I prefer foreign music, ideally instrumental, or, if not, in a language I didn't understand. That way, the music takes me somewhere -- especially if I'm walking in the park, watching the movie of New York from the intimate distance of Shure headphones. But there are CDs out in English I can't resist, and I don't want to discriminate against them. So here's a mixed bag....
As a showman, Peter Wolf is right up there with Mick Jagger and James Brown. As a musician, he's a total reactionary. He doesn't put out a batch of unrelated songs, he makes what used to be called "albums," and they take you on a carefully sequenced adventure. Midnight Souvenirs, his new CD, eight years in the making, is exciting, flawless and destined for heavy rotation. Seriously: Good luck trying not to love this.
Andy Palacio and The Garifuna Women's Project>
The Garifuna culture in Belize is endangered. If there is justice, these CDs will slow its extinction. The music isn't reggae, though reggae is its cousin. It's not African music, though Africa pounds in its blood. It's a mosaic of subtle harmonies, led by singers who can tap deep emotions. Not you'll understand a word of it -- you'll feel the rhythm and just know. Palacio's release and the CD by Garifuna women are equally great.
Does Dad have a spiritual practice? Me neither. But this CD of chanting -- a lot of it in English, a lot backed by a rock band -- is mesmerizing. To hear electric guitar playing against tabla, Krishna Das singing those words and then slipping into chant with a chorus -- maybe it's just me, maybe it's just now, but this experience feels very important to me. There's so much I want to do in my life, if only I can get out of my way. I feel this music helps me do that.
This one's for the Dads who were English and History majors, who love words and like to tease out the levels of meaning in poems. You can spend time with a Josh Ritter CD as you might with a book that happens to be set to music -- you underline, make notes, reread. Of course you can just enjoy it....
J.J. Cale was pleased by Clapton's recording of "After Midnight." His pal, producer Audie Ashworth, phoned Cale and said, 'It might be time for you to make your move. Do an album. So get your songs together.' He said, 'I'll do a single.' I said, 'It's an album market.' He said, 'I don't have that many songs,' so I said, 'Write some.' Three or four months later he called me. He said, 'I got the songs.' He drove in. He was driving a Volkswagen this time. He came in with his dog. He played me all those songs." And every one is funky but laid-back Oklahoma magic.
For an instant, they were the American Beatles. But only for an instant. Love broke up, its troubled leader wandered in the wilderness, and his late-life return was too brief. But this neglected masterpiece from 40 years ago is no longer neglected -- more of us are hearing, in its blend of psychedelia, rock, and too-smart-for-the-room lyrics -- a CD that will never age.
Van Morrison made this breakthrough CD in 1968. It took just four days, cost less than $25,000. It promptly went on best-ever lists. And has never left -- this is genius at work. In 2008, Morrison re-recorded it, live, at the Hollywood Bowl. As ever, it's a demonstration of spiritual transcendence. And it's not just the words that transcend. The band is open, loose, inventive; this music is subtle as jazz and heart-pounding as rock. And Morrison almost seems to be having a good time --- in his phrase, "stepping lightly, just like a ballerina."
This CD is just plain lewd. It's got a boogie beat, atmosphere goopier than Louisiana fog, production that emphasizes the beat, molasses-thick lyrics that don't aspire to profundity -- it's the good times music you've been looking for. Late-night transport to a sexy mystery. A worthy successor to Dr. John and John Fogerty.
Alison Krauss and Robert Plant made the CD of the Year in 2007, and nothing I've heard since has made me think I overrated it. Cover songs as cutting edge music? A rocker who looks 200 finding the kind of tenderness he used to sneer at? A bluegrass sweetheart who seemed to want to grow up to be Emmylou Harris discovering a wild side? All of the above.
"I want to be a huge star who hangs out in hotel bars/ I want to wake up at noon in somebody else's room/ I want to shine so bright it hurts...." Teddy Thompson doesn't really want that, which is one excellent reason he doesn't have it. What he does have -- in addition to Attitude -- is talent to spare. Seductive melodies meet self-loathing lyrics meet wry amusement.
Everyone is jagged on Kind of Blue. But the quite possibly cooler choice is Ascenseur Pour L'Echafaud --- "Elevator to the Gallows," the soundtrack to Louis Malle's first feature film. Miles: "Since it was about a murder and was supposed to be a suspense movie, I used this old, gloomy, dark building where I had the musicians play. I thought it would give the music atmosphere, and it did."
Shure E2c headphones
You've got an iPod, and it's fantastic -- what's wrong with the earphones Apple gives you? Nothing, if you don't mind the treble sharpened to laser precision and the bass deepened to make you think you're getting the real thing. Nothing, that is, if you don't mind putting crappy sound into your head. But you want to hear the instruments as a unit and as separate elements. You want the singer performing just for you. And that means you want Shure phones, the choice of professionals, the Wall Street Journal and yours truly. For just $69, plus $8 shipping.
Cross-posted from HeadButler.com
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