Ham and Eggs

Mostly I have been inspired by Mr. McDowell’s birthday (the 12th) and the combined forces of Carnival and the New Orleans Saints (Crescent City longing). A couple punky things snuck in as punky things are wont to do. I put together a YouTube playlist for this installment (sans the punks, for focus’ sake, but I linked those albums below)–I’m still trying to get ahold of rhyme and/or reason!

Fred McDowell: You Gotta Move

If you like slide like I like slide, Fred must be in your top pantheon. This first outing he made for Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie (recorded in ’64-’65) is my favorite–but just by a hair. What the adjective “stinging” was designed for.

Blind Willie McTell: Atlanta 12-String

Nobody did play the blues like McTell, partly because he’s not always playing blues–he’s a swinging songster just as much. I love his singing, too, and this later record communicates some serious wit, accumulated through three itinerant decades.

Jessie Mae Hemphill: Feelin’ Good

The Ramones of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues, the She-Wolf of Como, Jessie Mae needs to be better known. Besides knocking out some deep late-night trance blues, she socks a Christmas song over the fence and rocks a great church tune with just her tambo. Get hip if you ain’t already, folks.

A Collection of Pop Classics by Reagan Youth

They weren’t ever pushed on me by my hardcore friends in their heyday, but two of their songs leapt off the Mom & Dad soundtrack as we watched it Friday night, and I required more the next morning. See also last post’s blurt on Superchunk.

Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul

Possessed of a smoky, sultry, and vulnerable voice, Miss Harris linked up with Allen Toussaint and the fledgling Meters for a handful of tracks in the mid-Sixties. That combo should conjure sone desire in your ears.

Paul Barbarin’s Jazz Band / Punch Miller’s Bunch & George Lewis: Jazz at Preservation Hall

Old-time New Orleans jazz, executed by masters, is difficult to beat for sheer high spirits, and the collective improvisation (an influence on Ornette Coleman) can fly under your radar. Atlantic cut three (or four?) of these records in the mid-Sixties in higher-fidelity than the music had ever enjoyed–unless you happened to hear it in person.

Danny Barker: Save the Bones

The New Orleans musical griot, singing pop and blues standards as well as his own songs with exuberance and knowing, making his guitar testify, and spinning tales in between. 79 at the time of the record’s release, he sounds about half that.

IDLES: Joy as an Act of Resistance

This item would have made my “Best of 2018” list had I heard it in time. A yobby, aggressive punk rock crew from Bristol that takes on Trump and Brexit while also applying a scalpel to themselves–and laying hearts bare. And there’s laffs! They’ve been around for a bit, too–I might as well give up trying to keep up!

A Good Old Circus

An inaction-packed couple of days leaves me little with which to entertain you peripherally–care to hear about my new crown or my crossing my own no-NFL-TV picket line?–so let’s get to the music.

Indeed, it is, as Al Johnson memorably sang (and still sings), CARNIVAL TIME! We always celebrate that in our house, and Sunday I lazily clicked on a YouTube playlist I made last February and ended up listening to the whole thing (at the expense of investigating any albums). It’s not half-bad, and it’s not just the well-known tracks, though those can be played endlessly. Let me offer it to you again–it features great songs from the above-pictured Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas, Danny White, Lil’ Buck Sinegal, and Betty Harris (clockwise from upper-left). Bon temps roulez all the way into March!

Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions

The 2018 American Book Award winners for oral literature go way out, around, and inside the life and work of Baraka. It helps to have some of the poet’s oeuvre under your belt, but it isn’t necessary–you live in this world. Poetry-with-music of both a volcanic and bitterly hilarious nature.

Interjazz IV: Good Old Circus

Skeptics say you can’t tell wide-open free sessions apart, but when Willem Breuker’s in the house, even a neophyte listener’s earbrows are sure to be arched by distinct features. That title is perfect. With drummers by the name of Moholo and Oxley cracking the whip.

Sir Shina Peters: Sewele

The newest offering from Strut Records’ Original Masters subscription series is the first juju record other than King Sunny Ade’s that I’ve ever heard. Though the keyboardist can overexpress himself cornily at times, Peters’ singing and guitar are more than within shouting distance of his more famous compadre.

Stax Singles Volume 4–Rarities and The Best of the Rest

One would think that by a fourth volume (and each is a multi-disc set) the compilers would be loudly scraping barrel’s bottom. Not so. Yes, there are some mediocrities, but the many delights (instro-rockers The Cobras–guy named Cropper on guit–Rufus Thomas delivering a miraculous “Fine and Mellow,” the Nightingales’ scintillating “A Little Overcome,” Hot Sauce covering Swamp Dogg, The Dixie Nightingale’s heart-stopping “The Assassination”) beach them in their wake. I am strange, but, not planning to, I listened to the whole thing in a sitting. Also: if you didn’t know, Jim Stewart and Co. recording a lot more black music than soul.

…and still out in my truck is good ol’ Sandinista! One thing I forgot to mention the other day is how wonderful it was that the boys shared their tracks with a church choir, a little kid, and Timon Dogg (humanistic, democratic outreach in action) and moved their vocals into the mix’s midrange. It annoyed the ever-lovin’ shit out of me when I was 19, but I was a dum-dum; I totally get it now, and it makes me smile! Miss ya, Joe.

Lovin’ a 45: I Choose Vinyl Over Soundcloud for No Really Good Reason (November 6th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

VOTE! Intelligently! Doesn’t matter if the weather is bad or the lines are long or you have to interact with other humans–just do it.

OK, now that that’s over with, have you ever dreamed of having your own jukebox? I do, all the time. I am fortunate enough to have everything in life that I really need (as long as music and books keep comin’), and I for damn sure don’t need a jukebox. But I have a small but powerful collection of 45s that are just dyin’ to get inside a machine, and I still buy the little boogers, really, because I think that I am bound to one day own a working model. Guests will be able to play songs gratis (just like they do at Milton’s Cocktails in Fulton, Missouri!), and I’ll set it up right next to my free beer-vending machine!

I had planned ahead for a musical buffer to arrive for the midterm elections, and just in time the postman delivered. From 12XU Records came a sampling from the newest project from Niangua (MO)-born rock and roller John Schooley, Rocket 808. I’ve been following Schooley’s work for over twenty years, from his time in Columbia, MO’s long-lost and -missed Revelators to his raving One Man Band 45s (on Goner) and albums (on Voodoo Rhythm) to his defiant albums with The Hard Feelings to his exciting team-ups with master harp-blower Walter Daniels on Dead Mall Blues. I’m committed to his records ’cause he’s committed to making good ones, and the new 7″ (album coming soon) is no exception. If I told you he deliberately set out to meld instro guitar-hero twang-‘n’-tremble with nerve-rattling Suicide-inspired mechanical percussion, then realized that idea’s potential straight out of the gate, would you believe me? Yeah, I encourage you to question authority, too, so here:

On the flip, Schooley is the latest to hop on “Mystery Train” for a ride, and while it doesn’t provide as unique a rush as “Digital Billboards,” it does wail–as does the artist, trading Presley’s whoop for a hanging-from-a-railcar scream.

I will keep you posted on that album, folks.

 

Also stuffed in the mailbox was a package of singles straight from the New Orleans streets–specifically, from the mysterious mostly-vinyl-only Sinking City record label. I do not know much about the folks behind Sinking City, and they (rather refreshingly) do not issue releases in torrents. I will say that since my first purchase, a 12″ re-release of Ricky B’s absolutely essential, absolutely addictive, absolutely yellable “Shake For Ya Hood,” I’ve bought almost everything the label’s released with great satisfaction. They’ve marched into my home as if they owned it (and they do)–they are Louisiana-stamped. Stooges Brass Band’s Street Music, maybe the best brass band record of the decade. 79rs Gang’s Fire on the Bayou, a Mardi Gras Indians record stripped down to the basics like Run-DMC did their attack (also, it teams 7th and 9th Ward Indians). A classic 45 RPM-set reissue of the first commercially-recorded Mardi Gras Indian chants, fired by legendary guitarist and NOLA griot Danny Barker. This year’s haunting Blood Moon, by Michot’s Melody Makers, easily a best-of-2018 candidate and too powerful to be called a Lost Bayou Ramblers spin-off.

Their newest gem, released in tandem with Urban Unrest Records, is simply titled “The SCR Hip Hop 45 Series.” Three new, very street, very historically aware, very catchy singles by the likes of Blackbird & Seprock, Paco Troxclair, and and Ze11a, with guest appearances by Anderson Paak and (no surprise) Mannie Fresh–plus (enough of an inducement to buy it right here) the great “Shake For Ya Hood” itself. Subject matter? Customary for (and lovable about) a NOLA hip hop offering, a neighborhood call-out; the ins and out of not being in one’s right mind; duffy-ness; nostalgia for ladies coloring their hair with “all flavors” of Kool-Aid; a boast that one’s “honey will get her nut / like Cheerios”; and observations of the dangerous life. I’ve already played all four of them four times since I opened the package last night at 5:30 pm, so my enthusiasm is not just jerked from my knee. You try ’em:

Only quibble: Sinking City should have thrown in a 5th single, by NOLA MC Charm Taylor, a woman whose handle is both perfectly fitting and subtly ironic. You can buy her newest tracks for a buck (as well as her reissued 2015 album) on Bandcamp, or sample her here:

 

 

Feelin’ the Vibe (June 22nd, 2018, Columbia, MO)

For the past week, Sarayah’s Feel the Vibe has been throbbing in the lab (aka my ’93 Ford Ranger’s cab). Nicole spotted the album in Louisiana Music Factory, NOLA’s stellar Frenchman Street store, checked it out at the listening station, and placed it on my already-towering stack. The young lady is a product of the Crescent City, with Caribbean roots that blend beautifully with that status, and while she doesn’t quite live up to Basin Street Records’ promotional claim that she weds Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Kehlani (each of whom are backed by big bucks and state of the art writers and producers), I prefer her to all of the above except Ri, and even then I prefer her half the time. Why? I am no aficionado of club music or modern r&b, but I sense in the tracks and lyrics of Feel the Vibe that they might be a shade generic or corny. However, there is a sweetness and innocence to her commitment to the material, to her belief in herself, to the humility of her offering that’s irresistible. Trappings are few: her island-tinged delivery and exotic presentation on the album cover are about it. Otherwise, she’s naked, especially so without the bells and whistles of a zeitgeistian roll call of beat-finders and knob-twiddlers, and as a result I feel I’m getting a direct and sincere shot from the kid. I don’t club much at 56 in mid-Missouri, but I can easily picture Nicole and I getting the backs of our shirts wet to tracks like “Blaze It Up” and “Start to Finish”–and she can nail a slow one, too, as she proves on “Fire and Ice.” Late in the album, she takes New Orleans music back to its roots on “We Party,” perhaps the track that most suggests her potential. Saràyah: give her a shot. I hope we get to see her live one day.

Short-shrift Division:

A morning spent with the greatest country-soul singer of them all is a morning fully redeemed.

Afternoon Freak (May 14th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Grab-bag Day, for various and sundry reasons. The post title refers to the name of the newest band to be highlighted in Joyful Noise’s White Label Series, to which I subscribe. One album a month, in a 500-copy vinyl run, chosen and annotated by an already-established artist who believes it’s worthy of broader and deeper exposure. Afternoon Freak’s “The Blind Strut” is in the May spotlight:

Odd thing: the curator here is in the band, so he’s got a vested interest. He’s also named Mike Watt, and he’s on bass here in an instro combo with Danny Frankel on drums and Matt Mottel on various keyboards. I will always extend Watt encouragement and critical latitude; The Minutemen have been and always will be a guiding light for me, musically and philosophically–plus, a better dude cannot be found. Trouble is, I’ve yet to truly get with any of his solo ventures, though this comes close. Mottel seems to be the lead voice among the three, Watt plays with restraint, finds the groove, and pitches his ear closely, Frankel rides the grooves ably. The tracks are catchy, a tad repetitious–this kind of date puts pressure on someone to be very imaginative–and evocative of multiple possible influences (remember the instros on Second Edition?), but they are not an irritant upon the ear. Four tracks A-side that get where they’re going; three on the B that stretch out, if a bit monotonously. All of Joyful Noise’s White Label releases have been interesting; one’s been terrific, and one great. This one wouldn’t do badly thrown on a venue PA before a cool band’s gig.

If you’re a Scratch Perry fan and haven’t heard his work with Jah Lion on Colombia Colly, you have your weekly grail hunt. The physical media’s a little scarce, but let the above track from the album be a motivator for you–one of the all-time greatest Perry sound effects leading into a ghostly voice reaching back to Peggy Lee.

 

Sometimes I get an irresistible hankering for the work of Gene Pitney. For some folks, I imagine he’s the opposite of cool: straight-looking, corny-sounding, a persistent profferer of melodramatic pop, caught in an unfashionable time capsule. For me, he’s a gone kind of cool: hitmaker deluxe (16 in the Top 40), studio tinkerer (multi-tracking his own vocals and instruments on “I’m Gonna Love My Life Away”), writer of “Hello Mary Lou” and “He’s a Rebel,” ace Spector avatar (“Every Little Breath I Take”), early coverer of and sideman for the Glimmer Twins (“That Girl Belongs to Yesterday”), hit duet singer with none other than George Jones (“I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday night), master of geography songs (“Mecca,” “24 Hours from Tulsa,” “Last Exit to Brooklyn”), poet of teen you-and-me-against-the-world (“Town Without Pity”). As Jerry Lee might say, “Top that, motherfucker!” Pitney might have said it himself–in Italian.

Tempted? A brief Pitney Playlist for ya:

Persistent profferer of melodramatic pop–with a difference, huh?

Short-shrift Division:

I received my copy of Offbeat! yesterday and noted some interesting new records being reviewed. Sometimes I suspect I am critically soft-minded in that I will like anything if it’s in a New Orleans or south Louisianan tradition. Sampling these records with Apple Music, I was able to reassure myself that I can exercise critical discretion. I’m violating a blog rule by writing about lukewarm creations, but I suppose I need to show I can do it for the record:

Chas Justus & The Jury–Pale (really pale), characterless, zestless, sterilized Western swing. Merely skilled playing and boring vocals.

Cha Wa: Spyboy–To scope in further, I truly thought there was no such thing as an enervating Mardi Gras Indian record. I was wrong. This is record suffers from having a very finely-tuned funk-field.

Keith Frank & The Soileau Zydeco Band: Return of the King–I am nutso for Frank’s “Haterz.” But his recent insistence on walking his zydeco into urban musical neighborhoods makes it less tough and contagious.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation: Songs in the Key of Funk, Volume 1–I am always seeing Sam’s gigs touted in Offbeat! (and hearing them recommended on ‘OZ when in NOLA myself). First sentence of the current review of this album includes the phrase “[t]he heavyweight champion of rocking, brassy, NOLA funk.” This wouldn’t make it out of Golden Gloves.

Ok, never again…

Loan Me Your Handkerchief—You Will Soon Know Why (January 27th, Columbia, Missouri)

I will not be able to fully shake New Orleans music until after Mardi Gras (even then it’s doubtful), and yesterday was a case in point. The above record collects the highlights of New Orleans’ Frisco Records. While not really a match for Ron, Ric, Instant, AFO, and other local r&b/soul labels of the Sixties, it did produce at least one undeniably classic single: Danny White’s pull-out-the-stops weeper, “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” Listening to that track yesterday led to two mysteries. One: there is no available YouTube video for it (nor for another arguably classic Frisco hit, The Rouzan Sisters’ always-relevant “Men of War”–though if you’re patient, you can hear Wanda sing it here). Is there some lawsuit in play? Every time something like this happens, I hear my students claiming, “Mr. O, everything streams, man!” and recall Roger Price’s axiom: “If everyone doesn’t want it, nobody gets it.” Which leads us to Mystery Two. Why would you “want this”? That’s not the mystery: White fucking sells the song in a very, very convincing soulful plea, sounding like he’s sweating in a lone spotlight on an otherwise darkened stage, in front of an utterly silenced audience. It will remind you of a time when someone kissed your tomorrow goodbye. The mystery is, who the hell is Irving Bannister, the guitar player who strings barbed wire around White’s corpus to keep him from trying to stop the unfolding tragedy? I’ve seldom heard more majestic, lacerating playing on a soul ballad.

Anyone who can solve those mysteries for me, please get in touch. In the meantime, as a teaser, here’s White other local hit on Frisco, which is a far cry from “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, but strangely we have a video for it:

Short-shrift Division:

This album should be in every American home. Absolutely classic and infectious NOLA jazz from right after WWII, featuring master musicians (Dodds, Danny Barker, Albert Nicholas, Don Ewell, James P. Johnson) and unforgettable songs still played and chanted today: “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” “Wolverine Blues,” a passel of creamy Creole confections, and four Mardi Gras Indian anthems, the first time any had appeared on a commercial release (see my entry from earlier this month). This slab, like Tootie Ma, is a big fine thing!

Have you ever wondered what it would have sounded if Professor Longhair had backed some Mardi Gras Indians? Wonder no more. I direct you to Track 12 here (you guessed it–no YouTube video available), a raucous version of “Saints.” Also of note: the first jukebox single recorded and released by Mardi Gras Indians:

King Cakes & Muffaletta Stromboli (January 14, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Not everyone lives such a life of luxury that he can just play music all day long, but yesterday was a very special occasion: in thrall to Carnival season, Nicole was baking King Cakes and some very intriguing muffaletta stromboli (recipe to follow), and the Saints were on TV striving to make the conference finals, so I needed to provide the soundtrack. For that service I am always game.

Obviously, I strongly recommend everything we listened to. We actually began the day with ASV Living Era’s outstanding Lester Young and Fats Waller compilations (there is something, mysterious to me, about Waller and Sundays), but soon switched to Louisiana music. Here’s a partial list before I get to the special item:

Various Artists: Alligator Stomp, Volume 1

Allen Toussaint: American Tunes

Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago

Michael White (before he was a doctor): Shake It & Break It

Billie & De De Pierce / Jim Robinson’s New Orleans Band: Jazz at Preservation Hall (this great, out of print Atlantic series is well worth searching for)

Big Chief Juan Pardo & The Golden Comanche: Spirit Food

James Booker: The Lost Paramount Tapes

Various Artists: J’ai Ètè Au Bal, Volume 2 (I’m telling you, this documentary is essential viewing!)

There were more, but I want to get to a fantastic record from 2013 that I broke out that still releases thunder and lightning, and actually broke some musical ground in it’s tradition: Bo Dollis, Jr. and The Wild Magnolias’ A New Kind of Funk. The promo is worth watching for background and beats reading me:

A New Kind of Funk, in its way, is what it says it is. The mini-tradition of Mardi Gras Indian tribes recording albums goes back to Bo’s dad’s taking the Magnolias into the studio (with ace guitarist Snooks Eaglin) and recording a classic eponymously titled record for Polydor in 1974, and The Wild Tchoupitoulas, aided and abetted by the Nevilles, The Meters, and Allen Toussaint, following suit (and, to my ear, stomping some romp, ever so narrowly) in 1976. Most sane music aficionados believe it ends there, but those two records started something. Several dozen “tribal records” have been released since, at least–the folks at Lousiana Music Factory are probably the only ones who know for sure–and all I’ve heard are good. A recent highlight, for example, is 79rs Gang’s Fire on the Bayou. But young Mr. Dollis’ album takes “Injun music” into rock territory on the album without losing what’s essential: the funk. Guitar (slide and resonator, along with some power chording) leaps loudly, but without vulgarity, out of the mix on several tracks. Electric bass, and drumming that doesn’t seemed honed in parades, further juices the best songs; if someone had told me this before I bought the album, I wouldn’t have bought it, but it would have been my loss. These seeming sins against the order work, because they’re carefully balanced against the inspired traditional chanting and refrains that make the mini-genre fun (and educational) and interwoven with the eccentric rhythms and local sounds (like a country violin) of southern Louisiana. Another kind of innovation is that the younger Dollis has dared to write songs (the title tune, the rousing opener “We Come to Rumble“) that push up against the likes of “Tootie Ma,” “Liza Jane,” “Fire Water Big Chief Got Plenty,” and the eternal “Hell Out the Way.” The record isn’t perfect–a cover of Toussaint and Lee Dorsey’s “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky” doesn’t get off the ground. But if you wanna take a chance on some music that will set your house on fiya during Mardi Gras season, think about tracking it down. It’s listed as being on One More Time Records, but maybe check CDBaby first.

The Saints lost on what I will call a non-tackle, but the delicious King Cake (alas, no baby for me), the music, and the muffaletta stromboli was most decent salve. Hey, courtesy of louisianacookin.com and Nicole, here’s the recipe if you wanna try it:

Muffuletta Stromboli

Makes about 24 servings

Ingredients

• 1 (15-ounce) package pizza dough

• 2 tablespoons Creole mustard

• ¼ pound thinly sliced soppressata

• ½ pound thinly sliced deli ham

• 1 cup olive salad*

• 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

• 6 slices provolone cheese, halved

• 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Instructions

1 Preheat oven to 400°. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

2 On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 14-inch square. Spread mustard onto dough, and cut in half.

3 Arrange overlapping slices of soppressata down center of 1 piece of dough, leaving a 2-inch border on both sides. Top with 3 slices ham, ¼ cup olive salad, ¼ cup mozzarella, and 3 provolone halves; repeat layers once. Cut strips of dough at ¾- to 1-inch intervals on both sides of filling. Fold top and bottom pieces of dough over filling, and braid strips of dough diagonally over filling, stretching strips, if necessary. Place on prepared pan. Brush dough with egg. Repeat with remaining dough, soppressata, ham, olive salad, and cheeses.

4 Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Notes

*We used Boscoli Italian Olive Salad.