Saturday, January 30, 2010

Music Library: Jucifer, Judas Priest, Julian Cope, Julianna Barwish, June Carter Cash, June of 44, Junior Brown, Junior Murvin

Jucifer - If Thine Enemy Hunger (2006). I thought this would be more metal, but it's a very indie rock sort of stoner metal, somewhere between the Melvins and Sonic Youth.

Judas Priest - British Steel (1980) and Screaming For Vengeance (1982).  I must be tired.  I have almost nothing to say about Judas Priest.  I'm not that interested in getting into the JP back-catalog, but these albums provide some pretty damn top-notch fun.  I was quite shocked by the nationalism of "Red, White, and Blue," a bonus track on British Steel.  I know it refers to the Union Jack, but man, it sounds like the inside of Glenn Beck's mind.

Julian Cope - Peggy Suicide (1991). Pretty decent psych-indie rock album, even though it's a bit overstuffed.  Best tracks are "Safesurfer" and "Not Raving But Drowning."

Julianna Barwish - "Cloudbank." An eMusic free track of ambient music and wordless singing.  It's a bit wallpapery for my tastes, but I'm going to keep it for a kiddo sleep mix.

June Carter Cash - Ring of Fire: The Best of June Carter Cash (released 2005).  It's a shame that June Carter Cash's recorded output isn't better documented.  This "best of" (scare quotes intentional) collects song from her final two albums in 1999 and 2003, plus a compilation song from 2004, three unreleased tracks, and two duets with Johnny in the late 60s.  That said, it's not terrible, but it certainly seems that one would do better to buy her two last albums and her duets with Johnny from the 60s.

June of 44 - In The Fishtank 6 (1999). I like this post-rock band more than having this EP as my sole album of theirs would indicate.  But I love the Fishtank series.  And I love kicking post-rock (ok, we can call it math rock).

Junior Brown - Guit With It (1993), Semi-Crazy (1996), and Mixed Bag (2001).  Some people are so talented that they make the rest of us look like chumps.  Brown is an effortlessly virtuosic guitarist and steel player, one of the rare human beings who is equally indebted to Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant.  His songs tend towards the jokey cornpone side of country music, but he invests them with wit and style, and he tends to throw in some curveballs, such as Hoagy Carmichael's "Hong Kong Blues" or a dixieland jazz track.  Plus he's such a hotshit guitarist/steel player that most every track has a paint-peeling lead or two on it.  Here, have a look for yourself:

Junior Murvin - Police And Thieves (1977). Rightly considered one of the highlights of reggae music, this album features Murvin's angelic falsetto over some of Lee "Scratch" Perry's heaviest grooves.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Music Library: Joni Mitchell, Jonny Greenwood, Jorge Ben, Joseph Spence, Josephine Foster, Joy Division

Joni Mitchell - Blue (1971) and Court And Spark (1974).  I'm not a fan of Joni Mitchell's music. The only possible explanation is that I'm a sexist pig! I mean, on paper she should be one of my favorites: folky, iconoclastic, brutally honest, clever.  But man, I get almost nothing from her music.  I've held on to these in case I ever change my mind.  I haven't read Sean Nelson's 33 1/3 book on Court and Spark, but I plan to.  Maybe that will turn me around.

Jonny Greenwood - There Will Be Blood (Music From The Motion Picture) (2007).  This is an extraordinary piece of music.  It was impossible to forget in the movie.  It's completely arresting on its own. I prefer this to most of Greenwood's work in Radiohead, actually.

Jorge Ben - Negro é Lindo (1971).  Jorge Ben was on the more traditional bossa nova side of the tropicalia artists, and this album fuses tropicalia-style psychedelia with more traditonal Brazilian music forms.  As far as I can tell, the songs are all originals, and they're pretty great.  I'm particularly fond of "Cassius Marcelo Clay."

Joseph Spence - Happy All The Time (1964). I first heard of Spence through a book about John Fahey and Leo Kottke. The author described Spence's otherworldly fingerstyle guitarwork as being like Harpo Marx playing the harp, which is to say: completely untutored brilliance.  This album showcases that brilliance.  Spence's voice is a little rough for some listeners.  But I don't care; I love it.

Josephine Foster - Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You (2005).  Speaking of a voice that's too rough for some listeners, Foster's voice always turns me off before it digs its way into my skin.  I know some people hate Joanna Newsom's voice, and I suspect that this is what it sounds like to people: nasal, airy, harsh.  But then it works.  Although she's lumped in with the freak-folkers like Devendra Banhart, this comes across like the traditional music that the Carter Family grew up on, like an Art Nouveau version of the Childe Ballads.

Joy Division - Substance (1977-1980), Unknown Pleasures (1979), and Closer (1980). I never listened to Joy Division as a teenager, mostly because I was stupid. I knew that the goth girls loved them, and I heard the synths and thought they were just another Cure-esque mopey dance band. I couldn't have been more wrong. When I finally got around to them in my late 20s, I was shocked at how great their slash-and-burn post-punk sound was. This would have been right up my alley when I was 17.  It still is.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Music Library: Jonathan Richman

Jo Jo!  I spent my first Valentine's Day with my lady love at a Jonathan Richman show at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC.  Some people may not be as taken with Richman's persona as I am. But I'm a sucker for his blend of childish whimsy, lover-man sweetness, and blissed-out positivity.  I love the Modern Lovers, too (and I should note that while Richman continued to call his band "The Modern Lovers" well into the 80s, I have a hard time thinking of them that way), but that's a different vibe.

The Best of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers: The Beserkley Years (1976 - 1979).  One of the first Richman albums I ever bought, collecting tracks from The Modern Lovers, plus his first four albums.

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers (1976), Rock 'n' Roll with the Modern Lovers (1977), Modern Lovers "Live" (1977), Back In Your Life (1979), and The Lost Album Bootleg (1981). Well, I should walk back on my comment about the Modern Lovers.  The band that recorded the album The Modern Lovers had Jerry Harrison (later of the Talking Heads) and David Robinson (later of the Cars) in it.  This version of the Modern Lovers had Leroy, Curly (later replaced by Asa), and D. Sharpe, all of whom pulled off a crackerjack version of Richman's sweet, clean, and slightly weird rock & roll.  There's more highlights here than you can shake a stick at, although "The Morning Of Our Lives" has been firmly lodged in my head for a few days now.  The bootleg has a few songs from the live album and a bunch of songs that would crop up on the next few albums.

Jonathan Sings! (1983), Rockin' and Romance (1985), It's Time For Jonathan Richman (1986), and Modern Lovers '88 (1988). The first two of these are two of the best Jonathan Richman albums, period.  Both feature some of his most affecting songs.  Both have lady back-up singers, although they are far more energetic on the former.  The latter two albums are great-but-not-utterly-brilliant. This is a great period for Richman, though, where he's halfway between the juvenalia of the Beserkley years and the brutally honest adult of the late 80s/early 90s.

Jonathan Richman (1989), Jonathan Goes Country (1990), Having A Party With Jonathan Richman (1991), and I, Jonathan (1992).  The first of these has Richman shedding the Modern Lovers and accepting that he is his own man.  It's a solo album in every meaning of the word: just Jo Jo, his guitar, and a kick drum.  Jonathan Goes Country has the man with a jimcrack country band translating old and new originals and a number of covers into a near-perfect album. Highly recommended.  Having A Party is another stripped-down album that belies its name with a fairly serious look at the complexities of romance.  The highlight is a reworking of his Bermuda song from Rockin' and Romance into a monologue about how he shed his young-man angst. I, Jonathan has the man backed by a rock band that isn't trying to be nice, the first such since he reinvented himself in the late 70s, with the great songs "Parties In the U.S.A.," "I Was Dancing In The Lesbian Bar," and "Velvet Underground."

You Must Ask The Heart (1995) and Surrender To Jonathan (1996). I don't have 1994's Spanish- and French-language Jonathan, Te Vas a Emocionar!, and I don't have Richman's more recent album (there's four of them, and I'm sure I'll get around to them sometime).  These two are markedly different from each other, but they share a certain older and wiser perspective.  You Must Ask The Heart is a stunning collection of songs, some old, some covers, but most new. Surrender To Jonathan has the man reworking some of his tracks from the 80s and early 90s with only a few new songs (including "My Little Girl's Got A Full-Time Daddy Now," which sorta breaks my heart).  But it's not that great of an album.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Music Library: Johnny Hartman, Johnny Nash, Johnny Thunders, Jolie Holland, Jon Langford, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Jonathan Fire*Eater

Johnny Hartman - Unforgettable (1966). I know Hartman best for his role in the John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album, where Hartman perfectly blended his swing-jazz baritone with the Coltrane Quartet. This album is pretty decent, too, although it's more of a Sinatra-style big-band swing jazz thing.

Johnny Nash - "I Can See Clearly Now." I have this more as a curio than anything.  This was one of the first reggae-inflected songs to break into the American market.  The unfortunate earworm is a side-effect.

Johnny Thunders - So Alone (1978). Pleasantly sleazy drug-fueled rock from the ex-Doll/ex-Heartbreaker.  And you can't beat "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory."

Jolie Holland - Escondida (2008).  This is one of my wife's albums, but I sure like it.  Like Nina Nastasia, Holland is a folk-based singer/songwriter who tends to break the rules and come up with surprising twists and turns in her music.

Jon Langford - Cactus Cafe 12/8/2002, "Last King of the Road," The Mayors of the Moon (2003), and All The Fame Of Lofty Deeds (2004).  God bless Jon Langford. He's the heart of the Mekons, a restless fount of creativity, and a genuinely nice guy.  The first of these is a bootleg, and the second is from a bootleg of the man playing at the Yard Dog in 2003.  The others are solo albums with Langford's trademark wit and passion.  And that's why he's my favorite Welsh art-punk cowboy.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Orange (1994).  Silly, silly, silly music.  John Dougan at Allmusic points out that fans of the band like the idea of the blues more than the reality.  Considering that this music makes Tav Falco sound like John Lee Hooker, I'd say that's about right.  But man, it's pretty fun.

Jonathan Fire*Eater - Tremble Under Boom Lights (1996).  Pretty decent organ-driven garage-rock EP from the band that preceded the Walkmen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Gravity's Rainbow, Against The Day, and Chronic City

I've considered Gravity's Rainbow to be among my favorite books since I spent a week reading it when I was 20.  I remember how overwhelming the experience was: the absence of anything approaching a traditional plot structure with seemingly disjointed episodes leading further and further into confusion, the characters hilarious and exasperating and opaque, the sublime ridiculousness of the plot points, the extremity and vulgarity in the many, many sex scenes, but more than anything Pynchon's ability to draw pure poetry and a near-gnostic wisdom from his cartoonish hyper-reality.

I'd been touched by great works of literature before, but this was the first great work of literature that fundamentally changed me. My entire way of seeing had been engulfed by Gravity's Rainbow. An arc of history had me caught in its parabola. I wondered how to dislodge myself before the inevitable crashdown. I reveled in my small freedoms. I grew more paranoid.

I wasn't previously unfamiliar with paranoid fiction.  William Burroughs, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick had all had been brief obsessions, although none were capable of Pynchon's grand sweeping vision and masterful use of language. But unlike many other artworks that I thought profound, I had no interest in re-reading it anytime soon. I've likened that first read of Gravity's Rainbow to climbing Everest.  How many people suffer their way up to the peak and then think, -I'll have to do this again next year?  Not many.

I've had a hard time deciding how many times I've read Gravity's Rainbow. I did a cursory read again, some years later, although I recall rushing through many of the episodes in the earlier and later parts, only lingering over the long third part of the book, In The Zone, which is the funniest.  And I went back to read certain episodes here and there over time. But I'd never spent the time to rewalk each step carefully through the whole thing again since my too-rushed first read.  Until now.  I've spent the last six months re-reading Gravity's Rainbow bit by bit.  And I've decided to officially call this my third full read of the book, although it could be the second, the fourth, or - one could argue - the first, since time and memory struck much of the book in the intervening years, while time and experience leant me a new perspective.

So, I've been assuming that if you've read this far done, you have some context for Gravity's Rainbow, but if not, here's a brief summary of the unsummarizable: the novel takes place at the end of WWII and is set in England, liberated France, and thereafter in the fractured Germany and other parts of Central Europe.  The central figure of the novel is Tyrone Slothrop, an American intelligence soldier who was subjected to Jungian conditioning when an infant that makes him particularly susceptible to the, well, mystical properties of V-2 rockets as an adult.  Like Benny Profane in V., Slothrop is a chaotic stumbler towards truth, and the deluded servants of order, represented by Pointsman in this novel and Stencil in V., cannot resist attempting to use him as a tool.  That's an oversimplification, but I'm trying to keep it simple here. Although Slothrop is the central figure, there's many, many, many other characters in Gravity's Rainbow, and often Slothrop has nothing to do with with action in a given episode.  Okay, the episodes: the book is split into four parts: (1) Beyond The Zero, which takes place in England during the Blitz in the last months of 1944, (2) Un Perm' au Casino Hermann Goering, which takes place at a casino in liberated France in the first months of 1945, (3) In The Zone, which takes place in Central Europe, primarily the former Germany, in the middle of 1945, and (4) The Counterforce, which leaps all over Europe and America and forward and backwards in time, but most of the "present" action takes place in late summer/early fall 1945.  I mentioned the mystical aspect of rockets.  Much of the latter two sections are about a search for information about a unique rocket, the Swartzgerat ("black device"), which is symbolically important for reasons that are unclear to most of the characters.  Much of the story deals with the idea of sacrifice, the symbolism of the Tarot, and the importance of Jungian archetypes (for instance the story of Hansel and Gretel plays a key part in the meaning of the Swartzgerat to those who fired it). The meaning of the Swartzgerat's target, though, is essential to the structure.  Each of these parts are divided into episodes, set off by an elliptical sequence of boxes.  The episodes have a particularly cinematic feeling to them.  As in film editing, they often have no literal connection to the previous episode, but derive meaning from their sequence.  I suspect that this summary will leave those with little knowledge of GR more confused than before, but I don't know how to be more clear with this book.

So yes, it's a little challenging.  But it's beautifully written, even in the ugly parts.  And it's funny as hell.  Often.  Not always.

I spent the first part of 2009 reading Against The Day, Pynchon's 2006 novel about the world changing during the Progressive Era in the years leading up to WWI (although the novel mostly ignores the war itself and continues into the post-war period, which I suppose could also be considered the time leading up to WWII). Against The Day was published 33 years after Gravity's Rainbow, and many readers see it as a prequel.  I don't think that's fair, though.  Pynchon's interests have changed over time: instead of being about how technology turns magic into reality (which is my one-sentence, completely insufficient thesis statement for Gravity's Rainbow), Against The Day is about how science drains the possibility of the natural world into a determined reality (again, yes, insufficient, but there you go).

Against The Day opens with the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, which drew crowds (in the novel, at least) hoping for technological miracles to free them from the misery of  their everyday lives.  The opening chapters introduce the Chums of Chance, one of several outdated escapist fictional threads that the novel employs to show how the avenues of escape have closed with the advent of the Industrial Age.  In Gravity's Rainbow, the magic of the Tarot became the reality of the archetypes haunting Europe after WWII.  In Against The Day, the magic of pre-20th century utopianism (represented by the aether, the hole through the middle of the earth, the Chums of Chance, the promise of freedom calling to the anarchist miners, the possibility of other worlds suspected by the mathematicians, and so on) becomes impossible in the light of science's cold eye. 

The Chums of Chance are a crew of children who travel by airship (the Inconvenience) to various adventures, guided by the mysterious Central Command.  When the novel focuses on them, the tone is generally light and utopian, at least at first.  Other threads in the novel include trevails of the widespread Traverse family, which include anarchist utopians and Western revenge dramas and pre-War European intellectual bohemianism, the threat of the Vibe family, the classic robber barons who have fingers in everything, and the impotent machinations of the British mystical society T.W.I.T.  The scope is epic, and characters in the novel cross the entire world, even going to a Counter-Earth at one point, although most of the threads wind up in dirty old L.A., where the advent of the movies leads to a noir-ish bleakening of the tone.  And I haven't even mentioned the major thread of Merle Rideout and his adopted daughter Dally, who have the most tender relationship in the book.  Nor have I pointed out that Against The Day is utterly hilarious, although the funniest episode may be the early sequence when Franz Ferdinand - the doomed Crown Prince, yes - attempts to engage some of the black citizens of 1890s Chicago in a round of The Dozens.

The nature of light and dark is of keen importance throughout the novel, and much of the action is governed by light. Of particular importance is Iceland spar, a mineral that refracts light into two places: one sharp and one ghostly.  Characters in the novel call this "bilocation," and one of the threads involves being literally in two places at once.  An explosion (a blast of light) tears one character, Lew Basnight, from his current reality and thrusts him into another.  Extrapolating from this, the bombs of coming wars - especially WWI, so terrible that Pynchon's characters can hardly even conceive of it - tore reality asunder.  Light also plays in smaller subplots, such as Merle Rideout's obsession with the Aether or the way that Scarsdale Vibe shuts down Nikola Tesla's plan to harness geo-energy to provide free heat and lighting for the masses.  According to one of the inscriptions - a quote from Thelonious Monk, from whom I borrowed my son's middle name - "It's always night, or we wouldn't need light."  Light is not just the way out of ignorance, but the way out of certain types of potentiality.

I think Against The Day is as good as Gravity's Rainbow, if not better.  Maybe it's silly of me to talk of one being better than the other, because they are of a piece.  ATD couldn't exist without GR.  But GR is augmented by ATD.  Re-reading GR's paranoid urgency in the light of ATD's wiser flights of fancy flips their relative time frames and makes it seem like there is a way out of the Zone.

Upon finishing Gravity's Rainbow, I knocked out Jonathan Lethem's most recent novel Chronic City in a couple of days.  Lethem shares with Pynchon a sense of paranoia and an affinity for absurd names.  It's unfair to Lethem, though, that I would pick up one of his novels on the heels of one of Pynchon's.  Lethem may be one of the greatest American novelists of his generation, but Pynchon is one of the greatest American novelists. After Pynchon, Lethem seemed lighter than usual.  The novel is about an actor, Chase Insteadman, who befriends a prickly pop culture critic named Perkus Tooth.  The two spend hours smoking weed, watching movies, and so on.  Their circle widens.  Tooth becomes obsessed with an artifact called a chaldron, which leads eventually to their discovery that much of their reality isn't quite as authentic as it seems.  There are multiple surreal touches, such as the artist who creates enormous gaps in the Manhattan landscape or the two-story tiger destroying unwanted housing or the encroaching environmental collapse that the characters hardly notice.  And yet I finished the book thinking ...and?  Again, this is my fault, not Lethem's, but Chronic City seemed awfully slight after Gravity's Rainbow.  What wouldn't?

Note: the image at the top of this post is from Zak Smith's Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow, illustrating the immortal phrase Ficht Nicht mit der Raketemench!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Music Library: Johnny Cash

I'm not even going to pretend that this is a comprehensive look at Cash's 50-year career.  There's just too much to it.  But this is what I have.

The Essential Johnny Cash (1955-1983), Columbia Records 1958-1986, and The Legend Lives On (released 2006).  The former is a three-disc set covering most of his biggest and best tracks from the first 30 years of his career.  Does it get better than this? No, it does not. All of these tracks need to be heard by music fans.  Columbia Records is a one-disc best-of that I've had forever and most everything appears on the Essential box.  But there's two tracks that aren't on the bigger collection, so there's that.  If you only have one disc for Mr. Cash's career, it should be this one.  The Legend Lives On is a cheapo with live performances of his biggest hits.  I got this as a burn from a friend, so I don't have any context for when or where the tracks were recorded, but they sound like they're from the 60s.

Orange Blossom Special (1965).  I don't have too many of Cash's actual albums, but I sure like the ones I have.  This one features not just his version of the title cut, but three freakin' Dylan songs ("It Ain't Me, Babe," "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," and "Mama, You've Been On My Mind"), plus the Carter Family's "Wildwood Flower," a fantastic take on "Long Black Veil," and Harlan Howard's "The Wall."  Damn, it's good.

Everybody Loves A Nut (1966). From the Jack Davis-drawn Mad Magazine-esque cover, you can tell that Cash is in a goofy mood.  This one's heavy on Jack Clement's silliest songs: the title cut, "The One On The Right Is On The Left," "Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog."  Plus Shel Silverstein's "Boa Constrictor," which I think is the national anthem of camp songs.  Cash's own "The Bug That Tried To Crawl Around The World" is no slouch in the fun department, either. Despite - or maybe because of - the silliness, this is a fantastic album.

At Folsom Prison (1968) and At San Quinten (The Complete Concert) (1969). "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." Do you really need to hear how great these albums are again?  They're sublime.  You should own them if you don't.  You should hear them if you haven't.  Cash is more legend than man here.

America: A 200-Year Salute In Story and Song (1972). Cash attempts to retell the entirety of American history in a 40-minute album.  As Allmusic says, it's an entertaining, if kitschy, novelty.  But nothing that I want to listen to frequently.

Classic Christmas (1980) and Country Christmas (1991). I reviewed these last month with the Christmas music, but the upshot is don't bother.  They stink it up.

American Recordings (1994), Unchained (1996), American III: Solitary Man (2000), American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), and American Recordings V: A Hundred Highways (2006).  Cash's fertile late period has been covered to death.  I don't have much to add.    The first three are definitely the best.  The first two songs on the fourth one are pretty stunning, but the rest of the album is too maudlin by half.  The fifth one, a posthumous release, has the man in a voice so frail that it hurts to listen to.  There's a 6th one due to drop in a few weeks, but I don't think I'll pick it up.  I do hope to get the Unearthed box sometime, though.

Music Library: John Hammond Jr, John Lee Hooker, John Lennon, John Martyn, John Prine, John Scofield, John Williams, John Zorn, Johnny Burnette

John Hammond Jr. - "Get Behind The Mule." This is from a comp that my buddy David Smay made of other people covering Tom Waits.  I like it okay, but the Waits version blows it out of the water.  Which is true of every Hammond Jr song I've ever heard: he's a fine interpreter, but his taste is better than his skill, and his song choices are almost always better in the original.

John Lee Hooker - The Best of John Lee Hooker: 1965 - 1974.  Taken from a later period in Hooker's career where his producers tried to jazz up his lean blues with some then-modern touches like wah-wah pedals.  And I actually like this okay, but it doesn't hold a candle to the leaner early stuff.

John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band (1970), "How Do You Sleep?," and Lennon Legend: The Very Best of John Lennon (1969 - 1984). When I reviewed the Beatles way back in the late Mesolithic age, I got some slack from a bravely anonymous commenter who was offended that I didn't validate his love of the Beatles more.  I will say that I've been having a blast playing Beatles Rock Band since Christmas and a recently got a copy of the Beatles Mono Box Set, which rules most mightily.  But, y'know, you listen to a lot of music and you end up going through phases and stages.  As people do.  Anyway, at the moment I am Beatles-positive and generally Lennon-positive.  Plastic Ono Band is top-notch stuff, raw in just the right ways.  The collection, though, shows how Lennon could vacillate wildly between great singles and banal ones.

John Martyn - Solid Air (1973). I'm not a huge fan of John Martyn's.  I mean, I think he's a fantastic Brit-folk guitarist with a great ear.  But, on the other hand, I've never felt like I needed more than this album, which is one of those folk-rock-jazz-lite albums from the 70s, sort of like Bryter Layter, my least favorite Nick Drake album.  Still, this one is good, even if it hasn't led me to pursue more of the man's work.

John Prine - Prime Prine (1971 - 1975) and "Everything Is Cool." Prine's another guy where I've run hot and cold.  Once upon a time, I couldn't even consider not having access to his first four albums at least, let alone his box set Great Days.  But I have those albums on vinyl - never ripped. And I foolishly bought Great Days on cassette (what can I say, I was 20). But while I miss a few of the songs that aren't on Prime Prine, a best-of of sorts pulled from his first four albums, I've never felt the need to go out and buy copies, either.  Someday I will.  The single is a Christmas song that I reviewed last month.

John Scofield - A Go Go (1997). Scofield is the classic Berklee College of Music grad, a technically amazing guitar player who utterly fails to move me.  Here he teams up with Medeski Martin & Wood, a funk-jazz band that can be fun, but the results are a little snoozeworthy.

John Williams - "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). This is the main theme from the movie.  No idea where I got it.

John Zorn - The Big Gundown: John Zorn Plays The Music of Ennio Morricone (1984). More movie music!  In this case, though, Zorn's ripping it up with his typical crackerjack group of sidemen: Anton Fier, Bill Frisell, Fred Frith, Jody Harris, Arto Lindsay, Bob Quine, Vernon Reid, and Toots Thielemans, to name just a few.  Quine's guitarwork on "Once Upon A Time In The West" is particularly revelatory.  Recommended for fans of Morricone, Zorn, or Quine.

Johnny Burnette Trio - "Butterfingers".  No idea how I ended up with this, but it's a kickin' little rockabilly tune.

Music Library: John Fahey

I don't think I can overstate Fahey's importance to American folk music, as much as Fahey himself hated the restrictions of the genre.  Fahey was a fingerstyle guitarist, which meant that he was championing a somewhat archaic way of playing guitar when he first started recording himself in the late 50s.  Fingerstyle means exactly what it says: the guitarist picks notes on the guitar with fingers rather than a synthetic pick.  Although Fahey's style has been called American Primitivism, there's nothing primitive about his style or that of the guitarists who he nurtured (well, he wasn't the nurturing type, so let's call it "supported" instead) and influenced.  Their flurry of sounds, usually employing at least two voices on the guitar (a bass line and a melody line), but often adding a third voice (usually a mid-range drone), is anything but primitive.  Fahey had one ear in the past, always looking for old blues guitarists to learn from, but his other ear could only hear the future, and his uncompromising avant-garde tendencies give his instrumentals a timeless quality.

The Legend of Blind Joe Death (1964 and 1967).  Fahey created three separate versions of his first album Blind Joe Death.  The first was recorded in 1959 and attributed to the mythical eponymous bluesman.  Fahey released it on his own label Takoma, but only had the money to press a hundred or so copies.  Five years later, Fahey decided that he had improved his guitar skills enough to re-record the album. Or, at least, some songs on the album.  The second version had a wider release, but in 1967, Fahey decided to re-record the album again in stereo.  The Legend of Blind Joe Death, a 1996 release, combines the later two releases with a few outtakes.  Despite Fahey's traditionalist song choice, there are not many earlier albums that sound like this: close-mic'ed solo guitar with no effects or overdubs, with all the musicality and emotion in Fahey's own presentation.  Beautiful stuff.

The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death (1965). I don't have Fahey's second or third albums, but this one, his fourth, is like Blind Joe Death in that some songs are covers of old blues and pop songs.  The recording is as dry as the recording on Blind Joe Death, but there's some more oddities as Fahey becomes more of his own man. There's a banjo on one track. Some of the songs have a distinctly odd bent as Fahey incorporates more Eastern music into his sound.  This one was recorded and released on another label before The Great San Bernadino Birthday Party, which was officially labeled Vol. 4 from Takoma Records, but when Takoma released later re-released it, they subtitled this one Vol. 5.  All part of Fahey's lifelong love of creative obfuscation.

Days Have Gone By, Vol. 6 (1967). This one features a bunch of increasingly psychedelic originals (note "The Portland Cement Factory At Monolith California" and "A Raga Called Pat Parts One and Two"), plus a bluegrass standard and a composition by Sibelius.  Awesome.

Requia (1968).  I don't have the Voice of the Turtle, Fahey's 7th album, but I need to get it (and, it should go without saying, any of the other Fahey albums I don't have).  The excellent website The Fahey Files notes that Fahey advises fans to avoid this one, claiming that he was too drunk to make a good album.  I think this one is awesome, though.  The highlight is the four-part "Requiem For Molly," which mixes solo guitar with tape loops and white noise, giving you that odd feeling of listening to Mississippi John Hurt as remixed by John Cage.

The Yellow Princess (1968). Fahey's ninth album adds a band on some tracks and throws in a sound collage on another.  And yet Fahey's playing is near-perfect throughout and the recording as crisp as a chilled apple slice. All of which means that this is one of Fahey's best.  Get the reissue with the early version of "Fare Forward Voyagers" on it.

Christmas Guitar (1968 - 1986).  This compilation includes most of the wonderful 1968 album The New Possibility: John Fahey's Guitar Soli Christmas Album, plus a bunch of other Christmas tracks that Fahey recorded over the next 20 years.  I reviewed it a little over a month ago.

America (1971).  Brilliant stuff here.  This is the 1998 reissue, which restores the album to the two-disc length that Fahey originally conceived.  There's a version of "Amazing Grace," a movement from a Dvorak symphony, and some extremely long compositions.

Of Rivers And Religion (1972).  More brilliance.  Fahey has a brass section backing him on some tracks and a string section on others.  This is great, great American music.

Fare Forward Voyagers (Soldier's Choice) (1973).  This is mystic music.  Three tracks, one 14 minutes, one 6, and one 24.  Beautiful long compositions with a heavy Eastern sound.

Old Fashioned Love (1975).  This is Fahey again with a ragtime orchestra, with his sound covering the distance from early 20th century American music to Indian classical music.

Yes! Jesus Loves Me: Guitar Hymns (1980), Let Go (1984), Rain Forests, Oceans, and Other Themes (1985), and I Remember Blind Joe Death (1987).  I'm running out of things to say, so I'm going to start talking about several of these at once.  The Guitar Hymns album takes traditional Christian hymns and presents them in the beautiful dry style of Fahey's Christmas albums.  Let Go melds Brazilian music with ragtime, bluegrass, and a surprising note-for-note cover of "Layla" that remains as smirkingly serious as any of Fahey's other covers.  Rain Forests has more Brazilian music, another version of "Layla" (or is it the same one? hard to say), a medley of Hendrix into Furry Lewis, and a Stravinsky composition.  Fahey was pretty sick at the end of the 80s with Epstein-Barr, and he claims that I Remember Blind Joe Death is worthless because his sickness made him sloppy.  It's not worthless, but it's not one of his better albums.

God, Time, and Causality (1989) and Old Girlfriends And Other Horrible Things (1992).  Fahey was in better health for God, Time, and Causality (its title a pompous joke from a guy who was studying philosophy at Berkeley when his music career took off).  Here Fahey reworks a number of earlier tracks into long, transcendent medleys, pausing occasionally to retune during the track so that he can capture the odd Indian-raga inflections.  Awesome stuff.  Old Girlfriends is sort of a step back to his ragtime-classical-pop song formula of the mid 70s.  I'm not knocking it; the album is great.

Womblife (1997). I don't have City of Refuge, where Fahey leapt headlong into avant-garde music, combining his anti-folk fingerstyle guitar with tape loops and white noise to an unprecedented degree.  But I understand that Womblife, produced by Jim O'Rourke, plumbs a similar vein more successfully.  I think it's amazing.

The Epiphany of Glenn Jones (with Cul De Sac, 1997).  This is a half-successful attempt to meld Fahey's style with Cul De Sac's krautrock-and-jazz-influenced avant-rock.  You really must read the liner notes to get a glimpse of what working with Fahey was like.  I do not envy Glenn Jones his experience of having his idol sabotage his plans, but the result is pretty great in spots and a fascinating trainwreck in others.

Georgia Stomps, Atlanta Struts and Other Contemporary Dance Favorites (1998).  This is a live album of Fahey working out themes on an electric guitar.  I've read that Fahey found that his fingers were having trouble with acoustics at the time, but I would believe just as strongly that he just wanted to mess around on an electric and used whatever excuse was at hand.  Unfortunately, he could not pull the resonance from an electric guitar that he could wreak from an acoustic, and while the performances are great, the music suffers a bit from the tinniness of the sound.

Red Cross (2003) and "Hard Time Empty Bottle Blues I - IV" (from Sea Changes and Coelacanths: A Young Person's Guide To John Fahey, 2006).  Fahey's great work at the end of his life was founding Revenant Records, which produces the most incredible box sets in box set history.  Not only are they meticulously researched and beautifully mastered, but they are also packaged more creatively than any others in history.  But Fahey passed away in 2001, not long after helping to found the company.  Red Cross collects his last recordings, which span his stylistic leaning from the straightforward blues-based fingerstyle work of his early career to the aggressive and dark near-ambient work of his late career. Wonderful music, and a fitting end to a brilliant life.  Sea Changes collects Womblife and Georgia Stomps into a single volume, but with the four parts of "Hard Time Empty Bottle Blues" in the middle.  I bought these tracks from eMusic so I don't know when or where they were recorded, and they're a bit slight for me to make any guesses.  But they're lovely and I'm not sorry I have them.

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