SHADES OF SOUL: BACK ON ARTFORM RADIO

I was recently part of the crew that helped launch the weekly Artform Radio series that’s being broadcast on WorldWide FM. Here’s the episode of the my first show:

Tracklisting:

  • R.D. Burman: Dance Music
  • Crowns of Glory: Lord Hold Me In Your Arms
  • Edith Jones: I Don’t Care No More
  • The Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You
  • Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved
  • Fully Guaranteed: We Can’t Make It Together
  • Ahmad Jamal: the World is a Ghetto
  • Los Moskas: Amor Sin Suerte
  • Joby Valente: Tu N’Es Pas Riche, Tu N’Es Pas Beau
  • The Night Walkers: Stormy
  • Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo
  • Swan Silvertones: You Pray On
  • IA&P Co: Check Yourself
  • Sir Wales Wallace: What Ever You Want
  • Adrian Younge: Fly Wallenda 
  • Enchanted Five: Have You Ever
  • Willie Brown: Love That Stranger
  • The Ambassadords: Ain’t Got the Love
  • James Taylor: This Girl
  • Deen Dodge: Perfect Love
  • OIympia Brass Band: Tuba Fats

SINGLE SERVINGS 003: CAROLYN SULLIVAN’S “DEAD”

In this episode of Single Servings, we look at “Dead,” a single originally arranged/co-written by Moses Dillard and recorded by Carolyn Sullivan in two versions, one for the local Dallas-Fort Worth label, Soft, then picked up for national distribution by Philips. It’s one of the most morose soul songs out there, with its local version including graphic details of suicide. Even the more sanitized version is still plenty dark but what makes it memorable is also the fact that Major Bill Smith, who ran Soft alongside several other labels, ended up pressing up well over a dozen different versions, vocal and instrumental alike, on a variety of imprints. See Mark Allbones’s continual cataloging of the “Dead” permutations over at Soul Source.

For this episode, I was joined by David Haffner of Friends of Sound, the San Antonio record store that was started by Haffner in Austin.

This episode featured snippets of the following songs:

  • Carolyn Sullivan: Dead (Philips)
  • Carolyn Sullivan: Dead (Soft)
  • Edith Jones: I Don’t Care No More (Le Cam)
  • Phyllis Brown: Dead (Soft)
  • Cutty Sark: Dusty (Zuma)
  • Moses Dillard and the Tex-Town Display: Got To Find a Way Pt. 2

Listen here or subscribe the Soul Sides’ Sidebar podcast series (which includes Single Servings episodes).

MY FAVORITE THINGS – 2019

2019 was a good balance between new music I discovered/enjoyed vs. old tunes I’m continually finding via records. I find that raising a teenager helps with the former and while I would never try to pass myself off – these days – as having a finger of the musical zeitgeist, I think it’s valuable to stay engaged with new music coming out. Anyways…I’m going to flip this from the round-ups of the last few years and start with the old tracks I gave heavy run to last year. (Not in ranked order)

1. The Rascals: My World (1968)

So…yeah, I slept. I think the only reason I even came across it last year was because of the 3 Ft. High and Rising anniversary mixtape. Anyways, this is an example of a perfect ’60s pop song in terms of all its core elements: the vocal interplay is key, the instrument and arrangement decisions are lush without being overbaked, and the hook is a legit ear worm.

2. Karen Dalton: Are You Leaving For the Country? (1971)

Credit for this goes to Jason Woodbury who brought in the Dalton LP for our Heat Rocks episode. I find the song haunting and melancholy and even this city boy isn’t immune to its sentiment.

3. Basabasa Experience: Homowo (1979)

Earlier this summer, I was crashing for a couple of nights with my friend Hua and in his office, he has a small stack of records and this was near the top. I was intrigued by the title and asked about it and he just put it on and I was instantly smitten. It’s easily the best African disco LP I’ve ever heard and “Homowo” is a standout thanks to those opening synths and the lyrics.

4. Italian Asphalt and Pavement Company: Check Yourself (1970)

No shade on The Intruders, who originally recorded this Gamble/Huff tune, but this cover by the IAP Co. is straight crossover fire.

5. Ohio Penitentiary 511 Jazz Ensemble: Psych City (1971)

The best prison spiritual jazz LP ever recorded. Ok, maybe the only but seriously, this whole album is a gem. Read more here.

6. Kalle & L’African Team De Paris : Africa Boogaloo (1971)

I’ve long been a fan of New York boogaloo influences returning to its African roots and this single, written/produced by Manu Dibango, is a stellar example of the genre.

7. Nina Simone: Cosi Ti Amo (1970)

The High Priestess taking it higher for an Italian jukebox-only cover of her “To Love Somebody,” sung in Italian. I have Y La Bamba’s Luz Mendoza to thank for this since I came across it when she chose Simone’s LP for her Heat Rocks episode.

8. R.D. Burman: Dance Music (1976)

Listening to Freddie Gibbs/Madlib’s “Education” (see below) compelled me to track its sample source back to this R.D. Burman-produced Bollywood marvel that packs in four movements in so many minutes. I find the whole song to be magical but the portion that kicks off a little after two minutes in is the best.

9. Herman Davis: Gotta Be Loved (1971)

A white whale that took me a few years to hunt down, I think of this as a repentant playboy’s anthem. Love the whole groove of this one-off single from St. Louis MO’s Davis, especially the plinkling piano after “I hear the raindrops” opening line.

10. The Delfonics: He Don’t Really Love You (1968)

Talk about coming out the gate: this is the Delfonics’ first single and it’s a masterful deep/sweet soul tune. The hook is massive and shout out to whoever is working the kettle drum on this.

11. Sweet Daddy Reed: I Believe To My Soul (1969)

Came across this via my dude Pablo: Sweet Daddy Reed takes Ray Charles’s original and strips it down to its bluesy bones. So deep, so good.

12. Breakers Two: I’m Gonna Get Down (1965)

When I came upon this in Amsterdam’s awesome Wax Well Records, I assumed it was an early electro single given the artist name and song title but nope: it’s a gorgeous island soul single from Guyana.

13. Joby Valente: Tu N’es Pas Riche, Tu N’es Pas Beau (1970)

Same trip to Amsterdam also brought me to Paris and I scooped this (plus the “Africa Boogaloo” single from earlier) at the ace Superfly Records. Originally from Martinique, Valente recorded several sides for the French/Guadalupe label Aux Ondes and this B-side is a killer blend of her voice with some soul boulder goodness on the track.

14. Members of the Staff: Stop the Bells (1972)

Bought this one off of the aforementioned Hua: a Leon Haywood-produced, Gene Page-arranged, local L.A. tear-jerker that’s definitely NOT what you want to play at a wedding.

15. Fully Guaranteed: We Can’t Make It Together (1972)

One of the last things I picked up in 2019, I love how this is an answer/rebuke track to the 1970 soft rock hit, “Make It Together.” Take that, Bread!

Ok, onto the new joints….

1. Jamila Woods: Betty

I mean…Jamila made a song about Betty Davis. That’s already frickin’ awesome but it’s also my favorite tune off her Legacy! Legacy!” Those opening piano chords lure you in and I was hooked all the way through the stinger. I just wish it was longer but hey, I don’t want to be greedy.

2. Valerie June: Cosmic Dancer

Would I have guessed that Valerie would absolutely smash a T-Rex cover? Actually, yes, yes I would. The melancholic beauty of her rendition is just sublime.

3. Bazzi: I.F.L.Y.

This might be the most “Spotify sound” track on my list but if I’m a victim of the algorithm, I’m ok with that. Give me all the mellifluous guitar R&B beats.

4. Normani: Motivation

This feels like retro-Destiny’s Child and I mean that in all the best ways.

5. Los Retros: Someone to Spend Time With

I’m fine with Tapia’s general sound but it’s the pairing of his voice with Firelordmelisa’s that makes this work as well as it does.

My only knock: why is there no 45 for this yet?!?!?!

6. UMI: Sukidakara

UMI is one of my favorite new artist discoveries and I love that she gets to bust out her Japanese skills on this one. My 14 y.o. was already into her sound but discovering that UMI is half-Japanese (like her) endeared her even more.

7. Samm Henshaw: Church

London’s Henshaw is also one of my favorite new artist discoveries. I thought his 2018 single, “Broke” was stellar and this new gospel-infused single is similarly awesome. Glory glory hallelujah.

8. Kota the Friend: Chicago Diner

The lyrics here are…just ok but the vibe? Cookies in the oven on a Sunday, indeed.

9. Lady Wray: Come On In

As the late Matthew Africa would have called this: it’s a soul boulder.

So. Damn. Heavy.

10. Brainstory: Beautyful Beauti

Straight outta the Inland Empire, Brainstory’s Buck was one of my favorite albums of 2019 and this single, in particular, embodies everything great about their sound/style.

11. G Yamazawa: Good Writtens Vol. 5

I’m digging G’s entire “Good Written” series so this really was a toss up between equals. Regardless, I’m hyped for whenever he puts out some new studio material in 2020.

12. Amber Mark: Love is Stronger Than Pride

Technically from 2018 but no song got more early 2019 play than Mark’s luscious riff on Sade’s classic.

13. Solange: Stay Flo

I’m not sure how a song can sound sparse and lush at the same time but here we are.

14. Freddie Gibbs, Madlib, Yasiin Bey, Black Thought: Education

I suppose this is lab-engineered to appeal to ’90s heads like myself but I don’t care. Having these three cats flow over that R.D. Burman loop (see above) is lo-fi gold.

15. Lizzo: Truth Hurts

Artist of the year and it’s not particularly close. We’re all in Lizzo’s world now.

HARD LUCK SOUL (JAZZ)

Prison rock, blues and soul songs/albums are a genre unto themselves but prison jazz albums aren’t nearly as common. This early ’70s album is one of the rare exceptions. Recorded by inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, OH, Hard Luck Soul, despite its name, is a modal/spiritual jazz album, comprising of just four songs, all between ~5-10 minutes in length.

The background behind this album was chronicled when it was reissued by UK’s Jazzman Records in 2012; I’ll just quote a bit from what I assume were the reissue’s liner notes: 

“Band leader Reynard Birtha was originally from North Carolina, where he played in a band called The Outer Limits… [He] ended up in Cincinnati, and through a mutual passion for music, he met fellow musician Logan Rollins, nephew of jazz legend Sonny Rollins. They became friends and jammed at local clubs before both ended up in the State penitentiary, for reasons not entirely clear. At the time it was customary for musicians to visit the prison and give concerts…these visits were not only a source of entertainment for the prisoners, but they were also a source of inspiration for musicians like Reynard. He and Logan formed the 511 Jazz Ensemble, incorporating the remnants of the prison Pit Band. Reynard recalls that “the number 511 was the P.O. box address of the prison, and we would perform in the yard during every holiday, while the prisoners marched around and got their food.”

I was very fortunate to luck into an original copy of the album,  signed by all the inmates/players but what was mostly notable was that it also came with a mimeographed two-sheet that was a memo sent by a trio of inmates to the prison warden to propose the creation of “‘511’ Jazz Society,” which was a different entity from the 511 Jazz Ensemble. To summarize:

The ‘511’ Jazz Society was originally proposed in November of 1970 by a trio of inmates (Cartier, Cook and Chappell). They were fans of the “Jazz Roundtable” radio show, put together by the Columbus Jazz Society, for air on WOSU (which I assume was the college radio station at Ohio State Univ.). The three inmates wrote:

“Music-wise, Columbus is predominantly “Country-Western” oriented; consequently, we devotee’s [sic] of jazz, America’s only original “ART FORM” suffer from lack of exposure to our preferred medium of musical entertainment.”

(Is there a racial subtext here? Oh my yes.)

Therefore, Cartier, Cook and Chappell proposed the formation of a jazz appreciation group in the prison, aka the ‘511’ Jazz Society, that would regularly meet to “hear the latest innovations in this particular field of the ‘Musical Arts.'” They suggested that they would hold “panel discussions between the members…concerning the artist, his style of playing, improvisational and expressionistic ability; the general progress of Jazz, harmonically and culturally, since it’s inception early in this century.” 

They had already gotten permission from Rabbi Zelizer to hold society meetings inside the prison chapel (“either Monday’s or Friday’s… From our point of view, Monday’s would be the most suitable.”) 

On the second page is a list of rules for the Society, established after the warden had given his permission. One of the rules stated “25 members should be the quota. As a member leaves the institution or drops out, another man can fill the vacancy.” The inaugural group of 25 members, listed by inmate number and surname, are included.

Best as I can tell, almost none of the players in the 511 Jazz Ensemble were part of the inaugural Jazz Society (the only exception could be George Williams, lead guitar, as there was a “Williams” listed as a Society member). However, it’s entirely possible that the Jazz Ensemble players joined the Society later; the liner notes for the reissue don’t mention the Jazz Society at all which is curious but it’s possible that Ensemble leader Reynard Birtha simply didn’t recall the Society some 40 years after the album had been recorded. In any case, this kind of random ephemera that sometimes comes with vintage records is one of the great things about collecting said vintage records.

And in any case, even without it, this was still a wonderful find. The music by the Ensemble makes for a sublime end-to-end listen. There’s a lot of atmosphere in the sound that I assume is a product of the acoustics of the chapel they recorded it in and that enhances my experience of listening to it, especially since, overall, the engineering is pretty solid for an album that wasn’t taped inside a proper studio. I dig all four tracks but the ~10 minute songs that begin each side – “Psych City” and “Counterry Bosa Davan” – are my favorites given how they unfurl over time. Enjoy! 

THE QUEEN IN MAKING

This past Monday, I participated in the awesome “Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace: From Watts to Detroit” symposium at UCLA and I gave a short presentation about Aretha’s under-regarded Columbia years. I took that talk and turned it into this slideshow video above. Hope you all enjoy!

DAMAGE NOTED



My daughter, now 14, recently has gotten interested in the “wild style” era of graffiti writing and I borrowed a copy of Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s groundbreaking Subway Art (1984) via an inter-library loan. My copy came from Cal State Humboldt and inside, as you’ll see, students over the years have marked up the interior cover pages. The earliest of these go back at least to 1996 and the most recent have been since 2016. I suspect many other library copies around the world have similar tags but this seems truly extraordinary regardless. Thought I’d scan these for you all to enjoy.  Shout out to Martha, Henry and writers the world over. 

Damage Noted (pdf)

WE ALL HAVE STORIES

I’ve recently put Bill Withers’s “Stories” back in heavy rotation (Heat Rocks related) and have been chasing covers of it. Joey Dosik does one on his album from last year (and I love that he sings it acapella to open his gigs) but I also came across this random cover on Youtube by Emily Watkins who I think does a great job with the tune.

BALTIMORE JAZZ SCENE 1975-76

I picked up this up from a local vintage store: the annual publication by Baltimore’s Left Bank Jazz Society, covering the years 1975-76. The Society was formed in the mid-1960s to promote jazz culture and events in the city and best as I can tell, they published a yearbook through most of their first 15 years.

What I’ve included for you all to check out is a PDF of some of the pages within: photos, articles and my personal favorite: the ads.

BREAKING DOWN: “A NAME I CALL MYSELF”

I really should do more posts for the Soul Sides Sliced sub-site because…these are fun to do! Enjoy the latest: Breaking Down: The Souls of Mischief’s “A Name I Call Myself” (1993)

MY FAVORITE THINGS, 2018

I used to do a year-end round-up that was strictly music focused but as 2018 made exceedingly clear, where my attention turns is more than just music so, for this year, I decided to just talk about all my favorite things from the year, including but hardly limited to 🎶.

MUSIC: NEW

The one thing that jumps out to me, instantly, is how little hip-hop I had in the heaviest of rotations. If I were to expand things to “songs I like,” there’d be much more, including, for example, Lil Wayne’s “Dope N____z” or maybe Swizz Beatz and Nas’s “Echo” but for songs that were my favorite, then yeah, for whatever reason, new hip-hop just wasn’t pinging my radar as much. On the other hand, for someone who’s spent years primarily listening to old soul, 2018 was a banner year for new R&B. Oh god, is this a sign of middle age? Oh well, I’m ok with that.

Macy Gray: Buddha (From Ruby)

Morgan and I had Macy on our Heat Rocks podcast earlier this fall and that gave me a reason to listen to her latest LP, Ruby, which begins with “Buddha.” I don’t know to what extent Macy was channeling anxieties about current events, but when she sings “Hurry, hurry up, my days are numbered”, I feel that. I’m assuming the title of the song, “Buddha” is meant to evoke a sense of how we make peace with things as they are and at a time where everything else can feel out of control, it’s a useful reminder to just ground yourself. As her and her backup singers make clear: “I’m alright now.” And some days, that’s enough.

Also, I love songs that use voice as part of the melodic background. See also:

Janelle Monae: I Like That (From Dirty Computer)

I too like the minor notes you find in major songs.

Junglepussy: Trader Joe (From JP3)

I’m just here for songs about Trader Joe’s (my local one is the second one the chain ever opened). My 13yo likes this song too but I haven’t dared asked if she understands what the line “I’ll swallow kids” means.

Pusha T: When You Know You Know (From Daytona)

Daytona may be the only rap album of 2018 I listened to, the whole way through, more than once. It helps it was only seven songs long I suppose but Pusha, so deep into his career, has proven himself remarkably consistent in his coked-out bravado. You don’t want it with Push. Not even if you’re…

Drake: Nice For What (From Scorpion)

The Six God may have taken an L over his secret son but otherwise, Drake had, you know, a pretty good year. “In My Feelings” will likely enjoy a longer lifespan but “Nice For What” is a bounce track based around a Lauryn Hill ballad sample. Put a W on that.

The Internet: Wanna Be (From Hive Mind)

File this under “endless summer” jams (see below) but the moment I heard it, as the lead track from Hive Mind, I already assumed it’d end up being my favorite cut off the album and maybe that was a self-fulfilling prophecy but yeah, it was. The guitars! The bass! Syd’s voice! The coy and seductive theme! I’m here for all of it.

Cuco: Summer Time High Time (From Chiquito EP)

Even if it’s the dead of winter, Cuco can still make it sound like it’s hotter than July. What I love about this young Chicano singer/songwriter out of Hawthorne – original home of the Beach Boys lest we forget – is that he too makes music for endless summers: dreamy, drifting and ever so slightly melancholy.

My BFF Hua Hsu deserves credit for putting me up on Cuco, along with:

G Yamazawa: Rap Money (From Money Is Time)

I first got turned onto his “North Cack” jam from last year and that made me hyped to peep his latest Money Is Time album. There’s actually any number of jams from that LP I could have put here but something about the koto strings and mid-tempo bop of “Rap Money” really does it for me. 20 years ago and I’d be saying “G Yamazawa is the best Asian American rapper out there!” but in 2018 I think we can just say he’s great without needing an ethnic qualifier.

Marcos G: single (on the weekend) (From single)

I could be off here but in general, I feel like the overall quality of music supervision, especially in TV, is so much better now than, say, 15 years ago. Kier Lehman, who’s been the music supe on Insecure since the first season, has done a great job with the selections and this Marcos G single, which first appeared this past season, is one of those “so short I keep wanting more” tunes that I have to keep on repeat.

Teyana Taylor: Issues/Hold On (From K.T.S.E.)

I’ll step away from my general avoidance of all things ‘Ye to at least allow for this gem, where he sampled an unreleased Bodie 45 of “I Do Love You,” released a few years back by Numero Group (and, from my understanding, not licensed, doh!) to create this track for Teyana. Chop Up The Soul Kanye still got it.

The Imports: I’m Not Ashamed of Loving You (From 7″)

If I have this right, I believe this was originally recorded for Golden State Recorders in the 1960s but was never released. Ace put it on their Golden State Soul comp from a few years back but I didn’t hear it until Colemine released it on 45 this past year. I didn’t even realize it was a Bay Area recording until after I had fallen in love with it so that’s backstory is just icing on the cake.

Pratt and Moody: Words Words Words (From 7″)

Alongside the aforementioned Colemine, as well as Daptone and Big Crown, Timmion has been part of a bigger wave of labels putting out excellent new soul tracks (that sound, you know, old) that have diversified the landscape beyond the handful of stars who had been dominating (especially Lee Fields plus the late Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley). Pratt and Moody first made an impression on me in 2017 with “Lost Lost Lost” and they’ve come back with another single-word-repeated-thrice-title for ’18. This is an immaculate track, from Cold Diamond and Mink’s deep soul production to the vocal interplay of Pratt and Moody. All those above labels put out great stuff this year but in terms of new compositions, “Words Words Words” rose to the top like Keni Burke.

Bobby Oroza: Should I Take You Home (From 7″)

For covers though, I got a lot of love for Bobby Oroza taking on Sunny and the Sunliners’ classic firme rola, “Should I Take You Home.” This isn’t better than the original but it’s still damn good and I just like the fact that someone thought to cover it at all.

Joey Dosik: Game Winner (From Game Winner EP)

Vulfpeck: Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh (From Mr. Finish Line)

These two are both relatively recent (I think Game Winner came out in 2016 and Mr. Finish Line was 2017) but I didn’t discover either until this past year until I heard “Game Winner” used in a scene from the film, Hearts Beat Loud. I immediately looked it up and became infatuated with it; I dare say, it’s my #1 favorite song I listened to in 2018, this despite the fact that the lyrics are kind of corny (I mean, I love basketball too but I’m not sure I need NBA metaphors as ballad source material) but the arrangement and performance of the song are unassailable.

The Donny vibes are deep here as on Vulpeck’s “Baby I Don’t Know Oh Oh” which is the L.A.-based band that Dosik is a part of. That’s Charles Jones on the vocals for this one and he too does a masterful job, especially with all the scatting towards the end.


MUSIC: OLD

Pharaoh Sanders: Love Is Everywhere (From Love In Us All1974)

This one also gets credited to Hua. I’ve never listened to a ton of Pharaoh Sanders (outside of Thembi because samples) and when Hua mentioned he was listening to the long version of “Love Is Everywhere” practically every day, I was intrigued and once I sat with it, I understood the appeal. For one, the opening is incredible; very proto-house in all the very best ways, especially the way the piano comes in. And just the overall spiritual feel of the tune is sublime, especially now, when many of us could use the boost.

Slim Smith: I Am Lost (From 7″, 1971)

Previously, my favorite Slim Smith song was “My Conversation” but after stumbling across this one during a late night rocksteady binge,  I may need to switch over. Something in how he croons, “I am looooooost” gets me everytime.”

Marie Adams And The Three Tons Of Joy: Whispers (7″, 1972)

I’ve been scoring some of my choicest records directly from JazzRecordRoom from his Long Beach spot and this awesome cheapie came from a mid-autumn buy. It’s got a perfect crossover vibe that’s got just the right touch of funk to add into its overall soulfulness.

Millikin University Jazz Lab Band: Light Up the Sky (From Klub Studehata Tehnike Vam Predstavla, 1973)

Byron Daugherty: Golden Lady (7″, 1973)

I wrote about both of these earlier in the year but yeah, they’re both awesome.

Willie Dixon: Our Nation (7″, 1975)

Willie Dixon recorded this in 1975 but so much of it could directly speak to our current moment. You can think of it as either “things change, things stay the same” and/or “we’ve survived the past, we know we can survive the present.”


TV

Forever (Amazon)

It’s surprising to realize that Maya Rudolph has never really played a leading character. She’s been an ace reliever out the bullpen on more shows than I can but it’s nice to see her as a starter and, for the most part, bring this short series home. I liked much of Forever, especially that marvelous standalone episode (“Andre and Sarah”) though I thought Catherine Keener was surprisingly underused and I’m still not sure what to make of the final two episodes. That said, I’d love for there to be a second season but if not, I’m quite satisfied with just the one.

Homecoming (Amazon)

I never heard the podcast this was based off of but I guess we’re making t.v. shows from podcasts now. Ok, that’s cool. Mostly, what I liked about Homecoming, besides the great chemistry between Julia Roberts and Stephan James, is that the “half hour drama” isn’t a format you typically see but I’m am all for it. It helps get around one of the problems I have with streaming networks: the pressure that you have to all-or-nothing bingewatch an entire series rather than being able to digest it in smaller doses.

The Good Place (NBC) + Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX/NBC)

In my household, Michael Schur sit-coms are the Golden Ratio for engaging me, my wife and my 13yo. We ride for his entire catalog, least of all a pair of multiracial ensemble masterpieces like these two shows. BORTLES and/or NINE NINE!!!

Killing Eve (BBC America)

I went into this only knowing 1) it has Sandra Oh and 2) it was very good but pretty much nothing else. I was expecting more of a formal procedural but as the show quickly asserts…it’s far funnier and more off-kilter than I ever had cause to expect. Loved this one and can’t wait for Season 2.

Insecure (HBO)

Even if the character development feels like it’s happening at a snail’s pace — for real, watching supposedly smart people make dumb ass decisions gets a little tiring at a certain point — I think Insecure is one of the best series ever set in Los Angeles that really reps the city in a way that few other productions do. As noted above, killer soundtrack too, week in, week out. #TeamLawrence

Atlanta (FX)

I haven’t even finished this latest season yet but on GP, I expect it’s incredible, just because.

Westworld (HBO)

You can write an entire book about the flaws in this series and its various plot holes but alas, at this point, much like Lost, I’m hooked and now I have to see it through. Besides, if I hadn’t watched Season 2, I would never have realized that my new Turntable Goals involve a Pro-Ject RPM.

Stranger Things (Netflix)

I used to resist ’80s nostalgia but f— it. Let’s just do this, big hair, acid washed jeans and all. It’ll be fascinating to see what happens as the primary adolescent cast ages into the awkward teen years and someone please get Charlie Heaton a decent haircut for Season 3 but otherwise, I’m way in.

Atypical (Netflix)

This was a show that my wife was interested in and so, for the first couple of episodes, I was only catching it peripherally but eventually, I found myself fully invested. I mean, this show made me find a Michael Rappaport character sympathetic. That should be worth an Emmy by itself.


PODCAST EPISODES (non-Heat Rocks)

Lost Notes: A Million Dollars Worth of Plastic

Lost Notes is produced out of KCRW and it’s ostensibly focused on obscure music topics but that’s broadly interpreted here. This episode is about the McDonald’s million dollar flexi-disc contest from the 1980s. It’s fascinating (if not also a little depressing).

Criminal: Ten Thousand Feet in the Air + The Fox

This Is Love: One In a Million

These are both produced by Phoebe Judge and I love them both, dearly. Criminal is “true crime” in a very loose sense of the term. This pair of episodes helped mark the show’s 100th ep milestone and I have to assume they purposefully waited to drop these gems for the occasion. I don’t even want to ruin the surprise awaiting but let’s just say that they focus on two of the most unbelievable criminals you’ve never heard of. Truth > fiction.

With This Is Love, “love” is also interpreted generously, least of all in this episode, which focuses on the mating habits of gastropods, specifically, left turning snails. Trust me, it’s delightful.

Dissect: “Nights” by Frank Ocean

If Heat Rocks is a “deep dive” then Dissect is like bathyscaphe-deep. Cole Cuchna, uh, dissects every part of the songs he discusses, mixing in musicology, journalism, and literary analysis. I especially found this episode, devoted to “Nights” off of Blonde, to be insightful and I came away with even more affection for the song. (Be sure to catch our Heat Rocks episode with Cuchna, about Yeezus.)

30 for 30: The Loophole

As a scholar/journalist, I love any opportunity to learn something more about a topic that I already had a passing interest in. I’m a very casual baseball fan and I knew nothing, prior, about the history of Japanese players in the MLB and this was an incredible crash course lesson.

The Rewatchables: All the President’s Men

I joke that The Rewatchables is “Heat Rocks but for movies” but as their premier beat us out by a few weeks, I guess we’re more like The Relistenables. Either way, if you like one, you’re likely to enjoy the other. This one, which is about one of my favorite movies about journalism, is especially entertaining.

Hit Parade: The Oh. My. God. Becky Edition

Chris Molanphy does an incredible job of music journalism for each and every of his monthly episodes which explains broad trends in pop music via detailed micro-analysis of how certain songs came to become smash hits. This one, about how “Baby Got Back” represented a sea-change in how the pop charts were calculated, taught me something about about just how important hip-hop has been in reshaping the notion of the “hit” in American music. (Be sure to catch our Heat Rocks episode with Molanphy, about George Michael’s Faith.)

The Watch: ‘Westworld’ Season Finale, and the Search for the Next ‘Game of Thrones’

Hosted by the dynamic duo of Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, The Watch is my go-to source for TV, film and general pop culture analysis. They’re both whip-smart and have an enviable ability to think on their feet and crack wise. (Be sure to catch our Heat Rocks episode with Ryan about the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St. If you’re noticing a trend here, it’s that we seek out other podcast hosts whose work we admire).

99% Invisible: Oñate’s Foot
Articles of Interest: Hawaiian Shirts

This is a minor cheat since, technically, the Articles of Interest series was part of 99% Invisible but whatever, I’m doubling up because I can. The “Oñate’s Foot” episode covered colonialism, Hispanics vs. Chicanx, indigenous histories and the role that public art can play in engaging all of the above.

Articles of Interest, which was a six episode mini-series looking at the specific histories behind articles of clothing, was 99%I at its journalistic finding and this episode, about the history behind Aloha shirts was nothing short of revelatory. I hope they bring it back in 2019.

Permanent Honorary Mention: Savage Lovecast

It’s been around since the primordial days of podcasting and it is still one of the best around. If you know, you know.

HEAT ROCKS EPISODES

These are not meant to represent “the best episodes” we’ve put out (because they’re allllll the best!) but rather, the ones that, when I look back on the year, I have the most fondest feelings towards for various reasons.

Aretha Franklin Retrospective with Lynnee Denise (#55)

In memorializing the passing of The Queen there was so much intense joy in the room with the three of us talking about Aretha, especially every time we listened to her clips. It’s just another reminder of what made Aretha so special.

Phil Yu on Boyz II Men’s II’ (#44)

It’s always a great sign when Morgan, I and the guest continually laugh throughout a taping and with this episode, featuring Angry Asian Man himself, we all kept one another cracking up the whole way through. Shout out to all my dudes rocking the “eyes peering over thin sunglasses” look.

Meshell Ndegeocello on Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ (#42)

Sometimes, you try to guide a conversation along the path. Other times, you just let the guest guide you.

Vernon Reid on Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Band of Gypsys’ (#17)

Not only was this like getting a complete master class in Hendrix Studies from one of the greatest rock guitarists alive but I also cut/edited this episode myself and at risk of patting myself on the back, I’m really proud of the job I did with it.