Weekly Mix: 1/3/21

Welcome to 2021 my people.

We enter the year with Bowie’s ballad Win, followed by Hieroglyphics’ Casual with Be Thousand (no relation to the GBV album as far as I can tell). Then South African “Om” Alec Khaoli’s jam Say You Love Me. Next, Organ Tapes’ banger Stunna and soul man Lee Dorsey’s Sneakin’ Sally Thru the Alley. Yoshio Suzuki’s chill Kane, Jadakiss’ By Your Side and Toni Braxton’s Talking in His Sleep come after that. Concluding this week’s additions to the playlist are Thomas Dolby’s Screen Kiss and Sibylle Baier’s I Lost Something in the Hills.

Happy new year to all, and check out the playlist here.

Album of the Week: Irma Thomas’s Wish Someone Would Care (1964)

Have you ever felt so lonely you could die? This is that feeling as an album. It’s filled with more lovelorn despair than any of my favorite sad-sack slowcore albums, all while being ten times as soulful and only half as long.

Dubbed the “Soul Queen of New Orleans”, Irma Thomas spent several years recording singles for New Orleans-based Ron Records and Minit Records while raising three children. The late, great Allen Toussaint found success as an arranger and producer on Minit (soon to be bought by Imperial Records), writing Thomas’s 1961 single “Girl Meets Boy”. The song is beautiful, but it does not foreshadow the hopelessness of this record, Wish Someone Would Care. Released at 23, her debut is lyrically pleading, but vocally it exudes the confidence and maturity of someone beyond her years.

The title track, composed by Thomas, opens the album perfectly. Every instrument is bursting with life, and Thomas’s first vocal is a great moan, filled with as much pain as melody. You can’t get a more perfect mission statement for a record filled with lonely yearning than “Wish Someone Would Care”. The next few tracks continue the theme, including the stand-out “Time on My Side”. This song was also released as a single three months later by the young British band known as The Rolling Stones, who had just released their first album and met Thomas in the UK.

Irma Thomas never had an album as commercially successful as this one since, but she is still around. In February, she said, “Survival is the thing I know how to do very well. Today or tomorrow, I get to the point where I can’t make a living singing. I know how to sew. I do a mean pot of red beans and rice.”

Listen to Wish Someone Would Care on Spotify.

Weekly Mix: 12/20/20

Hi folks, it’s your pal Ethan Reis here for what will probably be the last GSG playlist update of 2020. Thanks for tuning in and happy holidays and new years to you and yours.

This week we begin with an early Ciara jam in Field Mob’s So What, before South African artist Yvonne Chaka Chaka sings Sangoma. Then one of the most brilliant songs of 2020, Open Mike Eagle’s Wtf is Self Care? Next, T.I. affiliate Big Kuntry King is coolin’ with Young Dro on Focus, and Wild of Night hosts a Video Party (recommended for all you Kate Bush fans). Been listening to so much Willie Nelson that I couldn’t help but throw in the original Three Days, then one of my favorite bands Lambchop with If Not I’ll Just Die. An absolute classic follows in Broadcast’s Come On Let’s Go, then we turn to Memphis for Eightball & MJG’s Friend or Foe (the MJG verse near the end is perfection). Rounding things out this week is a 2020 favorite, Shabason, Krgovich & Harris’s Friday Afternoon.

Listen up here.

Album of the Week: Raul Lovisoni & Francesco Messina’s Prati bagnati del monte Analogo (1979)

Whew, that title is a mouthful. Okay, ever seen Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain? Well, it’s partially inspired by French writer René Daumal’s surrealist novel Mount Analogue, in which the titular mountain is either imaginary or inaccessible. Daumal died before the book was finished, and the first track of this album acts as a sort of companion piece envisioning what the mountain contains – the title translating to Wet Meadows of Mount Analogue. I’m using some conjecture here – the album contains no lyrics and I cannot find an English translation to the Italian LP insert. The music, though, is sure to please fans of ambient and minimalist music.

Prati bagnati is composed of three tracks, the title track taking up the album’s first side and most of its running time. This is Messina’s side, and he adds synths to the piano playing of Michele Fedrigotti. The piano is delicate as a lullaby. At about the 14:45 mark, a synth melody slowly enters the mix – it sounds like what an ambulance siren would sound like if ambulances were calming instead of alarming. Then at 18 minutes we hear a couple stronger synth swaths that make me think of OPN’s maximalist soundtrack work.

Lovisoni’s b-side begins with “Hula Om”, a solo piece performed on harp, and ends with “Amon Ra”. “Amon Ra” features vocals by Juri Camisasca, who has appeared on several albums by Franco Battiato, who produced this record. Lots of Italian names, I know, but don’t worry I won’t quiz you. Both tracks continue the meditative vibe of the a-side, albeit to slightly less hypnotizing effect. But if you’re down with the 23-minute jam that opens the album, you’ll be into the rest. As a package, Prati bagnati is a heavenly slice of Milanese minimalism.

Listen to Prati bagnati del monte Analogo on Spotify.

Weekly Mix: 12/13/20

Wow. The songs this week are really good. I mean really good! Damn. What the hell.

So here we go y’all. Jon Lucien’s Lady Love kicks things off, followed by the heal theme from Ico (never played it, but seems cool!). Then a throwback track from one of my favorite albums, Magnetic Fields’ Josephine (from Wayward Bus). Quelle Chris’s beautiful Living Happy is next, along with Gene Clark’s One in a Hundred. Luther Vandross brings a jam in See Me and Catherine Howe sings My Child. Then we have overlooked British folk-rockers Heron with Yellow Roses, and Supermarket Blues from Eugene McDaniels’ brilliant Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse. Closing things out this week is Cat Power’s Back of Your Head.

Listen to the playlist on Spotify.

Album of the Week: Gary Burton’s Country Roads & Other Places (1969)

At the cross-section of jazz and blues you’ll find Country Roads & Other Places, an excellent record from veteran vibraphonist Gary Burton, guitarist Jerry Hahn (Primordial Lovers, Paul Simon), bassist Steve Swallow (Basra, The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra), and drummer Roy Haynes (Misterioso, Out There). This album alternates between smoky grooves and relaxing Sunday morning music.

“Country Roads” gets things off to a rollicking start, and I must say this is my favorite track on the album. Hahn’s guitar playing is particularly sublime, with a very tight rhythm accompanied provided by the rest of the band. At the time of the recording all band members were in their 20s, with the notable exception of Roy Haynes, who was in his mid-40s and had easily the most credible CV of the group. Having played drums on legendary sessions with (among others) John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Bud Powell, all of whom had died by this point, one might say Haynes acts as the kind of old-school foundation that keeps the band together. Still, the brief third track “True or False”, essentially a two-minute Haynes solo, comes out of left-field and probably won’t be a favorite among jazz purists.

There are other surprises to be found here. I like when jazz artists tackle classical, and Burton’s solo take on Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin is a nice end to the first side. Things open back up softly with “And On the Third Day”, before the jumpy “A Singing Song”, on which both Hahn and Haynes shine. “My Foolish Heart” is the album’s only standard. It’s lovely, but you’ve got to admire Burton’s decision to otherwise steer clear of the jazz standard. In 2011, he said of the late 60s jazz scene, “Everyone was playing the same standard songs a lot… My goal was to bring in country, rock, classical, Latin, tango. Anything that I could relate to.” As a young, closeted white guy from Indiana, Burton wasn’t your typical jazz cat. And his music is better for it.

Despite its title, Country Roads isn’t country music, however it is atypical for jazz releases of its time. As I’ve mentioned, its players were relatively young, in a quartet with no horns and led by a vibraphonist, and their sound was neither classic jazz nor textbook fusion (a la Zawinul). All these elements (not to mention its quality) make the album worth seeking out for the curious listener. After Country Roads, Burton recorded several acclaimed albums for the ECM label and continued playing until his retirement in 2017. As of this writing, all four players on Country Roads are still alive. Roy Haynes celebrated his 95th birthday in March, nine days before I celebrated my 25th, and to my knowledge he is still an active drummer.

Listen to Country Roads & Other Places on Spotify.

Weekly Mix: 12/6/20

It’s December. Wow! This week we add some folk songs to the mix. Well, not all of them are, but it’s a more analog than usual update to the GSG playlist. Check the songs below.

I’ve been on a big Hugh Masekela kick recently, and especially enjoying his live recordings. Abangoma from Hope (1994) still blows me away, so I’m starting this week’s mix with it. Next is Tim Hardin’s It’ll Never Happen Again, which I discovered by way of Gary Burton (who appears on Hardin’s album). The Louvin Brothers’ Satan Is Real got a lot of plays this year, and not just for its amazing cover art. I’ve included their Dying From Home, and Lost here. Then perennial favorite Julia Holter’s fantastic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman. After that, the late Lhasa’s Pa’llegar a Tu Lodo. Then, gospel singer Tessie Hill’s Take a Day. The brilliant weirdness of Otis G Johnson follows with Are You Cleansed Annexus. Folk legend Phil Ochs is next with Rehearsals for Retirement. Rounding things out this week is recent favorite Tomberlin with Self-Help.

Check out the playlist on Spotify.

Album of the Week: Ashra’s New Age of Earth (1976)

Look at the ARP Odyssey. It looks like 1976. At 23(!), Manuel Göttsching used it and an array of other synth equipment to create New Age of Earth. By ’76, the Ash Ra Tempel veteran had spent over 5 years with that group as a young guitarist and vocalist. Despite the Ashra moniker here, New Age of Earth is essentially Göttsching’s solo debut. Göttsching’s official website bio hilariously characterizes him as “Modest, quiet, [and] bad with self-promotion and with answering the phone”. He made all the music himself, and in falling with his modest and quiet character, there are no vocals to be found here, just 4 instrumental pieces.

“Sunrain” is propulsive, perhaps the least “ambient” piece here. It makes me want to sing along like the guy on Pat Metheny’s Still Life who goes “dadadada de DAdoo dayah” (maybe check that album out if you don’t know what I’m talking about).

“Ocean of Tenderness” is, as its title suggests, calm and soothing. Göttsching whips out the Gibson SG on the last 5 minutes for some dank noodling. “Deep Distance” is a whistling jam that some have likened to a proto-Aphex Twin track.

“Nightdust” takes up the whole B side, and it’s the trippiest piece on the record as well as my favorite. It fans out like a bellows before settling, appropriately, like cosmic dust. Along with the ambient pieces on NEU! 75, this is about as good as it gets for spacey Krautrock music. I recommend it to any fan of ambient or atmospheric synth and guitar work.

Listen to New Age of Earth on Spotify.

Weekly Mix: 11/22/20

The GSG playlist has hit 200 songs! Here’s what’s on deck this week. I actually picked 11 tracks today, since “Sunnyside Up Luck” was deleted from Spotify.

We begin with a major throwback from my childhood in Bow Wow’s Let Me Hold You (feat. Omarion). Then the smooth sounds of Onra with Love Tip. Hugh Masakela leads us Grazing in the Grass, Willie Nelson asks Can I Sleep in Your Arms, and Nailah Hunter envisions a White Flower, Dark Hill. The Montclairs then attempt to Make Up for Lost Time, and a 60s one-hit wonder follows in John Fred’s Judy in Disguise (With Glasses). Vallejo’s Mac Mall is up next with Young N Da Game. Then two lovely odes to song in Donny Hathaway’s I Believe in Music and Ahmad Jamal’s classic I Love Music. Rounding things out is my favorite song right now, Mickey Newbury’s Write a Song a Song / Angeline.

I may take a break for a week or two, but if you have 14 hours to spare, check out all 200 wonderful songs on Spotify.

Album of the Week: Frank Sinatra’s Where Are You? (1957)

Ah, Autumn. The perfect time to wistfully smoke a cigarette while staring into the ground. What’s that Frankie? You’re wondering where she is? Damn man, sorry. Haven’t seen her around. You’ll get over it, bro (probably).

I had a bit of a Sinatra phase this year. Lovely stuff, and it felt appropriate during the lonely summer months of 2020. If you ever felt like you couldn’t see your S.O. because they were in another state and it wasn’t feasible to travel during a global pandemic, or you couldn’t go to your favorite restaurant or see friends for the same reason, don’t worry! Frank understands. He’s been lonely. He’s been through it. He’ll tell you all about it.

Yes, Where Are You? is depressing, but also comforting. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic praised its “luxurious sadness”. Want to cry diamond tears on your 24k gold pillow? This is the album for you. As soon as those first string notes open the title track, you’re wrapped up in the sad glory of traditional pop’s greatest singer.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I love music without drums. No drums! And hey, no piano either, so no percussion to be found. Standards become lullabies. But if you’re snoozing by the end of the sublime “Laura”, Sinatra bellowing “New York, NEW YORK!” at the beginning of “Lonely Town” might wake you up. No, this isn’t that New York song. In fact, most of these standards were unfamiliar to me prior to listening. The notable exceptions were also recorded by Miles Davis: “Autumn Leaves”, which Miles performed live frequently in the early 60s, and “There’s No You”, which appeared on the underrated Blue Moods.

Where Gordon Jenkins orchestrated the Where Are You? sessions, the bonus tracks (13-16) were recorded with Nelson Riddle, who conducted two of Frank’s most acclaimed works – In the Wee Small Hours and Sings for Only the Lonely. I’ve read reviews that characterize Jenkins’ arrangements as “dour” and “overwrought” compared to Riddle’s work. Frankly (heh), I can’t tell the difference. Where Are You? sounds lovely to my ears, and it’s perfect for this time of year.

Listen to Where Are You? on Spotify while smoking wistfully.