We’re talking about particular records. The question for today is, do you remember records from your teens that presented you an alternative life? I had one. Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, released when I was 16, posited a life, a culture, a town, a world that was so far from my own it was ridiculous. I was literally forced to get my driver’s license–driving terrified me, and even when, after three tries, I finally got my license at 17, I drove a ’63 Plymouth Belvedere (I totalled that one), a ’74 Dodge Dart (granny car!), and (somewhat impressively) a ’71 Pontiac Bonneville–and I couldn’t have worked on or talked about a car’s guts to save my life. Classwise, my mom was stay-at-home, and my dad made a very humble salary, but I always thought we were well-off, quite contrary to the abyssic confrontations in Springsteen’s most personal songs.
HOWEVER, I did in fact feel alienated ’77-’80, my high school years. I postulated a life about 35 degrees higher an angle than what I was seeing. Something a bit more dramatic, where the stakes were higher, where “the things we loved” that were “crushed in the dirt” were what we, nonetheless, strove for–it seemed my peers were shooting for something a little more casual, and temporal. When the rubber met the road, the record affected me this way: I meant it, man–sincerity was my goddam calling card, and as much as I thought that would be what set me apart, it was the thing that shot me down in flames. If I had just gotten my hands on The Dictators’ Go Girl Crazy instead, I’d have ended up less tortured. I vowed to show up in Candy’s room with total commitment; perhaps I should have striven to be a two-tub man, or a teengenerate. I did not, absolutely did not get, that girls just wanted to have fun–they weren’t interested in someone who was necessarily gonna get them the fuck out (maybe that’s more Born to Run), or blow that Camaro out in that first heat, they wanted to laugh, fiddle around, figure it out, exercise their hormones, and get on down the road.
Thus…this record is very important to me, but I am not sure it didn’t fuck me up.
I apologize for that mouthful of a title, but what else was I going to call this? Today, I’m listening to the record I bought when I was virtually in the situation it describes.
I was 19 going on 20, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas, and I’d scraped up enough money to road-trip with three friends to New Orleans to see the Rolling Stones at the Superdome. I had gas money, food money if somebody would only feed me ONE meal, beer money if the beer was very cheap, I had my ticket in hand already–and I had a ten spot to spare. For incidentals.
Up to that point, I’d shopped in my hometown record store (Ken’s Records, in Carthage, Missouri), an equally small store in Joplin, Missouri that really, really catered to Elvis Costello fans, a few mall outlets (cut-out heaven!), and two shops in Fayetteville, a kind of headshop-cum-bootleg emporium called Record Exchange and a decent-sized (I thought) store called White Dog. By the point of the New Orleans trip, I owned maybe 50 records, eight-tracks (yes–can you imagine listening to Van Morrison’s Into the Music on one of those), and cassettes, all of ’em housed in my dorm room. Imagine dealing with a record collection in college today! I’m sure a few folks do–but with much less reason, and with CDs dead, I wonder how many of today’s students can shell out $29.99 for a 180-gram vinyl copy of Dookie? Looking back, I’d call the gems of my collection–the ones I thought were gems–Public Image’s Second Edition, Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta, 1969 Velvet Underground Live (with grooves already worn and my name stamped on the label!) and Fenton Robinson’s Loan Me a Dime. Because I thought the artists were obscure, I assumed to records were hard to get, and that White Dog carried them because they were an untoppably cool store.
I knew little little about New Orleans at that point other than an unrealistic fantasy of the French Quarter, a sports nerd’s familiarity with the Saints and the Jazz, and Fess, whose above album had been listed in a year-end poll and which I’d bought strictly on the merits of his strange name and the provocative album title. There was no Internet, so I didn’t even know Mr. Roy Byrd was from New Orleans until I read the album credits. Getting my bills and coins together and doing my best to budget, I figured that, given all the other things we’d be doing, a ten-dollar bill, folded into a little square and hidden in a special crease of my wallet, would be all I’d need if we even found a record store that had good records.
About 11 hours later, the four of us were wandering on the south end of the Quarter, down by Jackson Square, and shuffled into an impressively two-storied record store called Tower Records (this is my memory at work with regard to the geography). I had damn-near memorized the old orange first edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide–I may have known a few things about New Orleans from it–especially all the five-star record covers I knew to look for if I was lucky, and definitely the great albums that, at that difficult time in record fiend history, were out of print, among them most of the Velvet Underground’s, Stooges’, MC5’s, and Dolls’ studio releases. We talked about those all the time. I was so certain I wouldn’t see any of them that they were way off my radar–honestly, I can’t remember what I was looking for. I do remember being stunned, and paralyzed, bu the sheer volume of the store’s inventory.
Within ten minutes–and, by the way, we didn’t have all the time in the world–I’d already spotted both of the Dolls’ Mercury albums and Dr. John’s Gris Gris. I know I didn’t see any Velvets albums or I would have gotten one of those–maybe I didn’t have time to get to the “V”s–but I dimly recall staring into Ig’s mug on the cover of The Stooges. We had places to go and things to do–we’d soon see Keith and Ronnie duck into doorway on Royal, and we could drink legally, which we would, of course, at Pat O’Brien’s–and the dudes hollered at me to hurry up and make a decision. Also, I had to pee so badly I was in exquisite and excruciating pain. It all just figured.
Panicked, I flipped through a last random row of records, barely scoping the titles and tearing my cuticles, when I landed on this one:
The cover looked great, I was for damn sure a fan of the Killer already, I knew his history and “live in 1964” sounded like a good bet, and–I had to fucking go. Out of all the great records in the most amazing store I have even been in to this day, I impulsively scoped and grabbed that one without the barest calculation, fished out that tenner and hit the banquettes.
Perhaps I do not need to tell you that Jerry Lee Lewis Live at Star Club, Hamburg, Germany 1964 is only barely arguably the greatest live rock and roll album ever recorded. The Killer is in absolutely furious form, totally in command, so on fire he’s audibly amazed at his own mastery (now think about that for a second), roaring through his hits and other folks’ so as to put them in deep, dark relief–has anyone ever cut Little Richard, Elvis, and Hank Williams on one record?–and captured in phenomenally rich and clear fidelity for its vintage. It was so damn good to me I’d write a paper about its virtues the next semester (my only straight A out of a run of B-plusses and A-minuses–Dr. Bob Henigan was tough!), and here I am 36 years later, rocking out to it on about “8” and still in possession of my original copy, as well as two separate CD editions. It is that good.
If I were able to carry everything I know now–the memory of everything I’ve ever listened to as I’ve sat agog, and my mental files on the, oh, 5-6 things I’ve still not been able to find–back to the moment before I chose this record, and happened to find myself divested of the 10,000 or so I currently own, I would buy this one again. No hesitation.
Which brings me to the title question for the reader. Feel free to comment to this post with your answer, because I’d really like to know it and, especially, the story behind it. One thing I’m fairly sure of: it won’t feature the artist chanting his own name along with the crowd, then stopping to shout at them, “Alright–alright already!”
Fresh from knocking out my first-half-of-’18 list, a fellow music maniac tipped me to several new records I’d missed, mainly because they’re from Latin America and Mexico and haven’t shown up in my usual channels. I haven’t made my way through all of them, but the two I have heard, ahem, made a serious impression.
Legendary Brazilian singer Elza Soares (listen above) has a fairly new record out. This is notable for at least two reasons: she’s 81 and feeling 19, and has succeeded in following up a very impressive previous record (and big favorite of mine), A Woman at the End of the World, issued just two years ago. Like its predecessor, Deus E Mulher (I think that translates to “God is a Woman,” and I’ll buy that) is influenced by the innovative angular rhythms, instrumental alienation effects (that’s a compliment in these parts), and skillful Brazilian music syntheses of her country man Tom Ze–only her vocals add an allure Ze would have difficulty matching (she’s been called the Brazilian Tina Turner, but that’s a bit inexact). The guitars, and keyboards that sound like guitars, sound like they’re strung with concertina wire and scraped with scrap-iron picks, and Soares ducks in and out of their accents when she’s not riding just above them. Also, the compositions flow a little more consistently here, which may be a downer for more adventuresome listeners (I’m one) but I consider an improvement.
I was also encouraged to sample another current Brazilian release, Anelis Assumpção’s Taurina. While this record’s a bit more conventional–pretty clear samba and bossa nova influences, though never really freaked into anything Tropicalia-like–it’s also fetchingly sung, very catchy, and possessed of the seductive, flirtatious movement the country’s musicians have minted. However, don’t get the idea it’s too smooth; you can also count on Brazilian guitarists to keep you honest, as Ms. Assumpção’s do on several tracks, especially “Segunda a Sexta.”
My happiness with those platters sent me back to something I listened to in a somewhat distracted mode last week and loved out of the corner of my ear. This time I bore down, and was not disappointed; in fact, Nidia’s Nidia E Ma, Nidia E Fudida is one of two recent electronic dance music albums created by women that have bewitched and beguiled me over the last year and a half, the other being the somewhat mysterious JLin‘s footwork masterpiece, Black Origami. At least, I think Nidia’s work is EDM; informed sources tab it as the Angola brew known as batida, Apple Music calls it “bass,” and given Nidia’s Portuguese heritage, its ingredients may account for happy impurities that make for what it sounds like to me: original, mind- and feet-engaging, and just this side of being undanceable (hence the JLin connection). Fortunately for a stiffly-bending 56-year-old like me, it’s fun to listen to and think about, and I do not sell our youth short–I am sure some kids can step between her startling and surprising beats.
The little “Make Me Choose Between Two Bands” game on my Facebook wall is near to stretching into its third week, with thousands of comments, new participants every day–and some repeat pairings, such as today’s “Al Green or O.V. Wright?” That’s one I didn’t have to let marinate either time; as deep-soul amazing and intense as Wright is at his best (with the same studio band behind him as Green enjoyed on his Hi hits), that’s like Hercules (only half-God) vs. Zeus–wait, maybe I mean Eros. Yeah. Full god, deity of love and sex. Anyway, yeah–AL. But I had to get out MCA’s handy Duke/Peacock label compilation, The Soul of O. V. Wright just to be fair. If you don’t know the man’s work, suffice it to say that he invests titles like “I’d Rather Be Blind, Crippled, and Crazy,” “Ace of Spades” (easily as tough as Motorhead’s), “Eight Men, Four Women,” “A Nickel and a Nail,” “Drowning on Dry Land,” and “He’s My Son (Just the Same)” with the exact commitment, grit, barely contained agony, and verisimilitude that you’d dream. Not only that, but could he bring gospel warhorses like “Motherless Child” and “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” (here, jiggered into “Don’t Let My Baby Ride”) back from the graveyard of overexposure. I hope I just demonstrated that the pairing was fairer than it seems.
After that dose of O. V., I had to keep that Memphis rhythm rolling, and reached for Ann Peebles: The Hi Rhythm Years. I try not to take folks for granted, but if you happen to be a big Al Green fan and always sit amazed at Willie Mitchell’s production and the Hi Rhythm Band’s prowess (Howard Grimes on drums, Teenie Hodges on drums, and Do Funny Hodges on slithery organ, especially) on Green’s hits, and you haven’t heard St. Louis’ Ann Peebles in front of the same band–change that not. You’ll be forced to give this 99-pounder credit where it’s due and beyond, or she’ll tear your playhouse down. She might just anyway.
Good golly, folks–it’s a good year in pop music when after 12 months you can get behind almost a hundred records you’ve enjoyed. It’s still a few days shy of July, and I’ve listened to 95 I’d give a B+ (or 7.5–grade inflation if that’s equivalent!) or better. It would have been 96, but somehow I lost one in the text transfer that I cannot ferret out. The bold-faced albums are in priority order from the ones I love most to love a whole lot; 25-50 are jockeying for position; and the rest are kind of in grab-bag, I’m-too-mentally-tired-to-deal formation.
I think I mentioned it last time, but 2018 has been a fantastic year for female artists. Also, guitar bands are starting to wake up (no pun intended) and address the shit-show we have on our hands. The jazz world is asserting itself, especially the free improvisors who have feet inside. Reissues: hard to keep up with, especially Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital, who just released two terrific and typically well-appointed boxes that repay concentration and multiple listens. Personally, falling under the spell of Apple Music has vastly increased my, um, unique listens (at the expense of old faves I’ve always played a lot), and the exploration of electronic music and r&b fellow fanatics have pushed me to continues to pay dividends as far as picking beauties is concerned.
I wish I could link all these, but goddam you can copy and paste into a browser, can’t ya? Just try to pay an artist as much as possible if you can.
Tracy Thorn: Record
Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
JD Allen: Love Stone
Berry: Everything, Compromised
Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
Anelis Assumpcão: Taurina
Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
Apolo: Live in Stockholm
Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
Wussy: What Heaven is Like
Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
Shopping: The Official Body
Young Mothers: Morose
The Thing: Again
Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara
Alice Bag: Blue Print
Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
Pusha T: Daytona
Shame: Songs of Praise
Low Cut Connie: Dirty Picture, Pt. 2
Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens
Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
Marc Sinan & Oğuz Büyükberber: White
Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
Jay Rock: Redemption
MC Paul Barman: Echo Chamber
Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
Tal National: Tantabara
Wilko Johnson: Blow Your Mind
Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
Silvana Estrada: Lo Sagrado
Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
Migos: Culture II
Angélique Kidjo: Remain in Light
Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg
Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
The Carters: Everything is Love
The Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet: Landfall
Sleep: The Sciences
Teyana Taylor: K.T.S.E.
Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio
Various Artists: I Only Listen to The Mountain Goats
Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
OLD MUSIC NICELY REPACKAGED
Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
Various Artists: Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
Various Artists: Outlaws and Armadilloes
The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
Against All Logic: 2012-2017
Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie
Dwight, Steve, and Lucinda were on very, very heavy rotation for us during the first decade of our marriage. Nicole dug Dwight from her teen years–I think her grandma loved him and had his records–and I pledged allegiance to him because he pledged allegiance to Lefty, Buck, and Kain-tuck. Steve knocked our socks off with his post-rehab, post-death flirtation comeback–we yelled those songs aloud, and I used “Ben McCullough” in class at every opportunity. And Lucinda? When we started going out, Lucinda Williams was more or less the soundtrack of our life, and I still hold dear her story of playing “I Just Want to See You So Bad” over and over in order to get back home on a solo road trip. From there to Sweet Old World and Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, she was royalty.
Then…well, in artists’ careers shit happens. Steve we continued to enjoy, kinda, but even though we agree with his politics, neither one of us (but especially me) was convinced it did much for his music and songwriting–much of the time, his gift sounded marred by the force of his ideological desires. Dwight, bless his heart to the end, and like fellow artists such as Robert Cray or Tom Petty, has been so damned consistent as to sound somewhat boring–or to be taken for granted. Lucinda? Far more complicated and damning, but post-Car Wheels (though you can hear it creeping in even there) the self-consciousness of both her writing and singing–especially the loss of that golden lightness that balanced the blues in her darker, sadder tunes–just made her unlistenable for us.
Back to the present: it was pouring down rain here today, and after a second look at that video, we slotted Dwight’s This Time, Steve’s I Feel Alright, and Lucinda’s Car Wheelsin the CD carousel and let it rip. The thunder, lightning, strange mid-morning darkness, and rain blended with that great stuff to put us in a terrific mood. So we bounced from that to records by three artists Williams evoked on that album: Robert Johnson, Blaze Foley, and –oh yes she did–ZZ Top. Just digging the selections we chose (The Complete Recordings, The Dawg Years, and Deguello) gave us some deeper insight into Lucinda than we already had, which was, I think, plenty ’nuff. And those rekkids inspired us toward wine and Canasta, always an ecstatic combination when we get to spend time together.
I usually get killed in Canasta, but I’d like to think that the next three records in the changer fueled me with better luck. We bounced back to that time-tested trio, with Dwight’s very soulful Gone, Steve’s I-can-too-make-another-great-album-while-sober So You Wanna Be an Outlaw?, and Lucinda’s incandescent Sweet Old World (oh that lightness that will never return to battle the dark). Playing cards with the person you love has never been more fun, and one of the big reasons is how much humanity and warmth (warmth, yes, even with Dwight–it’s in the drawl) and compassion and worldly wisdom these greats can generate. Full disclosure: the two glasses of wine a piece from Rocheport, Missouri’s excellent Les Bourgeois Vineyards should be credited with an assist. I need to get back up stairs, because here’s the score.
Hands down, one of the very best jazz albums of the year, which I squeezed in when Nicole had to run out to school. Courtesy of Detroit’s JD Allen, who’s been on fire this past decade, with a great assist from guitarist Liberty Ellman, who I’ve previously heard as too proggy but plays with amazing sympathy and invention here, a stunning ballads album:
On Facebook these days, a kind of game’s going around where you tag people who are insane and will take the time to share their 10 favorites movies or albums, once a day for ten days. On the face of it, it’d seem anyone who’d participate would only be doing so to show off their fabulous taste, and who needs that? It’s already been shown that the ‘book’s great at making folks feel like they’re not measuring up, and I must confess complicity in that process. But I’d like to think there is also an aspect of gifts being paid forward: I can’t really imagine what I’d be like if people hadn’t recommended particular artwerx to me that deflected me into betterment.
I’m plagiarizing myself yet again, but one of the better students I’ve taught who is a passionate fan of music asked me to play, and (as usual) I tweaked the task so I was striving to share albums I loved that few people I know know much about, and albums that spanned genres, just to encourage folks to by God open up a little bit. I thought I’d put ’em all in one place because, upon looking back, I think I met the challenge.
Day 1: Jean Grae–Jeanius
I have been a big rap fan since I heard “Rapper’s Delight” in Carthage, Missouri, in ’79–I had a friend who’d moved there from NYC and brought the single with her–and that condition shows no signs of changing. One of my favorite MCs is Jean Grae, and my favorite Jean release is JEANIUS. Great beats, amazing bars, and hilarious album art. She’s still in the game, and a more underrated female rapper there is not. Enjoy!
Day 2: Willie King–Jukin’ at Bettie’s
I dig juke joint blues as frequently captured by the Fat Possum label, but this ain’t exactly that. First, King’s from Alabama; second, his kit bag’s a bit bigger than the average North Mississippian’s. Not saying he’s better — saying he’s different. He can lock you into a boogie trance, but the occasional keyboards and steadier beat take nothing away from a sweaty good time.
Day 3: Horace Tapscott–The Giant Has Awakened
Horace Tapscott was a great Houston-born, L.A.-based bandleader, composer, pianist, teacher and community activist. Besides being staggeringly effective in all those roles, he planted a tree the branches of which stretch to Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and Kendrick Lamar. The album from which this, the title cut, comes should be in the jazz canon, and features a frighteningly talented and intense band.
Day 4: The Power of the Trinity–Great Moments in Reggae Harmony
Today’s choice is in the reggae field. Reggae’s produced some KILLER compilation albums: The Harder They Come, Rockers, Tougher Than Tough are just a few. This gem spotlights an era in the music’s development that in its way stands with the glory days of southern soul and the blossoming of doo wop. Great harmony singing, messages of inspiration (we need those now)…and the riddims! Informative notes from Randall Grass if you buy a physical.
Day 5: Johnny Gimble–Texas Dance Party
If you claim to be a country fan and you DON’T know the great fiddler Johnny Gimble (he played other instruments, too), I am sorry–you are not much of a country fan. Gimble played with everybody, from Bob Wills to George Jones to Merle Haggard to Guillermo Nelson. However, he also made his own LPs, and the one from which this track comes is a dandy that you will have no choice but to swing to. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find; I guess that’s what YouTube is for. Dedicated to all my Texas friends and family, and, as always, specifically, to Mr. Walter Daniels!
Day 6: Zeal & Ardor–Devil Is Fine
This act has a new album out, but for me the jury’s still out on it. THIS ONE, however, has rocked our house numerous times. Its combination of metal explosions, slave chant effects, and blues feeling speak to the times mighty well. Don’t be afraid of the devil.
Day 7: Dead Moon–Trash & Burn
It’s odd that it’s taken seven days for me to share my favorite record by Clackamas, Oregon’s greatest punk/garage/ROCK AND ROLL band! A stripped-down, three-piece, three-minutes-and-a-cloud-of-smoke attack that lives up to its title, once you sample this, you’ll want more. Also: to my mind, the most amazing husband and wife combo in American music history–hands down. This goes out to Weeden, Ingrid, Shane, Amanda, and Toody today–you continue to be an inspiration in our household!
Day 8: Bo Dollis Jr. and The Wild Magnolias–We Come to Rumble
New Orleans music is certainly in my wheelhouse. A great subgenre of the NOLA sound is Mardi Gras Indian funk–even when it is simply in chant form, it’s usually got the funk, and it can be argued that funk itself sprang from Indian ritual. Here, the son of a great chief, and now head of one of the most famous tribes, fuel-injects the tradition with a different kind of juice than it’s used to. The lead track, “We Come to Rumble,” serves notice. Mighty kootie fiyo, and get out the way!
Day 9: Lynn August–Sauce Piquante
When most folks think of zydeco, the infectious, accordion-driven dance music of Louisiana and Texas, they think of Clifton Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco. Mr. Lynn August merits your attention for his love of articulating the r&b basics of the genre as well as reaching wayyyyyyyy back into its furthest past (here, to the juré). The resulting sauce IS piquant!
Day 10: Julius Eastman–Unjust Malaise
It is now in fashion to be singing the praises of classical composer, pianist, and singer Julius Eastman, and I just learned about him two years ago myself. But he worked largely out of the wider public view while he was alive, experienced a tragic and lonely final set of years on this turf, and those circumstances were certainly at least partly due to his being black, gay, and a challenging artistic creator. This collection of many of his best compositions is a powerful introduction. Think about giving it a shot.
Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)–Is anyone as effective in creating ambient music that is soothing yet disruptive, grooveful yet interruptive? I think not. Think for yourself:
The Beginning of the End: The Beginning of the End and Funky Nassau–Seventies fonk from the Bahamas, re-ished by Strut! Records, who still haven’t taken me off their exclusive subscription service, even though I ain’t paid. Vocals not the most inticing, but rhythms and guit might put a hook in yer ass.
Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse–No twerp.
The Carters: Everything is Love–Perhaps, but mountains of money helps maintain the illusion if it ain’t. In addition, this couple’s venture into trap soundz is extremely awkward, but they’re daring you not to say so. “No more kings,” saith Bob Dorough.
Well–I missed a day. I guess I should be excused, as we went on a day trip to Kansas City to attend a Buddhist service with local Tibetan monk and former member of the Dalai Lama’s circle, and rode to and from the city with one of our fondest friends who is also a driver of the Jordan Baker variety. When we returned home, we were drained from sheer fear and relief, and I barely had time to get in my required reading (50 pages plus of Attica Locke’s terrific and East-Texas-musical crime novel, Bluebird, Bluebird) and Marvel’s Luke Cage (Season Two) viewing. So I apologize, but suspect you may not have not have noticed.
Sunday’s customary Spotify Playlist wrap-up of my last week’s aural adventures (quite a bit different from June 23rd’s Apple Music playlist):
Aaaaaand…this week’s awards!
Plucked from History’s Dustbin (best recent purchase of an old record): Ricky Nelson’s Legendary Masters Series aka The Glory of James Burton–ripped from vinyl for me by my pal in New Orleans, Cliff.
Grower, Not a Shower (old record I already owned that’s risen in my esteem): This dude called the Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die…
Encore, Encore! (album I played at least twice this week): Sarayah’s Feel the Vibe.
Through the Cracks (sweet record I forgot to write about): Wilko Johnson’s Blow Your Mind.
Sunday’s Children (this day’s listening that shall be addressed later): BLACKFIRE!
Oh, and a final, critical comment, buried (intentionally?) all the way down here, re: The Carters’ Everything is Love: The titular sentiment may well be true, and more power to them, but a) I’m just not in the mood to attend royalty of any kind, and b) the couple’s attempts to fit into the production zeitgeist of Atlanta sound forced and a little embarrassing to me. For what it’s worth. I kinda like the lead video for its in-your-faceness, but that initial objection still applies.
Frustrated at not tending to my vast responsibility to, um, someone, I donned the headphones and powered through some new slabs. Fortunately, they were all at least good.
Mdou Moctar Meets Elite Beat in a Budget Dancehall–The star of the Saharan Purple Rain ducks out of the desert and into a club, and things get looser than they tend to on the sands…not a bad idea at all.
Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories–Two septuagenarian vets of European improvised music join two American youngsters for a two-disc creation session, and the kids’ ideas win (as does the listener, in one of the best free records of 2018).
The Young Mothers: Morose–The latest work starring a product of Texas’ House of Gonzalez (one brainstormed by a Norwegian) melds free jazz, rap, punk, metal, and maybe other stuff in a furious attempt to change that mood–be it in us or the musicians themselves.
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs–Seems like folks are struggling to describe this Australian act (they’re not a jam band to my ears), but they seem a more straightforward version of The Feelies to me, and that’s a good thing.
Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida–Just as I’m wondering when JLin going to deliver another package of EDM even a Southwest Missouri boy can love, I find out a Portuguese wizard damn near matched Black Origami with this quirky jam (there may be hope for me yet).
For the past week, Sarayah’s Feel the Vibe has been throbbing in the lab (aka my ’93 Ford Ranger’s cab). Nicole spotted the album in Louisiana Music Factory, NOLA’s stellar Frenchman Street store, checked it out at the listening station, and placed it on my already-towering stack. The young lady is a product of the Crescent City, with Caribbean roots that blend beautifully with that status, and while she doesn’t quite live up to Basin Street Records’ promotional claim that she weds Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Kehlani (each of whom are backed by big bucks and state of the art writers and producers), I prefer her to all of the above except Ri, and even then I prefer her half the time. Why? I am no aficionado of club music or modern r&b, but I sense in the tracks and lyrics of Feel the Vibe that they might be a shade generic or corny. However, there is a sweetness and innocence to her commitment to the material, to her belief in herself, to the humility of her offering that’s irresistible. Trappings are few: her island-tinged delivery and exotic presentation on the album cover are about it. Otherwise, she’s naked, especially so without the bells and whistles of a zeitgeistian roll call of beat-finders and knob-twiddlers, and as a result I feel I’m getting a direct and sincere shot from the kid. I don’t club much at 56 in mid-Missouri, but I can easily picture Nicole and I getting the backs of our shirts wet to tracks like “Blaze It Up” and “Start to Finish”–and she can nail a slow one, too, as she proves on “Fire and Ice.” Late in the album, she takes New Orleans music back to its roots on “We Party,” perhaps the track that most suggests her potential. Saràyah: give her a shot. I hope we get to see her live one day.
A morning spent with the greatest country-soul singer of them all is a morning fully redeemed.
An industrious day of exercise, reading, trip-planning, pretending we were on Bourbon Street, and enjoying rain, breeze, and 70-degree weather (it’s been hot here in Misery). But I had enough time to check out two new live recordings from the vaults, capturing two great acts in their late-girlhood, early womanhood.
Nicole and I always wonder, “Why don’t we listen to Bonnie Raitt more?” A great singer and guitarist, a class act, pretty good quality control, a sense of humor–what’s not to love? To some extent, maybe, she’s so damn consistent she’s either a bit boring or taken too often for granted. The above set, recorded on my tenth birthday, finds her delivering a combo of blues and pop covers, most of which eventually found themselves on her early records, with astounding maturity and command. Her guitar playing is still a shade rough, but it’s passionate. All in all, it might be my favorite Raitt recording, because it’s more alive than her studio output.
I have to admit, I’m not a huge Bangles fan. Their terrific debut, All Over the Place, conveyed garage toughness, featured fetching harmonies and melodies, and exhibited neat rock-historic savvy. For me, though, aside from two great singles and one good-plus corny one, it was all downhill from there. I admire this ’86 live set because it puts all the good-to-great stuff in one place, on a decent night, with just a touch of the toughness gone.
Revisited two old YouTube playlists from our faux-NOLA frozen-drink cloud: