SRS003 Alceu Valença - Molhado de Suor jacket

One of two new Brazilian reissues coming out this summer via Sol Re Sol Records — Alceu Valença’s Molhado de Suor. Originally released on the Brazilian label Som Livre in 1974, the lp has been out of print on vinyl for the past 40 years. A cornerstone of the Brazilian Udigrudi movement found in Recife region, Alceu’s muse fused psychedelia, tropicalia, folk rock and beyond.

Alceu Valença :: Cabelos Longos

candi staton

A tale of transfiguration, Candi Staton’s rendering of “He Called Me Baby” was originally penned in 1961 as “She Called Me Baby“, via country and western singer/songwriter Harlan Howard. Not the song’s first r&b interpretation, Staton’s take was preceded in 1968 by Ella Washington, courtesy of the Nashville, TN based soul label Sound Stage 7.

Candi Staton :: He Called Me Baby

Nina+Simone

She begins in mid-flow. Sitting down at the piano, effectively taking the reins from her band, the first thing she says into the microphone is ‘So…‘ One simple word, an aside to every single soul in that auditorium. It’s almost a sigh, like the sound of a truth-teller getting down to business, or a teacher who is forced to go to the blackboard to spell it all out for us. It presumes that everyone is paying attention (they are) and that everyone recalls where they are in the lesson (they do). ‘So…’

So this is what all those people who were able to witness Nina Simone in concert were talking about. This was why–once it had been established that you knew her name, had heard her voice–the next question was always going to be have you seen her live?

ninaThe title of The Great Show of Nina Simone: Live in Paris is only half-correct; it was, in fact, recorded during the second annual Montreux Jazz Festival in 1968. However, this unofficial and long out-of-print document is extraordinary because it catches Simone in her element: off the cuff, ordering the set-list herself, offering again and again the one-two punch of spiritual uplift and spiritual desolation that was her signature. On her albums, she may have been beholden to the wants of producers and her oppressive manager/husband, but here we find her cutting loose, playing what she wants to play and however she wants to play it. She is calling the shots, and the revelations come hard and fast: first and foremost, the energy in her small backing group (consisting of just bass, drums, guitar, with prominent organ/tambourine and vocal harmonies provided by her brother), but also the directness of Simone’s performance. Always a volatile singer, Simone on this night has something she wants to impart and she knows how to get right to the point musically. This was, after all, an artist who just two months prior (in the immediate aftermath of Martin Luther King’s assassination) had told her audience: ‘I ain’t about to be non-violent, honey.’

Nina Simone :: Intro & Devils Workshop

A song called ‘Go to Hell’ (here titled ‘Devil’s Workshop’) is confrontational way to open a gig, if you think about it–more appropriate to the sinners beware side of gospel than the smoky night club. The earlier studio version is comparatively lighthearted, but here onstage Simone is free to unearth the gospel revival roots of her music, as if to prove that this is where it all begins. Underneath the jaunty rhythm there’s now a threat, one that goes right into the heart of the blues.

Some say that Hell is below us
But I say it’s right by my side
You see evil in the morning
Evil in the evening, all the time
You know damn well,
That we all must be in Hell. 

But if this presents us only with desolation, there’s still another point-of-view to be had. The very next song is the jazz standard ‘Just in Time.’ Set against the brimstone of the opener, the context of the song shifts. The familiar tune is suddenly turned into a recognition of grace, the possibility of providence. She’s still standing her ground, testifying, but in a different way now (though this doesn’t stop her from getting pissed-off when her brother’s tambourine is played too loud). Again, the spirituality of lyrics and the slow-burning arrangement is what Simone is aiming for. But instead of hell, this time, we’re headed for transcendence. Indeed, when she reaches the songs climax—singing ‘change me, change me’—we know what she’s yearning for, and we know it is more than just romance.

Nina Simone :: Just In Time

This dichotomy is something Simone plays with throughout the night, albeit as rendered by the album’s editors (no full-length recording of the show was released). Song for song, she’s nihilistically cutting us down, forcing us to confront the abyss, before building us back up again. It’s no accident that the last song of the night (before the encore) is ‘Ain’t Got No, I Got Life,’ which she had just released as a hit single (#2 in the UK). Here, she just calls it ‘Life’. It’s a song that dramatizes this same existential back-and-forth between nothingness and spirituality—but stretched out over 11 minutes, it’s with even greater zeal and unapologetically religious urgency. ‘Is the mic still on?’ she sings, at one point, ready to still give more of her soul and to make sure her message has been hammered home.

Nina Simone :: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

More soul is what you get on all of these songs: ‘Backlash Blues’ is finally allowed to live up to its name; ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is refashioned as a work-song in which all the workers have skeleton faces; ‘To Love Somebody’ gets a cry-your-heart-out arrangement that stuns as much for its beauty as its self-assertion (I’m a w-o-o-o-man/Can’t you see what I am?); even the night’s first encore ‘Gin House Blues’ comes off as an impromptu blend of Ray Charles and Spencer Davis.

Nina Simone :: When I Was A Young Girl

But if you’re looking for the evening’s real show stopper, and one that cuts right to the quick of Simone scary genius then look no farther than the rendition of ‘When I was a Young Girl’ she offers here. A song Alan Lomax had collected from Texas Gladden in 1941, this Appalachian cautionary tale about wayward girls had by the 1960s become something of a folk-club staple (Simone recorded it on her album Folksy Nina in 1963). On this night in 1968, however, Simone silences her band, hits a few piano chords, and sings the first line. But something happens and she then tries it in a different key before taking the melody a cappella. It’s so unrehearsed that the singer is instantly under the skin of the dying girl in the lyrics. It’s chilling. (During her earlier performances you sometimes hear the audience chuckle at the line right out of the alehouse and into the jailhouse—but there can be no laughing now). If we aren’t already devastated by the way Simone enters and dramatize a simple line like my poor heart is breaking, the return of her piano makes sure that we get floored. That fluttery Mose Allison-Nat Cole style of hers, careens down to the lowest register of the piano—until it finds one of those dark, funereal corners of the blues Keith Jarrett later nudged into during his Koln Concert. Like someone slipping under–and going not ungently–the depth here is dark and unfathomable.

Suffice it to say, Nina Simone could turn whatever style she touched into hers and hers alone.  Her music was not Jazz or Soul, but her jazz, her soul. As Stanley Crouch rightly points out in the upcoming NetFlix documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, whatever mode you find Simone in (desolate, angry, seductive—sometimes all of the above) you do not mistake that voice for anyone else’s, not ever, not even for a second. When she was at her best, she was Nina unadulterated, cutting loose and shaking free of whatever constraints were put upon her. And the greatness of this show is the fact that it is all Nina. words / dk o’hara

soft-boysOur weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can now be heard twice, every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

The Lagniappe Session with Ought can be downloaded, here

SIRIUS 392: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ The Soft Boys – Old Pervert (section 2) ++ Lower Dens – Tea Lights ++ Landline – Jungle Jenny ++ Vaselines – Slushy ++ Cleaners From Venus – Clara Bow ++ Ought – New Calm, Pt. 2 ++Viet Cong – Static Wall ++ Women – Black Rice ++ Ought – Money Changes Everything (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Ought – Sisters Are Forever (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Deaf Wish – Mercy ++ England’s Glory – Shattered Illusions ++ Yo La Tengo – Automatic Doom ++ Whitney – No Matter Where We Go ++ The Art Museums – Oh, Modern Girls ++ Ultimate Painting – Talking Central Park Blues ++ Parquet Courts – Careers In Combat ++ The Mekons – Where Were You? ++ Hagerty-Toth Band – Spindizzy ++ Ham1 – Clown-Shoed Feet  ++ Mirage – Blood For The Return ++ Jana Hunter – A Bright-Ass Light ++ Vic Chesnutt – Degenerate  ++ Ryley Walker – Sweet Satisfaction ++ David Bowie – Win ++ Julian Lynch – Terra ++ Atlas Sound – Recent Bedroom ++ Daughn Gibson – Tiffany Lou ++ Deerhunter – Little Kids ++ Map of Africa – Bone ++ The Black Lips – The Drop I Hold ++ Steve Gunn & The Black Twig Pickers – Trailways Ramble ++ Thee Milkshakes – Gringles And Groyles

*Listen for free, online, with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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Hypnotic valleys and loping forests. Country funk from a Ukrainian wedding band and haunted folk from a group of high school students. Loners and the lovesick. The fried and fuzzed. Welcome to another all-vinyl dispatch from the Land of Living Skies.

Prairie To Pine: A Vintage Saskatchewan Mixtape

Part one, Multis E Gentibus Vires, can be found, here. Playlist after the jump. . .

RIP Ornette Coleman, the sayer of the unsayable, an artist who devoted his life to pursuing pure sound. We’ll never see the likes of him again.

Germany, 1978. Ornette Coleman – sax, violin; Ben Nix – guitar; James Blood Ulmer – guitar; Fred Williams – bass; Shannon Jackson – drums; Denardo Coleman – drums words / t wilcox

…King David was, in the Bible, he used to made his psalms from the stars and so forth and he wrote so many songs, you know. With a little talent and surrounding I think it’s kinda easy done.” — J.B. Smith on composition.

50 years ago, archivist Bruce Jackson first went to Ramsey State Farm in Rosharon, Texas, to record the unaccompanied songs of J.B. Smith, an inmate serving 45 years there for the murder of his wife. He returned the following June in 1966 to record more, and that year John Fahey’s Takoma Records released an LP, Ever Since I Have Been A Man Full Grown, featuring three of Smith’s songs. “That album came out only because John Fahey had a lot of imagination,” says Jackson, who’d go on to author the definitive book on the subject of prison songs, Wake Up Dead Man. “To put out a record with just three unaccompanied songs and a little talk on it took a lot of balls.”

Certainly, the Takoma record was released due to Fahey’s passion, but No More Good Time In the World For Me, a new two-disc set from Atlanta’s Dust-to-Digital, presents a fuller view of Jackson’s recordings of Smith, the three featured on the original LP and 15 more. Produced by Alan Lomax Archive curator Nathan Salsburg and Lance Ledbetter, the collection presents Smith’s songs as one long reading, which sprawls across an incredible range, with Smith singing of anger, sadness, toil, murder, and redemption.

“As a composition [“Ever Since I Was a Man Full Grown”] is discrete, it has integrity,” Salsburg says. “J.B. Smith was kind of an epic composer, in an extremely limited and debased setting. In prisons like Ramsey, Parchman, Angola, the goal was to dehumanize you, to make you fucking miserable. And the fact that the guy did what he did [in that place] and did it so beautifully, with such coherence and vision of content and characters and all that is remarkable.”

Along with Lomax, Jackson was among the last folklorists to record work songs — or time songs, for keeping time and passing it — like the ones Smith sang. “During the time I was working they started integrating the prisons,” Jackson says. “Once they integrated, the songs died entirely, because the white guys couldn’t do it, and a lot of the younger black guys thought it was old-timey stuff. It was sort of like capitulating to the white man. If I’d been five years later, I wouldn’t have gotten it.”

Beyond providing a rhythm for working convicts, so one worker’s pace wouldn’t be slower than another’s, which could lead to punishment, the songs offered a chance for expression. “You couldn’t say to somebody ‘I miss my old lady,’ or ‘I miss being able to walk down the street,’” Jackson says. “The other guy would look at you and go, ‘No shit, me too.’ But you could put it in a song and sing about it, just as you could put it in the blues on the outside.”

Smith’s songs were among the most expressive Jackson ever recorded. “His basic format is what is rhetorically called hyperbata,” Jackson says. “Normally in a blues, you get a line, the line will get repeated more or less the same, and then there’ll be a line that comments on that first line. What Smith does is he sings a line, sings a different line, repeats that line, and then sings the first again. The second line comments on the first, you hear it again, and the first line comments on the second line. It makes for a much more complex interplay of text. One verse doesn’t necessarily follow the other in a narrative form, but it does in an emotional form. It leaks over from song to song — it’s not a group of songs; it’s sort of one big song.”

Unlike some singers, like Bukka White and Buddy Moss, both of whom emerged from the Southern prison system to great acclaim on the folk festival circuit, Salsburg finds Smith’s songs entirely removed from popular context. “What J.B. is using is a form that has no application outside of an occupational tradition,” Salsburg says. “Levee camps, turpentine camps, and prison farms. To me, it just goes to show that J.B. had no aspiration to release a record of this stuff. He did it purely to keep himself company, to make himself feel better, to express himself. That’s deeply moving to me.”

Smith was paroled in 1967, and Jackson, who was director of the Newport Folk Festival, arranged for him to appear there with Pete Seeger. After that, he went to Amarillo, where his oratory skills were put to good use as a preacher. A parole violation sent him back to prison, and Jackson never heard from him again. But, “When I listen to it, I remember exactly where we were,” Jackson says. “It all comes flooding back.”

As an art form, prison songs are gone, and as Salsburg writes in his introduction, “it’s hard to mourn their extinction. Many of them arose from social, economic, and political arrangements that deserved to die. The iniquities of the turpentine, lumber, and leave camps; the injustices of the sharecropping system. Slavery itself.”

Yet, what Jackson and other field recorders captured in those hellish places remains culturally significant.

“They were an important expression of what people were thinking and feeling,” Jackson says. “Prison work songs originated in Africa; they came to the slave plantations where they were used in exactly the way they were used in the prisons. The prisons, many of them, were built on locations that had been slave plantations. The convicts worked under conditions very much like the slaves and they used songs in very much the same way. Had we not recorded them, they would have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. That important part of history would be unknown to us and future generations.” words / j woodbury

ought_570_v1

Lagniappe (la·gniappe) noun ˈlan-ˌyap,’ – 1. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit. 2. Something given or obtained as a gratuity or bonus.

A year ago next month, I happened upon Ought’s live show while in New York. Their performance that evening stands as one of the more memorable examples of going in to see a band cold and leaving a proselytizing fan. Shades of Talking Heads, Television, the Fall and the Feelies swirled around the room that night, though never approaching gross pastiche.

This week’s installment catches us with the Montreal group as they reinvent ’80s Cyndi Lauper and pay tribute to the defunct Sexy Kids. Ought, in their own words, below.

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I was in an American High School the first time I heard She’s So Unusual. I had laughed, at first, at the cover art and then turned to a friend for social approval.  Stone-faced, he returned my gaze: “this is a seriously amazing record.”  She’s So Unusual might be my favourite pop record, and “Money Changes Everything,” being the lead-off, might be the first song in which I’d ever heard a synth (and what a synth-line…), as well as my personal favourite to dance to. As a vocalist, I find Cyndi’s voice absolutely gut-wrenching. Also, Cyndi once saved my life: I was driving back to Montreal from the USA in the terrifying carcass of my old Honda Minivan (that Tim K and I did our first tours in). I felt myself dozing at the wheel, hitting the rumble strips as soporific Québécois folk tunes played on the radio until I remembered… a Cyndi mixtape! The first lines of “Money Changes” came on and gave me enough juice to cruise on home.

Ought :: Money Changes Everything (Cyndi Lauper)

“Sisters Are Forever” is a rare uniting force amongst the four of us; a track that can get us all out of the dumps pretty fast. I’m not even sure how we came across it–it’s a hard-to-find 2008 7″ on Slumberland, and the band seems to have disappeared from the internet. None of us have ever heard any other songs by them, as far as I know, anyway. I think some of them are in that band Veronica Falls now, which I’ve never heard, either. So it’s just this song, really, with no context, and us flailing like idiots while we pack our stuff after shows when Amy, our sound tech, plays it over the PA. For our version we thought it fitting to sap all the fun out of it.

Ought :: Sisters Are Forever (Sexy Kids)

Lagniappe Sessions Archives / imagery via d norsen.

Welcome to the seventh installment of an ongoing series with Pickathon, showcasing footage from the Galaxy Barn located at Pendarvis Farm in Oregon: Mikal Cronin – “Gone”. Photo / Autumn Andel