An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, September 13, 2021
Music: Current count 36230  rated (+36), 231  unrated (+1).
Today is the 50th anniversary of the massacre at Attica Prison in western upstate New York, ordered by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who managed to have almost twice as many people killed as his grandfather John D. Rockefeller did in Ludlow. This is all documented in the HBO Max film Betrayal at Attica. Amy Goodman did a feature on Attica today, drawing most of her visuals from the film (with a lot of blurring and bleeping): see here and here. Also, here's a 2:14 clip just of Michael Hull's summation at the end of the show.
I wrote a fair bit about Attica in Friday's Speaking of Which. Also on the journey from 9/11 to the end of the road in Afghanistan -- or what should be the end, unless they decide to further indulge their neuroses and keep fucking with the country long after the troops left and their delusions were shattered. As you can still see in Korea, nobody holds a grudge as long or as obsessively as the U.S. of A. I wrote more on this in a bonus Sunday Speaking of Which. I think it's fair to say that America is on "suicide watch" now. Unless people definitively reject this Republican talking point bullshit, the country is doomed.
Here's one example from today's news: Blinken pledges $64 million in aid to Afghanistan, vows to circumvent Taliban. This is a pittance compared to the billions of Afghan funds the US froze when the Taliban came to power, reminding us that the US would always put political considerations above the welfare of the Afghan people. This may feel like an end-run around the Taliban, but NGOs will only be tolerated in Afghanistan as long as they help stabilize the Taliban government. Blinken appears before Congress today to get savaged by Republicans for surrendering to the Taliban, so he'll be pushed to act tough and resolute, at a time when the US really needs to show some remorse, and some modesty.
: Virtually everything that Biden gets slammed for these days is the culmination of problems that festered during the Trump reign. Which isn't to say that previous administrations, including Obama's, weren't also culpable, but things really go to hell when you put a Republican in charge. Covid-19, the pandemic-cratered economy, the disaster climate, and Afghanistan are prime examples. Deregulation, pollution, inequality, monopolies, racism are slower burn disasters, but all advanced significantly under Trump (as they did under Reagan and the Bushes, not that Clinton or Obama made any heroic efforts otherwise). But as costly as its direct acts were, the biggest charge against the Trump administration may turn out to be the squandering of four years. Economists call this opportunity costs, and they may wind up being staggering. That climate has moved from a long-term to an everyday concern shows how seemingly inconsequential delays can add up until they turn catastrophic.
Although I harbor an optimistic streak that leads me to repeatedly suggest ways the US could learn from its failures, I suspect that Nesrin Malik is right in Why the west will learn no lessons from the fall of Kabul:
Rated count is down this week, although if you count the Braxton box as 13 and the Futterman as 5, the rated total would hit 52. Took me most of the week to work through Braxton, but it was great fun, and I was pretty clear what I wanted to say about it midway. The Futterman box was a closer call, and it almost certainly helped to have the actual CDs and box on hand. For many years I considered 30 records to be a banner week, but this year I've been streaming to a lot of old music, which building on prior knowledge takes fewer replays and less attention. Last week I noticed that Napster had Vol. 2 and 3 of Roy Milton in the "Legends of Specialty" series, so this week I decided to check out everything else in the series I had missed. Again, I heartily recommend the first volumes of Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins, Percy Mayfield, Art Neville, Lloyd Price, and Little Richard. I especially love Specialty's Creole Kings of New Orleans, so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to its Volume Two. It's not as good, but makes me wonder why they never put out a Professor Longhair comp.
Christgau reviewed More Girl Group Greats in his September Consumer Guide (a B+). It's not on Napster, but I had no trouble constructing a playlist with everything, and decided not to be so picky. Very little in this CG I hadn't heard before: the Leroy Carr is one of three I know (all A-). I dismissed recent records by Lucy Dacus, Front Bottoms, Dylan Hicks, and Tune-Yards with various B/B+ grades, but agree with the A- for James McMurtry. I remember checking out the 2011 Front Bottoms album after Jason Gross EOY-listed it, and thought it was pretty good, though maybe a little slick. I haven't had much interest in even the catchier alt/indie bands since Christgau took me to a Sloan/Fountains of Wayne show I found totally boring, so the group is much more up his alley than mine (even if it took him longer to get to it). But I suppose I should replay the new one, and maybe some of the in-betweeners. But I'm really sick of Tune-Yards by now.
The other new stuff this week mostly comes out of a Facebook list from Sidney Carpenter-Wilson, plus some related discussion. Dan Weiss seems to really like the Turnstile album, but I have no idea why. The one I probably should have given a second spin to is YSL -- some very catchy stuff toward the end.
Alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc died last week. Most sources have him born in 1951, but the first obituary says he was 76 when he died (then gives Aug. 5, 1946 as his birth date, which works out to 75). I had two of his records listed as A-: New World Pygmies (2000) and Live at Glenn Miller Café Vol. 1 (2002), so I felt like checking out some more things. Much to my chagrin, the records on Eremite Bandcamp are only available as fragments, but I felt like checking out what I could, under "limited sampling" below.
I should note that jazz impressario George Wein has died, at 95. I don't have anything personal to add about Wein (or for that matter broadcaster Phil Schaap, who died a couple days ago), but I was touched by Matt Merewitz's exclamation, "What a life!" Actually, I do have one thing on Schaap: Liz Fink, who generally didn't do that sort of thing, used to do a hilarious impression of Schaap.
One more housekeeping item. When I wanted to make a generic reference to Music Week above, I wished I had some way to just pull out the Music Week blog entries. I thought about writing a new program, then it occurred to me that I could just add a little argument hack to my regular script. I did, and added the link to the nav menu under Blog, upper left, as well as a couple other titles I've used repeatedly.
Moved into the second volume of Ed Ward's History of Rock & Roll.
New records reviewed this week:
Benny the Butcher: Pyrex Picasso (2018 , Rare Scrilla/BSF, EP): Buffalo rapper, pulled this short session (7 tracks, 19:01) from the vault. B+(*)
Eric Bibb: Dear America (2021, Provogue): Mild-mannered blues songster, just hit 70, surprised to see that he's approaching his 50th album. Many of them are collaborations, and half of these songs have "featuring" artists -- two with bassist Ron Carter. B+(**)
Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Standards) 2020 (2020 , New Braxton House, 13CD): European tour, the alto saxophonist picked up a rhythm section in Britain: Alexander Hawkins (piano), Neil Charles (bass), and Stephen Davis (drums). With 67 tracks, median close to 10 minutes, way too much for anyone to work through, especially streaming, but Braxton's previous forays into standards -- especially the 2003 Quartet, which filled up two 4-CD boxes -- have often been brilliant. I've been sampling this between other records, rarely for more than an hour at a time. It's not brilliant, at least not in the sense that his Parker, Monk, and Tristano sets were, but it's engaging and often quite delightful. A- [bc]
Chubby and the Gang: The Mutt's Nuts (2021, Partisan): British hardcore/punk band, Charlie Manning-Walker singer, a couple guitars, bass, and drums. Guitar is a bit fancy for punk, and they drop a slow, acoustic one in the middle ("Take Me Home to London"). B+(**)
Homeboy Sandman: Anjelitu (2021, Mello Music Group, EP): New York rapper Angel Del Villar II, debut 2007, prefers EPs to albums but often blurs the line. This one's 6 tracks, 18:44, produced by Aesop Rock, who joins in on the closer, "Lice Team, Baby" (after the duo's Lice albums). Leads off with "Go Hard," and keeps with it. All six songs are powerful, prickly, even if I'm not even considering swearing off beef, or drinking cow's milk. A-
Mushroom: Songs of Dissent: Live at the Make Out Room 8/9/19 (2019 , Alchemikal Art): Bay Area psych band founded in 1996, fairly active through 2007, reunion here with three original members, including drummer Pat Thomas (not to be confused with the British pianist or the Nigerian juju star), extra guitars and synths and percussion and a bit of sax. B+(**) [cd]
Polo G: Hall of Fame (2021, Columbia/Only Dreamers Achieve): Rapper Taurus Bartlett, from Chicago, third album at 22, titles show an advancing concern with fame. B+(*)
Sturgill Simpson: The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (2021, High Top Mountain, EP): Country singer-songwriter, pre-pandemic seemed aimed at high-concept fusion, took a turn last year with two excellent volumes of bluegrass, veers again here with a short album (10 tracks but more like 6-7 songs, 27:46), a concept "about love among the legends of the Kentucky frontier." B+(**)
Cleo Sol: Mother (2021, Forever Living Originals): British r&b singer, Cleopatra Nikolic, second album. Soft voice, stripped down groove, grows on you. B+(***)
Turnstile: Glow On (2021, Roadrunner): Baltimore band, started hardcore, third album is merely hard, and not a little catchy. B+(*)
We Are the Union: Ordinary Life (2021, Bad Time): Ska-punk band from Ann Arbor, the horns are the giveaway, fifth album since 2007. B+(*)
Young Stoner Life/Young Thug/Gunna: Slime Language 2 (2021, YSL/300 Entertainment): Atlanta label, founded 2016 by Young Thug, could be a label various artists compilation but most of the roster seems to also be organized as a group, with Young Thug and Gunna getting extra billing because, well, maybe you know them. B+(***)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Marshall Crenshaw: The Wild, Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw: Live in the 20th and 21st Century (1983-2018 , Sunset Blvd., 2CD): Singer-songwriter with power-pop hooks, debut 1982, thought he was major in the 1980s, haven't heard much I've liked since (although his latest, 2009's Jaggedland, was pretty good). First disc here is a live set from 1983, when he released his second album, Field Day. Second disc is 10 live songs collated "from the last 25 years" -- could be better specified. Could be wilder, more exciting too. B+(*)
Joel Futterman: Creation Series (2008 , NoBusiness, 5CD): Free jazz pianist, originally from Chicago, debut 1979, several records with Jimmy Lyons from the 1980s, then mostly with Kidd Jordan or Ike Levin. Solo here, spread out over five dates, also plays some soprano sax. Five disc-long sessions (71:57, 76:15, 59:24, 57:13, 68:25), stretches rivaling Cecil Taylor, with the occasional change of pace. I'm rather overwhelmed, but certainly impressed. Helps to have the box. A-
Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carter/John Stevens: Detail-90 (1990 , NoBusiness): Successor to Detail group formed in 1982 by Gjerstad (alto sax), Stevens (drums), and South African bassist Johnny Dyani (1945-86). B+(***)
Total Music Association: Walpurgisnacht (1971-88 , NoBusiness): German free jazz septet, two tracks from 1971 (30:37) plus one 21:20 "Improvisation" when the group reunited later. Three horns, viola, rhythm, none I recognized but I gather Andreas Boje (trombone) has a reputation, and I should have known Helmut Zimmer (impressive on piano) played in Modern Jazz Quartet Karlsruhe (subject of a previous NoBusiness box). Starts rough, but bursting with energy. A- [cd]
Childish Gambino: Because the Internet (2013, Glassnote): Second studio album (after a bunch of mixtapes). Spreads out with a lot of new moves and looks, few of which connect. B-
Creole Kings of New Orleans: Volume Two (1950-58 , Specialty): Art Rupe's label started in Los Angeles in 1945, signing local gospel and jump blues groups, and started picking up some New Orleans groups in 1950 -- only a few who wound up big enough for CD compilations (Percy Mayfield, Lloyd Price, Art Neville, Larry Williams), but the first volume sampler is one of my all-time favorite New Orleans compilations: chock full of classic songs, even from more obscure artists. As with all of Specialty's compilations, this second volume dials it back, dipping into obscurities (although somehow they found more Professor Longhair, who gets a 4-song stretch). Still good for the general vibe. A-
Floyd Dixon: Marshall Texas Is My Home (1953-57 , Specialty): Piano-playing bluesman from Texas, moved to California in 1942, succeeded Charles Brown in Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, recording for Aladdin 1949-52. Title song is a conventional blues, but when the sax enters this starts to jump.
Paul Gayten & Annie Laurie/Dave Bartholomew/Roy Brown: Regal Records in New Orleans (1949-51 , Specialty): Two cuts with both Gayten and Laurie, 15 just Gayten, 6 just Laurie, plus two cuts each headlined by the others, although Gayten's band backs Brown, and Bartholomew's band backs Laurie. Dates for those given, about half of the total. B+(**)
Guitar Slim: Sufferin' Mind (1953-55 , Specialty): Guitarist-singer Eddie Jones, from Mississippi, moved to New Orleans after WWII, had a brief career and died at 32 in 1959. Opens with a great blues, "The Things That I Used to Do," and there are more solid tunes, but resorts to alternate takes and false starts to fill up 26 songs. B+(***)
Camille Howard: Vol. 1: Rock Me Daddy (1947-52 , Specialty): Pianist and sometime singer in Roy Milton's Solid Senders, recorded some on her own. Unusual in "The Legends of Specialty Series" to have a Vol. 1 explicit, but by the time they got to her they had added a Vol. 2 to their bigger stars. Born Deasy Browning in Galveston, Texas (1914), changed her name when she moved to California in the early 1940s. By this evidence, she could hold her own against the boogie-woogie greats (several cuts here are instrumentals). As a singer, she reminds me a lot of Dinah Washington, though not as risqué. That's quite some combination. A-
Camille Howard: Vol. 2: X-Temporaneous Boogie (1947-52 , Specialty): Similar mix, a bit less consistent, a bit more boogie (8 songs with "Boogie" in the title, vs. 1 "Blues"). B+(***)
Tommy James: The Very Best of Tommy James & the Shondells (1964-71 , Rhino): Ohio rocker Tom Jackson, called his first band the Echoes, then Tom and the Tornadoes, then the Shondells in 1964 (when they first recorded "Hanky Panky"), finally breaking in 1966. They recorded six top-ten songs before James went solo in 1970. The hits are pretty striking, but the other singles fell short for good reason. This wraps up with a solo single. B+(**)
Jimmy Liggins & His Drops of Joy: Vol. 2: Rough Weather Blues (1947-53 , Specialty): Guitarist, singer, younger brother of Joe Liggins. Band has the usual complement of horns and rhythm, but sticks pretty closely to blues material, which may be why it comes off so consistent, even through this second album. One song I recognize here is "Drunk." A-
Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers: Vol. 2: Dripper's Blues (1950-54 , Specialty): Piano player, singer, born in Oklahoma, moved to California when he was 16, eventually Los Angeles, band named for his 1945 hit, which often shows up toward the beginning of "roots of rock & roll" compilations (also Rhino's The Soul Box). B+(***)
Percy Mayfield: Vol. 2: Memory Pain (1950-57 , Specialty): A sly, self-effacing singer, nowhere more clearly than on his first big hit, "Please Send Me Someone to Love," which opens here in an alternate take. I haven't cross-checked to see if there are any more duplicates from the superb Poet of the Blues, but the middle third ranks with his best work. B+(***)
Jemeel Moondoc: Muntu Recordings (1975-79 , NoBusiness, 3CD): Alto saxophonist, originally from Chicago, studied under Cecil Taylor in Wisconsin, moved to New York where he joined the flourishing "loft scene." This collects his two Muntu albums -- with William Parker (bass), Rashid Bakr (drums), Arthur Williams or Roy Campbell (trumpet), and Mark Hennen (piano, first album only) -- and adds an earlier live trio piece (called "Muntu": runs 36:35). Some fine work here, deep and expressive. Box comes with a 115 pp. booklet, which I haven't seen. B+(***) [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc Trio: Judy's Bounce (1981 , Soul Note): Live set in New York, with Fred Hopkins (bass) and Ed Blackwell (drums). Four pieces, the "One for Ornette" is especially sharp. B+(***)
Jemeel Moondoc Sextet: Konstanze's Delight (1981 , Soul Note): With Roy Campbell (trumpet), Khan Jamal (vibes), William Parker (bass), Dennis Charles (drums), and Ellen Christi (voice). The voice blends in with the instruments, but I always find that an iffy proposition. B+(**)
Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper's House (2013 , Relative Pitch): Five tracks, trio with Hilliard Greene (bass) and Newman Taylor Baker (drums), two of them with Matthew Shipp (piano), the other two with Roy Campbell (trumpet) and Steve Swell (trombone). A- [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc & Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickelodeon (2015 , Relative Pitch): Alto sax-bass duo, one of Moondoc's last albums. B+(**) [bc]
More Girl Group Greats (1958-66 , Rhino): I miss the old, pre-Warners Rhino. Back in the 1980s/early 1990s they seemed to be able to license from everyone, allowing them to put out dozens of seemingly definitive compilations. Of course, they never quite had free reign. Their two 18-cut CDs of The Best of the Girl Groups (1990) couldn't dip into Phil Spector's catalog, which was kinda like trying to do the British Invasion without the Beatles or Stones. But there was still a lot of great material available. They made another attempt in 2001 with Girl Group Greats and this second volume. The former, even with no Spector, is near perfect. It's in my travel cases, and gets replayed here every few weeks. This set isn't nearly as perfect, with its over-reliance on Motown (5 cuts) plus 2 each by the Shirelles, Chiffons, and Lesley Gore limiting the chances for discovery, but for each of those there's another forgotten gem -- who knows how many more are yet to be found? A-
Lloyd Price: Vol. 2: Heavy Dreams (1952-56 , Specialty): New Orleans great, the first volume starts with his hit "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," and picks up the big ones plus a lot of atmosphere. This one's just atmosphere. Opening song sequence: "Chee Koo Baby," "Oo-ee Baby," "Oooh-Oooh-Oooh." B+(**)
Joe Turner/Smilin' Smokey Lynn/Big Maceo/H-Bomb Ferguson: Shouting the Blues (1949-53 , Specialty): By-product of the label's exceptional reissue series, sweeping up scattered artists who's tenure with the label wasn't long enough for their own collections. Turner (8 tracks) was between Aladdin/Imperial and Atlantic, sounding exactly like he always did. Big Maceo Merriweather (4 tracks) ended at RCA/Bluebird in 1947, and only had a few years left (d. 1953). The others are less famous: Lynn, a big band shouter much like Turner, appears on 8 tracks (3 with Don Johnson's Orchestra), and Ferguson has 2 tracks, the only ones post-1950. B+(**)
T-Bone Walker/Guitar Slim/Lawyer Houston/Al King/Ray Agee/R.S. Rankin: Texas Guitar: From Dallas to L.A. (1950-64 , Atlantic): Volume 3 of the label's "Blues Originals" series, with its colorful, ornate logo centered on a flat black background. Eight tracks from a 1950 session by William Lawyer Houston (aka Soldier Boy Houston), fleshed out with six more tracks by Texas-to-California blues guitarists (two by Walker, one each by the others). B+(*)
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Jemeel Moondoc With Dennis Charles: We Don't (1981 , Eremite): Alto sax-drums duo, links to Cecil Taylor. [1/4] + [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc Quintet: Nostalgia in Times Square (1985 , Soul Note): With Bern Nix (guitar), Rahn Burton (piano), William Parker, and Dennis Charles. Only heard the Mingus tune, but three Moondoc originals suggest he's thinking through tradition. [1/4] ++
Jemeel Moondoc & the Jus Grew Orchestra: Spirit House (2000, Eremite): Ten-piece group, with two trumpets (Lewis Barnes and Roy Campbell), two trombones (Steve Swell and Tyrone Hill), two more saxes (Michael Marcus and Zane Massey), guitar (Bern Nix), bass, and drums. [2/6] ++ [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc Vtet: Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys (2000 , Eremite): Quintet with trumpet (Nathan Breedlove), vibes (Khan Jamal), bass, and drums. [1/4] + [bc]
Jemeel Moondoc Quartet: The Astral Revelations (2016, RogueArt): Quartet with piano (Matthew Shipp), bass, and drums. Last recording? [1/4] + [sc]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: