Monday, May 10, 2021


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 35378 [35336] rated (+42), 220 [220] unrated (+0).

Mostly old music again, continuing down my list of albums graded by Christgau but unheard (at least in that specific release) by me. Started with Sam Baker, whose earlier (somewhat better) albums were reviewed last week. At this late date, the records tend to get a single play (unless something seems like it might be worth clarifying). I also occasionally check out lesser graded albums that catch my fancy (e.g., Lester Bangs, Handsome Boy Modelling School)), and delve deeper into some catalogs. I'm not done with Z.Z. Hill, although I'm pretty sure that the essential album is Malaco's 1986 Greatest Hits.

I've resorted my 2021 pending list to keep the records in release order. I'm trying to review things that are out, and hold back on future releases (3 well into June). Would probably be more helpful to sort the box I keep them in, but that's harder to do. Only six records in the queue that are out now but I haven't gotten to.

Very sad this week to hear that Ed Ward died. (For obituaries, see: New York Times; NPR; Rolling Stone; Austin American-Statesman. Ward was one of the main rock critics I read in the mid-1970s, leading to my own brief fling at freelance rock crit. I never met him, but we corresponded a bit, and I remember him as being very open and supportive. I learned a lot from his section in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll. In recent years, he returned to Austin, and published two volumes of rock history, up to 1977.

Two more deaths need to be noted here. Lloyd Price (88) was a major r&b and pop star in the 1950s. His early Specialty hits are worth owning (e.g., Lawdy!), but his 1956-60 pop hits (see Greatest Hits: The Original ABC-Paramount Recordings) are the ones I remember from my youth. In the 1960s he moved into business, and seems to have been quite successful there, too.

Curtis Fuller (86) also died. He was one of the most prolific trombonists of the hard bop era, most notably with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1961-66), but he led a couple dozen album, and played on many more, with a great many of the luminaries of the era. I recognized dozens of albums on his credits list, but when I went to compile an A-list I was surprised not to find many (9, 3 of those with Blakey; others with Sonny Clark, John Coltrane, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Blue Mitchell, Ernie Wilkins; surprised by how many records on the list I've heard of but haven't heard).

I'll also note that our friend Ruby Bradley's obituary belatedly appeared in the Wichita Eagle, albeit with her name misspelled. Service on Saturday, May 15. Hopefully the Eagle will correct their error. Much the same write up is also at Cochran Mortuary.

Saturday night was the first time in over a year when we had a guest over for dinner. I fixed paella valenciana (see picture), with chicken wings, kielbasa, Chinese sausage, shrimp, and lobster tail. To complement it, I made some tapas/salads (cw in picture): white beans, mushrooms in garlic sauce, cabbage and green bell pepper slaw, tuna-egg-tomato salad, roasted pepper salad. Had strawberry shortcake, key lime pie, and whipped cream on both for dessert. Food was as good as I expected, but the big surprise was getting it all done exactly on time.

I hadn't really planned the tapas part out. I thumbed through Penelope Casas' Tapas book for ideas, and noted the mushrooms and peppers recipes. For the beans and tuna recipes, I simply raided the pantry, glad to use up old cans. I bought the cabbage for my regular slaw recipe, but this was close enough I thought I'd try it. One thing I thought about making was deviled eggs stuffed with salmon, but I made them for lunch today.

I've spent months shopping for a new inkjet printer. Finally ordered a HP OfficeJet 9015e, and tried to set it up over the weekend. Horrible experience, even punting the decision on whether to sign up for their 8-month "free ink" program. They tape over the USB socket to plug the unit into a computer, as the setup can only be run with the printer connected through wi-fi to the Internet. I wound up having to download an app to my phone, then use the phone to set up the wi-fi and update the printer software. Now HP has their spyware installed directly in my office. But from that point, my Linux machines automagically picked up the printer configuration (while not noticing that the old printer had disappeared). I can also print from the phone, and the app knows about paper sizes and ink levels and such. The ink cartridges all have printed circuit cards to ensure I can't use third-party ink. You may wonder where anti-vaxxers get their conspiracy theories, but dealing with companies like HP helps explain today's paranoia.

PS on album covers. I substituted the Cucumbers' Fake Doom Years for their eponymous EP. The actual EP cover is in the top left quadrant of the compilation cover. It's also rated A-. I also didn't bother grabbing a copy of the Handsome Family's Down in the Valley. It's a long out-of-print Irish-only compilation, drawing from three albums reviewed above it. I only bothered because it was on the Christgau A-list, and was only able to do so by stringing a songlist together.


New records reviewed this week:

Carsie Blanton: Love & Rage (2021, So Ferocious): Singer-songwriter, based in New Orleans, albums since 2005, breakthrough was her 2019 album Buck Up. Eleven more first rate songs. Easy enough: to stay off her "Shit List," just "Be Good." A-

Enzo Carniel and Filippo Vignato as Silent Room: Aria (2021, Menace): French pianist, Italian trombonist, both have several previous albums. Duo first played together in tribute to avant-trombone legend Albert Mangelsdorf, but they're also into Brian Eno's ambient synths, and find a pleasing synthesis herein. B+(***) [cd]

Marianne Faithfull With Warren Ellis: She Walks in Beauty (2021, BMG): The Bad Seeds violinist used his soundtrack expertise to craft the music. Faithfull reads poetry: Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Thomas Hood and Lord Tennyson. I haven't read them in 50+ years, and doubt I ever will again, but there's no denying their brilliance. B+(**)

Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio: Moon on the Lake (2020 [2021], Libra): A rare conventional piano trio, although bassist Takashi Sugawa doubles on cello, with Ittesu Takamura on drums. Some spectacular passages, as you'd expect. B+(***) [cd]

Flow Trio With Joe McPhee: Winter Garden (2020 [2021], ESP-Disk): Tenor/soprano saxophonist Louie Belogenis, released an album in 2007 called The Flow, leading to several Flow Trio albums, with Joe Morris (bass) and Charles Downs (drums). This adds a second tenor sax, an old master making the rounds. Morris is better known as a guitarist, but plays some exceptional bass here. A- [cd]

Noah Haidu/Buster Williams/Billy Hart: Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (2020 [2021], An Die Musik): Piano trio, the pianist born in 1972, when Jarrett was 27 and conquering the world, joined on bass and drums by players of Jarrett's generation (actually, a couple years senior). All three wrote songs (5 in total), compared to one by Jarrett, plus several standards. B+(**) [cd]

Madre Vaca: The Elements (2020 [2021], Madre Vaca): Collective, based in Jacksonville, fourth album as a group but their label lists 13 albums, including ones by various members. Website lists 16 musicians, but just a quartet here: Jarrett Carter (guitar), Thomas Milovac (bass), Jonah Pierre (piano), and Benjamin Shorstein (drums), with one original piece from each (you can guess the titles). B+(*) [cd] [06-12]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

The Cucumbers: The Desk Drawer Tapes (1988-2005 [2021], Life Force): Twelve songs, recorded over the years and stuffed into a drawer. Not top drawer material, but distinct in form and spirit. B+(**)

Ojoyo: Plays Safrojazz (1996 [2021], Sunnyside): South African saxophonist Morris Goldberg, moved to New York before the fall of apartheid, where he played with Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and many others. Leads various musicians here -- one group has Chris Botti on trumpet, another Diego Urcola. The township jive vamps are fun, but neither here nor there. B+(**) [cd] [05-28]

Steve Tintweiss and the Purple Why: Markstown (1968 [2021}, Inky Dot Media): Bassist, mostly played in the 1960s on albums by ESP-Disk artists, from Albert Ayler to Patty Waters and Frank Wright. This is billed as "authentic sixties ny city avant-garde free jazz," from two dates (St. Mark's Church, The Town Hall). Compositions by the leader, quintet plus vocals, only name that jumps out at me is Mark Whitecage (tenor sax/flute). Album does feature his bass, and he impresses. B+(***) [cd]

Old music:

Sam Baker: Say Grace (2013, self-released): Strings return, used tastefully, framing literary songs that don't give up anything easily. Okay, "Ditch" does, but I'm having trouble here. B+(***)

Sam Baker: Land of Doubt (2017, self-released): More trouble following his songs, less interest in trying again. Not that I doubt I'm missing something. B+(*)

Sam Baker: Horses and Stars (2019, self-released): Live, solo with guitar and harmonica, recorded in Buffalo, ten songs from his first three albums, one each from the other two. I recognize many, but the arrangements are so spare he can only hook you with words, which is hard to do. B+(*)

Lester Bangs and the Delinquents: Jook Savages on the Brazos (1981, Live Wire): I knew him as a rock critic, corresponded a bit, but he left Creem before I could write anything for him. I met him my first night in New York, where he tried to make it as a rocker, but rarely ran into him, and never saw him perform. I bought (and kept) his single, "Let It Blurt," but never saw or heard this album -- the only one he released before his overdose (inadvertent, friends assure me) in 1982. Not as consistent as one would like, but several songs stand out, as does enough of the guitar. A- [yt]

Ronnie Barron: Blues Delicacies, Vol. 1 (1979 [1981], Vivid Sound): Ronald Barrosse (1943-97), from New Orleans, grew up in the local piano tradition along with Professor Longhair and Dr. John. Sideman with Paul Butterfield and other blues outfits, recorded his first album as Reverend Ether (1971). Discogs lists 6 releases of this album under 4 titles, the hopes expressed by Vol. 1 unrequited. Distinctive voice, familiar songs. B+(***) [yt]

Roy Brown: Hard Times (1967-68 [1973], Bluesway): His 1947 single, "Good Rockin' Tonight," is remembered as one of the first great rock and roll songs, but his King compilation (1947-57, out of print on Rhino) flounders, and his Complete Imperial Recordings (1956-58) isn't much better. This seems to be his first proper album, recorded a decade after he "retired," and released half a decade later. The big blues riffs and soul horns really lift him up, and his voice does the rest. A- [yt]

Shirley Brown: Woman to Woman (1974, Truth): Soul singer, usual church upbringing, first album, title song her first (and only) hit single, voice drew comparisons to Aretha Franklin. Recorded two more albums for Stax (1974, 1979), then resurfaced on Malaco in 1989. B+(**)

T Bone Burnett: Trap Door (1982, Warner Brothers, EP): Eventually better known as a producer, since O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), the guy every movie producer seeking roots music turned to. After his 1980 debut on Takoma, he signed to Warners, and released this 5-track, 22:08 EP before his 1983 Proof Through the Night. B+(**)

T Bone Burnett: T Bone Burnett (1986, Dot): Fourth album, new label, MCA's revived country imprint. So he goes a bit more country, but just a bit. B+(**)

Joe Cocker: Joe Cocker's Greatest Hits (1969-76 [1977], A&M): The history of interpretive rock singers starts with Elvis Presley and ends with Joe Cocker, and doesn't include much in between. Granted, the practice persists in country and pop, but even there the stars usually claim a piece of the action. Like Elvis, Cocker got by on voice and arrangement, but didn't get nearly as far. I was a big fan of his Leon Russell-organized Mad Dogs & Englishmen, but unlike Elvis he never had that many hits, even here. B+(***)

Johnny Copeland: Fuel Presents an Introduction to Johnny Copeland (1961-67 [2006], Fuel 2000): Blues guitarist-singer, born in Louisiana, moved to Houston, started recording singles in 1956. This collects 16 tracks from small labels (All Boy, Golden Eagle, Paradise, maybe others). Only one song intersects with Kent's It's Me: Classic Texas Soul 1965-72. B+(**)

Johnny Copeland: Copeland Special (1981, Rounder): First proper album, has all the chops you need for flashy blues. Also picked up a lot of horns, including three legendary avant-saxophonists (George Adams, Arthur Blythe, and Byard Lancaster), not that you'd recognize them in the mix. B+(***) [yt]

The Cucumbers: The Cucumbers (1983, Fake Doom, EP): Four songs, 10:46, "My Boyfriend" should have been a hit. Included in The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986), which is also: A-

The Cucumbers: Total Vegitility (1999, Home Office): Jangle pop band/duo from New Jersey, Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes, peaked in 1994 with Where We Sleep Tonight. Their jangle is sharpened, but not the songs. B+(**)

Miles Davis: Water Babies (1967-68 [1976], Columbia): After his second great quintet folded in 1968, Davis recruited young musicians and invented what came to be called fusion: a style that arguably ruined jazz in the 1970s, although his own records were often glorious exceptions. When Davis went on hiatus in 1975, his record company dredged up this transitional filler, with one side of classic quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams), and one one side of his next step, with Hancock and Chick Corea on electric piano, and Dave Holland on bass. B+(**)

Miles Davis: Circle in the Round (1955-70 [1979], Columbia, 2CD): More hiatus product: the first side three cuts from 1955, 1958, and 1961 (all great bands); from 1967, the 26:15 title piece, with Joe Beck sitting in on guitar; the 1968 quintet plus George Benson; and finally, from 1970, a much expanded band (Shorter and Bennie Maupin on reeds, three famous keyboard wizards, electric bass, sitar, two drummers, plus Airto Moreira on percussion) vamping on David Crosby's "Guinnevere" for 18:06. B+(**)

Miles Davis: The Man With the Horn (1980-81 [1981], Columbia): Married actress Cicely Tyson, kicked cocaine, and returned from hiatus. Jazz-funk, recorded with various lineups, but mostly Bill Evans (tenor sax), guitar, electric bass, drums, percussion. B+(**)

Miles Davis: Star People (1982-83 [1983], Columbia): Teo Macero's last production, pieced together from five studio and live dates over seven months. With Bill Evans on sax, Mike Stern (and in 1983 John Scofield) on guitar, Marcus Miller on bass (except for the last-recorded track), Al Foster drums, and Mino Cinelu perussion -- a fast, funky groove album elevated by the trumpet (not that it lasts). B+(***)

Kimya Dawson: Hidden Vagenda (2004, K): Antifolk singer-songwriter, started as the more mature half of the Moldy Peaches, went on to the more successful solo career, although both of those comparisons are strictly relative. There's a nursery rhyme simplicity to these tunes, a playfulness that rarely comes around. A-

Hakim: Talakik (2002, Mondo Melodia): Egyptian shaabi singer, nicknamed the Lion of Egypt, albums since 1991 (only 2 since 2007). B+(***)

Handsome Boy Modeling School: White People (2004, Atlantic): Prince Paul and Dan the Automator, both had independent solo careers, joined up for So . . . How's Your Girl?, one of 1999's best-regarded albums, regrouped five years later for a second (and so far last) album. Lots of guests (maybe too many), lots of skits (better than average). B+(***)

The Handsome Family: Odessa (1994, Carrot Top): Husband-and-wife duo, Brett and Rennie Sparks, plus a drummer and maybe others. He writes music, she does the lyrics, he does almost all of the singing -- she quavers punk, while his deadpan voice is clear as a bell, and no more engaging. First album. I missed one later on, but like them enough to go back to the beginning. Enough guitar drone to separate them from the folkies. Too much sarcasm for country (although they try in "Water Into Wine"). Here's another lyric: "How can you say there's only one way up/when you know there's a million ways down/ Some folks are falling, others trying to get up/ I'm the one who's staggering around." Had anyone noticed, this could have been deemed prophetic. Nowadays, of course it is. A-

The Handsome Family: Milk and Scissors (1996, Carrot Top): Second album. Settling into a groove, with fewer rough edges. B+(**)

The Handsome Family: Through the Trees (1997, Carrot Top): Third album, slipped by easily enough. B+(**)

The Handsome Family: Down in the Valley (1994-97 [1999], Independent): Irish-only release, picks songs from the first three albums, slighting the first (2 tracks, vs. 6 and 5 for the later ones). Debut is more interesting in its own right, not least because it has a rock edge the later albums lack, but the later selection kicks out lots of memorable lines. Not sure if they really picked the best songs, or the extra plays paid off. Note that their 2000 Live at Schuba's Tavern covers the same era songs, if anything more entertainingly. Rennie may avoid singing, but she doesn't shy away from the microphone between songs. A-

The Handsome Family: Twilight (2001, Carrot Top): Bland voice and simple melodies, doesn't seem like much, but I often enough find myself hanging on the words, grim as they may be. B+(***)

The Handsome Family: Smothered and Covered (1993-2001 [2003], Handsome Family Music): Demos and outtakes, covers from "Banks of the Ohio" and "Knoxville Girl" to "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and "Far Away Eyes," short instrumentals of Brett Sparks playing cello and Rennie playing prepared piano. Sound's a little weak. B+(**)

The Handsome Family: Singing Bones (2003, Carrot Top): Revisits an old folk song, "Dry Bones," best known from Bascom Lamar Lunsford, binding the murder songs, the more pervasive air of death, even to the end of the world -- twice, once in fire, again in ice. B+(***)

Ted Hawkins: Watch Your Step (1982, Rounder): Bluesman, born in Mississippi, drifted around the country, in and out of jails and asylums, wound up busking in Los Angeles. turned to music on hearing Sam Cooke, and he picked up the voice and style. First album, not clear when he recorded it. The liner notes speak of a DJ ("Johnny Jr.") discovering him in 1971, leading to demos, but it's likely these were re-recorded. B+(***)

Ted Hawkins: Happy Hour (1986, Rounder): A second album, also produced by Bruce Bromberg. Between records, he spent 18 months on a child molestation charge, which he subsequently denied. Title song is sad enough it belongs in Nashville. Or maybe it came from there? It's one of two non-originals, the other "Gypsy Woman." B+(**)

Henry Cow: Legend (1973, Virgin): Experimental British group, thought of themselves as rock but without vocals came closer to jazz. First album, aka Henry Cow and The Henry Cow Legend (all three titles appeared in 1973). Fred Frith (guitar), Tim Hodgkinson (keyboards), Geoff Leigh (reeds), John Greaves (bass), and Chris Cutler (drums), with most credited with additional instruments -- also voice toward the end. B+(**)

Henry Cow: Western Culture (1978 [1979], Broadcast): Fifth studio album, three founders remain (Frith, Hodgkinson, Cutler), plus Annemarie Roelofs (trombone, violin) and Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, oboe, soprano sax, recorder), with Hodgkinson writing the first side ("History & Prospects"), and Cooper the second ("Day by Day"). Also a couple guest spots, including Irčne Schweizer (piano). B+(***)

Z.Z. Hill: The Brand New Z.Z. Hill (1971, Mankind): R&B singer-songwriter from Texas, recorded for Kent in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, ended up his career in the 1980s with Malaco, where classic soul music was repackaged as blues. This starts with a 3-act "Blues at the Opera," where the connected by spoken word that's hard to follow. The second half songs are perfectly solid. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Nnenna Freelon: Time Traveler (Origin) [05-21]
  • Greg Germann: Tales of Time (Origin) [05-21]
  • Brent Jensen: More Sounds of a Dry Martini (Origin) [05-21]
  • Matt Niess & the Capitol Bones: The Beat Goes On (Summit)
  • Ches Smith/We All Break: Path of Seven Colors (Pyroclastic) [06-11]
  • Carlos Vega: Art of the Messenger (Origin) [05-21]