April preview and quarterly Top 10s

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Top 10 April releases:

1.-2. Monks, Black Monk Time (Light in the Attic) and Monks, The Early Years 1964-1965 (Light in the Attic), both CDs out April 14: Together these reissue everything on the 1997 Infinite Zero CD issue of Black Monk Time, and include 11 other tracks that are, so far as I can tell, previously unreleased. Beautifully remastered, packaged, and liner-noted too. I wrote about the Monks here three years ago.

3.-4.
The Heptones, The Heptones Meet the Now Generation! (17 North Parade/VP), and Various artists, Joe Gibbs Scorchers from the Early Years 1967-73 (Gibbs/VP/17 North Parade), both out April 14: Arguably the best crate digs yet from 17 North Parade, the vintage Jamaican music reissue imprint of powerhouse reggae label VP, these releases capture Jamaican pop still in the romantic vocal-group throes of rock-steady, but with an awakening social-religious consciousness, and deejays meeting harmonies in the crossroads of Joe Gibbs's studio.

Most tracks on The Heptones Meet the Now Generation! were originally released on two various-artists LPs in 1972. Paired down and remastered here, the results emerge as a more shapely dawn-of-reggae classic, though not an entirely new one to CD: Nine of the 12 tracks appeared on Trojan's 1995 reissue of the UK vinyl versions, The Heptones and Friends Volumes 1 & 2. (And if you have that disc, hold onto it: Joe Gibbs Scorchers compiles eight other non-Now Generation! tracks from Heptones and Friends, but leaves off another seven, including Nicky Thomas's indelible "Mama's Song.")

Still, Now Generation! adds three pretty wonderful new rare tracks, including "Freedom Train," U Roy's deejay version of "Freedom to the People." Meanwhile, Scorchers' 40 tracks include such new-to-me joys as Lee Perry smashing bottles during "Seeing Is Knowing/Kimble." I wish Steve Barrow's liner notes had been edited with as much care as they were written--part of the intro text to Scorchers is repeated, and the song dates have somehow been left off amid otherwise meticulous discography. But the graphics and sound are beautiful (the slight dropout on Errol Dunkley's "You're Gonna Need Me" is in the original). See also: Heartbeat's 2007 Clement Dodd-era Heptones collection Sweet Talking.

5.
Trama, Mr. T ziptape, out as a free download on April 14: Comedic highlight: "If I Was Emo," in which our hero croons, "I would get great reviews in the hip-hop local news/because I'm not seen as a threat, and my rhymes make you boo-hoo-hoo/If I was emo, I wouldn't have to wear gold/and my fake friends wouldn't call to get on the guest list the day of the show/I would have my own band and listen to Wu Tang Clan/I wouldn't be known in the hood because the hood don't understand." Take that, ...somebody! Written about here.

6. Lady Sovereign
, Jigsaw (Midget Records), out April 7: Dropped from Def Jam, she comes back scrappier over weirder beats, or maybe this is just what grime sounds like now.

7. I Was a King
, I Was a King (Control Group), out April 7: Norwegian band at first appears to wring a pre-punk American pop fixation through the scuzz textures and meandering modulations of Dinosaur Jr., like Teenage Fanclub with better singing but less memorable tunes--and has anyone needed anything that since, like, 1991? But most songs carry their own weight, and after some mid-album filler, get better as they go--adding horns, piano, strings amid greater compression and sharper hooks.

8. Two Fingers
, Two Fingers (Paper Bag Records), out April 14: New project from legendary producer Amon Tobin and Joe "Doubleclick" Chapman outweirds and -grooves Lady Sovereign, but I'll have to listen more for it to stick. Love the sound off the bat.

9. Black Blondie
, Do You Remember Who You Wanted to Be (Black Blondie), out in Minneapolis/St. Paul April 17: Sort of D'Angelo meets show-tunes--a sound all its own.

10. Allen Toussaint
, The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch), April 21: I don't know jazz, but I know what I love.

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Top 10 from January/February/March:

1. K'Naan, Troubadour (A&M/Octone): Three stars in Rolling Stone is bullshit. Reviewed here and here.
2. P.O.S., Never Better (Rhymesayers): Also best local video in years. Reviewed here.
3. Heartless Bastards, The Mountain (Fat Possum Records): Still miss the old drummer, but more quietly transcendent. Reviewed here.
4. Various artists, Aaron LaCrate & Debonair Samir Present, B-More Club Crack (Koch): Crazy club rap sounds from Baltimore, cooler to blast out your window than grime, crunk, or dancehall, and like some dream version of all three.
5. Lily Allen, It's Not Me, It's You (EMI): Much better, makes me think I misjudged the first one.
6. Various artists, The Roots of Hip Hop (Harte): Reviewed here.
7. Various artists/Mixed by DJ D.Mil, hosted by Mr. Peter Parker, HomeGrown Heat Rocks Volume One mixtape CD (Shadyville/SPStyle.com): Spun and then passed out at Minnesota Hip-Hop Awards, this is the best all-around local rap mix in years, maybe ever.
8. Atmosphere, God Loves Ugly (Rhymesayers), 2002/2009: Sneaks up on you, discussed here.
9. A.C. Newman, Get Guilty (Matador Records)
10. Sims, False Hopes 14 (Doomtree)

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10 other great tracks from January/February/March:

1. "Cedars of Lebanon," from U2, No Line on the Horizon (Island/Universal): We played the whole album in the car, liked the sound, and talked over it until this song came on, when we just stopped, turned it up, and listened. "Wow," was all I could say. The album isn't as good as reviewed, at least not yet to my ears, not even as good as How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which has three more great songs by my count, and that's three more than the two I heard at the time--but then there's the reason I mistrust my mistrust, even if the odd claim that this new one is their best since Achtung Baby makes me wonder if everyone just loves or hates his or her own U2. The one I love did this song, and "Wake Up Dead Man," and "Beautiful Day," and War. Bono's mouth noise to the effect that "Cedars" is about Iraq, a subject on which he remained mum while persuading Bush to give all that aid to Africa, doesn't take away or add, but makes it clearer that this song is as snakey and misty as anything since "Surrender" off War, the one I'll also play to think about hard truths early in the morning. Happy Easter.
2. "Wasted World," from Bob Mould, Life and Times (Anti-), out April 7: Reviewed here.
3. "Duro Hardcore," from Doble Filo, Despierta V. 1 (advance from Emetrece Productions): Cuban hip hop on the way.
4. "Jook Gal" (remix) feat. Twista, Young Blood & Kirprich, from Elephant Man, Energy God: The Best of Elephant Man (VP): Most Jamaican-sounding track turns out to be Lil' Jon's, go figure.
5. "Freakin Out," from Death, ...For the Whole World to See (Drag City): Their most uncanny 1975-sounding-like-1981 punk recording.
6. "Flying Dagger aka 100 Stab," by Aidonia, from Various artists, Ragga Ragga Ragga! 2009 (Greensleeves/VP): Sounds like a posthumous Clash-ification of dancehall.
7. "Elijah," from Black Lips, 200 Million Thousand (Vice)
8. "All You Need Is Me," from Morrissey, Years of Refusal (Attack/Lost Highway): Not the only good track, but the LOL one, discussed here: "You don't like me but you love me/Either way you're wrong/You're gonna miss me when I'm gone."
9. "Money Love," from Glen Washington, Destiny (VP), 2008
10. I forget what ten was for.

Still listening:

Various artists/Niney the Observer, Roots with Quality (17 North Parade/VP)
Brother Ali, The Truth Is Here (Rhymsayers)
Anni Rossi, Rockwell (4AD), discussed here
Sole & the Skyrider Band, Sole & The Skyrider Band Remix LP (Black Canyon)
Andrew Bird, Noble Beast (Fat Possum Records)
Franzdiego.com, The Fanzdiego.com EP free download (Franzdiego.com
Kermit Ruffins, Livin' a Treme Life (Basin Street Records), out April 28
Parallax, When It Rains It Snows (Parallax Music), local funk/reggae/hip hop with Kanser on one track, "Summertime"
Cyril Neville, Brand New Blues (M.C. Records)
The Roe Family Singers, The Earth and All That Is In It (Roe Family Singers), 2008

Late discoveries from 2008 and before:

The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust (Vice), 2008
School of Seven Bells, Alphinism (Ghostly Int'l), 2008
Nine Inch Nails, The Slip (The Null Corporation), 2008
Belle and Sebastian, The BBC Sessions (Matador), 2008
Raphael Saadiq, The Way I See It (Columbia), discussed here
Estelle, Shine (Atlantic/Homeschool Records), discussed here
The Kamillion, The Light from My Eyes (Living Profits Records), 2008
Ralph's World, The Rhyming Circus (Disney Sound), 2008, discussed here
Ralph's World, Welcome to Ralph's World (Disney Sound), 2006: Children's music classic.
Various artists, Darker Than Blue: Soul From Jamtown 1973-1980 (Blood and Fire Records), 2001
The Smiths, The Sound of the Smiths (Sire/Rhino), 2008, discussed here
Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (Sup Pop), 2008
Alexander O'Neal, Alex Loves (Phantom Sound & Vision), 2008
Various artists, Refugee Voices: Building Bridges (UNHRC), 2001, featuring a young K'Naan

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