Sunday, July 27, 2014

Karrin Allyson In Blue 2002

There's been other just as recommendable Karrin Allyson records in the last twenty years, but none has found the perfect fit between songs and songstress as this one. And the band is choice, too. Mulgrew Miller (piano), Lewis Nash (drums), Peter Washington (bass), Danny Embrey (guitar) and Steve Wilson (saxophone) are all top notch, and Nick Phillips' production is flawless.

The songs are themed around the the album's title, but these aren't just torch songs. There's spritely work here, but it is all in the service of a late-night blues vibe that cooks like crazy and works consistently. Songs by Oscar Brown, Jr., Mose Allison, George and Ira Gershwin, Joni Mitchell, and Bobby Troup all share a perfect frame within these casual yet deep arraignments, and Allyson's subtle yet powerful delivery.

If you're unfamiliar with Karrin Allyson, you've missed one of today's finest jazz interpreters. She's got it going on in a serious way, with real jazz cred, and an approachable style that's as comfortable as an old shoe. Then it gets into you, and you're transported to a dark room late at night, and she's signing just for you.

After twelve years on the stereo, it still sounds fresh every time.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Peter Tosh Equal Rights 1977

Anybody can make a list. Top ten, even top five (which is clearly a better choice than ten). I'm talking about going out on a limb here. Best Reggae record ever.

Now I know I should pick a Marley album, although for me number two is probably The Heptones Night Food, then maybe either a Marley record or Bunny Wailer's Blackheart Man. But when it comes right down to a perfect example of the Reggae form, Peter Tosh's Equal Rights is the bomb.

It opens with Tosh's version of Get Up, Stand Up, and this version wins on perfect hypnotic reggae rhythm and Tosh's soulful baritone. Downpressor Man follows, and it's another deep groove. I Am That I Am does it again, and then Stepping Razor finishes side one with an incredible quick-paced reggae with a threatening lyric that Tosh dares you not to believe, over a rhythm laid down by Sly and Robbie that is sheer perfection. "If you wanna live, treat me good, I'm like a stepping razor, I'm dangerous."

Side two breaks with Equal Rights, a slow jam with a fine political message, and another deep groove. The thing that makes this record so good is the instrumentation and the abundant talent and focus of the players. Tosh seems to evoke inspired performances from the entire troupe, and the little percussion effects everywhere and harmonies add layers on top of the already thick reggae stew. The band is built around Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare's rhythm, with Al Anderson's guitar and Tyrone Downie's keyboards, and Bunny Wailer singing backups. Skully's additional percussion is perfect. African, Jah Guide, and Apartheid all continue the high quality (and politically charged) songwriting, singing and musicianship, making this a rare Reggae (or any other genre) record indeed, without a single weak track.

The grooves are as deep as James Brown's funk at it's seventies best. The recording is super. The sound is great. Tosh made some great records after this, and before with the Wailers, but this is the pinnacle of his work, and at least in my view, the best Reggae record ever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trout Mask Replica Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band 1969

Over at My Husband's Stupid Record Collection, Sarah has gotten to Trout Mask Replica, the poor girl. There has been so much written about this record, and its genius, it is really very hard to believe.

I don't have much to add. If this record is a monumental leap forward into deconstructed, Dada-esque noise rock, so be it. That doesn't make it listenable, even as an academic study.

If it is a masterpiece, I don't get it. This can happen with any art form, and even within the music domain, there are other masterworks that elude my understanding.

Here's my take. The singer isn't very good. The rhythms change so often and so shockingly that they are almost impossible to keep up with, leaving the listener without an actual rhythm to follow. Forget melody. There are some, but they are unconventional at best. It might be hard to play music this bad, but I'm still unimpressed.

The best use of this record is to polarize people who are interested in music. Somewhere between "If you understood this music better you could appreciate it", and "Turn that crap off" lies the truth. Me, I turned that crap off a long time ago.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

David Crosby If Only I Could Remember My Name... 1971

David Crosby's solo debut has been hailed as a classic despite it's tepid initial sales and lackluster reviews. Today it stands as worthy, in some ways, of both the hype and the detractors.

There are vocal harmonies to die for, with Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell standing out. A fine blend of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana members providing solid backing and a few great jams. There's Crosby's writing, and this record contains examples of his better work, as well as some of the more slight. Dead-styled jams with a particularly hot Jorma Kaukonen, and Crosby's own rhythm guitar style that is at least unique, and perhaps also outstanding, and which frequently defines the jammy songs. Trippy, wordless vocals on two whole songs.

It is very much of it's time today. But if you can get through Music Is Love's sappy sentiment, and you should, because the vocals and the arrangement are spectacular, then the rest of side one is solid. Side two is hard to take by most standards. There are of course beautiful vocals, but in the service of pretty weak material.

So one great side. Not bad, really, but not quite a classic. It was very well made, and the recording is very nice. And Crosby is an exceptional singer. The good stuff is worth it, at least for some. And then there's that rare mix of Garcia and Kaukonen playing guitar together.