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  Listen Up! 8/25/03 Listen Up!

Monday, Aug. 25

Thelonious Monk, “Thelonious Monk” Original Jazz Classics. Thirty-five minutes of perfection, recorded in 1952 and 1954. It’s Monk with a bass player (either Percy Heath or Gary Mapp) and a drummer (either Art Blakey or Max Roach, as if you could possibly get any better than either of those). This is Monk the exuberant young man, filled with the excitement of these amazing compositions, some of the most enduring and memorable in the entire history of recorded music. “Blue Monk,” “Bemsha Swing,” “Little Rootie Tootie,” and “Trinkle Tinkle” are all here, all sparkling, lively, beautiful, irresistible.

Ray Benson, “Beyond Time,” Koch Records. I like this album more and more. Benson tackles jazz ballads, blues, country, all the kinds of things you knew he loved but which didn’t quite fit in with Asleep at the Wheel’s western swing format. The guest performances are amazing, especially Jimmie Vaughan’s fantastic guitar solo on the catchy “Mary Anne,” Flaco Jimenez’s subtly enticing accordion on the cover of Marty Robbins’ classic “El Paso,” and Dolly Parton’s exhilarating romp on “Leave That Cowboy Alone.”

Clifton Chenier, “The Best of Clifton Chenier: The King of Zydeco & Louisiana Blues,” Arhoolie Records. Chenier’s zydeco was a lot bluesier than most of today’s zydeco artists are, especially the stuff on here. The rhythm sections aren’t quite as vibrant as most of the later ones, either. But, this is deep and soulful music, and I could listen to it all day, if people around me would let me.

The Gladiators, “Trenchtown Mix Up,” Caroline Records. Once upon a time, in the circles in which I traveled, where everybody was mostly enamored of that very recent phenomenon still known interchangeably as punk rock and New Wave, there were explorations of this mysterious music out of Jamaica known as reggae. And no record seemed more immediately accessible, while simultaneously exotic as anything you could name, than this magnificent example of a classic vocal trio at the top of its game. I would come to know much more about the Gladiators, who recorded for St. Louis label Nighthawk for a few years in the 80s, and who played here several times. Albert Griffiths was the lead singer and guitar player who set the tone for this brilliant music. He was clearly inspired by Bob Marley, but he had a less anthemic approach. Which isn’t to say his songs weren’t catchy. Every Gladiators album had at least one stunning pop song. This one has several, especially the magnificent “Rude Boy Ska.” It’s been years since I’ve put this record on, but I think it may sound even better to me today than it did in my youth.

Josh Rouse, “1972,” Rykodisc. Yawn. The idea is that he was born in 1972, so he’s gonna pay tribute to the music of 1972. In 1972, I spent most of my time being 13, and there aren’t many more vivid memories in a boy’s life than the onset of puberty. I loved 1972, and I don’t hear anything here that even vaguely reminds me of that year. Certainly not the music. I’ve seen reviews that have the nerve to compare this record to Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. I don’t even think it’s as memorable or enticing as a Gilbert O’Sullivan track.

Bad Brains, “Bad Brains,” ROIR. Adam Yauch says on the back cover this is the best punk/hardcore album of all time, and if it had been recorded as powerfully as its music is played, it would have been. As such, it has the best songs in hardcore history (with a few Black Flag and Minor Threat songs worthy of being tossed on to a mix tape), and it thrills me in a whole new way now 21 years after I first heard it, when it was only available as a cassette.

--Steve Pick


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