Pop Music Pig-Out: My Favorite Listens of 2018, Seven Months In

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I was on the road half of July and not able to search the nooks and crannies of the many music scenes making life bearable in this world where humans are supposedly safer, better educated, and healthier than they’ve ever been–I’m a science advocate, but in this revelation I’m a bit insecure. Still, 15 new records added to my list of gooduns, and five records added to my list of stellar reissues. Making waves on my chart, which is a bit loosely ordered but starting to reflect my feelings about the quality and durability of its contents:

  • Kid Cudi and —–‘s project Kids See Ghosts, which excites me sonically almost every track–and very much against my will (my former Hickman High School Hip Hop Club members, should any of them read this, will be ROTFLOLing at this fact, as I scoffed at their Cudi-philism constantly–they would vaunt nothing else–during our single year of existence).
  • The great West Coast punk veteran Alice Bag, whose (relatively) old memoir may be adding value to her new record.
  • Subtle Degrees’ intense and madly repetitive A Dance That Empties, a jazz assault that has made my heart race pleasantly every listen.
  • The ageless diva Elza Soares–calling her a Brazilian Tina Turner doesn’t even do her justice, and the music behind her will challenge and delight your ear.
  • Freddie Gibbs’ Freddie. I’ve not been moved by Mr. Gibbs in the past–despite the hype and the decent beats, he’s a hip hop boor to the max–but his dedicated to keeping it brief and his flow makes me forgive the rip-off/homage to Teddy.
  • The Internet’s Hive Mind: If I weren’t feeling a bit emotionally naked at present, and trusted my instincts more, this subtle, grooveful, encouraging, and seductively muted gem may have already invaded my Top 5. Syd’s a persuasive and beguiling sprite, but Steve Lacy just might be a Curtis Mayfield for the 21st century. Just might.

Anyhow, here’s my update, with stuff having moved up and down in my esteem, such as that is. In bold are the records I’ve really, really tested and tried to order, but goddam it, Heraclitus is laughing at me as I struggle:

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  4. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  5. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  6. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  7. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  8. JD Allen: Love Stone
  9. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  10. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  11. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  12. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  13. The Internet: Hive Mind
  14. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  15. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  16. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  17. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  18. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  19. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  20. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  21. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  22. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  23. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  24. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  25. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  26. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  27. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  28. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  29. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  30. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  31. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  32. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  33. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  34. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  35. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  36. Bombino: Deran
  37. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  38. Pusha T: Daytona
  39. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  40. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  41. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  42. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  43. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  44. Nas: Nasir
  45. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  46. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  47. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  48. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  49. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  50. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  51. Beats Antique: Shadowbox
  52. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  53. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  54. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  55. Anelis Assumpcão: Taurina
  56. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  57. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  58. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  59. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  60. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  61. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  62. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  63. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
  64. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  65. Shopping: The Official Body
  66. Young Mothers: Morose
  67. The Thing: Again
  68. Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
  69. Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara
  70. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  71. David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
  72. Shame: Songs of Praise
  73. Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures, Pt. 2
  74. Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
  75. Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens
  76. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  77. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  78. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  79. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  80. Marc Sinan & Oğuz Büyükberber: White
  81. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  82. Deaf Wish: Lithium Zion
  83. Jay Rock: Redemption
  84. MC Paul Barman: Echo Chamber
  85. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  86. Tal National: Tantabara
  87. Wilko Johnson: Blow Your Mind
  88. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  89. Tony Molina: Kill the Lights
  90. Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
  91. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  92. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  93. Silvana Estrada: Lo Sagrado
  94. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  95. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  96. Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
  97. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  98. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  99. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  100. Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  101. Migos: Culture II
  102. 03 Greedo: God Level
  103. Angélique Kidjo: Remain in Light
  104. Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg
  105. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  106. The Carters: Everything is Love
  107. The Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
  108. Superorganism: Superorganism
  109. Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet: Landfall
  110. Sleep: The Sciences
  111. Teyana Taylor: K.T.S.E.
  112. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio
  113. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  114. Various Artists: I Only Listen to The Mountain Goats
  115. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  116. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions


  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  2. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  3. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  4. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  5. Various Artists: Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  6. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  7. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  8. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  9. Various Artists: Outlaws and Armadilloes
  10. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  11. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  12. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  13. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  14. Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
  15. Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie
  16. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  17. Wussy: Getting Better
  18. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  19. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  20. The Beginning of the End: Funky Nassau

What a Guy! (July 30, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Nicole and I simply celebrated the great Buddy Guy’s 82nd birthday by pulling three of his nicest CDs and grooving through the afternoon (she was working on school tasks-it’s in the offing-and I was working on a novel by the great Mississippi writer Larry Brown (Joe – I’m gonna have to check out the film adaptation). Buddy, by the way, is a Louisianan by birth.

Vanguard’s A Man and the Blues has an oddly quiet vibe. I’m not sure if it’s the mix or the playing, but the effect is actually pleasurable. Guy plays precisely and thoughtfully (head-down, locked-in style), and even the rock cover and the instros, never my favorite Buddy modes, are inspired. He’s also got the great Otis Spann riding shotgun and also playing with great subtlety. My faves are the title track, “One Room Country Shack,” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Guy’s in wilder, faster gunslingin’ mode on Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play the Blues – might it be the presence of Slowhand on guit and behind the board (technically) on eight songs? It also helps that Wells, one of his favorite running buddies, is on hand, handling most of the vocals and harp, of course. Funny thing: maybe I don’t get out much, but I think Guy’s a very underappreciated vocalist, in fact, a better singer than Wells, who often sounds like he’s trying too hard to me. Patched together from two sessions (in ’70 and ’72), with Dr. John and The J. Geils Band also on hand but understanding their place.

Sweet Tea is kind of amusing: it’s catnip for the blues fan who wishes those Fat Possum records were more steady, as well as for those who wish Buddy would put a serrated edge on a record once in awhile. I’m in the latter category, and I also prefer Guy just cuttin’ the fuck loose – which is why I’m always quick to reach for it (the perfect other bookend, in this case). In case anyone hasn’t been convinced the man is a class act, he picks seven fine Fat Possum artist copyrights (courtesy Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, Robert Cage and Cedell Davis) and even employs Ford’s infamous drummer Spam for the session. It doesn’t replace the originals, folks–it’s a loving, respectful homage to that label’s aesthetic.

Short-shrift Division:

Erroll Garner: Nightconcert – Newly-unearthed mid-Sixties live recording with Garner jubilantly and mischievously dancing across 16 standards. Not as rapturous as Concert by The Sea – but, goddam, that’s a tall order. (I can’t confirm that the above clip is from the same show, but it’s the same vintage.)

Hermeto Pascoal: Cérebro Magnético – Who is this guy? I can’t quit listening long enough to do a little research beyond that he’s Brazilian and he’s a brave experimenter.

Back In The Game (July 25-29, Columbia, MO)

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After a half-month vacation and a little reorientation, I’ve been digging into records with a passion.

Mulatu Astatke and The Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1-2–Early Mulatu, minus misterioso sax and his mature stamp, but plus sharp Cuban-flavored attack (mid-Sixties vintage)

Balkan Beat Box: Nu-Med–I miss this band (are they disbanded, I wonder?) and their propulsive, eccentric, surprising rhythms (here, augmented in one case by Delta guitar).

Beats Antique: Shadowbox–This well-named band’s best album end to end, they are well-supported by guests like Preservation Hall, but don’t quite deliver a true banger quite as powerful as “Dope Crunk” (also, consistency be damned, it mighta been even better with about 20 minutes worth of editing).

David Bowie: Santa Monica ’72–After sampling a ’70s Bonnie Raitt radio show (the faucet’s all the way open on these), I jumped at this, and it’s raw and sloppy enough, and the playlist choice enough, to justify a recommendation, especially if you do find Dave’s early ’70s productions too skinny.

Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil–I tend to like my Brazilian music nuttier (see below), but this tribute to composer Egberto Gismonti’s music, described by jazz scribe Dan Bilawsky as “a sui generis form of fantasia that proves evocative in its blending of Brazilian forms,” is bright and effervescent enough to steamroller that prejudice (also, GO RESONANCE RECORDS!).

Booker Ervin: “Tex”book Tenor–Ervin’s a brawny and smart ’60s hornman you may have overlooked, and he’s on his game here, assisted ably by Billy Higgins, Woody Shaw, and Kenny Barron, the latter two of whom chip in great tunes. The Blue Note catalog is so dang deep that it’s full of minor classics like this that get a bit of shade.

Etoile de Dakar (featuring Youssou N’Dour): Once Upon a Time in Senegal–The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981–Look at those dates. The greatest band on the planet? The Clash? The Talking Heads? Maybe–maybe not. This band jumped hella sturdy and cut like a straight razor, with a teenager who already was one of the most distinctive vocalists on the planet. All the great stuff from their early prime is here.

Monsieur Jeffrey Evans & Ross Johnson: “Caldonia” / “Cottonfields”–Evans, formerly of ’68 Comeback and The Gibson Brothers, and Johnson, formerly of Earth about, oh, 40 years ago, continue waging their war to keep Memphis weird. They go 1-for-2 here, with “Cottonfields” an embarrassment except for Johnson’s intro–he has a way of snatching entertainment from the jaws of a flop. Look for their previous full-length, which does work, and features this truly weird semi-classic.

Freddie Gibbs: Freddie–Dude’s done nothing to convince me until now–a decently skilled boor–and the rip-off/tribute to the album cover of one of my teen essentials didn’t do him any favors. Still–somehow he got me on this one. Nine of 10 tracks are under three minutes long–what is this, rap Ramones?–so maybe he’s figured out when to hit the door. And, honestly, seldom have such complete MCs skills been laid (!) upon that trap skitter.

The Elmo Hope Ensemble: Sounds from Rikers Island–Hope, with Sonny Clark, is one of those great hard bop (maybe?) pianists every jazz explorer needs to know but might not, due to their more illustrious peers (and due to their premature deaths at the hands of drugs). This one is special, not only because Hope had Arkestra stalwarts Ronnie Boykins and John Gilmore plus favorite drummer Philly Joe Jones (who really shines) on hand, but also? Any chance to hear Gilmore outside the Arkestra is worth a leaning forward.

Dick Hyman Plays Fats Waller–And plays him into a Bosendorfer reproducing piano! That’s right! Supposedly this process results in recordings closer to the sound at the moment of playing than any other machine can manufacture. Whether that claim still holds true, Hyman is a wizard, Walleriana is one of his great loves, and both facts are luminously proven here.

Abdullah Ibrahim: Yarona and Abdullah Ibrahim and Johnny Dyani: Echoes from Africa–You can listen to these albums in the middle of the night, and they (especially the latter) will sound as if the sun is coming up on a long-awaited morning.

The Internet: Hive Mind–My favorite groove album of the year, a groove so seductive you might miss some very wise words. I love these kids–seems like so much young talent is flowing from the ground that they might indeed save us…

Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): This is Our Language and The Lisbon Improvisational Players: Spiritualized–Amado is perhaps the best known Portuguese free jazz player in the world, he’s got a great new record out, and when he’s paired with the Merlinesque McPhee or like-minded Lisbonites, the attentive listener is going to be taken somewhere worthy. My current obsession–if only I could hear this music live in mid-Misery!

Lori McKenna: The Tree–There’s so much music out there that this fine songwriter’s been around for over a decade and I’ve just recently heard of her–and I’m supposed to know something about this stuff. Thing is, I checked her new one out based on her writing rep (and she’s sharp), but I came away in love with her singing. The above song and “You Won’t Even Know I’m Gone” you can play for your folks and put a hook in their lip.

Jay McShann (with Claude “Fiddler” Williams): The Man from Muskogee and Claude “Fiddler” Williams: Swingin’ the Blues–Reading around in some old reference books (it’s what I do for fun), I came to the realization that Nicole and I had in fact seen a member of the original Basie band play live! Fiddler Williams (he also guitar-slung) was only with Basie for a blink–he also was with Andy Kirk’s famous orchestra–but had a very quite career until a mid-’70s resurgence that lasted (as Williams did) another twenty years. His high, keening swing–he almost drawls across the strings–is irresistible, and if you just wanna sit back and be transported like they used to was, these records will do the trick. His accomplices, especially McShann and the late, great Henry Butler (on the latter record), are exquisitely skilled as well.

Leon Parker: Belief–The percussion textures on this album are mood-enhancing; it always clears and cleans my mind, somehow. Some great horn and sneaky blues on hand, too.

Hermeto Pascoal: Slaves Mass–Multi-instrumentalist Pascoal recorded this swirling, dizzying, often intimidating salvo of Brazilian sound in 1977–I don’t really know that it fits any genre, though imbibers of jazz, international, progressive, and outsider music are fairly sure to be held in thrall. Didn’t arrive on CD until 2005; I just heard of it three days courtesy of a New Orleans friend who Dropboxed it to me. Mad, magical music.

Esther Phillips: Jazz Moods–Hot–Dinah Washington’s greatest acolyte seldom (some would say never) made a great album, and this has its wince-inducing moments. I don’t think “What A Diff’rence a Day Makes” was meant to be discofied, at least not like it’s done here. But she always had a way of startlingly covering the unexpected, from the likes of The Beatles, Van Morrison, and Charlie Rich. On this comp, the above Gil Scott-Heron interpretation at least matches the original, she risks disaster in trying to convince us that someone other than Bill Withers needed to record “Use Me” and survives, and she blows Joe Cocker out of the water on “Black-Eyed Blues.” Someone needs to get motivated and give us the ultimate Phillips box…oh wait, you can just make your own.

Sam Rivers: Contrasts–Rivers, joined by bassist Dave Holland, trombonist George Lewis, and the very underrated percussionist Thurman Barker (the latter two AACM masters), plays seven original compositions that miraculously and vividly illustrate their single-word titles: “Circles,” “Zip,” “Solace,” “Verve,” “Dazzle,” “Images,” “Lines.” Aside from those variances, the band plays arrangements, near-total improvisations, hard-bop, tone-poetry–it’s really a stunning record that benefits from, as one reviewer noted, not being a stereotypically gauzy ECM release.

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band: 1984/08/20–East Rutherford, New Jersey–I am not nearly enraptured by Springsteen as I was at 15, and at 22–he just tries too damn hard, and anymore his singing and material grinds me. But for some reason (I forget the trigger) I started scouting for a live ’84 show that might possibly improve on, or at least provide an interesting contrast to, Born in the USA, which I just can’t listen to sometimes because of the production. Went to the ol’ codger’s website and checked this out, which was, in fact, just what I was looking for: a good mix of new and old, some neat surprises (like the above Dobie Gray cover), and…I always listen for a stellar version of “Badlands,” which this has.

Clark Terry (with Thelonious Monk): In Orbit–Ordinarily, if on a record you heard that Monk mostly stayed out of the way, you might not want to listen to it. But in this case you’d be wrong. Monk comps respectfully around the winsome and witty flugeling of a musician I’m sure he already considered a master. And the winsomeness and the wit are probably the reason. Lest any Monkophile be disappointed, he breaks out, with Terry returning the favor of respect, on his own “Let’s Cool One.” A very warm (there’s another “w”) and swinging session.

Tom Waits: Round Midnight–The Minneapolis Broadcast 1975–Still sampling from this burgeoning stream of “bootleg” radio shows, I was bound to reel in a dog. While I am an admirer of Nighthawks at the Diner, this performance, especially the grating opener, a a big, fat, unfunny, bombing “Emotional Weather Report,” reminded me once again how much sheer bullshit has been part of Tom’s schtick. I’m sure my repulsion’s just a temporary thing, though.

Take Me With U (Minneapolis, July 22-23, 2018)

Of course we nerded out and blasted Prince as we entered the Minneapolis highway tangle! I do love me some Replacement, some Dü, and even some Suburbs (!), but in our vehicle there was never any question. We’d also damn near finished the Erdrich book, which unsurprisingly takes place mostly in Minneapolis, where she resides and runs a bookstore. We were too tapped out to visit it, plus we’d already bought at least 10 books while on the road.

We stayed at the Hewing Hotel. If we can afford them, we like to try interesting lodging, and the Hewing is that. Too much on the posh side of interesting, I’d say: severe valet charge, extra charge just to access the rooftop bar, hot tub, and spa (which guarantees the people up there won’t be that interesting), pet-friendly around the bar and dining area (we have five, but come on). When I scoffed as the concierge informed us of the rooftop charge, she folded and gave us free access (Camus: “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”), so we scoped it out. Here we are shortly after I’d had an absurd argument with a bartender about a sliding glass door:

Next morning, though, we zipped out to Paisley Park. I’d read plenty that might dissuade one from paying the $55 “general level” admission–wait, is it here or in England where one always knows one’s place?–but turns out it was a pretty enjoyable and emotional experience. Pics are not allowed–

and I don’t want to spoil your potential future trip, but you might not know it’s His burial site, it’s got a goodly amount of famous items you’d want to see, he lived there for at least the last couple of years (by the way, it’s as cool as Graceland in its way), and (though I’ve heard it didn’t start this way) the tour guides know their stuff–though don’t assume Prince would have wanted it this way. Exit through the gift shop you will: I picked up some Prince guitar picks for one of my favorite former students, Nicole purchased a loverly scarf, and, being a teacher, I had to have a Purple Rain coffee mug.

Then, it was off to Lake Minnetonka, where we were denied much-needed purification (16 days on the road) by a teenage lifeguard and a more public body of water than I’d imagined.

Finally, we tracked down the Purple Rain house, which Prince bought shortly before he passed. It needs a little work, but it, too, brought an emotional ripple as we recalled the partly-autobiographical scenes that were shot there:

After a nap, we wended our way to Salsa Ala Salsa, where we met some serious rock and roll friends (Billy, Darren, and Julie) for excellent margaritas, sangria, and tamales. I kid you not–we have rock and roll friends in every city!

Alas, we awakened the next morning realizing our final eight hours of driving were ahead of us. A few things about that last stretch:

Erdrich’s The Future Home of the Living God is pretty worthy. If you can imagine her already formidable talents under the sway of Atwood and confronting the darkness of Drumpf, that’s pretty much what it is. She has a bit of trouble shaking loose in the middle section, but I have to say it’s one of the best literary accounts of a pregnancy I’ve read (the book’s written in epistolary form to the narrator’s future kid). 4.3/5.

When in Des Moines, jump off the highway to Alohana Hawaiian Grill for some loco moco or spam musumi! Delicious!

I can’t say enough about the indefatigable research that the participants in Season Two of the In the Dark podcast put into the case of Curtis Flowers. Please check out the 11-episode story, especially if you think the justice system works….

If you’re driving from Minneapolis to Columbia, Missouri, you can trust your GPS, but the fastest route will not seem that way!

Finally, thanks for reading and I encourage you to road trip with your loved ones to see your loved ones. Load up the mp3 player to save on data, download some podcasts and audiobooks, gas up the tank, and head for the hills–I have to say that after 5,000-plus miles and sixteen days, I got a little choked up when I turned to meet my driver’s eyes. In particular, consider the Northwest–the beauty of the landscape seems to roll out infinitely.

Dimension Seven (July 17-22, 2018 / Victoria, Seattle, Bozeman,Wall, Minneapolis)

Been too busy to blog–good thing on vacation, eh?–and when in the car (35 hours of driving last three days) we’ve been audiobooking, podcasting, and rocking out! When I have had time? I’m telling you, the Internet ain’t made it to the upper left quadrant, people. So–a quick recap. This is s’posed to be a music blog, so it’ll have, um, hints of that.

Victoria, British Columbia

I had never planted my feet on foreign soil, so I was just thrilled to be in the most British Canadian city. Music played very little part. I visited the Fan Tan Alley shop Turntable, where the proprietor seemed stuck in the Sixties but I did find the above record. Didn’t buy it–$50, and the sleeve was about cashed–but it’s a good ‘un. I also trekked up Fort Street to Ditch’s and snagged a previously rare Sam Rivers ECM and a neat Dick Hyman Fats Waller tribute which he played into a Bosendorfer machine (for what that’s worth). The night before we left, I was forced to witness the current version of Lynyrd Skynyrd playing live (on TV only, thankfully) at a pub where the Old Fashioneds were too good for me to get up and leave (Bartholomew’s).

Other highlights:

Butchart Gardens, a beautiful botanical display. (See previous entry.)

My first real dish of Ramen.

Russell’s, a used bookstore so overwhelming I couldn’t buy anything.

A primer on an interesting facet of the Canadian health system.

We hiked all over its spread–I’d estimate 12-15 miles–notably about five clicks out to its east breakers:

We walked through the Empress Hotel a couple times, but they didn’t have low tea.

We weaved through Fisherman’s Wharf.

I really got used to seagulls outside my bedroom window.

…and before jumping back on the Clipper back to Seattle, we had time to pop into the Odean Theater for a screening of Sorry To Bother You, which, as much as I love Boots Riley, graded out to about a B/B+–it needed a little more juice, I thought.



Return to Seattle

Again, music didn’t figure much into our brief return visit to Seattle (I played country music classics during our time in the highly-recommended Mediterranean Inn), but being with our Seattle friends is rock and roll! They operate spontaneously and delightfully. Our dear long-time friend Frank–he and I used to write collaborative punk 45 assessments for The Banks and Bibles Revue–led us on a marvelous foot tour of downtown Seattle.

The Echo Statue:

A skywalk:

Seagull feeding (I tell ya, I love them birds):

The Gumwall:

Smith Tower, bottom…

…to top:

And finally a Lyft out to Ha! in Fremont to reunite with the whole gang, toast everything good, and go listen to garage 45s at some old vintage lounge. It was hard to leave.



Bozeman, Montana

We blasted Hendrix again all the way out of Washington, and after being diverted from I-90 by a brush fire, we found ourselves at Wild Horses National Monument with a wonderful vista.

Bozeman was not scintillating, but we arrived in time to find decent food–locally-raised bison, anyone?–and great cocktails at Ted’s Lounge, which also is the only restaurant I’ve ever visited that has played The Gilded Palace of Sin on their sound system. I must say, though, that the mountainous beauty of this part of the country makes an 11-hour drive pretty damned pleasant. New audiobook: Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God.

On our next leg, through Wyoming and into South Dakota, we visited Little Big Horn, where apparently we’re still trying to see Custer as a hero, or at the very least worth memorializing, but far more riveting was Devil’s Tower. We’d been blasting Nirvana (I find their music’s aged very well and is indisputably great–just like Jimi’s), and we’ve been shooting a 20-second highway video every 100 miles, so I had a corny inspiration:



Wall, South Dakota, and The Beauteous Badlands

We’d been to The Badlands before, and they are a must. If you go, stay at Frontier Cabins and request a meadow view. It was too dark upon our arrival and too foggy upon our departure for me to snap a good pic, but here’s an interior.

We got up early to drive through the park on our way to Minneapolis. We blasted punk rock (Minutemen, Roky, Minor Threat), were stunned again by the views, and dropped some cash for a stack of books to express our love for the National Parks Service (Black Elk Speaks, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas). Here’s a selfie with my beautiful one.

On the way to our next stop, I had an Indian Taco (made with fry bread) at Al’s Oasis. I thought you should know. We continued listening to the infuriating podcast In the Dark (infuriating due to the miscarriage of justice it explores–Mississippi, goddam!!!), Erdrich’s fascinating if flawed new novel, and, of course, blasted Prince all the way into Minneapolis, where we’ve never been.



Minneapolis (just dropped in)

Today: Paisley Park, Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, and dinner and drinks with friends.

A Great Big Clipper Ship (June 13-16, 2018, Mt. Rainier/Seattle/Victoria BC)

13th: Reluctantly left Portland for Mt. Rainier State Park. Thrilling, and for the traveler we do recommend an annual parks pass!

Ain’t no quick way from that park to Seattle, so we jammed Local Boy Jimi all the way in, and it was a balm. I included this neat item in the playlist–you have to lean forward a bit:

Seattle: so many great things to do, but for us the greatest thing is boon companions. Jill (who offered us a bed): smart, hilarious, endlessly boisterous, and a heart as big as an ocean; Rex, our fellow Missourian who was also visiting: ace poem picker, situation-parser, spokesman for the public; Beth, my best friend since we were 18 at the University of Arkansas: a perfectly dangerous big-sister type with a subversive sense of humor and a heart as big as the ocean Jill’s heart is as big as; and Angela and Frank, whose amazing kiddo Cecilia is our kinda-godkid: joined in unholy matrimony, in amazing parenting, and staying young as their relationship grows older (no sin, no easy road). We all know each other well, to some extent accidentally, and when we converge the laughter peals, the suggestions alarm, the drink overtops the sandbars, pizza is the only necessary fuel, and the music ain’t no didgeridoo solo! Here’s a pic from shortly after our arrival:

Deep into the night, we plotted and planned, punched free selections into Jill’s ’70s-dominated jukebox (in her living room!), and tried to solve the world’s problems.

Yeah, that was just the 13th.

14th: Road trip! A 12-hour one! It’s easy when Jill’s got her van rocking out to classic garage rock!

Out to Deception Pass (it’s historic, but that name doesn’t bode well) for hiking, low-tide discoveries, arguments about didgeridoos (Nicole: “Didgeridon’t–unless you’re an aboriginal musician!”), facing up to fear of heights on the bridge over Dire Straits (yeah–it’s real), and miscommunicating over our splintered wanderings.

On the way back to Seattle, we waited hours at The Shrimp Shack for Dungenness Crab Burgers that were worth it, visited Ebey’s Beach and resurrected the didgeridoo theme thanks to Rex’s discovery (see video below), and got harassed by The Vanloads of Christian Athletes while waiting for the ferry. Arriving back at Jill’s, we honky-tonked into the night though I was out on my feet.

15th: You’d think we’d have to recover, but we were down at Pike’s Place Market with Frank and Angela, eating the best macaroons ever created at Le Panier, hoofing it over to meet the rest of the bunch at the Museum of Pop Culture–

–brunch Bloodies and great Hendrix and Nirvana exhibits–plus a fun “scream recording” in the horror exhibit that Nicole, Beth, and I tried), railing it to Chinatown for Dragonfest, King Noodle, and orgasmic origami, hopping in Jill’s van again for a foray to Hendrix’s grave–

–and to one of the best dive bars I’ve ever bellied up to, Darrell’s:

Along the way, Rex, Nicole, Beth, Jill and I envisioned a Seattle “underground history tourism” service that would have made Larry Flynt blanch. Dry eyes were not to be found. Much thanks to Darrell’s jukebox for this:

We continued some beer-drankin’ at Jill’s after, but the dawn would beckon Nicole and me at 5 the next morning…

16th: We took the Victoria Clipper over to Victoria BC–my first-ever trip outside the U.S.

We immediately took a bus out to Butchart Gardens and beheld much flowery glory–sorry, not too rock and roll, but it was indeed glorious.

I’m sipping a Molson’s in our room at the Victoria Regent, knowing what it sounds like when gulls cry. Tomorrow: a music injection from Turntable or Ditch’s? Or a lit re-up from Munro’s Books? We shall see. Off to Ferris’ Upstairs Seafood and Oysters…

O My Stars (June 11th-June 13th, 2018, Portland, Oregon)

Began Wednesday morning with a drive out to Multnomah Falls, east of Portland. Ravishing. Plus we got in some good climbing. We also drove down to the banks of the Columbia River to appreciate that behemoth more thoroughly. By the way, we’ve been listening to Season 2 of the In the Dark podcast, the gripping quality of such does make time fly when you’re in the car. The host drives me bats, though.

Once back in Portland, we drove through the downtown chaos, dined at the terrific Thai Peacock (hella dranks, too), then arrived at the shrine: Powell’s City of Books! My word–it is the book nerd’s Mecca. Of course, there is shopping porn:

Then, we headed out to Forest Park and St. John’s Bridge to explore (vehicularly, only) some of the terrain in Peter Rock’s great novel My Abandonmemt:

What about the music, you say? Well, some dude from Sunny Day Real Estate played about 25 feet from our hotel room (Doug Fir is the venue–seems connected to The Jupiter), but we looked askance and chilled in the evening to a cavalcade of hardcore honky tonk.

However, Thursday morning, driving west to Cannon Beach (my first ever view of the Pacific), we cranked up a “First Nations” playlist featuring the mightily missed John Trudell, the underrated A Tribe Called Red, the unmistakable Tanya Tagaq (Nicole survived four of her songs!), Martha Redbone, and assorted others.

I strongly suggest you visit Cannon Beach and The Haystacks. Also, Thomas is a cool server from Festus, Missouri, who works at Pelican Brewery: he’ll have great advice and knows his beers!

Later in the evening, speaking of My Abandonment, we visited Cinema 21 on 21st Street to take in Deb Granik’s film that was inspired by that book, Leave No Trace.

The film was shot in and around Portland, so it was neat to watch it with a local audience. It’s strong–Granik also directed Winter’s Bone, and she clearly has a gift for locations and directing young women. Surprise musical cameo appearance by Ol’ Snock (not this song, though):

Today: Mt. Rainier–and dear friends in Seattle!

In the Open (Sunday, June 8th – Wednesday June 11th, 2018, Missouri to Oregon)

Starting about 5 in the morning Sunday, we’ve been on the road to Seattle to visit some fond friends. We’ve crossed Kansas, landed in Denver (they have candy!), cut up through Wyoming to Yellowstone, cut across a corner of Montana then down and over through Idaho (no easy way to Portland!), and finally, here at rest in the funky Jupiter Hotel on Burnside in Rip City. Just walked over the bridge to Voodoo Doughnuts (they’ve put out two live Dead Moon albums, at least), beheld the city’s grappling with the teeming homeless and mentally unsound population, and are prepping for a nature outing and a Powell’s visit. Yesterday was a 14.5-hour drive, we got in at 10 and hit the bar, now it is go time!

We have “read” two books thus far on the trip: Tommy Orange’s promising, scathing There There* and the late Anthony Bourdain’s wild and eye-opening Kitchen Confidential (it took his death to finally motivate us to read it, sadly). Thus, little music so far. But…some:

We kicked off the trip with the above Freddie King masterwork.

Later, I forgot how great this song was:

In a Denver hotel after enjoying candy apple suckers from Totally Heavenly Candy out on the streets–

–we grooved lazily to Lady:

Driving up through Tetons Park to Yellowstone–

–we were reminded again of the ever-rewarding joys of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys’ Tiffany Transcriptions (special attention to doomed guitarist Junior Bernard and magic fiddler Joe Holley):

Two old faithfuls confronted THE Old Faithful and felt joy of their own–

Then we struggled to escape Yellowstone–

–and get some momentum behind us, behind the music of a friend from Eng-uh-land (with help from his and our friend from Columbus, Ohio):

Couldn’t get these songs out of my head cutting across Oregon:

I may be back tomorry, or it may be awhile! If I’m livin’ right, it may be awhile, with Seattle and Victoria BC in the offing!

*One of the key characters in Orange’s book has a therapeutic relationship with MF Doom’s music. The page on which that’s captured is pretty insightful.

Pair of Threes (July 7th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Pair of three from Louisiana this morning:

The great Bechet’s intense vibrato and thrilling, surprising upward swings on soprano sound almost avant-garde to my ear. He played pretty masterfully from the beginning of his career to the end; today, I concentrated on his Blue Note recordings (mostly 1940s sides), a reliable place to start for a beginner.

Louisiana’s most ferociously skilled and (one of its) longest-lasting Cajun groups knocked it out of the part with the fairly recent Carencro. Besides their usual solid originals en Francais, they take James Brown, John Coltrane, and Fred McDowell to the swamp. Never underestimate the Brothers Doucet–they can play any damn thing and swing you.

It’s hard to imagine any trumpeter getting within spitting distance of Louis Armstrong’s shining sound, vivacity, and invention–even in the Crescent City. Red Allen of Algiers was one of a few, however, who could, and he wasn’t a bad singer, either. These days, he’s overshadowed, but he enjoyed a solid career into the early ’60s. Here’s where it starts.

Pair of three kinda-sorta “outside” jazz albums this afternoon:

Nicole and I have been fortunate to see one of the great jazz father-and-son teams in person, though not playing together as they do here. Stereo-separated for aural convenience, the two Chicago tenors converse and “reason” (as a Rasta might say), Papa Von sounding just like an eccentric but leagues-wise elder in the left channel, sonny boy Chico in the right blowing open the barn doors like the young turk he was at the time–but able to shut and lock them tight with skill, finesse, and economy, too. Rhythm section’s crack as well.

I went through a Blythe binge not long ago when he passed from this life; I’m back on another thanks to reading of his Watts exploits in service to Horace Tapscott’s Arkestra in the excellent The Dark Tree. The above track is the only one on the abso-fab Lenox Avenue Breakdown during which guitarist James Blood Ulmer’s turned loose–it’s also the only track that’s fully out–but Black Arthur’s piercing, driving, yet lyrical alto remains the main attraction.

Hill’s another player who crossed paths with, and likely was encouraged, if not influenced, by Tapscott. This record’s challenging, even jittery (if that makes sense), the leader and band are in top form, and here’s one of very few chances to hear (Sun Ra) Arkestra star John Gilmore blow his horn in another context.

Hooked (July 6th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

John Lee Hooker. 1948-1951. Stripped down. Foot poundin’. Guitar plonking out a trance-line, then exploding into foreign, menacing noise. Whether they’re lines straight out of his head or he’s repurposing something he’s just heard on the radio, he stamps ’em with his late-night lonely moanin’ sound. Across these tracks, he already sounds old as the Mississippi–his recording career was just getting started, but he was already in his thirties.

Four discs, 100 tracks, played consecutively today and not a bored moment in my ear or brain, and that’s considering the man had three-four structural and rhythmic moves that he preferred to use repeatedly.

To cease with the waxin’ not particularly poetical, if you do happen to be looking for a way in to the world of John Lee Hooker, and you’re into buying material goods, the above set from JSP–the notes aren’t great, but the sound is stellar–will run you around $10 and it’s loaded with goodies: the original and often superior versions of Hooker masterpieces like “Crawling King Snake,” “Boogie Chillen,” “Sally Mae,” “Burnin’ Hell,” “Hobo Blues,” “House Rent Boogie,” and “I’m in the Mood,” plus great rarities like “No Mortgage on My Soul,” “Streets is Filled with Women,” and “Stomp Boogie.” The format is usually John Lee alone, and his stomping foot is miked up high. Maybe you don’t need all four discs, but every American home ought to contain a selection from this period of the artist’s life. On that note, enjoy the video (from about 15 years later):

Note: Living to Listen is hittin’ the fuckin’ road for 16 days starting just before dawn tomorrow. I may not be posting daily, but then again, last time I tried to stop I couldn’t. We’ll be traveling close to 5,000 miles by jalopy, so it might be reports from the road-trip playlist. But we’re listening to books, too, so it may not. Stay tuned!