Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Words About Music

The quote by writer and music critic Tom Moon posted under this blog's banner is from the cover of his excellent book 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die. It's probably my favorite quote about music. Moon's words got me thinking about other musical quotes I've read. So today, instead of writing a CD review, I thought I'd post some of my favorite musical witticisms, complaints, and observations.

While researching this article I was surprised to learn there have been multiple books published devoted to nothing more than quotes about music. One of them, pictured here, explores classic music quotes from Texas. I doubt if anything posted below is from Rave On but it could be a very interesting read due to all of the outstanding and varied musical personalities who have called the Lone Star State their home. The very cool cover features four famous Texans in Sgt. Pepper outfits.

I hope you enjoy the "wisdom" you're about to read.

Music Never Lies. - Jimi Hendrix

Your horn players are like one set of lungs and your guitar player is better than me. - Jimi Hendrix talking to Walt Parazaider, woodwind player for The Chicago Transit Authority

I can't listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland. - Woody Allen, comedian, actor, director

A painter paints pictures on canvas but musicians paint their pictures on silence. - Leopold Stokowski, conductor, 1882 -1977

Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence. - Robert Fripp, leader of the prog-rock band, King Crimson

Country music is three chords and the truth. - Harlan Howard, country music singer-songwriter, 1927 -2002

I worry that the person who thought up Muzak may be thinking up something else. - Lily Tomlin, comedienne, actress

The scratches in Yoko Ono records are moments of relief. - S.A. Sachs

Music is everybody's possession. It's only publishers who think that people own it. - John Lennon

I love Beethoven, especially his poems.
-Ringo Starr

You can't possibly hear the last movement of Beethoven's Seventh and go slow.
- Oscar Levant, pianist, actor, comedian, 1906 -1972, explaining his way out of a speeding ticket

I've said that playing the blues is like having to be black twice. Stevie [Ray Vaughan] missed on both counts, but I never noticed. - B. B. King

Jazz is the big brother of the blues. If a guy's playing blues like we play, he's in high school. When he starts playing jazz it's like going on to college, to a school of higher learning. - B. B. King

If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music. - Gustav Mahler, classical composer

Music is what feelings sound like.
- Unknown

An intellectual is someone who can listen to the "William Tell Overture" without thinking of the Lone Ranger. - Dan Rather, TV journalist

The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots as a joke, but the Scots haven't got the joke yet. - Oliver Herford, American writer, 1863 - 1935

I hate music, especially when it's played. - Jimmy Durante, comedian, actor, 1893 - 1980

For those about to rock, we salute you. - AC/DC

Rock 'n Roll: The most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear. - Frank Sinatra

I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to. - Elvis Presley

This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway. - Bob Dylan

If you talk bad about country music, it's like saying bad things about my momma. - Dolly Parton

Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.
- Steve Martin

Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist. - Gilbert K. Chesterton, English Writer, 1874 -1936

The '60s was one of the first times the power of music was used by a generation to bind them together.
- Neil Young

Jazz will endure just as long people hear it through their feet instead of their brains. - John Philip Sousa, American conductor and composer of military marches, 1854-1932

By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn't want your daughter to associate with. - Duke Ellington

If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know. - Louis Armstrong

There are two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good kind.
- Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington. Take your pick.

Do I listen to pop music because I'm miserable or am I miserable because I listen to pop music? - John Cusack, film actor

A musicologist is a man who can read music but can't hear it. - Sir Thomas Beecham, British conductor, 1879 - 1961

Friday, January 22, 2010

Edgehill Avenue - Rambler (2009)

Southern rock is still alive and kicking and the vessel supplying its nourishment is a five piece unit from Louisville, Kentucky, Edgehill Avenue. They just released their first full length CD, Rambler, and it's a dandy. To these ears the group sounds more like The Marshall Tucker Band than anyone else but they are influenced by The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws, and more. Some music scribes have even cited Tom Petty, The Black Crowes, and R. E. M. as influences.

While not employing the dual lead guitar attack common to many Southern rockers they do have a top notch organ player in Paul Nevitt. Lead electric guitarist "Hurricane" Mike McLaughlin also doubles on acoustic. His work makes the listener wonder where he has been hiding all these years. Rhythm guitarist Drew Perkins is the fine, earthy vocalist. The rhythm section of Lamont "Phatbeat" Melson on drums and John Poole on bass provide a solid backing that works cohesively with the guys on the front line. The CD was produced by William Bartley, who once worked with Robbie Robertson, and Nick Stevens.

Not only are Edgehill Avenue outstanding players Perkins can write songs that pack a wallop. On the acoustic ballad, "I'll Be Leaving Now" he makes you feel really sad for the protagonist while singing "I'm a man and sometimes my intentions come out wrong." He is also capable of conjuring up the ghosts of folk music's great protest singers. The title track is about abolitionist Frederick Douglas and "Justified" laments the horrors of genocide. Having said all of that please don't think this quintet is a big downer because they can boogie with any of Dixie's best bands. All you need to do is listen to "Just Don't Care Anymore," "How You Really Feel," and the very radio friendly "With These Hands" and you'll know what I mean.

It took more than one listen for Rambler to sink in so I ask you to be generous with both your time and your ears. You won't be disappointed. Call this music Americana, call it roots-rock, call it Southern rock, call it whatever you like, just as long as you call it "great."

The band, minus Nevitt, recorded their only other release, an eponymously titled acoustic EP in 2007, that is currently out of print. However, it is still available for download on their website where you can also purchase Rambler on CD or mp3. It's also available at Amazon.






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Friday, January 15, 2010

Rosanne Cash - The List (2009)

Is there anyone out there who still doesn't know that Rosanne Cash's father was the late Johnny Cash and her stepmother the late June Carter Cash? If this is breaking news to you then the singer's latest CD, The List, is probably not for you. Please stop reading right now and go back to listening to the latest scantily clad teenager spewing forth heavily processed vocals while she cavorts around the stage to synthesized instrumental tracks.

The List is a wonderful collection of songs given to the world by one of country music's best talents. It also has a very nice back story. Johnny Cash was quite dismayed that when Rosanne turned eighteen her musical frame of reference only included the songs she heard on the radio. So, the country icon sat down and wrote out a list of one hundred American country and folk songs he considered indispensable and gave it to her. She kept the list and, thirty-five years later, picked twelve songs from it for this CD.

Many excellent standards are included. Patsy Cline's "She's Got You," Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," and "Long Black Veil," a duet with Jeff Tweedy, are all present and accounted for. One of my personal favorites,"500 Miles," an early hit for Peter, Paul, and Mary, is here too. Bruce Springsteen helps out on "Sea of Heartbreak," Elvis Costello on "Heartaches by the Number," and Rufus Wainwright duets on "Silver Wings." The album's sparkling arrangements were produced by Cash's husband, John Leventhal. Her alto voice is as beautiful as ever.

This is Cash's second deeply personal CD in a row. Black Cadillac (2006) was written as a catharsis to deal with the losses she suffered after the deaths of her father, her mother, Vivian Liberto, and her stepmother all within twenty-two months of each other. Fortunately for us the star has turned her sadness into some excellent music. Because The List is so deeply personal to Cash it's obvious that she doesn't view it as just another album full of cover songs and that accounts for her ability to effortlessly transfer those feelings to the listener.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Bucket List: The Beach Boys - Sunflower (1970)

It's quite possible that you've never listened to Sunflower. It quickly became the poorest selling and possibly the most obscure album in The Beach Boys catalog when it was released in 1970. According to Wikipedia, it was only on the charts for four weeks and reached #151 in the United States. In England, where the band was much more popular at the time, the album went to #29.

Sunflower contains some of the seminal band's greatest music ever and this isn't just some music snob trying to push the obscure stuff. Most people who eventually heard this astonishingly wonderful record will tell you the same thing. The album, the group's first for Warner Brothers, was released during the boys highly artistic period that began with Pet Sounds in 1966 and ran through Holland in 1973. That period proved the guys from Hawthorne, California were far more than Brian Wilson's backup band at a time when they still had the motivation to be one of the best outfits on the planet.

All six members contributed to the album as a unified team (the original classic lineup plus Bruce Johnston were all on board). Everyone had composing credits on this self-produced record that offered some of the best harmonies the band ever recorded together.

Sunflower was Dennis Wilson's best moment in the studio so far. He contributed the the mid-tempo rocker "Slip On Through," the upbeat "Got to Know The Woman," and the beautiful ballad "Forever." Only his 1977 solo album, Pacific Ocean Blue, rivaled his work here.

Brian shook off his troubles long enough to write or co-write seven of the twelve tracks but it is not believed he was much of a studio force during its production. One of his co-written songs, the single, "Add Some Music To Your Day," is included here and it's one of the band's most outstanding works. It is unfair that this song never became a monster hit. Both the album and the song were released during a time when the Woodstock Nation considered The Beach Boys to be, at best, nothing more than quaint musical throwbacks. The band's popular revival, spearheaded by the double CD anthology of Endless Summer in 1974, was still a few years away, so America missed out on some great music because of it.

Carl shined on "This Whole World." Bruce Johnston turned in some of his best songs with "Deirdre" and "Tears In the Morning." Only the slightly weird Brian Wilson - Mike Love production of, "Cool, Cool, Water" and the harder rocking, "It's About Time" seem out of place with the rest of the record but they too have some very nice moments.

On Sunflower The Beach Boys modernized their sound while still playing to their strengths. Brian Wilson already proved with Pet Sounds that they were far more than gimmicky surf-rockers, and with this work, so did the rest of the band. You must make this music part of your life. It's not too late.

Here is some Sunflower music.

Listen to the original "Add Some Music To Your Day" and then, just to show you how well The Beach Boys could sing, here is an a cappella version of the same song.

Next, Carl sings "This Whole World" and, in a rare live performance, he and the band perform it in 1988.

Finally, Dennis sings "Forever" live. Watch him sneeze at the 2:07 mark and laugh about it a few seconds later.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Jackson Browne - Running On Empty (1977)

Most singer-songwriters seem to have a short shelf life. They issue three or four excellent albums early in their careers, win over the critics and much of the public, and then coast for the next twenty-five or thirty years. Perhaps they just run out of things to say. Finally, after they shake off all of the rock 'n roll demons, they return with a comeback album that almost rivals the quality of their early output. Such is the case with one member of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame, Jackson Browne.

Running On Empty was Browne's fifth album and, for some, it was the beginning of the end of a great five year run. For other listeners, like me, it was the album that made me a big fan. Is this Browne's best album? Probably, not. Those honors are usually reserved for his 1972 self-titled debut or, my personal favorite, his superlative 1974 disc, Late For The Sky. Also included in that hitting streak are For Everyman (1973) and The Pretender (1976).

Running On Empty was different from most LPs of its day. It was a concept album with a rather unusual subject. Most of the songs are about a musician's life on the road. On "Rosie" Browne sings about groupies. "Cocaine" is a cover song about drugs. "Nothing But Time" discusses the boredom of touring, and the finale, "The Load Out/Stay," is a tribute to the roadies, the fans, and the concerts he and the band played at the end of that long, tedious road. Secondly, there are no known studio versions of any of these songs nor is it entirely a live album. "Nothing But Time" was recorded while traveling on the band's bus. You can even here the rumbling roar of the bus's motor in the background. Other songs were recorded in hotel rooms while on tour. "The Load Out/Stay" and the title cut, both concert performances, became huge hits. The latter is still one of my favorite songs of all time.

The album garnered mostly favorable, but mixed, reviews. Some critics complained about what they believed was Browne's woe-is-me attitude regarding fame and fortune. William Ruhlman, of the well known All Music Guide, wrote that some people referred to the record as "Jackson Browne lite." To me it was his most accessible work to date (which probably explains the "lite" tag assigned to it) and, after seeing his accompanying tour in the Summer of 1978, I dove deeper into his back catalog.

Running On Empty made Browne a star and it remains his biggest selling album. Unfortunately, even though his subsequent followup records, 1980's Hold Out, 1983's more shallow Lawyers In Love, and the single, "Somebody's Baby," all sold well they have left no lasting impact on his legacy. It would not be long before his introspective writing became less focused on coping with life, love, and one's feelings about both. The songwriter part of him became more interested in political activism, most notably America's involvement in El Salvador and his No Nukes campaign. Browne was a product of the 70s, "The Me Decade," and his lyrics reflected the time. When he turned toward the less selfish activism of the 60s his work wasn't as appealing to many long time fans, although, in the end, we found he still had a lot to say.

In 1993 Browne issued a comeback of sorts with I'm Alive and he continues to record and tour today. He has given up drugs, still fights for his causes, and still has the respect he won with his early albums.

Finally, here is a Bloggerhythms review of a 2006 Browne concert featuring his long time collaborator, David Lindley.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Woozy Viper - Woozy Viper (2009)

Luke and Mitch Meseke, the two brothers who are Woozy Viper, originally hail from Kansas and, unfortunately, that is virtually everything that is known about them. There is no biographical information anywhere online. Their MySpace page tells us nothing except that they are now living in New York City's outer boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn. They are even giving their debut CD away for free on their one page website so apparently music is just their hobby. They only want to create it, not earn a living by it. Considering all of the above, why write about this new band? Because these boys are really onto something and they need to get their publicity machine revved up quickly. Their eponymous debut is a rock 'n roll breath of fresh air in a genre that has become increasingly stale.

The disc is a sparsely produced and arranged set of songs that fits Woozy Viper's low profile. All twelve tracks sound like unfinished demos but the simplicity is part of the music's charm. The brothers season their lo-fi garage rock with both acoustic guitars and an attitude but they also possess a sense of humor that is frequently missing in an art form that often takes itself far too seriously. For example, "Love Scented Candles" is a brief 1:44 in length and has no other lyrics except for it's title. Overall, the brothers have conjured up a tasty musical stew for anyone who likes rock 'n roll that is not trying to save the world.

There appears to be no information available anywhere regarding who sings, who wrote the songs, or who plays what instruments. Those unanswered questions add to the mystery surrounding the brothers. I'm anxious to see where they go from here.