Sunday, September 26, 2021

Music Week

September archive (closed).

Music: Current count 36323 [36271] rated (+52), 207 [220] unrated (-13).

Only four Mondays in September, so the monthly archive (link above) is closed with 188 albums. Breakdown is 77 new music releases, 15 new archival releases, 90 old albums, 5 limited sampling, 1 grade change. This week's albums were split 23-3-26, as I finally took a bite out of my demo queue. Most surprising stat of the month is only 4 new music A-list records (none this week). I have 63 in my 2021 Music Year list, so average so far is close to 8 per month (discounting January, which usually is mop up for the previous year, so first 8 months this year; at that rate, I'll wind up with a bit less than 100 A-list new music albums for the year. That's way down from 156 (+6 post-freeze) in 2020. This year's Tracking File shows 701 new albums (including archival) graded, vs. 1637 in 2020. So my pace for rated records this year is down 35.8% from last year, and my pace for A-list new music is down 39.5%.

I expected my listening to tail off when I decided not to compile a metacritic file this year, so that part is no surprise. I'm a bit surprised that A-list has dropped more than total, as I'm still listening to nearly every well-publicized, well-regarded new album out, but the variance may not count for much. But I'm still listening to a lot of records. I'm just cribbing more from old lists than new ones. The main one I've been using lately is of albums Christgau graded but I haven't. The list is longer, but I've been picking out the A* records -- a big part of the reason so many of these albums hit the spot. This week I scanned from Devo to Go-Betweens -- but wasn't able to find or construct items from Dramarama, Stoney Edwards, Fat Boys, The Fever, Franco, and Go-Betweens (2-CD Spring Hill Fair and The Peel Sessions). I had scanned through this section of the list before, so this time I was checking out things that hadn't appealed to me before. I started off surprised by how much I liked The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified and War on 45 -- two groups I'd never cared for before. (Ferron was another pleasant surprise.)

As I noted below, I've never bought comedy albums, but lately I have wondered whether I might enjoy streaming a few. Christgau reviewed them with some regularity in the early 1970s (but rarely since), so I didn't flinch when Firesign Theatre popped up. Made for a couple unpleasant days -- I do think I got better at hearing them over time, but mostly that just increased my certainty that I don't enjoy them. The few comedy albums I have heard (and some merely heard of) are in my Unclassified file, along with spoken word/poetry, children's music, and a few more things I never managed to classify. I wrote about Lenny Bruce here. Re-reading it, it occurs to me that if I had focused more on politics, I might have wound up more generous to Firesign Theatre (also Credibility Gap, maybe even Month Python).

I will note that while I played everything I could find in this week's section of the file, I did skip Bill Cosby last week. I can compartmentalize with the best of you, but that's one I didn't care to try. Next in my (not Christgau's) file was Redd Foxx, who might still be fun. But I figured I'd had enough for now, and wanted to move on to some music. Go-Betweens. Grateful Dead next.

I've neglected Robert Christgau's website this week. He has two pieces I haven't announced yet: Xgau Sez, and Favorite vs. Best vs. Whatever, on the Rolling Stone song poll. I'll get to that when I'm done here. Maybe I'll add write up my own take on the songs list -- not that I'm sure I can construct a ballot. My idea of singles is still rooted in the era when that's what I listened to on radio (something I rarely did in the 1970s, almost never since -- one time I recall was driving a rental car for hours around Boston in 1984; during that time, only 4 songs I liked came on, Sheila E's "The Glamorous Life" and three by Madonna).

Finished Ed Ward's deeply enjoyable two-volume History of Rock & Roll, only to be disappointed not to be able to turn the page to 1977. Reportedly there is a third volume written, but never published. Finished it late one night and was looking for something to take to bed, when I saw Read This Next shouting off from the shelf. I've often been tempted by meta-books (which is how it got on the shelf in the first place). Not sure whether it's good or bad that I haven't even heard of at least half of the 500 recommended books here. I've only read a few dozen, with a similar number I've seen movies or TV series based on. Probably worth a list.

Jimmy Kimmel runs a bit fairly often with clips of a dozen-plus TV heads declaring "I can't believe that it's already [insert month/season]." Well, I'm having trouble recognizing the end of September, mostly because it hit 94°F again today. I expect the first two weeks to be miserably hot here, but this year it's going down to the wire. I haven't gotten a God damn thing done this month. (Well, other than to have written up 188 records.)

New records reviewed this week:

Air Craft: Divergent Path (2021, Craftedair/Blujazz): Pianist Doug McKeehan wrote and produced, a fairly slick suite with occasional vocals. B [cd]

Arab Strap: As Days Get Dark (2021, Rock Action): Scottish indie rock band (vocalist Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton), six albums 1996-2005 (haven't heard any of them), reunion album after 16 years. Slow and talky, more interesting than expected. B+(**)

Baby Queen: The Yearbook (2021, Polydor): South African pop star Bella Latham, first album (or mixtape, as it's presented -- a distinction I don't begin to understand) after my favorite EP of 2020. Her moniker was bound to be ironic, but she's outgrown it pretty fast. B+(***)

Lena Bloch & Feathery: Rose of Lifta (2019 [2021], Fresh Sound New Talent): Israeli tenor saxophonist, moved to Europe in 1991, on to Brooklyn in 2008, recorded the album Feathery in 2012, kept that as a band name, replacing the guitarist with pianist Russ Lossing (Cameron Brown and Billy Mintz remain). B+(*) [cd] [10-08]

Butcher Brown: #KingButch (2020, Concord Jazz): Jazz-funk group from Richmond, VA; half-dozen albums since 2013. Keyboardist Devone Harris (aka DJ Harrison) seems to be the main writer/arranger, with Marcus Tenney (aka Tennishu) rapping on several pieces, playing trumpet, tenor sax, or drums on others. B+(*)

Butcher Brown: Encore (2021, Concord Jazz): Not a great idea for a jazz-funk band to slow it down, especially when your vocalist is a rapper, who makes only a token appearance. Five tracks, 15:26. B

George Cables: Too Close for Comfort (2021, HighNote): Pianist, 76 now, cut his first album in 1975, caught my ear playing on some of the best Art Pepper albums of his last couple years. Trio with Essiet Essiet and Victor Lewis, with a couple solo cuts. B+(*)

Mike Cohen: Winter Sun (2021, Blujazz): Saxophonist (alto/soprano), based in New York, has a couple albums, including one recorded in Uganda, another in a klezmer group called Kletraphobix. Mainstream quintet with trumpet (Ron Horton), piano, bass, drums. Bright and cheery. B+(**)

Graham Dechter: Major Influence (2018 [2021], Capri): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, fourth album, quartet with piano (Tamir Hendelman), bass (John Clayton), and drums (Jeff Hamilton) -- Dechter started out with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Nice postbop lines, first-rate rhythm section. B+(**) [cd]

Satoko Fujii: Piano Music (2021, Libra): Solo piano, but focus is more on coaxing unusual sounds from the instrument than more traditional pursuits. B+(*) [cd]

Jon Gordon: Stranger Than Fiction (2021, ArtistShare): Alto saxophonist, albums since 1989, offers a nonet (or two) here, rich in horn interplay and harmony. B+(**) [cd]

India Jordan: Watch Out! (2021, Ninja Tune, EP): British DJ/electronica producer, pronoun "they," house (I guess; optional adjectives: ecstatic, euphoric). Five songs, 25:24. B+(**)

Timo Lassy: Trio (2021, We Jazz): Finnish tenor saxophonist, debut 2007, trio with bass and drums, but also strings (Budapest Art Orchestra) on most cuts, extra keyboards and percussion. B+(***)

Adam Nolan Trio: Prim and Primal (2021, self-released): Alto saxophonist, from Ireland, backed by bass (Derek Whyte) and drums (Dominic Mullan). Impressive free jazz, with glances back at tradition. B+(***) [cd]

Alexis Parsons: Alexis (2021, New Artists): Standards singer, has a couple previous albums. Backed by two piano trios, one led by David Berkman, the other by Arturo O'Farrill. Striking vocalist, faded a bit toward the end. B+(**) [cd] [10-01]

Lukasz Pawlik: Long-Distance Connections (2017-19 [2021], Summit): Polish composer, second album, plays piano/keyboards and cello. Prominent among the musicians are Randy Brecker (trumpet), Mike Stern (electric guitar), and Dave Weckl (drums, co-producer), so the temptation to slot this as fusion is strong. Bright and shiny, for sure. B+(**) [cd]

Houston Person: Live in Paris (2019 [2021], HighNote): Tenor saxophonist, one of the great mainstream players of his generation, started playing soul jazz in the 1960s, backed by organ trios much like this one: Ben Patterson (organ), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Willie Jones III (drums). B+(***)

Mauricio J. Rodriguez: Luz (2021, self-released): Bassist, from Cuba, moved to Venezuela in 1994 and on to the US in 2001, teaching at University of South Florida and Miami Symphony Orchestra Composer-in-Residence. Latin jazz, originals and pieces by Vicente Vioria and Chucho Valdes, plus "My Funny Valentine" -- sung by Adriana Foster. B

Adonis Rose and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Petite Fleur (2019-20 [2021], Storyville): Drummer, debut 2007, took over as Artistic Director of NOJO in 2017, following founder Irvin Mayfield -- the big band goes back at least to 2005. Second group album with Rose in charge, featuring singer Cyrille Aimée, who wrote the closer. Two French titles, some interesting standards, most inspired "It Don't Hurt Anymore." B+(***) [cd]

Renee Rosnes: Kinds of Love (2021, Smoke Sessions): Canadian pianist, still a big deal there with 5 Juno best albums, 20 albums plus 2-3 times that many side credits (most recently the septet Artemis). Third Smoke Sessions album, quintet with Chris Potter (sax), Christian McBride (bass), Carl Allen (drums), and Rogerio Boccato (percussion). Impressive solos for Rosnes and Potter -- no surprise there. B+(*)

Saint Etienne: I've Been Trying to Tell You (2021, Heavenly): English "indie dance" group (mostly electronic but I've never thought of them as especially danceable; I'd hazard something more like "esoteric pop"), two rock critics backing singer (often songwriter) Sarah Cracknell, 10th album since 1991, based on samples and field recordings from 1997-2001 ("the optimistic years twisted into half-remembered afterimages of a dream"), tied to a film project. B+(**)

David Sanford Big Band Featuring Hugh Ragin: A Prayer for Lester Bowie (2016 [2021], Greenleaf Music): Doesn't play, but composed six pieces and arranged "Dizzy Atmosphere," while Ragin (trumpet) offered the title piece. Twenty-piece big band, brash and eager. B+(***) [cd]

Pauline Anna Strom: Angel Tears in Sunlight (2020 [2021], RVNG Intl.): Electronic music composer, started in the 1970s with synthesizers and a 4-track recorder, recording six albums 1983-88 as Trans-Millenia Consort, before she quit and sold off her equipment. A reissue in 2017 got her interested again, and she prepared this new album shortly before her death in 2020. Mix of rhythm and atmospheric pieces, the former especially appealing. B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Marianne Faithfull: The Montreux Years (1995-2009 [2021], BMG): Fourteen selections from five appearances at Montreux Jazz Festival, four songs from Broken English, other highlights include the Van Morrison opener, Leonard Cohen's "Tower of Song," and an expert take on "Solitude." B+(***)

Jim Snidero: Strings (2001 [2021], Savant): Alto saxophonist, albums regularly since 1985, rehearsed this quartet plus 10-piece string orchestra on 9/10/2001, then had to postpone recording, the record finally released in 2013 on Milestone. The basic formula for strings + sax is to lay down a lush backdrop, then let the saxophone soar majestically -- something the alto's tone is superbly suited for. In that respect, this one is utterly conventional, just exceptionally gorgeous. A- [cd]

Pauline Anna Strom: Trans-Millenia Music (1982-88 [2017], RVNG Intl.): Compilation from six 1982-88 albums Strom released as Trans-Millenia Consort. Synth pieces, not much beat but color and flow aplenty. B+(***)

Old music:

50 Cent: The Massacre (2005, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope): Rapper Curtis Jackson, got rich with his debut (12 million sales worldwide), so decided to double down on the dying, and got richer still. Eminem produced six songs, Dr. Dre two more, with Needlz, Scott Storch, and Hi-Tek picking up the slack. So it's decent enough, sure, but who cares? B+(**)

The Credibility Gap: A Great Gift Idea (1974 [1974], Reprise): Comedy group, organized by a Los Angeles radio station in 1968, originally led by Lew Irwin, dropped from KRLA in 1970, but kept going through 1979, recruiting Harry Shearer, and recording four more albums. Skits, much easier to follow than Firesign Theatre, helped by one song ("You Can't Judge a Book by Its Hair"), impressions of Johnny Carson and Don Rickles. Some of the jokes are rather dated, but some at least are recognizably funny. B+(*)

Devo: Greatest Hits (1977-84 [1990], Warner Bros.): New wave band from Akron, cartoonish, robotic electropop. I loved their first album (three songs here, but the first taste only shows up mid-way through this, with "Jocko Homo" saved for last), after which I fairly quickly lost interest. B+(***)

Devo: Greatest Misses (1976-82 [1990], Warner Bros.): Redundancies include the original demo of "Jocko Homo" and a "Booji Boy" remix of "Satisfaction." Otherwise, there's not much difference between their "Hits" and "Misses," probably because the "Hits" don't sound much like hits (marginal exception: "Whip It"). B+(*)

The Dismemberment Plan: The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified (1997, DeSoto): DC-based post-punk band, although on this second album they don't sound punk at all -- more like a slightly harder and cruder Pavement. I've never been a fan, so my piqued interest this time is a big surprise to me. It may be I've misjudged them elsewhere (including a compilation that draws from this album), or it may just be a miracle that all the junk they juggle doesn't crash all over them. A-

The Dismemberment Plan: Change (2001, DeSoto): Last of four albums from their initial 1995-2001 period -- they regrouped in 2011 and released one more album in 2013, Uncanney Valley. Smoothed out their delivery, making it less weird, and less exciting. B+(**)

D.O.A.: War on 45 (1982, Alternative Tentacles, EP): Vancouver, BC hardcore punk band, founded 1978, still kicking around, 8-song, 20:32 mini-album after two slightly longer albums. Cover exclaims: "8 Great Tunes!" "8 Songs to March By!" "March Into the 80s." Five originals by "Joey Shithead," plus covers of "Class War," "War," and "Let's Dance" (retooled as "Let's Fuck). Sounds crisp and punchy, with crystal clear lyrics -- not exactly the way I remember 1980s hardcore going. [Haven't heard the 2005 CD reissue, expanded to 18 songs.] A- [yt]

The Doors: Morrison Hotel (1970, Elektra): Fifth album, a back-to-basics effort after the horns and strings of The Soft Parade, and after Jim Morrison was arrested for indecency, among other public embarrassments. Starts promising "Hard Rock Café," ends in "Morrison Hotel." B

The Doors: 13 (1967-70 [1970], Elektra): Slightly premature best-of -- Morrison died the following July, after L.A. Woman appeared in April -- with three cuts from their debut, four from Strange Days, and two each from the other three albums. It's been superseded by other compilations, like The Very Best of the Doors (2001). B+(***)

Marianne Faithfull: Come and Stay With Me: The UK 45s 1964-1969 (1964-69 [2018], Ace): A singer and actress who looked the part of mod London in the 1960s, as famous for her relationship with Mick Jagger as for any of her own accomplishments, which included 4 UK albums (two top-20) and 4 top-10 singles in the UK. Her first hit was a cover of "As Tears Go By," and her last B-side was "Sister Morphine," between which you get unremarkable covers of songs that never needed them, like "Blowin' in the Wind," "House of the Rising Sun," and "Yesterday." Her career ended after breaking up with Jagger in 1970, but she returned with a little-noticed album in 1976, then reinvented herself in 1979 with Broken English, with a new voice that would never again be tethered to anyone else. B

Marianne Faithfull: Marianne Faithfull's Greatest Hits (1964-69 [1987], Abkco): Cover recycled from her 11-track 1969 Greatest Hits, to which this CD reissue drops one song ("Scarborough Fair") and adds six (including "Sister Morphine"). Shorter should concentrate the high points, but only if you actually have some. B

Marianne Faithfull: Faithfull: A Collection of Her Best Recordings (1964-94 [1994], Island): Leads off with five songs from her first Island album, Broken English, then fills out with one song each from four later albums, a previously unreleased Patti Smith cover ("Ghost Dance"), and her one keeper from the 1960s. A-

Marianne Faithfull: Vagabond Ways (1999, IT/Virgin): A new batch of old songs -- "Tower of Song" sounds like it was made for her -- into which she's slipped four originals, coarse and hardened, as usual. B+(**)

Marianne Faithfull: Before the Poison (2005, Anti-): Five tracks written and produced by PJ Harvey, three collaborations with Nick Cave (who produced with Hal Willner), one piece each written by Damon Albarn and Jon Brion. I'm not especially impressed by any of these alignments, although she continues to add gravitas. B

Freddy Fender: Canciones De Mi Barrio [The Roots of Tejano Rock] (1959-64 [1993], Arhoolie): Born 1937 in San Benito, Texas, real name Baldemar Huerta, bounced out of the Marines and all around, changed his name in 1958 and started recording (also a 1961 album attributed to Eddie Con Los Shades). This collects 24 songs, almost all in Spanish, from Ideal Records, and as far as I can tell doesn't mention Huey P. Meaux, who Fender also recorded for (but when?). B+(**)

Freddy Fender: The Best of Freddy Fender (1974-77 [1977], Dot): I count 8 albums during his 4-year stint on Dot, but for practical purposes you can skip the live one, the Xmas, and Canta En Español. Although that's only one sliver of his career, it's the only one that registered on the charts, and he was so hit-and-miss you might as well look for a compilation. This was the first, and remains the best -- although you get 10 (of 12) of these songs on the CD-available The Millennium Collection (the extras here are marginally preferable to the extras there, particularly "The Wild Side of Life"). [PS: Wikipedia erroneously footnotes my review of the Millennium Collection CD under this album. All the more reason to grade this one.] A-

Freddy Fender: Swamp Gold (1978, ABC): Newly recorded, produced by Huey P. Meaux, who had been reissuing his earlier work with Fender on his Crazy Cajun label. Fifteen songs, sweet spot toward the middle when he tackles ones you know (e.g, "It's Raining," "These Arms of Mine"). B+(**)

Ferron: Testimony (1981, Philo): Canadian folk singer-songwriter Deborah Foisy, third album, publicly lesbian at a time that got her segregated into a "women's music" section in the few record stores that carried her (alongside Holly Near; as I recall, there also was an even thinner "men's music" section). First half didn't blow me away, but second won me over anyway. A-

The Firesign Theatre: How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All (1969, Columbia): I never bought comedy records, figuring that I'd never want to listen to them more than once (even pretty great ones). But I also never listened to comedy (or drama) on radio -- the "golden age" was before my time -- so I never developed the discipline to hang on every word. On the other hand, I have enjoyed my share of stand-up and sketch comedy on TV and films, so I should be able to stream comedy albums and attach fair and reasonable grades, but until I've surveyed a few dozen one can't be sure. With two Christgau-certified A+ albums, this quartet seemed like a good place to start (but I did buy their Shoes for Industry! 2-CD best-of, graded A, and shelved it after one play, grade B). Album cover parodies a Communist parade review, with a poster hailing Marx and Lennon (Groucho and John), but the cover's relevance to the content isn't evident. Fractured, hard to follow, bits of wit you can recognize but don't have to enjoy. Second side is a 1941 radio play, "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger," where Roosevelt surrenders after Pearl Harbor. B-

The Firesign Theatre: Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers (1970, Columbia): Divided between "This Side" and "That Side." Most of the fun comes from slight-of-word gags, and I suppose they deserve some credit for lampooning advertising so savagely, but the cut-up is way too extreme for my brain to piece it back together into something sensible. B-

The Firesign Theatre: I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus (1971, Columbia): Christgau: "everything you would expect from the Firesign Theatre except funny." I could say the same about the earlier albums. C+

The Firesign Theatre: Everything You Know Is Wrong (1974, Columbia): Skipping forward four albums, you get this epic dive into egg-shaped flying saucers and nudist aliens. Helps a bit to watch the video -- at least there it's clear when they've switched scene, or simply cut to a parody commercial -- also to crank up the sound to it's a bit less garbled. Neither of which make it very funny. B [yt]

The Firesign Theatre: Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death (1998, Rhino): Group split up in 1985 (David Ossman left a couple years earlier), but reunited in 1993 for a 25th anniversary tour. Their optimism over Clinton's 1992 election ("when we kicked the fascists out of office it was time for the Firesign Theatre to come back") doesn't seem to have lasted much longer for them, as this album kicks off their We're Doomed trilogy. Presents a broadcast for Dec. 31, 1999, obsessed with the Y2K bug, or more ominously the megacorp that owns "the idea of America." B

The Firesign Theatre: Boom Dot Bust (1999, Rhino): In a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment, the Y2K bug caused very few computers any inconvenience, but crashed the dot-com bubble and the high-tech industry that fed it. But this middle installment in their We're Doomed trilogy remains mired in fiction, its strangeness reeking of frenetic desperation. They're looking old on the cover. I'm feeling older listening to them. B-

The Firesign Theatre: The Bride of Firesign (2001, Rhino): Supposedly the climax of their We're Doomed trilogy, but the Y2K/millennium having passed, they return to floundering. The opening dick joke bit is amusing enough (still early enough the VP fits right in). Then they revive Nick Danger and Rocky Rococo. Typical interchange: "Don't spend all day on your cell phone." "You can have a phone in your cell?" Or: "Maybe take out her heart?" "That's a little Aztec, Danny." Or: "These insightful interior monologues really need writers." B-

The Go-Betweens: Metal and Shells (1983-84 [1985], PVC): Australian band, two major singer-songwriters (Robert Forster and Grant McLennan), founded 1978 but didn't get a US release until this best-of compiled from two albums, Before Hollywood and Spring Hill Fair, which didn't get US releases until 1990 and 2002 (the latter as a 2-CD I still haven't heard). I bought and lost this LP (and the next few -- 1987's Tallulah was the one I finally fell for), but know most of these songs from their superb 1978-1990 compilation. A-

Grade (or other) changes:

New Millennium Doo Wop Party (1954-61 [2000], Rhino): Twenty-two songs, a little more eclectic/unconventional than Rhino's earlier, much revered The Best of Doo Wop Uptempo, but this is the CD I'm most likely to grab on my way to the car (perhaps because I initially undervalued it, so omitted it from the less convenient "A shelves" or the travel cases -- which are overkill for a mere errand). So I've wound up playing it hundreds of times, loving every moment. [was: A-] A+

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Eunhye Jeong: Nolda (ESP-Disk)

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