Tag Archives: Vocals

[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%)

[136] Oscar Brown, Jr. – Sin & Soul

13 Nov

How many more times am I going to be shocked to the core at the holes in my musical education?

brown-oscar-jr-136-l

The combination of Brown’s vocal prowess, his silky instincts for entertaining, and his sharp social commentary is an unforgettable cocktail.  Many of the songs are smoothly infectious – as cool as anything the Rat Pack ever did – but Brown almost casually throws in biting, searing moments like the chilling “Bid Em In” where he unflinchingly, straight faced plays the slave owner selling off a 15-year-old girl.

As my wife commented, “Sammy Davis never touched a song like that.”

Brown slides back and forth across the album between clean crooner vocals and the accented African annunciation, a fascinating and certainly deliberate decision.  Here you’ll find a more or less definitive version of the standard, “Straighten Up And Fly Right” sung with crystal clarity and sunny smile, alongside the affected patter – almost unrecognizable as English – of “Rags and Old Iron”.

This is followed closely by the hugely comedic howl of, “But I Was Cool” . . .

There is a magnificent juxtaposition here, a tightrope balance between warming embrace and squirming discomfort, tragedy and hilarity.

For all the astute blending of assimilation and non-, in the end all of the choices Brown makes are right on the money – by turns thought provoking, moving and amusing, but always entertaining.  The arrangements span from lush orchestral to non-existent and every stop along the way, with Brown’s expressive voice conveying every emotion and capturing every nuance of a number of insanely catchy melodies.

So, yet again, why does it take an honestly insane endeavor (an album a week for over 20 years?  What was I thinking?) for me to even hear the name, let alone the music and the mind associated with it?

Now I’ve heard Oscar Brown Jr. sing “Forbidden Fruit”, it is an earworm which will stay with me forever more and I am glad of it . . .

Next Week:  Ruth Brown – Miss Rhythm

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 136 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 136 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (112 of 136 = 82%)

[86] Tony Bennett and Bill Evans – The Tony Bennett and Bill Evans Album

28 Nov

I didn’t expect to find Tony Bennett in the 1,000, but Tom Moon has uncovered the perfect unexpected showcase for his instantly recognizable voice.

Bennett and Evans

Bennett and Evans

I like Tony Bennett.  He has a wonderful warm vocal tone and usually picks engaging pieces.  I don’t even mind that he has always been something of parody of himeslf – I like the self-aware, self-effacing wink that has been present throughout his career.

And none of this is the focus of the album he recorded in 1975 with jazz pianost Bill Evans.  In this piano-and-vocal-only collection, it is the piano which stars.  Evans’ playing is deliberate and powerful, following wherever Bennett leads and in doing so somehow passing him by, at times leaving him behind.

Both artists appear to like it that way.

The songs are almost familiar, mostly lesser known members of the Great American Songbook rendered obscure by the decisions of the performers exploring far beyond what the composers may have had in mind.

To hear the piano playing under, over and around the distinctive vocal sound is to be aware of both effect and affect.

Evans makes sure you hear the work going into the performance, the concrete effort behind each note, each decision.  And the effort pays off in the way the choices move the listener – unusually, I am far more affected by the instrument than by the lyric.

The recording is beautiful and complex, inviting contemplation and reflection on its own terms, waving off preconceptions and insisting on just one more play.

Next Week:  Alban Berg – Wozzeck

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 86 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 86 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (69 of 86 = 80%)

[79] Harry Belafonte – Live At Carnegie Hall

10 Oct

The first time I saw Harry Belafonte, he was singing “The Banana Boat Song” with Fozzie Bear on The Muppet Show.  I’ve been a fan ever since.

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall

Belafonte at Carnegie Hall

And nothing I hear on this warm and eclectic live set does anything to undermine those decades of affection.  His song choices run the international gamut and his broad and powerful voice lends an immediacy to each one.

There are folk songs from the Carribean, Mexico, Ireland, Eastern Europe and more, all performed with reverence and an astounding connection to the Carnegie Hall crowd.

Most of the songs are familiar and well loved – “Day-O”, “Danny Boy”, “Shenandoah”, “John Henry”,  “When The Saints Go Marching In”, “Hava Nagila” – and those that are initially unknown to me turn out to be equally engaging and in some cases even more catchy.  I’ve had the set closer, “Matilda”, stuck in my head for weeks now!

The arrangements from the orchestra are simply beautiful, just the subtlest hint of strings, drums, horns framing the focus of every tune – Belafonte’s unmistakable voice.  Not a single detail is lost, as if he is singing right here and now instead of across five and a half decades.

I am so engrossed in everything I hear from this album that for the first time in months I am inspired to explore Moon’s next stop “Catalog Choice” – 1960’s Belafonte Returns To Carnegie Hall – which is interesting, but necessarily derivative and lesser since all of the best material was already included in the original.  Worth a listen, but not in the same league as Live . . .

Belafonte enjoys every moment here, at times making himself laugh out loud with a cute lyric or particularly enthusiastic audience reaction.  It is moments like these that make this a must-hear recording, and which will ensure that I return to hear it again and again.

It also doesn’t hurt that my 5-year-old daughter also appears to love it.  Time to cue up Harry’s Muppet Show appearnce for her . . .

Next Week:  Peter Bellamy – The Transports

Owned before blogging? No. (9 of 79 = 11%)
Heard before blogging? No. (12 of 79 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (64 of 79 = 81%)

[32] Fred Astaire – Steppin’ Out

15 Nov

Known for his sublime dancing, far more than his acting or singing, I was surprised to see Fred Astaire’s name on Tom Moon’s list.

But listening to this collection of the Great American Songbook – recorded when they were new – may just have been the high point of my listening to date.

Steppin' Out: Astaire Sings

Steppin’ Out: Astaire Sings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a performer with a clear understanding of style and structure providing a clean and measured delivery of some of my favorite songs.

His is not a unique or even especially impressive instrument, but he sketches baseline interpretations that get to the core of each story, his voice front and center in the mix.  Astaire is no Sinatra or Crosby, Bennett or Connick, but he makes Rod Stewart’s attempts in this genre sound overthought and overproduced.

And it never hurts to be backed by the best studio musicians on offer.

I love the opportunity to revisit the rarely heard intros to these classics, and am happy to take any opportunity to hear the songs again (and again).  I am fascinated when I realize that, while I know every song, I have never heard a single one of these particular recordings.

It has been my loss.

Astaire makes me believe the emotion of each track – you can hear his smile, sense his introspection, feel his excitement where each is appropriate.

It hardly seems fair for the best dancer of his generation to also have such vocal feel for the music he danced to.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 32. 6%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 32. 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (26 of 32. 81%)

Next week: Chet Atkins and Les Paul – Chester and Lester

[17] Mose Allison – Allison Wonderland

2 Aug

I keep being amazed at the depth and breadth of my ignorance as I discover these wonderful recordings.

Perhaps it just goes to show quite how much talent, what volume of music is actually out there. I know I don’t have the most comprehensive musical background, but I have always been inquisitive and open minded, still here is yet another hole in my education.

I know I’ve never heard of Mose Allison – it’s not a name I’m likely to have forgotten! – but I don’t understand why not. Is the fault mine, or is everyone unaware? Why isn’t he a household name?

I get the feeling Frank Zappa knows Mose Allison.
And probably ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic as well . . .

Mose Allison - Allison Wonderland

Mose Allison – Allison Wonderland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allison Wonderland begins with a solo voice – intimate, up close and in the room personal – hanging out with no accompaniment before the piano kicks in and the album is underway. I love the sound instantly, even before engaging with the lyrics which, according to Moon, are the reason to hear this performer.

The sound quality is amazing for songs recorded more than 25 years ago, let alone the 50 years of the earliest tracks. It is testament to Allison’s vocal quality, so clean, straightforward and timeless.

The first disc of this two-disc anthology is full of bite sized songs, tiny and perfectly formed. The structure and sound of the blues tracks that start the album are so familiar as to get out of the way and let you focus on the voice, and the lyrics he imparts.

And then neat takes on a pair of very familiar songs, “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Hey Good Looking”. Smooth swinging versions with the snare drum leading the way. At times it almost sounds as if he is scatting despite the fact that each lyric is fully articulated.

By the second disc we’ve left the blues behind and are rolling around in the slinky jazz horns and almost arhythmical yumminess of cautionary tales like “Monsters of the Id”, the beatnik lounge sound of “How Much Truth”.

It’s almost two different artists – the simple piano blues of the early Allison, and the big band, lightly experimental jazz of the later Allison – but the thing that ties them together is a subversiveness, often lyrically, but also at times musically.

This is not like Arthur Alexander’s blending of genres. Allison starts firmly in one world and moves comfortably to another by the end of the collection, strictly following the conventions and affects of each.

But back to those lyrics.

Even just casual listening keeps spitting out snippets of language into the listener’s consciousness. There are myriad lyrics worthy of a post-it in my brother’s quote blog:

“I don’t need much / But I will take more”

“Ever since the world ended / I don’t go out as much / People that I once befriended / Just don’t bother to stay in touch”

“No matter how you’re feeling / I’d like to propose a toast / If you’re almost successful / You’re better off than most”

“You call it jogging / But I call it running around”

“Baby we two can get along / I’m never right / You’re never wrong / So meet me at no special place / And I’ll be there at no particular time”

“I don’t ask much in this life / No special consideration / Just treat me like the new Premiere / Of a small strategic nation”

All in that light, easy, distinctive and distinguished voice.

His ripping of the music industry in “Top Forty” predates Scatterbrain’s “Tastes Just Like Chicken” by generations, and later his description of modern living in “If You’re Goin’ To The City” is too scathing to actually be funny – this would be anarchic, if it wasn’t set to such an exceptionally good tune!

And I could listen to his band riffing all day.

As the tones of this exceptional album seep out of my office, people stop to ask what I’m listening to. This has happened far less often than I expected since I began my blog, but here is an artist that people get excited about just hearing in passing.

The fact that this two-disc career retrospective weighs in at 47 tracks means that I and others will keep returning to it, catching new caustic zingers with each listen.

There is just so much quantity here, and it is all quality. There is a progression which avoids any feeling of sameness – a whole tied together by Allison’s voice and, perhaps even moreso, his mind.

I find myself sitting here with a big grin on my face as I listen to Allison explain how we’re all doomed.

Owned before blogging? No. (1 of 17. 6%)
Heard before blogging? No. (3 of 17. 18%)
Recommend? Yes. (13 of 17. 76%)

Next Week: The Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East

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