Funkadelic, Mayfield, Redding, and Gaye Day (June 20th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

One thing I’ve noticed about this listening diary project is it makes me feel too responsible. Specifically, responsible for playing new releases, and even new acquisitions (not the same thing anymore)–sometimes months will pass before I actually slap a mailman’s present on the turntable. The deal is–by this time in a normal year I’d have probably listened to Professor Longhair’s Crawfish Fiesta five times by now, or had a couple-three “Dylan Days” or “Wills Weeks.” I feel like I’ve neglected many time-tested goodies.

Not today. National news got to my ass yesterday, so I needed medicine today–proven medicine.

I thought listening to Marvin Gaye’s evolution might be healing, so I journeyed with him from “How Sweet It Is” through Here, My Dear. Speaking of which, a recent reissue tagged on an extra disc of alternate takes, extended versions, and disco mixes. That usually translates to crap, but in this case, the alternates, arrayed in the same running order as the official version, is superior–more grooveful, more funky, and better balanced against the subject matter (divorce). It was good to me!

Good to me? The way to keep that buzz going? O-T-I-S! Stacked up the fantastic Dictionary of Soul, the underrated duet album with Carla Thomas (they were never in the studio at the same time, BTW), and a cherry-picked Dock of the Bay, with this deep-cut fave:

They say two martinis are perfect, no need for a third. Not true with a soul record shakedown, but I needed a little mescaline in my grits, so I moved on to my three favorite Funkadelic albums, Let’s Take It To The Stage, the accurately-titled Hardcore Jollies, and, of course, One Nation Under a Groove. In some ways, the group’s extraterrestrial/subterrestrial (get me?) fusion was even more of a balm than Marvin’s yearning and Otis’ good cheer–I was reminded that, as Hunter Thompson wrote, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Evidence?

(I used to skip this song; now, I never miss it)

(Even more righteous 40 years later!)

At present I’m rolling behind some Curtis Mayfield pickin’ and persuadin’, specifically We’re a Winner and The Fabulous Impressions, which features the incandescent “Isle of the Sirens,” simultaneously the greatest pop song ever written about The Odyssey and one of Mayfield’s greatest patented encouragements to The Movement:

It felt so good to be irresponsible today. I think I’ll make a week of it.

Literary Notes:

I finished Chris Weingarten’s 33 1/3 series venture upon PE’s Nation of Millions. 4.3 outta 5: consistently interesting, witty a bit more than intermittently, and, most important, informative. You’ll learn much about the construction, contents, and context of the record, including a bounty of detail about records sampled and simply influential. In case you decide to read it, here’s a completed musical companion–you’ll be delighted and surprised. Put ‘er on shuffle for best results!

A Poetry of Code (January 13, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

“It’s all codes.” James Luther Dickinson

We have a tradition in out house over Dr. King’s weekend: we listen to the Impressions. The best of Curtis Mayfield’s writing for the group consists of delicately coded messages of encouragement for black Americans during the civil rights struggle, the most famous, perhaps, being “People Get Ready,” “I’m So Proud,” “We’re a Winner,” “It’s Alright,” and “Keep On Pushin’.” The titles do not suggest much coding, but the lyrics can be heard (and were heard by many, I am sure) as deeply romantic. A deeper dive into the Sixties Mayfield songbook, however, will reward you with more complex gems, such as “Long, Long Winter” and, especially, “Isle of the Sirens.” The former would resonate powerfully with Mayfield’s fellow Chicagoans, both in their activism and their tilting against that cold wind they call “The Hawk,” but it’s the latter that stuns me most. First, have a listen:

On the surface, as perhaps the only pop music representation of an episode from The Odyssey, it’s stunning enough: the lyrics, which could easily have been strained, are expertly crafted; the vocal arrangement reinforces the fact that the episode (and America’s climate) threatened a group; and the guitar? If you’ve ever wondered why Jimi Hendrix was so rapt in his attention to Mayfield, think of Jimi’s gentler compositions and listen to this again. But beneath the surface, the shout of “Keep course!” is where the real action is.

I wish Mayfield’s songs weren’t still so relevant and necessary. We’ll be playing them all day Monday.

Short-shrift division:

Guitar-heroes : Bassekou Kouyate and his ngoni army, wailing as a coup is being launched outside the studio walls in Bamako, on Jama Ko.

Injuns comin’ (it’s Carnival Time): Donald Harrison, Jr. stitching tribal chants into modern jazz on Indian Blues

Joy from Acadiana: the magical soundtrack to J’ai Ete au Bal – see the movie, luxuriate in (and dance to) the music.