Good To My Earhole, June 17-July 3: “Masque of the Red Def”

Highlights of my last weeks’ listening, scored on a 10-point scale based on how hard it was for me to read while each record was playing (the harder the higher).

I’VE ALWAYS KEPT A UNICORN–THE ACOUSTIC SANDY DENNY – 8.5 – That title, plus the prospect of a folkie (albiet a rowdy one) knocking out mostly demos unadulterated by musical support that often enhanced, rather than limited, her performance, would seem a red flag. Not so. Across two discs, the too-soon-departed Ms. Denny demonstrates that her just-impure-enough timbre (gentle whiskey smoke), her way of thinking through phrasing based on a line’s meaning, and her attraction to the theme of mortality are enough to keep one’s attention rapt. A great complement to her performances with Fairport Convention and an insightful look into her development as a singer and writer–I eagerly await the book this accompanies.

Diamanda Galas/MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH TRILOGY – 8.4 – Based on one observation of her live performance (on NBC’s much-missed Night Music) and a few listens to a comp prepared by a friend, I, at 25 or so, judged Ms. Galas hilariously and unbearably pretentious–but I was so much older then. My ear has since become less guarded; my musical desires more extreme in this time of relative artistic timidity. A Kyle Gann review piqued my curiosity about this haunted, spell-casting, spirit-calling item, and damned if it didn’t kick my ass this morning (as they say). The frightening intensity I was prepared for; the dynamics and wit and conceptual skill, not so much. I even laughed when (I think) she was wanting me to. If you’re familiar with the wicked Poe story and love it madly (as you should, students), you’re going to want to hear it. I am saving my second exploration of it for ballast against an appropriate time I’d prefer does not come. A voice for the ages, if not all ages.

JD Allen/AMERICANA–MUSINGS ON JAZZ AND BLUES – 9.3 – Imagine a classic Rollins trio crossed with the dark, earthy intensity of a deep pre-Meditations Coltrane session, and you’ve got this. Yep, it’s that good. Detroit native Allen has honed this group (Gregg August on bass, Rudy Royston on drums) across several excellent albums, resulting in one I’d definitely recommend to anyone missing the days when those two forebears ruled the tenor world. That’s not to say it’s a throwback. Hard to believe, but, as Allen argues, there’s a need for those musings in 2016. A nice musical way to, say, treat that reeling feeling you may have had after watching the Roots remake or the O. J. 30 for 30.

**JOHNNY BURNETTE’S ROCK AND ROLL TRIO AND THEIR ROCKIN’ FRIENDS FROM MEMPHIS – 8.8 – Well, since both Burnettes had gone to meet Elvis by the time of this 1980 release on Rock-A-Billy Records, the billing’s confusing: the rhythm section is the one which backed the original slashing unit on its best recordings, the guitarist is indeed fellow original Paul Burlison, who still strikes lightning, but the vocalists are the deceased brothers’ pals, most notably the unflappable Charlie Feathers. Against the odds (have you heard of Robert Geisley, Glenn Honeycutt, or Marcus Van Story, three of the other lead vocalists?), the project works. There’s something about Memphis, about rockabilly, and about locals who don’t stop believing. Secret weapon: Jim Dickinson on piano and vocals.

EARL HINES PLAYS DUKE ELLINGTON – 9.5 – Hines recorded these between his 68th and 72nd birthday, and that fact plus a peek at the man’s toup and glasses on the cover might warn you away. But one of jazz’s first pianistic avant-gardists–maybe the first instrumental match for Armstrong, as he proved in their recordings together–still had plenty tricks up his sleeve. My favorites are sly runs where he takes off with the rhythm and/or melody like a cat burglar clambering up a roof or rappelling down a wall; even recording in the wake of Cecil Taylor, Art Tatum, and Bud Powell (who’d all have been lesser without his influence), he’s flat-out exciting. The Ellington selections mix time-honored classics with forgotten gems. Note: look for Hines’ equally dazzling tributes to Louis and W. C. Handy, from the same period.

**JOHNNY GIMBLE’S TEXAS DANCE PARTY – 9.0 – “PRODUCED IN TEXAS BY TEXANS,” the credits boast; master fiddler Gimble’s bandmates–The Bosque Bandits!– are listed by their Texas homes (Waco, Dallas, Austin–and Gimble’s been everywhere, man). And the music, recorded live on August 29, 1975 at Austin’s Chaparral Club, is indeed pure, lively Texas dance hall swing–but don’t think you’ll be treated by old warhorse tunes. When’s the last time you heard “La Zinda Waltz,” “Under the ‘X’ in Texas,” “Bosque Bandit,” or “Blues for Joe Tee”? An irresistibly warm and surprising half-hour, and like I said but don’t trust me, Gimble is a flat-out master.

**I recently scored both of these from European sellers, and, as a result, I have no more musical grails to seek. I guess that means I can sit back and just wait for new stuff….

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:


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.