THE LAST TEN ALBUMS I LISTENED TO (Spring, 2017 Countdown)

10) Various Artists What It Is! Funky Soul and Rare Grooves 1967-1977 (2006)

Deep, yes. But also wider than any but the experienced might suspect before diving in and stroking for the far shore. “Soul Finger” and Aretha’s “Rock Steady” are among the few crossover hits. Big names like Curtis Mayfield and Earth, Wind and Fire, or those like Charles Wright, Lulu, Clarence Carter, Rufus Thomas, Dr. John, who might at least be familiar to fans of the period, are not represented by their best known hits. Most of the rest is really obscure (or was, until this was released as one of Rhino’s last great boxes in 2006).

At four discs, five hours and 91 cuts, this never even comes close to quitting. What might catch the uninitiated by surprise, in a hardcore funk collection, is the range of tempos.Plenty of fast stuff, sure. But who would deny this, where Patti Labelle sings “if I ever lose my BIG mouth, I won’t have to talk anymore” and you can feel the distance between the white man (then called Cat Stevens) who wrote the rest of it and the black woman who added the key word?

I also like it when you can smell the barbecue.

9) Fairport Convention Liege and Lief  (1969)

The third remarkable album released by Fairport in the Year of our Lord, 1969. This one, following the death of their drummer, Martin Lamble, (a death that had a similar crushing effect to James Honeyman-Scott’s on the Pretenders a generation hence), was almost all Sandy Denny. Numbed by loss, the others decided to follow where she led. That turned out to be a a labyrinth of English folk music from which it could be argued only guitarist Richard Thompson ever fully emerged. This isn’t the first time I listened, but I never really heard it before. Now I’m mini-obsessed. A couple of more spins and I might be up to a post on Denny in ’69, one of the most remarkable years any vocalist ever had. For now, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. And I’m taking precautions, because I’ve realized that if you wander too deeply in these woods, you mightn’t find your way out.

8) Latimore Straighten it Out: The Best of Latimore (1995)

In addition to the two cuts I highlighted earlier in the week (novelties, but deep too), mostly a straightforward set of fine-tuned 70s R&B. A little funk, a little soul, a little big-voiced balladeering, a lot of traditional Love Man, all rendered with a mix of silk and grit that makes for good smiling and nodding music. No small thing these days.

My other standouts are an unlikely cover of “Stormy Monday,” and a deep take on George McCrae’s “I Get Lifted.” But it all goes down smooth.

7) Patty Loveless Up Against My Heart (1991)

Measure for measure. My favorite album by my favorite modern singer, possessed of a brand of fatalism Sandy Denny might have recognized. What might be forgotten now is that this record almost killed her career when it failed to go gold or platinum like her previous three. Nashville is famously unforgiving of slackers. Somebody is always ready to take your place, especially when you’re either an unrepentant honky tonker or a female, forget both. She pulled a fast one by switching labels and running up a string of awards which was modest next to Reba’s (before) or Miranda’s (after), but astonishing given how uncompromised her voice was. You can hear all of that here. “God Will” is an all time killer and “I Came Straight to You” the best smile in her catalog. But this time around, another one stuck deeper than usual.

6) Tanya Tucker My Turn (2009)

Her 24th album, the first in six years at the time and still her latest to date. All of which  might help explain why, for the first time ever, she sounded relaxed. Relieved of the pressures of stardom for the first time since she was thirteen, she was able to bring something new to a bunch of classic country covers that included signature songs from Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell. All the songs her daddy wanted her to sing and nobody, but nobody, ever said she lacked guts.

5) Mel Tillis HItsides 1970-1980 (2006)

A beautifully constructed overview of the man at his peak. He broke into Nashville in the sixties with one of those good singer/great writer reps that were common at the time. Unlike almost everyone else who wore the tag he turned out to be a great singer too. Though he wrote only about a third of them, every one of these twenty-five cuts from his golden decade feels lived in.

The boundaries (neither of which he wrote)?

On one end, “Stomp Them Grapes,” which would have done Roger Miller proud. On the other, “Your Body is an Outlaw,” as deep and scary as anything by George Jones, which he sang with his eldest daughter a year after I served fish sticks and french fries to two of her younger sisters at the girls’ camp sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention in Ridgecrest, North Carolina.

Never let it be said that the South is an uncomplicated place.

(Oh, and he did write: “Detroit City,” “Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” “Mental Revenge.” Like that.)

4) Candi Staton Evidence: The Complete Fame Records Masters (2011)

The “evidence,” presumably, for the case of someone who should have been a much bigger star. There’s plenty of that here. It’s hard to understand why anyone who looked and sounded as great as Candi Staton–and had so much talent surrounding her–didn’t really cross over until she went disco (helping create the paradox of the soul singer who used disco to reach a wider audience even as more famous soul singers were being wiped out left and right).

If I had to put my finger on it, I’d blame the material, which is good, but lacks that one killer that might have put her in heavy rotation at the pop stations and brought the rest into focus. The biggest exception is “Stand By Your Man” which did cross over (nearly as big as “Young Hearts Run Free”), but, unfortunately, left no trace, having already been defined for purposes of useful narrative by Nashville’s Tammy Wynette. Too bad, because Candi had a great deal more to add to the concept than Hilary Clinton, who stood by her man long enough for him to lock up half of Candi Staton’s neighborhood.

3) Paul Revere & the Raiders The Complete Columbia Singles (2010)

This wanders about…and intrigues. Over nearly a decade and a half, they developed a theme: Stomp. Then do something else (Brill Building pop maybe? Hot rod music?)

Then Stomp. Then do something else. (Psychedelia maybe? Country rock?)

Then….Stomp.

Then….something (anything!).

Then…

Stomp.

The essence of the Stomp is on The Essential Ride, a single-disc comp that focuses on the mid-sixties and includes the hits everybody loves, plus “Crisco Party.”  In the days when “Louie, Louie” was being investigated by a congressional committee, that one was too obscene even for a garage band B-side (hence is missing here). And if you just want the Stomp, you could go here.

You’d be missing a lot, though. Mark Lindsay was one of the great hardcore rock and roll singers. Everybody knows that (though just how much he sounds like Mitch Ryder before Mitch Ryder on some of the earliest sides here might still startle you). But he was one of the great pop-rock singers, too. And, whatever one thinks of “Indian Reservation” (I love it without reservation, but I know there are serious dissenters), you can also hear how much they had earned the right to a #1 Protest Record because, as protest records go, it’s not a patch on 1966’s “The Great Airplane Strike” (which sounds like it should be the title of a solemn documentary on union organizing and is a good joke) or 1967’s “Do Unto Others” (which sounds like it should be the title of a Lenny Bruce routine and is serious….and lovely).

2) Kendrick Lamar Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (2012)

The World is a Ghetto, two generations on. Except that white critics cut Kendrick all the slack they never gave War, nothing’s changed. That might be why an outsider like me can’t tell whether it’s me or Lamar who feels tired.

One line stuck out, though: Hearing “I’ve never been violent…until I’m with the homies,” made me hear my old daddy quoting his Uncle Sam, speaking to him in the Tennessee hills in the twenties, saying “One boy is one boy. Two boys is half a boy. Three boys is no boy a’tall.”

I wish I could remember if Uncle Sam was the one who told my old daddy stories about chasing cows into the woods to hide them from the Yankees the night they drove old Dixie down.

Funny what you remember and what you don’t.

1) The Roots, Undun (2011)

The World is a Ghetto, two generations on. It even starts with a quote from the Geto Boys’ “Mind Playin’ Tricks on Me,” which, a generation back, was The World is a Ghetto one generation on.

Which leads to the question: Are all rap albums now rewrites of “The World is a Ghetto?” And if nothing’s changed, is it because we can’t change or we won’t?

Til next time.

LIFE BEYOND MARS…UPDATED (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #72)

Jimmy Carter, wherefore art thou?

So today The National Enquirer outed the “morality” candidate, Ted Cruz, as a hound dog. Allegedly, of course. Like Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, Jessie Jackson, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich, and other previous tabloid deniers before him, he has issued heated categorical denials. We shall see.

Anyway, pursuing the leads on-line, I ran across this, which is the most succinct analysis of our present down-the-rabbit-hole state I’ve seen. I mean one is never surprised, but…

Anybody who thinks Donald Trump is merely an obnoxious doofus who sprang from nowhere and is riding a periodic wave of Standard American Nativist Paranoia to inevitable defeat is sadly mistaken. His (or his campaign’s) canny use of popular music was, as I suspected, a canary in the coalmine. He came from this tabloid world, was in fact created by it, and understands it better than anyone he’s running against. Way better.

And, having done his research (boy did he do his research), and smelled an opportunity, he’s tearing it down, board by maggot-ridden board, on his way to a presidency which his five predecessors–three Republicans and two Democrats–have gradually prepared the entire electorate, half the country at a time, to accept as a purely authoritarian office, subject to no oversight but the executive’s own will.

There’s a certain irony in a man who may have privately benefited from our increasingly public combination of social libertinism (the obsession of the Liberals-Who-Do-Not-Liberate, not-so-discreetly enabled by the “right”) and economic feudalism (the obsession of the Conservatives-Who-Do-Not-Conserve, not-so-discreetly enabled by the “left”), more than any other single individual on the planet, taking a wrecking ball to the inevitable consequences. If he does indeed turn out to be some sort of proto-fascist, he’ll have been one of our own making and exactly what we deserve. Donald Trump–and Hilary Clinton (a pure product of the world captured in the link above and now likely the only person who can prevent him from becoming president, thus preserving half the present style of corruption for another round or two)–are what emerge from the walls only after the foundational timbers have rotted.

So here’s to Ted Cruz, while we await his inevitable tearful apology concerning the “pain he caused in his marriage”:

And to the “Republican” Establishment, which finally swallowed its own tongue and threw in with the previously leper-like Cruz mere days before Trump put him in his sights:

THE CHANGE IT HAD TO COME….(Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #71)

..I knew it all along.

But it sure took a while

For most of the last year, I couldn’t afford a television hookup so I spent way more time than usual monitoring talk radio, the wackier the better. Back when Donald Trump first entered the Republican race, though, I had an unwacky day where I happened to be listening to NPR and the host asked two top level political reporters (so called, I don’t remember their names), if Trump had any chance whatsoever to get the nomination.

Both reporters went to great lengths to outdo each other in their absolute assurances that this could never, ever, ever, ever, ever happen in umpty billion years.

And I thought: “If you think he hasn’t got a chance, you’re crazy.”

I didn’t just arrive at that little insight by monitoring right wing radio, which, in fact, has provided plenty of push-back against Trump and Trumpism. (Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Dana Loesh out-and-out hate him and only the wackiest wackies, Michael Savage and Alex Jones, have offered anything like strong support.)

No, I arrived at my conclusion because I’ve been monitoring the weight of the Republican party’s consistent betrayal of social conservatives and evangelicals (i.e., most of my friends and family) for three decades plus. And I had noticed that in the past five years or so, things had changed.

I was not surprised that the national media missed the story.

I’ve never seen any evidence that evangelicals in particular are in the least bit understood by what Bernie Sanders–who sounds more like an Old Testament prophet than anyone in this race–never fails to call the political, economic and media establishments.

That lack of understanding is surely why those establishments were left clutching their pearls when Trump’s rough language, for instance, failed to turn off churchgoers in South Carolina. Or when the very reasonable arguments put forth by his opponents that, until the day before yesterday, he was reliably liberal on virtually every hill-to-die-on social issue that my fellow Christians, knowing full well they would be punched in the face economically, sold their votes for over three decades.

Such things don’t tend to matter when you finally decide to swing back.

When you decide to swing back, you look for the biggest hammer in the room.

All those sold votes–sold souls in some cases–netted nothing. Republicans quite predictably collected reliable votes from the pews and, from 1980 to now, gave nothing in return. Hence, it was only a matter of time before this bargain unraveled. The only question was which election cycle would provide the tipping point.

It’s here. The bargain is dead.

And Donald Trump is the biggest hammer in the room.

I know lots of evangelicals and take the temperature of many more on the radio and online.

I haven’t found a single one who likes him and very few who aren’t disgusted by him. I think a lot of their sentiment can be summed up here (in the most frightening and salient report I’ve read on the Trump phenomenon).

But while I have trouble imagining myself voting for Trump, and will certainly hold that linked essay in my head as a warning lest I be tempted to cross over to the dark side, I can understand why others have given in. I’ve never been particularly invested in “social issues” as a political matter–the law is always helpless against any personal practice the culture cannot enforce and the culture collapsed long ago. I don’t get worked up about the issues because I tend to think of America in the past tense–as something to be studied and learned from.

We had a shot.

We didn’t listen to our own prophets (see, particularly, my posts on the Rising at right).

We blew it.

I’m resigned.

But mine is a minority opinion.

Anger is a powerful emotion in any breast clinging to hope.

And there is very little in this world more satisfying than the moment you realize you finally have a venue for speaking directly to people who have held you in open contempt for a lifetime. No matter how vigilant you are in your quest to let the red letters in the King James guide your behavior, it’s hard to resist the simplest gut-level response, the one that has reverberated throughout this campaign and can be hurled back at every puzzled pundit face on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, every hour of the day:

“I hate you back.”

Without coming anywhere near putting it so strongly, that’s what Jerry Falwell, Jr. meant this evening on Fox, when he was pressed on why and how so many evangelicals (including himself) have chosen Trump over, for instance, Ted Cruz, one of their own.

It’s not the old days he said.

It’s not about social issues anymore. The politicians have had their day and been found dismally wanting.

“It’s like that old Who song,” Falwell, Jr. finally said.

Then he named the song.

If you don’t think we’re in some sort of New Age, try to imagine Falwell’s late father (a huckster who, along with Pat Robertson, was long ago appointed to speak for evangelicals by the same corrupt payola-style process, and for the same contemptuous reasons, that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were designated to speak for Black America–brothers and sisters, I feel your pain, because the question of whether it is better to be badly represented than not represented at all is not any easy one), dropping a Who reference.

And having the reference be nothing more than a statement of the obvious, too long in coming:

The only question now is the obvious one.

If Trump wins, will the new boss really be any different than the old boss?

I fear not. If someone has a thumb in the eye of the man who has a boot in your face, it’s easy to think he must be offering a better way. It becomes easy to look past the boots he’s wearing, to miss that they are heavier and thicker and have hobnails in the soles.

But, if you want to look for a silver lining, perhaps finally asking the question is healthier than continuing to ignore it.

And if not now, when?

Something to hold on to, I guess.

I do wonder what would happen, though, if, in this very same season, Black America were to somehow wake up in time to ditch Hilary for Bernie…and if we could then somehow keep from fighting in the streets with our children at our feet.

What then?

New day? Or past tense forever?

I’ll keep watching.

And dreading.

THE RISING….THE RICH GET RICHER….NEW YEAR’S WARNING EDITION (Third Memo)

We enter 2015 with the specter of a 2016 presidential race likely to offer a choice between….a Clinton and a Bush.

Oy vey.

Back in the hey-day of “the Rising,” when Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (the Isaiah and Jeremiah of the movement) ruled the charts and warned us about the future, they wrote and/or produced a clutch of salient “political” statements. Most of the best of these (as is usually the case with such things) were records like “Backstabbers” or “Only the Strong Survive” that came disguised as something else.

Something like the O’Jays’ “Rich Get Richer”–with its famous (and admittedly un-poetic) paranoid line, “there’s only sixteen families that control the whole world…I read that in a book ya’ll”–used to make the intelligentsia roll their eyes and suggest that the boys (politely, of course, always politely) get back to the groove and leave politics and such to those sophisticated enough to know better.

H-m-m-m.

Sixteen families to control the whole world.

Always trying to get more than they give.

Jeb vs. Hilary in 2016.

Sounds like Leon and Kenny may have set the number a little high.

Happy New Year, ya’ll.