Devil Ain’t Fine: DJ Philly Phil’s 110 Favorite Albums of 2017, Plus 85 Old Records Whose Acquaintance He Just Made, That Helped Him Survive This Mess

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It’s been one helluva hard year–but when has one not been lately, and when has music not been succor? At one time or another, each of these 195 records has acted as a spell–however temporary–to vanquish the horror from my ears, eyes, and mind. To remind me that maybe all is not lost, that we are capable of bounteous joy when we are inspired, especially, perhaps, when we are inspired by the void.

I’m not one to theorize, and I am too convinced by chaos to believe that a given year’s list of recordings can be read like tea leaves and divined from. But, scanning mine again, I can see some things that finally dawned on me, some things I’ve always loved become far more important to me and sound so much more inexhaustible than I ever would have predicted, and some things that, mercifully, were the direct result of humans I actually know pushing me (as opposed to me retreating into a bubble of books and blogs, and just drifting and hacking my way through a jungle alone). I mean, it’s not like I don’t listen to people, but I have a tendency to mutter, “Hey, I know what I’m doing here.”

Dawnings: Electronic music, which I’d always appreciated but never been elevated by. Ah, yes–I’d like a Fourth World to choose to inhabit every day, an Outro Tempo to swing to every night, and a Mono No Aware to hourly heighten my consciousness. Perhaps I’m waxing too clever, but the stuff I’m alluding to was like a good massage: ultimately soothing but not without hitting spots that made me wince.

Inexhaustibles: I have loved free jazz since I first heard Ornette Coleman–I was young and dumb in ’82, but I can remember thinking, “This sounds beautiful, not crazy, and it’s not that free!”–but, to be honest, I’d always assumed that once I oozed into the second half of my life, I’d probably be seeking things that were easier, since surely my life would become more difficult. Well, life–not necessarily mine, but that’s not all that important a distinction–has become more difficult, often I do need easier things in my ear, but, lo and behold, free jazz (free experimental music, if you choose) has become easier. Not just easier, but more engaging, more thought-provoking, more exciting, funnier and wiser than I’d ever heard it to be and expected it to stay. That applies to many recordings I was already familiar with, but breaking into a trove of really, really hard-to-locate masterpieces from St. Louis’ Black Arts Group (late ’60s to early ’70s–gone to soon, but their seeds drifted elsewhere) and being led by such perceptive writers as John Corbett and Kevin Whitehead to the London Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and Instant Composer’s Pool were straight-up blessings that rearranged my mind and cleaned out the wax. And I know this wish is in vain, but I hope Joe McPhee never dies.

Humans: I thank my students at Stephens College for opening my stubborn ears to The Internet, Rhiannon Giddens, SZA, and Lana Del Rey–and for indirectly helping me access a moving, depressive, and daring vein of what I suppose I have to call r&b but which I really believe is something new that’s just starting to blossom. I thank so many old friends: Whitney Shroyer, for tugging my coat about Harlem River Drive and Sunshine Daydream, John Schooley, for convincing me to take a chance on Link Wray’s Polydors, Isaac Davila, for stoking the fire of my interest in electronic music, and Nicole, my wife of 27 years, for setting us both off on a Latin rampage after we saw Eddie Palmieri’s 80th birthday show. Last but not least, I thank the lively Facebook group Expert Witness, several members of which I have indeed met in reality and many more I seriously intend to, for pointing me hither and yon and often assuring me my instincts were right about the greatness of, just for example, Albums Number 1, 2, 7, 8, and 9 in my Top 10–records the titles of which might well look very foreign to you but which you better lean in to. (Though I do not need it, I await affirmation on #4!)

Suggestion for everyone reading this: host some listening parties starting today, and get out of your comfort zones.

OK…on with it! Here’s some great stuff, most of which is linked so you can sample it immediately. In my Hot 100 are some recordings that are old but that have never been released before–at least not in the present form. Also, I’m with Duke Ellington in ignoring categories and just seeking out good music; I see no reason why you can’t queue up some free improvised music like William Parker’s right after the joyous dance music of Ibibio Sound Machine and have a killer time.

The Top 40? In order of my preference for them. The Final 70? In random order. The 85 older releases that crept up on me? Alphabetized for your convenience!

  1. Zeal and Ardor: Devil is Fine
  2. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyai
  3. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  4. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda
  5. Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life
  6. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound
  7. JLin: Black Origami
  8. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So It Is
  9. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  10. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  11. Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood
  12. William Parker: Meditation – Resurrection
  13. Various Artists: Sweet as Broken Dates–Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa
  14. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Talk Tight
  15. Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won
  16. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  17. Various Artists: Even a Tree Can Shed Tears–Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973
  18. Steve Earle and The Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw?
  19. Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders
  20. Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for The South Side
  21. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  22. Hamad Kalkaba: Hamad Kalkaba and The Golden Sounds 1974-1975
  23. Angaleena Presley: Wrangled
  24. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  25. Les Amazones D’Afrique: Republique Amazone
  26. The Revelators: …we told you not to cross us (20th Anniversary Edition)
  27. Syd: Fin
  28. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP)
  29. The Perceptionists: Resolution
  30. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  31. Sampha: Process
  32. Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm
  33. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  34. Burnt Sugar: All You Zombies Dig The Luminosity
  35. Fat Tony: MacGregor Park
  36. Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem
  37. Body Count: Blood Lust
  38. John Waters: Make Trouble
  39. Filthy Friends: Invitation
  40. Wadada Leo Smith: Najwa
  41. Prince: Purple Rain – 2017 Deluxe Remaster
  42. New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions
  43. The Goon Sax: Up to Anything
  44. Kelela: Take Me Apart
  45. Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound
  46. Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame
  47. Half Cleveland: Live at the Wi-Fi
  48. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  49. SZA: CTRL
  50. Jackie Shane: Any Other Way
  51. Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black
  52. Maximum Ernst: Maximum Ernst
  53. Oddisee: The Iceberg
  54. Tamikrest: Kidal
  55. Tyshawn Sorey: Verismilitude
  56. John Escreet: The Unknown
  57. Nicole Mitchell: Mandorla Awakening II – Emerging Worlds 
  58. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  59. Obnox: Niggative Approach
  60. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  61. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  62. Trio 3: Visiting Texture
  63. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong
  64. Jay-Z: 4:44
  65. Aruan Ortiz: Cub(an)ism
  66. Wadada Leo Smith: Solo–Reflections and Meditations on Monk
  67. Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
  68. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star
  69. Young Thug: Beautiful Thugger Girls
  70. Ty Segall: Fried Shallots
  71. Tony Allen: A Tribute to Art Blakey
  72. Trio de Kali w/ The Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan
  73. Hard Working Americans: We’re All in This Together
  74. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  75. Gato Preto: Tempo
  76. Tinariwen: Elwan
  77. Shina Williams: Agb’oju L’Ogun
  78. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  79. Ross Johnson and Lesa Aldridge: Lesa and Ross
  80. Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator
  81. Various Artists: Mono No Aware
  82. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
  83. Various Artists: Outro Tempo–Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
  84. Omou Sangare: Mogoya
  85. Daddy Issues: Can We Still Hang?
  86. Bob Dylan: Triplicate
  87. Pierre Kwenders: MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time
  88. Brix & The Extricated: Part 2
  89. Tomasz Stanko: December Avenue
  90. Dion: Kickin’ Child–The Lost Album 1965
  91. Lee Ann Womack: The Lonely, The Lonesome, and The Gone
  92. Chuck Berry: Chuck
  93. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  94. Don Bryant: Don’t Give Up On Love
  95. Thelonious Monk: Soundtrack to Les Liaisons Dangereuses
  96. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines
  97. David S. Ware: Live in New York City 2010
  98. Thundercat: Drunk
  99. Elliott Sharp, Mary Halvorson, and Marc Ribot: Err Guitar
  100. Erica Falls: Home Grown
  101. Bill Evans: Some Other Time–The Lost Session from the Black Forest
  102. Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream
  103. Husker Du: Savage Young Du
  104. The Replacements: For Sale–Live at Maxwell’s
  105. Pere Ubu: 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo
  106. Miguel: War & Leisure
  107. 2 Chainz: Pretty Girls Like Trap Music
  108. The Paranoid Style: Underworld USA (EP)
  109. Sun Ra: Discipline 27-li
  110. Migos: Culture

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85 Great Older Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Still Can’t Get Enough Of

(If it’s bolded, I’ve been hooked on the thing quite seriously)

  1. Allison, Mose: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
  2. Amobi, Chino: Paradiso
  3. Anonymous 4: The Lily & The Lamb–Chant & Polyphony from Medieval England
  4. Avengers: Died for Your Sins
  5. Les Amazones de Guinée: Au coeur de Paris & M’mah Sylla (Bolibana Collection)
  6. Anderson, Fred, and Hamid Drake: …together again
  7. Astatke, Mulatu: Mulatu of Ethiopia
  8. Ben, Jorge: Africa Brasil
  9. Black Artists Group: In Paris 1973
  10. Blassie, Fred: Nothin’ But a Pencil Neck Geek!
  11. Blythe, Arthur: Illusions
  12. Breuker, Willem: Bob’s Gallery
  13. Bowie, David: Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
  14. Carmichael, Hoagy: Music Master
  15. Case, Neko: The Tigers Have Spoken
  16. Cochran, Wayne: Wayne Cochran!
  17. Cohran, Philip: Armageddon
  18. Coursil, Jacques: Trails of Tears
  19. The Creation: Action Painting
  20. Curtis, King: Instant Soul–The Legendary King Curtis
  21. Davis, Anthony: Episteme
  22. Del Rey, Lana: Hollywood
  23. Dion and The Belmonts: Together Again
  24. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
  25. Dog Life: Dog Life
  26. Dog Life: Fresh from the Ruins
  27. E: E
  28. Eggleston, Cozy: Grand Slam
  29. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
  30. Fela: Live in Detroit
  31. Foc’sle Singers: Foc’sle Songs and Shanties
  32. Gibbs, Melvin: Ancients Speak (all hail Pete Cosey!)
  33. Goblin: Soundtrack to the film Suspiria
  34. Gonzalez, Dennis: Idle Wild
  35. Gonzalez, Dennis: Nile River Suite
  36. Grateful Dead: Sunshine Daydream
  37. Harlem River Drive
  38. Hassell, Jon: Dream Theory in Malaya–Fourth World, Volume Two
  39. Hemphill, Julius: Coon Bidness
  40. Human Arts Ensemble: Whisper of Dharma
  41. Ink Spots: These Cats Are High
  42. Instant Composers Pool: Aan & Uit
  43. Jamal, Ahmad: The Awakening
  44. JJ DOOM: Bookhead
  45. Kelela: Cut 4 Me
  46. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
  47. Kyle, K. Curtis: The Collected Poem for Blind Lemon Jefferson
  48. London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Theoria
  49. Mateen, Sabir: Prophecies Come True
  50. McGann, Bernie: Playground
  51. McPhee, Joe: At Willisau
  52. McPhee, Joe: “The Loneliest Woman”
  53. McPhee, Joe: Tenor / Fallen Angel
  54. Mitchell, Joni: Hejira
  55. The Montgomery Brothers: Groove Yard
  56. Orchestra Regionale De Mopti
  57. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  58. Patrick, Pat, and Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice
  59. Perry, Lee Scratch: Dub Triptych
  60. Perry, Lee Scratch: Presents African Roots
  61. Perry, Lee Scratch: Voodooism
  62. Prince Jazzbo: Ital Corner
  63. Pullen, Don, and Beaver Harris: A Well-Kept Secret
  64. Rah Digga: Everything is a Story
  65. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Face to Face
  66. Stanko, Tomasz: Leosia
  67. Sullivan, Maxine: Close as Pages in a Book
  68. Sun Ra: The Space Age Is Here to Stay
  69. Swell Maps: Jane from Occupied Europe
  70. Swell Maps: A Trip to Marineville
  71. Tate, Buddy: Jive at Five
  72. This Heat: Out of Cold Storage
  73. Thomas, Luther, and Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey Vols. 1 & 2
  74. Thornton, Clifford: The Panther and The Lash
  75. Morgan, Lee: Live at The Lighthouse
  76. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
  77. Various Artists: American Epic (yes, the sound really is that much of an improvement)
  78. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
  79. Various Artists: Killed by Death #5
  80. Various Artists: The Original Sounds of Mali
  81. Various Artists: Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2
  82. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, 1 & 2
  83. Various Artists: The Poppyseeds–The Sound of Crenshaw
  84. White, Ruth: Flowers of Evil
  85. Wray, Link: Three-Track Shack

 

 

My Fav-O-Rite New and Old Records of 2017, Considered from the Position of Listening to Them to Ward Off Fear and Despair Throughout its First Three Quarters

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What can I tell you? I’d hoped things (i. e., our American life) would be much better by now, since I last posted a lazy list–for the time being, I cannot write, a kind of impotence I am sure is related to political distraction. However, “fury and fire” are the order of the day, so I guess I’ll be leaning even harder on music to get me from rising from my pillow in the morning to lowering my head back upon it at night. These records keep me believing in a decent future, and in a humanity that continues to evolve. Big ups to St. Louis’ Black Artists Group contingent, my research into which has been exciting; to the Golden Pelicans, who are the Black Oak Arkansas of hard-ass punk rock; to the ebullient Eno Williams, who powers the exultant Ibibio Sound Machine; to Tyshawn Sorey, who is always looking for a way forward; and to the indefatigable musical exploration of John Corbett, who’s damn-near supplanted every other music writer in my esteem. I’ve taken the time to link all the new releases to clips for you to enjoy (that is, except for Jay Z, because, as nice as his old-dude album is technically and artistically, I’m done for now with caring about the lives of the very rich), and I did my best to do the same for the older rekkids I am digging, but…shit, you know how to get to YouTube, correct?

Important Addendum: The Lost Bayou Ramblers crashed the Top 10 out of nowhere with the hardest-rocking, most eccentrically textured Cajun record in years, Kalenda–which is my favorite record right now, but it just dropped today (9/29/17). Also, against all my strongest, well-honed instincts, I’ve been broken by Lana Del Rey. A six-hour immersion in her catalogue justified the hype and more, though I would still opine that a little goes a long (but deep) way.

Kalenda

TOP 85 New Releases of the First 3/4ths of 2017:

  1. Zeal and Ardor: Devil is Fine
  2. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyai
  3. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  4. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda
  5. Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life
  6. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound
  7. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  8. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  9. Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood
  10. William Parker: Meditation – Resurrection
  11. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So It Is
  12. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Talk Tight
  13. Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won
  14. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  15. The Perceptionists: Resolution
  16. Steve Earle and The Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw?
  17. Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for The South Side
  18. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  19. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong
  20. Angaleena Presley: Wrangled
  21. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  22. Obnox: Niggative Approach
  23. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  24. Syd: Fin
  25. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP) (Not the late jazz soprano master Steve Lacy, BTW!)
  26. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  27. Sampha: Process
  28. Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm
  29. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  30. Burnt Sugar: All You Zombies Dig The Luminosity
  31. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  32. Filthy Friends: Invitation
  33. Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound
  34. Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame
  35. Body Count: Blood Lust
  36. Les Amazones D’Afrique: Republique Amazone
  37. Maximum Ernst: Maximum Ernst
  38. Oddisee: The Iceberg
  39. Tamikrest: Kidal
  40. Tyshawn Sorey: Verismilitude
  41. John Escreet: The Unknown
  42. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  43. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  44. Trio 3: Visiting Texture
  45. Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders
  46. Jay-Z: 4:44
  47. Randy Newman: Dark Matter
  48. Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
  49. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star
  50. New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions
  51. Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem
  52. Ty Segall: Fried Shallots
  53. Tony Allen: A Tribute to Art Blakey
  54. Trio de Kali w/ The Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan
  55. Hard Working Americans: We’re All in This Together
  56. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  57. Gato Preto: Tempo
  58. Tinariwen: Elwan
  59. Shina Williams: Agb’oju L’Ogun
  60. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  61. Ross Johnson and Lesa Aldridge: Lesa and Ross
  62. The Goon Sax: Up to Anything
  63. Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator
  64. Various Artists: Mono No Aware
  65. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
  66. Various Artists: Outro Tempo–Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
  67. Omou Sangare: Mogoya
  68. Daddy Issues: Can We Still Hang?
  69. Nots: “Cruel Friend” / “Violence”
  70. Bob Dylan: Triplicate
  71. Pierre Kwenders: MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time
  72. Damaged Bug: Bunker Funk
  73. Tomasz Stanko: December Avenue
  74. Black Lips: Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art
  75. Chuck Berry: Chuck
  76. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  77. Don Bryant: Don’t Give Up On Love
  78. Public Enemy: Nothing is Quick in the Desert
  79. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines
  80. David S. Ware: Live in New York City 2010
  81. Thundercat: Drunk
  82. Elliott Sharp, Mary Halvorson, and Marc Ribot: Err Guitar
  83. Erica Falls: Home Grown
  84. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel
  85. Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

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65 Great Older Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Still Can’t Get Enough Of

(If it’s bolded, I’ve been hooked on the thing quite seriously)

  1. Allison, Mose: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
  2. Avengers: Died for Your Sins
  3. Les Amazones de Guinée: Au coeur de Paris & M’mah Sylla (Bolibana Collection)
  4. Anderson, Fred, and Hamid Drake: …together again
  5. Astatke, Mulatu: Mulatu of Ethiopia
  6. Black Artists Group: In Paris 1973
  7. Blythe, Arthur: Illusions
  8. Bowie, David: Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
  9. Carmichael, Hoagy: Music Master
  10. Case, Neko: The Tigers Have Spoken
  11. Cochran, Wayne: Wayne Cochran!
  12. Cohran, Philip: Armageddon
  13. Coursil, Jacques: Trails of Tears
  14. The Creation: Action Painting
  15. Curtis, King: Instant Soul–The Legendary King Curtis
  16. Davis, Anthony: Episteme
  17. Dion: Kickin’ Child–The Lost Album 1965
  18. Dion and The Belmonts: Together Again
  19. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
  20. E: E
  21. Eggleston, Cozy: Grand Slam
  22. Evans, Bill: Some Other Time–The Lost Session from the Black Forest
  23. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
  24. Fela: Live in Detroit
  25. Gibbs, Melvin: Ancients Speak(all hail Pete Cosey!)
  26. Gonzalez, Dennis: Idle Wild
  27. Gonzalez, Dennis: Nile River Suite
  28. Hemphill, Julius: Coon Bidness
  29. Human Arts Ensemble: Whisper of Dharma
  30. Ink Spots: These Cats Are High
  31. Instant Composers Pool: Aan & Uit
  32. Jamal, Ahmad: The Awakening
  33. JJ DOOM: Bookhead
  34. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
  35. Kyle, K. Curtis: The Collected Poem for Blind Lemon Jefferson
  36. London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Theoria
  37. McGann, Bernie: Playground
  38. McPhee, Joe: “The Loneliest Woman”
  39. Monk, Thelonious: Soundtrack to Les Liaisons Dangereuses
  40. Orchestra Regionale De Mopti
  41. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  42. Patrick, Pat, and Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice
  43. Perry, Lee Scratch: Dub Triptych
  44. Perry, Lee Scratch: Presents African Roots
  45. Perry, Lee Scratch: Voodooism
  46. Prince: Purple Rain – 2017 Deluxe Remaster
  47. Prince Jazzbo: Ital Corner
  48. Pullen, Don, and Beaver Harris: A Well-Kept Secret
  49. Revelators: …we told you not to cross us (20th Anniversary Edition)
  50. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Face to Face
  51. Stanko, Tomasz: Leosia
  52. Sun Ra: The Space Age Is Here to Stay
  53. This Heat: Out of Cold Storage
  54. Thomas, Luther, and Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey Vols. 1 & 2
  55. Thornton, Clifford: The Panther and The Lash
  56. Morgan, Lee: Live at The Lighthouse
  57. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
  58. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
  59. Various Artists: Killed by Death #5
  60. Various Artists: The Original Sounds of Mali
  61. Various Artists: The Poppyseeds–The Sound of Crenshaw
  62. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, 1 & 2
  63. Washington, Dinah: Live at Newport 1958
  64. White, Ruth: Flowers of Evil
  65. Wray, Link: Three-Track Shack

Surcease of Sorrow: My Favorite New Releases of the First Half of 2017, and My Top 40 Older Thangs I’ve Bought

In so many ways, this year has flat sucked. I’m a born optimist, and I’ve never considered that a disability, but now? I guess that I just don’t know. As long as I keep certain names off my tongue, my eye on the courts, my feet on the street and trails, my arms around my woman, and my ears on this stuff, well…I guess I will power through. Perhaps you will be tempted to try one of the following aural encouragements, and it’ll help you through, too.

TOP 50 New Releases of the First Half of 2017

(in order of my preference if the world goes up in flames tomorrow):

  1. Zeal and Ardor: Devil is Fine
  2. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  3. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  4. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  5. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyai
  6. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  7. Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood
  8. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So It Is
  9. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  10. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  11. Obnox: Niggative Approach
  12. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  13. Syd: Fin
  14. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP) (Not the late jazz soprano master Steve Lacy, BTW!)
  15. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  16. Sampha: Process
  17. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  18. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  19. Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound
  20. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel
  21. Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame
  22. Body Count: Blood Lust
  23. Angaleena Presley: Wrangled
  24. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong
  25. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  26. Filthy Friends: “Any Kind of Crowd”/”Editions of You”
  27. John Escreet: The Unknown
  28. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  29. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  30. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  31. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  32. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  33. Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
  34. Thundercat: Drunk
  35. New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions
  36. Gato Preto: Tempo
  37. Paul Rutherford and Sabu Toyozumi: The Conscience
  38. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Up for Anything
  39. Various Artists: Mono No Aware
  40. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
  41. Various Artists: Outro Tempo–Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
  42. Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem
  43. Elliott Sharp, Mary Halvorson, and Marc Ribot: Err Guitar
  44. Daddy Issues: Can We Still Hang?
  45. Bob Dylan: Triplicate
  46. Damaged Bug: Bunker Funk
  47. Black Lips: Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?
  48. Vagabon: The Infinite Worlds
  49. Tamikrest: Tidal
  50. Chuck Berry: Chuck

Note: the above is not featured on the Wayne Cochran album listed below, but it’s what you need to know to make a more informed choice.

40 Great Older Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Still Can’t Get Enough Of

  1. Allison, Mose: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
  2. Anderson, Fred, and Hamid Drake: …together again
  3. Astatke, Mulatu: Mulatu of Ethiopia
  4. Blythe, Arthur: Illusions
  5. Bowie, David: Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
  6. Carmichael, Hoagy: Music Master
  7. Case, Neko: The Tigers Have Spoken
  8. Cochran, Wayne: Wayne Cochran!
  9. Cohran, Philip: Armageddon
  10. Coursil, Jacques: Trails of Tears
  11. The Creation: Action Painting
  12. Davis, Anthony: Episteme
  13. DiMucci, Dion: Kickin’ Child–The Lost Album 1965
  14. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
  15. E: E
  16. Evans, Bill: Some Other Time–The Lost Session from the Black Forest
  17. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
  18. Fela: Live in Detroit
  19. Gibbs, Melvin: Ancients Speak (all hail Pete Cosey!)
  20. Gonzalez, Dennis: Idle Wild
  21. Ink Spots: These Cats Are High
  22. Instant Composers Pool: Aan & Uit
  23. Jamal, Ahmad: The Awakening
  24. JJ DOOM: Bookhead
  25. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
  26. London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Theoria
  27. McGann, Bernie: Playground
  28. Outkast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below (that’s right—I only just NOW bought this for myself)
  29. Perry, Lee Scratch: Voodooism
  30. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Face to Face
  31. Stanko, Tomasz: Leosia
  32. Sun Ra: The Space Age Is Here to Stay
  33. This Heat: Out of Cold Storage
  34. Morgan, Lee: Live at The Lighthouse (please go see this documentary on Mr. Morgan!)
  35. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
  36. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
  37. Various Artists: Killed by Death #5
  38. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, 1 & 2
  39. White, Ruth: Flowers of Evil
  40. Wray, Link: Beans and Fatback

Immortal Songs: Jeffrey Lewis’ “Scowling Crackhead Ian”

As a former kid who got the shit kicked out of him a few times,
As a friend and as a teacher of some pretty tough and some pretty puny kids,
As someone who’s feeling his age a little and has a high sensitivity to the passage of time,
As someone with an attachment to places,
As an admirer of writers with an eye for detail and a heart for compassion,
As a citizen who is fatigued by long-nurtured division and scorn–

This song just destroys me.

I return to it again and again, and can play it over and over at a sitting. I labored pretty intensively to correct the horrible “MetroLyrics” transcription and bring the text to you (I may have misheard a word or two, but not many), so, though it is a bit long, I ask you, if you share some of the states of being I’ve catalogued above, to read it, then listen to it. It might destroy you, too. To Mr. Lewis: thanks for writing such a great song–this one’s immortal.

“Scowling Crackhead Ian:

I can’t forget your face.
You were a foul human being
Way back on Saint Mark’s Place.
A white thug when we were both poor,
A life struggling for one quarter more.
In sixth grade, that’s what you’d mug me for,
A switchblade pressed up to my jugular.
So I feared for my neck,
Safe streets were few.
My nerves grew wrecked near to Second Avenue.
I soon learned how to steer clear of a crook or a crew,
And now I’m still here,
And, look! So are you.
Forever you’ve been Crackhead Ian.
It was your kid-nickname if we spoke it.
You were an insane human being,
Whether you ever did or didn’t really smoke it.

I know that tall, thin, bent-over stroll,
All sunburned and grim since ten or twelve years old.
I guess yesterday is gone,
Faces still indent our soul,
And I guess both our moms’ places still on rent control.
I was a twig-small, sad-sack, punier guy;
You were big, tall and bad back in junior high.
No sight of someone’s face has ever been scarier–
You’d come chase me from Streetfighter 1 or Space Harrier.
Hello again, Crackhead Ian:
I still can’t forget your foul face.
My fellow human being–
I know we’re both still planted on Saint Mark’s Place.
We’ve lived our poor lives in close parallel
Within these four or five blocks we both know so well.
You must have grew up near the former theater or the old gross hotel;
I’m sure you’re aware of me here
But, oh, I can’t tell.
It seems you never outgrew your little pre-teen rage.
I still see you look so mean, though now we are middle-aged.
I was eavesdropping last year at you laughing to tell
About bashing some dude with a chair till he fell.
I slipped fast by you talking, fearing our eyes would touch,
Drifting past, by new awnings that had all changed so much.
I’ve never known your life story, I’m sure it’s rotten and tough,
But how long before these roles for us have gotten old enough?
You must’ve had it so rough, kid.
Well, I wonder:
Forged by a tiny portion of love or fortune
Goes lightning or goes thunder.

You’re a bad one, Crackhead Ian:
A sad son and sunburned pink.
But, of all the best kids seen downtown in our pre-teens,
It’s just you and me left, I think.
How long till you notice?
How long until you shake my hand?
How long until we’re old-man neighbors,
Last tribesmen of the vanished land?
We never even did exchange names.
You were an evil kid from Hades.
When we played these arcade games,
That made life great in the ‘80s.
Me and Ian.
Me and Ian
Ride into the night of an East Village dream with these games in the street and the heat….”

Addendum: I love the sound effects that give the song context, too.

You must buy Aram Bajakian’s DALAVA: THE BOOK OF TRANSFIGURATIONS

I want to shine SPECIAL light on Dalava: The Book of Transfigurations, by Aram Bajakian and Julia Uleha. The record consists of Moravian folk songs collected by Julia’s great-grandfather and translated into English (for the CD booklet) and sung (in Moravian) by Uleha–songs that poignantly express the title theme of form-change as well as of life’s interruptions and general impermanence (so often the three are connected!). Bajakian is a versatile, imaginative, and powerful guitarist–he’s often associated with Marc Ribot, who’s surely an influence but whom he’s separated himself from with his last three projects–and he, Uleha and his band put these true people’s songs across with real commitment and a complexity of emotion. Surely one of the most impressive musical achievements of the year, and if I have somehow hooked you, get the hard copy, because the 36-page booklet is worth every extra penny.

Good to My Earhole: First Quarter Report–I’m Not Dead, Just Distracted

 

Honestly, I’ve continued to be distracted from music, and reading, and…well, haven’t you? Nonetheless, I’ve laid ear to some dandy new records; also, I have spent some time with some dandy old records as well. Here we go!

TOP 25 New Releases of 2017:

  1. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  2. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  3. Syd: Fin
  4. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP) (Not the late jazz soprano master Steve Lacy, BTW!)
  5. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  6. Thundercat: Drunk
  7. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  8. Sampha: Process
  9. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  10. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  11. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  12. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  13. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  14. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  15. Ty Segall: Ty Segall
  16. John Escreet: The Unknown
  17. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  18. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  19. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  20. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  21. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  22. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  23. Tinariwen: Elwan
  24. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Up for Anything
  25. Various Artists: Mono No Aware

 

TOP 20 Old Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Can’t Get Enough Of (not in order of excellence except the first)

1. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
2. Arthur Blythe: Illusions
3. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
4. Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake: …together again
5. Philip Cohran: Armageddon
6. Outkast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below (that’s right—I only just NOW bought this for myself)
7. Melvin Gibbs: Ancients Speak (all hail Pete Cosey!)
8. Anthony Davis: Episteme
9. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
10. Michael Hurley: Ida Con Snock
11. E: E
12. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
13. Rascals: Anthology 1965-1972
14. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, Vols. 1 & 2
15. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
16. Fela: Live in Detroit
17. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
18. Hoagy Carmichael: Mr. Music Master
19. Mose Allison: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
20. Tomasz Stanko: Leosia

Good to My Earhole: The Edge of ’17–Heard You Didn’t Even Miss Me, Now I’m Back Anyway!

Highlights of my last several weeks’ months’ listening (hey—I’ve been rattled), yielding only lazy one- or two-liner commentary and scored on a 10-high scale based absolutely on how much the item has stuck to my ribs:

Betty Harris: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL – 9 – ’64 – ’67 vintage soul: Meters behind her, Toussaint pennin’ and producin’, sexy power in her delivery…what else ya want? Question: how did she not break big?

Deap Vally: FEMIJISM – 9 – Thought I’d had my fill of two-piece bands for the next century, but these ladies’ bad attitudes and arrogant tempos—like cool, slow-walking juvies making you tardy for class—are just different enough to whet my appetite.

Dr. Lonnie Smith: EVOLUTION – 8.7 – Be-turbaned self-appointed Hammond B-3 physician sweeps romantically and slyly through some grooveful originals and survives “My Favorite Things” intact (check out the young master drummer from NOLA, Joe Dyson).

Gravediggaz: NIGGAMORTIS – 9.5 – Pithily retitled from its original release, this wry horror-rap classic is the only place you’re gonna hear Biz Markie enveloped in RZA productions—but at times you will wonder if any of it is really a joke.

(This track’s fromHarriet Tubman’s 2011 release on Sunnyside, Ascension; no video currentl available for the album below).

Harriet Tubman: ARAMINTA – 10 – If you dig Miles circa ’70-’75 or John McLaughlin’s Devotion, you’ll need this, my favorite album of the year after a trying month: a Black Rock- and free jazz-pedigreed trio (augmented in the seeming flower of his youth by the 76-year-old Wadada Leo Smith, definitely on his magic) that isn’t named that whimsically, as they roll like a leviathan through the fathoms across compositions that suggest turbulence and threat, imagination and resistance, and grace under the pressure of the moment. Can’t keep it to one sentence: guitarist Brandon Ross seems to have absorbed everything from the instrument’s black body electric, from Sharrock to Cosey to Ulmer to Reid, and whipped it into his own unique lightning.

THE INTIMATE KEELY SMITH – 8.0 – The cover art finds Louis Prima’s cool ol’ foil looking desolate (and by virtue of the truly intimate session you can hear hurt in the husk at the end of her phrases), but she stands up to these standards fine without The Lip and often makes them her own—albeit by occasionally distorting her vowels, as in “Time After Time” (or, as she has it—perhaps mischievously?—“Tommmmmm after Tommmmmm”). Note: the blue-eyed label chief gets a nice duet.

Myra Melford: SNOWY EGRET – 9.5 – Melford plays wonderful piano on this, and her compositions are challenging and beautiful, too—but this is one of the greatest opportunities among many to hear the genius drummer Tyshawn Sorey…well, listen and respond: he’s that quick and imaginative.

RUN THE JEWELS 3 – 8.9 – Have always liked this pairing in theory, but drifted when engaging with reality; this time, with a shift in politics seeming to juice their enthusiasm and their (trap?) music, I haven’t fidgeted once in four trips through. You can get it 4 free, too.

Regina Carter: SOUTHERN COMFORT – 9.1 – MacArthur violin Genius, inspired by her father’s roots, heads south out of Detroit to encounter Dock Boggs, Gram Parsons, Dennis McGee, and The Hillbilly Shakespeare, with the influence of field recordings keeping her one step ahead of classiness—in other words, not your typical jazz journey.

SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! PLAYS DUKE ELLINGTON’S FAR EAST SUITE – 9.3 – If you know the original, you might look askance at the idea of it as “soul party”—but these Brooklyn Balkanites pull it off, occasionally sounding less Slavic and more like they’re leading a second line.

Tisziji Munoz: WHEN COLTRANE CALLS—SESSION 1: FIERCE COMPASSION – 9.5 – Normally very skeptical of spiritualists, particularly ones as serious (check his website) as Munoz, I approached this exploration of Trane’s “compassionate” compositions with great wariness—only to be immediately gripped by the man’s near-unholy electric guitar torrents, which extends Sonny Sharrock’s promise (broken only by The Reaper) that such heights can be reached via six-string. Docked .5 for Munoz’s choice NOT to play on “Alabama.” I’m in for your other services sessions, Tisziji.

A Tribe Called Red: WE ARE THE HALLUCI NATION – 8.8 – The other hip-hop Tribe nailed their best record last year, too—I didn’t get to it until after I’d submitted my year-end list, or it would have been high up on it. Red means Indian, as Sherman Alexie would have it, and in fact listening to this while reading Alexie produced in me an almost hallucinogenic state, especially with the voice of long-gone hero John Trudell intoning words of wisdom. Also on hand: Yasiin Bey, Saul Williams, and Tanya Tagaq, who, um, make an impression.

Wadada Leo Smith: AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS – 9.0 – As expansive in its form and varied in its sensual brilliance as its subject—with, of course, a storm rising. This Pulitzer Prize-nominee knows what to do with a commission, and every sentient American should know his name and work: arguably, he is the Prince of Light to Miles Davis’ Prince of Darkness (though it must be admitted light could not exist without dark).