Adele – 21


Adele21 XL XLCD 520 (2011)

Adele is a good singer, but she’s a better singer than songwriter.  Lots of this material wears pretty thin.  The popularity here seems to stem mostly from the fact that it’s better than most of what gets played in the mainstream media most of the time, which is more a comment on how much crap the media usually plays than any great achievement here.  Pleasant and forgettable.

15-60-75 – Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town

Jimmy Bell's Still in Town

15-60-75Jimmy Bell’s Still in Town Water Brothers (1976)

Ohio’s 10-60-75 (AKA The Numbers Band) deliver a nice little album here, one that locates itself in an interesting position somewhere between the psychedelic West Coast music of the 1960s (Grateful Dead et al.) and the burgeoning late-70s punk movement of the East Coast (Ramones et al.).  Fellow Ohioans in Pere Ubu likewise channeled some of that same energy (the Grateful Dead influence on Pere Ubu is sometimes overlooked, but it’s there).  What made this group unusual was their use of a horn section, setting the stage for its deployment in bands like 1/2 Japanese in years to come.  It would have been great to hear this band on the same bill as the Patti Smith Group

Sun Ra – Disco 3000

Disco 3000

Sun RaDisco 3000 El Saturn CMIJ 78 (1978)

Sun Ra’s catalog is filled with surprises, and Disco 3000 is yet another.  It is a live quartet recording from an Italian tour, with Sun Ra featured heavily on a “Crumar Mainman” (probably Ra’s own name for a Cruman Multiman or Multiman-S analog synthesizer with a built-in rhythm box made in Italy around 1975-77).  This album sounds as otherworldly as ever, but with driving grooves and intimate passages that set it apart from other Arkestra recordings.  Newcomer Michael Ray establishes himself as an asset on trumpet, with Luqman Ali providing varied percussive grounding throughout and John Gilmore playing marvelously as always.  The lengthy title track ranges all over the place.  While ostensibly a single suite-like song, the quartet touches on an amazing number of different themes and styles.  About three minutes in Sun Ra is using the same drum machine beat that Sly Stone used on “In Time” from Fresh (there are echoes of Sly’s “Cat Woman” throughout too).  Later the song turns into a rendition of “Space Is the Place” at one point.  It sounds loose but never messy.  On the title track and “Dance of the Cosmo-Aliens” Ra pushes his synthesizer to the limits while keeping the sonic textures unusually smooth.  “Third Planet” mellows things a bit.  Gilmore and Ali get the spotlight on “Friendly Galaxy” for some fiery solos.  This album is a real treat, and it’s proof that even well into his sixties Sun Ra hadn’t slowed down yet.  Media Dreams, side two of The Sound Mirror, Other Voices, Other Blues, and New Steps were all recorded the same month with the same quartet (the first two live and the latter two in the studio).

[Note: Fans of this album might also be interested in Steve Reid‘s Nova.]

Sun Ra Arkestra – Nuclear War

Nuclear War

Sun Ra ArkestraNuclear War Y Records Y RA 2 (1984)

A thoroughly enjoyable late period album from the Sun Ra Arkestra.  The title track with its sing-speak vocals from Ra and a few bandmates is something unique, even for this eccentric group of performers.  While “Nuclear War” may be the main attraction, there is a lot more to like.  Much of the rest of the album is pretty mellow, with Ra mostly playing what sounds like a roller rink or baseball stadium organ.  Anyone wanting to call this interstellar lounge music has probably hit it on the head.  While the performances hardly aim for the stratosphere there is an energy that the Arkestra wouldn’t be able to muster a few years on (compare Mayan Temples).  This is just pleasant, guileless music.  So if you can’t appreciate the grooving sax on “Blue Intensity,” June Tyson‘s breathy vocals on Charlie Chaplin‘s “Smile” (Michael Jackson‘s favorite song), or the gentle if slightly off-kilter big band charts sprinkled through other cuts, then, well, you might want to take your blinders off and give this another try.  The same recording sessions produced Celestial Love and A Fireside Chat With Lucifer.

Sun Ra – Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

Sun RaSleeping Beauty El Saturn 11-1-79 (1979)

A compilation of Sun Ra Arkestra tracks was subtitled Easy Listening for Intergalactic Travel.  While a catchy phrase, it is a better descriptor for Sleeping Beauty, which is Sun Ra at his most laid-back.  This is okay, but not a favorite of mine because I feel that rhythmically the group isn’t operating at its full potential.