Voices in My Head (June 14th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Other than a fourth go ’round with Shanachie’s The Power of the Trinity: Great Moments in Reggae Harmony, I simply listened to the voices in my head reading the last turbulent, delirious, and true 100 pages of this book to me. They were so strong I had to pour a few drinks. In a very tiny nutshell, as Roth puts it, “Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda. Three blind mice.” That is the personal. The political and philosophical? Tougher, more lacerating ground. I notice most reviewers sidestep it. Good questions for any novelist: who are we, really, and what are we here for? Roth lives in those queries.

Short-shrift Division:

Only great lit could subordinate these.

As They Used to Sing (June 13th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

I spent the day with some of my favorite noise. Why not?

I love Bob Wills and the Playboys anyway they can be served, but the loose virtuosity, astounding range of repertoire, joyous swing, and infectious camaraderie of their Tiffany Transcriptions of 1946 and 1947 are their recorded apex. Wills is full of mischief, guitarist Junior Barnard is helping invent rock and roll, Millard Kelso is romping on the 88s, and Tommy Duncan? At the peak of his everyman world-weariness and experienced ease. The band recorded these tracks after having come off the road, and it’s quite possible the resulting delirium and collapsed defenses are the secret ingredients. Volume 2 features the band’s biggest tines and, along with the bluesier Volume 3, are the ones to check out.

I know of few sounds wilder and more thrilling than Sidney Bechet’s soprano sax playing, and today I dipped into Storyville’s The King Jazz Records Story, which covers a series of New Orleans jazz sessions recorded between 1945 and 1947. King Jazz was a label booted up by Jewish “voluntary Negro” Mezz Mezzrow, of Really The Blues fame. Mezzrow partly intended the label to show off his clarinet playing, but not only does Bechet’s intense genius overshadow it, but Sammy Price’s expert boogie woogie occasional steals both of their thunder (he also excelled teamed with Sister Rosetta Tharpe). A great opportunity to hear top-rate New Orleans swing across five inexpensive discs, with Mezz frequently supplying characteristic commentary.

I know of no easier way to aural bliss than to engage with Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages, the “chainsaw jazz” guitarist’s final album before his unjust early demise at the hands of a heart attack. Sharrock often commented that he aspired to play Coltrane on a six-string, and here those aspirations are reached; Trane-mates Elvin Jones and Pharoah Sanders are on hand to help. One thing I love about this album is its very memorable and grand themes are both supported and sparred with by pulse-quickening free spasms by Sharrock and Sanders, especially on the back-to-back classics “As We Used to Sing” and “Many Mansions.” Cathartic, lyrical, romantic, and proud, the record covers a mile of emotional ground. I will die owning this CD. (By the way, I played it today because I received a remastered edition made available by Bill Laswell. It’s indeed an improvement, especially in the definition of Jones’ drums.

Short-shrift Division:

I cannot quit playing this album–four times in two weeks now –and its excellence forced me to abandon Apple Music and buy the damn thing. Great notes by reggae expert Randall Grass, too.

Canasta Soundtracks (May 31st, 2018, Excelsior Springs, MO)

Little to say other than, to my ear, we chose well today when needing some music behind our morning reading, our multiple hands of Canasta, and our lollygagging around during our final vacation day at the historic (and inexpensive) Elms Hotel.

Morning: I told Nicole she could pick any great album ever released and I could probably find it and stream it from my phone. Her response?

“Too much pressure! You always do this to me when I’m trying to practice my Spanish!”

“Yeah, but you always wanna be asked before I play something!”

“Dammit, you’re right–something Colombian, then–”

Afternoon: we decided to resume our Canastathon. I had briefly assumed a lead, but, partially due to my enthusiasm for playing wild cards and her tendency to hold them back, she has dominated throughout. This time, she had an immediate answer when I made a soundtrack request:

I piggybacked on that with this:

Evening: after some swimming and poolside lounging and reading, we returned to the room for a maple syrup Old Fashioned (her) and a Main Root ginger beer and bourbon (me), and four hands of Canasta. Nicole’s defenses were weakened so I took matters into my own hands with possibly the greatest record of all-time, and two reasonable follow-ups:

Unfortunately, the above didn’t help my luck (I’m 2000 points down), but they certainly established a mood.

Short-shrift Division:

Fiercest desert blues in awhile.

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…