Tag Archives: 1940s

[137] Ruth Brown – Miss Rhythm

20 Nov

Fair or otherwise, this is the recording I wanted the Marian Anderson entry into the 1,000 to be.

brown-ruth-137-l

Ruth Brown has the tone and technique of Anderson, and showcases it in this collection of Jazz and Blues tinged compositions rather than wasting them on stilted songs of praise.  She leads her band and her listeners on an energetic romp through standards and torch songs that are full of warmth and joy.

Surrounded by top notch musicians, it is clear to hear why Atlantic Records was labeled “The House That Ruth Built” (a riff on the Ballpark in the Bronx and a man named Babe . . .)

Known as “The Queen of R&B”, Brown’s sound was far cleaner, more restrained than the messier, more passionate output of “The Queen of Soul” (who arguably dethroned her) or even “The King of Rock and Roll” and later “The King of Pop.”

It seems we prefer our musical monarchs to have a little more edge.

Despite her brief reign (if an initial career spanning three decades can be described as brief) Brown’s professional sound pleasure to spend some time in.  It’s not the most earth-shattering , not the most ground-breaking album I’ve ever heard, but the seeds of the gospel-rock fusion which was just around the corner is on display and oh-so enjoyable.

Next Week: Jackson Browne – Late for the Sky

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 137 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 137 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (113 of 137 = 82%)

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[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%)

[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

[19] The Almanac Singers – The Complete General Recordings

16 Aug

It’s is a strange feeling, reviewing an album when you have met the artist in question, got to know him a little over many years.

I have had the privilege of interacting with Pete Seeger over two decades working at the summer camp “next door” to his home. I have seen him awe and inspire kids year after year with his storytelling, his integrity.

He really is larger than life, and at the same time utterly unpretentious, completely ego free.

This week’s recording is a career retrospective of Seeger’s first band, formed with performers every bit his equal as heavyweights of Folk – Lee Hayes and Woody Guthrie.

The Almanac Singers

The Almanac Singers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The music chugs along with the oh-so-familiar call and response structure – repetitive and comforting, with simple seeming banjo picking and harmonica flourishes.

A valid question becomes, was it so familiar before these earnest young men introduced it to a wider audience?

There is a slightly odd mix of protest songs – for and against all manner of things – and traditional sea shanties, all of it incessantly catchy.  Each song is a new earworm.

The album introduces an early cut of an upcoming “1,000 Recordings” entry “The House of the Rising Sun.” Here are the original lyrics, sung by Woody Guthrie from the point of view of the woman rather than the  testosterone laden version made famous by The Animals. It is interesting enough from a historical perspective, but this is far less musically engaging than seemingly every subsequent cover.

“House Of The Rising Sun” is not the only gender bending song – a number of them are sung unapologetically from the point of view of the opposite sex, with no fuss or reference to the phenomenon.

Even more fascinating is the changing and emerging politics of the songs. The very first ones, recorded in 1941, are quite defiantly anti-war as well as consciously towing the Communist line – militant, decidedly inflammatory anti-owner sentiment that would be almost unthinkable today:

“He’s a bastard / Slave driver / Unfair / Bet he beats his wife . . .”

You can pinpoint the moment that both The Almanac’s and Communist Party’s position changed – Pearl Harbor.

The reversals can give a listener whiplash – they are epically schizophrenic. One minute the singers are bashing the warmongerers, the next dancing “Round, Round Hitler’s Grave.”

And somehow each song is as heartfelt and believable as the other.

The one constant is the staunch pro-union stance that underlines it all. Even the Old-English sea shanties take a backseat to these seemingly effective (and undeniably catchy) slices of 40s propaganda.

Seeger and company sang at a time when union organizing was a necessity, when unions really were for the little guy, rather than as much a part of the problem as “the bosses” that they can be today.

What is amazing is that he’s still singing some of these songs more than seventy years later with the same passion and conviction, if with an undeniably diminished instrument.

I saw him perform “Union Maid” (along with many other songs from his unbelievable career) to an audience of 500 kids just last summer. Before beginning his performance, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer paused to look from the stage, into the faces filling the beautiful outdoor theater and said, “I’m looking at the future of this country.”

Still a storyteller at heart. Still inspiring. Still with one key message, summed up in “Dear Mister President”:

This is the reason that I want to fight / Not ’cause everything’s perfect or everything’s right / No it’s just the opposite I’m fighting because / I want a better America and better laws / And better homes and jobs and schools / And no more Jim Crow and no more rules like / “You can’t ride on this train ’cause you’re a Negro” / “You can’t live here ’cause you’re a Jew.”

Hard to disagree with someone who talks this kind of sense.

Owned before blogging? No. (1 of 19. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (3 of 19. 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (15 of 19. 79%)

Next Week: Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass – Whipped Cream & Other Delights

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