Monday, December 30, 2013

Rage Against the Machine
"Renegades" (CD)

This was Rage's fourth and final studio album.  It was released in 2000, just after Zach de la Rocha had already left the band. It followed closely on the heels of their seminal work, 'The Battle for Los Angeles.'

Unlike their other albums, 'Renegades' is a record made exclusively of covers from a wide-ranging list of artists including Bob Dylan, Devo and the MC5.

For me, it's less appealing than their earlier, original works.  While their treatment of known songs is often interesting and compelling, there's some level of sizzle that is lost.  I'm sure that's a statement engineered to pick a fight with a hardcore RAtM fan, but I'm pretty sure I can take her.
Various Artists
"The Man with the Iron Fists" (CD)

Imagine the meeting: a member of the Wu-Tang clan comes to you and describes a film starring himself living in a turn-of-the-century Chinese village where he must learn to Kung Fu against the evil families with the help of an Australian cowboy.  All set to a soulful set of old-school hip hop.

Who wouldn't sign on for that? Well, no one, apparently.  With co-writing credit to Eli Roth and production credit from Quentin Tarantino, this film knows its audience and went after it with as much grace and finesse as it could muster.

The film itself is far from great, but who really could've expected that? No, what you did expect, however, was fun Kung Fu fight scenes set to bumpin' hip hop.  And that you get. Sort of.

In the film there is a heap of music that has been tweaked for it's own purposes.  A perfect example is the opening credit's use of the Wu-Tang's "Shame on the Nigga" which gets a Far East makeover and is a great asset to the film.  Sadly, that track isn't included on this soundtrack.

I'll never quite understand how so much of the most memorable music in a film can be excluded from the official soundtrack, but once again, I would say this is a compilation that falls far short of it's potential.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Joy Division
"Unknown Pleasures" (Vinyl)

The debut album from the British post-punk band Joy Division was released in 1979. It proved to be the first of only two albums that Joy Division would release before the untimely demise of lead singer Ian Curtis.  The rest of the band endured as New Order, but the Division albums have built a healthy cult following.

I can't say this is a genre/time I've mined too much. The post-punk years in Great Britain are largely outside my sphere of knowledge. I only mention that because for me a healthy portion of my understanding of music can come from knowing where we were and where we were headed, musically speaking.  The music on this album comes from a time and geography that is largely foreign to me.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Charles Bradley
"Victim of Love" (Vinyl)

Bradley's sophomore album was released earlier this year (2013) and has been quietly sitting on my record shelf ever since. Shame on me.

It's not that there's been a 'hit' single off of the album that has started to garner attention for the 65 year-old singer, but rather Bradley's dynamic performances have been garnering attention worldwide as he tours with the Menahan Street Band. He's growing to be viewed as the disciple of James Brown, picking up where Soul music left off.

At first listen, this album doesn't seem to stretch too much from his previous.  The distinctive instrumental stylings of the Menahan crew are quickly becoming their own idiom.  This is fine with me.
I think the next think Charles Bradley & Co. should do is release a live album in an attempt to capture the energy from one of his concerts.  I think this is where people would realize just how good Charles is.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

B.B. King & Eric Clapton
"Riding with the King" (CD)

Two generations' greatest blues guitarists didn't go into the studio together until 2000, 52 years into B.B.'s career and 38 years into Clapton's.   What came out of those studio sessions is a glossy, well-packaged romp through several blues standards.

Underwhelmed is the word I'll use for this album.  In theory, it should have been crazy nuts, but it feels tamed, middle-aged and overly produced.  It sounds very nice on my stereo, but there a parts of me that feel it shouldn't sound quite so nice.  There's no grit. No dirt under the fingernails.
It's not a bad album, but it's not great.
"Little Queen" (Vinyl)

Heart's sophomore album was released in1977. Sort of.  Court battles with their previous label (Mushroom) meant that "Magazine" was technically released prior to "Queen."  When the litigious dust settled, however, "Queen" is officially regarded as their follow-up to "Dreamboat Annie."
It contains their biggest hit, "Barracuda" and carried the hard rock torch the band earned on from their first album.
I'm developing a real soft spot for this band's early works. (Their later output is still up in the air) but I love the sound of these albums, the hard-hitting and inventive instrumental playing and Annie Wilson's throaty vocals.
Leopold Stokowski, Philadelphia Orchestra
"Disney's Fantasia" (Vinyl)

This is the original vinyl release of the soundtrack to Walt Disney's seminal 1940 film that set popular classical works to film.

This whole project was a phenomenal technical feat, incorporating the performance given by the Philadelphia Orchestra with the fantastical visions playing out on the screen.   This project was slated to become a recurring series, with additional classical musical masterpieces set to film.  Sadly, it was abandoned, save for the one-off 'Fantasia 2000' that revisited the idea.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gidon Kremer, Martha Argerich
"Beethoven: Violin Sonatas nos. 9 & 10" (CD)

I'm auditioning some new speakers by KEF and a modern-day Marantz home theater 5.1 receiver this week.  It seemed a good time to pull out this ridiculously crazy recording made by two of the crazier, enigmatic members of the classical music world.

I've listened to this particular recording of the 'Kreutzer' sonata before, and I have to say, it sounds pretty good on these speakers.
Incidentally, my off-the-shelf Samsung blu-ray sounds pretty fine as a CD player also.

They are by no means low-end, but research online amongst the HT nerds didn't yield that much helpful information.  They do accept bi-amping and seem very well-built, so as far as home theaters go, this is a very respectable set.  As hi-fi speakers, they seem to hold their own.  It's got me debating the amount of gear I've accumulated in the last couple of years.

Let's debate that further while we put another CD in.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Artur Rubinstein
"Schumann: Carnaval op. 9" (Vinyl)

This relatively early work from Schumann's output was considered by Chopin to be "less than music" while Clara and Robert Schumann themselves thought this music too difficult for public audiences.  Let's all ponder why Schumann wrote it the way he did then.

The piece is intended to depict Robert and his friends at a masquerade ball at a carnival.  Each musical motive represents a different person and is encoded into each movement of the work.  I'm not sure if Robert intended his friends to care enough to examine the work closely enough to find out if they are talking to the cocktail waitress or partying on the dance floor, but the 22 short movements take up 1.5 sides of this RCA shaded dog.

Rubinstein is undoubtedly one of the most recorded pianists in history.  The number of recordings you can find of his are astonishing.  Partially due to his proficiency and partially due to the quality of the RCA recordings I snatch them up when I find them in good condition.  I'll never regret their purchase.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Average White Band
"AWB" (Vinyl)

The sophomore release from the Scottish funk/R&B band was their breakthrough hit.  It sold millions of copies and the single "Picking Up the Pieces" went all the way to number one.

I suppose this more than qualifies as 'blue-eyed' funk music since these guys are from Europe, but it's fun to see these uniquely American traditions picked up by other parts of the world and (often times) done better.  (Think of the UK blues revival with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.)

I've collected a few of AWB's albums because they're a friendly, head-boppin' good time every time.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Alberni String Quartet
"Britten: String Quartets nos. 2 & 3" (Vinyl)

Certainly not the best recording I have.  In fact, the recording techniques that were used for this poor quartet rival a Pfizer promotional recording of a Beethoven string trio that I reviewed here a couple years ago.

The microphone favors the first violin heavily and the other three instrumentalists sound like they're sitting across the room.
This is certainly NOT how the quartet performed.   I've never heard or dealt with this record label (CRD) before.  This particular album was imported from the UK.

Regarding the performance itself, I enjoy listening to these old quartet recordings when editing was not possible like it is today.  I think it gives us a much greater sense of the natural capability of the ensemble.  In contrast to this, today's recordings (particularly chamber music) are pulled a part with tweezers until ever piece is in the 'perfect' place.  While this makes for pristine sounding recordings, the performances can feel sterile and unnatural due to the superhuman cleanliness.

The Alberni Quartet isn't perfect on this recording, and whether or not they're happy about that, it's a useful reminder to have around.

EDIT: Britten himself coached the Alberni Quartet on his quartets.  Perhaps their interpretation could be considered somewhat authoritative.  Additionally, the Alberni Quartet gave the British premiere of Shostakovich's ninth and tenth string quartets.
The Mothers of Invention
"The Worst of the Mothers" (Vinyl)

After a lengthy unintended hiatus, I am actually home for a few weeks.  Let's listen to some music!

This 1971 release was a compilation released by MGM intended to coincide with Frank Zappa's rise in popularity after he moved to another label and began releasing much of his best work.

There's a great deal of vitriol on the interweb about this and other similar "greatest hits" albums released of Zappa's music.  Frank Zappa had nothing to do with the music that was included on this album and it was released purely to cash in on Zappa's success.

The music on this album is from the Mothers' early work (including "Freak Out!") and isn't nearly as famous as Zappa's output in the 1970's.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Various Artists
"28 Top-Hits in Super Stereo" (Vinyl)

Another German-printed super hi-fi stereophonic gimmick record recorded and pressed by EMI for P4.

It is a (nearly) comical collection of popular tunes done in a traditional German folk style.  Instrumentals only.  While it's funny to hear 'Crocodile Rock' done like in a Burlesque, it's a little to obscure to justify keeping on the shelf right now.  I think there's a reason the record is in such good shape after all these years.
"Draw the Line" (Vinyl)

Released in 1977, this was Aerosmith's fifth studio album.
It features a memorable caricature portrait of the band by Al Hirschfeld on the album cover.  Later pressings slapped the album title on the front cover along with the band name.

The copy I have is actually a promo copy so it has the giant Columbia Records 'Not for Sale' sticker on it as well as a generic white label on the LP itself.

When people discover the music of Aerosmith, it's probably through one of their top-selling greatest hits collections.  Unlike many other bands who enjoyed certain periods of creative prosperity, Aerosmith has a knack for stretching out their hits over decades.  ("Dream On" in 1973, "Sweet Emotion" in '75, "Come Together" in '87, "Amazing" in '93.)  

For my money, all I really need of Aerosmith is a greatest hits compilation album that stretches from their early days through the heyday 90's.   This band has enjoyed an enviable combination of chemistry between guitarist Joe Perry and front man Steven Tyler, but their songs never possessed the bone-crushing power of Led Zeppelin or the memorable charm of Queen. They've always been left somewhere in the middle.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Earth, Wind & Fire
"Gratitude" (Vinyl)

Released in 1976, this double-LP album was a monster success for the ensemble, having been registered triple-platinum by the RIAA, spending weeks on top of the charts and earning them a Grammy nomination.

While the party-down feel-good aspect of Earth, Wind & Fire can't be undersold, nothing quite compares to hearing Maurice White & Co. tear it up live (which constitutes 3 of the 4 sides.)
Hearing a band this tight with such vocal power and energy is unlike anything else.
"Steppin' Out on Saturday Night" (Vinyl)

I can't find out a whole lot about this band or this album.  It was released in 1978 during the height of disco and it's influence is clearly noted.

The liner notes suggest this ensemble was created out of the pieces of many other bands, but I've never heard of any of the musicians in SAIL.

The album is a collection of soul/funk/disco tunes that seem to be generic enough.  Not staying in my collection.
Yellow Magic Orchestra
"BGM" (Vinyl)

Another entry from the Saito collection, this 1981 album was released by the Japanese electronic music pioneers. It includes the band's earliest recorded work using a couple of seminal pieces of equipment: the Roland TR-808 and Roland MC-4.

BGM stands for Back Ground Music. While maybe it would be suitable to have pumping in the background of your lavish penthouse pool party it wouldn't be very comforting during an  elevator ride.

Very interesting stuff and another facet of musical development in the age following the jazz fusion explosion of the late '70's.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

"Stereo a la carte 3" (Vinyl)

Phase 4 Stereo was a concoction brewed up by the London record label as a series of "gimmick" records to promote the new-fangled "stereo" hi-fi's that were beginning to gain popularity in homes.

This particular record is a collection of groovy swingin' arrangements of popular tunes ranging from "La Bamba" to "Lady be Good."

London (and Decca) recorded these on state-of-the-art 10-track consoles and meticulously mixed to highlight the stereo effect.

As an advertisement goes, it's pretty radical.  This particular album was released in German.  There's hardly a word on the front or back I can make sense of.
Keller Quartet
"J.S. Bach - 'The Art of the Fugue'" (CD)

Bach wrote his treatise of counterpoint for an unspecified instrumentation.   At the time of Bach's death, the work was left incomplete.  Since his death in 1750, debate has continued over the intended recipient of his piece and it's generally agreed that Bach wanted the harpsichord to perform this work.

But, that didn't stop the rest of us from getting in and mucking about.  Once the string quartet was canonized as a standard musical vehicle, performances of the work inevitably followed soon after.

This recording was made by the Hungarian Keller Quartet in 1997 and was released in 2000.
The quartet does a remarkable job capturing the sonorous and open qualities of Bach's Baroque sensibilities and captures some of the most in tune, non-vibrated chords I've heard from a string quartet.

If you're looking for a great CD to put on while you're productively bumbling around your home, this is probably it.
Spryo Gyra
"Morning Dance" (Vinyl)

Spyro Gyra's sophomore (and most commercially successful) album was released in 1979.  It contained one of the band's most successful chart-topping songs, "Morning Dance."

Another venture into the foray of late-70's jazz fusion groups, Spryo Gyra at least can claim that they came from a very unglamorous beginning playing bars and clubs in Buffalo, NY.  Unlike their California-born counterparts, there's a blue collar street cred to these boys.

The lineup on this album is considered their most successful.  While Gyra still performs today, there are only a handful of original members.
Charlie Fox & the Ring of Sound
"All" (Vinyl)

It's been another lengthy haitus this summer.  I think we're back for a while this time. I think.

This album is kind of a rarity, according to the Interweb. There's very little information easily found about this album.  There's also little information about Charlie Fox.  Or the Ring of Sound.

What is this? It's an album full of poppy jazz arrangements of popular favorites (including "Greensleeves" and "Eleanor Rigby") and apparently it's a fairly rare record even though prices on eBay range from $10 to $50 for a copy of the record.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Dr. Hook
"The Best of Dr. Hook" (Vinyl)

The first of many compilation album from Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show was released in 1976.

These guys didn't take too many things seriously as evident by their lyrics, musical arrangements and album artwork.
How many bands get a one-eyed cowboy for their frontman?
His voice is as distinctive and interesting as any I've heard.
Ruth Welcome
"Zither Magic!" (Vinyl)

This album is exactly what it looks like.
I can't honestly say I would ever listen to this again, but because of the album artwork, I can't really bear to get rid of it.

Some things are just worth hanging up on the wall.
This isn't one of those things.

But it makes me laugh.
.38 Special
"Rockin' Into the Night" (Vinyl)

The Southern rocker's third album was released in 1980.  It also yielded the band their first big hit, the title track "Rockin' Into the Night" which resembles most closely KISS-worthy arena rock.

Lead singer Donnie Van Zandt is brother to Skynyrd vocalists Johnny and Ronnie Van Zandt.  Imagine calling someone's name around the dinner table in that house.

Unlike Lynyrd Skynyrd, this album feels more closely tied to arena and riff-heavy rock than any Southern-fried Bayou-born boogie.  Whether or not it's memorable is another question...
The Climax Blues Band
"Gold Plated" (Vinyl)

Released in 1976, this was the Climax Blues Band's highest-charting album.  The band, formed in England, helped the UK revival of the American Blues tradition in the 60's.

This album contained the group's biggest hit, "Couldn't Get it Right" and saw their height of popularity in the United States.

Changing tastes in music saw the early demise of Climax's popularity and although the band has never stopped recording or touring, this album probably represented the zenith of their power.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

David LaFlamme
"Whitebird" (Vinyl)

Released in 1976, this is an album released by violinist, composer, singer and songwriter David LaFlamme after his time as leader of the San Fransisco-based hippy band It's a Beautiful Day.

The information is so spotty online, it's hard to trace a genesis for this particular album.  Credited as "solo violinist" for the Utah Symphony (huh?), David LaFlamme then participated in the Summer of Love and out of it came It's a Beautiful Day.

Beyond that, I'm not sure where/when this album fits in, but I don't think it'll remain in the collections.  I've got a lot of other records to get to, let's go!
Tir na nOg
"A Tear and a Smile" (Vinyl)

This album was in a stack I uncovered in a random thrift shop in St. Louis. Many of the records are obscure Canadian albums from the 1970's and 80's.

Released in 1972, this was Tir na nOg's first international release.  The Irish duo formed in 1969 and disbanded in 1974, but were together long enough to put out three LP albums.

The songwriting on this album is notable for it's forward-looking acoustic folk styling. Close vocal harmonies and beautiful acoustic guitar playing make this a very easy to listen to album.  After a few minutes you realize that their song construction is much more interesting than what we usually hear from this vein.
Lynyrd Skynyrd
"Pronounced 'leh-nerd 'skin-herd" (Vinyl)

Released in 1973, this was the album that pushed the southern hard rockers to superstardom.  It also contains one of the two songs the band's best known for, ("Free Bird") the other being released on their 1974 album 'Second Helping' ("Sweet Home Alabama.")

The band's hefty line-up was desired to replicate the triple-lead guitar sound live in concert.  The sound is distinctive.

While the southern-fried rock thing isn't terribly in my milieu, a few bands (Allman Bros. and Skynyrd) were intuitive enough to keep enough hard rock roots in the ground that their appeal was wider than the deep south.

For a debut album, their concept and execution is impressive. In contrast to today's test tube acts born in a laboratory, this album has the feel of musicians that were very used to playing with each other in countless bars.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Van Halen
"Van Halen" (CD)

Released in 1978, this debut album received mixed reaction initially, but has come to be regarded as one of the most important, groundshaking debuts ever recorded.   When put into its historical context, it's musical language may even be more immediately groundbreaking than any who had come before.

At the tail end of Led Zeppelin's lifespan the public had become weary of the bloated shadow Page, Plant & co. had become.  A digital revolution in the recording industry was afoot and young ears were itching for a "new" sound.

Enter Eddie Van Halen and his noisy brood of bar music.  It was a harbinger of things to come.  Behind Van Halen would be a host of hair metal glam rockers that would dominate the next decade.

But it all started here.  While I'm not the biggest fan of a lot of Van Halen's output, this album is particularly ear-catching. There's a healthy homage to the riff-driven heavy rock from before, but Van Halen's screaming guitar antics were unlike anything previously attempted.  The classic track "Eruption" would quiet any doubts about the band's raw ability.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Rumour
"Frogs, Sprouts, Clogs & Krauts" (Vinyl)

In an attempt to work through a reasonable stack of vinyl that I've accumulated over the past several months (and rid myself of that which I don't want) I'm trying to give a couple of titles I've never seen/heard of before a quick listen to see if they can find a home.

The Rumour were Graham Parker's back-up band and recorded several of their own albums in addition to many of Mr. Parker's notable albums in the 70's and 80's.  The album has the glossy, tight production value to it, but nothing terribly interesting, musically speaking.

"Direct" (Vinyl)

Greek composer Vangelis has had quite a storied career (his highest accomplishment being the "Chariots of Fire" soundtrack) and this album is an instrumental odyssey through mountains of synthesized samples and textures.
The sincerity with which Vangelis approaches his music is giving me cause to listen carefully to this album; the verdict is still out on it's ultimate fate in my collection.
Suzuki Isao Quartet
"Blue City" (Vinyl)

Part of the Saito collection, I wasn't quite sure what was going to play through the hi-fi when it started spinning.  There's limited information (in English) on the interweb about Mr. Isao and his jazz combos, so it was something of an adventure.

As it turns out, this is jazz in a pretty traditional vein although it is fun to see how the combo gets in and out of grooves; their methods are a bit more obscure than what we're used to hearing in the American jazz tradition.

Be that as it may, this is a nice sounding record that was originally released in 1974.  This is one of two albums from the era that are notably mentioned around the webosphere.  Aside from this, it would appear Mr. Isao has enjoyed a long and productive career elsewhere in the world.  There is still so much I do not know.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Beaux Art Trio, George Pieterson
"Brahms, Beethoven: Clarinet Trios" (Vinyl)

Among the catalog of odd chamber music composed, the clarinet trio is a funny bird that has enjoyed attention by two of music's greatest titans. Brahms wrote his trio for the clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld (to which the two sonatas and clarinet quintet are also dedicated) and Beethoven indicated in his score that the two higher voices in his trio could be played either by violin or clarinet, or by a bassoon or cello (respectively.)

Brahms' work benefits from being amongst his late output, emerging from retirement to compose these works for Muhlfeld while Beethoven's work is relatively early in his development.  The imaginative and creative use of instruments seemed to be a trademark of Beethoven's phase as a developing composer. (Think: septet)

The performance here is beautiful.  Bernard Greenhouse and Pressler are as wonderful as in any Beaux Art recording. I am able to learn little about George Pieterson except of his one-time position with the Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouworkest.
Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia Orchestra
"Beethoven: Symphony no. 7" (Vinyl)

Angel packaged some beautiful, resilient vinyl back in the day.  This cycle of Beethoven's symphonies, which dates from the late 50's enjoyed protection inside thick cardboard sleeves which are the sturdiest I've seen (next to older Everest recordings.)

Klemperer was personal friends with Mahler and probably only three handshakes away from Beethoven himself.  Regarded as one of the best conductors of the 20th century, he did not enjoy a particular notoriety in the United States (overshadowed by the superstar status of Bernstein, Ormandy and Szell.)

His tempos in this recording of Beethoven's 7th are deliberate, bordering on slow compared to the sometimes frantic tempos I hear today.  There is a control and sublime wisdom that comes through in this performance.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Al Kealoha Perry

"Favorite Instrumentals of the Islands" (Vinyl)

Sometimes I just pick up a record not so much for its content, but because of when it was produced.  Often times, the quality of the recording and production is worth the 25 cents.

At some point in the 50's and 60's, along with Latin bands, America had a taste for the exotic.  Perhaps they didn't realize by this point, Hawaii was part of America and therefore not terribly exotic any more.


This album, (claiming to have been recorded on the beaches of Waikiki) is two sides of languid, relaxing pedal steel and ukelele strumming, no doubt intended to call to mind the soft rushing of waves as they lapped against the shore, the undulating hula girls and the mild weather.  It's all very beautiful, I suppose.  I may not keep this one around...

The Allman Brothers Band
"Eat a Peach" (Vinyl)

Released in 1972, this was a difficult period for the Southern Rock legends.  Following the break-through success of the band's "Live at Fillmore East" the band returned to the studio to record the tracks that would become "Eat a Peach" when slide guitarist Duane Allman was killed in a car accident.  Some tracks were re-recorded, some were added in homage to the bandmember's death.

This album is full of the country-fried Southern rock and improvisations that the band became famous for.  While the band carried on after Duane Allman's untimely death, it was these early records for which they are still most highly regarded.

I'll consider this part of the Saito Collection (which I'll hopefully refer to again and again.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Paul Simon
"Graceland" (Vinyl)

This was a monster hit in 1986 when it was released.  Not only did it clean up the Grammy awards for "best" everything, but it's subsequently been included on many "best of" or "greatest ever" lists.

1) This is a beautifully recorded record.  There is an uncommon range of musical textures and instruments included on this record, and they are all captured beautifully, creating a tapestry uncommon to pop records of any age.

2) This record made music in a new (and still unique) way. Combining a diverse range of musical styles, this record (in my opinion) took the mold of hip-hop music and applied it to a completely unexpected genre.  Sampling from a plethora of musical cultures (Zydeco, African and Caribbean drumming, Ladysmith Black Mambazo) and then crafting his light-hearted lyrics on top of it, Paul Simon created a whole new musical language.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Howlin' Wolf
"The Howlin' Wolf Album" (Vinyl)

The Rolling Stones were part of the British Invasion in 1964.  Among other things, the Stones brought with them a revival of interest in American Blues music.  Suddenly musicians like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf had people's ears in ways they hadn't in decades.

Chess Records decided to experiment with "contemporizing" the traditional blues sound with Hendrix-inspired psychadelic rock arrangements of the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.  Both blues legends were brought into the studio to re-record their popular tunes with a backing ensemble of musicians.
The stories persist that Howlin' Wolf strongly disliked the sound that was achieved with these "updates" of his music and didn't regard the music as the blues.

The album artwork has to rank high on the frank honesty scale.  It was a lesson in marketing: don't use negativity to sell.
Original Soundtrack
"The Muppet Movie" (Vinyl)

If there was a soundtrack to my youth, this would make the shortlist.
This film is older than I, but it was ubiquitous with my upbringing.  (Having parents who were huge fans of 'the Muppet Show' helped)

Not being the most attentive listener when it comes to lyrical content, I was shocked when I realized how many lyrics I knew from these songs.  Finally, decades later, the songwriting teams that crafted tunes for the films and television (including Sesame Street) are beginning to get credit for the genuinely good songs they wrote.  Yes, they're goofy and mercilessly innocent, but the music was part of the 'song and dance' idea that Jim Henson wanted. These songs lend as much character to the film as any of the actors that brought the Muppets to life.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fitzwilliam Quartet
"Shostakovich: String Quartet nos. 1, 2" (CD)

The Fitzwilliam Quartet has the distinction (from only basic research) of having recorded the first complete cycle of Shostakovich's string quartets, plus having given the western premiere of his three final quartets.

The quartet was founded in 1968 while students at Cambridge and were befriended by Shostakovich during a visit by the composer to New York.  Their recording of his 15th string quartet was personally supervised by Shostakovich himself.

Their playing is markedly different from how many quartets would perform today.  The first violinist on these records takes a striking, almost offensive approach, removing what we would consider "beauty" from his approach to the music and instead tries to translate Shostakovich's emotional grappling with more visceral, violent techniques.  Its a nice change from so many quartets that can play everything well, but often say anything unique.
The Cleveland Quartet
"Beethoven: String Quartets op. 18 no. 4, 5" (CD)

I played a movement of op. 18 no. 4 a few weeks ago as part of a summer music festival.  As usual, when it comes to Beethoven string quartets, these are my go-to recordings.  (That may be because they're the only recordings on my iPod, but we won't trifle with the details.)

Bill Preucil has logged some of the most impressive, effortless sounding performances I've ever heard.  I've had the privilege of performing with him in a performance of Mozart's fourth violin concerto and his ability to make these notes sound so weightless and buoyant is amazing.

This entire cycle of Beethoven's string quartets I regard to be amongst the best.  By the time the Cleveland Quartet recorded them, the ensemble was a well-oiled, well-rehearsed machine very comfortable in its own skin.  While their cycle recorded with Weilerstein (and Martha Strongin-Katz) is also important, I'll always have an affectation for this particular incarnation.
Soul Coughing
"Irresistible Bliss" (CD)

Released in 1996, this was the New York-based "slacker jazz" trio's sophomore album.

While not quite as organized or clear in concept when compared with the preceding "Ruby Vroom," "Irresistible" lacked nothing in the weirdo department.  Full of bizarre samples and deep bass lines, the whole disgusting sundae was topped by Doughty's trippy lyrics.

While never a mainstream success, the single "Super Bon Bon" did continue their moment of fame amongst the college radio circuit.
Four Tet
"Pause" (Vinyl)

Normally an act that I would keep on CD, I found a few of Four Tet's albums on vinyl on one of my trips to New Orleans and I couldn't help picking up one.

The "folktronic" artist (otherwise known as Kieran Hebden) released his second album in 2001. The only other album I own (to date) of his was his fourth, released in 2003.
Not much changed between these two albums.  Tet possesses a rare ability to stretch the listener's tolerances without ever losing our interest.  Any time concepts may become too thin he is ready to step in with a meaty drum loop to ground everything again.  I look forward to exploring more of Mr. Hebden's works.
Billy Vaughan
"Plays" (Vinyl)

Released in 1959, I have a Dot recording in stereo.  I've seen numerous versions of this album, which I think speaks to a wild success for Mr. Vaughan and his orchestra.

Vaughan was one of the big names in the easy-listening orchestral world.  While others cut their teeth arranging and conducting for the likes of Sinatra etc., Vaughan's compositions almost always featured instrumentalists and his popular arrangements of well-known tunes became world famous.

This record always jumps out at me in record bins because of the brilliant orange cover and (not surprisingly) the Eames plywood chair Mr. Vaughan is resting on.
Big Brother & the Holding Co.
"Cheap Thrills" (Vinyl)

Robert Crumb's distinctive style makes this one of the most eye-popping covers I own.  I would say Cream's 'Disraeli Gears' is a close second.
I found a sealed re-release of the monophonic pressing which the jacket gushed as being "extremely rare." More impressively, the price was quite reasonable.

This album, released in 1968, was the band's second to feature Janis Joplin as lead vocalist.
I also have Joplin's "Pearl" on my shelves and while that is often cited as her most famous work, (it was released posthumously) Joplin's vocals on this album are some of the most remarkable I've heard from 60's rock n' roll.  She is in full banshee wail, her distinctive raspy harmonics giving the sense of a full-out scream even when she's whispering.
Woody Herman
"Twelve Shades of Blue" (Vinyl)

Released in 1955, this Columbia six-eye was a fun find.  Sometimes its good to find records that remind me why this hobby began in the first place.

Woody Herman's orchestra is in full-swoon with twelve songs that all mention the color blue in the title.  There have definitely been thinner concepts for an album as the tone is decidedly laid-back, perfect for that cheek-to-cheek dancing I've heard so much about.

Average White Band
"Soul Searching" (Vinyl)

Well, we lost a month.  It was as bad as I expected...

Back to it!

'Soul Searching' was AWB's fourth album and was released in 1976 and their third release for Atlantic records.

Sticking to their strengths, this album is full of funk and soul that rivals any of the greats.  Not bad for a bunch of white boys, right?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Flaming Lips
"At War With the Mystics" (CD)

The Lips are a band I have never sought out on vinyl.  They are great at building songs that include an extreme spectrum of sounds which are great for testing out stereo equipment.  The clinical precision of chores like this are better left to digital sources, in my opinion.
This album has two songs I like to use for trying out new equipment. The "Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" and "W.A.N.D" are both sonic playgrounds.

That being said, this album represents the last Lips album I own to-date. This was their eleventh release, dropped in 2006. It is the end of an era of Lips albums that was more commercially viable.   I suppose I'm fine with letting them slip back into the sea of Weird Obscuritus because a firm half of this album would have been completely fine not being released.

Perhaps its the drug use, but the Lips don't seem to possess a finely-tuned radar for what music should make it into the world and what shouldn't.  Their prolific output could be condensed measurably if certain guidelines were applied.

I'll be the last one to suggest that music needs confinement, but in the case of the Lips, there's a lot I could do without.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Weather Report
"Heavy Weather" (Vinyl)

Released in 1977, this was the Weather Report's eighth full-length album.  Considered a milestone of jazz-rock fusion in the 70's, this was the first album to feature bassist Jaco Pastorius as a full-fledged member.  His playing is prominently featured throughout this record.

Fusion groups became quite popular for off-the-beaten path music-lovers in the 1970's.  Whether it was Herbie Hancock's genre-blurring albums or the Mahavishnu Orchestra, there was a vibrant, logical exploration of the many forms of music that had found each other in the decades immediately following rock n' roll's explosion of popularity in the 1950's.

Maybe this kind of music was as off-the-radar in the 70's as it is today, but I'd like to think that the Weather Report could have found a more willing audience to their music than the stranglehold radio and music television is in today where only a few artists of "redeeming" quality are paid attention to.

Monday, June 10, 2013

"Dummy" (CD)

Perhaps the greatest ambassador of the trip-hop genre, the UK trio Portishead released this album in 1994 and achieved a critical and commercial success despite their reluctance to do high-profile press.

Deep, groovy, looped beats form the foundation for Beth Gibbons' vocals who uses lyrics that are sometimes to the point, and some times flit effortlessly towards nowhere at all.

The trio's unpredictable work tempo has helped to develop a cult fan base that would cling on from 1994 until their third album's release in 2008.   If most bands tried to release an album every eleven years, their efforts would be rewarded with a dismal thud.  Portishead is one of those lucky few.