Good To My Earhole, June 17-July 3: “Masque of the Red Def”

Highlights of my last weeks’ listening, scored on a 10-point scale based on how hard it was for me to read while each record was playing (the harder the higher).

I’VE ALWAYS KEPT A UNICORN–THE ACOUSTIC SANDY DENNY – 8.5 – That title, plus the prospect of a folkie (albiet a rowdy one) knocking out mostly demos unadulterated by musical support that often enhanced, rather than limited, her performance, would seem a red flag. Not so. Across two discs, the too-soon-departed Ms. Denny demonstrates that her just-impure-enough timbre (gentle whiskey smoke), her way of thinking through phrasing based on a line’s meaning, and her attraction to the theme of mortality are enough to keep one’s attention rapt. A great complement to her performances with Fairport Convention and an insightful look into her development as a singer and writer–I eagerly await the book this accompanies.

Diamanda Galas/MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH TRILOGY – 8.4 – Based on one observation of her live performance (on NBC’s much-missed Night Music) and a few listens to a comp prepared by a friend, I, at 25 or so, judged Ms. Galas hilariously and unbearably pretentious–but I was so much older then. My ear has since become less guarded; my musical desires more extreme in this time of relative artistic timidity. A Kyle Gann review piqued my curiosity about this haunted, spell-casting, spirit-calling item, and damned if it didn’t kick my ass this morning (as they say). The frightening intensity I was prepared for; the dynamics and wit and conceptual skill, not so much. I even laughed when (I think) she was wanting me to. If you’re familiar with the wicked Poe story and love it madly (as you should, students), you’re going to want to hear it. I am saving my second exploration of it for ballast against an appropriate time I’d prefer does not come. A voice for the ages, if not all ages.

JD Allen/AMERICANA–MUSINGS ON JAZZ AND BLUES – 9.3 – Imagine a classic Rollins trio crossed with the dark, earthy intensity of a deep pre-Meditations Coltrane session, and you’ve got this. Yep, it’s that good. Detroit native Allen has honed this group (Gregg August on bass, Rudy Royston on drums) across several excellent albums, resulting in one I’d definitely recommend to anyone missing the days when those two forebears ruled the tenor world. That’s not to say it’s a throwback. Hard to believe, but, as Allen argues, there’s a need for those musings in 2016. A nice musical way to, say, treat that reeling feeling you may have had after watching the Roots remake or the O. J. 30 for 30.

**JOHNNY BURNETTE’S ROCK AND ROLL TRIO AND THEIR ROCKIN’ FRIENDS FROM MEMPHIS – 8.8 – Well, since both Burnettes had gone to meet Elvis by the time of this 1980 release on Rock-A-Billy Records, the billing’s confusing: the rhythm section is the one which backed the original slashing unit on its best recordings, the guitarist is indeed fellow original Paul Burlison, who still strikes lightning, but the vocalists are the deceased brothers’ pals, most notably the unflappable Charlie Feathers. Against the odds (have you heard of Robert Geisley, Glenn Honeycutt, or Marcus Van Story, three of the other lead vocalists?), the project works. There’s something about Memphis, about rockabilly, and about locals who don’t stop believing. Secret weapon: Jim Dickinson on piano and vocals.

EARL HINES PLAYS DUKE ELLINGTON – 9.5 – Hines recorded these between his 68th and 72nd birthday, and that fact plus a peek at the man’s toup and glasses on the cover might warn you away. But one of jazz’s first pianistic avant-gardists–maybe the first instrumental match for Armstrong, as he proved in their recordings together–still had plenty tricks up his sleeve. My favorites are sly runs where he takes off with the rhythm and/or melody like a cat burglar clambering up a roof or rappelling down a wall; even recording in the wake of Cecil Taylor, Art Tatum, and Bud Powell (who’d all have been lesser without his influence), he’s flat-out exciting. The Ellington selections mix time-honored classics with forgotten gems. Note: look for Hines’ equally dazzling tributes to Louis and W. C. Handy, from the same period.

**JOHNNY GIMBLE’S TEXAS DANCE PARTY – 9.0 – “PRODUCED IN TEXAS BY TEXANS,” the credits boast; master fiddler Gimble’s bandmates–The Bosque Bandits!– are listed by their Texas homes (Waco, Dallas, Austin–and Gimble’s been everywhere, man). And the music, recorded live on August 29, 1975 at Austin’s Chaparral Club, is indeed pure, lively Texas dance hall swing–but don’t think you’ll be treated by old warhorse tunes. When’s the last time you heard “La Zinda Waltz,” “Under the ‘X’ in Texas,” “Bosque Bandit,” or “Blues for Joe Tee”? An irresistibly warm and surprising half-hour, and like I said but don’t trust me, Gimble is a flat-out master.

**I recently scored both of these from European sellers, and, as a result, I have no more musical grails to seek. I guess that means I can sit back and just wait for new stuff….

Good to My Earhole, May 20-31: “The Style You Haven’t Done Yet?”

Highlights of my last week’s worth of listening, scored on a whole-numbers-only scale I stole from a Freemason:

Paul Rutherford/THE GENTLE HARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE – 10 – Not just one of the best free jazz records I’ve ever heard, but an all-out fireworks display, all on the ‘bone. With some chuckles and sobs for modulation’s sake.

The Fall/FALL IN A HOLE – 9 – I am still searching for a Fall album I don’t like. I’ll just say it–the best live British punk record I’ve ever heard, if you wanna call ’em punks. They (he) were (is)–and more.

Boogie Down Productions/GHETTO MUSIC: THE BLUEPRINT OF HIP HOP – 9 – Objectively, I know there are better BDP rekkids; heck, The Return of the Boom-Bap is “better.” Scott LaRock is absent. Some of the wisdom isn’t all that wise. But I can’t help it–this is the one I get out when I need KRS-1. I love how he bobs and weaves around the uncharacteristically quirky beat of “The Style You Haven’t Done Yet.” I love in spite of my lack of belief his bars of Biblical genealogy. I love his philosophical interrogations of authority, whether in the classroom, the courtroom, or the squad room. I love his reggae-rap fusion. From the cover art to the oddly murky production to the blunt beauty of Kris’ attack to the beats beats beats, it’s one unified MF. And I’m a gestalt guy.

Johnnie Allan/PROMISED LAND – 8 – Swamp pop just gets me like Western swing: I am moved by the often-homely-but-always-sincere striving of the regular guys who do the singing. As if to match, the music’s just as often warmly soulful–never hot. Multi-artist compilations are generally the way to go, even for the enthusiast, but, loving Allan’s absolutely terrific, accordian-juiced title cover version already, I thought I’d gamble on an overview. Won that bet–nothing as scintillating as “Promised Land,” but nothing duff, either. Even the graduation song brings a smile, as does his Johnny Horton rewrite and his runs at “Sweet Dreams” and “Tonight I Started Loving You Again”–two songs that could have been tailor-written for the genre. Thought: hot’s good, but is warm more durable?

Novos Baianos/ACABOU CHORARE – 10 – Damn, I thought I had Brazilian pop-rock circa ’68-’72 covered! Wrong again! I stumbled on this item (or, um, it was PUT in my path) while buying something else on the Innertubes, and it knocked my hat in the creek. I believe the title translates to “No more crying,” and it’s so effervescent in its rhythms, alternating vocals, and electric-acoustic attack, I’d wager it could pull a guy back from the edge. Player to bend an ear to, though he’ll grab you by that appendage willy-nilly: Pepeu Gomes, on guitar and more. This ain’t tropicalia; it’s too breezy. But you’ll be surprised by the directions the breeze shifts–give the whole record a test-drive above.

Kel Assouf/TIKOUNEN – 9 – Taureg stylings straight from the sand dunes …of Brussels. But don’t you fear. The impurities delightfully mixed in here are the reasons to check it out: big beats, guitar that’s more riff-friendly than your average desert bluesman’s, garage-rock keyboards that add texture, and a movie star (in my mind, anyway) sharing vocals. That would be Ms.Toulou Kiki, of Timbuktu fame; if you haven’t checked that film out yet, you have your homework. A nice counter to the fallacious complaint that all, uh, Northern nomadic music sounds the same. You’re not leaning forward far enough, pal!