Rhapsody Streamnotes: September 6, 2011

Back in 2002 when rumors surface that the Bush administration was gearing up a propaganda offensive aimed at invading Iraq, Andrew Card explained, "From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August." That's a principle the music industry appears to have taken to heart: August has been the lamest month to date for new record releases. Actually, some did slip out. My metacritic file shows the top-rated August releases as: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Mirror Traffic; The Horrors: Skying; Kanye West/Jay-Z: Watch the Throne; Beirut: The Rip Tide; The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient; Tinariwen: Tassili; and far off the pace, Fountains of Wayne: Sky Full of Holes. The raw numbers there range from 25 (which puts Malkmus in 27th place for the year) to 10 (Fountains of Wayne is tied for 125th). I have all but the Horrors below -- got the jump on them last month.

Looking further down the list, the total number of August records is 80, out of 1324 records on the list that I have release dates for. So the average per month is 165, meaning August is about 50% short of being an average month. I can think of a couple reasons why August is being underreported here, but they're not going to make a huge difference.

Still I came up with seven A- records this month -- mostly by catching up with older stuff. Several of these are records I got on [cd] -- for some reason I've taken a more leisurely approach to those. Only one hasn't been previously vetted by Robert Christgau in his Expert Witness blog. It's hard to get the jump on him when he's posting twice a week while I'm waiting for the month to roll along -- impossible when he works off an advance that doesn't even show up on Rhapsody until he's reviewed it. (Three more Christgau picks are downgraded below: Fountains of Wayne, Nine 11 Thesaurus, Vieux Farka Touré -- none by much, unlike last month's SebastiAn.) But then I'm not trying to scoop Christgau, Tatum, or anyone else. I'm always, inevitably, struggling to catch up -- even Viceversah I got from Okayplayer (which also led me to Da Cruz, Jazz Spastiks, J. Rawls, and Willie Evans Jr. -- most of the obscure hip-hop here).

The number of new records this month is down a bit (46 vs. 59 in July): partly the slow season, partly slow me, partly a tradeoff with the jazz queues. The total number of records reviewed in this series has topped 2000, which must mean something although I'm not sure I want to figure it out.

One more thing: I've said all along that reviewing records based on one or two stream plays is inevitably error prone. So at long last I've gone back through my files and identified all the places to date where I've subsequently changed my grade on a record. Many of these times my initial grade was A- then I bought (or begged) a copy and it wound up high enough on my year-end list I bumped it up. Sometimes the same dynamic worked at a lower level -- I don't see any cases where buying a record wound up lowering the grade. Other times I went back and re-streamed something, mostly spurred on by other hype, and sometimes as a result I adjusted my grade -- but not often. And the absence of a change doesn't mean anything than that I haven't bothered. Tatum insists that I vastly overrated Destroyer's Kaputt, and that's one case where I probably should reconsider -- it is, after all, tied for fifth in my metacritic poll -- but I keep dragging my feet there: less interesting, I reckon, than investigating something unknown. I mean, you don't really believe in these grades, do you?

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 August 9. Past reviews and more information are available here.

Active Child: You Are All I See (2011, Vagrant): Not sure whether "harp-playing, choir-singing" Pat Grossi is the leader of the group or the group, but with all the vocals done in a churchy falsetto and the synths reinforcing the harps and angels, this is prog rock at its ripest. B-

AraabMUZIK: Electronic Dream (2011, Duke Productions): Abraham Orellana, from Rhode Island, "of Dominican and Guatemalan descent"; most sources consider this hip-hop, but it's chopped up from fat slabs of synth, the vocals pasted in rather than growing out. B+(**)

Beirut: The Rip Tide (2011, Pompeii): Evidently Zach Condon started out picking up bits of Balkan music -- his 2006 album was called Gulag Orkestar -- moved on to other ports of call, and wound up nowhere, which is roughly equivalent to his native Santa Fe, NM. He does still work with horns and synths, and some pieces offer a lift, but he's stuck between the exotic and the mundane, unable to give us a reason to care. B

Big Sugar: Revolution Per Minute (2011, Bread & Water): Boogie band from Toronto, formed in the early 1990s but broke up in 2004 so this (their sixth) album is a reunion effort. Pluses: saxophone, one song with easy pop power ("True Believers"), title cut is an amusing dubstyle reggae change of pace; on the other hand, they don't have the vocal or guitar muscle for rote boogie, and they can slip up. B

Luke Bryan: Tailgates & Tanlines (2011, Capitol Nashville): Nashville slinger, from Georgia, third album, cowrites most of his songs; average voice, average production, likable enough, not the dumbest guy in town but doesn't try too hard either. Wonder what it feels like to know you'll have to sing "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" every show for the next 30-40 years. My guess is that it'll be fun for a while, then start to feel weird. B

Richard Buckner: Our Blood (2011, Merge): AMG files this singer-songwriter under folk; Wikipedia says alt-country. Based solely on this his 11th album since 1994, I don't hear either. Simple songs, some with pumping keyboard but most just guitar; plaintive and precious, as far as I can tell given that nothing much seems worth the effort. B-

Glen Campbell: Ghost on the Canvas (2011, Surfdog): A pop-country star in the 1960s with a reputation as a dependable studio guitarist and more TV exposure than I care to remember, he cranked out massive amounts of product -- close to 70 albums -- up to 1999, then took it easy until his atrocious 2008 Meet Glen Campbell. Diagnosed with Alzheimer's, he figured he's good for one more. He might have bid a respectable adieu had he picked more songs like Jakob Dylan's "Nothing but the Whole Wide World," but producer Julian Raymond buried the Paul Westerberg title song in strings so blustery they'd make Chet Atkins swoon. Looks like he wanted to pick songs that affirm his desire to stand up to his fate. Too bad nearly all were slaughtered by the producer. C+

Gary Clark Jr.: The Bright Lights EP (2011, Warner Brothers, EP): Blues guy from Austin, at 27 gets by more on his power guitar riffs than on his voice, not that he doesn't have anything to complain about but he's still feeling his oats. AMG lists this has his fourth album since 2005, one self-released and two more obscure, but it's just a four-song EP, 21:43, two high octane burners with a band, two live solo acoustic pickers, the second also mostly guitar. B+(**)

Guy Clark: Songs and Stories (2011, Dualtone): Singer-songwriter from Texas, had a strong batch of songs for his first album back in 1975 (Old No. 1) and never again put so many in one place. Live sets usually rehash prime songs, and this one like his debut starts off with "L.A. Freeway" and recovers a few more gems (like "Homegrown Tomatoes" and "The Randall Knife"), but not many. No problem that he fills in some stories -- he's a prime storyteller. More curious is that he turns the stage over midway to Verlon Thompson who does much the same shtick -- he ain't half bad, but still leaves you wondering what's up with the star. Bad health? Voice doesn't seem to be in good shape. B+(*)

Ry Cooder: Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down (2011, Nonesuch): When he started out some forty years ago Cooder would pick sly and (mostly) obscure chestnuts and warm them over, making good use of his slide technique and fair use of his whitebread voice for records that tended to greatly impress folks who didn't see through his technique and rather annoy those who did. (I was initially one of the former and eventually among the latter, so I've always been kind of schizo on him.) Then he developed his songwriting skills (mostly hacking on soundtracks) and cultivated his idiosyncrasies, which occasionally resulted in interesting records and sometimes not, leading up to this one which combines his most interesting and annoying traits. All originals, almost all in other people's styles, sometimes going Tex-Mex, trying a Woody Guthrie protest, copping a John Lee Hooker blues, touting "Simple Tools" that turn out simpler than they should be. Does have a graphic suggestion to where to stuff the Iraq War, and does have better than average politics. Just isn't a very good record. B [Later: A-]

The Cool Kids: When Fish Ride Bicycles (2011, Green Label Sounds): Midwest rap group drawing on Chicago and Detroit. Given their name, I figured they'd sound younger or at least cooler, but they're serious guys with a tight underground sound and low budget samples, thoughtful rhymes and a bit of song toward the end. B+(**)

Steve Cropper: Dedicated: A Salute to the 5 Royales (2011, 429): Stax Records house guitarist, a foundation for many of the greatest soul records of all time (start with Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, or if you want to focus on instruments, Booker T. and the MGs). Doesn't have much under his own name -- one from 1971, two more from the early 1980s, now this star-fueled collection of mostly Lowman Pauling songs from the early 1950s vocal group The 5 Royales. For the 1952-62 originals, the ideal reference is the long-out-of-print Rhino 2-CD collection, Monkey Hips and Rice, although The Very Best of the 5 Royales ([2004], Collectables) will get you in the ballpark. The band is cracking, and the guest vocalists dive right in -- mostly time-tested blues shouters like B.B. King, Sharon Jones, Bettye Lavette, Shemekia Copeland, Willie Jones, and Delbert McClinton, but also Steve Winwood is credible, and Lucinda Williams is a little weird. Reminds me of the originals, but every song draws something new out. A-

Da Cruz: Sistema Subversiva (2011, Six Degrees): Swiss group, produced by Ane Hebeisen (aka Ane H), with guitarist Oliver Husmann and percussionist Pit Lee, formerly Swamp Terrorists before latching onto singer Maraina Da Cruz from São Paulo, Brazil. The beats tend toward the mechanical, while the Afro-Brazilian influence is hard to pin down -- but Cruz co-wrote (or wrote) all but one cover, so figure it there. The cover? "Warm Leatherette." B+(**)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.: It's a Corporate World (2011, Warner Brothers): Detroit group, Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott. First album after an EP called Horsepower. I wouldn't go so far as some in comparing their vocal harmonies to the Beach Boys, but there is some of that, also the big hollow percussion and echo. Title cut is ambivalent, and that's where they start to feel tortured. "We Almost Lost Detroit" has too much chorus and not enough verse -- the devil, as usual, is in the details. B+(*)

Willie Evans Jr.: Introducin' (2011, High Water Music): Not a lot to go on here: first album, common name, not even his label has much to say -- some link him to Nashville, a crew called Asamov (appears on a sign on the front cover), or more lately Alias Brothers; several reviews liken him to MF Doom, one even suggesting this is a Doom project. It's got the concept: a little kid who wants to play drums but doesn't have the discipline until visited in a dream, or something like that. I like the grown up stuff better, but didn't make much sense out of it either. B+(*)

Fountains of Wayne: Sky Full of Holes (2011, Yep Roc): Fifth album since 1996, plus a pretty good odds and sods collection (Out-of-State Plates). Many critics who love literate rock and roll with pop hooks love them. I saw them once and was never so bored in my life but even I credit them with a couple of good albums. Add a half here: starts with three, maybe four remarkably sharp songs, and returns later with a rousing "Radio Bar" and a nice closer. Still, a band I find it very difficult to care for. B+(***)

John Hiatt: Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns (2011, New West): Good old boy from Indianapolis. Back in the mid-1970s I caught him live at a bar in the Indy burbs, no band, working his way through the songs on his first two albums -- I spent a lot of time with those albums, think they're his best (although Slug Line and Riding With the King are up there). Took him four years to get that third album out, but has never spent more than three years between records since, often less. Can't exactly say he's been coasting, nor that his fluke hit album ruined him, but I doubt he'll ever surprise us. Nice songs here, but looking back at the title list I'm surprised that I didn't notice the one called "Detroit Made" when it came on, nor for that matter "Train to Birmingham." B+(*)

Jazz Spastiks and Junclassic: Mode 7 (2011, Hipnott): The former are a Scottish production crew (Coco D, Mr Manyana) with clean, old style beats, nothing spasticky to them -- early De La Soul may be the model. Junclassic is an MC from Queens, has a couple albums buried deep underground. Lopes along easily, smart and clever -- except when it comes to blunts. B+(***)

J-Rocc: Some Cold Rock Stuf (2011, Stones Throw): Jason Jackson, turntablist, co-founded the Beat Junkies in 1992, has a couple albums under his own alias. The raps seem incidental here; the focus is on sound effects which eventually develop into something more. B+(**)

Natalia Kills: Perfectionist (2011, Interscope): B. in West Yorkshire, UK, 1986 as Natalia Keery-Fisher; father Jamaican, mother from Uruguay. Has a piece in writing all of her songs, but only one solo credit. Voice a little deeper and sterner than teenpop norms, but she likes it dark and twisted. Makes a more plausible villain than victim but can't quite avoid the latter in her line of work. Would like "Love Is a Suicide" more if the US headlines weren't so full of it -- maybe in the UK it's more metaphorical? B+(**)

Kendrick Lamar: Section.80 (2011, Top Dawg Entertainment): Rapper, b. 1987, one of the few lately to use his own name. From Compton, came up through the mixtape ranks, signed with Dr. Dre, landing an EP in 2009 and now his first studio album. Runs a song about "niggas and ho's" so far into the ground he can raise a flagpole in top of it, but also recalls the evils of the Reagan era, which is pretty good for a guy who was just born as Iran-Contra piled up. B+(**)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Mirror Traffic (2011, Matador): I used to think he can't sing, but he's got his style down pat, only occasionally tripping up over his fancy idiosyncratic tunes. More of the latter than I really care to deal with, in part because none of them strike me as miraculous -- the high stakes Malkmus used to play for. That the Senator and the blow job is the most memorable one isn't necessarily a plus. B+(*)

Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman: World Wide Rebel Songs (2011, New West): Veteran of political metal band Rage Against the Machine; took mother's name, but father was from Kenya, active in the Mau Mau movement, nephew of Jomo Kenyatta, first Kenyan ambassador to the UN -- making him, basically, what Dinesh D'Souza hallucinates Obama to be. Nightwatchman showcases Morello's folkie side, although several songs aim to be anthemic -- including the title cut and the rambunctious finale, "Union Town." Wish one of the most upbeat wasn't about Iraq War soldiers plotting their return home by frakking their officers -- I don't think that qualifies for socialist realism much less poetic justice. But it certainly is true that if you can't deal with the rational people, you'll be stuck with the crazies. B+(**)

Nine 11 Thesaurus: Ground Zero Generals (2011, The Social Registry): Rap collective from New York (Bushwick maybe), seem to mostly be teens which would make them much less than that on the fateful day, given beats by producers associated with the Skeletons and Gang Gang Dance -- the latter strikes me as pretty suspect, but not much to complain about here. They go political, which is something I admire, and they don't go for US jingoism -- they got their own problems, as evidenced by a Malcolm X sample that is dated but not totally obsolete. But then I'm a sucker for black power rants to hip-hop beats, and that's what this comes down to. B+(***) [cd]

Pistol Annies: Hell on Heels (2011, Columbia Nashville): Country music "supergroup" although Miranda Lambert is the only one of the trio I've heard of before; Ashley Moore has a download-only LP and an self-released eponymous EP and is somehow kin to Carl Smith, and Angaleena Presley has a surname I recognize but so little track record I can't explain it -- somewhere says her dad is an East Kentucky coal miner, which puts her a long ways from Yazoo. Rootsier than anything I recall rolling off the Nashville assembly line this year; smoother too, which makes me wonder where the kerosene went. B+(**) [Later: A-]

Portugal. The Man: In the Mountain in the Cloud (2011, Atlantic): Rock group with an annoying period in a name that isn't very suggestive anyhow. Originally from Wasilia, Alaska but relocated to Portland, OR. John Gourley sings, plays guitar, and wrote all of the songs on this, their sixth album since 2006. Many references classify them as psychedelic, something which has no intuitive meaning these days. But they do sound pop, sweet tones layered up into ugly heaps of sound, almost anthemic. B

Preservation Hall Jazz Band & the Del McCoury Band: American Legacies (2010 [2011], McCoury Music): AMG files this under McCoury's veteran bluegrass outfit, but the front cover lists the guys with the horns first. They do what you expect them to do, while McCoury adds a string band and a sly voice that makes the fusion work. Glad to hear "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry"; also note that the hottest thing here is "Jambalaya." B+(***)

J. Rawls: The Hip-Hop Effect (2011, Green Streets): Jason Rawls, b. 1974 in Columbus, OH, best known as Mos Def's producer (at least from Black Star days). Has a stack of records under his own name since 2001. Lots of guests, if anything more obscure than the producer, who keeps an engaging jingle-jangle beat going while they each peddle their wares. B+(**)

Dex Romweber Duo: Is That You in the Blue? (2011, Bloodshot): Guitarist-singer Dexter Romweber, formerly of Flat Duo Jets, and his sister, drummer Sara Romweber, formerly of Let's Active and Snatches of Pink, all Chapel Hill, NC groups. Second Duo album, although they're not just a duo: the band is fleshed out with bass and lap steel and sax at least. He's got a deep voice, echoing back to rockabilly but slower and sicker with echoes I recall from the Animals -- maybe this is what they mean by psychobilly? B

Ximena Sariñana: Ximena Sariñana (2011, Warner Brothers): Mexican pop singer, second album after the gift-named Mediocre, effectively a career relaunch, with jacked up beats emulating Shaikra and English words aimed at young gringos. Doesn't quite hit the target either way, but doesn't miss by much either. B+(**)

Jill Scott: The Light of the Sun (2011, Blues Babe/Warner Bros.): The leadoff track, detailing the many ways she feels "Blessed," kicks this off on a high she never convincingly adds much to, but then what more is there to say? Duet partners come and go, each good enough for the time but none likely to stick. Drags a bit midway, but that may just be a matter of adjusting your own expectations. No doubt she knows that she's doing what she wants. A- [cd]

Soft Metals: Soft Metals (2011, Captured Tracks): Synth-pop duo, singer Patricia Hall and keyboardist/programmer Ian Hicks, from Portland, OR. First album. Can run some pieces that are basically just groove with percussion effects, like "In Throes," and are better for it. B+(**)

Sole and the Skyrider Band: Hello Cruel World (2011, Fake Four): Underground rapper, Tim Holland, from Portland, ME; one of the founders of Anticon, has more than a dozen albums since 2000. Not exceptional in any way, seems to have decent politics although only a few songs bend that way. B+(*)

Poly Styrene: Generation Indigo (2011, Future Noise Music): The former singer for punk's greatest one-album wonder, cut a solo album in 1980 which has been out of print ever since, and now a second released on her death day: not much product for someone so attuned to the reified world, but her willingness to adopt a plastic persona never betrayed her humanity. This is a mixed bag of beats, but no point nitpicking: as much as I'd like to hear a lot more in the dub vein of "No Rockefeller" every other track will do. A- [cd]

The Summer Set: Everything's Fine (2011, Razor & Tie): Alleged pop-punk band from Scottsdale, AZ; second or third album. First couple cuts are awful, then "Someone Like You" almost clicks. They lay the vocal harmonies on pretty thick, something that accounts for the pop part of their rep, although they're more charming when the lead goes it alone, as in the intro to "Love to You." The punk part, well, that beats me. B-

Sunny Sweeney: Concrete (2011, Republic Nashville): Country singer, from Texas, second album five years after her debut, Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame. Age unknown, but she's wearing a lot more makeup this time. Co-credited with most of her songs but not the best, which I figure as "Mean as You" -- even if Taylor Swift got the concept better -- or "Fall for Me." B+(*)

Tech N9ne: All 6's and 7's (2011, Strange Music): Aaron Yates, b. 1971 in Kansas City, has a dozen albums since 1999. I first noticed him at Best Buy, where the stocked a ton of this album, but I now see that they have their own exclusive edition (as does iTunes, FYE, and Wal-Mart). Muscled up on the cover, more machine than man in the grooves, this repeatedly bangs its head against irrelevance and annoyance until it arrives at "Promiseland" -- as usual, the last place one wants to be. B-

Terakaft: Aratan N Azawad (2011, World Village): Tamashek (aka Tuareg) group from the desert of Mali, a trio with previous connections to internationally acclaimed Tinariwen. Second album on this label, maybe more elsewhere. They have that dry desert guitar sound, a mix of vocals that rarely escape from a groove that just moves along easily at first but soon enough works its way into your subconscious. A-

Tinariwen: Tassili (2011, Anti-): Saharan group with an international following, last couple albums impressed me much, earlier ones are subjects for further research. Still, this one caught me by surprise, inasmuch as they took a sparse concept and made it simpler, the vocals deep and plaintive, not much more than an easy-going rhythm, but the authority of that voice makes it work. Also notable: when they switch to English, you don't wish they hadn't. A-

Vieux Farka Touré: The Secret (2011, Six Degrees): Son of the late Ali Farka Touré, who for many years was mismarketed as the John Lee Hooker of the Sahara. Fourth album since 2006, not counting a remix or two. Similar guitar-hooked music, plumped up a bit, pop compared to the father's rustic druthers. B+(***)

Viceversah: Shine Not Burn (2011, AR Classic): Interesting to play this after Watch the Throne: seems like this unknown underground rapper has managed to average out the vocal attacks and producer styles of Jay-Z and Kanye West, on a shoestring budget, of course. Played under other conditions I might have glommed onto something else. Can't find much on him: second album, with an EP or two; most likely the dude's white, and once you consider that possibility other things open up (less racial politics, but compatible politics nonetheless). A-

The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient (2011, Secretly Canadian): Philadelphia group, former home of Kurt Vile, now down to a guitar-bass-drums trio with Adam Granduciel singing (traces of Dylan), playing harmonica, sometimes switching from guitar to keybs. They have that trademark alt-rock guitar vibe -- the words fly by, so the choice cut is the smudged instrumental "Original Slave." B+(**)

Abigail Washburn: City of Refuge (2011, Rounder): Banjo player-singer, from Illinois, third album. AMG files it under folk, but I hear her drawing from Anglo (or Scotch or Irish, distinctions others value more than me) as much as US, and in all cases burying them under a muddled din that would classify a guitar-player as a sad sack singer-songwriter. B

Kanye West/Jay-Z: Watch the Throne (2011, Roc-A-Fella): Spine lists West first, although most sources score this for Z -- for some reason freed from his traditional hyphen -- some more on points than on packaging. Speaking of packaging, I went with the 12-cut cheapo vs. the 16-cut "deluxe" with its three minutes of dead air separating the extras (which, by the way, I sampled on Rhapsody and have already forgotten). Reactions are up and down and all over the place, but few will regret going overboard like with West's 2010 tour de force, and few who have gone off the deep end fighting the power will bother to play this enough to moderate their views. The fact is when you add two stars (not to mention egos) on this order you're bound to learn that the studio isn't big enough for the sum: someone is bound to slip, and while the consensus seems to be West I'm not so sure. The two things I take away here are the weirdly convoluted race politics (e.g., the line about becoming a Republican to prove how much he loves white people) and weirdly ironic pop gliss (I get Loretta and Betty but would never take them for queens, let alone elide them into "sweet baby Jesus" which appears only because it makes for a time-tested pop hook) -- so I don't buy the argument that West is holding out here. It's just that Z is all business, and when all is said and done, this is product with his brand name, so he wants it sharp and punchy, and he manages that. Not a great album by either artist's standards, but not a goof or waste either. A- [cd]

Chris Young: Neon (2011, RCA Nashville): Country singer, third album, has a co-credit in most of his songs, but not his best one. Young enough he tries to pass off drinking beer as water conservation, not to mention a way to "support your local wildlife." B+(*)

Zebrahead: Get Nice (2011, Rude): Punk/rapcore band from Orange County, CA; cut their first in 1998 for Columbia; lost their major label status and one of their leaders after 2004 but kept grinding it out. Real fast, pretty loud, often sounds like something I might like but I'm not grabbing many words in an album firing them at high speed, then you hit something like "Kiss Your Ass Goodbye" which is stupid and clowned up with harmony vocals, a fanciness I thought their concept ruled out. B-


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

  • Rob Brown: Unexplained Phenomena (2011, Marge)
  • Desolate: The Invisible Insurrection (2011, Fauxpas Musik)
  • Jim Ford: Harlan County (2011, Light in the Attic)
  • Mamani Keita: Gagner L'Argent Français (2011, No Format)
  • Led Bib: Bring Your Own (2011, Cuneiform)
  • Oscar & the Majestics: No Chance Baby! (1963-68 [2011], Sundazed)
  • Sun Araw: Ancient Romans (2011, Drag City)
  • Thundercat: The Golden Age of Apocalypse (2011, Brainfeeder)

Revised Grades

Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade, usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone else's review or list makes me want to check it again:

Arctic Monkeys: Humbug (2009, Domino): This was more likely a typo in the original post than a later grade change. [was: B] B-

Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Food: The Son of Chico Dusty (2010, Def Jam): [was: A-] A [cd]

V.V. Brown: Travelling Like the Light (2009 [2010], Capitol): Nine or ten of twelve songs are pure hits, reminding me first of Motown but with British Invasion bits, then there's a girl group throwback that touches both the originals and the New York dolls just right. [was: A-] A [cd]

Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind (2008, Lost Highway): [was: A-] A [cd]

Dessa: A Badly Broken Code (2010, Doomtree): [was: A-] A [cd]

Eminem: Recovery (2010, Interscope): [was: B+(*)] B+(***) [cd]

Jimmie Dale Gilmore/The Wronglers: Heirloom Music (2011, Neanderthal Noise): [was: A-] A [cd]

LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (2010, DFA/Virgin): [was: B+(*)] B+(**)

Les Amazones de Guinée: Wamato (2008, Sterns Africa): [was: A-] A [cd]

Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (2008, Cash Money/Universal): [was: B+(***)] A- [cd]

Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar: Devla: Blown Away to Dancefloor Heaven (2009, Piranha): [was: B+(***)] A- [cd]

Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010, Elektra): [was: A-] A [cd]

Willie Nelson: American Classic (2009, Blue Note): [was: B+(*)] B+(**) [cd]

Randy Newman: Harps and Angels (2008, Nonesuch): [was: B+(**)] A [cd]

Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness: Congo Classics 1961-1977 (1961-77 [2007], Sterns Africa, 2CD): [was: A-] A [cd]

The Roots: How I Got Over (2010, Def Jam): [was: A-] A [cd]

Raphael Saadiq: The Way I See It (2008, Columbia): [was: A-] A [cd]

David Sánchez: Cultural Survival (2007 [2008], Concord Picante): [was: B+(***)] B+(**)

Jazmine Sullivan: Love Me Back (2010, J): [was: B] B+(**)

Rachid Taha: Bonjour (2009 [2010], Knitting Factory): [was: B+(**)] B+(***)

Vampire Weekend: Contra (2010, XL): [was: A-] A [cd]

Loudon Wainwright III: High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project (2008-09 [2009], 2nd Story Sound, 2CD): [was: A-] A [cd]

Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010, Roc-A-Fella): [was: A-] A [cd]

Matt Wilson: That's Gonna Leave a Mark (2008 [2009], Palmetto): [was: B+(***)] A- [cd]

The XX: XX (2008-09 [2009], XL): [was: B+(***)] A- [cd]

Recycled Goods

The following were written during this period for Recycled Goods:

Mahmoud Ahmed & Imperial Bodyguard Band: Éthiopiques, Vol. 26: 1972-74 (1972-74 [2010], Buda Musique): Far and away the biggest star in Ethiopian music, he hit his stride just as "swinging Addis" was opening up from the dark ages of Emperor Haile Selassie and just before it was shut down by the political terror of Mengistu. His 1972-78 recordings now fill four volumes of Francis Falceto's remarkable Éthiopiques series -- one wishes every nation could be given such painstaking attention. These are relatively early, his mellifuous voice attached to the Emperor's house band, which is a bit creaky at first but learns soon enough to do his bidding. B+(***)

Grin: The Very Best of Grin Featuring Nils Lofgren (1969-73 [1999], Spindizzy/Epic Associated/Legacy): A countryish rock group from a time when such groups were in vogue, led by a young -- 22 by the time we're done here -- singer-songwriter who subsequently became just famous enough to leave his name on the cover; I found them late via a 10-cut 1976 Best Of that this 19-track CD should supersede but mostly contextualizes, dropping three tracks including the memorable "Heavy Chevy." A-

The Jayhawks: Tomorrow the Green Grass [Legacy Edition] (1995 [2011], American/Legacy, 2CD): Minnesota group founded in 1985 -- can't say they invented Americana but their folksie voices, guitar twang, and subtle pop hooks anticipated many other groups like Old '97s. Still, the only hook on the original album that nabbed me was the Grand Funk cover. The bonus stuff starts with the title song left off the original LP, then gets thinner and slower as it sprawls over the second disc, mostly "mystery demos" from 1992. [Original LP: B+(*)] B

Mamani Keita: Yelema (2005 [2006], No Format): From Mali, sang on a pretty good 2003 record called Electric Bamako with electrobeats by Marc Minelli; here she moves on, replacing Minelli with Nicolas Repac, which moves this back more toward Malian norms although you still hear those beats; subtle, dry by West African standards, but the desert is nearby. A-

Ebo Taylor: Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 (1973-80 [2011], Strut, 2CD): From Ghana, b. 1936, not sure that I've ever heard of him before he cut a new record with a German afrobeat group last year, but this provides some background which starts to piece together a history. The big names in highlife I do know have little to fear, but the music is so infectious that even exploring the backwaters is enjoyable -- if indeed that's what this is. Part of Taylor's obscurity is due to he sixteen tracks coming from various bands: Taylor's role isn't clear (although I hear the booklet, which I haven't seen, is a good one), but I see that he wrote fifteen of them (the other one is by that old standby, Traditional). Several early cuts strike me as rather rote, but the latter half snaps to smartly. B+(***)

True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax (1960s-70s [2011], Now-Again): Looking down on a north-up map of the US, Little Rock is indeed left of Stax's Memphis, but not so far that these guys -- Thomas East, John Craig, York Wilborn, Ren Smith; groups Right Track, Classic Funk, Conspiracy, and Leaders -- could have scored the busfare if they were better; still, Smith comes off pretty gritty, and the horns on "Psychedelic Hot Pants" are blistering; haven't seen the booklet, but it's a big one. B+(***)

True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax, Volume 2 (1960s-70s [2011], Now-Again): Repeats much of the first volume's roster, their decline into the ordinary suggesting that none had much depth; however, two cuts from Lechance get down (a title, the other is "Gigolo" endlessly repeated over a deep funk groove) and the "full version" of Soul Mind and Body's closer engages all three. B+(**)

Jazz Prospecting

The following were written during this period for Jazz Prospecting:

The Return: The Gerry Beaudoin Trio With Harry Allen (2011, Francesca): Guitarist, AMG lists seven previous albums going back to 1992 but doesn't have this one, which may be digital only. Has a very light touch in a trio with bass and drums, doing eight tracks, none of which I recognize as standards. Tenor saxophonist Allen tries his best to fit in, which mostly means toning himself down to near invisiblity. B [Later: B+(**)]

Rob Brown/Daniel Levin: Natural Disorder (2008 [2010], Not Two): Brown plays brashly free alto sax, b. 1962, best known as a key to William Parker's pianoless quartet; has more than a dozen albums under his own name since 1989, mostly on obscure labels. Levin plays cello, b. 1974, has been prolific since 2003 with nine albums (on Clean Feed and Hat). Duo. Often engaging, especially when the cello pitches in, but a long stretch of solo alto wears thin. B+(*)

Terri Lyne Carrington: The Mosaic Project (2011, Concord): Drummer, b. 1965, two 2002-04 postbop records seemed promising -- especially the second with Greg Osby -- but her 2009 More to Say was such soggy R&B that I dumped her into my pop jazz file. However, this one has gotten so many raves that I thought I should check it out. She makes use of 20 musicians, all female, most well known (e.g., horns: Ingrid Jensen, Anat Cohen, Tineke Postma; keybs: Geri Allen, Patrice Rushen, Helen Sung; the eight vocalists include Dee Dee Bridgewater, Nona Hendryx, Carmen Lundy, Gretchen Parlato, Diane Reeves, and Cassandra Wilson; also credited with "commentary": Angela Davis). Several brought their own songs; Carrington wrote 5 of 14, with Irving Berlin, Al Green, and Lennon-McCartney the outsiders. The horn solos always come up with something interesting, the keybs lean to fusion but aren't swallowed by it, the vocals are, well, credible. B+(**)

Paul Motian: The Windmills of Your Mind (2010 [2011], Winter & Winter): Aside from the intro and its reprise at the end, a very low key standards album, sung in not much more than a whisper by Petra Haden, with guitarist Bill Frisell slipping in fine touches, Thomas Morgan steady on bass, and the leader doing whatever it is he's been doing for fifty-some years now. B+(*)

Andreas Schmidt/Samuel Rohrer/Thomas Heberer: Pieces for a Husky Puzzle (2009, Jazzwerkstatt): Piano, drums, trumpet respectively. Schmidt was b. 1967, more than a dozen credits start around 1990, hard to tell how many; AMG lists Andreas Schmidt as a classical music vocalist, but that is someone else (b. 1960). Seven cuts, each called "Puzzle Piece" followed by a number. Slow and abstract improvs, thoughtful and brooding (or maybe just droning); doesn't leave the drummer much to do. B+(*)

Frank Tate: Thanks for the Memory: Frank Tate's Musical Tribute to Bobby Short (2011, Arbors): Bassist, b. 1943, has a couple albums since 1993, many more side credits going back to Zoot Sims in 1981, Ruby Braff in 1991, a lot of Arbors artists since then. Short is a name I barely recognize -- in fact, I missed him in putting together my database of people I should know about, something in need of a fix. B. 1924, d. 2005, played piano and sung standards, mostly working night clubs. He recorded close to two dozen albums from 1955 to 2001, including a series of songbooks in the 1970s (Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart; his Andy Razaf came out in 1987). Tate describes Short as "the most influential musician in his career." With Mike Renzi on piano and Joe Ascione on drums, Tate rounded up "a half-dozen of Bobby Short's saloon colleagues" to take two or three songs each: Barbara Carroll, Rebecca Kilgore, Daryl Sherman, Charles Cochran, Ronny Whyte, and Chris Gillespie. All classic songbook fare -- comfort food in the trade. 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