Son of Rough Mix, on the Fly (January 18-19, Columbia, Missouri)

Still wrestling with wedging writing time in between returning to work, compulsively striving to keep up with my reading goals, catching up with Call the Midwife, and simply living. But I’m gonna by-God post every day of January if it kills me….

Thursday:

Like 15-20 other people in this world, I buy and read jazz mags. After scanning about the 50th Smoke Sessions label ad I’ve flipped to in two months, I broke down and downloaded Heads of State’s Four in One, like many Smoke releases a gathering of old pros (two of my old faves here, Gary Bartz and Al Foster) crisply and skillfully playing mostly jazz rep with a sprinkling of originals, and new-to-me Detroit pianist / vocalist Johnny O’Neal’s In the Moment. O’Neal, too, is an old pro who can make the 88s speak several jazz dialects, and he sings a bit, too. I’d love to see him in a little bar. For the record, though neither release breaks any new ground…so what? These players feel the music, the production is smart and clean, and the performances have an immediacy that’s stirring.

Friday:

Morning: due to Nicole’s enthusiasm for the Carter Family biography Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone, I sneakily bought her (read: me) (no, really, I got it for us) JSP’s endlessly wonderful The Carter Family 1927-1932 5-disc box. We broke it out at 5:15 and listened raptly to the first two discs. Few foolish moves therein, and YES Maybelle plays driving guitar. Also, that Guthrie stole their “When the World’s on Fire” melody for “This Land is Your Land”just gives the latter even more subtext.

Later in the day, driving from job to job in “The Lab” (the ’92 red-orange Ford Ranger that serves as my high-volume listening center), I revisited two old rap faves, Dizzee Rascal and Busdriver. Rascal: I love that early grime sound and I’m a sucker for an MC with a British accent. Bus: I found myself thinking, “This is prog-rap!” an association that would normally force me to separate myself from the music but which in this MC’s case, thanks to wit and humor, passes muster, barely. I was proud of myself for coming up with that label, then remembered that Robert Christgau had, hilariously and quite accurately, compared Busdriver’s delivery to Sparks and Conlon Nancarrow, so I’d probably My-Sweet-Lorded ol’ Bob.

Speaking of, Xgau recommended the new Joey Badass release in his Expert Witness column today, so I dipped my toe in that musical pond. Badass has never moved me much, but his social commentary on All-Amerikkkan Badass was just what the doctor ordered for this dude, who today finished the highly-recommended anthology Tale of Two Americas. Here, listen to the whole thing free!

The weekend has presented itself, so I hope to leave something more coherent tomorrow.

“Rock and roll is about attitude. You don’t have to play the best guitar.”

Johnny Thunders

Rough Mix on the Fly (January 17, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

CupcakKe

Yesterday, I was back to work tutoring and trying to catch up on my reading (I shoot for 100 books a year, and as of yesterday morning I had not finished one). I listened to much music out of the corner of my ear, but I am too harried at present to connect it, so on days like these–to meet my goal of posting once a day, I am just going to list-and-one-liner.

CupcaKke (pictured above): Ephora – Featuring the first song I’ve heard in awhile that’s made me blush.

Lil’ Band of GoldCajun supergroup fronted by ebullient driving accordianist Steve Riley, with avant garde saxophonist (Dickie Landry) as secret weapon, calls out to benighted Texas Tornados fans.

Moor Mother: Fetish the Bones – Radical poet riding rap rhythms redolent in attack of, um, The Pop Group.

Pink Floyd: Relics – Out of the blue I’ve found a Pink Floyd album I really, really like, and it’s (glorious) patchwork.

Roswell Rudd: Embrace – What a nice album to leave us with before he stepped on a rainbow (here, sample a song)!

Archie Shepp: Attica Blues – Legendary–at least much-discussed–jazz (though often not jazZY) concept album not as angry and far more romantic than the title would suggest.

 

“You got your radio turned down too low–TURN IT UP!”

Bo Diddley

 

 

 

 

“With My Two Fists of Iron” (January 16, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Dion

I’ve said it privately to two people, but it’s time I came clean: given a choice between Dion and Elvis (a purely fantastical situation, I know), I’d take Dion. I couldn’t possibly dispute that Elvis waxed more great songs than Mr. DiMucci ever will, as well as recorded several great albums, where I do not think The Wanderer recorded one. No doubt, Elvis was a more important figure in American culture by many miles. Over time, though, other than the Sun sessions, the ’68 Comeback, and a terrific compilation called Reconsider Baby, I’ve found his magic doesn’t work on me the way it used to. On the other hand, Dion’s voice has held me more and more in thrall. Like Presley did, the guy can sing almost anything–doo wop, cutting-edge rock and roll, folk-rock, Delta blues, romantic pop–and someone needs to get him in a studio soon, because, at 78, he can still cut it. Dig if you will (I love, and hope you will love, this for more reasons than that it proves my point):

I guess it’s the lack of affect in Dion’s delivery–a frequently very unselfconscious sincerity, regardless of the kind of material he’s singing–that puts the hook in me. That, and his fascinating musical odyssey, one that, frankly, Elvis really never got a chance to embark upon of his own accord, outside of Hill & Range Publishing. I’m not doing a very good job explaining it…it just is. Simply put, I light up much more quickly and permanently when I hear “Lovers Who Wander,” “Born to Cry,” “Daddy Rollin’,” “My Girl the Month of May,” “Your Own Backyard,” “If I Should Fall Behind,” “Two-Ton Feather” and, especially, the two songs that inspired me to listen on this day, The Great Double-Standard Should-Have-Been-Double-Sided Fantasy 45, “The Wanderer” b/w “Runaround Sue” than I do when spinning Elvis’ classics. My dear friend Jill posted yesterday afternoon on Facebook that she’d never noticed how, well, unfair to women those latter two monster hits are, especially taken together. And, of course, on the merits of the lyrics alone, they pretty much are.

If you know about DiMucci’s youth, or if you’ve read Richard Price’s The Wanderer, though, such a viewpoint shouldn’t surprise you, nor would they likely inspire you to excuse them. But, on one hand, the other merits of these songs are bounteous: the musical arrangements, the vocals–at his best, there is a very subtle raw edge to Dion’s singing that’s his equivalent of Elvis’ style on songs like “Trying to Get to You,” and he’s at his best on these–the musicianship (Mickey “Guitar” Baker, Milt Hinton, Panama Francis, need I go on?)? WOW. And, lookit, I hear a little something different in the lyrics. When I hear “Runaround Sue,” I hear a cocky guy who’s gotten wounded by a spirited, beautiful, and free woman. That’s always been an occasion for a laugh in my book. In “The Wanderer,” you might note that the protagonist himself notes that, even with his “two fists of iron,” tattoos, and trail of broken hearts, he’s “goin’ nowhere.” I’m not the first to point that out, but it’s a nice irony, and in his true artistic life, Dion wasn’t interested in a pop/doowop pigeonhole. Just sayin’.

After I read Jill’s post and engaged in some spirited commentary, I couldn’t help but break out the above Laurie compilation, which Nicole and I have worn out over the years. It’s got some dreck on it, but that’s what programming is for. It’s entirely possible that the reader might not be familiar with Dion’s work, and this is the starting point, but should you get hooked, I highly recommend this great multi-disc collection (you may have to lean on your library or Spotify):

Box set

I’ll leave you with this, as I did with Jill when I departed the Facebook conversation, a deeply felt, graceful, and definitive Dion cover version of a great Springsteen song the beauty of which Bruce couldn’t quite tease all the way out. Herein, we hear that The Wanderer has come a long, long way:

Short-shrift Division:

The soundtrack I provided for Nicole, who was cooking caldo de pollo.

Trio San Antonio

Texas Tornados

Flaco Jimenez: Arriba El Norte

Caldo

 

“I Got a Telephone in My Bosom” (MLK Day, Columbia, Missouri)

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s a house tradition on Dr. King’s holiday that we listen to Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. But we also always dig pretty deep into the golden era of black gospel. My knowledge of such has been vastly expanded by the astute, enthusiastic, witty, and passionate writing of Anthony Heilbut (I recommend you to The Gospel Sound–loaded with a killer discography–and The Fan Who Knew Too Much), as well as his expert gospel productions and compilations.

Today’s artifacts:

Speaking of Heilbut, this collection is typical of the catalog of his Shanachie-distributes Spirit Feel label, from which I’ve drunk many times and always left lit. Along with names you should know (Rosetta, Mahalia, Clara, and Marion–who lets loose with some of the mighty whoooos that, in earlier incarnations, Little Richard picked up and passed to the Beatles), you also get The Georgia Peach and the amazing, bluesy Bessie Griffin (when she hollers “I got a telephone in my bosom / So my heart can call on God,” this atheist almost believes). The tracks’ vintage spans from 1931 to 1982, and Heilbut’s notes are typically fascinating. Stuff is not easy to find, either.

The cream of the Silvertones on Vee-Jay, which is to say the cream of the Silvertones. Which is to say the cream of golden-era quartets. Which is to say some of the greatest American music ever recorded. The Reverend Claude Jeter, forever.

Raw twinned vocals, electric guitar, a touch of organ, and that’s just about all–and, I ask you, what more might you need? Gems from the great Nashboro label.

Samples, anyone?

 

Short-shrift Division

Inspired by Nicole’s Carter Family reading:

Various Artists: Will the Circle Be Unbroken

June Carter Cash: Wildwood Flower

King Cakes & Muffaletta Stromboli (January 14, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Not everyone lives such a life of luxury that he can just play music all day long, but yesterday was a very special occasion: in thrall to Carnival season, Nicole was baking King Cakes and some very intriguing muffaletta stromboli (recipe to follow), and the Saints were on TV striving to make the conference finals, so I needed to provide the soundtrack. For that service I am always game.

Obviously, I strongly recommend everything we listened to. We actually began the day with ASV Living Era’s outstanding Lester Young and Fats Waller compilations (there is something, mysterious to me, about Waller and Sundays), but soon switched to Louisiana music. Here’s a partial list before I get to the special item:

Various Artists: Alligator Stomp, Volume 1

Allen Toussaint: American Tunes

Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago

Michael White (before he was a doctor): Shake It & Break It

Billie & De De Pierce / Jim Robinson’s New Orleans Band: Jazz at Preservation Hall (this great, out of print Atlantic series is well worth searching for)

Big Chief Juan Pardo & The Golden Comanche: Spirit Food

James Booker: The Lost Paramount Tapes

Various Artists: J’ai Ètè Au Bal, Volume 2 (I’m telling you, this documentary is essential viewing!)

There were more, but I want to get to a fantastic record from 2013 that I broke out that still releases thunder and lightning, and actually broke some musical ground in it’s tradition: Bo Dollis, Jr. and The Wild Magnolias’ A New Kind of Funk. The promo is worth watching for background and beats reading me:

A New Kind of Funk, in its way, is what it says it is. The mini-tradition of Mardi Gras Indian tribes recording albums goes back to Bo’s dad’s taking the Magnolias into the studio (with ace guitarist Snooks Eaglin) and recording a classic eponymously titled record for Polydor in 1974, and The Wild Tchoupitoulas, aided and abetted by the Nevilles, The Meters, and Allen Toussaint, following suit (and, to my ear, stomping some romp, ever so narrowly) in 1976. Most sane music aficionados believe it ends there, but those two records started something. Several dozen “tribal records” have been released since, at least–the folks at Lousiana Music Factory are probably the only ones who know for sure–and all I’ve heard are good. A recent highlight, for example, is 79rs Gang’s Fire on the Bayou. But young Mr. Dollis’ album takes “Injun music” into rock territory on the album without losing what’s essential: the funk. Guitar (slide and resonator, along with some power chording) leaps loudly, but without vulgarity, out of the mix on several tracks. Electric bass, and drumming that doesn’t seemed honed in parades, further juices the best songs; if someone had told me this before I bought the album, I wouldn’t have bought it, but it would have been my loss. These seeming sins against the order work, because they’re carefully balanced against the inspired traditional chanting and refrains that make the mini-genre fun (and educational) and interwoven with the eccentric rhythms and local sounds (like a country violin) of southern Louisiana. Another kind of innovation is that the younger Dollis has dared to write songs (the title tune, the rousing opener “We Come to Rumble“) that push up against the likes of “Tootie Ma,” “Liza Jane,” “Fire Water Big Chief Got Plenty,” and the eternal “Hell Out the Way.” The record isn’t perfect–a cover of Toussaint and Lee Dorsey’s “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky” doesn’t get off the ground. But if you wanna take a chance on some music that will set your house on fiya during Mardi Gras season, think about tracking it down. It’s listed as being on One More Time Records, but maybe check CDBaby first.

The Saints lost on what I will call a non-tackle, but the delicious King Cake (alas, no baby for me), the music, and the muffaletta stromboli was most decent salve. Hey, courtesy of louisianacookin.com and Nicole, here’s the recipe if you wanna try it:

Muffuletta Stromboli

Makes about 24 servings

Ingredients

• 1 (15-ounce) package pizza dough

• 2 tablespoons Creole mustard

• ¼ pound thinly sliced soppressata

• ½ pound thinly sliced deli ham

• 1 cup olive salad*

• 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

• 6 slices provolone cheese, halved

• 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Instructions

1 Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

2 On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 14-inch square. Spread mustard onto dough, and cut in half.

3 Arrange overlapping slices of soppressata down center of 1 piece of dough, leaving a 2-inch border on both sides. Top with 3 slices ham, ¼ cup olive salad, ¼ cup mozzarella, and 3 provolone halves; repeat layers once. Cut strips of dough at ¾- to 1-inch intervals on both sides of filling. Fold top and bottom pieces of dough over filling, and braid strips of dough diagonally over filling, stretching strips, if necessary. Place on prepared pan. Brush dough with egg. Repeat with remaining dough, soppressata, ham, olive salad, and cheeses.

4 Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Notes

*We used Boscoli Italian Olive Salad.

A Poetry of Code (January 13, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

“It’s all codes.” James Luther Dickinson

We have a tradition in out house over Dr. King’s weekend: we listen to the Impressions. The best of Curtis Mayfield’s writing for the group consists of delicately coded messages of encouragement for black Americans during the civil rights struggle, the most famous, perhaps, being “People Get Ready,” “I’m So Proud,” “We’re a Winner,” “It’s Alright,” and “Keep On Pushin’.” The titles do not suggest much coding, but the lyrics can be heard (and were heard by many, I am sure) as deeply romantic. A deeper dive into the Sixties Mayfield songbook, however, will reward you with more complex gems, such as “Long, Long Winter” and, especially, “Isle of the Sirens.” The former would resonate powerfully with Mayfield’s fellow Chicagoans, both in their activism and their tilting against that cold wind they call “The Hawk,” but it’s the latter that stuns me most. First, have a listen:

On the surface, as perhaps the only pop music representation of an episode from The Odyssey, it’s stunning enough: the lyrics, which could easily have been strained, are expertly crafted; the vocal arrangement reinforces the fact that the episode (and America’s climate) threatened a group; and the guitar? If you’ve ever wondered why Jimi Hendrix was so rapt in his attention to Mayfield, think of Jimi’s gentler compositions and listen to this again. But beneath the surface, the shout of “Keep course!” is where the real action is.

I wish Mayfield’s songs weren’t still so relevant and necessary. We’ll be playing them all day Monday.

Short-shrift division:

Guitar-heroes : Bassekou Kouyate and his ngoni army, wailing as a coup is being launched outside the studio walls in Bamako, on Jama Ko.

Injuns comin’ (it’s Carnival Time): Donald Harrison, Jr. stitching tribal chants into modern jazz on Indian Blues

Joy from Acadiana: the magical soundtrack to J’ai Ete au Bal – see the movie, luxuriate in (and dance to) the music.

“Sound Unheard, Word Unread” (January 12, Columbia, Missouri)

Who are the artists whose releases you buy sound unheard, critical word unread? I am assuming this is a practice of yours, and that you do still buy music. Mine have changed over the years. In my twenties: George Jones, Minutemen, Replacements, Husker Du, Prince, anything George Clinton-related, Tom Waits. In my thirties: Public Enemy, Mekons, The Oblivians, James Carter. Over the past 17 years, though (my forties and fifties), skepticism’s cold hand has fallen on my shoulder and my coin has not been offered so automatically. When it has been, it’s been for artists with unique vision who live on the margins, like Tyler Keith, Swamp Dogg, Bobby Rush, MF Doom. Today, I spent time with two of those.

Ever since I first laid ear to Jean Grae, she’s been one of my favorite MCs. She has a flintiness of tone that reminds me of Rakim, a winning emotional tension created by toughness and vulnerability, a deadly and surprising pen, and, until recently, a consistency that satisfies my preference for album artists. One terrific Grae record even fans of hers may have missed is Evil Jeanius, created in collaboration with Blue Sky Black Death. All the above qualities are in play, but of special note is the mesmerizing “Threats,” which features multiple cascading Etta James samples that reinforce them:

Elsewhere, the team makes use of one of John Cale’s violin stabs from “Venus in Furs.” Though I can’t help but encourage Jean’s recent attempts to diversify artistically (into singing, television, and books), it’s not been great for her rapping, but I’ll still buy any record she releases.

I have a weakness for old folks who’ve prospered doing very unconventional things on the margins for decades. Such is the case of Poughkeepsie’s finest, saxophonist/trumpeter/percussionist/composer Joe McPhee.

McPhee, who turned 78 in November, makes wonderful music out of blips, blaps, squeaks, squeals, wails and whispers. The unconverted have been known to say that all free jazz sounds alike, that such artists are “just playing” anything, but I’d know a McPhee performance a mile away. Joe’s new record, Imaginary Numbers, on Clean Feed, showed up in my mailbox yesterday, and did not disappoint. Try this:

Short-shrift division:

Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure. I love post-Eno Roxy, but I wish he’d stuck around a little longer.

Shame: Songs of Praise: Read in The Guardian today that these guys could be the next punk thing in the UK. I wasn’t knocked out, nor was I repelled–I guess I just want to note that today was the day I first heard them (across a room and hallway’s distance, and not cranked, so I need to return to the record).