Frente Cumbiero – “Frente Cumbiero Meets The Mad Professor” – [Vampi Soul]

ArtCrimes   3/6/2012   CD, International

Frente Cumbiero, the Colombian group led by Mario Galeano Toro, gets a dub makeover on this Vampisoul release. Seven tracks recorded in Colombia in 2009, mostly instrumental, are presented with mixes done in Buenos Aires, followed by most of those tracks remixed by Mad Professor in London. Cumbia in general has had a resurgence with various reissues digging up the vibes from old Peruvian chicha 45s and newer bands like Chicha Libre doing work in that style, but Colombian cumbia has not had so much exposure, and that’s what Toro is trying to revive with his neo-cumbia approach (the Frente Cumbiero “band” is really put together on a project basis, as their previous release was more sample-intensive, while this CD uses more musicians). The cumbia grooves are pretty relentless and it makes for a nice contrast with the dub atmospherics floating through. ((( crimes )))

Danquah, George – “Hot and Jumpy” – [Secret Stash]

ArtCrimes   1/24/2012   12-inch, International

More reissued vinyl of music from Ghana, this one a grab bag of different styles with featured guitarist George Danquah getting “hot and jumpy,” as they say. ??Side One features all instrumentals in a variety of styles: low-octane reggae, wah-wah infused highlife, and the mysterious “African Hustle” which dates this to about 1976-1977. Danquah reminds me of the sweet and sour guitar work of reggae session cat Ernest Ranglin, who is tasteful as can be, in the pocket and all that, but he rarely breaks a sweat (the more frenetic wah-wah work here is credited to Jeff Medina). Side Two features four vocal tracks in upbeat highlife tempos, one of which is a variant of a Side One track. (crimes )

Vis-a-vis – “Obi Agye Me Dofo” – [Continental Records]

ArtCrimes   1/24/2012   12-inch, International

Reissue vinyl of 1977 Ghana release. Vis-a-Vis (Dance Band) occupies a space between highlife and Afrobeat, and the two sides reflect that schism, with two long Afrobeat-oriented tracks??on Side One??(nowhere near as tough as Fela’s work, this is more dancing music than social comment), and shorter highlife variants on Side Two. It being the ’70s, there’s a lot of vintage synth squeals throughout, and a competent rhythm section plus horns anchor things. There are vocals on all tracks, although on Side One, you need to get through instrumental intros of several minutes before you hear them. This is pretty lightweight stuff, especially Side Two, but they were youngsters and probably just absorbing the sounds they dug at the time. The liner notes are charmingly inept and copy editors will have to fight the urge to mark them up. ( crimes )

St. John, Bridget – “BBC Radio 1968-1976” – [Hux Records]

ArtCrimes   12/14/2011   B Library, CD

Singer/songwriter Bridget St John was a favorite of the late John Peel, who presented her on the BBC frequently… his voice resides here in numerous spoken intros. Stylistically, St John is not so traditionally-0riented as other British singers of the time; her influences instead draw from Donovan, Joni Mitchell, John Martyn, and Buffy St Marie. Her voice is reedy and pitched much lower than most female singers of the time, and when she’s heard dueting with Kevin Ayers, he often sings a higher part than she. Her guitar playing is quite accomplished (nothing fancy, but very detailed and appropriate) and some tracks add backing from players associated with 10 Years After, King Crimson, Soft Machine and “Tubular Bells” — a little heavier company than perhaps you might expect. These tracks are all BBC recordings, some actually derived from over-the-air transmissions recorded non-professionally. The first disc contains the best sounding audio, with the second being quite lo-fi at times. St John released a few albums on Peel’s “Dandelion” label (you’ll find one of them in the KFJC B Library vinyl stacks). She now lives in the US and still is active, if only a bit. ( crimes )

Doumbia, Nahawa – “La Grande Cantatrice Malienne V.3” – [Awesome Tapes From Africa]

ArtCrimes   12/14/2011   CD, International

Na Hawa Doumbia’s sound reflects the??Wassoulou??style, quite different than the “Desert Blues” we often associate with Mali. This is mostly upbeat music with her soaring vocals floating over relentless percussive plucking on the??kamale ngoni (“youth harp”) accompanied by electric guitar, bass and percussion. A nice combination of Western instruments well integrated with traditional African sounds; there is no attempt to sound commercially relevant. Doumbia is still active, with many LPs in her back catalog (KFJC has one of them on vinyl). This is a reissue of 1982 LP, out on new “Awesome Tapes from Africa” label. ( crimes )

Vannier, Jean-claude – “Electro Rapide” – [Finder’s Keepers Records]

ArtCrimes   12/7/2011   CD, Soundtrack

A collection of mostly short instrumentals recorded during 1968-1973. As a composer, as well as an arranger for Serge Gainsbourg (notably on “Histoire De Melody Nelson”), Michel Legrand, and other Gallic titans, Vannier has remained a lesser-known figure but these selections bear witness to someone who can balance purely commercial work with his own more emotionally driven efforts. Most of these tracks were intended as background music for films, puppet theatre, ballets, and fashion shows and were later licensed as library music. Other selections are unreleased material from Vannier’s personal archives. Moments of great beauty and despair alternate with zany Euro orchestrations. For devotees of 60s Franco-pop, this just will be way too short (about a half hour of music is presented here). This certainly whets my appetite for more of the same. – crimes –

Santtana, Lucas – “Sem Nostalgia” – [Mais Um Discos]

ArtCrimes   11/8/2011   CD, International

The Tropicalia movement of the sixties was a kick in the butt of more languid Brasilian styles of that time — Gilberto and his bossa nova followers — but here we find the bossa nova (not so “nova” these days) cohabitating with a bit of electronica. The result isn’t as earthshaking as the more adventurous proponents of Tropicalia, but it’s not a failure by any means. Those who enjoy Seu Jorge or Jose Gonzalez (the Swedish-Argentinian singer who follows a similar recipe) will find this appealing. The instrumentals tend to have the most complex mixes, while the vocal tracks don’t add too much processing, especially the Portuguese-sung material. Some of the English tracks do break that bossa spell. And Santtana sends big ups to the Mario Bros., celebrated on track 11. crimessss

Carney’s, Ralph Serious Jass Project – “Seriously” – [Smog Veil Records]

ArtCrimes   10/4/2011   CD, Jazz

Ralph Carney’s been associated with any number of acts in various styles but one area he understands well is the sound of saxophones from the classic jazz era of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. ??The Serious Jass Project builds a horn section from multiple overdubs of Carney on every manner of sax and clarinet, as well as flute and a few others, with the rest of the band covering piano, bass, and drums. ??Guests on guitar and vocals make some appearances here as well. ??In theory this should work as well as it does, but Carney makes sure that his horn parts aren’t just stacked up in unison … each instrument has a clear place in the mix and each part is distinctive. ??The result is a very live sounding band, with the horns driving pretty hard and the rhythm section keeping things solid. ??Pianist Michael McIntosh gets some solo time as well. ??Most tracks are drawn from the catalogs of acknowledged masters: the Duke, Juan Tizol, Coleman Hawkins, Rodgers & Hart among them. ??Aside from a few vocal chants here and there and proper vocals on a couple of songs, this is mostly instrumental. ??The last track is a band-written goof that leans more towards Carney’s wacky antics elsewhere in his catalog. — crimany

Saddle Cats, The – “Herdin’ Cats!” – [EastLight Records]

ArtCrimes   10/4/2011   CD, Country

Western swing revival acts can take many forms, from a stripped-down trio like Hot Club of Cowtown to bigger bands like Don Burnham’s Lost Weekend. ??The Saddle Cats run lean — a four piece plus a guest drummer for these sessions — but they wield a secret weapon — steel guitar master Bobby Black, a long time Nashville session player and former member of road warriors such as Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen and Asleep at the Wheel, just to name a couple. ??Black lends authenticity to the overall sound here, with an eye to the past rather than an update of the western swing template. ??Bakersfield-bred Richard Chon leads the group and takes the lead vocal here on a few tracks (with instrumentals making up the rest of the repertoire), and he demonstrates exceptional taste in choosing western swing classics and obscurities, as well as appropriate jazz and pop standards. ??Chon plays the fiddle throughout and shares solos with Bobby on nearly every song. ??Although Bob Wills is a huge influence here, the Saddle Cats are a little less wild and know how to take their time, excelling especially on ballads like “Stardust”, where Black provides a master class in steel dynamics. — crimato

Miller, Lloyd – “A Lifetime In Oriental Jazz” – [Jazzman]

ArtCrimes   9/20/2011   12-inch, Jazz

With a recording career spanning over 50 years, Lloyd Miller’s musical development can’t really be summed up on a single LP, but Jazzman has attempted to do so here, with a few tracks dating back to around 1960, several from the late ’60s and some recent tracks as well. (Unfortunately it’s difficult to determine which tracks are from where / when, with most of the details confined to the microscopic liner notes. I’ve added relevant dates to the running order where I could determine that info.)

Miller mastered many instruments from Western and Eastern disciplines, and although he originally tried to make a go of it as a jazz musician in Europe, his scholarly ways eventually led him to more disciplined study and performance of primarily Eastern styles. The recordings here highlight his earliest attempts to combine his interests into a hybrid, what he called “oriental jazz.” Miller demonstrates his ability to play instruments from Afghanistan, Iran, India, Viet Nam, and Africa, played in conjunction with a couple of different jazz groups.

It might be pointed out that the players here are not jazz titans, as they often seem content to follow the cool West Coast jazz model, with most focus on the arrangements rather than individual players’ abilities to express themselves. Sometimes the Eastern instruments are limited to playing an intro for what ends up being a pedestrian jazz groove; other pieces have more of an Eastern sound overall, bringing to mind groups like??Salah Ragab and the Cairo Jazz Band. The longest track here is an improvised suite featuring Miller playing 8 different instruments, which perhaps is the best demonstration of his own substantial talents.

On the technical side, some very abrupt edits occur on some selections, perhaps due to using more than one performance for a single master, or perhaps editing for the time constraints of the original vinyl. ??Whatever the reason, this editing has not been accomplished with much finesse.

Frimpong, K. His Cubano Fiestas – “K. Frimpong” 1976″ – [Continental Records]

ArtCrimes   9/6/2011   12-inch, International

Alhaji K. Frimpong is one of the artists featured in Soundway’s “Ghana Sounds”??and “Ghana Special” compilations, and his tracks were notable there for his evolution of the highlife sound into something a bit more influenced by Western rock conventions, with horns being less prominent than in more typical highlife. The backing band here (known as “Vis a Vis” on their own recordings without Frimpong) is nowhere near as Cuban-influenced as that of more traditional highlife bands, despite their adopted name here: “Cubano Fiestas.” Frimpong’s vocal style and use of electronic keyboards gives these 1976 recordings (his “Blue” record, as opposed to the self-titled “Black” one released in 1977) a distinct style falling somewhere in betweeen highlife and garage rock, more of an an Afro-rock sound. The sleeve notes the participation of “Africa’s No. 1 Drummer,” Kung Fu Kwaku, and his role cannot be underestimated, as he adds a lot of personality as well, with his beats often just as interesting as Frimpong’s own singing. “Kyenkyen Bi Adi Mawu,” the lead track here, is among his best known recordings. Frimpong passed away in 2005. <crimes>

Boston Spaceships – “Let It Beard” – [Guided By Voices Inc.]

ArtCrimes   8/23/2011   12-inch, A Library

Allegedly the last of five LPs by chronic overachiever Robert Pollard’s latest group, Boston Spaceships, Let it Beard touches all the UK pop and rock touchstones that Pollard’s been obsessed with all along, especially his unashamedly Townshendian vocal and songwriting pastiches. You’ll hear numerous stately Bowie-esque hooks, sax bleats, and enunciation, and a number of other symptoms of severe Anglophilia like the chunky bass and cellos of the Move / ELO and of course the Beatles / Stones nod of the title (this is far more on the fab side of that spectrum). Although the Spaceships are (were?) a trio, there’s plenty of participating guests to widen the palette: guest lead guitars from J. Mascis and others, strings, trumpet, and french horn (absolutely required for simulations of the Who, circa 1968). Although a few of these tracks are barely more than rehearsals with additional production to tidy them up (i.e., “A Hair in Every Square…”), and a few songs enter into ADHD territory with their abrupt tempo changes, for the most part this will sound terribly familiar to anybody who grew up during the sixties. <crimes>

Oxford American Southern Music CD No. 12 [coll] – [Oxford American]

ArtCrimes   6/1/2011   A Library, CD

The Oxford American magazine (partially bankrolled by John Grisham) has been covering all aspects of Southern culture for a good long while now, and each year they devote an entire issue to music, complete with a CD. ??The last couple of years have focused on a specific state, and this year it’s all about Alabama, with about 60 years of music, right up to date with Phosphorescent’s track from 2010. ??These compilations are wide-ranging, with country, soul, gospel, rockabilly, hip hop, and psychedelia, among other more mysterious genres like whatever it is that Jim Bob & the Leisure Suits do. ??Although some of these artitsts may be anything but obscure (Dinah Washington and Odetta, for examples), many of these tracks are either long out of print or picked up from rarely heard compilations on small labels. ??The case being made here is that Alabama’s music is more diverse and fascinating than one might have guessed, and the magazine gives you all the info you’ll need to dig deeper into this stuff. <crimes>

You Ain’t Talkin’ to Me: Charlie Poole & The Roots of Countr [coll] – [Columbia/Legacy]

ArtCrimes   6/1/2011   CD, Country

Charlie Poole (1892-1931) was a hard living drunk with jug-handle ears with a wild performing style. ??He wrote no songs of his own, but absorbed influences ranging from then-current pop ditties, marches, spirituals, minstrel songs, vaudeville, novelty numbers, Civil War songs, fiddle tunes, and whatever else you got… mixing them all up into a repertoire he would take on the road with his three piece crew, the North Carolina Ramblers. ??In addition to his unhinged vocal style, the 5 string banjo style Poole used (despite his lack of virtuosity) helped set the stage for what eventually would become bluegrass, with finger picking and melodic inventions rather than the more rhythmic frailing style heard we know from old-time and rural sources. ??Poole’s recordings for Columbia in the late ’20s are still echoed today via contemporary artists who found Poole’s larger-than-life performances inspiring, with Loudon Wainwright III among them. ??This three-disc collection puts the Poole repertoire from those Columbia 78s in context with other artist’s recordings side by side with Poole’s versions of the same songs (although often retitled, rewritten, and rearranged by Poole). ??The result serves as a great overview of popular American music from around 1900 to 1930. A nice booklet with this set provides biographical detains on Poole and his influences. ??<crimes>

Kirchen, Bill – “Word to The Wise” – [Proper American]

ArtCrimes   5/20/2010   CD, Country

Seems like every artist gets to a point in the career when they think, “Why don’t I invite all my friends to guest on my new album?” This is usually followed by the sound of a thousand phone calls from lawyers, resulting in historic mismatches such as R.L.Burnside with Kid Rock, Alison Moorer with Kid Rock, and probably an inevitable exhumation of Ray Charles’s corpse to appear with Kid Rock. Fear not, Bill Kirchen not only ignored Kid Rock’s poke on Facebook but instead did duets with people he actually knows, respects, and has played with before. It does make for some stylistic leaps here and there, but the default setting is classic country weepers and honky tonk with side trips to swing, blues, and whatever it is that Elvis Costello does. (“Man In The Bottom of The Well” is a nice throwback to Elvis’ “angry young man” sound, and Kirchen gets to do some biting guitar heroics). Some original tunes are made to order for the guests, and suit them fine, and the cover tunes are thankfully so obscure you won’t immediately think, “Oh, this was much better done by Merle.” Among Kirchen’s own numbers here, “Time Will Tell the Story” is a swampy country-soul number (and may be my favorite here), “I Don’t Work that Cheap” is a goofy, mid-60s-era Dylan pastiche, and “Valley of the Moon” apparently features Norton Buffalo’s last recording session. (( crimes ))

God Don’t Like It [coll] – [Document]

ArtCrimes   5/5/2010   Blues, CD

Document Records is on the path of putting *nearly every* American blues, old time, string band, jug band, hokum, and black gospel 78 record from the 20s thru the 50s back into print on their collections and single artist chronologies. They are now promoting their catalog with samplers, this being the first of them. There is no overarching theme here, as all the genres they deal with seem to be addressed. What’s nice is that they are featuring some pretty obscure acts here, even though they also have extensive back catalogs on better known artists. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Big Joe Williams, Son House, Roosevelt Sykes and the Memphis Jug Band are probably the best-known on this release, but Document has always relished more unsung artists — Three Stripped Gears, Hightower’s Night Hawks, and Hattie Ellis with Cowboy Jack Ramsey being just a few of the mysterious folks heard. The Document strategy is to offer up the basic details: who, what, where, when… and not fuss too much with remastering. We salute their ambition and hope they have more fiery sermons from Elder Johnson and weirdos like George Davis with his “Flesh Crawling Blues”. (( crimes ))

Reportage: Spela Sjalv [coll] – [Expo Norr]

ArtCrimes   4/13/2010   12-inch, International

This is a quasi-official reproduction of a 1970 Expo Norr (Sweden) LP recorded and edited by Bo Anders Persson [Trad Gras Och Stenar member, among others] and Solvieg Bark. [The actual manufacturer of this reissue is not listed anywhere on the package.] The subtitle “Spela Sjalv” translates to “Play Yourself”, more or less. Locations vary from indoor recordings [the two “Ett Barn…” tracks featuring mainly children jabbering away] to outdoor communal gatherings with folk tunes on fiddle or flute, chanting, a variety of percusssion, and/or acoustic guitar-anchored jams. At times, it’s a bit like the rain chant from Woodstock (except in Sweden), or the Master Musicians of Bukkake, or the drunken neighbors upstairs. The titles seem to describe locations, or situations, but no artists’ names are shown on the insert, just descriptions [in Swedish] of what’s being played or whatever else is happening.
And to make things even more mysterious… every track fades in and out and is timed on the insert, but there are NO visible track divisions on the vinyl, so you have to preview carefully to find out where tracks actually begin. (( crimes ))

Bolotin, Jay – “Jay Bolotin” – [Locust Music]

ArtCrimes   4/6/2010   12-inch, Country

In the category of “lost albums,” the release of jay Bolotin’s 1968 recording more than fills the bill. He was briefly contracted to record this LP in New York City, but the 18 year old Kentucky native had some culture shock on the way (as discussed in the LP’s insert, written some 40 years after the LP finally was released in 1970). Coming a few years too late for the folk boom and just a couple of years too early for the singer-songwriter craze to come, Jay Bolotin’s LP will perhaps bring to mind better known artists like Leonard Cohen (although Bolotin has none of Cohen’s verbal grace, only a bit of his vocal tonality), the earliest of Jackson Browne’s albums, the tasteful ensemble work of Lovin’ Spoonful, and the non-comedic works of Arlo Guthrie. These aren’t folk songs as much as they are confessionals, windows into his troubled young mind, trying to grapple with what seemed to be “real life.” The arrangements are spare but intelligent, with lead guitar that never takes over but is certainly of structural importance in each song. Bolotin is still around, working as an artist and composer of film music, and was surprised as anybody to find there was interest in his earliest work. (( crimes ))

Hendrix, Jimi – “Valleys of Neptune” – [Legacy]

ArtCrimes   3/16/2010   B Library, CD

The Jimi Hendrix catalog has moved again, this time to Sony’s reissue label, Legacy. The first batch of reissues have no audio additions over and beyond the previous remasterings from several years ago (although they do have documentary DVDs added), but the one truly brand new title, “Valleys of Neptune,” is all unreleased takes and remakes from various sessions (mostly in 1969) with performances by the original Hendrix Experience, the “new” Experience with Billy Cox replacing Noel Redding, and members of the short-lived Gypsy Sun & Rainbows group that rehearsed in Woodstock with Mitchell, Cox, and others. This is not a “lost” album, but rather a collection of orphaned tracks recorded during a period when Hendrix was broadening his palette, trying different songwriting and studio approaches with different sidemen. Several tracks here were new versions of older songs, some of which had been first recorded and performed years before with the original Experience group (“Stone Free,” “Red House,” “Fire”). A few tracks make their official debut here, studio efforts that weren’t actually finished during Jimi’s lifetime, such as “Valleys of Neptune” and “Ships Passing Through the Night.” Some of the tracks sound a little modern for ears used to the noisier, rougher sound of Jimi’s original recordings from the 1960s, and there are a few overdubs done in the 1980s by Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding, thus “reuniting” the original Experience many years after Jimi’s passing. A lot of this music was never intended for the public (rehearsals, demos, rough mixes), and this won’t widen Jimi’s audience much, but it does offer insights into how he viewed the studio as an instrument, one just as important as his guitar. (( crimes ))

Hurley, Michael & Nichols, Betsy – “Michael Hurley & Betsy Nichols” – [Mississippi Records]

ArtCrimes   3/9/2010   7-inch, Country

Four tracks of Hurley originals, some being older songs in new versions, with Betsy Nichols singing harmony. This was their very first time singing together; they had apparently never met prior to this session. The first track “Jocko’s Lament” is a very short a capella piece, and the rest feature Hurley on acoustic or electric guitar. “Don’t let Me Down” is NOT the Beatles’ song. No other instruments, it’s very casual. This is a much more “folkish” release than his recent “Ida Con Snock” release with a full band, but the songs, vocals, and guitar work are very much as per Hurley’s usual: distinctive and odd, funny but maybe not ha-ha funny… and sometimes strangely moving for unknown reasons.
PGM: track order on sleeve is WRONG, check vinyl label for correct info. This plays at 33-1/3. (( crimes ))

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