Rekkids (and books) that should not be lost in the dustbin of time or beneath the waves of unnumerable new trax:
15.60.75: Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town (Hearthan)
Though currently cannibalized by the great bands of Scandinavia (not to mention a few Stateside) for their metallic whomp, the MC5 had another great musical idea that few have gone near since: free jazz/rock and roll fusion. 15.60.75 (“The Numbers Band”) are among those few. Hailing from Kent, Ohio, they were on the periphery of the great Cleveland punk scene (David Thomas produced ‘em in ‘79), and played many weekends there in recent memory. A hard r&b groove, a three-man sax section on the verge of free-k out, and a canny singer with a sharp guitar–nothing like it today, that’s for sure, and nothing like it at the time of this ‘75 show at the Agora. In the liner notes, Thomas himself calls the title song “one of the great moments in our culture,” and he ain’t far wrong. Good luck finding it.
Dramarama: Vinyl and Hi-Fi Sci-Fi (Chameleon)
These are surely the greatest recordings released during the last 25 years that you can currently buy for between $0.01 and $0.99 on Amazon Marketplace. This is surely the greatest rock and roll band of the last 25 years to go absolutely nowhere commercially and even critically (just try to find reviews of their work in any hip rag publishing during the band’s prime). And John Easedale is surely the greatest rock and roll songwriter of the post-Pistols era (maybe ever) to never develop even a modestly-sized cult; listen to his masterworks back to back–”Until the Next Time,” “I Got Spies,” “Haven’t Got a Clue,” “Work for Food” (a brilliant metaphor for sticking to your artistic guns in the face of overwhelming obscurity), “Prayer,” “Incredible,” “Bad Seed” (on these albums), “Last Cigarette,” “Visiting the Zoo,” “Anything Anything,” “’70s TV,” and “Some Crazy Dame” (on the band’s other four excellent releases)–and you’ll be muttering to yourself, “Who the hell was this guy, and where the fuck have I been?” Funny, self-lacerating, open-hearted, quirkily referential, with an amazing arsenal of specific details (which riddle his late-night-phone-call tales of strange love) that any denizen of the past 40 years of rock life will instantly recognize, a respect for glam verities upon whose work he often improved, and a band that claimed the early Psychedelic Furs sound after Richard Butler foolishly discarded it and fans foolishly forgot it, he should been a major contender. The man could even make Narcotics Anonymous rock (recovery’s the great theme of Hi-Fi Sci-Fi–and, y’know, that record once helped me clean up my act)! You can still spend $82 for a new copy for Rhino’s nice but questionably compiled best-of, you can seek out these for nearly 1/3 of the price with a little effort, or you can altruistically support John’s continued struggle by buying his solo efforts on Eggbert. If you’re really lucky, you might even find the earlier albums, Cinema Verite, the presciently-titled Box Office Bomb, Stuck in Wonderamaland, or the Live at the China Club EP at used record stores. This band never made a bad or boring record in its prime, and even the 2005 comeback record Everybody Dies has its moments. Be the coolest rawker on your block and snap ‘em up however you can, before some hipsters stumble on to ‘em, immortalize ‘em in interviews, and make us all look stupid.
Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson: Kidney Stew is Fine (Delmark) Whatta an r&b document! In ’69, the trio gathered here were quite hoary in the game: the leader, sounding strong, virile, and canny, and his pianist (the great Jay McShann, who helped launch Charlie Parker) both with three decades under their belts, the guitarist–you may have heard of him: T-Bone Walker–almost four decades from his pioneering of electric guitar. The playing, singing, song selection, and production are all sublime, with the delicacy of Walker’s contribution perfectly balancing Vinson’s aggression (both vocally and on his alto, which was broadly influential), and McShann playing the role of steady-rolling mediator. Not to be missed.
Tyler Keith and the Preacher’s Kids: Romeo Hood (Black Dog/Louisiana Red Hot)
The Neckbones demonstrated with casual shit-smearing ease how the musical vision of the early Rolling Stones and the attitude of Johnny Thunders could be adapted for a jaded rock and roll world–no mean feat, folks–then, after making two wonderfully sloppy, loud, biting, and funny records for Fat Possum, they broke up. Based on the evidence of this record, Tyler Keith was the guts of the operation. While it doesn’t seem to be as frequently on that exhilarating verge of flying apart as the Neckbones records were, his solo excursion has more than its share of gloriously dirty-sounding moments. Keith’s genius–yep, sometimes I think that’s what it is–is elevating his garage rockers from mere genre exercises to utterly convincing and personal expressions of his exquisitely fucked-up soul and lifestyle [try to “White Boy Blues,” or “Romeo Hood,” or “Livin’ the High Life (With My Low Life Friends)” to test my theory, if you wish]. This accomplishment involves the singing and writing as well as the music, which makes it even more admirable. Romeo Hood falters a bit when Keith slows it down (though “Youth is Wasted on the Young” gets by on its hilariously naked desperation), but if it’s the real grimy rock roots you’re looking for, there’s no better recent release through which to sample ’em.
Straight Life, by Art and Laurie Pepper (Da Capo) A one-of-a-kind music autobiography: no bullshit repentance for delicious sins, no “do-what-I say, not-what-I did” warnings, no meticulous image-crafting, just the life of a man who was bad every which way you define it, buzzing hot like a stripped electrical wire. Pepper, the white bebopper according to ace jazz critic Gary Giddins, played like a son of Prez and Bird (check out …Meets the Rhythm Section, +11, or Winter Moon) and lived the life of an incorrigible junkie, spending nearly a quarter of his life in prison, then raging back onto the jazz scene after a 15-year absence from the studio with a style that synthesized West Coast be-bop with middle-period ‘Trane. Alternately cowardly and brave, tender and cruel, racist and hip, admirable and despicable, he makes you wonder what other books of this kind could have been like without the usual deceptions. You certainly do not have to be a jazz fan to love this; in fact, he writes more about junkiedom, life in prison, and his fucked-up “family” life than he does his music.
Howard Tate: Get It While You Can–The Legendary Sessions (Mercury) Brother Ray, JB, Jackie, Solomon, Otis, Sam Cooke, Marvin, Wilson, Sam & Dave, Smokey you probably know–if you been hittin’ the soul church regularly. Those are the Saints of Soul…minus one. Tate hailed from Macon, Georgia (JB, Otis, and Little Richard territory); whatever was in the water down there must have been touched by the hand of Apollo. These are his Jerry Ragovoy-produced sessions for Verve, and I’d stand the collection up against Redding’s Dictionary of Soul as one of the most exciting and varied soul slabs ever released. If Al Green’s or Joe Tex’s singing has ever straightened your short hairs, you simply must sample Tate’s falsetto leaps and emotional shifts (you’ll get the impression Strong Persuader-era Robert Cray had to have studied at Howard’s feet). If you’ve ever heard soul classics like “Stop!” “Ain’t Nobody Home,” “Get It While You Can,” or “Look at Granny Run Run” (by folks like Hendrix, B.B. King, Joplin, and Cooder) and muttered to yourself, “Damn, that’s a good song,” well, here’s where they came from. And the band, particularly the guitarist and horn section, can straight up wake the dead. If you dig, check out his eponymous record for Atlantic (almost as good, definitely as varied) and his comeback records of the ‘Oughts. Mr. Tate stepped on a rainbow in 2011.
Justin Warfield: My Field Trip to Planet 9 (Qwest/Reprise)Talk about out of step. Drunk on Paul’s Boutique (an off-the-wall masterpiece no one else has really dared hitch his star to) and The Low End Theory, high on a smorgasbord of hallucinogens (not exactly the hip hop drug of choice then or now), slangin’ his own guitar and feeling no need for a nom de mic, Warfield dropped this in 1993, and it was dead in the cold, cruel, narrow straits of the rap game. Too bad–it’s a closet classic on the level of Critical Beatdown or Oar. It achieves a flow worthy of its musical and chemical influences, with samples and references (Caligula, The Wicked Pickett’s “Engine #9, “Ode to Billie Joe,” Gus Van Zant) and his own six-string ideas planted like aural land mines to keep your head up. The much-better-known (but just-as-gone) Jungle Brothers tried something similar the same year on J Beez Wit Da Remedy (highlighted by a great Stooges sample, a hip hop first-and-last), but left the rails before the CD was over. My Field Trip to Planet 9 still sounds fresh, even though you can probably find it for 75 cents on Amazon or some such like. Way, way out of print.
Two Late Landmarks of New Orleans “Blue-Eyed R&B”
Roland Stone: Remember Me! (Orleans) and Ronnie Barron: Singing In My Soul (formerly Blues Delicacies. Vol. 1) (Aim) One test I impose upon any music tome I read is, “Will I, a man whose house is filled with records, be alerted to something truly fine I’ve never heard of?” Recently, I picked up a copy of Jeff “Almost Slim” Hannusch’s The Soul of New Orleans: A Legacy of Rhythm and Blues, a sequel of sorts to his marvelous and indispensable I Hear You Knockin’: The Sound of New Orleans R&B. The latter profiles the biggest names in New Orleans R&B history, often in moving fashion; the former digs deeper under the city’s musical surface, and is rougher–in fact, it looks spot-check edited. However, it passed the above test, and was worth the price for its lauding of these two men, and these two records. Stone (the former Roland LeBlanc) was a native New Orleanian, discovered by Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack and lauded by Aaron Neville as “the singingest white guy I’ve ever heard.” With Rebennack, he waxed a version of “Junco Partner” (titled “Down the Road”) that served as a model for the Clash’s, then, after a few big local hits, left the music business. Against the odds, Rebennack brought him out of retirement for the early Eighties Remember Me!, where his powers–an ability to find that laid-back Afro-Caribbean rockin’ groove and ride it comfortably and authoritatively without trying to sound black–are completely undimmed. Dr. John himself is on rolling piano, and the song selection mixes rockers (“Go On, Fool,” “Lovey Dovey) with extremely satisfying ballads and remakes from his brief early prime. The record doesn’t have a single moment that makes you wince, a given with so many Eighties comebacks (and so much so-called white blues). Barron, from Algiers, is best known as Jeff to Rebennack’s Mutt, bad-boy running buddies who, in the early Sixties, under such pseudonyms as Drits and Dravy, waxed a small treasure trove of “NOLA garage r&b” that still sounds pretty rowdy today (try “Bad Neighborhood” or “Talk That Talk”). In the early Seventies, he teamed with Paul Butterfield and fellow Crescent City soulster Bobby Charles in Better Days, and, by the early Eighties, he, too was ready for a comeback. Barron’s is a little less intensely pleasurable and artistically realized than Stone’s, but it takes more risks, notably trying to match the Swan Silvertone’s “Singing in My Soul” with a Johnny Adams-style falsetto that gets by only on sheer guts, and to make you temporarily forget Professor Longhair on “Big Chief.” Barron’s piano is less disciplined than Dr. John’s but possessed of that same funky subversiveness, and, overall, one can hear there’s still badness in the ol’ boy. If you have a taste for blues by honkies but have felt that there’s always a bit of strain you have to accept, you might want to seek these hard-to-find items out. They are triumphs worthy of Presley, Dylan, Jagger, and Van Morrison.
Jimmy Rushing: Rushing Lullabies (Columbia/Legacy) Rushing, with Big Joe Turner, was one of the greatest big band shouters of the swing era, most famous for fronting Basie’s titanic Kansas City band. His raspy vibrato is simultaneously thunderous and vulnerable–there’s always a chuckle, a smile, or a wink (or all three) couched in every belted phrase–and, as befits an Okie, there’s no polish necessary to his selling a song. This reissue pairs two late-’50s sessions, one with a power-packed all-star “big brass” orchestra (the reeds ain’t too shabby, either: just Coleman Hawkins and Buddy Tate!), the other an organ combo spearheaded by Basie alums Tate and Jo Jones, with Sir Charles Thompson runnin’ the keys like The Phantom of the Roller Rink. A great way to get familiar with 20+ classic songs from the first two decades of recorded jazz, too. Turn it up to 7 or 8 and be prepared to be waylaid by some aural joy.
The Nomads: Outburst (What Goes On/Homestead) This bloody chunk of garage glory from Sweden distracted me from the Holy Punk Triumvirate of the Minutemen, Husker Du, and the Replacements in ’84, which at the time was like separating white from rice. Savage covers of the Third Bardo (“Five Years Ahead of My Time’), the Standells (“Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White”), the Kinks (“I’m Not Like Everybody Else”), Alex Chilton (“Bangkok”), The Revelons [“The Way (You Touch My Hand)”] and the unjustly obscure Kit and the Outlaws’ “Don’t Tread on Me” surpass the explosiveness of the originals, and the band’s own “Where the Wolfbane Blooms” doesn’t embarrass the company. Plus “Rat Fink A-Boo-Boo,” one of the all-time great Thunders rips. I haven’t been out of the garage since, though I’ve yet to hear an American garagepunk record better than this.This LP is out of print, so haunt the used palaces, but much of its contents are on Amigo’s 2-CD Showdown:1981-1993.
Lonesome Bob: Things Fall Apart (Checkered Past) Bob’s Cash-like baritone, an eye for tough-nut relationship conundrums, and one helluva six-string secret weapon in Tim Carroll (better known as an alt-country songwriter, but dissonantly digging in like Bob Quine-gone-to-Nashville here) make this one of the great lost releases of 1997. His “Do You Think About Me?” bests the Waco Brothers’ cover, “Heaven’s Gate” serves Christers a knuckle sandwich, and “My Mother’s Husband” (a great existentialist tune) arm-wrestles his own conflicted feelings into reason. Don’t know what he’s up to now, but I sure wish he hadn’t gone away. Allison Moorer contributes ace background vocals.
Funkadelic: Rocky Mountain Shakedown (bootleg) Many P-Funk shows have been committed to legit recorded media, and a few to (murky) film, but none, unsurprisingly, have captured the fonky ecstasy of one of the best bands and bandleaders of all-time. That’s a shame, but, if you’re willing to traverse the halls of illegitimacy, this 1976 recording comes closer than any. The sound’s rough but clear, and in your face (rather than in the distance). Clinton whips the band and the audience into a frenzy like Bob Wills possessed by Jes’ Grew (though, since the audience is WAY down in the mix, a blessing competing recordings don’t offer, we have to infer this). The set offers some magnificent surprises, especially the newly-minted “Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain,” with Eddie Hazel goin’ OFF. And…it never lags. Now, if there were only video.
Two Rekkids of Aggressive Joy and Mastery: Ahmad Jamal and Don Pullen
Don Pullen: New Beginnings (Blue Note) and Ahmad Jamal: Chicago Revisited/Live at Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase (Telarc) Rarely does one get to hear an instrumental master in such a mood, exploding with such confidence and joy, that they push the level of their deep expertise to just this side of grandstanding–teasingly close, to the point where the message is not “Look at everything I can do,” but rather “Look at everything this music can do to you.” These two records fall into that category, and the respective artists achieve a little more than that, as well. Pullen, an avant garde star, takes full-on pianistic dissonance as far into the realm of accessibility as, in my listening experience, anyone has. The trouble with free jazz, for some, has always been, well, euphony (I’d argue we need to rethink that term); Pullen grandly opens nearly every track here with memorable melody, rhythm, or both (start with “Warrior” or “At the Cafe Centrale”), then gradually looses crashing waves of jangling runs, jackhammering fist-smashes, and both ascending and descending lines that slam to a halt–before returning to the…yes…the HOOK. Pullen’s often been compared to Cecil Taylor (somewhat to Pullen’s detriment), but Taylor’s never gone here, and it’s a GOOD place, people. I must add that, for this trio recording, his bassist is Gary Peacock (an early Ayler conspirator), his drummer Tony Williams, the man, it might be argued, that gave Miles the foundation to build his mid-Sixties inventions on. As for Jamal’s record (also a trio recording, with Yoron Israel on drums and John Heard on bass), listeners who are only familiar with Ahmad’s early recordings, the silences and meditations and hypnotic quality of which bewitched audiences and other players (like Davis), will be knocked for a loop by the happy extroversion of his playing. His legendary precision of touch is in full effect–the crispness of Telarc’s recording makes this very difficult to miss–but at times you may think you’re listening to Errol Garner’s Concert by the Sea being reinterpreted by a young lion. And I do mean “young”–the level of energy and invention and brio makes James Carter seem restrained. Note: Jamal’s never been associated with the avant garde, but he achieved something somewhat similar to what Pullen does on his early-2000s recordings with Memphian tenor George Coleman on Live at the Olympia.
Don Pullen passed away in 1995 from lymphoma. Mr. Jamal is still treading this turf.
Various Artists: A New Orleans Visit Before Katrina (Arhoolie, 2008) A brilliant and very underrated collection of performances that vividly represent some of the most fertile musical ground in America. Best in show is Michael Doucet, who as Beausoleil’s main weapon is reliably excellent but here is simply on fire with verve, passion, and imagination, especially playing in tandem with Sunpie Barnes in a set of Cajun-zydeco summit meetings. Intensifying the effect are producer Chris Strachwitz’s no-frills methods, which bring more presence than ever; I often hear people speak of great engineering as making it seem as if the musicians are right in the room with you, but this is one of the only times I’ve actually heard that borne out. Doucet’s violin will cut magically through whatever you happen to be doing when you’re playing it (if you are not dedicated simply to listening). The coda is the best-recorded New Orleans jazz funeral I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a few. If in this world of fiberglass you’re lookin’ for a gem, park right here.
Here’s a clip of Doucet in action, with fellow Cajun masters Marc and Ann Savoy. The above album is apparently the soundtrack to a film, but I cannot locate a clip from it at present.
New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble: New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble and Low Blow (Moon Ska) You may be sick to death of ska, or complain its function is too limited (when’s the last time you actually danced to it?). Who knows: you might not be able to get enough of it–it has hung tough through several revivals, and there may be more. In either case, you owe it to yourself as a citizen of the world to check out these two releases (the first, of course, out of print) by an ace dance band with improvisatory chops that thinks nothing of skanking compositions by guys named Monk, Mingus, Coltrane, Adderly, (Eddie) Harris, even Ibrahim, and mixing them up with their own pretty damn salty originals. They don’t stop with jazz, either; they take Huey “Piano” Smith, Otis Redding, and Rudy “The Hangover King” Toombs to Jamiaca, too (and touch home with Toots). If you’re a hardcore jazzbo or r&b purist, you may resist, but you’ll be missing the fun (purists always do). Note to James Carter: next time you’re in the Big Apple, look these men up, ’cause they’re your brothers in spirit. Low Blow is now available at evilzon.com
Charlie Feathers (Elektra Nonesuch American Explorer Series) Seven years before his death, backed by his son Bubba and Jerry Lee’s Sun band, Feathers made maybe the best record of his life in 1991, even though few of the Feathers aficionados I know own it (you guessed it: it—and most of its companions in the series–is outta print, but scroungeable for a pittance at whatever site you scrounge). It never gets quite as wild as “One Hand Loose” or as weird as “I Can’t Hardly Stand It,” but it never falls as flat as most of the man’s straight country stuff does. He just hiccups and wheezes and squeaks and booms along, with Roland Janes juicing the proceedings with some sharp chicken-picking every time they drowse. The set list includes definitive remakes of Feathers classics (“A Man in Love,” “Uh Huh Honey,” and “Defrost Your Heart”), visits to the George Jones, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee, and Elvis songbooks, and even some cool traditional (“Cootzie Coo”) and pop (“Fraulein”!!!) stuff.
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Dyke and the Blazers: So Sharp (Ace/Kent) Arlester Christian was the poor man’s James Brown (James Brown Mach I, that is–pre-“Cold Sweat”). His screams and hollers didn’t endanger the fine china; the Blazers didn’t constantly threaten to lock into the Holy Rhythm and bring back Jesus. But, together, they could make the local folks boogaloo ’til they soaked their shirts. From the stutter-steppin’ masterpiece “So Sharp” (Listen to the great James Gadson on the cans! Here and elsewhere!) to the original “Funky Broadway” to a chunka-chunkin’ “You Are My Sunshine” to “Shotgun Slim” to the eloquently titled “Uhhh,” this comp is full of down home, greasy party music. And if the music sounds like it’s just itchin’ to break into a jam, it was; the Blazers would metamorphose into the fabulous Watts 103rd Street Band, then power Bill Withers before he Flacked out (check out Bill Withers at Carnegie Hall for the hardest, folkest funk that ever hit that museum).
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Arthur Alexander: The Ultimate Arthur Alexander (Razor & Tie) They say John Lennon had his Dakota jukebox stocked with Alexander 45s at the end, and when his hurting country-soul vocals grab ahold of you on classics such as “You Better Move On” (covered by the early Stones), “Anna,” “Soldier of Love,” and “Shot of R&B” (all three of which wound up on Beatles records), you’ll understand why. The man gets short shrift when the names of soul giants are bandied about, probably because his approach often defies categorization–“Shot of R&B” and “Pretty Girls Everywhere” are rock and roll, “Detroit City”‘s straight country, and “Everyday I Have to Cry” and “Where Have You Been (All My Life”)? are pop Gene Pitney woulda sung–but the catch of choked-back sorrow in his voice was one of a kind. Ace/Charley and Warner/Reprise offer competing comps, but this is the gem.