Burnt Sugar: Blood On The Leaf (2000) — now with podcast!


Listen to an exclusive interview with Greg Tate, leader of Burnt Sugar.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: Although best known for his wondrous music column in the Village Voice and for co-founding the Black Rock Coalition, Greg Tate is also the conductor for his genre-demolishing improvisational ensemble Burnt Sugar, whose first album is the heady and mesmerizing Blood on the Leaf. Inspired in part by Miles Davis’ freeform extravaganza Bitches Brew, Burnt Sugar births songs as living organisms, formed on the spot yet sounding uncannily like heavily practiced compositions.

This magic trick is the result of combining dozens of musicians from around the world, each bringing their unique slant to performance, and Tate’s use of Butch Morris’ Conduction System, by which one can “play” the orchestra members as one can play keys on a piano.

Which sounds downright bizarre if not next to impossible but, like hot sauce on a watermelon slice, Blood on the Leaf produces new flavors that would never otherwise exist.

Sonically Burnt Sugar reveals an endlessly inventive palette of textures, shifting from warmongering alien landings to chilled-out meditations, usually within the same song. Motifs vanish and return with new friends, sometimes dignified and dapper, sometimes troubled and frantic, and almost always funky.

Check out the interview and you can listen to Greg Tate discuss the challenges of promoting a Black orchestral improv group, their reception in Europe and their upcoming “R&B crossover album”.

Blood on the Leaf is available through Amazon and you can listen to tracks below:

Effortlessly emotional and three-dimensional, Blood on the Leaf sears into your veins like blood transfusion and charges you up with exotic quasi-legal nutrients.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Cee-Lo gets his freak flag dropped to half-mast.

The Veldt: Afrodisiac (1994)


Led Zeppelin in reverse.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: The English music sub-genre “shoegazer pop” never took off large in America. Its layers of watery, echoey guitars nearly smothered most vocalists’ delivery and we here just couldn’t hang with that, man. But the Chapel Hill, N.C. natives The Veldt evolved this sound with the addition of hip-hop beats, resulting in their major-label debut, 1994’s breathtaking Afrodisiac.

Heavy blankets of oceanic guitars still ring through cuts like “Soul in a Jar” and “It’s Over” but the drums are surprisingly groovy and propulsive. Lead singer Daniel Chavis’ tenor cuts through the brittle fog like a mountain climber, his introspection soulfully directs the hard-driving bell tones of “You Take the World”.

“Until You’re Forever” dreamily glides like metallic butter melting over a very large piece of toast, rooted by unfeasibly funky, cannon-like drums, The sculptural feedback of “Heather” carves space with its leonine roar, and the band almost flirts with new jack swing in the shiny’n’ fuzzy “Wanna Be Where You Are”.


THE FALLOUT: “Black guys with guitars who aren’t bluesmen” were a difficult issue for their label, and in spite of positive reviews Afrodisiac never caught a wave of acceptance. Their next album was released independently, and after its followup The Veldt packed it in.

Afrodisiac is out of print worldwide but you can pick up used copies from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

If you stood on the planet equidistant from the musical centers of New York and London then lunged into the Atlantic Ocean, that feeling would be the sound of this album. Unique, unmatched and overlooked, Afrodisiac is still waiting to catch a wave.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: The octagonal doctor is in.

Muddy Waters: Electric Mud (1968)


Did you know magic mushrooms grow in mud?

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1968, in a pop world dominated by Motown soul, British rock and American folk, blues legend Muddy Waters had all been forgotten by mainstream music fans. His record label then crassly masterminded a comeback plan — fuse his Chicago blues stylings to the hot new sound of the day, psychedelic rock, which resulted in the lysergically enhanced Electric Mud.

Although Waters himself sounded exactly the same, he replaced his usual band with a collection of young avant-garde jazz musicians who re-rendered his blues into smeary hyperactive acid funk.

“She’s Alright” is a death march prelude to a bar-knuckle bar fight, with power-drill guitars, goofy audio panning, and a completely unexpected segue in The Temptations “My Girl”.

Perfect for a blaxploitation soundtrack, the ultra-macho come-ons of “Tom Cat” strut around a radioactive fallout of moist sax riffs and parched guitar feedback.

“Mannish Boy” was a song he’d performed for years, but now it was dressed up with backward rooster sounds and trashy jungle drums, ready for its modern spotlight:

Now when I was a young boy, at the age of five
My mother said I was, gonna be the greatest man alive
But now I’m a man, way past 21
Want you to believe me baby,
I had lot’s of fun
I’m a man
I spell M, A child, N
That represents man
No B, O child, Y
That mean mannish boy
I’m a man
I’m a full grown man
I’m a man
I’m a natural born lovers man
I’m a man
I’m a rollin’ stone
I’m a man
I’m a hoochie coochie man

“Herbert Harper’s Free Press News” swings like a lost James Brown vamp, with Waters’ locomotive-strong baritone nearly dueting with the ear-piercing guitar shriek that runs through the entire track.

This was not your fathers’ blues.

THE FALLOUT: Blues purists abhored it. They, in fact, still abhor it. Muddy Waters totally disowned it, refusing to play any of it live and dissing the session musicians. He never publicly disowned the money he made though, as it sold an unexpected quarter million copies. The album also neatly set up Led Zeppelin’s debut the following year, a band whose fame was built upon electrifying (and stealing) Muddy Waters songs. Nevertheless Electric Mud fell out of print until 1996.

Electric Mud is available from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

Sure it’s a sellout to the white audience but Electric Mud is still, inadvertently, a hard grooving and rewarding album.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Gaze at your Timberlands with The Veldt.