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A little old, a little new

New and notable music releases

Under a Mediterranean Sky by Steve Hackett: Sixty orchestral seconds into the opening track, Hackett’s nylon-stringed guitar makes the first of its many appearances, setting the tone for what follows: a strikingly elegant evocation of the wide-open spaces the album’s title promises—an evocation that has much more in common with the traditional classical-guitar repertoire than it does with Hackett’s progressive-rock youth. Not that he has shed all traces of pop. Ultimately, however, any similarities between “Joie de Vivre” and Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas” and “Casa del Fauno” and the Carpenters’ “For All We Know” are only passing fancies. And, not counting “Scarlatti Sonata,” he composed or co-composed everything himself.

Destiny Street Complete by Richard Hell & the Voidoids: Unlike the explosive, shards-and-all Blank Generation, which fit perfectly into the New York City–punk moment in 1977, 1982’s more well-rounded Destiny Street was an album without a milieu. But if lacking context (and major-label PR) hindered its impact on the cusp of the MTV era, it has also made it seem more timeless—and therefore worthier of the completist-reissue treatment—than many a more famous artifact. Hell’s description of it in the liner notes as “the sound of a little combo playing real gone rock and roll” is accurate as far as it goes, but it doesn’t account for his lyrics, his singing, his taste in covers, or the impact of the late-great explosive, shards-and-all guitarist Robert Quine.

If Loving You Is Wrong by Rev. Johnny L. “The Hurricane” Jones: “I learned a long time ago that everything that’s good to you isn’t good for you.” “If God has blessed you with a good wife, my friends, you ought to take care of that wife.” This document of an early-’70s service at Atlanta’s Mount Olive Baptist Church isn’t all that different from Jones’ other recent Jewel Records MP3 reissues. Amid spirited, primitively recorded singing, a deeply felt sermon punctuated throughout by shouts of “Yeah!” and “Amen!” emerges. What sets this sermon apart is that it doubles as an analysis of Luther Ingram’s greatest hit—“(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want To be Right”—more penetrating than anything dreamt of in the typical music critic’s philosophy.

Soul Jazz Records Presents Two Synths, a Guitar (and) a Drum Machine by various artists: The most purposefully noisy and weird of these 15 acts is New Fries, whose “Lily” sounds like sped-up Public Image Ltd. A close second is IXNA, whose “Somebody Said” sounds like sped-up Laurie Anderson. Coming in at a distant but cute third is Gramme, whose “Discolovers” might be an offshoot of the Tom Tom Club’s family tree. And if many of the remaining cuts, sped-up though they are, share too much DNA with high-end-hotel-lobby “trance” music to justify the collection’s “post punk dance” subtitle, the final three—by Black Deer, MADMADMAD, and Wino D respectively—combine for an off-kilter denouement worth sticking around for.

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Jonathan Ward


Music to make the world seem small

New collections chart folk music across the globe

If you’re the kind of cineaste who watches Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes for the scene in which Michael Redgrave browbeats peasants into helping him document Bandrikan folk music, you’ll love Dust-to-Digital’s new digital anthology, Excavated Shellac: An Alternate History of the World’s Music.

Available via Bandcamp or for an unusually reasonable $35, the collection presents 100 78-RPM-era songs from almost as many countries. Bandrika isn’t among them (it doesn’t really exist). But there’s music from actual countries Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, and Georgia. Some of it, especially Fr. Dukli Wiejska Banda’s waltzing instrumental “Na Wykretke” (1928) and Šule Radosavljevič-Šapčanin’s lustily sung “Jeleno, Momo Jeleno” (1927), is Bandrikan to the core.

Africa contributes highlights as well. One late-1950s recording captures the organ-accompanied Ugandan church choir Abaimbi be Kanisa Lutiko eye Namirembe singing the hauntingly beautiful “Oje Omwoyo Omutukuvu” (“You Are the Holy Spirit”) in a cathedral with heavenly acoustics. The buoyantly strummed guitars and mandolins of “O Ta Nikona” by the Mozambican Enosse Kuhanya Muni (1953), meanwhile, sound almost like a trial run at Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill.”

The project’s overseer, Jonathan Ward, has supplied a 185-page liner PDF and filled it with detailed information about each track and an introductory essay putting it all in context. With Grammy-winning engineer Michael Graves in charge of audio restoration, even the most “out there”-sounding tracks possess an ear-friendly vibrancy.    

Speaking of “out there,” people who grew up associating the terms “Japanese” and “avant-garde” with the yowlings of Yoko Ono should know that nothing on the just-released The Rough Guide to Avant-Garde Japan (World Music Network)—not the babies imitating Yoko Ono in the background of the saxophonist Masanori Oishi’s sublime “Syracuse Blues” or the rappers spitting Nipponese fire over the playfully jittery electro-weirdness of Cockroach Eater’s “Kyogen Qabbalah”—will have them holding their ears.

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Playful projects

Noteworthy new or recent releases

Mysterious Spaceship Moon by Richard F. Adams: Adams calls this assemblage of twinkling pianos and shimmering synthesizers a “soundtrack to an imaginary 1960s British sci-fi film about imaginary moon people in their imaginary spaceship moon” and a “love letter to post-war, British, cinematic soundtrack music.” But it’s also what Philip Glass might’ve come up with if sometime between Glassworks and Mishima he’d sequestered himself in a studio with Isao Tomita and Edgar Froese and said, “Forget art, fellas. Let’s have fun!” Not that there aren’t ominously eerie passages—what would a sci-fi soundtrack be without those?—but the overriding sensation is one of playful discovery. And speaking of old school, it sounds great emerging from big speakers.

James Joyce’s Favourite Songs by Martyn Hill, Meriel Dickinson, Peter Dickinson: Maybe because his fiction looms so precipitously over the cultural landscape (a “panel of scholars and writers” did declare Ulysses the best novel of the 20th century), James Joyce’s poetry has gotten comparatively little attention. Based on these newly compiled 1980s BBC recordings of arrangements of that poetry for solo voice and piano, it deserves more. The soprano Meriel Dickinson’s operatic diction (replete with rolled Rs) doesn’t do it many favors, but tenor Martyn Hill’s lyrical renditions of G. Molyneux Palmer’s Chamber Music settings are, like the poems themselves (and unlike much of Joyce’s fiction), easy to understand. And to like.

Margaret Rizza: Ave Generosa—A Musical Journey With the Mystics by Gaudete Ensemble, Eamonn Dougan: Convivium Records’ website calls this recording of (mostly) ancient Christian texts set to beautiful, original, and reverently sung melodies the “concluding part of Margaret Rizza’s acclaimed trilogy.” It does not, however, identify that trilogy’s other two parts. If one of them is 2012’s Margaret Rizza: Mysterium Amoris, also recorded with Eamon Dougan’s Gaudete Ensemble, be forewarned: Nine of this 13-track album’s selections also appear there. So even if these are new recordings (it’s hard to tell), and even if this “Veni Jesu” (unlike the 2012 version) is presented a cappella, the redundancy factor does, if ever so gently, kick in. 

Paul Pankert: Connected—Compositions With Live Electronics by KL-EX-Ensemble: The violinist and electronics maven Paul Pankert is both a member of the KL-EX-Ensemble and the composer of these five pieces (three on vinyl). And at times, the resulting subjectivity makes the pieces not rooted in Baroque compositions seem unfinished or, in the case of “Quasi Rondo” (imagine a violinist tuning for 11 minutes), barely begun. But in the harpsichord-centric “Toccata” (rooted in Frescobaldi), the recorder-centric “Pavane” (rooted in Van Eyck), and the sax-centric “Connected II” (Tchaikovsky and Ornette Coleman?), Pankert experiments his way into something rich and strange enough to suggest that, even at his weirdest, he really is onto something.

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