February Fudge: The Best Records I’ve Heard in 2023, with Exceptions Real, Imagined, and Past Due That I Allowed So I Can Invite a Top 25 + One to My Party

I have resolved not to whine this entry, because, a few days after posting the last one, I realized that a) great new music tends to arise slowly but regularly from the creative volcano and will soon erupt, and b) I should never again imagine that I am going to quit listing albums every month. To quote Coach in LETTERKENNY, it’s fucking embarrassing.

So, though I had to resort to tossing in a couple of new singles, a fantasy EP that I created from a young group’s singles from 2022, and some November ’22 LPs, I have tried to make up for the previous mope by unfurling a long-for-February list of damn fine stuff.


  1. I am finding myself increasingly seduced by electronic r&b (or whatever it’s properly called), and, though I am no expert, I find no reason why I shouldn’t consider Liv.e’s new record a model of the subgenre–I even have it listed above Kelela’s, which is splendid, too.
  2. Singles: I mentioned Dr. Mark Lomax’s Urban Art Ensemble’s very therapeutic “Ho’opomopono” last month as a kind of footnote, but it belongs in a more significant way than that, especially during February in all its rampant hostility toward black (in other words, our) history, learning about the depths to which humans can sink along with our many triumphs, and tranquility in general. Also, the great Texas harmonica master Walter Daniels (I first came to know him as a member of the long-gone Jack O’ Fire) has released a truly rock and rolling 45 on the ever-interesting Spacecase label that I can’t quit playing.
  3. Fake EPs: see my note below about mid-Missouri’s Tri-County Liquidators, who I believe will become a force beyond the tri-counties.
  4. I listen to a LOT of music, so I was surprised while reading Dan Charnas’ terrific JDilla bio Dilla Time that I’d never even heard of the Australian unit Hiatus Kaiyote, who’d Dilla-ized themselves in a very interesting way. Seeming seconds after I looked them up, the reissue below was announced. No coincidence, I’m sure. It’s bound to fascinate many of you.
  5. I did not know Japanese psychedelia was a thing–and, truly, that word doesn’t perfectly fit VW Sorceror’s out-there but also excitingly varied two-disc comp Purple Haze from East. Note: no Hendrix covers are therein.
  6. The title of the Dylan excavation I have listed is a joke, but much more accurate than the actual title.
  7. I’m actually sitting on a fence with Iris DeMent’s offering, because it sometimes seems like a checklist of our ills; I often feel similarly about recent DBT records. But her vocal performance is very powerful and passionate–even for her.

(Bolded items are new to the list).

  1. Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind)
  2. Liv.e: Girl in The Half Pearl (Real Life / AWAL)
  3. Kelela: Raven (Warp)
  4. Satoko Fujii & Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (Ayler Records)
  5. The Necks: Travel (Northern Spy)
  6. Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers (Matador)
  7. Parannoul: After the Magic (Poclanos/Top Shelf)
  8. Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records)
  9. Walter Daniels: “From Death to Texas” / “Seems Like a Dream” (Spacecase Records 45)
  10. Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon (Flying Buddha / Sony Masterworks reissue)*
  11. Algiers: Shook (Matador)
  12. The Urban Art Ensemble: “Ho’opomopono” (CFG Multimedia 16-minute single)
  13. Various Artists: Purple Haze from East, Volume 1 (VW Sorcerer Productions)*
  14. Karol G: Manana Sera Bonito (Universal Music Latino)
  15. Tyler Keith & The Apostles: Hell to Pay (Black & Wyatt)
  16. Staples Jr. Singers: Tell Heaven(EP) (Luaka Bop) Note: the vinyl gets you more great minutes of testifying.
  17. Tomas Fujiwara’s Triple Double: March On (self-released EP—coming in March)
  18. Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind Stripped Naked (Columbia)
  19. Mat Muntz: Phantom Islands (Orenda)
  20. Iris DeMent: Workin’ On a World (FlariElla)
  21. Various Artists: Turkish-Syrian Earthquake Relief (Canary Records)
  22. James Brandon Lewis: Eye of I (Anti-)
  23. Ice Spice: Like…? (10K Projects / Capitol Records EP)
  24. Yonic South: Devo Challenge Cup (Wild Honey)
  25. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: From Paris to Paris (Rogue Art)
  26. Tri-County Liquidators: “Flies” / “Weep Then Whisper” / “Bitter” (self-released)@

*Technically, these are 2022 releases, but they didn’t show up until November, so I’m letting them under the fence.

@The Tri-County Liquidators are a blossoming young band from Columbia, Missouri, though I assume its members are drawn from beyond Boone County. I’ve taken their three 2022 singles and turned them into a 2023 extended play single. Yes, I’m biased because I’m a Columbian; yes, I’m biased because I taught one of them (bassist, songwriter and vocalist Marielle Carlos), and have known her and one of the guitarists (Spenser Rook, who entered Hickman High School with a blonde Rob Tyner White Panther ‘fro and can play inventively in any style—he also writes and sings) for over a decade; BUT they have a flexible, dynamic sound that’s both delicate and intense, and a reliable local music scene source informs me that these recordings do not capture the intensity they transmit live. I don’t get out to shows much, and they play at a great punk venue at which I’d feel like Tucker Carlson at a Juneteenth picnic, but I hope to see them soon. They are legitimately talented and my crusty listening veteran hypothesis is their potential has barely been brushed. Check ‘em out on Bandcamp.

Gooba Gooba Gooba Gooba, Goodbye: So Long to Huey Piano Smith, last of the New Orleans Professors, and (at long last) a 2023 Top 10.

The great New Orleans piano “professor” Huey Piano Smith–one the last living architects of rock and roll–passed on February 13. Between that date and his first recorded music in 1952 is almost the same span as the distance between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II. Smith had not played in public for quite a long time, and his catalog is not too deep, but the best of what he did wax is timeless, spirit-liberating, deliriously anarchic rock and roll. Whenever Nicole and I have thrown house parties, regardless of the nature and tastes of the guests, we’ve always included his classic with the Clowns, “Don’t You Just Know It” (anyone who attended one particular party we threw will remember me swinging between two rooms by the door jamb yelling the P-Funk-prophesying “Gooba gooba gooba” refrain), and few documentaries have begun so sublimely as Les Blank’s Always for Pleasure: ships arriving at New Orleans docks to the sound of “Sea Cruise.” I watch that film every Mardi Gras (often forcing it on whatever class I’m teaching, along with King Cake), and the coming celebration will be no exception. I urge you, if you are not familiar with Smith’s music with the Clowns, a group that included at various times some great musicians you probably know, to stream the above album then hit Discogs (your best bet).

Also–and, looking back over my posts from the last few years, I realize I ALWAYS do this–I finally have a Top 10 list of excellent new albums for 2023, though it took me until mid-February to compile one. This portends nothing; I have no doubt my December list will sprawl. I need to cease whining. Here ’tis–kind of a motley crew, but they pack a punch:

  1. Belle and Sebastian: Late Developers (Matador)
  2. Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind)
  3. Satoko Fujii & Otomo Yoshihide: Perpetual Motion (Ayler Records)
  4. Parannoul: After the Magic (Poclanos/Top Shelf)
  5. Kelela: Raven (Warp)
  6. Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records)
  7. Tyler Keith & The Apostles: Hell to Pay (Black & Wyatt)
  8. Yonic South: Devo Challenge Cup (Wild Honey)
  9. Staples Jr. Singers: Tell Heaven (EP) (Luaka Bop) Note: the vinyl gets you more great minutes of testifying.
  10. Mat Muntz: Phantom Islands (Orenda)

I’m a day late for Valentine’s Day, which was sort of the occasion for its release (but also not really, since Dr. Mark Lomax’s compositions are always created with the listener’s spiritual sustenance in mind), but this 16-minute “single” by The Urban Art Ensemble, titled “Ho’oponopono,” is a true gift. The song title translates to the name of a traditional Hawaiian “practice of reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Here’s a peek at the trailer for a related production by Dr. Lomax and friends:

Five I Missed That Woulda Made The 2022 List: New Discoveries from the Year That Was (+ a 2023 Addendum)

I don’t need to tell you that you can’t listen to everything. In my darkest moments, the thought that if I chose to step off the edge of the world I might miss a fantastic record has brightened my corner; my (and maybe your ambition) to hear it all is doomed to thwartation, but it never keeps me from trying. I didn’t know about these five records until late last month, but they certainly would have made my 2022 Top 40. Thank the stars or whatever for other blogging rekkid obsessives!

Santigold: Spirituals (Little Jerk Records) — During her early years she was a favorite of favorite students of mine, and thus she was a favorite of mine. I’d largely forgotten about her until I was tipped off about this moving, grooving, and consistent record that, despite the title, begins with this track:

Moonchild Sanelly: Phases (Transgressive Records) — 2022 was a great year for South African dance music, and I stayed well-informed, so don’t ask me why I just know learned about this act. Sanelisiwe Twisha began her career, according to Wikipedia, in “sex entertainment,” and she ain’t shy, for sure, but when I read (not on Wikipedia, though it’s there, but two days ago from a source I already can’t remember) that she called her music “future ghetto punk,” I was all in. Clicked to sample it and was dancing and bouncing around the house. I am 61 and have vestibular neuritis, so that’s saying something. Would’ve been in my Top 20, methinks. I think I’ll send a copy to the the Missouri state capitol of creeps.

Various Artists: Ghost Riders (Efficient Space) — Talk about “other blogging rekkid obsessives”: I am not alone in being grateful for Chuck Eddy‘s existence. He’ll try anything, which is a compliment, and he recommended this Australian collection of strangely moving, eerie, and funny songs from what one Bandcamp user called “garage nobodies” early enough for me to get it onto my 2022 list. I didn’t get it in the mail until late December, then it sat on a stack waiting for me, then in early January I finally dug in. Aside from those other adjectives I used above, it’s also…naively ethereal and lovably camp. Special prizes are a non-country sequel to “Ode to Billie Joe” and a seemingly ill-advised cover of The Beatles’ “Here, There, & Everywhere,” probably my favorite McCartney-sung tune of theirs, that The Common People (heh heh) not only survive but excel on. Thanks, Chuck!

Mary Halvorson: Belladonna and Amaryllis (Nonesuch Records) — A) For some reason I back away from any artist no matter how much I enjoy their work when they release two records at once (except for Ka). B) I have usually been disappointed by “with strings” albums by artists I’m not totally nuts about (Belladona is such). C) I didn’t have time for this project. I’m just being honest. Plus Mary with strings did not appeal to me, despite the fact I dearly dig her even if it were just for this clip that I always show my women’s college students. BUT the strings album is quite beautiful especially because (not in spite) of plectoral soundwave warping, and I discovered too late that the Halvorson-influenced vibraphonist Patricia Brennan, whose 2022 record More Touch is mesmerizing, plays with and around Halvorson on it. So…fuck me, live and learn!

Mary J. Blige: Good Morning, Gorgeous (300 Entertainment Records) — One of the records my wife and I courted to was What’s The 411? I happen to think her team-up with Method Man, “All I Need”, is ETERNAL. I’ve liked everything I’ve heard by her, and enjoyed her in the film Mudbound. I recently taught the mother of her road band’s guitarist (Ma is three days older than me!), who told me many stories and showed me cool pics. I have no reason not to keep up with Mary, but I don’t. Too bad, because I think I love this record more than others who also do–there’s something about the production (by 17 different individuals? but it coheres!) that fits her like a silk glove. Now, I need to play it for Lady O.


Alaide Costa: O Que Meus Calos Dizem Sobre Mim (Tres Selos) — Truly one of the most gorgeous and richly detailed recordings of last year. It’s bossa nova of the highest order sung by the 87-year-old Costa couched in imaginative settings created by the Brazilian production team of Marcus Preto, Emicida, and Pupillo. Thanks to the intrepid Rod Taylor at Brazil Beat, my connection to the country that seems to create a wider and more consistent variety of interesting music than any I’m aware of. I would love a vinyl copy of this but it’ll be a pretty penny. Yesterday was pay day, so maybe I’ll jump. Check this out:

NOW, if you’ve read this far, last post I was moping about being driven half-insane by listing records month by month, year by year–it feels like a competition, governed by the law of diminishing returns, that inhibits my actual full enjoyment of music. Maybe I was in a bad mood–or maybe that post and this post are the emerging answer (now I need to quit Goodreads). Anyhow, here are two records from this year I inexplicably left off that post! I think I was trying not to lean to jazzward, but fuck it–this is good stuff, Maynards!

Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix (Whirlwind) — Saxophonist Benjamin’s previous album was a tribute to John and Alice Coltrane that held up very well. In between that and this, she was involved in a car wreck that literally busted her chops. She’s rehabbed that problem–and how. This is a blazing set of original compositions augmented by some very notable guest appearances (Angela Davis? Sonia Sanchez? Wayne Shorter? Georgia Anne Muldrow? Patrice Rushen (my favorite of those names to see the light), and I’m not sure they’d have appeared if they hadn’t recognized the power of Benjamin’s playing and writing. Strongly recommended to Trane fans, but she’s got a sound all her own–and style. Dig:

Jason Moran: From the Dancehall to the Battlefield (Yes Records) — Moran’s last tribute, to Fats Waller on his last album for Blue Note, didn’t move me, and as a deep-down Wallerite that was deeply disappointing. This tribute (in Moran’s words, “a meditation on”) to the magnificent and hugely important bandleader and 369th Division Harlem Hellfighter and bandleader, the ill-fated James Reese Europe, is something else entirely. It is going to take a minute for me to fully unpack this varied, exciting, educational, and RICH record, but my sense is it will be in many Jazz Top 10s in December. It mixes takes on Reese’s tunes (and others they played), Moran’s compositions, and even a perfect contribution by none other than Pauline Oliveros, and makes a unified statement about someone most of us don’t know or at least know little about. Here’s a good original starting place: Europe’s “Memphis Blues.”

What To Do?

For several years this has been the spot where I have created gradually expanding lists of my favorite new albums and archival releases that turned my crank for each calendar year. It’s been quite fun most of the time, and recently got me on a few lists to receive review copies, many of which are actually pretty damn good. Thing is, doing so seems to encourage me to have to keep up with everything I hear about that sounds cool. That motivation, plus my natural curiosity and fear that I might miss something, inflates this seemingly fun project into a major pain in the ass too frequently and causes something that I really don’t think is healthy: I spend so much time cramming stuff in my earhole that I spend far less time listening to music I have loved for years. I’m freshly into my sixties, and I am not sure I want to keep doing it. Face it: when you keep hearing “Watching the Wheels” in your head and feeling upbraided by poor ol’ doomed John, you might wanna shift down. Also, so many of my talented, sharp-eared and big-hearted friends–many via the kind graces of Substack–are already doing the work; when you take their work together and add in the indefatigable Tom Hull–and these people do a lot of writing–I have to question what need have you/they of me. Seriously. I ain’t fishin’ for compliments. I mean, I know all that this has been and what it hasn’t.

So…I have some ideas. Obviously, if I only wrote about a few records I liked each month–wrote about them, much more fun than listing–regardless of vintage, I’d solve two problems: 1) I could watch the wheels more frequently, and 2) I’d have time and be motivated to listen to time-tested favorites. I could supplement that new practice by scribbling a bit about how music has manifested itself in my private and professional life, which it always does in interesting ways every month. I could write about ONE new record and ONE old one that really knocked me for a loop–and, again, give the reader a peek into music’s impacts on my domains (I think I actually have more than two, if I get out of the private – professional split and subdivide them. I could just look back into the history of this blog–some readers may not have noticed I’ve done several different things with it over the years–and pick up where I left off with something that was working when real life knocked me off the tracks for a bit.

I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, jeez, at least 10 new records have been rattling my bones by the end of January since I’ve been posting lists. I really can’t say that right now, but I can say this:

Tyler Keith’s seldom if ever disappointed me, going back to the earliest days of his I know, when he co-led The Neckbones, a Southern-fried Voidoids in more than a few ways. Keith wrestles with sin and salvation as regularly but more explicitly than Jerry Lee, he’s a reminder to listeners that much of the best rock and roll–and that’s what Hell to Pay is, even if a violin sneaks in–has come from the working class, and he’s got a way of conjuring desperation that always feels like the United States to me. His first new record in awhile, Hell to Pay, on Black and Wyatt Records, shows his commitment to those values has waned not a whit, and that his musical attack coheres with his excellent dark ‘n’ pulpy ‘n’ sweaty Southern noir novel The Mark of Cain, published last year. I highly recommend both vinyl and book, the latter his first.

Japanese pianist and bandleader extraordinaire Fujii released her 100th album as a leader or co-leader in 27 years (Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams–check it out), sending me on a backwards binge through her catalog that’s yet to hit an impasse. Fujii can do it all scintillatingly: lead big bands and ensembles, duet with all manner of instruments (with other pianists, with violin, and here, with electric guitarist Yoshihide), play like petals falling and landing or a rockslide rattling down to the road. She’s been a “Where have I been?” artist for this listener, and I suspect I’ll spend the year continuing to get caught up. On Ayler Records, and that should tell you something about her intensity.

Am I the only one who mourns the death of the hard-copy music guide? (It sure put the damper on my bathroom reading.) Moping the other day, I was thumbing through an old Penguin Guide to Jazz–I always loved them because they covered European jazz very well and very reliably–and came upon this 1974 **** record I’d overlooked. I then hit Discogs, found a decently-priced copy, and there weren’t many, then waited for Mr.Postman. I’ve played it 4-5 times since then (a few months ago); the band was a cooperative that notably included Sun Ra vet Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet and a young William Parker on bass. At many points on the record they sound like the Arkestra as if led by Ayler: almost magically structured, but intense–intensely martial. I can’t get enough of it; it’s out of print, so if you want to sample it…well, you knows what to do (RIP Barrett Strong). On No Business Records, and good luck. And here’s your luck–whaddya know?