Brace for Impact: Finalized Top 10 LP and Singles List, plus the Usual Listenin’ Report

As I have mentioned before, I get to vote in the recently-defunct Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop poll. However, I’m probably more careful when I vote in a similar poll offered up by Brad Luen for the Facebook music-nut group Expert Witness. I have to live with those motherfuckers on a daily basis! And it’s a tough room! This year, there is some kidding-on-the-square about my albums list (which is different from my Pazz & Jop list; BTW, you get 100 points to distribute across your Top 10, with no more than 30 and no less than 5 for each item), but most telling is I actually submitted a singles ballot. I am an album dude, but this year I really leaned into some smashing songs. For what it’s worth, here’s my lists, and I checked them thrice:

Albums

  1. Tracey Thorn: Record (30)

  2. Rosalía: El Mal Querer (25)

  3. CupcaKe: Ephorize (10)

  4. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed (5)

  5. Elza Soares: Deus É Mulher (5)

  6. Noname: Room 25 (5)

  7. Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel (5)

  8. Tierra Whack: Whack World (5)

  9. Mary Gauthier: Rifles & Rosary Beads (5)

  10. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (5)

Singles

  1. Rosalía: “Malamente”*

  2. Tracey Thorn: “Sister”

  3. JLin: “The Abyss of Doubt”

  4. CupcakKe: “Duck Duck Goose”

  5. Swamp Dogg: “I’ll Pretend”

  6. John Prine: “When I Get to Heaven”

  7. Pistol Annies: “Got My Name Changed Back”

  8. Parquet Courts: “Almost Had to Start a Fight”

  9. Robyn: “Between the Lines”

  10. Rosalía: “Baghdad”

On to the new year, though it’s included little new music. I’ve been on Louisiana kick.

Travailler, C’est Trop Dur: The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent

Hadn’t heard of Vincent, whose very lyrical compositions are interpreted here by a range of Cajun all-stars (ex. Zachary Richard, David Doucet, Steve Riley). The songs are in French, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel them, and I’d happily argue this is the best truly country music we have.

Jourdan Thibodeaux et Les Rôdailleurs; Boue, Bocane, Et Bouteilles

This youngster sings in a pleasingly grizzled baritone, plays a killer fiddle (as he must), fronts a racially integrated Cajun band (still a bit rare), and features a Savoy (of the Louisianan royal music family) on guitar dirtying things up a bit. I love it when youngsters mess with folk forms.

Sean Ardoin: Kreole Rock and Soul

Member of another Louisianan royal music family, this time of the zydeco persuasion, Ardoin does some messing around of his own, striving to live up to the title and winning three falls out of five. Winners: “Kick Rocks,” “Abracadabra” (yes, that one). Losers: “Just What I Needed” (yes, that one), and possibly the worst song I have ever heard from a Louisiana artist, “You Complete Me.”

Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band: Black Pot

Chubby plays it safe here, but if he and his band were playing these songs at the Mid-City Rock ‘n’ Bowl, you’d never sit down. The title cut’s a dance-floor killer; the closing cut is the sweetest paean to home in zydeco history; in between is competence-plus, community, and commitment.

Joe McPhee and Mats Gustafsson: Brace for Impact

It took 10 years for this meeting of two free jazz masters to come to light, and it might be one of the best of the year in spite of its vintage. They are master listeners, too, not just in a studio but across decades and an ocean: Poughkeepsian McPhee’s 79 going on 30, Mats, a Swede living in Austria, is 54. If you’d like to hear how a jazz composition can be built out of thin air, quick thinking, and imagination, you might as well start here.

Dabke–Sounds of the Syrian Houran

Dabke, an Arab music played at weddings and other celebrations, has a head-spinning number of variations. According to the Wikipedia entry on the style, there are either 2, 6, or 19 types. This motorvating compilation ranges across several of them–you might even call it a dabke Nuggets. Just trying to sell you on trying it, folks!

Rosalía: El Mal Querer

Let it be understood that the frequency with which this Catalonian-cum-Barcelonan powerhouse has appeared here simply testifies to her power. Her voice is intense, alluring, frightening, multi-faceted–and it brings out the Arabic roots of the music that’s been her life, and with which she happily experiments: flamenco. Producer El Guincho deepens the allure and broadens her appeal with savvy settings; if you want to hear her more sparely adorned, check out her debut (more on that later). She is going to be huge, and I may have to finally learn to at least hear Spanish to keep up.

Wire: Pink Flag

Even they have never recorded (again) anything quite like this 21-song, 37-minute voyage into alienation and paranoia. But again it must be said: sometimes paranoids are right. Drowning in the big swim, discerning strange things that aren’t quite right, witnessing murder, looting, and rape, 1-2 hating you, creating a field day for the Sunday papers, they take a moment to expose their hearts when their shades get broken, along with their fleeting love.

Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 24

We usually wake up to ‘OZ when in NOLA, but got the morning off in the precisely correct spirit with a series of Anita O’Day tunes leading off with “Let Me Off Uptown,” a duet with Roy Eldridge. We were already “uptown,” but we were taking the trolley (one of the simple pleasures of being here), and Anita’s daring duet with a black performer ran parallel with the choices of Hettie Cohen, who chronicles her love affair and life and times with the late LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in the book I am currently reading, BECOMING HETTIE JONES.

We soon found ourselves on Frenchmen Street in The Marigny, the new location of Louisiana Music Factory, a treasure trove we never miss. I snagged a recent book on NOLA R&B by I HEAR YOU KNOCKIN’ author Jeff Hannusch and a documentary about Mardi Gras Indians, Nicole a new Basin Street Records rekkid by Jason Marsalis, the family’s vibes man. Also, we had to listen to shit music at Pat O’Brien’s (we asked for that), and took the ferry to Algiers, home of great jazzmen like Henry “Red” Allen. The locals at the Dry Dock treated us great.

The real entertainment for the day was a free performance by David Doucet (to my ear, the Cajun Doc Watson), Beausoleil’s guitarist, at the famous Columns Hotel. He and his fiddling partner played a set of traditional Cajun classics including one by the legendary Dennis McGee, as well as some pieces outside the genre, like “Rosalee McFall” and–brilliantly, surprisingly–Dock Boggs’ “Country Blues.” Doucet also hefted an accordian and sounded a LOT like Iry LeJeune.  Here’s some footage from a 2013 show in the same locale that conveys some of the show’s brilliance.

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The only downside is that I did not have the intelligence to get up and dance like the music and spirit required, even though Nicole beckoned me to and was forced to cut a great rug alone. Perhaps my head was too full of Sazeracs  and Old Fashioneds (and my ankles too full of beer), but she deserved my partnership after making my brief bout with rapid heartbeat go away back at the ‘otel with an application of Lee Dorsey. That man is always good for what ails you.