Music Review

Sweet Music from The Summer of Love

summer_of_love.jpg67 from 1967

I ingested the Whitney Art Museum's Summer of Love exhibit a month ago and it left me rather dazed. I wasn't blown away by this nostalgic Baby Boomer's Utopian moment hanging on the walls with psychedelic posters and even framed acid sheets, but rather inspired by the richness of the music and how it permeated the world's culture. So with that in mind I approached our site's editor Steve Holtje and asked him to compile the most essential music from this pivotal year in pop culture.

Take it away, Steve! Read more »

The Erratic Career of a Torch Singer & Suburban Decadent

simon_warnerSimon Warner: Waiting Rooms (Rough Trade)

Some artists are prolific, whilst other have longer, Blue Nile-like periods of gestation before presenting their glorious wares to the world. One such vagabond of taking time and creating an air of anticipation and mystery in the process is the delightfully dandified Simon Warner. In a career spanning two decades, he has produced one album, the achingly beautiful and string-soaked Waiting Rooms, and a trio of singles. He appears to be in no hurray to add to this select canon of work. Read more »

The Absolutely Essential Progressive Rock Listening Guide

pink_floyd_fisheye.jpgJune 1, 2007 marked the 40th anniversary of what was the first "progressive rock" album to receive mainstream acclaim as such: The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. In that spirit, we asked Ian Alterman -- a founding moderator and senior writer for progarchives.com (the number one prog website in the world) -- to undertake a truly hopeless task for Culture Catch: create the definitive Top Ten list of prog albums. He provided that and more. Take it away, Ian....

Imagine yourself -- a progressive rock aficionado -- on that hypothetical desert island to which you can only take a given number of albums (usually around 10). Now imagine that you are going to share that island with someone who has a keen interest in, but little real knowledge of, progressive rock music, and you are looking to choose the dozen or so absolutely essential albums that will not only serve to give this person a fairly broad perspective of "prog," but will not become tedious after a few hundred listenings: i.e, the cream of the genre. Read more »

Beyond the Speed of Light

sgt_pepper.jpgThe Beatles: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Capitol)

So, The Beach Boys lit a fire under the lads with Pet Sounds. They stopped touring and had 600 or so hours to kill. It's not Lou Reed and the Velvets. It's far too neat for Floyd, not messy enough for the Satanic Majesty of The Stones, but, stop, look, listen. June of 1967, a fake band emerges (meta-art, how cool?) and all the lyrics are all over the back and it opens and it's got this weird cover and everyone's got their favorite and it's got "A Day in the Life" and it's a total and utter and complete fuggedaboudit. (Floyd, who were recording Piper just down the hall, came in on the second take of "Getting Better." Yes, things were getting better. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: Lemonheads' It's a Shame About Ray released 15 years ago on June 2, 1992

lemonheads.jpgLemonheads started out in Boston in the mid-1980s playing hardcore punk, but mellowed a bit and had a college radio hit with its cover of Suzanne Vega's "Luka," leading to a deal with Atlantic Records. It's a Shame About Ray was the group's second album on Atlantic, and its best, one of 1992's finest releases. It spent some time atop the Gavin Report College Albums chart and reached No. 68 on Billboard's album chart, not spectacular but pretty good for a quirky alternative band.

Lemonheads leader Evan Dando hit the songwriting jackpot here. Read more »

Coffey Break!

coffey.jpgDennis Coffey: Big City Funk (Vampi Soul)

Back in the '80s I was working college dorm security at an inside post and one of the uniformed outside guards was a guy who also deejayed as Super Dan. Every few hours he had to do a tour of the building. I was always listening to a portable tape player (yeah, that’s how long ago it was), and we inevitably ended up talking about music. The best tip he ever gave me was to keep an eye out for Dennis Coffey’s “Scorpio.” Read more »

Lee Johnson: Dead Symphony No. 6

dead_symphony.jpgThis piece, subtitled “An Orchestral Tribute to the Music of the Grateful Dead,” is considerably classier than most such offerings, because Johnson is an ace arranger with a fine ear for orchestral color. As he strings together ten Dead tunes – some quite familiar, others less so – he contrasts timbres and moods with subtlety, avoiding garishness (and often bringing to mind the words of one of my teachers: “the viola is the workhorse of the orchestra”).

Johnson, who conducts the Russian National Orchestra in the performance, is not merely transcribing notes off of Dead LPs and assigning them to instruments; the songs’ raw materials are used (or omitted) with a discerning ear for taste and proportion, with new elements introduced to abet their adaptation to this very different context. Read more »

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson: Beloved Mezzo Lives on CDs

lieberson.jpgLorraine Hunt Lieberson/Roger Vignoles
Wigmore Hall Live (BBC)

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson/Boston Symphony Orchestra/James Levine
Peter Lieberson: Neruda Songs (Nonesuch)

American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died at age 52 last year after a long battle with cancer, is remembered on two new releases of concert recordings commemorating her artistry. Read more »

Björk: Volta (Atlantic)

bjork_volta.jpgVolta is Björk's most accessible album since Vespertine, and at times of the whole decade, not because her imagination is curbed, or because she makes any compromises. No, it's going to bring back some fans scared away by her far-out stuff on Medulla and the Drawing Restraint soundtrack because she takes what she did on those albums and pours the ingredients into song structures and lays beats underneath. (And I'm not just being metaphorical; the brass arrangements of pieces on Drawing Restraint are heard again on "Vertebrae by Vertebrae" and "Declare Independence," changed in role from focus to support.) It's the best of both worlds, really. Read more »

Michael Brecker: Pilgrimage (Heads Up)

brecker_pilgrimage.jpgThis is the late tenor master’s elegant and substantial swan song project. In the final stages of his lost battle with leukemia (he passed away in January of this year) Brecker summoned the strength to create his last and perhaps most profound work. No simple task considering his deteriorating condition or the fact that over his 30-plus year career, he appears on something like 900 recordings. Brecker’s technique of fusing Coltranesque expression through a modern fusion prism created a unique voice in jazz and pop. The result: session appearances for artists from Aerosmith to Zappa, from top 40 to the obscure niches of the jazz world. Read more »

ANNIVERSARIES: The Clash's UK Debut Released 30 Years Ago

the_clash No less an authority than Jon Savage, the most thorough chronicler of British Punk (his book England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond is a must), has proclaimed The Clash "the first major Punk statement." That it is excellent (Robert Christgau declared it "the greatest rock and roll album ever") certainly helped, but it achieved that status partly because the Sex Pistols' first LP was delayed by the controversy surrounding the group, which resulted in several record labels dropping them. Read more »

Andrew Hill June 30, 1931 - April 20, 2007

andrew_hillLung cancer finally took Andrew Hill on Friday, April 20. The jazz cognoscenti mourn; the rest of the world never heard of him. This is seemingly a familiar situation, but Hill may be the most extreme example. Blue Note founder/producer Alfred Lion called Hill "my last great protege." An odd choice of words -- what did Lion have to teach Hill? Maybe just to be himself? -- but Blue Note recorded Hill extensively for the rest of the 1960s despite a lack of sales, and if not all of the resulting albums were issued at the time, at least they were made, and have since appeared. Read more »

Devin Phillips: Wade in the Water (Devin Phillips Music)

devin_phillips.jpgIt’s a stretch, but viewed from a certain angle, the dark pall that was (and still is, for many) Katrina has a sliver of a silver lining. The seeds of jazz that could only originate in New Orleans were scattered far and wide, enriching communities across the country that would otherwise be culturally less advantaged. Saxophonist Devin Phillips became one of those storm-borne seeds. Having lost everything but his horn and the clothes he was wearing upon evacuating, Phillips wound up in Portland, Oregon, a city with a strong commitment to the arts and an active jazz scene.

Fronting two distinctively different bands, Devin Phillips New Orleans Funk Project and Devin Phillips New Orleans Straight Ahead, the man has been able to do some serious musical outreach. Read more »

Nine Inch Nails: Year Zero (Interscope)

year_zeroSince debuting in 1989 with pretty hate machine, Trent Reznor’s one-man band nine inch nails has made music by fusing industrial and rock with bits of funk, pop, noise, and every other genre real or imagined, capturing it with an everything and the kitchen sink layered approach, for some of the most beautiful, invigorating, and forward-thinking music of the last two decades.

What’s interesting, then, about his latest, year zero, is how it finds Reznor at both his most accessible and inaccessible, sometimes at the same time, making it his most eclectic album to date. Read more »

Lent Time Refound

raybrooksRay Brooks: Lend Me Some of Your Time (Polydor)

Singing actors are rarely a touchstone of sincerity. A thin veneer of polish on ordinary furniture. Too showy. Too faux emotional. Too used to having words put in their mouths of songs they didn't write. The efforts of Burt Reynolds, Richard Harris, and John Travolta spring to mind, for a myriad of farcical reasons. So this forgotten curio from 1971 by the English actor Ray Brooks is something of a trend-bucker. Sincere, accomplished, and self-penned, it suggests genuine songwriters such as Bill Fay, Al Stewart, and Cat Stevens. Read more »

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