Tag Archives: 1930s

[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.

carter-family-original-162-l

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%)

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[130] Big Bill Broonzy – The Young Big Bill Broonzy, 1928-1935

2 Oct

Only able to find this one on cassette, there is a nostalgia even before I hear the first guitar stabs.

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From the very first it is the sweet and smooth vocals, masterful and assured interplaying with the guitar in complex and beautiful ways, which captures my attention.   It take a while to notice the busy-lazy technique on the strings, which is the truly inspiring takeaway.

Sometimes urgent and hectic, at other times longing and laid back, the guitar leads the way, setting the tempo as well as the mood.  The old-time vibe is heightened by the crackle and hiss of the transfer to tape, the effect being so much more than the collection of its simple parts.

You can hear the rhythm of the train running over the track, the chugging driving forward motion of every song.  Broonzy’s guitar is both rhythm and lead section at times, holding everything together while at the same time offering ragtime flourishes that are a delight to hear.

It never reaches the fire and passion of early Rock and Roll, but it is no stretch to imagine that Chuck Berry heard Broonzy play and borrowed a riff or two.

It is an interesting production decision to order the tracks not chronologically, but almost by recording quality.  Midway through Side B, on the earliest tracks from 1928, the transfer noise becomes far more noticable.  This could have prevented me from properly engaging if the album had been chronological, if this were the quality I had first heard.  That it occurs once I am fully committed and enjoying the ride means that I do not really notice it for the first few plays.

It just makes me wish I could have heard Big Bill live . . .

Next Week:  Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers – Any Other Way To Go?

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 130 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 130 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (106 of 130 = 82%)

[103] Blind Blake – Ragtime Guitar’s Foremost Fingerpicker

27 Mar

The hiss and pop heard in the transfer of these recordings from wax give the music a fragile air, a feeling which is intensified by the clean single guitar notes, yet utterly at odds with the solid, seemingly indestuctible structure which these individual notes construct.

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This juxtaposition can be seen again and again throughout the 60-plus minutes  of . . . Fingerpicker.

There is a joy mingled with hopelessness and resignation.  There is the feeling of a great host of players, even when it is just Blake’s guitar and voice.  And when piano or the occasional horn join it, the results sounds like a carnival, but the focus is always on Blake, his unassuming vocals and his inexplicable fingers.

Blake’s voice is evocative without melodrama, sketching the melodies that anchor each piece as his fingers fly over the guitar doing all of the rest of the work.

The guitar in Blake’s hand has a kind of relentlessness, almost like a force of nature. The impression given is that, once started, nothing can stop the music that is captured here.

On the up-tempos the notes fly by like a stampede, brushing everything in their path aside.  In the slower numbers it feels like molten lava oozing out of a volcano, inevitable, unstoppable.

Despite the decades, the sound of the Blues here is instantly recognizable – “One Time Blues” feels like the embryo of “Sweet Home Chicago” – and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s line (from Starlight Express) applies as often as not:

The first line of the blues
Is always sung a second time
I said the first line of the blues
Is always sung a second time
So by the time you get to the third line
You’ve had time to think of a rhyme.

But what elevates Blind Blake into the rare air of the 1,000 is his virtuoso guitar work.  He manages the impressive feat flawlessly of making the highly complex look effortless.

Such talent is timeless, therefore always worth celebrating and exploring.

Next Week:  Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 103 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 103 = 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (85 of 103 = 83%)

[70] Sidney Bechet – Ken Burns’ Jazz

8 Aug

Timing is everything, and it may be that the timing of my coming to Sidney Bechet has done him no favors.

Ken Burns' Jazz

Ken Burns’ Jazz

At this point in my journey, I have already declared my love for the far more experimental Jazz titans like Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill and Albert Ayler.  That is not to say I haven’t greatly enjoyed some more traditional voices – Adderly, Armstrong and Baker come to mind – but at least on this recording I am not hearing anything that excites me.

I actually went back to the previously named artists in the midst of listening to Bechet, trying to pinpoint why it was that I enjoyed one so much more over another.  And the answer that seems to make most sense to me is “timing . . .”

Would I be raving about the old-fashioned sound of the recordings here if I had heard them earlier in the 1,000?  Would the sound of the clarinet and soprano sax have moved me more if I hadn’t already been wowed by Louis and Chet?

Of course it is impossible to know for sure.

There is nothing at all wrong with the sounds on this career spanning disc – Ken Burns always does his homework – and I spent a pleasant enough week or so with it playing in the background.  But unlike most of the Jazz that has opened my eyes and widened my pallette, Bechet never emerges from the background to the spotlight, never makes me stop what I’m doing to groove with him for a while.

It is possible, even likely, that I do not quite grasp the importance of Bechet’s sound.  Or maybe I just don’t appreciate the Soprano as much as I do the more familiar Alto or Tenor sax?

Whatever the reason, it is time for me to leave Sidney Bechet behind for now . . .

Next Week: Beck – Mutations

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 70 = 13%)
Heard before blogging? No. (11 of 70 = 16%)
Recommend? No. (56 of 70 = 80%)

[55] Count Basie and His Orchestra – Complete Decca Recordings

25 Apr

Where a decade earlier Louis Armstrong led from the front of his band, with booming vocals and scorching trumpet playing, Count Basie’s piano is the engine that drives his orchestra and the result is collaborative effervescence.

Complete Decca Recordings

Complete Decca Recordings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every musician here gets a brief chance to shine in this three hour collection of 3 minute explorations.  No one solos too long, no singer hogs the microphone, and everybody gets their moment, keeping the whole thing chugging along with undeniable energy.

There are familiar standards (“Pennies From Heaven”, “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”) and childhood tunes (“London Bridge Is Falling Down”, “Mulberry Bush”) jazzed up and played with, alongside more traditional jazz compositions.  The instantly recognizable melodies catch the ear and focus attention back on the deceptively simple recipe – a short tune played simply, sparsely by a collection of restrained musicians.

In this case the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

The rhythm is unrelenting, always surging forward, and if there is never an instrument doing more than sketching a beat or a melody, still the orchestra as a whole coalesces into a complete and complex sound.

It’s just so much fun to listen to.

What makes that fun cerebral as well as emotional is a number of back to back takes on a number of cuts, getting to hear the same song twice, done in totally different styles, exploring the same musical space in very different ways.

Reminds me (in a good way) of listening to a 12 inch remix version of 7 inch single back in high school.

It may be that there is nothing groundbreaking here, but I can hear the beginnings of the codification of Jazz that the Free Jazz crowd I’ve been (for the most part) enjoying so much used as a launch point for their experimentation.

But even without the history, even without the musical theory on display, these tunes brighten up my home for days, putting a skip into everybody’s step, a hum on all our lips.

Next Week:  Waldemar Bastos – Pretaluz

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 55. 4%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 55. 7%)
Recommend? Yes. (43 of 55. 78%)

[23] Marian Anderson – Spirituals

13 Sep

Of the four recordings I have failed to recommend to date, one was Classical, another Gospel. So it is with some trepidation that I start my exploration of Marian Anderson’s entry into the 1,000 since Moon lists it as both . . .

Sprituals

Spirituals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anderson’s instrument is undeniable, powerful and evocative and always fully under control. It is a clean and beautiful sound, technically perfect.

And many of the compositions are beyond familiar, childrens’ sing-alongs and schoolboy choir standards.

I fear I’m going to get a reputation, but for me the combination is almost unlistenable.

It is the worst of both worlds. The material simply isn’t interesting or complex enough to justify this extrodinary voice, and that voice is too old fashioned, too clipped and polished for the simple work songs.

I recognize the historical and socialogical importance of Anderson but out of context, in a purely musical setting, there is nothing here that excites me, that makes me want to keep listening.

This is the first time in the months of exploring these new and for the most part fascinating recordings that it is truly a struggle to get through the first listen. I would love to hear to her perform a genuinely Classical piece – or perhaps one of her performances at the Met Opera – but here is one recording I doubt I will ever listen to again after publishing this post.

I’m going to get a reputation.

Owned before blogging? No. (1 of 23. 4%)
Heard before blogging? No. (3 of 23. 13%)
Recommend? No. (18 of 23. 78%)

Next week: The Animals – House Of The Rising Sun

[22] Ammons & Lewis – The First Day

6 Sep

As the first lazy, languid sounds of one man and a piano begin to play, I sit back and let the notes wash over me.

The First Day

The First Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This masterful album opens with a four part suite entitled “The Blues, Parts 1 – 4”, and Meade “Lux” Lewis carefully, craftfully plays around with rhythm and repetition, timbre and tone. It is honey for the ears. There is no rush, no hurry – Lewis explores at his own pleasant and purposeful pace, taking the listener on a sonic stroll across the keys.

So it is a fascinating juxtaposition when Albert Ammons takes over with “Boogie Woogie Stomp”, left hand laying down a wicked groove, right hand fingers flying across the higher register trilling and riffing at breakneak speed. No longer a passive passenger, the listener has to hold on for dear life to keep up.

And so it goes back and forth between these two pioneers, complete with the hisses and pops of the original recording – even on CD. It is a constant reminder that these thoroughly enjoyable tracks were cut in a single day, over three-quarters of a century ago, the first recording session of the legendary Blue Note label.

At 18 tracks, it appears for a time that the album might wear out its welcome, that there might not be quite enough variation to justify the inclusion of everything recorded at the session. But then Ammons kicks it up another gear in the perfectly titled “Bass Going Crazy”, and you are on board for the rest of the wild ride. Throw in a couple of duets – less dueling pianos, more polite interplay – and the disc ends every bit as strongly as it began.

Here is an album I can put on in any situation, for any mood – it is classy and complex, soothing and satisfying, exiting and engaging.

It is everything I was hoping to discover in undertaking this project.

Owned before blogging? No. (1 of 22. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (3 of 22. 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (18 of 22. 82%)

Next Week: Marian Anderson – Spirituals

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