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….

JNR153_serengeti_kenny_dennis-web

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.

shepp

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.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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_-_The_Basement_Tapes_Complete

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.

Kabell

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.

JLL

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.

Live+At+The+Oakland+Coliseum+Jimi+Hendrix+Exp++Live+at+the

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.

Shapiro

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.

annarbor

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.

BillyBang

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

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.

Trio3

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.

Phil’s Faves: A Mid-Year Report

 

These are the “new” recordings that I’ve enjoyed the most in 2014.

1.¬†Allen Lowe: Mulatto Radio–Field Recordings 1-4,¬†or: A Jew At Large in the Minstrel Diaspora – This is the most ambitious recording of 2014–if not the decade, or the century. That difficult-to-love¬†high school principal of jazz, Wynton Marsalis, pissed off Lowe, as ardent a student of our country’s musical history as you can find, in a conversation about jazz that, of course, ventured into areas of race, appropriation, and creative rights. Lowe responded with a four-disc (five, if you ordered it early!) tour de force that’s more alive and interesting than anything Marsalis has recorded in years, if ever. You don’t have to love jazz to be fascinated with the result, which easily lives up to its provocative title and tours every nook and cranny of the genre. And, in this listener and thinker’s view, it wins the argument. Check out my buddy Ken Shimamoto’s much-more-wise commentary at his Stash Dauber blog (he’s a writer/muso like Lowe).

2. Bo Dollis, Jr. and The Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk РWhat happens when you run a line of serious wattage into a Mardi Gras Indian practice.

3. Obnox: Louder Space –¬†Continuing the fine Cleveland/Columbus tradition of ugly noise and urban protest. Lamont Thomas, with a serious punk pedigree to deepen his geographical birthright, makes a racket to light a fire under Mick Collins’ ass. Euphonious racket!

4. Latyrx: The Second Album¬†Who cares if their first album dropped 17 years ago? Lateef and Lyrics Born are still two of the most unique rappers spittin’.There ain’t no “Balcony Beach”–how could there be?–but there is “Deliberate Gibberish”!

5. Ross Johnson and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans: Vanity Sessions – Out to prove the Memphis rock and roll underground is still nuts now that the Oblivians have grown up, they win, four falls out of six. The title of the opener–“Three-Beer Queer”–says more than any review can.

6.¬†Wussy: Attica!¬†– Robert Christgau calls them a blending of VU and the Flying Burrito Brothers, which is absurd. What they are, with the star- and shock-power of rock and roll browning out, is the voice of far less polymorphously perverse and doomed adults than Reed and Parsons ever were, negotiating the 21st century into a draw and constructing a passionate but unflashy soundtrack to back their bargain. That’s probably absurd, too, but if you are a rock and roll fan of a certain age (say, if you actually walked the Seventies teenage wasteland), and are feeling just a little embattled, this Ohio band is for you.

7. Marc Ribot Trio: Live at Village Vanguard 2012 – Two Aylers, two Tranes, and two sentimental faves, socked home by, arguably, the country’s most daring guitarist.

8. Neneh Cherry: The Blank ProjectStill in a buffalo stance. This mid-forties mama can roll with the zeitgeist–just ask Robyn, who spices up one of the best tracks here.

9. Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Volume 3 – Old Man River just keeps rolling out the cadenzas. All three volumes are musts.

10. Tinariwen: Emmaar – How many Tinariwen albums does one need? Well, remember what they have always said about ol’ Hank and the Ramones, and ask yourself how many notes it takes you to recognize “Ramblin’ Man” or “Beat on the Brat.” This band has a sound, a groove, and a brood in their wake, not to mention that, politically and aesthetically, Saharan blues is good for what ails ye.

11. The Stooges Brass Band: Street Music –¬†I believe New Orleans music gets short critical shrift because the city’s always been teeming with such traditional music that it’s assumed its innovations are long past. I won’t argue that this band of Stooges is all that innovative, but brass-band toons with the lyrics and cultural weight of “Why They Had to Kill Him” and “We Gotta Eat” aren’t everyday creations. And these guys work in a damned HOT crucible of competition.

12. Natural Child: Dancin‚Äô with Wolves –¬†I admit it: I am a sucker for these Nashville no ‘counts, and even I regard their countryward turn with a tinge of dubiosity. But they are so fun-loving, so unselfconscious, so unambitious, so charming that if I didn’t laud them I would have to turn in my Sir Doug Fan Club badge. Face it: unselfconscious men are hard to find these days.

13. Roscoe Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey (with Hugh Ragin): Duets – Mitchell’s 73, Sorey’s 33, they both know their Cage and Feldman, and, if you’re not into the sound of becoming–the sound of sound–you best shop elsewhere. But this hands-across-the-generations team-up is relentlessly interesting. All I’d ask is that Sorey played more drums.

14. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal – See Pitchfork. But it’s even better than they say. You gotta watch that groupthink.

Singles (Record Store Day double-header):

Bobby Rush: Upstairs at United – 81 years young this coming November, the inventor of folkfunk and seriously randy grandy is still one of our country’s underappreciated masters, and with the blues influence in our music trickling down to drops, you best get out to see him if he shows up in your ‘hood. But fathers, watch your daughters. Note: he also put out a full-length this year, and we’re only halfway through!

Marc Ribot w/Deerhoof: Who Sleeps, Only Dreams – When our age’s heir to Sonny Sharrock appears, attendez-vous!

Old Stuff/Reissues:

Various Artists: Haiti Direct! РRhythm nation. And, oh, those guitars and horns.

John Schooley One-Man Band: Schooley‚Äôs Greatest Hits – The instrumental fulcrum of two-count-’em-two great lost garage punk bands, The Revelators and the Hard Feelings, Schooley will deliver all of the excitement and relentless rock of Bob Log and his ilk with none of their bullshit. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand¬†— it’s free!

Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys: Riding Your Way–The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music 1946-7 – The best band in the USA, circa 1946-7. Camaraderie, versatility, chopsmanship, rhythm, and high times–plus, of course, you can dance. Aaaaaaaaah-HA!

Various Artists: Angola 2

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali, Volume 2

D‚ÄôAngelo: Live at the Jazz Caf√©, London – His band and back- up singers work harder than he does, and it’s still a great show.

Gories: The Shaw Tapes‚ÄĒLive in Detroit 1988

Sid Selvidge: The Cold of the Morning – A Memphis cult hero, his voice was silenced by cancer on May 2, 2013. This reissue of a ’70s Peabody Records release captures him in his prime, comfortable with everything from Furry Lewis to Jimmie Rodgers to Fred Neil and boasting a very flexible, very American voice that gives off not a whiff of minstrelsy or strain.

 

GOOD TO MY EARHOLE, First Half of June

Marc Ribot: Two Serenity-Wreckin’ Trios

Ceramic DogRibot at VV

Ceramic Dog: Your Turn (Northern Spy)

The Marc Ribot Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (Pi Recordings)

Best known as an accompanist for The Lounge Lizards and Tom Waits, Ribot’s never put out a boring solo record. He plays guitar as if¬†a jagged tin can and ropes of barbed wire are being employed, but, like Jimi Hendrix, he is able to control and channel his sound to produce frequently quite beautiful works. Also, Ribot’s smart and well-versed enough that he can adapt his sound to Cuban rhythm (check out his¬†Los Cubanos Postizos records), rhythm and blues (he used to play in Solomon Burke’s band), punk (he’s the star on the recent and controversial re-recording of Richard Hell’s Destiny Street, filling the shoes and tracks of the legendary Bob Quine), pop (accompanying Marianne Faithfull), and jazz (his Albert Ayler-dedicated Spiritual Unity Trio). Being someone who believes that¬†inventive electric guitar noise–loud¬†electric guitar noise–is receding into our pop music’s background, I am thrilled to recommend to you two very different recent trio recordings Ribot’s made–that¬†only¬†Ribot could have made. Ceramic Dog is his rock project, and 2013’s¬†Your Turn should have been in many, many critics’ year-end Top 10s. Besides offering the listener a truckload of skronky, intense six-string wailing and riffing (including the raging title cut, which sounds like a tribute to chainsaw jazz inventor Sonny Sharrock), it features the greatest lyric yet recorded about illegal downloading (“Masters of the Internet”) and one of the only songs based on materialist philosophy I have ever heard. As well, it takes Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” five ways from Sunday, and astutely adapts a turn-of-the-twentieth-century poem by¬†James Oppenheim to our modern use. The fact that Ribot can’t sing but only yells matters not a whit. The Vanguard trio has gone under multiple names; because it’s a) largely dedicated to Ayler recordings; and b) lured legendary avant-jazz bassist Henry Grimes (an important Ayler sideman) out of what seemed like permanent retirement, it’s often called Spiritual Unity, after one of Ayler’s greatest albums. Let’s sweep nomenclatural confusion out of the way, though, because the band’s 2012 live performance (Grimes’ first in almost 50 years) is stunning. The set list includes two relatively obscure Coltranes (“Dearly Beloved” and “Sun Ship”), two normally corny standards (“Ol’ Man River” and “I’m Confessin'”) and, of course, two Aylers (“The Wizard” and the ol’ New Thing chestnut “Bells”), and the trio digs into them with great intensity, invention, and interaction. If you haven’t heard Ribot before, but know Trane and Ayler, you might well ask, “How does a guitar deal with the huge noise of those horns?” Well, for the most part, he sidesteps the “bigness” issue and invests in ritual repetition, melody, vocal emulations, and, especially, the questing nature of those great men’s styles. The big triumph, to me, is that Ribot’s¬†audacious decision to mount those corny standards alongside free compositions many jazz experts still wouldn’t think of allowing into the canon pays off in spades: the set sounds unified and the compositions of a piece. If you’ve never thought you’d like free jazz, you might take this one for a spin.

haiti-direct-art

Haiti Direct! (Strut Records)

I know doodly-squat about Haitian music–other than that its traditions have flowed to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad, Mexico, and, especially, Africa, and that it’s a country where slave-chains were thrown off in a revolution and the river of freedom drunken from deeply (though in some ways the worst was yet to come). If you happen to be in a music store when this is playing, you might very well mistake it for a Congolese release, if you know your Franco and Rochereau. But, if you buy one international release this year, make it this one. Of course, the rhythms are bewitching and various and compelling–most of them are designed to bring the dancer to the point of frenzy. But the tensile guitars cut through¬†the mix like serrated knives, the horns are played as if to wake the dead (which takes on multiple dimensions in Haiti), and the vocals, though not everpresent, range from demented screaming to–yes–meowing. If you’re a scholar, the record surveys multiple styles and is festooned with thorough notes. But if your heart, mind, ass, and feet like to move, you can save the reading for later and slap this on the turntable Saturday night once the drinks start to kick in.

the-gilded-palace-of-sin-the-flying-burrito-brothers1

Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (4 Men w/Beards reissue)

A good friend who I loaned this to as he was recovering from a breakup begged me, “Don’t ever give this to anyone who’s heartbroke again! It’s unbearable.” I’d been aware of that possibility before I loaned it; I’d used it myself for the same purpose, but, personally, I like to be taken to the very bottom before I start heading back up to the surface. Parson’s yearning, soulful, precisely imprecise vocals–the bane of multiple producers trying to get great records out of him during his comet-streak of a career–are at their peak here; even if you’re in a blissfully bounteous relationship, if you can listen to him sing, “He may be/Sweet and nice/But that won’t keep you warm at night/’Cause I’m the one/Who let you in/I was right beside you then….” without feeling the knife twist, you ain’t human. And the songs. The heartbreak songs are extraordinarily painful and indelible, mainly by virtue of splendid dabs of specific detail, but the others, especially “Sin City,” “Christine’s Tune,” “Wheels,” and the International Submarine Band chestnut “Do You Know How It Feels,” pull off that near-impossible trick of wedding the personal with the political, with no sign of strain or pretention. Elsewhere, Gram re-genders and tweaks “Do Right Woman,” matching Aretha (did I stutter?), and closes each side (I’m talking about vinyl here, folks) with marvelous comic relief: the draft-dodging “My Uncle,” trailing echoes of Merle Haggard, on Side A, and the droll Staples Singers/Hank Williams send-up “Hippie Boy” on Side B. The band was ace, especially Sneaky Pete Kleinow on steel, who cranks and fuzzes up his notes, the ultimate instrumental collision of city and country. This release¬†corrects a very crappy remix foisted upon consumers by Edsel’s CD version, which quiets down Kleinow’s contribution slightly and bungles the balance–it’s one of the clearest, cleanest, richest¬†sounding vinyl reissues of the current landslide, and that’s especially relevant since the rights to the album seem in questionable territory, and the last vinyl version I owned (A&M’s) sounded half as bright. Safe at Home¬†(International Submarine Band), Sweetheart of the Rodeo¬†(The Byrds), and Grievous Angel¬†(solo) confirm Parsons’ genius. By now, most of us know he picked up country music second-hand, enjoyed trust-fund status, and treated friends, family, fellow musicians, and the ladies with imperfect consideration. But, in classic artist-as-martyr fashion, he died to capture the end of an era and¬†birth an entire genre on this magnificent album, and I’m almost OK with that.

SweetInspirations

The Sweet Inspirations¬†(Collectors’ Classics/Atlantic)

Familiar with this go-to group of backup singers from their subtle work on Dusty in Memphis, I stumbled across a reference to their 1967 debut album while plumbing the darkened corners¬†a famous critic’s archives. I hadn’t known they’d recorded albums of their own, and generally backup groups’ records are a little plain. Not so this one. Led by Cissy “Whitney’s Mama” Houston, the ladies deliver a very, very effective and emotionally powerful performance in the heat of the spotlight. The tersely pain-filled opener, Darryl Carter’s “Oh! What A Fool I’ve Been,” should be a Northern Soul classic if it isn’t already; the ace cover of Pop Staples’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad?” opens them out into the real world of the Civil Rights Movement and lends the record gravitas. In between, they’re professionals-plus, especially on the already oft-recorded “Let It Be Me,” the title tune, and the knockout hillbilly-boogie cover “Blues Stay Away from Me” (you’ll never need to listen to the Delmore Brothers’ original again). They can’t quite chase the memory of Eddie Floyd on “Knock On Wood,” and they are too put-together to handle the Ikettes’ lettin’-it-loose “I’m Blue,” but with the studio aces of Memphis’ American Sound Studio shoring them up (especially Reggie Young on guitar) when they (only) occasionally flag, the Sweet Inspirations turn in what I’ll confidently call a minor masterpiece.

albumcoverSergeChaloff-BlueSerge

Serge Chaloff: Blue Serge (Capitol)

A flat-out beautiful record, one that should be among Kind of Blue, Time Out, and A Love Supreme as “starter” records offered to neophytes wanting to test the unpredictable and varied waters of jazz. The ill-starred Chaloff, a veteran of the great Woody Herman “Thundering Herd” band that also featured Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, plays his baritone with seductive lightness and ease (and a hint of bebop), the tunes, standards and newly-minted soon-to-be classics are unbeatable, and the combo is stunning, especially the fleet, inventive and equally ill-starred Sonny Clark on piano and the unflappable and star-defying Philly Joe Jones and drums. Seductive, engaging, and well-nigh perfect.

WYR0514tubejktnoguidlines

Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rupture?)

Almost every review of I’ve read of this band’s music leans very heavily on comparisons (no surprise there–it’s easier than thinking), but, if you’ll excuse me for being guilty of the same vice, I have been pleasantly surprised that I’ve mostly been reminded of none of the bands referenced therein. What Sunbathing Animals¬†puts me in mind of most is The Libertines’¬†Up the Bracket: unpredictable explosions, careening forward momentum, drunken shifts, a healthy helping of ‘I don’t give a fuck”–all in all, a great rock and roll rush. I also appreciate that the lyrics don’t seem assembled from a magnetic poetry kit. Only things I haven’t liked is the grating outro of Side A–I love shitty noise, normally–and the ground-out of Side B.¬†Good show, kids, and please stay in love with your guitars.

Sooges

Stooges Brass Band: Street Music (Sinking City)

I like this tiny New Orleans-based vinyl-only label:¬†its first release was the charming and historic compilation of Ricky “Shake Fa Ya Hood” B.¬†singles,¬†B is for Bounce, and though the Stooges’ record is only its third offering in a year in business, it’s a step in the right direction. The Crescent City is full of excellent brass bands, but The Stooges are my favorite because they seem most comfortable stepping out of the tradition. On this six-song record, they play with great exuberance, but they also deliver two powerful lyrics, the opening “Why They Had to Kill Him” and the closing “I Gotta Eat,” that deal unflinchingly and unsentimentally with the problems of 21st century poverty in the USA–a topic few musical acts in the USA go within a ten-foot pole of. Did I mention that they play with great exuberance?