“The Rhythm, The Rebel!” (June 17th, 2018, Monett, MO)

Since I’m on va-cay and out of pocket, I’m departing from my newly-established Sunday ritual of Spotifying the week’s listening and sharing another project I’m working on that might benefit and enlighten you and me.

I’m two chapters into Chris Weingarten’s so-far stellar 33 1/3 offering on Public Enemy’s Nation of Millions. I’ve read a passel of ’em; this is vying for my favorite, though it’s perhaps a shade too glib and overwritten. One neat thing Weingarten does is focus on the construction process behind a highly constructed album that, due to the profusion of samples the Bomb Squad layered in, couldn’t conceivably be made today, even by a moneybags like Jay Z.

What I decided to do was, chapter by chapter, include all the sample sources, influential tracks, and highlights in a YouTube playlist as a reading supplement. Needless to say, it’s under construction, but it’s already 29 tracks deep and is enjoyable independent of the book.

For our edification, enjoyment, or both:

Aaaaaand…this week’s awards!

Plucked from History’s Dustbin (best recent purchase of an old record): Everything But The Girl’s Amplified Heart.

Grower, Not a Shower (old record I already owned that’s risen in my esteem): Bettye LaVette’s relatively new Things Have Changed.

Encore, Encore! (album I played at least twice this week): Big Youth’s Screaming Target.

Through the Cracks (sweet record I forgot to write about): Busdriver’s Electricity is On Our Side.

Songwriters’ Special (May 8th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Nothing special on this day–other than the songs. I experienced a sudden craving for pithy, 2-to-3-minute country songs, which sometimes get crowded out by my striving to hear everything, stay on top of new releases, and the ascension of jazz as my musical respite of choice. Used to be, around here, that every weekend, especially Saturdays and Sundays, country was always on the box; the friends we saw regularly were also dedicated to the stuff, as well as drinking beer and yelling along with songs. We’re older, busier, and many of our boon companions are raising kids. As well, though there’s plenty of good country songwriting, the singers seem safer–better for them, not so much for the music, and us.

I guess I experienced a flash of reminiscence and had to go back to the well. And in the well was some golden elixir: tales told by a gravedigger suddenly $40 poorer, a daughter realizing that time’s snatched her mourning, a Stetson-less Texan who’s just as big as you are, a heartbroken lover demanding the taverns close so his baby can’t get in, a rounder whose eighth-grade education doesn’t mean he was born yesterday, a leather-clad redhead whom Death gifts a motorcycle, a murderous cuckold lost in the cave of his crime, a scared greenhorn who can’t find the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge…that’s just scratching the surface, but how can one resist their stories.

I’ve prepared a playlist with some highlights. The singers aren’t always the songwriters, but in those cases the songwriters show up as singers later in the playlist. I recommend this to readers who think they don’t like country, or who are startin’ to hate country (but still love cowboy songs).

Short-shrift Division:

Free jazz I find hard to shake. I listened to the whole of David S. Ware’s Live in The World: three discs of sweeping, dramatic music within which Ware and his pianist Matthew Shipp vie to snatch your heart out of your chest. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard this band take “The Way We Were” into the cosmos; they also push Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite” off the edge of the planet, and Ware’s own “Aquarian Sound” and “Mikuro’s Blues” hold their own with both. A terrific intro to a tenor saxophonist who was gone too soon (the artistic offspring of Ben Webster and Pharoah Sanders!) and a classic quartet that was fairly inarguably the turn of the century version of Trane’s. No shit.

Literary/Photographic Note:

Billie Holiday fans are directed to check out Jerry Dantzic: Billie Holiday at Sugar Hill, a collection of Dantzic’s 1957 photographs of Holiday assembled by Dantzic’s son Grayson. The book opens with a blazing Zadie Smith story in which she inhabits Holiday’s gone soul and looks back on its final days; I advise listening to Smith read it–the inhabitation reaches beyond the written word. Half of Dantzic’s photos capture the singer so incandescently that it’s unfathomable that she’d be dead within the next year; the other half suggest that a termite loneliness is eating her from within. A haunting collection.

Many Things, Uncompromised–My Favorite Records of 2018, A Third the Way Out (April 28th, 2018)

Damn–50 solid records already and we ain’t half finished? I’d say that’s a solid rebuke to the sourpusses who are ever pronouncing our music a corpse. And I’d go a mite further and say the list also incorporates a rebuke to those knicker-twisted souls who are wondering when our music is gonna take on, you know, the thing–several of the slabs listed below do so and how, without spoiling their sounds (politics can do that, you know). Take a dive into something below that’s mysterious, I invite you.

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  1. Tracy Thorn: Record
  2. Nona Hendryx and Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart
  3. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair
  4. Joe McPhee: Imaginary Numbers
  5. Chloe x Halle: The Kids are Alright
  6. Quelle Chris & Jean Grae: Everything’s Fine
  7. Berry: Everything, Compromised
  8. CupcaKe: Ephorize
  9. Mary Gauthier and Songwriting with Soldier: Rifles and Rosary Beads
  10. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen is a Reptile
  11. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
  12. JPEGMAFIA: Veteran
  13. Superchunk: What A Time to Be Alive
  14. Evan Parker, Barry Guy, and Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman
  15. Rapsody: Laila’s Wisdom
  16. Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
  17. Sly & Robbie and Nils Petter Molvaer: Nordub
  18. Orquesta Akokan: Orquesta Akokan
  19. Jonghyun: Poet / Artist
  20. Halu Mergia: Lalu Balu
  21. Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg
  22. Various Artists/Sahel Sounds: Field Recordings
  23. Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes
  24. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
  25. Various Artists: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…and Rights!!!
  26. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut
  27. Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
  28. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
  29. Dana Murray: Negro Manifesto
  30. Shopping: The Official Body
  31. Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara
  32. Kris Davis and Craig Taborn: Octopus
  33. Tal National: Tantabara
  34. Shame: Songs of Praise
  35. Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens
  36. David Murray (featuring Saul Williams): Blues for Memo
  37. Rich Krueger: Life Ain’t That Long
  38. Alice Bag: Blue Print
  39. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
  40. MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk
  41. Tallawit Timbouctou: Takamba WhatsApp 2018
  42. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys
  43. Kendrick Lamar, et al: Black Panther—Music from and Inspired by the Film
  44. Apolo: Live in Stockholm
  45. Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red
  46. Superorganism: Superorganism
  47. Yo La Tengo: There’s a Riot Goin’ On
  48. Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet: Landfall
  49. Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here?
  50. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio

OLD MUSIC NICELY REPACKAGED

  1. Sonny Rollins: Way Out West (Deluxe Reissue)
  2. Neil Young: Roxy—Tonight’s the Night
  3. Gary Stewart: “Baby I Need Your Loving” / “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day”
  4. The Revelators: In which the Revelators perform live renditions of selections from the Billy Childish songbook
  5. Against All Logic: 2012-2017
  6. Entourage: Ceremony of Dreams—Studio Sessions & Outtakes 1972-1977
  7. Camarao: The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie

A Playlist of the Top 30 or So

Oh…and fuck Kanye West.

Square and Straight (April 26th, 2018, Columbia, MO)p

I believe today was the third time I’ve listened to to this record in 2018. I’ve worn it out over the years, and 36 years since I first was able to lay my hands on it–it was out of print during my formative years–my enthusiasm for it is undimmed. For a time, it was my least favorite of the four regular-issue “true Velvets” studio albums (plus the deep, deep desert-island-pick 1969 Velvet Underground Live): I used to feel Nico’s presence and the last two tracks really marred it, as well as that Lou’s writing was far improved by The Velvet Underground and Loaded. In fact, I wondered why it seemed to be the most famous VU album of them all–they clearly got better, right?

My love for The Velvet Underground and Nico has evolved. Though my musical tastes are very wide-ranging, and though I have a hunger for any work of art about unexplored and taboo territory– epater la bourgeoisie, bring it on!–I am honestly one of the squarest, straightest dudes on the planet. The mere existence of BDSM culture makes me giggle; I’d never shoot anything into my arm (gimme a beer!); I’ve never encountered a dealer except for a few brief seconds up the street from Poe’s old walk-up in Baltimore (I giggled and waved him away); my gender and sexual identities might as well be birthmarks (for the record, sometimes I think they actually are for us, but sometimes most definitely not). I guess what I’m saying is, though I love Lou’s writing in general, and on this album appreciate its expressions of remorse, compassion, insecurity, desperation, catharsis, and epiphany, I’m definitely not as stimulated by the subject matter he presents on this album as I used to be. I also used to think his artistic persona was the pinnacle of cool, and that the personae he created for his songs were pure genius; just engaging with those inventive illusions was extremely exciting, since I had a slim chance of meeting such folks in reality. I am not demeaning these past enthusiasms–they are the output of genius, a genius I still think had more amazing creations ahead.

What I go to The Velvet Underground and Nico for these days is the noise, from Cale’s celeste on “Sunday Morning” to Nico’s three drones (I don’t hear them as singing, I hear them as pure sound) to my favorite rhythm guitars in music history (true for me throughout this group’s recordings) to the breaking glass and vacuum cleaner-like sounds in “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” Threaded throughout: that ominous Cale viola–on “Venus in Furs,” it sounds as if it’s advance fanfare for Yeats “rough beast” slouching toward Bethlehem. It’s the sound that’s most exciting, and most original, especially since its abrasions, distortions, and explosions are integrated into palatable pop structures (for the most part), including a Motown rip. I usually get up to turn up the stereo when “Death Song” and “European Son” approach; I admit I used to skip that pair fairly frequently, and now they’re fave raves.

More than anything else on this immortal record, the noises are what meaningfully jolt me out of myself these days. Pure pleasure might be counterrevolutionary; does that mean impure pleasure is revolutionary? In this case, the impurities are those committed against euphony, an artistic crime I’ve come to treasure that reminds me of the limits of a square and straight ear.

Roky

I also spent some time with Restless Records’ You’re Gonna Miss Me: The Best of Roky Erickson. Though it does not include Roky’s groundbreaking work with The 13th Floor Elevators, it’s a neat, well-selected single-disc tour of the man’s demented but often moving solo work. I’ve said it before, and I know I’ll say it again: Erickson is in the top strata of history’s white rock and roll singers–yep, he belongs with Jerry Lee, Elvis…name your own top four and just add this Austinian. His range extended from blood-curdling screams to sweet, lullabye-like Hollyisms; in the spaces between, he could drive an uptempo number to a Little Richard-level intensity, and always present was a hint of his Texas drawl–don’t you like to hear place in a singer’s attack? None of those qualities would have mattered much if he didn’t also write indelible, dream-invading songs that would have occurred to no one else. I imagine most folks would chalk up their unique strangeness to mental illness; I have no research to support this, but I’d like to believe that, at least on some level, Erickson was engaged in a conscious, intentional creative process that had nothing to do with his psychological state or the drugs that might have been in his system (at the time of creation, or prior). I might have actually reached for this compilation because its contents tend to make better sense in Trump’s America:

Hmmm…maybe not so loony after all, eh?

Short-shrift Division:

Called upon on my Facebook wall to “explain” Wayne Cochran, I got caught up in some clips of the mightily-coiffed Sixties stage-shaker, who mos def was James Brown-influenced (to say the least, perhaps) but definitely had his own kind of thing. Enjoy this quick Cochran playlist, and pass the hairspray:

I’ve Got Just About Everything (April 26th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Bob Dorough, Arkansas native, agile pianist, crafty songwriter, wry and affecting singer, passed away at 94.

It’s weird. I’d just been thinking recently about him, wondering how he was doing. The world loves him mostly as the mastermind behind Schoolhouse Rock; legions of teachers, I assure you, envy the economical yet specific effectiveness with which he educated a generation about grammar, math, civics, and more. Some know he teamed, rather unaccountably but very successfully, with Miles Davis, particularly on a timeless Christmas original. Jazz buffs know him as, among other things, a bit of a Hoagy Carmichael 2.0, for “Baltimore Oriole,” “Johnny One-Note,” and “Devil May Care.” He’s famous with me personally for his witty and true “Love (Webster’s Dictionary Definition)” and his torch-carrying for the regular white guy vocal tradition begun by such humble and soulful folks as Tommy Duncan, Jack Teagarden, and Carmichael, and extended radically forward by Peter Stampfel and other eccentrics.

YouTube does not have Dorough well-covered, nor does Spotify. Do me and yourself and Bob’s memory a kindness and seek out the zingy, delightful Too Much Coffee Man, the rare and revelatory This is a Collection of Pop Art Songs (with the definitive “Love”), and the surprising early ’70s 45rpm EP Rainy Day Garden, under the 44th Portable Flower Factory moniker, featuring Dylan, Tempts, and Youngbloods covers.

Please honor his life and career by sampling this playlist. That is all.

ILC: I Reminisce Over You (April 7th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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I have been tearing through David Peisner’s Homey Don’t Play That!: The Story of In Living Color and The Black Comedy Revolution.  I highly recommend it; it’s full of insights about both threads of the subtitle, and Peisner presents his findings in a very balanced manner, letting both a wealth of both major and minor players tell the story, then drawing his conclusions from that. Long about page 190, Peisner recalls the show’s then-choreographer Rosie Perez’s efforts to bring live music to the show (Keenan Ivory Wayans claims that was always going to happen, but I’m more convinced by rap music’s explosion on the show’s stage coinciding, more or less, with Perez’s arrival). This took me way back to the days that we (my wife, my few rap-oriented friends, and I) watched the show religiously, and how permanently their East Coast-leaning guests affected our taste, though I never could get much of a conversation going with my mid-Missouri 10th graders, who were West Coast fans all the way.

I was planning on finishing the book, but my repeated jumps to YouTube to watch clips (of the musical guests and the classic bits) foiled that goal. However, for your (and my) pleasure and convenience, here’s a playlist of ILC‘s hip hop highlights–at least the ones which have been uploaded:

Short-shrift Division:

Orquesta Akokán’s self-titled debut is fabulous. If you like Cuban music, the band’s a mix of young and old, and while on first listen you’re going to think the band’s playing classics, the material’s all original. The sessions took place in Havana, at the legendary state-run Arieto Studio, which reputedly was designed to get the most out of percussion instruments–especially congas and bongos. The evidence supports that claim. In my Top 20 for 2018, easily.

Nicole and I also attended Battle High School’s Pride Prom in the evening. Nicole had volunteered for supervision (she’s the district career center’s liaison to Battle) and I said I’d keep her company–honestly, I was planning on finishing the book! Fortunately, the event was too exciting to miss in favor of reading; it was very well-attended, the kids (and adults) were clearly having a blast, and the centerpiece was a drag show featuring participants from all of Columbia’s public schools. All the queens were energized and fun to watch, but the fifth of five contestants, Black Icing, knocked the crowd dead. Victory was by audience applause, and there was no doubt who reigned supreme.

I’d report the music, but, um, I guess I’m too disconnected from the charts since I only recognized one of the songs (and couldn’t name that one), and Battle is a concrete and steel fortress that forbids Shazaming. When I got home and started to look it up, of course, I instantly remembered it. A great choice it was:

Anyhow, as a southwest Missouri boy who taught in this red state’s public schools across four decades, I found myself shaking my head at the spectacle, in awe, amazement, joy, and HOPE. If that event is happening here, perhaps we are not completely lost.

Never Forgetting / Doin’ The Peanut Duck–wait WHAT? (April 4th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

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Perkins

Today marked 50 years from the day that one of the world’s greatest advocates for social justice, economic equality, and peace–a man who quite literally, in that advocacy, courted assault and death for at least a third of his life–was shot dead in Memphis. Say what you will about the range of theories: his assassination was a further iteration of this country’s power structure’s willingness to commit spectacle murder in order to protect itself. I’d like to think that since 1968 we’ve evolved; I’m far from sure.

In the Overeem house, we like to remember King and his impact on people across the American spectrum, and remind ourselves about the dangers inherent in public truth-telling, by playing George Perkins and The Silver Stars’ heartbreaking “Cryin’ in the Streets.” Perkins, though not credited, claimed and is generally believed to have written the lyrics about King’s funeral; the song, unsurprisingly, became a big regional hit and rose to #12 on the Billboard r&b chart. Few songs in the American canon penetrate as deeply into the country’s historic sorrow, and testify as eloquently to its original sin:

Also, it’s stayed relevant over the last half-century and, considering current social unrest and the lack of urgency our elected leaders have in addressing it, is bound to remain that way. Here is Buckwheat Zydeco’s differently heartbreaking rendition, recorded following the Katrina disaster–neither version would sound out of place being played, sung, or sung chanted for Stephon Clark and Saheed Vassell, just to name the most recent in the litany of black bodies robbed of lifeflow by those charged with protecting them:

 

I did reach for something later in the day to break angry, frustrated, and sorrowful thoughts: Rhino’s kaboodle-kontained girl group compilation One Kiss Leads to Another–Girl Grou Sounds Lost & Found. It’s most definitely one of the most prized presents my parents ever got me for Christmas, one I’m sure they thought was also one of the weirdest.

One Kiss.jpg

It’s four fabulous, and very consistent, discs of mostly unsung highlights from the girl group era. Though it does contain some acknowledged and not-so-obscure classics–The Exciters’ “He’s Got the Power,” The Shirelles’ Beatle-adored “Boys,” Brenda Holloway’s (Del-Fi version of) “Every Little Bit Hurts,” just to name a few–it very much justifies its existence by unearthing some unforgettable gems. My favorites from yesterday (they tend to change every time I break this set out):

Carole King: “He’s a Bad Boy”

Donna Lynn: “I’d Much Rather Be with the Girls” (written by two guys named Keith and Loog…)

Dee Dee Warwick: “You’re No Good” (it may be a certified masterpiece, but it’s not easy to locate, at least physically)

The Shangri-Las: “The Train from Kansas City”

Earl-Jean: “I’m Into Something Good”

P. P. Arnold: “The First Cut is the Deepest”

Dolly Parton: “Don’t Drop Out” (did she beat JB to that?)

The Egyptians: “Egyptian Shumba”

The Goodees: “Condition Red”

The Whyte Boots: “Nightmare”

Wanda Jackson: “Funnel of Love” (a bit of a ringer, but what the heck!)

The What Four: “I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy”

Marsha Gee: “Peanut Duck” (one of the great pop music mysteries–see below!*)

Hollywood Jills: “He Makes Me So Mad” (Not Hollywood–NOLA!)

Lesley Gore: “Brink of Disaster”

Gayle Harris: “They Never Taught Us That in School” (amazingly, non-existent on YouTube!)

The Ribbons: “Ain’t Gonna Kiss Ya”

The Pussycats: “Dressed in Black”

Here’s a convenient playlist containing (most of) the above:

About the only thing keeping this package from being perfect is the absence of the Pleasure Seekers’ “What a Way to Die”–if they could wedge in Wanda and Dolly and the Whyte Boots, they could make way for proto-punk Suzi Q.! Also: where’s Little Ann’s “Deep Shadows”! (I added them to the above playlist, FYI.)

*For about five minutes, I shut my office door and practiced “The Peanut Duck.” I recommend you take some time today to do so yourself, but I’ll warn you that “Marsha”‘s instructions are, um, esoteric to say the least. I mentioned a mystery, and straight from the set’s eye-popping and brain-expanding booklet, authored by Sheila Burgel, here it is, yet to be solved:

“At Virtue Sound Studio in Philadelphia, a mystery girl singer cut “Peanut Duck,” a feverish soul stomper that trailed the Loco-Motion, Mashed Potato, Twist trend. But the track was never released, and Marsha Gee was not the actual singer. The only proof of “Peanut Duck” lay in an acetate discovered by a British Northern Soul DJ who took the disc back to England and released it as a bootleg on Joker Records in the ‘80s. Not wanting his rival DJs to infringe upon his precious find, he christened the unknown singer Marsha Gee (who incidentally had a single out on Uptown Records in 1965). The true voice behind “Peanut Duck” has yet to be revealed. Anyone?”