Monday, December 25, 2006

Bad(dest) Santa

Papa's got a whole new thing

Sly & The Family Stone - "Let Me Hear It From You" (mp3)
(Purchase here)

Sly & The Family Stone - "What Would I Do" (mp3)
(Purchase here)

Admittedly, I've been going black ops these days. No good reason, aside from being plain indulgent with my time. Don't worry: there'll be a whole lotta riotin' goin' on 'round these parts in '07. See, Sony/Legacy is finally giving one of my favorite bands the reissue treatment: Sly & The Family Stone. I'll save my Sly whoo hah for the trick(s) up my sleeve, so I'll spread some holiday cheer instead and jump back to give back.

For many years, friends and acquaintances have praised my mind for music. In truth, it is simply an aggregator of my friends' (and heroes') sophisticated tastes. They gifted me with new sounds, like the Maack who let me in on his hoes's secrets by methodically sharing them. Others introduced new ways to hear sounds. For example, I Don't Karen and I belatedly -- when, our graduation day? -- discovered a mutual love of Redd Kross. Really, if I want to stick with the holiday spirit, I should holler at each of my peoples and say something nice like, "Thanks!" or send them a Hallmark card. But I'm not Christian (nor a card carrying capitalist), so I'll dedicate a blog post to one: Louis.

I actually introduced Sly & The Family Stone's debut A Whole New Thing to Louis some time in college. For reasons unknownst to me, he dug it more than I. Frankly, I kept it because I identified myself as a junior collector and wanted to maintain the completeness of my budding Sly collection. When it came to music, I used to measure a record's quality by its speed; hence, Bad Brains, Black Flag, Surfer Rosa were in rotation at the time. According to this rubric, there were only a couple joints on A Whole New Thing that I liked. Louis, on the other hand, had already developed an ear for songwriting, craft, and plain ol' performance. Close to fifteen years after first purchasing this album, I'm finally beginning to hear what Louis was talking about and what the title really means.

A Whole New Thing is a suitable introduction to the band's pre-pomo pomo-ness. Their's was a whole new take on tradition -- doo wop, rhythm and blues, 'soul' and folk -- rolled into a savvy, witty and funny amusement park/gallery trip. And it wrote itself into Rickey Vincent's Funk. Every aspiring musician/band with half a mind to fuse x-influence with y-experience should listen to this blueprint from 1967 to get an idea of how to make a mess sound so beautiful. It's all here: the sample faq nugget ("Advice"), the acid trip Zappa couldn't muster ("Trip to Your Heart"), the frattish sunshine ("Run, Run, Run") and even the timely mixtape staple (the previously unreleased "Only One Way Outta This Mess").

Two of the more "traditional" cuts seemed appropriate for today. The Larry Graham-led slice o' heaven "Let Me Hear It from You" is a reminder of the genius of Sly & The Family Stone, not just Sly. Gregg Errico lays down a sturdy foundation of echoed snare taps, saving the kicks until the end, while Jerry Martini and Cynthia Robinson's horns lay out a velvet red carpet for Graham's dramatic plea -- a message that swoops, cracks and groans in all the right places, like Vandross and Pendergrass at their best. And don't forget Sly's gentle keys flashing shots from carpet-side all along the way; you can hear the keys clicking patiently like a lonely flashbulb snapping in slow-mo. Sure, you can read more into the cut: it's time to move on, the system's a mess and he's not gonna take it, oh no, he ain't gonna take it. But the song is a pure love ballad, a grown man's hurt on public display and a plea to be released from the shackles of love.

"What Would I Do" is the apparent aftermath of "Let Me Hear It From You." From its opening strains of gospel-fried Georgia On My Mind riffage and minor Jingle Bells thing, the sound and form is familiar. However, like Pryor's demonstration of how a a woman can break a man's cool down to hilarious histrionics, Sly & co. supersaturate this post-breakup ponderance with a gravity and nostalgia both apt and fresh for the season.

So, 'tis the season to whole new things and whole new aural visions with a little help from the friends. All praises due.

By the way, all the reissues have new liners, production and bonus tracks. The new A Whole New Thing includes the mono single version of "Let Me Hear It From You," which you can cop when the 'bum drops on 20 March 2007.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

We All Must Learn

One step beyond?

KRS-One - "The Way We Live" (mp3)
(Purchase here)

KRS-One - "Mr. Percy" (Feat. Triune) (mp3)
(Purchase here)

Sam Cooke - "If I Had a Hammer" (live) (mp3)
(Purchase here)

Call and Response is back at PopMatters (quick aside: KRS' Life dropped this past June ~ is "The Way We Live" a response song to... a conference? I keed. But the chorus amuses me).

Just in time as I've caught a case of holiday anxiety. Not because my Slavemaster Republic discount got cockblocked, or because Katrina's seed weren't invited back to the annual tree lighting (though that is telling). Rather, seems we can't go a year without some XTREME! GGW behavior. WTF, indeed.

Peace to Dallas and Dan: DP spotted first blood on the Black Friday Firing Squad, while Charnas brought the Michael Richards debacle (not Richards himself -- an important distinction) into context. Stepping out from the haze of these infuriating events, I am struck: are they a perverse re-up of Kanye's clarion call? And a disturbing sign of how polarized our society remains?


Nearly ten years ago, Robin D.G. Kelley described his book Yo' Mama's Disfunktional! as "not the sort of defense that turns the discourse [on 'urban populations,' race studies, and 'cultural wars'] on its head, 'flipping the script' in order to paint a noble, unblemished portrait of the black poor. Instead, I see this book as a defense of black people's humanity and a condemnation of scholars and policymakers for their inability to see complexity." These words, and the content of that prescient book, have been echoing of late because they remind me how race remains present in our society. Admittedly, race has played tricky post civil rights; you'd think that all that institutional change would prop up Sam's soul stirring invocation and trickle down some public spaces of goodwill towards fellow humans. But hearing the Blastmaster rail about basic housing rights in 2006 isn't surprising (tho that beat is thick). Nor is Papoose placing Sam in his sights an illustration of how much further we need to go. The murder of Sean Bell or the rants of Michael Richards aren't even needed to prove this point. Because enough was never accomplished in the first place, top down and bottom up. Nor is "enough" what it will take to bring the change. If love and peace are without boundaries, then it's time to stop measuring accomplishments ~ does/did your love prove his/her love by giving you just enough, or by going above and beyond?

Billy Sunday unloaded a Pod's worth of fiyah, but I'll also offer some words from Lee Hays and Pete Seeger through Sam Cooke, one more time. If you had the hammer, what would you do?

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