An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, May 23, 2022
Music: Current count 37953  rated (+28), 114  unrated (-6).
Count is down significantly from recent weeks (which would suggest that it is possible, but not quite probable, that I will pass 38,000 next week). Main reason for the slowdown is that my niece Rachel visited for a couple days last week, and I got very little listening in while she was here. Also lost a good chunk of a previous day shopping, and another chunk of a day with a medical thing. Also had a bit of trouble deciding what to listen to -- which led me to a number of less-than-promising albums that ranked relatively high in the metacritic file. (By the way, just discovered that a lot of records had been dropped. Many of the references can be fixed up easily enough, but very likely I'm still missing some. Results are at best approximate, but they give me some sense of what's out there, of what other people think, and whether I should care.)
Spent a fair chunk of time with my niece talking about death and what to do with the detritus we'll leave behind. We wrote up wills and filled out notebooks. She will be the executor. My basic attitude is that after death none of this is my problem anymore, but thinking about it brought some order to my current state assessment, as well as a challenge to my engineering skill. I can draw on what little I learned from my first wife's death, my parents, my father-in-law, Laura's sister, and my sister, as well as numerous other deaths of family and dear friends. Helps, I think, that my mind is uncluttered by religion. (We've been watching Under the Banner of Heaven, which presents the Mormon afterlife framed as a pretty picture but feeling more like an eternal burden.)
The money, assuming there still is some, is the easy part. The stuff is harder to deal with, and I was hoping for help there: who wants what, and what to do with the rest, especially stuff nobody wants. (I'm the sort reluctant to throw away anything that could be useful to someone else, but figuring out ways to distribute it is never easy.) The part we didn't spend much time on is what for lack of a better term we'll call "intellectual property": my writings, most of which are on my websites. I'm sure the estate will want to cut the financial bleed (to say nothing of the admin headaches) of my dedicated server, so I'll need to come up with a plan to roll back and consolidate, folding everything into a single website which could be kept publicly available. I guess that's my legacy, so something I'll need to work on.
I did manage to make one nice meal while my niece was here. She gave me little direction as to what to fix, so I went to the grocery store with only vague ideas. I picked up a chicken -- I've generally been oblivious to rising food prices, but was rather taken aback to pay $20 for a chicken -- and a scattering of vegetables, including an eggplant, zucchini, green beans, brussels sprouts, a bag of small potatoes, tomatoes, onions, asparagus, romaine lettuce. When I got home, I looked at the pile, and the most straightforward menu seemed to be: roasted chicken with samfaina, and salade niçoise. (I had the latter in mind when I stopped at World Market, and picked up some nice canned tuna.)
Samfaina is a Catallan ragout with onion, red bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, and tomato. You cook it down to marmalade consistency, then add the roasted chicken pieces: a very simple but magnificent recipe, with an easy parallel workflow, which only had to be reheated at the end. I boiled the whole bag of potatoes, keeping four for the salad. The rest I flattened, painted with duck fat, and roasted as a side, along with the brussels sprouts. I boiled the asparagus, then sauteed them with bacon and onion. I also made a batch of gougères to kick things off. I mixed the salad with the vinaigrette, then scooped it out onto a bed of romaine. So I wound up with only one dish on the stovetop, plus the gougères in one oven, the potatoes and brussels sprouts in the other. Should have been easy, but the pain caught up to me, and I was a mess at the end. Had a lot of food left over -- aside from the potatoes, which went fast.
For dessert, I made tiramisu (based on a sponge cake and a can of "double espresso") and chocolate mousse. For former was a bit runny (something wrong with the mascarpone), and the latter too stiff (but remedied nicely by folding in a large dollop of whipped cream). I got tired of trying to shave chocolate to garnish the tiramisu, so threw some chips into the mini-chopper -- an effective hack.
We spent some time going through some family memorabilia. Rachel has the idea of hiring a private investigator to try to figure out my mother's movements before she met my father in 1948-49. I dug up a batch of old postcards, which were mostly blank but some offered various addresses. Rachel looked up some census records, and found out something I didn't know: the 1930 census listed Mom, two of her older siblings, and her parents in Oklahoma. I had always assumed that Ben and Mary Brown stayed on their farm in Arkansas until he died in 1936, and that Mom (but no other siblings) was still with them. Then, after Ben's death, Mom and her mother (Mary) moved to Oklahoma, where they stayed with two older sisters (Lola and Edith). I suppose I thought this because Ben and Mary were buried in Flutey Cemetery in Arkansas, along with a number of other relatives (including two of my uncles, Allen and Ted).
But them moving to Oklahoma before 1930 makes sense of some other things I had heard, like that Edith, who was 20 when she married, had met her husband in Oklahoma. Lola (and Melvin Stiner) had moved to Oklahoma around 1926 (their first son had been born in Arkansas in 1925, but their second was born in Oklahoma in 1927). This also gave Mom a longer period in Oklahoma, including some teen years -- she was 17 in 1930. She had some trauma there, which would make more sense if she was younger. They were living in Creek County, which is where Lola and Melvin originally settled. (They later had a farm east of Stroud, close to the county line.) It's possible that Ben and Mary moved back to Arkansas before he died in 1936, but by then Edith was married, and Allen had moved to Kansas (he got married to a Kansas girl in 1939). Mom remained single until 1948, when she married Dad (she was 35; he was a month shy of 26).
What Mom did between 1930 and 1940, when the census showed her living in Augusta, KS, with her sister Ruby, is mostly unknown to us. We also have questions about the 1940s -- one of the postcards I found was dated 1943 and addressed to her in Atlantic City. Rachel recalls Edith bringing up a story about Mom in Chicago, which Mom shut down immediately, and refused to talk about when Rachel tried interviewing her shortly before Mom died. It seems likely now that Mom reinvented herself around 1941, when she started going by Bea (instead of Bessie, which her family never tired of calling her), and again after she got married, and turned into a classic 1950s housewife (and domineering mother -- that, at least, is something I know much about, but hadn't thought about it as a transformation until much later).
This new information means I'll have to do some editing on my memoir manuscript. I got stuck a year ago in trying to make the transition from my family background to my own memories (which should have been easier, but nevermind). A week or two ago, I started to try to make an end run around that block by jotting down annotated lists of things (like all the cars we've owned, or all the games we played), with people and events to follow. These discoveries convinced me I need to go back into the archives and transcribe what's there, sorting out all the people and places. (I know who Evelyn was, but who's Jack?).
I've been putting off a lot of things. Need to start again this coming week.
Seems like I'm running into more B records lately: things that I don't mind, may even enjoy for a while, but don't pique my interest, or seem worth pursuing further. Yet they rarely sink below that level. My current EOY list has a mere 9 B- records (2 this week), and nothing lower (well, one C+ among the archival releases). I'm sure I could find more if I went looking for them, but life's too short for that kind of waste.
Not many new jazz records from my demo queue this week. Everything I have left is scheduled for June or July release, so hasn't seemed like a priority.
Did a last-minute Speaking of Which yesterday, then updated it last night. Left a broken tag that messed up the format, but that's fixed now.
New records reviewed this week:
The Black Keys: Dropout Boogie (2022, Nonesuch/Easy Eye Sound): Blues rock duo, Dan Auerbach (guitar/vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums), 11th album since 2002, about as straight as rock gets these days. Gives them a niche, and makes sure they're stuck in it. B
Bladee/Ecco2k: Crest (2022, Year0001): Swedish rappers Benjamin Reichwald and Zak Arogundade Gaterud (latter was born in London, Nigerian father, moved to Stockholm at age 2), members of Drain Gang, third album together, others apart. B+(*)
Bonobo: Fragments (2022, Ninja Tune): Simon Green, British DJ/producer based in Los Angeles, 7th album since 2000. B+(*)
Cat Power: Covers (2022, Domino): Chan Marshall, 11th album since 1995, usually writes her own songs but this is her third album of other folks' songs (after The Covers Record in 2000 and Jukebox in 2008). Most intriguing song here is "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," but it's also one of the most disappointing. She does better with Nick Cave. B
Digga D: Noughty by Nature (2022, CGM/EGA): British rapper Rhys Herbert, "one of the pioneers of the UK drill scene," third mixtape at 21, has been in and out of jail, and subject to a CBO (Criminal Behavior Order) which among other restrictions allows police to ban his videos. B+(*)
Sture Ericson/Pat Thomas/Raymond Strid: Bagman Live at Cafe Oto (2019, 577): Tenor/soprano sax, piano/electronics, and drums. Slow start, but Thomas continues to impress. B+(**) [cd] [07-22]
Esthesis Quartet: Esthesis Quartet (2021 , Orenda): Zoom-connected quartet -- Dawn Clement (piano), Elsa Nilsson (flute), Emma Dayhuff (bass), Tina Raymond (drums) -- one from each US timezone, finally met up in Los Angeles to record this. I don't see a vocal credit, but Clement has sung on previous albums. B [cd] [05-27]
Florence + the Machine: Dance Fever (2022, Polydor): English singer Florence Welch and backing band, fifth album since 2009, all bestsellers in UK and US. Jack Antonoff and Dave Bayley split the co-writing and production roles. Mechanical, but not much for dance. B
Girlpool: Forgiveness (2022, Anti-): Indie band from Los Angeles, dream pop (I suppose), Avery Tucker and Harmony Tividad plus hired help, fourth album, goes nowhere. B
Jessy Lanza: DJ-Kicks (2021, !K7): Canadian electronica producer, studied jazz (clarinet and piano), sings, three albums since 2013, plus her contribution to this remix series. B+(*)
Ingrid Laubrock + Andy Milne: Fragile (2021 , Intakt): German saxophonist (tenor/soprano), based in New York, third recent duo album she's done with a pianist (the others were with Aki Takase and Kris Davis). B+(***)
Brennen Leigh: Obsessed With the West (2022, Signature Sounds): Country singer-songwriter from North Dakota, based in Austin, tenth album since 2002, gets a lift here from Asleep at the Wheel. B+(***)
Lyrics Born: Lyrics Born Presents: Mobile Homies Season 1 (2022, Mobile Home): California rapper Tom Shimura, lists 15 collaborators on the cover (starting with Dan the Automator and Blackalicious -- the late Gift of Gab is a huge presence here), seems to be a pandemic project, maybe some kind of touching-base podcast. Big beats and soaring riffs are plentiful, his signature. A-
Leyla McCalla: Breaking the Thermometer (2022, Anti-): Folkie singer-songwriter, born in New York, parents from Haiti, played cello in Carolina Chocolate Drops and Our Native Daughters, fourth solo album. Leans toward Haitian creole songs. B+(***)
David Murray/Brad Jones/Hamid Drake Brand New World Trio: Seriana Promethea (2021 , Intakt): Cover a mass of big type where the small title gets lost, and the "with" used on the Bandcamp page to separate off the bassist and drummer is nowhere to be seen. Opens with bass clarinet before switching to tenor sax. Murray was very prolific, especially with DIW 1985-98, slowed down to about a record/year the following decade (mostly with Justin Time to 2009), then less frequently with Motéma (to 2018). This is his third album on Intakt -- after a duo with Aki Takase and a rather rough one with Dave Gisler and Jaimie Branch -- but his first where he belongs, leading a superb trio. A-
Michael Orenstein: Aperture (2021 , Origin): Pianist, from Berkley, based in Los Angeles, first album, trio with extras on 5 (of 10) songs, using three saxophonists, vibes, and guitar. B+(**) [cd]
Redveil: Learn 2 Swim (2022, self-released): Young (b. 2004) rapper Marcus Morton, from Prince Georges County, Maryland, has a couple previous albums. Fairly slippery, but I lost patience. B [sp]
Eli "Paperboy" Reed: Down Every Road (2022, Yep Roc): Original name Husock, moved from Massachusetts to Mississippi in 2002, in a blues authenticity move which on his seventh album takes a detour here through the Merle Haggard song book. B-
The Smile: A Light for Attracting Attention (2022, XL): English rock band, described as Radiohead (Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood) with a better drummer (Tom Skinner, from Sons of Kemet). B+(*)
The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: The 2022 Jazz Heritage Series (2022, self-released): Opens with "Alright, Okay, You Win" (vocal MSgt Paige Wroble), which after the arty shit I had just listened to sounded real fine. I guess they're not awful, no matter how much I loathe the concept. After that, you get guest spots for Sean Jones (trumpet), Ted Nash (sax), and Diane Schuur (vocals), and a bonus "Besame Mucho" with Jones and Nash. None inspired, none awful. It's a waste, but they've been known to spend your tax dollars on much worse. B- [cd]
Sharon Van Etten: We've Been Going About This All Wrong (2022, Jagjaguwar): American singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2009. Too many songs fade into background, but not all of them. B+(*)
Daniel Villarreal: Panamá 77 (2022, International Anthem): Chicago-based drummer, originally from Panama, makes a nice groove record. B+(**) [sp]
David Virelles: Nuna (2020 , Pi): Pianist, from Cuba, moved to Canada, from there to New York. Appeared on Jane Bunnett's Cuban albums of 2001-02, on his own albums since 2008. Solo here, or duo with percussionist Julio Barretto (three songs). B+(**) [cd] [05-27]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Mavis Staples & Levon Helm: Carry Me Home (2011 , Anti-): Helm was drummer and sometime singer for the Band, recorded some solo albums 1977-82, lost his voice to throat cancer in 1998, recovered for two 2007-09 albums, and died at 71 in 2012. Staples started in her family vocal group, went solo in 1969, and had in 2007 released her best album: the Ry Cooder-produced civil rights anthems, We'll Never Turn Back. Both brought full bands, Helm's including a Steven Bernstein-led horn section, to this session in Helm's studio, broadcast live, but unaccountably unreleased until now. They find common ground in twelve songs, starting with "This Is My Country" and ending with "The Weight." Only wonder here is that this isn't as great as it should be. B+(**)
Brennen Leigh: Too Thin to Plow (2004, Down Time): Nice twang for North Dakota, mandolin too, mostly covers demonstrating good taste and smarts. Smartest of all is "Single Girl." Title, of course, refers to the Mississippi ("too thick to navigate"). B+(**)
Brennen Leigh: The Box (2010, self-released): Unfamiliar songs, don't know whether she wrote them, but they ease along, with a dark vibe. Best is the closer, "Unbroken Line." B+(**)
Brennen Leigh: Brennen Leigh Sings Lefty Frizell (2015, self-released): No one ever sung them better, but the band is superb, she acquits herself well on the half that are indelibly etched in my mind, and the other half are obscure enough she just has to handle them adroitly, which she does. B+(***)
Brennen Leigh: Prairie Love Letter (2020, self-released): Includes a couple songs about her early homes in North Dakota and Minnesota, and gets some help from Robbie Fulks. B+(**)
Guillermo Portabales: El Creador De La Guajira De Salon 1937-1943: Al Vaivén de Mi Carreta (1937-43 , Tumbao): Cuban singer-songwriter, popularized the guajira style in these early recordings, some just with his own guitar, picks up a bit when he gets some backup, both vocal and percussion. Still, it is his voice which transcends the language barrier. A- [sp]
Guillermo Portabales: El Carretero (1962-70 , World Circuit): Late recordings, some from 1962-63 in Miami, more from 1967-68 in New York, one song from a month before his death in 1970 (at 59). B+(**) [sp]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: