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Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

RECENT ENTHUSIASMS

Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3: I’ve been a fan of Vol. 1 since it came out, but I’d never heard more than bits and pieces of Vol. 3 until the other day, when I learned that good friends who live kitty-corner across the alley had a copy, and I asked and they let me borrow it. Roy Orbison’s death was a terrible loss, but I really like almost all the songs and actively dislike none of them (yet); the band might even be peppier than on Vol. 1; Jeff Lynn’s high-gloss deep-carpeting production (co-credited to Harrison, but it sounds like Lynne) remains my favorite setting for Dylan since Bob Johnston’s mid-’60s rock freak-outs; the lush Beatles-ELO background vocals & the thick layer of strummy acoustics sound fab; Dylan’s vocals are hot & committed; I’ve never liked any singing by Tom Petty as well; and it features more hot George Harrison guitar than any other album I know (I don’t know all his solo albs), with widely varied tones, his typical tasty licks, occasional wilder abandon than I’ve ever heard from him elsewhere, and some circa 1964 licks a la Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry -- a guitar feast.

My Way, Elvis Presley: I’ve heard it on the radio a couple times recently, on the “great songs, great memories” AM station. A typically eclectic, eccentric, terrific late Elvis arrangement, with semi-funky ‘70s white-guy beat (that Elvis had helped pioneer, “From Elvis In Memphis”) and pedal steel guitar, it didn’t grab me on the first listen. But on the 2nd, it touched me more than Sinatra’s standard. Elvis a more emotionally complex, less macho singer than Sinatra. Elvis ain’t bragging, he got nothing to prove, he remembers the blows less resentfully than does Sinatra. And still -- he did it his way. (By the way, here’s a poignant story of the Canadian singer to whom the song was originally offered before Paul Anka wrote his lyrics to the original French tune. I hadn’t known that the words of the French version had a very different intent.)

John’s Book of Alleged Dances, composed by John Adams and performed by Kronos Quartet: A wild headphone experience (I don’t use headphones except at record store listening stations, and when overdubbing in the recording studio) with “trippy” stereo effects and (I’m pretty sure) a rock-style fade-out, this suite of 10 pieces rocks with bluesy riffs and jagged beats and a rhythmic complexity native to 20th century classical that still rocks. A complex and comprehensive and communicative musical consciousness pervades this exciting stuff.

Dyna-Soar, Quincy Jones Orchestra featuring Roland Kirk (who wrote it, I’m pretty sure): 1962, an exuberant hip-movie-dance-party big-band rock-riff tune featuring Kirk’s flute and Charlie McCoy’s bass harmonica playing the tune 2 octaves apart, with patented Jones funky dramatic jazz arrangement -- a favorite kitchen dishes dance tune for me. From the same era as Jones’s most famous composition (probably even more famous than the “Sanford and Son” theme), Soul Bossa Nova, which also features Kirk’s flute and which has become the theme for Austin Powers. It makes me happy that a tune that features such a great and unjustly neglected musician as Roland Kirk has become part of pop culture.

Foggy Mountain Jamboree, Flatt & Scruggs: A recent re-release of a 1950s collection. Scruggs’s gorgeous banjo playing defined the bluegrass style more than anything else; he was the Charlie Parker of country, turning a popular dance music into a virtuoso music for listening, and at about the same time, making his first records in 1946, just a year after Parker’s first true “be-bop” records. Flatt was a gorgeous singer, with a sound like a sweeter Hank Williams and a style like a country Nat King Cole, light, buoyant, and shrugging off sorrows with the friendly, un-self-pitying wisdom that sorrow is unavoidable. This album brilliantly alternates style-setting instrumentals with lovely vocal tunes, though the re-release adds 3 tunes, throwing the pattern off slightly by adding one vocal tune too many, a historically interesting and philosophically noxious and unfortunately timely tune about praying for “our boys” at war.

Blue Ridge Rangers, John Fogerty: A solo tour-de-force featuring the former Creedence Clearwater leader on all the vocals and instuments -- including guitars, pedal steel guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, banjo, fiddle, clarinet, saxophone, and trombone -- on classic country and gospel tunes. The point isn’t the stuntmanship of the production, the point is the terrific arrangements and performance. And the great songs. Fogerty never sounded more relaxed or more committed than on this record. His CCR stuff was into a deep persona scene; having grown up on the East Bay, he invented a bayou persona and sang with a Louisiana accent (“I hoid it through the grapevine,” pure Satchmo); he sounds happier simply playing different roles on this record where, not having written the songs, he doesn’t have to worry about creating the role as well. Featuring on the cover a silhouetted photo of “the band”: Fogerty on bass, guitar, banjo, fiddle, and vocals. (Personal aside: I once saw at my grandparents’ house a photo of a great-grandfather, 1895, age 19, in a formal portrait studio, sitting on an elegant couch, wearing a suit and tie, playing a guitar, and seated next to another image of himself playing mandolin. I have his mandolin, and I’ve never seen that photo since.)

Johnny B. Goode, the Beach Boys’ cover of the Chuck Berry tune on their mid-’60s “Concert” album: Early Beach Boys demos reveal: They didn’t start out as a band. They were a vocal group. That became a band AFTER they started recording. Contrast this to the Beatles, who had years and years of professional gigging before recording, making their ensemble playing untoppable. The Beach Boys became a good band and an untoppable vocal group. Their version of Chuck Berry’s anthem rocks and adds a tasty bluesy vocal lick that sounds like something the Beatles might have done.

The Bird of Ill Omen Lingers On from “On the Overgrown Path” by Leos Janacek, played by Ivan Klansky. Great late night solo piano haunting melancholy spooky dissonant bird-flittings alternating with a somber march tune. Makes me want to hear more Janacek. I’ve also seen the tune’s title translated “The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away.”

The Long Day Closes, an instrumental version of an Arthur Sullivan song arranged for the “Topsy Turvy” movie. Tender, melancholy, gentle, longing. Gilbert did not write the words, which I see are about death, and which I’ve never heard sung. I’d like to. Some other night. Night night.
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