Rhapsody Streamnotes: August 9, 2011

Fifty-nine records below, the most I've done in a month since the Jan. 15 year-end list feeding frenzy column. I attribute it to laziness and the malaise of the last month: I find it much easier to do this than Jazz Prospecting, let alone Jazz CG reviewing, so I fall back here when I'm not up to much of anything else. The number of A-list records also seems pretty high, but most of that is catching up. Six (of nine) previously made an apearance in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness blog. Two of those have been featured in Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary -- Frank Ocean well before Christgau covered it. That leaves three that I can claim -- Fruit Bats, Hail Mary Mallon, William Elliott Whitmore -- but I got Whitmore (at least) elsewhere, and all three show up in my metacritic file (albeit not very high up). There are six more Christgau picks down lower (counting the Buddy Holly tribute I've already posted in Recycled Goods): SebastiAn was one I especially took a dislike to.

Should be a bit of everything here, except jazz (which goes into Jazz Prospecting) and oldies (Recycled Goods). World is hard to find and therefore thin. Starting to diverge a bit from Rhapsody, which remains by far my most accessible source. Two records I found on Bandcamp. A couple more are downloaded mixtapes. One came from an actual CD. (I have a few more of those queued up, but for some reason it seems less like an escape from work to do a CD here, in part because it seems like a bigger, more serious investment.)

These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on July 10. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Trace Adkins: Proud to Be Here (2011, Show Dog Universal): Another Nashville mainstreamer, from Louisiana, ten albums since 1996, mostly substantial hits. Baritone voice is something to behold, and when he puts it behind the modestly becoming title cut (written, like nearly everything else, by someone else) he's almost likable. He almost does that again on "Just Fishin'" and also on "Poor Folks" but you doubt that his interest in them is anything more than morbid curiosity. I'm not sure if he's sexist on "It's a Woman Thang" or racist on "It's Who You Know" but he's not very bright on either, and the latter, to the extent it reflects common political thinking, is as depressing as anything I've heard lately: a half-right analysis wrapped in a loser mentality. Quite some singer. B

AgesandAges: Alright You Restless (2011, Knitting Factory Works): Rock band from Portland, pretty consistent about the caps and non-spaces first record although the album artwork is all caps. Debut album, kind of twee -- they call it "raw choral pop," claiming seven-part harmonies; reminded me of the Hollies is a stringy, alt-kind of way. Marvellous effect when it all fits together, but doesn't quite hold up for the whole album. B+(**)

Jason Aldean: My Kinda Party (2010, Broken Bow): Country slinger from Macon, GA; fourth album since 2005, one gold, three platinum. Like most big-time Nashville gents these days, he's got the voice, the swagger, the neotrad sound, and brains enough to namecheck George Jones, and I can't begrude his preference for party over heartbreak or jingoism. Still, the sound is jiggered to remind you he can fill an auditorium, and the big booming bull wears thin after about three songs. Unfortunately, the album's got fifteen. B-

Battles: Gloss Drop (2011, Warp): Group, variously described as experimental, progressive, math rock, or post-rock. Second album. First was complex, intricate, and pretty annoying. This one is cruder, rougher, louder; mostly long banging rhythm pieces with inert vocals. An improvement, of course; just not sure how much of one. B+(**)

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings: Kings and Queens (2011, FU:M): Canadian group, named for an album by Canadian folksinger Willie P. Bennett, who was further honored by their first album, High or Hurtin': The Songs of Willie P. Bennett. Seventh album since 1996. Big deal here is the guests (including Rosanne Cash, Exene Cervenka, Emmylou Harris, Sam Phillips, Patti Schialfa, Pam Willis, Lucinda Williams, Cassandra Wilson -- that's not all of them, but they're all women, or queens). The guests help, but leave me wondering how bland the band must be without them. B-

Bombino: Agadez (2011, Cumbancha): Tuareg guitarist from Niger, Omara Moctar (originally Goumar Almoctar), caught a break when a filmmaker heard his cassettes and decided to use them for a documentary on his home town, Agadez. Saharan music tends to be spare, and this is no exception, but he builds and builds and gradually fills the vista, at which point his calmness becomes quite compelling. A-

Colbie Caillat: All of You (2011, Universal Republic): A less splashy Taylor Swift -- co-write and was featured on one song on Fearless to underscore the affinity. Daughter of a co-producer of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Third album. Leads off with two good songs that key off acoustic guitar, "Brighter Than the Sun" and "I Do." Changes up with Common's guest rap on the otherwise tedious "Favorite Song." Adds the noble "Think Good Thoughts," although one wonders what becoming more religious has to do with that, before settling into the love song rut. B+(**)

Kasey Chambers: Little Bird (2010 [2011], Sugar Hill): Australian singer-songwriter, when she first popped up in 2000 may have had the most perfect country voice in a generation. Seems less distinctive now but it's still her calling card, lifting sincere, heartfelt songs that don't quite connect like they should. B+(**)

Eric Church: Chief (2011, Capitol Nashville): Nashville singer, from North Carolina, third album, co-writes most of his own material, leans a little heavy on Jesus (two songs here: "Like Jesus Does" and "Country Music Jesus"; note that first album was called Sinners Like Me) but gives "Jack Daniels" (a song title) credit too (plus "Drink in My Hand" and "Hungover & Hard Up" but also "I'm Getting Stoned" -- main problem there is the stones there are rocks and wielded by one pissed off lady). Less convincing is his "Springsteen," but then his niche just swallows homeboys up. B+(**)

Death Grips: Exmilitary (2011, Third Worlds): Starts with a Bush-like voice monologue which ultimately has nothing to do with anything except fuck-you attitude. Rough and tumble after that, hip-hop cadences with shards of metal, hard and heartless. Vocally reminds me of hardcore, but much more complex. Drummer Zach Hill is involved. B+(*)

Brian Eno: Small Craft on a Milk Sea (2010, Warp): New record not available yet, but last year's one popped up after having not been available when I looked before. Back in the 1970s I had every record he was remotely associated with, all the way down to the scratchy out-of-tune violin on the Portsmouth Sinfonia but eventually I gave up as he sunk into ever more tedious ambience and his once-clever production work was wasted on U2. This strikes me as a partial comeback, the fruit of recapitulating his most basic shtick: more keyb than synth, peaceful as his best ambient music, but structured into tunes not just tones. B+(**)

Eleanor Friedberger: Last Summer (2011, Merge): Debut solo of one-half of the Fiery Furnances -- the other is brother Matthew Friedberger. Interesting innovation: songs. B+(*)

Fruit Bats: Tripper (2011, Sub Pop): Chicago band, fifth album since 2001, led by Eric Johnson (also involved in the Shins) -- AMG complains that this is more like an enhanced solo album than a band album, but without more context I can't concur. Pop hooks, a slightly falsetto voice with harmonies, guitar to match -- sonically close to Apples in Stereo. Gets a bit atmospheric near the end, interesting in its own right, but the first two-thirds make for the catchiest rock album I've heard this year. A-

Ghostpoet: Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam (2011, Brownswood): Obaro Ejimwe, from London or Nigeria or Dominica or all three, works much slower than grime, luxuriating in the dense sonic layering of trip-hop, feels right. B+(***)

Grieves: Together/Apart (2011, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Seattle rapper, Benjamin Laub, third album, fits nicely into his Minnesota label's repertoire. Picks up interest as it moves effortlessly along. I suspect I'd like it even more if I studied harder. B+(**)

Hail Mary Mallon: Are You Gonna Eat That? (2011, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz -- the former well known from his own work. Mary Hallon was once hailed as a food service hero by Anthony Bourdain for her dilligent attendance regardless of how many people she made sick -- she's better known as Typhoid Mary. Sharp beats, dense rhymes -- Aesop Rock's been diagnosed as having a bad case of logorrhea and he lives up to that here. A-

The Horrors: Skying (2011, XL): British group (not to be confused with a now defunct eponymous group from Iowa), third album. AMG classifies them as shoegaze and punk revival, which is to say they're pretty muddled, the former trait slowing and sludging the latter which no longer signifies anything but loud. I probably overrated their 2009 Primary Colours -- a soft spot for muted and melodic metal, perhaps, which this occasionally suggests but more often proves annoying. B-

Idaho: You Were a Dick (2011, Talitres): Slowcore band from Los Angeles, eighth or ninth album since 1993, Jeff Martin the main guy with fairly minimal backup -- mostly guitar, some piano. Slow it down enough and even the vocals start to break up; pick up the pace and they can almost rock. Title song makes its point, always a bonus. B+(*) [bc]

Imelda May: Mayhem (2010 [2011], Decca): Irish singer, originally Imelda Clabby, has a previous album on Verve Forecast and is sometimes cast as a jazz singer, but AMG lists her as "rockabilly revival" and they got a point, especially with the rhythm and guitar twang, although the vocal is a little off, kind of like Australian Kasey Chambers singing country music. Two covers; rest originals. She has something to say. B+(**)

Killer Mike: PL3DGE (2011, SMC): Atlanta rapper, got noticed via OutKast, went hard for his debut Monster, seems to have abandoned gangsta here because he's more irritated by the political order. Down on Palin, down on Pelosi, even has his doubts about Obama, and he's got reasons -- doesn't seem to be a mere crank. Not sure about the God song, but you take what you can get. Rocks too. Roughly comparable to recent spins by T.I. and Lupe Fiasco, coming close to splitting the distance. If I'm hedging a bit, well, I'm hedging a bit. B+(***)

Seun Anikulapo Kuti & Egypt 80: From Africa With Fury: Rise (2011, Knitting Factory): Fela's youngest son, 14 when his father died but even then had hung with and sung with the band for five years. Not as well known as his older brother Femi, but he does a better job of keeping the band's groove going. May help his timing that, like his father, he plays alto sax as well as singing. None of the pieces overrun 7:44, but the first half casts nervous political glances, and the second half cooks. B+(***)

Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three: Middle of Everywhere (2011, Continental Song City): From St. Louis, has a few previous records on labels like Free Dirt and Big Muddy. AMG files him under folk, but tags this record as blues. It's actually a pretty good ringer for old timey country music -- but his website warns not to call it that. Guitar, double bass, kazoo, a jazzy swing, a voice that aims at Jimmie Rodgers but stops short of tuberculosis. B+(**)

Amy LaVere: Stranger Me (2011, Thirty Tigers): Singer-songwriter, also plays acoustic bass so she has her hands on the pulse and can raise it or dampen it following her mood, which is temperamental and contrary. B+(**)

Lil B: I'm Gay (I'm Happy) (2011, BasedWorld): Bay Area rapper, Brandon McCartney, not quite 22 and has dropped a ton of shit already. By "gay" he means happy, upbeat, a tad narcissistic, but pushing such goodly, friendly vibes you'd like to get some of whatever it is he's on. Even the cover depiction of slavery can't help but shake those shackles. B+(**)

Little Dragon: Ritual Union (2011, Peacefrog): Swedish electropop, name refers to their ancestral Japanese singer, Yukimi Nagano. Third album. Has a light, attractive feel, but not much depth. B+(*)

Lloyd: King of Hearts (2011, Interscope): Lloyd Polite Jr., from New Orleans, soul singer, leans on hip-hop guests which dilutes whatever it is he brings to the record -- just two writing co-credits, so I suspect not much. I can't even tell when he's singing; most of the times I notice I'm grabbed by something annoying. B-

LMFAO: Sorry for Party Rocking (2011, Interscope): In the running for the worst-reviewed record of the year, reminding me that mainstream critics will swarm like sharks around any record whose sole concept is "bite me!" Group consists of two Berry Gordy sons -- Stefan Kendal Gordy (Redfoo) and Skyler Gordy (SkyBlu) -- and the usual corporate flacks. Second album, following their 2009 debut Party Rock. Single: "Party Rock Anthem." (I doubt that they're really sorry. More like tongue-tied.) Synth funk, disco artyfacts, rarely less than obvious (e.g., the Nelly woo-hoos). Probably not as dumb as they act, but they sure don't want you to realize that. Too bad, because where I come from, "funk is its own reward" -- and nobody need apologize for that. B

Theophilus London: Timez Are Weird These Days (2011, Reprise): Rapper, born in Trinidad (late 1980s), grew up in Brooklyn, first album after a couple EPs and/or mixtapes. More sung than rapped, the quirks are in the beats which sometimes dazzle and often don't. B

John Maus: We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (2011, Ribbon): Dark-toned synth pop, remind me of something like OMD but not as good, partly because the artist is a "rage against the dying of the light" guy. I might be more sympathetic if I followed better. For instance, one especially annoying song is called "Cop Killer," which may (or may not) have a subtext I didn't catch but sounds like a mantra, one I could damn well do without. B-

MellowHype: BlackenedWhite (2010 [2011], Fat Possum): LA hip-hop duo, Hodgy Beats and Left Brain, affiliated with the OFWGKTA crew, on their own recycle mellow underground beats and craft some words, to little effect or offense (except when they get help). B+(*)

Memory Tapes: Player Piano (2011, Carpark): Synth group, or maybe just an alias for Dayve Hawk. Second album. The chimes seem simplistic and derivative, but at some point I wondered if he wasn't aiming for some sort of Beach Boys thing. While that passed, my expectations settled into a smallish rut, at which point I started to find his miniatures rather charming. B+(*)

MIA: Vicki Leekx (2010, mixtape): One 36-minute track, although maybe there's a version that has sections delimited -- Wikipedia lists 20 such sections. The beats are kind of thin and sharp, the kind of thing she uses a lot but rarely this consistently (maybe I mean monotonously?). Can't follow much, and doubt that it matters much. Has her basic attraction but not much more. B+(**) [dl]

Frank Ocean: Nostalgia, Ultra (2011, mixtape): This convinces me of two things: one is that there's going to be plenty of interesting music coming out free as long as you have reasonable internet access, and the other is that damn near any piece of music can be refined, improved, or just twisted wierdly by someone willing to ignore copyrights and the profit motive -- and there's likely to be enough folks like that to satisfy us, if for no other reason that there's too few high-paying slots to satisfy everyone who wants to be a player. Ocean's in a pretty well publicized hip-hop crew but he goes his own way, into an easy soul groove that somehow misses every cliché. A- [dl]

Old 97's: The Grand Theatre Vol. 2 (2010 [2011], New West): Sloppy seconds. Never having been more than a grudging fan of their full-tilt button-down popcraft, I rather like it when they slip out of tune. They didn't do that in Volume One, but this one is full of it. Gives them personality, not that true fans will agree. B+(**)

Dolly Parton: Better Day (2011, Dolly): Wrote all new songs -- her ability to write story songs about real people vanished long ago, back around the time she stopped knowing any real people, but her ear for twanged up country clichés is as sharp as ever, and the amoung of sugar running through her veins is phenomenal. "Country Is as Country Does" is so "country-fied" and "country-fed" it makes your teeth hurt. And the positive vibes get out and leap tall buildings, especially on the homestretch: "Better Day," "Shine Like the Sun," "Get Out & Stay Out," and "Let Love Grow." Awesome; awe-inspiring; pretty awful. B

Pinetop Perkins/Willie "Big Eyes" Smith: Joined at the Hip (2010, Telarc): Two Muddy Waters sidemen from the 1960s, in 1980 quit Waters to form The Legendary Blues Band, recording seven albums up to 1993. Perkins played piano, goes way back but unless there's a compilation somewhere his own records appear in 1976 and pick up steam in the 1990s. He was 96 when this was cut, he oldest guy ever to win a Grammy, and died a few months later. Smith, younger at 74, does most of the singing and plays harmonica. (Smith has played drums in the past, but not here.) Classic sound, lots of guitar, all the richer for the piano and harp, with one singer (Perkins, I'd guess) garbled but sly, the other a robust blues shouter. B+(***)

Radiohead: The King of Limbs (2011, TBD): There must be a business plan somewhere which explains their unorthodox rollout strategy, which among other oddities kept this off Rhapsody for five months after release date. But then, after this stiffed, what else did they have to lose? The biggest Brit-pop band of the 1990s, or at least the only one that crossed the Atlantic with its rep intact. I've never understood that rep, and while I haven't hated all of their albums, I can't say as I recall any of them. But somehow I don't recall them being this noodly, or songless. And while the drum machine has a certain primal attraction, I could do without the whine -- or sentiment, whatever you call it these days. B-

Rainbow Arabia: Boys and Diamonds (2011, Kompakt): Synth duo from Los Angeles, Tiffany Preston sings, sounding a bit distant, and Danny Preston plays keybs. Learned Arabic scales from built-in Casio programs, not like they had to work too hard on it, to synthesize some east-west culture clash. They just collected and mixed together, and came up with something pleasant and cool. A- [cd]

SBTRKT: SBTRKT (2011, Young Turks): British dubstep producer Aaron Jerome, first album after an avalanche of at least nine singles/EPs starting in 2009. Reminds me of trip-hop without the gloom and doom. B+(***)

SebastiAn: Total (2011, Big Beat/Atlantic/Ed Banger/Because): French DJ, Sebastian Akchoté, from Boulogne, has a pile of EPs and remixes since 2005, but this looks like his first big deal. Squelchy house, loud and nasty sounding: I feel a victim of a practical joke who has to admit that, yeah, you really got me there, all the while plotting to never let that happen again. The exception is "C.T.F.O." featuring M.I.A., where the noise is regular enough you can build with it, as opposed to just splattering it all over the joint. B-

Serengeti: Family & Friends (2011, Anticon): Chicago rapper, underground division -- Rhapsody calls it "the Midwestern basement" -- name David Cohn, Jewish father, Afro-American mother. Released 14 download-only albums from 2003-09 before two with Polyphonic finally hit CD -- I think this is the first on his own, but haven't seen it. Short (31:25), but has eleven character sketches, all but one running 2:00-2:59, sharply-observed low-down stories with flippy beats that could be enjoyed on their own. A-

Serengeti: Noticeably Negro (2006, Audio 8): One of the old ones, described by Christgau as "quizzically race-conscious, adamantly class-conscious" in his 2009 rundown of the Chicago rapper's work. At the time, Christgau focused on Dennehy (Lights, Camera, Action!), but in reviewing the new one he picked this old one up as a bonus. Makes me wonder how many more are worth the effort, but this one at least makes point after point -- admittedly, some at the expense of Dick Cheney. A-

Blake Shelton: Red River Blue (2011, Warner Brothers): From Oklahoma, seventh album since 2001, has started acting which moves him from country star to celebrity. Leads off with "Honey Bee" which is everything he could possibly do. It's not the only song with legs here, but he does have a tendency to pile up the production when he slows the tempo down, which makes me a little claustrophobic. B

Ashton Shepherd: Where Country Grows (2011, MCA Nashville): "Look It Up" is a break-up song, slightly tougher and meaner than "Jesus May Forgive You (But I Won't)." She didn't write that one, nor the hopeful "I'm Good," but has a co-credit on the jingoish title song and the moanful "While It Ain't Rainin'," and sole claim to "I'm Just a Woman," which sounds like Helen Reddy after a prefrontal lobotomy. She's got the tools, except brains, which you'd think would be a necessary survival skill in her neck of the woods. B-

Skrillex: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (2010 [2011], Big Beat/Atlantic, EP): Runs 44:01, but that's by adding three remixes to six tracks. Sonny Moore, guess this is electro house, synths jumping out the grooves and squirting across the sky. Vocals are a distraction at first, but by the time one repeatedly goes "I want to kill everybody in the world" they've become the norm. I'm still more impressed by the frizzworks. B+(***)

Skrillex: More Monsters and Sprites (2011, Big Beat/Atlantic, EP): More EP-ish, with two new songs, a remix of the second, and four remixes of the previous EP's title song, all totalling 33:16. The synth explosions remain, multiply, and go forth, but nobody gets killed. B+(**)

Peter Stampfel and Jeffrey Lewis: Come on Board (2011, self-released): Lewis is an anti-folkie who started as a cartoonist and has a growing pile of debatable work -- I liked and Christgau hated his 12 Crass Songs, then we more or less reversed on Em Are I, although in both cases I never got beyond Rhapsody. Stampfel goes back to the Holy Modal Rounders, straight folkies in 1964 although they soon wandered, turning Unholy by 1976's psychedelic Have Moicy! -- "Hoodoo Bash" is repeated here as the singalong treasured songs merit -- so it's no surprise that Stampfel winds up adding the edge. The frenzied Hank Snow retooling is a hoot, as is the ad hoc backing chorus. A- [bc]

Street Sweeper Social Club (2009, Street Sweeper): Chunky metal guitar (Tom Morello, ex Rage Against the Machine) with quasi-political rap (Boots Riley, ex Coup), evenly balanced which makes for easy listening even though that's almost certainly not the idea. B+(**)

Street Sweeper Social Club: The Ghetto Blaster EP (2010, Street Sweeper, EP): Metal guitarist Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) and rapper Boots Riley (The Coup), teamed up for a one shot eponymous group album in 2009, then rounded up the scraps for this 25:24 EP. Balance works out fine. Golden oldie: "Mama Said Knock You Out." B+(***)

Sun Araw: The Phynx (2008, Not Not Fun): Alias for Cameron Stallones, most often pictured with a guitar. Eight albums since this debut in 2008 -- as is often the case, Rhapsody's recent date means nada, but I've noticed the name and figured it might be worth a spin. Four cuts, two long ones at 14:03 and 15:42. Basically guitar feedback with occasional moans. Reminds me of when I used to play "Sister Ray" as chill out music, but this is more ambient. B+(*)

They Might Be Giants: Join Us (2011, Idlewild): Eighteenth album since their brilliant eponymous debut. Same basic toolkit, which means they'll never be as surprising again; while their melodic knack offers minor pleasures, few bands have ever depended more on their wits, or suffered more when they came up short. One song here admits, "I'm a mess"; the others mostly flounder. Shouldn't "Judy Is Your Viet Nam" be more explicit? It's not like we all know what that means, even though we should. Nowadays, Vietnam is proof that the right is so immune to reality they can't even learn lessons the hard way. B

Com Truise: Galactic Melt (2011, Ghostly International): Seth Haley, from Princeton, NJ, first album after an EP that has been kicked around several times. Old-fashioned techno, layering synths and beats with occasional pop hooks. B+(**)

Chad VanGaalen: Diaper Island (2011, Sub Pop): Canadian singer-songwriter, fourth album since 2005, adding an appealing dissonant guitar drone on top of plaintive songs, at least until near the end when he gets cute and shaves his pussy. B+(*)

Washed Out: Within and Without (2011, Sub Pop): Ernest Greene, first album after a couple EPs, basically synth-pop although he's more into texture, stretching out sheets of sound rather than chopping them up for pop effect. Vocals are mixed down and don't resonate; otherwise this is pretty compelling. B+(***)

Gillian Welch: The Harrow & the Harvest (2011, Acony): Folk singer, got real trad for her 1996 debut and remains somber and focused on her fifth album (first since 2003). Dave Rawlings cowrote the ten songs and fills out the sound, but she nails the songs. B+(**)

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat: Everything's Getting Older (2011, Chemikal Underground): British pianist, regarded as jazz although here he's responsible for the spare, elegant melodies behind ex-Arab Strap Moffatt's mostly spoken vocals. B+(***)

William Elliott Whitmore: Field Songs (2011, Anti-): Farmboy from Iowa, b. 1978, plays guitar and banjo and sings, sounding older than his years, probably because he spends so much time thinking about how hard life was, and is, in a world where "everything gets gone." Not that he doesn't hope for better, proposing to do "something grand," and reminding us: "write this down and don't forget that the best of times ain't happened yet." I don't often quote lyrics here because I don't often get them, so that alone is a testimony. Got me first with the line about founding a homestead, praying "the rain follows the plow." Lots of folks did that, and it didn't work. A-

Wiley: 100% Publishing (2011, Big Dada): British grime rapper, Richard Cowie, beats tight and rhymes marshalled fast to fit into narrow spaces. B+(**)

Zomby: Dedication (2011, 4AD): British dubstep producer, second album plus the usual smattering of singles and EPs, works in rather small keyboard figures, a little cartoonish at first but I find they grow on me. B+(***)


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

  • Action Bronson: Dr. Lecter (2011, Fine Fabric)
  • The Cool Kids: When Fish Ride Bicycles (2011, Green Label)
  • Dels: Gob (Big Dada)
  • Brian Eno/Rick Holland: Drums Between the Bells (2011, Warp)
  • Ebo Taylor: Life Stories: Highlife and Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 (Strut)
  • Lori Traore: Bwati Kono "In the Club" (2011, Kanaga System Krush)

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Sorry Bamba: Volume One 1970-1979 (1970-79 [2011], Thrill Jockey): From Mopti in the center of Mali, b. 1938, still alive in Paris where he helped pull together this piece of sonic archaeology. I've yet to find any recognition of his importance back in the day, but he may be obscured by group names (like Group Gombé or Kanaga Orchestra or Bani Jazz), and I don't have access to any substantial reference. He plays trumpet and flute, sings, chants. The cuts are uneven, many horn-driven, some guitar, some mostly percussion -- easy to tag them as primitive, but that's almost what you'd hope to find, some primordial prehistory to the Rail Band and Les Ambassadeurs and so many others. A-

Paul Gonsalves/Earl Hines: Paul Gonsalves Meets Earl Hines (1970-72 [1992], Black Lion): LP originally listed Hines first, picturing him on the cover under the title It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing!, so it's curious that the CD reissue elevated Ellington's postwar tenor saxophonist -- possibly because Gonsalves had so little in print under his own name; the sax sounds thin, and the pianist tends to hold back, emerging delectably on "Blue Sands," his only original here, and his long intro to "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." B+(*)

Johnny Griffin: You Leave Me Breathless (1967 [1972], Black Lion): A set recorded live at Montmartre Jazzhuis in Copenhagen with American expats Kenny Drew and Albert Heath plus every traveler's favorite Danish bassist, Niels-Henning Ørsted-Pedersen; starts sloppy with Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning," but the tenor saxophonist regains his tone and poise on the ballads, he can always run the fast ones, and he ends with a masterful solo stretch. B+(*)

Freddie Hubbard/Ilhan Mimaroglu: Sing Me a Song of Songmy (1971, Atlantic): More the latter's album, although in a long career of making politically charged avant-electronic music this was his only album that got released on a major label; the electronics are nifty, but the strings get messy and the vocal pastiches don't hit their intended targets as squarely as agitprop should; trumpet/flugelhorn is superb, natch, and there's a sharp jazz combo in there somewhere -- Junior Cook (tenor sax), Kenny Barron (piano), Art Booth (bass), Louis Hayes (drums). B+(*)

Freddie Hubbard: Pinnacle: Live & Unreleased From the Keystone Korner (1980 [2011], Resonance): The trumpet great's real career pinnacle was during his 1960-66 Blue Notes, but he worked steadily into the late 1990s, and could always drop a blistering hard bop set like this one -- the extra horns just push him on; cautious here because Rhapsody only delivers 4 of 7 cuts. B+(*)

Paul McCartney: McCartney (1970 [2011], Hear Music, 2CD): First post-Beatles album, pro forma as personal and intimate as John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, except there's less to see and hear, ultimately because there's less there. Still, the miniatures show the knack of someone who's kicked out viable melodies on demand for the better part of a decade, and while he recycles as much as the next guy, the threads turn into their own game. Actually, the intimacy is welcome decades later -- reminds you why he was once likable -- and when he tries to kick it up a notch, as on "Maybe I'm Amazed," it's nice that he doesn't overdo it. Reissue adds a disc of outtakes, mostly "live at Glasgow" from 1979, which you need even less (the "Women Kind" demo sounds like he was trying to parodize Yoko Ono). B+(*)

Paul McCartney: McCartney II (1979 [2011], Hear Music, 2CD): Busted in Japan, having sacked Wings, McCartney crawls back to his farm in Scotland and searches for a new beginning; what he found was a synth, which as usual is more amusing to play than to listen to. C+

Rave On: Buddy Holly (2011, Hear Music): A masterpiece of modern niche marketing, picking over the faintly remembered teen pop genius from Lubbock, auctioning off the songs to the highest bidder -- even if that means Julian Casablancas gets the title cut -- mixing them together with no concern for flow or consistency figuring the latte-buyers will splurge if they find even a single appealing combo. There are a few, like Lou Reed on "Peggy Sue" (fortunately followed by John Doe's "Peggy Sue Got Married," the one case where two consecutive songs fit), but it mostly comes off as perverse -- nowhere so much as Paul McCartney doing his James Brown shtick on "It's So Easy"; some other oddities: Cee-Lo Green's slicked-back "Baby, I Don't Care"; Patti Smith's solemn "Words of Love"; Graham Nash's dainty "Raining in My Heart." Even when something works you'll never want to hear it again. B-

Neil Young: International Harvesters: A Treasure (1984-85 [2011], Reprise): The ninth of what promises to be a very long series of new albums curried from old live tapes, this one catching Young's return to country roots after a few years kicking about eclectically, trying out everything from vocal synthesizers to soul horns. The next album was Old Ways, which solidified his return to Harvest-country, but this rocks much harder, framing period songs in cascades of electric twang. The International Harvesters could be taken as his band name, but paperwork for posterity is cleaner if we parse it/them into the title. A-

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glistening (2010 [2011], Blue Note): Trumpet player, b. 1982 in Oakland, CA; second album after one on Fresh Sound New Talent. Mostly postbop quintet, with Walter Smith III shagging him on tenor sax, Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Justin Brown on drums, although Jason Moran takes two shots on Fender Rhodes. Hits quality notes over staggered rhythms. B+(**)

Harrison Bankhead Sextet: Morning Sun Harvest Moon (2010 [2011], Engine): Bassist, from Chicago, first album as leader but has side-credits since 1991, mostly with Malachi Thompson, Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell, and Nicole Mitchell. Starts with a pair of wood flutes. Picks up the bass and a beat and even dabbles in what sounds a little like South Africa, eventually moving into more treacherous regions, although idiosyncratic, underkeyed rhythm pieces predominate. Two reed players, Edward Wilkerson Jr. and Mars Williams; James Sanders on violin (all the more useful for a Leroy Jenkins tribute); Avreayl Ra on drums and Ernie Adams on percussion. Nothing here blows you over. It keeps returning to the center, which is the bass. A-

Ran Blake: Grey December: Live in Rome (2010 [2011], Tompkins Square): Pianist, b. 1935, thirty-some albums since 1961, many of them solo, especially recently. Difficult player for me to get a handle on, even when he plays something as familiar as "Nature Boy." This doesn't move much, and while the melodic motifs are not without interest, I can't really tell you why. B

Uri Caine/Arditti String Quartet: Twelve Caprices (2010 [2011], Winter & Winter): Jazz pianist who has taken quite a bit of classical music as his starting point, some of which I've begrudgingly found interesting (e.g., Plays Mozart) and some appalling (e.g., Robert Schumann: Love Fugue), faces off for a set of improvs with Irvine Arditti's well established classical string quartet. The strings are abstractly modernistic, the piano cutting against the grain. B+(*)

Harris Eisenstadt: Woodblock Prints (2010, NoBusiness): This album got a lot of year-end attention last year -- I think it even won a poll in Spain for best album of the year, so I figured I should check it out. The drummer is barely audible, but his compositions for nonet offer intriguing, albeit mostly plodding, moves. The group is divided into a "brass trio" (French horn, trombone, and tuba) and a "wind trio" (clarinet, alto sax, bassoon). Final piece ("Andrew Hill") picks up the pace and begins to live up to the billing. B+(**)

Harris Eisenstadt: Canada Day II (2010 [2011], Songlines): Drummer, b. 1975 in Toronto; has been around -- New York, Los Angeles, Gambia -- winding up in Brooklyn, where he has close to ten records since 2002 and a growing reputation as a composer. Same group did Canada Day in 2008: Matt Bauder (tenor sax), Nate Wooley (trumpet), Chris Dingman (vibes), Eivind Opsvik (bass). The horns can spin free or play postbop harmony, but in either case the vibraphone offers both a soft sell and a lot of open space. Full of surprises which may or may not work; hard to tell in a single pass. B+(***)

Billy Jenkins: Jazz Gives Me the Blues (2011, VOTP): English jazz guitarist, b. 1954, has some very interesting records scattered about his discography -- 1998's True Love Collection, with its bent '60s pop retroviruses is a favorite -- but lately he's reinvented himself as a gravel-mouthed blues slinger, which is mostly what you get here, but now and then you sense the guitar wants to sneak out and play something fancy. B+(**)

Alexey Lapin/Yury Yaremchuk: Anatomy of Sound (2010, SoLyd): Russian pianist, appears with François Carrier on Inner Spire so I thought I should check him out further. (Also has a new solo piano album on Leo, Parallels.) Yaremchuk is from the Ukraine; plays soprano sax (first three cuts) and bass clarinet (two more). Last two cuts offer a solo each, with Lapin engulfed in roiling chordal density where Yaremchuk spaces out the sounds of his bass clarinet. The improv together is on the ugly side of free, but picks up interest whenever they get faster and louder. B+(*)

Marius Neset: Golden Xplosion (2010 [2011], Edition): Saxophonist (soprano and tenor), from Norway, 25 (1985?), did a semester at Berklee, studied more in Copenhagen, latched onto Django Bates, who plays keyboards here. Second album. The fast stuttery sax runs are fun. The ballads aren't. And Bates indulges in some keyboard overkill early on, intended to crank up the energy level, which works to a point. Some folks are blown away, but some of us are old enough to recall Bates' old sax chum, Iain Ballamy. B

Evan Parker & Konstrukt: Live at Akbank Jazz Festival (2010 [2011], Re:konstrukt): Two solo shots on soprano sax (14:07 and 8:50), done as only Parker can do them, the first with a lot of circular breathing, the second less tricked up. Followed by two "collective improvisations" with Parker sparring with a Turkish group, including a second soprano sax (Korhan Futaci), guitar, drums, percussion. These average 22 minutes of engaging noise, the sort of contretemps that Parker can conjure up any time he has the inkling. B+(*)

Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libre (2010 [2011], Constellation): Young alto saxophonist from Chicago, has the AACM thing going, a couple of good records under her belt. This is an ambitious dive into black history, a large band with three saxes, trumpet, piano, guitar, some strings, two bassists, drums, various odds and ends, many pieces with vocals. A lot of rage, understandable enough, but hard to follow. "I Am," for instance, starts with screams, which out of context are faintly ridiculous, then segues into a singsong rap odd but not untouching or uninteresting. There's something here, probably more than just catharsis. B+(**)

Wadada Leo Smith: Lake Biwa (2002-04 [2004], Tzadik): Well-regarded album featuring Smith's Silver Orchestra. Can't find any track credits, so presumably the whole group plays everywhere, but I have my doubts about the three pianists, two bassists, and/or three drummers. The other slots include alto sax (John Zorn), tuba (Marcus Rojas), violin (Jennifer Choi), and cello (Erik Friedlander), as well as Smith's trumpet. Four long pieces (11:14 to 23:50), dense, cluttered, sometimes gets under your skin, then something amazing happens. B+(*)

Johnny Varro: Speak Low (2011, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1930, cites Jess Stacy and Teddy Wilson as influences, came up with Buddy Hackett, played for Eddie Condon; not much discography as a leader until he hooked up with Arbors in 1992, but this is his 11th album with them (side credits go back to 1954 with Phil Napoleon). Standards, with Warren Vaché (cornet) and Harry Allen (tenor sax) vying to see who can be the most debonair, with Nicki Parrott (bass) and Chuck Riggs (drums). Maybe a little too debonair there. B+(**)


Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd (but made most sense to review here)
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, or may be a promo deal