music

Bruce Springsteen – The Ghost of Tom Joad

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Bruce Springsteen has acquired a certain Dylan-level ability to reflect on and reimagine his own work. His time with the E-Street Band prepared him perfectly for this moment, just as Dylan’s endless tour affords his evolving musical and lyrical ideas regular venue in front of gatherings worldwide of his most devoted fans.

This 2014 reimagining of the song ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad” –the opening track on Springsteen’s 1995 solo release of the same name– is as much Tom Morello’s as Springsteen’s. It takes the dark, finely-honed menace of the original recording and plugs it into Morello’s amp head, allowing it to transcend the limitations of solo performance in hard-fighting guitar leads and the biting harmonies he and Springsteen find around the vocal mic together (especially the chorus “Well the highway is alive tonight…”). Springsteen’s insane vocal range and power features throughout. I honestly can’t say enough good about this recording.

Listening to this and knowing what a music geek Morello is I had to smile in the realization that this project must’ve given him the biggest contact high of all time.

Waitin’ for when the last shall be first and the first shall be last
In a cardboard box ‘neath the underpass

Culture – Mr. Sluggard

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Kingston, Jamaica’s Culture with a tune at once very chill in its riddims and un-chill in the light it shines on Mr. Sluggard.

Tell me where you get your bread, Mr. Sluggard.
Tell me where you get your bread, each time.
Tell me where you get your bread, Mr. Sluggard.
Tell me where you get your bread, each time.

Did you ever push a hand cart, full of farmers goods?
Crossing the street between truck and cars,
Blowing four inches across death’s face.

The Tannahill Weavers – The Yew Tree

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Paisley, Scotland’s Tannahill Weavers, here with an independence-minded, history-filled choon written from a curious rhetorical stance: a series of questions and assumptions as spoken to and asked of a thousand-year old yew tree. After all the tales of war, hunger, and strife the tree is suggested to have witnessed, the singer finally says to the tree…

And I thought as I stood and laid hands on your wood
That it might be a kindness to fell you
One kiss o’ the axe and you’re freed frae th’ likes
O’ the sad bloody tales that men tell you
But a wee bird flew out from your branches
And sang out as never before
And the words o’ the song were a thousand years long
And to learn them’s a long thousand more.

Jonah Moyo and Devera Ngwena – Fundisa Umlomo Wakho

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Jonah Moyo and Devera Ngwena –this last meaning ‘follow the crocodile’ in the Xitsonga language native to southeast Africa– are a Zimbabwean rhumba act that blends native mbira rhythms with a modern, Chimurenga-style social sensibility.

This track from 1987 has catchy, birdsong guitars taking the mbira (thumb piano) part and a sort of droned vocal harmony that at once invigorates the lower-half of the body while soothing the upper half.

D.O. 7 Shirati Luo Voice Jazz Band – Christopher Odira

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Featuring the deft, trilling guitars of Daniel Owino Misiani –known in Kenya & Tanzania as the ‘father of history’ and and ‘grandfather of benga‘– this track is a certain mood-lifter. Not surprisingly, this sounds as much like Mbaraka Mwinshehe: another Tanzanian guitar giant in the muziki wa dansi tradition.

The Luo People of West Kenya –of which Odira is a constituent– are the same people from whom US President Barack Obama’s father descended.

Toto Nécessité et son Groupe – O Seigneur

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Haitian artist Toto Nécessité –about whom little can be discerned via the usual sources– put a little spring in my step this morning. An upbeat production with fast-moving vocals reminiscent of an auctioneer or carnival barker, it is yet a supremely mellow groove to get hung up in.

African Brothers International Band – Me Nnye Osansani

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Something lovely just came down the wire! A first appearance for the African Brothers International Band on these pages, which seems a shameful omission. Coalescing in 1963 around Nana Kwame Ampadu, in all its incarnations the African Brothers Band was known for its politically instructive lyrics, catchy guitar rhythms and performing only original music.

The rhythm track is deft –built on native percussion and intertwining guitars– and will summon a shake to all but the most moribund of hips.

Me Nnye Osansani translates as ‘I’m not a drifter/bum.”