Album Review: Afrique Victime by Mdou Moctar


Album: Afrique Victime
Artist: Mdou Moctar
Release Date: May 21, 2021
Label: Matador Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Chismiten”
  • “Tala Tannam”
  • “Asdikte Akal”
  • “Afrique Victime”

Thoughts: Mdou Moctar is a guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter from Niger who is one of the Tuareg people, a semi-nomadic Muslim group of the Sahara region.  His musical style is called assouf or “desert blues,” popularized by artists like Ali Farka Touré and Tinariwen.  Moctar and other assouf artists take influence from the guitar playing style of Jimi Hendrix, although the musical structure deviates wildly from the Western pop system of verse-chorus-bridge.  A lot of reviewers describe the music as psychedelic although I’d say it’s more improvisational and more of a hypnotic reverie than a drug trip. The songs are sung in the Tamasheq language, but I’ve read that they deal with the horrors of French colonialism and the ongoing exploitation of Africa by the West, as well as songs of love and resilience. Listening to this album was an “ear-opening” experience.

Rating: ****

Album Review: National Freedom by Lonnie Holley


Album: National Freedom
Artist: Lonnie Holley
Release Date: July 3, 2020
Label:Jagjaguwar
Favorite Tracks:

  • Like Hell Broke Away
  • Do T Rocker

Thoughts:

Lonnie Holley of Alabama works in many art disciplines, visual media and sculpture, as well as experimental blues music.  This album collects music recorded in a 2014 session. His music is rooted in blues with his gravelly vocals reminiscent of Howlin’ Wolf but his performance draws on the improvisation of jazz (particularly on the 11-minute final track “So Many Rivers (The First Time)”).  The result is oft-time weird, but not inscrutable, and evocative of deep human emotions.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Stranger Fruit by Zeal & Ardor


Album: Stranger Fruit
Artist: Zeal & Ardor
Release Date: June 7, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Gravedigger’s Chant
  • Row, Row
  • Stranger Fruit
  • Built on Ashes

Thoughts:

Swiss-born Manuel Gagneux is part African-American on his mother’s side and his black metal band incorporates blues and spirituals into their metal sound.  It has the raging guitars and propulsive percussion that I like of metal, without the “I’m singing like a demon, aren’t I scary” vocals that I deeply dislike.   This album is a good companion to Algiers’ The Underside of Power, one of my favorite albums of last year.

Rating: ****

Music Discoveries: Tom Waits


Tom Waits is a veteran singer-songwriter whose voice is a combination of sidewalk preacher, carnival barker, beat poet, and barstool philosopher. I first heard of Waits in the 80s when he was known as the guy with the crazy, gravely voice.  But then I heard the track “Innocent When You Dream” on a compilation album and fell in love with the heartfelt beauty underneath what sounded like a drunk guy crooning at a bar.  I got the album Franks Wild Years and it remains one of my all time favorites, and I’ve checked in and out on Waits’ career over the years.  This is the first time I’ve listened to all of Waits’ catalog from beginning to most current, and let me tell you it’s not easy to listen to all that Waits’ music back-to-back-to-back, although it is a worthwhile exercise.

Tom Waits’ career can be summed up into three basic eras:

  • 1970s – Waits was a little more eccentric than his contemporaries, but listening to his early recordings and he seems to fit in with the singer-songwriters of the era. You might even imagine an alternate universe where his career followed the paths of the likes of James Taylor, Elton John, or Randy Newman.  His trademark gravely voice didn’t even make its debut until the third album, and in the seventies it was more of an homage to Louis Armstrong or Doctor John as Waits recorded jazz and blues tinged tunes.
  • 1980s – This decade marked the emergence of the iconic Waits’ style, verging between lost recordings of American and avant guarde music with unusual instrumentation and tunings.  The decade is marked by the trilogy of albums he’s most remembered for: Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), and Franks Wild Years (1987).
  • 1992 to present – While Waits’ music in this period remains experimental by the standards of contemporary popular music, and inspiration for “alternative music,”  it doesn’t vary much from the template he established in the 1980s.  Similarly, while 1990s and 2000s recordings include numerous gems and good albums overall, Waits is own worst enemy as a producer in that he allows the albums to be bloated with excess tracks that should be judiciously trimmed.  In short, don’t do what I did and listen to everything, but definitely seek out the good stuff.

Tom Waits hasn’t released anything new since 2011 or toured since 2008, but hopefully he has some songs left in him and there will be another Tom Waits era to look back on in the future.

Five Favorite Albums

  • Closing Time (1973) – definitely one of the great all-time debut albums, and the first three tracks are a strong start to any album.
  • Rain Dogs (1985) – Waits’ masterpiece and one of the great albums of the 1980s.
  • Franks Wild Years (1987) – the soundtrack to a play I’ve never seen, it remains a sentimental favorite
  • Bone Machine (1992) – Waits charges into the 1990s showing the alt-rockers how things are done with haunting lyrics and aural soundscape
  • Blood Money (2002) – these are songs from another play, but also reflect the misanthropy and pessimism of the post-Sept. 11th world under George W. Bush

Twenty-Five Favorite Songs

 

1. “Ol’ 55”

2. “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love With You”

3. “Virginia Avenue”

4. “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)”

5. “Jersey Girl”

6. “16 Shells from A Thirty-Ought-Six”

7. “In the Neighbourhood”

8. “Jockey Full of Bourbon”

9. “Hang Down Your Head”

10. “Downtown Train”

11. “Hang on St. Christopher”

12. “Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)”

13. “Yesterday is Here”

14. “Way Down in the Hole”

15. “Cold Cold Ground”

16. “Jesus Gonna Be Here”

17. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”

18. “T’ Ain’t No Sin”

19. “Hold On”

20. “House Where Nobody Lives”

21. “Misery is the River of the World”

22. “God’s Away on Business”

23. “Flowers Grave”

24. “Hoist That Rag”

25. “Chicago”

Movie Review: Keith Richards: Under the Influence


Title: Keith Richards: Under the Influence
Release Date: 2015
Director: Morgan Neville
Summary/Review:

This Netflix documentary follows Keith Richards as he works in the studio on new songs and travels through America to sites connected with American music. Theses scenes are intercut with archival footage of Richards and the Stones. The influences in this movie are musical – Blues, Country, & Reggae – and Richards talks about his love for music and how he creates his own. Musicians talking about music is the best kind of music documentary. It has all the joy and none of the bitterness of Richard’s autobiography.  As an added bonus, Tom Waits appears for a few scene-stealing interviews.
Rating: ****