[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%)

[155] Camaron De La Isla – Le Leyenda Del Tiempo

1 Apr

I love the sound of a guitar.  Electric or classical, picked or strummed – even more than vocals, the guitar tends to be the touchstone for my musical appreciation.

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And the technical ability on display here from the very first notes is impressive.  It can be hectic fun in the more familiar, high energy flamenco moments, but these make up less than half of the recording.

It’s amazing that an album quite so short – the run time is just over a half hour- can be quite so scattershot.

Beyond the guitar work, this album is too eclectic even for my newly opened ears, too all over the place, with weird electric piano solos, odd disco riffs, chanting and wailing which appears to veer far from the Spanish roots one might expect,

The vocals are fervent, but quite raw and almost monochromatic.  Just one more facet of the sound that leaves me wanting . . . not more, precisely.  Perhaps the correct idea is wanting something different.

It’s kind of a mess, and not in an interesting or engaging way.

I want more wandering guitar, less experimentation, more melody and less uncomfortable wall of sound rhythm.  It has its moments, but not many of them, and they are not nearly consistent enough.

Is it that the sound is alien to me, or that it is actually less accomplished than most of the recordings to date?  Tough to tell, but I know I’m not enjoying it, and this time there is not enough surprise or suspense to hold my attention once I realize that this isn’t something that I want to be listening to.

Next Week:  Can – Tago Mago

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 155 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 155 = 14%)
Recommend? No.  (129 of 155 = 83%)

[154] Uri Caine – Urlicht/Primal Light

25 Mar

Klezmer or Classical?  Jazz or German?  Secular, Religious, or just a hot mess?  This is one of the most wide-ranging, eclectic, schizophrenic albums I have ever heard, and I think I like it.

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It’s all over the place, with sections of Free Jazz chaos prompting people to ask me to turn it off, and others of haunting vocal chants which inspire people to ask me to turn it up, followed by  hectic accordions and showbiz piano sections keeping me and everyone else who hears it on their toes.

Somehow it is all tied together – presumably by the guiding mind behind each changed (at times tortured) composition, Gustav Mahler.  I’ll never know for sure, though, as don’t think I would recognize “a piece of Mahler’s” outside of this decidedly non-traditional setting.

The big brassy horns are reminiscent of so much of the Jazz – both experimental and traditional – I’ve been enjoying over the last 3 years.  The piano and drum solos are a pleasant and unexpected diversion.  But is the shift of gears into whirling Klezmer and later the familiar strains of Cantors praying – at times accompanied by crazy syncopated rhythms – which ensures my attention is constantly returning to this vast and varied soundscape.

I’m curious to hear the original, untainted Mahler pieces.  But not interested enough to actually, you you, seek it out and listen to it.  It appears to be the mystery as much as anything that I am drawn to.

Yes, there are moments where it sounds like the 14 piece band happened to be tuning up while the mic was live.  No, there really isn’t a cohesive sound on display.  But I don’t care.

I kind of love it.

Next Week:  Camaron De La Isla – Le Leyenda Del Tiempo

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 154 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 154 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (129 of 154 = 84%)

[153] Cafe Tacvba – Cuatro Caminos

18 Mar

Take the fire of post-punk, throw in a good helping of 60s melody makers, a dollop of world beats and you will come close to the recipe for this wonderful sound.

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The range of influences is impressive, from obvious Clash riffs, through No Doubt ska-pop and Beatles harmonies, to the catchiest video game soundtracks.  It is modern without sounding like it will become dated, since it is so anchored in other established sounds.

I can imagine rocking out to these tunes at a club even today, can understand how Cafe Tacvba could engage a teen encountering them for the first time the way that Queen and Bon Jovi captured my young attention.  There is a fresh earnest energy that goes hand in hand with the polished songcraft which results in a potent final product.

It’s so poppy, so much fun, and it is only my chauvinism that makes me wish it was in English.  Imagine how much more I might enjoy this if I could genuinely sing along.  But still, it is easy to recommend such an eclectic and accomplished recording which is also so undeniably enjoyable.

Next Week:  Uri Caine – Urlicht/Primal Light

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 153 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 153 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (128 of 153 = 84%)

[152] David Byrne and Brian Eno – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

11 Mar

“It’s got a beat, and you can dance to it.”

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Names I know, a sound balanced somewhere between those I tend not to seek out and those I have actively studied, this experimental mix of found sounds and sampled beats is a wild mix of hit and miss, of cerebral and base.

Byrne and Eno had both already shown an ear for a cutting edge tune – separately and in collaboration – before this 1981 release, and it is that understanding of how listeners respond to rhythm and repetition which combines here to meld the weird and unexpected parts of each track into a coherent whole.

Beyond the looped guitar stabs and snippets of talk radio hosts and callers, sermonizers and exorcists, the pair also sample Middle Eastern vocals and African beats.  I don’t think Rock, certainly not Pop, and not even World when I’m listening to this sprawling and complex recording, but I do think long and hard about the sounds that are playing.

I think it is entirely possible that I don’t actually *like* this.  That does not stop me spending an engrossing week exploring and experiencing it, enough so that I have no problem recommending it.  I hear the experimentation, the craft, the artists’ choices.  I also hear the influence it had on the next decade plus of popular music, even if I did not always enjoy the sounds so influenced.

Would I rather hear “Psycho Killer” or “Once In A Lifetime”?  Absolutely.  (And I will, 18 letters down the line.)  In the meantime, I fall back on my longtime answer to the question, “What kind of music do you listen to?”

I listen to anything that took real passion and talent to compose and perform.  Also late-80s, early-90s Rock which I acknowledge at times took neither . . .

Next Week: Cafe Tacvba – Cuatro Caminos

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 152 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 152 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (127 of 152 = 84%)

[151] The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

4 Mar

I came pretty close to upsetting a lot of people when I began organizing my thoughts on this inarguably seminal album.

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I love the Dylan-penned title track which opens the recording, and was excited to hear the rest, only to find the first few plays leaving me utterly cold.  I’ve heard it all before without seemingly ever having heard these particular songs.

So, I took a step back, playing other beloved Byrds singles – including the magnificent “Eight Miles High” and the moving version of Pete Seeger’s “Turn, Turn, Turn” – and I’m wondering what it is I’m missing, why it is Mr. Tambourine Man that gets such an emphatic nod while these “better” songs are left out.

I’m just not getting the love.

The high points of the album initially feel like little more than a tease – in the close harmonies and jingle jangle guitars I’m hearing mid-career Beatles and wondering why I shouldn’t just go back and listen to A Hard Day’s Night or Rubber Soul.

But then something happens.

A couple of the tracks which had previously just flowed past me without any affect began to leave an impression, and it was a childhood in England that offered the band a way into my head and heart.

It turns out I have heard some of these songs before, just never like this.

At first unrecognized by my ear, suddenly I am singing along with the playground chant “Bells of Rhymney” all grown up in its psychedelic splendor.  Soon after, I realize that this may be my favorite version of the wartime standard, “We’ll Meet Again.”

And I find myself reevaluating my every listen to this album to date.

Heard on its own merits, unencumbered by expectations and comparison, Mr. Tambourine Man is a fun and breezy ride, full of new Dylan lyrics and old folk favorites.  Once I recalibrate my ear to the Folk end of the spectrum, from my anticipated Rock assumptions, the acclaim becomes so much more understandable, the music so much more enjoyable.

And I get to remain friends with those few people who are still with me after failing to recommend Pet Sounds and Heartbreaker . . .

Next Week:  David Byrne and Brian Eno – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 151 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 151 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (126 of 151 = 83%)

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