Surcease of Sorrow: My Favorite New Releases of the First Half of 2017, and My Top 40 Older Thangs I’ve Bought

In so many ways, this year has flat sucked. I’m a born optimist, and I’ve never considered that a disability, but now? I guess that I just don’t know. As long as I keep certain names off my tongue, my eye on the courts, my feet on the street and trails, my arms around my woman, and my ears on this stuff, well…I guess I will power through. Perhaps you will be tempted to try one of the following aural encouragements, and it’ll help you through, too.

TOP 50 New Releases of the First Half of 2017

(in order of my preference if the world goes up in flames tomorrow):

  1. Zeal and Ardor: Devil is Fine
  2. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  3. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  4. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  5. Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyai
  6. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  7. Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood
  8. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: So It Is
  9. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  10. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  11. Obnox: Niggative Approach
  12. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  13. Syd: Fin
  14. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP) (Not the late jazz soprano master Steve Lacy, BTW!)
  15. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  16. Sampha: Process
  17. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  18. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  19. Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound
  20. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel
  21. Arto Lindsay: Cuidado Madame
  22. Body Count: Blood Lust
  23. Angaleena Presley: Wrangled
  24. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong
  25. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  26. Filthy Friends: “Any Kind of Crowd”/”Editions of You”
  27. John Escreet: The Unknown
  28. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  29. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  30. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  31. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  32. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  33. Alice Coltrane: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda
  34. Thundercat: Drunk
  35. New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions
  36. Gato Preto: Tempo
  37. Paul Rutherford and Sabu Toyozumi: The Conscience
  38. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Up for Anything
  39. Various Artists: Mono No Aware
  40. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
  41. Various Artists: Outro Tempo–Electronic And Contemporary Music From Brazil 1978-1992
  42. Garland Jeffreys: 14 Steps to Harlem
  43. Elliott Sharp, Mary Halvorson, and Marc Ribot: Err Guitar
  44. Daddy Issues: Can We Still Hang?
  45. Bob Dylan: Triplicate
  46. Damaged Bug: Bunker Funk
  47. Black Lips: Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?
  48. Vagabon: The Infinite Worlds
  49. Tamikrest: Tidal
  50. Chuck Berry: Chuck

Note: the above is not featured on the Wayne Cochran album listed below, but it’s what you need to know to make a more informed choice.

40 Great Older Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Still Can’t Get Enough Of

  1. Allison, Mose: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
  2. Anderson, Fred, and Hamid Drake: …together again
  3. Astatke, Mulatu: Mulatu of Ethiopia
  4. Blythe, Arthur: Illusions
  5. Bowie, David: Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles ’74)
  6. Carmichael, Hoagy: Music Master
  7. Case, Neko: The Tigers Have Spoken
  8. Cochran, Wayne: Wayne Cochran!
  9. Cohran, Philip: Armageddon
  10. Coursil, Jacques: Trails of Tears
  11. The Creation: Action Painting
  12. Davis, Anthony: Episteme
  13. DiMucci, Dion: Kickin’ Child–The Lost Album 1965
  14. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
  15. E: E
  16. Evans, Bill: Some Other Time–The Lost Session from the Black Forest
  17. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
  18. Fela: Live in Detroit
  19. Gibbs, Melvin: Ancients Speak (all hail Pete Cosey!)
  20. Gonzalez, Dennis: Idle Wild
  21. Ink Spots: These Cats Are High
  22. Instant Composers Pool: Aan & Uit
  23. Jamal, Ahmad: The Awakening
  24. JJ DOOM: Bookhead
  25. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
  26. London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Theoria
  27. McGann, Bernie: Playground
  28. Outkast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below (that’s right—I only just NOW bought this for myself)
  29. Perry, Lee Scratch: Voodooism
  30. Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Face to Face
  31. Stanko, Tomasz: Leosia
  32. Sun Ra: The Space Age Is Here to Stay
  33. This Heat: Out of Cold Storage
  34. Morgan, Lee: Live at The Lighthouse (please go see this documentary on Mr. Morgan!)
  35. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
  36. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
  37. Various Artists: Killed by Death #5
  38. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, 1 & 2
  39. White, Ruth: Flowers of Evil
  40. Wray, Link: Beans and Fatback

Immortal Songs: Jeffrey Lewis’ “Scowling Crackhead Ian”

As a former kid who got the shit kicked out of him a few times,
As a friend and as a teacher of some pretty tough and some pretty puny kids,
As someone who’s feeling his age a little and has a high sensitivity to the passage of time,
As someone with an attachment to places,
As an admirer of writers with an eye for detail and a heart for compassion,
As a citizen who is fatigued by long-nurtured division and scorn–

This song just destroys me.

I return to it again and again, and can play it over and over at a sitting. I labored pretty intensively to correct the horrible “MetroLyrics” transcription and bring the text to you (I may have misheard a word or two, but not many), so, though it is a bit long, I ask you, if you share some of the states of being I’ve catalogued above, to read it, then listen to it. It might destroy you, too. To Mr. Lewis: thanks for writing such a great song–this one’s immortal.

“Scowling Crackhead Ian:

I can’t forget your face.
You were a foul human being
Way back on Saint Mark’s Place.
A white thug when we were both poor,
A life struggling for one quarter more.
In sixth grade, that’s what you’d mug me for,
A switchblade pressed up to my jugular.
So I feared for my neck,
Safe streets were few.
My nerves grew wrecked near to Second Avenue.
I soon learned how to steer clear of a crook or a crew,
And now I’m still here,
And, look! So are you.
Forever you’ve been Crackhead Ian.
It was your kid-nickname if we spoke it.
You were an insane human being,
Whether you ever did or didn’t really smoke it.

I know that tall, thin, bent-over stroll,
All sunburned and grim since ten or twelve years old.
I guess yesterday is gone,
Faces still indent our soul,
And I guess both our moms’ places still on rent control.
I was a twig-small, sad-sack, punier guy;
You were big, tall and bad back in junior high.
No sight of someone’s face has ever been scarier–
You’d come chase me from Streetfighter 1 or Space Harrier.
Hello again, Crackhead Ian:
I still can’t forget your foul face.
My fellow human being–
I know we’re both still planted on Saint Mark’s Place.
We’ve lived our poor lives in close parallel
Within these four or five blocks we both know so well.
You must have grew up near the former theater or the old gross hotel;
I’m sure you’re aware of me here
But, oh, I can’t tell.
It seems you never outgrew your little pre-teen rage.
I still see you look so mean, though now we are middle-aged.
I was eavesdropping last year at you laughing to tell
About bashing some dude with a chair till he fell.
I slipped fast by you talking, fearing our eyes would touch,
Drifting past, by new awnings that had all changed so much.
I’ve never known your life story, I’m sure it’s rotten and tough,
But how long before these roles for us have gotten old enough?
You must’ve had it so rough, kid.
Well, I wonder:
Forged by a tiny portion of love or fortune
Goes lightning or goes thunder.

You’re a bad one, Crackhead Ian:
A sad son and sunburned pink.
But, of all the best kids seen downtown in our pre-teens,
It’s just you and me left, I think.
How long till you notice?
How long until you shake my hand?
How long until we’re old-man neighbors,
Last tribesmen of the vanished land?
We never even did exchange names.
You were an evil kid from Hades.
When we played these arcade games,
That made life great in the ‘80s.
Me and Ian.
Me and Ian
Ride into the night of an East Village dream with these games in the street and the heat….”

Addendum: I love the sound effects that give the song context, too.

You must buy Aram Bajakian’s DALAVA: THE BOOK OF TRANSFIGURATIONS

I want to shine SPECIAL light on Dalava: The Book of Transfigurations, by Aram Bajakian and Julia Uleha. The record consists of Moravian folk songs collected by Julia’s great-grandfather and translated into English (for the CD booklet) and sung (in Moravian) by Uleha–songs that poignantly express the title theme of form-change as well as of life’s interruptions and general impermanence (so often the three are connected!). Bajakian is a versatile, imaginative, and powerful guitarist–he’s often associated with Marc Ribot, who’s surely an influence but whom he’s separated himself from with his last three projects–and he, Uleha and his band put these true people’s songs across with real commitment and a complexity of emotion. Surely one of the most impressive musical achievements of the year, and if I have somehow hooked you, get the hard copy, because the 36-page booklet is worth every extra penny.

Good to My Earhole: First Quarter Report–I’m Not Dead, Just Distracted

 

Honestly, I’ve continued to be distracted from music, and reading, and…well, haven’t you? Nonetheless, I’ve laid ear to some dandy new records; also, I have spent some time with some dandy old records as well. Here we go!

TOP 25 New Releases of 2017:

  1. Harriet Tubman: Araminta
  2. Aram Bajakian: Dalava–The Book of Transfigurations
  3. Syd: Fin
  4. Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy’s Demo (EP) (Not the late jazz soprano master Steve Lacy, BTW!)
  5. Various Artists: Battle Hymns
  6. Thundercat: Drunk
  7. Mostly Other People Do The Killing: Loafer’s Hollow
  8. Sampha: Process
  9. Various Artists: Miracle Steps (Music from The Fourth World 1983-2017)
  10. Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway
  11. Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
  12. Thurst: Cut to the Chafe
  13. Kendrick Lamar: Damn
  14. Joe King Cologbo & High Grace: Sugar Daddy
  15. Ty Segall: Ty Segall
  16. John Escreet: The Unknown
  17. Various Artists: Spiritual Jazz #7—Islam
  18. James Luther Dickinson: I’m Just Dead I’m Not Gone (Lazarus Edition) READ THE BOOK!
  19. (The Late) Mariem Hassan: La Voz Indominata
  20. Let’s Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
  21. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  22. Randy Weston: African Nubian Suite
  23. Tinariwen: Elwan
  24. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Up for Anything
  25. Various Artists: Mono No Aware

 

TOP 20 Old Releases That I’ve Bought in ’17 That I Can’t Get Enough Of (not in order of excellence except the first)

1. King: We Are King (would have been in my 2016 Top Ten had I been on the ball)
2. Arthur Blythe: Illusions
3. Various Artists: After-School Special—The 123s of Kid Soul
4. Fred Anderson and Hamid Drake: …together again
5. Philip Cohran: Armageddon
6. Outkast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below (that’s right—I only just NOW bought this for myself)
7. Melvin Gibbs: Ancients Speak (all hail Pete Cosey!)
8. Anthony Davis: Episteme
9. Karreim Riggins: Headnod Suite
10. Michael Hurley: Ida Con Snock
11. E: E
12. Various Artists: Hanoi Masters–War is A Wound, Peace is a Scar
13. Rascals: Anthology 1965-1972
14. Various Artists: Songs from Saharan Cell Phones, Vols. 1 & 2
15. Fela: The Best of Black President, Volume 2
16. Fela: Live in Detroit
17. d/j Rupture: Minesweeper Suite
18. Hoagy Carmichael: Mr. Music Master
19. Mose Allison: I’m Not Talkin’—The Song Stylings of Mose Allison 1957-1972
20. Tomasz Stanko: Leosia

Good to My Earhole: The Edge of ’17–Heard You Didn’t Even Miss Me, Now I’m Back Anyway!

Highlights of my last several weeks’ months’ listening (hey—I’ve been rattled), yielding only lazy one- or two-liner commentary and scored on a 10-high scale based absolutely on how much the item has stuck to my ribs:

Betty Harris: THE LOST QUEEN OF NEW ORLEANS SOUL – 9 – ’64 – ’67 vintage soul: Meters behind her, Toussaint pennin’ and producin’, sexy power in her delivery…what else ya want? Question: how did she not break big?

Deap Vally: FEMIJISM – 9 – Thought I’d had my fill of two-piece bands for the next century, but these ladies’ bad attitudes and arrogant tempos—like cool, slow-walking juvies making you tardy for class—are just different enough to whet my appetite.

Dr. Lonnie Smith: EVOLUTION – 8.7 – Be-turbaned self-appointed Hammond B-3 physician sweeps romantically and slyly through some grooveful originals and survives “My Favorite Things” intact (check out the young master drummer from NOLA, Joe Dyson).

Gravediggaz: NIGGAMORTIS – 9.5 – Pithily retitled from its original release, this wry horror-rap classic is the only place you’re gonna hear Biz Markie enveloped in RZA productions—but at times you will wonder if any of it is really a joke.

(This track’s fromHarriet Tubman’s 2011 release on Sunnyside, Ascension; no video currentl available for the album below).

Harriet Tubman: ARAMINTA – 10 – If you dig Miles circa ’70-’75 or John McLaughlin’s Devotion, you’ll need this, my favorite album of the year after a trying month: a Black Rock- and free jazz-pedigreed trio (augmented in the seeming flower of his youth by the 76-year-old Wadada Leo Smith, definitely on his magic) that isn’t named that whimsically, as they roll like a leviathan through the fathoms across compositions that suggest turbulence and threat, imagination and resistance, and grace under the pressure of the moment. Can’t keep it to one sentence: guitarist Brandon Ross seems to have absorbed everything from the instrument’s black body electric, from Sharrock to Cosey to Ulmer to Reid, and whipped it into his own unique lightning.

THE INTIMATE KEELY SMITH – 8.0 – The cover art finds Louis Prima’s cool ol’ foil looking desolate (and by virtue of the truly intimate session you can hear hurt in the husk at the end of her phrases), but she stands up to these standards fine without The Lip and often makes them her own—albeit by occasionally distorting her vowels, as in “Time After Time” (or, as she has it—perhaps mischievously?—“Tommmmmm after Tommmmmm”). Note: the blue-eyed label chief gets a nice duet.

Myra Melford: SNOWY EGRET – 9.5 – Melford plays wonderful piano on this, and her compositions are challenging and beautiful, too—but this is one of the greatest opportunities among many to hear the genius drummer Tyshawn Sorey…well, listen and respond: he’s that quick and imaginative.

RUN THE JEWELS 3 – 8.9 – Have always liked this pairing in theory, but drifted when engaging with reality; this time, with a shift in politics seeming to juice their enthusiasm and their (trap?) music, I haven’t fidgeted once in four trips through. You can get it 4 free, too.

Regina Carter: SOUTHERN COMFORT – 9.1 – MacArthur violin Genius, inspired by her father’s roots, heads south out of Detroit to encounter Dock Boggs, Gram Parsons, Dennis McGee, and The Hillbilly Shakespeare, with the influence of field recordings keeping her one step ahead of classiness—in other words, not your typical jazz journey.

SLAVIC SOUL PARTY! PLAYS DUKE ELLINGTON’S FAR EAST SUITE – 9.3 – If you know the original, you might look askance at the idea of it as “soul party”—but these Brooklyn Balkanites pull it off, occasionally sounding less Slavic and more like they’re leading a second line.

Tisziji Munoz: WHEN COLTRANE CALLS—SESSION 1: FIERCE COMPASSION – 9.5 – Normally very skeptical of spiritualists, particularly ones as serious (check his website) as Munoz, I approached this exploration of Trane’s “compassionate” compositions with great wariness—only to be immediately gripped by the man’s near-unholy electric guitar torrents, which extends Sonny Sharrock’s promise (broken only by The Reaper) that such heights can be reached via six-string. Docked .5 for Munoz’s choice NOT to play on “Alabama.” I’m in for your other services sessions, Tisziji.

A Tribe Called Red: WE ARE THE HALLUCI NATION – 8.8 – The other hip-hop Tribe nailed their best record last year, too—I didn’t get to it until after I’d submitted my year-end list, or it would have been high up on it. Red means Indian, as Sherman Alexie would have it, and in fact listening to this while reading Alexie produced in me an almost hallucinogenic state, especially with the voice of long-gone hero John Trudell intoning words of wisdom. Also on hand: Yasiin Bey, Saul Williams, and Tanya Tagaq, who, um, make an impression.

Wadada Leo Smith: AMERICA’S NATIONAL PARKS – 9.0 – As expansive in its form and varied in its sensual brilliance as its subject—with, of course, a storm rising. This Pulitzer Prize-nominee knows what to do with a commission, and every sentient American should know his name and work: arguably, he is the Prince of Light to Miles Davis’ Prince of Darkness (though it must be admitted light could not exist without dark).

Here’s 117 records from late-2015 to December 31st of this complicated year, the high quality of which I can vouch for from multiple lessons, I mean listens. If I’d have to put a grade on ’em, current and former students and fellow teachers, I didn’t give an A+, and there’s nothing below a B+. 15 days remain in December, so we may have some work turned in just under the wire, and some of these may shift up and down in the spotlight as I keep revisiting them (for example, I may be checking myself too much on the new Stones album; the worst of Jinx Lennon’s two excellent records from 2016 may be getting a boost because I love the best one so much; “grading” the estimable Wadada Leo Smith’s sprawling parks tribute is a chore just the first time through; I just got a new Tom Zé, and he’s dangerous and a grower given repeated exposure); Chicago workaholic Serengeti just dropped a new one today. Nonetheless, I’m posting results. Come back and visit in a few days. However, I suspect that Queen Bey, the charms of whom I’ve mostly resisted her whole career, is unlikely to be knocked off her throne–note that she gets the top spot by virtue of the CD + DVD version. Happy holidays, and support these artists with your cash instead of just streaming or stealing! (More links coming soon!)

2016 TOP 10 FULL-LENGTH RELEASES

  1. Beyoncé: Lemonade (CD +DVD)
  2. Saul Williams: Martyr Loser King
  3. Tyler Keith and The Apostles: Do It for Johnny
  4. Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
  5. Rihanna: Anti
  6. Various Artists: Desconstrucão–A Portrait of São Paulo’s Music Scene
  7. Jinx Lennon: Past Pupil Stay Sane
  8. Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial
  9. Tanya Tagaq: Retribution
  10. Jamila Woods: HEAVN

THE REST OF THE TOP 40

  1. J. D. Allen: Americana
  2. Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book
  3. Elza Soares: A Mulher do Fim do Mindo
  4. The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure
  5. Anderson Paak: Malibu
  6. Elizabeth Cook: Exodus of Venus
  7. Anna Hogberg: Anna Hogberg Attack
  8. Joe McPhee and Paal Nilssen-Love: Candy
  9. Blood Orange: Freetown Sound
  10. Bombino: Azel
  11. Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm in Each Stroke
  12. Alicia Keys: Here
  13. Aesop Rock: The Impossible Kid
  14. Leonard Cohen: You Want It Darker
  15. Meet Your Death: Meet Your Death
  16. Wussy:Forever Sounds
  17. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down: A Man Alive
  18. Jemeel Moondoc and Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickolodeon
  19. Parquet Courts: Human Performance
  20. Solange: A Seat at The Table
  21. Drive-By Truckers: American Band
  22. Aram Bajakian: Music Inspired by the Film The Color of Pomegranates
  23. Nots: Cosmetic
  24. Yoni & Geti: Testarossa
  25. Kel Assouf: Tikonen
  26. Tyshawn Sorey: The Inner Spectrum of Variables
  27. Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Uplift Grief Magnets
  28. Aram Bajakian: Dolphy Variations
  29. John Prine: For Better, Or Worse
  30. Aesop Rock and Homeboy Sandman: Lice 1 & 2: Still Buggin’ (EPs I am considering as a single album–they are free, so hit the hyperlinks)

Best of the Rest (Alphabetical Order)

  1. 75 Dollar Bill: Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern / Rhythm / Rock
  2. Beasley, John: MONKestra, Volume 1
  3. Bowie, David: Blackstar
  4. Bradley, Charles: Changes
  5. Braxton, Anthony: 3 Compositions [EEMHM] 2011
  6. Brown, Danny: Atrocity Exhibition
  7. Cavanaugh: Time and Materials (EP)
  8. Cave, Nick: Skeleton Tree
  9. Childbirth: Women’s Rights
  10. Coathangers: Nosebleed Weekend
  11. Dalek: Asphalt for Eden
  12. De La Soul: …and the anonymous nobody
  13. DeJohnette, Jack: In Movement
  14. Del McCoury Band: Del and Woody
  15. Dylan, Bob: Fallen Angels
  16. Fulks, Robbie: Upland Stories
  17. Garbage: Strange Little Birds
  18. Gates, Kevin: Islah
  19. Gray, Macy: Stripped
  20. Kondi, Sorie: The Freetown Tapes (2006-2016)
  21. Konono N1 Meets Batida
  22. Kool and Kass: Barter 7
  23. Lamar, Kendrick: Untitled Unmastered
  24. Lambert, Miranda: The Weight of These Wings
  25. Lewis, Jeffrey, and The Jrams: A Loot-beg Bootleg
  26. Lewis, Linda Gail: Heartache Highway
  27. Lopez-Nussa, Harold: El Viaje
  28. Lost Bayou Ramblers: Rue Vermilion Revival
  29. Lowe, Allen: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora–Down and Out Down East
  30. Lynn, Loretta: Full Circle
  31. Martinez, Pedrito: Habana Dreams
  32. McPhee, Joe, and Ray Boni: Live from the Magic City
  33. The Men: Devil Music
  34. Mexrissey: No Manchester
  35. M. I. A: Aim
  36. Murray, David: Murray, Allen, and Carrington Power Trio–Perfection
  37. Natural Child: Okey-Dokey
  38. N’Dour, Youssou: #SENEGAL REKK (EP)
  39. Neville, Aaron: Apache
  40. Oblivian, Jack, and The Sheiks: The Lone Ranger of Love
  41. Oddisee: Alwasta (EP)
  42. Open Mike Eagle: Hella Personal Film Festival
  43. Perfecto: You Can’t Run from the Rhythm
  44. Person, Houston, and Ron Carter: Chemistry
  45. Pusha T: Darkness Before Dawn
  46. Pussy Riot: xxx
  47. Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome
  48. Rollins, Sonny: Holding Down the Stage–Road Shows, Volume Four
  49. Rush, Bobby: Porcupine Meat
  50. Slavic Soul Party!: Plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite
  51. Smith, Dr. Lonnie: Evolution
  52. Smith, Wadada Leo: America’s National Parks
  53. Stampfel, Peter, and The Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Fiddle/Mandolin Swarm: Holiday for Strings
  54. Stetson, Colin: Sorrow–A Reimagining of Gorecki’s Third Symphony
  55. Tempest, Kate: Let Them Eat Chaos
  56. Threadgill, Henry (conductor): Old Locks and Irregular Verbs
  57. Toussaint, Allen: American Tunes
  58. Various Artists: Khmer Rouge Survivors–They Will Kill You, If You Cry
  59. Veloso, Caetano, and Gilberto Gil: Dois Amigos, Um Seculo de Musica–Multishow Live
  60. White Lung: Paradise
  61. Young Philadelphians (with Marc Ribot): Live in Tokyo
  62. Young Thug: Jeffrey
  63. Zé, Tom: Canções Eróticas de Ninar
  64. Zé, Tom: Vira Lata na Via Lactea

New Old Stuff

  1. Various Artists: Music of Morocco–Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959
  2. Van Morrison: It’s Too Late to Stop Now, Vols. II, II, IV + DVD
  3. Pylon: Live
  4. James Booker: Bayou Maharajah (DVD)
  5. Swanee Quintet: The Complete Nashboro Recordings 1951-1962
  6. Beatles: Live at the Hollywood Bowl
  7. Angry Angles
  8. Julius Eastman: Femenine
  9. Various Artists: Soul Sok Sega–Sega Sounds from Mauritius
  10. Betty Harris: The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul
  11. Blind Alfred Reed: Appalachian Visionary
  12. Professor Longhair: Live in Chicago
  13. Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys: Let’s Play, Boys–Rediscovered Songs from Bob Wills’ Personal Transcriptions

Good to My Earhole: “Past Pupil Stay Sane…I’m Struggling My Damn Self.”

I have seriously been struggling to write about music. Not that I haven’t been listening; I’ve been applying it like a salve, but the words won’t come in the face of electoral surprise, four different little jobs adding up to one big one, weekend travel, and simply being silenced by the excellence of these artists and a lack of confidence in saying anything useful about them. Listening to TCQ’s new one for the fifth time in my truck cab today–especially to the song “Kids,” written to jolt them out of fantasy fixations–opened portals from my ear to my mind, and to my mind to the three fingers I type with.

Jinx Lennon: Magic Bullets of Madness to Lift the Grief Magnets and Past Pupil Stay Sane – 9.0 – I am not sure why Mr. Lennon, punk-poet chronicler of life in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, released these two excellent new records separately, rather than as a pair (the title song of the latter is the final song of the former, so the transition is there), but I am sure that the States need their own version of the man. I recommended him to anyone who misses Joe Strummer (or wishes Ed Hamell hadn’t gone just a little soft); Jinx’s M.O. is to attack the demons that kill working-class folks alive, with his guitar (God’s in it), his beats, his lovable exhortations (he’ll plug in an enthusiastic “Yeah!” or a similar grunt to unhypnotize the sprog), his lyrics (spewed out with demotic eloquence as if they are continuations of a pub gab he’s just walked away from), and his spirit, which appears not easily depressed. Sample lyric, from “Silly Fkers”:  “When the people that you work with treat you like an old worn-out Anorak/And the walls of your house seem to constantly be laughing behind your back/And I look at you and you’re always trying to be the thing you’re always trying to be/It makes no difference at all ‘cos we’re all silly fkers, just a bunch of silly fkers/Point your telephones into deep outer space/We’re a billionth of a zillionth of a trillionth in significance in the whole of interstellar space/And still….” (My italics.) You’ll not find these in U. S. record stores, so hit up his Bandcamp site. You’ll also not find the song videoed above on either of these two releases, but I can testify it serves well as a daily mantra. Inspirational title: “Every Day Above Ground is a Good Day.” Holiday note: Jinx writes great Christmas songs, by the way, one of which is on Magic Bullets. Consumer Tip: If your budget confines you to purchasing just one–and I am hereby obligating you to do that–I’d opt for Past Pupil (really, though, it’s the best double album of 2016, and, yeah, I think Miranda’s is pretty damn good myself).

Sirone-Bang Ensemble: Configuration – 7.8 – The personnel: Billy Bang, my favorite jazz violinist behind Stuff Smith, a Viet Nam vet able to play inside or go out; Sirone, a bass player capable of distracting one from Cecil Taylor, which he proved on The Spring of Two Blue Js; Charles Gayle, a formerly homeless saxophonist who picks up where post-’65 Trane left off, at his best (for me, an exciting prospect); and a kid (at the time of release) named Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Bought it for the first three players; love it for the last, who holds everyone’s shit together and plays with amazing inventiveness, shifts effortless in and out of styles, and is quite obviously listening carefully (an essential in such sessions as these). He’s a known and feared master now; it’s fun to go back in time and hear him cutting heads, even though that is something he’d never deliberately have done.

Ann Peebles: Straight from the Heart – 10 – I strongly advise readers who are not familiar with this St. Louis, Missouri, native to change that by checking into Fat Possum’s LP reissues of her ’70s Hi recordings. Out of her “99 Pounds” comes a voice with serious bite and intensity: she adds a menace that contributes to her stealing “I Pity the Fool” from Bobby “Blue” Bland, and when she threatens to break up somebody’s home because she so tired of being alone, she’ll pull you up short as you suspect she means it. Stellar end-to-end, with that rhythm section you probably know so well from Al Green’s cuts from the same era, Willie Mitchell behind the board, and a line-up of classic soul songwriters (George Jackson, Denise LaSalle, Teenie Hodges, and, hey, Ms. Peebles herself) designing tunes to order.

Bobby Rush: Porcupine Meat – 8.0 – The randiest octogenarian in Southern music–he calls his brand “folkfunk,” and that nails it–answers the bells that supposedly toll for him with the best record he’s put out in years, with folks like Dave Alvin and Keb’ Mo’ leaning in with some solid help. I’ve read several reviewers complain that it’s too polished, but it is not: it’s just produced professionally–Rush is nothing if not professional–and that certainly doesn’t intrude on the vibe and fonk of songs like the title track, “Catfish Stew,” “It’s Your Move,” and “I Think Your Dress is Too Short.” What a Rush fan should be worried about is remakes, of which there are none here, though as per usual he lassos a few floating verses from the blues and soul canon. By the way, play it back to back with the Stones’ blues album (see below) or Meet Your Death and tell me which old dog blows the best harp, because all three players are on form.

Tribe Called Quest: We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service – 9.5 – Yes, it’s really that good. A comeback album by old heads that is truly unprecedented in rap, the bulk of which was written a year ago, it sounds as if it were directly inspired by–in fact, written right after–November 8’s shattering event. Within the first six songs, the fact that there’s no space program for n****s is mourned, Mexicans, blacks, Muslims, the poor, and the bad “must go,” the old heads make a case for their generation–without letting it off the hook–to the current generation, and the latter “Kids,” shook by their lapels, are encouraged to abandon the “fantasy” of Mainstream Rap circa 2016 (if not USA circa 2016). I’ll leave the rest to you, but all the MCs (including the deceased one, who sounds tragically alive) have lost no flow, and the music throbs and boom-baps: really, the record is a plea (powered by beats and rhymes) that isn’t sure whether it should be aimed skyward or downwards. Outro: “The Donald.”

The Rolling Stones: Blue & Lonesome – 8.6 – They’ve resisted the “back to the roots” move for half a century, so they’ve earned the right to do it now. I think the production serves as a kind of sonic Viagra at times, but at the very least, this rekkid is a) a terrific blues harmonica showcase, just like Keith always dreamed Mick would unleash, b) a display of deep and loving mastery, and c) a parade of deep cuts that, other than perhaps Wolf’s “Commit a Crime,” only enthusiasts would know. Jolly good show, boys.

Jack Oblivian and The Sheiks: The Lone Ranger of Love – 8.7 – Third in a series of great garage-punk records issued this year; I’d rank it behind Tyler Keith‘s Do It For Johnny and Meet Your Death‘s eponymously titled debut (which is more garage-punk-blues). The one former Oblivian who’s relentlessly pursued the dirty noise ethic while out in soloville is also the one you need to watch your daughter around. He’s got quite a few moves (including a touch of honky-tonk), and a groove on Side Two.

Joe McPhee and Ray Boni: Live from The Magic City (Birmingham, Alabama) – 9.0 – The ageless, prolific jazz multi-instrumentalist McPhee (his late ’15 Candy is also going to make my year-end best-of list) teams with electric guitarist Boni for some of his most lyrical–and occasionally straight-ahead–playing in years. And dammit: if they can book him in Birmingham, they can book him in Columbia, Missouri.

Alicia Keys: Here – 8.8 – This is the year the queens of modern r&b knocked down my door, backed me into a corner, and forced me to submit. I have to admit: concepts, consciousness, commitment, and coherence are weapons against which I have little armor, and Keys, who I have appreciated but never much loved, uses them all with skill here. It’s not just about the lack of make-up; the vocal expression is the most unadorned and understated–yet, or thus, the most soulful of her career. Played it twice in a row with pleasure after listening to Hi-era Ann Peebles (see above), if you don’t believe me: that’s one tough juxtaposition to survive.

Aram Bajakian: Dolphy Formations – 9 – Bajakian has replaced one of his main influences, Marc Ribot, as the most stimulating guitarist in my listening life. From the storming, angular, and twisted post-blues attack of 2014’s there were flowers also in hell to late 2015’s Music Inspired by The Color of Pomegranates, in which he spontaneously created a spellbinding soundtrack to the film, recording himself while he watched it in his home, to this set, in which combines some theorizing by the titular titan with Bajakian’s absorption of chaos-era Sonic Youth with Morton Feldman with his experience gigging with Lou Reed and cooks up something Franz Mesmer could seriously appreciate, he’s setting fires all over the aural map. Oh, and they are under just enough control. Check out his output on Bandcamp.