Thursday, July 4, 2019

David Byrne How Music Works 2017


David Byrne is an interesting guy, and multitalented. As the leader of the Talking Heads, he always seemed a bit quirky in a smart, sophisticated, ironic sort of way. This book, essentially a collection of essays on his own career in music as well as music itself, is an excellent read. Part autobiography, part treatise on music in relation to performance spaces, technology, neuroscience, and society, the book is readable, insightful and well researched. This 2017 edition adds one chapter not included in the original 2012 printing.

Chapters investigate musical styles and the effects on music of the environments in which the performances take place (Chapter 1), how we choose what we listen to (Chapter 5), and how to sell music in today’s environment as well as how things used to work (Chapter 8). Other essays explore how new music can be encouraged by the “scene” that encourages performers (Chapter 9, mostly a explanation of why CGBG became a famous hole in the wall), a great treatise on financial support for the musical arts, music therapy and the social fabric of our relationship with music (Chapter 10), and a summary that touches on our personal experience of music, looking at neuroscience and social factors (Chapter 11).

The more autobiographical sections focus on Byrne’s performance (Chapter 2), his recordings, including several interesting insights into how recordings have changed (Chapter 6), and his collaborations with a wide variety of musicians from different genres since his days with Talking Heads (Chapter 7).

Two chapters (3 and 4) explore how Technology Shapes Music, and it’s a concise history of analog and digital technology’s effect on music and performance since the beginning of recorded music in the early 20th century. It is a nice overview, intriguing and a bit controversial at times. Byrne makes some excuses for digital sound quality, but overall he handles the progression through the last century and a quarter with aplomb.  This section applies his research to both how we listen to music as well as how it is recorded and played back, and how these technologies interact with performance.

There is none of the dirt dishing about band members that fill many rocker’s autobiographies, and there is no real attempt at explanation of why he’s such a brilliant guy. And those, along with many other qualities, make this a book that probably shouldn’t be considered an autobiography at all.

It’s brilliant, it’s engaging, it’s original and fun to read. And you'll probably learn something, too.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride 2019

There is a new Vampire Weekend record, and it's both different and much the same, and it's good, if not the perfect summer bauble that the first two were.

In the years since ModernVampires of the City 2013, Rostam Batmanglij has left the band, and he is certainly missed, even though he contributes to at least two songs here. So Ezra Koenig is on his own for the ideas on the record, and Batmanglij's ideas have always spiced things up.

I did something I don't do very often, I read reviews of this record as I was preparing my own, and I'm apparently not deep enough, or full of myself enough (which I thought I had covered), to even understand the deep stuff going on with this band. Read the reviews at Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, NME, Spin or The Guardian, and there is apparently a whole Freudian level of BS that can be applied to listening to this pop record and comparing it to their previous work.

Me, I'm just going to do it like I usually do. Listen to it, make notes, discuss the music.

Hold You Now, one of three duets with Danielle Haim, kicks things off with a great sentimental ballad about the guy that wants her back too late. Harmony Hall follows, and is a highlight with sparkly acoustic guitar and a laid back rhythm that gains momentum as the song builds. Bambina features the quirky percussion that has been one of the the band's hallmarks. This Life is a big pop song the VW way, tinkling melody, high vocals, driving beat and hooks thanks to Mark Ronson, who seems to have an endless supply of them.

Then the record slows down for a while, and while Big Blue, How Long?, Rich Man, and My Mistake are pretty good, they expand the sound in a relatively small way, and sound like the first Ezra Koenig solo album more than they should. In the midst of all that stands Unbearably White, a gentle lyrical grenade of a song that still needs a good hook, and Gold Rush (with Haim again), a fine duet with all the right flourishes.

Then back to what the band does best. Sympathy is an excellent tune energized by drummer Chris Thomson and the bass of Chris Baio. This band would be nowhere without the rhythm section, and Thomson is about as good as a drummer can be. Sunflower has another great rhythm with an odd scat vocal and cool pop weirdness. Flower Moon has some of the Juju influence this record could use more of. The third with Haim, We Belong Together is a pretty love song that may include some irony. Strangers is the upbeat rhythm rocker we should expect from VW, with great vocals and drumming.

There's three more middling efforts in 2021, Spring Snow, and the closer Jerusalem, New York, Berlin, and all three have their merits, but again add a bit too many smaller ideas to the fray. One wonders if Batmanglij could have added some interesting gilding on all three.

So I count eleven great songs that equal everything their reputation stands on. But seven lessor efforts, some smaller songs, some ballads, some gentle introspection, but seven when two would have been fine. It's an hour long, and maybe a more concise effort would have been more perfect. I miss the Talking Heads/African rhythms that the earlier records featured more prominently than on this one. And I like it a lot.

I've said before that all a band really needs is a singer, a song writer, and a great drummer. Vampire Weekend still has all of that. You'll have to decide if the softer side is a worthy expansion of their sound or there's songs that should have been left off. Either way there's a bunch of killer pop here for the taking.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ultra-Lounge #5 Wild, Cool, and Swingin' 1996

The Ultra-Lounge series got started in 1996, and there's some big fun music to be had if you're in the 1950's-1960's bachelor pad mood. #5 here features classics from Dean Martin, Wayne Newton, Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee, Kelly Smith, Luis Prima and Vic Damone, just to name a few.

It's a theme that rewards over and over, attested to by the plethora of sub-genres included in the Ultra-Lounge series; Saxiphobia, Organs In Orbit, Bongo Land, Mondo Exotica, Bachelor Pad Royale, Mambo Fever, and the ever popular Christmas Cocktails. And there are quite a few individual artists in the Artists Series that expand on individual interest from some of the recurring artists.

The series has even been reprised within itself with the release of Best of Christmas Cocktails (I have the first two of that series, and there's really no reason to leave any songs out) and several samplers.

Since 2009 there have been 10 more download-only releases bringing the series to fifty CD-length releases, which is probably more than enough. Go check one or two of them out, or listen to some samples. You might just find some swingin' chickadees to melt some ice with you just for fun. This music is cool, daddy-o.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Spinning Vinyl

I haven't done a Spinning Vinyl episode in quite a while. This is the Easter Sunday edition. My wife and I spent Easter at home with our best friends. My lovely bride made a great meal, and our guests brought a carrot cake that completely and unequivocally redefined carrot cake in the most amazing way possible. I like carrot cake generally, but this item was really something else. The cake was totally incredible, and unique, and the cream cheese icing was replaced by a blend of whipped cream and mascarpone that was the bomb.

Oh wait, this is about the music. Since it was the holiday, I mostly stuck to jazz while we had appetizers and drinks in the afternoon. I got things started with Joe Jackson's Summer In The City Live In New York 2000. The recording was released only on CD when it was new, and made it to vinyl as a reissue in 2017. Intervention Records did a really nice job with the pressing and it's a fine recording of Jackson in a trio setting doing a nice mix of material.

I played Ben Webster Meets Oscar Peterson 1959. I love Webster's mellow blowing as much as any sax player I can think of. The late 1950s seem to have produced much of my most-loved jazz.

So right after that I went to one of my all-time favorite piano trio records, Ahmad Jamal At The Pershing / If Not For Me 1958. Jamal, here with Israel Crosby on bass and Vernell Fournier at the kit, makes some of the most comfortably swinging piano jazz, well, ever. The version of Poinciana here is delightful.

I wanted to push things up a bit, so I went to Buena Vista Social Club, Ry Cooder's 1997 foray into Cuban music with the original cast of players, as it were. This kind of cross-cultural outing rarely works as well as it works here. But then Cooder pretty much stays out of the way.

Earlier in the week I had T. Rex's Electric Warrior 1971 on, and I brought it back out to have some party music in the mix. Bang A Gong, Planet Queen, Life's A Gas, Rip Off. One great glam song after another.

Getting closer to dinner time I pulled out Cassandra Wilson's Blue Skies 1988. After two boundary-testing outings, Wilson made her traditional standards record. With a trio of Mulgrew Miller piano, Lonnie Plaxico bass and Terri Lynn Carrington drums, Wilson raised the bar on what could be expected from a set of great American songbook standards. It is a very special record for me, and one I never tire of hearing.

And finally Allen Toussaint's The Bright Mississippi 2009. This is a  record every music lover should own. New Orleans music as expressed by some of today's finest instrumental talent and the smooth piano and arranging of Toussaint. Subtle, breathtaking beauty.

As dinner was up next, I switched to shuffling the French playlist on the iPod. A playlist consisting of the Midnight In Paris 2011 soundtrack, added to with similar jazz and vocal tracks from Madeleine Peyroux, Bill Evans, Stacy Kent and others. Great dinner music, and my wife's favorite. That played at least until the carrot cake...

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Reggie Young Forever Young 2017

 Reggie Young was one of the most recorded guitar players of all time. Backing country and pop stars as a go-to session pro, he was in demand in both Memphis and Nashville recording studios from the early sixties through the seventies and beyond. His guitar fills and leads can be heard on many a chart hit of the day, including songs by Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Jackie De Shannon, J.J. Cale, the Box Tops and B.J. Thomas. He toured and/or recorded with Jimmy Buffet, The Highwaymen, and Waylon Jennings. If you needed the guy that could walk in and play the perfect guitar part, you called Reggie Young.

In 2017, at age eighty, Reggie Young made his first and only solo record. It is seven songs written by Young himself, each a lovely slice of pop/rock/soul/country. It is mostly mellow, and all instrumental. The songs are often riffs and practice melodies Young had played for years turned into complete songs. A raft of top session men accompany Reggie ably, but the beauty of the record lies in the lovely guitar parts, the perfect feel on the fret board, the understated, tasteful magic of Reggie Young.

It is near perfect, and easy as Sunday morning. It will soothe your soul.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

David Wilcox "Rule Number One" from What You Whispered 2000

Advice for single women.

Sometimes there's a certain thing to look out for, that you just know is a complete game changer, and a deal breaker for sure.

Here's David Wilcox's take on that idea.

Rule Number One

Could be the one, could be tonight
The love that would feel so right
The look in his eye, he pours the wine
The shine in the candlelight low
Easy to laugh, easy to smile
Except when the service was slow
Then he was cruel, suddenly mean
Not like the man you know

If he's rude to the waiter and it makes your heart confused
This is lesson number one
Run
Get up and run, don't walk don't wait
Rule number one, don't hesitate
Your date is done
Run

This is a gift, this is the deal
Pay for the taxi back home
Fare for the lift, fare for the meal
Return like a warrior
What have you lost except for a dream
A dream that would shatter like bone
Better to run, get away clean
Than pay for the lawyer

If he's rude to the waiter and it makes your heart confused
This is lesson number one
Run
Get up and run, don't walk don't wait
Rule number one, don't hesitate
Your date is done
Run

Sunday, March 17, 2019

KIng Crimson 1973-1974 Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Starless And Bible Black, Red

I loved In The Court Of The Crimson King 1969. It was so perfect. Prog, jazz, rock, and avant-garde, with a classical urge, they seemed so big and bright. And I also liked In The Wake Of Poseiden 1970, which followed the same formula to similar success, at least in my view. Then I stopped listening to King Crimson.

Years later, I'm reading about bands and music on blogs and in books, and the story of King Crimson, who I've known about all along but didn't hear their music, comes into my view. And I think about those first two records I loved so much.

The next thing I know I bought Lizard, and Red. And then Larks' Tongues In Aspic and Starless And Bible Black. I have explored these recordings with the zeal of a fan and the critical ear of the gendarme.

I am here to report to you my findings. This band, essentially an augmented trio, is infamous in King Crimson mythology. Robert Fripp's guitar, John Wetton's thunderous bass and smooth vocals, and Bill Bruford's fiery drumming add up to an amazing group that made exactly these three records. Augmented by David Cross' violin and Jamie Muir's percussion, Larks' Tongues In Aspic is special. The title track is a big mess of tinkling percussion, big metal, and jarring movements driven by violin. Book Of Saturday is a nice ballad with a lovely Wetton vocal. The mellotron flutes and slow movement of Exiles reminds one of The Court of the Crimson King in good ways. Side Two is less exciting. The Talking Drum is lost in it's meandering ideas, and Larks' Tongues In Aspic Part Two  takes a long time to build to its noisy ending.

Starless And Bible Black sees the departure of percussionist Jamie Muir, but the essential trio unit is maintained. And they get focused. Great Deceiver and Lament start things off in rocking style, both filled with great syncopated guitar riffs and Wetton's fine vocals. The funky guitar and bass workout of We'll Let You Know is followed by the less successful but  still interesting Night Watch and Trio.  The Mincer is interestingly mellow or self-indulgent noodling. Then Starless and Bible Black lives up to it's title track status, bending and winding through ambient to skronky guitar to syncopated rhythms and back. Fracture ends the record with a preview of what is to come in a tension-inducing thrashing telling of Red's coming apocalypse.

Red is the one to hear. Why? Maybe you love metal. This is one of the first really big metal moments in rock. It is also the bombardment of your senses you deserve every once in a while. Only Fallen Angel, a sweet med-tempo ballad that eventually crushes, lets up at all. Everything else is designed to pound you. The skull-crushing of Providence and mercilessness of Starless bode well for the metal heads to come. And it's only 1974.

I still haven't explored the KIng Crimsons that came after this one. I'm tired now and I need to listen to something less demanding.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mighty Diamonds Right Time 1976

For many years, I carried around a little piece of paper in my wallet that had the names of vinyl records I wanted to purchase should I ever come across them. It was a swell thing to have with you when you stumbled across a record store unexpectedly. A guy just can't trust important stuff like that to memory.

I don't have that piece of paper any more. I've collected most of what I really want, and if I find something by happenstance and I'm in the mood, I've got a new record. The final iteration of The Vinyl List that I did carry had two records on it. One was Sarah Vaughn's 1954 gem Featuring Clifford Brown, which I finally broke down and bought on CD. The other record that had languished on the list for years was Right Time. I even bought Ice On Fire, the mostly disastrous 1977 follow-up that found the Mighty Diamonds trying to commercialize their reggae with producer Allen Toussaint. That was enough of a disappointment I wasn't even sure I needed Right Time. I was mistaken.

So as the list was being discarded, I found a copy of Right Time at one of the many online used vinyl retailers. And I ordered it, and it is one of the best reggae albums of all time, a classic of the genre, a must for reggae fans. I was much more of a reggae fan forty years ago than I am today. I liked Marley and the Wailers, The Heptones, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, and Soul Syndicate. Today I still like the music, but the genre does seem to have it's limitations, and variability can be lacking.

This one is as good as reggae music gets, hands down. The Mighty Diamonds highly politicized lyrics, pristine harmonies, and solid backing (Sly and Robbie holding down the rhythm) make for a stellar debut. Their harmonies are as soul-filled as great Motown (similar to the Heptones in that regard), and the lyrics are never throwaways. They tackle the equity issues of Jamaica in the seventies and preach the Rastafarian gospel. And it has that beat. I wrote previously about five great reggae records. Make that six.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Best of 2018

I once again reviewed the many "Best of 2018" lists from many print and internet sources. I went and listened to samples and found what I found last year: I'm old and no longer musically relevant. But if you don't care for Rap, Hip Hop, Nu Soul, and manufactured Pop product, then maybe you'll like some of these. These are all records that I own, and the list doesn't include lots of great stuff I didn't get a chance to hear. But here they are, my favorites from 2018.
Kelly Willis Back Being Blue
Today's best country singer releases yet another stone classic. Great songs, perfect sympathetic arrangements, solid band, beautiful recording. My vote for record of the year.





Boz Scaggs Out Of The Blues
Scaggs continues to impress with his late-career revitalization. This time he does what he does best: smooth voiced blues and R&B with a solid band behind him and great (mostly) new songs.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio Close But No Cigar
Soul-jazz-funk perfection. Brilliant guitarist Jimmy James takes them from very good to excellent. Like Booker T. and the MGs with a large infusion of jazz.


Sloan 12
Canadian Power-popers Sloan continue to make great records twenty-five years in. Nothing fancy, just solid rock and roll songs with a pinch of magic.

Jennifer Warnes Another Time, Another Place
Laid-back beauty. Breathtaking singing. Complementary arrangements. Great songs. Wow.

The Jayhawks Back Roads And Abandoned Motels 
All but two of the songs were written with other artists for various projects. Because of this, the songs are less same-y than most recent Jayhawks fare with Gary Louris doing all the writing. It sounds more like the early years of the band when Mark Olsen shared writing credits.

Robin McKelle Melodic Canvas
Musical chameleon McKelle returns to jazz on this her seventh release. After a career that started with big band jazz and veered into pop and soul, she returns with an intimate jazz recording featuring her own solid songwriting and lovely voice and phrasing.
Kim Richey Edgeland
Always entertaining, Richey gets help from Chuck Profit, Brad Jones, and a stellar supporting cast. None of the all-star help is wasted.
Belly Dove
Twenty years after the break-up they sound like they never left.
JD McPherson Socks
Yes, it's a Christmas record. But McPherson writes a bunch of fun songs and applies the same rockabilly perfection that fills his other records.