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TOP TEN (kinda)

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“Passport” radio broadcast from 12/29/08special BEST OF 2008 edition
Passport airs every Monday night on 89.1 FM WNYU

This is really not a top ten, and it doesn’t even cover half of my favorite albums of the year, but it does cover just about every one of my favorite records that got play on Passport this past year. Looking over the blog it’s easy to tell that my tastes are much more varied than what’s presented on the show – I would not, for example drop Kanye or even Mayer Hawthorne (since the station is all about focused programming). And the truth is, after 6 years of hosting and DJ-ing my Monday night program, I feel I’m coming much closer to saying goodbye to the show, especially now that I have a co-host I’ve been working with who’s going to keep it alive after I move on. However, since this year has been a good one on the program- starting off back in January with guest appearances from both Chico Mann and Ticklah– I wanted my BEST OF 2008 to highlight all the freaky, funky, global gems that I get to exercise out of my system each and every Monday. I say exersice, because I’m really not able to play too many of these cuts when I DJ out and about- your average club-goer is still not ready for the psychedelic Cumbias that I fiend. So here’s the playlist from last night’s show- I’ve thrown some honorable mentions at the bottom that didn’t make it into the show due to time restraints…

Artist – “Song Title” – Album Name – (Record Label)

Brownout “Barretta” Homenaje (Freestyle)
Karl Hector and The Malcouns “Toure Samar” Sahara Swing (Now Again)
Gabo Brown & Orchestre Poly-Rythmo “It’s A Vanity” African Scream Contest (Analog Africa)
Curumin “Compacto” JapanPopShow (Adrenaline)
Chicha Libre “Sonido Amazonico” Sonido Amazonico (Barbes)
Sonora Casino “Astronautas A Mercurio” Obsession (Bully)
Bio Ritmo “Bionic Boogaloo” Bionico (Locutor)
Grupo Fantasma “Se Te Mira” Sonidos Gold (Aire Sol)
Bronx River Parkway “Agua Con Sal” San Sebastian 152 (Truth & Soul)
Keziah Jones “Pimpin'” Nigerian Wood (Warner Bros)
Jackson Conti “Sao Paulo Nights” Sujinho (Mochilla)
Chico Mann “Dilo Como Yo” Analogue Drift (Unreleased)

honorable mentions:

V/A – The entire NIGERIA SPECIAL series on Soundway
V/A – Calypsoul
V/A – Bachata Roja
V/A – The Roots Of Chicha
Tito Puente – The Complete 78’s
Joe Bataan – Under The Streetlamps
Seun Kuti – Seun Kuti + Egypt 80
Femi Kuti – Day By Day


RIP Adam Nation-Ames

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The Grateful Dead : Brokedown Palace
taken from the album American Beauty on Warner Bros. (1970)

Charles Wilder : Big Heart (rough draft, don’t hate!)
a song for my bro.

Been a crazy week. I heard the moon is abnormally close to Earth right now, perhaps that’s a part of it. Less than a day after spending my first ever night in jail (story for another day), I heard the shocking news that one of my oldest and best friends (a true brother to me) had died in a car accident.

Adam and I learned how to skateboard together, learned how to get into trouble together, made our first cross-country road trip together when I had just gotten my license… So many of my most memorable experiences were with him. When I was 12 and he was 13, we were in a show together where we shared the part of the Donkey. One of us as the head, the other as the butt (which meant bending down holding onto the other dude’s waist for an ungodly period of time), and we’d switch off positions. This was all in the pursuit of chasing cute girls mind you. And we even got our first girlfriends together- the scheme worked! I remember sharing a couch watching some c-grade horror film and making out with our respective adolescent girls side-by-side, taking cues out of the corners of my eyes so I’d know when to proceed to the next step- GLORIOUS 2ND BASE!

I could go on for way too long about how much of who I am was shaped by him, but since none of you knew him, I won’t. In addition to being a serious lover of hip hop, dude was a Deadhead, as are many good people up here in the New England woods where I’m originally from. This particular Dead song was sung by a long haired hippie on guitar, who was accompanied by another on Djembe, at the beautiful service I attended this morning in his honor. I love you bro and you’ll be with me for all the rest of my days on this Earth.


Makonde Swahili Disco Funk

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Makonde : Soseme Makonde & Manzara
taken from the 12″ single on EMI (1977)

Haven’t been bringing out too many rares lately, but not because I’ve had any real trouble stumbling upon them. Even with my wallet as empty as it has been these past couple months, I’ve still managed to pull some pretty crazy finds. I’ve been pushing myself to stay out of record stores as much as possible, but when I pass someone standing on the sidewalk in the cold behind a underappreciated crate- I feel almost an obligation to pull out enough money to get them a cup of soup and a hot coffee (even if it ends up going towards a lil fire water in the end).

That brings us to this latest discovery of Swahili disco funk from ’77. The cover was beat to hell which is probably why other people overlooked it, but the record (brilliant BLUE VINYL with a LEOPARD PRINT LABEL!) was kept in another sleeve and remained in great condition. Dropping the needle on side A was like opening the gate to King Kong’s beastly lair. Deranged warbling mumbles and pounding drums are soon met with a pulsing bass, a simple chant, and then what sounds like a drunken Moog synth doing the running man. This is exactly the type of track that first inspired me to start this blog.

The B side, perhaps equally as incendiary, sounds almost like the Kenyan version of The Commodores “Machine Gun”, but with fatter drum breaks. Turns out Kon & Amir unearthed this monster before me and even featured it on their recent Kings Of Digging CD for the BBE label- makes me feel pretty lucky about turning this one up. They did a nice little edit on their CD which extended the drum breaks, but I figured I’d give you both tracks unedited so you’ll have to practice your Serato juggling skills if you want to keep the break rolling.



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Bennet, Roger, and Josh Kun. And You Shall Know Us By the Trail of Our Vinyl (Crown, 2008)

I should have blogged about this prior to last night, when there was an event and book signing in Santa Monica around the above book but hey, you still have a few days to Hanukkah/Xmas/Kwanzaa to cop this tome.

I should first include the following disclaimer: Josh Kun, one of the co-authors, is one of my mentors and a good friend and I also appear in the book, having contribute a short essay on David Axelrod’s The Auction (see below). That conflict-of-interest alert aside, here’s some thoughts on this.

Trail of Our Vinyl is a different kind of album cover book. On the surface, it would seem to share much in common with books like Cocinando! or The Book of Hip Hop Cover Art – hundreds of album covers, interspersed with contextual essays. However, the point of divergence comes with the core purpose of the book, revealed in its subtitle: “The Jewish Past as Told by the Records We Have Loved and Lost.” This book is all about collective memories as encoded in records and thus the range of themes are sprawling and complex (like memories are). In essence, this is less a book about music than it is a book about Jewish American identity as told through music, and more specifically, made material in the form of LPs and their evocative covers.

Thematically then, the book has a very loose chronological organization but is far more based around particular areas of Jewish-ness, ranging from “Men’s Warehouse: The Changing Sartorial Styles of the Great Cantors” to “Go Down Moses: The Music of Black-Jewish Relations” to “The Sound of Suffering: Holocaust, Soviet Jewry, and Martyrdom on Vinyl” to “Stop Singing Our Songs: Non-Jewish Masters of the Jewish Melody.”

Each accompanying essay is less about the album covers depicted after and more about discussing slices of Jewish American history and/or cultural/community dynamics, all “documented” by the 400 or so album covers included therein. It’s a level of thought and engagement that’s considerably more sophisticated – but still quite readable – compared to similar books which tend to be more about chronicling music genres rather than the communities behind them.

However, like many album cover books, there isn’t as much discussion about album covers. The artwork is the obvious visual draw but though we get a few in-depth essays about specific albums or artists (such as what I contributed), a lot of these images lack context and that’s one thing I personally have always wanted more of – a discussion about how artists (or their labels) choose certain images or styles (this is something, for example, the Blue Note books do better, but again, not really on an LP by LP basis.

The grand thing about our internet age though is that the limitations a book places on that kind of in-depth discussions can be, instead, moved online and indeed, on the Trail of Our Vinyl blog, Bennett and Kun add those deeper anecdotes. (Be sure to check out the interview with Johnny Yune, Koraen American performer of Ose Shalom fame.

As you may guess, my two favorite sections were about cross-cultural adventures in Jewish music, namely the chapters on Black-Jewish relations and “Me Llamo Steinberg: The Jewish Latin Craze.” Part of me is just drawn to the long-standing kind of inter-ethnic/racial dialogues that are created through music and certainly, for Jewish American musicians, there is no shortage of examples to point to.

Orchestra Harlow: Horsin’ Up
From Presenta A Ismael Miranda (Fania, 1968)

Harvey Averne: You’re No Good
From Viva Soul Atlantic, 1968)

David Axelrod: The Auction
From The Auction (Decca, 1972)

We start with the El Judio Maravilloso, the “marvelous jew” Larry Harlow whom I wrote about a few months back. Undoubtedly the most influential Latin artist of Jewish descent in the NY Latin scene of the ’60s and ’70s, Harlow seemed to be one of those born-again Puerto Ricans who were such a vital part of the Nuyorican Latin scene (you can put Joe Bataan and possibly Jimmy Castor in that same category). “Horsin’ Up” seemed like an apt selection given its own cross-cultural references – the song is a boogaloo-ed mash-up between Archie Bell’s “Tighten Up” and Cliff Nobles’ “The Horse“. I should add: this is a strange album too since it was recorded in 1968, right in the middle of Harlow’s (reluctant) boogaloo period but Fania didn’t release the album until 1972 (go figure).

Apart from Harlow, the other major Jewish artist in the same circles was smooth singing Harvey Averne who found modest success recording for Atlantic, Fania and Averne’s own Coco label. Averne’s Viva Soul has long been a favorite of mine (and his self-titled LP on Fania is another one for a later post), especially “You’re No Good” (which I blogged about way back in 2004) which benefits beautifully from the use of the female back-up singers and Averne’s own rich vocals.

Lastly, I included the title song from David Axelrod’s The Auction, which, like almost all of Axelrod’s 70s albums, was a concept LP. This one was in reference to American slavery (the “auction was not in reference to eBay) and this is what I had to say about it in Trail of Our Vinyl:

    “the slick, funky sound of Adderley’s band gives way to the gravely voice of lead Billie Barnum who sings of “young girls…helpless in their shame” while soloist Gwendolyn Owens speaks of “little children sold…while masters traded them for gold.” It’s a heavy, bleak sentiment – oddly contrasted against Adderley’s gliding grooves – but it’s also the kind of eclectic and provocative work that Axelrod excelled at.”

And since this is a book of album covers, I picked out a few of my favorites:

I went for images that appealed to me visually and/or had an intriguing comment to make on visuals alone. For exampl
e, The Immortals album by Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson is very striking for its simple but unambiguous reference of blackface – a popular convention amongst the group of vaudeville singers that included Cantor and Jolson and a practice whose inherent racism was also complicated by its popularity amongst immigrant Europeans.

Speaking of duality, the cover of Two Sides of Pinchik captures the cantor’s crossed identities perfectly – one as the religious figure, one as a quasi-pop hopeful. As Kun joked at this week’s talk, which identity Pinchik chose came with its own hat.

The Star of David housing a raised fist is the sole image on Rabbi Meir Kahane’s minimalist spoken word album, a stark but loaded exercise in saying less with more, design-wise.

Lastly, how can you not like the groovy cover for Israel Hit Parade 2? Party on dude!



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Perhaps the only thing as humbling as incredible music are people who share incredible music. That’s why I’m always thankful that people like Matthew Africa have gotten into blogging – his “I Wish You Would” is a must-read; if you’re not looking at his site at least as often as you check this one, you’re missing out. After all, Matthew is dropping that AAA grade butter tracks like Michael Sardaby’s “Welcome New Worth” and Frankie Beverly and the Butlers’ “Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)” on the regular. If folks knew how hard it is to come by songs like that, you’d understand where the humbling comes in.

Along these lines: a truly, devastatingly humbling song is what some call face-melters:

It requires more of a song than to be merely “good” to qualify as a face-melter. It has to be something so unexpectedly awesome that its inherent greatness is enough to slough flesh off your skull (metaphorically speaking). Here’s a trio of my favorites:

Black Rock: Yeah Yeah
From 7″ (Selectohits, 197?)

Los Amaya: Caramelo A Kilo
From 7″ (Sabor, 1972)

New Hope: Godofallofus
From Godofallofus (Light, 197?). Also on Strange Breaks and Mr. Thing.

Most people were introduced to Black Rock’s thunderous “Yeah Yeah” thanks to the now-legendary Chains and Black Exhaust mix-CD from 2002 and I had been put up on it a couple years earlier by DJ Om. The face-melt part comes partly from how the song opens so enigmatically, with its deep, booming “Blaaaaaaaack Rooooooooock” and those strings that build towards the unexpected hammer drop of piano, guitar and drums that come crashing in at about 30 seconds in. Hold ya head! This is still one of the best funk instrumentals I’ve ever heard (in fact, if you got ones that top it, comment please and share the wealth of knowledge).

“Caramelo A Kilo” is a bit of flamenco funk from a pair of Barcelona brothers. I can’t quite tell if “Caramelo A Kilo’s” origins are Spanish or Afro-Cuban (I’m inclined to say the latter) but regardless, Los Amaya give the song the rumba catalana make-over with those wicked gypsy guitars, heavy bongo beats and a swinging set of vocals: the sonic embodiment of caliente. Way too short at less than two minutes!

As for “Godofallofus”…*whistle* I’ve heard plenty of excellent gospel funk but New Hope finds some next level with a song that sounds like it was made for hip-hop use, just 30 years ahead of time. Those drums! That tuba! Those horns! Those crazy, Hair-era arrangements and ARP synths. As DJ Format and Mr. Thing knew to call it: Holy. Sh–. This whole song is one long mind-blower. (Props to Young Einstein for the hook-up on this LP).

You feel the heat yet?



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Mayer Hawthorne and the County: Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out
From 7″ (Stonesthrow, 2008)

Ok, let’s go through the checklist of this debut 7″ single by Stonesthrow’s newest artist:

White soul singer who likes to croon falsetto? Check.
“Tramp” drums underneath a sublimely sweet ballad? Check.
A heart-shaped 7″? Check.

So what you waitin’ for? Cop this.