Why valedictory? Two reasons. One, I dunno...it's a fun idea, and a fun thing, to, you know, put up here...but I don't wanna get to the point of it being too much of a good thing. Also, because I care so much, the more often I do it, the more time it takes. Ugh. The second reason is more positive. Which is, I've lost about 44 pounds since making certain, ahem, lifestyle changes, one of which included hitting the gym every day. I've gotten to the point where, among other things, I do four miles every time out on the treadmill, and I'm graduating from power-walking to running. And for running, the shuffle function on the iPod just won't do. I can groove out on any kind of music, but to keep my running energy up I pretty much want the equivalent of the Yardbirds' "Train Kept A'Rollin'"/"Stroll On" and/or The Ramones' "Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment" for fifty minutes or more. Which means I'm gonna have to concoct some high-energy playlists like, pretty much as soon as I'm done with this thing. Because I've got another 30 or so pounds to drop. And then, watch out, N.P. Thompson; I will bear zero resemblance to William Conrad, so you won't recognize me when I approach you, shove my fist down your throat, pull your heart out from your rib cage, and show it to you, still beating, before I spit on it, and then throw it into the gutter, as you draw your last miserable breath.
Ha ha, just kidding! I'll probably still look a little like William Conrad. Just thinner.
Okay, let's go.
"I Had To Give Up Gin," East River String Band, Some Cold Rainy Day (2008)
The "band" here is a duo, John Heneghan and Eden Brower, who play nifty old-time string instruments such as banjo, ukelele, and mandolin, and are enthusiastic archeologists of American song; I believe the original of this ditty was done by The Hokum Boys. I'm very glad to own this record but have to admit that I bought it for the R. Crumb cover. When I have dough to throw around, I'll by any record with R. Crumb cover art. Because has R. Crumb ever done cover art for a bad record? No. Even Cheap Thrills, which Crumb himself isn't particularly a fan of, is a very good, if not great, record.
"Don’t Play With My Emotions," Ron Rogers, Going Places: The August Darnell Years 1976-1983 (2008)
Producer, songwriter, frontman and all-around visionary, Darnell is one of those cats who just never got enough credit during his creative heyday (and then, to add insult to indifference, wound up with a musical guest role in Lambada: The Forbidden Dance); I think they shoulda put him in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame on the strength of the monster single "There But For The Grace Of God" alone. This comp is a good beginner's guide, but old-school adepts might find it a trifle skimpy. The track is a bouncy plea from one of Darnell's proteges who wasn't Kid Creole. I wonder if our obstreperous friend Jeffrey Wells would categorize this music as "wretched disco jizz."
"Edward L. Bernays Flies The Hindenburg," Vijay Iyer and Mike Ladd, Still Life with Commentator (2007)
As a rule, "spoken word with music" is a genre, or sub-genre, or what have you, that I tend to avoid like many plagues. But innovative jazz keyboardist Iyer (who I'm Facebook friends with, aren't I the shizzle) is a super-genius, and Mike Ladd is a pretty sharp customer, and together—it's just the two of them, with Iyer handling an array of electronics besides just the pianos—they've concocted a thoroughly engaging "oratorio" for an ADD era. So those who avoid spoken word with music like many plagues may want to check this out.
"Orchesterstucke: III. Sehr bewegte Viertel," Anton von Webern, Pierre Boulez conducting the Berlin Philharmonic/Complete Webern (2000)
Everybody's got this on their iPod. Right?
"Ghost Bitch," Sonic Youth, Bad Moon Rising, 1985
A very nice, nuanced bit of feedback and string tapping and whispered Kim Gordon vocalizing ("You're the first day of my life") from what some would call their, I dunno, breakthrough album. Could it really have been 25 years ago? Yes, it could have. I interviewed the band for the cover story for the fanzine Matter when this came out, when Kim and Thurston Moore were still living on the place on Eldridge Street immortalized by my friend David Browne in his SY bio Goodbye 20th Century. I had many subsequent gab sessions with the group before I made the lateral move from rock crit to film. In 2005, at the Cannes Film Festival, at a party for Picturehouse (remember them?) I saw Kim and Thurston for the first time in about a year (prior to that was at one of Derek Bailey's last New York shows, and am I name- dropping enough for ya?)—they were there with Gus Van Sant's Last Days, in which Kim had acted. It was almost twenty years to the day after I had interviewed the band at Eldridge Street, and I said, "Who would have thought then that we'd meet up on the Riviera two decades later?" "I knew," Thurston deadpanned. (And by the way, are you able to get a feel here, of just how cozy and congenial my relations with these alternative-rock gods were/are? About how my world was, and maybe still is, some sort of hipster demi-paradise? My sense of insecurity is such that I really need you to admire me on account of these connections, this world. Maybe it would be more effective for me to "Tweet" about it all. I'll have to look into that.)
"A Cello," Stan Kenton, City of Glass (1953)
What an odd and beautiful record this is. It's Kenton and his orchestra playing compositions by Robert Graettinger, a California-born sax player whose music was a mix of complex big-band jazz and very advanced contemporary classical influences. Here's a good internet article about the composer. As its title implies, this particular piece doesn't even start revealing any sort of jazz provenance until about three-quarters through.
A lot of folks tend to associate Kenton with Eisenhower era-blandness and squareness, but records such as this one really give the lie to that notion. There's something a little quaint about the self-consciousness of this particular record's modernity/modernism—a feel summed up nicely in Donald Fagen's song "New Frontier," and those lines about another great, Dave Brubeck—but hardly fatally so. A genuine musical adventure, this.
"Requiem—Affirming," Robert Fripp, Love Cannot Bear: Soundscapes Live In The USA (2005)
Those who think that they've heard it all as far as Fripp's "soundscapes" are concerned should give this one a spin. Where the "loops" where once laws unto themselves, on this outing he's using them as compositional building blocks of a sort. That, combined with the sheer lush gorgeousness of his tone, make this some of the most staggeringly moving and expressive music of his always intriguing career.
"Baby Lee," John Lee Hooker, Hooker (2006)
With Robert Cray, whose genius lies in being both red-hot and thoroughly understated. Great stuff on a great box set that would have been greater had it included the blues' greatest protest number, "I Don't Wanna Go To Vietnam."
"Tight Like This," Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (2000)
We discussed Mr. Armstrong's music a little last time.
There's no postmodern art dance pop like enigmatic postmodern art dance pop, as these guys prove. The only problem I have with them is that one of their singers sounds way too much like whoever that balls-less wonder from Royksopp is.
"The Doon," No Neck Blues Band, Qvaris (2005)
Both loose and droney, a rudimentary guitar figure played in a rudimentary style and someone rattling a bracelet made of wooden parts in the background, or something. Yeah, it is pretty psychedelic...but not in a dated way. Heaven forbid.
Badia, Weather Report,Forecast: Tomorrow (2006)
A lot of this band's forays into "world" music resulted in exotica that teetered on the brink of kitsch, and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't any teetering happening on this track, which Wayne Shorter sits out. Still, it's hardly unpleasant, and it's a given that the playing—here by Joe Zawinul,Alphonso Johnson, Alyrio Lima, and Ndugu—is spectacular.
"Everything’s Fine Right Now," Incredible String Band, Incredible String Band (1966)
It took me a long time to get this outfit, who can sound insufferably twee if you're in the wrong frame of mind (or "head space," if you will) for what they've got to offer. But their eccentricity (which is easy to mistake, given the context, for hippie dippiness) brought something genuinely new to the folk styles they tried on, and their playing and singing has a genuine warm charm. This particular tune, from their debut album, really is just as sweet as pie.
"Be Deedle Dee Do," Phineas Newborn, Jr., The Newborn Touch (1964)
Newborn was a pianist with chops to match the very best of them and a fantastic blues feel that distinguishes him from other virtuosi. Everything he did is worth a listen, but I especially love his work with Roy Haynes and Paul Chambers on Haynes' brilliant We Three. Stanley Booth has a very sad and troubling biographical essay on this brilliant musician's turbulent, mysterious life in his excellent collection Rythm Oil: A Journey Through The Music Of The American South.
"Big Belly Guns," Tony Matterhorn, Top Ranking: A Diplo Dub (2008)
A peppy little number from a Santogold dub mix. Based on a sample from Rocket From The Tombs' latter-day version of "Sonic Reducer," of all things. For this Rocket/Ubu/Dead Boys fan, an opportunity to mutter "Fuckin' a."
"Dress Rehearsal Rag," Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate, (1971)
Did I ever tell you about the time I flew home from Cannes and Jena Malone was in the seat next to me and she was reading a collection of Leonard Cohen's poems AND Notes on the Cinematographer by Robert Bresson? No? I didn't? What was I thinking? Jena Malone and I are BEST FRIENDS...okay, I'll stop, as it's likely none of you are really getting the likely pointless joke I'm making anyway. And it's not your fault.
Anyway, Leonard Cohen. An artist you likely already have some sort of opinion on, and not someone you can "talk into" liking if they happen to not. I dig him in limited doses. But not in a pay-$400-for-a-ticket way.
"National anthem and judgement," Otomo Yoshihide/Music From 'Prisoner,' a film by Adachi Masao (2007)
More feedback and sound effects, from the tireless Japanese guitarist/composer/orchestra leader.
"Don’t Mess With My Ducktail," Joe Clay, The Best of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour (2007)
Pretty much as the title says. In rockabilly, of course. A contemporary of Elvis, Clay was known,when he was known, as Joe "Ducktail" Clay. Because of the hair. That he didn't want you to mess with. A fun little '50s number.
"Tallmansville, W. Va.," Tralala, Is That The Tralala? (2006)
Kind of a protest number, about a dead-end mining town one of them must have been native to, from the pomo girl group that mixes Velvety drone and forcebeat with Shangri-Las sass. Cool.
"Lonesome Georgia Brown," Chris Smither, Another Way to Find You (1991)
A special dedication to Armond White. Just kidding. One of those best-kept-secret types, Smither's a singer and songwriter of astonishing depth and warmth, and an amazing guitarist. I could listen to him pick and strum his acoustic for weeks on end. This album, recorded in a studio before a live audience, is kind of the definitive document of what he does best. Check it out.
"She’s An Angel," They Might Be Giants, They Might Be Giants (1986)
No, really, I really was friends with these guys back in the day, I'm even visible on the back cover photo of their "Don't Let's Start" EP, honest, Flansburgh used to come by the Video Review office now and then and we'd have lunch, you can ask Doug Brod, really...okay, I'll stop.
But seriously—not that the above isn't actually true—I did see these guys at a lot of Darinka gigs where me and my girlfriend at the time (who had gone to Antioch with "Flansie," as he was sometimes called) were pretty much two out of an audience of five. Why I wasn't asked to be a talking head in that documentary about them only attests to the pig ignorance of its director A.J. Schnack—hey, wait a minute, I know that guy, too! or at least I'm Facebook friends with him—who instead enlisted that dilettante Ira Glass to weigh in on how, while the band's songs are "funny," they're also unbelievably sad and tragic at the same time, imagine that, is beyond me. Jesus.
This, which is sung by the other John of the group, Mr Linnell, is one of my favorites of theirs; after all these years, the lead-in to the chorus still makes me swoon in metaphysical awe: "Why? Why did they send her/Over anyone else?/How should I react?/These things happen/to other people./They don't happen at all, in fact."