What were you listening to in 2021? As it turns out, I listened to a ton of Dub, Gospel, Blues and music from the eastern coast of Africa (e.g., Ethiopia, Somalia). In part, this is a result of way I spend my time in record stores. There is a nearly inviolate order that I follow when I’m crate digging – my (slight) ODC would not let me do otherwise. I start with Soul, move to Jamaica, then Africa, then the Blues, and if they have them, various other regions (e.g., India, Middle East). If I have time or the energy, I might half-heartedly skim through the rock and hip-hop sections. For that reason, the balance of records that I end up with is not really surprising. These days I’m finding the Soul selections to be slim pickings, and I’m not ready to start buying the expensive stuff they have up on the wall. It seems like Blues records are getting a bit pricier, so maybe there is renewed interest in them.
Despite my routine, there are still unexpected developments. For example, last year I picked up a number of records by folk musicians who produced one album and then kind of disappeared. This includes Jackson C. Frank (produced by a young Paul Simon), F..J. McMahon, and Sibylle Baier. Her record was actually a recent release of a tape she had made at home in the 1970’s. In this same vein is Vashti Bunyan, who had a few more records, and an LP of songs written by Karen Dalton that she never recorded. This reclusive folk singer strand happened too slow and steady to be a binge, but it certainly was a defining element of the year’s listening.
I still read music magazines but last year didn’t find many new artists to get excited about. Instead, I ended up ordering things from labels that specialize in re-releasing older material. Going to the websites for Analog Africa, Numero Group or Dust-to-Digital feels like free history lessons. I know that I would find other new stuff if I followed friends on streaming services, and my younger son methodically goes through certain artists and genres since they all seem to be there for the listening, but I’m not sure if streaming will ever be a fit for my lifestyle.
One other key factor that shaped my listening last year was the fact that my father passed his CD collection along to me. He loves music and loves to dance, but he figured he was done with fiddling around with discs. As a result, I got a milkcrate full of stuff to work though. A few were mixes from blow-out parties he used to throw back in the day, and the rest were genres and musicians he digs. This includes taiko and Keiko Matsui. He looooooves her. It also includes the Blues, which is why some standards show up on the song lists below. My mother passed away in 2020, and so I also have her CD collection and I listened to all of it last year. Hearing Judy Collins and Glen Campbell brought back fond memories, but their tunes didn’t make the cut here. She also had some CDs by Emmylou Harris, and it was nice to discover a connection that we had that I didn’t know about.
Another pleasant surprise were three records I picked up by The Reducers. I had not gotten anything by them in decades, but decided to finally complete their discography. Those few missing pieces had kept gnawing at me so I finally just bought them. I expected to listen somewhat dutifully rather than joyfully, but I was wrong. Some of the later stuff is really great, and I listened to them a lot. I already have a feeling that I will be listening to more of that rock-and-roll kind of thing next year.
Like other people, one reason I like records is the jackets. Here are two of my favorite that I picked up last year, both very much of their time.
The jacket of this gospel compilation is OK. What I really dig is this girl who is not as impressed as the rest of the crowd.
I had to pick up this record because of the announcement on the jacket.
However, it turns out they had the wrong Smokey Hogg. How do you manage that?
Muziqawi Silt Wallias Band
Yegellé Tezeta (My Own Memory) Mulatu Astatke
Uurkan Kaadonaya (I Want You) Group RTD
Sikitiko Siti Muharam
Ebb Tide Houston and Dorsey
So Long and Far Away Marissa Nadler
Blues Run the Game Jackson C. Frank
Titanic Blues Hi Henry Brown
Fare Thee Well Blues Joe Calicott
Instrumental Guitar Piece in A James Hughes
Remembering Mountains Sharon Van Etten
I’d Like to Walk Around In Your Mind Vashti Bunyan
Bonded To You Bill Fox
Cold Cafe Karen Marks
You Are The Everything R.E.M.
My Problem The Reducers
I’m Not Ashamed Culture
Say So King Tubby
Hold Down Miss Winey Glen Adams
Any Other Way Jackie Shane
Southside Chicago Otis Brown
I Don’t Want to Beg Shirley Butler
What Side Your Bread Is Buttered On Diane Pane
Zechariah Deacon W.J. Mobley and Pilgrim Rest. M.B. Church Male Chorus
Kalimankou Denkou The Bulgarian State and Television Female Vocal Choir
Comments: I had been looking for The Bulgarian State and Television Female Vocal Choir record for a long time, and found it in a last “what the hell” look through a box tucked under a table. So glad I did.
The R.E.M. tune was not new to me, but had new emotional resonance and so was in pretty heavy rotation. My Problem by the Reducers features Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion on lead vocals.
The Siti Muharam is actually new, as is the Group RTD. It seems like most of the contemporary stuff I buy is from various African countries and Finland.
I’m working on a newsletter piece about gospel music. I’m pretty picky and I think I’m getting closer to being able to describe what it is I like.
I Got Your Number Marva Jones
Gonna Make Him My Baby April Young
But It’s Alright J.J. Jackson
Yallow 2 Stanislaw Tohon
Unknown Ali Nuur
Manbarani Natik Awayez
Kasalefkut Hulu (From All the Time I Have Passed) Mulatu Astatke
Baxsanow Ismaacil 4 Mars
Rei di Tabanka Ferro Gaita
Fundo De Marê Palinha Voz di Sanicolau
Semi Classical Natty Dub Revolutionaries
Gucci Time Schoolly D
Say What? Trouble Funk
Party Time Kurtis Blow
Won’t Wear It For Long Karen Marks
I Believe Anything The Reducers
My Baby Crying Bill Fox
Autumn Leaves Vashti Bunyan
Dark Clouds The Brooklyn Skyways
It’s Going to Pay Brother Randy Wilson
Comments: I had been looking for Gucci Time forever, so I was happy to find a re-release. I wasn’t about to drop a ton of cash for an old 12”.
The J.J. Jackson song was on a crappy compilation record (24 Happening Tunes! ) I got for fifty cents. “How do manage to get 24 tunes on one LP?” you ask. Well, you do so by only including snippets of each of the songs. Would have been nice if that was made clear before I plunked down my two quarters. Being reminded of the song’s existence, but not having the whole song, meant I had to download it. So the record really cost me $1.79.
Reet Petite Jackie Wilson
Little Star The Elegants
Save My Soul Jack Scott
Have I the Right The Honeycombs
World Leader Pretend R.E.M.
Tokyo Bay The Reducers
Downtown Tragedy (Young) Pioneers
Stack O’Lee Blues Mississippi John Hurt
Trouble Blues Part 1 Scrapper Blackwell
Jamestown Exhibition Bayless Rose
Bring Me My Shotgun Sonny Boy Watson
I Got a Letter from Hot Springs Mississippi Fred McDowell
Lord, I’m in Your Hand Mary & Amanda Gordon
Trouble of Mine Windell Brothers
Smokestack Lightnin’ Howlin’ Wolf
So Many Roads, So Many Trains Otis Rush
The Land of the Exiles Natik Awayez
Yekermo sew – A man of experience and wisdom Mulatu Estatke
Revelation Alva “Reggie” Lewis
See Them A Come Culture
Jamboree Dub Revolutionaries
Right Cross Scientist
Keep On Dubbing King Tubby
16.88 Hayden Thompson
Winter Is Blue (Demo) Vashti Bunyan
Early Blue F.J. McMahon
You and Me Penny and the Quarters
Comments: One of my projects last year was going through a box of old 45s I had inherited (see Scratch Ticket Radio #5). The first three songs here were from that pile.. Following them up with Have I the Right give this list an oldies station kind of feel. It is interesting that here in New Jersey the only oldies shows are on college radio stations. I guess the songs are now so old they are like ethnographic recordings that young hipsters dig.
Pilentze Pee The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir
Dark Side of the Moon Eddy Bailes and the Cadillacs
Tonight Sibylle Baier
Love Song Vashti Bunyan
Walk on By Brenda and the Tabulations
This Time I’m Loving You Venicia Wilson
Summertime Billy Stewart
I’ve Got Another Otis Brown
Nothing Takes The Place Of You Toussaint McCall
He Will Fix It Sam Williams and the Harris Singers
Lord, It’s Me The Christones
Let Freedom Ring The Sensational Six
The Sky Is Crying Elmore James
All Night Long Blues Louise Johnson
Picture on the Wall Lightnin’ Hopkins
Here Come the Blues Jackson C. Frank
Sister, Brother F.J. McMahon
Frisco Blues Bayless Rose
Cannon Ball Rag Davy Miller
Who Do You Love Bo Diddley
Don’t Ya Wanna The Reducers
Do You Like Me Fugazi
All Dried Up Bill Fox
My Regrets Grant Hart
Right On Time The Sensations
People Rock Steady The Uniques
Stop Them Jah King Tubby
Calling Rasta For I Culture
Comments: You can tell an old man put this list together. I mean, that is also true of the other lists, but here especially. The King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown LP has been repressed a number of times, and it seems like the song titles have gotten switched around. Stop Them Jah is what it says on mine, but your results may vary.
Dahier Ahmed Awad
Dja Dja Dja Stanislas Tohon
Munaye (My Muna) Mulatu Astatke
Houe Djein Nada Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou
Pom Um Grogu Peps Love
Rabidanti Orlando Pantera
Pritouritze Planinata The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir
Three O’Clock in the Morning Crying Marie Dixon
Long Ways From Home Louise Johnson
Thinkin’ and Worryin’ Lightnin’ Hopkins
Farther Up The Road Bobby “Blue” Bland
Snake Blues Katie Watkins with Texas Red and Jimmie
It’s My Own Fault John Lee Hooker
Chilly Winds Don’t Blow Nina Simone
Two Sevens Clash Culture
I’ll Give It Away Bill Fox
Nothing The Reducers
Work to Do The Reducers
Clean Kill Coriky
Jesus Gave Me Water McCauley Spiritual Singers
Jesus is Living Today Rev. Linston Triplett Jr and the Triplett Singers
Comments: I don’t usually like to have two songs by a single artist on a list, but there was still one Reducers song and it could not go on list six (Chill).
Other things of note – Crying Marie Dixon is Willie Dixon’s wife and I don’t know if she recorded any other songs.
The Ahmed Awad song I got at Excavated Shellac, which is website that focuses on 78’s from around the world, with a few files to download for each write up.
And man, there are so many different kinds of Nina Simone songs.
List Six: Chill
Jailhouse Rag Davy Miller
Delkash Kiya Tabassian
You Don’t Mind Natik Awayez
Karima Maher Cissoko
Future Strings In E Seckou Keita
Pakistan Siti Muharam
Tezeta (Nostalgia) Mulatu Astatke
Metche new Asselefetch Ashine & Getenesh Kebret & Army Band
Yebèqagnal Girma Bèyènè
Ninkaan Ogayn (He Who Does Not Know) Gacaltooyo Band Feat. Faduumina Hilowle
Love and Devotion Slim Smith
Dub for Michael Holding Revolutionaries
Dub Sound Revolutionaries
Upper Cut Scientist
Frozen Dub King Tubby
Myrskylaulu (The Storm Song) Kupu
Wouldn’t It Be Nice To Have Wings and Fly Away Buzz Clifford
Polegnala e Todora The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir
Sugar In My Bowl Nina Simone
Comments: The version I have of Sugar in My Bowl is a live recording on what I think might be a bootleg. It is a bit less polished and bit more blue, but this version will do to capture the mood.
The two cuts here by both Revolutionaries and Scientist break my rule, but I really dig those records.
Sukiyaki Rap – Tasha Lee
Not a good tune, but I’m fascinated by how Sukiyaki has echoed across time.
Arcade Funk – Tilt
Could this sound any more 1983?
Black Is – The Last Poets
So powerful, but its gravity is so strong I couldn’t figure out where to place it without messing with the flow of all the songs around it.