Category Archives: Music

1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die ~ Tom Moon ~ The Almanac Singers

The Almanac Singers, Folk Activism

I had access to an album circa 1941, reissued in 2011 titled “State of Arkansas”. The leftist folk group included at one time or another the likes of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Sonny Terri and Brownie McGee. Included were these two tracks specifically identified by Moon

First “Hard, Ain’t It Hard” sounds like Seeger picking and Woody singing. A nice lament for love not reciprocated. Then there’s “The Dodger Song”. Not about the baseball team. I’d nominate it for the campaign theme song for Der Mitt.

Lotsa union songs. But you had to temper the leftist activism with songs like “Round and Round Hitler’s Grave.”

Then there’s this little tidbit: Seeger actually coined the phrase “Hootenany” which was picked up as the name of the of the folk music show on ABC in the early sixties. Ironically, Seeger was banned from appearing on the show that he essentially named. Ouch!

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Music

1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die ~ Tom Moon ~ The Allman Brothers

The Allman Brothers, At Fillmore East, An Essential Live Rock Document

I admit it. I have blind spots in my music catalogue and the Allman Brothers is one of them. Why this is, is complicated. I was newly back from Vietnam when this album hit. I was out of the south, really, for the first time in my life and was in no particular mood at that time for “Southern” Rock. And my taste for white boy blues was extremely limited. The sight of the Stars and Bars was like fingernails on a chalkboard. But the reverence for this band (especially in the South) certainly is enduring, bordering on devotion, as if they were protectors of a way of life. Still, I was always partial to the energy of live Fillmore albums.

This album (edited from four Fillnore live shows in March 1971) kicks off with the classic “Statesboro Blues”, and its so familiar and such a straight ahead Blues that it’s impossible not to get into that groove. “Stormy Monday” showcases Greg Allman on the Hammond B3. Me? I was listening to Jimmy Smith around about this time

Part of me really believes that their enduring legacy lies on the highway at the feet of the twisted metal of Duane Allman’s motorcycle. But it truly must have been something though to attend a live Allman show back in those days. There are some bands that really not only have to be heard performing live versions of their songs, but you have to be there as well. I can only imagine swaying on the floor to “In Memory of Elizaberth Reed”, a cosmic instruments. That one and “Whipping Post” really show the power of their lineup. I’ve come around.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die ~ Tom Moon ~ Mose Allison

MOSE ALLISON: Allison Wonderland, The Musings of a Hipster Cynic

I really do take exception to the characterization of Mose as a “cynic”. That really misses the point. When he sang “I don’t Worry About a Thing (cause nothings gonna be alright) in 1962, this was merely Mose offering some  sage advice for getting on with your life. Don’t sweat te details. When he argued that some people minds were on vacation, who could argue? I picked up a vinyl copy of that 1962 album in the summer of 1963 between my HS graduation and my freshman year in college (1963). I never looked back and I was constantly quoting The Word (the word from Mose) in those days.There are two great American music philosophers: Mose Allison and Bob Dylan. Period.

Mose, born  in Mississippi in 1927 is an ageless hipster who found a unique and perfect blend of jazz and blues, and never wavered from it. Yet it’s as fresh, rocking, and ebullient as ever.  His clever and witty lyrics are a treasure. I often thought that if I could play the piano that effortlessly, then I’d certainly be a happy man.

That’s what comes from being able to play by ear. What a gift! Allison was the first musician I can remember that made me think of the voice as an accompanying instrument, when, as on many of his songs, he grunted right along with his piano playing. Pair up Young Man’s Blues with Old Man’s Blues - and you’ll see how long he’s been talking the talk.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Music

1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die ~ Tom Moon

Pure Junkie Menace: Alice in Chains ~ Dirt, Released 1992

I own this disc, but I’ve never listened to it until now. After all, I have part or all of 14,822 albums. Gimme a break! You think it’s hard to listen to 1,000 albums before I die? Howzabout nearly 15,000?

So I gave it a shot. Conclusion? This is just not my thing? Most of the cuts did nothing for me. About all I can say is that several cuts had multiple tempos and time changes – the only thing that kept the music from exhibiting an extraordinary sameness. Back in the day there were certain albums that you just had to listen to stoned. You know who you are. Is it possible that this album just has to be experienced with a spike in your vein?

Between “not too bad” and “tolerable”: “Down in a Hole”.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Music

Arthur Alexander

FROM 1,000 RECORDINGS TO HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE

The album is The Ultimate Arthur Alexander (Released 1993), but he was a 60’s R&B singer whose biggest hit you may or may not remember (it was instantly recognizable to me): 1962’s “You Better Move On”, a great original and later covered by the Rolling Stones. As the author points out, the recording was the first ever at now legendary Muscle Shoals studios, a distinction in and of itself.

Another original from the same year was later covered by The Beatles, with Lennon singing lead: “Anna (Go To Him)”.

Lotsa Aleander’s stuff on YouTube. Check it out

1 Comment

Filed under Music

Air Lore ~ Air

from 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before you Die

I wasn’t able to listen to this one – except for a few cuts (from the original 1979 recording) on You Tube. Thankfully that included the sublime “Buddy Bolden’s Blues”.

“Weeping Willow Rag” starts out with a strong drum intro (Steve McCall) before it moves along into a very playful alto turn by Henry Threadgill. Then – but of course – the bass (Fred Hopkins) has his stab at it.

“The Ragtime Dance” keeps slipping into a double time mode that should not be missed.

Leave a comment

Filed under Music

Once ~ (Ireland, 2006) ~ DVD

Even if you don’t really care for musicals, (like me) you’ll find this one irresistible. A unamed girl introduces herself to an unnamed guy on the streets of Dublin as he’s playing for spare change. He does have a ‘real’ job (he works in his dad’s vacuum cleaner repair shop. She has a vacuum cleaner in need of repair, and she’s also a pianist. Since she doesn’t have her own piano (she couldn’t afford one) she plays at a music shop during lunch. One day the guy accompanies her there and they make some beautiful music together.

The musicians in the cast are all professional musicians, not actors. The acting of the two primaries is good enough to make it all believable (they have a natural chemistry), but it’s the music making of course, that pulls you in. The music expresses their growing interest in one another, though it’s complicated, each believing they still need to make a go of it with their old lovers. How that all works out is open-ended, though you have to believe that these two will eventually get together.

The joy of the film is the music, and the act of making music together is shown in all its transcendent glory. The studio scene (where they record their first cd) is beautifully done.

All of the musical numbers flow into the narrative effortlessly – easy enough, since they all are fulfilling their natural roles, that of  musicians playing music. There is one exception, that is more like a traditional “musical” scene. This comes when the girl (Markéta Irglová) is walking along the street at night playing her song from the cd that she was encouraged to write by the guy (Glen Hansard). It works as well as the others, adding a nice touch.

The audience award winner at the 2007 Sundance film festival, the picture also was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Song at the 2008 ceremonies. A documentary about the pressures of success and the real-life romance that developed from their film roles has just come out on DVD: The Swell Season. I’m trying to get a hold of it now.  It’s at the top of my queue. What’s at the top of my queue and what I get are sometimes separate things, as you may be aware if you are a Netflix subscriber.

4 Comments

Filed under Movies, Music

Ethiopiques, Vol 7: Ere Mela Mela (Mahmoud Ahmed)

It’s a bit after you start listening to this unusual music that you realize it’s trance inducing. This is different from the more familiar “trance-like”, which this music is not. This trance sneaks up on you, takes you unawares. There’s a repetition of voice and rhythm that engenders this effect. The music itself has a definite middle eastern sound, yet it is heavily jazz-influenced. The Ibex band is tight! In Mahmoud Ahmed’s native Ethiopia, the form is called “eskuesta”, ecstasy.

To get the full flavor of how this music can affect you, check out this you tube rendition of Ere Mela Mela. Note the elderly Mahmoud Ahmed – he’s still got it. You can also find a very old one when he was much younger.

This post is also included here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Music

Aerosmith ~ Toys in the Attic

When I started this (posting about 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die) I had every intention of doing more of these posts. Then, up came Aerosmith. I’ve had a long standing bias against this contemporary of Foghat, and a Rolling Stone knock-off to boot. Steven Tyler is a caricature of a caricature. For many years I was convinced that he was a “local” phenomenon – at best a New England Band. I guess I was all wrong about that, but I’ve never had any appreciation for their music. [more]

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Music

Elliott Smith ~ Either/Or

As we come upon tomorrow night’s 84th Academy Awards, I think back to the 70th event, prompted by the 15th anniversary today of the release of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. Smith had one of those plaintive voices that seemed to want to hide behind his quietly strummed guitar. My favorite song on the album is the short (less than 3 minutes) “Ballad of Big Nothing” with its refrain

You can do what you want to whenever you want to
You can do what you want to, there’s no one to stop you
Now you can do what you want to whenever you want to
Do what you want to whenever you want to
Do what you want to whenever you want to though it doesn’t mean a thing
Big nothing

But his voice seemed to get more assertive (and his sentiments more direct) as he released subsequent albums. By the time Figure 8 was released (2000) he was on the scene, at least in the Portland area in a major indie way. An example of this is his lyrics from “Somebody that I used to Know”:

I had tender feelings that you made hard
But it’s your heart, not mine, that’s scarred
So when I go home I’ll be happy to go
You’re just somebody that I used to know
You don’t need my help anymore
It’s all now to you, there ain’t no before
Now that you’re big enough to run your own show
You’re just somebody that I used to know
I watched you deal in a dying day
And throw a living past away
So you can be sure that you’re in control
You’re just somebody that I used to know
I know you don’t think you did me wrong
And I can’t stay this mad for long
Keeping ahold of what you just let go
You’re just somebody that I used to know

Throw this on the great rock heap of break up songs, right up near the top. One of these days I’ll need to compile a list.

It was the January 1998 release of the film Good Will Hunting that brought Smith to the attention of a (somewhat) wider audience. Gus Van Sant’s film had a killer soundtrack that featured the likes of The Dandy Warhol’s,   Del Shannon, President Obama’s fave Al Green, and several songs by Smith (a Van Zant favorite). But it was “Miss Misery” that turned heads, especially after it was nominated for Best Original Song at the 1998 Academy Awards. The 1998 awards was Titanic vs. Good Will Hunting (the big ship won). Although it didn’t win, his live performance was… incongruously out of place, stunningly beautiful and ultimately one of the memorable moments in Oscar history. If you’re adventurous (and have time on your hands) you can also check out the winning song, with Celine Dion’s performance of “My Heart Will Go On”. This freakin’ Titanic song didn’t even start until after the three minute mark, and was everything that Smith’ s song and performance were not: pretentious, dull, and deadly boring. Picture a split screen of these two performances, before Dion even opened her mouth – almost before she came on the stage – Smith was in and out. Ah, Hollywood.

Sadly, in October of 2003, Smith’s body was found with stab wounds to the chest, dead. The case has never been solved.

3 Comments

Filed under Movies, Music