Friday, December 25, 2009

Dear 2009,

While I have to agree with the voices who say that you weren't the worst at your job, I'm afraid that even when taking all of the positives on your resume into account, we cannot discount the frequent black marks against your performance.  On a sheerly personal level, I know your kindness every time I hear my children laugh, and please don't get me wrong: I treasure this.  But I also know your cruelty in the inexplicable health problems I've faced this year, in the suffering and death of those near and distant, and especially in the impending darkness always whispering Collapse! into the ears of all of humanity.  I can hardly blame you for time and human nature, it's true.  However, Time and Human Nature are not up for review at this time, and you, you see, are.  Therefore, it is with deep disappointment in your inability to counter the worst in your colleagues that I must decline to give you the recommendation that you quite possibly deserve.  Security is waiting outside to escort you off of the premises.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Music Library: Arthur Smith, Buck Owens, Charles Mingus, Charlie Rich, George Strait, Jack Rose

Arthur Smith and His Crackerjacks - Fingers On Fire (1949).  This is Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, not any of the other Arthur Smiths you might suspect. Mr. Smith was the original author of the song you may know as "Duelin' Banjos" or "that song from Deliverance," a fact that he had to sue to have acknowledged.  Besides being a crackerjack guitarist (and wouldn't you want to be his sideman if that meant that you were one of his Crackerjacks?), Mr. Smith has nearly 500 copyrighted songs to his name and owned the studio where James Brown cut "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag."  And this album is a fine example of his crackerjack instrumental prowess.  Fingers on fire, indeed!

Buck Owens and His Buckaroos - Carnegie Hall Concert (1966).  A fine, fine live album with Buck & His Buckaroos buckin' around on stage.  This album contains lots of their biggest hits, some joking back-and-forth with Buck's right-hand man Don Rich, and some truly excellent performances.  This one's fun for not just fans of country music, but fans of popular music.  It's a document of an incredibly tight ensemble at the top of their game.

Charles Mingus - Mingus Dynasty (1959) and Let My Children Hear Music (1972). When I wrote about Mingus back in May, I mentioned a strange album I'd bought many years ago called Shoes of the Fisherman's Wife, which contained one song from Let My Children Hear Music and a bunch of songs from Mingus Dynasty, although not the whole album.  I finally sprung for each of those albums, and man, does that music sound even better in context.  Both of these are fantastic. 

Charlie Rich - Groove Recordings (recorded 1963-1965).  Fantastic compilation of Rich's tracks for Groove.  Many of the best appear elsewhere in my collection in other Rich compilations, but there's nothing by Charlie Rich that isn't worth hearing.  My favorite vocalist, hands down.  Well, either him or George Jones.  Let's call it a tie.

George Strait - Right Or Wrong (1983). Despite my affection for country music, I'll be the first to admit that I'm an urban-dwelling latte-sipping well-educated music-snob liberal, and I've never consciously listened to Strait before.  But Nathan Rabin, who's investigating country music over at the AV Club, liked this album, and all of those adjectives presumably describe him, too, so I figured I'd give it a shot.  And, well, I'm not as taken with it.  "You Look So Good In Love" just sounds like a generic pop-ballad to me (and maybe that's the point of the video Rabin posted of Jamie Foxx covering it).  The Western Swing elements were pretty great, but outside of the cover of "Right Or Wrong," which is a truly great country song that goes back at least to minstrel days, much of the Western Swing sounded like window dressing on these songs.  It's definitely better (and more economical) than a lot of the crap pop-country around today.  But it don't move me.

Jack Rose - Peel Session 5/20/04.  Rose, who was only a year older than me, passed away recently.  I was unfamiliar with his band Pelt, although I've picked up an album now.  I found this Peel Session online, and boy howdy, is his Fahey-style fingerstyle guitar a pleasure.  Wish I'd been with-it enough to be a fan while he was still alive.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Xmas Music Library: Waitresses, Yo La Tengo, Youngsters, Zooey Deschanel & Leon Redbone, Compilations

Last Christmas music post!  It's a Christmas miracle!  From here, I'll work to finish up Coltrane in the next week or so and maybe knock out a few more catch-up albums.

The Waitresses - "Christmas Wrapping."  New wave Christmas song that's ok at best.  Emusic oversold this one.

Yo La Tengo - Merry Christmas From Yo La Tengo (2003). Now here's a great EP.  It starts with YLT loudly covering outsider musician Jan Terri's "Rock & Roll Santa."  Then there's the lovely folk-rock of the Qualities' "It's Christmas Time."  The original, incidentally, can be heard on the lovely Sun Ra album The Singles, which captures a number of singles were Sun Ra served as the sideman.  The final track is a cover of the song-poem "Santa Claus Goes Modern," which is somehow twice as competent and ten times as silly as the original.  This is great stuff here, and I believe that YLT has made it available for free download at their website.

The Youngsters - "Christmas In Jail."  Great little early R&B track about drunk driving.

Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone - "Baby, It's Cold Outside."  While decently sung, unlike the Ray Charles/Betty Carter version, this one - from the Elf soundtrack - has absolutely no sex to it, which is okay when you consider the participants, but also the lesser of the two.

A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector (1963). Released on November 22, 1963 (that's good luck!), this Chrismas album has Spector and his stable of artists laying the Wall Of Sound onto mostly traditional Xmas songs.  Although it was a flop when first released, it has become a standard (and Brian Wilson cites it as his favorite album).  You've heard every song on this album, I'm sure.

Hillbilly Holiday 1945-1972. This is a compilation with a bunch of major figures in country music singing off-kilter Christmas songs.  Most of them are about drinking and disappointment.  Happy holidays!

It's Christmas Time Again (Stax, 1990). This compilation has many of the Stax Christmas songs.  Two versions of "Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'" may be one too many, but Isaac Hayes doing his hurt lover-man thing sorta rules.

The My Pal God Holiday Records #1 and #2 (1998 and 1999).  I only have a few tracks from each.  From the former, I have Universal Life & Accident's cover of Prince's "Another Lonely Christmas," which is awesome.  I also have Lullaby For The Working Class's "Utilitarian Christmas Jingle," which is lovely, if slight.  From the latter, I have four: Neutrino's "Island of Misfit Toys/Little Drummer Boy," Atombombpocketknife's "Candy Cane," Del Ray's "Nutcracker Overture/Dance Of the Sugarplum Fairy," and Drum + Tuba's "Auld Lang Syne."  All good.

The American Song-Poem Christmas (2003).  Four tracks here, including the one that YLT covered on their Christmas EP.  Unlike the songs on the other major song-poem anthology, these are not very good.

Redeye 2008 Holiday Sampler. A free download from eMusic with the Supersuckers, the Fleshtones, and (hmm) Lisa Loeb. Not so good, but the price was right.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Xmas Music Library: Elvis P, Ramones, Raymond Scott, Richard Davies, Shonen Knife, South Park, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Star Wars, Stiff Little Fingers, Stylistics, Sufjan, Summer Hymns, Thurl Ravenscroft, Trashmen, Vince Guaraldi

Elvis Presley - Elvis Christmas (originally released 1957 and 1971). This collection includes two Elvis Christmas albums.  The 1957 one is absolutely fantastic until Elvis gets bogged down in over-serious hymns at the end.  But most of the traditional Xmas songs cook, and "Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me" is a stone classic.  The 1971 album is a thick slice o' Xmas cheese.  Be forewarned.  It may cause constipation.  OK, the version of "Merry Christmas, Baby" (which I always associate with Otis Redding, but I don't know if it's his song) is pretty great.

The Ramones - "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)."  This is a different mix than the classic version of this song on Brain Drain.  I have no idea why or where it's from, but it's about 40 seconds longer, and the sections are mixed up.  It's nowhere near as effective, either.

Raymond Scott - "Christmas in Harlem."  It's Raymond Scott, so it cooks.  Not particularly Christmas-y, but we'll take it.

Richard Davies - "Feed the World."  I love Richard Davies, the Aussie singer-songwriter behind The Moles and Cardinal.  His fractured art-roots-rock songs hit me in my happy place.  And yet this is an electropop version of the famous charity song that Davies recorded for a Kindercore compilation back in 1999.  And it suuuuucks.

Shonen Knife - "Space Christmas" and "All I Want for Christmas."  Xmas, Shonen Knife-style.

South Park - "The Most Offensive Song Ever" and "Merry F***ing Christmas."  Their schtick has worn thin over the years, but "Merring F***ing Christmas" is still a little bit funny.

Squirrel Nut Zippers - Christmas Caravan (1998).  The Zippers do their neo-swing thing on most of these tracks, but the Carter Family treatment on "Gift of the Magi" is swell.  Their version of "Sleigh Ride" is super-fun, too.  Most of the other tracks are originals, and pretty fun for what they are.  In fact, I think the Zippers are more fun doing this kind of music than their regular gig.

Star Wars - Christmas In The Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album (1980).  Making one long for the relatively high quality entertainment of the Star Wars Christmas Special, Christmas in the Stars features Anthony "C-3PO" Daniels "singing" in character, a certain Jon Bongiovi (sound it out), and a bunch of wookiee and random robot noises. Allmusic says, "Because of its general meaninglessness and obscure commentaries on the holiday, this could be the worst Star Wars related album on the market. To those who enjoy bad music on a camp level, this album is priceless."  Now here's the messed-up thing: George Lucas, the man who has disowned the Star Wars Christmas Special, actually sought to put his name on this monstrosity.  I guess that should have been an early warning about where he was going with the three prequels.  And I can't quite get rid of it, although it actually scars my ears when I listen to it.

Stiff Little Fingers - "White Christmas."  This is the song you think it is, but with buzzsaw guitars and snotty authentic punk delivery.  Necessary to clean one's palate after the amazing shittiness of Christmas In The Stars.

The Stylistics - "When You've Got Love, It's Christmas All Year Long" and "Auld Lang Syne."  I rather like the Stylistics' 70s Philly Soul, but this godawful smoove-synth bullshit recorded long after their heyday (1992, to be exact) would actually sound better if Anthony "C-3PO" Daniels were the lead vocalist.

Sufjan Stevens - Songs For Christmas [Vol. 1: Noel (2001), Vol 2.: Hark! (2002), Vol. 3: Ding! Dong! (2003), Vol. 4: Joy (2005), and Vol. 5: Peace (2006)].  Now that's how you do a Christmas album (or albums, as the case may be).  Five EPs that mix traditional songs and originals with creative arrangements, a flow that moves easily from upbeat to solemn and back again, and songs with titles like "Get Thee Behind Me, Santa!"  I'm tempted to play this occasionally outside of the holiday season but I don't, because that would be just weird.

Summer Hymns - "Santa Couldn't Fit You Under My Christmas Tree."  From another Kindercore comp, this is a Georgia-based mildly psychedelic folk-rock band doing a wispy original.  I have a few of their non-Xmas albums, which are also pretty good.

Thurl Ravenscroft - "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch."  Includes some of the voiceover from the cartoon.  Yes, it's delightful.

The Trashmen - "Dancin' With Santa."  Doo-woppy early rock song that's fun as all get-out.

Vince Guaraldi - A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).  This is the best Christmas album of all time, sure to give you that bittersweet holiday feeling from the first chord of "O Tannenbaum."  "Christmastime Is Here" is so absolutely wonderful that I can hardly believe it.  And the versions of "What Child Is This"/"Greensleeves" are unsurpassed.  I say this as a man who just listened to the brilliant Coltrane versions on The Africa/Brass Sessions.  And who has also just listened to John Fahey's versions.  But you know this music.  I don't know what else I could possibly tell you about it.  Just go listen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Music Library: Beasts of Bourbon, Beefheart, Charlie Hunter, Commander Cody, Earth, Eno Moebius Roedelius, Jerry Lee Lewis

Continuing with catch-up of artists I have already passed alphabetically.  I'm still on John Coltrane in the main thrust of this project, but listening to too much Coltrane back-to-back has a staring-at-the-sun vibe, so I'm trying to mitigate that by doing these catch-up posts and a few Xmas posts.

Beasts of Bourbon - The Axeman's Jazz (1984).  Australian cowpunk band that does a great cover of Leon Payne's "Psycho."  I had a copy of "Psycho" already but when I saw a copy of this album online, I snatched it up.  It's pretty decent, somewhere between bar-band country-rock and Stones-y swagger.

Captain Beefheart - Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (1978). This album was noticeably absent when I reviewed Beefheart back in April.  I picked it up a while back, but I'm just getting around to reviewing it now.  But it's first-rate Beefheart.  I like it as much or maybe even more than Doc At The Radar Station.  It's upset my Beefheart heirarchy!  Of course, there's nothing wrong with that.  I suspect even Beefheart would approve.

Charlie Hunter/Charlie Hunter Trio - Copperopolis (2006), Mistico (2007), and Baboon Strength (2008).  Hunter's a talented and creative guitarist with a silly streak that leads to light-hearted funk-jazz.  It's a bit on the jammy side for me in large doses, but quite alright in smaller ones.

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen - Lost In The Ozone (1971).  They may have come from Michigan, but Commander Cody and his cohort were Texas-style cosmic cowboys of the first order.  This album mixed country, rock, rockabilly, and Western Swing with an irreverent sense of humor and some genuine country pathos.  I like that they transition from the country lament-with-a-hippie-twist "Seed and Stems (Again)" to the traditional track "Family Bible" in a mere two steps.  And their version of "Hot Rod Lincoln" is pretty definitive.

Earth - Extra-Capsular Extraction EP (1991).  There's elements of drone here, especially in "Ouroborus Is Broken," a track that Earth would re-record for 2007's Hibernaculum.  But the two-part first track (first two of three on this EP, that is) is surprisingly rocking and sounds like fairly standard doom metal.  Not that there's anything wrong with this, but Earth seems so committed to the drone from the beginning that the drums and vocals and rock riffage are a little unexpected to a fan like me of their subsequent work.

Eno Moebius Redelius - After the Heat (1978).  This is Brian Eno with members of Cluster doing that ambient thing they do so well.  Eno sings on several tracks here, which is surprising.  Holger Czukay of Can provides bass for "Tzima N'Arki," which also features a backwards tape of Eno's vocal line from the chorus of "King's Lead Hat."

Jerry Lee Lewis - Who's Gonna Play this Old Piano (1972) and Sometimes A Memory Ain't Enough (1973).  A couple of countrypolitan albums from the early 70s.  Not as great as "What's Made Milwaukee Famous," but what the hell is?  Also, he may The Killer, but I find myself wishing that he'd refrain from referring to himself in the third person just every now and then.  What am I saying?  I'm just happy that he's Jerry Lee and knows it.

Music Library: More Boris

I recently found a website with a number of Boris albums that are out-of-print or were never released in the US.  Yeah!

Demo Vol. 3 EP (1994).  With "Scar Box," "Mosquito," "Matozoa," and "Deep Sucker."  Biiiig Melvins influence.

More Echoes, Touching Air Landscape (Boris and Choukoko No Niwa, 1999).  A split with two very long songs.  The Boris one is a 26-odd minute long drone.  The Choukoko No Niwa track is a 24-minute Boredoms-like psych rock freakout.

Megatone (Boris and Merzbow, 2002).  Like drone?  Like Merzbow?  Like Merzbow droning?  This is that.

Archives: Volume One: Live 96-98, Volume Two: Drumless Shows, Volume Three: Two Long Songs (all three released 2005).  Three discs!  The first one has eight tracks of rocking Melvins-y Boris.  The second, recorded in 1997, has three long drones.  The third, recorded in 2001, has Boris's two long tracks of the time back-to-back.  The recording of "Flood" is amazing.

04092001 (Boris and Merzbow, 2005).  This one has five tracks from Heavy Rocks recorded live in 2001 with Merzbow doing his Merzbow thing.

Soundtrack from Film "Mabuta no Ura" (Essence Mix) (2006).  This is the Brazilian version of an album I already have.  Many of the songs are the same as on the other version, but the sequence is a little different, and the new tracks are pretty great.

Long Hair and Tights (with Doomriders, 2007).  This is a Pink-era live recording that is split with the Massachusetts band Doomriders.  I think I would like Doomriders much more if they weren't getting blown off the stage by Boris.

She's So Heavy EP (Ai Aso/Wata, 2007).  This is a split 7" with Japanese pop star Ai Aso covering King Crimson's "Islands" on one side and a great song by Boris guitarist Wata (fronting a band that is, basically, Boris) on the other.

Walrus and Groon EP (Boris and Merzbow, 2007).  Side A is a super-psychedelic cover of "I Am The Walrus."  Side B shares a name with a King Crimson song and a different Merzbow song, but it is neither.

Cloud Chamber EP (with Michio Kurihara, 2008).  Unlike their prior collaboration with Michio Kurihara, Cloud Chamber is a drone-based composition.

Smile: Live At Wolf Creek (2008).  Featuring songs from Pink and Smile, this is an amazing live album.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Music Library: Buck Owens, Mahalia Jackson, Mendoza Line, Merle Haggard, MST3K, Abner Jay, Bukka White, Johnny & Delores,

Buck Owens - Christmas With Buck Owens (1965).  Excellent album with almost completely original material.  True, there's a great Don Rich instrumental version of "Jingle Bells." The rest of the tracks are pretty fun, too, and Buck and the Buckaroos are cooking throughout.

Mahalia Jackson - "Silent Night Holy Night."  I have a few Mahalia Jackson gospel albums, but this is the sole Xmas track I have, taken from a mix at some point.  Not as good as her best gospel songs, unfortunately.

The Mendoza Line - "Mairie D'Ivry."  I love the Mendoza Line.  The title refers to a stop on the Paris Metro.  Never stopped to parse the lyrics, so I don't know what makes this track a Xmas song, but it's from a Xmas compilation.

Merle Haggard - "I Wish I Was Santa Claus" and "Blue Christmas."  This is not what I listen to Merle Haggard for.  Maybe the whole album is better, but these make it sound like Merle could have taken a hint from Buck Owens.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 - "A Patrick Swayze Christmas."  One of the very few Christmas Carols with a fight sequence.

The non-Christmas tracks.

Abner Jay - Swaunee Water And Cocaine Blues (1967).  One-man band with banjo, harmonica, tap-tap-tap high-hat, and kick drum celebrating the lost minstrel tradition while lamenting the state of the world in the late 60s.  Abner Jay was a black Southerner who pined for the past.  You won't find a lot of those.  Both William Bowers and Brian James Barr wrote about Jay for the Oxford American music issue, but the Bowers essay should not be missed.

Johnny and Dolores - "Sockin' Soul."  An mp3 of the single from a Little Rock-based soul label.  This song is on the new OA Southern Music disc, so I'll probably delete it soon.

Bukka White - Parchman Farm Blues (recorded 1930 - 1940).  I had a bunch of Bukka White songs on different compilations, but when the OA mentioned him as a possibility, I felt embarrassed that I'd never picked up a collection of his 18 sides from the 30s.  So I did, and this is it.  White, who preferred to be called "Booker," was B.B. King's cousin, recorded by John Lomax (while serving time in Parchman, no less), covered by Bob Dylan, championed by John Fahey, which means that he was basically the Platonic ideal of blues singers from the 30s.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Music Library: Klezmatics, Leon Redbone, Los Straitjackets, Loudon Wainwright, Love Tractor, Low, Eric B & Rakim, Feminine Complex,Hot Club Of Cowtown

The Klezmatics - "Honeyky Hanuka" and "Hanuka Dance." The album says that both of these are Woody Guthrie songs, but I've only heard Guthrie's version of the latter. These were recommended by someone. I like the former, which sounds like a traditional Hanukkah song, but the latter lays on the sentiment pretty thickly.

Leon Redbone - Christmas Island (1987). This is basically Redbone doing his schtick with a feel that sometimes recalls New Orleans and sometimes Hawaii. Dr. John sings "Frosty The Snowman" with him, which is pretty great.

Los Straitjackets - 'Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets (2002). This is actually only about half of the songs from this album, but they're wonderful: surf rock Christmas instrumentals.

Loudon Wainwright III - "Suddenly It's Christmas." This is one of the songs LW3 played when we saw him play with Richard Thompson last month. The opening lines serve as a mission statement here: "Suddenly it's Christmas/right after Halloween/Forget about Thanksgiving/It's just a buffet in-between." Clever, yes, but with diminishing returns. Fortunately I only listen to it once a year or so.

Love Tractor - Before And After Christmas (2006).  What's not to love here?  The silly "Brian Eno Can Be Your Santa Claus" cover, the versions of songs from Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, the fact that Love Tractor is playing music together again: all awesome.  This only came out some three years ago and it's already among my absolute favorite Christmas albums.

Low - Christmas (1999).  Here's another favorite Christmas album.  Well, an EP, really.  I like Low's music quite a bit, although their more hard-rockin' turn of late is less interesting than their quieter early work.  This one is from their early period, and it's a delight, with strong originals, fun covers, and a straightforwardness borne right out of their Christian faith that is heartfelt without being strident or losing sight of the fact that the holidays are typically much more about stress and frustration than family and love.

Aaaaaand some non-Xmas music for the rest of us!

Eric B. and Rakim - Paid In Full (1987).  This is what's meant by seminal hip-hop.  Rakim lays down clever and often hilarious rhymes while Eric B. sets up old-school 808 beats and scratches.  It's fantastic on its own and a vital part of the roadmap to future hip-hop.  And I had gone my whole life without hearing it until a few weeks ago.  That's a crime.

The Feminine Complex - Livin' Love (1969).  Another one I picked up whilst thinking about the Oxford American.  My friend Kim Cooper ended up writing an absolutely killer OA article on the Feminine Complex, a band of teenage girls in Nashville in the late 60s who made music so great and unexpected that Jason Ankeny of Allmusic decided that they must be a hoax when this album was re-released in 2004.  Nope.  Go read Kim's article for more information.

Hot Club of Cowtown - Tall Tales (1999).  I previous had two songs by this band, a Western swing band that was equally true to both words.  And when I saw it on the cheap, I picked it up.  Great stuff!  Hard to believe that only three people could make such a swinging big sound.

At Dog Canyon: Fela Becomes FELA!

Me talking Fela at Dog Canyon. Go read it!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Music Library: Gene Autry, Beach Boys, Etta James, John Fahey, John Prine, Johnny Cash,Charles Bevel, George Coleman, Detroit Experiment, Dave Douglas

Starting here with a few Christmas albums, then moving, for sanity's sake, to other albums.

Gene Autry - Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings (recorded 1949-1956). Autry, the Singing Cowboy, recorded some fairly definitive versions of Christmas songs in the 50s. My kids love these. Based on the reviews at Amazon, I think these songs evoke some serious nostalgia in people in general. I'm not the biggest fan of nostalgia, but hey, it's Christmas. I'm certainly not going to hold that against Gene Autry.

The Beach Boys - Ultimate Christmas (recorded 1963-1977). I'm not sure if the Beach Boys meant to imply that this is the last Christmas, but that seems to be what their record company decided to title this compilation. It collects all of the tracks from 1964's The Beach Boys' Christmas Album (including "Little Saint Nick") and added in the 1974 rarity "Child of Winter (Christmas Song)" plus the unreleased tracks for the scrapped 1977 album Merry Christmas From The Beach Boys. Most of the 1977 tracks were rewritten as non-Christmas tracks for the album M.I.U., so if you have that or a Beach Boys box, you can enjoy the different context here.

Etta James - 12 Songs Of Christmas (1998). A later recording of Ms. James doing some lively Christmas carols. Pretty good for mainstream Xmas music.

John Fahey - Christmas Guitar (released 1968-1991). This is a compilation drawn from several of Fahey's Christmas albums. And it's fantastic, easily one of the best things I'm reviewing today. I love the hell out of Fahey, which should be apparent when I finally get through John Coltrane and Johnny Cash. Fahey's fingerstyle guitarwork is clean and beautiful, and these pieces practially shimmer, although they are presented in as unadorned as style as Fahey ever employed. Good stuff.

John Prine - "Everything Is Cool." Prine doing that John Prine thing on a vaguely Christmas-related song from the album A John Prine Christmas. This is later Prine, where he's sort of like a more with-it Jimmy Buffett.

Johnny Cash - Classic Christmas (1980) and Country Christmas (1991). You know your mental image of Johnny Cash as the badass country poet who helped invent rock & roll while at Sun, then became the outlaw Man In Black, then stripped-back his sound for Rick Rubin? That guy also made some really crappy music. These are amazingly bad.


Since too much Xmas music makes me grinchy, here's some non-Xmas sounds for review.

Charles Bevel - Meet Mississippi Charles Bevel (1973). Now that the Oxford American music issue is out (go pick it up!), I'll move in rotation some of the music I searched down when I deciding whether or not I could write for them this time out. (Note: I opted out for personal reasons.) I was lucky to find some tracks from this rare album, but I was unprepared to write about the guy. I still am, so I'll link to Christgau's review instead. This is one of the rare occasions where I agree with every word the man says.

George "Bongo Joe" Coleman - Bongo Joe (1969). I had wanted to write about this album originally, but I was too slow to respond. Bongo Joe was a street performer who drew a unique sound from the empty 55-gallon steel oil drum he hammered. And that's all these songs are, at least at their most basic level: a guy beating on a homemade drum and sing-talking stories. But there's so much more than this going on. The stories he tells are sweet, funny, and touching. His rhythms are amazingly complex. Lots of goodness here. Sadly, Allmusic confuses Bongo Joe with the jazz saxophonist George Coleman. Best fix that!

The Detroit Experiment - The Detroit Experiment (2003). This was another disc from my friend Andy, and, well, I'm sorry, man, but I hate it. It combines hip-hop and techno beats with smooth jazz/R&B style horns, which leaves me cold.

Dave Douglas - Freak In (2003), Keystone (2005), and "Dog Star." Another couple from Andy, which I'm happy to report that I like much more. Douglas is a trumpeter who combines free jazz with electronics in a way that sounds a bit like Miles's Silent Way-era band but with a more contemporary feel. Keystone is apparently meant to accompany the silent films of Fatty Arbuckle, which is pretty cool. "Dog Star" is the first track on a 2007 album by the Keystone band which is called Moonshine and which I intend to check out.

Venture Brothers With 100% Less Hatred

Fantastic episode of the Venture Brothers this week! I've been waiting all season to say that. But the previous episodes have been filled with the oxygen-suckage of Sgt. Hatred, a one-note character who I could not be happier to see gone. Note to Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer: there's nothing funny about pedophilia, sorry. Your constant attempt to humanize it with Hatred plays somewhere between the dull provocateurishness of South Park and the dull provocateurishness of Todd Solondz, and dull provocateurishness is beneath you.

Unfortunately, Adult Swim was so far off with its schedule this week that many people didn't get to see it because their DVR can only record for so long. I only caught this because I sat down to watch the episode immediately after it had ended and realized that it didn't even start until 10+ minutes into my recording, leaving the last 10 minutes cut off. I reset my DVR to catch the late-night showing, but many of my friends didn't discover the problem until the next day.

Fortunately, you can watch it here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Music Library: John Cale, Aceyalone, Animal Collective, Antibalas, Bad Plus, Beach Boys, Beck, Everly Bros, Jim Reeves

John Cale:

Vintage Violence (1970). When John Cale left the Velvet Underground, the VU turned first quiet and introspective and then poppy. With Cale gone, the avant-garde noise of the first two VU albums was also conspicuously absent. Which is what makes his 70s albums so surprising. Vintage Violence is a distinctly folky affair and in isolation might be a more beloved album to me, but only in the context of the rest of the Cale discography is it a second-tier album.

Church of Anthrax (with Terry Riley, 1971) and The Academy In Peril (1972). Church of Anthrax, composed and performed by Cale with the minimalist composer Terry Riley, vacillates between rock and compositional music with wild abandon, although it never really settles on either, and reportedly neither artist was satisfied with it. I really like it, though. The Academy In Peril is more of a chamber pop album positioned between rock and compositional music, and it's okay, but probably more interesting to established Cale fans.

Paris 1919 (1973). Paris 1919 is a stone classic. Cale's backed by members of Little Feat, strangely enough, and they achieve a chamber-folk-rock catharsis of sorts. Cale's lyrics are literary and strong, and there's not a wasted moment on the album. Beautiful and perfect. It's hard to pick favorite tracks, but I suppose I'd say the title track and "Andalucia" have special places in my heart. Ah, but I also love "A Child's Christmas in Wales" (which I'm going to have to fire up again for the holidays soon) and "Hanky Panky Nohow." Hell, it's a great album. Just get it.

Fear (1974). The next three (current available under the name The Island Years) capture Cale moving from the highbrow subject matter of Paris 1919 into an abrasive and confrontational art-punk-glam pastiche that cannot hide its fundamental loveliness. Fear assembles a band that includes Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, Fred Smith (later of Television, I believe), and even Richard Thompson on one track, although his guitar part is virtually unrecognizable. The genre touches are all over the pop music map, but the overall sound is Cale working out his demons.

Slow Dazzle (1975). Slow Dazzle pushes the demons further to the surface. The band here contains Eno and Manzanera again, along with studio whiz Chris Spedding and the Island Records rhythm section of Gerry Conway and Pat Donaldson (both of whom also appear on Richard Thompson's 70s albums). The tribute to Brian Wilson, "Mr. Wilson," is fantastic and the cover of "Heartbreak Hotel" is pure drama. But the standout track is "Guts," which opens with the line "The bugger in the short sleeves fucked my wife," which directly refers to Cale catching Kevin Ayers in bed with his wife the night before their famous June 1, 1974 concert with Brian Eno and Nico. Awkward!

Helen of Troy (1975). The album-as-therapy point breaks here. This time out, the band has replaced Gerry Conway with Phil Collins and lost Manzanera, but Eno, Spedding, and Donaldson remain. And Robert Kirby, beloved by many for his string arrangements for Nick Drake, is also credited for the strings. And Cale cuts to the quick every way he can, culminating in the 1-2-3 punch of "Cable Hogue," "I Keep A Close Watch," and a cover of "Pablo Picasso" on the second side. "I Keep A Close Watch," in particular, is a killer track, taking Johnny Cash's first line from "I Walk The Line" and turning it into something darker and somehow more powerful. Who tries to one-up Johnny Cash? Amazing.

Animal Justice EP (1977) and Sabotage/Live (1979). My old friend Andy used to talk about how blistering Cale's live show was, and I was always surprised by this news until I heard Sabotage/Live. Because "blistering" is exactly the right word for this. The cover has Cale dressed up as a spy - trenchcoat, sunglasses, fedora, the works - in front of a mushroom cloud. Good imagery. Cale sounds ready to set off a bomb by himself. This version of Sabotage adds the Animal Justice EP, which I have in a separate version, and another song. The EP has the scathing track "Chicken Shit," about Cale's band quitting him in the aftermath of Cale chopping the head off of an already-dead chicken onstage. It also has the powerful and tender track "Hedda Gabler," based on the Ibsen play. And that's Cale in a nutshell: one second ranting at the world over howling art-punk, the next singing highly literate chamber-folk. He follows his emotions wherever they lead, and that seems to me the whole point of listening to rock music.


Since John Coltrane is next, and I have, well, a lot of his music, I'm going to dip into back-catalog for a while. In fact, instead of starting Coltrane right away, I'm going to review Christmas music for a while. Starting next time. Maybe I'll mix in some catch-up albums and Coltrane to keep from going insane with holiday cheer. Anyway.


Aceyalone - "A Beautiful Mine." This is the track that gave its music to the theme from Mad Men. I don't have much Aceyalone in my collection, but I like what I have. With a few free tracks from eMusic, I thought I might give it a spin. But, oddly enough, having heard the music sans vocals so many times, Aceyalone's rhymes tend to throw me out of the song. Maybe I need more time.

Animal Collective - Fall Be Kind EP (2009). More of Animal Collective's current electronica direction. I've written about this before, but I like their mid-period psych-folk thing the best and have been left a little cold by the current loops-and-squeal direction. I mean, it's not terrible, but I don't love it. This one has many of the same elements as Merriweather Post Pavilion, their album from earlier this year. One of the tracks on this EP has a sanctioned sample from the Grateful Dead. This doesn't matter to me, but I suppose it does indicate where they're coming from.

Antibalas - Who Is This America? (2004). I reviewed the previous two albums by this Fela Kuti-esque afrobeat band from New York sometime in 2008. Anyway, my old friend Andy sent me a bunch of discs a few months ago, but since my cd burner has been on the fritz, I wasn't able to rip those until more recently. And if it isn't on my ipod, it isn't in my queue for review. So, yes, this is a great album. It's not too different from the previous two, but that's not a problem, really. I mean, Fela Kuti put out approximately 800,000 albums in the 70s and most of them are fantastic, if also a little interchangeable.

The Bad Plus - These Are The Vistas (2003) and Give (2004). These were also from Andy. I think the first one is pretty damn good. It's sort of like the flip side of Tortoise, where a jazz piano trio punches up their sound with the energy and structure of rock songs (Tortoise being, in my view, a rock band that goes abstract with jazz strategies). Their interest in rock excludes the metal and avant-noise that fuels, say, Borbetomagus or Last Exit. So, yes, it is a lot more Bill Evans than Sonic Youth, but with enough anarchic spirit and humor to annoy the shit out of Wynton Marsalis. The latter one, unfortunately, is a little broader and less enjoyable. There's still quite a bit of goodness to it, but the sound is less ballsy and more crowd-pleasing in a NPR way.

The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds Sessions A Capella Mix (1966). Ganked from a blog, here's the inverse of the all-instrumental tracks from the Pet Sounds Sessions box: the Beach Boys singing Pet Sounds songs without accompaniment. Freakin' beautiful.

Beck - Record Club 1: The Velvet Underground And Nico (2009) and Record Club 2: Songs Of Leonard Cohen (2009). This is a pretty cool thing that Beck's doing: recording cover versions of some of his favorite albums and releasing them for free on the Internet. Not that anyone should pay for these, because they have a ramshackle feel that is perfectly suited for a web-only fun thing, but not so great for an album that someone has to pay for. Anyway, Beck's take on the songs is sometimes inspired and sometimes annoying, somewhat like Beck's music itself, but wholly welcome.

Everly Brothers - The Everly Brothers Sing Great Country Hits (1963). This album title does not lie. The Everly Brothers, who are great, harmonize together (greatly) on some country hits, which are, in a word, great. Doesn't hurt that they chose songs by songwriters such as Don Gibson, Hank Williams, and Hank Locklin. Top-notch stuff.

Jim Reeves - The Essential Jim Reeves (released 1953-1970). After reviewing Jim Reeves' song "He'll Have To Go" a few weeks ago, I decided I'd take the plunge and pick up a best-of when my eMusic downloads came through. So I did and this is it. Might even be a little more Reeves than I needed. But I dig his countrypolitan sound and smooth delivery, and I like how many of his songs are about truly screwed-up relationships. Also of note: Reeves died in a plane crash in 1964, and yet he had recorded so many tracks that his label was able to release new music under his name for the next decade. Now that's truly messed-up, too.

My photo
Cary, NC, United States
reachable at firstname lastname (all run together) at gmail dot com

About This Blog

From Here To Obscurity, founded ca. 2003, population 1. The management wishes to emphasize that no promises vis-a-vis your entertainment have been guaranteed and for all intents and purposes, intimations of enlightenment fall under the legal definition of entertainment. No refunds shall be given nor will requests be honored. Although some may ask, we have no intention of beginning again.

  © Blogger templates Brooklyn by 2008

Back to TOP