Of Isms and Other Analogous Fluids, Solids, and Gasses (Best Albums of 2019, 11 of 12 Months Down)

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Music News from the Overeem Abode:

*Saw a warm, witty, and wise “Wussy Duo” house show here in Columbia, Missouri, at Botts Manor. All I asked was that they sing three of their several incandescent songs  (“Beautiful,” “Maglite,” and “Acetylene”–I got all those plus a t-shirt) and just be as perfectly imperfect as they are at their best. We’d seen the Bottle Rockets earlier this fall at another house show, and really dug it, so keep your eyes open for such things.

*Read several terrific music books, but experiencing Beastie Boys Book for the second time when my wife downloaded its audiobook equivalent sent us both on a Beastie Boys / Run DMC / ATCQ / Biz Markie jam-out when we made about 65 tamales for Thanksgiving.

Also, Will Ashon’s Chamber Music: Wu-Tang and America (in 36 Pieces) broke my mind into 36 pieces as he took me on a deep dive into The Clan’s debut album, a plunge which features incisive commentary from a former teacher of mine (Sundiata Cha-Jua), a primer on Shaw Brothers kung-fu flicks and their specific influence on The Wu that has me drooling (many are available on Amazon “You Fucking Bastards” Prime), and several heroic attempts to reinterpret the least savory aspects of that release (torture, anyone?). One of my favorite chapters simply capsule-summarizes 36 Shaw Brothers (and related) flicks to tear-inducingly comedic effect. Wait! Isn’t Ashon a white dude? A white dude writing a 300-plus-page disquisition (even though it’s not a 33 & 1/3 publication, it’s one of the best in doing what those usually try and fail to do) on THE WU-TANG CLAN???? Yep, and he’s well aware of the thin ice, doesn’t quite fall through it, and straightforwardly acknowledges it. RECOMMENDED, actually.

*”Are you still hooked on Will ‘Dr. Evil’ Friedwald‘s pop singing criticism,” I hear you asking. Why yes I am–so glad you inquired! I’ve previously blathered about Friedwald’s The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums, which I’m actually not even finished with, and this month I tipped on in to his pretty mammoth A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, which set me on a quest to more deeply acquaint myself with the recorded works of three eccentrics: the Ellingtonian Al Hibbler, the quirky and multi-talented seductress Eartha Kitt, and the “is-he-a-POC-or-isn’t he?” (see the seldom-seen documentary of his life) Herb Jeffries. Twenty years ago, I probably would have thought aficionados of such singers were perhaps a bit uptight, when in actuality it was me who needed to get loose. That being said, I was wise enough about ten years ago to become a rabid fan of Jeffries’ twilight-time release The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again), and if I hadn’t become enough of a fan of Friedwald’s already, his Biographical Guide passage about this record clinched it. I’d never read anything about it that matched my passion for it, and Friedwald might as well have been taking dictation from my heart:


*Oh, and for shits and giggles and because I feel I’m blog-cheating by just listing records I like without commentary, I decided to break down my list and GRADE THEM like a real teacher should(n’t). I’m not gonna belabor this, but an A is an album I’ve played over and over in a short period of time with great pleasure, and that, as a whole, works; an A- I’ve also played several times, may feature a couple bum tracks, but will stay in my collection in physical form and ride with me in the cab of my truck; a B+ is damn good–at least 66.6% of its tracks are–but I don’t need to hold, study, and fondle it; and a B is something that is GOOD–just GOOD–but has a couple dynamite cuts on it or projects a personality I want to stay at least electronically acquainted with.

Will anyone unseat Little Simz? And didn’t I keep Tracey Thorn on the throne almost all year last year, too? Am I an Anglophile? A gynophile (izzat even a word)? Well. If something out there doesn’t get a little better soon, a dead dude’s gonna top my chart. ‘Nuff said on that.

My Album-Lover’s Honor Roll for 2019 (as of November 30, 2019)

(bolded items are new additions to the ongoing list)

(“A”s or 9.5-10/10s)

  1. Little Simz: Grey Area
  2. Purple Mountains: Purple Mountains
  3. Various Artists: A Day in the Life–Impressions of Pepper*
  4. Jamila Woods: Legacy! Legacy!
  5. Junius Paul: Ism
  6. Rapsody: Eve
  8. Chance The Rapper: The Big Day
  9. Byron Asher: Byron Asher’s Skrontch Music
  10. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Bandana

(“A-”s or 9.0-9.4999/10s)

  1. Royal Trux: White Stuff
  2. Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal, Jesse Paris Smith: Songs from The Bardo
  3. Peter Perrett: Humanworld
  4. Yugen Blakrok: Anima Mysterium
  5. Mexstep: Resistir
  6. Mdou Moctar: Ilana (The Creator)
  7. Danny Brown: uknowwhutimsayin
  8. Pere Ubu: The Long Goodbye
  9. J Balvin & Bad Bunny: OASIS
  10. DKV and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time
  11. Lightning Bolt: Sonic Citadel
  12. Sheer Mag: A Distant Call
  13. Billy Woods & Kenny Segal: Hiding Places
  14. Jeffrey Lewis: Bad Wiring
  15. Raphael Saadiq: Jimmy Lee
  16. Young Thug: So Much Fun
  17. Kel Assouf: Black Tenere
  18. James Brandon Lewis: An Unruly Manifesto
  19. Teodross Avery: After the Rain–A Night for Coltrane
  20. Various Artists: Total Solidarity
  21. Lana Del Rey: Norman F***ing Rockwell
  22. Control Top: Covert Contracts
  23. Lizzo: Cuz I Love You
  24. Elza Soares: Planeta Fome
  25. Abdullah Ibrahim: The Balance
  26. Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble: Where Future Unfolds
  27. Denzel Curry: Zuu
  29. Moor Mother: Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes
  30. Various Artists: The Final Battle—Sly & Robbie vs. Roots Radics
  31. Rocket 808: Rocket 808
  32. 2 Chainz: Rap or Go to the League
  33. Joel Ross: Kingmaker
  34. I Jahbar: Inna Duppy SKRS Soundclash
  35. Lee Scratch Perry: Rainford
  36. Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee
  37. Tyler Childers: Country Squire
  38. Pat Thomas, Dominic Lash, and Tony Orrell: Bleyschool
  39. Beyoncé: Homecoming
  40. Sote: Parallel Persia

(“B+”s or 8.65-89.999/10)

  1. The Comet is Coming: Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
  2. The Coathangers: The Devil You Know
  4. Miranda Lambert: Wild Card
  5. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Tuba in Cuba
  6. Quelle Chris: Guns
  7. Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions
  8. DaBaby: KIRK
  9. Ben Lamar Gay: Confetti in the Sky Like Fireworks
  10. Tanya Tagaq: Toothsayer EP
  11. Senyawa: Sujud*
  12. Various Artists: Weaponize Your Sound
  13. Earl Sweatshirt: FEET OF CLAY
  14. Maxo Kream: Brandon Banks
  15. BaianaSystem: O Furturo Nao Demora
  16. Aesop Rock & TOBACCO: Malibu Ken
  17. DaBaby: Baby on Baby
  18. Megan Thee Stallion: Fever
  19. Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won’t Hold
  20. Dan Weiss Trio + 1: Utica Box
  21. Davido: A Good Time
  22. Michael Kiwanuka: Kiwanuka
  23. Saul Williams: Encrypted & Vulnerable
  24. Young M.A.: Herstory in the Making
  25. Ken Vandermark: Momentum 4—Consequent Duos 2015-2019
  26. Poncho Sanchez: Trane’s Delight
  27. The New Orleans Dance Hall Quartet: Tricentennial Hall Dance 17. October
  28. Mario Pavone: Philosophy
  29. Alcorn/McPhee/Vandermark: Invitation to a Dream
  30. Joachim Kuhn: Melodic Ornette Coleman—Piano Works XIII
  31. Chuck Cleaver: Send Aid
  32. Rachid Taha: Je Suis Africain
  33. Barrence Whitfield Soul Savage Arkestra: Songs from The Sun Ra Cosmos
  34. The Sensational Barnes Brothers: Nobody’s Fault But Mine
  35. GoldLink: Diaspora
  36. Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty
  37. Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist
  38. Mantana Roberts: COIN COIN Chapter Four—Memphis
  39. Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dur–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent
  40. black midi: Schlagenheim
  41. Nots: 3
  42. Guitar Wolf: Love & Jett
  43. Robert Forster: Inferno
  44. Aziza Brahim: Sahari
  45. Jacob Wick & Phil Sudderberg: Combinatory Pleasures
  46. The Paranoid Style: A Goddamn Impossible Way of Life
  47. Boris: Love & Evol
  48. Ingrid Laubrock & Aki Takase: Kasumi
  49. LPX: Junk of the Heart (EP)
  50. Helado Negro: This is How You Smile

(“B”s or 8.3-8.64999)

  1. Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: Song for the Big Chief
  2. G & D: Black Love & War
  3. Girl Band: The Talkies
  4. Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys: 30 Years Live
  5. Gilberto Gil: OK OK OK
  6. JPEGMAFIA: All My Heroes Are Cornballs
  7. Resavoir: Resavoir
  8. Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die II—Bird of Paradise
  9. Ras Kass: Soul on Ice 2
  10. Flying Lotus: Flamagra
  11. Angel-Ho: Death Becomes Her
  12. JD Allen: Barracoon
  13. Big Thief: Two Hands
  14. Various Artists: Queen & Slim—The Soundtrack
  15. Tinariwen: Amadjar
  16. Various Artists: Typical Girls Three
  17. Leyla McCalla: Capitalist Blues
  18. Tyshawn Sorey and Marilyn Crispell: The Adornment of Time
  19. Tropical Fuck Storm: Braindrops
  20. Santana: Africa Speaks
  21. Judy and The Jerks: Music for Donuts
  22. Tyler, The Creator: IGOR
  23. Whit Dickey Tao Quartets: Peace Planet / Box of Light
  24. Blacks’ Myths: Blacks’ Myths II
  25. The Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are On the Edge
  26. Ibibio Sound Machine: Doko Mien
  27. Solange: When I Get Home
  28. Freddie Douggie: Live on Juneteenth
  29. Ranky Tanky: Good Time
  30. Ahmad Jamal: Ballades
  31. Dump Him: Dykes to Watch Out For
  32. Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul
  33. Little Brother: May the Lord Watch
  34. Blood Orange: Angel’s Pulse
  35. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Rodents of Unusual Size (Soundtrack to the Motion Picture)
  36. Doja Cat: Hot Pink
  37. Kelsey Lu: Blood
  38. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Miri
  39. Hama: Houmeissa
  40. Ill Considered: 5
  41. Girls on Grass: Dirty Power
  42. Stella Donnelly: Beware of the Dogs
  43. Matthew Shipp Trio: Signature
  44. Shovels & Rope: By Blood
  45. Angel Bat Dawid: The Oracle
  46. Spiral Stairs: We Wanna Be Hyp-No-Tized
  47. Our Native Daughters: Songs of Our Native Daughters
  48. Rosie Flores: A Simple Case of The Blues
  49. Mekons : Deserted
  50. James Carter Organ Trio: Live from Newport Jazz

*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 

(“A”s or 9.5-10/10s)

  1. Peter Laughner: Peter Laughner
  2. Eric Dolphy: Musical Prophet
  3. Burnt Sugar: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes—Groiddest Schizznits, Vols. 1-3
  4. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Live at Woodstock
  5. The Royals: Gish Abbai
  6. Various Artists: Send I A Lion–A Nighthawk Reggae Joint
  7. Jessie Mae Hemphill: Run Get My Shotgun
  8. Merle Haggard & The Strangers: Live in Austin, ‘78
  9. Various Artists: Put The Whole Armour On—Female Black Gospel 1940s and 1950s
  10. Various Artists: No Other Love—Midwest Gospel (1965-1978)

(“A-”s or 9.0-9.4999/10s)

  1. Tribe: Hometown–Detroit Sessions 1990-2014
  2. Various Artists: Bulawayo Blue Yodel
  3. Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Orchestra: Why Don’t You Listen–Live at Lacma, 1998
  4. Various Artists: Outro Tempo II–Electronic and Contemporary Music from Brazil 1984-1996
  5. Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks
  6. Gregory Isaacs / Ossie All-Stars: Mr. Isaacs
  7. Various Artists: Jambu
  8. Erroll Garner: Closeup in Swing
  9. John Coltrane: Blue World
  10. James Booker: Live at Onkel PO’s, Carnegie Hall, Hamburg 1976
  11. Cornell Campbell: I Man a the Stall-A-Watt

(“B+”s or 8.65-89.999/10)

  1. Various Artists: WXAXRXP Sessions
  2. Screaming Females: Singles Too
  3. Various Artists: World Spirituality Classics 2—The Time for Peace is Now
  4. Tubby Hayes: Grits, Beans and Greens—The Lost Fontana Studio Sessions 1969
  5. Star Band de Dakar: Psicodelia Afro-Cubana de Senegal
  6. Big Stick: Some of the Best of Big Stick
  7. Various Artists: Blues Images Calendar Companion, Volume 17
  8. Primal Scream: Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll—The Singles
  9. Masayuki Takayanagi New Directions Unit: April is the Cruellest Month
  10. Various Artists: Rhapsody in Bronze
  11. Various Artists: Fania Goes Psychedelic
  12. Stan Getz: Getz at the Gate
  13. Sir Shina Peters and His Internation Stars: Sewele
  14. Sounds of Liberation: Sounds of Liberation
  15. Prince: Originals
  16. Various Artists: Nigeria 70–No Wahala, Highlife, Afro-Funk & Juju 1973-1987
  17. Lee Moses: How Much Longer Must I Wait? Singles & Rarities 1965-1972

(“B”s or 8.3-8.64999)

  1. John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet: No U-Turn
  2. Various Artists: Siya Hamba! 1950’s South African Country and Small Town Sounds
  3. Johnny Shines: The Blues Came Falling Down–Live 1973
  4. Terry Allen & The Panhandle Mystery Band: Pedal Steal + Four Corners
  5. Neil Young & The Stray Gators: Tuscaloosa
  6. The Replacements: Dead Man’s Pop
  7. Scientists: Not for Sale (Live, 1978-1979)
  8. Abdallah Oumbadougou: Anou Malane
  9. George Jones: United Artists Rarities



A Fine Fake French Festival (April 12th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

I stumbled across the above album in mint condition from a French vendor on Discogs last month and immediately ordered it. I knew the label, Black & Blue, was reputable, but beyond that–I’m strange this way –I wanted to be surprised. Jessie Mae Hemphill, a member of the famous fife-and-drumboogieing north Mississippi hill country family of that surname, is one of my very favorite blues artists. Hailing from Senatobia, armed with a trance-inducing vocal and guitar style, she made precious few records, and no live ones that I was aware of. Here’s one of the Tate County She-Wolf’s greatest tracks:

I didn’t really care about the other artists. The prospect of hearing Hemphill play to a familiar audience was enough. Plus, I’d heard other Mississippi festival recordings and they were great.

Yesterday the record arrived. Live it was not. Hemphill’s tracks? Studio recordings I already owned. I’d paid a modestly pretty penny for it, considering the shipping, so I was miffed. But I put it on anyway, of course, and was pleased to hear that the mix of Hemphill’s tracks seemed hotter than the ones I owned. Then came sings from drummer/vocalist Hezekiah Early and his band The House Rockers–if you call guitar and trombone a blues band, and I do. Charming isn’t a commonly used word for blues music, but believe me, it fits here and it’s not pejorative:

Then I flipped the was for four tracks by Son Thomas and another couple by Early’s unit. I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Thomas, accompanying himself on guitar and indulging in two unfamiliar covers, but…never underestimate a Mississippian! Just on tempo, tuning, and phrasing alone, he made the tracks his own, and cast a very haunting shadow across the record’s proceedings:

This album? I think I’ll keep it!

Short-shrift Division:

Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck: Djam Leelii – Played prior to the above record arriving, it seemed to summon it. There are moments when Maal’s and Seck’s picking slowed down so suddenly that I felt as if I’d been hitting the sizzurp. No surprise: House’s and Hemphill’s playing sounded as if they’d all drunk from the same bottle.

“Saved From The Bin” (January 11, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

After reading an article on death cleaning, I’ve been pruning my CD collection. I do this annually anyway, but this round, well…hundreds are going out the door and to our wonderful local shop, Hitt Records.

While loading up a Zapp’s box to haul away, I noticed two items I had second thoughts about and decided to give them one last spin. Turns out they will remain in the stacks. I must be brief as I’m fading:

Various Artists: Spirit of Malombo – Malombo Jazz Makers, Jabula and Jazz Afrika 1966-1984

Strut Records does a great job, but all I could remember from my first spin was repetitive and somewhat drifty percussion pieces. I must have been distracted; at times, it’s like Mongo Santamaria and Blood Ulmer are jamming, with focused intensity.

Various Artists: I’m Just Like You–Sly’s Stone Flower 1969-70

Don’t be fooled by the dates: if you’ve always had a jones for …there’s a riot goin’ on and Fresh, like I do, you may have to own this collection of Sly-produced side projects, prominently featuring that drum machine that he used so expertly on his own records. I was getting rid of it because it seemed patchy, and it is, but, as is Light In The Attic’s wont, it’s well-packaged and sharply annotated, with a fairly recent interview with Mr. Stewart. And those rhythms? Yeah.

Short-shrift division:

Fat Possum never did a record on Como – Senatobia (MS) she-wold Jessie Mae Hemphill, but if you’re fan of the North Mississippi Hill Country drone, you need her Feelin’ Good. (I was not getting rid of this, by the way.)

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?



Good to My Earhole: Listening Top 10, March 30 – April 4, 2014

Not that I expect this to become a regular feature–I hope it does, though my small band of followers must have noticed I am casting about a bit–but here are some brisk takes on the ten things that spun most euphoniously around my eardrums this week. Consider them strong recommendations for application to your own soul-ills, whatever they may be.

1) Tin Men: Avocodo Woo Woo (CD Baby). I was skeptical about this NOLA trio (featuring Washboard Chaz, the astonishingly ubiquitous songwriter and guitarist Alex McMurray, and sousaphonist–only in the Crescent City!–Matt Perrine) possibly being a dad-rock cum Parrothead act until I read a notably scrupulous and discerning NYC critic’s glowing notice of this, their new album. It is perfectly frothy and spirited fun, with interestingly dark (“Blood in My Eyes”) and dirty (the title song) turns. And, frankly, I love the sound they get from their three pieces.

2) Como Now: Voices of Panola County (Daptone). I am not sure how this brainstorm by “The Label Sharon Jones Built” came about, but in ’06 their agents found themselves in Como, Mississippi (home/former whereabouts) of Fred McDowell, Otha Turner, and Napolion Strickland), soliciting a capella gospel songs from black Christian locals and recording them in a local church. A moving listening experience, especially Irene Stephenson’s harrowing “If It Had Not Been for Jesus.” I am an atheist, and it transfixed me.

3) The Staples Singers: Freedom Train (Epic). Not to be confused with the relatively recent Columbia best-of of the same title, this live album was cut in a church in the group’s then-hometown of Chicago, and the location and the clarity of engineering make it one of the most powerful gospel records of the ’60s, methinks. It’s out of print; I thought I’d pulled a fast one and snagged a $4 copy on eBay, but it was pretty banged up–not so much so that I did not THOROUGHLY enjoy the almost otherworldly dynamics of the performance, particularly Pops’ always-venomous guitar and Mavis’ almost atavistic pleadings.

4) Jessie Mae Hemphill: Feelin’ Good (Shout Factory). Just a bit north of Como (also north of Winona, where Pops Staples was raised up–can you tell I’ve been to Mississippi recently?) is Senatobia, and the space between is one of the locations where North Mississippi Hill Country blues was born. It’s a different animal than Delta blues: structurally and lyrically, it’s more repetitive, but that’s not necessarily a deficit when it’s played with intensity. That’s when it becomes hypnotic–in some ways, it’s an extreme version of the John Lee Hooker sound. Hemphill was raised in this (and the related fife-and-drum) tradition; she’s not as loud nor does she project as well as R. L. Burnside or Junior Kimbrough, but her feminine perspective and toughness often make up for that. Try this:

5) Fu-Schnickens: “Sneakin’ Up On Ya” (from Nervous Breakdown, Jive Records). As Chicago rapper Serengeti’s Tha Grimm Teachaz project suggests, there’s one thing very special about the best rap rekkids of 1990-1995: they don’t date as badly as the prime cuts of other eras. Also, that period seemed stylistically wilder, with seemingly unforgettable (but now pretty much forgotten) MC Chip Fu providing a mind-boggling thrill every other song for this unique group. Other MCs may have been faster, but not more inventive at the same time. By the way, how many current rap GROUPS can you count?

6) D’Angelo: Live at the Jazz Cafe, London, 1996 (Virgin/Universal). This was a Japan-only release back in the day it was recorded, but, as I understand it, even then it wasn’t as expansive as this new reissue, which features ACE covers of The Ohio Players, Mandrill (“Fencewalk”!), Smokey Robinson, and Al Green along with classics from Brown Sugar–principally, a phenomenal performance of the tital track. Weirdly, the artiste often seems to recede into the performances, so he’s no more emphasized than the band or the backup ladies (led by Angie Stone), almost…a Billie Holiday thing. At first I was disappointed he didn’t project more, then I began to suspect it was part of the conception. The link below may be the whole dang thing. Keep your ladies inside the fence….

7) Duke Ellington Orchestra: “Snibor” (from the American Hustle soundtrack or, better advised, And His Mother Called Him Bill on RCA). I finally had a chance to see American Hustle this week, and Nicole and I were surprised and thrilled to hear Johnny Hodges’ alto oozing from this film-opening soundtrack cut. Also, having courted to rekkids ourselves, we were surprised and thrilled to see the protagonists (played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams) do the same thing, to Duke and Jeep’s “Jeep’s Blues.” If you are not familiar with Hodges’ sound, it is the definition of sensuous AND sensual; if you are not familiar with Billy Strayhorn’s compositions for Duke, they are usually designed to highlight that sound. Weirdly, I can’t find a YouTube clip for this tune, but here’s an equally seductive one from the same, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED album (a tribute to the recently-passed Strayhorn):

8) The criminally underrated music of Tyler Keith. As a long-time teacher, I am closely acquainted with the dangers of certainty; in fact, I make it a point to seldom if ever come at students from that angle. Music, as esoteric as our perceptions are, is even more problematic in that regard. But I am certain of this: in a world where the rock and roll impulse is dimming, quite seriously (I think that’s a result of the natural evolution of cultural history, of young musicians, for example, casting off the influence of the blues–although donning the robes of a hipster version of James Taylor, in my view, is a misstep–and not feeling the pressures and releases of a society obsessed with sin and salvation, which I think our society still is but youth circa 2014 may not necessarily be), Tyler Keith of Oxford, Mississippi, may well be the  last live-wire link to both the near-insane energy and rhythm of rockabilly and the bugged-eyed gaze into the void of Richard Hell’s strain of punk, which might really have never been fully exploited for its potential. Whew. That was a long one. But goddam I believe it, and the proof is in the best of Tyler’s work with the Neckbones, and three of his rapidly disappearing four “solo” albums (with the current Apostles and the former Preachers’ Kids), in chronologically descending order, Black HighwayWild Emotions (a fantastic rekkid that MIGHT AS WELL NOT EXIST ON THE INTERWEB!!!), and the perfectly-titled Romeo Hood. Keith’s vocals leap out of his larynx as if propelled by a blood-surge, the music is deeply embued with tough-ass-Stones, sprung-Chuck Berry flavor and Johnny Thunders-styled explosions that are quite unpredictable (!) but perfectly timed in nature, and lyrics that are as obsessed with sin and salvation as The Killer’s favorites, though one suspects with Tyler those are purely existential notions. He can even nail a ballad, even one called “Angora,” about a certain sweater. I have never seen him live, but the intensity of his best recordings cause me to suspect that if I do and he is on, it will be hard to stay in the same room with him. The thing is, I felt this strongly when there was a decent herd he was travelling in; now, he is the burning antithesis not only of the swarms of bearded strummers that play, in critic and musician Allen Lowe’s perfect phrase, as if they have napkins folded in their laps, but also of the depleted strain of rockers who, honestly, usually protest their rockitude too much. With Keith, one feels he’s communicating his wild emotions without artistic calculation, and that’s special. I’ve gone on too long, and I can’t do him justice, but I AM RIGHT: here’s a video of one of the best tunes on his recent rekkid, the BEST rock and roll album of 2013.


9) Public Enemy: “Can’t Truss It” (live on Yo! MTV Raps). Nicole and I were fortunate enough to see the great rap orator Chuck D speak at Columbia’s Missouri Theater Tuesday night, for FREE (not nearly enough folks there, though). He is a hero of both of ours–I’ve even read his books–and we came with high expectations. He delivered grandly, though he talked mostly about critical thinking in the age of extreme technology and devolution of United States popular culture (remember when that two-word phrase was a joy? a reason to live?). I prepped for his appearance by watching this great raw video of one of PE’s greatest songs, one I used to teach in American lit, though I didn’t show it to kids this week (I was thinking about using it to promote the appearance) because I didn’t want to be met with slot mouths.

10) Tommy Boy All-Stars: “Malcolm X: No Sell Out” (Tommy Boy 12″). This, too, was part of my prep for seeing Chuck D, a man who, really, hasn’t sold out, either. I’ve read both the Haley/X “autobiography” and Manning Marable’s corrective bio, and I absolutely love the threading of perfectly chosen soundbites from Malcolm’s speeches (“I was in a house tonight that was bombed…my own. It’s not something the makes me lose confidence in what I’m doing.”) through an ace Keith LeBlanc track. In a perfect world, it woulda been a hit. Still inspiring: “I’m not the kind of person who would come here and say what you like.”