Archive for July, 2015

Bitches Brew

“And now I choose to recite a list: tether ball, Olympic race, sparkling, Tim Duncan, Wisconsin, a book of matches, next week, a lot of money, witches brew.” – Homestar Runner (the first one to eat a million wins!)

So I recently had this experience.  I was up in the Land for a weekend hollyday with the Princess.  We were staying in the University Circle area, which is within walking distance to Little Italy.  Right next to our boutique hotel (I say it sarcastically, but it really was a nice place to stay) was a little restaurant.  It had an Italian name.  The menu looked to be Italian.  We both like Italian food.  So we went in to give it a try…and suddenly nothing was as it seemed.  The waiter offered us a “tasting experience” that would have taken three hours (and, incidentally would have made us late for the show we were there to see).  A young, pony-tailed general manager came over and started talking to us about the “romance” that inspired each dish on the menu.  It was poetry, he said.  Art.  Expression through cuisine.  The salads had been “foraged” that morning.  The vegetable was pickled cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.  There was llama meat in the lasagna (no joke).  It was all rather bizarre.  We ate.  It tasted good.  Not great.  We declined dessert, but savored an extra glass of vino.  We left wondering exactly what had just happened (and why it had cost so much).  It certainly hadn’t fit the picture of what we had expected based on our previous experience with high end Italian restaurants (should I add a Billy Joel reference here?  bottle of red, bottle of white, etc.?).

So I tell you all this because, essential that is the same experience I had with this album.  I had not heard this record before I purchased it on Ebay for $7.17, but I’ve heard some Miles Davis before…Kind of Blue was after all #12 on this list.  And I played saxophone in my high school jazz band for two years.  And I even studied jazz a little bit in college.  So I thought I knew what I was getting into when I popped the first of the two CDs in my stereo. But, just like with the Italian restaurant above, it was completely different than I expected.  This isn’t jazz…at least not the structured jazz I know in which instrumentalists take turns soloing over a rhythm sections that plays a repeated chord progression.  No, this is free form.  Primal.  It seems like all the instrumentalists are improvising all at the same time.  There is no form.  No structure.  It’s the Kid A of jazz, released thirty years before Kid A was even conceptualized.  And does it work?  I don’t know.  I have a hard time following it.  Without a clear solo melody, my mind tends to wander, only to be brought back a few minutes later by the surge of the drums or an unexpected lick on the electric keyboard.  Is it romantic?  Is it art?  Poetry? Expression?  Sure.  It passes the time alright, but I’m not sure I feel an emotional connection to any of it.  To me it sounds more like a musical experiment than anything else.  I think I like the second disc better than the first, but overall I think I’d rather be listening to Kind of Blue.

Other lists: None, really.  Rolling Stone just isn’t a jazz magazine.

Ch-ch-changes: This was originally #94 on the 2003 list, but was bumped down one spot by the rise of Hank Williams 40 Greatest Hits.  The original #95, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Green River, was bumped completely off the list in favor of the Chronicle Vol. 1 greatest hits package which came in at #59 on the 2012 list.

My favorite track: “Sanctuary” (its the mellowest track, at least at the beginning)

Honorable mention: “Spanish Key”


40 Greatest Hits

“Are you ready for some foosball?”  Oh, wait a minute.  It’s not that Hank Williams.  It’s his father?  Ok, got it.

When I went to Nashville with the Princess last summer I kind of messed up.  She really wanted to see the Ryman Auditorium (mostly because she really likes the movie Walk the Line) and I thought it was open later than it actually was.  So on our last day in town, we showed up around 4:00 PM and they were already closing up shop for the day.  She was pretty bummed, so I made sure that when we passed through Nashville on our way to Memphis this past spring that we were early enough to tour the Ryman.  And the paid backstage tour there is actually pretty boring, but the free to the public part in the actual auditorium is pretty amazing.  For a long time it was the home of the Grand Ole Opry (before they moved to their overpriced entertainment complex on the outskirts of town) and there are relics from that period on display in the back of the auditorium.  Well, almost an entire display case was devoted to Hank Williams, and knowing this album was coming up on the list, I took the time to learn me some history.  It turns out Hank Williams auditioned for the Opry, but was originally turned down as he was notorious for missing gigs because he would get to drunk to go on stage.  Eventually though he made a guest appearance, and his performance was such a showstopper that he was called back for six encores.  After that they had to hire him, but a few years later he was fired for…you guessed it…getting drunk and missing gigs.

So after learning about Williams at the Ryman I searched high and low in Nashville and in Memphis for this album, but no record store carried it.  I got back to Columbus, and I was about to buy it online when a copy suddenly showed up for $5.99 at the Half Price Books on Bethel road just a few blocks from where I live.  What luck!  And after digging into this album, I can honestly say it’s pretty awesome.  Minimal country twang with lots of steel guitar and violin.  Clever lyrics dripping with bluesy irony.  Just about every song is in a strong country western two-step, and almost every song is between 2 minutes 22 seconds and 2 minutes 53 seconds long.  How’s that for consistency!  And you can definitely hear the influence Hank Williams had on early rockers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.  And obviously he was influential in the country world as well…anyone else hear the similarity between Williams’ “Wedding Bells” and Johnny Cash’s “Give My Love to Rose”?  It’s practically the same song.

Sadly, things didn’t end well for Williams.  He was being driven to a New Years Day gig in Canton, Ohio (another place the Princess and I visit frequently…great wineries up there) when he past away at the all too young age of 29.  Apparently the driver of the car didn’t even realize Hank Williams was dead until he stopped off for gas.  Another tragic end to a great musician.  Williams obviously had some demons, many of which were reflected in his song lyrics.  Of the 40 songs on this compilation, only 5 have an upbeat theme (one of which is the country gospel song “I Saw the Light” which always used to be a favorite of my church choir…until God laid me off last year).  The other 35, even when humorous, are about depressing subjects…but I guess that’s country music in general.  As for his son, I’ve never been a big fan of Hank Williams, Jr., but learning about Hank Sr. gives me knew respect for Jr.’s song “Family Tradition” (“Why must you live out the songs that you wrote?”).  And, well, Hank Jr. is following the family tradition by getting himself kicked off of Monday Night Football.  And I guess the grandson, Hank Williams Jr. Jr., is a punk metal rocker.  So the legacy lives on (sort of).

Other lists: “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” is #112 and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is #217 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  Williams is ranked #27 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers and #74 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

Ch-ch-changes: This album jumped up 35 spots from its original position of #129 on the 2003 list.

My favorite track: “Nobody’s Lonesome for Me”

Honorable mention: “I Saw the Light”

Quote: “I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost, for a life of sin I have paid the cost.  When I pass by all the people say, ‘just another guy on the lost highway'”.

Sign o' the Times

“My name is Prince, and I am funky” – The Artist Formerly Known as Prince

So I have to admit I was struggling for something to write about in this blog post.  I wasn’t really feeling this album, and other than the two albums with the New Power Generation in the 90s, I am not much of a Prince fan.  I was going to write something about how I think Prince may have invented text message language (“Nothing Compares 2 U”? Anyone?), but then I happened to be watching the original Batman movie the other night…no, not the 1960s Adam West farce, and not the sometimes-to-clever-its-own-good Christopher Nolan trilogy either, but the 1989 Batman movie directed by Tim Burton with Michael Keaton as the Batman (still the best actor ever to don the cowl) and Jack Nicholson as the Joker (I know Heath Ledger posthumously won the Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker, but I’ll still take Jack Nicholson’s performance any day of the week)…and I realized that Prince did the entire soundtrack (not the orchestral score, which was done by long time Tim Burton collaborator Danny Elfman) for that movie.  And it’s largely terrible (the soundtrack, not the movie or the score), but it brought back some memories.  I was at that tender junior high school comic book reading age when that movie came out, and Batman was (and still is) by far my favorite super-hero.  No super powers, a tragic anti-hero, yada yada.  All the stuff a middle school aged boy loves.  So, anyway, the movie came out in the summer, and I remember mi madre driving me out to the little two-screen theater in Conneaut (I wonder why it wasn’t playing in Ashtabula?) so I could see the very first showing on the day it was released.  I was even wearing my Batman Chuck Taylors.  No lie.  And it may still be the best Batman movie ever made (I do like Batman Begins too though), and as for the Prince soundtrack, well I can’t imagine the Joker and his gang defacing art in a museum to any other artist.  And the “Batdance” video was all over MTV at the time too.  Apparently, Prince only did the soundtrack because his record label, Warner Bros., forced him to (later he would famously change his name and write “slave” on his face in an effort to break his contract with them) and as Batman is such a major property, he was forced to sign away all the rights to those songs.  But I guess it’s a neat little side story to the Batman movie mythos, and it all happened only two years after Sign o’ the Times.

I suppose I should say something about this album.  After all, the post is supposed to be about Sign o’ the Times.  Umm, well, I don’t really dig it.  Musically, Prince is a freak of nature.  He does the Trent Reznor thing (before Trent Reznor actually made it a thing) by playing pretty much every instrument on the record.  And he plays and sings in pretty much every popular music style imaginable, from rock to funk to R&B to soul to even a little gospel. He even invents a female alter ego, Camille, so he can sing a few songs from an, ahem, different perspective.  But the problem is he coats everything in this 80s pop veneer that makes it all sound very dated to my ears.  Let’s face it, the 80s was just not a good decade for music.  Great for action figures, cartoons, movies, and pretty much all aspects of pop culture…except for music.  I paid $8.58 for this 80s relic on Ebay.  It’s apparently completely out of print.

Other lists: Sign o’ the Times is #74 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1980s.  The song “Sign o’ the Times” is #304 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  See the entry for Purple Rain (#76) for Prince’s other Rolling Stone accolades.

My favorite track: umm, well, if I have to pick one, it’s “U Got the Look” I guess

Honorable mention: [eyes closed, random finger lands on…] “Starfish and Coffee”

Quote: “There comes a road in every man’s journey that he’s afraid 2 walk on his own.  I’m here 2 tell u that I’m at that road, and I’d rather walk with u than walk it alone.”