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.

Three Spaced Masterpieces by “The Hillbilly Dalai Lama” (February 25th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

PhasesSpiritDecember Day

My Sunday afternoon was graced by these three magical records recorded across forty years by Willie Nelson, the man accurately dubbed “The Hillbilly Dalai Lama” by Kinky Friedman. If Nelson had left nothing but these albums, he’d be in the pantheon; it’s truly awe-inspiring to consider that outside of these masterworks lay hundreds and hundreds of diamonds. I have often casually said to friends and students that Hank Williams wrote 50 of the 100 greatest country songs of all-time and he only lived to 29. In tranquility, and hypnotized by the man’s stunningly eloquent and accurate way into our moments of darkness and light, I think that Willie just picked up that mantle and extended it, as if to rebuke an unjust universe.

All three of these albums are humbly conceptual, the first two linked by the lyrical thread of Johnny Gimble’s fiddle, the last two by big sister Bobbie Nelson’s piano, all three by crack bands and Willie’s unmistakable acoustic guitar. Phases and Stages (1974) plumbs the heartbreak, humor, and illumination of both a woman’s and a man’s side of a break-up–taken outside the context of the concept, each of the songs is a classic, either major (“Bloody Mary Morning”) or minor (“Sister’s Coming Home” / “Down at the Corner Beer Joint”). Spirit (1996), sparer, drumless, linked mostly by the instrumental passages titled “Matador” and “Mariachi,” meditates on loss and perseverance, and its songs, perhaps, rely on each other for their eternal air. December Day (2014) is one of the most startling road-band studio recordings I’ve ever heard. The concept’s pretty simple, and seems to have come from Bobbie: as she’s quoted as asking in the studio, “Why not record our favorite songs like we play them for ourselves?” It works–the listener does feel like he’s eavesdropping on a little corps of musicians (on a family of musicians) laying back and sharing what’s always made them happiest. In that way, December Day might be the most successful of the three, and its song list may well have been assembled much more casually than the others’: three Irving Berlins, a Reinhardt, a Jolson, “Mona Lisa,” and “Ou-es tu, mon amour” surrounding several old Nelson copyrights (for example, “Permanently Lonely,” ’63) and a couple of very poignant–and dryly funny–new ones  (“I Don’t Know Where I Am Today,” “Amnesia,” and “Laws of Nature,” of which the Dalai Lama himself would surely approve). The effect is confidently valedictory: “This is the stuff I’ve loved all my life, and, by the way, do you notice how my stuff stands up in the American pop canon?” Not too valedictory, as it turns out, as Willie’s released several albums since then, and probably has more in the chute. I don’t doubt that he might also have another masterpiece in him, and that it’ll be 2028 before we know it.

Dig in:

Short-shrift Division:

Otis Redding: Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul–Willie got me hankering for more mastery, and when I called this up on Apple Music I was stunned by what sounds like an expert aural restoration.

Swamp Dogg: Gag A Maggot–“Just call me wife-sitter / I’m a mighty happy critter! / Don’t be bitter / ‘Cause I’m wit’ her….”

Pan Afrikan People’s Arkestra (Horace Tapscott, conductor–and pianist): Flight 17–I have yet to hear a Tapscott-associated album I didn’t love, and this is no exception. It’s wayyyy out of print, so I had to throw my bobber out on Discogs Lake and wait for twitch…and wait…and wait. But was it worth it! Recorded at Los Angeles’ Immanuel United Church of Christ, it’s a large group recording of power and delicacy, with no Tapscott compositions but two strong ones by the departed honoree (pianist Herbert Baker), one by saxophonist Sabir Mateen (who’s on board, and how), and a winning foray through a Coltrane medley.

 

“So What If I Did?” (February 21, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

“‘So what if I did?’ she said / ‘So what if I did? / I don’t want to account to you– / I don’t wanna account to no one!'” That’s the opening line of the Thelonious Monster album Stormy Weather (coupled on a great two-fer CD with its predecessor Next Saturday Afternoon, linked above), which I hungrily revisited yesterday. There’s something about Bob Forrest’s gutter-snipe whine that’s always struck me as tough, and oddly soulful, and something about his best lyrics that reflect a preoccupation with being held accountable. Sure: in many of his early songs (I’d prefer to forget “Why Don’t You Blow Me and the Rest of the Band?”), his sentiments are punk-callow or worse. But a broad and deep listen, which this CD facilitates, reveals a singer and writer who doesn’t want anything that comes easy, who likes honest admissions and the problems they set up. The response he puts in the mouth of the persona of “So What If I Did”? “I guess you don’t remember what we had / Maybe–maybe–you forgot.” Later on down the records, there are problems not just anyone wrote about: a wayward son fathered in a moment’s passion and ready to square off; a relationship gone very bad but not over yet (“We’ll both feel so relieved / When I walk out the door!”); a parent blithely writing off uprooting a family to “property values”; the fact that Lena Horne is still having to sing “Stormy Weather”; the realization that maybe Paul Westerberg didn’t walk on water. Those are just a few of the conundrums Forrest posed for himself to grapple with. Even when he wasn’t coming up with his own, he didn’t mind covering Tracy Chapman (not the cool move for a Cali punk rocker in the mid-Eighties–not the easy move!), who provided for him a conundrum of her own: two weeks in a Virginia jail for her lover. Even when confronting the emptiness of rock (and maybe of America’s promise to underclass kids), like Forrest does behind the seemingly easy humor of “Sammy Hagar Weekend,” he’s not only cold-eyed, but ultimately compassionate. I’d argue there’s an empathetic ache behind that chorus of “We’re gonna drink some beer / Smoke some pot / Snort some coke / And drive / Drive over 55!” That’s all there is? Maybe–and maybe we thought so, too.

In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to understand how Forrest gravitated toward counseling others as they strove for sobriety: no chance of it happening any easy way.

I love Bob Forrest’s writing and singing. They just don’t age, to my ear, and they never fail to…inspire me. I mean, I’m not sure many folks would place these albums (especially Stormy Weather) next to Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits on the shelf you reserve for your never-fail restoratives, but I’ve drunk deep and keep coming back.

I am dedicating this blog post to my friend Eric Johnson, who is the only person I know who is as much a fan of Bob as I am, and without knowing it has encouraged loyalty to the man.

Short-shrift Division (Bandcamp “Let The Music Do the Talkin'” Edition):

Winner of my award for the 2017 Album That Just Won’t Quit. I can’t say enough how terrific it is. Guest starring Spider Stacey, Dickie Landry, and some strange and beautiful textures.

I am sure there’s bad music that’s been (and is being) made in Brazil, but there’s a whole lot more that’s irresistibly quirky, attractively off, and eminently danceable. One more in that seemingly inexhaustible tradition.

 

 

 

“Jazz is a globalized African American freedom vehicle”: Nicole Mitchell (February 19th, Columbia, Missouri)

Again, I had a very busy day reading, hanging out, watching movies, and welcoming back one of our outdoor cats who’d been on a walkabout–little time to listen. BUT I was able to bend a long-promised ear more intently to the wonderful, exploratory jazz of Ms. Nicole Mitchell, former president of the AACM, current professor of music at the University of California-Irvine, and jazz flautist and composer deluxe.

I’d listened to her Mandorla Awakening II–Emerging Worlds several times last year, and her interstellar settings (very much in the path of the great Sun Ra), magnanimity (there’s always as much space for her collaborators as she makes for herself–often more), feeling for poetry (both literal and figurative), and her activism (explicit or not, her work is always addressing the struggle) consistently hit me hard in the solar plexus.

Yesterday, for the first time, I took in her Intergalactic Beings album, and this cut stuck with me for most of the day:

 

I was also dazzled by both Mitchell’s playing, composition and band leading and (the great jazz bassist) Alan Silva’s artistic contributions to this video from Mandorla Awakening II:

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

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

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

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

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

Short-shrift Division:

Sharkey

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

Roxy Music: Stranded