Monday, September 29, 2008

Basil Poledouris - Conan The Barbarian Soundtrack (1982)

Yeah, yeah, ridiculous I know. But the soundtrack the legendarily awful (and one of my favorite!) films, is a good one. I mean this movie was hyped up to be a revolutionary fantasy epic, and the music matches that. Basil Poledouris is the writer and conductor of the music which is just epic in scope and a joy to listen to. Listen, get pumped for the battles and go and bash some heads.

The musical score to "Conan the Barbarian" is truly one of the great achievements in fantasy/adventure film music. Basil Poledouris, who composed and conducted the music, brings a tremendous amount of passion and skill to his task. Equally passionate are the performances by the Orchestra and Chorus of Santa Cecilia and the Radio Symphony of Rome. This is big, bold, richly colored music with a lusty, savage vibe.

The film follows the adventures of Conan, a well-muscled warrior played by Arnold Schwarzeneggar, as he battles his way through a mythic fantasy landscape. Poledouris brilliantly combines choral voices with a full orchestra to evoke Conan's world, with all of its beauty and danger. Particularly good is the percussion that spices many of the best tracks.

As you might expect, there is a lot of chest-pounding, martial-sounding music on this CD. But there are also passages of sweetness and delicacy. Every track is excellent, but my particular favorites include the relentlessly pounding "Anvil of Crom"; the tender, yet joyful "Theology/Civilization"; and the sensuous second part of "The Kitchen/The Orgy." "Conan the Barbarian" is a classic of the art of film scoring.

-Michael Mazza,

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Maxwell - MTV Unplugged EP (1997)

Maxwell never quite had the balls to do a music video entirely of just his naked body like D'Angelo, but he wasn't lacking any swagger. In 96-97 when Maxwell came out, he was probably a bigger commercial success than D'Angelo as well, scoring hits, getting pretty heavy MTV airplay and then of course doing this MTV Unplugged set, which at the time, seemed a little odd. It's a great set overall though. 7 songs, and just nice smooth soul of Maxwell loving himself and playing to the ladies in the audience. I like this record because the live setting allows Max to be a little more loose in his performances, really trying to channel those soul powerhouses of the 70s. They are sex jams, to be sure, but Unplugged has its own share of funky moments too.

I'm including a link to some blog that has a pretty great in depth review of the album, so you should check that out if you are at all hesitant.

Raindayjams Review

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Jerry Garcia & David Grisman - So What (1998)

So from the beginning of the 70s until his death, Jerry Garcia was an active participant (though not usually given his due) in to the "new grass" bluegrass revival scene. Most notable was his friendship with legendary mandolin player David Grisman. The two recorded many records together most of them striking a great calm balance between Grateful Dead and the bluegrass virtuosity that Rounder records was putting out at the time. This record, released in 1998 on Acoustic Disc is a collection of Miles Davis (and Milt Jackson) covers recorded in the early 90s. The disc actually has 3 different recordings of the classic "So What", two of "Bag's Groove" and "Milestones" and then right in the middle of the record is a Grisman original "16/16"

Though the record has little variety in the songs that are actually presented here, the musicianship and the unique takes on these familiar jazz tunes are perfect for fans of new grass and jazz equally. It's a really beautiful and enjoyable cd, with enough funk to get you nodding your head but enough relaxing strings to wake up with again and again. It is a great, unique recording and one of my favorites the duo put out.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Specials - The Specials (1979)

Yesterday was really sunny in the morning. The sun basically comes through my bedroom window really bright when this is the case. It was great, so I decided to pull out one I hadn't listened to in awhile.

This is obviously sort of a classic, but I didn't really hear it until about 2-3 years ago, so maybe there are other people who haven't. Obviously most ska revival shit is awful but i can't help but love to play this album when i wake up and the sun is shining in my window. it's just a lot of fun and so excellently done, that it really does deserve "classic" status to me.

A perfect moment in time captured on vinyl forever, such is the Specials' eponymous debut album; it arrived in shops in the middle of October 1979 and soared into the U.K. Top Five. It was an utter revelation -- except for anyone who had seen the band on-stage, for the album was at its core a studio recording of their live set, and at times even masquerades as a gig. There were some notable omissions: "Gangsters," for one, but that had already spun on 45, as well as the quartet of covers that would appear on their live Too Much Too Young EP in the new year. But the rest are all here, 14 songs' strong, mostly originals with a few covers of classics thrown in for good measure. That includes their fabulous take on Dandy Livingstone's "A Message to You Rudy," an equally stellar version of the Maytals' "Monkey Man," and the sizzling take on Prince Buster's "Too Hot." If those were fabulous, their own compositions were magnificent. The Specials managed to distill all the anger, disenchantment, and bitterness of the day straight into their music. The vicious "Nite Klub" -- with its unforgettable line, "All the girls are slags and the beer tastes just like piss" -- perfectly skewered every bad night the members had ever spent out on the town; "Blank Expression" extended the misery into unwelcoming pubs, while "Concrete Jungle" moved the action onto the streets, capturing the fear and violence that stalked the inner cities. And then it gets personal. "It's Up to You" throws down the gauntlets to those who disliked the group, its music, and its stance, while simultaneously acting as a rallying cry for supporters. "Too Much Too Young" shows the Specials' disdain for teen pregnancy and marriage; "Stupid Marriage" drags two such offenders before a Judge Dread-esque magistrate, with Terry Hall playing the outraged and sniping prosecutor; while "Little Bitch" is downright nasty. Those were polemics; "It Doesn't Make It Alright" reaches a hand out to listeners and, with conviction, delivers up a heartfelt plea against racism, but even this number contains a sharp sting in its tail. It's a bitter brew, aggressively delivered, with even the slower numbers sharply edged, and therefore the band wisely scattered sparkling covers across the album to help lift its mood. The set appropriately ends with the rocksteady-esque yearning of "You're Wondering Now," the song that invariably closed their live shows. Even though producer Elvis Costello gave the record a bright sound, it doesn't lighten the dark currents that run through the group's songs; if anything, his production heightens them. It's left to guests Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell to provide a little Caribbean sun to the Specials' sound, their brass sweetening the flashes of anger and disaffection that sweep across the record. And so, this was Britain in late 1979, an unhappy island about to explode. This enhanced CD reissue includes the videos for "Gangsters" and "Too Much," true must-see TV.


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Monday, September 22, 2008

A To Z: Z - Zarthus by Robbie Basho

Ah! The end of the A to Z series! Well it has been a fun way to showcase some excellent albums here, hope those of you who come here (and never comment) enjoyed it. I haven't decided if I should start up a new series theme or just start posting whatever. Something will happen though.

So I probably have somewhere around like 14 Robbie Basho records. If you don't know Robbie Basho...think John Fahey but even more psychedelic. If you don't know John Fahey, well, what gives? It's finger-picked acoustic guitar most of the time. Sort of "western" ragas, but Basho's music is very much influenced by Persia and the east and almost always has been. Basho also has a tendency to throw in drums and piano and even sing on a lot of his records, which all come around on this album from 1974. Many Basho fans regard Zarthus as is his best album, I don't know if I do. It's great, it's crazy, and it features one epic track in the 20-minute "Rhapsody in Druz" but I don't always like when he sings. His voice is real deep and not bad, but his guitar work is so amazing, I would usually just rather he does that. It's a good to great psychedelic record regardless though, so you should probably get it.

Robbie Basho's Zarthus, dating from 1974, is, in his own words, "An album of Persian, Arabic, Westerns Themes (sic), woven together into a single 'Fabric D'Amour' to cover the barren manekin (sic) of modern times." Easily the album that most indulges his obsessions with Eastern modal scales and odd meters, and even Western classical themes. All of it is grounded in Basho's guitar though, and the discs first two tracks, "Zarthus" (dedicated to Meher Baba, Pete Townshend's guru) and "Khoda é Gul é Abe," are driving 12-string numbers, possessed as much by the rhythm of the mridingham as they are by Basho's trademark open tonal wandering up and down the fret board. There is some single string playing in "Zarthus," but both tunes are overdriven from the fluid, liquidy percussive strum and drag of his lightning quick right hand. On "Mehera" and "Khalil Gibran," Basho employs the use of a piano as well as his guitars and his voice. For those who were put off by the singing on Voice of the Eagle, this is easier to handle, melodic and true if oddly constructed. All of it is based on drones and the cascading up and down is limited in range. The poetry in his lyrics is spiritually beautiful. The album's capper is the 19-plus minute "Rhapsody in Druz." The first half is a beautiful love song to a spiritual master, and the last half is an exercise in droning strings, both on the piano and the guitars, rumbling microtonally against one another in tandem and causing overtonal vibrations between them. While this is not Basho's finest recorded moment, it is certainly a very good one, and all fans of the development of his music should take notes of its compositions as well as of his truly innovative piano playing.


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Friday, September 19, 2008

A To Z: Y - You Need Pop! by The Speedies

Released in 2005, "You Need Pop!" is the first actual full length release from a band that began playing power pop gigs in New York 25 years prior. This album is a collection of 10 songs: their best from their original singles as well as a reworking of the title track. I don't know that much about the history of the band or the awesome power pop seen of the late 70s in general, but I do know that this is a great compilation. Fast, catchy, and a lot of fun. Definitely a record to listen to if you are already upset about summer being over. The sound changes throughout the record. Some stuff sounds like Cheap Trick (and then subsequent bands like The Exploding Hearts), but some songs almost sound like The Fall and have a much more Post Punk feel. But throughout, the songs remain pop, as obvious from the title of of the compilation (and song). It's a blast.

It all started in Brooklyn in the mid 1970's. Eric Hoffert and Gregory Crewdson met each other for the first time at Brooklyn Friends School, working together to understand global patterns of climate for a homework assignment. At the time they were 11 years old. Around the same timeframe, Allen Hurkin-Torres and Eric Hoffert met each other while studying for their Bar Mitzvahs. Greg and Eric took their next steps by learning to play the guitar and visiting CBGBs at the age of 14 to see the Ramones. Allen picked up the drums quickly and was ready to take the stage. Their lives were now changed forever. One thing Eric, Greg, and Allen all had in common as young kids - a love of fast, pure, and catchy pop songs – but with an edge.

The popular music at the time was heavy metal and disco; but these young budding popsters had something completely different in mind. They called it power pop and they loved it with a passion. Fast forward to 1978 and Eric, Greg, and Allen just had to start the best power pop band imaginable. At the young age of just 16 years, they started practicing in the top floor of the brownstone building in Cobble Hill in Brooklyn where Allen lived with his parents and two sisters. No song could be longer than three minutes, songs had to be fast and catchy and they could only be about school, girls, and pop perfection.

In need of a singer, they went out for a walk around the block a met a fan of the Sex Pistols and David Bowie with a wild haircut – John Marino. John was invited upstairs for an audition and the magic of the band was instantly undeniable. With their first three minute pop song ready to play, the Speedies were born. Their first song was “You Need Pop”. Big things were soon to come, but first a word on musical influences.

The Speedies trace their roots to a number of key inspirations – starting with Saturday morning TV cartoon theme songs, the Jetsons, the Flintstones, and the Banana Splits. From this pure pop culture starting point the band moved on to the pop music of the Monkees, the Who, and the Beatles. The Speedies then jumped into a love for the hard edged bands of the early 70’s that created the best glitter rock that could be heard - David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, T-Rex, The New York Dolls, and the Sweet. Just prior to the birth of the Speedies, the band members were deeply inspired by fast and hard pop from the UK by the Buzzcocks, the Sex Pistols, the Jam, Generation-X, and the Undertones.

In fact it was this last wave of bands that convinced the Speedies that it was time for an International Power Pop Overthrow. But the Speedies were different than any of these bands – they crafted their own sound which combined the best of all of them with a vision that power pop could take over the world. Power pop wasn’t just music; it was a way to look at the world. The Speedies were also celebrating pop culture – including a love for breakfast cereals like Cap’n Crunch and the cool prizes inside.

The Speedies’ first show took place on a cold winter night - December 26, 1978 at Max’s Kansas City. It may have been cold outside, but it sure was hot inside, where the Speedies sold out the show and had more people attend Max’s on a Tuesday night than ever before. The packed crowd went wild and the band had its first glowing and major review in Variety magazine. In addition to ragingly fast pop, the band had boxes of cereal all over the stage which they poured onto their fans when they played “We Wanna Be Your Breakfast Cereal”. And the fans threw cereal back. With the band jumping up and down, people dancing and thrashing around, cereal in the air, and loud pop, it was a scene of beautiful but controlled chaos. NYC would never be the same.

Soon after the bands debut, five of the best Speedies songs were recorded in Toronto, Canada by Paul Hoffert – an award winning composer, producer, and musician with Top 100 pop hits of his own. After playing for awhile to an ever growing base of avid fans, the Speedies realized that in their haste to form the band they had neglected to include a bass player. So they brought in a fifth band member, John Carlucci, a talented and high energy bass player, who at the age of 22 was the elder statesman; John also introduced the band to the practice of wearing spiky toed Beatle Boots. To perfect the band experience everyone changed their name to suitably poppy pseudonyms including Eric Pop, Greg Zap, Allen Zane, Buckwheat, and the new member too – John Carl.

Before long, the Speedies were all of the rage in NYC with long lines around the block for their shows, riots with hundreds of Speedies fans, non-stop demand for more shows at clubs everywhere, and a move to put out the band’s first single “Let Me Take Your Foto”. The single was an instant hit and sold out of its first run almost immediately. Power pop songs like “Math Teacher”, “Urban Mania”, “Ready for the Countdown”, “360 Sound”, and “Fashion Free” became big hits for the Speedies with fans memorizing every word and singing along...

A big event at the time was the Speedies playing at the now historic Bottom Line in Greenwich Village which was also broadcast live on the radio; the Speedies were still so young that the club insisted that their parents supervise them for the evening and no cereal was permitted to be thrown into the audience. Indeed, some of the Speedies could often be seen doing their homework backstage just before the shows.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fruition String Band - Hawthorne Hoedown (2008)

I am feel kind of bad posting this, but I'll consider it an opportunity for exposure.

Fruition String band it a little quartet of 20-something folks from Portland, Ore, my home city. Last Friday, here in Arcata they played at one of the local coffeeshops to a crowd of jeez, 15 maybe? The 15 of us there had a great time, because Fruition puts on a great show (and have a small dedicated following up in Portland). They're not big, will probably never get big, and can barely book dates on their west coast "tour" that seems more like a vacation for them, but they are a lot a lot of fun.

The music contained on this disc is roughly recorded (they say it was recorded in a treehouse and all the songs are first takes). It sounds distant, like someone just turned on a microphone on a front porch jam and let the band have at it. The band (1 female and 3 male) share songwriting duties as well as singing and also who plays what, except for the bassist who just chugs along back there having a blast. The recording is not the best, the songs are not the best, but the live show and their attitude about just making music to make it really thrilled me. Obviously there are hundreds of bluegrassy/jam bands like this out there playing in college towns every day and Fruition isn't necessarily different. They have the potential, but more than anything, they inspire others like me to just get out there and make some god damn music. Download the record, listen to it once, it's short. If you hate, whatever get rid of it. If you like it, maybe contact the band at Myspace and try and buy it somehow (they don't sell it online) and their asking price is sort of whatever you have.

It's good to feel good sometimes.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A To Z: X - XO by Elliott Smith

It is slim pickins' when you get to album titles that start with "X".

So I thought, well, why the hell not? Sure most people who come to this blog (which is what, 4 people?) have this album or heard it sometime when it was released and disregard it, maybe they love it. Who knows. It is sort of a staple of indie fans in the 90s and early 00's and a definite introduction to everyone who watched the Royal Tenenbaums as a teenager and loved the music.

It's probably my favorite Elliott Smith album and though it is sort of cool to hate on his music now, I won't. He was a great songwriter and I still love most of his songs, even if I don't listen to him nearly as much as 6 or so years ago. So, download it if you have somehow not heard it before or maybe go back through your cds or itunes and relisten to it if it has been awhile. It's a pop record that holds up.

A year before his major-label debut, XO, was released, it seemed unlikely that Elliott Smith would even be on a major, let alone having his record be one of the more anticipated releases of 1998. He had certainly earned a great deal of critical respect with his low-key, acoustic indie records and was emerging as a respected songwriter, but he hadn't made much of an impression outside of journalists, record collectors, and indie rockers. An Oscar nomination can change things, however. "Miss Misery," one of Smith's elegantly elegiac songs for Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting, unexpectedly earned an Academy Award nomination, and he was immediately thrust into the spotlight. He was reluctant to embrace instant celebrity, yet he didn't refuse a contract with DreamWorks, and he didn't shy away from turning XO into a glorious fruition of his talents. Smith's songs remain intensely introspective, yet the lush, Beatlesque production provides a terrifically charming counterpoint. His sweetly dark melodies are vividly brought to life with the detailed arrangements, and they sell Smith's tormented songs -- it's easy to get caught up in the tunes and the sound of the record, then realize later what the songs are actually about. That's a sign of a good craftsman, and XO proves that not only can Elliott Smith craft a song, but he knows how to make an alluring pop record as well.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A To Z: W - Wanted: Dead Or Alive by Kool G Rap & DJ Polo

This is one of the first "classic" hip hop albums I ever got really into. Something about Kool G Rap's lightning quick delivery has always struck me as awesome, mainly because it just is. One of the best flows in all of hip hop history. And his lyrics are usually pretty classic to. A storyteller, a shit talker and just overall great and painting images. Love this classic east coast shit. If you're not familiar and want to see where some of those modern rappers get their fast raps from, G Rap was one of the first to do it like this.

Marley Marl remained on board, and Large Professor and Eric B. also hopped on to help produce Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's second album. With a wider range of sounds and the expansion of G Rap's lyrical range, Wanted: Dead or Alive is wholly deserving of classic status. The opening "Streets of New York" remains one of the most thrilling and unique rap singles released; the sparse rhythm, adorned with assured piano runs that complement the song to the point of almost making the song, falls somewhere between a gallop and a strut, and G RapKool G Rap's talent as an adept storyteller like nothing before or since. Likewise, "Talk Like Sex" is the nastiest, raunchiest thing he ever recorded, with "I'm pounding you down until your eyeballs pop out" acting as an exemplary claim -- as well as one of the few that is printable -- made in the song. The boasts, as ever, are in no short supply, but "Erase Racism" takes a break from the normal proceedings with guest spots from Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie. It's both funny and sobering, with Biz Markie's Three Dog Night chorus providing comic relief after each verse. Adding yet another dimension to the album, DJ Polo throws in a hip-house instrumental that avoids coming off like a throwaway. This album is only part of a major swarm of brilliant rap records from 1990, but it will never be lost in it outlines more vivid scenes than one film could possibly contain. The track cemented Kool G Rap & DJ Polo's role as East Coast legends and showed .

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Monday, September 15, 2008

The Tony Rice Unit - Manzanita (1979)

My love and wonderful girlfriend turned me onto this album. I knew Tony Rice and had an album of his, plus other albums where he was just the guitarist, but this album is just something else.

It's like a 5/5 bluegrass album. Tony is one of the best guitarists and this is just beautiful. His side players on this album are in top form as well. It's a mixture of trad. and original songs, and everything is great. Nothing else to say really except you probably need to download it.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

A To Z: V - Vernal Equinox by Jon Hassell

For you meditative dudes out there, here is one of my favorite "out there" albums.

For those who don't know Jon Hassell, he was an avant-garde trumpet player who has played with a lot of people on the forefront of experimental music through the years as well as world music. His whole goal was to basically blend styles until there was no style, he called it "Fourth World"

It's just beautiful, minimal stuff. Here is a piece that Brian Eno wrote about him. Enjoy the download.

I arrived in New York on a beautiful spring day in April 1978. I'd intended to stay for a week but the visit stretched on and on and I ended up staying for about five years.

Those first few months in the city were a formative time for me. I didn't know many people, and I had time on my hands, so I was open to things in a way that I might not have been in a more familiar landscape. I listened to a lot of live music and bought a heap of records. One of the most important was by a musician I'd never heard of - a trumpeter called Jon Hassell. It was called Vernal Equinox.

This record fascinated me. It was a dreamy, strange, meditative music that was inflected by Indian, African and South American music, but also seemed located in the lineage of tonal minimalism. It was a music I felt I'd been waiting for.

I discovered later, after I met and became friends with Jon, that he referred to his invention as Fourth World Music (which became the subtitle of the first album we made together: Possible Musics). I learned subsequently that Jon had studied at Darmstadt with Stockhausen (as indeed had Holger Czukay from Can, another occasional colleague), that he'd played on the first recording of Terry Riley's seminal In C, and that he'd studied with the great Indian singer Pran Nath.

We had a lot to talk about. We had both come through experimental music traditions - the European one, as exemplified by Stockhausen and Cornelius Cardew, and the American one of Cage and Terry Riley and LaMonte Young. At the same time, we were aware of the beauty and sophistication of all the music being made outside our culture - what is now called "world music". And we were both intrigued by the possibilities of new musical technology.

But beyond these issues, there was a deeper idea: that music was a place where you conducted and displayed new social experiments. Jon's experiment was to imagine a "coffee coloured" world - a globalised world constantly integrating and hybridising, where differences were celebrated and dignified - and to try to realise it in music.

His unusual articulacy - and the unexpected scope of his references - inspired me. In general, artists don't talk much about how or why they make their work, especially "why". Jon does. He is a theorist and a practitioner, and his theories are as elegant and as attractive as his music: because in fact his music is the embodiment of those theories.

We spent a lot of time together, time that changed my mind in many ways. We talked about music as embodied philosophy, for every music implies a philosophical position even when its creators aren't conscious of it. And we talked about sex and sensuality, about trying to make a music that embraced the whole being and not just the bit above the neck (or just the bit below it).

It was in these conversations that, among other things, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which I made with David Byrne in 1981, was nurtured. All of us were interested in collage, in making musical particle colliders where we could crash different cultural forms with all their emotional baggage and see what came out of the collisions, what new worlds they suggested.

If I had to name one over-riding principle in Jon's work it would be that of respect. He looks at the world in all its momentary and evanescent moods with respect, and this shows in his music. He sees dignity and beauty in all forms of the dance of life.

I owe a lot to Jon. Actually, a lot of people owe a lot to Jon. He has planted a strong and fertile seed whose fruits are still being gathered.

-Brian Eno

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

A To Z: U - Uncle Jam Wants You by Funkadelic

Having every Funkadelic is of course advisable, this one being no exception.

Of course, "(Not Just) Knee Deep" is one of the most known songs in the entire P-Funk catalogue, being that it is one of the most sampled songs for huge rap songs. De La, Dre, Snoop, Tone Loc, Ice Cube, fuck. Song is legendary. Anyway, the album is fun and it is sort of this weird concept album that is like military themed, trying to save "Dance music from the Blahs"

It's funny. Get It.

Almost as if Clinton and company wanted to atone for parts of One Nation Under a Groove, Uncle Jam Wants You takes not merely a more daring musical approach but a more forthright political stance. The cover art alone is brilliant, front and back showing Clinton in Huey P. Newton's famous Black Panther pose. The main goal is the cover subtitle's stated claim to "rescue dance music 'from the blahs,'" and "Uncle Jam" itself does a pretty funny job at doing that, starting out like a parody of patriotic recruitment ads before hitting its full, funky stride. It's still very much a disco effort, but one overtly spiking the brew even more than before with P-Funk's own particular recipe, mock drill instructors calling out dance commands and so forth. The absolute winner and most famous track, without question, is the 15-minute deep groove of "(Not Just) Knee Deep." It'd be legend alone for being the musical basis for De La Soul's astonishing breakthrough a decade later with "Me, Myself and I," but on its own it predates the mutation of disco into electro thanks to the stiff beat and Worrell's crazy keyboards. Elsewhere there are pleasant enough jams like "Field Maneuvers," kicking around some good guitar work amidst the hop-and-skip beat, and the weepy ballad "Holly Wants to Go to California," intentionally undercut by all the cheering and noise deep in the mix. It's not to say that Funkadelic hasn't left the entire world of coke spoons and pointing to the sky behind them, as "Freak of the Week" shows, which isn't entirely far off from the early Sugar Hill
party/zodiac aesthetic. Then again, lines like "disco-sadistic, that one beat up and down, it just won't do" amidst the whistles and screams have their own impact.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

A To Z: T - Texas Cookin' by Guy Clark

This record is basically the result of all the best country singers and writers of the early 70s getting drunk one day, playing some games, eating some food and then going "hey lets make a record"

I love Guy Clark (though I only have 4 of his albums), and though this record isn't quite as good as his first album, it is definitely more country. It's a blast, throwing in more fun songs than most of his other recorded work. His songs are still clever and well written, and the help he receives by people like Emmylou Harris, Waylon Jennings and Hoyt Axton (to name only a few) is great.

On the new Rodney Crowell album (which is excellent), he sings about his love for Guy Clark, and there is a reason. Guy Clark is an underrated gem of great song writing, one that who will probably NEVER get his due, though will remain respected and revered by the correct circles for years.

Guy Clark's sophomore effort sounds more like a party of friends who got together to pick together on a Saturday night that it does a sensitive singer/songwriter outing. Essentially that's what it is, coming as it did in 1975 at the height of the outlaw movement fever. Recorded at Chips Moman's American Studios in Nash Vegas, there is no producer listed on the set, so you can assume Clark did it himself with the aid of his many compadres here, who include but are not limited to Emmylou Harris, Susanna Clark, Johnny Gimble, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hoyt Axton, Waylon Jennings, Tracy Nelson, Brian Ahern, Mickey Raphael, Rodney Crowell, David Briggs, and Chip Young. Songwise, Clark's on a roll here; first there's the wooly party tune, "Texas Cookin'," that celebrates the Lone Star State's particular ability to make their food taste good with beer, and then there's the stunning "Anyhow I Love You," with Emmylou, Waylon, and Crowell accompanying Clark as a chorus. Jennings' harmony singing here is the best he did in his career. There's the mid-tempo "Good to Love You Lady" with Walker, Axton, Crowell, and Harris singing in a smoky contralto, an honest to goodness country song, baring its fiddles, pedal steel, and a trio of acoustic guitars to carry those rough and sweet voices through the story. And while the up-tempo tunes here are wondrously raucous fare, Clark's strength as a ballad writer is almost unequaled among his peers. Nowhere is this more evident than on "Broken Hearted People" (since retitled for the refrain, "Take Me to a Barroom"). Clark's version of the song lacks any sentimentality. He is one of the tune's subjects; his resignation is to spend his mourning days on a barstool after discovering a lover's faithlessness, but he's already wasted and can't even get there under his own power. His devastation is only eclipsed by his desperation: "Take me to a barroom driver/Set me on a stool/If I can't be her man, I'm damned/If I'll be her fool." In addition, Clark's "The Last Gunfighter Ballad" is a signature song, like his "Randall Knife" or "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train." It's a song; it's a story; it's a movie with acoustic guitars a bass, a cello, finger cymbals, and Waylon. Chilling, stirring, and unforgettable, just like the album itself. - Thom Jurek, Allmusicguide

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A To Z: S - Shleep by Robert Wyatt

I should probably first admit that I don't really know enough about Prog and the Canterbury scene to fully try to digest an artist like Robert Wyatt. No, in fact, it wasn't until last year that I actually delved into a few of Wyatt's solo releases (with the joy that Comicopera was), and I've loved most of the Soft Machine's albums for years.

Shleep is an excellent release in a pretty spotty discography, sounding very akin to a 70s ers Brian Eno record. The title of the record is apt, as it provides a great, hazy, beautiful, dream-like quality and atmosphere that is constructed around what are pretty decent pop songs. This record was not recorded in the 70s (though Eno did help), but it was recorded in 1997.

Anyway, it's a nice listen. Experimental and out there, but not nearly as bracing as much of his other work. It serves as a good introduction to an otherwise hard musician to digest.

Robert Wyatt was the drummer and founding member of the Canterbury, England based Soft Machine, who played arty, psychedelic, Pink Floyd-influenced jazz-rock fusion. Although his output has been spotty and sporadic, he has been revered for escaping the syrupy art-rock pretentiousness that his colleagues drowned in. Like Captain Beefheart, Wyatt has maintained a playfully unselfconscious experimentalism that may make for difficult listening, but is never boring. Shleep is a welcome comeback which, on first listen, reminded me of an old Brian Eno album. Sure enough, the booklet revealed that Eno did indeed arrange the first song, "Heaps of Sheeps." He also plays on two other songs. Wyatt's high, fragile voice is also similar to Eno's. Like this album, Wyatt's mid-70s solo albums, Rock Bottom (1974) and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (1975), mined the same cracks found between pop, art-rock and the avant-garde as Eno's post-Roxy Music solo albums of the same era. The main difference on Shleep is that the music is a gentler, prettier version of the old Wyatt, who could at times be abrasive in both sound and his ruthless politics. His lyrics are not all flight and whimsy, however. "Free Will and Testament" and "Blues in Bob minor" show that his politics have only grown more subtle in his old age, making more timelessly powerful songs in the long run.

-A.S. Van Dorsten
-Fast n

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