Power Up! Look Out! This Dance’s About Over!: 155 Rekkids That Have Given Me Pleasure This Year When I Really, Really Needed It!

New developments?
1) Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger made their record on an iPad in their apartment while sheltering in place; that fact, and the gentleness of the recording have it shooting up my chart.

2) There’s some serious experimental noise coming out of Memphis–and that’s really no surprise.

3) Aesop Rock just gets better with age.

4) Could be the best improvisors in the world–the band Cortex among them–are from Norway.

5) My former student Jessica Kittle TOLD ME Kali Uchis was an artist of exploding potential.

6) AC/DC have made a strong record. Just when you thought they were done….

7) I was struck by a countryish song called “Black Like Me” I heard on a writer’s playlist three months ago and forgot to see who the artist was. So THAT’S Mickey Guyton! Very good to know!

8) The music writer Chuck Eddy is unafraid to tread confidently out on limbs. He recently did this on behalf of a group I hadn’t heard of called Hot Country Knights. The band name and album cover made me chuckle, and I sampled it purely for that reason, without asking Chuck about them. The songs? “Chuckle” isn’t a strong enough word. Hey…if you need some laughter in your life and you sometimes pine for ’90s country, you might wanna take a flyer yourself. Check out Chuck’s blog here.

9) If you know who Madlib and Karreim Riggins are, you will have to proceed directly to their “black classical music” collab project, Jahari Massamba Unit.

10) A couple historical dudes named Mingus and Hendrix are benefiting from very impressive excavations of legendary live performances they once delivered. You can benefit as well.

Living to Listen’s 100 Favorite New Releases of 2020, January 1 to November 30

(Items new to the list are bolded.)

  1. Kahil El’Zabar: America, The Beautiful
  2. Run The Jewels: RTJ 4
  3. Gil Scott-Heron and Makaya McCraven: We’re New Again–A Reimagining
  4. SAULT: Untitled (Black Is) 
  5. 79rs Gang: Expect the Unexpected
  6. Princess Nokia: Everything is Beautiful
  7. Fire! Orchestra: Actions
  8. Dezron Douglas & Brandee Younger: Force Majeure
  9. Serengeti & Kenny Segal: AJAI
  10. Neptunian Maximalism: Éons (band name and album title of the year, based on music’s justification of same)
  11. Marx Lomax II: The Last Concert—Ankh & The Tree of Life
  12. Mark Lomax II: The 400 Years Suite
  13. The Third Mind: The Third Mind
  14. Jyoti: Mama You Can Bet!
  15. Hamell on Trial: The Pandemic Songs
  16. Boldy James & The Alchemist: The Price of Tea in China
  17. Roisin Murphy: Roisin Machine
  18. Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
  19. Anna Högberg Attack: lena
  20. Tee Grizzley: The Smartest
  21. Aesop Rock: Spirit World Field Guide
  22. The Good Ones: RWANDA, you should be loved
  23. Kahil El’Zabar: Spirit Groove (featuring David Murray)
  24. Bob Dylan: My Rough and Rowdy Ways
  25. Ashley McBryde: Never Will
  26. Zeal and Ardor: Wake of a Nation (EP)
  27. Princess Nokia: Everything Sucks
  28. Shabaka and The Ancestors: We Are Sent Here By History
  29. Lido Pimienta: Miss Colombia
  30. Bettye LaVette: Blackbirds
  31. Mike & The Moonpies: Touch of You–The Lost Songs of Gary Stewart
  32. Cornershop: England is a Garden
  33. Elizabeth Cook: Aftermath
  34. Body Count: Carnivore
  35. Open Mike Eagle: Anime Trauma Divorce
  36. James Brandon Lewis and Chad Taylor: Live in Willisau
  37. Cortex: Legal Tender
  38. Various Artists: Memphis Concrete Presents Sound in Geometry Series, Volume 1—On Triangles
  39. James Brandon Lewis: Molecular
  40. Charles McPherson: Jazz Dance Suites
  41. Kali Uchis: Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)
  42. SAULT: Untitled (Rise)
  43. Various Artists: New Improvised Music from Buenos Aires
  44. The Human Hearts: Day of the Tiles (EP)
  45. Kesha: High Road
  46. DJ-Kicks / Various Artists: Mr. Scruff
  47. Little Simz: Drop 6 (EP)
  48. K. Michelle: All Monsters are Human
  49. Drakeo the Ruler & JoogSzn:Quit Rappin
  50. Joel Ross: Who Are You?
  51. KeiyaA: Forever, Ya Girl
  52. Rob Mazurek & Exploding Star Orchestra: Dimension Stardust
  53. Bobby Rush: Rawer Than Raw
  54. Hot Country Knights: The K is Silent
  56. Thiago Nassif: Mente
  57. Luke Stewart: Luke Stewart Exposure Quintet
  58. Bette Smith: The Good, The Bad, and The Bette
  59. Florian Arbenz & Greg Osby: Reflections of The Eternal Line
  60. Irreversible Entanglements: Who Sent You
  61. Carlos Nino and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson: Chicago Waves
  62. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids: Shaman!
  63. City Girls: City on Lock
  64. Moses Sumney: grae
  65. Apollo Brown & Che Noir: As God Intended
  66. Al Bilali Soudan: Tombouctou
  67. JD Allen: Toys / Die Dreaming
  68. No Age: Goons Be Gone
  69. Steve Earle: Ghosts of West Virginia
  70. Ammar 808: Global Control / Invisible Invasion
  71. Jeff Parker: Suite for Max Brown
  72. Junglepussy: Jp4
  73. Alicia Keys: ALICIA
  74. Grimes: Miss Anthropocene
  75. Dehd: Flower of Devotion
  76. Mickey Guyton: Bridges (EP)
  77. The Ridiculous Trio: The Ridiculous Trio Plays The Stooges
  78. Burna Boy: Twice as Tall
  79. Conway the Machine: From a King to a God
  80. Mr. Wrong: Create a Place
  81. Various Artists: Eyes Shut, Ears Open–A Burning Ambulance Compilation
  82. Moor Jewelry: True Opera (EP)
  83. Teodross Avery: Harlem Stories – The Music of Thelonious Monk
  84. Asher Gamedze: Dialectic Soul
  85. Optic Sink: Optic Sink
  86. Laraaji: Sun Piano
  87. Tiwa Savage: Celia
  88. Jinx Lennon: Border Schizo Fffolk Songs for the F****d
  89. Gard Nilssen’s Supersonic Orchestra: If You Listen Carefully, The Music is Yours
  90. Beauty Pill: Sorry You’re Here (EP)
  91. Steve Arrington: Down to the Lowest Terms—The Soul Sessions
  92. Jahari Massamba Unit: Pardon My French
  93. Swamp Dogg: Sorry You Couldn’t Make It
  94. Julianna Barwick: Healing is a Miracle
  95. Black Thought: Streams of Thought, Vol. 3—Cane and Abel
  96. Speaker Music: Black Nationalist Sonic Weaponry
  97. Lori McKenna: The Balladeer
  98. Old 97s: Twelfth
  99. Theo Parrish: Wuddaji
  100. Mars Williams: An Ayler Christmas, Volume 4

Reissues and Past Recordings Freshly Excavated

  1. Various Artists: Daora–Underground Sounds of Urban Brasil
  2. Wussy: Ghosts
  3. Various Artists: Turn Me Loose, White Man
  4. Thelonious Monk: Palo Alto
  5. Charles Mingus: @ Bremen 1964 & 1975
  6. Jimi Hendrix: Live in Maui
  7. Hallelujah Chicken Run Band: Take One
  8. Pylon: Pylon Box
  9. Various Artists: Hanging Tree Guitars
  10. Various Artists: Saint Etienne Present Songs for the Fountain Coffee Room
  11. Milford Graves & Don Pullen: The Complete Yale Concert
  12. King Ubu Orchestru: Concert at Town Hall – Binaurality Live 1989
  13. Luiz Carlos Vinhas: O Som Psicodelico De L. C. V.
  14. Oneness of Juju: African Rhythms 1970-1982
  15. Junior Byles: Beat Down Babylon (Deluxe Reissue)
  16. Various Artists: Soul Love—The Black Fire Records Story 1975-1993
  17. Sun Ra: Unity—Live at Storyville NYC October 1977
  18. Peter Stampfel and The Bottlecaps: Demo ‘84
  19. Various Artists: La Locura de Machuca—1975-1980
  20. Lee Scratch Perry with Seskain Molenga and Kalo Kawongolo: Roots from the Congo (reissue)
  21. Victor Chukwu: Akalaka / The Power
  22. Dennis Gonzalez: Forever the Falling Stars
  23. The Heshoo Beshoo Group: Armitage Road
  24. Various Artists: Strum and Thrum—The American Jangle Underground 1983-1987
  25. Hiroshi Yoshimura: Green
  26. Milton Nascimento: Maria Maria (reissue)
  27. Jon Hassell: Vernal Equinox (reissue)
  28. The Awakening: Hear, Sense, and Feel
  29. Bessie Jones: Get in Union
  30. Tony Allen: No Accommodation for Lagos
  31. Black Unity Trio: Al-Fatihah
  32. Various Artists: All Aboard! The CN Express—Rock Steady and Boss Reggae Sounds 1967-1968
  33. The Pogues: BBC Sessions 1984-85
  34. Ranil: Stay Safe and Sound!
  35. Various Artists: Love Saves the Day—A History of American Dance Music Culture 1970-1979
  36. TEST: TEST and Roy Campbell, Jr.
  37. Joe McPhee: Black is The Color
  38. Various Artists: Look Out! The San Diego Scene 1958-1973
  39. Various Artists: Stone Crush—Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987
  40. Walter Bishop Jr.: Coral Keys
  41. Observer All Stars & King Tubby: Dubbing with the Observer (reissue)
  42. Roky Erickson / 13th Floor Elevators: You and Me and I (Live)
  43. Bryan Ferry: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, 1974
  44. Fela Kuti: Perambulator
  45. No Trend: Too Many Humans/Teen Love (reissue)
  46. Pharoah Sanders: Live in Paris 1975
  47. Nina Simone: Fodder on My Wings
  48. Yabby You & The Aggrovators: King Tubby’s Prophecies of Dub (reissue)
  49. Various Artists: Léve Léve – Sao Tomé & Principe Sounds ‘70s-‘80s
  50. Various Artists: Soul Jazz Records Presents Black Riot—Early Jungle, Rave, and Hardcore
  51. Lee Scratch Perry: Play On, Mr. Music
  52. Various Artists: Maghreb K7 Club–Synth Rai, Chaoui & Staifi (1985-1997)
  53. Brother Theotis Taylor
  54. Black Ark Players: Black Ark In Dub
  55. Prince: Sign O’ The Times (Deluxe Edition)
  56. The Replacements: Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition)

Room Full of Mirrors

My day was so fraught with unexpected urgencies and aberrant activity that I barely squeezed in a record (I am such a hopeless nerd that “listen to one complete record actively” is one of the three items on my “Habit List” app. And that was done while driving from place to place; fortunately, it’s in the cab of my truck where I most completely commune, and sometimes merge, with the music.

I’ve been on a Hendrix kick lately–his work as much as anybody’s blooms perennially, in different formations and colors as I become an older listener–and I was thinking about my young friend and fellow Jimi fanatic Donnie Harden Jr., who’d been asking about the Rainbow Bridge soundtrack. His queries were to no avail because I hadn’t listened to it in awhile, so I’d brought it out to “The Lab” so I could really focus on it.

It may be crazy to say, but Hendrix is slightly underrated. 48 years in the rear view, he might as well be 48 years beyond. “Room Full of Mirrors” is, for me, the highlight of of Rainbow Bridge. The virtual meteor shower of streaking, sliding guitar lines with which he adorns this song is visceral, a shock to the synapses; I found myself wondering, “Who today can deliver such adornments?” The lyrics, too, confirm that Hendrix was a terrific personal songwriter…though in this case they seem to portend his fate.

On one side of “Room Full of Mirrors” is the slow-building, insinuating, stinging instrumental “Pali Gap” (a bit of a deep cut). On the other, is the all-Jimi studio version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” so stately, so magisterial it’s almost reverent, and thus funny (where–at least I feel this way–his Woodstock version was frequently terrifying). Almost.

The whole record’s pretty good, but its middle, its guts, is truly mesmerizing.

Noise. (April 5th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

For whatever reason (possibly that I’ve been deeply dosed in pop over the last few days), I felt I was obligated to blissfully defile my ears with weird and / or ugly noise.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced?–Weird? Ugly? I know–NOT. But I think it’s easy to forget how it might have hit folks at the time. Jimi was a genius at wrestling chaos into flow, but I got this out strictly for the explosions, feedback, and riffs that stalk your inner peace.

Pere Ubu: Datapanik in The Year Zero–Disc 1 (1975-1977)–Weird? Ugly? I know–YES! A thousand times (and ways) YES! A drunken-sounding, wheezing, groveling, murmuring, whispering, squealing, desperate, eloquently incoherent singer, tortured by a stabbing, drilling, whirring, grinding guitarist, tracked under the street by a bass threatening to break through the pavement, driven on by a drummer here-again-and-gone and a synthesizer player revving and veering in and out of the mess. What’s not to be disturbed by?

Brian Eno: Another Green World–One of the most perfectly titled albums ever. The noise here is strictly weird–never ugly, only galaxies away. And very lovely. It was always, with Miles’ In a Silent Way and Robert Ashley’s Private Parts, one of my favorite Nyquil companions when I was a bachelor and sick as a dog. It’s plenty wonderful when you’re well. I love how Eno’s voice is just another synthesizer.

Maybe I was recovering from all of the pop, most of which I admittedly love. Or maybe I was receiving signals from the near-future: one of the noisiest, most unique and inventive, bravest musicians ever passed from this plane at 89. So long, unclassifiable genius. We will not see your like again.

Short-shrift Division:

Tucked away down here, under all the noise, a confession: I think Chloe x Halle’s The Kids Are Alright might be the best r & b, the best pure pop album of the year. I can’t get enough of it: great singing, surprising arrangements, inspiring content.

Report from the Road (March 9th, 2018, Monett, Missouri)

Some musical musings from the road:

Jimi Hendrix: Both Sides of the Sky–Despite a blazing “Hear My Train a-Comin'” and an interesting “Cherokee Mist,” this is flat-out barrel-scraping. Stephen Stills, anyone? I didn’t think so.

Hamad Kalkaba and the Golden Sounds–I can’t get enough of these rough and ready tracks from mid-Seventies Cameroon. Aside from the rhythmic propulsion, which one might expect…oh the horns ‘n’ guitars! And I love Analog Africa’s album cover.

Etta Jones: Lonely and Blue–Have you met Miss Jones? If you love Dinah Washington (and why shouldn’t you), you must make her acquaintance. She lacks Dinah’s power, humor, and intensity, but like Washington she can sing the blues. Also, Etta’s edges are mellower, which can make this particular album addictive.

Gang Starr: Daily Operation–I always found Guru and Premier’s enterprise underrated (at least here in the Midwest), and here in 2018 I find it has aged very, very well. A uniquely perpetual flow (delivered with equally unique warmth) atop expert beats and jazz-tinged samples and instrumentation.

The Kinks: Face to Face–Hey, if you just know the hits, Something Else, and Village Green, you might be missing their most underrated album. Quirky, funny, rowdy, thieving, eccentric, gender-ambiguous (in a moment), very English: all the things they were, entertainingly performed, in one place. Ok, maybe no power chording. Thank you, Kenny Wright, for enthusing about it all those years ago.

“I’m in a Time Zone!” (January 31st, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

‘Twas a busy day tutoring students, observing student teachers, and socializing with friends, but I did slip in some tunage. I was in Nicole’s car, for which I’ve prepared not one but TWO eight-gig mp3 players (I’m a sick man). Her old standby is packed with New Orleans and Memphis music, plus the purt-near complete recordings of Dead Moon and Pierced Arrows; the other I rotate new acquisitions in and out of to try to keep her up to date, and it happened to be plugged into the system yesterday. I rather casually whipped through the playlists and landed first on a neat compilation of recordings made for the Celluloid label. The highlights:

Lightnin’ Rod’s (really, Last Poet Jalal Nuriddin’s) jive tribute to the wiles of Miss “Doriella du Fontaine.” His rap is strong, but there’s somebody baaaaad compin’ and fillin’ on guitar…

A classic team-up of two individualists who’ve had sone questionable moments lately but were apocalyptically on-point on “World Destruction,” under the guise of Time Zone. Afrika Bambaataa: “Who wants to be a president or a king?” John Lydon: “Me!”

A stone jam by Material, featuring honorary Rolling Stone Bernard Fowler on vocals and another baaaad man riffin’ on guitar. Funny how all three of these recordings mask a legend or two!

I also squeezed in this terrific recent release from Analog Africa, with sharp guitar, great percussion and powerful vocals–one of my favorite records of 2017.

I achieved my goal: to write about what I listened to every day in January, and thereby get my writing in better shape. I hope that, at times, I’ve been interesting, pleasurable, and–especially–useful to read. I’m going to shoot for keeping it up until December 31.

Thanks for visiting!

Good to My Ear- and Eyehole Since Last I Posted: Part 3, The Heard.

Finally, the actual music.  And, by the way, just to be clear: not surprisingly, I have many music nerd friends, but I have many more friends who are simply overwhelmed by the amount of music that is available to them, compared to the relative slim pickin’s of their teens. I suppose this is a statement of purpose for this blog (you can exhale now), but since my range of musical interest is pretty broad, since I am damned social and have a pretty decent Innertube reach, and since I am very obviously not an intellectual, bent on hardcore critical analysis, but rather…a musical proselytizer, I am a decent option for those overwhelmed masses. And if not, well, at least I am entertaining myself and keeping a record of what was keeping me sane when. Also, not all of the releases below are new–I don’t understand how anyone can devote themselves exclusively to new music, with as rich a history as we’ve got, but, again, the digital flood threatens to carry away some grand old slabs, and I will make it a point to alert you to some of them, too.

Since what’s ahead is a slew, I am gonna try to do these piquantly in no more than three sentences….


Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (Joyful Noise)

I suspect with this particular persona of David Cohn (one he’s been exceptionally devoted to of late) that you’re either a fan or you’re not. I am, all the way, but after the opener, and just like last time, I’d like a little more rappin’ (and beats, too) and a little less talkin’. Then along comes Track 15: “Get Back to Rap.” Time: 0:26. After two plays, ‘Geti’s way with a story arc starts to get to you, and you start to realize you have to hear this as something other than rap.


Archie Shepp and the Attica Blues Orchestra: I Hear the Sound (Archie Ball)

Shepp’s exploring something here that hasn’t been mined enough–and he helped start it back in the volcanic ’60s. There’s very, very nice singing (including some rough vocalizing from Shepp), wise words, powerful large-ensemble playing, strings, and, of course, some free outbursts in just the right places, at just the right duration–and the kicker is the blend is very well-balanced and makes one hell of a statement, to me: keep hoeing this row. I wager it’ll age better than Shepp’s original Attica Blues, and there is plenty of room for more practitioners. By the way, it’s live, and that will stun you, because it’s studio sharp. It is also wonderfully rhapsodic, and, as your mind drifts back to the original Attica Blues release and its turbulent social context, you may find yourself in winding and interesting thoughts about what’s happened in between, and just what this records says about it. Note: some southern college marching band needs to learn “Mama Too Tight.”


Marvin Gaye: Here, My Dear (Hip-O Select)

I bought this as a cut-out in the Eighties, then rebought it as a specialty reissue with a bonus disc of remixes, and I don’t know why, because both times it underwhelmed me. It’s Marvin relatively near the tragic end, wrasslin’ with divorce and debt, and opting to turn that into a concept album. The cover art seemed to be the best thing about it–biggest problem, I thought, was…it was musically boring. As so often happens, though, I brought it out to the truck (small cab, good stereo, just enough drive time to really concentrate), turned it up to about 7, and the vocals, lyrics, and nakedness wrassle the music (which is extremely well-played, it’s just not too varied melodically) into submission. Recommended to Kanye in about a year.


Bob Dylan and The Band: The Basement Tapes–Complete (Columbia)

Many folks have been waiting a long time for this, and, by God, they did it right with the big box (in my humble opinion, they flubbed the budget version). Trouble is, to quote half a Marvin Gaye title from Here, My Dear, “it’s gonna cost you.” You’re gonna hear that it’s like a Van Gogh sketchbook (correct: and I must emphasize, with the pieces that got finished often bowling you over, in very noticeably improved sound). You’re gonna hear that Disc 6 is rough and a waste (incorrect: the whole disc is quite funny, moving, and listenable–250% better than Having Fun on Stage with Elvis Presley–and a few individual recordings are eternal). You’re gonna hear that the Americana genre was born here (correct, but don’t blame them, please, any more than you’d blame Gram Parsons or Ronnie Van Zant). I’m telling you now, and I hope you hear it, that if you can afford it and you’re a Dylanophile, do not think twice–it’s all right. Bonus: you don’t have to get rid of the ’75 Columbia release, as it has The Band tracks (not here–they weren’t “from the basement,” really), compressed sound that has its own virtues when compared to the opened-out quality here, and, in the long run, no necessity to be programmed in your CD player or ‘puter. I listened to the six discs consecutively, was ready to grimace, and never did. Notes and pics are cool, too.


Wadada Leo Smith: The Kabell Years 1971-1979 (Tzadik) and Red Hill (Rarenoise)

Trumpeter Smith’s AACM pedigree and Mississippi roots would seem to have guaranteed he’d have been in my ear 25 years ago, but I first laid ears on him two weeks back. The former two-CD box captures him at what many adepts I know consider his peak, but he was a Pulitzer finalist for the ambitious and stunning multi-disc 10 Freedom Summers in 2012, and jazzbos are touting the latter as one of the best jazz platters of the year. Free is not everyone’s bag, and some would argue he’s not even all that free, but I’ll say this: he sounds to me like what would have happened if Miles had gone off the commercial rails in ’68 (don’t get me wrong: I LOVE WHAT HE DID AFTER THAT),  headed to Chicago, and decided to forego coke and groupies. Also, even when his groups are wiggin’ out (primarily on Red Hill, and his new pianist is very familiar with Cecil Taylor), Smith brings a very strong feeling of peace, serenity, and intellectual reflection to the attentive listener. On the strength of these two rekkids, he’s in my Top 10 Free/Experimental Jazz pantheon.


Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock and Roll Time (Vanguard)

Surely he has no gas left! After two straight pretty dang-good comeback records! Do you know who we are talking about here???? Opens with a conceptually perfect Kristofferson copyright, swings through some Killer meat ‘n’ potatoes, then–whaddya know?–sets Jerry Lee up with a Skynyrd song! It’s about fucking time. I’ve been dreaming for years of a producer ballsy enough to put together a set of songs from the likes of Ely, Gary Stewart, Ronnie Van Zant, Tony Joe White, Bobby Charles–writers tapped into the man’s main stream–and then sell it. This ain’t that, but it is very, very good, in fact, it has a Muscle Shoals vibe. The piano’s a little quieter–he is plagued by arthritis, though not in the fingers–but the voice is still there, and the mind definitely gets it. This makes me so happy I could gulp a handful of Black Mollys and buy a personal jet. Note: Rick Bragg’s new biography/assisted memoir is a perfect contemplative companion.

Last Home

Peter and Caspar Brotzmann: Last Home (Pathological)

Peter, a terrorist on the saxophone whose Machine Gun is probably the most balls-out recording of all-time, I knew about. He can indefatigably unleash torrents, but also shift into a surprisingly affective lyrical mode. Until this recording, I didn’t know much about Brother Caspar, who plays electric guitar. Suffice it to say that he holds his own with a later compatriot of his brother’s: none other than Sonny Sharrock. Maybe my favorite Brotzmann release, and thanks to the great Isaac Davila of Springfield, Missouri, for the loan.


Jimi Hendrix: Live at the Oakland Coliseum (Dagger)

After reading (many years after its release) and loving Charles Cross’ biography Roomful of Mirrors, I had to have me more Hendrix. And I already have a lot. In a long-ago article, an obscure critic named Robert Christgau mentioned this, from a series of official bootlegs released by the Hendrix estate, as something he liked, but warned about the sound. Dagger didn’t put these in stores; you had to get ’em straight from the site, which it looks like you still can. I took the plunge, and, I have to say, across two discs of a surprisingly professional audience recording, Hendrix and band are on. For a bootleg, it’s a B+/A-, and if you are a diehard, I seriously recommend it. 18 minutes of live “Voodoo Chile”? Say no, I dare ye.

Electric Spank

Funkadelic: The Electric Spanking of War Babies (Warner Brothers)

This early ’80s offering from the mind of Dr. Funkenstein and his crazed collaborators has gotten lost in the shuffle, with ’70s albums like One Nation Under a Groove garnering most of the laurels. I myself, upon first purchasing it when it was released, thought it was a mess, slightly unworthy of its not-exactly-tidy predecessors. After reading George’s purty-good/not-bad memoir, I slapped it on for the first time in years, and came away thinking, “This is consistent“–that is, consistent in the mode of Uncle Jam. So, if you’ve read the memoir, and you’ve never got out of the Seventes with ’em, and you’re in need–here, my dear. Highlights: slogans, as always (“When you/learn to dance/you won’t forget it!”); post-Hendrix guit (not quite enough, but oh well); Sly Stone’s last coherent offering; Pedro Bell’s album art; reggae that works; prescient commentary on “The Greatest Generation.” We love you, George.


Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (Tzadik)

I feel like describing this record the way you would a gourmet meal (OK, maybe the record isn’t that good, but it’s very good): hints of klezmer, overtones of Lee Allen and Earl Bostic, and a backbone (OK, that’s not a gourmet term) of Marc Ribot, 2014 instrumentalist of the year, name your category as long as it isn’t classical. Recommended strongly to practicing Jews who may wonder where their cultural influence has gone.

NC 45

Natural Child: A bunch of 45 and digital EP tracks that ought to be collected (Infinity Cat, Burger, et al)

If you actually read me, you know (or suspect) I will go to my grave fighting for these Nashville boys, who, without a goddam doubt, have been shortchanged by the “indie” “rock” press. Pitchfuck, you are in the scope; you’ll review Beyonce, and not these guys? But. No matter. I myself confess that if you’ve only bought their albums, you don’t know the half. Their early singles, represented either by (usually digital) EPs or 45s (two split), contain the essence by which you can truly appreciate the later records. “Shame Walkin'” (about a dude that doesn’t want to fuck, but feels he has to), “Nobody Wants to Party with Me” (flipside of the paradigmical rock and roll night), “Mother Nature’s Daughter” (best Neil Young imitation ever–in fact, it ain’t no mere imitation!), ” Dogbite” (perfect song for wanting to get the hell out of wherever you’re stuck), “Gas Station” (a Liquor Store cover that they have to have completely identified with, given their touring ways), “Crack Mountain” (“I just want to smoke crack with my friends!”), “Easy Street” (to quote the New York Dolls: “If I want too many things/Well, I’m a human being!”), “Cougar” (seriously, these guys don’t just want to get laid), “Don’t Wake the Baby” (from the above-pictured 45, the bleariest, most tequila-soaked, but most charming one-night-stand song of all-time), “The Jungle” (a great spontaneous hootenanny): folks, their greatest album isn’t an album. This is a call to collect the singles, then dare Pitchfork, Pop Matters, Expert Witness (yeah, YOU, Christgau) to say no. I am not WRONG. Seen ’em four times in four different cities, listened to everything they’ve ever put out thrice over, I am fifty-fucking-two and have listened to music AVIDLY for forty-two of them. I am not WRONG. You know what you have to do, people.


Various Artists: The Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1972 (Atlantic)

Hound Dog Taylor, Sun Ra, Otis Rush, Sippie Wallace (abetted by Bonnie Raitt), Junior Walker, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Koko Taylor, Dr. John? In great fidelity? In great form? Wait–Sun Ra’s in there? Yeah. And the pretty-free CJQ. Oh, did I mention…Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters? With John Sinclair as a kind of liner-note MC? I know: where has this record been all your life? Personally, the only other festival I’d rather have been at would be Monterey.


Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (TUM)

I miss Billy Bang dearly. One of the greatest jazz violinists of all-time (saying something, because there’s Fiddler Williams, Stephane Grappelli, Ray Nance, Leroy Jenkins, and Bang’s great model, Stuff Smith) not only never made a bad album, but a) could swing a lot of jazz directions, and b) as befitting his being a veteran of the Vietnam War, always had something to say about peace. This fantastic record is not as wide-open as some of his others–the perfect invitation for the hesitant–but it’s deep, and, while Bang’s playing is as moving and richly-toned as usual, miraculously encompassing his scarring and his commitment to transcend it, trumpeter James Zollar almost steals the record from him. Bonus: they cover, and cut, the Buena Vista Social Club.


Negativland: It’s All in Your Head (Seeland)

Navigate to that label’s website, and you can order this cheap two-CD set, which comes encased in a King James Bible. Disc one’s Christian; disc two’s Muslim, with a slash of Judaism. Both sides are undercut by a voice screaming “There is no God!” and a seeming four-year-old explaining why God doesn’t make sense. Woven throughout are some experts struggling to reconcile religion with science, and other patiently dismissing it. These warriors have been quiet for awhile, and it may come as a surprise to some listeners that it’s a live performance. The title is the concept, and, while it’s not as musical as past releases, in many ways it’s just as liberating. Recommended to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and his army.

Buck and Buddy

Buck Clayton and Buddy Tate: Buck & Buddy/Blow the Blues (Swingville/Original Jazz Classics)

Basie buddies, veterans of the big band territory wars and numerous harrowing car and bus tours that would have brought today’s players in any genre to their knees, Clayton and Tate, on this terrific two-fer-one, swing in a blue mood. The musical equivalent of your grandfather schooling you on the front porch, just before bedtime. Buck wields trumpet, Buddy a very Texas tenor. You know? If you just don’t get jazz, how about starting here? Nothing to get, everything to feel.


Trio 3 (with Vijay Iyer): Wiring (Itakt)

The big attraction is three crafty African American veterans–one, Oliver Lake, with a St. Louis Black Artists Group pedigree; one, Reggie Workman, a former Trane sideman; one, Andrew Cyrille, a compatriot of Cecil Taylor and David Murray–and a (relatively) young South Indian, Vijay Iyer, laying into a Trayvon Martin suite.  But the record as a whole is my favorite small-combo jazz record of the year. To my mind, this particular gathering is an event, and, in no small way, an elevation of Iyer to the masters’ mantle.

Good to My Ear- and Eyehole Since Last I Posted: Part 2, The Read.

Part of the reason I’ve struggled keeping this blog updated regularly is I am a compulsive reader. If 24 hours pass and I haven’t read a page or two of something other than what I’m teaching my students, The WeekThe Columbia Tribune, or liner notes, I feel as if I have committed a venality. I’m such a dork, I have my Goodreads blogroll on the opening page of this site, plus I have challenged myself to read 105 books this year, up four from 2013, and I am at 91 as of today. I have even bet my literacy class a pizza party that, as a class of 15, they cannot outread me by the end of the semester (we are currently tied–you have to remember these are kids who struggle with reading, whom I only see every other day, and who have serious difficulty reading at home). I don’t read music tomes exclusively; in fact, they are usually in the minority–except for recently, which accounts for what follows, although I regret that I haven’t yet cracked the weirdly-authored and -titled Jerry Lee Lewis: My Own Story, by Rick Bragg.


Todd Snider: I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales) (Da Capo, 2014)

If your a Snider adept, like me, you might ask yourself, “Do I need to read this?” Answer: unequivocally, yes. Yes, you do get many stories you already know from concerts and records, but you also get the stories behind the stories, which, when they involve Jerry Jeff Walker, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Buffet, Billy Joe Shaver and a host of less immortal rounders, are a serious trip. You also will get inspired, page by page, to live life while you’re living, even if Snider himself may be dead before he hits 50 (fucker will probably live to 90). If you don’t know the man, you can actually read this, enjoy the hell out of it, and go straight to those records you missed. Note: His compassion for outside-the-law dudes is well-documented, but he’s equally compassionate when it comes to outside-the-law babes. Props, buddy.

Carter family

Frank M. Young and David Lasky (illustrations): The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song (Abrams Comicarts, 2012)

Things to recommend this GREAT graphic novel: a) the illustrations and text match the deadpan beauty of Carter Family music; b) the chapter titles (Carter Family song titles) wittily match the stories that follow; c) it doesn’t shirk on the black influence on the Carter Thing, and it certainly ain’t romanticized; d) it’s written and illustrated to show how much ASS these Carter women kicked; e) it comes with a CD of rareties; and f) I got it cheap at an Osage Beach outlet store. What else do you want?


Charles Cross: Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix (Hyperion, 2006)

A huge fan of Cross’ Cobain bio, Heavier Than Heaven, in which he just puts its head down, does a shitload of research, conducts a million interviews, and undermines miles of bullshit conspiracy theories, I wanted to read this immediately when it came out, but was vexed by middling reviews by folks I trusted. Children, a lesson: fuck reviews. If it’s a subject or writer you dig, go ahead with your bad self. Goosed by my love for the film Jimi: All is By My Side and curious about its degree of factual accuracy, I picked this up eight years after it came out, and within 100 pages quietly paid penance for not trusting my instincts. A Pacific Northwesterner himself, Cross is interested in his subjects beyond their celebrity, and works his ass off to get the story right. Most moving here is the long-time influence of Hendrix’s mother, whose funeral Jimi’s dad forbade him to attend (the bastard) and whose Seattle grave (in the same cemetery as Hendrix and his dad’s elaborate tomb) is still uncommemorated, and the similarities between Hendrix’s and Cobain’s sad goodbyes: they could not exit the grind, and had no one handy who knew how to facilitate it. I was also blown away to learn that, by Cross’ account, Hendrix spent more days hungry than Elvis–and, you know, Elvis had his mom behind him as he penetrated into cultural acclaim. BTW: that movie nobody went to, Jimi: All is By My Side? With a few exceptions, it’s pretty damned factually accurate, and, affectively, as they say, it’s spot-on.


George Clinton (with Ben Greenman): Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You?: A Memoir (Atria, 2014)

If you’re like me, you have got to be saying, “How can this NOT be a thrill-ride?” If Greenman just captured the voice that once uttered, “With the rhythm that makes [us] dance to what we have to live through/You can dance underwater and not get wet, OH!” the plot points would be immaterial. Well, the book’s only boring when, in the latest music memoir fashion, it lapses into attorneys and addiction in its final quarter, but for the other three-fourths, George gives us precious little detail regarding what P-Funk sessions were really like, and, come on, isn’t that what you were hoping for? As far as the voice is concerned, Greenman dries out Uncle Jam’s naturally funky delivery, though it does raise up when barbering and fishing are under discussion. Really, it’s a pretty funny read, but not revelatory–for that, I am afraid you must still go to the much slimmer (159 pages!) but much stankier George Clinton and P-Funk: An Oral History (For the Record), a David Mills-written and Dave Marsh-edited oral history that lets it all hang out. Also: Blipp needs to get its shit figured out–the cover trigger doesn’t deliver 1/20th of what it promises.

Good to My Ear- and Eyehole Since Last I Posted: Part 1, The Seen.

For various reasons–I’m busy, but I am retired, so I don’t know exactly how that’s happening–I haven’t updated the ol’ blog for awhile, but I have so much music-related material under my mind’s belt that it’s about to explode, so time to let it loose, I suppose.

 Jimi: All Is By My Side (written and directed by John Ridley)

This movie opened poorly, and it was already burdened by the Hendrix estate’s refusal to let Ridley use any original music. On top of that, it’s about an icon whose myth and reality (occasionally, on that latter count) are very firmly embedded in the public imagination already, an icon who’s famous for his wildness, though his gentleness of spirit might be his defining artistic spirit, even if you’re thinking about the lines he played. Considering those obstacles, the film is pretty brilliant. It covers the year leading up to Hendrix’s cataclysmic Monterey Pop appearance–the band is striding through the San Francisco airport toward the show in the final scene–when the guitarist’s confidence and fortunes were crucially bolstered by key figures on the sidelines who totally believed in him. The performances are excellent, the story is genuinely moving (and, contrary to reports you may have heard, exceptionally accurate, if Charles Cross’ meticulously researched Room Full of Mirrors is any measure), and the music? I think the news that no Hendrix music would be in the film has scared away potential moviegoers, but I argue that the sound of the Experience (and, in one scene, Cream) that’s concocted by three guys you may know (last names Wachtel, Sklar, and Keltner) is audaciously good, as close as anyone’s going to get to sound of the original trio. I was so impressed I waited for the music credits, and laughed out loud with joy when I saw them. No hagiography, either.

Chucho Valdes and Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side, The Missouri Theater, Columbia, Missouri, October 2

This show represented the 20th anniversary of Jon Poses’ We Always Swing Jazz Series, which has made Columbia one of the best places to be for black classical musical in the Bible Belt. The 73-year-old Valdez, a pianist who can roll Garner, Powell, Taylor, and any Latin ivory-tickler you care to name into a big ball and thrust it at the sun, opened with a magnificently florid, funny, and romantic solo recital, and Oklahoma trombonist Herwig’s unit, which has skillfully Latinized the songbooks of several modern composers over the years, did a wonderful number on some hard bop classics, to name a few, Wayne Shorter’s “Ping Pong,” Horace Silver’s “Peace,” and Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge.” On sax for the night were Joe Lovano, looking happily hip in brown Chucks and suit and playing with fire and restraint, and Craig Hardy, who played baritone live for the first time in his career as well as other saxes. Mr. Poses has worked his ass off to bring these great sounds to us on a regular basis, and he ought to be proud. I am sure his mother, who was in attendance, feels the same way.

Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown (directed by Alex Gibney)

A long-time fan of Mr. Gibney, I wasn’t surprised that he nailed this project. Note the title: “rise of.” There is no TMZ-titillatin’ shit-show section; the film is about why Brown is and should be an American cultural god. Besides the wealth of mind-, eye-, and ear-boggling unseen footage, besides the great and surprising insights of Christian McBride on the links between JB’s funk innovations and jazz, besides the hilarious reflections of producer Mick Jagger on the infamous Brown-Stones “battle” on The T.A.M.I Show, the documentary shines most brightly during clips of Brown–reputedly resuscitated immediately after birth by an aunt, forced to live in the woods as a child, abandoned by his mother and violent father as a preteen, employed to tout for a whorehouse when he should have been playing Pee Wee Football, and in and out of reform schools throughout his later teenage years–speaking fiercely, eloquently, with amazing self-possession for black America to various clueless television interviewers during the most volatile time in our recent social history. Extremely, extremely moving–people, that’s all I want in my music intake, whether live, on film, off the page, or spinning out of digitalization.

Barrence Whitfield and The Savages, Off Broadway, St. Louis, Missouri, October 4

Since hearing about Barrence in the mid-Eighties and having snapped up his great hard r&b albums on Mamou and Rounder, I have been wanting to witness the man in the person; there’s really been no one else so intensely honoring the wild and noble tradition of H-Bomb Ferguson and Little Richard, but Missouri isn’t that logical a place for him to shake it. I wouldn’t have thought it likely, but 31 years after first hearing about him, I finally had a chance to see him–with the two Lyres who originally accompanied him flanking him like apostles. The set was fierce, a mix of his very strong recent tracks on Norton, his great originals and excavations from the Eighties, and some surprises, like the Beatle Bob-requested “Have Love, Will Travel.” The little fireplug’s lost nothing in the vocal department, so if he swings your way, don’t miss your chance.