TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 16 February 2014
I love this album. As a fan of what used to be called 'dope beatz' - I'm really more a fan of the old funk, soul and hard bop type jazz, those rich seams from whence the whole hip-hop/trip-hop/chip shop crew dug their samples - and the whole Beat-era vibe, and in particular Kerouac and Burroughs, this is a marriage made in heaven, for me.
But it's some twisted alternative heaven! The Beat-era writers dug a wide variety of culture, with jazz being a big thing for many, especially guys like Kerouac. Ironically it wasn't until Tom Waits came along that the idea of Beat poetry married to music really bore fruit (Kerouac's own Blues And Haikus is a good idea, but marred somewhat by lacklustre blowing from the obviously disinterested jazz horn men; Kerouac blubbed about it afterwards!). Having said this, I'm not aware that Burroughs was especially into jazz, and in fact he seemed more in sympathy with the punk scene, such that during the eighties many of his reading took place in punk-friendly music clubs.
Anyway, returning to the beat/jazz connection, Waits own collaboration with Burroughs, whilst um... interesting, isn't very accessible (in terms of accessibility, although it's not as extreme, it's nearer the art-house cut-up end of Burroughs literary output). And although some jazz singers, Mark Murphy, for example, have mixed their jazz aesthetic with a deliberately and overtly Beat one, it's taken people like the Disposable Heroes, and Japanese group UFO (United Future Organisation, that is, as opposed to the Brit-rockers of that name) to mix the two forms in a way that has the immediacy of both the original Beat writing and the original jazz that grew up alongside each other.
Spare Ass Annie (and other tales) finds rapper and music maker Michael Franti collaborating in a highly successful manner with that venerable old sage of the darker side of the Beat world, William 'Bull Lee' Burroughs. From the titular track, with the lead characters 'auxiliary a**hole', to the crazed doings of Dr. Benway Operates, this is a madcap ride through the poisonously witty and darkly intelligent mind of William Seward Burroughs. From such admonitions as Words Of Advice To Young People, or Advice To Young Couples, via speculations on philosophy, religion (A One God Universe) and beyond, to the sex and drug imagery (A Junky's Christmas) he has (in)famously and explicitly traded in, we get a view on many aspects of this caustic but brilliant mind.
And to the credit of Franti and co., it all holds together really well. The bits of declamation from Franti and his cohorts (inc. one Ras I Zulu, elsewhere described as a 'Rasta chanter') are the bits most likely to date this somewhat, but I can still enjoy them as well. It's all part of the package. Sadly this isn't vey widely, cheaply or easily available, which, considering how good it is, is something of a tragedy.