I am not listing labels, since you can copy and paste the titles into a browser and find ’em in a few seconds. I haven’t written about all of them: for example, Ty Segall’s Manipulator is growing on me day by day–surprisingly, since I thought he and I were through–but I don’t yet know what to say other than he’s gotten all of his predilections embraced securely and has put together a tour de force that might be the best thing he’s ever done. Maybe that’s enough. Anyway, here’s what’s been repeatedly ringing my bell:
1. Wussy: Attica!
2. Allen Lowe: Mulatto Radio–Field Recordings 1-4
3. Chris Butler: Easy Life
4. Ty Segall: Manipulator
5. Bo Dollis, Jr. and The Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk
6. Obnox: Louder Space
7. Latyryx: The Second Album
8. Ross Johnson and Monsieur Jeffrey Evans: Vanity Sessions
9. Neneh Cherry: The Blank Project
10. Phil and Dave Alvin: Common Ground–The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy
11. Marc Ribot Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard
12. Orlando Julius with The Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro
13. Natural Child: Dancin’ with Wolves
14. John Schooley: The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World
15. Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices
16. Tinariwen: Emmaar
17. Big Freedia: Just Be Free
18. Billy Joe Shaver: Long in the Tooth
19. The Stooges Brass Band: Street Music
20. Mr. and The Mrs.: Radiation Street Blues
1. Bobby Rush: Upstairs at United
2. Marc Ribot w/Deerhoof: Who Sleeps, Only Dreams
3. Heavy Lids: “Gravity Reverse” b/w “This Horse”
1. John Coltrane: Offering—Live at Temple University
2. Various Artists: Haiti Direct!
3. John Schooley One-Man Band: Schooley’s Greatest Hits
4. Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys: Riding Your Way–The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music 1946-7
5. Various Artists: Angola 2
6. Various Artists: The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali, Volume 2
7. D’Angelo: Live at the Jazz Café, London
8. Sid Selvidge: The Cold of the Morning
9. Gories: The Shaw Tapes—Live in Detroit 1988
10. Charlie Burton: Rock & Roll Behavior
11. Various Artists: Dylan’s Gospel—Brothers & Sisters
12. Various Artists: Go, Devil, Go—Raw, Rare, Otherwordly Gospel
1. AKA Doc Pomus
2. The Case of the Three-Sided Dream
John Schooley: The Man Who Rode the Mule Around the World (Voodoo Rhythm)
Niangua, Missouri, escapee Schooley continues to evolve. As the gee-tar and co-writin’ fulcrum driving The Revelators (of Columbia, Missouri–find their Crypt releases), he helped coin a kind of style: rockabilly oi–it seemed to me at the time–or farmboy boogie, as he might call it now. As the whip across the shoulders of Austin’s Hard Feelings, he found a place of no disgrace in the rockaroll world during a time when that wasn’t easy. As the hardest-working, hardest-thinking one-man-band (there are a few) in the Yew-(be)Nighted-States, he has preached and played across this turf and yon til his knuckles and tonsils have bled. This is a man who doesn’t settle, who is as Show-Me-State-stubborn as the mule Charlie Poole rode ’round the world, and his new release is his best. Augmenting his barnstorming six-string and bigfoot beat with banjo, fiddle, piano, handclaps, and harmonica (courtesy of the great Walter Daniels), barreling through old weird American traditionals (a plangent but lively “Cluck Old Hen”!), golden-age nuggets from Marvin Rainwater and G. l. Crockett, and some snazzy originals, he achieves something akin to what Greil Marcus once wrote about Jerry Lee Lewis’ Sun auditions: “…[O]ne long roadhouse stomp.” And on “Doubleneck Stomp,” he catches up to his long-time ambition of mating Roy Buchanan and Link Wray. His vocals still need some oomph, but if you turn the record up as you are instructed to on the album cover, it just doesn’t matter.
It may seem that I have been neglecting my responsibilities here (such as they are), but, though I am retired, I am actually working two part-time jobs and they have been keeping me preoccupied. But, as always, music has provided much-needed fuel. What follow are some highlights of the past month:
John Coltrane: Offering–Live at Temple University (November 11, 1966) (Resonance Records)
As a devoted though sometimes fatigued fan of Trane, I greeted the news of this excavation/restoration with some skepticism. One must admit that a goodly portion of the jazz audience has gotten–and will continue to get–off the bus after A Love Supreme, and, having listened to the man’s entire output after that record, I know they have good reason. I love the churning, searching, two-men-becoming of InterstellarSpace, the roiling, blistering, crying record-long prayer of Meditations, the daring transformations of Live at the Village VanguardAgain; on the other hand, I am not sure I will ever put on the hammering, hectoring live records from Japan and Seattle again. I like Ascension better in theory than reality (though it’s a better realized experiment in freedom than Free Jazz, for sure); I’m likely to keep Om shelved. Of course I am leaving a few records out, but, to get to the heart of it, I wasn’t sure I or anyone else needed an imperfectly recorded concert record that might well be more painful than enjoyable. If you have the same misgivings, set them aside. This is a document worthy of your time. Coltrane is in great form, though he was nine months from passing–in fact, some of his most focused and coherent free playing ever is here, in very good fidelity, and the legendary singing and chest-beating he did at this gig are not freakish. It works; it’s even moving. Some Philly locals (on saxes, the very brave Arnold Joyner and Steve Knoblauch) showed up to pitch in, and they prove equal to the ’66 group’s concept. I would go so far as to say that they at least equal Pharoah Sanders, who on first appearance sounds like he’s taking a box cutter to the sheets of the night. Actually, the fidelity issues–you can’t really hear the bass other than one solo (and it’s a shaky one–Jimmy Garrison is not on hand), and the drums, when not in solo mode, are very quiet in the mix–enhanced the listening experience for me, even if they break the democratic contract. Honestly, I like hearing Trane when he’s not fighting for space, and, even if he was at the actual event, he is the show here. Highly recommended.
Classical ain’t my usual bag, but reading David Toop‘s Ocean of Sound loosened me up for this, which a good friend foisted upon me on a lazy, cool Sunday. Rolling off a throbbing, multiply-manifested minimalist pulse like waves, the voices of more than 100 join to sing John Donne’s “Negative Love” and two Emily Dickinson poems, the well-known “Because I could not stop for Death” and the more obscure (and uncharacteristic) “Wild Nights,” texts that, as passionately interpreted here, seem to trail off the final line of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” The massed voices blur the words, producing a roar that, paradoxically, sounds heard from afar, or in a dream–but which is true to the lines of the poems. Hard to write about this stuff when you’re a sub-neophyte, but I think I am right about this one.
Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices (Fat Possum)
One by one, the giants of North Mississippi Hill Country blues have fallen: Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford. Others, like Robert Belfour and Paul Wine Jones, have quieted. All the more welcome, then, is this document of the non-secular side of the tradition that does not sound all that much like Fred McDowell, its aesthetic fountainhead. Raw, hypnotic, crying Holy unto the Lord, and together, Welch’s music is the gem you’re looking for in this blues world of…well, it ain’t even fiberglass anymore, is it? As Digital Underground once advised us: “Heartbeat props/Don’t wait ’til the heartbeat stops/Give the man props while he’s livin’….”
The Fugs: “Refuse to Be Burnt Out” (from Refuse to Be Burnt Out, New Rose, 1985)
I wish I had the audio track for this song–see: everything isn’t on YouTube, children!–which I have listened at least 50 times through many travails over the last 18 months. You need to hear it, and, like us, print the core of the lyrics out and slap them on your fridge. Here they are:
Refuse to be burnt out:
The answer is–
Not to be laid back
Not to be cynical
Not to be hesitant
Not to be shy
Not to be uninformed
Not to be beaten down
Not to be isolated
Not to be frightened
Not to be threatened
Not to be co-opted
Not to be lied to….”
If you do get a chance to hear the track, you will enjoy the ageless Mr. Sanders’ razor-sharp delivery of this line: “Bitterly bickering bitter-shitters/Cursing fate when lunch is late….” My wife and I recite that one every time we are frustrated because we can’t find a parking spot.
The Minutemen: Three-Way Tie for Last (SST)
I wish two things:
1) That this album was not still utterly relevant.
2) That I would have seen this band in person before its life was snuffed out by a stupid broken axle.
If you are, say, a young fan who’s just begun to explore this group and headed straight for Double Nickels on the Dime or Buzz or Howl or What Makes a Man Start Fires? (or all three, and good for you!), it is time to catch up. It grows on you–hard–and absorbing it fully only makes their tragedy deeper, because, like all truly great bands, they were growing so quickly, both musically and mentally, and the results don’t sound like growing pains.
Through a good friend, I had heard of Dead Moon in the mid-’90s: “They’re garage rockers, but their lead singer’s about 50 and has been playing since the ’60s.” I had checked out their album Trash and Burn, which was lean, mean, raw, and wiry, with vocals that reminded me of Bon Scott’s, but, at the time, I was being deluged by so much music and stuff-o’-life that the rekkid got lost in the shuffle, even though it spoke directly to things that matter most to me about rock and roll. When they played a club here around the same time, I knew about it–but it was on a weeknight and, being a good-boy teacher for the moment (I was erratic in that area, at best), I skipped it. To what will be, I am sure, my eternal regret.
Fast forward to the mid-‘Oughts. I am sure most owners of record collections numbering 5,000-plus will relate, but, one weekend, sniffing around for something to listen to, I fetched Trash and Burn from where it had been hiding for a decade, slid it into the player, and stood back as it lit our house aflame. Both my wife Nicole and I exclaimed, in spontaneous chorus as old marrieds often do, “Where has this band been all our lives?” With the Internet now at our fingertips, we delved deeper, and found out about a documentary about the group called Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story, and immediately ordered a copy.
As will happen, I swear, to anyone who watches this film, we were stunned, then joined in lifetime loyalty to Fred and Toody, “The Coles,” as they are known to cognoscenti. Married for almost 50 years at this writing, successfully applying the DIY ethic years way before it was hip in the rock biz to everything from home improvement to instrument repair to music production and distribution to child-rearing, functioning as pretty-damned-equal partners in singing, playing and writing, these two dyed-in-the-wool rockers not only defined the rock and roll life in a way that didn’t get you looking at your shoes, but also served as a textbook case of true family values. I am not going to describe it; you just order the film, podnah. We have been pushing it on every vulnerable soul for seven years.
Concurrent to this discovery, at the Columbia, Missouri, teaching gig that was subsidizing my record collection, I was experiencing some surprising turns of event with an extracurricular club called The Academy of Rock, which a student of mine and I had founded in 2004. A couple of enterprising students had suggested that we try to convince bands who came through Columbia for shows to stop by our meetings and chat about songwriting, the rock life, and anything else fun. The worst that could happen was being told “No,” so onward we went, and, literally before we knew it, Amsterband (the future Ha Ha Tonka), Cary Hudson (former Blue Mountain and Neckbones), The F-Bombs (a local punk band), and–I had marks all over from pinching myself–eventually, The Drive-By Truckers and The Hold Steady had played–played, not stopped by to chat–in our school’s Little Theater, for free, with deep-ass Q&A, friendly autographing sessions, and invitations to come to their shows with guest-list privileges. So, when Nicole and I discovered that The Pierced Arrows, the Cole project that rose from the ashes of Dead Moon, were playing The Record Bar in Kansas City, we decided to go and maybe strike up enough of an acquaintance to ask them to swing by Hickman.
True to everything we had heard about them, Fred and Toody sat with the rabble through both of their opening bands’ sets, drinking beer, smoking, and obviously engaging with the groups’ music. Between sets, I tip-toed over to Toody, and begin shooting the shit. When I told her about our club and our (by now) tradition of bringing in bands, she enthused, but said, “Well, we’re heading for Europe next week, and we’ll be there for a few months, but, if you give me your phone number, I’ll get in touch with you when we’re back in the States.” Returning to terra firma after a shattering Pierced Arrows set (for the uninitiated, the only real difference between Dead Moon and The Pierced Arrows is slightly heavier guitar and slightly steadier drums) and hitting the prairie pavement back to Columbia, I turned to Nicole and said, “Well, we did get to meet them, we do have Toody’s phone number, and the show kicked ass–but surely after two-three months they’ll forget about us.”
Wrongo. Almost three months to the day of that show, Toody called me out of the clear blue sky and asked, “Hey, we have a day off coming up between Columbus and Kansas City, could we [YES–“could we?”–I shit you not] play at your school then?” I was so gobsmacked that about 10 seconds of silence followed before I Marv-Alberted a “YES!” into the receiver. We quickly agreed on details–we’d pay for their hotel room and food after the appearance, since they’d have to hit the road immediately following for the Kansas City gig–and I proceeded to pinch another red mark onto my arm.
The day before the band was due to play, I was moderating a Socratic seminar for my British literature students in our school’s office conference room when my cellphone began buzzing. I don’t get phone calls much, especially during the day, so I sneaked a look, and saw it was Toody. I put the temporary kibosh on the seminar–do you blame me?–stepped outside, and took the call.
“Phil, we are so, so, so sorry we are late! I think we can set up in ten minutes once we get there [they were 30 minutes outside of town] if you can still make it happen!”
“Toody–it’s not until tomorrow.”
“You’re shitting me! [Turns away from phone, shouts “It’s not ’til tomorrow,” is met by jubilant screams from the rest of the van’s occupants….] Fantastic! We are tired and hungry and need to decompress…but, hey, come by the hotel room and say hi!”
I am not making this up.
Nicole and I swung by to see them, but they were obviously beat, so we just gave ’em some dining recommendations and double-checked the details. We were particularly careful about the latter; when The Hold Steady visited, they arrived an hour after they were supposed to, and at the very moment that, in front of a packed theater, I was running out of steam stalling the crowd with their biographical details–sans soundcheck and sans anxiety, since they drifted in on a cloud of cannabis cologne. Fred assured us they’d be on time for a soundcheck, so we left them to get their rest.
I had arranged to have a substitute take my afternoon classes the next day, and, late that morning, as some Academy of Rock club members and I were setting up the PA in the theater, my phone began buzzing again.
“Hey, Phil, we’re here.”
“But Toody, you didn’t need to be here for another hour-and-a-half!”
“Oh, that’s OK! We want to meet some of the kids and hang out if it’s OK […if it’s OK????].”
“Well, hell, I’ll send a couple of ’em to come get you.”
We spent the next 90 minutes not just sound-checking but actually hanging out and talking about everything under the sun, with Fred giving some of the school’s theater tech kids, who were helping us, tips about rock and roll sound. For example, since he had lost 70% of his hearing by that point [no big deal!], he preferred to have two monitors on each side of him, facing each of his ears. That was just one of the many things the kids learned from him in that very information-rich hour-and-a-half.
The performance? Titanic. Also, easily the loudest in Hickman’s history (the DBTs and Hold Steady had played unplugged–but you don’t unplug Fred Cole). We recorded it, but, unfortunately, we screwed up Fred’s vocal levels; it’s still power-packed and worth a listen, though (see below). The band played all of their then-new album Descending Shadows, plus the best of their previous record, Straight to the Heart.
After the sixty-minute show, they then took student questions, which–if they weren’t already excellent, which most were–they would cannily reconfigure for the best possible responses. I would recap it, but, here, read this Columbia Tribune story about it. The amount of wisdom shared in the nearly three hours they were in the theater was mind-boggling, and, even when the bell rang to dismiss students for the day, they were not yet done.
I sidled over to Fred, Toody, and their awesome drummer Kelly Halliburton, who matched them word for word, note for note, gesture for gesture in sheer rock-band fan-care, and said, “Well, district rules forbid us from getting gift certificates for visiting ‘educators,’ but here’s $40 to go eat some pizza and drink some beer at the local-favorite pizza joint. Let me draw you up some direct—-“
Fred: “Hey, just bring some of the real big fans and come eat with us.”
“As a heartattack! Just let us have one of the kids to navigate!”
As it happened, one of the kids was already thoroughly inured to the ways of The Coles through our having forced Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story on him and his having avidly explored their discography. (Oh yeah: we also took him to the aforementioned Pierced Arrows shows in the guise of our nephew, since it wasn’t all ages and the manager had given us permission–don’t try that one at home, fellow teachers!) So we sent him along, and, people, I have never seen a student happier. He even got to bum a cig off of Fred!
At the pizza joint, we bought several pizzas, the band knocked back a few pitchers, and we had a total blast. To the end, though, the Coles and Mr. Halliburton were fan-centered. I had expected dinner to be a barrage of questions from the kids about rock and roll history (Fred goes back to the mid-Sixties through his involvement in The Weeds and The Lollipop Shoppe, and knew Janis Joplin well), but, instead, the trio queried the kids about their lives, their tastes in music, their experiences in bands, and…just life.
That kid on my right was a ninth-grader. As I drove him out to his folks’ house, neither of us could keep from shaking our heads in amazement that, along with rocking our asses off, they lived up to their advance notice and more. And as he told me,”I can’t believe they came to my school!”–it wasn’t his yet, but it would be the following year–I realized that it was probably the finest moment I’d ever experienced (could probably hope to experience–and, no, it ain’t been topped yet) as a public school educator. Beyond the educational impact, the encouragement the Coles’ chemistry and commitment gave Nicole and me, who have approached marriage unconventionally in more than a few ways, continues to resonate.
Fred had successful heart surgery earlier this year, and just turned 66 last week. I am sure, however, that he will be back on the road with The Pierced Arrows soon, and, if they come to your town–go. They are about rock and roll, but so much more. Be sure to bring t-shirt money, whether you are a kid or not.
Below: The Pierced Arrows’ performance at Hickman. We used a multiple-mic set up in the room, rather than recording straight from the PA (don’t ask…), and, since our kid at the PA botched the vocal mix and it was so crowded I couldn’t get to him to help, Fred’s vocals are somewhat buried. But you will hear why I got called into the office the next day: