D/A

Recommended: Anne Briggs – self-titled

Posted January 19th, 2015

Like most folks of my generation, I discovered Anne Briggs through The Decemberists’ cribbing her album title, The Hazards of Love. Given my obsession with this era, I would have stumbled onto her eventually, but that was the recommendation that did it. Before today, my mp3 player had only “Sovay” on it, an excellent track from Sing a Song for You. Brigg’s voice is so captivating and clear that I couldn’t resist adding the entirety of this, her second album, and I won’t be surprised is the same is true for the rest of her short career once I get around to each album.

Because of the vocal-centric arrangements, I’m tempted to contrast her material with Vashti Bunyan, who – like the Incredible String Band – was far less interested in traditions than her own experiences and creativity. But this snippet of a recent interview makes it clear that the traditional material was personal and meaningful to Briggs, despite her lack of songwriting credits. If anything, I think the artists too bound by their own experiences and words are the ones who have missed something vital about folk music.

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All of them!

Songs of America

Posted December 24th, 2014

A 1969 documentary on Simon and Garfunkel recording Bridge in the studio and performing songs from Bookends and more on stage. I never liked their version of “Silent Night”, but the news footage montages are particularly effective in this.

Recommended: Sonic Youth – Goo

Posted December 24th, 2014

For someone who was a teenager in the 90s, I somehow came to Sonic Youth exceptionally late, but the timing has been fortunate. Listening to Daydream Nation over the summer helped me understand how to be a punk-y two guitar rock band at a time when I ended up in just such a thing.

At our gig Sunday night, Snarks bassist Dan K and I were discussing future studio endeavors which led to a conversation on musicians who know theory versus musicians who simply have a good ear. He mentioned Sonic Youth as a band not overburdened by theory, and I had to laugh because, listening to Goo earlier that evening, I’d concluded that Sonic Youth had a clue about what they were doing. I don’t know if any of them studied theory, but I believe the staunch artiness of the goofy interviews, the sideprojects in visual art, poetry, and essaying were  – in addition to being sincere expressions of their interests – were an effective way to offset how deliberately poppy their music was becoming.

Which isn’t an insult in my book. They combined the noisey, fuzzed-out side of 80s rock with pop in artful ways, and this is coming from someone who wasn’t into the hype at the time when this opinion was implanted into stale received wisdom.

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Recommended: John Renbourn – Sir John Alot

Posted December 20th, 2014

If you’d asked me a week ago whether tabla and flute belong in folk rock – or early music rock or whatever – I’d have enthusiastically said to give it a shot. However, the collaborations on this Renbourn album suffer from a proto-new-age vibe that smells of misappropriation but mostly just fails to work.

(“White Fishes” here may be the exception – where the flute leans further toward jazz.)

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Recommended: The Memphis Jug Band

Posted December 20th, 2014

Once again, this is less a newly recommended record and more a case where I discovered all of the tracks on my MP3 player came from the first half of the 23-track compilation. Hell, my old country band, The Shit House Boys, covered that entire half of the album. There had to be more favorites waiting on the second half, and sure enough, the album scores a high 18/23.

Ages ago on Twitter, I described The Memphis Jug Band as the sound of pure joy. I haven’t changed my opinion. This is a band that continues to inspire me.

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Recommended: Fletcher Henderson – 1923-1924

Posted November 23rd, 2014

So long as I keep these reviews going, the Chronological Classics series will make frequent appearances. I’m quite thankful to this French label for making these early jazz recordings available.

I don’t believe I’ve seen a ‘best jazz’ list where the recordings of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra ranked at all, much less highly. Even on a top 100 of the 1920s, the lesser output of Louis Armstrong’s small group recordings swings harder and waves the modernist flag higher. Take “Lonesome Journey Blues” above, with its herky-jerky, simple solos – few of these players saw beyond the horizon as Armstrong, Hawkins, or Bechet seemed to do.

Yet Henderson is regarded highly by jazz historians for inventing the foundations of jazz orchestra arranging. This compilation found its way onto my list when I began composing Nosferatu for The End Times Spasm Band. Though we wanted a big big band, we knew we’d be left with just a few brass and winds, much like Henderson’s orchestra when he devised many of the standard practices of big band arranging. Witness the saxophone soli sections – locked into a call-and-response with the solo trumpet – on “It Won’t Be Long Now”:

A few tonal and rhythmic adjustments could make this sound like Ellington, Calloway, or any other East Coast orchestra.

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Recommended: Le Tigre – Feminist Sweepstakes

Posted November 23rd, 2014

I remember “FYR” coming across fantastically live on the This Island tour. On record, it’s indistinct, dark, like most of Feminist Sweepstakes. The lyrics here are more direct than the self-titled. A portrait of a band tired of finding the humor in awful situations. Valuable as a document of the times, less so as art.

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Recommended: Steeleye Span – Ten Man Mop, Or Mr Reservoir Butler Rides Again

Posted November 22nd, 2014

I’ve written about Steeleye Span and the concept of a “second generation of electric folk” before, that time when bands like Steeleye, Mr Fox, and The Albion Country Band took folk roots and went in hundred different directions. Ten Man Mop, Steeleye Span’s third album, isn’t a new direction but a continuation of the stark, haunting style they developed on their second album, a personal favorite. While the “more of the same” element can get a little weary on the ballads, the “same” for this incarnation of Steeleye is welcomed.

I’ve read that Ashley Hutchings quit the band after this album because of the Irish songs on this recording. The reels and jigs are strong – better by far than the group’s previous instrumentals, which were often busy, loose, and flat in contrast to their clear and emotive vocal arrangements. So I’m left wondering whether the highly skippable “Four Nights Drunk” was the hair that broke that camel. It’s a variation of “Seven Drunken Nights,” and Steeleye do not quite sell the humor.

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