Wednesday, March 16, 2005

you are now about to witness the STRENGTH of th' Tofu FAMILY


We are where we came from. I grew up in a house where there was ALWAYS music playing and anyone who knows me knows that carries over into my adult life; rarely will you find me without an iPod latched to my skull or a speaker blasting somewhere in the house. It's nt that I dislike silence; it's that I love melodies, harmonies, human voices raised in song. I need music like I need air. It's how I was raised.

For the next few months, on and off, I'm going to let you look behind the curtain and see where I got this love from. I'm gonna let you meet the family.

Here's how we do: I made this mix CD, twenty-six songs, each one grounded either in name or concept to the idea of family. I mailed a copy of this disc to my mother, to my father, to my sister. I made them listen to the disc a few times. Then I asked them to respond.

Herein follows their observations on each of the songs, along with the songs themselves, in a handy two-a-day format. As per usual, more information on the artist and where you can buy the album follows the reviews.

I'll let my folk introduce themselves:

DAD: I'm your pops, the guy who set you in your playpen, put John Coltrane on the box and left you there to marinate.

I've done a lot of writing about music; particularly black music history. In 2002, my friend Lynn Abbott and I saw our first full length collaboration in print, Out of Sight - The Rise of African American Popular Music 1889-1895 (published by the University Press of Mississippi), and we're currently hard at work on our next book.

I enjoyed about half of what you put on this disc, almost exclusively the older stuff. I have to say, I'm a little uncomfortable formulating opinions about the Ramones and Rufus Wainwright. Don't get me wrong; I listen to contemporary music too, but mostly African and West Indian. Anyone who likes De La Soul is welcome to it; it just ain't me.

Before we get started, I have a few suggestions of my own for some "family" tracks that your readers might be interested in seeking out. For those with the resources to track them down, the track name is followed by the label and disc number.

1. Guitar Jr. - "Family Rules" (Goldband, 1058)
2. Silver Leaf Quartette - "Sleep On, Mother" (Okeh, 8644)
3. Golden Eagle Gospel Singers - "Shake Mother's Hand For Me" (Decca, 7670)
4. Alfred Karnes - "We Shall All Be Reunited" (Victor, 40076)
["Where is now my father's family..."]
5. Nephews - "My Old Man" (Brunswick, 6728)
6. Wright Brothers - "Mother Is Your Friend" (Okeh, 05920)
7. Alphabetical Four - "My Mother's Prayers Have Followed Me" (Decca, 7574)
8. Pilgrim Travelers - "Mother Bowed" (Specialty, 315)
9. Five Blind Boys of Alabama - "I Can See Everybody's Mother" (Coleman, 5982)
10. Soul Stirrers - "Feel Like My Time Ain't Long" (Specialty, 360)
["Got a mother done gone..."]
11. Wild Tchoupitoulas - "Brother John" (Island, ILP-9360)
12. Blind Willie Johnson - "Motherless Children Have a Hard Time" (Columbia, 14343)
13. Golden Gate Quartet - "Brother Bill" (NBC Thesaurus transcription, 1359)
14. Caribs - "The River" (Trade Winds LP, Unnumbered)
["Me and your sister / Went by the river..."]
Tofu note: This particular song is awesome and inaccessible to me. Anybody with a copy on MP3 is encouraged to mail me IMMEDIATELY.
15. Hank Williams - "The Log Train" (CMF, LP-006)
["The log train is silent / God called Dad to go..."]
16. Stoney Edwards - "Daddy Did His Best" (Capitol, 3270)
17. Uncle Dave Macon - "Poor Old Dad" (Vocalion, 5159)
18. Merle Haggard - "Daddy Frank" (Capitol, 3198) and "Mama Tried" (Capitol, 2219)
19. Shirley Caesar - "The Church Is In Mourning" (Hob, 1332)
20. Mississippi Mud Bashers - "Bring It On Home to Grandma" (Bluebird, 5845)

This is a very arbitrary selection of course; there's any number of great songs on this general subject.

Pop's focus on the music that he researches often leads to him shutting out everything except what's on his plate at the moment. I've had little to no luck trying to get him into various bits of music that speak to me (his interest in hip hop, for instance, is zero); I am very glad he took the time to address this as a real project.

Pops lives in Greenbrier, Tennessee; along the Kentucky border. He's pretty rad.

MOM: I'm glad for all my family to bring me to this space in time and gratified to know that they'll be with me on my new trips, wherever I may go.

Moms listened to this CD for something like two-and-a-half months, at work, on the road with her friend Diana, around the house... but I never got a review. Not that she didn't want to necessarily; it's just that she isn't real big on intellectualizing her emotional response to certain kinds of art. Over last Thanksgiving, I sat Moms down and had her dictate her reactions to me; I typed and she talked. Just as we finished, we received an e-mail informing us that my grandmother had been put in the hospital. The next day we flew to Portland. Three days after I had finished getting all my mother's notes typed up, my grandmother had died. Each of these entries is capped with a photo of some of my mother's mother's sculpture.

Moms lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She's a nurse, with a specialization in psychological dysfunction and drug and alcohol dependency. She's pretty rad.

SIS: First off, thanks for sending this; it definitely had some things I had never heard, and some I know and love. To be honest, quite a lot of it isn’t exactly up my alley; still, it’s always good to be exposed to things I might not otherwise consider. Overall, I think it hangs together musically; as varied as it is, it’s good listening. Mostly, I’m just a sucker for themed compilations; they're fun.

Some questions though: Why did you not include Guitar Junior’s "Family Rules"??? It must be that you don’t know this track, because otherwise you couldn’t have left it off; it's possibly the greatest “family” song ever. Plus, where in the hell is Sly Stone?

My sis is as opinionated as I am when it comes to music; she has some strong opinions and she ain't shy about sharing them. We're two of a kind.

Sis lives in Memphis, Tennessee. She's finishing a degree at Memphis University and preparing to start working as a children's librarian. She's also pretty rad.

Be kind to them; they didn't ask to play critic.

Mystikal - "Family"

Dad: There's nothing wrong with this, I guess. It just ain't very interesting to me.
Sis: This doesn’t exactly ring my bells. What can I say? Mystikal is interesting, I suppose.
Mom: This is not music I would normally listen to all the way through. I generally find rap unpleasant and I normally would turn it off, but seeing as I felt forced to listen to it all the way through (so I could give you my opinion), I got a different appreciation of it. It gradually became more comfortable on my ears and I had a realization that much of rap is an educated taste. Multiple listenings of this song (and others on this cd) have cracked the door on an appreciation for this kind of music for me.

The music sounds very strange; it's probably played on some synthesizer instruments I just don't know about. What I liked best was the chorus; the woman singing like a muse trying to draw him in. Her voice is soft and searching; the play between the man and the woman was really interesting.

Why does he keep saying "I'm from right here"? Is he saying, "What you see is what you get"? Maybe the woman is trying to say to him, "Telling me who your family is doesn't tell me anything about YOU?" It seems to me that she's asking him a lovely question, asking him about where he's coming from; but the more she asks, the more excited he gets. The man is more 'in the moment' and his voice is very scary and hard.

Something's just not right about where he's from, I can tell you that. He's obviously got some problems with aggression.

Buy "Let's Get Ready", Mystikal's 2000 breakout hit album, from Amazon.
Mystikal has long been a fave; "Big Truck Boys" remains an anthem. However...
This kinda shit makes me a little nauseous. He's up for parole in December.

I'm sticking with the difficult assumption that you never really know the complete story until you speak to all the parties involved and am making a real effort to stay out of the morality play.


It gives one pause to hype music that could be heard by a woman who was raped by the performer.

Response on my ethical obligations under these circumstances is encouraged. WSTHD?
Read this '00 interview with Michael Tyler.


Sister Rosetta Tharpe - "Family Prayer"

Dad: This song, usually titled "Don't Forget the Family Prayer," was recorded numerous times. The song index to Blues and Gospel Records: 1890 to 1943 lists four versions from the pre-WW II era and it was also recorded in the 1940's and 50's. There's a real nice version by a mixed group called the Silvertones on the Lloyds label from the early 1950's, very obscure and I don't think it's been reissued.
Sister Rosetta personalizes some of the distinctive character out of this song. It's usually done at a slower tempo, plus she doesn't sing all the verses.

If I remember correctly, I got to meet Sister Rosetta in 1974. She was singing in a small church on Herman Street in Nashville at a program hosted by The Voices of Nashville; willie Love was singing with them at the time. Sister Rosetta was travelling with the Sensational Nightingales at the same time that Charles Johnson was their lead singer. What a great line-up! In spite of the talent assembled, there were only a few dozen people in the church, which says something sad about the Nashville gospel audience of the time.

Sister Rosetta had circulation problems toward the end of her life. When I saw her, she'd recently had a leg amputated so she was force to perform out of a chair. She was a vibrant and kinetic performer, so this was terribly uncharacteristic. In any case, she sounded quite good. She kept a big smile on her face the whole time and took the time to shake my hand after the show. About three months later, she was dead.
Mom: I wondered, on listening to this, what is our family prayer? Maybe we should all take a moment to take the time to, perhaps, say grace and see wherever that takes you.

I like her spirituality; I want a little bit of that grace and I especially like her sense of family: rockin' bold and proud.

I remember seeing Sister Tharpe live. This one's a classic! Play it, mama!
Sis: Sister Rosetta Tharpe is wonderful, as always. She warbles like a bird and picks like Chuck Berry.

One of the greatest things the USPS ever did was put out a stamp on her, but I was a bit offended that they credited her only as “Sister Rosetta”. She never personally went by that name...

Buy Sister Rosetta Tharpe's Complete Recorded Works Volume Three, covering her work between the years 1946 and 47.
Nary a weak track to be found.
Read this brief bio of Tharpe (and listen to the accompanying MP3), then read this longer essay on Tharpe's stellar career.
Listen to Tharpe's version of "Down By the Riverside" with accompanying choir.


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