This one needs a little backstory...I started music blogging at the website MOG.com a little over four years ago. It was my first experience with any kind of on line community and the connections (internet and live) that got made in the beta times of the site were very tight. After being on the site for a year we lost one of our most respected bloggers to a sudden illness. His name was Crash Pryor and he should be checked. I never thought the bonds I formed on the site would effect me so much, but it was very difficult to post for awhile. Chocolate Genius was the record that finally got me to move on.
The album is now out of print (81.25 for a new copy on Amazon, but $2 bucks for used-are CD's that collectible?), but it is most definitely worth your time.
It's funny, I was thinking about this post, and just this morning my wife- the ultimate random listener, because she lets me load her ipod- came to me and said, "You know, music can be very therapeutic, I haven't been listening on the way to work lately, but that Marvin Gaye song (Pride and Joy) really got me back on track."
Lately folks have been turning to MOG for solace through song. Hitting an emotional rough patch and sharing it on line is a brave thing to do, and supplying musical pick-me-ups in posts and mix tapes is a huge part of MOG. I've lost track of the numbers of incoming and outgoing packages that I've been involved in. For a music junkie there is nothing quite so cool as getting mixes in the mail, so thanks for that MOG.
I could have used MOG in 1998, because I was musically self-medicating for depression at the time. Now, I can see how folks in a bad way would be drawn to upbeat, uplifting tunes, but when I'm low I sometimes look for somebody in the same situation. Chocolate Genius-Black Music was the soundtrack to my sorrow back then, and after listening back this week, the album remains a personal, moving, and detailed look at a man on the edge.
Half A Man
When I first received the record as a promo, I was intrigued by a couple of things. For starters, the cover and CD art (though once you hear the music they make perfect sense), don't give away what's inside. After seeing them, I wanted to know more, so I checked out the booklet. Further interest ensued when I saw that the musicians on the record included, Chris Wood and John Medeski (from my favorite law firm name sounding jazz,funk,jam band, Medeski,Martin, and Wood), as well as, Tom Waits collaborator Marc Ribot. So basically, we had the cream of downtown New York working with the songs of this cat, Marc Anthony Thompson. The biggest mystery was: Who is Marc Anthony Thompson? And why are all these cool cats playing with him. Turns out he's a singer- songwriter from NYC who had 2 prior records out under his real name on major labels.
Why had I never heard them? Because Mr.Thompson is an excellent songwriter who can be pinned down to no one style and he's black. Did major labels know what to do with his music in 1984 or 1989…No they did not. His first two records we're diverse, conceptual projects that we're definitely not R&B, and so he was dropped. His return to shelves 10 years later was my introduction, and I was blown away.
Safe and Sound
Since 1998 he's released 2 more Chocolate Genius records and worked extensively in theatre and film music. I saw him play in NYC with Stephin Merritt and Ben Folds in a songwriters series at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and he is a fixture in and around town. He is the type of guy who is a songwriter's songwriter, really respected by his peers and fans.
The Black Music album is a song cycle about the life of a directionless, depressed, cynical and probably alcoholic guy. Around 1998 that is just about the state I was in, and the words and sounds capture the feelings so well, so perfectly, that I could relate immediately. The music has the rumbling, clanging, atmospheric quality that Tom Waits records have, the vox is bruised, throat unclear, sounding like a man with a hangover. The next song, My Mom, is the one that made this album an all time fave for me. It talks about a son returning to his childhood home, after 5 years, checking in with his gruff father, and spending time with his mother, who has Alzheimer's.
It's been 5 years and some change
And this world is getting so strange
But this house, it smells just the same
And my mom, my sweet mom..
She don't remember my name
Being the oft -moving son of a prodigal son and having a grandmother who was afflicted with the mind erasing disease, I am totally amazed by how Marc Anthony Thompson drilled down into the feelings created by the prodigals return. This song would have been enough to seal the critical deal for me on this record, and though no song hits me quite the way Mom does, the takes he has on the themes he covers ring true throughout. Whether he's talking about beating yourself up about a failed relationship(Half A Man) being separated from your child by a break up(Safe and Sound), or alcoholism (Hangover Five), nails are being hit on the head, light bulbs are popping on, and tears are rolling. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it also can bring light, and this record has always done that for me.
Go get Black Music