NewMusicMondays – 16 November 2020

No apologies for drawing both choices this week from Saturday’s Funk and Soul Show: I’ve been listening for years and this is one one of the best programmes I can recall with bangers galore, some new stuff and a sprinking of classics, all pulled together by Craig’s exuberance and love for his music, allied to a solid ear pressed firmly to the ground in search of something new (and which also pays respect). If you ever want to hear what funk and soul is all about: start here at six and go all the way up to, er, nine. And did I mention Norman Cook, too?

First up, and happily timed to coincide with today’s launch of the Beard of the Year 2020 longlist, is multi-instrumentalist The Bongolian, with ‘El Beardo’. With a groove that makes it sound like it’s been around for ever, we’ve got a cowbell, handclaps, a stylish horn motif, jazzily soulful Hammond organ, a snappy sax and driving drums. And ear-shattering bongos, too. Not a lyric in sight, and ripe for mixing, this is a theme which is going to kick off a thousand DJ sets, careers and programmes.

The track is drawn from El Bongolian’s Harlem Hipshake LP, which came out on Friday, and it’s great to see it get a bit of wider traction, too. Gid Coe, who played it at the start of his 6Music programme a week or so ago, was listing it as a shoo-in for a potential ‘facial hair special’ programme (Gid’s programme regularly features themed programmes (think e.g. sheds, beer, an annual Tour de France programme, even snooker; and where discerning listeners compete to add the most obscure tracks imaginable to the programme’s playlist) which, if it ever comes off, I can imagine one or two people will be all over. For more on beards, among other things, of course see @kmflett.

Blow Up Records, whose roster includes El Bongolian, seem no longer to be on bandcamp other than historically, but you can add Harlem Hipshake to your appropriately-named greedbag straight from the horse’s mouth.

Also sounding like it’s been around since, oh, about 1969 is Melbourne Douglas’s ‘Rude Boy Don’t Fight’, which came bursting out of the speakers and featuring swirling ‘seaside’ organ and explosive rimshots to to die for. Reggae Dynamite Vol. 2 is so new that there’s no video for it out yet, so you’ll have to make do here with a snippet (@3.28) in the middle of three other songs out on the same EP (and including another Melbourne Douglas track ‘Rudy Skankin’ on the Moon’, trombone to the fore alongside more glorious ear-cracking rimshots).

With a slow-paced rhythm and a time-honoured lyric advising Rudy, for all his street smarts, to take it easy tonight because he isn’t any badder than the other gang whose members have just hit town, Reggae Dynamite vol. 2 is in limited numbers of just 500 on Original Gravity, out just in time for Christmas and now taking pre-orders.

Astonishingly, Original Gravity – and, probably, the whole ‘Melbourne Douglas’, ‘Regulators’ and ‘King Deadly’ featured on the EP – is the work of one man: Neil Anderson, writer, producer, musician, music teacher and recording studio owner, making music in the styles he loves and trying to make them sound like originals. For all that the sound is straight out of 1969, incredibly it’s absolutely contemporary 2020.

It might be on the ‘B’-side of the EP, but ‘Rude Boy Don’t Fight’ should be on the A-list of any DJ worth the salt.

This week we have a bonus track which made my ears stand up as it came out of my radio speakers last week – but, on further investigation, is now six years old so doesn’t qualify as the lockdown music on which this series has concentrated. Kentucky-born Joan Shelley is new to me but anyone who sings with the timbre of Diana Jones (see earlier this series), who borrows a bit from Nanci Griffith and who has the dual guitar style of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings (Nathan Salsburg accompanies her here, and elsewhere) is absolutely alright by me. And the opening lyric: ‘Easy now/It’s almost over/The fever will run out/Now the nights are colder’ is fit for these times of struggle; while the setting of this video – musicians playing in front of bookshelves – is also absolutely right for now.

In lockdown mini-gig style, ‘Easy Now’ is backed up by two other tracks, also from Joan’s 2015 folky album Over and Even, and available amidst a wealth of other stuff that I’ll also be checking out, via Joan’s bandcamp. She also has a series of re-scheduled gigs in the UK next May kicking off in Glasgow and featuring a number of iconic venues. Get along if you can and support not only struggling musicians but struggling venues. Let the Music Play!

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