Special thanks to Matt Connor and Honest Jon’s Records. Spiritualized’s new album, Songs in A&E, is out now on Spaceman/Universal. Check the ihatemusic.noquam.com forum for a full discography of the label.
Life Is a Problem
This is a collection of various artists singing heavy gospel. I like the way the cover and the back is all handwritten in crayon. It feels like the person who put it together is imparting some kind of secret knowledge. It has Utah Smith’s “Take a Trip” for that love/drug/religion combo that’s so irresistible to these ears (Utah used to wear wings in church!) and also features Elder Charles Beck’s “Rock and Roll Sermon Pts. 1 and 2,” which is the most rock-and-roll anti-rock-and-roll sermon in the history of such things. He’s saying all these lines about rock and roll being evil and the congregation is shouting “Yeah!” at him between every line. It sounds unwittingly like the best rock song ever made. The insert has a “further listening” list that name-checks the formidable Rev. Charlie Jackson’s “God’s Got It,” Fred McDowell’s “Amazing Grace,” and the Sinner’s Crossroads radio show on WFMU. It also comes with a seven-inch of George “Bongo Joe” Coleman’s street preaching. There’s a great line on the insert that says “ragged, raw, and beautiful,” and that sums up the whole record. Also, my copy has typo corrections written in black ballpoint.
What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?
Washington Phillips (MR06)
Washington Phillips records were really hard to find but I had the Goodbye, Babylon boxed set, which came packaged in raw cotton and which included a couple of his recordings. Then a good friend bought me this, which was the first MR record release I’d seen. It’s made up of dark gospel preachings, but Washington plays a beautiful instrument that was (maybe) a dolceola or celestophone (although in the only picture of him holding an instrument it’s neither). It sounds like an autoharp meets a piano, or two music boxes playing alongside each other at the same time, and has a luminous tone. It makes for an atmosphere of otherworldliness, so much so that when he’s asking, “What are they doing in heaven today?” it’s almost like he’s taking a peek. The disc comes with a reprinted ad for a dolceola and a woodcut print sleeve. Highlights include “Lift Him Up, That’s All” and “I Had a Good Mother,” which has been covered by Will Oldham.
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore
This is probably my favorite record that Mississippi has put out. It reminds me of when I used to hang out in LA with Richie Lee from Acetone. We used to listen to Hui o Hana, which is beautiful Hawaiian music that sounds like birds, with voices that sing notes that sound like they could go on forever.
This record is immigrant music recorded in America that’s barely, if at all, touched or infected by American music. It opens with Marika Papagika’s Greek masterpiece “Zmirneikos Balos” (she was a singer who “died of disappointment” in New York in 1943). It also has a beautiful sad song by the Blue Sky Boys called “Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone” and a bunch of Hawaiian and French recordings.
My copy has the track listing printed in the wrong order and someone’s gone in with that ballpoint again and scratched out the numbers and rewritten them.
Lipa Kodi Ya City Council
This record has rare R&B, pop, highlife, ju-ju, and stuff recorded in the late 60s and early 70s in Africa. It runs from the Funkadelic/Bo Diddley stomp of Moussa Doumbi and Yeye Mousso through to the sublime highlife of Ester John and Fadhili William. The plain choral “Noviciat de Soeurs Misssionaires de Notre-dame d’Afrique” will give you chills.
To me, the record sounds like it was dropped from outer space and then filtered through Sun Ra.
A lot of records from Africa are genre- or region specific but this one is all over the place. It sounds alien, gluey, oddly psychedelic, and hopelessly beautiful.
The sleeve is two squares of printed paper and a black-and-white photo that’s wrapped round an old record so you can still read what the old sleeve belonged to. The one I have here is Bunny Berrigan I Can’t Get Satisifed, which is a Quintessence/Jazz Series record.
The Malcolm X Memorial
Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble (MR016)
I was given a Philip Cohran record by the owners of Other Music in New York when on tour with Spiritualized, and we played it solidly the whole time we were in America.
Cohran was a cornet player in Sun Ra’s 50s band and also helped found the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, which had people like Leo Smith and Anthony Braxton as members. He created the frankiphone, which was his amplified take on an African thumb piano, and you can see films of it on YouTube. His music is slightly more grounded (and controlled) than Sun Ra’s but always melodic. This one is a tribute to Malcolm X in four parts. The reissue is made like a beautiful old gatefold and even looks like it’s laminated.
I probably ain’t gonna get any future releases because I’m raving about them to anyone who’ll listen and everybody will start liking them, but what the hell? You should buy them.