Doors to My Heart

Wayne Shorter: Emanon

A good friend gifted me with, um, a sampling of Ol’ Mr. Weird’s new opus, and on first immersion, I’m happy to report his playing is very powerful and imaginative for a 42-year-old–except he’s 85. The string arrangements create a disembodied aura for the music, but that’s perfectly weird. I’d love to sample the accompanying graphic novel.

The English Beat: Beat This! The Best of The English Beat

With the triumph of streaming, grocery store music ain’t like it used to be. I was piddling around looking for the right cough drop when “Save It for Later” danced out of Gerbes’ soundsystem–stunned, I looked down the aisle and saw another older person bopping his head happily. The soul, intelligence, and movement of the song lit a fire in me, so when I got home, I immediately pulled this and cranked it. They were pegged as ska, and they could nail that, but they grew it into something more personal and unique. With Special Beat Service, they seemed to still be growing–but that was it, after just three great LPs. They’ve reformed, but it’s not quite the same.

The Kampala Sound–1960s Ugandan Dance Music

The warmest and–this is a compliment–cutest sounding African comp I’ve heard. The vocals are mixed way up in the foreground and, along with the ass-tickling guitars, they’re seductive as hell. The whole kit and kaboodle‘s on YouTube, too.

The Flesheaters: A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die

I’ve not had any use for Chris D. except here. Maybe it has to do with the members of The Blasters and X who make up his band. If your mind wanders from the singer’s gaze into the abyss, and it will, it can concentrate on the rhythm section. Booga-booga, boogied.

50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong

And we’re not. This two-cd set’s a great intro to Mark E. Smith, a recently departed genius ranter, poet, eccentric, and curmudgeon the likes of whom we’ll never see again. Backing him, your grandma on bongos sounds great! And for a punk, he was surprisingly adaptable to the pop dance floor: a crank who wasn’t too invested in himself to have fun.

Patato & Totico

Carlos “Patato” Valdes (click that hyperlink, kids) invented the tunable conga drum, and I could swear I read that he also pioneered the three-conga attack, but I can’t locate the source. He’s at his best here, joined by a scintillating cast of Cuban masters, including Arsenio Rodriguez on guitar, Cachao on bass, and Totico on vox. Muy caliente!

Allison Moorer: Show

I received this as a gift from a dear cyber friend, and dug into it yesterday, finally, with great interest. I’d only heard Moorer backing up other artists (notably the much-missed Lonesome Bob) except for her song on The Horse Whisperer soundtrack (don’t ask–well, Dwight Yoakam covers Eddy Arnold on it). This is a superbly recorded, passionately performed live set, featuring Moorer’s sis, Shelby Lynne (their first recorded collab), Mr. Bob, and Kid Rock before he sunk into the pit (it’s a mid-‘Ought rekkid). Dang, she’s got a powerful voice, and she writes a fine, generic-plus country song. But she oversings, and some peculiar mannerisms in her articulation can be distracting; when Lynne takes her verses, the effect is one of mild relief. Still, a heartfelt and boisterous set.

Clifford Brown: The Singer Sessions

Brown’s sound is so burnished, so meticulously dynamic, that, while listening, you can easily get angry (all over again?) that he was taken so young. He’s amazing in a mostly accompanying role on this collection. The singers? Oh, just Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, and Helen Merrill. And should you be wrinkling your nose, perhaps, at the last, she belongs, at the very least by virtue of her great unsung debut, Brown with her every step of the way. Taste it right here.

CONGRATULATIONS to Ms. Jackie Shane and Numero Records for their Grammy nomination! Best Historical Recording: Any Other Way–get caught up on her story right here.

Also:

Enjoy a YouTube Playlist that samples these records!

G’Bye to Mark E. (January 24th, Columbia, Missouri)

Mark E. Smith, who stepped on a rainbow yesterday, once said about his sui generis group that “if it’s me and your granny playin’ bongos, it’s The Fall.” That quote’s been endlessly repeated, if you read pop music media you’ll have it memorized by the end of this day if you didn’t have it already, and it is damned witty.

BUT–the thing is, it’s very true. For 40 years, and all the way up to the very end, Smith produced records with a wide variety of musicians, featuring a wide variety of augmentations and methods of attack, presented with production ranging from cruddy to crystalline, and, should you care, for example, to listen across a Fall compilation (like 50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong or, especially, Castle Music’s two Fall box sets, one of five and of six discs), you will hear that, to tweak John Peel, the more different they sound, the more they sound the same.

And not just that. Across 40 years, they sound good. Consistently good. Funny, caustic, cranky, irritating, repetitive, baffling, rabble-rousing, poetic…but catchy. And catchy ain’t easy, especially when one is shooting for and hitting those other goals. Or maybe, paradoxically, not shooting for anything at all other expressing one’s unique self.

Mark E. Smith: He was a man. Take him for all in all. We shall not look upon his like again. Enough with the quotes and allusions; click on the above playlist and get hooked, or simply revisit some wonderful shots across the bow of pop music. I listened to him all afternoon yesterday, and I’ll be listening to him most of the day today.

Good to My Earhole, May 20-31: “The Style You Haven’t Done Yet?”

Highlights of my last week’s worth of listening, scored on a whole-numbers-only scale I stole from a Freemason:

Paul Rutherford/THE GENTLE HARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE – 10 – Not just one of the best free jazz records I’ve ever heard, but an all-out fireworks display, all on the ‘bone. With some chuckles and sobs for modulation’s sake.

The Fall/FALL IN A HOLE – 9 – I am still searching for a Fall album I don’t like. I’ll just say it–the best live British punk record I’ve ever heard, if you wanna call ’em punks. They (he) were (is)–and more.

Boogie Down Productions/GHETTO MUSIC: THE BLUEPRINT OF HIP HOP – 9 – Objectively, I know there are better BDP rekkids; heck, The Return of the Boom-Bap is “better.” Scott LaRock is absent. Some of the wisdom isn’t all that wise. But I can’t help it–this is the one I get out when I need KRS-1. I love how he bobs and weaves around the uncharacteristically quirky beat of “The Style You Haven’t Done Yet.” I love in spite of my lack of belief his bars of Biblical genealogy. I love his philosophical interrogations of authority, whether in the classroom, the courtroom, or the squad room. I love his reggae-rap fusion. From the cover art to the oddly murky production to the blunt beauty of Kris’ attack to the beats beats beats, it’s one unified MF. And I’m a gestalt guy.

Johnnie Allan/PROMISED LAND – 8 – Swamp pop just gets me like Western swing: I am moved by the often-homely-but-always-sincere striving of the regular guys who do the singing. As if to match, the music’s just as often warmly soulful–never hot. Multi-artist compilations are generally the way to go, even for the enthusiast, but, loving Allan’s absolutely terrific, accordian-juiced title cover version already, I thought I’d gamble on an overview. Won that bet–nothing as scintillating as “Promised Land,” but nothing duff, either. Even the graduation song brings a smile, as does his Johnny Horton rewrite and his runs at “Sweet Dreams” and “Tonight I Started Loving You Again”–two songs that could have been tailor-written for the genre. Thought: hot’s good, but is warm more durable?

Novos Baianos/ACABOU CHORARE – 10 – Damn, I thought I had Brazilian pop-rock circa ’68-’72 covered! Wrong again! I stumbled on this item (or, um, it was PUT in my path) while buying something else on the Innertubes, and it knocked my hat in the creek. I believe the title translates to “No more crying,” and it’s so effervescent in its rhythms, alternating vocals, and electric-acoustic attack, I’d wager it could pull a guy back from the edge. Player to bend an ear to, though he’ll grab you by that appendage willy-nilly: Pepeu Gomes, on guitar and more. This ain’t tropicalia; it’s too breezy. But you’ll be surprised by the directions the breeze shifts–give the whole record a test-drive above.

Kel Assouf/TIKOUNEN – 9 – Taureg stylings straight from the sand dunes …of Brussels. But don’t you fear. The impurities delightfully mixed in here are the reasons to check it out: big beats, guitar that’s more riff-friendly than your average desert bluesman’s, garage-rock keyboards that add texture, and a movie star (in my mind, anyway) sharing vocals. That would be Ms.Toulou Kiki, of Timbuktu fame; if you haven’t checked that film out yet, you have your homework. A nice counter to the fallacious complaint that all, uh, Northern nomadic music sounds the same. You’re not leaning forward far enough, pal!

Good To My Earhole, April 1-10: “Not Counting Merle–Well, Except for One Rekkid”

Highlights of last ten days’ listening, ranked on a highly suspect 10-point scale (but if I’m listing it, I’m liking it!):

Bombino/Azel – 9.8 – A helpless “desert blues” addict, even I questioned whether I needed another record by the man from Agadez. Yep–I did. My favorite new record of any kind of 2016, it displays more variation in rhythm, intensity, and tone than your typical Tuareg release; I like a guy who, in ten songs, can evoke Hendrix, Hooker, Kimbrough, and Spence, and this is easily the best of the four of his five records I’ve heard. Also, he takes a few chances, including a reggae that explodes, and when he locks into one of those inevitable hypnotic phrases, it’s like a downed power line whipping around in your front yard. The ululations of the women who support him are perfectly timed, too.

Anthony Braxton/3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011 – 8.5 – When I learned that these compositions for septet required each player to carry into the studio an iPod loaded with Braxton’s complete (?) studio and live recordings, ready to be activated at will (or conductor’s nod?) in the midst of each take, I couldn’t resist. Plus it’s cheap for three disks. But: does it sound good? Well, I like free jazz, and though I cannot pretend to understand most of Mr. Braxton’s notes, I think this comment may convince you whether you should try it or not: “What we have here is a ‘state of music’….the friendly experiencer can walk through the ‘parks’ of the music on the way to engage in a sonic tennis match….I am moving towards a kind of action video game paradigm where [the listener] can make internal decisions inside of the greater music space that will affect the particulars of a given sonic fantasy….” In addition, his notes end with this: “[hee hee hee].” I love a giddy visionary septuagenarian.

The Fall/The Fall Box Set 1976-2007 – 9.5 – A wise man once said that the test of a great box set is that the last disc sounds as great as the first. I’m not sure that’s true here, but I can say after listening through all five of these discs in a row, I was never bored, and delighted, amused, or ON FIRE 80% of the time. I don’t care whether he’s barking out inscrutable lyrics while riding the same two-chord riff for five minutes; I don’t care whether he’s embarking on a poetry reading, a rockabilly cover, or dance floor throb. I’ll go wherever Mark E. Smith wants to lead, even if he’s only backed by your granny on bongos. I regret it took me 25 years to catch on.

Merle Haggard/If I Could Only Fly – 9.5 – The late master had a tendency to mar his every release with at least two flat-to-bad songs. This 2000 comeback–from health battles, from lethargy, from writer’s block, maybe–might be his best album, end to end, though it includes no single song most aficionados would put in The Hag Top 20. But no dogs, either. The band’s great (of course), and his singing’s as detailed and smart as ever. Picks to click: a look back that’s compassionate rather than judgmental; a paean/envoi to unprotected sex; two nods of gratitude, one to spawn and one to the uncle who taught him “Rubber Dolly”; some strong love songs; and the definitive version of Blaze Foley’s title song, which many have attempted to scale before, including Merle. I guess the pick to click is the whole thing.

George Jones/Live at Dancetown USA – 8.5 – Fired up by Rich Kienzle’s nice new Jones bio, I revisited several Jones holdings squirreled away in the pad. Here’s one Possum fans might not have heard, a ’65 live set in a real honky-tonk, seemingly unedited. Though George doesn’t sing with exquisite care–he seems in a hurry at times–he’s still the greatest singer in country music history. He covers his current hit catalog, takes a pell-mell run at “Boney Moronie,” delivers a couple of classic, corny bon mots (“…a brief liquor–I mean inter–mission” and an apology for “another sad ballard”), and lets his band have a few. Even if we don’t have a DVD to go with it, the ambiance is enough to make you wish you could have been there.

Wussy/Forever Sounds – 8.0 – Yeah yeah, they’re critics’ darlings, but I love them because they sing, write, and play like, for and about grown human beings in the midst of relatively normal middle age. Problem here is that the sonics (dubbed “shoe-gaze” by several folks, but I dunno), which do unify the album, have a tendency to overwhelm their humanity. I get off on the opening trio, “Dropping Houses,” “She’s Killed Hundreds,” and “Donny’s Death Scene,” but a later fave, “Hello, I’m a Ghost,” gets at my quibble–the vocals, especially Lisa Walker’s (who more and more reminds me of a rock version of Lucinda Williams when she was light of spirit), sound disembodied, sometimes even (literally) phoned in from a remote locale. I like embodied voices.