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[172] Emmanuel Chabrier – Le Roi Malgre Lui

3 Sep

This could go a couple of different ways. I’m sick as a dog as I press play on this French Opera – will the cold meds enhance what I’m hearing, or is it all going to be too much effort?

[Note. This blog was written months ago, before the world paused. I’m fine today]

Once again, here is a recording that I can’t successfully listen to without constantly fiddling with the volume – it’s either too quiet to make anything out, or far too loud. I think that I might be enjoying the crisp orchestration and the clarity of the solo voices, but the chorus (at least through my generic speakers) sounds mushy and the quieter passages fade into inaudibility.

Which is a shame because the tunes that do peek through are lively and engaging, demanding proper attention. And it is the energy which continues to be the most noticeable quality of this recording as it plays and plays. I find that, although I do not know the particular words and melodies, there is a familiarity about the whole which is comfortable and comforting. Listening to an opera without following – or even attempting to follow – the plot is perhaps not fair to the music in question, but in this case I catch myself admiring passages, moments, without a clue or a care as to what they’re all making such a fuss about.

In all, everything I hear makes me want to pay attention more than I am, to lend all of my faculties to the structure and technique on display, not just the passing glance that at times is the lot of an unknown recording. A good sign for the longevity, for the likelihood of a recommendation.

The longer I listen, the longer I am struck by a thought. Is this so familiar, so agreeable, because this is the light operatic style that my first theatrical loves, Gilbert and Sullivan, were aping in English in the 1800s?

In the end this is an odd one. It is not inspiring me to run out and discover more Chabriet. It is not even certain that I will ever listen to “Le Roi Malgre Lui” again. Yet I have spent a number of pleasant hours in the company of these sounds, and I cannot say that it was time wasted.

I could ask more of the music I give my time to, but I have on occasion certainly also received less.

Next Week: Manu Chao – Clandestino

Owned before blogging? No (14 of 172 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No (23 of 172 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes (144 of 172 = 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.

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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.

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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%)

[161] The Original Carter Family – 1927 to 1934

13 May

Country music, perhaps even America as we know it, would be profoundly different without The Carter Family.

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Cataloging and recording the songs handed down the generations throughout the South, A. P. Carter preserved a legacy and honed a sound which is still relevant and recognizable today.  The range of musical ground covered is dizzying, well over five hours of songs of praise, of despair, of celebration, of love, of longing.

Spiritual or sea shanty, ballad or barroom romp, each song is anchored by a metronomic rhythm section usually consisting of nothing more than a single guitar which lays down an unbreakable beat.  Over this foundation, fascinating story songs unfold, cleanly melodic and enhanced by close harmony whenever a chorus rolls around, by strict unison singing elsewhere.

For nearly ninety-year-old recordings, the sound quality here is quite astounding.

I love the way just two voices and one guitar can fill a room.  I love the sheer quantity of found music in evidence here.  I love that I can enfold myself in the sound that  Johnny Cash and June Carter (and a multitude of others) heard, that so inspired them to create music of their own.

And I hate how often otherwise open-minded people will casually admit that “I like all kinds of music except Country . . .”

Next Week:  Elliott Carter – Symphonia

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 161 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 161 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (135 of 161 = 84%)

[160] James Carr – You Got My Mind Messed Up

6 May

Another artist that time appears to have passed by.  Another record I find myself falling in love with.

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Despite the derivative sounding up-tempos, despite the lack of a signature hit, there is more than enough heart and soul, passion and pain on You Got My Mind Messed Up to catch my attention midway through the first listen and not let up for a week or more.

It is the evocative down-tempo tunes which initially enchant, not as catchy or heartbreaking as those of Arthur Alexander, but polished and profound nonetheless.

As usual for this era, the session musicians backing Carr are phenomenal, building him up and keeping out of his way, never pulling focus but oh-so accomplished when you do actually notice them.

For once, although I fully endorse Tom Moon’s inclusion in the thousand, I understand why Carr’s name is not a household one.  There is no single song here that demands attention, nothing that makes a listener sing along with more than perhaps just the evocative song titles themselves.  The rest is beautiful, but there is no urgency, no immediacy.

If this sounds like a lukewarm recommendation, then I am not doing this album justice.  It is the kind of record that gets into your head and under your skin – it certainly got into and under mine.

For all its apparent shortcomings You Got My Mind Messed Up is the kind of album that gets played again and again.  And if I am not accurately articulating the reason why, you’ll just have to go have a listen for yourself . . .

Next Week:  The Original Carter Family – 1927 to 1934

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 160 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 160 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (134 of 160 = 84%)

[159] The Caravans – The Best of The Caravans

29 Apr

I know I’m going to be recommending this recording about 10 seconds into the first track.

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This is what I think of when I think of Gospel – fervor and phenomenal ability inextricably linked, outstanding talent married to energetic intent.  The vocals are so good, so searing and moving and committed.  The organ backing is so crisp and uplifting.

Everything is so bouncing and behaving.

More than anything, these songs confirm that I was correct in my assessment of The Abyssinian Baptist Choir way back near the start of this journey.  The Caravans clearly illustrate how Gospel should sound – there is just no reason or excuse for accepting any musically inferior imitation, historical importance be damned.

Not when I can hear soloist after soloist roaring and wailing their magnificent stuff, paving the way for the crossover to come.

Here is the sound that Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and so many others co opted into the secular world, changing music for the better.  Here is one of the most obvious influences on early Rock and Roll, and so eventually on all of my favorite artists, songs and sounds.

This is what it’s all about.  It’s so good I don’t even care that the performers are praising god.

Next Week:  James Carr – You Got My Mind Messed Up

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 159 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 159 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (133 of 159 = 84%)

[158] Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica

22 Apr

As weird and as random as its title, there is much to ponder and perplex in this 80 minutes of avant garde something or other.

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Color me unsurprised that Zappa was involved (as producer.)

There is an aura of experimental wonderfulness throughout this recording.  It is certainly not for everyone, or for every occasion, but there is so much to interpret and explore that I do not think I will ever grow tired of hearing the Rock-y, Blues-y, Folk-y, Jazz-y, Spoken Word sounds that skitter all over the place on each play.

The vocals at time remind me of Shel Silverstein’s wonderful, not safe for work or kids interpretations of some of his stories – both engage in very much the same way.

The guitars are in constant motion, twiddling in concentric circles.  The horns when they are featured squeak and squawk and demand attention.  And every now and then a nugget of wisdom or a moment of sublime discomfort peeks through the stream of consciousness lyrics.

It is loose and messy and sprawling, and despite the potential for negative connotations in all these adjectives, I am a fan.

Next Week: The Caravans – The Best of The Caravans

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 158 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 158 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (132 of 158 = 84%)

[157] Nati Cano’s Mariachi los Camperos – Viva el Mariachi

15 Apr

This is not New York City Subway Mariachi.

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The music on show here has more in common with great sweeping Opera than the high energy (and high volume) cheese regularly inflicted on locals and tourists alike.  While the close, multi-part harmonies and accordion accompaniment are still present, the sound is so much richer and fuller here.  It has weight and nuance.

It is instructional as well as pleasing to hear a genuinely quality example of a genre I so easily and regularly write off as shallow.  There is emotion and technique on display – it sounds like I should be watching a heavily costumed cast performing on a proscenium stage as I listen – and if I am not following a linear storyline, well, I always did enjoy non-traditional theater . . .

It’s strange.  The instrumentation and even overall feel of this recording is comparable in many ways to recent dud, the Flamenco sounds of Cameron, but where not even the sound of fingers flying on the guitar strings could capture my attention or affection, this Mexican variation is utterly captivating.

Maybe it’s the addition of the horns?

It’s a little bit Jazz in its freewheeling joy.  A little bit Classical in its concrete structure.  A little bit the aforementioned Opera, with Latin flourishes and outsize character.

And it is all pure entertainment.

Next Week:  Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 157 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 157 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (131 of 157 = 83%)

[156] Can – Tago Mago

8 Apr

Another week, another mish-mash of an album, cramming all sorts of sounds and feelings into its experimental 1970s frame.  (That’s five consecutive albums full of experimentation, for those keeping score at home.)

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This time it’s German Rock.  This time I love it.

There are the sweeping prog-rock jam tracks, noodling and soaring for minutes on end.  There is the borrowed punk attitude, at times so necessary in life, put to excellent use here as a sort of color commentary.  There is the ponderous, goth-flavored epic “Aumgn”, so effective that my wife and daughter requested I turn it off since (and I quote), “It’s freaking us out.”

Unlike moments over the last weeks where the experimentation has been too extreme, too uneven, Can manage to create a homogeneous sound from all the diverse parts, resulting in an album that (when my girls aren’t around) I want to listen to from beginning to end.

There is plenty that is familiar here, more than enough influences in common with the rock I already know and love from the UK and the US of around this era.  When the guitar solos you can hear Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry.  In the layers of sound, with the raw vocals buried way down in the mix, it is not a stretch to intuit the inspiration of the more out-there Beatles moments.  The jam band tracks even have a Jazz tinge, following the idea wherever it leads, allowing each band member the opportunity to solo in the spotlight.

Surprisingly I find that the discords – the at times almost atonal vocals – do not grate.  Rather they act as a pleasing counterpoint to the tightly coiled rhythm that rules every track.  The driving, endless beats remind me of nothing so much as Harry Connick Jr.’s wonderful attempt at a Rock album, She.

Yes, I acknowledge what a weird combination I am juxtaposing here – experimental German Rock of the 70s and popuar US Jazz of the 90s.  But just humor me.  Play Can’s “Halleluwah” (all 18 minutes of it) then follow it up with Connick’s “That Party”, and see whether I’m onto something, or just plain crazy.

I’ll accept either answer.

Next Week:  Nati Cano’s Mariachi los Camperos – Viva el Mariachi

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 156 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 156 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (130 of 156 = 83%)

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