- Sonny Rollins: Way Out West—Deluxe Edition
- Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
- Princess Nokia: 1992
- Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
- Berry: Everything, Compromised
- CupcaKe: Ephora
- Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldiers: Rifles and Rosary Beads
- JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
- Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
- Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
- Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
- Alice Bag: Blue Print
- Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
- Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
- Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
- Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
- Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
- ZU & Mats Gustafsson: How to Raise an Ox
- Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
- No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
- Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie
- Tracy Thorn: Record
- The Revelators: “In which The Revelators play live versions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook”
- Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
- Tal National: Tantabara
- Shame: Songs of Praise
- David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
- Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
- Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
- MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
- Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
- Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
- Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
- Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
- Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
One album I will always, always listen to is Anita Sings the Most, starring the scintillating Ms. O’Day and Oscar Peterson, who both supports her winningly and constantly challenges her (she’s more than equal–the proof’s in the pudding) throughout the 33:59 of the 1957 recording. It’s brief, but packed with radiant music.
Anita is at her sassy, mischievous, inventive, joyous best here–it’s the LP I’d recommend first to listeners dark to her genius–and it’s telling that she’s listed as co-producer with Norman Granz. She’s in control, from the song selection, tempos, and drummer, her longtime telepath, codependent, and partner in rhythm John Poole. The band is essential Peterson’s group, with Ray Brown on bass and Herb Ellis, frequently sounding teleported, on guitar, but Anita could always count on Poole to turn the sharp corners she made in her interpretations.
Where to start? Where else but the beginning! Anita Sings the Most explodes out of the gate with two minutes and fifty seconds of quicksilver Gershwin: “‘S Wonderful / They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” There’s something about the heart-quickening pace and instrumental magic that makes her delivery of “You can’t blame / For feelin’ amorous” even more irresistibly fetching:
And it’s not just the sheer speed that’s exciting here. You can hear Anita ache, wince, and steel herself as she feels her way through “Love Me or Leave Me” and (especially) “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”:
If you jazz diva channel only features Billie, Ella, Sarah, and Dinah, consider adding Anita to your programming. Anita Sings the Most is a sure convincer.
Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed–Bettye sounds forced into some selections of this all-Dylan program, and her voice at times sounds on the verge of shredding, but she nails the title song, wears “Ain’t Talkin'” like she’s Alida Valli at the end of The Third Man, and wrests “Do Right to Me, Baby” out of Dylan’s grip, and Christendom’s.
Fellow music enthusiasts: have you ever just been wrong about, been deaf to, a great album? It’s happened to me many times, as I suspect it has to you. On this day, I received a comeuppance.
Nicole and I and our dear friends Janet and David spent a day in Fulton, a town we’ve been frequenting and growing very fond of. We introduced them to The Fulton Café, an establishment specializing in Cuban cuisine already written about glowingly on this blog. We visited the National Churchill Museum on the campus of Westminster, where Churchill delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech and where stands proudly and appropriately a colorful extant segment of the Berlin Wall:
The museum’s been wonderfully revamped and, peeking into a room behind the chapel’s pulpit I spied…bongos? Yes, bongos!
Finally, we landed at Milton’s Cocktails, which featured the following:
$7 cocktails in pint glasses and $5 cans of beer + a shot
Free chicken chili
Pool table and pinball
A ebullient bartender and owner, Verrell
TWO JUKEBOXES stocked with goodies and free for the button-punching!
We enjoyed several dranks as I played all of the several Ronnie Self selections and sat gobsmacked and stumped at the garage/rockabilly covers of Jessie Hill’s “Whip It on Me” and Bobby Hendricks’ “Itchy Twitchy Feelings.” Verrell himself couldn’t help because he hadn’t written the performers’ names on the list, and we forgot to ask Fulton Café impresario and Milton’s staff member Jimmy, who mesmerized us with stories from his past in Kansas City. We’re going back to Milton’s, ’nuff said.
So…about this record I’d snubbed? We landed at Janet and David’s upon returning from Fulton, and apropos of nothing, and without announcing the selection, David put Kenny Burrell’s Guitar Forms on the box. My defenses were down, I was in a wild rockin’ mood after my jukebox jolt–when Burrell’s guitar leaped out of the speakers and began slashing me exquisitely with 1,000 elegant cuts. On top of that, Gil Evans’ settings immediately forced me to consider that the album was a perfect companion for Miles’ and Evans’ Sketches of Spain. I just flat-out luxuriated in a record I’d a decade ago dispensed with because it sounded too tasty, too guitar-nerdish! SAY WHAT???? Had I been out of my goddam mind? And I’d played it multiple times back then, trying to shake the greatness out of it and failing miserably. Sometimes, I’m not just deaf, I’m dumb–and it makes me wonder what other masterpieces I’ve been numb to. If you’d like to be spellbound, wait til it gets a bit late, pour a glass, mute all distractions, and apply Guitar Forms liberally.
After the last track of Guitar Forms ended, we hit the stacks and pulled out some work by another great arranger, Bill Holman’s Brilliant Corners: The Bill Holman Band Plays Thelonious Monk, which I’ve always loved. Here’s a taste:
Now, as I said, I’d always loved that. But I turned to David and muttered, a tad unfairly perhaps, “Monk and bombast…not that great a combo.”
One never steps into the same record twice, do one?
I am pleased as punch to see the inspiring Alice Bag back on the scene with her new album, Blueprint. It’s her second solo album in three years (with a rare 45 squeezed in between), after beginning her trouble-making career with The Bags’ “Survive” 45 in 1979 and spending most of the ensuing four decades advocating for women, children (she’s a fellow teacher) and Latinx culture. She wrote a memoir I’ve heard from reliable sources is captivating, Violence Girl, that I just moved up on my massive stack after sampling her new record last night. I can’t write about Alice’s new record in great detail, as I was reading, but “77” (see above) and “Turn It Up” kicked my ass–I was needing a hardcore punk rock injection, and I have a soft spot for the West Coast variety. The rest of the album sounded fine–I’m going back to the well soon, and I suggest you drink from it yourself. A brave Chicana feminist school teacher and activist who’s about to turn 60 and hasn’t slowed down a millisecond is one of the many things we need right now.
Julien Baker came to my attention vaunted by humans far smarter than I, but my first impression was that she was hitting me squarely in one of my deafest spots: I am quite immune to heart-on-the sleeve outpourings, especially those sparely accompanied. I’m a bit stoic myself, and I don’t trust self-indulgence of any kind very much. However, I’d snagged Baker’s recent Turn Out the Lights in a moment of weakness (I was dying to burn up some trade credit, and someone had begged me to give her a listen), then I found it she was from Memphis (an entirely different weak spot I can never resist scratching), then my favorite writer of the moment, Hanif Abdurraqib, singled her out for powerful praise recently in The New York Times. So I listened–and she shook me by the lapels. Her writing and singing go uncomfortable places, and I don’t mean gushing emotionalism–I mean universally human struggle and pain. Reminded me of another Memphis thang: Big Star’s Third. It doesn’t sound like that dark musical night of the soul, though it often feels like it.
So…hmmm…not so short shrift. Take that as a recommendation.
“…someone is trying to satisfy you / He don’t know you’re wild and you’re blue.”
“Wild and Blue,” written by John Scott Sherrill and performed most indelibly by John Anderson in 1982, is one of my very favorite songs. It’s a wicked Cajun-styled waltz, easily memorized and yelled along with, and Anderson, a singer of immense warmth, makes it extremely real. It’s a sad tale of honky-tonk heartbreak, but it’s also a masterpiece of compressed meaning.
“Wild and blue”: simple, it seems, but as one listens beneath the phrase, it signifies several possibilities about the song’s subject. Her wildness, explicitly tied to sexual adventurousness, seems the by-product of rejection-triggered desperation and self-loathing so profound “satisfying” her is out of the question. It’s a sad–and scary–situation. Her blueness? So deep-hued the song’s persona imagines it won’t lift until she dies.
And that persona: is he the lover she needed all along, suffering in silence as he watches her campaign of romantic wreckage, knowing there’s no stopping her, in exquisite unrequited pain visualizing her with her mind made up and someone’s shades pulled down–and extending her compassion and understanding? Despite being a witness, heart ripped to shreds by her downward spiral, offering her shelter? Wow. Just wow.
The persona just as easily could be the woman’s mother, or her best friend; imagine it sung by Loretta, or Dolly, or Rosie Ledet. “If you know he ain’t home / Why do you keep callin’?” A sisterly life-rope, thrown out, even if likely in vain.
Thinking about The Mekons’ very nice cover version, sure, Sally Timms and Jon Langford have long loved honky tonk, and maybe that’s all their run at it amounts to: it’s too great not to sing yourself (do I understand that!). But considering the band’s political outlook, the wildness and the deep blue mood of the protagonist might just as well be existential. Hard to argue, right? How much of the deep desire in living is futile to hope to satisfy?
Also, when you hear this song, do you remember anyone you’ve known who was this wild and this blue? I do. Several.
One closing thought: as I was preparing this in my head on a neighborhood walk, I was thinking it had been written by Sanger Shafer, the man behind many a Lefty Frizzell classic. As much as Anderson’s masterful singing and stylistic similarity to Frizzell would make such a dream unnecessary, I’d love to have heard Lefty sing it. It’s his meat ‘n’ taters.
It’s a remakes album is all it is, but on Side 1, The Possum, plumbing uncharted depths of pain and finding new vocal nooks and crannies after almost 25 years, renders all previous versions mere trifles.
This was a slow music day–music isn’t the end-all be-all (he sez to himself)–but in honor of the piquant writer Luc Sante’s great essay on the subject for Pitchfork, I thought a lot about Something Else by The Kinks. That album was the centerpiece for a mini-unit series that was a regular part of my practice as a teacher of British literature at Hickman High School. As a way to ease reluctant students into the process of literary analysis, I would guide them through a quick study of the work of notable songwriters from or associated with the British Isles. I’d give them some brief background and guiding questions, provide them a packet with selected lyrics, play each song, then solicit their observations, gradually pulling my own back. The Kinks’ Ray Davies couldn’t have been a more perfect writer for such a lesson: his command of voice, tone, characterization, ambiguity, irony, and droll humor ensured students would walk out knowing more than they did coming in, and that many would leave big fans–especially after “Waterloo Sunset,” which closed the class. That’s a classic example of a song that means far more than its author and most critics have claimed for it–or so my students would annually prove to me.
Please sample the album, linked above, and check out Mr. Sante’s reconsideration of its quality import.
As far as the post title’s concerned, since things are slow, it’s a good time to reflect on how this blog, which I resolved to rejuvenate on New Year’s Day, is faring.
A) I was largely trying to break out of writer’s lethargy, and I’ve posted 86 straight days. Check.
B) My concept was to simply keep a diary of my listening, which I mostly have unless I’ve repeat-played something over several days, which I occasionally do. This was a way to triumph over a fear of having nothing of worth to say, which is largely true, but I’ve surprised myself at least four times, mostly because the unpredictability of daily circumstances has interceded. Still, though, most of the entries are just gussied-up shares of links. Check-minus.
C) It’s become clear to me that embarking upon this undertaking is a way to replace something that’s been missing in my life. I am honestly pissed and sad that the evolution of technology has rendered my making mixtapes pretty superfluous. For probably 25 years, I was often the only person many folks knew who had access to a ton, and a wide range, of music. From party-people pals to students, enough humans sought me out for musical grab bags and commissioned projects that I started taking great pride in fulfilling their needs. I invested many hours and much cogitation, crate-diggin’, taping and erasing, and creative labeling during that quarter-century–then poof! All gone. Should have seen it coming! I mean, it’s not like I couldn’t occasionally find a way to spend a couple hours in my old favorite way–like, recently, providing filmgoers a specially selected Rahsaan Roland Kirk CD to accompany their viewing of the great Adam Kahan Kirk doc The Case of the Three-Sided Dream–but even then, hell, they could’ve Spotified it for themselves. And now I only have 15-25 students a year, as opposed to 125, to whom to preach the gospel. SO–writing these posts at the very least creates the delusion that I’m still playing that old role, which I deeply savored. Check-minus?
D) It’s nothing profound, but as I approach 60, I think about being gone more frequently than I ever have, and, well…these posts proved I walked the turf, and a cornucopia of sounds lightened my step. Check-plus.
E) I was in New Orleans at the beginning of the year, and thus was frequently annoyed at having to knock the early entries out on my smartphone. Would it be easier on my ol’ desktop! Surprise surprise, but I’ve gotten so used to single-finger tapping, I prefer writing them on my phone, though my editing isn’t as careful. Check? Hmmm…
F) I did hope a few friends and other humans might read it. And I am thankful they have. Big check.
G) I have enjoyed this. At least five times, I almost decided to take a day off, usually for a seeming lack of real subject matter; each time, an idea formed that I had to seize upon. Whether it’s teaching, being married, sitting in solitude, or writing into a yawning digital chasm, I have always been driven to embue my activities with…FUN. For me, at the very least. So, a final check.
See you tomorrow, and thanks to Scott Woods, Rex Harris, Kevin Bozelka, Alfred Soto, and Hardin Smith, Expert Witnesses who each gave me a spark to get this going, and to my wife Nicole, who has been living with me and listening for 28 years. It’s not like I won a damned award, but it feels like it, just writing every day.
Sad to say, but most of my friends who are within 10 years of my current age (56) or older are settled comfortably into their musical preferences. Most. This is not to say that the yout’ can’t be fixed in their earways; I teach 19-year-olds that will not venture out of Harry Styles’ circle. Nonetheless, I associate aural adventures with the 15-to-35 set (no science there). And it’s why I’m inspired by my best buddy Mike, who’ll join me at cincuenta e seis in a little bit.
We met at a house party in Springfield, Missouri, in the mid-Eighties and were talking Minutemenese within minutes. Later in the decade, we also shared a bachelor pad, a structure that was a church for beer and the guitar. He was a groomsman in our wedding, and we’ve continued to be Brothers of the Rock to this day.
BUT…Mike struck out earlier this decade into a full-on later-in-life Bob Marley walkabout. It was splendid to hear him enthuse over the phone about Nesta magic he was hearing with fresh ears that I’d not noticed in multiple listenings of the same piece. Marley led him to Fela–no surprise, and as deep, if not a deeper well–which led him one day to engage me in another exaltation-laced phone conversation (mid-February ’17, Trump taint in the air) that then led me, post-call, to drop a good chunk of cash through Bandcamp for new-to-me Kuti cuts. I thought I was on top of the man’s discog, but Mike’s research revealed I’d not fully or properly tapped the source. On top of it, my expense was donated to the ACLU. Here’s what I got, and I’ve worn ’em out:
Now Mike’s ranging further across and around Africa, and a few weekends ago he tipped me to the great Ghanaian musical master Ebo Taylor. He flat-out told me to listen to this album, which I did yesterday, and now I’m not just telling you to, I’m making it convenient:
Thanks, Mike, and, like Malcolm X strove to do, may you continue to refine your music magic detector and share the results with me, to keep me on the path!
Miguel: War & Leisure–Can’t believe this dude is already 33, but he’s got a big bag of tricks and–don’t take this too seriously, but I am serious–if you miss Prince, this might bring temporary surcease of sorrow. As will its predecessor, Wildheart. Also, he makes a little sumpin’ sumpin’ of the title pairing.
Willie King: Jukin’ at Bettie’s–I’m still raiding the appendix of Robert Gordon’s new essay collection Memphis Rent Party, and this Prairie Point, Mississippi, live recording by an Alabama boogie practitioner put me deep in a hypnotic blues mood. Not as eccentric as North Mississippi hill country trance music, but it finds the itch that just begs a half-hour scratch.