COOL WITH THIS!: Strongest Records of 2021 So Far, By My Lights


*The great American music scholar, musician, and composer Allen Lowe, in league with his razor-sharp jazz unit East Axis, knocked out one of his best recordings ever, Cool With That, in the fall of 2020. Ill health proceeded to fall upon him, and though he appears to have survived it, more struggles lay ahead. This is the best free jazz disc yet released in ’21–pay Lowe back and check it out.

*Speaking of jazz players, composers, and freedom, William Parker’s career output is a challenge to explore fully, but do not miss his new release, Mayan Space Station, which features the exciting guitarist Ava Mendoza. Parker’s made a wide variety of records, but never one with six-string this cutting.

*Inexplicably–well, I have been under a lot of stress for many months, and thus distracted–I dropped the ball on Bob Dylan’s there-and-gone film Shadow Kingdom: The Early Songs of Bob Dylan (early–the old fucker’s still got a hell of a sense of humor). I missed it, flat out. Also, instead of simply admiring the indefatigable energy of my longtime lamplight, I occasionally suspect him of, um, gambits; I’m not sure what exactly that means, but maybe “hustle” is a better word. My own gambit not to get my knickers in a twist over the production, however, proved stupid at least from the aural evidence. This morning I was able to access the commercially unavailable soundtrack (cheating, I list it below), and it kicks mountains of ass. Getting sidelined from constant touring’s cleared out his larynx, but more importantly, via neat new arrangements, subtly altered lyrics, and a lot of vim, he made several of his “old” tunes completely fresh–in fact, “To Be Alone With You” and “The Wicked Messenger” (at least) top the originals, and from his current mortal vantage point, “Forever Young” is forever young. BluRay, please?

*My wife Nicole and I helped crowdfund the Smithsonian’s rap project back in 2014, via Kickstarter. The nine-disc box finally arrived in stores this week; it was also our donors’ gift. Even though the tracks stop at 2014, it’s excellently selected and sequenced, it sounds incredible, the accompanying book and vintage photographs are stunning, and…well…it was about damn time. Among the minor quibbles: no DOOM.

*Alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s intense new tribute to Ornette Coleman’s work is the THIRD of the year to make the list, and they’re all so good it makes you miss Ornette even more deeply. PLEASE sample Miguel Zenon’s and Gimenez Lopez’s as well.

*I don’t know any one in person or in cyberspace who loves the British rapper Dave as much as I do. I suppose hardcore hip hop heads might malign his rhyming and flowing skills, or sniff at his beats, but he is the kind of storyteller we need right now, and from the beginning of his last record to the end of his new one I’ve never been bored. In a way, Florence Shaw of the band Dry Cleaning is his narrative sibling; she mostly talks, but it’s what she talks about, and the settings that surround the stories, that count.

*The Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri–COVID Central once already, and probably heading that way again right now. But HEY–if you’re starving for lounge rockabilly with an edge, slide on over to Sundazed Records and check out their latest excavation: the J Ann C Trio Live at Tan-Tar-A (the site of many Missouri public education retreats and worse). Fans of Wanda Jackson and The Skeletons/Morells should NOT miss it.

*I feel like I may have underrated Low Cut Connie’s “Quarantine Concert” covers comp on this list. They’re a group I admire more than I listen to, BUT…this record can open up your waterworks. Adam Weiner is indeed among the last of our eighty-eight-key rock and rollers, and he puts EVERYTHING into these performances. You can feel it in the choices, in his playing, and particularly in the singing–plus? The tough cookies he was referring to were–are, goddam it, we have to be all over again–us.

*The pandemic slowed most musicians, but some, like tenor saxophonist extraordinaire JD Allen, took the bull by the horns and just recorded alone. Allen’s record of solo performances is searing.

*If you’re reading this, you certainly know Bad Brains. Likely, you know Death (well, we all do, but I’m talking about the band). Probably, you don’t know Pure Hell (at least you don’t know the band by that name). Yep: there were at least THREE punk bands of color in the ’70s.

*I want to thank the longtime record gobbler and music sage Tom Hull for regularly linking me on his absolutely essential blog. He is a giant when it comes to keeping fanatics informed about the best of the wide range of music humans make, and he is quite a sharp political mind and cook as well. I am truly humbled he occasionally checks this spot out, and it’s perhaps out of embarrassment that I’ve started commenting more as well as thinking about and slapping down a damned list. Anyone can do that. (I DO listen to them all, though–just sayin’….LOL….)

*I totally love what Sweden’s Jobcentre Rejects label has been up to lately: digging up spunky but obscure Rust Belt metal from the early Eighties. Mistreater’s album is on the main list, and Axxe’s killer 45 is down on my teensie singles listing below. Thing is, there was no pomp in these bands; they existed solely to head-bang and lay down the bad-ass sound–the bad-ass non-technophilic sound, I should say.

BOLDED ITEMS are new to the list. #s indicate archival music.

  1. Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victim 
  1. JuJu: Live at 131 Prince Street #
  1. Julius Hemphill: The Boyé Multinational Crusade for Harmony  
  1. James Brandon Lewis: Jesup Wagon 
  1. East Axis: Cool With That 
  1. William Parker: Mayan Space Station 
  1. Miguel Zenon: Law Years—The Music of Ornette Coleman 
  1. Various Artists: The Smithsonian Anthology of Rap and Hip Hop #
  1. Khaira Arby: Khaira Arby in New York # 
  1. Tim Berne: Broken Shadows 
  1. Bob Dylan: Soundtrack to the film Shadow Kingdom 
  1. Plastic People of The Universe: Apokalyptickej pták  #
  1. Fire in Little Africa: Fire in Little Africa 
  1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Down in the Rust Bucket # 
  1. R.A.P. Ferreira: Bob’s Son  
  1. AUM Grand Ensemble x Ensemble 0: Performs Julius Eastman’s Femenine 
  1. Screamers: Demo Hollywood 1977 # 
  1. No-No Boy: 1975 
  1. Robert Finley: Sharecropper’s Son 
  1. Gimenez Lopez: Reunion en la granja 
  1. Penelope Scott: Public Void  
  1. Paris: Safe Space Invader 
  1. Various Artists: A Stranger I May Be—Savoy Gospel 1954-1966 # 
  1. Dave: We’re All Alone in This Together 
  1. Can: Live in Stuttgart 1975 # 
  1. Hamiet Blueitt: Bearer of the Holy Flame # 
  1. Byard Lancaster: My Pure Joy # 
  1. Ashnikko: Demidevil  
  1. Dax Pierson: Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Satisfaction) 
  1. L’Rain: Fatigue 
  1. Chrissie Hynde: Standing in the Doorway—Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan 
  1. Charles Mingus: Mingus at Carnegie Hall # 
  1. Various Artists: Chicago / The Blues / Today, Volumes 1-3 # 
  1. Dry Cleaning: Sweet Princess (EP) 
  1. Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future 
  1. Graham Haynes vs. Submerged: Echolocation 
  1. Dawn Richard: Second Line  
  1. Jupiter and Okwess: Na Kozonga 
  1. The Goon Sax: Mirror II 
  1. The J Ann C Trio: At Tan-Tar-A #
  1. Brockhampton: Roadrunner—New Light, New Machine 
  1. Ches Smith and We All Break: Path of Seven Colors 
  1. Hasaan Ibn Ali: Metaphysics—The Lost Atlantic Album # 
  1. Amythyst Kiah: Wary + Strange 
  1. Genesis Owusu: Smiling with No Teeth 
  1. Marianne Faithfull (with Warren Ellis): She Walks in Beauty 
  1. Low-Cut Connie: Tough Cookies 
  1. Jaubi: Nafs at Peace (featuring Latamik and Tenderlonious) 
  1. Barry Altschul’s 3Dom Factor: Long Tall Sunshine 
  1. Czarface & MF DOOM: Super What? 
  1. BaianaSystem: OXEAXEEXU 
  1. SAULT: Nine 
  1. McKinley Dixon: For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her 
  1. Vincent Herring: Preaching to the Choir 
  1. Lukah: When the Black Hand Touches You 
  1. Maria Muldaur & Tuba Skinny: Let’s Get Happy Together 
  1. Angelique Kidjo: Mother Nature 
  1. ICP Orchestra & Nieuw Amsterdams Peil: 062 / De Hondemepper 
  1. Body Metta: The Work is Slow 
  1. Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble: NOW 
  1. Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough 
  1. Anthony Joseph: The Rich are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives 
  1. Jason Moran & Milford Graves: Live at Big Ears 
  1. Alice Coltrane: Kirtan–Turiya Sings #
  1. Mistreater: Hell’s Fire 
  1. Blue Gene Tyranny: Degrees of Freedom Found # 
  1. JD Allen: Queen City 
  1. Various Artists: He’s Bad!—11 Bands Decimate the Beat of Bo Diddley  
  1. Various Artists: Wallahi Le Zein! 
  1. Various Artists: Indaba Is 
  1. Wau Wau Collectif: Yaral Sa Doom 
  1. Yvette Janine Jackson: Freedom 
  1. Various Artists: Alan Lomax’s American Patchwork # 
  1. Peter Stampfel: Peter Stampfel’s 20th Century in 100 Songs 
  1. Backxwash: I Lie Here with My Rings and Dresses 
  1. Pure Hell: Noise Addiction #
  1. Various Artists: Doomed & Stoned in Scotland 
  1. Jazmine Sullivan: Heaux Tales 
  1. Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes / Groiddest Schizznits, Volumes 1-3
  1. Various Artists: Allen Ginsberg’s The Fall of America–A 50th Anniversary Musical Tribute 
  1. Les Filles de Illighadad: At Pioneer Works 
  1. Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (EP) 
  1. Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: 11th Street, Sekondi 
  1. Various Artists: Rare.wavs, Volume 1 #
  1. Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg 
  1. Nermin Niazi: Disco Se Aagay # 
  1. Madlib: Sound Ancestors 
  1. Joe Strummer: Assembly # 
  1. Julien Baker: Little Oblivions 
  1. Cedric Burnside: I Be Trying 
  1. Archie Shepp and Jason Moran: Let My People Go 
  1. Roisin Murphy: Crooked Machine  
  1. girl in red: if I could make it go quiet 
  1. Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club 
  1. Robert Miranda’s Home Music Ensemble: Live at The Bing # 
  1. Vijay Iyer, Linda Han Oh, and Tyshawn Sorey: Uneasy 
  1. Olivia Rodrigo: SOUR 
  1. Steve Earle: JT 
  1. Tee Grizzley: Built for Whatever 
  1. Tony Allen (and friends): There is No End 
  1. Jinx Lennon: Liferafts for Latchicos 
  1. The Hold Steady: Open Door Policy  
  1. Elizabeth King & The Gospel Souls: Living in the Last Days 
  1. Alder Ego: III 
  1. Garbage: No Gods No Masters 
  1. Shem Tube, Justo Osala, Enos Okola: Guitar Music of Western Kenya 
  1. Contour: Love Suite 
  1. Alton Gün: Yol 
  1. Various Artists: Edo Funk Explosion, Volume 1 # 
  1. Hearth: Melt 
  1. Trak Trak: Sur Sur 
  1. Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders: Promises 
  1. Sana Nagano: Smashing Humans 
  1. serpentwithfeet: DEACON 
  1. Rodrigo Amado & This is Our Language Quartet: Let the Free Be Men 


Dry Cleaning: “Bug Eggs”/”Tony Speaks!” 

Steve Lehman:: “Cognition” (JLin remix

Henry Threadgill: “Clear and Distinct” (Georgia Ann Muldrow remix) 

Axxe: “Through the Night” / Rock Away the City” 

90 Degrees of Freedom Found: My Favorite Rekkid Releases of 2021, and We’re Only Halfway There

Random observations on the recent explosion of excellent recordings I always should expect but never do and grouse about the paucity of then look dim-witted as a result of my shitty memory:

  1. You may think I’m a little nuts by including so many box sets, but they really are that good and I have been listening to them. Is sitting around listening to box set really a pop thang? Should I even care? Somebody’s gotta do it.
  2. The Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon is having a great year. He’s on two records here (Law Years and Path of Seven Colors) and his duet album of boleros with Luis Perdomo is stunning but I need to listen to it one more time.
  3. I have moved many items around, but I finally hooked right into AUM Grand Ensemble & Ensemble O’s interpretation of Julius Eastman’s Femenine. Eastman’s having a MUCH-deserved revisiting and several interpretations of this piece are out there, but none this hypnotic and beautiful.
  4. How much mileage does SAULT get out of mystique?
  5. I’ll have some of what Loretty’s having, please.
  6. I’m sorry, I just don’t fucking trust Lana Del Rey and I really despise Olivia Rodrigo’s single, but the sonics and words of the former’s album (I’m just blocking out her persona) and the rest of the latter’s songs (for the most part) have broken my resistance. For now.
  7. That Screamers excavation is the first new record I have surprised my wife Nicole with that we both instantly jumped up and down joyfully to. Myself, I’d really mostly only read about them in West Coast punk tomes, but after a 40-year-burial this item really explodes out of the vault.
  8. Is it fair to list Record Store Day releases on these lists? I admit I just lie in wait with my bobber floating in eBay Lake, and I assume anyone else can as well.
  9. If you’re needing a guitar-helping and moping ’cause you can locate one, I urge you to dip into the Moctar, Arby, and Young items in the Top 10. Seriously.


Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victim

JuJu: Live at 131 Prince Street #

Julius Hemphill: The Boyé Multinational Crusade for Harmony 

James Brandon Lewis: Jesup Wagon

Miguel Zenon: Law Years—The Music of Ornette Coleman

Khaira Arby: Khaira Arby in New York #

Fire in Little Africa: Fire in Little Africa

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Down in the Rust Bucket #

R.A.P. Ferreira: Bob’s Son 

AUM Grand Ensemble x Ensemble 0: Performs Julius Eastman’s Femenine

Screamers: Demo Hollywood 1977 #

No-No Boy: 1975

Robert Finley: Sharecropper’s Son

Gimenez Lopez: Reunion en la granja

Penelope Scott: Public Void 

Paris: Safe Space Invader

Various Artists: A Stranger I May Be—Savoy Gospel 1954-1966 #

Can: Live in Stuttgart 1975 #

Hamiet Blueitt: Bearer of the Holy Flame #

Byard Lancaster: My Pure Joy #

Ashnikko: Demidevil 

Dax Pierson: Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Satisfaction)

Chrissie Hynde: Standing in the Doorway—Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan

Charles Mingus: Mingus at Carnegie Hall #

Various Artists: Chicago / The Blues / Today, Volumes 1-3 #

Dry Cleaning: Sweet Princess (EP)

Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future

Dawn Richard: Second Line 

Brockhampton: Roadrunner—New Light, New Machine

Ches Smith and We All Break: Path of Seven Colors

Hasaan Ibn Ali: Metaphysics—The Lost Atlantic Album #

Amythyst Kiah: Wary + Strange

Genesis Owusu: Smiling with No Teeth

Marianne Faithfull (with Warren Ellis): She Walks in Beauty

Jaubi: Nafs at Peace (featuring Latamik and Tenderlonious)


Vincent Herring: Preaching to the Choir

Lukah: When the Black Hand Touches You

Angelique Kidjo: Mother Nature

ICP Orchestra & Nieuw Amsterdams Peil: 062 / De Hondemepper

Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble: NOW

Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough

Anthony Joseph: The Rich are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives

Jason Moran & Milford Graves: Live at Big Ears

Mistreater: Hell’s Fire #

Blue Gene Tyranny: Degrees of Freedom Found #

Various Artists: He’s Bad!—11 Bands Decimate the Beat of Bo Diddley 

Various Artists: Wallahi Le Zein!

Various Artists: Indaba Is

Wau Wau Collectif: Yaral Sa Doom

Yvette Janine Jackson: Freedom

Various Artists: Alan Lomax’s American Patchwork #

Peter Stampfel: Peter Stampfel’s 20th Century in 100 Songs

Backxwash: I Lie Here with My Rings and Dresses

Various Artists: Doomed & Stoned in Scotland

Jazmine Sullivan: Heaux Tales

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes / Groiddest Schizznits, Volumes 1-3#

Various Artists: Allen Ginsberg’s The Fall of America–A 50th Anniversary Musical Tribute

Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (EP)

Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: 11th Street, Sekondi

Various Artists: Rare.wavs, Volume 1

Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg

Nermin Niazi: Disco Se Aagay #

Madlib: Sound Ancestors

Joe Strummer: Assembly #

Julien Baker: Little Oblivions

Cedric Burnside: I Be Trying

Archie Shepp and Jason Moran: Let My People Go

Roisin Murphy: Crooked Machine 

girl in red: if I could make it go quiet

Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club

Robert Miranda’s Home Music Ensemble: Live at The Bing #

Vijay Iyer, Linda Han Oh, and Tyshawn Sorey: Uneasy

Olivia Rodrigo: SOUR

Steve Earle: JT

Tee Grizzley: Built for Whatever

Tony Allen (and friends): There is No End

Jinx Lennon: Liferafts for Latchicos

The Hold Steady: Open Door Policy 

Elizabeth King & The Gospel Souls: Living in the Last Days

Alder Ego: III

Garbage: No Gods No Masters

Shem Tube, Justo Osala, Enos Okola: Guitar Music of Western Kenya

Contour: Love Suite

Alton Gün: Yol

Various Artists: Edo Funk Explosion, Volume 1 #

Hearth: Melt

Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders: Promises

Sana Nagano: Smashing Humans

serpentwithfeet: DEACON

AFTERNOTE (is that a word?):

Top 10 Artists I’ve Been Listening to Over the Last 72 hours / A Nod to Will Friedwald

Carmen McRae (I’m pretty much always listening to–at the very least hearing in my head–Lady McRae)

Anita O’Day (I’m pretty much always listening to–at the very least hearing in my head–Lady O’Day)

Moody Marilyn Moore

Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards

Herb Jeffries

Jackie Paris

Carol Sloane

Earl Coleman–LOTS of Earl Coleman

Al Hibbler

Jeanne Lee