VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Keeping On Mix”

I told y’all I’d be around when I found some time to write again. Of course, I didn’t know I’d get the time because of getting laid off! That’s right – your favorite junior BoL’er is jobless.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, my company’s stock is down from around $45 at this time two years ago to a closing price of $1.80 today. (I’m writing this on Wed., Nov. 19th.) Those are some scary numbers.

Today, I talked to a guy in the know who told me this time next year we’ll be lucky if the company’s still in business at all. Short of a quick and significant recovery of the economy as a whole, no one he knows sees a realistic way out.

Then yesterday morning, completely by coincidence, my iTunes randomizer selected Billy Paul’s “Let The Dollar Circulate.” Man, talk about timely words.

Right away, I thought, “I should do a mix for BoL.” So I did, and hopefully, you’re listening to it and digging it right now.

* * *

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1. Donald Byrd – “Cristo Redentor” - From A New Perspective (Blue Note, 1963).

Donald Byrd – with an able assist from the Coleridge Perkinson Choir – starts us off with appropriate pomp and circumstance. The tune in question, “Cristo Redentor,” was written by pianist, arranger and producer Duke Pearson. It’s a tribute to the iconic ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue that overlooks Rio from the peak of Corcovado in Brazil. This is just the intro of the piece. We’ll get back to the rest of it later.

2_ Marvin Gaye – “Trouble Man” and “Theme From ‘Trouble Man’ " – From Trouble Man Soundtrack (Motown, 1972)

“There’s only three things that’s for sure / Taxes, death and trouble”

The opening drum breakdown of “Trouble Man” is probably my favorite beginning of any song by anyone. It sounds so apocalyptic; so funky. And as always, there’s Marvin laying deep in the cut, sounding cooler than a polar bear’s toenails. Marvin couldn’t help it: he woke up in the morning cool, spent all day being cool and then went to bed cool every night. Simple as that.

Oh, by the way, the voice-over at the beginning and end of “Theme From ‘Trouble Man’ ” is the actual message one hears upon calling the California office of Unemployment Insurance. I put it in there because I thought it was comical that: a) they won’t let you talk to anyone without going through seven or eight levels of some stupid phone tree, and b) they have the nerve to claim that merely checking on your claim will cause it to be delayed. What is that, punitive?

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3. Billy Paul – “Let The Dollar Circulate” – From the out of print LP When Love Is New (Philly Intl, 1975).

“Pleeeaaase, let the dollar circulate!”

When Kalamu did a post on Billy Paul a couple weeks ago, I was surprised he didn’t include the stone-cold brilliance of “Circulate.” Idiot rappers (Yung Somebody Or The Other) and neo-funksters (Steve Spacek) are keeping this track alive via the art of the sample, but frankly, the original is where it’s really at.

With all the talk these days about frozen credit markets and illiquid corporate assets, Mr. Paul’s thirty-year-old advice is starting to sound genius. (Hey, Barack – forget the whole Hillary thing. How’s about Billy Paul for Minister of Finance?)

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4. Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s – “I’m Payin’ Taxes, What Am I Buyin’ ” – From Damn Right I Am Somebody (Poldyor, 1974)

“I’m paying taxes, what the hell am I buying?”

Truth is, I can’t complain in the area of taxation. I have (or had) what’s commonly referred to as a ‘middle income’ and I have a family of four. After the Earned Income credit and the childcare credits and the other write-offs, I really don’t get taxed that badly. Add in the sixteen weeks of unemployment benefits I just qualified for (they’re paying me $450/wk to NOT work; can’t beat that, right?) and I’m honestly not in a position to bitch about taxes. It’s still entertaining to hear James, Fred and the rest of the J.B.’s do it for me though.

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5. Lauryn Hill – “The Passion” – From Passion Of The Christ: Songs (Lost Keyword, 2004)

“If they only claimed love, maintained love / Instead, they drained love, [they] stained love”

My wife was listening to this mix and when Lauryn’s “The Passion” finished, she asked, “What’s that one doing in there?” I admit the song is off-topic – somewhat – but I don’t think a musical mix is just about what specific words the singers are singing. “The Passion” has a spiritual mournfulness that feels appropriate for the occasion.

Plus, I like it when different rhythmic textures are butted up against one another. In this case, we have the skitterish, almost-hyperactive jazz-funk stylings of the J.B.’s against the heavier and more deliberate electro/neo hip-hop of the Lauryn track. That’s the story I told Beth, anyway. And since I haven’t come up with anything better yet, I’m sticking with it.

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6. Seun Kuti – “Many Things” – From Seun Kuti + Fela’s Egypt 80 (Disorient/Mr Bongo, 2008)

“I don’t see many things / I don’t hear many things”

And here’s yet another rhythmic texture: Afro-beat, a style created when Seun’s father, Fela, became enamored with American funk music, particularly that of James Brown. Of course, I make that comment while keeping in mind that American funk music itself can be traced back to particular styles of African music. So, in a way, we’ve completed the same circle in the last three tunes of this mix that the music did over a period of decades and centuries.

On this, his debut album, Seun is leading his Dad’s band, playing in his Dad’s style and, most importantly, he’s got his Dad’s spirit. “Many Things” takes the Nigerian government to task, talking about the inefficiency, corruption and ‘ori si ri si’ of the powers-that-be. (Frankly, I thought he was saying, “Very shitty, shitty,” and maybe that’s what he means.)

Not surprisingly, the Nigerian government isn’t any happier with Seun than they were with his father. “Many Things” begins with the voice of former President Olusegun Obasanjo claiming that, before he took office, ordinary Nigerians were suffering but now that he’s in power, he says, “Everybody is really happy.” Strange then, that Seun’s music pissed the government off so bad that they once again raided the Kuti family compound. If everybody’s so happy, why are they trying to shut my man down just for stating his opinion?

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7. The Notations - "Superpeople" – From an out of print 7” Single (Gemigo Records, 1974)

“Superpeople, with the super smile / I bet you won’t live in the ghetto for a while”

Back in the mid-Seventies, The Notations cut several singles and one LP for a tiny Chicago label named Gemigo. None of their releases became national hits and they soon faded out of existence.

There it is: now you know everything I know about The Notations. Oh, there is one other small detail: Gemigo was a subsidiary of Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom. Now it makes sense, right? Listen to the lead singer’s falsetto and vocal affectations and he almost could be Curtis.

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8_ Bohannon – “Save Their Souls” – From Stop & Go (Dakar, 1972). Available on the compilation Breaks Sessions (Sessions, 2002)

“Heavenly father, please forgive us / Save the people, save their souls”

Hamilton Frederick Bohannon is primarily thought of as a disco artist and as the dude the Tom Tom Club is referring to in their hit “Genius Of Love” (“Bohannon, Bohannon, Bohannon, Bohannon!”). My favorite Bohannon tune isn’t a disco tune though. It’s 1972’s “Save Their Souls,” a tune which is essentially nothing but a laid-back funk groove and a chorus. The groove is nice though and the vocals are sweet – it’s a winner.

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9. Bill Frisell – “We Are Everywhere” – From The Intercontinentals (Nonesuch, 2003)

Frisell probably named this album (and the band who plays on it) ‘The Intercontinentals’ in reference to the many countries the musicians represent. In addition to Frisell himself, there’s Brazil’s Vinicius Cantuaria on guitar and drums (a man I’d previously known as a great lyricist and a very capable vocalist), Mali’s Sidiki Camara on percussion and Greece’s Christos Govetas playing instruments I’ve never heard of. (The hell is a bouzouki?)

Me? I just dig the tune.

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10. War – “Don’t Let No One Get You Down” – From Why Can’t We Be Friends? (United Artists, 1975)

“Don’t let no one get you down / ‘Cause if they do, I’ll be around”
I love War, but sometimes they can be overly sincere in a cheesy, maudlin kind of way. They do that here, but for some reason, I still like the record. “I’ll be around” and “don’t let nobody get you down” are simple, obvious sentiments, but sometimes – like when you lose your gig just in time for the holidays – simple and obvious friendship is exactly what you want and need.

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11_ Damond Moodie – “Shine On” – From Daydreamer (Femond Productions, 2006)

About a year ago, my brother-in-law handed me a copy of Damond’s self-produced CD and asked me to listen to it and tell him what I thought of it. (I think they’re friends…or at least, associates.) I thought it was professional and well-done, even though it wasn’t exactly in line with my usual tastes in music.

One day about a year later, I popped it in the player on a whim and realized it sounded better than I remembered. I also realized (and right now I’m trying to figure out how I missed this the first time around) Damond is a Christian singer. Or, if he’s not, a lot of his songs – including this spare and gentle hymn to friendship and change – are about Christian themes. Check him out at CD Baby.

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12. Donny Hathaway – “You’ve Got A Friend” – From Live! (Atlantic, 1972). Available on These Songs For You, Live! (Atlantic, 2004)

Here’s one I jacked from Kalamu: Donny Hathaway leading a raucous (and seemingly tireless) L.A. audience through a gospel choir-like rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” The audience ends up singing more of the song than Donny does, but it works anyway. As Donny himself from the stage: “We might have a record here!”

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13. Dirty Dozen Brass Band – “Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky)” – From What’s Going On (Shout Factory, 2006)

“Help me, somebody….”

Marvin’s original is a sober reflection on the bad choices drug addicts tend to make (“so stupid-minded / oh, so stupid-minded”). By comparison, the Dirty Dozen’s remake sounds positively optimistic. Even at the beginning, before the tempo picks up, the percussion bounces and lifts, giving the somber melody a happy counterpoint. When the band starts chanting, “Help me, somebody!,” it sounds more like an invitation to party than a plea for assistance.

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14. Donald Byrd – “Cristo Redentor” - From A New Perspective (Blue Note, 1963).

We’re back where we started. Close your eyes and listen. Listen to the trumpet soar. Listen to the piano grounding you in the blues even as the choir lifts you towards grace. You could be soaring high over Rio right now – the sand and sea far below; the awesome might of Christ the Redeemer there above you, atop Corcovado. There He waits, arms outstretched, calling the true believers home.

I’m out, everybody. Like always, I hope y’all dug the tunes.

Let the dollar circulate!

—Mtume ya Salaam

            WELCOME BACK              

I believe in dialectics. From two comes one. From two good ones, comes a third great one. Or something like that, Herr Hegel… to quote the immortal/amoral Grace Jones, don’t mine me, I’m just funking around.

OK, why mess up a good mix with commentary, especially since Mtume has already supplied the footnotes? Either you is or you ain’t digging it—more likely (ahem, more dialectically) you’re probably digging some cuts a lot and maybe wondering WTF for a couple of other cuts… oh, for our non-English texting BoL folk, WTF generally translates as “what the fuck???”

And speaking dialectically, there’s good news and bad news. The bad is Mtume is laid off. The good is he has time to put together stuff like this mix. The mo’ worser news is that it doesn’t look like he’s going back to work anytime soon—that would be not before New Year’s, if then. The mo’ betta news is that means at least two or three more mixes. Can’t stand it.

It’s the worse of times. It’s the best of times. Salud beaucoup!

—Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Monday, November 24th, 2008 at 1:07 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Responses to “VARIOUS ARTISTS / “Keeping On Mix””

Berry Says:
November 24th, 2008 at 1:26 am

Welcome back! The circumstances are rotten, but hey…I’m out here floundering too so you’re in good company.

Ken Says:
November 24th, 2008 at 5:24 pm

Love the WAR tune–but that’s a cold analysis!


f Says:
November 25th, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Welcome back. This is a very nice mix. Thanks for sharing. frieden

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