[171] Dorival Caymmi – Caymmi E Seu Violao

23 Apr

A serviceable voice and some basic finger-picked guitar – not exactly a recipe for excellence. Yet somehow I am entranced from the first.

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That Dorival Caymmi’s voice is nothing to write home about, and that his guitar work is simple and understated just means that I am left listening to the whole, rather than the parts. And there is something about this whole.

These recordings are described as songs of the sea, and these Brazilian sounds seem to combine the raw picking and chatting of Folk with the understated emotion of the best crooners. It is an arresting combination, and I am quickly immersed.

It probably helps that I have always lived by a body of water, from the Thames Estuary to the English Channel, from Manhattan’s East River to Lake Surprise. The water flowing towards the sea is in my blood, and I can hear its distant roar even in the quietest of these tunes.

Living near water, I believe, is the reason for my poor sense of direction. I get easily lost without concrete directions, often even in places where I have been many times. But I always know where the nearest large body of water is, so really, how lost could I get. At worst I just head towards the water, at which point I have a solid starting point and I am able to get unlost.

It’s a theory.

Caymmi’s is a “nice” voice, and I use this adjective with enormous intentionality as a lifetime Liberal Arts student who had the word all but beaten out of my vocabulary at an early age for being functionally meaningless. Caymmi carries a tune, but does not leave a listener breathless in the way many great vocalists do.

Again, this sounds like it should be a knock against a guitar and voice recording, but instead I can’t take my ears off of it. The very everyman nature of the whole is captivating – a guy relaxing on his porch, rather than a star on stage or even a busker on the street. It’s like a mere mortal singing Sinatra, and there is something humbling about the result.

I want to learn these lyrics, these tunes, to whistle and hum them as I go about my day. I want to learn Portuguese (albeit in a fanciful I-am-not-really-going-to-learn-Portuguese fashion.)

Caymmi owns these songs in a way that many artists never totally embody their recordings, a result perhaps of him being the sole songwriter credited on all but one of the dozen tracks here.

This album affects me so quickly and so deeply that I immediately explore further, into his earlier Sambas de Caymmi album. These are big band recordings of the bossa nova / samba movement he helped to birth in Brazil, hugely different from the ballads of Caymmi E Seu Violao.

I am just as quickly struck by the fact that I have made a mistake. In the familiar big band swing surrounding, there is nothing here jumping out at me, and I’d rather just be listening to Sinatra. Not to mention that the raw clarity of the later album is missing in this muddy mix.

Tom Moon knew what he was doing when he highlighted the spare, simple side of Caymmi.

Which is what I return to, cutting short my ill advised foray away from the path, back to the wind and the waves and the women by the water.

Next Time: Emmanuel Chabrier – Le Roi Malgre Lui

Owned before blogging? No. (14 of 171 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (23 of 171 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (143 of 171 = 84%)

[170] Johnny Cash – American Recordings

8 Apr

I think maybe you already have to be a Cash fan to enjoy this album. So it should come as no surprise that I love this 1994 album, and the rest of the American Recordings he produced right up until his death in 2003.

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However, I do find it slightly unexpected that it was these stripped down, cowboy-gospel tinged songs that caught the attention of a new generation and made Johnny Cash relevant (yet) again.

This is an album I bought when it first came out, one which I enjoyed, but which never really got into regular rotation in the list of Cash albums I periodically play. Perhaps this is because it is hard to hear the pain in every note here, a pain which grew stronger as the voice grew weaker with each successive American Recording release, peaking / troughing with the magnificently tormented cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” on American IV: The Man Comes Around.

Each track on this first American installment is a perfectly formed, tiny-clean morsel of story song which, despite the pristine nature of the studio work, is somehow leaner even than the raw live recording of At Folsom Prison. I find it sometimes hard to get through the entire thing in one setting, even if the run time is only a beat over 40 minutes.

Perhaps I am once again underestimating how much pain the rest of the music buying population is in at any given moment.

Cash actively seeks out difficult situations here – a crime of passion, a veteran’s sad return to civilian life, and lots of mortality – and the super-minimal orchestration leave nothing for the words to hide behind. Cash is preaching and, though I often dislike preachers, in this case I believe the things his eyes claim to have seen, believe the pain his heart claims to have felt, both of which are clear in the diminished yet still deep-wide voice.

Revisiting songs he first wrote and recorded over thirty years prior, as in “Delia’s Gone”, is fascinating, but it is the new recordings which truly catch the attention.

Returning to the well of Kris Kristofferson – who wrote Cash’s 1970 hit “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” – “Why Me Lord” is a song that makes me profoundly uncomfortable yet which I can’t help but listen to again and again. And songs penned for Cash by Tom Waits and Glenn Danzig (as well as a Leonard Cohen cover) round out the stylistic feel of the album, setting the template for four more records in the series.

This is not the sound or style that I immediately think of when I hear The Man In Black in my head. And this is not an album I am going to queue up on Spotify when introducing him to my 10-year-old daughter. But in moments that call for quiet reflection on mortality, there are worse places I could start, and I can understand why Tom Moon paired this late career recording with the classic era At Folsom Prison as  bookends to exploring the career of the unique Johnny Cash.

Next Time: Dorival Caymmi – Caymmi E Seu Violao

Owned before blogging? Yes (14 of 170 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? Yes (23 of 170 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes (142 of 170 = 84%)

[169] Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

18 Mar

Well, this one takes me back.

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When I was a kid, my Mom, Dad, brother and I would regularly take road trips from the suburbia a couple of hours outside of London to the suburbia immediately outside of the city proper to visit with the extended family that stayed put when my Grandma and Grandpa moved to “the back of beyond” in the ’50s.  And on those road trips my folks would always play one of the same four cassette tapes:  an Elaine Page collection, a Lloyd-Webber cast recording, an album by Israeli folk singer Topol, or Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits.

It turns out that my Dad is a big Cash fan.

So I’ve known and loved these songs since before I had long hair, before I could choose my own soundtrack.  It’s probably fair to say that, however subliminally, “The Man in Black” helped to form my fashion sense, and predisposed me to gravitate towards outlaws and rebels, at least sonically.

At Folsom Prison is an album I have owned and listed to for years, perhaps decades, although I can’t actually recall the last time I hit play on it before revisiting those road trips for the 1,000.  And the sense memory of sitting in the back of our red Toyota Cressida, singing along especially to the comedy songs “One Piece At A Time”, “The One On The Left”, and “A Boy Named Sue” is immediate, and almost overwhelming.  The deeper-than-deep voice which still somehow finds range for melody, the inviolable boom-chikka rhythm of guitar and drum, the lyrical wordplay, the moments of laughter, the connection to the listener.  They are all immediately remembered, and immensely comforting.

The selection of tracks on this live recording is fascinating. There are the prison songs “Cocaine Blues”, “25 Minutes To Go”, and of course the track which brought the performer to this particular venue.  There are the traditional mournful sounds of “Green, Green Grass Of Home” and “Send A Picture Of Mother.”  There is the silliness of “Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog” and “Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart.”  And there is the precise fire of the duet with June Carter, “Jackson”, perhaps my favorite song on the album.

Cash giggles his way through a number of tracks, teasing the inmates about not laughing during the songs since they are recording, so he “can’t say hell or [exletive deleted].”  His relaxed banter is as much a part of his persona as the songs, the image.  And the album is occasionally interrupted by announcements from the warden, making this a singular experience.

Listening to the range of 16 songs across 45 minutes I am as ever struck by the wide variety of styles that Cash perfects, how the raw warts and all recording elevates the whole, and how many signature songs are still missing.  Listening to At Folsom Prison makes me want to listen to a lot more Cash.

Could there be a better recommendation to listen to an album?

Next Time:  Johnny Cash – American Recordings

Owned before blogging? Yes (13 of 169 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? Yes (22 of 169 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes (141 of 169 = 83%)

[168] Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

25 Feb

I was extraordinarily excited at the opportunity to explore this album, completely ready to be blown away. A drummer-singer-songwriter in the country-indie-punk world? Where do I sign?

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But the first play through was neither what I expected nor what I wanted. It all sounds so safe and bland – an engaging voice which speaks of a mind that has listened to a lot of Patsy Cline, over wandering guitars and drums.

Where is the fire? Where is the attitude? I tap along to “Margaret vs. Pauline”, then carry on with my day without noticing that the music has continued.

It is clear very quickly that I am going to need to take a listen to the lyrics to see what it is Moon is singling out here.

And while the lyrics are unusual and interesting, I find them disconnected from the music. It is all very pleasant (even the moments of unpleasantness) but again I’m left wondering why Moon chose Neko Case over Tori Amos in his 1,000?

It’s not the first time that the omission of one of my Top 10 albums – Little Earthquakes – is perhaps unfairly coloring my response to an apparently important and seminal female recording artist who came after Tori.

I would be surprised if it is the last, and for that I apologize.

So, before finally posting this entry, I give Fox Confessor . . . another spin, and it appears that the songs made a little more of an impression on first listen, since each track is now comfortable and somewhat familiar, if still lacking the hoped for fire.

I think this one might be on me rather than Moon – overlaying unrealistic expectations on top of an album that is one thing, and blaming it that it is not something else.

Next Time: Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

Owned before blogging? No (12 of 168 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No (21 of 168 = 13%)
Recommend? No (140 of 168 = 83%)

[167] Cascabulho – Hunger Gives You A Headache

5 Feb

From the very first beat (if you will pardon the easy pun) it is the hectic and insistent percussion that drives everything else on this fascinating album. The irrepressible, unending drums fly along at a healthy clip dragging the vocals and strings into their time and space.  More than anchoring, they actual author the shape of the music.

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Stylistically we discover a wonderful mix of unbridled joy and angry edge, a juxtaposition of traditional instrumental sounds with touches of modern recording techniques. When a hip hop beat momentarily kicks in my attention is immediately recaptured, recalibrating the whole, making me reconsider what I am listening to.

This is not folk music despite similarities in instrumentation, in some of the endless winding contra-melodies buoying the vocals. It is vibrant and topical and entirely of today’s zeitgeist.

It is quite an achievement.

The call and response quality in the vocals between lead and chorus is hypnotic, and always there are the drums. There’s even a damn solo at the outro of “Clementina De Jesus No Morro Da Conceicao”.

I challenge you to sit still while it plays. I certainly can’t.

I wonder what my coworkers think while this plays, filling the office with South American flair. How does it compare to my steady diet of Dan Reed Network, The Wildhearts, Queen, Billy Joel, my occasional forays into otherwise embarrassing 80s pop? Cascabulho sounds different, but affects me at least as much as my standard listening fare.

As I remember from previous foreign language selections, I find myself curious as to what the songs’ lyrics actually say, but in this case not enough to do anything about finding a translation. The tone is almost chatty, a neighbor shooting the breeze on a street corner – sharing gossip, complaining about prices, discussing the weather.

All in all, the sound makes me want to explore some of the other forro artists that inspired this amazing sound, starting with Jackson do Pandeiro, to whom . . . Hunger is dedicated. So I do, and once more I am unable to sit still as the fluid vocals flow over the dreamy percussion. The pedigree of Cascabulho is obvious, with even songs not directly covered having the recognizable DNA of these earlier recordings. It’s like finding a hidden track at the of an album, only to realize it’s a whole hidden album!

Discovery upon discovery – perhaps the entire goal of my exploring the 1,000.

Next Time: Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood

Owned before blogging? No (12 of 167 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No (21 of 167 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes (140 of 167 = 84%)

[166] Pablo Casals – Bach: Cello Suites Vols. 1 & 2

15 Jan

Mesmerizing.  Hypnotic.  Engulfing.  It’s like being in the room while a master plays.  What am I listening to?  Who cares – I like it.  There’s just so much of this warm, rich sound, in seemingly endless variations, clean and organic and inviting.

166 casals

It is so different to what I have become so accustomed to listening to.  I can’t sing along, can’t anticipate the next note or phrase, so there is a part of me that thinks I must like it less.  But I need this change, this variety in my life.  I need to hear what others hear, appreciate things wherein others find worth.  My bubble is closer and more impenetrable than it was three years ago, and bursting it once in a while would seem to be a necessity for my continued sanity, to remain a part of the larger world.

I know this is the truth.  I just wish more people felt this way.

These strings were bowed on the eve of war, in an era of isolation and nationalism.  And yet the result is unadulterated beauty.  I listen, and I hear the eternal hope and promise of art in even the darkest times.  And I need this reminder.

I also needed to be reminded that this was not the first appearance of Casals in the 1,000.  I already gushed over his interplay with Cortot and Thibault in performing Beethoven’s “Archduke” about five years ago. Time has not diluted his ability to affect me, and for this I am grateful.

On the other hand, I should not have been surprised at my love for these two hours of compositions – I have already recommended four out of four J. S. Bach recordings.  I wonder if Moon has any more hiding in wait in the next eight hundred or so selections . . .

Next Time:  Cascabulho – Hunger Gives You A Headache

Owned before blogging? No. (12 of 166 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No. (21 of 166 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (139 of 166 = 84%)

 

[165] Enrico Caruso – 21 Arias

1 Jan

Here it is, folks. The recording that killed my desire to keep blogging for more than three years.

165 caruso

A name so huge, singing music so immense, that I couldn’t fathom why it was leaving absolutely no impression on me. Was I tired of the weekly deadlines? Did I not like classical vocals as much as I thought I did? Did I just run out of time?

Four years ago I was in the thick of a Masters degree. Three years ago I took on a new improved role at work. Two years ago my daughter, now 10, hit an age where we could play the kind of boardgames together that I love to play.  It seems, in hindsight, that something had to give, and 1,000 Recordings was it.

So are we still blaming Caruso?

Caruso is certainly not the reason I am coming back to the blog. I’m writing again, at least, I want to be writing again. I had an agent request a query and the first 50 pages of My Messy And Magnificent SciFi Thing (working title) and realized that the most recent polish was another thing that fell by the wayside a couple of years back. Flexing my writing muscles on a weekly basis can only be a positive thing. And while I was thinking that I should start writing again I ran across a CD, bought more than two years ago in anticipation of reviewing it for the blog: Ray Charles – Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music.

I realize I still want to discover it.

Not just listen to it. I want to hear it, examine it, explore it and share it. And a peek at other albums upcoming reveal favorites like Johnny Cash and Tracy Chapman, as well as names I feel I should know more about, like Neko Case. And to get to them I have to get through a few hundred words on Caruso.

I queue up 21 Arias on my ubiquitous Spotify app and hit play.

The recording quality is . . . strange. Caruso sang over a century ago and these recordings were originally made on wax. They have been remastered and restored, and the result is a sound that is more modern than it should be, yet still ever-so slightly off to the contemporary ear. I believe that, in part, it was this juxtaposition which initially put off my tired ear.

The arrangements are beautiful, the singing pleasing, and many of the songs are ingrained into my pop culture consciousness. But even as a vocalist, it is not clear to me why Caruso is considered the best ever. He can belt, he has enormous range, and there is emotion, at least in an operatic, melodramatic sense. So, as I realize I have said before during the course of this endeavor, the recordings make me wish I could watch the performance in context, could see the action and follow the story.

That said, I am no longer left with the feeling of nothingness which led to my hiatus. I let the music play, again and again, and it washes over me in warm waves. I am engaged, listening, thinking about what I am hearing, and it was this sensation I had lost when last I heard these tunes. I am once again eager to be immersed in sounds outside of my everyday, to hear something absolutely different to the 90s rock and 80s pop, with the occasional shining gem of new music (often by one of those 80s or 90s artists I so gravitate towards) that I quickly and comfortably default to.

Caruso is never going to be a favorite of mine, but I am glad to have given him a second chance, to spend a week or so with him, and to share my thoughts with you. For these reasons, I return to 1,000 Recordings to endorse Tom Moon’s recommendation, relieved and excited to be back in the saddle again.

Next Time: Pablo Casals – Bach: Cello Suites Vols. 1 & 2

Owned before blogging? No. (12 of 165 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No. (21 of 165 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (138 of 165 = 84%)

[164] Cartolo – Cartolo

3 Jun

The gentle, graceful, fragile guitar and vocal work of the first track lulls me into a false sense of relaxed security before the samba kicks in in earnest and blows the doors off any possibility of sitting still.

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But it’s not the Brazilian sound as I think I know it.

The guitar and percussion is present, but in song after song it is woodwind and occasional brass that takes the lead, the attention, the starring role.  While the mild yet beautiful vocals hold the structure, the beat, it is (depending on the track) flute and sax and trumpet which meanders all over the beach, explores the city, entwines friends and lovers.  These are the instruments which provide the passion, power, precision.

The fact that it is all so unexpected means that I can’t stop listening.

Having recently finished reading my brother’s book Benfica to Brazil an exploration of his time studying the language and culture (and football) of Cartola’s home -I am keenly aware of the lilting, slightly imprecise sound of Brazilian Portuguese he so wonderfully describes.

I see the scenes he wrote about, which Cartola lived and later recorded.

Here is a old fashioned but somehow timeless sound, neither modern nor dated, and always a pleasure to hear, but especially as the temperature climbs into the 80s, letting us know that summer is on its way.

Next Week:  Enrico Caruso – Twenty-one Favorite Arias

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 164 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 164 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (137 of 164 = 84%)

[163] Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick – Byker Hill

27 May

Sometimes, no matter how many times you listen to an album, it makes absolutely no impression.

carthy-martin-(with-dave-swarbrick)-163-l

That’s what has happened to me here, with the pretty period instrumentation and the admittedly accomplished vocals passing me by entirely despite a dozen and more plays.  I start up Spotify, I hear the first notes, and some time later I realize that the album has ended and once again I have failed to notice.

This has happened on occasion with bands I love where, on revisiting an album years later, I discover what it was I had missed – P.H.U.Q. by The Wildhearts was a complete bust for me when it first came out but recently revealed as a minor masterpiece.

Of course there are other albums which were a disappointment on first listen that have not fared any better with age.  I’m looking at you, Subhuman Race by Skid Row, although a better example might be GnR’s Chinese Democracy which left me with this same *shrug* feeling (rather than the disgust which led to Subhuman Race being the first and to date only album I have ever returned to the store for being terrible . . .)

So why am I reaching back twenty-plus years to discus hard rock near hits and clean misses in this post?  Is it possible that I have almost literally (in the original literal sense of the word) nothing to say about Byker Hill?

In the immortal words of the narrator from Hong Kong Phooey, “Could be.”

I would bet on the Chinese Democracy scenario being closer to the likely truth than P.H.U.Q. this time.  Except that I really can’t foresee a future where I even remember the name Martin Carthy long enough to give this record another spin.

What’s next?

Next Week: Cartolo – Cartolo

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 163 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 163 = 13%)
Recommend? No. (136 of 163 = 83%)

[162] Elliott Carter – Symphonia

20 May

Symphonia is a conversation between the various instruments which is difficult to comprehend but impossible to ignore.

carter-elliott-161-l

It is clear that there is an energetic and fascinating debate going on here, which happens to be in a language that the listener does not speak.  This in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the bright and inventive piece.

As that listener I sit back and enjoy the discussion, wondering what the topic might be, grinning as one performer or another scores a telling point.

I find myself in the same mental state that I visit when watching some of my very favorite plays by Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett.  The call and response, the back and forth has that same wonderful rhythm as well as the absurd yet aesthetically pleasing meaninglessness which somehow sounds important or profound.

All that is missing is Beckett’s philosophizing and Pinter’s vulgarity . . .

[Long pause.]

I am reminded once again at the universal nature of music, especially instrumental music – how it is used to communicate feeling, idea, occasion.  Even when, as here, it is not understood intellectually it can still be felt viscerally, intuitively.

In instrumentation and execution, this Modern Classical piece is at times indistinguishable from experiential Jazz.  For some reason this pleases me greatly.

Next Week:  Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick – Byker Hill

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 162 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 162 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (136 of 162 = 84%)

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