The Ten Days (June 25th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

On Facebook these days, a kind of game’s going around where you tag people who are insane and will take the time to share their 10 favorites movies or albums, once a day for ten days. On the face of it, it’d seem anyone who’d participate would only be doing so to show off their fabulous taste, and who needs that? It’s already been shown that the ‘book’s great at making folks feel like they’re not measuring up, and I must confess complicity in that process. But I’d like to think there is also an aspect of gifts being paid forward: I can’t really imagine what I’d be like if people hadn’t recommended particular artwerx to me that deflected me into betterment.

I’m plagiarizing myself yet again, but one of the better students I’ve taught who is a passionate fan of music asked me to play, and (as usual) I tweaked the task so I was striving to share albums I loved that few people I know know much about, and albums that spanned genres, just to encourage folks to by God open up a little bit. I thought I’d put ’em all in one place because, upon looking back, I think I met the challenge.

Day 1: Jean Grae–Jeanius

I have been a big rap fan since I heard “Rapper’s Delight” in Carthage, Missouri, in ’79–I had a friend who’d moved there from NYC and brought the single with her–and that condition shows no signs of changing. One of my favorite MCs is Jean Grae, and my favorite Jean release is JEANIUS. Great beats, amazing bars, and hilarious album art. She’s still in the game, and a more underrated female rapper there is not. Enjoy!

Day 2: Willie King–Jukin’ at Bettie’s

I dig juke joint blues as frequently captured by the Fat Possum label, but this ain’t exactly that. First, King’s from Alabama; second, his kit bag’s a bit bigger than the average North Mississippian’s. Not saying he’s better — saying he’s different. He can lock you into a boogie trance, but the occasional keyboards and steadier beat take nothing away from a sweaty good time.

Day 3: Horace Tapscott–The Giant Has Awakened

Horace Tapscott was a great Houston-born, L.A.-based bandleader, composer, pianist, teacher and community activist. Besides being staggeringly effective in all those roles, he planted a tree the branches of which stretch to Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and Kendrick Lamar. The album from which this, the title cut, comes should be in the jazz canon, and features a frighteningly talented and intense band.

Day 4: The Power of the Trinity–Great Moments in Reggae Harmony

Today’s choice is in the reggae field. Reggae’s produced some KILLER compilation albums: The Harder They Come, Rockers, Tougher Than Tough are just a few. This gem spotlights an era in the music’s development that in its way stands with the glory days of southern soul and the blossoming of doo wop. Great harmony singing, messages of inspiration (we need those now)…and the riddims! Informative notes from Randall Grass if you buy a physical.

Day 5: Johnny Gimble–Texas Dance Party

If you claim to be a country fan and you DON’T know the great fiddler Johnny Gimble (he played other instruments, too), I am sorry–you are not much of a country fan. Gimble played with everybody, from Bob Wills to George Jones to Merle Haggard to Guillermo Nelson. However, he also made his own LPs, and the one from which this track comes is a dandy that you will have no choice but to swing to. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find; I guess that’s what YouTube is for. Dedicated to all my Texas friends and family, and, as always, specifically, to Mr. Walter Daniels!

Day 6: Zeal & Ardor–Devil Is Fine

This act has a new album out, but for me the jury’s still out on it. THIS ONE, however, has rocked our house numerous times. Its combination of metal explosions, slave chant effects, and blues feeling speak to the times mighty well. Don’t be afraid of the devil.

Day 7: Dead Moon–Trash & Burn

It’s odd that it’s taken seven days for me to share my favorite record by Clackamas, Oregon’s greatest punk/garage/ROCK AND ROLL band! A stripped-down, three-piece, three-minutes-and-a-cloud-of-smoke attack that lives up to its title, once you sample this, you’ll want more. Also: to my mind, the most amazing husband and wife combo in American music history–hands down. This goes out to Weeden, Ingrid, Shane, Amanda, and Toody today–you continue to be an inspiration in our household!

Day 8: Bo Dollis Jr. and The Wild Magnolias–We Come to Rumble

New Orleans music is certainly in my wheelhouse. A great subgenre of the NOLA sound is Mardi Gras Indian funk–even when it is simply in chant form, it’s usually got the funk, and it can be argued that funk itself sprang from Indian ritual. Here, the son of a great chief, and now head of one of the most famous tribes, fuel-injects the tradition with a different kind of juice than it’s used to. The lead track, “We Come to Rumble,” serves notice. Mighty kootie fiyo, and get out the way!

Day 9: Lynn August–Sauce Piquante

When most folks think of zydeco, the infectious, accordion-driven dance music of Louisiana and Texas, they think of Clifton Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco. Mr. Lynn August merits your attention for his love of articulating the r&b basics of the genre as well as reaching wayyyyyyyy back into its furthest past (here, to the juré). The resulting sauce IS piquant!

Day 10: Julius Eastman–Unjust Malaise

It is now in fashion to be singing the praises of classical composer, pianist, and singer Julius Eastman, and I just learned about him two years ago myself. But he worked largely out of the wider public view while he was alive, experienced a tragic and lonely final set of years on this turf, and those circumstances were certainly at least partly due to his being black, gay, and a challenging artistic creator. This collection of many of his best compositions is a powerful introduction. Think about giving it a shot.

Short-shrift Division:

Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)–Is anyone as effective in creating ambient music that is soothing yet disruptive, grooveful yet interruptive? I think not. Think for yourself:

The Beginning of the End: The Beginning of the End and Funky Nassau–Seventies fonk from the Bahamas, re-ished by Strut! Records, who still haven’t taken me off their exclusive subscription service, even though I ain’t paid. Vocals not the most inticing, but rhythms and guit might put a hook in yer ass.

Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse–No twerp.

The Carters: Everything is Love–Perhaps, but mountains of money helps maintain the illusion if it ain’t. In addition, this couple’s venture into trap soundz is extremely awkward, but they’re daring you not to say so. “No more kings,” saith Bob Dorough.

 

 

Dearth Leads to Bounty! (April 3, 2018, Columbia, MO)

The afternoon didn’t bode well. I felt compelled, as a result of lobbed cocktail of Molotov Lite on the streets of a music forum I frequently walk, to listen again to a new record (Kasey Musgraves’ very-much-instantly-vauntedGolden Hour) that I was sure I didn’t like. But, dammit, because my philosophy of life is that it’s too short to do less than two things at once, I feared I hadn’t concentrated enough on the lass’ work. So I abjured my usual practice of consuming (in the open air) music and (at the very least light) literature simultaneously, and donned headphones for an ultra-close listen.

Turned out I was right to begin with: while emitting a quite pleasant glow, Golden Hour‘s songs are unremittingly sappy and cliched, which would be worse, I suppose, if Musgraves weren’t a borderline erotic singer–but she mostly strives to achieve that eros by intoning in too codeined a style for me to buy. There you have it.

At that point I should have gone about my business, with three excellent tomes going and some new releases calling. However, though the effort didn’t bring much return, I dug the dedicated listening experience enough to hold off on the page-turning, keep the earbuds in, and really concentrate. Good thing I did: all three of the records I sampled (I’m really starting to love Apple Music) were splendid to be alone in a room with.

This one’s in my Top 5 for 2018–no need to make sure I’m right–though I am going to be playing the heck out of it. Ms. Grae, one of my very favorite MCs, has been a bit lost in the wilderness over the last near-decade, exploring other mediums (web TV, for example) where she just hasn’t hit it. Her exploits, by my lights at least, have been honorable duds. Quelle Chris, on the other hand, has never quite held my attention at all. Together, however, they’ve created a concept album that can hang with Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves; if their comments on the album’s Bandcamp site can be trusted, Paul was an influence on their work. To be honest, I might actually like Everything’s Fine better. As we know, everything ain’t fine, and one thing the album explores, through funky, burbling tracks, inventive rhyming and phrasing, and comic bits that work without distraction, how we tell ourselves daily that it is, that it’s gonna be. Clearly, the duo don’t think so, and the sustained balance between satirical humor and clearly articulated horror here make the album one of the best statements hip hop has made about Orange45World and our unfortunate commitment to racism. Aside from that, which is a lot, the best thing about Everything’s Fine is Grae’s return to form; among several great turns of phrase, my favorite is“Amarosa? Vámonos–goddam!”

Surfing the music sites, I’d just glanced at the cover of Chloe x Halle’s The Kids are Alright and it called to me. Thanks to the sage argumentation and advice of a few writers to whom I’m lucky to have regular access (Humanizing the Vacuum‘s and Spin‘s Alfred Soto I single out as particularly persuasive–you should read him, he’s got style), my taste for rhythm and blues has been awakened after lying fairly dormant since Womack and Womack’s 1983 Love Wars. I’m not sure what my problem has been…well, gloss, excessive use of melisma, lack of differentiation for a few decades, pop prejudice, but those are arguments I probably couldn’t back up well in a firefight. I’d kept an eye on Mary J., but that was it–until Mr. Soto enthused alluringly about King’s We Are King. As can happen when we’re made sheepish, I thought to myself, “I haven’t heard of that–it can’t be that good.” Almost on the sly from myself, and months and months after I’d read Alfred’s take, I listened to it myself, and it not only bewitched me (I have since played it regularly–it seriously casts a spell), but it thawed me out to the point that I suddenly couldn’t get enough of Rihanna’s Anti, Beyonce’s Lemonade, anything by D’Angelo, SZA’s CTRL–my portal seems permanently open. Clearly, this isn’t just a phase.

All this is to explain why my attraction to the mere album covers of The Kids are Alright, then, an hour later, Toni Braxton’s Sex & Cigarettes, required me to listen to the records: I didn’t want to wait for Mr. Soto or someone else to have to hip me. Chloe x Halle’s offering is, end to end, really, really good, but the main thing that knocked me out was the song “Grown,” which just tore me up. A better song for the moment I’ve yet to hear, and, as someone who’s taught across the last four decades, I instantly flashed back across the faces and voices of so many students who’ve come through my classroom:

As for Ms. Braxton, I’d never listened to more than a single song of hers at a sitting, and never, ever an album. Confession: I’d already noted Mr. Soto’s approval, but chose not to read his take in-depth so I could try it solely with my own mind and ears (I told you, he’s quite a writer).  Plus, like I said, I liked the cover, and the title. Well, I may have to do some catching up with Toni’s oeuvre: Sex & Cigarettes is going into my Top–hmmmm–15 of 2018. The relatively spare settings, the wrapped wires of toughness and vulnerability that connect most of its songs, and Braxton’s unique deep and lightly husky delivery–signifying things very hard won–are a winning combination.

So, bomb-thrower: maybe you were right after all, just not about Golden Hour.

Short-shrift Division:

Another reason I was not on the r&b tip during the ’90s and ’00s: I was too focused on noise like this, which is both new and old, Japanese and American.

“Sound Unheard, Word Unread” (January 12, Columbia, Missouri)

Who are the artists whose releases you buy sound unheard, critical word unread? I am assuming this is a practice of yours, and that you do still buy music. Mine have changed over the years. In my twenties: George Jones, Minutemen, Replacements, Husker Du, Prince, anything George Clinton-related, Tom Waits. In my thirties: Public Enemy, Mekons, The Oblivians, James Carter. Over the past 17 years, though (my forties and fifties), skepticism’s cold hand has fallen on my shoulder and my coin has not been offered so automatically. When it has been, it’s been for artists with unique vision who live on the margins, like Tyler Keith, Swamp Dogg, Bobby Rush, MF Doom. Today, I spent time with two of those.

Ever since I first laid ear to Jean Grae, she’s been one of my favorite MCs. She has a flintiness of tone that reminds me of Rakim, a winning emotional tension created by toughness and vulnerability, a deadly and surprising pen, and, until recently, a consistency that satisfies my preference for album artists. One terrific Grae record even fans of hers may have missed is Evil Jeanius, created in collaboration with Blue Sky Black Death. All the above qualities are in play, but of special note is the mesmerizing “Threats,” which features multiple cascading Etta James samples that reinforce them:

Elsewhere, the team makes use of one of John Cale’s violin stabs from “Venus in Furs.” Though I can’t help but encourage Jean’s recent attempts to diversify artistically (into singing, television, and books), it’s not been great for her rapping, but I’ll still buy any record she releases.

I have a weakness for old folks who’ve prospered doing very unconventional things on the margins for decades. Such is the case of Poughkeepsie’s finest, saxophonist/trumpeter/percussionist/composer Joe McPhee.

McPhee, who turned 78 in November, makes wonderful music out of blips, blaps, squeaks, squeals, wails and whispers. The unconverted have been known to say that all free jazz sounds alike, that such artists are “just playing” anything, but I’d know a McPhee performance a mile away. Joe’s new record, Imaginary Numbers, on Clean Feed, showed up in my mailbox yesterday, and did not disappoint. Try this:

Short-shrift division:

Roxy Music: For Your Pleasure. I love post-Eno Roxy, but I wish he’d stuck around a little longer.

Shame: Songs of Praise: Read in The Guardian today that these guys could be the next punk thing in the UK. I wasn’t knocked out, nor was I repelled–I guess I just want to note that today was the day I first heard them (across a room and hallway’s distance, and not cranked, so I need to return to the record).

PhilCrackers

In the above photo, I am attempting to get a former cat of mine to resolve my own paralysis (caused by an overabundance of rekkids and CDs) and choose between Mingus Atlantics that he wants to hear. I hope that, once this blog is under way, if it ever is and if you ever see it, I will be more successful persuading you to share some of musical experiences, which are fairly constant: if music isn’t blasting from my headphone, truck, home, or device speakers, unless I am talking (and sometimes even then) my memory is spinning it inside my skull. I have heard that if you stop a human at rest and in meditation–particularly a man–and ask him what he’s thinking about, the odds are 9:1 it’ll be sex. Though I have no qualms about that specific mental drifting, if you stop me in the same state, the odds are 9:1 I will be thinking about whether I will ever get to see Swamp Dogg, or if I am right about Natural Child‘s greatness, or if Jean Grae can get this multimedia thing off the ground. I am a musical monomaniac, and four decades of that state of being should produce an occasionally interesting word-birth.

Here’s what I hope to do:

1) Capsule-review records that are making me feel alive. However, I feel no obligation to keep up with what is new; it’s impossible, and besides, for the general Webwanderer, there’s more danger in never running across a stellar release from the past that’s being sucked towards the chronological dustbin. Also, I won’t waste time on hating something. Or even pointing out that something’s simply boring. Indifference is the coldest cut, and life’s too short not to always be writing about what I like.

2) Spin true tales of how music has enriched my life.

3) Post about (notice I didn’t say “write about”) videos, films, concerts and books that feed my obsession.

4) Interact with some fellow travelers.

So…today I leave you with the utterances of Johnny Burnette: “I don’t need a doctor/I don’t need a pill/In other medicine/Is bound to make me ill/I need Rock Therapy/Give it to me, oh give it to me, oh give it to me….”

Oh, and let me proselytize quietly with this loud concert recording: