An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, July 5, 2021
Music: Current count 35760  rated (+45), 212  unrated (+7).
Back in my software engineering days, someone came up with the notion of "train-leaves-the-station" release scheduling, where you pick a date (as opposed to a set of needed functionality) and release whatever you have done by the date. That way you get regular releases, even if you rarely get done what needs to be done. On the other hand, content-driven releases invariably took too long.
Releasing Music Week every Monday is a "train-leaves-the station" affair. Whatever's in by a cutoff date goes out, regardless of whether it fits together, or is obviously incomplete. Moreover, if I don't feel like writing an introduction, I don't have to. The fact is, I have nothing much to say this week. But I do have 45 records below, so that will have to do.
I should note that the Helen Merrill dive was the result of a question about Clifford Brown, the Grace Jones another question, and the Rolling Stones revisit followed a Robert Christgau Big Lookback. I'm also a bit worried that I haven't listened to the Mingus enough for the whole thing to merit that A grade, but the the second set sure does, and the Don Pullen piece added to the second disc sets the jams up perfectly.
By all means, please ask more questions.
I did collect a few more links to mid-year lists:
As I've noted, the only thing I'm doing with these lists is a quick scan and check to make sure the albums are in the Music Tracking file.
Let me also jot down the list Dan Weiss posted in Facebook, with my grades (where I have them) in brackets. His list wasn't numbered, but isn't in any typical unranked order):
He also has a much longer singles list, which I won't bother with. The only one I recognize there is Olivia Rodrigo's "Brutal," although I'm sure I've heard more. Singles don't stick to my brain like they used to.
By the way, here's the best meme I've seen on Facebook in a fair while: Climate Change: A Timeline. Even better than the Crowson cartoon I posted on July 4. Had to fish the latter out of my Facebook photo file as it's no longer in my feed. Mostly food pics there, some pretty memorable. But the jambalaya I made last week was pretty awful.
New records reviewed this week:
Gary Allan: Ruthless (2021, EMI Nashville): Country singer, from California, last name Herzberg, tenth album since 1996, most gold, first since 2013, co-wrote one song. Has a nice, even flow. B+(*)
Keshav Batish: Binaries in Cycle (2021, Woven Strands): Drummer, comes from a line of musicians in India, studying at UC Santa Cruz, first album, quartet with alto sax (Shey Sethov), piano (Lucas Hahn), and bass (Aron Caceres). Five originals, distinctive covers of Monk and Ornette Coleman. B+(**) [cd] [07-10]
Lucy Dacus: Home Video (2021, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Virginia, third album (not counting supergroup Boygenius). Cranks up the guitar, and the voice is clear. B+(**)
Doja Cat: Planet Her (2021, Kemosabe/RCA): Amala Diamini, from Los Angeles, third album, trap beats, sings more than raps, doesn't have the voice for it, but has vision and style, which makes her something more than a conceptualist. Raised my hopes, then dashed them. [Thumbs down: "Ain't Shit."] B+(*)
Elkka: Euphoric Melodies (2021, Technicolour, EP): House producer Emma Kirby, second EP (5 songs, 28:04). B+(**)
Chrissie Hynde: Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan (2021, BMG): Pretenders leader since 1980, third solo project since 2014. Nine Dylan songs, none what you'd call signature pieces, done up fairly simply, mostly her voice and guitar. B+(**)
Loraine James: Reflection (2021, Hyperdub): London-based electronica producer, third album. Rough edges, broken glass, squibs of trip-hoppy vocals. B+(*)
Amythyst Kiah: Wary + Strange (2021, Rounder): Singer-songwriter from Tennessee, second album, member of folk supergroup Our Native Daughters, leads off with the anthem "Black Myself." That's the best thing here. No problems with the change-up ballad that follows, but she never changed back. B+(*)
LSDXOXO: Dedicated 2 Disrespect (2021, XL, EP): Raushan Glasgow, from Philadelphia, DJ/producer, has two albums. Four tracks, 16:19, hard beats, trivial lyrics (e.g., "I'm a sick bitch/ I like freak sex"). B+(**)
The Mark Masters Ensemble: Masters & Baron Meet Blanton & Webster (2019 , Capri): Originally a trumpet player, Masters is a big band arranger/leader with more than a dozen records going back to 1984. Art Baron is a trombonist who played in Ellington's final orchestra and later with Mercer Ellington. Jimmy Blanton and Ben Webster were stars in Ellington's 1940-42 orchestra, Blanton's arrival in 1939 and death in 1942 defining one of Ellington's most legendary periods. Seven Ellington songs, three by Billy Strayhorn, and Juan Tizol's "Perdido." Tim Hagans is featured on trumpet. B+(***) [cd]
Bob Mintzer & WDR Big Band Cologne: Soundscapes (2019 , MCG Jazz): Saxophonist-led big band, a long term interest, dating back to his 1975-77 stretch with Buddy Rich. B+(**) [cd]
Modest Mouse: The Golden Casket (2021, Epic): Indie band based in Portland, had a run from 1996-2009 with 6 Christgau A- records (4 by me), only their second album since. Dense, complex, may deserve more attention than I feel like giving it. B+(**)
The Mountain Goats: Dark in Here (2021, Merge): It's getting harder and harder for me to get a grip on mainstream rock records -- I'm not retaining the words, the melodies all sink into sameness, nothing stands out. I should probably give up on trying to review them. But this does seem special, even if I can't quite put my finger on why. Maybe the brightness of his voice against the dark of recent history? A-
Laura Mvula: Pink Noise (2021, Atlantic): Birmingham, UK, singer-songwriter, third album, gets slotted as neo-soul but this is closer to crunchy (if not especially memorable) electropop. B+(*)
Marius Neset: A New Dawn (2021, ACT Music): Norwegian alto saxophonist, based in Copenhagen, albums since 2008. Solo. B+(*)
Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: Hope (2020 , Northern Spy): Guitarist, sings here, fifth group album with Shahzad Ismaily (bass/keyboards) and Ches Smith (drums). Leads with anti-Trump politics. Ends with heroic guitar. B+(***)
Sault: Nine (2021, Forever Living Originals): British mystery group ("pseudonymous"), black-identified, first album in 2019 titled 5, second later that year 7. Their next two albums, both Untitled, became the surprise soundtrack to last summer, when fear of pandemic was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protests. I preferred the first batch, probably because the debt to Chic was more obvious, but they continue to be intriguing as they evolve. I'm still unsure of this one. B+(***)
Slayyyter: Troubled Paradise (2021, Fader Label): Hyperpop singer-songwriter Catherine Slater, from Kirkwood in the St. Louis suburbs, first album after a 2019 mixtape. What's hyper is mostly the drums, while the porn quotient is toned down (or maybe I just wasn't paying enough attention, which I'd count as the same thing). B+(*)
Tune-Yards: Sketchy (2021, 4AD): Merrill Garbus, fifth album. Christgau A-listed the first four, but didn't rush to judgment here. I've never gotten her/them, so I figured no harm in waiting before I check this off my list. I don't mind the chaos, but can't tell what (if anything) it's covering up. And still don't care. B
Faye Webster: I Know I'm Funny Haha (2021, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter, based in Atlanta, fourth album. Not as funny as she thinks, but pleasant in its own low-key way. B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Can: Live in Stuttgart 1975 (1975 , Mute, 2CD): German experimental rock group, first album 1969, used vocalists early but had no vocals at this point, becoming increasingly ambient, a quartet with Michael Karoli (guitar), Irmin Schmidt (keybs), Holger Czukay (bass), and Jaki Leibezeit (drums). Five numbered pieces here, three for 70:09 on the first disc, 2 for 19:56 on the second. Fairly impressive, in their own limited way. B+(***) [bc]
Miles Davis: Mercy, Miles! Live at Vienne (1991 , Rhino, 2CD): Recorded a couple months before the trumpet giant died in September, in France, where he was soon to become "a Knight of their Legion of Honour." With Kenny Garrett on sax, funk keyboards, bass, drums. Eight songs (77:28, two each by Prince and Marcus Miller, only one with Davis' name on it. B+(*)
Arne DomnÚrus Quartet: Dompan at the Savoy (1990 , Phontastic): Swedish saxophonist (1924-2008), Wikipedia credits him with 44 albums as leader, many more on the side. He plays alto and clarinet here. Cover credits "featuring Ulf Johansson" (piano/trombone), and lists Sture ┼kerberg (bass) and Aage Tangaard (drums). Open with an original, then follow with eleven swing-era standards. B+(**)
Charles Mingus: Mingus at Carnegie Hall [Deluxe Edition] (1974 , Atlantic, 2CD): The bassist had floundered a bit in the late 1960s, but by 1974 he had rebounded with a superb quartet which would out-live him by a decade, led by George Adams (tenor sax) and Don Pullen (piano), with his long-time drummer Dannie Richmond. They went on to record his last great albums (Changes One and Changes Two) later in 1974, but for this concert he added Hamiet Bluiett (baritone sax) to make a quintet, and also Jon Faddis (trumpet). They played a set together, then returned with extra saxophonists (Rahsaan Roland Kirk, John Handy, Charles McPherson) to blast through two 22-24 minute Ellington jams ("Perdido" and "C-Jam Blues"). The latter were released as an LP (and later CD), one of my favorite examples of what a great bandleader Mingus could be. The Deluxe Edition restores the whole concert, starting with three long Mingus pieces plus one by Pullen. The restored parts are pretty good, with Pullen the essential star player. But the jams still blow the socks off everyone. A
Can: Landed (1975, Virgin): German rock group, debut 1969, sixth album. Some vocals on first five songs, leading into the 13:21 "Unfinished" instrumental, not quite spacey because it never really takes off. B+(**)
Grace Jones: Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions (1980-85 , Island, 2CD): From Jamaica, came to New York and worked mostly as a model. Recorded three albums for Island in the 1970s, but got little notice until her fourth, Warm Leatherette, in 1980, with Sly & Robbie creating a dub/new wave dance synthesis. This offers 6/8 cuts from Warm Leatherette ("Bullshit" is a major loss), 8/9 from Nightclubbing, 5/7 from Living My Life, the title single from Slave to the Rhythm, and 5 non-album songs, many in long/dub versions ("She's Lost Control" has one of each, totaling 17:00). B+(***)
Grace Jones: Slave to the Rhythm (1985, ZTT/Island): Trevor Horn takes over as producer. Structured as "a biography," with bits of narration and interview between songs, which themselves are stuffed to the gills without totally giving up the pretense that they are still danceable. But it isn't. B-
Helen Merrill: Helen Merrill (1954 , Emarcy): Jazz singer Jelena Ana Milcetic, born in New York of Croatian parents. This was her first album, arranged and conducted by Quincy Jones, sometimes reissued to highlight the contribution of trumpet player Clifford Brown, who gave her the same superb support he provided Sarah Vaughan and Diana Jams (all in 1955). Seven standards, seems unremarkable at first but they grow on you, fast. A-
Helen Merrill: Helen Merrill With Strings (1955 , Emarcy): Second album, cover proclaims "a new sound in jazz," "orchestra arranged and conducted by Richard Haymen," but she also has a legit jazz combo led by Hank Jones with Barry Galbraith on guitar, Milt Hinton (bass), and Sol Gubin (drums). Strings in the 1950s were usually the kiss of death, but these are fairly tasteful, as is the combo. Songs like "Anything Goes" are taken awful slow, but Merrill's vocal control is marvelous. B+(***)
Helen Merrill: Dream of You (1956 , Emarcy): Gil Evans produced, using a varying cast of 5-8 musicians over three sessions. He had started as an arranger for Claude Thornhill, and gained a measure of fame for the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions, but became much more famous for his later work with Davis, and his 1957 debut as a leader (Gil Evans & Ten). I'm not sure these arrangements deserve their reputation, but they are smart and unobtrusive, and the singer shines. B+(**)
Helen Merrill: Helen Merrill With Clifford Brown and Gil Evans (1954-56 , Emarcy): CD reissue highlights her most famous early collaborators, combining her Quincy Jones-produced debut with Clifford Brown (all 7 songs, in order) and 8 (of 12) songs from her Gil Evans-produced fourth album, Dream of You. B+(***)
Helen Merrill: Merrill at Midnight (1957, Emarcy): With Hal Mooney and His Orchestra for some fairly anodyne string arrangements. Also credits a small combo with Marian McPartland or Buddy Weed on piano, and Romeo Penque on oboe. B
Helen Merrill: You've Got a Date With the Blues (1959 , Verve): Five (of eleven) songs with "Blue[s]" in the title, two titles in French. Slow-to-mid-tempo, light touch, nicely done. B+(**)
Helen Merrill: American Country Songs (1959, Atco): Twelve songs, four by the ever-reliable Hank Williams, a couple others that hold up as standards, others a bit of a reach. Strings on eight hamper the singer's jazz instincts. B
Helen Merrill/Dick Katz: The Feeling Is Mutual (1965 , Emarcy): Pianist Katz arranged, group includes Thad Jones (cornet), Jim Hall (guitar), Ron Carter (bass), and Pete LaRoca or Arnie Wise (drums). Standards. She's always good, but Jones and Hall add something special here. B+(***) [yt]
Helen Merrill/Teddy Wilson: Helen Sings, Teddy Swings! (1970, Catalyst): Initially released in Japan, not sure when recorded but the pianist performed into the 1980s (he died at 73 in 1986). Not the best sound for the singer, but the piano sparkles on old standards. B+(**) [yt]
The Rolling Stones: Rewind (1971-1984) (1971-84 , Rolling Stones): Since I was relistening to Dirty Work, I thought I'd try to reconstruct this rare Christgau-approved compilation, with 13 songs from 9 albums -- 3 (or 4) worth owning whole, 3 (or 4) I'd advise skipping. I suspect one could find more good songs in the latter, which might make this more useful, but probably not better. Or they could have shifted the years to omit Exile and pick up Dirty Work, but licensing doesn't work like that. A-
The Rolling Stones: Sucking in the Seventies (1973-79 , Rolling Stones/Virgin): Compilation album, skips past the justly legendary 1971-72 albums to pick up in 1973, with three songs from their big 1978 comeback album, Some Girls -- except that one is an edit, another live, and they throw in a B-side not on the album. They also raid the Emotional Rescue sessions for an unreleased piece. The obscurities cut both ways: not the best the period could offer, but also not totally redundant. I was unable to construct a play list, but found most of the songs in the wrong order on YouTube, and filled in the holes so I can say I've heard it all, but not as presented. That's one caveat. No doubt there should be more. B+(**) [yt]
The Rolling Stones: Some Girls [Deluxe Edition] (1978 , Universal Republic, 2CD): Like Christgau, I skipped the original album, which I know intimately and rate among their 1970s works higher than Sticky Fingers if not quite Exile on Main Street. Most "Deluxe Edition" filler is redundant -- most often live versions and/or alternate takes -- but the 12 songs here are new (ok, a couple are covers), effectively an entire lost Rolling Stones album. Admittedly, it's a pretty minor one, falling way short of the conceits of an outfit billing itself as The World's Greatest Rock Band. But a little modesty does them good, and reminds you that it wasn't spectacle that put them on top: it was sound. A-
The Roots: Organix (1993, Remedy): Philadelphia hip-hop group, first album, runs over an hour, principally rapper Tariq Trotter (Black Thought) and drummer Ahmir Thompson (Questlove), live band has some jazzy overtones, no samples or turntables. Old school, and proud of it. B+(***) [yt]
The Roots: From the Ground Up (1994, Geffen, EP): Six songs, 32:50, four previewing their second album (Do You Want More?!!!??!). B+(**)
The Roots: Do You Want More?!!!??! (1995, DGC): Second album, first on a major label. Like the sound, but didn't catch much. B+(**)
The Roots: Dilla Joints (2010, self-released): Not a lot of info with this. Presumably at least a reference to Detroit producer James Yancey (better known as J Dilla), who died in 2006. One suggestion is that the band is playing Dilla's "greatest hits" without the electronics. Hard to say. B
Charlie Shavers: Charlie Shavers and the Blues Singers 1938-1939 (1938-39 , Timeless): Trumpet player (1917-71), started with Chu Berry, group list on Discogs is encyclopedic (Georgie Auld, Buster Bailey, Mildred Bailey, Charlie Barnet, Paul Baron, Count Basie, Sidney Bechet, several dozen more). He's not the headliner here, just the common denominator, and sometimes he gets overshadowed by the clarinet players (Buster Bailey and, especially, Bechet). Singers are Trixie Smith, Leola [Coot Grant] & Kid Wesley Wilson, Lether McGraw, Rosetta Howard, and Alberta Hunter. One cut where Shavers does get to strut his stuff is called "Toot It, Brother Armstrong." Shavers isn't much remembered these days, but he used to do a bit where he replicated the styles of a half-dozen great trumpet players, starting with Pops. He wasn't one of them, but he could sure fake it. B+(***)
Charlie Shavers: The Last Sessions [The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions] (1970 , Black & Blue): February 7-8, 18 months before the trumpet player died. Three previously unreleased tracks, almost double the length of the 1970 Live! album co-led by saxophonist Budd Johnson, with J.M. Monestier (piano), Roland Lobligeois (bass), and Oliver Jackson (drums). Shavers also sings three songs. B+(*)
Grade (or other) changes:
The Rolling Stones: Dirty Work (1986, Virgin): Played this while I was working on posting Robert Christgau's recycled review article. I never believed that the Stones were done after Exile -- well, certainly not after Some Girls -- but did pay less attention over the years. And yes, with its hard and rough angularity, this is a good one. Best song "Back to Zero," and I've always liked "Harlem Shuffle." [was: B+] A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: