Saturday, November 11, 2017

Tenth Anniversary, More or Less: Top One or Two Hundred Whatevers, Part Two

I made a rather random start to this back in 2014.

It was inspired by an hour killing time in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. We were waiting to see my daughter in a show there, and I  was having one of their overrated hot chocolates. But they more than made up for it with their musical selections, which were - as the kids say - bangin’.

Within that hour they managed to press so many of my buttons that my wife and son couldn’t for the life of them understand why I was getting so choked up.

Which inspired my 200th post

At the time, I only managed to list ten, and I promised a follow-up, but the parameters of the thing were so all over the place that I’d never really come up with a comprehensive list. Even when I tried to impose some order on it and break it into sections, I could never be sure I was remembering everything I wanted to remember.

But I did want to put a few more songs together, and eventually found ten more from that old reliable decade: the 1960s. It’s a cop out I know. But at least I’ll clear them out of my head, which will allow me to move onto other things. I’ve already started my 1970s list, and who knows? I may even be able to come up with ten songs from my least favorite musical decade: the 1980s! (Yeah, you heard me, 1980s lovers!)

And, no, it’s not my 300th post, in case you were wondering. Think of it as my 10th Anniversary, since my first post was in September of 2007:


So here goes. Ten miscellaneous, but brilliant, songs from the 1960s, in no particular order:

Downtown - Petulia Clark:

When I was about six me and my family would sometimes visit my Uncle Frank’s bar, and he’d throw a bunch of quarters in the jukebox to keep us kids entertained.

My recollection is that he just punched in the same record over and over again. I concluded that this was how you were supposed to use a jukebox, and for years I’d do the same thing, until people begged me (around when “Winchester Cathedral” came out) to stop.

I vividly remember the first time my uncle did this, which was for this song. And the effect on me was electrifying.

So let me pick it apart and try not to ruin it in the process:

First, the lyrics are totally of the time. Britain as finally coming out of its post-WWII depression. I’m sure the words spoke to a lot of lower class folks struggling to make ends meet. And most Americans could identify, too, even if we were doing better than they were.

The message of forgetting your troubles for a while was pretty universal, if not revolutionary. So how do you put that across in a memorable way? Let’s look at the melody.

The first two lines (“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely…”) use the same melodic phrase. It’s quite good, so why not repeat it?

The next two (“Just listen to the music…) have a different repeated melodic phrase line. It’s a bit more conventional than the first, but it goes into a higher register and so builds the tension. In other words a perfectly good setup for the chorus of a perfectly good pop song.

But that’s not what happens. The singer’s friend is still not convinced. Maybe her troubles aren’t trivial. A perfectly good pop song just won’t do.

So, there’s that little line “How can you lose?", where the melody pauses its ascent, and seems in danger of trailing off, as if the singer is still desperately trying to find a way to persuade her friend to go.

But then she finds her inspiration with the next two lines (“The lights are much brighter there…”). The melody is still struggling to break free, and with the next line (“You can forget all your troubles…”) it does.

The chorus, of course, is wonderful - everybody recognizes it - but it’s kind of simple too, and it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful if that little interlude of struggle and resolve wasn’t there to make the victory all the sweeter.

It’s the chorus I noticed when I was six, but it’s that little interlude that gets me now. That interlude - so packed with emotion and melancholy - is like a prayer. When the chorus comes you can practically hear Britain transitioning from post-war black and white into sixties technicolor.

I would normally despise an arrangement that is so packed to the gills with brass, singers and even - to my surprise - Jimmy Page on guitar. But maybe the very glitziness of it is there to remind you that this joy will be temporary. That you still have to go home to your troubles and cares the next day.

But still, it makes you glad you’re alive.


98.6 - Keith

Another British record with an orchestra instead of a rock and roll band, but I don’t care.

I alluded to my love for this song here but I don’t think I quite put it across.

The couplet that gets me is:
My baby’s got me on another kind of highway,
I want to go to where it takes me.

Now that could just be an obvious drug reference, but to me, it’s about how the person you love can change you profoundly for the good. I’m pretty skeptical about people changing so when you convince me, that’s saying something.

There’s also something about Keith’s singing - modesty, maybe - that adds to the impact. A more accomplished singer would have ruined it.

Not convinced? Well then forget about the next one.


Western Union - The Five Americans

Again, referenced in the same post as 98.6, because of two lines that get to me.

After singing about heartbreak he drops these hopeful lines
I'll be on my way, 'cause
There's another girl for me

And it’s like watching the end of The Tramp.


Society’s Child - Janis Ian

This is a hit-you-over-the-head message song, so I’ll be brief.

This one’s got:

  • Heartbreaking lyrics
  • A soulful vocal
  • Hooks galore

 and what all great songs have:

  • An unhappy ending



Both Sides Now - Judy Collins

Yeah, I know. It’s a glossy pop record and thus has less “integrity” than any other version. 

And god knows, I blame Judy for practically giving me a depression, with her versions of “Send in the Clowns” and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” (meaning they were that good) but she absolutely nails it here.

Her voice captures and exploits every single hook, melodic turn and lyric and the strings do what they’re meant to do - underline the emotion. And they do it without getting schmaltzy.  A great pop record.


Things I Want to Say - New Colony Six

Prior to this year, I might have heard this record twice - once when it first came out, and then again in the early 1980s when me and the Mrs. were first going out.

I didn’t know the title or the band, and so wandered in the wilderness for forty years or so before I finally managed to mentally assemble a line of lyric, which I then googled. And there it was!

When I played it again I feared it wouldn’t have the same impact that it did originally. But no. It was all there.

Another heartbreak song. In this one, she dumps him, but the guy reacts by wishing her well. (And I thought I was super passive-aggressive with my “I’m the better person” act!)

But seriously, this one effortlessly gets to my feels via a canny use of some minor chords and a melody that avoids going too sweet, which would have ruined it.


Moon River - Audrey Hepburn

As a young victim of “The Andy Williams Show”,  I got to hear the first line of this song every week for years. But that line - really just the words “moon river” all by themselves - are merely pretty. The kind of pretty a rock n roll lover like me despised for years.

That was until I saw "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" and heard the whole song. Those two words by themselves gave away nothing about the melancholy to follow. What was Andy thinking?

The melody is pretty good, but it’s the pairing of it with the chord changes that are exquisite and deeply moving.

Not rock and roll and I don’t care.


Daydream Believer - The Monkees

I went through several Monkees phases. First, there was the clueless fandom of an eight-year-old.

But what was worse was the desperate need to be cool of a thirteen-year-old. My friend and I came across a 45 of this song and proceeded to destroy it. We convinced ourselves we’d never want to hear that song (that I secretly loved) ever again.

What a fool was I! The song would only come back to haunt me.

And now, I'm in my third phase as a geezer who simply cannot deny the brilliance of this and many other Monkees songs

But you don’t need me to tell you how beautiful this one is, so ‘nuff said.


Pleasant Valley Sunday - The Monkees

I was at a friend’s house one summer’s day and they had this single. We spent the afternoon playing side B(!), which was “Words” (quite a good song). Over and over again. All afternoon.

Why? Because we thought it was Side A. After all, it had been featured in the show recently, not “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.  (Did I mention this in my stupid moments in Rock History post? I should have.)

PVS uses a speeded-up version of the guitar riff from the Beatles “I Want to Tell You” and I must admit that the Monkees made it - dare I say it? - better.

Again, an obvious choice, even if Carol King didn’t like their version.


Sometime in the Morning - The Monkees

Thanks to old friend Billy (whose house we were in for “Pleasant Valley Sunday”) who pointed out how great this song was.

I hear a bit of “Cousin Kevin” from Tommy in the guitar.  But their secret weapons here are writer Carole King and singer Micky Dolenz.

This song will bring back childhood memories like no other. One of their very, very best.


So there you have it. Ten more Great Moments, or Whatevers. And more to come in, oh, five years or so...

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Aftermath

My posts are almost comically untimely, but thanks to a pathetic asshole with a rented truck, I’m momentarily back in sync with the rest of the world.


9/11:

I remember. Usually it's things immediately surrounding the day, as opposed to the day itself, which will always be a f*cking nightmare, and just too much to bear.

I remember a lot of friends and family members covered in soot walking across bridges to get home. And later finding out about three acquaintances who didn’t make it. Me? I got off scot-free, and still feel residual survivor’s guilt. (Beat’s the hell out of not surviving, right Jaybee? Right.)

I remember places, too. Spots where you can stand and be pretty certain somebody died right there.

And things, like charred pieces of paper floating all the way to my house in Brooklyn.

And about what would happen next. It turned out even worse than I imagined.

And how long it took to feel joy about anything.  You have to mourn first. And then have some hope.

And yes, I remember music, too. What I was hearing at the time, but also what it made me feel under those circumstances. Sometimes not at all what the artist intended. But a handy container for my emotions nonetheless.

The memories feel frustratingly random, until I suddenly realize why I'm remembering it.

Like how, in late August of that year I was at J&R Music World - my favorite record store at the time - which was just a few blocks from the Trade Center. And how, while I was there, a dozen firemen came in to check on a reported smoke condition. Then it hits me how unlikely it was that any of those guys made it on 9/11.

I bought a lot of records that day, but don’t play them often. Like Luna’s Penthouse, an otherwise excellent record, but one whose lyrics and music - admittedly taken out of context - only serve to remind me of the day:

Like “Chinatown”:
In the tiny tiny hours
Between the evening and the day
We have placed our final bets
We have come out to play

Lookin' lost in chinatown
Why are we hidin' from our friends
Rushing 'round in taxi cabs
Is it time to make amends

You'll get yours and i'll get mine
You can't be lucky all the time

It’s about running around the city late at night and having fun. But to me it sounds like the end of the era of a carefree New York.

And “Sideshow by the Sea Shore”:
And all the comforting words
Provide no comfort
We can all go mad together
That's what friends are for

Maybe about not having a good time at Coney Island, but under the circumstances the words sting.

“Moon Palace” is meant to sound slow and lazy, like most of the rest of the album, but it ends up sounding shellshocked and weary.


Mourning and Hope:

Earlier that year, I started a new job, which began to suck almost immediately. I consoled myself with streamed music (at least until the network manager told me I was being naughty).

Those music streaming services never quite persuaded me to get anything by the bands they played, possibly because in my mind they all got jumbled up into the big messy ball that was  9/11 and an awful job.

But this past 9/11 got me thinking about that time again. And I finally felt comfortable enough to get something by a couple of those bands.



Low: Things We Lost in the Fire (2001)

An appropriate title, don’t you think?

And the opening lines to the first song “Sunflower” begin:
When they found your body...

Well, it certainly starts in the right place, doesn't it?

This one is all about texture and harmonics. The pace is funereal - it rarely picks up to even a trot.

The two lead vocalists sing low and minor key harmonies most of the time. Nothing very sweet here.  And on the rare occasion when they get a little melodramatic, it doesn’t work for me.

The moody, mournful tone is otherwise sustained throughout the record, yet I’m never bored. That's pretty impressive.

And it expresses - accidentally or not - what I’m feeling about that day, and 10/31/17, for that matter.

A-

“Closer”



The Innocence Mission: Glow (1995)

They sound like an American version of the Sundays, especially when they play fast, but that isn’t too often.

Karen Peris’ sandpaper voice is a little too cute for my taste and the “hit” “Gone to Yellow” has what had sounded to me as a contrived melody. I took it as being pretty on the outside but maybe a little hollow inside.

But their insistently melodic songs (which would have sounded vulgar in late 2001) won me over. The lyrics aren’t dumb. Just sweet.

Like in "Keeping Awake":
Hearing your voice in the blue light
Calming people in the house
Traveling upstairs -
Good to be there
Now, right now

Like someone who arrived home safely - something we can’t take for granted anymore.

I catch religious overtones in the words, which are not my cup of tea, but if it brings them hope who am I to complain?

And they sound it. Hopeful, I mean.

A-

“Keeping Awake”


Going for Joy:

And Hope, like I said, is what you need if you ever expect to get to joy again.

Is it wrong to want joy after all that horror? It does feel a little selfish sometimes. I guess as long as it isn’t heedless - of what happened or of what is happening now - it’s okay.

After all, we’ll need our strength. And I don’t where else to get that from except joy.

And it turns out that even Luna has a little hope, even if it’s just in the music itself:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

So, How Was Your Summer?

I feel like I can still ask this question since it’s f*cking 80 degrees out still.

But let's go back four months, when the Jaybee family did its typical Father’s Day routine by getting Mr. Jaybee a bunch of records.

And Jaybee himself did his best to ensure they would be “summer-y” albums. (The whole thing is stage-managed to within an inch of its life, thanks to amazon.com wish lists, shopping carts, etc.)

And how did I do? Pretty good, actually. Not everything is as summery as I would have expected but it didn’t keep me from listening.

One of the themes I couldn’t help but notice (as a rule, I'm too dense to notice these things) is that a few of these artists would end up shaking off some of their original weirdness and go on to make better records. I’m usually pretty skeptical of that strategy since it’s usually their weirdness that put them on the map to begin with.

But it worked for Car Seat Headrest, the New Pornographers and Jens Lekman, and I benefited from that happy turn of events.

God, I LOVE being wrong!



Yo La Tengo: Painful (1993)

I’d avoided this one for a while because I assumed the title referred to the extreme guitar noise that Ira Kaplan is inclined toward. But on this one, he holds back a bit on that, and only lets loose during the climax.

Instead, YLT dig deep into that 60s garage rock sound. So the melodies and classic chord structures don’t seem very original but when you’re mining such a rich vein, it’s got its nostalgic pleasures.  Ira Kaplan’s got a brilliant 1960s songwriter in him, or at least one tied up in his basement.

On the other hand, there are themes here that I’ve heard on other YLT albums, which makes this one less than essential, which isn’t fair since this one came first.

But such is life. And knowing me, I’ll come to love this is six months.

B+







Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now (2017)

My first stab at a current year record. Last time I checked out this guy, he was doing his best to imitate a tacky overwrought 60s lounge singer, and succeeded! To a point.

Here he tones down the melodrama a bit, and sticks to very straightforward, almost inevitable melodies. There’s still a deceptively bland style, but the lyrics keep me paying attention, and the accompaniment is perfect.

Which means by making those little adjustments, he makes a great record.  So even when he edges toward lounge singer-ness, I’m fine with it.

A-







Future Islands: Singles (2014)

No, not a best of. How could that be? Nobody’s heard of them. They mean the other kind of singles.

I got this one blind. No recommendations other than from those questionable raves on amazon.com.

This is wimpy synth-based dance pop, so I should really hate it. 

Plus, the singer is semi-constipated (is that a thing? Note to self, google it.)  The first listen was one of fascinated horror.

But on the second spin, I began to notice that those synths were just this side of the line dividing tasteful from cheesy.

And the singer isn’t a bad guy. Maybe a bit too dramatic. But his voice beats the hell out of those nasally, choked vocals of Brits like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, who are trying to simulate a feeling, whereas this guy - limitations and all - is actually feeling them.

Turns out they’re from Baltimore!  No, that can’t be right. But it says so right there.

What the heck is going on here? I don’t know, but I like it. (Well, I admire it more than like it, but I like it a hell of a lot.)

The arrangements are melancholy to the point of almost being...soulful. And for some nerdy white boys from Baltimore, that’s saying something.

A-








Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Style (2015)

After being completely bowled over by last year’s Teens of Denial, I felt I owed it to frontman Will Toledo to try out his band’s first record.

And while it’s not quite as stunning as TOD, it is, in fits and starts, brilliant. If anything it’s even more melodic. If only he wasn't yelling from inside an airplane hangar... TOD is clearer, more varied and more consistent. The excesses here have to do with the lo-fi sound. It does lend itself to the overall effect. It's just not a long-range career option, but he knew that.

And it does mean he’s going for broke every time.

Another one dipping into the 1960s pool, but going Yo La Tengo one better, because instead of it sounding like fond memories of someone else's music, this is Car Seat Headrest all the way, and a lot of it is indelible.

And to prove it, here is my current nomination for best song of my year:

A-






Product Details
New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions (2017)

Here's another shot at current year music. And it pays off big-time.

I have the NP's first album which is like a kitchen sink rush of sounds and ideas - both weird and exhilarating. It worked great almost all the time, but you would only put it on for special occasions.

Here they damp down the weirdness a bit (ah, that theme again!), and single-mindedly focus on pleasure. The songs are tuneful, the singing is excellent (what do you want when you’ve got Neko Case?) and the playing - especially the drumming - is tight as hell.

So much fun you’ll feel guilty.

Given all the praise I’ve dumped upon a number of other albums this year, it might seem strange that this one gets the only straight “A” so far. It’s a combination of factors. One being consistency - all the songs are really good. Another is that this one is in my favorite genre - melodic pop-rock. Then they’re Neko Case’s voice which is lovely, even if it never quite hits the highs of Fox Confessor. And every time I make out the lyrics above the insistent drumming and ever energetic band, I hear jokes, wordplay and general cleverness, which is something I treasure.

Or maybe it's because I just got back from Canada. Ay!





Let's talk about this autumn sometime next year!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Blackstar 61: Paradoxically

Oh, blogging gods! How can I make this post any different from my last one? There are just too many similarities!

Both posts pertain to music that:
  1. I wasn’t looking for in the first place.
  2. Is performed by an artist from whom I’ve already gotten a ton of stuff.
  3. Is mostly made up of songs I already have . 
  4. … Is, all right, different renditions of those songs. 
  5. Is Jazz, and since it’s summertime, jazz shouldn’t be a priority for me now.
  6. Is on f*cking amazon.com for $3.99!
And in this case it’s not a single album either, but rather a two-in-one set: one that float by so effortlessly all of the above caveats melt away, and make me dream of putting all of this artist's songs - sometimes six and seven versions of each - into a single playlist, and then sort it alphabetically, so I can hear all six versions one after the other.

I'll have to warn Mrs. Jaybee ahead of time. Even she - has her limits.



Thelonious Monk: 2 Classic Albums

Jazz can be a very tricky and daunting genre to get into. For every masterpiece, there are two or three awkwardly (or cynically) slapped-together compilations to bore or puzzle you. So any album - especially a two-fer - in the $3.99 bin should be viewed upon with suspicion.

Now, I’ve done very well by Monk. There isn’t a single album of his I haven’t liked. But even I had a hard time believing I could get two really good albums for such a low price.

But sometimes, pure, dumb luck wins out. It’s what makes me think the universe errs slightly on the benign side, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So, how did we do? Well, given the stature of the artist in question, I’m going to tackle each album separately.



The Thelonious Monk Orchestra: At Town Hall

I had my doubts about an “orchestra” (actually, in this case, a “tentet”) doing Monk tunes, even with Monk in the band. I’m not a big fan of the bit of Charlie Parker with Strings I know.

But this works great. Familiar tunes are given a sympathetic, but not reverential, treatment. The other nine guys can’t manage to overwhelm Monk - they’re too busy keeping up and flat out admiring him.

A-






Thelonious Monk: In Action

If you’ve never heard Monk before, you may want to start with this one. At least theoretically, fewer musicians should distract you less from the utter weirdness of the tunes.

But here’s the paradox: In my two-fer version, this one starts right up after Town Hall finishes, and you’d think there’d be a drastic change in tone going from ten to four musicians, but no. Monk’s tunes are either impervious, or just plain adaptive-in-the-extreme, to any such trivial matters such as there being four or ten musicians.

Another paradox (and by the way, paradoxes seem to be built into every song): Occasionally, a single musician does make a huge difference. This record comes from the same shows that gave us Misterioso (my favorite Monk album).  And the reason that record is so great is tenor saxophonist Johnny F*cking Griffin, whose contributions here are just as magical as those on Misterioso. (Why wasn’t that guy more famous?)

Anyway, my mere pop/rock brain won’t generate the words to adequately describe this music. Suffice to say, if you’re unfamiliar with Monk, (but are possessed of a pop/rock brain like me) your first reaction will likely be puzzlement.

But, ah, that’s the final paradox! Because his tunes are so strange, they aren’t boxed in by the “sophistication” that keeps a lot of jazz out of reach for you and me. Their very strangeness makes them memorable. And then they reveal their beauty.

A-



Saturday, August 26, 2017

Blackstars 6 through 60!, or Christmas in July

I usually reserve summer time for “fun” music, so classical and jazz just have to wait until fall or winter, which would be especially appropriate here, since the concert takes place on Christmas Day.

But when I saw this record on amazon.com for $3.99 I jumped.



I could very reasonably ask myself if I needed yet another version of “Hot House”, “Ornithology”, “Ko Ko” or “Move”? Is it worth it?


But the answer of any jazz fan is - what, are you kidding me? Hell yeah!


So worth it, in fact, that when I accidentally deleted it from my account, I immediately bought it right back. (Am I really bragging that I spent an extra $3.99?)



So we get a nice chunk of Charlie Parker to start. Add to that vocals by Sarah Vaughn, Bud Powell on piano, Miles Davis on trumpet. Max Roach on drums! Plus Lenny Tristano, Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz... I could go on.

I hate to sound like an old geezer, but I just don't think they do concerts like this anymore.


This is bebop, which I’ll roughly equate to punk rock, except it actually required musicianship. Fast, intricate and exhilarating. Just strap in!


Bud Powell starts things off with a bang, outdoing his own The Amazing Bud Powell, and it goes from there.


There isn’t that much more to say about it, really, other than you catch a number of artists in their prime, Parker and Powell, especially. Davis had a few years to go before becoming God, but no matter. This album may have the best lineup of talent of any record I own.


My only reservation is that since it’s a live album from 1949 the sound isn’t great. But on the other hand, the sounds are magnificent!

A-


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pushing It: Jon Hopkins' Immunity

I was in a weird mood last month when I decided, out of the blue, that I’d take up Nutboy on another one of his recommendations. Back in 2011 he gave me two (really ten, but these two stood out), only one of which I tried at the time: the quirky but beautiful The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth, which ended up being one of my favorites for that year.

You think I’d just dive into his next recommendation,  wouldn’t you? But nooooooo! Ever the pessimist, I argued to myself that one happy result is good, but trying for two is pushing things. So I did nothing.

So, earlier this year, I finally decided - why? I don't know - to give Diamond Mine by King Creosote and Jon Hopkins a shot, and, of course, it’s wonderful.

But here’s where it got weird.  I didn’t even wait to find out if it was wonderful before I decided I’d also get a solo album by Jon Hopkins! It was a pretty well-regarded record and all, but there are a lot of those, so why take the chance? Perhaps it was an act of penance for not going right to Diamond Mine when Nutboy first recommended it.

So two may be pushing it, but sometimes what you need to do is push.


Jon Hopkins.jpg

Jon Hopkins: Immunity (2013)


It turns out that Jon Hopkins on his own is markedly different from what he and King Creosote do together. Or so it seems.

It’s hard to hear on first listen how this and Diamond Mine have the same person on it, in whatever capacity. So I went back to Diamond Mine and began to notice how - although the King’s gentle vocals are out front - what’s holding them up isn’t the expected acoustic guitar or piano, but rather the unexpected synthesizer or found sounds of Jon.

So while Immunity starts out sounding like generic dance/electronica, it gradually grows a soul. And that’s the key to this music. Either it should - below the cold brooding surface - have some humanity, or come up with a damn good argument for not having it. (Aphex Twin, for instance, although I'm not sure I'm convinced.)

On this record that humanity is revealed both over the course of each individual track and the album as a whole.

It’s a very worthwhile journey, and one of my favorites of the year. It also works like a charm when you go out for a run, or when you’re trying to do some thinking.

And at the end - surprise! - King Creosote joins Jon for the beautiful send-off. But it would be understandable if you barely noticed him. Like Jon Hopkins on Diamond Mine, he’s in the background.

But he adds the crucial detail - a human voice.

A-

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Blackstar 5: Going Deep and Wide

What I most admire about hip hop are the lyrics, which when good, are sharp, tight, imaginative and, when needed, funny as hell. And the sound effects can be very cool, too. But what can be forbidding is the music itself, which is so rhythmically oriented.

For me, rhythm was never an essential musical element. Oh, I loved things that moved but I’m  a melody guy (thank you, Beatles) and a guitar guy (ditto).

So it was hard to love something that was light on those two elements and heavy on rhythm. Which put hip hop at a disadvantage with me.

But I’m coming around...

My knowledge of the Roots is limited to their impressive appearance in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party and Jimmy Fallon’s show, which I rarely watch. But when I do, there they are, playing with - and adding to - whatever musical guest Jimmy throws at them, like Car Seat Headrest, for instance.

Allmusic.com files them under “Rap”, and, realizing my limits in appreciating that genre, I held back.
But when Amazon offered this for $5, what am I supposed to say?  Jaybee, you’ve been having your fun so far this year. How about a little education? So fine, I said. (I talk to myself a lot.)

And the Roots give me a way in.


Roots.jpg

Roots: How I Got Over (2010)

The first surprise is how damned catchy this is. The arrangements are tight (in the good sense).  And Questlove, if you didn’t already know, is a great drummer. When he hits the snare. He. Hits. The. Snare!

Which brings me to something else that seems to help. The Roots are a band. Instead of using turntables, they play instruments. Imagine that. It really shouldn’t matter, but it seems to anyway.

And, okay, I’m not hearing many melodies, but the textures (keyboards, and yes, guitars) keep me listening.

Which gets me to the words. And while some speak of defiance, there’s also plenty of doubt, and a desire to do better. It's Aspiration, in the very best sense of the word.

One highlight is “Oh, God 2.0”, which improves upon the Monsters of Folk version.

Another is the totally unexpected inclusion of a Joanna Newsom sample, changing its nature while at the same time adding to the song at hand.

And best of all, the title track with its heartrending lyrics:

Out on the streets
where I grew up,
First thing they teach you 
is not to give a f*ck,
That kind of thinking 
will get you nowhere,
Someone
Has To
Care

These, along with several others are the best I’ve heard all year.

So, while Kanye is a brilliant music maker, it’s always about him, and where Kendrick Lamar goes so, so deep, the music isn’t always what I need.

But the Roots - providing nuance, brains, and themes of internal and external struggle - give me hip hop I can really hear and love.

It may be my favorite of the genre.

A-

“How I Got Over”