Category Archives: Pop

Death of the Atomic Bomb: William Onyeabor

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All pop stars are, to a certain degree, enigmas. As fans we think we know them. We digest their lyrics and read interviews but mostly we create an image of them in our minds. We become convinced they are like us. And hopefully, even like us.

 

For their part, pop stars spend time and money trying to avoid being known too much. Bob Dylan is famous for spreading tall tales about his musical antecedents and early years. He’s on record claiming to be in places at times when it is patently clear he was not. So frustrating were his contradictory and mysterious statements about himself that a short-lived sub-discipline of sociology sprang up in the early 1970s: Dylanology. Led by an obsessed fan named A.J. Weberman, who today would be arrested for stalking, Dylanologists’ main method was to pick through the discarded rubbish of the singer’s household in search of clues of his life.

 

Yesterday, William Onyeabor, a Nigerian keyboardist and electronic music pioneer, passed away, leaving a whole slew of question marks for his fans to contemplate. There has been no musician more mysterious in recent years than the cowboy hat white suit wearing Chieftain from West Africa. The Guardian’s survey of his discovery (by Western fans) and the unanswered questions that he carried with him to his grave is an excellent read.

 

The 2013 Luaka Bop album, referenced by the Guardian is shared here today. This is 73 minutes of some of the most improbable African music you’re ever likely to hear. Electronic swirls and squelches interspersed with the dense beat of simulated drums. This is music that sounds more at home in England during the New Wave/No Wave era of the early 1980s than in the land that gave the world High Life and Afrobeat. There is none of the urgency, playfulness or raw sexuality of Fela or E.T Mensah or Geraldo Pino in Onyeabor.

 

And perhaps that is willful. One of the few things we seem to know about him is that he nurtured a strong personal faith in Jesus. And lived a life of moral rectitude and purity.   Natural then, that his music would mirror the same emotions.

 

This is not to say this is fluff or mere exotica. Atomic Bomb is the standout track in this collection. It builds and pulses with real energy and creative thinking. Love as A Bomb! Love is Blind and Body and Soul are also carnally focused. Both tunes develop a strong groove that keeps the ears and mind engaged.

 

There is one other West African electronic album from this era, African Electronic Music 1975-1982, by the Cameroonian poly-artist Francis Bebey that acts as a sort of cultural counterpart to this album. Bebey’s life story is fairly well known and his album (one of more than 20 released in his lifetime) has a more deliberate, experimental quality to it.

 

Onyeabor’s work, by contrast, seems to be more organic and heartfelt. The grooves are long, elaborate and hang together as individual tracks nicely. Bebey’s album on the other hand is a collection of diverse sounding songs that seem strung together like individual gaudy beads.

 

In any case, this is very interesting music, made by a mysterian of the first order. Rest in Peace dear William. Whoever you are.

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Track Listing:

01 Body and Soul

02 Atomic Bomb

03 Good Name

04 Something You’ll Never Forget

05 Why Go to War?

06 Love is Blind

07 Heaven and Hell

08 Let’s Fall in Love

09 Fantastic Man

William

Surf’s Up Comrades: Voodoo Surf (Fresh Links)

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Here I am in Australia for a brief interlude with family once again. What a joy!

And somehow, whenever one finds oneself in this country, the mind turns to surfing (and any number of other outdoor sports) which is one of the true religions the people of these regions adhere to. Not that I partake in the sport. I don’t. I am a new (ish) immigrant and sports, whether water based or any other are something I prefer to watch rather than participate in. Yet there is something genuinely uplifting about seeing people on boards navigating themselves between and over and under waves in the middle of a deep blue sea.

Surfing music is a form that has a very loyal (not to say, fanatic) following. I thought it was no longer en vouge until some years ago a taxi driver in Sydney raved for the entire ride about his passion for this guitar driven instrumental music. Not really rock n roll but not really any other genre, surf music has secured its own unique niche. And if the taxi driver was to be believed, it was still being churned out by contemporary bands in Australia and elsewhere.

I recently posted something on The Ventures which comes pretty close to surf-like music. I do rather enjoy the crisp picking of an Stratocaster and the snap of a tight drum head but still surf music was a bit ‘outre’ for my tastes, so I thought. My mind jumps to the Beach Boys (never big heroes in my book) and long forgotten acts like Jan and Dean. Dick Dale is a cult hero but not really mainstream.

So I had little to say to the Sydney cab driver except nod and say I’d check ‘it out’.

Well I have done a bit of checking in recent days and I must say I do like surf music. Or at least surf music as interpreted by Ukrainian, Russian and other former Iron Curtain country bands. Yes, you read that right. Eastern Bloc surf music. I’ve heard many things about the Ural Sea and Aral Sea too. And of course the Black Sea and Arctic Ocean are all part of the former Russian empire. But I have never come across a surfing scene in any of these bodies of water. Be that as it may, there is a strong contingent of musicians who love the sounds of Mr Dale and other Californian surf bands from the 1950s and 60s.

So while I don’t make any claims that this is authentic surf music (hence the name of the album, Voodoo Surf) I do commend it to you as very enjoyable instrumental music that sounds as if it could have been made in the garages of Alhambra, Santa Clara and Pasadena in the years before the hippies took over the discourse and ruined it all. And that this was made in darkest (and coldest) Minsk, Moscow and Kiev is all the more reason to say, ‘Far out!’

Every track here is infectious and entertaining. Though they all are of a piece they are also every one of them distinct and different. Some channel the Texas blues while others seem to have hired Max Weinberg of the E Street Band to play drums. They lift riffs from cowboy movies (or riffs that should be in cowboy movies) and conjure 1964 perfectly. Not a vocalising sound is heard anywhere on this record (except for some cryptic dark barking and French whispers here and there).

If you want something different and fun to shine in your day…then give this little record a spin. My favourite? 36-24-36! Play it often. Play if loud!

Surf’s Up!

Voodoo Surf

Track Listing:

01 Surf Melody

02 Vaquero-San

03 French

04 Psychos

05 Immersion

06 Picked Legs

07 Tainted Love

08 Keep Breathin’

09 Sharks

10 Man With The Scar

11 Godzilla’s Dream

12 Bustin’ Chainsaws

13 Ñâåòèò ìåñÿö

14 Signal From Tremoluna Planet

15 36-24-36

16 Lightning Rod

17 Das Boot

18 Breakers

19 Mikkie Goes To School

20 Suffer

21 Neptune

22 Messing with Motor Chick

23 Ghost Theme

24 Õî›îâîä

25 Midnight Preacher

VuDu

Birth of the Smooth: George Benson

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George Benson has always followed his own path. Though that has meant he suffers the opprobrium of the jazz brahmanical elite he has elected to blaze a trail that unabashedly embraces pop music as an essential element of jazz. George grew up listening to Nat King Cole another jazz pioneer who was equally comfortable singing as he was at leading a small group of instrumentalists as a piano player of depth and originality. For George Benson there appears to be no line between silky pop crooner and swinging jazz guitar slinger.

What I have always loved about Benson’s jazz is that it is so accomplished. His playing which brings together scat-like runs, lightning-like picking and the most voluptuous rhythmic strumming is endlessly rich. He always surrounds himself with outstanding musicians and collaborators, most recently Al Jarreau but also Jack McDuff, Wes Montgomery, Lou Rawls just to name a few. His live performances are renown for their energy while his studio albums are always produced like fine art, with a familiar confident use of equipment and contemporary processes.

If there is a single word that comes closest to summing all of this up, it would be smooth. Smooth as in silky, elegant and sophisticated. Not in the sense used by snobs who label ‘smooth’ those artists whom they perceive to have ‘sold out’ or those whose music is somehow less legitimate because it appeals to a massive, diverse audience, not just a cabal of hard core jazz droolers.

Listen to Benson’s records if you want to understand what total artistic commitment to music sounds like. Whether it is in a hard bop jam session, a R&B duet, a funky workout with blazing organs and horns or a moody instrumental ballad, Benson is 100% ‘there’. Unlike some he doesn’t simply play his music in diverse settings, he matches his playing to the context be it blues, pop or virtuoso soloing.   With Coltrane I am blown away by urgent, desperate intensity. With Benson I am seduced by an incredibly multifaceted sexy woman.

The Washerman’s Dog team (of one) has pulled together a selection of wonderful enticements for your listening pleasure. Spread over two volumes you’ll get a glimpse of not only the many sides of this great guitarist but also his ultimate ‘smoothness’.

Go in peace!

 

benson front

 

Track Listing (v 1):

 

01 Push, Push

 

02 Hold On I’m Coming

 

03 So What

 

04 Ode To A Kudu (alt. take)

 

05 Little Train

 

06 The Wind And I

 

07 Shadow Dancers

 

08 Plum

 

09 I Got A Woman

 

10 Somewhere In The East

 

11 Don’t Let Me Lose This Dream

 

12 Billie’s Bounce

 

13 Let It Rain (featuring Patti Austin)

 

14 Benson’s Rider

 

15 Take Five

 

16 ‘Long Come Tutu

 

17 I Don’t Know

 

18 Myna Bird Blues

 

19 Shell Of A Man

 

20 Doobie, Doobie Blues

 

G.B.

 

 

 

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Track Listing (v. 2)

 

01 Top Of The World

 

02 Mona Lisa

 

03 Hippy Dip

 

04 One Like You

 

05 Ode To A Kudu

 

06 Shape Of Things That Are and Were

 

07 Ready And Able

 

08 Givin’ It Up for Love

 

09 The Ghetto

 

10 Still Waters

 

11 Will You Still Be Mine

 

12 Black Rose

 

13 Witchcraft [live]

 

14 The World Is A Ghetto

 

15 You Can’t Go Home [feat. George Benson]

 

16 Man From Toledo [Bonus Track]

 

17 El Mar

 

18 Strings of Love

 

19 Serbian Blue (new mix)

 

20 Love For Sale

 

21 Mona Lisa (Lil’ George Benson Age 8)

 

B.G

 

 

 

I was so much older then: Happy Birthday Bob

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Bob keeps on rolling and tumbling.  He was so much older then. He’s younger than that now. He seems to be forever young. Even though the times are a changin’ times passes slowly when you’re in a dream. Ultimately his name it means nothing and his age it means less.

 

Happy 73rd birthday to you Robert Zimmerman.

 

Track Listing:

01 Jokerman [Live Bootleg]

02 Silvio

03 Rocks And Gravel (Solid Road) (Finjan Club, Montreal)

04 One Too Many Mornings

05 Tell Ol’ Bill

06 All Along The Watchtower [Live]

07 Baby Stop Crying

08 I Threw It All Away [Live]

09 I Don’t Believe You

10 Train Of Love [Live Bootleg}

11 Just Like A Woman [Live]

12 Early Roman Kings

13 Love Minus Zero (No Limit) [Live]

14 Mississippi (Unreleased, Time Out Of Mind)

15 Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again [Live]

16 My Blue Eyed Jane [Live]

17 Dixie

18 Something There Is About You

19 Pressing On

20 Trust Yourself

21 A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall [Live]

22 Series of Dreams

23 Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine

24 Angel Flying Too Close To The Ground

25 Rank Strangers To Me

26 Full Moon and Empty Arms

****

Siberian California Surf-a-billy: The Red Elvises

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This is the season of zany, eyebrow raising Eurotrash pop music.  Eurovision, which has been called the ‘blending of soft pop and soft porn’, is the annual televised competition for ‘best’ pop band across Euro-land.  This year’s winner, announced this weekend,  is from Austria, the bearded diva Conchita Wurst!  Oh, for the days of Do Re Mi and Edelweiss!

Conchita Wurst

Conchita Wurst

With this post the Washerman’s Dog dips its toe into the general hilarity and spirit of this most camp of all weekends on the European cultural calendar.

 

The Red Elvises, aka Igor and the Red Elvises,is a ‘Siberian Surf Band’ by way of Germany, the old USSR and the Golden State, that is fiercely dedicated to drinking, taking the piss and playing a loud blend-o-matic stream of mainly American influenced music in which one can find chunks of rockabilly, rock ‘n roll, Americana and falsetto (often Russian accented) vocalisations about such things as love being better than cocaine (but more hurtful than back pain), drinking with Old Testament prophets and twisting like Hollywood starlets.

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Growing up in the land of Breshnev and Andropov was pretty bleak for Igor Yuzov. Probably was for most young Soviet pioneers who longed to rock’n roll rather than fulfil the industrial quota for washers or plastic bottles.  Folk music, served up with a heavy slather of Slavic seriousness, was what the young boy was weaned on and that strong grounding in melodic, storytelling is easily discernible in the music of The Red Elvises. 

 

At some point, perhaps in the late 80s, early 90s, (dates are as fungible in this biography as the statistics of a Russian history textbook) young Mr Yuzov makes his way to the land of Milk and Honey and Chevrolets.  His Rusky-folk band, Limpopo, changes name to ‘Crazy Russian Rock n’ Roll Group’ and claim to win the famous ‘Star Search’ talent show. (Though like so many facts associated with Russia, this is not confirmed by the great book of all knowledge, Wikipedia).

Igor and his gang of Red Elvises

Igor and his gang of Red Elvises

About 20 years ago the road to Damascus experience happens.  Elvis appears to Igor in a dream state (could be the hangover) and orders him to become an apostle of rock ‘n roll. Moving to the streets where they are more at home than in the studio, the band, which takes in all sorts of musicians from all points around the globe, gain a fan base in Santa Monica. At last the city fathers have their fill of their raucous busking and order them off the streets!

Over the years though, the band, which refuses to compromise on its vision of telling it like they want to say it, and shuns major labels, develops a cultish following (very appropriate for an ex-Soviet comrade, I guess) and tours the world entertaining the masses.

So here we go folks! Worthy we are not! Let’s give it up for Igor and the Red Elvises.

 Drinking With Jesus

Track Listing:

01 Drinking With Jesus

02 Lara’s Wedding

03 Better Than Cocaine

04 Me & My Baby

05 Tra-la-la

06 Twist Like Uma Thurman

07 Into the Sun

08 Don’t Crucify Me

09 Play Me Your Banjo

10 Wearing Black

11 Stupid Drinking Song

12 Paris Waltz

13 Bourbon Street

★★★

Don’t Have the Blues: Asaf Avidan and the Mojos

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Asaf Avidan is, he is keen to point out, a singer from Israel and not necessarily an Israeli singer. What that means, for him, is that by a twist of fate, he was born into a Jewish family in Israel.  That fact does not require that he as an artist speak to, or about, or for, or against anything happening in political world of the Middle East. Indeed, it appears that only aspect of being Israeli that bugs Asafis that interviewers always ask him the same tedious question about whether he feels he must speak out about the actions of his country, in his music.

 

Here’s his response to one such question: I think it’s a bit unfair, considering that citizens from the U.S.A or U.K or Europe, sometimes have just as much political explanation to give, in regards to their governments actions… But I take it as it is. It won’t help to bitch about it. “Israel” inspires a certain chain of thoughts in people, who cannot make the same separation they bestow upon other nationalities… I try to explain the complexity of the situation or to give my opinion about it… but that’s all it really is… one’s subjective opinion about a tapestry of conflicting dogmas and beliefs. I think an artist should be honest with himself… that’s all an artist’s role is to me. If he feels he needs to depict the outside world or his inner conflicts, social war, or personal love… that’s up to him really.

Asaf Avidan

Asaf Avidan

When you first hear Asaf sing (he was the lead singer and guitarist of his band, the Mojos) your reaction is ‘wow, she’s got a unique voice.’  So feminine is it that one is knocked slightly off kilter. Is this a put on? It’s not a falsetto and yet it is beautiful. It is not Tiny Tim kitsch and yet it is very delicate and not at all what you’d associate with a mojo. Asafis a million miles away from Muddy Waters, the man more than any other who introduced that weird word into our vocabulary.

 

And neither is this blues.  Rather it is a sort of folk music stripped of emotional excess and preciousness, delivered with a look you in the eye simplicity.  Don’t get the idea that this is Asaf strumming his acoustic guitar. No. There are layers of instrumentation in this music that evoke gypsy bands and country bars. There are Dylan and Cohenesque lyrics that are not derivative, and even some good rocking tonight.  And always there is that voice… that voice.  Somewhere between a keen and a wail, haunting and reassuring.

 

This is a treat.  Listen to it often to get to the marrow.

asaf

Track Listing:

01 Brickman

02 Poor Boy/Lucky Man

03 Got It Right

04 My Favorite Clown

05 Small Change Girl

06 The Ghost Of a Thousand Little Lies

07 Wasting My Time

08 Jet Plane

09 Little Stallion

10 Your Anchor

11 Losing Hand

12 Painting On The Past

13 Out In The Cold

14 My Latest Sin

++++++++

Tokyo Dance: Soul and Disco from Japan

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I was in Tokyo last week for the very first time. What a city! Massive, pulsing, hilarious and sophisticated. Not to mention well run and disciplined.  The taxi doors open automatically. The drivers wear white gloves. Everyone bows deeply as soon as you enter or leave a shop.

 

I was there for business but did manage to get out one evening in search of a good music store.  What music collector hasn’t eyed off all those Japanese imports of jazz, rock, blues and R&B? With the curious script all over the album sleeves (or CD cases) and their colourful banners along the left side?

 

I was searching for a shop with more than just J-pop and after a couple false starts discovered Disk Union, on the 3rd (and) 6th floor of bland-looking office tower in bustling wintry Shinjuku.

 

imagesDisk Union is on several levels because like everything else in the country, record shops are very categorised. On Floor 6 there are racks upon racks of classical music, sheet music, DVDs and books (95% in Japanese) on Western classical music.  Down three floors is the branch I was searching for.  Jazz, Soul, Rock, World etc.

 

Within no time at all I had my arms full and asked one of the staff something about a local jazz saxophonist I had heard of.  He grabbed one CD and then pointed out that because there was a green tag on it I could knock off 300 yen.  On the wall was a poster with color-coded charts showing how much each CD was discounted.  Overall, I was pretty pleased with the prices…about $10 each, less for used ones, slightly more (but not too much) for new issues.

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I could only justify 6 (given my constrained situation) and here is one (Japanese Disco and Soul) that I love tremendously already.

 

Sayonara!

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Track Listing:

01 Dr.ドラゴンのテーマ

02 センチメンタル

03 未来

04 熟れた果実

05 私は忘れない

06 胸さわぎ

07 GET DOWN BABY

08 君は特別

09 恋の弱味

10 セクシー・バスストップ

11 ムーンライト・タクシー

12 恋のハッスル・ジェット

13 カリブの夢

14 太陽は泣いている センセーション ’78

15 恋のインディアン人形

16 人さわがせ

17 夏八景

18 日曜日はストレンジャー

19 ハッスル・ジェット

20 セクシー・バスストップ

½