The Boston Phoenix Music Heavenly mix
My latest musical obsession is Trikont Records, a German label whose
releases have just started to trickle into America. Trikont was
founded in 1971 as a part of a leftist publishing house and gradually
evolved to a full-on record label; the dozen or so discs listed
in the English-language section of its Web-site (http://www.trikont.de)
are all from the last few years. The Trikont releases Iīve heard
sound like Heavenīs own mix tapes: compilation made by somebody
with an impossibly comprehensive record collection and an impeccable
sense of sequencing.
Take Down and out: The Sad Soul of the Black South. Now, compilations
of soul-on-a-bummer arenīt a new thing. Just a few months ago, Hip-O
released two disks of Broken Hearted Soul Essentials, albums that
cast their net a little wide, partly because theyīre concerned more
with hits than hearts. Smokey Robinsonīs "The Tracks of My Tears",
for instance, has a splendid lyric about being sad, but its presentation
isnīt exactly miserable, and in the case of Klymaxxīs "I Miss You",
itīs hard to imagine actual emotion coming to the song at any stage.
Trikontīs take on the theme, by contrast, is incredible intense.
The songs collected on Down & Out arenīt just sad, theyīre shuddering
with despair. Theyīre all Southern, blues-inflected soul, of a kind
that produced a lot of regional hits but rarely charted nationally,
all recorded between the late ī50s and ī70s, and all ruthless tearjerkers.
When Dicky Williams starts a song, "In the dame motel/I didnīt know
I was next door to my woman/Till I heard her yell", you know you
are about to get wrung out to dry. (A few songs are miserable enough
that theyīre kind of hilarious - for example Don Varnerīs "He Kept
On Talking", where the narrator hears a stranger at a party go on
about a new lover who turns out to be the narratorīs wife.)
Not too many of Down & Outīs performers are famous anymore (Bobby
"Blue" Bland is the biggest name here), maybe because they canīt
meet the feelgood requirements of oldies radio. Take Ede Robinīs
"Dead": she sings for a bit under a minute about being abandoned,
wanting to die, and the razor in her hand; then thereīs a minute
and a half more for instrumental groove and weīre done. Try playing
that next to "Dancing in the Streets".
Another Trikont disc, American Yodeling 1911-1946, investigates
a phenomenon you just donīt hear much any more, though it used to
be huge. The liner notes call yodeling "the Esperanto of the multicultural
jungle", which makes sense for an Alpine Swiss singing technique
that became first a standard of black American vaudeville and then
drifted into country music - only six of Jimmy Rodgerīs songs didnīt
include yodels, and the Carter Family, Bill Monroe and Bob Wills
all appear on the compilation. (Rodgers the man most responsible
for yodelingīs mass popularity, is represented here by "Standinī
on the corner", his epochal collaboration with Louis Armstrong ).
The most impressive yodeling comes from the forgotten likes of the
DeZurik Sisters, Chicago residents who were among the first prominent
women in country music.
And thereīs the extraordinary Ho!#1 : Roady Music from Vietnam..
Assembled by an enthusiastoc, goofy Austrian team that goes by the
name Nuoc Mam Dirndlīn, itīs an examination of how music intersects
with everyday life in Vietnam. Pure "world music" or carefully thought
out fusion this is not. Itīs more like rubbernecking at a real time
cultural collision, an untidy but fantastically energetic mix of
Vietnamese instrumentation and singing techniques, Western tunes
and beats ("Bāt Gehen" is recognizable as the theme from Bonanza),
and the exigencies of ultra low budgets (open-air performance, super-cheap
synthesizers). The most thrilling tracks offer Vietnamese funeral
music: frenetic, out-of-tune drum-and-horn ensembles banging away
at standards like "One Ship Will Come". Music about death seems
to be a Trikont speciality. (The one traditional "tribute album"
is dedicated to Hank Williams, the most fatalistic of great songwriters;
called Iīll Never Get Out Of This World Alive, it includes Hank
covers by the likes of Al Green, Link Wray, and Killdozer). The
two volumes of the exceptionally morbid Dead & Gone are, once again,
stylish, surprising, and fascinating. One disc includes "funeral
marches", most of them by brass bands from around the world but
with some ringers like Tom Waits and Robert Wyatt. The other, scarier
one has "songs about death". Some of its tracks are obvious picks,
like Billie Holidayīs "Strange Fruit", others arenīt so obvious.
The Geto Boys hip-hop scream "I Just Wanna Die" is chilling enough
on ist own, but sandwiched between tracks by Cassandra Wilson and
Diamanda Galās, itīs horrifying. If Iīm translating the Web site
correctly, trikont has also released Finnish Tango music, music
by the great Cameroonian composer Francis Bebey and the standard-to-end-all-standards,
I hope I donīt have to go to Heaven to hear them.
Boston Phoenix January