Acoustic Sounds

Features: Discography

A reappraisal of Low's Christmas (1999) and Double Negative (2018). In memory of singer Mimi Parker (1967-2022), who died in November.

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My main job is national-security columnist for Slate. Every December since joining, back in 2002, my editors have indulged me to write a piece on the year’s best jazz albums. Here’s a link to this year’s column, which, as usual, includes a mini-essay about each album and a sound clip of an entire track. Most of these I’ve reviewed either for Tracking Angle (those designated with an asterisk *) or for Stereophile when I was a staffer there (marked with two asterisks **). I should also note that most of these albums sound very good (the Jamal and Waldron sound good); a few (#1, 2, 3, and 5) sound superb.


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In 1960, Cadence Records created and funded a subsidiary, Candid Records so that Nat Hentoff, a writer and non-musician with no music business experience could do the fun stuff and be an Artists & Repertoire director/ jazz record producer. Hentoff (1925-2017), a jazz fan since his early teenage years, had enthusiasm as well as a love for and a deep knowledge of the music. He was a former jazz DJ, a former editor of Downbeat, a former editor of his own jazz... Read More

For a small third world country, Jamaica has produced an impressively large volume of exceptional music that has had an enormous impact on world consciousness. Bob Marley, in my opinion, is the 20th century's most important musical artist. Many Americans might not be aware of reggae's worldwide popularity since it had to compete over the U.S. airwaves with rock, disco and country music, but in major European countries including Spain, Germany, France and... Read More

(This piece originally appeared in slightly different form in Issue 73, the September/October 1991 issue of The Absolute Sound. It has been edited and updated for Issue 5/6 of The Tracking Angle, Winter 1995/96.)Beginning with his eponymous 1970 debut, and continuing throughout 11 Warner Brothers solo albums, Ry Cooder has demonstrated that in addition to being an extraordinary folk/blues guitarist—particularly on bottleneck—and a serviceable though hardly... Read More

Ry Cooder, in 1959, when he was 12 bought a copy of a ten inch record on an odd label with an amateurish paste-on cover and mimeographed liner notes tucked inside. The record was Get On Board by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, two middle aged Black men who had been playing blues for Black audiences for more than two decades, but now, probably to their own surprise, were becoming popular with young white people. Cooder began listening and woodshedding and we know the... Read More

In 1960, often referred to as “The Year of Africa,” seventeen former French and British colonies in Africa became free, independent nations. In the U.S., in February 1960, the struggle of Black Americans to attain the civil rights which had been promised them by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, entered a more aggressive, confrontational phase when in Greenville, North Carolina Black students, frustrated and angered by the slow progress in ending segregation,... Read More

Readers on this website might be most familiar with me for my classical music reviews, but the breadth of music I enjoy and collect spans far beyond the purview of Bartok and Brahms. Japanese popular music has long been one of my particular interests. I tracked down my first Dir en grey CDs way back in middle school, and since that time over the last 15 or so years, I’ve been steadily importing physical media from the land of the rising sun. My journey has been long... Read More

After making an impressive musical and sonic splash at last winterʼs C.E.S. (1994) with the superlative 200 gram vinyl edition of Muddy Waters Folk Singer (MFSL 1-201) and three less inspired choices: (ELPʼs Tarkus [feh!], Manhattan Transferʼs Extensions [yawn!] and Pink Floydʼs Atom Heart Mother [snooze]), Mobile Fidelityʼs vinyl reissue program sort of dribbled to a stop. In fact, the Pink Floyd didnʼt appear at the show due to a problem MoFi wouldnʼt identify. The... Read More

(This feature was originally published as “Black Saint & Soul Note Still On Vinyl!” in Fred Kaplan’s JazzTracks column, Issue 5/6, Winter 1995/96.)It says something about the state of jazz in its own homeland that, for the entire vital decade of the 1980s, America’s most creative jazz musicians were recording for two Italian labels, Black Saint and Soul Note. Both labels were owned by the same man, Giovanni Bonandrini, who set up the business entirely out of love... Read More

(This feature originally appeared as a cover story in Issue 5/6, Winter 1995/96.)Contrary to prevailing opinion circa 1967, Jimi Hendrix did not arrive from outer space. He was from Seattle, which probably had a greater effect on his music than if he had come from another planet. For those of us old enough to remember hearing Are You Experienced? when it was first issued in America, summer of 1967, Hendrix was some Black English cat who’d taken psychedelia from the... Read More

With disbelief I deciphered the writing in the dead wax: A Porky Prime Cut it read, not etched in some old Led Zeppelin or Mountain record from the '70s, but on this circa '98 seven-inch from the Silver Jews, the recording project of late poet and songwriter David Berman. Porky Prime Cut!, I thought to myself, that means George Peckham, the legendary mastering engineer whose work for Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, T. Rex, and others is brain-bendingly... Read More