Monday, April 27, 2015

12 Best

I just stumbled on a document I wrote in 2007. I believe I wrote it in response to a challenge put forth by one of the magazines I was reading to name the 12 best records to encapsulate American music. I went with a contemporary approach.

Marti Jones Live At Spirit Square
Maybe the single best live pop record ever. Great songs, great band, great recording. Marti’s lovely alto, producer-husband Don Dixon on bass and songwriting. Jaime Hoover proves himself to be one of the most remarkably skilled guitarists ever.

Spirit The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus 
A wonderful summation of the west coast psychedelic sound, with Beatles woven throughout.

Swan Dive Swan Dive
What do you get when you combine the pop of Bacharach, the girl group sound of the sixties, and contemporary production values? 

NRBQ  At Yankee Stadium
The single best studio recording from America’s answer to whatever question you had in mind, and the most fun you’ll ever have seeing a live band.

Santana Caravanseri
Latin, jazz-rock fusion, southern California style. All of the first four are classics, but no one else ever made a record quite like this one.

Cassandra Wilson Blue Light ‘Til Dawn
The bayou, native influences, the blues, jazz, and the sultry tones of one of today’s finest voices in jazz, even if she’s not the flavor of the month right now.

Jackson Browne Jackson Browne (Saturate Before Using)
There are lots of good examples of the perfect singer-songwriter record. This one’s mine.

James Brown Star Time
Ok, it’s four CDs, but it’s also the only perfect James Brown purchase available. Absolutely essential all the way through, and (almost) everything you need. Also stands out as the best single-artist four CD set ever, by a pretty fair margin.

Marcia Ball, Erma Thomas, Tracy Nelson Sing It
What can I say about this record? A little blues, a little soul, a little R&B, and a rollicking party tune or two. Three great women more people should have heard a long time ago.

The Neville Brothers Neville-ization
Never able to capture it all in the studio, these two nights at Tipitina’s are what the Neville Brothers are all about. Smokin’ hot band at the top of their form for the hometown crowd.

Frank Sinatra Classic Sinatra
Ah, Sinatra’s thirties during our perfect 1950s. Lots of hits, nicely mastered to CD. Sinatra is in peak form, still with the power of a young man, but having learned just exactly how much of it to use at any one time.

Bill Frisell Good Dog, Happy Man
What can you say about country-bluegrass-jazz fusion? Lots of things of course, but for sure it’s American.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Little Richard Here's Little Richard 1957

The search for the holy grail of the Birth of Rock and Roll will take you to early sides by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Going further back pulls in The 5 Royals, Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, and a host of others. But no one should give you any grief for including Little Richard's Tutti Frutti in the mix. And many other tracks from this fine debut long player from Little Richard, including True Fine Mama, Ready Teddy, Long Tall Sally, Rip It Up, and She's Got It.

Little Richard Penniman recorded a few sides in 1952 and 1953, but the bulk of his rock and roll fame was produced for Specialty records from 1955-1957. And everything he recorded for Specialty was released as singles. This collection of A and B sides recorded in 55 and 56, and released while Richard was still recording for the company, is as good as early rock and roll gets, and Richard is completely on fire. Known for his wild performances, you get the idea loud and clear on these studio tracks. Specialty released two other LPs, both after Pennimen left the company, and the rest of his early hits are included on those LPs, Little Richard 1958 and The Fabulous Little Richard 1959.

There's many CD compilations for Little Richard, but the Specialty recordings are really the crux of the matter. So much so that he re-recorded much of this material at least twice later in his career (those recordings are bested by the originals, even if they offer improved- and stereo- sound). Little Richard had a long and strange career, bouncing back and forth between gospel and rock and roll, with one comeback after another, but it was always his seminal fifties sides that made him awe-inspiring. This one (or a compilation of his Specialty hits) and his outstanding 1970 comeback, The Rill Thing, are some of his finest moments.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Sound of Music, The Sound of Sound

Audiophiles are regularly accused these days of being overly obsessed with the gear, and less interested in the music. I like to think I stay mostly focused on the music, but I do love cool looking boxes. I do worry sometimes that the idea of just sitting and listening to music, and not doing anything else, is foreign to most people these days. But then I'm never alone when I visit the orchestra and hear live music for almost two hours, and we mostly sit still.

There has long been an argument among those as interested in arguing as they are in music, about what a music playback system is supposed to do in your home. One raison d'etre of a home music system is to bring the experience of live music into the home (this may well be the unachievable goal). Another is to be faithful to the sound of the original recording (wherever that may have happened). Another is to duplicate the movie theater experience. And yes, for some, it's to provide pleasant background music.

Art Dudley, whose writing I like at least as much as Carl Hiaasen's or Kurt Vonnegut's, wrote another great Listening column in Stereophile in February, and while it gets pretty seriously technical, it also gets to the core of the tube/solid state debate in a clearly biased (it's not always a bad thing), yet still scientific way. Dudley discusses the various types of distortion present in music systems, and how the ones made by simple tube amplifiers are, to him, the least objectionable, and in some ways, may even enhance the listening experience. And Dudley answers the question of what a stereo should do, with elegance and élan. I don't care so much for all the technicalities, but the end result that tube electronics sound better than solid state certainly resonates with me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not dissing anyone's solid state electronics. Taste is taste. I also believe that when you get to the very expensive stuff, the tubes vs. solid state debate becomes moot, and there are remarkable products that anyone could enjoy in both categories. But in the lower- and mid-level products, there are very real differences, and more watts is not always the answer.

Of course it all has a lot to do with what you want from you music delivery system, and all the other priorities in your life as well. My answer to what your stereo should do is whatever you want it to, and make you happy. It is, after all, a product. As Paul Butterfield once sang, "Take your pleasure where you find it."

OK I'm done.