Happy 100th birthday, Ella

New York Times: An Ella Fitzgerald Centennial.

It’s nice to see some love for the First Lady of Song. Her contributions to popular song are eternal, due largely to the Songbook series, but for me I’ll remember her as a fellow child of Newport News (aside: what was it with that city in the early 20th century and jazz vocalists? Pearl Bailey also spent her childhood there) and as a great interpreter of song, period. For proof, have a listen to her version of the Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life.”

The Colors of My Rainbow

When I was a little kid—I mean, probably seven or eight years old—we were visiting my grandparents in Paradise, PA. My Pop-Pop liked to play music for us, generally the radio but often a tape that he had gotten from his work at Spectrum Fidelity Magnetics. And this time he had a kid’s album, “The Colors of My Rainbow.”

That album, by a kid’s musician named Joe Wayman, squirmed its way into my psyche through repeated listenings in cassette players at home, Pop-Pop’s, and in our car on long trips between Newport News and Paradise. Having grown up on a diet of my mom’s kid’s music, much of which dated to her days as a music teacher in the 1950s and 1960s (think “Tubby the Tuba”), the smart-assery around the edges of “Recipe for Red” and “Mellow Yellow Coot” appealed to me. But maybe most of all, the melancholy in “Brown’s the Saddest Color” hit the bullseye of my soul. I still remember the lyrics to many of the songs.

Other than half remembered snatches of the songs floating through my head, I wasn’t able to find the music. But then this morning I decided to Google the lyrics I remembered. And there was a full playlist of the album on YouTube (misattributed to “Joe Hayman”). And a Creative Commons archive of the album on the Internet Archive. And now I’m happily listening to the dated production and less-good-than-remembered singing and refreshing my memory.

Silly love songs

Yesterday I listened to a few demo tracks from Paul McCartney’s Flowers in the Dirt, included in the just-released Archive Collection reissue. And I was moved in a way I hadn’t expected to be. Stripped of their late-80s production (not that that’s a terrible thing), even the lesser McCartney/Costello songs (“This One“, I’m looking at you) are surprisingly powerful and lovely things.

It made me realize: I don’t listen to nearly enough silly love songs. And there aren’t nearly enough of them being written.

Maybe this year we all need more silly love songs.

New mix: don’t put no headstone on my grave

I struggled with this mix for quite a while, and probably have two other mixes of rejected tracks even though the final version clocks in at 2 CDs’ length. The hard bit is always mood. Summer is easy mixin’ weather; winter, especially this winter, was hard.

And a lot of this mix struggled with the challenge of a world turned upside down. So there are a few more instrumental tracks, a few more down tracks. But it starts in a place of fragile hope, with Lou Reed’s incredibly timely song of transsexual identity which is equal measures crisis and birth of the new, and ends in a place of defiance. And maybe that’s what we have left to ourselves right now.

  1. Candy Says (Closet Mix)The Velvet Underground (Peel Slowly and See)
  2. SilverEcho & The Bunnymen (Songs To Learn & Sing)
  3. Boys Keep SwingingDavid Bowie (Lodger)
  4. Damaged GoodsGang Of Four (Entertainment!)
  5. DevotionMission of Burma (Signals, Calls and Marches (Remastered))
  6. World Cup DrummingMclusky (My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours)
  7. ElectioneeringRadiohead (OK Computer)
  8. The Great Curve (live)Talking Heads (Jaap Eden Hall, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, December 11, 1980)
  9. Wish FulfillmentSonic Youth (Dirty)
  10. As I Went Out One MorningBob Dylan (John Wesley Harding)
  11. Time, As a SymptomJoanna Newsom (Divers)
  12. Morning LakeWeather Report (Weather Report)
  13. Sense Of DoubtDavid Bowie (Heroes)
  14. What Will You Say (feat. Alim Qasimov)Jeff Buckley featuring Alim Qasimov (Live at L’Olympia)
  15. This RoomThe Notwist (Neon Golden)
  16. Politician ManBetty Davis (The Columbia Years 1968-1969)
  17. For What It’s WorthTalk Talk (The Very Best Of)
  18. Above ChiangmaiBrian Eno (Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror)
  19. Magpie to the MorningNeko Case (Middle Cyclone (Bonus Track Version))
  20. State TrooperBruce Springsteen (Nebraska)
  21. DaphniaYo La Tengo (I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass)
  22. The Sky Is BrokenMoby (Play)
  23. Here Come the Warm Jets (2004 – Remaster)Brian Eno (Here Come The Warm Jets)
  24. Give Me Cornbread When I’m HungryJohn Fahey (The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites)
  25. After AwhileSwan Silvertones (Love Lifted Me / My Rock)
  26. The Last Broken Heart (Prop 8)Christian Scott (Yesterday You Said Tomorrow)
  27. Mystic BrewVijay Iyer Trio (Historicity)
  28. Why Was I Born?Kenny Burrell And John Coltrane (Kenny Burrell With John Coltrane)
  29. Meeting in the AisleRadiohead (Airbag/How Am I Driving?)
  30. The Last RayThis Mortal Coil (It’ll End in Tears)
  31. Cedars of LebanonU2 (No Line On the Horizon (Deluxe Edition))
  32. We FloatPJ Harvey (Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea)
  33. No Headstone On My GraveEsther Phillips (Oxford American 2003 Southern Music CD No. 6)

Marantz SR6011: initial thoughts

Following up my post about the new AppleTV, I finally got my new Marantz receiver hooked up and working. First thoughts below.

First: not only did I get this receiver at a relative bargain, I ended up getting this year’s model. That’s right; I ordered a new-in-box Marantz SR6010 but the seller sent me a new-in-box SR6011. For a few hundred dollars off list. Score!

Second: this is the first “modern” AV receiver I’ve had, and so many of my notes are just awe that the thing works. You run one HDMI cable from the receiver to your TV, then plug all the HDMI cables from your other devices into the back of the receiver, and hey-presto, easy peasy. All you have to do is to switch the receiver to the new input source–the TV settings can remain unchanged.

Third, as compared to the Onkyo, which seemed to go from quiet to loud awfully quickly, the Marantz has miles of quiet built into it, which is nice for more nuanced classical or jazz listening. I seem to regularly be setting the volume to between 30 and 40, which is comfortable without being distracting from other rooms.

Fourth, I love the onscreen menus and the manual speaker calibration. In older receivers, I used to be driven mad by the hoops required to tell the amp I had no center channel so that it would redirect the dialog to the stereo speakers. On this model, you pull up the settings menu, choose Speakers, and tell it you have no center channel. Easy.

It’s weird, but useful, to see the Marantz show up in my AirPlay menu on my iPhone too.

The only thing I don’t like is that it’s just a little too deep for me to be able to close my audio cabinet.

Coming up with the TFC: the Busoni Piano Concerto

One of the comforting things in my life right now is that, no matter how much things change, music remains a constant. On Friday and Saturday I am lucky enough to be able to take my place with the men of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a rare performance of the Busoni Piano Concerto, whose “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to orchestration includes a men’s chorus part in the final movement.

The choral writing in the work is interesting, anticipating modern harmonies in several places, and our guest conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya has drawn some rich sonority out of the ensemble. I’ve enjoyed preparing the work, which has involved sitting “hashed” so that we can all hear all the other parts and blend our sound and pitches more effectively.

The men’s choral sound also makes me nostalgic for my friends in the Virginia Glee Club, whose exploits this week on tour are being chronicled on Frank Albinder’s tour blog. Wafna!

Sounds of anguish

Christopher C. King, Oxford American: Unearthly Laments. It’s easier than you might think to connect the dots between the earliest known complete musical composition—the Seikilos Epitaph—and “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.” I’ve got a mix almost in the can that explores some of these connections.

But that isn’t why you should read King’s piece. His tale of discovery of a 78 of the Blind Willie Johnson record is: a little physical remnant of sorrow, left to rot in a sharecropper’s shack until saved from fiery destruction.

The Chieftains, March 1, 2017, Chevalier Theatre, Medford, MA

Lisa and I went to see the Chieftains tonight in Medford. It was an amazing show, not so much due to the displays of individual artistry (though those were plentiful), but due to the astonishing generosity on display.

The Chieftains are one of those musical groups that it’s possible to take for granted, owing not least to their incredible longevity (55 years and counting) and their recordings with seemingly every possible type of guest star. But when you see them live, you get the essence of what Paddy Moloney, a founding member and still going strong 55 years later, and his compeers Matt Molloy and Kevin Conneff (Seán Keane was not there tonight) have been doing all these years.

Put simply, they’ve been pulling on threads.

Tonight’s threads included a diversion into country music, led by Jeff White (who helped out the Chieftains on Down the Old Plank Road), reminding one that it was the Irish and Scots who settled the Appalachians, then fanned out west, carrying Gaelic touched musical traditions with them. They included a gospel sextet singing “Shenandoah,” as part of a medley from their album Long Journey Home, as a reminder of how the music of that group touched on the core of American traditions. They included “The Foggy Dew,” a sobering reminder that not all Irish music is light hearted, and that some is paid for in blood. And they included a bagpipe group from the North Shore, and the house band from the Burren, reminding us that the music that the group brings has deep roots here in Massachusetts.

A wonderful night and a great show.

New music and bootleg roundup for February 23

I seem to be doing nothing but accumulating tabs in my browser recently. Here’s a roundup of new and old music that I’m looking forward to exploring.

Dust to Digital: Where Will You Be Christmas Day? is a little late for this past Christmas but I’m looking forward to exploring it next year. Sacred harp, blues, and folk Christmas songs is pretty much right up my alley.

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Mythic and Political Jazz. Not too late to check this out.

Doom and Gloom: Lou Reed, Paramount Theatre, Seattle, December 9, 1976. I saw Lou in Seattle in 2004 at the Wilbur, but I expect this to be a completely different experience—pre-sobriety, with saxophone and freshly recorded cuts from Coney Island Baby and Rock and Roll Heart.

Directions in Mid-Atlantic Music, Live 2-5-2017. New band adding saxophone and cracklebox and cello to the core of Tyler Magill’s Grand Banks.

Doom and Gloom: Television’s Marquee Moon. Pointer to both a Pitchfork article about the origins of the amazing album and bootlegs of live performances.

NYCTaper: Lee Ranaldo, January 22, 2017 Park Church Co-Op. Featuring guest appearance by Steve Gunn and members of Yo La Tengo, plus Neil Young and Velvet Underground covers. I’ve missed Sonic Youth and Lee, and looking forward to checking this one out.

Random Five: trade show edition

It’s been a while since I’ve spun the wheel. Here are the five tracks that came up this time:

  1. The Kingston Trio, “The Patriot Game” (Kingston Trio: Collector’s Series). From late in the original trio’s run, after Dave Guard had been replaced by John Stewart (the songwriter of “Daydream Believer,” not the comedian), comes this cover of Dominic Behan’s ballad protesting the murder of an IRA volunteer by another IRA member. It’s the same tune (“The Merry Month of May”) that Bob Dylan borrowed for “With God On Our Side.”
  2. Joan Baez, “Away in a Manger (French Version)” (Noel). Boy, we’re really mining the 60s folk vein here this morning. My mom had (and occasionally played) this Christmas album, but for me it’s best remembered for the instrumental arrangements by Peter (P.D.Q. Bach) Schickele. 
  3. Polyphony, “II. In te, Domine, speravi” (Morten Lauridsen: Lux Aeterna). The most exquisitely dissonant movement of Lauridsen’s soaring setting of the Lux text. 
  4. Bob Dylan, “I Shall Be Free” (The Bootleg Series Vol.9: the Witmark Demos). Dylan goofs on an old Lead Belly song. 
  5. The Beach Boys, “Little Deuce Coupe” (Surfer Girl). Did you know that a “deuce coupe” was a 1932 Ford Model 18? Now you do. 

Vinyl resurgence

I added eleven new albums to my iTunes library last month. Nine of those were vinyl rips.

Partly this was ongoing work from my ten-year-old, still not yet completed project to digitize all my vinyl. (Pro tip: don’t inherit over fifty records when you’re in the middle of a project like that. Or have two children.) But a big chunk of it stemmed from two record store trips, one to Harvest Records in Asheville, and one to Barnes & Noble, of all places.

Digital has gotten increasingly more prevalent and convenient. I can buy and download my friend Tyler’s band’s live shows within a few weeks of their performance, and you can pry my Bandcamp subscription out of my cold, dead hands. But I had forgotten how desperately I missed the physical act of browsing.

Which is why I love this development, the launch of a new state of the art vinyl record manufacturing machine, so much. Bring it on!

Listening: Kate Tempest, KEXP live performance

I’m an occasional podcast listener. I subscribe to a handful, all music, including the mighty Funky16Corners and Iron Leg and a few from KEXP. Because all three of these have some shows that last a half hour or more—typically longer than my commute—I tend to binge-listen to catch up.

I had a long drive down to North Carolina starting Sunday and took the opportunity to catch up on my listening. I almost fast forwarded past the KEXP live sessions entries, but I’m glad I didn’t. Something about the announcer made me want to listen to the first episode I had downloaded, from an artist named Kate Tempest.

What an amazing session. Twenty-five minutes or so of live hip-hop and spoken word, telling the story of a group of Londoners and their lives at 4:18am. The net effect is somewhere between The Streets and Hamilton for the immediacy of the verbal portraits and the breadth of the impact. Well worth checking out.