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Van, Van is a used up man:

Legendary singer-songwriter Van Morrison released a new song on streaming platforms Thursday whose title espouses a classic antisemitic trope.

The lyrics of the song, “They Own The Media,” never indicate who the pronoun in its title refers to. But Morrison, a two-time Grammy winner, was also accused of antisemitism for the 2005 track “They Sold Me Out,” and throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been trafficking in conspiracy theories that frequently overlap with Jew-hatred.

The album raised eyebrows in March when its song list was revealed, including titles such as “Why Are You On Facebook,” “Big Lie,” and “Stop Bitching, Do Something.” On the website Stereogum, writer Tom Breihan called out “They Own the Media,” saying “it sure seems to be an antisemitic trope.”

“Maybe it’s satire,” Breihan wrote. “Maybe the “they” of the title doesn’t refer to any specific group of people. But when you consider that this man just went on a months-long COVID-denial tantrum, we have every right to be suspicious about this one.”

And on the website insidehook.com, Bonnie Stiernberg noted that “even if it’s not relying on old antisemitic stereotypes, the idea that any singular group of people ‘owns the media’ is a dangerous myth.”

Over the last year, Morrison, 75, has railed against stay-at-home orders, releasing a number of songs protesting coronavirus restrictions and calling social distancing pseudoscience. A native of Belfast, he accused the government of the United Kingdom of “taking our freedom.”

In “They Own The Media,” he sings, “They control the narrative / they perpetuate the myth / Keep on telling you lies / telling you ignorance is bliss.”

Elizabeth reviewed Morrison’s entire insane album at Pitchfork. Of course the music still sounds pretty good. Because he’s Van Morrison.

Speaking of Elizabeth, while I usually just let my cobloggers promote themselves, since she hasn’t put up her discussion of The Eagles, you definitely should read it. It consists mostly of interview a lot of people about why they hate the band. I wouldn’t quite say I hate them myself. They have some good songs. They are also just about the most insufferable pricks the music world has ever produced, which is quite a high bar!

We lost a big one this week–Lloyd Price, who helped usher in the rock era with songs in the early 50s such as “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and then had a nice comeback in the late 50s after military service with his version of “Stagger Lee” and “Personality.” What I didn’t know is that he became something of an impresario himself, helping Don King put on the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Not too many recording artists from the 50s left with us. Pat Boone inevitably will be the last one living just because the world hates me.

Wanted to at least note the passing of Pervis Staples and Curtis Fuller, but both died after I had written this all up and I am on a mini-vacation, so will write up fuller discussions of both for the next edition of Music Notes.

I suppose a word on Tawny Kitaen is in order. As everyone under the age of 55 or so knows, she wasn’t a singer or musician but was a great dancer who became world famous through her sexy car dancing in Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.” Her life was a long mess, with drug addiction a huge problem and reaching a second round of highly unfortunate fame when she was married to the pitcher Chuck Finley and attacked him with her high heel shoes to the point that he filed a domestic violence claim against her. It’s mostly a sad story, but the reason I mention it is that she was part and parcel of a musical culture at that time that really valued bad behavior as an end it itself, nearly expecting our rock stars and the women who might have loved them but were definitely having a good time in order to live hard and rough and party night after night. I see that there’s a TV series coming out about the Tommy Lee/Pamela Anderson relationship for some damn reason and this is just another example of that. Romanticizing all of this is not really useful, nor interesting.

Since the average age here is, uh, not young, most of you will remember the box set era of the early 90s, when every major artist released pricey box sets of 3 or 4 or 5 CDs. It’s easy to overlook the importance of this today, in an era where so much media is at our fingertips, but most of this material was not accessible to people at the time unless you were a deeply committed vinyl collector. I never went too deep down this road, largely because this was the end of my high school days and my college years and so dropping $60 or anything was pretty tough haul. Anyway, among the most important of the box sets was James Brown’s Star Time, which remains a pretty great retrospective. Pitchfork has a good story on just how influential this was. One thing it notes, which is mostly true, is that Brown’s studio albums are pretty hit and miss, to say the least, so pulling from his vast recordings in order to curate a box set was really central to cementing his legacy to new generations who could listen to this instead of wading through the vast amount of second and third-rate material he recorded as filler.

One rarely thinks of Rhode Island when considering country or folk music (minus the Newport Folk Festival of course), but Dave Rawlings (Gillian Welch’s partner) is from North Smithfield and this is a good article on their home town boy.

My Recent album acquisitions:

  • The Paranoid Style, Underworld USA
  • George Jones and The Jones Boys, Live in Texas 1965
  • James Brown, Live at Home With His Bad Self
  • Taraf de Haidouks, Musique des Tsiganes de Roumanie
  • Lido Pimienta, Miss Colombia
  • Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, At the 2nd Fret
  • Richard and Linda Thompson, First Light
  • Minnie Riperton, Perfect Angel
  • Vern Gosdin, Till the End
  • Waylon Payne, Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, the Pusher & Me

Album Reviews:

Sun Ra, Sun Ra Plays Gershwin

Sun Ra was sui generis in the jazz world for many reasons. One of them is that no matter outre he got–and he got pretty outre–his music was still firmly based in the swing world of his youth. There’s not really another free jazz musician you can say this about, not in the same way at least. His determination to use the big band–despite the terrible finances behind it–was a big part of this. But he also loved that music and believed he could improvise and create within very old songs.

This is a 2018 compilation of Ra’s George Gershwin covers. Much, though not all, of this has been released before–in fact, I have the most annoying of the tracks, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” on a live performance from 1960 that is only annoying because there’s a woman speaking over much of it like the most annoying person you have inside a club on a given night. I guess it’s a proper representation of what that show was like!

In any case, this is a solid set of covers. It’s not must-have Ra. But for one specific part of the Ra world, it is a quality compilation.

B+

Cool Ghouls, At George’s Zoo

60s psychedelic pastiche but fairly enjoyable 60s psychedelic pastiche. You can almost pick the albums that influenced particular songs–this one would have been perfect on Pet Sounds, that other one on Surrealistic Pillow. Not bad music, but of limited value and for genre enthusiasts primarily.

B-

Karl Ikonen, Impressions, Improvisations, and Compositions

Ikonen is a very skilled Finnish jazz pianist. This solo album is interesting, but sometimes in a way I find slightly troubling. On several songs, Ikonen tunes his piano to a Middle Eastern tuning. It works really well, something that might bore welcome with a lot of jazz pianists. The sounds take on a whole other set of meanings. But that I like those songs so much more than the regularly tuned songs makes me wonder if it’s the tuning or the playing that I really enjoy on the former songs. Certainly Ikonen is an accomplished pianist, but that fact that there is this divide in the album between the two tunings makes me think in the end that he’s not really transcending the somewhat staid world of solo piano albums through a neat trick.

B

Dave Douglas, Dizzy Atmosphere: Dizzy Gillespie at Zero Gravity

The great contemporary trumpeter Dave Douglas pays tribute to one of the all-time great trumpters, in part by featuring a pretty new and unknown trumpeter in Dave Aduwemi. Always a generous sort, Douglas really wins here with the two-trumpet approach, not to mention with Matthew Stevens on guitar, Fabian Almazan on piano, Carmen Rothwell on bass, and the great Joey Baron on drums. A mix of originals and Gillespie covers (“Pickin’ the Cabbage” and “Manteca), this is a very fine contemporary jazz album that you will like.

A-

Waylon Payne, Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, the Pusher & Me

Very interesting album by this son of two country legends. His father was Jody Payne, Willie Nelson’s long-time guitarist. His mother was Sammie Smith, who had a gigantic hit with Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night.” He is named after Waylon Jennings, his godfather. So you’d think he would have a lot of advantages to make it in this industry, right? Actually, no. He was pretty much raised by his grandparents. His father evidently thought he sucked. He came out as gay and that cut off much of his family. He was an addict for a long time. He had an album like 15 years ago that didn’t go anywhere. He acted in some small roles. But what we have here is a 50 year old guy dealing with his past through a very fine country album. Given his background, you might think this repeats the Outlaw Country formula, but it does not. Mostly, it’s a sweet, honest album that is a valuable addition to the genre, not to mention one of the all-time album titles.

A-

The Budos Band, Long in the Tooth

Another solid instrumental Afro-funk album from this now long-time band. I can’t get over this band only being of limited interest to me; I’d rather listen to the Ethiopian jazz of the 70s or the funk of the same period or Booker T and the MGs when I really want this sort of thing. But it’s certainly solid music, pretty typical of Daptone Records releases. Would be great to see live, I am sure.

B

Goat Girl, On All Fours

Somewhat interesting English band with strong post-punk influences. The highs are pretty high, such as “Sad Cowboy.” The album is too long at 54 minutes for what the band is. Take away the filler and you have a pretty hot 38 or so minute record. But as it is, still a solid release with lots of good guitar and plenty of interesting enough electronics too.

B

Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi, They’re Calling Me Home

Giddens’ first album with her partner, the Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, didn’t quite get the acclaim of some of her other work such as Freedom Highway and Songs of Our Native Daughters. But I thought it was just as good. This new follow-up is too. They spent the pandemic at their home in Ireland and you can really hear the Irish influences here. Giddens goes back to some real old-time traditionals for this one–“Oh Death,” “I Shall Not Be Moved,” “Amazing Grace.” She also sings some opera, which was her initial musical training. Yeah, it sounds pretty good. Turrisi’s work here is great. He really stars on percussion, but he’s great with whatever he puts his hands too. One thing I like about his playing on her albums is that it takes it out of the tried and true instrumental backdrop of traditional music and brings in complex percussion and strings. Giddens’ banjo is always welcome. There are a few guests here too, such as the Congolese guitarist and now Irish resident Niwel Tsumbu on an instrumental that not only fits perfectly given Giddens’ connections back to African music but also is a great mid-album break. Really a very fine album. There’s only one original composition here and perhaps it would have been nice to have a couple more given her growing skills as a songwriter, but that’s a pretty minor complaint. Definitely the best album I heard this week.

A

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

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