Thursday, March 31, 2005

Zooooom! Blaaaaassst offfff!

Dig that crazy 50s music. Cadillacs... dates with space girls... sock hops... They just don't write songs like those anymore. I work the night shift tonight, so I am making some CDs for folks. I am currently listening to Don Woody's wonderful "You're Barking Up the Wrong Tree." Arf Arf! Woof! Woof!
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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Stone-cold Classic, No. 587

A friend gave me a copy of Nazareth's "Hair of the Dog" yesterday and last night I discovered it makes the perfect accompaniment for washing dishes.
For the uninitiated, this 1975 album SERIOUSLY ROCKS.
The title track opener has become a staple of classic-rock radio and the Scottish band's version of "Love Hurts" helped define the power ballad for future generations of "hair bands."
However, this album's other tracks make it a stone-cold classic. Second track "Miss Misery" features Dan McCafferty's anguished-roar vocals. Thanks to those roared vocals and the guitar riffology on display, you can imagine the future members of bands such as Iron Maiden scurrying for their notebooks, cribbing their metal sound.
Among the album's eight tracks is the combination of "Beggars Day" and "Rose in Heather," perhaps the disc's true highlights. "Beggars Day" comes on like the greatest hard-rock song you have ever heard, before morphing into the spacey instrumental "Rose in Heather."
It all adds up to a sonic assault perfectly suited for all your dish-washing duties.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

July 7, 2001... a date living in infamy

If you happen to be my jazz-hating daughters, that is.
That sunny Saturday marked my official entry into the world of jazz CD collecting. Before stepping into the Virgin Records megastore in San Francisco that day, I would occasionally listen to Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington, but I did not have what could be considered a jazz CD "collection."
I stepped inside the record store that day and confined myself to the jazz section. I decided I wanted a trio of "anchors" for what I decided would become a budding collection.
I chose:
* "Kind of Blue" by Miles Davis -- the modal jazz classic that some considered the greatest album ever made
* "The Best of Chet Baker Sings" -- the elegant statement of 1950s cool
* "Getz/Gilberto" by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto -- the towering bossa nova achievement by one of America's top tenor saxophone players and Brazil's most amazing guitarist.
My collection grew from there, thanks in part to my joining a jazz CD club.
If you are looking for three entry points into jazz, however, I would still recommend those treasures I found in San Francisco.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Happy Jazzy Easter!

Lee Morgan's trumpet playing served as a backdrop to my Easter celebration today. Morgan's tunes, such as "The Sidewinder" and "Speedball," race along on propulsive horn riffs. If my jazz-hating daughters fall asleep to Morgan, it's because they simply aren't paying attention.
Morgan's story begins in 1956, when the Philadelphia trumpeter joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band as an 18-year-old. Within the next decade, Morgan would move from sideman to headliner, producing some wonderfully funky albums for blue note. The electrifying "Sidewinder," from 1964, even became a hit.
Eight years later, though, tragedy struck when Morgan was shot and killed following a nightclub dispute. Morgan death at age 34 robbed music fans of a true great.
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Saturday, March 26, 2005

If I Fall Asleep, Blame it on This Music

Today's headline comes from a complaint by my 9-year-old daughter Kerstin, and indicates my passage into a new musical phase.
I generally listen to music in phases that can last up to a week or more. Often, the phases match my moods or reading material. I will listen to Indian film soundtracks for a week, then 1950s country music for a week, then 1960s Jamaican songs, and so on.
Yesterday I plunged into a jazz phase, much to Kerstin's chagrin.
It started when I checked out a Ralph Ellison book from the library. (Ellison's most notable work remains the 1952 novel "Invisible Man.")
"Living With Music" collects many of Ellison's considerable essays, reviews and fiction pieces concerning jazz.
A 1955 "High Fidelity" magazine piece by Ellison begins memorably:
"In those days, it was either live with music or die with noise, and we chose rather desperately to live."
I wish I could summarize my approach as succintly and elegantly!
Here is how Ellison describes a jazzman's approach to music and living:
"Life could be harsh, loud and wrong if it wished, but (jazzmen) lived it fully, and when they expressed their attitude toward the world it was with a fluid style that reduced the chaos of living to form."
Some day, perhaps, after experiencing the work of Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Lee Morgan and others, Kerstin will begin to realize that jazz -- by reducing "the chaos of living" -- might not be the sleep-inducing irritant she so abhors.
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Friday, March 25, 2005

Simmer Down!

Due to this week's funeral-related upheaval, this blog's regular Friday Question feature will return next week, when we ask "What was the greatest gig you ever attended?"
In the meantime...
I am posting my two latest creations -- my "spring mixes" on the Art of the Mix Web site today. The AoTM site is a forum for people who create mix CDs or tapes. Sometimes posting a mix results in a swap of CDs. I have traded with people as far away as Scotland during the two-plus years I have been posting my mixes.
My first "spring mix" is a CD consisting of 1960s Jamaican music. I intend it as a primer for people who mistakenly believe Jamaican music begins and ends with Bob Marley and his posthumously released "Legend" greatest hits album.
Ironically, Marley appears on my CD, although as only one of three members of the Wailers. Their first hit, 1964's "Simmer Down," sits at track No. 10 on my CD, between Stranger Cole's fantastic "Run Joe" from 1965 and "(Music is My) Occupation," an instrumental classic by Don Drummond. Jamaica's greatest trombonist.
My disc also contains The Ruler's 1967 song "Wrong Emboyo," later covered by The Clash on their seminal "London Calling," The Eternals' 1969 song "Queen of the Minstrels" (featuring my favorite reggae singer, Cornell Campbell) and The Unique's 1968 classic "My Conversation" (with my second favorite reggae singer, the late Slim Smith).
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Thursday, March 24, 2005

Skatalites, please energize this grieving lad

Grief is an exhausting process. I have to help perform various errands today following the death of my mother-in-law, but I cannot seem to muster the necessary energy. I am hoping the Skatalites can help lift me. Arguably Jamaica's greatest band, this all-star collection formed in 1964 and disbanded in 1965. During their brief time together, however, they backed every early Jamaican vocal group of note while themselves producing an unequaled legacy of instrumental ska music. Trombonist Don Drummond and tenor sax players Roland Alphonso and Tommy McCook were the heart of the band, fueling such classics as "(Music is My) Occupation" and "Guns of Navarone." Hopefully, their bouncy genius will help propel me today.
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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

By the look in your eye I can tell you're gonna cry

I am listening to reggae today as I prepare to attend my mother-in-law's funeral. Here is the amazing Cornell Campbell -- possessor of one of the finest voices in Jamaican music history. He first gained fame as the leader of The Eternals (their song "Queen of the Minstrels" is one of the sweetest I have ever heard). His solo work includes his beautiful rendition of Marvin Gaye's "Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)," which is serving as the soundtrack to my getting dressed for the funeral.
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Monday, March 21, 2005

When the going gets tough...

I almost always make a mix CD. Call it my coping mechanism, I supposed.
Today is no different. The wake service for my mother-in-law will be held this afternoon. I had to run some errands this morning, so I quickly compiled a mix to take my mind off things as I drove around.
Here are the tracks (with a short comment) of today's mix:
1. (Freddie Mercury talks with the crowd, Earl's Court, 1977) - the Queen frontman teasing a crowd for about 40 seconds.
2. Caesars - Jerk it Out - the Swedish band's tune is currently featured on the latest iTunes silhouette TV commercial. Very catchy.
3. The Futureheads - Decent Days - This Sunderland band might be the best of the current crop of UK bands.
4. Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot - No wait... this Leeds band might be the best of the current crop of UK bands.
5. Bowling for Soup - 1985 - commercial but catchy and funny
6. Balaam and the Angel - I Love The Things You Do to Me - The Cult-wannabes from the 80s... now largely forgotten
7. Garbage - I'm Only Happy When it Rains - catchy, a classic song
8. Texas - I Don't Want a Lover - again, a catchy, classic song
9. The Killers - The Ballad of Michael Valentine - a lesser-known tune by the Las Vegas band
10. Manic Street Preachers - 1985 - not to be confused with the Bowling for Soup song
11. New Order - Krafty - the new one by this great bands
12. Simple Minds - I Travel - I used to dance to this song all the time in the early 80s
13. Baltimora - Key Key Karimba - Jimmy McShane deserves to be so much more than a "one hit wonder," and this song is better than "Tarzan Boy"
14. Kim Wilde - Chequered Love - ditto the above comments, with this song better than "Kids in America"
15. Cetu Javu - Situations (12-inch version) - another "lost song" from the 80s, by one of several, German Depeche Mode-soundalikes
16. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions - Charlotte Street - I listened to this song so often in college
17. The Railway Children - Every Beat of the Heart - yet another sadly neglected band from the 80s... from Wigan, Lancashire
18. Coheed and Cambria - Sister Christian - current indie band pays (ironic? unironic?) tribute to a horrifically overplayed song of yesteryear
19. Junior Murvin - Police and Thieves - one of the all-time classic songs
20. The Untouchables - I Spy (for the FBI) - America's greatest ska band
21. Rancid - Roots Radicals - one of the all-time classic American punk songs, about skinheads and punks and reggae and... oh, a fight or something... this song simply rules.
I think I am going to call this mix "Still Preoccupied with 1985." It is a line from the Bowling for Soup song but it also pertains to the theme of the mix... songs from the 80s or songs by bands associated with the 80s.
Sorry I don't know how to link to mp3s yet. You will just have to take my word for it that this mix sounds great as you are driving around, trying to take your mind off a funeral.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I know I got a long way to go

My mother-in-law died yesterday and today I am writing her eulogy and listening to music. People have long known that sad music heals -- otherwise those Mississippi plantation workers would have quit singing the blues. I am not sure how music heals our pain. The sense of shared misery, perhaps?
Who knows.
I am healing myself by listening to Ryan Adams' great "lost" album, "The Suicide Handbook." I found a bootleg CD of the 21 songs, which Adams recorded after his solo debut "Heartbreaker" album of 2000. What happened after the recording is open to interpretation: Either Adams or his record company or both decided the sparse, mostly acoustic songs were too bleak for release. The album got shelved, although some of the songs did show up on subsequent albums "Gold" and "Demolition."
It's too bad Adams didn't release "Suicide Handbook," because it's sad songs are oh so beautiful. "Cracks in a Photograph" elegantly aches, while the "Suicide Handbook" version of "Firecracker" -- just Adams and his acoustic guitar -- simply floors the more familiar tune on "Gold."
This music is trying hard to heal my grief-torn heart. I just don't know how.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

If you were a bird, could you sing me a song of sorrow?

My mother-in-law is dying. She lies in a hospice-provided bed in her home, surrounded by family members and a profound, permeating sadness.
I tried to escape through music for the past week or so. Then my wife briefly returned home from her near-constant bedside vigil last night and we told our daughters the grave news.
I can't write about music or much of anything else today -- except I have to cover an anti-war protest today for the newspaper. Is that fitting?
So I won't right about music. Not now. I'll try to write about Ryan Adams' great "lost" album, "The Suicide Handbook" tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Give me a desert island, a CD player, a long extension cord and...

I can't let myself off the hook: Here is my answer for Friday's Question (more on that below).
It took me quite some time to decide on ONE SINGLE DISC to bring to a desert island. There are hundreds of CDs I would want to take!
After some soul-searching, I finally chose
"The Best of Chet Baker Sings."
Chet Baker certainly wasn't the best singer in the world and many other jazz trumpeters would easily blow him off a stage.
Somehow, though, Baker combined trumpet playing and vocalizing to magical effect... creating a dreamy, sad and elegant body of music that would perfectly accompany my time alone on an island. That trumpet solo on "But Not For Me" gets me every time.

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Friday's question: What is your "desert island disc?"

It's an age-old question for music fans, but one which remains valid for its ability to get to the heart of a record collection: What one disc would you bring with you to a desert island?
Today's inaugural Friday's Question feature allows some randomly selected music fans (well... I did corner my daughters Kerstin and Annika and queried them, too) a chance to select their desert island disc and provide a short explanation...

Ken B. -- Pink Floyd, "Dark Side of the Moon"
"Somthing I can relate to as I drift off into madness. 'The lunatics are in my head.'"

Inger H. -- The Smiths, "Meat is Murder"
"For one thing, the intro to 'How Soon is Now' is as perfect a piece of music as has ever been written and aside from that, it's the perfect soundtrack for a lonely desert island."

Jim S. -- various artists, "The Tide is High" (a mix of 1960s-70s Jamaican ska, rocksteady and early reggae)
"It reminds me of island music."

Gary D. -- The Rolling Stones, "Some Girls"
"It has such a great selection of musical styles."

Steve M. -- Beethoven's Third Symphony
"It is something I could listen to over and over again without getting bored."

Dave B. -- Husker Du, "Warehouse: Songs and Stories"
"I used to listen to that all the time and I never get sick of it."

Diane H. -- Billy Bragg and Wilco, "Mermaid Avenue"
"It is a CD I don't think I would get sick of easily (which would be key, stuck on an island), and there are numerous songs on it that I like to sing loudly."

Mary P. -- Bob Marley, "Legend"
"It's the be-all and end-all record... of forever."

Chris S. -- Lynyrd Skynyrd, "Skynyrd's Innyrds"
"It's uplifting to me."

Amy G. -- The Beatles, "The Beatles" (aka "the white album")
"Because of the wide range of songs, from sing-along fun songs to make-you-think songs."

Matt M. -- Johnny Cash, "American IV: The Man Comes Around"
"You can't go wrong with the Man in Black."

Kerstin H. -- Cher, "Greatest Hits"
"She is a good singer."

Roseanne H. -- Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"
"It makes me feel good."

Matt K. -- Bob Dylan, "Blood on the Tracks"
"Because I am 32 years old."

Mike D. -- The Beach Boys, "Endless Summer"
"Well, if it's a desert island, I might as well have some beach music."

Mary B. -- Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor
"It has phrasing and the kind of sweeping orchestration that just lifts your soul."

Annika H. -- Sesame Street, "Platinum All-Time Favorites"
"It is my favorite record."

Scout S. -- The Beastie Boys, "Paul's Boutique"
"With its endlessly inventive use of sampling and tricky, rapid-fire wordplay, this is an album that was years ahead of its time; it never gets old."

Thanks to all those music fans who participated in the survey... Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I tried to trade ska for snow and sadness

Today was a snowy, dreary day that grew progressively drearier. I tried to drown out the unpleasantness with more 1960s ska and rocksteady from Jamaica. No matter how loudly I played The Paragons' "Wear You to the Ball" or The Gaylads' "ABC Rock Steady," the dreariness remained. At least I tried, though.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

It's my turn to be the puppy... I mean, the teacher...

Poor Annika. My 6-year-old daughter couldn't remember what she was supposed to be playing with her older sister before school this morning (it turned out to be "dance class" and not "veterinarian clinic").
I shared a little of her confusion when deciding today's choice of music.
If you continue reading this blog regularly (and I would discourage such an approach, unless you have a high tolerance for tedium) you will learn that I make CD mixes. It's a hobby and a stress reliever. When completed, I often post my mix creations on the wonderful Art of the Mix Web site, where like-minded mixers critique and comment. It's like my wife getting together with quilting friends. Sort of.
Anyway, I plan on a pair of mixes for this spring: a 1950s rock collection and a 1960s Jamaican collection and before collecting the tracks I want to make PERFECTLY SURE about the song selection
Problem: I couldn't decide which genre to delve into today as mix preparations continue.
Solution: Both! As I drove to work I listened to some early Sun Records recordings, such as Warren Smith's "Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache" from 1957 and Sonny Burgess' "Ain't Got a Thing" from 1956.
Later, during my midday walk, I strapped on the headphones and strolled to songs such as Ike Bennett & The Crystalites' organ-driven "Illya Kuryakin" from 1968 and Prince Buster's hilarious "Hard Man Fe Dead" from 1966.
So, returning to the earlier analogy about Annika's playtime dilemma, I was able to be both the puppy *AND* the teacher.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

This is a dhol, the traditional drum used in bhangra music. It's deep thumping provides the basis for the bhangra artist, who can subsequent layer the tune with all manner of modern dance music.
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How do you say "the Diet Pepsi costs too much" in Punjabi?

I returned to work today for the first time in four days to discover that the cost of a vending machine soda had increased from 90 cents to $1.15 while I was away. It took me some time to discover this fact... I spent about five minutes trying and failing to extract a Diet Pepsi bottle until I noticed the hand-written sign alerting soda drinkers to the price increase. I have yet to find any explanation for the increase. However, that isn't the biggest mystery of the day. The real mystery is how a group of South Asian immigrants in Glasgow, Scotland could have crafted such an infectiously catchy song as "Chargiye."
Bombay Talkie unleased that notable slice of bhangra on the world in 1993. Bhangra, for the unitiated (and you really should become initiated), is a dance music style created by South Asian immigrants to Britain. It originated as a Punjabi folk dance and now incorporates elements of house, disco, hip-hop, reggae and Bollywood film soundtracks into one crazy, thumping package.
I listened to the Rough Guide to Bhangra as I drove around town today. The sun finally came out and the hint of spring prompted me to try to sing along to "Chargiye" and a number of other great tracks.
Speaking of South Asia... I might have to start drinking chai since the workplace cost of soda has gone sky high.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Why is this man grimacing? Could it be because it is still snowing even though it is the MIDDLE OF MARCH?!?!
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Tonight Matthew, I am going to be Underworld

It is still snowing in Dubuque. I thought "March" meant "spring?"
Baseball's spring training is held in March. So why is it still snowing here in Dubuque?
I was off work today and drove around town on various errands instead. I decided Underworld's excellent live album "Everything Everything" (2000) would make the perfect accompaniment. Sure enough, the flying snowflakes seemed propelled by the beats provided by Rick Smith and (the supremely talented) Darren Emerson.
Underworld really paved the way for the current crop of dance performers exemplified by LCD Soundsystem. The Romford, England trio combined the syncopated techno of the dancefloor with indie rock song structure -- never better than on "Born Slippy.Nuxx," one of my favorite songs of all time (I have about 166 favorite songs of all time). Some techno purists might think of Underworld as a diluted version of the real thing. I think the haters miss the point. Underworld created something different. Besides, if it can make me dance around the spring snowflakes, it must be great.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Let's pretend we don't know where we are!

(Scene: In the car after picking up groceries. Erik is driving and 9-year-old daughter Kerstin is fumbling with a road map of Iowa. The Faces' "Maybe I'm Amazed (live version)" blares from the car speakers.)
Kerstin (looks up from map with devlish expression): Let's pretend we don't know where we are!
Erik: Who is the lead singer of the Faces?
K: Rod Stewart!
E: Good girl!
K: Look at this map!
(K. flashes the cover of the road map in front of E.'s eyes.)
E: Uh-huh...
K: No pictures of Dubuque... the most historical town in Iowa!
E: Oh?
K: They could put the Shot Tower... Kennedy Mall (K. smiles... she is learning the joys of sarcasm)...
* * *
Rod Stewart, 60, proposed to 33-year-old girlfriend Penny Lancaster at the Eiffel Tower this weekend.
I adore early Rod (the harmonica player on Millie Small's "My Boy Lollipop," the singer of The Faces) and try to ignore later Rod. I can rest easier knowing my daughter loves early Rod, too.

So... now I am blogging...

I will be able to type mind-numbingly long descriptions of my current musical obsessions, rant against things that infuriate me (hello iTunes and local radio!) and maybe even get in a word or two about Sheffield Wednesday and Premiership football. Aahhh... blogging...