Saturday, May 28, 2016

The 16, 19, or Maybe Even My, 70s:

I’ve heard it said that your long term musical interests get imprinted on your brain when you’re around fifteen years old.  So whatever you were listening to at that time, is the type of music you’re listening to now.

For me, that would be 1972. And it works, to a certain extent.  I did become a huge Allman Brothers fan around then, with the Dead following close behind.

But I always thought my real musical imprinting came in 1979, when I was 22. It was the year punk broke (my eardrums, anyway). There was an avalanche of records that not only sounded great, but that put me on a decades-long path of exploration that is only now dying down (or branching off even further, depending on how you’re looking at it.)

But now I’m not so sure. As I find myself less and less moved by current music, I’ve been reaching back to albums from the early seventies for a boost.

In the past few months I’ve been enjoying records by Roxy Music circa 73-74 and the Kinks from 1971.

And now I’m reaching back another (three hundred) year(s) or so:




Fairport Convention: Liege and Lief (1970)

“Is this all one song?” asks Mrs. Jaybee, who, not being of Celtic origin (what a relief) doesn’t yet fully appreciate the subtle differences in/of these ten tales of tragedy and despair. To be fair it took her this long to get used to the drinking and passive aggressiveness.

“But it’s a good song!” I reply, using an argument once used against me by a fan of Slade back in high school when I was on the other side of the argument. Boy, did it sound dumb at the time. Not much better now.

Okay, I’ll admit that most of these melodies came from somewhere else first. At least half the songwriting credits say “Traditional”, which is a higher batting average than say, oh, Led Zeppelin.

Anyway, FC plays and sings these tunes with gusto. After all, they’ve got Richard Thompson on guitar, a damned good rhythm section, and Sandy Denny on vocals.

So much gusto, in fact, that the originals sound like they could have been written three hundred years ago.

And I’m sure whoever was 15 at that time would have loved them, too.

And I'm willing to bet Mrs. Jaybee comes around, too. She married me, after all. A-

“Come All Ye”

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Another Life, Another Bryan

After going on at such length about Brian Eno, I wanted to give his old bandmate/nemesis Bryan Ferry his due.

As weird as Eno seemed at the time, weird, at least, was in.

Ferry matched him by going to the other extreme. He went completely against the grain of the time by wearing dinner jackets and crooning like Rudee Vallee. He was so non-threatening looking that it was scary.

And irritating, too. Those aspects of his image, along with his taste for 50’s-style pop music, and a seemingly nuclear-powered vibrato, he had at least four things going on that I couldn’t stand at the time.

And pictures of him show him looking unreasonably sullen or unreasonably cheerful. Here he’s kind of in between:



Just look at him! American Psycho or what?

See what I mean? Normal, yet strange.

So, now take him, add Eno and put drag queens on your album covers, and Roxy Music gave you’ve got a lot to ponder.

I recently touched on the first two Roxy Music albums, which covers the time Eno was with them, and all I’ll add is how the first one   - for all its strange trappings - is at heart a rock and roll, and song, album. Those songs, Phil Manzenera’s riffs, and the band’s headlong propulsion easily get you more than halfway through the record. Okay, things do slack off after that, but still not a bad start.

And while not entirely successful, For Your Pleasure is pretty good, tool. Just not great, whatever hardcore RM fans may tell you.

So, Eno leaves and Ferry can now really show what he’s made of.


Post-Eno Roxy:


Stranded

Their third, and first without Eno, and you can immediately tell the difference.  Like that the person on the cover is almost certainly a woman. I say this only to point out that Bryan and the band seem to be simplifying things a bit.

The music is simpler, cleaner, poppier. But Ferry’s as weird as ever, and without Eno there to distract you, it sticks out all the more.

So for every triumph like “Mother of Pearl”, there’s a slow tiresome drag like “Song for Europe”

But I think they’ve turned a corner here. The weird old Roxy Music came to a crossroads and chose a straighter path. The kinks are not all worked out. (And I do mean kinks.), but there are glimmers of a really fine pop band here.  B+

“Mother of Pearl”

Don’t get me wrong. When in doubt, I usually favor the weird over the pop, but some people are just better at the latter than they are at the former. And I think it’s true for Roxy.




Country Life

A more sexist cover, which is a shame, (Still trying to wash that Eno taste our of your mouths, guys?) but another step forward, musically.  The keep it light, they keep it fast, they keep it rocking.  They only falter when they slow it down. But even there, those lesser tunes add some contrast.

So the strategy is the same as last time, but their batting average has improved. Nothing quite as good as “Mother of Pearl”. But overall much more consistent. A-

“Prairie Rose”




Siren

Their peak.

My first RM record and easily my favorite. (That’s Jerry Hall on the cover, btw.  She went on to Mick Jagger and Rupert Murdoch, because money and fame are all that matter, right?).

Everything comes together here. The band, while not quite as hard rocking, are game for whatever Ferry throws at them - ballads, rockers, dance songs. And Ferry’s singing has smoothed out some more. The melodies are as good as ever.

A masterpiece, and one of my all time favorite albums. Definitely in the top 25. A

“Both Ends Burning”




Manifesto

After a three year break (and various solo records), they come back with a very commercial, but very winning record. I’ve been told that they embrace disco here, but I’m not hearing it that way. They just know how to entertain. Catchy as heck.  A-

"Dance Away"



Avalon

Everyone tells me that this is their masterpiece. I beg to differ. Too smooth by half. Meh.

But if you like it I can’t blame you.

And I admit that “More Than This” is one of the most beautiful songs ever.

B+


And the rest:

I left out a whole bunch of other Roxy records, not to mention all those Bryan Ferry solo albums because life’s too short, and I’m not as big a Ferry fan as an Eno fan.  But you get the idea.

Roxy Music got lumped in (justifiably) with a lot of glam acts at the time and were dismissed for that reason, at least by the classic rock stations.  But they were a great band, and once Ferry worked out all his issues, the songs came out great.


Oh yeah, that other Brian:


I got around to his Music for Films BECAUSE I DON’T ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH RECORDS BY HIM.

And it’s pretty good, not great.  In these 18 snippets I do hear not quite worked out ideas that would make their way onto Another Green World and Before and After Science.

And some of cuts don’t age well. Back then they may have sounded cool, but now you can smell the cheese.  And the New Age (and not the Velvet Underground one, either). Thanks a lot Brian!

But it all, oddly, holds together.  B+

“Two Rapid Formations”


And the Boys Make Up:

Right about now you’d think Bryan (F) would be objecting, saying that, yet again, I got distracted by favorite child Brian (E).  But no, they’re all past that now.

They even got together to work on something a few years ago and produced this lovely song on Bryan’s solo album Frantic

“I Thought”


I knew those guys would work out their differences! And look, it only took them thirty years!

So how is Bryan looking these days? (If you remember Brian E went through quite the transformation from glam robot he-she to middle class next door neighbor.

And here we see Bryan F also arrive at his version own of normalcy, looking like someone’s dad:



Better looking than Mick Jagger and Rupert Murdoch, too! (Ah, but isn’t everybody?)

And good for him, I say. So as pouty and strange as he could be, he’s responsible for quite a lot of great music.

Thank you, Brian!  Ooops! I meant Bryan!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

What Ray Wants, Ray Usually Doesn’t Get

Life is unfair. Or at least pretty random.

You get ignored after years of brilliant work. And then, due to a fluke hit single, you ride out out the rest of your career veering between the occasionally very good and the mostly disappointing.

Ray Davies has been quite curmudgeonly of the years, and would have trouble admitting to the latter half of my scenario. But let’s face it. For the Kinks, “Lola” is that hit single.

Anyway, in early 1970 the Kinks have a big hit with “Lola” - their first in years. So what does Ray do? He bites the hand that (finally) feeds him by doing a concept album about the hardships of stardom. (Of course, Ray’s the kind of guy who’d do a concept album just because he had a really good sandwich.)

The full title is Lola vs. Powerman and the Money-go-round, Part One, and as good as it is, I’m glad he quit while he was ahead and didn’t go for a Part Two.

Once an underappreciated band gets some love, every new record is hyped as some kind of masterpiece. Having been burned by this more than once, I held off on getting Lola for many years, finally giving in once they remastered it.  And they throw in the soundtrack to Percy as a bonus!

So how is the sandwich, you ask?




Lola vs. Powerman and the Money-go-round, Part One

Lola has a very good batch of songs, and a couple of brilliant ones. Even after his peak Ray was always smart enough to have at least one brilliant song on each album.

And with the remastering, we get to hear the resurgence of the band itself, and how the banjo and piano complement the guitar on “Lola”, and how Little Brother Dave’s sometimes grating harmonies are spot on here. And no horns, thank god.

On that count, this could be their best record.

Other highlights include:

“Apeman”, of course.

“Get Back In Line” Even though Ray must have just seen “On the Waterfront”, it’s undeniably beautiful.

The funny, cynical “Top of the Pops”:
Might even end up a Rock and Roll God! 
Might turn into...
A steady job!

Dave’s sweet, soulful “Strangers”.

Ray’s not as sweet, but just as soulful “A Long Way from Home”.

The band interplay on “Denmark Street”.

And how Ray sings the lines We are right, And they are wrong on “Got to Be Free”



So how does this sandwich compare to other Kinks sandwiches?

Well, here are my favorite Kinks albums:

  1. Face to Face - One of the best albums of the 60s
  2. Something Else - Almost as good
  3. Village Green Preservation Society - Almost as good
  4. Muswell Hillbillies - Many excellent songs but too much music hall orchestration
  5. Everybody’s in Showbiz - Songwriting a little weaker worse, but a great live set
  6. Preservation: Act 1 - Songwriting a little stronger, but those damn horns again!
  7. Arthur - A bit overrated, but with two undeniable masterpieces ("Victoria", "Shangri La")

As for the Compilations:

  1. The Kinks Kronikles - One of the greatest compilations of all time.
  2. Greatest Hits - surprisingly hit or miss, but mostly hit
  3. The Great Lost Kinks Album - B sides and singles, and surprisingly excellent

So if Lola doesn’t hit the stratospheric heights of their best early stuff, it is still entertaining from beginning to end, and thus nudges out Muswell Hillbillies slightly.
A-

“End of the Line”

The soundtrack to Percy - a dated exploitation film - should really suck but when looked at overall it almost holds up. Again, Ray comes through with three excellent songs, and then pads it with variations of “Lola” and “Apeman”. The instrumentals are a bore of course but it's not a terrible album by any means.
B

“All God’s Children”

The overall package still gets an A- because you came for Lola, and the good cuts on Percy should be considered a bonus.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Life of Brian, Part Two

My album database (yes, I have an album database, doesn’t everybody?) shows that I have more Albums by the Beatles than any other artist, by a wide margin. But if I were able to count by how many times an artist simply appeared on or participated in a record in some fashion, I think Eno would win it. He’s just all over the place.

So, as promised, here’s a quick rundown of records Brian Eno was involved with, limited, of course, by my knowledge:


Eno As Bandmate:


Roxy Music (1972)

Their first, with a lot of weird but infectious tunes and Phil Manzanera playing some great guitar. It almost all comes together, too, especially when they just. rock. out. I suspect Eno’s one reason it doesn’t. But Bryan Ferry’s hyper-vibrato (think the Little Rascals dog Petey on the weight loss machine) is kind of off-putting, too.  B+

"Virginia Plain"



For Your Pleasure (1973)

I already had this disappointing record on cassette and thought I’d give it another try on CD. Maybe the sound would be better. And it is, a bit, but not the music.

Their first record at least seemed to be the product of a single (demented) mind. This one has two sensibilities at war with neither one winning.

Bryan Ferry was the lead singer/songwriter of the band  and arch-nemesis of Eno. It just goes to show you can only have one Brian in a band at a time, and if you have to have two, for heaven’s sake have them spell it the same way.

It was probably a good thing Eno split. Both he and Roxy Music would go onto better things, like one of my all time favorites Siren.

But they’re not there yet.   B+

“Do the Strand”



Eno Goes Solo: 


Here Come the Warm Jets (1974)

His first solo record after leaving Roxy Music, he’s now unleashed and comes on like gangbusters. Jets is an aggressively harsh and twisted affair, yet with some wonderful tunes mixed in.

Weird and fun and in your face. it’s a favorite of Enophiles. He’s got something to prove, but I think he’s trying to do too much at one time.  He’d soon settle in for the long haul, and learn to modulate the craziness. He’s only getting started. B+

“Cindy Tells Me”



Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974)

His second, and my favorite of the pop-oriented ones.

At first, frustrating but it would grow on me. And hearing it again after all these years, the experiments work, and the willfully weird stuff is just plain fun. The production is clearer here and he’s not trying so hard. The songs are more tuneful and imaginatively arranged overall.
Sorry Friend Mike , but this one’s made me what I am today (which may explain a lot more than I had in mind).

And while I’ll admit, it’s still not “going to the beach” music, it is music for a long drive. Mrs. Jaybee specifically requested it while coming home from a long weekend away last month. A

“Mother Whale Eyeless”



Another Green World (1975)

And here is where the big change occurs.  He’d been preparing for it on side projects with Robert Fripp.

He takes a step back from the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach of the prior two records. Instead, this one is minimal, and mostly instrumental, but eerie, beautiful, serene, and a little scary. It’s still in my all-time top five.

And he would continue down this path for many years.

One could argue that New Age starts here, but at best it’s a stepchild, albeit one that made all the cash. See Pure Moods.

Instead of the warm embrace of simple “prettiness” the Eno I know always holds back a little, or throws a monkey wrench in. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. A+

“Everything Merges With the Night”



Discreet Music (1975)

And he goes even further - and maybe too far - here, devoting side one to 30 minutes of slightly varying tape loops that result in a kind of background music but with ever-shifting tones. He says it’s intended to be played at a volume just below audible, which is just one step away from 4’33, if you ask me. I still want to hear the damned thing, after all.

But when you do, you kind of know where he’s coming from with it. In its way, the very definition of serenity.

Side two comprises three slightly different experimental takes on Pachelbel’s Canon that are each nice enough, but when played one after the other, a bit much.

So, not a bullseye, but very worthwhile. B+

"Discreet Music"



Before and After Science (1978)

He pulls back a little here, coming back to earth on side one. which is devoted to pop-oriented cuts, but then goes off into space again for most of side two, which is quite lovely.

Overall a good summation of what he was up to at the time. A-

“Spider and I”



Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978)

One cut, a simple piano figure played over and over.  Another, harmony vocals only  Another a combination of the two. And finally a vintage Eno synthesizer buzz out.

Ambient? I guess. But simple and beautiful.  A-

“1/1”



Eno the Collaborator:

The big mystery for me is what the hell he was doing in 1976.

But in 1977 he goes to Berlin with David Bowie.



Low (1977)

Hard, sloppy rock on side one, and very Eno ambient on side two. Arguably my favorite Bowie album.  A-
“Subterraneans”



“Heroes” (1977)

The same structure as Low. The rock on side one is edgier and and the ambient on side two more daring.  Overall, very good, Low edges it out slightly. A-

“Moss Garden”



Lodger (1979)

The experiments here are in the songs themselves rather than the sound. A perfectly good record, but the weakest of the three. B+

“Boys Keep Swinging”



Talking Heads: More Songs About Buildings and Food  (1978)

And then in 1978 he heads to NYC. And when you hang around the coolest places, you meet the coolest bands. And so now he acts as producer and fifth band member of Talking Heads, shifting them (and me) into a different direction.  Melodic, harsh, funky, beautiful.  One of my all time favorites. Definitely in the top 25. A

“The Big Country”



Fear of Music (1979)

This one’s a bit of a letdown because David Byrne’s songwriting opts for the weird instead of the melodic. Not Eno’s fault, I don’t think.  B+

“Paper”



Remain in Light (1980)

Ah, now that’s better! The songwriting and the band and Eno are all on one page and the results are wonderful. But by now the other Heads want to toss Eno out of the band.  A-

“Born Under Punches”



David Byrne/Brian Eno: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981)

This was actually being worked on before Remain in Light and can be seen as the intense experimentation that would eventually lead to the relatively pop(!) of that record. Made up of snippets of radio broadcasts of some very charismatic preachers (the main inspiration for David Byrne’s vocals on RIL), and the musical arrangements designed to fit around their vocal tics and rhythms. This works a lot better than one would expect. Not for parties, but very intense and interesting throughout.  B+

“Help Me Somebody”



David Byrne: The Catherine Wheel (1981)

Music from the dance production of the same name, and a great balance of songwriting and overall sound.  Eno’s really just a sideman here. Officially at least. But the music is right out of Eno territory throughout. An extremely underrated record.  A

“Two Soldiers”



Jon Hassell/Brian Eno: Fourth World: Possible Musics (1981)

A collaboration with Jon Hassell - an Ocean of Sound  conspirator.  The wind instruments give this a Middle Eastern sound, but with some fog and electronica.  Not much fun, but by the time it’s over you’ve definitely been somewhere.  B+

“Delta Rain Dream”



Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)

Eno’s attempt to provide a soundtrack to the Apollo missions, and a pretty darned good one.  His brother Roger and colleague Daniel Lanois share the billing.

I often can’t tell the difference between what would sound good late night vs good early morning music. Not anymore. This is definitely a night album.

It’s a bit schizophrenic, though.  Eno supplies the deep space buzz, but then Lanois comes on with the more poppy guitar. They eventually split the difference and it ends up being a distant cousin to Another Green World.  That’s a compliment.  A-

“An Ending (Ascent)”



The Pearl: (1984)

A mid-80s ambient collaboration with jazz(-ish) pianist Harold Budd (another contributor to Ocean of Sound).

The formula here seems to be short piano melodies treated with echoes. The sound of a glacier (if the glacier played the piano). Every time I put this on, I hear something different. I don’t mean a different detail or a different aspect. The whole thing sounds different.

As ambient goes this one is pretty chilly. Must be all that ice, even if it is melting.

So why can’t I stop listening to it?  A-

“A Stream With Bright Fish”




John Cale/Brian Eno: Wrong Way Up  (1990)

He spends the next few years with U2, producing the underrated Unforgettable Fire and the slightly overrated Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby, which probably got him interested in trying pop music again.

As I said last year it took me a little time to love this record because it was so damned normal. But love it, I do.  A-

“Crime in the Desert”


And On and On and On...

And that’s only brings us up until 1990.

He’d go on to produce many other artists, including Coldplay, Sinead O’Connor and James. Wikipedia credits him with 43(!) production jobs.

And I’m not done yet, either. I’ve still got to check out Music for Films, and Roxy Music’s third (and first post-Eno record) Stranded.

But I think I’ll stop there.  Rumor has it there are other artists out there, too.


Recommendations:

Before and After Science if you want to get the gist of it and still enjoy yourself
Wrong Way Up for fun
Another Green World if you’re ready to explore, well, another world.
Music for Airports for surprisingly simple and straightforward beauty
Taking Tiger Mountain if you want to hear something forty years old that still sounds fresh and strange.
Low if you want to hear how Eno could impact an already well respected artist.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Life - or at least Year - of Brian, Part One

Like a frenemy at work, but way more interesting, Brian Eno has this way of insinuating himself into the most unexpected places. He’s got more mentions in my blog than anyone else, except the Beatles, of course.

You don’t think you’ve heard him but you have. If not his own recordings, certainly his collaborations with Talking Heads, David Bowie, Devo, U2 and a slew of other artists. He even tried to make Coldplay sound interesting again and almost succeeded.

I have a number of his records but I hadn’t gotten anything by him in years.

And yet, he ended up being my Artist of the Year for 2015.

Let me explain.


1972:

While carefully studying the latest issue of National Lampoon, I came across an ad for Roxy Music’s second album, where I first saw Eno. My reaction was one of utter revulsion.

If I thought at the time that David Bowie must have sucked because he was acting gay (what can I say?, I was 15), or that the New York Dolls couldn’t have any talent because they dressed like women, then the made up, strutting, boa-wearing, aggressively androgynous (and on top of all that, balding!) Eno seemed like the worst of the worst.

Here he is at the time:

brian-eno-roxy-music-photo-shoot-circa-1972.jpg

As you can see, he dressed on the extreme end of the glitter rock spectrum and, like Bowie, was a prime target for anyone with an ax to grind about spectacle as a distraction from music (a legitimate concern), or effeminate guys in general (not so much).

Mind you, I hadn’t yet heard any of the music made by him, Bowie or the Dolls. It wasn’t my finest hour.


1975:

Now at college, prowling the music library I dug up some old issues Stereo Review, and came across a review of one of Eno’s early solo records. The review used the term “rip off rock”. And not in a nice way.

Now it could have been written by someone who genuinely didn’t like the record (I forget which one it was), but it sure had the stench of someone who’d made up his mind before putting it on. And it had the effect of reinforcing my prejudices, and boy did I cling to them.


1978:

It’s pretty clear by this time that Brian Eno was the kind of guy you were less likely to be into if you were into Classic Rock a la Bruce Springsteen, Boston or Led Zeppelin. You’d have had to stray to where, say, the Velvet Underground broke off in their own direction in the late 60s.

And I stayed on the main path, until I finally got curious enough to try Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food - a life changing record (all time top 25) that I don’t enthusiastically recommend to people just because I love it. It’s just a bit too weird, but exactly the amount of weird I needed at the time.

And who’s name did I find on the back? Eno, of course.

By this time, I was having trouble separating him from Bryan Ferry (his old Roxy Music bandmate), and Peter Gabriel from Genesis. (All of them weird Brits.) But his name just kept popping up all over the damn place, and always with the coolest bands.

There was even some graffiti spotted in the Village that said “Eno is God”.  Move over, Eric Clapton!


1980: 

It’s June and I’m supposed to be studying for a final but am instead at J&R Music World, in what would become one of the great record store trips of my life, picking up a sh*tload of records that would push me further down that alternat(iv)e path.

Earlier that year, there was an extensive overview of the music of 1970s in the Village Voice. It piqued my curiosity, and I made some mental notes, but like a good schoolboy, committed to doing nothing about it until finals were over.

I almost made it, too. I told myself I’d be in the store for only an hour or so. Plenty of time to study, I said. I ended up spending half the day there, and only managed about an hour of half-hearted studying in the school library.  Got an A, though!

One of the records mentioned a few times in that article was Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).  It was cited by at least two critics, who put it in their list of top ten records of the decade. So I decided that was a good place to start.

Ah kids, watch out for those gateway drugs!

I listened to this record for months - not always in complete ecstasy, mind you.  There was a lot of exasperation, too, as I tried to understand some of the weird things going on.  Friend, and then Roommate, Mike looked back on that time and said “Man, that was a terrible album.”

And I can understand his reaction. Mine was more mixed. There were several great pop moments mixed in with a lot of oddity and experimentation. I couldn’t quite love it because of this seeming inconsistency.

I may have related playing it while getting ready to go to the beach, and was pointedly told it was not “getting ready to go to the beach music”.  My first lesson in context.

But it persisted over the years. becoming a sort of go-to record. And Mrs. Jaybee would tell me she knew I was feeling a little down when I’d put it on.

If I was smarter, I’d give up on things when they first perplexed me. But instead, later that summer I’d double down on Eno and get Another Green World. This turned out to be one of my rare good decisions because it became one of my top five all time favorite albums.

During that same record trip, I’d finally broken down and gotten David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spider’s From Mars. (What, no New York Dolls, you ask? That's another post.) And now having had David break my cherry, I remembered how Childhood Friend Doreen told me how great Low
was way back in 1977, so at the end of 1980, while trying to repeat the great June record store trip and coming pretty close,  I picked it up, along with “Heroes”.

And I turn the record over, and who’s name do I find? Eno, again.

It turned out that Eno collaborated with Bowie on both records, with Bowie dedicating most of side two (remember side two?) of each record to the tracks that were very Eno-ish.  They would turn out to be a among my very favorite records. Definitely top 100.

Over the next few years, I’d move on to his other 70s records and some ambient stuff, but as time passed I heard Eno the same way you did - as a producer.

Oh, there were the occasional knockout pull-the-car-over-and-just-listen moments, like “Ms. Sarajevo” with U2 and Luciano f*cking Pavarotti. in 1995, but otherwise I decided there were other artists who deserved my attention more, and stopped buying his records.


2015:

So he starts throwing spitballs at me via Shutter Island and Ocean of Sound, with “Lizard Point”, which I still can’t hear.  But you now know how I react to exasperation.

So I thought, okay dude, let’s see what you (still) got, and got Wrong Way Up, which turned out to be one of the musical highlights of the year.

And then I read the liner notes to Yellow Moon and there he is again.

So in the fall, I’m in a record store - I don’t have enough records, you see - and spot a leaflet for a show called “Music for Enophiles” which turned out to be a tribute band doing covers of Eno’s solo work from 1974-1979 - his prime pop period.

Now, one of the things I love about Mrs. Jaybee how she always surprises me. I thought I’d have to drag her to this show, but she reminded me that she liked Brian Eno, too. He was, after all, the soundtrack to our lives when we first started dating.

The band came on and reminded us how powerful these forty year old songs were. We had a great time but I didn’t recognize the last song. So I asked one of the singers, and it turned out to be the title song of his first record Here Come the Warm Jets. How did I not recognize this song? I’d clearly been away too long.

So I decided to give him another try and got The Pearl.

And another, and got Apollo.

And finally, decided to pick up Taking Tiger Mountain on CD.

Oh, and I also got Roxy Music’s second album - For Your Pleasure -  on CD because he’s on that too.

To the point that I came to realize that it’s Brian world and I’m just living in it. Or may he’s still God, and when he loses a sandal, half of his fans get rid of one of their’s, too.

And in case the earlier picture has frightened you off, here’s a picture of him now:



See?  He turned out just like you and me.

Next, I’ll give a quick roundup of his music - limited by what I know, which is at most 30% of his overall output - and make some recommendations.

See you then.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fifth Annual Jaybee-bies, or, 2015, I Want My Money Back

Looking for My Receipt:

I’m finally getting around to my 2015 round up. Just before people forget there was a 2015, I hope.

It was a long, frustrating year, where I got about forty albums and very, very few of them managed to bowl me over. I was beginning to think I was losing my taste for music.

And other things. It took Mrs. Jaybee to remind me of that wonderful trip to Italy and Son Michael’s graduation (more on him later) that it wasn’t such a bad year after all.

But still, musically, I’m left a little less than ecstatic, and I’m looking for my receipt for 2015 so that I can return it.


My Ears Are Bigger Than My Head (Literally True!)

Dear 2015, it’s not you, it’s me.

You see, I’m in a cycle that goes like this:

I buy a lot of music.
I lean towards exploration instead of the familiar.
Then I complain that nothing hitd me right away.
So I go and get more music to make up for that.

This is dumb. (And may be a poem, too.) I mean, what did I expect?

But then I think about an individual song or album I have that I feel very lucky to have. Then I think about how many records I have that fit that description. You’d think there would be enough of it by now. Apparently not.

And really, how much do I need? I still haven’t answered that question satisfactorily. And even if 2015 was disappointing, I can’t imagine not getting new music in 2016.


Lack of Resolution:

So How Did I Do with My 2015 Resolutions?  Great, because I didn’t make any, having so resoundly failed on my 2014 ones. I even repeated those failures in 2015:  More new music than ever, 75% of it CDs (thanks to my amazon.com boycott) which now having taken over the CD rack completely, are expanding blitzkrieg-like into the bookshelf,

I did manage four records from 2015, two of them thanks to son Michael. One he bought and one he made!

So, no resolutions. They - along with self improvement in general - are way overrated.


Second Thoughts, or Regrets? I’ve Had a Few:

I gave all my 2015 records another listen to see if I’ve changed my mind about anything. Especially the ones that disappointed me. Mostly no.

Ex Hex: Rips - Expertly played punk/hard rock I could swear I heard before and probably did so why bother?

The Smiths: The Queen is Dead - Thanks guys, but I had all the good songs already. link

The Clean: Anthology Almost ditto link.  Every (well, almost every) cut is unique and worthwhile, but by the middle of the second disk I feel as though I’ve been left to wander the wilds of New Zealand without a guide. It can be fun, but there may be better things to do. (Ocean of Sound is kind of like that too, but since the whole point of that record is to get lost, it wouldn’t be fair to criticize it for that).

Music from the HBO Film As You Like It - A lovely main theme sprinkled repetitively throughout “movie music”. I probably would have been fine with getting the individual track. (An idea whose time has come, by the way. Buy more individual songs, thus avoiding disappointing albums. Hey, I've got a resolution after all!)  Not bad, mind you. Just nothing I’d reach out to because I’m never in the mood for it.


Top Tens(e):

While patting myself on the back that I managed a handful of actual 2015 albums this year, it’s still pretty paltry compared to Nutboy’s list. He to 2015 and managed seven (7. Josh Ritter - Sermons on the Mount, 6. Blur - Magic Whip, 5. Craig Finn - Faith in the Future, 4. Wilco - Star Wars 3. Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit, 2. Sufjan Stevens - Carrie and Lowell, 1. Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge . Vol.12)

He did the same with movies, too.  (10. Inside Out ..  9. Sicario  8. Love and Mercy  7. Steve Jobs  6. Creed  5. Spotlight   4. Amy   3. The Revenant  2. The Big Short  1. Mad Max - Fury Road)

I only managed to see two movies this year. (Another resolution. Get out more!)

I’d hit back with a top ten list of books (none from 2015 though) but I suspect he just didn’t bother to show off. The man really ought to have a blog, but he’s too busy with current year music and movies (ie, having a life, hmmm, another resolution here?)

Anyway, here are my albums of my 2015:


  1. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell  (2015)  
  2. Various Artists: Ocean of Sound (1996) 
  3. Howlin’ Wolf : Howlin’ Wolf  (1962)  
  4. Aretha Franklin: I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967) 
  5. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Just Sit and Think…. (2015)  
  6. Michael Burns: Mountain Mover EP  (2015)
  7. Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (2000) 
  8. Brian Eno & John Cale: Wrong Way Up (1990)  
  9. Howlin’ Wolf: Moanin’ in the Moonlight (1962)  
  10. and tied for tenth place Various Artists: Music from Shutter Island (2010), Yo La Tengo: Fakebook (1990), Withered Hand: New Gods (2014), Brian Eno/Harold Budd: The Pearl (1984), Wussy: Attica! (2014), Brian Eno/Daniel Lanois/Roger Eno: Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)

Top Songs:
Mike Burns: “Mountain Mover”
Sufjan Stevens: “The Only Thing”
Sufjan Stevens: “Fourth of July”
Coutney Barnett: “Debbie Downer”
Courtney Barnett: "Nobody Really Cares If you Don’t Go to the Party”
Brian Eno/John Cale: “Lay My Love”
Brian Eno/John Cale: “Been There, Done That”
Dinah Washington/Max Richter: “This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight” 
Yo La Tengo: "The Summer"
Yo La Tengo: "You Tore Me Down"
Yo La Tengo: "Deeper Into Movies"
Massive Attack: "Hymn of the Big Wheel"
The War on Drugs: "In Reverse"
Patrick Doyle: "Violin Romance"


Some Observations:

Familiar music suffers in comparison to new music simply because it can’t have the same impact on me any more. Otherwise Aretha and Howlin Wolf might be all over the top of the list.

Very good music in my favorite genres (pop, rock n’ roll) outdoes obviously great music in other genres (R&B), again impacting Franklin and Wolf.

I’m getting more and more music for less and less money, but have a sneaking suspicion that the musicians themselves are getting less and less a share of it..

I’ve prided myself on opting for the new - getting an album by a new artist rather than one by one I’m already familiar with. This is educational, and leads me to new discoveries. But dang it, it’s not always as much fun.


The Year of What?

So what was 2015 the “year of” for me?

In a way, it was the Year of Music to Go to Bed To. Not Music to Have Sex By mind you. Music to listen to while reading in bed and about to go to sleep. There was a ton of stuff that fit this category : Ocean of Sound, The Pearl, And Then Nothing…, Stuff Like That There, Neu!, As You Like It, Shutter Island The list goes on.

The Year of Aretha? You’d think so.  I got five Aretha Franklin albums in a single shot. (For $10 no less) They range from classic to very good.  That’s pretty good, right?  But those first two observations above knock her down a bit.

The Year of Yo La Tengo? Three albums ranging from nearly great to very good. And an almost transcendent show.  Christ, I even met them. But not quite.


The Year of the Tribute Band? 

Here’s my original take on why I find tribute bands - in principal - appalling.

The bottom line is, why would I want to pay to hear something like the music I like when I could listen to exactly the music I liked for free? If you want to hear a band, go put the record on. (Oh, come on, I know you have them!)

But I was underestimating the communal aspect of things. How better to enjoy music than with other like-minded people?

And besides, in two instances it inspired me to get more music by the artist. Once with a happy ending and once not so much. But the good more than made up for it.

  • The Smiths - A cover band that inspired me to get The Queen is Dead. Good show. Disappointing record.
  • PJ Harvey - Various artists did a tribute to Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea - A great album to hear played live, but since Mrs. Jaybee can’t stand Harvey I had to see this one alone. 
  • The Beatles - The Fab Faux at the City Winery on New Years Eve. It could have been a big let down and even boring, but it was neither. A very emotional musical highlight of the year. And let’s face it. Every year since 1963 has been the Year of the Beatles, as far as I’m concerned. So that wouldn’t make 2015 unique, would it?
  • Brian Eno - Music for Enophiles, covering Eno’s semi-poppish 1974-79 period.  Me and Mrs. Jaybee had a great time at this show. We were hearing songs live that we hadn’t heard even on record for years. And it inspired me to go even deeper into Eno’s catalogue.

Which made 2015 the Year of Brian Eno, of course.

We'll talk.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Very Good Will Just Have To Do

Unless you yourself are perfect, I suspect you’ve heard the phrase the perfect is the enemy of the good.

My variation on that would be searching for a masterpiece will distract you from a lot of excellent music.

Sometimes I just don’t appreciate the situation I’m in.  Here I am searching for great music, and end up disappointed if it’s only really good.

I’m getting older (that means “closer to death” kiddies) so I want every record to “count”, whatever that means.

Maybe that I’m humming it all day at work, that it jumps into my head and takes over randomly (not good while driving, by the way). That it makes me feel good about being alive. That it changes my life.  Don’t laugh. It’s happened.

So I aim high, get overly ambitious because I don’t stay in my comfort zone, and get disappointed, at least at first.

I end up putting too many really good records aside, only to have to them creep back up on me to convince me how good they really are.

And it happened again.

And I feel bad about it because I’m sure the Neville Brothers have been worried about how I’d react to this album. Which came out about thirty years ago.  You can rest easy now guys!




The Neville Brothers: Yellow Moon

The last time I’d gotten a record by the Neville Brothers, they were hiding amongst The Wild Thcoupitoulas, playing quintessential - earthy, tuneful rhythmic - New Orleans music.

Flash forward a decade or so, and they’re being produced by Daniel Lanois (U2 before to this, and the Dylan resurgence afterwards) I was fearing that this might go a little too atmospheric, which would not be a good fit at all.

No need to worry, though. They manage to keep things down to earth for most of the way through,

One way was to do some heavy duty cover songs,

I typically don’t like artists doing covers. It can distract you from what is unique about the artist, and it can be a cheap shortcut to actually writing your own material.

And it can be a bad idea in the very practical sense . I mean, how often do you hear a cover and say, “Hey, That’s Even better than the original!”.  And it doesn’t happen here, either. But they come close enough.

While “With God on Our Side” goes on a bit too long, they do stirring versions of “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” (but really how do you f*ck those up?). And there’s a pretty haunting version of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown”.

It helps when the singing and playing are spot on.

And how about their originals?  Just fine! Not too generic. Topical. And well produced. "My Blood" being my favorite.

So there’s an excellent balance of elements here. Nothing brilliant, mind you, but overall the songs, playing, singing and production come together enough to let this one rise above mere genre.

When you put this one on you know you’re going to enjoy the next hour.

B+

“My Blood“