By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Photo by Corbis|
SCREAMIN’ JAY HAWKINS
Best of the Bizarre Sessions 1990–1994
“I don’t wanna be a black Vincent Price,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins told writer Nick Tosches in 1984. “I wanna do goddamn opera, I wanna sing ‘Figaro,’ I wanna do ‘Ave Maria.’” Blessed with a gigantic voice and an even greater flair for the ridiculous, Screamin’ Jay was as adept at waxing voodoo R&B classics like “I Put a Spell on You,” “Alligator Wine” and “Feast of the Mau Mau” as he was at putting his own demented stamp on a pop standard or two. In Screamin’ Jay’s skull-toting hands, an innocuous selection like “I Love Paris” could suddenly mutate into a gleefully offensive parody of foreign dialects; with his sinister baritone, even a relatively straight reading of “Temptation” could sound like a serenade to a freshly snuffed corpse.
One of the most fascinating characters ever to stalk a stage, Jalacy J. Hawkins passed away this year at the age of 70 without having had the chance to immortalize his interpretations of Mozart or Schubert. That’s posterity’s loss, to be sure, but he still left us with a wealth of amazing sides, the bulk of which have already been compiled on such essential anthologies as Rhino’s Voodoo Jive and Edsel’s Portrait of a Man. Best of the Bizarre Sessions 1990–1994 collects the highlights of the three albums he recorded for Bizarre Records — 1991’s Black Music for White People, 1993’s Stone Crazy and 1994’s Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On — plus four previously unreleased tracks from the same period. And while it’s not in the same league as the aforementioned comps, Bizarre Sessions is certainly a must-own for the discerning Screamin’ Jay fan. The two Tom Waits covers, “Heart Attack and Vine” and “Ice Cream Man,” are absolutely priceless, with Jay injecting new levels of menace into Waits’ seedy lyrical imagery. Ditto for “Swamp Gas,” a worthy successor to “Alligator Wine” and “Voodoo Priestess,” which begins with a choice bit of between-take dialogue about metaphysics.
Many of the tracks suffer a bit from the digital sterility of the era, but Jay’s Technicolor vocal presence redeems them every time. The compilers dropped the ball by not including Stone Crazy’s lustful “Sherilynn Fenn,” but at least they had the good sense to end the set with Jay’s thoroughly warped rendition of “Ol’ Man River.” “I apologize, I lost my head!” pleads our hero at the end of his jaw-dropping per-formance. No apologies necessary, friend; not now, not ever.
Safarini in Transit: Music of African Immigrants (Smithsonian Folkways)
Most folks don’t think of the Pacific Northwest as a locus of recent African immigration. Turns out there’s a healthy expat community spreading the rhythm-culture word up north. Once again, the big-beat badda-boom bounces back and forth between the Mother Continent and the New World, as the creeping, inexorable influences of adopted surroundings and new friends vie with the ethno-genetic necessity of keeping musical traditions alive. This different kind of Seattle scene underlines a recurring theme of art historian/musicologist Robert Farris Thompson’s recent UCLA lecture: “The point of black music is fusion, not fission.”
A dozen tracks from five groups make up the appropriately titled Safarini (Swahili for “in transit” or “on a journey”), originally issued in 1998 by nonprofit arts outfits Jack Straw Productions and Rakumi Arts International before getting repackaged and re-released by Folkways. Among the groups represented, name-recognition honors go to Obo Addy, the much-recorded Ghanaian master percussionist who settled in the Northwest in the mid-’70s. On the frenzied trad cut “Amedzro,” he does all the percussion and voices, using studio multitracking to push the trance mission. “Oshi” puts some pop in his Ga rhythms, resulting in some butt-shaking boing-boing akin to Afrobeat and highlife. Former Addy bandmate Kofi Anang adds more Accra flava with a pair of tracks that take off in roots pastoral (“Ko”) and wiggy terra-fusion (“Hail”) directions. The intertwining guitars and exuberant vocals of Congolese rumbaand its Kenyan cousin, benga, rumble through five tunes courtesy of former Afrisa International member and short-term L.A. resident Wawali Bonane and East African import Frank
Ulwenya. Thanks to the six-string sting of fellow ex-Afrisian Huit Kilos, Bonane’s “Wumba Wumba” doesn’t stray far from the party-hearty feel of Parisian soukous, while Ulwenya’s take on the collection’s title track proffers a taste of time-capsuled Nairobi ambiance. The mbira and marimba hypno-grooves of the Shona people get the extended-family treatment from teacher-performer Lora Chiorah-Dye and her group Sukutai, which features her four kids. Their version of Thomas Mapfumo’s “Nyoka Musango” (“Snake in the Grass”) re-folkifies her countryman’s electric chimurengaproverb.
Both a historical document and an entertaining compilation, Safarinispotlights a few unexpected corners of Dr. Thompson’s panoramic aesthetic vision of “a re-imagined Africa.” (Tom Cheyney)
THE DONNER PARTY
Complete Recordings 1987–1989 (Innerstate)
If more people had heard them, San Francisco’s Donner Party would have to be credited as one of the most influential indie bands of their day. Alt-country fans in particular will recognize the combination of sizzling guitars and summer-camp vocals, frank subject matter and front-porch folksiness. Yet, according to the determinedly humble liner notes from vocalist/guitarist Sam Coomes (now much more visible as front man for Quasi), almost no one except friends and family heard the three albums and live rarities collected on this two-disc set.