Tag Archives: Recommended

[166] Pablo Casals – Bach: Cello Suites Vols. 1 & 2

15 Jan

Mesmerizing.  Hypnotic.  Engulfing.  It’s like being in the room while a master plays.  What am I listening to?  Who cares – I like it.  There’s just so much of this warm, rich sound, in seemingly endless variations, clean and organic and inviting.

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It is so different to what I have become so accustomed to listening to.  I can’t sing along, can’t anticipate the next note or phrase, so there is a part of me that thinks I must like it less.  But I need this change, this variety in my life.  I need to hear what others hear, appreciate things wherein others find worth.  My bubble is closer and more impenetrable than it was three years ago, and bursting it once in a while would seem to be a necessity for my continued sanity, to remain a part of the larger world.

I know this is the truth.  I just wish more people felt this way.

These strings were bowed on the eve of war, in an era of isolation and nationalism.  And yet the result is unadulterated beauty.  I listen, and I hear the eternal hope and promise of art in even the darkest times.  And I need this reminder.

I also needed to be reminded that this was not the first appearance of Casals in the 1,000.  I already gushed over his interplay with Cortot and Thibault in performing Beethoven’s “Archduke” about five years ago. Time has not diluted his ability to affect me, and for this I am grateful.

On the other hand, I should not have been surprised at my love for these two hours of compositions – I have already recommended four out of four J. S. Bach recordings.  I wonder if Moon has any more hiding in wait in the next eight hundred or so selections . . .

Next Time:  Cascabulho – Hunger Gives You A Headache

Owned before blogging? No. (12 of 166 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No. (21 of 166 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (139 of 166 = 84%)

 

[165] Enrico Caruso – 21 Arias

1 Jan

Here it is, folks. The recording that killed my desire to keep blogging for more than three years.

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A name so huge, singing music so immense, that I couldn’t fathom why it was leaving absolutely no impression on me. Was I tired of the weekly deadlines? Did I not like classical vocals as much as I thought I did? Did I just run out of time?

Four years ago I was in the thick of a Masters degree. Three years ago I took on a new improved role at work. Two years ago my daughter, now 10, hit an age where we could play the kind of boardgames together that I love to play.  It seems, in hindsight, that something had to give, and 1,000 Recordings was it.

So are we still blaming Caruso?

Caruso is certainly not the reason I am coming back to the blog. I’m writing again, at least, I want to be writing again. I had an agent request a query and the first 50 pages of My Messy And Magnificent SciFi Thing (working title) and realized that the most recent polish was another thing that fell by the wayside a couple of years back. Flexing my writing muscles on a weekly basis can only be a positive thing. And while I was thinking that I should start writing again I ran across a CD, bought more than two years ago in anticipation of reviewing it for the blog: Ray Charles – Modern Sounds In Country and Western Music.

I realize I still want to discover it.

Not just listen to it. I want to hear it, examine it, explore it and share it. And a peek at other albums upcoming reveal favorites like Johnny Cash and Tracy Chapman, as well as names I feel I should know more about, like Neko Case. And to get to them I have to get through a few hundred words on Caruso.

I queue up 21 Arias on my ubiquitous Spotify app and hit play.

The recording quality is . . . strange. Caruso sang over a century ago and these recordings were originally made on wax. They have been remastered and restored, and the result is a sound that is more modern than it should be, yet still ever-so slightly off to the contemporary ear. I believe that, in part, it was this juxtaposition which initially put off my tired ear.

The arrangements are beautiful, the singing pleasing, and many of the songs are ingrained into my pop culture consciousness. But even as a vocalist, it is not clear to me why Caruso is considered the best ever. He can belt, he has enormous range, and there is emotion, at least in an operatic, melodramatic sense. So, as I realize I have said before during the course of this endeavor, the recordings make me wish I could watch the performance in context, could see the action and follow the story.

That said, I am no longer left with the feeling of nothingness which led to my hiatus. I let the music play, again and again, and it washes over me in warm waves. I am engaged, listening, thinking about what I am hearing, and it was this sensation I had lost when last I heard these tunes. I am once again eager to be immersed in sounds outside of my everyday, to hear something absolutely different to the 90s rock and 80s pop, with the occasional shining gem of new music (often by one of those 80s or 90s artists I so gravitate towards) that I quickly and comfortably default to.

Caruso is never going to be a favorite of mine, but I am glad to have given him a second chance, to spend a week or so with him, and to share my thoughts with you. For these reasons, I return to 1,000 Recordings to endorse Tom Moon’s recommendation, relieved and excited to be back in the saddle again.

Next Time: Pablo Casals – Bach: Cello Suites Vols. 1 & 2

Owned before blogging? No. (12 of 165 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No. (21 of 165 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (138 of 165 = 84%)

[164] Cartolo – Cartolo

3 Jun

The gentle, graceful, fragile guitar and vocal work of the first track lulls me into a false sense of relaxed security before the samba kicks in in earnest and blows the doors off any possibility of sitting still.

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But it’s not the Brazilian sound as I think I know it.

The guitar and percussion is present, but in song after song it is woodwind and occasional brass that takes the lead, the attention, the starring role.  While the mild yet beautiful vocals hold the structure, the beat, it is (depending on the track) flute and sax and trumpet which meanders all over the beach, explores the city, entwines friends and lovers.  These are the instruments which provide the passion, power, precision.

The fact that it is all so unexpected means that I can’t stop listening.

Having recently finished reading my brother’s book Benfica to Brazil an exploration of his time studying the language and culture (and football) of Cartola’s home -I am keenly aware of the lilting, slightly imprecise sound of Brazilian Portuguese he so wonderfully describes.

I see the scenes he wrote about, which Cartola lived and later recorded.

Here is a old fashioned but somehow timeless sound, neither modern nor dated, and always a pleasure to hear, but especially as the temperature climbs into the 80s, letting us know that summer is on its way.

Next Week:  Enrico Caruso – Twenty-one Favorite Arias

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 164 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 164 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (137 of 164 = 84%)

[162] Elliott Carter – Symphonia

20 May

Symphonia is a conversation between the various instruments which is difficult to comprehend but impossible to ignore.

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It is clear that there is an energetic and fascinating debate going on here, which happens to be in a language that the listener does not speak.  This in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the bright and inventive piece.

As that listener I sit back and enjoy the discussion, wondering what the topic might be, grinning as one performer or another scores a telling point.

I find myself in the same mental state that I visit when watching some of my very favorite plays by Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett.  The call and response, the back and forth has that same wonderful rhythm as well as the absurd yet aesthetically pleasing meaninglessness which somehow sounds important or profound.

All that is missing is Beckett’s philosophizing and Pinter’s vulgarity . . .

[Long pause.]

I am reminded once again at the universal nature of music, especially instrumental music – how it is used to communicate feeling, idea, occasion.  Even when, as here, it is not understood intellectually it can still be felt viscerally, intuitively.

In instrumentation and execution, this Modern Classical piece is at times indistinguishable from experiential Jazz.  For some reason this pleases me greatly.

Next Week:  Martin Carthy with Dave Swarbrick – Byker Hill

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 162 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 162 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (136 of 162 = 84%)

[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.

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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%)

[160] James Carr – You Got My Mind Messed Up

6 May

Another artist that time appears to have passed by.  Another record I find myself falling in love with.

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Despite the derivative sounding up-tempos, despite the lack of a signature hit, there is more than enough heart and soul, passion and pain on You Got My Mind Messed Up to catch my attention midway through the first listen and not let up for a week or more.

It is the evocative down-tempo tunes which initially enchant, not as catchy or heartbreaking as those of Arthur Alexander, but polished and profound nonetheless.

As usual for this era, the session musicians backing Carr are phenomenal, building him up and keeping out of his way, never pulling focus but oh-so accomplished when you do actually notice them.

For once, although I fully endorse Tom Moon’s inclusion in the thousand, I understand why Carr’s name is not a household one.  There is no single song here that demands attention, nothing that makes a listener sing along with more than perhaps just the evocative song titles themselves.  The rest is beautiful, but there is no urgency, no immediacy.

If this sounds like a lukewarm recommendation, then I am not doing this album justice.  It is the kind of record that gets into your head and under your skin – it certainly got into and under mine.

For all its apparent shortcomings You Got My Mind Messed Up is the kind of album that gets played again and again.  And if I am not accurately articulating the reason why, you’ll just have to go have a listen for yourself . . .

Next Week:  The Original Carter Family – 1927 to 1934

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 160 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 160 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (134 of 160 = 84%)

[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%)

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