You know that scene in everyone's favorite 1983 lesbian vampire flick, The Hunger, where mentor vampire David Bowiedoesn't know he has aged about 200 years until some New Yorker leans out a car window and helpfully shouts, "You old fuck!" at him? Well here it is 20 years later, and Bowie still hasn't caught on. His just-out Heathen is much more daring, forward-looking and just plain good than the retro noise of . . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and all those other momentary saviors of rock. Check out Heathen's opening track, "Sunday," on which Bowie has this sort of Johnny Hartman baritone lushness in his voice while this eerie submarine music is going on behind him. And his version of Neil Young's "I've Been Waiting for You" (with Dave Grohl on guitar) rocks real good.
Too many old fucks for you? Try Punta del Este Sunset, mixed by A Man Called Adam. Despite my oft-stated aversion to techno/electronica/rave music, this one snuck in on me. I bought it because I have a Uruguayan friend and was embarrassed to not know what's going on culturally in her homeland—or most of our other southern neighbors, for that matter. But Punta del Este is the South American Ibiza, an international 24-hour party town for the young and glittery, and the music here is similarly international. But unlike so much of the bip! beep! stuff, this mix has an organic feel, a sense of place. I have yet to wake up face-down in the surf on a tropical beach with a head full of E, but this is the music I'd want playing when that happens.
Another peeve of mine is French techno-imperialists remixing African music, but the exception to the rule is Ouelele on Comet Records, which is one big happy riot of sound.
Michael Franti & Spearhead's Stay Human thrills the hell out of me, not as much as their live shows, but Franti's music is still such an open-armed embrace of hip-hop/funk and political consciousness that we shouldn't rest until the guy is in the White House.
Meanwhile, I've been listening to Say It Live and Loud by America's other great unelected president, James Brown. Virtually any Brown show from about 1965 through 1973 ranks in my book as among the greatest art this nation has produced. On this 1968 concert recording, the band is down a member or two, while the new drummer fills in on bass, and the groove is still tighter and funkier than a skunk's vagina. This was one of the first shows, in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, where Brown performed "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," and you can hear what it meant to the crowd.
Jesus, I've barely gotten through the top of the heap here, and I haven't even mentioned Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander's Yard Movement, with its deep reggae grooves and ebullient guitarist Ernest Ranglin; or former OC saxman Karl Denson's Tiny Universe; or Sideswipe, to whom I still listen almost daily; or Chris Gaffney, whose 1992 Mi Vida Loca is still better than almost anything; or The Posies' churning pop masterpiece Frosting on the Beater; or the reissue of Randy Newman's Good Old Boys; or Donovan's Greatest Hits just because; or Gorecki's ThirdSymphony; or . . .