musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Archive for December, 2016

New Orleans Legends You May Have Never Heard

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I recently picked up a compilation of 1960s recordings by Betty Harris titled The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul. That’s a bold claim, considering all of the great music that has come from that musically-endowed city, but Harris is so good that she does indeed deserve such a moniker. All of the songs on this 17-song collection were written and produced by Allen Toussaint, the legendary singer-songwriter and pianist-producer who sadly passed away about this time last year (a few songs are credited to Naomi Neville, but that’s an alias that Toussaint used for a few years when he was in legal limbo. That was also his mother’s maiden name!).

In addition to Toussaint’s magic touch, the other special ingredient on these songs — recorded from 1965 to 1969 — is the backup band; none other than another legend of New Orleans music, the mighty Meters. But the real highlight is Betty Harris herself. She was a bold soul sister before such a classification even existed. Imagine a sassy, sultry, funky cross between Tina Turner and Irma Thomas, and that’s close to what Betty Harris sounds like. Good for your soul, indeed!

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Oddly, Betty Harris never released a full album all those years ago. Most of these songs were released as singles on the Sansu label, but none were ever big hits, and her career stalled. After a national tour with Otis Redding and Joe Simon — curtailed by the tragic plane crash that killed Otis — in 1967, Harris recorded a few more songs with Toussaint but in 1970 she decided to retire from the music business and start a family. But the story doesn’t end there. Betty Harris is still alive and singing, and since 2005 she has resumed performing again.

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Also on the subject of the Crescent City, I’ve been listening to The Domino Effect, an album from veteran New Orleans musician, Herb Hardesty. For many years Hardesty was the saxophone player in Fats Domino’s band. He also played sessions and went on tours with many other recording artists, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and even Tom Waits. He recorded a solo album himself, back in 1958, but that album was never released … that is until four years ago, when Ace Records finally put out that album along with some other sessions that Hardesty recorded in the early 1960s. The Domino Effect is a mostly instrumental collection that showcases Hardesty’s vibrant sax playing. With song titles such as “Sassy”, “Rumba Rockin’ With Coleman”, “Herb’s in the Doghouse”, “Feelin’ Good”, “Bouncing Ball”, “Beatin’ and Blowin’”, and “The Chicken Twist” you can pretty much guess that this is one very upbeat and fun set of songs. Plenty of rockin’ R&B with some nifty jazz and blues flourishes.

Herbert Hardesty acknowledges the audience in the Blues Tent during his set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest Saturday, April 27, 2013.(Photo by David Grunfeld, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

Herbert Hardesty acknowledges the audience in the Blues Tent during his set at the New Orleans Jazz Fest Saturday, April 27, 2013.(Photo by David Grunfeld, Nola.com | The Times-Picayune)

In an earlier version of this story I was going to mention that, like Betty Harris, Herb Hardesty is also still alive and still playing shows, but sadly he passed away earlier this month, on December 3, at the age of 91. But even in his advancing years, Hardesty was still playing live shows around New Orleans, including an enthusiastically received set at the 2012 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. They say that music keeps you young and I’m a strong believer in that adage.

Meanwhile, here are the other albums I’ve been playing on a daily basis and keeping me company on those lonely nights lately:

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Various Artists – Urgent Jumping: East African Classics

Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracsk 1994-2014

Ramones – Too Tough To Die

4th Coming – Strange Things 1970-1974

Dan Penn – Close To Me: More Fame Recordings

 

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The Monkees – Good Times!

Cannonball Adderley – What Is This Thing Called Soul: Live in Europe

Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Various Artists –Come Back Strong: Hotlanta Soul 4

Sneaky Feelings – Positively George Street

 

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Milk ‘N’ Cookies – Milk ‘N’ Cookies

Jimbo Mathus – Dark Night of the Soul

Baby Huey – Living Legend

Michael Carpenter – Hopefulness

Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

 

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John Prine – For Better or Worse

The Edge of Darkness – Eyes of Love

The Fantastic Four – The Lost Motown Album

Sunburst – Ave Africa

David Crosby – Lighthouse

 

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Dieuf-Dieul de Thies – Aw Sa Yone Vol. 2

Various Artists – Celestial Blues

The Independents – Just As Long: The Complete Wand Recordings 1972-74

Santana – Santana IV

Dexter Johnson – Live At Letoile

 

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The Flat Five – It’s a World of Love and Hope

Robert Ellis – The Lights From the Chemical Plant

Waco Brothers – Freedom and Weep

Various Artists – Super Funk Volume 4

Various Artists – Dave Hamilton’s Detroit Dancers: Vol. 2

 

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Various Artists – The Afrosound of Colombia: Vol. 1

Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Company (Deluxe Edition)

Hank Ballard – You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down

Bill Lloyd – Lloyd-ering

 

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Various Artists – Afterschool Special: The 123s of Kid Soul

Arthur Alexander – The Monument Years

Danny & the Champions of the World – Danny & the Champions of the World

Close Lobsters – Firestation Towers 1986-1989

Stiff Little Fingers – Original Album Series (5-CD Box)

 

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Orlando Julius – Super Afro Soul

Johnny Clarke – Ruffer Version

Black Heat – Black Heat

Nada Surf – Live in Brussels

Various Artists – Senegal 70

 

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Mandalay Dining: Good Friends & Good Food at Aye Myit Tar

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No trip to Mandalay would be complete without a visit to Aye Myit Tar restaurant. Located on 81st Street, between 37th and 38th Street, the long-running restaurant has expanded to a 5-floor building and serves traditional Myanmar (Burmese) food from late morning until 9:30 pm each day.

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While the food is always tasty, and served in very generous portions, the outstanding service is what makes each visit to Aye Myit Tar so special. The young waiters are a friendly, cheerful and observant bunch, quick to refill drinks or ensure that you have extra helpings of rice or any of the soup and vegetable dishes that accompany each meal. Personable waiters such as Hein  Yar Zar and Soe Min Maung will help to ensure that your dining experience is a memorable one —-and memorable in a very good way!

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While the majority of customers at Aye Myit Tar are locals, you will always find a few foreigners and tourists dining there too. I was with a group of friends from Mandalay’s 90th Street neighborhood recently when we struck up a conversation with a couple sitting at a nearby table. They told us that they were visiting from Chile.

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“They speak Spanish in Chile,” I mentioned to my friend Ye Man Oo, who was sitting next to me. His eyes lit up. Ye Man Oo has visited me three times in Bangkok this past year and is not only a keen student of English but other languages too. When we weren’t practicing English, Thai, or even Cambodian, I would drill him on some occasional Spanish phrases. Thus, he was able to ask the young lady from Chile: “Como se llama usted?”

 

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The woman squealed with delight, clapping her hands. “This Burmese boy can speak Spanish!” That sealed the friendship, and after more conversation and a round of photos we finally said our goodbyes and headed home, leaving Hein Yar Zar and his friends the unenviable task of cleaning up the restaurant, a chore that needed to be done before they could finally sit down and have dinner themselves.

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It was another fine night of good food and good times with good friends — both old and new — at one of Mandalay’s most enjoyable restaurants. If you are in town don’t miss it! And if you finish your meal early enough, there is time to see the Moustache Brothers show just two blocks down the street.

 

 

 

Bagan Guitar Man … and his Books

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When I was in Myanmar last month I paid a visit to New Bagan — the small town just the road from “Old Bagan” and the famous ancient temples — where my friend Nine Nine has just opened up his own shop. Originally, Nine Nine planned to open a small shop and sell souvenirs as well as offering services like ticketing (plane, bus, boat, even balloon rides!) and massage. Well, he is in fact doing all that, but I also talked him into selling some books too. The result is the awkwardly named: 99 Chinlone Books Bagan Myanmar & Souvenir Shop.

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That may be more than a mouthful to say, but the shop itself is starting to look very nice and is a very comfortable place to spend some time. Nine Nine had some bookshelves paid, put some nice paintings on the walls, and we’re doing our best to stock those shelves. Thanks to my Mandalay friend Ye Man Oo and his father, U Khin Maung Lwin, we delivered another big batch of books for Nine Nine’s shop about two weeks ago.

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The only problem I found with his shop was that many of the books he already had in stock were priced much too high. If you want to sell more books, I advised, you need to make the prices more affordable. But hey, it’s a learning experience. Nine Nine is new to the book business and he hasn’t quite got the hang of pricing things yet. And to be honest, trying to determine the “best” price truly is confusing, especially factoring in all the different types of books he’s selling. Looking at the publisher’s list prices on the back cover, you are faced with US dollars, Canadian or Australian dollars, some prices in Euros, and others in UK pounds. Older books might have no prices listed at all, or perhaps an older currency that was used in Germany, Italy, or France. And don’t even try to correctly figure out the value of books published in Scandinavian countries. When in doubt, I told Nine Nine, just wing it!

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Thankfully, he’s taken my advice and is now pricing the books lower and getting the hang of which language is which. In addition to English language books he is selling books in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese and more. I even brought him a Jimi Hendrix biography in Polish!

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Nine Nine is also a musician and keeps a guitar at the shop, happily strumming away when  no customers are around, but also more than willing to play visitors a few songs. Ask him to play some tunes by popular Myanmar singer-guitarists such as Linn Linn or Wei La. I may be biased, but I think Nine Nine does a fantastic job of covering those songs. Deft guitar playing and he’s got a good voice too!

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99 Chinlone Books is located a few doors down from the popular Ostello Bello Hostel in New Bagan, and it’s right on the main road (Kayay Street) not far from popular restaurants such as Silver House. The shop is open every day of the week, usually from late morning until 9 pm or so. Nine Nine is running the shop himself while his wife stays home to take care of their young daughter, plus he’s sometimes called to do  some last-minute waiter duty at his friend’s new  restaurant nearby, so it’s possible that you might arrive and find nobody around, but you can USUALLY find him at the shop most days and nights.

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http://www.chinlonebooks.com

 

Kite Season in Shan State

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It’s that time of the year again in Myanmar’s Shan State. The weather turns cooler, the winds shift, and all young men’s attention turns to … kite flying!

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Yes, wander around any town or village in Shan State at this time of year and you will no doubt see kites flying everywhere. The kites are especially visible in the afternoon after school is out, or during the mornings on those class-free days. And the kite flyers are by no means all young boys; many men and more than a few young ladies can be seen flying kites too.

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After watching the novice monks at Tat Ein villages monastery rescue a kite that had been stuck in a tree one afternoon, and then enthusiastically set it soaring in the sky again, my friend Ye Man Oo and I decided to buy the monks a bunch of new kites that they could fly during their afternoon breaks.

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After buying the kites at a shop near Nyaung Shwe’s morning market, we cycled to the monastery and presented the bounty to the monks. Let’s just say that they were very excited to get the kites! Up, up, and away!

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