Sub-Top 10, 2nd Quarter 2014 #2 and #3

Jeeze, I get the message. Miles to Go visitors love lists. Sub-Top-10, 1st Quarter 2014 is No. 5 on my all-time clicked posts. So here’s a couple more warm-ups to the big winners.

Isolated Good Tunes

(That are so good I’m sure they will be on my year-end discs.)

1. Meshell Ndegeocello, “Friends” (Nonesuch) (there’s an earlier post about this)

2. Jacob Cooper, “Silver Threads” (Nonesuch) (a lovely electronic-nature dream based on a poem by Basho that casts a net of reverie that deepens into meditation for almost seven minutes; followed by several tracks with inferior poems and inferior accompaniments).

Good Albums with Strange Problems

1. Johnny A., Driven (Agalaphone)

First, it’s not so mysterious what style Johnny A. operates in: blusey amplified Americana. And he’s fluent, even gifted (if less rooted and gifted than some, like Sonny Landreth) in the idiom. The odd problem is that he’s so much the focus of the sounds and solos. The instrumentals are fine, less distinctive than they might be, but hey, with enough marginal differentiation that I’ll settle these days. But the only dude who steps forward is Johnny A. His band is way back there. Top-notch instrumental outfits like the Meters are collectives of equals.

2. EMA, The Future’s Void (Matador)

I enjoy half these songs as sensory beat-experiences. And I like the saw-edged vocals. But I’m bothered that I can’t figure out what she’s driving at much of the time. I mean, “Cthulu” and “Neuromancer” are big items with me, but I went through this album half a dozen times without realizing that was the (ostensible) topic (in some way) of those respective tracks.

3. Richard Leo Johnson, Celeste (Soft Science)

I respect and enjoy this guitarist a great deal. And the first half of this is trippy music like the world needs bad. I mean, come on — who doesn’t what to hear a poised space-rock instrumental called “Show Me the Way To the Next Whiskey Star”? But then it devolves into trinkets that suggest soundtrack outtakes from Twilight Zone episodes.

4. & 5. See-I, Knowledge Shine Bright (Fort Knox) and Paul Shapiro, Shofarot Versus (Tzadik).

Superior concepts with incomplete realization. See-I actually gets a nod from me because it has some very droll and up-to-date takes on Rasta consciousness in the first few tracks. That it dribbles away into things I always stop playing should not be an outright dis. The Paul Shapiro suffers because it’s merely a weaker, more fuzzy version of the groups excellent 2008 release, Midnight Minyan.

6. Various, Classic Africa American Songsters (Smithsonian)

The common but odd problem with this release is that it’s for specialists, not the general public. And it would be nice if the general public knew more about classic African American Songsters (black performers who did not specialize in any of the clear African American styles of song). For instance, “Alabama Bound” is clearly up for grabs since it has non-African-America roots and has been recorded many times. I’m glad to have Little Brother Mongomery’s version because I already have versions by Leadbelly and Jelly Roll Morton and many others and probably Montgomery’s somewhere I can’t remember. But this is a collection for those with already-fat collections. And, for better or worse, I tend to write for generalists.

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