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  Listen Up! 3/7/03 Listen Up!

Monday, Apr. 7

The Clash, “London Calling,” Epic Records. I haven’t listened to this whole album in years. Gee whillikers! It holds up fine. I remember loving it when it came out, but not really understanding just how much it was infused by American roots music, from rockabilly to New Orleans r’n’b. Now, I can hear those styles being tweaked by the Clash’s limitations, and the sheer guts it took to stand up to these influences and say, “Fuck it! We’re trying to be the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world!” Maybe they never really were the greatest, but they had the most heart, and their records are immune to criticism on my part.

Jay and the Americans, “Absolutely the Best,” Fuel 2000 Records. These guys really were as square as the red sweaters and white turtlenecks they wear in the cover photo. Which is not to say that “Come a Little Bit Closer” (written by Spector, Mann, & Weil, if you want to check out the pedigree) isn’t one of the great singles of the sixties. Or to say that listening to them tackling these other Brill Building and similar songs isn’t a pleasure. Jay had a clean voice, though not exactly an interpretative one. Imagine Elvis Presley singing any of these cuts, and you’ll know exactly what he was missing. I wonder if all these guys are good grandparents now.

The Fleshtones, “Do You Swing?”, Yep Roc Records. Listening to this record again the next day, and the songs are starting to hit harder. Why should a band change over 25 years? As long as they have nailed a way to rock, let them keep on keeping on. Long may the Fleshtones live.

James Blood Ulmer, “Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions,” Hyena Records. Take the legendary harmolodic jazz guitarist and set him loose in Memphis playing classic blues songs. It’s a little odd at first, as longtime Ulmer fans may wonder why he’s not pushing these things into a fraggled stratosphere, while blues fans may wonder why there are so many odd guitar bits that fly away from the safe confines of the familiar chord progressions. But, the combination is ultimately enjoyable, since it provides a grounding to Ulmer’s fancies, and a new fancy to the blues grounding.

--Steve Pick

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