Monday, January 5, 2009

New arrivals in review

So, I've been walking around humming these hooks all day long: the Reverend Al Green's "Just for Me", from his album last summer, Lay It Down. Hope you have a decent subwoofer, or--conversely--pump your laptop through a classic tube amp:

What's amazing about this album--which, I suppose, isn't quite as awesome as this single in-and-of-itself--is just 1) the flexibility and infectious joy in his voice and 2) ?uestlove's beats. The horns are so simple, the rhythm section is so tight, and his voice sounds younger than it did on one of the earlier late albums I picked up a few years ago.

I got 60 dollars in itunes gift cards for Christmas (!), so I had to choose wisely. I could have put all my eggs in a "box set" basket. also wanted to revisit some music that I had always wanted to buy but never had. I also wanted to choose music that, for the most part, would be rather expensive to buy in CD form.

First up, I was suckered into the Al Green album because of its low Itunes price--$7.99--and even though the album all sounds the same, that's kind of the point. On the classical front, I bought the CD collection of Glenn Gould playing Brahms. Gould's most famous Brahms -recording- performance was also his most obstinate: a crankily monochromatic reading of the first concerto that forced Lenny into a notable, thoughtful, and playful (if over-hyped) disclaimer. I meant to buy my mom this CD for Christmas (10 intermezzi, 4 rhapsodies, etc.) but was unable to find it "on the ground" in record stores. Plus, it's pretty expensive. These performances are anything but monochromatic or polemical. If anything, they might be a bit ponderous or drippy for some tastes, but lines come spinning from the inside out. And yes, smart-aleck, he uses the pedal... with aplomb, in fact. I submitted a Gould paper (a sort of "close-reading" of his Strauss, Op. 5 recording) to a conference, and have been steeping myself in Gouldiana again just in case--and because it's fun.

Next up, I felt like buying some Christmas music. Where could I get the most bang for my buck? I remembered back to Sufjan Stevens' giant Christmas music set, and remembered really enjoying what I heard. Then again, 10 PM on Christmas Day is a mighty silly time to buy Christmas music. That's like getting your cable hooked up during the third quarter of the Super Bowl--it's just too late. Then, I remembered really enjoying his (Greetings from) Michigan album back when it was new and the cool thing to listen to, so bought that instead. What's more, the textures are really beautiful, and I know alot of the places. Also, free bonus tracks. Sweet! My favorite moment on the album is the mid-track breakdown in Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head (heard here in a sort of Magical-Mystery-Tour-meets-Swingle Singers reworking, much quicker than the album but subsequently more "mod"):

I then bought some stray tracks off of Randy Newman's debut, and frankly I think that phase may be passing. Perhaps I'm sad about that, but I think it will hit me someday during middle age again when it's supposed to, if not sooner.

Next, I moved on to filling out my hip-hop/neo-soul holdings. I'm a huge fan of the RH Factor and D'Angelo's Voodoo (both of which substantially involve ?uestlove). I remembered listening to Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun many with my friend Jacob, who was really into it.

(That's right, I'm man enough to admit that I listen to slow jams with my male friends.)

Favorite track? "Green Eyes," which is probably my favorite Roy Hargrove R & B performance (excuse some dude's crude "video"):

Again, it was on sale on Itunes for relatively cheap. I then bought The Roots Come Alive, because I was convinced ?uestlove was the answer. It's fun! I think it'll be good workout music, once I start, you know, working out again.

Finally, I was searching through Wayne Shorter albums, and ended up searching through Luciana Souza albums, which led me to Golijov's Oceana album. I haven't connected with the title track--for orchestra, percussion, guitars, Luciana Souza, and choir--as much as I have with his other works, but I still really enjoy it, and can't wait to hear his St. Matthew's Passion. The download also came with a free, expressionistic reading of Golijov's arrangement of Piazolla's Milonga del Angel. The Atlanta string section plays it like it's the last movement of Mahler 9--which is to say, yes!

Now, I ended up at a CD store in the mall (okay, FYE) between Christmas and New Year's and there were big sales on closeout CDs, making them two bucks apiece. I made some rare selections related to my interests: a theremin album by Clara Rockmore, this borderline bootleg Sinatra collection of early-50s recordings (but on CD), Marvin Gaye sings the songs of Nat King Cole (!), a Compay Segundo collection, and a Nas album, "Stillmatic" (the follow-up to Illmatic).

I'm trying to encounter more rap, because I really respect "flow," and think it's good to have choices and broader horizons. But really, this album tosses around the word "faggot" (or the notion of homosexuality as the worst thing ever anywhere, namely Jay-Z being gay, in all sorts of graphic and specific ways) only slightly more than the n-word in an irritating fashion, and the beats are mostly what Wesley Willis could come up with. I understand it's important to be "transgressive" as an artist, but still, do you think rap could cool it with the homophobia? It's really and brings otherwise artistic statements down to a fourth-grade level. For once, I agree with Kanye. I have (and, against my type, massively enjoy) Illmatic, and that's homophobic too, but it's also much more clever, with better "flow" and out-of-nowhere rhymes. Still, it will be decent exercise music, and will teach me how to handle all the "beefs" that come my way here in Iowa City. I might go back to FYE and spend a couple dollars on Xzibit's CD, if only because I didn't believe he actually rapped. I'm still looking for a sealed CD copy of K-Fed for my kitsch collection.

Oh, speaking of FYE, at the library today--for one dollar--I bought a CYE cd. There's actually some great brass choir music on there!

And now, I'm good for a long, long while, after spending, hmm... 11 dollars of my own money?

Lastly, a question for any readers I may have, if you're techies: How do I use Last.Fm, what is it, and could it help me construct posts like this more easily? Thanks, and Happy New Year!


brian.lewis.smith said...

nice post man. that erykah badu track is sick. when did questlove work with rh factor?

Peter G said...

Whoops, you're right! I was just thinking of all the times Roy Hargrove and questlove were on the same projects. I also think I got it confused in my memory with Joshua Redman's "Momentum" album that has that one cool track with Nicholas Payton.

Thanks for reading! I spent a half hour browsing yours once and all the links were really cool.