Except to add a sad note — Avakian lived long enough to see albums and liner notes go out of fashion.
Lifelong incarnation of “indie spirit rock and roll.” I discovered him and Toody when they were playing a Pierced Arrows album at Rockin’ Rudy’s in Missoula and I asked “who in the hell is this dandy item?” It was some early version of Straight To the Heart that doesn’t look like the one you can get now. Loved it, but sat around in ignorance until I read this definitive presentation by Bob Xgau. The double-CD is clearly where to begin, but I wanna snatch up anything I can find by Fred and Toody.
About an item from last week’s, actually.
Now that I’ve listened to the American Epic box, I have to underscore that you need to get it for the sound alone. This is the way I’ve always wanted these vintage sides to be. I’ve never heard the voice-to-voice and voice-to-instruments relationships so natural and consistent. They’ve been cleaned up and clear before, sure, but voices and instruments in particular seemed out whack even so. Not here.
I’m not enough of a tech head to have anything to say about the methods used on the recordings, and it may be too late in the game for the recording industry in general, but at least these sides are here.
Wearing my “rock.com” t-shirt today and feel happy and confident. For eons it stayed stashed away in a box because it represented an exciting professional future that never came to pass. I was haunted by the feeling that we made mistakes, if we’d only caught a couple lucky breaks, the operation could have been a thumping success. After all, we were unbound by print from the start. But the Leviathan future for the internet now looks inevitable and Google and Amazon stand revealed as mean as any giants.
Now I simply remember the fun. Best salary I ever made. Tickled to be headed into work every day. Talk directly to the wondrous music fans.
I’ll do the standard (and necessary) bit right off: Yes, Irma Thomas is a peer of Aretha and Etta, and would be as well known as they are if she had hooked up with Atlantic or Chess. But she’s had a full and lengthy career nonetheless.
But it’s Wish Someone Would Care (Imperial, 1964) that I want to celebrate here. One of only two LPs she released in the ’60s, the title track is also her biggest hit, scoring #17 in 1964. This is also one of the true forgotten, near-perfect albums. I came across a copy shortly after I moved to Cambridge (must have been Cheapo Records) and fell insane love with it. Played it every day for long stretches. I was most sustained, even rescued, by that title track, which is quite an unusual number. Instead of longing for love, it’s a lament about loneliness and isolation that’s almost existential. Do a search and you will hear what I mean.
She was singing straight to my heart.
Final confession: I did not spin Wish Someone Would Care to prepare for this post. One of those very unfortunate situations where a wonderful record that uplifted you during very hard times does not get played because it takes you right back there.
Still, thanks, Ms. Thomas — we really had a thing going.
… that I also consider counterproductive for the music they concern.
- This weird, pious atmosphere that keeps attaching itself to pre-electric country blues. This is sacred stuff, man, esp. treasured because “non-commercial.” Reminds me of the worst aspects of the early-’60s folk revival. Didn’t Bob Dylan point out that that sort of reverence was a dead end?
- A closely related effect applies internationally. That the purest, noncommercial folk forms from the most isolated corners of the land are the true music of the place. Genius innovations from city performers are just tainted junk.
- The only time anybody wants to play, listen to, or write about reggae and offshoots is during the hottest weeks of the summer.
As I’ve said before I’ve never been more uncertain that I hear all the releases I should every year. The outlets and information sources have never been so scattered. I’ve never felt so many PR providers have no idea what I cover.
But every year I hit a point, usually around this time or a little later, when I conclude that enough innovative, captivating and durable music is being produced to keep me jiggling for another year. Here’s the three that put me over in 2017 (all played for the first time in the last few days):
Bearthoven, Trios (Cantaloupe) Karl Larson piano, Pat Swoboda bass, Matt Evens percussion/drums. Six piece belonging to the vague New Music category, the only writers I know at all being Anthony Vine. Best effect: breaks ways loose of the often too-cozy tent of piano-trio sound.
Jay Som, Everybody Works (Polyvinyl). Jay Som belongs to the vague bedroom pop category and is a solo project of Melisa Duterte, with a few added voices. A fresh twist of intimacy and a needed reminder that all single-soul projects don’t have to sound stunted or samey.
Migos, Culture (Quality Control). I don’t pretend to keep up with hip-hop like I should, but I’m still abashed this trio slipped under my radar until now. In the grand tradition of Atlanta rappers, they’re rootsy and funny and sensual and casually scary at times. Still probing the personalities.