Monday, April 30, 2007

Fakebook (1990)

"You Tore Me Down" Yo La Tengo works an interesting, even bold idea, staking out their roots in an album of 11-5 covers v. originals, doing so in remarkably straightforward fashion and (relatively) early in their career (some five years, but this is the Cal Ripken of indie/alt bands). Guns N' Roses did it basically as their parting shot of an era, and the Cramps, Chesterfield Kings, etc., etc., garage bands have done a version of it but they're different and come (relatively) later. Of course, from beginning to end here it's name-check, name-check, name-check. What else would you expect? Daniel Johnston, NRBQ, the Flamin' Groovies (the above-referenced "You Tore Me Down," a gorgeous confection by either), the Kinks, Cat Stevens, even The Scene Is Now for crying out loud. The atmosphere is suitably hushed throughout. Melody after melody after melody is achingly beautiful. This is a terrific album. Furthermore, I think it's one of the last vinyl albums I bought new.

more from eMusic

Friday, April 27, 2007

1:xx 50, The

More short songs or should I say "tracks"?

Alex Chilton, "Riding Through the Reich" (ca. 1975) Catchy, but, er... Horrifying for a couple of reasons: first, use of the word "kikes" ("killing lots of"); and second, confusing Wilhelm Reich for a Nazi. Kids those days. (1:48)
Angry Samoans, "They Saved Hitler's Cock" (1982) Telling you, these guys are funny. (1:39)
Bernard Herrmann, "Flight" (1960) From Psycho. (1:08)
Big Black, "L Dopa" (1987) Nice break. (1:40)
Bob Dylan, "Man on the Street" (1961) "Bully club"—I like that. (1:55)
Brian Eno, "Over Fire Island" (1975) (1:51)
Caetano Veloso, "Nature Boy" (2004) A strange and beautiful song, whose best known version was a big hit for Nat King Cole (Big Star also did it on their album Third). Veloso, no surprise, is completely up to it. (1:58)
Chuck Berry, "Come On" (1961) His best song. (1:49)
Ciccone Youth, "March of the Ciccone Robots" (1988) An apt title for this track from the Sonic Youth one-off. (1:57)
Clovers, "Love Potion No. 9" (1959) I been this way since 1956. (1:52)
Duane Eddy, "Because They're Young" (1960) Gosh this is swell. (1:54)
Eartha Kitt, "Sholem" (1953) An amazing sexlingual performance, by which I don't mean anything nasty, just that she uses six different languages: English, French, German, Turkish, Italian, and Spanish. What's more, if her midwestern "How'd ye do" is any indication, she's got them nailed. (1:46)

More information in comments.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Velvet Underground Live (1969)

"What Goes On" Every time the Velvet Underground released an album they seemed to reinvent themselves and present an entirely new face. Some of this was surely due to personnel changes, but I don't think it was particularly evidence of an identity crisis. They stayed busy reinvigorating the music to its roots. They wrote the songs. They looked into various abysses. They played it arty, loud, and soft. They played it with the movies playing on them. With this, they removed any doubt about their legacy as a live act (only reinforced decades later with the release of the Quine tapes). This was not the Monkees or the Archies. This was a band: 2 guitars bass drums. And they rocked. They rocked fine.

buy from CD Universe

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Elvis' Golden Records, Vol. 3 (1963)

"(Marie's the Name) His Latest Flame" Born too late (for something!), I missed all of Elvis pre-1960 entirely and this must stand as my favorite collection of Elvis Presley songs. Serious Elvologists Greil Marcus, Charlie Gillette, Peter Guralnick, Dave Marsh, etc., tend to deride it a little for "It's Now or Never" (usually characterized as "operatic" and indeed a big empty hollow thing, but not without its charms) and sometimes "Are You Lonesome Tonight," which I'll get down with. I mean, I understand the trouble that '50s followers have with the Elvis of the '60s. But the fruits of that achingly slow recession into ever-hardening amber goo happen to be among my earliest exposures to music coming from the radio: "I Gotta Know," "I Feel So Bad," "Good Luck Charm," "Stuck on You." To me, it's just wonderful pop music. "Little Sister" I never encountered until I picked up this album in the early '80s and that's worth the cost alone. So are the Jordanaires, every single darn time they show up too.

more from eMusic

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Sun Sessions (1954-1955)

"That's All Right" The most important album of Elvis Presley's career, not to mention arguably in rock 'n' roll history, is actually a pastiche of Sun singles and outtakes first put together in the mid-'70s. Since then, various takes have gone in and come out, the cover has changed once or twice or more, and it's been remastered nearly as often, following the whims of the times. But oh who cares? In the end, all definitions fade and are inadequate to the material here. Recorded before Elvis was even 21, backed by a couple of talented good ol' boys on guitar and bass, drawing on resources imported direct from the primal human experience, I can't imagine what these songs must have sounded like to the people who made regional hits of them in the mid-'50s U.S. South. It's fresh, it's catchy, sure, all of that, but it's always tempting to reiterate the claims about it that have become cliches: "big bang of rock 'n' roll," etc. But listen, these three guys and particularly the singer (with Sun's Sam Phillips at the board) go about their business with astonishing efficiency, neatly stitching together fragments of country and blues in a way no one quite had before, and somehow they changed everything.

buy from Amazon

Monday, April 16, 2007

Jonathan Sings! (1983)

By the time Sire decided to take a chance on him, Jonathan Richman was pretty much the way we know him now -- the goofy ageless Gallant, who enthusiastically belts nursery rhymes bare-chested and acts, or seems to be acting, like someone flickering awfully close to mental illness. In spite of Richman's undeniable charm he hasn't come across as anything close to real for decades, except in extremely brief flashes. A music journalist I knew managed to get one of the few interviews granted anyone on the tour in support of this, and the scene he described was bizarre, with Richman repeatedly breaking down into tears at any question of his motives, no matter how gentle. So I guess you have to take him at face value. Me, I got a good deal of pleasure from his appearance in There's Something About Mary; any time he essays rock 'n' roll (as in Chuck Berry covers) it's worth pausing to appreciate; and for all the acutely winsome folderol about mean bugs and jolly Martians throughout his solo career, he's still capable of stunners like "That Summer Feeling." I mean, take a listen to that one and just try to deny that it hurts.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Modern Lovers (1976)

"Pablo Picasso" In retrospect a spectacular confluence -- past and future sidemen and principals of the Velvet Underground, Cars, and Talking Heads, with Jonathan Richman more or less in the starring role. Recorded years before it was released, and with legend claiming Richman was such a fanatic for the Velvet Underground that he attended more of their shows than they did, one really is left wondering almost painfully what could have been. There's not much trace here of the spritely elf that Richman would become. Instead, there's this adenoidal guy who keeps knocking them out of the park: "Roadrunner," "Astral Plane," "Old World," "Pablo Picasso," "She Cracked," "Girl Friend," "Modern World." I'm not like some who kick about what came after, but I can sure see how it's like Lou Reed's solo career without the Velvet Underground. Something vital is missing -- and missed. Which is all by way of seeing this is absolutely essential.

buy from Amazon

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)

"Stop! Look! And Listen, Sinner Jim Whitney! (Solo Dancer)" I don't know where you start with Mingus but you have to start somewhere, and this is where I did, after reading about him in the Psychedelic Whatsit anthology of Lester Bangs. I'm not always inclined to agree with Bangs, no one is, but when he's right he's right -- witness, the Stooges -- and even when he over-appreciates things like Astral Weeks or maybe "Sister Ray" he's almost always on the right track. So with this: big, bruising music that registers hardest in deep regions: roaming mastodons of an ancient cliffside gloaming and the figure of Dr. Sigmund Freud brooding over the tableau in the dark clouds of gathering storm, it repays repeated listening in the most surprising ways, on levels intellectual as well as emotional and always on epic terms. Good stuff.

buy from CD Universe

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Karma (1969)

"The Creator Has a Master Plan" I was halfway set to take the standard indie-oriented kind of position and gripe about how this masterwork, Pharoah Sanders's signature achievement, had been widely ignored on the way to its "current obscurity." Turns out, however, that it actually made Billboard's Hot 200 Albums chart in 1969. More fool me, even if I still insist that's at least as indicative of the times as of the power of this magnificent music. But, right, what matters most is what's in the grooves and here there are few things finer. The lush and unruly percussion of the 35-minute centerpiece, the use of two bass players, Lonnie Liston Smith's sensitive, persistent, and wide-ranging keyboard, Sanders's soaring wailing tenor saxophone, Leon Thomas's warm and homely delivery of the simple and quietly beautiful words and vocals. Few pieces of music are more purely transcendent.

More information in comments.

buy from Amazon

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Love Supreme (1964)

"Acknowledgment" More time than John Coltrane's entire lifetime has passed since the release of this one. It seems to stand now outside and astride of time, fresh as a spring day, ancient as the earth, massive and gentle. Nothing and everything about it is familiar and well-worn, the grain of the horns, the sighing chants, the heights and depths risked on a path of spirituality. Yet, as the black and white cover signifies, it's composed entirely of grit and reality. Passion burns white hot and almost blinding, but the grit and reality are in the service of beautiful vision, naked vulnerable and endlessly present. It makes someone like me say things like this.

More information in comments.

buy from CD Universe

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

My Favorite Things (1960)

John Coltrane ushered in the '60s with an album that is arguably the epitome -- the apotheosis -- of all day jazz. With only four tracks on this debut of his quartet with McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, there's ample space for the modalities to unfold, ingratiate, pivot sideways, surprise, go quiet, hit the groove again, and guide your head, on conscious and unconscious levels alike. "My Favorite Things" went on to become something like a signature song for Coltrane & co., a staple in performance and frequently appearing on his live releases. I think, when Steve Wynn starts yelping about John Coltrane music, this is the kind of thing he's talking about. But really, it's hard to go wrong with this guy, or this album. So go ahead. Play it again.