Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Not Top Ten List

Update:  This post suffered a Google take down and so I am reposting without the mp3 files.

Why this should not be considered a real top ten list of the year.

  • I only started this blog midway through the year and it was only then that I was really trying to stay connected to what was happening out there musically and so this could, at best be considered a top ten list from the second half of 2008.
  • I don't even want to compete with the so many others out there who are so much more informed than me.
  • I actually kind of hate these lists and find them a bit pretentious.
  • I have conflicted feelings about list making.
  • I have more than 10 albums on the list.
  • And really, it isn't like I was scanning the entire, or even a majority, of the music world so it could only be a top ten list of my limited perspective and that really isn't a top ten list, is it?

And so that really is what this is--my limited take on the music world for 2008. And not really a ranking, but rather a recounting of the albums that I enjoyed enough to recommend to others and to you dear readers. So here are samples from each album not arranged in a hierarchical order with pithy commentary, but rather in the order I might put them if I were making a mix disc for a friend to let them decide what they thought since obviously as the maker of the mix, my feelings are fairly well known. Some of these I have posted before (although I will spare you all the self-referential links), but many are new offerings from these discs. A few more thoughts follow the playlist.

Flume / Bon Iver
Crook of My Good Arm / Pale Young Gentlemen
Love Me Tenderly / Felice Brothers
Honor Among Thieves / These United States
Man Sized Wreath / REM
Four Provinces / The Walkmen
Modern Guilt / Beck
Harps and Angels / Randy Newman
20/20 Vision / Charlie Haden
If I Die Sudden / John Mellencamp
Real Love / Lucinda Williams
My Two Feet / Old 97's
It Won't Be Long / Corey Chisel
Re: Stacks / Bon Iver

Regarding Bon Iver: you will notice that the list opens with tracks from that album (the actual opening and closing tracks from that album) and yes you can assume that it means that were I forced to pick an album of the year (which for me means that it will be listened to the most in the future), it would be this one from Justin Vernon.

A few comments about omissions. There are a few like Fleet Foxes who made many others' lists, but aren't here by choice (for whatever reason they just didn't resonate with me as they did with so many others). However, many omissions are due to lack of time rather than a matter of opinion--albums like this year's releases by Connor Oberst, The Pretenders, the Raconteurs and so many others just didn't make it into the little listening time I have.

I should also note that there are a couple tunes in the list that are pretty new to me and I haven't really written about yet much although I have been enjoying the discs a lot this December (and I shall take care of the writing about them in the new year).

And finally, the list is obviously focused just on rock/alt-country/indie tunes, but obviously there were some great albums in other genres that deserve attention. Unfortunately, I just didn't keep The Room as eclectic as I first intended and so I have focused on just this group this year (can you smell that New Year's Resolution coming?).

So there you have it. Thanks for all who stopped by this year as I tried to get this little blog going. I didn’t put "Buy Album" links by every song, but please support the artists.

Happy New Year to all and Bon Iver!

Monday, December 29, 2008

RSHIP: Close to Me

I will be trying to get some sort of end of the year list together during our "vacation" in parental land. Until then I give you The Cure's "Close to Me" which is featured as the closing song of the fine film Son of Rambow (which we just watched and so this tune remotely qualifies for RSHIP status). All through the movie you get to chuckle as they not-so-subtley take the piss out of 1980s techno-pop scene, but then I found myself grooving to this tune with all the little jazzy licks in it. Of course, I have a soft spot for The Cure who has been cranking out the pop hits for an Elton-John-like-long-time starting back in my college days which gives them a leg up.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Car-Tunes: Things I Learned Today

Made the 8-hour trip from Washington, D.C. to the home of rock n' roll today with Neats and the boys. That would be basically six hours of driving with prerequisite stops for dough and gas and the requisite stops at Bob Evans for lunch (lest we have a children riot on our hands) and the Latte Mocha stop in the afternoon (lest we have a parental riot). Here is what we learned about music from this trip.
  1. After nearly twenty years of marriage, Neats is still amazed that it takes me longer to decide what music to take with me than to pack my clothes (or do anything else related to the trip).
  2. Hearing Lucinda Williams sing AC/DC's "Long Way to the Top" is fun, but not as fun as hearing The Engineer singing it from the back of the van afterwards.
  3. Traveling through the hills and mountains of Pennsylvania was a good time to listen to Charlie Haden's new bluegrass disc.
  4. Forty-five minutes of live Phish jams will, in fact, drive my wife to take control of the music.
  5. The Artist is perfectly happy to ignore the music being played to sing his own songs that he is making up as he goes along.
  6. Fortunately, we have discovered that if you play REM's album Accelerate very loud, you can drown out three boys screaming nonsense--yes that would be four middle aged men screaming nonsense drowning out three small children, and that is not fair, but this was before the requisite coffee stop.
  7. Despite heading home for multiple holiday gatherings, we are musically done with the holidays as nary a single holiday disc made it into the player today.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas All

Here is this year's pick for classic holiday album of the year. Guaraldi's music on the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas (buy album) has the ability to transport me to my childhood and all the nostalgia of the those holidays like no other album and that is a wonderful thing. And now I get to watch my own children and their excitement and wonderment during this time of year.

May your day be peaceful and warm and full of fond memories and the glee of young children.

Christmas Is Coming
Christmas Time Is Here

Monday, December 22, 2008

Three to Consider: Hidden Holiday Treats

I am still happily preoccupied with seasonal activities (and less happily still dealing with work too close to the big day). So here is a lazy offering to fill the time let's take a look at a new category--holiday tunes that appear on regular albums as opposed to included on entire holiday albums. They just sort of pop-up on these albums.

In many cases, I am not a big fan of these as they seem terribly out of place to me. For instance, one of my all time favorite jazz artists is Dexter Gordon and one of my favorite tunes of his is "The Panther" which is on the album with the same title (it is also the reason our big black and white cat's name is Dexter). Anyway, in the midst of this album comes Dex's version of "The Christmas Song." It is a great version and, in fact, leads off a nice jazz holiday compilation album I have . . .  but it is totally out of place there.

Now this is surely part of my over-the-top rules about holiday music which shall never be played before Thanksgiving our after New Year's Day (really, that is enough isn't it?). Of course, as with all hard-and-fast rules, there are exceptions and here are three of mine. The key to all of these very different tunes is that they all work as holiday songs and as songs on the albums they appear on.

First up, we have The Waitresses with "Christmas Wrapping"--and this is a bit of stretch since it was first released as an EP, but I have it where I suspect many do which is on their Best Of album. So we find it mixed in with other holiday favorites such as "I Know What Boys Like" and "They're All Out of Liquor, Let's Find Another Party." And yet, it works--perhaps cuz it is so eighties danceable, who knows.

Next we have an absolutely beautiful retelling of the Christmas story from Bruce Cockburn. No sap here, just a great storyteller putting his spin on a narrative that has been told a million times. I love, in particular, how he characterizes Joseph as the miffed-jealous partner and how Mary sets him straight. "Cry of a Tiny Babe" sits in the midst of a great Cockburn album Nothing But a Burning Light which is held together by a theme of searching for the character of a man's soul (and for Bruce, I do think it is about a man's character), which is perhaps why this fits so well.

And last, we have Chrissie Hynde singing "2000 Miles" from the Pretenders Learning to Crawl album. This tune is really a song of love and longing, but the use of Christmastime as a place-holder for happier times and the snow imagery make it a fine holiday tune, although it also serves as a wonderful closing tune to this album.

Christmas Wrapping
Cry of a Tiny Babe
2000 Miles

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Whistling While We Wait

Still trying to keep up with work and the holidays and finding it a bit hard to blog about music, but I have been meaning to note the upcoming release of Andrew Bird's new album and now is as good a time as any. Me, I am hoping for an album that is more in the direction of Armchair Apocrypha than, say, The Mysterious Production of Eggs. I know that the latter (which is really the former) got a better critical reception than the former (which is really the latter) did--although they were both very well received.

I am also quite well aware that the things I like about Armchair are the very things that critics didn't--more pop-oriented, more upbeat, more straight-forward lyrics, more not as hip artsy-indie music. But remember that is within the spectrum that is multiple-string-instrument-playing, best-indie-whistler world of Andrew Bird, so even the most "pop" AB album has a certain feel to it. This isn't to say that I don't appreciate the Eggs, but rather that I find it a bit more produced and intentionally artsy or overly cerebral (or both) where I find Armchair somewhat more honest and, dare I say, fun--and therefore more effective in its mission.

So, in anticipation of the new release, here are the opening tracks from Armchair (buy album), which I really enjoy.

Fiery Crash

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday Music: Squirrel Nut Zippers

The first two installments of holiday music have been beautiful acoustic albums, so let's step it up a bit. One might suggest that this week's installment would be better categorized as a jazz album rather than a pop influenced album, but my sense of the Squirrel Nut Zippers is that they were always about making their brand of jazz influenced music popular.

The SNZ have always been true to their wonderful mix of Dixie-influenced jazz that has a certain bluegrass feel to it and always has that great feel of music made in the mountains of Carolina. Their holiday effort is no exception. On top of that, this effort has that feel of musicians who grew up and experienced the holidays through the lens of the 1950's or 60's. The beauty here is that you know this is all history and a passing down of tradition.

So put on SNZ's Christmas Caravan, stir up a batch of egg nog, get out your Lionel train set and imagine yourself in the snow covered southern appalacian mountains and enjoy some holiday fun.

Squirrel Nut Zippers (Buy Album)

Winter Weather
Carolina Christmas
Hot Christmas

Friday, December 12, 2008

Three to Consider: Maybe, Probably, Can’t Help Myself

I’ve been traveling quite a bit for work without much time to write or even listen to all that much music. So here are three to consider that caught my interest in recent reviews and samplers—two new artists for me and one I have lost track of.

First up is the indie instrument infused Anathallo’s second album Canopy Glow. I have been listening to “The River” which reminds me of Andrew Bird (particularly the Mysterious Production of Eggs) with its ornate layering and complex lyrics. Reviews of their first album suggest that perhaps they are trying just a bit too hard, but reviews I have seen for Canopy Glow suggest consistent song writing with a wonderful mix of music and choral arrangements. The key for me will be whether the album has good variation in song style which I am not sure, so any input there or in general is appreciated. For now it’s a maybe.

The River (Buy Album)

Now what is up with dudes and cabins in the Wisconsin woods? First we had Bon Iver which probably still holds favorite album of year status for me. Now along comes Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons for our second consideration. I have been listening to “Home in the Woods” from the EP Cabin Ghosts which is apparently named for his family’s cabin in the Wisconsin woods where this is recorded. When I first heard the song, I thought it might be an older artist who had been working for some time and I had just missed him like so many others. His voice has a kind of Marc Cohn sound to it (which I really like), but the sound is more bluesy and raw in a way that makes me think of Greg Brown. To my surprise, Chisel is a newer artist (and young) which might mean we are hearing someone who is at the beginning of a promising career. I am looking forward to hearing more, so this one is a probably for me.

Home in the Woods (Buy EP)

For the last consideration we have Joan Osborne’s latest release, Little Wild One. I confess to being one of those people who only have the hit album Relish which I really loved and played a lot one summer back in Salt Lake City. I remember thinking that this is someone I am going to explore and then didn’t. I got interested again when I read the reviews of her latest album. They (the reviews) weren’t all that great, although respectful of her as an artist. But all the descriptions about songs set in New York City and her role as a newish parent attracted me—but again, I didn’t pursue. However, when I heard “Cathedrals” I couldn’t stop playing it. It isn’t the most complex song, but I simply love the arrangement, the way the tune builds and then resolves. Osborne has such a strong alto voice and the lyrics are clearly from someone who I can identify with. It reminds me of early Billy Joel in many ways, but that is a whole other issue. In short, I am quite sure this one is going to be picked up unless some dear reader tells me otherwise.

Cathedrals (Buy Album)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Holiday Music: Shawn Colvin

Not that I think anyone is paying that close attention, but I am going to change the holiday music posting approach. I am still going with the advent approach--that is, a post a week for the four weeks leading up to Christmas for all you heathens. However, rather than doing the various genres I suggested last week, I am going to stick with one type of music for this year (pop/rock influence) followed by a final post on a classic album. If we are still around next year we will take up another genre or style--jazz, classical, compilations, etc. All of which is to say, we are sticking with pop/rock influenced holiday album this week (as if you didn't know that from the title).

This week's pick is influenced by the weather (and of course my attachment to the album). Yesterday started cold (about freezing) with blue skies but quickly became a gray day with low December light. Mid-afternoon brought a light snow that continued into the night and left a skiffof snow on the ground this morning with flakes still swirling in the air. We spent the weekend doing holiday errands, putting up a few tasteful outdoor lights (in case anyone is taking video), building fires, making lists, walking in our little snow, and drinking eggnog (and a few other holiday spirits).

Shawn Colvin's Holiday Songs and Lullabies was made for just such weather. Calm and peaceful like a first December snow, Colvin arranges a host of wonderful songs on this 1998 release.  It has the potential to be a sugary holiday overload, but Colvin's sincerity and vocals (that could make the phonebook sound like great lyrics) overcomes any such worries.

Now this album is slow with little attempt to be anything else, so don't try it on unless you aren't ready for some quietude. I surely have a soft spot for it since I have been listening to it for the last eight years which has, for at least six of them, involved rocking small boys to sleep, so it has been the perfect holiday album. But a fire on a cold night and your favorite sippin' and a good book (or blog) is the perfect companion for this holiday album.

The song choice is also key. There are some traditional tunes here (e.g. Silent Night), but a good number of the songs are not ones you will hear on your local holiday radio station, or, frankly, on other holiday albums. So all you peaceful folks or new parents looking for an album to quiet the little one in your home, here are a few samples to put you in that seasonal and contemplative mood (0r you can just Buy the Album).

In the Bleak Mid-Winter
Love Came Down at Christmas
Little Road to Bethlehem

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lucinda Returns from the West

Despite the fact that I have been listening to Lucinda Williams' latest album Little Honey off and on for a couple months now, I just seem to not get around to posting about it. There are a variety of reasons, but one of the main reasons was that so many folks seemed to be so happy about this album in juxtaposition to the previous release West. Here is Paste:
A sharp contrast to the studied tapestry of sound and embittered lyrics of West, Little Honey finds Williams in celebratory mode, with raucous rock, bluesy testimonies and tongue-in-cheek twang.
But all of these "thank God she is over that" comparisons made me keep thinking: "But I liked West!" More to the point, I kept going back and listening to the two albums, one against the other.

Sure, the new album is more upbeat and it definitely has the Lucinda swagger that you have to love, but dang people, West is about loss and hurt, and really does anyone do that better these days than Lucinda? The songs on West take anyone who has lost someone back to that moment in time and weep. They make jilted lovers remember both the hurt and anger. And they make anyone who has hurt another, feel the razor's edge of guilt and regret. Little Honey on the other hand makes you laugh, dance and nod knowingly.

All of which is not to say that I prefer West to Little Honey, but rather to say that they are apples and oranges in one sense, but in another they are all the fruit of Lucinda's emotions and that is what makes them so sweet (sorry, bad metaphor, but it just happened).

So let's talk just a little bit about the new effort which in overall is a really fine and fun album. It is confident with that don't mess with me--alright you can mess with me a little--attitude. The songs are varied both in style and content from honky tonk to blues to rock but they all express a certain sense that Williams is settling in with who she is. On West she longs for her Mama (who had recently passed) and tells her she's sweet, but on Little Honey, "she is gonna see her mother in heaven," not to mention "talk to God" and "set things straight."

Some have pointed out that the album is a bit inconsistent which I would sort of agree with (it might have been a couple songs shorter and I, too, would have lost the duet with Elvis Costello--despite loving the Elvis man). At the same time, I agree with those who have suggested that some of the nit-picky criticisms of this album are, in part, has to do with the bar being set high for Williams. If you had never heard Lucinda prior to this album, I think you would feel like you stumbled onto something great and that is something to remember. So, sure covering AC/DC is a bit silly, but I confess it makes me happy every time I hear it! And while it doesn't quite hold together as a perfect album, it is really an above average album--definitely worth a spin.

Here are a couple tracks to give you a sense, and since I spent more time than I meant covering West too, I have thrown in a couple from that album as well to give you a flavor if you don't have it.

From Little Honey (Buy Album)

Real Love
Heaven Blues

From West (Buy Album)

Mama You Sweet
Wrap My Head Around That

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Holiday Music: Bruce Cockburn

As we emerge from the Thanksginving weekend and enter into the high holiday season, I must admit that I am a total uncrtical fan of holiday music (primarily Christmas tunes given my upbringing). I have a kind of embarassing amount of holiday music and I am really pretty resistant to hearing too much of it during December. Don't ask me to listen to a single track before Thanksgving, but after that, it is my primary set of music.

As a result, it will be unavoidable for me to not write about it since it will represent the majority of what I will listen to for the next month. However, in the interest of hopefully keeping the small random group of TR readers coming back, I have developed a kind of "advent strategy" to posting about holiday music. I am going to limit myself to one disc a week leading up to Christmas. My goal is to give you one pop/rock influenced album, one jazz, one classical, and one "classic" holiday disc--the last category providing me the opportunity to post on anything I want as long as I deem it a classic. See how that works?
Okay, so let's get started. My first offering is Bruce Cockburn's 1993 release simply named Christmas. If you like Cockburn's music and you like holiday tunes, this is a must have. It is all acoustic, just in case you were worried that Bruce might bust into one of his rocking rages where he tears into the commercialism of the holiday--his point is more subtle here. This album is focused on the history of this music and on conveying a real sense of belief in the best of this season.
He travels through music to give us 16th century Spanish music, to "The Huron Carol" from the 1600's in Jesuit influenced Canada, to a host of traditional carols. But this is no world-music disc as the music really feels like a group of musicians sitting around with guitar, fiddle, dulcimer, harp, accordion and more re-telling these stories and celebrating something quite spiritual through their interpretations of these songs.
The arrangements are the key with gospel and blues being the driving genre. Cockburn's folk sound (here with a heavy dose of French-Canadian feel) mixed in with his usual story-telling orientation creates a certain sound that is simple and joyful.
Here are a few samples. The first is "Early on One Christmas Morn" which Cockburn reports first hearing on an anthology of early gospel recordings--this one by The Cottontop Mountain Sanctified Singers (dig that name!). The second is one of my favs "I Saw Three Ships". Lastly, there is "Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes" which you will quickly recognize as "Angels We Have Heard on High" which is a traditional French carol from the 18th century, but as Bruce notes has a "rhythmic groove . . . written right into it."
I think these will give you a sense of what makes this album so special.

Early on One Christmas Morn Buy Album
I Saw Three Ships
Les Anges Dans Nos Campagnes

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving All!

May your day be warm, safe and shared with friends and family.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

RSHIP: Easy Listening

Haven't had a whole lot of time to think carefully about music and posting--in part because work has been eating up life in a variety of ways.  One way was the conference I ran this past weekend at your basic DC hotel which involved a variety of, um, melodramatic events.  But the 48 hours in the hotel was highlighted by far too much time hanging out in the hotel general space listening to the easy listening soundtrack they were playing.

We were amazed by songs that apparently were too rowdy in their original form to be included and so required being remade into softer, easier to listen to tunes.  Songs like "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac or "Beautiful Tonight" by Eric Clapton apparently were just too hard in their original form.  And if I could even name one of the hundred bad easy-listening-love-duets they played I would, but I can't.  

But here is the song that gave me my biggest eye-roll of the weekend.  I challenge you all, dear readers, to name a sappier song. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Getting Ready for the Flood

Seems we have been hearing about the forthcoming almost-Jayhawk reunion album Ready for the Flood for some time with even a review or two despite the fact that the album isn’t due out until early next year. However, I did notice that the import is coming out in just over a week so it seemed appropriate to do a little pre-release post on Mr. Louris and Mr. Olson.

I am pretty anxious to hear this new effort as I have been recently going back and listening to the early Jayhawk albums which are really quite wonderful. I have also been listening to Louris’ new and first solo album Vagabonds (which I discussed briefly earlier this year) and Olson’s latest solo effort Salvation Blues.

Both of the solo efforts are worth a listen, although neither of them measure up to this duo’s work together. Olson’s album is just a bit too melancholy and barren for me even when he is singing about redemption and that he is now in that happier place. His songs are well-crafted (better than most these days) and the music is fine, but I am just not a huge fan of his vocals on their own. 

The Louris album is stronger I think, although he relies more on arrangements and production that seems closer to Jayhawk style, which might be why I prefer it. There is a better mix of country, blues and rock. He employees some great backing vocals so you get those great harmonies that the Jayhawks have and overall it is just a more interesting disc.

But still, there is not a chance I would pick either solo effort over albums like Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass. These albums, particularly the latter for me, are just solid all the way through with some near-perfect songs to my taste. The singing is beautiful and as I suggested above they are better together than apart. There is something about how their vocals mix that makes their voice in some cases seem wonderfully indistinguishable and in others the perfect counter to each other (dare I say Lennon/McCartney).

They also seem so confident on these albums—not like they know everything, but that they are sure of their intent with the music (which I find a bit missing on their solo efforts). Makes me wonder if that is age or circumstance, or if there is something about them singing together that elicits that quality—we will see. Until then, here are some samples for you to compare.

Salvation Blues – Mark Olson (Buy Album)
Vagabonds – Gary Louris (Buy Album)
Sister Cry – Jayhawks (Buy Album)
Blue – Jayhawks (Buy Album)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Oasis, Coltrane, Soundgarden and Originals: Must be Brad Mehldau

Covering the waterfront doesn't quite capture what Brad Mehldau and his trios (and other iterations) have been doing for the last decade. This is a guy who can not only do the whole soft jazz trio thing and then jump to some serious bop tunes with a wall of notes, he can also move into a free jazz frenzy or play the blues. And of course, what a Mehldau group might be most known for is identifying modern pop tunes and moving them into the jazz genre in such a way that you feel like you are fortunate enough to be listening to that moment when a song gets wrenched from its origins to become known as a jazz standard rather than just a jazz cover of the latest rock or pop tune.  And what I think makes Mehldau different on this front is his ability to choose the right songs from the Beatles to Radiohead.
So it should have come as no surprise to me when I first heard Mehldau's latest effort with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard and the disc opened with a cover of "Wonderwall" by Oasis.  Well, cover doesn't really, er, cover it.  The guys take a great pop tune (regardless of what you think of those Gallagher brothers),  and turn it into an absolutely fun nine-minutes of swinging jazz, highlighted by Grenadier's wonderful funky bass line underneath Mehldau's great sense of melody and improvisation.
But that is really only the beginning of this fine two-disc compilation from their 2006 stint at the Village Vanguard in which they play everything from slow lovely standards such as Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" to rippin John Coltrane pieces such as "Coutndown" to a 23 minute version of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" (which gets a bit too free jazzy for me, but just for a moment).  In addition, there are some great Mehldau originals here, the best being "Ruby's Rub" which really shows off the trio's range of abilities.
The playing, as always seems to be the case with a Mehldau trio is Keith Jarrett trio tight.  I have to say that I really like Jeff Ballard's work on this effort.  I am no expert on drummers (and would have to go back and listen more closely to Jorge Rossy on earlier trio albums to see how it compares), but something about Ballard's touch which seems quick and very responsive to Mehldau's keyboard work--almost as if they are in a conversation at times--really rounds out the trio on this album.
So here is the trick.  Since the shortest track on this outing is almost nine minutes (and I know that most folks aren't hanging around here that long), I am hard pressed to pick out one track to share.  I really want everyone to take a listen to "Wonderwall" and as I said "Ruby's Rub" is an excellent and representative piece--but you can hear samples of those along with "Blackhole Sun" over at the official site.  So here is O Que Sera by Doris Day Chico Buarque.  This no simple bossa nova tune, but rather more of a laid back samba feeling blues which slowly moves into a more up-tempo musical back and forth between these three talented players.  
Enjoy and use that buy the album link as this one gets a 95/100 from the TR.
O Que Sera (Buy Album)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cardinology: In Which My Grading Philosophy Enters the Room

Note: so this is a post that I put up several days ago and it was summarily swept off this here blog which you can read about below. As I note, I am not re-posting because I think this is such a great post, but rather because it was something I put an effort into and I think this album is worth discussing (which is the reason for the post in the first place). So here we have it again without the music files.


I am not a music critic. In fact, one might suggest that I am a bit too positively uncritical. Fair enough, but this leaves me in a bit of a pickle when I want to write about music that I find interesting, perhaps worth a listen, but not amazing. I want to be positive, but, at the same time, I want to provide some sense of my ambivalence or even dislikes--all of which makes me think back on grading college papers in my previous life as a faculty member.

See, writing comments on a student paper and giving a grade are two very different activities. Comments (hopefully) are formative and encouraging; whereas grades are summative and judgmental (I know it isn't that clean all you teachers out there). I will never forget how hard it was to give my first grades on a round of papers--I was so unsure about them. I knew what I wanted to say to each student regarding their paper, but judging them in that finalistic way (particularly when so many seemed like grades I wouldn't want to receive) was much harder. But ultimately, the grade became helpful.

It helped to know that the students were going (as I would have) straight to the grade and then (if they didn't agree) to the comments for justification (and if they did) for more pleasantries about how fine they were as writers. And so my comments were often oriented that way. Hey, wondering why you got a B? Here you go. But ultimately, I always tended to try to shape the comments as positive as possible.

Why oh why am I subjecting you to this recounting of my grading philosophy?! Well, here is the thing, I have been thinking that there might be some advantage to quantifying my reactions to music here in the TR with some sort of grade or score so you, dear reader, would know that while I liked two different albums, I liked one much more than another. And the new album from Ryan Adams and the Cardinals makes me think that this is definitely a good idea. Why?

Well, you see there has been so much hype and talk about Cardinology and then it was released and so many folks were disappointed (including our favorite Ryan Adams scholars) which resulted in others getting all defensive, so it seemed that it might be helpful to be as clear as possible when weighing in here.

And this (to take another digression) is why I really do love the Metacritic which aggregates and "quantifies" reviews on a standard scale (oh, the false security of numbers). The results for Cardinology thus far are a solid B- (80/100)--oops, a C+ (78/100) as there are new reviews in. It works (in this case) to eliminate overly cranky Pitchfork reviews and overly fawning Entertainment Weekly reviews and gives you a decent mean and median of the reviews that I generally find pretty accurate (including this album although I am going to come out slightly higher with my grade).

Are you still with me? Thanks (we will actually start talking about the album now).

So, if I were to grade the new effort, I am pretty sure I would come down somewhere around a low B--perhaps an 83 just to let Ryan know he just barely scrambled into the B (not B-) tier--I am sure he will care. So why a B?

First, I agree with many of the critiques that this album is not on par with other efforts from Adams and in particular you miss the country influence a bit on this album. Second, there is a bit too much middle-tempo music and lastly and most importantly the lyrics are lacking, even sophomoric at times. That said, I also don’t think this is just a "C" (average) album either. Here is the deal.

My first listen to this album confirmed every disappointment that has been written about Cardinology, but I listened more and then I found myself choosing to listen again and again. Hop in the car with a host of discs to choose from--in it goes. Riding the Metro or sitting in the airport, what's on the iPod, Cardinology. And what I have decided is that, well, I really like it as an album.

I like the transitions--one song ends and the next begins and you feel like one song follows another quite naturally. I admit that by the time we are near the end I am longing for the earlier part of the album, but that is a minor criticism. I like the trying on of the different musical influences going on here--whether it is the R&B feel of "Fix It" or the gospel sound of "Let Us Down Easy." I even dig the somewhat silly lyrics and early Tom Petty rockin' sound of "Magic" which I would listen to just to hear Ryan's spittin P's and B's.

There is simply no argument about the musicianship here--even those who are disappointed with the album appreciate the musical performance of the Cardinals, the singing of Adams and the production of the album. And despite the less-than-perfect lyrics, often the well-produced mix of lyrics and music overcome that fault.

And lastly, I think I am into this album because at this point in my life I appreciate the "maturing" narrative and the fact that Adams is trying to deal with managing change and growing up. I find myself patient with the effort and the subject and am willing to see the value in what is being dealt with here. I feel tremendous calm and hope in listening to the final track "Stop" as Ryan clearly articulates recovery efforts (not to mention I love how that tune transitions back to the opening "Born Into A Light" for those listening on CD with repeat on).

So objectively, I am going to stick with the low B grade, but I also have to say that it is a B effort I have enjoyed while recognizing its place in the overall Adams' catalog. I still encourage folks to take a listen and see what you think as I am not convinced this album should be kicked to the curb just because it isn't the best thing that Ryan and the Cards have produced. As UNCUT puts it so well in its review:

Ultimately, “Cardinology” serves as another minor indictment of Adams’ famously lackadaisical internal editor. Nevertheless, it is still, almost infuriatingly, a stretch better than most people at their best. And, it being a Ryan Adams album, its misfires and drop-shorts matter less than they otherwise might. He clearly can’t help himself. There’ll be another one along presently.

Hard to decide what to put forward for samples given that I would like to share the first several tracks to give those who haven't heard the album a sense of the track progression, but here are three that I think represent the album pretty well.

Check out the official Cardinology site, where you can jump to their MySpace page to hear tunes and also buy the album.

Friday, November 14, 2008

My First Google Take Down

Did you stop by in the last 24 hours?  Did you manage to work your way through the long post about Cardinology and my grading philosophy from my previous life?  Were you here early enough to check out any samples that were put up with the intent of promoting said album?  Were you here when I immediately took down the samples as requested by (which I use to host music files for the site) so you only got to read the tortured post but didn’t get a sample, but still were provided with a link to BUY THE ALBUM?!  Were you here before the entire post was removed by the all-seeing Google without so much as a how-do-you-do?   

Okay, so I wrote about this whole issue (which was really just picking up on Paul’s more comprehensive post) about our outdated copyright sensibility in the new world order a week or so ago, but I am surprised how personal it feels that Google just “swept” my site.  Of course the real question is why?   Am I irritated because:

  • I spent too much time on this particular post and didn’t save it outside of Blogger (which I actually thought about given the recent discussions of this very issue)?
  • Am just a bit peeved that it was a post about Ryan “I can’t be bothered with your stinking rules of behavior” Adams that provided me with my first “take down”?
  • I just feel so violated?
  • I was just thinking what a great idea this commenter had to say on STWOF and was thinking that perhaps I should put the samples in a side bar widget so the take downs wouldn’t impact a particular post?
  • I thought Google was going to be more hip and less corporate than any other, um, huge corporation?
  • Gosh, I might have actually believed I was promoting music not theft, copyright infringement or anything else you old-stinkin-property-owning-capitalists are ready to accuse me of!  (sorry)

Well, needless to say it is just one, not all that well, tortured blog post lost.  And now I will join others in thinking through the whole enterprise.  But for now this is how I feel about the whole thing.

Be My Enemy (The Waterboys)

Update:  with a clearer head this morning, I realized that Google is most likely its own worst enemy and indeed am right.  Here is the cached version which I will probably clean up and repost sans mp3s--just cuz I am stubborn SOB, not becasue the post is so important.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

RSHIP: Borderline

First song Neats and I heard upon arriving in the cosmopolitan city of Montreal (in the taxi from the airport as we hurtled toward downtown). I try not to read too much into these things.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tres Bien! Hot Club of Detroit

So Neats and I are going to escape to Montreal for the weekend where we have not been since we honeymooned there (as children--without children) nearly 20 years ago.  This gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about the new album, Night Town, by the Hot Club of Detroit since jazz and Montreal are clearly just one step away from Paris, n'est-ce pas?    Obviously named after the Hot Club de France with guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist St├ęphane Grappelli, this is a guitar-based, 1930's-influenced swing band focused on Django-compositions,  but there is more.

These guys clearly love the Django and so do I.  In fact, I generally don't want hear anyone trying to copy Django as I almost always react to bands trying to emulate him and his band by thinking of Emmet Ray in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown--Emmet was the greatest guitar man in the world . . . except Django--and often I feel the same way about Django influenced groups.

But with that caveat,  I have got to say that I have been really enjoying this album by Hot Club of Detroit (HCoD), both for it's straight up Hot Club sound (and all of Paris clubs and cafes that it evokes) but also their efforts to expand the repertoire to include other jazz idioms.  And there is no denying that these guys can swing.  If you aren't into Django and the 30's sound you won't like it.  If you are but can't accept a modernized and cleaner sound of that music (which I understand), you also won't like HCoD.   But if you are into Django and can deal with a bit more polished sound  (and you also dig the move from the 30's swing sound to the Blue Note years), I am going to bet you enjoy this effort.
To give you a sample, here are three tracks.  First is "J'attendrai" which was, of course, recorded by Django (and others), followed by "Speevy" which is written by Reinhardt and Grappelli--these should give you the sense of the great playing by the band and thier reverence for the traditional Hot Club sound--particularly by lead guitarist Evan Perri.  Then to give you a sense of the expansionist sense of HCoD, we have "Blues Up and Down,"  a Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt tune that allows Carl Cafagna to show off a bit more muscular tenor sax (although he blends his alto well into many of the other tunes).  All around, a swingin' affair.
So open up the red wine, order some pommes frites, and take a listen.

Hot Club of Detroit:  Night Town (Buy Album)

Blues Up and Down


Monday, November 3, 2008

Bloggers and the Big Boys

Lately I have been reading a bit about bloggers and others looking to share and promote music who have run into various dilemmas around copyright issues and threatened legal action by large recording companies (and the RIAA).  I wanted to bring those to light here at the TR not only because I find the changing ways and media through which music is shared to be interesting, but also to spread around a few stories about folks out there doing some really fine work who have found themselves in a bit of David and Goliath situation.

First there was the whole dust-up between Muxtape (which allowed users to upload their music in “mix tapes” to share with other online listeners) and the RIAA.  David reported on that earlier this year and you can read the whole saga from Muxtape-creator Justin Ouellette. Not to ruin the ending, but the outcome was a pretty unsatisfying compromise in my mind given where MT started.  That is not Justin's fault.  His efforts and commitments through the process are highly commendable and ultimately I bet there will still be a lot of great music coming from MT in its new band-oriented portal format--but the bottom line is that the platform is lost to everyday users.

The question that whole situation brings up is the question of sharing and “fair use” vs. the intellectual property rights of the musicians and record companies (although I haven't heard of musicians really being the issue here) and that is the question that Paul over at Setting the Woods on Fire has been struggling with as he receives “take-down” notices.  If you haven’t visited STOF before, it won’t take you long to realize that this is a serious and informative music blog (with a very particular attitude about music) and that having it shut down would be a loss for musicians and listeners alike, but that appears to be where Paul is headed.  And to that end, he asks an important (perhaps the fundamental) question as he attempts to submit his blogging to the “fair use” doctrine. 

Less clear is “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” Will posting an mp3 cause readers to seek out and buy the full album of an artist they might never have heard otherwise (in which case there will be a positive effect on the market)? Or will it stop potential customers from paying to download the same song (in which case the effect would be negative)? That question has been the subject of some research, but no conventional wisdom exists. I think the fact that so many artists openly encourage music blogs to post mp3s of their songs strongly suggests that responsible mp3 blogs are helpful to the industry, at least on a case by case basis.

I can only answer this from my own experience although I suspect it is not entirely unique.  I have always been a fan of music and a collector of music, but my pursuit of new music slowed for a couple of reasons.

First there is this thing called life including families, work, etc. and that just speeds up as we get older—so time was an issue.  But connected to that was the sorting—sorting through all the myriad of musical offerings out there and trying to make sense of the and select well rather than just increasing consumption to keep up with supply.  And that is where music blogs have become key for me.  

Sure I still read the rags (just about all of which now come with a sampler CD, hmmmm) and talk with friends some about music, but it is the community of music blogs that I read that are the real source of a lot of what I listen to and experiment with.

Of course that doesn’t answer the question of why not just swipe mp3s, load them into the old iPod and save some dough.  Well, that might have to do with age.  While I am old enough to remember (and covet) my brother's 45 rack or those groovy plastic 45 record carriers, I grew up with albums.  Even more so, I grew up in a time when bands that had single hits on an otherwise sucky LP were derided as lucky.  The album is the unit of measure for me—it matters how it opens, how it holds together, whether it is too short or too long, or my worst case scenario is a great album with one horrible song right in the middle.  Samples are just an introduction, not a replacement for the album.

So for me, the advent of music blogs has meant more purchases not less.  I could list of a dozen albums I have bought this year because of a review I have read and a sample I have listened to on other sites—albums that would most likely have never been purchased by me otherwise. In part, that is how I try to share samples with those of you who are kind enough to stop by here at the Room.  I could just play you my favorite song, but that would be just me saying I like this. Instead, I have been trying in my short time running this blog to give some representation of the album or band being discussed as means of encouraging readers to support that particular artist.

I suppose it is a bit reductionist to argue that it is just about sales, but I am pretty confident that is the issue.  Of course even when you try to work within the legal framework as Justin did, you find out that even when you are willing to ensure the record companies get their fair share, they are going to keep asking for more, so I suspect we are in for a long and bumpy ride.  

Friday, October 31, 2008

Those Haunting Walkmen

Something odd, one might say spooky, happened to me a week or so ago. See, this summer good friend Wobs started dishing me discs byThe Walkmen starting with Bows and Arrows and A Hundred Miles Off. And truth be told I wasn't getting it . . . at all. I kept wanting lead singer Hamilton Leithauser to drop the vocals down an octave from the high-pitched wailing and was really wishing that the guitars would occasionally chill out with all the electric strumming going on--and yet I kept listening off and on.

Then this You & Me came out this year and I was hearing a track here and there and reading favorable reviews and thought that perhaps this was the album that would unlock these boys for me. Sure enough my source brought me that disc as well and I started listening to it and my first reaction was "better" but I was still unsure. But I kept listening, more, perhaps because as Jason Crock over at Pitchfork notes, You & Me isn't as hard or immediate as the band's earlier records, but that's not a complaint; its sound is coy, and invites you to spend time with it.” I was. And then all of the sudden as I had this moment where literally my listening turned from curious to, hey I really like this. I went back to the previous albums and had the same reaction. It was really quite odd as it literally happened in a split second like a conversion and I can’t really remember that ever happening before.

Not to get into too much musical psychoanalysis here, but I think a key thing was letting go and not fighting the flow of the music. I kept seeking resolution—that the guitars were going to come off those chords, or Leithauser was going to end that next line on an appropriate third or fifth lower to resolve a phrase of sometimes down right monotone wails. And once that happened then the musical structure and sound all seemed to make sense with the lyrics seeming to float slowly by over somewhat faster happening events in the background—like listening to music while watching the world fly by outside a train window.

It also made me start paying more attention and appreciate the differences in albums and songs rather than being overly focused on the similarity of sound. You start to hear their penchant for shuffle, cha-cha, and flamenco beats (and woodblocks that keep popping up along with a few other surprising instruments). The albums are definitely different in their attitude with Bows and Arrows have the most rocking going on and You & Me being the most melodic and ballad oriented (leaving A Hundred Miles Off squarely and perhaps most interestingly in the middle). But still I find myself most attached to You & Me.

Here are a few samples. Not sure if The Walkmen will ever be thought of as “pop” but I imagine “The Rat” from Bows and Arrows has been heard by a considerable number of people (most likely mashed together in a club with really loud music). I like it becasue it has a certain Waterboys big music feel to me. Louisiana” from A Hundred Miles Off is one of the more unique sounding tunes given the funky beat and horns (although I wouldn’t call this song “typical”). Lastly two tunes from You and Me which were the two tunes that were playing during my transformation and that I think are quite wonderful—particularly “Four Provinces.” And while these are each different in style I think they capture these guys quite well as they all have that very distinct guitar driven sound with Leithauser's lyrics quietly wailing over top.  
If you aren’t by chance familiar with The Walkmen, may your journey with them be as mysterious and fund as mine has been.

The Rat (Buy Album)
Louisiana (Buy Album)
Canadian Girl
Four Provinces (Buy Album)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Music Video Extravaganza!

As if the economy wasn’t bad enough, MTV has launched a video archive of all those great videos you remember from back in the day which will surely lead to decreased employee productivity as we all sit at our desk watching videos rather than doing whatever--not to mention a renewed round of Rickrolling that is sure to ensue!  But really, we can’t be blamed for wanting to jump back a few (or many) years to check out videos that remind us of high school or college can we?  For me, one of the early videos that I remember seeing a lot and that I loved was this one.

Now even if you love that song and that video as nostalgically as I do, you might be saying, what does this futuristic-Mad-Max world have to do with the lyrics of that song?  Well, that is the kind of question that is now making Dustin Mclean famous.  You see Dustin not only asked the question, "What if we actually wrote lyrics about what was actually happening in the video and sang those to the song’s real music?" he is making those videos. Here is the first effort which, if like me, you are behind the times and haven’t seen yet, get ready to chortle your behind off (and be singing “Take Me On” to yourself all day).

You can read more about Dustin at his site—where you can also see the second effort, a version of “Head Over Heels” by Tears for Fears.

Hat tip to IndieMuse, 50 Cent, and, of course, Wobs for keeping up on all the really important news like literal videos!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Here Comes These United States

This post has been sitting in the mental waiting room for a while and for whatever reason I have just not gotten around to it until now. I am sure you are all relieved that I finally have!

Washington DC-based These United States appear to be a bit unknown at this point--they don't even appear to have a Wikipedia page at this point (c'mon TUS fans, get with it!). Metacritic which is so on the ball it already has reviews up of The Cardinals album that was released yesterday doesn't have an entry for the new TUS album, Crimes, even though it has been out for a couple months--although they do have reviews on the first TUS album (and to be fair that album also came out this year only months before Crimes). And yet I feel a bit behind the times since there are a host of bloggers I follow who took a gander at this album some time ago. I guess the important part here is that just about everyone who has heard this second effort is positive on it--including yours truly. So let's get to it.

First off, I think you generally have to be into lyrics to like TUS--either that or you have to be someone who is totally oblivious to lyrics--although that is hard on this album much as it would be, say on a Dylan album. I am not saying that TUS frontman Jesse Elliott is Dylan (why ever make that comparison), but rather that the writing is integral to the tunes here. The lyrics are full of rich imagery with cultural and literary references that on one level seem to make sense and on another seem to make you wonder what Elliott is really after. Just to give you a sense, a quick scan of the songs on this album gives us references to Cain and Abel, Dionysus, Don Quixote, Samuel Clemens, Atlantis, the Big Blue Ox and John Chapman, and the topics are equally diverse. Overall though the lyrics are interesting and engaging.

Of course it helps that they are set musically in a sound that I can only described as laid-back rock. It has a certain southern blues feel to it, although Elliott's voice and the voice treatment could make you think of Beck. Ultimately, you feel like they are rockin' but no they couldn't be bothered to get up off the couch while they were playing. I actually mean this in a really positive way--it has that feeling of front porch blues overlaid with some indie tendencies. They seem very comfortable with the sound and it has a certain effortless feel and the band sounds really responsive to each other. And all that said, I would really love to see them live as I suspect there isn't much lying about involved in their shows.

And so ultimately, I suspect that there is a lot more coming about These United States. It is hard to know just what to share from this album as I would say it would take at least five songs to give you a sense of it all. Two of my favorites are "Susie at the Seashore" and "Honor Amongst Thieves" which you can check out at those respective links, so I am going to sample three other tunes that I think capture the album.

First is the opening track "How the West Was Won" which sets a great tone for the album--first tracks are so important to me--and really shows off Elliott's lyrical ability. Next to give you a sense of their slower, blues sound is "We Go Down to the Corner" which slowly builds to great resolution as Elliott croons "cheer up, baby, cheer up" and finally "Six Fast Bullets" which has a great laid back sound and the wonderful lyrical warning "I have six fast bullets but only five complaints!" Watch out if you don't want to complete that equation.

How the West Was Won  (Buy Album)
We Go Down to the Corner
Six Fast Bullets (Five Complaints)

Oh, and as a bonus, I switched players (hat tip to Nelson over at Fifty Cent Lighter) which means that if you just start the player on the first song it will play all the tracks as they appear. Good times!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Random Song Heard in Public (RSHIP)

So, I was already to post on the most recent effort by These United States, but I can't get the ole to upload my files. So in the meantime, let me initiate a new feature designed totally as filler for when I don't have time to write anything of substance but I don't want to disappoint you for taking the time to stop by.

The first part of this idea came to me while I was getting morning coffee at the local coffee shop (not Starbucks!) earlier this week and found myself subjected to this song which I feared would be in my mind all day (I was right). The second part came to me today when Lisa B. linked to this site by a woman who draws something she bought each day and I thought that the idea of sharing just a simple daily experience was cool and perhaps the quintessential motivation behind the blogging experience. Et voila! Random Song Heard in Public (RSHIP). However, since I couldn't bring myself to subject you to Laura Branigan, I give you this tasty little tune from the Police heard while getting soup at Au Bon Pain--Pasta e Fagoli for those who care. Looking forward to your random comments on this first random song.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The NBC Jingle: Flaming Lips Style

How to improve a night of The Office and 30 Rock? This 8 second NBC jingle promo will probably do the trick. And check out Wayne Coyne on Guitar Hero while showing off his techno-gizmo that makes cool sounds--one man's toy . . .

Hat tip to Indie Muse.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Now We're Cookin' / Squirrel Nut Zippers

The Squirrel Nut Zippers are favorite cookin' music here at the home of the TR. We have a saying at our house (in the fall or winter at least) that if it is Saturday night, it must be risotto. And tonight was no exception. Tonight's risotto (given that the Artist has recently realized that he likes animals so much he isn't down with eating them so much) focused on some nice smoked mozzarella to make a creamy risotto topped with some garden fresh tomatoes and parsley accompanied by a nice salad with fresh apples and pine nuts and of course a nice Tuscan red for the grown ups--mmmm.

Of course, risotto takes a lot of stirrin and the Squirrel Nuts are just the band for stirrin and swingin. Here are some perenniel favorites from three of their best that we like to have on while we are coookin.

The Inevitable Squirrel Nut Zippers (Buy Album)
Danny Diamond
I've Found a New Baby
Plenty More

Hot!  (Buy Album)

Put A Lid On It>
Bad Businessman

Perennial Favorites (Buy Album)
Ghost of Stephen Foster
Evening at Lafitte's

Friday, October 24, 2008

Star Maker Machine Match Game

Just cause I think this is cool--that's why. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of perusing the great Star Maker Machine, you should . . . but wait! First, read the rest of this post since if you go there first the following game will be, well, neither challenging nor fun!

You see Start Maker Machine is a group music blog with a twist. Each week or so the group bloggers are charged with blogging on a theme. Now this could be kind of lame if it weren't for two things. First, SMM has a solid group of bloggers with eclectic tastes and a solid footing in the tunes (not to mention that they do a really nice job on the photo selections). And second, the themes are really fun.

My favorite theme so far was the "2:42" theme in which bloggers were challenged to blog on songs of that exact length. This week's theme "Adjective Noun" (in which each blogger must "post songs whose titles consist of an adjective and a noun, in that order") is generating some solid posts that I think show why SMM is so fun to track. So just for fun below I have listed the songs up at SMM for this theme and the artists--but mixed up. Take a gander, or if you are really ambitious, print it off and see how many you can match-up (yes, I know there is probably some widgetity-thig-a-ma-gig that would allow me to create an online match game--whatever!).

Think TankPeter Gabriel
Dire WolfThe Rolling Stones
Malted MilkButthole Surfers
True ColorsCaitlin Cary and Thad Cockrell
Red RainCake Like
Simple GirlWhiskeytown
Dumb FunPentangle
Yellow TaxiJohn Hiatt (or) Roseanne Cash
Bourgeois BluesRichard Hell and The Voidoids
Silver BellJohnny Zamot (or) Herbie Hancock
Blank GenerationDavid Allen Coe
Haitian DivorceJeru the Damaja
Big NothingCyndi Lauper
Sunny SkiesMax Stalling
Second OptionJuliana Hatfield
Wandering StarBob Dylan
Bum LegRandy Newman
Human CannonballRobert Johnson
Pink BedroomBeck
Tennessee WhiskeyMatt Costa
Fat MamaRandy Newman
Cruel SisterSteely Dan
16 DaysElliott Smith
Graycoat SoldiersPrescott Curlywolf
Mental StaminaJames Taylor
Idiot WindNorman Blake
Hollow LogPossessed by Paul James
Short PeoplePatty Griffin
Brown SugarLucero

Okay, now you can head over to Star Maker Machine to check it out.
Update: There are already two new tunes added to the theme: "High Water" and "Cold Turkey"--extra bonus points if you can name who sings those songs.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Different Kind of Fiddle

So I know you all have been counting the days until the new Ryan Adams disc comes out hours until I finally put up that post on the viola d’amore before I got distracted by AC/DC. Well, wait no more.

All kidding aside, today we feature a really fine new album, D'Amore, by Garth Knox. The title refers not to "love" (although perhaps you may hear that here) but rather to the varied set of pieces on this disc that are played on the viola d’amore. So first things, first, what is a viola d’amore? The short answer is that it is a viola with an extra set of sympathetic strings that are not played, but rather resonate when the main strings are played. According to the Viola d’amore Society of America (yup, there is one):

The majority of violas d'amore have fourteen strings -- seven playing strings and seven additional resonating or sympathetic strings that go through the bridge and between the fingerboard and neck of the instrument, held by individual pegs in the elongated pegbox. The sympathetic strings are most often tuned to the same pitches as the playing strings. Instruments exist with different combinations of playing strings (four, five, six, and seven) and sympathetic strings (from four up to fourteen).
Knox plays the standard seven-six string v. d’amore on this outing and is ably accompanied by Agnes Vesterman on cello on the majority of the pieces which range from 17th century baroque to traditional Celtic songs to more modern compositions including one by Knox himself. There are certainly differences among these pieces as he moves from period to period and genre to genre, but the arrangements and pacing and the deepness of the playing both by Knox and Vesterman hold the whole set together.
The fullness of these pieces is amazing given that there are only two instruments and I hope that readers who are more oriented to other genres (especially you all who love to hear violins in other settings such as country and alt-country) will give these a listen. As the reviewer over at Gramophone notes, "this is quite simply one of the most outstandingly magical discs I have heard." True, true.

Prima Lezione (the Adante movement)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This Interruption in Our Regular Programming brought you by AC/DC

I am far behind in writing about discs I am listening to and tonight I had every intention of writing about a new viola d'amore-oriented-disc (I am such a tease!).  However, I got distracted by Alllison Stewart's Washington Post review of the new AC/DC album Black Ice. That is right AC/DC has a  new album out!

This is not a promotion for the new effort--I haven't heard a single track--and in some ways I am a little hesitant to talk about any album that is only being sold at "Wal-we will close a store before we give employees any voice by allowing a union here-Mart."  Still, this review just cracked me up and made me want to share.  

For those who can't be bothered with hopping over to the WaPo site to read the whole review, here are some highlights (which like the previews to a bad movie are really all you need to see), but I really should start by pointing out that Stewart assesses this album as the "best record the band has made in decades, and not only because all the other ones were pretty terrible."
Frontman Brian Johnson and guitarist Angus Young carry "Black Ice" on their backs: Johnson, now 61 (!), sings more and hollers less; Young, who seems more engaged than usual throughout, occasionally plays slide guitar. These might not seem like noteworthy developments, but for a band as resistant to innovation as this one, baby steps matter. [snip]

Its lyrics aren't worth mentioning, except to note that there are some, and they're the usual mix of cheerful incomprehensibility and innuendo-laden buffoonery. [snip]But mostly, "Black Ice" contains songs about rocking. Specifically, about how much AC/DC rocks, how much it's rocked in the past and how, if given the opportunity, it plans to rock some more in the future. Even the song about a wartime something or other ("War Machine") seems to be about a really rocking war machine. [snip]

The band's now de rigueur sex songs (forget "You Shook Me All Night Long"; AC/DC long ago stopped writing about women unless it had to) sound increasingly like Mad Libs: haphazard assemblages of a noun, a verb, the word "she" and a euphemism for "penis." [snip]

These, um, love songs are increasingly self-parodic, detailing amorous encounters so improbably hazardous ("She wanna shake you/No way to save you/She's got me shot/I'm fallin' ") you'll be tempted to wonder if anyone in the band has actually ever met a woman. They contribute to the dragginess of the disc's last half, as does "Decibel," the most generic AC/DC song of all time. "Black Ice" has 15 songs, which is about five too many: After its pulverizingly pleasurable first half, it's all filler and very little killer.

Someday I hope to write this entertaining of a piece about an album.