Saturday, December 27, 2014

Front Burner 2005

Originally posted in an iWeb log on December 31, 2005 
 
A mix of our most frequently played music in 2005

This year, perhaps more than any other, we were bound and determined to put together our Front Burner, get it copied, and mail it out in a relatively timely manner.

As you may already be aware, we had a major disruption in our otherwise often tranquil lives. What seemed to us like a straightforward decision to demolish our old kitchen and add on to the house in its stead led to the unplanned removal of the entire west wall of our house and the severing of all “utilities” to and from the house.  Suddenly, we needed to move out of our own home.

In the wake of this, though, our entire stereo system was boxed up and moved to Erin & Chris’s house while most of our CD library was similarly stashed away.  Our musical intake slowed down considerably.  We had an iPod and small portable CD player with us, as well as the stereos in our vehicles.  New CDs gradually followed us home, although nowhere near as frequently as they did when we were living normal lives at home.  (Possibly a good thing.)  In addition, several generous friends kept us supplied with recordings of music that they wanted to share, which was very much appreciated.

Besides the disruption to our normal listening habits, our entire lives were much more chaotic during our forced eviction.  Life has just been just very weird from early July to late November. We will be forever grateful to our friends Beth and the Fishers for putting us up during that time.  However, not living in our own home made even the most mundane things more difficult to handle properly.  As Fall came upon us, the thought came to me that it would be very likely that we would have to skip doing a Front Burner this year.

Yet that thought both angered and inspired me.  The music that we did listen to had a tendency to mean a bit more to us because of our predicament, and one of the main reasons we continue this project is to document our year, albeit primarily through the music we chose to play.  If there was ever a year when we should definitely be doing a Front Burner it was this one!

So I started compiling ideas on paper and songs in iTunes.  The use of iTunes (the app, not their store) was relatively new to us but now we’re total converts. It is quite likely that we will continue to “create” Front Burners using iTunes as it has turned out to have many noteworthy advantages over the way we have been putting these together in the past.  If you have ever used iTunes you know of what I speak.  Apple rules.  Anyway, we chiseled away at this as time allowed and you have the end result before you. 

One more thing.  There are no “Emma tunes” here.  The last few Front Burners have been sprinkled with kid songs and, for better of worse, they are totally absent here.  Their exclusion is not an indication that Emma’s listening habits have slowed any.  On the contrary, she is a more active listener than ever and, because of this, we are opting to compile a separate Front Burner of Emma tunes. 


Anyway, on with our musical diary for 2005…


Wilderness – Archer Prewitt
(Thrill Jockey © 2005)

My friend Scott sent me a copy of this very early in the year.  After the first couple listens it seemed pleasant enough, although not particularly striking.  However, as time went on I began to seek it out.  Sometimes I get restless with music and nothing I choose to play feels right to me at the moment.  I found this album to be a certain cure for that ailment.  Prewitt is perhaps most notably the guitarist for Chicago’s The Sea & Cake.  Here he works some magic in some very intelligent, adult pop songs.  In that respect it is not too dissimilar from his work with that band although the specific sonic differences are numerous.

Track 1:  “ Way of the Sun”  4:53
•    To me, a song about making the best of a bad situation.  The line, “It’s the last of the candles, let me take one more look at your eyes,” makes me think of Cassi every time.  If things were ever to really hit the fan in this world, the thing I would want most is to be with her and Emma.

Trouble – Ray LaMontagne
(RCA © 2004)
There’s an interesting story behind this guy’s debut album.  Supposedly, he had no background in music until one morning when his clock radio woke him up to Stephen Stills’ “Treetop Flyer.”  He was so inspired by it that he set about trying to create music of equal merit on his own.  Years later he released this.  At times he sounds as though he may be channeling Stills, but you can hear flavors of The Band, Van Morrison, and even Cat Stevens at times.  They’re just flavors, though.  He never comes across as too derivative.  Cassi and I took to this album very quickly and spent much of early 2005 with it.

Track 2:  “ How Come”  4:32
•    While LaMontagne is not always political, my wife and I both tend to be drawn to songs of political and social comment these days.  This sums up our feelings about this senseless war pretty well.  What part of “Thou shalt not kill” does our current president and his cronies not understand?

Legs To Make Us Longer – Kaki King
(Red Ink © 2004)
This is a guitarist of incredible talent.  Take the energy of a young Leo Kottke and combine it with the technical prowess of Preston Reed or the late Michael Hedges, then add an abundance of vibrant originality, and you’ve got Kaki King.  Yet she’s only in her mid-20s.  She has released two albums so far, and both have become favorites of ours.  Even my wife, who is generally not the biggest fan of instrumental music, really enjoys King’s rather muscular style.

Track 3:  “ Playing With Pink Noise”  3:02
•    The three of us were lounging around the living room one day last spring, and a Paste Magazine sampler DVD was playing on the tube.  We had never even heard of King before, and her video for “Playing With Pink Noise” came on.  We all just stopped and stared at it.  Not only was she playing some pretty amazing acoustic guitar but she was also slapping out percussion on the side of the guitar while she played.  As you listen to this track, remember that it is just one person playing!

Spooked – Robyn Hitchcock
(Yep Roc © 2004)
Remember Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians?  Although I was a fan, he had fallen off my radar some time in the 90s.  It took Gillian Welch & David Rawlings to put him back on.  We’re the kind of fans of Welch & Rawlings that we would go out and get almost anything they recorded.  It turns out they’re fans of Hitchcock’s and ended up being his sole collaborators on this album.  (They recorded the album together in just six days.)  


Track 4:  “ We’re Gonna Live In the Trees”  3:24
•    The first song on this album is a sarcastic love song to a television.  (“You’re the devil’s fishbowl, honey.  I undress before your light.”)  It just gets better from there, and “We’re Gonna Live In the Trees” has become one of our favorites.  Emma knows the song by heart, and will even squeal “ROBYN HITCHCOCK!!!” when it comes on.  In a way, Hitchcock is to music what Monty Python was to television comedy – completely off the wall and rather absurd, but really quite lovable.

Who’s Got Trouble? – Shivaree
(Zoë © 2005)
You have to at least take notice of a band that names their debut album 'I Oughtta Give You A Shot In the Head For Making Me Live In This Dump' (no, really.)  Unfortunately, they slipped away for a couple years afterward.  I later discovered that their second album, Rough Dreams, never found label support in the States.  Who’s Got Trouble? is their new one and, as far as I’m concerned, their best yet.  Lead singer Ambrosia Parsley (no, really) has a delivery that is equal parts sexy and weird.

Track 5:  “ The Fat Lady of Limbourg”  4:13
•    I found it nearly impossible to pick the track to include here, so that’s where Emma comes in.  She took a shine to this one early on because it has lots of, in her words, “crazy sounds.”  Shivaree covering Brian Eno and making my daughter giggle is just too cool to ignore.

Silent Alarm – Bloc Party
(Vice © 2005)
Believe it or not, I first read about these guys in Newsweek magazine, which is not exactly known for its musical hipness.  They had a little 1/8 page thing on them in which they drew comparisons to bands like Gang of Four and XTC.  That was all I needed to sit up and take notice.  Then Acme Records (now sadly defunct) had Silent Alarm on a listening station.  I sampled about four songs and knew I was on to something tasty.  Their energy is undeniable and quite infectious.  I listen to this one a lot while driving.

Track 6:  “ Positive Tension”  3:54
•    I love the squelchy (sound of tension?) introduction to this as it leads into a very rubbery bass line and frenetic drumming.  Due more to it’s overall sound than the lyrics (which I’m not sure I fully understand) this is probably one of my top three songs on their album.  Sometimes I just like the colors of a song.

Burn the Maps – The Frames
(Anti © 2005)
After falling under the spell of The Frames last year (see FB 2004) I was excited to hear of their plans to release a new album in 2005.  Burn the Maps is a harder record than much of what I know of their work, and it actually took me a while to warm up to this one, but I have grown to like it quite a bit.  This is another CD that, for one reason or another, I didn’t listen to much around the house.  As such, Cassi and Emma are not as familiar with this one.

Track 7:  “ Finally”  4:53
•    I’m pretty sure that every one of us can relate to “want(ing) something so much it’s drawing trouble on your life.”  Singer Glen Hansard seems to just revel in this blind determination here.  The payoff being to have “found something so good it’s hard to focus on what’s right.”  The blinders are on, but you don’t care.  I, for one, can relate!

Guero – Beck
(Interscope © 2005)
My friend John the “Scissor Man” gave me a copy of this in early summer and I just loved it.  In fact, all indications are that I had an unusually extreme reaction to it.  No one else that I have talked to seems to even like it, let alone be as obsessed with it as I am.  Putting it on around Cassi is guaranteed to get her to ask, “Who is that?!”  It’s never a good sign when she asks the question that way.  To me, this is a delightfully eclectic, quirky, and sometimes downright weird album.  Before the old kitchen demolition started over six months of chaotic living for us I had this, The Frames, and Bloc Party on regular rotation while working on Emma’s playground out back.

Track 8:  “ Que Onda Guero”  3:30
•    Okay, we’re no fans of rap, but perhaps we would be if more of it sounded like this.  It’s a very silly song.  Emma calls it “the vegetable man song.”  We sing it together in the van and Cassi just rolls her eyes.  (She’s grinning, too, though.)  I love all the shouts about popsicles melting, taking ceramics classes, and Michael Bolton.  Beck is wonderfully strange.  And he’s hard to pin down, too.  This song is nothing like any other on the album, and I could claim the same thing for any song on it.

The Mighty Rearranger – Robert Plant
(Sanctuary © 2005)
After Led Zeppelin broke up, I followed lead singer Robert Plant’s career for a while but his output was spotty.  He actually stopped recording original material altogether in 1993.  Then, in 2002, he released a collection of mostly covers, Dreamland, and it turned out to be one of the best albums of his career.  Being a big Zeppelin fan and forever wanting Plant records to be as good, I sat up and took notice.  He followed it this year with The Mighty Rearranger.  The all-original material included here proves that Plant has talent to spare.  It is a beguiling mix of heady rock & roll and blues, influenced by the sounds of northern Africa.  He can’t help but occasionally step foot in Zeppelinesque territory, but never leans so hard in that direction that it feels the least bit awkward.

Track 9:  “ Another Tribe”  3:16
•    You were probably wondering when the sociopolitical songs were going to come back in!  Front Burners wouldn’t be complete without them.  Regardless, it’s a good one.

In Between Dreams – Jack Johnson
(Brush Fire © 2005)
A couple years ago, Jenny K turned me on to Jack Johnson with a copy of his (and various other artists’) surfer movie soundtrack, Thicker Than Water.  I loved how laid back it was.  Knowing that I was interested, Erin was kind enough to give me copies of Brushfire Fairytales and then, this year, In Between Dreams.  JJ is not exactly a master of variation but what he does he does very well.  I read an interview with him where he said he “auditions” songs for friends and family (including kids) on his front porch.  If it isn’t appropriate and/or acceptable for his friends and family, he doesn’t record it.  I like that idea.

Track 10:  “ Good People”  3:28
•    You know our politics by now, and most of you know our feelings about television.  Suffice it to say that we agree with Johnson here, wholeheartedly.  We do, indeed, “got heaps and heaps of what we sow.”

Faultlines – Karine Polwart
(Neon/Scottish Arts Council © 2003)
You may have heard Karine Polwart before as lead singer of the trad-folk band Malinky (see FB 2001).  She has become one of our favorite voices in traditional Scottish folk music.  Here, though, she veers off in a much more contemporary direction.  While we ordered this (an import-only so far) before our life got weird this summer, it became a very welcome musical friend to us when it happened.  In a way it became the unofficial soundtrack to those early days of homesickness.  We listened to it so much that the three of us know the lyrics to every single song on the album.

Track 11:  “ Only One Way”  2:53
•    It’s fun to hear Emma sing this one because it’s almost a kind of rap.  It’s the first track on the CD, and a pretty impressive indication of what is to follow.

40 Days – The Wailin’ Jennys
(Red House © 2004)
Earlier this year, we were fortunate enough to catch A Prairie Home Companion up in Madison.  (Thanks again, John & Penny!)  We didn’t know who the guests would be until we got there, and were curious when we found that it was this trio from Canada.  What an impression they ended up making!  Cassi instructed me to immediately seek out the CD (they weren’t selling any at the show, for some reason) and I snagged one.  It’s in a similar vein as artists like Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss, although they have obviously been influenced by British folk icons Silly Sisters (June Tabor and Maddy Prior.)

Track 12:  “ Untitled”  4:27
•    I certainly enjoyed this album, but Cassi really took to it.  She and Emma would often listen to it while driving to and from Emma’s preschool.  When it came time to choose the track for the Front Burner, Cassi did not hesitate to suggest this one.

X&Y – Coldplay
(Capitol © 2005)
Maria gave me a copy of Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head some time ago, and it tripped all the right triggers for me.  For the band, the hype grew exponentially from that point.  By the time they released X&Y this year, they were probably the most popular young band in Britain and quite big in the States.  I wanted to dislike them, but I couldn’t.  They’re really good!  I picked up our copy of X&Y, started playing it around Cassi, and she loved it too.  Emma doesn’t know this one by name but she certainly recognizes it when we play it.

Track 13:  “ White Shadows”  5:28
•    This was another album where it was incredibly difficult to pick the representative track for the Front Burner.  I suggested this one, since I was enjoying all the very Zen references, and Cassi happily agreed.

We Are Little Barrie – Little Barrie
(Artemis © 2005)
Like the Archer Prewitt CD, Scott sent this to me.  (Scott was a lifesaver with all the music he sent my way during our months of homelessness.  Thanks again, Scott!)  It’s a wonderfully fun record – very gritty and funky – as if The Black Crowes listened to a lot of James Brown.  I find the associations we make with certain recordings interesting.  Chris and I spent the better part of a rainy October Saturday taking truckloads of scrap metal culled from our little house project in to be recycled.  (Thanks again, Chris!)  I listened to this album throughout the entire day and, in my mind, it has become the soundtrack for cold, rainy work days like that.

Track 14:  “ Greener Pastures”  3:36
•    Some subtle sociopolitical references here, which is probably why this track won out.  Musically, it is very representative of the vibe on this album.

The Lipstick Conspiracies – Thea Gilmore
(Shameless/Naim © 2000)
Gilmore has appeared on an earlier Front Burner (see FB 2003) and has certainly been a favorite of ours for at least a few years now.  During the months that we stayed with Erin & Chris after our “eviction” from our home, we also found Erin getting more into Gilmore’s music.  In fact, Erin and I seemed determined to make sure that, between the two of us, we would own everything in her catalog.  (Gilmore is rather prolific.)  This probably reached it’s peak when I got Erin a copy of Songs from the Gutter and she got me a copy of The Lipstick Conspiracies.  It would be as difficult for me to pick a favorite Thea Gilmore album as it would be to pick a favorite song.  Still, I have listened to The Lipstick Conspiracies countless times and will be forever grateful to Erin for giving it to me.  It’s an excellent album, to say the least.

Track 15:  “ Land of the Free”  4:43
•    I’ve said it before but Gilmore is a contemporary, female Bob Dylan.  Or Richard Thompson.  Or Elvis Costello.  I could probably extrapolate from there, but you get the idea.  She is the single most talented female artist that I have heard in at least the past ten years, if not the past twenty.  Musically, this track may be more laid back than the one we included on the 2003 mix, but listen to those lyrics!

Sweet Somewhere Bound – Jackie Greene
(Dig Music © 2004)
Some artists we seek out, some we trip over accidentally.  Jackie Greene belongs in the latter category.  His song, “About Cell Block #9,” was included on a Paste Magazine sampler and it just blew me away.  I played it for Cassi, quite excitedly.  She didn’t react as enthusiastically, but she liked it.  Once I found the CD (his third) we were not disappointed.  Much of it is more contemplative than that song, but Greene is a roots-rock artist to watch in the years to come.  I hear influences of Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt, even the more quiet side of Bruce Springsteen at times, yet nothing too derivative.  And, like Kaki King, he’s only in his mid-20s, a fact that is hard to believe when you consider the maturity of his lyrics.

Track 16:  “ About Cell Block #9”  3:46
•    Okay, well maybe these aren’t the most mature lyrics!  This is a kind of dance-on-your-grave take on getting yourself sent to prison.  A bit cliché in theme, perhaps, but irresistible in it’s delivery.  When the organ boogie kicks in just after he discovers his woman with his best friend, I challenge you to sit still.

Aerial – Kate Bush
(Columbia © 2005)
A whopping twelve years after her last album, Kate Bush has released a new CD.  A double CD, no less.  Kate has always been an original and innovative artist, a reputation she certainly maintains here.  Disc One contains songs that are as close as she is ever going to get to singles, while Disc Two is more of a thematic song cycle.  Both are loaded with unique musical ideas.  That sounds cliché but I mean it quite sincerely.  Kate Bush is a truly singular artist.  She makes music on her own terms and does not compromise.  She can be polarizing – I know that both Cassi and Tom can’t stand her – but I have been enjoying her vivid musical imagination since the early 80s.

Track 17:  “ Pi”  6:09
•    On this track Kate sings a song with the famous number as centerpiece, takes it out to over 100 decimal places, and the end result does not suck!  The math geek in me could not resist that bait.

Snow Borne Sorrow – Nine Horses
(Samadhi Sound © 2005)
This is the latest incarnation of a David Sylvian fronted band.  I think this guy has the finest voice in all of popular music and I would buy almost anything in which he was involved.  He’s had some questionable moments in his career, but most of the time he’s spot on.  This is a really cool album, arguably his best in many years.  Cassi loves it, too.  I didn’t find it until December, but played it so much once I did that it bumped two other recordings (most tracks are quite long) off the Front Burner.

Track 18:  “ Atom and Cell”  7:06
•    A very good example of Sylvian’s formidable talents, and a song that felt like an appropriate closer for this year’s mix.  Bid you farewell!


Honorable Mention:
This Is the Sea (2CD reissue) – The Waterboys
Tap the Red Cane Whirlwind (live) – Kelly Joe Phelps
Awake Is the New Sleep – Ben Lee
King of America (2CD reissue) – Elvis Costello
Magic Time – Van Morrison


Rest In Peace:  Chris Whitley, 1960-2005                                        www.chriswhitley.com


Well there you have it, the music with which we spent much of our 2005.
We hope you heard something you enjoyed.  Feedback in any form is always welcome, even if it’s just to tell us that you love/hate one particular song. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Halloween Tunes

Originally posted one an iWeb log on October 31, 2004

Halloween music. I think it’s underrated. Christmas gets so much of the musical focus each year but, when you think about it, there are plenty of appropriate tunes to enjoy on or around Halloween. Back in the early aughts, I made some mix discs to play at a bonfire party we were having in late October. They contained some rather obvious “seasonal themes” along with some that perhaps were not so obvious. The primary focus of the mixes was that they had to contain music that reminded me of this time of the year. To that end, at least, I was successful. Unfortunately, after the party, I somehow lost track of the (unlabeled) CDRs on which I recorded them.

Fast forward to 2003. I found myself trying to straighten up the ever growing piles of CDs and CDRs that were taking over our living space and I rediscovered these Halloween mix discs! I decided to make copies of the first (and best?) one and foist it upon unsuspecting friends, in hopes that it might add some extra flavor to their own October festivities. Since then, I've used both condensed and expanded variations on this theme for similar occasions, including a more kid-friendly Halloween mix that I made for my daughter's teachers to play for the kids at this time of year.

What follows are the track lists for both of these mixes. If, by some chance, you're interested in a copy of either, just let me know. I'm still compiling a big list of good Halloween tunes for future mixes so, if you've got any suggestions, feel free to post 'em!

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Mix #1 – October 2003

1. Alfred Hitchcock Presents…
2. Moondance – Van Morrison
3. Spider Web – Joan Osborn
4. Night Time is the Right Time – Ray Charles
5. I Ain’t Superstitious – Howlin’ Wolf
6. Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon
7. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo – Echo & The Bunnymen
8. People Are Strange – The Doors
9. Dark Shadows Theme
10. Mysterons - Portishead
11. The Wind Cries Mary – Jimi Hendrix
12. Superstition – Stevie Wonder
13. Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard – Tom Waits
14. Happy Phantom – Tori Amos
15. Season of the Witch – Donovan
16. Waking the Witch – Kate Bush
17. The Addams Family Theme
18. Alone in the Dark – John Hiatt
19. Bad Moon Rising – Creedence Clearwater Revival
20. I Put A Spell On You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
21. Clap for the Wolfman – The Guess Who
22. Evil Ways – Santana
23. Vampire – Bap Kennedy
24. Sweet Black Magic – Ryan Adams

A more kid-friendly Halloween Mix - October 2004

1. Monster Mash - Bobby "Boris" Pickett
2. Ghostbusters - Ray Parker, Jr.
3. Monster Rock - Screaming Lord Sutch
4. Little Demon - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
5. Poor Skeleton Steps Out - XTC
6. I Want Candy - Bow Wow Wow
7. Superstitious - Stevie Wonder
8. Scarecrow People - XTC
9. Boris the Spider - The Who
10. All Black and Hairy - Screaming Lord Sutch
11. The Addams Family Theme Song
12. Werewolves of London - Warren Zevon
13. I'm A Wolfman - The Fuzztones
14. I Put A Spell On You - Screamin' Jay Hawkins
15. Scary Monsters - David Bowie
16. Demons and Fiends - Robyn Hitchcock
17. Bad Moon Rising - Creedence Clearwater Revival
18. I Ain't Superstitious - Jeff Beck w/ Rod Stewart
19. Witchy Woman - The Eagles
20. Season of the Witch - Donovan

The Book of Rules

Originally posted on an iWeb log on Tuesday, October 8, 2002

A compilation of conscious roots reggae

Back in the mid 90s I started making reggae a regular part of my musical diet.  Sure, I owned the requisite Bob Marley recordings and some Police / UB40 stuff before that, but this is where I dove into the deep end.  I was hanging out in a friend’s record store and he was playing some great 70s reggae on the store stereo with delightfully dependable regularity.  I started asking questions, he started playing more, and before I knew it we were both placing special orders from obscure little labels in order to satisfy our seemingly unending cravings for the stuff.

By way of introduction, let me put what I refer to as “reggae” here into perspective with its various relations.  This will be an intentional oversimplification so I apologize if this is already common knowledge for you.  I prefer what is generally called “roots” reggae.  This is reggae with that familiar “rock steady” beat that you hear on nearly every Bob Marley record.  (Difficult to describe in words, but just about everybody knows it when they hear it.)  The lyrics very often deal with Rastafarian beliefs, nature, and/or the struggle of the Jamaican people.  It is often very uplifting, even for a white guy from the Midwest.  That these often dirt poor, oppressed people can write songs filled with such hope gives me pause when I am tempted to complain about something relatively trivial in my own life.  The roots sound is usually in no particular hurry to get anywhere, either, which is something else I appreciate more with each passing busy day.  Some bands are still creating roots reggae to this day but most of what I listen to was recorded in the 70s or early 80s.

One close cousin of this type of reggae is called dub.  I’m not sure how it started, but it amounted to studio (then tape) manipulations of existing recordings using echoes and loops and usually only short snippets of the vocals. 
Dub versions of songs were often recorded on the B-side of reggae 7" singles.  The only good example of this that I managed to include on this first Book of Rules mix comes during the last half of The Jolly Brothers’ “Conscious Man.”  A guy named Lee “Scratch” Perry was the producer on that one and had a penchant for creating dub versions of many of the songs he recorded.  In the 80s and 90s, dub moved into the world of electronic music and, to some degree, fueled some of the more dance-oriented electronica.

Vocal reggae took off in a different direction, too.  The next big thing in Jamaican music was called Dancehall.  This was significantly less socially conscious music, dealing instead with issues of love and lust.  The familiar “rock steady” groove of roots reggae gave way to more beat and less groove, heavy electronics moved in, and vocally there was much less concern about harmony and melody.  Dancehall is what gave birth to rap, if that helps you put your finger on it.  I don’t care for much of it and none of it is included here.  If you’re curious, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Another type of music that is often lumped under the reggae section in music stores is ska, which was actually a bit of a precursor to roots reggae.  This often utilized a much faster, almost “skippy” beat that Jamaicans slowed down by at least half to create the rock steady beat.  Horns are also often used in ska, although they were not always by its original practitioners.  English and American bands ranging from The (English) Beat and Madness to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones latched on to ska as their musical base, and the fastest ska became appealing to kids who were into punk.  Today, you can find ska just as easily near the punk section (if indeed your neighborhood store has such a section) as you can the reggae section.

I think that covers at least the major variations.  Personally, I never strayed too far from roots reggae and never felt the need to stray.  Besides a love of the music, over a year of pretty serious roots reggae listening culminated in two things:  a trip to Jamaica and my compilation of three 90-minute cassette tapes of the best of what I was hearing.  I called this series of tapes The Book of Rules, after the title of a Heptones song that seemed to sum up much of what appealed to me about the music.  I made copies and gave them out to a dozen or so people and these were met with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Fast forward only a few years and seemingly everyone (including myself) has abandoned cassettes for CDR technology, and my Book of Rules tapes find home in a cardboard box somewhere.  At times I thought about making a Book of Rules CD or two, but the belief that it would have been for my benefit only was not enough of a motivator to sit down and try to recreate the compilations.  However, a few of the recipients of the original tapes have asked me recently if I have any of that music on CD.  Hence, the first Book of Rules mix CD in what I hope will be a series of several.

I certainly don’t expect anyone to hear this and get a full-blown reggae jones like I did.  However, you might find this a pleasant listen on a hot summer day with your favorite iced drink nearby.  If you get at least that much enjoyment from this compilation then it will have been worth it.  Here’s what you’ll be hearing:

1.    Redemption Song – Bob Marley
2.    Peace Talks – Bunny Wailer
3.    Right Time – The Mighty Diamonds
4.    Prophesy – Little Roy
5.    Book of Rules – The Heptones
6.    Nuh Fe Run Down – Lee “Scratch” Perry
7.    Conscious Man – The Jolly Brothers
8.    Declaration of Rights – Johnny Clarke
9.    Forward Unto Zion – The Abyssinians
10.  Judgement Coming On the Land – Misty In Roots
11.  Rivers of Babylon – The Melodians
12.  Zion Gate / Every Wicked Crawl – Horace Andy & Jah Stitch
13.  The Way of Light – Big Youth
14.  Iron Sharpen Iron – Culture
15.  Bredda Gravalicious – Wailing Souls
16.  Vampire – Devon Irons
17.  Fisherman – The Congos
18.  Many Rivers To Cross – Jimmy Cliff

Soundtrack of My Life

Originally posted on an iWeb log on Friday, December 28, 2001

Anyone who loves music can pinpoint specific music that has been most meaningful to them at various stages of their life.  Here is the "soundtrack" of my life, so far.  No, I’m not claiming that this represents every bit of music that has influenced me in one way or another.  These are just the highlights.  A few of these are nonspecific, but it was so long ago that I really don’t remember the titles of the songs or albums that I heard.

1.)    “Return To Sender” - Elvis Presley.  This song was #1 in the United States on the day that I was born.  I didn’t find this out until much later, obviously, but I still think it’s funny to this day.

2.)    Any song by Louis Armstrong.  My earliest significant musical memory.  My mom loved Louis Armstrong and, when I was growing up, I was exposed to his music on my parents’ stereo.  Later in my teen years, regardless of what I may have done to rebel, I never “dissed” Satch.  He just sounded cool.  I am proud to say that I am still a big fan to this day.  Want to improve your mood?  Listen to Louis Armstrong.

3.)    Scottish bagpipe music.  This was my dad’s influence.  A first, I couldn’t stand it, but he played it a lot and it grew on me.  Today, I just love it.  I proudly wear the kilt of my family tartan, on occasion, I have attended numerous Scottish Highland Games events, and my blood races when I hear the sound of the pipes. 

4.)    The early songs of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson.  Secretly listening to AM radio on a small transistor under the covers after my parents thought I had gone to sleep, many of the most powerful AM stations were either playing doo-wop, early 60s pop, or country.  I remember being completely drawn in by the songs of folks like Cash, Haggard and Nelson because; back then, they were telling some great stories in their songs.  My love of a well-told story, in any form, can most likely be traced back to these songs.  Sadly, the popular “country” music of today seems more interested in making money than telling a good story.

5.)    “Hey Jude/Revolution” (45 rpm single) – The Beatles.  I remember a very pleasant afternoon when a childhood friend and I were taking turns playing 45s on a Close-n-Play phonograph.  Previously, we had access to stuff like Peter, Paul & Mary’s version of “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and we thought we were so cool (without having any clue about the drug reference!)  However, that day, my friend managed to finagle this single from his older brother.  I honestly don’t remember how young I was, but I was blown away.  This was a definite turning point for me, at least in terms of my musical horizons.

6.)    “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” – Iron Butterfly.  The first full-length record album I ever owned and as strange as it may sound, I got it as part of a shoe store promotion.  This 17 minute psychedelic epic, which took up all of the b-side, stuck with me long after my fascination with the record wore off.  To this day there are times when I find myself tapping a pencil on a tabletop and realize I’m tapping out the rhythm to this song by some sort of subconscious default.

7.)    The Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd.  Other than simply hearing the song “Money” on the radio, I discovered this entire masterpiece of recorded music when I was 14 years old.  The album was still relatively new then, and I have distinct (and very fond) memories of listening to it on the stereo in a friend’s basement bedroom.  Each of us was huddled up to a speaker and we sat there, reveling in the swirling sounds and samples that overtook us.  I still adore the album just as much to this day, even without the “herbal influences” we enjoyed back then.  Dark Side could easily be one of the greatest recordings ever made.

8.)    “Young Americans” – David Bowie.  Walking home from school with a girl in my neighborhood that I, shall we say, admired.  She seemed cool and sophisticated and beyond her teenage years and I was rather smitten.  She was into fashion and art, and absolutely worshipped David Bowie.  I don’t know if it was in an effort to get to know her better or simply because I was so intrigued with her Bowie stories, but I tried to walk home with her as often as she would let me.  The Young Americans album had just come out, so I was the beneficiary of her excitement about it.  I don’t know where she is today, but she gave me the gift of a lifelong appreciation of the man, his vision, and his music.

9.)    Will the Circle Be Unbroken – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  This sprawling 3-record (now 2 compact disc) set included a virtual who’s who of traditional acoustic music, and is responsible for opening my ears to the spirit and virtuosity of bluegrass and old-time music.  The record is an in-depth American history lesson set to music.  If push came to shove and I had to pick a single song for this soundtrack, let’s go with the title track.

10.)    “Caravan” (live) – Van Morrison.  Hearing this version, taken from Morrison’s mid-70s live set called It’s Too Late To Stop Now, for the first time nearly caused a traffic accident.  I had just recently learned to drive, but had to pull off the road because I was concentrating so hard on what I was hearing.  By the time it was over, I was just sitting there completely dumbfounded.  The version on the Moondance album is great, but it’s nothing compared to this one.

11.)    “Cinema Show” – Genesis.  Believe it or not, there was a time when Genesis was not simply a vehicle for Phil Collins’ sappy pop songs.  The thing I loved about older Genesis (as well as the music of other “art rock” bands) was their blend of folk music themes with the grandeur of classical music.  In high school, for me, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Yes, and Jethro Tull would have been in the soundtrack.

12.)    “Thunder Road” – Bruce Springsteen.  I suppose, if anything else would have been in my high school soundtrack, it would have been Springsteen.  This guy knew how to evoke the passion of those years, as well as the confusion, in his songs.  Listen closely to the lyrics of this song and I think you’ll hear what I mean.

13.)    “Positive Vibration” (live) – Bob Marley & The Wailers.  Bob Marley’s Babylon By Bus, a 2 LP documentation of his 1978 world tour, opened the door to reggae music for me.  My love for the genre has only continued to grow over the years.  I prefer what is generally called “roots” reggae.  This is reggae with that familiar “rock steady” beat that you hear on nearly every Bob Marley record.  (Difficult to describe in words, but just about everybody knows it when they hear it.)  The lyrics very often deal with Rastafarian beliefs, nature, and/or the struggle of the Jamaican people.  It is often very uplifting, even for a white guy from the Midwest.  That a dirt poor, oppressed people can write songs filled with such hope gives me pause when I am tempted to complain about something relatively trivial in my own life. “Positive Vibration” is the first track from this album.

14.)    “Precious” – Pretenders.  One of the great 80s band, as far as I’m concerned.  It didn’t hurt that Chrissie Hynde was also from Northeast Ohio.  This song (besides kicking some serious butt) mentions “East 55th and Euclid Avenue,” which is very near the college I attended in Cleveland.

15.)    “Church Not Made With Hands” – The Waterboys.  I was raised in a fairly liberal-minded Presbyterian family, but there came a time when I began to question organized religion.  During college, I learned that there were aspects of many different “religions” that made sense to me, as well as aspects of many that did not.  This song came along at about that time, and made me realize that developing my own personal set of beliefs was not something for which I should feel guilty.

16.)    “Nowhere Road” – Steve Earle.  In 1987, I was hanging out in a record store in Cleveland when the owner (who had become a friend) put the needle down on Steve Earle’s Exit 0 album.  “There’s a road in Oklahoma, straighter than a preacher, and longer than a memory.”  I was immediately hooked, and have been an Earle fan ever since.  This guy is single-handedly responsible for renewing my faith in the power of a well-written song.  My interest in Earle’s music has led me to countless other great artists.  If push came to shove, his music might be categorized as country, but this is also a guy who claims that “Garth Brooks is the Anti-Hank (Williams)” and that “Shania Twain is the world’s highest paid lap dancer.”

17.)    “The Rainbow” - Talk Talk.  By the close of the 80s, I was listening to more and more esoteric music.  I was spending a lot of time listening to college radio stations and exploring music that flew well under the commercial radar.  Heck, some of it couldn’t really even be called music.  Listening to some of that weirdness on CSU’s radio station one night during a pledge drive, I heard them announce that this album was their premium for donating during the show.  I was already a fan of Talk Talk’s synth-pop music, and couldn’t get my head around why they were offering this as a premium on an experimental college radio show.  So I took the bait, donated, and a copy of the album arrived a week or two later.  It just blew me away.  It was like nothing I had heard before, and nothing like I have heard since.  20 years on, Spirit of Eden remains one of my top five albums of all time.  “The Rainbow” is, essentially, Side A of this amazing album.

18.)    “So What” – Miles Davis.  Okay, this one is really out of place, at least chronologically.  Miles’ Kind of Blue album was recorded in 1959, and is a masterpiece of jazz improvisation.  It is the album that finally allowed me to “get” classic jazz and, as such, acted as a floodgate to the joys one of the most interesting musical forms in existence.  The only sad thing is that I didn’t discover it until the early 90s, and until then was content thinking that “jazz” was some sort of instrumental rock hybrid.  (see fusion)

19.)    “The Book of Rules” – The Heptones.  Back in the mid 90s I started making reggae a regular (daily) part of my musical diet.  Sure, I owned the requisite Bob Marley albums and some Police / UB40 kind of stuff before that, but this is where I dove into the deep end.  I was hanging out in a local record store where I had become friends with the owner.  He was playing some great reggae on the store stereo with delightfully dependable regularity.  I started asking questions, he started playing more, and before I knew it we were both placing special orders from obscure little labels in order to satisfy our seemingly unending cravings for the stuff.  We were discovering "new" voices and vibes (many of which were recorded in the 70s) and the whole experience really opened a door to a type of music that has become very special to me.  I honestly believe that I see the world in a different light after being immersed in roots reggae.  Believe that.  My passion for the stuff eventually led to a very memorable trip to Jamaica in 1996.

20.)    “Over the Moon” – Luka Bloom.  A song that encapsulates my feelings for my wife pretty well.  “When she moves I watch her, when she speaks I listen, when she stands I stand beside her, when she laughs I’m over the moon!”  Early in our relationship, instead of having a single song that was “ours,” I made her mix tapes of songs that made me think of her.   Perhaps I’ll post track lists one day.  In the meantime, this song was a cornerstone of one of those tapes.

21.)    “Johnny’s Garden” – Stephen Stills.  This beautiful song from the Manassas album has become the theme song for life around the home we bought in 1998.  It starts, “There’s a place I can get to, where I’m safe from the city blues, and it’s green, and it’s quiet.  Only trouble was, I had to buy it.”  Our song of home.

22.)    “Silver Lining” – David Gray.  Quite literally, Gray’s White Ladder album is the soundtrack of our daughter’s birth.  We were playing it in the delivery room when my wife delivered her.  This song is particularly special with its chorus of, “We were born with our eyes wide open.”

23.)    "New Jerusalem" - Mark Hollis.  When I woke up on September 11, 2001, I could tell something was very wrong.  My wife was watching the news, the terrorist attacks had just happened, and there this an intense feeling of disbelief in the air.  By the end of the day, everything seemed so trivial in comparison to what had happened.  I couldn't listen to music for days, maybe weeks.  It, too, seemed trivial.  What eventually opened the door again was Mark Hollis' solo debut, and this song in particular.  If it were possible to record peace and serenity, this would be it.

24.)    "No One Knows My Name" - Gillian Welch.  I was adopted.  I never knew my birth parents nor did I have a desire to know them.  I'm not bitter, it's just that my adopted parents were so loving and caring that I felt no need to search for others!  This is not to say that I have never wondered about who gave birth to me or, from time to time, felt a little adrift in my bloodline.  I certainly never thought I would find a song that encapsulates these feelings, let alone as well as Gillian Welch does here.

To be continued...

Here’s to an ongoing musical soundtrack for everyone!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Desert Island Discs

Originally posted on an iWeb log on Sunday, March 4, 2001

This list was started long ago, before I even owned a computer.  I finally committed it to an electronic format on the date above.  The list is still not finished but, in all honesty, I'm not sure such a list can ever really be finished.  Here it is in its current form.

I’m one of these people that, when packing for a trip, tries to bring something for any weather.  I suppose it would be no different in choosing musical selections for the proverbial desert island.  Truth be told, I found it an absolutely grueling task to narrow my list of favorites down to a reasonable number for the trip.  I could have easily come up with at least 10 selections for each category, yet I wanted to spread my selections out across various genres (ie, pack for any weather.)  Anyway, these would be the discs I would want to bring to my desert island.

JAZZ:

  • Miles Davis – Kind of Blue   This is the record that opened up the world of (real) jazz to me.  I mean that literally, too, as it was also my introduction to Bill Evans, “Cannonball” Adderly, and John Coltrane.  It is a masterpiece of improvisation, yet subtle enough to make great background music for a candlelit dinner.  Genius, this, and not one I am likely to tire with if the rescue missions fail.
  • Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington – The Great Summit   How on earth do you pick a single recording from the gigantic catalogs of both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington?  Simple.  Pick this one.  Armstrong and his band meet in a studio to cover a selection of Ellington standards and Duke joins them on piano.  Great Summit, indeed.  World leaders should have taken note.
  • Billie Holiday – Songs for Distingue Lovers  An amazing recording of a very moving session.  Some prefer Billie’s earlier recordings but this pushes all the right buttons for me.  Band members for this intimate session include Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Sweets Edison, and Barney Kessel.  This, to me, is Billie Holiday at her peak.
  • Lester Young, Roy Eldridge & Harry Edison – Laughin’ to Keep from Cryin’  Speaking of Eldridge and Edison, how about we put them in a room with the great Lester Young and see what happens?  This album is a gem from the marvelously tender cover photograph to the glorious music between the grooves.
BLUES:
  • Kelly Joe Phelps – Roll Away the Stone  The most moving, nearly religious experience I can remember having while listening to music.  This guy's playing and singing on this album convince me that he truly feels the power of the music passing through him.  He is, for lack of better phrase, channeling.  When you hear this music, you can't help but be drawn into the same trance.
  • Muddy Waters – Folk Singer  This is Muddy’s “unplugged” record, recorded in 1963, long before MTV even existed.  The sessions were sparse and every note is accurately recorded, with the occasional misstep lending authenticity to the proceedings.  Muddy sang and played acoustic guitar, accompanied by a young Buddy Guy on second acoustic guitar, Willie Dixon on standup bass, and Clifton James on drums.  As this was Muddy’s original style, the record feels effortless and free.  It’s just a gem of a record and, although I own many of his on both LP and CD, this is definitely the one I want on my island.
  • Howlin’ Wolf – Moanin’ in the Moonlight  The Wolf’s first album was essentially a collection of sides he recorded in the early 50s.  His second album, titled Howlin’ Wolf, is primarily a collection of his versions of Willie Dixon blues standards.  As such, it’s an absolute gem.  However, I picked his third album for the trip because the big man put much more of a personal stamp on it.  If I’m not bringing it for my personal enjoyment, playing Howlin’ Wolf at a decent volume would certainly keep any angry natives away from my tent.
  • Lightnin’ Hopkins – The Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings   I’m actually cheating a bit here, since this is a 7 CD box set.  If I were forced to choose, I would probably take disc 2.  Regardless, I would have to bring some Lightnin’ along.  I once heard someone say that the best blues actually makes you feel better.  Lightnin’ Hopkins is proof of that statement.
POP/ROCK:
  • Jeff Beck –Truth  I also wanted to bring a Faces record, but I think I'll just settle for my Rod Stewart fix from this one.  (Yes, there was a tiime when Rod Stewart was not such a schmaltzy putz.)  Besides, as much as I love Ron Wood, Beck is a much better guitar player.  This is one of those albums of perfect synergy between artists.  No album of his (theirs) can hold a candle to this one.
  • Sam Cooke – Night Beat  I absolutely adore Sam Cooke’s voice and delivery.  The problem with most of his recordings, however, is that they are burdened with heavy string arrangements, backing vocals that aren’t nearly back enough, and a general sense of overproduction.  On Night Beat, however, he got it right.  Recorded with a small combo, this has the feel of a smokey, late-night session where the music is being made for the love of it.  Best of all, Cooke’s formidable talents shine through as though that was all that ever really mattered.
  • David Sylvian & Robert Fripp - Damage  A live recording from the tour of their mutual album, 'The First Day'.  That record was a top candidate here, but I chose this instead because it includes some older Sylvian tracks.
  • Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden  or  Laughing Stock  Can I take both?  Please?!  This is music that defies categorization.  It is cerebral and intense, yet often so peaceful it could be the soundtrack of a very pleasant dream.  There are vocals but you almost don't really care what singer Mark Hollis is saying.  This is not the Talk Talk of their days as a pretty good 80s synth-pop band.  It is an incredible listening experience.  Quite possibly ground zero for the "post-rock" subgenre.  Definitely among my Top 5 favorite recordings of all time.
  • Tom Waits – Blue Valentine  How does once choose one Tom Waits record for a desert island?!  There are so many that deserve to come along.  Blue Valentine may not be the most critically acclaimed Waits record, but it's one of my favorites due to some of the memories that come along with it.
  • XTC - Black Sea  The world's smartest pop band?  It wouldn't take much to convince me.  There’s a bit of a toss-up here between this record and the one that followed, English Settlement, but this one wins out on the merits of the cover art
CELTIC:
  • Robin Laing – The Angel’s Share   An album by a Scottish folky, it’s full of songs about the pleasures of single malt scotch whisky.  Of course, this would be pure torture if there were no single malts on my island, so you can be sure I’d lobby for them before I even got on the boat.
  • The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues  I debated about whether I should put this one here or under pop/rock.  For much of their career before and after, The Waterboys better fit that category.  After spending the early part of the 80s creating some pretty impressive "big music," leader Mike Scott became so fed up with industry pressure that he lost his muse.  He took off to Ireland with fiddle player Steve Wickham and essentially found a new one.  Fisherman's Blues is unmistakably Waterboys, but it is also a very, very Celtic record.  The title track was used in one of my favorite movies, Waking Ned Devine, during the opening scenes where the camera is flying over beautiful Irish landscapes.
Addendum:  Various reissues of this gem of a record have since been released, containing a vast array of B-sides, session outtakes, and other rarities.  If I have the space in my luggage, I'd take the box set from 2013 with 7 discs and a book!

BLUEGRASS/FOLK/OLD TIME:

  • Various/NGDB – Will the Circle Be Unbroken   This is the mother of all bluegrass albums as far as I’m concerned.  In 1972, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band assembled the most amazing collection of bluegrass and old-time musicians alive at the time for a multi-record showcase of traditional American music.  Loaded with great stuff, any fiddle or banjo fix I might need to tend would clearly be satisfied by playing this one.  Oh, and I’d like to bring the LP version so that I can spend time with the multi-gatefold cover while I listen.  My island stereo will have a turntable, right?
  • Steve Earle – Train A Comin’   Partially for its sonic clarity, partially for it’s honesty, and partially for its historical significance this one would have to come along or I’d refuse to go.  Recorded upon Earle's release from jail and first steps toward rehabilitation, this was truly the sound of an artist who had nothing more to lose.   Yet he emerges from his former life of chaos with an absolute gem of an album.  Possibly my favorite recording on this entiere list.  Oh, and I’ll be bringing the original Winter Harvest version, not the E-Squared thing that Earle resequenced, remixed, diminished in the process.
  • Norman Blake – Whiskey Before Breakfast   My introduction to this man’s music was on Steve Earle’s Train A Comin’ album.  My search for more led me to develop a friendship a guy who seemed to know more about Blake’s work than even Norman himself.  He made me several cassettes (none of us were heavy into CD recording at that time) of his albums and this one just jumped out at me as being more special than the rest.  I have since been lucky enough to see Norman Blake perform in the very intimate setting of someone’s living room.  It was shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th  and was a rather cathartic experience for everyone involved.
  • Gillian Welch & David Rawlings – Acoustic Stage   I have to admit that this is a bootleg recording, and a damn fine one at that!  Recorded from the soundboard during the tour for the Revival album, it mirrors an evening that Cassi and I spent with Welch & Rawlings at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago in 1997.  I don’t think I am taking any liberties by claiming that this was one of the finest shows either of us has ever seen.
REGGAE:
  • I absolutely love reggae, I just haven't really worked on this part of the list yet.  More to come, for sure...
WORLD:
  • Djivan Gasparyan – I Will Not Be Sad In This World   Gasparyan is from Armenia, and plays an instrument called the duduk.  This album is a collection of haunting solo pieces, originally released in the USSR in 1983, and has to be one of the most beautiful recordings I have ever heard.  I’d bring this along for my more introspective moments.
  •  More to come here, as well.