Miles Davis: Flamenco Sketches
On my desert island, there are going to be times when I need to hear some jazz, and that means Miles Davis. Specifically, that means Kind of Blue. Davis heard music in his head that no one else did, and he found some of the best musicians in jazz history to play it. So, Flamenco Sketches has John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley on saxes, and Bill Evans on piano. Of course, you can hear for yourself what a great trumpet player Miles Davis was. Flamenco Sketches comes at the end of Kind of Blue, and it is human nature that we can only remember so much information at a time. So, even though Kind of Blue only has five songs, it is the first four that people remember. Flamenco Sketches is a beautiful ballad with very subtle Spanish accents. It’s the kind of song you can get lost in, because it is so quiet and delicate. But it also rewards close listening.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
In the United Sates, Dexys Midnight Runners are regarded as a one hit wonder, on account of their 1982 megahit Come On Eileen. One may charitably ascribe such a narrow view to the insularity of a society that believes its biggest sporting codes enjoy such global popularity as to justify calling their national competitions “world series”.
Of course Dexys are not a conventional one hit wonder; in most parts of the Western world they had at least one big hit before Come On Eileen. Their 1980 tribute to R&B singer Geno Washington, titled Geno, was a #1 hit in Britain, and a big hit throughout Europe (follow-up There There My Dear was a UK #7 hit). It may well be my favourite single of the 1980s.
Geno came from the outstanding Searching For The Young Soul Rebel album. For that exercise Dexys sported the shorehand look; for 1982’s Too-Rye-Ay Kevin Rowland and his fellow nocturnal joggers adopted the Irish peasant look.
Searching For The Young Soul Rebel was one of the great albums of the ’80s. My view may be anathema to Dexys fans, but I consider Too-Rye-Ay even better. Oddly, Come On Eileen was only the fourth song from the album to be released as a single. It was #1 everywhere but in North Korea (though even there the Dear Leader locked himself in the toilet and secretly had his thoughts verge on dirty). Follow up Jackie Wilson Said, a cover of the Van Morrison song, was also an international hit. Even the sixth single off the album, Let’s Get This Straight, managed to be a UK top 20 hit.
Until I Believe In My Soul wasn’t a single, but is something of a centrepiece of the album, traversing musical genres from folk to jazz, glorious horns and fiddles, impassioned vocals, whistling, coughing, orgasmic noises and angry mumbling (including a bit of swearing), plus one of the best cynical laughs in pop, and a killer chorus.
By the way, the name Dexys takes no apostrophe. It’s a reference to the drug Dexedrine (which makes you run at midnight, you see).
Elvis Costello: The Beat
Friday, May 6, 2011
Grateful Dead: Tennessee Jed
I should probably start with an explanation. All of the posts for this theme have used album covers, so what the heck is this? As I recall, the vinyl release of the Grateful Dead’s Europe ‘72 had the words “Grateful Dead” and “Europe ‘72” printed on the shrink-wrap, but the image above is what you were left with once you peeled that off. So that is the album cover.
I had to post something by the Grateful Dead this week. They were my first favorite band. My oldest brother introduced me to them with Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty. My brother was a guitar player with visions of rock stardom, and he related to Jerry Garcia as a guitar god. But I heard something different. I was drawn to the warmth of Garcia’s voice, and especially to the storytelling in the lyrics. These qualities would eventually lead me to folk music. The Dead also introduced me to the blues, and probably made it easier for me to appreciate jazz much later. So, which album should I feature?
The Dead were at the height of their powers in the 1970s. This was the time when it all came together, and before it fell apart. Listen to the live performances captured in the Dick’s Picks and From the Vault series, and compare the recordings from the 70s to those from the 80s, and you will see what I mean. But Europe ‘72 is not from either of those series. Instead, it was an official release that came out when the band was still active. The Grateful Dead had one weakness, and that was that they were lazy singers. This meant that they hit lots of sour notes when they performed live, especially in the harmony vocals. So, for their official releases of live material, they would go into the studio and redo the vocals. Europe ’72 was done this way, and the results completely justify it. The vocals are as good as the Dead could get them, and the fire of a live performance is preserved. On Tennessee Jed, I particularly enjoy the interplay between Jerry Garcia’s guitar part and Pigpen’s piano work. In the lyric, the storytelling that I so love is on fine display, and the talking dog makes me smile.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Steely Dan: Aja
Music Appreciation 401: Final Exam - Counts for 25% of your final grade
Compare and contrast the previously posted "Livin' On The Fault Line" with Steely Dan's "Aja". Explain why this song would be on your desert island list.
Both songs were released in 1977.
Both songs were the non-hit title tracks off their respective albums.
Both songs are in the genre known as jazz-rock.
Extra credit: Both songs feature vibe player Victor Feldman.
The Doobie Brothers exemplified the 70's laid-back California rock sound, whereas Steely Dan represented the New York City temperament: intellectual, slightly cynical, sophisticated, with a dash of sangfroid.
Aja, the song, features some of the best jazzmen around. Steely Dan (basically Walter Becker and Donald Fagan), arguably one of the best studio groups, like, ever, were known for their expertise in selecting primo sidemen. Take a look at the impressive roster for this song:
Wayne Shorter, saxophone (with Weather Report at the time)
Larry Carlton, guitar (in The Crusaders circa 1976; he was also spectacularly featured on Kid Charlemagne)
Denny Diaz, guitar Steely Dan's most consistent side member.
Joe Sample, electric piano (long-time member of The Crusaders)
Steve Gadd, drums
Michael Omartian, piano
Victor Feldman, vibes Featured in many session recordings from Frank Zappa to Miles Davis.
Chuck Rainey, bass I can't even begin to list the groups he's played with.
Timothy B. Schmit, vocals. Better known as one of The Eagles.
I'd bring Aja to any desert island exile because, well, Wayne Shorter and Larry Carlton on a Steely Dan song have got to be the pinnacle of wonderful in my eyes. And hell, they've got one of the Eagles as backing vocalists. When I wasn't listening to the Aja track, I'd be grooving on Deacon Blues because it has both Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour on guitar. Or I'd be groovin' on Peg, with Tom Scott and vocalist Michael McDonald, who is also featured on Livin' on the Fault Line, and do I get extra credit for mentioning that, too? I wouldn't be the only one with Steely Dan on an island sojourn: Rolling Stone Magazine lists it as one of their top 500 albums ever, and our very own Darius has posted 4 Steely Dan songs here, so he must love them, too!
Monday, May 2, 2011
Talk Talk: Inheritance
A lot of albums have run through my head as I’ve considered this week’s theme, but it was Geoviki’s thoughts about the nostalgic appeal of some music that convinced me that I had to post something from Talk Talk’s 1988 album, Spirit of Eden.
What makes a great album might be a collection of great songs. But Geoviki is right that what makes a favorite album is a collection of great songs coupled with an album’s role in our personal life’s narrative.
I think Spirit of Eden is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard, based only on it’s merits as art. But it also has enormous nostalgic appeal for me. I remember driving home from the San Francisco airport having just dropped off a girl who I guessed I would never see again (I was right). This album distracted me from that pain as I left the city. I also remember long nights talking with friends while Mark Hollis’s crying vocals accompanied us in the background. There are many other times when this album has been in the background of my life.
The Spirit of Eden takes a lot of getting used to. There is nothing easy or catchy about it. It’s quiet and rarely demands your attention. It develops slowly. Many of you will probably push “play” on this post, wait 20 seconds, then move on to something else. I get that, I really do. But to me it’s beautiful.
I think all of the tracks would qualify as “deep tracks”, since there are no hits from the album, so I just chose a good song that hasn’t been posted on this blog before.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Underneath us all
There's a world that we always forget 'til it moves us,
Where the moon on the bay dances all alone.
Ramone, he draw the razor swift, it slice the air,
No more lovely dreams of those summer nights
Down in Santo Domingo.
Livin' on the Fault Line was the second album in the Michael McDonald era of the Doobies, and is considered a sleeper, only in that it didn't sell a bajillion copies like their next album, Minute by Minute, did. Unlike the rest of their stuff, this 1977 album saw no single hits, even with the Carly-Simon-penned "You Belong To Me" and a Marvin Gaye cover, "Little Darlin' (I Need You)".
The unheralded title song is probably the jazziest of any Doobies tune, on what is a pretty jazz-rock-y LP in toto. Written and sung (mostly) by guitarist Pat Simmons (although there's no mistaking McDonald's vocals in there, too), it features noted jazz vibraphonist Victor Feldman (of Seven Steps to Heaven fame).
I think the reason this album carries such affection with me is that I listened to it pretty much nonstop when I was road-tripping alone in SoCal in the summer of 1978. It's got that nostalgia thing going for it, you see, so if I were indeed stuck on that fabled desert island, I'd be playing this with memories of being young and cruising through California.
Dammit man, the Doobie Brothers broke up! Sheee-it! When did that happen? (Jack Colton, Romancing the Stone, 1984)
Joni Mitchell: The Jungle Line
Joni Mitchell is one of my favorite artists. Most people who say that would probably name Blue or Court and Spark as their favorite album of hers. Many would shun my choice, The Hissing of Summer Lawns. You see, Mitchell was one of the first of the singer-songwriters, and she made her name with her confessional songs and her folk-influenced sound. But Hissing was her first attempt to break away from that. The songs are written mostly in the third person, and clearly are not confessional at all. And musically, the album represents the deepening of Mitchell’s interest in jazz. Over time, the reputation of the album has improved. In France They Kiss on Main Street and especially Edith and the Kingpin are now recognized as two of Mitchell’s best songs. But The Jungle Line doesn’t usually come up in those conversations.
Joni Mitchell built The Jungle Line from a field recording of what is identified in the liner notes as the “warrior drums of Burundi”. On top of that, Mitchell added her own acoustic guitar and synthesizer parts, and of course, her vocal. The lyric contrasts the urban jungle with the lush actual jungle depicted in the paintings of Henri Rousseau. Just as Mitchell’s instrumental parts do not tame the wildness of the source music, so too does the city fail to tame the wildness in Rousseau’s heart. This is a perfect match of music and lyric.