365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 18

Bix Beiderbecke – 20 Classic Tracks

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I stumbled on this particular release quite by accident, but I’m rather glad I did, as it actually offers an outstandingly seamless point-of-entry into the world of Bix Beiderbecke’s music.

The masters are great, the song selection is exceedingly strong, and it’s got a great deal of instrumental music across its 20 tracks, which is always my preference when it comes to Bix in the mix …

I should note tho, that it’s a collection that won’t please everyone, as it doesn’t have some of his more commonly anthologized star turns … but as a very solid snapshot of the man’s devastating talent, Parlophone UK should be commended for their curation efforts here …

For those not familiar, Bix was one of jazz’s greatest early instrumental stars, and can be credited in the same breath with Louis Armstrong as being one of the contributing inventors of what would become the early jazz canon. His style continued to be hugely influential despite his early death at the age of 28, and in his moody mid-range minimalism as compared to Armstrong’s most histrionic high-register style, we can see a precursor to the Miles Davis vs. Charlie Parker Yin-Yang that was to come a couple decades later.

Honestly, you should just listen to any Bix you can get, but this is a great please to start if you don’t already have your favorites.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – April 17

Dvorak: Symphony No. 9, “From The New World” / Symphonic Variations (Alsop)

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Dvorak’s 9th debuted on my birthday (Dec 16th, also Beethoven’s birthday!) in 1893, and it still stands today not only as an extraordinary symphonic achievement, but as one of the most majestic expressions of the influence of American folk music.

There is some debate over the actual extent to which Dvorak was influenced by African-American and Native American sounds and forms, and he himself apparently made some contradictory statements on the matter, but it seems clear that the influence is real, and one need only listen to the music to experience how this is so.

Dvorak’s most anthologized quote on the subject is this one:

“I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.”

All ethnomusicological musings aside, the work is gorgeous independent of its influences, and this particular recording is arguably one of the finest. If there be no other way to determine the state of your soul, let us at least monitor your heartbeat as you listen to the 4th movement—if it doesn’t quicken, you may be dead.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 16

16 Horsepower – 16 Horsepower

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Well, it’s Easter—for all intents and purposes a Christian holiday, so I figured I ought to recommend something biblical. Thus, 16 Horsepower, the greatest fire-and-brimstone Gothic Americana band ever.

This was their first EP. It’s not their masterpiece, but it’s bloody fuckin’ incredible. This, Sackcloth and Ashes, and Low Estate have had such an influence on my conception, and I really can’t recommend their music enough.

You can take a pass on tracks 4 & 6, but as to the rest, prepare to be supremely moved by the haunting gospel ferocity of 16 Horsepower.

Get the spirit today, people. Get it.

Recommended track to start with: Coal Black Horses

Just as sure as that suns gonna shine
When he comes at his table I will dine

Just as sure as that dog’s gonna whine
In my heart no longer will I pine

Just as sure as by evil you are torn
The sky will open up an an angel blow his horn
An down come Jesus lookin’ so fine
Just as sure as that girl she is mine….
An I say

Hey hey hey it’s always forever
Hey hey hey it’s never or now

I dug a hole an hollowed it out
Yes an I fell in
Oh lord I’m caught in the cord….
The cord of my own sin

Shoot ’em up cowboy – yeah I got away
But I been dragin’ this chain the whole way…..
An I say

Hey hey hey it’s always forever
Hey hey hey it’s never or now


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 15

Thelonious Monk – Plays Duke Ellington

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It’s a sad and beautiful world, isn’t it? And a strange one, that at one time Monk should have been thought so difficult, that he had to be made to play Ellington to get a record out.

That wouldn’t prove to be a problem, of course, because Monk loved Ellington, though he preferred his own compositions by and large—and rightly so.

Given the incomparable richness of these recordings, it’s hard to remember sometimes it’s just a trio:

Thelonious Monk – piano
Oscar Pettiford – bass
Kenny Clarke – drums

The album is honestly perfection, but it’s also a “bridge” record between his early Blue Note days, and the still-two-albums-away Brilliant Corners—a certified masterpiece.

Ultimately, the record is an exquisite opportunity to kick back and swing with the greatest playing the greatest.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 14

Dock Boggs – Country Blues : Complete Early Recordings

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Listening to the early recordings of Dock Boggs ought to disabuse you of a few key misconceptions:

Country Blues is NOT weird or creepy music. Scratch that. This shit is WEIRD.

The banjo is not cool. Nix. This shit is COOL.

Sugar Baby is a sweet thing to call someone. Nope. You’ll never use the term the same way again.

White people can’t play country blues. Wrong. Dock Boggs can.

etc.

Important to note, that this is an instance where you HAVE to find the original early recordings. Boggs’ “rediscovery”-era tracks just ain’t the same.

This collection is the one you want. The 60+ pages of liner notes are worth the price of admission. Tracks like Sugar Baby, Country Blues, Pretty Polly, Danville Girl—they’ll all blow your mind.

 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 13

Louis Armstrong – The Complete Hot Five & Hot Seven Recordings

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What can you say? I mean, what the HELL else can you say?

When you listen to this, you are ACTUALLY listening to the sound of jazz being born.

That’s fucking incredible.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 12

Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball

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As has happened with so many other remarkable artists, the Daniel Lanois factor resulted in a stunner of an album when he worked with Emmylou Harris to create this masterpiece.

All the atmosphere, the vibey-ness, the soundscapes, the subtle trash-can funks, the mystery, the sonic mythology—all the things we’ve come to associate with the Lanois touch all are here in spades. What’s different, is his collaborator.

When Lanois did what Lanois does with Dylan, with Chris Whitley, with Willie Nelson, with The Neville Brothers, he took a raw and funky sound, and gave it a kind of creepy grace. Here, however, his raw material was already rich with grace and mystery—the result is a kind of haunted elegance that transcends even his own propensities for drama and atmosphere.

As to Emmylou herself, she does what she does best, but better. She OWNS these songs; every one of them; deploying the cracked beauty of her lilting and plaintive red dirt twang in the service of a deeply compelling suite of songs. Highlights include her takes on Neil Young’s Wrecking Ball, Anna McGarrigle’s Goin’ Back to Harlan, and Lucinda Williams’ Sweet Old World. The stunner of stunners (and the only cut she takes a co-write on) is Deeper Well.

Emmylou launched a new era for herself with this album, an era we’d see hit full stride with her follow-up Red Dirt Girl, which marked her emergence as a songwriter to be reckoned with. But before you get there, get here.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 11

Grant Green – The Complete Quartets With Sonny Clark

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When I’m writing, I’ve been known to listen to this collection on repeat for literally hours at a time. I just can’t get enough of it. It just leaps out of speakers and into your ears, where it plants, waters, and grows total groovy joy and abandon.

I don’t know that Grant Green has ever been better than he is here, which means jazz guitar itself has rarely been better, and the sonic connection between he and Clark is just dynamite.

It’s obviously only one iteration of what jazz is capable of being, but with regards to what this is, this is as good as it gets. And what a delight it is to fully feel the sound of musicians enjoying one another, pushing one another, responding to one another, lifting one another … The collaborative, interactive art of jazz improvisation gets a brilliant representation here …


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 10

Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones

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I expect to get flack for saying this, but Tom Waits has made no less and no more than three irrefutably classic albums. And they all came right in a row.

Heartattack and Vine comes close to being classic, but largely only because its aspirations are lower. Bone Machine is almost a classic too—but while it shoots higher, it misses by a wider margin.

The three irrefutable classics are of course Swordfishtrombones, Frank’s Wild Years, and Rain Dogs.

We’ll recommend all five of these albums at some point this year, because they’re all amazing. But we’ll start with the first of The Holy Trinity: Swordfishtrombones.

This was the first Tom Waits album I ever heard. 16 Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six was the first Tom Waits song I ever heard. I had the album on the back side of a Mose Allison cassette. I was literally completely blown away the first time I turned the tape over.

I grew up the son of a Marxist English professor, who in turn grew up in the weird old America of country Kansas. We loved the lyrics of Bob Dylan. I wanted to write big, long, literate story songs that spoke a different language, one that wedded the underbellies of city and country in a noir of gutter and pew. But at the same time I knew, even from an early age, that what I loved most in music was The Raw. The rough, the dangerous, the gruff, the abrasive. I didn’t like BB King, I liked Charley Patton. So I swung my musical pendulum back-and-forth year after year, trying to sort it out in search of my own thing. Then I heard Tom Waits. That was an epiphany. He was proof positive it could be done. His lyrics were like a whole new language. It was like Faulkner and Kerouac wrapped into one. I got it. And his voice was a clear point along a timeline I feel I already knew, and understood. I’d already been trying to be Blind Willie Johnson for a decade by then. I’d already been trying to be Bukka White. They were my sound, and I knew it. But theirs weren’t my words, and I knew that too.

What Waits did with Swordfishtrombones was create a genre unto himself.

At that point, I knew nothing about his lounge lizard, piano balladeer shtick. I didn’t know about his jazzbo thing. I didn’t think he was funny, or weird. I simply thought he’d taken some of my gods, and built a new religion from them. And I was glad.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Apr 9

Little Jimmie Dickens – Raisin’ The Dickens

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I never met my Grandpa Watkins. He’d come and gone before I came along. He would have been 127 yesterday.

I’ve learned a bit about him from my Dad over the years. He was apparently a “real Country & Western guy.” My Dad remembers bein’ taken to see Little Jimmie Dickens live when he was about 6-7 years old. That would have been right around the time Dickens scored his first Top 10 country hit, The Violet and the Rose” …

Roses are red, violets are blue
I’m sending red red roses to you
If you care to send some flowers to me
Then send me some violets, I’m blue as can be

So of course you know the Hank Williams song “Hey, Good Lookin’.” But do you know how it was written? Williams was on a plane with Little Jimmie and Minnie Pearl, and Minnie Pearl’s husband. And Hank was tellin’ Jimmie he needed a hit if he was gonna be a country music star. And Hank said he’d write a hit for him. And then he wrote “Hey, Good Lookin’.” Purportedly in 20 minutes. A week later, he recorded it himself. He told his friend Little Jimmie Dickens, “that song’s too good for you!”

My Dad said he thought Raisin’ The Dickens was the album he remembered hearing as a kid. It was released in ’57, so that’s probably right. So that’s my recommendation for today. This one’s for you Dad, and for your Dad, my Grandpa.


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