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Friday, September 24, 2021


Speaking of Which

I wasn't planning on posting anything this week, but I tweeted after reading the Dougherty article below, and felt like I should expand on that a bit more.

I don't want to get into the weeds over Biden's approval poll dip, or into its associated (all too predictable) politics, but I was rather taken aback by a piece of email I got from something calling itself National Democratic Training Committee. Omitting the poll solicitation and the garish background colors, it looked rather like this:

BAD NEWS: REPUBLICANS CALL FOR PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN TO BE IMPEACHED

President Biden is UNDER ATTACK. Unless we can prove good Democrats are still standing by him, this could spell the END of Joe Biden's presidency.


Republicans are OVER-THE-MOON.

Their baseless calls for Biden's impeachment are working, and now his presidency is on the verge of COLLAPSE.


This is a C-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H-E!!!


But without MASSIVE support from Democrats, Biden's presidency will be doomed.

Biden is working day and night to END the pandemic and SAVE our voting rights . . . while Republicans try to sabotage his presidency???

We must act quickly! Respond before 11:59 PM to give Joe Biden a fighting chance >>

I realize all they're really doing is phishing for donations for their organization (National Democratic Training Committee), which may (or may not) be worthy, but this level of hysteria is totally uncalled for, and counterproductive. Impeachment is a press release, not a practical threat. (Marjorie Taylor Greene filed impeachment articles the day after Biden was inaugurated. Four more Republicans filed articles last week, trying to make political hay out of Afghanistan. Two Texas Republicans added their articles over border policy. Also: Greene's impeachment rant goes off the rails.)

Impeachment cannot possibly proceed, let alone succeed, without significant Democratic defections. Even if the House acted, the Senate would fail to convict, the process would be viewed as purely political, and consequences would be few and far between. Assuming Biden's health holds up, his presidency is secure through 2024, and the only real threat is if Democrats lose Congress in 2022 (which is something that happened to the last two Democratic presidents). But that's still more than a year away, and unless you're running for office then, there's very little you can do about it now, so please chill, and save your energy for when it's needed. Above all, don't panic and back down. Republicans are unhinged, and their devotion to fringe insanity will ultimately undermine them. Don't help them by going insane yourself.


On my Facebook feed, a right-wing relative forwarded this meme:

In the 60s, the KGB did some fascinating psychological experiments.

They learned that if you bombard human subjects with fear messages nonstop, in two months or less most of the subjects are completely brainwashed to believe the false message.

To the point that no amount of clear information they are shown, to the contrary, can change their mind.

My first thought was to respond, "so you're working for the KGB now?" Her personal posts are harmless enough, but in spurts as much as 10-20 times a day she forwards right-wing troll memes, many designed to inculcate fear, others aimed to flatter totems of the right, and all massively mendacious and mean. I've replied to a few, like the one that tried to illustrate the evils of socialism by offering Facebook as an example (as I pointed out, "I think the word you're looking for is capitalism"). But I may have learned something from this one: namely, that the reason Russia's trolls favor the Republicans has less to do with currying favor with their fellow oligarchs than because they've both embraced the same model of psychological manipulation.

Further down, my relative forwarded another meme, which shows a donkey in a chemical protection suit, carrying a tank marked "Center for Democrat Control" and spraying "FEAR" all over. I didn't recognize the donkey at first, so my initial reading was that "FEAR" was being used to control Democrats. No Democrat would label it that; not that they would use "Center for Democratic Control" either, as democracies are opposed to control, but using "Democrat" as an adjective breaks the association of the Party with democracy -- something at least until recently that Republicans had to give lip service to. The donkey spoils the malaproprism, but it underscores how Republicans' worst fears are that Democrats will act just like they do.

It seems like Republicans are flipping on a lot of rhetoric these days, whatever it takes to make their side sound plausible. The big recent one is how vaccine refusal rests simply on "free choice" -- something they deny in their efforts to criminalize abortion.

Another meme: "Right now, TODAY . . . We have the very government our Founding Fathers warned us about." Only thing I can think of there -- at least it's one that was widely discussed at the time -- is the peril of having a standing army.


Carter Dougherty: Senate Democrats Have a Big New Corporate Tax Idea: Democrats want to pass a fairly major public works bill -- top line is advertised as $3.5 trillion over 10 years, which works out to a measly $350 billion/year, well less than half of what the Defense Department costs, but for things that are actually useful and valuable. (For more context, see: Peter Coy: It's Not Really a '$3.5 Trillion' Bill; also: Eric Levitz: $3.5 Trillion Is Not a Lot of Money; and Michael Tomasky: How the Media's Framing of the Budget Debate Favor the Right.) But to get it through the Senate reconciliation process (i.e., around the filibuster), they have to offset that cost with revenue increases. Reversing Trump's corporate income tax giveaway is an obvious candidate, but swing voter Joe Manchin has been balking at anything over 25% (up from 21%, or down from 35%, depending on your perspective). So Bernie Sanders has proposed a compromise, which "would impose a surcharge on corporate income tax if the company paid its CEO 50 times more than what its median employee earns." Dougherty applauds this as "a wildly popular idea just waiting for them." Sounds like a real dumb idea to me. Sure, CEO compensation is ridiculous, but there are more straightforward ways to deal with it: income tax, and you can also limit the deductibility of the corporate expense (since executive bonuses are basically profit-sharing, why not tax them twice, first as profits, then as income?). To raise any significant revenues, the surtax would have to be steep, which puts a lot of emphasis on the pivot point: why 50 times? Doesn't that suggest that CEO pay 40-49 times is OK? You don't have to go back very far to find years when that ratio was not just exceptional but unheard of. This also raises questions about what is CEO compensation (base salary, obviously, but CEOs also routinely get "performance" bonus, stock options, and all sorts of non-salary perks, treated variously). And why just CEOs? Aren't their also issues with COOs, CFOs, CTOs, board members, and others? The whole proposal is simply perverse.

All the more so because there is a simple alternative, one so obvious I'm shocked no one seems to be discussing it: make corporate income tax progressive. It should be easy to pick out brackets and a range of tax rates -- say, from 21% (or less) to 35% (or more). Given the concentration of profits in large companies, one could even lower the tax rate for a majority of corporations while increasing total revenue. Seems like that would be good political messaging. One might object that a progressive profits tax would discriminate against companies that are simply large and/or successful (have high profit margins). That sounds to me like a feature. High profit margins are almost always due to monopoly effects. It's very difficult to break up or even regulate monopolies, especially in marginal cases. Taxing them will make them more tolerable. And if the prospect of higher taxes leads some corporations to spin off parts to tax them separately, that too sounds like a benefit.

There are cases where flat taxes are appropriate, but income/profit taxes aren't one. It's OK to have flat taxes on consumption (sales and excise taxes), because that saves having to identify and qualify the spenders. But income/profit taxes are always identified, and the level is an intrinsic part of what's being taxed. Elsewhere I've proposed a scheme where unearned income (interest, dividends, capital gains, gifts, inheritance, prizes) should be taxed at a rate which is progressive over the lifetime sum (see: here and here and here and here). Admittedly, it's fun to tinker with tax schemes, but the real questions are harder, as they turn on what income and what can be deducted. The big problem with corporate income/profit taxes is that many corporations are able to avoid/evade them -- in which case the marginal rate may be moot. On the other hand, it's just those questions that are least transparent and most subject to interest group lobbying. It's very hard to develop a fair tax system when every political office is up for auction, as is the case now.

[PS: A related story: House Bill Would Blow Up the Massive IRAs of the Superwealthy: The rationale behind IRAs is to allow people to postpone paying tax on retirement savings until they need them, at which point their incomes will probably come down, so they'll save a bit when they have to pay tax on their withdrawals. However, Peter Thiel (to take just one example) has used this loophole to shelter $5 billion. The proposal is to limit tax-sheltered savings to $20 million, which is still pretty generous.]

Anne Kim: A Case for a Smaller Reconciliation Bill: Of all the sources I read regularly, Washington Monthly has been consistently defending the more conservative Democrats in their efforts to go slow and small (if they have to go at all). I don't particularly agree with them, but I'm not especially bothered as well. I'd like to pocket a few real (even if ultimately inadequate) gains as soon as possible, like the "bipartisan" infrastructure bill and the whittled-down Manchin-approved fragment of the $3.5 trillion reconstruction package. Pass those and you can go into 2022 with a message that you've already produced important, tangible gains -- things that were never even attempted when Trump was president -- and all you need to do more is get more Democrats elected. As this piece advises: "Take a longer view, with a strategy and tactics geared toward building a sustainable governing majority." On the other hand, while I can see the centrists' impulse to take things gradually, they need to decide which side they're on, and act accordingly. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "we must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

PS: Seth Myers recently pointed out that Democrats in Congress are divided into three groups: progressives, moderates, and "Republicans" -- cue picture of Manchin (Follow the Money Into Joe Manchin's Pockets) and Sinema (Kyrsten Sinema Is Corporate Lobbies' Million-Dollar Woman). By the way, Steve M. has a theory about conservative/corrupt Democrats like Manchin and Sinema: No, Mr. Bond, They Expect the Democratic Party to Die:

I don't think she cares. She's being sweet-talked by corporate interests who've undoubtedly made it clear that whatever happens to her in the future, she'll never go hungry. She'll be taken care of if she carries out a hit on Biden and the rest of the Democrats. So she knows she has nothing to fear. She'll be fine.

This country is in deep trouble because even people who should know better can't grasp how dangerous the Republican Party is -- and it's also in deep trouble because of a failure to understand the stranglehold corporate America has on our politics. We need to see Republicans and the rich as the enemies of ordinary Americans. And we need to recognize that the damage the rich do isn't always done by means of the GOP.

By the way, I noticed that the former right-wing of the Democratic Senate, Claire McCaskill and Heidi Heitkamp, have been in the news recently, appearing as paid corporate lobbyists against the Biden bill, so the notion that Manchin and Sinema will, in cue course, dutifully lose their seats and wind up making more money lobbying, isn't at all far-fetched.

For more on this, see Krugman, below.

Ezra Klein: The Economic Mistake the Left Is Finally Confronting: Interesting article, although the title doesn't do it any favors. The "Left" is Biden's economic team, and the "Economic Mistake" is, well, what? Arthur Laffer-style "supply side" gimmickry? Opposition to same? Does it matter? The point is that they're looking not only at increasing demand (by government spending, plus putting more money into the hands of workers and the poor) but also at supply-side bottlenecks, hoping to limit friction that could produce inflation. Of course, one big item there (infrastructure) works both ways, which is why investments in infrastructure and education have such big returns. Klein cites two papers, one on the problem: Cost Disease Socialism (an even worse title) from the "center-right" Niskanen Center; and one on the solution: An Antidote for Inflationary Pressure by Biden advisers Jared Bernstein and Ernie Tedeschi. I'd add a few more points. Antitrust enforcement would help eliminate supply bottlenecks, by encouraging more companies to exist and add capacity. Eliminating patents and limiting other forms of "intellectual property" would prevent many monopolies from forming. And while government can encourage private companies to form and invest by guaranteeing future purchases, it could be more efficient to directly fund new ventures.

Paul Krugman: Are Centrists in the Thrall of Right-Wing Propaganda? Republicans are predictably acting out as nihilists, but:

More surprising, at least to me, has been the self-destructive behavior of Democratic centrists -- a term I prefer to "moderates," because it's hard to see what's moderate about demanding that Biden abandon highly popular policies like taxing corporations and reducing drug prices. At this point it seems all too possible that a handful of recalcitrant Democrats will blow up the whole Biden agenda -- and yes, it's the centrists who are throwing a tantrum, while the party's progressives are acting like adults.

So what's motivating the sabotage squad? Part of the answer, I'd argue, is that they have internalized decades of right-wing economic propaganda, that their gut reaction to any proposal to improve Americans' lives is that it must be unworkable and unaffordable.

Well, right-wing propaganda for sure, which includes the occasional nod to economists like Hayek and Friedman, although these days they rarely bother with rationalizations for their political preferences when shouting them louder will do. Keynes, who like Krugman held his occupation in exceptionally high regard, famously derided political opponents as "slaves of some defunct economist," but the less-quoted continuation is more true today: "Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back." Or for every stupid idea in circulation today, you can find some past "thinker" who articulated it first. (Sure, this is just a variation on one of my old aperçus: that every bad idea in Western thought can be traced back to some Greek.)

It's mind-boggling to recall this now, but back in the 1990s Reagan Republicans were widely regarded not just as crafty politicians but as serious thinkers. Not that the "Laffer curve" survived much more than the few months when it was useful for selling the Reagan tax cuts, but the idea was propagated so widely that some Democrats started buying into it, which is how we got Clinton and Obama -- Democrats who raked in huge donations on the promise that they could do more for the wealthy than even the Republicans could. That idea lost its lustre during the Obama years, and especially with Hillary Clinton's loss to Trump. But it's recent enough that it's no surprise that there are still Democrats trying to make the "Reagan Era" Clinton-Obama model working -- the one they've been fairly successful at for their own political careers. Besides, nothing has been done to reform the system that allows the rich to dominate elections and smother elected officials with lobby interests.

Indeed, the real surprise is that Biden, who followed the Reagan Era's zeitgeist as uncritically as anyone, and who was the overwhelming choice of the Clinton-Obama legacy minders in 2020 (at least once every other right-center candidate had been eliminated), should have broken the mold as definitively as he has. I attribute that to two things: one is that politics has ceased to be simply a vehicle for office-seekers to advance their careers on -- voters have started to demand services and representation, which means that Democrats have to consider more than their donors; and the other is that most serious thinking about practical solutions to increasingly dire real problems is concentrated on the left these days.

Monday, September 20, 2021


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36271 [36230] rated (+41), 220 [231] unrated (-11).

I have nothing much to say about music (or anything else) this week. Lots of things been getting me down, although I had a respite over the weekend when niece Rachel came for a visit. I managed to come up with one decent Chinese, then totally blew my attempt at maqluba (rice never cooked; I've made it successfully before, but can't find the picture).

Only things I did manage to write during the week were a few Facebook rants, which I collected in the notebook.


New records reviewed this week:

Eivind Aarset 4tet: Phantasmagoria, or a Different Kind of Journey (2021, Jazzland): Norwegian guitarist, stradles jazz and electronica, ninth album since 1998, long association with Nils Petter Molvaer. Quartet with bass and two drummers, plus guests like Jan Bang (samples) and Arve Henriksen (trumpet). B+(***) [cd] [09-24]

Adult Mom: Driver (2020 [2021], Epitaph): Originally a Stevie Knipe solo project, since added a guitarist and a drummer, third album. B+(**)

Lauren Alaina: Sitting Pretty on Top of the World (2021, Mercury Nashville): Country singer-songwriter from Georgia, spent much of her childhood pursuing talent contests, leading up to a runner-up placing on American Idol and her first album in 2011. This is her third, more than a bit overproduced and overvoiced (especially her male duettists: the Lukas Graham duet is a spoiler), and the songs aren't so interesting, either. B-

Bomba Estéreo: Deja (2021, Sony Music Latin): Colombian band, sixth album since 2006. B+(**)

The Bug: Fire (2021, Ninja Tune): British electronica producer Kevin Martin, has a number of aliases but most often appears as The Bug (8 albums since 1997), drawing on dancehall, dubstep, and grime. He's rarely been denser or more oblique. B+(*)

Marc Cary: Life Lessons (2020 [2021], Sessionheads United): Pianist, grew up in DC, worked early on with Betty Carter and Abby Lincoln, debut album 1995, plays a fair amount of electric keyboard as well as acoustic piano in this trio. B+(***) [cd]

Charley Crockett: Music City USA (2021, Son of Davy): From Texas, but he's been around -- New Orleans, New York, Paris, Spain, Morocco, Northern California (got busted "working the harvest in clandestine marijuana field in the northwest"). Ninth album since 2015, including ventures into blues and honky tonk. Cultivates an old-fashioned style, but doesn't have an outstanding sound, so songs make or break him, and several here are near-classic. B+(***)

Sasha Dobson: Girl Talk (2021, self-released): Napster filed this under country, but she's a jazz singer -- the scat is a hint, but Peter Bernstein's featured guitar cinches the deal -- one I didn't immediately recognize because I hadn't heard anything by her since her 2004 debut. (Among the items I missed was a trio with Norah Jones and Catherine Popper called Puss n Boots.) The band also includes Ian Hendrickson-Smith (alto sax), Steven Bernstein (trumpet), bass, drums, vibes and percussion. B+(**)

Chet Doxas: You Can't Take It With You (2019 [2021], Whirlwind): Canadian tenor saxophonist, from Montreal, has played with Dave Douglas. Original pieces reflecting on jazz tradition, with spare backup by Ethan Iverson (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). B+(**) [cd] [09-24]

Gerry Eastman Trio: Trust Me (2021, self-released): Guitarist, debut 1986, just a few albums. Organ trio dominated by Greg Lewis, with Turu Alexander on drums. B+(*) [cd] [10-01]

Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound Orchestra: The Other Shore (2020 [2021], Outnote): Trumpet player, also credited with santur and voice, born in Chicago, parents Iraqi (father a physicist), incorporates Middle Eastern tonalities and rhythms, albums since 2006. Got some notice for his 2007 album Two Rivers and has used Two Rivers Ensemble as his group name since then, scaled up here (17 pieces). B+(***) [cd]

Family Plan: Family Plan (2020 [2021],Endectomorph Music): Piano trio: Andrew Boudreau, Simón Wilson, and Vicente Hansen. Postbop, strong and dramatic. One piece adds tenor saxophonist Kevin Sun, who also produced. B+(***) [cd] [09-24]

Alon Farber: Hagiga: Reflecting on Freedom (2020 [2021], Origin): Israeli saxophonist (alto/soprano), with a second sax, piano, bass, and drums, extra percussion on 5 tracks, vocals on 3, steering the vibe toward Brazil. Don't care for the extras, although the saxophonist is fine without them. B [cd]

The Felice Brothers: From Dreams to Dust (2021, Yep Roc): Country rock band, albums nearly every year since 2005, Ian and James Felice remain from the original trio. B+(**)

Gordon Grdina/Jim Black: Martian Kitties (2021, Astral Spirits): Guitar/oud and drums/electronics, two exceptional talents. B+(**) [dl]

Lyle Mays: Eberhard (2020 [2021], self-released, EP): Keyboard player, died last year at 66, member of Pat Metheny Group from 1978-2005. Single track, 13:03. B [cd]

Aakash Mittal: Nocturne (2018 [2021], self-released): Alto saxophonist, born in Texas, debut album, trio with Miles Okazaki (guitar) and Rajna Swaminathan (mrudangam & kanjira). B+(***) [cd]

Kacey Musgraves: Star-Crossed (2021, MCA Nashville): Singer-songwriter, started out in country, fourth album, even more pop-flavored than her platinum crossover (2018's Golden Hour), but I like it more -- has a nice, comfy feel. Ends with one in Spanish. B+(**)

Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge: Within Us: Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge (2021, MAMA/Summit): Composer, arranger, big band leader, teaches at University of South Florida, debut 1995, recorded this seventh album in May, 2021. Six originals plus pieces by Chick Corea and Miles Davis. Usual horn sections, but adds some unusual touches: Warren Wolf (vibes/marimba) is guest soloist, Sara Caswell (violin) and Corey Christiansen (dobro/nylon-string guitar) are prominent, and Owen himself plays accordion and hammered dulcimer. B+(*)

Carly Pearce: 29: Written in Stone (2021, Big Machine): Singer-songwriter from Kentucky, moved to Nashville at 19 to seek her fortune, and got a (not very good) album released at 27. At 31, this is her third album, a 15-song expansion on a 7-song February EP. Title song reflects back: "29 is the year that I got married and divorced/ . . . the year I was going to live it up, now I'm never gonna let it down." All songs have co-writers, with Brandy Clark contributing to the first one that stands out ("Dear Miss Loretta"), but after two plays they're all fitting in. A-

The Scenic Route Trio: Flight of Life (2021, self-released): Bay Area piano trio, led by bassist Ollie Dudek, with Genius Wesley on drums and Javier Santiago on piano. Seems to be Brice's first album, but Santiago hails from Minneapolis, splits his time in the Bay Area, and has several previous albums. B+(*)

Tropical Fuck Storm: Deep States (2021, Joyful Noise): Australian group, third album. Lead singer Gareth Liddiard, plus three women in the band. Don't know what you'd call it, but has some psych and some politics but isn't really folk-punk (or vice versa). Until they do something that makes me care (which doesn't seem inconceivable): B+(*)

Yuma Uesaka and Marilyn Crispell: Streams (2018 [2021], Not Two): Young (b. 1991) saxophone/clarinet player, debut album with his Ocelot trio earlier this year, but this duo with the piano great was recorded earlier. His compositions. B+(***) [cd] [10-15]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Sheila Jordan: Comes Love: Lost Session 1960 (1960 [2021], Capri): Original name Dawson, born 1928 in Detroit, grew up in Pennsylvania but returned to Detroit in 1940. Hung around jazz clubs ("chasing Bird"), married pianist Duke Jordan (1952-62), made an impression as a singer in 1962 with a striking rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" for George Russell, then her debut album, Portrait of Sheila, but didn't record again until 1974, when she sang on Roswell Rudd's utterly marvelous Flexible Flyer. So this 1960 session (34:19) is a find, although it doesn't deliver as much as one might hope. Backed by literally forgotten musicians on piano, bass, and drums, a mixed bag of eleven standards, with some hints at the phrasing that made her legendary (e.g., "They Can't Take That Away From Me"), but not quite there yet. B+(***) [cd] [09-27]

What Goes On: The Songs of Lou Reed (1967-2019 [2021], Ace): I know all of these songs intimately, but I've rarely heard anyone but Reed play them. The selection ranges widely, yet familiarity binds them together, one pleasant surprise after another. Makes me finally recognize that Reed's songs aren't just for him. They're for all of us. A- [dl]

Old music:

Eivind Aarset: Électronique Noire (1998, Jazzland): Norwegian guitarist, first album, although he had already carved out a niche as the first-call guitarist for jazztronica experiments -- he appeared on Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz and Nils Petter Molvaer's Khmer in 1997, and they both return the favor here. Lineups vary, occasionally dabbling in dance or industrial, turning up the heat or chilling out. A-

Eivind Aarset's Électronique Noire: Light Extracts (2001, Jazzland): Like the previous album, the guest spots are mix and match. A little softer in some spots, harder in others. B+(***)

Eivind Aarset: Connected (2004, Jazzland): Wires on the cover, guitar and electronics inside, with some bass grooves. Tones it down a bit, gets atmospheric, then tones it down a bit more. B+(**)

Eivind Aarset: Sonic Codex (2007, Jazzland): Diversifying, not least by rocking harder, impressive here and there, but I'm still partial to the early jazztronica drums. B+(**)

Eivind Aarset & the Sonic Codex Orchestra: Live Extracts (2010, Jazzland): Undated tracks, album the band name is based on released in 2007, so probably from a tour following the album. Probably wrong to describe this as his arena rock move, but it's definitely bigger and louder. B+(**)

Autosalvage: Autosalvage (1968, RCA Victor): One-shot rock band, founded in New York with a couple of Boston folkies and the brother of the Lovin Spoonful's drummer. They cut one album, scored no hits, disbanded and were quickly forgotten -- except by Ed Ward, who designated this a "lost masterpiece." The time shifts and guitar flash mark it as psychedelic, although I'm more impressed when they feel their roots. B+(***)

Gene Chandler: The Duke of Earl (1962, Vee-Jay): Soul singer from Chicago, more than a one-hit wonder -- he released eight albums through 1971, and posted 5 top-40 pop singles, and 8 top-10 r&b singles, one as late as 1978 -- but his number one in 1962 defined and haunted his career. Nothing else comes close here, but he does credible versions of other people's hits ("Stand by Me," "Turn on Your Love Light"). B+(**)

Gene Chandler: The Girl Don't Care (1967, Brunswick): The first of three 1967-69 albums for Brunswick. Shows some Motown influence. Title cut was a minor r&b hit (16). B+(*)

The Chi-Lites: (For God's Sake) Give More Power to the People (1971, Brunswick): R&B vocal group from Chicago, started in high school in 1959, first as The Hi-lites, then as Marshall [Thompson] & the Chi-Lites, demoting Thompson when Eugene Record took over. Third album, first hit (12 pop, 3 r&b), the title song (an anthem of the era) rising to 26 and 4, "Have You Seen Her" to 3 and 1. A- [yt]

Carly Pearce: Carly Pearce (2018-19 [2020], Big Machine): Second album, played this after the new one, so I'll note the big changes here: she only co-wrote 4 songs here, vs. all 15 on the new one, and while she has 2 duets on both albums, they're with guys here (Lee Brice, Michael Ray), vs. Patty Loveless and Ashley McBryde there. I saw something recently about how "artists have to suffer for their art." While she was 29 when this appeared, her pivotal year hadn't sunk in yet. Or maybe she was in denial: why else could one pick out a long as clichéd as "Love Has No Heart." B

Carly Pearce: 29 (2020, Big Machine, EP): Seven song EP, 22:14, released in February, superceded by her 15-song September album, 29: Written in Stone, but after two slabs of bland Nashville pap, maybe she felt the need to market-test this turn to real person songs. Co-produced by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, and Jimmy Robbins, who helped with the songs without taking them over. B+(***)

Puss N Boots: No Fools, No Fun (2013-14 [2014], Blue Note): Alt-country vocal trio on a jazz label: Norah Jones (guitar/fiddle), Sasha Dobson (guitar/bass/drums), Catherine Popper (bass/guitar). Each contributes a song (or two for Popper), and they cover Johnny Cash, George Jones, Neil Young, The Band, Wilco, and others. B+(*)

Puss N Boots: Sister (2020, Blue Note): A second trio album, with more original material: 3 group songs, 2 each by Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson (plus one by Dobson and Don Was), the 3 covers less country (Tom Petty, Paul Westerberg, "Same Old Bullshit"). B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Air Craft: Divergent Path (Craftedair/Blujazz) [07-15]
  • Mike Cohen: Winter Sun (Blujazz)
  • Graham Dechter: Major Influence (Capri) [09-17]
  • Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Petite Fleur (Storyville) [09-24]

Monday, September 13, 2021


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36230 [36194] rated (+36), 231 [230] unrated (+1).

Today is the 50th anniversary of the massacre at Attica Prison in western upstate New York, ordered by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who managed to have almost twice as many people killed as his grandfather John D. Rockefeller did in Ludlow. This is all documented in the HBO Max film Betrayal at Attica. Amy Goodman did a feature on Attica today, drawing most of her visuals from the film (with a lot of blurring and bleeping): see here and here. Also, here's a 2:14 clip just of Michael Hull's summation at the end of the show.

I wrote a fair bit about Attica in Friday's Speaking of Which. Also on the journey from 9/11 to the end of the road in Afghanistan -- or what should be the end, unless they decide to further indulge their neuroses and keep fucking with the country long after the troops left and their delusions were shattered. As you can still see in Korea, nobody holds a grudge as long or as obsessively as the U.S. of A. I wrote more on this in a bonus Sunday Speaking of Which. I think it's fair to say that America is on "suicide watch" now. Unless people definitively reject this Republican talking point bullshit, the country is doomed.[1]

Here's one example from today's news: Blinken pledges $64 million in aid to Afghanistan, vows to circumvent Taliban. This is a pittance compared to the billions of Afghan funds the US froze when the Taliban came to power, reminding us that the US would always put political considerations above the welfare of the Afghan people. This may feel like an end-run around the Taliban, but NGOs will only be tolerated in Afghanistan as long as they help stabilize the Taliban government. Blinken appears before Congress today to get savaged by Republicans for surrendering to the Taliban, so he'll be pushed to act tough and resolute, at a time when the US really needs to show some remorse, and some modesty.

[1]: Virtually everything that Biden gets slammed for these days is the culmination of problems that festered during the Trump reign. Which isn't to say that previous administrations, including Obama's, weren't also culpable, but things really go to hell when you put a Republican in charge. Covid-19, the pandemic-cratered economy, the disaster climate, and Afghanistan are prime examples. Deregulation, pollution, inequality, monopolies, racism are slower burn disasters, but all advanced significantly under Trump (as they did under Reagan and the Bushes, not that Clinton or Obama made any heroic efforts otherwise). But as costly as its direct acts were, the biggest charge against the Trump administration may turn out to be the squandering of four years. Economists call this opportunity costs, and they may wind up being staggering. That climate has moved from a long-term to an everyday concern shows how seemingly inconsequential delays can add up until they turn catastrophic.


Although I harbor an optimistic streak that leads me to repeatedly suggest ways the US could learn from its failures, I suspect that Nesrin Malik is right in Why the west will learn no lessons from the fall of Kabul:

The fall of Kabul will be another missed opportunity to reflect on a default setting of retaliate in haste and retreat at leisure. You will instead hear a lot in the media about what this says about us, about the fall or "defeat" of the west -- always the main character in the tragedy that has befallen only others. There will be more in the fine tradition of oratory in the British parliament that flourishes with the moral purpose of intervention, and you will hear a lot about betrayal of Afghan women. But you will hear little from those establishments about the reality of a war that, in the end, from Sudan to Iraq to Afghanistan, was about high-profile revenge enacted on low-profile soft targets. It was not about ending terror, or freeing women, but demonstrating Infinite Reach.


Rated count is down this week, although if you count the Braxton box as 13 and the Futterman as 5, the rated total would hit 52. Took me most of the week to work through Braxton, but it was great fun, and I was pretty clear what I wanted to say about it midway. The Futterman box was a closer call, and it almost certainly helped to have the actual CDs and box on hand. For many years I considered 30 records to be a banner week, but this year I've been streaming to a lot of old music, which building on prior knowledge takes fewer replays and less attention. Last week I noticed that Napster had Vol. 2 and 3 of Roy Milton in the "Legends of Specialty" series, so this week I decided to check out everything else in the series I had missed. Again, I heartily recommend the first volumes of Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins, Percy Mayfield, Art Neville, Lloyd Price, and Little Richard. I especially love Specialty's Creole Kings of New Orleans, so I jumped at the opportunity to listen to its Volume Two. It's not as good, but makes me wonder why they never put out a Professor Longhair comp.

Christgau reviewed More Girl Group Greats in his September Consumer Guide (a B+). It's not on Napster, but I had no trouble constructing a playlist with everything, and decided not to be so picky. Very little in this CG I hadn't heard before: the Leroy Carr is one of three I know (all A-). I dismissed recent records by Lucy Dacus, Front Bottoms, Dylan Hicks, and Tune-Yards with various B/B+ grades, but agree with the A- for James McMurtry. I remember checking out the 2011 Front Bottoms album after Jason Gross EOY-listed it, and thought it was pretty good, though maybe a little slick. I haven't had much interest in even the catchier alt/indie bands since Christgau took me to a Sloan/Fountains of Wayne show I found totally boring, so the group is much more up his alley than mine (even if it took him longer to get to it). But I suppose I should replay the new one, and maybe some of the in-betweeners. But I'm really sick of Tune-Yards by now.

The other new stuff this week mostly comes out of a Facebook list from Sidney Carpenter-Wilson, plus some related discussion. Dan Weiss seems to really like the Turnstile album, but I have no idea why. The one I probably should have given a second spin to is YSL -- some very catchy stuff toward the end.

Alto saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc died last week. Most sources have him born in 1951, but the first obituary says he was 76 when he died (then gives Aug. 5, 1946 as his birth date, which works out to 75). I had two of his records listed as A-: New World Pygmies (2000) and Live at Glenn Miller Café Vol. 1 (2002), so I felt like checking out some more things. Much to my chagrin, the records on Eremite Bandcamp are only available as fragments, but I felt like checking out what I could, under "limited sampling" below.

I should note that jazz impressario George Wein has died, at 95. I don't have anything personal to add about Wein (or for that matter broadcaster Phil Schaap, who died a couple days ago), but I was touched by Matt Merewitz's exclamation, "What a life!" Actually, I do have one thing on Schaap: Liz Fink, who generally didn't do that sort of thing, used to do a hilarious impression of Schaap.

One more housekeeping item. When I wanted to make a generic reference to Music Week above, I wished I had some way to just pull out the Music Week blog entries. I thought about writing a new program, then it occurred to me that I could just add a little argument hack to my regular script. I did, and added the link to the nav menu under Blog, upper left, as well as a couple other titles I've used repeatedly.

Moved into the second volume of Ed Ward's History of Rock & Roll.


New records reviewed this week:

Benny the Butcher: Pyrex Picasso (2018 [2021], Rare Scrilla/BSF, EP): Buffalo rapper, pulled this short session (7 tracks, 19:01) from the vault. B+(*)

Eric Bibb: Dear America (2021, Provogue): Mild-mannered blues songster, just hit 70, surprised to see that he's approaching his 50th album. Many of them are collaborations, and half of these songs have "featuring" artists -- two with bassist Ron Carter. B+(**)

Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Standards) 2020 (2020 [2021], New Braxton House, 13CD): European tour, the alto saxophonist picked up a rhythm section in Britain: Alexander Hawkins (piano), Neil Charles (bass), and Stephen Davis (drums). With 67 tracks, median close to 10 minutes, way too much for anyone to work through, especially streaming, but Braxton's previous forays into standards -- especially the 2003 Quartet, which filled up two 4-CD boxes -- have often been brilliant. I've been sampling this between other records, rarely for more than an hour at a time. It's not brilliant, at least not in the sense that his Parker, Monk, and Tristano sets were, but it's engaging and often quite delightful. A- [bc]

Chubby and the Gang: The Mutt's Nuts (2021, Partisan): British hardcore/punk band, Charlie Manning-Walker singer, a couple guitars, bass, and drums. Guitar is a bit fancy for punk, and they drop a slow, acoustic one in the middle ("Take Me Home to London"). B+(**)

Homeboy Sandman: Anjelitu (2021, Mello Music Group, EP): New York rapper Angel Del Villar II, debut 2007, prefers EPs to albums but often blurs the line. This one's 6 tracks, 18:44, produced by Aesop Rock, who joins in on the closer, "Lice Team, Baby" (after the duo's Lice albums). Leads off with "Go Hard," and keeps with it. All six songs are powerful, prickly, even if I'm not even considering swearing off beef, or drinking cow's milk. A-

Mushroom: Songs of Dissent: Live at the Make Out Room 8/9/19 (2019 [2021], Alchemikal Art): Bay Area psych band founded in 1996, fairly active through 2007, reunion here with three original members, including drummer Pat Thomas (not to be confused with the British pianist or the Nigerian juju star), extra guitars and synths and percussion and a bit of sax. B+(**) [cd]

Polo G: Hall of Fame (2021, Columbia/Only Dreamers Achieve): Rapper Taurus Bartlett, from Chicago, third album at 22, titles show an advancing concern with fame. B+(*)

Sturgill Simpson: The Ballad of Dood & Juanita (2021, High Top Mountain, EP): Country singer-songwriter, pre-pandemic seemed aimed at high-concept fusion, took a turn last year with two excellent volumes of bluegrass, veers again here with a short album (10 tracks but more like 6-7 songs, 27:46), a concept "about love among the legends of the Kentucky frontier." B+(**)

Cleo Sol: Mother (2021, Forever Living Originals): British r&b singer, Cleopatra Nikolic, second album. Soft voice, stripped down groove, grows on you. B+(***)

Turnstile: Glow On (2021, Roadrunner): Baltimore band, started hardcore, third album is merely hard, and not a little catchy. B+(*)

We Are the Union: Ordinary Life (2021, Bad Time): Ska-punk band from Ann Arbor, the horns are the giveaway, fifth album since 2007. B+(*)

Young Stoner Life/Young Thug/Gunna: Slime Language 2 (2021, YSL/300 Entertainment): Atlanta label, founded 2016 by Young Thug, could be a label various artists compilation but most of the roster seems to also be organized as a group, with Young Thug and Gunna getting extra billing because, well, maybe you know them. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Marshall Crenshaw: The Wild, Exciting Sounds of Marshall Crenshaw: Live in the 20th and 21st Century (1983-2018 [2021], Sunset Blvd., 2CD): Singer-songwriter with power-pop hooks, debut 1982, thought he was major in the 1980s, haven't heard much I've liked since (although his latest, 2009's Jaggedland, was pretty good). First disc here is a live set from 1983, when he released his second album, Field Day. Second disc is 10 live songs collated "from the last 25 years" -- could be better specified. Could be wilder, more exciting too. B+(*)

Joel Futterman: Creation Series (2008 [2021], NoBusiness, 5CD): Free jazz pianist, originally from Chicago, debut 1979, several records with Jimmy Lyons from the 1980s, then mostly with Kidd Jordan or Ike Levin. Solo here, spread out over five dates, also plays some soprano sax. Five disc-long sessions (71:57, 76:15, 59:24, 57:13, 68:25), stretches rivaling Cecil Taylor, with the occasional change of pace. I'm rather overwhelmed, but certainly impressed. Helps to have the box. A-

Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carter/John Stevens: Detail-90 (1990 [2021], NoBusiness): Successor to Detail group formed in 1982 by Gjerstad (alto sax), Stevens (drums), and South African bassist Johnny Dyani (1945-86). B+(***)

Total Music Association: Walpurgisnacht (1971-88 [2021], NoBusiness): German free jazz septet, two tracks from 1971 (30:37) plus one 21:20 "Improvisation" when the group reunited later. Three horns, viola, rhythm, none I recognized but I gather Andreas Boje (trombone) has a reputation, and I should have known Helmut Zimmer (impressive on piano) played in Modern Jazz Quartet Karlsruhe (subject of a previous NoBusiness box). Starts rough, but bursting with energy. A- [cd]

Old music:

Childish Gambino: Because the Internet (2013, Glassnote): Second studio album (after a bunch of mixtapes). Spreads out with a lot of new moves and looks, few of which connect. B-

Creole Kings of New Orleans: Volume Two (1950-58 [1993], Specialty): Art Rupe's label started in Los Angeles in 1945, signing local gospel and jump blues groups, and started picking up some New Orleans groups in 1950 -- only a few who wound up big enough for CD compilations (Percy Mayfield, Lloyd Price, Art Neville, Larry Williams), but the first volume sampler is one of my all-time favorite New Orleans compilations: chock full of classic songs, even from more obscure artists. As with all of Specialty's compilations, this second volume dials it back, dipping into obscurities (although somehow they found more Professor Longhair, who gets a 4-song stretch). Still good for the general vibe. A-

Floyd Dixon: Marshall Texas Is My Home (1953-57 [1991], Specialty): Piano-playing bluesman from Texas, moved to California in 1942, succeeded Charles Brown in Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, recording for Aladdin 1949-52. Title song is a conventional blues, but when the sax enters this starts to jump. B+(***)

Paul Gayten & Annie Laurie/Dave Bartholomew/Roy Brown: Regal Records in New Orleans (1949-51 [1991], Specialty): Two cuts with both Gayten and Laurie, 15 just Gayten, 6 just Laurie, plus two cuts each headlined by the others, although Gayten's band backs Brown, and Bartholomew's band backs Laurie. Dates for those given, about half of the total. B+(**)

Guitar Slim: Sufferin' Mind (1953-55 [1991], Specialty): Guitarist-singer Eddie Jones, from Mississippi, moved to New Orleans after WWII, had a brief career and died at 32 in 1959. Opens with a great blues, "The Things That I Used to Do," and there are more solid tunes, but resorts to alternate takes and false starts to fill up 26 songs. B+(***)

Camille Howard: Vol. 1: Rock Me Daddy (1947-52 [1993], Specialty): Pianist and sometime singer in Roy Milton's Solid Senders, recorded some on her own. Unusual in "The Legends of Specialty Series" to have a Vol. 1 explicit, but by the time they got to her they had added a Vol. 2 to their bigger stars. Born Deasy Browning in Galveston, Texas (1914), changed her name when she moved to California in the early 1940s. By this evidence, she could hold her own against the boogie-woogie greats (several cuts here are instrumentals). As a singer, she reminds me a lot of Dinah Washington, though not as risqué. That's quite some combination. A-

Camille Howard: Vol. 2: X-Temporaneous Boogie (1947-52 [1996], Specialty): Similar mix, a bit less consistent, a bit more boogie (8 songs with "Boogie" in the title, vs. 1 "Blues"). B+(***)

Tommy James: The Very Best of Tommy James & the Shondells (1964-71 [1993], Rhino): Ohio rocker Tom Jackson, called his first band the Echoes, then Tom and the Tornadoes, then the Shondells in 1964 (when they first recorded "Hanky Panky"), finally breaking in 1966. They recorded six top-ten songs before James went solo in 1970. The hits are pretty striking, but the other singles fell short for good reason. This wraps up with a solo single. B+(**)

Jimmy Liggins & His Drops of Joy: Vol. 2: Rough Weather Blues (1947-53 [1992], Specialty): Guitarist, singer, younger brother of Joe Liggins. Band has the usual complement of horns and rhythm, but sticks pretty closely to blues material, which may be why it comes off so consistent, even through this second album. One song I recognize here is "Drunk." A-

Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers: Vol. 2: Dripper's Blues (1950-54 [1992], Specialty): Piano player, singer, born in Oklahoma, moved to California when he was 16, eventually Los Angeles, band named for his 1945 hit, which often shows up toward the beginning of "roots of rock & roll" compilations (also Rhino's The Soul Box). B+(***)

Percy Mayfield: Vol. 2: Memory Pain (1950-57 [1992], Specialty): A sly, self-effacing singer, nowhere more clearly than on his first big hit, "Please Send Me Someone to Love," which opens here in an alternate take. I haven't cross-checked to see if there are any more duplicates from the superb Poet of the Blues, but the middle third ranks with his best work. B+(***)

Jemeel Moondoc: Muntu Recordings (1975-79 [2009], NoBusiness, 3CD): Alto saxophonist, originally from Chicago, studied under Cecil Taylor in Wisconsin, moved to New York where he joined the flourishing "loft scene." This collects his two Muntu albums -- with William Parker (bass), Rashid Bakr (drums), Arthur Williams or Roy Campbell (trumpet), and Mark Hennen (piano, first album only) -- and adds an earlier live trio piece (called "Muntu": runs 36:35). Some fine work here, deep and expressive. Box comes with a 115 pp. booklet, which I haven't seen. B+(***) [bc]

Jemeel Moondoc Trio: Judy's Bounce (1981 [1982], Soul Note): Live set in New York, with Fred Hopkins (bass) and Ed Blackwell (drums). Four pieces, the "One for Ornette" is especially sharp. B+(***)

Jemeel Moondoc Sextet: Konstanze's Delight (1981 [1983], Soul Note): With Roy Campbell (trumpet), Khan Jamal (vibes), William Parker (bass), Dennis Charles (drums), and Ellen Christi (voice). The voice blends in with the instruments, but I always find that an iffy proposition. B+(**)

Jemeel Moondoc: The Zookeeper's House (2013 [2014], Relative Pitch): Five tracks, trio with Hilliard Greene (bass) and Newman Taylor Baker (drums), two of them with Matthew Shipp (piano), the other two with Roy Campbell (trumpet) and Steve Swell (trombone). A- [bc]

Jemeel Moondoc & Hilliard Greene: Cosmic Nickelodeon (2015 [2016], Relative Pitch): Alto sax-bass duo, one of Moondoc's last albums. B+(**) [bc]

More Girl Group Greats (1958-66 [2001], Rhino): I miss the old, pre-Warners Rhino. Back in the 1980s/early 1990s they seemed to be able to license from everyone, allowing them to put out dozens of seemingly definitive compilations. Of course, they never quite had free reign. Their two 18-cut CDs of The Best of the Girl Groups (1990) couldn't dip into Phil Spector's catalog, which was kinda like trying to do the British Invasion without the Beatles or Stones. But there was still a lot of great material available. They made another attempt in 2001 with Girl Group Greats and this second volume. The former, even with no Spector, is near perfect. It's in my travel cases, and gets replayed here every few weeks. This set isn't nearly as perfect, with its over-reliance on Motown (5 cuts) plus 2 each by the Shirelles, Chiffons, and Lesley Gore limiting the chances for discovery, but for each of those there's another forgotten gem -- who knows how many more are yet to be found? A-

Lloyd Price: Vol. 2: Heavy Dreams (1952-56 [1993], Specialty): New Orleans great, the first volume starts with his hit "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," and picks up the big ones plus a lot of atmosphere. This one's just atmosphere. Opening song sequence: "Chee Koo Baby," "Oo-ee Baby," "Oooh-Oooh-Oooh." B+(**)

Joe Turner/Smilin' Smokey Lynn/Big Maceo/H-Bomb Ferguson: Shouting the Blues (1949-53 [1992], Specialty): By-product of the label's exceptional reissue series, sweeping up scattered artists who's tenure with the label wasn't long enough for their own collections. Turner (8 tracks) was between Aladdin/Imperial and Atlantic, sounding exactly like he always did. Big Maceo Merriweather (4 tracks) ended at RCA/Bluebird in 1947, and only had a few years left (d. 1953). The others are less famous: Lynn, a big band shouter much like Turner, appears on 8 tracks (3 with Don Johnson's Orchestra), and Ferguson has 2 tracks, the only ones post-1950. B+(**)

T-Bone Walker/Guitar Slim/Lawyer Houston/Al King/Ray Agee/R.S. Rankin: Texas Guitar: From Dallas to L.A. (1950-64 [1972], Atlantic): Volume 3 of the label's "Blues Originals" series, with its colorful, ornate logo centered on a flat black background. Eight tracks from a 1950 session by William Lawyer Houston (aka Soldier Boy Houston), fleshed out with six more tracks by Texas-to-California blues guitarists (two by Walker, one each by the others). B+(*)


Further Sampling:

Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.

Jemeel Moondoc With Dennis Charles: We Don't (1981 [2003], Eremite): Alto sax-drums duo, links to Cecil Taylor. [1/4] + [bc]

Jemeel Moondoc Quintet: Nostalgia in Times Square (1985 [1986], Soul Note): With Bern Nix (guitar), Rahn Burton (piano), William Parker, and Dennis Charles. Only heard the Mingus tune, but three Moondoc originals suggest he's thinking through tradition. [1/4] ++

Jemeel Moondoc & the Jus Grew Orchestra: Spirit House (2000, Eremite): Ten-piece group, with two trumpets (Lewis Barnes and Roy Campbell), two trombones (Steve Swell and Tyrone Hill), two more saxes (Michael Marcus and Zane Massey), guitar (Bern Nix), bass, and drums. [2/6] ++ [bc]

Jemeel Moondoc Vtet: Revolt of the Negro Lawn Jockeys (2000 [2001], Eremite): Quintet with trumpet (Nathan Breedlove), vibes (Khan Jamal), bass, and drums. [1/4] + [bc]

Jemeel Moondoc Quartet: The Astral Revelations (2016, RogueArt): Quartet with piano (Matthew Shipp), bass, and drums. Last recording? [1/4] + [sc]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Whit Dickey/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Village Mothership (Tao Forms) [10-15]
  • Irene Jalenti: Dawn (Antidote Sounds) [10-29]
  • Alexis Parsons: Alexis (New Artists) [10-01]
  • Mauricio J. Rodriguez: Luz (self-released) [07-09]
  • Matthew Shipp: Codebreaker (Tao Forms) [11-05]

Sunday, September 12, 2021


Speaking of Which

The real deluge of 9/11 anniversary/memorabilia articles didn't hit until Saturday, a day after I published my Speaking of Which roundup, so I missed a few that were worthy of reference and/or argument. Plus, I always have second thoughts the day or two after a post. A comment forum might be a good place for them, but that hasn't been practical. Sometimes I add a "PS" section, or a bit more often I might sneak a few extra comments into the next Monday's Music Week, but the former is rarely noticed, and the latter often missed. But this seems worthy of its own post.

I have one key point to make here, so let's make it bold: We've gotten used to living in a world where rhetoric routinely wins over facts and logic. If that's still true, Joe Biden has just walked into a trap which will destroy his presidency and his party. Unless, that is, people accord the Republicans no credibility and see through the trap. One hint that they might comes from Jennifer Rubin's column: Biden delivers straight talk -- and wins kudos.

Republicans are up in arms over vaccine mandates everywhere, and Biden has just taken ownership of that political issue, which only makes them more furious and frenzied. Why exactly Republicans have chosen to get so worked up over this issue -- defending the "right" of individuals to infect and possibly kill their fellow citizens -- strains credulity, especially given their relentless attack on so many other fundamental rights (like the right to decide when and if to become parents). Maybe they've become risk junkies? (That would be consistent with their guns fetish.) Or maybe it's just that having crafted so much of their political rhetoric to appeal to the dumbest and most gullible citizens, they are not being led by their patsies. (No one illustrates this better than Donald Trump.)

Rubin also praises Biden for fighting back against the Texas SB 8 law, which attempts to ban abortion by deputizing vigilantes to sue "offenders" for bounties. (By the way, that law got me wondering, why don't blue states pass a law which lays the basis for people who got Covid-19 to sue any unvaccinated people they came in contact with during the incubation period. That would be a bad law, for many of the same reasons SB 8 is, but at least those who got sick have a valid case for standing. The change is that instead of having to prove transmission and intent, you'd be able to base the suit on simple negligence.)

But I had a second "trap" in mind. This is the bald assertion that in withdrawing US troops, Biden "surrendered to the Taliban," and is usually accompanied by intimations of treason. I first ran across this in a column by the odious Marc Thiessen: Biden has no business setting foot at Ground Zero on the anniversary of 9/11, and I've seen it a bunch of times since. Thiessen's political agenda is obvious from his recent run of columns: Greenlighting the Taliban's takeover of Kabul is a national disgrace; Our military's sacrifice in Afghanistan was not in vain; and Biden's Afghan retreat has done irreparable damage to our alliances. The middle one of this series is the most repugnant, not least because it's the most dishonest. It is a line that every apologist for every war utters sooner or later as the toll mounts while the fantasies of glory fade. Even if the only things you ever read about the war are by shameless propagandists like Thiessen, all a sane person can deduce is that the cause is lost, if indeed there ever was a cause at all.

Of course, it's a bare-faced lie to say that Biden "surrendered" to the Taliban, or even that he passively "greenlighted the Taliban takeover." The negotiations spared the US from fighting the Taliban for over a year (during which US casualties in Afghanistan dropped to zero), while the Kabul government and military appeared to be holding its own. I always hated those "training wheels" metaphors, but at some point the US had to let go and see if the Kabul army could stand on its own. We now know that it couldn't, and that the collapse came from within, as most of a mercenary army hired by the US had no principled will to fight against the Taliban.

If Biden made a mistake, it was in not withdrawing sooner. The Kabul government was supposed to negotiate some kind of power-sharing framework with the Taliban, but cynically figured the Americans would be stuck as long as they held out, but they didn't really any other angle: just steal as much as they could, then clear out. Meanwhile, the Taliban did negotiate, with everyone else, allowing them to isolate and ignore Ghani, who wound up fleeing even before the last Americans left. Even if Biden was willing to side with the hawks and send troops back in, it's inconceivable the US could recover from this setback. More likely, the US would eventually have to fight its way back out, like the British in 1842.

The US war effort in Afghanistan has long survived on the fumes of denialism and magical thinking. It was the height of arrogance and vanity to think that a mission conceived as revenge and meant to be so horrifying it would deter further terrorist acts would ultimately be embraced by the Afghan people as a great venture in humanitarianism. Those fumes continue to intoxicate the hawks, whose last refuge is to blame their systemic failures on politicians like Biden, who finally found the courage to stand up to their delusions.

What remain to be seen is whether Biden and the hawkish elements of his own party -- forget the Republicans, who are proving themselves to be terminably stupid on this count -- can learn the lesson of failure in Afghanistan and back out of the entire "forever war" posture. The first indications are not promising, as Biden seems to have embraced an "over-the-horizon" strategy for killing "terror suspects" without having local bases. The problem here is not simply that bombing remote locations recruits more "terrorists" than it kills (partly because most of the people killed aren't terrorists by any sane definition). (How many of you remember that Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan three years before 9/11?) The other problem is that by disrespecting the sovereignty of the Taliban, the US will preclude any possibility of enjoying a normal relationship with Afghanistan, or of the Afghan people interacting constructively with the world. If the great fear is that Afghanistan may someday harbor a group that tries to attack the US -- as it did with Al-Qaeda -- the dumbest thing we could do is to use sanctions and subversion to turn them into more desperate enemies.

Yet this is exactly what we are seeing the foundation being laid for. For instance, the Washington Post editorial (i.e., not just the rantings of its token right-wingers like Thiessen and George Will): The Taliban shows what it means by 'inclusive.' The time for American wishful thinking is over. It's frightfully easy for Americans of all political stripes to malign the Taliban -- after all, that's been the official US propaganda line for close to 25 years. The Post also published Hamid Mir's I met Osama bin Laden three times. I'm sorry to say his story isn't over. The concrete recommendations in these pieces are actually pretty lame, which makes me wonder why try to be hostile just to make yourself feel better about losing?

The Post also published 6 former secretaries of defense: We must memorialize the fallen in the global war on terrorism. The only thing I want to hear from this sextet is their guilty pleas before a war crimes tribunal. This doesn't quite qualify as something more to charge them with, but it does say something about their character. In particular, their term "sacred war dead" strips humanity from the unfortunate souls whose lives were so cynically squandered by political opportunists and turns them into war fetishes -- really just a gilting of Thiessen's "not in vain" con. But also, it attempts to merge and sanctify the whole Global War on Terror schemata. I might be more sympathetic if I thought said war was over and done with, but it was designed to run forever, and so its monument is something that we'd bound to feed indefinitely.

I've long been stuck by the wisdom of a quote from Henry Stimson (FDR's Secretary of War during WWII, a period when the US depended on a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union): "The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way you can make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him." We might argue about whether the Taliban deserves our trust (or whether they should trust us), but the only way this situation ever gets better is if we bury the hatchet. We don't need to flatter them, nor them us. But we do need to recognize that it isn't our right or duty to pick their leaders or dictate their policies. And we also need to admit that we've believed in and tried to enforce that sort of interference for way too long. The US doesn't need to disengage from the world, but Americans do need to give up thinking they have a right to tell everyone else how to live. As recent history has shown, we don't even have the good sense to direct our own affairs.

I've digressed, but just to underscore how profoundly malignant this week's Republican talking points have become. The question, again, is will people fall for them. No doubt the Republican base will, as they've proven they'll fall for anything. But why should anyone else believe anything Republicans say? As one who doesn't, I can't answer that. But our future depends on the answer.


Notes on a few more scattered pieces. I don't have much to say about vaccine mandates, other than that the extreme communicability and relative peril of Covid-19 means that those who refuse to get vaccinated are recklessly endangering more lives than their own, and are showing utter disregard for the lives and well-being of others (as well as doubtful intelligence). I see no reason to credit such people with an ounce of the patriotism many see as their natural claim (nor is that the only political stance I see discredited by their refusal). I'm not in favor of forcing people to do things they find abhorrent, and I'm inclined to go light on enforcement, but I have no respect or sympathy for them.

Andrew J Bacevich: A modest proposal: Fire all of the post 9/11 generals; also Don't let the generals dictate the war's legacy, make them answer for it [July 23]. If you think he may be being harsh, consider this interview with Petraeus: "Q: How do you think the situation in Afghanistan ended up where it is today? A: It started with the Trump Administration . . . I just think it was premature to leave."

Jason Bailey: '25th Hour': The Best 9/11 Movie Was Always About New York. I mention this because I know Bailey (and felt like giving him a link) -- he moved to New York from my home town, Wichita -- and I listened to his podcast on 9/11 and the film (where Mike Hull, who also moved from Wichita to New York, has a good disquisition on what New York was like immediately after 9/11). But I barely recall seeing the Spike Lee movie.

Dartagnan: Republicans vow to prolong the COVID-19 pandemic as long as possible: A Daily Kos contributor, sums up the Republican reaction to Biden's mask mandate without mincing words. Much like Mitch McConnell strove to extend the recession Obama inherited in hopes voters would blame Obama, it isn't too far fetched that Republicans see Covid-19 as something they can ultimately get away blaming Biden for. (As I recall, a big part of the rationale for recalling Gavin Newsom in California was his handling of the pandemic.) Indeed, Biden's approval polls have fallen as Covid-19 has surged back and dampened the economic recovery, but will people really give the Republicans a free pass when they're working so hard to be spoilers? Here's a related story: Alabama Man has Heart Attack, 43 Full Hospitals Turn Him Down, Finds One 200 Miles Away, Dies There.

Ezra Klein: Gavin Newsom Is Much More Than the Lesser of Two Evils: The California recall election is Tuesday, September 14. I'm sick of hearing about it, but here you go.

Jim Lobe: How 9/11 enabled a preconceived vision of an imperial US foreign policy: Starts with the blueprint, a Defense Planning Guidance draft document written in 1992 ("literally a 'Pax Americana'") written by a couple of Defense Departments underlings who later became architects of the Global War on Terror: Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby. This document has been pretty well known for a long time, even if little discussed. I see Lobe also has a [04-30] piece that is news to me: Hawks seek revival with new group: they're calling it the Vandenberg Coalition, after the Republican Senator who advised Harry Truman that if he wanted to raise funds to counter Soviet influence he'd have to "scare the hell out of the American people" -- in other words, the driving force behind the Red Scare and the Cold War.

Julian Mark: Marine vet 'tortured' 11-year-old after killing her family, sheriff says. The girl 'played dead' and 'prayed.' This sort of thing never enters into those "cost of war" calculations. I don't know how to valuate it, but I am certain that the cost is real.

Dylan Matthews: 20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives: "The enormous costs and elusive benefits of the war on terror." The value, but also the limits, of this piece is its relentless effort to quantify everything. I'm increasingly convinced that the real cost is much more psychic, and that takes its toll often far away from the obvious points. Also note that "elusive benefits" was just there to suggest balance. I wasn't able to find any benefits in the text, even elusive ones.

Kathleen Parker: 9/11 broke us. And we are far from healed. This is what happens when someone with no discernible principles or insight is assigned to write something to commemorate an arbitrary event date: she writes the same column she always writes, about how partisan division has torn us apart, so "division became an end in itself, a self-righteous vision that culminated in the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol." I'm glad she was bothered by Jan. 6, but that was the work of one faction on one side of the partisan divide. Sure, it's tempting to bookend the two dates, as Spencer Ackerman does in his Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (links in previous post, but add this dissenting view: Blame the Kochs, the Murdochs, and The Turner Diaries for January 6, Not 9/11). Pace Parker, there is something real and substantial that has divided Americans: economic (and political) inequality. From 1945 (or 1933) to 1980, America became more equal, with a dominant middle class and serious efforts to improve the lot of the marginal poor. During this time, for instance, wages rose in lockstep with productivity. But then business revolted, and used their money to buy political favors, like tax breaks, deregulation, union busting, undermining the safety net, neglecting infrastructure, promoting monopoly, and routinizing war. The result was that wages have stagnated, and all productivity gains have been captured by the owners. Division was part of the sales pitch for this vicious political agenda. Many pundits like to cite 9/11 as a brief, glorious moment of unity in this polarized 40-year stretch. Parker laments its briefness, but the real lesson is the collective damage is even graver in the rare periods when both parties and most of the media agree. People like to say that "9/11 changed everything," but what really changed America was the Bush decision to go to war, which went unexplained, unexamined, and unquestioned because the opposition party failed to check assumptions built into the war mentality.

Robin Wright: The anguish over what America left behind -- and Afghanistan's future: It pains me how bad she's gotten. Consider this: "For the U.S., the forever war is over, but American military missions are not." Ergo, the "forever war" is not over. It's still very much on track to last forever, because it doesn't have any defined terminal goals. Or as she quotes Biden, "To those who wish us harm, know this: the United States will never rest. We will track you down to the ends of the earth, and we will make you pay the ultimate price." What ended in Afghanistan was the pretense that we could enter a country, occupy it, and get the people to love us because we set them free. No more "speaking softly" for America. From now on it's all "big stick." The thing is, the US is fighting "over-the-horizon" wars in another dozen countries, like Somalia (which we withdrew from in 1993) and Libya (since 2011, although we first bombed them in 1986), so there's not a shred of evidence of that being anything other than forever war. Nor is that the only howler here: "The reality of America's exit -- its mission unaccomplished in multiple ways -- would have been unimaginable when Bush spoke two decades ago." The real question is how could anyone not have imagined such an exit?

Friday, September 10, 2021


Speaking of Which

As you probably know, this week is the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and hence of the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (although more like the 42nd anniversary if you count the "covert" action initiated by the CIA in 1979). There's been a fair amount of press on that, some noted below. And while the number of people who realize what a bad idea that war was has significantly increased in recent years, there are still a lot of important people who want to crank the war up again.

I was in Brooklyn that morning, with Laura Tillem for a visit with Liz Fink. From her apartment, we could see the streak of black smoke drifting east from the burning towers, against a bright blue sky, and we could look down on Grand Army Plaza and watch people trudging home from jobs in Manhattan. That's about three miles in from the bridges, so one of the first things I was struck by is that the adrenaline of pedestrians fleeing the scene had worn off. New Yorkers are used to difficulties, and this was worse than usual, but no need to panic -- unlike the politicians and media who quickly whipped up their "America under attack" chyrons.

Liz and Laura were glued to the TV, which I could hear from the other room, where I was thumbing through a book called Century, with often gory pictures covering the whole of the 20th century, from the Boxer Rebellion and Boer War to the bombing of the USS Cole. Liz predicted the TV would become unbearable in a couple days, but the bad ideas had yet to harden into even worse policies. Even before the second plane hit, Liz intuited who was doing it, and why. My reaction was that this was a moment for introspection: a wake-up call for Americans to reflect on and get right with God. Alas, there was little evidence of that. Even friends who were trusty leftists with long histories opposed to American militarism lost their minds.

Early afternoon we walked into Park Slope and ate in a Middle Eastern restaurant, doing brisk business -- probably the last day it was possible to do so without encountering American flags. We came back, and watched more TV. I remember John Major and Shimon Peres cackling about how at last Americans will understand what terrorism means, and will appreciate how much they can learn from British and Israeli expertise in such matters. Then there was Senator Hillary Clinton, on the Capitol steps, complaining about closing the session and daring the terrorists to take her out. It was already getting weirder. That evening, the media got some grainy video of a missile attack in Kabul, so they started celebrating "America strikes back."

We were locked down for most of a week. When the subways were clear, we rode into Grand Central Station to eat in the Oyster Bar. No sooner had we entered the Station than we saw a phalanx of firefighters marching to busses for the trip downtown. When the planes started flying again, Laura left for Wichita, and my sister-in-law flew into New York, having been stuck in Las Vegas. She brought horrible news: her daughter-in-law, my niece, was working in WTC and was one of those killed. I rushed down to my nephew's house, where everyone was stunned. A few days later Liz took a planned trip to California, leaving me alone in the apartment for another week or two (with the television never on, so I was sort of cocooned from the madness developing across the nation. In fact, I had never heard of "9/11" until a friend picked me up and drove me to where I had parked my car in New Jersey. But I can say that I attended an antiwar demonstration in Union Square Park, much like many I had been to (and many more to come). I had a project to do in New York -- that's when I built Robert Christgau's website -- and spent spare time prowling around bookstores looking for something to read to help me make sense of the world. I didn't find much at the time, and wound up reading a book on British "hill stations" in India. Intuitively, I knew this had something to do with colonialism.

This week is also the 50th anniversary of the Attica Prison massacre. I don't recall any discussion of its 30th anniversary 20 years ago, most likely because the civil case still hadn't been settled. Liz Fink joined the Attica Brothers defense team straight out of law school, shortly after the event, and stayed with the case until it was finally settled in 2005. There was some sort of a 40th anniversary, and this year there are more remembrances organized around the 50th anniversary. I watched the first two panels of Attica Is All of Us on the 9th, with two more coming up on the 13th. But what I really recommend you watch is the HBO Max documentary Betrayal at Attica, which draws a line from the lynchings and labor wars of the 19th century to recent killings by police, and finds Attica in the center, featuring narration by Liz Fink.

I had a rather troubled adolescence, but in 1971 I started to take control of my life. I got a GED, and entered college at Wichita State. I took a philosophy class, and when Attica happened my professor was so disturbed by the events that he put aside his plan and spent a whole session delving into what happened. That stuck with me, and various things caused it to reverberate over time. I have a cousin who taught political science at SUNY Buffalo, and she and her friends got involved in the Attica Brothers defense, so I followed the case more closely than I otherwise would have. Later I met and fell in love with Laura, and it turned out that her closest friend from college was Liz Fink. I got to know Liz fairly well over the years, and met several of her clients and fellow lawyers. When my nephew (Mike Hull) moved to New York in 2000, I introduced him to Liz. It took a while for them to click, but he's done several films and a lot of video editing, and offered to take Liz's Attica files and digitize and archive them. The film is derived from the archive, but the archive is public and will be a resource for anyone else who wants to find out what happened 50 years ago. But others will be hard-pressed to match the narrative power of Mike's film (or the economy and insight of Liz Fink). I should also mention that Mike has continued to interview participants, which will add to amount of information on Attica.

Robert Christgau wrote a terrific review of Mike's film, Out of the Box. I'm not finding many more reviews, but there are several reviews of Stanley Nelson's new Attica documentary (here and here and here). The latter is scheduled for the Toronto Film Festival, then later on Showtime (don't know when). Nelson is a famous documentarian (26 previous films, MacArthur Fellow, three Primetime Emmy Awards, etc.).


Afghanistan:

Matthieu Aikins, et al.: Times Investigation: In US Drone Strike, Evidence Suggests No ISIS Bomb: "It was the last known missile fired by the United States in its 20-year war in Afghanistan, and the military called it a 'righteous strike'" -- it killed 10, including "a longtime worker for a US aid group" and seven children. A little something for the Afghans to remember us by. Also see Ben Armbruster: New report: Post-9/11 US airstrikes killed upwards of 48,000 civilians: so the last airstrike wasn't exactly an exception to the rule.

Emran Feroz: The Enemies We Made: "Haunted by Predator drones in the sky and death squads on the ground." This is a big part of the US legacy in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and despite all the democracy propaganda, this is the part the imperial mandarins want to keep going with their "over-the-horizon" plans. Feroz also wrote: The Whitewashing of the Afghan War.

Anand Gopal: The Other Afghan Women: "In the countryside, the endless killing of civilians turned women against the occupiers who claimed to be helping them." Gopal's 2014 book No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes was one of the few I was tempted by, as it was one of the few to try to represent how a variety of Afghans saw the US occupation. He focused on three figures: a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed government, and a village housewife. This article focuses on the latter. While he's critical of the Taliban, it's hard to read this and see anything the US was able to do right.

Meredith McGraw: Trump wanted out of Afghanistan. Now he wants to bomb it. This long and rather confusing article tries to round up what Trump and his people are saying these days on Afghanistan. As for Trump himself, all you need to know is that he viewed troops-on-the-ground as separate and independent of bombing. He saw that keeping troops in war zones was a liability, but had no qualms about bombing, even after the troops were gone. He liked blowing things up, and was happy to go along with anything the Pentagon offered. He wasn't what you'd call a deep thinker, and he was easily steered by subordinates who had their own agendas (like McMaster, Bolton, and Pompeo).

Paul R Pillar: The biggest problems in how the Afghanistan story has been told: "Not considering the alternative, or whether there was one"; "believing an exact scenario can be predicted"; "focusing more on the dramatic than on the important."

Storer H Rowley: An "Over-the-Horizon" Strategy for Afghanistan: There are no words to express how bad this idea is. The overwhelming evidence is that drone strikes are counter-productive: they almost inevitably kill bystanders, generating more anti-American sentiment than any conceivable practical value; they alienate the host country, not least by mocking sovereignty; they tempt target groups to embrace their own "far enemy" strategy (as Al-Qaeda did in 2001). The US actually has considerable experience with "over-the-horizon" targeting, especially in Pakistan, as well as Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. The result in the latter cases has been to further destabilize their political systems, increasing the jihadist tendency. As for Pakistan, resentment against US drone strikes have been routinely dismissed, but ISI support for the Taliban has proven decisive. Syria is another case, showing how the US predilection for bombing has drawn the US into internal political strife, making peace even harder to find. The only other nation which behaves so arrogantly toward other nations is Israel, especially in Syria, which Israel bombs periodically, with seeming impunity. America's neocons have always suffered from a severe case of Israel-envy. At this point they would like nothing better than to treat Afghanistan like Israel treats Gaza: as an arbitrary punching bag. This is bullying on a national (or for the US global) scale. It is an assault on humanity, even our own.

Adela Suliman: Lindsey Graham says United States 'will be going back' into Afghanistan: "The Republican senator predicts a clash between the Taliban and Islamic State will force Washington to re-engage." Shows how little he knows: ISIS was able to take over a quarter of Iraq because Sunnis were excluded from the Shiite-Kurdish ruling alliance the US left in power, a crisis which led the latter to invite the US back, temporarily; ISIS-K, on the other hand, is a minor faction competing for the Taliban's own ethnic and religious turf, which should be easy enough to control as long as the Taliban doesn't ally with the US. In the unlikely event that the Taliban needs foreign assistance, their obvious ally is Pakistan, which has its own reasons for suppressing the "Pakistani Taliban." The bigger question is why Graham would entertain, much less fantasize about, such a request. Is he really that hard up for countries to invade?


Everything Else:

Brian Alexander: The GOP's War on Public Health Officials: Not among the examples here -- suggesting there are too many to enumerate -- Republicans in Kansas passed a law which strips our Democratic governor from being able to declare health emergencies, and another which allows counties to overrule state mandates. The former was quickly ruled unconstitutional, but the intent is that governments will never in the future be anywhere near as effective as they were in 2020. That's a gross error on the wrong side of history -- most of us who lived through it weren't all that impressed, but it takes a special kind of myopia to think that if only we hadn't had those lockdowns the economy would have boomed and we'd be so much better off now. As I recall, one country did try that strategy (Sweden), and had to admit it was a complete failure. It's bad enough that Republicans insist on doing stupid things here and now. It's even more insidious when they use their temporary power to future governments from ever correcting their errors. Nor is this a new strategy on their part. It's the key idea behind their obsession with packing the Supreme Court.

David Atkins: Donald Trump May Still Destroy the GOP, After All: You would think that the unique combination of toxicity and incompetence Republicans have embraced, especially given how vividly Trump exemplifies both, would have already sunk the GOP to levels beneath what Republicans suffered in the 1930s, but it hasn't happened. Atkins may be right that the longer Trump pushes his luck, but harder the party will eventually fall. But Trump's continued popularity within the party rests on two foundations: blind faith that he is a winner (even when he isn't), and dumb belief that it was Trump who finally saved the party from the insipidity of the Romneys, McCains, Ryans, and Bushes who have repeatedly failed the faithful, and who proved their treason by doubting their fearless leader.

Matthew Cooper: Democrats Are Better at Running FEMA. They Just Are. That's probably true of all branches of government, even ones that Republicans supposedly approve of (like the Defense Department), even ones that do nothing useful at all (like, uh, the Defense Department). After all, Republicans start with the assumption that government is bad, so it's easy for them to fall for self-fulfilling prophecies. In many cases, they even see that as a plus: if people see that government doesn't work well for them, they'll become doubters, which inclines them to fall for Republican propaganda. That's pretty obvious, but if government is really worthless, why do Republicans connive so to control it? Two answers: one is that it's a huge and potentially corrupt patronage machine, and that can be used to reward donors and even some followers, and that can be used to grip power ever more tightly; the other is that it keeps the Democrats from power, and using the patronage machine for their own purposes (or worse still, for public good). Still, FEMA is a special case, because its failures are so glaringly public -- partly because the media loves a good disaster, so this is a rare case where they are paying attention, and partly because the transition from planning to action is so abrupt (generously assuming that when you aren't in crisis you're preparing for future crisis, which doesn't seem to be the case when Republicans have been in charge). Cooper's data here could hardly be more clearcut, so why don't more people realize this? It's a point that's always been true, but as we're coming to recognize the link between global warming and increasingly intense disasters, it needs to be reiterated at every opportunity. Sure, we need to do something long term to limit and even reverse climate change, but even the most optimistic scenario (which I don't have any faith in, but still) is way out, ensuring that we'll have a lot of disasters in the meantime. And in those disasters, competent, honest government matters. To have any chance of that, we need to keep Republicans far from the levers of power.

Liz Featherstone: The Severe Weather Event We Routinely Ignore: Poor Air Quality: "Air pollution is just as fatal as hurricanes, and it profoundly affects our well-being. Yet we no longer treat it as a crisis." Also: How to Live in a Burning World Without Losing Your Mind.

Garrett M Graff: After 9/11, the US Got Almost Everything Wrong: "The nation's failures began in the first hours of the attacks and continue to the present day. Seeing how and when we went wrong is easy in hindsight. What's much harder to understand is how -- if at all -- we can make things right." Isn't the first step toward "making it right" to stop making it worse? I could write a whole book on this. While I would shade things a bit differently, Graff's article could work as my outline. Section heads:

  • As a society, we succumbed to fear.
  • We chose the wrong way to seek justice.
  • At home, we reorganized the government the wrong way.
  • Abroad, we squandered the world's goodwill.
  • We picked the wrong enemies.

Some more 9/11 anniversary comments:

  • Spencer Ackerman: How Sept. 11 Gave Us Jan. 6: Author of Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump. I'm not especially comfortable with this tendency to view Trump as a malady that must have some external cause, but he's so reflexive it's hard to ascribe agency to him. But I do think it's true that decades of war have sorely distorted the American political system, in ways much more profound than the usual tally of lives and treasure wasted. Also see the interviews: Transcript: Ezra Klein Interviews Spencer Ackerman; and America is still stuck in the world 9/11 built.
  • Tariq Ali: The War on Terror: 20 Years of Bloodshed and Delusion. Notes that Chalmers Johnson published his critically important book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire a little more than a year before the 9/11 attacks. The term "blowback" was one that Chalmers had learned as a CIA analyst, but I doubt if it ever appeared in the CIA's daily briefings for the president, either as an explanation for the attack, or as a prediction for the planned American rampage.
  • Zack Beauchamp: The war on terror and the long death of liberal interventionism. Whenever the powers that be decide to invade some country, you can count on the warmongers to deploy a few liberals to claim the high moral ground and provide camouflage for those out to kill and maim, conquer and plunder. Even if their aims are sincere, the means inevitably redefine the ends: the only reason for projecting violence is intimidation and subjugation. Sooner or later said liberals realize they've been had -- sooner when the real power brokers, like Bush-Cheney, are sworn enemies of liberalism at home.
  • Matthew Cooper: The Lost Journalistic World of 9/11: "The terrorists maimed out cathedrals, as she [Nancy Gibbs] wrote in Time. But two decades later, we've done a pretty good job of defacing our institutions all by ourselves."
  • Michelle Goldberg: How 9/11 Turned America Into a Half-Crazed, Fading Power: "We launched hubristic wars to remake the world and let ourselves be remade instead, spending an estimated $8 trillion in the process. We midwifed worse terrorists than those we set out to fight." You know, one of my early insights into 9/11 was that it wasn't the airplanes that brought the towers crashing down; it was gravity. All the planes and fuel did was weaken the structure a bit; dead weight did the rest. The problem with the title is that America was already "a half-crazed, fading power" before 9/11. It's taken decades for some commentators to realize that, but the structural flaws were there from way back. If you recall Clinton's periodic bombing of Iraq, you should recognize a fading superpower which had become petty and vindictive. That's also a pretty apt description of the logic behind the Carter-Reagan support for the Afghan jihadis, or for that matter the blockades of Cuba and North Korea.
  • Suzanne Gordon: A September 11 Reckoning: Calculating the Full Cost of War: Despite numerous efforts, I fear that the full costs of the 9/11 wars will never be known, and will certainly never be agreed on. Focus here is on the staggering costs of health care for veterans -- a big chunk of the Stiglitz-Bilmes calculations -- but other costs are no less real for the difficulties in establishing baselines. For instance, 20 years of war correlate well with increasing gun violence and fetishism in the US, which accounts for more than 50,000 deaths per year. Worse still may be the wars' contribution to the rightward drift in US politics, which added to economic woes, infrastructure weakness, more inequality, the climate crisis and its attendant disasters, and much more.
  • Theodore B Olson: The tragic price of forgetting 9/11: I'm too much of a student of history to let anything be forgotten, but some people need to give it a break. Olson's screed is insane: "Twenty years ago, 19 savages commandeered four commercial airliners carrying unsuspecting civilian passengers and used them to take down New York's World Trade Center towers and crash into the Pentagon. . . . For years prior to 9/11, our people, institutions and military had been victims of terrorist attacks at home and abroad. Our responses had been, to put it charitably, tepid and ineffectual. . . . But the 9/11 attacks were too horrible, too shocking and too audacious for the shop-worn, mostly symbolic responses of the past. This time, we had to do something; we had to mean it. . . . But the Taliban and the terrorists with whom they collaborate do not forget. They are driven by a cruel, rigid, harsh and unrelenting religious zealotry. They dominate and oppress their own people, subjugate their women, and torture and behead anyone who dissents or departs from their barbaric regime. . . . Yet it takes immense resources, tenacity and, sadly, loss of lives to fight them. The effort and cost can be enervating. We grow tired; we want to wish them away. We start to forget. . . . We fantasize that if we just put our arms around them, they will be nice, civilized, decent. . . . So we talked ourselves into believing in a kinder, gentler Taliban. . . . Remember how well that worked with Hitler. . . . We will sadly soon realize: We can fool ourselves into thinking that we have made peace with terrorists. But terrorism has not made peace with us." What I couldn't forget was the myriad other uses of that "savages": a word that kicked off innumerable massacres. (For a refresher, check out Sven Lindqvist's "Exterminate All the Brutes".) Olson may cling to one memory, but he's stripped it of all context, and shown us how oblivious a person can be to the memories and perceptions of others.

Harvey J Graff: There Is No Debate About Critical Race Theory: Sen. Tom Cotton managed to pass an ammendment to the $3.5 billion infrastructure bill which "bans federal funds from going to K-12 schools that teach critical race theory. It passed 50-49." So while there may be no substantive debate about the theory itself, there is the matter of "bad-faith arguments from Republicans to sow dissension and fear."

Joanna L Grossman: The Texas Abortion Law Is a Nightmare for Pregnant Teens. I could link to a lot of articles on why SB 8 is a nightmare, but this does a particularly good job of describing the practical impact.

Adam Tooze: What if the Coronavirus Crisis Is Just a Trial Run? Economic historian, adapted this piece from his forthcoming book, Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World's Economy. He cautions us: "The challenges won't go away, and they won't get smaller. The coronavirus was a shock, but a pandemic was long predicted. Thee is every reason to think this one will not be a one-off." But he also points out (and Republicans will gag on this): "We can afford anything we can actually do. The problem is agreeing on what to do and how to do it. In giving us a glimpse of financial freedom, 2020 also robbed us of pretenses and excuses. . . . Now if you hear someone arguing that we cannot afford to bring billions of people out of poverty or we cannot afford to transition the energy system away from fossil fuels, we know how to respond: Either you are invoking technological obstacles, in which case we need a suitably scaled, Warp Speed-style program to overcome them, or it is simply a matter of priorities." Also see Zack Beauchamp's interview with Tooze, "Neoliberalism has really ruptured": Adam Tooze on the legacy of 2020.

Monday, September 6, 2021


Music Week

September archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36194 [36142] rated (+56), 230 [226] unrated (+4).

Fell further behind the promo queue. Haven't paid much attention to it given that nearly everything there isn't scheduled for release until later in the Fall, but I did start to get into the recent NoBusiness package. Good stuff there if you're into free jazz, although I might have given the archival material the benefit of doubt. I guess I'm not as much of a flute hater as I thought.

Judging from Facebook discussions, lots of people love the Kenny Garrett album. I like it quite a bit when the sax is up front and running away from the pack. Wish there was more of that (as there is on most of this week's saxophone records).

Old music (and there's quite a bit of that this week) is mostly from the unheard Christgau A-list, basically Dave Bern to Childish Gambino. The latter's impressive Culdesac mixtape grade is hedged, because I had to switch streaming sources midway and I'm not sure I heard it all, but also because it's so rich and varied it should take several plays to get it sorted. I moved on to one of his later albums after the cutoff. It's all over the place, too, but nothing I ever want to hear again. The other old music clusters are for the late Larry Harlow and Lee Perry -- neither comes anywhere near qualifying as a deep dive, although I wasn't starting from scratch with Perry.

Finally, I noticed Specialty's Vol. 3 Roy Milton compilation, but had to hear Vol. 2 first. I highly recommend the initial Roy Milton & His Solid Senders, and found the others damn enjoyable as well -- I toyed with the idea of bumping them all up a notch, but got lazy and figured that was just me (jump blues ranks high among my favorite music). This reminds me I should track down all the rest of those early-1990s Specialty CD compilations. I'm aware of A/A- sets by Jimmy Liggins, Joe Liggins, Little Richard, Percy Mayfield, Roy Milton, Art Neville, and Lloyd Price. Also one of the all-time great New Orleans compilations: Creole Kings of New Orleans.

By the way, skipped one cover scan to the right: Chuck Berry's Gold is identical but for the cover to The Anthology. I figured I'd list them both, given that they have different titles, but I just preferred the earlier cover -- even though you're more likely to find that later reissue. I'm not going to look up examples, but UME has done this before in their Gold series. Probably no worse a practice than swapping an arbitrary title to make a token change.


Lead article in the Wichita Eagle this morning was about how Gov. Laura Kelly and leading Republican legislators had agreed on a bill to increase the pay of nurses increasingly stressed by Covid work. However, other Republicans are threatening to hold up the bill unless it includes a proviso that none of the money can be channeled through hospitals that require their staff to be vaccinated against Covid. This crosses some kind of line, of sanity for instance. I've generally held to the belief that most Republicans are decent people who happen to have some mistaken opinions -- indeed, I recognize that many have similar views of Democrats, but that's just one of the many things they are wrong about. But I think we have to recognize that a small but growing segment has turned malignant and sociopathic. Nor is their promotion of the pandemic the only example. Take guns, where they've moved way past defending the rights of honest, law-abiding citizens to guaranteeing that criminals will have unimpeded access.


New records reviewed this week:

Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Field (2019 [2021], NoBusiness): Portuguese tenor saxophonist, one of the most adventurous anywhere, trio with cello (Miguel Mira) and drums (Gabriel Ferrandini), live in Vilnius, with the avant-pianist sitting in. One 56:10 improv, wanders a bit, but the piano is especially impressive. A- [cd]

Dmitry Baevsky: Soundtrack (2019 [2021], Fresh Sound New Talent): Russian alto saxophonist, based in New York, first album in 2004 (with Cedar Walton and Jimmy Cobb). Two originals, mostly picks with jazz standards from the 1950s-60s. With Jeb Patton (piano), bass, and drums. B+(**)

Nat Birchall: Ancient Africa (2021, Ancient Archive of Sound): British saxophonist (tenor/soprano), debut 1999, sounds an awful lot like John Coltrane -- reminds me of that time when someone was accused of copying Charlie Parker, and replied: here, let's see you copy. I don't see any credits, but last time he appeared on this label, he dubbed in his own bass, keyboards, and percussion, so that may be happening here (or maybe he's just sampled Jimmy Garrison's bass lines). B+(***) [bc]

Chvrches: Screen Violence (2021, Glassnote): Scottish electropop group, Lauren Mayberry the singer, fourth album. Big pop sound. B+(***)

Lao Dan/Deng Boyu: TUTU Duo (2019 [2021], NoBusiness): Recorded in Guangzhou, free jazz from China, at last. Alto sax and drums duo, the former also playing Chinese (bamboo) flute. First I've heard of them, but Dan Lao has a substantial Discogs entry, with albums back to 2016. B+(***) [cd]

Caroline Davis: Portals, Volume 1: Mourning (2020 [2021], Sunnyside): Original name Anson, parents British and Swedish, born in Singapore, moved to Atlanta when she was six, PhD from Northwestern. Albums since 2011. Alto saxophonist. Group is a quintet -- trumpet (Marquis Hill), piano (Julian Shore), bass, and drums, plus a string quartet. Both halves have their moments. B+(**)

Kenny Garrett: Sounds From the Ancestors (2021, Mack Avenue): Alto saxophonist, major postbop figure since he signed with Atlantic in 1989. Groove-oriented band with piano, bass, drums, and percussion, plus a roster of guests, including too many vocals. I don't mind the groove, but the payoff is when the sax outraces it. B+(**)

Georg Graewe & Sonic Fiction Orchestra: Fortschritt Und Vergnügen (2020, Random Acoustics): German avant-pianist, recorded for FMP 1976-77, several dozen albums since then -- one a piano trio called Sonic Fiction from 1989, but hard to see a connection between it and this group, with clarinet, bassoon, guitar, harp, strings, vibes, and drums. Title translates as Progress and Pleasure. B+(**) [bc]

The Halluci Nation: One More Saturday Night (2021, Radicalized): Electronic duo, Tim Hill and Ehren Thomas, Canadian (I think), Native American (for sure), recorded three albums as A Tribe Called Red (2012-16), the third titled We Are the Halluci Nation, which they've decided makes a better group name. I've seen this described as a fusion of dubstep, pow wow, and hip-hop, but the electronics are more flexible, as with the guest spot for Tanya Tagaq. B+(***)

Walker Hayes: Country Stuff (2021, Monument, EP): Country singer-songwriter, moved to Nashville in 2005, debut EP 2010, two albums, back with another EP (six songs, 18:26). Engaging songs, not much depth, but note featuring spots for Carly Pearce and Lori McKenna. B+(**)

Marc Johnson: Overpass (2018 [2021], ECM): Bassist, originally from Nebraska, played in Bill Evans' last trio (1978-80), lots of side credits, tenth album since 1986. Solo bass, pretty interesting for that sort of thing. B+(**)

Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (2021, Age 101): British rapper Simbiatu Ajikawo, Nigerian heritage, fourth album, follow up to 2019's breakthrough Grey Area. This is mostly as sharp, although several cuts keep kicking me out. B+(***)

Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet: Rested Turquoise (2018 [2021], NoBusiness): Most often plays viola, born in Serbia but Discogs identifies him as "Hungarian free violinist." He plays double bass here, along with three others, plus Kornél Pápista on tuba. Doesn't plod as much as you'd expect, but does take its own sweet time. B+(***)

Liudas Mockunas/Christian Windfeld: Pacemaker (2018 [2021], NoBusiness): Lithuanian saxophonist (tenor/soprano, contrabass and prepared clarinets) and Danish drummer, duo. Slow start, a bit abstract. B+(*) [cd]

Nils Petter Molvaer: Stitches (2021, Modern): Norwegian trumpet player, started in the 1980s in Masqualero (a group with Arild Andersen that picked up an interest in electronics from George Russell), developed as the star of jazztronica, much like Miles Davis in fusion. The electronics, mostly by producer Jo Berger Myhre (who also has most of the writing credits), are more subdued here, making for interesting atmospherics. B+(***)

Pink Siifu: Gumbo'! (2021, Field-Left): Rapper Livingston Matthews, from Alabama, handful of records since 2019, plays around in ways that often aren't recognizable, with fractured rhymes and beats. B+(**) [bc]

Penelope Scott: Hazards (2021, Many Hats, EP): Young singer-songwriter, 2020 debut Public Void blew me away, back with 6 short tracks, 14:48, nothing smashing but she's still plenty clever. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

John Coltrane: Another Side of John Coltrane (1956-61 [2021], Craft): Before Coltrane latched onto the concept of modal improvisation and rode it through the avant-garde and into the cosmos, he was a much-in-demand sideman -- here with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Art Taylor, Red Garland, Tadd Dameron, and Sonny Rollins (as sparring partner in Tenor Madness). Most of these cuts come from A-list albums, but I don't really see the point. B+(***)

John Hiatt: The Confidence Man in Canada (1989 [2021], Hobo): Hardly any info available on this, but front cover adds "Classic FM Radio Recording" (note singular) and his intro to "Drive South" notes it was recorded "last year." B+(*)

Itaru Oki Quartet: Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (1975 [2021], NoBusiness): Japanese trumpet player (1941-2020), also plays flute, moved to France in 1975 shortly after his first album, but recorded this in Fukuoka, with alto sax/flute (Yoshiaki Fujikawa), bass (Keiki Midorikawa), and drums (Hozumi Tanaka). Free improv, has some strong stretches, especially toward the end. B+(***) [cd]

Lee Scratch Perry: The Specialist: The Pama Years (1969-71 [2021], Pama): British reggae label, active 1967-73, revived in 1978 as Jet Star (although the Pama name has been restored for recent reissues). Discogs shows they released one Upsetters album (Clint Eastwood, in 1970) and a few singles, but eventually offered two volumes of The Best of Lee Perry and 'The Upsetters', which is roughly what's collected here. [PS: Part of a series that includes volumes on Laurel Aitken, Alton Ellis, Winston Groovy, Pat Kelly, Derrick Morgan, and Rico Rodriguez.] B+(***)

Sam Rivers Quartet: Undulation [Sam Rivers Archive Project, Volume 5] (1981 [2021], NoBusiness): Quartet with Jerry Byrd (guitar), Rael-Wesley Grant (electric bass), and Steve Ellington (drums). Starts with one of those "what is this shit" moments, but rights itself fairly quickly in a torrent of inspired tenor sax blowing. But that only covers the first 21:20, then you realize the tracks are organized by instrument: Drum solo, piano solo/section, guitar solo, flute solo/section, with a 5:21 bass solo tucked in the middle. Rivers also plays the piano (dense and impressive) and flute (veers toward funky), and scats a bit. A- [cd]

Mototeru Takagi/Susumu Kongo/Nao Takeuchi/Shola Koyama: Live at Little John, Yokohama 1999 (1999 [2021], NoBusiness): Tenor saxophonist from Japan, albums from 1971 up to his death in 2002, in a group with two more saxophonists (alto and tenor, doubling on flute and bass clarinet) and a drummer. Free jazz, considerable poise and balance. A- [cd]

Old music:

Dan Bern: The Swastika E.P. (2002, Messenger, EP): Singer-songwriter, bunch of albums since 1997, can't say I was much impressed by his debut, and I didn't bother with this one because, well, I don't think EPs are worth my time, nor do I care much for swastikas (even in jest). Still, it's on the list, and on the last weekend of America's occupation of Afghanistan, his Dylanesque "Talkin' Al Kida Blues" has proven not just smart but prophetic. Five songs, 27:24, including his 11:05 sage of "Lithuania, which proclaims the end of Kristallnacht." SFFR. A-

Chuck Berry: The Anthology (1955-73 [2000], MCA/Chess, 2CD): Everyone should own a single-CD compilation like The Great Twenty-Eight (1984) or The Definitive Chuck Berry (2006, with 31 tracks, adding his late novelty, "My Ding-a-Ling"). The Chess Box expands to 3-CD, 71 tracks, arguably a stretch toward the end, but remains interesting when it isn't flat out genius. This splits the difference, 50 songs on 2-CD. A

Chuck Berry: Gold (1955-73 [2005], Chess): Reissue of The Anthology, repackaged to fit Universal's 2-CD compilation series. One could complain that sells Berry short, especially with the generic cover art, but nothing else is changed. A

Big Brother and the Holding Company: Be a Brother (1970, Columbia): San Francisco acid/blues group, Janis Joplin stole their second album (Cheap Thrills) then took off for her brief solo career, leaving Nick Gravenities et al. to lick their masculine egos ("feel like a man/ act like a man"). Still, as a change of pace, they offer "I'll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle." B+(*)

Black Flag: Damaged (1981, SST): Hardcore punk band from California, Greg Ginn plays guitar, Henry Rollins sings. Several songs I know from elsewhere. B+(**)

Mary J. Blige: Herstory, Vol. 1 (1992-97 [2019], Geffen): Major R&B singer, made pioneering use of hip-hop beats, 1992 debut was a big hit, a dozen more albums followed, plus lots of remixes (8 of 16 tracks here are flagged as such), many with featured rappers, two tracks her own features with Method Man and Jay-Z. No subsequent volumes so far, but the Vol. 1 is earned by sticking to the mid-1990s. I've never been a huge fan, but this makes a good case. A-

Mary J. Blige: Love & Life (2003, Geffen): Big album, runs 70:41, tries my patience, but much of it makes me suspect she deserves more attention. B+(***)

Kurtis Blow: The Best of Kurtis Blow [20th Century Masters/The Millennium Collection] (1979-86 [2003], Mercury/Chronicles): Old school rapper Kurtis Walker, had a hit in 1980 called "The Breaks," preceded by his "Christmas Rappin'." He cut eight albums for Mercury, sampled here, very scattered releases since. One cut that rises above his norm is "Throughout Your Years"; another "Party Time." But he was pretty hit and miss. B+(***)

Burning Spear: Creation Rebel: The Original Classic Recordings From Studio One (1969-72 [2004], Heartbeat): Winston Rodney's earliest recordings, for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One, a little more subdued than the norm, but then he was never going to be a source of fun. A-

Burning Spear: Reggae Greats (1975-78 [1984], Island): Winston Rodney's deep rasta roots group, was picked up early by Island for a series of more/less classic albums -- Marcus Garvey and Social Living are the best, with the 1979 compilation Harder Than the Best an alternative. This comes from a later label-wide compilation series. It's redundant in that it repeats 8 (of 10) songs from Harder, but adds 4 more (most notably "Lion"). A-

Burning Spear: People of the World (1986, Slash): He seems settled here, into a nice groove, with nice songs. B+(**)

Burning Spear: The Best of Burning Spear [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1975-91 [2002], Island/Chronicles): Sticks to the series' 12-cut max, but includes a couple extended mixes, plus two title songs from 1990-91 albums. As satisfying as any of the single-CD compilations -- I doubt that it's possible to rank them, but you could punt and splurge on the 2-CD Chant Down Babylon, which covers the same extended time period. A-

Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers (1983, Alternative Tentacles, EP): Hardcore band, formed in San Antonio but soon departed for California. Given their name, lyrics, and slasher noise, clearly had no commercial ambitions, but stuck with it long enough their 7th album (Electriclarryland) cracked the charts (31) and went gold. This EP (7 tracks, 18:39) introduced them. Christgau reviewed it as "nihilist grossout . . . crests and roils like a river of shit," and that was from a favorable review. They weren't that bad, but that didn't make them very good either. Note how "Hey" goes downhill when they add vocabulary to the title. B+(**)

Butthole Surfers: Butthole Surfers/Live PCPPEP (1982-84 [2003], Latino Buggerveil): Combines the initial EP with the live album that preceded their first studio album by a month, plus four bonus tracks, for a historical document of no major import. B+(*)

Butthole Surfers: Electriclarryland (1996, Capitol): I suppose it says something about America that a major label was willing to pick them up in 1993 without insisting on changing their name. That album (Independent Worm Saloon) grazed the charts (154), and this one rode the single "Pepper" to 31. I didn't get much out of it, but I do rather like the country-ish "TV Star," and I'm impressed by the creeping professionalism of "Ah Ha." I wouldn't say they've sold out, but it's hard to be an asshole all the time. B+(*)

Childish Gambino: Culdesac (2010, Glassnote): Atlanta rapper Donald Glover, mixtapes and EPs from 2005, writer for 30 Rock, acted in Community, and did it all in Atlanta, so his 4 albums since 2011 have been big sellers. This was his 5th free mixtape, dropped shortly before EP and his first album, Camp. Some stuff here that I love, which is something I can't say for his later albums (at least the ones I've heard), but I'm hedging because I don't trust my stream source(s). B+(***) [os]

Orchestra Harlow: El Exigente (1967, Fania): Led by pianist Larry Harlow (1939-2021), last name Kahn, from Brooklyn, father was a bandleader who performed as Buddy Harlowe, mother was an opera singer, he got into Latin music and studied in Cuba in the 1950s. His band was one of the first signed by New York salsa label Fania, and he wound up producing 260 records for Fania. This is one of his better-regarded early albums, "a blend of salsa dura and bugalu music," with punchy horns and lots of percussion. B+(***)

Orchestra Harlow: Hommy: A Latin Opera (1973, Fania): Inspired by The Who's Tommy, "the story of a deaf and blind boy who could play the drum." Doesn't sound like opera, or The Who. Does include a feature for Celia Cruz. B

Orchestra Harlow: Salsa (1973 [1974], Fania): Vocals by Junior Gonzalez. Izzy Sanabria claimed to be the first (in 1973) to use the word "salsa" as a generic term for Latin or Cuban music. This may have been Fania's first album with "salsa" in the title, but by the end of the 1970s the term had proliferated. B+(***)

Larry Harlow: Greatest Hits (1971-79 [2008], Fania): Described as "the perfect introduction" in an article on "5 Essential Albums by Larry Harlow" -- along with three albums above and one for Ismael Miranda below -- and indeed it is very consistent, the horns strong, the rhythm furious, the singers, well, a tad operatic at the end. If you find salsa too slick and too thick, as I often do, this won't convert you. But it's pretty impressive for what it is. A-

Roy Milton & His Solid Senders: Vol. 2: Groovy Blues (1945-53 [1992], Specialty): Drummer-led jump blues band out of Los Angeles, first volume highly recommended, not sure of all the dates here but mostly 1947-51. Sings most of the songs, with a couple turned over to pianist Camille Howard. Leans on standards, and really makes them swing. B+(***)

Roy Milton & His Solid Senders: Vol. 3: Blowin' With Roy (1945-53 [1994], Specialty): A third helping, from roughly the same years, falls of a bit but not much. B+(**)

Ismael Miranda Con Orchestra Harlow: Oportunidad (1972, Fania): Salsa singer, from Puerto Rico, grew up in New York, was just 17 when he joined Orchestra Harlow (El Exigente), his second album there called Presenta A Ismael Miranda, got top billing on 1971's Abran Paso!. B+(**)

Lee Perry: Upsetters 14 Dub Blackboard Jungle (1973 [2004], Auralux): Artist credit reads: "Produced and directed by Upsetter Lee Perry." Album was originally titled Black Board Jungle, a pressing of 300 copies, then reissued in 1981 as Blackboard Jungle Dub, but this edition is credited with restoring original order. Almost universally considered part of the Perry canon, deservedly so. A- [yt]

Lee Scratch Perry: Upsetter in Dub: Upsetter Shop Volume One (1970s [1997], Heartbeat): Compilation of dub singles (mostly B sides), with some unreleased cuts, unclear on dates. My first guess was that this must precede the 1969-73 Upsetter Shop Volume Two, but then I heard snips of "War Ina Babylon" and "Police & Thieves" (1976-77), and the one B-side I was able to locate was 1976. Also, the Black Art logo suggests 1975-79. The search wound up fatiguing me more than the musical murk, about what I expect from early dub. B+(**)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Soundzs From the Hot Line (1970s [1992], Heartbeat): Undated "incantations from the vaults," a "missing link in the Lee Perry legacy," "recorded during the heyday of the Black Ark in the Seventies." B+(***)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Meets Bullwackie in Satan's Dub (1990, ROIR): Bullwackie is Lloyd Barnes, a protégé of Prince Buster's, ran the label Wackies. B+(*)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: From the Secret Laboratory (1990, Mango): Doesn't seem to be a compilation. Also doesn't seem to have been recorded in the now-famous "secret laboratory" in Switzerland that burned down in 2015. Main clue is that Adrian Sherwood is a co-producer, and Skip McDonald plays guitar and sings harmony. B+(***)

Lee "Scratch" Perry + Subatomic Sound System: Super Ape Returns to Conquer (2017, Subatomic Sound): Refers back to the 1976 Upsetters album Super Ape, and its 1978 sequel Return of the Super Ape. Partly recorded live, which may explain such old songs as "Chase the Devil," "War ina Babylon," and "Super Ape" itself, but the remix is new, going well beyond dub. Maybe not the "dubstrumental mixes" at the, but after the main show, they're a bonus. A-

The Upsetters: Clint Eastwood (1970, Pama): Lee Perry's studio group's first batch of records played off Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, with titles like Return of Django and The Good, the Bad, and the Upsetters. B+(***)

The Upsetters: Blackboard Jungle Dub (1971-73 [1981], Clocktower): The more common, reordered Black Board Jungle reissue, found by me later due to the artist credit on the cover and the Various Artists linkage at Napster. Should grade the same, but slipped by a bit too easily. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lena Bloch & Feathery: Rose of Lifta (Fresh Sound New Talent) [10-08]
  • Chet Doxas: You Can't Take It With You (Whirlwind) [09-24]
  • Gerry Eastman Trio: Trust Me (self-released) [10-01]
  • Family Plan: Family Plan (Endectomorph Music) [09-24]
  • Alon Farber: Hagiga: Reflecting on Freedom (Origin) [09-17]
  • Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction (ArtistShare) [09-17]
  • Remy Le Boeuf's Assembly of Shadows: Architecture of Storms (SoundSpore) [11-05]
  • Adam Nolan Trio: Prim and Primal (self-released) [08-19]
  • The Scenic Route Trio: Flight of Life (self-released) [07-22]
  • Matthew Stevens: Pittsburgh (Whirlwind) [10-01]

Friday, September 3, 2021


Speaking of Which

Joe Biden completed the US withdrawal from Afghanistan Sunday night, and delivered a forceful address defending the evacuation and reiterating his commitment to end the war. Here are some articles I noticed and felt like commenting on. The Matthew Cooper piece has more on the speech.

David Atkins: Wars Can Be Won. Permanent Occupations Cannot. What he means is that the US military can devastate other military units, effectively allowing them to run roughshod over most other countries. On the other hand, the US is incapable of establishing viable, legitimate governance in lands they have overrun militarily. I'm tempted to point out some possible exceptions, but they don't apply to the US in Afghanistan -- never stood a chance, given the military mindset, and also given that the US has always been comfortable with paying off elites to obtain a shallow level of deference. But when you get down to it, the US (most especially the Republicans) aren't much good at governing their own country, let alone a foreign one, half way around the world, whose people they have nothing but contempt for. The basic principles here were worked out by Jonathan Schell in his 2003 book The Unconquerable World, but the epic failure of western colonialism was clear by the mid-1960s, when the French and British gave up on the last remnants of empire. I do have a quibble with the title: I insist that wars cannot be won, but only lost in varying degrees.

Ben Armbruster: New post-9/11 wars cost estimate: $8 trillion: "The US military role in Afghanistan is over, but the costs will continue to mount as the forever wars rage on" -- much of the future cost will be health care for US veterans. Direct spending for Afghanistan is $2.313 trillion. I don't know of any estimates for total cost to the world, although the article has found that "between 897,000 and 929,000 have been 'directly killed,' so at least considers that way the US military has impacted others.

Joe Cirincione: The dangerous rise of a new stab-in-the-back myth: "The foreign policy elite are focused on defending their reputations and privileges, not in confronting failure in Afghanistan." As noted, there was concerted effort to blame the US military failure in Vietnam on failing popular support -- Andrew Bacevich's 2005 book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War has a fair amount on this. [PS: Useless idiot Marc Thiessen has already jumped on this bandwagon, ending today's column: "Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines didn't fail. Their leaders did."]

Eli Clifton: Top defense firms spend $1B on lobbying during Afghan war, see $2T return. I doubt that includes the cost of the "revolving door" between the military and defense contractors, which is probably as critical a factor as direct lobbying.

Matthew Cooper: After Afghanistan Withdrawal, Biden Lashes Out at Critics. He had the courage of his convictions, stuck to his guns, and led his country out of a fruitless, pointless, and ultimately self-damaging twenty-year war. He should be proud. I'm proud of him (which is something I don't often, if ever, say about US presidents). If the early days of the evacuation looked chaotic, maybe that's because the US military plans to invade countries, but not to exit them. Americans compliment themselves on taking in over 100,000 refugees from Vietnam and Southeast Asia, but the US hardly flew any of them out of the country. Most cast off in boats, and were eventually rescued at sea. Biden flew 115,000 out in two weeks. Biden "ended a war more decisively than any president since Harry Truman accepted the Japanese surrender 76 years ago this week. . . . The president ended this war on his own terms. The University of Delaware grad thought he had more common sense than 'the best and the brightest' who deluded themselves into thinking that one more surge, one more drone assault, and we could stay forever. Joe Biden stood them down and didn't blink. His defiance counts as a victory."

Ross Douthat: Joe Biden's Critics Lost Afghanistan: Not someone I normally read, but Kathleen Geier was struck by how pointed this was as a critique of America's misadventure in Afghanistan, and she's right. No doubt his vitriol was encouraged by the opportunity to heap much of the blame on Obama, and (less justifiably) add "Biden deserves plenty of criticism" while extolling "the Trump administration in its wiser moments" (sorry, I must have blinked). Still, this is about right: "Our botched withdrawal is the punctuation mark on a general catastrophe, a failure so broad that it should demand purges in the Pentagon, the shamed retirement of innumerable hawkish talking heads, the razing of various NGOs and international-studies programs and the dissolution of countless consultancies and military contractors."

Michelle Goldberg: The Afghanistan War Was Lost Before Biden Ended It. You get the feeling that despite knowing better she still wishes it had all worked out. She attacks Biden for "not clearing bureaucratic obstacles that kept Afghan allies waiting for visas," but exonerates him from the charge of "losing the war." But she could have made a more persuasive case for the deep origins of US failure in Afghanistan.

Jeff Greenfield: The Hidden Message in Joe Biden's Afghanistan Speech: "Biden's caution about the limits of U.S. power could launch a debate that many Americans have wanted for decades." I don't see a general debate breaking out, but admission that the Afghanistan War was a costly failure will certainly raise doubts about similar ventures. We've already seen some of that with Syria and Libya, although US involvement in Africa seems to escape scrutiny. What is needed now is an alternative to US military power projection. One approach would be to offer to scale back the US military, including bases ab road, as part of a deal for arms reductions elsewhere (e.g., in China and Russia).

Ezra Klein: Let's Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew From Afghanistan Was the Problem. After noting the prevalence of groupthink in American foreign policy -- and admitting he got suckered into supporting the invasion of Iraq because he trusted that consensus -- he notes: "It is telling that it is Biden who is taking the blame for America's defeat in Afghanistan. The consequences come for those who admit America's foreign policy failures and try to change course, not for those who instigate or perpetuate them." He also notes: "America's pretensions of humanitarian motivation were always suspect. . . . It is callous to suggest that the only suffering we bear responsibility for is the suffering inflicted by our withdrawal. Our wars and drone strikes and tactical raids and the resulting geopolitical chaos directly led tot he deaths of hundreds of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis."

Anita Kumar: As Biden ends mission in Afghanistan, a refugee backlash looms at home: I expect the Republican Party to split on welcoming Afghan refugees. On the one hand, Republicans have generally done well with immigrants from countries the US devastated with war and sanctions -- especially Cubans (think Senators Cruz and Rubio), but they've generally done well with any immigrants they could get a super-patriotic rise from. On the other hand, Trump cultivated an anti-muslim backlash which I expect to kick in here. And Trump's nominal (if practically meaningless) opposition to US wars in the Middle East offers an out from the "moral commitments" owed to US collaborators in the region, backed by the group's Christianist and racist prejudices. Xenophobia is a core tenet, and likely to remain a key one among Republicans.

Josh Marshall: Taking Stock of the Great and Cowardly Press Freakout of August 2021:

Three Presidents understood the futility of the mission. Only one had the determination to end it even at the cost of real political damage to himself. . . . But as many have argued this was a reality baked into the futility and failure of the mission itself. There was no pretty exit. That is what kept the US there for two decades. As has been the case for weeks, this is the crux of the 'there had to be a better way' crowd's argument: wanting out of a failed endeavor but unwilling to stomach let alone embrace the reality of that failure and eager to pass that messiness off on someone else.

Sandi Sidhu, et al.: Ten family members, including children, dead after US strike in Kabul. Leaving Afghanistan a little something to remember us for. Also see Dave DeCamp: Victims of US Drone Strike in Kabul Want Answers; e.g.:

The slaughter of the Ahmadi family is not an anomaly for US drone strikes. In 2015, documents leaked by Daniel Hale, who was recently sentenced to 45 months in prison, revealed that during a five-month period between 2012 and 2013, 90 percent of the people killed by US drones were civilians.

Matthew Warshauer: 9/11 wasn't the Pearl Harbor of our generation: "But it was a trap laid by Osama bin Laden only Washington could spring. And it did." Bin Laden may have "declared war" on the United States, but he didn't have any resources to fight a war, and he didn't risk any territory (or many of his own people) in his recklessness. Indeed, that's why when GW Bush decided to respond with war, he had to pick a real country, Afghanistan, as a proxy for the non-state Al-Qaeda, in order to have something the US military could beat. By the way, the big difference between 1941 and 2001 was America. I wouldn't say that the US was innocent in the lead up to WWII, but Roosevelt did wait until Japan and Germany declared war to respond in kind, which is one reason Japanese and Germans acknowledge their responsibility for the war, and tolerated an American occupation force that was nearly as clueless as the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, Afghans and Iraqis felt like victims of America's global hubris, even before the 2001-03 invasions.

One last thing I want to add that I've seen hints at but don't have a solid article to point at is that it's quite possible that Biden will fall into the rut of America's previous botched wars and insist on ostracizing and isolating the Taliban, to the detriment of the Afghan people, and to the greater risk to world peace. North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Iran are all examples of America clinging to its grudges, forcing countries to continue to dig in and rally their people to defend against American imperiousness. We're seeing evidence of this as Biden freezes Afghan foreign funds, imposes sanctions on Taliban, and vows to continue drone attacks on ISIS-K targets (see Samuel Moyn: America Is Giving the World a Disturbing New Kind of War; on sanctions: US Wrestles With Taliban Sanctions as Afghan Crisis Looms). It is worth reiterating that Communist nations that the US had never directly fought almost universally reformed themselves along lines favorable to liberal democracy or at least capitalism. The US should give the Taliban a chance for peace and prosperity -- at least stop mucking up any possibility.


Finally, a few links and comments on other stories of note this week. I didn't flag a piece on Covid this week, but you can get the latest stats here. One of the articles I skipped over had a dire prediction that daily deaths could top 1,500 again. On September 2, the daily avg. was 1,521 (+67% over 14 days).

Benji Jones: Fires in the Amazon are out of control. Again. "Hundreds of wildfires have already scorched the rainforest this year, and the worst is likely yet to come." Thought I'd include an apocalyptic climate story that hasn't gotten much press attention.

Ezra Klein: The Way the Senate Melted Down Over Crypto Is Very Revealing: I've never understood cryptocurrency, and I don't understand it much better after reading this article. Part of it is that it's always seemed like something I could ignore. Indeed, for the most part all it seems to be is a self-involved betting game, like fantasy football, or derivatives. The political question is whether the government should consider regulating and/or taxing it, which seems like a fair question, especially if the answer isn't assumed. Some Senators care about that question, but they don't divide along left/right political lines, so that doesn't help much. One thing I really don't understand is why it takes so much compute power -- enough that some people consider it a factor in global warming (a point which will presumably be moot once we get to all non-carbon electricity, but wouldn't that point come sooner if we didn't waste it on things nobody needs?). The other thing that this article touches on is the potential for crypto to transform the internet. The idea here is that crypto can be used to enforce property rights on data (e.g., through NFTs), which in theory could make it easier to pay content producers for their wares. It does this by making data, which can be copied for zero marginal cost, scarce, and therefore expensive. That sounds to me like a terrible idea.

Carlos Lozado: 9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed. Washington Post book review editor, wrote a whole book on 150 books about Trump (What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era), offers a shorter digest of books on 9/11 and the wars that followed. Seems like I could write more on this, and possibly offer some alternatives, but for now here's the list ([x] are ones I've read, loosely graded for insight and utility; I cut back on my reading after 2008, while Lozado's list favors new books):

  • Steve Coll: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004) [A-]
  • Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006) [A-]
  • Peter Bergen: The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden (2021)
  • Richard A Clarke: Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (2004)
  • Jim Dwyer/Kevin Flynn: 102 Minutes: The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers (2004)
  • Garrett M Graff: The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 (2019)
  • Bob Woodward: Bush at War (2002)
  • Jane Mayer: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (2008) [A-]
  • David Cole, ed: The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable (2009)
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture (2014)
  • Robert Draper: To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq (2020)
  • Anthony Shadid: Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (2005) [A]
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006) [B+]
  • Dexter Filkins: The Forever War (2008) [B]
  • Craig Whitlock: The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (2021)
  • The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (2007)
  • David Finkel: Thank You for Your Service (2013)
  • The Iraq Study Group Report (2006)
  • Spencer Ackerman: Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump (2021)
  • Karen J Greenberg: Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy From the War on Terror to Donald Trump (2021)
  • The 9/11 Commission Report (2004)

The list of books I've read since 2001 or so is here. The last few years have understandably been preoccupied with Trump and his Klan, but two books I'm surprised not to find here are Andrew Bacevich's America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, and Steven Coll's Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The recent books by Ackerman and Watkins look promising, and Draper's book probably sums up a lot of detail I mostly sussed out in real time on the selling of the Iraq War.

Rick Perlstein: When America Had a Moral Panic Over Inflation. A historian who has written well over 1,000 pages on the 1970s takes a look at one of the decade's signature issues, and some of the many dumb things said about it, and about Paul Volcker, who usually gets credit for slaying the inflation dragon. One thing that's always bothered me is that while inflation is supposedly defined by the cost of goods, the measures used to suppress it are almost always aimed at wages. Another is that the way the Fed uses to "cool off" the economy is by raising interest rates (isn't that some kind of inflation?). I hadn't heard the Robert Solow quote on Volcker's recession, but it strikes me as right: "It's burning down the house to roast the pig."

Janet Reitman: 'I Helped Destroy People': "Terry Albury, an idealistic F.B.I. agent, grew so disillusioned by the war o terror that he was willing to leak classified documents -- and go to prison for doing it." I could have slotted this under the Afghanistan section, but the article is big and important enough to get its own heading. This point is pretty obvious, but should be spelled out: for every foreign war a country fights, there is a mirror war fought at home against one's own people. I suppose this goes back to the Crusades, when soldiers marching toward the Holy Land got some practice sacking Jewish villages along the way. No American war has ever been fought more viciously at home than WWI, with local committees to police anti-war dissidents, incarceration for anti-war leaders like Eugene Debs, censorship, and widespread attacks against German-Americans. In WWII, Japanese-Americans were picked up and carted off to concentration camps. (German and Italian nationals were also interned, but not US citizens of German or Italian descent.) Both World Wars ended in Red Scares, the Second kicking off the Cold War. After 9/11, the war rush was accompanied by pre-emptive attacks against anyone with a peaceful disposition. As the targets of those wars were Muslims, Americans became all the more Islamophobic, with the FBI both following and leading the prejudices. This article has a lot of detail on how and why that happened.

Bill Scher: It's Time to Raise Hell in Texas Over the Insane Abortion Law: I hope I don't have to explain why the law is insane. It seems unlikely to me that the Supreme Court will tolerate the free-for-all of citizen suits in cases where they have no conceivable standing, even if the majority is inclined to reverse Roe v. Wade, so the 5-4 vote against a stay seems very reckless. I said a while back that it was premature to start talking about reforming (or re-packing) the Supreme Court, as I thought it would be impossible to get a consensus until it became clear how deranged the current right-wing Court is. This is one of the rulings that will help build the case that we need a reformed Supreme Court with a majority of Justices respecting constitutional rights and freedoms. By the way, this isn't the only insane law to come out of the Texas Lege (as Molly Ivans put it) recently. They also passed a law to get rid of all gun registration requirements. They also finally passed their anti-voting law. Texas can't turn blue too soon. Also see:

Nick Shay: Hurricane Ida Turned Into a Monster Thanks to a Giant Warm Patch in the Gulf of Mexico: Fairly technical explanation of the "warm eddy" that Ida passed over, leading to extreme intensification. My impression is that most hurricanes that enter the Gulf of Mexico strengthen due to the warm surface waters (which I would expect to be warmer in shallower areas close to land), but I hadn't previously read about warm eddies, where the warm water can be as deep as 500 feet. As we've seen, Ida's damage to Louisiana has been extensive. More surprisingly is the amount of rain it has continued to dump all the way to Philadelphia and New York, which have experienced severe flooding. Also see:

Monday, August 30, 2021


Music Week

August archive (finished).

Music: Current count 36142 [36093] rated (+49), 226 [221] unrated (+5).

A couple weeks ago I wrote a critical comment on an egregiously bad piece by Matt Taibbi (on what he called The Vanishing Legacy of Barack Obama). Next week, Taibbi wrote a pretty good piece on the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan: We Never Learn. He always cultivated this idea that he could prove his independence by attacking "both sides" -- e.g., in The Great Derangement, he added a chapter attacking "9/11 truthers" as a left-wing analog to the right-wing crazies who gave him so much to write about -- but lately his ravings about mainstream media and centrist Democrats have become increasingly arbitrary and gratuitous, especially given how far off the deep end right-wing media and politicians have plunged. But the fact that many Democrats are wed to the dysfunctional fantasies of the military-security-mercenary complex gives him a chance to put his contrarianism to good use. And now, he's managed to merge his best insights with his worst instincts, in To Stop War, America Needs a Third Party.

Look, I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. We had just moved to Kansas, and it was clear the Democrats didn't have the slightest interest in campaigning in Kansas. When I voted, the thought occurred to me that Nader might even outpoll Gore here. Well, I was wrong. Without trying, Gore got 11 times as many votes as Nader (399,276 to 36,086; although in Douglas County, the Gore/Nader ratio was down to 4). Even so, Gore lost to Bush by 20.8 points, had Gore received all of Nader's votes, the margin would only have dropped to 17.4. I've never blamed Nader for Gore losing, and I get irritated when other people do. Gore ran the campaign he chose to, figuring he would make up more center votes (and cash) than he could possibly lose to a left that New Democrats had nothing but contempt for. Even as the true horror of the Bush administration became evident after 9/11, I've never doubted that Gore would have gone to war as readily as Bush did. (Well, maybe not Iraq, which Bush had a peculiar hard on for, but Afghanistan was the original mistake.) While Nader wasn't especially concerned with foreign affairs, I'm pretty sure that he would have held back, preventing the 20-year debacle that's only now becoming obvious to many people. So, at least in that respect, the divide between Nader and Gore was more important than the difference between Gore and Bush.

Taibbi is right that both parties have deeply invested in the imperial military mindset. In some ways, the failure of Democrats to find any sort of alternative foreign policy is more galling. Republicans' core belief in using military power to cow poorer nations is consistent with their faith in using police and courts to trample poor and dissident people at home. Both intend to fortify and protect privilege classes, and are not tempered by concerns for democracy, freedom, or individual rights. You'd think that Democrats would understand that by now. (They've been slow on the uptake, but Republican efforts to rig elections finally seem to have caught their attention.)

You'd also expect that they'd reflect back on the principles and promise of international institutions, which they worked hard to establish under and after FDR. Yet even now we see Biden acting rashly and unilaterally to order the wanton death of drone strikes while still committed to exiting Afghanistan.

But Taibbi is dead wrong about third parties. What I realized in 2000 was that the people we needed to convince to support a progressive agenda had already committed to one party (the Democratic), in large part because the other (the Republicans) were clearly committed to causing them harm. That fundamental truth has only become more obvious since 2000. The other change is that the neoliberal clique that took over the Democratic Party with Clinton can and has been challenged, both in primaries and through public organization. We've made progress, but still need to make the case to rank-and-file voters, the media, and even the elites -- especially on war, which is hard to do as long as Americans are being deployed in conflicts, with inevitable casualties and hardships, and a tendency to get wrapped up in their putative heroism. It's hard to heal while you're still getting beat up.

It's painful to listen to bystanders and opportunists decry Biden's airlift from Kabul. Many of the loudest complainers shared responsibility for the slow-moving train wreck, so much so that it's rather astounding that they can still feign surprise. Before the 13 soldiers killed in a freak suicide bombing, the US had enjoyed a respite from conflict for over a year -- a result that was only possible thanks to negotiating with the Taliban. The hawks who wish to renege now (the same ones who complain about the present chaos) have no idea how bad the situation could deteriorate if the Taliban decided they'd have to once again fight Americans for their freedom. One can always nitpick, but I'm actually impressed that Biden is handling this as well as he has -- and I'm disgusted with those who think otherwise.


I have very little to add about the recent deaths of Charlie Watts and Lee Perry. I've read much less about the death of Larry Harlow, a major figure in the development of salsa in New York. But I haven't listened to him much myself. My grade list for Perry is here.

A lot of old music this week, as I fell back on the unheard Christgau A-list, going back to the top after I lost my place. Some records there I skipped over during my first pass.

Finished Rana Foroohar's Don't Be Evil: The Case Against Big Tech, with mixed feelings I should probably try to articulate at some point. I'm especially bothered by her evident belief that stronger patent laws would increase competition, at least by making it easier for some other company to challenge the FAANG giants. I think that's exactly wrong. I also doubt her assertion that information is the new oil -- the comparison to railroads isn't quite as far off. Oil converted to energy which turned into a huge increase in the amount of work people could do, so it mostly added to the world's wealth. Information may help companies exploit people more efficiently, but it's ultimately more redistributive than not. That's why I expect we'll see diminishing returns from information technology.

On the other hand, I think the case that Foroohar makes about how the big FAANG companies depress innovation is valid. I'd like to see them partially broken up, but I don't think competition is a solution in and of itself. A lot of things that these networking companies do shouldn't be done at all. That can be addressed through a combination of regulating harmful activities, replacing useful ones with open source software, and subsidizing common infrastructure.

Afterwards, I picked up Ed Ward's The History of Rock & Roll: Volume One 1920-1965. As with similar books, a lot of emphasis early on is put on labels and entrepeneurs, which makes an interesting contrast after reading about the FAANG monopolies. But rock & roll is a pretty good example of what capitalism is actually good for.

August had five Mondays and nothing better to do, so this month's Streamnotes compilation is one of the largest ever.


New records reviewed this week:

Iggy Azalea: The End of an Era (2021, Bad Dreams/Empire): Australian rapper Amethyst Amelia Kelly, moved to US at 16 and picked up a local accent, had a big hit with her 2014 debut. Third and "final" album, supposedly a throwback to her "mixtape roots." Having survived my self-destructive impulses, I'm feeling kind of weird liking a song where the refrain is "I love drugs," or another explaining "You need a good girl/ I'm just a good time." I suppose I could blame the beats. A-

Alan Broadbent/London Metropolitan Strings: Broadbent Plays Brubeck (2021, Eden River): Pianist from New Zealand, back story is that he transcriptions of Brubeck Plays Brubeck in 1961, when he was 14, and played through it "as written, without any knowledge of, or feeling for, jazz rhythm." No such excuse now. Harvie S (bass) and Hans Dekker (drums) should help, but the strings drain the rhythm right out. B+(*)

Greg Burk/Ron Seguin/Michel Lambert: Sound Neighbors (2020, Tonos): Pianist, originally from Minnesota, studied at New England Conservatory, currently lives in Rome, albums since 2000. Trio with bass and drums/maikotron (probable source of synth sounds I originally thought might be prepared piano). The others are Canadian, although Seguin is also based in Rome, and has a connection to Lambert through François Carrier. B+(***) [cd]

Greg Burk: Simple Joys (2019 [2021], Tonos): Pianist-led quintet, recorded in Rome (where Burk lives), Italian names, none I recognize -- alto/soprano sax, guitar, bass, drums. Sleek postbop. B+(*) [cd]

Xhosa Cole Quartet: K(no)w Them, K(no)w Us (2021, Stoney Lane): British saxophonist, grew up in Birmingham, debut album, parens not evident on the cover (which has a spurious exclamation mark) but used in the doc. Quartet adds trumpet (Jay Phelps), bass, and drums, with guests Soweto Kinch (sax, 2 cuts) and Reuben James (piano, 3). B+(**) [bc]

Lorraine Feather: My Own Particular Life (2019-21 [2021], Relarion): Jazz singer, as was her mother, her father the famous jazz writer Leonard Feather, her full name also including "Billie" for Holiday and "Lee" for Peggy. Recorded a couple albums in 1978, continued more regularly since 1996. Feather wrote lyrics here, to music by others (mostly Eddie Arkin). B+(*) [cd]

Bob Gorry/Pete Brunelli/Peter Riccio: GoBruCcio (2021, NHIC): Guitar-bass-drums trio, based in New Haven (label acronym is for New Haven Improvisers Collective). Seems to be Gorry's first album, but he hosts a jazz program, curates a series with Joe Morris, and has some side-credits with Allen Lowe. B+(**) [cd] [09-01]

Halsey: If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power (2021, Capitol): Pop singer-songwriter, Ashley Frangipane, fourth album, also "an hour-long film experience set to the music" of her album, co-written and produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for that soundtrack feel. The trailer, perhaps the whole concept, is way too grandiose. but the music is remarkably tight. B+(***)

Inawhirl: Streugebilde (2020 [2021], Trost): Filed this under veteran pianist Georg Graewe, whose name appears first but not always. The others are Sara Kowal (harp) and dieb13 (turntables), so another reason for favoring Graewe might be that his is the only instrument that you really notice. Still, I've noticed him more elsewhere. B+(*) [bc]

Jake Breaks: Breaksy (2021, Wide Hive): Artist name given as Jacob B., credited with "breaks and cuts" (so, turntables?), band includes members of Throttle Elevator Music, with Gregory Rustall Howe credited with "songs, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, drums, quika, cymbals, and percussion. Label lists genre as hip-hop, but I filed these funk groove pieces under pop jazz, not that that's right either. B+(*) [cd]

Ka: A Martyr's Reward (2021, Iron Works): Rapper Kaseem Ryan, based in New York, sixth album since 2008. Dense and severe. B+(***) [yt]

James McMurtry: The Horses and the Hounds (2021, New West): Singer-songwriter from Texas, father was noveist Larry McMurtry, 10th album since 1989. Counts as Americana, with a feel for language and an eye for detail, over guitar which carries you along gently. I wasn't as quickly taken by this one as by his previous few albums, but enough comes through in the end. A-

Roscoe Mitchell: Dots: Pieces for Percussion and Woodwinds (2021, Wide Hive): AACM founder, Art Ensemble of Chicago saxophonist, 80 when this was recorded. The percussion works are too pointilist to generate any flow, but that was probably the idea. I don't see other credits, but this is sparse enough to be solo. Besides, everyone in AEC doubled on percussion (especially Mitchell). B+(**) [cd]

Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 8: Brian Jackson (2021, Jazz Is Dead): Always a struggle to figure out whether the album credits belong with the producers or the guest artist, or whether the latter is the title. The feature artists (so far at least) are still-live veterans from the 1970s, so presumably these are new tracks rather than remixes. Jackson, who plays various keyboards, is best known as Gil Scott-Heron's music collaborator. The albums are all short, but at 8 songs, 32:09, we won't ding this as an EP. B+(*)

Nelly: Heartland (2021, Columbia, EP): St. Louis rapper Cornell Haynes Jr., debut album in 2000 was called Country Grammar, one of the year's best for me. He's always been on the pop side of hip-hop -- soft beats and chorus hooks, nothing gangsta or underground. Concept here is to feature country acts, kicking off with Florida Georgia Line on an irresistible ditty called "Lil Bit." Nothing else that catchy, and not just because the headliner fade pretty fast as you go down the list (George Birge? Chris Bandi?). Eight tracks, 23:47. B+(*)

Kevin Sun: <3 Bird (2021, Endectomorph Music): Tenor saxophonist, plays clarinet on one piece, fifth album since 2018 (including one as Mute), all aces. "The implications of Charlie Parker's art are fathomless." (Is that somehow different from unfathomable?) The thing that most impressed me about Sun's debut was the depth of his understanding of saxophone history and lore, so I suppose it's not surprising that he would want to work his way through Parker's legacy. Mostly originals here, with two Parker pieces plus "Salt Peanuts" (Dizzy Gillespie/Kenny Clarke), so he seems to be signing Parker up for his own purposes. [By the way, title is sometimes transcribed as ♡ Bird, but with the heart on its side.] A- [cd] [08-29]

Tinashe: 333 (2021, Tinashe Music): "Rhythmic pop" singer-songwriter, last name Kachingwe, born in Kentucky but grew up in Los Angeles, fifth album since 2014. B+(***)

Jim Yanda: A Silent Way (2019 [2021], Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): Guitarist, originally from a farm in Iowa, has a couple albums (including one recorded in 1987 but released only in 2017). Studied with Paul Smoker. Recorded this in his living room before that became de rigeur. With Herb Robertson (trumpet) and Phil Haynes (drums). I admit I lost the thread midway through the second disc, but didn't mind trying to find it again. B+(***) [cd]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Peter Brötzmann: Love Comes Like Sour to Milk (1993 [2021], Trost, EP): One 21-minute track, originally released as a cassette by Galerie Erhard Klein, solo reeds (tenor sax, bass clarinet, tarogato) from a period when he released such abrasive albums as Die Like a Dog and The Dried Rat-Dog. This is easier to handle, perhaps because there is less to it. B [bc]

Jan & Dean: Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings (1966 [2017], Omnivore): Supposedly the original master of the live/comedy album that appeared on Liberty in 1967. The duo could be quite funny, but the album has is a pastiche, with a lot of crash-and-burn sound effects that don't wear well. The songs are hits, only rarely theirs -- "Cathy's Clown," a Beatles section, "Lightning Strikes" (the album's high point), and for a closer, "Hang On Sloopy." B

Old music:

ABC: Beauty Stab (1983, Mercury): English new wave band, from Sheffield, led by singer Martin Fry, with Mark White on guitar and Stephen Singleton on sax. Second album. Threatened to turn annoying, so I skipped this one, then trashed their Millennium Best Of, but I'm finding this a bit amusing. B+(*)

The Allman Brothers Band: Live at Fillmore East (1971, Capricorn): Southern rock band, brothers Duane (guitar) and Gregg Allman (keyboards, vocals), established the concept with two studio albums, then released this live jam. Duane died in a motorcycle crash a year later, and Berry Oakley (bass) died a year later, but Dickey Betts partly filled the gap and the band kept going into the 1980s, with solo careers and occasional reunions following. B

The Allman Brothers Band: The Best of the Allman Brothers Band -- Live [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1971 [2007], Mercury/Chronicles): Six tracks, 49:59, all drawn from the 1971 Fillmore East sessions, which originally appeared as At Fillmore East in 1971, and has grown by leaps and bounds since, culminating in a 6-CD box, The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings. Three of these were on the original album, the rest on 1992's 2-CD The Fillmore Concerts, but the times most precisely match the 2003 remasters in At Fillmore East [Deluxe Edition]. Better than the original album, probably because they focus on blues they didn't write. Still doesn't help much when they go long. B+(***)

The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes On Forever: A Collection of Their Greatest Recordings (1969-73 [1975], Capricorn): Best-of compiled from five albums plus some (4?) extra live recordings, totals 1:24:11. Pretty much lives up to its billing. [Reissued 2001 on 2CD with 67:38 extra material, including album tracks up to 1979.] B+(***) [yt]

The Allman Brothers Band: The Best of the Allman Brothers Band [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1969-79 [2000], Polydor): First attempt at a budget series best-of, with 11 songs, only one after 1973's Brothers & Sisters, only one live, a shorter and cheaper (and still in print) alternative -- not that shorter is what fans especially want. B+(***)

Amadou & Mariam: Je Pense À Toi: The Best of Amadou & Mariam (1998-2002 [2005], Circular Moves/Universal Music Jazz): Known as "the blind couple from Mali," Mariam Doumbia sings, as does guitarist Amadou Bagayoko. They've recorded at least since 1985. This picks songs from three French albums, solid work that doesn't quite delight me. B+(***)

Archers of Loaf: Archers of Loaf Vs. the Greatest of All Time (1994, Alias, EP): Punkish rock band from North Carolina, fairly major 1993-98, with Eric Bachmann heading off for a second group (Crooked Fingers) and a less distinguished solo career. Five songs, 17:29. B+(**)

Archers of Loaf: The Speed of Cattle (1992-94 [1996], Alias): Eighteen scattered outtakes, singles, radio shots, leftovers, the fallout of a group with two albums done and two more to come. B+(*)

Archers of Loaf: Vitus Tinnitus (1997, Alias, EP): Six-cut live album, plus two remixes from All he Nations Airports. Reminds me that I like their sound, even if nothing particularly stands out. B+(**)

Ashford & Simpson: So So Satisfied (1977, Warner Brothers): Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, a songwriting team at Motown before recording together in 1973. Fourth (or fifth?) album, all barely grazed the charts before Send It gave them their first gold record. B+(***)

Ashford & Simpson: Send It (1977, Warner Brothers): Christgau's review places this before So So Satisfied, but most other sources list it later, and the chart order makes more sense that way: So So Satisfied peaked at 180, Send It 52, Is It Stil Good to Ya (20). Also, two of Send It's singles didn't appear until 1978. High points are more funk or more disco, but I'm probably missing the point. B+(**)

Ashford & Simpson: Stay Free (1979, Warner Brothers): Seventh album, further into the disco era, which is the part I prefer to the strings and romance, but that's still their default. B+(*)

Ashford & Simpson: Solid (1984, Capitol): Title single hit lifted this to their fourth gold album. B+(*)

Bad Religion: All Ages (1982-94 [1995], Epitaph): Punk rock band from Los Angeles, formed in 1980, 17 studio albums through 2019, only one I've bothered checking out after I shit-canned their early Christgau A-listed Into the Unknown. This is a compilation, baited with two recent live tracks, occasioned (perhaps) by the exit of Brett Gurewitz, leaving singer Greg Graffin in charge. They were consistent enough I can't detect much change over this decade, but then my ears glazed over. Only lyric I jotted down: "I got ideas too." No doubt, but do I care? B

Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force: Planet Rock: The Album (1982-84 [1986], Tommy Boy): DJ/rapper Lance Taylor, first-generation compilation built around the same four singles that key the compilation I've recommended since 2001, Looking for the Perfect Beat: 1980-1985. The other three cuts here are less generous than seven on the other, but in its time, this gave you a pretty good sense of how hip-hop arrived. A-

Bang on a Can: Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing (2005, Cantaloupe): Classical group, founded 1987 by three composers not in the credits here (although Wikipedia says they are still "artistic directors"), achieved a measure of fame with crossover covers of Brian Eno's In Airports and Terry Riley's In C. Kyaw Kyaw Naing is a Burmese percussionist, a master of the pat waing (also credited with pat ma, si wa, gong, and drums), the composer of four tracks, with five more from other Burmese sources. A- [bc]

Count Basie: The Best of Early Basie (1937-39 [1996], MCA): As the owner of The Complete Decca Recordings, I didn't feel any particular need to buy this sampler, but recommended it to Christgau, who couldn't help but give it an A. Same here. Basie moved his band from Kansas City to New York and took the City by storm, becoming the very definition of swing. The band was loaded with stars, like Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Sweets Edison, and Dickey Wells, and Jimmy Rushing sings a few classics. The next period, on Columbia up to 1950 also has a definitive box (America's #1 Band: The Columbia Years) as well as a superb 1-CD compilation (One O'Clock Jump: The Very Best of Count Basie). A

Count Basie: Count Basie and His Great Vocalists (1939-50 [1993], Columbia/Legacy): Part of the label's Best of the Big Bands series, which offered "Great Vocalists" volumes for Les Brown, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Harry James, as well as this Basie set. Like many big bands, Basie kept both a boy and a girl singer on tap, but they appear on less than a quarter of Basie's early sides, so I thought it might be interesting to concentrate them -- especially as he started off with two of the greatest singers, Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes. This probably would have been better had they stopped there, but this also includes two tracks with Earl Warren (a classic crooner), three with Lynne Sherman (good but not great), and one with Ann Moore (a jumping "Jivin' Joe Jackson"). Still, hard to complain given the way Rushing opens ("I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me") and closes ("Blue Skies"). A-

Count Basie: Frankly Basie: Count Basie Plays the Hits of Frank Sinatra (1963 [1993], Verve): Original 1963 album title was More Hits of the '50's and '60's, with pretty much the same cover art, making me wonder if they weren't treading gently to avoid ruffling feathers. They were, after all, in the middle of a series of lucrative albums with Sinatra, so they would have been especially conscious of his songbook. Still, not the same without a singer, or a suitable soloist to focus on. B+(*)

Count Basie: Basie Jam (1973 [1975], Pablo): In 1973 Norman Granz, having sold off his Verve Records catalog to MGM, decided to round up the old gang and get back in business, as Pablo Records. His first new album was by Oscar Peterson, but Basie wasn't far behind. As with his old Jazz at the Philharmonic shows, he organized a jam session, with Sweets Edison on trumpet, Zoot Sims and Lockjaw Davis on tenor sax, J.J. Johnson on trombone, Irving Ashby (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Louie Bellson (drums). Five tunes, only one under 8:50. B+(*)

Count Basie/Joe Turner: The Bosses (1973 [1974], Pablo): Recorded a day after Basie Jam, with the same group credited, plus Turner shouting the blues. The horns are rarely deployed, but things pick up when they do appear. B+(***)

Count Basie/Oscar Peterson: Count Basie Encounters Oscar Peterson: Satch and Josh (1974, Pablo): Two very different pianist, but if you've ever seen them together, you'll know that they loved each other. Basie was famous as the one who knew what to leave out, and Peterson threw more extraneous notes in than anyone short of Art Tatum. B+(**)

Count Basie/Zoot Sims: Basie & Zoot (1975 [1976], Pablo): Hard-swinging tenor saxophonist, backed by Basie's piano trio with John Heard (bass) and Louis Bellson (drums). B+(***)

Count Basie: Get Together (1979 [1986], Pablo): Jam session, cover split between pictures of Basie and Freddie Green (his long-time guitarist), with other names after Green's: Budd Johnson and Eddie 'Lockjaw' Harris (tenor saxes), Harry Edison and Clark Terry (trumpets), Gus Johnson (drums), and John Clayton (bass). Another nice swing session. B+(***)

The Bats: Compiletely Bats (1984-86 [1987], Communion): Rock band from New Zealand, sounds a bit like jangle pop, released three EPs before their 1987 debut album, and those (minus one song) are collected here). B+(**)

Delta 5: Singles & Sessions 1979-81 (1979-81 [2006], Kill Rock Stars): English post-punk band, formed in Leeds alongside the most explicitly political bands of the time, Mekons and Gang of Four, and shared an EP with the Slits and the Pop Group. I remember "Mind Your Own Business" from Wanna Buy a Bridge? (also covered by Chicks on Speed), but wasn't aware of their only album (See the Whirl, from 1981). This rounds up 16 scattered songs, front-loaded, tailing off a bit toward the end. A-

Ella Fitzgerald/Count Basie/Joe Williams: One O'Clock Jump (1956-57 [1999], Verve): Wiliams was a regular singer with Basie from 1954-61, moving up to headliner on 1955's Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings. Probably more Joe than Ella here. B+(*)

Jeannie C. Riley: Harper Valley P.T.A. (1968, Plantation): Country singer from Texas, second album, title song a number one crossover hit skewering the "Harper Valley hypocrites." The then-unknown Tom T. Hall wrote that song, and three more worth hearing ("Widow Jones," "Mr. Harper," "Sippin' Shirley Thompson"), but the rest of the album is pretty remarkable, with "The Cotton Patch" and "Satan Place" reprising Hall's rhythm close enough he could sue, and "Run Jeannie Run" sounding like her own story. A-

Jeannie C. Riley: Yearbooks and Yesterdays (1969, Plantation): She never duplicated her initial success, but had 5 more top-ten country hits through 1971, her album chart positions tailing off 9-14-25-34. Three more songs by Hall, four more by Margaret Lewis and Myra Smith (including "The Girl Most Likely"). B+(**)

Frank Sinatra/Count Basie: Sinatra-Basie (An Historic Musical First) (1962, Reprise): Basie reinvented his band in the late 1950s: the soloists weren't as distinctive, but the "new testament" band's arrangers powered up the ensemble work -- the best sampler from the period was called The Complete Atomic Basie. In some ways, Basie's evolution tracked Sinatra's 1950s big bands, but richer and subtler. By 1962, both were famous and starting to decline, so this meeting helped both. Neal Hefti arranged ten songs Sinatra had long mastered. He sung them impeccably, and I doubt he's ever fronted a stronger horn section. Basie himself dropped out (except for the cover pic), with Bill Miller taking over the piano. A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Field (NoBusiness)
  • Lao Dan/Deng Boyu: TUTU Duo (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Amir ElSaffar/Rivers of Sound: The Other Shore (Outnote) [09-10]
  • Joe Fiedler's "Open Sesame": Fuzzy and Blue (Multiphonics) [11-12]
  • Joel Futterman: Creation Series (2008, NoBusiness, 5CD)
  • Frode Gjerstad/Kent Carter/John Stevens: Detail-90 (1990, NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Lionel Loueke: Close Your Eyes (2018, Sounderscore) [10-22]
  • Szilard Mezei Tubass Quintet: Rested Turquoise (NoBusiness)
  • Liudas Mockunas/Christian Windfeld: Pacemarker (NoBusiness) [08-30]
  • Bryan Murray & Jon Lundbom: Beats by Balto! Vol. 2 (Chant) [11-07]
  • Itaru Oki Quartet: Live at Jazz Spot Combo 1975 (NoBusiness)
  • Sam Rivers Quartet: Undulation (1981, NoBusiness)
  • Mototeru Takabi/Susumu Kongo/Nao Takeuchi/Shola Koyama: Live at Little John, Yokohama 1999 (NoBusiness)
  • Total Music Association: Walpurgisnacht (1971, NoBusiness)
  • Yuma Uesaka and Marilyn Crispell: Streams (Not Two) [10-15]

Friday, August 27, 2021


Speaking of Which

My interest in writing something this week has waxed and waned. At first I wanted to point out how pleased and proud I am that Biden has stuck to his guns on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite the barrage of sniping not just from the usual quarters (Republicans for partisan purposes, warmongers of all stripes) but from a mainstream media that loves to add fuel to whatever panic is taking hold at the moment. Then an anti-US, anti-Taliban fringe group [also see: Anatol Lieven: Who are the Islamic State in Afghanistan] dispatched a suicide bomber near the Kabul airport, killing 170 civilians and 13 US troops, and Biden vowed revenge (while still defending withdrawal). Someone should take him aside and remind him that "revenge is a dish best served cold," lest he throw out a brave and conscientious stand in a fit of anger. ISIS wants the US there, in range as targets, driving more and more people into their desperate ranks. It was stupid to let Osama Bin Laden bait us into "the graveyard of empires" in 2001, and it would be even stupider to repeat that mistake now. [PS: Biden did order a drone strike in Nangahar Province, allegedly on an ISIS target.]

While Biden hasn't (yet) back-peddled from the August 31 withdrawal date, it's coming on Tuesday, so we'll know more then -- one reason I wanted to hold off writing. Meanwhile, pressure to do something stupid is building: e.g., Leon Panetta, a CIA Director and Secretary of Defense under Obama, says "Bottom line is that our work is not done in Afghanistan. We're going to have to go back in to get ISIS." I don't know how he could possibly imagine that could work. The US is tied up just now trying to get the few Afghans willing to help the US out of the country. How can they possibly support a new infusion of troops without any kind of local support? The only chance I see to hunt down "those responsible" for the attack is to subcontract it to the Taliban. I have no idea whether they would be amenable to that, but from a practical point of view, it's more important to get them to disband terror groups than to satisfy America's revenge cravings.

Speaking of irrational revenge fits, Josh Marshall has another good piece on the origins of the US invasion of Afghanistan: Remembering the Origins of the United States' 20 Year War in Afghanistan, in turn keying off an opinion piece by persistent warmonger Robert Kagan: It wasn't hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear. While it may be true that fear was the big selling point, I remember a lot of hubris. I also remember Arthur Vandenberg telling Harry Truman that if he wants to arm to confront Russia in what became the Cold War, he'd first have to "scare the hell out of the American people." That's what he did, aided by Republicans who had their own reasons for trumping up the Red Scare. But after the Gulf War of 1990-91, America's leading hawks (including Kagan) were convinced that the US military could have done so much more to clear out Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but were held back by cowardly politicians. The hawks stylized themselves as Vulcans (see James Mann's book, The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet), and organized their Project for a New American Century (PNAC). (By the way, the first thing they did was to prepare a plan for Netanyahu to undermine the Oslo Accords, which promised to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their most fervent dream was that the US should be free to attack its enemies with the same impunity Israel had gotten away with.)

Marshall corrects a lot of things Kagan glosses over. Along the way, he quotes Max Boot as writing: "Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets." That sounds a lot more like hubris than fear, but it also sounds incredibly stupid and racist. British rule reduced India from about 20% of world GDP to less than 5% -- meanwhile, the English working class weren't exactly wallowing in luxury. Imperialism may have benefited someone, but claiming it advanced humanity is ridiculous.

As it happens, I've been thinking about Boot's 2002 book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. The book was an important part of the neocon argument, specifically meant to overthrow the Powell Doctrine (which argued that wars should only be fought if you had: overwhelming force, clear objectives, and an exit plan; the 1990-91 Gulf War was Powell's triumph, but the aftertaste was bitter). Boot offered thumbnail histories of several dozen US military adventures that he classified as "small," excluding wars fought on home ground (including the many Indian wars), the two World Wars, and the ones in Korea and Vietnam that got big and ugly. From his subset, he argued that the US doesn't need to worry about small wars (resources, objectives, exit plan), because they all work out OK in the end. Within 2-3 years, Afghanistan and Iraq destroyed what little plausibility his argument ever had, but a more critical eye on the wars he touted should have raised doubts.

Take, for instance, Pershing's long march through Mexico following a border raid by Pancho Villa in New Mexico (it was originally called the "Punitive Expedition"). This lasted about a year, needlessly provoked the Mexicans, and in the end accomplished absolutely nothing (other than that it convinced a young officer named Dwight Eisenhower that the US needed better highways). It's a pretty close analog to the effort to catch Bin Laden (or Panetta's proposed punishment of ISIS-K), except that it was much closer, and didn't bother trying to over throw the Mexican government, or getting stuck with rebuilding the ruins it created. But sure, it could have been worse. They could still be looking for Villa, while turning millions of Mexicans into refugees.

By the way, amidst all of the articles about Afghans trying to flee the Taliban, I haven't seen a single piece about the more than two million Afghan refugees that the US wasn't able to settle and protect during the last 20 years. Most are in Pakistan or Iran, so it will be interesting to see whether the net number of refugees rises or drops once the Taliban settles in.

Marshall's article includes a graph of US troop levels in Afghanistan over time. Offhand, it appears as though the security situation deteriorated as US troop levels increased, at least up to 2009, when the military panicked and Obama ordered a "surge" up to 100,000 troops. The model there was the supposedly successful "surge" in Iraq, although what little success could be found there had more to do with turning Sunni leaders against an increasingly erratic Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, partly through bribe and partly because the US offered some protection against Shiite death squads (also encouraged by the US). No such magic switch was found in Afghanistan, so while the "surge" may have checked a Taliban offensive, it made no headway.

Beyond that, McChrystall's counterinsurgency program was defeated not by the Taliban but by American soldiers, who refused to accept the added risk of limiting civilian casualties. While Petraeus had supported McChrystall in theory, he quietly scuttled the program when he took over. After that, the only hope was "Afghanization," which worked even worse than "Vietnamization" had done to provide camouflage for a US withdrawal.

Some more Afghanistan links:

Also, a quote from Jeffrey St. Clair: Roaming Charges: Hour of the Goat, which says much of what I originally wanted to say:

One of the reasons Biden is having such a hard time making the case for the US's exit from Afghanistan is that he is congenitally inarticulate and he has no one around him who can make the case for him. Nearly everyone in both parties has been corrupted by this war: voted for it, funded it, planned it, rationalized it, stood silent as it started, very early on, to go bad, closed their eyes to drone killings, torture, and an occupation with no end. Even Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul. They own this war and the war ended up owning them. Aside from Barbara Lee, there aren't any heroes in this 40-year-long fiasco. But if Biden can stand firm as he's ambushed from all sides, not retreat from his retreat, and finally bring the occupation to an end, he'll go down in the history books a lot more credibly than the jackals who are assailing him.

St. Clair also notes a tweet from a @toddstarnes: "For every American who is killed, a city in Afghanistan should be wiped off the face of the Earth." The Romans used to talk about "decimating" villages. Hitler proclaimed bounties like this, up to 100-to-1. Morally Starnes is no better; mathematically, he's even worse.


A couple more brief notes on recent pieces:

Robert Christgau: Out of the Box: A substantial and very favorable review of the HBO Max documentary Betrayal at Attica. I should probably write more about this piece and the movie itself, which I watched again yesterday, but want to get this out without further delay. By all means, do watch the movie.

Luisa S Deprez: How Republicans Stoke Anti-Government Hatred: Refers to a new book by Amy Fried/Douglas B Harris: At War With Government: How Conservatives Weaponized Distrust from Goldwater to Trump. Needless to say, it's a lot easier to break trust than it is to restore it. Trust in government matters because it's the one institution that is capable of helping people without having a side angle or ulterior motive (mostly based on money, something obviously biased to them that has). The main reason many people don't vote their economic interests is that they don't trust politicians to deliver, ergo distrust in government favors those with money, especially those whose money buys them personal connections to politicians. Adolph Reed extends this argument: The Whole Country is the Reichstag.

Henry Giroux: For Stanley Aronowitz: Radical labor historian, died a week or two ago. I read and admired his 1973 book False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness, and met him around then, when Paul Piccone brought him to Washington University for a lecture.

Hugh Iglarsh: The New Ozymandias: Twilight Reflections on the Obama Presidential Center. From this angle, the photo of the model of the "Great Tower of Nothing" looks especially garish.

David Klion: The 9/11 Museum and Its Discontents: "A new documentary goes inside the battles that have riven the institution." I'm not sure I even knew it existed, let alone had sold a half billion dollars worth of tickets since 2014. I find the whole thing rather creepy. "This is the story of 9/11 a visitor is left with: They attacked us for no good reason, we mourned, we rallied, and eventually we got the bastards [i.e., Bin Laden]."

Robert Kuttner: Biden Should Retire Fed Chair Jay Powell. When Trump replaced Janet Yellen (and I don't recall any Republicans suggesting he shouldn't pick his own Fed Chair), he was given a list of two candidates, and picked Powell. On paper, he looked like much the better candidate, and turned out to be better than expected, at least on monetary policy. (Not that he was loose enough for an inveterate debt-hog like Trump.) I always felt that Obama made a big mistake in renominating Ben Bernanke instead of picking a Democrat, but there was a big campaign to boost Bernanke, and Obama was a born sucker. There's another campaign this year to give Powell another term, and some economists I like (like Mike Konczal and Dean Baker) seem to be behind it, so I was interested to see Kuttner argue otherwise. He does so mostly on regulatory issues, and he's probably right there. One of the big problems with the Fed is that, while hawks on interest rates can choke the economy and put lots of people out of work, low interest rates mostly get sucked up by speculators and used to inflate the price of assets.

Ian Millhiser: A new Supreme Court case could blow up decades of US diplomacy: This is the case where a Texas judge ordered Biden to reinstate a Trump-declared "Remain in Mexico" immigration policy. Millhiser argues that "Kacsmaryk's decision is dead wrong," then gets even more upset.

Timothy Noah: The Blueprint for Corporate Power Turns 50: On Lewis Powell's famous letter to the US Chamber of Commerce, which urged corporate leaders to corrupt politics in favor of their class interests.

Aaron Rupar: How Ron DeSantis's Covid response became the model of what not to do.

Monday, August 23, 2021


Music Week

[PS: Posted an answer to a question about Obama and his legacy. Use this form to ask more questions.]

August archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 36093 [36036] rated (+57), 221 [218] unrated (+3).

Tom T. Hall died last week. Obituaries tended to overlook his 35 albums, but invariably mentioned the number one single he wrote in 1968, "Harper Valley PTA," for Jeannie C. Riley. Growing up in Wichita, I knew a little bit about country music -- mostly from watching, with bemused detachment, Porter Wagoner -- but I wasn't a fan. My brother and I got turned away at the door of a Grand Ole Opry show downtown, the doorman correctly surmising that we wanted the car show next door. I managed to catch a set by Ronnie & the Daytonas there: the first time I saw live music, and probably the only time until I saw Sly & the Family Stone in St. Louis.

That's was shortly after the first time I heard of Hall. I went to a party thrown by one of the Sociology professors. When I introduced myself to a guest, he responded: "I got all your records." I had a little speech problem, and never managed to say Hull clear enough not to be transcribed as the more common Hall. When I did finally hear Hall -- probably at the behest of George Lipsitz, who was taking time before going to graduate school, and was very much into country music at the time (although I also recall him introducing me to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and to Johnny Otis).

I only slowly got into country music, picking up occasional albums over the 1970s -- from Hall: We All Got Together and Faster Horses, finding In Search of a Song later -- finally making a serious effort in the 1990s to catch up with (damn near) everything I had missed. The best Hall compilation ever came out in 1988: The Essential Tom T. Hall: The Story Songs, 20 of them, originally on 2-LP, later on 1-CD. In 1995, I finally felt confident enough to write something about a new (and disappointing) Hall box, combined with a more favorable review of the 3-CD Roger Miller box. (Of course, I remembered Miller vividly from his mid-1960s TV show and crossover hits.) I called this Kings of the Road, and submitted it to The Voice, but elicited no interest (other than, I suppose, that a year later Robert Christgau invited me to review Rhino's series of jazz compilations, which I called Jazz for Dummies).

One thing I'd have to correct from the Hall piece is my claim Hall "hasn't recorded anything very interesting since [1976]." I finally got around to Hall's 1978-80 RCA releases below, and a couple of them are pretty good. I wanted to dive into his early Mercury records, but I only found In Search of a Song on Napster, plus Ballad of Forty Dollars on YouTube. There are some post-1978 Mercury albums on Napster, so I may return to them.

Another son of Kentucky died last week: Don Everly. He seemed like an earlier generation, but he was a year younger than Hall, and his brother Phil (d. 2014) was younger still. They started off in their teens in the Everly Family group, then as a brother act had their first big hits in 1957 ("Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie"), when Phil was 18. Beyond radio singles, my first introduction was 1964's The Very Best of the Everly Brothers -- disparaged now because they re-recorded their pre-1960 Cadence hits to juice up their less famous Warners songs, from "Cathy's Clown" to the ultra-maudlin "Ebony Eyes." I replayed it, and also Rhino's Cadence Classics, but didn't have much luck digging further, and didn't look into their solo careers or their reunion -- they were famous for not getting along.

Before Hall died, I mostly picked unheard records of Christgau's graded list, from Youssou N'Dour to Lobi Traoré. A couple reggae albums were suggested by a Sly & Robbie list of their favorites, but further down the list got hard to find. Tried to catch up with the demo queue, picking off the things with the earliest release dates, but wound up losing ground. Got a package from NoBusiness today. They'll be listed next week.

Bought a package of "shaved pork" last week. Seemed like the perfect thing for bulgogi. It's cut so thin you can't grill it. I dumped it into a cast iron skillet and boiled the marinade off. Pretty intense. Picture here


I saw a tweet recommending Josh Marshall: Notes from the Press Paroxysm as the Evacuation Flights Continue. I hadn't looked at TPM when I was writing up my Speaking of Afghanistan post last week because, well, most of what they publish is behind their firewall never struck me as worth the cost. (Also, I find it especially aggravating that much of what they hide consists of letters from readers, which presumably cost them nothing.) Still, it's a good article, both for pointing out that there is a substantial but rarely reported level of ongoing negotiation between the Taliban and virtually everyone, and for the term "press paroxysm." When I flipped through the Wichita Eagle this morning, I was appalled at the level of ignorance and cynical exploitation in everything they published on Afghanistan (and not just from columnists like Marc Thiessen, whose very existence is an affront to intelligence and human decency).

I tracked down a couple of earlier Marshall articles. You Wouldn't Know It From the US News Coverage, But . . . points out that the top US-backed Afghan politicos are all actively engaged in negotiating with the Taliban: Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, even (from Doha) Ashraf Ghani -- who precipitated this Taliban offensive by refusing to negotiate while US troops remained, and who affirmed the government collapse by fleeing Kabul. On the media, see: The Fall of Kabul, Washington and the Guys at the Fancy Magazines. The latter talks about the "feeding frenzy" reporters are prone to: seeing a politician flounder, they're more than happy to jump in and take a few shots. (Kind of like how my dog gives chase only after she sees the other animal turn away.) Anyone who expects sober analysis from such creatures is bound to be disappointed.

For what it's worth, I'm delighted that Biden has taken a firm stand for withdrawal, showing both courage and a grounding in reality. He has far from an unblemished reputation on Afghanistan, but there's little value in bringing that up now that he's learned the lesson, except to underscore that the lessons are clear enough to convince even him. What I worry about is that in the current din we won't learn what we need to from this 20-year failure. Even if their complaints aren't accepted, the endless repetition of their shared delusions crowds out the clear thought we need.


New records reviewed this week:

Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol 1: Sonar (2020 [2021], Orbit577): Credited with "Horns and Reeds" here, first of three volumes, a single 28:58 piece, group includes Luisa Muhr (voice), Ayumi Ishito (sax), Nord piano, two guitars, bass, and drums. B+(*)

Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 2: The Middle (2020 [2021], Orbit577): Same group, one 31:32 piece. B+(**)

Daniel Carter: Playfield Vol. 3: After Life (2020 [2021], Orbit577): Another piece, this one 30:24. Starts with a bluesier voice, remaining more prominent here than on the other volumes. B+(*)

Tom Cohen: My Take (2021, Versa Music): Drummer, leads a set of organ trios through "Without a Song" and four pieces by 1950s saxophonists (Gigi Gryce, Benny Golson, Sonny Stitt, Wayne Shorter). With Joey DeFrancesco or Dave Posmontier on Hammond B-3, spots for saxophonists Tim Warfield and Ralph Bowen, and guitarist Steve Giordano. B+(**) [cd]

Paul Dunmall & Mark Sanders: Unity (2020 [2021], 577): British sax & drums duo, Dunmall playing alto, tenor, and C melody saxophones. B+(**)

The Go! Team: Get Up Sequences Part One (2021, Memphis Industries): British alt/pop group, sixth album since 2004. Pretty upbeat, almost deliriously so (especially the finale). B+(***)

Jared Hall: Seen on the Scene (2018 [2021], Origin): Trumpet player, from Seattle, second album, fairly classic-sounding hard bop quintet, with Vincent Herring (alto sax), piano, bass, and drums. Two Tadd Dameron pieces along with the originals. B+(**) [cd]

L.A. Cowboy: The Big Pitch (2021, Reconcile): Vehicle for singer-songwriter J. Frederick Millea, alias L.A. Cowboy. Discogs credits him/them with six albums 1997-98, nothing since -- evidently, a spat with industry execs caused him to give up. Hype sheet calls this "post-modern rock/swing fusion." Sounds like a Sinatra wannabe to me, but maybe there's something deeper going on. B [cd]

Lorde: Solar Power (2021, Universal): Pop star from New Zealand, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, third album. Laid back, somewhat dreamy, sinks in slowly, perhaps too much for my jaded pop reflexes. B+(**)

Francisco Mela: MPT Trio: Volume 1 (2020 [2021], 577): Cuban drummer/percussionist, studied at Berklee, albums since 2006. Trio with Henry Paz (sax) and Juanma Trujillo (guitar). B+(**)

Lady Millea: I Don't Mind Missing You (2021, Reconcile): Jazz singer, from Los Angeles, daughter of L.A. Cowboy J. Frederick Millea, who wrote and arranged these nine songs. Nice voice. Songs are a mixed bag. B+(*) [cd]

Dave Miller Trio: The Mask-erade Is Over (2021, Summit): Piano player, "(49)" at Discogs, ninth trio album since 2010 (including 5 with his daughter, singer Rebecca DuMaine), 1 original, 13 standards, about half from jazz musicians. With Andrew Higgins (bass) and Bill Belasco (drums). B+(*) [cd]

Steve Million: What I Meant to Say (2019 [2021], Origin): Pianist, based in Chicago, records at least since 1995 (title then was Million to One, followed up by Thanks a Million). Quartet reunites him with Steve Cardenas (guitar) and Ron Vincent (drums), who played together in Kansas City in the late 1970s, plus bassist John Sims. B+(*) [cd]

Mankwe Ndosi and Body MemOri: Felt/Not Said (2021, Auspice NOW): Vocalist, ties to Chicago and Minnesota, self-released debut from 2012, part of Nicole Mitchell/Black Earth. Backed with cello (Tomeka Reid), bass, and drums. Rather abstract, finding it a bit hard to follow. B+(*) [cdr]

Trineice Robinson: All or Nothing (2021, 4RM Music Productions): Teaches jazz voice at Princeton, seems to have a distinguished academic career, waited until 40 for her recording debut. Strong, skilled voice, resonant of gospel and r&b, co-produced by saxophonist Don Braden, with Cyrus Chestnut in the band. Wrote one song, lyrics for Wayne Shorter (used Jon Hendricks' for Monk), wide range of standards, including "What's Going On." B+(**) [cd]

Kalie Shorr: I Got Here by Accident (2021, Tmwrk, EP): Nashville singer-songwriter, originally from Maine, self-released an impressive debut album in 2019, then re-released it in 2020 on this label. Big, punchy sound, produced by Butch Walker. Five songs, all substantial, 15:02. A-

Alfie Templeman: Forever Isn't Long Enough (2021, Chess Club): British singer-songwriter, debut album at 18, EPs back to 2017. Plays lots of instruments. Has a rudimentary understanding of pop hooks. B+(**)

Waterparks: Greatest Hits (2021, 300 Entertainment): Houston band, suggested genres include pop punk and electropop, but none of those seem quite right. Released EPs from 2012, first album in 2016. This is their fourth album, not a compilation, and not much chance that any of these songs will be hits, but that's not for lack of hooks. B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Cold Wave #1 (2017-20 [2021], Soul Jazz): British reissue label, picks relatively recent records that were supposedly inspired by the the late 1970s/early 1980s "cold wave" genre: synth-based dance tracks, rare vocals, everything compact and, well, cold. B+(**)

Cold Wave #2 (2015-20 [2021], Soul Jazz): Opens with three pretty good cuts, but Job Sifre's "At Least We Try" raises the level, and everything else rises with it. First volume took the chill too seriously. This reminds you that lots of interesting electronica has been happening in obscure corners, but sometimes it helps to mix it up a bit. A-

Paul Dunmall/Keith Tippett/Philip Gibbs/Pete Fairclough: Onosante (2000 [2021], 577): Saxophones (plus fife and bagpipes), piano, guitar, and drums, released with a run of 100 back in the day, and unpacked in memory of the late pianist -- who is indeed remarkable here, but also in fine company. A-

Old music:

Dave and Ansell Collins: Double Barrel (1971, Big Tree): Jamaican duo, singer Dave Barker and keyboardist Collins. Title song is one of the greatest rocksteady classics (lyric starts: "I am the magnificent"). Nothing else in its league, not much where Dave even gets a chance to sing, much less toast. The instrumentals are pretty seductive. B+(***)

The Everly Brothers: Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (1958, Cadence): Brothers Don (1937-2021) and Phil (1939-2014), from Kentucky, sang in close harmony, scored two big hits in 1957 both on country and pop charts: "Bye Bye Love" and "Wake Up Little Susie." Their first album was hits and filler, but for this second album they got conceptual: all old country songs, done simply with just bass (Floyd Chance) and their guitars, no singles, nothing with hit potential (well, except for Gene Autry). B+(**) [yt]

Tom T. Hall: Ballad of Forty Dollars and His Other Great Songs (1969, Mercury): First album, already trading on his reputation as a songwriter (soon to be storyteller), especially after Jeannie C. Riley sung his "Harper Valley PTA" to the top of the charts in 1968. Three songs made his first (1972) Greatest Hits, and "Cloudy Day" wouldn't have been amiss. Too many flowers among the rest. B+(**) [yt]

Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1971-75 [1975], Mercury): Nowadays, best to start with The Definitive Collection or, better still, The Essential Tom T. Hall: The Story Songs (but not the 2-CD Storyteller, Poet, Philosopher box, not that someone couldn't compile 2 or 3 CDs worth of prime material, but the compilers are often tempted to dilute the shrewd observations with his more mawkish sentimental fare). At one point, it was possible to get this and the 1972 Greatest Hits on one CD, a real bargain, since superseded. Hall released 7 albums from 1972-75 (vs. 5 1969-71). Even so, this plucks two more songs from 1971's best-ever In Search of a Song. And like every other compilation, this inexplicably omits "Pamela Brown" (here in favor of "I Love" and "I Care" and "I Like Beer," not that I mind the latter). B+(***)

Tom T. Hall: Greatest Hits: Volume I & II (1967-75 [1993], Mercury): An artifact of the early CD era, when the things cost twice as much as an LP, but sometimes could hold two. Re-reading Christgau on the separate volumes (graded B and D+) convinced me to nick the latter a notch, but until better compilations came around, this offered at least a dozen genius songs, and if the filler gets sappy or soppy, I don't buy that as simple marketing shtick. It's just who he is, and a big part of what made him such a treasure. A-

Tom T. Hall: New Train Same Rider (1978, RCA Victor): New label, not quite the same songwriter, but sometimes he sounds like he could be. B+(*)

Tom T. Hall: Places I've Done Time (1978, RCA Victor): Found himself a batch of stories this time -- "Grocery Truck," "Three Sofa Story," "Man Who Shot Himself," "Son of Clayton Delaney," "Great East Broadway Onion Championship of 1978" -- which lifts the personal ("I Couldn't Live in Southern California") and even the generic ("Gimme Peace"). None rank among his classics, which may be why he covers "Mr. Bojangles." B+(***)

Tom T. Hall: In Concert! Recorded Live at the Grand Ole Opry House (1979 [1983], RCA Victor): Date not noted, but in Morello's twofer series this is slotted before a 1979 album, and he thanks RCA in his initial remarks -- aside from this, his RCA albums ended 1980. Highlight is the "I Like Beer" audience participation -- OK, but not what one hopes for. B

Tom T. Hall: Saturday Morning Songs (1979, RCA Victor): "For children of all ages," complete with "16 page coloring book." Second side has its own title: The "Is" Songs, as in "Easter Is," "Halloween Is," "Thanksgiving Is," "Christmas Is," "Your Birthday Is." Ten songs, all short, 22:07. Light and breezy, only occasionally shallow. Not something I expected to like at all. B+(**)

Tom T. Hall: Ol' T's in Town (1979, RCA Victor): One of his classic story songs -- "Greed Kills More People Than Whiskey," which would be more convincing if he tracked down the effects of greed on other people, not just the overstressed rich -- but his love and loss songs have gained some depth, and his sense of nostalgia is tuned about right. He was conscious enough about age to write "I'm Forty Now," and to retire a decade later. In between, the title may indicate that he's feeling old, or like his old self. A-

Tom T. Hall: Soldier of Fortune (1980, RCA Victor): Last album for RCA, aside from the live one released in 1983, when he returned to Mercury. Nothing especially memorable here, nothing terribly bad either (although "Me and Jimmie Rodgers" makes you wonder). B+(*)

Jackie Mittoo and the Soul Vendors: Evening Time (1968, Coxsone): Keyboard player for the Skatalites, second album under his own name. Instrumental, some classic grooves. A-

Youssou N'Dour: Djamil Inédits 84-85 (1984-85 [1985], Celluloid): Not sure what the history of this is, but the covers suggest a live recording, a bit rough and ill-fitting. The star looks very young, but no doubt he is the star. The horns are a bit much. [Reissued 2005 with an extra track as Badou.] B+(*)

Youssou N'Dour: Eyes Open (1992, Columbia): Recorded in Dakar, but mixed in New York. Nonetheless, voice and rhythm uniquely his. B+(***)

Youssou N'Dour Et Le Super Etoile: Lii! (1996, Jololi): Superstar from Senegal, has only sporadically had his work released in the US -- from 1986-94 on Virgin and Columbia, then 2000-10 on Nonesuch -- although there is evidently more released locally, like the series of late-1990s cassettes like this one. B+(***) [yt]

Negativland: Helter Stupid (1989, SST): Bay area "plunderphonics" group, constructs sound collages simulating the most annoying aspects of trying to listen to radio while someone else is twiddling the dial. Or, as they put it, "Negativland considers their music thought-provoking, even humorous." That, from a piece that claims their song "Christianity Is Stupid" is responsible for mass murder. B-

Yoko Ono: Season of Glass (1981, Geffen): Multimedia artist, including film and performance art, grew up in Tokyo, moved to New York in 1953, married John Lennon in 1969, shortly before the Beatles broke up, and they collaborated on several records -- two brilliant Plastic Ono Band albums of his, weird conceptual shit of hers, a separation and reunion, finally the collaborative Double Fantasy. This follows on his death, the songswiting and production straightforward, the singing a little wobbly. Nice sax solo on the opener, courtesy of Michael Brecker. B+(***) [yt]

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Between My Head and the Sky (2009, Chimera): The two songs Christgau picked out are better than I ever imagind. The others, well, are kind of all over the place. B+(*)

Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band: Take Me to the Land of Hell (2013, Chimera Music): I suppose what turned me off from her was the single-CD Walking on Thin Ice, the select subset from the 6-CD Onobox that Christgau graded A and asserted "ought to convert anybody with better taste than Albert Goldman -- namely, you." I hated it enough to grade it C+, then didn't like her 1995 Rising much better (B-, vs. A- for Christgau). This supposedly "outstrips" both the latter and 1981's less bracing Season of Glass. I don't know what to make of this smorgasbord of anti-genre exercises, even a hint of Marlene Dietrich. B+(***)

Earl Scruggs & Tom T. Hall: The Storyteller and the Banjo Man (1982, Columbia): Just two of Hall's story-songs ("The Enginers Don't Wave From the Trains Anymore" and "There Ain't No Country Music on the Jukebox"), one joint title ("A Lover's Farewell"). Hall is pictured on the cover with his guitar, but Randy Scruggs is the guitarist here, with Scruggs on two tracks (plus banjo, natch), Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Byron Berline on fiddle (and mandolin, though that's mostly Scruggs), so the bluegrass band is impeccable. Starts deep in Scruggs' songbook with "Song of the South," doesn't neglect "Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms," winds up with a pretty nifty "No Expectations" (Richards & Jagger). B+(**)

Sly and Robbie: Sly and Robbie Present Taxi (1981, Mango): Sly Dunbar (drums) and Robbie Shakespeare (bass), Jamaica's most legendary rhythm section, played on many albums from mid-1970s on. They introduced themselves as producers here, 12 songs by 10 artists (two each for Wailing Souls and Junior Delgado; one track credited by Dunbar, the others including stars Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. B+(***)

Chris Smither: I'm a Stranger Too! (1970, Poppy): Folk singer-songwriter, first album of what would turn into a long career -- although he didn't get to number four until 1991, after which he's released an album every 2-3 years. Eight originals, but the title comes from one of two Randy Newman songs (the third cover is from Neil Young). The originals pick up with "Love You Like a Man," which Bonnie Raitt retooled for her own purposes. B+(**)

Chris Smither: Don't It Drag On (1972, Poppy): Second album, the four covers more diverse (Bob Dylan, Willie McTell, Rolling Stones, Grateful Dead), gives you something to recognize while the originals slowly sink in. B+(***)

Chris Smither: It Ain't Easy (1984, Adelphi): Smither recorded a third album in 1973, but it was shelved when the label (United Artists) closed, and didn't appear until 2005 (Honeysuckle Dog). It took another decade before Smither recorded another album. Despite the title, he makes this one as easy as possible: just guitar and voice, only three originals, with eleven covers, tapping into Chuck Berry twice. B+(**)

Chris Smither: Small Revelations (1996 [1997], Hightone): Seventh album, on a 2-year cycle since 1991. B+(***)

Omar Souleyman: Highway to Hassake: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1994-2006 [2007], Sublime Frequencies): Syrian (and now world) pop star, his style honed as a wedding singer, featuring an intense, high-speed attack which threatens to make his many albums redundant. First of several compilations of early work (most before 2001), this gives him the occasional break, which helps. A- [bc]

Omar Souleyman: Dabke 2020: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1999-2008 [2009], Sublime Frequencies): More from the same albums and sessions, the problem less that the quality declines than that it all sounds so much the same that one's interest starts to wane. B+(***) [bc]

Omar Souleyman: Jazeera Nights: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria (1996-2009 [2010], Sublime Frequencies): A third compilation, pretty upbeat. Not sure what the date breakdown is, as the later releases have later end-dates, but most songs appear to come from early albums. B+(***) [bc]

Spoonie Gee: The Godfather of Rap (1987, Tuff City): Rapper Gabe Jackson, from Harlem, early rapper, first single was "Spoonin Rap" in 1979, cut more singles for Sugar Hill, eventually came out with this his only album. Old school before it became old. B+(**)

Tinariwen: The Radio Tisdas Sessions (2000 [2002], World Village): Tuareg group, formed over the 1980s in exile in Libya and Algeria, returned to Mali (where they recorded this), eventually leaving to tour the world (especially as Mali fell apart). First album, B+(**)

Tinariwen: Amassakoul (2004, World Village): Second album, into the studio. B+(***)

Aaron Tippin: Ultimate Aaron Tippin (1990-97 [2004], RCA Nashville/BMG Heritage): Country singer-songwriter, established his working class bona fides with his debut single "You've Got to Stand for Something" ("or you'll fall for anything at all"). He cut five albums for RCA, turned into four best-ofs between 1997 and this 20-track CD in 2004, before he got more jingoistic after 9/11, fading after Stars & Stripes in 2002 (aside from a set of truck songs in 2009). Strong voice, solid songs, still I'm not sure they hold up as well now as I thought back then. B+(***)

Lobi Traoré: Ségou (1996, Cobalt): Singer-guitarist from Mali (1961-2010), third album, has a blues groove, and keeps it tight. B+(***) [yt]

Lobi Traoré: Rainy Season Blues (2009 [2010], Glitterbeat): Acoustic guitar and vocals, about as basic as blues gets, except I don't understand the words, or feel the anguish. But maybe anguish isn't the point. B+(**)

Warren Vaché: Iridescence (1981, Concord): Retro-swing player, debut album 1976, cornet and flugelhorn here, quartet with Hank Jones (piano), George Duvivier (bass), and Alan Dawson (drums). B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jake Breaks: Breaksy (Wide Hive) [05-11]
  • Greg Burk/Ron Seguin/Michel Lambert: Sound Neighbors (Tonos -20)
  • Greg Burk: Simple Joys (Tonos) [06-28]
  • Lorraine Feather: My Own Particular Life (Relarion)
  • Kuzu: All Your Ghosts in One Corner (Aerophonic) [10-05]
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Dots: Pieces for Percussion and Woodwinds (Wide Hive)
  • Chuck Owen and the Jazz Surge: Within Us: Celebrating 25 Years of the Jazz Surge (MAMA/Summit) [09-17]
  • Lukasz Pawlik: Long-Distance Connections (Summit) [07-13]
  • Q'd Up: Going Places (Tantara) [10-08]
  • Sidemen: Sidemen (Summit) [06-15]
  • Jim Yanda: A Silent Way (Corner Store Jazz, 2CD) [08-20]

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