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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