An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, August 16, 2021
Music: Current count 36036  rated (+35), 218  unrated (-2).
Looks like a decent week, but count is off from recent weeks, especially given how much of what follows is old music. Had a couple days last week where I essentially gave up and just listened to oldies. Got a bit of a lift mid-week when Robert Christgau published his August Consumer Guide -- I'm linking to the time-locked website version, where everyone can at least get a list of records reviewed (there's a link there to the And It Don't Stop newsletter, where the text is paywalled). Five records below from this month's batch. Others I had previously checked out [my grades in brackets]:
That leaves two albums unheard: Mach-Hommy's HBO (Haitian Body Odor), and Star Feminine Band. I replayed Mach-Hommy's Pray for Haiti, but left my grade unchanged. (Needless to say, all this was before Haiti was wracked by another earthquake, soon followed by a tropical storm.)
I cheated a bit in building a playlist for the Ace Directions in Music compilation (substituted a Miles Davis take of a Wayne Shorter song for the latter's own Super Nova version). The swap almost certainly didn't hurt the album, but not having the booklet, I'm missing the compiler's explanation for his choices, not least why he talks about the emergence of "electric jazz" instead of "fusion." Either way, it wasn't much of a "new age of jazz" -- which isn't to say that no new and interesting things were happening then, just that they are poorly represented in this compilation.
This week's "old music" continued my scan through the list of albums Christgau graded but I hadn't. My fault I went so deep into 1960s Manfred Mann -- just a personal itch I had to scratch. On the other hand, I barely touched Sparrow -- surprised to find so much on Napster. Next up: Youssou N'Dour, but most of what I missed is pretty hard to find.
Seems like I've been neglecting my new promo queue, but only 5 records there have been released (3 just this week). August is always a lax month, which is part of the reason I've been slipping.
I should probably write something on Afghanistan, but I don't see much urgency at the moment. (E.g., this relatively sane Aug. 13 article still thinks "a possible Taliban capture of Kabul itself could be a matter of months, perhaps even weeks.") I, too, didn't expect the Taliban to take over so quickly and completely. After all, the Soviet-backed regime held out three years after the withdrawal of Russian troops, and the 1990s Taliban never quite consolidated control before the US intervened. That suggests several things, of which the least well documented in the possibility that today's Taliban may be much more skillful politically than the old one was. The most striking thing about the current sweep is that most towns have been taken over without fighting, and we haven't seen anything like the massacres that occurred in the 1990s when the Taliban conquered cities like Herat. This suggests that the Taliban have much more popular support (or at least tolerance) than we have been led to believe. It also underscores how ready the mercenary army stood up by the US and NATO were to switch sides. That means that any effort by the US to re-impose order will have to start from scratch. Given that degree of failure after 20 years, that should be a sobering thought.
Needless to say, a lot of neocon idiots are piling on Biden for "losing Afghanistan." That makes for seductive rhetoric, but there's no reality to it. The venture was doomed from the start, both because we didn't care about (let alone understand) the Afghans, and because we didn't understand (let alone care about) ourselves.
New records reviewed this week:
Emily Duff: Razor Blade Smile (2021, Mr. Mudshow Music): Singer-songwriter from New York, fourth album since 2017, surprised to find she doesn't have a Wikipedia page, also that producer Eric Ambel has both a personal one and a separate discography page (as well as the expected pages for his groups, the Yayhoos and the Del-Lords). A-
Rodney Jordan & Christian Fabian: Conversations (2019 , Spicerack): Bass duets, Jordan's first album as leader but he has side credits back to 1997, notably with René Marie. Fabian is from Sweden, grew up in Germany, studied at Berklee, wound up in New York, has several albums. B+(**) [cd]
Nas: King's Disease II (2021, Mass Appeal): Thirteenth studio album, sequel to his 2020 album. Nothing especially striking, but steady as it goes. After all, "We been doing gangsta shit for a long time." B+(*)
Pearring Sound: Socially Distanced Duos (2020 , self-released): Alto saxophonist Jeff Pearring, has a previous album from 2016, recorded these duos with a notable list of musicians: "these shared musical moments tell the story of the complex state of being brought about by the numerous events of 2020." B+(***) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Gyedu-Blay Ambolley: Simigwa (1975 , Mr. Bongo): Highlife musician from Ghana, reissue of what seems to be his first album, although the eclectic mix of styles -- not lest a substantial shot of funk and a nod toward hip-hop -- strikes me as postmodern. B+(***)
Directions in Music: 1969 to 1973: Miles Davis, His Musicians and the Birth of a New Age of Jazz (1969-73 , BGP): Surveys the turn to fusion, for which Miles Davis broke up his famous 1964-69 Quintet, then cycled through most of the roster here, breaking artistic ground while filling arenas. His followers did less on both counts -- aside from Keith Jarrett, who reverted to acoustic piano and achieved stardom on his own terms. While the others sold a fair number of records, their "new age" quickly lost interest. Two vocals make you wonder why they're here, not that either is without interest. B+(**)
Amy Rigby: A One Way Ticket to My Life (1987-97 , Southern Domestic): Nineteen demos, the best a trial run for her brilliant debut album, the rest engaging and enticing but not quite as sharp as her songwriting became over the following decades. B+(***) [bc]
Joseph Spence: Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahamian Guitar and Singing (1965 , Smithsonian/Folkways): One of the few major artists from the Bahamas (1910-84), folk singer, guitarist, his 1958 Folkways recordings the standard this offers an encore to. Off-kilter, redeemed by gospel spirit. A-
Emily Duff: Maybe in the Morning (2017, Mod Prom): New York singer-songwriter, preferred genre rockabilly, first album, appeals immediately. B+(***) [bc]
Emily Duff: Hallelujah Hello (2019, Mr. Mudshow Music): A bit more drama, a lot more religion, which cuts back on the rockabilly spirit. "I'm going down, like my mother did, in a puff of smoke and alcohol." B+(**) [bc]
Manfred Mann: The Five Faces of Manfred Mann (1964, HMV): Brit Invasion group, had a few big hits, starting with "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" and "Sha La La," neither present on the UK version of this debut album. (As with other BI groups, the UK and US albums were different, and the UK version is the one I'm finding.) Led by South African keyboardist Manfred Lubovitz, who took exile in 1961, and used Manne (for jazz drummer Shelly) as his stage name -- the label shortened it, leading to a long series of Mann puns. Five original songs by singer Paul Jones, three with Mann. The nine covers were mostly blues, starting with "Smokestack Lightning" and ending with "Bring It to Jerome." B+(*)
Manfred Mann: Mann Made (1965, HMV): UK/US releases match, but Canadian slipped a single in. Nothing very appealing here. C+
Manfred Mann: Mann Made Hits (1964-66 , HMV): "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" still sounds great, "Sha La La" sounds like a silly sequel, "Pretty Flamingo" I'm not so sure about, three more top-ten UK singles (including the lesser of two Dylans) are long forgotten, the others just weirdly scattered, as the band started to fall apart. B
Manfred Mann: The Best of Manfred Mann: The Definitive Collection (1963-66 , EMI): With 25 cuts plus a bit of "Group Interview," more than anyone really needs from their early hit-making period. B
Manfred Mann: As Is (1966, Fontana): New label, Paul Jones and Mike Vickers departed, Michael D'Abo and Klaus Voormann arrived, ten originals with drummer Mike Hugg's name on most of them, covers of Johnny Mercer ("Autumn Leaves") and Bob Dylan ("Just Like a Woman"). By the way, HMV answered with the 4-cut EP As Was, credited to Manfred Mann With Paul Jones. B
Manfred Mann: Chapter Two: The Best of the Fontana Years (1966-69 , Fontana/Chronicles): I haven't found a Chapter One, which presumably would be populated with for their EMI-controlled 1964-66 hits (and misses). With Mike D'Abo singing, their second period dropped their blues roots, smoothed out their rough edges, but rarely offered hit material -- the Dylan-penned "Mighty Quinn" appears here, but not much more of interest. B-
Manfred Mann: Hit Mann! The Essential Singles 1963-1969 (1963-69 , Raven): Finally, a generous compilation (28 songs) that bridges the group's two "chapters," the early one on EMI with Paul Jones and the later one on Fontana with Mike D'Abo. The split is about right (19-to-9), all the memorable singles are present, and they get "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" out of the way first. Beyond that, they even present with a recognizable sound, which is rarely clear from the albums. Not an especially important group, but this finally gets them right. B+(**)
Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Glorified Magnified (1972, Polydor): The keyboardist's fourth venture featured guitarist-singer Mick Rogers as his significant other. Their eponymous 1972 debut, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, picked out catchy tunes and gave them a great deal of resonance. The tunes fall short on this second album, except for the Dylan cover. B+(*)
Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Get Your Rocks Off (1973, Polydor): Third album, released in UK at Messin', re-ordered with John Prine's "Pretty Good" replacing "Black and Blue" (from the Australian group Chain, supposedly thinking that Americans might find a song about slavery "unsuitable"). The UK title song was written by former bandmate Mike Hugg, the American one by Dylan, and the closing cover by Dr. John. B+(**)
Manfred Mann's Earth Band: Messin' (1973 , Cohesion): Reissue of the originally ordered UK album, plus two bonus tracks: "Pretty Good" (from the US Get Your Rocks Off release), and a single edit of "Cloudy Eyes." B+(**)
Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited: Mr. Music (1985, Earthworks): The chimurenga giant of Zimbabwe, his music (like his country) splitting the distance between Congo and South Africa. Five songs, 36:38. B+(***)
Mary McCaslin: Way Out West (1973, Philo): Folk singer, second album, first of a series through 1978 on Philo -- I recommend her 1992 compilation, Things We Said Today: The Best of Mary McCaslin, which taps this album for five songs, and doesn't grab all the good ones. A-
Mary McCaslin: Prairie in the Sky (1975, Philo): Continues to play up the western in "country and," including a memorable take on "Ghost Riders in the Sky." B+(***)
Mary McCaslin: Old Friends (1977, Philo): Original title song plus nine covers, most cut against her grain, exceptional nonetheless, gently hooked by banjo and voice. A-
Mary McCaslin: Broken Promises (1994, Philo): After a decade in the business, she seems to have given up, only to stage this minor comeback after her 1992 best-of re-introduced her. Fewer covers, so fewer hooks. B+(**)
Mary McCaslin: Better Late Than Never (2006, Mary McCaslin Music): One more record, audibly older, couldn't be simpler, which works for me just fine. B+(***)
The Mekons: F.U.N. '90 (1990, A&M, EP): Six tracks, 28:30, reportedly covers, more obviously loops in samples, with some kind of electronica background. B+(*)
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: Collector's Item: All Their Greatest Hits (1972-75 , Philadelphia International): Now remembered, much to the nominal leader's chagrin, as Teddy Pendergrass' original group. They recorded four albums before Pendergrass left, and this first-generation best-of picks their four R&B chart toppers, three more top-tens, and one extra album cut ("Be for Real"). This is great every time "Wake Up Everybody" comes around, but then I start to nitpick. I have two later, longer best-ofs at B+. Concentration helps, but still has limits. B+(***)
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes Featuring Teddy Pendergrass: Blue Notes & Ballads (1972-75 , Epic/Legacy): In the intervening years, Harold Melvin became a footnote to Teddy Pendergrass, whose name is on the masthead for marketing reasons -- were it simply focus, why includes two Sharon Paige leads? And why include three songs already on Collector's Item? Aside from that the filler runs a little thin. B+(*)
The Mighty Clouds of Joy: It's Time (1974, ABC/Dunhill): Gospel group, formed in Los Angeles in 1959, recorded for Peacock from 1963-72, made their commercial move here, produced by Dave Crawford and recorded in Philadelphia. Crawford wrote 8 (of 9) songs, with occasional allusion to but scant mention of God. B+(***) [yt]
The Mighty Clouds of Joy: The Best of the Mighty Clouds of Joy Volume 2 [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (2005-10 , Motown Gospel): Discogs has no entry for a Volume 1, which could have usefully covered their 1974-77 secular albums on ABC, or their earlier (1963-72 on Peacock) or later (1980-83 on Myrrh) gospel periods. Nor do they have source info for these 10 songs, but they are clearly live, and all appear on three 2005-10 EMI albums (In the House of the Lord: Live in Houston; Movin'; and At the Revival). By then, only Joe Ligon (d. 2016) remained from the original group. B
[Mighty] Sparrow: King of the World (1984, B's): Slinger Francisco, born in Grenada but moved to Trinidad when he was one, started performing as Little Sparrow and before long became Mighty Sparrow. The four poorly annotated volumes on Ice mark him as the greatest of all calypsonians: I recommend them all, as well as the early First Flight (1957-59), and don't doubt that much of what they missed is still worthwhile. But before those compilations started appearing in 1993, this (the 53rd album in his Discogs list) was the first one Christgau reviewed (while recommending two others even higher, More Sparrow More!! and Hot and Sweet -- the cover is so familiar I must have once had a copy, but didn't get it into my database. "Soca Man" shows he can do the beat without letting it define him. The wordier cuts are where he shines. A-
Mighty Sparrow: More Sparrow More!! (1969, Ra): I'm not prepared for a deep dive here, but couldn't resist the opportunity to play this one, namechecked in the Christgau review of King of the World. I'm also not inclined to cross check the titles here against the Ice compilations, but if I haven't heard "Sparrow Dead" and "60 Million Frenchmen" before I got cheated. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard "Martin Luther King" before ("segregation must be destroyed"), so I got cheated anyway. Fine print: "Acc. by Conrad Little and his Big Band." A-
Mighty Sparrow: Hot and Sweet (1974, Warner Bros.): Starts off with another version of "Dead Sparrow," so there may well be many, but this one is, if anything, even livelier. Keeps coming, too. A-
Nas: God's Son (2002, Columbia): Rapper Nasir Jones, father a blues/jazz guitarist known as Olu Dara, made a big splash with his 1994 debut Illmatic. Sixth studio album. Don't think he's right about "I Can," but the album looks up from there. B+(**)
Nas: Untitled (2008, Def Jam): Ninth studio album, looks like it could be eponymous but seems like the more descriptive non-title has stuck -- evidently the original idea was to go with the most overused word here, but cooler heads prevailed. "Black President" dates this precisely, but too much else hasn't aged at all. While I'd quibble, "Fried Chicken" is mouth-watering. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: