Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Loyal Readers,
Esion is at the Ayurvedic Center for the Affirmation of Vital Principle in Head Tide participating in a Thanksgiving workshop honoring the life force of all creatures. Then he’s going hunting for white tail deer in Washington County.
The blog will resume next week.
More to follow...

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Large Band and the Hammer of the Gods.

Lyle Lovett and His Large Band - It’s Not Big It’s Large (28 Aug 07)
On Easter Sunday 1988 I left a perfectly good job to head north and try my luck in the second Alaskan Gold Rush (i.e., commercial fishing.) It was on that trawler somewhere southeast of Kodiak Island that I first heard Lyle Lovett’s second album, Pontiac. I listened to it non-stop for 5 months. I loved it, but who ever heard of a country musician employing cellos for their compositions? And the very non-country sounding arrangements? Lyle was an enigma, defying conventions.
Ten albums later, not counting soundtracks and compilations, and Lyle hasn’t made it any easier for clerks shelving his discs. Does it go in Country? Jazz? Pop? Who needs a genre?
It’s Not Big It’s Large opens with tight rendition of an old Lester Young tune, Tickle Toe, then scoots right in to the very Bluesy I Will Rise Up, followed by Lyle’s very country thank you note All Downhill From Here and finally, before any stylistic repeats, offers a Folksy dirge, Don’t Cry A Tear. Make It Happy is a funky little ditty with a backing quartet featuring Arnold McCuller (worked a lot with Jackson Browne & Bonnie Raitt among others) and then he rolls right into the gospel laden Ain’t No More Cane. Of the twelve tracks I’d say one is big band Jazz, two are Blues, one is Gospel, one is funky, four are country and three are definitely Folk featuring a finger-picked guitar. I’ve listened to it three times since yesterday and I like it better each time.
I was fortunate enough to see Lyle with his Large Band on the Pier in Seattle a few years back and it was every bit as good as I thought it would be.
By the way, for those looking to apply a label to Lyle’s work, I suggest “big band arrangements of chamber music as approached from a country/bluegrass/folk perspective.” Close enough for ya?

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand (23 Oct 07)
By the sword of Oden, what madness has produced such an unholy union? The lead singer of the most successful heavy rock band of the 70s teamed up with the sweetest, if not the most talented, singer in bluegrass. Is the lamb to lay with the lion? Surely the world has tipped on its axis.
But you know what? It’s amazing! Talk about a perfect blend of two voices, this is it. There’s nothing on here that sounds like Stairway to Heaven from Plant’s earlier efforts or the Grammy winning, Baby, Now That I’ve Found You from Krauss’s back catalog, but both bring what they’ve learned to this session. Only one track was written by Plant & Page et al. (Please Read My Letter) the rest on this T Bone Burnett production are by Tom Waits, The Everly Brothers, Townes van Zandt & Mel Tillis among others. The overall tone is a bit somber and reserved, although Plant manages a few, albeit, softer Hey, Ho’s toward the end of one track. For those of you looking for upbeat pop music to get the party started, this ain’t it. For those of you looking for a CD chock full of excellent recordings by two of the music industry's giants, then look no further.

More to follow…

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Civilians Up Front and Live at the Monterey Jazz Fest

Sorry folks about the lack of up-date during the previous week. I'm sad to say that I had no new discs to say positive things about and mom always said, "If you can't say anything nice, sit next to me" Anyway...
This week was much better. The following three recordings have received constant rotation on my playlist.

Joe Henry Civilians (11 Sept 07)
OK. So Joe’s made us wait four long years since Tiny Voices (2003) We should forgive him because he’s been very busy producing albums and helping other artists find their sound, everyone from Solomon Burke to Ani DiFranco, including a project he did with his buddy Loudon Wainwright III that became the soundtrack for Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up. Well folks Civilians is here and was worth the wait. Joe Henry is a great songwriter. He writes hummable melodies with poetic lyrics about real situations and the people in them. He doesn’t have the greatest voice (with a few cartons of Old Golds and several quarts of Chivas Regal Joe could sound a lot like Tom Waits) but it fits well with his casual approach to the instrumental parts. On the title track he incorporates a slight discordance with the guitar that compliments the vocal nicely. He adopts a similar approach for Time Is a Lion. The rest of the album is filled with ballads, blues, lullabies and songs about folks who can’t catch a break. And as busy as he is, the man’s been married for over 20 years to the same woman (Melanie Ciccone, whose has a sister named Madonna)

Teddy Thompson Up Front and Down Low (24 Jul 07)
Take the son of music legends Richard and Linda Thompson, give him a tight group of accomplished musicians (including his dad), and turn him loose on a dozen Country standards and you have all the ingredients for a classic Country & Western album. It’s surprising considering he was born in a Muslim community outside of London, about as far from Nashville as you could get. However, Teddy does his level best to take the songs of Ernest Tubbs, George Jones, The King and Dolly Parton among others and make them his own. His twangy, heartfelt delivery could easily have him in regular rotation on any country radio station in the nation, but it won’t. The Clear Channel stranglehold on the airwaves will continue unabated and deprive listeners of new talent that subsists outside of the “structure”

Miles Davis – Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (31 Jul 07)
This recording is from 22 Sept 1963 when Miles was in a period of transition, between his first great quintet with Coltrane and his second great quintet with Wayne Shorter. The group features a young (23) Herbie Hancock on piano, the rest of the players; Miles – trumpet, George Coleman - tenor saxophone, Ron Carter – bass, and Tony Williams - drums. Not bad for a transitional group!
As Sam Cell stated on, “One doesn't know whether to express gratitude to the producers for releasing a recorded event of such historic significance and rare beauty, or annoyance at those responsible for keeping it on ice for all these years.” And that’s exactly right. The recording is crisp and clear and the musicianship is exceptional. It’s a glimpse of Jazz history. A must hear for any Miles fans.
Note: The Concord Music Group has created Monterey Jazz Festival Records to share some classic performances. I’m glad, but must confess that my musical palate wasn’t developed enough to appreciate Jazz until just a few years ago, although my mother says I loved Nat King Cole at a tender age. “Profits realized by the Monterey Jazz Festival from this series will be re-invested into its ongoing jazz education programs.” -From Concord’s website.

More to follow…