Mix Discs are Back! (April 8th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Dead Moon

As I have written before, the evaporation of the need for making physical mix tapes and discs has hurt my heart. I am happy that it’s better for the environment and personal space; I resent that it’s too easy to “gift” someone, for example, a YouTube playlist link.

Every once in awhile, though, I am called back into jubilant action, and it happened twice this weekend. First, a Canadian friend to whom I had raved about the Clackamas, Oregon, band Dead Moon (there is no other way to communicate about this band) indicated his interest after hearing them, and commissioned (i. e., was forced by me to ask for) a best-of comp. When he indicated he preferred a CD over a streaming mix, I snapped into action. I successfully restrained myself to a single disc (rare occasion), and chose to give him a taste of “only the best” Dead Moon tracks, a sampling of Fred and Toody’s final group, Pierced Arrows, and three rareties in both bands’ catalogs (by the way, the only differences between the two groups are a different drummer and, regarding the latter, a little heavier approach.

I also got involved in an animated Facebook conversation with one of my all-time favorite former students. She’s the amazing mother of four terrific kids, and I’d recommended a ’50s gospel compilation, Jesus Rocked the Jukebox (previously reported about on this blog) that she decided the family needed to have. Welp, that was like Commissioner Gordon turning on the Bat Signal. She, too, mentioned she’d appreciate a hard copy of the compilation, but, as happens with some of us maniacs, I decided I could beat the official version, and mixed its strongest cuts with lesser known but more powerful tracks for their CD.

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The most satisfying part of putting together a mixtape or disc is listening back to it and knowing your job was well done. It’s hard for that not to happen when love is involved.

To the post office!

Good to My Earhole, September 17-24: “Destroy to Rebuilt.”

Highlights of my last several weeks’ listening, rated on a 10-point scale based on how close each rekkid came to making me/whether or not it made me shout. Also, many thanks to the wily music critic Anthony Heilbut and the indefatigable gospel archivist Opal Nations (at the perfectly-named PEWBURNER! website) for educating me and providing me resources!

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO RICHARD PENNIMAN – 8.0 – You might not be aware, but Richard Penniman is better known as Little Richard, and this comp, extracted from scarce vinyl, documents the various years during which he turned himself over to the church. It’s a more consistent and interesting listen than you might fear: he’s always fun when he’s talking (you get some testimony), he invests full feeling into well-traveled vessels like “Old Ship of Zion,” he’s a damn good preacher (“Coming Home”), and there’s a mighty thin line between sec and nonsec on “He Got What He Wanted (But He Lost What He Had)” and “Certainly Lord.” Whoever finally takes on the cross-referencing nightmare necessary to produce the definitive Little Richard comp will need to raid this.

The Violinaires: THE VIOLINAIRES OF DETROIT (1953-1968) (8.3) and GROOVIN’ WITH JESUS (7.5) – I never thought I’d ever buy a record with a title such as the one affixed to the latter release by this underrated gospel quartet, but that was before I heard their great screamer Robert Blair, who’s a hair from on par with Wilson Pickett, who once sang with the group. The former record is exciting as a result, excepting its secular tracks, though the uncategorizable Bizarro-Coasters track “All is Well, All is Well” will definitely keep your attention. You can program around those. Groovin’ (from the late Sixties) will also require your programming attention unless you dig versions of “Put Your Hand in the Hand” and “Let the Sunshine In” that Blair seems to have sat out (at least they’re back to back!), but there the quartet is backed by some very tough and funky Motor City soul players that let the street into the church a few steps.

The Original Blind Boys of Mississippi (featuring Archie Brownlee): THE GREAT LOST BLIND BOYS ALBUM – 10 – It’s great principally due to Brownlee, who with Julius Cheeks of the Sensational Nightingales was the greatest wailer in ’50s quartet gospel, without whom aspects of JB’s and the Wicked Pickett’s vocal attack (and I do mean attack) would have been missing. It’s lost because the recordings were released on Vee-Jay, a huge label at the time that collapsed into a mess and the oft-stunning catalog of which must be tied up in court as I type. But be patient and some sucker’ll sell it used for $5. Featuring the classics “I’m a Soldier,” “I’m Willing to Run,” “Where There’s a Will, There’s A Way,” and “I Never Heard a Man.” Woahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, indeed.

Nots: COSMETIC – 8.8 – After several perusals of Natalie Hoffman’s lyrics and album art, I can assure you she ain’t happy, she looks out of windows and into mirrors frequently and stands firmly unimpressed, and the nights are seldom what she is hoping for (I know Memphis–not to mention other cities–can be that way). So I gave up on those and just rocked along to her no-wave guitar (often in tandem, conversation, and competition with Alexandra Eastburn’s synth figures), got off on her magnificently snotty vocals, and let myself get carried along by their sonic rush. They’re not ones to tarry. Oh, and the drummer’s real good. Those two facts are related.

Marc Ribot: THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS–LIVE IN TOKYO – 7.0 – The idea’s cute, and the players couldn’t be better chosen to execute it: apply the method of Ornette’s harmolodics, which on several releases were indeed catchier than most would expect, to TSOP: the sound of Philadelphia (with some Dayton, Ohio, thrown in). But somehow it doesn’t catch quite catch fire–at times, and I never thought I’d say this about a Ribot project, it’s boring. The structures of the original songs, maybe, aren’t built to shoot the improvs into the stratosphere, and the three-piece string section doesn’t really add up to anything but a reminder of the ol’ glitter-ball. The “disco” material shows off Jamaaladeen Tacuma as the underrecorded wonder he is on bass, but Calvin Weston sounds bored and his drums are way back in the mix. The show, really, for many who’ve been thinking about buying this, is the prospect of Ribot and Mary Halvorson interacting on guitars, and that ends up being the musical equivalent of a buddy movie sans chemistry.

DESCONTRUCÃO–A PORTRAIT OF THE SÃO PAULO MUSIC SCENE – 9.0 – From the liner notes, album art, and the compilation title, the featured artists’ mission seems to be “destroy to rebuilt” [sic].” Set up to be blown up are samba (of course, but they clearly LOVE it), jazz, rock, Afrobeat (!) and “most of all MPB” (that would be “musica popular brasileira). Sound familiar? It does to me–but it doesn’t sound quite like tropicalia. The energy’s not as zany, but it’s a good bit tougher, more serious in its mission, sounds to me. The vocalists can’t match the litheness and beauty of Veloso, Costa, Ben, and Gil (a tall order, that); on the other hand, the music compensates, if this makes sense, with a euphoniousness that often ranges further outside of Brazil than its famous predecessors’. Case in point: a few of their jazz ideas touch down in, oh, about ’65–not in bossa nova territory, but New Thing’s. A scene to watch. Now if I could just understand Portuguese I might know if they’ve got something to say about their government and economy.

Dead Moon: “Black September”/”Fire in the Western World– 10 – A perfect 45 from the lovable folks at Voodoo Doughnut that captures the garage-punk trio at their peak, at a ’93 Satyricon concert on their home turf. Neither cut’s on the recent Record Store Day release, either.

Good to My Earhole, April 20-27: “Chaos and Disorder.”

Prince

I dig not dig that Prince left us. Honestly, I played Dirty Mind at least four times (yes, Whitney Shroyer–the best album of the ’80s), 1999 twice, re-watched Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times to my and my wife’s great happiness, and wrote this via an email to a Purple-agnostic friend the morning after he passed:

Having grown up with The Purple One (he was just three years my senior, and part of my life since I was a 17-year-old lifeguard hearing “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on the juke), I find it hard to be too objective. In terms of entertainment value and sheer skill (vocal range, instrumental facility, compositional acumen, dancing) he leaves MJ in the dust. He effectively synthesized JB, Sly, punk ‘n’ new wave, a dab o’ Dylan (the sui generis musical visionary) and other stuff it’s too early for me to pull out into his own totally inimitable blend–a little mind-blowing. He was at the forefront of gender-bend (and lyrical taboo-violation!) in terms of being an AMERICAN artist and being popularly successful–many forget he was called “faggot” relentlessly in the early days (including by Stones fans when they took him on tour in ’81). Tipper Gore had to create the PMRC to deal with his existence in pop music. It’s like Chamberlain and the widening of the lane (that didn’t work any better than the PMRC). Also–so generous in writing songs for other artists and producing their records! PLUS: outside of having a dirty mind, he was one clean motherfucker.

I think one thing that makes him hard to assess at this moment is since the peaking of rap (’89-’95), he’s been foundering–I mean live he would still kick anybody’s ass doing a greatest hits set, but he hadn’t quite figured out how to be post-50 Prince. Finding religion and falling under the influence of a charismatic (Larry Graham, formerly of the Family Stone, OF ALL PEOPLE!!!) did not help. But several artists, Dylan among them, and I’d argue the Stones (less effectively), struggled with the same dilemma. Artists in the wilderness–a trope since Dante. Easily one of the greats–cranked his music for a good three hours with windows open yesterday afternoon, and Nicole and I re-watched both Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times last night.”

I am hyperbolizing a few places in there, but only a few. I would add if I could re-send that he was wonderfully weird and could strike the normal (whoever they are) DEEP. He was dedicated to inclusion (maybe he learned it from Sly). And those Stones fans’ epithets (I heard ’em in my hometown of Carthage, Missouri, too)? Without an iota of protest on his part, he just shut ’em up. And made plenty of them fans, dragging them kicking and screaming in-to the pur-ple rain. I’ll never forget the Lefty Brothers covering that song at a honky tonk in Springfield (aka “Banks and Bibles, Missouri”).

Adios.

Anyway….

OTHER highlights of my last week’s listening, scored on a mystic 10-point scale for which I am only a medium:

James Booker/GONZO: MORE THAN THE 45s – 8.5 – A collection of The Piano Prince’s early recordings, including “Doing the Hambone,” a regional hit scored when he was a mere 14 (his piano’s under the mix a bit), “Gonzo,” a 1960 #3 R&B smash that allegedly inspired Hunter S. Thompson, its superior flip “Cool Turkey,” a crazed organ workout Garth Hudson must have worn out, and many more wonderful oddities. He shoulda been a contender, and his zany keyboard genius thrills me.

THE SWAN SILVERTONES/SAVIOUR PASS ME NOT – 10 – There is little American gospel music more sublime than what the Swan Silvertones recorded for Vee-Jay. One reason is the transported, flexible, and very sexy vocals of the Reverend Claude Jeter, whom a little kid named Al Green was definitely tuned in to; another is bassman William Conner, whose larynx still beats other folks’ four-strings. This two-fer-one disc includes the definitive version of the classic “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” and a “Lord’s Prayer” the beauty of which will shock you.

Parquet Courts/HUMAN PERFORMANCE – 8.8 – Rock and roll! Or is it? These dudes are intimately familiar with my (and many of your) sweet spots. Every time my attention starts to drift, they poke one (Mo Tucker percussion, Lou Reed drone-solo, deadpan Richman phrasing, rave-ups–not to say they are only masters of VU-and-offshoots moves), to the point where I start to wonder, “Are these pastiches of pastiches, pastiched together?” I guess that’s modern art for you: the poking of sweet spots. At any rate, critics are doing handsprings over the lyrics suddenly meaning things, to which I quietly respond, “And where did that get Michael Stipe?” What they oughtta work on is the vocal attack, which usually projects all of the personality of this album’s title.

The Del McCoury Band/DEL AND WOODY – 8.5 – How deep is the barrel of Woody Guthrie lyrics he didn’t write tunes for? Only daughter Nora knows for sure, but I can vouch that, from the evidence of this collection, the bottom has not been reached. Highlights are hymns to national road building, inexpensive mechanics, and poor folks’ food. Plus, this band can pick and move.

Prince/CHAOS AND DISORDER – 8.8 – You might have missed this ’96 release–because the late great Purple One had lost his grip on the charts and was knee-deep in label-wrangling. But, hey, if you dug his guitar-playing as much as his other 1,000 gifts, this is a nook to go back and explore. Also, if you’re imagining what might emerge from the vault if his estate will ever allow it, this is a fascinating hint.

Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil/DOIS AMIGOS, UM SECULO DE MUSICA – 9.5 – Just two 73-year-old Brazilians, their songs, and their acoustic guitars, performing to the home crowd across two discs. But the rhythms, melodies, and vocal passion, fueled by fifty years of friendship, political commitment, and complicated patriotism, will mesmerize you. I need not remind you today to give men their propers while they are living. Tropicalia fans, you know what to do.