The Year in Music, Part 7

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 28th, 2006 by bill
ibelieve.jpgdrjohn.jpg Various Artists/A Celebration of New Orleans Music Various Artists/Our New Orleans Various Artists/I Believe to My Soul Dr. John/Sippiana Hericane Today's theme is pretty simple: the proceeds from all these CDs go to hurricane relief. Of course, you could accomplish more by just giving your money directly to, say, Habitat for Humanity, but where's the fun in that? Anytime you can do a small good deed by buying music, I figure you're ahead of the game. This being Fat Tuesday and all, I've ingested a little too much single-malt scotch to go into any great detail, but these are all loaded with good music. If I had to pick one, it would probably be A Celebration of New Orleans Music, which is seriously — as they like to say down there — fonky, with an upbeat vibe that feels right on this most auspicious of days. In case you didn't know, February 28, 2006 is not only Mardi Gras Day and the new moon, but also the last day of The Most Dangerous Month of the Year. I've gone on the record many times with my feelings about February, which in my mind just takes up space between New Year's and spring. But now that it's over, I'm feeling generous about the second month, which to be honest was not half bad this year. The groundhog notwithstanding, the weather was mostly gorgeous, interspersed with heavy rain that will no doubt make for a spectacular season. My cats are happy and healthy, I made a few bucks this month, and my orchids started blooming a few days ago. As I write this, the sun is setting over Oaktown. The few clouds remaining from our last rainstorm are glowing sweetly pink and blue. (You can't have a top-notch sunset without a few clouds; there has to be something to catch the light.) Meanwhile, the Mardi Gras revelry is in full swing in the Crescent City. Some people thought it was weird to have a big party in the midst of all that devastation, but it makes perfect sense to me. When things are really fucked, that's when you need a good time most of all. So what the hell: Laissez les bon temps etc. etc. We'll figure everything out tomorrow, I'm sure.

Happy Birthday to Abe

Posted in Somebody's birthday on February 24th, 2006 by bill
Abe Vigoda shows off the
smoldering good looks that
made him an international
sex symbol.

Today is the 85th birthday of Abe Vigoda, who contrary to popular belief is still alive. Celebrate by imagining a parallel universe in which Abe played the lead role in Saturday Night Fever instead of John Travolta, and picture him strutting down the street to the tune of "Staying Alive."

The Year in Music, Part 6

Posted in Dancing about architecture on February 23rd, 2006 by bill
IMAGE1238.jpgblackalicious.jpg Amadou & Mariam/Dimanche á Bamako Blackalicious/The Craft So what do the Oakland hip-hop duo of DJ Chief Xcel and MC The Gift of Gab have in common with Amadou & Mariam, a blind husband-and-wife team from Mali? Plenty, in my mind. I've been a fan of Blackalicious since I heard a track from their A to G EP on the radio circa 1998, and of Amadou & Mariam since I heard their song "Mon Amour, Mon Cherie" in the Emeryville Tower Records around the same time. Though they work in very different idioms, both are heavily beat-centric and capable of dizzying, ecstatic heights when they're clicking on all cylinders. Which is not always. I've found Amadou & Mariam's previous albums vaguely disappointing, I think because their music depends on a peculiar kind of magic to make the simple, repetitive grooves levitate. The magic doesn't always work — most of the time, but not always — and when it doesn't, the songs just kind of lie there. I was hoping that Dimanche á Bamako, produced by genre- and border-hopping reggaephile Manu Chao, would be that great Amadou & Mariam album I've been waiting for. And it is tantalizingly close. The stylistic mix of Chao's continental melange and Amadou & Mariam's bubbling African stew mostly works, though at times this threatens to turn into a Manu Chao album — not that there's anything wrong with that. Many of the songs, like "M'Bife," "Senegal Fast Food," and "Politic Amagni," are minor miracles. If it weren't for a couple of lesser tracks, this would be the Holy Grail. As it is, the search continues; in the meantime, there's a lot to enjoy on Dimanche á Bamako. The Craft is the third Blackalicious album, following 2000's near-masterpiece Nia and 2002's Blazing Arrow, which was a bit of a letdown. Not awful, just a little too slick and unsure of its direction. I was hoping that Gab and Xcel, as groovy a couple of guys as you'll find in the Long Plastic Hallway, would bounce back with a winner. And The Craft is certainly an improvement on its predecessor, leading off with the jaw-dropping one-two punch of "World of Vibrations" and "Supreme People." The latter has shot up right near the top of my list of favorite hip-hop tracks on the strength of its body-slamming rhythm and sharp lyrics: Supreme people livin' with their back aligned
Up against the wall cause these days are asinine
Living in a money matrix how cats survive
Some will fade away and wither, others will blast a nine
Kings and queens workin' nine to fives and makin' nothing
Searching for a deeper purpose in life
This can't be life
With all this work this can't be right
With no money in my pocket I just can't see right
I used to try to preach to young 'uns like "Do right, kids"
Nowadays all I can say is "Get it how you live"
Eh, it's not quite the same without that beat, but never mind. Other highlights include "Powers," a female-praising anthem laced with electric guitar, and "Lotus Flower," with guest vocals by George Clinton. Unfortunately, The Craft runs out of steam on what those of us raised in the vinyl age would call the B side. Message songs like "The Fall and Rise of Elliot Brown" and "Black Diamonds and Pearls" are kind of clunky, which is a problem a lot of "conscious" hip-hop artists have — how do you make a serious point without being a drag? Answer: Go back and listen to "Supreme People." If the music's right, the message goes down nice and smooth.

Word of the day/joke of the day

Posted in Whatever Else on February 22nd, 2006 by bill
On the way to the gym this morning, I found an index card on the sidewalk. One one side, the definition "to annoy; to pester; to puzzle"; on the other side, the word "vex." Which reminds me of a joke. I didn't make this one up, so I don't deserve the credit or (more likely) the blame.
Mahatma Gandhi, as we all know, was a very devout and religious man. He often fasted, which made him very frail. He walked everywhere, usually on bare feet, and as a result was very calloused. And when he did eat, his diet was very unusual, which tended to give him bad breath.
So you could say that he was a super-fragile calloused mystic vexed by halitosis.
(Don't get it? Read the last line aloud to yourself several times.)

Who is that mystery lad?

Posted in Picture du jour on February 21st, 2006 by bill
I wish I could take credit for composing this shot — the truth is, I forgot I had the flash turned off. glasses.jpg

Caught in an Updraft

Posted in Whatever Else on February 20th, 2006 by bill
Walking down the Avenue today, I saw a gray-bearded African-American guy. He had just finished asking somebody for change, and as he turned toward me I assumed he was about to hit me up next. Instead, he made a throwing motion with his right hand, out of which flew a paper airplane. A good one, too. It banked upward over my left shoulder and landed well behind me. I complimented him on this impressive feat of engineering. He grinned and said humbly, "Got caught in an updraft."

Mysterious vegetation #2

Posted in Picture du jour on February 17th, 2006 by bill

Mysterious vegetation

Posted in Picture du jour on February 16th, 2006 by bill

The Bubble Planet

Posted in Whatever Else on February 15th, 2006 by bill
Pages from somebody's children's books were scattered all over Pleasant Valley Avenue today. A picture of Simba the lion cub on the corner of Montgomery Street, and near the crest of the small hill near Howe Street, a white sheet containing the following inspirational message:

The Bubble Planet was
not so scary anymore.
Buzz was happy.
His friends were here.
And he was clean!

Alert the media: Monkey Vortex lives!

Posted in Whatever Else on February 13th, 2006 by bill
I am more than pleased to report that after a lengthy hibernation, the multi-headed hydra of audio entertainment that we call Monkey Vortex Radio Theater has returned to the land of the living. The new season kicks off with Part 1 of "The Phone Call," years in the making and with a cast of several. I beseech you to click here and begin consuming our fresh content right this very moment.