March 2017 - For Ken Haferman, a true American iconoclast

Jain - Mr. Johnson A globe-trotting European pop purveyor in the Stromae mold, melding African influences with western pop. I want a little more grit in the drums on this tune, but it gets the toes tapping. Meet Jain.

Gorillaz (w/Vince Staples) - Ascension With an impeccable record of rappers he's drawn into his musical alternative universe, it makes perfect sense that Damon Albarn would draft Vince Staples for the new Gorillaz album. Staples brought his "Life Aquatic" tour to Chicago this month, and commanded the stage with nothing but his unmistakable voice and a killer light show. 

Jussie Smollet - F.U.W. From one of the stars of the show Empire. The production is a little sterile on this one, but I can't argue with the message, and Smollet's got a great voice. 

Nicholas Britell - The Middle of the World Moonlight is one of the most exquisite movies I've ever seen, and is the rare film that clearly deserves the best picture Oscar it got. To me, the most extraordinary thing about it is how it manages to be absolutely drenched with tension and violence, yet is made up almost entirely of people speaking quietly to each other. The score by Nicholas Britell displays the same dynamic, spinning dread and doom out of nothing more than strings - quiet by definition. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and watch this incredible movie. 

Novos Baianos - Mistério do Planeta Brazilian music is the gift that just keeps on giving. So glad to final find my way to this important Brazilian group. This song does so many things, and does them all so well. Starting off with an energetic but mellow bossa nova thing, ending with a stellar rock psych freak out.

Jesca Hoop - The Lost Sky I'm going to have to stop mentioning Blake Mills every time I pick something he's involved in. Jesca Hoop is a kind of spooky musical polymath. In addition to a voice that can morph in about 12 ways, Hoop's phrasing is so idiosyncratic. I've sung along to this song in my car dozens of times, but I still can't nail her cadence in the chorus - "why would you say those words to me if you could not follow through." It's off cadence just makes the sentiment pop even more. I love this album so much. 

alt-J - 3WW Man, you just never know where alt-J's music is going to go. I mean, how many other bands can traverse the wilderness between medieval madrigals and hip hop samples so seamlessly? None bands, that's how many. There's no music like what alt-J makes, and the eclecticism never feels forced. It often, as in this song, adds up, inexplicably, to heartfelt sentiment. 

Cherry Glazerr - Told I'd Be With the Guys The '90's are smeared all over this. Think Veruca Salt. PJ Harvey. Love it. 

Wheelchair Sports Camp - Scooter Pack Stumbled on this absolutely one of a kind group by accident. Led by Kalyn, "a queer, disabled rapper with a love for pot, jokes, and revolution" (per Village Voice), this Denver outfit gives you something you didn't know you needed. Gangsta tales with a disability twist. The humor and attitude Kalyn brings to this are so great, and she makes the unlikeliest connections.  "How you think the Crips got their name?" 

Beck - Ghettochip Malfunction (Hell Yes) Ah. When's the new Beck album coming!!!!!

Jean Françaix & Trio Solis - Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano I finally caught a performance by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at the Harris this month, led by the inimitable Wu Han. This twisty little trio was a standout that night. 

Fruit Bats - The Rock Doc A recent one off from an old favorite. They didn't start too far apart, but it's hard not to hear James Mercer's influence in the leaping melody at certain points.

Paul Simon - Run That Body Down Probably my favorite song off one of my all time favorite albums, Simon's solo debut. I was reminded of this during Lowland Hum's opening set for Jesca Hoop at the Beat Kitchen. Such a great lyric, clearly very specific to Paul Simon's situation, but articulating a feeling anyone passionately devoted to their work.

Bessie Smith - Back Water Blues A very quick trip to NYC this month turned up some decent record hunting. I grabbed this at Good Records. I brought it home to Milwaukee, and my dad gleefully told me this is the one he's missing from the full set of Bessie Smith compilations. Phew. Man, there's just nothing like her voice. 

Fox & Branch (feat. Ken Haferman) My parents have a whole group of Milwaukee folkies that they call friends. Many of them have been around for as long as I can remember. Literally - I can't remember a time when I didn't know them. When I was a kid, Ken Haferman lurked around the edges of this group. I knew who he was, I could recognize him, but mostly I knew his story. How he'd managed to live his life without having a social security number. How he lived in a glorified garage. How he was, as my dad put it, "A real anarchist." On Milwaukee's East Side lots of people know him. In the last few years I got to know him more as a person, mainly through hanging out with him at my parents' backyard music parties. Ken knew a lot about a lot of stuff. He was a self-educated cantankerous iconoclast in a classic mold. He could be a pain in the ass, I'm sure. The main event for me, though, was getting to back him on guitar while he spun old-timey American gold on his banjo. Ken was one of my all time favorite musicians to play with. I can't say exactly why. It was just always fun, and I trusted that Ken was going to get us through a tune no matter what. Either way, you were going to hear something you'd never heard before and that probably only Ken Haferman could ever play like that. Ken passed away on March 30th. Like many of the people in the musician clan I mentioned above, I'm grateful to have had the chance to play with him one last time recently. We'll miss you man. 

Tamikrest - Atwitas An outstanding track off the new album from these Tuareg blues innovators.