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.


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