Out of Hand (February 15th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Some music you love so much you keep it in the shade–like in a wine cellar–and only break it out for special occasions. Maybe it’s so intense it has to be partaken of in small, spaced-out doses; maybe it’s so intense one doesn’t want to overexpose oneself to it, and thus dull its brilliance.

A precious few singers are in my musical wine cellar. One of them is the late, great Gary Stewart, and though yesterday wasn’t a special occasion, his voice started echoing inside my skull while I was reading Walter Miller, Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz–go figure, because I can’t. I have a good portion of Stewart’s discography, but I broke out the killer one-two punch, two-fer-one Koch/BMG CD Out of Hand / Your Place or Mine and the only slightly less powerful Steppin’ Out / Little Junior, released by those smart Aussies from Raven Records. Don’t listen to this stuff while doing anything else; if it’s familiar to you–if you’ve lived your life–you might well feel some deep identification with the pain Gary conveys so precisely, and find yourself singing along. Able to ascend to full-throated honky hollers or descend to ‘tween-the-teeth whispers, punctuating nearly every phrase with a bourbon-cured quaver that some might call mannerism and others might hear as signifying the ol’ emotional thumbscrews gettin’ a twist, Stewart was a master actor, a seller of songs, and what a lot he got to sing: “Drinkin’ Thing,” “This Old Heart Just Won’t Let Go,” “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles),” “Out of Hand,” “Your Place or Mine,” “Ten Years of This,” “Broken-Hearted People,” “Quits,” “Flat-Natural Born Good-Timin’ Man,” “In Some Room Above the Street,” “Whiskey Trip,” “Little Junior,” “Single Again,” “I Got Mine,” “Let’s Forget That We’re Married”–and those are all on these two discs.

The guy could pick ’em, write ’em himself, play the hell out of slide guitar, and roll the keys like Jerry Lee (whom he notably sounds much like, except Gary means it, man, whereas the Killer just don’t give a fuck). I’d attribute it to the coke and whiskey, but I don’t think he ever got to fully realize all those talents. His story is as riddled with intense sorrow as his best songs; I strongly recommend you read Jimmy McDonough’s account for Perfect Sound Forever, but have a hanky handy.

Please enjoy this 15-song Gary Stewart primer–stoked with some great live clips and some hard-to-find rawboned classics.

Short-shrift Division:


Sharkey Bonano (trumpet) and Paul Barbarin (drums): New Orleans Contrasts

Roxy Music: Stranded


Clarinet Magic: Omer Simeon / Harlem River Drive LIVE / “Springtime for Hitler” (February 14, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Simply put: my friend Paul gifted me with a recording out of the blue earlier this week that reached out, slapped me across the face, and proceeded to delight the hell out of me for an hour. The name? A bit of a mouthful (and indeed it unnecessarily lowered my expectations): Rare Cuts – Well Done (Volume 7) – Omer Simeon – The Rarest and Greatest Tracks 1929 – 1954. Initially, I think I quit reading the title after “(Volume 7),” but it’s the last five that matter; I’m going to look into the other volumes now. Simeon was one of the greatest clarinetists in New Orleans history, which is saying something; trained by the legendary Lorenzo Tio, Jr., beloved and wonderfully employed by Jelly Roll Morton, ably matching solos with the likes of Earl Hines and James P. Johnson, he’s someone I should know better. In fact, halfway through this very well-selected compilation, I realized I’d seen a television segment in which Dr. Michael White, a bit of a skilled black-stick blower himself, talked about Simeon and Tio. (Unfortunately, I can’t find the clip, but here’s what it entailed.)

Paul, thanks: this collection is why they call it hot jazz!

Thanks also to Taylor at Hitt Records for alerting me to the existence of a live recording of Eddie Palmieri’s Harlem Drive project, Recorded Live at Sing Sing Prison–and to my ear and ass it’s liver than the studio release. Eddie and the band are muy caliente, but special notice goes to brother Charlie out of his mind on the organ, and reminding me that early ’70s Miles was not a little influenced by Latin sounds. Join the inmates in feeling at least momentarily liberated by a track from this explosive and politically charged LP!

Short-shrift Division:

Mel Brooks, words and music, “Springtime for Hitler” (from The Producers): Nicole and I watched the film for Valentine’s Day, died laughing during the climactic scene that features this song, and I was left wondering, “Did Dick Shawn’s ‘LSD’ help spawn Robin Williams?” It sure seems so!

Two songs for Parkland, Florida:

Bon Pierres Roulez! (Mardi Gras Day, February 13, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Mardi Gras Day is always going to be alive in our house–wherever we happen to be, and whatever we happen to be doing.

For me, in the morning, I was teaching: expository modes in composition, to be exact. How did you jimmy Mardi Gras into that, I feel you asking? Easy. I had planned way ahead. Les Blank’s classic 1978 documentary Always for Pleasure is communicates a joy that expands exponentially with each viewing, and I make sure I view it plenty. I find it can fit into most any lesson an English teacher might teach, and I test that finding every February. This year, I prepped my students by explaining that, in order to continuing to practice thinking in expository modes, which we’d already done by reading some model essays, we’d be watching the work of a filmmaker who, in his best work, employed many. Their jobs were to spot precisely what Blank was trying to “expose,” or illuminate, for the viewer, what modes he was working in, and which of his examples were most effective. Then, after taking notes as they watched, students would post their observations on-line and respond to peers’ posts. Wow–so did I kill the film with all that? I don’t think so (sharing a King Cake helped). On the surface, Always for Pleasure seems like a ton of parade footage strung together, broken up on occasion by interviews (Irma Thomas on red beans and rice, Allen Toussaint on jazz funerals) and performances (Professor Longhair, The Wild Tchoupitoulas), but watched and heard leaning forward, the film renders up much enlightenment. The latter performance within that last set of parentheses is a film-capper that also glows brighter each time the viewer beholds it. Behold it now:

(Is that entire performance in someone’s vault? Two live songs are present in the film. Ye gods of the vault, issue forth the goods!)

Yes, but did the children learn in a manner that can be measured, Phil? Hell, I didn’t fall off the peach truck yesterday! I’ll let you know when their posts are up Tuesday morning. By the way, I did the unpardonable and offered extra credit to college students! “Listen to this Mardi Gras playlist I made, choose your five favorite songs, and use an expository mode in justifying your love (in making a case) for each.” I’m incorrigible.

Later, I had to clean house, but two loads of the CD changer made that deeply enjoyable!

Round One:

Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta (maybe the greatest NOLA piano record of all-time, and I have two copies)

Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns, Havin’ a Good Time (glorious, devilish rhythmic lunacy by a band that should have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the atrocity’s first year)

The Wild Tchoupitoulas (if you clicked above, I need say nothing)

Round Two

On a Facebook music forum I happily participate in, I recently deliberately tried to stir the turd (I guess it’s called…trolling?) by claiming that, among the Rolling Stones’ late ’60s/early ’70s run of classic recordings (defined as the studio albums from Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street), my favorite was the UK version of Between the Buttons–a bit outside that definition. I was just playing, but I do love that album for many reasons: killer drumming by Charlie, Wyman playing road-grader bass, Keith’s first vocal plus some nasty guitar as per usual, Brian’s last album as a serious contributor, Mick scornful as usual but also light-hearted (booga-booga-ness not yet a factor, and many wonderful songs seldom (if ever) to see the light of day again (“Miss Amanda Jones”). Since drawing a little return fire for my posting, I haven’t been able to get the lads out of my memory’s ear, so I went the whole hog:

Between the Buttons (UK version)

(This playlist is the US release.)

Aftermath (UK version)

(Again, the US version here:)

Beggars Banquet

I still love love love Between the Buttons!

(Don’t you know this one by heart?)

(Note: if you don’t already know, those UK versions include great songs held back from the domestic version in order for the ol’ corporation to squeeze out Flowers.)

I closed out the day with a very appropriate inappropriate indulgence, though I do not observe Lent. If I ever get a tattoo, it will be based on this album’s title song.

Strictly Alphabetical (February 12, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I was all over the map yesterday, and today’s action-packed, so am simply using a time-honored method to bring order to my musical wandering:

Ain’t That the Way / Gorbza – Hardcore holdouts wailing against the dying of the light. Like a cattle prod in these dead-meat times.

At the Finger Palace/ Evan Parker – Not your gramma’s “Fingerprints, Pt. 1 & 2.” Parker’s intense repetitions on this solo sax record can produce micromelodic hallucinations.

Bags and Trane / Milt Jackson & John Coltrane – Just discovered they teamed up; would seem oddly matched–but then there is the blues.

I Remember Harlem / Roy Eldridge – Absolutely poured-gold trumpeting from Little Jazz’s prime–and he wasn’t a bad singer, either.

“Kalenda” / Lost Bayou Ramblers (w / Spider Stacey and Dickie Landry) – The Ramblers proving once again that Cajun music is fairly adaptable, with a Pogue and an avant garde saxophonist not just present, but integrated.

Let It Bleed / The Rolling Stones – I say this for my pal Whitney Shroyer, who only needs to hear me say it (his mind and ears are right): aside from the performances being titanic, this record is a marvel of rock and roll sound engineering, crisp but full-bodied, clean but magnificently, malevolently dirty, balanced but highly defined in its finest parts. Damn.

“Needed Time” / Lightnin’ Hopkins – An addendum to the New York Times’ recent kumbaya story.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert / Hurray for the Riff Raff – This ain’t my meat and taters, but Alynda Segarra doesn’t take no for an answer, and that’s a stance I admire.

Top of the Mountain / Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers – It’s pronounced DOOP-see, baby, and it’s remarkable how durable the Creole take on r&b has proven to be. Inevitable: the above Hendrix cover.

No Final Judgment Required (February 11th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I have to remind myself that this is just a listening diary; I don’t have to render final judgment, as if that’s even possible, given Heraclitus’ dictum. Reason that occurs to me is I’m preparing to report on a couple of fresh items, and hesitated, thinking I needed multiple spins under my belt to lay down any verbiage. No I don’t!

Kendrick Lamar, et al.: Soundtrack to the film Black Panther–Lordy, I had high hopes for this, a condition in which I am not alone. Well: it’s solid, it’s streamlined, it’s got nuggets of language that signal symbolic import…but damned if, taken altogether, the effect isn’t a little muted, a little too professional, given this occasion and these times. On top of that, was I wrong to be excited about the possible tapping of African influence for the musical settings? There are brief sprinklings, but that’s it; thing is, the potential for a stunning sound environment was breathtaking. The highlights are, unsurprisingly, the tracks Mr. Lamar dominates–and shining appearances by Khalid (“The Ways”), Ab-Soul and Anderson .Paak (“Bloody Waters”). Maybe the movie will tease out the record’s virtues.

Rich Kreuger: Life Ain’t That Long–I have a stubborn opinion regarding Bruce Springsteen. Though by unanimous acclaim his greatest work is from Born to Run on, I’ve always had a deeper, more durable feeling for the goofy humor, crazy images, and exciting loghorrea of Greetings from Asbury Park and The Wild, The Innocent, and The E-Street Shuffle, not to mention the loosey-goosey quality of his band. We will never see its like again; those qualities seem so much the product of a young man discovering his powers. Well–imagine those qualities–adjusted for grizzledness–emanating from a long-striving singer-songwriter..say, a 58-year-old neonatologist with a knack for reflection and the TMI temptations that can frequently come with it. That’s what we have in Chicago’s Mr. Kreuger, whom I learned about from a certain critic named Robert Christgau, who I’ve occasionally (along with many pals) been a signal extender. This record does reach out and grab you with its details and desperation, though I am not sure about the drummer, and the general lack of discernible melody can interfere with Rich’s loghorreic charm. But damn, I’m rooting for him, and I’d see him live in a heartbeat. Get his music and more info here.

Short-shrift Division:

Modern Jazz Quartet: Dedicated to Connie–A magical ’60s concert from Slovenia, excavated by leader John Lewis on the occasion of drummer Connie Kay’s passing.

Memphis Minnie: Complete Published Recordings 1937-1963–Told ya I was nursing a blues hangover she laid on me. Take a nip:

“What Kind of Woman is That?” (February 10th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Answer: a talented, prolific, assertive one! I think it’s a bit criminal that, in discussions of the giants of pre-war black music, Memphis Minnie is often peripheral if she’s mentioned at all. Criminal, because JSP’s five discs of her “complete published work” from 1929-1937 are of consistent high quality, spiked by a heavy dose of her ringing, stinging, grooveful guitar, her mordant wit, and her entertaining skirmishes with her (temporary) husband Kansas Joe McCoy and the Memphis Jug Band. Ms. Lizzie Douglas was a major figure–don’t let anyone fool you. And guess what? JSP’s second five-disc set, covering the rest of her approximately quarter-century career, pretty much follows suit, featuring indelible classics like “Me and My Chauffeur Blues” and “Kissin’ in the Dark.”

But enough of my yackin’: partake of this playlist, and consider that JSP’s stellar sets, graced with very good sound, are usually $10 cheaper than a new piece of vinyl.

Caveats: the second JSP box has a healthy share of alternate takes, and seekers after “When the Levee Breaks” should be apprised that it’s categorized under Kansas Joe’s output.

Cross-caveat: the sound on the second box, better for chronological reasons, mitigates against the effect of the above.

Short-shrift Division:

Sonny Boy Williamson II (Aleck Miller): Boppin’ with Sonny Boy and 1951-1953–Trumpet label mastery (pre-Chess Records).

Otis Spann: Good Morning Mr. Blues–Blues piano…ever played better than here?