Tag Archives: Album of the Day

Album of the Day: Vincent Ahehehinnou, “Best Woman”

Vincent Ahehehinnou pitched up in Nigeria with something to prove. It was 1978 and he’d been ousted from popular Benin band the Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou at the height of their powers, ending his decade-long association with the group because he challenged the way business was run.

But in a union made in Afrobeat heaven, Ahehehinnou connected with Ignace de Souza at Decca Studios in Lagos, who agreed to serve as his arranger for several unrecorded songs. The result of the pair’s alliance is Best Woman, a funky mix of infectious guitar licks, soulful vocals, and brisk Afrobeat rhythms that added another ripple to the city’s creative surge. Originally released in 1978 on Hasbunalau Records (the same year Ahehehinnou left Orchestre Poly-Rythmo), this long-time rarity finally sees a reissue and master on Analog Africa.

With each of the four tracks going over the eight-minute mark, Ahehehinnou’s arrangements have room to stretch their legs. Take opener “Best Woman,” a smoothly-moving number underpinned by a mid-tempo flow of chipped guitar chords, cooly rapped percussion and plenty of sizzling brass. The band effortlessly slot into the interlocking grooves as Ahehehinnou shuffles between a tuneful harmony with a female singer and a more pleading, spoken-word style vocal. As an affectionate ode to his beau, it works nicely.

The sharp wah-wah guitars and driving rhythm section of “Maimouna Cherie” could have scored a groovy ’70s crime film with amorous horns and Ahehehinnou’s tuneful vocals that soften the edges. With its slinky melody and emotive male-female vocal harmonies, yearning ballad “Vi Deka” almost resembles an old Southeast Asian pop song. “Wa Do Verité Ton Noumi,” meanwhile, offers more offbeat rhythms and twangy guitar plucks that add up to slow-paced psychedelic wig-out.

Best Woman, now pulled from an obscure crack in history, offers modern listeners a swerve back in time to a city that shook to the sound of a hot horn section.

—Dean Van Nguyen

Album of the Day: Threefifty, “Gently Among the Coals”

The New York-based collective known as Threefifty is like a rolling snowball that gathers everything in its path. Founders Brett Parnell and Geremy Schulick met while studying guitar at the Yale School of Music and released two albums of spare instrumentals, interpreting Bach and Scarlatti on the former and playing their own compositions on the latter. Since then, Threefifty has gradually grown into something resembling a rock band, as they added new members (including their multi-instrumentalist wives) and expanded their sound from classical to folk, bluegrass, and the post-rock of groups like Rachel’s and Mogwai.

That “post-” prefix has dogged them for a few years now, and on their latest album, Gently Among the Coals, Threefifty have done little to dispel the label. Opener “Crossing State Lines” and “Andromeda” feature pointillist guitar notes that arrange themselves into melodic constellations, the band churning up a dramatic din behind them. Acoustic instruments, mainly mandolin and fiddle, mingle with electric guitars, picked and strummed to add a folksy flavor to the “The Door” and “You Are Going the Right Way.”

To that framework, they add unexpected flourishes: L.A. electronic musician Daedelus undergirds “More” with jagged rhythms, which spar violently with Parnell and Schulick’s guitars—it doesn’t evoke a jam session as much as a knife fight. “Running in a Burning House” is a showcase for New York multi-instrumentalist Nathan Koci, whose deployment of whistling and trumpet call to mind the gunslinger soundtracks of Ennio Morricone. Post-rock tends toward the deconstructive, but Threefifty emphasize the opposite: building a unique sound out of various fragments and traditions they come across.

Stephen M. Deusner

Album of the Day: Soundgarden, “Ultramega OK”

Like every Seattle band who became superstars when grunge broke into the mainstream, Soundgarden began as something much smaller and stranger. Before the major labels caught on and launched them to multiplatinum success, they were signed to Sub Pop, and then to Greg Ginn’s SST Records for debut full-length Ultramega OK. Even on that punk-driven indie label, Soundgarden was a square peg. Guitarist Kim Thayil had become an Iommi-worshiping conjurer of detuned, sludgy blues—punk in ethos, but far more of a metalhead in style. Thayil gave the band a sonic backbone that bridged the metal ’80s with the impending alt-rock boom of the ’90s. But the weapon that made them a mainstream force was singer Chris Cornell, who tragically passed away last week.

The many tributes to Cornell that have been written since his passing have rightly focused on his massive range and masterful control of his vocal instrument. Ultramega OK presents him as a much rawer presence than the generational talent who stalks the songs on Badmotorfinger and Superunknown. But it also shows limitless promise, like a rookie who can’t defend the pick-and-roll yet but can dunk from the foul line. The ecstatic joy of Cornell’s voice breathes pulsing, wriggling life into the album. His lyrics sometimes skew dark, as on the jaundiced love song “Head Injury,” but they’re written from a perspective far more inscrutable than the bleak autobiography of later songs like “Outshined” and “Fell on Black Days.”

The Cornell-penned “Beyond the Wheel” is the best song on the record, and it’s a stone-cold Soundgarden classic. Cornell starts the song in a low, rumbling baritone, but ratchets his register up to a Rob Halford-like falsetto, doing battle with Thayil’s jagged guitar. A crisp new Jack Endino-helmed mix—the way the album was always meant to sound, according to the band—makes the song’s impact even stronger. “We’re driving flesh and blood / Deep into the ground,” Cornell howls at the song’s climax, and those lines induce chills every time. Cornell would go on to be one of the best singers in rock history, but the primal yawp of “Beyond the Wheel” remains a major high point — gloriously unhinged, and brimming with the possibility of what was to come.

Brad Sanders

Album of the Day: Various Artists, “Saigon Supersound, Vol. 1”

The Vietnamese artists heard on Saigon Supersound presented a problem for the Communists who rose to power in the aftermath of World War II. Citizens of Vietnam referred to the conflict as the “American War,” when rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and other forms of Western music were introduced to the country. One Communist leader condemned nhạc trẻ, the “youth music” that thrived around 1965-75, as being part of a broader wartime “cultural pacification process.”

Compiler/producer Jan Hagenkötter has rounded up some of the strongest tracks from this era, many of which play out like mini histories in global music. Duy Quang & Thái Hiền’s “Mộng Về Quê” (“Dream Come Home”), contains elements of French chanson, a gnarly surf-guitar solo, wheezing Farfisa organ, jazzy saxophone, Latin percussion, and pentatonic melody.

Kiều Oanh’s thrilling “Đêm Cuối Cùng” (“Last Night”); Thanh Vũ’s rockin’ and bluesy “Nếu Mình Còn Yêu Nhau” (“If I Love You”); and Thanh Thuý, Văn Thanh, Hoàng Liêm, and Thanh Mai’s “Đoàn Người Lữ Thứ” (“Union of Thieves”), with its reggae intro and understated Cuban clave, represent the sort of crooning, sentimental, and extremely catchy music one might have heard in Saigon nightclubs of the time.

Hagenkötter includes one fascinating example of nhạc trẻ: In Ngọc Giàu’s “7 câu vọng cổ chúc Tết,” a traditional Vietnamese fiddle, plucked string instrument, and dramatic female voice are joined by a funky keyboard and abruptly start swinging to an unmistakably Western rhythm. If this is “cultural pacification,” turn it up.

Richard Gehr

Album of the Day: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, “Best Troubador”

In the liner notes of his new album, Best Troubador, singer-songwriter Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, aka Will Oldham, said he was already working on a tribute to country music’s Merle Haggard before his death in April 2016. In fact, “I thought we’d give it up,” Oldham said of he and his group’s work. We’re glad they saw this through.

Best Troubador surveys a wide swath of Haggard’s discography, with a pointed emphasis on lesser-known material. There are a number of tunes here that Haggard didn’t write—Blaze Foley’s “If I Could Only Fly” or the Jimmie Davis classic “Nobody’s Darlin’ But Mine” (the title is simplified to “Nobody’s Darling” on Best Troubador)—but they help fill in a portrait that Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy paints, indicating the breadth and poetic sensibility of the country great. He leads a fantastic band, roomy enough to touch on Haggard’s broad curiosity as a true purveyor of Americana—a guy who made records paying tribute to the music of Western swing-heavy Bob Wills and Texas troubadour Jimmie Rodgers—including airy saxophone and flute lines prominently featured in the arrangements.

Guest guitarist A.J. Roach beautifully takes the lead on “The Day the Rains Came” and flutist Nuala Kennedy offers tender contributions to “Some of Us Fly.” The arrangements reach toward a cosmic strain of honky-tonk with a loose, swinging rhythmic feel shaped by drummer Van Campbell and bassist Danny Kiely that feels warmly lived-in, allowing the band enough space to chime in with instrumental asides—particularly from fiddler Cheyenne Mize and fellow guitarist Chris Rodahaffer.

It’s hard not to sense the affinity Oldham felt for Haggard, a guy who bent the rules of Nashville to suit his own quirks for more than five decades. But ultimately, it’s the songs themselves and the singular soul Haggard imparted to them that provides the inspiration for this homage, an effort that celebrates its subject through Oldham’s stubborn originality. On the surface it might seem like a strange entry into Haggard’s genius, but once the observer digs a bit deeper, Oldham emerges as the perfect guide.

—Peter Margasak