Music

Mac Arnold: Nothin to Prove

Veteran Muddy Waters bassist Arnold can sing and lead a blues band, and very well too.


Mac Arnold

Nothin' to Prove

Label: Plantation #1
US Release Date: 2005-04-01
UK Release Date: 2006-02-14
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It might seem like some old blues band sidemen are being trotted out to front sets by younger people, as if with a daft idea of handing on a torch, given that one month brought me a CD by the sometime Muddy Waters drummer Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith and this disc by his sometime bass guitarist. Comparisons aren't invariably invidious. Sometimes they're important. Here they're not, except in relation to other blues records, and if Smith's set overall has the edge over Arnold's, edge is the word. This is substantial stuff, with oomph and energy in plentiful supply.

There are no claims as to Mac Arnold's singing pedigree, but the guy knows what he's doing. Few people had the instrumental talent of Johnny Young, amazing on guitar and mandolin, but he was never more than an entirely competent singer. Lawd, that man could make an unexciting album. Arnold here hasn't. He storms in with a rocking number, one that allows Austin Brashier to show what a powerful blues guitarist he is, and he sets a solid pace for what's to come.

Track five, "Get Back to the Country", has Max Hightower's very able harmonica, not for the first time on this CD, with only Rudy Wyatt's powerful piano in accompaniment. This is the first slower number, and Wyatt manages to sound more consistently like an older blues pianist than on earlier tracks with Brashier. He's certainly up with, for instance, Dave Alexander, even Lafayette Leake, though at odd times in the earlier accompaniments he slips into more schooled and jazzy rather than blues phrases. But even this slow blues isn’t quiet, Arnold sounding throughout on the edge of being a blues shouter.

With Wyatt playing organ quietly, "Ghetto Blues" (which isn't a blues) moves more toward the sort of Soul/R&B that, for instance, Buddy Guy only ever brushed by in passing. This is a song of reminiscence, mentioning a couple of lesser known bluesmen Arnold hung around with, as well as Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. "Going Back Home" also leans in a more modern direction, with harmonic changes and a song structure alien to anything Waters did. It's amazing how the musicians adjust, playing exclusively licks you might hear on Muddy Waters band records, but able by dint of musical sophistication to arrange them in the sort of structures B.B. King was able to encompass only with his longtime wonted organ-tenor band. "The Truth" is, however, a stomping blues-pop song of the sort Howlin' Wolf recorded. Arnold's not Wolf, but he does have a powerful voice, thickened by much use but never faltering. On "She's So Mean to Me" it's splendid to hear Arnold on bass guitar for the only time in this set. Hightower does a bit of Sonny Boy Williamson on harmonica, Brashier is good as ever, and Arnold's healthy bellowing follows a line laid down by Buddy Guy. The voice is very different, but without Guy's tenor and falsetto the phrasing's similar. Brashier certainly has an edge like Guy's, without the wild fight between fingers and strings. Pretty damned good, to put the matter with as little use or need of subtlety as there is on this set -- other than on Hightower's part, notably in the tender instrumental passage he plays with Austin's guitar and that nice bass on this number . Almost nine minutes long, this one, concluding with a Brashier solo on which he demonstrates how far Guy's sort of note bending with fingers drew on slide models.

Hightower is the one to play slide guitar on this set's final track, a Part 2 of "Back to the Country" described as "live". The slide guitar is amplified, and in a style closer to Son House than Robert Johnson or indeed Muddy. As on most of these titles, Mark McMakin plays bass guitar, Mike Whitt is the solid drummer, and here Austin Brashier plays a second guitar part for which the phrase "rhythm guitar" is a misnomer. Arnold is in hoarser voice, and vocally this is probably the standout track, along with "She's So Mean to Me". Not everything's quite up to that standard, but placed beside blues albums made when Arnold was playing with Muddy Waters, this one wouldn't disgrace itself. I've a feeling that reservations would have been expressed in those days about an album by a second rank performer with a younger white band. I presume Arnold's gifts are more considerable than then, and I can't think he would easily have found a bunch of white guys in the same class at that time. There's a thread of the overheated, sometimes hysterical, and sometimes exhibitionistic in the music of the first and famous generation of white youths who tried to play blues. Eric Clapton? Well, yes. It's a problem having something to prove.

7

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

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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