What’s the Matter with Me? (June 19, 2018, Columbia, MO)

I don’t have much to say. The national scene is so ugly I actually thought today, “What if two years from now I look back and say, ‘This is when it started’?” I also took a second to reflect on Tim Snyder’s 20 lessons (about totalitarianism) from the 20th century, and you can draw a line through quite a few here in the USA…he didn’t even really mentioning taking children from “the other” and stashing them away. Then, I read about civil rights being struck from high school history books in Michigan–and the current administration leaving the UN Human Rights Council (what–a bit over a week after mugging around with and flatteting a full-blown totalitarian dictator?). It’s fucking depressing, I couldn’t focus on reading, and for the most part didn’t even want to listen to music. Ever felt that way?

Anyway, some exceptions.

Poolside during 10:45-11:45 am “adult swim” (not as great as the man’s sessions w/Sonny Clark, but loosey-goosier):

Fighting off full-on rage with a new purchase of an old record that fits the moment damn well:

Celebrating Juneteenth in my head (Peter Stampfel is always good for joy in the face of the void):

And celebrating my friend David’s 71st birthday in his classical music lair:

Also discussed in the lair (over Moscow Mules and gage): Korn…or gold?

Good night. May tomorrow bring some justice.

P. S. Piano man at Murry’s? That was a DAMN fine “Jitterbug Waltz”!

“I Know It’s Hard, But It’s Fair” (January 5, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

There was a time when you couldn’t just stream, steal, or buy any piece of music ever recorded–in fact, a few works are rather elusive even now. I remember at the advent of the CD so many items I’d only read about but never seen in a store appearing before my eyes: The Velvet Underground and Nico, Funhouse, Out to Lunch. But even then, much very legendary music was either trapped in legal limbo or poorly distributed. I miss such exciting moments now, but in the latter half of the 1980s, if I saw an outlet mall along the highway, I never passed it by, because (this is just one example) you could always find King label r&b and country reissues (actual releases, not compilations) in the cut-out bin for anywhere from $5 to $8. The voracious but not particularly scholarly or careful folks at Gusto Records had snapped up all of King’s stuff (apparently, STILL has the rights to it!), and just slopped it out with no annotation or attention to sonic enhancement. I didn’t care about that then at all: I just relished the opportunity to actually hear George Jones’ raw Starday hits, the classic Stanley Brothers’ albums, and–especially–the Five Royales’ and Midnighters’ tracks that some argued might be the real beginning of what we used to call rock and roll.

Yesterday, I loaded the CD player carousel with Rhino’s ace compilations (now, like those Gusto cheapos, also out of print) of those latter two bands, Monkey Hips and Rice and Sexy Ways (respectively). They still sound HOT! The Five Royales, in particular, sound more amazing every year, thanks to Lowman Pauling’s nasty six-string knife-throwing and astonishingly varied and adult songwriting. The classics? “Right Around the Corner,” “Slummer the Slum,” “Tell the Truth,” “Think,” the original “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “When I Get Like This” are just a few. As a Missourian, sometimes I think subversive thoughts when I listen to this stuff and think about Pauling in comparison to the much better-known and officially lauded Chuck Berry. The gospel-fired group and solo vocals of the Royales (mostly courtesy of Johnny and Eugene Tanner) are nothing to sneeze at, either.

Hank Ballard’s Midnighters, in most ways, aren’t really in the same league (they even had to change their name from the Royals to avoid a confusion that probably would have benefited them). But Ballard’s unbridled, lusty hollering across the great “Annie” (and “Henry”!) series still sounds exciting and dangerous. And, though you might expect that the sequels would be sound-alikes, “Annie’s Aunt Fannie,” “Annie’s Aunt Fannie,” and “Henry’s Got Flat Feet” are distinct compositions that stand on their own, especially due to Ballard’s inventive lyrical twists and fiery contributions by Cal Green on guitar and the great Arnett Cobb on tenor. The expertly selected tracks include Ballard’s original version of “The Twist,” his JB-beloved ballad “Teardrops on Your Letter,” and the late dance masterpiece “Finger-Poppin’ Time.” Not that Hank forgot his meat and taters, as “Open Up the Back Door,” “Look at Little Sister,” and another sequel, “Let’s Go Again (Where We Went Last Night).”

I am happy that, via streaming, any listener can likely experience anything by these groups seconds after they learn about their existence (if they ever do, in the rushing tide of new). But I miss the thrill (and duration) (and surprises) of the hunt. It’s hard, but it’s fair–I hope as much to the artists’ estates as the listeners’ learning, but I have my doubts.

Short-shrift division:

I was in an experimental jazz groove otherwise.

Jason Moran’s fizzy and appropriately loose-limbed Fats Waller tribute, All Rise.

The budding East Coast free-jazz-with-resistance-poetry of Irreversible Entanglements‘ eponymous debut.

Good to My Earhole: Listening Top 10, April 5 – April 11, 2014

I guess it is going to become regular…


1) Holly George-Warren: A Man Called Destruction–The Life and Music of Alex Chilton from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man (Viking) I am a mass devourer of pop music tomes, but also a bit of a Chilton skeptic: even the brilliance of the best Big Star material is largely attributable to Chris Bell, and too much of the man’s notoreity is connected to things other than music. But George-Warren not only makes a great case here, taking the reader behind the scenes to bedroom rehearsals, bent late-night studio experiments, eccentric apprenticeships, and a long, disciplined, sober road to demonstrate Chilton’s hands were on the wheel more often than reported–even when he was barely conscious. More important, she shapes meticulous research (oh, to have grown up in the Chilton home!) into breezy and fascinating narrative, and balances that with insight into the making of the music. Plus, she passes my first test of good music books: her book sends you racing back to the music (the proof of which you will see in this week’s entry). In fact, my Brit Lit class enjoyed a Big Star block party today while they worked on their writing portfolios. Note: it does share something significant with a recent Zevon tome— this was a guy who, despite his charisma and multiple connections, was very, very lonely.

2) “Every night I tell myself, ‘I am the Cosmos, I am the wind’/But that won’t bring you back again….” Easily one of my favorite rock and roll couplets. Chilton didn’t write it; his partner Chris Bell did, though the sound of his post-Big Star productions (captured on the Rykodisc release I Am the Cosmos) revealed that band’s sonic architecture might well have sprung initially from Bell’s mind. I love the combination of metaphysics and heartbreak, and, really, the whole “record” (Bell died before he could complete a solo album) is fascinating:

3) Doris Duke: I’m a Loser–The Swamp Dogg Sessions (Kent) Jerry Williams, Jr., is one hell of a producer, songwriter, and bandleader, but seldom did he oversee someone else’s record that topped his own eccentric and piquant output. Working with luminaries like Irma Thomas and Gary U. S. Bonds, he wrote nice material and created solid settings, but somehow the artists didn’t catch fire. Not true on these 1969 recordings with one of soul’s great lost treasures, Miss Duke from Sandersville, Georgia. She rises to the occasion of great Dogg titles like “Ghost of Myself,” “Divorce Decree,” and “To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman,” selling them with a smoky, soulful, very country authenticity that’ll make you wonder why she didn’t become a star (I’d argue, a late start in the soul game).

4) Jessie Mae Hemphill: The George Mitchell Collection, Volume 45 (Fat Possum) I can’t get enough of one of Senatobia, Mississippi’s finest citizens. Hemphill, “The She-Wolf,” plays in the distinctive, trancy, north Mississippi style, and these are her first recordings (her mother and aunt often turn up accompanying Fred McDowell on his records). Along with two fetching cuts comes an interview with Miss Hemphill. Hear the whole thing right hyar:

5) Wussy: Attica! (Damnably) Sometimes I feel like arguing, “You either love Wussy or you don’t know they exist.” Living as we do in a world of fiberglass hoods, erotic teens, calendar cowboys/girls, and Mensa-folk conformists, it seems impossible not to support, encourage, and listen to (if not lionize) rockin’ and writin’ marrieds whose personae as well as music is as entrancingly homely and evocative of lived lives as Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker’s. On this brand-spankin’ new rekkid, the musical attack’s a little richer (helped by a member of Cleaver’s former band, The Ass Ponys) and the tart harmonies and wry words (the opener finds Walker lost in a corn maze) show absolutely no loss of concentration. Even their best records are a little uneven, but, on second listen, I feel safe dubbing this one their most consistent. Fans of George and Tammy (sorry), John and Exene (sorry), Thurston and Kim (sorry), Bruce and Patti (well, OK), Ira and Georgia (righteous), Fred and Toody (the MOST righteous), and Cecil and Linda (wait….) need to do the right thing and take this band for a ride. If I were in a band with my wife, I would want it to sound this honest and unique: “Attica, baby/Call it LOVE!” Also, I can relate to Chuck’s observation that, twenty years ago, he was more beautiful, but also more monstrous. For the benighted, an alternate version of a Wussy classic:

6) Guided By Voices: Bootlegged live, ’94. I don’t know much about this recording, though it seems to be made in Ohio from the apparent presence of Ron House in the audience; the recording was passed along to me by a long-time rock and roll compatriot. I’ve never been a fan, and I don’t know why, because in many ways they seem to have been made to hit my musical pleasure points: swift, concise, raw, literate, and tuneful. I think I thought Robert Pollard’s approach was too cute, that his writing and concept was, weirdly, too facile. Anyway, this changed all of that. Pollard and very likely the band are blasted (which was their rep, I guess), but as they rip through tunes from the just-issued Bee Thousand and before, they sound perfect to me, in all the previously enumerated ways. And it’s valuable to keep in mind that the Replacements, predecessors with much the same ethic, never left a live document this alive. Thanks to Mark Anthony of the much-missed website The Rawk. From the same time period:

7) Neneh Cherry: Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound) 20 years after she knocked the world on its ear as a young mother and avant garde progeny in a buffalo stance (that single STILL sounds marvelous), Ms. Cherry, fresh from fronting a free jazz record–not an easy VOCAL task–has issued this equally challenging project, where her still free-inflected vocals dart and linger in and around extremely crisp and deep trip-hop inflected tracks. It’s hard to judge it, because I haven’t heard much like it, but I have been encountering some age-ism lately, and Cherry’s work is argument against it.

8) Dry Wood (directed by Les Blank) and Bury the Hatchet (directed by Aaron Walker) One old, one new doc out of Louisiana, the former about Creole culture (specifically, music and food) in Mamou, the latter about NOLA Mardi Gras Indians (specifically, Big Chiefs Alfred Doucette, Victor Harris, and Monk Boudreaux). Both films are beautiful and do what they set out to do and more. But they are most striking in capturing Americans making and building (also, unfortunately, rebuilding) things themselves–they will strike you across the face with what you are missing out on. VERY, VERY highly recommended.

Dry Wood trailer:

Bury the Hatchet trailer:

9) Allen Toussaint: Life, Love, and Faith (Four Men with Beards Reissue) Toussaint’s mild, almost shy singing causes some listeners’ minds to wander, but here it’s backed by the original version of The Meters (notably including the drumming of Ziggy Modeliste, which is always interesting by itself) and some of the best tunes and arrangements Allen ever wrote for himself. Quietly and seductively funky, in the New Orleans way.

10) Fats Waller, 5:15 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Scrambling to get it together to meet my Science Olympiad crew at 6:30 at the local university, my stressors were vanquished when my wife Nicole got the right medicine out of the cabinet. If the world is too much with you, if you can’t pry your mind from lost planes, corporate control of your country, the frustrations of your job (if you even have one), or absent friends or family, let the mischievous Mr. Waller remind you that life is too important to be taken seriously. His deft command of the 88s, his phrasing-with-a-wink, his jaunty rhythm, his raffish charm–what more can you ask for to lift your tension?