"Listen, Whitey!" by Pat Thomas (Fantagraphics Books)
Though records are still released in limited fashion, the girth that created such a pastime as record collecting has been gone for a long, long time.
While the surface implications of what is lost might not be huge to the many people who point out the huge amount of music available on demand these days, those who participated in the pursuit can tell you it was never just about hearing things. Record collecting was an activity, a hunt, it was a game you played with reality in order to unearth pieces of information that, when they joined the other pieces of information you had procured, told a wider story.
Record collecting was an engagement with mystery.
Thomas understands this and his book, "Listen Up, Whitey," which documents the pieces -- both lauded and obscure -- of the recording element within the Black Power movement of the 1960s and ‘70s.
The book itself isn't literally about record collecting and doesn't often say much about the pursuit of the titles discussed within, but the air of discovery permeates the work and functions as the guiding principle of the knowledge passed along, as well as the origin of some of the investigation.
Relating the history of the Black Power movement -- easily obscure knowledge to most 21st-century white people -- Thomas winds through the back catalogs and record store bins that include not only music releases by the likes of Gil Scott-Heron, Charles Min gus, Pharoah Sanders and a host of more obscure artists, but also poetry titles by collectives like The Last Poets and speech recordings by Stokely Carmichael, Bill Cosby, H. Rap Brown, Angela Davis, and others, documentary recordings like "Guess Who's Com ing Home," which featured interviews with black soldiers serving in Vietnam, religious records by the Rev, C.L. Frank lin, and much more.
In one of the most fascinating chapters, Thomas reveals all the existing recordings of the actual Black Panthers leadership like Bobby Seale, Elaine Brown, Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton. Another equally mesmerizing section dissects the output of the Black Forum label, Motown's politically themed subsidiary.
Nowadays, revolutions are easy to track -- you just Google them. But back in the 1970s, LPs became dispatches from the front that people could play in their homes, or on local radio stations, to gauge how the rest of the world was approaching the political that was so personal to them.
These small discs were part of the overall effort that allowed African Americans to get real information about the Black Power Movement, to let them know they weren't alone, to show them ways to be involved, to stoke ideas and energy, and to provide catharsis. Thomas mines this territory to construct a richly illustrated history of a time when revolution was damn hard, and it left reminders that it once existed.
-- John Seven
"Mount Carmel" - Real Women (Siltbreeze Records)
Good news ex-hippies and fans of Cream-style classic geetar rock: Your music is alive, well and being released in 2012 with as much mojo as ever.
The new record "Real Women" by Mount Carmel is a pure joy. Sadness only comes in thinking about how many summer parties and barbecues it won't be played at this year.
"Real Women" is a lean nine cuts of electric guitar mastery, not a loser among them. Matthew Reed, on vocals and lead guitar, is both student and innovator. Possessing the holy triumvirate of classic rock gifts -- riffs, a great voice and spot-on delivery -- the dude's also clearly listened to his fair share of CCR, which helps.
The record is classic workingman's blues: Unpreten tious, con fident without being flashy, and smooth as buttercream. Reed drops in "yeahs" after verses like Robert Plant calls out to "baby," while the band locks into comfortable, guitar-driv en grooves liable to move reg ular jeans, work-stained jeans, ripped jeans and mom jeans alike. I literally cannot think of a group of humans this wouldn't appeal to. Best of all for people like me: Not a hint of fraudulence. And that's something.
Call me cynical, but I didn't think one could still make music like this without sounding affected and lame. Like the White Stripes. Or the Black Keys. Strokes. OK, stopping.
Mount Carmel are familiar yet fresh, firmly within a tradition yet all their own, devoid of both ego and "garage (rawk) revival" posturing -- and cool, of course. Some bands try to sound a particular way, while others, like Mount Carmel, just are -- and the good ones always just are. "Real Women" feels both genuine and timeless, a throwback, but new. If it was around when I was a kid and in my father's collection, which is totally imaginable, I'd have jacked it, brought it to a friend's house and felt awesome while it played. It's that sort.
Heads would explode in the offices of "alternative"-to-main stream music publications nationwide if this were to some how get discovered, and cranked up. I suspect many-a-reviewer would want back many-a-fawning-review written for the other aforementioned gar(b)age bands.
Folks, this is how it's done.
Somewhere there exists a parallel universe where Bobby Kennedy is prez, these guys are gods, and Jack White slogs the Detroit bar belt, forevermore to play dispirited Stones covers. I just know it.
-- Phil Demers