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The WILT Archive
Since I like to write, quite a few people have suggested I write a blog. But I’m not especially interested in writing about myself. I did enough of that in my book (A Cure For Gravity) and even that is as much about music as it is about me.
Writing about music is difficult, but I still find it interesting to try. So, once a month, I’m going to write a few words about a few things I’ve been listening to. It can’t hurt, and who knows, it might even do some good.
Happy music for your Christmas party. Why not? Cheer up, damn you!
TOOTS AND THE MAYTALS: Funky Kingston
I met Toots once, during one of my early US tours. I’d just checked into a hotel and was waiting for the lift (sorry, elevator) when a representative of Toots’ record company introduced himself, and said he would introduce me to Toots – and oh, look, here he comes now!
Toots Hibbert was one of the friendliest, and most stoned, people I’ve ever met. Having evidently smoked enough ganja to stun a brontosaurus, he shook my hand warmly, and as we rose slowly in the elevator he kept nodding his head, shifting from one foot to the other as though grooving to an internal beat, grinning at me, and saying ‘Yah maan!’ I smiled and nodded back until he and the record company man got out at their floor, and as the doors closed, I heard a voice as they walked away:
‘Yah maan! Cool! Joe Cocker!’
Anyway, this album is one of the all-time reggae classics and always struck me as being something of a bridge between the energetic Ska and Bluebeat of the 60s and the heavier reggae sounds of the 70s and 80s. If the ferocious grooves of Funky Kingston, Pressure Drop or Louie Louie don’t make you feel good, there may not be much hope for you.
SIDESTEPPER: The Buena Vibra Sound System
I’m a huge fan of Sidestepper, which is the nom de guerre of British DJ/producer/songwriter Richard Blair, and also the name of a band he sometimes puts together to play live. Formerly a recording engineer at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios, Blair went to Colombia to work on a project with local musicians, fell in love with the music scene there, and ended up staying for years.
Sidestepper’s music is a joyous mixture of Colombian Cumbia, Salsa, Dub/Reggae, Techno, Drum and Bass, and who knows what else, all blended into a Latino-Caribbean dance music cocktail for the 21st century. It frequently manages to pull off the neat trick of not sounding quite like anything you’ve heard before, but at the same time working so naturally, and being so infectious, that it never seems weird or contrived.
Sidestepper shows up on compilations here and there, but the albums are for some reason difficult to find. I have a very good earlier one, 3 am (In Beats We Trust), but I like Buena Vibra Sound System even more. It’s a ‘mix album’, consisting of unreleased tracks and remixes, merged together into something like a continuous DJ set. Not that you’ll hear many club DJs doing anything this imaginative. Forget about the apparently never-ending tyranny of the four-to-the-floor bass drum; this stuff is constantly surprising, and combines its various influences in ways which are so clever that you don’t even realise how clever they are until you stop dancing. If you stop dancing. I wish I could get this guy for my Christmas party.
THE PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND: That’s It
Preservation Hall in New Orleans is a rough old place in which, for more than 50 years, the oldest geezers in town have been playing traditional New Orleans jazz. It’s famous enough that tourists line up around the block, and once inside, they stand, or sit on the floor – things they wouldn’t normally do – and listen to New Orleans jazz – also something they wouldn’t normally do. It’s amazing what people will do, once they get the idea that they really should. But actually, they really should, and they seem to enjoy it.
Unlike rock drummers, members of PHJB have a habit of dying of old age, at which point they’re replaced by younger musicians – sometimes their sons or nephews. The current lineup is more youthful than most and Ben Jaffe, their bass and tuba player, seems to be the driving force behind a re-invention of sorts. This is (after half a century!) their first album of original material, written by Jaffe and others, sung by various band members, and produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Who knows what kind of discussions within the band brought them to this point, but it sounds as though any arguments about the material ended up in a general agreement along the lines of: ahh, what the hell, let’s just make the happiest music we can.
I’ve been playing this album a lot because it’s just so irresistibly cheerful. It’s not hugely original – it’s even a bit clichéd, for instance in the Gospel rave-up Dear Lord (Give Me The Strength) and the obligatory song about how much fun you can have in New Orleans (Come With Me) – both of which are great anyway. Originality isn’t everything. Rattlin’ Bones is a hilarious tongue-in-cheek voodoo tale of skeletons rising from their graves on St. Joseph’s Day (I hope it’s tongue-in-cheek, anyway) and even the more melancholy moments don’t seem very serious: I Think I Love You has to be the happiest unrequited-love song ever written, and August Nights is a Film Noir vision of rain-slick mean streets as watched on an old black-and-white TV in front of a cozy fire. The opening instrumental That’s It features some red-hot trumpet playing by Mark Braud, who comes from a long line of Louisiana musicians including Duke Ellington’s original bassist, Wellman Braud. The name is pronounced ‘Bro’, and has sometimes been spelled ‘Breaux’. This particular Bro sometimes threatens to steal the show. All in all, I reckon doctors should be prescribing this instead of Prozac.