In May, I started doing special “theme weeks,” with the first being devoted to the Beatles, covering them together, all solo, plus Yoko and Sean. YMMV; mine certainly did. (Surprising pick hit: 1973’s Ringo!) Prince-associated albums continued on a near-weekly basis, with selections from Madhouse, Judith Hill, and the Original 7even (which, in Christgau Consumer Guide parlance, is sadly a Must to Avoid).
June saw an interruption of #MWE for almost the entire month, for a couple of reasons.
1. I was undertaking a cross-much-of-the-country trip to my homeland of Indiana for 24 days.
2. Between Covid-19, the murder of George Floyd and ensuing nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality, and my general state of mind, it just felt like a good time to take a social media break.
So June only features four records. That said, three of those four albums are pretty great (all debuts, from Missing Persons, John McLaughlin, and Ari Lennox).
Other Pick Hits: Chicago, Kim Carnes, Womack & Womack, Norah Jones, and of course the late, great architect of rock & roll, Little Richard.
- Rita Coolidge, The Lady’s Not for Sale (1972): Leon Russell with a “better” voice but much less interesting: no one needs another cover of “Fever,” esp. not the bland way she delivers it. The material’s just okay, and a pretty (albeit rich) voice only gets you so far.
- Pointer Sisters, Contact (1985): The follow-up to Break Out saw them fall off a cliff commercially, and I get why: this sounds cheap & flimsy. The title track, for example, sounds as if made on a Casio keyboard. Only the buoyant “Dare Me” and “Hey You” are fleshed-out.
- Quiet Riot, Metal Health (1983): The first-ever US #1 metal album is pretty solid, no more ridiculous than any other comparable crew of glammed-up boys howling over hot lixx. It legitimately rocks, too, with only one ballad, the closer (skip it).
- Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music (1975): This hour of guitar feedback is so fucking glorious and beautiful, my God. I can hear orchestras tuning up, birds, jet engines, and a myriad of other sounds here. This is drone, noise rock, avant-garde music at its highest level.
- Madhouse, 16 (1987): The 2nd go-round for Prince’s Eric Leeds-led instrumental ensemble is half Count Basie big band, half James Brown funk. Plus the quiet storm quasi-fusion of “Fourteen” (surprise, it’s my favorite).
- Norah Jones, Feels Like Home (2004): A little jazz, a little country, a little folk, a little singer-songwriter, beautifully co-prod by Jones & Arif Mardin (the man seemingly does this in his sleep). Exquisite arrangements. Sounds simple, but it’s anything but.
- L7 (1988): Sludgy metal debut reminiscent of the first Soundgarden album. “Metal Stampede” is indicative of the problems: there’s a fair amount of jokiness that just comes off as stupid, not funny, almost like bad parody. They can play, so why?
- Drake, Dark Lane Demo Tapes (2020): Man, he really has problems w/women, doesn’t he? Meanwhile, he’s like a ghost on his own album, trying on styles like sport coats: NYC drill here, Playboi Carti-esque Soundcloud rap there, but is Drake actually present on any of it?
8b. Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Born Deadly (EP) (2020): A little too much in the way of trap beats for my taste on this 15-min EP, but the dynamic Native sibling duo can rap with the best of ‘em, and keep on doing it here. A tidy holdover until their next full-length.
- Jill Scott, Woman (2015): Cushiony typical Jill Scott music from the ‘10s: R&B for grown folks. She sings and writes beautifully, but I have to admit I’d sometimes like a little more grit here & there. Single “Fools Gold” and “Cruisin’” (not a cover) are highlights.
9b. Erykah Badu, But You Caint Use My Phone (2015): This phone-themed mixtape is gorgeously messy, including covers/re-interpretations of songs by Drake, New Edition, Usher, & Todd Rundgren, along w/some fascinating originals. And a guest shot from her ex Andre 3000!
- The Call, Reconciled (1986): On their 4th LP, this rock band of Christians (as opposed to Christian rockers) sound slick & smart, a sweet spot between the Bodeans, Simple Minds, U2. Michael Been was a great frontman. Production matches their earnest, occ. Xian lyrics.
- The Beatles, Rubber Soul (1965): The speed of their evolution is amazing. You can already hear, in ‘65, the songwriting stretching/expanding. The likes of “Girl,” “Michelle,” “Run” presage what was to come on Revolver & beyond. I ❤ Ringo’s co-write “What Goes On” too.
- Ringo Starr, Ringo (1973): Low expectations = knocked out. “Devil Woman” = “Tusk” 6 yrs early, “Photograph” kills (all 3 of George’s co-writes solid), John’s “Greatest” a great opener, and Paul’s synth squiggles on his/Linda’s “6 O’Clock” fun. Ringo makes it all cohesive.
- John Lennon, Imagine (1971): Phil Spector’s prod touches sound ugly (“Soldier,” ick), and this isn’t Lennon’s best set of songs (again, “Soldier,” along w/”Truth” – subtlety wasn’t his metier). & then there’s the incredibly petty “Sleep?” At least “Oh Yoko!” is fun.
- Yoko Ono, Season of Glass (1981): The album she made after John’s murder is her most conventional musically, v ‘81 studio rock, but lyrically lacerating: “I Don’t Know Why,” “Extension 33,” “No No No,” omg. Bless her for making art from her rawest emotions.
- Sean Lennon, Into the Sun (1998): Self-indulgence, thy name is this debut. Twee folkiness here, faux grunge there, and none of the fun of producer/gf Yuka Honda’s band Cibo Matto. And his voice is so awful-ly thin. How’d he get signed to Grand Royal? Oh, yeah…
- George Harrison, Cloud Nine (1987): Jeff Lynne produced, & you can hear it (v slick). This comeback sounds both just like its era/completely out of time. Songs are mostly strong, & GH sounds great, assured on both vox and guitar. “Fab” & “Shanghai” are the duds.
- Wings, Band on the Run (1973): Starts strong w/2 great singles, but the middle drags. “Mamunia” & the self-indulgent “Picasso’s Last Words” are garbage, “Helen Wheels” a fun rocker. This album’s rep is incredibly inflated; it’s ok overall but nowhere near Paul’s best.
- Judith Hill, Back in Time (2015): Co-prod by Prince, this has some of his late-era flavor, but since Hill co-/wrote all the songs, it still sounds like her album. That said, you can def smell Prince on it: lots of ‘70s R&B vibes, big horn charts, Sly/JB-esque funk.
- Womack & Womack, Love Wars (1983): Defiantly midtempo R&B (except for slow-burn post-disco smoker “Baby I’m Scared of You”) from a husband & wife duo who know how to write, and sing. Stewart Levine’s deft, light touch behind the boards is a huge asset. Grown folks music.
- Here’s Little Richard (1957): More than the songs or arrangements, what makes this pure rock’n’roll is Richard Penniman himself: his attitude, his piano, his singing, his rhythm, his excitement, his “whoooooo”s! He’s so into what he’s doing here, it can’t not move you. RIP.
- Kim Carnes, Mistaken Identity (1981): A 1981 El Lay studio pop/rock buffet platter w/a Ronstadt-esque one, some soft pop balladry, a few raw rockers, and the brilliant new wave-isms of singles “Cards” and of course “Eyes.” Consistently interesting, and I do love that voice.
- Ray Charles, Friendship (1984): Down-the-middle contempo mid-’80s country duets, w/all male partners except uh Janie Fricke. Hank Jr. sounds bored, the Oaks are boring, Skaggs out of place, & BJ Thomas?! G. Jones, and Willie, stand out. Charles himself is – relaxed.
- The Charlatans, Tellin’ Stories (1997): Fascinating how they somehow pulled off the jump from Madchester to Britpop elder statesmen – this went #1 UK w/3 top 10s! Sturdy, workmanlike rock (better than that might sound!), w/strong lyrics & steadying vox of Tim Burgess.
- Rusty Warren, Knockers Up! (1960): Debut album by “blue” female comedian/supper club singer spent astounding 3 yrs on the chart in the early ‘60s. Barely racy by today’s standards. Jokes all concern het married couples having sex (or not), singing is meh. V dull overall.
- Gladys Knight & the Pips, That Special Time of Year (1982): For an ‘82 LP, this starts out kinda disco-y, but eventually settles into a more trad soul Christmas album. As always, Knight and her Pips sound warm and familial. Back half, w/2 J. Mathis duets, drags a bit.
- Mazarati (1986): Brownmark’s first post-Revolution band was this ensemble, a more rock’n’roll Time w/3rd-rate Prince knockoffs for material. The man himself co/wrote 3 songs, incl. only hit “100 MPH,” which is ok at best. “Suzy” sounds musically like Rick James/MJ Girls!
- Matana Roberts, COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (2019): An astounding saxophonist (also connected to Chicago post rock) whose free jazz is v challenging & v musical, w/ stand-up-take-notice spoken lyrics and an ensemble that can seemingly do anything. Loud, messy, focused.
- Babyface, Lovers (1986): The legend-to-be opened his 1st solo album, charmingly b-list mid-’80s R&B, w/a Stylistics cover! He’s a pro though, and this sounds like it, while also sounding unpolished enough that it’s clearly a debut. The seeds of mega-success, planted.
- Chicago VII (1974): 1st 5 trax of this 15-song double are jazz fusion instrumentals, & pretty great. (Remember, these guys had chops.) Their 3rd consec #1 LP also feat. 3 top 11 pop hits though, & they’re solid, too; “Call on Me” (hit) and “Byblos” (album cut) are superb.
- Cookie Crew, Born This Way (1989): DAISY-age-era (& -styled) hip hop from a female UK duo, with a slight hip-house touch (see: “Bad Girls,” which deserved a D. Summer credit). Totally unmoving overall. RIYL Monie Love (who, frankly, is better).
- The Original 7ven, Condensate (2011): Oh, I so wanted the Time’s reunion album to be good, but this sounds like what they are: a group of older guys getting the band back together for one last go-round. The songs (almost all Jam/Lewis) are mediocre, & Morris Day sounds – a little sad.
- Missing Persons, Spring Session M (1982): This is one hot-shit new wave album. Dale Bozzio’s voice isn’t great, but is interesting, & she knew what to do with it – & the band knew how best to utilize her in front. Singles all great + “U.S. Drag” & “Tears” stand out, too.
- [6/28] Teddy & Darrel, These Are the Hits, You Silly Savage!!! (1965): A fascinating relic: 2 anon unknowns mostly covering contempo hits (“Wild Thing,” “Strangers in the Night”) in a campy, gay style. Produced by Mike Curb! Not necessarily great, but important to be heard. [pride flag emoji]
- [6/29] Jon McLaughlin, Indiana (2007): This male Sara Bareilles can play, write, sing well. His piano is incredibly musical (on “Industry,” reminiscent of Ben Folds), his voice stronger than most of his Adult T40 peers. Not my usual thing, but a bit of a buried treasure.30.
- [6/30] Ari Lennox, Shea Butter Baby (2019): It’s not just her tone and tenor which are like Erykah Badu’s, but her phrasing, too. They’re both, basically, jazz singers, singing R&B. What a sensational set of songs about being a Black woman today: contemporary yet classic.