· · Music
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SotD: Pärt’s Cantus
· Since I’ve been rocking the house the last couple of days, let’s do serenity instead. Specifically, Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, for string orchestra and bell, by Arvo Pärt, one of my musical heroes. Here’s how good this is: It just about got me killed, the first time I heard it. Which was on a rented car’s radio in England, heading up the M3, where they drive fast; I was jet-lagged and I caught myself closing my eyes at 85mph to savor the fading tones of the church bell ...
· Yesterday, I used the phrase “best Rock song ever recorded”. Well, why not two days in a row? Because another fine candidate is Clampdown from the Clash’s wonderful London Calling album. That record was a highlight of 1980 and Clampdown was a highlight of the record ... [2 comments]
SotD: Day Tripper
· If someone asked me what the greatest rock&roll song of all time was, I wouldn’t be able to pick. But if they kept asking, and you got a serious conversation going, Day Tripper would be in that conversation ... [2 comments]
SotD: Missionary Man
· If I actually had any serious musical talent, I would have chosen rock&roll over all other professions. I guess I haven’t been running that many pure simple rock songs here, and that’s wrong. So let’s turn today’s space over to Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart, and Joniece Jamison of the Eurythmics for some nice polished passionate BritRock ...
SotD: Gravity’s Angel
· Possibly you haven’t encountered Laurie Anderson, and possibly if you did you wouldn’t like her, because she’s pretty far out there. Gravity’s Angel is at the near end of out-there, a simple-ish song with a lovely tune and a cool arrangement; a good place to start ...
SotD: Please Don’t
· I mean Baby, Please Don’t Go of course, the blues chestnut to end all blues chestnuts. Nobody knows who wrote it, although apparently Muddy Waters first made it a hit; Wikipedia offers several plausible backgrounds dating from slavery days up to about 1925. The version I’m chiefly recommending was recorded by Lightnin’ Hopkins in the early Sixties ...
SotD: The Other 5:15
· No, I’m not talking about the Who song from Quadrophenia (though it’s a fine tune), I’m talking about the song by Chris Isaak. No, I’m not talking about Wicked Game either, which I may feature here some day. I’m talking about Chris’ 5:15, one of the several excellent songs on San Francisco Days, one of the several excellent albums Mr Isaak has released ...
· I bought Sinéad O’Connor’s debut, The Lion and the Cobra, because Mandinko was on the radio and I liked it. The first time I played it, not having looked at the track listing, I noticed some meditative crooning about “Dublin in a Rainstorm”; the next time, a gut-grabbing throaty chant: “You should have left the lights on”; and then another time a howling declaration about rising, a phoenix from the flame. It took me a while to notice that all of these were from the same track: Troy. It’s a hell of a song ... [3 comments]
SotD: Temporary Ground
· This is the best song from Jack White’s 2014 Lazaretto album, and it was the centerpiece of the show last time I saw him play. It’s mostly acoustic, thus has to stand on its own sans bombastic guitar flourishes. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jack’s bombastics, but it’s good to let a song speak for itself, and Temporary Ground has a lot to say ...
SotD: Voodoo Runner
· Today’s song is Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, from Bitches Brew. In the series intro I said “I won’t be recommending abrasive free-jazz jams…” and well, this is kind of abrasive and while it might not be free jazz, it’s pretty loose. But it’s wonderful improvisation and production, full of deep musical intelligence, and if you like anything at all in the electric-jazz space, you’ll probably like this a lot. If you’ve never checked the space out, this might be a good place to start ... [2 comments]
SotD: Solveig’s Song
· Hey, there are songs in Classical Music, too! Maybe you think you don’t like that stuff? Stick around and give this one a listen. This Song is the last movement of Peer Gynt Suite #2 by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, dating from 1876. It’s exceptionally beautiful, one of the great melodies of all time. I encountered it some decades ago, when my cello teacher assigned it to me, and it works well on that instrument. I loved playing it and now I love listening to it ... [2 comments]
SotD: Pete’s Blue
· This is a minimalist guitar instrumental by Roy Buchanan (1939-1988). Genuinely obscure stuff, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find it worth seven minutes and seventeen seconds of your time ...
· Music comes in lots of flavors, most of which I’d hate to have to live without, but the ones closest to my heart involve well-played electric guitars, female voices, and raw rock energy. The Breeders’ Cannonball has all three ingredients ... [4 comments]
SotD: Ooh La La
· This by The Ditty Bops, from their self-titled debut album in 2004. I’d never heard of them before, nor have I since; but this is a remarkable song and more than one friend, hearing it in the background, has stopped talking and asked “What’s that?” ... [3 comments]
SotD: Western Stars
· Nobody, and I mean nobody, brings more to a performance than k.d. lang. But she’s not on the road that much, so you might have to settle for recordings. A good recording to settle for would be Shadowland, featuring production by country-music legend Owen Bradley and guest appearances by other divas-with-twang. This is probably the best song on Shadowland ... [1 comment]
Songs of the Day
· Here’s my New Year’s Resolution: I’ll try to try to publish a short piece every day recommending a song that I think is excellent, and apt to please at least some readers. Let’s see how far into 2018 I get; a quick run through the collection turned up around 240 candidates, so a whole year’s worth of songs would be a stretch goal. Read on for motivation, logistics, and mechanics. Or just read the song notes, starting tomorrow. Or don’t ... [4 comments]
SotD: New Year’s Day
· Back in the late Eighties, for a few months I went to aerobics class, and once every session the instructor put this U2 chestnut on and every time my beats-per-minute cranked right up. Not in the slightest obscure, but worth revisiting at least once a year, ideally on this day ...
5★♫: The Köln Concert
· What happened was, I was gonna make the traditional Sunday-morning pancakes and bacon and, as I do every other week or so, told the eight-year-old to turn the damn cartoons off already because I wanted music. I threw the ancient vinyl of The Köln Concert by Keith Jarrett on the turntable and all these years later, I kept having to stop making pancakes because Keith had grabbed me where you have to listen when they grab you there ... [2 comments]
5★♫: Jeff Beck Rock ‘n’ Roll Party
· I saw the LP on the new-vinyl rack in a record store and was surprised, because I’ve been a pretty big Jeff Beck fan for quite a few years now, but I’d never heard of it. It turns out the Rock ‘n’ Roll Party is a collection of traditional pop chestnuts with a super hot band, not like a Jeff Beck record at all, and excellent. This is happy, happy music. But maybe the YouTube version is all you need. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [3 comments]
5★♫: Hard Again
· In the mid-Seventies, old Mississippi/Chicago bluesman Muddy Waters had record-label problems, but still an audience. Young Texas bluesman Johnny Winter had never been a pop star, but had one too. So Johnny producing and playing on an album by Muddy wasn’t really a long shot; and Hard Again came out great. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [2 comments]
· What happened was, I glanced at my browser and saw a random turn of phrase, The freedom to be who you want to be…, and thought “That reminds me of something”. It turns out that it reminds me of With You There To Help Me, a lovely song on the album Benefit, a 1970 offering by Jethro Tull. So I pulled out the vinyl and have listened to it three times in the last two weeks; it’s really just unreasonably good. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [15 comments]
5★♫: Jets Overhead
· Wow, it’s been 2½ years since I did a Five-Star Monday piece, and this is for a disc I just bought today, so it may well be too early as well as too late. Jets Overhead are from Victoria, BC, which is near me; what I think deserve the stars are the first two songs from their 2009 No Nations, I Should Be Born and Heading For Nowhere; brilliant pure-pop tunes and can they ever sing. Also there’s a geek angle. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [3 comments]
5★♫: Mixed Up
· I’m not a fan of The Cure, particularly. I am not nor have I ever been a Goth, and I laugh cruelly at Emos given the opportunity. I think Robert Smith looks ridiculous. But Mixed Up, a 1990 set of remixes and retakes (I own none of the original versions), which was poorly reviewed and sank like a stone on the charts, well, it’s just outstandingly great music. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [11 comments]
5★♫: Arrau Plays Chopin
· Yet again, one dead guy playing another’s music (I promise a return to the living after this): The Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), as recorded in 1977 and 1978 by Claudio Arrau (1903-1991). Each of the last three (this, Mozart/Brain, and Bach/Kremer) are fine music which has been recorded by many fine performers, but where I never bothered checking any other performances out after hearing the record in question. The Nocturnes have no raw edges, no starkness, but are ravishingly romantic and irresistibly pretty, while still being involving and deep. They’re nocturnal all right; two solid hours of sweet dark-brown ebb and flow, bedtime music for sure. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [4 comments]
5★♫: Brain Plays Mozart
· Continuing the theme (from August, argh, maybe I don’t have a 5★ life) of music written by dead guys, and in this case also played by a dead guy. The dead composer is Mozart, the performer Dennis Brain. I refer to Brain’s 1955 recording of the Mozart horn concertos with the assistance of Von Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra. You already know this music. You may not think so, but trust me, as soon as it starts playing you’ll think “Oh, yes”. I’m not sure whether it’s everyone actually having heard it, or whether Mozart tapped into something so smooth, polished, and elemental as to convince us that we’re on familiar and well-loved territory. Nobody could call this obscure, it’s sold a kazillion copies; but perhaps not in recent decades. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [2 comments]
5★♫: Kremer Plays Bach
· I’ve been fishing in Twentieth-century five-★ waters of late, so let’s cast our eyes back on music written by dead guys. There have been a few classical works that I’ve heard one artist play, then never bothered to take the time to listen to anyone else’s take. For example, Gidon Kremer’s 1980 recording of the Violin Sonatas and Partitas by J.S. Bach. This might be a tough sell: two hours of music containing no notes much below middle C, and no more than two notes ever played at the same time. And Kremer is all about Truth not Beauty, which is to say he doesn’t sugar-coat Bach’s rough edges. But I think that truth is beauty, and I think that this music has so much of both that you really ought to sit down sometime and listen to all of it. Well, and it sounds good. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [7 comments]
5★♫: Cinquième Saison
· This one is kind of obscure, but worth hunting down; the full title is Si on avait besoin d’une cinquième saison, recorded by Harmonium in 1975, who were a Big Deal in Québec back then. I’m sure it would appear in my personal top-ten-of-all-time list, computed by how many times I’ve listened; mind you, that’s with 32 years of accumulation. But I still put it on, and I’ve never played it for anyone who didn’t like it. It’s mellow, sweeping, and full of beautiful melodies, beautifully performed, that you’ll find yourself humming while you walk down the street. (“5★♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [7 comments]
5✭♫: The Texas Campfire Tapes
· Just like the title says, this was recorded by a campfire in Texas in 1986 (on a pre-digital Sony Walkman). Voice and guitar and brilliant music bursting out in all directions by Michelle Shocked, one of my personal musical heroes. But there’s some controversy about which version to get. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [7 comments]
5✭♫: Coltrane and Hartman
· That’s short for John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, recorded in one session—most songs in one take—on March 7, 1963. It sold a zillion copies back then, and was infamously nominated as the Greatest Recording Of All Time by some rock&roll-hating snob in a glossy mag in I think the early Eighties; but that was then, and I’m betting that a lot of people who’d really like it have never heard of it. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [10 comments]
5✭♫: The Hot Spot
· Dennis Hopper directed The Hot Spot in 1990, and I’ve never seen it. He hired Jack Nitzsche to write the music, and they got Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, and some other really good musicians to play on it. It’s the only record I know of in which Miles Davis plays straight blues solos in front of a straight electric blues band, and while there’s some other good stuff too, that would be enough for me. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [2 comments]
5✭♫: Misa Criolla
· Ariel Ramírez is an Argentinean composer born in 1921; Misa Criolla, a 1964 mass for tenor, mixed chorus, percussion, keyboard and (especially) Andean folk instruments. It appears on several disks; I’m going to recommend two featuring José Carreras and Mercedes Sosa. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [2 comments]
5✭♫: Rough Mix
· This is a 1977 album by Pete Townshend of the Who and the late Ronnie Lane of the Faces. It’s a rarity in that most of it, while unquestionably rock music, is also gentle. Of its eleven songs, eight or nine are extremely beautiful, the singing is tuneful and heartfelt, the playing (lots of stars sitting in) is great, even the lyrics will grab you. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [3 comments]
5✭♫: Brahms’ First & Haydn Variations
· If I were asked to pick my favorite symphony, well, I couldn’t. If I were backed into a corner and really pressured, I still couldn’t. But if it were a matter of life and death and I were making short lists, Symphony No. 1 by Brahms would be on all of them. Some have argued that the First isn’t really his first symphonic work; that would be Variations on a Theme of Haydn. Which, if granted, might not change my answer. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ... [7 comments]
5✭♫: Patti’s Gloria
· Patti Smith is an interesting person and a fine musician, always worth listening to; I particularly enjoy her recent recordings. And in her youth, she recorded Gloria by Van Morrison; it’s a contender for the best single-song rock performance ever. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Tabula Rasa
· This is the title of an album of music by Arvo Pärt, and of a composition on that album. I have a lot of music by Pärt, but if I had to recommend one record, or one piece, both would be Tabula Rasa. It’s complex, deep, and austere; and contains some of the most beautiful sounds ever recorded. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Israelites and More
· Desmond Dekker just died; I had to do a quick rip on his Greatest Hits so he’d qualify for the 5-✭ treatment. A lot of people under 45, and a lot of Americans of all ages, won’t know about Desmond, and you’re missing some pretty good music. You might only have heard Israelites and that’s an outstanding song, but there are lots more, and a greatest-hits disc is a no-brainer investment. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Wrecking Ball
· The last 5-✭ song, Dylan’s One More Cup of Coffee, got there in large part due to harmonies from Emmylou Harris. Emmylou’s never really been a Big Star I think, which is unfair; she’s sung more beautiful songs beautifully than almost anyone. Wrecking Ball, her 1995 outing with Kanadian Karmick Konsultant and overproducer Daniel Lanois and featuring lotsa Big Stars, is perhaps not absolutely her finest work; but it’s what I have on my computer and it’s very good. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: One More Cup of Coffee
· I’m not really a Bob Dylan fan. A voice like that, and a tunesmithing talent like that, come along only a few times per century, but he’s still kind of irritating. That aside, the song One More Cup of Coffee, from the 1976 album Desire, can’t be ignored; wonderful tune, wonderful orchestration, wonderful performance. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Take Five
· You’ve all heard this, it’s the biggest hit Dave Brubeck’s band ever had, only Dave didn’t write it nor does he play a solo. The tune’s cool enough, you’ll hear it and think “Oh, I know that” but actually you probably don’t, it’s an altogether astounding performance and rewards lots of close listening. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Rock n Roll Animal
· The last five-star piece, from two weeks ago, was about the Cowboy Junkies. They covered Sweet Jane on their excellent The Trinity Sessions album, and Lou Reed was quoted as saying that their version was definitive. He’s wrong; his own take on this 1974 live set is at another level entirely. So is much of the record. If you had to name the greatest live rock record of all time, well you couldn’t, but if you had to name the top five, this would be one: it shows how hard rock ought to be played. There are some problems: it’s kind of bombastic in places, and it does glamorize the use of addictive narcotics; but let’s not be picky. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Pale Sun, Crescent Moon
· Three tracks from this 1993 album by the Cowboy Junkies earned five stars, pretty good for pop music. Plus there’s one from The Trinity Sessions, but let’s leave that for later. There are a lot of Cowboy Junkies albums, and they’re all good as far as I know; I find myself ashamed that I haven’t bought any for a decade or so, so I’ll fix that Real Soon Now. Read on for an appreciation of good songs, good singing, good playing, and good words. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Plutonian Nights
· This is a track by Sun Ra from his album The Lady With The Golden Stockings, recorded around 1958 and released in 1966. Sun Ra, full legal name “Le Sony’r Ra”, born Herman Blount, said a lot of crazy stuff and played some crazy music, some of which I like. But this isn’t crazy, it’s 4:22 of low-voiced cool funk perfection. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Come On-A My House
· This song was made famous by Rosemary Clooney, but the version I’m writing of here is by Julie London, who recorded 32 albums but is no longer a household name. Julie’s version of Come On-A My House is just the thing for Valentine’s-Day week: Come on-a my house (my house), I’m gonna give you candy... Pure, pure sex. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Burning Farm
· Shonen Knife formed in Osaka in the early Eighties and, a decade later, suddenly had a North American audience; it helped that they opened for Nirvana on a 1993 tour. Burning Farm was the title of their first record but also of a song; the version I have is off of 1993’s Let’s Knife, probably the group’s essential album. It has a lot of good songs with great melodies, superb light-hearted vocals, high-energy performances, punk guitar, and amiable Japanese looniness; but Burning Farm stands out. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
5✭♫: Any Time
· Leon Redbone is alive and performing, but he’s not actually a contemporary artist; he performs sentimental and jazz songs from the first half of the 20th century, with acoustic accompaniment and period arrangements. Which doesn’t sound very compelling; except for, Redbone picks terrific tunes and sings them beautifully. The song in question is the title track from his 2001 album Any Time, and it might just be the single best vocal performance of our young century. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) [Update: Samples at the iTunes UK store.] ...
5 ✭ ♫ Mondays
· The idea came from JWZ in late 2005: why not rate all the music in your jukebox? If your jukebox is iTunes, you create an “unrated” smart-playlist containing all the tunes with no stars, then you set up the Party Shuffle to draw from it, then you rate them as they go by except when you’re not listening, and after a few months, you have them all rated. I haven’t got them all rated, but I have quite a few labeled ✭✭✭✭✭, which means “a tune that in some way gives me as much pleasure as music can.” I care a lot about (and am reasonably literate about) music, so I decided I to share some of this five-star stuff with the world. I’ll try to post something most Mondays. [Does the title look broken? Here’s why (Updated 2006/01/30).] ...
5✭♫: BWV 131
· I think I should start with J.S. Bach, since we have a special relationship. BWV 131 is one of his cantatas, based on Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (from Psalm 130), composed in 1707, and if you buy it you’ll like it. (“5✭♫” series introduction here; with an explanation of why the title may look broken.) ...
By Tim Bray.
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