Holiday (September 11-17, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I am on a Billie Holiday tear. John Szwed’s revelatory book, Billie Holiday: The Musician and The Myth is the culprit. Szwed’s intent–to strip away calcified notions about the great singer, examine the concrete artifacts (musical, literary, historical), close-listen to her art and rebuild a fuller, more complex and authentic picture of her–is pretty largely realized (though Szwed admits to mysteries that are unlikely to be successfully parsed), and the book’s clearly and passionately written as well. Among the many surprises is Szwed’s “rehabilitation” of Lady Sings the Blues, Holiday’s memoir written with (some say by) William Dufty; of course, I’m about to crack it today after years of turning my nose up at it due to its professed disconnection from truth. Also, I loaded the CD changer with multiple Holiday disks, primarily my favorites from Columbia’s Essential series and the argument-starter Lady in Satin.

Listening to Holiday for hours on end Friday, I thought back to an experience I once had in the classroom. We were reading a text that featured a lynching, and I thought my students might be stimulated to interesting thoughts and feelings by Holiday’s studio version of “Strange Fruit.” These were 10th graders who had not previously succeeded in English, and they’d self-segregated themselves when choosing seats on the first day; the class was roughly 50% white kids and kids of color. For my part, I was utterly convinced the Holiday was not only the greatest jazz singer of all-time, but impossible to dislike; I was equally convinced the subject matter would be powerful to both “halves” of the population.

I played the track on a clunky portable CD player I’d checked out from the media center, but the sound was pretty good. “Strange Fruit,” in the unlikely case you haven’t heard it, does not exactly produce exuberant moods in the listener. It creeps out of the speakers and its horror unfolds funereally—Holiday doesn’t enter until relatively late, and this delay had the students looking quizzically at each other: “Did dude play the right track?” Also, pre-WWII jazz was not and is not high schoolers’ music of choice; I sensed a stiffening in the ranks. But then Billie took over, and the students’ turned their eyes to the song’s lyrics, which I’d copied for them. I was hypnotized by the precision of her delivery as it was applied to the subject matter–and of course, since I was still a green idiot, I assumed they were, too.

I paused a couple of beats after the song ended, then launched a very broad query: “So, what did you think of her singing?”

“SHE’S THE WORST SINGER I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY LIFE!!!!!”

The answer, yelled angrily by one of my quietest students, a young lady named Toni, froze me in my pedagogical tracks. I am sure my eyes bugged, and that my jaw slackened. I had been punched in the face, and I’d been leaning into the punch to begin with. Sadly, I was also expecting that, since she was a woman of color, she had to like Holiday’s singing. (I’ve evolved.)

I was so stunned that I have little recollection of my response. I ‘d become reasonably reliable in dignifying students’ responses (that now sounds to me like a condescending enterprise), so I’m sure I tried to figure out, or have her help me figure out, what she meant, but she was adamant, much snickering abounded, and the next thing I clearly remember is getting (desperately) to the actual lesson. But later, at home, I sniffed to Nicole, “The kid thought Billie Holiday was the worst singer she’d ever heard–can you believe that?”

So what’s the point? Well, Szwed’s sharp analysis of Holiday’s hard-to-pinpoint style makes clear that Holiday was not always easy on the ear: her delivery was frequently sharp, raspy, crying. Her timing was consistently eye- and ear-popping, but that’s a subtler thing to hear unless perhaps you’re a musician yourself. It occurred to me that, actually, young Toni was in fact listening intelligently and had no need of her response being dignified. From a reasonable perspective, her assessment had an anchor in fact–well, not that she was a horrible singer, but that, in the context of what Toni had listened to, the worst she’d heard. 28 years later is not a satisfactory response time for recognizing a teaching mistake–but better extremely late than never. Sorry, Toni! (We’re Facebook friends.)

Tony's

Friday nights, Nicole and I often head out to Tony’s Pizza Palace, a family-owned pizza joint we’ve been patronizing for most of our nearly 30 years together. We always sit in the booth that abuts the window with a bullet or pellet hole in it (look closely at the above photo and you can spot it). We always order a cold pitcher of Bud, two small Greek salads, and a Tony’s Special (green pepper and sausage). We always get a little caught up with the server, and check in with the head honcho, a charming young man named Daniel whom I taught the same year as Toni, featured above. Then we grab an additional libation, go back home, sprawl out on the couch, and meditate upon three of four specially selected tracks. It’s relaxing, stimulating, fun, and the perfect transition into the weekend. True to form, we followed our ritual last Friday, and selected the following three tracks, the first two of which we’ve worn out in the past, the third indicating I still couldn’t get Szwed and Lady Day off my mind.

To evoke our beloved NOLA, and to electrify our ears, minds and bodies:

To revisit a romantic favorite from our days of penury:

To engage with pure desolation–but also with an alert artistic mind at the end of its rope:

 

During the weekend, I chose to explore the work of a young Chicago MC one of my current students had begged me to check out. Perhaps still feeling guilty from my earlier revelation, my conscience was the driver, but this young lady, from Oklahoma City by way of Salt Lake City, was, like Toni, right (only less problematically). I loved her recommendation so much I bought some of the artist’s work. She goes by the handle of Noname, and she’s something–smart, mischievous, funny, and skilled. I’ll go out an a limb and say she’s gonna be a star. Thanks for the tip, Juniper!

The new one (soon to appear way up on my annual list):

The previous one:

 

Coming attractions: I’ve assigned my comp class the following listening, reading and viewing for our next semi-Socratic (you’ll recall my reportage on our Mitski’s Be the Cowboy lesson last post). Feel free to engage if you need some homework!

How Dev Hynes Became a Miracle Worker for R.&B., Pop, and Everything Else You Can Imagine (Lizzy Goodman, New York Times Magazine)

Premature Evaluation: Blood Orange, ‘Negro Swan’  (Briana Younger, Stereogum)

Blood Orange builds a refuge for black stories on the exquisite Negro Swan (Judnick Mayard, The Onion AV Club)

 

 

 

My Favorite Records from 2018, Two-Thirds the Way Outta Here (plus a middling report on and issuance from my sluggish writing mojo) (September 5th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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My goal for blogging every day about my listening adventures has been blown to smithereens. We went on a long trip this summer, I was (happily, at least) jolted out of my daily rhythm, when we returned I began assaulting myself with the same old aggravating questions (why are you doing this? for whom? does the world need another music blog? you do realize you ain’t got beans to say, right)–and lo and behold, we’re in September and I haven’t posted for over a week–just three-four times in the last month.

 

It’s not like I haven’t been listening to music:

I indulged myself and bought some physical music from the great Chicago-by-way-of-Gary electronic visionary JLin, in anticipation of her new album, Autobiography, due near the end of this month. I am normally not a big fan of so-called EDM but lordy, her sounds just hypnotize me. She’s a young master of tone, rhythmic disruption, and ugly beauty. And you can dance to her. Far as the physical media goes? I just wanted to give her more money to make music with…

Hardee

As a longtime devoted fan of the multi-reed magic of James Carter, I’ve long wondered about the Texas tenor John Hardee, whose composition “Lunatic” Carter covered back when he was a wunderkind. I managed to snag the above comp, which I’d never seen before, after trying to track down a source for Fresh Sounds releases; if you still buy CDs for some reason, I recommend it to you, as it specializes in reissues that might not even be streaming, if you can imagine that. Unsurprisingly, when you lay an ear to Hardee’s playing, you can hear what attracted Carter to it: it’s confidently lubricious, cool, controlled and randy all at the same time.

McPhee

Speaking of saxophone, I love unabashedly such jazz records that explore black spiritual music (David Murray’s Spirituals and Archie Shepp’s Goin’ Home spring immediately to mind). I am an atheist, but I freely admit I get power, hope, and motivation from the best of these works. I’ve perhaps overdocumented on this blog that I think very highly of the free (but sometimes deceptively not) Poughkeepsie hornman and sensei Joe McPhee, a man whose catalog is impossible to touch the bottom of without a couple of oxygen tanks. I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that McPhee released his own gospel record, nor was I surprised that it is ravishingly soulful without any compromising of the man’s improvisational principles. Whether he’s on reeds or brass–he speaks very clearly. Guess what? No YouTube. Also, I had to resort to SoulSeek. Just sayin’.

 

Welp, that’s it for recent listening I’m currently compelled to showcase. At least I’ve been keeping track of the albums from this calendar year that I am enjoying. We’re 67% of the way through this year, and I am going to need these releases to support me up to, through, and past the midterm elections–what records are you leaning on right now? Below are 130 LPs (we can still call them that, because they still play long) the teacher in me’d give a B+ or better. The Top 40, in bold, I’ve played over and over and tend to just get better to my earhole and soul, though a couple of recent releases (like The Necks, Mitski. and Blood Orange) I’m really just wagering that I’ll play over and over. In fact, I’m teaching (in a manner of speaking) Mitski tomorrow in my pop music/freshman comp class.

Note: I may be behind on reissues; I don’t rightly know.

  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  4. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  5. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  6. Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer
  7. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  8. JD Allen: Love Stone
  9. Zeal & Ardor: Stranger Fruit
  10. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  11. The Internet: Hive Mind
  12. Mitski: Be the Cowboy
  13. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  14. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  15. Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly
  16. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  17. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  18. Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
  19. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  20. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  21. Sidi Toure: Toubalbero
  22. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  23. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  24. The Necks: Body
  25. Grupo Mono Blanco: ¡Fandango! Sones Jarochos from Veracruz
  26. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher
  27. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  28. Blood Orange: Negro Swan
  29. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  30. Pusha T: Daytona
  31. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  32. Nidia: Nídia É Má, Nídia É Fudida
  33. Subtle Degrees: A Dance That Empties
  34. Kids See Ghosts: Kids See Ghosts
  35. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  36. James Brandon Lewis: Radiant Imprints
  37. Ken Vandermark / Klaus Kugel / Mark Tokar: No-Exit Corner
  38. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  39. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
  40. Ivo Perlman and Matthew Shipp: Oneness
  41. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  42. The Thing: Again
  43. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  44. Bombino: Deran
  45. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: An Angel Fell
  46. Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories
  47. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  48. Sarayah: Feel the Vibe
  49. Tierra Whack: Whack World
  50. Lori McKenna: The Tree
  51. Nas: Nasir
  52. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse
  53. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
  54. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  55. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  56. Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited
  57. Angelika Niescier: The Berlin Concert
  58. Beats Antique: Shadowbox
  59. Wynton Marsalis & Friends: United We Swing–Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas
  60. Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)
  61. Charge It to The Game: House with a Pool
  62. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  63. Anelis Assumpcão: Taurina
  64. The Beths: Future Me Hates Me
  65. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  66. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  67. Mdou Moctar & Elite Beat: Mdou Moctar meets Elite Beat In a Budget Dancehall
  68. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing
  69. Wussy: What Heaven is Like
  70. Kiefer: happysad
  71. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  72. Freddie Gibbs: Freddie
  73. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
  74. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  75. Shopping: The Official Body
  76. Young Mothers: Morose
  77. Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara
  78. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  79. David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
  80. Shame: Songs of Praise
  81. Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures, Pt. 2
  82. Henry Threadgill: Dirt..and More Dirt
  83. Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens
  84. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  85. The Coup: Soundtrack to the Film Sorry to Bother You
  86. Van Morrison & Joey DeFrancesco: You’re Driving Me Crazy
  87. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  88. Marc Sinan & Oğuz Büyükberber: White
  89. Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
  90. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  91. Deaf Wish: Lithium Zion
  92. Jay Rock: Redemption
  93. MC Paul Barman: Echo Chamber
  94. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  95. Tal National: Tantabara
  96. Wilko Johnson: Blow Your Mind
  97. Rodrigo Amado (with Joe McPhee): History of Nothing
  98. Tony Molina: Kill the Lights
  99. Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
  100. Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
  101. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  102. Tirzah: Devotion
  103. Silvana Estrada: Lo Sagrado
  104. Eddie Daniels: Heart of Brazil
  105. Big Freedia: Third Ward Bounce
  106. Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
  107. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  108. Busdriver: Electricity Is On Our Side
  109. Daniel Carter: Seraphic Light
  110. Dr. Michael White: Tricentennial Rag
  111. Hermit and the Recluse: Orpheus vs. The Sirens
  112. Migos: Culture II
  113. 03 Greedo: God Level
  114. Angélique Kidjo: Remain in Light
  115. Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg
  116. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  117. The Carters: Everything is Love
  118. The Del McCoury Band: Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass
  119. Superorganism: Superorganism
  120. Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet: Landfall
  121. Sleep: The Sciences
  122. Teyana Taylor: K.T.S.E.
  123. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio
  124. The English Beat: Here We Go Love
  125. Ammar 808: Maghreb United
  126. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  127. Santigold: I Don’t Want—The Gold Fire Sessions
  128. Nicki Minaj: Queen
  129. Chad Popper: A Popper People
  130. Fantastic Negrito: Please Don’t Be Dead

OLD MUSIC NICELY REPACKAGED

  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  2. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  3. Erroll Garner: Nightconcert
  4. Various Artists: Voices of Mississippi—Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris
  5. Various Artists: Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music
  6. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  7. Peter Brotzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm: Ouroboros
  8. Bruce Springsteen: 1978/07/07 West Hollywood, CA
  9. Various Artists: Outlaws and Armadilloes
  10. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  11. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  12. Grant Green: Live at Oil Can Harry’s
  13. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  14. Kuniyuki Takahashi: Early Tape Works 1986 – 1993 Volume 1
  15. Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie
  16. Various Artists: Africa Scream Contest, Volume 2
  17. Wussy: Getting Better
  18. David Bowie: Santa Monica ‘72
  19. Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet: Afro-Latin Soul, Vols. 1 & 2
  20. The Beginning of the End: Funky Nassau

Catch as Catch Can (August 20-26, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Hot ‘lanta

This show, besides being engrossing, entertaining, enlightening, and (sorry, no “e” word) challenging, can’t be beat for music. I know you likely know this already, but at least I have finally arrived at the club. It was exerting its influence a week ago, then this week sent this supposed aficionado diving deeper into Florida man Little Beaver’s repertoire, heading to the outskirts of Curtis Mayfield’s just-post-accident work, and seeking to explain Death Grips to my spouse (and convert us both, as I still sit on the fence).

Driven! Driven Driven Driven! To School!

I began teaching last week, and even though it’s a mere five miles round-trip to campus and back, across a week I close-listen to a considerable amount of music. I have referred to the old ’93 Ford Splash as “The Lab” on this blog before; it’s where I really, really study a piece of music, because when I’m in the house I’m extremely likely to be buried in a book or grading or planning or doing a bit of house-husbandry. This week’s “Lab” highlights were as follows:

William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook–Look, there’s never been a jazz violinist as dynamic as the late Billy Bang. Parker’s the leader, Hamid Drake’s the drummer, and they are farrrrrr from slouches. But, particularly with the very, very present recording on this Thirsty Ear release, Bang illustrates why the world misses him sorely by ranging across country hoe-down, deep blues, Middle Eastern conjure, mischievous dissonance, and uncategorizable invention. Check it:

John Lee Hooker: The Legendary Modern Recordings–I’ll be honest. I’d only ever programmed around the song selection here to get to the iconic stuff before I just let it play mid-week, and was taught by the master not to do that kind of shit no more. I’d always assumed “Down Child” was just a Hookerian knock-off of the great Sonny Boy Williamson track, which I adore. Um, wrong.

Elvis Costello: Get Happy!–I don’t listen to EC much these days, but I hear he’s ill, and I like to keep such artists in my heart, at least for awhile. He was very important to me at 17: I liked words a lot, he liked words a lot, and could sling them; my heart was underfoot more than occasionally, and he’d identified this thing called “emotional facism.” In short, I was not alone. Critically, this album usually gets ranked pretty low compared to its three predecessors, but you know the deal with critics. I was a freshman at the University of Arkansas when it came out, and it spoke to me like (rather, unlike) a college advisor. This one was mysterious to me then, though, and thus I loved it; now it is plain as day to me, and thus I love it (plus somewhere in the distance he hears The Possum, a mental malady we share):

Oh, yeah, school: here’s a Spotify playlist of the songs my students shared, our first day in class, as songs everyone should listen to.

Death

A couple of friends have stepped on a rainbow of late, and at the end of the week a truly magnificent former student, still much in the bloom of youth, was snatched suddenly by an aneurysm (my sources say).  I know it’s irrational, but the fact that he doesn’t get to be here doing good things and treating humans well while others get to be publicly (and apparently unstoppably) egregious on an hourly basis just twists my fucking knickers. Then things got a bit dark. Then I reached for something–a couple things–old, strong, and loud to hold off the gloom.

Hint to those of you mourning: it works. For awhile. But that might be all the time your mind and heart need.

Hot ‘Lanta Stays Hot

By week’s end, I was still being sent on excavational errands by the got-dang show. I’d worked my way through Little Beaver’s catalog, then my eMusic download subscription came up (sorry, that site sucks and I’m about done with it) and, as usual lately, I was having trouble finding something to buy. Then this–very much carrying on the work of Little Richard and Pat Todd–appeared under the “You might also like…” banner:

I did like. Buoyant.

The Pool

The pool was the first place where music became a regularly active force in my life. I’d shared an essay draft Thursday with my new Stephens students (who, by the way, are awesome and full of music love and ideas for learning) about how my town pool jukebox revolutionized my mind while it was babysitting me:

Phillip Overeem

English 107

Personal Essay (Draft)

August 22, 2018

The Pool

            The city pool was my babysitter when I was a pre-teen. I learned to swim early, I loved the sun, I loved those high boards that the 21st century deems unsafe, and, I admit, I loved chasing girls around. More than anything, though, I loved the jukebox. At that time—the early 1970s—I didn’t own a turntable, and hadn’t become aware of the radio, so a trip to the pool meant a dive into the American Top 40 as well as the deep end. I could neither sing nor dance, but I had ears, and, living in a small town, I heard something spinning off the juke’s 45 RPM records that sounded more alive than anything in my house, neighborhood, or school. Something more alive, and very different.

The only trouble was, the liveliness and difference wasn’t present in every song—not by a long shot. One had to wait for it, or rather, keep one’s ears pricked for it, since one was usually screaming, doing back flips, illegally running, or trying to set personal breath-holding records, especially when one was 12. Generally, what one would tend to hear was something like this (the reader will have to imagine instrumentation and rhythm as “vivid” as these lyrics, likely scribbled in three minutes by Bread’s David Gates):

Baby I’m-a want you
Baby I’m-a need you
You’re the only one I care enough to hurt about
Maybe I’m-a crazy
But I just can’t live without
your lovin’ and affection
Givin’ me direction. 

Or might one prefer this gem of deep thought by the band Lobo?

Baby, I’d love you to want me
The way that I want you
The way that it should be
Baby, you’d love me to want you
The way that I want to
If you’d only let it be.

Well, one might. In fact, at my city pool, many did, so many that, in my sleep, I was hearing those grade-school-love-notes-set-to-sappy-music on a loop. However, I could endure 10 straight plays of either of those songs if the 11th song went a little something like this, fromDonald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan (reader, try to put a sing-song melody under these words):

We hear you’re leaving, that’s okay
I thought our little wild time had just begun
I guess you kind of scared yourself, you turn and run
But if you have a change of heart
Rikki don’t lose that number
You don’t want to call nobody else
Send it off in a letter to yourself
Rikki don’t lose that number
It’s the only one you own
You might use it if you feel better
When you get home.

Wait a minute? What’s this “little wild time”? How do you “scare yourself”? Why the heck is it so important that Rikki not lose that dang number? And why does the singer sing it in sinister fashion? I could think for hours about that and not get bored—or get to the bottom of the song. The vocabulary wasn’t Shakespearean, but the situation was a bit complex, especially for a sixth grader. The song was interesting. It was one of several on the box that taught me that life is interesting, and that curiosity about it was fun. I wasn’t exactly getting that in school.

            Don’t get me wrong, though. The attraction wasn’t just about the lyrics. Sometimes my ears could easily wade through 20 songs’ worth of Velveeta cheese to catch just a snippet of a record with pretty ho-hum lyrics that were simply sung like the performer had just won the lottery. Take one of my favorites, “Then Came You,” by the Spinners, featuring an amazing guest appearance by Dionne Warwick: a bouncing piano intro leads into Ms. Warwick jubilantly singing the praises of her beloved, going so far as to admit that “every time I’m near ya / I get that urge to feel ya”—yes, I did find those lyrics interesting. But when she hits the chorus, aided and abetted by the Spinners’ great lead singer Philippe Wynne, her voice, and the song, take off like a 747: “I never knew love before / Then came you”—nothin’ fancy, but delivered in a way that I could feel in my fingers and my toes. I could play it endlessly, or at least until I ran out of dimes, and I had to stop what I was doing, because at the end of the song Warwick and Wynne transform themselves from 747s into twin rockets of rhythmic improvisation. This went beyond interest; this was difference. Nothing—not music, not anything—had gotten to my fingers and toes before. I’d never heard singers just take off and invent, instead of just singing the same chorus lines the same way until the needle lifted. And the texture, the flexibility, the depth, the grit, the yearning in these voices? I’d never heard it anywhere.

            I’d never heard it anywhere, in any form, because I attended an all-white elementary and swam at the city municipal pool, on the west side of town. I didn’t know it yet, but the difference only existed because I had been separated from some particular fellow human beings.

NOTE: I am not finished with my draft—I deliberately left it incomplete for discussion purposes. I’m quite interested in your input, plus I wanted to help stimulate some ideas of your own.

Lo and behold if I didn’t find myself at the local public pool today, slumming, reading Charles Willeford’s Sideswipe, and…well, goddam it, they don’t have jukeboxes anymore, and the satellite fare was uninspiring, so I put the earbuds in and got knocked out by a current next big thing–actually, I don’t think she’s next, and think she’s here. Anyway, now I have a conclusion for my essay!

Here’s what I shared on a FB music group. I’m just gonna plagiarize myself, and we’ll see if the hot take stands up to time’s slot-mouth and squint:

I warmed up to Mitski last year via a KEXP show. I am really liking the new ‘un. I’m picking up a Joni throb-n-trill in her singing, but also her erotics in some of the singing. Also, along with the shifting personae, the musical dynamics are subtle and make a big difference to my concentration. I’m assigning a listening session for my students.

Last ‘Lanta

Did you know there’s an official Spotify playlist for all the stuff that’s been featured on Atlanta‘s soundtrack so far? You probably did, I did not, I passed it on to Nicole, and she’s listened to it at school all week. In case you are slow on the zeitgeist uptake like me, here’s the link, podnahs:

 

 

Scattergories (August 13-18, Columbia, MO)

I continue to struggle to report more frequently, but maybe it’s better if I let things build up. Some areas of my life into which great music wormed its way this week:

Spousal Relations

Nicole and I are two peas in a pod (metaphor not simile), and living with me, she stays pretty up to date on things. Sometimes it might not be her choice. However, she made a discovery this week that made me very happy.  She’s voluntarily given me charge of keeping her vehicle’s iPod full of goodies. Massive folders of New Orleans joys, Memphis grit, and Dead Moon/Pierced Arrows wailings I’ve already built I am not to touch again, but that leaves me about 2.5G. I’d constructed her a rap playlist, vowing to stick to irresistible stuff so she could get her mojo going more easily on her drive out to school. We were riding together when this shuffled out:

Turns out she wasn’t familiar with the Dirt Dog, Big Baby Jesus, the late lamented O…D…to the motherfuckin’ B! Her expression registered both shock and delight at his unchained style (how well I remember the same feeling!). I explained that he reliably stole every track he ever guested on, that he’d stepped on a rainbow–I saw a wave of sadness sweep over her face–and that…well…there’s more where that come from. This very morning we repeat played “Ghetto Superstar” for his bars, and coming soon will be his levitation of “Woo Hah! Got You All in Check!” on the remix tip.

We also followed our informal Friday night ritual of a pizza, a pitcher, and some platters. We get comfy in the living room and stack a few CDs in the changer, then shut up and listen. Nicole’s better at being quiet than I am–sometimes both my enthusiasm and my teacher tendencies–“OK, now who do you think that is on sax? Yes, you do too know who that is?”–can interfere. Aretha’s passing has hit us hard like it has most music nuts, and we chose to concentrate on her Atlantic debut I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You and the later Lady Soul. I’d put ’em up against any great album you can name for the overwhelming amount of fine, sublime details. If I get started on them, I’ll never stop, but here were our two highlights:

School

I am about to step back in front of my freshman comp / pop music class for another semester, and I never like doing things the same way twice. I’ve been brainstorming, but haven’t gotten far–there’s so much I can do, it’s hard to focus, and if I have a demon, it’s that. All I’ve decided so far is to spend some time on Day 1 off-syllabus to find out how they listen to and write about music with something responsive, probably to (duh) a carefully selected Aretha piece. Maybe they will have had too much Re by Tuesday, when class begins; maybe I’ll employ Mitski, The Internet, JLin, or Lori McKenna; maybe I’ll use the never-has-failed clip of Anita O’Day at Newport ’58. Just something to draw them out and force them to furrow their brows. Probably not anyone named Minaj–that might seem desperate. It’s a women’s college, so I like to keep women in the forefront, but hearing this masterpiece over the closing credits of an Atlanta episode (we’ve just begun watching it, slow, sorry) has me currently tempted to lead with it–it’s about a great woman, after all:

Friends

We met our friends Brock, Annell, and George to take in the current big screen preparation of Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special at one of the local theaters. I’d been on tenterhooks waiting to see it for the umpteenth time, this time with brighter colors (surely it would be restored!) and even more vibrant and powerful sound (surely the soundtrack would be remastered!). No, and no. Should have known better, considering the last, oh, forty years of Presley puke-up (sorry, it hasn’t been that bad, but nor has it quite approached mediocrity). In addition to the lazy preparation, the special was preceded by an awkward co-interview between producer Steve Binder and a very Madame Tussaud-looking Priscilla Presley that revealed little not already known, and followed by a gag reel in which 80% of the content was in the actual show. Somebody needs to look up the definition of gag reel; it was like a cinematic Having Fun with Elvis on Stage. They’d have been wise not to fuck with the actual special, but of course that was where they expended extra effort. I didn’t say smart effort. We did get to see some never-officially-viewed footage, but more frequently the additions didn’t make sense–and one subtraction was downright blockheaded: whose idea was it to CUT the opening to the black-leather-concert “One Night with You,” where Elvis experiences a flash of inspiration and says, “I think I’ll put a strap on this and stand up!”? It’s a great moment in rock and roll television: the strap fails, Elvis has to think quickly–and transitions into the “dirty” original version of Smiley Lewis’ song, then titled “One Night of Sin.” Instead, the new edit begins right after all that has happened. I’d include the full version here, but guess what? It’s not even on YouTube! Anyway, we did still enjoy it (probably everyone else more than I, since I was, I guess, laying for it, just waiting for the honchos to fuck it up)–because it’s hard to kill The King:

Also, my New Orleans pals Clifford and Robert sent me some gems via Dropbox. They are among my wisest and most broad-minded friends when it comes to music, and they’re overflowing with stories, too. From the former I received a mesmerizing tango album from 2007, Daniel Telingo’s Maldito Tango, that I’ve already played twice in the last 36 hours:

From the latter, who has been extraordinarily generous lately by also hipping me to numerous Brazilian musicians I was shame-facedly unfamiliar with, I received an infusion of rare tracks by the great Southern soul man and songwriter Dan Penn, whom we both admire:

Reading

I’ve been digging into the short fiction and non-fiction of Tennessee writer William Gay, and I just finished his neat reminiscence of Bob Dylan’s entry into his life, and the resulting social fallout he encountered. From my previous readings (the haunting Southern noir Twilight and a passel of short stories), I wouldn’t even have imagined Gay had been a Dylan fan. His fictional presence is McCarthian; I had assumed he might have set his musical bar sky-high, not that that’s a barrier to the man from Hibbing, but still. Anyway, “The Man in the Attic” is very charming–not a typical Gay quality–and very true. It can be found in the collection Time Done Been Won’t Be No More, which if you do Kindle Unlimited is at your fingertips, and which features some additional excellent music writing. Recommended to any Dylan fan, and it will prompt you into the stacks.

Purchases

If you’ve been reading me, you know I’ve been struggling to cut down on buying physical media–at least CDs, but I am fond of them, too. This week I bought two early Moe Bandy CDs from Amazon that I thought must be reissues, but I must have been distracted from reading carefully when I did the clickin’–they are those nefarious “ripped from vinyl” items that the website actually offers. Album art: check. Song list: check. Nothing else. No notes, no record label, no source info. At least I didn’t already have one of them (It Was Always So Easy to Find an Unhappy Woman Until I Started Looking for Mine); I’d already ripped my vinyl copy of I Just Started Hating Cheating Songs Today to digital myself! Dumkopf!

(The guy had a way with album covers.)

I also bought–oh, about 40 years too late (the story of my life, perhaps even my birth)–Murder by Guitar, a compilation of singles by the San Francisco punk band Crime. I knew about them from Sonic Youth’s cover of their “Hot Wire My Heart,” then got very belatedly reminded I needed to check into their work early this week after finishing Alice Bag’s terrific memoir Violence Girl–by the way, her 2018 album Blueprint is seriously underrated. So, I hit Discogs, ordered said comp, it arrived in a flash, and damn, folks, if you need a dose of serrated-edge punk rock and you didn’t know much about ’em either, act now. They sound to me like obvious precursors of what’s come to be called garage punk (nicely documented by New Bomb Turk Eric Davidson in his book on the genre, We Never Learn). Very, very exciting:

 

 

 

School’s Out, With Uncle Jam (May 23rd, 2018, Columbia, MO)

George

Today was Nicole’s first day of “summer”–her first day of liberation from her honorable, rewarding, fun, but demanding public school job as a special education liaison between Columbia’s Battle High School and the district’s career center. I have three jobs, but I’m very part-time, very (and somewhat uncomfortably) retired, and my “year” ended on May 3–so I’d had three weeks of slovenliness, sweats, and sounds cranked to seven (I can no longer go to eleven), and it was only fair that I provide her with the music she needed.

“So…we’ve got the afternoon. What would you like to hear, my dear?” I proffered, not intending that quite inappropriate Marvin Gaye pun, over a Main Root ginger beer and Four Roses.

“Hmmm…I don’t know…you suggest something.”

See, this is a frequent dynamic in the Overeem home. I respect it, but it’s difficult to negotiate. I can awaken at 4:30 a.m., stretch, and put on some Charles Gayle at relatively high volume, then proceed with getting back under the covers, reading the news, wishing folks a happy birthday on Facebook, and more lazy awakening rituals. Like most sane and well-adjusted people who are in a relationship, Nicole likes to be consulted before I put anything on the box, but frequently she doesn’t have anything in mind–we do have 10,000 records in the house, supplemented by the full range of streaming services–and asks me for suggestions. At that point, I will default to her pleasure points (Sister Rosetta, ’50s Chicago-style electric blues, Dinah Washington, New Orleans r&b, Dead Moon/Pierced Arrows), and sometimes she’ll just give me a genre or say, “Something not too annoying.” I usually do OK within those boundaries, but should I, after several months of compliance, pick out some music without prior consultation, she will detect the transgression–even if I pick, oh, the irresistible Al Green’s Call Me.

This being a very liberated space for her, I suggested carefully. I knew she wanted something great, something not whiny, something with some power, humor, and rhythm, something to get into (yesterday) an origami groove to.

“George Clinton?”

“Bring it on.”

This entry is short and sweet, but I will close with a playlist that replicates what we jammed to for an hour or so while she folded and kept an eye on her “crockpot lasagna.” The origami, the food, and the vibe? All good. Liberating, shall we say?

There are more great songs from Clinton’s Capitol solos than the ones on the playlist–but I had to keep the groove movin’, and they’d have caused it to stutter a bit. Listening again for the umpteenth time in thirty-plus years, I am moved by Uncle Jam’s commitment not just to The One but also to GUITARS–and I wish I’d understood that “Nubian Nut” was a Fela tribute back in ’83 when I bought “You Shouldn’t-Nuff Bit Fish.”

Short-shrift Division:

Marc Sinan & Oğuz Büyükberber: White–Trouble with Apple Music is it doesn’t supply much artist or recording information.

 

 

 

Tuesday’s Tunes: Random Rekkids (May 22nd, 2018, Columbia, MO)

No real method to my madness but freely associative listening:

Nilssen-Love, on percussion, and Gustafssen, on baritone sax, justify the seemingly silly title with an enthusiastic conversation of snorts, snuffles, rattles, honks, and grunts–but no calls to move to the guest bedroom.

 

Fat Tony, irrepressible Houston MC, rides synth-throbs and lets loose his girl-crazy mind spray on this charming, catchy, out-of-step platter.

 

You’ll not find a more stunning family-affair jazz session than this, with eminent trumpeter, composer, and teacher Dennis Gonzalez and his sons Aaron and Stefan sounding surprise on 19 instruments, including many upon which they overlap. Dallas-Fort Worth: if you know not, a fertile jazz ground. Pick to click with ya: “Hymn for Julius Hemphill” (a fellow Texan). Here’s a live version:

 

Kevin Gates is a hip hop figure my relationship with whom is complicated, but his first single since he’s gained his freedom from incarceration is pretty…do they still say dope? Also, I hear some contrition in his tone here, if not elsewhere. Chained to the City is just an EP, but it bodes well; I am rooting for the man solely because of an experience I had once at Fat Tuesday’s, a New Orleans daiquiri bar, with TouchTunes, Gates’ “Two Phones,” and one of the shop’s servers.

 

To be honest, after this Cincy band’s last record and recent 45, I was prepared for a letdown. I love their playing, singing, and songwriting, but Forever Sounds now sounds to me like an honorable retreat. Be that as it may, I didn’t finish listening to the whole of their new record–but I loved the first six tracks, the last of which is a cover they’ve been doing for awhile that’s taken on relevance, and resonance. And they’ve been doing for a while. Doing well. It’s rock and roll by adults.

 

Short-shrift Division:

Lightnin

Mr. Sam from Houston town, pretty early, but with spidery, searching style fully formed (click the pic). Hear him on piano, too.

It was Nicole’s last day of school, so when she arrived home for a two-month reprieve from the public school trenches, I was waiting with two a propros tracks:

Note: seekers after discs that just keep on giving through the years might wanna keep their eyes peeled for the one from which that last track came. It looks like this:

Blue falmes

 

 

Random Rekkids Day (April 2, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

zzlordhavemercythesou_101b

Today was a Random Rekkids Day–these happen when my other foci are unbreakable. I was back to work after a spring break staycation; I had a bit of planning to do for my students’ research unit; I had students and peers wandering in and out of my office for conversation; we had to hustle to get our walk on before rain hit; we were an episode behind in Jessica Jones (a little goofy in Season Two with its amateur–and professional–sleuthing ridiculousness). As Nicole offered, if Jessica farted once it might smack the series upside the head. A wet bourbon fart.

Anyway, I did listen to some stuff. I have Rhino’s nice two-disc Love Story, ’95 vintage, loaded out in The Lab, which documents the rise and fall of that unique Los Angeles band. I’m quite a fan, but I hadn’t broken them out for awhile, and I deeply enjoyed their progress from the faintly menacing Bacharach-David cover (it’s the bass line, and something about Lee’s way of ending the last word of the chorus) “My Little Red Book” to “Stephanie Knows Who,” which peers over the ridge into the valley of Forever Changes. It was like starting a night with cheap beer, taking someone up on some mescaline, grumbling “Nothing’s happening!” then feeling the green fuses that drive the flowers sprout from your pores. In a purely music-metaphorical sense…

I also finally got to a wondrous gospel compilation my garrulous yet curmudgeonly friend Clifford passed along to me, Lord Have Mercy: The Gospel Soul of Checker Records. Consistently spot-on through 27 cuts, my current favorites are “Soon I Will Be Done,” by the East St. Louis Gospelettes, the political gospel blues “I’m Fighting for My Rights,” by Lucy Rodgers,” the true gospel-soul “Lend Me a Hand,” by The Kindly Shepherds,” and the street-stalking “Crying Pity and a Shame,” by the intense Salem Travelers. Please note: the post-Cooke Soul Stirrers and Detroit’s fabulous Violinaires are also on this comp, and they don’t match the obscurities, not quite. Essential.

Finally, I got home from work to find a used copy of Charlie Feathers: Get With It–Essential Recordings 1954-1969. I knew most of the material, and I had some of the songs already either on CD or in digital form. Honestly, I bought it because I have long admired Revenant’s reissue program and packaging: the art’s gonna be neat, the notes are gonna be eye-opening. The Feathers set, in one way, prophesied our current reissue boom, which labors mightily to make giants out of merely admirable (and/or quirky) (and definitely obscure) strivers, baiting shoppers with 180 gram vinyl editions, archival photos, and admirable and indefatigable scholarship, then crosses its fingers, hoping that (as is true in too many cases) they don’t notice the artists may have been obscure for a reason. The 42 cuts on the Feathers set include (to my ear) 10 indubitable classics, a couple worthy curiosities (including a strange vocal group stab), and a borderline historic but very, very loose pair of mess-arounds with North Mississippi hill country legend Junior Kimbrough (this is ’69). That’s about a third of the set; the rest (Feathers enthusiasts–and they are serious people–may shit here) are…meh. Still, the notes are courtesy of folks like Tosches, Guralnick, and (big kicker for me) Jim Dickinson.