You’ve probably heard by now that for his umpteenth album, Neil Young chose to sing (mostly) American (mostly) folk songs. It seemed like a good idea, and I wanted to like this album. I’m a huge Neil Young fan — I’ve even been known to defend the merits of Landing on Water. So yes, I wanted to like it, but I just can’t.
It was a great honor and a pleasure to be able to provide music before, between, and after the great bands that played the first night of the Big Takeover’s 30th Anniversary festival at Bell House. Here are my playlists, with the performing bands also listed to provide context.
Tonight’s the Night is ragged, bleak, weird. It must have come as a complete shock to label executives hoping for more mellow classics along the lines of “Heart of Gold.” It sat unreleased for two years.
Simone recasts ancient blues songs by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy to create the epic opening track “Levee/1927.”
Morrissey cited them as a favorite, but really, who doesn’t like them? Their 1988 debut album Lovely, with its hit single “Crash,” still sounds great, as does the follow-up, Pure. Lovely showed more musical range than much of the competition.
This soundtrack for Marc Craste’s animated film Varmints is absolutely beautiful, of course, yet with an austere elegance and the occasional dissonant edge.
The fertility and innovation of the Athens, GA music scene in the late ’70s/early ’80s is legendary (B-52s, Pylon, Love Tractor, R.E.M.). Now, in the wake of DFA’s wonderful Pylon reissues, Acute, which has long had an interest in that period if not that locale, blesses us with more brilliant material from that time and place.
There’s a buzz about this 1974 album among collectors of vintage psychedelia and prog-rock; quite a rarity, the original LPs — only 200 pressed — were supposedly going for as much as $1000 in online auctions (the highest I saw was $800).
A spectacularly intense yet intimate performance by a still-hungry young artist on the rise.
The music here is denser, heavily grounded in low drones; its thrums and buzzes are more genuinely industrial in tone than the Industrial genre ever was.
This album often suggests the feelings from a nerve stretched taut and sawed at. Don’t put this on for a comfortable listen; put it on for intense and disturbing catharsis.
This is soul offering little uplift (some hypnotic grooves and the momentum built from insistent repetition) but plentiful painful catharsis.
The way the droning, slowly percolating textures are electronically treated is redolent of the fuzzy friendliness of laptop ambient, while the arc structures sound completely composed and their long, slow crescendos will sound familiar to post-rock fans, but with mirroring decrescendos instead of pounding climaxes.
They were basically a modern classical chamber group playing written music, but they played at rock clubs, and despite the unusual instrumentation Birdsongs rocked hard – in a looping, minimalist way.
“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth.”
SY has a great sound, and even when the lyrics are silly or lackadaisical, Lee and Thurston’s distinctive guitar timbres push all the right buttons. They invented this sound/style, and despite all the bands influenced by it over the past three decades, they’re still the best.
Certainly the 40th anniversary of Astral Weeks deserved to be celebrated, but conceptually, it was a bit odd to present one of the most intimate albums in rock history at the Hollywood Bowl, capacity 17,376. But what could’ve been a disaster proved a triumph.
What’s great about the Nigeria 70 compilations is that they give us a fuller context in which to view the stars.
One of the great post-punk bands, 23 Skidoo probably owes its relative obscurity (compared to pals Cabaret Voltaire) to its frequent and radical style-shifts.
Tonight (Friday 1/30, 6:30) Shiraishi will be at Japan Society, reading with Itaru and participating in a discussion moderated by Forrest Gander. Saturday afternoon at 2 she will be at the Bowery Poetry Club, again with Itaru, who is quite a wonderful and imaginative player; also reading will be Beat legend Ira Cohen, health permitting, and Steve Dalachinsky, who will furthermore pitch in with Shiraishi on the English/Japanese tandem parts. I will be there.
Another year, another fine show from Neil Young’s archives. This one is compiled from two solo acoustic shows on consecutive nights in Ann Arbor, before his solo debut had been released.
I don’t often wish I were in Los Angeles, but if I could be there November 7-8 at the Hollywood Bowl, I would, because forty years after its November 1968 release, Van Morrison will be performing his album Astral Weeks with two of the musicians he recorded it with.
Fasteau will be playing this Tuesday, October 14 at 10 PM at Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery, NYC with Clif Jackson (bass), Ron McBee (percussion, berimbau), and guests. This is part of the monthly ESP-Disk series at BPC.
For male vocalists in pop music, it’s the tenors who get all the glory, but in jazz and much soul it’s the baritones, and when I saw this San Francisco-based veteran compared to JOE WILLIAMS and LOU RAWLS, I was eager to check him out.
Using a combination of the original session tapes, demos, and newly recorded parts, near the end of last year the band put out a version conforming to their own sound rather than their producers’. Three decades on, the classic underneath the bad production has been revealed, proving that the excitement they generated in their home base of Los Angeles was not mere hype.
Levin, a grizzled veteran by now, has come to a distinctive style that, while certainly inspired by his predecessors’ work, is never obviously derivative of anyone in particular. Nor does it stand in one place; Levin is just as likely to play a melodic phrase as to unleash flying flurries of evolving patterns arpeggiated and/or scalar or soar into the altissimo register of his tenor in ecstatic exultation.
Part of a trilogy, this is darkwave ambient music, quiet but with serrated edges on its drones. There’s nothing new agey about this ambient, which makes for uneasy listening with its buzzing and clanking amid the drones and a glacial pace of movement that oozes foreboding.
The fact that their evolution over three albums and various EPs has avoided repetition will be mourned by some who want only the familiar, but refreshingly enables them from becoming outdated.
The Truckers have long specialized in gritty portrayals of the New South’s sordid sides. A few titles such as “Daddy Needs a Drink,” “You and Your Crystal Meth,” and “A Ghost to Most” give an idea of the dirty soap operas that play out across this epic album, but the black humor – usually paired with a profound empathy – runs deep through most of the 19 songs.
It’s only January, but already we’ve got our first example of major label greed running out of control. Nonesuch, a division of WEA, has issued two versions of the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s film of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp in an adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical of the same name. Consumers – and retailers – have an unpleasant choice to make.
The delicacy of her music in this period is of a piece with her famous 1970 LP, and her voice is even more angelic.
Hank Thompson died Tuesday (11/6/07) of lung cancer. His combination of Honky Tonk singing and sentiments with Western Swing backing made him a country music superstar.
La Otracina journeys back three decades to the days when interstellar explorers traveled on waves of guitar riffs, propelled through space and time by hard-hitting drum juggernauts.
One of the stranger albums to reemerge in the freak-folk revival of psychedelic artifacts.
On the four lengthy tracks, the effect is both hypnotic and transcendent. For variety, halfway through there’s the brief “Clouds Collapse,” a sparely constructed array of plucks and plinks that achieves a Zen-like intense focus on pure sound, the perfect palate cleanser.
Jazz/world music clarinetist/saxophonist TONY SCOTT died on March 28, and as so often happens, that prompted me to see what of his I had to listen to. It turned out that I had very little of his early recorded output, so I bought two recent compilations of his ‘50s material to do some belated catching up.
Not only is this some of the best funk of the period, and historically important as the root source of what in a few years would become the Washington D.C. Go-Go scene, it includes one of the most heavily sampled breakbeats around, from the instrumental “Ashley’s Roachclip.”
What Sharp did was take Monkish attributes and emphasize them even further.
This is an odd but fascinating compilation of three very disparate items. The title piece, for ten electric guitars and drums, is previously unreleased; a 31-minute Glenn Branca work from 1981 finally appearing is enough reason in itself to acquire this disc.
This is an engrossing set of spacey free improvisation, as much psychedelia as jazz, as African as it is Philadelphian.
If you’re holiday shopping for a box set to give to a jazz fan, consider this exemplary new compilation. Weather Report was one of the most influential electric jazz bands, setting fusion trends and then moving beyond them to set new ones.
“You can thank old time record collectors for the music that is left because the record companies didn’t give a damn about any of that stuff. They threw all the stampers out.”
The London shows (the same 17 songs on successive nights) find them in their most helter-skelter, confrontational punk vein as they play their first and second gigs as a quartet. In NYC the following year, most of the set comes from Chairs Missing.
Slits shambolic, Green Milk schizo, Genghis Tron clever, Apes still rock
The cracked majesty of her singing, sounding so raw and vulnerable yet actually imbued with subtle craft, recalls BILLIE HOLIDAY in her final years. An acquired taste for some, but for many there’s an immediate attraction.
A segment of this Los Angeles ensemble journeyed cross-country to team with some of the elite members of NYC’s downtown improvisational scene.
Low guitarist delivers a collection of dark, frightening landscapes turned to sound, pushing listeners to really focus on the emotional, physical quality of timbre and the way it can create a sense of space – or, on occasion, a claustrophobic lack of space.
Buckner’s words are evocative yet enigmatic; he describes situations so specifically, at such a fine level of detail, that paradoxically their definable meaning cannot be pinned down—and yet, the mood is communicated perfectly through his world-weary singing.
This souvenir from 17 years ago catches Dr. John in action at a beloved New Orleans nightclub. The ten-song program’s a nice mix of Rebennack-penned classics, New Orleans standards, and blues/R&B warhorses infused with Nawlins goodness.
This year, Heartbeat Records is marking “50 years of Jamaican music” by spiffing up its catalog of Clement S. Dodd’s many Studio One recordings with remastering, bonus tracks, and new compilations.
There’s an exceptional amount of style-hopping, from track to track and within pieces as well, and Charlie Hunter shifts his sound so often he sounds like three or four different guitarists.
This 78-minute, 27-track compilation opens aptly with the classic “Joe Hill,” proclaiming that the Industrial Workers of the World leader’s spirit lives on, despite his execution.
Mostly this sticks to the older, and musicologically primary, definition of ballad: a narrative song. These include some of the most famous American folk songs, and American characters: “Casey Jones,” “Staggerlee,” “Frankie and Johnny.”