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Priest Picks #1: Our Weekly Top 10

Every Monday, this is where you'll find 10 loosely curated items of intrigue, anointed by the Pickled Priest himself. Lots of new music, some rediscovered old music, an album here, a song there, and perhaps an unclassifiable curiosity randomly tossed in at our pleasure. So, in the spirit of Greil Marcus's iconic Real Life Top 10, here is our weekly offering...

1. LITTLE RICHARD / Here’s Little Richard

How do you listen to something old with fresh ears? Is it even possible? Perhaps not, especially when dealing with two teenage boys or when talking about the songs of someone as iconic as Little Richard. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve zapped “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally” more than a few times over the years in favor of some fresh cut from the lettuce crisper. Not out of disrespect, but because I’m too often in pursuit of something new I haven’t heard before. And then, in a poof of smoke, the artist is gone forever and one feels compelled to reminisce. So I trot out 1957’s Here’s Little Richard (did they not have the exclamation point back then?) to revisit some of his classic early singles (and some choice album cuts). And these raw slabs of feral rock & roll are simply electric, permanently embedded in the twisted double helix that is rock & roll’s DNA. We’ve heard them hundreds, if not thousands, of times. But are we able to mentally time travel and imagine how they might’ve sounded sixty-odd years ago when this music was but a little screaming baby? Back when rock & roll was considered dangerous to our youth? (If I ever get to travel back in time, I’m going to bring Straight Outta Compton with me.) Can you revel in the moment “Tutti Frutti” kicked the front door off its hinges? Can you experience the raw graininess of “Can’t Believe You Wanna Leave” or the striptease horns and N’awlins piano of “Baby” or the spontaneous, borderline cartoonish Little Richard howl in its original incarnation on “Slippin’ and Slidin’” for the very first time? Can you forget everything you know about the history of rock music as you approach an old warhorse like “Long Tall Sally”? It’s a lot to ask. The only thing I can think of that might do these killer tracks justice is to find an original copy of his debut record, or at least pick up the gloriously remastered CD reissue, and listen to them once again, but this time without any distractions. Crank them up at an uncomfortably loud volume on a worthy sound system (your phone and Bluetooth speaker combo will not do, nor will AirPods). It’s time to drink and dance and focus on the energy of these early earth-shattering sides which have now been in the background of our lives for far too long (tavern jukeboxes, oldies radio stations, karaoke bars). Immerse yourself. I guarantee you that it’s gonna feel good and it’s gonna feel right and by the time “Jenny Jenny” kicks in you’ll be spinnin’ like a spinning top, intoxicated by your rediscovery. (Specialty)

2. NATALIA LAFOURCADE / Un Canto por México, Vol. 1

If there’s any album from 2020 with a more genuine spirit, I want to hear it right now. I don’t care what kind of music you love, open your heart to this record. Natalia has been well known in Latin pop music since 2003, but I’m sadly a relative novice. My first exposure to her (knowingly) was on Musas, Vols. 1 & 2, both recent collections of great Mexican folk songs. Like Los Lobos, you have to admire an artist who regularly pays homage to their cultural heritage while also plowing their own new groove in the process. Enter Un Canto por México (tantalizingly titled “Vol. 1”) which means “A Song for Mexico.” This is a benefit record for an arts space in Veracruz and it’s a major delight from start to finish (so BUY, don’t stream). One look at the Pickled Priest home page will alert you to our love of mariachi music and this record has some stellar ensemble playing, although it doesn’t limit itself to one style of Mexican music. I recommend you dance out of your comfort zone for an hour, blend up a strong margarita, and revel in your time. This is a magical record that I’ve been coming back to over and over again. Viva Mexico! (Sony)

3. CLEM SNIDE / “Roger Ebert”

We’re Chicago-based and have been for our entire lives, so we feel a special connection to famed movie critics “Siskel & Ebert,” fixtures for decades at the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times respectively, eventually becoming national celebrities courtesy of At the Movies, their PBS-syndicated TV show (and subsequent offshoots). I certainly didn’t dislike Siskel, but I was always an Ebert guy—a more entertaining writer, substantially more perverted, and over time proved to be thee dominant force in movie criticism history (like it or not film buffs). He lived in the public eye, but he had a private side, too. Eventually, he let us see that side and by the end of his life you could tell his journey had changed his worldview considerably. His 20+ year marriage to Chaz, the premature loss of his partner Gene Siskel, his own battles with cancer, and his openness regarding his impending doom all contributing to his evolution. So it was with amusement that I noticed a song by Clem Snide titled “Roger Ebert.” Immediately my mind raced with the possible thematic directions such a song could take. As it turns out, it's the best case scenario--the focus of the song is on Roger Ebert’s last words, which I haven’t fact checked, but sound plausible considering the source: “It’s all an elaborate hoax.” Far from a tongue-in-cheek song, the more you let it settle in, the more you’ll choke up a little. (Chaz has come out with an emphatic endorsement of the song.) I hope I have this much perspective left when it’s my time to go. I hope I get to say some last words to my loved ones. And I hope they are memorable, but more importantly, funny. Nice work Eef. To end, I have to do this one last time: a big ‘thumbs up’ for Clem Snide's "Rogert Ebert." (Ramseur/Thirty Tigers)

4. MANDY MOORE / “I’d Rather Lose” & “Tryin’ My Best, Los Angeles”

I don’t remember what compelled me to listen to Mandy’s new record, Silver Landings (perhaps intrigued by her collaboration with Dawes singer/songwriter/husband Taylor Goldsmith, or maybe something has happened in society that has caused me to have tons of free time), but I’m generally impressed overall. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing earth-shattering, but I appreciate that she’s ditched any modern artifice and doesn’t seem very concerned with pop stardom anymore. Instead, she’s given us a batch of crisp, clean melodies, 70s-era production values, and a pleasingly restrained (and better than I remember) vocal that makes her songs both catchy and pleasing to the ear. Sometimes you just need to listen to something safe and easy. “I’d Rather Lose” is the earworm of the bunch, falling somewhere this side of late-period Fleetwood Mac, and it also has a good message; “If the only way to win is by breaking all the rules, I’d rather lose.” (Inspired by a Monopoly disagreement in the Moore/Goldsmith household?) Also worth a spin is “Tryin’ My Best, Los Angeles” another great song about life in L.A. that you didn’t know you still needed. (Verve Forecast)

5. BAXTER DURY / The Night Chancers

On my radar since the hilarious “Miami” single from his 2017 record Prince of Tears (favorite lyric: “I don’t think you know who I am/I’m the sausage man/The shadow licker”), Baxter Dury, son of British icon Ian Dury (of the Blockheads and “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll”/“Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick” fame), is back with a stellar record that should officially move him out of his famous dad’s shadow, if the last one didn't already. A definite Streets vibe (albeit a middle-aged version) persists as a full slate of character sketches, great turns of phrase, and stylish arrangements unfolds, and there’s enough quotable moments to get you through another couple months of sequestration (including “Scary people saying stupid shit” from “Slumlord” which sounds to me like the White House Coronavirus briefings theme song). This is a thematic experience which you’ve got to experience to appreciate in total, so take the time and you will be rewarded. And, someday, see him live, too, because he’s got the perfect concert (and album) closer in “Say Nothing,” which ends with a minute-long “Baxter loves you” coda sung solely by his background singers (Baxter presumably already in the limo at this point). I look forward to that day. It will be a magical moment if we ever get out of the house and into a concert venue again. (Rough Trade)

6. SWAMP DOGG & JOHN PRINE / “Memories” & “Please Let Me Go Round Again”

From the fine new Swamp Dogg record Sorry You Couldn’t Make It comes a pair of sweet duets with John Prine, both capable of draining a tear or two. “Please Let Me Go Round Again” is a doublewide plea for another chance to get life right (and I vote we grant their wish, although if anybody got life right in the end, it was John Prine). “Memories” is hard to sit through without a total breakdown. It takes 20 seconds for Prine to bring the waterfalls, “Memories/Don’t leave like people do/And that’s why anytime, anywhere/I could still be with you.” Buckets, people, buckets. (Joyful Noise)

7. NICK CAVE / “Cosmic Dancer” & The Red Hand Files

Darling Nicky’s contribution to the upcoming T. Rex project Angelheaded Hipster: The Songs of Marc Bolan & T.Rex (due in September) is the perfect choice—you could say the song picked him and not the other way around—one of Electric Warrior’s most Cave-esque tracks. You can download it now. And, if you haven’t yet, subscribe to Nick’s Q&A project The Red Hand Files. Intelligent, deep, and highly complex answers to a vast array of questions and requests from “Tell us a joke” to “What do we do now?” to “How do I grieve for my recently deceased child?” (paraphrased). The answers will often restore your faith in humanity and at the very least they’ll make you rethink your time on this mortal coil. (BMG)

8. LANZÒN / “Mexican Dracula”

No mixtape (or, begrudgingly, playlist) is complete without an instrumental suitable for a little late night prowling (you think “Mexican Dracula” comes out in the daytime?). This drum and Casio low-grade freakout is just the catalyst you’ll need for a few intentional wrong turns. The side project of Califone veterans Jim Becker and Joe Adamik, two of the least surprising Iron & Wine collaborators of all-time (see photo), it’s clearly time to start letting more of their lab experiments see the light of day. (Hippo Machine.)

9. KILLER KIN / Bad, Bad Minds! EP

Back in the day, I used to write my own very limited distribution music zine called Madcap. In one issue, I wrote a cover article about the growing number of killer new ultra-raunchy garage rock bands at the time (The Makers, Chrome Cranks, Cheater Slicks, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Revelators, The Drags, Nashville Pussy, et al). If a band was on a label like Estrus, Crypt, Sympathy for the Record Industry, In the Red, Norton, etc. I was ready and willing to sacrifice my ears for garage nation. I ate it up then, and I still crave it today. This is a long lead to my point. I’ve found another band with that greasy, deep-fried garage sound by the name of Killer Kin, from the degenerate cesspool known as New Haven, Connecticut (home of Yale university!) No matter, the EP rips and struts convincingly and promises a dark, nasty future! Even better, the opening song is also the band’s de facto theme song, “Here Come the Killers,” locked in as the first song on their setlist for perpetuity. And then, without so much as a gasp for breath, it segues into the smarmy “Snake Oil.” From then on we’re off the drag races. Hold on tight and fire up the trash! (self-released)

10. HORSE LORDS / The Common Task

Pitchfork gave this experimental Baltimore band’s new record a 7.8 so you know it’s killer. The 7.5 - 7.9 range is my sweet spot with them—bands not cool enough to tout as this year’s top model (via the “coveted” Best New Music designation), but too good to ignore just in case the band blows up without their support. Anything higher than 7.9 makes me suspicious of their motives. And make no mistake, they have motives. Personally, I was sold by “The Radiant City,” the album’s shortest track, which incorporates bagpipes and a 56k modem into its sonic palette. But what really put me over the top was the collective unpredictability of “Fanfare for Effective Freedom” and the slow build (is there any other choice?) of 18-minute closer “Integral Accident.” Like the rest of this instrumental-only session, the twists, turns, and cyclical themes are disorienting in a hallucinogenic way. And that’s what we have here—a strobe-like swirl into a rabbit hole with unknown destination. It’s best to accept it for what it is and follow it to wherever it’s going. This is music for a new mindset—not for the unadventurous. And that’s exactly what I need right now. (Northern Spy)


Cheers til next week,

The Priest

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