Music Review

The Twelve CDs of Christmas

AquitaniaThere are always plenty of Christmas-music roundups this time of year. This one's different. The others usually focus on the newest offerings. Nothing I've gotten this year has really struck a chord, but there is no shortage of favorites from years past that have proven their merits and held up over time. It is those in the classical realm, where trends matter least; and choral, because it's sacred choir music that's at the heart of the celebration of Christmas, that are listed below.  Read more »

Song of the Week: David Bowie - "Blackstar"

The Thin White Duke is more than just a middle-age rock 'n' roll icon intent on just cruising along, playing it safe, releasing rehashed variations on previous themes. He's one of a handful of artists who is still capable of creating genre-defining music. This title-track -- "Blackstar" -- from his 28th studio album builds off of the sonic vibe of Station to Station but adds jazz textures and extended motifs. And it seems like a logical extension offered on his previous "rock" album, The Next Day, and even more so from his 2014 single "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)" Aided once again by longtime producer Tony Visconti, Bowie is in fine voice. Moreover, his young NY-based backing "jazz" band led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who appeared on said 2014 single -- have definitely provided a creative spark for the veteran rocker. Visconti's production provides just enough sonic texture to keep things percolating. Blackstar is set for release on January 8th, 2016.

Song of the Week: Miranda Lee Richards - "7th Ray"

Miranda Lee Richards, one of my favorite L.A.-based singer-songwriters, was in town a few weeks ago playing songs from the inspired Echoes of the Dreamtime, her third studio album and first release in more than six years. "7th Ray," the first track and single from said album, is an atmospheric, mid-tempo, psychedelic-folk-rock rumination on love and life. Wearing her love like heaven, layered electric and acoustic guitars weave in and out of the nuanced mix and then suddenly a Mellotron adds yet another delectable dollop of color to keep you hitting your repeat key. She's currently on a West Coast tour with the Dandy Warhols, making stops in L.A., San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland. For fans of Laura Marling and Joni Mitchell alike. 

New Neil Young Archives Release Draws from Neglected Period

Neil Young and Bluenote Café: Bluenote Café (Reprise)

This is Performance Series 11 from the Neil Young Archives project, a two-CD set of live recordings from eleven 1987-88 shows with his Bluenotes band, which had to be renamed because of a lawsuit by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. (The new name better reflects Neil's original inspiration, a beloved Winnipeg bar called, yes, Blue Note Café, shown on the cover.) The first two tracks on Bluenote Café are from the year before This Note's for You was released, the rest (oddly, presented in chronological order of recording date, with just one exception) coming from the tour to promote its release.

There has never been a consensus about This Note's for You, which marked Young's return to Reprise Records after his contentious tenure at Geffen, when his stylistic shifts into genre tangents (rockabilly, electronica) led to Geffen actually suing Young. Read more »

Ron Sunshine: Bring It Home

Ron Sunshine: Bring It Home (Rondette)

Ron Sunshine's mix of jazz, soul, and blues is always a little different from album to album. This time out the vibe is classy late-'50s/early '60s R&B with a small horn section and lots of blues shuffles. The horns and the pianist will sometimes play jazz harmonies, but in general the feeling is more down-home than his more swing-oriented efforts were -- though we're talking fine distinctions here; he's not changing styles, just shifting leanings by degrees. Read more »

Song of the Week: Bob Dylan - "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (Alternate Take & Video)

I'm inspired. And you will be, too, after you watch this video. Not much more need be said about Sir Bob Dylan. Many consider these "electric" years to be the zenith of his songwriting prowess. You should know this "rap" song already, but you may not have heard or seen this alternate version taken from his latest must-have collection Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 (Columbia Records). Hey, spot the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg hanging out in the background!

French Composers

In the wake of the terrible attacks in Paris, I found myself listening to a lot of French music and thinking about the Leonard Bernstein quote going around on Facebook: "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." This list came to seem like my natural response. A very small response, I know. This list is chronological and leaves off people I should probably include. The forty [note: now forty-one] composers listed below are merely a start. Read more »

Song of the Week: Carlos Timón - "Carta al desastre"

Hints of the baritone vocals of Scott Walker, guitar playing chops of fellow countryman José González, and the pop rock sensibilities of Belle & Sebastian brush against the melancholy vibe of this Spanish-born, Göteborg, Sweden-based guitarist and composer's latest offering. Like a walk in crisp autumn weather, "Carta al desastre" (literal translation is "Letter to Disaster") is the perfect soundtrack for shorter days and falling leaves. From his new album Solar Rapé (Pueblo Records); one of my favorite albums of the year and on repeated shuffle for weeks now.

Song of the Week: The Cramps - "I Was a Teenage Werewolf"

Happy Halloween! A classic from The Cramps, "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" is the perfect pyschobilly candy-with-razor-blade sweet treat for Halloween. Lux Interior (Erick Purkhiser) and Poison Ivy Rorschach (Kristy Wallace) getting it done on stage. Spooky, but cool, right? Read more »

The Art Song, Part 1: Lieder

A major glossy magazine that used to be devoted largely to music -- but long ago fell under the spell of Hollywood celebrity -- still continues to cover music, specializing in listicles that seem designed mainly to provoke ire in those who care more about music than does said magazine (named after a classic blues song, in case you can't guess without a hint). This summer it unleashed a list of songs that, with that aging publication's ironically weak sense of history, managed to overlook the vast majority of the history of song. To put it bluntly, if you're claiming to discuss the best songs ever written and you don't even mention Franz Schubert, you're an ignoramus. My ire over this blinkered attitude towards music history festered for months, so I finally decided to do something about it by writing about some of the timeless songs omitted in the aforementioned myopic listicle. There are so many great songs in the history of classical music that no one article could contain it, so first I focus on one particularly rich tradition, the German lieder. I plan to write a sequel covering classical songs from other traditions, though I admit that my track record of completing these big projects has been a bit spotty! Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra finished recording their Schumann cycle 55 years ago

Hungarian-born conductor George Szell (1897-1970) never intended to settle in the United States, but when World War II started in 1939, that's where he was, and he stayed. After well-received guest appearances with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic, in 1946 he became a U.S. citizen and became the Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra, which he proceeded to raise it from mid-level regional status to one of the Big Five U.S. orchestras. Read more »

Song of the Week: Benji Hughes - "Freaky Feedback Blues"

This delicious piece of ear candy is the perfect freaky weekend sing-along. Singer-songwriter Benji Hughes' Songs in the Key of Animals drops on January 29, 2016 on Merge Records. Into vinyl? Pick up the "Freaky Feedback Blues" 7-inch out now.

Metadata Panic in the Age of Surveillance: Killing Joke Unleashes Pylon

After about 32 years of being a slavishly devout fan of Killing Joke, the job of reviewing their new studio album with any semblance of balanced objectivity is a tougher task than you might imagine. Those who have embraced the music, mythos and accompanying sensibility of Killing Joke tend to do so with a bug-eyed fervor that borders liberally on myopic zealotry. In short order, no other band matters nearly as much. Read more »

Dusty Wright - "High Flyin' Bird"

Stoked to share the new single "High Flyin' Bird" featuring Queen Esther on co-vocals, Matt Goeke on plucked cello, and Jerry Krenach on drums. Produced by Dusty Wright and mixed by Mr. David Lee. Recorded at Strauss Park Studios, NYC. Cover art by the very talented French painter Claire Petit. This long-forgotten '60s folk classic has been covered by Judy Henske, Neil Young, Richie Havens, and Jefferson Airplane. Please click here to buy it today!

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