An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, May 17, 2021
Music: Current count 35420  rated (+42), 216  unrated (-4).
Robert Christgau published his Consumer Guide: May, 2021 last week. It included reviews of five albums I had previously weighed in on (his grades in bold, mine in brackets):
Only one of these I've replayed is the Milo, which I could have nudged up a notch, but didn't have to. Spilligion got a lot of favorable press late last year, but I only gave it a single play. I checked out records by Khaira Arby and Milo below. I'm feeling a bit iffy about Arby, which strikes me as a bit raw. If I had the time, I might wind up preferring her 2015 album Gossip (unreviewed by Christgau) over the new Live in New York 2010. But I moved on.
Otherwise, I spent more time with my project of checking out old Christgau-graded but unheard-by-me albums -- a list I've been updating as I go along. I did run into a snag on Sunday, when Napster dropped into a deep funk, interrupting the music stream every few seconds, making it nearly impossible to listen to. I finally rebooted, in case background processes were hogging the computer, but with nothing else running it got worse than ever. I've complained. If the problem isn't fixed soon, I should look into other streaming services. Or give up. I can't say as I'm enjoying this very much.
We went to Rubena Bradley's funeral on Saturday. Nice service, warm remembrances. I made some cookies for the reception after (dark chocolate chip, macadamia and white chocolate chip, pecan and salted caramel chip, molasses spice with orange zest). They were pretty good, but upstaged by a tres leches cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries.
I just heard that Bob Erdos died back in 2017. He ran one of my favorite record labels, Stomp Off, and produced most of their 400+ albums. Stomp Off was a niche label, specializing in the obscure genre I like to call "real jazz." When I was writing Jazz Consumer Guide for the Village Voice, I tried chasing him down, and eventually got a single promo album: Ted Des Plantes' Washboard Wizards: Thumpin' and Bumpin' [review link]. (John Gill also sent me some of his records on Stomp Off. See [here for my review of Yerba Buena Stompers: The Yama-Yama Man.) A quick check shows 86 Stomp Off records in my database, 15 A-listed.
Another important label founder, Chicago-based Delmark's Bob Koester (another obit), died last week. Running the same database check, I have 249 Delmark records in my database, 41 A-listed. Probably helped that I got service on their jazz titles -- a mix of AACM/avant and trad jazz -- until recently. They also released a lot of blues (Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues and Magic Sam's West Side Soul put them on the map).
Bassist-composer Mario Pavone died last week. He played with Paul Bley's 1968-72 trio, with Bill Dixon and Anthony Braxton briefly, with Thomas Chapin throughout his shortened career, and has released a couple dozen albums as leader -- my favorites are Dancer's Tales (1996), Deez to Blues (2005), and Arc Trio (2013), with another half-dozen real close, and other highly-regarded albums I haven't heard (including 2 4-star Penguin Guide). Outstanding bassist, but also an exceptionally noteworthy composer.
I'm not following the news very well, but did notice this headline du jour: Man arrested in wife's murder now accused of voting for Trump in her name. As James Thompson noted on Facebook: "Why does every case of voter fraud I hear about concern a Republican committing the fraud?"
Also noticed some pieces about Israel's latest psychotic breakdown. Start with the first two here:
If you want more depth, look to Mondoweiss and Tikun Olam. Early reports in the mainstream US press were almost comically biased with tortured false equivalencies, but as the destruction has accumulated, Israel's deliberation has become harder to ignore, let alone deny. I'm particularly struck by references to "mowing the grass": I wonder how much grass there is in Israel, let alone Gaza; I wonder if the phrase wasn't tuned to appeal to Americans, as it implies something that is both routine and aesthetically pleasing; I wonder whether they realize that the main effect of mowing grass is to stimulate growth. The only thing Israel's periodic assaults on Gaza guarantees is that they'll feel the need to do it again in the not-so-distant future.
I've spent some time thinking over whether I should try to write another big piece on Israel. I spent a lot of time researching the subject in the early 2000s. In particular, I thought a lot about how to construct a mutually satisfactory solution. (From 2005, see: A New Peace Plan for Resolving the Israel Conflict.) The situation has changed considerably since then. As I noted above, from the Peel Commission in 1936 through the Bush Roadmap of 2003 (and its ever-fainter echoes, the Mitchell diplomacy of 2010-11, and the Kerry parameters of 2016), most thinking about solutions was based on Partition, with or without Transfer. Israel has occasionally voiced support for such schemes, but never committed to borders, and never been satisfied with the non-Jewish presence within their control, so no permanent "solution" has been possible. I'd argue that this has been consistent with their original colonial project, and has been legitimized because world powers (notably the UK and US) are used to thinking in such terms, but that argument isn't very helpful.
The only way out of this trap is to refocus not on states but on people, as individuals, deserving the full complement of what we now tend to call Human Rights. If everyone has the same rights wherever they live, states and their boundaries are arbitrary and irrelevant (not in the short term, but increasingly over time). As an engineer, I have some pet ideas about how to make this work. But what I've learned from experience is that nobody likes my ideas on this -- I'd say because they're all stuck in the injustices of the past, and would rather stay there. (One of the first books I read on the subject caught this idea in its title: Righteous Victims, by Benny Morris, in 1999, just before he made his hard-right political turn.)
So for now I'm sitting on my ideas, venturing no more than the tease above. I will say that neither Israel nor the Palestinians will embrace my proposals, so to have any chance they'd have to be adopted by a wide swath of world opinion, especially in the US and Europe. Several of the pieces above suggest that opinion is shifting, not just on Israel's own motives and actions but on the US "blank check" which has only led to greater racism and militarism in Israel. But also, as the piece on Andrew Yang shows, that there is still a long ways to go.
I have been working a bit on editing the Trump book. Got up to my big November 12, 2016 election entry, which took a lot of work, not because I regretted anything but because it's so damn long. Next up is the "Election Roundup" on November 19, although if you follow the link, scroll up to "Golden Oldies (5)" on November 16, which quotes various things I wrote from 2006. You may recall that was one of those years Israel tried to "mow the grass," first in the West Bank, then Gaza, then most dramatically in Lebanon. This is still a good paragraph:
Beginning to have doubts that editing the Trump blogs will work as a book. There must be a simpler, clearer way to say what needs to be said. As fascinating as watching a trainwreck might be, in the end the pile of rubble is what matters.
Going through my questions, I have three that I've been sitting on, though one is more of a suggestion than a question, and the other two are asking for or second-guessing grades. (Of course, Buck 65 is great, but I have no idea how anyone ranks over a decade. Of course, Laurie Anderson's Strange Angels is an A+. Of course, if you collect three good albums into a 2-CD package, the product is still a good one -- but why should I bother grading every configuration? I could have spent 3-4 days going over every configuration of Gladys Knight's Motowns, but they'd all wind up pretty much the same. (But in her case, the shorter Millennium Collection strikes me as the better value.)
Use this form to ask me something.
New records reviewed this week:
Aaron Germain: Bell Projections (2015-20 , Aaron Germain Music): Electric bassist, grew up in Massachusetts, moved to San Francisco area in 2000, also plays guitars here, with various musicians, recorded over five years. Paul McCandless plays oboe on two cuts, Nestor Torres is one of several flute players, mostly percussionists beyond that. B+(*) [cd] [05-14]
Maria Grand: Reciprocity (2020 , Biophilia): Swiss tenor saxophonist, based in New York, third album, sings some, trio with bass (Kanoa Mendenhall) and drums (Savannah Harris). Again impressed by her sax, less engaged by the vocals (some by Harris). B+(***) [cdr]
Jeannine Otis: Into My Heart (2021, Adrielle Music/Monpolyhouse): Singer, writes some, originally from Detroit, seems to have a checkered career with an album in 1980, some singles (as Jahneen) in the 1980s. Mix of originals and standards here. B+(**) [cd]
Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue: Zero Grasses: Ritual for the Losses (2019-20 , Pi): Born in Peoria, Illinois; parents from Taiwan and East Timor; studied classical music, ballet, theater, and opera; sixth album since 2002, group name from her 2009 album. Early favorite for Jazz Critics Poll Vocal Album, as a significant number of critics seem to like (or at least be impressed by) this sort of disjointed art song. I can't stand it, myself, but will admit that when I did force myself to listen closely, it offered a few alluring details and admirable sentiments. C+ [cd]
Amber Weekes: 'Round Midnight Re-Imagined (2021, Amber Inn Productions): Standards singer, several albums. Nothing very surprising in her reimaginings, although her take on the oft-recorded Monk ballad is touching enough. Hits more touchstones from "Hazel's Lips" and "Summer Samba" to "More Than You Know." Lots of strings. B+(*) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Khaira Arby: Live in New York 2010 (2010 , Clermont Music): Singer from Timbuktu in Mali (1959-2018), touted as the first Malian woman to start a musical career under her own name (1992). Credited with two albums (at least internationally), the first coincident with her 2010-11 tour of the US and Canada, whence this set from Bard College. Tremendous energy here. A-
Aaron Neville: Tell It Like It Is: The Sansu Years (1968-75 , HHO): New Orleans singer, best known for his group (The Neville Brothers), with various solo ventures: singles for Minit 1960-63 ("Over You"), a second batch for Sansu (studio name, records appeared on various labels), a solo career from 1986 on. This is the latest repackaging of the Allen Toussaint-produced Sansu period, 19 songs, only the title cut a big hit (although it's hard to see why "Hercules" wasn't). Mixed bag, one cut I could do without is his tortured reading of "Yesterday." B+(***)
Khaira Arby: Tchini Tchini (2012, Clermont Music, EP): Three tracks, 16:11. Fewer rough spots than on the album(s), lasts long enough to get a good groove going. B+(***)
Khaira Arby: Gossip (2015, Clermont Music): Second album released in US, reportedly her fifth overall. Strong voice, supple guitar, traditional instruments in cross-cultural splendor. Strikes me as impressive as anything I've heard her do, but I'm at a loss to make fine distinctions. B+(***)
Z.Z. Hill: The Complete Hill Records Collection/UA Recordings 1972-1975 (1972-75 , Capitol, 2CD): Three LPs rolled into 2CD. Early albums seem to have an edge, but he's pretty consistent. Nice packaging on this series (I bought quite a few of them when they were new). B+(*)
Z.Z. Hill: This Time They Told the Truth: The Columbia Years (1978-79 , Columbia/Legacy): Two years, two albums -- Let's Make a Deal (1978) and The Mark of Z.Z. (1979) -- reduced to 12 tracks, but still the most minor of way stops. The only salvageable cuts go in different directions: "Tell It Like It Is" lets his voice shine, while "Let's Have a Party" is a pure funk rhythm track. Everywhere else: strings. B
Z.Z. Hill: Z.Z. Hill (1981, Malaco): Mississippi label, opened a recording studio in 1967, but only started releasing records around 1976, billing itself as "The Last Soul Company" and picking up artists cut loose by majors as r&b evolved into new forms. Hill was one of the most important, releasing six albums up to his death in 1984 (age 48, a heart attack from a blood clot that could be traced back to a car crash). This was his debut, sounding like he was finally in his comfort zone. B+(**)
Z.Z. Hill: Down Home (1982, Malaco): Second album here, even more comfortable but he picks up better songs, and knocks most right all out of the park. No reason to prefer this over Greatest Hits, which recycles the top three. A-
Z.Z. HIll: The Rhythm & the Blues (1982, Malaco): Christgau complains about a drop in song quality, but hard for me to be that picky. Two more Greatest Hits songs, and "Wang Dang Doodle" is a shot in the arm. B+(**)
Z.Z. Hill: I'm a Blues Man (1983, Malaco): Do I detect a little more grit in his voice? He's never been bluesier, but isn't soul his calling card? Four songs made it to Greatest Hits, but they're not the ones I recall instantly. B+(***)
Z.Z. Hill: Bluesmaster (1984, Malaco): Fifth Malaco album, last before his death. Two more Greatest Hits, but the delights don't stop there. "You're Ruining My Bad Reputation" and "Why Don't You Spend the Night" are better than anything on the previous album. A-
Z.Z. Hill: In Memoriam 1935-1984 (1981-84 , Malaco): Hill was banged up in a car crash in February 1984. Two months later, he died of a heart attack, caused by a blood clot formed after the accident. He was 48. Malaco threw this first draft of history together, ten songs, pulling songs from his middle three albums and adding a couple non-album singles, then a year later came out with a slightly better-programmed Greatest Hits, only repeating "Down Home Blues" and "Someone Else Is Steppin' In." A-
Alberta Hunter: The Glory of Alberta Hunter (1982, Columbia): Blues singer, born 1895 in Memphis, recorded extensively in the 1920s, retired in the 1950s, had a second career in nursing, started singing again after she was put out to pasture. Made a big comeback at 85 with 1980's Amtrak Blues, followed by this album -- more great American soundbook than blues, especially the risqué material she's famous for. B+(**) [yt]
The Jive Five: Here We Are! (1982, Ambient Sound): Doo-wop group from Brooklyn, had their only real hit in 1961 ("My True Story"), survived the deaths of Jerome Hanna (1962) and Norman Johnson (1970), led by Eugene Pitt until 2006. This is the first of two albums they recorded in the 1980s (front cover notes "Featuring Eugene Pitt"). There are few things I love more than doo-wop, so it's nice to see it carry on, but this didn't sweep me away. B+(**)
The Jive Five: Their Greatest Hits (1961-63 , Collectables): Fourteen songs, "My True Story" the only top-ten (or sixty) hit, as far as I can tell all from Belltone -- they recorded for United Artists from 1964-66, with a minor hit ("I'm a Happy Man," 26 in 1965), and Musicor in 1967, but none of that here. The ballads are fine, but the uptempo pieces jump out. B+(**)
Joy of Cooking: Castles (1972, Capitol): Berkeley group, led by singers Toni Brown (piano) and Terry Garthwaite (guitar), released three albums 1971-72. Eponymous debut was a landmark, second album a letdown (relatively speaking), then I missed this one (aside from the songs picked up on the American Originals CD, packed in my traveling case and played recently). A-
Joy of Cooking: Back to Your Heart (1968-72 , Njoy, 2CD): One disc of studio outtakes. Other disc a live Berkeley concert, climaxing with an 11:02 "Brownsville/Mockingbird" and 9:08 of "Laugh, Don't Laugh." B+(**)
Mory Kanté: Sabou (2004, Riverboat): Guinean griot, became lead singer in Rail Band after Salif Keita left, shortly moving on to his own solo career. B+(***)
Gladys Knight and the Pips: Greatest Hits (1967-70 , Soul): A Motown group from 1966-1973, they started recording around 1958, and continued with Buddha, Columbia, and MCA up to 1988. This starts with three remade pre-Motown singles, which tend to be omitted in later Motown comps, probably because they have several more years of hits to work with. B+(**)
Gladys Knight & the Pips: The Definitive Collection (1967-73 , Motown): Motown never released a Greatest Hits Vol. 2. By 1973, they were issuing their Anthology series (2-LP, 23 tracks, expanded to 40 for the 1986 2-CD). Knight & the Pips have been represented in all the label's reissue series, like the 22-cut The Ultimate Collection (1998), the 11-song The Millennium Collection (2000), and this more recent 18-track edition. I'd like to say this one is the right-sized, but it might be a bit long. B+(***)
Gladys Knight & the Pips: Claudine (1974, Buddah): Cover explains: "The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack" and adds "Score Written and Performed by Curtis Mayfield," with some versions also noting stars James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll. Rather slight, with just six songs and an instrumental running 30:18. B+(***)
Milo: A Toothpaste Suburb (2014, Hellfyre Club): Rapper Rory Ferreira used this name before switching recently to R.A.P. Ferreira. First album, after a 2011 mixtape. Liquid beats, "Buck 65's Knee." B+(**)
Milo: Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! (2017, Ruby Yacht): Kenny Segal produced, as on 2016's So the Flies Don't Comme, but fewer (and less famous) guest shots, focuses more on the star. Hard to write about him, but dozens of rhymes catch my ear, which is all it takes for the ditzy beats to work. A-
My Bloody Valentine: Isn't Anything (1988, Relativity): Band from Dublin, reportedly more or less invented "shoegaze," a style where a band plays monotonous guitar riffs while staring passively at their shoes. I can think of examples I like, but not the two (of four) Christgau A-listed albums from this band I bought back in the day (the EP Glider and second LP Loveless). This was their first studio album (per Wikipedia, after two "mini albums" and a live one, on little-known labels). Not totally tuneless, nor totally uninteresting as noise, but no regrets at cutting them short. B [yt]
My Bloody Valentine: Tremolo (1991, Sire): Teaser for their much-anticipated album Loveless, 4 tracks, 18:36. Fucking useless. C+
My Bloody Valentine: MBV (2013, MBV): Band signed with Island in 1992, but never released anything, and officially broke up in 1997. They regrouped to tour in 2008, and eventually hacked up this third album. Title stylized m v b. B-
The Naysayer: Deathwhisker (2000, Carrot Top): Singer-songwriter Anna Padgett, first album, with co-founder Cynthia Nelson (drums) and Tara Jane O'Neill (guitar). Understated country-ish. B+(*)
The Naysayer: Pure Beauty (2002 , Carrot Top, EP): Five songs, brighter and funnier than the album, 15:16. B+(***)
Aaron Neville: Make Me Strong (1968-75 , Charly): First repackaging of the Sansu singles, 14 songs, nothing cringeworthy, hits often enough to show off his voice and Toussaint's songcraft. Long out of print. [I cribbed 13/14 songs from the HHO compilation, so should hedge a bit.] B+(***)
Aaron Neville: The Classic Aaron Neville: My Greatest Gift (1966-75 , Rounder): Christgau describes this as an "improved version of Charly's Make Me Strong," but is it? Released in the CD era, it retreats from 14 cuts to 12, repeating 7 obvious ones, adding 5 pretty good others. B+(***)
Aaron Neville: Hercules (1961-75 , Charly): Twenty-cut CD, trims Neville's Sansu selection back to 10 songs, making way for 10 early Minit sides, starting with "Over You." It's possible to find more completist reissues, like Charly's 2011 2-CD, 47-track Hercules: The Minit & Sansu Sessions: 1960-1977, But this gets you what you need, including another very choice cut: "Let's Live." A-
Aaron Neville: Orchid in the Storm (1985, Passport, EP): Six 1950s songs, 19:42, most doo-wop classics, taken slow to show off his high, quavering voice, with a splash of tenor sax (David "Fathead" Newman) on "Pledging My Love." 19:42. B+(***)
Aaron Neville: Nature Boy: The Standards Album (2003, Verve): Jazz label, jazz combo -- including Anthony Wilson (guitar) and Ron Carter (bass) -- plus a few horn spots (Roy Hargrove, Michael Brecker, Ray Anderson), with Linda Ronstadt joining for "The Very Thought of You." I suppose he always sounded mannered, but he never reminded me of José James before (although historically, that would have to be reversed). B+(*)
Aaron Neville: Bring It on Home . . . The Soul Classics (2006, Burgundy): Annoyed at first that Discogs doesn't have any credits, but the closest thing to an obscurity here is "Ain't No Sunshine" (Bill Withers), and that was close to inevitable. B+(**)
New Order: Republic (1993, Qwest): New wave guitar band, produced some of the heaviest disco music of the 1980s, and eventually got popular. Sixth studio album, the only one I missed, perhaps suspecting their run was coming to a close. Indeed, it was eight years before their seventh appeared. Still, this has a slightly lighter texture, as if the grooves are coming more naturally. B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: