An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, May 31, 2021
Music: Current count 35522  rated (+47), 208  unrated (-6).
Mostly old music again, continuing down the unheard Christgau list from Sir Douglas Quintet/Doug Sahm to Butch Thompson. As I'm mostly stopping for Christgau A-listers, my own grades are skewed considerably above the usual curve. I'm 71% through the file, so I'm a couple weeks from ending my first pass (and I skipped bunches of things I didn't feel like at the time). One problem I run into a lot is compilations that are no longer in print. In most cases, I can match them with song lists picked up from other compilations, so that's what I'm doing. If I'm missing 1-3 songs, I can usually pick them up on YouTube, not that the experience is the same. YouTube has been a valuable fallback, but also a nuisance, especially when it automatically segues to something else. I almost never play something twice there, which may be why Dook of the Beatniks stalled out for me.
May archive is finished, but I haven't done the requisite indexing, or unpacked the usual Music Week comments. I'll get to them later in the week. Beginning to feel like taking some time to see what else is new, but it's easier to keep ticking off a list. Another one that might be worth exploring is this one by Brazil Beat.
While working on Peter Stampfel albums this week, I found this interview, and thought it may be of interest, both on the new box and damn near everything that came before it. Among many items of interest is a discussion of Allen Lowe's latest (and greatest) project, Turn Me Loose White Man (30 CDs, plus notes on every song -- when I bought my copy, I only got one book, but the second volume came in the mail last week, so new buyers should be the whole package; link here).
Robert Christgau wrote a review of Eric Weisbard's Songbooks: The Literature of American Popular Music. I like the idea of a book about books, so ordered a copy. Back in my teens, I developed a technique for speed-reading American history books: just read the footnotes, which is where academic historians consign their own opinions, and the bibliography (especially if it is annotated). I learned a helluva lot that way. (Of course, I also had the benefit of Robert Wine's 8th grade Amerian history course -- by far the best grade school teacher I ever had. Much later, I came up with a game: go to bookstore, pick up E.D. Hirsch's Cultural Literacy and go to a random page, check whether you knew the item. I always did, and a good 80% of the items I recalled learning in Wine's class. Of course, that also says something about Hirsch.) The footnotes give you perspective, some insight into how the author thinks, and also a quick sense of what others understand about the subject. Even more useful was pouring over John A. Garraty's Historical Viewpoints, a large book of interviews with prominent American historians. (Later came out in two paperback volumes -- long out of print and damn hard to find.) Hoping Weisbard's book will provide a similar map.
Took Friday off and cooked a nice Greek dinner. Looked like this: clockwise from top right: pastisio (mac and cheese on top of ground lamb, eggplant, and tomatoes), horiatiki (chopped salad), baked lemon fish with potatoes, saganaki (fried cheese), and sweetbreads. Had walnut cake for dessert, soaked in a honey syrup.
I wrote a postscript to my Damage Assessment piece on the latest atrocities in Gaza, with my latest thinking on how to reverse and repair the tragedy of Israel's moral descent. (Occurs to me that it's been a while since I last heard the IDF described as the world's most moral military -- no, they haven't stopped lying, but no longer consider that something to boast about.) I thought I should clarify my thoughts on political strategy, lest the proposal be misconstrued as urging simple capitulation to Israel. (I wasn't able to make the link jump directly to the PS, so you'll need to scroll down.)
Seeing a lot of flag-waving soldier fetishism in the paper, on Facebook, and elsewhere today, including a lot of "ultimate sacrifice for our freedom." I can think of a lot of dead people to mourn, and a lot of family members who were in the military, but not many who died there, and not many who made a big deal out of it. My grandfather went to Europe in the Great War, and came back with medals, but hardly ever talked about it. All four of his sons served, and Bob got shot in WWII and was semi-disabled. My father was in San Francisco waiting to get shipped out when the war ended. They sent him back home to build airplanes -- something he was better at. He thought his time in the Army was the dumbest thing he ever did. My mother's siblings were mostly too young for WWI and too old for WWII, but one brother got in each, as did a few of their children. All survived, but Uncle Allen was killed in a car accident soon after. One second cousin was killed in Vietnam, but under suspicious circumstances: official story is his gun accidentally discharged while he was in a tank, but the alternate story where he was fragged. I've known other people who were killed or maimed in Vietnam -- all were terrible wastes. Uncle James did a tour in Vietnam, but he was an aircraft mechanic and never got off the base. Over the last two decades, some younger relatives (as far as I know, all from Arkansas or Oklahoma) signed up. Always struck me as a waste, but I'm not aware of anything really bad happening to them.
I can think of many people who contributed to our freedom and well being, in many ways, but soldiering wasn't one of them. Maybe you can make a case that the Civil War -- my mother's great-grandfather and two of his sons fought in that one, for Ohio, only moving to Arkansas after the war -- and WWII were worth the fight, but neither followed up with the sort of reconstruction needed to establish freedom and justice for all, which is one reason why wars with noble slogans -- like "the war to end all wars" and "the war to make the world safe for democracy" -- only led to more wars. Another reason is that with holidays like Memorial Day we pretend they were something they weren't.
New records reviewed this week:
Fail Better!: The Fall (2017 , JACC): Free jazz quintet: Luis Vicente (trumpet), Albert Cirera (soprano/tenor sax), Marcelo Dos Reis (guitar), José Miguel Pereira (bass), Marco Franco (drums/flute). Third album. B+(***) [cd]
Doug MacDonald: Live in Hawaii (2019 , DMAC Music): Guitarist, albums since 1981, quaret with vibraphonist Noel Okimoto especially prominent. B+(*) [cd]
Keith Oxman/Frank Morelli: The Ox-Mo Incident (2019 , Capri): Tenor saxophone and bassoon, Denver-based, Oxman has nine albums, mainstream, while Morelli's previous discography is classical. Quintet with piano (John Jenkins), bass, and drums; two Oxman originals, rest divided between show tunes and classical pieces (Brahms, Puccini, Rachmaninoff, two from Borodin). B+(**) [cd]
Wadada Leo Smith: Trumpet (2016 , TUM, 3CD): Released for the AACM trumpet player's 80th birthday year, this adds significantly to his seven previous solo trumpet albums. Solo trumpet is rare: few trumpet players even bother, and no one else has anywhere near that many. The first impression explains why: the tone is narrow, the dynamics slow, it's impossible to generate rhythm or much harmony, leaving you with sharp slashes and smears. Yet as I played and re-played these discs, I started to be entertained. Nice booklet with extensive notes, exploring the deep history that informs this music. B+(***) [cd]
Wadada Leo Smith: Sacred Ceremonies (2015-16 , TUM, 3CD): When I first saw these 3-CD sets, I thought compilations, but improvisers just create something new. One disc here is a trio with Bill Laswell (electric bass) and Milford Graves (drums). The other two are duos. The box is dedicated to Graves, who died last year, but his duo disc is the highlight, one of the best things he ever did. Laswell's duo is less interesting: he's a guy who works with an extraordinary range of people, and never overshadows them. The booklet, superb as usual, is especially good for its bios of Laswell and Graves. A- [cd]
Butch Thompson & Southside Aces With Charlie Devore: How Long Blues (2019 , Southside Aces): Minneapolis trad jazz group, several albums since 2005 (although this is the first in Discogs), "jazz legend" pianist also from those parts. Starts as a septet, with vocalist Devore entering for the second song. B+(*)
João Valinho/Luis Vicente/Marcelo dos Reis/Salvoandrea Lucifora: Light Machina (2020 , Multikulti Project): Drums, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar -- order unclear, as all of the material is joint improv. Especially nice outing for the trombonist, previously unknown to me. B+(***) [cd]
Marta Warelis/Carlos "Zingaro"/Helena Espvall/Marcelo dos Reis: Turqoise Dream (2019 , JACC): I guess you could call this "chamber jazz": piano, violin, cello, guitar. The Polish pianist has a couple recent records out -- not sure which one should count as her first. "Zingaro" has been around for ages, and dominates when he plays, slashing through the prickliness. B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Blue Muse (, Music Maker Foundation): Twenty-one various artist tracks from the outfit that released Hanging Tree Guitars last year. No documentation, but looks like the label has 40+ albums, many full albums by the artists listed here, so effectively this is a label sampler. Could lead to a long research project, but something to be said for the variety. B+(***) [bc]
The Nagel Heyer Allstars: Uptown Lowdown: A Jazz Salute to the Big Apple: Live at the 1999 JVC Festival New York (1999 , Nagel Heyer): Filed this under Randy Sandke, who arranged and directed, and shares the trumpet spot with Warren Vaché. Other Allstars: Allen Vaché, Ken Peplowski, Joe Temperley, and Scott Robinson (reeds); Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Eric Reed (or Mark Shane, piano), Howard Alden (guitar), Rodney Whitaker (bass), and Joe Ascione (drums). Starts with "The Harlem Medley," and returns to Ellington for the closer. B+(***)
Doug Sahm With the Sir Douglas Quintet: Rough Edges (1969 , Mercury): With Sahm moving on, Mercury scraped together this set of Quintet leftovers. Turns out leftovers is what they do best. B+(***)
Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of Doug Sahm & the Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975 (1968-75 , Mercury): CD era best-of, 22 tracks vs. 12 for Takoma's 1980 Best of, where the last 4 tracks were missing from The Complete Mercury Recordings -- two from Atlantic albums, two more that are among the album's best. A-
Doug Sahm: Hell of a Spell (1979 , Takoma): After Chrysalis bought John Fahey's Takoma label, they scrounged around for artists, and found Sahm available. The label requested a batch of blues, so Sahm dedicated this to Guitar Slim, and capped eight originals with a powerful turn on "The Things That I Used to Do." B+(***)
Doug Sahm: Juke Box Music (1989, Antone's): He recorded for Sonet in Sweden after Takoma, and lived in Canada for a spell, but here he is back in Austin, with 15 short songs, only three bearing his byline. Rhythm and blues, mostly obscure, ample horns. B+(**)
Doug Sahm: The Last Real Texas Blues Band (1988-94 , Antone's): Live at Antone's Nightclub in Austin, six tracks left over from 1988, eight more presumably more recent, nearly all blues covers. B+(*)
Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of Sir Douglas Quintet (1965-66 , Tribe): Rock band from San Antonio, led by Doug Sahm with Augie Meyers, had a breakthrough hit in 1965 with "She's a Mover," their signature a loud, pumping organ with a Tex-Mex accent. First album ("best of" could have been "rest of"), closest thing to a second hit was "The Rains Came" (31) with "Mendocino" (27) in the future. B+(**)
Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of Sir Douglas Quintet . . . Plus! (1965-67 , Westside): Adds nine tracks, singles on Tribe and other period pieces. Napster attributes this to Edsel, release date 1980, but Discogs doesn't confirm, so I went with an edition that matches what Napster offers -- partly because the title makes the point. Edsel does have a 2-CD compilation, The Crazy Cajun Recordings, that includes everything here plus much more. The extras are about as scattered as everything else. B+(**)
Sir Douglas Quintet +2: Honkey Blues (1968, Smash): Feels like they're aiming for a soul record, but as the title indicates, they have doubts. The "+2" are extra horns. Seven tracks (28:53). B
Sir Douglas Quintet: Mendocino (1969, Smash): Title cut their second biggest hit (and last of 3 to crack the top 40). They also reclaim "She's About a Mover" here. B+(**)
Sir Douglas Quintet: Together After Five (1970, Smash): Seems like he's -- all songs by Doug Sahm, except for a Dylan bit in a medley -- hit his metier, steady as it goes, no hits but everything sounds distantly related. B+(**)
Sir Douglas Quintet: 1+1+1=4 (1970, Philips): All five band members are named on the cover, but Doug Sahm is the only one on every track, and he only wrote 5 (or 6, of 11), the band ranging from 4 to 10 musicians, so sometimes you get a big band feel. While that's a little strange, it's not so bad. B+(*)
Sir Douglas Quintet: The Return of Doug Saldaña (1971, Philips): The band is back together -- at least Sahm, Meyer, and drummer John Perez, with Ricky Morales taking over on sax, and auditions for bass -- still feels more like a solo singer-songwriter album, but loose and comfortable. Signature song: "Me and My Destiny." A-
Sir Douglas Quintet: The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet (1968-71 , Takoma): Napster has this as All Time Best: The Takoma Recordings, released 2015 by a label called All Time Best, but aside from order this matches the Takoma best-of. Not inconceivable these were re-recorded, but the simplest explanation is that they were licensed from Mercury (Smash or Phillips). Sahm had moved on (or been pushed out) by 1973, and recorded a couple albums around 1980 for Takoma (after it was bought by Chrysalis). Oddly, Mercury didn't produce its own compilation until the CD era in 1990 (22 tracks vs. the 12 here, definitive until the last two, which sound like the psychedelics just kicked in). A-
Percy Sledge: The Very Best of Percy Sledge (1966-94 , Rhino): Soul singer from Alabama. I long thought of him as a one-hit wonder, for his magnificent "When a Man Loves a Woman" (1966), but he cracked the top 20 three more times to 1968, and left enough stellar material for a best-of compilation, like this one: part of a CD series that normally stops at 16 tracks, but adds an alternate take here. I didn't snap this one up because I was perfectly satisfied with The Ultimate Collection (, Atlantic), which has more songs and sticks to his 1966-69 heyday. One plus here: "True Love Travels on a Gravel Road." A-
Spinners: Spinners (1973, Atlantic): Vocal group, started near Detroit, recorded an album for Motown, but didn't take off until they moved to Atlantic and producer Thom Bell with this, their third album. I totally missed them at the time, and probably didn't put enough time into the best-of I bought much later on. Five songs charted here, but only "I'll Be There" sounds like a hit from the git-go. Still, three plays in even an oddity like "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You" was clicking. A-
Spinners: Mighty Love (1974, Atlantic): Fewer hits, although "I'm Coming Home" and "Mighty Love" suffice. B+(**)
Spinners: New and Improved (1974, Atlantic): Not clear to me that either is true. Dionne Warwick joins for a single. B+(*)
Spinners: Pick of the Litter (1975, Atlantic): Another short record (8 songs, 33:49), slow-to-mid-tempo, some chart songs, everything pretty enticing but nothing quite strikes me as a hit. B+(***)
Spinners: Happiness Is Being With the Spinners (1976, Atlantic): Fifth (and final) gold record with Atlantic, although they carried on, releasing nine more up to 1984. One of their biggest hits ("The Rubberband Man"), nothing else especially memorable. B+(*)
Spinners: The Best of Spinners (1972-76 , Atlantic): Ten tracks, all chart singles, not necessarily the biggest and/or the best hits. A-
Peter Stampfel: Dook of the Beatniks (1999 , Piety Street Files & Archaic): One of only two albums Christgau filed under the auteur's solo name. Hard to get a handle here, especially as YouTube blended into something else, but he's older than me, and I can recall my fascination with the beats, whih we must have shared. B+(***) [yt]
Peter + Zoë Stampfel: Ass in the Air (2010, Jolly Olga): With his daughter, I think, although fact-checking isn't easy. Nor do I have time to figure out what's new and what's old (the latter certainly include "Drink American," "Bad Boy," and "Dook of the Beatniks"). I can't call these duets. At most she's a backup singer, and not just because no one can match his voice. I'm sure songs like "White Man's World" and "Song of Man" are meant ironic, but can't say I enjoyed them. B+(**)
Steel Pulse: Reggae Greats (1978-80 , Mango): Reggae band from Birmingham, England; recorded three albums for Island 1978-80, the basis for this LP series (other single artist volumes: Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, Jimmy Cliff, Gregory Isaacs, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Jacob Miller, Pablo Moses, Lee Perry, Sly & Robbie, Third World, Toots & the Maytals, The Wailers), although the group went on to record for Elektra (1982-85) and MCA (1988-97). Five cuts from Handsworth Revolution, two each from the others, plus a stray single. B+(***)
Gary Stewart: Greatest Hits (1975-81 , RCA): Country singer-songwriter, grew up in Florida, burst on the scene with singles from his debut Out of Hand -- "Drinkin' Thing," "Out of Hand," "She's Acting Single (I'm Drinkin' Doubles" -- by far, his best album ever. He was one of the first country artists I got enthusiastic about. (I wrote a rave review of his 1976 album Steppin' Out, then let people talk me into thinking it wasn't that good.) This pulls nine songs from five 1975-78 albums, then tacks on a new single, which later/longer compilations unfortunately didn't bother with -- I constructed my play list from 1997's 20-cut The Essential Gary Stewart, then checked the missing "Let's Forget That We're Married" on YouTube. A-
Gary Stewart: The Essential Gary Stewart (1974-82 , RCA): Twenty tracks, ends with the title cut from his 1982 duo album with Dean Dillon, Brotherly Love. This was part of an impressive series of CD reissues, and Stewart easily fills the bill. Stewart also appeared in the slightly shorter RCA Country Legends (2004). After mergers, Sony's Legacy reused the title here for a 2-CD 2015 compilation. Also that my favorite remains 1991's Gary's Greatest, on Hightone after they licensed Stewart's RCA catalog. I'm also a fan of his MCA demos, released as You're Not the Woman You Used to Be in 1975 to cash in on his RCA hits, and some of his later Hightone records -- for which, see 2002's The Best of the Hightone Years. A-
Gary Stewart: Live at Billy Bob's Texas (2003, Smith Music Group): At 59, his wife of 43 years -- long time for a guy who made his living from cheating songs -- died of pneumonia, and a month later he shot himself dead, leaving this as his last album. Song list is a de facto best-of. A-
Super Mama Djombo: Super Mama Djombo (1979 , Cobiana): Band from Guinea-Bissau, a small former colony of Portugal, which is to say it was a port for exporting slaves. The group was formed in the mid-1970s, released several albums from 1978-83. This is considered a compilation, but seems to come from a single 1980 session. Hard to get a real feel for, but mostly quite upbeat. B+(***)
Systema Solar: Systema Solar (2009 , Chusma): Colombian group, first album (two more through 2017). Raw, exuberant, the turntablism less important than the percussion, but not by much. A-
Howard Tate: Howard Tate (1967 , Verve): Soul singer from Georgia, worked with Jerry Ragavoy, who produced three albums 1967-72, then he basically vanished until Rediscovered in 2003. His first was Get It While You Can, in 1967. This is a reissue, with two extra songs, all impressive, but risks confusion with his 1972 eponymous album. My recommendation is the 1995 CD reissue, with more top-notch material: Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions. A-
Howard Tate: Howard Tate's Reaction (1970, Turntable): Second album, produced by Johnny Nash and Lloyd Price, on the latter's label (aka Lloyd Price's Turntable). Uneven, although the singer's leaps and flourishes are impressive. B+(**)
Howard Tate: Howard Tate (1972, Atlantic): Back with Jerry Ragavoy, who produced and wrote most of the songs. Powerful voice, likes to take it over the top. A-
Hound Dog Taylor & the House Rockers: Beware of the Dog! (1974 , Alligator): Blues guitarist-singer, from Mississippi via Chicago, named Theodore Roosevelt Taylor, became a full-time musician in 1957 but didn't get a recording contract until 1971, Recorded two studio albums for Alligator, and had this live one, recorded over several sets in Chicago and Cleveland, in the works before he died in December 1975, age 60. A-
Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers: Genuine Houserocking Music (1971-73 , Alligator): Previously unreleased scraps from what we'll have to call his prime period (because it yielded his only two studio albums). Cheap guitars, cracked amplifiers, "couldn't play shit, but sure made it sound good!" Indeed, it does, especially fast and loose. Not sure why these are considered inferior to the album picks. Maybe too many Elmore James licks? Sounds to me like a feature. B+(***)
Johnnie Taylor: Chronicle: 20 Greatest Hits (1968-75 , Fantasy): Rhythm and blues singer, from Arkansas, replaced Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers in 1957, signed with Stax in 1966, charted most of his singles there but only one broke top-10 ("Who's Making Love"). Stax folded in 1975, so this ends there, missing his only number one ("Disco Lady" in 1976). Christgau described Taylor as "everything you could ask for a soul singer except great." That's not wrong, but he deserves credit for hitting the mark so consistently. A-
Irma Thomas: Sweet Soul Queen of New Orleans: The Irma Thomas Collection (1961-66 , Razor & Tie): From New Orleans, recorded for Ron as a teenager in the late 1950s, then for Minit and Imperial during this prime period, and kept working into the 1980s. No big hits, but songs like "It's Raining," "Ruler of My Heart," and "Time Is on My Side" are indelibly etched in my brain. [NB: I found 22 (of 23) songs on The Irma Thomas Collection 1961-1966 (Capitol Catalog), which doesn't show up on Discogs.] A-
Butch Thompson: Butch Thompson Plays Jelly Roll Morton Solos (1968 , Biograph): Ragtime/trad jazz pianist from Minnesota, recorded two LPs of Morton solos in 1968. This matches the second, Vol. 2, but the smaller print on the cover now reads: "Classic New Orleans Jazz Vol. 3 From the Rare Center Series." Not sure what else appeared in the series (first two volumes were by George Lewis and Jim Robinson) -- I can only speculate that they went with Vol. 2 here because it has more famous songs. B+(***)
Butch Thompson: Thompson Plays Joplin (1997 , Daring): Solo piano, ten Joplin pieces plus three others (Arthur Marshall and Louis Chauvin, both of whom wrote with Joplin). As expertly paced and finely tuned as any ragtime set I can recall. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: