Good to My Earhole: May 17-30 (Hey! I Work for a Living!)

I have been quiet here for a while–but I have been listening diligently, and that diligence has been quite pleasurable. To wit, three aural adventures:

“Mr. O, What’s ‘The Golden Age’ of Rap?'” 

This was a question posed to me by a couple of my young Science Olympiad competitors after, as is my year-end ritual, I offered to custom-assemble an MP3 disk of music for each student on the team. Counting graduates who returned for our celebratory banquet, I knocked out 22 disks, but the one that was the most fun to put together was the one that answered that query. My definition of rap’s Golden Age is loose (1988-1994?) and arguable, and I stepped outside of it for a few selections, but I wanted them to taste some stuff that they might well have overlooked in the flood of possible Spotify/YouTube/iTunes choices, and here are my personal favorites of what I fed the kidz:

The Goats: “Typical American”

This Philly trio had one great album in them, and it’s still one of a kind. a) It’s a concept album about the traps of ’90s USA that works; b) the skits are as great as the songs; and c) it delivers an anthem–this song–that still, unfortunately, resonates.

Busta Rhymes with Old Dirty Bastard: “Woo-Hah” (Remix)

The original is just fine, but, to my ear, the remix is outta sight. One might argue that the two MCs’ styles are too close for a great team-up, but the Dirt Dog’s improvs, associations, and even-crazier-than-usual vocal stylizations mean there’s no mistaking who’s who. And ODB just steals the track.

Fu-Schnickens: “Sneakin’ Up On Ya”

Speaking of insane vocal stylizations, what the heck happened to Chip Fu, the only real reason to listen to this group? Yeah, he was fast, but that was far from all: on the Fu-Schnicks’ best tracks, he came closer than anyone to justifying the shaky claim that rap is simply verbal be-bop. That sells be-bop short, but Charlie Parker was grinning in jazz heaven when he heard Chip explode on his mind- and ear-bending verse here.

Ahmad, Ras Kass, and Saafir: “Come Widdit”

My man Alex Fleming from the Windy City tells me this trio was actually a short-lived GROUP called the Golden State Warriors; at the time, I only knew ’em from singles, and Ahmad’s killer debut. Listening to this now, it’s shocking that none of the three ever really blew up: their flows are fresh (especially Saafir’s, lingering just behind the beat), their rhymes and vocab are stunning, their personas as distinct as almost any rapper’s at the time you might want to name. This track’s from the great soundtrack of a horrible movie, Streetfighter. Lend a special ear to Ras Kass’ figurative language!

The Coup: “Dig It”

“Gunned us, gunned us/They raped us and they hung us/I’d like to take a moment to say/’Fuck Columbus!'” Thus The Coup and their mighty-mouthed MC Boots Riley ushered in their career, carried by a killer drums ‘n’ keys track that still sounds freshed. If you had bet on any of the writers featured in this list NOT to make it, you might have put your chips here, not because the skillz aren’t in play, but the confrontational style might have even scared off the hardcore. It’s a tribute to Riley’s commitment, brains, and talent that the best was yet to come, and that they are still in play almost two decades later. Note: if this track appeals to you, please read Ta-nehesi Coates’ recent related piece in The Atlantic.

Diamond D: “Best-Kept Secret”

For a moment, Diamond D was both a rising MC and an assassinatin’ producer. This track from the classic Stunts, Blunts, and Hip Hop demonstrates exactly why.

Showbiz and A.G.: “Fat Pockets”

Another shining Diamond D production moment, but the duo themselves showed every sign of stardom, and this tune was on almost every mix tape I made ’92.

Natural Resource: “Negro League Baseball”

Don’t be fooled by the video image; it’s the uploader’s way around a copyright dispute. However, the group did indeed feature a young woman, here not quite out of her teens, who’s long been my choice for “Queen of Hip Hop”: Ms. Jean Grae. Her verse is the standout, to my ears.

Heavy D and Friends: “Don’t Curse”

My all-time favorite posse cut, a hilarious idea that the gathered MCs actual pull off–barely!!!–and the best use ever of Booker T and the MGs’ classic “Hip Hug Her” outside of the original (and maybe the intro to Barfly). Heavy D, R.I.P.!

Ricky B: “Shake For Ya Hood”

The proof of the brilliance of this NOLA classic is, after a few plays, you’ll adopt it as your own anthem, no matter how pristine your own ‘hood is. And as raw as it is, it’s also innocent in its own special way (as many of the above tracks are): it’s hard to be outraged at a rap track that uses a zylophone (playing a cagey clip from The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There”) for its hook, and, for once, an MC other than Chuck D really does live up to the “Black CNN” label. Ricky scans the scene, describes it in mournful detail, reveals his fear, but claims his turf anyway.

Oh, Anita!

On a recent trip to our old stomping grounds in Springfield, Missouri, my wife and I forced one of our favorite artists down the throats of two of our friends. You ever do that? I thought you had! If you see me on the street and you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, whatever you do, DON’T mention Anita O’Day, or you’ll have to drag me wherever you’re going. Graduate of the school of hard knocks, protofeminist in the manly world of jazz, fashion pioneer, author of an unapologetic memoir that earns it title (High Times, Hard Times), survivor of not only an accidental uvula-ectomy and nearly two decades of heroin abuse but also neglect during her senior years, but–most important–a vocal stylist on par with Billie, Sarah, and Ella, she’s a jazz legend and inspirational icon you’re very unlikely to know. In my mind and ear, she has no other peers. Since we’re not on the street, I’m writing, and I do have places to go, here’s my quick attempt to hook you:

From the superb jazz documentary, Jazz on a Summer’s Day:

From a Sixties appearance in Tokyo:

And the trailer for what we forced down Rex Harris’ and Heather Phipps’ throats (it went down smoothly, they would say–and they will be forcing it down others’ throats all too soon):

OK…you say you’re hooked? I knew you would be. Since YouTube so nicely offers COMPLETE ALBUMS (a development about which I am not sure), here’s my fave Anita album–bend a special ear to her album-long duel with accompanying pianist Oscar Peterson, and ask yourself what other vocalist could keep pace.

Appreciating the latter studio recordings of the Sinatra of Jazz, Sonny Rollins

Sonny_Rollins_+_3albumcoverSonnyRollins-GlobalWarmingThis_Is_What_I_DoSonnyPlease

If you are reading this blog, you no doubt know that Sonny Rollins, one of the last living jazz titans and surely one of three greatest tenor saxophonists ever, has just released the third in a series of live albums, called Road Shows, that document the outstanding playing of his seventh and eighth decade swinging on this mortal coil (I will plug the first as so far the most mind-blowing, but they are all excellent). Also, if you have been reading this blog since its recent inception, you no doubt know it’s mostly dedicated to keeping rekkids that might be destined to be lost in the torrent in your eye- and ear-lines. Well, if you’ve heard or are simply very interested in the Road Shows volumes, I would also encourage you to sample Rollins’ last four studio albums. The proper albums of Rollins’ post-1970 career have often been maligned as 1) too stiff; 2) too clean; 3) too boring; 4) too generous to too-pedestrian sidemen and, perhaps that’s true (Gary Giddins’ Silver City compilation argues very effectively otherwise for 1970-1990), but Sonny Rollins +3 (1995), Global Warming (1998), This Is What I Do (2000), and Sonny, Please (2006), none of which are represented on the Giddins comp, have many, many things to recommend them. Primary is–big surprise!–Rollins’ playing. Though the man’s never been shy of experimenting, and though the complexity and abstration of some of his greatest solos are pretty danged challenging, on these records he lets loose his huge, confident, sly sound on the melodies and just rides them. In a recent NPR, Sonny claimed that it’s impossible for him to think and play at the same time, but you’ll doubt that claim as he bends, twists, savors, exclaims, questions, scolds, and dances with these numbers, many of which are calypsos, which he typically blasts into the upper deck. Another underappreciated aspect of these records are the number of outstanding compositions by Rollins himself. He does have a few pieces of jazz repertory to his credit (“St. Thomas,” “Oleo,” “Doxy,” to name a few), and it seems he’s best known for his miraculous interpretations (“I’m An Old Cowhand,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Isn’t She Lovely?”), but he has given future jazzmen and jazzwomen plenty to dig their teeth into with “Biji” (from +3), “Island Lady” (from Global), “Salvador” (from This), and “Nishi” (from Please). There’s a great compilation lurking in just the originals alone. Finally, the players? I am not sure Al Foster, Jack DeJohnette, Tommy Flanagan, Idris Muhammad, and Steve Jordan strike you as pedestrian, but I guarantee you they didn’t strike Sonny that way, and, though they mostly stay out of the way and let the man blow, that isn’t all that easy to do well, really. Here’s my main pitch: if you’re familiar with the best of Sinatra’s Capitol and Reprise recordings, what you’ll be getting out of Rollins’ horn is equal to what Ol’ Blue Eyes was intoning into the mic: warm, intelligent, intimate sound, created by a brain that knows its material inside and out. I do not proffer that comparison lightly.

Poor ol’ YouTube has very few tracks from these albums up; Spotify, however will help you out. But here’s a live track of Sonny blowing on “Salvador” that, if it speaks to you, should send you on to the rekkids I’ve rekkamended above.

 

 

I Recommend an All-Time Desert Island Top 20 (plus a 50-item appendix to prove I am not an old fart) to a Class of 12th Graders

Temporarily deluded that they might want my advice, I put together a list of rekkids I believe every true United States citizen should own for my 12th grade students last week. What follows are a link to a Spotify playlist I put together to further induce them (again, I am deluded: they prefer YouTube), the list of 20 accompanied by annotations aimed at them–as opposed to specialists–and my roughly 2001-2014 old fart repellent Top 50. I am already regretting choices–where’s Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps?

1. Bob Dylan (with some help from The Band): The Basement Tapes. In my not so humble opinion, you are not a true United States citizen if you do not own a Dylan album. This one’s special. Having recovered from a possibly faked motorcycle accident in the middle of some freakish fame, Dylan retired into the country with his pals and wrote some ageless songs that conjured the mysteries, absurdities, and tragedies of life. Curiously, few young Dylan fans have tried it.

2. The John Coltrane Quartet: A Love Supreme. For 37 minutes, the most obsessively questing jazz saxophonist of the 1960s communes with his Higher Power. Some of the most powerful spiritual music ever made in this country. If you don’t believe in Higher Powers, simply dig a 37-minute composition in three distinct movements that will set your soul on fire. If you don’t believe in souls, give your ears a present. Note to drummers: Check out Elvin Jones on this recording. You think you don’t like jazz? Try this before you make up your mind.

3. Hank Williams, Sr.: 40 Greatest Hits. The Hillbilly Shakespeare, as he is known by adepts, wrote 50 of the 100 greatest country songs of all-time before spina bifida, quack doctors, the one-two combination of his mama and his ex-wife pounding away at his self-esteem, and his own self-destructive ways sent him to meet Jesus at 29. And he could sing a little bit—especially if you like voices that channel unvarnished yearning, heartbreak, despair, dread, and, on more than a few occasions, joy. If you don’t know him, our educational system has failed you, but surely you know “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart”? Attention students of African descent who might not feel country music has anything to do with them: at Williams’ massively-attended funeral in Montgomery, Alabama, more blacks attended than whites; plus, the man learned his basic stuff from a black musician. Great American music: NEVER SIMPLE.

4. Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime. At this point, punk rock peaked in terms of how expansive it could be and still be called punk rock. Then…the slow decline. “Our band could change your life.”

5. Al Green: Greatest Hits (Expanded Edition). Speaking of Reverend Al, and speaking of the world’s greatest singers, he sounds great enough in his mid-‘60s (check out his most recent album, produced by ?Love of the Roots), but when he was ruling the charts in the ‘70s, no one, not even Aretha Franklin, could match his range, command, and pure seductiveness. This version includes a DVD that shows that his voice was not the only weapon in his arsenal; also of interest is one of Memphis’ greatest studio bands, totally in synchronization with even the most sudden improvisatory impulses of the star.

6. Billie Holiday: Lady Day. This two-disc set showcases 1) a singer of limited range but unmatched intelligence and instincts who could alchemically turn song-crap into eternal gold and who utterly changed one somewhat significant guy’s approach to singing (Frank Sinatra, anyone?) by flirting with the beat, usually trailing titillatingly behind it; 2) an assortment of studio bands that represented the greatest jazz musicians of the Thirties, specifically including Lester Young on tenor, who laces accompaniment through Holiday’s vocals like vines through a trellis; 3) many of the greatest pop songs ever produced in this country—ones she didn’t have to transmute.

7. Professor Longhair: Crawfish Fiesta. Having spent five or six of the greatest weeks of my life (including my honeymoon) in New Orleans, and recognizing that its people have the most indestructible spirit in the country, I’d have to have something from the Crescent City with me while lying in the sand. “Fess,” one among many piano “professors” in the New Orleans tradition, invented his own style: a gumbo of boogie woogie, rhumba, blues, and traditional second-line parade rhythms that is sheer intoxication. No one’s yet matched it, and all New Orleans pianists and most of the city’s citizens have pledged infinite fealty to him. He wrote the Mardi Gras theme song. And he is one of the greatest whistlers in music.

8. Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation. The sound of the apocalypse, made primarily by two guys who tune their guitars differently for every song. How’s apocalypse sound? Fun, scary, surprisingly, relentless—like a rollercoaster ride.

9. Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys: The Tiffany Transcriptions, Volume 3–Basin Street Blues. Wills will always be my hero. First, he had the genius to love blues, country, jazz, Native American and Mexican and German folk music, fiddle breakdowns, pop toons—purt-near everything in the American musical lexicon—and play it all with panache, and to think of adding drums to country music (this would lead to rock and roll). Second, the camaraderie he engendered as the leader of his band is intoxicating—the sound of love of music and friendship and playing for the people and really digging American noise, played with expert chemistry, intuition, and—especially—perfect looseness. Third, his measure for whether the band was any good on any given night was whether people danced. Hell, even I can dance to Bob Wills.

10. James Brown: Star Time. Despite his rather inglorious final years and passing, Butane James aka Mr. Dynamite aka The Hardest Working Man in Show Business aka Soul Brother #1 was no joke. Surviving absolutely harsh poverty and abuse—read about it, and weep (I kid you not)—rising above detention homes and early indifference to music, he not only invented funk, became a vital part of the Civil Rights Movement (he single-handedly saved Boston from being at least partially burned to the ground after MLK was murdered), trained a legion of ground-breaking musicians, put on the most exciting show on earth night after night (check out Live at the Apollo, Volume 1 or II), influenced politicians but left and right, but…a big but…there’d be NO rap without his beats. NONE. Pay your respects, children. This is a cheap four-CD box that will never let you down. I tell no lies when it comes to music.

11. M.I.A: Kala. I simply cannot dream of a point in my future where I will not love this album. Incredible beats, imaginative and disruptive sound effects, a somewhat terrifying and exhilarating view of international upheaval, high comedy, sex appeal—and you can dance and think to it at the same time.

12. The Beatles: Beatles for Sale. This is the Beatles on the brink of artsiness and thus pretentiousness—pre-Rubber Soul, pre-Revolver, pre-Sgt. Pepper’s, the run of albums that provoked John Waters to call the band “those honk(ies)…who ruined rock and roll.” To my ear and mind, it is the Beatles at their very best; John Lennon especially is on his game. The sound and songs range from desperate (“I’m a Loser”) to ecstatic (“Eight Days A Week), from celebratory (“Every Little Thing”) to disconsolate (“I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”)—never artsy or pretentious. Plus, many of the songs are unfamiliar to the youth of America circa 2010.

13. Motorhead: Orgasmatron. At once, a denunciation of war and a musical celebration of its power. Too fast for metal, too heavy for punk, too smart and honest for both genres, Lemmy Kilmister’s hard rock machine has never packed more punch than here.

14. Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Rap albums have a short shelf life: what sounded great in 2009 might sound stiff by 2010! The question of which rap album would reward 1,000 playbacks on a deserted island is a tough one, but no one—not even Public Enemy itself—has caught up with the explosive beats and disruptions of this record (at the time, equally popular with black and white listeners), and no single rapper—not even Chuck D himself—has caught up with this MC’s sustained command and invention. For comic relief, there’s Flavor Flav at his sickest.

15. Muddy Waters: Hard Again. As one of the songs here argues, the blues had a baby, and they named it rock and roll. With the amazing Johnny Winters producing and playing flaming slide behind him, the man from whom The Rolling Stones took their name demonstrates authoritatively that age is just a concept, hollering and celebrating manhood as if he’d just turned 21, instead of 63. And NO blues record sounds this great cranked up to 11.

16. Howlin’ Wolf: Howlin’ Wolf/Moanin’ at Midnight. Never was a nickname more appropriate; in fact, one could argue, the nickname isn’t menacing enough to do justice to Chester Burnett’s bone-shattering voice. Combined with Hubert Sumlin’s crazed solos (they gave birth, more or less, to Eric Clapton) and delivering several of the greatest songs in modern blues history, mostly written by Willie Dixon (“The Little Red Rooster,” “Back Door Man”—that’s right, the one The Doors covered—“Goin’ Down Slow,” “Asked Her for Water (She Gave Me Gasoline),” “Killing Floor”)—that voice, once you have heard it, will be impossible to forget.

17. The Ramones Leave Home. 1-2-3-4! The band that stripped rock and roll down to its bare essentials—most of you could learn a Ramones song in a week, even (maybe especially) if you don’t play—was also surprisingly complex in its use of persona and irony, consistently hilarious, and more fun than any American music that doesn’t come from New Orleans.

18. The Coasters: 50 Coastin’ Classics. “Charlie Brown.” “Yakety Yak.” “Along Came Jones.” “Little Egypt.” One by one, the seemingly innocent rhythm and blues hits march out of this collection, usually led by King Curtis’ tenor sax and ace harmonies. Then you notice that some of these hits—“What About Us?” “Run Red Run,” “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” “Shoppin’ for Clothes”—have code laced into their chants. And they do, thanks to two Jews (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, also authors of “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock”) dedicated to scripting parables of civil rights for a group of black singers. That is rock and roll.

19. The Best of The Sir Douglas Quintet. Not everyone can invent style. Then again, not everyone writes songs titled “You Can’t Hide That Redneck (Underneath that Hippie Hair”) or keys a psychedelic Summer of Love ballad to the line, “You just cain’t live in Texas/If you don’t have a lot of soul!” Sir Doug (Doug Sahm) honed his chops in San Antonio and had his mind blown in San Francisco, and the result is Tex-Mex (or, as he called it, conjunto) rock and roll: bluesy guitar, punchy horns with border flavor, one helluva flexible beat, soulful but bent singing—and the addictive polka-styled (!) Vox organ playing of Sahm’s sidekick, Augie Meyers. See also Sahm’s Tex-Mex supergroup, The Texas Tornados.

20. Van Morrison: Moondance. Maybe rock’s most perfect “perfect album.” From the singing to the writing to the playing to the arrangements to the production, it seems to emerge from a euphoric dream of the past, and the worst songs—to my ear, “Moondance” and “Crazy Love”—have become standards. And for all that, it’s still eccentric, thanks to an Irish expatriate who gets stoned on a drink of water, dreams about Ray Charles, and promises a revelation to his lover—if she’ll only turn up her radio, into the mystic.

In case you think I’m an old fart…my Top 50 from the last fourteen years of our lives:

1. Bob Dylan: “Love and Theft”
2. Outkast: Stankonia
3. The Dirtbombs: Ultraglide in Black
4. Todd Snider: East Nashville Skyline
5. D’Angelo: Voodoo
6. Detroit Cobras: Mink, Rabbit, or Rat
7. Drive-By Truckers: The Dirty South
8. Lil’ Wayne: Da Drought is Over 3
9. MF Doom and Madlib: Madvillain
10. The Hold Steady: Boys and Girls in America
11. James Carter: Chasin’ the Gypsy
12. Merle Haggard: If I Could Only Fly
13. The Handsome Family: In the Air
14. The Coup: Party Music
15. Ghostface Killah: Fishscale
16. Shaver: The Earth Rolls On
17. The Best Bootlegs Ever
18. Tom Ze: Jogos de Armar
19. Warren Zevon: The Wind
20. Mr. Lif: Emergency Rations
21. Serengeti: Dennehy
22. Johnny Cash: American IV: The Man Comes Around
23. Bettye LaVette: I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise
24. Balkan Beat Box
25. Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta!
26. Tinariwen: Imidiwan: Companions
27. The Perceptionists: Black Dialogue
28. Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock and Roll
29. Glasvegas
30. Crunk Hits, Vols. 1 & 2
31. Tom Waits: Orphans
32. Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
33. Elizabeth Cook: Welder
34. Girl Talk: Feed the Animals
35. Jay Reatard: Blood Visions
36. Leonard Cohen: Live in London
37. The Baseball Project: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quail
38. Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics: Inspiration Information
39. Girls: Album
40. Jean Grae: Jeanius
41. The Roots: How I Got Over
42. Wussy: Attica!
43. Group Doueh: Zayna Jumma
44. Youssou N’Dour: Egypt
45. Martha Redbone Roots Project: The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake
46. Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind
47. Natural Child: 1971
48. Our New Orleans
49. Tyler Keith and The Preacher’s Kids: Romeo Hood
50. Mariem Hassan: El Aaiun Egdat

Good to My Earhole: May 5-9 – What? NEW Rekkids?

Good to My Earhole: May 5-9 – What? NEW Rekkids?

The huddled sandspeck of humanity who regularly visit this blog no doubt have discerned a certain propensity of the author’s for looking backwards. Always said I never would, now I seem always to be. I’ve made the “dustbins of cyberspace” argument, and I am indeed left slot-mouthed in response to “new music,” but, to be fair, one needs a little perspective (in addition to 42 years’ worth of listening to records) to evaluate art accurately. However, two new albums by established giants came through the mail slot this week, as well as one from a local hero who‘s just sailed from between Scylla and Charibdis scarred but not scared, so I cannot resist taking a shot at ’em.

rollins

Sonny Rollins: Road Shows, Volume 3 (Doxy) For the 83-year-old Rollins, both the road and the show seem to go on powerfully forever, and together. The third volume in this highly recommended and expertly compiled series mixes three Rollins originals–he is an underrated composer–one solo flight, and two of the American-songbook chestnuts Sonny was seemingly born to explore the contours of for an approximation of an epic performance (the tracks actually date from four different appearances, 2001-2012). Though his solos may not forge and unfurl unbroken like in days of old, his tone, invention (though he claims not to think and play at the same time), sense of humor, and grace are still beyond the reach of mere mortals–aka “the living body of jazz players.” Case in point: the majestic “Why Was I Born.” As my man at The Stash Dauber, Ken Shimamoto, has eloquently suggested, there are worse predicaments on Planet Earth 2014 than having the grammar of world popsong (that is, of the HISTORY of popsong) at your disposal. Give your man props while he’s living. Don’t wait ’til the heartbeat stops.

LetterHome

 

Neil Young: A Letter Home (Third Man) Honestly, I haven’t attended Uncle Neil for awhile, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on him. He’s always had one eye on the hands of time, so he’s a sure bet to still have plenty of artistic life in him as he ages. Which brings us to his newest release, one, conveniently, that plays with time by virtue of its recording circumstances. You can go elsewhere for the specific technical details, but Young recorded a set of very thematic O.P.s (“other people’s”) in a contraption that spits out “forest-fire” audio, complete with pops, crackles, lo-fi gauze, and unreliable pitch, that is reminiscent of both a very primitive demo and a much-abused 78 from the ’20s. It’s not a new trick–among major artists, Tom Waits has had it up his sleeve in the past–and I am not sure I like it. At first glance, I thought the song selections were chosen with inconsistent imagination, and would end up being my major complaint; after two listens, I actually like even “On the Road Again” and “My Hometown,” and the concept speaks the way the artist intended it to. It’s even moving. However, I don’t see the point in intentionally make it sound like crap (PRIMITIVE I will take in a minute–not the same thing!); maybe it’s just me, but that would seem to compromise the emotional power of the project: the deliberately “antique” production not only creates an unnecessary barrier for the intimacy of Young’s performance to penetrate, but it also raises my suspicions about Neil’s sincerity, if the record had to be thus fiddled with. And if he’s NOT being sincere–man, gimme my money back to spend on some Pono thing. I confess to being highly sensitive to the taint of Jack White’s hand in matters–he’s screwed up other projects for folks with his gimmickry (most notable past victim: Wanda Jackson) after having largely built his own reputation on gimmicks. It’s something I’d never have thought Neil Young would fall for. So…caveat emptor, if you’re going to spend your hard-earned dough. Try this, which is the highlight, to my ears:

 

Glen David Andrews: Redemption (Louisiana Red Hot) What would a blog post of mine be without some New Orleans flavor? Unbeknownst to outsiders, Mr. Andrews, a talented trombonist, songwriter, and singer, as well as progeny of a royal music family line, has spent the good part of the last fifteen years putting great music down in the studio, traveling the country testifying to the continued vitality of Crescent City traditions, and putting his feet in the street and squaring up to authorities as an activist for multiple local causes. Unfortunately, he did all of that while wrestling with substance abuse, which finally brought him down during the first years of this decade. Redemption is one of the most musically and emotionally powerful sobriety albums since Stevie Ray Vaughan’s In Step; Andrews himself says, “This is a record about my journey back from the living dead.” Glen is one of the finest brass band and NOLA trad jazz players alive, but the music here is brawny, funky rock and roll. This is not only an accurate projection of Andrews’ personality, but also an expression of spiritual joy buoyed by rebirth and a product of the man’s muscular support: Ivan Neville, Galactic’s Ben Ellman, and local guitar hero Anders Osborne. If you’ve never heard (of) him, time to get on board. Special guest appearance from beyond: Mahalia Jackson.

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’.