“It’s Old, But It’s Good”: 10 Hoary Music-Makers I’ve Been Bewitched by Lately

The faster the wheels of technology whirr, the more I fear (or resent?) that “old things” will be ground to dust in the gears. Perhaps I’m an ignatz, but I’ve always approached any awesome tunes I’ve heard as permanent fixtures in my life, and the makers of those tunes as people to stay connected with, to root for, and watch. “Because I Got High”? YES. Toussaint McCall? YES. I’m just not quick to discard (I feel the same way about humans I actually know). I tend to hold these things close for a good long while, aiming for forever, whatever that means. On my lips, at the end, my version of “Rosebud!,” even if I will be 40 years past the minting of this line: “I may not live past 21 / But ohhhhhhh–what a way to die!!!!”

Thus I’m dedicated to the old shit, as well as the new. It’s ritualistic. In any given week, I’ll have knelt at the altar of the verities many times. Just as a for-instance, here are the gods and goddesses that have compelled me over the past week, with a brief, I hope not too glib line of commentary:

Mary Lou Williams: from the late ’20s all the way through the ’70s, this Pittsburgh-born piano genius wrote, arranged, and rocked the keys across almost every jazz style–and vied in public with the fierce force known as Cecil Taylor.

Jimmy Rushing: like Williams a musician who came through and left his mark on Missouri, he was a singer for whom ebullience was a given. That’s no small compliment in my book; facing the apocalypse, I’d take him over Big Joe Turner.

Blood and Fire Records: I’m not sure of the label’s present state of fortitude, but Steve Barrow (and assorted others) gloriously succeeded in fully representing the full canon of Seventies reggae and dub–y’heard of Yabby You, Sylford Walker, Keith Hudson, or Niney? Or know the difference between the I-“boys”? I thought not.

Rosalia: Yeah, homey, I know she’s only 25, but she didn’t come out of know-where. She’s so bewitched me recently I’ve had to scour the past for her singles and collabs, and they are not temporary things.

Excello Records: Thought I’d heard what I needed to hear from this Nashville-fed-by-Louisiana blues-soul-gospel-r&b label, but dear lord I was mistaken. Read a book on the subject recently and was led to discover that all three of the label’s Heart of Southern Soul volumes are pretty essential. Humble, but transcendently so in many cases.

Joy Division: I will confess to having had quietly but deeply dark moods since my teenhood, and thus Ian Curtis always made sense to me. But Jon Savage’s recent oral history of his band revealed just how normal the whole enterprise actually was. Nonetheless, Curtis’ nakedness resounds, and will continue to.

Hank Thompson: One of the four great Fifties Hanks (Williams, Penny, and Snow being the others), Thompson was the most warmly fun-loving and regular-guy-ish–and the second-most fecund.

Cabaret Voltaire: I unfairly scoffed at many un-punk British bands of the ’80s, but I always wondered if their rousing Rough Trade Wanna Buy a Bridge? placing, “Nag Nag Nag,” augured other glories. Turns out, maybe-kinda.

Ice-T: The man’s moved on from hip-hop, but somehow, as much success as he found in its practice, I feel he has come to be underrated. Assured, inventive, astute, provocative, and in love with a story, he remains a master MC in the rap pantheon. I once used this song in a 10th grade English class and we talked about it for two periods.

Sir Shina Peters: I thought King Sunny Ade was the end-all in Nigeria juju. Unsurprisingly, I was wrong.

Why do I have to be tipsy in a hotel room to write?

 

 

 

 

Where (The) Future Unfolds: Five Months of Engaging Rekkids, Year 2019

 

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My Album-Lover’s Honor Roll for 2019 (as of June 3, 2019)

(bolded items are new additions to the ongoing list)

  1. Little Simz: Grey Area
  2. Various Artists: A Day in the Life–Impressions of Pepper*
  3. Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!
  4. Beyoncé: Homecoming
  5. Royal Trux: White Stuff
  6. Control Top: Covert Contracts
  7. Senyawa: Sujud*
  8. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
  9. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  10. James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
  11. Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble: Where Future Unfolds
  12. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  13. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
  14. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  15. Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  16. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
  17. 2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League
  18. Dave: PSYCHODRAMA
  19. Quelle Chris: Guns
  20. Ben Lamar Gay: Confetti in the Sky Like Fireworks
  21. Tanya Tagaq: Toothsayer EP
  22. Steve Lacy: Apollo XXI
  23. Various Artists: Weaponize Your Sound
  24. Lizzo: Cuz I Love You
  25. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  26. The New Orleans Dance Hall Quartet: Tricentennial Hall Dance 17. October
  27. Joachim Kuhn: Melodic Ornette Coleman—Piano Works XIII
  28. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
  29. Megan Thee Stallion: Fever
  30. Lee Scratch Perry: Rainford
  31. Joel Ross: Kingmaker
  32. Flying Lotus: Flamagra
  33. Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her
  34. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  35. Youssou N’Dour: History
  36. Guitar Wolf: Love & Jett
  37. LPX: Junk of the Heart (EP)
  38. Deerhunter: Death in Midsummer
  39. Various Artists: Typical Girls Three
  40. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dur–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  41. Nots: 3
  42. Judy and The Jerks: Music for Donuts
  43. Tyler, The Creator: IGOR
  44. Fennesz: Agora
  45. Salif Keita: Un autre blanc
  46. Robert Forster: Inferno
  47. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  48. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are On the Edge
  49. Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien
  50. Solange: When I Get Home
  51. Freddie Douggie: Live on Juneteenth
  52. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  53. Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
  54. Helado Negro: This is How You Smile
  55. Ahmed Ag Kaedy: Akaline Kidal
  56. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Rodents of Unusual Size (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture)
  57. slowthai: Great About Britain
  58. Silkroad Assassins: State of Ruin
  59. Mekons: Deserted
  60. Zeal & Ardor: Live in London
  61. Que Vola: Que Vola
  62. Miguel: Te Lo Dije EP
  63. Mary Faust: Farm Fresh
  64. Kelsey Lu: Blood
  65. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  66. Hama: Houmeissa
  67. Steve Earle: Guy
  68. Mdou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  69. Beth Gibbons with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki): Henryk Gorecki—Symphony #3 (Symphony of Sorrow Songs)
  70. Ill Considered: 5
  71. Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues
  72. Girls on Grass: Dirty Power
  73. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs
  74. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  75. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising
  76. Shovels & Rope: By Blood
  77. The King Khan Experience: Turkey Ride
  78. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  79. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
  80. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  81. Spiral Stairs: We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized
  82. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  83. Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of The Blues
  84. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  85. Jenny Lewis: On the Line

*Technically, these are 2018 releases, but for now, I’m claiming their impact is being felt more strongly this year.

New Releases of Older Material

  1. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  2. Burnt Sugar: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes—Groiddest Schizznits, Vols. 1-3
  3. Various Artists: Outro Tempo II–Electronic and Contemporary Music from Brazil 1984-1996
  4. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  5. Primal Scream: Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll—The Singles
  6. Various Artists: Rhapsody in Bronze
  7. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  8. Various Artists: Nigeria 70–No Wahala, Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987
  9. Lee Moses: How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1965-1972
  10. Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band: Pedal Steal + Four Corners

 

Trust in the Lifeforce: Best New Records from the First Third of 2019 (Updated 5/1 with Two Significant Add-Ons and Two Bye-Byes)

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I think I’m back to thinking this is a bit of a weak year. Or maybe I’m just saying that to see 2019 hit me back. It worked last time. Some recent observations:

*I’ve been following the huzzahs and hisses directed at Ms. Knowles’ live album. Not having always been vulnerable to her wiles, I understand both sides of the argument (as well as those on middle ground). But I know what I’m hearing, and I find very little not to love: the brass/marching band support (the arrangements make it all sound so easy, but it couldn’t have been), the tougher vocals (something I’ve always wanted from her and knew she could offer), the song selection (I’ve now been converted to tunes I’d tuned out on), the showcases (especially for Freedia! she was owed!), and, honestly, the educational content. It’s a tour de force, and it stands up without visuals, as outstanding as those must have been–I’ve yet to see anything but clips.

*I’d like to thank my friend Dan Weiss for forcefully suggesting I listen to Control Top’s furious Covert Contracts. I have many compadres who ask me, “Well, what about punk rock NOW?” That album’s an answer.

*Billie Eilish may tempt some who know me to wonder if I am bending over backwards to stay hip with the kid-crowd, but I’d argue her material isn’t exactly kid stuff. If you hung around humans her age as much as I do (I have no choice: I teach them), you might hear her record differently. The booga-booga cover pose is not entirely a joke–her generation is indeed dealing with stressors the hoarier among us might well have sidestepped, and it ain’t about how tough we are and they ain’t. And I hear that twining through the songs–along with some charming and funny backtalk and a mordant sense of humor that probably helps Eilish on more than just her music. One way I know she must be doing something right is that she defeats my resistance to “little baby voices” with sheer weirdness, chutzpah, and attitude.

*I recently raided Sublime Frequencies’ Bandcamp site after reading an article on the label in The New Yorker. Several of their more recent offerings are budget-priced, so I indulged myself, expecting really just to be educated about some international music I’d never heard before. Indonesia’s Senyawa’s 2018 album Sujud, however, did that and more, extended traditions of their country’s music into the realm of the self-consciously experimental. If that doesn’t sound like a strong bet, maybe it wasn’t–but they won it. I haven’t heard a more mesmerizing, unique album this year (by the way, I’m counting Sujud as a 2019 offering since, thanks to the above article, that’s when its impact is likely to be more substantial.

*Don’t you love it when a band that’s never done anything for you does something for you? I can’t put my finger on it–I think it’s the songwriting and dynamics–but Shovel & Ropes’ By Blood has me rockin’, and rooting for it.

*It’s too easy, very absurd, and not a little lazy to call Mdou Moctar “The Hendrix of the Sahara.” However, there is a reason he has two records in my Top 70 (!) so far.

And there’s also a reason why, last time, he was compared to Prince.

*LATE-BREAKING ADD-ON: I finally broke down after playing it more times than any other record this year and claimed A Day in the Life–Impressions of Pepper as a 2019 record; it was a 2018 RSD release, but saw an issue to the rest of humanity in December. The jazzer take on The Beatles’ inescapable album might sound like a must-to-avoid (I initially streamed it with some trepidation myself), but it’s quirkily catchy and inventive–plus the jazzers in question include Mary Halvorson, Makaya McCraven, and Shabaka Hutchings, not exactly the paint-by-numbers type and the latter two in the midst of a pretty substantial moment. But don’t trust me; sample it yourself. Also, I wrinkled my nose at LPX being compared to Robyn (and could she not name herself something less mechanical?), then I played her Junk of the Heart EP and felt quite a bit of joy. In fact, a lot of joy.

2019 New Release Honor Roll

  1. Little Simz: Grey Area
  2. Various Artists: A Day in the Life–Impressions of Pepper*
  3. Beyoncé: Homecoming
  4. Royal Trux: White Stuff
  5. Control Top: Covert Contracts
  6. Senyawa: Sujud*
  7. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
  8. 2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League
  9. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  10. James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
  11. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  12. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
  13. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  14. Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  15. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
  16. Dave: PSYCHODRAMA
  17. Quelle Chris: Guns
  18. Ben Lamar Gay: Confetti in the Sky Like Fireworks
  19. Tanya Tagaq: Toothsayer EP
  20. Various Artists: Weaponize Your Sound
  21. Lizzo: Cuz I Love You
  22. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  23. The New Orleans Dance Hall Quartet: Tricentennial Hall Dance 17. October
  24. Joachim Kuhn: Melodic Ornette Coleman—Piano Works XIII
  25. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
  26. Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her
  27. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  28. Zeal & Ardor: Live in London
  29. LPX: Junk of the Heart (EP)
  30. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dur–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  31. Fennesz: Agora
  32. Salif Keita: Un autre blanc
  33. Robert Forster: Inferno
  34. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  35. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are On the Edge
  36. Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien
  37. Solange: When I Get Home
  38. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  39. Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
  40. Helado Negro: This is How You Smile
  41. Ahmed Ag Kaedy: Akaline Kidal
  42. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Rodents of Unusual Size (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture)
  43. Silkroad Assassins: State of Ruin
  44. Mekons: Deserted
  45. Que Vola: Que Vola
  46. Miguel: Te Lo Dije EP
  47. Kelsey Lu: Blood
  48. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  49. Hama: Houmeissa
  50. Steve Earle: Guy
  51. Mdou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  52. Beth Gibbons with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki): Henryk Gorecki—Symphony #3 (Symphony of Sorrow Songs)
  53. Ill Considered: 5
  54. Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues
  55. Girls on Grass: Dirty Power
  56. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs
  57. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  58. Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising
  59. Shovels & Rope: By Blood
  60. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  61. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
  62. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  63. Bad Bunny: X 100PRE
  64. The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet (featuring Joe McPhee): Sweet Oranges
  65. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  66. Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of The Blues
  67. Wynton Marsalis: Bolden (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture)
  68. People Under the Stairs: Sincerely, The P
  69. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  70. Jenny Lewis: On the Line

*Technically, these are 2018 releases, but for now, I’m claiming their impact is being felt more strongly this year.

New Releases of Older Material

  1. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  2. Burnt Sugar: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes—Groiddest Schizznits, Vols. 1-3
  3. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  4. Various Artists: Rhapsody in Bronze
  5. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  6. Belton Richard: The Essential Cajun Music Collection, Volume 2

Productive Distractions (aka Those Damn Pages)

It’s a good bet that, if I haven’t posted for awhile, I’ve been reading more than usual. For me, usual is constantly, and I have been reading more than constantly, whatever the adverb for that is. Much of my reading has concerned music, and I’d recommend pretty much all of it.

Mott

Ian Hunter’s long-unavailable Diary of a Rock and Roll Star has recently been released by Omnibus in a new edition. I’d long wanted to read it, but either couldn’t find or afford a used copy.  Finally in my grip, it lived up to my sustained high expectations–it even surprised me. Hunter’s frequently very funny: picture the writer and singer of “Sea Diver” sweeping up a minefield of cat-grunt in his flat before he catches his flight to the U.S. He’s very insightful: about the early-Seventies U. S. landscape, about the record biz, about stardom, about band chemistry. He’s got a killer eye: when action slows, his detailed observation of his surroundings can frequently make relative stasis stimulating. And–particularly if you picture him behind glitter, guitar and shades–he’s charmingly mature (his wife was frequently present, so there’s that, but even so he convincingly view groupies as an annoyance and at one point weaponizes them in a prank on the group’s roadies). It’s a real compliment to his talent as a journalist (of sorts) that, despite the fact that he references his bowel movements–travel sucks!–as often as substance indulgence, its pages move the reader forward pretty contagiously.

Most relevant to this blog, it clears my bar for music books: a) it sent me straight back to Mott’s music (I’m still stuck on it even though I finished the book weeks ago), and b) it cost me money–I sprang (rather impulsively, since I duplicated much I already owned) for both the new early-Mott Mental Train six-disc box set and (rather thoughtlessly, since I had digital copies of each, and since…CDs) CD copies of Mott and All the Young Dudes. I’m a hopeless victim of consumerism, but at least I’m celebrating art while in those chains. I could be a bit more stoopid….

 

abdurraqib_7200_cvr_blurb

It’s really too early for me to write about the above sure-to-be-classic because I am still in its thrall. I love Abdurraqib’s two previous books, one a collection of poetry (The Crown Ain’t Worth Much), the other a collection of essays (They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us), both of which showcase the author’s unique skill at not only absorbing and expressing the very particular fears and pain of being a person of color in these United States right now, but also revealing how his fellow artists do the same. Few current writers explain more viscerally how great music opens out, explains, challenges, and buffers the world its audience lives in–he’s one of the best music writers alive (the terms “reviewer” or “critic” don’t do him justice). This is a stray thought I haven’t wrestled fully enough with, but in some ways he is the literary point person for the relatively new strain of openly emotional, frequently depressive wave of r & b, dance, and rap that I associate with Khalid, The Internet, and Ben LaMar Gay, to name just a few. It’s quite possible this subgenre’s been named and I just haven’t caught up, but its emergence is absolutely unsurprising, given the world as Abdurraqib describes it.

ANYHOW, in Go Ahead in The Rain, which stands strong as a ATCQ primer on its most basic level, Abdurraqib extends the above strengths even further. If you’ve ever cared about how the members of your favorite band cared about each other, how they managed to work together and pool their distinctly different talents to create lasting art, those moments and bands will be conjured as you read. If you’ve ever gravitated to and held on to a band like a life-preserver when you feared your world would swamp you, you’ll be transported back to those crises. If you ever took a band’s dissolution personally–if you ever felt a break-up like a gut-punch, and if you ever knew such a phenomenon meant more than just what it was–you’ll feel much less than a fanboy/girl after this (that is, if you ever did). But don’t get the impression from the nostalgic tint and past tense verbs of that sentence-spew that Go Ahead in The Rain is a lament for the better days (and beats and rhymes) long gone. The presence in the world of Tribe’s last album, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, released with shocking timeliness in November of 2016, will hover in the reader’s mind (if s/he knows it, of course, but if s/he doesn’t–what the fuck???) through the first three-quarters of the book, and when it touches down in Abdurraqib’s pages–well, I had to gather myself a bit before I proceeded. Note: fans of the author will not be surprise that the ghost of Leonard Cohen wafts into these proceedings.

It’s tangentially related, but don’t expect Abdurraqib to condemn so-called “mumble rap.” If you’ve read his past work, it’s hard to imagine you would, but this book’s title might make you wonder. What he does have to say about that subgenre is as eloquent and redemptive as anything I’ve read on the subject. It’s common sense, really, but they say such a thing has taken wing.

Go Ahead in The Rain is a damn good book. A great one. Mine was a library copy–I finished it, returned it, and went and bought a copy to keep and re-read. That’s my review, really.

May2019-OFC

Don’t ask me why I took me until this year for me to subscribe to The Wire because it’s right up my (but possibly not your) alley. I have read shared articles from the London-based magazine for years, most of which I’ve enjoyed, but was never moved to actually do the deep dive. To put it simply, The Wire is very seriously devoted to music that’s experimental or otherwise very much out of the ol’ main stream. Also put simply, it overwhelms me. Some of my few readers may wonder how I stay on top of what I already struggle to stay on top of; this invaluable resources always immediately reminds me that too much exciting music is being made for anyone to stay on top of–ever.

To the point of this entry, though, the current issue features spectacularly informative articles about two acts (for lack of a better word) I already loved but clearly needed to know more about: the First Nations artists Tanya Tagaq (article by Phil England) and A Tribe Called Red (article by Marcus Boon). Each piece provided thrilling revelations: I have Tagaq’s recently-published memoir, Split Tooth, on the way, and I’ve repeat-played the two ATCR albums I didn’t even know about several times this week. In addition, tucked away in the ATCR piece was a reference to the “Cypress Hill-influenced” Native American rap group piquantly named Snotty Nose Rez Kids. Turns out this relatively new crew has two very fucking good records out, with a 2018 single on Apple Music portending a third. Then there’s Jeremy Dutcher, basically an Indian classical musician hollering back at old wax cylinder recordings. If you don’t read The Wire and you’re a seeker, best get on board. It’s pretty cheap if you go digital, but it would be worth the price if you wanted a hard copy.

Sample a playlist of First Nations brilliance.

 

 

“Weaponize Your Sound”: Best Albums of ’19, 25% through the Briar Patch

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All I had to do was bitch about 2019 and it stepped to me–almost immediately. Top 25s in particular are getting a lot of replay.

Bold-faced entries represent older music, which I usually separate into a dedicated list later. Notable: some very emotionally intense desert blues up in here, and it parallels some shit coming down at the source; some really talkative rap records striking deep; my reading as always effects my musical perceptions–I just finished Dave Cullen’s Parkland.

  1. Little Simz: Grey Area
  2. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  3. Quelle Chris: Guns
  4. Burnt Sugar: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes—Groiddest Schizznits, Vols. 1-3
  5. Dave: PSYCHODRAMA
  6. Royal Trux: White Stuff
  7. 2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League
  8. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  9. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
  10. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  11. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
  12. Ben Lamar Gay: Confetti in the Sky Like Fireworks
  13. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  14. Robert Forster: Inferno
  15. Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  16. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  17. James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
  18. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  19. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
  20. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  21. Zeal & Ardor: Live in London
  22. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  23. Various Artists: Weaponize Your Sound
  24. Helado Negro: This is How You Smile
  25. Ahmed Ag Kaedy: Akaline Kidal
  26. Various Artists: Live at Raul’s
  27. Solange: When I Get Home
  28. Tanya Tagaq: Snowblind
  29. Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
  30. Steve Earle: Guy
  31. Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of The Blues
  32. Jenny Lewis: On the Line
  33. Silkroad Assassins: State of Ruin
  34. Various Artists: Rhapsody in Bronze (featuring Cousin Joe, James Booker, and Snooks Eaglin)
  35. Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her
  36. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  37. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dur–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  38. Que Vola: Que Vola
  39. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  40. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  41. People Under the Stairs: Sincerely, The P
  42. Powder: Powder in Space (DJ Mix)
  43. Hama: Houmeissa
  44. Ill Considered: 5
  45. Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues
  46. M’dou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  47. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  48. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  49. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  50. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
  51. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  52. Bad Bunny: X 100PRE
  53. The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet (featuring Joe McPhee): Sweet Oranges
  54. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  55. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock
  56. Ty Segall: Deforming Lobes
  57. The Specials: Encore
  58. Meat Puppets: Dusty Notes
  59. Mekons: Deserted
  60. Greg Ward and Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

Kicking My Legs

The other day, I found myself in a disconsolate mood.

This is not usual. I am temperamentally optimistic, which I used to think was my Midwestern heritage but now realize is primarily a function of my white male privilege (why shouldn’t I be expecting the day to go well for me when I wake up every morning?) and secondarily the by-product of my obsession with art and learning (I can be reasonably assured that every conscious day I live will bring me at least one moment of aesthetic or gnostic thrill, and I can live on one for hours).

But on this day I was down. For one–though I can usually keep the relentless ugliness of these times at bay by reminding myself that they are nothing new, it’s just that the mask is all the way down (so why should I start moping now?)–the sordid litany of the Cohen hearings had so penetrated my defenses I had come to feel like Washizu Taketoki at the end of Throne of Blood. For another, I had just had a miserable experience with my Stephens class, and having a miserable experiences when I am teaching–it is an action I love, no matter how difficult it may be–is foreign to me. I happen to be teaching a second-semester composition class that is mostly made up of freshmen who failed composition first semester–several of them who failed my class. This in itself is no problem; with three decades of high school experience with struggling learners, I am probably the best person on campus for this job. Things is, with this particular group, simple attendance and work completion is a struggle (remember: we’re talking college here), and it’s an 8 a.m. class, so enthusiasm for the education process is occasionally wispy in nature. In this case, I had prepared a lesson that I felt was very high-interest, exceptionally stimulating, and inarguably relevant to my class’ concern–and, out of 16 students registered at that point, five showed up. Five. I know what you teachers out there are thinking: Perfect! Small group–a more intimate, direct, and collaborative experience!  Yeah, well, cool and all, but I prepared the lesson for sixteen, and there’s the matter of the role it was not going to play in the success of 69% of my students’ upcoming papers. Not to mention that I like larger classes; I thrive off the gathered energy, and the possibilities of accidental inspiration and enlightenment are far greater. Thus, I scrapped the lesson and held writing conferences for the hardy humans who showed up. Useful, yes, but nothing fresh, fun, challenging, and interactive. (I know you’re wanting the deets, but they are too painful to recall; suffice it to say that it involved Dusty Springfield.)

I’d dismissed the class and was pouting at the computer (recording attendance, as it happened). I was literally shaking my head and contemplating harikari, and decided, of course, to take one last look at Facebook (when the bombs start falling on the first day of World War III, we will all be recording our statuses). I’d almost forgotten that, as one of the two songs I share every morning and have shared every morning for close to a decade for no discernible reason, with the hearings immediately swirling in my head upon having awakened, I’d posted the above video clip from the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back. “Even the President of the Yew-Nited States / One day must have to stand naked!”: really? That’s too easy, Phil.  Be that as it may, I absently clicked on the link, dimly aware that I still had the data projector on, its volume turned about halfway up.

As Uncle Bob’s screed rolled out–it’s damn near long as the Gettysburg Address!–I twisted out a grimace at the phrase “There is no sense in trying!” and reminded myself of my old-time idol’s cynicism. I am not really a cynic, but that line actually sounded pretty good to me and made me feel even worse. However, the song (I hope you do not need me to tell you this) is not only an astoundingly detailed catalogue of American failings imaginatively and skillfully written (though “propaganda all is phony” is a wince-inducing glitch), it’s not even completely cynical. “…[H]e not busy being born / is busy dying!”? “…[I]t is not he or she or them or it / That you belong to!”? “Although the masters make the rules / For the wise men and the fools / I got nothing, Ma, to live up to!”? And does he stick the landing!

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only!

Yep, those lines are anything but cynical. They’re motivating, liberating, life-affirming, and definitively sans bullshit. As I listened to them for the umpteenth time, my short hairs rose to attention, my heart leapt, my blood warmed, my grimace warped into a defiant smile. I was still shaking my head, but in amazement. And it was cool to hear it in the open air of the classroom…

Another teacher was holding court in my room after my class, and, in my hypnotic state, I hadn’t noticed that some of her students had rolled in, seated themselves, and were apparently remaining silent out of respect for my meditation. The vibration of those final words–“it’s life and life only”–deteriorated into our space, followed by about 15 seconds of silence, and one of the students said, “Did you like that?”

I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant; these days, you can’t be. But I blurted out instantly in response, “Oh yes. For me, that is the rock. If I’m barely treading water, that’s what I’m reaching for, and what I’m gonna stand on. It’s worked for me for years, since I was 17–still does 40 years later. So…did you like it?”

I inhaled sharply, awaiting potential injury.

She answered, “Yeah. That was amazing.”

“Truth,” I smiled–and bolted out of there, knowing that, if I lingered, the resulting conversation would overlap into my department head’s allotted time. But I’d crashed the cuffs off, and skipped out of the building full ready to be shown more.

 

Quiet Dog

I’m still struggling with what to do with this blog. I flit from idea to idea; I get discouraged because I feel I’m just doing it as an exercise (what’s wrong with that?), and get frustrated because I not only get bored with formats too easily, but also frequently feel my spigot twist violently shut and hear voices telling me I’ve got nothing to say: “You’re just a kind of aggregator!” (What’s wrong with that?)

Anyhow, well, here’s some things I can report from recently.

I had a headphone experience with the New York Dolls’ debut. I’ve listened to that disc a million times, but it really popped out the chicken skin this time ’round. I’m usually the first to roll my eyes when I hear someone (usually around my age) says there isn’t good music anymore, but it’s this shit that makes me wonder (for a few minutes). If anyone or any band is saying this much right now, it’s not being said with so much thrilling musical hell breaking loose all around it. If anyone or any band is loosing this thick a slab of musical hell right now, they ain’t saying near as much. “I’m talkin’ ’bout your overview,” indeed–David’s words must resonate with any conscious adult walking around in this world, and the noise Johnny wrenches from his axe testifies to his resulting dislocation.

I bitched about the mildness of 2019’s best records and got my comeuppance. It’s all coincidence, but March’s music came in like a lioness, and delivered quite a litter. I was really craving a undeniable, catchy, beatwise classic, and I got at least one of those, though its classic status will depend on how many other people feel the same way. To wit:

Little Simz: Grey Area (“Lady Don’t Tek No” division–this is my “undeniable, catchy, beatwise classic, although it tails off a bit on the back end)

Royal Trux: White Stuff (“Rock and Roll Never Gives Up” division)

James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto (“Call & Response” division)

2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League (“Ball is Life” division)

Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of the Blues (“Doing the Work” division)

Dave: PSYCHODRAMA (“Rap Opera” division)

Robert Forster: Inferno (“Old Friends” division)

…and I haven’t even absorbed the new Solange yet.

My life was enriched by a couple Toms. Specifically, Tom Moon, the admirable and indefatigable author of 1000 Records to Hear Before You Die (published in 2008), and Tom Hull, a fellow Midwesterner who quietly, reliably, intelligently and astonishingly keeps record nerds country-wide abreast of a truckload of new records each month that they might want to familiarize themselves with. They are men after my own heart because they strive to listen to the most promising example of damn near everything, the music lovers’ equivalent to diners who’d never order the same thing from the same menu twice if they could help it. Aren’t you suspicious of anyone who just likes one thing? For some reason looking for more reading to add to my already mountainous pile, I realized I hadn’t really looked carefully at the last half of Moon’s book. Many hours later, I had a bulging-at-the-seams Apple Music playlist of mostly international releases like this gem from the Andes:

Mr. Hull was so kind to reference this blog in his monthly Streamnotes report–to my delight (mainly because I was able to pay him back for his many hot and accurate tips) I’d encouraged him to listen to a few items he liked. Here’s a neat thing he pushed me towards:

I suggest that my readers make themselves familiar with both these Tom cats and you’ll seldom lack for anything substantial to feed your ears. And here is a Spotify playlist derived from Moon’s book to back me up.

My wife and I had a Hank Williams jam on a Saturday night. On the way to and back from a dinner at one of our favorite restaurants–one hour round-trip–Nicole and I indulged in a Hillbilly Shakespeare yell-along. Hank’s the country version of Sam Phillips’ comment about Howlin’ Wolf: his music is where the soul of man never dies. Nicole: “Somehow I know the lyrics to all of these songs.” Indeed. It is near mystical. The next day, she beckoned her Facebook friends to share their favorite Hank songs, and we were surprised to find that he is not as well-known and thoroughly absorbed by our population as we thought, another sign of the apocalypse. One of my very favorites (Hiram liked to talk to his heart):

I found out 504 Records is still releasing music. 504 Records is an itsy-bitsy New Orleans label that, in my experience, has never released an uninteresting record. Its focus is local–and why not? New Orleans music is inexhaustible. Whenever I’m in the Crescent City, I head to the French Market, where there is one-count ’em-one music kiosk that always offers 504 stock. The “new” release contains very rare and fascinating recordings by local hero Cousin Joe, James Booker (“The Bayou Maharajah”), and jack-of-all-pickin’ guitar ace Snooks Eaglin. It is nicely titled Rhapsody in Bronze, if you can’t access the French Market you can order it pretty much JUST from Louisiana Music Factory, and…here’s a sample:

Annnnnnnd–guess who’s back? That’s right! The Meat Puppets (on record)…

…and Ian Hunter (on the page–his 1972 tour diary’s seen a new edition published).

Ian