As you’ll see once we move into 2016 proper, there will be many changes to this blog now that I’m connected to a radio station or radio show, and likely won’t be in the foreseeable future. One of those changes is that I’ll likely not be posting as much newer music. For pretty much the entirety of this blog’s close to 6 and 1/2 years, “In Heavy Rotation” has been about showcasing newer music that I was especially digging. From here on out, it’s likely to be a category that sticks more truly to the concept, being the things that I’m listening to more than anything else that week or month. It’s possible anything might find it’s way in here, including songs that I’ve shared before, but likely under a very different context. That’s the case with this song, from Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. This is a song that I’ve talked quite a bit about, featured before, and even played it on my last show at KPFK. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that I actually picked up a vinyl copy of the collection, which I was very happy to find included translations from Fon into English. It’s always fascinating hearing music from languages that you don’t understand, which forces you to relate to the music “itself.” What’s equally as fascinating to me is how the songs that seem to resonate most turn out to be the ones with very satisfying lyrics and messages, which is absolutely the case with “Min We Tun So” (which translates to “Who Knows The Future?”). Based on the lyrics above I think you’ll agree this seemed like a pretty close to perfect song to close out 2015 with as we move forward to 2016.
One of the unfortunate realities of no longer doing a radio show is that I don’t feel much pressure to keep up with new releases. But here at the end of the year, with “Best Of” lists on everyone’s mind, it’s a nice period of time to play catch up on Fall releases and anything else that might have slipped through the cracks. I’d heard some of Dexter Story’s new release, Wondem, but hadn’t really spent much time with the record to form any real opinion of the record. NOw that I’ve got some down time, with the end of the semester and the holidays, I can fully get on board with Story’s album. Given Story’s history with the LA collective Ethio-Cali, it’s perhaps no surprise that much of the inspiration for Wondem is clearly in East Africa, but it’s in the way the elements come together, in a thoroughly contemporary way. When I heard about the record before actually hearing the record I expected something much more along the lines of Ethio-Cali, with very clear Mulatu Astatke references, but Wondem is something else entirely, drawing on a variety of sounds to create one of the more enjoyable listening experiences of 2015.
As a bonus, Story has created some short films/videos culled from time spent in Ethiopia, in this case for the song “Merkato Star”:
A compilation far too long overdue, Luv n’ Haight has collected the music that singer Gloria Ann Taylor recorded for her own (and husband Walt Whisenhunt) record label Selector Sound. Taylor cut a few sides elsewhere, but never hit it big. Several of these sides, “Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing,” “World That’s Not Real” and both the 7-inch and 12-inch versions of “Deep Inside You” have been much beloved by fans of rare soul and funk. The original 12″ for “Deep Inside You” is a bit of a holy grail release, fetching big time money on the open market. There was a reissue of that release recently, but this one has the full cooperation of the artist and is the most definitive release compiling this work. Of particularly interest to me, and something I suspected, is the clear and distinct influence of Dale Warren. While Walt Whisenhunt deserves a good deal of credit for the sound of these songs, it’s undeniable that the two tracks touched by Dale Warren, “World That’s Not Real” and the 7-inch version of “Deep Inside Of You” have a sound all their own. The 12-inch version of “Deep” sounds as if it’s the exact same recording, with the drums dropped out and some disco drums dropped in to excellent effect. Most definitely a sound that reaches deep inside of you, and one of the major highlights of 2015.
There really was a time, bot to long ago where I thought we’d run out of “rare grooves,” and such. It seems comic now, but it was something I believed. Instead as the years have passed, there’s been more and more funky material dug up and reintroduced through many fine reissue labels, so much that I can’t even keep track of it all. Vampi Soul has long been one of my favorite labels, and a couple months ago they sent me a real doozie of a record. Bruce and Vlady’s “The Reality” is the kind of record you dream of finding while diggin’ in the crates. It’s deep, soooooooooooooooooooo very deep. It’s so incredibly deep that I was pretty shocked in hearing it that I’d never heard anything from this album before. Apparently it was a Swedish only release, which seems odd given that Bruce came from the States and Vlady was a Polish drummer. But Hansson & Karlsson had already made a name for themselves as a organ and drums duo by this period of time, so there might have been a market for this over there. I’m just thankful that someone had the good sense to put some mics in gront of these two dudes and give us a taste of their “reality.” One of my fave reissues, not only of this year, but of the last several years.
It’s been almost 5 whole years since Dungen blessed us with new music. I have no idea why they took so long (though hopefully I’ll be able to find out from asking them, keep your fingers crossed on that front!), but I’m thankful the wait is over and we finally have new music from the group in the form of this album Allas Sak. In the beginning, Dungen was essentially the Gustaj Ejstes show, but essentially since Tio Bitar, they’ve been working as a four piece rounded out by Reine Fiske, Mattias Gustavsson and Johan Holmegard. The new album continues a clear progression from the group when you compare their earliest work to the more recent albums. There is definitely a mellower tone as the band has matured and fully truly a band. While they haven’t lost any of their psychedelic leanings, the sound of the group, at least on record, is a bit smoother at the edges and more focused on presenting sounds that flow more fluidly. One of the many things I’ve enjoyed about this group is the frequent inclusion of instrumentals. with such an impeccable attention to sound, it’s always nice to fully experience the music as music. “Flickor Och Pojkar” is a really interesting track, for while it clearly has all of the hallmarks of Dungen’s trademark psych-inflected sound, once the various elements come together when the drums come in, I’d swear this was a “future-funk” instrumental that would find a happy home in the mix with a group like Hiatus Kaiyote. Sounds like this tell me that the band is still searching and still exploring, which is very good for those of us who are fans of Dungen.
A chance encounter brought together Vieux Farka Toure and Julia Easterlin and a shared curiousity into each other’s traditions has produced the collaboration, “Touristes.” Malian desert blues mixes seamlessly and beautifully with American roots music on many of the tracks, but their cover of Dylan/Odetta’s “Masters Of War,” really stands out. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of a long musical partnership.
I’ve raved about my love for Shannon Shaw’s voice pretty much since the moment I first heard it on “Lover’s Lane” with Hunx & his Punx. Her latest release, “Gone By The Dawn,” recorded with her band, The Clams, finds the group with a significantly refined sound. Much of that is connected to recorded in a proper studio for perhaps the first time, Sonny Smith’s Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco. There’s still an edge to the band, but at times it’s polished cleanly off and smoothed out. “Gone By The Dawn” finds Shaw crooning in a way that could easily find this music in some more commercial spaces than the band has been used to. I’m not sure how fans of the more grittier days of the past will take to this new record and new sound. Personally, I love it and I’m interested to see how far this sound will take the band.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more respected Soul DJ, in the US, than WFMU’s Mr. Fine Wine. For roughly 20 years he’s hosted Downtown Soulville on WFMU and turned on people to countless Soul & R&B tunes. Since 2010, Mr. Fine Wine has been curating the R&B Hipshakers series for Vampi Soul, and these collections never disappoint. Clarence Paul’s “Baby Don’t You Leave Poor Me” really jumped out of the speakers for me, with a very ska-esque beat that makes me wonder if Paul and gang actually heard some Ska records or if it’s just a happy coincidence (after all, most of that early Ska sound was highly influenced by American R&B, Jump Blues and Boogie Woogie). This is just one of the 20 exceptional songs on the collection, maybe my favorite of the bunch.
Turning 40 this year came with a truly unexpected and most welcome birthday present, as one of my favorite artists, Holly Golightly, released her new album on my birthday. While she’s kept herself busy with her work with Lawyer Dave in Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, Slowtown Now, marks the first record released under her own name in over 10 years. I’ve been a fan of Miss Golightly almost from the start, discovering her first as a member of the Thee Headcoatees and then as a solo artist with her very distinctive and cool phrasing (is it possible to have a “British drawl”?) that mixes perfectly with the early Rock, R & B, Blues, Garage and Girl group sounds backing her. After listening to her for almost 20 years, I’m incredibly struck by the consistency of quality in her music. Perhaps I’m too big a fan to be really objective, but I don’t feel like there’s been a single bad Holly Golightly record. Every single one has something to treasure, and even though as a solo artist she’s basically had the same sound for 20 years (though her work with the Brokeoffs does have a more stripped down and country feel to it), I’ve never felt like she was spinning her wheels stuck in a rut. Slowtown Now moves and grooves along with a mostly mid-tempo swagger, as Golightly tells her tales of heartbreak, revenge and disdain for the lovelorn, all of which come together on the track I’m featuring here, “Fool Fool Fool.” Without a doubt, this will be one of my favorite records of the year, there’s just no way I can resist Holly Golightly’s sweet and sour siren’s song.
As is the case with music, I’m a lover of 1960s/1970s film. Recently at a trip to my local beloved video store (an even rarer and more treasured breed than record stores these days) I saw the blu-ray edition of Jess Franco’s 1970 film, She Killed In Ecstasy, and didn’t hesitate to pick it up. The film, starring ill-fated beauty Miranda Soledad, is a revenge flick, very much like The Bride Wore Black (which would seem to have had a bit of inspiration on Kill Bill), where a wife takes revenge on the doctor’s who disgraced her husband’s experimental human embryo research, ultimately driving him insane. The film is notable for a number of reasons, especially the location, being filmed primarily at the Edificio Xanadu in Calpe, Spain, a truly stunning architectural achievement by Ricardo Bofill and for it’s extra groovy soundtrack. An added surprise with the new Blu-Ray release is that the collection of music that Manfred Hübler & Siegfried Schwab created for the film is included, after being out of print for roughly 20 years. “Kama Sutra” plays throughout the film, but is best used right from the very start with the opening credits. A nice psychedelic addition (both the soundtrack and the film) to the collection of any lover of this period of time.
In 2013, in a match made in Hip-Hop heaven, Ghostface Killah collaborated with Adrian Younge on the cinematic concept album Twelve Reasons To Die. Given how prolific Ghostface has been during his career, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that just two years later we have the sequel. Volume 2 benefits from a voice that was strangely absent on the first volume, that of Raekwon, who in this case is featured on five of the album’s tracks. The two men have a habit of bringing the best out in each other, as evidenced on “King Of New York.” Based on how the story ends, it seems there will definitely be a part 3 in the near future. The only remaining question is whether or not they’ll create a feature, live action or animated, film to accompany this music once the story has been told.
First got a chance to see Los Angeles’ Mexico 68 Afrobeat Orchestra at Miles Tackett’s record release last Summer. I was immediately impressed with their mastery of the original sound, pioneered by Fela Kuti, and the occasional stylistic and rhythmic additions from Afro-latin music. A year later, and the group has released their debut album, featuring five original compositions. “Soon Dem Come” highlights the personal style of the group, with that indestructible afrobeat rhythm and politically charged lyrics in both Spanish and English. Keep your fingers crossed that we’ll be able to bring them into KPFK later this year, though I don’t know how or where we’ll fit all 13 musicians in the group!
Israeli DJ/Producer Kutiman appears to have a full-length record, Space Cassava, on the way, but of late I’ve been intrigued by his most recent collaborative music project “Inner Galactic Lovers.” Similar to his “Thru You” projects, which culled music from youtube videos, “Inner Galactic Lovers” mixes the contributions of 24 individual musicians Kutiman gathered through the online community Fiverr. In some ways this project is even more impressive, because it appears that none of the musicians communicated with each other, they only communicated with Kutiman, so he essentially individually orchestrated this piece with each musician and then brought together all of the disparate parts into the song you hear above. Quite a feat, and proof positive that Kutiman continues to be one of the most creative cats around.
Today marks one year since the death of Charlie Haden, the extaordinary bassist and composer. Haden’s music is rarely far from my turntables, but that has been especially the case since I learned of the vinyl issue of the soundtrack to Jodowrosky’s The Holy Mountain, one of my favorite films of all-time and a soundtrack that was long rumored to have been lost, until it turned up in digital form a few years ago on a box set of the director’s work. Finders Keepers have recently reissued music from all of Jodo’s films, but this soundtrack, reproduced on two pieces of vinyl with packaging worthy of the original film, is the one I was most interested in. When I first saw the film during college, a period of time where I was DEEP into avant-garde jazz, I don’t think I recognized that Don Cherry & the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra were responsible for most of the music. It wasn’t until I tracked down Don Cherry’s Relativity Suite, and then re-saw the movie a few years ago that I realized how the two were linked. Unfortunately, the soundtrack doesn’t have any extended solos from Haden, and in fact it’s difficult accurately place his bass in many of the songs, but it’s clear when you listen to “Isla” that that is Haden, with his distinctive tender sound. Though I understand and appreciate the hard right turn the music makes from “Isla” to “Psychedelic Weapons” I almost wish there was more of what appears to be a longer take for the first song, because it’s just as it starts to settle into something truly beautiful that it switches (it almost sounds as if someone stopped a reel-to-reel playing “Isla,” or, to post-hip-hop ears, it almost sounds like a sloppy cross fade of a DJ) into the rocking “Weapons,” but this is a minor complaint. There is so much beauty in these two discs, music that many of us thought would never see the light of day, but we have it now and it gives us more to treasure from Haden, Cherry and all of the other master musicians associated with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra at that time.
Part of what is great about doing a “Best So Far” show in the middle of the year is that it forces me to dig even deeper and see what new releases and reissues have come out that I might have missed in the preceding months. One of the ones that I was most excited to discover that had been reissued is this legendary album, lovingly reproduced on a 3-LP set by Now-Again. Ostensibly, The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop is a kids record. The music produced on the album was used for a PBS special featuring Hoagy Carmichael sharing songs and teaching kids about music. This period of time was especially kind of children, with all of those amazing Schoolhouse Rock albums, Sesame Street and the like, but this one stands head and shoulders above the rest, just for it’s overall sonic insanity. Original copies of the album, even after earlier reissues from Stones Throw, regularly fetch prices in the $1,000s. For a lot of crate diggers, this is a real badge of honor to have tracked one down in the wild (I’m pretty sure Matthew Africa had at least two copies of this). Just last year this album landed at the top spot of Soul Strut‘s list of albums voted on by members of the forum (interestingly “Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth” ended up at #2). There are lots of records that are rarer than this album, but few are as enjoyable or as much of an experience to listen to. It’s a novelty record for sure, and you have to be in the right mindset to give it a listen, but when that fuzz and those drums and all of those chants, like “the first seven letters of the alphabet is all you need…to make music…A, B, C, D, E, F, G!” come out of your speakers, there’s just no way possible to keep your head from nodding and a smile from spreading across your face.
As a bonus, especially if, like me, you never saw or heard any of this until some beat miners put it on your radar, here’s a bit of the PBS show, with all of the charms you remember (or have discovered) of 1970s kids programming: