Friday, December 28, 2007

There Ain't No Dark
'Til Something Shines

Welcome. It's day three of The Big Rock Candy Mountain Top 10 (plus 10) Albums of 2007. Man, that's a wordy headline.

We've got two of our three favorite songs of the year buried in the following post. We'll try to draw them to your attention.

It's "old-timers" day today. Plus one "troubled" young'un. And a couple of guys who never went away. And two women who never stopped kicking ass, who've worked the clubs and the circuits and pulled every last drop of sweat from their audiences. Actually, it's not "old-timers" day at all.

It's a lot of Soul, Rhythm, Blues, and Ranting. Right when I had just about given up on Soul'n'R'n'B as a lost art now controlled by a clutch of hack, warbling divas with no chops, no voices, no melody, no soul, just boobs and a video, we had a year in which two ladies, and a, ermmm, "troubled" young'un, laid down and/or reclaimed the gauntlet, reminding us what it's really all about, and what it always has been.

But first, couple of cranky old men.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain Top 10 (or 20) Albums of 2007, Part 3

4. Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire: Punk Rock At The British Legion Hall

Well, it's Billy Childish again, innit? Last year we bid goodbye to his Buff Medways combo, and this year we welcome in his new band, The Musicians Of The British Empire. There are few constants in the rock'n'roll landscape, change and "maturation" being the usual path followed by bands or artists who manage to last longer than a record or two. Childish hasn't "changed" in the last 30 years. Even more remarkable than the number years he's been at this, are the following statistics culled from the interwebs: 40 collections of poetry...4 novels...more than 100 full-length independent LPs...more than 2,500 paintings. And god knows how many singles and E.P.'s, and how many records he's produced or played on. The very definition of the modern auteur.

On his latest album, "Punk Rock At The British Legion Hall", his best in some years, Billy's more pissed off than usual, and that's saying something. Louder, faster, and more out of control, full of piss and vinegar, Childish leads the Musicians...through a glorious bluespunk trashfest, spitting vitriol and wry Childish-isms into the wind. It's a lesson to young set about who did it first, and did it best. Of particular note is "Bugger The Buffs", one of our Top 3 Songs Of The Year. It's a smackdown to the pretenders, with one particular red and white clad superstar getting his long due comeuppance from the master. If for some inexplicable reason you don't own a Childish album (Headcoats, Pop Rivets, Mighty Caesars, Buff Medways...on and on...), this is a great introduction. If you have any interest in music whatsoever, this is essential.

Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire: Bugger The Buffs (mp3)

Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire: Joe Strummer's Grave(mp3)

4. Von Sudenfed: Tromatic Reflexxions

Did we mention cranky old men? They don't get much crankier than Mark E. Smith of The Fall. Like Billy Childish, Smith has plied his unique brand of ranting and raving over too many years and too many albums to sanely keep count of. And as with Childish, there's no such thing as a "bad" Fall or Mark E. Smith album. Some are better than others, sure, but even a bad Fall album is better than most folk's best.

As Von Sudenfed, Smith teams up with electronic tricksters Mouse On Mars (wait, come back). It's a pairing that makes sense, in actuality. Smith has always had a dub and drone fixation, and with Mouse On Mars, he finds oddly fellow travelers. Laying down a sonic texture that includes disco(!), dubstep, noisy throbs, and straight up droney twiddling, Mouse on Mars create a sonic template that perfectly suits Smith's ranting delivery. Smith himself is in fine form, his "lyrics" as obtuse as ever, his ragged, soused voice playing in and out of the bed of rhythms, cajoling and threatening. It's like a Fall album you can dance to, albeit in a strange, herky jerky kind of way.

Von Sudenfed: That Sound Wiped (mp3)

Von Sudenfed: Dearest Friends (mp3)

3. Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back

Mavis! Sweet Jesus! I've never made it an especially well-guarded secret that Mavis does things to me. As far as we're concerned she has the voice, the smoky soul of Soul. The rhythm of life, the essence of why we wake in the morning. If there is a god, his/her/its greatest creation was the voice of Mavis Staples. And we'll "... stand on Aretha Franklin's coffee table in our cowboy boots and say that" (paraphrased). We'll go tell it on the mountain, if necessary.

Enough fanboy gushing. What about the record?

Never forget that the Staples Singers were also, among their many accomplishments, a protest group. Along with Pops Staples' genius guitar playing, it was Mavis who carried the emotional weight of the group. And on her new record, "We'll Never Turn Back", Staples revisits classic songs of the Civil Rights and Protest era, and pulls them into a modern context. It's not a "political" album, but a "personal political" record. Mavis surveys the world around her, and reacts. In the only way she knows how. With her voice. Ry Cooder's production surrounds Staples with tribal rhythm and guests galore, but, naturally, it's Staples phrasing and considerable interpretation that shines above the proceedings.

It's a moving album, and, make no mistake, Staples has lived these songs. We're living these songs. She surveys the world around her, and finds solace in the communal nature of the song to transport us to a better place. She'll take us there. Indeed.

"We Shall Not Be Moved"
is one of our Top 3 Songs of The Year.

Mavis Staples: Jesus Is On The Main Line (mp3)

Mavis Staples: We Shall Not Be Moved (mp3)

3. Amy Winehouse: Back To Black

Stop it. Just stop right there. We don't care about the tabloids. Hell, look at some of favorite artists here at the Mountain (Tom Waits, Shane MacGowan, Hank Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Howlin' Wolf, Billy Childish,, etc., etc., and on and on). Each and every one of them has had, or still has, "issues" with "substances" and bad behavior. We do not give a fuck what People or US or the Daily Mirror has to say about it. We don't care what she's taking, or who she's sleeping or fighting with. What we want to know is, how does the record sound?

"Back In Black" is terrific. More than any other album by a "new" artist, it renewed our faith in Soul music, in the ability to create a record in this day and age that "still gets it", whatever it is.

Maybe Ms. Winehouse will never make a decent record again. Who knows? Who cares? We've got "Back In Black" right next to "Dusty In Memphis" on the rack, ready to be played again and again. And the sneering indie hipsters can go fuck themselves, and go back to their, ahem, "genuine" Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah records. Their loss.

There's really nothing more we can say about the album that hasn't been covered ad nauseum elsewhere. Just enjoy it. It's pretty spiffy.

Amy Winehouse: You Know I'm No Good (mp3)

3. Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: 100 Days, 100 Nights

Oh my. There's a reason Amy Winehouse borrowed the Dap Kings for "Back In Black". If they're not the best combo out they're playing, laying down the sweetest grooves and grooviest rhythms, I'll eat my fedora. Like Booker T and the MG's, who they've oft been deservedly compared to, this band knows how to swing. They also know how to pull back and let the star take her turn.

That star, of course, is Sharon Jones. Forged in the fires of the clubs and the jukejoints, the dives and the showcases, Jones has worked. And she has the chops and pipes to prove it. And what pipes! Devoid of marketing machinations and pop machinery, Jones' voice is the raw funk and soul that dreams are made on. A slinky shout factory of insinuation and desperation, Jones swings, jives, cajoles, pleads, and demands your attention. It's a record that could only be made from experience. The road, the gig, the long hard slog to revelation. It's the party album of the year.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: Be Easy (mp3)

We haven't forgotten the Country. Stop back on Monday, New Year's Eve, for our final part of our Top 10 Albums of 2007.

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