The Long Way Home: Diary Playlist 4 (April 29 – May)

The week’s listening. I was ending my tenth semester at Stephens College with students doin’ the final exam wig-out all around me, and the chaos was catching. I also road-tripped. This playlist catches that:


Plucked from History’s Dustbin (best recent purchase of an old record): William Faulkner Reads from his Works (featuring selections from The Sound and The Fury and Light In August; procured for me by the gents at Hitt Records!).

Grower, Not a Shower (old record I already owned that’s risen significantly in my esteem): Rhiannon Giddens’ Freedom Highway; The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls (I already loved it–I just fell even more in love with it, by learning to more fully accept and appreciate “Some Girls,” “Faraway Eyes,” and “Shattered.” Um, it was already showin’ — plenty.

Encore, Encore! (album I played at least twice this week): The Go-Betweens’ 1978-1980; The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls.

Through the Cracks (sweet record I forgot to write about): Sleep, The Sciences; Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco, You’re Driving Me Crazy; Salim Washington, Dogon Revisited.

Coming Attractions (Sunday’s Children): Aretha Franklin, Young, Gifted, and Black; Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta; Z.Z. Hill, Greatest Hits.

Radicals (May 3rd, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Scrambling today, but I found time to bend an ear to two brave music-makers.

I first saw Janelle Monae on a late-night show and was a bit gobsmacked: clearly, she was deriving her shit from obvious sources, but equally clearly she was her own thang. I remember thinking, “If she can master singing and writing, wowzers!” The next morning I reported to the 12th grade class I was teaching that she was a future star and showed ’em a video; two weeks later, Nicole and I were watching her open scintillatingly for Erykah Badu at the Orpheum in Memphis. I believe this was 2012.

In the interim, I’ve tried everything she’s had to offer, but come away feeling her ideas surpass her actual execution of such: didn’t figure I’d return to the tracks and I haven’t.

Word of mouth on Dirty Computer was hot, so I put it on. Gotta say, musically and lyrically, she’s coming on, and she communicates her wisdom and charisma far more clearly than ever in her singing. “Pink” (the song and video) is the best thing she’s ever done, and the most daring, and the most right–if it were the last thing she ever produced it’d be enough. As for the rest of the record…it’s solid, but, again, its ambitions aren’t quite met by her productions, but she’s a heroine for sure, and I’m proud we both have Kansas roots.

On a tip from my main man Isaac, one of a few observant, sharp-eared friends who keep me seeming smart, I also sampled a newly released recording (made in 2011) by the volatile, leonine, but pretty danged long in the tooth saxophonist Peter Brotzmann. Brotzmann can be a room-clearer, but Ouroboros, where he’s partnered with Fred Longberg-Holm on strings and electronics, is truly one of his most imaginative, varied, and (relatively) accessible albums. It’s still challenging, but not withering to the newcomer; the soundscapes shift and morph surprisingly, with no sacrifice to Brotzmann’s power, and the dynamic settings created by Longberg-Holm put the reedman’s experience to the test. It’s hard to write about this music, but I’m not wrong–it’s one of the best records of any kind that’s been released in 2018.

Here’s a live clip of Brotzmann and Longberg-Holm from approximately the same time as Ouroboros‘ recording.

Narrative-Free Takes (March 5, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Sara and Maybelle Carter: An Historic Meeting–Something about the Carters’ stoicism hypnotizes me, as does their hard-earned authority. You do wonder if the hand that rocks the cradle can change the world (again), and do they have some kind words for immigrants (in a song that’s a sister to their stunning “Hello Stranger”). And: Maybelle’s autoharp is up in the mix, a wise choice.

Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues–And I almost wish it didn’t. While for a new group this might raise eyebrows, the multiple absences lead me to a regrettable conclusion: those who never thought the group had soul in the first place will have to acknowledge its presence then as a result of its absence here. If that makes sense.

Bettye LaVette: “Things Have Changed”–After nailing my ass to the wall with I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise and a Memphis show I saw on the subsequent tour, LaVette’s raw magic has quit working on me. She often sounds so in love with the effects she used in just the right places on that album that she’s just used them as much as possible since, though if the material is just right, it just doesn’t matter. This lead cut from her coming album, a set of Dylan covers? I love the song so much I can’t really tell, but the world-weary fabric-rip in her exhortations suits the lyric.

Young Fathers: “In My View”–“In my view / Nothing’s ever given away / I believe / To advance, then you must pay / … When I leave / You’ll be dancing on my grave / … I wanna be king / Until I am.” Pretty intriguing, until the video (above) ruins it, if you’re watching it. Or does it? The thing (that last line, the video’s close) takes a weird, telling turn.

Janelle Monàe: “Make Me Feel”–I’m right about next to nothing without hindsight, but I once told a classroom of students (six years ago) that Janelle was going to be a big star, and even if that didn’t happen, she’d never be boring. I seldom need confirmation–but I’ll take it!