Let’s talk tunes!
Nipsey Hussle isn’t someone whose music I knew very well but his murder affected a lot of people and so it seems appropriate to lead off with a link to it.
I talked about seeing Mdou Moctor a couple of months ago and what an utterly incredible experience it was to see that man play a guitar. Here’s a profile of him where he also talks about the African remake of Purple Rain he starred in, as well as how the French continue to screw over west Africa and the legacy of colonialism. Pretty interesting guy, look forward to hearing the new album.
This is a really interesting piece on how Asian women are bringing back big bands to jazz.
📣 Question of the day: What was your first concert?
— NPR Music (@nprmusic) April 3, 2019
My answer: Sir Mix-a-Lot in 1989, I think. This was before “Baby Got Back.” This is the “Posse on Broadway” and “Beepers” era. Yes, I am a Sir Mix-a-Lot hipster.
So, Ken Burns has a series coming out this fall on country music. To say the least, I have little confidence in this. The Jazz series was awful. Burns always makes claims to not taking positions, but then he totally does take positions and they are always the most conventional and least imaginable possible. He also always falls back on culturally conservative commenters, whether Shelby Foote or George Will or Stanley Crouch, all of which long for some sort of past they see as superior to the present. To bring these approaches to country music has the potential to be really disastrous. We will see. I will have to watch in any case.
Here’s a ranking of The Cure’s albums. I’ve never been a fan so I don’t care, but I know many of you do!
Album Reviews, in which no one can claim I don’t listen to a variety of musical styles:
My main critique of European jazz is that it is too technical, without a lot of warmth or soul. Schnellertollermeier is a Swiss trio that, well, pretty much reflects this. These are skilled players and they emphasis precision in their g-b-d band. Their chops are impeccable. Their sound is best described as a jazzy version of Can. If you like your jazz to make you feel like you are in a robotic world, this is the band for you.
William Tyler, Goes West
I have a long skepticism of rock-based instrumental music. Unlike jazz musicians, a lot of rockers aren’t as good of musicians as they think they are. A lot of rock compositions are pointless and leads to wankery. I had my music on shuffle the other day and that 10 minute instrumental in the middle of The Who’s Tommy came up and it is so pointless.
William Tyler on the other hand is a brilliant guitarist with a great sense of taste and composition. He’s basically Bill Frisell from a different background and that becomes even more obvious on his new album. Not only does Frisell himself show up on the last song, but Tucker Martine, who has worked with Frisell a good bit, was the engineer and co-producer. This is an absolutely lovely piece of music, on par with Frisell’s best.
Lyrics Born, Quite a Life
Lyrics Born is a really good rapper, but sometimes his silliness gets frustrating. Some of it is that a novelty song had better be damn good if it is going to work and Lyrics Born likes his novelty songs. When he does decide to be serious, he can be pretty great, such as his cover of James Brown’s “It’s a Man World,” reworked as “It’s a Man’s World?” as a commentary on sexism in the #MeToo era. But basically, this is a party album and there’s nothing wrong with that. The music is great and the lyrics pleasant enough. These aren’t profound life changing raps, but could you throw this on at a party and most people would feel pretty good about it? Definitely.
Dawn McCarthy/Bonnie Prince Billy, What the Brothers Sang
Dawn McCarthy sings in Faun Fables, a relatively minor but interesting band, while Will Oldham is of course Bonnie Prince Billy. They’ve worked together before, with McCarthy singing on BPB albums. Here, they decided a cover album of Everly Brothers tunes are necessary. This served as something of a model for Oldham’s highly regarded album of Merle Haggard cover tunes, Best Troubador, that he released after the Hag’s death, in that other than the famous “Breakdown,” which is best known these days probably for the Kristofferson version, they avoid the standards. There’s no “Bye Bye Love” or “Wake Up Little Susie” here. Rather, it’s mostly obscurities these two artists love. I don’t know that this was a hugely necessary project in the end, but they sing well together, without any fake or real sexual tension, and they make a completely pleasant album of well-executed minor tunes from one of the great all-time bands.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, Navigator
Hurray for the Riff Raff is one of those bands that people have been hectoring me to hear for a long time. So finally, here it is. Navigator, their latest album, is…quite solid. Sure, some of the appeal is the story of Alynda Segarra, New York Puerto Rican punk turned Americana star. She also has a great voice, no question. Here, she brings in a lot of those New York Latin American influences into her Americana sound, which adds a nice wrinkle. I’m not really feeling her as a mind-blowing songwriter though. She’s fine. More than competent. But I didn’t hear any songs that were going to stick with me forever. So I’d judge this band, at least based on this album, very solid but maybe not quite living up to the hype I had heard.
Meredith Monk, On Behalf of Nature
Reading reviews of Monk is amusing because the hipster publications have no idea what to do with her. For Pitchfork, she’s something like Bjork and Joanna Newsom, because these are people the reviewers there have heard of. What Monk actually does is modernist experimental orchestral voice work. I wasn’t a bit surprised to discover this is an ECM release, for it fits that label’s legendary experimental but somewhat ascetic style. This is her response to climate change. OK, this is unlikely to make the masses demand the immediate end of fossil fuel consumption. But her and the vocalists she brings with her, as well as some minimal instrumental backing on some songs, do a very convincing job of demonstrating the relevance of exploring the edges of sound outside of articulated words. Mostly, all these vocals are non-word sounds, which might not sound appealing to the average reader, but are really quite compelling.
Our Native Daughters, Songs of Our Native Daughters
That Rhiannon Giddens is a national treasure is a well-established fact at this point. For this project, she brings together three other African-American banjo players for a collection of incredibly powerful songs, many of which are about slavery. It’s kind of amazing to me, but I don’t think there is a single black artist in all of American popular music history who has recorded so many songs about the horrors of slavery and racial violence as Giddens. For a long time, it was not a topic much discussed. Giddens and friends pull no punches. Amythyst Kiah, Allison Russell and Leyla McCalla are the other three members of this project and all share in the songwriting and the singing. With each playing a somewhat different style of banjo picking, the musicianship is impressive. But it’s the overwhelming power of the songs that really make this so memorable. Russell’s “Quesheba, Quesheba,” about an ancestor probably born in Ghana and brought over through the Middle Passage into slavery, just as one example, is astounding. But then there is Giddens’ “Mama Cryin’ Long,” a shocking song about a boy who watches his master rape her mother. She then murders him and is lynched. This is told in something like a child’s sing-song vocal pattern and it is both jaw-dropping and (disturbingly) somewhat catchy. Not every song is so heavy, but the overall impact is incredible.
What a great album. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the best album released in 2019.
Ghost Ensemble, We Who Walk Again
Inspired by the deep listening exercises of the pioneering Pauline Oliveros, this debut album by a group led by the accordionist Ben Richter is genuinely great music. This just comes at you in so many ways at once. At times loud and at times quiet but always with pulsing sounds, this is an almost overwhelming audio experience of great brilliance and beauty.
Ariana Grande, Sweetener
After not listening to Top 40 pop music for many, many years, my project of the last few years to listen to a lot of new music has brought me back into this world. Some of it I really hate, especially the over-reliance on Autotune, which is an abomination. Some of it though I find pretty good and that’s where I’d put Grande. This album received massive critical acclaim. Billboard named it their #1 album of the year. I guess I am not as attuned to the pop diva set as some and I don’t know that I find this to be a success of that level. But I do find this to be an entirely enjoyable album, albeit with a little filler,
Courtney Barnett, Tell Me How You Really Feel
Given that Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit is one of the greatest rock albums ever made, I am surprised it took me nearly a year to get to the new Courtney Barnett album. Some of that was that the reviews made this out to be a bit disappointing. Some is that the show I saw her do with Kurt Vile for the album they did together (which I still haven’t listened to) was a little listless. It was nice to hear her sing “Depreston,” an amazing song, and cover Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues,” but the only time that concert really kicked ass was when Vile played “Pretty Pimpin.'” I had heard she struggled a bit writing after the unexpected success of the last album. Fair enough.
And yeah, I’d say this is a placeholder album in her career. Her talent is obviously undeniable. You don’t write “Depreston” or “Pedestrian at Best” or “Avant Gardener” without a unique and amazing voice. Some of that shows up here, but this is a set of songs that is mostly about anxiety and finding your way in the world. There’s a song here actually titled “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence” that is about her lack of comfort with her new stardom and fans and critics and everything that is the Big Rock Dream. These songs reflect her state of mind, but there’s no jawdroppers here. The band is fine too, but there’s not the sonic progress that also marked Sometimes. I have a lot of confidence that she will find her way going forward. I wouldn’t call this a misstep. I would call it a minor album.
Samantha Fish, Chills & Fever
Completely acceptable neo-soul. Nothing new or exceptional. Nice voice. Pleasant enough.
As always, this is an open thread for all things music or artistic and none things politics.