Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Music Week

February archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 41828 [41777] rated (+51), 23 [21] unrated (+2).

I did the weekly changeover at more or less the usual time -- late Sunday evening, or maybe early Monday, the last thing usually being unpacking, which I've been avoiding lately. I've gotten real tired of the bookkeeping that keeps me on top of what's coming and going, and never more so than at the present moment. I figured Monday should be a relatively open day for once, and remembered that I had skipped the indexing for January Streamnotes, so I thought I'd knock that out of the way and catch up. Problem was: I hadn't done December and November either. At the end of Monday, I was still stuck in December, having written nothing.

Hence the delay to Tuesday. When I got up, I felt up to trying to finish, but didn't get January done until 9PM, at which point I still had to write this introduction. The indexing consists of monthly lists organized by year: 2023 is complete now, and 2024 is a new file, with just January. Worse is the Artist Index, which lists all 23,272 records that I've written about in Streamnotes, since that fateful day in 2007 when Rhapsody gave me a subscription and I decided to be generous and write down notes on whatever I listened to. In 2014, I swept my other reviews (Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods) into a single Streamnotes archive, as the promos and purchases thinned out, and I filled my empty time with streaming.

It's never been clearer to me that my indexing scheme is too laborious and error-prone. What isn't clear is whether I'm up to the fairly substantial programming project that is clearly called for, especially given the probability that I won't be able to do this much longer. Given that I've reviewed and rated what I'm fairly certain is an all-time personal record of 1,711 albums released or discovered in 2023, I'm tempted to just bow out on top. And note that I just had to fix 4 errors in the source for that number, my 2023 tracking file. It's a never-ending struggle around here.

Actually, I did manage a small bit of writing on the side yesterday and today -- just not here. Monday I wrote a postscript to the weekend's Speaking of Which, where I point out that reputedly smart people (Matthew Yglesias was named but is far from alone) simply don't understand the Trump campaign. This postscript adds to what I previously identified as my "pull quote":

But if Biden can't get his wars under control by October, I fear he's toast -- and will be deserving of the loss, even if no one else deserves to beat him. After all, the ball is in his court.

My political writing scarcely gets noticed in my own house, so I'm under no illusions about my ability to influence the world. But I do insist, to anyone willing to listen, that our great fear isn't what might happen in November, but what's actually happening day-by-day here and now. My post starts each week with links to Mondoweiss's daily reports, which given the time gap are up each day before I am. That's as good a place to start as any, although you can also track Middle East Monitor, +972, Middle East Eye, AlJazeera, Antiwar.com, Tikun Olam, Popular Resistance, and no doubt there are many others. The reporting in the Washington Post and New York Times is also pretty damning, even if their opinion writers remain under Israel's spell. The enormity of the atrocities Israel is committing is staggering, something that will redound to the long-term embarrassment of everyone not opposing not opposing it now. (Note: only three Democrats voted against the $95B military military aid bill; 19 Republicans opposed, with most objecting to the larger Ukraine component. Van Hollen gave a good speech declaring Israelis to be "war criminals," but voted for the aid anyway.)

I did manage to get my political book file reopened last week, but haven't managed to do any work on it. I've promised myself one solid month of focus on it, which hasn't started yet, but is still the plan. Meanwhile, I have another essay I need to wrap up this week. And, well, there are always distractions. I spent a good chunk of time today writing an obscure notebook entry -- something even I don't consider important enough to blog about, but wanted to keep as a thought experiment. It has to do with my Old Music review of the Paranoid Style, below, and a fracas over on Facebook that made me question what I had written. If you know what I'm talking about, and care, you can probably look it up. Most likely I will eventually turn it into a Q&A answer, since that's where it started.

Too late to try to say anything about the EOY Aggregate, but I'm essentially done with it. I factored in all of the albums that I had give grades to but hadn't previously picked up. I added in Christgau's Dean's List. I did a search for country music lists I had missed, and found quite a few. (A bunch of this week's records come from that work, including the Stephen Wilson Jr. pick. Diminishing returns from that work, as the other two albums pictured actually came from my demo queue. The Maison Moderne review came after the cutoff, but I figured I had the image space.) The legend is up to 612 lists now. Maybe I'll check to see what's missing, and find a few gaps, but it's pretty much all there.

Usual freeze date is end of February, so I'm not feeling much pressure to wind it up. Just the opposite: fatigue. As bookkeeping tasks go, it's at most an hour's work.

I'm very impressed with Greg Grandin's The End of the Myth, and should write some about it.

New records reviewed this week:

Colby Acuff: Western White Pines (2023, Sony Music Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, from Idaho, second album, claims he's "too Idaho for Texas, too Texas for Nashville." Good songs, and sings them hard. B+(***) [sp]

Jim Alfredson: Family Business (2021 [2023], Posi-Tone): Organ player, has a previous album from 2009, gets the red carpet treatment from his new mainstream label here, with headliners Alex Sipiagin (trumpet), Diego Rivera (tenor sax), Michael Dease (trombone), Will Bernard (guitar), and EJ Strickland (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Bill Anschell: Improbable Solutions (2020-23 [2024], Origin): Pianist, based in Seattle, debut 1995, adds electronics to the mix here, with guitarist Brian Monroney joining the trio on five (of nine) tracks, extra percussion on three, moving into fusion the the finale. B+(*) [cd]

Alex Anwandter: El Diablo En El Cuerpo (2023, 5 AM): Singer-songwriter from Chile, started as vocalist for Teleradio Donoso, based in Los Angeles, sixth album. Big beats carry the day. B+(**) [sp]

Atmosphere: Talk Talk EP (2023, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Hip-hop duo from Minneapolis, started out in 1997, still underground, despite the "EP" in the title this runs 10 songs, 40:20. Two guest spots for Bat Flower; one more shared by Buck 65 and Kool Keith. B+(**) [sp]

Bad Bunny: Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Manana (2023, Rimas Entertainment): Puerto Rican, major reggaeton star, fifth album, first album in 2018 rose to 11 on US pop chart (1 Latin), second album hit 2, this makes 3 straight number ones. I've played them all, and never really connected -- seems to be a case where my lack of Spanish hurts (or it could just be the record's lack of beats). I took my sweet time getting to this one, because, well, it doesn't seem to have generated much buzz (EOY lists: 7 Complex, 17 Billboard, 32 Rolling Stone, 53 Uproxx Critics Poll, very little else), and because it's really long (22 tracks, 81:18). Gave me time enough to wax and wane, with stretches making me think this could really work, only to be followed by doubts it will ever work for me. B+(**) [sp]

Barbie: The Album (2023, Atlantic): Original songs keyed to the Greta Gerwig-directed movie, produced by Mark Ronson, Kevin Weaver, and Brandon Weaver, with six singles (out of 17 songs), starting with Dua Lipa's "Dance the Night." The dance pop could be tuned up a bit, but some of the novelty songs (including the Billie Eilish, "Pink," and "I'm Just Ken") hit their mark. B+(***) [sp]

Berlioz: Jazz Is for Ordinary People (2023, self-released, EP): All Discogs has to say is "Bassist." But the album credits list two composers: Robin Edward Phillips (piano, keyboards) and Jasper Edward Attle (producer), along with Sam Miles (saxophone) and Jihad Darwish (sitar/bass). Five songs, 15:15, jazzy instrumentation but some other postmodernist feel. B+(*) [sp]

Jaap Blonk/Damon Smith/Ra Kalam Bob Moses: Rune Kitchen (2022 [2023], Balance Point Acoustics): Dutch "sound poet," voice and electronics here, backed with bass and drums. B+(*) [sp]

Brothers Osborne: Brothers Osborne (2023, EMI Nashville): Country duo, T.J (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and John (lead guitar, background vocals), from Maryland, fourth studio album since 2016, debut went gold, commercially it's been downhill since there. Not to be confused with the Osborne Brothers, a bluegrass group that ran from 1953-2005, with Bobby dying last year, and Sonny in 2021. These youngsters are more country-rock, with a little something. B+(*) [sp]

Burial: Dreamfear/Boy Sent From Above (2024, XL, EP): British electronica producer William Bevan, has a couple albums from 2006-07, since then has mostly released two-sided singles, like this one (12:53 + 13:23). Seems more energetic than recent efforts. Also weirder. B+(*) [sp]

Tré Burt: Traffic Fiction (2023, Oh Boy): Singer-songwriter, from Sacramento, third album, slotted folk because he landed on John Prine's label, but not much resemblance, with tags on Bandcamp all over the map. B+(*) [sp]

Willi Carlisle: Critterland (2024, Signature Sounds): Folkie singer-songwriter, previous album (Peculiar, Missouri) seemed like a breakthrough, but struggles here, ending with a spoken word bit of Ozark folklore. B+(**) [sp]

Jordan Davis: Bluebird Days (2023, MCA Nashville): Country singer-songwriter, second album. B+(*) [sp]

John Dierker/Jeff Arnal: Astral Chronology (2022-23 [2023], Mahakala Music, EP): Bass clarinet/tenor sax with percussion, electronics, and field recordings. Both have spotty discographies, including a previous album together in 2002. This one is short (4 tracks, 21:48, but engaging and intense. B+(**) [bc]

Drake: For All the Dogs (2023, OVO Sound): Canadian rapper, middle name for Aubrey Graham, debut EP 2009, breakthrough album 2010, eighth studio album, all number ones, which he's parlayed into a substantial business empire, while losing virtually all of his critical cachet. I can't begin to explain either why he's so popular, or so disliked by critics: AOTY gives him a career rating of 68 over 311 reviews, with this album scoring 50 for 13. Other than pointing to the extreme length -- 23 songs (84:50), expanded in the Scary Hours Edition to 29 (108:46) -- during which very little stands out (a rare exception is a feature for Sexyy Red and SZA that goes: "shake that ass for Drake/ now shake that ass for me"; that segues into Lil Yachty chanting, "just another late night for my bitch"). Not awful, but not by much. B [sp]

Ana Frango Elétrico: Me Chama De Gato Que Eu Sou Sua (2023, Mr Bongo): Brazilian singer-songwriter, Ana Fainguelernt, third album. Some snappy dance moves. B+(**) [sp]

Andy Emler MegaOctet: No Rush! (2021 [2023], La Buissonne): French pianist, albums since 1982, initial Mega Octet in 1990, ten musicians credited here, including trumpet, tuba, three saxes, guitar (Nguyen Lê), bass, drums, percussion (including marimba, tabla). B+(**) [bc]

Ilhan Ersahin/Dave Harrington/Kenny Wollesen: Your Head You Know (2023, Nublu, EP): Saxophonist, Turkish roots but born in Sweden, based in New York, albums since 1996; Harrington plays guitar, bass, keyboards, and electronics, with Wollesen on drums. Three tracks (18:47). B+(*) [bc]

Peter Erskine and the Jam Music Lab All-Stars: Bernstein in Vienna (2021 [2024], Origin): Drummer, best known for Weather Report, but his best work is clearest in piano trios, and he's long had a thing for big bands. Pianist Danny Grissett is musical director here, leading a septet of sax, guitar, harmonica, violin, and bass through Leonard Bernstein's most popular show tunes. B+(**) [cd]

Greg Foat & Eero Koivistoinen: Feathers (2023, Jazzaggression): British pianist, all electric here (Rhodes, Roland, Prophet, Moogs), with the Finnish tenor saxophonist, and rhythm (bass, drums, extra percussion). Nice groove album, the sax a plus but not as dominant as you'd expect (or hope for). B+(*) [sp]

Hardy: The Mockingbird & the Crow (2023, Big Loud): Country singer-songwriter Michael Hardy, from Mississippi, based in Nashville, second album after several EPs and mixtapes (dubbed Hixtape). Has a rep as a hard rocker, which isn't especially in evidence here until the crow comes out. I prefer the "poor boy from Mississppi," but don't mind a little noise (although I am wary of the redneck chauvinism). I don't really approve of the effort to muscle up country music into arena rock, but this makes a case. [Docked a notch for the finale.] B+(**) [sp]

Ayumi Ishito: Ayumi Ishito & the Spacemen Vol. 2 (2020 [2023], 577): Japanese tenor saxophonist, graduated from Berklee, Vol. 1 came out in 2021, group includes synthesizer, theremin, guitar/bass, and drums, with voice scattered about, haunting (or mocking?) the spaciness. B+(*) [os]

Maria João & Carlos Bica Quartet: Close to You (2019-21 [2023], JACC): Portuguese singer, counted in the quartet with bassist Bica, keyboards (João Farinha), and guitar (Gonçalo Neto or André Santos). Leads with four covers, disconcertingly weaving Paul Simon into Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," scatting around "Norwegian Wood," followed by the Bacharach-David title song, and Lennon/Ono's "Oh My Love," then three originals (one with a Yeats text), and "What a Wonderful World." I was tempted to write the openers off as merely eccentric, but the title song is especially striking, and the originals find a nice musical balance, which lets the finale end as it should. A- [bc]

Cody Johnson: Leather (2023, Warner Music Nashville): Country singer from Texas, ninth album since 2006, third on a major label. A voice and band as credible as most of his lot, but didn't write any of these twelve songs -- most conventional, "Jesus Loves You" should make you more than a little nervous. B [sp]

Ruston Kelly: The Weakness (2023, Rounder): Singer-songwriter, originally from South Carolina, briefly married to Kacey Musgraves, third album since 2018, slotted country but I don't particularly hear that. I do hear some songs. B+(*) [sp]

Knower: Knower Forever (2023, self-released): Duo of Genevieve Artadi (vocals) and Louis Cole (drums), albums since 2010 (at first under the artists' names), many more credits here, mostly electropop, when it peeks out from under the strings. B [sp]

Tony Kofi & Alina Bzhezhinska: Altera Vita (For Pharoah Sanders) (2023, BBE, EP): Tenor sax and harp duet, she also goes as AlinaHipHarp, actually just a 5:34 single, so I shouldn't have bothered, but it showed up in an album list, and is quite nice, as far as it goes. B [sp]

Ella Langley: Excuse the Mess (2023, Sawgod): Country singer-songwriter, from Alabama, follows up several singles with a solid eight-song, 25:09 album. B+(*) [sp]

Metric: Formentera II (2023, Metric Music International): Electropop band from Toronto, ninth studio album since 2001, sequel to their 2022 album; Emily Haines is the vocalist, who co-wrote the songs with guitarist James Shaw. Songs are catchy and engaging. B+(***) [sp]

Mokoomba: Tusona: Tracings in the Sand (2023, Out Here): Tonga group from Zimbabwe, third album (per Discogs) since 2012. Not far removed from the chimurenga popularized in the 1980s, but only picks up real groove power toward the end. B+(**) [sp]

Nickel Creek: Celebrants (2023, Thirty Tigers): Progressive bluegrass trio, released five albums 1993-2005, disbanded, regrouped for a 2014 album, then this one. I heard nothing notable here until "Where the Long Line Leads." Fades back into oblivion, and stays there a long time. Every now and then my ears prick up, suggesting something of interest, most soon souring. Maybe that's what they mean by "progressive"? B- [sp]

Old Crow Medicine Show: Jubilee (2023, ATO): Nashville-based country string band, eighth studio album since 2004. Some gospel flourishes this time. B [sp]

Dave Pietro: The Talisman (2023 [2024], SteepleChase): Alto saxophonist, half-dozen albums 1994-2008, only a couple since. Mainstream lineup with Scott Wendholt (trumpet), Gary Versace (piano), Jay Anderson (bass), and Billy Drummond (drums). B+(**) [sp]

Dougie Poole: The Rainbow Wheel of Death (2023, Wharf Cat): Country-ish singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, third album, some good songs, ends on a soft note. B+(*) [sp]

Noah Preminger/Kim Cass: The Dank (2023, Dry Bridge, EP): Duets, sax/clarinet/flute/synth and bass/guitar. Eight short pieces, 20:06. B+(**) [bc]

Nicky Schrire: Nowhere Girl (2023, Anzic): Jazz singer-songwriter, born in London, grew up in Cape Town, studied in New York, wound up in Toronto, debut album 2012. I'm not seeing song credits, but the only one I recognize is "Heart Like a Wheel," which focuses the remainder for McGarrigles fans. B+(*) [sp]

Laura Schuler Quartett: Sueños Paralelos (2021 [2023], Antidrò): Swiss violinist, debut 2018, with Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Hanspeler Pfammatter (synthesizer), and Lionel Friedli (drums), leaning free (last title is "Baby It's Freejazz"). B+(**) [sp]

Sparks Quartet [Eri Yamamoto/Chad Fowler/William Parker/Steve Hirsh]: Live at Vision Festival XXVI (2022 [2023], Mahakala Music): Piano, sax/flute, bass, drums; quartet released an album as Sparks in 2022, so are following it up with a live set here. B+(**) [bc]

Peter Stampfel/Eli Smith/Walker Shepard: Wildernauts (2024, Don Giovanni): Folk "supergroup" releases their eponymous debut, but I had to look the others up: Discogs shows side-credits for both, mostly playing banjo, including Have Moicy 2. The leader's voice remains instantly recognizable, even as tattered as it is, even as backup ("Picking Dandelions"). Some covers, like the opener "Crazy Arms," and "There Stands the Glass," register right away. Others will take more dedication. B+(**) [sp]

Tani Tabbal Quartet: Intentional (2022 [2023], Mahakala Music): Drummer, only a couple albums as leader but has side credits starting in 1981 with Roscoe Mitchell, later with David Murray, then was in James Carter's quartet during its prime period. Here with Joe McPhee (tenor sax/poetry), Adam Siegel (alto sax), and Michael Bisio (bass). B+(***) [bc]

Truth Cult: Walk the Wheel (2023, Pop Wig): Emo/hardcore band from Baltimore, second album after a 2018 EP, eleven songs, 27:22. Heavy enough I set the "metal" flag, but sharp enough I let them have their say. B+(*) [bc]

Turnpike Troubadours: A Cat in the Rain (2023, Bossier City): Country band from Oklahoma, sixth album since 2007, steady, pleasant performers, fiddle helps with the old timey feel, don't have much to say, but at least what they have to say isn't bad. B [sp]

Morgan Wallen: One Thing at a Time (2023, Big Loud): Country singer-songwriter, from Sneedville, Tennessee, third studio album since 2018, seems like much more, sprawling from 14-songs (45:11) to 30-songs (96:53) to 36-songs (111:36). Huge bestseller, Billboard's number one album for 2023. I've avoid this due to anticipated fatigue and poor reputation, but a very cursory stream does little credit to either excuse. He writes (with help) ordinary songs, gives them fashionably tradish arrangements, and has an agreeable voice. No one will ever mistake him for Merle Haggard (or, for that matter, Don Williams), but you can drink, or I can write, with him in the background, and never give him a serious thought, even if you happen to pay some attention. B+(*) [sp]

Stephen Wilson Jr.: Søn of Dad (2023, Big Loud): Country singer-songwriter, from Indiana, first album, about his father, got a little carried away (21 songs, 90 minutes). Still, the first three songs set the stage, showing an interest in social realism and demonstrating sonic tricks (including that "strong Southern drawl" but also booming guitar with a bit of fiddle) to sustain the effort. As for his daddy complex, I have my doubts -- what kind of father teaches his age-5 son to box? not mine, but but I can't say much more in his favor. I keep wondering whether I should revisit Zack Bryan, a good album, but one where the length ultimately wore me down. But even if it earns its reputation, I'd be very surprised if will hold up this well. A- [sp]

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Tubby Hayes: No Blues: The Complete Hopbine '65 (1965 [2023], Jazz in Britain): British tenor saxophonist, one of the few real bebop masters, lived fast and died young (1935-73). With Kenny Powell (piano), Ron Mathewson (bass), and Dick Brennan (drums), with Hopbine host and fellow tenor saxophonist Tommy Whittle joining for a couple of jousts. Burns intense and long (7 tracks, 95:39), though sometimes the mic seems to wander off. B+(***) [sp]

Jeffrey Lewis: Asides & B-Sides (2014-2018) (2014-18 [2023], self-released): Antifolk singer-songwriter, got started with a self-released cassette in 1998, has a couple albums suggesting career development, then reverts to DIY obscurity, like his recent series from 2019 Tapes through 2022 Tapes -- on Bandcamp but not enough to review. In 2022, he scraped together a 7-track EP called When That Really Old Cat Dies, which has since all but disappeared, even from Google, evidently supplanted by this miscellany, extending the EP to 10 songs, 31:12, finally showing up on Spotify (after I failed to find it just a week ago). Doesn't add much, but did get "The Guest List" a couple more spins. B+(***) [sp]

Lou Reed: Hudson River Wind Meditations (2007 [2024], Light in the Attic): An hour-plus of ambient electronica, as far off his beaten path as Metal Machine Music, and certainly more age-appropriate for what appears to have been his last album. And good enough that he could have had a decent career had he started in this vein decades earlier -- not that you or I would have heard of him. B+(**) [sp]

Taylor Swift: 1989 (Taylor's Version) (2023, Republic): Her fifth album in 2014, now the fourth to get the "Taylor's Version" treatment, which doesn't seem to be anything more than a scam to make more money off back catalogue while giving less of it to Big Machine. I'm not making judgments on that, although I'm also not arguing with anyone who wants to argue against on ethical and/or artistic grounds. I streamed the original, liked it enough for a B+(***), but don't remember a single song, and have no desire compare versions. It's as if I'm hearing a new album for the first time, although it seems unfair to the rest of the world not to list it among reissues. Original grade seems about right. B+(***) [sp]

Barbara Thompson: First Light (1971-72 [2023], Jazz in Britain): British saxophonist (1944-2022), had played with Howard Riley, Michael Gibbs, and Neil Ardley before this, also the rock band Colosseum (she married their drummer, Jon Hiseman), but became better known after 1978 with her Paraphernalia groups. This starts with two Group E pieces, with her on soprano sax and alto flute, and Peip Lemer singing (21:10). That's followed by a big band piece (26:38), then five tracks with her Jubiaba group (29:39; the group finally released an album in 1978). The vocals add to the mess of the first two sets. Jubiaba is also messy, but explodes in rhythm often enough to raise your hopes. B [bc]

Old music:

The Paranoid Style: The Power of Our Proven System (2013, Misra, EP): A reader sent me this YouTube playlist so I could "check it off my list," like this one (updated but not regularly maintained). This was evidently the first of three EPs later combined in unhelpful ways (like a 2013 Misra cassette), a five-song (21:59) digital release, each with its own video (which I've played through several times, but never managed to watch through). Straitlaced indie rock with copious smarts, a formula Elizabeth Nelson and Timothy Bracy have stuck doggedly with, even through full albums like 2016's Rolling Disclosure and the new one, The Interrogator -- both recommended. B+(***) [yt]

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alon Farber Hagiga With Dave Douglas: The Magician: Live in Jerusalem (Origin) [02-24]
  • David Friesen: This Light Has No Darkness (Origin) [02-24]
  • Roberto Magris: Love Is Passing Thru: Solo/Duo/Trio/Quartet (2004, JMood) [03-01]
  • Zach Rich: Solidarity (OA2) [02-23]

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