An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, March 8, 2021
Music: Current count 35047  rated (+42), 228  unrated (-8).
I don't feel like writing much, but have a bunch of things to run through, so let's make it quick.
I finally did the indexing on February Streamnotes, so that's out of the way. Only added 74 albums in February, way down from 273 in January. I expected to cut back after a record-setting 2020, but not that much. I wound up only posting two Music Weeks in February. Illness and injury had much to do with that, but the last week didn't post until March 1, after I had gerrymandered January to leave nothing.
I still haven't moved on to any of the projects I anticipated for 2021, but did make a modest first step in adding the final Weekend Roundups to my compilation of Trump era notebooks/blog posts. You can download a copy, still using its working title: The Last Days of the American Empire IV: Extracts From a Notebook (2017-2021). Beware that it runs 2,750 pages (1,027,184 words), including an Appendix of earlier Trump-specific posts. Also, it's in ODT format, so you'd need a word processor to browse it -- I recommend the free LibreOffice package, but others should work as well.
The title is a leftover from my first compilation of poltical posts, on the Bush-Cheney years (2001-2009). Early in those years there was much bluster about America as an empire, but even then it was clear that the exertion of power against unimpressive militaries but unconquerable nations like Afghanistan and Iraq would fatally erode the post-Cold War assumptions of the neocons. By 2009 the debacle was essentially complete, but Obama came not to bury Caesar but to rationalize him, as if a smarter War on Terror would end differently. Obama's folly was such that I kept adding to the title, writing as much on his first term as I had written on eight years of Bush-Cheney, and writing a bit more on Obama's second term. One clear lesson of America's "endless war" machine since 1945 is that while it is hard to claim anything plausibly resembling a victory, it's much easier to delay and deny defeat -- which is what matters most to politicians. All it takes is deliberate self-deception, lot of money, and sheer contempt for the lives of others. For all his supposed brains, Obama turned out to be as naively deluded as any of his predecessors.
If the title seems less appropriate to Trump's years, that's partly because the damage his "America First" strategies did to America's reputation in the world seems paltry compared to the threat he posed to the Republic. Also, it's unclear how much of Trump's legacy will be quickly reversed and forgotten, and how much will haunt us well into the future. What I am certain of is that the only way Biden's "America's Back" reset works is the US starts working alongside the world instead of against it (as Trump was wont to do). But what could (and should) happen in US foreign policy is a different writing chore. What Trump did is history, even if it seems more incredible.
Next step would be to sift through that file and see if I can come up with a short but still worthwhile version -- although choices over length and utility are likely to be personal and arbitrary, so I'm not especially hopeful. I can only say that when I go back to those old writings -- and there are three previous volumes (one on Bush, two on Obama) that aren't much shorter than the Trump tome -- I'm frequently impressed by the depth of information, coherency of argument, and even the quality of the writing. I dare say most people could learn a thing or two there. But will they?
I also updated a file with my occasional notes on things other than politics and music. I doubt it's of any interest to anyone other than myself. I was looking for fragments of memoir, but didn't find much. I had written a few dozen pages some while back, and lost them among the crashes. Fortunately, it's mostly from memory, and I still have a fairly good command of that.
Listened to a lot of old reggae last week, following the recent deaths of U-Roy and Bunny Wailer. I've been playing the latter's Crucial! a lot recently, so bumping the grade up a notch was the right thing to do. I've been working off a Mojo list of The 50 Greatest Reggae Albums, which strikes me as skewed toward instrumentals and dub, but identified a few holes to plug. One thing I'm especially happy about is knocking off two previously U-graded Big Youth albums: I found Progress on LP, and A Reggae Collection on CD. Finding anything around here always seems like a major victory. None of these records are rating super-high on my all-time list (as can be seen from my reggae grade list). Best choice if you're a neophyte is still the 4-CD box set, Tougher Than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music. I've been referring back to it regularly over the last months.
Got a first COVID-19 vaccination last week. Laura's is scheduled for Wednesday. I went to the former library downtown, but with Laura's lack of mobility, we'll try the drive-through (which has been harder to schedule, not that mine was easy).
New records reviewed this week:
Albare: Albare Plays Jobim Vol. 2 (2020 , Alfi): Guitarist Albert Dadon, Australian tycoon though born in Morocco and grew up in Israel and France, has released albumsm since 1992, including his previous Albare Plays Jobim in 2020. B+(*) [cd]
Cowboys & Frenchmen: Our Highway (2020 , Outside In Music): New York-based group, two saxophonists (Owen Broder and Ethan Helm), piano (Addison Frei), bass, and drums. Group name from a David Lynch name, but with more cowboys. Third album. The saxes make a strong initial impression, but then the flutes come out, and more postbop doldrums follow. B+(*) [cd]
The Dynamic Les DeMerle Band Featuring Bonnie Eisele: Hot Night in Venice: Live at the Venice Jazz Club (2020 , Origin): Drummer, sings some, reminds me in that regard of Louis Prima, more so when he brings his better half out a third of the way in: second third of the set features Eisele, and both sing toward the end. All standards, most obscure is the funniest ("Woe Is Me"). No horns. They've had hotter nights. B+(*) [cd]
Yelena Eckemoff: Adventures of the Wildflower (2019 , L&H Production, 2CD): Russian pianist, classical training, came to US in 1991 and switched to jazz, has a substantial catalogue since 2010, original compositions, last two albums doubles. She recorded this one in Finland with local musicians, trio plus spots for guitar, sax, and/or vibes. B+(**) [cd] [03-19]
Elephant9: Arrival of the New Elders (2020 , Rune Grammofon): Norwegian fusion band, ninth album since 2008, members: Ståle Storløkken (keyboards), Nikolai Hængsle (bass/guitar), Torstein Lofthus (drums). B+(**)
Frank Gratkowski/Achim Kaufmann/Wilbert de Joode/Tony Buck: Flatbosc & Cautery (2018 , NoBusiness): Free improv: alto sax (plus clarinets/flutes), piano, bass, drums. Can get noisy, but pianist is heroic both as alternate lead and support, and the bassist goes a long way toward holding it together. A- [cd]
Doug MacDonald Duo: Toluca Lake Jazz (2020 , Doug MacDonald Music): Guitarist, albums since 1981 but more frequently of late, with Harvey Newmark on bass, adding depth without making himself conspicuous -- the effect is much like a solo guitar album, but sounds a bit better. Nice mix of MacDonald originals and overs -- "These Foolish Things" is especially tasty. B+(**) [cd]
Sana Nagano: Smashing Humans (2020 , 577): Violinist, from Tokyo, moved to Oregon as an exchange student, studied at Memphis and Berklee, based in New York, first album, with Peter Apfelbaum (tenor sax), Keisuke Matsuno (guitars), Ken Filiano (bass), and Joe Hertenstein (drums). B+(***) [cd] [03-19]
Charlie Porter: Hindsight (2020 , OA2): Trumpet player, third album, all originals, two with lyrics (sung by Jimmie Herrod, plus a rap by Rasheed Jamal and a cut with Hallowed Halls Gospel choir. Various lineups, built around a piano trio led by Orrin Evans. B [cd]
Idit Shner: Live at the Jazz Station (2019 , OA2): Alto saxophonist, based in Oregon, juggles jazz and classical repertoires with several albums in each. This is jazz, backed by piano trio, the band contributing a song each (two for pianist Torrey Newhart). B+(**) [cd]
John Stowell/Dan Dean: Rain Painting (2018-20 , Origin): Jazz guitarist, couple dozen albums since 1977, this a duo where Dean is credited with "vocals, fretless acoustic bass guitar, electric & fretless electric basses, percussion, drum programming." The vocals, mostly scat, are the problem. B [cd]
Theo Walentiny: Looking Glass (2020 , self-released): Pianist, from New Jersey, based in Brooklyn, first album, solo, all original pieces/improvs. Several impressive stretches. B+(*) [cd] [04-02]
Chris White/Lara Driscoll: Firm Roots (2020 , Firm Roots): Piano duets; Driscoll from Chicago, released an album I liked last year; White from Toronto (although Discogs attributes this album to a British saxophonist of same name) but now based in Chicago. five original pieces plus four covers, including Walton and Silver. B+(**) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Don Cherry: Cherry Jam (1965 , Gearbox, EP): Plays cornet here, already famous as part of Ornette Coleman's Quartet but didn't step out as a leader until 1965. Four tracks, 22:24, cut in Copenhagen with a pick up quintet: tenor sax (Mogens Bollerup), piano (Atli Bjørn), bass (Benny Nielsen), drums (Simon Koppel). All nice. B+(*) [os]
Big Youth: Dreadlocks Dread (1975, Klik): Jamaican toaster Manley Buchanan, his 1972 debut Screaming Target is the definitive classic of the style. Tony Robinson produced this follow up, the riddims seductive but understated, as are the toasts, which tail off toward the end. B+(***)
Big Youth: Natty Cultural Dread (1976, Trojan): Sings more here, not much of a ballad voice although he's enough of a weirdo to get away with most of it. Exception: a pop ditty I wish I could unhear. B
Big Youth: Hit the Road Jack (1976, Trojan): Starts with four covers: "What's Going On?"; "Hit the Road Jack"; "Wake Up Everybody"; "Get Up Stand Up." Nothing terribly interesting there, although he has much more feel for Marley than for Gaye. Rest is his improvisational toasting/singing mix, impressive when he finds his groove, but he's not his best producer. B+(*) [yt]
Big Youth: Isaiah First Prophet of Old (1978, Negusa Nagast): Seems to have rounded off his rough edges without losing his faith. B+(**)
Big Youth: Progress (1979, Negusa Negast): Rasta is real, but few prophets/entertainers have enjoyed themselves more in its service. A- [lp]
Big Youth: A Reggae Collection (1973-80 , Essex Entertainment): Best-of, roughly equivalent to Trojan's 1980 Everyday Skank (Best of Big Youth), repeating 9 songs (of 15), but I happen to have picked up this one somewhere along the way. Still, no best-of matches Screaming Target (1972), but if you want more I'd suggest Blood & Fire's 3-CD Natty Universal Dread 1973-1979, or maybe Trojan's 2-CD Ride Like Lightning: The Best of Big Youth 1972-1976. Still: A- [cd]
Big Youth: The Chanting Dread Inna Fine Style (1973-82 , Heartbeat): Compilation, second on label following 1981's Some Great Big Youth, not much info on when these tracks were recorded, but they were licensed from Negusa Nagast, and they get the general vibe right, albeit modestly. B+(***)
Big Youth: Live at Reggae Sunsplash (1982 , Sunsplash): Live, skips through a decade of material, with a light touch that lets' him flow. Wish he'd skipped "Every Ni**er Is a Star," but it fades quickly as he reverts to rasta roots revival, and after the band is introduced to "Roll River Jordan," his last pop shot ("Hit the Road Jack") climaxes on schedule. B+(**) [yt]
Big Youth: A Luta Continua (1984 , Heartbeat): The struggle continues, the music getting easier while the inspiration gets harder. Still, not a bad balance. B+(**)
Big Youth: Manifestation (1988, Heartbeat): Seems like a perfectly average album, which at this stage could be taken as decline. Still love the riddim. B+(*)
Big Youth: Higher Grounds (1995, VP): His discography thins out after 1988, aside from this and another album in 1995 and another in 2006. Still, this is a pretty solid effort, unlikely to be mistaken for anyone else. B+(*)
Dr. Alimantado: Best Dressed Chicken in Town (1973-76 , Greensleeves): Winston Thompson, Jamaican toaster, producer and DJ, first (and most famous) album, various singers (two for Gregory Isaacs) and engineers (including Upsetter and King Tubby). B+(***)
Eek-a-Mouse: Wa-Do-Dem (1981 , Greensleeves): Jamaican singer Ripton Hylton, second album. Playful name, playful vocals, starting with the nonsense title rhyme. B+(***)
Joe Gibbs & the Professionals: African Dub All-Mighty (1975, Joe Gibbs Record Globe): Jamaican producer, studied electronics, started with a repair shop, built it into a sound system, hired a band, and cut hundreds of hit records. Cover is ambiguous here, with "Solid Gold," and "a Joe Gibbs production" also appearing, but credit is usually as stated. Instrumental pieces, tight, crunchy grooves. B+(***)
Joe Gibbs & the Professionals: African Dub All-Mighty Chapter 2 (1976, Joe Gibbs Record Globe): B+(***)
Joe Gibbs & the Professionals: African Dub All-Mighty Chapter 3 (1978, Joe Gibbs Record Globe): Some vocals here. I don't see the credit, and it may not matter, because they're more like cheers, mixed in with other special effects. A-
Joe Gibbs & the Professionals: African Dub Chapter 4 (1979, Joe Gibbs Music): "All-Mighty" no longer evident on the cover, although some sources still claim it. Omission probably not an admission that this is the first "Chapter" to feel like they're going through the motions. B+(**)
Joe Gibbs & the Professionals: African Dub Chapter Five (1984, Joe Gibbs Music): More, more, more. B+(**)
Marcia Griffiths: Naturally (1978, Shanachie): Jamaican singer, started with Byron Lee in 1964, sang backup and duets with Bob Marley, whose backup singers recorded as the I Threes. Second solo album, nice voice over classic riddim, but only standout song is "Melody Life." B+(**)
The Heptones: Cool Rasta (1976, Trojan): Jamaican vocal trio, one of the first groups picked up by Island/Mango for US release, but didn't have much kick. By the time Night Food (1973) appeared in the US, they tried something more roots/rasta, but it still came out rather smooth. B+(*)
Bunny Wailer: Protest (1978, Island): Second album, like his debut Blackheart Man picked up by Island in US/UK, but has never been as well-regarded -- I missed it even when I was writing the Rolling Stone Record Guide entry on Bunny. Some kind of pop move, betraying its title with soft funk, and reprising his "Johnny Too Bad" as bubblegum. B
Bunny Wailer: Struggle (1979, Solomonic): Jamaica-only album, prime political anthems although one could quibble that he sees his struggle against "the old dragon" (aka Lucifer) as opposed to more mundane sources of injustice. Five (of seven) songs repeat on Crucial! Roots Classics, which is the one you want. Without that alternative, I could have graded this higher. The other two songs are pretty good, except I could do without the "unborn children" line. A-
Bunny Wailer: Rock 'n' Groove (1981, Solomonic): Politics may be a higher calling, but dancehall pays the bills. And he delivers as advertised. B+(***) [yt]
Bunny Wailer: Tribute (1981, Solomonic): Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers reclaimed the group's early songs, mostly his own, with scant reference to Bob Marley, whose became a huge star after Bunny and Peter Tosh left. But with Marley dying in 1981, Bunny knocked off this quickie, with seven of Marley's most famous songs. Not sure we need the extra versions. B+(**) [yt]
Bunny Wailer: Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley (1981 , Shanachie): The label started carrying Bunny's albums in 1983, starting with an augmented reissue of In I Father's House (new title: Roots Radics Rockers Reggae). This is another, reissuing Bunny's Bob Marley Tribute plus two cuts, presumably (not that I'm sure) from the same sessions. "Bellyfull" is nothing special, but "Rebel Music" is. B+(***) [yt]
Bunny Wailer: Marketplace (1985, Shanachie): "The more we live together/the irier we shall be." B+(*)
Bunny Wailer: Liberation (1989, Shanachie): Lots of words on the cover -- one of the ways he's found to make his political points without compromising his dancehall groove. Not what I'd call an ideal synthesis, but has some merit. B+(**) [yt]
Grade (or other) changes:
Bunny Wailer: Crucial! Roots Classics (1979-82 , Shanachie): Neville Livingston claimed the Wailers' spirit even as he left the group to Bob Marley. Still, I've been playing this compilation a lot more recently than I have anything by Marley, not just because it delivers on its subtitle, but because this may be the most inspiring political music ever recorded. Also because the earworms are irresistible. Bunny just died, at 73, so let's give him his due. [was: A] A+
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: