Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Music Library: Elvis, Emanuel Ax et al, Embarrassment, Emerson String Quartet, Emitt Rhodes, Emmett Miller, Emmylou Harris, Emotions, English Beat

Elvis Presley - The Complete Sun Sessions (1987), "I Got Stung" (1958), and The 50 Greatest Hits (2000). This is pretty much all the Elvis I need, although those giant box sets of a decade or so back are still tempting, if only because I remember listening to the 60s box, which has a lot of Elvis singing clambake stuff in a bored tone, but then suddenly, for whatever reason, he would decide that this particular song - this B-side to a song that no one really liked - would be one where he'd just rip it out and let everyone know he was The King. When he was inside the song, he embodies it in such a way that you still can hear why everyone agrees on Elvis (excepting Chuck D, of course).

Emanuel Ax, Isaac Stern, Jaime Laredo, Yo-Yo Ma - Brahms: The Piano Quartets Op. 25, 26 & 60 (1991). Considering that I must talk about classical music today, I find that I have very little to say: I like this. It is good. These musicians, they sure know their stuff. And the music sure is pretty. Housekeeping question: should I file these under the composer or the performer? I have no standard.

The Embarrassment - "Podman," Heyday 1979 - 1983, and Blister Pop (2001). Punk hits the Midwest! The Embarrassment brought the post-punk/college rock and should have been bigger than they were. Standout tracks are "Sex Drive," "Elizabeth Montgomery's Face," and "Death Travels West."

Emerson String Quartet - Bartók: The String Quartets (1988) and Schumann: Trio and Quartet (1993). I like that Bartók. What a composer, eh? And that Schumann is no slouch, either. Say, these Emerson String Quartet guys are quite solid! This is embarrassing. My pal Steve Hicken sent me a link to a music theory website yesterday. I really needed to read everything on it before pretending to talk about string quartet music.

Emitt Rhodes - Listen, Listen: The Best of Emitt Rhodes (1995). Rhodes is a guy who really loves Paul McCartney, but is mostly known for being one of the first bedroom artists, a guy who made elaborate multitrack music at his home studio in the late 60s/early 70s. There's a few truly great tracks on here, especially "Time Will Show The Wiser," which Fairport Convention covered.

Emmett Miller - Minstrel Man From Georgia (1996). Man, when I first picked up this CD, I was ashamed to let anyone catch a glimpse of it. The cover had a picture of Miller, a minstrel who performed in blackface. Thankfully, they've changed the cover now to a generic image of an Okeh acetate. Nick Tosches has gone on at length about Miller in two books (Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock & Roll and Where Dead Voices Gather), but the main thing to know is that Miller recorded songs that would later provide some of the backbone of country music ("Lovesick Blues," recorded by Hank Williams, "I Ain't Got Nobody" and "Right or Wrong" by Bob Wills, among others, plus his vocal style can be heard in Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Tommy Duncan, Merle Haggard, and many more) while having some giants of jazz in his band (Gene Krupa, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Lang). Despite the ugly specter of racism hanging over every track (most feature some incredibly offensive blackface skits to lead them off), the music is surprisingly vital, and that tension is part and parcel of the history of popular American music.

Emmylou Harris - At The Ryman (1992) and Red Dirt Girl (2000). Emmylou Harris is a beautiful person, lovely to look at, lovely of voice, and by all accounts possessed of a lovely personality. She is one of the greatest accompanyists in rock and country music, and can lift even the most standard dreck into the realms of greatness with her harmony lines. When she is singing with someone else on material that's already fantastic (such as the works of Gram Parsons), she makes a good thing better. But I confess that I don't have much use for her as a frontperson. At The Ryman is a pretty fun live bluegrass set of Emmylou & company covering a bunch of classics, but Red Dirt Girl - like most of her solo albums - does nothing for me. Plus it's overcompressed like crazy, which makes it hard to listen to.

Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton - Trio II (1998). While I like the first and last of these singers, this album doesn't do much for me. My lovely wife likes it, though, so it has something going for it.

The Emotions - "Best Of My Love." Job security just in case I ever take a job as a wedding DJ.

The English Beat - What Is Beat? (1983). Greatest-hits comp from the ska revivalists. Great stuff!


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