Tuesday’s Tunes: Random Rekkids (May 22nd, 2018, Columbia, MO)

No real method to my madness but freely associative listening:

Nilssen-Love, on percussion, and Gustafssen, on baritone sax, justify the seemingly silly title with an enthusiastic conversation of snorts, snuffles, rattles, honks, and grunts–but no calls to move to the guest bedroom.

 

Fat Tony, irrepressible Houston MC, rides synth-throbs and lets loose his girl-crazy mind spray on this charming, catchy, out-of-step platter.

 

You’ll not find a more stunning family-affair jazz session than this, with eminent trumpeter, composer, and teacher Dennis Gonzalez and his sons Aaron and Stefan sounding surprise on 19 instruments, including many upon which they overlap. Dallas-Fort Worth: if you know not, a fertile jazz ground. Pick to click with ya: “Hymn for Julius Hemphill” (a fellow Texan). Here’s a live version:

 

Kevin Gates is a hip hop figure my relationship with whom is complicated, but his first single since he’s gained his freedom from incarceration is pretty…do they still say dope? Also, I hear some contrition in his tone here, if not elsewhere. Chained to the City is just an EP, but it bodes well; I am rooting for the man solely because of an experience I had once at Fat Tuesday’s, a New Orleans daiquiri bar, with TouchTunes, Gates’ “Two Phones,” and one of the shop’s servers.

 

To be honest, after this Cincy band’s last record and recent 45, I was prepared for a letdown. I love their playing, singing, and songwriting, but Forever Sounds now sounds to me like an honorable retreat. Be that as it may, I didn’t finish listening to the whole of their new record–but I loved the first six tracks, the last of which is a cover they’ve been doing for awhile that’s taken on relevance, and resonance. And they’ve been doing for a while. Doing well. It’s rock and roll by adults.

 

Short-shrift Division:

Lightnin

Mr. Sam from Houston town, pretty early, but with spidery, searching style fully formed (click the pic). Hear him on piano, too.

It was Nicole’s last day of school, so when she arrived home for a two-month reprieve from the public school trenches, I was waiting with two a propros tracks:

Note: seekers after discs that just keep on giving through the years might wanna keep their eyes peeled for the one from which that last track came. It looks like this:

Blue falmes

 

 

Yester-you, Yester-me, Yesterday (May 2, 2018, Columbia, MO)

Just when it seems you’ve reached the age and quantity of musical acquisitions (ethereal or physical) where you can just kick back and wait for great new music, an unearthing comes along to remind you the past isn’t even past. I speak here of a 2018 Record Store Day release that confirmed the existence of something I’d just recently written off as hearsay or deteriorated tape: hardcore honky-tonkin’, ill-fated and underrated Floridian Gary Stewart’s legendary Motown-gone-smoke-filled-bar 1970 demo sessions. Worth the wait? Fuck yeah. Worth the price? I don’t do Record Store Day because I have been going to record stores regularly for 42 years, I hate crowds, and 80% of the offerings (at least) are straight-up junk, but I do wait like a fisherman with his bobber the morning after, and I snagged it for $30 off eBay–the same about Gary got paid for the 90-minute session! That’s $15 a song on this 45, and I will die happily with it in my possession.

The “A” is a cover of The Four Tops’ “Baby, I Need Your Loving” (“I Can’t Help Myself” is also listed on the session log reprinted on the 45’s back cover, but it remains vaulted). Gary’s in typically intense voice; his characteristic line-punctuating quaver hasn’t entirely come to the fore, but the desperation for which he would become famous in such singles as “Out of Hand” and “Your Place or Mine” is well-audible. The performance fades out after a half-improv/half-recitative that’s a little awkward, but Stewart’s singing, his churning rhythm guitar (I assume it’s him from the energy but there are no personnel notes available) and the punchy demo mix make the track very stimulating.

Stevie Wonder’s “Yester-You, Yester-Me, Yesterday” is more like it! Titularly, you’d suspect an ill-fitting wince-inducer, but…history shows when Stewart was matched with material in which the persona was reflecting on the past from a point where he was neck deep in ashes, Sally bar the fuckin’ door. On this song, you’re hearing transmissions from the room in the Tower of Song right between Hank’s and Jerry Lee’s.

I also received the Cincinnati band Wussy’s new EP, also a 45, in the mail. They are, with Yo La Tengo, the epitome of a critic’s band, but in spite of that, the group’s so very human writing and singing, plus their tendency to rock on out, places them in my pantheon. Unfortunately, the lead Beatles cover here sucks left hind tit, and their run on Jennie Mae Old’s “Runaway” only a shade better. Taste only gets a critic’s band so far.

Fortunately, the B is, weirdly, one of my favorite rock and roll responses to Trumpism so date, even if it wasn’t designed that way. It leads with an old recording, of The Seedy Seeds’ “Nomenclature,” one of the greatest songs ever about identity, and leaps and bounds better than the original–only now it seems to get at something defiant and real about gender fluidity that’s under attack. And the cover of The Afghan Whig’s “Retarded”? Well, I probably won’t willingly listen to the original again, but I can just repeat-play this one by virtue of Lisa Walker’s delivery of the line, “Who’s retarded now?”

As far as other burning questions go, do you need Neil Young’s newly-available 1973 live recording of Tonight’s the Night, performed at The Roxy in Hollywood? No. It’s really good, don’t get me wrong: after a month of recording the studio release, Neil and band showed up to play it for folks (prophetic of a current and tiresome tour gambit), and they’re sharp. The stage banter’s a bit cynical; I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you need to pay for “Roll Out the Barrel,” ironically positioned though it may have been. Personally, I really miss “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown,” which would have blazed live–Nils was right there, man!–and “Walk On”‘s presence doesn’t quite make up for its absence. You’re fine if you simply have the studio release, which is live’er than this could possibly be.

Short-shrift Division:

I know The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society is legendary, but it’s also a quarter marred by insipidity. Just sayin’.

LIST TIME ONCE AGAIN! 35 Great Rekkids from this Haunted Year (kind of)

The first third of this haunted year is over: list time! I’ve got 35 rekkids so far that could conceivably make my year-end best-of (alphabetized, because I don’t have the energy to rank ’em–except my Top 10, asterisked and bolded for your convenience). That’s complicated by one that I was way behind on (even further than I was on Jazmine Sullivan) that might be argued as impacting 2016, a Brazilian record from a few years back that just came into most of our earlines, an addictive Serengeti EP project, and a documentary that I want to count.

*Angry Angles: Angry Angles
Bajakian, Aram: Music Inspired by “The Color of Pomegranates”
*Bombino: Azel
*Booker, James: Bayou Maharajah (film)
Bowie, David: Blackstar
Bradley, Charles: Changes
Braxton, Anthony: 3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011
Childbirth: Women’s Rights
Dalek: Asphault for Eden
Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody
Hemphill, Julius: Julius Hemphill Plays the Songs of Allen Lowe
*Hogberg, Anna: Anna Hogberg Attack
*Kool and Kass: Barter 7
*Iyer, Vijay, and Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke
Lamar, Kendrick: Untitled Unmastered
Lewis, Linda Gail: Heartache Highway
Lynn, Loretta: Full Circle
McPhee, Joe, and Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy
*Mexrissey: No Manchester
Open Mike Eagle: Hella Personal Film Festival
Parquet Courts: Human Performance

Perfecto: You Can’t Run from The Rhythm
Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago
Pusha T: Darkness Before Dawn
Reed, Blind Alfred: Blind Alfred Reed–Appalachian Visionary
Rihanna: Anti
Rollins, Sonny: Holding Down the Stage—Road Shows, Volume Four
Simpson, Sturgill: A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Stetson, Colin: Sorrow—A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony
Threadgill, Henry: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs
*Various Artists: Music of Morocco–Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
Various Artists: Original Cast Recording of Hamilton#
Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega–Sega Sounds from Mauritius
*Veloso, Caetano, and Gilberto Gil: Dois Amigos, Um Século de Música–Multishow Live
*Williams, Saul: Martyr Loser King
Wills, Bob, and the Texas Playboys: Let’s Play, Boys–Rediscovered Songs from Bob Wills’ Personal Transcriptions

Wussy: “Ceremony”/”Days and Nights”
Wussy: Forever Sounds
Ze, Tom: Vira Lata na Via Lactea#

*Top 10 selections—as of now
# Complicated by not being 2016 by a long shot.

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.

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.

easycov

(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 (and Other Music-Related Phenomena): Last Half of July–and I got my month right!

Feet in Street

“I bet I know how many kids your dad had…”

For those few of you who may have wondered where I’ve been, it’s been to the Land of the Uninspired as well as to the opposite–the American South, specifically New Orleans (again!). I am trying to get the hang of regular blogging; my life-energy is too variously diffused, I think, to write every day, but I am a creature of routine. If I am IN a routine–I mean IN–you can count on me like the sunrise. But if what I am involved in has an irregular pulse, I am likely to fade. So I am fighting this. I would also like to clarify that this is a music blog that, really, is aimed at people like me (life-energy variously diffused) who don’t have time to be music-obsessed (though I find time because I am helpless). So, for example, if I mention Mr. Quintron, to whom many would now react with a gargantu-yawn…well, I am not writing at you. OK, enough. My life does revolve around music, so here’s what has happened since I last made contact.

1. I saw Johnny Winter with a colleague whose mother taught him English in high school in Beaumont, Texas, and who had Johnny’s brother Edgar (I am sure you have heard of him) as a–wait for it!–but it should not be a surprise!–Sunday school teacher. My buddy got to say hi at an otherwise depressing meet-and-greet (where to hold one these days? in a store specializing in video games!), then we went to the show, where either the sound guys at the venue-that-shall-not-be-named fucked up the mix, or the mix was designed to disguise Johnny’s age-and-illness-related struggles. It was not a bad show, but you couldn’t tell what Johnny was singing (“Bill Haley preaching Armageddon,” Lester Bangs once wrote of his performance on 1969’s Second Winter), and you had to watch his fingers (we were in the balcony) to tell if he was soloing. Barely a week later, he was a gone dead (silver) train. Did he matter? Listen to this:

Also, below, is a great picture of my friend, looking perfectly Sunday-school-defiant, standing in front of the teenaged Edgar “Frankenstein” Winter:

Sunday school

2. I adore Western Swing–Bob Wills’ 1946-7 version of the Texas Playboys is as close as I think that products of Western civilization have ever gotten to fully realized–and, if you don’t count the late, ineffably great Canuck Ray Condo and his Ricochets, I had never seen or danced to such a band live. It materialized that I got a chance to see Asleep at the Wheel, to my mind the world’s best and maybe last Western Swing band. Well, they only had one fiddle, they didn’t play a song from their great early records The Wheel and Comin’ At Ya, and they didn’t play either of their classic Kinky Friedman covers, which are important since a) Kinky cannot sing, and b) he is a cowboy-hatted Jewish Texas country-singer, crime fictionalist, animal-lover and channeler of Mark Twain. ASSIGNMENT: look up Asleep at the Wheel’s beautiful run at “Before All Hell Breaks Loose,” in which Kinky advises resigning from the human race, and “Homo Erectus,” in which Kinky gets wood for a teacher. They played OK, but we didn’t dance. That’s the measure.

3. We did not make a second visit to Fred and Annie Mae McDowell’s grave on Tate-Panola County Road between Senatobia and Como in Mississippi. We had hoped to make a practice of keeping them clean–on our first visit, Annie Mae’s grave was littered with butts and other detritus–but we realized only three months had transpired since our first visit. We are going to make it practice, but instead we went to the Como, Mississippi, library and saw some great North Mississippi Hill Country photos on the wall. If you’re ever in Como, stay in the Como Inn and go to their library.

4. Nicole, my wife, who is gamely, heroically, and intelligently struggling with the recent passing of her mother (and, really, she has no other) from brain cancer, loves New Orleans even more than I do–and people, I was born to love it–so we booked about a week at the highly recommended Frenchmen Hotel in the heart of the Marigny on Frenchmen Street, which, if you don’t know, is where you end up if you keep walking east past the French Market and out of the Quarter. I had a nice conversation with Jan Ramsey, the editor of Off Beat!, the guide to avoiding tourist shit and having fun local-style (it’s free in NOLA, but we pay to subscribe here in Misery), whose office is above the great Louisiana Music Factory, which was right next door to our hotel, and she was concerned with our experience on Frenchmen Street: “Was it just a touristy extension of the Quarter?” is what her concern was. Yeah, tourists find their way there, BUT, first, Frenchmen Street and the Marigny is the bohemian version of the Quarter (think about that), and it is virtually all music venues that are devoted to local acts, which, in New Orleans, deliver.

5. When in New Orleans, you must see and hear music. Every genre is represented, and not as a passing-through thing. We had a series of literally (in other words, I am not writing figuratively) mesmerizing live experiences:

Ellis Marsalis, one of the city’s first modernists, slyly guiding us through a mixture of Tin Pan Alley, bebop, post-bop, and modernistic pieces at Snug Harbor (go! go!), with his youngest Jason drumming and exchanging wry looks and strangely autistic rhythmic responses throughout.

Heavy Lids

Heavy Lids (above)

Siberia, an old-school punk dive that we revelled in–no summer scarves, no beards, no preciousness, lots of smoking!–featured an amazing four-band bill: Planchettes and Heavy Lids, who must be among the best punk bands in New Orleans, the  former anorexic teenage sex-god trash, the latter a casually fierce, “I don’t give a shit” unit with a great Mr. Quintron-produced 45 which we found at the stern but awesome Domino Sound, supporting the Nashville duo of Pujol, who must be the shortest band in rock and roll history but whose guitar tone drilled a hole through my brain, and–honestly, we didn’t know they were going to be in NOLA–Natural Child, whose new album Dancin’ with Wolves is their worst (they’re tryin’ to go country–why?) but who remain totally unpretentious, fun, and offer the best t-shirts in indie-dom. I count myself as easily in their Top 10 biggest fans, but they don’t give a shit–as it should be! We went in dreading enduring the huge bill, and left elated at how consistently exciting and fun the band–and, largely, the crowd–was. Props to a dude I met there named Ronin, who immediately made us feel welcome (my ancient Husker Du shirt helped).

John Boutte plays almost every Saturday night at dba’s on Frenchmen. The lay(wo)men would know him as the singer of the theme to HBO’s Treme. While not quite Sam Cooke risen to walk amongst us (as some claim), the little sprite has a very similar, though drier, delivery, and–honestly–better taste. We had suffered through douchebags standing directly behind us talking about their BMWs and cocktails when we’d seen him at Tipitina’s in NOLA in March, but dba’s insists on decorum during Boutte’s sets, and it made all the difference. He swung smoothly from anti-war song to Tin Pan Alley standard to trad-jazz NOLA to Iris DeMent’s “My Life” and Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” backed by acoustic guitar, piano, trombone, sax, and his own tambos. The man really would be a star if he chose to step out of the Crescent City, which he has no plans of doing. Respek.

We were, unaccountably, on a Marsalis kick. I find Wynton’s musical politics a sad and misguided distraction, but the family can play, and we bought tickets to see the trumpeter lead the Lincoln Center jazz orchestra at the beautiful Saenger Theater in a benefit for the Tipitina’s Foundation, which gets instruments in the hands of NOLA youth. I expected a dry performance, but the set list was inspired (nice onscure Brubeck and Silver, plus some Marsalis originals), and Wynton, really getting off on his mute and vocalizations, came off as a true and proud and funky son of the city. Two nights later, we found ourselves at the Royal Sonesta, watching Jason Marsalis’ vibes group nail a bunch of Monk tunes and being blown away by Justin Faulkner, one of the best young jazz drummers (along with New Orleans’ own Joe Dyson) that I’ve seen–look for him in the upcoming film about Buddy Bolden. He is the son of Art Blakey and Roy Haynes, if that means anything to you.

Records: four blew me away. Two 45s: a limited edition split-single where local boho-community booster-weirdo-organist Quintron does nouveaux-zydeco Keith Frank’s awesome and inspirational “Haterz” on the “B,” and Cajun heroes Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys do Quintron’s addictive “Chatterbox” on the “A”; and a great 1971 single by eccentric Lousiana bluesman/ex-con Robert Pete Williams, where, on the “A,” he says goodbye to Slim Harpo with stinging and unusual slide-playing, and, on the “B,” addresses our involvement in “Viet Nam.” I casually snapped it up for $10, only to find it was going for $30-40 in the collectors’ market. That shit makes no difference unless the music wails–which, here, it does. One LP I scarfed up collected the great NOLA trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen’s accompaniments of ’30s blues singers. Allen wasn’t Satchmo, but he had plenty of subtle and ecstatic moves. Finally, I got a 300-copies-only cassette comp of the best of the aforementioned Mr. Quintron, which, to my ears, is a) perfectly selected, and b) perfectly timed, since I just bought a new Denon dual cassette deck for $25 on eBay.

Finally, I met a small passel of locals at the Envie Cafe on Decatur–one of which had previosuly just been a cyberfriend, but who, in physical space, was even more interesting: a former stud wrestler, a master geneologist, and stellar record collector (I suspect him of being former CIA). He introduced me to his morning band of caffeinated reprobates, and I learned very, very much–about James Booker, Wynton Marsalis, Algiers Point, 504 Records, much, much more.

If you ain’t been, you really ought to go.

6. There are only two records that matter this year: Wussy’s Attica!, which is passionate and mysterious as rock and roll has not been for a long time, and Allen Lowe’s Mulatto Radio: Field Recordings 1-4. I’d like to say one thing about the latter (well, maybe more than one): read Lowe’s great book American Pop: From Minstrels to Mojos, which explains better than anything our tangled musical legacy, listen to the nine-disc audio companion, then load up his new four-disc set, lean forward, and revel in how he and his mutating jazz units (featuring players like Matthew Shipp, J. D. Allen, Lewis Porter, and the raw, ebullient-toned Lowe himself, on alto sax) try with all their might to live up to that legacy. All that’s missing, Allen, is a fiddle. Props are also extended to Bo Dollis, Jr’s A New Kind of Funk and the Jenny Lewis single “Just One of the Guys,” which transcends the too-polished album it’s attached to with real live commentary about being a rock and roll woman.

Good to My Earhole: The Last Half of June

ObnoxLightnin'+Hopkins+-+1954+-+The+Herald+Recordings+-+Sealed+-+LP+RECORD-506533

I absolutely love storming guitars. That’s why I love these two rekkids.

Something old, something new. Sam “Lightnin'” Hopkins two-volume Herald Recordings (mine are on Collectables; I think they are available on other labels as well), recorded in that very significant year of 1954 (not ’55), make the Houston blueman’s claim to being a father of rock and roll–that’s how much steam he works up on classics like “Blues for My Cookie,” “My Little Kewpie Doll,” and “Lightnin’ Don’t Feel Well.” Though there are no late-night changes of paces, there are some rather amazing instrumentals, like “Hopkins’ Sky Hop.”  On Obnox’s Louder Space (on Austin’s perfectly named 12XU label), guitarist/drummer/vocalist Lamont Thomas (formerly of that unjustly obscure band of Ohioan ravers, This Moment in Black History) continues his assault on all things genteel–hey! it’s freaking taken over beyond neighborhoods, can’t you see?–with 12 hard-charging, fuzz-layered, no-let-up toons that conjure memories of prime Stooges, Big Black, and Dirtbombs. There’s a fonk-bomb called “How to Rob (The Punk Years)” (my personal favorite), there’s a redefinition of “Riding Dirty,” and the rekkid closes with a great dirge, titled, with perfect justification, “Feeling Real Black Today.” I just played the whole thing thing three times in a row. I think Lightnin’ would have loved it.

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Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim: The Complete Reprise Recordings (Reprise)

I am half-deep in Will Friedwald’s Sinatra: The Song is You, which veers from near hagiography–I have never seen so many absolutes (“always,” “never”) from such an esteemed writer–to glowing, revelatory descriptions of classic sessions that argue that, in contrast to, say, Elvis, Ol’ Blue Eyes was in near-total control of his art, from modulating his justly-legendary voice to stopping sessions to make astute suggestions to producers, conductors, and musicians. When he got his own label, he went a little nuts, recording way too often with too few heads to butt against, resulting, with the help of the normal hell aging wreaks on a singer, in many records you could skip (can’t say that about his previous Capitol output). This one, though, is a real beauty. Sinatra comes to bossa nova a little late (1967–Getz got there in ’64), but I would argue this is the most fully realized statesize stab at the genre, and if you take umbrage with the claim Sinatra was a jazz singer–that his instrument was flexible to the degree of experimentation–well, gather yourself for this aural rebuttal. He’s close-miked, his every exhalation–no common matter with bossa nova!–sustained sibilance, and register-dives part of the music, and Jobim’s lighter vocal accompaniment and nimble guitar surround and respond to him just like those Nelson Riddle arrangements used to on Capitol. It’s a masterpiece. I am not sure I don’t like it better than In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning. On a vocal level alone, no self-respecting George Jones fan should be without it.

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Heartless Bastards: “Got Down Last Saturday Night” b/w Wussy: “Breakfast in Bed” (Shake It Records)

This is the third in a four-45 tribute to the Muscle Shoals guitarist Eddie Hinton. I am not a huge fan of the Heartless Bastards, but the only thing they do wrong here is wind up too early; right as you are loving it, it’s over. Actually, though, I bought this as a gamble: the original “Breakfast in Bed,” which Hinton played on but did not write, was one of the many highlights of Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis, and Springfield sings it so exquisitely, with such a lethal combination of compassion, soul, and delicate raunch, that no singer in his or her right mind should ever go near it. Lucinda Williams, the Americana Joan Baez, tried, and had her limitations ripped out and shown to her the second before she–figuratively, of course–fell dead on the studio floor. How would Wussy’s Lisa Walker, whose imprecise pitch strikes one as either extremely fetching (if you are me) or a deal-breaker (if you are just mean), fare against the memory of a singer so ethereal, hip, Southern, and, it’s true, geisha-like–at least on that one album–that many listeners didn’t realize she was white and British? Like her band (“our people,” as partner-singer/songwriter Chuck Cleaver calls them), up against similarly daunting and virtuosic predecessors in Memphis’ American Studios session men, she puts her head down and attacks the song like it’s happening to her. Ragged and passionate, she and the band do justice. An essential pickup for Wussy fans, and a victory against the insidious musical creep of technophilia and gentility.

The original, to hear what they were up against:

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The American Song-Poem Anthology (Bar/None Records)

Once upon a time, you could scribble down your song lyrics, send ’em off with a check, and professional musicians would create a song around them–even if, in your song, you thought tangerines were yellow (and your song was called “I Like Yellow Things”). I am late to the party on this strange, strange compilation, but it is oddly unsettling, and infernally catchy. Example: the title song, which at first struck me as surreal and unhinged, then earwormed me for a few days, then had its mystery revealed by my wife Nicole, who matter-of-factly stated what the difference was. I will leave it to you as an enducement to try this very American, very weird record. Do you know the difference between big wood and brush? And do you know musical geniuses killed themselves trying to make these records for people like you?

Phil’s Faves: A Mid-Year Report

 

These are the “new” recordings that I’ve enjoyed the most in 2014.

1. Allen Lowe: Mulatto Radio–Field Recordings 1-4, or: A Jew At Large in the Minstrel Diaspora – This is the most ambitious recording of 2014–if not the decade, or the century. That difficult-to-love high school principal of jazz, Wynton Marsalis, pissed off Lowe, as ardent a student of our country’s musical history as you can find, in a conversation about jazz that, of course, ventured into areas of race, appropriation, and creative rights. Lowe responded with a four-disc (five, if you ordered it early!) tour de force that’s more alive and interesting than anything Marsalis has recorded in years, if ever. You don’t have to love jazz to be fascinated with the result, which easily lives up to its provocative title and tours every nook and cranny of the genre. And, in this listener and thinker’s view, it wins the argument. Check out my buddy Ken Shimamoto’s much-more-wise commentary at his Stash Dauber blog (he’s a writer/muso like Lowe).

2. Bo Dollis, Jr. and The Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk – What happens when you run a line of serious wattage into a Mardi Gras Indian practice.

3. Obnox: Louder Space – Continuing the fine Cleveland/Columbus tradition of ugly noise and urban protest. Lamont Thomas, with a serious punk pedigree to deepen his geographical birthright, makes a racket to light a fire under Mick Collins’ ass. Euphonious racket!

4. Latyrx: The Second Album Who cares if their first album dropped 17 years ago? Lateef and Lyrics Born are still two of the most unique rappers spittin’.There ain’t no “Balcony Beach”–how could there be?–but there is “Deliberate Gibberish”!

5. Ross Johnson and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans: Vanity Sessions – Out to prove the Memphis rock and roll underground is still nuts now that the Oblivians have grown up, they win, four falls out of six. The title of the opener–“Three-Beer Queer”–says more than any review can.

6. Wussy: Attica! – Robert Christgau calls them a blending of VU and the Flying Burrito Brothers, which is absurd. What they are, with the star- and shock-power of rock and roll browning out, is the voice of far less polymorphously perverse and doomed adults than Reed and Parsons ever were, negotiating the 21st century into a draw and constructing a passionate but unflashy soundtrack to back their bargain. That’s probably absurd, too, but if you are a rock and roll fan of a certain age (say, if you actually walked the Seventies teenage wasteland), and are feeling just a little embattled, this Ohio band is for you.

7. Marc Ribot Trio: Live at Village Vanguard 2012 – Two Aylers, two Tranes, and two sentimental faves, socked home by, arguably, the country’s most daring guitarist.

8. Neneh Cherry: The Blank ProjectStill in a buffalo stance. This mid-forties mama can roll with the zeitgeist–just ask Robyn, who spices up one of the best tracks here.

9. Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Volume 3 – Old Man River just keeps rolling out the cadenzas. All three volumes are musts.

10. Tinariwen: Emmaar – How many Tinariwen albums does one need? Well, remember what they have always said about ol’ Hank and the Ramones, and ask yourself how many notes it takes you to recognize “Ramblin’ Man” or “Beat on the Brat.” This band has a sound, a groove, and a brood in their wake, not to mention that, politically and aesthetically, Saharan blues is good for what ails ye.

11. The Stooges Brass Band: Street Music – I believe New Orleans music gets short critical shrift because the city’s always been teeming with such traditional music that it’s assumed its innovations are long past. I won’t argue that this band of Stooges is all that innovative, but brass-band toons with the lyrics and cultural weight of “Why They Had to Kill Him” and “We Gotta Eat” aren’t everyday creations. And these guys work in a damned HOT crucible of competition.

12. Natural Child: Dancin’ with Wolves – I admit it: I am a sucker for these Nashville no ‘counts, and even I regard their countryward turn with a tinge of dubiosity. But they are so fun-loving, so unselfconscious, so unambitious, so charming that if I didn’t laud them I would have to turn in my Sir Doug Fan Club badge. Face it: unselfconscious men are hard to find these days.

13. Roscoe Mitchell and Tyshawn Sorey (with Hugh Ragin): Duets – Mitchell’s 73, Sorey’s 33, they both know their Cage and Feldman, and, if you’re not into the sound of becoming–the sound of sound–you best shop elsewhere. But this hands-across-the-generations team-up is relentlessly interesting. All I’d ask is that Sorey played more drums.

14. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal – See Pitchfork. But it’s even better than they say. You gotta watch that groupthink.

Singles (Record Store Day double-header):

Bobby Rush: Upstairs at United – 81 years young this coming November, the inventor of folkfunk and seriously randy grandy is still one of our country’s underappreciated masters, and with the blues influence in our music trickling down to drops, you best get out to see him if he shows up in your ‘hood. But fathers, watch your daughters. Note: he also put out a full-length this year, and we’re only halfway through!

Marc Ribot w/Deerhoof: Who Sleeps, Only Dreams – When our age’s heir to Sonny Sharrock appears, attendez-vous!

Old Stuff/Reissues:

Various Artists: Haiti Direct! – Rhythm nation. And, oh, those guitars and horns.

John Schooley One-Man Band: Schooley’s Greatest Hits – The instrumental fulcrum of two-count-’em-two great lost garage punk bands, The Revelators and the Hard Feelings, Schooley will deliver all of the excitement and relentless rock of Bob Log and his ilk with none of their bullshit. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand — it’s free!

Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys: Riding Your Way–The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music 1946-7 – The best band in the USA, circa 1946-7. Camaraderie, versatility, chopsmanship, rhythm, and high times–plus, of course, you can dance. Aaaaaaaaah-HA!

Various Artists: Angola 2

Various Artists: The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali, Volume 2

D’Angelo: Live at the Jazz Café, London – His band and back- up singers work harder than he does, and it’s still a great show.

Gories: The Shaw Tapes—Live in Detroit 1988

Sid Selvidge: The Cold of the Morning – A Memphis cult hero, his voice was silenced by cancer on May 2, 2013. This reissue of a ’70s Peabody Records release captures him in his prime, comfortable with everything from Furry Lewis to Jimmie Rodgers to Fred Neil and boasting a very flexible, very American voice that gives off not a whiff of minstrelsy or strain.

 

Good To My Earhole: Selections Across Two Busy Weeks

It’s hard to hold down a blog when you have two real jobs. But the need to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to tug underrecognized music out of the clutches of time’s dustbin, never wanes.

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Khaira Arby: Timbuktu Tarab (Clermont Music) Arby jumps out of the otherwise simply excellent Festival Au Desert concert recording with a possessed vocal that, though I do not know the Tamashek language, sounds like freedom to me. After two months of fruitlessly searching for more of her recordings–she’s a match for Mariem Hassan , if that name means anything to you, which it should–I stumbled upon this, apparently her only other available recording. Not only is she consistently in the same powerful form that she demonstrates on the the concert track, but her band is stellar, more shifty and demonstrative and less trancelike than Tinariwen and other “desert blues” stalwarts. Especially the guitar. Yeah: driving guitar and heart-stopping female singing–where you gonna go to get that these days?

Serengeti/Kenny Dennis: “Rib Tips” (video, produced by Jel and Odd Nosdam) Chicago’s favorite recovering alcoholic/lost ’90s MC/Ditka-head/hip hop alter-ego returns with another contagious, oddball video from last year’s Kenny Dennis EP. Possibly, he’s too quirky or silly or ramshackle for you; me, I find him an addictive antidote to the heavily constructed, brightly polished, vulgarly materialistic run of mainstream rap. Oscar Wilde: “Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

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Johnny Adams: The Soul of New Orleans (Fuel) This compilation catches the legendary Tan Canary, possessed of a rich vibrato redolent of Billy Eckstine but, more scintillatingly, a dry falsetto that lends his every recording an aspect of suspense, between his early years as a New Orleans r&b hitmaker (the stone-classic “I Won’t Cry,” “A Losing Battle,” “Please Release Me”) and his valedictory Sinatra-goes-soul sessions with Rounder. The time? The Seventies. The label? Hep’ Me. The producer? The legendary Senator Jones, who threw everything at Adams that might be a hit, in many cases country, which he handles with depth, care, and passion, and occasional disco and milder dance music, which he attacks like a pro (he gets away a strobe-lit “Spanish Harlem”). Couched among many strong performances are two more stone classics, “After All the Good is Gone” and “Hell Yes, I Cheated” (though this version substitutes “Oh” for the unmentionable hot place). The powers that be need to put together a cross-label best-of to cement Adams’ reputation in Soul Valhalla.

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Fats Domino: In Concert (Mercury German import) I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t a live Fats album sound pretty much like a Fats studio album? True, he had a sound and a method and he stuck to it like glue. The further truth is, on this mid-Sixties performance, you get some bonuses: his charming patter, some relatively wild piano solos, and–here’s the kicker–covers of fellow Crescent City legends Professor Longhair (who’d pay him back later on “Whole Lotta Lovin'”–see below) and Guitar Slim–as well as Tony Bennett! If you’re a fan, and if you’re persnickety about live albums, it’s worth your time and money.

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Professor Longhair: The Last Mardi Gras (Real Gone Records) It may be tainted by the guiding hand of Albert Goldman, but I believe he has degraded to atoms, so, if you’re new to Fess, this is a great place to start: he’s heated up in front of a live audience, Uganda Roberts is on congas–they are one of the great R&B instrumental pairings!–the horn section sounds like it’s just hit the sweet spot of a Friday night buzz, and the song selection is Longhair’s hits sprinkled with bawdy house classics. AND the audio is splendid. Learn why he earned that title.

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Muscle Shoals (PBS Documentary, directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier) I was disappointed when the first three voices we hear in a documentary about one of the great studios of the American South are those of Brits (!?), including that insufferable horner-in, Bono, but the film recovers to lift the veil on the fascinating and turbulent career of founder Rick Hall, the kinship and acumen of the Swampers (like the Funk Brothers and the Wrecking Crew, with mountains of hits to their quiet credit), and the sessions that produced such hits as “I’ve Never Loved Man (The Way That I Love You”),”I’d Rather Go Blind,” “Patches,” and “In the Midnight Hour.” Even music obsessives already familiar with the Fame/Muscle Shoals studio story may not know about the precise moment “Southern Rock” was invented; that anecdote alone is worth the two hours’ time of the movie.

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Deerhoof (w/Marc Ribot)/Ceramic Dog: Who Sleeps, Only Dreams (Northern Spy Split Single) One of only two Record Store Day purchases I made this year–and I confess, I bought ’em on line Sunday morning because I didn’t really have a choice. I am a straight sucker for the havoc Ribot wreaks on guitar, on Side A here alongside Deerhoof and Side B with just the most recent of his many underrated projects, Ceramic Dog. No guitarist with a sound this beautifully ugly has moved so effortlessly across r&b, cabaret rock, lounge/avant garde/chamber/free jazz, strict accompaniment, and experimentalism. This single belongs. Try an earlier Ceramic Dog recording on for size to test the waters:

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Bobby Rush: Decisions (with Blinddog Smokin’) (Silver Talon) and Upstairs at United (453 Recordings) Since he appeared at the high school I teach at and knocked a Tuesday evening crowd of students, their parents, and grandparents out cold with an old-school set of dirty-old-man blues–yep! in a public school!–Rush, the inventor of “folkfunk,” has been my hero. At 73, he shows no signs of slowing down, having just released a VERY solid full-length record featuring a dark Dr. John cameo as well as a 12″ four-song EP for Record Store Day, courtesy of the otherwise-pretty-indie “Upstairs at United Series” (on which he covers The Beatles and Eddie Floyd, writes a great new one, and reconfigures one of his own chestnuts). Never really mentioned in the same breath as his contemporaries, of which there are fewer with each passing month, Rush deserves our full attention–don’t wait ’til the heartbeat stops!–and, if you have a chance to see him live, you will see a 19-year-old in Grandpa’s body (along with, no doubt, a pair of women’s undies that belong in the Guiness Book of World Records).

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Wussy: Attica! (Damnably) I wrote about this one a few weeks ago. After a third focused listen, I am convinced it is the most passionate new work of what is still called rock and roll–in fact, my favorite new record of the year so far in any genre. If you enjoy the thrill of witnessing a very good band taking the next step–to greatness, to record-making, to artistic unity–you’ll want to check it out when it’s released later this month. And you’ll want the other records just to fully appreciate that witnessing. I’m just sayin’.

Good to My Earhole: Listening Top 10, April 5 – April 11, 2014

I guess it is going to become regular…

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1) Holly George-Warren: A Man Called Destruction–The Life and Music of Alex Chilton from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man (Viking) I am a mass devourer of pop music tomes, but also a bit of a Chilton skeptic: even the brilliance of the best Big Star material is largely attributable to Chris Bell, and too much of the man’s notoreity is connected to things other than music. But George-Warren not only makes a great case here, taking the reader behind the scenes to bedroom rehearsals, bent late-night studio experiments, eccentric apprenticeships, and a long, disciplined, sober road to demonstrate Chilton’s hands were on the wheel more often than reported–even when he was barely conscious. More important, she shapes meticulous research (oh, to have grown up in the Chilton home!) into breezy and fascinating narrative, and balances that with insight into the making of the music. Plus, she passes my first test of good music books: her book sends you racing back to the music (the proof of which you will see in this week’s entry). In fact, my Brit Lit class enjoyed a Big Star block party today while they worked on their writing portfolios. Note: it does share something significant with a recent Zevon tome— this was a guy who, despite his charisma and multiple connections, was very, very lonely.

2) “Every night I tell myself, ‘I am the Cosmos, I am the wind’/But that won’t bring you back again….” Easily one of my favorite rock and roll couplets. Chilton didn’t write it; his partner Chris Bell did, though the sound of his post-Big Star productions (captured on the Rykodisc release I Am the Cosmos) revealed that band’s sonic architecture might well have sprung initially from Bell’s mind. I love the combination of metaphysics and heartbreak, and, really, the whole “record” (Bell died before he could complete a solo album) is fascinating:

3) Doris Duke: I’m a Loser–The Swamp Dogg Sessions (Kent) Jerry Williams, Jr., is one hell of a producer, songwriter, and bandleader, but seldom did he oversee someone else’s record that topped his own eccentric and piquant output. Working with luminaries like Irma Thomas and Gary U. S. Bonds, he wrote nice material and created solid settings, but somehow the artists didn’t catch fire. Not true on these 1969 recordings with one of soul’s great lost treasures, Miss Duke from Sandersville, Georgia. She rises to the occasion of great Dogg titles like “Ghost of Myself,” “Divorce Decree,” and “To the Other Woman (I’m the Other Woman,” selling them with a smoky, soulful, very country authenticity that’ll make you wonder why she didn’t become a star (I’d argue, a late start in the soul game).

4) Jessie Mae Hemphill: The George Mitchell Collection, Volume 45 (Fat Possum) I can’t get enough of one of Senatobia, Mississippi’s finest citizens. Hemphill, “The She-Wolf,” plays in the distinctive, trancy, north Mississippi style, and these are her first recordings (her mother and aunt often turn up accompanying Fred McDowell on his records). Along with two fetching cuts comes an interview with Miss Hemphill. Hear the whole thing right hyar:

5) Wussy: Attica! (Damnably) Sometimes I feel like arguing, “You either love Wussy or you don’t know they exist.” Living as we do in a world of fiberglass hoods, erotic teens, calendar cowboys/girls, and Mensa-folk conformists, it seems impossible not to support, encourage, and listen to (if not lionize) rockin’ and writin’ marrieds whose personae as well as music is as entrancingly homely and evocative of lived lives as Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker’s. On this brand-spankin’ new rekkid, the musical attack’s a little richer (helped by a member of Cleaver’s former band, The Ass Ponys) and the tart harmonies and wry words (the opener finds Walker lost in a corn maze) show absolutely no loss of concentration. Even their best records are a little uneven, but, on second listen, I feel safe dubbing this one their most consistent. Fans of George and Tammy (sorry), John and Exene (sorry), Thurston and Kim (sorry), Bruce and Patti (well, OK), Ira and Georgia (righteous), Fred and Toody (the MOST righteous), and Cecil and Linda (wait….) need to do the right thing and take this band for a ride. If I were in a band with my wife, I would want it to sound this honest and unique: “Attica, baby/Call it LOVE!” Also, I can relate to Chuck’s observation that, twenty years ago, he was more beautiful, but also more monstrous. For the benighted, an alternate version of a Wussy classic:

6) Guided By Voices: Bootlegged live, ’94. I don’t know much about this recording, though it seems to be made in Ohio from the apparent presence of Ron House in the audience; the recording was passed along to me by a long-time rock and roll compatriot. I’ve never been a fan, and I don’t know why, because in many ways they seem to have been made to hit my musical pleasure points: swift, concise, raw, literate, and tuneful. I think I thought Robert Pollard’s approach was too cute, that his writing and concept was, weirdly, too facile. Anyway, this changed all of that. Pollard and very likely the band are blasted (which was their rep, I guess), but as they rip through tunes from the just-issued Bee Thousand and before, they sound perfect to me, in all the previously enumerated ways. And it’s valuable to keep in mind that the Replacements, predecessors with much the same ethic, never left a live document this alive. Thanks to Mark Anthony of the much-missed website The Rawk. From the same time period:

7) Neneh Cherry: Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound) 20 years after she knocked the world on its ear as a young mother and avant garde progeny in a buffalo stance (that single STILL sounds marvelous), Ms. Cherry, fresh from fronting a free jazz record–not an easy VOCAL task–has issued this equally challenging project, where her still free-inflected vocals dart and linger in and around extremely crisp and deep trip-hop inflected tracks. It’s hard to judge it, because I haven’t heard much like it, but I have been encountering some age-ism lately, and Cherry’s work is argument against it.

8) Dry Wood (directed by Les Blank) and Bury the Hatchet (directed by Aaron Walker) One old, one new doc out of Louisiana, the former about Creole culture (specifically, music and food) in Mamou, the latter about NOLA Mardi Gras Indians (specifically, Big Chiefs Alfred Doucette, Victor Harris, and Monk Boudreaux). Both films are beautiful and do what they set out to do and more. But they are most striking in capturing Americans making and building (also, unfortunately, rebuilding) things themselves–they will strike you across the face with what you are missing out on. VERY, VERY highly recommended.

Dry Wood trailer:

Bury the Hatchet trailer:

9) Allen Toussaint: Life, Love, and Faith (Four Men with Beards Reissue) Toussaint’s mild, almost shy singing causes some listeners’ minds to wander, but here it’s backed by the original version of The Meters (notably including the drumming of Ziggy Modeliste, which is always interesting by itself) and some of the best tunes and arrangements Allen ever wrote for himself. Quietly and seductively funky, in the New Orleans way.

10) Fats Waller, 5:15 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Scrambling to get it together to meet my Science Olympiad crew at 6:30 at the local university, my stressors were vanquished when my wife Nicole got the right medicine out of the cabinet. If the world is too much with you, if you can’t pry your mind from lost planes, corporate control of your country, the frustrations of your job (if you even have one), or absent friends or family, let the mischievous Mr. Waller remind you that life is too important to be taken seriously. His deft command of the 88s, his phrasing-with-a-wink, his jaunty rhythm, his raffish charm–what more can you ask for to lift your tension?