Saturday, May 2, 2009

Birthday Booty!

I'm a simple man with simple pleasures. My birthday didn't need to be a bash. I didn't need to go off to exotic locations. It was enough for me to spend a couple hours alone in a dusty, old record shop for me to be utterly ecstatic. In all honesty, my dream solitary day would involve my writing and scouring used record and book stores. So yeah, yesterday was pretty nice. Mr. X's Record Paradise is just crammed with music. Their CD section's pretty nice, but their record collection is out of this world. I mean, I had a nice time perusing the CDs, but, if I'd have had a turntable, it would've been on like that French Dijon, Grey Poupon, people!

Anyway, this is what I treated myself to on my birthday along with what critics have said about my choices. I hope you enjoy. Actually, I guess I hope I enjoy.

Ray Charles -- Blues + Jazz

[This was playing while Pooh and I were perusing the store. It got to feeling so good I had to buy it.]

Skip Heller says: 'Combining Charles's earliest and most blues-oriented work for Atlantic with some of his best jazz-oriented work in a 2 CD package, this set shows us both that Ray Charles could function admirably in either of two worlds. Or maybe it says that, no matter what the style, Ray Charles was always his own category. Either way, he shows his greatness pays no mind to categories. The blues disc offers up true classics like "The Sun's Gonna Shine", and the jazz disc shows off both Charles and alto saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman as fantastic, bluesy soloists of the first water.'

Beastie Boys -- Paul's Boutique

[I remember when Licensed to Ill came out, black kids loved the Beastie Boys. Then the white kids started to love the Beastie Boys. Then we started to hate the Beasties. I was much more of a bandwagoner then than I am now. So, I've decided to finally give the Beasties their propers. Onto Ill Communication]

David Handleman of Rolling Stone says: 'Yet with the dense, crafty Paul's Boutique (produced by the Dust Brothers, including Tone-Loc helmsman Matt Dike), the Beasties reinvent the turntable and prove they're here to stay. Gone is Rubin's wailing guitar (and with it, probably, the chance of a crossover hit single), but in its place is a nearly seamless set of provocative samples and rhymes -- a rap opera, if you will, complete with an Abbey Road-like multisnippet medley called "B-boy Bouillabaisse." If the misogyny, hedonism and violence of the first album bothered you, the sequel shows little remorse -- merely replacing beer with cheeba -- but it's a much more intricate, less bludgeoning effort.'

Talking Heads -- More Songs about Buildings and Food

[As a wee lad, I loved "Burning down the House." It wasn't until I saw True Stories that I became a bit of a dilettantish Talking Heads fan, however. Now that I'm listening to rock again, I'm catching up on some of the Talking Heads I'd originally missed.]

Ken Emerson of Rolling Stone says: 'For Talking Heads, the trap is the Cartesian disjunction between mind and body, and rarely–if e'er–the twain shall meet. Byrne's own head is distanced from his body by a long elastic neck, and he sings as if he were being strangled by a tightly knotted tie (from Brooks Brothers, no doubt). His high-pitched voice seems to emanate entirely from his straining vocal chords, not at all from his diaphragm. Quite literally, Byrne is a Talking Head. And his group's compulsively rocking beat–martial yet nervous, halfway between a goose step and St. Vitus' dance–is exciting, but seldom sexy and never cathartic. Though rock & roll usually celebrates release, Talking Heads dramatizes repression. If they're an anomaly, they're also one of the very best as well as most interesting American rock bands performing and recording today.'

Lee Perry/Mad Professor -- Super Ape Inna Jungle

[I love dub. I love Lee "Scratch" Perry. Mad Professor ain't too bad neither. Of course, in looking up a review for this bad boy, I've discovered that this is actually a jungle remix of Perry's stuff. I don't know shit about jungle. This should be interesting.]

Rick Anderson of All Music Guide says: 'The first thing you should know is that this is not a jungle version of Lee Perry & the Upsetters' Super Ape album. Instead, it's a collaboration between Perry and the production team of Douggie Digital and Juggler, who basically provide beds of bass-heavy jungle as musical settings for scraps of Perry's vocals. The profit margin on a project like this has got to be pretty high, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the music. On "Nasty Spell," the jumpy breakbeats, synthesized chords, and sonar blips roil and surge beneath Perry's barely intelligible utterances. He makes himself clearer on the equally propulsive "Why Complaining?" (though, as usual, he's not saying much that will make sense to the earthbound mind). The last two tracks on the disc are both relatively straightforward dub mixes by Mad Professor. These would've been more effective breaking the tension at intervals during the program, but, hey, that's why CD players are programmable.'

Joe Jackson -- Look Sharp!

["Stepping Out" is one of my favorite childhood songs, and I still love Night and Day. However, aside from that album and Live 1980/86 I haven't really listened to old Shoeless here. Well, I like "Is She Really Going out with Him?" so I'm guessing I'll probably like the rest of this disc.]

Steve Huey at All Music Guide says: 'A brilliant, accomplished debut, Look Sharp! established Joe Jackson as part of that camp of angry, intelligent young new wavers (i.e., Elvis Costello, Graham Parker) who approached pop music with the sardonic attitude and tense, aggressive energy of punk. Not as indebted to pub rock as Parker and Costello, and much more lyrically straightforward than the latter, Jackson delivers a set of bristling, insanely catchy pop songs that seethe with energy and frustration. ...

Look Sharp! is the sound of a young man searching for substance in a superficial world — and it also happens to rock like hell.'

Various Artists -- Bird Up! The Charlie Parker Remix Project

[I've been fairly ambivalent with all the jazz remixes in recent years. Usually I want to enjoy them more than I actually do. Intellectually, though, I'm all for it. So, since there are some really good names on this project--Rza, Rob Swift, Me'shell Ndegeocello, Dan the Automator, and El-P--I figure it'll at least be interesting.]

Jason Bivins at Dusted Magazine says: 'So I guess this one is fun grooving stuff for a lark, and it might go over big at your next party (it certainly should sell well). But for those expecting an ear-opening stylistic collision, I’d have to say – despite the talents and ambitions of the contributors – look elsewhere.'

Various Artists -- The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip-Hop 1979-1983

[God, you remember those early, heady days of hip-hop, when we'd battle for hours over which town had the best rap: New Haven or Stamford. Boy, we all adored that Connecticut hip-hop. Well, not exactly, by which I mean, not at all. In all honesty, I would've totally passed this compilation over if it hadn't been released by Peanut Butter Wolf's Stones Throw Records. They always have the good shit. We'll see, though.]

Stephen Sowley at Dusted Magazine says: 'As hip hop moves toward its third decade, and the audience becomes younger, the history (much like any sort of culture/phenomenon) slowly starts to deteriorate. Facts become lore, old-school becomes ancient and mid-school is for parents. In times like these, its nice to now that someone like Egon spent months and months in dank basements looking for anything that said “Tri-State” or “Magic” on the labels, to save this small chunk of history from being a victim of revisionism, and to give life to dead dreams.'

Various Artists -- Made in Britain: MOJO Presents -- The Sound of a New England 1977-1983

[This is an old promo that the store was selling. I'm mildly curious about this period in British music. It has The Jam, Billy Bragg, Soft Cell, and Steel Pulse on it. I figured it was worth the $3.]

Imani Coppola -- Chupacabra

[I saw her perform once on TV, and thought, Hm. She sounds interesting. Maybe I should check her out. And here I am, 10 years later, finally buying her CD from the bargain bin. I am a man of my word.]

Matt Diehl at Entertainment Weekly says: 'Coppola's "Legend of a Cowgirl" works the best equestrian metaphors for sex since Ginuwine's "Pony"; unfortunately, that's as good as it gets on her debut album. A singer-songwriter for the hip-hop age, Coppola's folk-rapping forges the missing link between Missy Elliott and Bob Dylan, which results in a forced eclecticism. Then again, what did you expect from someone who titles her album with a Spanish term for "goat sucker"?'

Chocolate Genius -- Black Music

[Every blue moon I'd come across this brother's name and wonder what he's all about. I guess I'll be finding out soon enough.]

Mtume ya Salaam at The New Black Magazine says: 'By the end of Black Music, you’ll feel like you’ve just been visited by a fiercely intelligent, darkly comic semi-misfit—a man whose once-outsized ego has been beaten and battered to the point that he now accepts that he, like the rest of us, is no better (or worse) than the rest of us.'

Various Artists -- Selector Dub Narcotic

[I know absolutely nothing about this one. It said, "Selector." It said, "Dub Narcotic." I said, "What the hell?"]

Jason Cherkis at Washington City Paper says: 'When Calvin Johnson performs, you can't take your eyes off him. Forget the froggy-groggy voice, the sweaty Elmer Fudd pout, and the steely glare. The most deliciously off-putting thing about Johnson is the way he exploits the stage space. Backed by the Dub Narcotic Sound System on his last run through D.C., Johnson swung between Morrissey and the Supremes in twitchy, tacky flashes. Johnson's first compilation to be recorded at his aptly named house studio Dub Narcotic is inspired by house bands of studio systems such as Stax, Sun, and Lee Perry's Black Ark. Johnson's laboratory hasn't produced a signature sound so much as a central figure: Johnson himself. From the stage to the studio, he's all over the record. Johnson plays on five of the 23 tracks, receives shout-outs from a number of the indie intelligentsia on hand, including the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and produces all the tunes. He fertilizes Nikki McClure's a cappella ode to dragonfly mating rituals on "Procreate," serves as a melody anchor in "Ambulance Driver Blues" by Amelia Peter Scott + Calvin, and works as ringmaster on Dub Narcotic's own "Selector" funk trilogy. Johnson's gusto for the diverse material—be it the loose hiphop, lo-fi folk, or fuzzy-purple-organ-tweaked dub—renders this collection thoroughly listenable. I've always thought Johnson makes some of the best morning music, because it's pop based on sheer enthusiasm. What better alarm clock than torso-twisting white-boy dub?'