Thursday, February 26, 2009

Washington D. C. Quarter Honors Duke Ellington

The U. S. Mint's series honoring all fifty states on the reverse side of its quarters is nearing its end but not before Washington D.C. was finally represented.

Today, the third installment of The Musical Art Gallery, Bloggerhythms' occasional series discussing music related artwork, features the new Duke Ellington quarter that hit America's streets near the end of January. Collectors may want to hold on to a few of these babies, instead of slipping them into parking meters, because the Ellington coin is one of the best of the series.

This quarter is a pleasant surprise because most of the previously issued coins have celebrated something famously identified with each of the fifty states. You may have expected our nation's capital to feature The White House, The Capitol, The Smithsonian, or even one of the memorials on the reverse side. However, to their credit, the town decided to do something very different. City resident, Eleanor Holmes Norton, said, "With Duke on the coin, we are sending an important message to the world that D.C. is a lot more than a government town." Ellington is a great choice because the man many consider to be the most talented jazz musician and composer of all time was born in this historic city.

We'll close with a bit of trivia. Ellington is not the first black person to appear on a circulated United States coin. The first was a slave who appeared with Lewis and Clark on a Missouri quarter in 2003.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Justin Currie - What is Love For (2007)

Over the last twenty years one of my favorite rock bands has been Scotand's Del Amitri. Unfortunately, two years ago the band lost its recording contract and their subsequent hiatus appears to be permanent. That is a real shame. Del Amitri should have been huge.

Their rock was melodic and never far out of the mainstream. The subject matter of their songs was mostly about romantic relationships (granted, many of the tunes didn't have happy endings) and their lead singer and primary composer, Justin Currie, owns one of the finest voices ever to front a rock band.

Considering all of the above I should have been more thrilled when Currie released his first and only solo CD, What Is Love For, in October, 2007. A couple of cursory listens didn't hold my interest and I rapidly dismissed the disc. Then, last week, while shopping at the Princeton Record Exchange, I found it in their discount rack for $1.99 and decided I owed Currie another chance. I'm glad I did because after a complete and more detailed listen I've come to the conclusion his solo disc ranks with Del Amitri's best work.

What Is Love For explores most of the same themes that Currie's band often did but musically it's a very different experience. Love's downside dominates most of the songs and the middle to slow tempos of the arrangements fit Currie's moody explorations on romance well. There is almost no rock 'n roll on this record. The combination makes it a far more serious outing than Dels' fans have normally come to expect. As an example, on his former band's "Not Where It's At" Currie's self-deprecating humor about not getting the girl brings a smile to our faces. There are no such smiles here, yet Currie is such a good writer and vocalist that you can't wait for the next song to begin.

Set against a very foreboding bank of strings, the highlight of the album is the outstanding final track, the wordy "No, Surrender." Currie takes almost eight minutes to list everything he believes is wrong with the world while, in the chorus, he tells the listener to just give up, don't fight life, simply surrender. The contradiction between the sentiments expressed on this track and the overall production and effort he put into the entire disc is obvious. Mr. Currie, if you don't care, why do you put so much time and energy into your music. This CD proves you do care very much, at least about making great albums, and that's not a depressing thing at all.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Taking Hatred Of Billy Joel A Bit Too Far

I've never posted anything on Bloggerhythms criticizing what other people have written but today I'm making an exception. That is because I found an article worthy of your attention and I'm posting the link here because the author needs to be exposed. Below is a link to an article by Ron Rosenbaum at Slate Magazine that takes hating Billy Joel to an all new level.

Rosenbaum is one of those effete writers who, in order to feel superior to everyone else, challenges a musician's right to walk, talk, eat, or even breathe air. Hating the artist's music is simply not enough. The article shows a total lack of class at the rocker's expense.

I’ll admit I've always been a big fan of Joel's music, but even if you’re not, I’m sure you will agree this article is putrid.

It’s a very long read but please take a look now at Rosenbaum's The Worst Pop Singer Ever and consider hurling a little hate back his way.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Badfinger - Straight Up (1971)

It's time for another ride on the Wayback Machine to visit another old forgotten LP. This time it's Straight Up, Badfinger's third album, one of the best British pop-rock albums of its day. While most of the world has forgotten Badfinger and this record, it has always stayed with me and easily makes my list of the 100 best abums of all time. The disc is full of Beatlesque influenced pop produced by George Harrison and Todd Rundgren. It became the biggest selling non-Beatle album ever released by Apple Records.

Badfinger is probably best known for recording Paul McCartney's "Come and Get It," released on their first LP, in which the band was rightly faulted for sounding like a Beatles clone. Their second album, No Dice (1970), maintained an obvious Beatles influence, but the quartet was now writing their own songs and injected just enough of their own personality and creativity into their music to make people sit up and listen. No longer considered a poor man's Beatles, Badfinger was now being hailed for their own originality. The album features the great hit single "No Matter What," the original version of "Without You," a tune that later became a huge hit for Harry Nilsson in 1972, and "We're For the Dark," a song that could have been a hit if it had been released as a single.

Then came Straight Up. Featuring the big hits "Day After Day" and "Baby Blue" the album provided Badfinger with everything musicians wanted: popularity and critical acclaim. The band combined pleasant melodies, fine musicianship, great singing, and, best of all, a flair for original composition and arranging. Other great songs on this album include "Money" (not the Motown song later covered by the Beatles), "Suitcase," "Sweet Tuesday Morning," "Sometimes," and "Perfection."

Unfortunately everything fell apart shortly afterward, not because of a lack of talent, but by the implosion of Apple and Badfinger's mismanagement of their own business affairs. They continued to make albums, but by 1975 the first of the quartet's two suicides, partially stemming from their business related problems, stopped the group in its tracks. A few years later they reunited but a second suicide effectively ended their career. There have been a couple of reunions for the oldies circuit but, for all intents and purposes, Badfinger is mostly a relic of British pop.

Straight Up should be heard by all who enjoy clever mainstream rock and roll with a distinctly English flavor. Although No Dice is also worth hearing, if you only buy one, Straight Up should be your choice. You can still buy it on CD at Amazon.