According to Fantastic Negrito, “Oakland is changing,” from ‘diverse and often unsafe’ to ‘white and safe.’ To him, “now Oakland is ground zero for the national discussion on gentrification.”With The Last Days Of Oakland, he’s set out to bring some of Oakland’s blues past into its future, through music.
We are immediately picked up on Oakland’s history. With a street sign on the album cover (Fantastic Negrito might not have meant this) we are told how old Oakland really is. The sign reads ‘San Pablo,’ from California’s days under Spanish and then Mexican administration. The album’s very first song is ‘Working Poor’, and sounds like the kind of song that would love to be heard at a bar with a jukebox, and booze specials frequented by the working poor. The whole album is like this, a sonic mix of loud and melancholic sounds. He almost yells when he sings the electric blues that migrated from the American South to the West Coast as it was traditionally sung.
The album gets deeper band bluesier as it progresses. Third song, ‘Scary Woman’, sounds like revived blues: something not popular these days in terms of lyrics, organ use or singing. Like an old city blues song, it wows because of how romantic the singer is. The piano in the song is the best part.
‘In The Pines’ has the sort of humming that makes gospel and old spirituals music an incredible listen. The text could have been a bit more poetic: ‘black girl, black girl’ would have been better as a name like ‘Candace, Candace’ or ‘Bana, Bana.’ ‘Black girl, black girl’ takes the fun out of the song and brings in either musical sociology or at worst stereotype.
The Last Days of Oakland seems to mean that Oakland blues are nearing the end of their life cycle. Fantastic Negrito sings ‘I am nothing / without you’ on ‘Nothing Without You’, perhaps conveying what he wants to on the album’s best track: that Oakland’s beauty can be saved only via this kind of music.
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