A Good Old Circus

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

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

Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions

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

Interjazz IV: Good Old Circus

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

Sir Shina Peters: Sewele

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

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

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

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

2019 Opening Gesture? Canasta and Soul Serenades

I am an album guy, just like I’m a novel guy. On New Year’s Day ’19, Nicole and I drank screwdrivers, played four hands of Canasta, and loaded up the changer with smokin’ soul, mostly in the form of compilations. Today, I shook out the cobwebs with a Alvin Youngblood Hart-dominated movie soundtrack from years ago about which I knew zilch–and AYH is my man.

I hope whatever you serenaded yourselves with as you passed into the last year of the Teens was equally soulful.

Chitlin Circuit Soul

The blossoming of what they still call soul blues (’73-’97)–not quite as raunchy yet as it has gotten, but Bobby Rush’s “Sue” points the way (also starring Z.Z. Hill, Bobby Bland, Latimore, Little Milton, Millie Jackson, and Marvin Sease).

Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures Taken from the Vaults…Volume 2

All of Godin’s comps are musts for soul fans who’ve just traversed the canon–here, the gems are underappreciated classics from masters like Otis Redding, Johnny Adams, and Irma Thomas as well stone eternals from the here-and-gone Wendy Rene, Eddie Giles, Doris Duke, Bessie Banks and Toussaint McCall. Better than Volume 1!

Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man the Way That I Love You

Re’s voice and piano are Olympian–but King Curtis’ tenor and Jimmy Johnson’s guitar are very worthy escorts.

Funky Broadway–Stax Revue Live at the 5/4 Ballroom

I just finished Jonathan Gould’s excellent Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, which has re-whetted my appetite for all things Stax. Here’s a 1965 package tour document from Los Angeles that’s uneven but exciting. No Otis or Sam and Dave, but the MGs, Mar-Keys, William Bell, and Rufus Thomas shine.

The Genius of Ray Charles

Really, not much soul here–it’s mostly standards (a rollicking “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Am I Blue,” a couple by Charles’ idol Louis Jordan), delivered with panache–but “Two Years of Torture” is the essence of deep cut and “Come Rain or Come Shine” is seldom anthologized. The guiding format for his ABC years is taking shape, and why would anyone have been surprised?

New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 1976

Way out of print, but definitely worth tracking down. Toussaint, Dorsey, Thomas, King, K-Doe, and Parker all deliver the goods with conviction and sharp backing, Lightnin’ Hopkins strikes from Texas with three raw bolts, and the set closes with Fess rolling out magnificent versions of “Tipitina” and “Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Sam Cooke: A Man and His Music

Not counting the opener, written by God, and the closer, written by a transported Cooke just prior to his demise, most of this material, had it been sung by, say, a teen idol of the time, would have been revealed as pretty crappy. But it wasn’t sung by them.

Soundtrack to film The Great Debaters

Alvin Youngblood Hart is one of the most underrated blues guitar players and singers alive, and he’s never felt limited to the blues. I’d heard of but not seen the film this music was recorded for, and didn’t know Hart was involved. Involved he is, aided and abetted passionately by none other than Sharon Jones and the Carolina Chocolate Drops. The material’s pre-war gospel and offerings from the likes of the Mississippi Sheiks and Tampa Red.

The Stax/Volt Revue Volume 1–Live in London

More live Stax–March 1967. If I recall my recent reading accurately, this was the first time the MGs had ever played live behind these acts–cost-cutting was the motive, and Booker T and the boys were studio rats, normally. Here we do have Eddie Floyd, Otis, and a near-cataclysmic three-song closing salvo by Sam and Dave.

Sweet Soul Music–Voices from the Shadows

One of the greatest soul music compilations ever, assembled by Joe McEwen and Peter Guralnick as a companion for Guralnick’s just-as-great soul history of the same name. Like the Godin collection above (with which it shares a couple tracks), it is essential for listeners who’ve just kept to soul’s main roads. Honestly, as a whole, it aches, never more heartbreakingly than on George Perkins and the Silver Stars’ “Crying in the Streets,” the ballad of April 5, 1968.

Note: I would like to thank visitors for reading. I kind of fell off the cyberplanet for most of 2018’s second half, and I hope to appear more consistently in 2019.