“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).

“Saved From The Bin” (January 11, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

After reading an article on death cleaning, I’ve been pruning my CD collection. I do this annually anyway, but this round, well…hundreds are going out the door and to our wonderful local shop, Hitt Records.

While loading up a Zapp’s box to haul away, I noticed two items I had second thoughts about and decided to give them one last spin. Turns out they will remain in the stacks. I must be brief as I’m fading:

Various Artists: Spirit of Malombo – Malombo Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984

Strut Records does a great job, but all I could remember from my first spin was repetitive and somewhat drifty percussion pieces. I must have been distracted; at times, it’s like Mongo Santamaria and Blood Ulmer are jamming, with focused intensity.

Various Artists: I’m Just Like You–Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70

Don’t be fooled by the dates: if you’ve always had a jones for …there’s a riot goin’ on and Fresh, like I do, you may have to own this collection of Sly-produced side projects, prominently featuring that drum machine that he used so expertly on his own records. I was getting rid of it because it seemed patchy, and it is, but, as is Light In The Attic’s wont, it’s well-packaged and sharply annotated, with a fairly recent interview with Mr. Stewart. And those rhythms? Yeah.

Short-shrift division:

Fat Possum never did a record on Como – Senatobia (MS) she-wold Jessie Mae Hemphill, but if you’re fan of the North Mississippi Hill Country drone, you need her Feelin’ Good. (I was not getting rid of this, by the way.)

“The Old, Not-So-Weird America” (January 10, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I spent the afternoon listening to all five discs of the heralded American Epic box set while reading about race, labor, inequality, and the deafening sucking sound of American capitalism’s profit vacuum really cleaning “the carpet.” I’m not going to go into all that, but I will say that this collection will cross-reference about any decent book you might be reading while it’s playing.

Some simple observations:

1) I got it for Christmas, as every American household should have, for free, at the cost of the government.

2) The shit holds up extremely well after almost 90 years. In terms of emotional intensity, lyrical wit, and, heck, catchiness, it makes much current American music sound sleep-walked through.

3) As an owner of the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, American Epic‘s predecessor and model, I can confirm the sound is audibly improved (sometimes astonishingly so), there’s not that much song overlap, the non-Anthology selections are astute, the lyrics are consistently a trip, and the annotations are mostly primary sources–the performers themselves when possible–rather than scholars.

4) Not just because it’s different than the Smith collection–and it is, it’s got a different organizing principle–but it occurred to me that I no longer like Greil Marcus’ adjective “weird” in his famous quote about this stuff. It’s not weird; in fact, it’s the sound of normal humanity wrestling with life. Maybe it sounds weird to many of us because we’re more effectively repressed…not to say muzzled.

5) At $45 (the price I see most frequently), it is a bargain, baby. I’m thinking about buying one for a former student!

A favorite of mine from each disc for you to sample if you don’t know what this is–and, folks, there are no tracks that are merely good among the 100:

Disc 1:

Disc 2:

Disc 3:

Disc 4:

Disc 5:

Short-shrift Division:

I am still cranking The Best of the Ronettes in “The Lab”–my nickname for my truck cab, where I can be fully immersed. Such divine and sexy salvos!

“A Juxtaposition” (January 9, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Sometimes the words, no matter how irritating they are, just don’t matter. This band, and its sometimes too randomly glib front man, went a long way toward proving that, forcing me into a love-hate relationship with them that felt resolved today when I activately enjoyed the album of theirs I once most despised:

Sometimes, the music might be underwhelming, or maybe a bit cliche-ridden, but when the right words are hung on its bones, they can transform the music into something special. I hadn’t listened to these Brits in a good long while, but this record sounds better than ever. Their front man, still at it with an excellent record released in 2017, may be the only songwriter ever to end a verse with the word “dissipated” (a rhyme, of course).

It’s only words / And words are all I have!

Short-shrift Division:

Greatest live vintage soul recording you’ve never heard? Johnnie Taylor’s Live at the Summit Club? I dare you not to get swept up in the sweat and guile and soul claps here, driven home by a furious “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone.”

The Best of the Ronettes: Oh man. That foxy quaver riding atop that mammoth clatter!