Music we enjoyed in 2018

I say “we” because Valerie and I discovered and experienced most if not all of these together. Not necessarily stuff that was released in 2018, but that we discovered (or rediscovered) and enjoyed this past year.

Various Artists, A Day in the Life: Impressions of Pepper
Each song re-imagined by a contemporary jazz artist, sometimes recognizable, sometimes not so much, always invigorating.
Hear Mary Halvorson’s “With A Little Help From My Friends” on YouTube

Donny McCaslin, Blow.
The new fusion? Smart jazz-rock with hooks. Great show at The Sinclair in Cambridge.
Hear Donny McCaslin’s “Club Kidd” on YouTube

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Live at KEXP
Old school soul, baby! These guys burned it up at Atwood’s Tavern last June. Love Jimmy James’ guitar work!
Watch the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio’s half-hour KEXP set on YouTube

Jenny Scheinman live at Big Ears
The Mischief and Mayhem outfit veered between punk and jazz, klezmer and noise; Jenny’s violin and Nels Cline’s guitar trading ferocious licks and squonks.
Watch Mischief and Mayhem on YouTube

The Curtain Society 30th Anniversary show at Bull Mansion, Worcester
Wonderful to see and hear these guys, with years of experience under their belts, reprise their catalog to a full house of fans.… Continue reading

Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Quarter to Three (1961)

This record changed my life.

I was ten years old. How many of us, at around that age, heard new music because of a friend’s access to his or her older sibling’s records? Summertime — a friend said, “You ever hear U.S. Bonds?” And then (to quote Lou Reed), my mind split open.

I grew up in a pre-rock family. As a little kid, I lived in the world of my mother’s music: classical and pop from the 1920s through the 1950s. I latched onto this set of RCA Victor albums she had called “60 Years of Music America Loved Best” (1959-1960). This was my musical education. The collection was eclectic, to say the least:

  • Marian Anderson, “Go Down Moses”
  • Vladimir Horowitz, “Variations on Themes from Carmen”
  • Paul Whiteman, “Whispering”
  • Perry Como, “Prisoner of Love”
  • Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy, “Indian Love Call”
  • Fritz Kreisler, “Liebesfreud”
  • Harry Belafonte, “Day-O”

…and many more (Duke Ellington, Eddy Arnold, Jascha Heifetz, Artie Shaw, Mario Lanza, Toscanini, Rachmaninoff, etc.…)

Despite the obvious omissions (blues? R&B? bebop?), it was a good introduction to 20th-century music for a mid-century kid. None of it prepared me for “Quarter to Three”. The bits of rock ’n’ roll I had heard (probably via a babysitter listening to local top 40 station WORC), the ones that made an impression, tended to be novelties: “Purple People Eater,” or “Witch Doctor,” or “On the Telephone” (Stan Boreson’s parody of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Honeycomb”).… Continue reading

Drive time

A chugga-chugga motion like a railroad train, now!

There’s an element in early ’60s pop songs – not only non-ironic optimism, but also something in the drive of the music itself – maybe the same drive that would enable an entire nation to pursue crazy goals like putting a man on the moon… and a quality in the vocals – just enough youth, just enough street – I’d swear, you can almost hear Little Eva popping her chewing gum, and I love her for that. Combine all this with the BIG SOUND they got from recording real people on analog equipment with very limited track counts, and you have something that was “of its time,” and will never come again.

When I say drive, it’s not just about tempo, it’s the feel, the attitude, the sound itself. Hear it (and feel it!) in Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion” (1962 – my favorite dance record ever), “Tell Him” (1962) by The Exciters, “Let Me In” (1962) by The Sensations, The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” (1963), Bobby Lewis’ “Tossin’ and Turnin'” (1961), Dee Dee Sharp’s records, and in so much of Motown, but especially “Dancing in the Streets,” Martha & the Vandellas’ 1964 coded anthem for the civil rights movement.… Continue reading

Baby It’s You

Possibly my favorite musical period is the early sixties, just before The Beatles, say, 1960-63. The Golden Age of AM Radio. Because I hold my favorite songs from that time in such high esteem, I rarely like latter-day covers (most lose all the magic that was there; others are just putrid, like Grand Funk Railroad’s sledgehammer pummeling of “The Loco-Motion”). But for the first time in a while I heard the 1969 version of “Baby It’s You” by Smith – and damn, it’s good! They’ve turned it into a totally different song, but it’s almost as compelling as The Shirelles’ 1962 original. Shirley Owens’ plaintive vocal is a diary entry, set to throbbing reverb and echoplexed guitar (arranged by Burt Bachrach!); Gayle McCormick’s aching but self-assured delivery is face-to-face, over a punchy rhythm section and tough B-3 (produced by Del Shannon!). Lust and longing, served up perfectly for two very different times.

play Smith’s version on YouTubeContinue reading