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Music Notes


I had the privilege of seeing Mdou Moctar in Providence last week. Representing a new generation of Tuareg guitarists that is more connected to world dance music than the tradition of the elders, this was one hell of a show. The first half of the show stayed primarily in the traditionally droning Tuareg blues, which is great. However, Providence doesn’t have very many decent music venues and he was playing in a small room that is seated. And seated shows simply aren’t as musically interesting as standing shows, although I recognize that for many music fans they have a significant advantage, especially those who aren’t tall. But the energy from the crowd matters. The reception was certainly polite, but it wasn’t raucous. Then Moctar started urging the crowd to get up through his motions (his English seems pretty limited, as one might expect for a guy from Niger) and the band switched to what is best described as modern North African dance music. The drummer, who was sub-Saharan African, provided the needed beat and then Moctar started engaging in these long extended riffs that blew the roof off the place. The crowd went nuts. At one point, I wondered if I wasn’t actually listening to the kind of pointless guitar wankery that sometimes marked an earlier generation of American rock, but then I told myself to stop thinking and enjoy the fireworks. It was really something to witness. I will also note that the vocals were really hard to hear, partly because of the volume of the music but also because Moctar evidently doesn’t believe that the mouth should be viewed and kept covering it up with his head garment. But whatever.

I mentioned this in passing when I did my year end post, but I never wrote in one of these posts about the Bomba Estereo show I saw in December in Boston. The great Colombian band puts on an amazing show. Interesting crowd too–plenty of Colombians, but also a really diverse crowd in both race and age. Liliana Samet has charisma to burn, wears outlandish outfits, and kicks ass. Simon Mejia, the band’s other founder, just stays in the background and makes noises on his DJ equipment, but he has a great mind for production and creating an awesome band. The rest of the band was a lot of fun too. Wonderful show. If you have the chance to see them on one of their rare tours of the U.S., get your ass out to it. And if you don’t like the video to “Soy Yo,” I don’t even know what to say to you.

I was watching the NFL playoffs today and saw that Tom T. Hall sold the rights to “I Like Beer” to Michelob Ultra. Not sure what Michelob Ultra has to do with beer, but I will say that many of the songs Hall is most known for are his very worst songs and it is so weird. I can’t really think of another artist like this. “I Like Beer” is maybe the 8th best song on I Wrote a Song About It. It’s pretty dumb. Meanwhile, “I Love” is an execrable piece of shit of a song, perhaps the worst song ever released. It is literally a list of things he loves and none of them are anything more than cute cliches. Yet, this is an amazing songwriter with an incredible humanity and empathy who wrote some of the greatest songs ever written. But lord did he have a weakness for cheap sentimentality and goofiness that does not age well. The place to start with Hall is In Search of a Song, which is most known for “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died,” a great song, but also has gems such as “Whose Gonna Feed Them Hogs,” “The Little Lady Preacher,” and especially “Kentucky, February 27, 1971.” It’s also more easily accessible than most of Hall’s albums that are out of print.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame actually didn’t embarrass itself this year with its selections. Who knew this was even possible? Sure, Def Leppard got in but they are always going to let in nostalgia acts that sucked in order to sell some tickets to both the induction show and the museum. They did sell a lot of records over a long time at least, even if they were pretty shitty, so whatever. Leaving that aside though, a good selection of artists. Janet Jackson FINALLY got in after having been left out for far too long. I’m no fan of The Cure, but obviously they deserve induction. I’m not really sure that Stevie Nicks needed a solo induction, but it’s not ridiculous at least. Radiohead was an obvious choice. And it was good to see Roxy Music and The Zombies get deserved attention. There are still a ridiculous backlog of great bands that didn’t sell a zillion records but made great music that influenced so many–starting with Sir Douglas Quintet and extending through Big Star, The Replacements, and so many others–but this was a positive step. Of the other finalists, Kraftwerk was the most screwed and LL Cool J certainly deserves induction too.

Album Reviews:

The thing about putting up a best-of music post on December 31 is that almost immediately becomes obsolete once you listen to new albums from the previous year before the new year’s albums are released, which more or less starts this week. So if I released that post today, the list would look a little different because I’ve listened to some good albums this week.

John Prine, The Tree of Forgiveness

Is The Tree of Forgiveness the artistic equivalent of his legendary self-titled debut or Sweet Revenge or The Missing Years? Well, probably not. Is The Tree of Forgiveness a lovely little late life album filled with some really nice songs that demonstrate the humanity and empathy at the heart of John Prine? Yes it does. At this point, his voice is his voice and it depends on what you think of seriously damaged voices, but I will listen to this fine work repeatedly.


Andrew Cyrille/Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Frisell, Lebroba

This is a beautiful set of compositions by three of the finest players in modern jazz, recording together for the first time. Frisell and Cyrillle have worked together before and Cyrille and Smith have played together since the 70s, but this is his first time Frisell and Smith have recorded together. As I’ve found Frisell’s work a bit repetitive in recent years, it was wonderful to hear him in this setting. Smith remains an absolute titan of modern music and Cyrille is just a wonderful drummer. I wouldn’t say this quite grabbed me by the throat like my very favorite jazz albums do, but it’s a very fine set of music, including a great long composition honoring Alice Coltrane by Smith.


Orquesta Akokan, Orquesta Akokan

Orquesta Akokan is a revival of 50s era Cuban music. This gives it an inherent advantage in likability. There are many reasons why people don’t like many forms of music. But it’s really hard for me to imagine people outright disliking old Cuban music. It’s so appealing, doesn’t it just mean you probably don’t like music? So there’s no question that this new band is mining a very fertile ground and maybe it isn’t so hard to grow a good album out of it. But so what. This is a very fun album and you should listen to it.


Totally Mild, Her

This Australian pop band’s album is about romance and heartache, which is fine of course, but despite some real talent, I feel this didn’t really go anywhere very interesting. Elizabeth Mitchell is a very fine singer and Zachary Snider an excellent guitarist, but this sort of just fades away in the arrangements. Lyrically, it’s reasonably interesting, an attempt to explore “queer domesticity” as Mitchell has put it. But there’s nothing here that really grabs me by the throat.


The xx, I See You

I thought I would like this acclaimed album from 2017 but I really didn’t. And it was a little weird because what I often critique about bands like this is the use of electronics, but I thought it was really strong here, with Jamie xx’s samples being the strength of the album. Normally, I like bands with a male and female singer often responding to each other, but The xx is just kind of boring. Way too much of this is mid-tempo indie pop where each song sounds the same. It just blends together and not in very useful ways.


Various Artists, Bobo Yéyé: Belle Époque in Upper Volta

Another in the long series of great compilations of African music of the 1970s. Music from what is today Burkina Faso hasn’t received nearly the attention of Nigeria, Congo, or so many other nations. This is a pretty beastly set–3 full discs, representing the advance of the music. I might like it released as a series than in a huge project. But this is very fine music, a must own for anyone who loves that era of African music.


Priests, Bodies and Control and Money and Power

Having fallen in love with Priests’ 2017 release Nothing Feels Natural, I went back to check out their 2014 debut EP. And yeah, it fucking rocks. How can anyone who likes punk music not like the song embedded below? What a great band. Hope a new album comes sooner than later.


Leon Bridges, Good Thing

I like Bridges’ first album because he’s such a good singer, but he was a nostalgia act that brought back the early 60s soul style of people such as Sam Cooke. Nothing wrong with that, but it didn’t extend much farther. Enjoyable listen that I do spin from time to time, but nothing exceptional. Good Thing is a significant step forward. He still sounds great and still obviously listens to early 60s soul, but this is a much more mature and adventurous album. Not every song is amazing, but enough of them are very memorable to make this something I will buy.


As always, this is an open thread for all things music and none things politics.

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