Good to My Earhole: “Past Pupil Stay Sane…I’m Struggling My Damn Self.”

I have seriously been struggling to write about music. Not that I haven’t been listening; I’ve been applying it like a salve, but the words won’t come in the face of electoral surprise, four different little jobs adding up to one big one, weekend travel, and simply being silenced by the excellence of these artists and a lack of confidence in saying anything useful about them. Listening to TCQ’s new one for the fifth time in my truck cab today–especially to the song “Kids,” written to jolt them out of fantasy fixations–opened portals from my ear to my mind, and to my mind to the three fingers I type with.

Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Lift the Grief Magnets and Past Pupil Stay Sane – 9.0 – I am not sure why Mr. Lennon, punk-poet chronicler of life in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, released these two excellent new records separately, rather than as a pair (the title song of the latter is the final song of the former, so the transition is there), but I am sure that the States need their own version of the man. I recommended him to anyone who misses Joe Strummer (or wishes Ed Hamell hadn’t gone just a little soft); Jinx’s M.O. is to attack the demons that kill working-class folks alive, with his guitar (God’s in it), his beats, his lovable exhortations (he’ll plug in an enthusiastic “Yeah!” or a similar grunt to unhypnotize the sprog), his lyrics (spewed out with demotic eloquence as if they are continuations of a pub gab he’s just walked away from), and his spirit, which appears not easily depressed. Sample lyric, from “Silly Fkers”:  “When the people that you work with treat you like an old worn-out Anorak/And the walls of your house seem to constantly be laughing behind your back/And I look at you and you’re always trying to be the thing you’re always trying to be/It makes no difference at all ‘cos we’re all silly fkers, just a bunch of silly fkers/Point your telephones into deep outer space/We’re a billionth of a zillionth of a trillionth in significance in the whole of interstellar space/And still….” (My italics.) You’ll not find these in U. S. record stores, so hit up his Bandcamp site. You’ll also not find the song videoed above on either of these two releases, but I can testify it serves well as a daily mantra. Inspirational title: “Every Day Above Ground is a Good Day.” Holiday note: Jinx writes great Christmas songs, by the way, one of which is on Magic Bullets. Consumer Tip: If your budget confines you to purchasing just one–and I am hereby obligating you to do that–I’d opt for Past Pupil (really, though, it’s the best double album of 2016, and, yeah, I think Miranda’s is pretty damn good myself).

Sirone-Bang Ensemble: Configuration – 7.8 – The personnel: Billy Bang, my favorite jazz violinist behind Stuff Smith, a Viet Nam vet able to play inside or go out; Sirone, a bass player capable of distracting one from Cecil Taylor, which he proved on The Spring of Two Blue Js; Charles Gayle, a formerly homeless saxophonist who picks up where post-’65 Trane left off, at his best (for me, an exciting prospect); and a kid (at the time of release) named Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Bought it for the first three players; love it for the last, who holds everyone’s shit together and plays with amazing inventiveness, shifts effortless in and out of styles, and is quite obviously listening carefully (an essential in such sessions as these). He’s a known and feared master now; it’s fun to go back in time and hear him cutting heads, even though that is something he’d never deliberately have done.

Ann Peebles: Straight from the Heart – 10 – I strongly advise readers who are not familiar with this St. Louis, Missouri, native to change that by checking into Fat Possum’s LP reissues of her ’70s Hi recordings. Out of her “99 Pounds” comes a voice with serious bite and intensity: she adds a menace that contributes to her stealing “I Pity the Fool” from Bobby “Blue” Bland, and when she threatens to break up somebody’s home because she so tired of being alone, she’ll pull you up short as you suspect she means it. Stellar end-to-end, with that rhythm section you probably know so well from Al Green’s cuts from the same era, Willie Mitchell behind the board, and a line-up of classic soul songwriters (George Jackson, Denise LaSalle, Teenie Hodges, and, hey, Ms. Peebles herself) designing tunes to order.

Bobby Rush: Porcupine Meat – 8.0 – The randiest octogenarian in Southern music–he calls his brand “folkfunk,” and that nails it–answers the bells that supposedly toll for him with the best record he’s put out in years, with folks like Dave Alvin and Keb’ Mo’ leaning in with some solid help. I’ve read several reviewers complain that it’s too polished, but it is not: it’s just produced professionally–Rush is nothing if not professional–and that certainly doesn’t intrude on the vibe and fonk of songs like the title track, “Catfish Stew,” “It’s Your Move,” and “I Think Your Dress is Too Short.” What a Rush fan should be worried about is remakes, of which there are none here, though as per usual he lassos a few floating verses from the blues and soul canon. By the way, play it back to back with the Stones’ blues album (see below) or Meet Your Death and tell me which old dog blows the best harp, because all three players are on form.

Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – 9.5 – Yes, it’s really that good. A comeback album by old heads that is truly unprecedented in rap, the bulk of which was written a year ago, it sounds as if it were directly inspired by–in fact, written right after–November 8’s shattering event. Within the first six songs, the fact that there’s no space program for n****s is mourned, Mexicans, blacks, Muslims, the poor, and the bad “must go,” the old heads make a case for their generation–without letting it off the hook–to the current generation, and the latter “Kids,” shook by their lapels, are encouraged to abandon the “fantasy” of Mainstream Rap circa 2016 (if not USA circa 2016). I’ll leave the rest to you, but all the MCs (including the deceased one, who sounds tragically alive) have lost no flow, and the music throbs and boom-baps: really, the record is a plea (powered by beats and rhymes) that isn’t sure whether it should be aimed skyward or downwards. Outro: “The Donald.”

The Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome – 8.6 – They’ve resisted the “back to the roots” move for half a century, so they’ve earned the right to do it now. I think the production serves as a kind of sonic Viagra at times, but at the very least, this rekkid is a) a terrific blues harmonica showcase, just like Keith always dreamed Mick would unleash, b) a display of deep and loving mastery, and c) a parade of deep cuts that, other than perhaps Wolf’s “Commit a Crime,” only enthusiasts would know. Jolly good show, boys.

Jack Oblivian and The Sheiks: The Lone Ranger of Love – 8.7 – Third in a series of great garage-punk records issued this year; I’d rank it behind Tyler Keith‘s Do It For Johnny and Meet Your Death‘s eponymously titled debut (which is more garage-punk-blues). The one former Oblivian who’s relentlessly pursued the dirty noise ethic while out in soloville is also the one you need to watch your daughter around. He’s got quite a few moves (including a touch of honky-tonk), and a groove on Side Two.

Joe McPhee and Ray Boni: Live from The Magic City (Birmingham, Alabama) – 9.0 – The ageless, prolific jazz multi-instrumentalist McPhee (his late ’15 Candy is also going to make my year-end best-of list) teams with electric guitarist Boni for some of his most lyrical–and occasionally straight-ahead–playing in years. And dammit: if they can book him in Birmingham, they can book him in Columbia, Missouri.

Alicia Keys: Here – 8.8 – This is the year the queens of modern r&b knocked down my door, backed me into a corner, and forced me to submit. I have to admit: concepts, consciousness, commitment, and coherence are weapons against which I have little armor, and Keys, who I have appreciated but never much loved, uses them all with skill here. It’s not just about the lack of make-up; the vocal expression is the most unadorned and understated–yet, or thus, the most soulful of her career. Played it twice in a row with pleasure after listening to Hi-era Ann Peebles (see above), if you don’t believe me: that’s one tough juxtaposition to survive.

Aram Bajakian: Dolphy Formations – 9 – Bajakian has replaced one of his main influences, Marc Ribot, as the most stimulating guitarist in my listening life. From the storming, angular, and twisted post-blues attack of 2014’s there were flowers also in hell to late 2015’s Music Inspired by The Color of Pomegranates, in which he spontaneously created a spellbinding soundtrack to the film, recording himself while he watched it in his home, to this set, in which combines some theorizing by the titular titan with Bajakian’s absorption of chaos-era Sonic Youth with Morton Feldman with his experience gigging with Lou Reed and cooks up something Franz Mesmer could seriously appreciate, he’s setting fires all over the aural map. Oh, and they are under just enough control. Check out his output on Bandcamp.

Folk-Funk Comes to Hickman High School!

Bobby autographs

Bobby Rush signs student autographs after his show in Hickman High School’s Little Theater. (Photo by Notley Hawkins)

(This piece is part of a memoir-in-progress about my 30+-years of high school edumacating that may or may not appear some day in completed form.)

Sometimes great things fall into your lap, and you have to be ready for them.

In 2009, my wife and I had just returned from a trip to Memphis, and on the way down and back, we’d listened to a heap of Bobby Rush tracks. Bobby, a native of Homer, Louisiana, is the inventor of what he calls “folk funk”: music too funky for blues, too bluesy for funk, and designed for very down-to-earth people. He has also been incredibly durable. One could argue that not only his recordings but also his performances are more vital now than they were thirty years ago; currently in his eighties as of this writing, he shows no signs of slowing down. We’d barely unpacked when my phone rang. The caller was an associate of the Missouri Arts Council, and she’d gotten my name from an acquaintance who’d mentioned that I’d arranged rock and roll concerts at my high school.

“Would Hickman be interested in hosting a blues artist for a concert next month?”

That would seem to be a no-brainer, but as fans of the graphic novel and film Ghost World know, the wrong band or artist can give an audience the blues rather than relieve it of them. I wasn’t going to be held accountable for a Blueshammer-styled band, nor, I must be honest, a painfully sincere “bloozeman” of any stripe. Thus, I had to put on the brakes.

“Well, it depends upon whom. When we do these things, we like to do ‘em up all the way, and I’d hate to, you know, do up something anti-climactic.”

“Have you heard of Bobby Rush?”

I didn’t know whether to shit twice or die.

“Can you hear me ok?”

“Yeah, sorry, I was just a little overcome there. Hell, yes, we’ll do it! Give me the details!” Usually, I asked for the details before agreeing, but, in this case, I would have been a fool.

“Well,” she said, “It’s free of charge to you and the audience; a grant’s paid for it. Bobby’s got his own band and gear—you’d just need to provide a basic PA and monitors. And we’d like to schedule it for the evening so kids could bring their families if they wanted to. I tried to pitch this to Jefferson City Public Schools, but they wanted nothing to do with it.”

“You snooze, you lose. And this will be a huge loss for them. We’re A-OK on the equipment. And evening is great. But, regarding the kids and their families—is Bobby bringing the girls?”

I am sure this is a question anyone trying to book Rush is going to get asked. Bobby frequently performs with three triple-mega-bootylicious dancers to whom he often makes leering but strangely warm and charming reference throughout his shows, and a) I seriously hoped he was travelling with them, but b) I wasn’t sure the snug stage had room for them, and c) I was not sure a transition from high school performance stage to chitlin’ circuit showcase would be altogether without bumps (take that as you will).

She chuckled. “Oh no, he doesn’t have the girls on this leg.” I breathed a sigh of disappointed relief, as well as applied a mental Bobby Rush-like chuckle of lechery to her phrasing.

The next day, the kids of the Academy of Rock, our music appreciation club, and I revved into PR gear. We made and posted flyers, we networked the hallways and school nooks and crannies, and we set up visits to the American history classes, where we planned to show a brief “teaser” segment on Rush from Richard Pearce’s “The Road to Memphis,” an installment of Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series. Because I have been a serious nut about music since I heard “Then Came You” float out of a swimming pool jukebox, I have always been careful to find a solid justification for connecting any school use of it to curriculum—probably too careful, but I am like a Pentecostal preacher when I get going, and may the Devil take the curriculum. In this case, the justification too had fallen into my lap: it happened to be Black History Month, and, as dubious as I consider the concept (I prefer Black History Year), I was happy to exploit it. I was also happy that, in my long experience at Hickman, I’d seldom seen a major event staged that directly and intentionally appealed to our 25% black population. Not that I could take credit for anything but saying “yes” to the proposal; in fact, that could accurately serve as my epitaph: “He said ‘Yes’ to life.”

We also got word out to the local press—who were underwhelmed as usual, for the most part—and the Columbia music community, which resulted in my fellow music maniac Kevin Walsh and his young pal Chase Thompson showing up to make a film—as yet unreleased, but I have a dub—of Rush’s appearance.

The day of the show seemed to arrive in an instant. We promptly set up the stage and PA—but, for some reason, the monitors, not exactly top of the gear list in complexity of use, were malfunctioning. We tried everything we knew (admittedly, not much), to no avail. At least we had a computer properly jacked into the PA to record the show, which Bobby’d happily agreed to let us do. Still—one of the few things we’d been asked for we couldn’t deliver. I was also nervous about the turnout, as we had no way of knowing how many folks would arrive, since admission was free.

Bobby and his band (also known as the crew—they hauled and set up their own equipment, which is no unremarkable habit, especially for road vets) arrived right on schedule, and, after finding him and introducing myself and my wife Nicole, I cut right to the chase: “Bobby, our monitors are screwed. That’s about all you wanted, and we messed it up.”

“Phil, Bobby Rush got this! You OK! Been on the road for sixty years and ain’t nothin’ like that ever stopped us! You all just sit back and relax and let Bobby Rush take care of business.”

I couldn’t argue with that. Would you have?

We did as we were told and took a seat. The space was an old-style “Little Theater,” capacity 150, with nice track lighting, comfortable seating, and just enough stage for a five-piece band (Bobby had seven). I am assuming it was originally built for student theatrical performances, but, in the ‘Oughts, it was just as frequently a concert venue. As I write, I feel a pang of sadness in not being there to continue using it.

Bobby and his band genially integrated our small crew of students into their own set-up and soundcheck—they’d also quickly jerry-rigged the monitors and had them working—and were thrilled to find that we planned to have one of the kids run sound for the show. This had been our philosophy since the club was formed in 2004: move over and let some students do the popcorn! An element of risk always threatened proceedings as a result, but that’s life, learning happened, and it’s more fun riding on The Wall of Death, anyway.

I had been in a bit of a nervous trance when I suddenly broke it, looked around, and noticed that the house was almost packed. Not only that, but the concertgoers were predominantly black—with a considerable number of parents and grandparents among them. As is my wont, I quickly twisted my joy into worry as I began to recall certain bawdy Rush routines that might be revisited that very eve.

Bobby

I needn’t have worried. Bobby Rush had this. 75 at the time, he must have set the record for pelvic thrusts in one show. The crowd went wild. He told raunchy stories, including one featuring his minister father. The crowd hollered. He plum-picked his sly repertoire: “Uncle Esau,” “I Ain’t Studdin’ Ya,” “I Got Three Problems,” “Henpecked” (“I ain’t henpecked!/I just been pecked by the right hen!”), “Night Fishin’,” “Evil,” “What’s Good for the Goose.” The crowd exploded. He produced a pair of size-75 women’s undies to demonstrate his taste in derrieres. The crowd went bonkers, and the grandmas stood up and shouted amen. He accused our sound man of being a virgin. The crowd—and our soundman—went nuts. He talked about visiting Iraq, about his prison ministry, about struggling up out of the Great Migration to Chicago, about being on damn near every black music scene for fifty years—and about coming through it all to vote for a black president who actually got elected. And the crowd hung, hushed, on his every word, as he delivered a brilliant, deeply personal history lesson we hadn’t even asked for. Even the jerry-rigged sound in that little room was hot as fire and deep as a well, with Rush playing harp like he was possessed by the ghost of Sonny Boy Williamson and snatching a guitar away from a band member to play some razor-sharp solo slide. As I continued to nervously scan what had become a congregation, I was thrilled to notice that the older the person was whom I spied, the wider his (or most definitely her) grin was. The students? They had clearly never seen anything like Bobby Rush before. Our soundman was so mesmerized he forgot to check the recording levels, so our aural document of the show is way into the red.

I know it’s a cliché, but it was, for damn sure, a religious experience. The audience, I think, was more drained than Bobby at show’s end, but not too drained to be shaking their heads in wonderment and giggling with glee. Several of those older folks swung by to tell me, “More of this, please!” The principal who’d drawn event supervision—lucky man!—asked me, “How in hell did this happen, and when’s the next one, ‘cause I’m calling dibs?” Of course, I’d liked to have met those demands with serious supply—but witnessing a bona fide, down and dirty, authentic-but-for-the-booze-smoke-and-BBQ chitlin’ circuit show at a Bible Belt high school, I’m afraid, is a once in a lifetime experience. God, I do love grants and art councils.

Bobby Rush and Us

Nicole and I walked Bobby out into the February night, his arms around both of our shoulders. His eyes and jeri curls were shining, but he hadn’t seemed to have broken a sweat. “I want to thank you all for having us,” he offered, humbly. “I don’t know who had more fun, us or them!”

I quickly replied, “No, man, thank you! That show was so good you’d think you were playing for the president! And we’re just a high school in Missouri!”

He shook his head, smiling.

“I told you, Phil…Bobby Rush got this!”

See Columbia photographer Notley Hawkins’ classic shots from the show here, and do yourself a solid and grab Omnivore Records’ stellar four-CD career summation of Rush, Chicken Heads, here!

100+ Strong–2015 Fave Raves

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UPDATED December 18

Overeem’s End-of-Year Best-of-2015 

“Guaranteed Interesting” (at least)

Not all of the below are 2015 releases–some were released earlier but are just now breaking the cyber-surface. But the thing is, for those who argue good music is dead (ho-fucking-hum), here’s 121 slabs that have given me pleasure this year. Not all are perfect, but I stand behind this statement: it’s all good. Also, if you’ve looked at the list and are thinking, “Where’s x? What about y?” and it’s not Taylor Swift, I probably haven’t listened to it yet–like you, probably, I follow my nose, and it’s attuned to certain, um, scents. Note: These are in alphabetical order, obviously. The grading scheme is borrowed from master critics Bob Christgau and Tom Hull. The asterisks next to each B+ indicate how close that record is to excellent. Fascinating, isn’t it?  Note 2: See my official Top 20 in meaningful order, plus a list of great reissues, also in order, here.

Rock and Roll and Such

  1. Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch) A-
  2. Aram Bajakian: There Were Flowers Also in Hell(Dalava) A-
  3. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit(Mom & Pop) A
  4. Alex Chilton: Ocean Club ’77(Norton)  B+ (***)
  5. The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open(Austin)  A-
  6. Coneheads:  aka “14 Year Old High School PC–Fascist Hype Lords Rip Off Devo for the Sake of Extorting $$$ from Helpless Impressionable Midwestern Internet Peoplepunks L.P.”(Erste Theke Tontraeger) A-
  7. Continental Drifters: Drifting—In the Beginning and Beyond(Omnivore) B+
  8. Dead Moon: Live at Satyricon (Voodoo Doughnut) A
  9. Dead Weather: Dodge and Burn(Third Man)  B+ (*)
  10. Drive-By Truckers: It’s Great to Be Alive! (ATO) A
  11. Bob Dylan: 1965-1966–The Cutting Edge: The Bootleg Series, Volume 12(Sony)  B+ (*)
  12. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night(Sony)  B+ (***)
  13. Robert Forster: Songs to Play(Tapete)  B+**
  14. Girlpool: Girlpool(Wichita)  A-
  15. Hop Along: Painted Shut(Saddle Creek)  A-
  16. The Horribly Wrong: C’Mon and Bleed…with The Horribly Wrong(Shitcan)  A-
  17. John Kruth: The Drunken Wind of Life—The Poem/Songs of Tin Ujevic(Smiling Fez)  A-
  18. John Kruth: Splitsville(Gern Blandsten)  B+ (***)
  19. Jinx Lennon: 30 BEACONS OF LIGHT FOR A LAND FULL OF SPITE THUGS DRUG SLUGS AND ENERGY VAMPIRES(Septic Tiger) B+ (**)
  20. Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts: Manhattan(Rough Trade)  A
  21. Los Lobos: Gates of Gold(429)  A-
  22. Low-Cut Connie: Hi Honey (Ardent) B+ (***)
  23. Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ(Merge) B+ (***)
  24. Natural Child: Live at The End—Freakin’ Weekend V(self-released cassette) B+ (**)
  25. Nots: We Are Nots(Goner)  A-
  26. Obnox: Boogalou Reed(12XU)  B+ (**)
  27. Obnox: Know America(Ever/Never)  B+ (***)
  28. Obnox: Wiglet(Ever/Never)  A-
  29. The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can’t Recall (self-released) B+ (***)
  30. Public Image Limited: What the World Needs Now Is… (PiL Official) B+ (**)
  31. Pussy Riot: Kill the Sexist(self-released)  B+ (***)
  32. Reactionaries: 1979(Water Under the Bridge)  B+ (*)
  33. Rocket From the Tombs: Black Record(Fire)  B+ (**)
  34. Boz Scaggs: I’m a Fool to Care(429)  B+ (*)
  35. Ty Segall: Ty Rex(Goner)  B+ (***)
  36. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love(Sub Pop)  B+ (***)
  37. The Sonics: This is The Sonics(Revox)  B+ (**)
  38. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell(Asthmatic Kitty)  (A-)
  39. Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada) (A-)
  40. Richard Thompson: Still(Fantasy)  B+ (*)
  41. Titus Andronicus: The Most Lamentable Tragedy(Merge) B+ (*)
  42. Various Artists: Burn, Rubber City, Burn(Soul Jazz)  A-
  43. Various Artists: Ork Records–New York, New York(Numero)  A-
  44. Various Artists: Oxford American Georgia Music Issue CD Companion (OxfordAmerican.org) A-
  45. Various Artists: The Red Line Comp(self-released)  B+ (*)
  46. The Velvet Underground: The Complete Matrix Tapes(Polygram)  A
  47. Viet Cong: Viet Cong(Flemish Eye/Jagjaguwar)  B+ (*)
  48. Wreckless Eric: amERICa(Fire)  A-
  49. x_x: Albert Ayler’s Ghosts Live at The Yellow Ghetto(Smog Veil)  A-
  50. Yo La Tengo: Stuff Like That There(Matador)  B+ (**)

R&B, Soul, and Blues

  1. 79rs Gang: Fire on the Bayou(Sinking City)  A
  2. Erykah Badu: But You Cain’t Use My Phone(self-released)  A-
  3. The Falcons:The World’s First Soul Group—The Complete Recordings (History of Soul) B+ (***)
  4. Kelela: Hallucinogen(Cherry Coffee)  A-
  5. J. D. McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll(Rounder)  B+ (**)
  6. Big Chief Juan Pardo and Golden Comanche: Spirit Food(self-released) B+ (*)
  7. Shamir: Rachet (XL) A-
  8. J. B. Smith: No More Good Time in the World For Me(Dust-To-Digital)  B+ (**)
  9. Pop Staples: Don’t Lose This(Anti-)  B+ (***)
  10. Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It(S.D.E.G.)  B+ (**)
  11. Various Artists: Beale Street Saturday Night(Omnivore)  A-
  12. Various Artists: Blues Images Presents 20 Classic Blues Songs from the 1920s, Volume 13 (BluesImages.com) A-
  13. Leo Welch: I Don’t Prefer No Blues(Fat Possum)  B+ (*)

Rap

  1. Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman: Lice(Stones Throw)  A-
  2. Donnie Trumpet & Chance the Rapper: Surf(self-released) B+ (***)
  3. Doomtree: All Hands(Doomtree)  B+ (***)
  4. Future: Monster(self-released)  B+ (***)
  5. Heems: Eat Pray Thug(Megaforce)  A-
  6. Kendrick Lamar: to pimp a butterfly(Aftermath)  A
  7. Lyrics Born: Real People(Mobile Home)  B+ (*)
  8. Paris: Pistol Politics (Guerilla Funk) B+ (***)
  9. Public Enemy: Man Plans, God Laughs(Spitdigital)  B+ (*)
  10. Bobby Rush: Chicken Heads—50 Years (Omnivore) A-
  11. Scarface: Deeply Rooted(Facemob)  B+ (**)
  12. Vince Staples: Summertime ’06(Def Jam)  B+ (***)
  13. Various Artists: Khat Thaleth–Third Line: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness(Stronghold Sound)  A-
  14. Young Fathers: White Men are Black Men Too(Ninja Tune)  B+ (**)
  15. Young Thug: Slime Season 1(self-released)  B+ (*)
  16. Young Thug: Slime Season 2(self-released)  B+ (***)

 Country and Folk

  1. Iris DeMent: The Trackless Woods(Flariella)  A-
  2. Kinky Friedman: The Loneliest Man I Ever Met(Avenue A)  B+ (**)
  3. Brian Harnetty: Rawhead and Bloodybones(Dust-To-Digital)  B+ (**)
  4. Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free(Southeastern) B+ (**)
  5. Jerry McGill: AKA Jerry McGill(Fat Possum) A-
  6. James McMurtry: Complicated Game(Complicated Game) B+ (***)
  7. Kasey Musgraves: Pageant Material(Mercury) (A-)
  8. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard: Django & Jimmy(Legacy) B+ (***)
  9. Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day(Legacy) A
  10. Mark Rubin: Southern Discomfort(CDBaby) A-
  11. Various Artists: Have Moicy 2–The Hoodoo Bash(Red Newt) A-
  12. Various Artists: The Year of Jubilo(Old Hat) A-
  13. Wussy: Public Domain, Volume 1(Shake It) B+ (***)
  14. Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart(Warner Brothers) B+ (**)

International

  1. Africa Express: Terry Riley’s “In C”—Mali(Transgressive) A
  2. Ata Kak: Obaa Sima(Awesome Tapes from Africa) B+ (***)
  3. Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni: Ba Power(Glitterbeat) A-
  4. Bob Marley & The Wailers: Easy Skankin’ in Boston, 1978(Tuff Gong) A-
  5. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa(World Circuit) A-
  6. Mdou Moctar: Soundtrack to the film Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai(Sahel Sounds) A-
  7. Mammane Sani et son Orgue:La Musique Electronique du Niger(Sahel Sounds)  B+ (***)
  8. Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile(Atlantic) A-
  9. Omar Souleyman: Bahdeni Nami(Monkeytown) A-
  10. Tal National: Kaani(Fat Cat) A-
  11. Tal National: Zoy Zoy(Fat Cat) A-
  12. Tamikrest: Taksera (Glitterbeat) B+ (**)

Jazz

  1. J. D. Allen: Graffiti (Savant) A-
  2. Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (ECM) A
  3. Vijay Iyer: Break Stuff (ECM) B+ (***)
  4. Oliver Lake and William Parker:For Roy (Intakt)  A-
  5. Matt Lavelle and John Pietaro: Harmolodic Monk (CDBaby) A-
  6. James Brandon Lewis: Days of FreeMan(Okeh) B+ (*)
  7. Allen Lowe: Where’s Robert Johnson?—The Man with the Guitar (Constant Sorrow) B+ (***)
  8. Allen Lowe with Hamiet Bluiett: We Will Gather When We Gather (Constant Sorrow) A-
  9. Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (International Anthem) B+ (***)
  10. Joe McPhee:  Solos–The Lost Tapes 1981-1984 (Roaratorio) B+ (**)
  11. Charles McPherson: The Journey (Capri) A-
  12. Irene Schweizer, and Han Bennink: Welcome Back(Intakt) A
  13. Sonny Simmons and Moksha Samnyasin: Nomadic (Svart) B+ (***)
  14. Sun Ra: To Those of Earth…and Other Worlds–Gilles Peterson Presents Sun Ra And His Arkestra(Strut) A-
  15. Henry Threadgill & Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi) A-
  16. Kamasi Washington: The Epic(Brainfeeder) B+ (**)

Good To My Earhole: Selections Across Two Busy Weeks

It’s hard to hold down a blog when you have two real jobs. But the need to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to tug underrecognized music out of the clutches of time’s dustbin, never wanes.

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Khaira Arby: Timbuktu Tarab (Clermont Music) Arby jumps out of the otherwise simply excellent Festival Au Desert concert recording with a possessed vocal that, though I do not know the Tamashek language, sounds like freedom to me. After two months of fruitlessly searching for more of her recordings–she’s a match for Mariem Hassan , if that name means anything to you, which it should–I stumbled upon this, apparently her only other available recording. Not only is she consistently in the same powerful form that she demonstrates on the the concert track, but her band is stellar, more shifty and demonstrative and less trancelike than Tinariwen and other “desert blues” stalwarts. Especially the guitar. Yeah: driving guitar and heart-stopping female singing–where you gonna go to get that these days?

Serengeti/Kenny Dennis: “Rib Tips” (video, produced by Jel and Odd Nosdam) Chicago’s favorite recovering alcoholic/lost ’90s MC/Ditka-head/hip hop alter-ego returns with another contagious, oddball video from last year’s Kenny Dennis EP. Possibly, he’s too quirky or silly or ramshackle for you; me, I find him an addictive antidote to the heavily constructed, brightly polished, vulgarly materialistic run of mainstream rap. Oscar Wilde: “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

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Johnny Adams: The Soul of New Orleans (Fuel) This compilation catches the legendary Tan Canary, possessed of a rich vibrato redolent of Billy Eckstine but, more scintillatingly, a dry falsetto that lends his every recording an aspect of suspense, between his early years as a New Orleans r&b hitmaker (the stone-classic “I Won’t Cry,” “A Losing Battle,” “Please Release Me”) and his valedictory Sinatra-goes-soul sessions with Rounder. The time? The Seventies. The label? Hep’ Me. The producer? The legendary Senator Jones, who threw everything at Adams that might be a hit, in many cases country, which he handles with depth, care, and passion, and occasional disco and milder dance music, which he attacks like a pro (he gets away a strobe-lit “Spanish Harlem”). Couched among many strong performances are two more stone classics, “After All the Good is Gone” and “Hell Yes, I Cheated” (though this version substitutes “Oh” for the unmentionable hot place). The powers that be need to put together a cross-label best-of to cement Adams’ reputation in Soul Valhalla.

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Fats Domino: In Concert (Mercury German import) I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t a live Fats album sound pretty much like a Fats studio album? True, he had a sound and a method and he stuck to it like glue. The further truth is, on this mid-Sixties performance, you get some bonuses: his charming patter, some relatively wild piano solos, and–here’s the kicker–covers of fellow Crescent City legends Professor Longhair (who’d pay him back later on “Whole Lotta Lovin'”–see below) and Guitar Slim–as well as Tony Bennett! If you’re a fan, and if you’re persnickety about live albums, it’s worth your time and money.

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Professor Longhair: The Last Mardi Gras (Real Gone Records) It may be tainted by the guiding hand of Albert Goldman, but I believe he has degraded to atoms, so, if you’re new to Fess, this is a great place to start: he’s heated up in front of a live audience, Uganda Roberts is on congas–they are one of the great R&B instrumental pairings!–the horn section sounds like it’s just hit the sweet spot of a Friday night buzz, and the song selection is Longhair’s hits sprinkled with bawdy house classics. AND the audio is splendid. Learn why he earned that title.

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Muscle Shoals (PBS Documentary, directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier) I was disappointed when the first three voices we hear in a documentary about one of the great studios of the American South are those of Brits (!?), including that insufferable horner-in, Bono, but the film recovers to lift the veil on the fascinating and turbulent career of founder Rick Hall, the kinship and acumen of the Swampers (like the Funk Brothers and the Wrecking Crew, with mountains of hits to their quiet credit), and the sessions that produced such hits as “I’ve Never Loved Man (The Way That I Love You”),”I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Patches,” and “In the Midnight Hour.” Even music obsessives already familiar with the Fame/Muscle Shoals studio story may not know about the precise moment “Southern Rock” was invented; that anecdote alone is worth the two hours’ time of the movie.

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Deerhoof (w/Marc Ribot)/Ceramic Dog: Who Sleeps, Only Dreams (Northern Spy Split Single) One of only two Record Store Day purchases I made this year–and I confess, I bought ’em on line Sunday morning because I didn’t really have a choice. I am a straight sucker for the havoc Ribot wreaks on guitar, on Side A here alongside Deerhoof and Side B with just the most recent of his many underrated projects, Ceramic Dog. No guitarist with a sound this beautifully ugly has moved so effortlessly across r&b, cabaret rock, lounge/avant garde/chamber/free jazz, strict accompaniment, and experimentalism. This single belongs. Try an earlier Ceramic Dog recording on for size to test the waters:

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Bobby Rush: Decisions (with Blinddog Smokin’) (Silver Talon) and Upstairs at United (453 Recordings) Since he appeared at the high school I teach at and knocked a Tuesday evening crowd of students, their parents, and grandparents out cold with an old-school set of dirty-old-man blues–yep! in a public school!–Rush, the inventor of “folkfunk,” has been my hero. At 73, he shows no signs of slowing down, having just released a VERY solid full-length record featuring a dark Dr. John cameo as well as a 12″ four-song EP for Record Store Day, courtesy of the otherwise-pretty-indie “Upstairs at United Series” (on which he covers The Beatles and Eddie Floyd, writes a great new one, and reconfigures one of his own chestnuts). Never really mentioned in the same breath as his contemporaries, of which there are fewer with each passing month, Rush deserves our full attention–don’t wait ’til the heartbeat stops!–and, if you have a chance to see him live, you will see a 19-year-old in Grandpa’s body (along with, no doubt, a pair of women’s undies that belong in the Guiness Book of World Records).

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Wussy: Attica! (Damnably) I wrote about this one a few weeks ago. After a third focused listen, I am convinced it is the most passionate new work of what is still called rock and roll–in fact, my favorite new record of the year so far in any genre. If you enjoy the thrill of witnessing a very good band taking the next step–to greatness, to record-making, to artistic unity–you’ll want to check it out when it’s released later this month. And you’ll want the other records just to fully appreciate that witnessing. I’m just sayin’.