Half of the CDs came from my regular source: As mentioned in my first post, the Lotus Formula One team is giving out CDs quite often now to journalists and any other takers and interested people in the paddock, as they have some kind of a sponsorship deal with Columbia Records. So at the last couple of races – Hungary and Spa – I picked up the new crop.
But what is really interesting here, is that there is a little pattern developing: The CDs that really stand out from Columbia so far for me tend to be the classics that they put out in the 60s and 70s, or those done by the same musicians from that period who are still making albums today. But this time, I decided to include on my morning exercise list the compilation CDs that I am in the habit of listening to that I get from the music magazines that I buy. I have not wanted to do that in the past because they ARE compilations. But I think they have a place here because I do my exercises to them, AND because they are often compilations of the latest best new music, and that makes for an interesting comparison to the record company’s stuff from the past.
I’ll get to that a little later, but first I want to make a little rundown of the Columbia stuff.
The Astounding Johnny Cash at San QuentinI was never a Johnny Cash fan as a kid, and it really took me until only a few years ago and thanks to that bio-pic about him for me to really hook into Johnny Cash. That and the fact that French people like to sing his classics so often at open mics – well, and other people around the world, for that matter. So I had a second look at Cash in recent years. Now, having received “Johnny Cash at San Quentin,” I was blown away listening to this classic CD not only for Cash’s classic songs, but also and especially, for his patter with the prisoners during the concert, all of which is part of the CD between the songs. His voice, in fact, also grew on me in recent years thanks to the CDs of cover songs he did in his seventies, or whenever it was…. So I may look ignorant, but I love Cash’s stuff now, and this San Quentin album is just deadly. A great listen for any performer, too, for picking up what truly great communication with the audience can be made of…. It was the first time he sang that weird hit called “A Boy Named Sue,” which I remember hearing on the radio at the time, and finding to be a kind of comic song. Which, of course it is….
Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” as a Greatest Hits CompilationEven more of a discovery and a shock for me was listening to Billy Joel’s album “The Stranger,” which came out in September 1977. Again, I knew Billy Joel’s songs as background to my life, hearing his songs on the radio growing up, and knowing the tunes and some of the lyrics by heart. But I knew nothing about his career and discography, and as I did my morning exercises I was shocked to recognize just about every song on this album and to learn that it was NOT a greatest hits album. It was not a compilation. It was his fifth studio album, and it became his most successful. It is full of hit songs and others that were recognizable to anyone from the late 70s. From “Movin’ Out,” to “The Stranger” to “Just the Way You Are,” to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” to “Only the Good Die Young” and “She’s Always a Woman,” this thing is bursting at the seams with great songs and performances. It was produced by Phil Ramone, who died in March, and when I hear this album now with more mature ears, and the ears of someone who has attended countless open mics, I realize the power and energy of Joel’s songs, delivery, melodies, structure…. It may seem totally absurd to write about this today, given that this is old “news,” of 36 years ago…. But I was just given the CD, and it’s part of my morning exercise routine, and that’s what this occasional blog item is about. For the newer stuff, hold on a bit….
From the Country Sound of John Mayer to the Grating Trash of AC/DC
I was really looking forward to listening to the new John Mayer CD, called Paradise Valley. Here, though, my only familiarity with John Mayer came from looking up some of the astoundingly cool cover songs he does that we can find on YouTube, like some Hendrix stuff. So it was that when I listened to this CD of HIS music, I was incredibly let down. He has a nice voice, interesting intricate lyrics, but the melodies are really nothing special – almost cliché – and they don’t vary much. I was struck horrendously by the contrast to the fabulously inventive and powerful songs of Billy Joel.
Having said that, Mayer was a huge relief to the grating trash sound of AC/DC and its 2008 album that I received called “Black Ice.” It honestly sounds as if the band tries to imitate itself and its successful “Highway to Hell” on every single song, or close to it. I’m sorry metal lovers, I was an early fan of bands like Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie and Deep Purple. But AC/DC has never appealed to me. I don’t find it authentic. The singer? That voice is the most grating and inauthentic excuse for a howl that I’ve ever heard. If it WAS a howl, maybe it would have some soul. I hear nothing in it, but it sure is fun to imitate! And you don’t even strain your vocal chords. Try imitating Robert Plant and you can’t sing for a week.
Compilations from the Mags: Uncut, Rock&Folk and Mojo
Thank goodness after those last couple of assaults on the senses I had three compilation disks from summer issues of the magazines Uncut, Mojo and the French one, Rock&Folk. I love these compilations that come out with every issue, as they are a great way to hear – in contrast to Columbia’s rereleases – what the music of our time sounds like. A lot of it does nothing for me, but there are always some standout tracks from performers I’ve either never heard of, or have heard of but never hear….
Such, for instance was the interesting deep guttural apocalyptic groan of “The Sound Of Law” from Daughn Gibson on the Uncut compilation called “This Wheel’s On Fire.” Or the very cool and melodic, “Shine, Shine, Shine,” from Grant Hart. I was blown away by how the Black Books steal the “Wicked Game” chords and melody for their “The Big Idea” – although ultimately they make a different song out of it. One song that both the Uncut CD and the Rock&Folk CD both use is “You Can’t Be Told,” by Valerie June, who I have been hearing about all over the place, including on the front page of Le Monde, I think it was!!! But was I ever let down by that one when I heard it and knew instantaneously by the sound of the song that it had to be produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. It’s like, oh crap, here we go again! The same brutal thing, cookie-cutter production of the same sound….
On the Rock&Folk CD I also enjoyed listening to the latest April March (with Aquaserge), who is one of those Americans who is better known and appreciated in France than at her home. (She used to go out with a friend of mine, and once ate at my living room table, although she cannot remember it!!!) It was also fun to hear The Strypes, the young band of teenagers from from Ireland.
Finally, the Mojo CD was a revelation as it was a collection of Beatles covers called, “We’re With the Beatles,” which is the Beatles’ second album all done in covers by bands I do not know. And what I do know, and learned by listening to it, is that despite the great songwriting of the Beatles, a great deal of the genius of the Beatles was also in their own sound and production of their records. Their voices, their instruments, their arrangements. These songs don’t stand up that well out of their hands – although they are also many of the older, less classic Beatles stuff. I didn’t hear much originality here, either, by the way. But I think the one I liked the best for its originality is, “Don’t Bother Me,” done by Eva Petersen, in an electro way that could never have been done in the 60s. Very interesting, if black as hell – but that’s what makes it interesting….
Finally, as I always have done so far, I’ve got a CD to mention that I got from a musician I heard at an open mic in Paris a few weeks ago. It’s called “Big Deal,” and it is by David O’Neal, whom I heard at the Galway Pub in Paris. There are some clever lyrics, and it’s pretty well-produced. Mostly about trouble with women, it seems…! But then, isn’t that the history of the pop song? David, who lives in New York, was on a short visit to Paris, and told me that he no longer does open mics much, but mostly does concerts.
Well, that rounds that up. A very big morning exercise crop of CDs, may fourth of the year since I started doing this in April, or whenever it was…. I’ve done a lot of exercising since then, and hope I can continue to feed the musical habit that keeps the exercising alive…