Wednesday, May 12, 2021


Music Week

April archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35216 [35184] rated (+32), 211 [209] unrated (+2).

Allergies kicked in with a vengeance this week, which is one (but by no means the only) reason I'm miserable and in a deep funk. That may have taken a toll here, as all of the recommended albums are in the "old music" section. Still, nothing new came close enough to make me suspect my mood overrode my objectivity -- except maybe the Spoon and White Stripes best-ofs (from 2019 and 2020, respectively). On the other hand, more A-list in the Old Music section than usual.

Was looking forward to Robert Christgau's April Consumer Guide, but got very little from it. I had previously given B+ reviews to the records from Mike, Dua Saleh, and Neil Young, so didn't revisit them. Couldn't find If I Have to Wreck L.A., but I did scrounge up a pretty good collection of earlier Willie Headen songs. I played White Stripes twice, and can imagine why fans like them, but wasn't moved to bump the grade up. The Spoon collection mentioned in the White Stripes review wasn't available anywhere, but I was able to create a songlist with everything on it. I always liked that band, but can't say their songs stand out, even from an average album (like the one I previously missed, Gimme Fiction). On the other hand, that early Spoon album was quite a surprise (but also note, I liked A Series of Sneaks).

Sonny Simmons died last week, so I thought I should take a look at what I missed, but didn't get very far. (Also see how group Cosmosamatics. Rapper DMX also died, but I didn't get to him at all.


New records reviewed this week:

Tamar Aphek: All Bets Are Off (2021, Kill Rock Stars): Israeli singer-songwriter (in English), plays guitar and keyboards, and plays them hard. Ends, improbably, with "As Time Goes By." B+(**)

Rahsaan Barber: Mosaic (2020 [2021], Jazz Music City, 2CD): Saxophonist (alto/tenor/baritone, sometimes two at once -- who does that remind you of?), third album, quartet with piano-bass-drums, guest trumpet and/or trombone on some tracks. Roland Barber's trombone is a nice touch. B+(**)

Benny the Butcher: The Plugs I Met 2 (2021, Black Soprano Family, EP): Buffalo rapper Jeremie Pennick, has a bunch of mixtapes since 2004, two albums, five EPs -- this one's more like a short album (9 songs, 28:33). B+(**)

Cabaret Voltaire: Dekadrone (2021, Mute): British new wave/industrial pioneers, debut 1978, disbanded 1994, returned as an alias for founder Richard H Kirk with a 2020 album. Early stuff was hit and miss, but they found an awesome groove in the mid-1980s (e.g., The Original Sound of Sheffield '83-'87: The Best of the Virgin/EMI Years). Not much groove here, with a single 49:55 track, ambient that prods you incessantly. I enjoy short stretches, but find it a bit tedious at such length. B+(*)

Sarah Mary Chadwick: Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby (2021, Ba Da Bing!): Singer-songwriter from New Zealand via Australia, Discogs lists his as her eighth album since 2012, mostly on labels I've never heard of (like Bedroom Suck and Rice Is Nice). Lo-fi, cut in her living room, stark and barren. I don't much care for it, but if you let it in, you may care a lot. B+(**)

Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By: Side B (2020, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope): Sequel to the "Side A" January, 2020 release, again playing off Alfred Hitchcock samples. Physical package recycles "Side A" as a second CD, but we'll ignore that here (I just deleted the extra tracks, which I gave a marginal A- to back in February). This is a bit more scattershot, but while his shtick isn't new, he can still dazzle. B+(***)

Joe Fahey: February on Ice (2021, Rough Fish): Minneapolis singer-songwriter. Has a couple previous albums, but nothing Discogs or Wikipedia have noticed. Rocks some, chills out, lyrics tend to ramble, but unique enough he may be worth the trouble. Or maybe not. Choice cut: "Fuck the Republicans." B+(***)

Girl in Red: Chapter 1 (2018, AWAL/Human Sounds, EP): Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven, started recording songs in her bedroom and releasing them on Soundcloud, her debut ("I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend") getting 100 million streams. It leads off five songs here, 13:25, understated jangle pop. B+(*)

Girl in Red: Chapter 2 (2019, AWAL, EP): Five more songs, 15:53. B+(*)

Hennessy Six/Colorado Springs Youth Symphony: The Road Less Traveled (2020 [2021], Summit): Four tracks composed by Sean Schafer Hennessy (trumpet), the others by band members Cully Joyce (tenor sax/alto flute) and Colin McAllister (guitar). The Symphony adds to the kitchen sink effect, mostly strings. I find it all a bit excessive, but it does have some moments. B+(*) [cd]

Yvette Janine Jackson: Freedom (2021, Fridman Gallery): Sound engineer, based in Kansas, two pieces (22:09 and 19:42), plus two excerpts from same. Electroacoustic "radio opera," occasional words. LP has liner notes by Gregory Tate. B+(*) [bc]

Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Soundprints: Other Worlds (2020 [2021], Greenleaf Music): Poll winners at tenor sax and trumpet, at least when they convened this quintet in 2013. Third album, with Lawrence Fields (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). Five compositions each for the leaders. Too much talent here to make a bad record, but that talent is wasted on the unison riffing. B+(*) [cd] [05-07]

Dax Pierson: Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction) (2021, Dark Entries): Played keyboards in band Subtle (2001-08) before an auto accident paralyzed him from chest down. Returned as a techno producer, with Live in Oakland in 2019, now this. B+(**)

Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Soné Ka-La 2: Odyssey (2020 [2021], Enja): Saxophonist, from Guadeloupe, debut 1999, released Sone Ka-La in 2006. Band with piano, bass, drums, and extra percussion, incorporating gwoka rhythms. So far, so good, but I'm less fond of vocalist Malika Tirolien, scatting along like an extra horn. B+(*) [cd] [05-21]

The Weather Station: Ignorance (2021, Fat Possum): Canadian band fronted by singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman, folkie roots, fifth album since 2009. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Gary Lucas: The Essential Gary Lucas (1981-2020 [2021], Knitting Factory, 2CD): Guitarist, from Syracuse, played with Captain Beefheart circa 1980, and memorialized him with his Fast 'N' Bulbous tribute band (again in 2017 with Nona Hendryx). This is billed as a 40-year retrospective, with 36 songs from 30+ widely scattered albums. Hard to find details online, but first disc is fairly conventional singer-songwriter fare (with better-than-average guitar), with second more eclectic/experimental (often, but not necessarily, better). B+(*)

Spoon: Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon (2001-19 [2019], Matador): Indie band from Austin, founded in 1993 by Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, seven albums 2001-17 (plus reissues of 1990s work). Conceived of as an introduction/overview, but does have two hit singles ("Don't You Evah" and "Got Nuffin"), two more chart songs (30, 31). Given how many Spoon albums I've A-listed (4), I'm surprised I don't find this more engaging. [Songlist from other sources.] B+(***)

The White Stripes: My Sister Thanks You and I Thank You: Greatest Hits (1998-2007 [2020], Third Man): Critically acclaimed alt/indie band from a period when I had lost my interest in same, so while I heard (and sometimes rated favorably) their records, I don't remember anything on them, or recognize anything here except for the occasional cover. This is a generous selection (26 songs, 79:28), probably a useful substitute for their six albums, not that you need one. Despite some impressive guitar I can't say as I enjoyed it much. B+(***)

Old music:

Willie Headen: Blame It on the Blues (1954-60 [2006], Ace): R&B singer, recorded singles for Dootone/Dooto, a dozen of which were collected in a 1960 LP with this artwork, except his name appeared as Willie Hayden. Reissue doubles the length, picking up some previously unreleased takes. Has a bit of Bobby Bland in his voice. B+(***)

Justin Hinds & the Dominoes: Carry Go Bring Come: The Anthology (1963-72 [2005], Trojan, 2CD): Ska singer, worked with Duke Reid from 1963, recording scores of singles to 1972, none bigger than the title song in 1964 (original credited to Billy Ward & the Dominoes, with a second version later), which stand out, with dozens of other songs coming close enough. A-

Justin Hinds and the Dominoes: Jezebel (1976, Island): After leaving Reid, Hinds worked the Jack Ruby. This is the first of two albums Island released, which got lost behind the bigger names. Rasta roots, plenty of groove. B+(***) [yt]

Justin Hinds and the Dominoes: Just in Time (1978, Mango): Second album, also produced by Jack Ruby. Opening songs are "Let's Rock," "Let Jah Arise," "Help Your Falling Brother," but the one that hooks is "Bad Minded People." Second side goes pop, with a bubbly "(On) Broadway" and the self-evident "Groovin'," but the originals are even more seductive. A-

The Itals: Early Recordings 1971-1979 (1971-79 [1987], Nighthawk): Reggae vocal trio, roots oriented, issued four albums on this label 1981-88, plus this compilation of early singles and other tracks I can't trace. B+(*)

The Itals: Give Me Power (1983, Nighthawk): Second album, after Brutal Out Deh (1981). B+(**)

The Itals: Rasta Philosophy (1985 [1997], Nighthawk): Third album, a short one (CD has 7 songs, 26:25, one more song than the original vinyl), but some of their best harmonies. B+(***)

The Itals: Cool and Dread (1988, Nighthawk): Fourth album, can hold a groove, have something to say. Still, at the end of the album, I found myself carrying on, with some other song in my head. B+(**)

The Plastic People of the Universe: Apokalyptickej Pták (1976 [2017], Galén): Czech rock band led by bassist Milan Hlavsa, founded in the "Prague Spring" of 1968, drawing inspiration from Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground. Went underground in 1970, and were tried and imprisoned in 1976, shortly after this concert was recorded. They broke up in 1988, with some members joining the similar-minded Pulnoc, and regrouped in 1997, continuing after Hlavsa's death in 2001. Live artifacts detract somewhat, and I suspect the bouts of Zappaesque artiness, but the instrumental stretches are extraordinary. A-

Duke Reid's Treasure Chest (1964-70 [1992], Heartbeat, 2CD): One of Jamaica's top producers in the ska and rocksteady eras, set up his sound system in 1953, died in 1975. This collects his work for Treasure Isle Records. Some classics here, lots of also-rans. B+(**)

Sonny Simmons: Staying on the Watch (1966, ESP-Disk): Alto saxophonist, cut a couple records with Prince Lasha before this debut, a quintet with wife Barbara Donald (a blistering trumpet), John Hicks (piano), bass, and drums. B+(***)

Sonny Simmons: Music From the Spheres (1966, ESP-Disk): Quintet with Barbara Donald (trumpet), piano, bass, and drums, plus tenor sax (Burt Wilson) on one cut ("Dolphy's Days"). Fast and bracing. A-

Sonny Simmons: Manhattan Egos (1969 [2000], Arhoolie): Alto saxophonist, also plays English horn. Original album with trumpet (Barbara Donald), bass/congas (Juma), and drums (Paul Smith). CD adds four tracks from a live set in Berkeley, with a different group -- no trumpet, but add Michael White (violin). A-

Spoon: Telephono (1996, Matador): First album, a trio with singer-songwriter Britt Daniel (guitar), Andy Maguire (bass), and Jim Eno (drums). Fourteen tight, twisted songs, 34:59, intense, bass cranked up. A band with a future, even if as something else. A-

Spoon: Gimme Fiction (2005, Merge): The one album I missed from 1998 on, probably because Christgau's B+ review made it seem inessential, and I hadn't discovered streaming yet. I won't swear he's wrong, but this seems every bit as consistent as the "best of," and if anything the relatively light touch on the vocals is a plus. B+(***)


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

  • Adeena Karasick/Frank London: Salomé: Woman of Valor (2020, Nuiu Music): [bc: 1/14, 3:53/?]: +


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rossano Baldini: Humanbeing (RareNoise): cdr [05-28]
  • David Friesen & Bob Ravenscroft: Passage (Origin)
  • Rich Pellegrin: Solitude (OA2)
  • Three-Layer Cake: Stove Top (RareNoise): cdr [05-28]
  • Michael Waldrop: Time Frames (Origin)
  • Rodney Whitaker: OutroSpection: The Music of Gregg Hill (Origin)