Bon Pierres Roulez! (Mardi Gras Day, February 13, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

Mardi Gras Day is always going to be alive in our house–wherever we happen to be, and whatever we happen to be doing.

For me, in the morning, I was teaching: expository modes in composition, to be exact. How did you jimmy Mardi Gras into that, I feel you asking? Easy. I had planned way ahead. Les Blank’s classic 1978 documentary Always for Pleasure is communicates a joy that expands exponentially with each viewing, and I make sure I view it plenty. I find it can fit into most any lesson an English teacher might teach, and I test that finding every February. This year, I prepped my students by explaining that, in order to continuing to practice thinking in expository modes, which we’d already done by reading some model essays, we’d be watching the work of a filmmaker who, in his best work, employed many. Their jobs were to spot precisely what Blank was trying to “expose,” or illuminate, for the viewer, what modes he was working in, and which of his examples were most effective. Then, after taking notes as they watched, students would post their observations on-line and respond to peers’ posts. Wow–so did I kill the film with all that? I don’t think so (sharing a King Cake helped). On the surface, Always for Pleasure seems like a ton of parade footage strung together, broken up on occasion by interviews (Irma Thomas on red beans and rice, Allen Toussaint on jazz funerals) and performances (Professor Longhair, The Wild Tchoupitoulas), but watched and heard leaning forward, the film renders up much enlightenment. The latter performance within that last set of parentheses is a film-capper that also glows brighter each time the viewer beholds it. Behold it now:

(Is that entire performance in someone’s vault? Two live songs are present in the film. Ye gods of the vault, issue forth the goods!)

Yes, but did the children learn in a manner that can be measured, Phil? Hell, I didn’t fall off the peach truck yesterday! I’ll let you know when their posts are up Tuesday morning. By the way, I did the unpardonable and offered extra credit to college students! “Listen to this Mardi Gras playlist I made, choose your five favorite songs, and use an expository mode in justifying your love (in making a case) for each.” I’m incorrigible.

Later, I had to clean house, but two loads of the CD changer made that deeply enjoyable!

Round One:

Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta (maybe the greatest NOLA piano record of all-time, and I have two copies)

Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns, Havin’ a Good Time (glorious, devilish rhythmic lunacy by a band that should have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the atrocity’s first year)

The Wild Tchoupitoulas (if you clicked above, I need say nothing)

Round Two

On a Facebook music forum I happily participate in, I recently deliberately tried to stir the turd (I guess it’s called…trolling?) by claiming that, among the Rolling Stones’ late ’60s/early ’70s run of classic recordings (defined as the studio albums from Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street), my favorite was the UK version of Between the Buttons–a bit outside that definition. I was just playing, but I do love that album for many reasons: killer drumming by Charlie, Wyman playing road-grader bass, Keith’s first vocal plus some nasty guitar as per usual, Brian’s last album as a serious contributor, Mick scornful as usual but also light-hearted (booga-booga-ness not yet a factor, and many wonderful songs seldom (if ever) to see the light of day again (“Miss Amanda Jones”). Since drawing a little return fire for my posting, I haven’t been able to get the lads out of my memory’s ear, so I went the whole hog:

Between the Buttons (UK version)

(This playlist is the US release.)

Aftermath (UK version)

(Again, the US version here:)

Beggars Banquet

I still love love love Between the Buttons!

(Don’t you know this one by heart?)

(Note: if you don’t already know, those UK versions include great songs held back from the domestic version in order for the ol’ corporation to squeeze out Flowers.)

I closed out the day with a very appropriate inappropriate indulgence, though I do not observe Lent. If I ever get a tattoo, it will be based on this album’s title song.

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:

Good to My Earhole, January 30-February 4: Life’s Too Short

HIGHLIGHTS OF THIS WEEK’S LISTENING, RANKED ON A 10-POINT SCALE TO WHICH ‪#‎GreilMarcus‬ MIGHT OBJECT IF HE LISTENED TO JAZZ:

HAPPY #MARDIGRAS SEASON, MUSIC LOVERS!

A message from #ProfessorLonghair–watch those fingers when they hit the keys!

Now–on to the featured selections:

Rahsaan Roland Kirk/THE INFLATED TEAR – 8.8 – The album title refers to his tragic childhood sight-loss. The tunes might be today’s soundtrack–the man could always speak clearly and directly, without words.

Jason Moran/BLACK STARS – 10 – Perfect ‪#‎BlackHistoryMonth‬ entry: best jazz album issued this millennium on a major label (did I stutter?), what with Byardesque young turk Moran spreading modes of joy via sprightly keyboard runs and then-78-year-old-now-passed-on Sam Rivers running hot and lyrical by his side on tenor, soprano, and flute (and even piano). Sam, you are missed on this turf. Jason…you’re due.

Odean Pope/ODEAN’S LIST – 9 – Many years have passed since I last heard Philly’s answer to Chicago’s Von Freeman (in the “eccentric soul” tenor sax sweepstakes). Careless on my part. 71 at the time, he surrounded himself on this session with some relatively young studs (Stafford, Watts, Blanding–and a guy named ‪#‎JamesCarter‬ on three rowdy tracks) and knocked out robust takes on nine originals and a standard. Each record like this makes me feel more guilty about my laziness in keeping up with the old guard–jazz is a different elder’s game, and records like this are great motivation for waking up tomorrow with a mission.

Benny Spellman/FORTUNE TELLER – 8.3 – Bought it knowing who’d be on the sessions, and guessing more joy awaited beyond “Fortune Teller” and “Lipstick Traces.” For the benighted, Spellman’s the deep voice who intones the title line of Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-In-Law.” There’s some filler, but there’s also “Life is Too Short” (Oaktown, can you hear him?), “The Word Game” (doesn’t QUITE beat “The Name Game”), and “10-4 Calling All Cars” (a weird song to sing from the heart of ‪#‎NOLA‬).

Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys/LET’S PLAY, BOYS – 9 – Junior Barnard and Tommy Duncan missing, dumb title, haven’t we heard enough ’40s swing transcriptions? NO. The band’s sprightlier than on the Tiffanys (I had difficulty typing that), and with three Wills brothers in tow and a Shamblin/Moore/Remington attack on electrified strings, it’s just marginally different enough for the Western swing fan to HAVE TO order it from the Oklahoma Historical Society. Plus, the eternally underrated “LX” Breshears on swinging trumpet.

CAVEAT EMPTOR!

DUD ALERT (5.0 at best): Robbie Fulks & The Mekons’ JURA and The I Don’t Cares’ (Paul Westerberg w/Juliana Hatfield in very intermittent geisha mode) WILD (make that MILD) STAB (exactly what it is).

Good To My Earhole: Selections Across Two Busy Weeks

It’s hard to hold down a blog when you have two real jobs. But the need to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to tug underrecognized music out of the clutches of time’s dustbin, never wanes.

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Khaira Arby: Timbuktu Tarab (Clermont Music) Arby jumps out of the otherwise simply excellent Festival Au Desert concert recording with a possessed vocal that, though I do not know the Tamashek language, sounds like freedom to me. After two months of fruitlessly searching for more of her recordings–she’s a match for Mariem Hassan , if that name means anything to you, which it should–I stumbled upon this, apparently her only other available recording. Not only is she consistently in the same powerful form that she demonstrates on the the concert track, but her band is stellar, more shifty and demonstrative and less trancelike than Tinariwen and other “desert blues” stalwarts. Especially the guitar. Yeah: driving guitar and heart-stopping female singing–where you gonna go to get that these days?

Serengeti/Kenny Dennis: “Rib Tips” (video, produced by Jel and Odd Nosdam) Chicago’s favorite recovering alcoholic/lost ’90s MC/Ditka-head/hip hop alter-ego returns with another contagious, oddball video from last year’s Kenny Dennis EP. Possibly, he’s too quirky or silly or ramshackle for you; me, I find him an addictive antidote to the heavily constructed, brightly polished, vulgarly materialistic run of mainstream rap. Oscar Wilde: “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

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Johnny Adams: The Soul of New Orleans (Fuel) This compilation catches the legendary Tan Canary, possessed of a rich vibrato redolent of Billy Eckstine but, more scintillatingly, a dry falsetto that lends his every recording an aspect of suspense, between his early years as a New Orleans r&b hitmaker (the stone-classic “I Won’t Cry,” “A Losing Battle,” “Please Release Me”) and his valedictory Sinatra-goes-soul sessions with Rounder. The time? The Seventies. The label? Hep’ Me. The producer? The legendary Senator Jones, who threw everything at Adams that might be a hit, in many cases country, which he handles with depth, care, and passion, and occasional disco and milder dance music, which he attacks like a pro (he gets away a strobe-lit “Spanish Harlem”). Couched among many strong performances are two more stone classics, “After All the Good is Gone” and “Hell Yes, I Cheated” (though this version substitutes “Oh” for the unmentionable hot place). The powers that be need to put together a cross-label best-of to cement Adams’ reputation in Soul Valhalla.

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Fats Domino: In Concert (Mercury German import) I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t a live Fats album sound pretty much like a Fats studio album? True, he had a sound and a method and he stuck to it like glue. The further truth is, on this mid-Sixties performance, you get some bonuses: his charming patter, some relatively wild piano solos, and–here’s the kicker–covers of fellow Crescent City legends Professor Longhair (who’d pay him back later on “Whole Lotta Lovin'”–see below) and Guitar Slim–as well as Tony Bennett! If you’re a fan, and if you’re persnickety about live albums, it’s worth your time and money.

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Professor Longhair: The Last Mardi Gras (Real Gone Records) It may be tainted by the guiding hand of Albert Goldman, but I believe he has degraded to atoms, so, if you’re new to Fess, this is a great place to start: he’s heated up in front of a live audience, Uganda Roberts is on congas–they are one of the great R&B instrumental pairings!–the horn section sounds like it’s just hit the sweet spot of a Friday night buzz, and the song selection is Longhair’s hits sprinkled with bawdy house classics. AND the audio is splendid. Learn why he earned that title.

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Muscle Shoals (PBS Documentary, directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier) I was disappointed when the first three voices we hear in a documentary about one of the great studios of the American South are those of Brits (!?), including that insufferable horner-in, Bono, but the film recovers to lift the veil on the fascinating and turbulent career of founder Rick Hall, the kinship and acumen of the Swampers (like the Funk Brothers and the Wrecking Crew, with mountains of hits to their quiet credit), and the sessions that produced such hits as “I’ve Never Loved Man (The Way That I Love You”),”I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Patches,” and “In the Midnight Hour.” Even music obsessives already familiar with the Fame/Muscle Shoals studio story may not know about the precise moment “Southern Rock” was invented; that anecdote alone is worth the two hours’ time of the movie.

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Deerhoof (w/Marc Ribot)/Ceramic Dog: Who Sleeps, Only Dreams (Northern Spy Split Single) One of only two Record Store Day purchases I made this year–and I confess, I bought ’em on line Sunday morning because I didn’t really have a choice. I am a straight sucker for the havoc Ribot wreaks on guitar, on Side A here alongside Deerhoof and Side B with just the most recent of his many underrated projects, Ceramic Dog. No guitarist with a sound this beautifully ugly has moved so effortlessly across r&b, cabaret rock, lounge/avant garde/chamber/free jazz, strict accompaniment, and experimentalism. This single belongs. Try an earlier Ceramic Dog recording on for size to test the waters:

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Bobby Rush: Decisions (with Blinddog Smokin’) (Silver Talon) and Upstairs at United (453 Recordings) Since he appeared at the high school I teach at and knocked a Tuesday evening crowd of students, their parents, and grandparents out cold with an old-school set of dirty-old-man blues–yep! in a public school!–Rush, the inventor of “folkfunk,” has been my hero. At 73, he shows no signs of slowing down, having just released a VERY solid full-length record featuring a dark Dr. John cameo as well as a 12″ four-song EP for Record Store Day, courtesy of the otherwise-pretty-indie “Upstairs at United Series” (on which he covers The Beatles and Eddie Floyd, writes a great new one, and reconfigures one of his own chestnuts). Never really mentioned in the same breath as his contemporaries, of which there are fewer with each passing month, Rush deserves our full attention–don’t wait ’til the heartbeat stops!–and, if you have a chance to see him live, you will see a 19-year-old in Grandpa’s body (along with, no doubt, a pair of women’s undies that belong in the Guiness Book of World Records).

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Wussy: Attica! (Damnably) I wrote about this one a few weeks ago. After a third focused listen, I am convinced it is the most passionate new work of what is still called rock and roll–in fact, my favorite new record of the year so far in any genre. If you enjoy the thrill of witnessing a very good band taking the next step–to greatness, to record-making, to artistic unity–you’ll want to check it out when it’s released later this month. And you’ll want the other records just to fully appreciate that witnessing. I’m just sayin’.