Get out your portable CD player. Hop on the nearest form of public transportation with absolutely no agenda. Pop in Ursula Rucker's Supa Sista and sit back, relax, and stare out the window at the city going by and lose yourself in Rucker's eloquent spoken-word ruminations set to sparse, languid arrangements.
Philadelphia-based Rucker has appeared on several albums, most notably the Roots, but now she is setting forth on her own spoken-word career. Her Supa Sista is an astonishing twelve tracks that seethe with raw emotional power. Fierce, clever, and addictive, it isn't an album that's easily digestible --which is exactly the point. The harsh philosophical tales touch upon a wide variety of socially-related subjects real to the street, including the state of black music today (the amazing "What"), domestic violence, the onslaught of technology (the slamming "Digichant"), poverty ("Philadelphia Child"), female empowerment, drug abuse, slavery, and sex. Rucker's soft yet stern vocals are offset by soothing, jazzy, sometimes bare-bones arrangements of clip-clopping hip-hop and drum 'n' bass beats, elegant violins, acoustic guitars, and tender percussion. Sista also features an all-star list of producers, including Philadelphians King Britt, Philip Charles, and Robert Yancey III, along with 4 Hero's Dego McFarlane, Jonah Sharp (who lives in the Bay Area), and Alexkid. Sista flows so consistently though, it's difficult to discern whose work graces individual tracks. Let it be said that Ursula Rucker has struck out with a vengeance, releasing a powerful and challenging work that just may be one of the most important albums of the year.
The Eminent JJ Johnson, Vols 1&2
The Amazing Bud Powell, Vols 1&2
Sometimes jazz lovers don't know whether to laugh or cry about the way music is reissued -- the major labels are famously arrogant in their approach. Blue Note is basically a fan-friendly label, though, and its Rudy Van Gelder series features classic titles that have been remastered from the original tapes, with a difference in sound quality varying from noticeable to dramatic. The RVG issue of Miles' Birth of the Cool sounds so much better than all others that even buyers of recent, lavish CD reissues will feel like they're hearing the music for the first time.
The difference is most dramatic where ensembles with horns are concerned, so the RVG editions of the indispensable early-'50s Blue Note sessions led by Miles and J.J. Johnson gain more from the process than the piano trios of Bud Powell's Vol. 2. You get a better reproduction of Miles' heartbreakingly beautiful trumpet sound and the band is much more present. You'll feel like you're right in the room for the great 1954 J.J. Johnson session that featured Horace Silver and Hank Mobley. Many rate these recordings as the trombonist's best, and some would say the same about the Miles and Bud sets. Powell was so erratic that he basically never led a group bigger than a trio, which makes the quintet heard on Vol. 1 (featuring the greatest early modern trumpeter, Fats Navarro) especially important. But the big news is that there are five previously unissued trio performances on Vol. 2, a couple of which are killers. Laugh, because this great music sounds better than ever. Cry, because that box set that's supposed to contain all of Bud's Blue Notes doesn't.
Cambodian Rocks (V/A)
Hearts of Stone (Coracoes de Pedra)
As the digital age exits its infancy, and information bats about the globe faster than George Dubya's poll ratings plummet, pop culture mavens find it increasingly difficult to latch onto some special little thing that they can call their own. Somewhere, though, lurks a secret society of crazed record collectors striving to slake the thirst of the hipster legions searching for new thrills -- or old ones, as the case may be. This mysterious cabal has now turned its attention to foreign-language rock. At times a dubious proposition, the field has yielded some gems, laid a few eggs, and now, finally, seems to be coming to fruition.
The single most striking global rock collection is the enigmatic Cambodian Rocks, which compiles music from Southeast Asian cassette releases of the late '60s and early '70s -- shrill psychedelic collisions of American and Cambodian culture. One hesitates to call this stuff "garage rock," since at the time these records were made, any garages in Cambodia were sure to have been reduced to rubble, first by Kissinger's bombing campaign and later by Pol Pot's unique approach to urban renewal. Still, these wailing, hyperkinetic cover versions of American oldies like "Black Magic Woman" and "Gloria" aren't simply obscure or bizarre, they're also jaw-droppingly crazed, chaotic, and challenging. This is the new frontier you were looking for. As with the original LP version, the new CD edition lacks liner notes, so the names of the bands and songs remain shrouded in mystery, but are no less enthralling.
Closer to home, Latin America also played host to the pimply teenaged muse, as hundreds of bands plugged in and grew Beatles-length hair. The new Delincuentes LP marks a quantum leap in the quality of Spanish-language retro collections. Not content with the caliber of earlier albums, the compilers of Delincuentes assembled a pleasant barrage of reverb-drenched rock 'n' roll ditties, including cover tunes and Stones-y rave-ups, as well as striking original material by groups such as Los Ampex, Los Yaki, and the Speakers. Running the gamut from Mexico down to Tierra del Fuego, this disc is packed with bands that could easily hold their own against their American or British counterparts. Likewise, the Corações de Pedra series is welcome tonic for fans of Brazilian music who may have found themselves disappointed by the soft-pop blandness of the pre-tropicalia "jovem guarda" teen scene. Here, at last, are the raw, rowdy garage-rock nuggets you've been looking for -- well-researched with ample liner notes and great sound quality, these are the albums to whip out the next time some know-it-all pal starts lecturing you about Os Mutantes and Caetano Veloso... More "new" music to keep you cool until the Next Big Thing comes along.
The Deadly Snakes
I'm Not Your Soldier Anymore
(In The Red)
Canada's not the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of smarmy, sweaty garage rock that'll stink up your pits and slap your ass. Japan? Sure. The US? Of course. Sweden? Yeah, that place too. But Canada? Well, it's true that anywhere you can crack open a can of ice-cold shit beer, throw some greasy burgers on the flame, and strip rock 'n' roll down to its tighty whities, you can make some sick, oil-slicked garage rock 'n' soul.
So out of a dank Toronto basement crawl the Deadly Snakes, a seven-piece that started out as a birthday party band and ended up with Greg "Oblivion" Cartwright (of the Memphis garage/punk/blues act the Oblivions) flying through a blizzard to produce a first album then staying through to this second mighty fine LP.
I'm Not Your Soldier Anymore is one beautifully sloppy coupling of rhythm 'n' blues with rock 'n' roll. Add to the orgy a vintage-'60s-sounding organ, bluesy harmonica train whistles, a horn section, sax, twangy guitar, and some of the most haggard vocals since the Cheater Slicks got too drunk to drive to the recording studio. In pure piss-drunk-Kingsmen-meet-Neil-Young-at-a-punk-BBQ style, the Deadly Snakes offer a fine collection of songs about horndog lust, graveyard superstitions, and "Pirate Cowboy" -- a fucked-up Western track that Clint Eastwood would be wise to keep his chaps far away from. Although Soldier seems barely held together at the seams, the rawness is all part of its charm as the Snakes stomp through a 14-song, two-left-footed dance party. Leave your pretensions at the keg.
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