Seven Long Months: 100+ Slabs of Aural Awesomeness Released in Nerve-Wracking ’19

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Honestly, folks: so much good music for the times lies in wait for you out there–right now. If you’re having beers or cocktails with someone who’s mourning the days when music was really, good man, do me a favor: fart in their general direction. And blast some Mexstep or Balvin/Bunny in their faces.

Blurt re: new developments.

1) Mexstep’s Resistir came out in December ’18 but I’m claiming it for ’19. Dude behind “the mask” is a college professor I’d love to sit in with, but he can rhyme and write. I’m tired of this national bullshit and this album is bracing for your earhole. Dig:

2) I fucking love freely improvised music–jazz just doesn’t describe it anymore. I’m of Dutch heritage and I spent most of the month listening to the thinking person’s ICP (that’s Instant Composers Pool, homeslice), and damned if July didn’t deliver multiple new albums by artists working in this niche. It’s not escapist, it’s not hummable, but when I engage with it, it keeps me in the moment and matches the buzzing of my nerve endings. To wit, items #32, 63, and 64. Here, try some:

3) Anyone notice this is a stellar year for rap music? I have. Little Simz, Gibbs ‘n’ ‘lib, South African Queen Blakrok, fuckin’ 2 Chainz!, Woods ‘n’ Segal, Esq., Maxo Kream, Balvin / Bunny, Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, and–I am sorry to break from the contemporary wisdom, but I know good shit when I hear it–Chance (come on, admit it: even his big fans are too ready to jump his ass, but it’s a justifiably sunny piece of work loosed upon overcast days).

4) Hellllllooooooo Cleveland!!!! Impressive new Ubu (can you believe David Thomas has forced his art to work for almost 50 years?) and a Peter Laughner box that even cognoscenti were doubting, but which intelligently honors a complicated subject. I was a doubter, and it revelated me.

5) As far as archival finds go, under the radar shimmers a UA rareties collection of tracks by the world’s greatest country singer, George Jones, which should not be missed by anyone who isn’t on the Bear Family mailing list. Also, if you’re a jazz fan of B+ intensity or higher, you might want to check out the work of Brit sax, flute, and vibe maven Tubby Hayes, whose ’69 Fontana Records session called Grits, Beans, and Greens just came to the surface. None other than Rahsaan Roland Kirk annointed him, so don’t just trust me. And we’re in a UK jazz moment, doncha know.

My Album-Lover’s Honor Roll for 2019 (as of July 31st, 2019)

(bolded items are new additions to the ongoing list)

  1. Little Simz: Grey Area
  2. Various Artists: A Day in the Life–Impressions of Pepper*
  3. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana
  4. Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!
  5. Beyoncé: Homecoming
  6. Control Top: Covert Contracts
  7. Peter Perrett: Humanworld
  8. Mexstep: Resistir
  9. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
  10. Royal Trux: White Stuff
  11. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  12. Pere Ubu: The Long Goodbye
  13. J Balvin & Bad Bunny: OASIS
  14. James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
  15. Billy Woods & Kenny Segal: Hiding Places
  16. Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble: Where Future Unfolds
  17. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  18. Teodross Avery: After the Rain–A Night for Coltrane
  19. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
  20. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
  21. 2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League
  22. Senyawa: Sujud*
  23. Dave: PSYCHODRAMA
  24. Sote: Parallel Persia
  25. Quelle Chris: Guns
  26. Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  27. Ben Lamar Gay: Confetti in the Sky Like Fireworks
  28. Tanya Tagaq: Toothsayer EP
  29. Abdullah Ibrahim: The Balance
  30. Various Artists: Weaponize Your Sound
  31. Maxo Kream: Brandon Banks
  32. Leila Bourdreuil / Michael Foster: The Caustic Ballads
  33. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  34. Lizzo: Cuz I Love You
  35. DaBaby: Baby on Baby
  36. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  37. Saul Williams: Encrypted & Vulnerable
  38. The New Orleans Dance Hall Quartet: Tricentennial Hall Dance 17. October
  39. Mario Pavone: Philosophy
  40. Joachim Kuhn: Melodic Ornette Coleman—Piano Works XIII
  41. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
  42. Chance The Rapper: The Big Day
  43. GoldLink: Diaspora
  44. Megan Thee Stallion: Fever
  45. Lee Scratch Perry: Rainford
  46. The Paranoid Style: A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life
  47. Joel Ross: Kingmaker
  48. Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys: 30 Years Live
  49. Resavoir: Resavoir
  50. Flying Lotus: Flamagra
  51. Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her
  52. JD Allen: Barracoon
  53. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  54. Youssou N’Dour: History
  55. Guitar Wolf: Love & Jett
  56. Mannequin Pussy: Patience
  57. LPX: Junk of the Heart (EP)
  58. Chuck Cleaver: Send Aid
  59. Deerhunter: Death in Midsummer
  60. Various Artists: Typical Girls Three
  61. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dur–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  62. Nots: 3
  63. Josh Berman / Paul Lytton / Jason Roebke: Trio Correspondences
  64. Jacob Wick & Phil Sudderberg: Combinatory Pleasures
  65. Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues
  66. Santana: Africa Speaks
  67. Judy and The Jerks: Music for Donuts
  68. Denzel Curry: Zuu
  69. Tyler, The Creator: IGOR
  70. Fennesz: Agora
  71. Salif Keita: Un autre blanc
  72. Robert Forster: Inferno
  73. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  74. Whit Dickey Tao Quartets: Peace Planet / Box of Light
  75. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are On the Edge
  76. Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien
  77. Solange: When I Get Home
  78. Freddie Douggie: Live on Juneteenth
  79. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  80. Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
  81. Helado Negro: This is How You Smile
  82. Blood Orange: Angel’s Pulse
  83. Ahmed Ag Kaedy: Akaline Kidal
  84. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Rodents of Unusual Size (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture)
  85. slowthai: Great About Britain
  86. Silkroad Assassins: State of Ruin
  87. Steve Lacy: Apollo XXI
  88. Mekons: Deserted
  89. Zeal & Ardor: Live in London
  90. Que Vola: Que Vola
  91. Miguel: Te Lo Dije EP
  92. Kelsey Lu: Blood
  93. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  94. Hama: Houmeissa
  95. Steve Earle: Guy
  96. Mdou Moctar: Blue Stage Session
  97. Beth Gibbons with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki): Henryk Gorecki—Symphony #3 (Symphony of Sorrow Songs)
  98. Ill Considered: 5
  99. Girls on Grass: Dirty Power
  100. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs
  101. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  102. Shovels & Rope: By Blood
  103. The King Khan Experience: Turkey Ride
  104. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  105. Alfredo Rodriguez and Pedrito Martinez: Duologue
  106. Spiral Stairs: We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized
  107. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  108. Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of The Blues
  109. CZARFACE & Ghostface Killah: Czarface Meets Ghostface
  110. Jenny Lewis: On the Line

*Technically, these are 2018 releases, but for now, I’m claiming their impact is being felt more strongly this year.

New Releases of Older Material

  1. Peter Laughner: Peter Laughner
  2. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  3. Burnt Sugar: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes—Groiddest Schizznits, Vols. 1-3
  4. George Jones: United Artists Rarities
  5. Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Orchestra: Why Don’t You Listen–Live at Lacma, 1998
  6. Various Artists: Outro Tempo II–Electronic and Contemporary Music from Brazil 1984-1996
  7. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  8. James Booker: Live at Onkel PO’s, Carnegie Hall, Hamburg 1976
  9. Tubby Hayes: Grits, Beans and Greens—The Lost Fontana Studio Sessions 1969
  10. Big Stick: Some of the Best of Big Stick
  11. Primal Scream: Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll—The Singles
  12. Masayuki Takayanagi New Directions Unit: April is the Cruellest Month
  13. Various Artists: Rhapsody in Bronze
  14. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  15. Sounds of Liberation: Sounds of Liberation
  16. Prince: Originals
  17. Various Artists: Nigeria 70–No Wahala, Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987
  18. Lee Moses: How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1965-1972
  19. John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet: No U-Turn
  20. Johnny Shines: The Blues Came Falling Down–Live 1973
  21. Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band: Pedal Steal + Four Corners
  22. Neil Young & The Stray Gators: Tuscaloosa
  23. Sonic Youth: Battery Park, NYC: July 4th 2008

Canasta Soundtracks (May 31st, 2018, Excelsior Springs, MO)

Little to say other than, to my ear, we chose well today when needing some music behind our morning reading, our multiple hands of Canasta, and our lollygagging around during our final vacation day at the historic (and inexpensive) Elms Hotel.

Morning: I told Nicole she could pick any great album ever released and I could probably find it and stream it from my phone. Her response?

“Too much pressure! You always do this to me when I’m trying to practice my Spanish!”

“Yeah, but you always wanna be asked before I play something!”

“Dammit, you’re right–something Colombian, then–”

Afternoon: we decided to resume our Canastathon. I had briefly assumed a lead, but, partially due to my enthusiasm for playing wild cards and her tendency to hold them back, she has dominated throughout. This time, she had an immediate answer when I made a soundtrack request:

I piggybacked on that with this:

Evening: after some swimming and poolside lounging and reading, we returned to the room for a maple syrup Old Fashioned (her) and a Main Root ginger beer and bourbon (me), and four hands of Canasta. Nicole’s defenses were weakened so I took matters into my own hands with possibly the greatest record of all-time, and two reasonable follow-ups:

Unfortunately, the above didn’t help my luck (I’m 2000 points down), but they certainly established a mood.

Short-shrift Division:

Fiercest desert blues in awhile.

Through The Ceiling (April 28th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

A busy day: grocery shopping, a six-mile walk, and late lunch/early dinner at Murry’s, then some well-earned lazing about with some drinks. I needed to knock out my update of best albums of 2018, which required a trip to the basement desktop and some iTunes and YouTube clicking around to test my musical judgement. However, while I was down in the inner sanctum, Nicole took over the house stereo, and her selections, bleeding down through the ceiling, gave me more pleasure than anything I was examining. (She has a knack for this; not many spouses in the world will crank up a Lee Dorsey jam in the bathroom while in deep pedicure mode!)

DJ Nicole’s Platters That Mattered:

Few things are more insane and addictive and wonderful in American music than Fred and Rose Maddox whoopin’ and hollerin’ through a country and western tune! And the band (often with future Stranger Roy Nichols on guitar) flat moves! Both Arhoolie volumes of “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band” are the cat’s ass and will break up any excessive solemnity in your abode.

This isn’t the actual slab she spun (that was the first volume of Rhino’s stingy two [separate] disk Owens comp), but it contains most of its great tracks. Sharp band (guitar and drummer leaning toward rock), instantly recognizable singer and writer (“Under Your Spell Again” a great example: spare, focused, catchy, soulful), lean sound.

The McCoury fam’s waxed many great songs but few undeniable albums. This one’s close. Usually it’s about the tunes, and here they range from Frank Sinatra to Richard Thompson, whose greatest composition they outright take from him (the way Aretha did Otis with “Respect”). The playing and singing are always on point with this bunch.

A man and his idol. George bawled like a baby on his military bunk when he heard Hank had died–through a New Year’s Eve hangover, surely–so you can rest assured he handles these Hillbilly Shakespeare classics with TLC. I wish I had a full album link, but both of the Possum’s Hank discs are stellar.

OH YEAH! She also played R. L. Burnside all morning in the jalopy!

Short-shrift Division:

Neil Young: Roxy–Tonight’s the Night Live. Yes, you do too need it.

Apropos of nothing but The Reaper…a plug for an old, simple George Jones documentary that might stun you.

I can’t shake mortality off my mind. I have been playing the hell out of Hag and Prince; after having recently read a book a piece about Gaye and George Jones, I’ve also been jamming those guys and scoping vids.

I must tell you: if you are a Possum fan and haven’t seen this documentary, which I picked up for $3 at a grocery store VHS sale in the early ’90s, you’re cheating yourself. It’s a very simple production (by Charlie Dick–yeah, that Charlie Dick), with somewhat corny narration, and its packaging does the product no favors. However, it is loaded with treats. Loaded

*Great clips of a happy, healthy George, just hanging out at the hacienda, joyously offering up impromptu versions of gospel (“Lily of the Valley”) and Jones (“No Money in This Deal”!!!–just a couple of lines, but holy shit!) classics on acoustic guit for the director.

*Wizened and oft-hilarious testimony from bizzers like Gabe Tucker and Don Pierce (old Starday hands) and Billy Sherrill (reminiscent of Rip Torn’s Artie on The Larry Sanders Show), and peers like Cash, Jennings, Lynn, Hall, Twitty, and Owens. I was gonna call Cash and Jennings old, but when this video was made they were my age. Or close.

*Fantastic performance clips: Jones knocking “Into My Arms Again” out of the park on The Ozark Jubilee; exchanging Cheshire cat grins with master fiddler Johnny Gimble as he defies mild hoarseness and kills on “Bartender’s Blues” (see below) and “He Stopped Loving Her Today”; winding up for a somewhat disturbing mock punch during the “…as they fight their final round…” line while jocularly dueting with Tammy on “Golden Ring; and totally sticking the landing (as he was so often wont to do on last lines) while craftily moseying his way, in deeply loving fashion, through the greatest version of Hag’s “I’ve Always Been Lucky With You” anyone will ever do.

*Sobering and moving testimony from Jones on the trials and tribulations of booze and drugs, as he recalls dropping to 105 pounds (backed up by a shockingly gaunt, diminished Possum desperately working through “Someday My Day Will Come” on a country show in the mid-Eighties) and 72 points of IQ (backed up by the infamous highway patrol arrest footage you may have already seen).

Sorry to run on–but it is that good. I think I’ve watched it 20-some times. Used to do a music documentary series once a month at the high school I used to teach at. When I screened this, the audience consisted solely of me and this young kid with a special ed diagnosis who wrote and sang Hank Williams-styled songs. We sat together on the front row and didn’t speak or blink for an hour.

 

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.