John McVicker: My Top Tunes Of ’12

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Baloji, Kinshasa Succursale (Crammed Discs, 2011): Baloji was born in Congo but raised in Belgium. His music melds European hip-hop with the grand tradition of Congolese Afropop. C'est super-cool!

Chuck Brown, We're About the Business (Raw Venture, 2007): Chuck Brown passed this past year without gaining much fame outside Washington D.C. for his take on funk, which he called go-go. We're About the Business is a good introduction to the man.

Bob Dylan, Tempest (Columbia, 2012): Some complain that the old guy has lost his voice. Huh? This is the same singer whose voice my father-in-law once commented resembled that of a man who'd "swallowed a rake." Still, it's fun to hear him talkin' to the grim reaper, having a sort of fun doing it.

Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford, Spark (Palmetto, 2007): Ehrlich on reeds and Melford on piano deliver a tasty dose of gospel-inflected experimental jazz. You'll like it.

Dan Penn, The Fame Recordings (Ace import, 2012): If you like old soul from Aretha, Percy Sledge, James & Bobby Purify and a gang of others, you'll go for this collection. Dan Penn was a house songwriter at Muscle Shoals' FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios, and the legendary demos he and the house band recorded have finally been released. Hallelujah!

Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch, 2009): Toussaint, main-man producer of New Orleans R&B classics from The Meters, Lee Dorsey and Dr. John, put together a band comprising himself on piano and some very nice downtown NYC jazz players to cover jazz standards from all over (e.g., Ellington, Bechet, Django and the ever-popular Traditional). It's a ton of fun.

The Unthanks, Here's The Tender Coming (Rough Trade, 2010): Have you ever noticed the wonders that harmony-singing siblings–the Boswell sisters, the Everly Brothers and the Remnant brothers, for instance–can work on a tune? Here are another pair for you; Unthank is actually Rachel's and Becky's family name, and they sing a wonderful combination of the Grand British Folk Tradition and British Art Rock.

Various Artists, Ayobaness: The Sound of South African House (Out Here Records, 2010): What we've got here is total overload on drum machines, Casio synths and chanted vocal choruses, all played loud and fast and all informed by that South African groove that's been putting folks on the dance floor since before I was born. Party down!

Various Artists, Sweet Inspiration: The Songs of Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham (Ace import, 2011): Percy Sledge, Dionne Warwick, The Sweet Inspirations, Charlie Rich, Etta James, The Box Tops, Ronnie Milsap and Solomon Burke–among others–do songs from Penn (see above) and keyboard demigod Spooner Oldham.

John Zorn, Mount Analogue (Tzadik, 2012): Zorn's tribute to/channelling of mystic GI Gurdjieff is a short 38-minute suite that's packed with just about a ton of musical threads, played by a small group featuring the tones and textures of three percussionists (Cyro Baptista, Tim Keiper and especially Kenny Wolleson on vibes and chimes), piano (Brian Marsella), and the extraordinary Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on Bass, Oud, and (??) Gimbri.

Since retiring from Ohio University, where he'd taught English as a second language since the mid-1980s, John McVicker has divided his time between chasing neighborhood kids off his precious front lawn, painting pretty pictures and adjuncting at OU.