Monday, July 11, 2022

Music Week

July archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 38330 [38282] rated (+48), 78 [78] unrated (+0).

I wrote up a short Speaking of Which, mostly on Friday and Saturday, then on Sunday added a "brain dump" of my latest thinking on the political book I've been thinking about for 20+ years. After I tweeted about it, I got some much appreciated "write that book" feedback, and even a title suggestion (What Is to Be Done, which someone else pointed out was a Tolstoy title -- I'm pretty sure the copyright has run out on it, unless Disney somehow obtained it). Much easier said than done. I'm considering how it might be possible, but I'm pretty pessimistic at the moment. I can plod through routine work like this week's review haul easily enough, but don't seem to have the ability to discipline myself for major projects.

I was also pleased to see one Twitter follower pull a line out to retweet, on the Republican right:

They were corrupt from the start. Trump's only innovation was that he was utterly shameless about it, which came off to his followers as authenticity and candor. The right has always wanted to speak for the freedom to be cruel.

You probably know the story about how the old-line conservatives in Germany appointed Hitler chancellor because they thought they could control him. They couldn't, and Hitler immediately went on a terror spree, in which several of those conservatives were killed. In retrospect, the guy they really wanted wasn't Hitler. It was Trump, a charismatic buffoon who would entertain the riff-raff while he rubber-stamped their agenda. That Trump lacks the verve and cunning to be Hitler may make him less dangerous, but it doesn't make him the better person.

Meanwhile, the other two components of the Nazi takeover are still intact: the rich right-wingers who tried to pick their puppet-leader, and the ordinary folk who so desperately seek a charismatic champion to follow, in vain hope of vanquishing their imagined enemies. The 2024 primary will be an audition for the grim men with the money, but realistically any Republican would carry their water equally well. The real contest will be to see who can stir the most followers, and that's one where Trump will always beat the Romneys and Ryans, and where a real Hitler will beat Trump. The race to the bottom has begun.

By the way, I've started reading Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy, by Suzanne Mettler and Robert C Lieberman. It covers six decades when American politics seemed to be going off the rails (1790s, 1850s, 1890s, 1930s, 1970s, 2010s), and discerns four recurrent threats that appear in many of those crises: political polarization, "who belongs?" (who can or should vote or count), economic inequality, and executive aggrandizement. The time framework has a slightly too pat 40-year periodicity -- although as I noted, the 1990s can be viewed as the revolution that didn't succeed, although it still had repercussions -- and I find the framing of the 1930s troubling (maybe the 1970s also, but the resolution there was clearly for Reagan). As for the threats, some are more like causes, others like consequences, and "executive aggrandizement" is mostly a side effect of complexity (unless it means something else, like war, which is widely, though perhaps wrongly, viewed as a unifying force). So I have reservations, but it is obviously relevant to my book.

I expected the rated count to slip this week, and it did a bit, but recovered when Clifford Ocheltree recommended some blues albums, then pointed out that he got many of his picks from Living Blues annual charts, like this one for 2021. I like classic blues as much as anyone, but I'm not easily impressed by newcomers, so I tend to miss them. Blues is still a category at DownBeat, so I often don't even hear about blues albums until they turn up in their Critics Poll, by which point I find myself having heard only 10-20% of the nominees. I will note that from this particular list, I already had a couple albums listed:

  1. Selwyn Birchwood: Living in a Burning House (Alligator) [*]
  2. Sue Foley: Pinky's Blues (Stony Plain) [A-]
  3. GA-20: GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It . . . You Might Like It! (Karma Chief/Alligator) [**]
  4. Crystal Thomas: Now Dig This! (Dialtone) [***]
  5. Carolyn Wonderland: Tempting Fate (Alligator) [**]
  6. New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 2 (2007, Stony Plain) [**]
  7. Robert Finley: Sharecropper's Son (Easy Eye Sound) [***]
  8. Maria Muldaur With Tuba Skinny: Let's Get Happy Together (Stony Plain) [A-]
  9. Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band: Dance Songs for Hard Times (Family Owned) [A-]
  10. Ghalia Volt: One Woman Band (Ruf) [**]
  11. The Black Keys: Delta Kream (Nonesuch) [**]

I voted for the Muldaur album in the DownBeat poll. I've also rated 2021 blues albums not on this list (more than I would have expected; I didn't keep stats or the nominee list this year, as I have done some while back):

  • Eric Bibb: Dear America (Provogue) [**]
  • Big Chief Monk Boudreux: Bloodstains & Teardrops (Whiskey Bayou) [*]
  • Cedric Burnside: I Be Trying (Single Lock) [**]
  • Steve Cropper: Fire It Up (Provogue) [**]
  • Corey Harris: Insurrection Blues (CRS) [**]
  • Queen Esther: Gild the Black Lily (EL) [A-]

I've almost completely switched over to Spotify this week from Napster. Main reason is I still get a lot of hangs and interruptions from Napster, plus their new interface makes it no easier to browse than Spotify, and maybe a bit worse (which is pretty bad). I went to Napster six times below, especially for the Neil Young album. More disturbing are reports of Napster getting into crypto, which I regard as a terminal mark of stupidity if not (yet) much worse.

I had to deal with a "denial of service" attack at the Robert Christgau website last week. As a result, most people saw "out of resource" errors for about 12 hours. They exploited a security hole I was aware of but had been slow to fix. I've plugged the most obvious one, but still have more programming to do to clean up the rest. Meanwhile, I'm monitoring the situation, and blocking IP addresses that look malicious. I sent out a more detailed explanation to the tech mail list.

Following up, I took a look at several nagging problems with my own server. It's mostly been a slow and painstaking learning process, with one issue resolved and another I may just continue to live with.

Thought I was making some progress on the unrated count, but that was wiped out by an unusually large mail haul. Still, I've found a few things I've been wondering about, so I'll get to them next week.

New records reviewed this week:

Caterina Barbieri: Spirit Exit (2022, Light-Years): Italian electronica producer, fifth album since 2017, adds strings, guitar, and vocals to her usual synths. B+(**) [sp]

Sarah Bernstein: Veer Quartet (2022, New Focus): Violinist, leads a string quartet with second violin, viola, and cello. Music not without interest, but I've often found the sound unappealing, and this is a sustained example. B [cd] [09-02]

Burna Boy: Love, Damini (2022, Atlantic): Nigerian singer-songwriter Damini Ogulu, studied in London and Oxford before returning to Lagos. He seems to have kept his UK and US connections, producing a hip-hop fusion that travels effortlessly. First time I heard him was on a Madonna album. This album includes spots for a wide range of guests, from Ed Sheeran to Popcaan, J Balvin to Hus, Blxst and Kehlani. B+(**) [sp]

Tia Carroll: You Gotta Have It (2021, Little Village Foundation): Blues singer, based in California (Bay Area), second album, wrote 3 (of 11) songs. B+(**) [sp]

Columbia Icefield: Ancient Songs of Burlap Heroes (2021 [2022], Pyroclastic): Group name from trumpeter Nate Wooley's 2019 album, also with Susan Alcorn (pedal steel guitar), Mary Halvorson (guitar), and Ryan Sawyer (drums), with Wooley doing the electronics that leave long stretches of barren and desolate ambience. Mat Maneri (viola) and Trevor Dunn (electric bass) also play on one track each. B+(**) [cd] [07-29]

Bob Corritore & Friends: Spider in My Stew (2021, SWMAF/VizzTone): Blues harmonica player, based in Chicago, many albums since 2007, usually sharing the bill with someone like John Primer or Tail Dragger, or with various mixes of his Friends -- he uses eight bass players here, five drummers, four keyboard players, a bunch of singers. B+(**) [sp]

Guy Davis: Be Ready When I Call You (2021, M.C.): Country blues singer, shades of Taj Mahal, early albums in 1978 and 1984, a regular stream from 1993 on. Sharpest song here is "Flint River Blues"; sappiest is "Palestine, Oh Palestine," or maybe "I Looked Around," but credit for trying. B+(***) [sp]

Randal Despommier: A Midsummer Odyssey (2021 [2022], Sunnyside): Alto saxophonist, from Louisiana, duo with guitarist Ben Monder (listed as "featuring" on cover), playing nine pieces, as the fine print notes "The Music of Lars Gullin." If you don't know Gullin, you have some catching up to do: a baritone saxophonist, he was one of Sweden's most eminent jazz musicians from the early 1950s to his death in 1976. This is brief (34:06), surprising, and lovely. B+(***) [cd] [07-15]

Sonny Green: Found! One Soul Singer (2020, Little Village Foundation): Soul singer with some grit in his voice, first album at 77, Discogs credits him with ten singles 1969-75. Reminds one of Z.Z. Hill, a bit of Bobby Bland tool, maybe a dash of Wilson Pickett -- which seemed familiar way back when, but these days you take what you can get. B+(***)

Gwenno: Tresor (2022, Heavenly): Singer-songwriter from Wales, last name Saunders, third album, sings in Welsh and Cornish. B+(**) [sp]

Joshua Hedley: Neon Blue (2022, New West): Country singer-songwriter from Florida, plays violin as well as guitar, second album. B+(**) [sp]

Christone Kingfish Ingram: 662 (2021, Alligator): Blues singer-guitarist from Clarksdale, Mississippi, young (b. 1999), second album. Has some chops. B+(*) [sp]

Eva Kess: Inter-Musical Love Letter (2021 [2022], Unit): Bassist, from Berlin, started her career as a ballet dancer in Brazil, has a couple albums. I was impressed by her mostly strings Sternschnuppen, but thrown by this one, where she doubles the band size, adding some horns and vocals (Mirjam Hässig). Easy enough to blame the latter, but now seems more like an excess of ambition, which can too readily lead to opera. B+(*) [cd] [07-22]

Kirk Knuffke Trio: Gravity Without Airs (2022, Tao Forms, 2CD): Cornet player, many albums since 2009, composed 14 pieces here (90:17), backed by Michael Bisio (bass) and Matthew Shipp (piano), who really keep this moving. A-

Joy Lapps: Girl in the Yard (2022, self-released): Steel pans player, based in Toronto, wrote everything here, "first full-length album" (but several more on her website), draws on African as well as Caribbean sources. Upbeat, flashy, ends strong. B+(**) [cd]

Veronica Lewis: You Ain't Unlucky (2021, Blue Heart): Boogie piano-playing blues singer, young (18), from New Orleans, first album, wrote 6 (of 8) songs. She isn't quite right for one of the covers (Louis Jordan's "Is You Is My Baby"), but her piano is fast and furious (including an "Ode to Jerry Lee" that doesn't leave you thinking the wrong Lewis is playing), and she gets a lot of help from the sax (mostly Don Davis). B+(***) [sp]

Yaroslav Likhachev Quartet: Occasional Sketches (2021 [2022], Clean Feed): Russian-born tenor saxophonist, based in Germany, leads a quartet with piano, bass, and drums. B+(***) [bc]

Janiva Magness: Hard to Kill (2022, Fathead): Blues singer-songwriter, from Detroit, grew up in foster homes after both parents committed suicide, cut records in 1991 and 1997 before picking up the pace, including a stretch (2008-12) with Alligator. "Strong as Steel" lives up to its title, but doesn't stay that hard. B [sp]

Metric: Formentera (2022, Metric Music International): Canadian electropop band, debug 2003, principally Emily Haines (vocals, keyboards) and James Shaw (guitar). B+(**) [sp]

John Minnock: Simplicity (2022, Dot Time): Jazz singer, classic crooner voice, writes some lyrics, second album, pianist Mathis Picard writes some of the music, Dave Liebman is featured on soprano sax. More drama than I typically care for, but gets his point across. Closes with "You Don't Know What Love Is." B+(*) [cd]

Moor Mother: Jazz Codes (2022, Anti-): Philadelphia poet Camae Ayewa, fronts the jazz group Irreversible Entanglements, uses this alias for more hip-hop projects, although the genres are pretty fluid for her, as are melodies and beats. Lots of guests here in her expanding universe, making it more complex than art needs to be, but still not as messy as real life. [sp]

Ian Noe: River Fools & Mountain Saints (2022, Thirty Tigers): Country singer-songwriter, from Kentucky, second album. Hooked me with the song that sounded like John Prine, and even though the rest don't quite ring that bell, they're all pretty good. A- [sp]

North Mississippi Allstars: Set Sail (2022, New West): Southern blues-rock band, debut 2000, founded by two sons of Memphis legend Jim Dickinson (Luther and Cody), 13th album. Leans toward funk, but barely registers. B+(*)

Ol' Savannah: They Lie in Wait (2022, Anticapital): Canadian folk group, based in Montreal, albums since 2011. I was skeptical at first, but "Which Side Are You On?" won me over. B+(**) [bc]

Katy J Pearson: Sound of the Morning (2022, Heavenly): UK singer-songwriter, started out as half of Ardyn (two albums 2015-16), second album, produced by Ali Chant (Yard Act) and Dan Carey (Fontaines DC). B+(*) [sp]

John Primer & Bob Corritore: The Gypsy Woman Told Me (2020, SWMAF/VizzTone): Chicago bluesman, born in Mississippi, played behind Junior Wells and Muddy Waters before he moved out front in 1991, and has several dozen albums since. Corritore plays harmonica, third album with Primer, many more albums either listed second or as "Bob Corritore & Friends." First I've heard by him/them, but it sounds classic, hitting the mark every time out. A-

The Duke Robillard Band: They Called It Rhythm & Blues (2022, Stoney Plain): Blues guitarist, sometime singer, co-founder of Roomful of Blues, many albums since 1978, including some where he wanders into jazz. Mostly jump blues songs from the 1940-50s, with 14 guests listed on the front cover. B+(**) [sp]

Curtis Salgado: Damage Control (2021, Alligator): Blues singer, harmonica player, from Everett, Washington, based in Oregon, close to a dozen albums since 1991. Survived liver cancer with a transplant, and came back singing, "the longer that I live, the older I want to get" B+(*) [sp]

Space Quartet: Freedom of Tomorrow (2019-21 [2022], Clean Feed): Fourth album by group led by Rafael Toral, who promises "electronic music with a human touch," aided by alto sax (Nuno Torres), bass (Hugo Antunes), and drums (Nuno Morão). B+(**) [bc]

Ziv Taubenfeld's Full Sun: Out of the Beast Came Honey (2020 [2022], Clean Feed): Bass clarinetist, from Israel, based in Netherlands, band name from his 2020 album. Sextet with Michael Moore (clarinet/alto sax), Joost Buis (trombone), piano, bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]

Joanne Shaw Taylor: Blues From the Heart: Live (2022, KTBA): British blues-rocker, ninth album since her 2009 debut, also on DVD. Has the guitar. Also has Joe Bonamassa (3 tracks). B+(*) [sp]

There Be Monsters: Rubikon (2021 [2022], Klopotec): Slovenian saxophonist Bostjan Simon, third album for his group, with Mirko Cisilino (trumpet/trombone), Goran Krmmac (tuba), vibes, and drums. B+(*) [bc]

Toro Y Moi: Mahal (2022, Dead Oceans): Chaz Bundick, from South Carolina, a dozen or so albums since 2009, producing a style of electropop called chillwave, although I've also seen this filed as psychedelia. At any rate, not very chill. B [sp]

Viagra Boys: Cave World (2022, Year0001): Swedish post-punk band, fronted by English-singing singer Sebastian Murphy, third album. B+(*)

Wee Willie Walker and the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra: Not in My Lifetime (2021, Blue Dot): Born in Mississippi, grew up in Memphis, moved to Minneapolis in 1959, sang gospel switching to soul, died at 77 in 2019, so title is pretty literal. Cut some singles as far back as 1959, but the albums only start in 2004. B+(***) [sp]

Steve Washington: Just a Matter of Time (2020, JSP): Soul/blues singer, plays drums and organ, first album, features Lucky Peterson (piano), seems like they go back a fair ways. Not much grit, but that works too. B+(**) [sp]

Hank Williams Jr.: Rich White Honky Blues (2022, Easy Eye Sound): Three years old when his namesake father died, who gave him a nickname (Bocephus) after a ventriloquist dummy, like everything else he both embraced and struggled with. He's 45 years older now than his father was when he died, and while he's never been as intensely productive as his father, he's accumulated 56 albums to date. Only one I count as a winner -- Hank Williams and Friends, from 1975, after a near-death experience -- but I haven't listened to that many, especially since he slowed down after 2000 (this is only his sixth this century). (I've probably heard more by Hank III -- evidently the voice skipped a generation.) Title song boasts that he "knows how to play the blues," despite the obvious handicaps, and namechecks a long list of blues masters, although he no more knew Robert Johnson than he did his father. He sounds more like he's been cribbing his blues from ZZ Top, but that's actually pretty satisfying. B+(***) [sp]

Wu-Lu: Loggerhead (2022, Warp): UK singer-songwriter Miles Romans-Hopcraft, first album was electronic/instrumental, but this third album is chock full of vocals, some rapped, some choral, with scattered sounds, a mix of trip-hop and industrial though rarely anything in particular. B+(*) [sp]

Zola Jesus: Arkhon (2022, Sacred Bones): Goth singer-songwriter Nicole Hummel, aka Nika Roza Danilova (grandparents immigrated from Ukraine, and she liked the Slavic name), born in Arizona, grew up in Wisconsin, first album 2009, this her sixth. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Bob Corritore & Friends: Down Home Blues Revue (1995-2012 [2022], SWMAF/VizzTone): Chicago harmonica player, doesn't sing, which he makes up for by rotating his many friends. He has four previous albums designated as such, but many more collaborations. This plumbs his vault for 13 songs with 10 friends, the dupes T-Model Ford and Robert "Bilbo" Walker. B+(**) [sp]

Bob Dowe: Build Me Up (1973-78 [2021], Trojan/Sanctuary): Reggae singer (1946-2006), best known for the Melodians, but released this 1974 album under his own name, a second in 1981, and many singles. Reissue, which matches the first disc of a Doctor Bird 2-CD, adds a dozen bonus tracks, which if anything up the ante (though nothing quite rises to the level of the alternate mix of "Girl I've Got a Date," which you know from the group). B+(**) [sp]

Bob Dowe/The Melodians: Build Me Up/Pre-Meditation (1968-78 [2021], Doctor Bird, 2CD): Heard this twofer reissue split into pieces, but easy enough to sum it up. B+(***) [sp]

Madonna: Finally Enough Love (1982-2019 [2022], Warner): A remix best-of, 16 tracks, an advance teaser for the 50 Number Ones (a record, but the fine print notes we're only talking about dance charts) coming out in August. Hard to know how to judge remixes, but compared to You Can Dance or The Immaculate Collection, this shades late, which lets me feel this is a bit less indispensible. B+(***)

The Melodians: Pre-Meditation (1968-78 [2021], Trojan/Sanctuary): Legendary Jamaican vocal group, third album from 1978 (which included a couple cuts from 1968) plus extras, on 2-CD with Bob Dowe's Build Me Up from Doctor Bird but digital is split. B+(***) [sp]

Orchestre Volta-Jazz: Air Volta (1974-77 [2022], Numero Group): Group from Upper Volta, a landlocked French colony in West Africa, between Ghana and Mali, renamed Burkina Faso in 1984. Discogs lists these 9 songs as singles, but only provides a couple of dates. Early cuts Sound like junkyard percussion, but that could just be the recording. A slow one ("Djougou Toro") is especially nice. B+(**) [sp]

Neil Young With Crazy Horse: Toast (2001 [2022], Reprise): Previously unreleased 7-song album, from between Silver and Gold and Are You Passionate?, which are both pretty good if not quite landmark albums. B+(**)

Old music:

Francis Bebey: Nandola/With Love: Works: 1963-1994 (1963-94 [1995], Original Music): Born in Cameroon 1929, died in Paris 2001, in between distinguished himself not just as a musician but as a poet, novelist, folklorist, and historian. He studied math to start, but an interest in broadcasting took him to Paris and New York before Kwame Nkrumah persuaded him to move to Ghana, newly independent in 1957. He sang, played guitar and flute, drawing on a wide range of African music, but also got into electronics. This ranges widely, nothing that really blows you away, but interesting pieces abound, and the notes (by John Storm Roberts) help. B+(***) [cd]

Sathima Bea Benjamin: Memories and Dreams (1983 [1986], Ekapa/Blackhawk): South African jazz singer, not sure of her race (father from St. Helena; mother "had roots in Mauritius and the Philippines"), but she left South Africa for Europe with future husband Abdullah Ibraham in 1960, after the Sharpeville Massacre, and lived most of the rest of her life in New York -- where this was recorded, with Onaje Allan Gumbs (piano), Buster Williams (bass), Carlos Ward (sax/flute), and on drums either Billy Higgins or Ben Riley. First side is her chronicle of the struggle against apartheid, "Liberation Suite." Second side has four covers, including two Ellington pieces. B+(***) [lp]

Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition: Audio-Visualscapes (1988, Impulse): Drummer-led quintet, also plays keyboards, same group as above but more electric bass (and probably more flute). Long (74:05), feels muddled. B- [cd]

Paul Rutherford/Derek Bailey/Barry Guy: ISKRA 1903: Chapter One (1970-72 [2000], Emanem, 3CD): Trombone, guitar, bass: three major figures in the British avant-garde, early in their careers (aside from this, Bailey's debut was 1970, Guy's 1972, Rutherford 1975). Originally a 2-LP with 11 Improvisations, the CD reissue adds Offcut 1-3, Extra 1-3, and 38:55 of "On Tour." Abstract and scratchy as you'd expect if you know these remarkable musicians. Rutherford went on to use ISKRA variants for a number of albums, later replacing Bailey with Philipp Wachsmann. B+(***) [cd]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dan Ex Machina: My Wife (2020, self-released)
  • Dan Ex Machina: Bail Shag (2021, self-released, EP)
  • Dan Ex Machina: All Is Ours, Nothing Is Theirs (self-released)
  • Do'a: Higher Grounds (Outside In Music) [07-15]
  • Vinny Golia/Bernard Santacruz/Cristiano Calcagnile: To Live and Breathe (Dark Tree) [06-17]
  • David Greenberger & the Waldameer Players: Today! (Pel Pel) [07-22]
  • Geoffrey Keezer & Friends: Playdate (MarKeez) [08-12]
  • Frank Kimbrough: 2003-2006: Lullabluebye/Play (Palmetto, 2CD) [08-12]
  • Travis Laplante: Wild Tapestry (Out of Your Head) [05-27]
  • Joy Lapps: Girl in the Yard (self-released) [078-08]
  • John Minnock: Simplicity (Dot Time) [05-20]
  • Horace Tapscott Quintet: Legacies of Our Grandchildren (1995, Dark Tree) [06-17]
  • Walt Weiskopf European Quartet: Diamonds and Other Jewels (AMM) [08-19]

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