Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Lost Art of Listening to Albums...

tunes for days...
I know I have not written in here in some time. My summer didn't go exactly as planned and I'm finally getting caught up and back to normal. One of the things that happened was, for the first time in 5 or 6 years, getting a new laptop. So if you've been following along for a while please note this is the first entry that wasn't written on my old laptop. You probably won't notice a difference except there will probably be more typos than usual as I get used to the new keyboard layout since it, despite being a larger laptop, has a more compact keyboard layout than my old computer. This new layout lead to me misspelling my own name when I was rushing through the set-up for this new computer (If you know how to fix that clue me in, won't you?). Despite being more of a Columbus-typer (find a key and land on it) my fingers apparently knew my old keyboard pretty well. I did however make sure that the new computer had a CD player so I could continue my journey through the remaining 462 albums from the book. In light of these changes I'm going to try and clean-up some older entries and give the blog another facelift as I'm not in love with the current layout. Also bear with me as I'm trying to determine the quickest and easiest way to transfer all of my old files over to this computer (and hoping the other laptop doesn't die in the process). I also want to clean-up the index and get started on some of the longer pieces I'd been writing that have been sitting in the old computer's hard drive. I was reading another blog the other day and the author mentioned making mixtapes and finding songs that fit and how once upon a time you had to listen to entire albums to find songs that fit a theme, a mood, or just the remaining space on one side of a tape (kids, ask your parents).One of the things it brought to mind was the whole reason I started this blog in the first place, the fact that no one really listens to entire albums anymore. So one of my goals as I go through the rest of the list, is to revive the lost art of listening to an album. Hopefully I'll inspire someone to do the same and dig out an old record or CD they loved and put aside an hour or so to just listen from beginning to end. I know that vinyl has made a comeback and people are buying records again. My hope is that they are actually listening to those records and not just buying them because it's something quaint for hipsters to do. I know I've got several hundred hours of album listening to do before I'm done here. I think the idea I'm going for is best summed up in this quote from the liner noes of Gil Scott-Heron's "I'm New Here":

"There is a proper procedure for taking advantage of any investment.
Music, for example. Buying a CD is an investment.
To get the maximum you must

LISTEN TO IT FOR THE FIRST TIME UNDER OPTIMUM CONDITIONS.

Not in your car or on a portable player through a headset.
Take it home.
Get rid of all distractions, (even her or him).
Turn off your cell phone.
Turn off everything that rings or beeps or rattles or whistles.
Make yourself comfortable.
Play your CD.
LISTEN all the way through.
Think about what you got.
Think about who would appreciate this investment.
Decide if there is someone to share this with.
Turn it on again.
Enjoy yourself."

I read those notes the first time I opened the CD and knew I needed to put them in this blog. I have not however listened to the album yet. I bought that disc a while back and read that (it's on the back cover of the booklet if you're wondering) and with instructions like that I want to make sure I give it a proper first listen. It is how I feel about this blog so I hope some of that comes across when you're reading. I do listen to a lot of music in the car as I am frequently in mine and it gives me a chunk of time to get through an album fairly uninterrupted. I try to focus as much as possible when doing these reviews on the album at hand but occasionally the mind does wander or I get distracted by something else. Despite having a more free time than most putting aside an hour or two to just listen to music without doing anything else (some of the ways I multitask while listening to music include reading, watching the game with the sound down, or paying bills) really does become hard to do in this day and age. I know I don't plan on not listening/writing for months at a time but it has happened several times over the last few years. I'm hoping to avoid lapses of more than a week or so but my schedule is fairly fluid. I spent most of the summer working full time and then some on a political convention. I thought there'd be more free time but it didn't work out that way. I'm not here to discuss politics but now that I'm back I thought something patriotic would be appropriate for the next review. So coming soon will be a review of the self-titled album of The United States Of America followed by "Midnight Ride" by Paul Revere And The Raiders. Then I hope to get into a Week Of Wonder and give the four Stevie Wonder albums on the list a spin. As always that is subject to change but that's what's on top of the blogpile right now. I might try to squeeze a jazz entry or a Must 'ear in there somewhere too. As always thanks for reading and feel free to comment here or follow on facebook or twitter.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

#463 – TLC – CrazySexyCool

I know I’ve been slacking on blog updates lately but my work and personal schedules have been packed lately. It has left precious little free time for blogging. The fact that this album was next on the blogpile didn’t help matters much. I wasn’t looking forward to listening to it and have mentioned on more than one occasion that it was halting progress on the blog. I’m not a huge fan of modern (post 70’s – for reference consider that The Who’s boxset is called “Maximum R&B”) R&B to begin with and honestly I was surprised this CD was included in the book. It sold a lot of copies and won a Grammy but to me it wasn’t something I needed to hear before I died. You can probably find a copy for $5 in the budget section of Target. I almost bought mine there but figured with over 11 million copies sold I could find one cheaper and I did at Princeton Record Exchange for $1.99 a few months ago. I took a blopping trip there Sunday as I figured it would put me in the mood to fire up the CD player later. When I returned I’d bought myself a few albums but the only disc I bought for the blog was a mistakenly purchased second copy of Echo & TheBunneymen’s “Porcupine.” A few weeks ago, while trying to work, my computer decided it was time I had Windows 10 and automatically downloaded it. I wasn’t a huge fan as I don’t find the layout particularly friendly or the fact that they renamed programs apps which seemed unnecessary. However I didn’t have much choice since I couldn’t stop the download once it started. So not only did it cost me almost half a day of work I’ve found a bunch of things that don’t work since the update. First it was the scroll bar on my touchpad. I tried a few different fixes to no avail. It also changed where a bunch of my files were and I now have a completely useless intro screen, although admittedly some of the photos are nice. It just so happened that the update occurred shortly after my last entry in May. I knew I had another entry written up and figured I would post it yesterday. I also figured since I had some time I’d update the index and clean-up some other stuff. So I opened the laptop and went to click on the folder where I keep my entries and         IT           WAS      GONE.  No trace and a search found nothing. It was then I realized the pictures folder I use for this blog was gone too. I searched for both and found nothing. I had a minor panic attack. I tried a few different search methods and could not find anything. All of my files from this blog, five plus years of entries and pictures, were no were to be found.

oh, there you are...
I tried the search again in vain and looked up some possible solutions online. After I calmed down a little I resigned myself to the fact the files might be gone. Then I remembered that fearing a crash I had backed up my files on a separate hard drive a while ago (no, I don’t trust the cloud, sorry) so I figured worst case scenario I’d only lost a few months worth of stuff. So I dusted it off (literally) and plugged it in and had the files up to September of 2015 in there. And then somewhere online I found another search option and found that Windows may have hidden them somewhere in my C drive. The fact that Windows hid them there would be fine if it was easier to search the whole C drive or the search feature was easier to navigate. So with a little doing I found the files although I wonder now what else is missing that I haven’t needed yet. I got the last entry posted and a while later decided to finally give this one a spin. And found that my Windows Media Player doesn’t play CDs anymore (or at least doesn’t think there’s a music disc in the drive, and I thought I was being tough on this album). So I had to put it on the home stereo, and yes I still have one of those. I took out my copy of At The Gates’ “Slaughter Of The Soul” and put in TLC's “CrazySexyCool” (I’m sure that sentence has never been written before). Listening to this album may not have been the soul-crushing endeavor I’d feared but it isn’t something I’m ever going to listen to again. You have the hit “Waterfalls,” a cover of Prince’s “If I was Your Girlfriend,” (which the book liked a lot more than I did), and “Switch” which I only note for its sample of “Mr. Big Stuff.” There are no less than five interludes which bring the running time of the album to just under an hour (I don’t know why they named one “Sexy – Interlude” when I think “Sexy Interlude” would’ve been funnier, even if the track itself is not). It’s an hour of my life I won’t be getting back but now I can move on to other albums. Here’s hoping my laptop decides it will play them.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

#464 – Soft Machine – Third

Machines and I haven't been getting along lately...
Have you ever been at a show and the band started jamming on a riff and you thought you recognized it? For a second your brain tries to figure out if they’re going to go into a cover or just play a snippet of one of their other songs and before it can figure out which it’s gone. It’s like having a word on the tip of your tongue. I experienced it for a moment last month while watching Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals. They played “Faded” and went into a jam that turned into a call and answer between the guitar and bass and it seemed like they were going to go into another song or a cover (sounded like a Zeppelin tune to me) before just going back into the jam and then the song itself. Well, that all went through my head while listening to “Facelift” the opening track of Soft Machine’s most popular album, “Third.” The song says it was recorded live while the limited liner notes list two different dates of recording so one presumes it’s spliced together from those performances. At times it’s proggy, others jazzy, and still others it sounds like a film score. At times it threatens to go in one direction and then it veers widely off course. Sometimes it sounds like it’s going full on heavy metal and then it goes back to a quiet passage. It’s quite schizophrenic but not completely unpleasant introduction to the band’s music. The book says it’s “the most challenging, intriguing, and amusing” of the tracks on the album. “Slightly All The Time” opens with a more straight ahead jazz feeling which reminded me of Weather Report. The book says that the group wanted to take a jazzier approach while drummer Robert Wyatt didn’t feel the need to get jazzy but did feel the urge to keep singing, apparently much to the group’s chagrin. “Moon In June” is, according to the book, “the last real Wyatt piece for Soft Machine, and it is quite possibly the group’s masterpiece, as much as the members other than Wyatt did not really like it.” I’ve got to side with the other members of the group as I could live without anymore of Wyatt’s singing (having heard plenty of it on “Rock Bottom” and “Shleep”). I wrote that and realized I was only halfway through the 19 minutes of the song, there was a brief respite from his vocals but he returns at a higher pitch a couple of minutes later and as a bonus it’s mostly free-form scatting. I must admit I prefer the instrumental version of the band although probably not enough to track down a release sans Wyatt. All of the songs here stretch over 18 minutes in length so I imagine it’s a challenge for many listeners to get through this one. Despite it being their best selling album tracking a copy down proved to be quite a challenge. I paid $6.99 for this one at Long In The Tooth Records. It was one of those trips that yielded several titles I’d been unable to find elsewhere. Funny how it happens that my first trip to a new store yields albums I’d been unable to find while subsequent trips tend not to yield as many new things. Then again I’ll be downtown more this summer so maybe another trip is in order.    

Saturday, May 14, 2016

#465 – Sabu – Palo Congo

jazz, should've looked in jazz
I don’t know why but when I started this blog I became fixated on trying to find a copy of this album. In the first blopping trips this was an album that I would search the World Music sections of the record stores I frequent looking for a copy. Often I would check eBay looking for one, or at least one at something below full price. At the very least those searches let me know that it was in print but I feared I’d be paying $18 - $25 for a copy. Then on a recent trip to the Princeton Record Exchange I was looking through the budget jazz releases, as I often do, and Sabu’s “Palo Congo” was staring back at me. I grabbed it and gave it a once over and added it to my purchases for the day. Upon further inspection I noticed, for the first time despite having looked at but not read the entry, that the album was on the Blue Note label, purveyors of fine jazz recordings. I wondered if I’d overlooked a copy of the album at some point since it may have been hiding with the jazz CDs instead of the World section. Either way I finally had it and it only cost me $3.99. Sabu, also known as Louis Martinez, combined African rhythms with Cuban instruments as the book says: ‘drawing on his mixed Spainish/Africian/West Indian heritage. It makes for a slightly hypnotic mix. It also allowed me to use those three years of high school Spanish on “Billumba-Palo Congo” as I know he’s saying “Good Evening” to someone. Outside of that my translations become spotty at best. It is quite an interesting mix of sounds and well worth the listen, if not the time I spent tracking this one down. Sabu (not to be confused with a certain homicidal, suicidal, genocidal pro wrestler) had played with Dizzy Gillespie and according to the book became a session player for Blue Note. There he also played with Art Blakey (a newer obsession of mine) and this session was engineered by Rudy Van Gelder. For those unfamiliar with Rudy Van Gelder (or RVG as I call him, not to be confused with Sabu’s tag team partner and occasional adversary, RVD) he is a renowned engineer who has overseen hundreds of sessions with just about every prominent jazz figure from the 50’s on. He built a studio in a house in Englewood Cliffs, NJ after building a smaller one in his parents’ house years earlier. At some point in the last year and a half I went on a huge jazz kick (that hasn’t really stopped)and started buying albums by artists I hadn’t really listened to before, I’m sure it was prompted by something I’d heard for the blog but I’m not sure what. Anyway it started with the Keepnews Collection and when I couldn’t find any of those I started buying Rudy Van Gelder remasters (there are two kinds, the albums he did for Blue Note are called the “Rudy Van Gelder Edition” and for other labels “Rudy Van Gelder Remasters”) of which there are probably hundreds. I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive list anywhere but at least one inlay tray pictures several dozen different titles. My obsession with collecting these CDs probably warrants its own entry but suffice it to say my jazz collection has grown quite a bit over the last few years. This CD however does not seem to have an RVG remastered edition, which I found odd considering it was released around the time those started to be produced. The CD itself is a 24 bit remaster but was done by Ron McMaster.   

Sunday, May 1, 2016

#466 – The Adverts – Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts

believe it or not, I tried to make that look like waves...
Everything I know about The Adverts I learned from Henry Rollins’ “Get In The Van.” For those unfamiliar with the tome it was Rollins journal of his time on the road with Black Flag. It was released shortly after The Rollins Band’s popularity was at an all time high with “Liar” in heavy rotation on MTV. The book won a Grammy and there’s an audiobook version read by Rollins himself. It also spawned a deluxe version released for the book’s tenth anniversary. I spent many a night going through the print version or listening to the audio version in my late teens. In the book he mentions touring with The Adverts in the UK several times. He also maintains a friendship with singer TV Smith and Gaye Advert (whose name I thought was Gayle for some reason). I believe they remain friends to this day as I know they’ve been mentioned in some his more recent books and spoken word shows. Unlike some of the other groups mentioned in the book, The Stooges being a frequent one and a major influence on Rollins, I never investigated The Adverts, until now. It took a long time to find this CD. I had looked for it a few times without success but I was in Long In The Tooth Records one day and going through their new used arrivals and saw the spine of CD saying “The Adverts.” I pulled it out and realized it was the album I needed as the other side of the case says “Crossing The Red Sea With.” I then wondered if I had previously passed up a copy since it didn’t have the album title on the spine. I paid $7.99 for it and added to the blogpile. It’s a remastered version and rounds out the original album with two tracks “New Day Dawning” and “No Time To Be 21.” Unlike many deluxe versions these bonus tracks have been placed into the album’s running order which I found to be an interesting touch (the latter song isn’t bad either). There are also four other bonus tracks placed before the start timing of the actual disc according to the liner notes. I’ll have to wait to get this into my other CD player to see if I can find them but that’s certainly different. The book’s review says: “the band possessed a dynamic sound that mixed thrashing guitars with melodic, yearning choruses.” I’d recommend opener “One Chord Wonders,” as well as “Bombsite Boy,” “New Day Dawning,” and “On Wheels” to get a taste of the band. They also have a track called “Drowning Men” which made me remember a band I saw once open for The Airborne Toxic Event called The Drowning Men. I have to wonder if they are familiar with the tune although according to their Wikipedia page they got the name from a Nick Cave book. The book mentions the album came on the tail end of punk and was overlooked so I imagine they probably aren’t aware of their namesake song.      

Friday, April 22, 2016

RIP Prince


This is probably my favorite Prince song, I love Sinead's version too. As I mentioned before I had a chance to see Prince a few years ago and declined because I'm dumb. A few years passed and he became my bucket list leader. He was the one artist I hadn't seen live and now he's gone. I can't believe it. I try to go as many shows as possible because you just never know when the last time you'll see an artist is. I was reminded of that last year when I passed on seeing Motorhead because of work. I should've toughed it out and made it happen and I regret it now, even months after the fact. So celebrate Prince's music and legacy but don't forget to enjoy those who are still here. Go buy a CD or see a band tonight. It's good for the soul.

Price rated 3 albums in the book, you can check out the reviews here:

1999

Purple Rain

Sign O' The Times


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#467 – Aerosmith – Rocks

It's still rock n roll to me...
The opening notes on “Back In The Saddle” brought back a ton of memories. I know the song from a cassette copy of Aerosmith’s “Greatest Hits” that I had in high school if I remember correctly. I used to play that one a lot and it logged many miles in the tape deck of my Mazda 626. One particular memory of the song was when I had a friend staying over and he refused to get out of bed the next morning. So I got a boom box (remember those?) and let the intro play right up to the horse whinny at 27 seconds then I cranked it. It woke him up but I’m not sure he jumped out of bed as I had anticipated. Regardless the song still, ahem, rocks. All these years later and the remastering gives it some bottom end I didn’t remember. Then again Metallica's "Black Album," also on cassette, did those speakers in around that time. I had forgotten, until hearing this album, that “Greatest Hits” also contained “Last Child.” I instantly recognized it when I heard the opening notes. I am amazed all these years later that somewhere my brain had filed away those notes and still remembered the song. The book says that this album “for many is their magnum opus.” Outside of the aforementioned tracks I don’t think it has the hit singles of the other Aerosmith albums in the book but for 34 minutes it’s a solid album. I bought this with “Toys In The Attic” at the same time for $3.99 at aka music. If I had to pick one of the three albums from the book I would probably stick with “Pump.” This one does offer a bit of a “rawer” feeling than either of the other two however. It wasn’t surprising to find that it has inspired a ton of hard rockers to pick up a guitar however as the playing of Joe Perry and Brad Whitford stood out on most of the songs. The book mentions Stephen Tyler recruiting a singer from the Metropolitian Opera to help with the vocals on “Get The Lead Out” but none is credited, nor are the contributions obvious, unless you listen really closely, and even with headphones it’s not the throat shredding experience the book’s review alludes to. Granted I have a slight case of tinnitus so maybe it’s much louder than I think. I mentioned the ringing in my ears to a friend recently and blamed using headphones for this blog, since I hadn’t used them much in the years prior to starting the blog. He said, “Yeah and seeing Slayer a dozen times had nothing to do with it? Touché.