Reviews

Louis Jordan: Films and Soundies [DVD]

Peter Su

Louis Jordan

Films and Soundies [DVD]

Label: Music Video Distributors
US Release Date: 2004-03-23
UK Release Date: 2004-04-13
Amazon
iTunes

This DVD is the real thing: 35 Louis Jordan songs collected together, all full-length (no medleys or incomplete clips) and all with clear, static-free audio quality. It doesn't have extras like interviews or a biography and the picture quality, especially in the 10 songs from Peet, Petite and Gone could be better, but this is still a bargain for any Louis Jordan fan. And, since so many of the trademark songs are included ("Five Guys Named Moe", "Let the Good Times Roll", "G.I. Jive," and "Caldonia" -- all are here), it makes a great introduction for the uninitiated. After all, these 35 songs cover more than 90 minutes of Jordan's best, more than any single CD could hold, and you can then get any of his CD compilations without worrying about buying the same product twice.

Louis Jordan was one of the most commercially successful -- perhaps most commercially successful -- black artists of his generation. From 1942 to 1951, he notched 57 hits on the R&B charts. It was this success that allowed him to appear and even headline some feature films (Kind of like Crossroads, the one where Britney Spears doesn't strike a deal with Mr. Scratch), leaving behind a large body of professionally filmed performances which are now compiled here. The downside, I guess, is that these performances are synched, sometimes fairly obviously when the lips are perfectly cued with the words. The upshot is that the sound quality is uniformly high and that the performances allow Jordan to run through his full gamut of showman's tricks instead of being anchored around a microphone.

And, with Louis Jordan, showmanship counts for a lot. He was the pre-rock Chuck Berry, a great songwriter and performer and musical innovator who made a virtue out of accessible jive and who cast a sly, fond eye at the fun and foibles of the commonplace. As a musician, he wed beat-driven blues (Fittingly, "You Gotta Have the Beat" starts things off here) with the swinging horns and rhythms of jazz, perfecting the party-perfect concoction known as jump blues, one that would have a profound influence on everyone from Big Joe Turner to B. B. King, from Chuck Berry to James Brown. As a lyricist, he carved out a niche somewhere between the romance and dense wordplay of Tin Pan Alley pop and the more explicitly sexual come-ons of blues. And then he sang, spoke, and shouted these lyrics, lyrics filled with rapid-fire rhymes, puns, and allusions, a style that was half-Chuck Berry and half-Muhammad Ali, though it predated both, just as it predated rap. Songwriter, musician, singer, performer, synthesizer of influences and harbinger of the future. He was even a commercial smash who was prolific to boot: Louis Jordan had it all.

Even given the bleached video quality of some of the clips and the synched performances, I just can't find anything bad to say about this DVD and mean it. The video quality, even at its worst, is instantly recognizable. And, throughout, the original films have been digitally enhanced and cleared of scratches and spots. Complaining about the performances being synched would be like making the same accusation about music videos -- so what? Especially with dancers and sets and props, including different sets of female legs swinging saucily to the music in "Wham, Sam (Dig Them Gams)", the artifice, like that on a theater stage or -- ahem -- movie set, is part of the performance. And the music driving these performances is all of a piece in the best sense. A consistent style runs through the songs even as each individual song is recognizably different from the others in melody, beat, and lyric. The pleasure of being thrilled by familiar elements newly rearranged should be one familiar to any rock or blues fan, a pleasure that they'll get here once they get with Jordan's groove. In short, this DVD of great single songs even has that elusive magic of overall flow. If it lacks easter eggs and other little extras, it more than makes up for those with the main (and only) feature. For the quality and sheer watchability of what you're actually paying to get, this music DVD, like Jordan, has it all.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image