Janis Joplin, Pearl

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Janis Joplin, Pearl

Janis Joplin – Pearl

1971 – Columbia

 

Janis Joplin is an artist that I’ve heard over the years, recognized her famous songs, but never really dug into her catalog. When I came across this album in a dollar bin, I knew it was time to check her out. I had heard of her in connection with the band Big Brother and the Holding Company so seeing that her backing band here is called Full Tilt Boogie confused me, as I’d never heard this name before. Apparently, her management convinced her to fire the Holding Company and she put together a new backing band,  Full Tilt Boogie. They all sound great here, I especially like the piano player, Richard Bell. He plays some really cool lines and flows in and out of the tracks, making them fuller and more memorable. This was Joplin’s last album, passing before it was released. There is one track “Buried Alive in the Blues” that remains an instrumental because Joplin never had a chance to record the vocals over it. She was a force to be reckoned with, her vocals are so forceful and her arrangements are great. She definitely found her niche, fronting bluesy rock groups. Her voice is perfect for that, although listening through, she may have been able to front a big band with some conviction. It sounds like she is pouring her soul into the songs, which is what you want from a singer. There is so much showmanship that comes through on the vinyl that I can’t even imagine what it would be like to see her live. In fact, I am going to check out some live videos of her now, which is what I would suggest you do as well!

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Erykah Badu, Baduizm

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Erykah Badu, Baduizm

Erykah Badu – Baduizm

1997 – Kedar

 

How have I not written about this one yet! Badu consistently puts out great albums, “Baduizm” included. I didn’t realize until doing a bit of research that this album was her first. It would be an accomplishment to put this out at the end of a long career, but to hit it on your first release is something special. Badu uses her voice as an instrument. If you took her lines and replaced them (with the same intonation and feel) with a saxophone, this would still be a completely engrossing album. She pushes and pulls the beat, dancing around it, but never losing it. She clearly spent a lot of time working on her craft, finding her sound. Seeing her live, she creates arrangements on the spot, conducting the band to stop and start. I am in no way qualified to comment on the lyrics, but there is a lot of great stuff going on there too. Musically, I really love the sparseness of the instruments and their feel. The vinyl I have doesn’t include all the tracks from the CD release, which is disappointing because one of the missing tracks has Ron Carter on bass. It’s fine though, because the tracks that made it to the LP are awesome. I’m going to have to expand my Badu vinyl collection so I can write about her again. In the meantime, listen to as much of her stuff as you can!

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Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die

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Jaimie Branch, Fly or Die

Jaimie Branch – Fly or Die

2017 – International Anthem

 

This album landed a spot on many "best of" lists for 2017. With its long form composition, engaging playing, and beautiful artwork, it deserved the recognition. A lot has been written about “Fly or Die” regarding those topics so I thought it might be interesting to talk about one aspect that I found compelling. Jaimie is a brilliant player; technique (normal and extended), feel, and blend are all present in her playing, and she could do anything that she would want to. But throughout the album, she chooses points to stick with one note, repeating it and messing with the attack and time. I love it! The confidence that she has in her playing, and her ears are so in tune with what is happening around her that she plays exactly what makes the music better. She could have done crazy runs up and down the register, but decided what would impact more would be to hit one note and use it to accent the other players. This would seem, on the surface, to put her to the back of the ensemble in the moment, but it doesn’t. She stays front and center. She plays with such conviction that it would be impossible to interpret her playing as anything but lead (unless she wants you to). Great album, great playing, great composition, great artwork,…do you need more? Go buy it!

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Ralph Towner and Gary Burton, Matchbook

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Ralph Towner and Gary Burton, Matchbook

Ralph Towner and Gary Burton – Matchbook

1975 – ECM

 

Vibraphone/Guitar duos are a particular favorite of mine (having put out two albums of that kind myself). The mixture of (in this case) acoustic guitar and vibraphone is a special one. With no amplification or effects, this album strips away any place for the musicians to hide. They both play beautifully throughout both sides. The tunes “Icarus” and “Aurora” are my favorite from this collaboration. In “Icarus”, the chords have an air of mystery surrounding them. They take their time to unfold and change all while drawing the listener in. I don’t know if this song would work better with a whole band. The space and malleability that is created by these two instruments adds a depth to the tune that would, in opposition to conventional thought, could be destroyed by more voices. “Aurora” starts with a super catchy A section that builds into a triumphant B. It sounds like Towner overdubbed some melody lines over his chords for the B, which sounds great. It’s not over the top or showy, it just fits the energy of the tune. (If he didn’t overdub that and did it live, I would love to see a video!) There is a second album that they did together that I may review at another point, but for now, definitely check Matchbook out.

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Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Third Decade

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Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Third Decade

Art Ensemble of Chicago – the Third Decade

1985 – ECM Records

 

This album takes its time (in a good way) to get going. It hints at the main theme for the first tune and takes a few minutes for it to kick into the beat. Even when it kicks in, it is a medium tempo waltz that sits behind the beat. The band, at this point in their career, had nothing to prove, they just wanted to make great music. When music doesn’t have to rely on speed or technical virtuosity, but can still captivate, it should be in your collection. Don’t get me wrong, from reading this blog it should be clear that I love complex/technical music, but there is something special about a band that chooses to take a more sophisticated route when they could literally do anything they want. “Funky AECO” has such a good feel and bassline that my thirteen month old started bobbing her head when it came on! Outside of the music itself, the album cover is super cool. Great music and packaging make this album a great example of why I love vinyl. An LP is a statement, it conveys more than a streamed version of the same album ever could. The act of pulling the vinyl out of the jacket, putting it on the turntable, dropping the needle, then sitting and reading over the liner notes is a great pleasure. It makes me pay more attention to the music. By flipping the record and reading the notes, you become a part of it. You are brought into the music in a way that can’t be done by listening piecewise to different tracks. It’s an experience, so stop reading and immerse yourself in a great album now! I suggest Art Ensemble of Chicago.

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Ben Folds, So There (Part II, Chamber Rock)

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Ben Folds, So There (Part II, Chamber Rock)

Ben Folds – So There (Part II, Chamber Rock)

2015 – New West Records

 

I’ve already discussed the second disc of this album, which featured a Concerto and now it is time to look a little bit into the chamber rock songs that comprise the first disc. Something that jumps out at me when listening through is the way Folds juxtaposes the conventional and odd uses of instruments. There are plenty of times where instruments are used for percussive means rather than melodic. Bows are scraped across for accents and tremolos are played for atmosphere. The arrangement of all the instruments sound fantastic. Some songs are slower, some faster, but all have a cohesive quality that makes the album flow very nicely. There is a passing chord in the track “So There” that is the quintessential Folds moment. He goes from a C chord to an F/A passing through a Fsus/Bb chord. Just moving the bass note down is so supremely satisfying. I am going to have to go back through his other songs and see where a similar tactic is used, of which I will report. I really enjoy all these tracks (save “F10-D-A”, which only tries to destroy the musicality and seriousness of the rest of the LP). Overall though, check out any of Ben Folds’ albums, there is always something that is worth listening to.

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Carole King, Tapestry

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Carole King, Tapestry

Carole King - Tapestry

1971 – Ode Records

 

This is one of those albums that should (and probably is) in everyone’s collection. Between 1955 and 1999, King wrote or co-wrote 118 Billboard charting hits! Let that sink in…118 songs on the charts. That is incredible. Not only is she a seriously talented songwriter, her singing and piano skills are great. Although Tapestry is only her second album, the songs and performance have more sophistication than many artists’ later career albums. Those years writing songs for others before she recorded under her own name definitely gave her the experience needed to produce a beautiful, fully formed album.  The music is expertly played and the recording sounds like the band is in your living room. That being said, there is nothing really complex, harmony and arrangement wise. I have found this with a few different rock albums from the 70s, there is nothing that jumps out at me in terms of the complicated music that I usually gravitate towards. There must be something about the whole of all the elements together that appeals to me. Perhaps it is that I grew up with his music, my parents like the songwriters from that era. For this album in particular though, it may be the case that some of these songs were done by other artists and became hits. Their versions are very different than King’s versions, which is interesting. I like hearing different arrangements of the same songs. Good songwriting is good songwriting. The songs can be done in different ways, but if the base material is great, the song will come through. I’ll keep diving into these 70s songwriter albums from time to time to see if I can get any clarity on what is behind their appeal. Perhaps it is better not to know and to just enjoy the album for what it is. I know that’s what I am doing with Tapestry. It is a great album that you need to listen to again and again.

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Van Morrison, Wavelength

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Van Morrison, Wavelength

Van Morrison – Wavelength

1978 – Warner Brothers Records

 

As I move through my record collection with these posts, I think it is important to try to look at albums from different viewpoints. This, in my opinion, is much more interesting than just a “I like…the saxophonist is…” type of post. For this album, I am going to look at it in the context of the artists’ full career. While listening to Wavelength, you will hear a near perfect pop album. The songwriting is interesting, the instrumentation is top notch, the songs are catchy, but it is almost too perfect. This album was Morrison’s tenth studio album. To be relevant for long enough to have ten albums is a giant accomplishment. The perfection that I hear across the album, I’m sure, comes from all that experience churning out records. From doing some quick research, it seems like his subsequent albums would not be so radio friendly. I need to check out some of those albums to confirm, but I’m inclined to believe it. Morrison crafted, experimented, and perfected the “pop” album with his first ten efforts, with this one being the culmination. At this point in his career, he probably needed to see what else he could do, which lead to some experimentation with his later records. I give him a lot of credit for working for so many years to achieve what he did on this album, and then have the presence to know that it was time to move on. I own a few Van Morrison LPs so I will be sure to write some more about him in the future. Aside from viewing this from its place in the canon of albums, it is important to say that this is a fun listen. It is a crowd pleaser and there are some neat twists and turns throughout it. Definitely worth checking out!

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B. Dolan - Live Evel

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B. Dolan - Live Evel

B. Dolan – Live Evel

2008 – Strange Famous Records

 

As the needle drops on the first side, an upright bass rings out, setting a sparse and contemplative mood for “the Skycyle Blues”.  B. Dolan begins to recite his poetry over the track and it becomes clear that something special is to follow throughout this LP. The mix of spoken word and sung lyrics make this a dynamic and interesting record from start to finish. One of the things that I appreciate and admire about B. Dolan is his ability to rap both on top of and behind the beat, depending what is necessary for the song. He sometimes even seems to whisper over the tracks. The singing and rapping isn’t a rapid-fire attack either, the music is allowed to breathe. Dolan’s musicianship is apparent. The variance in his delivery between (and sometimes in within) tunes is a unique quality that separates him from other MCs. As is customary with these reviews, I am going to refrain from commenting on lyrical content and just focus on the musicality as a whole. Most reviews of this type of music rely heavily on the lyrics, which are important, but I find it interesting to look at another aspect of these recorded performances. There is a reason why not all great poets are performers, there is another set of skills that must be honed to take your written work and transform it into music. B. Dolan is a master of his craft. This is definitely an album worth checking out if you haven’t heard it yet.

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Ben Folds, So There (Part 1 - Orchestra)

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Ben Folds, So There (Part 1 - Orchestra)

Ben Folds – So There (Part 1 - Concerto for Piano and Orchestra)

2015 – New West Records    

 

Ben Folds has always been one of my favorite artists. His musicianship, creativity, and songwriting were always a draw for me. In this vinyl, the first disc contains “8 Chamber Rock songs featuring yMusic”. The second disc has one side devoted to the “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra” and the other towards “Instrumentals”. For this post, I’m only going to be commenting on side three, the Concerto (don’t take that as a subtle comment on the rest of the album, I really enjoy all of it and will be posting Part 2 in the future). As the name suggests, this piece is lead by the piano, which is played beautifully. The mixture of piano with Fold’s percussion arrangements is something special. The piano moves back and forth between being part of the percussion section to a melodic instrument that plays off the strings. He uses extended techniques (like muting the strings in the piano) at points throughout the piece to lend a great texture. Folds was touring playing some of his normal repertoire arranged for orchestra few years ago and I’m not sure if he was the one that arranged it all, but he definitely picked up a few tricks from that setting. This piece sounds like it came from a veteran orchestral composer. This is definitely a piece worth hearing. It does lead to a broader topic in music: the difference between musician and performer, and where the two meet. There are plenty of “musicians” who are handed songs, arrangements, told what to sing or play and are just a face to sell records. There are plenty of musicians who understand how instruments work together, how to convey their message through music, and how to continually evolve and innovate. Great musicians can also be great performers, which is the case with Ben Folds. He could have taken the formula that brought him success and regurgitated it ad nauseum while touring and hopefully making money. He chose to push himself and learn arrangement for an orchestra, and as we will see when I get around to Part 2, the “chamber pop” songs are something special too. As a listener, I always find it interesting to hear someone try something new and different. In the case of Mr. Folds, it has been a fruitful pursuit. Check back in a few weeks for Part 2!

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Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidananda

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Alice Coltrane, Journey in Satchidananda

Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda

1970 – Impulse

 

I have written about this album before for Vinyl Me, Please, but since this will be my 53rd blog post (beginning of year 2), I thought it might be fun to take a deeper dive. Coltrane’s harp playing that opens up side one is perfect. It helps to set the mood for the entire album. It is as times both ethereal and concrete. It is not just her harp playing that is awesome, she really kills it on piano too. Her lines are creative and original. It is interesting to think of this album in the context of what has come after it. You can hear the beginnings of hip hop throughout this LP. Solid basslines with relaxed beats underneath sheets of sound. I’m not sure how she did it, but all at once, this album is relaxing but keeps you on the edge of your seat. Mixing traditional Indian music with a form of meditative jazz, Coltrane created a classic album. Cecil McBee on bass is another highlight. He keeps everything moving forward and on track. Nothing gets too out there on this album, which in my opinion, makes it a great album with which to introduce others to jazz. There is a lot to grab onto here and many different kind of music listeners can find something that they can gravitate towards. If you haven’t heard this album yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

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Chachito Perez and His Orchestra, Cha! Cha! Cha!

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Chachito Perez and His Orchestra, Cha! Cha! Cha!

Chachito Perez and His Orchestra – Cha! Cha! Cha! (in medium tempo)

1960 – Richmond Records

 

I picked this one up in a 5/$3 pile a few months back. Totally worth the money! This kind of music is definitely not in my normal wheelhouse, but I enjoy it just the same. The feel is amazing, with great horn lines, percussion, and tinkling piano. The piano player is the underrated hero on this album. She (or he, there are no credits) has such a light touch and great feel underneath the other instruments and their syncopated lines. This album reminds me of Desi Arnaz and his band on “I Love Lucy”, which makes sense because Cha Cha Cha is a Cuban-based music. Since this album has “in medium tempo” in the title, and no musician credits, I am going to assume that it was made to be danced with, not dissected musically. It sounds like what I would imagine a stage band would be playing in a club in the 50s with a dancer in front. To that respect, some of the horn lines sound very dramatic and “Hollywood-y”, but that is not a bad thing. It fits perfectly with everything else going on in the music. These are some seriously talented musicians as well. Everything is so clean and together. They sound like they’ve been playing together for years, which could have been the case. I can’t seem to find any information on Chachito Perez, so I have no idea even what instrument he played. It is too bad that there are no credits here, I would love to see who is playing each instrument and find a little background on each of them. Maybe it is better not to know and just enjoy the music! There is a lot to latch onto on this LP and it makes you want to dance, which is exactly what I am going to do now….

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Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Soul Time!

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Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Soul Time!

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – Soul Time!

2011 – Daptone Records

 

The album starts off with “Genuine”, part 1 and 2 and one would be hard pressed to find a funkier track anywhere. The bass is high in the mix, which works perfectly for this sort of music. The drummer is crisp and has a groove that hits you in your soul. As we move to the next track, “Longer and Stronger”, we get to experience the full power of Sharon Jones. When she sings, there is an authenticity added to the track. If you had the privilege of seeing her perform live, which I luckily did, you know how much energy she put into each performance. This translates to the record, which is not an easy thing to do. Once the visual of a performance is stripped away, the musical part needs to be able to stand on its own. Jones was the queen of this. Her live shows were epic and her records retain the energy and feel of the shows. The band is amazing as well. They sound like they are playing from a different decade. They decided on a sound, did the listening and playing so that they could do it genuinely, and now churn out really fun recordings. You can’t go wrong with any Sharon Jones, Dap-Kings, or any Daptone Records in general. They are always a crowd pleaser!

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Michael Mantler, No Answer

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Michael Mantler, No Answer

Michael Mantler – No Answer

1974 – Watt/2

 

This is an odd album, and it is hard to explain, but I am going to do my best. Michael Mantler composed the music, and although he is a trumpet player, he decided not to play, just conduct. It is a trio of musicians for this date; Jack Bruce, Carla Bley, and Don Cherry. Just from that lineup, we know it is going to be weird outing, but add words by Samuel Beckett over it and you have something really unique. I had heard of Mantler because of his work with the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. There is a great double album that I have that features Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, and a ton of other great musicians that maybe I will review at some point. This group is a very pared down version of that orchestra. Carla Bley and Don Cherry are legends in the creative improvisation world and their contributions to this trio album are superb. The name that surprised me was Jack Bruce. I had only known him for his work with the rock group Cream, with Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton. After doing some quick research, I realize I completely underestimated him. He worked with Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Frank Zappa, and tons of other great musicians over the course of his career. It’s funny how a musician can be defined by their “pop” outing. Many of these other collaborations would be more interesting to me than Cream.  It is important to dive completely into an artist’s catalog before you pigeonhole them. Anyway, back to this album. Carla Bley is the star of this outing for me. She plays interesting and engaging piano phrases throughout the two sides. Her playing is creative and has such a good feel to it. I would be interested to see the compositions for this album, to see what was written out and what was improvised. I wonder how much direction was given, were whole chords written out? Or melody lines? Or was it more of a “for this section, I want…..” ? Jack Bruce takes on the vocals and bass, and asserts himself at the front of the group. Don Cherry sits in the back and plays very sparingly, which after listening to a lot of his work, is very much his style. He knows when to play, when to sit out, and exactly what notes and feel to play. Mantler chose to put together an ambitious project here, and I am glad he did. It is definitely a fun listen, but maybe not one to throw on at your next cocktail party. This one demands some serious attention.

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Bob Moses, When Elephants Dream of Music

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Bob Moses, When Elephants Dream of Music

Bob Moses – When Elephants Dream of Music

1983 – Gramavision Records

 

I hadn’t listened to, or heard of this album before today. I just picked it up based on knowing that Bob Moses is an incredible drummer, musician, and artist. What gave me another cursory level of approval was the musicians enlisted; included are Bill Frisell, David Friedman, Steve Swallow, Michael Formanek, Lyle Mays, and a bunch of others. If anything, this album would be an interesting listen to hear the interactions of those musicians. I’m now only into the second track on the first side “Picolo and Lulu” and I’m blown away! The writing and arrangements are amazing, musicianship is top notch, and it grooves like crazy. David Friedman sounds great on vibraphone and marimba here. I am glad I get to check him out, as I don’t believe I have anything of his on vinyl, and I’ve heard about his playing for a while. He is never front and center in the arrangements, but his playing is central to the tunes. His playing is original and jumps out at you as you listen. He complements other musicians as well as takes his own journeys through the sound. The rest of the band is spectacular as well. Compositionally, this album takes an almost New Orleans approach, but twists it to give it an edge. There is a lot of collective soloing with a steady groove behind it, but then backgrounds that seems to push against the beat creep in. It almost feels like two compositions are happening at once and they somehow line up perfectly. As I flip to side two, Frisell comes into the foreground. He has such a distinctive sound and while he isn’t soloing or the lead on the track, he is very much present and integral. The common thread throughout this album is the musicians making themselves stand out as part of the whole without thrusting themselves out front. That is a very complicated thing to do; to keep yourself playing very much for the piece, but identifying your playing as vital to the sound. This LP was a great find and I’m sure it is going to become a regular on my turntable.

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Jason Isbell, Southeastern

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Jason Isbell, Southeastern

Jason Isbell – Southeastern

2013 – Southeastern Records

 

As I’ve worked through my vinyl collection, there have been some records that have intimidated me to cover. Most of the time, this trepidation arises because complex arrangements, compositions, and/or instrumentation. With Southeastern, the overall density is the element that makes it hard to dissect. I don’t usually comment on lyrical content in my reviews, but in this case, I think it is necessary to state that something special is happening. In the folk tradition, stories are told with music as a backline. What separates Isbell from this tradition is that he not only uses lyrics to tell the story, but uses the music itself to convey messages. His chord choices, as well as their length, echo and add to the stories being told. The arrangements change and move. Instruments enter and exit to help accent plot points. As you work through this album, Isbell invites you along to sidle up beside his main characters as they navigate their trials. The listener is part of the narrative. The mixture of all the elements (musical and lyrical) is what makes this album whole. To speak of one without the other would be doing disservice to this work of art. The playful interplay between the violin and guitar add depth and honesty to the tunes (Isbell’s wife, Amanda Shires, is behind the bow). The real life connection intermingled with the instrumentation and arrangements gives weight to the stories. Aside from all of that, Southeastern is a really enjoyable album to listen to. Even if you aren’t analyzing the stories or breaking apart musical themes, the tunes groove and have a nice feel to them. Isbell’s newest album with the 400 Unit is spectacular as well, perhaps I will write about that effort in the future. In the meantime, make sure to check out all of Isbell’s music an support him live!

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Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls

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Indigo Girls, Indigo Girls

Indigo Girls – Indigo Girls

1989 – Epic

 

The Indigo Girls are icons that have been churning out great music for decades. This album, which was their first major label release, showcases their brilliance and hints at what is to come. On Indigo Girls, the arrangement of each track is perfectly suited to fit the needs of the song. No noise is out of place and it is clear that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers took considerable time to harness the essence of each composition with instrumentation. While they surrounded themselves with exceptional musicians, the core of these tunes boils down to the two of them, their songwriting, and their performance. I don’t usually comment on lyrical content, and I won’t stray from that here, but what I would like to discuss is how these two women use their voices together. It would have been easy for them to go towards a straight harmonization route for the music, but if they had, this album wouldn’t be half as magical. They trade off phrases, use call and response, and then at times harmonize to keep the listener engaged and surprised at what is coming next. There is some really solid songwriting happening throughout this LP as well. The chord movement, song forms, and hooks are great. I really can’t say enough positive things about this effort. The Indigo Girls have a deep body of work to delve into and luckily, they are still creating new music and touring almost 30 years after this album came out!

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Iron Maiden, Live After Death

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Iron Maiden, Live After Death

Iron Maiden – Live After Death

1985 – EMI Records

 

They say don’t buy a book for the cover, but in the case of vinyl, I think it’s alright. This cover has amazing artwork, featuring the band’s mascot, Eddie, in chains, on fire, with lightning coming out of his head in a graveyard with a tombstone engraved with an H.P. Lovecraft quote. Although it was the artwork that brought the vinyl into my collection, the music pressed into it holds its own. Steve Harris, the bassist, is such a joy to listen to. His playing is crisp, imaginative, and super technical. His lines make the music at times heavy, at times light and moving, and at times both. He is rock solid and transitions between feels, time signatures, and tempos effortlessly. The rest of the band is spectacular as well. Great musicianship, interesting songs, and explosive energy flow from this album. Being in the crowd for this tour (which was massive) must have been amazing. “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a highlight for me. This track is epic and moves in so many directions. The band is so tight on all the hits and stops. I love bands that have substance to them. I think a lot of people dismiss metal music because they believe the flash and showmanship are there to hide a lack of musicianship. Bands like Iron Maiden prove that you can have it all! They are still releasing music and touring, so do yourself a favor and check them out. I’ll definitely be at the next show they have locally.

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Tim Berne, Sanctified Dreams

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Tim Berne, Sanctified Dreams

Tim Berne – Sanctified Dreams

1987 – Columbia Records

 

I picked this gem up on a trip to Portland, ME this weekend. $8 well spent! I’ve already written about Berne’s other release on Columbia for Vinyl Me, Please in a list of the best avant-garde jazz albums to own, but thought this would be good to review as well. There are some classic Berne elements, like super interesting grooves and repeated phrases underneath solos and oddly pulsed melodies. Joey Baron, as usual, is amazing behind the kit. I love his use of cowbell here, he plays it exactly where it needs to be. He is always in the pocket, but then can change a little piece of the pattern to completely alter the mood. One of the arrangement choices that I really like about Berne is that he sometimes uses the saxophone as part of the background. Most of the time, historically, the sax is front and center, taking a melody or soloing. In many of his compositions, the sax joins in with the bass or cello backing soloists or melod-ists. There is a great dynamic range presented. There is also a nice mix of density and space. With such complex compositions, it is nice to hear the musicians take deviations into sustained notes and feels. At the end of side one, there is a beautiful spacy melody with an inconsistent march beat underneath that needs to be heard to believed (I’d say to be understood, but I don’t even get it after a few listens). That being said, I love it. Hank Roberts’ vocals on side two are a welcome treat. They bring a creepy atmosphere to the record that I haven’t heard on other Berne releases. As I’ve said before, any of Tim Berne’s albums are worth checking out. If you get a chance, see him live. His performance at the Newport Jazz Fest this year was amazing! It’s great to hear such a great artist consistently releasing wonderful material.

 

 

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Cal Tjader, Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof

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Cal Tjader, Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof

Cal Tjader – Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof

1965 – Verve Records

 

Though I make an effort to consistently listen to all of my records, there are a few that invariably slip through the cracks. “Soul Bird: Whiffenpoof” is an LP that I haven’t given the proper attention that it deserves. The lineup of Vibes, Bass, Piano, Drums, and Percussion create a great atmosphere that permeates throughout both sides of the album. The mood set feels perfect for the background of a swanky 60’s cocktail party. A mix of standards and original groove tunes weave their way out of the speakers to make a perfect pairing for your small talk and Manhattans. Nothing here is that complicated, it is more about feel than virtuosity or complex compositions. Perhaps that is the reason that I haven’t given this album too much of a second thought. I tend to gravitate towards musically intricate pieces (which should be evident by the vinyl blog posts thus far). Though this album doesn’t hit the level of complexity I usually look for, the music is done with exceptional skill and feel. The musicians showcased have been a part of some heavy sessions. Richard Davis, on bass, played on Dolphy’s “Out to Lunch”. Grady Tate, on drums, was a part of the Schoolhouse Rock Sessions (as a vocalist). Paul Griffin, on piano, was a great session musician who played on tons of hits, including many with Bob Dylan. Armando Peraza, on percussion, has long been associated with Santana. This is definitely a top notch band that could fit into any situation expertly. Stepping back and listening to this album as it is, not what I would want it to be to fit my tastes, I can appreciate it more. It is a fun, well played, snapshot of another time. I may have to have a cocktail party just so I can spin this!

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