Jeffrey St. Clair
1. Milton Nascimento — Pieta (Savoy)
There are five or six voices that just slay me when I hear them: Skip James, Sam Cooke, Irma Thomas, Bobby Blue Bland, Archie Brownlee, Iris Dement. The Brazilian master Milton Nascimento ranks near the top of that list. And, even though he’s pushing 65, Nascimento has never sounded better than on these songs of devotion to the women in his life. He’s touring the states now. Catch him if you can. Who knows when he’ll come round again.
2. Mavis Staples–Have a Little Faith (Alligator)
Dylan said he wanted to…uhm…”marry” Mavis when he first heard her voice. I’ve never thought Mavis was the greatest gospel singer, perhaps because she came after the great wave of black gospel had crested, giving birth to soul and things beyond. If want an female gospel singer who’ll make you drop to your knees seeking salvation put on a Dorothy Love Coates record. She could have been Aretha Franklin, I suppose, but Mavis cleaved to a kind of pop (ahem) gospel with occasional flirtations into R&B and soul. This transgression earned her loads of undeserved crap from purists, but I find those flirtations, grounded in the grittiest gospel, almost irresistable-perhaps precisely because they cross the line. There’s simply no denying, as the young Dylan understood, that Mavis’s voice is fueled by sex as much as Jesus. Gnostic gospel, indeed.
3. Paul Motian Trio–I Have the Room Above Her (ECM)
The first trio drummer Paul Motian played in is one of the most famous in jazz, when he partnered with Bill Evan and Scott Lafaro. The second grouping found him setting the pace with Charlie Haden for Keith Jarrett’s abstract extrapolations. In between, he played with Monk (who gave him $10 as pay for their first gig together), Sonny Rollins, Coltrane and even Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock. Now 74, Motian hasn’t lost a beat. This new cd, with Bill Frissell on guitar and Joe Lovano on tenor sax, is a challenging and rewarding brew of after midnight modal jazz.
4. Country Gentlemen–The Complete Vanguard Recordings (Vanguard)
Folk country group, pillaged mercilessly for ideas by Roger McGuinn and Gram Parsons.
5. Big Walter the Thunderbird–Pain In My Heart (Sons of Sunshine)
Criminally neglected blues legend from Houston. The undisputed master of boogie-woogie piano. For better or worse, there would have been no Jerry Lee Lewis without the Thunderbird. He’s 92, & still pounding the keys. Long may he soar.
6. Marshall Tucker Band–Stompin’ Room Only (Shout Factory)
A throwback to my wasted youth, when those humid summers on the flatlands of Indiana were chilled by bad Mexican pot, cheap beer and long jams from Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band. Here is a recently unearthed relict of those days, the long-suppressed MTB live album. Crack the whip, drain a Lone Star and inhale!
7. Thelonious Monk–Solo Monk: Remastered (Columbia)
Last week’s playlist generated tons of hate mail for my dismissal of the recently released Monk/Coltrane recording. Even some of my friends, like Dave Marsh, thought I was insulting Monk. Hardly. Few rank above Monk in my pantheon and the aimless Coltrane, weening himself from junk at the time, spoiled those gigs for me. This isn’t my favorite Monk album, but it gives you the unadulterated style, with those teasing hints of gospel and stride piano. Georges Braque at the keys?
8. Sun Ra and John Gilmore–Standards (1201 Music)
The title is an in-joke. Nothing Sun Ra and Gilmore ever produced could in any way be considered “standard” and these Gershwin and Cole Porter songs are torn apart and rebuilt from the inside out. Shorn of the Arkestra, this recording is an exercise in funky minimalism, like a Robert Creeley poem or a fast break between Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars. Simple, slightly strange and beautiful.
9. Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens–Just Between the Two of Us (King)
Forget Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. Read between the lines of this pairing between lovers. The only close rival I know is Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights and its not nearly as much fun.
10. Hubert Sumlin–About Them Shoes (Tone Cool)
As Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist, Hubert Sumlin laid down part of the foundation for Chicago blues, and so much that flowed from that, even including the power chords that drive heavy metal. Here Sumlin travels back to his roots, playing songs by Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon. And they aren’t marred all that much by cameos from Clapton, Levon Helm or Keith Richards.
1. Golden Gate Quartet, Vols, 1-4 (Document)
The male gospel group that was the touchstone for all the others to come. Check old their versions of “Blind Barnabas,” their signature acapella masterpiece “The Sun Didn’t Shine,” and above all, “I Looked Down the Line And I Wondered.” Recorded before the rise of “hard” gospel and mannered “soul.”
2. Elmer Bernstein, To Kill A Mockingbird soundtrack (1997 re-recording, Varese)
A chance to hear a more complete version of the score than the original album, with some tracks that were left out of the film.
3. Lavelle White, Into The Mystic (Antone’s)
Has any living blues artist made a gutsier move than this one? Who else would dare to cover Etta James’s “At Last”? This woman has been shocking anyone within reach of her since the day she wrote “Lead Me On” for Bobby Blue Bland (which she finally got credit for). And don’t miss Lavelle’s version of “Soul Deep.”
4. Eliza Gilkyson, Hard Times In Babylon (Red House)
A fine “re-establishing” album from the daughter of the man who wrote “Even little children love Marianne” and “Bare Necessities.”
5. Various Artists, Warmer For the Spark: The Songs of Jimmy Mac Carthy (Celtic Corner)
Ireland’s top modern singers doing songs written by one of that country’s top modern songwriters.
6. Carl Sonny Leyland, I’m Wise (HMG Records)
As good a boogie-woogie player as there is alive in the world today. Maybe not his best album, but you can sample it on iTunes.
7. Floyd Dixon, Wake Up And Live (Alligator)
This CD was Number One on the blues charts in the mid-90s. Then, naturally, it disappeared. “450 Pound Woman” never fails to delight.
8. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville (Capital)
Is she my favorite guitar player? When I’m listening to this album, she is. I’m not into her recent stuff, but “Never Said Nothing” is on my top ten song list of great rock and roll recordings.
9. Toshi Reagon, Have You Heard (Righteous Babe)
Her version of “Heartbreak Hotel” is probably the one Mae Axton had in mind when she wrote the song. And “Building Blues” is a dangerous riveter.
10. Charles Neville, Charles Neville and Diversity (Delta)
The hipster Neville shows his depth and range. His opening track, Bird’s seldom-played “Diverse,” is fabulous, and this may be my favorite take on “Jitterbug Waltz.”
11. Disiz La Peste, Jeu Societe (Universal International)
As one reporter commented this week, “If only Jacques Chirac could speak with such strength, idealism and sense of leadership” as this French rapper, son of an immigrant from Senegal.
David Vest’s new cd is Serves Me Right to Shuffle.