Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Clicked Picks of 2013

Many reading this will know that various demons of Parkinson’s and useless aging have stolen my strength and attention this past year. (Bah humbug, in a big way.) Kept me from following the Music Scene assiduously--or even casually, truth be told. Instead of keeping up with the Slows and Beeblers, the Cants and Carwashians, I tried to keep my eyes on the more prized or more surprising; my picks are recent acquisitions dated 2013 and otherwise, the ones that kept me going in these hard-enough times.

But first... I had planned to write during 2013 a longish piece celebrating sideman-regular, sometime-leader, guitar-slinger extraordinaire Sonny Landreth, master of his own unique brand of amped-up electric slide and scorpion-sting steel—devilish-difficult, prowl-and-howling silver-sliver slices of slide, with tailing grace notes
somehow slipped in and attached. (Just how do he do that voodoo that he do so well?) Adopted-Cajun Louisianan Landreth has sidemanned or session-soloed for artists as diverse as Clifton Chenier and Eric Clapton, John Hiatt and BeauSoleil, and between 1998 and 2008 he released an elemental quartet of discs--earthy, water mock-shivery, slyly aerated/air-aided, swamp-fire gems South of I-10, Levee Town, The Road We’re On, From the Reach--that I hear and now commend to one and all, South Louisiana to the wider world. Keep on the Sonny slide!

And now, on with the show (categories are capricious, quality reissue sets welcome, and write-ups per whim and vim):

Blues & Gospel Going out on a limb here, and sawing it off right at the trunk, the most exciting 2013 Blues album is a 45-years-after-the-fact, newly released,
ordered-but-not-yet-heard Blues club set by Magic Sam Maghett, the great guitar/vocalist of (post-Muddy) Chicago Blues and West Side Soul fame. No live album heretofore ever did justice to his killer fret-and-slide work; this one from a Milwaukee folk/blues club (on Delmark) supposedly makes up for the previous meager lot--in spades.

Gospel pick is a surer thing, Brit 2CD set, Fuel label 302 061 961 2, The Jewel Records Gospel Story. On a Louisiana state map Shreveport (in the northwest Ark-La-Tex corner) is diagonally opposite and worlds away from near-Gulf, music-rich, Creole-politan New Orleans. But bomber-based, redneck-rich Shreveport did in fact have Leadbelly on Caddo Lake and Fannin Street; Blues-blooded Buddy Whosit, singing sub-sheriff and Jimmy Rogers acolyte; the Louisiana Hayride, great radio rival to the Grand Ol’ Op and the early stage for Elvis, Hank, various Johnnys, and a slew of lesser Looz-yanna lights; cool rocker Dale Hawkins (“Susie Q” and “Crossties”) and hot picker James Burton (guitarman for Rick on TV and Elvis on tour); crisscrossing railroads ("Flyin' Crow leavin' Port
Arthur, But she go to Shreveport to change her clothes...") creating one of the South’s major distribution network centers... and attracting crafty entrepreneur Stan Lewis who handled such matters for many record labels large and small (including his own Jewel, Paula, and others) out of the backrooms of his landmark Stan’s Record Shop—where he (figuratively) also recorded every Southern Black Music artist of note in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

This Gospel ship casts a wide net and hauls in two-to-four tracks each by an amazing array: the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Original Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Soul Stirrers and the Brooklyn Allstars, Clarence Fountain and Willie Morganfield, Ted Taylor and the Violinaires, Dorothy Norwood, a very young Aretha Franklin, and a heavenly host of other house-wrecking harmonizers. The home they save could be your own.

Jazz to the World Three new-but-old Jazz albums proved especially worthy of
our pledged allegiance: (1) Dual-CD Pablo PAB 34605-02, Afro Blue Impressions, providing twice as much music as the classic two-LP set offered, with the great John Coltrane Quartet (Trane, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones) possibly at its peak, tearing it up at live concerts in Stockholm and Berlin in the fall of 1963, just before Kennedy was killed and the world lurched several degrees off axis. (2) Six years later, Jazz lurched again, with Miles Davis diving headlong into electric Fusion and dragging most of the younger players in deep too. Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 (3CD/DVD box set Columbia/Legacy 88725418532) spectacularly documents
the tour by Miles' forgotten or never-known temporary quintet (Davis, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette), first struggling to integrate their disparate styles and ways of thinking, and then melting/melding/welding into a force majeur machine of Fusion-to-come, arriving with brusque precision as they played.

Just for fun and Just in Time, from an earlier, happier Time signature altogether, (3) Bennett/Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962 (Columbia/Legacy 8883718042) sidled into stores with little fanfare, though fans of
Tony and Dave did fare quite well--discovering Kennedy staffers in Timed-right celebration, enjoying a Time-out and more with the Brubeck Quartet, then a half century plus of Tony and trio seeming exempt from Time, and finally Bennett/Brubeck together for four tunes unrehearsed and Timeless, yet Timed to bring down the House. Yes, a good Time was had by all... but There Will Never Be Another Time.

World Music's too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our wallets. So mostly I seek out the stringed (or related) instruments--plucked, strummed, or slid? not to fret--zither to sitar, erhu to oud,
Hardangar folk-fiddle to Hawaiian slack-key guitar.

It was that last that I listened for in 2013... and I heard two fine new CDs keeping the strings loosened right: (1) Malama Ko Aloha (Keep Your Love) on the Ohe label (#8738) by veteran key-man Keola Beamer, largely involving his soundtrack for a PBS program with guests including Geoff Keezer and R. Carlos Nakai; and (2) Slack Key Travels by young slacker Jeff Peterson (#PP007 on his own label), quite prolific and inventive, with at least one
tune from his popular earlier albums featured prominently in the recent George Clooney film The Descendants.

Rockin', Rapt "Go with what you know," a wise person said. What I don't know about '13 Rock would fill Seattle's lost landmark, the old Spanish Ballroom, chockablock with CDs, 10,000 or more. But let's pretend I watched the four late-night talk shows for all twelve months, sampling the artistry of (4 x 5 x about 50) a thousand bands/singers touting their latest musical product... I'd still be casting my vote for Rock album of the year to Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt, on Monkeywrench/Universal with some unreadable number. (The Deco mini-book
holder would take home the Graphic Design award too.) The McGreedy Vedderans prove they can be grunge, metal, Zep, rap, folksy or blooze-y, from power ballads to rockabilly, the Stones, the Jam and Who-ever else--and still be the Pearl at the corps of Rock.

Meanwhile, "plentiful but pitiful" would be my admittedly biased three-word summation of the dictations and depletions of Rap... save for the unexpected fuzzy-friendly, globe-trodding, G-for-Gigantor pair known as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis--those local-boys-make-goodwill-Thrift-Stores-buyable and their Heisted double-disc set well-meriting the 2013 Raptor Prize and all the merry soupcons of success.

Soundtracked, Classically From the flickering projector-lit world of darkened home theaters, bleary-eyed cinemaniacal filmgazers, and sought-after soundtrack
sources reissued within an inch of their last sprocket hole comes a representative trio, three recently resurrected film scores worth serious listening: (1) Intrada MAF 7129, the first-ever official release of what was only previously available as a sort of music-re-recorded easy-listening album, now the full score-and-more at last: Breakfast at Tiffany's--Mancini and Mercer, Audrey (Holly Golightly) Hepburn and her hapless suitors, "Moon River" and a lost cat--highlighting elements thoroughly Capotesque but magically essential. (2) Intrada Special Collection Volume 257 (retail number B0019519-02), Basil Poledouris's rousing score in aid of The Hunt for Red October: symphonic undersea pulsing, slyly Un-Orthodox Russian chants, Sean Connery and Alec
Baldwin as un-acquainted allies (sub rosa, you might say) in a game of Nuclear Chicken, and sub-continent tabla drums (huh?) double-timing the action and underscoring the suspense--one of Basil's quirky best available finally in full.

And (3) La-La Land/20th Century Fox Limited Edition LLLCD 1251, the expanded original score (by James Newton Howard) from Lawrence Kasdan's haunting story of several questing, sinning "spirits," their lives crisscrossing one another in the City of Lost Angels. Some Hollywood movies are spectacularly grand; a great many others falter in bad judgment, too many falling into the faultline canyon of bad taste; but Kasdan's Grand Canyon highwire-walks across
that abyss from one rim to the other--anomie, isolation, and fear yielding to compassion, community, and love. (My capsule review may be overwritten, overselling a solid story not that uniquely miraculous, but be assured that composer Howard's gorgeous, shapeshifter music delivers the goods every step of the way.)

No dearth of (ho-hum) Classical releases rehashing the same core 300 compositions, but only one album--several years old that I found used--became the bridge over troubled water soothing my sorrow-filled mind and scarred, scared soul: Austrian/Catalan/French/whatever label AliaVox AV 9805, La Folia 1490-1701, with phenomenal viola da gamba Grandmaster Jordi Savall and his cohorts-in-support winningly cavorting 'round the courts and composers (Corelli, Marais,
Ortiz, et al) of three centuries--all of them fascinated by, and determined to mine, the variant depths of one simple Iberian folk tune, as common as human folly... as varied and jolly as humankind. Savall cuts through any Jordian nought with a single stroke of his Renaissance bow--and, thus freed, he dances... somehow become the post-Pablo precursor to Bach by Casals.

Part 2 adds Country with Americana; Reggae got Soul; Woody'n you, Bob?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Coming Soon...

... to a monitor near you, The Picks That Clicked, my favored albums of 2013 (in two parts, to assist and enable your writer-producer). Part 1 in a few days.

Meanwhile, looming large, bestriding the narrow world like a Colossus, a long overdue re-viewing of the films that defined Monterey Pop and Altamont, as I "screen" those documentaries for the first time in 40 years to jog my fading memories. Who knows? Something of interest may surface...