Sunday, September 15, 2019

1983: Dancing About Architecture

Note: I went to SUNY Purchase and there came a time when my group of friends decided that an arts school should have an arts magazine, so we created MOA: Magazine of the Arts. My role was as an editor and music critic and I started a column called Dancing About Architecture. This is one of those columns, reproduced here exactly as it was published 36 years ago.

Radio is in a pretty bad state. It's conformist, commercially dependent, and, with few exceptions, blatantly racist.

Among offenders there are degrees: worst is WLIR-FM (92.7), ignoring all but the most homogenized black music. Contemporary Hits Radio (CHR) stations are little better, giving more airplay to black music, but only if it's already making a lot of money. The only stations with integrity are the "Urban" stations (WKTU, WBLS, WRKS, all FM, 92.0, 107.5, and 98.7, respectively), who set their own criteria for what they play, independent of sales.

I'll start with WLIR, the supposed "New Music Station." WLIR's programming policy translates: White/English - YES, Black/American - NO. WLIR justifies its "new" title by playing songs that are a hit in England, while ignoring new American music, especially if it's black. When questioned about the intimated racism of their programming, WLIR directors responded: "We play what fits our format - we play music that's good." One could argue that WLIR is "making a statement" by not giving airplay to "Thriller," but if the issue is quality, why does the station keep "Undercover," the Stones latest, on the air? Evidently, in the language of WLIR, "good" means "not black."

The same thinking informs the 24-hour cable music television channel, MTV. When an MTV executive was asked why his channel did not play more black videos, he replied, "We play rock'n'roll." One might ask then, what is R'n'R? Is it, as the people at WLIR and MTV would have us believe, a rootless dance music played by white people, mainly on synthesizers, exclusive of black performers?

The latest alternative - CHR - offers a definition-by-no-definition: they play anything that is a hit. However their programming policy affections the consistency of their audience (if it has any consistency), CHR stations do at least participate in breaking down racial barriers. For instance, during the time CHR stations were playing Culture Club's "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me" and Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing," WLIR played only Culture Club and wouldn't touch the latter. Of course, CHR's motives in this case were purely profit-oriented, a fact which becomes less relevant when one's concern is getting as large an audience as possible to accept a variety of music. What is relevant is that these stations are very popular. In fact, Z-100 was for several months early this year the Number One station the New York listening area.

The predictable irony is that CHR stations and WLIR suffer from the same problem: across-the-board mediocrity. The fact that the "new music" WLIR plays is on the charts is not a triumph for new music, but rather, a defeat for The Music. There's nothing "new" about Duran Duran that wasn't new about Herman's Hermits. What WLIR has done, simply, is to fool the public into thinking that the same old thing is new - and has done so without taking any risk. There will always be pop, and it will always have its listeners - many, many listeners.

Not every "New Music" station in the past has had such narrow programming. A few years back, WPIX-FM, 101.9 (now playing love songs, nothing but love songs), was one New Music station that dared quite a bit. They played the Specials before they signed with the Chrysalis label and even played the B-52's "Rock Lobster" from a demo tape. WPIX also contributed to the success of lesser known bands like XTC, whose album "Drums and Wires," as a result of continual airplay on WPIX, resulted in that band's largest following ever. The temptation is to conclude that we have entered into a period of musical mediocrity, an error that amounts to "blaming the victim." There is lots of good music now; for example XTC's new album "Mummer," which receives no airplay. The radio stations are at fault.

There are a few innovators, the "Urban Stations" - WKTU, WBLS and WRKS - who play anything, as long as it fits their criteria of quality. The difference between these stations and CHR is that whereas CHR plays what is a hit, Urban stations are a major force in making the hits. This is where the innovations are happening, in so-called "Black Music." As a musician, I find most of the things that catch my ear are on 12" dance singles, like the great, crunchy synthesizer sound in "You've Gotta Believe" by "Love Bug" Starski, or the huge drum sound in Shannon's "Let The Music Play." Not to mention Scratching (rubbing the needle on the record to create literally a scratching sound), which is something really new - using the medium to renew itself, like making a collage out of the Mona Lisa. This is what distinguishes Urban stations from all the others: they act on the music itself - making new mixes, scratches, etc. Some of the D.J.-made hits are so good that they have become airplay hits and are eventually released as records themselves.

What emerges from all this is an essential difference in black and white attitudes towards music. To overgeneralize: blacks view music more as a medium while whites treat it primarily as a commodity. Of course, this hasn't stopped white musicians from borrowing heavily (I'm being kind) from black artists - How many people talked to Bo Diddley before using his beat? - but when it comes to repaying the debt, they can be remarkably selfish. Recently Sugarhill Records approached 99 Records for use of a Liquid Liquid bassline and were refused. When Sugarhill asked if it was possible to buy a percentage of the rights, 99 said flat out "No. We own 100% of the song and we will continue to own 100%." Sugarhill used the bassline anyway (promising royalties to 99) and created a better song - "White Lines,"  by Grandmaster and Melle Mel. White musicians should learn to give a little with all that take - let's face it, they didn't invent the funk.

Despite all this, there is hope. By the sheer quality of the music, Urban Stations are managing to convince other stations what's good. Recently, WLIR picked up "White Lines," making it the first black record to receive steady airplay on that station. Although radio's basic premise is still to reach as large an audience as possible, I believe better radio could be a reality; radio that's less racist and more confident, that can introduce to the American public some really new music. A change like this could only be accompanied by other, bigger changes. The supposedly revived music industry would have to start signing and promoting young, fresh artists, and even, perhaps, using some good, old-fashioned power politics (such as CBS allegedly used to get Michael Jackson's videos on MTV) to get their music played on commercial stations. Musicians would also have to cooperate and try, on both sides, to bridge the still-yawning racial gap. I don't know if this will happen in my lifetime, but I am sure, as an interested party and working musician, that it is up to us to lay the foundations for radio's hopefully brighter future.

(Jeremy Shatan, a junior at the State University of New York at Purchase, plays bass for Susanna and the Elders.)

Susanna and the Elders
(l-r: Andrew Berenyi (Guitar), Joe Leonard (Drums), Verushka (Vocals), Jeremy Shatan (Bass)

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Record Roundup: Past Is Present

The albums described below are all linked by their dialogue between the past and the present. This may come via musical references or inspiration from literature, art, or architecture, all transmuted into something resolutely of our times by the composers and performers alike.

JACK Quartet - Filigree: The Music of Hannah Lash The durability of the string quartet never ceases to amaze me and with artists like Lash and the JACK perpetuating the medium it should be around for centuries to come. The album hits the ground running with Frayed, which brilliantly employs extended techniques to sound like it’s literally coming apart as you listen. Suite: Remembered and Imagined engages with Baroque dance rhythms across its six short movements, using Lash’s inventiveness to remain relentlessly modern. The title of Pulse-Space may make you think of a Pink Floyd outtake, but is instead a threnodic outpouring of pure emotion, with only Lash’s restraint keeping it from neo-romanticism. Inspired by Medieval weaving techniques, Filigree In Textile also features Lash on harp (it was originally performed by her teacher, the great Yolanda Kondonassis, who has a fine recent album of her own) and allows you to add the finishing touches as you assemble the threads in your mind. As expected, the JACK makes all of this sound as natural as breathing and it's hard to imagine a better presentation of this excellent, deeply involving music. 

Wild Up - Christopher Cerrone: The Pieces That Fall to Earth In these three song cycles, Cerrone’s variety of expression is a direct reflection of his laser focus on the words, both their sound and their meaning. It’s easy to hear why he was attracted to the words of Kay Ryan for the title piece as her poems are full of sonic interest. Take Sharks’ Teeth, the fifth of the seven songs in the cycle: “Everything contains some silence,” Ryan wrote, “Noise gets its zest from the small shark’s-tooth shaped fragments of rest angled in it.” Cerrone sets this one with a rhythmic ostinato over which soprano Lindsay Kesselman whispers the words theatrically, letting you turn them over in your mind. The next song, Insult, bursts out of the quiet with rattling bells and tense, jagged strings, supporting one of Kesselman’s tour de force performances, as she manages to hit crescendos just this side of a shriek - appropriate for a song with lines like, “Insult is injury/taken personally/Saying this is not a random fracture that would have happened to any leg out there/This was a conscious unkindness.”

As stunning as the title piece is, for me some of its spike and clangor are on the borderline of the expected. Where the album truly ascends into the ether is in the second cycle, The Naomi Songs, a setting of four poems by Bill Knott sung by Theo Bleckmann in a perfect match of singer and song. Bleckmann brings everything he’s learned over his eclectic career to these sensual, mysterious songs, which blend the haunting drones of ancient troubadour tunes with modern production techniques such that Bleckmann is often duetting with himself. This works most spectacularly in the third song, which intertwines Knott’s two lines (“When our hands are alone, they open, like faces. There is no shore to their opening.”) to mesmerizing effect. In addition to the drones, additional drama comes from pizzicato strings and big piano chords. The Naomi Songs creates its own space wherever you happen to be, whether on a city street, at your sink washing dishes, or in a forest glade. Let it in and let it happen. 

The final work, The Branch Will Not Break, is nearly as wonderful. For this setting of seven poems by the great James Wright, Cerrone uses a small chorus of eight voices (here including Eliza Bagg, who was so fantastic in Alex Weisser’s And All The Days Were Purple) and keeps the harmonic range tight, like early polyphony. This further elevates Wright’s already heightened view of the quotidian, giving marvelous lines like, “In a field of sunlight between two pines/The droppings of last year’s horses/Blaze up into golden stones” a hymnal quality. 

Throughout the album, the musicians of Wild Up, under the direction of Christopher Rountree, meet the varied challenges of Cerrone’s scoring with sensitivity and spirit. Note should also be taken of the warm and involving sound of the record, for which credit is due to Nick Tipp. That his production, engineering, mixing, and mastering is so seamless is even more remarkable when you realize the vocalists and musicians were recorded separately. Great work on all counts and another brick in the edifice of achievement Cerrone has been building for the last several years. 

Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti - in manus tuas I wonder if they still make viola jokes. If yes, this gorgeous album by Lanzilotti, which engages head and heart in equal measure, should put an end to that branch of humor. Not only does she exhibit a technique that is both furiously virtuosic and fabulously free, but her conception of the album - her debut as a solo performer - is an exemplar of how to create a complete work of art. She achieves this by starting from a neat organizing principle, which is that all the works “are transcriptions or involve the act of transcribing,” as she puts it in her beautifully written liner notes, concluding the thought with this lovely passage: "Transcription enables us to learn from others as well as precess our own thoughts. In doing so, we deepen our understanding of each other. Transcription - empathy - as creative process." 

The boldest example of this may be the last piece, Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Transitions (2014), which was originally written for cello and given a definitive performance by its commissioner, Michael Nicolas, on his landmark album of the same name. Before hearing Lanzilotti's version, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to hear any other cellist play it, much less a violist! But she makes it work wonderfully well, illuminating the structure of the work with her musically intelligent transcription and deeply committed playing. Also originally for cello is Caroline Shaw’s in manus tuas (2009), which was inspired by the experience of hearing the Thomas Tallis’s motet in a Connecticut church. But there’s no background necessary to immerse yourself in this meditative snapshot’s yearning lines and disordered pizzicato. 

Lanzilotti’s own composition, gray (2017), is next, its startling alarm bell percussion (played by Sarah Mullins) shocking you out of your reverie. Based on a work for dance, this music-only version lacks nothing as the haunting viola lines interact like dark ribbons with the percussive sounds, the latter growing increasingly abstract as the bottom of a snare drum is employed alongside Hawaiian bamboo rattles called pū’ili. External sounds, like the rattling keys of a fellow commuter, fit right in, exposing the Cagean nature of the piece. 

Two works by Andrew Norman fill out the album, with the first, Sonnets (2011) giving Lanzilotti the opportunity to play with masterful pianist Karl Larson and indulge in occasional long lines that are almost romantic. The five short movements draw on fragments of Shakespeare sonnets, seeking to transcribe specific words (or feelings, at least) into sound. The second song, to be so tickled, takes its cue from Sonnet No. 128 and is especially delightful. Sabina (2008-09), the second Norman piece, also originates from a germ of extra-musical information, in this case the way light shines through the translucent stone windows of the Basilica Of Santa Sabina, and spins it into a fascinating web of sound. Even without knowing the visual inspiration, I think Sabina would still create shapes and shades in my mind. It must be treat to see Lanzilotti play it live. Hopefully she will include it - or any of the pieces from this remarkable album - the next time she graces NYC with a performance. 

Tracks from all of these albums, and so many more, can be found in my playlist, AnEarful: Of Note In 2019 (Classical). Click the little heart to keep up with comes out during the rest of the year - and please let me know what I've been missing.

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Monday, August 05, 2019


About 30 years ago a package appeared at my studio door addressed with a familiar chicken-scratch handwriting. I knew it was from Mike D. and within were two CD’s: Derek & The Dominoes’ classic 1970 album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs and a single-disc compilation called Top Of The Stax: 20 Greatest Hits. There may have been a Post-It Note scrawled Happy Birthday, but I knew what it was for either way.

I turned my nose up at Layla, having been saturated by the title track during my childhood - until I listened. It quickly became a favorite album, a love that continues to this day, although I mainly listen to Derek bootlegs now. Hearing it in context even gave Layla new currency. 

The Stax collection was perhaps even more extraordinary, with not one duff track. I knew a lot of the songs, like Mel & Tim’s Starting All Over Again, Sam and Dave’s Hold On, I’m Coming, The Staple Singers’ Respect Yourself, Green Onions by Booker T & The M.G.’s and, of course, the mighty Shaft by Isaac Hayes. But I hadn’t heard most of them for something like 15 years and what was most amazing was that they operated both at the level of nostalgia and timelessness. As proven out by the other songs, there was a level of quality in songwriting, singing, playing, and production that was perhaps only rivaled by Motown. 

But Stax has that additional grit, with a little more funk to the grooves and real-life adult situations described in songs like I Forgot To Be Your Lover by William Bell and Woman To Woman by Shirley Brown. Top Of The Stax became a daily listen and one of the few albums that needed no adjustments to play at a party. My true love affair with Stax began with that humble collection. 

Over the years I tracked down some of the related albums, like Johnny Taylor’s Tailored In Silk or Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get by The Dramatics. And Isaac Hayes became an obsession, with revelation after revelation from albums like Hot Buttered Soul, To Be Continued and Black Moses, all the way up through his still underrated Polydor years. But when it came to Stax as a whole, I mainly followed the lead of their extensive reissue campaign and focused on the singles, even if they were sometimes packaged up in box sets of impressive weight and size. 

This past June that all changed, however, thanks to a flood of reissued albums celebrating both Black History Month and the 50th Anniversary of the “Soul Explosion” period at the label, which had them rebuilding after the devastating loss of Otis Redding and several member of the Bar-Kays. Many of the albums have been out of print for years in any form and all are appearing on streaming platforms for the first time. While the Soul Explosion took place over a couple of months in 1969, the years spanned by the campaign start in 1968 and stretch all the way to 1975, when the label was shuttered for the first time since 1957. 

While there’s plenty of music among the 30 albums that’s resolutely “on brand” for Stax, there’s enough variety that it makes clear another factor that distinguishes it from Motown: they still believed in older forms of African American music as popular music. While “The Sound Of Young America” certainly had its roots in the blues, gospel and girl group sounds of the 50’s, it was all packaged in bright, shiny new clothes or, by the end of the 60’s, psychedelic mufti. While Stax could go pop or incorporate rock influences, they also persisted in releasing instrumentals and doo wop or church-inflected sounds long after the heyday of those genres. And even if they didn’t hit it big with most of these albums, there is no air of preservation, such as with other labels like Arhoolie or Alligator. The entire history of black music was just in the mix, following the talent they had rather than shunting it into uncomfortable shapes. 

Speaking of mixes, as a public service, I have worked my way through all 30 albums and selected a representative cut from each - with one exception. The most anomalous record in the bunch is also a wretched, festering pile of absolute trash that should have remained in the dustbin of history. I’m speaking of the debut album by the band called The Knowbody Else, who later met with some success as Black Oak Arkansas. While the music is a tepid-at-best attempt at funky southern rock, the vocals by Jim Mangrum are some of the worst singing I have ever heard. Maybe he improved in the BOA days, but I can’t recall one of their songs and I have suffered enough at his hands. I’d rather hear an hour of Johnnie Taylor talking in his sleep. 

Moving right along, the only other qualification was to select a different track if the album contained any hits. So you won’t hear Frederick Knight singing I’ve Been Lonely Too Long, Taylor’s classic Who’s Making Love, or other well-known songs. What I hope you’ll discover is just how strong the bench was at Stax, even if radio or record buyers weren’t always listening in great numbers. Deep cuts, that is, from one of America’s greatest labels, with unsung heroes like Bettye Crutcher coming into focus as bedrock contributors to the catalog. And if a song by an artist you’ve never heard before grabs your attention, by all means check out the album. You may find your respect growing ever greater for the accomplishments of Jim Stewart, Mae Axton, Al Bell, and all the singers, songwriters and players who made this stuff happen. 

Here’s a brief rundown of what you’re going to hear. 

Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy by Booker T. & The M.G.’s from Soul Limbo (1969)

The cheese factor can run a bit high on this album, but on this song it works thanks to the interplay between Steve Cropper’s guitar and Booker T.’s organ. Oft-recorded, the song was written by Ray Whitley working with  J.R. Cobb Of Spooky, Stormy and Atlanta Rhythm Section fame. Even as an instrumental, the title of the song says it all!

Soul-A-Lujah by Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Pervis Staples, Cleotha Staples, Carla Thomas, and Mavis Staples from Boy Meets Girl (Classic Stax Duets) (1969)

This handsome package was well worth the $10 I paid for an original vinyl pressing a few years ago but there’s no denying that it doesn’t quite live up to the excitement generated by the concept. For one thing, the re-recordings of evergreens like I Thank You or Piece Of My Heart have nothing on the originals. For another, the newer songs aren’t very memorable. But this number personifies “exuberance” with a vocal arrangement nearly matching Sly Stone’s ingenuity. Remember the names Bettye Crutcher, Homer Banks, and Raymond Jackson - they wrote this song and many others under the collective name We Three.

I’ve Got A Feeling by Ollie & The Nightingales from Ollie & The Nightingales (1969)

Formerly The Dixie Nightingales (taking off on The Dixie Hummingbirds), this gospel group led by Ollie Hoskins was straight out of the church and gussied up for prime time. As that would imply, the call and response is key, but Al Jackson, Jr.’s extra sharp drumming drives the bus. A fine album overall, even if it doesn’t touch similarly motivated collections by The Staple Singers. 

Wishes And Dishes by The Sweet Inspirations from Estelle, Myrna and Sylvia (1973)

The tail end of a brand name that launched the careers of Doris Troy, Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, and Cissy Houston while singing backup for Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix, the group now consisted of Estelle Brown, Myrna Smith, and Sylvia Shemwell. It was up to them to honor the legacy - and they delivered. I think it's Estelle singing lead on this one, bringing a gospel fervor to a slow-burner with adult themes. Producers/co-writers David Porter and Ronnie Williams wisely let the song go beyond the length of a single. The whole album is a worthy slab of sweet 70's soul.

So Nice by The Mad Lads from The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Lads (1969)

"Do you remember when we used to play mommy and daddy each and every day," John Gary Williams sings in his creamy high tenor in a song drenched in soda shoppe fantasies and stacked harmonies. Bettye Crutcher collaborated with Carla Thomas' brother Marvell to write this one and it's definitely the most memorable track on the album.

Come On Back by J.J. Barnes from J.J. Barnes & Steve Mancha: Rare Stamps (1969)

This compilation gathered up singles by Barnes and Mancha, like this one originally released on the Groovesville label in 1967. Co-written by Barnes and Don Davis (who later revived Johnnie Taylor's career with Disco Lady), the vocal bears a striking similarity to Marvin Gaye. So does the arrangement, but the strings and conga make it sound about five years ahead of what Gaye was doing at the same time. Influence is a two-way street...

Somebody's Been Sleeping In My Bed by Johnnie Taylor from Rare Stamps (1969)

Compiling Taylor singles, including Who's Making Love, makes for a great album. This scorching blues from 1967 also has the Bettye Crutcher stamp and a masterful vocal from Taylor. Blues, soul, funk, disco - there was little he couldn't do.

My Baby Specializes by Soul Children from Soul Children (1969)

Formed by Isaac Hayes and David Porter after losing Sam & Dave to Atlantic, it took a while for this vocal group to reach their peak in 1973 with I'll Be The Other Woman. But this album is full of gems, many of them covers of earlier Stax singles like this one originally sung by William Bell & Judy Clay a year earlier. With four effervescent vocalists and a trademark, low-slung Stax arrangement, the song is a heckuva groove.

I've Fallen In Love by Carla Thomas from Memphis Queen (1969)

While her chart success was diminishing a couple of years after B-A-B-Y and Tramp (with Otis Redding), there was no lack of artistic success on this album. Swirling strings introduce this moody number, written by Thomas herself, and her complicated relationship to love is embedded in the bittersweet melody.

Don't Make Me A Storyteller - Steve Mancha from J.J. Barnes & Steve Mancha: Rare Stamps (1969)

Kind of a utility player, Mancha never made an album but based on this track he had a fine way with pleading his way through a song. It was also the definitive version of a song later waxed by many other Stax artists, so all credit due to Mancha.

Jilted by The Goodees from Candy-Coated Goodees (1969)

Strings, electric sitar, epic horns - they threw the kitchen sink at this updated girl group song, a typically adult story about getting pregnant and getting dumped on the altar. Co-written and produced by Don Davis, both the composition and sound reflect the rare intrusion of British psychedelia into the normally all-American world of Stax.

One With Sugar by The Mar-Keys from Damifiknow (1969)

In various incarnations, The Mar-Keys had provided back-up on many Stax sessions while occasionally hitting it big themselves. By this point, they were essentially Booker T. & The M.G.'s plus the Memphis Horns and much of this album is made up of redundant covers of hits like Mustang Sally or Knock On Wood. The track has a nice gutbucket feel, however, and all the cowbell you need.

Now You Got Me Loving You by The Dramatics from A Dramatic Experience (1973)

The Dramatics had been plying their trade since 1964, finally hitting it big with their debut LP,  Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get, in 1971. This follow-up doesn't mess with the sly, proto-disco sonics and is nearly as good. Tony Hester, who wrote In The Rain, also penned this number and produced the album.

Baby It's Real by Rufus Thomas from Crown Prince of Dance (1973)

Carla's father was known for extremely danceable, near-novelty songs like Do The Funky Chicken and Do The Push And Pull, but amongst the pandering tracks on this album (Funky Robot, etc.), this song also proved he could lay you out with a ballad when he wanted to - he should have done more like it!

Don't Mess With My Money, My Honey, or My Woman by Mel & Tim from Starting All Over Again (1972)

This track, which opened up the album that contained one of their biggest hits, has an almost Jackson 5 feel and witty, taunting lyrics. The production, by Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins of Muscle Shoals fame, is slightly more widescreen than the usual Stax sound. 

You Cut Up The Clothes In The Closet My Dreams by Melvin Van Peebles from Don't Play Us Cheap (1972)

The film version of this musical by Van Peebles, known for basically inventing Blaxploitation cinema with Sweet Sweetback's Badassssss Song, was by some reports a misfire. But even bad reviews praised Joshie Jo Armstead's committed performance on this gospel-fueled song, the most well-developed track on this odd album.

Walk Tall (In This Here Land) by John KaSandra from Color Me Human (1970)

Released on Respect, Stax's political offshoot, this album by John S. Anderson is filled with feel-good social criticism/empowerment songs. He's obviously fired up by the smoking-hot arrangement on this song and hearing him dig into the words "Walk tall!" along with the horns is an addictive thrill. While this may be the strongest single song, fans of Joe Tex and Rodriguez should definitely dig into this forgotten treasure.

You Make The Sun Shine by The Temprees from Love Maze (1973)

As impossibly smooth as the Chi-Lites or The Manhattans, this vocal group on Stax's We Produce subsidiary is ripe for rediscovery. There are many pleasures to be found on their second album, but this haunting number, written by Leon Moore, would not get out of my head. Kanye West, who used the song on The Corner by Common, seems to agree. 

Baby, That's A No No by Barbara Lewis from The Many Grooves of Barbara Lewis (1970)

Lewis, who hit the Top 5 with her own composition Hello Stranger (you heard it in Moonlight) in 1963, was already a decade into her career when she recorded this, her only album for Stax. It was also her last album, although she continued performing until 2017. Swathed in echo, her voice sounds flown in from another era on this collection, which is one of the reasons it doesn't quite hit the mark. Also taking on Windmills Of Your Mind after Dusty Springfield was a fool's game for any singer, but this song almost makes you believe she could compete with Aretha or at least Dionne Warwick.

I Could Never Be President by Johnnie Taylor from The Johnnie Taylor Philosophy Continues (1969)

"I could never be President/As long as I'm lovin' you," Taylor sings on this lively number written by We Three. It's just lively enough to make you forget you were hoping he was doing a socially conscious number like Syl Johnson's Is It Because I'm Black? The album has too many covers (It's Your Thing - really, Johnnie?) but goes down fairly easily.

People, Get It Together by Eddie Floyd from California Girl (1970)

Floyd, who co-wrote Knock On Wood with Steve Cropper, was equally at home on either side of the studio glass. In fact, he co-wrote all of the best songs on this long-player (mostly with Booker T.) and gives his all on this inspirational stomper, occasionally sounding like Otis Redding reborn. Floyd is still out there pitching and performed at the Royal Albert Hall in 2017.

Phases Of Reality by William Bell from Phases Of Reality (1972)

Bell has been recording since 1961, hitting it out of the park with his first single, You Don't Miss Your Water. He won a Grammy two years ago for best Americana album and performed Born Under A Bad Sign - which he wrote! - with Gary Clark, Jr. All this is to say, I shouldn't have been surprised that it was hard to pick just one song from this slab of 70's funk, also produced by Bell. It's easy to imagine Sly nodding his head along to this one. Overall, maybe the best album in the whole campaign.

Let Me Down Easy by Inez Foxx from Inez Foxx At Memphis (1973)

Everyone knows Mockingbird, which Foxx recorded with her brother Charlie in 1963. But that chirpy number is world away from this dark-hued jam, a remake of the 1965 Betty Lavette standard written by Wrecia Holloway and James McDougall - and at least as definitive. Her assured, emotive singing throughout will make you wish this wasn't her only solo album.

It Ain't Easy by The Bar Kays from Do You See What I See (1972)

On tracks like this, The Bar Kays made some of the most convincing 70's music in the Stax catalog. The band, which had to be completely reconfigured after four of their members died alongside Otis Redding in 1967, was now coming hot off of backing Isaac Hayes on Hot Buttered Soul and ready to prove themselves as a funky, socially-conscious force to be reckoned with. Let's hope the prior album, Black Rock, is reissued soon.

Harlem Heaven by The Rance Allen Group from A Soulful Experience (1975)

Known mainly for his modernizing influence on gospel, Rance Allen's sweet falsetto perfectly describes a more earthly heaven on this track from a fine album released on Stax's Truth subsidiary. The reggae-influenced arrangement, by Ronnie Williams, who co-wrote the album with David Porter, is as charming as the song. 

If I Give It Up, I Want It Back by David Porter from Victim Of The Joke?...An Opera (1971)

Even though he wrote those dozens of hits alongside Hayes in the 60's, Porter on his own as a frontman was not the same proposition. Full of odd interludes and an ill-conceived cover of The Beatles' Help, the album falls flat as a whole but his belief in the Stax sound of earlier years is almost enough to make you forget that he was stuck in the past. Hayes was already far in the future and would never look back.

I Let My Chance Go By by Frederick Knight from I've Been Lonely For So Long (1973)

The title song outshines the rest of the album, but there's nothing wrong with this regret-soaked ballad and the out-chorus alone is worth the price of admission. Don't feel bad for Knight - he wrote Be For Real and Ring My Bell, both of which have had long lives.

Little Bluebird by Little Milton from Waiting For Little Milton (1973)

When you learn that Little Milton made his name on the Chess label it makes perfect sense that he was as accomplished a guitarist as he was a singer. He had also been honing his chops since 1953! Working in a vein similar to B.B. King (he covers The Thrill Is Gone on this album), he blows out this old Booker T./Hayes/Porter tune into an eloquent and epic blues. 

Soul On Fire by Kim Weston from Kim Kim Kim (1970)

It's hard to understand why this Motown alumnus didn't become another Gloria Gaynor or Thelma Houston after hearing this nearly overwhelming performance of a song she wrote with her husband Mickey Stevenson. The soul was indeed on fire. Unfortunately, however, she didn't make an album for 20 years, skipping the Studio 54 era entirely. Listen to the whole album and imagine what could've been.

Better Get A Move On by Louise McCord from Wattstax: The Living Word (1973)

While any Stax playlist worth its salt should have something by Isaac Hayes or The Staple Singers, both of whom appear on this live album, this absolutely astonishing performance of Bettye Crutcher's song by gospel great McCord just seemed like perfect way to bring things to a close. You will be forgiven if you clap along with the audience!

Let me know what hits the mark for you and visit this site for more info from Stax.

Listen to all the tracks here or below and keep track of other 2019 reissues by following this playlist.

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2018: Out Of The Past
Record Roundup: Out Of The Past

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Best Of 2019 (So Far)

These lists are hard because I feel that everything I’ve written about this year is among the best music of our times. And there are also some things I’m sure are excellent but haven’t had the chance to really listen to. To all the composers, musicians, bands, ensembles and labels who have shared their creativity I say, paraphrasing Pusha T and Rick Ross: I got you - hold on. Still, it is undeniably interesting to take stock at the year's halfway point and note either what I’ve listened to a lot but haven’t yet covered or to acknowledge a few very recent releases that have quickly muscled their way into being essential. You’ll see some of both below in a list of the 25 albums that have helped get me through 2019 so far. Enough of my yakking - on with the show!

Note: If I’ve covered the album in a previous post, just click the link to read my thoughts. 

I haven’t yet watched the film Yorke made with Paul Thomas Anderson to accompany this album, but such is the intimacy and intrigue of these tracks that I get the sense that Yorke knows the biggest screen of all is on the interior of our foreheads. While using many of the same lushly minimalist textures as his first two solo albums, there is a warmth and emotional generosity to these songs that feels new, even if rooted in the more plain spoken parts of A Moon Shaped Pool. I would hesitate to call any work by this consummate artist “revealing” but I will say that he’s letting us in on another aspect of his talent and that is more than enough. 

Seeing this young Philly band live at Pioneer Works last month only served to solidify my feelings about how great they are. While their music, full of distorted guitars, shiny synths and driving rhythms can be brainy and fractured, witnessing their utter joy as they bounced around the stage was a minor miracle and helped me connect to that lightness of being on the album. While there are no left turns from their previous releases, there’s also a greater focus on craft when it comes both to the song-like parts and the sparkly excursions into ambience. Right here is the sound of a group hitting its potential across all metrics. Grab on to the album and catch them in concert ASAP. 

In which the boys from Brazil go further down the studio rabbit hole, constructing collage-like tracks that go some distance from their jammed out stage show. But the tunes are still there, maybe a bit buried but characteristically sweet. Following the development of this band has been a true delight and I hope to see how they work with this material live when they hit the rooftop at Industry City on September 4th with Mdou Moctar - a killer bill to end the summer!

Gibbs made hay with Madlib on Piñata in 2014 and nothing he’s done since has hit the same heights  - until now. Something about working with one of the great producers of all time brings out the best in Gibbs, who, instead of deferring to a legend tries to meet him halfway. As Gibbs himself noted: "I feel like you gotta bring your 'A’ game to really shine on his beats, or his beat is going to outshine you. It’s definitely a challenge. You can’t just come any kind of way on these beats, you gotta really make a marriage to ‘em and live with 'em." So, instead of coasting on his grittiness, Gibbs dazzles with a flow that hits a variety of tempos and mixes up the content with political observations and street lit. He shines when he gets personal, too, as in Situations: "1989, I seen a ni**a bleed/Uncle stabbed him in the neck and hit his knees/Turned the arcade to a stampede/I was playin' Pac-Man, Centipede/Put me on some shit I never should've seen." He also has the guts to share the mic on Palmolive with Killer Mike and Pusha-T, who both come loaded for bear, making it one of the great posse cuts of recent memory. I don't know the logistics of the hook-up between Gibbs and Madlib, but I sure hope it happens again because Bandana is a classic.

17. Mark de Clive-Lowe - Heritage and Heritage II 
I will admit to following the career of MdCL for years with admiration for his skills as a keyboard player and producer without being entirely sure exactly what he does. Sure, he was always in the hippest place at the hippest time, but who was he? It all comes into focus on these two extraordinary albums of expansive jazz-funk. The “heritage” referred to is MdCL’s Japanese roots, with each track’s title drawn from cultural reference of importance in his life. Hence we get tracks like Memories of Nanzenji, inspired by a 13th Century temple in Kyoto, and Akatombo (Red Dragonfly), based on a popular folk melody his mother used to sing to him. The music is sometimes spacey and drifting, at other times knotty and propulsive, often building up a head of steam after a moody start. The minor key melodies and overall gloss can't help but remind me of Steely Dan, in a welcome if distant echo. Everything is driven by the sensitive and powerful drumming of Brandon Combs, with strong contributions also coming from Josh Johnson (sax/flute), Teodross Avery (sax), Brandon Eugene Owens (bass), and Carlos Nino (percussion). But MdCL is the star, doing stellar work on all manner of keyboards and composing all the tracks, in a triumph of imagination and sheer musicianship. Now I know exactly who he is and what he does and I can't get enough of it.

18. Elsa Hewitt - Citrus Paradisi

19. Baroness - Gold & Gray
In the four years since the release of their last album, Purple, which found the metal band incorporating a new rhythm section after their bus accident, they have had yet more personnel changes. Peter Adams, who had been their lead guitarist since 2008, left to concentrate on his other band Valkyrie (among other things) and was replaced by Gina Gleason. She's had a checkered career, from Cirque du Soleil to bands that covered Metallica (Misstallica!) and King Diamond. As worrisome as that may sound, she has more than enough grit in her glamour to complement the playing of leader John Baizley while engaging in furious interaction with bassist Nick Jost and drummer Sebastian Thomson. She may have also helped push the group to further diversify their already broad palette of sound, adding a cleaner vocal dimension to the harmonies in the process. Whatever the reason, Gold & Gray is the most high-contrast album of their career, with glassy vignettes like Crooked Mile smash-cut into absolutely scorching cuts like Broken Halo. It's a head-spinning journey that feels somehow cleansing, with their most beautiful textures constantly being obliterated by some of their nastiest. While the emotions are always strong, the heart of the album is probably three songs near the middle: Anchor's Lament, Throw Me An Anchor, and I'd Do Anything. Given that the chorus of the last is "I'd do anything to feel alive again," it's obvious the near-death experience of the accident is woven into the core of Baizley's artistic expression forevermore. Whatever he needs to do to work out his grief, he's surrounded by stalwart companions and giving so much of himself to us listeners that it's easy to be humbled and grateful as you stand in awe of Baroness's rock majesty. Long may they reign.

20. Cass McCombs - Tip Of The Sphere

21. Crumb - Jinx
This Brooklyn via Boston band amassed a rabid following (including me) on the basis of two EP's of wobbly psych-funk so anticipation has been running high for their debut album. Jinx continues to deliver on their addictive style; if anything it finds their grooves ever more precise and their melodies more engagingly serpentine, adding up to a series of transporting tunes. At under 30 minutes, the trip may still be too short, but it's one you'll want to take often. Also, they stretch out in concert - catch them for free on August 8th in NYC.

22. Car Seat Headrest - Commit Yourself Completely
I've been yammering on about what a great live band this is since I saw them in 2017 and now here's recorded proof! Even though these nine songs were recorded in seven different spaces, it feels like a coherent document of their dramatically dynamic approach to Will Toledo's conception of post-alternative indie rock. Even the shorter songs are full of epic vibes and their mastery of the slow build only adds to the cathartic feels when they hit full throttle. All of the songs save one come from Teens Of Denial (2016) and Twin Fantasy (2011/2018), which means they're drawn from Toledo's strongest material. One could quibble about the omission of Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An), which was one highlight of the show I saw. The one cover, of Frank Ocean's Ivy, is great but maybe not as revelatory as their take on Bowie's Teenage Wildlife, an interpretation that blew me away in concert. Minor details. This is a fantastic album that will have you jumping up and down as you play it at maximum volume. Your  neighbors might complain - or knock on your door to join you. P.S. Keep an eye out for a tour date near you.

23. C. Duncan - Health

24. Michel Chapman True North

25. Edwyn Collins - Badbea

Listen to a track from all of these albums in this playlist or below. Any of these on your list?

You may also enjoy:
The Best Of 2018 (So Far)
Best Of 2017 (So Far)
Best Of 2016 (So Far), Pt. 1
Best Of 2016 (So Far), Pt. 2
The Best Of 2015 (So Far)
2014: Mid-Year Report
The Best Of 2013 (So Far)

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Record Roundup: Contemporary Classical In Brief

The backlog is real, people, and the torrent of creativity from new music labels, composers, players and ensembles represents one of the most vital forces in culture today. In an attempt to lasso the whirlwind, here are brief reviews of some contemporary classical albums that have kept me coming back time and time again.

Seattle Symphony Orchestra - John Luther Adams: Become Desert This celebration and lamentation (in Adams’ words) is also a meditation. Like Become Ocean before it, this single-movement work is an invitation, in suspended chords and chiming bells, to your own mind. If you wish to contemplate the ecological issues that fuel Adams as he composes, that’s a valid choice as that's something that concerns us all. Or you could just sink into another masterful exploration of texture and structure from one of our finest composers. Of the Seattle Symphony and its conductor, Ludovic Morlot, I’ll only say that their touch is so sure you won’t give them a passing thought, as if the music were pure and unmediated - which may be the highest compliment of all. 

Caleb Burhans - Past Lives Remembering past friends like songwriter Jason Molina and composer (and Alarm Will Sound founder) Matt Marks has put Burhans into an appropriately elegiac mood in these four works for varied ensembles and performers. But there is always light in the darkness with the realization - which seems to dawn as you listen - that they will be known for their works, and works they inspired, long into the future. A Moment For Jason Molina is a perfect example, an essay in shimmering, layered guitar, gorgeously performed by Simon Jermyn, with a sense of constant ascension. The JACK Quartet play the reflective Contritus with what feels like barely held emotions and Burhans himself constructed the brief and mysterious Early Music (For A Saturday) from heavily treated electric bass and violin, further proving his versatility as a composer and performer, which can be said of Past Lives as a whole.

Alex Weiser - And All The Days Were Purple It's a rare thing when you hear new music that sounds both fresh and as if it has always existed. From the deeply felt performance by soprano Eliza Bagg and the sensitive playing of the ensemble to Weiser's deeply involving compositions, there is a palpable sense of stars aligning during this song cycle. The songs are based on Yiddish and English poems, which Weiser discovered in the YIVO archives, connecting with his own past as a child of Yiddish-speaking grandparents. As someone who heard some Yiddish around my house growing up, I was moved right away. Listen to the first track, My Joy, and tell me you're not instantly interested in hearing more. The beautifully recorded album also includes Three Epitaphs, another fine work by Weiser featuring an ancient Greek text alongside poems by William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, and additional evidence that Weiser is a very fine setter of words.

Matt Frey - One-Eleven Heavy Another recent vocal work that also serves as an act of reclamation and homage is Frey's chamber opera, which over its 15-minute length packs an emotional wallop you won't soon forget. Based on the tragedy of Swissair Flight 111, which crashed into the Atlantic in 1998 killing all 229 aboard, Frey incorporates Air Traffic Control recordings into gorgeously mournful vocal parts sung with extraordinary compassion by Jenny Ribeiro and Karim Sulayman. Hotel Elefant, conducted by David Bloom, find the perfect balance between detail and forward motion throughout, in an expertly balanced production. As Frey pointed out at a recent listening party, it's hard to know what the future is for this work, as it's so short and has never been staged. If it provides even a moment of comfort to those who lost loved ones on the flight, that will be even more important than the way it illuminates and humanizes the story for us listeners. His next piece is a musical about Mary Kay Letourneau - he's obviously unafraid of difficult subjects - and there wasn't a hint of exploitation in the excerpts I've heard, which is even more remarkable. Frey is now firmly on my radar and I recommend you keep an eye out for more from him as well.

Caroline Shaw - Orange One of the most astonishing things about this record is that it is the first to solely feature the music of Shaw, who won the Pulitzer-Prize six years ago. At the very least it seems like a marketing opportunity was missed! Over six pieces for string quartet, Shaw takes a number of approaches, all of which are embraced fully by the members of the Attacca Quartet. While she is free to be dissonant and dynamic, there's always a remarkable sense of proportion and balance, a measured sense of restraint and clean architecture. Lyricism abounds as well, as in Punctum's almost folk-like melodies. The recording is light and dry, perfect for her tart (yes, I went there) sound world. While I suspect Haydn (or Bartok) would not be shocked by what they heard here, it's likely they would also approve highly. It also strikes me that even for all of her accolades (not to mention highly visible collaborations with others like Kanye West and The National), I'm still getting her style and personality as a composer in focus. This album helps as will a portrait concert at The Miller Theatre on February 6, 2020 - put it on your calendar!

Siggi String Quartet - South Of The Circle When I expressed surprise at how good this debut album was, my son said, "What, you thought it wouldn't be?" and I realized that I should never have doubted a record featuring Icelandic compositions and released by Sono Luminus, who have brought wonders like Nordic Affect's Raindamage and Daniel Bjarnson's Recurrence to my ears. Bjarnson's own Stillshot (2015) opens the record and you know you're in good hands right away, with playing that's glassy smooth but warmly nuanced. Another familiar name is Valgeir Sigurðsson, who had two pieces on Raindamage, and whose Nebraska (2011) provides a unique perspective on the American landscape. As seems especially common in Icelandic ensembles, one of the players is a composer as well. Violinist Una Sveinbjarnardóttir's Opacity (2014) boldly explores solo lines by each instrument, just another way of developing the language of this fine quartet.

Duo Zuber - Blackbird Redux What a lovely surprise this is: works for flute and marimba, played by two complete experts, and touching on an international array of composers. Consisting of Patricia Wolf Zuber (flute) and Greg Zuber (marimba), both of whom play with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the duo sounds equally comfortable in the gentle kaleidoscope of Gareth Farr's Kembang Suling, in which the New Zealand-based composer transits through Bali, Japan and South India and William Susman's Amores Montuños, here in a world premiere performance and striking a balance between Reichian repetition and the Claude Bolling's sheer charm. Two arrangements by Zuber, of Messiaen and Villa-Lobos, fill out the album marvelously, proving there's little this combination can't approach with absolute confidence.

Rupert Boyd - The Guitar It's just possible that Boyd's technique has only grown more phenomenal since his last solo album, Fantasias - whatever the reason, he absolutely slays me on the opening tracks here, two Jobim pieces that find composer and player at their most expressive. I would not turn my nose up at an album called "Boyd Goes Brazilian," just saying. But he also assays works by Leo Brouwer and Piazzola, as well as transcriptions of Bach and The Beatles, with the latter his own tender adaptation of Julia. There's also a piece by Graham Koehne, an Australian composer who's new to me, and a fascinating nugget from the past, Fernando Sor's Introduction And Variations On A Theme By Mozart. Composed in 1821 partially to show off Sor's own guitar skills, its playful quality goes beyond mere virtuosity. Naturally, Boyd dispatches it like a child's exercise, but with warmth and feeling, which could describe this wonderful album as a whole.

New Thread Quartet - Plastic Facts Sometimes when listening to this record I forget that it's four saxophones producing all these wonderful sonorities, from the most dulcet of tones to wild flights of extended techniques - and I mean that as high praise. While this is their debut album, they have been playing these works for a few years and three of the four were commissioned by them, which may be why it's all presented so perfectly. Also, with Erin Rogers on tenor you know the musicianship will be at the highest level and Geoff Landman (soprano), Kristen McKeon (alto) and Zach Herchen (baritone) don't let the side down. I'm also grateful to NTQ for introducing me to Michael Djupstrom, Marcello Lazcano and Anthony Gatto, composers with whom I was unfamiliar, alongside Richard Carrick, whose Harmonixity (2012) ends the album in fine style.

Splinter Reeds - Hypothetical Islands This reed quintet pushes things even further than NTQ, emitting all kinds of outrageous squeaks and squawks along with glides and swoops right out of Raymond Scott's bag of tricks - but that must just be their taste as several of the composers here employ such noises. Matthew Shlomowitz's Line and Length (2007), for example, kicks off the album in wild fashion and Eric Wubbels' Auditory Scene Analysis II (2016) adds distorted electronics into the mix. Wubbels, known for his work with the Wet Ink Ensemble, produced the album, too, and lends everything a three-dimensional sense of space and detail, so important when some of the sounds could just be clicks and pops. Of the seven pieces here, including other works by Cara Haxo, Theresa Wong, Sky Macklay and Yannis Kyriakides, four were commissioned by the group, which also shows their good judgment. And Kyle Bruckmann (oboe), Bill Kalinkos (clarinet), David Wegehaupt (sax), Jeff Anderle (bass clarinet), and Dana Jessen (bassoon) deserve yet more praise for making everything on this thoroughly modern album sound as natural as a Baroque fantasia. 

Hear tracks from all of these albums (and many more) in this playlist and keep me in the loop if you think I'm missing anything!

You may also enjoy:
Best Of 2018: Classical
Focus On: Contemporary Classical
Collapsing Into Nordic Affect's Raindamage
Immersed In Become Ocean

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Ocean Music Surfaces

Ocean Music - Troubadour No. 1 I hate keeping secrets, so the fact that Richard Aufrichtig, the captain of Ocean Music, sent me most of these tracks in 2017 has been a source of tension in my life. It’s not that I have to share music to enjoy it - but it helps. I also understand that releasing art out into the world takes courage, especially if you think it’s not quite ready. No matter how many times I told Richard, “Put this out - it's one of the best albums of the year!” he held firm, guided by an internal compass. I should have trusted him, as its final version is better in ways both subtle and obvious. And it is definitely one of the best albums of the year.

I won’t bore you by comparing Troubador No. 1 with an unmastered album I had on repeat two years ago, but I will say that coming up with Blown Open to start the album is a credit to Aufrichtig’s tenacity. I can now hear that it was the missing piece. Starting with his unaccompanied voice, Blown Open arrests instantly with its imagery: “Cold - grass in the summer/Old - classical music/I - used to belong there/I - used to believe it.” Subliminal picked guitar is joined by clarinets, so unexpected and yet so inevitable. The album’s title falls into place: This is a troubadour, a “poet who sets words to music,” yes, but there’s also a connection to the word’s roots in the Medieval French for “to find.” Aufrichtig is on a journey of self-discovery and we are privileged to be invited along for the ride. 

By the end of the song, there’s a bed of electric guitars and a synth has been introduced and dismissed. Blown Open fades into meditative silence, shortly replaced by the wry flute and gentle disco of Paris, a sublime duet with Holly Miranda. Seeing them perform it live was a dream come true and you should count yourself lucky if you were there. There are witty horns and a wailing harmonica, which contains as much regret as the chorus: “Now, I’m going back to Paris.” Just as we rarely feel just one way about anything - especially if you’ve lived a little - Paris is a hybrid song, and a brilliant one at that. 

The title track also grooves, but hypnotically this time, guitars and sax coexisting peacefully as Aufrichtig casts his thoughts to half-remembered incidents, his voice full of warmth and compassion. Blue October Sky is also a retrospective glance: “I lost you in October, like I lost my minor key/And I wish I could remember all the songs you sang for me.” Somewhere, Leonard Cohen is tipping a stylish fedora in acknowledgment. 

One of the things I love about Ocean Music’s songs is that they take their sweet time. This has led to some clueless reactions from those who would pretend to be gatekeepers, i.e. people with popular playlists. One comment Richard shared still haunts me: “You have a beautiful voice but the song takes too long to develop.” Translation: “I am so uncomfortable with myself that I can’t sit within this gorgeous piece of music without constantly wondering when it will change.” It's like criticizing the weather for not dissolving the clouds quickly enough. Just as the clouds will roll out when they roll out, an Ocean Music song moves at its own pace. 

Take Telephone, the fifth song on the album, which follows its midtempo, strummy groove for a full three minutes before the horns come in. Then, after Richard sings, “You with your arms and your hands and your stories that can make me fly,” his guitar starts to squall in a biting, distorted tone, soon joined by a skronking sax that had me wondering if David Murray was on the track (it's actually Stuart Bogie of Antibalas, etc.). Another guitar joins (perhaps the great Josh Kaufman, who also co-produced the album) and everything begins to soar into consonance over vocal harmonies. It is absolutely glorious. Allow it to thrill you before you assume there’s a construct within which it should have existed. 

An Old Dream goes deeper into the mystic, with Aufrichtig accompanying himself on what sounds like an ancient piano. His steady voice calms the odd harmonies from the ailing instrument as he creates scenes both sensual and serene. He ends the album with another dazzling display of his arranging skills, with the finger-picked acoustic of Watchlight limned by organ and what sounds like a Jew’s harp. It also closes the record on an upbeat note, with the troubadour getting ready the hit the road again, sounding hopeful for what the future may hold: “After the show, we can walk around/Buy our tickets down in Chinatown/And we can leave this town, leave this town, leave this town.” But come back soon, Richard - we need to hear what treasures you find on the next leg of your journey. 

P.S. For another angle on Aufrichtig’s very musical mind, subscribe to Fresh Wind, his wonderful Spotify playlist, which he's updating every Monday. 

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