Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Grace Jones: Living My Life (1982)

It's her prerogative, it's the way that she wants to live.

Download Living My Life(mp3). Purchase this album: Amazonicon

THE SCENE: In 1981 singer-songwriter-model-living canvas Grace Jones crossed over from danceclub diva to mainstream pop star with her Top 40 album Nightclubbing, while its single "Pull Up To The Bumper" hit number 5 on the R&B charts. Finally, it seemed, the world was ready to embrace another hard-edged, brightly colored puzzle besides the Rubik's Cube, and in 1982 she released her sixth album, the defensive Living My Life.

On the cover Jones scowls like a cagey boxer between rounds, and her songs are indeed riddled with her various sparring partners. Backed by a panoply of Caribbean, French, English and American musicians, her personal fights sound global, universal.

The gypsy Martian reggae of "My Jamaican Guy" lovingly points out the hidden brilliance of her slacker boyfriend (Take a toke from the smoke/Never standing by the door/Just stretching out pan de floor/That way him don't fall over), yet his infantilism becomes too much for her in the succulent and punchy "Nipple to the Bottle" (Colour and warmth came into your world/It makes me crazy/When you don't get what you want/You scream and you shout/You're still a baby).

In a sunny, rippling cover of Melvin Van Peebles "The Apple Stretching" Jones talks of present day New York with the brutal honesty that only comes from one who loves their town (Suburban refugees fleeing the cracked cisterns/Worm ridden fruit trees stream out Grand Central/Pleased to be breathing bagels and pollution).

Jones also, quite shockingly, shows her range as a singer in the unsettling, proto-Pet Shop Boys "Unlimited Capacity for Love", candidly revealing the woman behind the wacky outfits (And now I must add another to love in my life/It's one thing to say, to do is another/ If I'm capable of adapting without pressured expense/In a schizoid society in a classic moral sense).

My favorite song is the title track, which inexplicably was left off the album entirely and surfaced as a B-side years later. It's mock-classical opening slow-ly-winds-up-the-gears-then-BANG! It bounces like a steely, hyper, goofy bobblehead doll, carving out Jones's psychic toll of remaining true to herself:

Cuss me

Cuss me

You cuss me for living

You cuss me for living my life

You leave me

You leave me

You leave me for living

You leave me for living my life

Hard as I can

As long as I can

As much as I can

As black as I am

Bizarrely, this song that was barely released has its own high-gloss music video, complete with mock suicides, polka-dot mushroom dresses, and monkey masks:

Creating demand for a song that's nearly impossible to purchase is not the way to follow up your mainstream breakthrough.

THE FALLOUT: Living My Life dropped off the charts faster then President Bush's 2008 approval rating, ending Jones's tenure with her label and stopping her one album per year streak. After the '80s she didn't release another album for nineteen years.

Living My Life is available as MP3s from Amazon & icon, while the song "Living My Life" is also from Amazon & icon, and you can sample tracks here:

A knockout release that knocked out its own performer, Living My Life is the sound of dub narcotic defiance.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Bernie Worrell shows how it's done.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Out On Holiday.

And have an uppity new year!
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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Joseph Spence: Living on the Hallelujah Side (1980)

The Les Claypool of folk.

Download Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town(mp3). Purchase this album: AmazonJoseph Spence - Living On the Hallelujah Side

THE SCENE: Les Claypool is reknowed both for his unique mastery of the bass guitar and his eccentric vocal style, a clenched piercing squawk that sounds like "Donald Duck: Delta Bluesman." He may never sing a duet with Boys II Men, but within Primus his voice and bass alchemize into a brilliance on its own terms. This type of paring rarely occurs in folk music, but Bahamian guitarist and singer Joseph Spence was a phenomenon, as witnessed on his live album Living on the Hallelujah Side.

Spence's musical training was limited to family members, church, and short trips to the U.S. so his musical style was left to develop on its own, a previously unheard mixture of complex, multi-harmonic fingerpicking and the oddest vocal mutterings this side of Popeye.

A devout Christian, he would re-engineer classic hymns to be performed by three guitars, or so it sounds. The mellow gypsy twang of "A Closer Walk With Thee" spins spirited bass lines among the melody and harmony clusters, but it's all played by him, live. It also features his lyrical attack, where he sings just enough words to set up the song then deconstructs it with deep growls, meandering yelps and primitive beatboxing. In "I’ll Overcome Some Day" he becomes his own hype man, shouting back at himself and stifling laughter while throwing down some inventively dense country blues.

Like Ol' Dirty Bastard at guitar jam, he pops melodic wheelies all over the odd boogie "When The Saints Go Marching In" and sprinkles lyrical scraps like fish food in an aquarium during the beatific "Irene Goodnight".

But it all comes together in his take on "Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town", a joyous swinging version stuffed with drunken sailor humming, stray jazzy notes flying out of the ether, then ends with a crash of a chord that makes one think he fell upon his guitar during a single rapturous moment. His barely says a word you could recognize, but then again, does he need to?

THE FALLOUT: Due to his reticence to travel, indifference to recording, and lack of desire to have an entourage of groupies hang out in The Champagne Room, he never gained much fame during his lifetime. If not for the fandom of musicians like Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal and Duck Baker, it's possible he would have been completely forgotten. Hallelujah was the last album he recorded before his death in 1994.

Living on the Hallelujah Side is available from Amazon & Joseph Spence - Living On the Hallelujah Side, and you can sample tracks here:

In a world of spray-on beats and Auto-Tuned™ voices, we may never hear another work of outsider music like Living on the Hallelujah Side, one of simply expressed genius.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: What does Bootsy want for Christmas?

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Roswell Rudd & Toumani Diabaté: MALIcool (2003)

An odd duck in the perfect watering hole.
Download Jackie-Ing(mp3). Purchase this album: Amazonicon

THE SCENE: In the last decade, Malian kora master Toumani Diabaté realized that the average music purchaser wasn't particularly aware of either Mali or the kora, so to raise his profile he subsequently recorded several cross-genre albums with many global artists. Since the kora (the West African 21-string lute) sounds like a blend between a harp and a guitar, many of his collaborations have been with harpists or guitarists. But in 2003 he surprisingly became the first musician to incorporate a horn into kora music, which became the watershed release MALIcool.

His musical partner this time is Roswell Rudd, an American jazz trombonist with both Dixieland and avant-garde leanings, which means he's been mostly unheard and under-appreciated. It also means that his rubbery mallard-like phrasing is elastic enough to fit many forms, and it adds a unique vocal timbre to the percussive Malian melodies.

In "Rosmani" Diabaté unleashes quick sprinklings of beautiful notes like water dropping from a leaf then exploding into hundreds of tiny micro-splashes, to which Rudd's trombone plays the drunken drowsy traveler, splattering in the puddles. "Malicool" has Diabeté's plucking and Rudd's growly kazoo sharing time with an icy balafon solo, its frenetic xylophone tones helping the band resemble an African Oingo Boingo.

Some old standards are transformed into modern classics: their take on Thelonoius Monk's "Jackie-Ing" is a sweetly atonal blues, their gentle call-and-responses resembling the conversation of jungle beasts. And they kick it really old school in "Malijam" where the seesaw of pinpointed beats set the stage for a Malian take on "Ode To Joy".

Yes, Beethoven's "Ode To Joy". And it works.

THE FALLOUT: MALIcool's progessive oddness also worked for Roswell Rudd, which resuctitated his career as a world-class auteur. But it didn't sell particularly well, partially eclipsed by higher profile Diabaté albums, and became another critical darling that stalled.

MALIcool is available from Amazon & icon, and you can sample tracks here:

You can also view a documentary of the album's creation below. Yes, Uppity Music is all multimedia'd up.

Defying the blanding that frequently occurs with cross-cultural music-making, MALIcool in a brand new sound that sounds instantly familiar and familial.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: A lil' holiday music.

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