Saturday, August 21, 2010

Like Vanilla Ice Cream for Your Shave Ice

Get out your Mai Tai and beach chair- Hawai'i is brought to you on this outstanding recording.

Artist: Sonny Chillingworth
Album: Endlessly
Recording #256

So I had to go out of order for this one- I couldn't find the whole album online so I skipped it, but I was really disappointed to have to do that based on the write up in the book. So last week I was checking the library to see if they had any of the recordings I liked, and I found out they had this one. From track one I knew I had something special. While I believe most, if not all, of these are covers, Sonny's voice and guitar fully capture the songs and make them his own. His deep, clear voice is classic crooner, and while I found it very enjoyable, the real stars here are the guitar instrumentals. The perfectly kept island rhythm, the intricate finger work, including hitting all those well-placed harmonics, is as entrancing as it is relaxing. If you enjoy acoustic guitar you can't go wrong picking up this one.

Buy this album here

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

There Ain't No Cure for the Summertime Blues

As advertised, here is the 2nd summer song in a row.

Artist: Eddie Cochran
Recording: "Summertime Blues"
Recording #255

With only a few days left in the summer, anyone who had the summer off is starting to feel the summertime blues right now. This song works perfectly with that sentiment, but if you listen to the lyrics the song is actually about the pains of parents and bosses during summer. Great lyrics, great riff, but I still can't figure out whose version of this song I've heard, because I've definitely never heard this version before (after some research I think it was the George Thorogood version). I have the Black Keys cover song, but even when I downloaded it I knew I had heard someone else do it. Cochran's version is much older and earler rock than I thought it would be. I was expecting a harder, more electric blues version. So while I enjoy the song, I prefer most of the covers-- even the very rockabilly Alan Jackson version. So pull up the above playlist and pick your preferred version to round out the summer. Mine is presented below. Goodbye best summer ever (not only due to the birth of my first son), I hope next summer can compete with the bliss of this one.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Don't Talk Back!

First of 2 summer hits to wrap up the summer.

Artist: The Coasters
Recording: Yakety Yak
Recording #1?

Is there a person reading this that doesn't know this song? I'm pretty sure I heard this song on Sesame Street or some other show as a very little kid. Is there any better song to represent the child's viewpoint of parenting? The Coasters nailed it, right down to the silly bass "Don't talk back" made to represent the authority figure. As demonstrated by my 2 year old nephew, who was recently heard having a conversation with himself in which he impersonated his mom by lowering his voice, you don't have to have much time as on this planet to get the reference. Now that I am a parent I wonder if I'll quote this song as much as my mom did when I was a kid. Although the song definitely sounds dated, coming from the very early days of rock, it still works in a different format: surprisingly good raggae reinventions here and here. But if the original doesn't take you back to your childhood, I feel bad for you. This one brings back all the best parts of the worst parts of being a kid, and I'm starting my son early-- he's sleeping in my arm as I type this, so maybe he'll have an even earlier memory attached to this classic.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Country Music Playing on the Radio

The title is a reference to a dirty lyric in NOFX's "Together on the Sand." I won't go into why it's inappropriate, but the next part is " I turned it off." This was generally my opinion about country music for a long time-- it belonged in pickup trucks and on the beaches of the gulf coast. But I've come around and realized there are very specific country music styles that I dislike; mostly anything considered "pop" or "Nashville." I slowly became a country fan through the genre, specifically through Ryan Adams' work, and then I finally came to enjoy what I consider "classic" country when I heard Johnny Cash. So I knew who Patsy Cline was, but never really heard her music.

Artist: Patsy Cline
Album: The Patsy Cline Collection (4 discs)
Recording #254
Stream all 103 songs here
So at first listen, I thought "well this is nice, but I don't think I need 4 CDs worth of Patsy Cline." FALSE! The more I listened, the more I craved. My favorite track, "Lovesick Blues," I had never heard until this book and the Hank Williams version. It's one of those standards that everyone has done, but Patsy's version is really the only one that I can put up there with Williams' as just an awesome song (want to hear other versions, including Ryan Adams and LeAnne Rimes?) By the time I got to the more famous songs, like "Crazy," I had already fallen in love with the stripped down versions of her stuff she was doing on the radio before she became big. Her voice is so big, and I see the influence it had on some of my favorite female singers (Neko Case and Jenny Lewis at her most country-tinged) and she just knows how to sing a love song. So if you've heard Patsy before, and found her stuff not bad, then I think you might want to start this box set at "Walking the Dog" and just sit back and take in the breadth of her catalog. Worth the trip.

Buy the album here

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't Stop This Train

Sometimes I am woefully ignorant of the history of music I enjoy. The next album is on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums, and the title track is on the 500 Greatest Songs list, and yet I had never heard of Jimmy Cliff. Pre-parenthood my wife and I used to watch the Daily Show and Colbert Report every night, but now it's just if it happens to be on, and yesterday Jimmy Cliff was the guest on Colbert. At least now I know who he is.
Artist: Jimmy Cliff
Album: The Harder They Come
Recording #253
Stream this album here

Everyone knows Bob Marley, and that's about where my raggae knowledge ended. But Cliff preceded the mainstream explosion of Marley, with a raggae style that took more from R&B than Marley. I actually first heard Cliff on NPR's All Songs Considered when Tom Moon went on and played a few tracks from the book, and I believe he played the song "Pressure Drop." Even back then I thought this sounded like a good album, and now that I've heard the whole thing I know I have to add it to my collection to become my 2nd raggae album, next to Marley's "Legend." Songs like "Draw Your Brakes" (the chorus that Vanilla Ice lifted for one of his songs on his debut) and "River of Babylon" (which is much better than the other version I had heard by Sublime) are incredible. And start to finish this takes you to that island vacation, even while laying down the heavy political and social message. If you like Bob Marley, and who doesn't, this is definitely the next step.

Buy the album here

Monday, August 9, 2010

Music Soothes the Savage Beast

Things are ramping up for the school year, both teaching and taking my master's classes. That combined with my son's continued sleep strike and all the standard household chores make every day a race against the clock to get anything done. So it's nice to come across a recording like this one that helps to smooth out my day.

Artist: Van Cliburn
Album: Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3, Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3
Recording #252
Stream the first concerto here and the second here

I have already stressed my general apathy towards classical music, but it turns out I really like the sound of piano soloists. The first concerto here is really good, particularly the "intricate fingerwork" in the first movement. It all sounds very nice, calm, steady; the right soundtrack for background baby music. The 2nd, however, sounds like the accompanying music to a silent film. If I had to use an adjective for it, it would be melodramatic-- like those new 1-800 Contacts commercials with the "overly dramatic reenactments." I felt like if I was a music critic I could MST3K this one. But I can recommend the first concerto if you need some chill music.

Buy the album here

Friday, August 6, 2010

When They Kick At Your Front Door, How You Gonna Come?

I had the chance to go back and revisit this one, and it was nice to see that I got a different perspective.

Artist: The Clash
Album: London Calling
Recording #120ish
Stream this album here

I guess I had heard this whole album before, as most of the songs were rated on my iPod, but I'm not sure I ever sat down and heard the whole thing consecutively. So I started the whole thing at the start, with the incredible title track, and I found out my initial impression (that this was noisy, dated music) was actually a bit off the mark. A lot of the songs on this album sound pretty fresh for the fact that they are over 30 years old. The raggae is popping, and punk is angry, and the themes are as potent today as they were back then. Are there some clunkers? Yeah, but it's a double album-- there are very few double albums that should be double albums in my opinion. Being overblown is usually part of the joy of a double album, rather than 2 full discs worth of great songs, but there's definitely enough here for 1 CD worth of 4-star songs. The great neighborhood banger "Guns of Brixton," the fun and poppy "Rudie Can't Fail," and the blistering title track are great examples of how good this band can be, even if you have to plow through some mediocre songs ("Spanish Bombs," which is a recommended track by Tom Moon, is one of my least favorites.) Anyways, glad I went back and heard it.

Buy the album here

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cool Struttin'

After a night like I had last night, Sonny Clark is the perfect jazz to listen to. That's right, I used "perfect" and "jazz" in the same sentence.
Artist: Sonny Clark
Album: Cool Struttin'
Recording #251

Enjoy the Peanuts' Christmas theme music? Does it make you feel relaxed and happy to hear Schroeder laying it down? Well, this has that same feel-good, beat-poet happy jazz feeling. For some reason I had the chance to be asleep last night between midnight and 2:30 AM and I could NOT sleep. This is not a common occurance for me, but today I had to teach class, and it was the first time I ever taught my own material, and everyone else was teaching the same material. I guess I just couldn't stop thinking about different things I had to fix or check up on or add-- so I am beat. But the sweet, smooth trumpet, piano, sax combination of this recording, added to the staccoto drums and walking (strutting, I guess, is more accurate) bassline are making me feel pretty relaxed, even though I feel kind of pissed off. I was going to talk about how this is great dinner music, but it's even better cocktail music-- just use it to take the edge off.
Buy this at amazon

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mike's 1000: Entry #2

Wow, I cruised through those last 25 entries pretty quick. I guess it's time to start listening to a few more 2010 albums, or maybe revisit some of the classics I already own. But it's just so easy to listen to classical and (some) jazz when you are trying to get an infant to fall asleep-- plus my work schedule is so light that I don't spend that much time at work where I like listening to new music. Anyways, here's another one Tom missed the boat on.
Artist: Sun Kil Moon
Album: Ghosts of the Great Highway

A lot of the recordings in this book are pretty obvious, at least to the people who care about a particular genre. No big surprise to see Radiohead's "OK Computer" or The Beatles' 6 albums. Tom goes a little obscure at times, but it's always because the pure joy of listening to the band is worth the detour off the beaten path (see Baby Huey and the Babysitters for an example of one of these suggestions that caused me to buy the album the same day I heard it). In my opinion, Sun Kil Moon's debut, the solo project of Mark Kozelek of The Red House Painters, is one of those "Oh My God" listening moments. It might not hit you the first time-- I think I probably liked it just fine the first listen, but after having it in my car for a couple months I found myself going back to it over and over again, whether early morning driving, nighttime sleepy time, rainy day. There was never a bad time to hear the amazing layers of guitar, fuzzed out crunchy chords or softly fingerpicked, driving behind Mark's otherwordly voice. It's hard for me to say what the standout feature of the album is: the vocals, the intricate guitar, the stellar songwriting or the "rend your heart" lyrics. Take the album opener, "Glenn Tipton," for example; Mark's open tuned strum sets the tone immediately for his pleading voice singing a song about the way things used to be. Kozelek has a "Midas Touch" ability to turn any phrase into melancholic gold, and the shrouds of reverb he surrounds himself with give his voice the sound of a memory itself. From the 6 minute plus "Carry Me Ohio," which on paper should fail with its midtempo beat and one guitar lick, but somehow ends up as a masterpiece, to the fact that "Salvadore Sanchez" and "Pancho Villa" are the same song in different packaging (you would never have noticed if I didn't say something), this album is just a wonderful listen. Feeling blue never felt so good.

Catalog Choices: April, Tiny Cities, The Red House Painters Songs for a Blue Guitar
Next Stop: Nick Drake Five Leaves Left

Buy this work of art at amazon, or better yet, go see him live

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

One Week of Recordings Part II

A continuation of the post below:

Artist: The Clancy Brothers and the Dubliners
Album: Irish Drinking Songs
Recording #248
Stream the album here

Not a whole lot to say about this one-- good raucous drinking songs, just like the title says. Tom has a whole entry about why this album is historically important, but it just sounds like the soundtrack to the trivia night I am going to up the street at the Irish Pub. Actually, maybe I should buy this album for their stereo...

Artist: Clannad
Album: Macalla
Recording #249
Stream the album here

As soon as this one started, I thought "this is not your typical celtic music!" I was all excited, and really enjoyed the brooding, harmony heavy first track. After that this turns into a bit of a trainwreck, if the train was carrying marshmallows and pillows. There is so little substance here that I hardly noticed it playing. Enya is evidently the keyboardist, and although I'm not really familiar with her work, I'm pretty sure even her stuff has more going on than this. This sounded like The Corrs playing just the bridges of their songs-- no real striking melodies or hooks. I won't say I wouldn't recommend it, because I just tuned it out, so it must not be too terrible.
Artist: Guy Clark
Album: Old No. 1
Recording #250
Stream the album here

Nothing wrong with this country-- although I would actually put it more in the "Americana" genre, which I guess is why Nashville didn't really back this guy. As Tom points out, he has a "gravelly" voice that didn't really appeal to the standard country fan back in '75 (or probably today, even), but I love this kinda stuff. This is what country should be, great songwriting and major chords. "Rita Ballou" and "Like a Coat from the Cold" are my favorites, but all of these songs are decent.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

One Week's Worth of Recordings

13 recordings in a week- I love the age of the free streaming on the internet.

Artist: Cecilia Bartoli
Album: The Vivaldi Album
Recording #238
Stream the album here

Another recording from the opera genre that I actually enjoyed. Tom Moon talks about her "agility," and I think that I know what he means-- the way she trills her voice is pretty incredible. And I like the tone of her voice, a little lower, which is different. The last track is the only one I recognized as a famous opera, but this one was pretty nice.

Artist: Paul Bley
Album: Fragments
Recording #239
Stream the album here

Another free jazz album- this was like the background music to a film noir detective film. It was equal parts annoying and weird.

Artist: The Chemical Brothers
Album: Dig Your Own Hole
Recording #240
Stream the album here

Back with another one of those block rockin' beats!" If you were a teen in the 90's you knew this song, even if you didn't know the sample was from Schooly D (I only know him as the rapper who does the intro to the TV show Aqua Teen Hunger Force). The Chemical Brothers, while not my cup of tea, were a force to be reckoned with back then, along with like-minded bands Fatboy Slim and Daft Punk (the latter the only one to still have selling power currently). This album is a bit dated, but just like the title of Daft Punk's album, sometimes you have to do your "homework" to see why electronica is where it is today.

Artist: Clifton Chenier
Album: Bogalusa Boogie
Recording #241
Stream the album here

This is the 2nd cajun album, and this one is much preferred to the first, Buckwheat Zydeco. This album leans a lot more on the blues influence and really feels like a New Orleans party I could get into. If live music with lots of accordion is your thing, check this one out.

Artist: Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Ed Blackwell
Album: Old and New Dreams
Recording #242
Stream the album here

Oh wow, this is pretty God-awful stuff. More free jazz, and clearly there is skill involved to squeeze the noises out of the instruments like they do, but this was bad. It started out pretty palatable, and quickly became unlistenable. Unless you are a free jazz connoisseur, tread lightly here.

Artist: Vic Chesnutt
Album: Is the Actor Happy?
Recording #243
Stream the album here

I really wanted to like this album-- it's 1995 but it really doesn't sound that dated. In the end though, this alt-rocker left me wanting a little bit more. The album starts out sounding a little like a slow Blues Traveler song, or the Flaming Lips at their most accessible, but eventually it sounds more and more like Patterson Hood's songs for the Drive-By Truckers. Despite the favorable comparison, in the end the songwriting wasn't as solid, even if the lyrics are interesting. Check it out though, if you like alt-country or just the country tinged pop song.

Artist: Chic
Album: C'est Chic
Recording #244
Stream the album here, search for the rest on youtube

Well I had heard this band on Saturday Night Disco back on the Q104 when I was a kid ("Le Freak"), but I didn't know the name of the band, let alone that they have some extremely catchy dance music. Disco may be laughed at now, but listen to your Franz Ferdinand or your Bravery or your Phoenix. Where do you think they got those funky basslines? This album comes screaming out of the gates with "Chic Cheer," built around a great guitar riff that just keeps becoming more and more compelling, and next is the more universally recognized "Le Freak." The rest of the album is solid, even if none of the songs are as memorable, and I need to hunt down a copy. If you want to start a dance party, put this one in.

Artist: Chicago
Album: The Chicago Transit Authority
Recording #245
Stream this album here

If "You're the Inspiration" is what you think of when you think of Chicago, I was right there with you. But on this debut the band has some muscle-- both with a stellar horn section and blistering guitar work. I did end up recognize a couple songs ("Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" and "Beginnings") but most of the songs were new to me. I really liked this one, although the freestyle guitar was a little much, even though it was interesting, and I can see why Jimi Hendrix was a fan of Chicago's guitarist.

Artist: Frederic Chopin
Album: Ballades and Scherzos
Recording #246
Stream the album here

Unfortunately had to skip a couple recordings I couldn't find (including some interesting sounding Hawai'ian guitar) but on the bright side I found out that I enjoy Chopin. These Ballades and Scherzos are pretty and short, filled with lots of tempo and theme changes (the first has a tempo change that comes out of nowhere) and were overall very nice to listen to and a good introduction to this composer's works.

Artist: Frederic Chopin
Album: Nocturnes
Recording #247
Stream the album here

If the last Chopin was easy listening, this one is music for comas. In fact, the 2nd Nocturne is the music that plays on my son's mobile with bird songs. They can be a little slow and "one-note" at times, but they are often pretty. There are some nice piano trills courtesy of Maria Joao Pires, who is nice and steady throughout, but again, sometimes the whole thing is so quiet it's hard to hear much differentiating the songs. This was the perfect soundtrack, however, to a day when my son slept in my arms during an afternoon thunderstorm. So I will have fond memories of this recording, and when I need something to put me at ease, and possibly unconscious, I'll return to this one.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Another Cluster

As my son is trying to slowly erode my life right now through sleep deprivation, I will have to do another group of recordings to catch up (it's amazing how much music you can listen to while holding a baby and walking).

So #228, #231, and #232 are all Brazilian. I knew Brazil made a lot of music, but that's a pretty hefty chunk of the World music in this book (there are 21 Brazilian entries, compared to 1 Chinese, for example)

Artist: Cascabulho
Album: Hunger Gives You a Headache (Fome da Dor de Cabeca)
Recording #231
Stream album here

I like how this one charges out of the gates, with a very trippy sounding latin-fusion thing going on. Not your typical background World music. Track two, "Xodo do sanfooneiro, changes pace again with a weird Cajun sound. Unfortunately, the interesting songs don't continue through the whole album, and eventually it all starts to sound a bit mushy to me again.

Artist: Dorival Caymmi
Album: Caymmi e seu violao
Recording #232
Stream the album here and here

What a difference of sound this is! Still Brazilian folk music, but this guy is a real crooner. His voice reminded me of a Latin Bing Crosby, and the gorgeous acoustic guitar he plays is, in my opinion, too soft, but sounds virtuosic. I don't speak Portuguese, but there is clearly a theme here, which based on the appearance of the word "Mar," is the sea. I highly recommend this one, and I'm going to have to scrounge around and find it to add to my collection

Artist: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Recording: Requiem
Recording #233
Stream the symphony here

With all the awake at night time I am cruising through the IMDB Top 250 movies. I just finished "Amadeus," and it was one of the best yet. According to this movie, Mozart was CRAZY! The actor in the movie was incredible, and the storyline, although considered to be mostly fabricated, really got me interested enough to jump ahead in the book and check out what Wolfy did. Requiem, which was left unfinished due to Mozart's death, is pretty dreary. The voices are so airy, and at the same time eerie. Really, that's the highlight here, those somber, amazing voices. Evidently this was recorded in NYC only weeks after 9/11, and the mood carries over. Of all the recordings I've listened to lately this one really captures the mood around our house, with my son now sleeping for only a half hour at a time. Pretty good music for high-brow wallowing.

Artist: Manu Chao
Album: Clandestino
Recording #234
Stream the album here

This was pretty much as I expected. A french dude doing world music, again it really faded into the background. No high or low points really, just a bit bland.
Artist: Tracy Chapman
Album: Tracy Chapman
Recording #160ish
Stream album here
My wife was excited this one was included in the 1000 Recordings because she loves the song "Fast Car." It really is an incredible song, and I gotta respect Tracy as she is a native of Cleveland. Overall I liked this album, really good folk, and something a little different than other girl and a guitar acts, a different perspective and mood. I need to get this one.
Artist: Ray Charles
Album: The Best of Ray Charles: The Atlantic Years
Recording #235
Stream album here
Well if you haven't heard Ray Charles I'm not sure what rock you've been under. Most people at least knew a few songs before the biopic "Ray" came out, but Jamie Foxx's portrayal and great singing brought these songs to a new audience. This album has a lot of those familiar hits, plus a few you might not know. If you have the movie soundtrack, as I do, this is extraneous, and the soundtrack version of "What'd I Say" is actually better. But this is still a good introduction to the classic Ray Charles stuff you know.
Artist: Ray Charles
Album: Modern Sounds in Country and Western, Vols 1 and 2
Recording #236
Stream the album here
After the rousing Atlantic Recordings, this one is a buzzkill. I'm a little surprised at the popularity of this album, because I found it slow and sappy. It was just boring country, but there are still a few gems here. "Worried Mind" is a really nice version of the song, "Hey Good Lookin'" picks up the pace a little, and "Midnight's" vocal harmonies are hard to resist.
Artist: Louis Armstrong
Album: The Complete Hot Fives and Hot Sevens
Recording #237
Stream the album here
My second box set, and this is a recording I started back when I first got the book, but after 6 songs I really felt like I needed to move on. Well, I went back, and I still feel the same way. There are some very nice jazz pieces here (most of them much more enjoyable to me than most jazz, probably because this sound so classic) but 4 discs worth is a lot of Louis, even if he does play the trumpet like a maniac. I especially like the songs that highlight the trumpet versus the songs with singing. "Oriental Strut" is all trumpet solo and peppy throughout as an example. If you need some jazz in your life, you can't go wrong picking a few tracks off this one.
Wow, that was a lot of recordings. If I keep this pace I'll be done in a couple years!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Letting the Recording Interfere with the Recordings

I'm not sure I am going to be able to keep up the pace once the job actually starts, plus grad school. I can listen to a lot of music in a day, but to write about it takes a bit longer, so I am going to have to start clustering my posts I think. So in this post I will cover the recordings I heard in the last few days:

Artist: Pablo Casals
Album: J.S. Bach, Suites for Cello
Recording #230
Stream the album here
Basically dinner music. Very nice dinner music, but pretty much just a guy playing the cello. What makes this interesting is to hear so much Bach all in a row, you start to recognize it a little bit. And it's also a very nice recording considering it was made in the '30's. I especially liked Suite 1, which was the most dinner suitable. Suite 2 was cool because it was a little more melancholic and actually had a few discordant moments that I didn't know was really even a part of baroque music.

Artist: Neko Case
Album: Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Recording #100ish
Stream album here
This is an album I got from my brother early on when I picked up the book. I already had Neko's album "Blacklisted" and all her work with the excellent band The New Pornographers. I had high hopes for this one because "Blacklisted" is one of my 100 favorite album (yes, there is a list), but I think Tom got it wrong on this one. Neko's voice is still a knockout on this album, but the songs are too homogeneous. On "Blacklisted" there are more tempo and style changes, with "Deep Red Bells" being the most surprising, but on "Fox Confessor" each song kind of rolls into the next. I would suggest if you want to hear who is carrying the torch from Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn, start with "Blacklisted," and check this one out after that.

Artist: Johnny Cash
Album: At Folsom Prison
Recording #50something
Stream album here
One of the earlier recordings I heard, well before I bought the book. I had already been introduced to Cash through a "Super Hits" album and "American IV," so I was a fan of his classic style. He was the first true country artist that I enjoyed after I branched out from Alt-Country. "At Folsom Prison" is pretty awesome, just in the fact that his "Man in Black" persona really comes through. The sad songs are nice, but where he really makes his money is singing the outlaw songs, "Folsom Prison Blues," "25 Minutes to Go," etc. If you haven't heard him before, this is a great place to start!

Artist: Johnny Cash
Album: American Recordings
Recording #150something
Stream album here
I loved Johnny Cash's "American IV," which really brought him back into the spotlight with covers of "Hurt" and "Personal Jesus" (both better than the originals), but it all started with Rick Rubin producing the original "American Recordings" in 1994. This one has less recognizable covers, but highlight's Cash's voice and ability to bring a simple song to life. I would suggest "American III" (with covers of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" and U2's "One") or "IV" first to really appreciate what Cash can do to a song, but this is one worth having, especially for songs like "Thirteen," a Danzig cover that really brings out the darkness in Cash's persona.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Vocals That Make You Go Hmmm

Artist: Enrico Caruso (Book Entry)
Album: Twenty-One Favorite Arias
Recording #229

Stream the whole album from Myspace

Wow. Ok, so every time I talk about the challenges of this book, I refer to how much opera there is. Somehow this is classified under the genre "classical" in the book, but clearly should fall under opera. Or maybe "vocals," because this guy has some pipes. I didn't expect much after reading the book entry, considering the recording was made in 1907, prior to the invention of the recording microphone. But when I heard I Pagliacci, walking the laps in my dining room at 3 AM with the lights dimmed to almost nothing, I got goosebumps. The emotion, even on such a scratchy recording, comes through powerfully. This sounds like the soundtrack to some sort of mobster movie, the climax scene, with the bullets and the church cutaways. More than anything else, I love how amazing Caruso's voice is. It's loud and clear, even though you can hardly hear the accompanying music. I never would have thought I would see much good come out of opera, but if you haven't ever heard any that you like, this might be the place to start. If I find a better opera recording in this book, I'll let you know. Until then, I could actually listen to this one over again. Wow.

Buy the album on Amazon

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Smooth Samba

I came home from work yesterday and promptly hit myself in the eye on a chandelier in my house. Yeah, a chandelier. I was doing a particularly animated impression of my dog, who was very excited to be free in the yard when I got done giving her a bath, and I jumped up in my kitchen and smacked my eye on an iron chandelier. Luckily it was a round spot, because I cut myself right below my eye as it was. Not very smooth. The total opposite of the recording today.Artist: Cartola (Book Entry)
Album: Cartola
Recording #228

There's not much to say about this album. Somehow it seems to be the perfect background music for whatever you are doing. It seems like the perfect chillout album, maybe for putting on after dinner; at the same time, it seems like if you turned it up you could have a dance party with it on, too. And I had it on while people were hanging out in my office, and it seemed like the perfect soundtrack for that, too. So I dont know-- just put it on whenever you need something to listen to, whatever the occasion.

Buy Cartola at Amazon

Friday, July 9, 2010

Celtic and the Celtics

The topic of today's entry is disappointment. Bitterness. Letdown. Yesterday was a rough day- when I got home from work my son had been crying all day long, and had only slept for an hour, which is really weird for a 1 month old. That was really disappointing because he had been doing so well and was so not fussy. And then as a Cleveland fan, obviously LeBronedict Arnold announcing in front of the world that he was pissing on his hometown was pretty brutal. I even told my brother I thought he would go to Miami, but with all the (self-promoting) buildup I really started to think "there's no way he could do this to Cleveland." But he did. I'm not even that big a Cavs fan; I've always followed them, but really I put a lot more heart into the Browns and Indians. But I think that with the way things are going for Cleveland lately having an internationally known star was really good for the city, both their pride and from a PR aspect. The "Mistake on the Lake" was seen more as "The Home of the King." So it hurt, even though in the end it shouldn't matter. Unfortunately the recording for today followed suit with the disappointment.

Artist: Martin Carthy (with Dave Swarbrick)

Album: Byker Hill (Book Entry)

Recording #227
Stream the whole album at Myspace

Overall I wouldn't have minded this album, but I read Tom Moon's entry before I listened to it, and I had unfounded expectations. He describes the album as a "virtuoso thrill" of folk music, that "Carthy is a multitasking marvel here, singing breathless extended melodies and plucking out fast counterlines in the background." I thought, wow, I really like the new Indie Folk movement (Iron & Wine, Devendra Banhart, Sam Amidon, The Tallest Man on Earth, I could go on, but I'll stop there) so it will be cool to hear a guy who "modernized" folk music. I already like Dylan, and discovered I really like Joan Baez through this book. Well, in the end, unfortunately, it was pretty lackluster. Evidently I don't like British folk. It sounded like Celtic music to me, all "eedle-deedle-dee," sea-chantey stuff. Not that I can't listen to that, but it all sounds the same to me, and although the violin in the background was nice, the guitar playing was so subdued as to be non-existent, and I found Martin's voice mediocre at best. But I guess in the end I learned something. I loved the Dock Boggs entry, who Sam Amidon shares some songs with, and I can see the direct line from the country folk he did, and the Indie stuff I like today, and the same is true with Baez and Dylan translating to Bright Eyes and The Tallest Man on Earth. This folk, along with The Almanac Singers, who I didn't enjoy either, may be part of the history of the music I like, but in the end this style has not been assimilated into modern folk. For whatever reason, this era of the music was a stepping stone to the good stuff I like now, in the same way that "Modern Rock" of the 80's sounds pretty awful now, but were it not for the experimentation of that era we wouldn't have bands like Radiohead or Pearl Jam, etc. Maybe at this point I could make some sort of connection to my baby being fussy, and maybe he is having a growth spurt, and in the end this was a necessary step in his development. And maybe I could even connect it to Lebron and say he needed to leave Cleveland in order for us to grow. But I won't go that far. He still goes up there with Art Modell, John Elway, and Michael Jordan on the list of people not invited back to Cleveland.

Buy Byker Hill on Amazon

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Keep on the Sunny Side

The 4th of July kicks ass. It seems like a holiday for kids, right? Sparklers, fireworks, ambiguous meats like hot dogs and whatever that stuff is in canned baked beans. But as a kid, it fell so far behind Christmas, New Years, Easter, my birthday, Memorial Day... it was barely better than any other day in the summer. This year I finally realized how much better this holiday is when you are an adult. I appreciate the day off (even if I hardly work right now, anyways) and I appreciate watching the neighborhood kids get a kick out of something as small as those little "snaps" you throw on the ground (or at your brother), and I appreciate all the deeper meanings of the holiday, too. I'm not going to get too sappy here, but our men and women are deployed across the globe, and it's an important time to remember them, and to remember our country's history, the good and the bad. Plus, I got to write my name with a sparkler, and my brother-in-law's camera was good enough to capture the whole thing. The recording I listened to this weekend ended up being the perfect soundtrack for the holiday. As Tom Moon says in his entry, "This should be required listening for anyone who wants to understand the American experience."

Artist: The Original Carter Family
Recording: The Carter Family: 1927-1934 (5 disc box set) (Book Entry)
Recording #226

(If this takes forever to load click here for the whole playlist)

I listened to 126 songs by the same artist, most of them barely distinguishable from each other, and somehow I wasn't really bored of the Carter Family by the time I got to the end. The quality of the recording is actually exceptional for how hold these are, which is nice, because recording hiss from songs of this era can really ruin my enjoyment of a good song. So although most of the songs really seem to have the same general simple premise of basic folk song with steady rhythmic acoustic guitar to accompany the voices, there were some songs that stood out to me. "Poor Orphan Boy" was surprisingly catchy, with a nice quick pace; "Chewing Gum" was much goofier than I would have thought recordings in the 20's would have been; and finally "Keep on the Sunny Side" really did brighten up my day, and I think the Carter's version is one of the best I have heard. Even though the chemical composition of each song was similar, what really makes the 5 discs worth listening to is the broad range of topics the Carter's covered-- ballads, hymns, murder tales-- it really is an amalgam of the Appalachian existance, with its varied "melting pot" background. So as I devoured my all-you-can-eat Maryland crabs and imagined future 4th's when my son will actually be able to focus his eyes far enough to appreciate fireworks, the Carters were reminding me that folks in America have been doing this for a long time, which was a comforting feeling.

Buy The Carter Family Box Set at Amazon

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mike's 1000: Entry #1

For the most part, I think the "1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die" got it right. I can't say much about the classical, opera, R&B, gospel, but as far as rock and blues, which I know a bit about, I think Tom Moon made some great picks. I do have a couple of nitpicky problems with the list, though (6 Beatles albums? Godsmack?) and I've decided that every 25 entries I am going to do an entry about a recording I think should have made the cut (plus I am working my way through my first box set, so the next post may be awhile).

Artist: Iron & Wine
Album: The Creek Drank the Cradle
I'm really surprised this one didn't make it on the list. Tom included indie darlings The Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Neko Case, Bright Eyes, Belle & Sebastian, and the Arcade Fire, but he missed Sam Beam's project that really gave weight to self-produced "bedroom" folk. Beam, otherwise known as "Iron & Wine," was working as a college professor when he was discovered playing live by an exec from Sub Pop who requested a demo. As the story goes Beam sent 2 full CDs worth of hushed guitar and banjo folk he recorded in his home studio, and the label plucked their favorites and released them "as is" (the B-sides can be found on the excellent 2 disc collection "Around the Well").
Beam's voice barely whispers his haunting, religious-imagery-filled lyrics over supremely played fingerpicked and slide guitar and the occasional banjo. Besides this instrumentation and Beam's own backing vocals there are no other additions. Songs like "Lion's Mane," with its brooding lyrics on the meaning of love over a sublime guitar part and the southern folk inspired "The Rooster Moans" which has a steady, railroad train rhythm perfectly highlight how Beam can take a simple concept and turn it into a masterpiece.
There isn't a weak track on this album, and its release foreshadowed the direction folk music was heading (see acts like Bon Iver, Department of Eagles, and Fleet Foxes as examples of bands building on Beam's steam) in the early 2000's. Beam followed up with "Our Endless Numbered Days," on which he added drums and backing vocals from his sister, and his third outing, "The Shepherd's Dog," (which charted at #24) filled out the rest of his sound with electric guitars and horns. But this original recording by Iron & Wine, in its simple, understated form, is worth taking a look at, and listening closely to. As minimalist as it seems at first, repeated listenings reveal powerful, deep lyrics and perfectly matched music.

Buy The Creek Drank the Cradle at Amazon

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cheesecake and Classical

My wife and I went out for our first date night since the baby was born 1 month ago. We went to the Cheesecake Factory, which for us is a little weird. In general we aren't really into chain restaurants, and there are definitely better places we could have gone, but we figured we needed to go somewhere loud with a booth just in case the baby decided to wake up and fuss. He didn't though. He slept like a champ through the whole thing. And that's how we get to the recording for today.

Artist: Elliott Carter [pg 144-145]
Album: Symphonia: Sum fluxae pretium spei; Clarinet Concerto
Album #225

Part 2 of Clarinet Concerto
Symphonia Part 1
Symphonia Part 2 [Not the full concert, be thankful]
I love the breadth of this book's scope. In the last 5 recordings I've heard mariachi, avant-garde rock, gospel, R&B, and now classical. I don't know much about classical music, but I know this album was an assault on my ears. If this album was a cheesecake, it would be a quiche. Similar ingredients, not the same result. "Modern" classical music tends to be so much more grating to me. While the clarinet playing in the concerto may have taken a lot of skill, the sounds being made were like someone was strangling a goose. It was so bad, in fact, that within 2 minutes my son had woken up from a deep sleep and started crying. When my wife came in and I told her how fussy he was being, she immediately looked at the computer, which was eminating an ungodly sound, and said, "I wonder why." On the bright side, missing his nap did help him sleep through dinner. The 2nd part of the recording is more of a full symphony, less minimalist (code word for "lazy" as far as I'm concerned). I still didn't find it very enjoyable, as every time I heard something nice starting to brew, the whole thing would get loud, and for lack of a better word, "clangy." Someone who enjoys classical music, can you help me here? I dealt with Bach, and actually enjoyed Beethoven, but this stuff is really out there to me. Oh, and I know you are wondering; yes, we each got a piece of cheesecake. Don't judge me, it was the first time out, we had to celebrate. I got chocolate coconut cream cheesecake, and my wife got Godiva chocolate cheesecake. Damn right.

Buy Symphonia at Amazon

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Getting My Mind Un-Messed Up

Surprisingly, a 4 week old baby isn't the best thing for connecting with your spouse. Time not spent catching up on sleep is pretty much spent feeding, changing, burping or rocking the little guy. That's why today's album was very much appreciated. It's not everyday that one of the 1000 Recordings results in spontaneous slow-dancing in the kitchen.

Stream the album on Myspace

Artist: James Carr
Album: You Got My Mind Messed Up
Album #224

For the most part, this project has been mostly annoying for my wife. She ends up forced to listen to opera, or free jazz, or showtunes, plus has to deal with the amount of time I spend in front of the computer trying to locate the recordings. Today there was finally a payoff. James Carr, who I had never heard of, has a wonderful sounding soul album, filled with mostly melancholic words set to upbeat R&B. In "Love Attack," the 2nd track, Carr sounds a lot like James Brown: he's able to wring so much emotion out of just a few words. In general this album is great for a lazy Sunday with a belly full of Mickey D's hash browns, working on cooking a ridiculously delicious lunch (Mozzarella, raspberry and brown sugar panini). As I was in the kitchen enjoying prepping Sunday lunch, my wife walked in during the song "I'm Going For Myself," and started slow dancing with me. She probably didn't know the song was part of my project. At that moment, though, it was the perfect song for the perfect moment, just a minute of peace in our newly complicated life. Put it on when you need a peaceful moment of your own.

Buy "You Got My Mind Messed Up" at Amazon

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lord, Keep Me Day By Day

So I am really into lists. I'm not sure if it's something I was born with or if I have cultivated it, but there is just something about putting stuff into a list that makes me feel comfortable. If my wife wants something to get done, and there are more than 2 things to do, she better put it on my "honey-do list." As a pilot I am a big fan of checklists. Hiking is something I have always enjoyed, but I found out how much more fun I have when I am trying to check off the different species of birds I see (over 250 worldwide now). I have made a list of my 100 favorite albums of all time. Every year I list my favorite albums of the year. Finally, I am working on plenty of other people's lists, including the IMDB Top 250 movies (54% complete), my brother Dan's 100 favorite albums (77%), the Rolling Stone Reader's 100 (70%) and of course, the 1000 Recordings (22%).

The downside to all this listing is that I listened to Captain Beefheart over a week ago, and just made it to the next recording yesterday because I was listening to Jens Lekman and Adele, as they are on Dan's list. But I have finally made it to the next on the list:

Artist: The Caravans
Album: The Best of the Caravans
Album #223

I have always been lukewarm about gospel music. I am all for the idea of it, but I don't listen to it. When it came up in a couple of earlier albums on the 1000 Recordings (The Abyssinian Baptist Gospel Choir and Marian Anderson) I was really excited. Unfortunately, those 2 albums made me think maybe I really didn't like gospel. The Caravans have brought me back into the fold, if you will. The praise is there, the ceiling shaking vocals are there, but there's something else, too. Rhythm. This album rocks and rolls like you expect gospel to! "I Won't Be Back" kicks off the album, and the Caravans never look back. Even when they slow it down, they never lose that sense of foot tapping, soul moving rhythm. What a great album to listen to when you are exhausted from the newborn to make you remember how great your life really is. I couldn't find this one on grooveshark, except for one song, but I've posted that one, plus a video of another great one from this album. If you have a Rhapsody account, that's where I was able to listen to it (25 free songs per month if you don't have an account).

Buy The Best of the Caravans at Amazon

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fix Up, Look Sharp, Cap'n

So my brother Drew was in town visiting/helping with the new baby, and since I hadn't hung out with him in forever, of course we talked about music. One of the things I really like is being the influencer, getting people excited about new music. It's one of the reasons I like posting a "Song of the Day" on Facebook, and one of the reasons I am doing this blog. While Drew was visiting he happened to find all my back copies of Paste Magazine, a great music mag. He read about a band called Freelance Whales and he pulled up their myspace site. Now he's planning to go see them in concert, and sent me a message to thank me for getting him back into new music without even trying.

One of the reasons I was excited to see Drew is he had Dizzee Rascal's "Boy in Da Corner," one of my favorites, that somehow had gotten deleted, and I had purchased it so long ago that the DRM protection wasn't allowing it to be played on my computer or iPod. That album is one of the few in the book I had listened to and loved before I bought the book (I will probably have to do a post about it in the future), and I was really happy to have it back. So this leads me to the fact that the next page in the book was an album I also listened to before I bought the book, and I decided I needed to revisit.

Artist: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
Album: Trout Mask Replica
Album #100-something

I am working on a few other lists, and a few years ago when I was at the library in Washington State I found this album and remembered seeing it on the Rolling Stones Top 500, in the top 100 actually. So I checked it out, popped it in my CD player in the car, and promptly ejected it after track 2. Garbage. When I bought the book, I put it down as a check in the block, figuring I heard enough to get the point. Well, I am back to the page this recording is on, and I decided I just can't count that. I had to give it a real chance, so I put it back on about a week ago.

The album is avant-garde at its worst. Free jazz trumpets in the background, assymetric drumming, non-sequitur beat poetry over the whole thing. How did this end up on the list, or on RS's more mainstream list for that matter? I decided to wikipedia the album, where I discovered that Matt Groening considers it the best album ever made, but that he had the same reaction I did on first listen. He, and others, say it takes 6-7 listens to "get it." Now, I don't think I'll listen to this one 6 times over the course of my lifetime, but going back to it for the second time I find it a bit more palatable. Maybe that's because I am in a sort of altered state due to my lack of sleep, or maybe I just needed to listen with a more open mind. Partly I was helped by realizing Captain Beefheart can actually make good music when they try: I discovered about a year ago that my favorite song by Akron garage-blues duo The Black Keys, "Grown So Ugly," is actually a cover of a Captain Beefheart song. So with a new open mind I queued up "Trout Mask Replica."

Most of this 2-disk set is still pretty grating, but when you have it on in the background while doing dishes on just a few hours of sleep, some very nice moments do happen where all of the caucaphony suddenly comes together to make a very nice meshing of layers. It quickly falls apart again, but I heard it, just for that moment. I also see how, as Tom Moon points out in the book, Beck and Tom Waits at their weirdest are descendents of this album, and I can also see some Radiohead and Soul Coughing in there. So there is a redeeming quality to the recording at least for historical and influence reasons. Still, this album is not for the weak of heart. Tread lightly here. But, as a sidenote from John87, a better place to start is Captain Beefheart's "Safe as Milk" (the album that contains bluesy "Grown So Ugly).

Buy Trout Mask Replica at Amazon

Life, Soundtrack Included

So, as part of my constant search for new music, I am often trying to educate myself on the history of the music I already enjoy and stretch my boundaries. So when I heard Tom Moon on the NPR show All Songs Considered talking about his new book, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die I picked it up for my best friend John87, who is probably more obsessed with music than I am. I tried wrapping it as a Christmas gift, but ended up reading it as I wrapped all the other presents. When I finally wrapped it, it was the last present left, and my wife was starting to get irritated, so I finally had to finish up. A couple months later I went back to the store and bought the book for myself. My goal is to hear every song.

I am already 221 recordings (mostly albums, but some songs scattered here and there, and also some box sets) into the book, and I just now decided to start recording the trip. Partly it's because there is so much music I often can't remember what the stuff I listened to sounds like. Partly it's because most of the recordings here are worth sharing, and this is a great way to point others in the right direction. And partly it's just fun.

So, with that said, I am now keeping a record of my journey through a great book, and a great challenge. As I said, I have already listened to 221 of the recordings. This includes about 125 that I have now listened to alphabetically starting with ABBA on page one, plus nearly 100 other recordings scattered throughout that I had already heard when I picked up the book. Since my interest in music generally lies in the rock and blues genres, I realized if I picked my way through the book, in the end I would be left with opera and classical, and I would never go back and listen to those recordings. So I started at the start, and I have choked down my medicine of British opera and experimental jazz, and along the way already discovered lost greats like Baby Huey and the Babysitters, Dock Boggs and others. So you might be wondering, am I listening to one of the recordings right now? Hell yes I am.

Artist: Nati Cano's Mariachi los Camperos
Album: Viva El Mariachi!
Album #222

I didn't know what to expect from this one, but it comes charging out of the gates from the start with "Los Arrieros." It was the perfect start to my morning, as I actually got a decent amount of sleep for the first time in a week. My son still has a problem with being put in his crib, but he is finally eating better, which helps to knock him out, and lowers the stress level for my wife and myself. The voices on this album are so plaintive and strong, and the strings twist in and around each other, raising the whole affair to heights so much higher than what you would expect mariachi to sound like. In fact, there are a couple songs, "El Gustito" and "La Maleguena," where the falsetto singing sounds almost like something you would hear in a traditional Hawai'ian song. Now that isn't to say that I'm not craving some Mexican food right now (specifically a fried avocado, but I don't know where to get that besides La Playa in Corpus Christi, TX), but in general this recording surprised me. I should really stop being surprised at this point though, because so many of these recordings shock me with their incredible sound, in genres I had never even considered.

Many of the albums I listen to can be found on Grooveshark, one of my favorite websites ever. I discovered it a few years ago when it first came out, and now it seems pretty mainstream with ads for Rock Band interfaced right into the player, so hopefully it won't go the way of so many websites I have loved before and disappear. I used to use, but iTunes just bought them out last month, so my classical music hookup is gone now, and classical is very difficult to find on Grooveshark. I know eventually I will have to start paying money to finish this list, first with an account to Napster or Rhapsody to stream music, and then eventually buying the very rare albums. But for now, free streaming and the library are the keys to making it through most of the book. I know the above playlist is glitchy, but if you open it in Grooveshark you can rearrange the tracks and eventually they will all play.

Buy Viva El Mariachi! on Amazon

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