Monday, October 27, 2014

Van Morrison Back On Top 1999

This has been the best fall in Northeast Ohio in many many a season. And what that means is color. Rust, gold, orange, red, yellow, all mixed with the green hold-outs, and bright sunny days to put those colors on full display. It is a wonder more people don't just drive off the road in awe of this natural expression of God's magnificence, like Thomas Cole and Fredrick Church captured in their brilliant landscapes. Breath-taking beauty just for being on the planet with your eyes open, and a few moments to just look.

The Cleveland Museum of Art has a special exhibit on Fredrick Church's Twilight in the Wilderness that is a must to see if you're a 19th century landscape aficionado. Or if you just like art, I suppose. Go there now. It's only there until January 25, 2015, and time can slip by so easily if you don't make a point to go.

What's this got to do with Van Morrison? Well, on Back On Top, a record that clearly is undeserving of it's own title, Van came through with When The Leaves Come Falling Down, a loving ode to Fall that Van presents with a fine lyric and reverent melody. It's got that minor-key melancholy, because Fall can only lead to Winter, but right now everything is full of wonder and beauty. The song is also available on The Best Of Volume 3, or as a download on iTunes (which is still sucky mp3). Or maybe at your library.

Follow me down, follow me down, follow me down
To the place between the garden and the wall
Follow me down, follow me down
To the space between the twilight and the dawn

And as I'm looking at the colour of the leaves, in your hand
As we're listening to Chet Baker on the beach, in the sand
When the leaves come falling down,
Whoa in September, when the leaves come falling down
Oh when the leaves come falling down
Yeah in September when the leaves come falling down

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Lucinda Williams Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone 2014

I'm a pretty big fan of Lucinda Williams and have followed her work throughout her career. Her Car Wheels On A Gravel Road is one of the best Folk/Rock/Americana records ever made, and a high water mark for her. She followed that with the somewhat softer Essence 2001 and the impressive A World Without Tears 2003.

If there's a complaint to be made of her work since the turn of the century, it is that her records include too many slow songs. Her lyric writing has never dipped far, but the languidity of her recent work on West 2007 (the worst offender), Little Honey 2008, and Blessed 2011 was just a bit too much. All of them include the occasional rocker, but the rockers aren't always up to par, and there aren't enough of them. The slow stuff is good, and she has fabulous instrumental backing, including long-time guitarist Doug Pettibone, as well as Bill Frissell and Greg Leisz (two of the best atmospheric guitarist anywhere). But there are a lot of slow tunes.

So now here comes a new, two-CD set. To say I was apprehensive is an understatement, because two CDs of her slow introspection sounded like a bad idea. But what we get this time has more energy than any of her releases since Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, and that (and a mess of great songs) makes this the best record she's made in a long time. Not only that, Lucinda is happily in love, and there are even some upbeat sentiments on the table (a rarity in her work). Break-ups and misery have always made for fine songs, but it certainly isn't necessary.

Protection, Burning Bridges, East Side Of Town, West Memphis, Foolishness, Stand Right By Each Other, Walk On, and Everything But The Truth are all mid-tempo at least, and we have a nice balance of rockers, blues, and quieter material. A nine-minute cover of J.J. Cale's Magnolia ends the record in a magnificently deep slow groove, presenting some downright gorgeous guitar interplay.

If, like me, you've been a bit disappointed in Ms. William's recent work, the wait is over. At 61, Lucinda Williams has made her best recording in years.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hiatus of sorts


 


It has been five years that I've been writing this blog. During that time I have made a conscious effort to publish at least 4 times per month or more, and I've generally achieved that goal. There have been about 30,000 visits to the site during that five years (with an error of up to 50-80% in either direction), but not all of those visitors actually read anything. There are at least three people that have followed the blog, and several (or quite a few?) more that are regular readers. Thanks especially to you.

I want to also thank ChrisGoesRock, whose blogroll has given my blog more traffic than any other source. Hat's off to Willard's Wormholes and Brady Bonk's Ketchup Is A Vegetable, other blogrolls that have helped sustain traffic of late. And thanks to Dan, too, for your comments and your own blog.

I'm not completely signing off. I'll have to do some Zappadan blogging in December, and I'll pick it up when I feel like it. I'm just saying that the promise to myself (and you, if you've read this far) is mostly over. I've had another writing project in mind for a long time. Maybe in the future there will be an radiation physics book.

Thanks again sincerely to anyone who ever read a posting. I really appreciate it.

Here's ten records that I highly recommend:
Allen Toussaint The Bright Mississippi 
Bruce Cockburn Breatfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu
Boz Scaggs Come On Home
The Clash London Calling
Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham Live-Moments From This Theatre
The Detroit Cobras Life, Love, And Leaving
Matthew Sweet Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu
Vampire Weekend Contra
Shelby Lynne I Am Shelby Lynn
Eric Hutchinson Moving Up Living Down

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sloan Commonwealth 2014

Sloan have a new one out. This band is interesting in several ways:

They're Canadian. This is hardly big news these days, but hey, it's still pretty cool to be Canadian. And they are HUGE in Canada.

The same four people have been in the band since its inception in 1991. This is particularly unusual, especially given that...

All four are multi-instrumentalists, songwriters, and singers. Every one of their records includes songs written by all four members. This is the most egalitarian rock band on the planet.

This new one is a doozy. The double LP set has one side written by each member.

Jay Ferguson's first side reveals him as the most Beatles-influenced member of the band. His work has been consistently stellar throughout their career. And I don't mean he mimics the Beatles, instead the band often sounds like if the Beatles had been 20 in 1991 when they met in college. They're that good, and so are his songs.

Side two features Chris Murphy, and Murphy brings diversity of style and pop sensibility to every track. All of them have really produced strong material for this record.

Patrick Pentland's side rocks harder than the rest, and the power-pop label applies at least a few times. Pentland gets the most out of the strength of two guitars, bass, and drums, straight ahead hard rocking, and gives a nice balance to the (usually) less hard rocking Ferguson and Murphy. There's even a few psych and prog moments.

Finally, Andrew Scott delivers a 17-minute medley/suite/collage that caps the record off with style, panache, and daring. The suite features at least a few moments from past records as it defines the term musical amalgamation. But it starts with several minutes of what can most favorably be called musique concrete, and it's still 14 minutes long after that. I've heard it through at least three times, and I like most of it. You'll probably listen to the fourteen other songs more often than this one.

But the usual beauty of a Sloan record is to have these four voices heard, all mixed together and bouncing off each other, and some people are going to miss their musical democracy for this more deconstructed Sloan. I'm not having that problem, and if I did I guess I'd hit shuffle play. It is very good Sloan.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Spoon They Want My Soul 2014

I've been listening to this record a lot since it arrived recently. I think it is their best effort yet, and that is very high praise given the quality of their recent work.

In case you're not familiar with Spoon, let's review. A quirky, punkish indie band releases two relatively lo-fi records in the later 90's to generally good reception and limited sales. 2001 and 2002 see them release Girls Can Tell and Kill The Moonlight on the trendy Merge label, and both are successful with the critics and begin to see more sales. The band tours more, and the buzz builds. By the time of Gimme Fiction 2005, they hit big, score a #1 in the indie charts, and repeat in 2007 with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. 2010's Transference makes it to #2, and they are by any measure a big deal.

Since Kill The Moonlight their records have become more and more accessible, with better production, nice instrumental arrangements and embellishment, and a little less sneer in Britt Daniel's vocal delivery. The path of their progression reminds me a bit of XTC- from punk to melodic modernism, and they have become as interesting in their own way as XTC was in their 80s heyday. Daniel's songs have improved significantly in melody and intricacy, and the band has solidified around Daniel, with relatively few personnel changes in the last nine years except for the recent addition of a second guitar/keyboardist, making the touring quintet capable of reproducing their studio work in the live setting.

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga and Transference set a very high bar. The four-year wait was worth it. Daniel has written his best set of songs yet, without letting go of his quirks, but definitely favoring his recent melodic bent. There's even some arena rock here, and some perfect pop. But it still sounds like Spoon. I was going to take it track-by-track, but I struggle with describing what they sound like. I guess if you took The Shins and The Clash and Beck and Modest Mouse and threw them in a blender, you might get close. But Daniel's songs, lyrics, and approach to songcraft seem uniquely his own, and that makes this band something special indeed.

You can put this one on and listen to the whole thing. In fact, that is by far the best way to hear it. Somebody thought long and hard about the sequence. It is a cohesive effort, and there are really no weak songs.

If you've been following the band and like their recent work, you won't be disappointed. If you're new to Spoon, start here. After you fall in love with it, go get Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Eva Cassidy Live At Blues Alley 1996

Eva Cassidy's Live At Blues Alley from 1996 is a wonderful record featuring Cassidy's fine band as well as her magnificent vocals. Something of a folk-jazz-pop hybrid, Cassidy's song selection is impeccable, and she invests herself fully in every song, and in the process, gives unique  and stellar performances of classics such as Stormy Monday, Bridge Over Troubled Water, People Get Ready, and Take Me To The River. Her version of Tall Trees In Georgia is achingly beautiful, and the studio version of Oh, Had I A Golden Thread added to the end of the record is breathtaking.

She had an amazing voice, full of emotional gravitas, and pitch-perfect to boot. The arrangements are quite good, and the band, if not all-stars, plays with style and professionalism. It is a CD you should own if you're into the plethora of jazz-pop chanteuses available these days. It is special good.

Then tragedy struck, when 2 months after the CD came out, she died at age 33 of melanoma. 

Her family and producer-bassist Chris Biondo then released Eva By Heart in 1997, a studio record that contains songs that had been mostly, if not fully, completed by Cassidy before her death. It's pretty good, but does not contain the perfect set of songs found on Live At Blues Alley, and some of them sound more like demos than competed projects.

The compilation Songbird, released in 1998, contains tracks from Blues Alley, Eva By Heart, and her signature Over The Rainbow from her 1992 duets record with pianist Chuck Brown, The Other Side. Like most decent compilations, it is a good record, and rivals Blues Alley as the one to have if you only have one.

Since 2000, her family has worked hard to tarnish her beautiful image by releasing every speck of recorded material they could find. Some of it is not bad, and there was probably a decent live CD to be found in the recordings made at Pearl's, King Of France Tavern, and the left-overs from the Blues Alley sets. But instead they doled out those tracks, mixed with demos and toss-offs, over the course of no less than five CDs and two more compilations from 2000-2012. The woman who completed two CDs in her lifetime (Live At Blues Alley and The Other Side with Chuck Brown) now has no less than six additional original CDs and three compilations all released after her untimely death. Only Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley have had more posthumous releases. So shame on her family for bilking the public that fell in love with their daughter with second-rate material over the course of the last decade.

Live At Blues Alley is indispensable. Songbird is a fine collection. After that, caveat emptor.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dr. John Mos' Scocious The Anthology 1993

There have been some fine Dr. John CDs since this collection, and I'm comfy recommending Goin' Back To New Orleans 1992 (probably his strongest single album), Duke Elegant 1999, and Creole Moon 2001.

But this fine 2-CD set from Rhino in 1993, which is heavily tilted to his 1968-1975 period, is priceless. Although none of the individual records was completely great, this collection with 3-5 tracks from each of the eight records made in the aforementioned era is unquestionably completely great. Add to that a nice selection of early sixties singles that Mac Rebenack was featured on, and a few tracks from his eighties solo piano outings, and you've got a killer collection, and a pretty good encapsulation of the modern New Orleans gumbo of jazz, funk, and swamp-rock. The good Doctor distilled everything into his thick stew- James Booker, Nevilles, Preservation Hall, and a fat slab of voodoo. And during this uniquely commercial period, he penned a number of classic songs, all included here.

By the late sixties Dr. John had been around the block twice, and he knew the studio and the stage. His best work is eclectic and eccentric and electric- and funky. His gruff voice, his songwriting, and his classic New Orleans piano, incorporating Professor Longhair and Fats Domino, and everyone in between, is a nice set of skills. It seems a shame now that he didn't break bigger, but it hasn't hurt his longevity. His most recent, a tribute to Louis Armstrong, was released this year.

This one is out of print, but Amazon has used sets for $15-20. It comes with a pretty good book, too.