An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, August 28, 2023
Music: Current count 40767  rated (+39), 27  unrated (+8).
Another big Speaking of Which yesterday. Too bad I've never been able to find a shrink who can explain why I've sat on my political book idea for two (or twenty) years with nothing to show for it, then knock out a pretty coherent outline in less than five hours. In my experience, shrinks can help you out of extreme panic attacks, but beyond that are useless. Beyond that, you need friends.
One thing I should have mentioned is the Student Debt Release Tool, from the Debt Collective. If you have outstanding loans, check it out.
Went to doctors last week, and lab results are grim. No idea how I'm going to deal with this. (Well, maybe half an idea.)
Also grim is my CD player. I replaced the belts, and put it back together again, and now I'm getting the same "error" flashed on the front panel, as it's locked up and refuses to eject the tray. Best guess is the sensor isn't detecting the presence or absence of discs. Plan is to take it apart again and see if the tray is misaligned or the skimpy cable isn't set right. Beyond that, it probably goes into the trash. A few years back, I wanted to set up an electronics bench so I could repair equipment like this. Now that seems beyond my grasp.
Short list of new records reviewed this week. I have more in the promo queue now than I've had at any point this year, but almost all of them are September/October releases -- including the James Brandon Lewis and Todd Sickafoose albums I jumped the gun on. I made up for that shortfall by following a couple of checklists. The first was one I had compiled some time ago based on Will Friedwald: The Great Jazz and Pop Vocals Albums. Phil Overeem mentioned this list in relation to a course he's teaching, and discussion turned to a Barb Jungr record I hadn't found at the time. I found it this time, and wound up playing most of her oeuvre.
I didn't find anything in Soto's list that added to the 17 albums already on my A-list, although they did lead me to a second Electronic album that I liked a bit better -- the listed album came in at B+(***). Still, it was an interesting exercise.
The second checklist was one I compiled based on Afred Soto's post: My 50 favorite albums. Turned out there were quite a few albums on his list that I hadn't heard (or at least rated), so I wound up spending most of the week filling in the blanks. Thus far, only one record has eluded me: DJ Sprinkles: Midtown 120 Blues. (I did find some Spotify playlists, but they were defunct, with links broken.)
I also jotted down the years of the records. I've long suspected that most of the records one feels strongest attachment to are ones that came out in one's teens and twenties. That's true of me, and I suspect that explains most of our divergence. Soto's records fall into these age bands: 1970-79 (6), 1980-84 (7), 1985-89 (8), 1990-94 (11), 1995-1999 (2), 2000-04 (4), 2005-09 (6), 2010-present (4). I don't have a comparable list, but in my unsorted 1000 Records list, more than half of my rock/r&b records came from the 1960s and 1970s (255/407, or 62.6%; if you throw in rap and techno, and count all of them as post-1979, it becomes 255/459, or 55.5%).
I had the idea of throwing together a comparison list, taking as rules: one album for each year there were albums on Soto's list (so the same age spread); no more than three compilations (Soto had Bryan Ferry/Roxy Music, Wire, Dolly Parton), counted by source end date; no more than one jazz album (Soto had Miles Davis). I'm not sure that other genre matches would help much: Soto has 2 Brazil, 0 other world/latin, 3 rap, 3 country, 8 r&b, 2 (or maybe more) electronica, the rest pop/rock (of which Sugar is most metal). My biggest shift would be less r&b, which I thought went into decline after 1980 and became increasingly muddled, not that I wasn't able to find exceptions.
I also want to cite Brad Luen's 2003 poll results. He has been doing annual polls in the Expert Witness Facebook group, decided to do 2003, and rounded up 39 ballots (which don't seem to be available). I didn't vote, but I do have a 2003 list published (untouched since Jan. 1, 2005). Back in the day, I also compiled a 2003 poll (10 voters, 7 for Buck 65's Talkin' Honky Blues, which came in 7th in Luen's poll). I doubt I need to checklist the results, as I've heard nearly all of them, but the exceptions start at 24 with DonaZica's Composição, which got a boost recently with a Rod Taylor guest post on Luen's Substack: Sixteen 21st century Brazilian albums. Taylor's list deserves a checklist, but my grasp of Brazilian music is so lame I doubt it will do me much good. (Looking down at the poll results, there are more, like Yin Yang Twins at 27, Linkin Park at 37, King Geedorah at 40, Kathleen Edwards at 41, Constantines at 42, Brooks & Dunn at 50, etc. [PS: In scanning the list, I missed The New Pornographers: Electric Version at 18. I just assumed I had heard it, like the rest of the group's instantly forgettable albums.]
I don't often link to music, but Dan Ex Machina posted a single to mark Trump's latest arrest.
August Streamnotes done but not indexed yet. Monthly rated list dropped way down to 131.
New records reviewed this week:
Barb Jungr and Her Trio: My Marquee (2023, Marquee): British singer, writes some songs but mostly interprets other singer-songwriters, especially Bob Dylan. Twenty-seven albums since 1985. Backed by piano-bass-drums trio, she does six songs plus two medleys, taking vintage rock pieces and treating them as proto-standards. Most successful is a medley interleaving three Yardbirds hits ("Heart Full of Soul/Shapes of Things/For Your Love"). B+(**) [sp]
James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: For Mahalia, With Love [Expanded Edition] (2023, Tao Forms, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, formed this group for his poll-winning 2021 album Jesup Wagon, reconvenes with Kirk Knuffke (trumpet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums), to play his arrangements of a set of trad. gospel pieces tied to Mahalia Jackson, but with no vocals, as nothing else can be as sanctified as his instrument. The digital album ends there (9 tracks, 71:32), and as long as it stays on track, it's as inspired as any gospel program since David Murray's Spirituals. The 2-CD package adds a second album, These Are Soulful Days, a suite (8 tracks, 47:24) that starts out as an interesting strings piece, played by Lutoslawski Quartet, with Lewis joining in and eventually dominating -- about as good as sax-with-strings gets. [There's also a 2-LP package of the album proper, with a download code for the bonus.] A- [cd] [09-08]
Evan Parker/Matthew Wright Trance Map+ Peter Evans/Mark Nauseef: Etching the Ether (2022 , Intakt): Soprano sax and electronics duo, their names above the group name, as with their previous Crepuscle in Nickelsdorff, with extra guests below the group name (new ones this time: trumpet and percussion. (There's also a duo album on FRM, but I haven't heard it.) B+(**) [sp]
Rachael & Vilray: I Love a Love Song (2022 , Nonesuch): Vocal duo, Rachael Price and Vilray Bolles, who also plays guitar and claims most of the writing credits, but doesn't publicize his surname. Front cover lists much of the band. B+(*) [sp]
Sebastian Rochford/Kit Downes: A Short Diary (2022 , ECM): Drums and piano duo, the former -- drummer in Sons of Kemet and various other groups -- also the composer. Very quiet, the drummer almost inaudible. B [sp]
Todd Sickafoose: Bear Proof (2023, Secret Hatch): Bassist, looks like only his third album (since 2000) solely under his own name -- Discogs mostly lists live Ani DiFranco albums from 2004-09, when she was jazzing up her sound (Mike Dillon and, later, Allison Miller were also credited). Eight musicians, including Jenny Scheinman (violin), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), and Miller (drums). B+(**) [cd] [09-29]
Kate Soper Feat. Sam Pluta: The Understanding of All Things (2022, New Focus): Composer, mostly filed under classical, plays piano, singer for Wet Ink Ensemble, was a Pulitzer finalist for her chamber opera Ipsa Dixit. Pluta works in electronics, which Soper speaks and sings over, sometimes alarmingly. B- [sp]
Aki Takase: Carmen Rhapsody (2023, BMC): Bizet opera done up by jazz trio with piano (Takase), cello (Vincent Courtois), and sax (Daniel Erdmann), with mezzo soprano Mayumi Nakamura popping in and out. Needless to say, I could do without the latter, but after the initial bad taste, I found it fitting in with the flow. B+(**) [sp]
Aki Takase/Alexander von Schlippenbach: Four Hands Piano Pieces (2021 , Trost): Piano duo, married but both have huge solo careers, as well as several joint duo or larger group albums. But this one feels awkward at first, banging chords, but it does get a bit more interesting toward the end. B [sp]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Julee Cruise: Floating Into the Night (1989 , Sacred Bones): Singer (1956-2022), originally from Iowa, moved to New York, started working with David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti as a vocal coach for Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet. First album, with Lynch writing lyrics and Badalmenti doing the music and orchestration, tied into Lynch's Twin Peaks. Billed as dream pop, but not without a few kinks. B [sp]
Sonic Youth: Live in Brooklyn 2011 (2011 , Silver Current): Seminal New York guitar band, started with an EP in 1982, ended in late 2011 with the separation of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore after 27 years of marriage. Last concert was in São Paulo in November 14, following this August 11 performance outdoors, in Williamsburg facing the East River. In recent years they've released a couple dozen live tapes, but I've had little interested in sifting through them. But they've singled this one out, remastered it, and offer it as 2-LP or 2-CD (82:40). More noise than I'd like, especially on the encore, but in controlled doses it made them stand out. B+(***) [sp]
808 State: Ex:el (1991, ZTT/Tommy Boy): English electronica group, from Manchester, first album 1988, this their fourth (of seven through 2002) and most popular (4 in UK). B+(**) [sp]
Aaliyah: Age Ain't Nothing but a Number (1994, Blackground): Last name Haughton, released three gold records, this first one when she was 15 -- also the age, in what seems even more bizarre today, she married R. Kelly, although that story is messier than I care to get into -- before dying at 22 in a plane crash. Kelly produced, his "new jack swing" a mix of funk and hip-hop, tempered by the young singer. It sold three million copies in the US, three more million elsewhere. B+(*) [sp]
Aaliyah: One in a Million (1996, Blackground): Second album, age 17, another big seller, runs 17 songs, 73:10, seems to be coming her own but this is very much a producers' showcase, with most of the songs written by Missy Elliott and Timbaland. It does capture the sound of the times, which as someone who grew up decades earlier has always struck me as a bit muddled, but she comes through clearer than most. B+(**) [sp]
Aaliyah: Aaliyah (2001, Blackground): One more big hit record, most of the lyrics this time by Stephen Garrett, the music by various committees, and four producers, not that I can discern much variation, just relentless craft. B+(**) [sp]
Change: The Glow of Love (1980, RFC/Warner Bros.): Post-disco group, inspired by Chic, formed in Bologna, Italy, with David Romani, Paolo Gianollo, and Mauro Malavasi doing most of the songwriting and producing, Jacques Fred Petrus running the business, and lots of movable parts, including Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown singing two songs each. B+(**) [sp]
Duran Duran: Rio (1982, Capitol): English new wave band, MTV stars of the early 1980s as their first three albums (1981-83) went multi-platinum. After that they coasted, but never more than four years between albums (until 2021's Future Past took six; a new one is scheduled for October 2023). Title song was as catchy as they ever got. Nothing else here comes close, and in the end I wonder whether there was anything to them in the first place. B- [r]
Electronic: Electronic (1991, Factory): Duo of Bernard Sumner (Joy Division/New Order) and Johnny Marr (Smiths), Sumner the vocal lead, both play guitars and keyboards, Marr also bass. First of three albums (1991-99), sounds much like New Order, nothing to sniff at, but lacks the same magic -- even when the Pet Shop Boys join on two tracks. B+(***) [sp]
Electronic: Raise the Pressure (1996, Parlophone): Second album, Sumner and Marr are joined here by Karl Bartos, from Kraftwerk, who co-wrote six songs. Soundwise, it doesn't make a lot of difference, other than some extra squiggles in the background, and more background vocals. In other words, less overtly New Order, still built on the same strengths, but a bit more nuanced and nicer. A- [sp]
Everything but the Girl: Walking Wounded (1996, Atlantic): English duo, singer Tracey Thorn and multi-instrumentalist Ben Watt, ten albums 1984-99 plus a new one in 2023, each with solo albums before 1984 and after 2000, and also memoirs. This is their ninth album, possibly their bestseller. Nice, steady beat, would take more study, especially for a group I've heard next to nothing by. B+(***) [sp]
Amy Grant: Heart in Motion (1991, A&M): Singer-songwriter, started on the gospel label Myrrh in 1977, sixth album (1985) got picked up for distribution by A&M and went platinum, with this more pop-oriented album ("mingled with Christian values") an even bigger hit. I've had zero interest in CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) since it emerged as a marketing niche, but my rare encounters suggested it was basically arena rock with sanctified (or at least sanitized) lyrics, so as mind-numbing as metal without even the pretense of subversion. This has some of that ("You're Not Alone" is so over the top it's almost good), then winds down with some more gracious ballads (best is "Hope Set High," despite Jesus). B [sp]
The Human League: Dare (1981, A&M): English new wave (synthpop) band, third album after their 1979 debut, a breakthrough hit in the US as well as UK. Formally this has some interest, but I still find it hard to like. B- [sp]
Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted (1990, Priority): West coast gangsta godfather, O'Shea Jackson, first solo album while still a member of N.W.A. -- group disbanded after their second album in 1991, but he returned for their 1999-2002 reunion, and a couple times since then. Big album at the time, hard beats, sharp jolts. I'm certainly not hanging on every word. B+(**) [sp]
Barb Jungr: Every Grain of Sand: Barb Jungr Sings Bob Dylan (2002, Linn): English singer, father Czech, mother German, writes some but has many songbook albums, including more on Dylan. Tempting up to the home stretch, where the song selection hits a couple pet peeves. B+(***) [sp]
Barb Jungr: Waterloo Sunset (2003, Linn): Three originals, nine covers, mostly rock singer-songwriters from the Everly Brothers ("Cathy's Clown") to Richard Thompson, including two Dylans and the remarkable title song from Ray Davies. B+(**) [sp]
Barb Jungr: Love Me Tender (2004 , Linn): Moving on to Elvis Presley, including two more Dylan songs that Presley covered, and one new song by Jungr and producer Aidan York. Everything is done at such a crawl you may already be dead for "Peace in the Valley." B+(*) [sp]
Barb Jungr: Just Like a Woman (Hymn to Nina) (2008, Linn): "All songs previously recorded by Nina Simone," but none written by her, and Jungr doesn't have the voice, the phrasing, or the piano to make the connection. She does, however, find three more Dylan songs. B+(*) [sp]
Barb Jungr: Man in the Long Black Coat: Barb Jungr Sings Bob Dylan (2003-11 , Linn): Another Dylan tribute, this one rolling up the covers on her albums since 2002's Every Grain of Sand -- no duplicates, while adding four new ones (or outtakes?). Almost a best-of, except when it isn't. B+(***) [sp]
Barb Jungr: Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen (2014, Kristalyn): Six more Dylan songs, along with five from Cohen (two co-credits with Sharon Robinson). The latter tend to be played down, but she throws some back into the former, especially "It's Alright Ma." B+(**) [sp]
Barb Jungr: Shelter From the Storm: Songs of Hope for Troubled Times (2016, Linn): Philipp Ther, in How the West Lost the Peace, repeatedly refers to 2016 as annus horribilis, the combined effect of Brexit and Trump, so Jungr has some company in recognizing "troubled times." She co-wrote three songs with pianist Laurence Hobgood ("featuring" on the cover), but went to Dylan for a title (also for "All Along the Watchtower"), Cohen for "Sisters of Mercy," Joni Mitchell for "Woodstock," and wound up with Peter Gabriel and David Bowie ("Life on Mars?/Space Oddity" -- nice idea for another album). B+(*) [sp]
Barb Jungr/John McDaniel: Come Together: Barb Jungr & John McDaniel Perform the Beatles (2016, Kristalyn): McDaniel is an American pianist, sings some, is best known as music director for The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which netted him a couple Grammys. Beatles songs have an almost singularly shabby track record as jazz vehicles, but jazz isn't really the point here. The mostly late-period songs are cannily selected for diva performance, ranging from "Eleanor Rigby" to the medley of "Somewhere" and "The Long and Winding Road," closing with "In My Life." B+(**) [sp]
Barb Jungr: Bob, Brel, and Me (2019, Kristalyn): Bob is Dylan, of course, good for five more songs here, along with five by Jacques Brel (translated into English by Robb Johnson), and five originals. Even the Dylan songs are running low. B [sp]
The London Suede: Dog Man Star (1994, Nude/Columbia): Britpop group, Suede in the UK, the qualification used only in the US. Debut 1993, second album here, released five albums through 2002, took a decade off and returned with four more 2013-22. B [sp]
Kylie Minogue: Fever (2002, Capitol): Australian dance-pop star, debut 1988, has sold over 80 million units worldwide, but didn't chart above 53 (her debut) in the US until this eighth album when platinum, peaking at 3. The beat, especially on the opener ("More More More") is enticing, but winds up feeling a bit empty. B+(**) [sp]
Róisín Murphy: Overpowered (2007, EMI): Irish singer-songwriter, grew up in Manchester, debut 2005 with three EPs leading to the album Ruby Blue, followed by this album, which sold well in the UK. Electropop, although it sometimes falls below functional dance-pop levels. B+(*) [sp]
Sinéad O'Connor: I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (1990, Ensign): Irish singer-songwriter (1966-2023), second album, a huge hit. I didn't care for her debut album or for her best-of, but this feels varied and masterful, if a bit beyond my ken. B+(***) [sp]
Alexander O'Neal: Hearsay (1987, Tabu): R&B singer, debut 1985, this his second (and bestselling, although 1991's All True Man came close) album, with occasional later albums, up to 2010 (or 2017?). B+(**) [sp]
René & Angela: Street Called Desire (1985, Mercury): R&B duo, René Moore and Angela Winbush, recorded four albums 1980-85, the first three for Capitol, this their first gold record, but went separate ways afterwards: Angela recorded three more albums, both having success in songwriting and production (René contributing to Michael Jackson; together they had written songs early on for Janet Jackson). Starts disco, but emphasis is on the funk, extending to a Kurtis Blow rap. [Spotify adds extra cuts, which I didn't manage to separate out.] B+(***) [sp]
René & Angela: René & Angela (1980, Capitol): First album, seven originals are decent enough, but I wouldn't say they have great chemistry. The cover is wildly unfortunate ("Hotel California"). B [r]
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: