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Grading week playlist – part 1

January 23, 2014

And so it begins – the playlist for first semester grading week 2014!

Note: I’m only listing complete albums I listen to. I’ll also create a Spotify playlist with whichever ones they have, since I’ll pretty much be listening to all of this on vinyl. Let the week of music begin!


  • John Martyn
    • Live at Leeds
  • Superchunk (in preparation for seeing them at the Metro tonight!)
    • Foolish
    • I Hate Music
    • On the Mouth


  • John Martyn
    • Solid Air
    • Live at Leeds
  • Van Morrison
    • His Band and the Street Choir
    • Tupelo Honey
    • Veedon Fleece


  • Fleetwood Mac
    • Then Play On
    • Kiln House
    • Future Games
    • Bare Trees
  • John Mayall’s Blues Breakers
    • Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton
    • Crusade
    • A Hard Road
  • Jellyfish
    • Radio Jellyfish
  • Tall Farlow
    • Discs 1-3 of The Complete Verve collection


  • Fleetwood Mac
    • In London (1968)
  • Jeff Beck
    • Truth
    • Beck-Ola
  • Television
    • Live in San Francisco, 1978

The British blues sound of the late 60’s was my ish this week, and it sent me back to a bunch of records I haven’t listened to in a while. Then I realized it’s really the week of the guitar. Sure the Peter Green, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck work is essential electric blues, but I also mixed it up. The Tal Farlow records are among my most favorite jazz guitar sounds, and those mid 1950’s releases are consistently excellent. The John Martyn stuff at the start of the week got me off to a mellow start, followed by Van Morrison. But there was also the detour into noisy rock with Superchunk and now Television. So many excellent records!


New Month, New Poem

July 1, 2013

In Evanston there’s a great, albeit odd, tradition of setting out chairs days before the annual 4th of July parade.  Here’s a poem inspired by the sight of this collection of different families staking claims to prime viewing spots.  Read below or click here – and let me know what you think.

Listen to the Poems

June 26, 2013

Summer is here and I’m hoping to make a return (triumphant?) to the world of blogging, writing music reviews, and even to writing and publishing (hopefully!) some poetry.

I’ll start simple by sharing a few recent poems over the next few days.  Here’s one I just finished at the Lake Forest Writing and Thinking Workshop. Please let me know what you think – thanks!

(If you can’t view below or are having a hard time seeing it, click here)

Funk and World tunes for Buffy and a winter day

February 5, 2013

So one of my favorite things to do is connect great people with great tunes – it’s that side of me that will forever be the record store clerk spinning tunes (see clip from High Fidelity below)

So when my friend Buffy asked for suggestions of funk and world music tunes for her listening pleasure, I suggested to her these recent favorites from the pile on my passenger seat:

  • Konkoma – Kplango – I just love this record – a contemporary Afro-beat combo hitting all of the 70’s sweet spots
  • Black Truth Rhythm Band – Umbala – Funky jazz and soul from Trinidad – what more do you need to know?
  • Ondatropica – Bomba Tropica – Classic Latin jazz sounds with a great groove and a bit of a modern twist (but not too much!)
  • Monomono – Make Them Realize – Warm guitar and bass groove through sweet percussion lines – and tasty keyboards too in this Afro-rock gem
  • Lee Fields & The Expressions – You’re the Kind of Girl – A big shift from the above tunes, now going into the realm of classic soul sounds that always wins
  • Charles Bradley – Strictly Reserved For You – A natural progression from above – can you beat his record on Daptone from last year?  No.
  • Aloe Blacc – I Need A Dollar – Another favorite one from last year and a killer set at Lollapalooza – channeling Curtis Mayfield and making it his own
  • Toro Y Moi – Say That – Clubby groove with a great vocal – and it’s great in headphones too
  • Nosaj Thing – Eclipse / Blue – I don’t know much about this act, but the cinematic space and breathy vocal are a great mix
  • Ex-Cops – James – I’ll end here with a track from this infectious record – sing-along lyrics over sunny pop loveliness

OK, so I wandered away from the funk / world specification – I couldn’t help myself!

Let me know what you think – Enjoy!

Playlist for finals week – Part 3

January 24, 2013

The flow of great tunes is endless even as the time to crack the turntable during daylight hours is fading.  Lots of stories associated with today’s choices:

1- Terry Manning and the Wild Ones – Border Town Rock N’ Roll 1963 (El Paso Rock – Volume 7)

  • From the fabulous Norton Record label!  They suffered quite a loss in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, with much of their stock of rare garage rock either lost or needing to be rescued and re-packaged.  They hosted quite a few benefits and opportunities for volunteers to scrub records clean of salt water and debris – if I still lived on the east coast, I would have loved to have been there!  So instead I scooped up a few of their new releases, including this gem of noisy tunes.  Let it never be said any corner of the country, or the world, can’t be home to great musical talent and innovation!

2- Five Years of Sacred Bones Records

  • With a recent feature on Pitchfork about the “New Electronic Brooklyn Underground” I thought I’d dig deeper into the label who brought The Men and Psychic Ills into my life.  This is a wide and varied collection and it felt like coming across a great dj on a college radio station, playing one interesting song after another.  I’ve picked up Folkazoid and Holydrug Couple recently, but haven’t had a chance to listen to them yet.  After spinning this comp, I have high hopes!

3- The White Stripes – White Blood Cells

  • A modern classic – one I’m now happy to have on 180 gram vinyl.  I just want to spend as much time inside of Jack White’s guitars as possible, and this record helps to make that happen.  Our rockstar nanny has been playing White Stripes songs for the boys as she drives them to and from activities, so they are getting a lot of play in our house these days.  To top it off, we visited the astoundingly cool Third Man Records in Nashville, Jack White’s own shop, where we bought a wax model of one of JW’s guitars and listened to a demo recording of one of his early songs played by stuffed toy monkeys.  Loved it.

4- Mugstar – Axis

  • These guys are new on my radar, although this is their 5th record.  Their previous one is titled, “In Search of Hawkwind,” so it was pretty clear what sound they have going on –  jammy space rock with extended riffing, an a few synths thrown in.  The review also name checks Wooden Shjips and Stereolab, and on first listen this record was right in my wheelhouse.  It will be making a return appearance very soon.  

5- J – 88 – Best Kept Secret

  • I heard a few months back that Ma Dukes came across J Dilla’s vinyl collection in a storage locker and planned to put it on sale to cover a variety of expenses.  NME followed up this week with a story about it finally hitting ebay and apparently it sold out instantly.  So with Dilla on my mind (His Donuts record is essential listening) I decided to pull out this collection that includes some remixes from Madlib.  The Slum Village material is consistently strong, and Dilla’s magic with beats never ceases to amaze.  

6- African Music Machine – Black Water Gold

  • A funky southern soul outfit with a fabulous groove – more soul than the African influence I expected to hear, but plenty of it in all the right places.  This is a compilation of several 45 releases, so it’s all killer, no filler.  Seriously, this had me right away.  I haven’t been able to find out too much about these guys, but if I ever come across anything else with their name on it, I’ll get my boogie shoes out.  

7- Studio One Ironsides

  • Yet another Soul Jazz compilation of classic reggae sounds?  No question – I must own it.  At this point I’ve lost count of the different series this can’t miss label put out, but once their stamp is on it, it’s a guaranteed winner.  This made for a delightful afternoon visit to the reggae church and its rocksteady sounds just kept me moving.  Spin a few and feel the love!


Playlist for finals week – Part 2

January 23, 2013

I love having time to do some good listening while reading through essays, finishing up the semester, and getting ready for the next one.  I’ve been trying to work my way through a bunch of titles I’ve heard a bit of but haven’t devoted a concentrated listen to just yet.  As usual, my conclusion is a refrain I constantly invoke: too much great music, too little time…

1- Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

  • So I first heard of these guys as they were setting up for an in-store at the fabulous Grimey’s record store in Nashville a few weeks ago.  Their record was also featured by the excellent Permanent Records here in Chicago in their weekly e-mail, so I knew I was in for quality tunes.  This is a solid record all the way through, touching down in a variety of camps in the indie-rock universe.  Throw in some funky time signatures and a good measure of intense rock-n-roll grind and it makes for a winning combination.  See – I got through the whole comment without using the word punk.

2- Merchandise – Children of Desire

  • Ok, so not mentioning punk is gonna be harder here, but this batch of poppy tunes (is that really the best word for it?) kept surprising me over the course of the record.  It was one of those “wait – what am I listening to?” moments where I look down and it’s still the same band.  There’s some organ going on here and I really dig the vocals and I’m hoping Merchandise shows up as one of those 2 p.m. bands at Lollapalooza this year.

3- Grateful Dead – 1972-04-08; Wembley Empire Pool, London, England

  • This full set from the staggeringly fantastic Europe 1972 complete box (trunk?) set was perfect for an extended co-grading session.  My co-teacher and I have a tradition of listening to full shows while we read essays and it’s always fun to see how the progression of a set list matches our experience.  The set starts with a quick “Bertha” and “Me and My Uncle” pair which got us rolling.  An hour or so later when Donna’s vocals screamed out of “Playin’ in the Band” it elicited an “oh, she’s on this one?” but I think that was the last we heard from her.  When I was reading a particularly odd and disjointed essay I realized we were in a similar-sounding section of “Dark Star” and let’s just say the  Dead did a much better job working their way out of it than this particular student.

4- Blo – Chapters and Phases: The Complete Albums 1973 to 1975

  • Yet another amazing Dusty Groove discovery!  This monster set of African grooves from the mid-70’s puts many jam bands to shame with hypnotic rhythms and killer percussion that’s by turns funk, dub, and rock.  The tunes are all pretty tight – not the extended Fela-style music I was ready for here.  This powered me through a late afternoon (and a venti of freshly-brewed Sumatra helped out too!)

5- John Carter & Bobby Bradford – Tandem 2

  • Free jazz from two masters – a cd of coronet and clarinet duets wandering through the outer reaches, filled with surprises.  Sometimes the beat keeps me going, but when you pull a rhythm section away from a jazz combo and just let the others go exploring, it can be just as engrossing as these recordings.

6- The Rojac Story: The Best of Rojac and Tay-ster

  • A stellar collection of funk-soul-r&b tunes from the Harlem scene of the 60’s and 70’s.  This set is a visit through a set of 45’s released by these legendary labels.  The booklet with it is like a little history lesson, and when one of the featured bands is Damn Sam The Miracle Man And The Soul Congregation, how can you go wrong?

Playlist for finals week – Part 1

January 22, 2013

I’m going to keep track of all of the music I listen to this week while I grade finals, calculate semester grades, and prep for next semester.  I usually try to listen to entire records, bucking the trend of listening to individual songs and playlists.  I’m just going to list them with a brief comment here, adding in links at some point.  I’d love to know what your work / study music includes!

1- Outkast – Stankonia

  • This record has aged amazingly well – even though I think I still like Aquemini and ATLiens just a bit better from these masters of southern hip-hop.  I dig the new Big Boi record too and am secretly hoping for an Outkast reunion this summer even though Andre 3000 just denied all of the rumors this week.  Some may think it hard to grade to rap but with such massive beats and diverse range, this got me off to a great start.

2- D’Angelo – Voodoo

  • I didn’t expect to turn to this record, but the it arrived as part of my Light in the Attic subscription.  Back it the day it was the epicenter of the NeoSoul movement and it continues to be a great headphone record.  I cruised through a pile of essays with this on.  I’m looking forward to the supposed release later this year of his much-delayed new record.  ?uestlove has heard parts of it an glowing refers to it as the black version of Smile, but that D’Angelo “needs somebody to smack him and take the record away from him because it’s pretty much finished.”

3- Bobbi Humphrey – Dig This!

  • I might as well have had Dusty Groove records sponsor this list because of how much amazing music I always find digging through their website and racks.  This is a re-release on their house label of a great soul jazz killer from the early 70’s.  They describe it as sounding like a lost blacksploitation soundtrack – and I won’t think about disagreeing.  I dig her killer funky flute over this set of groovy sweet tunes.

4- Gary Bartz – Harlem Bush Music: Uhuru

  • Yet another Dusty Groove purchase (I’m a sucker for their great descriptions).  This one has political vocals (from the wonderful Andy Bey) over its mix of jazz and soul.  I feel like I need to spend time listening to this record more closely – I got lost in the great music and didn’t follow the lyrics.  But the same was true for Outkast – there’s only so much I can process while grading multi-text essays!

5- Heliocentric Counterblast – A Tribute to Sun Ra

  • I’d buy a slice of cheese if it said Sun Ra on it (who wouldn’t) so I was curious to see what this cd was all about.  It’s a German collective, and not all of the tunes are Sun Ra originals, but the spirit of Saturn shines brightly above this music.  They had me at hello, or in this case, “Ancient Aiethopia,” from the master’s Jazz in Silhouette record.  It works as a loving tribute to the energy and mystical wonders of the arkestra, even though I’ll turn back to his work sooner than this.

6- David Virelles – Continuum

  • I was tipped off to this odd jazz record by Ben Ratliff’s review in the New York Times.  I’m glad I paid attention (as I usually am to his reviews and articles) – this is quite a fascnating journey.  Several times while spinning this one I had to come to a complete stop and just listen to the fascinating mix of sounds happening here – spoken-word poetry, sparse piano, amazing drums from Andrew Cyrille, and free jazz, just to name a few.  This is another record I look forward to spending more time with, and am happy to have on my shelf (or in a pile on the passenger seat of the car).