Tuesday, January 31, 2006:

Gotta Go / Five O'Clock World

Victor Scott -- Gotta Go
Some time ago I got an email from Spoilt Victorian Child mentioning the Victor Scott release on the SVC record label, and I've been remiss in mentioning it. I've listened to it a bit; and if it took me awhile to warm up to it I think that's more my fault than the music's--sometimes I'm immediately taken with music I later hate and sometimes I'm immediately guarded towards music I later love. Scott's music falls in the latter category: it's bold, it strikes out in all directions, exploring, experimenting, poking and prodding, finding things and turning them over and giving them a vigorous shake to see what falls out. There's hip-hop, mariachi instrumentals, folkish pop ballads, soundtrack stylings with dialogue samples, the ghost of Antonio Carlos Jobim, and brassy butt-shaking dance music with bawdy double entendres.

I've gone with the freaky thumping joie de vivre here because it's what I'm feeling most at the moment.
[Victor Scott's site]
[Buy the CD at SVC records for 3 quid and get a free B-sides CD]

The Vogues -- Five O'Clock World
The Vogues were popular in the 1960s and 70s and "Five O'Clock World" was their biggest hit. They had some other good ones (including ones that charted, like "You're the One" and "My Special Angel"), but this one's just the one for me right now: lyrics about the daily grind at work presented with an easy melody, backing harmonies, yodelling, and yips. It's just a very confident, accomplished, and comforting sound; the song is concise and perfect, a bullseye.
[The Vogues -- Greatest Hits]


Voice of experience: if you are, say, changing from one DSL company that sucks to another that takes over your line days before even shipping the modem, thus rudely ending your internet connection while claiming that they haven't and claiming also that they can't help you, you can get back online through the new company without waiting for their modem. So if you're ever tempted to spend most of a day on the phone talking to a number of tech support people--from the concerned and helpful to the deeply confused and helpless--taking their advice, rebooting the computer when it doesn't need it, checking drivers that are uncorrupted and firmware that's current, swapping cables like thumb drives and tapping the reset button on your modem enough to send a sonnet in Morse code, don't. Just go to and change your login from x@y.z to a@b.c, and don't forget to change over to the new password. And, as long as both services support the same connection type (e.g. PPPoE), that's that, you're in business, good to go, connection clipping along like normal. It doesn't matter that the modem's user interface says it's a modem for "y.z" service or that after you log in with the other company it tells you you're logged in with the previous one. It's just cosmetics. When the new (unnecessary) modem arrives you can unwrap it and use it as a geeky paperweight, or leave it in the box in case the older one fails sometime later.

Which leads to the assumption that DSL companies make a big to-do about contract lengths and charging $150 "for the modem" if you cancel before a year is up because the modems really don't cost all that much, but they do serve as a handy way to sell you a cheap plastic box you don't need at a markup they don't deserve.

One positive that emerged from the 8+ hours of fruitless phone conversations was a bit of sympathy with the tech support workers (even the incompetent ones): it must be daunting trying to solve problems that have six trillion possible causes, and there must be long stretches of boredom mixed in with the frustration as they sit waiting for some unseen computer to reboot and log on and let them continue.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006:

Screamin' Jay Hawkins and China Moses

Screamin' Jay Hawkins -- Yellow Coat
Screamin' Jay Hawkins -- I Put a Spell on You
China -- On Tourne en Rond
Screamin' Jay Hawkins was the original macabre over-the-top singer/showman: before Marilyn Manson, before Alice Cooper, it was Screamin' Jay starting his concerts emerging from a coffin with a skull-tipped cane to sing "I Put a Spell on You." It was his most popular song, and probably for good reason--there's just something in that guttural desperation, the complete abandon, that's awfully appealing (probably because he's not singing the song to me).

Hawkins tried the same approach on other songs, to greater or lesser effect: manic delivery and some silly/serious occult bits which seemed, over the years, to have been folded into hard rock and heavy metal (but with less and less humor), becoming enough of a staple of the music that Spinal Tap took the chance to comment on pompous occult wankery.

"Yellow Coat" is a rocking early R&B tune--sax, piano, electric guitar--with Hawkins singing the praises for his garish clothes with typical humor, comparing himself to a two-legged goat and exaggerating everyone's reactions to him. And there, under the humor, I can't help wondering if that's real or imagined pathos. It reminds me of a teenager's green hair--something deliberately "too much," presented for people to reject to prevent them getting close enough to reject a personality instead. I wonder if Hawkins' persona didn't come about as a means of deflecting pain, or if it was all as spontaneous as the various writeups online suggest. It's a question better put to a biographer than to a casual fan; at any rate, I think "Yellow Coat" is a good song, even if I find Hawkins, and his body of work, a bit puzzling.

"On Tourne en Rond" is the title track from China's second CD, a confident, mellow, and soulful bit of multicultural R&B. On this one I love the waltzing vocals, the horns that come in towards the end, the way it all builds towards a gently skewed carnival atmosphere.

I posted a China track about six months ago; China found the post through her mother, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and mentioned her website and her newer work. The gears of the Shanty grind slowly.
Allmusic.com writeup on Hawkins
[Screamin' Jay Hawkins -- Cow Fingers & Mosquito Pie]
[China -- On Tourne en Rond]
China Moses' site

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006:

Isley Brothers -- Listen to the Music

Isley Brothers -- Listen to the Music
Here's a bit of sunshiney easy-going funky R&B certain to put a grin on yer mug. The Doobies wrote it, sure; but I think it's better here, without the thick glasses and the bowtie. (Thanks, Andy, for the correction--you're right; I had it backwards.)

This track is from the 3+3 incarnation of the Isley Brothers; it isn't rare at all, but it is great.
[Isley Brothers -- 3 + 3 @ amazon.com]

Team Clermont (a PR firm) sends me a fair amount of emails promoting various bands (sometimes promoting the same bands and songs they've been promoting, and sometimes promoting something not previously mentioned) (but at least they're not sending links to e-cards with the songs embedded, a sure-fire way to have their songs not listened to). Some of Team Clermont's bands are absolutely not my cup of tea, but there have been things I've liked in what they've sent:
Meredith Bragg and The Terminals -- Work and Winter
"Work and Winter" is a folkish pop tune: acoustic guitars, an occasional triangle, keyboards in the background, stuttering drums accenting the song's angularity, all of it smoothed over with that vocal melody like mannah from heaven.

Jeff Merchant -- Landlord Song
"Landlord Song" finds the narrator living in a dive and trying to make light of it; the flutes, the easy open melodies, and the gently drifting pace help give the song a falsely bucolic feel.
Jeff Merchant's myspace page.


I took part in the Metafilter swap at the end of last year. So far I've received three of the five mixes and they've been uniformly excellent; if everyone else is as happy with what I sent as I am with what they sent, then they're very happy indeed.


Neil Gaiman points to a bad agent. I point there too: it's a good read. You couldn't make this stuff up (or, if you did, people would say it's too absurd to be good fiction; no one would believe it).

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Friday, January 20, 2006:

Candy Man, Candy Man, Candy Man

Charlie McCoy -- Candy Man Blues
Pig Iron -- Candy Man
Taj Mahal -- Candy Man
Yesterday Jordan at Said the Gramophone posted Rev. Gary Davis' version of this blues classic, with a bit of puzzlement over the muddled delivery, which led me to remember I have a few different songs by that name. My first thought was that they'd all forked from Mississippi John Hurt's version, but on listening to them back to back I find that the Rev. Gary Davis version's lyrics are completely distinct from the Pig Iron one here (modelled on Hurt's song), with no lyrical overlap. Charlie McCoy's country-blues song is distinct from both of the others.

Are these candy men all the same? Not likely; if the songs share anything it's probably just a penchant for double entendre, which is hardly uncommon in early blues.

dictionary.com has it that a candyman is a person who sells or supplies illegal drugs; the Oxford English Dictionary has it that a candyman is a seller of candy or, in northern England, "bum-bailiff or process-server"; and urbandictionary.com is the only one to mention the man with the hook. Of all the possible meanings, I think that's the one least relevant to the songs.
[An exhaustive Charlie McCoy/Kansas Joe McCoy CD, which is only half as exhaustive as this one plus Vol. 2, and which in any case is probably too exhaustive for most people, including me on most days.]
[Pig Iron's CD is long out of print]
[Taj Mahal -- An Evening of Acoustic Music. I love this CD, unrepentantly, even the oomphing goofiness of "Cakewalk into Town," but most people I've played it for have found it a bit off-putting.]

Go to StG to pick up the Rev. Gary Davis version.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006:

I'm Weak for You

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes -- I'm Weak for You
This song is mighty--I mean ten feet tall and six hundred pounds; it drives railroad spikes with its fist; when it goes for a stroll it tosses mountains out of the way. But it's also a sweetheart, mannered and well-dressed, bringing roses and a good wine. It cooks dinner and lights the candles.

It's also proof of the theory of relativity. Sometimes it's just the right length, the ending a hammock, a breeze, a loosely held beer. Other times it's a couple minutes too long, the ending an indulgence, a lazy jam with a Clif's Notes more slender than most.

The picture above is, as you can see, of Black & Blue, the LP this song first appeared on. The LP is out of print and the audio is ripped from If You Don't Know Me By Now: The Best of Harold & The Blue Notes. Other standouts on that compilation: "Bad Luck," "The Love I Lost," "Don't Leave Me This Way," "Hope That We Can Be Together Soon," "Wake Up Everybody."
[If You Don't Know Me by Now: The Best of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes]


Thursday, January 12, 2006:

This Woman's Work / Work Song

Maxwell -- This Woman's Work
Nellie McKay -- Work Song
In lieu of joining the Showgirls fray (Girish has a link roundup) I decided to watch Live Nude Girls Unite!, a documentary about strippers who decide to unionize their workplace. While strippers' work gets a number of different treatments in film, this one is a bit different: it pitches the work as just that--work--with its typical drawbacks as well as some others peculiar to the line of work. Strippers talk about being bored on the job and letting their minds wander, which seems a common enough comment about work, as do many of their others--getting underscheduled, having pay cut for spurious reasons, being fired at whim. There are other complaints more specific to their work: customers sometimes film them covertly through one-way mirrors in the booths; only one worker of color works a shift in the big room; no workers of color work in private booths; workers can not call in sick unless they find a replacement, but the replacement must have skin as light or lighter and their breasts must be as big or bigger.

The labor commission won't help them because of the nature of the work (a luxury the property tax collector probably doesn't have) and when management proves indifferent to the grievances, the strippers decide to unionize. Finding representation and voting in the union proves to be the easy part; the hard part is negotiating a contract.

The documentary is filmed and narrated by one of the workers, who is also the daughter of an activist for prostitutes' rights; the mother doesn't know about her daughter's work. And here is where the film fails a bit: it's not that the filming is clumsy, though it is, or that the audio is poor, though it is, but that the film is a bit self-indulgent. The narrator is a stand-up comedian, but the bits of her routine that she includes just aren't very funny, and don't compete with some of the relayed conversations between customers and strippers. One in particular:
Customer: "Where do you work?"
Stripper: "I'm a stripper."
Customer: [pauses a beat] "What do you do for money?"

The tendency for documentary film makers to insert themselves into the film is understandable, since they're so close to the material, but I think it's a challenge to do it skillfully enough that the director doesn't prove boring, annoying, or superfluous. In this case, the director's story arc adds a bit, but the integration of the two stories is somewhat clumsy, and the director admits on-camera that she's telling her mother about her work in part because she'd likely find out anyway and in part because it would help the film. This admission shifts the viewer's attention away from worker exploitation towards family exploitation: the daughter knows her mother will find the conversation stressful--it's about something she's been hiding from her for years--yet she films it. The conversation is just as uncomfortable as imagined, prompting questions about negative space in film narrative.

While the film is somewhat self-indulgent, it's at least consistently interesting, especially in its depiction of struggle in an industry that's mostly scorned and ignored, and I was happy to see it.


Before I left for college there was a bookstore I used to go to in my little hometown: a ramshackle homely little booth in a flea market, with a garage door over the front and the walls nothing more than chicken wire held in place with bits of scrap wood. The owner was a fixture there for as long as I could remember; and I used to walk the four or five miles from my home two or three times a weekend, at first to get away from my family and then because the walk was less boring than staying at home, and then out of a wish for some sort of companionship, even the small bit of conversation I'd have around the purchase. The owner had had arthritis and tinnitus for as long as I could remember, but she was always cheerful and optimistic, quick with a joke or a sweet anecdote. I started out buying comic books from her for a quarter, when I was about eight; that progressed to young adult fiction then to science fiction and then to horror and then to some dabbling in mass-market fiction and "literature." Eventually the owner stopped selling me the books; she'd loan them to me instead, with a promise that I'd bring them back with a brief plot summary and a review; and when I moved to attend college I used to write and call frequently.

Over the years we drifted apart--she stayed at the book store, four days a week, opening before sunrise, closing at sunset, with her husband at her side, both of them living a hardscrabble life, but modest and uncomplaining; and I got wrapped up in what seems like endless school. In late 2004 I found out she had cancer but no insurance, and that as a result she'd gotten behind on her house payments trying to pay her medical bills and had lost her house and moved into a trailer. She and her husband left town for Hurricane Ivan and came back to find their trailer completely destroyed, nothing left standing but the toilet. I couldn't get in touch with her for ages--no one knew where she was staying; my family would give her messages at work and she'd send the message back that she was fine and she looked forward to seeing me.

The next time I saw her she was at work still, and only slightly less cheerful than usual. It was just before Christmas 2004; we talked awhile and I noticed that people would come buy things and pay her, and she would tuck the money in without looking at it. So I looked through her books, which had mostly survived the storm, and picked some out to put on top of the knee-high stack at my house awaiting my attention. She told me the total and I overpayed and she tucked it away without looking at it. I stayed awhile, wanting to say different things and feeling unable, and then feeling I hadn't done enough, and finally taking more money out when she was busy with a customer and hiding it where I knew she'd find it when closing shop at the end of the day.

The next time I was home was in June. It was a miserable trip: full of failed attempts to meet up with family and friends, and characterized any number of frustrated attempts to get schoolwork done: much of my family had cancelled internet service; the rest had flaky broadband that spent more time off than on; draconian librarians and the lack of a car served up more frustration, and the experience was capped off by marital discord at three of the four places I stayed. I felt unwanted and in the way everywhere, but I was low on money and couldn't afford a hotel or a car, and so everything that I could do depended on someone else's schedule. It was a poorly planned trip. Eventually I settled in with my aunt, my infirm grandmother, and my cousins in an already packed house, only to have another cousin, her husband, and their batshit insane pit bull move in when Hurricane Dennis hit. After that there was no power and no potable water, just a stultifying humid heat and short tempers all around, and it was an absolute relief to leave. I didn't get to see my friend at the flea market.

I was home again in December, just before Christmas. I ran into her husband at an auto parts store; he asked me if I'd heard about his wife. I said yes, thinking he'd meant about moving shop: the older flea market was being torn down. I asked him if she'd be at the new place that weekend because I'd like to see her. No, he said, I hadn't heard. She died on December 11, 2005. It was barely the 20th and here he was, this man who'd been married to her for decades, back at work, extended vacations not a poor man's prerogative. We talked about her awhile, about how optimistic and generous she was; and he mentioned that she had been looking forward to seeing me over Christmas. It hurt, not because he meant it to, but because she was my friend and I hadn't done enough for her; and going to San Francisco instead of going to my hometown earlier was just the last of it.

He began to get choked up, talking about her at the register, and his coworker began giving him sidelong glances, and so I asked him about his upcoming trip to visit his son. He seemed relieved about the change in subject; not long after that, my sister had to leave to meet her husband, so we left. But I've been thinking about it since: about how kind she was, about how she used to joke that some day she'd be selling my books and I'd have to autograph her a copy, about how a year and three months can come to seem like a few weeks, opportunities slipping by daily, unattended, unnoticed. It's odd to think about her not being in that little shop, odd to think about the shop not being there at all, and disappointing to know that she died hoping to see me again and that she didn't.
[Maxwell -- MTV Unplugged (what happened to the domestic version? The one without track 8, that was half as expensive? Is this it? Because they have their tracklisting all wrong)]
[Nellie McKay -- Get Away from Me]

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Monday, January 09, 2006:

Lou Rawls: What Makes the Ending So Sad

Lou Rawls -- Too Much
Lou Rawls -- What Makes the Ending So Sad
Lou Rawls -- You're Takin' My Bag
Lou Rawls -- Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye
Lou Rawls -- I Want to Be Loved (But by Only You)
Lou Rawls -- It's You
As I'm sure you've heard, Lou Rawls died of cancer on Friday. He has a long history in R&B--four decades--and an amazing voice, and he worked with good producers and arrangers (David Axelrod, Gamble & Huff), resulting in a lot of ace material to choose from.

"What Makes the Ending so Sad" is probably my second-favorite Rawls track, after "My Ancestors" (which I posted a year ago). It's a song looking at falling in and out of love, essentially asking why people who start out as friends and progress to dating can then break up and hate each other.

"You're Takin' My Bag" is a funky jazz number with a horn section and an eminently sample-able acoustic bass; it's off Too Much!, which was produced by David Axelrod and arranged by H.B. Barnum.

"Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" is off the same LP and has high hopes for a relationship; it's a come-on song stating that essentially there's nothing to lose in trying.

"I Want To Be Loved (But By Only You)" is off The Way It Was: The Way It Is, which was printed with a different track list on the cover than the order they're in on the disc (hence the conflict between the ID3 info here and what's on allmusic.com). That's an all-around awesome album, with tracks lifted from it for both Rawls' Anthology and the Rawls/Axelrod comp I Can't Make It Alone. This one is a slow-cooking R&B track with a bluesy track and Rawls' warm, warm voice telling about his unimpeachable (and unrequited) love.

"It's You" is off the same LP and is a buoyant love song about a man in a happy uncomplicated relationship. It seems to have been recorded a little hot, but I think it's a great song regardless, very catchy and uplifting. (One great song I have that's recorded way too hot ever to consider posting: "She's My Girl" by The Turtles. What a shame that is; maybe it's only the 45 that's buggered.)

The two Rawls/Gamble & Huff LPs I have (Let Me Be Good to You and Unmistakably Lou) have both been reissued in their entirety on CD; I was sorely tempted to post "Spring Again" but it's a bit scratched up so I'll just say that it's a cheerful, optimistic number, in line with spring itself, and I'm awfully fond of it.

I hope I'm not being a hipster obscurist with these last four tracks (I have a genuine love for plaid flannel, and irony wears on my nerves after awhile, so mabye there's not much risk of it). But, uh, I think these other tracks haven't been collected onto a compilation or reissued; needless to say, I think they should be.
[Anthology @ amazon.com]

Soul Shower has a post on Rawls, as does The Number One Songs in Heaven. Dig.

Other news entirely:
Recently I watched Irreversible b/w Oldboy, which both in their own peculiar ways seem to serve as condemnations of revenge (though I kept wondering if Irreversible was meant as a political parable and then reminding myself that it almost certainly wasn't, and that even if it were, the revenge part fits but the rape part is a stretch). Those two with Grizzly Man and Serenity were the best four-fer I've rented: rich, solid, fascinating work all around.

... And, in the works: a Hollywood Oldboy remake. No kidding. Let me guess the ending: the Oh Dae-su character has studied hypnosis, briefly, as an aside to some college coursework; he finds Woo-jin's story absurd, recognizes it for a lie, and kills him with something sharp just before rescuing his love from some well-timed mechanical peril. The two drive off into the sunset in a convertible with some major-keyed strings swelling on the soundtrack. The film gets middling reviews, nets $40M its opening weekend, and with all the rights and rentals, the studio comes out ahead $500M. Some studio head who deserves a kick in the ass for greenlighting formulaic stories gets a raise instead and celebrates with roses and diamonds for the wife, and some coke and a fourth SUV for himself.

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Friday, January 06, 2006:

Manhattans -- It Feels So Good

Manhattans -- It Feels So Good
Manhattans -- Let's Start It All Over Again
Manhattans -- Mind Your Business
These two tracks are off Manhattans' 1977 LP It Feels So Good. The first track, "Let's Start It All Over Again," is typical of their work on this LP (and, from what I understand off allmusic.com, typical of their work in general: soft R&B with high, mellow crooning and a deep deep voice stepping in occasionally.

"Mind Your Business" is different from the rest of the tracks: a funk tune starting with handclaps and tight harmonizing, adding horns and a snappy thumping bassline, the vocals a page ripped from Chapter 1 of Stevie Wonder's book, the lyrics telling someone what's what. It seems a direction the group could have explored more, but it's not what they're known for. This is the first of their LPs I've heard; it's solid but for the most part not outstanding; luckily from poking around a bit it seems it's not considered their best record. The LP's out of print and it seems "Mind Your Business" is unavailable on CD, though there's a (poorly reviewed) compilation with "Let's Start It All Over Again" on it.

Maybe Oliver Wang or London Lee know something about this group--where to go from here, which LPs have great songs otherwise unavailable, etc. From what I've seen so far, they know something about every nook and cranny of soul music, which is both impressive and intimidating.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006:

Jimmy Reed

Jimmy Reed -- Everest Records Archive of Folk and Jazz Music
Jimmy Reed -- Down in Mississippi
Jimmy Reed -- Ain't That Lovin' You Baby
I just got back from a trip to the Bible Belt boondocks where I grew up: the kind of place where white men wear mullets and congregate on rebel-flagged porches and tailgates to drink Budweiser and talk about wrestling and NASCAR and football; they're real manly men who bear a simmering hatred towards Hilary Clinton and black people and Arabs, tossing out sexist and racist epithets like darts. I'd like to say that's all a stereotype, the kind of thing you find in lazy film making and lazy writing, but in this case at least it's true. The town is fairly interesting from a sociological perspective, except after a few days of it I get tired of going around trying to be a sociologist--I'd rather not be stared at; I'd rather be at home where I can order a vegetarian sandwich without getting a puzzled look or hearing about how some people just need to start eating meat.

Jimmy Reed was a seminal electric bluesman popular in the 1950s and 60s and known for a mumbling vocal delivery and a casual, unschooled approach on guitar and harmonica; his influence is apparent on musicians from Dylan to The Rolling Stones to The Yardbirds to (shudder) The Grateful Dead. If it sounds like he's probably drunk while singing these, it's because he probably was--he was a notorious alcoholic with a tendency to forget lines to his own songs--but I don't tend to listen to musicians for their private lives (or even their public lives), just their lives in the studio. The studio that Reed is in here sounds cavernous, echoey; his guitar lurches along gamely; his voice reverberates; his harmonica cuts through it all.

These are digitized off an LP I picked up sealed for $3; "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby" is commonly found on Reed compilations (and for good reason); "Down in Mississippi" is rarer, appearing only on the two "Boss Man" compilations--one at two discs and 36 tracks, the other at three discs and 75 tracks. I posted "Down in Mississippi" not because I went to Mississippi (I didn't) but because it's just such an odd story in it, like some elliptical Faulknerian saga where most of the interesting stuff is in the subtext. What does the boll weevil mean? Why the rapacious preacher? Is farm work really so hypnotic?

If it's not immediately apparent why I posted "Ain't That Lovin' You Baby" then, well, you probably don't like the blues.
[The Essential Boss Man: The Very Best of the Vee-Jay Years, 1953-1966]
[Boss Man: Best of Jimmy Reed]