Wednesday, February 4, 2009
the long and short of the blues and minimalism fetishh
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears - s/t (lala) Four quick blasts of R&B reverse-engineered through the Rolling Stones, run though the conduit of Imagined Memphis and Mississippi associations and it still comes out wild and greasy on the other end. "Cousin Randy" is blues ramble parody-yet-sincere at its finest. I dig it.
Bukka White - Sky Songs (lala) Now this is as close to the root of the blues ramble as I have found on record. These songs run from 7-14 minutes of mesmerizing rattle and jabber. I wish there were more recordings like this where a blues performer is let off the chain and allowed to go as far as they want to go. Sure, it might result in a 2xCD version of T-Model Ford drilling a hole to the center of the earth with "Mannish Boy" like he does when he plays it live for 40+ minutes, but I might be into that too. I fell asleep at 3am while Ford did that very thing at the Maple Leaf in New Orleans a year or so ago, but my stamina is better in a computer/headphones setting.
La Monte Young & The Forever Bad Blues Band - Just Stompin' Live at the Kitchen (AuralNightmare) After all, somewhere I do have a copy of this and have listened to the whole thing at least once, and thanks to the folks at AuralNightmare, will likely do so again today. It is basically one long blues riff, just over two hours long, centered around Young's extended blues raga piano infinitude. As a blues record, its success is dubious - the result is similar to a bar band stuck in a groove out of which they cannot extract themselves to get back to the song. Plus, fretless electric bass (likely necessary to achieve Young's precise tonality requirements) takes me right out of the blues moment. But if you look at it as a pedestrian application of high art ideas, I think it works rather well. La Monte Young's drone pieces are daunting listening but to many people, so is the blues. It's just the same thing over and over again. Yes. Yes it is. But you can say that about everything, and I think that is the common point of both blues and minimalism - very simple frameworks where the expression of life's relentlessness can be worked out.
This would have made interesting listening on my long drive up to Clarksdale last month, putting the Delta itself into a revisionist perspective via minimalist-mutated versions of the music the region produced. OK, maybe just interesting to me. Perhaps if La Monte Young would hook up with T-Model Ford, then it would all make perfect sense.
La Monte Young - Just Charles & Cello in The Romantic Chord (Rootstrata) This is one of the endurance tests of which I spoke - nearly two hours of slowly bowed cello over recordings of itself creating subtle rippling waves of sound. Young not only makes his music sometimes difficult to listen to unless you are willing to submit to its demands, it can also be difficult to obtain as he has very exacting professional and sonic standards (who can blame him though) that unfortunately for us interested listeners, keeping much of it out of print. Scouring around for it on the web reminds me a lot of stories about record collectors going door to door in the 60s, asking older residents of downtrodden neighborhoods if they had any old 78s to sell, and in the age of access, there is a little bit of the musk of the hunt on this music for me.