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:

HERB

*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
  7. Billie Eilish: WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
  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
  28. Dave: PSYCHODRAMA
  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
  3. FKA Twigs: MAGDALENE
  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

 

 

Good To My Earhole, April 1-10: “Not Counting Merle–Well, Except for One Rekkid”

Highlights of last ten days’ listening, ranked on a highly suspect 10-point scale (but if I’m listing it, I’m liking it!):

Bombino/Azel – 9.8 – A helpless “desert blues” addict, even I questioned whether I needed another record by the man from Agadez. Yep–I did. My favorite new record of any kind of 2016, it displays more variation in rhythm, intensity, and tone than your typical Tuareg release; I like a guy who, in ten songs, can evoke Hendrix, Hooker, Kimbrough, and Spence, and this is easily the best of the four of his five records I’ve heard. Also, he takes a few chances, including a reggae that explodes, and when he locks into one of those inevitable hypnotic phrases, it’s like a downed power line whipping around in your front yard. The ululations of the women who support him are perfectly timed, too.

Anthony Braxton/3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011 – 8.5 – When I learned that these compositions for septet required each player to carry into the studio an iPod loaded with Braxton’s complete (?) studio and live recordings, ready to be activated at will (or conductor’s nod?) in the midst of each take, I couldn’t resist. Plus it’s cheap for three disks. But: does it sound good? Well, I like free jazz, and though I cannot pretend to understand most of Mr. Braxton’s notes, I think this comment may convince you whether you should try it or not: “What we have here is a ‘state of music’….the friendly experiencer can walk through the ‘parks’ of the music on the way to engage in a sonic tennis match….I am moving towards a kind of action video game paradigm where [the listener] can make internal decisions inside of the greater music space that will affect the particulars of a given sonic fantasy….” In addition, his notes end with this: “[hee hee hee].” I love a giddy visionary septuagenarian.

The Fall/The Fall Box Set 1976-2007 – 9.5 – A wise man once said that the test of a great box set is that the last disc sounds as great as the first. I’m not sure that’s true here, but I can say after listening through all five of these discs in a row, I was never bored, and delighted, amused, or ON FIRE 80% of the time. I don’t care whether he’s barking out inscrutable lyrics while riding the same two-chord riff for five minutes; I don’t care whether he’s embarking on a poetry reading, a rockabilly cover, or dance floor throb. I’ll go wherever Mark E. Smith wants to lead, even if he’s only backed by your granny on bongos. I regret it took me 25 years to catch on.

Merle Haggard/If I Could Only Fly – 9.5 – The late master had a tendency to mar his every release with at least two flat-to-bad songs. This 2000 comeback–from health battles, from lethargy, from writer’s block, maybe–might be his best album, end to end, though it includes no single song most aficionados would put in The Hag Top 20. But no dogs, either. The band’s great (of course), and his singing’s as detailed and smart as ever. Picks to click: a look back that’s compassionate rather than judgmental; a paean/envoi to unprotected sex; two nods of gratitude, one to spawn and one to the uncle who taught him “Rubber Dolly”; some strong love songs; and the definitive version of Blaze Foley’s title song, which many have attempted to scale before, including Merle. I guess the pick to click is the whole thing.

George Jones/Live at Dancetown USA – 8.5 – Fired up by Rich Kienzle’s nice new Jones bio, I revisited several Jones holdings squirreled away in the pad. Here’s one Possum fans might not have heard, a ’65 live set in a real honky-tonk, seemingly unedited. Though George doesn’t sing with exquisite care–he seems in a hurry at times–he’s still the greatest singer in country music history. He covers his current hit catalog, takes a pell-mell run at “Boney Moronie,” delivers a couple of classic, corny bon mots (“…a brief liquor–I mean inter–mission” and an apology for “another sad ballard”), and lets his band have a few. Even if we don’t have a DVD to go with it, the ambiance is enough to make you wish you could have been there.

Wussy/Forever Sounds – 8.0 – Yeah yeah, they’re critics’ darlings, but I love them because they sing, write, and play like, for and about grown human beings in the midst of relatively normal middle age. Problem here is that the sonics (dubbed “shoe-gaze” by several folks, but I dunno), which do unify the album, have a tendency to overwhelm their humanity. I get off on the opening trio, “Dropping Houses,” “She’s Killed Hundreds,” and “Donny’s Death Scene,” but a later fave, “Hello, I’m a Ghost,” gets at my quibble–the vocals, especially Lisa Walker’s (who more and more reminds me of a rock version of Lucinda Williams when she was light of spirit), sound disembodied, sometimes even (literally) phoned in from a remote locale. I like embodied voices.

Good to My Earhole, April 6-9: Goodbye, Merle

On the off chance one of my blog-followin’ friends hasn’t heard much ‪#‎MerleHaggard‬ and would like to give him a shot now that he’s stepped on a rainbow, well…we all have our favorites, and he made a slew of albums, but I reach for these most frequently. On these recordings, he is in tip-top voice, his justly-famed band matches him move for move, and the material? I can stand it, but I can’t hardly. And that’s a compliment…

Same Train

Same Train, Different Time: A tribute album to one of Hag’s idols, Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman. It’s got narration, but frankly, I love it, because it’s from deep. The selections reflect Merle’s close study and, with both James Burton and Roy Nichols picking, things even get a little funky. It was a different time, and the singer will make you feel it.

'51

The Way It Was in ’51: I do believe this is tragically out of print, but it’s one side of Hank Sr. covers and another of Frizzell tunes–with a heartfelt pair of Hag bookends. Short, sweet, and sung the hell out of. Sure bet: Merle + Lefty tune = double, triple, or homer. Impossible to get out or pitch around.

30th

Working Man

Presents His 30th Album/A Working Man Can’t Get Nowhere Today: Two tuff rekkids now on one disc. The Strangers at peak sting-and-swing, with Merle’s pen drawing a little blood. There’s a few clinkers, but the likes of “Old Man From the Mountain,” “Honky-Tonk Night-Time Man,” “Holding Things Together,” “Running Kind,” the title tune, and two gutsy songs about being white will make you forget ’em. Plus, as always: masterful covers of Wills, The Delmore Brothers, Kitty Wells, and The Hillbilly Shakespeare.

the way I am

The Way I Am: This leads with a moving, autumnal take of Sonny Throckmorton’s title tune, and features a couple of ace originals–but best in show are a set of Ernest Tubb and Floyd Tillman covers woven together with love–those two pre-and-post-war honky tonkers could have been twins, in a way–and balanced expertly between impression and homage.

Best of

The Best of Merle Haggard: This was the first country record I ever bought, for $3, at a Wal-Mart, when I was still in my teens and didn’t know from country. Black cover, Merle in black, too–and, um, “Branded Man,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Lonesome Fugitive,” “Swinging Doors,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “I Threw Away the Rose,” “Strangers.” It ought to be illegal to unleash that learning on a kid all at once. And that ain’t all: for emotional breadth and shifting masks, a great novelty (“Shade-Tree Fix It Man”), a scary spiritual number (“High on a Hilltop”), and a sleeper you don’t hear many folks mention, “My House of Memories,” which was the first time I realized singing required thinking (and listen to the way he sings the last word of its lines!). $3, over in less than 30 minutes, life changed forever. And let’s bring the needle down again, shall we?