Wednesday, January 07, 2009

2008's highs and lows (mainly musical)

I'm back. 2008 included 9 great months for me, including two of the happiest days of my life. Last 3 months were a bit miserable, due to my precarious labour situation in the neo-liberal world. My private troubles coincided with the public issue of deepening global financial crisis. The election of Barack Obama (and the outburst of optimism that unleashed in America and worldwide) was, for me, a small ray of light in that dark time. And the year ended even worse, with the horrific situation in Gaza and southern Israel.

I tried, over the Christmas period, to block out the Middle Eastern situation, and indeed the whole world outside the cocoon of my extended family. I also managed to avoid TV almost completely (apart from a bit of Wallace and Gromit). My media highlight of the seasonal period was the extracts of Alistair Cooke's Letters from America that Radio 4 was featuring. I feel overwhelming nostalgia when I hear his warm, mid-Atlantic voice: my parents listened to him when I was a kid, and he reminds me of my late grandfather, both for the way you can hear the h in words like "where" and "overwhelming" and for the lucidity of expression.

I had some nice presents, with a bit of a Yiddish theme: the final (Ghanian!) album by the king of Yiddish song, Leo Fuld; a book of beautiful poems by Emmanuel Litvinov; a wonderful French collection of postcards of Yiddishland; Jonathan Lethem's awesome superhero comic Omega The Unknown; the Seasick Steve album (uneven, but growing on me); a collaboration between Cuba's heavenly Omara Portuondo and Brazil's divine Maria Bethânia.

2008 was a quite good year for music - although a bad year in terms of great musicians dying. Looking at my Windows Media Player library, I only have 3 tracks rated five stars with release dates in 2008. They are:

I've got loads of tracks I've rated 4 star though.

  • Adele's 19 was overrated, but she's sort of from South London and it had a couple of stand-out tracks, including "Hometown Glory" and "Make You Feel My Love".
  • Sticking with white girl soul, the Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip mix of Amy Winehouse's "No Good": you don't realise it's a remix, until Scroobius' rap kicks in at about 2 minutes. I think I stole this from Music Like Dirt.
  • Andrew Bird's freaky indie-chamber-blues cover of "Jesus Gonna Make My Dyin' Bed" (see Fong/SMM/CBC for details).
  • Loads of great remixes of classic soul and funk, including the Bobby LaBeat Re-work of Archie Bell's "Tighten Up", the Shoes re-edit of Bill Withers' "No Hands, Gramma", Santogold's remix of Aretha Franklin's "Save Me", Kenny Dope's remix of James Brown's "There Was a Time".
  • Lots of great remixes of classic rock tracks, such as the Springsteen one above, and Canned Heat "Wanda Road Again" (Wade Nichols Edit).
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See that my grave is kept clean" as performed in a funky gospel fashion by the god-like BB King on his new One Kind Favor. B.B. King was one of the first great artists I saw live. I saw him twice when he was merely in his 60s and touring 300 days a year. He's now well over 80 and his new album is a knock-out.
  • Bar Kokhba Sextet "Sother" from Bar Kokhba plays Lucifer: Book of Angels Volume 10 on Tzadik. Cyro Baptista, Greg Cohen, Marc Ribot and others play John Zorn.
  • Obama election year covers of Sam Cooke's beautiful "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Ben Sollee and Chango Malo.
  • Billy Bragg "The Beach is Free (Solo Version)" from Mr. Love And Justice. A socialist anthem for the 21st century.
  • Calexico "Victor Jara's Hands" from Carried To Dust. A solidly good album, with a couple of highlights. Mariachi, spaghetti western, ska, atmosphere, emotion, dust.
  • Calle 13 "La Perla" (ft. La Chilinga & Ruben Blades) from Los De Atrás Vienen Conmigo. 2008 was a good year for this sort of mutant electronic music from the southern hemisphere, a category I call "global crunk" in my Media Player library.
  • Erik Byrd's tribute to Ray Charles "I've Got News for You" on Brother Ray. Bluesy, sexy, cool.
  • Esau Mwamwaya, Santogold, M.I.A & Radioclit "Get it up". Also falls into the "global crunk" category, but is pretty deep and intense.
  • The Felice Brothers "Whiskey in my Whiskey" off their rather uneven eponymous Americana album, overly loved by the mp3 blogosphere.

I'm going to stop there, even though I'm only up to F, as I've got better things to do!

5 comments:

Graeme said...

And sadly, we're starting off this year with the death of Ron Asheton. I cranked Fun House yesterday in his memory--I'll probably do the same today.

It seems that our tastes in music overlap only slightly, so the only album I've heard on your list is the Bar Kokhba one--and it's great. As for recent Tzadik releases, I really liked the Oren Ambarchi/Z'ev collaboration.

I discovered Caetano Veloso recently (thanks to my partner who shops in sections other than the metal one in the record store--credit where credit is due), but I see that you've mentioned him in past posts--so no need to recommend him to you.

And, on a completely different vibe, the Cannibal Corpse documentary is completely awesome. I'm predisposed to like these sorts of things, but it was still far better than I expected it to be.

A good 2009 to you and yours.

bob said...

Yes, I guess not much overlap. I haven't heard the Oren Ambarchi/Ze'ev. I think it was my sister introduced me to Caetano Veloso, who I love.

I'll try and catch up with Cannibal Corpse in 2009! (I notice their 11th album is due out soon...)

Martin Meenagh said...

Bob, I had no idea Omega the Unknopwn was out--thanks for putting me onto that! I love the Defenders, the weird superhero anti-group where I think his tales were resolved.

Happy new year to you, hope all is well

bob said...

I never read the original 1970s Omega The Unknown, extracts from which are published at the end of the Jonathan Lethem book. Apparently, the series was left kind of in limbo, with the story as you say being resolved in The Defenders, although the author, was not keen on the resolution.

The Lethem re-imagining, with brilliant artwork by Farel Dalrymple, is absolutely superb.

The Defenders are, however, probably the coolest of all the classic Marvel superheroes.

TNC said...

I used to read Omega (and the Defenders) back in the 1970s. I liked just about everything Steve Gerber worked on back then (Omega, Defenders, Man-Thing, Howard the Duck, Foolkiller).