“Weaponize Your Sound”: Best Albums of ’19, 25% through the Briar Patch

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All I had to do was bitch about 2019 and it stepped to me–almost immediately. Top 25s in particular are getting a lot of replay.

Bold-faced entries represent older music, which I usually separate into a dedicated list later. Notable: some very emotionally intense desert blues up in here, and it parallels some shit coming down at the source; some really talkative rap records striking deep; my reading as always effects my musical perceptions–I just finished Dave Cullen’s Parkland.

  1. Little Simz: Grey Area
  2. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  3. Quelle Chris: Guns
  4. Burnt Sugar: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes—Groiddest Schizznits, Vols. 1-3
  5. Dave: PSYCHODRAMA
  6. Royal Trux: White Stuff
  7. 2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League
  8. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  9. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
  10. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  11. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
  12. Ben Lamar Gay: Confetti in the Sky Like Fireworks
  13. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  14. Robert Forster: Inferno
  15. Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  16. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  17. James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
  18. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  19. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
  20. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  21. Zeal & Ardor: Live in London
  22. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  23. Various Artists: Weaponize Your Sound
  24. Helado Negro: This is How You Smile
  25. Ahmed Ag Kaedy: Akaline Kidal
  26. Various Artists: Live at Raul’s
  27. Solange: When I Get Home
  28. Tanya Tagaq: Snowblind
  29. Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
  30. Steve Earle: Guy
  31. Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of The Blues
  32. Jenny Lewis: On the Line
  33. Silkroad Assassins: State of Ruin
  34. Various Artists: Rhapsody in Bronze (featuring Cousin Joe, James Booker, and Snooks Eaglin)
  35. Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her
  36. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  37. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dur–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  38. Que Vola: Que Vola
  39. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  40. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  41. People Under the Stairs: Sincerely, The P
  42. Powder: Powder in Space (DJ Mix)
  43. Hama: Houmeissa
  44. Ill Considered: 5
  45. Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues
  46. M’dou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  47. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  48. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  49. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  50. Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center
  51. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  52. Bad Bunny: X 100PRE
  53. The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet (featuring Joe McPhee): Sweet Oranges
  54. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  55. Bob Mould: Sunshine Rock
  56. Ty Segall: Deforming Lobes
  57. The Specials: Encore
  58. Meat Puppets: Dusty Notes
  59. Mekons: Deserted
  60. Greg Ward and Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

Good To My Earhole, April 1-10: “Not Counting Merle–Well, Except for One Rekkid”

Highlights of last ten days’ listening, ranked on a highly suspect 10-point scale (but if I’m listing it, I’m liking it!):

Bombino/Azel – 9.8 – A helpless “desert blues” addict, even I questioned whether I needed another record by the man from Agadez. Yep–I did. My favorite new record of any kind of 2016, it displays more variation in rhythm, intensity, and tone than your typical Tuareg release; I like a guy who, in ten songs, can evoke Hendrix, Hooker, Kimbrough, and Spence, and this is easily the best of the four of his five records I’ve heard. Also, he takes a few chances, including a reggae that explodes, and when he locks into one of those inevitable hypnotic phrases, it’s like a downed power line whipping around in your front yard. The ululations of the women who support him are perfectly timed, too.

Anthony Braxton/3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011 – 8.5 – When I learned that these compositions for septet required each player to carry into the studio an iPod loaded with Braxton’s complete (?) studio and live recordings, ready to be activated at will (or conductor’s nod?) in the midst of each take, I couldn’t resist. Plus it’s cheap for three disks. But: does it sound good? Well, I like free jazz, and though I cannot pretend to understand most of Mr. Braxton’s notes, I think this comment may convince you whether you should try it or not: “What we have here is a ‘state of music’….the friendly experiencer can walk through the ‘parks’ of the music on the way to engage in a sonic tennis match….I am moving towards a kind of action video game paradigm where [the listener] can make internal decisions inside of the greater music space that will affect the particulars of a given sonic fantasy….” In addition, his notes end with this: “[hee hee hee].” I love a giddy visionary septuagenarian.

The Fall/The Fall Box Set 1976-2007 – 9.5 – A wise man once said that the test of a great box set is that the last disc sounds as great as the first. I’m not sure that’s true here, but I can say after listening through all five of these discs in a row, I was never bored, and delighted, amused, or ON FIRE 80% of the time. I don’t care whether he’s barking out inscrutable lyrics while riding the same two-chord riff for five minutes; I don’t care whether he’s embarking on a poetry reading, a rockabilly cover, or dance floor throb. I’ll go wherever Mark E. Smith wants to lead, even if he’s only backed by your granny on bongos. I regret it took me 25 years to catch on.

Merle Haggard/If I Could Only Fly – 9.5 – The late master had a tendency to mar his every release with at least two flat-to-bad songs. This 2000 comeback–from health battles, from lethargy, from writer’s block, maybe–might be his best album, end to end, though it includes no single song most aficionados would put in The Hag Top 20. But no dogs, either. The band’s great (of course), and his singing’s as detailed and smart as ever. Picks to click: a look back that’s compassionate rather than judgmental; a paean/envoi to unprotected sex; two nods of gratitude, one to spawn and one to the uncle who taught him “Rubber Dolly”; some strong love songs; and the definitive version of Blaze Foley’s title song, which many have attempted to scale before, including Merle. I guess the pick to click is the whole thing.

George Jones/Live at Dancetown USA – 8.5 – Fired up by Rich Kienzle’s nice new Jones bio, I revisited several Jones holdings squirreled away in the pad. Here’s one Possum fans might not have heard, a ’65 live set in a real honky-tonk, seemingly unedited. Though George doesn’t sing with exquisite care–he seems in a hurry at times–he’s still the greatest singer in country music history. He covers his current hit catalog, takes a pell-mell run at “Boney Moronie,” delivers a couple of classic, corny bon mots (“…a brief liquor–I mean inter–mission” and an apology for “another sad ballard”), and lets his band have a few. Even if we don’t have a DVD to go with it, the ambiance is enough to make you wish you could have been there.

Wussy/Forever Sounds – 8.0 – Yeah yeah, they’re critics’ darlings, but I love them because they sing, write, and play like, for and about grown human beings in the midst of relatively normal middle age. Problem here is that the sonics (dubbed “shoe-gaze” by several folks, but I dunno), which do unify the album, have a tendency to overwhelm their humanity. I get off on the opening trio, “Dropping Houses,” “She’s Killed Hundreds,” and “Donny’s Death Scene,” but a later fave, “Hello, I’m a Ghost,” gets at my quibble–the vocals, especially Lisa Walker’s (who more and more reminds me of a rock version of Lucinda Williams when she was light of spirit), sound disembodied, sometimes even (literally) phoned in from a remote locale. I like embodied voices.

Good to My Earhole, March 12-17: “Mi Canto”

Highlights of the last week’s listening and reading, scores plucked out of the air as long as they are no lower than a 7–and, whaddya know, I am reviewing some new stuff (albeit mostly by oldsters):

Aziza Brahim: MI CANTO – 9 – A Sahrawi siren augmented by guitars redolent of desert, Delta, and djinnis. Needless to say, side effects may include euphoric trances.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions: LIVE AT HOLLYWOOD HIGH – 8.8 – Live albums: who needs ’em? Well, I treasure this for three reasons. One, it captures MY AIM IS TRUE material punked further up and in pretty high fidelity, with the L. A. teens in the audience seeming to get it–reminded me of a Carthage, Missouri, teen circa ’78-’80 who was definitely getting it. Two, the live setting seems to loosen up EC’s singing, which always seemed just a bit fussy to me when under studio control; he often settles into a bit of roar-and-yell which I find exciting–though I just wanna tell him, “You don’t have to introduce every song.” Three: the definitive recorded version of the film noir compendium “Watching the Detectives,” which he sings as if he’s extemporizing.

Kendrick Lamar: UNTITLED UNMASTERED – 9.2 – At first, I thought these were table scraps, but Kendrick’s rhyming and flow are too carefully honed for that. Then, for some strange reason–I think it was the influence of “untitled 06/06.30.2014”–I began to sense a trip-hop experiment, but it’s too verbally dense for that. Then it became clear, from the welcome intrusion of what I have begun to think of as his community voices–whether they emerge from actual human larynxes or machines–and his subtly morphing vocal inflections that this is of a piece with TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY. Less conceptual, more casual, thus…more pleasurable? If not, pretty close, and, though it’s argued that pure pleasure is counterrevolutionary, even revolutionaries need occasional loose fun to replenish their drive to make it to the mountaintop. I wish he’d have thrown in that “Colbert Report” performance as a bonus track, though!

Loretta Lynn: FULL CIRCLE – 8.5 – The power and clarity of her unmistakable voice, sounding barely touched by eight decades, are miraculous, reason alone to give this album a shot. Because the arrangements are spare and attractive, even the weakest compositions (and a cover of “Fist City” that doesn’t do the impossible) go down easy. And best in show? The first song she ever wrote, prefaced with a great anecdote. Secret missing ingredient? Jack White or someone like him.

Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: CANDY – 9.0 – Across seven discs of improv featuring only McPhee’s multiple horns, Nilssen-Love’s percussion, and plenty of deliberate silence (and–oh yeah!–a very appreciative live audience!), I was NEVER bored. Not once. And I listened to the discs consecutively. Joe’s a very young 76, and he sounds happy whether he’s evoking India, honoring Ayler, or turning mouthpiece spittle into music. To paraphrase Tom Waits, not for everyone–maybe, for those seeking sonic adventure.

Alan Warner: MORVERN CALLAR (1995) – 9 – A rock and roll novel for sure. Just when you’re sure that the titular Scottish heroine is being propelled by her boyfriend’s suicide on an working-class odyssey of distinctly existential import–through house-party and hotel room bacchanals, through pubs and raves and and resorts–you’re caught up short by flaming statues of the Virgin and a drunken stagger into church. It’s an odyssey of some sort, that’s for sure, and at the very least, Morvy’s propelled by mixtapes of Last Exit and Can (about whom Warner authored a 33 and 1/3 tome). Figures: the book’s dedicated to Bill Laswell.

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.

Image

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.”

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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.

Image

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:

ImageImage

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).

Image

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’.

Good to My Earhole: Listening Top 10, April 12 – April 18, 2014

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:

moseallison

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.