I’m takin’ a vacation ’til Saturday. Right now I’m sitting in an historic hotel, with my lady and a glass of Four Roses, celebrating the fall of a state politician who redefined the word “creep”–and that doesn’t even count the BDSM.
Rock on, readers! We’ll see if I can be dormant for the rest of the week!
Update: We did listen to music during our travels and after our arrival. A trip to Brazil to revisit one of the greatest post-Tropicalia ever waxed–play it if you don’t believe me:
And a couple trips to Addis Ababa to sip at the deep, dark, and spiritually refreshing well of Ethiopian jazz:
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!
Highlights of my last seven days’ worth of listening, ranked on a 10-point scale that correlates (+0.999999) with increases in my heart rate:
ANGRY ANGLES – 9.3 – Along with the lesser (but still excellent) River City Tan-Lines, a great Memphis-area band I somehow missed. It’s Jay Reatard before his final burst, abetted only by Alix Smith on bass and pen, and it’s fer damn sure a punk rawk blast. Originals like “You Lied,” “The 15th,” and “She’s Dead” hold their own with killer covers of Wire, Devo, The Oblivians, and The Urinals. Talk about your increases in heart rate….
Julius Eastman/UNJUST MALAISE – 10 – A fitting title for this collection (look him up). Eastman was a minimalist/hypnotist in the classical field, and while that ain’t normally my bag, the opener on this three-disker hooked me post-haste: “Stay On It” is Morton Feldman gone…Caribbean?! Yeah. Elsewhere, Eastman’s booming vocals on “Prelude to ‘The Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc'” will force you to wonder what the saints did say, and “Gay Guerilla,” “Evil Nigger,” and “Crazy Nigger” are more than just attention-getting titles. Three discs I’d turn around and play all over again with pleasure and concentration.I just might, as soon as I post this.
Bryan Ferry/OLYMPIA – 9.3 – A very beautiful–and lush–recording. Ferry is in great voice and, as always, there’s a tricky mind fully engaged behind it. Featuring old pals named Eno, Mackay, and Manzanera in supporting roles, and a dude named Nile Rodgers on rhythm guitar. What amazes me about the record is how deftly certain elements are integrated: a cast of a thousand players into a singular sound; nice new Ferry originals with his usual sharp interpretative choice; flesh and blood noises with electronic ones; passionate swell with technological precision. In case you’d lost track of him, like I had (it’s a 2010 release), attend to it.
(the above ain’t me, but I couldn’t resist….)
Dinah Washington/DRINKING AGAIN – 9.0 – Spotted in the stacks at Vintage Vinyl by my eagle-eyed better half, we have played the heck out of this vinyl slab–and it had been played a lot before it was sold. It is worth a decent price for the desolate title track (no one’s done it better), but she’s in very fine form on the other standards Don Costa conducted and arranged for her. A fantastic late-night choice, and an even better one if you haven’t gotten beyond Washington’s classics.
GAL COSTA – 9.0 – I will never stop pushing the music of Brazil’s Tropicalia movement, a not-quite-two-year-long explosion of weirdly catchy and politically complicated art that was garroted by a dictatorship. Costa was, maybe, “The First Lady of Tropicalia,” and her debut record is a wonderful way in for those a mite skeptical of descriptors like “weirdly catchy.” In her singing and rhythms, you can clearly hear the subgenre’s direct line back to samba and bossa nova. In that, you will be easefully rocked into a buzz–Rogerio Duprat’s arrangements and tunes by Veloso/Gil, though, will JUST nudge you out of that area where pure enjoyment is, um, counterrevolutionary, Or something like that. Pick to click: “Vou Recomecar” (or, translated, “I’ll Start”–a fetching title, that).
Robbie Fulks/UPLAND STORIES – 9.3 – The SOUTHEASTERN sequel/step-further that SOMETHING MORE THAN FREE wasn’t. Jason Isbell, you’ve been served, buddy. (I only say this because I want more great music from both guys.) Oh-so-sensitively produced (I’m not kidding) by Steve Albini, and, if it means anything, I didn’t plan on reviewing this–Fulks is very hit-or-miss with me, and I am wearying of so-called Americana. But playing it while I was writing was a beautiful mistake; on “America is a Hard Religion,” Fulks does the seemingly impossible by updating the Stanley Brothers (if not Tom Ashley!) to this precise moment in time. Guitar Gable and King Karl, Linda Gail Lewis, Sid Selvidge–you Southerners will have to wait another week.
I dig not dig that Prince left us. Honestly, I played Dirty Mind at least four times (yes, Whitney Shroyer–the best album of the ’80s), 1999 twice, re-watched Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times to my and my wife’s great happiness, and wrote this via an email to a Purple-agnostic friend the morning after he passed:
Having grown up with The Purple One (he was just three years my senior, and part of my life since I was a 17-year-old lifeguard hearing “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on the juke), I find it hard to be too objective. In terms of entertainment value and sheer skill (vocal range, instrumental facility, compositional acumen, dancing) he leaves MJ in the dust. He effectively synthesized JB, Sly, punk ‘n’ new wave, a dab o’ Dylan (the sui generis musical visionary) and other stuff it’s too early for me to pull out into his own totally inimitable blend–a little mind-blowing. He was at the forefront of gender-bend (and lyrical taboo-violation!) in terms of being an AMERICAN artist and being popularly successful–many forget he was called “faggot” relentlessly in the early days (including by Stones fans when they took him on tour in ’81). Tipper Gore had to create the PMRC to deal with his existence in pop music. It’s like Chamberlain and the widening of the lane (that didn’t work any better than the PMRC). Also–so generous in writing songs for other artists and producing their records! PLUS: outside of having a dirty mind, he was one clean motherfucker.
I think one thing that makes him hard to assess at this moment is since the peaking of rap (’89-’95), he’s been foundering–I mean live he would still kick anybody’s ass doing a greatest hits set, but he hadn’t quite figured out how to be post-50 Prince. Finding religion and falling under the influence of a charismatic (Larry Graham, formerly of the Family Stone, OF ALL PEOPLE!!!) did not help. But several artists, Dylan among them, and I’d argue the Stones (less effectively), struggled with the same dilemma. Artists in the wilderness–a trope since Dante. Easily one of the greats–cranked his music for a good three hours with windows open yesterday afternoon, and Nicole and I re-watched both Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times last night.”
I am hyperbolizing a few places in there, but only a few. I would add if I could re-send that he was wonderfully weird and could strike the normal (whoever they are) DEEP. He was dedicated to inclusion (maybe he learned it from Sly). And those Stones fans’ epithets (I heard ’em in my hometown of Carthage, Missouri, too)? Without an iota of protest on his part, he just shut ’em up. And made plenty of them fans, dragging them kicking and screaming in-to the pur-ple rain. I’ll never forget the Lefty Brothers covering that song at a honky tonk in Springfield (aka “Banks and Bibles, Missouri”).
OTHER highlights of my last week’s listening, scored on a mystic 10-point scale for which I am only a medium:
James Booker/GONZO: MORE THAN THE 45s – 8.5 – A collection of The Piano Prince’s early recordings, including “Doing the Hambone,” a regional hit scored when he was a mere 14 (his piano’s under the mix a bit), “Gonzo,” a 1960 #3 R&B smash that allegedly inspired Hunter S. Thompson, its superior flip “Cool Turkey,” a crazed organ workout Garth Hudson must have worn out, and many more wonderful oddities. He shoulda been a contender, and his zany keyboard genius thrills me.
THE SWAN SILVERTONES/SAVIOUR PASS ME NOT – 10 – There is little American gospel music more sublime than what the Swan Silvertones recorded for Vee-Jay. One reason is the transported, flexible, and very sexy vocals of the Reverend Claude Jeter, whom a little kid named Al Green was definitely tuned in to; another is bassman William Conner, whose larynx still beats other folks’ four-strings. This two-fer-one disc includes the definitive version of the classic “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep,” and a “Lord’s Prayer” the beauty of which will shock you.
Parquet Courts/HUMAN PERFORMANCE – 8.8 – Rock and roll! Or is it? These dudes are intimately familiar with my (and many of your) sweet spots. Every time my attention starts to drift, they poke one (Mo Tucker percussion, Lou Reed drone-solo, deadpan Richman phrasing, rave-ups–not to say they are only masters of VU-and-offshoots moves), to the point where I start to wonder, “Are these pastiches of pastiches, pastiched together?” I guess that’s modern art for you: the poking of sweet spots. At any rate, critics are doing handsprings over the lyrics suddenly meaning things, to which I quietly respond, “And where did that get Michael Stipe?” What they oughtta work on is the vocal attack, which usually projects all of the personality of this album’s title.
The Del McCoury Band/DEL AND WOODY – 8.5 – How deep is the barrel of Woody Guthrie lyrics he didn’t write tunes for? Only daughter Nora knows for sure, but I can vouch that, from the evidence of this collection, the bottom has not been reached. Highlights are hymns to national road building, inexpensive mechanics, and poor folks’ food. Plus, this band can pick and move.
Prince/CHAOS AND DISORDER – 8.8 – You might have missed this ’96 release–because the late great Purple One had lost his grip on the charts and was knee-deep in label-wrangling. But, hey, if you dug his guitar-playing as much as his other 1,000 gifts, this is a nook to go back and explore. Also, if you’re imagining what might emerge from the vault if his estate will ever allow it, this is a fascinating hint.
Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil/DOIS AMIGOS, UM SECULO DE MUSICA – 9.5 – Just two 73-year-old Brazilians, their songs, and their acoustic guitars, performing to the home crowd across two discs. But the rhythms, melodies, and vocal passion, fueled by fifty years of friendship, political commitment, and complicated patriotism, will mesmerize you. I need not remind you today to give men their propers while they are living. Tropicalia fans, you know what to do.