Dimension Seven (July 17-22, 2018 / Victoria, Seattle, Bozeman,Wall, Minneapolis)

Been too busy to blog–good thing on vacation, eh?–and when in the car (35 hours of driving last three days) we’ve been audiobooking, podcasting, and rocking out! When I have had time? I’m telling you, the Internet ain’t made it to the upper left quadrant, people. So–a quick recap. This is s’posed to be a music blog, so it’ll have, um, hints of that.

Victoria, British Columbia

I had never planted my feet on foreign soil, so I was just thrilled to be in the most British Canadian city. Music played very little part. I visited the Fan Tan Alley shop Turntable, where the proprietor seemed stuck in the Sixties but I did find the above record. Didn’t buy it–$50, and the sleeve was about cashed–but it’s a good ‘un. I also trekked up Fort Street to Ditch’s and snagged a previously rare Sam Rivers ECM and a neat Dick Hyman Fats Waller tribute which he played into a Bosendorfer machine (for what that’s worth). The night before we left, I was forced to witness the current version of Lynyrd Skynyrd playing live (on TV only, thankfully) at a pub where the Old Fashioneds were too good for me to get up and leave (Bartholomew’s).

Other highlights:

Butchart Gardens, a beautiful botanical display. (See previous entry.)

My first real dish of Ramen.

Russell’s, a used bookstore so overwhelming I couldn’t buy anything.

A primer on an interesting facet of the Canadian health system.

We hiked all over its spread–I’d estimate 12-15 miles–notably about five clicks out to its east breakers:

We walked through the Empress Hotel a couple times, but they didn’t have low tea.

We weaved through Fisherman’s Wharf.

I really got used to seagulls outside my bedroom window.

…and before jumping back on the Clipper back to Seattle, we had time to pop into the Odean Theater for a screening of Sorry To Bother You, which, as much as I love Boots Riley, graded out to about a B/B+–it needed a little more juice, I thought.

 

 

Return to Seattle

Again, music didn’t figure much into our brief return visit to Seattle (I played country music classics during our time in the highly-recommended Mediterranean Inn), but being with our Seattle friends is rock and roll! They operate spontaneously and delightfully. Our dear long-time friend Frank–he and I used to write collaborative punk 45 assessments for The Banks and Bibles Revue–led us on a marvelous foot tour of downtown Seattle.

The Echo Statue:

A skywalk:

Seagull feeding (I tell ya, I love them birds):

The Gumwall:

Smith Tower, bottom…

…to top:

And finally a Lyft out to Ha! in Fremont to reunite with the whole gang, toast everything good, and go listen to garage 45s at some old vintage lounge. It was hard to leave.

 

 

Bozeman, Montana

We blasted Hendrix again all the way out of Washington, and after being diverted from I-90 by a brush fire, we found ourselves at Wild Horses National Monument with a wonderful vista.

Bozeman was not scintillating, but we arrived in time to find decent food–locally-raised bison, anyone?–and great cocktails at Ted’s Lounge, which also is the only restaurant I’ve ever visited that has played The Gilded Palace of Sin on their sound system. I must say, though, that the mountainous beauty of this part of the country makes an 11-hour drive pretty damned pleasant. New audiobook: Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God.

On our next leg, through Wyoming and into South Dakota, we visited Little Big Horn, where apparently we’re still trying to see Custer as a hero, or at the very least worth memorializing, but far more riveting was Devil’s Tower. We’d been blasting Nirvana (I find their music’s aged very well and is indisputably great–just like Jimi’s), and we’ve been shooting a 20-second highway video every 100 miles, so I had a corny inspiration:

 

 

Wall, South Dakota, and The Beauteous Badlands

We’d been to The Badlands before, and they are a must. If you go, stay at Frontier Cabins and request a meadow view. It was too dark upon our arrival and too foggy upon our departure for me to snap a good pic, but here’s an interior.

We got up early to drive through the park on our way to Minneapolis. We blasted punk rock (Minutemen, Roky, Minor Threat), were stunned again by the views, and dropped some cash for a stack of books to express our love for the National Parks Service (Black Elk Speaks, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas). Here’s a selfie with my beautiful one.

On the way to our next stop, I had an Indian Taco (made with fry bread) at Al’s Oasis. I thought you should know. We continued listening to the infuriating podcast In the Dark (infuriating due to the miscarriage of justice it explores–Mississippi, goddam!!!), Erdrich’s fascinating if flawed new novel, and, of course, blasted Prince all the way into Minneapolis, where we’ve never been.

 

 

Minneapolis (just dropped in)

Today: Paisley Park, Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, and dinner and drinks with friends.

The Academy of Rock, David H. Hickman High School, Columbia, MO, February 4, 2004 – present (in case the Wikipedia page ever goes bye-bye…)

One day, I hope to produce an oral history of this after-school venture that ended up being, if not the accomplishment I’m most proud of in my public school career, the most fun I’ve ever had as a club sponsor (and I sponsored several). The first five years of the club’s existence seemed to produce something new and exciting each season–and not due to anything special I did other than seldom saying “No.”

A thumbnail history of the club, in need of some updating, currently appears on Hickman High School’s Wikipedia page. I am not confident it will last forever, so I am going to back it up right here.

Hickman High School boasts one of the most innovative music appreciation societies in United States public education. The Academy of Rock was founded in late January 2004 by students David Kemper, Dylan Raithel, James Saracini and teacher Phil Overeem. The general purpose of the club was initially to plan and execute a “Battle of the Bands” between Hickman and its Columbia rival, Rock Bridge, but soon grew to encompass several other enterprises.[citation needed]

Since its inception, the Academy of Rock has hosted nine Battles of the Bands, three at Hickman High School and two at a local rock-and-roll venue, The Blue Note.[20] These four events raised a total of nearly $7,000 to support what sponsor Overeem calls “demotic music” (in other words, music created by and for the masses). Each Battle has pitted four Hickman bands against four Rock Bridge bands, the winners being as follows: J Murda and the Musicians (Hickman, 2004), The Tipper Gores (Hickman, 2005), Wayfare (Rock Bridge, 2006), Graffiti Out Loud (Hickman, 2007), and Molly Trull and Anodyne (Hickman, 2008),[21] the Dorians (Hickman, 2010), the RPs[22] (Hickman, 2011),[23] Table for Five (Hickman/Rock Bridge, 2012), and The IRA (Hickman, 2013). The winning band not only has the privilege of hosting a summer benefit concert at the Blue Note but being staked to recording time in a local studio owned and operated by local Columbia musician Barry Hibdon, Red Boots. The four summer benefits have raised a total of over $3,000 for VH1‘s Save the Music Foundation,[24] Columbia’s community radio station KOPN,[25] the Muscular Dystrophy Association,[26] the Voluntary Action Center of Columbia,[27] the University of Missouri’s Thompson Center for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders [1], and the effort to rebuild Joplin, Missouri, after the 2011 tornado. In addition, Academy of Rock-sponsored bands have also raised over $2,000 to assist in rebuilding after both the Sri Lanka and New Orleans disasters, and the group co-sponsored a fund-raiser for Hurricane Katrina survivors that netted nearly $27,000.[28] In 2013, The IRA, the winning band in that year’s Battle, opted to donate its recording proceeds to the Central Missouri Humane Society.

Besides the Battle of the Bands, the Academy of Rock also sponsors, mans, and programs KWPE 98.3 FM,[29] the school radio station (home to Rock Therapy[30]); curates the American Roots Music Listening Library in the school media center,[31] which has been funded largely by the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri;[32] partners with Columbia art theater Ragtag Cinemacafe[33] for “The Academy of Rock Showcase,” which gives high school bands the opportunity to hone their chops in front of audiences and make money; partners with University of Missouri radio station KCOU in a “Take-over Program”, during which eight pairs of Hickman DJs operate the college station for 12 to 16 hours in one- to two-hour shifts; sponsors a monthly music documentary series in the school’s Little Theatre; and coordinates a live performance series that has featured free unplugged concerts by artists ranging from nationally known acts like The Drive-By Truckers[34] (March 2005) and The Hold Steady (December 2006) to cult artists like former X co-lead singer-songwriter Exene Cervenka[35] (see video),[36] and Baby Gramps[37] to local Missouri musicians like Witch’s Hat, The F-Bombs, Bockman, and Cary Hudson.[38]

On February 19, 2009, the Academy staged an electrifying free performance by a contemporary of Muddy Waters and the inventor of folk-funk, Bobby Rush. The Academy of Rock has even made headlines in the national music press, thanks to a feature article by Lisa Groshong in the July/August 2005 issue (#68) of Punk Planet, and received a $500 “Music is Revolution” Foundation grant from Michael and Angela Davis, the former the original bass player for Detroit punk rock legends the MC5. Other recent developments in the club’s activities are to arrange performances for budding Hickman musicians at lunch on Fridays and coordinate after-school jam sessions, at which student musicians arrive, write their names on slips of paper, and drop them into buckets labeled according to their instruments. A supervisor then randomly draws a slip a piece from each bucket, and the four to five musicians whose names are on the slips must come to the stage and improvise a performance. In September 2007, in conjunction with Hickman’s student government, the Academy provided over 100 volunteers for the city’s first annual Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival.[39] and in October 2008, served as an artist-relations crew for one of the three featured stages at the second festival.

In 2008, University of Missouri student Chad LaRoche shot a brief documentary about the club to help those who are interested understand the club more clearly: Part 1[40] and Part 2[41] of the documentary are available on YouTube. A further technological aspect of the club spawned during that year was the “Rock Therapy” podcast [2], which featured Battle of the Band recordings, raw tracks from the concert series showcases, and the sponsor’s eccentric, lo-fi forays into the world of pop music.[citation needed]

April 2009 brought further recognition for the club: the national-award-winning regional magazine Missouri Life [3] featured the club in an article by John Hendel [4]. As soon as the 2009–2010 school year was under way, the Academy of Rock brought Pacific Northwestern punk-garage legends The Pierced Arrows (formerly Dead Moon) to the Little Theater stage for an October 13 concert-and-Q&A. In the spring of the same school year, in collaboration with the Missouri Arts Council, Theater NXS, and MO Blues Society, the club presented northern Mississippi bluesman and Fat Possum recording artist Robert Belfour in two workshops involving over 100 students. Also, again aided by a grant from the Assistance League of Mid-America, the club augmented its existing media center CD collection with a selection of American classical music.

The Academy of Rock initiated a new program during the 2011-2012 school year: the “Local Music Showcase”. This program was designed to expose Hickman students to musicians in their own community and facilitate conversations through performances and question-and-answer sessions that could serve to inspire students to pursue their own futures in music. The opening performance in the series, on November 10, 2011, featured Moonrunner [5]; on February 9, 2012, Columbia “indyground” rapper Dallas held court [6]. 2012-2013 was a very quiet year for the Academy of Rock, though, true to its mission, it initiated some new programs: a Sunday Night Showcase series at Columbia’s The Bridge [7], which featured concerts by Volatile, Space, Time, and Beauty, Ross Menefee, and The Pound Game, and a music-lesson scholarship [8], in partnership with The Columbia Academy of Music [9]. The scholarship offers $250 worth of lessons to one underclassman boy and one underclassman girl per year. The club also procured two grants, one each from the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri and the Hickman PTSA, to expand the school’s CD library [10]. Co-founder Phil Overeem retired from teaching at the end of the school year, turning the club reins over to Mr. Brock Boland.

Currently, Mr. Boland and his fellow English teacher Mr. Jonathan McFarland sponsor the Academy at Hickman; another English teacher, Mr. Jordan Smith (a former Academy of Rock member beginning in his ninth grade year) has overseen the establishing a branch at Columbia’s Battle High School. Yay, English teachers!

My Fav-O-Rite New and Old Records of 2017, Considered from the Position of Listening to Them to Ward Off Fear and Despair Throughout its First Three Quarters

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What can I tell you? I’d hoped things (i. e., our American life) would be much better by now, since I last posted a lazy list–for the time being, I cannot write, a kind of impotence I am sure is related to political distraction. However, “fury and fire” are the order of the day, so I guess I’ll be leaning even harder on music to get me from rising from my pillow in the morning to lowering my head back upon it at night. These records keep me believing in a decent future, and in a humanity that continues to evolve. Big ups to St. Louis’ Black Artists Group contingent, my research into which has been exciting; to the Golden Pelicans, who are the Black Oak Arkansas of hard-ass punk rock; to the ebullient Eno Williams, who powers the exultant Ibibio Sound Machine; to Tyshawn Sorey, who is always looking for a way forward; and to the indefatigable musical exploration of John Corbett, who’s damn-near supplanted every other music writer in my esteem. I’ve taken the time to link all the new releases to clips for you to enjoy (that is, except for Jay Z, because, as nice as his old-dude album is technically and artistically, I’m done for now with caring about the lives of the very rich), and I did my best to do the same for the older rekkids I am digging, but…shit, you know how to get to YouTube, correct?

Important Addendum: The Lost Bayou Ramblers crashed the Top 10 out of nowhere with the hardest-rocking, most eccentrically textured Cajun record in years, Kalenda–which is my favorite record right now, but it just dropped today (9/29/17). Also, against all my strongest, well-honed instincts, I’ve been broken by Lana Del Rey. A six-hour immersion in her catalogue justified the hype and more, though I would still opine that a little goes a long (but deep) way.

Kalenda

TOP 85 New Releases of the First 3/4ths of 2017:

  1. Zeal and Ardor: Devil is Fine
  2. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyai
  3. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  4. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Kalenda
  5. Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life
  6. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound
  7. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  8. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  9. Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood
  10. William Parker: Meditation – Resurrection
  11. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So It Is
  12. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever: Talk Tight
  13. Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won
  14. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  15. The Perceptionists: Resolution
  16. Steve Earle and The Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw?
  17. Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for The South Side
  18. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  19. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong
  20. Angaleena Presley: Wrangled
  21. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  22. Obnox: Niggative Approach
  23. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  24. Syd: Fin
  25. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP) (Not the late jazz soprano master Steve Lacy, BTW!)
  26. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  27. Sampha: Process
  28. Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm
  29. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  30. Burnt Sugar: All You Zombies Dig The Luminosity
  31. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  32. Filthy Friends: Invitation
  33. Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound
  34. Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame
  35. Body Count: Blood Lust
  36. Les Amazones D’Afrique: Republique Amazone
  37. Maximum Ernst: Maximum Ernst
  38. Oddisee: The Iceberg
  39. Tamikrest: Kidal
  40. Tyshawn Sorey: Verismilitude
  41. John Escreet: The Unknown
  42. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  43. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  44. Trio 3: Visiting Texture
  45. Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders
  46. Jay-Z: 4:44
  47. Randy Newman: Dark Matter
  48. Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
  49. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star
  50. New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions
  51. Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem
  52. Ty Segall: Fried Shallots
  53. Tony Allen: A Tribute to Art Blakey
  54. Trio de Kali w/ The Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan
  55. Hard Working Americans: We’re All in This Together
  56. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  57. Gato Preto: Tempo
  58. Tinariwen: Elwan
  59. Shina Williams: Agb’oju L’Ogun
  60. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  61. Ross Johnson and Lesa Aldridge: Lesa and Ross
  62. The Goon Sax: Up to Anything
  63. Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator
  64. Various Artists: Mono No Aware
  65. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
  66. Various Artists: Outro Tempo–Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
  67. Omou Sangare: Mogoya
  68. Daddy Issues: Can We Still Hang?
  69. Nots: “Cruel Friend” / “Violence”
  70. Bob Dylan: Triplicate
  71. Pierre Kwenders: MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time
  72. Damaged Bug: Bunker Funk
  73. Tomasz Stanko: December Avenue
  74. Black Lips: Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art
  75. Chuck Berry: Chuck
  76. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  77. Don Bryant: Don’t Give Up On Love
  78. Public Enemy: Nothing is Quick in the Desert
  79. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines
  80. David S. Ware: Live in New York City 2010
  81. Thundercat: Drunk
  82. Elliott Sharp, Mary Halvorson, and Marc Ribot: Err Guitar
  83. Erica Falls: Home Grown
  84. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel
  85. Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

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65 Great Older Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Still Can’t Get Enough Of

(If it’s bolded, I’ve been hooked on the thing quite seriously)

  1. Allison, Mose: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
  2. Avengers: Died for Your Sins
  3. Les Amazones de Guinée: Au coeur de Paris & M’mah Sylla (Bolibana Collection)
  4. Anderson, Fred, and Hamid Drake: …together again
  5. Astatke, Mulatu: Mulatu of Ethiopia
  6. Black Artists Group: In Paris 1973
  7. Blythe, Arthur: Illusions
  8. Bowie, David: Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
  9. Carmichael, Hoagy: Music Master
  10. Case, Neko: The Tigers Have Spoken
  11. Cochran, Wayne: Wayne Cochran!
  12. Cohran, Philip: Armageddon
  13. Coursil, Jacques: Trails of Tears
  14. The Creation: Action Painting
  15. Curtis, King: Instant Soul–The Legendary King Curtis
  16. Davis, Anthony: Episteme
  17. Dion: Kickin’ Child–The Lost Album 1965
  18. Dion and The Belmonts: Together Again
  19. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
  20. E: E
  21. Eggleston, Cozy: Grand Slam
  22. Evans, Bill: Some Other Time–The Lost Session from the Black Forest
  23. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
  24. Fela: Live in Detroit
  25. Gibbs, Melvin: Ancients Speak(all hail Pete Cosey!)
  26. Gonzalez, Dennis: Idle Wild
  27. Gonzalez, Dennis: Nile River Suite
  28. Hemphill, Julius: Coon Bidness
  29. Human Arts Ensemble: Whisper of Dharma
  30. Ink Spots: These Cats Are High
  31. Instant Composers Pool: Aan & Uit
  32. Jamal, Ahmad: The Awakening
  33. JJ DOOM: Bookhead
  34. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
  35. Kyle, K. Curtis: The Collected Poem for Blind Lemon Jefferson
  36. London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Theoria
  37. McGann, Bernie: Playground
  38. McPhee, Joe: “The Loneliest Woman”
  39. Monk, Thelonious: Soundtrack to Les Liaisons Dangereuses
  40. Orchestra Regionale De Mopti
  41. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  42. Patrick, Pat, and Baritone Retinue: Sound Advice
  43. Perry, Lee Scratch: Dub Triptych
  44. Perry, Lee Scratch: Presents African Roots
  45. Perry, Lee Scratch: Voodooism
  46. Prince: Purple Rain – 2017 Deluxe Remaster
  47. Prince Jazzbo: Ital Corner
  48. Pullen, Don, and Beaver Harris: A Well-Kept Secret
  49. Revelators: …we told you not to cross us (20th Anniversary Edition)
  50. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Face to Face
  51. Stanko, Tomasz: Leosia
  52. Sun Ra: The Space Age Is Here to Stay
  53. This Heat: Out of Cold Storage
  54. Thomas, Luther, and Human Arts Ensemble: Funky Donkey Vols. 1 & 2
  55. Thornton, Clifford: The Panther and The Lash
  56. Morgan, Lee: Live at The Lighthouse
  57. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
  58. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
  59. Various Artists: Killed by Death #5
  60. Various Artists: The Original Sounds of Mali
  61. Various Artists: The Poppyseeds–The Sound of Crenshaw
  62. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, 1 & 2
  63. Washington, Dinah: Live at Newport 1958
  64. White, Ruth: Flowers of Evil
  65. Wray, Link: Three-Track Shack

LIST TIME ONCE AGAIN! 35 Great Rekkids from this Haunted Year (kind of)

The first third of this haunted year is over: list time! I’ve got 35 rekkids so far that could conceivably make my year-end best-of (alphabetized, because I don’t have the energy to rank ’em–except my Top 10, asterisked and bolded for your convenience). That’s complicated by one that I was way behind on (even further than I was on Jazmine Sullivan) that might be argued as impacting 2016, a Brazilian record from a few years back that just came into most of our earlines, an addictive Serengeti EP project, and a documentary that I want to count.

*Angry Angles: Angry Angles
Bajakian, Aram: Music Inspired by “The Color of Pomegranates”
*Bombino: Azel
*Booker, James: Bayou Maharajah (film)
Bowie, David: Blackstar
Bradley, Charles: Changes
Braxton, Anthony: 3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011
Childbirth: Women’s Rights
Dalek: Asphault for Eden
Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody
Hemphill, Julius: Julius Hemphill Plays the Songs of Allen Lowe
*Hogberg, Anna: Anna Hogberg Attack
*Kool and Kass: Barter 7
*Iyer, Vijay, and Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke
Lamar, Kendrick: Untitled Unmastered
Lewis, Linda Gail: Heartache Highway
Lynn, Loretta: Full Circle
McPhee, Joe, and Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy
*Mexrissey: No Manchester
Open Mike Eagle: Hella Personal Film Festival
Parquet Courts: Human Performance

Perfecto: You Can’t Run from The Rhythm
Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago
Pusha T: Darkness Before Dawn
Reed, Blind Alfred: Blind Alfred Reed–Appalachian Visionary
Rihanna: Anti
Rollins, Sonny: Holding Down the Stage—Road Shows, Volume Four
Simpson, Sturgill: A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Stetson, Colin: Sorrow—A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony
Threadgill, Henry: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs
*Various Artists: Music of Morocco–Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
Various Artists: Original Cast Recording of Hamilton#
Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega–Sega Sounds from Mauritius
*Veloso, Caetano, and Gilberto Gil: Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música–Multishow Live
*Williams, Saul: Martyr Loser King
Wills, Bob, and the Texas Playboys: Let’s Play, Boys–Rediscovered Songs from Bob Wills’ Personal Transcriptions

Wussy: “Ceremony”/”Days and Nights”
Wussy: Forever Sounds
Ze, Tom: Vira Lata na Via Lactea#

*Top 10 selections—as of now
# Complicated by not being 2016 by a long shot.

The Violence of Chuck Berry

ChuckBerry2

(The following is an excerpt from a memoir I am writing about my career in public education. Music had a lot to do with it, believe me.)

I have taught many unusual lessons in my career. This one was not only successful (though even the best lessons are only partially so), but its history also incorporated a lot of the best and not a little of the worst of this profession.

I was teaching middle school at the time and was graced with a bunch of seventh graders who were game for anything interesting I proposed. They would go on to make me look great many, many times that year. In this case, their lesson grew out of a screw-up on my part.

Striving to realize our school’s challenging goal of integrating curriculum, our instructional team had tried to design an opening unit focusing on the idea of “culture.” For three weeks, each teacher—math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and special education—would design his or her instruction so that it addressed that common theme, with the unit output being a single assessment of learning, as opposed to five separate tests. Theoretically, it still sounds neat to me—in fact, it drew me away from my previous job just for the chance to try it. In reality, it’s a bitch to pull off. Just trying to talk about it caused my first teaching team to implode.

At this point in my middle school tenure, however, I was surrounded with comrades willing to give the idea a shot. We planned our culture unit very meticulously, and, of course, I, likely the most enthusiastic among us, zipped through my part of the unit quicker than necessary, quite possibly leaving a few students in the dust in the process. So, confronted with an additional three lessons to write before my fellow teachers were finished, I decided to give the young’uns a dose of Missouri culture and rock and roll, as well as an opportunity to be creative.

I have often said, only half-joking, that I teach to subsidize my record collection. But I have always reinvested what I’ve gained from music in the stock of U. S. public schools’ pop culture curriculum (even though that exists only in my mind), and, in this case, I thought it would be valuable for my students to study how one great rock and roll writer reflected his rich and complicated culture. I prepared, with one eye on Fair Use guidelines, a handout highlighting some of Mr. Chuck Berry’s most revealing lyrics (“Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” and “Back in the U.S.A.” among them), prefaced the lyrics with a quick artist bio, then guided the class through some close-listening of his music. As we proceeded, I led the kids in discussing what we had learned about U. S. culture circa 1955-1964, and advised them in taking a few notes. Then, over the next two periods, we put our shoulders to the wheel of the task: either write a song of your own, reflecting current U. S. culture, in Chuck’s style, or write a song about Chuck’s version of U. S. culture in your own style.

We had a blast, and, I must say, their work was very perceptive, witty, and—what do you know?—indicative of their having learned some valuable things! A couple students even brought guitars and played their songs. What we’d done leaked outside of our classroom (not surprising, in that my classroom was open to the hallways!), and we soon learned that our homeschool communicator’s college roommate had been Chuck’s lawyer at one point—and had his phone number.

One of the kids excitedly blurted, “Hey! Let’s send Chuck some of our songs!” You don’t say no to such a proposition, and soon the ex-roomie lawyer was on the horn to Chuck, asking him if he’d be up for reading some 7th graders’ tribute-songs to his bad self. Almost immediately, we received word back from Berry: send them on! We did a quick read-around, whittled our stack of 150 songs down to the best 30—we didn’t want to swamp ol’ Johnnie B. Goode!—slid them into a “vanilla envelope,” and put ‘em in the post. I didn’t really expect to hear from Chuck again; one of my long-time philosophies regarding ambitious enterprises is to expect absolutely nothing, which intensifies the exultation if things work out.

The next thing that happened was not a working-out.

A week after the culture unit’s conclusion—it worked nicely, but we were never to replicate its success beyond squeezing a birds-and-the-bees discussion into a “plant life cycles” unit—came our school’s “Back to School Night,” a late summer public ed staple during which parents are invited to meet their students’ teachers. These evenings usually prove a bit of a dog-and-pony show on our parts, but they are seldom high intensity, and, though the parents who most need to come don’t (usually they can’t—they are working), we usually at least mildly enjoy the opportunity to communicate to the grown-ups what we’re up to.

I didn’t expect to be called to the principal’s office. Via intercom.

When I stepped into her office, in front of Dr. Brown’s desk sat what I presumed to be a parent. On the parent’s lap lay her daughter’s English folder, open, with the Chuck Berry handout removed and unmistakably on display. I thought, “Oh shit—she’s a journalism professor and she’s got a copyright complaint. I knew I should have picked up those handouts after we finished writing!” I stood at attention, ready to be, perhaps justly, upbraided.

“This man does not have the moral fiber to be teaching my daughter!”

I take copyright seriously, but, well—wasn’t that a bit strong?

But this wasn’t about copyright. I could not have possibly guessed what it was about.

Remember that “quick artist bio”? I know what you’re thinking: no, I did not mention Chuck’s Mann Act scrape and accompanying prison stint, nor his naked photos with equally naked groupies, nor his tax evasion escapade, nor his exploits with video technology. Nor did this mother look those biographical tidbits up. (All idols have feet of clay, anyway.) Her concern was this: I was promoting violence in this unit.
She said that. Yes. And it was in the bio ‘graph I had written, branded into my memory since:“Berry’s machine-gun lyric delivery in songs such as ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ (see below) influenced none other than Bob Dylan, one of this century’s greatest songwriters.” She read that aloud, from the handout, to my principal and me, with supreme confidence and righteous indignation, as if it were irrefutable proof I was a warlock.

Wait—what??

Actually, I think that is exactly what I said. I looked at Dr. Brown—an excellent administrator I had purposely followed over to this particular school, and a human whom I was desperately hoping valued loyalty at the highest level—and stared in disbelief. The mother stood, read the passage aloud again, and punctuated it with this outburst: “It says right here—‘machine-gun lyrics’!!!” (As you can see above, it didn’t quite say that.)

I confess to being a lifelong smartass, but my reply was simply self-defense: “Do you understand figurative language?”

“Don’t try to slither out of this!” At that moment, I was the closest I have ever been to deeply understanding Kafka. And “slither”? Really?

Keeping my far eye pleading with the principal and my near one defiantly on my judge, I patiently explained the point behind the lesson. No sale.

I looked directly at my boss and said, in quizzical defeat, “Well, you could move her daughter to another team.”

The parent exploded. “She’s not going anywhere!”

I was stunned. I reflected for about an eighth of a second and said, to them both, “This is ludicrous. I have sane parents to speak to. Do what you must. I cannot explain more clearly what my valid and very moral intentions were. Goodbye.” Turned on my heel, went back to my class, and pictured two die spinning through the air.

That absolutely wonderful administrator, Dr. Wanda Brown, refused to budge in giving me full support—that’s one of the reasons why she still hangs the moon for me. The parent pulled her daughter from regular classes for homeschooling (I am sure, much to the daughter’s embarrassment), though she continued to send her over to us in the afternoon for French classes (that’s bullshit, if you ask me—you teach her French, lady). In spite of the whackiest—and wackest—parental guidance episode I had ever witnessed in my career, I proceeded to have a better year than Frank Sinatra’s in the song. The story of the Chuck Berry unit, however, had not yet concluded.

Spring. That lovable homeschool communicator rolled into my classroom—he did, in fact, roll—and motioned me over.

“Chuck’s coming to play at a local high school next week. [He lives in Wentzville, Missouri, just down I-70 from Columbia.] He loved the packet of songs, and he’s authorized you to bring over the ten student writers you think would get the most out of hearing and meeting him. I’ll take care of the bus.”
As the generation of teachers prior to mine would have exclaimed, “My goodness!” (That is not what I said; I repeated the title of a well-known Funkadelic title exclamation, but my moral fiber is too strong to repeat it here.) Though selecting the ten students proved an exercise in pure agony, we were soon filing into the choir room of the local high school, where the kids were given a front-row seat—
a mere five feet from the man himself, at that moment swiveling on a stool, his guitar on his lap.
My natural high was so intense, I cannot remember much of Berry’s talk, other than that Chuck gave rap lyrics his seal of approval (good man, and my kids beamed). However, when the afternoon turned to Q&A, I received an electric charge greater than a cattle prod’s when one of my students, Sekou Gaidi (whom I must name for posterity’s sake), stood to ask a question. Sekou, who often underperformed for me despite frequently being the smartest person in the room (including me), had actually been inspired during the Chuck Berry unit and written a killer song. He was also a combination of a cannon packed a shade too loose and Sun Ra (a jazz genius who uttered many a head-scratcher in his day). I admit, as the charge passed through me, that I was holding my breath.

Chuck: “Young man, what would you like to ask?”

Sekou: “I don’t know who in the heck you are”—Unadulterated claptrap! He was laser-focused through the entire three-day lesson!—“but my mom wants you to autograph this book.”

This request was delivered dry as toast, with arm toward the stage, Chuck’s recent autobiography at its fingers’ end as if it were trash recently plucked off the ground. Sekou’s expression? Slot-mouthed.

Three beats of silence. Excuse me while I break to present tense.

Chuck—Chuck Berry—is staring (glaring? I couldn’t tell!) at Sekou, then a pudgy, bespectacled little seventh-grader wearing mauve sweats. I am covering my hands, shaking my head, fairly sure that this is one of Sekou’s jokes, stunned by his unholy audacity if I am correct, and dreading what might rush into the resulting vacuum of silence.

Into the void rush explosive guffaws, straight out of the gut of The King of Rock and Roll. Then out of the audience’s. Then out of mine. My team teacher is laughing so hard she’s tearing up, and my wife Nicole, who’d come along and would later get her own copy autographed, is staring at me in stunned, gaping delight. In fact, I am tearing up a little right now, staring at this screen, mouth agape as I recall it.

Thus properly ends one of the best lessons I ever taught, embedded in the history of which, as with all the best lessons, are other very important lessons. I can only be thankful that the lessons did not come at me with machine-gun-like rapidity.

GOOD TO MY EARHOLE: End of ’15, Start of ’16

These posts originally appeared on Facebook, where my potential audience is much larger than here. My thinking behind the somewhat-weekly series was to help people sift through albums from the past that might easily be forgotten in the tsunami of information about new reviews–as well as occasionally commenting on significant newer items. That concept is dressed up like simple reportage about what I have actually been listening to, by choice as opposed to in an attempt to stay on top of new thangs. Which I am struggling, like you, to do.

8 BOLD SOULS – 8 – I am hooked on Edward Wilkerson, Jr.’s arrangements for this terribly underrated AACM-sprung unit. They’re always interesting and fun and funky. The otherwise-reliable PENGUIN GUIDE TO JAZZ RECORDINGS doesn’t see fit to even mention them. Bullshit. Every one of their records are good-plus to excellent, and Wilkerson needs to be recognized as a luminary of the past quarter-century. Also: their name fits their musical enterprise.

AFRICAN HERITAGE SYMPHONIC SERIES, VOLUME II (Chicago Sinfonietta, conducted by Paul Freeman): Ulysses Kay/George Walker/Roque Cordero/Adolphus Hailstork/Hale Smith – 10 – I don’t know doodley-squat about classical music, but I can hear majesty, tension, fear, and desire when gathered musicians successfully convey it, as they do here. This was just what I needed this week, cranked to 8 in my truck cab. Pick to click: Smith’s “Ritual and Incantations.”

Laurie Anderson/HEART OF A DOG – 8.5 – A winsome, quirky, and disarmingly deep meditation on mortality, following death of mom, dog, and man. Closed down–and redeemed–by song written and sung by said man.

Erykah Badu/BUT YOU CAIN’T USE MY PHONE – 8.8 – A concept mixtape that shoulda been packaged with Aziz Ansari’s MODERN ROMANCE. Ms. Badu is a bit like The Stones–she has a knack for staying relevant over time, and even if you hate “phone world,” she sings and writes nicely here, and the rhythms are bumpin’.

Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe/ABOVE & BEYOND – 9 – There aren’t that many jazz violinists, and Bang, a Vietnam vet, was one of the best, able to play inventively both “inside” and “outside.” This 2003 record finds him in a Grand Rapids club with his long-time playing partner, tenor saxophonist Frank Lowe, dying of cancer, down to a single lung, but playing with scintillating vigor nonetheless–a “horseman, pass by” performance! Bang himself had only eight more years to fiddle on this turf, and his equally stellar playing make this one of the most moving jazz documents of the new millennium.

BeauSoleil/HOT CHILI MAMA – 9 – Like Robert Cray, Dwight Yoakam, The Roots, and Tom Petty, THE Cajun band can seem so consistently good as to be underrated. Don’t fool yourself and ignore them. Michael Doucet’s lively, insouciant fiddle and earthy vocals, bro Michael’s Doc Watson-gone-swamp picking, and the band’s fearlessness in adapting outside material is the recipe for aural orgasm. Yes: I wrote that on purpose.

Don Byas/SAVOY JAM PARTY – 9.0 – This Okie from Muskogee is here the very happy medium between the twin towers of pre-WWII tenor sax, the laggard Pres and the vigorous Bean. Stellar support, too, from Charlie Shavers, Slam Stewart, and Max Roach.

Leonard Cohen/CAN’T FORGET–A SOUVENIR OF THE GRAND TOUR – 8 – One souvenir of three, but this one features a vastly different set of songs, including some worthy newbies. Except for conceptually, he doesn’t get away with “Choices”(Bettye LaVette beat him to that Possum cover in the first place), and his already-threadbare voice has lost a little grain, but from the disarming cover art to a closing where he hugs mortality tighter than ever, you have no choice but to contemplate whether this’ll be his last. Respect your elders!

Elizabeth Cook/GOSPEL PLOW – 8.5 – Spunky-tough C&W singer-songwriter takes on spirituals by Blind Willie Johnson, Lou Reed, and anonymous geniuses and delivers, no small thanks to her (now ex-) husband’s rowdy guitar.

Jacques Coursil (trumpet) & Alan Silva (double bass)/FREE JAZZ ART (SESSIONS FOR BILL DIXON) – 9 – Near-trance-inducing, Asian-tinted, marginally differentiated performances by two crafty veterans. The music doesn’t sound all that free, but that may be the art. A colleague wandered into my office and demanded I email him the recording info so he could get it post-haste. That’s a good recommendation in and of itself. Thanks to Isaac Davila.

The Dead Weather/DODGE & BURN – 7.5 – Moved only to eye-rolling by Jack White, I can’t resist this raving project of his, mainly because of Alison Mosshart’s howling. But despite the abundant riffage, propulsion and attitude, I am not sure it adds up to anything. Docked .5 for a toe-dip into minstrelsy.

Dexateens/LOST & FOUND – 9 – Finally found this literally “lost” (master?)piece of modern Southern rock, and did it please me! From earworm riffs (“Mary”) to caught-me-short details (box fans!) to sly tales (“Altar Blues”) to their oddly Stonesish way with vulnerability, this keeps hitting me where I love, I mean live. For Eric Johnson

DIRTY BOOGIE–THE FORTUNE RECORDS STORY – 9.0 – Though it wisely skimps on flagship geniuses Nolan Strong and Andre Williams, forcing you to pick up their own official compilations (but, wait, where are those, again?), this three-disker ably highlights the lesser-known of the two totally classic Detroit labels of the 1950-1965 Golden Age. Unsurprisingly for a company sprouting up in a Northern industrial hub, it offered r&b, rockabilly, doo wop, country, a touch of jazz, and plenty of the title medicine. Secret hero: Roy Hall, of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” fame.

Jim Dickinson/FISHING WITH CHARLIE – 9 – Running interference for both World Boogie and Mumbo Jumbo, Dickinson nails rumbling readings from such luminaries as Vachel Lindsay, Nick Tosches, and Larry Brown. Best in show: a haunting, vivid, loving cutting from Michael Ondaatje’s COMING THROUGH SLAUGHTER. Might be Dickinson’s unintentional epitaph.

Drive-By Truckers/IT’S GREAT TO BE ALIVE – 9 – A theme’s developing here. I didn’t think I needed a three-disc live Truckers set from our current year, but I must bow. A classic career summation, with numerous surprises (“Girls Who Smoke,” “Runaway Train”) and revisions (“Goode’s Field Road”), that lives all the way up to its title, mostly thanks to the irrepressible joy in Patterson Hood’s singing. Need I mention that the guitar is abundant, ragged, and lyrical? And that it’s one HELL of a bargain at $17?

Cliff “Ukelele Ike” Edwards/SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (ASV Living Era Series, for those that love that line like me!) – 8.5 – There’s some extreme corn in tow, but Cliff was an early pop star for good reason. Most will know him as the voice of Jiminy Cricket on “When You Wish Upon a Star,” but I will take his spirited “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and “Singin’ in the Rain” over all the other versions I’ve heard, and his “Paper Moon” almost beats Nat King Cole’s. There’s more, including one of the first recorded versions of “California, Here I Come” and some very charming extreme corn (“Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home”).

Duke Ellington and His Famous Orchestra/FARGO, NORTH DAKOTA, NOVEMBER 7, 1940 (Deluxe Golden Anniversary Edition) – 10 – The impossibly great but short-lived Blanton/Webster band, on a radio broadcast the fidelity of which is stunning for the time. And the band is ON. Hear Duke’s exhortations, steppin’ feet, and the radio broadcaster as part of the music, feel the glory in 29 songs’ worth of prime Ellingtonia, and get stunned by a murderer’s row of genius soloists. Plus: I’ve heard drummer Sonny Greer maligned, but, damn, the engine room is on fire.

Freddy Fender/TELL IT LIKE IT IS–THE BEST OF THE CRAZY CAJUN RECORDINGS – 8.5 – We are still waiting for the ultimate Fender comp, but I really like this memento from his days with fellow eccentric Huey Meaux ’cause it displays his amazing range (and I don’t mean his inimitable singing): from classic r&b to standards to Doug Sahm honky-tonk to chart-rock from The Who (yes, The Who). In a single performance, you can hear in Freddy East Texas, South Texas, West Texas, and, of course, Mexico–I hope that sounds seductive to you, because it sure as hell does to me. Plus he could write a good one, and guitar-sling.

Chico Freeman and Von Freeman/FREEMAN & FREEMAN – 8.3 – The son, Chico, plays like a cocky street kid just dosed with a tab of Trane. Pops sounds like no one else but himself–a sneaky-smart old pro who loves to squeak, creak, and reach into your chest at a moment’s notice, right when you think he’s not going to get out of a chorus intact. And should your attention drift, there’s Jack DeJohnnete to rattle you to attention. Recorded live at the NYC Shakespeare Festival!

Erroll Garner/THE ORIGINAL MISTY and BODY & SOUL – 10 – A weekend of Garner’s magic piano in my ear elevated him above God (aka Art Tatum) in my esteem. I am not a musician, so you can take that for what it’s worth, but for joy, invention, touch, and surprise, I’ll stake my rep on it. Thank you, Whitney Balliett for putting me right.

Roscoe Gordon/LET’S GET HIGH – 8.8 – Memphis weirdo pianist invents ska, only he doesn’t realize it until much later!

GymShorts/NO BACKSIES! – 7.9 – If the idea of the Country Teasers (the only band I’ve ever heard that could CREATE a hangover with its music) fused with The Jesus & Mary Chain (who too quickly abandoned their knack for beautiful feedback overload) appeals to you, you might want to check this Rhode Island combo out. Their noise is VERY adulterated. Live, they are less weird and more together. More weird and more together is the next step. Fingers crossed.

Brian Harnetty/BAREHEAD AND BLOODYBONES – 8 – What could be more fun on a holiday than to listen to old field recordings of country kids telling very damn disturbing stories to piquant electronic instrumentation provided by the credited artist? Pick hit: the title track–it freaked me out a little, and it’s an ooooold story. From those hardworking folks at Dust-to-Digital Records.

Michael Hurley, The Unholy Modal Rounders, and Jeffrey Fredericks and The Clamtones – HAVE MOICY! – 15 – Last week I was scandalized to learn that several of my music-loving pals hadn’t even HEARD of this record–one of those rare ones for which you need a backup copy. It is a lot of things: a guidebook for living dangerously, an inquiry into the nature of things, a celebration of life’s simple pleasures, an outline of sexual adventure. But it’s much more. All that information is delivered with such gusto, drollery, seductiveness, insanity, and–occasionally–menace that you may have whole verses memorized after the first listen, which, if you listen, will be the first of many.

“Yeah, but what kind of music is it?”

Unhinged. But easefully unhinged. As if unhinged is a way of life.

Please go find this and buy it. (Note: the sequel, just released and reviewed here last week, ain’t no slouch.)

HAVE MOICY 2–THE HOODOO BASH – 8.8 – If you don’t have the first volume, make it a priority: whacked-out but subtly philosophical songwriting delivered with insane enthusiasm (alternating with subversive seductiveness) by ’60s freak folk heroes. The sequel is honorable: though two members have since stepped on rainbows and the subversively seductive Michael Hurley passed on the project, it’s full of joy and camaraderie, with Peter Stampfel opening the proceedings with a genius repurposing of a Del Shannon song, Jeffrey Lewis providing a paean to nonsense and tweaking the nose of intelligent design, and Baby Gramps Grampsing around mysteriously and channeling pirates on “Crossbone Scully.” Also, some butts are hilariously on fire on the “projected single.”

Clifford Hayes and the Louisville Jug Bands/VOLUME 1, 1924-1926 – 8.8 – Hayes gets lead billing, but blower Earl McDonald is the true star. I doubted a recently-encountered claim McDonald could get jazz out of a jug, then this made me shut up. Great appearances by Sara Martin and Johnny Dodds, too, and Hayes is mos def no slouch. Now–to the other three volumes!

HERB JEFFRIES: A COLORED LIFE (directed by Kim Clemons and Kimberly Dunn, 2008)– 7.8 – Blue-eyed Sicilian-Irishman from Detroit goes south to Chicago and west to Hollywood, passes for “colored,” sings Duke Ellington to his first mega-hit, and becomes Hollywood’s first “black singing cowboy.” Jeffries: “My father is Portuguese, Spanish, American Indian, and Negro. How in the hell can I identify myself as one race or another?” Indeed.

Lightnin’ Hopkins/THE GOLDSTAR RECORDINGS, VOLUME 1 – 8.8 – I know: how many Lightnin’ albums does one listener need? Frankly, it might just be impossible to track them all down even if you wanted to, but these very early recordings are trance-enducing, trickily differentiated in masterfully marginal ways, and–just when you are in a zone that’s humming through your ears to your brain–he moves to organ for a zany and addictive change of pace that makes you laugh out loud.

The Horribly Wrong/C’MON AND BLEED WITH THE HORRIBLY WRONG– 8.8 – I bought this record out of duty, out of loyalty, out of love for the Nashville band Natural Child, simply because Natty C’s bassist Seth Murray plays and sings on it. Suffice it to say that duty, loyalty, and love have their payoffs, and this is one. One of the BEST punk/trash-rock rekkids I’ve heard in years (it’s a 2010 release), and it’s from Indiana, too (attention ‪#‎ChuckEddy‬).

Soundtrack to the film THE HOT SPOT – 8 – I’ve never seen this Dennis Hopper film and somehow hadn’t heard much about the soundtrack until I read Charles Shaar Murray’s John Lee Hooker bio and discovered Miles, Hook, and Earl Palmer, the inventor of the rock and roll beat if anyone was, play together on MOST of the tracks. How bad could it be? Well, if you’re not expecting a masterpiece (super-sessions never are) you will dig it. The trumpeter and guitarist mesh pretty well, and the drummer holds the groove. And that’s what it is: a solid groove album featuring two of the most singular voices in our music. Even the lyrics are no disgrace.

Gregory Isaacs/EXTRA CLASSIC – 9 – First record I’ve ever bought on Keith Richards’ recommendation (see “Desert Island Discs”). Thought I had reggae’s Cool Ruler down cold, but only one of these songs, mixed in his classic lover man/social critic style, was previously known to me, and “Jailer” is the only one that overlaps my favorite Isaacs record, MY NUMBER ONE. He whispers in your eyes, then hips you to Babylon’s racket.

Vijay Iyer/MUTATIONS – 8.7 and rising – My first two spins left me distinctly underwhelmed–I love the man’s piano playing, but there’s a goodly portion of strings and electronics on this. He also runs with excellent drummers–and after three listens I am not sure there IS drumming on it. But before selling it, I tried it again at top volume in my lab (the cab of my truck) and I started getting Hassell/Eno aural mirages from it. I think I’ll keep it.

Joseph Jarman, Glen Horiuchi, and Francis Wong/PACHINKO DREAM TRACK #10 – 8.5 – This is mos def an AACM jazz recording: it ain’t linear, it ain’t prefabbed, it ain’t easy, it ain’t without conch shell and shakuhachi–but it’s very, very live indeed, the lead artist conjures a restless peace regardless of what he’s playing, and the spirit of the artists’ cooperation led me away from yesterday’s outrage for a minute.

Katey Red & Dem Hoes/MELPOMENE BLOCK PARTY – 8.3 – Don’t call it “sissy rap” in her presence, or you might lose an appendage. What it says it is.

Kelela/HALLUCINOGEN – 9 – I am stubbornly resistant to electronica (or whatever this stuff is called), but I try not to give up on any genre. This EP delivers on the exotic promise such music is supposed to regularly extend: rich, expressive vocals, complexly carnal lyrics, and rhythms ‘n’ FX that support each. Three plays in 24 hours, plenty willingly.

KHAT THALETH–THIRD LINE: INITIATIVE FOR THE ELEVATION OF PUBLIC AWARENESS – 9 – Arab Spring rap. The music holds its own, easily, but you can download the translations. Consult Bandcamp–for a 23-song comp, it’s a bargain.

B. B. King/BLUES IS KING – 9 – LIVE AT THE REGAL you probably know about; it’s justly famous. But this ’67 show is a hair from its equal–plus a completely different (and surprising) set list. If you miss him, you owe yourself.

Earl King & Roomful of Blues/GLAZED – 8.5 – King was one of NOLA’s great R&B triple threats, as well as a bit of a griot. He wielded a deceptively mean guitar, he could write a great song (“Big Chief,” anyone?), and he sang with the slyness of a Sonny Boy Williamson. The white boys stay out of his way on this one and lay down the horny bedrock he needs to take off from.

KORLA: A FILM BY JOHN TURNER & ERIC CHRISTENSEN (2014) – 8.5 – Black man from ‪#‎ColumbiaMissouri‬ goes west to Hollywood, passes for East Indian, and becomes an icon of ’50s musical exotica. And stays in character for the rest of his life. A history lesson if nothing else.

John Kruth/THE DRUNKEN WIND OF LIFE: THE POEM/SONGS OF TIN UJEVIC – 9.5 – Vocalist and mandolinist Kruth, the words of the poet, and the musicians–all clearly glad to be alive. Dylanesque (sorry–it’s better than that augurs) with Croatian flavor. This will cheer you without bullshitting you. How’s that?

Los Lobos/GATES OF GOLD – 9.3 – Title’s kinda meh, cover art looks low budget, album’s only a goddam tour de force. Impassioned singing, outstanding material, and–did I mention they can play just about anything? Touches of bluegrass and bottleneck may even surprise the faithful. In my top 10 for 2015 after a single listen–a single listen that moved me. Ever heard an autumnal bar-band record? That’s kind of whatit is. For Peter Feldstein–thanks for motivating me to get it listened to!

Booker T. Laury/NOTHIN’ BUT THE BLUES – 8.5 – First heard Laury on the soundtrack to the cinematic abomination GREAT BALLS OF FIRE, but was too distracted by Jerry Lee remakes (imagine that!) to notice. If you like rowdy 88-rollin’, partake. And he hollers great, too. Also, let me know if you have his out-of-print BLUES ON THE PROWL, on Wolf Records, because I NEED IT. Been playing this side by side with Otis Spann and, though it’s a case of apples and oranges, Laury holds his own.

Matt Lavelle‬ and John Pietaro/HARMOLODIC MONK – 8.7 – I don’t care whose at the helm: I’ll sample anyone’s run at Thelonious Monk’s catalog. Though I’ve tried mightily, I don’t have a great grip on Ornette Coleman’s theory of harmolodics, but I can say with confidence that Lavelle, on horns, and Pietaro, on percussion, have fun using it to PLAY WITH Monktoons (something Thelonious would appreciate). The duo utilize “the freedom of two” to evoke damn near the whole of jazz in their interactions.

MEANWHILE IN MEMPHIS: THE SOUND OF A REVOLUTION (directed by Nan Hackman and Robert Allen Parker, 2013) – 9 – You might skeptical about the revolutionary claim, but not all revolutions are loud. In sound and style, this film does justice to its subject. Like all great docs, it raises a curtain on folks and moments even experts missed; for me, it’s Alicja Trout and the revelation that Tav Falco ‘s arrival on the scene was filmed. Plus: a terrific bonus disc. Please buy directly from Goner Records!

Jinx Lennon/30 BEACONS OF LIGHT FOR A LAND FULL OF SPITE, THUGS, DRUGS, AND ENERGY VAMPIRES – 9 – Irish force of nature needs just an acoustic guitar to wrestle the world to a draw. Dylanophiles strongly recommended to look into his oeuvre. But he ain’t no saint–even the Twin Towers’ collapse can’t avert him from Internet porn. Plus: a Christmas song for the ages.

Jeffrey Lewis/MANHATTAN – 9.8 – This eccentric, supposedly “anti”- folkie has never reached me, and I’ve only been to Manhattan once (and then I was distracted by 50+ junior high schoolers I was helping manage). However, when a peer from a Facebook forum I am fond of suggested that, with this new release, Lewis had picked up Lou Reed’s mantle if anyone had, I was piqued enough to lay down some cash. The best thing I can say is my peer is correct–if Lewis can keep this up. If you crave something like the “nice,” verbose, pre-TRANSFORMER Lou, or might want to try out a record that could be called a warmer, looser cousin to Reed’s cold-eyed, tight-rhythmed NEW YORK, pony up, I say.

Living Things/AHEAD OF THE LIONS and HABEAS CORPUS – 9 and 8.5 – Sorry to say, few reasons to be proud to be a Missourian these days, politically speaking, but this short-lived St. Louis brother band was one of the few rock units to unabashedly take on effed-up leadership, warmongering, and what I will call Christian hysteria in the heart of the ‘Oughts. These two are like the first two MC5 rekkids: the first explosive and expansive, the second compressed and relatively clean. But neither make apologies, nor take prisoners. Where ARE these boys?

Jerry McGill/AKA JERRY McGILL – 9.0 – Long-scattered and -squirreled-away recordings by an ur-“country outlaw,” including a very early “Desperadoes Waiting for a Train” backed by Mudboy and The Neutrons, some raw honky-tonk with Waylon Jennings on lead guitar, and some barely-together end-of-the-line howls from the hills (like “Wild Bill Jones”). Problem is, you gotta buy VERY EXTREMELY DANGEROUS (see below) to get yer hands on it. For me, that was not a problem. Tip: I got mine from Goner Records in Memphis.

Joe McPhee/SOLOS–THE LOST TAPES (1980 – 1981 – 1984) – 8.5 – What makes one blip-bleep-blat free jazz outing any different than the others? Well, imagination, conviction, and the savvy to mix in some great continuous improvisation with the pure sound.

Dan Melchior Broke Revue/LORDS OF THE MANOR – 7 – I’ve always found Melchior underrated in the garage punk pantheon, and he’s been quiet for awhile. At first I thought this was something kinda new: a garage punk GROOVE album. And it might be, but the extra-long cuts combined with the repetitive riffs eventually defeated my attention. Worth a chance, though.

NaturalChild‬/LIVE AT THE END–FREAKIN’ WEEKEND 5 – 8 – The country’s best least-reported-on band gets all their moves together on this $5 live cassette. Not too jammy, not too faux-country, and with a perfect dab of their twisted garage beginnings.

Natural Child/SHAME WALKIN’–THE EARLY AND UNCOLLECTED SINGLES – 10 – This record does not exist other than in my iPod folder (and I suspect a few other folks’). But the erstwhile cannabis-cooled country rockers ought to do the world a favor and make it real. From the, um, unusually reluctant “title” song to the Dad’s nightmare of “Crack Mountain” to the paging-Neil-Young “Mother’s Nature’s Daughter” to the affectionately bleary “Don’t Wake the Baby,” it just might be that Natty C’s best work does not appear on their very entertaining long-players. Petition them on Twitter at @naturalchild420, @naturalchild666, or @NATURALCHILDFAN

Phineas Newborn, Jr./HERE IS PHINEAS – 8.5 – Memphis is known for the raw, but Phineas (pronounced FINE-us or pronounced FEEN-us) demonstrated such pianistic facility as to rank with the late ’50s-late ’60s greats. Phineas is to Bud Powell as Sonny Stitt is to Charlie Parker–think about it, baby….

Herbie Nichols/THE COMPLETE BLUE NOTE RECORDINGS – 10 – The music of the ill-fated pianist and composer Nichols dances. I know you’ve heard that before, but these dances are tricky, witty, and surprising while never failing to swing you. And believe me, the drummers (last names of Roach and Blakey) know the steps.

NUGGETS II: ORIGINAL ARTYFACTS FROM THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND BEYOND (1964-1969) – 9.5 – Lenny Kaye’s original U. S. NUGGETS comp gets most of the press, but the uncommon-even-for-Rhino care put into these four discs bring the set impressively close to its predecessor’s consistency. It’s interesting that the British Invasion giants cast a long shadow over both collections; where it’s the Yardbirds, Stones, and Beatles that haunt the U.S. version, it’s The Who whose presence dominates the British box. Or was it these bands that pushed The Who? It rocks, it trips, it gets a little twee or dotty at times–hey, it’s British!–but, mostly, it rocks. Recommended to seekers after the roots of Van Morrison, ELO, Yes, and many more. Secret weapon: The Creation!

Obnox/WIGLET – 8 – Lamont Thomas‘ music hits you like a runaway gar(b)age truck, like the Jesus and Mary Chain stripped of its candy. To my mind, you need a little of that every day just to feel really American, but Thomas’ reports are more specifically from Cleveland, which in the wake of Tamir Rice makes the medicine even more necessary. Surprise covers, too, from sources as diverse as Andre Williams and The Webs. I’ve said it before: Lamont’s the hardest-working man in punk rock.

Big Chief Juan Pardo and The Golden Comanche/SPIRIT FOOD – 8.8 – We are one day into Mardi Gras season, so let me advise you to buy a Mardi Gras Indian record every January. Currently, there are just about enough to get you to mid-century, and I’ve not heard one that’s bad, nor, despite the tendency for some chants to show up on nearly every tribe’s record, one that isn’t at least subtly distinct from the others. Such is the case here, where we get a vision of a Spy Boy rowing up the bayou in a pirogue and a guitar-touch of what Jelly Roll Morton called “The Spanish Tinge.” Speaking of, strong cases have been made that what we know and love as funk, soul, and r&b came straight out of this tradition, from a well maybe 215 years or more deep.

The Persuasions/SPREAD THE WORD – 8 – This ’72 gospel outing by the renowned a capella group is bookended by two halves of a bad pre-conversion Bob Dylan gospel song, but inside the sandwich are great examples of the irreverence for which they are too little known: a sly dig at a charismatic minister, an angry cry for a son lost to war and dope, a neat juxtaposition of flesh (“The Ten Commandments of Love”) and spirit (“The Lord’s Prayer”), an excavation of a prison song by The Larks, and a skeptical “Heaven Help Us All.” No surprise from a group that in the interim knocked Frank Zappa’s “The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing” out of the park. Every home needs a Persuasions rekkid.

Charlie Pickett & The Eggs/LIVE AT THE BUTTON – 8.5 – One very nasty Florida bar band. By nasty, I mean the attitude, the worldview, the guitar, and, sometimes, the sense of humor. 1982–needs a digital reissue.

Public Image Limited/WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS… – 8.0 – Lydon’s grown into a Dutch uncle for the post-punk generation, unsurprisingly, and his new one is lifted by Mekon Lu Edmonds on guit and saz and new bassist Scott Firth. BUT–see ’em live on their current tour, and be astounded at how Edmonds and Firth pull together the wide-ranging sounds of Lydon’s post-Pistols career. Note: what the ellipsis leads to is…NSFW!

Pusha T/DARKEST BEFORE DAWN – 9 – From his thrilling sneer (thanks to Alfred Soto for that) to his lyrical inventiveness to his unerring flow, Norfolk, Virginia’s Terrence Thornton can blow away the most famous MCs like chaff. For the most part, he leaves the coke-rap behind (for the MOST part) and shares his thoughts about many contemporary concerns (my favorites are “F**k Donald and his pledge” and his vision of his mom maxin’ on vacation). And he’s only 38! Docked a point for being–too short.

Otis Rush/I’M SATISFIED: THE 1956-1962 COBRA, CHESS, AND DUKE RECORDINGS – 9.5 – The best collection of classic Rush currently available, though I will also point you to the excellent studio albums leading up to the stroke that’s taken him out. It’s got the annoyingly difficult-to-access “Homework” and (the original) “So Many Roads,” as well as the justifiably ultra-legendary “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” and “I Can’t Quit You.” Thing is, they’re legendary for the string-bending, but Otis could sing out of the top of his head, with almost frightening passion, and his too-too relevant writing on “Double Trouble” might outlast all his tunes: “In this generation of millionaires/I can’t even find decent clothes to wear.”

Boz Scaggs/A FOOL TO CARE – 8 – God BLESS it, these comeback-cover exercises are so EASY even Don Henley can get away with them, especially when it’s the song-not-the-singer and the band’s crack. Boz’s degrees are not as silky as they usedta was, but he gets by on grit and feel, and with additional soul-dollops from women named Bonnie and Lucinda. Oh yeah, and the songs (originated by Mayfield, Green, Huey “Piano” Smith, and more good oles). But can we please call a moratorium on covers of Bobby Charles’ “Small Town Talk”?

Scarface/DEEPLY ROOTED – 8.5 – And he is. He is also a long-time practitioner of street psychoanalysis, and it’s clear from his perspective here that he is feeling the weight of twenty years of breaking down a g’s paranoia. And 2015 hasn’t helped. Get the BestBuy version with three worthy bonus tracks. For Brian Smarr.

Sonny Sharrock/GUITAR – 10 – One man, one guitar, who knows what effects, overwhelming beauty-in-chaos. Really, Hendrix’s inheritor–but his early death robbed our ears. In case you’re wondering, the guitar is PLUGGED IN.

The Sir Douglas Band/TEXAS TORNADO – 8.7 – It’s no secret I worship at Doug Sahm’s altar, and proudly, but somehow I’d overlooked this 1973 item he turned in for Jerry Wexler at Atlantic. This Rhino re-ish bumps the original releases’ 11 tracks up to 20, which, with the addition of a stellar cover of Ned Miller’s “From a Jack to a King,” some T-Bone blues, and the great lost single “I’m Just Tired Of Getting Burned,” turn a solid groove album to an intensely pleasurable really effin’ good one.

A SLICE OF SOUTHERN MUSIC – 9.5 – Never underestimate (or think you’re tired of) comps of Southern stuff. Here we have folks you know and folks you don’t, Booker T. Laury (see below) screwing the top off his hydrant-like piano, Jesse Mae Hemphill working her trance-y, Mississippi Hill Country magic, and Mose Williams demonstrating, what, the roots of Harry Partch?

Tyshawn Sorey/ALLOY – 8.8 – Easily one of the best jazz drummers and composers alive, he’s so committed to Morton Feldman and Zen that he almost (and sometimes literally) disappears from his own peaceful pieces. I mean that as a compliment.

Soulja Slim/THE STREETS MADE ME – 8.5 – Easily one of the best-produced albums ever to come out of NOLA’s Magnolia Projects (courtesy Beats By the Pound), it’s hard to listen to, knowing James Tapp didn’t live long enough to develop his already-unique flow further. Another claim: along with Mystikal, the only act under the Master P tent to hold up after a decade and a half.

Gary Stewart/GARY’S GREATEST – 9 – Forget Wayne Hancock–Stewart’s the closest to Hank we’ve seen in the last 50 years. This collection ain’t quite what’s advertised, but it is one of the few records that can induce me, at 53, to jump up and think I can sing. Then actually try. And fail. Inspirational Verse: “If someone else would tell me/What I already know in my mind/I’m afraid I’d start talkin’/With my fists….”

Sticky Fingaz/BLACK TRASH–THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF KIRK JONES – 8 – One of the most underrated concept albums in rap history, peaking with a desperate and deep conversation with God and featuring an early-career cameo from Eminem.

Cecil Taylor/THE WILLISAU CONCERT – 10 – Taylor dates are certainly not all alike. Here, the fidelity and piano are stellar, the intensity astonishing even for the supernatural then-70-year-old, the dynamic ideas his usual 53-card deck–and melodies that aren’t all micro. Not a bad place to start for the benighted.

Henry Townsend/MULE – 9.5 – In 1979, 50 years after making his first recordings, this blues multi-instrumentalist from Cairo, Illinois, and St. Louis, Missouri (by way of Mississippi), laid down the album of his life, with his vivacious, surprising, and rowdy piano holding off the staidness that has killed many such recordings over the last 40+ years. Good luck finding it, but, seekers, the quest will be worth it (I advise a browse to Discogs). And remember the words of Keith Richards: “It’s about the roll.” Which this has, in spades. As well as an inspired guest contribution from Yank Rachell.

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RIP ALLEN TOUSSAINT: SUGGESTIONS FOR THE BENIGHTED

Allen Toussaint/THE BRIGHT MISSISSIPPI – Toussaint ranges across jazz both from the Crescent City and elsewhere, with a nod to gospel. Great production by Joe Henry and absolutely crack accompaniment, not least by Allen’s own 88s. My only beef is that Henry didn’t include the classic “Tipitina and Me” that he got from Toussaint on the Katrina benefit OUR NEW ORLEANS (also a stone-stone-stone cold classic).

Allen Toussaint/SONGBOOK – It’s just Toussaint alone at the piano, rambling through his songbook, but here you get a great sense of his warm, peculiar, quiet personality, which matches his piano style, especially when he’s accompanying. Pick to click: A “Southern Nights” graced by a reminiscent reverie about his youthful home.

Lee Dorsey/YES WE CAN – Allen’s work with the great Lee Dorsey is fairly consistently amazing, but no release has gathered all the essentials (cross-licensing is a pain) to my satisfaction–Charly has made a good stab, and there’s an out-of-print, single-disc on Music Club that damn near does it. This one ain’t perfect, but it unites the winning singing of Dorsey, the inimitable funk of The Meters, and Toussaint’s marvelous piano, backup singing, some of his best tunes, and great arrangements.

THE MINIT/INSTANT STORY – Toussaint didn’t write, produce, or play on EVERYTHING here, but he was an influence on those he didn’t, and the bulk of the tracks define his seductive, good-humored, and gently soulful approach. The ultimate answer to the ill-considered theory that rock and roll died with Buddy Holly’s crash, Elvis’ enlistment, Chuck’s arrest, Jerry Lee-s black-balling, and Richard’s conversion. (If you can’t afford two discs, go for EMI’s single-disc FINGER-POPPIN’ AND STOMPIN’ FEET.)

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The Velvet Underground/THE COMPLETE MATRIX TAPES – 10 – This is why old farts like me are slow to rouse to new rock, punk, indie, or whatever bands. This, young farts, is the gold standard band, playing at the peak of its powers, with one of the greatest songwriters of all-time reveling in the midst of a period of amazing fecundity and making his guitar talk. For a four-disker, cheap. The sound is fabulous for a ’69 document, and even the stage patter is good. Pick a cool niece or nephew and gift ’em. Their lives might be changed by rock and roll.

VERY EXTREMELY DANGEROUS (directed by Paul Duane, 2012) – 8.5 – Sun Records-recorded Memphis reprobate Jerry McGill battles cancer, the director, his fiancee, his pharmaceutical demons and the rest of the world to a finish I can’t report. Difficult, but, like a car wreck, impossible not to watch. A must for fans of producer Robert Gordon’s IT CAME FROM MEMPHIS and William Eggleston’s STRANDED IN CANTON.

Sonny Boy Williamson/KEEP IT TO OURSELVES – 9.3 – The great harmonica player, singer, and bullshitter, not far from gone, recorded these tracks in 1963 in Denmark, with old pals Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Memphis Slim. The spare production pushes his verbal wit and instrumental genius to the fore–in fact, even if you ALREADY thought he could blow the hell out of a harp, you might easily recalibrate your amazement. As I was sharing with my wife the other night as we discussed how newer stuff stacked up to the old pros, if you’re strictly a Wolf/Muddy/Bo/Chuck/Buddy Chess Records listener, you best attend to Mr. Aleck Miller.

Wreckless Eric/AMEricA – 8.5 – The Brit who gave us the eternal “(I’d Go The) Whole Wide World” sounds as if little time has passed (instead of almost 40 years) on this wonderfully wry and sometimes troubled American travelogue. If you’re emotionally invested in boy bands or “white bread,” he may hurt your feelings–but has anyone else on the planet written a sad, beautiful song about “Sysco Trucks”?

X_X/ALBERT AYLER’S GHOST LIVE AT THE YELLOW GHETTO – 9.5 – Rude, crude, blunt, and socially unacceptable, this offering is more proof that Ohio is the secret capitol of rock and roll (paraphrasing my friend Ken, who knows). Their irreverent but loving title nod to Cleveland Heights’ own tenor giant makes Marc Ribot’s sound genteel; their farmer’s blows at Dylan and Young breath-takingly segue into unkempt rockers such as we ain’t heard much this year. And, before you know it, just like in the old days, it’s over.

JOE BUSSARD PRESENTS THE YEAR OF JUBILO–78 RPM RECORDINGS OF SONGS FROM THE CIVIL WAR – 9 – The world’s most enthusiastic old-time collector lays a social studies teacher’s dream at our feet. Discover the less-than-sober roots of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”–which also has roots in “John Brown’s Dream”! Celebrate (temporary) Emancipation not once but twice with two versions of “The Year of Jubilo”! Pass a whiskey bottle around and dance uncomfortably around the fire on “Rebel’s Hornpipe”! And thank whom- or whatever for Joe Bussard.

 

 

My Top 35 Rekkids of 2015 (Verdict: Music doesn’t suck these days.)

I apologize for not writing more this year–I’ve been distracted. But not too distracted to listen to a ton of great new music. I think there’s a little something for everyone here. Items are listed (roughly) in order of the quality I hear in them. That will change tomorrow, I am sure.

1. Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (ECM)
2. Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day (Legacy)
3. Kendrick Lamar: to pimp a butterfly (Aftermath)
4. Africa Express: Terry Riley’s “In C”—Mali (Transgressive)
5. Dead Moon: Live at Satyricon (Voodoo Doughnut)
6. Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada)
7. 79rs Gang: Fiyo on the Bayou (Sinking City)
8. Nots: We Are Nots (Goner)
9. The Close Readers: The Lines are Open (Austin)
10. Low-Cut Connie: Hi Honey (Ardent
11. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
12. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce)
13. The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can’t Recall (self-released)
14. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom & Pop)
15. Bob Marley & The Wailers: Easy Skankin’ in Boston, 1978 (Tuff Gong)
16. Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart (Warner Brothers)
17. Tamikrest: Taksera (Glitterbeat)
18. Shamir: Racket (XL)
19. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (Sony)
20. Various Artists: Burn, Rubber City, Burn (Soul Jazz)
21. Henry Threadgill & Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi)
22. Young Fathers: White Men are Black Men Too (Ninja Tune)
23. James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game)
24. Big Chief Don Pardo and Golden Comanche: Spirit Food (self-released)
25. Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It (S.D.E.G.)
26. Various Artists: The Red Line Comp (self-released)
27. Pop Staples: Don’t Lose This (Anti-)
28. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop)
29. Leo Bud Welch: I Don’t Prefer No Blues (Big Legal Mess)
30. Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ (Merge)
31. Obnox: Know America (Ever/Never)
32. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard: Django & Jimmy (Legacy)
33. Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni: Ba Power (Glitterbeat)
34. Vijay Iyer: Break Stuff (ECM)
35. Sonny Simmons and Moksha Samnyasin: Nomadic (Svart)

Mr. and The Mrs.: Raging Punk from Paola, Kansas–The Interview

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Rock and roll–or punk rock, if you prefer–is wonderful in its inclusiveness. For all of its wild reputation, it’s made room for plenty of couples, husbands and wives, even, to make their marks, from X to The Pierced Arrows (the married couple involved in the latter moving up on its 50th anniversary). Speaking of couples, my wife and I made a sojourn to Lawrence, Kansas, a few years ago to see one of our favorite bands, Natural Child, play at the Replay Lounge. We were immediately blown away by the opener, a two-piece band called Mr. and The Mrs. (Ben Hughes, guitar and vocals; Michele Choate, drums) hailing from Paola, Kansas, that defied the current two-piece band convention: no blues or gimmickry, just head-on, raving, bashing rhythm that kept our eyebrows raised. Last year, they dropped the excellent Radiation Beach Blues, and they’ve started a label, Woody Records, which features a fascinating line-up of (what? THAT’S RIGHT!!!) Midwestern rock and roll–if you doubt my enthusiasm, check out their Swamp Comp mixtape from the cream of the label.

As the retired but still semi-aggressive sponsor of Columbia, Missouri’s Hickman High School Academy of Rock, I took up Mr.’s (Ben Hughes’) challenge to encourage our student members to review Woody Records’ output. To kick off that experiment, I offer you here an inspiring interview I recently conducted with the band–the inspiration comes from the answers, not the questions. Also, if you are a Kansan or Missourian and see them billed, GO! If you’re not seeing them billed, petition your local venue operator to GET WITH THE REGIONAL TALENT and help you and your homefolks shake their asses!

Phil Overeem: First, are you really Mr. and The Mrs.? Two-person bands can’t always be trusted, you know!

Mr. and the Mrs: Yes, we are actually married. We were married about two years before we decided to be a band. We couldn’t really think of a band name, so Mr. and the Mrs. it is.

PO: That out of the way, what is the origin of the band?

MM: I went to the Replay Lounge to get a Paperhead 7-inch signed. They’re a band off the label Nashville’s Dead. Anyways, it was such an awesome show that I came home and told Michele. We went to shows for about a year, then decided this is something we should be doing.

PO: What are your favorite bands and influences—I know they can be two separate things? Also, in the MO-KS Matrix of Semi-to-Totally Unknown Punk Bands, what is one band (besides yourselves) you think everyone should see?

MM:

(Michele) Well, my favorite band growing up was Tupac, for sure. I don’t really have a favorite now (too many good bands). As for influences, I’ve been told I have a Ramones sound, but I never really paid close attention to how someone else played. It’s probably a mix of everything I’ve ever heard subconsciously influencing how I play.

(Ben) I have many, many influences from many genres. My favorite bands at the moment that someone might know are Nobunny, and Thee Oh Sees. I’d say if you want to see an awesome punk band, then Nobunny’s the show to see. He has tons of energy, the crowd is going nuts, plus he’s a weirdo and plays in his whities and a raggedy bunny mask.

PO: My people are all from the center of Kansas (Hutchinson area), and I know from observation that the landscape can drive a young person to drugs—seriously. Did living in Kansas play a role in you “turning to” punk rock music? And are there other outposts than Lawrence, Kansas City, or (I’m assuming) Manhattan that we Show-Me Staters don’t know about?

MM: We can’t say for sure that living in Kansas led us to punk music, but it definitely led us to music, for sure. As you know, there’s not much to do most the time and music is the best way to express your boredom, anger, happiness, or however you feel. Wichita would be another place—they have all kinds of stuff going on. There’s This Ain’t Heaven Recordings, and Red Cat Recording. That’s just two we know of. They have all sorts of cool bands like Slime Flower (a band of high schoolers that rock), and Iron Octomoms. One of the guys from Iron Octomoms also does all sorts of crazy photography. Wichita also has ICT/Noise, and Psychfest that have become pretty popular over the past few years.

This is not in Kansas or Missouri, but Oklahoma has a pretty decent scene going on too. We have played with with the bands The Daddyos, Cucumber and the Suntans, and Who and the Fu**s. All awesome bands, and people, the place is producing all kinds of cool bands lately. The last time we played there we played a place called The Fur Trap and it was packed! It has a place downstairs that’s for normal bar attendees, and upstairs the bands play and work on drawing the other crowd upstairs. Oh, plus the band Broncho is from there—check them out!

PO: This is a little different question, but what are the special challenges of being a band from Kansas? Of being a two-piece? Of not having a beard when it’s mandatory? Of being in a band with someone you love?

MM: Until recently, I don’t think many people took the Midwest seriously, we had no viable scene, and not a whole lot of bands had ever made it out of this area. Not that a lot of bands have “made it” recently, but there are enough cool bands from here touring and spreading the word, or bands coming here on tour and getting a good crowd response. Or even quite a few local bands being picked up on mid-class record labels to make people notice. It’s sort of been a group effort.
As a two-piece we catch a lot of grief for lacking a bass player. We also get a lot of White Stripes nods as a two-piece with a girl drummer. Not that it’s a bad nod, but our music sounds nothing like the White Stripes.

PO: Agreed! And not really like any two-piece band I’ve ever seen!

mr and Mrs 2

MM: (Michele) As for the beard, Ben always has a beard. It may not always be long and outta control, but it’s always there.
(Ben) Also I’m not a hipster and don’t have my beard as a fad, I’m just a dude with a beard who likes my beard. Well, being in a band with my lover doesn’t really have any drawbacks. Maybe the biggest drawback not music related would be, we often need a babysitter for our three kids. We play a lot of shows, and it’s not always easy. Actually, good to be in a band with your lover, because we push each other to keep going, we can’t miss practice because of some made up excuse, plus we’re a couple that has something besides family we build together. We’re not a guy who hangs in the garage or golf course, while the chick drinks wine & cleans house. Sorry, but there just aren’t many drawbacks for us.

PO: WOW! That’s nothing to apologize for!!! While we are talking challenges, and since we’re a high school rock and roll club that is entering the world of Woody Records and that features bands that play live here in town, what are your 5 keys to being able to sustain a band in today’s economy and entertainment world?

MM:

1) Don’t quit your day job.

2) You get paid in coolness more than in cash.

3) Shut your mouth. This means people WILL be or act messed up; however, if you open your mouth even if it’s for the benefit of the scene, someone will find a way to twist it around and make you seem like the bad guy. It’s a mix between politics & high school.

4) Do it because you love it. This stands for whatever you choose to do in life. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has been said a million times; it has also broken up a million bands. The rock ‘n’ roll part is what it’s about—it may not seem that way as a high schooler, but save yourself the trouble and do the first two sparingly.

5) Do your own thing. Don’t make music a certain way because that’s how everyone else is doing it. Music is about self-expression, not trying to be like someone else.

PO: What was the inspiration behind Woody Records? I am assuming you are the founder, but, if not, tell us what your role is, and maybe what the label’s philosophy is?

MM:

(Michele) Woody Records started as a character me and a friend drew in school. He has a whole life story that spans the beginning to reincarnation. I used to write raps when I was younger & decided that I would make my own label, produce, & put out rap that I liked. Instead, I quit writing raps, started playing drums, and, when it came time to put out music, it just seemed right to use Woody Records. Our philosophy is put out good music, put it out in physical formats, and spread it to as many people as possible.

PO: What is your songwriting process? Words or music first, or do they kind of come out together?

MM:

(Michele) Our song writing happens during practice. One of us, usually Ben, will randomly come up with a riff and we’ll just build on it and mess around a bit. Sometimes it will turn into a song, sometimes not. Music always comes before lyrics. It’s easier to have a base to work from when writing lyrics.

PO: Several of my favorite bands (Dead Moon/Pierced Arrows, X, you two) feature or featured a husband and a wife. When it comes to writing lyrics, or choosing subjects for songs, do they come from your own life experiences, or from just an idea for a rock and roll song, or…where?

MM: Our lyrics are generally based on life, ours or the people around us, even just a read on society as a whole. We just add a little twisted humor to the situation. However we have a few songs that are just BS like “Dead Pets,” for an example.

PO: What’s the best band you’ve ever played with? And a slightly different question: who are the best human beings who’ve been in a band you’ve played with?

MM: Best band? We’ve played with some awesome bands. Natural Child, which is the show we met you at, Phil, The Conquerors, a band from KC. The Night Beats–I dunno, there isn’t just one best band. [As for the second question], [e]ach other. I know it comes off as corny, but when it’s crunch time, we can count on each other to get what needs done, done. Everyone else seems flaky when it comes to practice, or being sober. Sometimes stuff needs to get done and you have to focus—not many people accept music isn’t always just a party.

PO: Describe the best show you two have ever played.

MM: We got to open up for Natural Child and the Night Beats. Two bands we really love. When you’re just starting out as the little guy in the scene and you get a chance like this, it’s almost indescribable. It’s awesome, for lack of a better word.

PO: Thanks for your time, and for rocking out, and for being a great and unique model for a rock and roll band. We hope to bring you to the school, or at least to Columbia, for a show.

Mr. and and The Mrs. next play at Harling’s in Kansas City on March 27!

Good to My Earhole: 2,119-Mile Texas Trip

As is my habit, I set up a 400-song folder of Texas songs on our car’s iPod. In addition, I packed the audiobook of John Waters’ CARSICK, knowing it would be riddled with the cracked songs that are like illicit delicacies to The Prince of Puke. Here were our standout musical moments:

Jimmie Dale Gilmore: “Reunion” (with Lucinda Williams), “Just a Wave,” “Bhagavan Decreed” (with The Flatlanders)

We have long been familiar with this one-of-a-kind Texan, who fuses Eastern religion with the honky tonk upstairs, and Marty Balin (!) with Hank Williams Sr. But as many of you surely know, in close quarters and on long drives, songs you thought you knew cold unfold in new ways, or simply splash cold water in your face to remind you how great they are. Respectively, Jimmie a) tells his departing lover (via death? break-up?) that the Cosmos does not allow for true parting; b) is told by a departing lover that, however strong his love is, it is only a few cubic feet of what she needs and wants from the other waves (I emphasize the plural) in the ocean; d) reminds the profligate apple of his eye that “the highest place is under ground.” Sui generis, baby, sui generis.

Lightnin’ Hopkins: “Needed Time”

Have heard it a million times, always figured it was the original “Kumbaya” before it got clumsily Africanized by uncomprehending Christian Caucasians, then got pulled up short by what I think has been a mishearing on my part: “Now is a needed time.” Always thought it was “Now that I’ve needed time.” Just a slight adjustment makes it more desperate, more humbly pleading, more communal–even more of a masterpiece, one among many created by ol’ Sam. I could be wrong, but, sorry, folks, from here on I will choose to be.

Various Artists: John Waters’ CARSICK (unofficial soundtrack not yet available, but buy the book directly from Atomic Books, please!)

Waters has a killer record collection–I have seen part of it–and it makes an impact on everything he films and writes. The tunes in Carsick mostly energize the “Good Ride” and “Bad Ride” fantasies that precede his true tale of Baltimore-to-Frisco hitchhiking, and, after dutifully listening carefully and tracking all the songs on YouTube (not all are available there, a tribute to Waters’ eye for the obscure), I was dismayed to find the entire track listing helpfully supplied by the author at the end of the hard copy. It ain’t Texas music, but it kept us sane driving through that endless state:

Soundtrack

Note: the book itself is excellent–among the many things it is (which includes severely aberrant), it is a warm testament to the decency and good cheer of the random citizen of the Yew Ess Ay! I shit you not!

Blind Willie Johnson: “God Moves On the Water,” “Take Your Stand”

The great intinerant country gospel singer whose “grain of voice” makes Howlin’ Wolf’s sound like Michael Buble (well, I am exaggerating a little) probably/maybe hailed from Marlin, Texas. I will let the scholars wrestle, but, upon traveling through Marlin, we could hear his wail whipping around the little town–and it’s 2014, not 1930.

Joe King Carrasco and the Crowns: “Let’s Get Pretty,” “Buena”

As Nicole and I forayed into Austin with fearsome one-man-band and fellow WordPress blogger John Schooley to dig in the local crates, I expressed enthusiasm about finding a particular vinyl copy of one of Joe’s early albums. Without missing a beat, John responded, “You can find it in any dumpster in Austin.” Ouch. Well, along with the B-52’s and maybe Quintron and Miss Pussycat, the Crowns were among the last of the great, great, great rock and roll party bands (just for example, their catalog of prime big-beat hedonism is a lot deeper than the Fleshtones–and they recorded with Michael Jackson!), they are eternally honored in my heart, and–NOPE, didn’t find what I was looking for in a dumpster OR at End of An Ear OR Antone’s (though I did find an autographed copy of their killer Hannibal label record at the latter, but then lapsed into a Lockhart BBQ hangover and forgot to grab it, buying instead a Johnny Bush-Willie Nelson duet album I already owned). Resist this:

Ornette Coleman Quartet: “Ramblin'”

Goodbye, RIP, Charlie. He, one of jazz’s greatest bassists, was from Missouri and Iowa, Ornette from Fort Worth. As a tribute to his life that just ended, listen carefully to these euphonious musical radicals play the honkin’ Texas blues as freely as the sky spreads, and listen to the late Mr. Haden insert a little Elmore James into the mix.

Rosie Flores: “Cryin’ Over You”

While in Austin, we also visited the teen-incey Ginny’s Little (I Mean Really Little) Longhorn Saloon, where we saw an old musical friend holding forth on The Fourth: Ms. Flores. As we entered, she was kind of slogging through a version of Dave Alvin’s “Fourth of July,” then she took a break. After we (and she, quite likely) tipped a few cold bottles of Lone Star, she returned to the stage invigorated. Just a tiny thing, with reading glasses on and a music stand in front of her, cute as a goddam bug, she ripped into this old song of hers, and raised even the jaundiced eyebrows of our host with a sizzling solo. As soon as I got home to Columbia (a week and a day later), I had her first record on the turntable. If you’re in Austin on a Friday night and she’s got the bill, proceed post haste to the above locale. The crowd will be there for a decent reason, the beer is cold and cheap, and you can dance to her! In the meantime, dig this corny but sweet official video for the above.

The Sir Douglas Quintet: “Texas Me”

For us at least, no trip to Texas could be complete without a goodly helping of the music of Doug Sahm’s deceptively talented fake-Brit-Invasion group. Sahm (the ur-Willie), abetted by his fellow South Texans and Tejanos, could do damn near anything classified as American music, such as here–blithely and cooly melding loud fiddle, horns, piano triplets, and soul singing. If you ain’t already, GET FAMILIAR with the ways of Sahm.

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 – What 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’ 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! – Rhythm nation. And, oh, those guitars and horns.

John Schooley One-Man Band: Schooley’s 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’Angelo: Live at the Jazz Café, London – His band and back- up singers work harder than he does, and it’s still a great show.

Gories: The Shaw Tapes—Live 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.