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What We’re Listening to This Week


St. Clair …
H-Bomb Ferguson: Big City Blues (Rev-Ola)

H-Bomb Ferguson, one of the last of the blues shouters, died this week. Some say he was 80. Some say he was older. His music, though, still sounds fresh. This is urban blues, music with swagger and swing–Wynonnie Harris with a heart. Among other achievements, Ferguson may have been the first blue singer to pen a song about spousal abuse, the classic “Love Her, Don’t Shove Her.” My favorite H-Bomb song? It’s gotta be “Winehead.” Soak it up. The fallout from this H-Bomb is good for you.

Duke Ellington Quartet: Duke’s Big Four (Pablo)

Here is Duke Ellington on the other side of 70, leading a quartet with Joe Pass on guitar, Ray Brown on bass and Louis Bellson on drums. His playing on these blues numbers is as sharp and swinging as ever. And new, too. The Duke wasn’t merely shrinking down an old sound for a small group setting, but exploring fresh terrain with talented young players with post-bop pedigrees. Ellington is America’s Chopin, except Chopin could only envy Duke’s versatility. Duke could play and compose any kind of music at the very highest level and never break a sweat.

Basin Brothers: Stayin’ Cajun (Flying Fish Records)

This is unadulterated Cajun music from the heart of the swamp lands. I have no idea what “Hack a Moreau” means or the significance of the “Bathtub Song,” but both of them make you want to dance, which is, after all, the prime directive of Cajun music.

Miles Davis: Four and More (Columbia)

Is this live recording of a 1964 Lincoln Center concert the most under-rated Miles Davis album? Not by those who understand the revolution in music it helped spark, as the teenage Tony Williams kicked the tempo into over-drive and the band reinvented the sound of Davis standards, such as “So What” and “Walkin’.” This isn’t rock or even fusion, but the music burns just as hotly as the MC5 at their most frenzied. This the end of bebop and the beginning of something new.

Perla Batalla: Bird on a Wire, the Songs of Leonard Cohen (Mechuda)

The Mexican-American singer Perla Batalla spent many years on the road as a back-up singer for two artists with grating voices: K.D. Laing and Leonard Cohen. Here Batalla steps to the front and her many-hued voice revives some of Cohen’s best songs. If you’ve seen the excellent film on Cohen, “I’m You’re Man,” you’ll recall Batalla as the dynamic back-up singer with the lush halo of hair who steals the show when she is called forward to sing “Bird on a Wire.” I think you’ll agree that Batalla deserves a much wider audience.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR’s music writings (as well as CPers Ron Jacobs, David Vest and Daniel Wolff) can be found in Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.


Tom D’Antoni

While waiting for Rick Rubin to offer O.J. Simpson an album deal:

1. Zoe Keating “one cello x 16: natoma” CD

You can’t cross the street without engaging a cello these days. At least that’s the way it seems. Keating, a tall woman with stalks of wild red hair and an international following has cooched up her cello with electronics, loops herself, plays percussion on it, and sounds like a one-woman string quartet with self-percussion.

Matter of fact, she even calls it “layered cello.” And even though if you say that aloud, it sounds like some kind of dessert, it is the cello equivalent of “prepared piano.” Of course, given today’s technology, prepared piano is a quaint concept. This isn’t quaint.

If I were writing for a MSM publication I might have to tip-toe around and mew shit like, “this is very modern but it’s totally accessible.” Well I don’t give a rat’s ass if it’s accessible or not. It’s accessible to me, and this is the stuff I’M listening to. On the other hand, this album made it to #2 on iTunes classical chart at one point, so she’s certainly well-known.

This is gorgeous, it’s exciting and irresistible. She is getting a new cello in a few months. He current cello has been with her since she was twelve. She is all excited about it. She’ll continue to travel with the old one, but if you see a new studio album in the future, it will be with the new one. She is all excited about it. She is recording live in Portland, Oregon at Mississippi Studios in December with the old one.



2. John Callahan “Purple Winos In the Rain” CD

He’s the quadriplegic nationally syndicated cartoonist with a dark sense of humor that twenty-somethings only dream of having. There is something to be said for a bad attitude coming from a person who actually earned it.

A few years ago videographer/editor Greg Bond and I made a music video of one of Callahan’s songs for a TV show we were working on. It was “Portland Girl.” Few knew that Callahan was a song writer or a singer at the time. The song was oddly sentimental. Sentiment is not something John is known for.

Guitarist Terry Robb produced this album and John did the illustrations for its brilliant packaging.

The songs are not happy ones, sentiment aside. They come from the depths but are not the whining of someone just out of puberty who never grew out of teen-angst. These are adult, sarcastic; sometimes funny, sometimes pathetic.

It includes a recording taken from Callahan’s voice mail of Tom Waits singing one of Callahan’s songs to him.

Callahan’s voice is soft and fragile, sometimes reaching for notes. Every time he reaches you want him to make it.

Although “Purple Winos In the Rain” is the title tune, and the most promotable for the title if nothing else, the key song is “Touch Me Someplace I Can Feel.” You’ll have to make that journey on your own, dear reader.

You’re going to be hearing about this soon. Remember you heard it here first.

3. Bob Dylan “Theme Time Radio-Food”

Dylan’s radio show on Sirius has evolved from his playing recordings of other people and either cracking wise or obviously reading (stiffly) copy it sounded like someone else had written about the subject of that show.

These days, he sounds much more relaxed, is quipping and making those bad jokes he has become known for in his later songs, and has added audio clips from other songs, radio commercials and other ephemera. His show has gone from a curiosity to a treasure of great old tunes that Dylan finally sounds like he’s having fun with.

There have been thrity-one of them at this writing. You can find them online at http://www.whitemanstew.com/
It will lead you to the shows.


4. “Let the Good Times Roll: A NW Tribute to Ray Charles

The Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon is one of the best in the country, and perhaps the only one booked by a working musician. Two years ago saxophonist Patrick Lamb, best known for his “smooth jazz” recordings, wanted to get back to his R&B roots and put together an all-star Portland band to pay tribute to Ray Charles.

The result is this album, and it’s a powerhouse. New star vocalist Liv Warfield does a duet with harmonica virtuoso and singer Paul DeLay, soul/blues diva Linda Hornbuckle sings on two cuts, veteran vocalist Sweet Baby James Bentonswings, and Wildman Lee Garrett takes the band to outer space.

Solos by ex-New Orleans great Reggie Houston, by Lamb himself, pianists D.K. Stewart and Janice Scroggins, and out of the blue, Eddie Martinez comes out of nowhere on guitar.

A couple of solos on this are poignant to jazz fans in the Northwest from fiery trumpeter Thara Memory, a force of nature for a long time here. He is currently in a wheelchair, a victim of diabetes and is in bad shape. It is lovely to remember him as he was here.


5. Bunker Hill : “Hide and Go Seek (Part 1)” on Ace CD “The Golden Age of American Rock ‘n’ Roll: Volume 6

I bought the single new. I was partial to jungle drums and wild R&B. Little did I know that “Bunker Hill” was actually Dave Walker who had just come from singing with the Mighty Clouds of Joy, and after a brief solo career would rejoin them.

Nor did I know that the musicians behind this song and all of his recordings as Bunker Hill, was none other than Link Wray. Matter of fact the line up on this out-of-control gospel-party-out-of-church is as follows: Bunker Hill – vocals, Link Wray – guitar, Vernon Wray – piano, Doug Wray – drums, Shorty Horton ­ bassnot that I can hear any guitar. You can listen for yourself on the MySpace page.

Hill (Walker) had been a professional boxer in D.C. Legend has it that he was 18-5-5, with many of his fights on TV. Billboard Magazine even said the he had been Archie Moore’s sparring partner, but who knows what the truth is?

The real truth is that I keep playing this over and over. I did when I bought the single, and I continued after I discovered it on this great CD collection (which includes the Sparkletones’ “Black Slacks,” and Noble “Thin Man” Watts’ “Hard Times (The Slop).” I even put “Hide and Go Seek” on my own MySpace page: www.myspace.com/tvdpdx. I have never gotten tired of it.

Walker (Hill) had written “You’ll Never Know,” one of the songs on the Mighty Clouds of Joy’s first album and sang lead on it. His career as Bunker Hill was something he kept separate and concealed, as much as possible.

You can hear the gospel influence as Bunker Hill, and the devil’s too. He hooked up with Link Wray in D.C. He wanted to remain anonymous. Link and his brother wanted to call him “Four H. Stamp,” but settled on Bunker Hill.

When “Hide and Go Seek” was released in 1962 (in two parts-both sides of the single) it made Billboard’s Hot 100, stayed there for thirteen weeks and got up to #33. At a time when Rock n Roll had turned into pop drivel people like Bunker Hill and Gary U.S. Bonds kept the flame alive.

After his next few records stiffed, Walker (Hill) went back to the Clouds. He is said to have died in Houston in the 1980s. But even the most fanatical website can’t confirm this. Most of the facts above were taken from such sites. You think I KNEW this shit?

What is this song about? Who the fuck knows? I just can’t stop playing it. I’m STILL not ready!!!! (Listen and you’ll understand.)

6. Gil Evans “The Individualism of Gil Evans” LP

From 1964, on Verve, I group this with his two Impulse! albums “Out of the Cool” and “Into the Hot.” He was a total individual then, and his work remains equally unique.

The personnel on here are astounding. On two of the cuts he uses THREE bassists, Paul Chambers, Richard Davis and Ben Tucker on one and Milt Hinton, Paul Chambers and Richard Davis on another. Ron Carter and Paul Chambers are on yet another tune.

Horn players? Only Eric Dolphy, Steve Lacy, Jerome Robinson, Wayne Shorter and Johnny Coles among others. Elvin Jones is the principal drummer.

Many familiar Evans classics were recorded here first, “The Barbara Song” and “Las Vegas Tango” for two.

There is beauty here that was unparalleled at the time it was released, and which has lost none of its adventurous luster. And it sounds so good on vinyl.

I come back to Gil Evans over and over and over.

7. Flat Mountain Girls “Honey Take Your Whiskers Off” CD

You want to have some fun? Get this album. These girls (and one guy) play old-timey music with great speed, passion, humor and virtuosity. The three women are unique, strikingly unique personalities. In performance you don’t know who to watch. In recording, these personalities blend and balance and compliment each other.

Nann Alleman, who fronts her own group, Spigot, has one of the most unforgettable voices in the history of voices. Lisa Marsicek, the fiddler and leader keeps everything from spinning off into outer space. Rachel Gold banjos up a storm.

Most of all, it’s great fun.

Tom D’Antoni is a writer and TV producer/reporter living in Portland Oregon. His book “Rabid Nun Infects Entire Convent and Other Sensational Stories from a Tabloid Writer” was published by Villard/Random House.



More articles by:

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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