Friday, July 24, 2009

Music Library: Ernest Tubb, Ernie & Top Notes, Ernie K-Doe, Espers, Esquivel, Essie Jain, Ethan Lipton, Etta James, Everly Bros, Explosions in the Sky

Last of the Es! Finished them in one week solid! That may not happen again until Q.

Ernest Tubb - Country Music Hall of Fame (1941-1965). According to Allmusic, this is one of the most complete Tubb compilations out there, which is good. The man is the sound of the Texas two-step, and you can hear how the Bakersfield sound took so much from him. He can't much sing, but he puts enough of his personality into each song to carry you through. And the songs are charming as heck.

Ernie & The Top Notes Inc. - "Dap Walk." From a compilation of obscure soul singles lovingly assembled by Stones Throw Records, the home of Peanut Butter Wolf, Madlib, and J Dilla, among others.

Ernie K-Doe - Absolutely The Best (1961-1963). A collection of singles by Ernie K-Doe, the New Orleans R&B institution who also ran for post-Katrina mayor in 2006, a full five years after his death.

Espers - Espers (2004), The Weed Tree (2005), and II (2006). Man, I love Espers. This is for that demographic of people who really like the Fairport Convention and the Pentangle, but who also really like, well, Blue Öyster Cult and/or Neil Young when he's on a guitar kick. The first album is relatively subdued. The Weed Tree, which features mostly traditional songs and covers of artists like Nico and Michael Hurley, keeps ratcheting up the psych-to-folk ratio, culminating in a stunning 10-minute version of BÖC's "Flaming Telepaths." (Mike Nix, are you reading this?) And II is a mind-melting slab of psych-folk-rock awesomeness.

Esquivel - "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Auld Lang Syne." Two goofy space-age bachelor-pad Xmas tracks from the cheese king.

Essie Jain - We Made This Ourselves (2007). Back to the Fairport Convention comparisons, although this one is less glowing. Essie Jain has a voice that sounds very, very Sandy Denny-ish. Unfortunately, her tracks are a little too quiet or even timid to sustain my interest over a whole album. The individual songs, though, can be quite the breath of fresh air when they pop up in the shuffle. My favorite is the opener, "Glory," a lovely minimalist gospel-influenced track.

Ethan Lipton - A New Low (2004). Mr. Lipton sent me a copy of this CD himself looking for a review in the High Hat back in 2004. I liked the CD and passed it on to a friend to write about it. Plans were made. Discussions were held. First drafts were... well, I don't actually know about this part. Unfortunately, as with so many High Hat stories, disorganization rules the day. Still, we like this. Lipton is a wry and funny songwriter, with the kind of attention to detail and underlying humanism that betrays his literary background. He probably gets compared to Jonathan Richman often, but it's apt: there's a definite goofy Richman vibe in his vocals, although the band is more Raymond Scott Orchestra than Modern Lovers.

Ethel Waters - "My Handy Man." An quite dirty blues song from the early 20s.

Etta James - These Foolish Things (1962-1971), Her Best (1960-1970), and "Love Letters." Two collections and a stand-alone track, but there's some powerful Etta James tracks on here. The first focuses on her big-band ballads, although the powerful no-nonsense James voice shines through. The second is a single-disc culled from the Essential box set, and the music is far more traditionally bluesy, although there's still some syrup and even some Phil Spector-style Wall of Sound tracks. Most surprising: there is no crossover between these two discs, though both are incredibly strong. The last is a only-ok bossanova version of the killer Ketty Lester track "Love Letters" (one of my favorites; you may remember it from Blue Velvet), which reminds me that I failed to mention Elvis the P's version the other day.

The Everly Brothers - It's Everly Time! (1960), A Date With The Everly Brothers (1961), and "When Will I Be Loved?" Man, I love the Everlys, with their country-influenced close harmony and early rockabilly sweetness. I should pick up a compilation of hits sometime. Although these two albums are so wonderful that it's hard to believe that they aren't greatest-hits collections themselves. But no, they're just a couple of the 6 or so albums the Everlys made between 1959 and 1961.

Explosions In The Sky - How Strange, Innocence (2000), The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place (2003), and All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone (2007). The strangeness of language is never more brought into relief as when you hear of a single word that carries an extremely complicated meaning. German has "schadenfreude," a word that English has practically adopted, which (of course) stands for the joy one experiences in the suffering of others. Japanese has "tsujigiri," which means the practice of a samurai testing a new katana upon a chance bystander, which, charming though the concept may seem to us who are unlikely to be chance bystanders, English has fortunately not found much use for. I think the English word "life" is an extraordinarily odd word. On one hand it is easy to know a meaning of it, as only those who are alive will ever use the word. In another sense, it is near-impossible to define without being self-reflexive, as life can only be known by the living and the absence of life can only be marked by the absence of living. But the way it crops up in conversation, though, is often more about the state of being than just being itself. Life is everything you experience, and everything everyone you know experiences, and everything that everyone you don't know experiences, and these are all contradictory and exclusive, and still the fact that we have commonalities between these experiences is breathtakingly amazing, although also ordinary and, in the truest sense of the word, mundane. And where I'm going with this is that I'm trying to say that it's appropriate that Ausin's favorite post-rockers Explosions in the Sky play that theme song to Friday Night Lights, a show that's about the stuff of life, all those experiences that you may never have but where you find yourself drawn into feeling that commonality. With the exception of the falsely dramatic second season, the show demands that you recognize the life in its characters, fictional though they are. And the music made by Explosions in the Sky is full of life in the same self-contradictory way: triumphant yet reflective, simple yet ornate, demanding attention while occasionally deadly dull (As no less a poet than John Berryman says: life, friends, is boring), thriving through highs and lows and many, many in-betweens. The first delicate touches of my fingertips to my newborn children. The times that I am such an ass that I make my beloved wife cry. The pride of having my book proposal accepted, followed instantly by crawl-under-the-bed fear. The sorrow of having reached an unpassable argument with my mother. The stuff of life - which isn't the shit that life keeps around, but the murky filling, that which animates it - and it's not every instrumental band that can wrench a person around through all of these memories without uttering a single word.


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