.R.E., Dirt McGirt, and Kelis. B+
  • Best of Koffi Olomide ([2002], Next Music, 2CD). Not the easiest record to figure out, even if the booklet notes weren't in French, even if the French weren't printed in microscopic type on top of an image that renders them even more unreadable. Olomide is from Zaire (oops, Congo), previously associated with Papa Wemba. The first disc, presumably the "best of," is delightful -- I find I like it best when he slows down. The second disc are remixes, more typical soukous, which is fun, too. A-
  • Nicholas Payton: Sonic Trance (2003, Warner Bros.). This starts out odd and fragmented, and take a while (and a few bumps in the road) before it hits its stride, at which point Payton'su jazztronica groove sounds pretty good. It doesn't quite keep it up either. And I was hoping to hear more from Tim Warfield, who I take to be one of the best saxophonists working today. I haven't dissected it, but after close to a dozen plays it's settled into its niche. B+
  • Bud Powell: The Amazing Bud Powell: The Scene Changes (1958 [2003], Blue Note). The word "amazing" is overused on Powell -- Art Tatum, who really was amazing, reckoned he could cut Powell with one hand, and Powell had to get really wasted to think otherwise; but what really distinguished Powell was how logically he developed his lines, and that has rarely been more clear than on the all-originals trio session, cut shortly before he moved to Paris. A-
  • Stuff Smith: Time and Again (1936-45 [2003], Proper, 2CD). A-
  • The Stanley Brothers: The Complete Mercury Recordings (1953-58 [2003], Mercury/Chronicles, 2CD). A-
  • Steinski's Burning Out of Control: The Sugarhill Mix (1972-2003, Antidote). The way I figure it, Sugarhill Records set me back 5-10 years in getting around to rap. I never dug the human beatbox shit, hated "Rapper's Delight," hated the early compilations, never even had a kind word to say about Grandmaster Flash until the Rhino comps came out. So this does nothing for me nostalgia-wise, other than to remind me that it was the beats that finally broke down my resistance. Not even necessarily these beats, which strike me as overly square. But they do slam hard. My patience wears thin here too, but Steinski is a genius at stringing these beat-heavy pieces together, and the ongoing commentary and miscellaneous mixing keeps me coming back. A-
  • Timbaland & Magoo: Under Construction Part II (2003, Blackground/Universal). A-
  • Assif Tsahar, Mat Maneri, Jim Black: Jam (2003, Hopscotch). By far the most difficult and least rewarding of this crop of four records from Tsahar's Hopscotch label: regardless of whatever cleverness may be afoot, it moves so slowly, with patches so hard to hear, that it rarely sounds more artful than a squeaky door fluttering in the wind. I tend to blame these things on Maneri -- they do seem to happen to him much too frequently -- but I also have to wonder about Black. I mean, what's the point of having a drummer if you can't hear any drumming? Played it again, and turned it up for good measure. Some interesting details, but you got to give it a lot of patience. B-
  • The Incomparable Ethel Waters (1925-40, Columbia/Legacy). A-

Friday, January 02, 2004

Here's the lede from a Knight Ridder article by Alison Young, which showed up on the front page of The Wichita Eagle today:

Since mad cow disease was discovered in the United States last week, more than a million Americans were sickened by food they ate. About 6,000 became so ill they were hospitalized and nearly 100 died, according to federal health estimates.

But mad cow disease wasn't the culprit. Indeed, not a single American is known to have contracted the human form of the disease from eating food in this country.

Instead, salmonella, E. coli, listeria and other dangerous bacteria routinely take a huge toll on public health, yet get little of the attention that's now focused on the beef from one Washington state Holstein found infected with mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The rest of the article describes these threats further, but doesn't mention that one of the first things the Bush regime did was to cancel stricter regulations on listeria. Young explains the risk: "Listeria monocytogenes, a cold-loving bacteria found in ready-to-eat lunchmeats and hot dogs, causes about 2,500 illnesses a year, and most of those people are so ill they are hospitalized. About 500 will die, the CDC estimates." For more details on all that, see the Molly Ivins/Lou Dubose book, Bushwhacked.

It's worth remembering that the regulation-less "gilded age" ended over just this sort of food safety issue. The Bushies may damn well find that their dream of unrolling a century's worth of regulation will falter not on some achilles heel but on a queasy stomach.

More generally, both mad cow disease (which is an economic, if not a public health, disaster) and these other food-borne illnesses just go to show how misguided the War on Terror is. The US has suffered half-a-dozen catastrophes since 9/11/2001, none of which (well, excepting the Bush-committed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) have had anything to do with terrorism. In fact, the regime is at pains to point out that mad cow, the blackout, the California fires, the SARS epidemic, etc., were not works of terrorism. What they were are risks of modern life that we depend heavily on government to respond to. But Bush's priorities are completely wrong -- consider, for instance, all that smallpox vaccine that wasn't needed and nobody wanted and would probably have been a lot more dangerous if anyone had taken it, compared to this year's flu vaccine fiasco.

And it's not just the catastrophes that they can't handle. The everyday stuff, which we don't notice because it isn't hysterical news, adds up too.


Dec 2003 Feb 2004