Latin Lightning (June 28th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Fresh from knocking out my first-half-of-’18 list, a fellow music maniac tipped me to several new records I’d missed, mainly because they’re from Latin America and Mexico and haven’t shown up in my usual channels. I haven’t made my way through all of them, but the two I have heard, ahem, made a serious impression.

Legendary Brazilian singer Elza Soares (listen above) has a fairly new record out. This is notable for at least two reasons: she’s 81 and feeling 19, and has succeeded in following up a very impressive previous record (and big favorite of mine), A Woman at the End of the World, issued just two years ago. Like its predecessor, Deus E Mulher (I think that translates to “God is a Woman,” and I’ll buy that) is influenced by the innovative angular rhythms, instrumental alienation effects (that’s a compliment in these parts), and skillful Brazilian music syntheses of her country man Tom Ze–only her vocals add an allure Ze would have difficulty matching (she’s been called the Brazilian Tina Turner, but that’s a bit inexact). The guitars, and keyboards that sound like guitars, sound like they’re strung with concertina wire and scraped with scrap-iron picks, and Soares ducks in and out of their accents when she’s not riding just above them. Also, the compositions flow a little more consistently here, which may be a downer for more adventuresome listeners (I’m one) but I consider an improvement.

I was also encouraged to sample another current Brazilian release, Anelis Assumpção’s Taurina. While this record’s a bit more conventional–pretty clear samba and bossa nova influences, though never really freaked into anything Tropicalia-like–it’s also fetchingly sung, very catchy, and possessed of the seductive, flirtatious movement the country’s musicians have minted. However, don’t get the idea it’s too smooth; you can also count on Brazilian guitarists to keep you honest, as Ms. Assumpção’s do on several tracks, especially “Segunda a Sexta.”

My happiness with those platters sent me back to something I listened to in a somewhat distracted mode last week and loved out of the corner of my ear. This time I bore down, and was not disappointed; in fact, Nidia’s Nidia E Ma, Nidia E Fudida is one of two recent electronic dance music albums created by women that have bewitched and beguiled me over the last year and a half, the other being the somewhat mysterious JLin‘s footwork masterpiece, Black Origami. At least, I think Nidia’s work is EDM; informed sources tab it as the Angola brew known as batida, Apple Music calls it “bass,” and given Nidia’s Portuguese heritage, its ingredients may account for happy impurities that make for what it sounds like to me: original, mind- and feet-engaging, and just this side of being undanceable (hence the JLin connection). Fortunately for a stiffly-bending 56-year-old like me, it’s fun to listen to and think about, and I do not sell our youth short–I am sure some kids can step between her startling and surprising beats.

Short-shrift Division:

The little “Make Me Choose Between Two Bands” game on my Facebook wall is near to stretching into its third week, with thousands of comments, new participants every day–and some repeat pairings, such as today’s “Al Green or O.V. Wright?” That’s one I didn’t have to let marinate either time; as deep-soul amazing and intense as Wright is at his best (with the same studio band behind him as Green enjoyed on his Hi hits), that’s like Hercules (only half-God) vs. Zeus–wait, maybe I mean Eros. Yeah. Full god, deity of love and sex. Anyway, yeah–AL. But I had to get out MCA’s handy Duke/Peacock label compilation, The Soul of O. V. Wright just to be fair. If you don’t know the man’s work, suffice it to say that he invests titles like “I’d Rather Be Blind, Crippled, and Crazy,” “Ace of Spades” (easily as tough as Motorhead’s), “Eight Men, Four Women,” “A Nickel and a Nail,” “Drowning on Dry Land,” and “He’s My Son (Just the Same)” with the exact commitment, grit, barely contained agony, and verisimilitude that you’d dream. Not only that, but could he bring gospel warhorses like “Motherless Child” and “Don’t Let The Devil Ride” (here, jiggered into “Don’t Let My Baby Ride”) back from the graveyard of overexposure. I hope I just demonstrated that the pairing was fairer than it seems.

After that dose of O. V., I had to keep that Memphis rhythm rolling, and reached for Ann Peebles: The Hi Rhythm Years. I try not to take folks for granted, but if you happen to be a big Al Green fan and always sit amazed at Willie Mitchell’s production and the Hi Rhythm Band’s prowess (Howard Grimes on drums, Teenie Hodges on drums, and Do Funny Hodges on slithery organ, especially) on Green’s hits, and you haven’t heard St. Louis’ Ann Peebles in front of the same band–change that not. You’ll be forced to give this 99-pounder credit where it’s due and beyond, or she’ll tear your playhouse down. She might just anyway.

 

Out of This World (April 10th, 2018, Columbia, Mo)

Elza

Nope, this ain’t about Gino Washington! On one hand…have you ever felt like you just want to get out of this country for awhile? Yeah, me, too, so I did so through musical trips to Agadez, Lagos, and Rio (I also went to Manhattan, but it might as well have been Rio or Sao Paulo).

Also, unlike the night before, I was not about to get distracted by a damn haint (aka Hank Williams, Sr.) while I was trying to read. I am borderline insane when it comes to reading, and I added three new books to my active stack of three. If you’re curious, they were Colin Escott’s update of his solid Williams bio, I Saw the Light (the Hank fire’s done been lit); Gayle Ward’s Rosetta Tharpe book Shout Sister Shout!, which for some odd reason I didn’t read when immediately when it was published; and Patrick Parr’s account of the late-teenage MLK, The Seminarian: Martin Luther King, Jr. Comes of Age, which tells many relatively new stories, including this one. So, anyway, I picked some international groove music, though at least two of my selections were jumpy and angular enough to break my page-gaze.

You cannot go wrong with Bombino, the great guitarist from Niger. The man can work up a serious head of sustained, flowing steam with just six strings and percussion propulsion. His album from 2013, Nomad, is a great introduction to his work, and, if you get the chance to see him live, GO–we witnessed him at Minglewood Hall in Memphis opening for Gogol Bordello, and he made it very tough for the headliners to keep us at the venue:

 

Despite the man’s sprawling discography, you also cannot stumble randomly selecting works by the great Nigerian bandleader Fela Kuti. I did not choose randomly; I picked my favorite Kuti Komp, The Best of Black President, Volume 2, which features an extended version of the eternal, and eternally sorrowful, and eternally motivating “Sorrow, Tears, and Blood” (“it’s their regular trademark”). It’s where I’d start anyone new to Fela’s Afrobeat wiles.

 

Have you heard of Elza Soares  (that’s her pic at the top)? That’s OK, neither had I until a couple years ago. Apparently, she’s thought of by some as the Tina Turner of Brazilian music, but what you need to know is that she’s a defiant octogenarian who, in 2016, plunged headlong into an thrilling avant-garde setting and sprung some samba sujo (“dirty samba”–that alone should tempt you to put it on) on our unsuspecting ears. The resulting record, A mulher do fim do mundo (The Woman at the End of the World), intentionally or not, captures the beauty, sensuality, surprise, and madness of modern Brazil. Come to think of it, I think Brazilians have it a good deal worse than we do.

 

I’m not the first and won’t be the last to say it, but if you go Brazilian on a particular day of listening your ears likely won’t go back to where they were until the next day. I closed out with Arto Lindsay’s Cuidado Madame; Arto’s a New Yorker, but he’s been dedicated to adapting classic Brazilian musical styles–bossa nova, samba, and the wild, wooly, and wonderful variant called Tropicalia–to stateside pop forms, though it’s sometimes been hard to discern much of our traditions in his more recent music. This is his most recent release; it’s quite great, especially after repeated exposure. I love it in particular for two reasons: the opener, which features Mr. Lindsay writing his name on his lover’s naked belly until she forgets her own, and the multiple tracks on which, more often than has been his recent habit, he expresses himself on his inimitably untutored guitar. Also, the critic Robert Christgau once described Lindsay as being James Brown trapped in Don Knotts’ body; I’d update that from the Godfather of Soul to His Purpleness.

Short-shrift Division:

Tapper Zukie: Man Ah Warrior–Spacey early ’70s dub, driven by the bass line from “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Here, take a hit: