A brief essay on a modern masterpiece of soul music. If you have not heard OUR NEW ORLEANS, do not delay.
In the early 1960s Thomas caught a vein of pain and defiance that was altogether her own. “Wish Someone Would Care,” from 1964, was both more and less than soul music was supposed to be: less because it was so fragile, more because it demanded more of the music than the music could give. The singer was demanding that the song—or something, someone—stop her from killing herself. After that, the spark was gone.
When the producers of Our New Orleans gathered musicians from the city’s diaspora—in Memphis, in Houston, in New York City, in Maurice, Louisiana, a village halfway across…
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Listening to The Rolling Stones’ Beggars’ Banquet for the first time in awhile, cranked up to the max in my truck on a hot Sunday at the end of a bad week for the country and world, it occurred to me that “Jigsaw Puzzle” is the prequel, if you will, to “Gimme Shelter.” The rain’s turned torrential, the persona’s up off the floor and out in the streets, the puzzle unfinished. And, thinking about how Dylanesque “Jigsaw Puzzle” is, it made me realize that, for all the Stones’ defects (in my mind, not too many at this point), unlike Dylan they did throw themselves into the storm, as artists and performers. Dylan: always a hustler, ankle a quarter of an inch out of the bear trap. But in this intense, world-historic pop scenario, not a thing for one’s CV. So, you be the judge:
“I Threw It All Away” (in more ways than one? I do love this song, but Johnny Cash be damned….)
I. My wife Nicole became fully converted to Wussyphilia, via repeat listenings to a folder I put on her iPod including their very lively 2014 release Attica! plus some of their earlier great tracks. Her fave rave–and who can blame her?
2. After all of these years, Greil Marcus’ writing, as knotty, theoretical, and deeply referenced as it can be, is as easy and pleasurable for me to read as drinking a glass of water after mowing the lawn (Hannah Arendt and C.L.R. James, on the other hand, are wonderful, but not easy). While not perfect, his new book, The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs, intriguingly explores many of his (and my) favorite themes, particularly that our musical and cultural past is always, through the magic of rock and roll, in conversation with our present. He brought about many revelations in my musical thinking, one I am somewhat ashamed to admit. While actively liking “Rehab,” I mostly rolled my eyes at the output and antics of the doomed Amy Winehouse; however, in a chapter focusing on “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” as he glanced off into Shadow Morton and the Shangri-Las, he described a Grammy performance of Winehouse’s that made it impossible for me not to YouTube it. I don’t Grammy, so it was new, shocking, and wonderful to me, and I take back my eye-rolling (I am a huge Shangri-Las fan, and should have recognized her lineage instantly):
3. I started practicing ukelele again. My wife bought me one almost ten years ago for our anniversary, I practiced hard for awhile, but I don’t have a great physical affinity for stringed instruments. I hadn’t gotten it out in awhile, but I muscle-remembered several things. That damned “B” chord formation, though.
4. Some very cool Swedes released a compilation of the great Midwestern rock and roller Charlie Burton‘s awesome, comedic songs. And…it is authorized. And…it has the greatest song ever written about Elvis:
5. It was a long week. Nicole and I ended it with a trip to the amazing, enduring Tony’s Pizza Palace (in Columbia, Missouri) for a pizza, a Greek salad, and a pitcher. We got in the car, relaxed and satisfied, and as we pulled away, Nicole realized she had the car iPod turned down. She turned it up, and I discovered she’d segued from one of my favorite bands to another: Nashville’s Natural Child. As we cruised around a little that night (and the next morning), we were treated to many of their early singles on Infinity Cat, which, though not hallowed by the indie press, were extremely strong in the areas of wit, riffage, cameraderie, and persona (“trio of weed bandits bemusedly working through the obstacles of modern USA”). They have evolved a bit: they’re better players, more relaxed performers, far more well-known on the circuit, and still fun to see live. But there is something about their early drive, humor, and bleary desperation I miss. Here’s one we really loved this morning, a bit of a landmark, really, in the gender politics and sexual documentation of rock and roll:
6. I have recently joined a Facebook group called Expert Witness that is made up of 200+ devoted followers/readers/proteges of the great rockwriter Robert Christgau. Facebook is supposed to be really bad for you in nine different ways, but–it feels like home to me. The conversation is intelligent, useful (since Christgau’s various review columns are defunct–he’s now at Billboard, but I am not sure what he’s really gonna do there), witty, and civil without everyone behaving as if he has a napkin folded in his lap, in Allen Lowe’s great phrase. Case in point: this week, I finally found a cheap copy of sound-bard David Toop’s infamous Sugar & Poison comp, a two-disc modern R&B mix that ambitiously tries to replicate the various hills and valleys in a real-life roll in the hay (for example, in the middle of the groove, the listener might be confronted with financial anxiety (see Dennis Edwards’ track embedded below, my favorite on the collection)). That’s not all it does, and it is fascinating, particularly because no megahits are used (the tracks are mostly excavations!), but, initially, I wasn’t impressed as much as I was expecting to be. I’d read about it almost twenty years ago and my imagination had exponentially swelled. When I posted on the forum about having gotten the CD and been a little underwhelmed, Chicago’s Kevin Bozelka, one of my favorite participants, and I engaged in a Beavis and Butthead-cum-Siskel and Ebert thread-scrum that, despite the multiple double-entendres (and double-nonentendres) led me to a better understanding of the record. Verdict: you must have it. I can’t wait for Nicole to hear it.
7. These reggae greats, blasting from Saturday speakers, motivated me to get school-prep work done and post here: Lee “Scratch” Perry (Who Put the Voodoo ‘Pon Reggae?), Desmond Dekker, Toots and the Maytals, Junior Byles, pre-Marcus Garvey Burning Spear, and ’60s solo Peter Tosh. Thank you, gentlemen. Smoke and see on.
8. I have thoroughly enjoyed two other music tomes this week other than Marcus’: Allen Lowe’s epic, insightful, deeply-researched, contentious, mischievous American Pop: From Minstrels to Mojos and Thomas Brothers’ second volume of his Louis Armstrong critical biography trilogy, Louis Armstrong: Master of Modernism. I like books that indicate hard work and deep love. I highly recommend both, and you should get the nine-disc companion box to Lowe’s history.
9. By simply displaying a photograph of the long-forgotten Indianapolis punk band Panics’ compilation I Wanna Kill My Mom on the above-mentioned Expert Witness Facebook group page and expressing my enthusiasm–how can you not love a band whose goal it must have been (and they did not reach it, part of the charm) to sound exactly like the Sex Pistols trying to learn “Roadrunner” on The Great Rock and Roll Swindle soundtrack?–I got to have a cyberconversation with Chuck Eddy, one of the more eccentric and provocative rockwriters out there. I don’t often agree with him, but he’s fun to read, and he…approved of my purchase. I am unaccountably needy, and so easily made happy.
10. I want to know about Lee Wiley. Always thankful to have a new musical grail after which to quest. Expert Witness eminence grise Cliff Ocheltree, I hope you can help.
Musician with a serious message…
Message to Black America: It’s unlikely that the lawmakers or their agents will ever admit when they’re guilty of a crime. Just us.
Message to Black America: It’s unreasonable to think that a system which profits from your ignorance will ever invest in your enlightenment.
Message to Black America: It’s foolish to expect that the oppressor will ever value your community as much or more than you.
Message to Black America: Until you believe your gods to be as powerful as White people’s god or Asian people’s gods, there can be no peace.
Message to Black America: Republican or Democrat doesn’t matter. White Supremacy is President regardless of who’s in office.
Message to Black America: Al Sharpton and Benjamin Crump can’t assure justice for Michael Brown any more than they could for Trayvon Martin.
America built its democracy by looting the world, but let Black people bust into a store…
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Give it a rest, ignatzes.
If jazz is dead, then why are the would-be hipsters trying so hard to kill it?
Last week, the New Yorker ran an unfunny and rather mean-spirited “satire” of Sonny Rollins, titled “In His Own Words.” Rather than offering a genuine interview with the 84-year-old jazz legend, the publication wasted space on a humor piece that didn’t even touch on several of the key episodes in the saxophonist’s career.
And now, another major publication, the Washington Post, hammers on jazz with a piece that reads like satire but, sadly, is not.
“Jazz has run out of ideas, and yet it’s still getting applause,” someone named Justin Moyer writes, in a column titled “All that jazz isn’t all that great.”
Right up front, Moyer admits that, while he studied with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Pheeroan akLaff and Jay Hoggard at Wesleyan, he found jazz “hard to grasp.” In…
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