Tag Archives: 2000s

[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.

cafe-tacuba-153-l

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%)

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[150] William Byrd – Harpsichord Music

26 Feb

The harpsichord has such a distinctive sound, the proto-piano, at once ancient and refined.

byrd-william-150-l

The performance here is careful and calculated, every note given its proper time and space and consideration even when the fingers occasionally offer a trill or an allegro run.  Byrd’s compositions highlight the limitations of the instrument, and in doing so uncover a quite charming sound, the delicacy of the individual notes worked together into a solid and indestructible structure.

There is an architectural quality to the music – functional, even workmanlike, but also beautiful.

Here is music which does not disturb my co-workers, which I can play at my desk while I work, which nonetheless does not disappear entirely into the background.  It is such a specific sound, so melody driven yet dominated by the instrument itself, that whenever my ear does catch a moment, it is pleasing and intriguing in equal measure.

While not a sound I would have sought out, nor one I expect to revisit often, Harpsichord Music is a recording which in some ways reminds me again why I began this quite ludicrous undertaking, almost three years ago to the day.

It is an excuse, an opportunity to spend some time with an artist, a genre I would otherwise have passed by, enjoying it in the moment, expanding my palette, growing my experience.

Next Week:  The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 150 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 150 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (125 of 150 = 83%)

[148] R L Burnside – Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down

12 Feb

From the first, there is a tension between the ancient music and the modern recording techniques here – Burnside’s old-as-the-hills voice captured in stereo, high fidelity clarity.

burnside-r-l-148-l

The sound is of the turn of the most recent millennium, far more than merely the one man with a guitar aesthetic of another hundred years past.  While the songwriting is simple – classic even – the instrumentation is full of synthesizers and drum loops mingled with the expected guitar wails and harmonica bleats.  And while this might alienate purists, it surely opened wide the door to the Blues for a generation and an audience which might otherwise have dismissed it.

Some of the scratching – for example in the upbeat “Miss Maybelle” – would not have sounded out of place on an 80s Hip Hop record, yet Burnside’s deep, measured voice anchors the feel of the whole in a less fleeting, more enduring and endearing place.

And I can see “Got Messed Up” – a sleazy, grooving jam with lilting guitars and moaning horns over a mechanical backbeat- finding its way onto any number of morning after playlists.

I can get excited by the muddy slide guitar, the underwater vocals and just when it starts to sound like any other talented Blues ensemble, a modern sound intrudes, capturing attention, integrated just enough so as not to distract from the whole.

And if you’re going to cover “Chain Of Fools”, you better have something up your sleeve to avoid less than flattering comparisons to the definitive Aretha Franklin version.  Burnside’s disaffected, almost industrial take is completely unlike any I have heard before, a valiant exploration of this beloved standard.

Once more, Tom Moon is highlighting a sound I have never heard before, but it is different this time.  I have heard all of the component parts before – enjoyed some, endured others – but in combining them together, Burnside has created a new sound, almost familiar, almost alienating, entirely fascinating.

Next Week: Kate Bush – The Kick Inside

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 148 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 148 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (123 of 148 = 83%)

[146] Solomon Burke – Don’t Give Up On Me

29 Jan

It is not clear to me why I haven’t heard Solomon Burke before, but then it’s not clear why he wasn’t better known at the height of his powers in the 1960s.

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Tom Moon’s choice of his 2002 “comeback” album, Don’t Give Up On Me, is inspired.

The complex and textured voice is cast in the role of seen-it-all-done-it-all elder statesman, as he sings songs at times written especially for the project by some of the best singer-songwriters to follow in the footsteps of Burke and his Atlantic cohorts.

The pedigree is undeniable, both on and off the record.  Songs here are penned by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Mann and Weill.  No surprise then that, once the interest in the tempo and tone of this old soul voice starts to lose its initial wonder, the songs themselves keep the listener hooked and rapt for spin after spin.

And, in one of the highlights of this disc foll of highlights, The Blind Boys of Alabama join Burke in going to church on the soulful and haunting “None Of Us Are Free”, finally bringing attention to a song which had disappeared despite releases by artists as varied as
Ray Charles and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Under and around and through it all, the polished session musicians build a sound that is consistently crisp and enveloping, crafting the net in which the gem that is Burke’s voice lays on display for all who care to hear.

While not a household name, and without a signature hit of the kind that his stablemates – Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett – could hang a career on, Solomon Burke is now firmly on my radar as a talent to explore, to seek out, to hear more of.

The album is well named . . .

Next Week: Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 146 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 146 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (121 of 146 = 83%)

[128] Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

18 Sep

I have been watching a loving bands like Bright Eyes in small venues with even smaller crowds for years.

I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning

So I want to like this, I really do.  The small budget sound, the faux-acoustic indie rock is intimately familiar in a way that takes a while for me to recognize – I may never have seen Bright Eyes in person, but I saw many truly similar acts who never received the attention and acclaim of this new millennium sensation.

Bright Eyes seems to have been selected almost arbitrarily as a placeholder for a genre, for a generation.

And this in the end is one reason I can’t bring myself to recommend . . . Wide Awake – how can I when I could be using this platform to highlight any number of others bands I followed devotedly for short periods of time?  (Usually he time it took for them to move away from New York, or break up, or both.)

There are so many more worthies I am sure Tom Moon has never heard of, with names like David Kirby, Todd Deatherage, Amplify,  More.

I am unsurprised that my most recent guest blogger has a powerful connection to these songs, this album – his own band (the aforementioned David Kirby) had a strikingly similar sound several years before . . . Wide Awake was released?

But Avi had something that Bright Eyes does not – an actual singing voice.

As I spend time with . . . Wide Awake I am put off by the weak wavering vocals and weird breathing placements, seemingly affected but more likely covering up a genuine lack of talent.  Unlike with other affected artists, rather than growing on me, I find myself growing more and more irritated.

. . . Wide Awake has that folk-rocking Americana sound that critics – including Moon (see Ryan Adams) – seem to love so much and which tends to leave me cold (see Ryan Adams . . .)

And then take the deeply meaningful, obviously important lyrics

We must memorize nine numbers and deny we have a soul

or

My ashtray’s overflowing and I’m staring at a clean white page

The too simple naivete of youth is surely just too twee to be real, but I never catch the nod or the wink which would confirm this, so I am left with the depressing thought that every word is meant in the original, literal sense.

And it makes me want to throw something.

Not in a rock revolution, burn it all down, ACT UP kind of way.  More just general despair for humanity and the state of the world today.

Lawn.

Next Week: Benjamin Britten – Peter Grimes

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 128 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 128 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (105 of 128 = 82%)

Guest Blogger Avi Glijansky: Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning

14 Sep

I met Avi through my AADA-attending roommates soon after moving home to New York at a Midtown dive bar where he and his band used to play music I loved (and still love).  I was cranky when he moved to LA.

—–

OK, full disclosure: A song from this album was performed during my wedding ceremony this past October. I tell you this up-front, because it seems only fair that you get a hint of my biases before reading on.

But here’s the thing; when a friend first shared this Bright Eyes album with me, I really expected to dislike them. Honestly, some of my personal prejudices at the time made me want to dislike them. But then I listened, and despite myself I became a fan.

Bright Eyes aren’t exactly a band. For a long time it was just the name that Singer/Guitarist/Songwriter Connor Oberst recorded under with whomever he was making music at the time. Oberst is an indie rock wunderkind, hailed by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and others as a significant “new” artist when he released his 2002 album LIFTED, OR THE STORY IS IN THE SOIL KEEP YOUR EAR TO THE GROUND at the age of 22. “New,” was a relative term though, since he’d already released 3 albums as Bright Eyes by that point.   He was part of the influential Omaha Music scene of the early 00’s (his brother co-founded Saddle Creek Records), and a member of the indie rock in crowd. Oh yeah, and when he was 23 he dated Winona Ryder.

For all the above reasons, I really wanted to dislike the guy. It was a chip on my shoulder owing something to the fact that we’re the same age and he had done all that, while I was a film student with a Rock ‘n Roll habit in the form of a band that didn’t seem it would ever amount to much (nor did it). Boy geniuses writing political protest songs just rubbed me the wrong way.

But like I said, then I listened.

Oberst and the musicians he brought together for this album are terrific craftsmen. The arrangements on the album are minimal, mostly acoustic guitars and other folk instrumentation; pedal steel, mandolins, Rhodes, and often only a couple at a time. Despite that, the songs don’t feel spare or barren. They feel vibrant, full, and when embellishments pop up (a trumpet that helps carry out Land Locked Blues or one of Emmylou Harris’ pitch perfect turns as an additional vocalist) they don’t feel showy or gimmicky. The choruses may not be arena-sized, but there are plenty of deceptively ear-wormy hooks. It’s easy to catch yourself singing along and tapping your feet. Oberst’s voice isn’t classically strong or pretty, but it’s an emotive instrument and he knows how to use it best on each song.

After a spoken intro (more on that in a few), At the Bottom of Everything kicks things off with a prime example of Oberst’s style of protest song. Musically, the track sticks close to the form, 4 chords and a melody that uses repetition to lend the lyrics an air of mantra-like purpose. It’s a survey of our society’s failings (materialism, inequality, religious fundamentalism, etc.) and could be an Occupy anthem penned 6 years early. But just because the subject matter isn’t novel doesn’t mean it’s not worth writing about, and the turns of phrase he employs are interesting and effective.

“And in the face of every criminal/Strapped firmly to a chair/We must stare, we must stare, we must stare,” Oberst sings at the end of the first verse. It’s not a particularly poetic line; it’s kind of awkward and uncomfortable. But then, so is topic.

From that track on, I’M WIDE AWAKE IT’S MORNING, blends broadscale political/social commentary with deeply personal storytelling in a way that feels both carefully crafted and completely organic.

Over the first four tracks, Oberst and his band slide from that initial protest rallying cry, to a questioning of the values of those same protests (directed both at others and himself on We are Nowhere and it’s Now and Old Soul Song (for the New World Order) ), and finally, in Lua, to candid reflection on a doomed relationship. What stands out about Lua and much of Oberst’s writing on the album is that it manages to make something beautiful and melancholy without glorifying the self-destruction it chronicles.

While the soapbox is never entirely gone, its appearances become entwined with the personal narratives. On Landlocked Blues Oberst sings of making “…love on the living room floor/With the noise in the background of a televised war.” Elsewhere, during raucous album closer Road to Joy (which musically riffs on the Beethoven composition its name spoofs), Oberst equates the way his parents cling to their religion to his own reasons for drinking.

That blending is what I love about this album. It seems to me, a reflection of something fundamentally true about the world we live in these days. If you’re going to write songs about love, fame, drinking, fighting, you know, all the stuff Rock n Roll is made of, how can it not be colored by the issues of the day. Surrounded by 24-hour news cycles, social-media, and cloud-based everything, any distinction between the political songs and personal songs, the public and the private, seems increasingly false.

Now, I admit that it’s not entirely unfair to accuse I’M WIDE AWAKE, IT’S MORNING of pretention. For starters, there’s the fact that it was released simultaneously with an electronic album (seems everyone goes through that phase) called DIGITAL ASH IN A DIGITAL URN. Then there’s that spoken intro to the album’s lead track. Oberst, with phrasing that feels oddly like an Ira Glass impersonation, tells a story about two strangers on a plane that’s falling out of the sky. I still don’t get it.

But ultimately, all of these songs, and the album as a whole, just feel honest.

Which brings me to The First Day of my Life, the album’s 6th track and the song our little cousin sang at our wedding. It’s a love song and perhaps the only song on the album that you could argue really is 100% personal. If the Bright Eyes soapbox is present, I’ve never spotted it. But while it’s sweet, it’s not saccharine, and it sure is honest.

Because, it’s a love song that celebrates grand romantic notions (“Yours is the first face that I saw/swear I was blind before I met you.”), even while acknowledging that love isn’t a sure thing (“With these things there’s no telling/We’ll just have to wait and see”). The song ends on what at first seems like an underwhelming line: “Besides maybe this time is different/I mean I really think you like me.” Doesn’t exactly sound like a Shakespearean sonnet, but I think it’s even more romantic.

Being in love is one thing. Liking the person you’re in love with, really liking who they are as a human being, I’m pretty sure that’s what makes love last.

So yeah, I give this one a recommend. And even if Bright Eyes turns out not to be your thing, I’m going to bet that you’ll at least understand where I’m coming from with regards to The First Day of My Life. If not, I’ll try and sell you on it one last time. Or rather, I’ll let our 9-year-old cousin Sophia, and her father Mike do so.

(Also, just for fun, here’s a Buzzfeed list which takes all the reasons I wanted to hate Connor Oberst, and presents why I might just as well have wanted to be him.)

—–

Avi Glijansky is an independent Writer/Director/Producer of shorts, web series, and other moving pictures based in Los Angeles.

His work includes the IAWTV Award-nominated shows “The Further Adventures of Cupid & Eros” and “The Social Drinker”, as well as the Celebrate The Web-Winning “The Silver Lake Badminton and Adventurers Club”.

In addition his work behind the camera, Avi used to stand in front of a couple of rock bands that may or may not have been considered “promising” but were certainly “local.”

Should you care to, you can check out his work at highway9pictures.com and listen to his music at davidkirby.bandcamp.com & lostcityradio.bandcamp.com

[107] The Blind Boys of Alabama – Spirit of the Century

24 Apr

Talk about a genre I would never choose to listen to.  And the track record of the Gospel recordings on the list to date has not been good.  But the rich, experienced vocals and the wonderful musical choices of these artists make Spirit of the Century a pleasure to listen to.

Spirit of the Century

Spirit of the Century

The absolute standout track is the genius reorchestrating of “Amazing Grace” to the melody and backing of “House of the Rising Sun”.  It works far better than it has any right to.

New life, nuance and color is found in the familiar and at times overexposed classic, with an blues rock aesthetic providing an edge that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go.

This unexpected orchestration is a techniques used again and again here, with some tracks sounding like straight up Blues standards until the lyrics are factored in, holding attention and breathing life into a genre that so often seems to fall flat for me.

There is a modern sensibility, a cool swing throughout, highlighted by great blues guitar work and harmonica wailing that would stand out on any number of exceptional secular records.

I am somehow unsurprised when I learn that some of these songs of praise were in fact penned by Tom Waits and the Rolling Stones.

The vocals are all appropriately raw and worldly, but none more so than on “Run On For A Long Time”, where the singer rumbles and grumbles at almost sub-audial levels while the drums and close harmonies keep the whole thing moving forward.

I play this track again and again.

It just goes to show – if you want me (or anyone else for that matter) to listen to religious music, you need to put the music, not the religion, first . . .

Next Week:  Blondie – Parallel Lines

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 107 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 107 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (88 of 107 = 82%)

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