A Fine Fake French Festival (April 12th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

I stumbled across the above album in mint condition from a French vendor on Discogs last month and immediately ordered it. I knew the label, Black & Blue, was reputable, but beyond that–I’m strange this way –I wanted to be surprised. Jessie Mae Hemphill, a member of the famous fife-and-drumboogieing north Mississippi hill country family of that surname, is one of my very favorite blues artists. Hailing from Senatobia, armed with a trance-inducing vocal and guitar style, she made precious few records, and no live ones that I was aware of. Here’s one of the Tate County She-Wolf’s greatest tracks:

I didn’t really care about the other artists. The prospect of hearing Hemphill play to a familiar audience was enough. Plus, I’d heard other Mississippi festival recordings and they were great.

Yesterday the record arrived. Live it was not. Hemphill’s tracks? Studio recordings I already owned. I’d paid a modestly pretty penny for it, considering the shipping, so I was miffed. But I put it on anyway, of course, and was pleased to hear that the mix of Hemphill’s tracks seemed hotter than the ones I owned. Then came sings from drummer/vocalist Hezekiah Early and his band The House Rockers–if you call guitar and trombone a blues band, and I do. Charming isn’t a commonly used word for blues music, but believe me, it fits here and it’s not pejorative:

Then I flipped the was for four tracks by Son Thomas and another couple by Early’s unit. I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Thomas, accompanying himself on guitar and indulging in two unfamiliar covers, but…never underestimate a Mississippian! Just on tempo, tuning, and phrasing alone, he made the tracks his own, and cast a very haunting shadow across the record’s proceedings:

This album? I think I’ll keep it!

Short-shrift Division:

Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck: Djam Leelii – Played prior to the above record arriving, it seemed to summon it. There are moments when Maal’s and Seck’s picking slowed down so suddenly that I felt as if I’d been hitting the sizzurp. No surprise: House’s and Hemphill’s playing sounded as if they’d all drunk from the same bottle.

Silver Tones (April 11th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

The Swan Silvertones. I’m here to tell you, few gospel groups in that genre’s impressive history can top their Vee-Jay label material. The great Reverend Claude Jeter’s tenor-to-falsetto sweeps point toward Al Green; Louis Johnson’s gravelled gizzard suggests a less refined Bobby Blue Bland; Paul Owens could have been a doo-wop star. In fact, the Swans had no qualms about blending doo-wop and barbershop ingredients into their holy testifying. Case in point?

Those three leads, backed only by a baritone and a bass singer (William Connor, the latter, is so aggressive at times that he reminds me of the instrumental bass passages on the first two Velvet Underground albums), a strummed guitar, and very occasionally some percussion. But they were a band.

Did I mention that they can lay claim to belonging among the first rockers? It’s a wonder this spiritually hungry number wasn’t secularized somehow:

Unfortunately, the Swans’ Vee-Jay recording aren’t that easy to find. For now, here’s a Spotified album I can’t speak to the source of, but…it’s the stuff:

It’s enough to make a committed agnostic like myself cry holy unto some lord.

Can’t Get Enough Division:

Tapper Zukie: Man Ah Warrior


The Best of the Best of Fela Kuti


Got Enough Division:


For Stones fans of a certain age (mine), Mick Jagger carries no mystique. As much as I love the old monkey, I came of age watching him dance, mug, and clothe himself as he does herein:

Yes, I was among the 89,000 who saw The Stones rock the Superdome (their openers, The Wild Tchoupitoulas and George Thorogood, slew them). We were thousands of yards back, but I got to peep this on the Enormo-Screen (or was there one?):

Jagger is many things to me, and this is not damning, but he is not cool.

Out of This World (April 10th, 2018, Columbia, Mo)


Nope, this ain’t about Gino Washington! On one hand…have you ever felt like you just want to get out of this country for awhile? Yeah, me, too, so I did so through musical trips to Agadez, Lagos, and Rio (I also went to Manhattan, but it might as well have been Rio or Sao Paulo).

Also, unlike the night before, I was not about to get distracted by a damn haint (aka Hank Williams, Sr.) while I was trying to read. I am borderline insane when it comes to reading, and I added three new books to my active stack of three. If you’re curious, they were Colin Escott’s update of his solid Williams bio, I Saw the Light (the Hank fire’s done been lit); Gayle Ward’s Rosetta Tharpe book Shout Sister Shout!, which for some odd reason I didn’t read when immediately when it was published; and Patrick Parr’s account of the late-teenage MLK, The Seminarian: Martin Luther King, Jr. Comes of Age, which tells many relatively new stories, including this one. So, anyway, I picked some international groove music, though at least two of my selections were jumpy and angular enough to break my page-gaze.

You cannot go wrong with Bombino, the great guitarist from Niger. The man can work up a serious head of sustained, flowing steam with just six strings and percussion propulsion. His album from 2013, Nomad, is a great introduction to his work, and, if you get the chance to see him live, GO–we witnessed him at Minglewood Hall in Memphis opening for Gogol Bordello, and he made it very tough for the headliners to keep us at the venue:


Despite the man’s sprawling discography, you also cannot stumble randomly selecting works by the great Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti. I did not choose randomly; I picked my favorite Kuti Komp, The Best of Black President, Volume 2, which features an extended version of the eternal, and eternally sorrowful, and eternally motivating “Sorrow, Tears, and Blood” (“it’s their regular trademark”). It’s where I’d start anyone new to Fela’s Afrobeat wiles.


Have you heard of Elza Soares  (that’s her pic at the top)? That’s OK, neither had I until a couple years ago. Apparently, she’s thought of by some as the Tina Turner of Brazilian music, but what you need to know is that she’s a defiant octogenarian who, in 2016, plunged headlong into an thrilling avant-garde setting and sprung some samba sujo (“dirty samba”–that alone should tempt you to put it on) on our unsuspecting ears. The resulting record, A mulher do fim do mundo (The Woman at the End of the World), intentionally or not, captures the beauty, sensuality, surprise, and madness of modern Brazil. Come to think of it, I think Brazilians have it a good deal worse than we do.


I’m not the first and won’t be the last to say it, but if you go Brazilian on a particular day of listening your ears likely won’t go back to where they were until the next day. I closed out with Arto Lindsay’s Cuidado Madame; Arto’s a New Yorker, but he’s been dedicated to adapting classic Brazilian musical styles–bossa nova, samba, and the wild, wooly, and wonderful variant called Tropicalia–to stateside pop forms, though it’s sometimes been hard to discern much of our traditions in his more recent music. This is his most recent release; it’s quite great, especially after repeated exposure. I love it in particular for two reasons: the opener, which features Mr. Lindsay writing his name on his lover’s naked belly until she forgets her own, and the multiple tracks on which, more often than has been his recent habit, he expresses himself on his inimitably untutored guitar. Also, the critic Robert Christgau once described Lindsay as being James Brown trapped in Don Knotts’ body; I’d update that from the Godfather of Soul to His Purpleness.

Short-shrift Division:

Tapper Zukie: Man Ah Warrior–Spacey early ’70s dub, driven by the bass line from “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Here, take a hit:


Are You Sure Ol’ Hank Done It This Way? YES!: Some Thoughts Upon Having Listened to the Hillbilly Shakespeare (April 9th, 2018)


Nicole and I settled in to read last night, and we needed some music we were so familiar with that, while we’d feel pleasure, we wouldn’t be distracted. I chose Polydor’s three-disc Hank Williams: The Original Singles Collection…Plus, programmed just the indubitable classics and undeniable rareties, and stretched out to…try to read. Thoughts swept down on my head, aggressively. Like blue jays after a cat.

I can imagine some folks saying, “Hank’s songs…they all sound the same.” Same as they might say about the Ramones. Nonetheless, I can usually recognize a Hank hit within three notes, or three rhythm-guit chops.

When I dream of playing the guitar, which I occasionally do, I always land on the same realistic strategy: “Just learn the rhythm guitar parts for Hank’s greatest hits and what else will you really need to know.” I feel assured this is wisdom

I think Kinky Friedman dubbed Hank “The Hillbilly Shakespeare.” That is entirely accurate. One classic piece of evidence is “Crazy Heart,” which, if it isn’t a soliloquy, I don’t know what is: You livvvvvvvvvvvvved on promises / I knew would fall apart / Go ownnnnnnn and break / You crazy heart.

I identify with so many of Hank’s songs because they so often deliver a message of fatalism with clarity, directness, and a weirdly positive forward motion. Due primarily to my obsessive reading and listening (they are my religion; they explain the human world to me), I have no illusions about the futility of human strivings across history. Due primarily to white male privilege, but also to my cultural upbringing and personality, I am catapulted out of my bed into forward motion each morning (I could start teaching when my right foot hits the bedroom hardwood) by unstinting optimism. Hank’s my familiar. Listen carefully to what he says in “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”; listen to how he says it. His is no Nick Drake or Ian Curtis trip–he projects aggression in the first syllables he looses, and his grim humor is also determined: These shabby shoes I’m wearing / All the time / Is full of holes and nails / And, brother, if I stepped on a worn-out dime / I bet a nickel I could tell ya / If it was heads or tails! I flat-out love that nickel bet under the circumstances.

The past near-forty years have not been kind to our working class. I’m surprised Hank hasn’t emerged more fully as its patron saint. While he didn’t really write songs that explicitly addressed its state of oppression (though do take a look at that verse I just quoted), its desperation, pain, suffering, uncertainty, intensity, and survival instinct are all wrapped up in his singing, which still and always will cut through any room. And though throughout his greatest performances he asserts a master’s control over his instrument, listen to his last notes on “Settin’ the Woods on Fire.”

Though it’s true that Fred Rose and sometimes others helped shape the songs and snatches Hank brought to recording sessions, the consistent excellence of the huge spool of songs he unrolled before stepping on a rainbow at 29 is the 56-game hitting streak, the 100-point game, and the 215 points in one season (imagine if Gretsky had died at 29) of country music. Catchy, pithy, complex, deep-hued emotionally, and universal in the dilemmas they present, they boggle the mind. Hell, Willie Nelson at damn-near 85 is only just now catching up with Hank on a quantity-of-quality level.

Yes, I was talking shit about Drake and Curtis above. Hank could go there, though, when he wanted to, with twice as chilling effect. “Ramblin’ Man”? “Alone and Forsaken”? “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”? “I Can’t Escape from You”? “The Angel of Death”? Dude invented the pop abyss. You might have to overlook “Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground” or “Strange Fruit” to accept that argument, though.

I have been very fortunate to have sidestepped sustained romantic heartbreak by finding a good and true-lovin’ mate 28 years ago. But between my 22nd year and 28th year, I took some crushing hits. After one of them, I was in a fetal position crying openly on a dirty, beer-and-cig marinated carpet in a house I shared with two other bachelors. I did not fucking care if I was seen. My heart had been stomped flat. It was my first real step toward becoming a man, but I didn’t know it yet (I didn’t know, too, that I hadn’t really even been in love–it was about lack of worth). Neither logic nor literature nor libations could quell the pain; music was just a hot poker thrust into the wound. I was so far down I was considering monkdom. I recall this because Hank’s music can and does take me right back to those feelings. It’s not pleasant. It’s disturbing.

I didn’t get much reading done. I stared at words and pages for 45 minutes.





Mix Discs are Back! (April 8th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Dead Moon

As I have written before, the evaporation of the need for making physical mix tapes and discs has hurt my heart. I am happy that it’s better for the environment and personal space; I resent that it’s too easy to “gift” someone, for example, a YouTube playlist link.

Every once in awhile, though, I am called back into jubilant action, and it happened twice this weekend. First, a Canadian friend to whom I had raved about the Clackamas, Oregon, band Dead Moon (there is no other way to communicate about this band) indicated his interest after hearing them, and commissioned (i. e., was forced by me to ask for) a best-of comp. When he indicated he preferred a CD over a streaming mix, I snapped into action. I successfully restrained myself to a single disc (rare occasion), and chose to give him a taste of “only the best” Dead Moon tracks, a sampling of Fred and Toody’s final group, Pierced Arrows, and three rareties in both bands’ catalogs (by the way, the only differences between the two groups are a different drummer and, regarding the latter, a little heavier approach.

I also got involved in an animated Facebook conversation with one of my all-time favorite former students. She’s the amazing mother of four terrific kids, and I’d recommended a ’50s gospel compilation, Jesus Rocked the Jukebox (previously reported about on this blog) that she decided the family needed to have. Welp, that was like Commissioner Gordon turning on the Bat Signal. She, too, mentioned she’d appreciate a hard copy of the compilation, but, as happens with some of us maniacs, I decided I could beat the official version, and mixed its strongest cuts with lesser known but more powerful tracks for their CD.


The most satisfying part of putting together a mixtape or disc is listening back to it and knowing your job was well done. It’s hard for that not to happen when love is involved.

To the post office!

ILC: I Reminisce Over You (April 7th, 2018, Columbia, MO)


I have been tearing through David Peisner’s Homey Don’t Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and The Black Comedy Revolution.  I highly recommend it; it’s full of insights about both threads of the subtitle, and Peisner presents his findings in a very balanced manner, letting both a wealth of both major and minor players tell the story, then drawing his conclusions from that. Long about page 190, Peisner recalls the show’s then-choreographer Rosie Perez’s efforts to bring live music to the show (Keenan Ivory Wayans claims that was always going to happen, but I’m more convinced by rap music’s explosion on the show’s stage coinciding, more or less, with Perez’s arrival). This took me way back to the days that we (my wife, my few rap-oriented friends, and I) watched the show religiously, and how permanently their East Coast-leaning guests affected our taste, though I never could get much of a conversation going with my mid-Missouri 10th graders, who were West Coast fans all the way.

I was planning on finishing the book, but my repeated jumps to YouTube to watch clips (of the musical guests and the classic bits) foiled that goal. However, for your (and my) pleasure and convenience, here’s a playlist of ILC‘s hip hop highlights–at least the ones which have been uploaded:

Short-shrift Division:

Orquesta Akokán’s self-titled debut is fabulous. If you like Cuban music, the band’s a mix of young and old, and while on first listen you’re going to think the band’s playing classics, the material’s all original. The sessions took place in Havana, at the legendary state-run Arieto Studio, which reputedly was designed to get the most out of percussion instruments–especially congas and bongos. The evidence supports that claim. In my Top 20 for 2018, easily.

Nicole and I also attended Battle High School’s Pride Prom in the evening. Nicole had volunteered for supervision (she’s the district career center’s liaison to Battle) and I said I’d keep her company–honestly, I was planning on finishing the book! Fortunately, the event was too exciting to miss in favor of reading; it was very well-attended, the kids (and adults) were clearly having a blast, and the centerpiece was a drag show featuring participants from all of Columbia’s public schools. All the queens were energized and fun to watch, but the fifth of five contestants, Black Icing, knocked the crowd dead. Victory was by audience applause, and there was no doubt who reigned supreme.

I’d report the music, but, um, I guess I’m too disconnected from the charts since I only recognized one of the songs (and couldn’t name that one), and Battle is a concrete and steel fortress that forbids Shazaming. When I got home and started to look it up, of course, I instantly remembered it. A great choice it was:

Anyhow, as a southwest Missouri boy who taught in this red state’s public schools across four decades, I found myself shaking my head at the spectacle, in awe, amazement, joy, and HOPE. If that event is happening here, perhaps we are not completely lost.

So Long, Cecil (April 6th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)


The great pianist Cecil Taylor passed away on Thursday, April 5, at age 89. I devoted the next day to listening to his music. Taylor, sometimes confronted with pointed questions about his musical aims, once pointed out that he was creating a language; I’d advise newcomers, rightly curious about his work in the wake of his death, think of it that way as they get started. They could also think of the grandeur of the ocean waves, if they’ve ever stood on a coast–a Taylor composition can capture their roaring power, their whispering delicacy, their dynamic regularity. A drum solo by a master like Andrew Cyrille or Milford Graves; a surge of choreographed motion by a master like Martha Graham or Mikhail Baryshnikov, suggestive of nothing but freedom; a clot of lines following a polygraph pattern, penned by a master like Allen Ginsberg or Nikki Giovanni–it might behoove the first-time listener to think of Taylor’s pianistics as if they’re from a different physical source of art.

Or maybe they need to just to say to themselves: “Prepare for something you’ve never heard before. Prepare to surrender your attention fully. Prepare to hear a new language that might quicken your heartbeat.”

I chose three of my favorite Taylor records to surrender to yesterday. The first was 1966’s Unit Structures, featuring a septet that included his longtime musical partner, Jimmy Lyons, on alto, and Cyrille on drums:

The second was a 1974 solo recital at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland–the first Taylor record I ever bought and ever heard. I can say truthfully, though I’d read his work was challenging, that it made sense to me. I could hear dancing, drumming, call and response, dark ruminations and joyous exhortations, whispers from the past–in short, Africa. What do you hear?

I closed out the afternoon with 1988’s Alms / Tiergarten (Spree), recorded in Berlin during a month-long celebration of Taylor’s music in which he was given a free hand, an excellent instrument, and the service of a wrecking crew of improvisatory musicians. Surely it was one of the most rewarding episodes in Taylor’s life, and, across 11 discs, he responds with an outpouring of music in multiple settings. This one’s comprised of two compositions, each about an hour long, played by 13 musicians, including such luminaries as Peter Brotzmann, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, William Parker, Harold Stanko, and Peter Kowald. It’s a must for admirers of Coltrane’s Ascension, I think, and it is indeed challenging–but invigorating!

SORRY! No YouTube track available–if everybody doesn’t want it, nobody gets it!

Please read Ben Ratliff’s obituary for Taylor, published in The New York Times. It’s very true, and also a good way for the beginner to start out with a firm handle on a man who resisted many attempts to reduce him, personally and artistically, on an innovator who took even fellow innovators aback but never faltered.

Short-shrift Division:

You’re sunk when you’re considered in the shadow of Cecil Taylor’s work, but Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy, just released, if not as wholly undeniable as her singles or personal appearances, is pretty entertaining. I do think, over the course of an entire record, that her rapping is revealed as still a work in progress.

I also sampled the equally new record by the great Ghanaian bandleader, composer, and instrumentalist Ebo Taylor, previously vaunted on this site. It’s called Yen Ara, and it’s a joy. Here’s a taste:


Noise. (April 5th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

For whatever reason (possibly that I’ve been deeply dosed in pop over the last few days), I felt I was obligated to blissfully defile my ears with weird and / or ugly noise.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced?–Weird? Ugly? I know–NOT. But I think it’s easy to forget how it might have hit folks at the time. Jimi was a genius at wrestling chaos into flow, but I got this out strictly for the explosions, feedback, and riffs that stalk your inner peace.

Pere Ubu: Datapanik in The Year Zero–Disc 1 (1975-1977)–Weird? Ugly? I know–YES! A thousand times (and ways) YES! A drunken-sounding, wheezing, groveling, murmuring, whispering, squealing, desperate, eloquently incoherent singer, tortured by a stabbing, drilling, whirring, grinding guitarist, tracked under the street by a bass threatening to break through the pavement, driven on by a drummer here-again-and-gone and a synthesizer player revving and veering in and out of the mess. What’s not to be disturbed by?

Brian Eno: Another Green World–One of the most perfectly titled albums ever. The noise here is strictly weird–never ugly, only galaxies away. And very lovely. It was always, with Miles’ In a Silent Way and Robert Ashley’s Private Parts, one of my favorite Nyquil companions when I was a bachelor and sick as a dog. It’s plenty wonderful when you’re well. I love how Eno’s voice is just another synthesizer.

Maybe I was recovering from all of the pop, most of which I admittedly love. Or maybe I was receiving signals from the near-future: one of the noisiest, most unique and inventive, bravest musicians ever passed from this plane at 89. So long, unclassifiable genius. We will not see your like again.

Short-shrift Division:

Tucked away down here, under all the noise, a confession: I think Chloe x Halle’s The Kids Are Alright might be the best r & b, the best pure pop album of the year. I can’t get enough of it: great singing, surprising arrangements, inspiring content.

Never Forgetting / Doin’ The Peanut Duck–wait WHAT? (April 4th, 2018, Columbia, MO)



Today marked 50 years from the day that one of the world’s greatest advocates for social justice, economic equality, and peace–a man who quite literally, in that advocacy, courted assault and death for at least a third of his life–was shot dead in Memphis. Say what you will about the range of theories: his assassination was a further iteration of this country’s power structure’s willingness to commit spectacle murder in order to protect itself. I’d like to think that since 1968 we’ve evolved; I’m far from sure.

In the Overeem house, we like to remember King and his impact on people across the American spectrum, and remind ourselves about the dangers inherent in public truth-telling, by playing George Perkins and The Silver Stars’ heartbreaking “Cryin’ in the Streets.” Perkins, though not credited, claimed and is generally believed to have written the lyrics about King’s funeral; the song, unsurprisingly, became a big regional hit and rose to #12 on the Billboard r&b chart. Few songs in the American canon penetrate as deeply into the country’s historic sorrow, and testify as eloquently to its original sin:

Also, it’s stayed relevant over the last half-century and, considering current social unrest and the lack of urgency our elected leaders have in addressing it, is bound to remain that way. Here is Buckwheat Zydeco’s differently heartbreaking rendition, recorded following the Katrina disaster–neither version would sound out of place being played, sung, or sung chanted for Stephon Clark and Saheed Vassell, just to name the most recent in the litany of black bodies robbed of lifeflow by those charged with protecting them:


I did reach for something later in the day to break angry, frustrated, and sorrowful thoughts: Rhino’s kaboodle-kontained girl group compilation One Kiss Leads to Another–Girl Grou Sounds Lost & Found. It’s most definitely one of the most prized presents my parents ever got me for Christmas, one I’m sure they thought was also one of the weirdest.

One Kiss.jpg

It’s four fabulous, and very consistent, discs of mostly unsung highlights from the girl group era. Though it does contain some acknowledged and not-so-obscure classics–The Exciters’ “He’s Got the Power,” The Shirelles’ Beatle-adored “Boys,” Brenda Holloway’s (Del-Fi version of) “Every Little Bit Hurts,” just to name a few–it very much justifies its existence by unearthing some unforgettable gems. My favorites from yesterday (they tend to change every time I break this set out):

Carole King: “He’s a Bad Boy”

Donna Lynn: “I’d Much Rather Be with the Girls” (written by two guys named Keith and Loog…)

Dee Dee Warwick: “You’re No Good” (it may be a certified masterpiece, but it’s not easy to locate, at least physically)

The Shangri-Las: “The Train from Kansas City”

Earl-Jean: “I’m Into Something Good”

P. P. Arnold: “The First Cut is the Deepest”

Dolly Parton: “Don’t Drop Out” (did she beat JB to that?)

The Egyptians: “Egyptian Shumba”

The Goodees: “Condition Red”

The Whyte Boots: “Nightmare”

Wanda Jackson: “Funnel of Love” (a bit of a ringer, but what the heck!)

The What Four: “I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy”

Marsha Gee: “Peanut Duck” (one of the great pop music mysteries–see below!*)

Hollywood Jills: “He Makes Me So Mad” (Not Hollywood–NOLA!)

Lesley Gore: “Brink of Disaster”

Gayle Harris: “They Never Taught Us That in School” (amazingly, non-existent on YouTube!)

The Ribbons: “Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya”

The Pussycats: “Dressed in Black”

Here’s a convenient playlist containing (most of) the above:

About the only thing keeping this package from being perfect is the absence of the Pleasure Seekers’ “What a Way to Die”–if they could wedge in Wanda and Dolly and the Whyte Boots, they could make way for proto-punk Suzi Q.! Also: where’s Little Ann’s “Deep Shadows”! (I added them to the above playlist, FYI.)

*For about five minutes, I shut my office door and practiced “The Peanut Duck.” I recommend you take some time today to do so yourself, but I’ll warn you that “Marsha”‘s instructions are, um, esoteric to say the least. I mentioned a mystery, and straight from the set’s eye-popping and brain-expanding booklet, authored by Sheila Burgel, here it is, yet to be solved:

“At Virtue Sound Studio in Philadelphia, a mystery girl singer cut “Peanut Duck,” a feverish soul stomper that trailed the Loco-Motion, Mashed Potato, Twist trend. But the track was never released, and Marsha Gee was not the actual singer. The only proof of “Peanut Duck” lay in an acetate discovered by a British Northern Soul DJ who took the disc back to England and released it as a bootleg on Joker Records in the ‘80s. Not wanting his rival DJs to infringe upon his precious find, he christened the unknown singer Marsha Gee (who incidentally had a single out on Uptown Records in 1965). The true voice behind “Peanut Duck” has yet to be revealed. Anyone?”





Dearth Leads to Bounty! (April 3, 2018, Columbia, MO)

The afternoon didn’t bode well. I felt compelled, as a result of lobbed cocktail of Molotov Lite on the streets of a music forum I frequently walk, to listen again to a new record (Kasey Musgraves’ very-much-instantly-vauntedGolden Hour) that I was sure I didn’t like. But, dammit, because my philosophy of life is that it’s too short to do less than two things at once, I feared I hadn’t concentrated enough on the lass’ work. So I abjured my usual practice of consuming (in the open air) music and (at the very least light) literature simultaneously, and donned headphones for an ultra-close listen.

Turned out I was right to begin with: while emitting a quite pleasant glow, Golden Hour‘s songs are unremittingly sappy and cliched, which would be worse, I suppose, if Musgraves weren’t a borderline erotic singer–but she mostly strives to achieve that eros by intoning in too codeined a style for me to buy. There you have it.

At that point I should have gone about my business, with three excellent tomes going and some new releases calling. However, though the effort didn’t bring much return, I dug the dedicated listening experience enough to hold off on the page-turning, keep the earbuds in, and really concentrate. Good thing I did: all three of the records I sampled (I’m really starting to love Apple Music) were splendid to be alone in a room with.

This one’s in my Top 5 for 2018–no need to make sure I’m right–though I am going to be playing the heck out of it. Ms. Grae, one of my very favorite MCs, has been a bit lost in the wilderness over the last near-decade, exploring other mediums (web TV, for example) where she just hasn’t hit it. Her exploits, by my lights at least, have been honorable duds. Quelle Chris, on the other hand, has never quite held my attention at all. Together, however, they’ve created a concept album that can hang with Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves; if their comments on the album’s Bandcamp site can be trusted, Paul was an influence on their work. To be honest, I might actually like Everything’s Fine better. As we know, everything ain’t fine, and one thing the album explores, through funky, burbling tracks, inventive rhyming and phrasing, and comic bits that work without distraction, how we tell ourselves daily that it is, that it’s gonna be. Clearly, the duo don’t think so, and the sustained balance between satirical humor and clearly articulated horror here make the album one of the best statements hip hop has made about Orange45World and our unfortunate commitment to racism. Aside from that, which is a lot, the best thing about Everything’s Fine is Grae’s return to form; among several great turns of phrase, my favorite is“Amarosa? Vámonos–goddam!”

Surfing the music sites, I’d just glanced at the cover of Chloe x Halle’s The Kids are Alright and it called to me. Thanks to the sage argumentation and advice of a few writers to whom I’m lucky to have regular access (Humanizing the Vacuum‘s and Spin‘s Alfred Soto I single out as particularly persuasive–you should read him, he’s got style), my taste for rhythm and blues has been awakened after lying fairly dormant since Womack and Womack’s 1983 Love Wars. I’m not sure what my problem has been…well, gloss, excessive use of melisma, lack of differentiation for a few decades, pop prejudice, but those are arguments I probably couldn’t back up well in a firefight. I’d kept an eye on Mary J., but that was it–until Mr. Soto enthused alluringly about King’s We Are King. As can happen when we’re made sheepish, I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard of that–it can’t be that good.” Almost on the sly from myself, and months and months after I’d read Alfred’s take, I listened to it myself, and it not only bewitched me (I have since played it regularly–it seriously casts a spell), but it thawed me out to the point that I suddenly couldn’t get enough of Rihanna’s Anti, Beyonce’s Lemonade, anything by D’Angelo, SZA’s CTRL–my portal seems permanently open. Clearly, this isn’t just a phase.

All this is to explain why my attraction to the mere album covers of The Kids are Alright, then, an hour later, Toni Braxton’s Sex & Cigarettes, required me to listen to the records: I didn’t want to wait for Mr. Soto or someone else to have to hip me. Chloe x Halle’s offering is, end to end, really, really good, but the main thing that knocked me out was the song “Grown,” which just tore me up. A better song for the moment I’ve yet to hear, and, as someone who’s taught across the last four decades, I instantly flashed back across the faces and voices of so many students who’ve come through my classroom:

As for Ms. Braxton, I’d never listened to more than a single song of hers at a sitting, and never, ever an album. Confession: I’d already noted Mr. Soto’s approval, but chose not to read his take in-depth so I could try it solely with my own mind and ears (I told you, he’s quite a writer).  Plus, like I said, I liked the cover, and the title. Well, I may have to do some catching up with Toni’s oeuvre: Sex & Cigarettes is going into my Top–hmmmm–15 of 2018. The relatively spare settings, the wrapped wires of toughness and vulnerability that connect most of its songs, and Braxton’s unique deep and lightly husky delivery–signifying things very hard won–are a winning combination.

So, bomb-thrower: maybe you were right after all, just not about Golden Hour.

Short-shrift Division:

Another reason I was not on the r&b tip during the ’90s and ’00s: I was too focused on noise like this, which is both new and old, Japanese and American.