I blew off the Drive-By Truckers, who were in town (the new one isn’t moving me yet). But it wasn’t all bad.
1) Lazy Lester: I’m a Lover Not a Fighter (Ace/Excello). God bless the Excello label and Jay Miller. The R&B, blues, and soul they released was distinctly country-flavored, with no small dose of Louisiana mixed in. The great Slim Harpo is their gold standard, but if you haven’t sampled Lester deeply, he’s callin’ your name. Drawling, behind the beat and taking his time, he waxed nearly as many memorable tunes as his label mate, prime among them “Sugar-Coated Love,” “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter,” and “Take Me in Your Arms” (all here). He also backed numerous other Excello artists, and is still out there on the road.
2) Chuck Carbo: “Second Line on Monday” and “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On”: Carbo was one of the finest and versatile but most underrated of NOLA’s r&b kings of the ’50s (when, primarily, he was the lead vocalist in The Spiders). My wife Nicole and I have been plotting a move to New Orleans (a surprise I am sure is not big to careful observers of these Top 10s), I’ve been reading Jeff “Almost Slim” Hannush‘s The Soul of New Orleans, and my research has happily turned up these two examples of Carbo’s longevity from the 1980s, when he put these songs on the permanent ‘OZ Mardi Gras playlist.
3) Khaira Arby: “La Liberty,” from Festival Au Desert: If you are a completely unabashed appreciator of beauty and passion in all musics, you NEED a chanteuse of Saharan desert blues sand-blasting through your speakers. Mariem Hassan would seem to rule the roost in this category, but this live track from one of Timbuktu’s last (pre-revolution) festivals shows Arby’s right on her heels. The whole rekkid’s amazing but hard to find; if you want to dip into the genre, a better starting point you cannot find.
Watch an entire Arby concert on NPR:
4) Big Star: Third/Sister Lovers (Rykodisc): It takes a special occasion for me to put this on in my ma-toor-ity, but Holly George-Warren’s excellent Alex Chilton bio caused me to pull it from the shelves, and it made for a weirdly pleasant lava-flow afternoon. Definitely as sui generis as anything this sui generis artist ever produced, and it’s got “codeine” stamped all over it. Jim Dickinson was at the controls, and that just made it worse/better. Enjoy the full damn album, courtesy of You Tube (I paid for mine):
5) Dead Moon: “Poor Born,” “40 Miles of Bad Road,” “54/40 or Fight”: The great Fred Cole, who’s hardcore commitment to DIY–in music, in life, in romance, in child-rearing–has spanned right on 50 years, has been recuperating from heart surgery over the past week, and I can’t get him off my mind. Mastermind behind The Weeds, Zipper, The Rats, The Range Rats, Dead Moon (THE ultimate cult punk band), and (currently) The Pierced Arrows, so down-to-earth he appeared at my high school for a free show, he deserves as much support as the cognoscenti can muster–so I played these three faves over and over. You should, too.
A vintage performance of “54/40 or Fight”:
6) Earl King with The Meters: Street Parade (Fuel): Perfect title for this pairing of two Crescent City institutions, one an influential guitarist (are you familiar with Jimi Hendrix, who covered one of his tunes?) and songwriter (did you know he wrote this?), the other an R&B instro act that often makes Booker T and the MGs sound…stiff. When your drummer is Ziggy Modeliste, a street parade will be in the mix.
7) Johnny Adams: There is Always One More Time (Rounder Heritage): They don’t call him “The Tan Canary” for nothing. Possessed of both a penetrating yet silky baritone as well as a shocking falsetto, Adams laid down stunning tracks on a fairly consistent basis from the late ’50s all the way into the lower reaches of the ’90s. This collects the best of his late phase. If you dig Sinatra, you have no excuse to ignore an exploration:
8) Mose Allison: Way of the World (Anti-): “An old man/Don’t get nuthin’ in the world these days.” Well, he didn’t write that, but he wrote the very similar line (and song) The Who made famous at Woodstock and on Live at Leeds. Too many folks slept on his last release, exquisitely produced by Joe Henry (who’s never done a job I haven’t admired), and are un-American for doing so. Mose is all precision on the keys and, as always, brainy on the lyrics, one of the best of which lauds his octogenarian brain–as long as there’s coffee available. A national treasure–give him his props, before the heartbeat stops.
9) Beausoleil: “Bessie’s Blues”/”I’ll Go Crazy”/”You Got to Move,” from From Bamako to Carencro: Not sure anything like this has been done in Cajun music, or any kind of Americana–a cover sequence moving through nuggets originally composed by surprising guiding lights John Coltrane, JB, and Mississippi Fred that doesn’t stumble once. The twin genius axes of Michael (fiddle) and David (guitar) Doucet are at peak levels of invention, passion, and dexterity. I’d try to link it, but, trust me: just buy it.
10) Sisyphus (Secretly Canadian): It’s tempting to dismiss this as sissy fuss, with Sufjan Stevens on hand and Serengeti continuing to threaten to waft away into the indie-sphere. But, at least to my ears, there’s something original and even encouraging in this almost-formula: Stevens (often) provides a plaintive frame for a more substantial and (at least relatively) gritty narrative/inner monologue/confession by ‘Geti. Son Lux lays down the beats, that last word one that gatekeepers would put in quotes. Just gotta say, it gets to me in a near-prophetic way: the ‘burbs and the urbs joining forces to try to communicate a complicated reality.