MP3 Monday: May 8, 2006

Welcome back for the second episode of MP3 Monday. As always, songs will be available for download for a week.
1. “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” by Nina Simone. From Silk & Soul (1967).
How can you not love Nina Simone? Truly an individual, in her vocal tone, in her politics, and in her general orneriness. (I mean, she shot people. That’s pretty ornery.)
Her voice always sounds to me like a war between restraint and passion, and you can see that in this song from the civil-rights era. She starts out reserved, almost blase. But as the volume turns up, the horns join in, and that bass drum starts to double-thump, she seems to wake up. Lyrics are here.
I found this on a compilation I really can’t recommend highly enough: Stand up & Be Counted: Soul, Funk, & Jazz from a Revolutionary Era. It’s all politically-charged stuff from the late 1960s and early 1970s — James Brown, The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and a lot of folks you probably haven’t heard of. Terrific stuff. Here’s another amazing track from it: “Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey)” by The Impressions. (That’s Curtis Mayfield on vocals. To my knowledge, this song is the first ever use of semen as a unifying metaphor for blacks and whites.)
2. “Just A Thought” by Gnarls Barkley. From St. Elsewhere (2006).
Gnarls Barkley, the It Band of the Moment, is the merger of DJ Danger Mouse and singer Cee-Lo. (You may remember Cee-Lo from 1990s ATL rap act Goodie Mob. You should remember Danger Mouse from his Beatles/Jay-Z mashup The Grey Album and his project with MF Doom, The Mouse and the Mask, previously pimped here on
The first single off the album is the terrif “Crazy,” which you can hear streaming on their Myspace page. But the rest of the album — which comes out tomorrow in the U.S. — is just as strong. Danger Mouse remains a very accessible producer, with big primary-color beats. And I looooove Cee-Lo. The man doesn’t rap here — he’s really a soul singer of the old school, a la Al Green or the aforementioned Curtis Mayfield. I love me some hip-hop, but I do regret that its prominence has pushed black male soul singing out of the mainstream.
“Just A Thought” is one of the tougher-minded, darker tracks, with a little flamenco guitar underneath the cymbal-heavy thunder drums. As I said in that previous post about the MF Doom project, Danger Mouse makes hip-hop even people who think they don’t like hip-hop can like.
Bonus track: a live version of “Crazy” taken from BBC’s Top of the Pops on April 16. The sound quality’s not amazing, but the slowed-down orchestral take is interesting.
3. “Care of Cell 44” by The Zombies. From the album Odessey and Oracle (1968).
It’s happened to all of us at one time or another: Your girlfriend gets sentenced to 5 to 10 years hard labor. And sure, there’s always the hope of “good behavior” and flirting with the old guys on the parole board — but it still sucks. This song sums up that feeling.
Odessey and Oracle is a largely forgotten psychedelic classic, sort of a midpoint between Merseybeat and Brian Wilson. Trivia: The misspelling of “Odyssey” was the bassist’s roommate’s fault. And the Velvet Crush singles compilation, A Single Odessey, name-checks it. (Although they were closer to being a Byrds cover band than a Zombies one.)
Bonus tracks: this cover version of “Care of Cell 44” by Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. It’s on their surprisingly good new album of 1960s covers, Under the Covers, Vol. 1. (The drummer is the great Ric Menck, founder of the aforementioned Velvet Crush.)
And here’s another cover version, this time from Elliott Smith, recorded at The Black Cat in D.C. on April 17, 1998.

livingston awards finalist again

In all-about-me news, I’m a finalist again for the Livingston Awards, in the international-reporting category. The Livingstons are “the nation’s largest all-media, general reporting prizes” and go to the best work by a reporter under 35.
This is my third time as a finalist, and so far I’m batting a bit fat .000 when it comes to winning. This time I’m up for my Nigeria stories from last spring.
Congrats to all the other finalists, in particular my DMN colleague Paula Lavigne.

crabwalk redesign

Observant readers will notice a redesign debuting today, the first in’s nearly five-year (!) history. It’s not perfect yet — the comments section on entry pages is laid out kinda screwy, there are some sticky CSS problems in IE/Win, and the new look isn’t yet applied to all the subpages — but I figured I’d put it out there. Please let me know if anything looks screwy on your computer, or if you have general thoughts.
Some highlights of the new look:

  • The “Recently Played Tracks” section in the sidebar, which tells you the last 10 songs played on my home Mac’s iTunes. (I almost always have it on shuffle, so you’re generally seeing a random subset of my songs.)
  • The pulldown archives menu, which brings’s technological sophistication all the way to 2002.
  • The “Most Recent Stories” in the sidebar, which automagically pulls my three most recent stories for The Dallas Morning News.
  • A wider column width, which makes it much easier to include photos and video in posts. And, with that, larger type for us older types.
  • A much-disputed increase in white space, which means it looks better on big monitors, although potentially worse on small ones.

Comments, criticisms, and plaudits all equally welcome.

MP3 Monday: May 1, 2006

Welcome to a new feature here on MP3 Monday. Every Monday, if all goes according to plan, I’ll post three MP3s, with a little background on each. They’ll be available for download for a week, or until the next MP3 Monday goes up.
As it happens, I’ve been listening to a lot of early-’70s soul/jazz/funk the last few months, so be prepared — there likely won’t be as many whiny white English majors as there were on my last music-sharing endeavor, the CD Mix of the Month Club. Not that there’s anything wrong with whiny white English majors!
1. “Misdemeanor” by Foster Sylvers. Single from 1973.
The R&B family act The Sylvers was meant to be a Southern copy of the Jackson 5, with Foster playing the role of Michael (here, at age 11). He even kind of looked like MJ.
This track has all the bounce of early ’70s Michael, but none of the pedophilia of ’90s and ’00s Michael. I found Foster on the excellent Saint Etienne mix CD The Trip, which pretty well defines “groovy.”
Foster now spends his days drawing. Ahem.
2. “Car Trouble” by All Girl Summer Fun Band. From All Girl Summer Fun Band (2002).
Truly, could there be a worse situation for a twentysomething woman than to have her heart broken by both her boyfriend and her car? Maybe it’s not cool to still love lofi DIY twee — it does smell of 1994 — but these 99 seconds are good for headbopping. Here’s a video for the song.
Trivia: AGSFB’s Kim Baxter starred in the original video for the Shins’ “New Slang.” Of course, longtime readers already know that. (Yes, I know I had the band name wrong back in 2003. Sue me.) Ms. Baxter also wishes she could get a good mortgage.
3. “Sun Song” by jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. From the album Shukuru (1983).
Sanders was a sax understudy to John Coltrane, and his career was mostly in the vein of Coltrane’s later period — spacier and more spiritual.
He did much fine work — here’s “You’ve Got To Have Freedom” from 1980’s Journey to the One to prove it — but “Sun Song” isn’t anything special musically. The greatness comes in the guest vocal by Leon Thomas, who alternates baritone verses with a bizarre and wonderful warble/yodel. It’s downright otherworldly.
(For the record, I came across this via Journey to the Dawn, a compilation of tracks from California jazz label Theresa Records.)
And, although I plan to have three songs in each edition of MP3 Monday, here’s a bonus track in honor of the first go-round: Stevie Wonder‘s cover of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out,” from Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Stevie shifts a relationship song to a optimistic take on race relations. I have heard rumors that there are still people in the world, perhaps in Mongolia, who do not yet realize the scope of Stevie Wonder’s genius. I hope to remedy that.
One of my favorite parts of the old CD Mix club was hearing people’s thoughts on the songs, so please speak up in the comments.