Rhapsody Streamnotes: October 9, 2010

Rushed Recycled Goods out before my trip, figuring it was more time-constrained than these notes, which have settled into a monthly pattern going back to November 2009. Raw count is down a bit for the month: having trouble finding time and finding records and thinking up ones I want to look for. Does seem like an exceptional number of splits from Tatum's findings -- I have Robyn, Ski Beatz, and Los Lobos down, and Jamey Johnson and (maybe) Neil Young up, but I feel curiously ambivalent about all of those grades. These are quick takes, which works against the unexpected or unusually subtle, and possibly for strong sounds with weak lyrics (which, if Tatum is right, is the case with Johnson).

Usual caveats apply: These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody (except as noted; e.g. [cd]). They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on September 7. Past reviews and more information are available here.

So Percussion/Matmos: Treasure State (2010, Cantaloupe): So Percussion is a postclassical percussion ensemble with several records since 2002, starting with a rendition of Steve Reich's Drumming. Matmos is a San Francisco duo, Drew Daniel and Martin C. Schmidt, who play ambient techno. The two groups add something to each other, but don't especially mesh. The songs tend to lean one way or another, some mostly sharp bell-like percussion with a little grooming, others fashioned with electronics and tussled with a little extra percussion. Also varies between pure sonic experiments and something more songlike. B+(**)

Robyn: Body Talk, Pt. 2 (2010, Konichiwa): Eight cuts, 32:42, pretty much the same deal as Pt. 1 earlier this year and no doubt Pt. 3 due soon. Beats a bit stiffer but functionally danceable, nothing especially memorable, with Snoop Dogg's cameo a welcome variation, and the synth-string "Indestructible" an unfortunate closer. B

Jerry Lee Lewis: Mean Old Man (2010, Verve Forecast): Pretty good concept for the barrelhouse rock and roller at 75, and maybe we shouldn't complain that he can still knock out 10 songs in 31:14 -- although there's also an extra-cost "Deluxe Edition" with 18 songs in 59:41 that fits on the same diskspace, making you think they're just being exploitative. The songs are mostly up his alley, and he hasn't lost much voice of keyboard prowess, so the only real problem is that he's overbooked with guest stars -- while Ringo Starr and Ronnie Wood fit in inconspicuously enough, Lewis really doesn't need the vocal help, even from the likes of John Fogerty, Mick Jagger, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Solomon Burke. Too bad he's not mean enough to send the competition scurrying. B+(*)

Los Lobos: Tin Can Trust (2010, Shout! Factory): The songs in English are a little stiff but have story lines and mostly cohere. The two in Spanish, both credited to Cesar Rosas, do much more. Didn't they used to break the other way? B+(***)

The Thermals: Personal Life (2010, Kill Rock Stars): Portland rock group, fifth album since 2003. Not as political as the third album is reputed to be (The Body, the Blood, the Machine), but seriously engaged with modern life, and given to a bit of drama. B+(**)

Les Savy Fav: Root for Ruin (2010, Frenchkiss): Not as catchy as Let's Stay Friends, which probably means it's a return to norm, but not uncatchy either, at least not all the time, and rough enough to rumble around excitedly. Not sure that a couple more plays wouldn't put this over the cusp. B+(***)

The Black Keys: Brothers (2010, Nonesuch): Album cover actually reads: "This is an album by The Black Keys. The name of the album is Brothers." One could take that for the full title, or just take them at their word; given that this is the most straightforward album I've heard, the latter makes the most sense. Cut in Muscle Shoals, first half is blues/roots, strong in both regards; second half wanders a bit. B+(**)

Jason Collett: Rat a Tat Tat (2010, Arts & Crafts): Toronto singer-songwriter, fifth album since 2001, also belongs to Broken Social Scene. Starts in the singer-songwriter zone, but gradually opens up, the last couple of songs almost bubbly. B+(**)

Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song (2010, Mercury Nashville, 2CD): Third album by a neotrad country singer who's got all the basic tools including a hardscrabble attitude, a 25-cut double that goes on too long to really take it all in (especially with Rhapsody dropping the stream several times). Starts off with a redoubtable insight: "it might be lonely at the top/but it's a bitch at the bottom." Didn't hear anything else quite up to that, but has some upside potential. B+(**)

Jamey Johnson: That Lonesome Song (2008, Mercury Nashville): Working backwards, Johnson's second album found a lot of critic-fans, the main exception being Christgau's dismissive dud rating. I'm fairly impressed although not quite convinced. He does sound more than a little like Merle Haggard, just without that little high twist that makes Haggard unique. And he reels off a couple of good lines: "the high cost of living ain't nothing like the cost of living high" and "I hope I'm sane by the time I get done." Actually, he probably is sane enough already. Maybe a little crazy would help. B+(**)

Tift Merritt: See You on the Moon (2010, Fantasy): First album at 27, title Bramble Rose, label Lost Highway, seemed like a good prospect for roots Americana, but the album was only so-so. Six albums in she's still not the next Lucinda Williams, but she's a hard worker with downhome charm. Not sure, though, that the Kenny Loggins cover was a good idea, even though she makes something of it. B+(**)

Justin Townes Earle: Harlem River Blues (2010, Bloodshot): Steve Earle's son, 28, has knocked off four albums over the last four years. First I've heard, and I certainly haven't gotten to the bottom of it, but it strikes me as a bit pro forma. B+(*)

Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone (2010, Anti-): More gospel than not -- that's where she came from, and where she'll wind up, even if she wanders a bit along the way. I don't take the wandering as loss of faith, more like an effort to make a hip, cosmopolitan album without appearing to sell out. Jeff Tweedy had something to do with this. B+(***)

Leonard Cohen: Songs From the Road (2008-09 [2010], Columbia/Legacy): After last year's immensely satisfying Live in London, more live, picked song by song from tour shows from California to Helsinki to Tel Aviv to London, Ontario. The main selling point is the DVD, no doubt, but I'm only listening to the CD. Starts with a piece that never stuck with me, limps through "Bird on a Wire" and "Suzanne" before closing strong (albeit inevitably) with "Hallelujah" and "Closing Time." The multiple venus mean the crowd noise doesn't flow nor does the impressario say much, and the single disc leaves a lot of material out, a combination both redundant and inadequate -- unless, of course, the DVD is good for something, which would surprise me. B+(**)

El Guincho: Pop Negro (2009 [2010], Young Turks/XL): Canary Islands beat monster, hits the same sort of idiosyncratic ones as Tom Zé on a good day, without trying to slip in some sly guitar or a winning vocal. Not sure if the start/stop is Rhapsody fault, but haven't been able to get a clean play out of the service. Still, I'm impressed enough I'll probably track down a copy. A-

Ski Beatz: 24 Hour Karate School (2010, DD172/Def Jam): David Willis, who's kicked around as Ski and DJ Ski before trying out this moniker. Basically a producer, the raps from a long list of guests, Jean Grae and Currensy the only one I recognize. Has some harsh sonic spots, short on flow and sometimes awkward, but hits a groove in the middle that might gain on you. B+(**)

John Legend/The Roots: Wake Up! (2010, GOOD/Columbia): Aside from the marquee artists, which presumably means that Legend handles most of the vocals with the Roots making up most of the band, there are lots of extras in here somewhere -- vocals include Black Thought, Common, Melanie Fiona, Jessyca Wilson, and C.L. Smooth. The songs are covers, most harkening back to the early 1970s -- Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, "Wake Up Everybody" from Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. "Compared to What" sounds pretty great, unless you can easily recall the Les McCann/Eddie Harris original, which I can. And some songs just seem to swallow themselves up, like the closer, "Shine." I've been tempted but never got to any of Legend's priors, so I don't know how this compares. The Roots, of course, have done better. B

The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever (2010, Vagrant): Bought this on spec when it came out, one of those first-week sales specials -- seemed like a good deal given their run of five straight A- records (although two I've only heard on Rhapsody). Then it sat unattended for months. Song structure, guitar din, voice all work for me, and to the extent that I notice lyrics there are always a few to grab onto -- the line about loving to watch New York turn its lights on brings back my fondes memories from having lived there. That's in a song called "A Slight Discomfort," which caps an album full of memorable events. A- [cd]

Neil Young: Le Noise (2010, Reprise): Really unfair to pass judgment on a short album where Rhapsody refuses to play two of eight songs, so this is an especially tentative marker. Daniel Lanois produced what is essentially just Young guitar and voice and a lot of noisy reverb, although not every track is drenched. That's a sound I find well nigh irresistible. Lyric on "Love and War" also strikes me as semi-profound, even if he meant it to be throwaway. I like what I've heard enough that I would have tried resolving the difference by buying a copy if Best Buy had it on sale tonight, but I passed at $15, especially since their redesigned Music department makes it clear they're getting out of the business. B+(***)

Matthew Dear: Black City (2010, Ghostly International): Electronica, sort of, darkly, coarsely sung through, with little to pull it through. B

Robert David Hall: Things They Don't Teach You in School (2008 [2010], Robert David Hall Music): Debut record by a 62-year-old who always wanted to be a musician but got by as a TV actor -- some show I've never seen. Wrote most of his songs, apologizing for the cliché of "One Door Closes" which at least is better contextualized than the one in the title cut, but his feel for country is palpable. Chris Wall produced, contributed a couple of songs including the Bird/Berry-namechecking "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight." Two good covers: "Just Because" and a very satisfied "Sittin' on Top of the World." B+(***) [cd]

Toby Keith: Bullets in the Gun (2010, Show Dog Nashville): Didn't really notice the lyrics until the last song, "Get Out of My Car," which judging from the backsinging I gather is meant to be funny -- not that you can really be so sure with assholes these days. Otherwise rocks along uneventfully. B

Kenny Chesney: Hemingway's Whiskey (2010, BNA): Like Keith, a Nashville pro given to jingoism, but he doesn't write, so has less persona and less conviction. The title cut comes from Guy Clark, who no doubt did the research. Choice cut is called "Small Y'All" -- what's choice about it is the duet voice, none other than George Jones. B

Every now and then I use Rhapsody to review records for Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods. Those from this past month are included in the archive file, which also provides navigation to the index and previous streamnotes files.


Records I looked for but didn't find on Rhapsody:

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 (1972 [2010], Porter): Philadelphia jazz-funk group, cut four albums in the early 1970s, now reissued for the second time -- in 1999 Joel Dorn's 32 Jazz label collected all four on two discs released as The Funkiest Band You Never Heard. Porter decided to sell its otherwise equivalent two discs as separate packages, so this one packages the first two LPs, Catalyst and Perception, while Vol. 2 gets the latter two. The dominant sound here is the electric piano of Eddie Green, who does a fine job of picking up where Jimmy Smith's organ left off, while protean saxophonist Odean Pope plays gutbucket blues channeled through the holy spirits of Coltrane and Ayler. B+(***)

Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2 (1974-75 [2010], Porter): The final two albums of Philadelphia's unknown funk-jazz quartet, with drummer Sherman Ferguson more prominent, saxophonist Odean Pope more schizo -- a powerhouse on tenor sax, but what's with all the flute? -- and electric pianist Eddie Green running out of steam. The two halves split bad: Unity is in some ways their peak, but on A Tear and a Smile -- their first album with a chick instead of the four-Afro band on the cover -- the funk fades into la-la exotica, with not just flutes but strings and vocals. B

Ted Daniel Quintet: Tapestry (1974 [2008], Porter): Flugelhorn specialist, hung in the New York lofts during the dark days of 1970s jazz, sneaking out this and a couple more albums; Khan Jamal's vibes sparkle in the dense jungle undergrowth of keyb-bass-drums, with Daniel playing rough when the going gets tough, eloquent when the scenery turns luxuriant. B+(**)

Bad Reputation: Pierre de Gaillande Sings Georges Brassens (2010, Barbès): French chanson, a sort of folkie idiom with poetic aspirations, translated into surprisingly brash and subversive English. B+(***)

Dr. John, the Night Tripper: Gris-Gris (1968 [2000], Collectors' Choice): After a decade or so of studio work and Crazy Cajun singles, Mac Rebennack dresses up scary and croaks his way through his alternate ego's debut album; no notable songs, but enough attitude to get him on his way. B

Blaze Foley: The Dawg Years (1975-78 [2010], Fat Possum): Texas singer-songwriter, claimed to be the bastard son of Blaze Starr and Red Foley, recorded little before he was shot and killed in 1989, age 39. Later he was honored with a posthumous live album, and now he's best known as the subject matter of a Lucinda Williams song, "Drunken Angel." Not sure how many of these 20 cuts have appeared before, but some came out under the alias Deputy Dawg -- hence the title. Modest stuff, some somewhat smart and some somewhat funny but mostly easy going, offhand yarns. B+(**)

Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson (1970-71 [2009], Light in the Attic): Smoke-stained narration over arch strings or, better still, spare guitar-bass lines, circling around some jeune fille named Melody Nelson, or closer as "En Melody" claims; a short album, but the "Cargo Culte" closer makes a heavy impression. B+(***)

The Method Actors: This Is Still It (1980-81 [2010], Acute): Athens, GA band, had two albums, a few singles/EPs before drifting into oblivion; not sure how much of their total oeuvre these 19 cuts amount to nor where they fit in -- could be a "best of," could be "odds and sods," certainly isn't all but it's easily all you can find; packed up front with songs that try to sound like the B-52s, or maybe Pylon; rhythm gets more interesting when they try to find their own sound, vocals less so. B+(*)

Tin Huey: Before Obscurity: Bushflow Tapes (1974-79 [2009], Smog Veil): Akron band, cut one album in 1979, Contents Dislodged During Shipment, where they bounced off punk into surreal postmodernism with odd wit and shifty, disconcerting time changes -- one especially memorable title was "I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts." Chris Butler went on to found the Waitresses, and Ralph Carney wound up playing jazz in San Francisco. Early stuff, much of it live, starts out thinner and even quirkier, then figure out how to work a groove, especially when they punk out. B+(**)

Bloody War: Songs 1924-1939 (1924-39 [2010], Tompkins Square): Fifteen war themes, half by well-known old time country artists, half more obscure, drawing on the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the so-called Great War of most recent vintage, most set firmly in death and squalor. Jimmy Yates' title song is the my idea of valiant: a man who can't fight even if he wanted to which he most certainly does not. A-

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 (1972 [2010], Porter): Philadelphia group, recorded four albums for Joe Fields 1972-75, three of those on Muse and a fourth -- actually the eponymous first album -- on Cobblestone, a Buddah subsidiary Fields also ran. Joel Dorn's 32 Jazz label picked up the catalogue in 1996 and released all four albums on two CDs as The Funkiest Band You Never Heard. I'm a little unclear on details, but it looks like Porter is doing the same trick only on two separate CDs. Vol. 1 packs the two 1972 albums, Catalyst and Perception. The group's mainstays were Odean Pope (tenor sax, flute, oboe), Eddie Green (mostly electric piano), and Sherman Ferguson (drums), with Al Jackson playing bass on the first album and Tyrone Baker on the second -- maybe some extras here and there. Green's electric piano reminds me more of Jimmy Smith's organ than of the era's Hancock-Corea-Zawinul fashion, the main advance a slight uptick in funk quotient. Pope isn't quite the powerhouse he became, but you can tell he's been listening to Ayler and Coltrane without forgetting his roots in gutbucket blues. B+(***)

Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2 (1974-75 [2010], Porter): Two more Muse albums, Unity from 1974, and A Tear and a Smile from 1975. The former is probably the funk peak, with saxophonist Odean Pope moving a bit ahead of electric pianist Eddie Green. Things fall apart on the second album: "The Demon, Pt. 1" crosses over into irritating, I think with electric guitar although I don't have the credits (Charles Ellerbe?), then after "Pt. 2" the title track goes into an atmospheric flute serenade. Then strings and vocals intrude into what until then was one of the more impressive funk-jazz quartets of the period. B

Marty Ehrlich: Fables (2010, Tzadik): A collaboration with Klezmer Conservatory Band directory Hankus Netsky -- not clear whether this should be co-credited, as some sources do, but most just list Ehrlich. Also only found one source for credits: Ehrlich (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto sax, soprano sax), Marcus Rojas (tuba), Jerome Harris (acoustic bass guitar), Netsky (piano, accordion). That's about what I hear, although Ehrlich plays the clarinets much more than the saxes. Mostly klezmer, no idea how vintage; starts and ends strong, the latter's tuba-accordion oom-pah a hoot. B+(**)

Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Spirits Aloft (2009 [2010], Porter): Grimes' story should be fairly well known by now. B. 1935, he was a popular bassist from 1957-67, breaking in with Gerry Mulligan but from 1964-67 mostly playing with avant-gardists, including Albert Ayler, Frank Wright, Charles Tyler, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and Don Cherry -- for that matter, 1962-63 was transitional, credits there including Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, and two exceptional avant albums: Perry Robinson's Funk Dumpling and Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd's School Days (the name inspiration for the Ken Vandermark group). Grimes dropped out in 1967, and wasn't heard from again until 2002 when someone tracked him down, and William Parker gave him a new bass -- at the time he reportedly hadn't realized that Ayler had died. He's been a semi-celebrity since 2002, working steadily, but I generally suspected that the world was cutting him a fair amount of slack. He had, for instance, one album under his own name back in 1965; he picked up a second album in 2005, Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival, but the Henry Grimes Trio there was supported by two much more famous players: Hamid Drake and David Murray. Still, this record forces me at least to make some adjustments. This is a duo and Ali -- who didn't disappear after Coltrane died but never got much recognition either -- was clearly secondary. Mostly bass-drums duets, but Grimes plays some violin as well, not very slick but the higher pitch projects him impressively. Begins and ends with short poems, the live set full of sharp edges as Grimes works his way around his tools, with drum interludes and comments -- less commanding but no less sharp. This is actually the second duo album with Grimes and Ali, so I need to check the first out too. A-

Masada String Trio: Haborym: The Book of Angels, Volume 16 (2010, Tzadik): Mark Feldman (violin), Erik Friedlander (cello), Greg Cohen (bass). Group was originally assembled by John Zorn for his 50th birthday celebration, and returns here to take a whack at Zorn's klezmer-flavored Book of Angels series. Most pieces have intriguing grooves, moved along smartly by the bass, which keeps the violin from getting stuck in anything chamber-ish, and some even have a bit of mischievous noise. B+(***)

Mark O'Leary & Sunny Murray: Ode to Albert Ayler (2002 [2009], Ayler): O'Leary is an Irish guitarist, from Cork, b. 1969. He's been a SFFR ever since I first ran across him in Anthony Braxton's 2003 standards quartet. He has nine records on Leo since 2000 (recording date; actual release dates start in 2005), a couple more scattered hither and yon. Murray, of course, is one of the great free jazz drummers to come of age in the 1960s, probably inspiring the title with his 1964-65 stint with Albert Ayler -- a stretch of 5-6 albums including Spiritual Unity. He was 65 when this was recorded, with his fine Perles Noires albums still in the future. O'Leary gets a range of sounds from his guitar, ranging from metallic to a dull synth sound, like he's still trying to work out his preferred sound. B+(**)

Odean Pope: Plant Life (2008, Porter): Luke Mosling started Porter Records hoping to reissue some favorite LPs, with Byard Lancaster a touchstone, which led him to another Philly group, Catalyst, and its saxophonist, a young Odean Pope. That in turn led to a couple of relatively recent Pope trios -- I sort of imagine that these were tapes on the shelf rather than new projects. First one out was two 1995-2000 trios, What Went Before: Volume 1, which is what I thought I was listening to -- even wrote a little review. Then I moved on to a second trio album, Plant Life, and found . . . that it had the exact same song lineup, including two written by "Murray." As it happens, the drummer here is Sunny Murray, with Lee Smith on bass. A formidable sax player, of course. But this is getting to be a sloppy music service. B+(**)

Moe! Staiano's Moe!kestra!: 2 Rooms of Uranium in 83 Markers: Conducted Improvisations, Vol. II (2003-04 [2007], Edgetone): Percussionist, b. 1973 in New York, based in Bay Area; works with found objects, some attached to drum kit ("prepared drums"). This is his third Moe!kestra! album, consists of two pieces of Butch Morris-style conducted improvisation using twenty-some Bay Area mostly-jazz musicians -- a few I recognize because I backed into this researching Lisa Mezzacappa's quartet. Doesn't feel like jazz instrumentation even though a fair number of horns are credited. More like industrial machinery slogging erratically toward doom -- which is sort of interesting. B+(*)