fjb, local currency: solo 1992-1998 (fayettenam)

the human hearts, civics (tight ship)

the human hearts on myspace

nothing painted blue, taste the flavor (shrimper)

info on older band and solo work; I have no idea who compiled the scarily complete discographies

free music, discography, etc. here

Powered by Blogger


I was already aware of the Volvo jingles, but this Wrigley gum ad in which Stephin Merritt's voice emanates from a dentist weirds me out every time it comes on TV. Tune is nice enough, lyric shows signs of haste.


10. Curtis Mayfield, Get, Give, Take and Have

(1976, Curtom -- I'm probably listening to mp3s of a Charly CD reissue)

I gather this is considered a relatively minor Mayfield album, recorded between soundtrack and production work for other artists (namely, Aretha and Mavis), and it does have some evident shortcomings -- most of the songs seem rambling rather than formally adventurous, and, very surprisingly, I hear some undisciplined playing. I'm assuming that the prominent acoustic guitar leads on much of the record are Mayfield's -- it's a pleasantly unusual texture for this kind of plush soul/funk, but it's responsible for some unforgivable microrhythmic traffic jams (mostly w/ the congas), especially on "In Your Arms Again." Remarkable mainly for its final track, "Mr. Welfare Man," which, thematic shift aside, is a more striking and ambitious piece of music than anything else here by some distance: "You might want to say I'm a lazy man/but you've got to understand/there's a thing about my pride/you can't make me move if there ain't no groove/'cos it eats me all inside." You can perhaps imagine the melodic grace with which this is delivered, and the several layers of dramatic string and horn writing that accompany it. The song isn't obscure -- there's also a Gladys Knight version, with somewhat different lyrics and a more uptempo feel -- but it's interesting to stumble upon in the bait-and-switch context of the album that I thought, for 7/8s of its length, was going to remain entirely in love-man mode. (Not to say that the title track doesn't have an economics of its own -- a libidinal one: "I need you so greedily."


9. Dominique Eade, The Long Way Home

(BMG, 1999)

Decent enough vocal jazz by an Air Force brat/Berklee grad, currently on the New England Conservatory faculty, who, if nothing else, does something else with my 50 minutes than try to convince me that she grew up in the Black church. Backing group is grade-A, with bassist Dave Holland the best known name; one Bruce Barth builds an excellent piano solo in "Rounding the Bend," the strongest of four Eade originals. Still, the overall feel is neither fun enough nor out enough to really land with me, and, let's face it, scatting is hard to take under the best of circumstances. Most interesting song selection here is "Comrades," the only version of any of Hoagy Carmichael's late-'60s children's songs I know of besides the fabulously inappropriate fusion recordings by Stark Reality, and "I'm Hans Christian Andersen" (Frank Loesser) from the Danny Kaye film -- this is the only song, for me, where Eade's tendency to treat the lyrics fairly abstractly (she's not "expressive") really makes me hear the music itself differently. More intriguing/pretentious than most Diana Krall, much less to than Patricia Barber.

8. Down in Albion, Babyshambles

(Rough Trade, 2006)

I didn't follow the Libertines, and my only reaction to Pete Doherty's ongoing personal drama is to think that he's a bit of a throwback, now that our taste for excess is fed largely by fallen Disney employees, while most "rockers" are more inventive at creating new business plans than destroying their lives. He's a throwback musically as well, which must be why Mick Jones (who produced) and older critics love him. There's no denying that he's internalized 40 years of formal moves to a remarkable degree, covering both a decent variety of harmonic language (the Smiths are now part of the assumed background of this sort of thing as much as the Kinks; see "Back From the Dead") and his casual vocal phrasing, which, if not "natural," does not read as self-conscious. I'm in fact surprised, given what I knew in advance, that there are as many completely formed tracks here, compositionally and sonically, as there are. I will admit that this mainly got played in the car, and I did not closely attend to lyrics -- the one moment that jumped out is in the good-n-negative "Fuck Forever": "I can't tell between death and glory/New Labour and's not supposed to be the same." Aside from this and the surprising "Pentonville" which seems to just be Doherty acoustically backing a toast by "The General," who he apparently met in the named North London prison (its "separate system" floorplan for isolating inmates is pictured above.

Beyond the tracks named, what makes the album a bit suspect is that I pretty much "like" it all about equally; there may be other deep cuts that would stand out with more repetition, but many songs, and the disc as a whole, could be about 1/3 shorter with little harm. I've read that this album was received as underproduced, but I suspect that much of the credit for whatever makes this an enjoyable overall listen rests with whoever kept the guitars in tune and dialed in the amp settings. May have to check out last fall's Shotter's Nation, which is allegedly more "together."

Stray thought -- lead guitarist Patrick Warren reminds me a bit of the Only Ones' John Perry, and Doherty is a bit of a Peter Perrett figure. Has this comparison been made much, or are the Ones too forgotten? [Post-Googling update: Oh -- Doherty's been joined on stage by Perrett, and has been known to cover "Another Girl, Another Planet." Well, I may not be behind the curve, but at least my ears aren't bad.]


7. Vampire Weekend, s/t (Beggar's Banquet/XL)

Reviewed for Time Out New York.


6. Applause, Encores! at City Center, 2/7

So, I've decided that performances of entire shows count, since, for me, it's a lot like hearing a cast album with more dancing and talking between tunes. (Other sorts of live shows and movie musicals, not sure yet.) Applause is the 1970 musicalization of All About Eve, updated to a (then)-contemporary setting: a gay male hairdresser (here, comic and The View semi-regular Mario Cantone) delivers Thelma Ritter's wisecracks, there are a couple of 'Nam references, and the score (m. Charles Strouse/l. Lee Adams, a few years after Bye Bye Birdie and several more before Annie) attempts to find a way to integrate some rock touches in rhythm and orchestration (nice combo organ) with a (then)-mainstream musical-theater style in the actual writing. Ersatz but fun, in other words, like the songs in a beach party movie. (The dancing, which was very strong in this production, is similar [assuming it was something like the original choreography], with a good deal of frug among the Fosse.) The score falls down badly in attempting to spin a number out of the famous "It's going to be a bumpy night" scene, and overall doesn't seem remarkable enough to have earned its Tony, which I suspect is a symptom of how weak and directionless Broadway was in the period when actual rock was genuinely becoming mainstream (the counter-culture becoming, at least in surface respects, the culture, as many have noted about the '70s). The two standout songs would be "I'm Alive," which has elements that prefigure Sondheim's "Being Alive" and "I'm Still Here" from later in the decade, and "One of a Kind," more for its tricky modulations than anything it does lyrically or dramatically. The book, by Comden and Green, has some zingers, but they're mostly from the movie. Inexplicably, though, they chose to collapse the show's producer and critic into one bland figure; eliminating George Sanders' narrative function removes at least half of the cattiness that drives the piece.

The original ran for two-years-plus largely on the novelty of hearing Lauren Bacall (as Margo Channing, Bette Davis' great late-period creation) sing. The draw of this limited production (something like 5 performances, with production values closer to a staged reading), and certainly the reason I sprung for tickets, was the presence of Christine Ebersole, a far more adept singer, in the lead. If you don't care about this stuff at all, I'm not sure I convey to you the pleasure of seeing someone who really knows how to do this stuff, and who also has a distinct personality of her own as a performer. There was announcement before the show that Ebersole had been sick and missed some rehearsals, and, yeah, this showed in interactions with the rest of the cast, but her own songs, even those that I didn't think were much in themselves, were terrific. I can't say the same for the show's Eve, Erin Davie (like the star, recently off off Grey Gardens), who just didn't seem innocent enough at the start of the show to make the gradual revelation of the character's insincerity interesting (though to be fair, this could in part be a function of being extremely familiar with the film), and she left huge teeth marks on "One Hallowe'en," the song that's supposed to answer the question "What's her damage?" The supporting cast was just that, though the lead dancer, the show's representative of hard-working Broadway chorus personnel, was very hot.

Not fantastic, glad I saw it for Ebersole, but the failings won't keep me away from the next Encores! production, Mark Blitzstein's rarely-revived Juno, which does not involve what a quirky teen learns about life from a difficult decision. (I have more to say about that, but not now.)


4-5. His Name is Alive, Xmmer and Sweet Earth Flower

(BMG/Silver Mountain, 2007: High Two, 2007)

Reviewed for Boston Phoenix

3. Monade, Monstre Cosmic

(Too Pure, 2008)

I haven't made time for Stereolab in maybe a decade, so I don't know how Letitia Sadler's side-project (now less bedsit, more full-band, I gather) bears on what they've been doing lately. It's knee-jerk, obviously, to make her/their Frenchness the angle, but it find it hard not to say: Well, she seems to be going for Air, except when she's going for Bridgette Fontaine. Which is just to say that most of this promenades by in an eminently licensable manner, except when it doesn't, notably on "Lost Language" (one of three songs in English) and "Entre Chien et Loup," which have that harder attack and type-of-syncopation-that-doesn't-swing that is usually abbreviated by the term "angular," and which I've lapped up since I was about 13.


2. Jaki Byard, Blues for Smoke

(Black Lion/Candid, 1960/1989?)

Have always meant to hear more Byard, an unpigeonholeable pianist/composer who was the victim of a still-unsolved murder in his home in 1999. This is an all-original solo date from 1960 (seemingly unissued until the '80s), on the cusp of his lengthy association with Mingus; the continual interplay between harmonies and textures marked as “European” and more vernacular (blacker) pianisms (e.g. stride-via-Monk) was, unless I'm mistaken, much more unusual at the time than it is now (Jarrett, Jason Moran, so forth). Technically impressive, though not preciously so, throughout, but most distinctive when something’s happening on both of the above fronts at once, as on a waltz (“Aluminum Baby”) where the right hand swings and the left doesn’t, or a long passage of the title track where he gets insistently Cowell-clustery over a hypnotic blues turnaround, like something you’d hear at an especially arty rent-party. I’d definitely seek out more, though this particular record is marred by indifferent recording of the instrument itself.

1. London Is the Place for Me 2; Calypso & Kwela, Highlife & Jazz from Young Black London

(Honest Jon's, 2005)

Just found this, and have to lead with it: a fan's recent stopmotion animation of the epochal title track of the first installment of this compilation series.

I love this, ventriloquism of Lord Kitchener's just-off-the-Windrush voice through a "white" figure and all. (Creator "gamebundle" notes in the comments that "...the brown clay is harder to keep intact....If I could do it again, I would.")

As for v. 2 -- it's inevitably less of a revelation than the first, which was also pretty carefully cherry-picked, but still pretty great. Standouts are Kitch’s “My Wife’s Nightie,” in which a young lady with whom dallies while his wife is away steals said item, and Mona Baptiste’s “Calypso Blues” especially given that the previous volume included no female artists. Also intriguing are two calypsos that take stands pro (King Timothy) and con (Young Tiger) bebop, apparently a hotly debated topic in the black British musical community c. '53.

[Sidebar: These also extend “Kitch’s Bebop Calypso” from the first volume – which is itself performed by Lord Flea in the bizarre 1957 exploitation flick Bop Girl Goes Calypso (link is to the trailer, it's worth a glance), though the cast otherwise consists of the likes of Bobby Troup (wrote “Route 66,” married Julie London after Jack Webb) and Judy Tyler (Elvis’ costar in Jailhouse Rock, who died the same year both movies were released; she was actually a Rogers and Hammerstein discovery, and performs the styles relevant to this movie as unconvincingly and offensively as any musical-theater type I have ever seen.) Note to self: Read this Carribean studies paper that opens w/ a discussion of the movie.]

Disc is filled out by instrumental tracks, which are swinging and in some cases edifying (I, at least, know very little about kwela). Oh - great cover, too.

[And yes, this is very much on the long side of what I'm intending to do.]


(new series)... re-activated journals describe themselves.

So, I've decided that I'm going to try, between now and the end of the year, to write 365 brief notes on albums, old or new, that I haven't heard before. Mostly older, I suspect, both because I have a virtual and physical backlog of such items, and because, as Jane is only the most dogged in noting, there's increasingly little point in trying to grasp the year's music by making "the album" one's critical focus. (It would make as much or more sense, if I were at this point really attempting to be a well-versed professional, to drop notes on 1000 or so individual songs/tracks. Maybe next year.) I really do intend to keep these and other posts brief -- if I generate more than 250 words or so on a particular cultural artifact or performance, that's probably a good sign I should be trying to write something more substantial elsewhere. Music reviewed elsewhere will count in the total, and be will linked where possible. I'm sure that there will be peaks and valleys in activity, especially while I am teaching -- some catch-up will inevitably be played over summer.

We start tomorrow.