April 29, 2011

Talking About The Weather

Sun Through The Window

Boy, am I glad to see the sun! While I am extremely grateful we were not personally affected by the devastating storms and tornadoes that ripped through here this past week, my heart breaks seeing the destruction nearby. Magnificent trees were toppled down the road while whole towns were completely obliterated just south of here in Alabama. Incredible. Adding to our collective angst, this week marks the one year anniversary of the horrific, “500-year flood,” a disaster from which Nashville has still not completely recovered—and which left me fearful of rain, the giver of life. I swear: I’m suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder! And, sheesh, it seems to me we were only recently struggling with crazy, debilitating snowstorms…Is it just me, or has the weather become scarier over the past few years?

April 24, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


What can I do to help the world?
What could I do?
It is not my world.
Or at least I think it isn't.
Have I forgotten something?
Am I to blame?
Did I create this?
What did I do wrong?
What does the creation groan and suffer?
If I can help in any way
Should I?
We do not accept each other.
I have so much to offer them.
What do they have to offer me?
They are spiritually poor. I have sympathy
For them, they have no sympathy for me.
What can I do?
I do not wish that they should think or say
I am their god but if I help them - what would
They say?
They have been
Alone so long.

-- Sun Ra


Sorry, folks, time got away from me this week. The next album in the queue is significant and requires more research to write about coherently. I'll have the review up next week (I hope).

April 23, 2011

Playlist Week of 04-23-11

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

* Trevor Pinnock: Keyboard Music of 16th Century England (Pinnock) (Vanguard LP)
* De Machy: Pieces De Viole 1685 (Savall) (Telefunken LP)
* J.S. Bach: Inventions and Sinfonias (Leonhardt) (Seon/ABC LP)
* Sun Ra: Space Probe (side B) (Saturn LP>CDR)
* Sun Ra: Space Probe (Expanded Edition) (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Sun Ra: Disco 3000 (Saturn/Art Yard CD)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Pool School (Clean Feed CD)
* Ingrid Laubrock: Anti-House (Intakt CD)
* Myra Melford’s Be Bread: The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12 CD)
* David Torn: Prezens (ECM CD)†
* Bill Laswell: City Of Light (Sub Rosa CD)
* War: The World Is A Ghetto (Avenue/Rhino CD)
* V/A: Saturday Night Fever (Soundtrack) (RSO 2LP)
* Sir Douglas Quintet: The Mono Singles ’68-’72 (Sundazed 2LP)
* Grateful Dead: Civic Center Arena, Springfield, MA 10-02-72 (SBD 4CDR)
* Grateful Dead; Reckoning (Deluxe Edition) (d.2) (GDP/Rhino 2CD)†/‡
* Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac (Reprise LP)
* Fleetwood Mac: Rumours (Reprise/Warner Bros. 2-45RPM/33RPM LP)
* Fleetwood Mac: Tusk (Warner Bros.—Japan 2LP)
* Boston: Boston (Epic LP)
* Pink Floyd: The Wall (Columbia 2LP)
* Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum CD)†
* Rickie Lee Jones: Pirates (Warner Bros./MFSL SACD)
* Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Columbia / MFSL LP)
* Elvis Costello: This Year’s Model (Columbia / MFSL LP)
* Elvis Costello: Armed Forces (Columbia/ MFSL LP)
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition) (Island/Universal 2CD)†/‡
* Pixies: Surfer Rosa (4AD/ MFSL SACD)
* The Feelies: The Good Earth (Coyote LP)
* Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros. CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: Crickets: The Best Of The Fading Captain Series (Fading Captain 2CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: Moses On A Snail (GBV, Inc. CD)†/‡
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business CD)†/‡
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/ MFSL 2LP)
* Radiohead: In Rainbows (TBD CD)†
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Ticker Tape CD)†
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)†/‡
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia CD/LP) (†)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia EP)



I was 13 years old when Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours came out on February 4, 1977. From thence forth, the album’s numerous singles were ubiquitous and remain staples of classic-rock radio to this very day. At the time, I was an obnoxious little classical/jazz snob and dismissed them as so much MOR fodder—even though I secretly liked some of those songs. In the privacy of my teenage bedroom, I wouldn’t change the dial when “Dreams” came on my dinky clock radio. Stevie Nicks’s voice made me feel all tingly… There was no reason to actually own the record—everyone seemed to have it—it always seemed to be playing somewhere, all the time. Rumours went on to sell nineteen-million copies (and counting) but, as time wore on, I got a more than a little sick of those songs and I grew up to be an even more obnoxious punk/jazz snob, actively disparaging such popular pop music as the opiate of the masses, the downfall of humanity. Fleetwood Mac epitomized all that was banal and slick and empty about our culture, etc.

Well, I grew older and realized all such snobbism is a waste of time and that “Dreams” is a great pop tune (Yo La Tengo's sublime deconstruction of the song back in 1986 only reinforced my shamefully hidden opinion). I found a relatively clean copy of Rumours on LP for a buck at a record show and despite some ticks and pops, I have enjoyed pulling it out once in a while and having a listen. I later picked up the DVD-Audio, just for high-rez kicks and it sounds great (although it’s a very different mix from the original LP) and I thought that was the ultimate version of this classic album. End of story.

But in 2006, it was revealed that the legendary mastering engineers, Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray, were working on an LP-only reissue of Rumours, painstakingly reassembled from the original two-track analog tapes. It was going to be the ultimate version of this classic album! Pre-orders were available for sale then quietly canceled in 2007 and rumors [ahem] of its release periodically made the rounds over the years but nothing ever happened. Then a couple of months ago, another announcement came along regarding an impending release, only this time with a date certain: Record Store Day, April 16 2011. Moreover, it would be released as both a standard 180-gram LP and a super-limited edition two-45RPM edition, for the ultimate in audiophilia. At first, I didn’t believe it; but as the date approached—and the frenzy built among the audiophilic message boards, I decided to go ahead and pre-order the 45RPM edition from Music Direct, who delivered it to me on Monday. Boy, am I glad I took the plunge, since it immediately sold out everywhere and is already commanding top dollar on the secondary market. Not only a good investment (apparently), but it also sounds extraordinary, even on my modest system. Stevie Nicks’s voice still makes me feel all tingly…

If you missed out, never fear: the 33RPM version sounds almost as good and Warner Bros. claims this is an unlimited edition and is widely available. I found a copy at The Great Escape here in Nashville yesterday. All things considered—impeccable mastering, premier pressing at Pallas—it is very reasonably priced. If you love this album (even just a little bit) and have the ability to play LPs, by all means, do yourself a favor and check out this lovingly produced reissue. Your ears will thank you. If you think Fleetwood Mac represents the nadir of civilization, then this is just another golden nail in our collective coffin. As for me, I’m just going to enjoy that tingling sensation.

April 17, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday

Sun Ra: Space Probe (Saturn 527/Art Yard CD 011)

Space Probe is another super-obscure Saturn release with a tortured history. Originally released in 1974, early discographies assigned a catalog number Saturn 527, although no known copies bear this number (See Campbell & Trent, p.107, 158). Instead, matrix numbers 14200A /14200B appear on most labels, although the sides are sometimes reversed (Id.). To make things even more confusing, the album was sometimes titled A Tonal View Of Times Tomorrow, Vol.1 (Saturn 527!) and, worse, there are numerous hybrid versions of Space Probe with a completely different B-Side (See, Id. for all the gory details). And that’s just the beginning of the discographical weirdness. So it goes with Sun Ra records! And that’s essentially why I feel compelled to write about this stuff—it’s the only way I can make sense of it all. Thankfully, the Art Yard label has recently reissued the original version of Space Probe in an expanded CD edition which includes unedited performances and several unissued outtakes from the era. Hooray!

The title track was recorded in August, 1969, shortly after Sun Ra purchased his first MiniMoogs, making it one of the first epic synthesizer solos he ever recorded. And it is truly epic: almost eighteen minutes of spaceship noises, cosmic bloops and bleeps and other electronic mayhem. While not as hair-raising as later live performances would be, it’s still an adventurous solar voyage and demonstrates his near-osmotic mastery of the complex technology. Michael D. Anderson, Executive Director of The Sun Ra Music Archive, makes an interesting (if somewhat garbled) statement about Ra’s electronic keyboards in his liner notes for this release:
Sunny was great in using the moog and other organs as an extension of himself reaching out into the outer spheres. This is why later in the mid 80’s when the Moog, Farfisa and the Yamaha organs were stolen in the [sic] Sunny began to strictly play piano and more standard music material. I knew that this unnoticed by others [sic] pained him. I would look at the expression on his face and you could see that he had so much more to say but was limited without the organs.
I had never heard Sun Ra’s keyboards had been stolen and Szwed makes no mention of it in his biography. I just figured he went digital like everyone else by the mid-80’s. In any event, it’s true: the big multi-keyboard freakouts were eventually abandoned by that time.

Side B of Space Probe goes in a completely different direction, consisting of two tracks recorded at the Choreographer’s Workshop in New York City on April 29, 1962. Originally, “Primitive” was just a couple of minutes of percussion jamming, but when Evidence was preparing the CD release of When Sun Comes Out, they discovered the rest of the track. Previously, I wrote:
When working with the master tape to prepare this CD in 1993, Evidence discovered an unreleased track running backwards in an unused stereo channel. On hearing the track for the first time in thirty years, John Gilmore gave it the title “Dimensions in Time” and it appears here as a bonus track. Echoing drums and tapping glass bottles underpin Gilmore’s seductively meandering bass clarinet. His tone is dark, rich and gorgeous as he weaves delightful melodies around the pitter-pattering percussion. Unfortunately, just as he reaches a climax, the track suddenly ends. As it turns out, the second part of this piece can be found on the 1974 Saturn LP entitled Space Probe. . .Entitled, “Primitive,” the track cuts in exactly where “Dimensions in Time” ends with the last few notes of Gilmore’s bass clarinet statement after which the percussion vamp continues for another couple minutes before fading out. As discrete fragments, these two pieces are a bit frustrating to listen to (despite Gilmore brilliant playing); someday I’d like to digitally rejoin these tracks to hear the complete piece in all its original glory.
Well, the engineers at Art Yard have done just that, retitling it, “Earth Primitive Earth,” and it’s sublime! The question remains: did Sun Ra deliberately edit out Gilmore’s solo, leaving only a percussion track? Or did the first half just go missing prior to 1974? If this track is compiled from the two known fragments, it is seamlessly well done—or is this the original, unedited master? Well, in my opinion, the inclusion of Gilmore’s rarely heard bass clarinet playing greatly improves the track and the album as a whole, whatever Sonny’s intentions were. Maybe he was mad at him that day…

More discographical mysteries: Originally titled, “The Conversion of J.P.”, Art Yard has retitled this track, “The Conversation of J.P.” Huh? I’m not sure if that’s a typo or if that is the real title but it certainly changes the meaning considerably! I previously wrote:
Plopping drums create a feel similar to “The Nile” with Marshall Allen’s expansive flute melody rising and falling amidst long spells of trance-inducing percussion. Then, at about the eight-minute mark, Ra enters with some incongruously gospel-ish piano chords. I guess this is the conversion happening! Ra then moves through a whole hymnal’s worth of plain, protestant harmonies before a final, insistently repeating cadence. Hallelujah! Now, who exactly is J.P? And how are we to take all this apparent proselytizing given Ra’s complicated, downright contentious relationship with the Christian church? Indeed, the tension between the pagan percussion/Pan-flute and the holy-rolling piano never quite comfortably resolves. Another curious thing about this track is that, at almost fourteen minutes, it is by far the longest stretch of continuous recorded music from this era.
Now if the real title is “The Conversation of J.P.”, well never mind. Either way, it’s a wonderful piece—but I think “The Conversion” is a more evocative and fitting title than “The Conversation.” And we still don’t know who “J.P.” is. Oh, and while the liner notes claim this version is “complete” and previously unreleased, it is actually the same as on the original album, except for perhaps a smoother fadeout at the end.

Art Yard generously fills out the rest of the CD with five previously unissued tracks recorded during the Choreographer’s Workshop period, circa. 1962-63. Two of them are mere fragments: a forty-seven second alternate take of “Circe” featuring Thea Barbara’s dramatic vocalizing and “Destiny”, thirty-three seconds of spacey piano and percussion bathed in Bugs Hunter’s reverb/echo device. The rest are more substantive: “Solar Symbols II” is an extended alternate take from When Sun Comes Out, featuring clankety cans and bottle percussion accompanying Ra’s dreamy, rhapsodic piano while “Dance Of The Wind” works in a similarly tensile, polyrhythmic fashion, with the plodding hand drums pushing and pulling against Ra’s increasingly enervated keyboarding. Finally, “Recollections of There” again features Thea Barbara, who wordlessly intones a modal melody with Sun Ra’s densely figured piano and sparse, eerie percussion. Ra is playing at an astonishing level of virtuosity here (albeit on a beat-up, out-of tune piano). At the core of the piece is a fleeting chord sequence which appears just as quickly dissolves into controlled abandon, Sonny tossing off spiky, ten-fingered polyphony across the entire range of the instrument. It’s quite a display and reminder that he was an extraordinarily gifted and visionary pianist.

Ultimately, Space Probe is something of a mixed bag—a fact that is reflected in its unstable discographical history. The title track is a wild synth space-out—but not something I want to listen to every day. However, the Choreographer’s Workshop stuff is where it’s at for me. There is a certain vibe to those recordings—the sound, the ambience, the relaxed, experimental approach—that was never quite replicated as the Arkestra became more professional and routinized. Those recordings are magical, even if they sometimes fail to cohere musically. Even the tiniest fragments offered on this expanded CD reissue are tantalizing to listen to, full of promise. So for me, this is an essential purchase (the complete “Primitive” and “The Conversion of J.P” are classic tracks, whatever the titles). But the merely curious should consider starting elsewhere and go from there.

April 16, 2011

Playlist Week of 4-16-11

Mark Snyder - Zeitgeist 2011-04-12c

* Hespèrion XXI (Savall): Le Royaume Oublié: La Tragédie Cathare (Alia Vox 3SACD)
* Holloway/Mortensen/ter Linden: Garrison Church, Copenhagen 4-08-08 (FM 2CDR)
* Mozart: Clarinet Concerto (Academy of Ancient Music/Hogwood) (L’Oiseau-Lyre LP)
* Joe Morris/John Voigt/Tom Plsek: MVP: LSD: The Graphic Scores of Lowell Skinner Davidson (Riti CD)
* Myra Melford + Be Bread: Saalfelden, Austria 8-27-10 (FM CDR)
* Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman Quartet: Nevers, France 11-12-10 (FM CDR)
* Material: Intonarumori (Axiom/Palm CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: County Coliseum, El Paso, TX 11-23-73 (SBD 4CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Music Hall, Cleveland, OH 3-03-81 (SBD 3CDR)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL 6-22-91 (SBD 3CDR)†/‡
* Bob Dylan: Time Out Of Mind (Columbia 2LP)
* Tom Waits: Foreign Affairs (Asylum LP)
* Big Star: #1 Record (Ardent/Classic LP)
* Steely Dan: Aja (ABC/Geffen/Cisco LP)
* Phil Collins: Face Value (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity CD)
* Steve Winwood: Arc Of A Diver (Island LP)
* Tears For Fears: The Hurting (Mercury LP)
* Tears For Fears: Songs From The Big Chair (Mercury LP)
* Minutemen: Double Nickels On The Dime (SST 2LP)
* Jim O’Rourke: Insignificance (Drag City LP)
* Pernice Brothers: World Won’t End (Ashmont CD)
* Pernice Brothers: Australia 2002 (Ashmont/Spunk CDEP)
* Those Bastard Souls: Debt & Departure (V2 CD)
* Stereolab: Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Elektra CD)
* Guided By Voices: Do The Collapse (TVT LP)
* Lifeguards: Waving At The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Ticker Tape CD)
* Animal Collective: Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished (Fat Cat CD)
* Animal Collective: Campfire Songs (Paw Tracks CD)
* Animal Collective: Here Comes The Indian (Paw Tracks CD)
* Panda Bear: Person Pitch (Paw Tracks CD)
* Panda Bear: Tomboy (Paw Tracks CD)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia CD)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia CDEP)



We so enjoyed last month’s Indeterminacies program at Zeitgesit Art Gallery, Lizzy and I decided to return on April 12 for another evening of electro-acoustic music, this time by University of North Alabama professor, Mark Snyder. An academically trained composer, classical instrumentalist—and former rock drummer—Mr. Snyder brings a wide-ranging musicality to what might be simplistically labeled “ambient music.” Lushly evocative electronic soundscapes were accompanied by long, slowly morphing, melodies played by Snyder himself on tuba, clarinet or accordion, humanizing the computer-generated textures. Reinforcing the immersive quality of the music, abstract—almost psychedelic—videos were projected against two walls of the gallery. But rather than merely creating a blissed-out, multi-media assemblage, all three elements (computer, instrument and video) were carefully arrayed to create enigmatic yet compellingly synergistic audio-visual narratives, demonstrating considerable compositional sophistication and skill. Moreover, the works were inextricably tied to their performance: a recording could not possibly capture the experience (although we did pick up the DVD, Alluvium).

Snyder himself was thoughtful and, at times, quite funny during the discussion portions (admirably led by local musician/critic, Jonathan Marx) and he was refreshingly frank regarding his musical inspirations and goals. Audience members were invited to ask questions and were effectively drawn out by Marx to describe their thoughts and feelings regarding each piece. It was fascinating to participate and listen to what people had to say—and a rare opportunity for concert attendees to express themselves and provide direct feedback to the artists. Interactivity and boundary-dissolving is a key part of what the Indeterminacies series seeks to accomplish and they succeed in creating a stimulating yet comfortable environment where the unexpected can happen. We’re definitely looking forward to next month’s program featuring Belmont University composer, Mark Volker.


Today, of course, was Record Store Day but, sadly, I did not attend. It’s been a long week and, after ferocious storms rolled through yesterday, today was a cold, gray and rainy day and I just didn’t feel like going outside. Besides, I wasn’t really interested in any of the special, hyper-limited edition releases and figured it wasn’t worth getting up early and fighting the crowds of ravenous record collectors. Well, for me, every Tuesday is Record Store Day. That’s the day new releases come out, and I always make a point of checking out Grimey’s on my lunch hour or after work and, as regular readers of my playlist can plainly see, I buy a lot of records (this week was Panda Bear's long-awaited solo album, Tomboy, which prompted an Animal Collective orgy). Even so, Record Store Day 2011 was probably a fabulous party—despite the weather. Oh well, maybe next year.


RE: the playlist. Lots of pop! What can I say? I needed comfort music this week.

April 10, 2011

Sun Ra Sunday


This is my day
A sunny day
This is my day
With so much to give to all
Bright beams
Striking at the shadows impartially.
This is my day
I have so much to say

Out of the sun colors come
Like spores the rays strike the earth
And forms of being take shape to be
Being raises itself accordingly
To the vibration of the ray to which it synchronizes itself.

The invisible light is the ultra-light . . . . the darkness
The darkness is the cosmo-light . .
The all pervading all
Thus the cosmo-equation of the light
Is that the darkness is as the light
So distinguish the meaning of this
And ultra BE: an Ultra-being.

--Sun Ra


I'll be back with more record reviews next week--I promise!

April 9, 2011

Playlist Week of 4-09-11

Memorial Flowers (2)

* Hespèrion XXI (Savall): Jérusalem: La Ville des deux Paix (Alia Vox 2SACD)
* Hespèrion XXI: Istanbul: Dimitrie Cantemir 1673-1723 (Alia Vox SACD)
* Hespèrion XXI (Savall): Francisco Javier 1506-1553: La Ruta de Oriente (Alia Vox 2SACD)
* Purcell: Fantasias For The Viols 1680 (Hesperion XX/Savall) (Alia Vox SACD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: “Mellow Vibes” (Blue Note mix CDR)†/‡
* Anthony Braxton: Three Orchestras (GTM) 1998 (New Braxton House FLAC>2CDR)
* Possession + African Dub: Off World One (SubMeta CD)
* Hank Williams: 40 Greatest Hits (Mercury/Polygram 2CD)
* Jim Reeves: The Best Of Jim Reeves (RCA-Victor LP)
* Johnny Cash: American Recordings (American CD)
* Johnny Cash: American Outtakes (Empire (boot) CD)
* Johnny Cash: Unchained (American CD)
* Johnny Cash: American III: Solitary Man (American CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Wrecking Ball (Elektra/Warner CD)
* Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Deluxe Edition) (d.1) (Lost Highway 2CD)
* Grateful Dead: Dream Bowl, Vallejo, CA 2-22-69 (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Music Hall, Cleveland, OH 3-02-81 (SBD 2CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Memorial Auditorium, Utica, NY 3-13-81 (set 1 excerpts) (SBD CDR)
* Grateful Dead: View From The Vault IV Soundtrack (July 1987) (GDP 4CD)‡
* Sir Douglas Quintet: The Mono Singles ’68-’72 (Sundazed 2LP)
* Van Morrison: The Healing Game (Polydor CD)
* Van Morrison: Days Like This (Polydor CD)
* Tom Waits: Blue Valentine (Asylum LP)
* Yes: The Yes Album (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab CD)
* Yes: Fragile (Atlantic/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab CD)
* King Crimson: The ConstruKction Of Light (Virgin CD)
* Robert Fripp: The Gates Of Paradise (DGM CD)
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Ticker Tape CD)†/‡
* Wilco: Kicking Television (Nonesuch 2CD)†/‡
* Robert Pollard: Space City Kicks (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Circus Devils: Gringo (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Lifeguards: Waving To The Astronauts (Serious Business LP)
* Mars Classroom: The New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Animal Collective: Merriweather Post Pavilion (Domino CD)†/‡
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia)(†/‡)
* Broken Bells: Meyrin Fields EP (Columbia CDEP)



On Friday, April 1, Lizzy and I drove out to Kansas City for Mom’s funeral and to help my sister clean out the apartment. It was agonizing—yet it was also a lovely visit with her family and a rare opportunity to see aunts and uncles and cousins from far-flung places. The memorial service on April 5 was perfect: beautiful, short and sweet—and standing room only. Not surprisingly, Mom had many admirers at the facility where she lived. Molly read a very moving letter to Mom she wrote in her final days and we all sang two verses of “Amazing Grace”— in the end, there was not a dry eye in the place. But it felt like we all came together not to mourn, but to celebrate Mom’s life. There were tears of sadness at our loss but also tears of laughter and joy in her remembrance.

Amazingly, on the morning of the service—and just down the road at the medical center where Mom spent so much miserable time these past years—my niece gave birth to her daughter, Mom’s great-granddaughter. Oh, she so much wanted to see that day—and she almost made it. Nevertheless, I could feel her presence in the hospital room as I held this tiny newborn in my arms: Mom and Dad were both smiling down upon us all, saying “all is as it should be.” Sure, it sounds like a clichéd movie scene, but the miraculous circle of life could not be so vividly manifested as in that moment. It was truly profound. Goodbye, Maxine—and welcome to family, Maebrynn (Brynn) Grace!

Maebrynn Lyon 2011-04-05a

And so what does any of this have to do with music? Again, nothing—and everything. Here’s one thing: singing “Amazing Grace” at the funeral was one of those rare times where “normal” people get to make music together—and it was an extraordinary experience. Oh, it was far from musical perfection but it was real expression of real emotions by real people. It occurred to me that the professionalism of music has deprived our culture of its natural creativity. I was reminded that music is not a “thing” but an “act.” It is not something that is done to you, it is something you do—even just by listening. Emotion in professional music is almost always ersatz. While community music-making might be unusual these days, it manages to survive in our most sacred religious rites, where its effect is most deeply felt and where people can feel comfortable as “amateurs.” In my humbled opinion, it would do our world a lot of good if people realized they are “producers” as well as “consumers” of music (and all the other arts) and would express themselves more freely and joyfully. In any event, these verses of “Amazing Grace” were by far the most enlightening musical event of the week.

And then there’s going on a long road trip, loading up the iPod with everything I could think of that seemed appropriate and listenable—and throwing in a couple of CDs just in case. Hey, we’re talking twenty-something hours of driving: I needed to be prepared! Of course, the Grateful Dead is great road music—it always reminds me of going “on tour” and a couple shows will get you clear across Missouri! But I also checked out a new band, Broken Bells, whose eponymous album was gifted to me on iTunes by my friend, Stan. We listened to it twice in the car and liked it more each time through. It’s kind of post-Radiohead electro-folk-rock, but with an unabashed pop sensibility. Heck, I liked it enough to make a trip to Grimey’s to pick up the CD (and the new Meyrin Fields EP) so I can blast it on the big stereo (it’s playing right now, for the second time tonight). While I had heard of them, I was unfamiliar with both Danger Mouse and The Shins (that’s how “out-of-it” I am!) but if Broken Bells is any indication, I need to check ‘em out. Good stuff.

Finally, after getting back home, I have been exploring the music of my parents, the country music of Hank Williams and “Gentleman” Jim Reeves, whose Best Of is one of the few records I remember my parents playing over and over. I can picture my Dad singing along (or whistling away in his own tuneless fashion) and doing carefully choreographed square-dance moves with my Mom in the living room as the platter spun on the old Dual turntable. When I was a kid, I turned up my nose at country music—but it was the Grateful Dead who brought me around. While my parents were alarmed at the drug-addled trappings (and their Satanic-sounding name), they could hear the country-western roots of the Dead’s music (their favorite song was “Ripple”) and I think that’s partly why they allowed me to drive Mom’s car to the Hartford Civic Center to see my first show in March, 1981, just a few months after my sixteenth birthday. They may have been terrified by the psychedelia of “Dark Star,” but our mutual respect for Johnny Cash’s “Big River” served to bridge the gap and now, as an adult, I can truly appreciate my southern, country roots. “The wheel is turning and you can’t slow it down; you can’t let go and you can’t stand still—if the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will!”

It has been hard to lose my Mom (and Dad)—I am now an orphan and “the last of the Colemans.” But our trip to Kansas was wonderful and I feel connected to my extended family in a way I have never previously known. The memorial service brought closure to a long, painful process and the simultaneous birth of her great-granddaughter brought hope for the future. I cannot imagine a better ending to a well-lived life. Rest in peace, Mom—everything will be OK.

April 2, 2011

Playlist Week of 4-02-11

The Heavens

* Hesperion XXI (Savall): Orient-Occident 1200-1700 (Alia Vox SACD)
* Hesperion XXI (Savall): Istanbul (Alia Vox SACD)
* Rebel: Violin Sonatas (Manze/Egarr/ter Linden) (Harmonia Mundi CD)†/‡
* J.S. Bach: Mass in B-Minor (Collegium Vocale Gent/Herreweghe) (Harmonia Mundi 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: St. Matthew Passion (Gabrieli Players/McCreesh) (Archiv Produktion 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Sonatas & Partitas For Solo Violin (Podger) (Channel Classics 2CD)
* Feldman: Rothko Chapel/Why Patterns? (UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus, et al.) (New Albion CD)
* Feldman: For Bunita Marcus (Kleeb) (Hat ART CD)
* David S. Ware String Ensemble: Threads (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Marilyn Crispell: Vignettes (ECM CD)
* Spring Heel Jack: Songs & Themes (Thirsty Ear CD)
* Grateful Dead: Reckoning (Expanded Edition) (d.1) (Arista/GDP/Rhino 2CD)†/‡
* Grateful Dead: The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA 8-30-80 (set 2) (SBD 2CDR)†/‡
* Derek & The Dominos: Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs (Polydor/Atco/MoFi CD)†/‡
* King Crimson: B’BOOM: Official Bootleg: Live In Argentina (DGM 2CD)
* Mayo Thompson: Corky’s Debt To His Father (Drag City CD)
* Big Star: Keep An Eye On The Sky (d.1) (Ardent/Rhino 4CD)†/‡
* Neil Young: Silver & Gold (Reprise CD)
* Lucinda Williams: West (Lost Highway CD)
* Emmylou Harris: Into Grace (Nonesuch CD)
* Patti Smith: Peace And Noise (Arista CD)
* The Fall: Hex Enduction Hour (Deluxe Edition) (Castle/Sanctuary 2CD)
* The Fall: The Wonderful And Frightening World Of… (Omnibus Edition) (d.1-3) (Beggars Banquet 4CD)
* U2: The Unforgettable Fire (Deluxe Edition) (Island 2CD) †/‡
* U2: The Joshua Tree (Deluxe Edition) (Island 2CD)
* Radiohead: The King Of Limbs (TBD/Tickertape CD)
* Yo La Tengo: Popular Songs (Matador CD)
* Beck: Midnite Vultures (Geffen CD)†/‡
* Beck: Sea Change (Geffen/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab CD)†/‡
* Mars Classroom: New Theory Of Everything (Happy Jack Rock Records LP)
* Broken Bells: Broken Bells (Columbia)†/‡



In heaven, everything is fine.