Highlights of my last two weeks’ worth of listening, ranked on a 10-point scale depending on how the landing was stuck:
The Paranoid Style/ROLLING DISCLOSURE – 9.5 – I haven’t read Richard Hofstadter (yet), I don’t need convincing that, in this life, so and so is fucked, and it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. But I am happy to report none of the above impacts my enjoyment of this boisterous, tuneful, sardonic, allusive rock and roll album (yeah–you remember rock and roll?). In fact, one of the main pleasures of this record is how much helpless joy Elizabeth Bracy and her bandmates exude while taking it all apart. Another is listening for how Bracy retools other pop folks’ catchy lines to make her points (my favorite is extracted from a Carpenters sugar cube). Easily one of the best rockin’ records of 2016 (check the band’s track record), and I advise you quickly do the work to find and buy it, as it is an accurate marker of these times. Aren’t you gonna want to recall them?
THE EARL BOSTIC STORY – 8 – Bostic has always been one of my favorite saxophonists. After counseling such future titans as John Coltrane, he crossed over from jazz into r&b and pop, largely on the power of the unruly, RAW way he’d tear into a chorus or riff. Though some folks consider his musical context a little too moldy, I treasure the gash he rips in them (just listen to “Flamingo,” one of his big hits)–and he’s remarkably reliable across a box set. Fans of James Carter who are in the dark might wanna check where some of that cat’s irreverence comes from.
Aaron Neville/APACHE – 7.8 – New Orleans’ toughest-looking pussycat hasn’t had this much musical muscle behind him in years, and he wrote or co-wrote all the songs. No star producers or players in the band, either. Not all the lyrics are winners, and I suppose the sound looks back too sentimentally on ’70s styles. But–there’s that voice, the 75-year-old grain of which cuts some of its youthful sweetness, and several of the tunes are real convincers. Picks to click: “All of the Above,” “Ain’t Gonna Judge You,” and–especially–“Make Your Momma Cry.”
James Moody (with Kenny Barron)/FLY ME TO THE MOON – 8.3 – Moody’d never quite struck deep with me ’til I heard this two-fer-one CD. My problem was listening for flash, excitement, and aggression–whether on tenor, alto, or flute (an instrument I give very little room in jazz), the man just plays with quietly intense smarts, skill, and soul. From ’62 and ’64 sessions for Argo, with excellent runs at “Sonnymoon for Two” and (Dizzy’s) “Ole” and some sharp arrangements.
HONKY TONK AMNESIA–THE HARD COUNTRY SOUND OF MOE BANDY – 8.5 – “You wroooote/’Your Cheeeeeeatin’ Heart’ about/A gal like my/FIRST [my caps] ex-wife,” Moe sang on Paul Craft’s “Hank Williams, You Wrote My Life,” and there were many more such wry laments on his three albums for GRC–which would all probably fit on a single disc. This ain’t it–the folks at Razor & Tie always did a great job, but Bandy’s usually tame or pat later stuff crowds out the likes of “This Time I Won’t Cheat on Her Again” and “It’s Better Than Going Home Alone.” However, honky-tonk cravers will get a buzz on from a mere perusal of the writing credits (Sanger Shafer, Curley Putman, Dallas Frazier, Wayne Carson, and Sonny Throckmorton), and Bandy, droller than he was hard, was just the mind and voice to put their songs across.
Leonard Cohen/LIVE IN LONDON – 10 – Cohen’s mos def recorded too many live albums, but if you have to have one, this be it. Perhaps I am influenced by having been hypnotized and charmed in person by a show from this 2008-2009 tour, but the selections, arrangements, and players are simply unerring, and the main attraction is blissfully at peace with the sands left in his hourglass. Whether he’s telling a story about his then-96-year-old-teacher apologizing for not being dead, thanking us for keeping his songs alive on “Tower of Song” (in which he still hasn’t moved up a floor on ol’ Hank), or intoning knowingly on the eternal “Who By Fire” (in a magnificent new setting), his eyes smile as he awaits his maker. We can all use that model–he’s still waiting, by the way. This review is for my friend Deke, whose eyes smiled, too.