Thursday, May 29, 2008

All That You Can't Leave Behind

All That You Can't Leave Behind-U2
Realeased: October 23, 2000
Universal-Island Records, Ltd.

Sometimes I surprise even myself.  When I listen to these albums and make my notes, I want to hear the whole thing through a couple of times before writing anything on the blog.  Only after I've jotted down my own observations do I then like to look for reviews of the particular album or band to see what others have said.  Out of my own curiosity as well as to make sure I've got an idea of the chronology of the the release, etc.  I read someone else's review, a writer practiced in music-speak, and I think "gee, that was well-put."  Or, "gee, I never would have noticed that, myself."  

Here is what I wrote, verbatim, after listening to this U2 album several times:

This U2 album was not a disappointment when it was released.  First album they put out in the 21st century.  Two decades of U2.  Wow.  Anyway... I liked it immediately--Shawn had bought it--and we listened to it a lot.  What I find interesting is that, despite the depth and emotional quality, it's a pretty laid back record.  The drums seem light and easy, not a lot of hard (read "raw") guitar riffs.  The musical arrangements are excellent and provide variation and surprises; but with the exception of "Beautiful Day" and "Elevation", they're taking you on a walk.  An important, serious, thought-provoking walk.  The influences of all they've done musically have come together and produced this older, wiser record.

I'm not saying I've written anything especially profound, here, but I read a review from The Guardian and, basically, he said something along the same lines.  Of course, he said it really well and intelligently and much better than I did.  Still, I am a little pleased with myself for making similar observations.  I've never been much of an album review reader.  Not until lately, and mostly waaaaaaaaay after the fact.  I like going about it backwards.  If I hear a band on the radio that I like and I buy the album (or download it from, which is buying it, but not physical ownership of the disc... i miss liner notes) I want to hear it without the words of a reviewer in my head at the same time.  I don't like to read film reviews of movies that I'm going to see, either.  I wait until after I've seen the movie and then I go back to read it.  

Back to the record...

This is a much simpler album than their previous releases of the 90's.  Back to their roots, so to speak.  Listening to it, I'd put it much closer to The Joshua Tree than Pop or Zooropa--especially the guitar--are they called "hooks"?--on "Walk On".  Adam Sweeting, of The Guardian, called it "vintage Edge" when he wrote about "Beautiful Day".  I say vintage Edge is all over this album.  Bono's vocals are particularly emotional and aching, especially on "In a Little While".  The way his ragged, tired voice cracks makes my knees a little weak.  And I know that it means that he's not treating his vocal chords very well, but gosh... A completely singable bunch of songs.  There is something very solid about this album, too.  I truly get the sense that these musicians have been doing this for such a long time, together, (in a good sense) and the fluidity of the collaboration is evident.  It's hard to make music this good, this clear.  It's rare.   (Am I going to wind up saying that about many bands/records on this journey?  hmmmm... Perhaps I should avoid such statements in the future.  Well, without a doubt, U2 deserves such accolades, that I know.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

All For Nothing (Disc 1)

All For Nothing-The Replacements

Released: October 28, 1997
Reprise Records

This is actually two discs, but the second disc comes up as Nothing For All on the 'ole iTunes, and so I'm not going to mess with the order.  The first disc features songs from the major label releases on Sire Records: Tim (1985), Pleased to Meet Me (1987), Don't Tell a Soul (1989) and All Shook Down (1990).  A couple of months ago I heard an interview on KEXP with Jim Walsh, whose book about the band, The Replacements: All Over but the Shouting, was published last year.  I do want to read it, and hopefully I'll get to it this summer before school starts in September.  He and Kevin Cole (the dj interviewing him) talked about how they just never took off in the way they should have.  I have read and heard, before, how the band kinda shied away from the spotlight when they had the opportunity; and when they were ready (and sober, I believe) to dive in, they just didn't make quite the splash anticipated.  Too, too bad.  I remember when Don't Tell a Soul was released and everyone I knew loved the single, "I'll Be You".  I was a freshman in high school and had heard of the band, but didn't own any music.  (I didn't own a lot of music, period, unless I could get it used from Zia and it was $2.99.  Can you believe that?  Used tapes used to be $2.99... did I just do one of those, "When I was your age music used to cost a nickle!" things?  Ouch.)  Even then, among those who had followed the band there was talk of "selling out" on that album.  Well, others claimed the same thing when they signed to a major label after Let it Be.  Am I talking out of my ass, here?  Probably.  

In college my boyfriend at the time owned lots of Replacements cds.  Hurrah!  I became a much bigger fan and sans the "they've sold out" baggage.  Not that I haven't been a curmudgeon in that regard.  And some bands really do.  They get big and they get lazy and they lose something.  Not everyone.  Not every band that can sell out Wembly Stadium has signed a contract with the corporate devils and lost all artistic integrity.  Now in my 30's, I've tried to let go of the whole "ahhh... That band I like had a successful record and play concerts at Key Arena now.  They've sold out."  Bull.  Great bands should make money.  Good for them.  The bummer in that is the inability to see them in a small venue and for less dollars.  Otherwise... as long as the music is still good, back off naysayers!  I digress.  The point of the boyfriend/Replacements catalog is that when we were no longer together I no longer had a steady supply of their albums.  It's taken me quite a while to acquire some more, and that's till not much.  What with the Rhino Records reissue of the first four (?) albums and the future release of the rest of 'em, I plan to remedy this situation.  Until then...

"Left of the Dial" starts out this compilation album.  Outstanding, and appropriate, first choice.  That guitar intro thrills me every time I hear it.  A declaration.  An anthem of underground music.  "Here Comes a Regular" always makes me think of my friend, D., and a letter he wrote me from Seattle when I was still living in Phoenix and we did things like that.  Write letters and miss each other.  He wrote that he'd seen Westerberg play at the Crocodile and when he sang that song, tears happened.  I don't hear this song without thinking of that letter.  Of D.  Of our friendship.  

Besides the lyrics and the guitar, what I love about the Replacements is the DRUMS!  It's the exact kind of drumming that makes me giddy when I hear it and too bad for me that I never saw them live.  Bands with infectiously great drums I am a sucker for.  I don't know how to describe it or what the precise quality is that gets me, but there is definitely a certain something  and that je ne sais quoi remains a theme in my music likes.  The Walkmen, U2, Pela, The National... o so many others, but those immediately come to mind (probably because that's what I've been listening to, lately).  One day, I'm going to come across a writer who articulates that quality that resonates all over me, and I'm going to copy it down and then I'll be able to say why.

What I like about the set up of the album, in general, is listening to the maturation of the band.  I don't mean to say they grow up, though they do--we all do, hopefully.  (I realize that the band went through some lineup changes and that the final album was essentially a Westerberg solo project without officially calling it that.)  Maybe it's that despite never having the commercial success that they deserved--above many other bands who did--they never sound like they gave up.  They still believed in making music and making it good and not being stuck.    

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Aladdin Sane

Aladdin Sane-David Bowie

Release Date: April 13, 1973
RCA Records

I'm reading a biography of Sam Cooke, and have been impressed with the writer's ability to talk about the singing styles of the gospel quartets that are discussed.  How a song is interpreted and what made one group's lead more skilled than another.  Specifically, he articulates the nuances of Cooke's own voice and style as it is developing.  (He's still a young man singing around the country with the Soul Stirrers, at this point in my reading...).  Anyway, I wish I had that knack. 

I have listened to this album many, many times over the last few days.  My first try at the "listen-through" was back on May 8, but I was interrupted and then I was just too sleepy to bother.  Then I had a paper to finish, a final to complete and a trip to NYC to take.  Aladdin Sane was put on hold.  I started again on May 22, but I got so hungry while I was listening that I put down my notebook and pen and picked up a knife and cutting board instead.  Still listening to the album, mind you.  This morning, jet lag seemingly having taken over my sleeping pattern--except that I manage to stay awake until midnight-ish--I decided to give this one another go after unsuccessfully trying to go back to sleep.  (Quelle introduction, n'est pas?)

OK.  I wanted to be really clever and insightful with my thoughts on this album; Bowie is a long time favorite of mine and I still live in hope that I'll manage to see him in concert before he stops touring, forever.  He is one of the few musicians that I would be willing to spend much more than is sanely necessary to see perform live.  

Wikipedia, an always handy--if somewhat questionable--source says that Bowie described this album as "Ziggy goes to America", and there is a very American feel to the songs.  Blues, doo-wop, boogie-woogie... it's all there.  I'd even say there are some Spanish hints (emphasis on hints, mind you) in "Lady Grinning Soul", it only lacks a trumpet declaring itself at the start.  He uses the piano, instead, to trippingly light effect.  This is, no question in my mind, a great album.  I've read that it's considered one of his best, though I'll have to admit it's not one of my favorites.  But when you like them all, that's not a bad thing.  I find it interesting that the vocals seem to be secondary to the music.  Or maybe it's just the recording I have.  Or maybe I'm crazy and that's the point.  I'd like to be able to comment on the lyrics, but I have to be honest and say that for all the times I've listened to this record (even before my little project) I hear the music first and foremost.  The words are an afterthought.  O.  Yeah.  What's that he said?  I think I'm missing out on some great fun, as the lyrics have been called "audacious".  Really?  How intriguing...

As my first exposure to Bowie were his Let's Dance, mod years, I feel like I'm always working backwards with him; trying to understand how he's evolved and not get stuck only listening to what I heard on the radio.  I loved the skinny tie, skinny man sexiness of him during the early 80's and, unfortunately, compare all to that.  Though, many of his earlier songs are favored above that particular incarnation.  Plenty of time to get to those...though, not for a while.  The alphabetical thing, and all.

There is one song on this album that I remember hearing when I was a young thing, and I'm pretty sure that I thought I was soooooooooooooo cool because I knew of this early David Bowie song.  Remember the television program Friday Night Videos?  We didn't have cable, therefore no MTV.  We wee Blumenthals stayed up late (or tried to, anyway) to watch music videos on this program.  I have a memory of seeing the video for "Let's Dance" or "China Girl", one night, and then the host--was there a host?--showing a little retrospective of Bowie's work.  Whether this was real, or not, I cannot say.  But I have a distinct memory of watching a video for "Jean Genie", which to this day makes me think of blue jeans, though none are to be found in the song or the "video" I believe I saw.  A genie, in big genie pants and a painted face...a runway stage?  I don't know.  Maybe it was footage from a concert.  

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Across the Borderline

Across the Borderline-Willie Nelson
Release Date: March 23, 1993
Sony BMG Music Entertainment Inc.

Willie Nelson will always conjure memories of listening to Red Headed Stranger on the silver stereo in the living room with the green carpet back in Idaho.  One of a handful of tapes/records that the whole family seemed to like--Best of Simon and Garfunkel was another one.  Who was this red headed stranger?  So mysterious...

This lovely glimpse into Americana and the highs and lows of simply being is a gem.  Duets, covers, originals... it's all here.  The first song, a cover of Paul Simon's "American Tune", is a strong start as it begins with vocals.  I found myself surprised, every time I played it.  Oh.  No instrumental lead in.  And Nelson's easy, breezy singing leaves me feeling a bit sad about the state of affairs in America.  (duh... that's been going on for nigh onta eight years now...)  His duets with Bonnie Raitt--"Getting Over You"--and Sinead O'Connor--cover of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up"--are beautiful.  Aching and sad.  Unlike the original of the latter, Nelson's phrasing and low key singing make one think that he has, indeed, given up.  And what a great contrast in vocal styling with Bonnie Raitt.  She has more tension--not the bad singing technique type--in her sound while his is loose.  

Speaking of phrasing... I've always loved the way that Willie offers up the pause.  He has this way of singing a line, pause, singing another line, pause, sing, pause, sing, pause.  It informs the song in a way that is unlike most singers.  I read somewhere that he's like Frank Sinatra in that way.  I can see that... So much happens in those pauses.  Where Sinead will sing "we don't need muuuuuuuch of anything", Willie would say "we don't need much/(pause)/of anything".  Very different.  Though, she does sort of mimic his phrasing on their duet.  I really like to hear a cover that has something new to give, rather than a copy of the original.  This cover is fantastic.

This love fest can recognize faults of Nelson's, too.  Particularly on track 11, "I Love the Live I Live" (written by Willie Dixon), where the vocals are strained and reminds me that as lovely as he sings, he doesn't have much of a range.  Call me crazy--heh, heh, one of the greatest songs ever written, thank you Willie--but I still really like the song.  Maybe all the more because it's not the best for his voice.  I'm just blinded by my nostalgic love of him, I guess. 

Goodness, he just makes it seem effortless.  His guitar playing completely matches his singing, both have an easeful quality that is so quintessentially Willie Nelson.  Shawn and I saw him at the Emerald Queen Casino in 2001 or 2002... he was totally cool.  And I mean that in the calm and collected sense.  Sold out show.  I thought it was funny that he was at a place that generally showcases has been talents (sorry has beens, no offense).  He had this gimmick where he'd tie a bandana round his head, take it off and toss it into the crowd, one after another.  I was much too far back to even think about getting one, but it was fun to see.  Sing, wrap, tie, toss.  Repeat.  Wouldn't that be keen?  To have a red bandana tied and briefly worn by Willie Nelson?  I'd totally wear it all the time and tell anyone who'd listen where I got it.   

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Achtung Baby

Achtung Baby: U2
Release Date: November 19, 1991
Universal-Island Records, Ltd. (but was it still just Island back then?)

Where shall I start? U2 is one of my all time favorite bands, EVER. Has been. Is now. Will be. I am ashamed to say that I'd kind of forgotten about this album. WHAT WAS I THINKING?!!!! I started the first play through at 5pm, today, and have been listening to it non stop since then, except for the time I spent in yoga this evening. The first of the 90's U2 and it's this wonderful, driven, sexy, painful, pleading, damaged, seductive, grinding journey. I love that it begins with "Zoo Station", which has a bright, heady anticipation to it. He's "ready". Ready for this. Ready for that. "Ready for the laughing gas/Ready for what's next." And throughout the rest of the album, it's like this character is going on these different adventures and finding lots and lots of pretty and not so pretty people; but there is still love, even when it hurts. Hell, love in its pretty and not so pretty state. By the end, "Love is Blindness" is just exhaustion. Beautiful exhaustion. Even at the end of the song, he kind of rallies, only you can tell he's still really, really tired.

"love is clockworks and cold steel/ fingers too numb to feel it/ squeeze the handle blow out the candle/love is blindness"

The single was "Mysterious Ways", and when I was listening to that song, I thought of Phoenix and sun and driving with the windows down--and that crappy "alternative" radio station that was by my account only an alternative to the other crappy stations on the dial--At first I assumed it must be because there was no air conditioning in whatever car I was riding in. Now I realize that it was because it was "winter" and, well, you could drive with the windows down. Was John Moreau still my boyfriend? He was a HUGE U2 fan. He ditched 1/2 a day at school so he could buy Rattle and Hum when it was released (so cool in my 14 year old book); and, unless I've got my memories mixed up, I think he picked me up from school to give me a ride home anyway. What a guy... but, we may not have been together by the time this one was released. It went back and forth there for a little while. If I could write out the sound of a chuckle I would, because I just got a vision of John M., Thom...what was his last name?..., Brent someoneorother, Ben Brittain, and other folks that I can't recall, going to see the movie version of Rattle and Hum in the theatre and dancing in the aisles, we were all so excited by it! And, naturally, because it opened with the Sun Devil Stadium shows we felt a special thrill. Was it the night that I was there? Or was it the second night? No. I'm sure it was the first night...

Monday, May 05, 2008

Absolute Torch & Twang

Absolute Torch and Twang, by k.d. lang and the Reclines
Released 1989 by Warner Bros.

(This is going to take me a loooooooooooong time, this listening to every album on my iTunes.)

I really like k.d. lang.  Her voice is rich and expressive.  She can growl, yee-haw and lull you into a smokey nightclub reverie.  That said, I'll have to say that I'm not a big fan of this album.  According to iTunes, it's a "consistently great album".  Yeah.  It probably is.  Rolling Stone gave it a favorable review when it was released back in 1989, as well.  But what I've decided after one full listen and another 1/2 way (it plays now, as I type) is that I'm kinda bored.  I'm not drawn into wanting to listen to it...if one or two songs popped up during a shuffle rotation, I probably wouldn't skip them, but I wouldn't put them on a playlist, either.  Except for one song, track 6, "Wallflower Waltz", which I could easily hear re-imagined by Margot Timmons on another Trinity Sessions like recording.  (High praise since I truly love that album and wish I had the new version.)  The longing trill of the mandolin is a sound that appeals to my own melancholy chords and lang's smooth lower register evokes the sad ache of a gal watching others invited to dance as she is passed by.

I can easily picture the PBS special shown during pledge drives.  k.d. lang croonin' with her easy, breezy vocals.  The mostly white, mid-40's audience in a place like Gammage Auditorium (sorry, I don't know where else to say that might be more universally recognized), sitting in their seats, politely tapping their toes or keeping time with their hand on their knee, smiling and bobbin' their heads from left to right in a nice one-two, one-two.  Some people happily singing along, because they know all the words...

If someone told me that this was one of their favorite lang albums, I wouldn't knock 'em.  It's probably a great record and I'm still going to delete it, with the exception of track 6, from the ole' iTunes.  There are at least two other albums of hers on here that I like a whole lot more and have listened to numerous times--even before I had a computer or iTunes. 

Friday, May 02, 2008

15.5 Days of Music and Counting

OK.  So I had this idea while I was getting ready this morning.  What with "summer" coming and everything--sort of unemployed and no summer classes--i wanted to give myself a project of sorts.  Now this in addition to the other projects I've already decided I'll be doing.  This one will be fun and perhaps even illuminating.  

You know how on the bottom of your iTunes library there is a number that tallies how many songs you have and how many days worth of uninterrupted music you can listen to should you so choose?  Well, every time I look at that number I think to myself "Really?  Hm.  Wonder what's on here?"  So, here's my plan.  When I get back from NYC, I am going to listen to one full album a day.  Maybe more than once.  Or maybe two albums a day.  Maybe I'll start before I go and just take a break while I'm gone, resume when I return.  I don't know.  I'll decide next week.  Anyway, I'm going to keep a little notebook next to me and just let myself go... jot down whatever comes to mind as I listen.  My very ambitious plan would be to post some daily album thoughts/reviews on the blog, but I can't promise that.  Maybe a weekly summary.  It will just depend on what I'm doing that day and how I'm feeling.  I'm sure my tiny readership is on pins and needles now, waiting to read how this will all turn out.  Ha.  We'll see... 

I'm stealing this idea from Sarah Vowell.  She kept a radio listening diary and published her pithy musings.  I entertain no such ambitions.  I just want to listen to all this music that I have, supposedly because I like it.  Who knows if I even do.  I already know that the collection on my iTunes does not reflect all the music I like or wish I owned.  My physical CDs don't, either.
There is much missing from my collection and perhaps I'll be inspired to fill in the blanks.  For that I'll have to save up some dough, because the budget is going to be tight.  Tight I tell 'ya.  (My rent just increased, beginning in July, by a LARGE dollar amount.  Welcome to "market value".  Ugh.)

I can promise no great prose or insight regarding this journey.  I make no claims on being a probing, thought provoking, uncanny observationist.  Read if you please.  Ignore if it suits you.  

Stay tuned....