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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.
Record stores are supposedly almost extinct, but I can't help noticing that where really good ones exist, lots of people use them. Amoeba Records in Los Angeles and San Francisco are good examples: cool spaces (the SF branch is a former bowling alley) with an encyclopedic selection of CDs and vinyl, as well as books, posters, and sundry collectibles – people love them, and would love something similar in New York too, if real estate prices would allow it. Other favourites of mine include Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans, Dussmann in Berlin, and the glorious Concerto in Amsterdam, which I walked into the other day looking for one particular album and – as is usually the way with good record stores – walked out with seven.
GALACTIC: Into The Deep
This was the one I was looking for. These guys are still defining the State of the Art of New Orleans Funk for the 21st century. But I've written about them before, as well as worked with three members on my latest album. Just wanted you to know they have a new album out, that's all.
UNDERWORLD: Barbara Barbara, we face a shining future
I find it hard to say why I like Underworld. Perhaps I imagine being them, and waking up in the morning blissfully untroubled by the musical challenges I torture myself with (melodies, lyrics, chord changes, songs, singing, playing an instrument, etc). Instead of which, Underworld create repetitive electronic textures over which a spoken voice sometimes talks complete bollocks, perhaps to help pass the time and create the impression that something is happening.
And yet . . . it's strangely, almost disturbingly compelling, and always sounds like no one else but Underworld. I don't think this new album is their best, but on some tracks (especially Low Burn and Nylon Strung) their clever layering of 'simple' elements still becomes intoxicating over time, like coming up on the drug you took five minutes ago, or (if you prefer) the initial routine of physical exercise giving way to an endorphin rush. As I listened to it on the train from Amsterdam to Berlin, it also made some pretty boring scenery seem intriguing and vaguely menacing. I'm not sure if this is a good review, or even a review, but there it is.
KENNY BURRELL: All Day Long / All Night Long
Kenny Burrell is one of the great jazz guitarists, and still going strong, playing and teaching, in his 80s. His 1963 masterpiece Midnight Blue will stand forever as one of the essential, iconic Blue Note recordings. This bargain remastering and repackaging of two early albums recorded a week apart shows that, although little-known, he was just as good six years before. Neither are masterpieces, but they're solid, and feature a strong cast of other players who were up-and-coming at the time, like Donald Byrd and Hank Mobley, and two excellent pianists, Tommy Flanagan and the underrated Mal Waldron. Both albums also start with a long blues jam which is more interesting than that sounds - though rooted in bebop, Burrell has always had a way with the blues.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Things Gonna Get Better (Street Funk and Jazz Grooves 1970-1977)
I like 70s soul and funk these days, though I was barely aware of it at the time. Where was I? Well . . . in England, listening to Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Talking Heads, etc, etc, etc. Even my provincial backwater was no musical desert, since - despite a longstanding school of thought which detects an unpleasant whiff of Gorgonzola about anything from the 70s - it was in fact such an awesome decade for music that we're still trying to get our heads around it, and crate-digging for undiscovered gems, which young musicians try their damnedest to imitate. Though these days you don't see so many bell-bottoms (will they ever come back?) . . . or, for that matter, titles like A Chance For Peace, Push On Jesse Jackson, Music For The Brothers, or Things Gonna Get Better.
SERGE GAINSBOURG: London/Paris
I thought no image could be more iconically French than Serge Gainsbourg's ugly mug puffing a Gauloise. That is, until I saw this CD booklet's photo of him with Brigitte Bardot, both puffing Gauloises.
I'm not a Gainsbourg aficionado, but I enjoy the way he manages to seem ridiculous and cheesy and ineffably cool all at the same time. This is a remastered compilation of one album and a string of singles and EPs released between 1963 and 1971, including many of his best-known songs: 69 Année Érotique, La Javanaise, Je T'Aime . . . Moi Non Plus, Initials BB, etc. The rest runs the gamut from hopelessly corny to startlingly strange – sometimes within the same track.
I swear to God I didn't plan on developing a theme of Frenchness and/or Cheese here. But since I've blundered into it, I have to say I never quite understood why 'cheese' is used as a synonym for all that's tasteless, when in fact it's really tasty stuff. I admit it, I'm a cheese fan. French, English, Dutch, Swiss, hard or runny, yellow, white or blue, I just love it. Maybe I should branch out a bit and write a Cheese Blog.
De toute façon, having recently raved about Stromae's second album Racine Carrée, I thought I'd pick up his first. Beyond the mega-hit Alors On Danse (and I still can't forgive Kanye West's 'version') I'm finding it very good, and very much like the second, but not as imaginative or original. This isn't a put-down. It means he's doing what artists are supposed to do: progressing. So I'm looking forward to his third.
Incidentally, the Cheese of the title is used in the sense of 'smile for the camera'.
SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS: It's A Holiday Soul Party
I did not know these guys had made a Christmas album, and I'm not sure if I'd have found it, or most of the above, if I hadn't walked into a record store. (This takes me right back to when I bought my first LP. I was 13 or 14 and it was a secondhand recording of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, which I wouldn't have found if I hadn't walked into a record store that had it at a price within my budget, i.e. next to nothing, since it was scratched and someone had apparently mistaken it for a slice of toast and spread strawberry jam on the cover). Of course there are now many other ways to find music, but paradoxically, by making absolutely everything available (at least in theory), they can tend to shrink your horizons. I don't want Apple or Google or YouTube telling me what to listen to next because an algorithm says it's similar. That's why we need record stores, folks – but good ones, run by smart people who are music fans.
Anyway, I know that Christmas albums really are cheesy. But this is SJ & the DKs, y'all, and contains things like Ain't No Chimneys In The Projects and Funky Little Drummer Boy. Right, now I'm stashing it away until December.