90 Degrees of Freedom Found: My Favorite Rekkid Releases of 2021, and We’re Only Halfway There

Random observations on the recent explosion of excellent recordings I always should expect but never do and grouse about the paucity of then look dim-witted as a result of my shitty memory:

  1. You may think I’m a little nuts by including so many box sets, but they really are that good and I have been listening to them. Is sitting around listening to box set really a pop thang? Should I even care? Somebody’s gotta do it.
  2. The Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon is having a great year. He’s on two records here (Law Years and Path of Seven Colors) and his duet album of boleros with Luis Perdomo is stunning but I need to listen to it one more time.
  3. I have moved many items around, but I finally hooked right into AUM Grand Ensemble & Ensemble O’s interpretation of Julius Eastman’s Femenine. Eastman’s having a MUCH-deserved revisiting and several interpretations of this piece are out there, but none this hypnotic and beautiful.
  4. How much mileage does SAULT get out of mystique?
  5. I’ll have some of what Loretty’s having, please.
  6. I’m sorry, I just don’t fucking trust Lana Del Rey and I really despise Olivia Rodrigo’s single, but the sonics and words of the former’s album (I’m just blocking out her persona) and the rest of the latter’s songs (for the most part) have broken my resistance. For now.
  7. That Screamers excavation is the first new record I have surprised my wife Nicole with that we both instantly jumped up and down joyfully to. Myself, I’d really mostly only read about them in West Coast punk tomes, but after a 40-year-burial this item really explodes out of the vault.
  8. Is it fair to list Record Store Day releases on these lists? I admit I just lie in wait with my bobber floating in eBay Lake, and I assume anyone else can as well.
  9. If you’re needing a guitar-helping and moping ’cause you can locate one, I urge you to dip into the Moctar, Arby, and Young items in the Top 10. Seriously.


Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victim

JuJu: Live at 131 Prince Street #

Julius Hemphill: The Boyé Multinational Crusade for Harmony 

James Brandon Lewis: Jesup Wagon

Miguel Zenon: Law Years—The Music of Ornette Coleman

Khaira Arby: Khaira Arby in New York #

Fire in Little Africa: Fire in Little Africa

Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Down in the Rust Bucket #

R.A.P. Ferreira: Bob’s Son 

AUM Grand Ensemble x Ensemble 0: Performs Julius Eastman’s Femenine

Screamers: Demo Hollywood 1977 #

No-No Boy: 1975

Robert Finley: Sharecropper’s Son

Gimenez Lopez: Reunion en la granja

Penelope Scott: Public Void 

Paris: Safe Space Invader

Various Artists: A Stranger I May Be—Savoy Gospel 1954-1966 #

Can: Live in Stuttgart 1975 #

Hamiet Blueitt: Bearer of the Holy Flame #

Byard Lancaster: My Pure Joy #

Ashnikko: Demidevil 

Dax Pierson: Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Satisfaction)

Chrissie Hynde: Standing in the Doorway—Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan

Charles Mingus: Mingus at Carnegie Hall #

Various Artists: Chicago / The Blues / Today, Volumes 1-3 #

Dry Cleaning: Sweet Princess (EP)

Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future

Dawn Richard: Second Line 

Brockhampton: Roadrunner—New Light, New Machine

Ches Smith and We All Break: Path of Seven Colors

Hasaan Ibn Ali: Metaphysics—The Lost Atlantic Album #

Amythyst Kiah: Wary + Strange

Genesis Owusu: Smiling with No Teeth

Marianne Faithfull (with Warren Ellis): She Walks in Beauty

Jaubi: Nafs at Peace (featuring Latamik and Tenderlonious)


Vincent Herring: Preaching to the Choir

Lukah: When the Black Hand Touches You

Angelique Kidjo: Mother Nature

ICP Orchestra & Nieuw Amsterdams Peil: 062 / De Hondemepper

Damon Locks / Black Monument Ensemble: NOW

Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough

Anthony Joseph: The Rich are Only Defeated When Running for Their Lives

Jason Moran & Milford Graves: Live at Big Ears

Mistreater: Hell’s Fire #

Blue Gene Tyranny: Degrees of Freedom Found #

Various Artists: He’s Bad!—11 Bands Decimate the Beat of Bo Diddley 

Various Artists: Wallahi Le Zein!

Various Artists: Indaba Is

Wau Wau Collectif: Yaral Sa Doom

Yvette Janine Jackson: Freedom

Various Artists: Alan Lomax’s American Patchwork #

Peter Stampfel: Peter Stampfel’s 20th Century in 100 Songs

Backxwash: I Lie Here with My Rings and Dresses

Various Artists: Doomed & Stoned in Scotland

Jazmine Sullivan: Heaux Tales

Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber: 20th Anniversary Mixtapes / Groiddest Schizznits, Volumes 1-3#

Various Artists: Allen Ginsberg’s The Fall of America–A 50th Anniversary Musical Tribute

Billy Nomates: Emergency Telephone (EP)

Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: 11th Street, Sekondi

Various Artists: Rare.wavs, Volume 1

Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg

Nermin Niazi: Disco Se Aagay #

Madlib: Sound Ancestors

Joe Strummer: Assembly #

Julien Baker: Little Oblivions

Cedric Burnside: I Be Trying

Archie Shepp and Jason Moran: Let My People Go

Roisin Murphy: Crooked Machine 

girl in red: if I could make it go quiet

Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club

Robert Miranda’s Home Music Ensemble: Live at The Bing #

Vijay Iyer, Linda Han Oh, and Tyshawn Sorey: Uneasy

Olivia Rodrigo: SOUR

Steve Earle: JT

Tee Grizzley: Built for Whatever

Tony Allen (and friends): There is No End

Jinx Lennon: Liferafts for Latchicos

The Hold Steady: Open Door Policy 

Elizabeth King & The Gospel Souls: Living in the Last Days

Alder Ego: III

Garbage: No Gods No Masters

Shem Tube, Justo Osala, Enos Okola: Guitar Music of Western Kenya

Contour: Love Suite

Alton Gün: Yol

Various Artists: Edo Funk Explosion, Volume 1 #

Hearth: Melt

Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders: Promises

Sana Nagano: Smashing Humans

serpentwithfeet: DEACON

AFTERNOTE (is that a word?):

Top 10 Artists I’ve Been Listening to Over the Last 72 hours / A Nod to Will Friedwald

Carmen McRae (I’m pretty much always listening to–at the very least hearing in my head–Lady McRae)

Anita O’Day (I’m pretty much always listening to–at the very least hearing in my head–Lady O’Day)

Moody Marilyn Moore

Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards

Herb Jeffries

Jackie Paris

Carol Sloane

Earl Coleman–LOTS of Earl Coleman

Al Hibbler

Jeanne Lee


Good to My Earhole, March 12-17: “Mi Canto”

Highlights of the last week’s listening and reading, scores plucked out of the air as long as they are no lower than a 7–and, whaddya know, I am reviewing some new stuff (albeit mostly by oldsters):

Aziza Brahim: MI CANTO – 9 – A Sahrawi siren augmented by guitars redolent of desert, Delta, and djinnis. Needless to say, side effects may include euphoric trances.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions: LIVE AT HOLLYWOOD HIGH – 8.8 – Live albums: who needs ’em? Well, I treasure this for three reasons. One, it captures MY AIM IS TRUE material punked further up and in pretty high fidelity, with the L. A. teens in the audience seeming to get it–reminded me of a Carthage, Missouri, teen circa ’78-’80 who was definitely getting it. Two, the live setting seems to loosen up EC’s singing, which always seemed just a bit fussy to me when under studio control; he often settles into a bit of roar-and-yell which I find exciting–though I just wanna tell him, “You don’t have to introduce every song.” Three: the definitive recorded version of the film noir compendium “Watching the Detectives,” which he sings as if he’s extemporizing.

Kendrick Lamar: UNTITLED UNMASTERED – 9.2 – At first, I thought these were table scraps, but Kendrick’s rhyming and flow are too carefully honed for that. Then, for some strange reason–I think it was the influence of “untitled 06/06.30.2014”–I began to sense a trip-hop experiment, but it’s too verbally dense for that. Then it became clear, from the welcome intrusion of what I have begun to think of as his community voices–whether they emerge from actual human larynxes or machines–and his subtly morphing vocal inflections that this is of a piece with TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY. Less conceptual, more casual, thus…more pleasurable? If not, pretty close, and, though it’s argued that pure pleasure is counterrevolutionary, even revolutionaries need occasional loose fun to replenish their drive to make it to the mountaintop. I wish he’d have thrown in that “Colbert Report” performance as a bonus track, though!

Loretta Lynn: FULL CIRCLE – 8.5 – The power and clarity of her unmistakable voice, sounding barely touched by eight decades, are miraculous, reason alone to give this album a shot. Because the arrangements are spare and attractive, even the weakest compositions (and a cover of “Fist City” that doesn’t do the impossible) go down easy. And best in show? The first song she ever wrote, prefaced with a great anecdote. Secret missing ingredient? Jack White or someone like him.

Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: CANDY – 9.0 – Across seven discs of improv featuring only McPhee’s multiple horns, Nilssen-Love’s percussion, and plenty of deliberate silence (and–oh yeah!–a very appreciative live audience!), I was NEVER bored. Not once. And I listened to the discs consecutively. Joe’s a very young 76, and he sounds happy whether he’s evoking India, honoring Ayler, or turning mouthpiece spittle into music. To paraphrase Tom Waits, not for everyone–maybe, for those seeking sonic adventure.

Alan Warner: MORVERN CALLAR (1995) – 9 – A rock and roll novel for sure. Just when you’re sure that the titular Scottish heroine is being propelled by her boyfriend’s suicide on an working-class odyssey of distinctly existential import–through house-party and hotel room bacchanals, through pubs and raves and and resorts–you’re caught up short by flaming statues of the Virgin and a drunken stagger into church. It’s an odyssey of some sort, that’s for sure, and at the very least, Morvy’s propelled by mixtapes of Last Exit and Can (about whom Warner authored a 33 and 1/3 tome). Figures: the book’s dedicated to Bill Laswell.