Grace Jones: Living My Life (1982)


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

Purchase this album: Amazon

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 from Amazon, the Living My Life” is also available from Amazon, 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.

Joseph Spence: Living on the Hallelujah Side (1980)


The Les Claypool of folk.

Purchase this album: Amazon

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 Boyz 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 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?

Roswell Rudd & Toumani Diabaté: MALIcool (2003)


An odd duck in the perfect watering hole.

Purchase this album: Amazon

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 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.

Prince: Dirty Mind (1980)

The 204th best album ever made. Seriously.

Purchase this album: Amazon 

THE SCENE: No matter your opinion of Prince’s music, one has to admit that the composer of “Sexy MF”, “Sex Shooter”, “The Sex of It”, “Sexuality”, “Sexy Dancer”, “Lovesexy”, “Sex In the Summer”, and “Sex” is extremely focused. At least until his short-term memory kicks in. In the latest issue of New Yorker magazine he shockingly came out against gay marriage, in his own metaphorical way. He later claimed he was misquoted, but since he prevented the interview from being taped he’s culpable in his causing his own problem. (Does anyone else find it ironic that a man who’s spent most of his adult life in a recording studio refuses to let a journalist record his interviews? Maybe he just doesn’t like their choice of microphones.)

The larger oddity is that Prince, now a wealthy 50ish Jehovah’s Witness, has seemingly forgotten that he erected his career upon the bedrock of sexual freedom and gender equity, and how much more interesting he was back when he was a hungry 20-something ex-Seventh Day Adventist. And to that I present his perverted revolutionary classic Dirty Mind.

His previous album Prince went gold on the success of the R&B/disco single “I Wanna Be Your Lover”, but nothing about Dirty Mind said “smooth R&B lover man”. The bikini & trenchcoat cover alone telegraphs his colossal desire to share his severely naughty desires with anyone trapped by his gaze, and in a tight half-hour he lets his salacious psyche unravel.

Sonically as cold as a back-alley quickie, Dirty Mind reinvents funk for the punk age, from the low-fidelity sound that reveals its start as demo recordings to its James Brown-meets-The-Cars keyboard tones, all sour, piercing and aggressive. Here’s where he perfected his hedonist howl, his dry guitar tangs, and his obsession with messing with listeners’ heads.

“Dirty Mind” is one extended come-on, where he offers you, the listener, money to let him “lay you down”. “Sister” makes the most of its rugged and raw 90 seconds by relaying his sexual awakening through sibling-on-sibling action.

My sister never made love to anyone else but me
She’s the reason for my, uh, sexuality
She showed me where it’s supposed to go
A blow job doesn’t mean blow
Incest is everything it’s said to be

“Uptown” is his fantasyland where one can live in harmony through libidinous experimentation, which includes this randy quatrain:

“What’s up little girl?”
“I ain’t got time to play.”
Baby didn’t say too much
She said, “Are you gay?”

And then there’s the oral control anthem “Head”, where the funk is so stanky it could disintegrate soap on contact. As subtle as pair of crotchless panties, Prince initiates a plan to divert a bride from her intended destination:

I remember when I met u, baby
U were on you’re way to be wed…
…But I’ve gotta have u, baby
I got to have u in my bed, and you said
“But I just a virgin and I’m on my way to be wed
But you’re such a hunk, So full of spunk,
I’ll give you head”
‘Til you’re burning up
‘Til you get enough
‘Til you’re love is red
Love it you ’til you’re dead

OK, perhaps Prince wasn’t big on traditional marriage either.

THE FALLOUT: His label was so shocked they created a whole new Explicit Lyrics sticker for him. Rock critics immediately jumped on Prince’s jock, falling over themselves with praise. Rolling Stone eventually ranked it 204 on their 500 Greatest Albums list. Yet for all its brilliance Dirty Mind sold less than its predecessor, only achieving gold status after the release of Controversy, 1999 and Purple Rain. To date it’s the lowest selling album of his classic period*. Maybe he should give it as spin and see why the world thinks he’s lost the plot.

(*1979-1987: Classic period. 1988-present: Mostly crap.)

Dirty Mind is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

So filthy you may need to bathe, Dirty Mind set the blueprint for Prince’s musical domination, and sadly shows why hypocrisy is the greatest luxury.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Kora and trombone sitting in a tree, J-A-M-M-I-N-G.

Poundhound: Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music (1998)


Night of the living bass-head.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: On Chris Rock’s MySpace page he posted a so-funny-it’s-painful essay called the Only Black Guy Concert Review :

“So far this year I was the only black guy at the Van Halen concert, the only black guy at the Cure concert, and the only black guy at the White Stripes concert. And later on this year I’m sure I’ll be the only black guy at the Radiohead concert.”

As the lead singer and bassist of the veteran power trio King’s X, Doug Pinnick lives this position. No matter how unique I may feel at a Pink Floyd concert (where I was constantly asked by white hippie kids if I was selling pot), Pinnick knows he’s the only black, out, left-handed detuned 12-string rock bassist around. But the man loves his job, and after King’s X was dropped by their label in 1996 he recorded his solo debut, the powerful Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music under the name Poundhound.

This gospel-tinged riff rock album is focused on low end the way Sir Mix-A-Lot is focused on back end; it’s not merely the starting point but the entire point. Every track features tasty deep, pelvis shaking bass, sometimes thick like slab-bacon but commonly fresh & fizzy like a mouthful of ginger ale. I played it in my car and I had to turn the bass knob DOWN, and that never happens.

Pinnick’s church-trained bluesy voice is stunning not only for its purity and vulnerability, but also for its sheer strength to cut through the rumbling wall-o-bass to even be heard. The creeping paranoia of “Supersalad” approaches like a tipsy marching army. “Jangle” dangles some rootsy acoustic accoutrements where “BlindEye” sizzles in its primal, salty groove.

His 12-string bass, on which one has to press multiple groups of strings with every pluck, has such an massive orchestral range that it’s nearly another singer on the album. It enhances the Beatle-ish “Red” with a ticklish slip-off-the-face-of-the-earth vibe. On “Hey” it anchors the extended outro like a sexy American sitar.

For reasons like this Pinnick has been deemed one of the inventors of grunge by none other than Jeff Ament, the bass player for grunge superstars Pearl Jam. Unfortunately, pioneering this genere never led King’s X to large album sales, but one would figure that the face and voice of the band would lead to modest returns for Massive Grooves…

which might have happened had Pinnick released it under his own name. To the world at large Poundhound was a completely new band, and outside of the metal community it was treated as such: with utter indifference. Eventually his marketing bells went off, and he now issues his solo albums under the name dUg Pinnick. Yes, small “d” and big “U”. Believe or not, he’s not the first person on Uppity Music to apply unique capitalization to his name.

Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

If you appreciate a thick & meaty low end, Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music will rattle your cattle.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Prince cleans his mind, and I call him out.

Busdriver: Cosmic Cleavage (2004)


Like Tigger on Red Bull.

Purchase this album: Amazon 

THE SCENE: In 2002 the supremely abstracted emcee Busdriver released his critically acclaimed second disc Temporary Forever, a sonic snapshot of his madcap visions and theatrical flow. Trading the standard boom-bap for jazz licks he returned in 2004 with the dada-esque European-only Cosmic Cleavage.

You know that kid in first grade who wasn’t supposed to have sugar because it made him hyper?If that kid was a rapper, this is the album he would have made. Busdriver approaches the mic as if every rhyme could be his last, so he raps at breakneck speeds, croons at different pitches and frequently gasps for oxygen, usually all within the same phrase. And with his gift to free associate without an internal censor, his raps ricochet from one subject to the next like a room filled with hundreds of tiny active Spongebob superballs, a thunderous multicolored non-stop shower of energy.

The brilliance of Cosmic Cleavage is the appending of his cartoonish raps to the type of jazz that was actually used in cartoons, circa 1940. The screeching and sleazy horns of the title song evokes wolves in zoot suits brandishing oversized tommy guns down at the speakeasy. Busdriver’s rubbery cadence on “Kev’s Blistering Computer Tan” mimics Popeye’s broken down jalopy, valiantly failing to move its mismatched tires before crashing into a rusty, dust-pooting heap.

Cosmic Cleavage is a concept album on mating and dating. “Nagging Nimbus ” touches on divorce, his trumpet-like voice nearly blending in with the horn section. He’s surrounded by 300 rpm rubber ducks in the girl-focused “Beauty Supply And Demand”, and he works up some unique macking in the demented tango that is “Unnecessary Thinking”.

Constantly changing voices he becomes the ringmaster and tightrope walker of his own animated circus cabaret during “She-Hulk Dehorning The Illusionist”. Can he finish his rap before he runs out of air? Only on the Soul Coughing sound-alike “Pool Drowning” does he relax his one man Muppet Show vocal acrobatics, but it’s merely the eye of his clownish hurricane.

THE FALLOUT: Much like Ren & Stimpy cartoons, Busdriver is an specialized taste, and the tastemakers who flocked to Temporary Forever dropped the increasingly oddball Cosmic Cleavage like the proverbial 16-ton weight. He bounced back the following year with the easier-to-swallow Fear of a Black Tangent.

Cosmic Cleavage is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Unhinged and unmedicated, Cosmic Cleavage rolls you inside the many cerebral folds of Busdriver’s cortex, and shows you what he’s made from.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Meet dUg (sic).

Post-Election Special! (2008)


It was twenty years ago today…

THE SCENE: I’m in shock. The happy, goosepimply kind of shock, like finding cash in a forgotten pair of pants. A LOT of cash.

The last time I felt this dizzying state of crumbling racial intolerance was in 1988. I was in an all-Black rock band at the time, which by definition meant our band were in it for the love, because there were no successful mainstream Black rock bands. Ever. Fishbone was the only group that was currently on major label, and outside of the modern rock ghetto they never made an impact equal to their talent.

And then came Living Colour. An all-Black rock band on Epic Records? That was Michael Jackson’s label! I bought their CD, Vivid, on sale for $8.99 from The Wherehouse and was blown away with how great it was. Pop songs with clever social commentary and non-stop metal riffs with hints of jazz, African highlife, and hip-hop. In short, an unabashedly rock album, and one that wasn’t selling.

I saw them perform at the Berkeley Square later that year, in front of 85 mostly Black college students – and not even close to a sellout. But they put on one of the most energetic, musical and transcendental concerts I’ve ever witnessed. Every word, every note hit the audience like an Level 5 hurricane. They gave hope to all Black rock musicians that you could at least rise to a college-radio level of acceptance.

And then MTV started playing “Cult of Personality”.

Featuring speech extracts from Malcolm X and John Kennedy, the rifftastic song climbed into the Billboard Top 20, pushing Vivid into the Top 10. Seemingly overnight four intelligent brothers had shattered the Black rock ceiling, sliding through the gauntlet of xenophobia and pain and indifference into a freaking double platinum album. They wrote rock songs about the Black experience and sold them non-Black audience all over America, all over the world! I saw them again during this ascension, at a sold-out concert complete with white rocker chicks in stilettos and beefy rockers dudes in trucker hats.

Without precedent, Living Colour had become cooler than racism. For my band, the nationwide acceptance of Living Colour challenged how high we allowed ourselves to dream.

After watching our country vote in a Black president, I think America believes the concepts of hope and change are also cooler than racism. Finally.

How high can you dream now?

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Back the usual reviews!

Georgia Anne Muldrow: Olesi: Fragments of an Earth (2006)


Fresher than a gumbo popsicle.

Purchase this album: Amazon 

THE SCENE: In spite of the nearly infinite song possibilities of both jazz and hiphop, I find jazz-hop to be universally underwhelming. (Except for this one, but you knew that already.) Usually one genre is sprinkled on top of the other like salt on a bagel, resulting in either jazz songs with with b-level raps or hiphop songs with acoustic bass loops. Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” is one of the few classics of both genres, and even that track is rap-free.

But vocalist and producer Georgia Anne Muldrow took a completely different angle, puréeing the surrealistic essences of both free jazz and hiphop beat chopping, whipping up the freaky soufflé into her debut album Olesi: Fragments of an Earth.

If The RZA remixed Jill Scott but left the tracks in the oven to melt, that’s but a morsel of this albums’ sound. Muldrow’s jazz-scented vocals are layered frosting-thick but it’s her plate of rhythms that’s the real standout. Every song has a woozy bottom of micro-beats that ripple up like Ovaltine chunks, rendering the standard 4/4 beat undanceable and unrecognizable, yet totally fascinating.

Sandwiched between these slices are a buffet of musical styles, all of which get blended and stewed. The hemp-filled “Radio WNK” rolls in some reggae, its drums sounding like groceries dropped to the floor. The funk reduction “Birds” percolates on chocolatey bass pops and tin can hits. “Melanin” seasons an electronica soup with some fierce jazz scatting.

Muldrow reaches an apex of sonic collage with her unique social report “New Orleans”. With it’s first lines (“Murderer…Humans left alone to die”) it’s a devastating menu of marching snares, pianos smears, and anger. You can smell the fear and confusion of watching a town sink under the flood waters, and the taste the rage of indifferent government support.

Her only nod to mainstream music is with song length, as nearly every track is a bite-sized two minutes. Just long enough to get some radio spins. Er, not.

THE FALLOUT: Reviews were decidedly mixed: critics who appreciated dope-fiend beats (like hiphop writers) tended to be kinder than one who didn’t (like indie rock writers). Sales were minimal. Although she’s released some collaborative material since, she has yet to release a follow-up album.

Olesi: Fragments of an Earth is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A skillet full of spices, sauces and steam, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth is a full-course meal for the challenging palate.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Mr. Busdriver’s Wild Ride.

Linda Perry: In Flight (1996)


Between Blonde and Pink.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1995, rock band 4 Non Blondes had sold 6 million copies of their debut album Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, mostly on the strength of their unrestrained hit single “What’s Up?”. But lead vocalist and songwriter Linda Perry couldn’t stand singing it anymore, nor could she deal with Interscope Records’ constant pressure to produce another “What’s Up?”, as that song didn’t represent her current musical identity. So she quit the band to create a confessional song cycle that was a complete about-face from her last recording, resulting in the austere and elegant In Flight.

Where the brash energy of Bigger, Better, sounds like it was recorded during the half-time show of a bullfight, In Flight emotes the quiet stark beauty of a votive candle’s flickering shadow. It slowly but confidently tells you its fears and mistakes with the deliberate stillness of a truth-telling session.

Perry’s massive voice is still the sun by which all instrumentation orbits around, but she’s learned to tailor its heat to the tone of the track. It moans over the shadowy desert of “In My Dreams”, and drones along the decaying essence of “Life in a Bottle”:

Stoned and demented

Walking through the walls

When I banged my head I slowly fell

Sad but delighted

Swimming in my well

I guess I’m going straight to Hell

The understated production evokes a ever-constant dream state, where the songs feel both weightless and heavy. The faerie garden of “Taken” is dappled with dew-glistened violin, and the swirly ascension of “In Flight” is grounded by a Stevie Wonder-esque gospel ballast. (So I flew unto a tree/ Gather inspiration/ Happy to meet/ All the other birds).
Not that ALL the songs are so serious; Perry does eke out a marvelously tap-danceable tinkly reminiscence of her childhood called “Fruitloop Daydream” that really should have been a single:

This ain’t no walk in the park

But I call it my home

And you’re all invited

Waking up in the dark

Knowing I’m not alone

It’s all so familiar

The drag queens

The speed freaks

All the homo boys they touch me baby

Tainted love

The park on a Sunday afternoon
Ah, childhood.

THE FALLOUT: Interscope Records was unhappy with Perry leaving the gravy train of 4 Non-Blondes only to replace it with odes to queer love and underage drug use, so they released In Flight with no promotion. It sold a piddly 18,000 copies and was promptly deleted, leading to her 1999 release from Interscope. This was the last the public heard from her until 2001, when scowly meta-wigger Pink demanded she work with Perry, resulting in her co-writing and producing Pink’s 5-million selling M!ssunderstood. In 2005, after contributing to Interscope artist Gwen Stefani’s triple platinum album Love. Angel. Music. Baby., Interscope gave Perry the album masters to In Flight as a token of appreciation.

I’ll say that again: Interscope, a label known for combatively managing its bottom line against the wishes of its artists, gave its own property away to an artist because they felt it was the right thing to do. FOR FREE.

In Flight is once again available from Amazon (with a new cover) and you can sample tracks here:

In Flight is the diary of the only Brazilian-Portuguese-American dyke rock star, and how she made her specific traumas universal.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The puzzle of Georgia Anne Muldrow.