The huddled sandspeck of humanity who regularly visit this blog no doubt have discerned a certain propensity of the author’s for looking backwards. Always said I never would, now I seem always to be. I’ve made the “dustbins of cyberspace” argument, and I am indeed left slot-mouthed in response to “new music,” but, to be fair, one needs a little perspective (in addition to 42 years’ worth of listening to records) to evaluate art accurately. However, two new albums by established giants came through the mail slot this week, as well as one from a local hero who‘s just sailed from between Scylla and Charibdis scarred but not scared, so I cannot resist taking a shot at ’em.
Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Volume 3 (Doxy) For the 83-year-old Rollins, both the road and the show seem to go on powerfully forever, and together. The third volume in this highly recommended and expertly compiled series mixes three Rollins originals–he is an underrated composer–one solo flight, and two of the American-songbook chestnuts Sonny was seemingly born to explore the contours of for an approximation of an epic performance (the tracks actually date from four different appearances, 2001-2012). Though his solos may not forge and unfurl unbroken like in days of old, his tone, invention (though he claims not to think and play at the same time), sense of humor, and grace are still beyond the reach of mere mortals–aka “the living body of jazz players.” Case in point: the majestic “Why Was I Born.” As my man at The Stash Dauber, Ken Shimamoto, has eloquently suggested, there are worse predicaments on Planet Earth 2014 than having the grammar of world popsong (that is, of the HISTORY of popsong) at your disposal. Give your man props while he’s living. Don’t wait ’til the heartbeat stops.
Neil Young: A Letter Home (Third Man) Honestly, I haven’t attended Uncle Neil for awhile, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on him. He’s always had one eye on the hands of time, so he’s a sure bet to still have plenty of artistic life in him as he ages. Which brings us to his newest release, one, conveniently, that plays with time by virtue of its recording circumstances. You can go elsewhere for the specific technical details, but Young recorded a set of very thematic O.P.s (“other people’s”) in a contraption that spits out “forest-fire” audio, complete with pops, crackles, lo-fi gauze, and unreliable pitch, that is reminiscent of both a very primitive demo and a much-abused 78 from the ’20s. It’s not a new trick–among major artists, Tom Waits has had it up his sleeve in the past–and I am not sure I like it. At first glance, I thought the song selections were chosen with inconsistent imagination, and would end up being my major complaint; after two listens, I actually like even “On the Road Again” and “My Hometown,” and the concept speaks the way the artist intended it to. It’s even moving. However, I don’t see the point in intentionally make it sound like crap (PRIMITIVE I will take in a minute–not the same thing!); maybe it’s just me, but that would seem to compromise the emotional power of the project: the deliberately “antique” production not only creates an unnecessary barrier for the intimacy of Young’s performance to penetrate, but it also raises my suspicions about Neil’s sincerity, if the record had to be thus fiddled with. And if he’s NOT being sincere–man, gimme my money back to spend on some Pono thing. I confess to being highly sensitive to the taint of Jack White’s hand in matters–he’s screwed up other projects for folks with his gimmickry (most notable past victim: Wanda Jackson) after having largely built his own reputation on gimmicks. It’s something I’d never have thought Neil Young would fall for. So…caveat emptor, if you’re going to spend your hard-earned dough. Try this, which is the highlight, to my ears:
Glen David Andrews: Redemption (Louisiana Red Hot) What would a blog post of mine be without some New Orleans flavor? Unbeknownst to outsiders, Mr. Andrews, a talented trombonist, songwriter, and singer, as well as progeny of a royal music family line, has spent the good part of the last fifteen years putting great music down in the studio, traveling the country testifying to the continued vitality of Crescent City traditions, and putting his feet in the street and squaring up to authorities as an activist for multiple local causes. Unfortunately, he did all of that while wrestling with substance abuse, which finally brought him down during the first years of this decade. Redemption is one of the most musically and emotionally powerful sobriety albums since Stevie Ray Vaughan’s In Step; Andrews himself says, “This is a record about my journey back from the living dead.” Glen is one of the finest brass band and NOLA trad jazz players alive, but the music here is brawny, funky rock and roll. This is not only an accurate projection of Andrews’ personality, but also an expression of spiritual joy buoyed by rebirth and a product of the man’s muscular support: Ivan Neville, Galactic’s Ben Ellman, and local guitar hero Anders Osborne. If you’ve never heard (of) him, time to get on board. Special guest appearance from beyond: Mahalia Jackson.