House-cleaning: catching up on items from last year that I either slept on or hadn’t given enough time. Due diligence: checking out a hot item from 2019 (that adjective ain’t mine–yet). Inspiration and research: diving deeper into the work of a player featured in last year’s Oxford American Southern Music issue, which you should buy–it’s chock-full of goodness. Vehicular study carrel: revisiting a friend from 37 years ago I didn’t appreciate enough.
Bad Bunny: X100 PRE
I’m not sure how bad because my Spanish ain’t so hot. That trap rattle is so pervasive I’m either gonna have to practice or punt.
Etta Baker: One Dime Blues
I’d heard Baker pick on a great Music Makers CD book companion, but a wonderful article in the above-linked OA sent me scurrying to this, which not only induced me to read while listening to it, but also beguiled me with fluid-but-ear-tickling picking ala Doc Watson and David Doucet.
The Clash: Sandinista!
Still growing on me after four decades. Lord, I was green and impatient in (at?) the mercy of rockism’s means when I pouted at it in ’81! I’m not sure even London Calling is as interesting as its follow-up, and the band’s continuing drive to grow and learn (mentally and musically) misted by driver’s eyes as I beheld it once again. They had brains (always), brawn (when they needed it), and big blood-pumpers–bigger than any punks I can think of from their time to now. Now: if I can just better judge every record by how likely I’ll be to be listening to it when I’m 95….
Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Kid’s songs are sharp, especially “One That Suits Me.” But that voice–I’m not sure it serves the songs like it could. Half-hector, half-hyperhiccup, it defies me like Kleenex, Joni Mitchell, and Corin Tucker don’t; perhaps that’s the point. But I find myself listening through her for not only the words but the band, which holds surprises.
Joshua Redman: Still Dreaming
I have had an irrational aversion to Redman since the days of his rivalry with my man James Carter. But damned if this doesn’t sharply honor his dad’s and Ornette’s method and sound; in fact, he’s so inventively, confidently languid it’s almost a new reality. And Brian Blade? Somewhere, Higgins and Blackwell are smiling from ear to ear. Who knows: maybe this offering will lure Carter out of the recording wilds?
Henry Threadgill: Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus
I’m sorry: I love Threadgill’s alto (he doesn’t play on this at all) and respect his compositions, but that harrumphing tuba irritates the shit out of me. My New Year’s Resolution is to be more honest with myself.
Thurst: Project Isle Demotion
Though these slackers’ new EP is slacker than Cut to the Chafe, its ventings are so inventive they may catch you up short. Just after you’ve begun to muse about Mark E. Smith after two songs about titular “fuckfaces,” they assay “Reading Poetry Over Noise,” which features stiffened short hairs and post-nasal drip, then close up shop.
Miguel Zenón: Yo Soy La Tradición
The 42-year-old Puerto Rican alto saxophonist is fully integrated here with the deft Spektral [string] Quartet, playing with fire, imagination, lyricism, and discipline and achieving an admirable balance between the jazz, classical, and folk music that informs the project. At about the time it threatens to lapse into gentility, some flamenco-ized handclaps snap them and the listener out of it.