Tag Archives: 1950s

[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%)

[141] Lord Buckley – His Royal Hipness

18 Dec

I am honestly not sure how to approach describing what it is that Lord Buckley does.  The fact that the best I can do is say, “Hear it for yourself” is in the end as strong a recommendation as any I have made to date.

buckley-lord-141

It is an “almost” experience.  It is almost a novelty / comedy record, save that it is too sustained, too serious.  It is almost a jazz record, save the fact that there is only a phrase or two of actual music over the vocals on each spoken word track.  It is almost offensive, save for the earnestness, the obvious lack of intent to offend.  It is almost incomprehensible, until your ear drops in and you start to catch what Buckley is getting at.

It is almost amazing, save that I am just not sure how to fit it into my life.

So much of what it isn’t, but what is it?

Well, it certainly is a truly bizarre choice of recording in the context of the music that has come before.  And it certainly comes with a very healthy pedigree, having been lauded by the biggest names of both music and comedy, from Bob Dylan and George Harrison to Robin Williams and Lenny Bruce.

It is also unique and satisfying and challenging and ultimately enjoyable.

At times the Lord Buckley persona feels like an expanded take on a minor character escaped from the Goon Show which ran at the same time as Buckley was recording.  And I do so love my Goons!

I enjoy the speeches more than the narratives – Gettysburg and Marc Anthony over the Jonah or Gandhi stories – but in either case there is pleasure in catching the old meaning in the new words, almost as when a reader starts to grok Nadsat (to mix literary metaphors . . .)

His Royal Hipness is a performance caught in time, which was not quite of its time when recorded.  Timelessly dated, a paradox and an outlier, as much as anything to date Lord Buckley should be experienced at least once.

To quote an ad campaign which has lingered in my mind far longer than the product it was selling ever did, “Try it – you might like it . . .”

Next Week: Tim Buckley – Dream Letter: Live in London, 1968

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 141 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 141 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (117 of 141 = 83%)

[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.

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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%)

[132] Clifford Brown and Max Roach – Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet

16 Oct

Call it a Quintet if you want to make the other four feel good about themselves, but all I hear when I listen to this amazing album is that hot horn.

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Sure, you can give credit to bandleader and drummer Max Roach for setting the pace and keeping the whole thing ticking over. And I have no doubt that I am overlooking huge contributions from the rhythm section, from the pianist, from my usually beloved sax.

But the truth is for the first several plays you would have been hard pressed to getting me to admit hearing anything but Clifford Brown’s wonderful trumpet.

Taking Roach’s rhythm and dancing all around and through it, the trumpet stars here both on sedate explorations and hectic chases. The melodies are catchy and clever and the smooth fun never ends, and when I finally acknowledge that this is indeed a group effort the other players and their instruments do not disappoint or distract.

It is a genuine surprise when I realize that ever member of the Quintet has multiple solos throughout the recording.

The question strikes me, “Where does this fall in the hierarchy of my Jazz enjoyment to date?” And the answer is not a simple one. That I love this sound, that it is played in home and office for weeks at a time (to approval from all who hear it) is a given, as is the fact that I will listen to Clifford Brown again in the future. (I’ll be breaching Max Roach again in another decade or two . . .)

What is not as obvious is whether I enjoy exploring this inventive but ultimately traditional sound as much as I do the truly experimental Free Jazz experiences which have been such a highlight of the 1,000 to date.

Time will tell, but in the meantime you or I could do far worse than spending an hour or two with these warm and welcoming tunes.

Next Week: James Brown – Live At The Apollo

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 132 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 132 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (108 of 132 = 82%)

[105] Bobby “Blue” Bland – Two Steps From The Blues

10 Apr

This album is, for me, all about what it is not.

Two Steps From The Blues

Two Steps From The Blues

It is not recognizable as the old-time classic blues such as that so recently explored in recordings by Blind Blake.

It is not comprised of catchy, memorable story songs such as those written by Doc Pomus and performed by Johnny Adams.

It is not a remarkable vocal showcase such as the one encountered when listening to Arthur Alexander.

In short, it is just not as good as anything else comparable to date in the first two years of this endeavor.

Nothing here ever inspires me to engage – there is no moment of lyrical mastery, no expression of vocal passion, no evocation of shared pain.  Bobby Bland’s surname is unfortunately apt.  Moon describes his sound as “Soul Blues”, yet I fear that he is a damn sight more than two steps from either genre.

It may be that in attemping to cover so much musical ground, the result is stretched too thin.  There is at times a big band feel, at odds with the usually intimate vocals, the too infrequent guitar fills.   And when Bland starts to wail he disappears back into the sound mix, almost jarringly after his up front delivery for most of each song.

In fact, the orchestration and mixing actually reminds me of the earliest Rock and Roll recordings, only without the energy and enthusiasm of that revolutionary moment.

In the end, Two Steps From The Blues is not an album I can recommend, nor one I expect ever to revist.

Next Week:  Paul Bley – Fragments

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 105 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 105 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (86 of 105 = 82%)

[104] Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers – Moanin’

3 Apr

Art Blakey is the drummer and bandleader here, but oh, that trumpet!

Moanin'

Moanin’

So hot.  So cool.  When I hear a horn blowing like this, I actually wonder if Jazz could ever surpass Rock as my true love.  I would never have believed it possible before beginning this blog, but listening to these sublime compositions, these masterful performances, it doesn’t sound so far fetched.

The melody slips and slides all over the scale while the band grooves on beneath, and the result is simply exquisite.  The rhythm section is rock solid – tight and powerful – allowing each soloist to wander and explore far shores without ever losing their way back, and with each drum roll the soloists are pushed further, urged higher.

The original songs on display here are classy and kinetic, intricate and intruguing.  Just when I feel certain that Lee Morgan’s trumpet is the star of the show, Bobby Timmons’s piano takes a turn in the spotlight, astoundng with its frenetic energy, its controlled tumbling.

And always the band is driven on by Blakey’s poking, prodding drums which never allow a moments pause.

By the time Blakey himself features in the aptly named “The Drum Thunder Suite” I am more or less in love.

The only moment which falls slightly flat is the somewhat static cover of one of my favorite standards, “Come Rain Or Come Shine”.  Ironically, the familiar melody is played a little too straight, respected a little too much and the result is far less than the sum of its parts.

For the rest of the ride, the exact opposite is gloriously, upliftingly true.

Here is a rare recording from Tom Moon’s list which inspires me to take a break from the relentlessnes of “what’s next?” and explore the current artist a little further.  For the most part, it has been the Jazz that has brought out this restlessness for more, and in Blakey I have been revealed a performer with decades of high quality content in his hopper.

Moon’s recommended catalog choice is A Night In Tunisia and here the percussion is front and center from the very start, primal and powerful, a most enjoyable assault on the senses.

Blakey and his Jazz Messengers affect me physically.  I can’t sit still, can’t concentrate on anything other than the music, at times can’t even catch my breath while they play.

Needless to say, I approve this message . . .

Next Week:  Bobby “Blue” Bland – Two Steps From The Blues

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 104 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 104 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (86 of 104 = 83%)

[98] Georges Bizet – Carmen

20 Feb

People just love Carmen – both the character and the Opera.

Conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham

Conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham

I challenge you to try to listen to this “Overture” and not hum along.

There are so many lively and familiar tunes here, so much passion, so much fun.  It’s an enormous, captivating stew of inventive melody and expressive storytelling.

And that’s just the highlights, the stuff everybody already has ingrained into their pop culture psyches.  Continuing to listen closely to the sections which aren’t as immediately recognizable, there is still the constant revelation of creativity and effervescence.

The leading melodies are crisp and punchy, and only enhanced by the wall of sound choral vocals, the orchestral flourishes that keep a listener on the edge of your seat, anticipating the next moment that will bring a smile to your face.

The one knock leveled against this particular recording chosen by Tom Moon is the narrative recitative, added in place of the original straight dialog after Bizet’s death.  But for me it just means that there is more of this rewarding masterpiece to listen to before starting over from that “Overture” yet again.

If you haven’t seen or heard Carmen beyond “Habanera” or “Toreador” in a while, do yourself a favor and immerse yourself in this slice of musical bliss.

Next Week:  Bjork – Homogenic

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 98 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (15 of 98 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (80 of 98 = 82%)

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