Sunday, November 15, 2009

Decade: 2006 - Heaven and Hell, All at Once


Just when things were going really well, another major life crisis arrived, and life suddenly sucked again. Luckily for me and everyone else, this time around, when the thrasher came I was able to give what was mine. And, unlike the last time when this happened, I decided that I wouldn't forgo music. Maybe it would help.

But not right away.


When your life sucks, why not retreat into someone else’s? Which is why I read Neil Young’s biography, “Shakey”. This would lead me to filling some holes in my record collection with the second and third Buffalo Springfield albums - "Again" and "Last Time Around", and Neil's own “American Stars and Bars”.

I was tempted big time to get the Buffalo Springfield boxed set, which was put together by Neil Young, until I found out that Neil left off some tracks from “Last Time Around”. Yo, Neil, wtf?! (a phrase, I might add, that could apply to several episodes in this infuriating genius’s life). But it all worked out for the best at the bargain bin of my favorite record store, which is my equivalent of the McDonalds plastic ball pit.

Buffalo Springfield is sometimes called the polar opposite of the Byrds - a band that was great on record and a bit rickety live. Legend has it that the Springfield was monstrous live, but that their records never captured it. Their first record is quite good when you get past the anemic production. They hated it. "Again" has several all-time classics (“Bluebird”, “Expecting to Fly”, “Broken Arrow”) and a couple of forgettable songs (uh, I forget. See?). "Last Time Around" doesn't have as many peaks, but it's excellent throughout, and it’s the one I played a lot more. Of course, I’d heard those classics a thousand times already.
---------------- Now playing: Neil Young - I Am a Child
via FoxyTunes

“American Stars and Bars”
is half pretty good country rock with Linda Rondstadt singing backup, the highlight of which is the more rocking “Bite the Bullet”, and half bits of genius from the vault, like “Star of Bethlehem”, “Will to Love” and “Like a Hurricane”.

Before an adult came to tell me it was time to go, I also found “The Best of Love”. They were a California band from the sixties best known for that obscure FM cut "You Set the Scene" from their classic album “Forever Changes”. This CD pulls four songs from that record, along with a bunch from the albums that came before and after it. It's a very good, varied collection, with the brilliant "She Comes in Colors", reportedly the inspiration for the Stones' "She's a Rainbow".

---------------- Now playing: Love - She Comes in Colors via FoxyTunes


"The Sky is Crying: The History of Elmore James"
contains the originals of “I Can't Hold Out”, “It Hurts Me Too”, “Madison Blues” and “Done Somebody Wrong” and others, each of which beats the cover by way of raw guitar, pounding piano or stronger vocal.
---------------- Now playing: Elmore James - Done Somebody Wrong
via FoxyTunes

Ah, have music and life ever melded together as intimately as they did that summer? Sufjan Stevens' "Illinois" was the only possible soundtrack to our numerous grim trips to the hospital that summer. No one asked me to turn off "Casimir Pulaski Day", which, as great as it is, would have been understandable under the circumstances. Best of the Year, hands down. One of the best of the decade, too. I think I would have loved it even if everything was okay.

---------------- Now playing: Sufjan Stevens - Casimir Pulaski Day via FoxyTunes

Maya Arulpragasam was born in England but has lived in Sri Lanka, India and elsewhere. She makes a very potent mix of dance music and electronica under the name M.I.A. I play her first record, “Arular”, to impress my nieces. I’ll have to play it a lot more, I guess. She manages to keep your attention without letting things get too grating. She’s adds some smart lyrics, and doesn’t overstay her welcome. Highly recommended, especially if you want to know what those young folk are up to these days.

---------------- Now playing: M.I.A. - Galang via FoxyTunes

I file the soundtrack to the film "The Harder they Come" under Jimmy Cliff, but that's not quite right. If one person did all these songs I'd have to rate him above Bob Marley. Jah was smiling the day that BMG offered it as a special two disc edition containing a number of other Jamaican hits, like "The Israelite" and "I Can See Clearly Now". But even if it was just the original single disk, it would be great. "Johnny Too Bad", "Pressure Drop", "Sitting Here in Limbo" - there's not a bad song here, and I enjoy it more now that times are better. But what's that I smell? Oh that’s right, nevermind…

---------------- Now playing: Toots & The Maytals - Pressure Drop via FoxyTunes

Thelonious Monk Quartet, with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall combines two of my favorite jazz artists, and is one of those records you can play over and over again, and never reach the bottom. The fact that this record even exists is a miracle - someone found a fifty year old tape lying around. Treat yourself to the warm embrace of music that seems almost Easy Listening at moments, but that over time reveals its many layers and dark corners.

I decided that I’d been playing it too safe with Monk – only listening to his late ‘50s recordings, and so went for the circa 1947 “Genius of Modern Music”. This is his first record as a band leader and it immediately grabs you with its odd angles and structures. It must have seemed like a space ship landing at the time. I wouldn’t start here to learn about Monk, but it's well worth the ride.

---------------- Now playing: Thelonious Monk - Humph via FoxyTunes

Sometimes I get over-sated, and feel bad that I've gotten a CD that I didn't absolutely need. It's compounded when it doesn't bowl me over. Such was the fate of Roxy Music's “Avalon” - a perfectly good, if a little slick sounding record. It just didn't have any surprises or brilliantly weird Roxy moments. Great music for company, though.

---------------- Now playing: Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music - More Than This via FoxyTunes

Who the hell are the Impressions, I wondered? Well, they’re more significant than Wolf Blitzer, I can tell you. I didn't know that Curtis Mayfield didn't spring out of the ether fully formed with "Move on Up" and "Superfly". He had a life and career before I became aware of it. This vocal trio started in the 50s doing light, airy doo wop-like tunes. Their arrangements got more varied during the 60s, and their lyrics became more socially relevant. Then they broke up and Curtis went solo. I never tire of "Superfly", which has some of the tightest drumming, and the best lyrics, ever. "The Anthology" brings all of this together in one place, and while at first I resisted, I find myself coming back to this record more and more.

---------------- Now playing: Curtis Mayfield - People Get Ready via FoxyTunes


One morning after working all night, I put on Gogol Bordello's "Gypsy Punks" and The Hold Steady's "Separation Sunday", and I can't think of two records that are worse to put on when someone's trying to get some sleep. Ask my daughter. "Gypsy Punks" is exactly how it sounds - accordions, violins, electric guitars, screams. It's been a while since I've been to the caravan so I don't listen to it often. But the energy is undeniable. "Separation Sunday" is the sound of "Blinded by the Light" Bruce Springsteen, but without the Big Man, and the guitars turned up. And he’s had a few. The characters are low lifes of varying degrees, and I don't always want to spend time with them, but they do make life interesting.

---------------- Now playing: The Hold Steady - Hornets! Hornets! via FoxyTunes
---------------- Now playing: Gogol Bordello - Sally
via FoxyTunes

After the next all-nighter, I tried Mississippi John Hurt's “Rediscovered” (link) which worked a lot better. John's gentle voice and nimble guitar accompany tales of love, violence and, well, coffee. It’s so quiet, you could practically blast it and no one would complain. On the downside, you could easily miss it if the world intrudes. File under "don't play too softly".
---------------- Now playing: Mississippi John Hurt - Candy Man
via FoxyTunes

James Talley's "Got No Milk, No Bread, No Money, But Sure Got a Lot of Love" wins the best title award. This is laid back country music that doesn't even try to grab you. It assumes you're paying attention. James's voice isn't going to knock down any doors either. Although I appreciate the feeling, it's an acquired taste, and only for certain occasions.

---------------- Now playing: James Talley - Take Me to the Country via FoxyTunes

Mozart’s Sonata/Fantasy/Rondo and Variations (played by Alfred Brendel), is the abbreviated title. (Jesus Christ, why can’t these guys name their tunes something sensible, like “Louie, Louie”?) Even so, James Talley’s still got them beat. Anyway, this is a fine collection of solo piano music. When it comes to classical music, for me, smaller is always better. Now I’m waiting for the kazoo version.

Good friend Mike had seen Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in Europe ages ago (which, by the way, used to mean hours, but now means decades) and raved about them. But which one to get, I wondered? I eventually choose their first, because of the nice cover (and price), and even the record store guy concurred. It's energetic, tuneful and certainly worthwhile, if not earth shaking for the non-jazz nut.

Sam Phillips was married to T-Bone Burnett, and before they broke up, he produced her "Martinis and Bikinis" which is more serious than it sounds. You may have heard “I Need Love” at your local drug store chain, between announcements for specials on toiletries. Sam's voice is less raspy than Kim Carnes’. She obviously loves the Beatles, and even covers John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth”. While it doesn’t all cohere into a great record, there are a number of excellent, accessible songs here. Not bad at all.

---------------- Now playing: Sam Phillips - Baby I Can't Please You via FoxyTunes

Joanna Newsom’s “The Milk-Eyed Mender” is my latest "the rest of the family gives me funny looks" CD. It's understandable, really. With her whoops, cackles and regressions into early childhood, she makes Bjork sound like Mary J. Normal. And yet, and yet, some of these songs are incredible. There is a fearless openness here that makes other such attempts pale in comparison. Oh, and she plays a harp. One of the quietest records ever, it slowly fades in from an utter silence. It'd still piss off someone trying to sleep, though.

---------------- Now playing: Joanna Newsom - Sprout and the Bean via FoxyTunes



Liked a Whole Lot:

The Harder They Come

John Coltrane/Thelonius Monk at Carnegie Hall

Genius of Modern Music

So, we made it to the end of the year, which is all any of us can ask.

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