Thursday, September 30, 2004:

the spiritual and the secular

Emmylou Harris -- Wayfaring Stranger
Emmylou Harris -- Red Dirt Girl
I've been wanting to post about Emmylou Harris since I started this ... longer than that, really--ever since Sean at Said the Gramophone asked me to guest blog last month. But most people I play Emmylou for have decided ahead of time that they don't want to hear it (it's the same way with Don Williams). I'm not sure why; maybe most country music carries a stigma with it, the way hip hop used to (does still?) (Johnny Cash is badass enough to make country cool; most others fail for some reason). And that's a huge issue I'd rather not get into--various prejudices--let's just say I think more often than not people miss something cool by holding fast to rigid expectations. So I'm going to post a few country songs. It might not be your cup of tea, and I might scare everyone off, but I genuinely love these songs and think they have a larger appeal that's gone untapped.

What's cool about Emmylou Harris? Well, she does what she wants; she's charted a course of her own, exploring country, bluegrass, gospel, and pop, but she's done it without negating anyone else. She can point out differences but she's modest and respectful, accepting and unpretentious. She's open with her feelings: not afraid to be vulnerable, not pretending she's never hurt. But all this wouldn't amount to much more than an extraordinary woman if not for the singing. With the singing, she's an extraordinary woman who can knock your socks off.

"Wayfaring Stranger" is a traditional song with a modern arrangement, describing life as a journey through a painful world, the narrator focused on a Heavenly destination. The song is from Harris' 1980 bluegrass album Roses in the Snow, which faced some resistance at her label before finally being released and quickly going gold. I think Harris's singing and Ricky Skagg's harmonizing are both beautiful, and the fiddle and mandolin are nice touches, but that dobro--wow. It's understated and brief; it could preach at length, and I wish it would. But, like the narrator, it's in service of a higher purpose; it does its part and says farewell. The song is lovely and confident in its optimism (or is it fatalism?) It's enough to make an agnostic sit up and question lack of belief.

"Red Dirt Girl" is the title track from Harris' 2000 country-pop album and is, thematically, the polar opposite. It's a song about discontent and thwarted ambition, about being trapped by your finances, settling for less and trying to forget that you've done so. The lyrics were inspired by Boys Don't Cry, but the basic story is much different. The song definitely feels true; and I think there's something to be said for Emmylou Harris' skills as a lyricist ("Michelangelo," "Bang the Drum Slowly," and "My Antonia," off that same album, are also excellent).
Fan site with a brief biography and discography
[Roses in the Snow]
[Red Dirt Girl]


Wednesday, September 29, 2004:

what what?

Phillipe from the Beathunters posted a comment about how Cesaria Evora is popular in Europe, which is true enough, but led to the question of who I think my audience is.

I live in the United States, which tends to be less densely populated and less cosmopolitan than Europe. I'm in Gainesville, Florida, home to about 50,000 constant residents and 50,000 students. The students come and go; the number increases by a thousand or two a year.

All of the radio stations here bore and/or annoy me. Except for NPR they're all format radio stations, and the "college radio" station sounds a lot like the corporate stations. The format stations play the same tracks over and over. Want to hear Kansas sing "Dust in the Wind"? Great. You're at the right place.... NPR spends a lot of time talking politics, which is all well and good if talking politics is what you're after, and not at all well and good if you're more interested in music.

Here, you can turn off the radio and come back to it a few years later; it's like a soap opera: give it a few hours and you've caught up with all that the author thinks you need to know. It isn't meeting my needs. I frequent mp3blogs and buy CDs by the armful. Occasionally I listen to shoutcast, but I tend to hop stations once or twice an hour and then turn it off.

So I guess I'm writing this for people in the same situation as me: people who love music and hate their local stations. I don't want pasta for lunch every day, and I don't care if it's tomato linguini one day and fettuccine alfredo the next.

These posts don't substitute for a radio station--there's a lot less music, for one--but it's a start. And I'll be stoked if I ever point you towards a band you haven't heard before and fall in love with. If you find that band, please do the right thing and buy the music.

You make me dizzy

Dizzy Gillespie -- Manteca
Dizzy Gillespie -- Rutabaga Pie
As you probably know, "manteca" means "butter" in Spanish.
  Butter "Manteca"
smooth like butter? yes yes
hot? sometimes yes
funky? no yes
flavorful? yes yes
offensive to vegans? yes no
exacerbates heart disease? yes no*
can you live off it? no no
comes to sudden stops in a way that begs people to shout out "Manteca"? no yes

Well, it looks to me like "Manteca" won.

And then here's this track closing out Sweet Soul Live. My first thought on putting on the CD was "damn, Dizzy got soft." Second thought was "I mean soft!" I listened to it once and put it away, and it languished for weeks in a stack of CDs on a desk, in with several other stacks of CDs.

On rediscovering the CD this morning, I decided to give it another spin; and I haven't decided if my original impression was a little uncharitable: like judging haiku by epic criteria: "let's see, no battles ... no heroism ... no panaroma...."

This is Dizzy in concert in 1969, at a time when jazz/funk/fusion was something relatively new. I don't think this disc will stand out in comparison to Dizzy's other work--Dizzy isn't working with Monk and Davis here, casually throwing a boulder across a river. Dizzy's clearly aiming for fun and not much more, and I keep thinking that's a bit disappointing from someone so talented. This disc is a wine cooler when what I wanted was whiskey; it strikes me as sort of a musical postcard: "The beaches are great, not many people around, water is so blue it looks fake. Yesterday we found this little bar with hammocks out front. Wish you were here." The band doesn't spend much time fleshing anything out; the songs are brief and mostly forgettable.

Yet the disc has a couple of good tracks on it. Here's one of them, a little slice of joie de vivre about, you guessed it, rutabaga pie. I like the handclaps, and that horn blows so hard it rattles; that must be some damn good rutabaga pie (much better than the spinach pie at the Lebanese joint down the street; all that has me singing is "I know I just saw a salt shaker.") The rhythm bounces along, happy-go-lucky, everything coming up roses, and so what if it keeps reminding me of Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk"?

Word to the wise: this track is ripe for a remix.

*actually, most people never eat enough vinyl or plastic to find out.
So why won't Dizzy go back to Georgia?
[Sweet Soul Live]
[Verve Jazz Masters 10]


Tuesday, September 28, 2004:

Stirring and soulful

Sorry for the delay. I had been posting every day, including weekends, then Saturday I couldn't decide on what song to post and on Sunday Jeanne came by and cut the power. Nothing damaged here, though others weren't so fortunate.

Thanks to Moebius Rex for the kind words; I've been visiting and checking out what he's offered for a couple of months now, and you should too. ^_^ It's generally fun and eclectic. And, speaking of fun, Naugahyde Life and Benn loxo du tàccu are both off to a running start. That Cannonball track is a winner, and no one can argue with King Sunny Ade; and I'm stoked to see mp3 blogs taking off in new, previously untapped directions.

Soul Stirrers -- Does Jesus Care (1948)
Soul Stirrers -- Life's Journey (1948)
Soul Stirrers -- He'll Make a Way (with Sam Cooke) (1954)
The Soul Stirrers were a gospel band that formed in Texas in the 1920s under the name The New Pleasant Green Gospel Singers, and quickly began combining the spiritual with secular music. The first incarnation broke up after just a few years; then Roy Crain joined and they changed the name to The Soul Stirrers. In 1936 they performed for Alan Lomax (The Library of Congress was on top of things back then; Lomax made one hell of a contribution to musical posterity.)

From 1926 to 1937 The Soul Stirrers were a quartet; then in 1937 R. H. Harris got the idea of having two lead singers, allowing the singer to carry the main melody with a four-part harmony behind him. Not a bad idea at all, and you can hear why on "Does My Jesus Care?" and "Life's Journey." Of course, it didn't hurt that Harris had a strong tenor.

In 1950 Harris left the group and Sam Cooke came to take his place. In his early recordings with the group, he seems to be following in Harris' footsteps: competent but polite, tentative. Then as time went on you can start hearing part of that unbridled soul that Cooke later became famous for. The group kept their interlocked harmonies, but Cooke would sometimes buttress them and sometimes soar above them. The group quickly started attracting larger crowds, mostly of young women.

Cooke worked with them until the mid-50s, when he was released from his contract because his label's owner disliked the pop direction Cooke was taking with the tracks he'd cut on the side. The Soul Stirrers carried on without him, under various lineups, until the 1990s; Cooke was shot to death at a motel in 1964, the owner claiming he'd raped a woman and was threatening her. The verdict was "justifiable homicide," the case controversial.
The Soul Stirrers in the Vocal Hall of Fame
[He's My Rock: Their Early Sides]
[Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers] More great stuff.


Saturday, September 25, 2004:

I'm in the Mood for Love

Vera Lynn with the Casini Club Orchestra -- I'm in the Mood for Love
Vera Lynn was a popular singer in the UK in the 1930s and 40s, and was voted "Forces' Sweetheart" in the UK for her constant touring in support of the troops.

This isn't one of the songs she's most known for--those would be "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart," "White Cliffs of Dover," and "We'll Meet Again" (referenced in Pink Floyd's The Wall--"Remember how she said we'd meet again some sunny day? Vera ... what has become of you?")

Vera's singing here is easy and skillful but not something that forces itself on your attention; it's possible to have it on and concentrate on something else. But for me there's still something oddly compelling about the music--listening to this track is like getting a shortwave transmission from another planet. It's not just in the pop and hiss of a digitized LP; I think it's also in the cadences of the backing music, the easy melody of the vocals. The song paints a picture of a carefree world, whispers assurances, aims to soothe. And, though this song was recorded years before the start of World War II, it's representative enough that it's easy to see why she'd be voted Forces' Sweetheart. biography

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Friday, September 24, 2004:


Tranquility Bass -- Cantamilla
I've long thought that that "dancing about architecture" quotation was stupid: obviously the person who coined the phrase hasn't paid attention to many buildings. There are hundreds of buildings that deserve a good dance, whether designed by a modern architect or some Mayan fellow who's been dead for 800 years; and writing about music is as appropriate as writing about love, or death, or hope.

Except sometimes it's damned hard.

Which brings me to today. What can I say about this song? Bass, piano, drums, children playing in the background, a woman in the foreground singing in a language I don't recognize; a woman singing in support, also in a language I don't recognize. The structure of the song is nice: natural but not overgrown, with an easy lazing-on-a-Sunday feel to it. The echo on the background voice puts me in mind of a cavern: the piano a soothing wave, the percussion reflecting shimmering light along the ceiling. The song urges me to lie back and float, let the world drift away.

This song is from a soundtrack I bought to a documentary I haven't seen. Synthetic Pleasures--anyone seen it? Recommended?


Thursday, September 23, 2004:

Miss Perfumado

Cesaria Evora -- Miss Pefumado
Cesaria Evora -- Sodade
This song strikes me as one I'd hear in an opulent early 1900s cabaret--Moulin Rouge, maybe--all velvet draperies and Chinese rugs, wineglasses and cigarette holders, some man with a Van Dyke and a monocle smoking a cigar, peering lasciviously at the singer onstage. And she's too enraptured in her performance to notice.

Cesaria Evora did spend some time performing in piano bars in Cape Verde; she didn't get rich off it but the career was profitable enough until Cape Verde gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and the upper-class started moving elsewhere: to France, to New England, to Portugal. Then in 1985 she met José da Silva in Portugal; they arranged a band and recorded The Barefoot Diva, which was released in 1988. The album was named after Evora: she's famous for her disdain for shoes; she's also, luckily enough, become famous for her music. Her voice is mournful but strong; and she often puts it to use on mornas, typically mixing guitar, cavaquinho (picture a classical guitar with only four strings, tuned to open G), and lyrics about loss or nostalgia. But she's equally good at coladeras, infectious uptempo songs that go straight past your brain to your feet, urging you to jump up and cut a rug.

"Sodade" is still nostalgic, but quite different. The liner notes give some of the lyrics: "If you write me, I will write you. ... If you forget me, I will forget you." The performance is skillful but both longing and weary; listening to it now, I understand the frequent comparisons to Billie Holiday.

The song is arranged with guitar, cavaquinho, bongos, and a slow, deep, drum. The first time I heard it was on Luaka Bop's best-of collection; I was lying in bed staring at the ceiling, exhausted from work, and by the time this song came on I had nearly dozed off. Suddenly I noticed that I could feel my pulse in my neck, and then I noticed that it was in time with those low drums. I lay there listening, now awake more than I wanted to be, thinking it was interesting but I wouldn't get up. Then when the song was over I got up anyway and put the song on repeat, hoping to have that level of attunement happen again. It didn't. But the song is beautiful: a measured statement from a woman whose heart can't be broken many more times.

I'll probably post more Cesaria Evora as time goes by; I think she's very talented and hasn't yet had the attention she deserves.
brief BBC bio


Wednesday, September 22, 2004:

That Loving Feeling

Isaac Hayes -- That Loving Feeling
Isaac Hayes taught himself piano and sax and worked for awhile as part of Stax's house band, guesting with Otis Redding and Johnnie Taylor, among others. His released his first solo album in 1967; Hot Buttered Soul got a lot of attention in '69 and sold well, and in 1971 Hayes won the Oscar for best song for the theme from Shaft (he was nominated for the score but didn't win). And then, just a few years later, he broke with Stax in a dispute over royalties. From there things took a turn for the worse. He went off to form his own label, Hot Buttered Soul, undoubtedly with high hopes (like The Beatles with Apple, Led Zeppelin with Swan Song), but released only two albums on it before declaring bankruptcy.

From then until the late 80s he released the occasional album and had some bit parts in various films (nothing like his lead in Truck Turner, though, just something to keep food on the table). And then he had his big break with South Park, and things have been looking up since. I read an article a couple of years ago about how his debt collectors were after him again--they knew before South Park that he didn't have the money and wasn't worth the bother.

Here's something that is worth the bother--"That Loving Feeling" off Chocolate Chip, his first album on the Hot Buttered Soul label. This is vintage Hayes: horns, piano, spare guitar, and that deep voice claiming what he's feeling is "more than sexual attraction." He talks it up anyway, just to be safe--this is exactly the kind of approach that Hayes is famous for and that Chef lampoons on South Park. But damn is it slick.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2004:

When Good Songs Happen to Bad Soundtracks

Supple -- Stayin' Alive
This song is from the film Hurricane Streets, an independent film that won a couple of awards at Sundance in 1997. I thought the film was overearnest and strained, and the bit towards the end struck me as fake and manipulative, but I guess I'm in the minority on that one. Anyway I bought the soundtrack because a couple of the tracks piqued my interest, but having it on CD hasn't changed anything: there are a few good songs, a lot of mediocre songs, and one that's damned annoying.

And then there's this: Supple covering the Bee Gees. This isn't the effete high-pitched version you're used to: the band scraps the guitar in favor of a cello; the percussion is low-key; the singing is earthy and suave. It's how Bono might sing if he were tough like Bogart and smooth like Cary Grant. But, you know, with a better singing voice.

The song is affable enough, fun, oddly compelling. Yet it's not on Supple's studio release; it's stuck in Bad Soundtrack purgatory, waiting for some beneficent studio head to come along and pray it out.
[ ] Used copies from 1¢. Don't miss the reviews. They make funny.

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Monday, September 20, 2004:

Lord, Can You Hear Me

Spiritualized -- Lord, Can You Hear Me
I'm tempted to write that this song is anthemic and move on, but a little voice keeps nagging me to look it up. an-them n.
1. A hymn of praise or loyalty.
2. A choral composition having a sacred or moralizing text in English.
3. A modern ballad accompanied by rock music instrumentation.

Let's see: #1? no. #2? no, it's not sacred or moralizing, though it is in English. #3? no, though it is both modern and rock. So on an anthemic scale, where the U.S.' "National Anthem" is a .67 out of 1.0,* this song is a 0.0. Not an anthem, no sir.** But I am enthralled by the measured pace; the background organ, the vocal harmonies, the slide guitar giving just enough. The song builds to a raucous attempt to bang on God's door and force an answer. And, as might be expected, it fades away, dissatisfied, the door unopened.

*"their foul footstep's pollution"? I wondered why people don't sing it all the way through; I guess it's not because of the high notes.
**A 1.0, the anthemest a song could be, would be a ballad dedicated to a god who'd left you, but you had faith he'd return; you would wait until he did; and everyone else is just plain stupid for not doing the same. It would say all this and then fade out with a long guitar solo.***
***It's possible Mother Mary wrote such a song. Well, except for the guitar. And the English. And the romantic bits.... Well, now that you mention it, Leda's looking about as likely, which is to say: not at all.****
****Yes, I've been reading too much Terry Pratchett. I'd recommend Pyramids unless you're not into satires about assassins, chimerical deities, and quantum physics. And footnotes.


Sunday, September 19, 2004:

Johnny Kidd and The Pirates -- Feelin'

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates -- Feelin'
As you probably know, today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day.


And that's all the pirate talking I've got because, in about the same way that Rembrandt outpaints me and Kasparov outchesses me, Johnny Kidd outpirates me.

The pseudonymous Johnny Kidd and his group are from the UK and released their first album in the late 1950s. This one is garage rock, straightforward, bare-bones, butt-kicking fun. The lyrics are good, notwithstanding the use of "gay" (but I can't really fault Johnny for not predicting linguistic trends); the music's energetic and catchy, the guitar knows when to speak and when to shut up, but oh god, that shirt. That eyepatch.

Their label didn't seem to know what to do with them; they had some sporadic success, then Johnny Kidd died in a car crash in the mid-1960s. The rest of group stayed together for a year, then called it quits. They reunited a few years later and still tour occasionally, but some of the band members are ailing. Getting old sucks, but it's better than the alternative.
Johnny Kidd.


Saturday, September 18, 2004:


Sorry for all the server problems earlier. I'm new to these computational devices; I'd not touched one before last week (though I had of course heard tell of them in the dailies and seen them at the moving picture exhibitions).

Or something. Yeah, I screwed up. But I think it's all working again; if not, just email me or post a comment. Thanks.

Tomorrow: pirates! Batten the hatches. ^_^

Cold Cold Ground

Tom Waits -- Cold Cold Ground
I first heard this song in the film Leolo, a surreal and troubling exploration of adolescence and thwarted love. While most of the film quickly faded away, the song stayed with me: haunting yet melodic, compelling and cryptic. It reminds me of what Faulkner might write if he had been a lyricist: enigmatic images, oblique hints at the plot, animosity and menace entwined with poverty and despair. Yet, as with Faulkner, there's a ray of hope--Dilsey's church and David Hidalgo's accordion.

Caveat: this track is off Franks Wild Years which, like Faulkner, like whiskey, may take some getting used to. Tom's an odd character, with odd music. I hate some of his work, love some of the rest, and always give him another chance.
Free Tom Waits download
another free download
and another

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Friday, September 17, 2004:

"All I want is your love; you can throw my money away"

First, I'd like to thank The Tofu Hut, Said the Gramophone, Orbis Quintus, Fluxblog, Spoilt Victorian Child, and *sixeyes for the kind words. If you're coming here from somewhere else and you haven't yet checked them out, you should; they're all worth your time. Links on the left are all endorsements, and John at The Tofu Hut has an astonishing blogroll that's worth exploring.

Joe McCoy -- If You Take Me Back
Big Joe McCoy was born in Jackson Mississippi in 1905. He was a vocalist and a slide guitarist, and played alone under a number of pseudonyms and with his brother Charlie under a number of different band names. Joe McCoy was for a time married to Memphis Minnie; she's a good musician in her own right, a powerful singer and a talented guitarist, and together they recorded the original "When the Levee Breaks."

I first heard Kansas Joe about ten years ago on a mix tape I got from my ex-girlfriend, under the name "Big Joe and His Washboard Band." At the time I just thought the tape was a nice conciliatory gesture; now I wonder if I was paying attention at all: every song on that tape is about heartbreak. The heartbreak here is offset by the jauntiness: the harmonica, the washboard, the swing feel, the brisk pacing. They all help to put on a strong face, stick out a proverbial chin; but the lyrics give the lie to it, making wild claims, pleading and desperate: "If you take me back I'll buy you a diamond ring / and if you don't, my life don't mean a thing."

A recent posting on The Tofu Hut pointed up the confusion about early blues musicians' names. There's a reason for it: many of them used pseudonyms, and sometimes two different musicians would use the same name.
Who's who
(Or, if your tolerance for country blues is low,you can try More Music From Northern Exposure. The Les Paul/Mary Ford song on it is very good, but after track #3 I suddenly understood Bob Marley's scorn for Johnny Nash.)

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Thursday, September 16, 2004:

"I can be a pretty good thug but it wouldn't compare to a great me"

Cee-Lo -- Die Tryin'
I first heard Goodie Mob in '98; "They Don't Dance No Mo'" was on the charts, a friend had the disc, and I got my sister hooked on "Beautiful Skin." From Goodie Mob we caught up with OutKast--they guested on each other's albums and there wasn't any mistaking Cee-Lo's voice: high, rough, sometimes nasal. His voice is an acquired taste, like Bob Dylan's, like Devendra Banhart's, but the man can rhyme and he can sing.

Since then, OutKast stormed the charts but Goodie Mob hasn't had the same success. Here's Cee-Lo on "Die Tryin'" talking about how it's suddenly okay to be from the South, but fans still want him to make the kind of music he used to, and other rappers are getting rich talking shit. That might be a comment about Goodie Mob, or it might be about commercial pressure. There are other tracks on the album about the same themes. On "Glockapella" he says "You're forcing me to walk this way / Maybe my album will get bought this way"; and "My Kind of People" is about image and expectations, referencing Lawrence Otis Graham's book and/or the rich blacks covered in it. (It's a great track, but Time Wastin' posted it a few months ago and I don't want to post it too.)

"Die Tryin'" is about choosing a path and sticking to it; the tune is catchy and the lyrics pretend resignation, but it's still a bit wistful (is he really "just playing"? Why bring it up?) The album mixes soul, funk, hip hop, rock, jazz; others have done it before; others will do it again, but it's so effortless here that it deserves attention. It's smooth, it's got hooks, it's fun. interview
popmatters review


Wednesday, September 15, 2004:


Nina Simone -- Four Women
This song hit me like a lacy silk sock pulled over a brick. I love the chilled out piano, the muted, going-nowhere-fast drums, the melody ... and the lyrics. See, that's the brick. This song doesn't grab you by the lapels; Peaches slinks up seductive and slow, then gives a sharp stab and a twist. She will cut you to the quick and clean her knife on your shirt.

Nina Simone was a firecracker. I have three two-discs sets of her music, a handful of overlap between them. She's worth it. If she felt like saying "Mississippi Goddam" she said "Mississippi Goddam," and it if got her banned throughout the South, she did it anyway.


Tuesday, September 14, 2004:

A Change Is Gonna Come

I was going to post this song this week, but music for robots beat me to it. Go check it out; it's great.

Bug Powder Dust

Bomb the Bass -- Bug Powder Dust
I first encountered Kruder & Dorfmeister by making an offhand comment to a friend about how good jazz, dub, and triphop sounded together. I don't remember what it was that provoked that comment--a shoutcast station, probably--but my friend insisted I buy the K & D Sessions. It's a two-disc set of DJ mixes; it's immediately accessible, but the longevity is good too. I've listened to the discs countless times over the last few years and I haven't grown disenchanted with them or curious about what I saw in them.

Kruder & Dorfmeister are two DJs from Austria, and though they've got a couple of their own numbers on the discs, their bread and butter is remixing others' works. It's a bit disappointing, maybe--their songs are as strong the remixes--but when the remixes are this good, what's to complain about? I would have been happy posting nearly any song off the set, but I decided on this one because I think it captures the general mood and approach of the discs. (Though some of the more exuberant songs were tempting, especially Peter Kruder's "Donaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitänskajütenremix" of Rainer Trüby Trio's "Donauschingen.") This is one of two songs that appear on both discs but in different forms, so that it's something of a pleasant surprise to hear them again.

It's apparent that Kruder and Dorfmeister have listened to a lot of dub, but there's plenty I like about this song aside from the delay, the panning, and the sound effects. There's the low bass for starters, and the guitar, the lyrics and their delivery, and then the song's structure. What intrigues me about K & D mixes is just how loose they make them: they let out the tension until it's so slack the song seems almost to have stopped, then something comes along and gives it a kick: the vocals, the guitar, the bass.... It's a popular technique and I'm not saying they invented it, but with some bands it strikes me as gimmicky but all throughout this set it just seems organic to what the music is.

The set as a whole is strong; it has a warmth and richness to it that keeps bringing me back. It's pleasant to let play in the background, but it also rewards more careful attention. It's a solid purchase.

update: I just read the pitchfork review, and wow.... Obviously a difference of opinion. The line about Ginsberg makes sense if you hear "Howl" instead of "Al," but whatever. I get the feeling I'm not hip enough to hang with the pitchfork kids. Still, it's a useful site.


Monday, September 13, 2004:

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal -- Crossing (live)
Taj Mahal has a long history as a bluesman. Born Henry St. Clair Fredericks in 1942, in the mid 1960s he cut an album with Ry Cooder that was shelved for decades, then they split up and he went on to start a solo career. His debut in 1968 turned heads, and he had three more solid albums after that, also gritty electric blues, then his career got spotty. He's put out jazz albums, dabbled in gospel, in zydeco, in folk, in reggae, and in Hawaiian crossed with blues. That was not one I liked. The man's not afraid to experiment; I'll credit him for that--it takes courage--but as with anyone who experiments a lot, some of the experiments just don't work.

This is one that, as far as I'm concerned, works like a Swiss watch. The lyrics are by Langston Hughes; at the end of the previous track Mahal calls him a "fine American poet," and Hughes is in good form here. Soft-spoken and confident, the song talks about loneliness and race with an indirect simplicity: "I went out on the prairie and as far as I could see / was nobody on that prairie that looked like me." Most reviewers want to talk about Mahal's voice, and that's fine; it's gruff, as capable of a croon as it is a growl, yet it and the instrumentation complement the lyrics perfectly: the guitar snaps, urgent and enraged; it calms and becomes soothing; it becomes agitated again, dissonant and sharp.

This song is from Mahal's An Evening of Acoustic Music, but it's also part of his soundtrack for the long-unproduced Langston Hughes/Zora Neale Hurston collaboration Mule Bone, which precipitated the end of their friendship.
free Taj Mahal download. He covers Woody Guthrie. Hey, it's fun.


Sunday, September 12, 2004:

Ali Hassan Kuban

Ali Hassan Kuban -- Mabrouk Wo Arisna
Ali Hassan Kuban was from Nubia, one of the planet's oldest continuously inhabited areas. Most of it doesn't exist anymore; it was flooded when the Aswan High Dam was built. In the 1940s, Hassan and his family moved from their village to Cairo, where Kuban first heard jazz and James Brown, developed a strong interest in music, learned the clarinet and several other instruments, and started a band to play weddings. Cairo's population soared as the Aswan High Dam neared completion in the early 1960s; Kuban became quite popular, heading several different bands and employing several dozen musicians (there are 22 listed in the liner notes to Nubian Magic).

"Kuban" is a nickname referring to Hassan's eclectic tastes: he was apparently very fond of Cuban music, and his move to add Western instruments to traditional Nubian songs was controversial, as was his decision to sing some of the songs in Arabic.

This track is off Nubian Magic, which is laced with trumpets, saxophones, bongos, accordions, electric bass, and the occasional synthesizer, and is 10/12 great (I don't care for the dance remixes bookending the rest of the tracks, but your mileage may vary).

The liner notes inform me that this song is in Kenuz, is Sudanese Reggae, and is about a wedding. All right then. All I know is, I don't know the words but I want to sing along.
A brief biography.
and another.


Saturday, September 11, 2004:

That's entertainment

Geeshie Wiley -- Last Kind Words
I first heard this song in Crumb, a disturbing and fascinating documentary about comic book artist R. Crumb. Crumb comes across as self-involved, neurotic, insecure, and misanthropic; also much of his work is sexist and/or racist. The film brings in experts to criticize and defend Crumb's work, and I think a few of the defenders try too hard, rationalize too much. But the film is engaging anyway, especially in its observation: Crumb sketching a woman at a cafe, using passersby to comment sardonically on commercialism; Crumb struggling to be affectionate with his children, who struggle not to rebuff him; Crumb getting a piggy-back ride from a big-legged woman at his art show. And just when you're thinking Crumb is damned weird, you meet his brothers.

This song comes on when Crumb comments that one of the few times he feels any kinship with humanity is when listening to old blues. That's not a point of view I share, but he's right about this track's appeal.

Not much at all is known about Geeshie Wiley: she's rumored to be from Mississippi and to have been with Charlie McCoy (Kansas Joe's brother); and she recorded only a handful of tracks. Don Kent has the most complete writeup of her life I can find online, and it's only two paragraphs long.

For whatever reason, can't be arsed to show me the page for this CD. It's more interested in the DVD, and in R. Crumb: The Musical, and in the disc Crumb by some band named Fossil and, near the bottom, Oreo cookies.
More Geeshie Wiley tracks at


Friday, September 10, 2004:

Lars Din: "Self-made and underpaid for my labor"

Lars Din -- Next Dollar After
Lars Din -- Urge
Lars Din is a laid-back, unassuming, cheerfully malcontent folk-rock singer from Gainesville FL. I thought about uploading "War Prayer," his version of Mark Twain's story about the second, unspoken prayer people utter when they pray for the troops, or "Ness City Bank Job (Yer So " a quiet & devastating track about alienation, loss, and the sneaking desperation behind most jobs, but I'm feeling these more right now (probably because they're louder). "Next Dollar After" is about overworking yourself to stay even financially; "Urge" is about wanting to throw in the towel: sell everything and take off.

These are from Lars' recent CD Know Where You Are / Conflict. He used to play by himself, just guitar and a voice; now he has a band. They're good people too.
Order the CD from Lars.



I was looking through my old tape collection the other day and I found one that had Cypress Hill on one side and Monty Python on the other. There was another labeled "Ramones Mania," but I'd recorded over it: a local band (jazz/psychedelic rock) on one side, Afropop on the other.

So that's my collection: disorganized, erratic, and impulsive, and I'm sure it has a few holes big enough to drive a semi through. About this site: I don't know what I'm doing with it, but it's live now; I've taken off the training wheels; John from the Tofu Hut gave me a friendly push, and I'm ready to roar down the street and crash into the first mailbox.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004: This site is not yet off the ground. I'm expecting to start posting on December 4.

update: 2004 09 10: Never underestimate the power of impatience.