An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, April 26, 2021
Music: Current count 35287  rated (+31), 220  unrated (+6).
Rough week. I was shocked and saddened to see an obituary for my cousin Don Hull. His father, Bob (Robert Lincoln Hull Jr.), was two years younger than my father, but got married a year before, and Don was 13 months older than me. Dad often said that his job growing up was to keep Bob out of trouble. Bob was the free spirit of the family, and probably figured his job was to add some spice to Dad's life. Bob got drafted and sent to Italy, where a bullet ended his war. He was part disabled, and could only work sit-down jobs. He found one driving a bus, and did that until he retired. I remember them living in a house my grandparents bought in 1942, but in the late-1950s he bought a new house in a development a couple miles southwest of us, other side of the river. We went there often, and Don (their only child) was by far my closest Hull cousin. One time, I ran away from home and spent a week or two there. We saw a lot of the Hull family until 1965, when my grandfather died. Shortly after, Uncle George died, and Bob and Lucille got divorced. I saw a lot of Bob and his second wife, Nellie, after that, but lost track of Don.
I ran into him again after I moved back to Wichita in 1999. He married, had four grown children, and a few grandchildren. He lived in El Dorado, but had a job in East Wichita, as manager of the body shop at Rusty Eck Ford. I felt instantly at ease with him, like we had a deeper connection than I recalled -- most likely, part of that was how much he reminded me of his father. (Bob and Nellie retired and moved into a trailer outside of Las Vegas. I visited them five or six times there, and they were our witnesses when Laura and I got married.) We socialized some. He fixed up some dents, and helped us buy a car. We had Don and his wife Karen, his mother Lucille, and her second husband, Glen, over for a particularly memorable dinner. Bob and Nellie had died the year before, and Lucille and Glen died a year or two later. Lately, I've mostly seen him at funerals -- most recently at Uncle James's. Always comforting to know that he was there. I wasn't aware that he was ill.
Day before seeing the obituary, I thought about calling him, hoping to compare notes on early family memories -- another opportunity I've blown. I went to the funeral on Saturday. I estimated there were about 100 people at the funeral, and close to 40 at the cemetery. Don was one of those guys who got along with everyone. Still, it was a different slice of Wichita than I'm used to. Most obviously, I doubt as many as 10 people wore masks. The minister was a close personal friend of the family, so the event had a personal familiarity that many funerals lack. Only person I knew there was Karen, but I got a chance to meet their grown children, some spouses, and some or all of the grandchildren. We talked about keeping in touch, but I don't know whether we'll see more of them. Three live in Wichita (the other in Arizona), and the youngest son is living in Bob & Lucille's old house on Euclid. Perhaps if they want to know more of the family.
I'm working on a memoir, which includes some memories and stories of the Hull family. My grandfather looked into this long ago. His grandfather, Abraham Hull, had homesteaded in western Kansas in 1868, near where my father and his siblings were born 1919-31. His grandfather was named Thomas Hull -- the only namesake I can find, although my father never mentioned him. Evidently, he joined the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and fled to Pennsylvania to avoid getting hung by the British. Maybe I was fated to be a troublemaker?
While in this rut, here is an obituary for our friend Rubena Bradley. She died, at 91, a few weeks ago, but her family has been moving slowly toward some sort of funeral/remembrance (in May, I think). She was a remarkable woman, and we were fortunate to know her. An interesting piece, not least for the curious omission of information on Mr. Bradley.
Didn't listen to much new music this week, allowing the pending queue to expand to 17 albums. Part of my lack of urgency is that more than half (11/17) of those aren't scheduled for release until May. Meanwhile, I've been combing through my list of records that Robert Christgau graded A- but I hadn't heard. This week's slice runs from E-H, although I skipped a few, some because I couldn't find them, some because I didn't fancy them at the moment). The list I'm working off has 2550 lines (326 A- grades, 31 A, 4 A+ -- the latter are comedy albums, something I've never got in the habit of listening to, even though I have the Richard Pryor box on the shelf), and it's certainly not complete, so will take a fair while to process. I'll probably tire at some point, but at the moment it's easier and more fun than trying to figure out what's new and worth the trouble.
Saw a comment on Facebook last week claiming that Jorge Ben's 1970s albums constituted one of the most impressive runs of any recording artist anywhere. I had a couple of his LPs back in the 1970s, but don't recall being very impressed, and they're currently ungraded in my database. The only one Christgau reviewed was Gil E Jorge (1975), which he had at A- and I have at B. It's the sort of record I should revisit (as I did this week to previous B grades for Etoile De Dakar and Woody Guthrie).
Thought I had froze this Sunday night, but as I was writing the intro above, played a few more records, and figured they'd be better here than held back until next week. (Especially the early Hamell on Trial records, which I couldn't find when I initially looked for them -- also had that problem with Rant & Roll.) One thing I didn't get to was doing the indexing for the April, 2021 Streamnotes compendium. I'll wrap that up later this week.
We didn't watch any of the Oscars last night. Thanks to streaming, we wound up seeing more nominated movies this year (6 of 8 nominated for best picture, missing The Father and giving up on Sound of Metal), but nothing especially great there. I would normally be delighted to see human-scaled small films come to the forefront, but that's because they're usually much better.
Finished reading Russell Cobb's The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America's Weirdest State. I learned a few things there, but I would have preferred a better organized history, as opposed to the loosely stitched mosaic of standalone articles.
New records reviewed this week:
Focusyear Band 2021: Bosque (2021, Neuklang): "International ensemble from Basel presents a multi-faceted album," the most prominent facet vocalist Tatjana Nova, although I prefer it when the horns do the talking. A student ensemble, this year produced by Wolfgang Muthspiel. B+(*) [cd] [04-29]
Binker Golding/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Moon Day (2020 , Byrd Out): British tenor/soprano saxophonist, best known for his duo Binker & Moses, appears here with a veteran free jazz bass-drums combo. Long (73:18), strong work. B+(***)
Nortonk: Nortonk (2020 , Biophilia): New York freebop quartet, none over 26: Thomas Killackey (trumpet), Gideon Forbes (alto sax), Stephen Pale (bass), Steven Cramer (drums). Short (32:39), but retains your interest. B+(**) [cdr]
Irène Schweizer/Hamid Drake: Celebration (2019 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, will turn 80 this year, ranks as one of the all-time greats, her specialty duos with drummers. This is something less than her duos with Han Bennink or Pierre Favre, but is still very impressive. A-
Todd Snider: First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder (2021, Aimless): I never read those "most anticipated albums" pieces, but if I had to write one, this would lead. Given that, this feels a bit slight, but I can't complain about the tributes to dead homies -- he's always been a "reality-based" bard, and that's to be expected after 2020. I will complain a bit about the "agnostic" shtick: if you can't believe, why not let it go? I reckon his answer is "hope and wonder," but why presuppose a cause beyond oneself? Main innovation here is in the rhythm, where he breaks from folk tradition, probably for good. A-
Earth, Wind & Fire: Open Our Eyes (1974, Columbia): Soul group, founded by Maurice White in Chicago in 1969, fifth album, first four panned by Christgau before he called this one "a fucking tour de force." I wouldn't go that far, but it's their best seller to date, an agreeable funk album with sophisticated vocals. B+(***)
The English Beat: I Just Can't Stop It (1980, IRS): Ska revival group from Birmingham, known as the Beat in the UK, but disambiguation was needed for the US market. First album, of three before their 1983 break up. Since 2016, both singers (Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger) have recorded with their own Beat groups. I still prefer the later albums, but this is nearly there. A-
Etoile 2000: Dakar Sound Volume 1 (1980-81 , Dakar Sound): Etoile De Dakar spinoff, as the band, especially founding singer-songwriter El Hadji Faye, revolt against the Youssou N'Dour's takeover. They recorded three cassettes, and this picks out six songs, most pointedly one called "Boubou N'Gary." Rougher, nothing to hold against them. [Christgau reviewed this as Etoile 2000; 4/6 tracks] B+(***) [yt]
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 3: Lay Suma Lay (1981 , Sterns): Senegalese band, formed in 1978 and broke up in 1981, best known for young singer Youssou N'Dour but exceptional all around. This series of compilations ran to four volumes 1993-98, then a fifth later (2009?), but the 2-CD Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981 is probably the one you want -- or you could scrimp with the 1-CD The Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour and Etoile De Dakar, which only goes to 1982. Still, there's very little here that falls below their highlights. A-
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 5: Maléo (1981 , Sterns): Seems to be an afterthought, appearing a decade after Volume 4, but matches an undated cassette, itself titled Maléo: Vol. 5. Two (of six) songs appear at the end of Once Upon a Time in Senegal. El Hadji Faye's "Nataludie" is the most exciting thing here, but everything else comes close. B+(***)
Eurythmics: Greatest Hits (1982-90 , Arista): Electropop duo, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, released six albums during this period (one earlier, one more in 1999 after breaking up, with Lennox going on to a steady solo career, and Stewart focusing on soundtrack shlock). Seems like there should be enough high spots for a compilation, but the one song I love, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," is the outlier -- the later singles are just straighter and harder, although I rather like "Missionary Man" (maybe because I agree with the message). [NB: I pieced together the 18-cut "international version" CD; the "vinyl version" drops back to 14 tracks, as does the US CD, with 4 songs in alternate versions.] B+(**)
Mose Se 'Fan Fan': Belle Epoque (1970-82 , RetroAfric): Congolese guitarist Mose Se Sengo (1945-2019), started with Franco's TPOK Jazz, led the band Somo Somo. A soukous pioneer, back cover describes this relatively leisurely music as "Lingala rumba." B+(***)
Mose Fan Fan/Somo Somo/Ngobila: Hello Hello (1995, Sterns): Slashes separate typographic shifts, which presumably mean something, but for me mostly raise questions. Somo Somo is Fan Fan's long-running band, but Ngobila? Six slices of fairly classic soukous. A-
Fellow Travellers: Things and Time (1993, OKra): "World's only country/dub band," recorded three albums 1990-93, this the third, with Jeb Loy Nichols country (originally from Wyoming but based in Wales), Martin Harrison dub, and Nichols' wife Loraine Morley vocal help. B+(***)
Fine Young Cannibals: Fine Young Cannibals (1985, IRS): British ska group, formed after the English Beat broke up by Andy Cox (guitar) and David Steele (bass), with singer Roland Gift -- also an actor, most memorably in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). B+(**)
Fine Young Cannibals: The Finest: The Rare and the Remixed (1985-89 , MCA): Group produced a superior second album, The Raw and the Cooked, then hung it up, This picks 5 songs each, a single from a soundtrack, and three previously unreleased tracks. Not sure this improves on the second album, but it suffices. A-
A Flock of Seagulls: A Flock of Seagulls (1982, Jive): New wave pop band, first of four albums through 1985, allegedly silly, catchy enough. No reason to favor this over their 1987 The Best of a Flock of Seagulls. B+(**)
Tennessee Ernie Ford: Sixteen Tons (1949-56 , Capitol): Artwork looks like this could be the original LP his big hit was on, but there was no such thing. I loved the single as a child, several decades before I heard Merle Travis's original, so Ford's version is the one indelibly etched in my mind. He parlayed his hit into a TV career, wasting his exceptional voice on hymns. From 1949 to his death in 1991, he recorded tons of records, but smart compilers look for filler among his early singles, especially ones with "boogie" in the title. This has 4 (of 12), plus one I hadn't heard before, "Milk 'Em in the Mornin' Blues." B+(**)
Gilberto Gil: Louvaçao (1967, Phillips): Brazilian star, Discogs credits him with 72 albums since 1967. This was his debut. Hard to tell, but hints of where he was going next, along with some strings and ballads that depend on words I can't follow. B+(**)
Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil [Frevo Rasgado] (1968 , Universal): Second album, differentiated from other eponymous albums by its first song title, widely regarded as one of his best, although I've only heard a couple, and have no sense of his career arc. First thing I'm struck by here is how radical a break he makes from the MPB norms of samba and bossa nova. Backed by Os Mutantes, famous in their own right. The shock of the weird wears off to reveal uncanny melodies and flights of fancy. CD extends the surprise with 4 bonus tracks. A-
Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil [Cérebro Eletrônico] (1969, Phillips): Third album. Lead song dominated by organ, but later tracks are guitar-driven. B+(***) [yt]
Gilberto Gil: Expresso 2222 (1972 , Philips): Arrested by the military junta in 1969, freed on condition that he leave Brazil. He cut this on returning to Bahia, which seems to be the funky corner of Brazil. B+(**)
Grandaddy: Just Like the Fambly Cat (2006, V2): Alt/indie band from Modesto, California, principally Jason Lytle, recorded four albums 1997-2006, a fifth in 2017. B+(***)
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message (1982, Deep Beats): First album by one of the first rap groups. The singles go back a couple years, and I recommend Rhino's 1994 Message From Beat Street for the extra range, backed up with Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: More of the Best. Still, only three songs here made the best-of, and "She's Fresh" is as good as any of them. Most editions of this add "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," a mash-up I probably hated at the time but like just fine now. I was pretty slow on the uptake here. A-
Woody Guthrie: Hard Travelin': The Asch Recordings, Vol. 3 (1944-49 , Smithsonian/Folkways): Folk singer, from Oklahoma, recorded some 300 songs for Moses Asch in New York, a fair sampling organized into four CDs. This one is long on union songs: not only does he see unions as the foundation of freedom, he reminds us that Hitler's against them. A-
Hamell on Trial: Big as Life (1995, Mercury): First record appeared in 1989, but this is the earliest I've found, first (or two) on a label anyone has heard of. B+(*) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword (1997, Mercury): Second Mercury record. Seems to be on his best behavior, although he cranks it up a bit toward the end. B+(**) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: Choochtown (1999, Such-a-Punch): Ed Hamell, debut album 1989, fifteen since. This is number five, the first Christgau reviewed (after two HMs). His "one-man punk band" shtick strikes me as still rooted in folk, just louder, his stories darker, more nuanced, and more literate. [2019 reissue on New West adds nine alternate takes, reiterating the album's best songs.] B+(***)
Hamell on Trial: Ed's Not Dead -- Hamell Comes Alive (2000, Such-a-Punch): Selected from a tour where Hamell was opening for Ani DiFranco, then self-released after an auto accident laid him up for nine months. Hamell's live strategy is simple: play faster and harder. B+(***)
Hamell on Trial: Tough Love (2003, Righteous Babe): First of three records for Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label. More resources, but doesn't quite know what to do with them. B+(**) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: Yap (2003, Such-a-Punch): I was looking for Rant & Roll, to no avail, but this popped up as Dec. 2020, so I figured I should check it out. Turns out it's old: spoken word, hardly any music, done on the side while he was working on Tough Love for Righteous Babe. Stories, like the memoir of Rupert Smiley ("ideas man"), a cop who sells Amway, a bit of "Star-Spangled Banner" for "the great and true patriots," a eulogy for a friend named Glover. B+(**)
Hamell on Trial: Rant & Roll [Live From Edinburgh: The Terrorism of Everyday Life (2007 , Righteous Babe): Cover reads Rant & Roll, but Bandcamp lists it as The Terrorism of Everyday Life. Discogs shows this with a different cover, where Live From Edinburgh gets the larger type. As Christgau noted, this is "basically a comedy album," where about half is stand up, sometimes with guitar riffs, leading into songs, mostly from previous albums. Possible you won't return to this often, but that's not because his rants need only be heard once. More because they demand attention, but his music also refuses to fade into the background. A- [bc]
Grade (or other) changes:
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 2: Thiapathioly (1980 , Sterns): Not sure what turned me off this when I filed my CD -- perhaps the polyrythmic perversity, which is the band's calling card. At times it can interfere with the groove, making this a bit rougher than the other volumes, but the effect is pretty amazing when it works. Covers notes "featuring Youssou N'Dour & El Hadji Faye," as did Volume 3. Volume 4 and 5 add Mar Seck, but Volume 1 only features N'Dour. [was: B] B+(***)
Woody Guthrie: Muleskinner Blues: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 2 (1944 , Smithsonian/Folkways): With the canonical classics pooled in Vol. 1, and the political fare saved until Vol. 3, this is the folkiest set of the Moe Asch recordings. Makes it less interesting, since performance was never his forte. [was: B] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: