Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Essa-Pekka Salonen
"Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste" (CD)

American orchestras have ascribed to a certain hierarchy for the last 100 years or so.  The Big Five have included a bevy of east coast orchestras, but recently, perhaps in the last 30 years, California has emerged with not one, but two contenders for inclusion amongst America's Finest.

The San Fransisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic are now regarded as two of the finest, most stable and productive ensembles in the country.  In Los Angeles, this is in no small part to the tenure of Finnish conductor Essa-Pekka Salonen, music director from 1992 - 2009.

Recording Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion & Celeste" and "Concerto for Orchestra" is an overwhelming idea. Once the recording is finished, it's added to a very large pile of recordings that have been made of these works.  This is to speak to the power and popularity of these two works.  They are instantly gripping, challenging and yet rewarding to listen to, even to the moderately untrained ear.

Creedence Clearwater Revival
"Creedence Clearwater Revival" (CD)

One of the 70's finest purewater rock 'n roll bands made their debut with this album in 1968.  While they always had a country-fried flavor to them, CCR was forever willing to play boogie woogie, soul, R&B...whatever they felt like playing.  On this album, one of their biggest successes was with a cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" while the band's "Susie Q" turned out to be one of the band's most enduring singles.

While this album was released at the height of the hippie movement, the band is decidedly (and gratefully) out-of-step.  There are no flower power undertones or any love-fest thinking.  It is Bayou boogie in it's purest distilled form.  The world needed these boys.
Sonic Youth
"Dirty" (CD)

Sonic Youth's 7th full-length album (though only their 3rd on major label Geffen) was released in 1992.  Recorded by Butch Vig, it features a grungier sound than previous Youth records due to the overwhelming popularity of Grunge at the time.  (Hiring the producer and mixer of Nirvana's "Nevermind" couldn't have helped either.)

I don't profess to be the biggest authority on Sonic Youth, but I will say I am a huge supporter of the process they represent.  Alongside the radio-friendly top 40 world was East Coast's underground music scene, a darker, noisier music world that also brought us bands like the Pixies.   It pleases me that alongside the bubble-wrapped easily digested music there was (and is) this exploring continually happening.  I think you've always had to dig deeper to find it, but it lurks, just beneath the surface.
Soledad Brothers
"Soledad Brothers" (CD)

Digging back into my college music days we find the Soledad Brothers.  Hello, friends.

Released in 2000, this debut album by the Toledo, OH trio was produced by Jack White.  It helped bring the revival of garage blues-rock that the Greenhornes, the Kinks, the Vines and the White Stripes participated in.
While they never enjoyed huge success, the Brothers are often quoted as being influential to the likes of Jack White for their raw, unpolished bluesy touch that sounded a great deal like a tent revival service drenched in guitar overdrive.
I played regularly in Toledo during the time this band was active.  It was fun to see a community support their hometown heroes.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Andrew Bird
"Armchair Apocrypha" (Vinyl)

Andrew Bird's fourth solo album was released in 2007.  A slight departure from his earlier solo albums (and their heavy emphasis on the violin) sees a favoring more electric guitars and traditional "combo" feel.

That change, for me, makes this album less magical for me than Bird's earlier work.  Albums like "Weather Systems" or "The Mysterious Production of Eggs" had a quirky, unique flavor that was not easily imitated.  With 'Apocrypha,' some of that magic has waned and more accessible song-writing leaves this collection feeling a little washed-out.

A harsh opinion for a record that is still head-and-shoulders above your regular fare, but when you have a habit of being exceptional...