What I’m Listening to This Week

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Original Soul Sister

The sin of most “Contemporary Christian” music isn’t mixing gospel with pop. It’s choosing the most atrocious pop possible for the mixture. For an antidote, check out Tharpe, the pioneering singer and guitarist who crossbred her spiritual repertoire with jazz, blues, and R&B, creating some of the most captivating records of the ’40s.

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Atom Bomb

Not that I’m dissing every Christian act working today. There’s a slightly contrived quality to the Blind Boys of Alabama’s recent releases — the discs sometimes feel like they were specially designed with the hipper NPR outlets in mind — but beneath the guest stars and the bobo-friendly packaging, the music’s too good for me to complain. Just to prove that modern gospel-pop fusion doesn’t have to be terrible, this CD includes a terrific hip hop track made with a rapper called The Gift of Gab.

The Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama: The Sermon

This is what the Blind Boys sounded like back in the ’50s, when their audience was black and rural and NPR didn’t even exist. The hilarious title track is my favorite.

Junior Parker: Love Ain’t Nothing But a Business Going On

Parker’s a bluesman, of course, but this album is just as suffused with the sounds of soul and early funk. I ordered it after Oliver Wang’s invaluable Soul Sides blog posted Parker’s astounding version of “Taxman.” Turns out the rest of the album is just as good.

Various Artists: The Roots of Rap: Classic Recordings from the 1920s and 30s

From the title, you might expect to hear field recordings of street poets chanting the dozens, or airchecks from the black stations of the ’40s and ’50s, where DJs recited couplets over R&B records while they fiddled with the soundboard controls. There is, indeed, a piano-blues version of the dozens here, along with a few other tracks that obviously anticipate hip hop in one way or another, but for the most part this is a collection of talking blues and other records where singing just happens to give way to speech. Whether or not they’re the grandfathers of Grandmaster Flash, they’re solid blues, rag, and vaudeville recordings well worth enjoying on their own terms.

DJ Danger Mouse: The Grey Album

A more contemporary sort of rap. It’s also probably the most famous mash-up around, created by fusing Jay-Z’s Black Album with the Beatles’ White Album.

Spike Jones: Spiked!

More bobo-friendly packaging: Between the cover art by Art Spiegelman, the liner notes by Thomas Pynchon, and the fact the CD was released by a classical label, it’s easy to forget that Jones was a comedian who cut novelty records. Easy, that is, until you put on the music and hear the sonic equivalent of a Three Stooges short. But the arty trappings make sense: Jones was the genius of the novelty genre, a man whose makeshift instruments would put Harry Partch to shame.

Carl Stalling: The Carl Stalling Project

Soundtracks from classic Warner Brother cartoons. Like Jones, Stalling was been coopted by the highbrow crowd. And like Jones, he deserves every accolade he’s received — just not if it means forgetting the disreputable, low-art context that originally allowed his talent to shine.

JESSE WALKER is the managing editor of Reason and runs the Perpetual Three Dot website.




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