Here’s a rundown of some stuff that’s been hitting my mailbox and turntable (or turntable substitute) lately. To make it easy for you, I’ve divided it all into two easily digestible categories:
Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career Of An Imaginary Soul Superstar (published by Princeton Architechtural Press) – ‘Mingering Mike’ Stevens was a Washington DC area music fan who circumvented the music business and created his own imaginary career as a Soul/Funk/Rock superstar. He produced dozens of his own hand-painted album covers (complete with cardboard records), as well as 45’s, 8-Track Tapes, and more, that add up to an amazing legacy and a fascinating story. This book collects all of his known work in one place for the first time. This is like seeing someone’s childhood dreams preserved in amber, and it’s a moving display of the human imagination that reminded what it was like to be a kid and dream big. Highly, highly reccomended.
Swamp Dogg * I’m Not Selling Out, I’m Buying In – Had Mingering Mike actually had a singing career, he might have sounded a lot like Swamp Dogg. Dogg’s distinctive mix of Blues, Funk, social awareness, and general kookiness was lost on black and white audiences alike, and most of his albums have never been in print on disc. 1981’s I’m Not Selling Out was worth the ten bucks I paid for it (on LP) if only for the cover shot of Dogg dancing on a corporate boardroom table in white top hat and tails. But the music is even better – ‘Wine Women & Rock ‘N’ Roll’ gets things off to a rollicking start, ‘Dead Flies’ is a killer duet with Esther Phillips, ‘California Is Drowning And I Live Down By The River’ is a hilarious and heartbreaking look at the perils of life in the Golden State, and ‘A Hundred And’ sounds a lot like the music Al Green would have made if he hadn’t gone away from secular music right at the advent of disco. With lots of great guitar licks, and lyrical cream puffs like ‘We’ve got to make some jobs/And make ‘em fast/That’s the only way to get the poor folks/Off their ass’ this is an amazing album that has fallen through the cracks of popular culture.
Lee Hazlewood * Cake Or Death – Lee Hazelwood deserves a lifetime achievement award simply for marching to the beat of his own drum for so long. In an industry where nearly everyone bends over backwards for fame and/or fortune, Hazlewood’s muse has always led him far from the glare of the spotlight. He was diagnosed with renal cancer early last year, and this will almost certainly be his last album, but the psychedelic lounge cowboy is going out with both guns blazing. Cake Or Death is a poignant, humorous, and wholly appropriate way for him to close out a stellar and offbeat career.
Paolo Nutini * These Streets – This nineteen year old Irish singer has a once-in-a-generation kind of voice, but carries the kind of baggage that will result in swift and sudden backlash – namely his good looks, the mobs of screaming teenagers lined up at his shows, and his opera tenor-sounding name. These Streets contains an impressively diverse array of pop stylings, but Nutini makes the biggest splash on the uptempo numbers. Fortunately there’s enough shaking going on to offset the tearjearking – but even on the ballads it’s hard to deny to power of this prodigious crooner.
Charles Shaar Murray * Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix And The Post-War Rock ‘N’ Roll Revolution – A brilliant book on a brilliant subject, Crosstown Traffic skirts away from the nuts and bolts of Hendrix’ life story in favor of exploring the depth of his legacy in music and culture. Shaar Murray rises to his subject, and presents a very thorough and enjoyable look at the impact of Jimi Hendrix beyond the feedback and burned guitars. This and Electric Gypsy are the only books about Jimi that you’ll ever need to read.
Kings Of Leon * Day Old Belgian Blues – This 6 song, 20 minute EP was recorded in 2004 at AB Box in Brussels. It was released in June of last year and slipped completely under my radar. There’s nothing new here (all the songs performed came off their raucous debut Youth And Young Manhood), but it’s great proof that on a good night, Kings Of Leon are one of the hottest live bands on the planet.
Zeca Pagodinho * Millenium – I take casual carpool from Oakland into SF every week day. Most days (say 9 out of 10) people are listening to talk radio and I’ll say good morning and put on my iPod. But that 10th person who is listening to music is sometimes very interesting, and one day about a month ago, I got into a Beamer being driven by a very polite Rasta dude who was listening to Zeca Pagodinho. I asked him who it was (Seyka Bagojeeno, he told me, no doubt pronuncing the name impeccably, but lengthening my search by about 59 guess-style entries). Anyway, homey tells me that in Porteguese, all of the lyrics are pretty potty-mouthed. It sounds great to me, and kind of makes me wish I spoke the language…
LCD Soundsystem * Sound Of Silver – Like the millionaire who thinks he can do no wrong and proceeds to build the ugliest house on the block, James Murphy has created a cringe-inducing monument to excess. LCD’s self-titled 2005 debut was a witty, brilliant collection of booty shakers, but the follow up often sounds like a band covering a Joy Division cover band (as if Murphy decided he wanted nothing more than to sound like Interpol). And that’s not the worst of it – the final track ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’ is freakin’ embarassing, and not in a good way. The cracked cowbell riff of ‘Us V Them‘ is undeniably satisfying, but on balance this is a big disappointment from an immensely talented artist.
Kings Of Leon * Because Of The Times – If the title sounds like an apology, well… there’s a good reason. After two top-shelf albums of full-throttle, southern-style rockinroll, the Kings have taken a detour (let’s hope that’s all it is) down some pretty pedantic side roads. Not a terrible album, and there are some fine moments, but Because Of The Times clearly lacks the start-to-finish fire of its predecessors. What it is unfortunately NOT lacking is the screaming and yelping throughout the insanely misnamed ‘Charmer’ that had me genuinely concerned that someone was being harmed right outide my window. Not good times.
Please note: because I love both of the above bands, I’m happily linking to BIG THUMBS UP reviews of both of these albums (LCD, KOL). Hey, everybody hears shit differently. And coincidentally both five-star reviews are written by different brits named Ben!
On that note, I’ll be toodling on my way. Cheerio…
[Next time I'll tell you a little story about Andrew Bird, Mandrill, Shadows Of Knight, Oliver Wang's 'Soul Sides' compilation, Sonny Boy Williamson, Gabor Szabo, and more...]