Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Zappadan 2010

After last year's festival of Zappadan, I got real serious about Frank for a while, and it was winter, so I cruised on and off through everything Zappa I own, writing down songs of interest for a new compilation, planning on making a follow-up to the Zappa mix I discussed here last year. It took awhile, but I did it in stages.

I've only got four days left as I write this, so I probably won't complete the mix in time for the beginning of the festival, but maybe before it ends. The problem is that after listening to something like thirty-seven Zappa LPs and CDs, writing down song titles and running times, I had about 345 minutes of music. After several sessions of editing, I'm still only down to 210 minutes, which can be done on 3 CDs, but I really wanted to do something a bit more more concise, and sane, than that. Something that someone other than me would perhaps also enjoy.

I've also recently been reading Zappa: A Biography by Barry Miles. I've read the criticisms of the book, and they may be well founded, as I'm hardly a reader of biographies in general. But the factual basics of his life's chronology seem pretty well detailed, and as a fan that didn't know that much about the man, I'm finding it interesting. He was a different sort.

And so, to kick off the festivities of Zappadan, I give you my Top Five Favorite (not Best, not Most Important) Zappa Records in no particular order:
Weasels Ripped My Flesh 1970
The Grand Wazoo 1972
Apostrophe(') 1974
The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life 1991
One Size Fits All 1975

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Classics '69-'71

Back in the glorious cassette days when the only portable device was a cassette tape player, the Mix Tape was a thing of romance, style and pre-programmed party soundtracks. I made many a mix tape for various friends and lovers, and when the cassette's days were numbered, I bought a Marantz CD recorder that alloys me all the same freedom of mixing from CDs and LPs and, well, cassettes.

And so I continue the mix tape tradition of the cassette era into the CD era. One of my all-time favorite mix tapes of my own was a two-tape issue called Classics '69-'71. I recorded it from vinyl to two 90-minute cassettes. A few years ago I re-made the mix on three CDs, adding another 45 minutes or so of additional songs.

The music all comes from 1967- 1973, but most is from the title years, and I liked the way it sounded, even if it wasn't completely accurate. Here's the three CDs:
Disc One:

1. Australia The Kinks
2. You’re So Rude The Faces
3. Turn My Life Down Jefferson Airplane
4. Son Of Your Father Elton John
5. Going Mobile The Who
6. No Matter What Badfinger
7. Keep On Growing Derek and the Dominos
8. Just A Season The Byrds
9. Station Man Fleetwood Mac
10. We Were Always Sweethearts Boz Scaggs
11. Delta Lady Joe Cocker
12. Trust Me Janis Joplin
13. Sugar Magnolia The Greatful Dead
14. Savoy Truffle The Beatles
15. Only You Know And I Know Dave Mason
16. Done Somebody Wrong The Allman Brothers
17. Cinnamon Girl Neil Young
18. Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ The Rolling Stones

Disc Two:

1. Sweet Jane The Velvet Underground
2. Caledonia Mission The Band
3. Superlungs My Supergirl Donovan
4. Bold As Love The Jimi Hendrix Experience
5. Don’t Wait Too Long New York Rock Ensemble
6. Jewel Eyed Judy Fleetwood Mac
7. Holler And Shout The Elvin Bishop Group
8. Stay With Me The Faces
9. Flames Of Love Boz Scaggs
10. Come On (Part 1) The Jimi Hendrix Experience
11. Law And Order New York Rock Ensemble
12. Feeling Alright Joe Cocker
13. Bitch The Rolling Stones
14. Me And My Uncle The Grateful Dead
15. We Can Talk The Band
16. What Goes On The Velvet Underground
17. People Got To Be Free The Rascals
18. Boppin’ The Blues Carl Perkins And NRBQ
19. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad Derek And The Dominos
20. Try (Just A Little Bit Harder) Janis Joplin
21. Amoreena Elton John

Disc Three:

1. Revolution The Beatles
2. Evil Ways Santana
3. Domino Van Morrison
4. I Can’t Take It Badfinger
5. Black Dog Led Zeppelin
6. Everyday People Sly And The Family Stone
7. Baba O’Riley The Who
8. Apeman The Kinks
9. Trudi Donovan
10. I’m So Glad Cream
11. Can’t Be So Bad Moby Grape
12. Do You Know What I Mean Lee Michaels
13. Green Eyed Lady Sugarloaf
14. What Is Life George Harrison
15. Mississippi Queen Mountain
16. China Grove The Doobie Brothers
17. Honky Tonk Woman The Rolling Stones
18. My Old School Steely Dan
19. Over-Lovin’ You The Electric Flag
20. Caravan Van Morrison
21. Take Me To The Pilot Elton John

So that's my classic rock station there, and many of my earliest favorites. I suppose I could turn it into a playlist on the iPod these days. If you want a soundtrack for my life in my teens, and a fine mix for the car, there you go.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Frank And Joe Show "33 1/3" 2004

Frank Vignola is a lightning-fast jazz guitarist and Joe Ascione is his talented percussionist partner. Bass, Piano, Trumpet and Violin round out the band on some of the tracks, and Dr. John, Jane Monheit and Janis Siegel guest on one song each.

The recording is very detailed and dynamic. Turn it up. You'll hear more. The sound of the acoustic guitar is particularly well captured. With the right toys, it's like they are in your living room.

Lovely instrumental versions of Begin The Beguine, Tico Tico, Paper Moon, Alone Again Naturally, and Stardust are easy-to-like highlights. Novelties like Spiderman, Mozart Jam, and a blazing Flight Of The Bumblebee do more to show how fast and clean Vignola can play than much else. They're good, if you like that sort of thing.

Janis Siegel's take on Don't Fence Me In is very fine, with Siegel harmonizing with herself to beautiful effect.

But the raison d'etre for this record is the Jane Monheit sung Besame Mucho. The guitar, and Joe's percussion, surround Ms. Monheit's glorious, tension-filled vocal, a mystery of restraint and simmering lust. The recording is one of the finest female vocal presentations available, which makes this an excellent piece of music to evaluate a playback system. Or you can just enjoy a perfect reading of a fine song.

Pretty good record from a musician that sounds his best when he stops trying to show off his talent and just digs in and gets emotive. And it happens fairly often. One song that is too good to miss if you love the female voice.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Feagal Sharkey Feargal Sharkey 1985, Wish 1988

Feargal Sharkey is an interesting guy. As lead singer of the Undertones for five years, Sharkey led one of the most agitated bands in all of punk. And they could get on your nerves. Mostly in a good way, but not always. They were a punk band through, and they weren't as pop as many other punk bands.

So, in 1985, when Sharkey released this solo debut, produced by chart hit-maker, Eurythmics Dave Stewart, it was hard to believe it was the same guy who had screamed his way into our hearts. The unusually high and clear voice is the same, but here it is leading a full-blown 80s Big Rock Record. Stewart not only produces, but plays guitar and co-writes several songs. Micheal Kamen (a big soundtrack guy, and ex of New York Rock Ensemble) arranged the strings, and there is a strong crew of studio experts and guests on hand. It's well played.

The songs are up and down. Highlights include A Good Heart, a jittery 80s synth hit that was a UK #1, You Little Thief, a Benmont Tench-penned stomper, Ashes To Diamonds, a U2-styled rocker with a huge stadium vocal, Made To Measure and Don't Leave It To Nature. The rest of the material is either lesser songs or just too much 80s bombast, like Someone To Somebody, which sounds way too much like a future Celine Dion song.

The good songs are quite good. There's not quite enough of them for a whole album, but that doesn't mean you should never hear it. Serious Undertones fans must have been flabbergasted.

An even more remarkable and seemingly crazy pairing was the 1988 follow-up, Wish. Produced by Southern California's own Danny Kortchmar, and staffed by members of Toto, along with Waddy Wachtel and Steve Jordan, it delivers the punk king to LA to make a Jackson Browne/Warren Zevon/Toto hybrid that works a lot better than it should. It's still got that 80s sheen to it, but not as much as Stewart's debut production job. There's almost an organic sound to it. Almost.

Side One, with Cold, Cold Streets, More Love, Full Confession, Please Don't Believe In Me, and Out Of My System is a perfect album side. Side Two has at least three more good ones. Find a used copy of either one, but especially Wish. Kortchmar does a great production job, and almost all the material is excellent. Sharkey's high voice is remarkable. You don't hear many singers like him.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spinning Vinyl

Another not so quiet evening at home. Let's see what's in the racks.

I got home early and fired things up with The Marshall Tucker Band's debut from 1973, side one: Take The Highway, Can't You See, and Losing You. You might remember Can't You See. It's a fine Southern rock record, with soul and gospel touches on top of that Skynyrd thang.

Next up- Lucinda Williams, side three of World Without Tears 2003, including the magnificent title track. "If we lived in a world without tears, How would bruises find the face to lie upon... How would broken find the bone".

Elvis Costello and the Attractions Get Happy! 1980. An oft overlooked gem, side one includes I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down, Black And White World, Motel Matches, Human Touch, and Beaten To The Punch, some monster Elvis, and Steve Nieve's organ is always perfect.

The Heptones Night Food 1976. I haven't listened to much Reggae in a while, but this was always one of my favorite Reggae records. Side one includes Country Boy, the overly-menacing I've Got The Handle, Book Of Rules and Mama Say. Reggae got soul even more than Toots himself.

Side four of The Very Best Of Diana Krall, with Let's Face The Music And Dance, and The Heart Of Saturday Night, and Fly Me To The Moon. I know, you either love her or hate her. I love her. And her piano kicks it, too. Amazing recent vinyl release- as good as they get.

Beatles For Sale, 1964, No Reply, I'm A Loser, Baby's In Black, Rock And Roll Music, I'll Follow The Sun. In that order. Big fun, and amazing stuff. The record just before Rubber Soul. It's even better than you remember.

All of the sudden I had to hear Cat Food, from King Crimson's In The Wake Of Poseiden 1970. Cat Food is the bomb. All jerky guitar and crazy talk. Cat Food again!

That inspired XTC's Egyptian Solution (Homo Safari Series No. 3) from the Senses Working Overtime 12" Single/EP. A remarkably funky slice of XTC, they do a sort-of Tom-Tom Club crossed with Can that digs a deep groove. An unusual XTC song, and well worth hearing.

Why not Spoon's The Beast And The Dragon, Adored from Gimmie Fiction 2005. Then Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker) by Parliament from The Mothership Connection LP 1975. While we're getting funky, Prince's When You Were Mine and Head from 1980's Dirty Mind. When you were mine is a classic rocker from Prince, and Head, well it's a funky workout about exactly what you think it's about.

Finally the evening winds down with Lay It All Down and Show Me A Smile from Fleetwood Mac's 1973 outing Future Games. Lay It All Down is a bluesy workout with a dynamite dual-guitar jam, and Show Me A Smile is the template for better Christine McVie love songs to come, but the elements are all here. Future Games is really something to hear if you haven't.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shelby Lynne I Am Shelby Lynne 1999

Shelby Lynne released five country records prior to this, and there is some good material on them. She has a good voice, and does that vulnerable thing especially well. But it never quite took.

This is a perfect pop record. Produced by Bill Bottrell, most songs co-written by Lynne and Bottrell, and lovingly engineered by Mark Cross, the record sounds fabulous.

Shelby was out to recreate her sound and image. The combination of Lynne's new found southern pop-rock-soul identity, Bottrell's production and arrangement flourishes, and an absolutely dynamic recording with depth and punch to spare add up to a winning formula. Now all we need are some songs.

And the songs deliver in spades. Your Lies starts things off in bombast mode, as dramatic as any tale of heartbreak you'll ever hear. Crank this one up, and test you're ability to withstand big pop music. It's classic. A Southern soul blend with sultry Philly soul slides through Leavin', Thought It Would Be Easier, Where I'm From, and Black Light Blue. Life Is Bad and Why Can't You Be are both quality mid-tempo, Sheryl Crow-styled rockers. Gotta Get Back swings like some unholy cross between Aretha and Sade with a little Dusty on the side. Even the softer moments of Lookin' Up (a 3 am blues) and Dreamsome hold up because of the interesting arrangements, both instrumental and vocal.

Great lyrics bathed in Southern themes and heartbreak. Sultry vocals with immaculate harmonies. Big, gorgeous production with just the right touches. Beautiful sound engineering, dynamic, crisp and clean, worthy of a high-quality music system.

Lynne has made at least one particularly good record since, her Dusty Springfield tribute Just A Little Lovin' 2008. But there's also been several self-produced disappointments, Love, Shelby 2001 and Suit Yourself 2005.

Nothing she did before or after can touch this magnificent record, and there are not many modern, intelligent pop records that can even come close. The sound of everything coming together.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dr. Dog Shame, Shame 2010

There is a place somewhere smack in the middle of a continuum that starts at Spoon and ends at Marshall Crenshaw, passing through the Beatles, Mott The Hoople and the Hollies along the way. That place is this Dr. Dog record.

At times it's the great guitarist. Then some other time a great piano line. Quite a few times when you notice the perfect bass line. Solid drumming, especially when it almost falls apart, but not really. Interesting lyrics. Strong melodies and hook-filled choruses. Remarkably perfect harmonies abound.

There are psychedelic touches, some that echo Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles, or Odessa by the Bee Gees, but they never overwhelm the underlying tune-smithery at work. These are well-written, particularly well arranged and produced songs that display excellent structure and maintain a very high level of melodic quality. It's smart stuff. You can listen to it and not be doing anything else (this is an interesting idea, no?) And it is fun, too.

Today's thinking and dancing man's pop-rock. Hey, XTC are gone, but these crazy dudes from Philly might just have some of those same twitchy guitar figures and funky backbeats. The record makes me keep thinking of Spoon, except I don't have to work so hard to enjoy it. And it is more pop. And that's good.

I could give you the play-by-play, but there are too many highlights, and I'd end up repeating superlatives. I put a big plus sign in front of eight of the eleven songs, and I had positive notes about the other three.

Very highly recommended. Available on vinyl if you're so inclined.