Are Pentagruel playing something that could be coined Doom Classical? If it exists, this is a great example. We are talking about the effects of the St.Barthomew Day’s Massacre of 1572 where tens of thousands were slaughtered. We are talking faeryes and queens, magyck and melancholy. Wait, this could be a new KFJC t-shirt slogan: Faeries and Queens, Magyck and Melancholy. Pantagruel us citterns, gitterns, lutes, flutes and voice to tell the tales of the time, some dark, some darker, always a bit mystical and questionable. There will be dragons. And as the pictures show, there will be tights and velvet. Teasing aside, gorgeous insturmentation and vocalization take the listener back to a time that feels familiar. Superb and one of my favorite suprprises from this year.
Activist, poet, revolutionary blues singer, musicologist, friend of Fidel Castro, reporter of North Vietnam and so much more. Coming out of the coffee house folk scene of the late 1950’s, Lester’s trajectory followed that of the civil rights movements of many places during this time. Here is a selection of songs from the two albums he recorde. Just him and his guitar. A stunner of a vocalist with lyrics that do not hold back… these are in your face commentaries about the injustices of social conditions directed primarily toward African Americans. Songs of police attacks and profiling, economic disparity, work inequality… it could be today as much as the 1960’s and 70’s. Things don’t always change. Powerful and strong. “Stagolee” is a 13 minute epic equal in quality to Dylan'” and Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”. Brilliant, sad, depressing stuff.
If the “N” word is considered an FCC then FCC on tracks 7,11,13 and 14.
Yowsa. Eric Shoutin’ Sheridan & The Uptown Rhythm Kings are recreating a type of blues band called Honkers or Shouters that came out of the 1940’s. Horn driven, big vocals, hep cat jive stylin’ but done without kitsch. This is serious fun, recorde live at Fleetwood. Sheridan’s vocals take hold and lead the audience into rhythm frenzy with songs about dumping the wife and opening up the back door, if you know what I mean. The band is tight, with horns taking charge. A blast of fun that I could hear on any number of shows. Have fun.
Swedish and sometimes Finnish folk group, Hedningarna ( The Heathens), came onto the music scene in the mid 1980’s, playing with the songs and sounds of the early Norse, utilizing instruments of that time and building their own variations. Adding electronics for a contemporary twist, Hedningarna have always been able to sound otherwordly and unique but never quaint. There sound rocks, in an electronic old Scandinavian sort of way. “Hippjokk” has just the Swedish trio of musicians without the two female Finnish singers, in an attempt to “draw the connection between medieval Scandinavian dance music and the techno rave scene”. It is so not that to me, just a bajillion times better. It is one of the most unique sounds I’ve heard and I’ve been following them for quite awhile. There is this Arabic style influence and then cranky sounds that remind me of hurdy gurdies but not. Beyond toe tapping – full on body bumping. Skal.
Francoise Kucheida is a French blues singer, whose strong vocal style reminds one of the past greats of French chanson but who adds her own richness to interpretation to classic French standards and newer songs. These are not just about love, but about struggle, the people struggling day to day, which can also be about love. Accompanied by accordion and guitar on many tracks, these songs are rich with emotion and beauty. Light that cigarette, pour yourself an aperitif, sit back and listen to the sounds of the Seine in the distance.
Serge Gainsbourg, French sex icon and sultry singer of suggestive French pop tunes decided to put together a reggae album back in the late 1970’s. Pulling in the magic of Sly and Robbie, The I Threes for background vocals, many studio reggae greats and recording and mixing at Dynamic Sounds Studio, Gainsbourg nails it track after track. The propulsive bass lines and smooth backing vocals are a perfect match for Serge’s cigarette filled, raspy low tone almost monotone singing. These songs are most probably not about Jah. Most assuredly the pinnacle of a period yet so timeless. Get sexy.
Paul Bley’s “Improvisie”, finishes off his trilogy of experimental electronic free jazz explorations with Annette Peacock. Recorded live in 1971 in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the two selections have Bley on electric piano and synthesizer ( as in MOOG), Peacock on electric and acoustic piano, synthesizer, electric bass and vocals, and Han Bennick on percussion. Peacock supposedly was the one who pushed the MOOG on Bley and with much success for the both of them. This is at the beginning of the MOOG so folks are trying to figure it out. Bley was happy that a keyboard was added but now he and Peacock were figuring out all the nuances of the thing. The improvisational interplay between Bley and Peacock is stunning, displaying a real understanding of the others musicianship. Peacock adds agonizing vocals (in a good way, a really good way) to the second piece. It almost shocks the listener. The pleasurable surprise, though, is Bennick’s percussion performance. He does so many amazing things with the drums, cymbals and whatever else he had present, adding to, accentuating, and filling out the sounds of Bley and Peacock. It almost gets lost but is so necessary. Definitely take a hard listen. A wonderful piece of music by some masters who were really going for the extreme.
Isaac Holt and Edee Young are solid members in the soul and rhythm and blues world and their “Soulful Strut” is a classic insturmental that everyone has heard. This collection of the “definitive” Young-Holt Unlimited paints a broader picture of this duo. The 20 tracks present a mix of insturmental and vocals treats that cover a wide blues and soul spectrum. Some of the instrumentals are so smooth, as if you were sitting in a bar in Las Vegas at 3 am listening to their show. It’s so perfect, cocktail lounge sounding and feeling with a smooth rhythm section that goes down easy. The vocals tell great stories of how they can get the girl, how great the girl looks, how the girl should hook up with them. Then there is the “Horoscope” song, a crazy, man, medium hard soul strut with horns a plenty testifying to the ladies about what they should do. Example: “To the Libra with yo’ scales in your hand. Come on baby, open up your eyes and kneel.” Whoa, and then whoa. Soulfulness aplenty.
From 2003, this is Ellen Allien’s second release on her own BPitch Control label. Berlin techno parties must have been a blast with sounds like this playing into the early morning. Here we have Allien’s charismatic voice singing over an eclectic mix of techno beats mixed in with glitch, tweak and odd computer modulated vocals and sounds. Each track is pretty unique, standing on it’s own as well as fitting together in the whole work. I’m finding this early work almost more experimental, more quirky than her later work. These pieces are not afraid of challenging the listener and of taking a chance. With beats. Always. One of my favorite finds over the last year.
This 2002 release marked a return, of sorts. of the wonderful Scroggins family and their infectious stripped down funk sound. This time around, daughters have joined in and the beat is still pumping. Remember, ESG is all about the bass, and man is there bass. Simple bass lines repeated over and over almost take on the power of a vocalist. Without the bass, there is no ESG. Minimalism is the word for this funk post punk project. Some songs just have Renee Scroggins simmering vocals accompanied by bass. Others have that oh so familiar drum beat, a little guitar, some tambourine or other percussion thrown in. That’s it, but what an “IT”. A real joy to continue to hear them. Some of these tracks are even more stripped down then songs of the past, and a bit slower, but the sound, the beat, the thump thump thump is so infectious. Your head will bop and booty will shake.
Dionne Warwick is truly one of the greats. Unclassifiable for some: jazz, blues, gospel, soul, r&b, pop? Where does she fit in when actually she fits in everywhere. These 25 songs plus some promo material are from one of her golden eras when she was on Scepter Records and was working with the brilliant team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Recorded between 1962 and 1971, these recordings capture an era that in some instances, remains timeless. The quality and catchiness of Bacharach’s instrumentation, the depth yet simplicity of David’s lyrics, found their interpreter in the unique voice of Warwick. They were a trio made for each other and the continued hits demonstrated their quality. This collection comes from rarities and lost bits of the time. Many of the selections are recordings of her classics sung in other languages: French, German and Italian. When Warwick stole Paris in her concert tour, she was asked by many to record in their language and the results are here. Superb renderings of her choice work. Also there are alternate takes and some obscurities of equal quality. With each song, Warwick sings in her unique way, nailing the lyric with superb style and interpretation, rising above but not dominating the glorious orchestrations of Bacharach. Also, this was 1962 when the trio’s first hit came about. One can not disregard the barriers and walls of prejudice they overcame with this artistic relationship. A profound collection. And she is Whitney Houston’s aunt.
Daniel Levin (cello) and Mat Maneri (viola) have composed six pieces of improvisation using instruments not usually noted for duets let alone jazz duets. Using Jung’s comments about consciousness vs unconsciousness, they explore the freedom of improv with an organization of sorts that flows from melody to full on busrts of string sound. Classical, free form microtonal interplay between the two guide, float and battle throughout the selections. Whether bowed or plucked, the listener can never predict what will happen next yet each new phrase is a pleasure to the ear. Skronk and melody all in one.
Feixs Da Housecat, electronic pop/house music king supreme, plays it up with this 2009 release. Twelve tunes of bubble gum electro house catchiness, most with vocals by breathy, squeeky or monotone female vocalists which add an edge of naughty. (Think of his work with Miss Kitten). Songs about Prince,living in a platic world and machines are all just edgey enough to make you question. The electonic beats are a variety of riffs on old gaming system soundtracks (Elvi$), low rider street bass (Kickdrum, which will blow out the speakers) and of course early house. The lyrics are suggestive sometimes but fun. This is just fun. Felix knows his style and works it to the end. Dance happy.
Electric Machine Gun Tits are Naoko Nozawa (vocals and synth) and Tora Fujimoto (vocal and guitar). Several years in the bay area, from Japan, singing in English and Japanese. Power, power, power. Hard drum machine pounding, raucous rhythm guitar, screamed repeated phrases for lyrics about pineapple junkies, fake fur, monkey brain and sushi. Cheap electronic toy noises from Naoko who yells and laughs insanely while wearing a rainbow unicorn plushy. Intense rideculous fun. You will be covered in cooked ramen. Fox and I have seen them twice, opening for Bob Log and Shonen Knife and both times they kind of stole the show. Like riding a roller coaster going 0 to 100 in 2 seconds flat.
Adult is Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller and “Detroit House Guests” is the CD that came out of their project inviting six very distinct artists into their Detroit home at separate times, collaborating with that artist and creating work from that collaboration. It’s a fascinating concept that offers so many varying outcomes. Fortunately, each collaboration is unique and of superb quality. Adult tend to fall into an electronic art punk art damage sound, pulling from the 1980’s/90’s but definitely making it their own. The influences are sometimes obvious on this new CD, which makes it more fun, but you can figure them out for yourself. The 12 tracks are definitely filled with the style and sounds of each collaborator but in the end the songs are Adult. The list of artists is so unique, from big names to lesser known to the mainstream alternative but equally valued by those in the know. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe brings his electronic soundscapes, twisting and beating with frightening authenticity. Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum adds her powerful deep vocals, drums and electronic play to mix with the sound of Adult. Michael Gira (Swans) and Douglas J. McCarthy (Nitzer Ebb) do what they do best with their onslaught and push. The new people for me were Dorit Chrysler and Lun*na Menoh, Dorit Chrysler is an internationally known theremin player, cofounder of The New York Theremin Society and founder of America’s first school for theremin. She also has this amazing voice, very emotional and cerebral at the same time. Lun*na Menoh is an artist, performance artist (Les Sewing Sisters), musician (Seksu Roba), and conceptual clothing designer. With Adult she uses her interest in sewing machines, using them to establish beats and rhythm. Put these all together and you get 12 tracks of electronic beats, monotone vocalization, art performance, emotional distance. Exceptional quality.
Rory Block needs no introduction to those in the know of blues singers and musicians. Winner of numerous blues awards, Block has established a catalogue of respected recordings. “A Woman’s Soul”, which is a tribute to Bessie Smith, is the first in her”Power Women of the Blues” series which will honor a variety of distinguished female blues singers. Tribute albums can be a dangerous thing, a slippery slope. They often fall flat because the interpretation is to try and sound exactly like the original or to change the artist’s work so much that it just sounds ridiculous. Neither is the case in this wonderful 2018 collection of the familiar and the obscure and rare of Bessie Smith’s own catalogue of tunes. Smith’s voice was powerful, her interpretation unique within the confines of the blues musical pattern. Black takes these songs and makes them her own, in a great way. First, the instrumentation: Block plays all instruments – acoustic guitars, bass and percussion which is things like blocks, sticks, and boxes including oatmeal boxes. She puts this together in a manner that sometimes falls toward old country, and that is a good thing. Then her vocals: she has this vibrato that accentuates key words and phrases. Top that with her holding out specific notes and the meaning gets layered and put in your head. Her pitch rises and falls with the story she is telling, sometimes working out a guttural vocalization which hits the spot. This is a double thumbs up. Pure joy.
“Our New Quarters” is Julian Fane’s 2007 release on Planet Mu. Ten tracks of lush, orchestral faux gaze (not quite nu-gaze) float the listener down an auditory river. At once slightly Sigur Ros or Damon & Naomi and then avant garde vocalizations and elongated strings mixed with electronics, Fane shifts sounds and tone like the differences one encounters when on that river. His lyrics are eloquent poems of desperation and sadness, observances of what will come (not good) and what is around (not good). The guitar work balances his tenor voice, often beautifully indecipherable, making you fill in the text based on your level of sadness. Fane once was a broker working the NASDAQ. He gave that up and went into music. We need more people to make choices like this. Wallow on in your ennui oh wayward son.
Peggy Scott-Adams does not play. When she wants a man, she gets him, no matter whose man he belonged to. And you better not touch her unless she says go. Peggy is serious and it’s great to hear her sing about it. These 16 hits from 1996, when Peggy started her solo career, to 2006, cover a lot of territory and are renowned within the blues and r&b community for pushing the boundaries of topics to discuss. Spousal abuse, losing your man to another man, ageism, talking to women about how they need to keep themselves up and not become a man’s pawn: it’s all here. The lyrics may not always be PC but they are honest. Her vocal style is sultry with some diva, southern gospel trills and holding out notes with great skill. She can belt it out like the best of them when needed. And she talks to her audience: ladies, and gentlemen, listen up. The instrumentation falls into that late ’90’s electric piano, drum machine sound but her voice takes over and you kind of forget about it. She might play Biscuits & Blues in San Francisco but I’d rather see her in Hayward at Shirlene’s Iron Horse or the Why Not. Get my drift?
When a flute fades in to start off track 1, “Trial By Fire”, on Selwyn Birchwood’s excellent, newest CD, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Within seconds the lap steel guitar pulls in and we are off. Birchwood’s approach is to play off old blues’ styles but to make them his own. Tone is a bit swampy at times, gritty and rough, which is the best. His guttural baritone takes to the forefront of an exceptionally tight four piece outfit: Birchwood on guitar, lap steel and vocals, Regi Oliver on all things sax plus flute, Huff Wright holding it down on bass and Courtney “Big Love” Girlie on drums and percussion. Lyrics are about men loosing their women and drinking through their pain, dealing with alcohol, relationship troubles, with contemporary references like intervention, texting, cell phones. But there is more: songs about the police state and workers in the corporate machine make us remember we are in the end of the second decade of the 21st Century. Through all of this, though, there is a southern church feel, a religious tone that is not overbearing but is apparent. It’s not bludgeoning the listener, just part of Birchwood’s personality. Blues isn’t just old tyme and reissues. This new stuff is kicking some butt. Enjoy.
This one caught me off guard and kind of blew me away. Southern Avenue have only been around for a few years but sound like they have been together forever. This blues and soul blues quintet are creating a sound rooted in traditional blues but sounding contemporary, of this century. Not falling into that scary overproduced or not dirty enough sound of many modern blues recordings, Southern Avenue have successfully blended blues and dirty Memphis soul without sounding retro. This is new stuff, listeners, and it will get you moving. Started by guitarist Ori Naftaly who left Israel to come to the US to play the blues, he met up with vocalist Tierini Jackson who introduced him to her drum playing sister, Tikyra Jackson. The band is rounded out with Daniel McKee on bass and Jeremy Powell on all things keyboard. Ten songs take you through seering musicianship that’ll turn your head, as will Tierini’s outrageously strong vocals which sound slightly reminiscent of Beyonce. It must be a Memphis thing. Just dive in. It’s such a great surprise.