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