An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, May 10, 2021
Music: Current count 35378  rated (+42), 220  unrated (+0).
Mostly old music again, continuing down my list of albums graded by Christgau but unheard (at least in that specific release) by me. Started with Sam Baker, whose earlier (somewhat better) albums were reviewed last week. At this late date, the records tend to get a single play (unless something seems like it might be worth clarifying). I also occasionally check out lesser graded albums that catch my fancy (e.g., Lester Bangs, Handsome Boy Modelling School)), and delve deeper into some catalogs. I'm not done with Z.Z. Hill, although I'm pretty sure that the essential album is Malaco's 1986 Greatest Hits.
I've resorted my 2021 pending list to keep the records in release order. I'm trying to review things that are out, and hold back on future releases (3 well into June). Would probably be more helpful to sort the box I keep them in, but that's harder to do. Only six records in the queue that are out now but I haven't gotten to.
Very sad this week to hear that Ed Ward died. (For obituaries, see: New York Times; NPR; Rolling Stone; Austin American-Statesman. Ward was one of the main rock critics I read in the mid-1970s, leading to my own brief fling at freelance rock crit. I never met him, but we corresponded a bit, and I remember him as being very open and supportive. I learned a lot from his section in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll. In recent years, he returned to Austin, and published two volumes of rock history, up to 1977.
Two more deaths need to be noted here. Lloyd Price (88) was a major r&b and pop star in the 1950s. His early Specialty hits are worth owning (e.g., Lawdy!), but his 1956-60 pop hits (see Greatest Hits: The Original ABC-Paramount Recordings) are the ones I remember from my youth. In the 1960s he moved into business, and seems to have been quite successful there, too.
Curtis Fuller (86) also died. He was one of the most prolific trombonists of the hard bop era, most notably with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1961-66), but he led a couple dozen album, and played on many more, with a great many of the luminaries of the era. I recognized dozens of albums on his credits list, but when I went to compile an A-list I was surprised not to find many (9, 3 of those with Blakey; others with Sonny Clark, John Coltrane, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Blue Mitchell, Ernie Wilkins; surprised by how many records on the list I've heard of but haven't heard).
I'll also note that our friend Ruby Bradley's obituary belatedly appeared in the Wichita Eagle, albeit with her name misspelled. Service on Saturday, May 15. Hopefully the Eagle will correct their error. Much the same write up is also at Cochran Mortuary.
Saturday night was the first time in over a year when we had a guest over for dinner. I fixed paella valenciana (see picture), with chicken wings, kielbasa, Chinese sausage, shrimp, and lobster tail. To complement it, I made some tapas/salads (cw in picture): white beans, mushrooms in garlic sauce, cabbage and green bell pepper slaw, tuna-egg-tomato salad, roasted pepper salad. Had strawberry shortcake, key lime pie, and whipped cream on both for dessert. Food was as good as I expected, but the big surprise was getting it all done exactly on time.
I hadn't really planned the tapas part out. I thumbed through Penelope Casas' Tapas book for ideas, and noted the mushrooms and peppers recipes. For the beans and tuna recipes, I simply raided the pantry, glad to use up old cans. I bought the cabbage for my regular slaw recipe, but this was close enough I thought I'd try it. One thing I thought about making was deviled eggs stuffed with salmon, but I made them for lunch today.
I've spent months shopping for a new inkjet printer. Finally ordered a HP OfficeJet 9015e, and tried to set it up over the weekend. Horrible experience, even punting the decision on whether to sign up for their 8-month "free ink" program. They tape over the USB socket to plug the unit into a computer, as the setup can only be run with the printer connected through wi-fi to the Internet. I wound up having to download an app to my phone, then use the phone to set up the wi-fi and update the printer software. Now HP has their spyware installed directly in my office. But from that point, my Linux machines automagically picked up the printer configuration (while not noticing that the old printer had disappeared). I can also print from the phone, and the app knows about paper sizes and ink levels and such. The ink cartridges all have printed circuit cards to ensure I can't use third-party ink. You may wonder where anti-vaxxers get their conspiracy theories, but dealing with companies like HP helps explain today's paranoia.
PS on album covers. I substituted the Cucumbers' Fake Doom Years for their eponymous EP. The actual EP cover is in the top left quadrant of the compilation cover. It's also rated A-. I also didn't bother grabbing a copy of the Handsome Family's Down in the Valley. It's a long out-of-print Irish-only compilation, drawing from three albums reviewed above it. I only bothered because it was on the Christgau A-list, and was only able to do so by stringing a songlist together.
New records reviewed this week:
Carsie Blanton: Love & Rage (2021, So Ferocious): Singer-songwriter, based in New Orleans, albums since 2005, breakthrough was her 2019 album Buck Up. Eleven more first rate songs. Easy enough: to stay off her "Shit List," just "Be Good." A-
Enzo Carniel and Filippo Vignato as Silent Room: Aria (2021, Menace): French pianist, Italian trombonist, both have several previous albums. Duo first played together in tribute to avant-trombone legend Albert Mangelsdorf, but they're also into Brian Eno's ambient synths, and find a pleasing synthesis herein. B+(***) [cd]
Marianne Faithfull With Warren Ellis: She Walks in Beauty (2021, BMG): The Bad Seeds violinist used his soundtrack expertise to craft the music. Faithfull reads poetry: Byron, Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Thomas Hood and Lord Tennyson. I haven't read them in 50+ years, and doubt I ever will again, but there's no denying their brilliance. B+(**)
Satoko Fujii Tokyo Trio: Moon on the Lake (2020 , Libra): A rare conventional piano trio, although bassist Takashi Sugawa doubles on cello, with Ittesu Takamura on drums. Some spectacular passages, as you'd expect. B+(***) [cd]
Flow Trio With Joe McPhee: Winter Garden (2020 , ESP-Disk): Tenor/soprano saxophonist Louie Belogenis, released an album in 2007 called The Flow, leading to several Flow Trio albums, with Joe Morris (bass) and Charles Downs (drums). This adds a second tenor sax, an old master making the rounds. Morris is better known as a guitarist, but plays some exceptional bass here. A- [cd]
Noah Haidu/Buster Williams/Billy Hart: Slowly: Song for Keith Jarrett (2020 , An Die Musik): Piano trio, the pianist born in 1972, when Jarrett was 27 and conquering the world, joined on bass and drums by players of Jarrett's generation (actually, a couple years senior). All three wrote songs (5 in total), compared to one by Jarrett, plus several standards. B+(**) [cd]
Madre Vaca: The Elements (2020 , Madre Vaca): Collective, based in Jacksonville, fourth album as a group but their label lists 13 albums, including ones by various members. Website lists 16 musicians, but just a quartet here: Jarrett Carter (guitar), Thomas Milovac (bass), Jonah Pierre (piano), and Benjamin Shorstein (drums), with one original piece from each (you can guess the titles). B+(*) [cd] [06-12]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
The Cucumbers: The Desk Drawer Tapes (1988-2005 , Life Force): Twelve songs, recorded over the years and stuffed into a drawer. Not top drawer material, but distinct in form and spirit. B+(**)
Ojoyo: Plays Safrojazz (1996 , Sunnyside): South African saxophonist Morris Goldberg, moved to New York before the fall of apartheid, where he played with Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and many others. Leads various musicians here -- one group has Chris Botti on trumpet, another Diego Urcola. The township jive vamps are fun, but neither here nor there. B+(**) [cd] [05-28]
Steve Tintweiss and the Purple Why: Markstown (1968 [2021}, Inky Dot Media): Bassist, mostly played in the 1960s on albums by ESP-Disk artists, from Albert Ayler to Patty Waters and Frank Wright. This is billed as "authentic sixties ny city avant-garde free jazz," from two dates (St. Mark's Church, The Town Hall). Compositions by the leader, quintet plus vocals, only name that jumps out at me is Mark Whitecage (tenor sax/flute). Album does feature his bass, and he impresses. B+(***) [cd]
Sam Baker: Say Grace (2013, self-released): Strings return, used tastefully, framing literary songs that don't give up anything easily. Okay, "Ditch" does, but I'm having trouble here. B+(***)
Sam Baker: Land of Doubt (2017, self-released): More trouble following his songs, less interest in trying again. Not that I doubt I'm missing something. B+(*)
Sam Baker: Horses and Stars (2019, self-released): Live, solo with guitar and harmonica, recorded in Buffalo, ten songs from his first three albums, one each from the other two. I recognize many, but the arrangements are so spare he can only hook you with words, which is hard to do. B+(*)
Lester Bangs and the Delinquents: Jook Savages on the Brazos (1981, Live Wire): I knew him as a rock critic, corresponded a bit, but he left Creem before I could write anything for him. I met him my first night in New York, where he tried to make it as a rocker, but rarely ran into him, and never saw him perform. I bought (and kept) his single, "Let It Blurt," but never saw or heard this album -- the only one he released before his overdose (inadvertent, friends assure me) in 1982. Not as consistent as one would like, but several songs stand out, as does enough of the guitar. A- [yt]
Ronnie Barron: Blues Delicacies, Vol. 1 (1979 , Vivid Sound): Ronald Barrosse (1943-97), from New Orleans, grew up in the local piano tradition along with Professor Longhair and Dr. John. Sideman with Paul Butterfield and other blues outfits, recorded his first album as Reverend Ether (1971). Discogs lists 6 releases of this album under 4 titles, the hopes expressed by Vol. 1 unrequited. Distinctive voice, familiar songs. B+(***) [yt]
Roy Brown: Hard Times (1967-68 , Bluesway): His 1947 single, "Good Rockin' Tonight," is remembered as one of the first great rock and roll songs, but his King compilation (1947-57, out of print on Rhino) flounders, and his Complete Imperial Recordings (1956-58) isn't much better. This seems to be his first proper album, recorded a decade after he "retired," and released half a decade later. The big blues riffs and soul horns really lift him up, and his voice does the rest. A- [yt]
Shirley Brown: Woman to Woman (1974, Truth): Soul singer, usual church upbringing, first album, title song her first (and only) hit single, voice drew comparisons to Aretha Franklin. Recorded two more albums for Stax (1974, 1979), then resurfaced on Malaco in 1989. B+(**)
T Bone Burnett: Trap Door (1982, Warner Brothers, EP): Eventually better known as a producer, since O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), the guy every movie producer seeking roots music turned to. After his 1980 debut on Takoma, he signed to Warners, and released this 5-track, 22:08 EP before his 1983 Proof Through the Night. B+(**)
T Bone Burnett: T Bone Burnett (1986, Dot): Fourth album, new label, MCA's revived country imprint. So he goes a bit more country, but just a bit. B+(**)
Joe Cocker: Joe Cocker's Greatest Hits (1969-76 , A&M): The history of interpretive rock singers starts with Elvis Presley and ends with Joe Cocker, and doesn't include much in between. Granted, the practice persists in country and pop, but even there the stars usually claim a piece of the action. Like Elvis, Cocker got by on voice and arrangement, but didn't get nearly as far. I was a big fan of his Leon Russell-organized Mad Dogs & Englishmen, but unlike Elvis he never had that many hits, even here. B+(***)
Johnny Copeland: Fuel Presents an Introduction to Johnny Copeland (1961-67 , Fuel 2000): Blues guitarist-singer, born in Louisiana, moved to Houston, started recording singles in 1956. This collects 16 tracks from small labels (All Boy, Golden Eagle, Paradise, maybe others). Only one song intersects with Kent's It's Me: Classic Texas Soul 1965-72. B+(**)
Johnny Copeland: Copeland Special (1981, Rounder): First proper album, has all the chops you need for flashy blues. Also picked up a lot of horns, including three legendary avant-saxophonists (George Adams, Arthur Blythe, and Byard Lancaster), not that you'd recognize them in the mix. B+(***) [yt]
The Cucumbers: The Cucumbers (1983, Fake Doom, EP): Four songs, 10:46, "My Boyfriend" should have been a hit. Included in The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986), which is also: A-
The Cucumbers: Total Vegitility (1999, Home Office): Jangle pop band/duo from New Jersey, Jon Fried and Deena Shoshkes, peaked in 1994 with Where We Sleep Tonight. Their jangle is sharpened, but not the songs. B+(**)
Miles Davis: Water Babies (1967-68 , Columbia): After his second great quintet folded in 1968, Davis recruited young musicians and invented what came to be called fusion: a style that arguably ruined jazz in the 1970s, although his own records were often glorious exceptions. When Davis went on hiatus in 1975, his record company dredged up this transitional filler, with one side of classic quintet (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams), and one one side of his next step, with Hancock and Chick Corea on electric piano, and Dave Holland on bass. B+(**)
Miles Davis: Circle in the Round (1955-70 , Columbia, 2CD): More hiatus product: the first side three cuts from 1955, 1958, and 1961 (all great bands); from 1967, the 26:15 title piece, with Joe Beck sitting in on guitar; the 1968 quintet plus George Benson; and finally, from 1970, a much expanded band (Shorter and Bennie Maupin on reeds, three famous keyboard wizards, electric bass, sitar, two drummers, plus Airto Moreira on percussion) vamping on David Crosby's "Guinnevere" for 18:06. B+(**)
Miles Davis: The Man With the Horn (1980-81 , Columbia): Married actress Cicely Tyson, kicked cocaine, and returned from hiatus. Jazz-funk, recorded with various lineups, but mostly Bill Evans (tenor sax), guitar, electric bass, drums, percussion. B+(**)
Miles Davis: Star People (1982-83 , Columbia): Teo Macero's last production, pieced together from five studio and live dates over seven months. With Bill Evans on sax, Mike Stern (and in 1983 John Scofield) on guitar, Marcus Miller on bass (except for the last-recorded track), Al Foster drums, and Mino Cinelu perussion -- a fast, funky groove album elevated by the trumpet (not that it lasts). B+(***)
Kimya Dawson: Hidden Vagenda (2004, K): Antifolk singer-songwriter, started as the more mature half of the Moldy Peaches, went on to the more successful solo career, although both of those comparisons are strictly relative. There's a nursery rhyme simplicity to these tunes, a playfulness that rarely comes around. A-
Hakim: Talakik (2002, Mondo Melodia): Egyptian shaabi singer, nicknamed the Lion of Egypt, albums since 1991 (only 2 since 2007). B+(***)
Handsome Boy Modeling School: White People (2004, Atlantic): Prince Paul and Dan the Automator, both had independent solo careers, joined up for So . . . How's Your Girl?, one of 1999's best-regarded albums, regrouped five years later for a second (and so far last) album. Lots of guests (maybe too many), lots of skits (better than average). B+(***)
The Handsome Family: Odessa (1994, Carrot Top): Husband-and-wife duo, Brett and Rennie Sparks, plus a drummer and maybe others. He writes music, she does the lyrics, he does almost all of the singing -- she quavers punk, while his deadpan voice is clear as a bell, and no more engaging. First album. I missed one later on, but like them enough to go back to the beginning. Enough guitar drone to separate them from the folkies. Too much sarcasm for country (although they try in "Water Into Wine"). Here's another lyric: "How can you say there's only one way up/when you know there's a million ways down/ Some folks are falling, others trying to get up/ I'm the one who's staggering around." Had anyone noticed, this could have been deemed prophetic. Nowadays, of course it is. A-
The Handsome Family: Milk and Scissors (1996, Carrot Top): Second album. Settling into a groove, with fewer rough edges. B+(**)
The Handsome Family: Through the Trees (1997, Carrot Top): Third album, slipped by easily enough. B+(**)
The Handsome Family: Down in the Valley (1994-97 , Independent): Irish-only release, picks songs from the first three albums, slighting the first (2 tracks, vs. 6 and 5 for the later ones). Debut is more interesting in its own right, not least because it has a rock edge the later albums lack, but the later selection kicks out lots of memorable lines. Not sure if they really picked the best songs, or the extra plays paid off. Note that their 2000 Live at Schuba's Tavern covers the same era songs, if anything more entertainingly. Rennie may avoid singing, but she doesn't shy away from the microphone between songs. A-
The Handsome Family: Twilight (2001, Carrot Top): Bland voice and simple melodies, doesn't seem like much, but I often enough find myself hanging on the words, grim as they may be. B+(***)
The Handsome Family: Smothered and Covered (1993-2001 , Handsome Family Music): Demos and outtakes, covers from "Banks of the Ohio" and "Knoxville Girl" to "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and "Far Away Eyes," short instrumentals of Brett Sparks playing cello and Rennie playing prepared piano. Sound's a little weak. B+(**)
The Handsome Family: Singing Bones (2003, Carrot Top): Revisits an old folk song, "Dry Bones," best known from Bascom Lamar Lunsford, binding the murder songs, the more pervasive air of death, even to the end of the world -- twice, once in fire, again in ice. B+(***)
Ted Hawkins: Watch Your Step (1982, Rounder): Bluesman, born in Mississippi, drifted around the country, in and out of jails and asylums, wound up busking in Los Angeles. turned to music on hearing Sam Cooke, and he picked up the voice and style. First album, not clear when he recorded it. The liner notes speak of a DJ ("Johnny Jr.") discovering him in 1971, leading to demos, but it's likely these were re-recorded. B+(***)
Ted Hawkins: Happy Hour (1986, Rounder): A second album, also produced by Bruce Bromberg. Between records, he spent 18 months on a child molestation charge, which he subsequently denied. Title song is sad enough it belongs in Nashville. Or maybe it came from there? It's one of two non-originals, the other "Gypsy Woman." B+(**)
Henry Cow: Legend (1973, Virgin): Experimental British group, thought of themselves as rock but without vocals came closer to jazz. First album, aka Henry Cow and The Henry Cow Legend (all three titles appeared in 1973). Fred Frith (guitar), Tim Hodgkinson (keyboards), Geoff Leigh (reeds), John Greaves (bass), and Chris Cutler (drums), with most credited with additional instruments -- also voice toward the end. B+(**)
Henry Cow: Western Culture (1978 , Broadcast): Fifth studio album, three founders remain (Frith, Hodgkinson, Cutler), plus Annemarie Roelofs (trombone, violin) and Lindsay Cooper (bassoon, oboe, soprano sax, recorder), with Hodgkinson writing the first side ("History & Prospects"), and Cooper the second ("Day by Day"). Also a couple guest spots, including Irène Schweizer (piano). B+(***)
Z.Z. Hill: The Brand New Z.Z. Hill (1971, Mankind): R&B singer-songwriter from Texas, recorded for Kent in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, ended up his career in the 1980s with Malaco, where classic soul music was repackaged as blues. This starts with a 3-act "Blues at the Opera," where the connected by spoken word that's hard to follow. The second half songs are perfectly solid. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, May 3, 2021
Music: Current count 35336  rated (+49), 220  unrated (+0).
The music part is easy enough to introduce. Early in the week, I pulled enough new music from the demo queue to keep the backlog count even. I tried to grab things that were already available, but I went ahead with Simon Moullier (out June 11) after I inadvertently slapped it on. The other future release is the new James Brandon Lewis, coming out later this week. I couldn't wait.
I did a little work last week adding jazz records to my tracking file, so that suggested some of the new non-CD records, and leaves me more for the future. First time I did that this year, but the list currently has 109 unheard records (almost all jazz), in addition to the 226 records I have rated (or have in my queue). Still far from exhaustive. (I've only made it about 50% of the way through Discogs 2021 jazz list, and have only picked out records that struck me as interesting.)
More old music again. I lost track of where I was with my file of albums that Christgau has graded but I haven't heard, so started again at the top, with Asleep at the Wheel and Asylum Street Spankers. I like the former's more recent Bob Wills tributes (Ride With Bob and Still the King), also the Spankers' The Last Laugh, but had heard little of their earlier work. I also had totally missed Sam Baker. Still working on him.
Before that I took a dive into Jorge Ben, who Christgau hasn't reviewed (except for Gil E Jorge). I had listened to a fair amount of Gilberto Gil recently, which led to the Ben recommendation. I had two unrated Ben albums in my database: Tropical and Samba Nova, both on Mango in 1976, but I couldn't find the LPs. I did find the former on YouTube, but not the latter -- a comp from 1970-74 albums, but I couldn't find enough of them to assemble a songlist, so I wound up dropping it from my unrated list.
While researching the Ben albums, I was surprised to find Wikipedia citing my grades for albums I had never heard before. Turns out the grades came from a notebook entry, where I had squirreled away a multi-part "Jorge Ben Projeto" that Rodney Taylor had posted on the now-defunct MSN Expert Witness forum. Taylor covers everything there, but it turns out he later revised and greatly expanded his piece, available on his Brazil Beat blog. Someone should alert Wikipedia and get them to credit the grades properly. They definitely shouldn't drop them, nor should they substitute (or even include) my new grades, which are little more than guesses from someone who knows very little about Brazilian music, who doesn't speak or follow the language, and who has rarely heard these records more than once or twice.
For resources on Brazilian music, I should also mention Cam Patterson's Brazil Project, which also dates from MSN EW days (2011), and I've long hosted in my "guests" space. Knowing a little bit more now than I did then, I should revisit the piece and check out some of his recommendations.
Still not finding much new non-jazz that appeals to me, but I'm not looking very hard. Just notice Phil Overeem's Most Euphonious Fruit of First Quarter, 2021, so I have work to do catching up, but will note that his 3 and 5 picks are new jazz: James Brandon Lewis's Jesup Wagon and Miguel Zenon's Law Years, which rank pretty high on my 2021 list.Christgau wrote a nice, ungraded review of Peter Stampfel's 20th Century in 100 Songs. I slogged through the Bandcamp a while back, and gave it a B+(**). Chances are that in CD-sized chunks, with the nice packaging and extensive documentation, it might rate better -- although I may have already cut him some slack.
Bought a new printer, and I'm already hugely annoyed at HP for insisting that it be connected to the Internet and not to my computer for set up. Supposedly I get eight months of "free ink," but looks like I have to sign up for a subscription to get that. We hardly ever print anything, so this involves a lot of speculation. Trying to clean up and reorganize as I go on, so that's another excuse to take it slow.
Made trivial progress on memoir last week, a bit more on collecting the blog posts into a Trump era book. I need to be very selective with the latter, to compress 2800 pages into something like 300. I find I'm doing a lot of rewriting as I proceed -- not that I need to change my arguments so much as I'm seeing easy ways to squeeze sentences into more compact form. At least, until I ran into the RNC in July, 2016 post, which includes a long intro that is too kind to Trump. At the time, I stressed that Trump was no worse than his rivals. I haven't changed my mind -- thank God we don't four years led by Cruz, Rubio, or Kasich for comparison -- but didn't stress enough how low that bar was.
Sometimes I miss writing about politics, but I sure don't miss the pressure on Sundays. I'm pretty happy with Biden so far. Two things: he recognizes that real answers come from the left these days; and he recalls that Obama's bipartisan outreach fell into a trap, and that Republicans cannot be trusted. Those are big things, and they're not things you would have predicted from him, either based on his 2020 campaign or on his 50-year track record of dealing with the devil. I could rag on him over foreign policy, but it looks like he's taking a circuitous route to progress on Iran and North Korea, and the hot air on China and Russia seems to be just that.
No doubt if I dug deeper, I'd find things to get upset over, but I'm too old to sweat that many details. Jeffrey St. Clair is still trying, but even he is losing much of his vitriol. ("One hundred days of platitudes" is something we should be alarmed by?)
I should write up answers to whatever questions I have pending. I don't have many. Some are mere suggestions, which I may follow up on and maybe even report. Also, questions about specific album grades aren't very interesting. However, if there is something you're curious about, or just want to prod me into expanding on something, now would be a good time to use the form.
New records reviewed this week:
Lina Allemano Four: Vegetables (2020 , Lumo): Canadian trumpet player, divides her time between Toronto and Berlin, seventh quartet album with various lineups, here: Brodie West (alto sax), Andrew Downing (bass), Nick Fraser (drums). Opener is "Onions," reminds me a bit of the Beach Boys song but free jazz. B+(**) [bc]
Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt: Made Out of Sound (2020 , Palilalia): Drums and guitar duo, former has been prolific since 2002, often working with guitarists (including several previous albums with Orcutt). Some debate whether this is jazz -- Orcutt has more of a noise/rock profile, but that doesn't seem to limit the drummer. B+(**) [bc]
David Friesen & Bob Ravenscroft: Passage (2015-20 , Origin): Bassist, Discogs credits him with 65 albums since 1976, in a duo with the pianist -- his much thinner discography goes back to 1982, mostly devotional music for Music Serving the Word Ministries. Short, interesting pieces, nicely turned out. B+(**) [cd]
Vincent Herring: Preaching to the Choir (2021, Smoke Sessions): Alto saxophonist, hard bopper these days but he started farther out in left field. Quartet with Cyrus Chestnut (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Johnathan Blake (drums). Hype talks about him getting Covid, which led to rheumatoid arthritis, which made it hard to play, but doesn't pin down the date when this was recorded. He does sound pretty sharp, so hoping this documents his recovery. B+(***)
James Brandon Lewis Red Lily Quintet: Jesup Wagon (2020 , Tao Forms): Tenor saxophonist, always impressive, means to pay homage to George Washington Carver (1864-1943), but see the booklet for that. A blindfold test puts him closer to David S. Ware, aside for the change-of-pace closer ("Chemurgy"), my favorite piece here. With Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Chris Hoffman (cello), William Parker (bass/gibri), and Chad Taylor (drums/mbira). A- [cd] [05-07]
Damon Locks/Black Monument Ensemble: Now (2020 , International Anthem): Credited with "samples & electronics," also "lyrics & compositions," with a half-dozen other vocalists, backed by Angel Bat Dawid (clarinet), Ben LaMar Gay (cornet/melodica), Dana Hall (drums), and Arif Smith (percussion). I'm not getting a lot out of the vocals, but the closer, "The Body Is Electric," offers an inspiring groove. B+(**)
Simon Moullier Trio: Countdown (2020 , Fresh Sound New Talent): French vibraphonist, second album, scattered standards ("Hot House," "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," "Nature Boy," two Monks). Trio with Luca Alemanno (bass) and Jongkuk Kim (drums). B+(**) [cd] [06-11]
Natural Information Society With Evan Parker: Descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (2019 , Aguirre/Eremite): Chicago bassist Joshua Abrams, plays guimbri in this group, which dates back to his 2014 album Natural Information. Group also includes Jason Stein (bass clarinet), Lisa Alvarado (harmonium), and Mikel Patrick Avery (drums). Recorded live at Café Oto in London, with Parker sitting in on soprano sax. One long groove piece with a lot of Parker's signature circular breathing. B+(***)
Evan Parker Quartet: All Knavery and Collusion (2019 , Cadillac): Tenor sax, backed by Alexander Hawkins (piano), John Edwards (bass), and Paul Lytton (drums). Passes rather uneventfully. B+(*)
Nicki Parrott: If You Could Read My Mind (2021, Arbors): Bassist from Australia, has developed into a fine standards singer. Nudges the songbook into the 1970s, with "Jolene," "Lean on Me," "Every Breath You Take." Good as she is, the sweet spot here is any time tenor saxophonist Harry Allen butts in. B+(**)
Rich Pellegrin: Solitude: Solo Improvisations (2019 , OA2): Pianist, based in Seattle although he teaches in Florida and has written "extensively" on jazz. Fourth album, solo, XXV numbered improvisations. Nice. B+(**)
Ruben Reinaldo & Kely Garcia: Acuarel (2019 , Free Code): Guitar duo, probably Spanish, only album I can find by either, cover can be parsed to read credits either way, but spine is as listed. Hard to say much about this pleasant and engaging record. B+(***) [cd]
Jeff Rosenstock: Ska Dream (2021, Polyvinyl): Former leader of the Arrogant Sons of Bitches (1995-2004) and Bomb the Music Industry (2004-14), fifth solo album since 2015. The earlier groups classified themselves as ska-punk, and this album is conceived of as a ska re-recording of his 2020 album No Dream. I suppose it helps, but not a lot. B+(*)
Greg Skaff: Polaris (2020 , Smoke Sessions): Mainstream guitarist, only his sixth album since 1996, a trio the cover notes as "featuring Ron Carter & Albert 'Tootie' Heath," who played together in the 1960s backing Wes Montgomery. B
Alexa Tarantino: Firefly (2021, Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, also plays soprano, flute, and clarinet, from Connecticut, fourth album since 2015, with Behn Gillece (vibes), Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Koslov (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Henry Franklin: The Skipper (1972 , Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Bassist, first album, with trumpet (Oscar Brasheer), tenor sax (Charles Owens), guitar, electric piano, and drums. Franklin wrote 4 (of 6) tracks. Adventurous postbop, has some passages that could be taken as spiritual. B+(***)
Henry Franklin: The Skipper at Home (1974, Black Jazz); Second album, more horns, with trombonist Al Hall Jr. contributing 3 (of 6) songs. Seemed like a step up until "Soft Spirit" went too soft. B+(*)
Chester Thompson: Powerhouse (1971 , Black Jazz/Real Gone Music): Organ player, first album, nothing more until 2012, having spent the intervening years playing keyboards in Tower of Power and Santana. Soul jazz moves, with sax (Rudolph Johnson), trombone (Al Hall), and drums. B+(*)
Asleep at the Wheel: Comin' Right at Ya (1973, United Artists): Founded in West Virginia by Ray Benson and Reuben Gosfield (aka Lucky Oceans), they soon moved to Berkeley (well, East Oakland), crossing bluegrass with hippiedom, then decided they could have it all. Drummer LeRoy Preston's originals fit comfortably with country standards that probably seemed less obvious at the time, and Chris O'Connell's vocals balance nicely against Benson's. A-
Asleep at the Wheel: Asleep at the Wheel (1974, Columbia): Label dropped them, they moved to Austin, and wound up in a Nashville studio. LeRoy Preston only penned three originals, so they doubled down on Bob Wills, and stretched a bit with Count Basie and Louis Jordan, picking "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" as their lead single. B+(**)
Asleep at the Wheel: Texas Gold (1975, Capitol): Third album, third label, finally sold some records. Identifying more with Texas. B+(**)
Asleep at the Wheel: Wheelin' and Dealin' (1976, Capitol): Down to two LeRoy Preston originals, they're becoming a covers band: "Route 66," "Miles and Miles of Texas," "Blues for Dixie," "They Raided the Place." B+(*)
Asleep at the Wheel: The Wheel (1977, Capitol): Big change here is original songwriting, reducing the cover count to one, a "traditional" instrumental they arranged. And for once the originals aren't just nice filler but could have been obscure gems ("A Dollar Short and a Day Late," "My Baby Thinks She's a Train," "Am I High?"). B+(***)
Asleep at the Wheel: Collision Course (1978, Capitol): This year the writers came up near-empty: Benson (1), Preston (1). They go back to the well for more Louis Jordan and Count Basie. Also Randy Newman. B
Asleep at the Wheel: Western Standard Time (1988, Columbia): Christgau stopped reviewing them after 1979's Served Live (C+). I didn't start until their first Bob Wills tribute in 1993, which doesn't come close to their 1999 Ride With Bob or their 2015 Still the King -- both fortified with a long list of guests. Among their 1980s albums, this set of obvious covers seemed promising: Three from Bob Wills, a "Hot Rod Lincoln" to match Commander Cody's, a Willie Nelson guest spot on the opener, and Ernest Tubb to close. B+(*)
The Asylum Street Spankers: Spanker Madness (2000, Spanks-a-Lot): Acoustic blues-roots band from Austin, active 1994-2011, four lead vocalists but foremost is Christina Marrs, who wrote the five songs she leads. Mostly drug songs, although one after running the gamut winds up preferring beer. A-
Asylum Street Spankers: Mercurial (2004, Yellow Dog): Looks like all covers (well, one credited to Wammo), from "Tight Like That" and "Digga Digga Doo" to the B-52s and Beastie Boys. B+(***)
The Asylum Street Spankers: What? And Give Up Show Biz? (2008, Yellow Dog, 2CD): Live double, recapitulates most of the albums above with lots of extra patter. A good argument for catching them live, but I'm not sure how often I'd want to replay it. B+(***)
Au Pairs: Sense and Sensuality (1982, Kamera): British post-punk band, seemed promising but this second album turned out to be their last. B
Average White Band: AWB (1974, Atlantic): Hailing from Scotland, a modest but somewhat above-average approximation of a soul group, with several voices intertwined, and an instrumental for their hit single. Second album, their commercial breakthrough. Nothing here feels like disco or funk, which is where the 1970s went without them. They fell off the charts after 1979, broke up in 1982, regrouped 1989. B+(**)
Eric B. & Rakim: Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em (1990, MCA): Turntablist Eric Barrier and rapper Rakim (William Griffin Jr.), recorded four famous hip-hop albums in the 1987-92 golden age, this the third. The flow is steady, the rhymes part of the rhythm. B+(***)
Sam Baker: Mercy (2003 , Blue Lime Stone): Austin-based singer-songwriter, folkie division, first album at age 50. Eighteen years earlier was riding a train when a bomb exploded, killing seven including three sitting with Baker. He suffered numerous injuries, including brain damage, blown-in eardrums, and possibly what sounds like a speech defect here. He has a song about it here, plus others with one-word titles. He rounded up a six-piece band here with pedal steel and violin, and picked up some guests, but it sounds pretty basic, the 8:08 title cut especially lovely. A-
Sam Baker: Pretty World (2006 , Blue Lime Stone): Thoughtful singer-songwriter, but weaves bits of other songs into his tapestry. Title song gets a well-deserved reprisal. A-
Sam Baker: Cotton (2009, Music Road): I'm not seeing the familiar band credits from previous albums. The album is quieter, although piano grounds most of it, and a female singer helps out. Baker's voice has smoothed out into a rather offhanded John Prine. B+(***)
Jorge Ben: Samba Esquema Novo (1963, Philips): Major Brazilian artist, Jorge Duilio Lima Menezes, adopted Jorge Ben as his stage name, then extended it to Jorge Ben Jor in the 1980s. First album, a hit, tapping into the popular samba mainstream, which would define him even as he moved on. B+(***)
Jorge Ben: Sacundin Ben Samba (1964, Philips): Third album. B+(**)
Jorge Ben: Big Ben (1965, Philips): Fourth album, ends his early period on Philips, the label he would return to in 1969. B+(*)
Jorge Ben: O Bidú: Silêncio No Brooklin (1967, Artistas Unidos): Regarded as his samba-rock fusion breakthrough, I can hear both sides but have trouble reconciling them, especially as he seems to be reaching for something they'd soon be calling tropicalía, or psychedelic to foreign ears. B+(***)
Jorge Ben: Jorge Ben (1969, Philips): Backed by Trio Mocoto, with some strings to slick down the rough edges, flowing as naturally as samba but with so much more going on. A-
Jorge Ben: Negro É Lindo (1971, Philips): "Black and beautiful." More recognizable as a samba album, even when inscrutable. [YouTube version looks to be scrambled, with all the songs but in the wrong order.] B+(***) [yt]
Jorge Ben: A Tábua De Esmeralda (1974, Philips): Seems to be going singer-songwriter here, not that I can really tell (aside from the Jesus paean "Brother"). B+(***)
Jorge Ben: Solta O Pavão (1975, Philips): "Unleash the peacock," referring "to the outward expression of inner beauty." Samba flow, but more urgent and complex. Seems to be entering a peak period. A-
Jorge Ben: África Brasil (1976, Polygram): Dense rhythm, much going on, but flows easily enough, some kind of masterpiece. A- [yt]
Jorge Ben: Tropical (1976, Mango): His regular label is Philips, a major in Brazil, but this one was picked up by Island, hoping it might piggyback on their success introducing reggae to the American market. Hard to peg this, but veers toward salsa (and misses). B [yt]
Jorge Ben: Alô Alô, Como Vai? (1980, Som Livre): Rod Taylor admits that Ben declined after África Brasil, but argues that his "Som Livre period" continued to produce worthwhile music -- his comparison is to the Rolling Stones post-Exile. I'm not specialist enough to know or care, but this is agreeably upbeat most of the way through. B+(**)
Jorge Ben: Dádiva (1983, Som Livre): Same here, feels live, note that the high point is a medley of oldies. B+(**)
Gilberto Gil: Refavela (1977, Philips): Opens with the very slippery title tune, and matches it later on, but not so reliably. B+(***)
Charles Tolliver Music Inc: Live in Tokyo (1973 , Strata-East): Trumpet player, used "Music Inc" as his group name on his 1969 debut (The Ringer), and kept that through the 1970s, although the only constant in his quartets was pianist Stanley Cowell (co-founder of Strata-East Records). With Clint Houston (bass) and Clifford Barbar (drums). Three originals, one by Cowell, and "'Round Midnight." B+(**) [yt]
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society: Mandatory Reality (2017 , Eremite): [1/4, 23:39/81:39] +
Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Ding Dong. You're Dead. (2021, Rune Grammofon): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio. [2/7] +
Grade (or other) changes:
Gilberto Gil/Jorge Ben: Gil E Jorge (1975 , Verve): Two stars meet up, or collide. Alternate (original?) title: Ogum, Xangô. I bought the CD long ago, found it bewildering, and only gradually acclimated myself to radical fringe artists like Tom Zé, who took advantage of these liberties. Most striking now: how neither singer-guitarist backs down or shies away. [was: B] A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 26, 2021
Music: Current count 35287  rated (+31), 220  unrated (+6).
Rough week. I was shocked and saddened to see an obituary for my cousin Don Hull. His father, Bob (Robert Lincoln Hull Jr.), was two years younger than my father, but got married a year before, and Don was 13 months older than me. Dad often said that his job growing up was to keep Bob out of trouble. Bob was the free spirit of the family, and probably figured his job was to add some spice to Dad's life. Bob got drafted and sent to Italy, where a bullet ended his war. He was part disabled, and could only work sit-down jobs. He found one driving a bus, and did that until he retired. I remember them living in a house my grandparents bought in 1942, but in the late-1950s he bought a new house in a development a couple miles southwest of us, other side of the river. We went there often, and Don (their only child) was by far my closest Hull cousin. One time, I ran away from home and spent a week or two there. We saw a lot of the Hull family until 1965, when my grandfather died. Shortly after, Uncle George died, and Bob and Lucille got divorced. I saw a lot of Bob and his second wife, Nellie, after that, but lost track of Don.
I ran into him again after I moved back to Wichita in 1999. He married, had four grown children, and a few grandchildren. He lived in El Dorado, but had a job in East Wichita, as manager of the body shop at Rusty Eck Ford. I felt instantly at ease with him, like we had a deeper connection than I recalled -- most likely, part of that was how much he reminded me of his father. (Bob and Nellie retired and moved into a trailer outside of Las Vegas. I visited them five or six times there, and they were our witnesses when Laura and I got married.) We socialized some. He fixed up some dents, and helped us buy a car. We had Don and his wife Karen, his mother Lucille, and her second husband, Glen, over for a particularly memorable dinner. Bob and Nellie had died the year before, and Lucille and Glen died a year or two later. Lately, I've mostly seen him at funerals -- most recently at Uncle James's. Always comforting to know that he was there. I wasn't aware that he was ill.
Day before seeing the obituary, I thought about calling him, hoping to compare notes on early family memories -- another opportunity I've blown. I went to the funeral on Saturday. I estimated there were about 100 people at the funeral, and close to 40 at the cemetery. Don was one of those guys who got along with everyone. Still, it was a different slice of Wichita than I'm used to. Most obviously, I doubt as many as 10 people wore masks. The minister was a close personal friend of the family, so the event had a personal familiarity that many funerals lack. Only person I knew there was Karen, but I got a chance to meet their grown children, some spouses, and some or all of the grandchildren. We talked about keeping in touch, but I don't know whether we'll see more of them. Three live in Wichita (the other in Arizona), and the youngest son is living in Bob & Lucille's old house on Euclid. Perhaps if they want to know more of the family.
I'm working on a memoir, which includes some memories and stories of the Hull family. My grandfather looked into this long ago. His grandfather, Abraham Hull, had homesteaded in western Kansas in 1868, near where my father and his siblings were born 1919-31. His grandfather was named Thomas Hull -- the only namesake I can find, although my father never mentioned him. Evidently, he joined the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and fled to Pennsylvania to avoid getting hung by the British. Maybe I was fated to be a troublemaker?
While in this rut, here is an obituary for our friend Rubena Bradley. She died, at 91, a few weeks ago, but her family has been moving slowly toward some sort of funeral/remembrance (in May, I think). She was a remarkable woman, and we were fortunate to know her. An interesting piece, not least for the curious omission of information on Mr. Bradley.
Didn't listen to much new music this week, allowing the pending queue to expand to 17 albums. Part of my lack of urgency is that more than half (11/17) of those aren't scheduled for release until May. Meanwhile, I've been combing through my list of records that Robert Christgau graded A- but I hadn't heard. This week's slice runs from E-H, although I skipped a few, some because I couldn't find them, some because I didn't fancy them at the moment). The list I'm working off has 2550 lines (326 A- grades, 31 A, 4 A+ -- the latter are comedy albums, something I've never got in the habit of listening to, even though I have the Richard Pryor box on the shelf), and it's certainly not complete, so will take a fair while to process. I'll probably tire at some point, but at the moment it's easier and more fun than trying to figure out what's new and worth the trouble.
Saw a comment on Facebook last week claiming that Jorge Ben's 1970s albums constituted one of the most impressive runs of any recording artist anywhere. I had a couple of his LPs back in the 1970s, but don't recall being very impressed, and they're currently ungraded in my database. The only one Christgau reviewed was Gil E Jorge (1975), which he had at A- and I have at B. It's the sort of record I should revisit (as I did this week to previous B grades for Etoile De Dakar and Woody Guthrie).
Thought I had froze this Sunday night, but as I was writing the intro above, played a few more records, and figured they'd be better here than held back until next week. (Especially the early Hamell on Trial records, which I couldn't find when I initially looked for them -- also had that problem with Rant & Roll.) One thing I didn't get to was doing the indexing for the April, 2021 Streamnotes compendium. I'll wrap that up later this week.
We didn't watch any of the Oscars last night. Thanks to streaming, we wound up seeing more nominated movies this year (6 of 8 nominated for best picture, missing The Father and giving up on Sound of Metal), but nothing especially great there. I would normally be delighted to see human-scaled small films come to the forefront, but that's because they're usually much better.
Finished reading Russell Cobb's The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America's Weirdest State. I learned a few things there, but I would have preferred a better organized history, as opposed to the loosely stitched mosaic of standalone articles.
New records reviewed this week:
Focusyear Band 2021: Bosque (2021, Neuklang): "International ensemble from Basel presents a multi-faceted album," the most prominent facet vocalist Tatjana Nova, although I prefer it when the horns do the talking. A student ensemble, this year produced by Wolfgang Muthspiel. B+(*) [cd] [04-29]
Binker Golding/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Moon Day (2020 , Byrd Out): British tenor/soprano saxophonist, best known for his duo Binker & Moses, appears here with a veteran free jazz bass-drums combo. Long (73:18), strong work. B+(***)
Nortonk: Nortonk (2020 , Biophilia): New York freebop quartet, none over 26: Thomas Killackey (trumpet), Gideon Forbes (alto sax), Stephen Pale (bass), Steven Cramer (drums). Short (32:39), but retains your interest. B+(**) [cdr]
Irène Schweizer/Hamid Drake: Celebration (2019 , Intakt): Swiss pianist, will turn 80 this year, ranks as one of the all-time greats, her specialty duos with drummers. This is something less than her duos with Han Bennink or Pierre Favre, but is still very impressive. A-
Todd Snider: First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder (2021, Aimless): I never read those "most anticipated albums" pieces, but if I had to write one, this would lead. Given that, this feels a bit slight, but I can't complain about the tributes to dead homies -- he's always been a "reality-based" bard, and that's to be expected after 2020. I will complain a bit about the "agnostic" shtick: if you can't believe, why not let it go? I reckon his answer is "hope and wonder," but why presuppose a cause beyond oneself? Main innovation here is in the rhythm, where he breaks from folk tradition, probably for good. A-
Earth, Wind & Fire: Open Our Eyes (1974, Columbia): Soul group, founded by Maurice White in Chicago in 1969, fifth album, first four panned by Christgau before he called this one "a fucking tour de force." I wouldn't go that far, but it's their best seller to date, an agreeable funk album with sophisticated vocals. B+(***)
The English Beat: I Just Can't Stop It (1980, IRS): Ska revival group from Birmingham, known as the Beat in the UK, but disambiguation was needed for the US market. First album, of three before their 1983 break up. Since 2016, both singers (Dave Wakeling and Ranking Roger) have recorded with their own Beat groups. I still prefer the later albums, but this is nearly there. A-
Etoile 2000: Dakar Sound Volume 1 (1980-81 , Dakar Sound): Etoile De Dakar spinoff, as the band, especially founding singer-songwriter El Hadji Faye, revolt against the Youssou N'Dour's takeover. They recorded three cassettes, and this picks out six songs, most pointedly one called "Boubou N'Gary." Rougher, nothing to hold against them. [Christgau reviewed this as Etoile 2000; 4/6 tracks] B+(***) [yt]
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 3: Lay Suma Lay (1981 , Sterns): Senegalese band, formed in 1978 and broke up in 1981, best known for young singer Youssou N'Dour but exceptional all around. This series of compilations ran to four volumes 1993-98, then a fifth later (2009?), but the 2-CD Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981 is probably the one you want -- or you could scrimp with the 1-CD The Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour and Etoile De Dakar, which only goes to 1982. Still, there's very little here that falls below their highlights. A-
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 5: Maléo (1981 , Sterns): Seems to be an afterthought, appearing a decade after Volume 4, but matches an undated cassette, itself titled Maléo: Vol. 5. Two (of six) songs appear at the end of Once Upon a Time in Senegal. El Hadji Faye's "Nataludie" is the most exciting thing here, but everything else comes close. B+(***)
Eurythmics: Greatest Hits (1982-90 , Arista): Electropop duo, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, released six albums during this period (one earlier, one more in 1999 after breaking up, with Lennox going on to a steady solo career, and Stewart focusing on soundtrack shlock). Seems like there should be enough high spots for a compilation, but the one song I love, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," is the outlier -- the later singles are just straighter and harder, although I rather like "Missionary Man" (maybe because I agree with the message). [NB: I pieced together the 18-cut "international version" CD; the "vinyl version" drops back to 14 tracks, as does the US CD, with 4 songs in alternate versions.] B+(**)
Mose Se 'Fan Fan': Belle Epoque (1970-82 , RetroAfric): Congolese guitarist Mose Se Sengo (1945-2019), started with Franco's TPOK Jazz, led the band Somo Somo. A soukous pioneer, back cover describes this relatively leisurely music as "Lingala rumba." B+(***)
Mose Fan Fan/Somo Somo/Ngobila: Hello Hello (1995, Sterns): Slashes separate typographic shifts, which presumably mean something, but for me mostly raise questions. Somo Somo is Fan Fan's long-running band, but Ngobila? Six slices of fairly classic soukous. A-
Fellow Travellers: Things and Time (1993, OKra): "World's only country/dub band," recorded three albums 1990-93, this the third, with Jeb Loy Nichols country (originally from Wyoming but based in Wales), Martin Harrison dub, and Nichols' wife Loraine Morley vocal help. B+(***)
Fine Young Cannibals: Fine Young Cannibals (1985, IRS): British ska group, formed after the English Beat broke up by Andy Cox (guitar) and David Steele (bass), with singer Roland Gift -- also an actor, most memorably in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987). B+(**)
Fine Young Cannibals: The Finest: The Rare and the Remixed (1985-89 , MCA): Group produced a superior second album, The Raw and the Cooked, then hung it up, This picks 5 songs each, a single from a soundtrack, and three previously unreleased tracks. Not sure this improves on the second album, but it suffices. A-
A Flock of Seagulls: A Flock of Seagulls (1982, Jive): New wave pop band, first of four albums through 1985, allegedly silly, catchy enough. No reason to favor this over their 1987 The Best of a Flock of Seagulls. B+(**)
Tennessee Ernie Ford: Sixteen Tons (1949-56 , Capitol): Artwork looks like this could be the original LP his big hit was on, but there was no such thing. I loved the single as a child, several decades before I heard Merle Travis's original, so Ford's version is the one indelibly etched in my mind. He parlayed his hit into a TV career, wasting his exceptional voice on hymns. From 1949 to his death in 1991, he recorded tons of records, but smart compilers look for filler among his early singles, especially ones with "boogie" in the title. This has 4 (of 12), plus one I hadn't heard before, "Milk 'Em in the Mornin' Blues." B+(**)
Gilberto Gil: Louvaçao (1967, Phillips): Brazilian star, Discogs credits him with 72 albums since 1967. This was his debut. Hard to tell, but hints of where he was going next, along with some strings and ballads that depend on words I can't follow. B+(**)
Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil [Frevo Rasgado] (1968 , Universal): Second album, differentiated from other eponymous albums by its first song title, widely regarded as one of his best, although I've only heard a couple, and have no sense of his career arc. First thing I'm struck by here is how radical a break he makes from the MPB norms of samba and bossa nova. Backed by Os Mutantes, famous in their own right. The shock of the weird wears off to reveal uncanny melodies and flights of fancy. CD extends the surprise with 4 bonus tracks. A-
Gilberto Gil: Gilberto Gil [Cérebro Eletrônico] (1969, Phillips): Third album. Lead song dominated by organ, but later tracks are guitar-driven. B+(***) [yt]
Gilberto Gil: Expresso 2222 (1972 , Philips): Arrested by the military junta in 1969, freed on condition that he leave Brazil. He cut this on returning to Bahia, which seems to be the funky corner of Brazil. B+(**)
Grandaddy: Just Like the Fambly Cat (2006, V2): Alt/indie band from Modesto, California, principally Jason Lytle, recorded four albums 1997-2006, a fifth in 2017. B+(***)
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message (1982, Deep Beats): First album by one of the first rap groups. The singles go back a couple years, and I recommend Rhino's 1994 Message From Beat Street for the extra range, backed up with Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: More of the Best. Still, only three songs here made the best-of, and "She's Fresh" is as good as any of them. Most editions of this add "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," a mash-up I probably hated at the time but like just fine now. I was pretty slow on the uptake here. A-
Woody Guthrie: Hard Travelin': The Asch Recordings, Vol. 3 (1944-49 , Smithsonian/Folkways): Folk singer, from Oklahoma, recorded some 300 songs for Moses Asch in New York, a fair sampling organized into four CDs. This one is long on union songs: not only does he see unions as the foundation of freedom, he reminds us that Hitler's against them. A-
Hamell on Trial: Big as Life (1995, Mercury): First record appeared in 1989, but this is the earliest I've found, first (or two) on a label anyone has heard of. B+(*) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: The Chord Is Mightier Than the Sword (1997, Mercury): Second Mercury record. Seems to be on his best behavior, although he cranks it up a bit toward the end. B+(**) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: Choochtown (1999, Such-a-Punch): Ed Hamell, debut album 1989, fifteen since. This is number five, the first Christgau reviewed (after two HMs). His "one-man punk band" shtick strikes me as still rooted in folk, just louder, his stories darker, more nuanced, and more literate. [2019 reissue on New West adds nine alternate takes, reiterating the album's best songs.] B+(***)
Hamell on Trial: Ed's Not Dead -- Hamell Comes Alive (2000, Such-a-Punch): Selected from a tour where Hamell was opening for Ani DiFranco, then self-released after an auto accident laid him up for nine months. Hamell's live strategy is simple: play faster and harder. B+(***)
Hamell on Trial: Tough Love (2003, Righteous Babe): First of three records for Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe label. More resources, but doesn't quite know what to do with them. B+(**) [bc]
Hamell on Trial: Yap (2003, Such-a-Punch): I was looking for Rant & Roll, to no avail, but this popped up as Dec. 2020, so I figured I should check it out. Turns out it's old: spoken word, hardly any music, done on the side while he was working on Tough Love for Righteous Babe. Stories, like the memoir of Rupert Smiley ("ideas man"), a cop who sells Amway, a bit of "Star-Spangled Banner" for "the great and true patriots," a eulogy for a friend named Glover. B+(**)
Hamell on Trial: Rant & Roll [Live From Edinburgh: The Terrorism of Everyday Life (2007 , Righteous Babe): Cover reads Rant & Roll, but Bandcamp lists it as The Terrorism of Everyday Life. Discogs shows this with a different cover, where Live From Edinburgh gets the larger type. As Christgau noted, this is "basically a comedy album," where about half is stand up, sometimes with guitar riffs, leading into songs, mostly from previous albums. Possible you won't return to this often, but that's not because his rants need only be heard once. More because they demand attention, but his music also refuses to fade into the background. A- [bc]
Grade (or other) changes:
Etoile De Dakar: Volume 2: Thiapathioly (1980 , Sterns): Not sure what turned me off this when I filed my CD -- perhaps the polyrythmic perversity, which is the band's calling card. At times it can interfere with the groove, making this a bit rougher than the other volumes, but the effect is pretty amazing when it works. Covers notes "featuring Youssou N'Dour & El Hadji Faye," as did Volume 3. Volume 4 and 5 add Mar Seck, but Volume 1 only features N'Dour. [was: B] B+(***)
Woody Guthrie: Muleskinner Blues: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 2 (1944 , Smithsonian/Folkways): With the canonical classics pooled in Vol. 1, and the political fare saved until Vol. 3, this is the folkiest set of the Moe Asch recordings. Makes it less interesting, since performance was never his forte. [was: B] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 19, 2021
Music: Current count 35256  rated (+40), 214  unrated (+3).
Thought I'd sample some records from Chuck Eddy's 150 Best Albums of 1992/'93, but I didn't get very far. He does have two of my A records in his top ten (David Murray: Shakill's Warrior, and Justin Warfield: My Trip to Planet 9), and another dozen-plus albums I like further down the list, but nothing I played came close to A-. I gave up three cuts into Caifanes' rock en español El Silencio, not feeling like even trying to write something on it.
But also my mind moved on to another idea: why not try to stream Christgau A-list albums that I had missed? One of those was on Eddy's list: Uz Jsme Doma's Hollywood. I vaguely remembered assembling a crib sheet like that. When I had trouble finding it, I constructed another one (although my method wasn't flawless). Looking for A/A+ records mostly gave me comps I had different versions of. For instance, Christgau reviewed three different but overlapping compilations of Lee Dorsey's 1960s singles, all graded A. I had the 1985 Holy Cow! The Best of Lee Dorsey on LP, and the 1997 Wheelin' and Dealin': The Definitive Collection on CD, so didn't see much need to pick up Music Club's shorter/cheaper 2001 package -- or review it now given how long it's been out of print. But as an afterthought, I did construct an equivalent playlist, and gave it a couple spins just to see how it fit together. Pretty good, of course.
I've built playlists to match unavailable albums a few times. While there's always a risk of picking out the wrong version, I've found it to be useful -- especially for assembling original albums from later, more expansive box sets. The other thing I tend to do is to drop bonus cuts from stream albums, to get back to the original excuses. Christgau recently commented that it's hard to go back and do retrospectives of pre-CG years (1960s) because so many reissues add extraneous material. If streaming works for you, it's actually pretty easy. It also has the advantage of establishing a stable baseline, which later reissues can preserve or deviate from.
I got an invite to vote in DownBeat's Critics Poll. I worked through the ballots today, trying to put as little thought into it as possible. When I was first invited, I wound up spending a couple days turning over each question. I became increasingly frustrated, then annoyed. To speed things up, last year I wound up leaning heavily on my previous year's picks. I raced through the thing today, complete in less than four hours. Here are my notes. Maybe I'll do some research on it later. But one thing I've noticed in recent years is that my own votes have next to zero effect. One indication of how out of step I am with the critical consensus is that I gave A/A- grades to only 8 of their 97 album of the year nominees. Conversely, they only nominated 8 of my 84 A-list albums from my 2020 Best Jazz file. OK, they (wrongly, I think) offset the year by three months, so the lists don't exactly line up. On the other hand, they nominated zero of my 8 (so far) 2021 A- jazz releases. (I'm most surprised they missed Miguel Zenón's Law Years. I haven't figured out how any 2021 releases they nominated, but the answer must be not many. On the other hand, they nominated a Sons of Kemet album, Black to the Future I hadn't heard of, probably because it doesn't drop until May 14.)
Everyday life has been slightly better this week. We got our taxes figured and filed. I got a new batch of prescriptions from my obscure Medicare D provider. Snow is forecast for tonight, but I doubt we'll have to shovel anything to get to Laura's hair appointment tomorrow. Still too many struggles, but at least I won't have to post anything else until next week.
New records reviewed this week:
Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Long Tall Sunshine (2021, Not Two): Drummer-led free jazz trio, Altschul played on several major albums in the 1970s, never really went away but rarely appeared as leader until he put this group -- with Jon Irabagon (saxes) and Joe Fonda (bass) -- together in 2013. (Irabagon had sought him out for an album in 2010, Foxy, and Fonda was in his FAB Trio with Billy Bang.) Irabagon has been erratic lately, but in the right company he still has tremendous chops -- and this is that, as they show even when he lays out. A-
Avishai Cohen: Two Roses (2020 , Naive): Israeli bassist, based in New York since 1992, couple dozen albums since 1998. Co-credit to Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Alexander Hanson) is earned, but my rule of thumb is to omit extra credits below the title. Mostly originals, but arranges Arab folk songs and standards like "Nature Boy." Also sings, too much. B
Damata: What's Damata (2021, Dugnad): Norwegian guitar-bass-drums trio (Torstein Slåen, Karl Erik Horndalsveen, Ola Øverby), first album, tempted to describe it as ambient but that's just a starting place. B+(***) [cd]
Scott DuBois: Summer Water (2021, Sunnyside): Guitarist, sixth album since 2008, consistently impressive. This, however, is solo. Has its moments, but also limits. B+(**)
Jared Feinman: Love Is an Obstacle (2021, West of Philly): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, plays piano, first album, title song appeared as a single in 2018. Offers "four clusters of love songs for the lovelorn and murder ballads in time for Valentine's Day in the midst of a global pandemic." A bit overwrought, reminds me of some long-forgotten 1970s songsters (i.e., not quite Billy Joel, let alone Elton John). B+(*) [cdr]
Vijay Iyer: Uneasy (2019 , ECM): Pianist, has a new trio, with Linda May Han Oh (bass) and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). B+(***)
Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Keshin (2020 , Libra): Trumpet-piano duets, the former getting top billing, probably because for once he's louder and more demanding. B+(**) [cd]
Three-Layer Cake: Stove Top (2020 , RareNoise): Trio: Brandon Seabrook (guitar, banjo, tapes), Mike Pride (drums, glockenspiel, bells, organ), Mike Watt (bass). Percussion is most striking. B+(***) [cdr] [05-28]
Michael Waldrop: Time Frames (2019-20 , Origin): Plays marimba and vibraphone here, drums elsewhere. Mostly percussion, including djembe, bongos, and congas. B+(***) [cd]
Rodney Whitaker: OutroSpection: The Music of Gregg Hill (2020 , Origin): Bassist, leads a piano trio with occasional horns -- trombonist Michael Dease only plays on two tracks, but I looked up both times -- and vocals (Rockelle Whitaker 4 times). Hill Hill is a Michigan composer, a mentor to the bassist, who released a previous collection of Hill compositions in 2019. B+(*) [cd]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 1 (2007 , Stony Plain): Blues supergroup, names on the cover: Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Jimbo Mathus, Jim Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson. (The elder Dickinson died in 2009; the younger ones are better known as the North Mississippi Allstars.) B+(**)
New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers: Volume 2 (2007 , Stony Plain): More from the same session. More obvious songs, but that's not a bad thing. B+(**)
Black Uhuru: Chill Out (1982, Mango): Major reggae group, with singers Duckie Simpson, Michael Rose, and Puma Jones, and Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare for riddim. This one was sandwiched between their two masterpieces (Red and Anthem), along with poorly-regarded dub and live albums. A bit chill, as advertised. B+(**)
Blake Babies: Innocence and Experience (1986-91 , Mammoth): Alt/indie trio, named for the poet (via Allen Ginsberg): Julia Hatfield, John Strohm, Freda Boner. Odds and sods collection, assembled after breaking up after their most sucessful album. This picks up quite a bit midway, with "Sanctify" (repeated from Sunburn), and finishes strong, especially with the live Neil Young song. A-
Boogie Down Productions: Sex and Violence (1992, Jive): Fifth and last album, rapper KRS-One continuing under his own name, but this "group" had really been him since 1987, when DJ Scott La Rock was murdered. He's got this rhythm down where he's always coming at you, punching hard and punching often, which he can do because he never overcomplicates things, even when he admits complication. A-
The Books: The Lemon of Pink (2003, Tomlab): Duo -- Nick Zammuto (guitar/vocals) and Paul De Jong (cello) -- make extensive use of sound and speech samples, producing a disjointed effect. B+(*)
The Books: Lost and Safe (2005, Tomlab): Third album, duo both credited simply with "music, mastering, mixing, recording." Pays off in more flow, sometimes even tunes, with less pastiche. B+(***) [yt]
The Books: Thought for Food (2002, Tomlab): First album, played it out of sequence. Introduces their musique concrète approach, with the prominent cello smoothing off the rough edges. B+(***) [yt]
The Bottle Rockets: 24 Hours a Day (1997, Atlantic): Country-rock band from Missouri, founded in 1992 and a going concern up to 2018, with Brian Henneman (guitar/vocals) and Mark Ortmann (drums) in for the long haul. Third album. B+(***)
Cybotron: Enter (1983, Fantasy): Electropop group, founded by Detroit techno pioneers Juan Atkins and Richard "3070" Davis (both electronics and vocals), with John "Jon-5" Housely (guitar). Group is inspired by Parliament/Funkadelic and Kraftwerk, but only has the chops for the latter. [Album reissued as Clear in 1990, and as Enter with unheard bonus cuts in 2003, both Fantasy.] B+(*)
The dB's: Stands for Decibels (1981, Albion): Jangle pop group, although they might prefer Big Star, with three members who went on to notable solo careers (Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby). First album. B+(**) [yt]
The DeBarges: The DeBarges (1981, Gordy): Motown vocal group, siblings (four on cover, five in credits), first album, group name later shortened to DeBarge, with Eldra eventually going solo. Light funk, even lighter harmonies. B+(**)
DeBarge: All This Love (1982, Gordy): Second album, slimmed down group name, gaining chops both instrumental and vocal. Change of pace ballad ("Life Begins With You") works too. B+(***)
DeBarge: Rhythm of the Night (1985, Motown): Fourth album, their third gold record and chart high at 19. Cover shows the five siblings in separated boxes, with El's much larger, anticipating their break up? Six new songs padded out with three recycled from earlier projects. Title song is a choice cut. B+(*)
El DeBarge: El DeBarge (1986, Gordy): First solo album from the family's star, although the remaining brothers (no Bunny, either) went on to release Bad Boys (1987), and to regroup (with Bunny but not Eldra) as The DeBarge Family for the gospel Back on Track (1991). Pleasant enough, but not much here. B+(*)
El DeBarge: Gemini (1989, Motown): Second solo album, more focus on rhythm, stiffer eats: one step forward, one (or two) back. B
The Del-Lords: Get Tough: The Best of the Del-Lords (1984-90 , Restless): Old-fashioned rock & roll band from New York, 3-5 songs each from 4 albums plus 3 previously unreleased tracks (including covers of Johnny Cash and Dr. John) for a solid 73:08. Establishes their populist cred with a straight rock rendition of Blind Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand These Times and Live?" The other high point, also from their debut, is a song about working one's aggressions out by playing the drums. B+(***)
Descendents: Milo Goes to College (1982, New Alliance): Los Angeles punk band, formed 1977 with drummer Bill Stevenson, adding singer Milo Aukerman in 1979. This was their debut, 15 tracks in 22:20. [Later reissued with Bonus Fat as Two Things at Once.] B+(***)
Descendents: Bonus Fat (1980-81 , New Alliance, EP): Combines the 5-track "FAT" E.P. (1981) with a single and a spare cut from a label comp, adding up to 8 tracks, a mere 10:22. B+(**)
Descendents: Somery (1981-87 , SST): Compiles 28 songs from Fat EP and four albums plus odds and sods, total time 53:12. B+(***)
Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can (1970, Polydor): New Orleans singer, producer Allen Toussaint does the writing (aside from a cover of Joe South's "Games People Play"). Dorsey's best known for 1960s singles like "Ya Ya" and "Working in a Coal Mine," but only cut two albums in the 1970s, and no more before he died in 1986. This doesn't blow you away like 1960s comps like Holy Cow! and Wheelin' and Dealin', but it's funky and grows on you. A-
Lee Dorsey: Yes We Can . . . and Then Some (1970 , Polydor): Reorders his 1970 album, omitting one track (why?), adding five singles and four previously unreleased tracks. Probably the better deal, not least thanks to his spin on the extra covers. A-
Lee Dorsey: Night People (1978, ABC): Second 1970s album, turned out to be his last. Again depends on Allen Toussaint for songs and production. "Babe" suggests he's listened to Al Green during his time off. A-
Lee Dorsey: Working in a Coal Mine: The Very Best of Lee Dorsey (1961-78 , Music Club): Christgau was very fond of this UK label, reviewing 32 of their cheap, short (16 cuts max), poorly documented oldie anthologies (counting the Merle Haggard set he misjudged and withdrew). Hard to find now, but I was able to peace a songlist together to get the effect: mostly 1960s singles, with a couple 1970s tracks slipped in. I doubt the latter recommend this over Wheelin' and Dealin', but they don't hurt, either. A
Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band: James Monroe H.S. Presents Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band Goes to Washington (1979, Elektra): Founded by half-brothers Stony Jr. and Thomas Browder, the latter better known as August Darnell, even better as Kid Creole. With singer Cory Daye and percussionists Mickey Sevilla and "Sugar Coated" Andy Hernandez, their eponymous debut in 1976 looked retro but invented a whole new synthesis of mambo, swing and disco. I totally loved that album, rejected its sequel (Meets King Penett), and missed this one altogether. B+(***)
Freestyle Fellowship: Inner City Griots (1993, 4th & B'way): Los Angeles hip-hop collective, released two 1991-93 albums, two more since (2001, 2011), all four principals (Aceyalone, Myka 9, Peace, and Self Jupiter) went on to solo careers -- the only one I've followed is Aceyalone. All over the place. B+(**)
Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons/Clifford Jordan/Don Cherry: It Is Revealed (1963, Zounds): Flute/alto sax/tenor sax/trumpet, with Fred Lyman (fluegelhorn), two bassists, and the drummer dropped from the cover credit. B+(**) [yt]
Midi, Maxi & Efti: Midi, Maxi & Efti (1991, Columbia): One-shot Swedish trio, twin sisters Midi and Maxi Berhanu from Ethiopia and Efti Tehlehaianot from Eritrea, all born in 1976 and arrived in Sweden in 1985. Opens with "Ragga Steady," which sounds more Indian than Jamaican to me, but world beats turn crystaline in the Swedish pop machine. B+(***) [yt]
Sonny Simmons: Burning Spirits (1970 , Contemporary): Original 1971 2-LP credited to Huey Simmons (his given name). Plays tenor sax as well as alto and English horn, six tracks (79:01), with violin (Michael White) on five, trumpet (Barbara Donald) on four of those, piano on just two, plus bass and drums. B+(**)
Sonny Simmons: American Jungle (1995 , Qwest/Warner Brothers): The alto saxophonist hit a rough patch after 1971 (divorce, homelessness, no new records). He survived by busking in San Francisco, eventually worked his way into the clubs, and cut records from 1990, eventually landing two albums with a major label. This is the second (after Ancient Ritual), a quartet with Travis Shook (piano), Reggie Workman (bass), and Cindy Blackman (drums). Four originals plus "My Favorite Things." Hard to imagine what more the label could have hoped for. A-
Sonny Simmons Quintet: Mixolydis (2001 , Marge): Back cover credits Quintet, front names Simmons in large type, smaller type for "with": Eddie Henderson (trumpet), John Hicks (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Victor Lewis (drums). B+(**)
Sonny Simmons Trio: Live in Paris (2001 , Arhoolie, 2CD): With Jacques Avenel (bass) and George Brown (drums). Long, has some dull spots (and I don't mean the bass solos), but also some genuine hot streaks. [Missing 1 track, 14:00] B+(**)
Uz Jsme Doma: Hollywood (1993 , Skoda): Czech group, founded 1985, influences list starts with the Residents and the Damned and goes on to add Pere Ubu and Uriah Heep, emerged from the underground in 1990, Discogs credits them with 17 albums through 2020 but this is the one most noticed. With intense acoustic strum, sudden time shifts, and touch-of-opera vocals, this could be some kind of masterpiece. Just one I'm not inclined to appreciate. B+(**)
Grade (or other) changes:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 18, 2021
I had quite a few tabs left open when I posted my April 4 Book Roundup. I wanted to tidy them up, so I kept writing and searching and writing some more. I also had a bunch of old blurbs left over -- some going back a couple years -- that I wanted to get rid of, so in short order I wound up with enough for another Book Roundup.
In putting this together, I found a bunch of books that I should have listed under my previous Josh Rogin (China-US rivalry) and Ned and Constance Sublette (slavery) entries, so added them as PS lists to the previous column (link above). The new China list is even longer than my original, and somewhat more varied, but doesn't generally go very far back into Chinese history. (Saving that for a future entry.)
Only book here I've even started to read is Russell Cobb's on Oklahoma. Seems like I'm falling ever farther behind, but at least this exercise moves some unknown-unknowns into known-unknowns.
Götz Aly: Europe Against the Jews: 1880-1945 (2020, Metropolitan Books): Not just the Nazis, but the broader historical context of anti-semitism in which the Nazis rose to power, found strategic allies as they expanded their power over Europe, and committed their genocide.
Michael Barone: How America's Political Parties Change (And How They Don't) (2019, Encounter Books): Long-time co-author of The Almanac of American Politics (25 editions since 1971) brings his considerable expertise to the question of whether Trump's 2016 election signaled a realignment of parties. Answer seems to be not much, but note: Barone appears to be solidly ensconced on the right end of the political spectrum.
David A Bell: Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Historical sketches of revolutionary leaders, most of whom let their charisma go to their heads, turning into despots: Pasquale Paoli, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Toussaint Louverture, and Simon Bolivar. (Washington was the exception, in that he twice walked away from power that was his for the taking.)
Jason Bisnoff: Fake Politics: How Corporate and Government Groups Create and Maintain a Monopoly on Truth (2019, Skyhorse). On how corporations and right-wing lobbyists fund protests to make it look like their special interests are clamored for by "grassroots" movements. Some cases covered here: "the tea party, oil industry, big tobacco, big data, and news media."
Mark Bittman: Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, From Sustainable to Suicidal (2021, Houghton Mifflin): As a cookbook author, he's tended toward the encyclopedia while trying to remain accessible -- e.g., How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food (1998). Here he's looking for something deeper: a global history of food, merged with a political tract about what we should be growing and eating now.
Russell Cobb: The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America's Weirdest State (2020, Bison Books). I spent a fair amount of time in Oklahoma when I was growing up, and two things struck me as especially weird: one is that every small town we stopped at had a Civil War cannon in the town square, even though Oklahoma wasn't part of the Confederacy, and didn't become a state until 1908; the other is that most of the people we knew there had stronger Southern accents than the people we knew from Arkansas. In the early 1800s Oklahoma was a dumping ground for Indians forced off their lands in the South. From the 1870s the US government started carving off chunks for settlers, nearly all of whom came from the South -- most whites who claimed the state for Dixie. By the 1920s Oklahoma had become reliably racist and Democratic, evolving in the 1970s to Republican. I've found that it shares a number of traits with New Hampshire, like collecting a lot of state revenues from badly maintained toll roads. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and Oklahoma has enough to fill a book -- perhaps this one. Also on Oklahoma:
Jonathan Cohn: The Ten Year War: Obamacare and the Unfinished Crusade for Universal Coverage (2021, St Martin's Press): Major history of the passage of Obama's Affordable Care Act, its troubled implementation and aftermath as Republicans sought to repeal or at least sabotage the law. Cohn wrote one of the more important books on health care before ACA: Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis -- and the People Who Pay the Price (2007). He recapitulates that story in the first part, then reviews its passage and subsequent Republican attempts to repeal or at least sabotage. Although ACA made a bad situation a bit less worse, it also missed the point, which is that you can't get to universal coverage while requiring people to buy private insurance, and you can't manage the health care system sensibly while leaving it in the hands of profit-seeking intermediaries.
Mike Davis/Jon Wiener: Set the Night on Fire: LA in the Sixties (2020, Verso): Both authors have long histories of writing book about radical politics -- Wiener is best known for his work on John Lennon, but he also wrote Conspiracy in the Streets: The Extraordinary Trial of the Chicago Seven; Davis has a long bibliography, including two previous books on Los Angeles: City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (1990), and Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (1998). This covers the whole range of political upheaval in the 1960s, but much of it will be about racism and the civil rights struggle.
Abdul El-Sayed/Micah Johnson: Medicare for All: A Citizen's Guide (2021, Oxford University Press). The solution isn't going away, because the problem isn't going away. Sure, it's possible to improve Obamacare, but that's mostly by throwing money at it, as the system is designed to preserve the profits of a parasitic and unnecessary middle layer in every transaction. Still, that's not the worst problem with private insurance. More important is a guarantee that everyone is covered, and that everyone is taken care of equally. Consistency pays for itself in efficiency, and those savings can be converted to better care: more comprehensive, and more robust. More recent books on health care:
Robert Gellately: Hitler's True Believers: How Ordinary People Became Nazis (2020, Oxford University Press): Seems like a fair question, but I doubt there's an easy or clear answer. It's not clear how many Germans supported how much of Hitler's program, or when, or why. I'm reminded of the characterization of conservative political thought as nothing but "irritable mental gestures." I suspect that the racism and anti-semitism that were central to Nazi ideology were taken as little else, until Hitler raised and legitimized them. More important were resentment over the Great War loss and reparations, which turned to pride as Hitler's renascent militarism seemed to cower the formerly victorious France and Britain. The result was that most Germans were fiercely loyal to Hitler until the end of the war, after which they discarded their Nazi heritage as quickly as possible. On the other hand, I suspect that Gellately will try to pin everything on ideology. After all, that was his tack in his previous book, Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War. Stalin's purges showed him to be pragmatic and cynical, with no consistent ideology. Other recent books on Nazi Germany, especially its origins and control:
Jamal Greene: How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession With Rights Is Tearing America Apart (2021, Houghton Mifflin): Law professor, perhaps explaining his desire to nitpick, especially to object when judges decide "rights" trump conflicting interests. I'm reluctant to go along, seeing as how much progress over the last century has come from expanding the realm of personal rights. On the other hand, as the judiciary has been stocked with right-wing cadres, we're seeing novel claims of "rights" used for reactionary purposes (e.g., political spending is "free speech," and regulations are being stripped where they're in conflict with "religious choice").
Robert Harms: Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa (2019, Basic Books): Covers three decades from 1870 as western explorers (and exploiters) finally penetrated the Congo basin and East Africa, lands they had traded with through coastal intermediaries for centuries (not that the slave trade didn't have ramifications far inland). This was "the scramble for Africa," the period when European powers competed to fill in the maps of Africa with their colonial colors, while collecting ivory, rubber, and whatever else of value they could cart off.
Gregory B Jaczko: Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator (2019, Simon & Schuster): Political memoir of the one-time (2009-12) head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a time that includes the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. Jaczko was one of the very few critics of nuclear power to ever get inside this "watchdog" agency -- his appointment was pushed by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) with the express agenda of opposing the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository. He has since gone on to found "a clean energy development company," so it's fair to say that his rogue-ness has always been consistent with his incentives. That doesn't necessarily make him wrong, and he does offer a contrast to the much longer history of NRC chairs and members with long-standing interests in the nuclear power industry.
Adam Jentleson: Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy (2021, Liveright): They like to call it "the world's greatest deliberative body," but the main purpose of all that deliberation was to stall any sort of changes, but especially progressive reforms. The Senate has always been skewed against popular control, more check than balance, and that undemocratic bias has been locked in: in today's 50-50 Senate, Democrats represent 41 million more people than Republicans, but have the same number of votes. A big part of this is the filibuster, hence it looms large in this book, but there's more if you scratch deeper.
Marc C Johnson: Tuesday Night Massacre: Four Senate Elections and the Radicalization of the Republican Party (paperback, 2021, OUP): The election was in 1980, when Ronald Reagan took the presidency from Jimmy Carter, and the Republicans gained control of the Senate, in large part by purging well-known liberal Democrats Frank Church (ID), George McGovern (SD), John Culver (IA), and Birch Bayh (IN).
Tony Keddie: Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels (2020, University of California Press): "Jesus loves borders, guns, unborn babies, and economic prosperity and hates homosexuality, taxes, welfare, and universal healthcare." Keddie, a historian of the early Christian period, cares to argue those "outrageous misreadings." I'm sure he's right, but care less, having long ago rejected a far more benign understanding of Christianity.
Charles R Kesler: Crisis of the Two Constitutions: The Rise, Decline, & Recovery of American Greatness (2021, Encounter Books): Editor of Claremont Review of Books, seems to be regarded as an actual thinker among pro-Trump conservatives. I read an interview with him, and gleaned no insights into his thinking, other than a muddle of dislikes and vague fears. He's even more evasive on the providing any substance for his sub-title: When was America great? Why isn't it now? How can it be great in the future? Or, simply, what the fuck does "great" mean in regard to nations?
Patrick Kingsley: The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis (2017, Liveright): British, writes for The Guardian. Details various stories of refugees struggling to flee dangers in Africa and the Middle East to reach asylum in Europe.
Elizabeth Kolbert: Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021, Crown): Geologic time is divided into epochs, with the recent ice ages dubbed the Pleistocene. The relatively short sliver of time since their retreat was simply "The Recent," but as we become aware of the extraordinary changes wrought by human beings, a new name has been gaining currency: Anthropocene. New Yorker writer Kolbert has written a number of essays on this, compiled into two important books: Field Notes From a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. More essays, this time chronicling efforts to undo the thoughtless attack on nature through better thinking.
Bruce Levine: Thaddeus Stevens: Civil War Revolutionary, Fighter for Racial Justice (2021, Simon & Schuster): Abolitionist, politician, a leader of the "radical Republicans" and their push for "a second American revolution," advanced through the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, and the short-lived reconstruction of the defeated slave regime. Due for a revival as we finally shake those last Confederate cobwebs from our collective consciousness.
Benjamin Lorr: The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket (2020, Avery): Based on hundreds of interviews over five years into every facet of the product chain that winds up filling grocery store shelves, which is to say most of what we eat every day.
Rachel Maddow/Michael Yarvitz: Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-Up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House (2020, Crown): When Richard Nixon insisted "I am not a crook," he may well have been thinking of Spiro Agnew, his vice-president, figuring all things are relative. He did, at least, dispose of Agnew before handing in his own resignation -- a small favor, but a real one. Perhaps with Trump as president, now is a good time to be reminded of past instances of unsavory greed in or near the White House. However, I find it hard to see how the MSNBC broadcaster would have had time or inclination to write on a story so far from her established interests, so I wouldn't be surprise if this is really Yarvitz's book, with Maddow using her fame and notoreity to help peddle it.
Heather McGhee: The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (2021, One World): Attempts some kind of cost-benefit analysis of racism, which can be difficult because many of the costs are second- or third-degree effects. E.g., wouldn't we have a higher minimum wage, more public benefits, better health care, etc., if government activity that helps people equally wasn't disparaged by racists. Chapter 2 is called "Racism Drained the Pool." It starts with a discussion of infrastructure, which has been neglected because racism divides us, limiting public interest. McGhee travels around the country, sniffing out concrete examples. Fundamentally sound point.
Wesley Morgan: The Hardest Place: The American Military Adrift in Afghanistan's Pech Valley (2021, Random House): "Military affairs reporter," evidently knows which side his bread is buttered on, but can't quite sugar coat everything. Typical blurb: "captures the heroism, fear, and exultation of combat while laying out a damning portrait of military leaders who rushed into battle against an enemy they didn't understand and ultimately couldn't beat." Book covers 2002-17, with author first visiting Pech/Kunar in 2010. Despite all evidence to the contrary, embedded journalists cling to the belief that US troops mean well, and that they are somehow allaying an even worse fate. But they are the catastrophe.
Gary Saul Morson/Morton Schapiro: Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us (2021, Princeton University Press). Authors are literary scholars, which may be why they love to pick up a good cliché. On page 23, they write: "Fundamentalists are hedgehogs." They believe that literature teaches us to be foxes, even though novels are full of tragic hedgehogs. Isaiah Berlin's parable is famous enough it scarcely needs footnoting, but I wonder whether the authors haven't fallen into their own trap in siding with the foxes. Their argument turns on defining fundamentalism, which turns out to be a one-size-fits-all reduction of all sorts of disagreeable beliefs, ultimately defined by little more than the stubborn certainty with which they are held. I don't disagree that dialogue is preferable, but wonder whether insisting on it isn't another fundamentalism, one denying any core principles. As I've found that the denial of principles is itself one, I doubt their house of cards will stand. Authors also wrote:
John Mueller: The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency (2021, Cambridge University Press): I've been waiting for a book to back up this title, but I'd probably start with the balance sheet: it's impossible to win at war, or even anticipate the costs and consequences; even when you have something that looks like victory, it's likely to turn into a trap. As military operations, the US in Afghanistan and Iraq easily seized territory and set up compliant governments, but were unable to sustain control, settling into quagmires. History is full of examples, but focus on history risks obscuring how the equations have changed since the decline of colonial empires. Up through WWII, aggressive politicians could imagine gains from conquest, but with more and more people demanding independence and autonomy, the world has, in Jonathan Schell's phrase, become unconquerable. That should result in nations cutting back on their military expenses, and as that happens, there is ever less need for military defense. Early in the 20th century, there were diplomatic efforts to outlaw war and to promote disarmament. One would have expected such efforts to resume after the conflagration of WWII, but the US sought a different kind of world dominance, and to that end disguised its War Department as Defense, projecting power through a worldwide network of bases and "mutual defense pacts." True, the Soviet Union reciprocated, giving the US a "threat" to defend against, but when that "threat" ended, the US became if anything even more aggressive. Mueller argues that the US has systematically exaggerated threats ever since 1945. This has enabled a huge bureaucracy to accumulate an enormous arsenal to fend off imaginary threats -- something that would have been mere waste had it not buttressed an arrogant foreign policy which has itself provoked resistance and led to self-debilitating wars. He goes on to argue that "a policy of complacency and appeasement likely would have worked better." If the word "appeasement" sticks in your craw, it's because we've been indoctrinated for 75 years to think that the cause of WWII was not Hitler's madness (conditioned by centuries of European imperialism, and by the punitive sanctions placed on Germany after WWI) but Neville Chamberlain's "appeasement" to Hitler's pre-war demand for a slice of Czechoslovakia. Mueller could have picked less inflammatory words, but his point is apt. Most post-WWII conflicts could have been managed better with diplomacy and the promise of trade and development, and more safely without the peril of arms and annihilation. What I'd like to see is the US unwind its imperial posture through negotiations with the rest of the world. No nation really benefits from nuclear weapons, foreign bases, or cyberwarfare, so why not agree to eliminate them? And given that the US is far and away the world's greatest threat, why would other countries not agree to follow suit? If that seems like a dream, it's actually one that's more than 100 years old -- only the technology has changed, but the advent of machine guns, poison gas, and aerial bombing was already terrifying enough. But isn't the first step toward realizing that dream recognizing the stupidity of war?
Serhii Plokhy: Nuclear Folly: A History of the Cuban Missle Crisis (2021, WW Norton). Author teaches Ukrainian history at Harvard, so don't expect him to be a Krushchev fan, but he's had the luxury of sifting through recently opened Soviet archives, which offer a broader perspective than the usual American take on the 1962 crisis -- usually presented as hagiography, a tribute to John F Kennedy's steely resolve and cool reason. It seems more likely that all three leaders (also Fidel Castro) had their blind spots, misapprehensions, and rash tempers, which contributed to the peril as well as its resolution.
Serhii Plokhy: The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (paperback, 2015, Basic Books): I've likened the end of the Soviet Union to a wrestling match where one fighter collapses with a heart attack, and the other seizes the opportunity to pounce on his disabled opponent and claim victory. That isn't Plokhy's metaphor, but he cites a "victory" speech by GWH Bush the day after Gorbachev resigned that illustrates it perfectly. Plokhii attributes the end mostly to the growing independence movements (especially in Ukraine and Russia, which was Boris Yeltsin's power base), having little to do with US pressure (which if anything was paralyzed by fear and misunderstanding).
Varshini Prakash/Guido Girgenti, eds: Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can (paperback, 2020, Simon & Schuster). Sixteen essays on various aspects and arguments, written before the 2020 election. Biden campaigned in the primaries against GND, but offers a subset in his big infrastructure bill and his newfound climate focus, along with jobs support -- the New Deal part of GND. As long as you combine more sustainable energy policy with economic support to minimize the effects of dislocations, it doesn't matter what you call it. Some recent Green New Deal (and climate-related) books:
Dennis C Rasmussen: Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders (2021, Princeton University Press): We tend to blindly celebrate the wisdom of the American Republic's founders, but this points out most of them soon had misgivings. This focuses on Washington (rued "the rise of partisanship"), Hamilton ("felt that the federal government was too weak"), Adams ("believed the people lacked civic virtue"), and Jefferson (bemoaned "sectional divisions laid bare by the spread of slavery"). Also discusses the exception to the rule: James Madison.
Eric Rauchway: Why the New Deal Matters (2021, Yale University Press): Historian, previously wrote the even briefer The Great Depression & the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction (160 pp vs 232 here), as well as more detailed monographs on the same period. One thing that seems strange in retrospect was how little we were taught about Franklin Roosevelt during my childhood (1955-67), especially compared to the way Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and (especially) Lincoln were lionized after less epochal presidencies. (Republicans have since given Reagan the same treatment, to somewhat lesser effect).
Touré F Reed: Toward Freedom: The Case Against Race Reductionism (paperback, 2020, Verso): Not obvious to me what "race reductionism" means -- perhaps the single-minded focus on one factor (in this case, race) to the exclusion of all others. "Reed argues that Afro-Americans' quest for freedom has been most successful when a common-good, rather than identity-group, strategy has determined tactics and alliances." If that's all the point is, sure.
Lawrence Rosenthal: Empire of Resentment: Populism's Toxic Embrace of Nationalism (2020, New Press): Missed this in last autumn's survey of Trump books, possibly because it aspires to greater generalities. Like fellow Kansan Thomas Frank, I've never accepted the notion that Trump had any connection to populism, but if you do buy the link, the real question is why did "populists" choose to align themselves with conservatives, whose real agenda is simply the preservation of a hierarchy defined principally by wealth. Conservatives have long tried to broaden their base by capturing nationalist and religious fancies, so if "populists" accept the rightful rule of the rich, of course they're going to pick up the extra baggage -- which in America is laced with racism and gun fetishism.
Guy Smith: Guns and Control: A Nonpartisan Guide to Understanding Mass Public Shootings, Gun Accidents, Crime, Public Carry, Suicides, Defensive Use, and More (2020, Skyhorse). Founder, Gun Facts Project ("We are neither pro-gun nor anti-gun. We are pro-math and anti-BS"). Despite this "nonpartisan" angle, note that the NRA has been especially vigilant about preventing any statistical survey and analysis of gun incidents. By the way, an Amazon search for "gun control" yields many more pro-gun books than anti-, starting with two books by Stephen P Halbrook crying over Gun Control in the Third Reich and Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France, John R Lott Jr's many books, like the clearly unsound More Guns Less Crime -- a rationale that can only be justified by excluding overwhelming evidence. Also: Stalked and Defenseless: How Gun Control Helped My Stalker Murder My Husband in Front of Me. Some recent, less obviously ridiculous books on guns:
Daniel Susskind: A World Without Work: Technology, Automation, and How We Should Respond (2020, Metropolitan Books): Oxford economist, sees the future and thinks, hey, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I'm sympathetic to that point of view, but understand that to make it work you have to have a public support network that eases the transitions, and that provides support for people unable to make them. I've had two careers that were pretty much ended by technology shifts, which to some extent I nudged forward. I always figured that the more of my work that could be automated, the more I could do new things -- and that's pretty much how it worked out, although not necessarily to my profit. So I think this will be an increasingly important subject. At least, unless we get wiped out by stupid shit in the meantime. Related, which leads to post-scarcity economics and postcapitalism:
Frederick Taylor: 1939: A People's History of the Coming of the Second World War (2020, WW Norton): This starts with September 1938, as Hitler starts to make aggressive moves east, and follows the diplomacy until it becomes purely military. Also on the War:
Larry Tye: Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy (2020, Houghton Mifflin): Big (608 pp) biography of the Wisconsin Republican Senator, whose name is synonymous with red baiting. His fall, after extending his slanders to the Army, was so precipitous that McCarthyism is remembered as an abomination, even by those following in his footsteps -- e.g., Donald Trump, whose early mentor was McCarthy's own counsel, Roy Cohn.
Clive Thompson: Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World (2019, Penguin Press): A fairly breezy survey of the art and history of software engineering, from ENIAC to (or past) Facebook. Having made a decent living at this for over 20 years, this is comfortable turf for me, the more nuts and bolts the better.
Dietrich Vollrath: Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success (2020, University of Chicago Press): Argues "our current slowdown is, in fact, a sign of our widespread economic success. Our powerful economy has already supplied so much of the necessary stuff of modern life, brought us so much comfort, security, and luxury, that we have turned to new forms of production and consumption that increase our well-being but do not contribute to growth in GDP." This argument may not be so unconventional, as it is suggested by Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth, who shows that reduced growth after 1970 is connected to a shift in consumption factors, and James Galbraith: The End of Normal. This focuses on America, but when I first read the title I thought first of Japan: economists have complained about slack growth there since 1990, but the standard of living seems stable. This makes me wonder if the left shouldn't focus more on safety net and risk issues, as opposed to wage increases (unions and minimum wage). Longer term, this is good news, as infinite growth was never going to happen anyway. Also that political strategies based on shared growth aren't going to work. In fact, I believe businessfolk realized this around 1970, when growth rates started to drop significantly. From that point, the only way they could satisfy their own growth expectations was to take more from the rest of us, which is what they've been doing for 50 years now.
Jia Lynn Yang: One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965 (2020, WW Norton): In 1924, Congress passed a law restricting immigration by imposing national quotas, which discriminated against recent waves of immigrants from south-and-eastern Europe (as well as previously restricted Africa and Asia). In 1965, the quota system was repealed, allowing immigration to expand with demand. More focus on how immigration got opened up than how it got shut down, including bits on the author's parents.
Other recent books of interest, barely noted (I may write more on some of these later):
Scott Anderson: The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War -- A Tragedy in Three Acts (2020, Doubleday).
Nicholas Aschoff: The New Prophets of Capital (paperback, 2015, Verso): Critiques of Sheryl Sandberg, John Mackey, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill & Melinda Gates.
Joel Bakan: The New Corporation: How "Good" Corporations Are Bad for Democracy (paperback, 2020, Knopf): Effectively an update to Bakan's 2005 book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.
Charles M Blow: The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto (2021, Harper).
Lynne Cheney: The Virginia Dynasty: Four Presidents and the Creation of the American Nation (2020, Viking).
Marie Favereau: The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (2021, Belknap Press).
Steve Fraser: Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property: Capitalism and Class Conflict in American History (paperback, 2019, Verso).
Timothy Frye: Weak Strongman: The Limits of Power in Putin's Russia (2021, Princeton University Press).
Eddie S Glaude Jr: Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own (2020, Crown).
Glenn Greenwald: Securing Democracy: My Fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro's Brazil (2021, Haymarket Books).
Eliza Griswold: Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America (2018, Farrar Straus and Giroux; paperback, 2019, Picador Books): Won Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.
Peter Guralnick: Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing (2020, Little Brown).
Tom Holland: Dominion: How the Christian Rvolution Remade the World (2019; paperback, 2021, Basic Books).
Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling: A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (2020, PublicAffairs).
John B Judis: The Socialist Awakening: What's Different Now About the Left (paperback, 2020, Columbia Global Reports).
Fred Kaplan: The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War (2020, Simon & Schuster).
Robert D Kaplan: The Good American: The Epic Life of Bob Gersony, the US Government's Greatest Humanitarian (2021, Random House).
Alexander Keyssar: Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? (2020, Harvard University Press).
Susan W Kieffer: The Dynamics of Disaster (2013; paperback, 2014, WW Norton).
Ümit Kurt: The Armenians of Aintab: The Economics of Genocide in an Ottoman Province (2021, Harvard University Press).
Victoria Law: "Prisons Make Us Safer": And 20 Other Myths About Mass Incarceration
Edward N Luttwak: Coup D'État: A Practial Handbook (1968; revised, paperback, 2016, Harvard University Press).
Charlton D McIlwain: Black Software: The Internet & Racial Justice, From the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter (2019, ).
Alexander Mikaberidze: The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History (2020, Oxford University Press): 960 pp.
Thant Myint-U: The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century (2019; paperback, 2021, WW Norton).
Tom Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017; paperback, 2018, Oxford University Press).
Susan Page: Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power (2021, Twelve).
Jeremy D Popkin: A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution (2019, Basic Books).
Eric A Posner/E Glen Weyl: Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society (2018, Princeton University Press).
Michael Provence: The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East (paperback, 2017, Cambridge University Press).
Thomas E Ricks: First Principles: What America's Founders Learned From the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country (2020, Harper).
Ritchie Robertson: The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790 (2021, Harper): Big (1008 pp).
Martin Sandbu: The Economics of Belonging: A Radical Plan to Win Back the Left Behind and Achieve Prosperity for All (2020, Princeton University Press).
James Shapiro: Shakespeare in a Divided Ameria: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future (paperback, 2021, Penguin Books).
David O Stewart: George Washington: The Political Rise of America's Founding Father (2021, Dutton).
Cass R Sunstein: This Is Not Normal: The Politics of Everyday Expectations (2021, Yale University Press): Essay collection.
Hadas Thier: A People's Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics (paperback, 2020, Haymarket Books).
Karen Tumulty: The Triumph of Nancy Reagan (2021, Simon & Schuster): 672 pp.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Music: Current count 35216  rated (+32), 211  unrated (+2).
Allergies kicked in with a vengeance this week, which is one (but by no means the only) reason I'm miserable and in a deep funk. That may have taken a toll here, as all of the recommended albums are in the "old music" section. Still, nothing new came close enough to make me suspect my mood overrode my objectivity -- except maybe the Spoon and White Stripes best-ofs (from 2019 and 2020, respectively). On the other hand, more A-list in the Old Music section than usual.
Was looking forward to Robert Christgau's April Consumer Guide, but got very little from it. I had previously given B+ reviews to the records from Mike, Dua Saleh, and Neil Young, so didn't revisit them. Couldn't find If I Have to Wreck L.A., but I did scrounge up a pretty good collection of earlier Willie Headen songs. I played White Stripes twice, and can imagine why fans like them, but wasn't moved to bump the grade up. The Spoon collection mentioned in the White Stripes review wasn't available anywhere, but I was able to create a songlist with everything on it. I always liked that band, but can't say their songs stand out, even from an average album (like the one I previously missed, Gimme Fiction). On the other hand, that early Spoon album was quite a surprise (but also note, I liked A Series of Sneaks).
New records reviewed this week:
Tamar Aphek: All Bets Are Off (2021, Kill Rock Stars): Israeli singer-songwriter (in English), plays guitar and keyboards, and plays them hard. Ends, improbably, with "As Time Goes By." B+(**)
Rahsaan Barber: Mosaic (2020 , Jazz Music City, 2CD): Saxophonist (alto/tenor/baritone, sometimes two at once -- who does that remind you of?), third album, quartet with piano-bass-drums, guest trumpet and/or trombone on some tracks. Roland Barber's trombone is a nice touch. B+(**)
Benny the Butcher: The Plugs I Met 2 (2021, Black Soprano Family, EP): Buffalo rapper Jeremie Pennick, has a bunch of mixtapes since 2004, two albums, five EPs -- this one's more like a short album (9 songs, 28:33). B+(**)
Cabaret Voltaire: Dekadrone (2021, Mute): British new wave/industrial pioneers, debut 1978, disbanded 1994, returned as an alias for founder Richard H Kirk with a 2020 album. Early stuff was hit and miss, but they found an awesome groove in the mid-1980s (e.g., The Original Sound of Sheffield '83-'87: The Best of the Virgin/EMI Years). Not much groove here, with a single 49:55 track, ambient that prods you incessantly. I enjoy short stretches, but find it a bit tedious at such length. B+(*)
Sarah Mary Chadwick: Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby (2021, Ba Da Bing!): Singer-songwriter from New Zealand via Australia, Discogs lists his as her eighth album since 2012, mostly on labels I've never heard of (like Bedroom Suck and Rice Is Nice). Lo-fi, cut in her living room, stark and barren. I don't much care for it, but if you let it in, you may care a lot. B+(**)
Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By: Side B (2020, Shady/Aftermath/Interscope): Sequel to the "Side A" January, 2020 release, again playing off Alfred Hitchcock samples. Physical package recycles "Side A" as a second CD, but we'll ignore that here (I just deleted the extra tracks, which I gave a marginal A- to back in February). This is a bit more scattershot, but while his shtick isn't new, he can still dazzle. B+(***)
Joe Fahey: February on Ice (2021, Rough Fish): Minneapolis singer-songwriter. Has a couple previous albums, but nothing Discogs or Wikipedia have noticed. Rocks some, chills out, lyrics tend to ramble, but unique enough he may be worth the trouble. Or maybe not. Choice cut: "Fuck the Republicans." B+(***)
Girl in Red: Chapter 1 (2018, AWAL/Human Sounds, EP): Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven, started recording songs in her bedroom and releasing them on Soundcloud, her debut ("I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend") getting 100 million streams. It leads off five songs here, 13:25, understated jangle pop. B+(*)
Girl in Red: Chapter 2 (2019, AWAL, EP): Five more songs, 15:53. B+(*)
Hennessy Six/Colorado Springs Youth Symphony: The Road Less Traveled (2020 , Summit): Four tracks composed by Sean Schafer Hennessy (trumpet), the others by band members Cully Joyce (tenor sax/alto flute) and Colin McAllister (guitar). The Symphony adds to the kitchen sink effect, mostly strings. I find it all a bit excessive, but it does have some moments. B+(*) [cd]
Yvette Janine Jackson: Freedom (2021, Fridman Gallery): Sound engineer, based in Kansas, two pieces (22:09 and 19:42), plus two excerpts from same. Electroacoustic "radio opera," occasional words. LP has liner notes by Gregory Tate. B+(*) [bc]
Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Soundprints: Other Worlds (2020 , Greenleaf Music): Poll winners at tenor sax and trumpet, at least when they convened this quintet in 2013. Third album, with Lawrence Fields (piano), Linda May Han Oh (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). Five compositions each for the leaders. Too much talent here to make a bad record, but that talent is wasted on the unison riffing. B+(*) [cd] [05-07]
Dax Pierson: Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction) (2021, Dark Entries): Played keyboards in band Subtle (2001-08) before an auto accident paralyzed him from chest down. Returned as a techno producer, with Live in Oakland in 2019, now this. B+(**)
Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Soné Ka-La 2: Odyssey (2020 , Enja): Saxophonist, from Guadeloupe, debut 1999, released Sone Ka-La in 2006. Band with piano, bass, drums, and extra percussion, incorporating gwoka rhythms. So far, so good, but I'm less fond of vocalist Malika Tirolien, scatting along like an extra horn. B+(*) [cd] [05-21]
The Weather Station: Ignorance (2021, Fat Possum): Canadian band fronted by singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman, folkie roots, fifth album since 2009. B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Gary Lucas: The Essential Gary Lucas (1981-2020 , Knitting Factory, 2CD): Guitarist, from Syracuse, played with Captain Beefheart circa 1980, and memorialized him with his Fast 'N' Bulbous tribute band (again in 2017 with Nona Hendryx). This is billed as a 40-year retrospective, with 36 songs from 30+ widely scattered albums. Hard to find details online, but first disc is fairly conventional singer-songwriter fare (with better-than-average guitar), with second more eclectic/experimental (often, but not necessarily, better). B+(*)
Spoon: Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon (2001-19 , Matador): Indie band from Austin, founded in 1993 by Britt Daniel and Jim Eno, seven albums 2001-17 (plus reissues of 1990s work). Conceived of as an introduction/overview, but does have two hit singles ("Don't You Evah" and "Got Nuffin"), two more chart songs (30, 31). Given how many Spoon albums I've A-listed (4), I'm surprised I don't find this more engaging. [Songlist from other sources.] B+(***)
The White Stripes: My Sister Thanks You and I Thank You: Greatest Hits (1998-2007 , Third Man): Critically acclaimed alt/indie band from a period when I had lost my interest in same, so while I heard (and sometimes rated favorably) their records, I don't remember anything on them, or recognize anything here except for the occasional cover. This is a generous selection (26 songs, 79:28), probably a useful substitute for their six albums, not that you need one. Despite some impressive guitar I can't say as I enjoyed it much. B+(***)
Willie Headen: Blame It on the Blues (1954-60 , Ace): R&B singer, recorded singles for Dootone/Dooto, a dozen of which were collected in a 1960 LP with this artwork, except his name appeared as Willie Hayden. Reissue doubles the length, picking up some previously unreleased takes. Has a bit of Bobby Bland in his voice. B+(***)
Justin Hinds & the Dominoes: Carry Go Bring Come: The Anthology (1963-72 , Trojan, 2CD): Ska singer, worked with Duke Reid from 1963, recording scores of singles to 1972, none bigger than the title song in 1964 (original credited to Billy Ward & the Dominoes, with a second version later), which stand out, with dozens of other songs coming close enough. A-
Justin Hinds and the Dominoes: Jezebel (1976, Island): After leaving Reid, Hinds worked the Jack Ruby. This is the first of two albums Island released, which got lost behind the bigger names. Rasta roots, plenty of groove. B+(***) [yt]
Justin Hinds and the Dominoes: Just in Time (1978, Mango): Second album, also produced by Jack Ruby. Opening songs are "Let's Rock," "Let Jah Arise," "Help Your Falling Brother," but the one that hooks is "Bad Minded People." Second side goes pop, with a bubbly "(On) Broadway" and the self-evident "Groovin'," but the originals are even more seductive. A-
The Itals: Early Recordings 1971-1979 (1971-79 , Nighthawk): Reggae vocal trio, roots oriented, issued four albums on this label 1981-88, plus this compilation of early singles and other tracks I can't trace. B+(*)
The Itals: Give Me Power (1983, Nighthawk): Second album, after Brutal Out Deh (1981). B+(**)
The Itals: Rasta Philosophy (1985 , Nighthawk): Third album, a short one (CD has 7 songs, 26:25, one more song than the original vinyl), but some of their best harmonies. B+(***)
The Itals: Cool and Dread (1988, Nighthawk): Fourth album, can hold a groove, have something to say. Still, at the end of the album, I found myself carrying on, with some other song in my head. B+(**)
The Plastic People of the Universe: Apokalyptickej Pták (1976 , Galén): Czech rock band led by bassist Milan Hlavsa, founded in the "Prague Spring" of 1968, drawing inspiration from Frank Zappa and the Velvet Underground. Went underground in 1970, and were tried and imprisoned in 1976, shortly after this concert was recorded. They broke up in 1988, with some members joining the similar-minded Pulnoc, and regrouped in 1997, continuing after Hlavsa's death in 2001. Live artifacts detract somewhat, and I suspect the bouts of Zappaesque artiness, but the instrumental stretches are extraordinary. A-
Duke Reid's Treasure Chest (1964-70 , Heartbeat, 2CD): One of Jamaica's top producers in the ska and rocksteady eras, set up his sound system in 1953, died in 1975. This collects his work for Treasure Isle Records. Some classics here, lots of also-rans. B+(**)
Sonny Simmons: Staying on the Watch (1966, ESP-Disk): Alto saxophonist, cut a couple records with Prince Lasha before this debut, a quintet with wife Barbara Donald (a blistering trumpet), John Hicks (piano), bass, and drums. B+(***)
Sonny Simmons: Music From the Spheres (1966, ESP-Disk): Quintet with Barbara Donald (trumpet), piano, bass, and drums, plus tenor sax (Burt Wilson) on one cut ("Dolphy's Days"). Fast and bracing. A-
Sonny Simmons: Manhattan Egos (1969 , Arhoolie): Alto saxophonist, also plays English horn. Original album with trumpet (Barbara Donald), bass/congas (Juma), and drums (Paul Smith). CD adds four tracks from a live set in Berkeley, with a different group -- no trumpet, but add Michael White (violin). A-
Spoon: Telephono (1996, Matador): First album, a trio with singer-songwriter Britt Daniel (guitar), Andy Maguire (bass), and Jim Eno (drums). Fourteen tight, twisted songs, 34:59, intense, bass cranked up. A band with a future, even if as something else. A-
Spoon: Gimme Fiction (2005, Merge): The one album I missed from 1998 on, probably because Christgau's B+ review made it seem inessential, and I hadn't discovered streaming yet. I won't swear he's wrong, but this seems every bit as consistent as the "best of," and if anything the relatively light touch on the vocals is a plus. B+(***)
Records I played parts of, but not enough to grade: -- means no interest, - not bad but not a prospect, + some chance, ++ likely prospect.
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, April 5, 2021
Music: Current count 35184  rated (+43), 209  unrated (-3).
I had less trouble finding records to listen to last week. I picked some obvious new records off Napster's recommendations list, and decided to follow up Dr. Lonnie Smith's new one with a dive into old catalogue. Aside for a few CDs, most of the rest came from Chris Monsen's 1st quarter round-up, and AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2021. I had heard 6 of 20 records on Monsen's (only 2 from promo CDs), so I scrambled to add 9 more, including both of this week's A- records. (Actually, I wrote up Miguel Zenón's Law Years before Monsen posted, so at the time I claimed 7/20, but the review is in this week's batch.) The other five don't seem to be available online, at least complete enough to review.
I'm not tracking reviews this year, so had no idea which albums might be on the AOTY list, and indeed had no idea most of them existed. (The ones I had previously reviewed were: Floating Points, Ghetts -- the former is on the Monsen and Phil Overeem lists, while the latter was the first thing I checked out from the AOTY list. Julien Baker is also on Overeem's list. I've heard 15 of Overeem's 30 records, counting Baker this week.
Just saw Dave Sumner's Best Jazz on Bandcamp: March 2021. I've heard 3 of 14 records. More alarmingly, I haven't heard of most of the artists. More evidence I'm falling far behind.
I'm a bit chagrined over the two A- records this week. Zenón's publicist still sends me most records. I got some email on this one, but the CD never showed up. Takase's label was sending me promos up to some time in 2019, so not getting this one was less of a mystery. I made up for the lost promos by streaming most of their releases on Napster, which is where I found this one. I'd be happy to continue in that way, but their more recent releases aren't on Napster, and one by Alexander Hawkins that came out the same day as Takase's has been withdrawn. Intakt does use Bandcamp, but don't offer complete albums there, so they're no substitute for reviewers. I count six A- records on Intakt last year, so not being able to review their releases will be a major loss.
April should be less stressful -- unless, as forecast, we get hit by an exceptionally rough tornado season, or the earthquakes on the east side of town get more severe. (It is established that they're caused by injection wells between Wichita and El Dorado.) I got my second Covid-19 vaccination a couple weeks ago, and Laura got hers on Saturday. Perhaps we'll soon be able to entertain for the first time in more than a year.
One frequent dinner guest from recent years will be missed. Rubena Bradley died last week. I haven't seen an obituary yet, but have heard from good friends -- two of her six daughters. They've invited us to Thanksgiving several years -- one with all six daughters visiting. A remarkable family. We're fortunate to have known Ruby.
New records reviewed this week:
The Anchoress: The Art of Losing (2021, Kscope): Catherine Anne Davies, born in Wales, grew up in England, got a PhD in "literature and queer theory" (published a book, Whitman's Queer Children), played in Simple Minds 2014-18. Second album, debut was Confessions of a Romance Novelist. Makes a strong impression here, although I'm not prepared to try to figure out whether she's as smart as she seems. B+(***)
Julien Baker: Little Oblivions (2021, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Tennessee, third album (not counting all-star trio Boygenius). Rocks a little harder than her "sad girl" works. B+(*)
Yaala Ballin: Sings Irving Berlin (2021, SteepleChase LookOut): Standards singer, from Israel, moved to New York "in 2004 to study with Sheila Jordan," fourth album -- her second, On the Road (2011), was a personal favorite. Backed by a swing-oriented band -- Michael Kanan (piano), Chris Flory (guitar), and Ari Roland (bass) -- hard to go wrong with Berlin. B+(***)
Jon Batiste: We Are (2020 , Verve): Pianist, from New Orleans, debut 2005, upped his profile in 2015 as music director of Stephen Colbert's Late Show. Title song, with its New Orleans marching band backup, was released as a single in June 2020, inspired by Black Lives Matter protests. Vocals abound -- I count 11 credits, but that includes Gospel Soul Children -- so slot this under r&b, not jazz. Choice cuts: "Freedom," "Sing." B+(**)
John Butcher/Veryan Weston/Øyvind Stonesund/Dag Erik Kriedal Andersen: Mapless Quiet (2018 , Motvind): Tenor/soprano sax, piano, bass, drums; one 49:28 piece, recorded live in Norway. Some strong patches, but seems to run out early. B+(**) [bc]
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Carnage (2021, AWAL): Singer-songwriter from Australia, started 1970s in the Birthday Party, has fronted the Bad Seeds since 1983. I've never liked his albums, but many critics do, and it's possible someone could compile a best-of I'd have to show some respect to (a concession based mostly on use of their songs in Peaky Blinders). Ellis joined the Bad Seeds in 1994, and has done a number of side projects with Cave (mostly soundtracks). His trademark is the murky darkness his voice strains against. A couple spots here test my resistance, but I still came away with no interest. B
Michael Dease: Give It All You Got (2019 , Posi-Tone): Trombone player, originally from Georgia, more than a dozen albums since 2005. Jim Alfredson can lay the organ on a bit thick at times, but Gregory Tardy (tenor sax) and Anthony Stanco (trumpet) impress. B+(*)
Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg (2021, 4AD): English post-punk band led by singer Florence Shaw, first album after EPs and singles. Talks over rock solid riffs. B+(**)
Paul Dunmall/Percy Pursglove/Olie Brice/Jeff Williams: Palindromes (2020 , West Hill): Tenor sax, trumpet, bass, and drums, live set at Café Oto in London. B+(***) [bc]
For Those I Love: For Those I Love (2019 , September): David Balfe, Irish, first album self-released in 2019, given a proper unveiling this year. Heavily accented spoken word over electronica. B+(***)
Frode Haltli: Avant Folk II (2021, Hubro): Norwegian accordion player, albums since 2002 including folk and classical as well as jazz. Assembled this group for a 2018 album, with Hardanger fiddle, violin, sax, trumpet/goat horn, organ/synth, guitars, bass, and drums. B+(**) [bc]
Joseph Howell Quartet: Live in Japan (2018 , Summit): Clarinet player, second album, dedicated his debut to Buddy DeFranco, mostly plays Joe Henderson songs here, along with three swing era standards. Backed by a Japanese piano trio -- pianist Keigo Hirakawa is most impressive. B+(**) [cd]
Kari Ikonen: Impressions, Improvisations and Compositions (2020 , Ozella): Finnish pianist, new to me but eight albums since 2001. Nominally solo, but in spots the strings produced so much resonance I wondered whether a guitar or bass had slipped in. B+(***)
La Femme: Paradigmes (2021, Disque Pointu): French "psych-punk" band, some women in the band but founders wee Sacha Got and Marlon Magnée. Third album since an EP in 2010. Genre strikes me as iffy, but first album was called Psycho Tropical Berlin, and I don't have any alternative suggestions, especially as each song points them in another direction. B+(**)
Charles Lloyd & the Marvels: Tone Poem (2020 , Blue Note): Tenor sax legend, also plays some flute, third group album, with Bill Frisell (guitar), Greg Leisz (steel guitar), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). Three originals, after two Ornette Coleman pieces and Leonard Cohen's "Anthem," a 10:26 stretch on "Monk's Mood," a couple others. B+(***)
Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun (2021, BMG Modern): Popular jazz guitarist, composed two suites here, the first ("Four Paths of Light") played by Jason Vieaux ("perhaps the most precise and soulful classical guitarist of his generation"), the title set played by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Wraps up with Metheny playing a solo piece by Arvo Pärt. B
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 4: Azymuth (2020, Jazz Is Dead, EP): First three albums listed Younge first. No idea why they swapped, but Muhammad is older (1970 vs. 1978), and his tenure with A Tribe Called Quest may have made him more famous (not that I recognized the name). Focus here is the Brazilian jazz-funk group, dating from 1972 up to 2016. This runs longer (8 tracks, 41:25), but is less engaging. B
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 5: Doug Carn (2020, Jazz Is Dead): Eleven tracks, 41:03, so they've outgrown the series' EP start. Carn is a soul jazz pianist, husband of singer Jean Carn, recorded 1969-77 and occasionally thereafter, changed his name to Abdul Rahim Ibrahim by 1977. He mostly plays organ here. High point is a sax solo, probably Gary Bartz. B+(***)
Ali Shaheed Muhammad & Adrian Younge: Jazz Is Dead 6: Gary Bartz (2021, Jazz Is Dead, EP): Alto saxophonist, cut some avant-soul fusion albums in the early 1970s with his Ntu Troop, later struck me as a pure bebop player. His sax nudges this entry back into jazz territory, no matter where the producers go with the rhythm. Eight tracks, 27:35 B+(***) [bc]
Nubiyan Twist: Freedom Fables (2021, Strut): Large British jazz-funk group, third album. B
R+R=Now: Live (2018 , Blue Note): "All-star jazz collective," formed in 2018 for a studio album and a live stand at New York's Blue Note club, Robert Glasper (keyboards) cited as leader, with Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah (trumpet), Terrace Martin (sax/vocals), Taylor McFerrin (synth), Derrick Hodge (bass), and Justin Tyson (drums), plus spoken word on one of the better tracks, but pretty hit-and-miss. B
Dan Rose: Last Night . . . (2017 , Ride Symbol): Rose cut an album in 1979, a couple in the 1990s, released two this year. This one is solo guitar, cautiously feeling his way through standards, some in medleys. B+(*) [cd]
Dan Rose/Claudine Francois: New Leaves (2019 , Ride Symbol): Guitar-piano duo. Francois is French, has an album from 1984 but not much since. Four originals (two each), five more pieces, mostly from pianists (Monk, Silver, Waldron, Bley, Swallow). "Señor Blues" is especially tasty. B+(**) [cd]
Serpentwithfeet: Deacon (2021, Secretly Canadian): Singer-songwriter Josiah Wise, from Baltimore, grew up in his mother's church choir, studied classical music and was infatuated with opera. Second album, short (11 songs, 29:09). Choice cut: "Fellowship." B+(*)
Skarbø Skulekorps: Dugnad (2020 , Hubro): Norwegian drummer Øyvind Skarbø, several albums since 2009, second under this group name, which includes trumpet, three saxes (Signe Emmeluth, Eirik Hegdal, and Klaus Holm, who also plays clarinet), guitars (including pedal steel), and bass, with a couple guests. B+(**)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Breathe (2021, Blue Note): Organ player, not to be confused with his contemporary Lonnie Liston Smith (more of an electric piano guy), has wavered between soul jazz and pop, never impressing me much, but this is pretty agreeable. Produced by Don Was, half trio with Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar) and Johnathan Blake (drums), half adding horns (John Ellis, Robin Eubanks, Sean Jones), with two vocals toward the end (Alicia Olatuja on something gospelly, and Iggy Pop crooning "Sunshine Superman"). B+(**)
Veronica Swift: This Bitter Earth (2021, Mack Avenue): Jazz singer, semi-famous musical parents (Hod O'Brien, Stephanie Nakasian), cut a record when she was 10 with Richie Cole and her father's piano trio. (O'Brien was pianist on Roswell Rudd's Flexible Flyer, which is my favorite Sheila Jordan album ever.) Second big label effort, backed by Emmet Cohen (piano), bass, and drums, occasionally others. Standards, some common but most not, done with authority and panache. B+(***)
Aki Takase/Christian Weber/Michael Griener: Auge (2019 , Intakt): German piano-bass-drums trio, the pianist moving from Tokyo to Berlin in 1987. Explosive. A-
Thumbscrew: Never Is Enough (2019 , Cuneiform): Guitar-bass-drums trio (Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara), sixth album since 2014, nary a false step -- a fine context for the guitarist. B+(***) [dl]
Tony Tixier: I Am Human (2020 , Whirlwind, EP): French pianist, has a couple albums. Originally released as a 6-track EP in 2020, reissued with an extra track (bringing it to 25:12). Two solo pieces, the others duets, including a lovely "Someone to Watch Over Me" with his twin brother Scott Tixier on violin. B+(*)
Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad: Jazz Is Dead 3: Marcos Valle (2020, Jazz Is Dead, EP): R&B producers, first volume entertained several guest artists, but the second one focused on a single artist (Roy Ayers). Valle is a Brazilian pop star, started with the bossa nova craze in 1963, and still working at 77. Not sure whether these are new performances or remixes, but the luscious samba groove argues for the latter. Eight tracks, 27:29. B+(***)
Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo: El Arte Del Bolero (2020 , Miel Music): Alto sax and piano duo, from Puerto Rico and Venezuela respectively, but have played together often over the last decade-plus. Six songs by as many composers, taken at a leisurely pace (51:47). B+(***)
Miguel Zenón/Ariel Bringuez/Demian Cabaud/Jordi Rossy: Law Years: The Music of Ornette Coleman (2019 , Miel Music): Alto saxophonist, one of the major players of his generation, has spent most of the last decade cultivating his Puerto Rican roots, looks another direction here, for this live set from the Birds Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Switzerland. The others, from various points in Latin America, play tenor sax, bass, and drums, on seven Ornette Coleman compositions. The tunes are as radical ever, and played with aplomb. But for some reason I'm not nearly as blown away as I was on first hearing The Shape of Jazz to Come. A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Roberto Miranda's Home Music Ensemble: Live at Bing Theatre: Los Angeles, 1985 (1985 , Dark Tree): Bassist, born in New York, parents Puerto Rican, long based in Los Angeles, teaches at UCLA, most of his recordings are connected to the "four giants" here: Bobby Bradford (cornet/trumpet), John Carter (clarinet), James Newton (flute), and Horace Tapsott (piano). Band also includes two members of the bassist's family: Louis R. Miranda Sr. (vocals/percussion), and Louis R. Miranda Jr. (drums), along with a few others. Starts with some brilliant piano, works around to give everyone a spotlight, some better than others. B+(***) [cd]
Neil Young: Young Shakespeare (1971 , Reprise): Between After the Gold Rush and Harvest, Young did a solo tour, his set captured here at Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford, Connecticut. B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Think! (1968 , Blue Note): Played organ on George Benson's early albums, which led to his own 1967 debut, Figer Lickin' Good Soul Organ. Then, as Benson moved into pop, Smith went with a fading but still powerful jazz label, picking up Melvin Sparks (guitar), David Newman (tenor sax/flute), Lee Morgan (trumpet), and lots of percussion. B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Turning Point (1969, Blue Note): With Bennie Maupin (tenor sax), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Julian Priester (trombone), Melvin Sparks (guitar), and drums. Two originals, three covers: "See Saw" up his alley, "Eleanor Rigby" not nearly as awful as one would expect. B+(*)
Lonnie Smith: Move Your Hand (1969 , Blue Note): Third Blue Note album, live from Club Harlem in Atlantic City. Four 8-11 minute tracks, two original and two covers ("Charlie Brown" and "Sunshine Superman"). Two saxes (Ronnie Cuber and Rudy Jones), guitar, and drums. Vocal on the title cut. B+(**)
Lonnie Smith: Live at Club Mozambique (1970 , Blue Note): Live set from Detroit, issued 25 years after the fact. Two saxes (Ronnie Cuber and Dave Hubbard), George Benson on guitar, extra percussion. Six originals, including a vocal on "Peace of Mind," followed by covers from Sly Stone and Miles Davis. B+(***)
Lonnie Smith: Mama Wailer (1971, Kudu): After Blue Note, one album on Creed Taylor's soul jazz subsidiary (released 39 records 1971-79, 8 by Grover Washington Jr., who plays tenor sax and flute here). Two Smith originals, two covers ("I Feel the Earth Move" and "Stand" -- the latter running 17:20). B+(**)
Lonnie Smith/Alvin Queen: Lenox and Seventh (1985 , Black & Blue): Reorded in Paris. Original release listed drummer Queen's namme first, and added "feat. Melvin Sparks," but the reissue (with an extra cut) swapped the order, and left Sparks on a sidebar, where the organ player's name starts with "Dr." Like everything on this label, leans hard on the blues. B+(***)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Boogaloo to Beck: A Tribute (2003, Scuffin'): Smith recorded for minor various labels in the 1970s -- Kudu, Groove Merchant, LRC -- and doesn't really pick up until he signs with Palmetto for Too Damn Hot in 2004, or this from a year earlier. First record I can find credited to Dr. Lonnie Smith was The Turbanator in 2000, recorded in 1991. No idea why he'd record a tribute to 1990s rock star Beck unless he was just hard up, which he was. Eleven Beck songs, larded out with plenty of boogaloo (the only one I recognized was "Loser," although Odelay was my favorite album of 1998), with guitar, drums, and "special guest" Fathead Newman (tenor sax) on five. B+(*)
Dr. Lonnie Smith: Rise Up! (2008 , Palmetto): He cut four albums 2004-2009 for Palmetto, this the third, and only one I missed. Mostly quartet with Donald Harrison (alto sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar), and Herlin Riley (drums). B+(**)
Neil Young: Eldorado (1989, Reprise, EP): Released in Japan only, shortly before Freedom, which it shares three songs with (different mixes), plus two songs that don't appear elsewhere, totalling 25:30. B+(**) [yt]
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Arc (1991, Reprise): Edited from their 1991 tour, picking out noisy bits from various songs and piecing them together into a single 35:00 mixtape. Originally appeared along with two CDs of live songs, packaged as Arc-Weld, then split into separate releases. I skipped both at the time, then accidentally queued up this one while looking for that one. Not as unlistenable as I had been led to believe. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 4, 2021
Thought it might be a good time to do another Book Roundup. Last ones were October 16 and October 14, just before the 2020 election, when I was trying to round up anything (and everything) out on Trump. Those followed two more 2020 posts, from May 21 and May 16. I doubt Trump caused more people to read in 2020, but he sure stimulated more people to write.
Ground rules here: 40 books in the main section, some of which got me to tack on a supplemental reading list, and a final section of books I noticed but decided not to comment on (other than minor notes; e.g. on author identity). I may expand on the short listings in the future, but most often I just want to put the books behind me.
Very little out yet on the big stories of 2020: the pandemic, the recession, and the election, but see the Allen and Zakaria entries below -- oddly enough, given how much was written about the 2008 recession, there is as yet very little specifically on 2020's economic downturn. On the other hand, there is a lot about US foreign policy, including the long and interminable proclivity for war. I missed several opportunities to combine entries, but the books I focused on seem like significant ones. I limited my China entry to current affairs, especially the superpower rivalry that has Washington hawks so excited. I found more historical books on China, but didn't get them organized, so they'll wait.
Robert Christgau wrote a review of the Sublettes' book, so I figured I should look at it, even though it's a few years old (2016). At the time, I was reading Michael W Twitty's The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, which covers the same territory from an opposite tack: reconstructing the past from what it's left in the present. I then started looking for other books on slavery, and was surprised to come up with a long set of monographs I hadn't previously noted before. Also surprised to find that most of them were based outside of the US, with some viewing the slave trade from Africa and/or Europe.
Only books I've read from the following list are those by: Mike Konczal, Stephen Wertheim. (I've also read a lot by Millhiser in Vox.) Nothing else on the shelf or on order. I usually find several books I'm eager to read, so this seems like slim pickings, but my writing projects are so up in the air I'm not sure which direction to look. Certainly not to the several right-wing books noted below, which are unlikely to offer anything but evidence of how conservatism has devolved into nothing but more than a deranged and pathetic mental state. I've done similar things in the past, but the supplemental list under Soukup sets a new record for unhinged paranoia. The common perception here is that it's the left that's out to destroy America, which strains credulity two ways: what do they mean by destroy? and who is this left that has so much influence and power? The mind boggles. (Many on the left have chosen not to contest the right over patriotism, given its close association with militarism and chauvinism, but as the right becomes ever more blatant in their antipathy to democracy, we're now starting to see articles arguing that it's the right that's become un-American. A welcome piece here: Zack Beauchamp: The conservative movement is rejecting America.)
I probably have enough books for a follow-up post, but have yet to write much about half of what I'd need. I'm also thinking about doing separate posts on music and cooking books, but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with enough of either, unless I extended by time window.
Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes: Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency (2021, Crown): Political reporters for NBC News and The Hill, were first out the gate with their 2016 election book Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign, evidently figured they'd match that with a quickie account of how Biden was similarly doomed, then when he won had 30 seconds or so to choose a new title. The lucky campaigner both times was Trump, but by 2020 he had dug such a deep hole that even his luck couldn't pull him out. More on the 2020 election (ignoring books on how Trump was robbed):
Albena Azmanova: Capitalism on Edge: How Fighting Precarity Can Achieve Radical Change Without Crisis or Utopia (paperback, 2020, Columbia University Press): I don't think I ever heard "precarity" before about a year ago, but it must have popped up a dozen times since. Same root as "precarious," but refers to the general condition, where everything is precarious, which is to say optimized and marginalized to the point where it could break any moment. In 2020, even before any significant numbers of people became infected with Covid-19, before retail stores were locked down, highly optimized "just-in-time" supply lines crippled the economy. Then within a few weeks health care and retail firms broke down due to shortages. For another example, in March 2021 a ridiculously oversized ship got blown into a bank of the Suez Canal, disrupting worldwide shipping. A month before that, a cold snap broke the power grid in Texas, which in turn broke water systems. So yeah, precarity is everywhere. This isn't unrelated to what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism," but shows that Klein was far too optimistic in her expectation that capitalists would continue to profit from disasters. Clearly, there are limits, and that opens up political opportunities for challenging precarity. To cite one example, it's long been clear to me that it's too late to prevent global warming. Sure, there are things one can still do to keep it from getting much worse, and as an engineer I appreciate the advantages of prevention over repair, but the pressing need now is for disaster contingency and recovery. And that may mean rolling back and limiting capitalism's drive for profit.
Nicholson Baker: Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act (2020, Penguin Press): A history of "Project Baseless": "a crash Pentagon program begun in the early fifties that aimed to achieve 'an Air Force-wide combat capability in biological and chemical warfare at the earliest possible date.'" Or perhaps that's just the prism for a book on what we can glean from what the government tries to hide from us, imperfectly illuminated by the law's requirement that the government is obligated to answer (not all that completely) the public's questions. "Along the way, he unearths stories of balloons carrying crop disease, leaflet bombs filled with feathers, suicidal scientists, leaky centrifuges, paranoid political-warfare tacticians, insane experiments on animals and humans, weaponized ticks, ferocious propaganda battles with China, and cover and deception plans meant to trick the Kremlin into ramping up its germ-warfare program."
Vincent Bevins: The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World (2020, PublicAffairs): Details the systematic massacre of hundreds of thousands of alleged leftists in Indonesia in 1965-66, supported by the US and to a large extent directed by the CIA. This was one of the most egregious examples of a pattern repeated elsewhere, especially in Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela), and even more brutally under cover of war (Vietnam, Cambodia). And, of course, most recently with the "targeted [and less discriminating] killings" of the "Global War on Terror." Related:
Rosa Brooks: Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City (2021, Penguin Press): OK, this one is weird. Author is daugher of trained scientist and radical journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who (among much else) went undercover to work shit jobs and wrote a bestseller about her experiences. Brooks became a lawyer, married a career soldier, got a job working in the Pentagon, wrote a book about it -- more pro-military than I'd like, but not stupid either. For her second book, she immersed again, becoming a sworn, armed reserve police officer in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department. She trained like a regular cop but just worked 24 hours per month, patrolling streets and busting suspects, while keeping her tenured job teaching at Georgetown. I read a few pages, and her experiences are interesting enough. I haven't seen her conclusions, but probably not stupid either.
Nick Bryant: When America Stopped Being Great: A History of the Present (2021, Bloomsbury): Greatness, even more than beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. America hasn't seemed great to me since the mid-1960s, and what changed then had more to do with my growing understanding of history than tarnished reality (not that the Vietnam debacle didn't drive my review). By 1970, my disillusionment was so complete that later evocations of greatness, like Trump's Make America Great Again boast, struck me as nonsensical (or maybe just a disingenuous way of saying "Make America White Again"). So I was a bit curious to find an author promising to pin down an actual turning point. However, I doubt anyone will like this book. Bryant is British, which means he grew up with his own delusions of greatness, and transferred them to the America that supplanted Britain as the cornerstone and hegemon of world capitalism. Bryant dates this decline from Reagan's ascendency in 1980, and traces the rot through "Bill and Newt" (3rd chapter title) to Donald Trump (last third of the book). There is real substance to that decline, although you had to actually live here to understand the real impact of Reagan-to-Trump (a good book in that regard is Kurt Andersen's Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America). But the idea of greatness has always depended on blind spots. When Britain was such a great empire in the mid-19th century, wasn't Dickens writing about ragpickers in London? Indeed, isn't pining for greatness some kind of mental illness? Before Trump, the American politician most associated with the word was Lyndon Johnson, the architect of the Great Society. As I recall, Bill Moyers tried to talk Johnson into calling his social welfare programs the Good Society, but good wasn't good enough for Johnson: he wanted great, which turned out to be unattainable.
Francisco Cantú: The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the Border (2018; paperback, 2019, Riverhead Books): Born on the American side of the US-Mexico border, descended from immigrants from the other side, the author worked for the Border Patrol, then quit when the "dehumanizing enterprise" got to be too much for him. A memoir, with further investigations and meditation.
Anne Case/Angus Deaton: Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism (paperback, 2021, Princeton University Press): "Deaths of despair from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholism are rising dramatically in the United States, claiming hundreds of thousands of American lives." I don't doubt that predatory capitalism and inequality are to blame, but I'd like to expand the matrix to see how war and debt relate -- not independent factors, but concrete manifestations of more general maladies. Harder to measure is how the conservative creeds of self-reliance and distrust in public social services weigh in. Deaton previously wrote The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (2013).
Paul Thomas Chamberlin: The Cold War's Killing Fields: Rethinking the Long Peace (2018; paperback, 2019, Harper): The "Cold War" wasn't so cold, and while it could have been much worse, the wars fought for and against "communism" took a huge toll, especially in Asia. Chamberlin cites 14 million dead from 1945-90, which is about one fifth of the WWII death toll and a third of WWI. Focuses on Asia, with early chapters on China, Korea, and Indochina, moving on to Indonesia, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East, but doesn't seem to cover Europe, Latin America or Africa -- significant arenas of conflict, albeit with lesser body counts. Still, while we should welcome a reminder of how high those body counts were, the most extraordinary thing about America's anti-communist crusade was how global it was. The US sought global power, not through direct rule but by installing a hegemonic politico-economic system everywhere, or failing that by isolating noncomforming nations so they're excluded from the world system. It's hard to exaggerate the amount of hubris that mission required. No surprise it led to millions of careless deaths. Nor did it end in 1990. After the Soviet Union imploded, the quest for domination only grew more determined, as did the inevitable resistance.
Steve Deace/Todd Erzen: Faucian Bargain: The Most Powerful and Dangerous Bureaucrat in American History (paperback, 2021, Post Hill Press): I guess hyperbole sells, at least in certain quarters: "#1 Best Seller" at Amazon, "As seen on Tucker Carlson Tonight, As heard on Glenn Beck." I can understand why the authors don't like knowledgeable authorities, but not why they consider Anthony Fauci either powerful or dangerous. He had little effect within the Trump administration, and rarely challenged the rampant nonsense around him. On the other hand, to be the most "in American history," he has to beat out some seriously powerful and dangerous bureaucrats. Of the top of my head: J Edgar Hoover, Floyd Dominy, Harry Anslinger, Andrew Mellon, Alan Greenspan, Edward Teller, Allen Dulles, Henry Kissinger -- when you start getting into spooks and warlords, the list mushrooms. And beneath the Federal level, you get characters like Robert Moses and William Mulholland -- you can make a pretty strong case for them.
Luke Epplin: Our Team: The Epic Story of Four Men and the World Series That Changed Baseball (2021, Flatiron Books). On the 1948 Cleveland Indians, the first team to integrate in the American League (actually in 1947, after Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers). The four men are owner Bill Veeck ("as in wreck"), Larry Doby (young black outfielder), Bob Feller (Hall of Fame pitcher, not one of his better years at 19-15 -- actually Bob Lemon had the better year, at 20-14, 2.82 ERA, plus 2-0 in the World Series), and Satchel Paige (old black pitcher). Whereas Dodger GM Branch Rickey looked for a can't miss black player in his prime (Robinson was a 28-year-old rookie in 1947, hit .297, with 125 runs, 12 HR and 29 SB), Veeck sought to blow up all the rationalizations (at least too green and too old) why blacks couldn't play in the majors. Feller was the team's star, but Cleveland hadn't come close until 24-year-old Doby hit .301 with 14 HR and 41-year-old Paige went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA. By the way, Veeck continued to break patterns in hiring black players, adding Luke Easter and Minnie Minoso in 1949.
Philip H Gordon: Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East (2020, St Martin's Press): Certified foreign policy mandarin, Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (2009-13) and White House Coordinator for the Middle East (2013-15), so he's had plenty of opportunity to see "well-intentioned plans" go awry: Libya, Syria, Yemen, and the coup that ended Egypt's brief democracy all occurred on his watch. He also inherited the longer-term consequences of Bush's signature regime change projects: Afghanistan and Iraq. Not to mention efforts going back to 1953 to decide who rules Iran, and for whom. Despite all this empirical evidence -- and this is just the Middle East; one could write similar books on Latin America, Africa, and the Far East -- not clear whether Gordon spells out the core fallacy behind regime change: the belief that other governments should serve not their own people but US national interests. Still, a step in the right direction. Albeit another example of someone who got smarter after leaving the job, having been replaced by others who have yet to learn the same lessons.
Martin Gurri: The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium (2014; 2nd Edition, 2018, Stripe Press): Former CIA analyst, complains about how the glut of "open media" today limits the ability of elites to hoodwink the public, leaving most people deeply distrustful. Second edition offers an "I told you so" on Trump, although the list of things he claims to have anticipated also includes Brexit and Arab Spring. I read Sean Illing's interview with this guy at Vox, and didn't get anything useful out of it. I suspect two problems. One is that "elites" have become much more compartmentalized over time: while they still dominate their institutions, they are less linked, and as such have less influence beyond their limited spheres of control. Someone should take a shot at updating C Wright Mills' The Power Elite, not that such a task will be easy. The second is that while elites may have had some widespread value in the past, their prime directive has always been self-preservation, and that becomes harder the easier it is for the public to examine their lives. The simplest explanation for the "revolt of the public" is that most people have come to know better than to trust elites. That some charlatans and posers like Trump have taken advantage only shows that the loss of trust has caused some confusion.
Sarah Jaffe: Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone (2021, Bold Type Books): Antonio Gramsci had a concept he called Fordism, where factory work had become so thoughtlessly repetitive workers could disengage and let their minds wander, in some sense reclaiming their own time. That turned out to be a phase, as machines claimed most of those jobs. Since then companies have an ever larger slice of worker time and mind share, as jobs (or more fashionably, careers) follow you home and fill your dreams. This surveys a wide range of work, the common denominators that the employer demands ever more while returning what? Since the 1970s, economists have been preaching that businesses have only one purpose, which is to maximalize investor returns, and as that lesson sunk in, management has become hard pressed to offer any comfort to their workers. Sure, workers are encouraged to find their own value in their dedication. But the returns go elsewhere. Related:
Mike Konczal: Freedom From the Market: America's Fight to Liberate Itself From the Grip of the Invisible Hand (2021, New Press): Drawing on a wide range of historical examples, tries to make the case that the path to greater freedom comes through more free things. Eight chapters, each starting with "Free": Land, Time, Life, Security, Care, Health, Economy, and Education. This contrasts with the neoliberalism, which tries to create markets for everything, assuming their magic will always work for the best.
Ivan Krastev/Stephen Holmes: The Light That Failed: Why the West Is Losing the Fight for Democracy (2020, Pegasus Books): Maybe because the West doesn't really believe in democracy? I mean, sure, it's OK for us, within the constraints of corporate-owned media, but what happens with impoverished masses start electing parties that favor popular interests over those of business elites? You get coups like Guatemala, Iran, Greece, Congo, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, Chile (all US-backed, 1950s-1970s), or maybe something more subtle, like the "Washington Consensus" IMF, or the ECB's limits placed on Greece's Syriza government. Trump's "coddling" of authoritarians and plots to overthrow left-leaning governments in Venezuela and Bolivia isn't new policy not likely to change in the Biden restoration. Holmes wrote a good book back in 2007: The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror. Krastev runs something called the Centre for Liberal Strategies, in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Charles A Kupchan: Isolationism: A History of America's Efforts to Shield Itself From the World (2020, Oxford University Press): The first thing to understand about "isolationism" is that it was a word invented to discredit anyone opposed to or skeptical of the global interventionism which developed in and around the Second World War and its anti-communist aftermath -- a formula which has led to endless war and great hardships at home. Before the rise of "liberal internationalism" Americans, starting with George Washington, sought to interact with the world without forming imperial alliances or (for the most part) foreign colonies. Kupchan understands this, but still warns about a resurgence of "isolationism" as a backlash against the repeated failures of the interventionists. It's a phony argument, aimed at no one real, its sole purpose to shelter the disastrous record of its partisans.
Diana Lind: Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing (2020, Bold Type Books): As far as I can tell, another entry in a recent flurry of books arguing for denser urban living -- antecedents include David Owen's Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, perhaps even Jane Jacobs' pro-urban Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) and James Howard Kunstler's anti-suburban The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape (1993). I suspected this new urbanism took a hit with the 2020 pandemic, but maybe it's more important than ever. Related books:
Bjorn Lomborg: False Alarm: How Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet (2020, Basic Books): The "skeptical environmentalist" (title of his 2001 book) is still in business, as one of the most skillful opponents of climate change activism, not really trying to deny the problem but always insisting that we refrain from rash acts and be conscientious about costs, offering the odd proposal that isn't acted on either -- a typical title is Smart Solutions to Climate Change, Comparing Costs and Benefits (2010). He might be more credible had he not been latched onto by companies that profit from burning carbon-based fuels. Related:
Erik Loomis: A History of America in Ten Strikes (2018, New Press): Focuses on pivotal events, from the Lowell Mill Girls Strike in the 1830s to the Air Traffic Controllers (1981) and Justice for Janitors (1990). Some are famous, like the Flint Sit-Down Strike (1937), while others were lesser known -- indeed, Slaves on Strike (1861-65) wasn't an event but a protracted, persistent resistance, like the labor's entire history, only fraught with even more danger.
Valeria Luiselli: Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (paperback, 2017, Coffee House Press): Born in Mexico City, grew up in South Africa, wrote a couple novels, wound up working in US immigration courts as a translator, helping others (mostly children) trying to find their way through the labyrinth and gauntlet. Short (128 pp) and judicious, structured inspired by the questionaires that try to pigeonhole people who rarely fit.
Mahmood Mamdani: Neither Settler nor Native: The Making and Unmaking of Permanent Minorities (2020, Belknap Press): Born of the Indian diaspora in East Africa, one way British imperialists created minority schisms in their colonies. That's not the explicit subject here, but a viewpoint, as Mamdani devotes chapters to: The Indian Question in the United States; Nuremberg: The Failure of Denazificiation; Settlers and Natives in Apartheid South Africa; Sudan: Colonialism, Independence, and Secession; The Israel/Palestine Question.
Ian Millhiser: The Agenda: How a Republican Supreme Court Is Reshaping America (paperback, 2021, Columbia Global Reports): Covers the courts for Vox, a source I've found to be invaluable. As he notes, from 2011-20, while "Congress enacted hardly any major legislation outside of the tax law President Donald Trump signed in 2017," "the Supreme Court dismantled much of America's campaign finance law, severely weakened the Voting Rights Act, permitted states to opt out of the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion, created a new 'religious liberty' doctrine permitting someone who objects to the law on religious grounds to diminish the rights of third parties, weakened laws shielding workers from sexual and racial harassment, expanded the right of employers to shunt workers with legal grievances into a privatized arbitration system, undercut public sector unions' ability to raise funds, effetively eliminated the president's recess appointment power, and halted President Obama's Clean Power Plan." I think we have a tendency to see disasters as future (and therefore preventable), but the right has long been obsessed with capturing the courts and using their power to force their agenda. While the worst may still be to come, the bad is very much with us. More on law and the courts:
Pankaj Mishra: Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Essay collection, scattered subjects, many pointing out how western liberals have often fallen short of their proclaimed ideals, especially where empires and colonies are concerned. Born in India, based in UK, wrote substantial histories both of western political thought (Age of Anger: A History of the Present) and of colonial efforts to come to grips with it (From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia).
Anne Nelson: Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right (2019, Bloomsbury): On the Council for National Policy, founded in 1981 by "a group of some fifty Republican operatives, evangelicals, oil barons, and gun lobbyists . . . to coordinate their attack on civil liberties and the social safety net," developing into "a strategic nerve center for channeling money and mobilizing votes behind the scenes." The group includes and/or aligns with many of the better known financiers of the far-right, like the Koch, Mercer, and DeVos families. Follows the money.
John Nichols: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace's Antifascist, Antiracist Politics (2020, Verso): FDR's Agriculture Secretary, and pick for Vice President in 1940, was booted off the ticket in 1944 in a revolt that elevated Harry Truman to president after Roosevelt's death in 1945 instead of the more progressive Wallace. One of the great unanswerable questions is whether as President Wallace would have steered the US away from the "Cold War" conflict with the Soviet Union and made the UN a more viable international organization. Wallace did run in 1948, promising to restore cooperation with the Soviet Union, and was subjected to a merciless barrage of red-baiting, and was defeated so decisively that he was never again a factor in American politics, so whatever "fight for the soul" Nichols imagines must have occurred, and been lost, much earlier. Wallace was a genuinely interesting figure, worth taking a closer look at, though more for his transition from Republican farmer advocate to ardent New Dealer than for his place in any pantheon of Democratic Party progressives. I doubt Nichols is doing anyone any favors by tacking pictures of Jesse Jackson, Bernie Sanders, and AOC onto the cover along with Wallace and FDR. Other books on Wallace:
Robert D Putnam: The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again (2020, Simon & Schuster): Sociologist, wrote the famous Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000), flawed most by the failure of revival. He's still looking and hoping here, the new insight being the recognition that highly individualistic times today aren't unprecedented -- he looks back to the Gilded Age of the late 1800s -- and sees an alternative in the more egalitarian New Deal/Great Society period.
Thomas Rid: Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare (2020, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Starts with the Russian Revolution, which its protagonists saw as the first step toward worldwide class revolution, and its enemies saw as a threat to their class privileges and imperial force. Therefore, the book is largely organized around the Cold War, although the techniques and ulterior motives for lying and misrepresenting are a much broader subject.
Josh Rogin: Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century (2021, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Washington Post/CNN correspondent, focuses on Trump's incoherent and ineffective grappling with China. One might draw useful lessons from recent history, but Rogin's "battle of the twenty-first century" shows no understanding beyond a flair for headlines. It's not unusual for unreflective people to project their own views onto others, so it's not surprising that many Americans suspect that China seeks to rule the world -- the first fallacy there is that while the US has been fortunate to gain widespread acceptance of its ordering principles, the US never has ruled the world, and never can. Much of the world has tolerated US leadership only so long as it's been benign, which is what Trump's "America First" rhetoric threatened to undo. China's offense has been to play the US-led system to its advantage, growing its own wealth at a rate far exceeding America's, with enough size and technology to match or exceed the US. More on China and/or superpower rivalry:
PS: Shortly after posting, I ran into another batch of books I should have included here:
Amity Shlaes: Great Society: A New History (2019, Harper): Right-wing historian, was employed by the GW Bush library (although I don't see that in her credits; instead, she won a Hayek Book Prize, wrote for the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and "chairs the board of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation"). Her mission in life is to show that everything good in American politics was really bad (e.g., her book on the New Deal, The Forgotten Man), and vice versa (see her Coolidge). This extends the hatchet job to LBJ's social welfare programs, including the immensely popular Medicare. According to Alan Greenspan, this "reads like a novel" (meaning like it was made up?), "covering the high hopes and catastrophic missteps of our well-meaning leaders." The only "catastrophic misstep" I can clearly attribute to LBJ was the Vietnam War, but that's probably now what these right-wing assholes have in mind. The fact is, the War on Poverty [sic] was very successful until Nixon came along and put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of the Office of Economic Development.
Robert Skidelsky: What's Wrong With Economics? (2020, Yale University Press): Has written a major biography of John Maynard Keynes, as well as several other interesting books. Fair to say he follows Keynes' model, but more important is that like Keynes he stops to ask what good is economics for how we live, for us to enjoy our lives. That's still pretty radical within what many of its protagonists like to call the "dismal science."
Jerome Slater: Mythologies Without End: The US, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1917-2020 (2020, Oxford University Press): A substantial (512 pp) effort to cover the whole history of the conflict, from the Zionist plan to colonize Palestine, British sponsorship of the project, the founding of Israel and the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians, through Israel's subsequent wars with Arab states and the Palestinian people. Extra focus on American attitudes and policies, which have vacillated between peacemaking efforts and reflexive support for Israel's military and colonial projects, which have made peace impossible (or, at least to right-wing Israelis, undesirable). Should take its place as the best introductory text for Americans. Other recent books:
Stephen R Soukup: The Dictatorship of Woke Capital: How Political Correctness Captured Big Business (2021, Encounter Books): Few things are more galling to the far-right than how the very corporations they work so hard to enrich betray them by trying to come off as "woke" -- anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ, sensitive to women and/or the environment. They see this as the sinister effect of the Left's "slow, methodical battle for control of the institutions of Western civilization," as opposed to a mere bottom-line calculation that there's no profit in insulting and degrading diverse customers and citizens. (Of course, where there is a profit to be gained from war, fraud, and/or ruin, there are plenty of corporations eager to jump in.) Of course, this is just one example of the crazed stupidity that the right publishes. For more recent examples:
Paul Starr: Entrenchment: Wealth, Power, and the Constitution of Democratic Societies (2019, Yale University Press). The concept here is how political actors try to perpetuate their rule by locking in (entrenching) their agenda, to make it hard to change or undo even if they lose power. Some of this is baked into the system, like the Constitution's supermajority requirement for amendments and impeachment, as well as built-in biases like equal representation for states. Some have been contrived (but are defended as tradition), like gerrymandering and the filibuster. Needless to say, conservatives are more dedicated to entrenchment than progressives (although FDR made a point how Social Security was designed to make it impossible to take away). The Republican obsession with packing the courts is probably the most obvious and ambitious example of entrenchment. Starr provides historical examples of entrenchment, and sometimes overcoming it, as with slavery.
Ned and Constance Sublette: The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry (2016; paperback, 2017, Lawrence Hill): Major history of slavery in America, from its introduction to emancipation, with particular emphasis on the business of breeding and selling people. Blurb describes this as "an alternative history," but since when does focusing on the real costs of slavery without sparing the feelings of dead politicians alternative? Sounds like what history should do. Ned Sublette previously wrote major books on Cuban music and New Orleans, while Constance Sublette has written several novels. Other recent books on slavery (and its aftermath):
PS: Shortly after posting, I ran into another batch of books I should have included here:
David Vine: The United States of War: A Global History of America's Endless Conrflicts, From Columbus to the Islamic State (2020, University of California Press): The phrase "endless war" is a recent coinage, reflecting the fact that the very definition of the Global War on Terrorism ensures that there will always be challengers, even in the unlikely chance where "victory" appears total -- not that there are any such cases. Still, given the forward-looking concept, it's tempting to also look back, and Vine finds so many wars so far back they all blur into endlessness. More specifically, he reminds us that America was founded in conquest and occupation, bound to belief in racial and cultural superiority, and those factors have tainted all subsequent wars. Indeed, they define the blind fault lines of recent failures. After all, what is an endless war but one that cannot be won by a nation too blind to accept its futility? Vine previously wrote Base Nation: How American Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World (2015, Metropolitan Books).
Stephen Wertheim: Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy (2020, Belknap Press): Starts with an introductory section on what "internationalism" meant before interventionists -- the small sliver of elites eager to join the war against Germany, as they had in 1917 -- coined the term to slander those who recognized George Washington's warnings against foreign alliances and standing armies, many of whom were in favor of agreements to limit or outlaw war, and who supported America's "open door" trade policies. The rest of the book covers the evolving thinking of said elites during a narrow slice of time, from the fall of France in May 1940 to the defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945. Early on, when Germany seemed likely to be a long-term world power, those elites flirted with the idea of some kind of regional hegemons, where the US, UK, and Germany could split up the world. (Russia, China, and Japan were afterthoughts, at best.) But rather quickly, the elites gravitated to a postwar aim of world dominance, which became possible as the German invasion of the Soviet Union stalled, and the US entered the war both in Europe and the Pacific. Indeed, by the time the war was won, the US had bases strung all around the world, and a manufacturing economy that exceeded the rest of the world. The book doesn't cover how this ambition and capability for world domination was then refashioned into a struggle against communism and its potential anti-colonial allies, but the notion that the US should dominate all around the world made both the quest and the resistance that resulted all but inevitable. Indeed, the only force that might have throttled those ambitions was the traditional American aversion to empire and foreign entanglements, which was neatly bottled up as "isolationism" and disparaged by the postwar Red Scare. Recent books on post-WWII foreign policy, up to the present moment, where interventionist disasters have led to ever more strident denunciations of isolationism:
Daniel Yergin: The New Map: Energy, Climate, and the Clash of Nations (2020, Penguin Press). He wrote a big history of the oil industry -- The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (1991) -- and parlayed his reputation into a consulting company, closely aligned with the industry and hostile to those pesky climate change obsessives. So his "maps" are closely aligned with the supply of oil and gas, with only the last two (of six) sections briefly considering anything else -- most likely not as necessary change but as marginal risks.
Julian E Zelizar: Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party (2020, Penguin Press): The history of the Republican Party from 1968 on presents us with a series of major figures who tried (and partly succeeded) in moving the political world ever further to the right. Nixon may look like a liberal in retrospect, and Reagan may look like a folksy optimist, but they were among the most successful at finding pressure points that worked for the right. The line moves on through Newt Gingrich, GW Bush, and Donald Trump. This covers Gingrich, who relative to his time was probably the most extreme and ruthless, leaving in his wake an unprecedentedly shameless militancy in the Republican rank-and-file.
Fareed Zakaria: Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World (2020, WW Norton): Always quick on the draw -- his most famous book is The Post-American World (2008, revised as Release 2.0 in 2011) -- he is the first semi-famous person to weigh in on how the pandemic will change things, at least at book length. The most common take elsewhere is that it won't change things so much as accelerate pre-existing trends, something he's collected a huge dossier on. Still, I can't say as I'm impressed by "lessons" like: "What Matters Is Not the Quantity of Government but the Quality," "Markets Are Not Enough," "Life Is Digital," "Inequality Will Get Worse," "Globalization Is Not Dead," and "The World Is Becoming Bipolar." I wouldn't have bothered, but this was the best hook I could find on which to hang -- most "post-pandemic" books published so far are pitched at investors, some appearing as early as April 2020 (I've skipped the earliest):
Other recent books of interest, barely noted:
Stacey Abrams: Lead From the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change (paperback, 2019, Picador): Retitled reissue of her 2018 book, Minority Leader: How to Lead From the Outside and Make Real Change.
Stacey Abrams: Our Time Is Now (2020, Henry Holt).
Theodor W Adorno: Aspects of the New Right-Wing Extremism (paperback, 2020, Polity): A lecture from 1967.
Nancy J Altman: The Truth About Social Security: The Founders' Words Refute Revisionist History, Zombie Lies, and Common Misunderstandings (paperback, 2018, Strong Arm Press).
Hunter Biden: Beautiful Things: A Memoir (2021, Gallery Books).
John Boehner: On the House: A Washington Memoir (2021, St Martin's Press): Former Speaker of the House (R-OH, 1991-2015).
Hal Brands/Charles Edel: The Lessons of Tragedy: Statecraft and World Order (2019, Yale University Press).
Ian Bremmer: Us vs Them: The Failure of Globalism (2018, Portfolio).
Dorothy A Brown: The Whiteness of Wealth: How the Tax System Impoverishes Black Americans -- and How We Can Fix It (2021, Crown).
Wendy Brown: In the Ruins of Neoliberalism: The Rise of Antidemocratic Politics in the West (paperback, 2019, Columbia University Press): "The Wellek Library Lectures."
Jessica Bruder: Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (paperback, 2018, WW Norton): The book behind the movie.
Robert Bryce: A Question of Power: Electricity and the Wealth of Nations (2020, Public Affairs).
William J Burns: The Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal (2019; paperback, 2020, Random House): Former State Department official, Ambassador to Russia (2005-08), now Biden's CIA Director.
W Joseph Campbell: Lost in a Gallup: Polling Failure in US Presidential Elections (2020, University of California Press): Chronicles repeated polling failures from 1936 through 2016, just in time for another one in 2020.
James R Copland: The Unelected: How an Unaccountable Elite Is Governing America (2020, Encounter Books): Conservative think tank fellow attacks the regulatory state. Same title could be written from the left.
Tammy Duckworth: Every Day Is a Gift: A Memoir (2021, Twelve): US Senator (D-IL).
Joan Didion: Let Me Tell You What I Mean (2021, Knopf): Essay collection.
Ben Ehrenreich: Desert Notebooks: A Road Map for the End of Time (2020, Counterpoint).
Bill Gates: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (2021, Knopf).
Henry Louis Gates Jr: The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song (2021, Penguin Press).
Ruth Bader Ginsburg/Amanda L Tyler: Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue: A Life's Work Fighting for a More Perfect Union (2021, University of California Press).
Thom Hartmann: The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy From the Ruling Class (paperback, 2021, Berrett-Koehler).
David Harvey: A Companion to Marx's Capital: The Complete Edition (paperback, 2018, Verso): 768 pp.
Theo Horesh: The Fascism This Time: And the Global Future of Democracy (paperback, 2020, Cosmopolis Press).
Wiliam G Howell/Terry M Moe: Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy (paperback, 2020, University of Chicago Press).
Adam Jentleson: Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy (2021, Liveright).
Garett Jones: 10% Less Democracy: Why You Should Trust Elites a Little More and the Masses a Little Less (2020, Stanford University Press).
Irshad Manji: Don't Label Me: An Incredible Conversation for Divided Times (2019, St Martin's Press).
Piers Morgan: Wake Up: Why the World Has Gone Nuts (2020, Harper Collins).
Ilhan Omar: This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey From Refugee to Congresswoman (2020, Dey Street Books): US Representative (D-MN).
Ben Sheehan: OMG WTF Does the Constitution Actually Say? A Non-Boring Guide to How Our Democracy Is Supposed to Work (2020, Black Dog & Leventhal). Executive producer at Funny or Die, founder of OMG WTF in six battleground states, "projects he's been involved with have received over a billion views."
Cass R Sunstein: Too Much Information: Understanding What You Don't Want to Know (2020, MIT Press).
Cass R Sunstein: Liars: Falsehoods and Free Speech in an Age of Deception (2021, Oxford University Press).
Julia Sweig: Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight (2021, Random House).
Michael Swanson: The War State: The Cold War Origins of the Military-Industrial Complex and the Power Elite, 1945-1963 (paperback, 2013, CreateSpace).
Joe William Trotter Jr: Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America (2019, University of California Press).
Monday, March 29, 2021
Music: Current count 35141  rated (+28), 212  unrated (-6).
Very little I feel like adding here. Rated count is down. I blame that Peter Stampfel monstrosity, but I probably would have made up the loss had I gotten onto an archive kick. New A-list this week is marginal, but at least it's all 2021 releases. And while I don't feel very certain about Lana Del Rey, I did play it four times, so I figure I gave it plenty of chance. Stampfel only got one play, as did the live doubles from Neil Young and Charles Lloyd.
Life remains stubbornly stuck. Wrote a bit in my memoir, but not much. Spent a little more time collecting bits for a book roundup. I'll probably post that mid-week.
New records reviewed this week:
Nik Bärtsch: Entendre (2019 , ECM): Swiss pianist, has an impressive string of albums since 2000, most with his Ronin and Mobile groups, where he seems more intent on improvising rhythm than melody. This is solo, several pieces looking back. The opener wanders, but he eventually returns to form. B+(**)
Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club (2021, Polydor/Interscope): Singer-songwriter, seventh studio album since 2012, following up her hugely acclaimed Noran Fucking Rockwell with something slower, softer, harder to grasp. Closes with a Joni Mitchell song, leaving precisely that impression. Not sure that's right, but two plays leave me wondering how much more work to put into it. B+(**)
Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra: Promises (2021, Luaka Bop): British electronica producer Sam Shepherd, three previous albums, puts his classical training and passion for jazz to good use. The saxophonist is the draw here, the other bits of minor interest. B+(**) [bc]
Amit Friedman: Unconditional Love (2018 , Origin): Israeli saxophonist (tenor/soprano), third album, backed by piano-bass-drums, plus oud and/or percussion on a couple tracks. Nice tone. I don't care for the two vocal pieces. B [cd]
Ghetts: Conflict of Interest (2021, Warner): British rapper Justin Clarke, third studio album plus six mixtapes. Grime beats, thoughtful lyrics. B+(*)
Barry Guy: Irvin's Comet (2019 , NoBusiness): British bassist, leader of London Jazz Composers Orchestra, offers an impressively varied solo performance. B+(*) [cd]
Chris Hopkins: Meets the Jazz Kangaroos: Live! Vol. 1 (2020, Echoes of Swing): Retro-swing pianist, based in Germany, mostly records as Echoes of Swing. I haven't found anything else by the Jazz Kangaroos, but they're Australian, led by violinist/vocalist George Washingmachine, with David Blenkhorn (guitar) and Mark Elton (bass). Standards, ends with "Fine and Dandy." Vocals are passable, but the violin moves this into Hot Club territory. B+(**)
Jonathan Kane and Dave Soldier: February Meets Soldier String Quartet (2020 , EEG): Kane plays drums, guitar, and bass. Soldier is credited with strings. Four extended riff pieces, "file under rock-blues-jazz-experimental. B+(**) [cd]
Achim Kaufmann/Ignaz Schick: Altered Alchemy (2016 , Zarek, 2CD): German pianist, fairly prolific since 2004, takes the lead here, with Shick adding more-or-less ambient noise (turntables, sampler, live electronics). B+(**) [cd]
Mark Lewis Quartet: Naked Animals (2019-20 , Audio Daddio): Alto saxophonist, also plays flute, backed by piano, bass, drums. Albums date back to 1979, and title cut here may have been recorded in 1990 (liner notes unclear). B+(*) [cd] [04-02]
Loretta Lynn: Still Woman Enough (2007-20 , Legacy): Fourth album since 2016 produced by John Carter Cash, all including sessions from 2007 plus later songs. I don't know the mix, but she's 88 now, and had a stroke in 2017 which delayed the release of Wouldn't It Be Great. So it's surprising she sounds so steady all the way through this one. Helps that it's short (35:09), mostly built arounnd new versions of her classics, padded out with three gospel pieces (including the creepy "I Don't Feel at Home Anymore." Still, happy to hear her singing so strong. A-
Magnet Animals: Fake Dudes (2020 , RareNoise): Guitarist Todd Clouser, originally from Minneapolis, based in Mexico City, also sings and talks, second album for this group -- Eyal Maoz (guitar), Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass), Jorge Servin (drums) -- also has another trio, A Love Electric, and other projects back to 2006. Not sure about the lyrics, but the guitar improvs stagger, even if they lean to the rock side of fusion. A- [cdr]
Mai-Liis: Mai-Liis on Life (2019-20 , OA2): Singer-songwriter, originally from Toronto, based in Vancouver (or maybe Seattle), first album, gets help from pianist Darin Clendenin with the melodies. Backed by piano trio, plus guest spots on most songs. B+(**) [cd]
Wu Man/Kojiro Umezaki: How (2019 , In a Circle): China meets Japan in Los Angeles with this pipa and shakuhachi duo. B+(*) [cd]
Ben Patterson: Push the Limits (2020 , Origin): Trombonist, originally from Oklahoma, spent 22 years in the US Air Force's Airmen of Note, now based in DC, has a couple previous albums (including one featuring Chris Potter), not the pianist Ben Paterson (who has albums on the same label). Quintet, Shawn Purcell's guitar the other lead, plus keyboards (Chris Ziemba), bass, and drums. B+(*)
Ignaz Schick/Oliver Steidle: Ilog2 (2020 , Zarek): German duo, Schick on turntables and electronics, Steidle drums and more electronics, both with discographies dating back to early 2000s. Feints toward noise, but an early bit with sampled vocals reminded me of DJ Shadow, and the drumming ultimately nudged this over. Their previous Ilog came out in 2015. A- [cd]
Peter Stampfel: Peter Stampfel's 20th Century in 100 Songs (2021, Louisiana Red Hot): One song per year, $60 for CDs (not sure how many, but at least 4) with an 88-page booklet that's bound to be interesting. Stampfel has one of the most distinctive voices ever, but tones down the weirdness that's been his stock and trade, while still wandering eclectically. Hit and miss, especially later years. B+(**) [bc]
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Edo Funk Explosion Vol. 1 (1980-85 , Analog Africa): From Benin City, in south-central Nigeria, twelve tracks, 78:37, limited to three major artists of the period: Akaba Man, Sir Victor Uwaifo, and Osayomore Joseph. B+(**)
Allen Ginsberg's The Fall of America: A 50th Anniversary Musical Tribute (2021, Ginsberg): Fifty years after publication of the poet's The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971, adds new music to 20 poems, many read by Ginsberg himself. Dedicated to the late Hal Willner, figuring this is the sort of production he might have done. (Willner produced another Ginsberg project, The Lion for Real, in 1989.) B+(**)
La Ola Interior: Spanish Ambient & Acid Exoticism 1983-1990 (1983-90 , Bongo Joe): I was attracted to this by the fact that it's historically and geographically specific, but it doesn't sound distinct from any generic ambient compilation, anywhere, any time (well, since 1980). B+(*) [bc]
Charles Lloyd Quartet: Montreux Jazz Festival 1967 [Swiss Radio Days Volume 46] (1967 , TCB, 2CD): Saxophonist, debut 1964, by 1967 was playing the Fillmore and Monterey, like a potential star. Young quartet here, fast becoming famous: Keith Jarrett (piano), Ron McClure (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). The leader is hit-and-miss, leaving a lot of space to the band. The drummer is especially sharp. B+(**)
Now That's What I Call Music! Outlaw Country (1968-2015 , NOW): I've never bothered with this series or any of its offshoots -- the flagship line is up to 78 volumes now, and Now This Is What I Call Country is up to 10. Needless to say, this is envisioned as another series, most likely with the usual diminishing returns. Still, "outlaw country" started with a compilation, and that's always seemed like its natural format. No surprise that the core comes from the 1970s. The three post-2000 songs (Chris Stapleton, Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert) don't fit the bill, but are gritty enough to fit in. B+(***)
Joe Strummer: Assembly (1986-2002 , Dark Horse): Clash frontman, had a checkered solo career brought to a sudden end by a massive coronary in 2002 (age 50). Three previously unreleased live versions of Clash songs, most of the rest from his three Mescaleros albums (1999-2003). About half of this is also on the 2-CD 001, and every bit as erratic. Too bad. B+(**)
Neil Young With Crazy Horse: Way Down in the Rust Bucket (1990 , Reprise, 2CD): Another bootleg (originally appeared as Feedback Is Back and Home Grown in 1991), given an official release: 19 songs, 6 topping 10 minutes, total 156:59. Slot after Freedom and Ragged Glory, a return to form after wasting much of the 1980s experimenting with electronics and/or horns. Familiar songs here, most memorably from a decade earlier. Can't say as they're exceptional takes, but far from disappointing. B+(**)
Allen Ginsberg: Songs of Innocence and Experience (1970, MGM/Verve Forecast): The beat poet recorded many readings of his works, but this is something else, as he set 18th-century English poet William Blake's "Songs" to music -- drawn on English folk models, but not too rigidly. Aided by jazz-oriented musicians -- notably Don Cherry and Bob Dorough -- Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky sing inexpertly, with others pitching in. B+(***)
Allen Ginsberg: The Complete Songs of Innocence and Experience (1970 , Omnivore, 2CD): Reissue adds a second disc of "Blake Songs" and three "Mantras." Not as much fun as the original, but that's here too. B+(**)
A Love Electric: Son of a Hero (2014, Ropeadope): Guitarist-vocalist's Todd Clouser trio, with Aaron Cruz (bass) and Hernan Hecht (drums), fifth album since 2010. Songs predominate, which may not be the band's strong suit. B
A Love Electric: A Permanent Immigrant (2020, Imagination Demand): Leans harder into the trio's sound, occasionally with spoken vocals which cut against the grain. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Monday, March 22, 2021
Music: Current count 35113  rated (+31), 218  unrated (-5).
More old music than new, again. Probably too early to call that a trend, but the relative ease of processing familiar artists was the main thing that pushed the rated count above 30 this week. Old jazz this week. Started with a friendly link to Drums Parade, which might have rated higher had I given it more time, which would have happened if I had an actual CD to look at while it played. Some good stuff there, especially toward the end. That led to Sid Catlett and Baby Dodds. I might note that The Chronological Cozy Cole 1944 is even better than the Catlett. And the reminder that most of the trad jazz albums on American Music are on Napster pointed me to New Orleans clarinetist George Lewis. I also thought I'd check out Joe Chambers' back catalog after not liking his new album, and didn't much care for the old ones either. Oh, well.
By the way, I counted up Chambers' Blue Note albums for the review below, but held back from noting my guess of how many A-list albums he was on. It think that guess was 10-12, but when I checked, famous albums by Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Sam Rivers, Wayne Shorter, and McCoy Tyner fell short. Here's the actual list (all A-):
Since I'm no longer tracking new releases, I'm having some trouble finding new things I want to listen to. Some records below come from Phil Overeem, who seems to be struggling a bit himself. I doubt I'll ever manage the 7-CD Julius Hemphill box, or for that matter William Parker's 10-CD Migration of Silence Into and Out of the Tone World. (I have a promo sampler of the latter, and haven't bothered to play it yet.) More likely I will check out Peter Stampfel's 20th Century in 100 Songs, as it seems to be complete on Bandcamp (minus the "88 pages of liner notes," which is likely to make a difference).
Laura's been bugging me to stream movies, especially ones that got nominated for awards. I haven't been enjoying them much, but as best I can recall, here's a graded list, consulting the Wikipedia list (also for 2021), plus a few titles I picked up from IndieWire's "50 Best Movies":
The Small Axe movies might deserve higher ratings, but they're very different, and I hedged because we didn't bother with the other three. Collectively, they're more like a limited series, which would move them into another, and more competitive, set. We haven't been to the movie theater since Bill Warren sold out his local chain (roughly a year before Covid-19 shut it down), in large part because my patience for 2-hour movies has worn thin. We watch a fair number of TV series, and I'm much happier with their pacing, character development, and story telling.
I don't have any opinions on actors, except that Amanda Seyfried was good in Mank, and Gary Oldman wasn't. Note no less than three appearances for America's nemesis, J Herbert Hoover, and they were all merciless. The music films bothered me in lots of ways, but rarely for their music -- one minor exception was how Audra Day mastered Billie Holiday's tics but missed the seamless phrasing that made them seem natural. I also didn't like the treatment of Lester Young, who has a story worth exploring on its own (although hopefully not by anyone so ham-fisted). (By the way, neither point figures in Nitish Pahwa's What's fact and what's fiction in The United States vs. Billie Holiday, but if you watch the film, you'll be wondering.)
I feel a bit weird about not writing Weekend Roundup any more, as my Sundays have become days of rest instead of intense pressure in such a sisyphean task. Every now and then I think of writing a standalone piece, but only pulled it off once so far. One idea that appears to have rotted on the shelf was a piece torching Keith C Burris' Two cults column. I'm not sure which is worse: the notion that because the right-wing has become a cult, anything on the left must be equally cultish; or that George Will and Barry Goldwater somehow constitute the vital center of American political thought.
On the other hand, I did finally knuckle down and write a couple pages for my memoir. Not much, but a step toward restarting after February's freeze up. Also, I got my second Covid-19 vaccination last week. Still have a couple weeks until Laura gets her second. After which I hope to cook something for some long-neglected friends. I won't claim that's a return to normal, but seems like a step in the right direction.
New records reviewed this week:
Joe Chambers: Samba De Marcatu (2020 , Blue Note): Drummer, I associate him with Blue Note albums of the late 1970s (I count 24 from 1964-69, including 9 with Bobby Hutcherson), has more than a dozen albums under his own name since 1974. By the way, he picked up vibraphone, which he overdubs here, along with various percussion instruments. One thing I don't associate him with is Brazilian (or Latin) music. Even here, it only enters as occasional whiffs (especially with the two guest vocals). B
Charley Crockett: 10 for Slim: Charley Crockett Sings James Hand (2021, Son of Davy): Hand was a country singer-songwriter, died last year at 67. I sampled two of his albums, rated both high B+. Crockett is much younger, but survived his own health scare in 2019, so that may have factored in here. Or maybe he was just looking for better songs. B+(**)
Rebecca Dumaine and the Dave Miller Trio: Someday, Someday (2020 , Summit): Standards singer, half-dozen albums, swapped billing order with Miller's piano trio on number four. Bright voice, plenty of poise, can't say I enjoyed this particular batch of songs, but they were catchy and nicely turned out. B+(*) [cd]
Michael and Peter Formanek: Dyads (2019 , Out of Your Head): Famous bassist and his unknown son, playing tenor sax and clarinet, probably his first album. Something more than a nice duo album, the bass solos could stand on their own, but the extra color and shading extends interest, in this case all the way to 72:36. A- [cd]
George Haslam/João Madeira/Padro Catello Lopes/Mario Rua: Ajuda (2019 , Slam): Tárogató, bass, percussion, drums; the title the name of the studio in Lisbon where this was recorded. Haslam, also notable as a baritone saxophonist, has a long career in the British avant-garde, thirty-some albums since 1989 (few I've heard, nearly all on this label, which Haslam owns but which has hosted dozens of other musicians). B+(***) [cd]
Marcus Joseph: Beyond the Dome (2021, Jazz Re:freshed): British alto saxophonist/spoken word artist, has a previous EP. Opener is a pretty irresistible groove piece, at least once the tuba jumps in. The spoken word is neither here nor there, but I would have cut the album one track short, omitting singer Randolph Matthews' feature. B [bc]
Reza Khan: Imaginary Road (2020 , Painted Music): Guitarist, from Bangladesh but based in New York, sixth album, silky grooves, often augmented by other slick guitarists (Sergio Pereira, Miles Gilderdale). B- [cd] [03-26]
João Madeira/Hernâni Faustino: dB Duet (2020 , FMR): Double bass duo, Portuguese, Faustino best known for RED Trio, Madeira has a much shorter discography starting in 2015. Sonic range is limited (as expected), but much of interest going on. B+(***) [cd]
Roberto Magris & Eric Hochberg: Shuffling Ivories (2019 , JMood): Italian pianist, couple dozen records since 1990, duo here with the American bassist, recorded in Chicago. Fluid, light touch, very nice. B+(**)
Logan Richardson: Afrofuturism (2020, WAX Industry): Alto saxophonist, impressive FSNT debut in 2006, has been erratic since then. B [bc]
Schapiro 17: Human Qualities (2020 , Summit): Big band, second album, leader Jon Schapiro composed 7 (of 8) pieces, the sole cover from Ewan MacColl, but doesn't play. Roberta Piket (piano), Eddie Allen (trumpet), Deborah Weisz (trombone), and Sebastien Noelle (guitar) are among the better known musicians. Solid group. B+(**) [cd]
Zoe Scott: Shades of Love (2020, Zoe Scott Music): Singer, originally from London, left for Rome, then Los Angeles, acted, sang in rock bands. Has a couple albums, this one leaning toward bossa nova, mostly Jobim and Bacharach, but also slips in Chrissie Hynde, Stevie Wonder, and Amy Winehouse ("I'm No Good). B+(*) [cd]
Archie Shepp & Jason Moran: Let My People Go (2017-18 , Archieball): Tenor sax and piano duo, recorded at two European festivals (Paris and Mannheim). I've lost track of the pianist since he retreated to his own label and stopped promotion, but he is secondary here anyway. High point is Shepp inching his way through gorgeous ballads (like "Lush Life"). Low point is probably his singing, but only when the spirit moves him. B+(***) [bc]
Ruth Weiss: We Are Sparks in the Universe to Our Own Fire (2018 , Edgetone): Beat poet, born 1928 in Berlin, died 2020. She grew up in Vienna, managed to keep one step ahead of the Nazis, moving to Amsterdam in 1938, then to America, eventually San Francisco. She has some twenty books of poetry since 1958, and several jazz albums. Fairly minimal backing, with synth, bass, wooden log, and tasty squibbles of Rent Romus sax and flute -- puts this record over the top. By the way, Romus credits George Russell with introducing him to Weiss (in 2013). A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
Emmylou Harris and the Hot Band: Hot Night in Roslyn: 1976 Radio Broadcast Recording (1976 , Hobo): She had a couple solo albums out, and most recently co-credit on Gram Parsons' posthumous Grievous Angel. Parsons provides most of the song list here, with a nod to Patsy Cline ("Sweet Dreams"), Merle Haggard ("The Bottle Let Me Down"), Chuck Berry ("C'est La Vie"), Buck Owens ("Together Again"), Hank Williams ("Jambalaya"), and others nearly as obvious. This surfaced as a bootleg in 2014, but looks to be official now. B+(***)
Juju: Live at 131 Prince Street (1973 , Strut): Saxophonist Plunky Nkabinde and what I take to be a mostly African group -- later known as Oneness of Juju -- including Babatunde on congas and Lon Moshe on vibraphone. The address was Ornette Coleman's gallery, and the music fits the bill. Seven long pieces (114:44), Pharoah Sanders' "Thembi" a highlight, but they're all rearkable. A- [bc]
Byard Lancaster: My Pure Joy (1992 , Strut): Saxophonist (1942-2012), should be better known for his 1970s work, which I think of as black power/avant-garde fusion -- an attempt to make the latter more accessible by making it more political. Starts out with flute here, backed by "Drummers From Ibadan." B+(***) [bc]
Sid Catlett: The Chronological Sid Catlett 1944-1946 (1944-46 , Classics): One of the great swing drummers (d. 1951 at 41), mostly leading his own groups including a quartet with Ben Webster, plus a couple tracks each led by Edmund Hall and Al Casey. Nearly everything directly under Big Sid's name, but he played with everyone from Armstrong and Henderson through Condon and Goodman and Hawkins and Young and on to Byas and Gillespie. I don't have full credits here, but Art Tatum and Barney Bigard are on the jam session opener, and Illinois Jacquet comes along later. Closes with two blues vocals and two boogie tracks. A-
Joe Chambers: The Almoravid (1971-73 , Muse): Drummer, first album as leader, four originals, covers of Joe Zawinul and Andrew Hill, titles rooted in Muslim world. Recorded in three sessions, only one with horns -- Woody Shaw (trumpet) and Harold Vick (flute/tenor sax). B
Joe Chambers: Phantom of the City (1991 , Candid): A live set at Birdland, Bob Berg (tenor sax) getting second tier type, smaller for Philip Harper (trumpet), George Cables (piano), and Santi Debriano (bass). Postbop, seven pieces stretched out, some good spots for Berg. B+(*)
Joe Chambers: Mirrors (1998 , Blue Note): Plays vibes as well as drums in his return to Blue Note. Some quintet tracks with Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Vincent Herring (saxes), Mulgrew Miller (piano), and Ira Coleman (bass), or subsets all the way down to solo. B+(*)
Baby Dodds: Baby Dodds (1944-45 , American Music): New Orleans drummer (1898-1959), brother of clarinetist Johnny Dodds, played from 1918 with Sonny Celestin, Fate Marable, and King Oliver, following Louis Armstrong through his Hot Five and Hot Seven groups. Mostly talking and drum solos -- special interest, but gives you an idea how much thought goes into his craft -- with a few group cuts interspersed. B+(*)
Baby Dodds: Jazz A' La Creole (1946-47 , GHB): Several sessions (some only dated "Mid 1940s"), but the 1946 trio included Albert Nicholas (clarinet) and Don Ewell (piano), and the 1947 quintet had Nicholas and James P. Johnson (piano), plus an uncredited singer (Dodds?). B+(***) [yt]
Drums Parade: From New Orleans to Swing 1937/1945 (1937-45 , Jazz Archives): French label used by EPM Musique for 160+ CD compilations vintage jazz released 1988-2004. I bought at least a dozen back in the day, so when I saw the link, I figured this would be fun. For what it's worth, the New Orleans cuts are few and late: two each for Baby Dodds and Zutty Singleton, all 1940 or later. The only pre-1939 cuts are two with Chick Webb. Also skips luminaries like Gene Krupa, but gives a nod to Lionel Hampton, Sid Catlett, Cozy Cole, and Jo Jones, along with some less famous names. High point: the three-track Cozy Cole sequence (two with Coleman Hawkins). Also an especially hot ending. B+(***) [yt]
George Lewis: George Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers: Vol. 1 (1943 , American Music): New Orleans clarinet player (1900-68), played in various bands in the 1920s but didn't record as a leader until these sessions. In the 1950s he became the most famous of New Orleans revivalists, perhaps because he got in early and never wavered. B+(***)
George Lewis: George Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers: Vol. 2 (1943 , American Music): Eleven pieces, but four are alternate takes, all exciting. B+(***)
George Lewis: At Manny's Tavern 1949 (1949 , American Music): Credits include cornet, two trumpets, and a second clarinet player (Bill Shea), with Lewis also switching to alto sax. B+(***)
George Lewis: Hello Central . . . Give Me Doctor Jazz (1953 , Delmark): Radio shot from San Francisco, the clarinetist leading a septet with trumpet (Kid Howard), trombone (Jim Robinson), piano (Alton Purnell), banjo, bass, and drums. B+(**)
George Lewis: The Beverly Caverns Sessions, Vol. 2 (1953 , Good Time Jazz): I've long considered the previous volume, from the same Hollywood club, to be Lewis' pinnacle, but these are hardly sloppy seconds. Same septet, classic tunes, as buoyant as ever. Kid Howard and Joe Watkins each get a vocal. A-
George Lewis With George Guesnon's New Orleans Band: Endless the Trek, Endless the Search (1962 , American Music): New Orleans trad jazz, shows its roots in old marching bands without getting mired. With Kid Thomas (trumpet), Jim Robinson (trombone), banjo (Guesnon), bass, and drums. A-
George Lewis: At Castle Farm 1964 (1964 , American Music): Relatively late, showing signs of slowing down. Ends with the classics. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: