Three Lists (which The Blogger Sheepishly Submits)

Posting every other day has been the hardest of the five-six resolutions I cornily made for myself (I’m doing great on the others). Life has happened, and you can’t push that river. Perhaps I should post just when I want to and I have something urgent to communicate? Yes, and that would be today.

TEN OF MY “FAVORITE ALBUMS OF ALL-TIME”

Recently I asked my Facebook friends the impossible: name your favorite album of all-time. I led with my choice (Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta, which I’ve definitely played more than any other over the past 15 years) and instantly regretted it, not because it isn’t sublime, but someone else listed something more important. So, here aren’t my 10 favorite albums of all-time, in order; here are 10 records I’d list as my very favorite record, based on number of lifetime plays, significance to my development as a human, sparked joy, and facility in connecting me with other humans. I steadfastly avoided trying to have a politically correct representative list; these are the ones my heart reaches for, instantly.

The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime

Professor Longhair, Crawfish Fiesta

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited

Howlin’ Wolf

The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin

Lucinda Williams

Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys: Basin Street Blues–The Tiffany Transcriptions, Volume 3

The Best of Doug Sahm & The Sir Douglas Quintet 1968-1975

The Clash: London Calling

Having a Good Time with Huey “Piano” Smith and The Clowns

 

MY TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2019

I don’t know about you, but the offerings thus far have been slim compared to last January. I will stretch to 10, nonetheless, though I may have to lean on reissues of older stuff. There is no serious priority order–it’s too early, and some of these may not end up making my Top 100 in the end. Also: a deep bow of amazement to the ageless Joe McPhee, who’s the star of no less than three of these; an acknowledgement that I have only sampled the glam comp below via YouTube searches; a thank you to my young friend Lucas Fagen, who convinced me that I was not too old and trap-rattle-addled to return to, and enjoy, Bad Bunny; and my apologies if some of these are kinda-’18. I remain needing serious convincing regarding Sharon Van Etten (Remind Me Tomorrow is an “up” album for her???).

Heroes are Gang Leaders: The Amiri Baraka Sessions

Various Artists: Travailler, C’est Trop Dure–The Lyrical Legacy of Caesar Vincent

Greg Ward and Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

Usted Saami: God is Not a Terrorist

Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee

DVK and Joe McPhee: The Fire Each Time

The Clifford Thornton Memorial Quartet: Sweet Oranges

Sir Shina Peter and His Internation Stars: Sewele

Various Artists: All the Young Droogs–60 Juvenile Delinquent Wrecks

Bad Bunny: X 100PRE

 

TEN GREAT BRAZILIAN ALBUMS THAT PAAL NILSSEN LOVE AND CATALYTIC SOUND HAVE LED ME TO (SO FAR)

I ordered and received a CD recently from the fascinating experimental music label Catalytic Sound (Sweet Oranges, above), and within was a neat little ‘zine-styled “quarterly” with poetry and other neat stuff–especially master free drummer Paal Nilssen-Love’s list of his 100 favorite Brazilian records. Nilssen-Love’s made many sojourns to Brazil in the recent past, and he’s clearly a sharp, indefatigable crate-digger (that describes his drumming, too). What blew my mind is, though I really love Brazilian music, I’d only heard of 10 or so of them, and didn’t own many. Thus–and this is a reason I haven’t posted recently–I’ve been on a grail quest of my own, using his list as a road map. I’ve heard at least 20 of the records he’s listed since Friday; these are my favorites, and I only have 60-70 to go!

Pedro Santos: Krishnanda

Alessandra Leao: Dois Cordoes

Underground Samba Lapa

Ile Aiye: Canto Negro

O Som Sagrado de Wilson Das Neves

Clara Nunes: Esperanca

Tim Maia: Racional, Volumes 1 and 2

Moacir Santos: Coisas

Grupo Fundo De Quintal: Samba E No Fundo Do Quintal

Elis Regina: Samba, Eu Canto Assim

 

 

The Ten Days (June 25th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

On Facebook these days, a kind of game’s going around where you tag people who are insane and will take the time to share their 10 favorites movies or albums, once a day for ten days. On the face of it, it’d seem anyone who’d participate would only be doing so to show off their fabulous taste, and who needs that? It’s already been shown that the ‘book’s great at making folks feel like they’re not measuring up, and I must confess complicity in that process. But I’d like to think there is also an aspect of gifts being paid forward: I can’t really imagine what I’d be like if people hadn’t recommended particular artwerx to me that deflected me into betterment.

I’m plagiarizing myself yet again, but one of the better students I’ve taught who is a passionate fan of music asked me to play, and (as usual) I tweaked the task so I was striving to share albums I loved that few people I know know much about, and albums that spanned genres, just to encourage folks to by God open up a little bit. I thought I’d put ’em all in one place because, upon looking back, I think I met the challenge.

Day 1: Jean Grae–Jeanius

I have been a big rap fan since I heard “Rapper’s Delight” in Carthage, Missouri, in ’79–I had a friend who’d moved there from NYC and brought the single with her–and that condition shows no signs of changing. One of my favorite MCs is Jean Grae, and my favorite Jean release is JEANIUS. Great beats, amazing bars, and hilarious album art. She’s still in the game, and a more underrated female rapper there is not. Enjoy!

Day 2: Willie King–Jukin’ at Bettie’s

I dig juke joint blues as frequently captured by the Fat Possum label, but this ain’t exactly that. First, King’s from Alabama; second, his kit bag’s a bit bigger than the average North Mississippian’s. Not saying he’s better — saying he’s different. He can lock you into a boogie trance, but the occasional keyboards and steadier beat take nothing away from a sweaty good time.

Day 3: Horace Tapscott–The Giant Has Awakened

Horace Tapscott was a great Houston-born, L.A.-based bandleader, composer, pianist, teacher and community activist. Besides being staggeringly effective in all those roles, he planted a tree the branches of which stretch to Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and Kendrick Lamar. The album from which this, the title cut, comes should be in the jazz canon, and features a frighteningly talented and intense band.

Day 4: The Power of the Trinity–Great Moments in Reggae Harmony

Today’s choice is in the reggae field. Reggae’s produced some KILLER compilation albums: The Harder They Come, Rockers, Tougher Than Tough are just a few. This gem spotlights an era in the music’s development that in its way stands with the glory days of southern soul and the blossoming of doo wop. Great harmony singing, messages of inspiration (we need those now)…and the riddims! Informative notes from Randall Grass if you buy a physical.

Day 5: Johnny Gimble–Texas Dance Party

If you claim to be a country fan and you DON’T know the great fiddler Johnny Gimble (he played other instruments, too), I am sorry–you are not much of a country fan. Gimble played with everybody, from Bob Wills to George Jones to Merle Haggard to Guillermo Nelson. However, he also made his own LPs, and the one from which this track comes is a dandy that you will have no choice but to swing to. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find; I guess that’s what YouTube is for. Dedicated to all my Texas friends and family, and, as always, specifically, to Mr. Walter Daniels!

Day 6: Zeal & Ardor–Devil Is Fine

This act has a new album out, but for me the jury’s still out on it. THIS ONE, however, has rocked our house numerous times. Its combination of metal explosions, slave chant effects, and blues feeling speak to the times mighty well. Don’t be afraid of the devil.

Day 7: Dead Moon–Trash & Burn

It’s odd that it’s taken seven days for me to share my favorite record by Clackamas, Oregon’s greatest punk/garage/ROCK AND ROLL band! A stripped-down, three-piece, three-minutes-and-a-cloud-of-smoke attack that lives up to its title, once you sample this, you’ll want more. Also: to my mind, the most amazing husband and wife combo in American music history–hands down. This goes out to Weeden, Ingrid, Shane, Amanda, and Toody today–you continue to be an inspiration in our household!

Day 8: Bo Dollis Jr. and The Wild Magnolias–We Come to Rumble

New Orleans music is certainly in my wheelhouse. A great subgenre of the NOLA sound is Mardi Gras Indian funk–even when it is simply in chant form, it’s usually got the funk, and it can be argued that funk itself sprang from Indian ritual. Here, the son of a great chief, and now head of one of the most famous tribes, fuel-injects the tradition with a different kind of juice than it’s used to. The lead track, “We Come to Rumble,” serves notice. Mighty kootie fiyo, and get out the way!

Day 9: Lynn August–Sauce Piquante

When most folks think of zydeco, the infectious, accordion-driven dance music of Louisiana and Texas, they think of Clifton Chenier and Buckwheat Zydeco. Mr. Lynn August merits your attention for his love of articulating the r&b basics of the genre as well as reaching wayyyyyyyy back into its furthest past (here, to the juré). The resulting sauce IS piquant!

Day 10: Julius Eastman–Unjust Malaise

It is now in fashion to be singing the praises of classical composer, pianist, and singer Julius Eastman, and I just learned about him two years ago myself. But he worked largely out of the wider public view while he was alive, experienced a tragic and lonely final set of years on this turf, and those circumstances were certainly at least partly due to his being black, gay, and a challenging artistic creator. This collection of many of his best compositions is a powerful introduction. Think about giving it a shot.

Short-shrift Division:

Jon Hassell: Listening To Pictures (Pentimento, Vol. One)–Is anyone as effective in creating ambient music that is soothing yet disruptive, grooveful yet interruptive? I think not. Think for yourself:

The Beginning of the End: The Beginning of the End and Funky Nassau–Seventies fonk from the Bahamas, re-ished by Strut! Records, who still haven’t taken me off their exclusive subscription service, even though I ain’t paid. Vocals not the most inticing, but rhythms and guit might put a hook in yer ass.

Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse–No twerp.

The Carters: Everything is Love–Perhaps, but mountains of money helps maintain the illusion if it ain’t. In addition, this couple’s venture into trap soundz is extremely awkward, but they’re daring you not to say so. “No more kings,” saith Bob Dorough.

 

 

Good to My Earhole, April 15-19: “Feed the Flame”

Highlights from my last five days’ listening, ranked on a 10-point scale approved by former Soviet gymnastics judges:

Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith/A COSMIC RHYTHM WITH EACH STROKE – 8.9 – Like my fellow enthusiastic and actual serious jazz critic Christopher Monsen, I do like drums with my jazz, generally; like my fellow skeptics, I sometimes wonder how cosmic each stroke really is. But considering the intentions of these two gentleman genuises in composing this–to support an exhibit at the Met of the work of the abstract Indian artist Nasreen Mohamedi–it is a beautiful thing. With just Smith’s trumpet and Iyer’s piano, Fender Rhodes, and electronics for colors, their own strokes match Mohamedi’s in elegance, simplicity, and coherence. If you don’t truck with art talk, and could care less about intentions, it’s extraordinarily calming without anesthetizing you, primarily owing to Smith’s patented (?) balancing art between Milesian moans of desolation and AACM blats and sputters.

Barbara Lynn/The COMPLETE ATLANTIC RECORDINGS – 8.5 – The notes give up no personnel data, but one can guess that from the label, producers, and mid-to-late ’60s vintage–problem is, I don’t hear her neat lefty guitar in the mix. BUT the soulful husk and smoke of her delivery are in pretty high definition and the material shoots over 80% from the line: some bitter copyrights from Ms. Ozen herself (“This is The Thanks I Get,” “Until Then I’ll Suffer”), some offerings from the house (Penn-Oldham’s “He Ain’t Gonna Do Right” and Donnie Fritts’ too-obscure “People Like Me”), a weirdly addictive one apparently penned by a trio of Cajuns from near Barbara’s Beaumont stompin’ grounds (“Ring Telephone Ring”–it’s Swamp Pop Central calling!), and likely the first version of the late Wayne Thompson’s classic “Soul Deep.” If this hooks you? Move backward to her Jamie recordings with Huey Meaux, and the original “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” and “Oh Baby! We Got a Good Thing Goin’,” which the young Stones saw fit to take a run at.

Various Artists/LOUISIANA SATURDAY NIGHT – 9.0 – A terrific compilation of swamp pop classics, which is saying something since licensing tangles have kept all the great ones from ever winding up in one place (to my knowledge, and I’ve been looking). Swamp pop? Shane Bernard, an expert for a reason, says it’s a balance between white Cajun music moving toward rock and roll and black Creole music moving toward r&b, and that sounds exciting, except that (I’d argue) its virtues are addictively mild, like a perfect cafe au lait. Not to say there’s not in-your-face action here: Rusty and Doug Kershaw are eternally uplifting (remember “Diggy Liggy Lo,” anyone?), the fat slide guitar on Cleveland Crochet’s “Sugar Bee” reaches out and gooses you hard, and Rod Bernard and Clifton Chenier’s symbolic summit meeting on “Jolie Blonde” proves Rod’s boy right. But the ones I keep coming back to are cuts like Van Broussard’s “Feed the Flame”: Van’s not the greatest singer in the world, neither the band or the arrangement will knock your hat in the creek, but his sincerity and belief in the lyrics are…fetching. Like you yourself could sing that one–but you can’t. Quite. Like that. Modest mastery.

Various Artists/SOUL SOK SEGA–SEGA SOUNDS FROM MAURITIUS – 8.7 – Mauritius is an island just east of Madagascar, and its proud musical offering is sega, which initially featured a ravanne (a goatskin stretched across a frame–and later over a drum), a maravann (a box of seeds–like maracas), a triangle (reminiscent of jure, an ancestor of zydeco), and singing, in Kreol (or Creole, if you will). This collection is largely the story of how sega because impure–and more interesting. At its best, it evokes the delirious experiments of Brazilian Tropicalia (something I’m always down for), and, um–the guitar is great! Big props to Strut Records, whose releases have gotten me to the rare point of partaking sight-unseen, sound-unheard, and review-unread.

The Very Best Music and Music-Related Stuff I Enjoyed in 2014

I know D’Angelo’s new record is coming out Tuesday, but–I’ve waited for him long enough already.

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(Above: The sleeper of the bunch….)

Top 10 Rekkids

  1. Wussy: Attica! (Shake It!)
  2. Allen Lowe: Mulatto Radio–Field Recordings 1-4 (allenlowe.com)
  3. D’Angelo and The Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA)
  4. Chris Butler: Easy Life (Future Fossil)
  5. Run The Jewels: 2 (Mass Appeal)
  6. Ty Segall: Manipulator (Drag City)
  7. Noura Mint Seymali: Tzenna (Glitterbeat)
  8. Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (Stones Throw)
  9. Ross Johnson and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans: Vanity Sessions (Spacecase)
  10. Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper’s House (Relative Pitch)

Top 10 Songs

  1. Wussy: “Teenage Wasteland”
  2. Wussy: “To the Lightning”
  3. Natural Child: “Don’t the Time Pass Quickly (When You’re Making Love)”
  4. Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias: “We Come to Rumble”
  5. Angaleena Presley: “Pain Pills”
  6. Young Thug and Bloody Jay: “No F—s”
  7. Chris Butler: “Easy Life”
  8. D’Angelo and The Vanguard: “The Door”
  9. Ross Johnson and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans: “Three-Beer Queer”
  10. Withered Hand: “Horseshoe”

Top 10 Reissues/New Issues of Older Music

Ra

  1. Sun Ra: Marshall Allen Presents Sun Ra & His Arkestra (Strut)
  2. Various Artists: Haiti Direct! (Strut)
  3. John Coltrane: Offering—Live at Temple University (Resonance)
  4. Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions (Saguaro Road)
  5. Bob Dylan & The Band: The Complete Basement Tapes (Columbia/Sony)
  6. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground—45th Anniversary Edition (Universal/Polydor)
  7. Sid Selvidge: The Cold of the Morning (Omnivore)
  8. Various Artists: Dylan’s Gospel—Brothers & Sisters (Light in the Attic)
  9. Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys: Riding Your Way–The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music 1946-7 (Real Gone Music)
  10. TIE: Charlie Burton: Rock and Roll Behavior (Sound Asleep)/Horace Tapscott: The Giant Awakens (Flying Dutchman)

Top 10 Old Records I Bought for the First Time

  1. Rats: Intermittent Signals (Whizz Eagle)
  2. Jessie Mae Hemphill: Feelin’ Good (Shout Factory)
  3. Lazy Lester: I’m a Lover Not a Fighter (Ace/Excello)
  4. Khaira Arby: Timbuktu Tarab (Clermont)
  5. Yoko Ono: Plastic Ono Band (Capitol)
  6. New Jazz Poets (Folkways)
  7. Allen Lowe: Blues & The Empirical Truth (Music & Arts Programs)
  8. Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform)
  9. Quintron and Miss Pussycat/Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys: “Haterz”/”Chatterbox” (Rhinestone Records 45)
  10. Melvin Peebles: X-Rated by an All-White Jury (A&M)

Top 5 New Books with Pop Music Connections

  1. Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings (Penguin)
  2. Todd Snider: I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like—Mostly True Tall Tales (Da Capo)
  3. Carl Wilson: Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste (Bloomsbury Academic)
  4. Greil Marcus: The History of Rock and Roll in Ten Songs (Yale University Press)
  5. John Waters: : John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) 

Top 5 New (or newly available) (or not available—so DO something!) Music Documentaries

Werner Herzog testifies to the genius of Les Blank

  1. Always for Pleasure: The Films of Les Blank (Criterion)
  2. AKA Doc Pomus (dir. William Hechter and Peter Miller) (Clear Lake Historical Productions)
  3. Rahsaan Roland Kirk—The Case of the Three-Sided Dream (dir. Adam Kahan) (http://www.rahsaanfilm.com/)
  4. Bayou Maharajah (dir. Lily Kleber) (http://www.bayoumaharajah.com/) CLEARANCE ISSUES!
  5. This Ain’t No Mouse Music! The Story of Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records (dir. Maureen Gosling and Chris Simon)

Top 5 Favorite Concerts of 2014

  1. Billy Joe Shaver
  2. Natural Child/Pujols/Planchette/Heavy Lids
  3. Chucho Valdez/Conrad Herwig’s Latin Side (w/Joe Lovano)
  4. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages
  5. Pine Leaf Boys

GOOD TO MY EARHOLE, First Half of June

Marc Ribot: Two Serenity-Wreckin’ Trios

Ceramic DogRibot at VV

Ceramic Dog: Your Turn (Northern Spy)

The Marc Ribot Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (Pi Recordings)

Best known as an accompanist for The Lounge Lizards and Tom Waits, Ribot’s never put out a boring solo record. He plays guitar as if a jagged tin can and ropes of barbed wire are being employed, but, like Jimi Hendrix, he is able to control and channel his sound to produce frequently quite beautiful works. Also, Ribot’s smart and well-versed enough that he can adapt his sound to Cuban rhythm (check out his Los Cubanos Postizos records), rhythm and blues (he used to play in Solomon Burke’s band), punk (he’s the star on the recent and controversial re-recording of Richard Hell’s Destiny Street, filling the shoes and tracks of the legendary Bob Quine), pop (accompanying Marianne Faithfull), and jazz (his Albert Ayler-dedicated Spiritual Unity Trio). Being someone who believes that inventive electric guitar noise–loud electric guitar noise–is receding into our pop music’s background, I am thrilled to recommend to you two very different recent trio recordings Ribot’s made–that only Ribot could have made. Ceramic Dog is his rock project, and 2013’s Your Turn should have been in many, many critics’ year-end Top 10s. Besides offering the listener a truckload of skronky, intense six-string wailing and riffing (including the raging title cut, which sounds like a tribute to chainsaw jazz inventor Sonny Sharrock), it features the greatest lyric yet recorded about illegal downloading (“Masters of the Internet”) and one of the only songs based on materialist philosophy I have ever heard. As well, it takes Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” five ways from Sunday, and astutely adapts a turn-of-the-twentieth-century poem by James Oppenheim to our modern use. The fact that Ribot can’t sing but only yells matters not a whit. The Vanguard trio has gone under multiple names; because it’s a) largely dedicated to Ayler recordings; and b) lured legendary avant-jazz bassist Henry Grimes (an important Ayler sideman) out of what seemed like permanent retirement, it’s often called Spiritual Unity, after one of Ayler’s greatest albums. Let’s sweep nomenclatural confusion out of the way, though, because the band’s 2012 live performance (Grimes’ first in almost 50 years) is stunning. The set list includes two relatively obscure Coltranes (“Dearly Beloved” and “Sun Ship”), two normally corny standards (“Ol’ Man River” and “I’m Confessin'”) and, of course, two Aylers (“The Wizard” and the ol’ New Thing chestnut “Bells”), and the trio digs into them with great intensity, invention, and interaction. If you haven’t heard Ribot before, but know Trane and Ayler, you might well ask, “How does a guitar deal with the huge noise of those horns?” Well, for the most part, he sidesteps the “bigness” issue and invests in ritual repetition, melody, vocal emulations, and, especially, the questing nature of those great men’s styles. The big triumph, to me, is that Ribot’s audacious decision to mount those corny standards alongside free compositions many jazz experts still wouldn’t think of allowing into the canon pays off in spades: the set sounds unified and the compositions of a piece. If you’ve never thought you’d like free jazz, you might take this one for a spin.

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Haiti Direct! (Strut Records)

I know doodly-squat about Haitian music–other than that its traditions have flowed to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Trinidad, Mexico, and, especially, Africa, and that it’s a country where slave-chains were thrown off in a revolution and the river of freedom drunken from deeply (though in some ways the worst was yet to come). If you happen to be in a music store when this is playing, you might very well mistake it for a Congolese release, if you know your Franco and Rochereau. But, if you buy one international release this year, make it this one. Of course, the rhythms are bewitching and various and compelling–most of them are designed to bring the dancer to the point of frenzy. But the tensile guitars cut through the mix like serrated knives, the horns are played as if to wake the dead (which takes on multiple dimensions in Haiti), and the vocals, though not everpresent, range from demented screaming to–yes–meowing. If you’re a scholar, the record surveys multiple styles and is festooned with thorough notes. But if your heart, mind, ass, and feet like to move, you can save the reading for later and slap this on the turntable Saturday night once the drinks start to kick in.

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Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (4 Men w/Beards reissue)

A good friend who I loaned this to as he was recovering from a breakup begged me, “Don’t ever give this to anyone who’s heartbroke again! It’s unbearable.” I’d been aware of that possibility before I loaned it; I’d used it myself for the same purpose, but, personally, I like to be taken to the very bottom before I start heading back up to the surface. Parson’s yearning, soulful, precisely imprecise vocals–the bane of multiple producers trying to get great records out of him during his comet-streak of a career–are at their peak here; even if you’re in a blissfully bounteous relationship, if you can listen to him sing, “He may be/Sweet and nice/But that won’t keep you warm at night/’Cause I’m the one/Who let you in/I was right beside you then….” without feeling the knife twist, you ain’t human. And the songs. The heartbreak songs are extraordinarily painful and indelible, mainly by virtue of splendid dabs of specific detail, but the others, especially “Sin City,” “Christine’s Tune,” “Wheels,” and the International Submarine Band chestnut “Do You Know How It Feels,” pull off that near-impossible trick of wedding the personal with the political, with no sign of strain or pretention. Elsewhere, Gram re-genders and tweaks “Do Right Woman,” matching Aretha (did I stutter?), and closes each side (I’m talking about vinyl here, folks) with marvelous comic relief: the draft-dodging “My Uncle,” trailing echoes of Merle Haggard, on Side A, and the droll Staples Singers/Hank Williams send-up “Hippie Boy” on Side B. The band was ace, especially Sneaky Pete Kleinow on steel, who cranks and fuzzes up his notes, the ultimate instrumental collision of city and country. This release corrects a very crappy remix foisted upon consumers by Edsel’s CD version, which quiets down Kleinow’s contribution slightly and bungles the balance–it’s one of the clearest, cleanest, richest sounding vinyl reissues of the current landslide, and that’s especially relevant since the rights to the album seem in questionable territory, and the last vinyl version I owned (A&M’s) sounded half as bright. Safe at Home (International Submarine Band), Sweetheart of the Rodeo (The Byrds), and Grievous Angel (solo) confirm Parsons’ genius. By now, most of us know he picked up country music second-hand, enjoyed trust-fund status, and treated friends, family, fellow musicians, and the ladies with imperfect consideration. But, in classic artist-as-martyr fashion, he died to capture the end of an era and birth an entire genre on this magnificent album, and I’m almost OK with that.

SweetInspirations

The Sweet Inspirations (Collectors’ Classics/Atlantic)

Familiar with this go-to group of backup singers from their subtle work on Dusty in Memphis, I stumbled across a reference to their 1967 debut album while plumbing the darkened corners a famous critic’s archives. I hadn’t known they’d recorded albums of their own, and generally backup groups’ records are a little plain. Not so this one. Led by Cissy “Whitney’s Mama” Houston, the ladies deliver a very, very effective and emotionally powerful performance in the heat of the spotlight. The tersely pain-filled opener, Darryl Carter’s “Oh! What A Fool I’ve Been,” should be a Northern Soul classic if it isn’t already; the ace cover of Pop Staples’ “Why Am I Treated So Bad?” opens them out into the real world of the Civil Rights Movement and lends the record gravitas. In between, they’re professionals-plus, especially on the already oft-recorded “Let It Be Me,” the title tune, and the knockout hillbilly-boogie cover “Blues Stay Away from Me” (you’ll never need to listen to the Delmore Brothers’ original again). They can’t quite chase the memory of Eddie Floyd on “Knock On Wood,” and they are too put-together to handle the Ikettes’ lettin’-it-loose “I’m Blue,” but with the studio aces of Memphis’ American Sound Studio shoring them up (especially Reggie Young on guitar) when they (only) occasionally flag, the Sweet Inspirations turn in what I’ll confidently call a minor masterpiece.

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Serge Chaloff: Blue Serge (Capitol)

A flat-out beautiful record, one that should be among Kind of Blue, Time Out, and A Love Supreme as “starter” records offered to neophytes wanting to test the unpredictable and varied waters of jazz. The ill-starred Chaloff, a veteran of the great Woody Herman “Thundering Herd” band that also featured Stan Getz and Zoot Sims, plays his baritone with seductive lightness and ease (and a hint of bebop), the tunes, standards and newly-minted soon-to-be classics are unbeatable, and the combo is stunning, especially the fleet, inventive and equally ill-starred Sonny Clark on piano and the unflappable and star-defying Philly Joe Jones and drums. Seductive, engaging, and well-nigh perfect.

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Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What’s Your Rupture?)

Almost every review of I’ve read of this band’s music leans very heavily on comparisons (no surprise there–it’s easier than thinking), but, if you’ll excuse me for being guilty of the same vice, I have been pleasantly surprised that I’ve mostly been reminded of none of the bands referenced therein. What Sunbathing Animals puts me in mind of most is The Libertines’ Up the Bracket: unpredictable explosions, careening forward momentum, drunken shifts, a healthy helping of ‘I don’t give a fuck”–all in all, a great rock and roll rush. I also appreciate that the lyrics don’t seem assembled from a magnetic poetry kit. Only things I haven’t liked is the grating outro of Side A–I love shitty noise, normally–and the ground-out of Side B. Good show, kids, and please stay in love with your guitars.

Sooges

Stooges Brass Band: Street Music (Sinking City)

I like this tiny New Orleans-based vinyl-only label: its first release was the charming and historic compilation of Ricky “Shake Fa Ya Hood” B. singles, B is for Bounce, and though the Stooges’ record is only its third offering in a year in business, it’s a step in the right direction. The Crescent City is full of excellent brass bands, but The Stooges are my favorite because they seem most comfortable stepping out of the tradition. On this six-song record, they play with great exuberance, but they also deliver two powerful lyrics, the opening “Why They Had to Kill Him” and the closing “I Gotta Eat,” that deal unflinchingly and unsentimentally with the problems of 21st century poverty in the USA–a topic few musical acts in the USA go within a ten-foot pole of. Did I mention that they play with great exuberance?