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Brad’s Morning Exercise Music Rundown, 5th Installment: MGMT, Kings of Leon, Pierre Bensusan – and a Genesis, Stivell Parable

October 26, 2013

Sit Ups

Sit Ups

My fifth “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the fourth of which ran on Aug. 28 – will be shorter than the others…I think. I have only three CDs to talk about this time. Or rather, five CDs, if you count that there are three CDs in one of the boxes.

Two 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 two of the last three races – Singapore and Japan – I picked up the new crop.

When you think of it, though, the third CD – or rather, the box of three – which comes as an advance review copy before its release – tomorrow – from Pierre Bensusan, also ultimately came to me by way of my worldwide open mic musical adventure that I run along with my job attending the races. I say that because it was thanks to carrying my guitar around with me to the races that three or four years ago I ran into this other guy a couple of times carrying a guitar in the Milan airport (after the Italian Grand Prix), and we had nodded at each other, and then I struck up a conversation with him, since he had this neat old guitar he was playing at the airport gate while we waited for the same flight. The guitar was a Lowden, and the guitar player, I learned, was Bensusan. I had not recognized him, but once we exchanged emails, I immediately recognized his name – in fact, I’d just read a column of his in Acoustic Magazine a week or two before! Since then, I corresponded with him a few times, bought his entire career’s box set of albums, and attended a concert of his in Paris, becoming a fervent fan of this virtuoso guitarist.

The Astounding Pierre Bensusan and his 40-Year Career

Pierre Bensusan's "Encore"

Pierre Bensusan’s “Encore”

It turned out that aside from being a couple of guys who frequent airports frequently carrying guitars around the world, we had another thing in common: Our respective ages – we were born less than six weeks apart – and the fact that we were both heavily influenced by the same traditional Celtic music during the Celtic revival of the early 1970s. There the comparisons between Pierre Bensusan and me stop, however, as this man is more than a seriously talented virtuoso guitarist: He is a near genius guitarist and composer of fabulous pieces that now range the entire gamut from Celtic to jazz to Arabic to klezmer to even a slightly rock and/or jazz fusion feel to certain of his rhythms. Throw in a bit of country too. All of that would be why he would be thrown into the World Music category – where he was named best guitarist by Guitar Player magazine a few years ago, I think 2008. He is a master of the open tuning known as DAGDAD, and while he plays on a steel string folk guitar, it might as well be a nylon classical for all the range he gets out of it. Having bought that complete works box set – minus his latest album “Vividly” – from the Bensusan web site store I thought I had heard all the Bensusan sounds that I needed to. Until I received this review copy of “Encore,” which has been released to mark 40 years of live performance by Pierre, I thought I had all the CDs by him that I needed. Wrong. In this package I learned from listening to the earliest recordings that although I have been playing guitar since the age of eight, Pierre certainly played the way I do now only only the second day he picked up his guitar. His talent goes way, way back, and as the title of the CD indicates – Encore, or “More” and/or “Again,” – there is sure to be much more….

The CD has a fabulous booklet with photos of Pierre throughout his life, and a nice little autobiography from him, outlining that life. Originally from the Jewish community of Algeria, he moved to France as a boy and grew up in Suresnes – down the Seine river from my home in Asnières – and decided to change his first name at age 12 to Pierre, because of the song, “Chauffe Marcel!” of Jacques Brel!!! Chauffe, chauffe!!! He describes his ancestry as “sephardic-hispanic-algerian-maroccan-anglo-persian-alsacien”… well you get the idea. Just like his music, right? He grew up listening in his family to “jazz, English rock, R&B, swing, chanson, flamenco, arab-andalouse music, classical music, opera, gypsy, musette and tango…” Yes, again, the influences come out in his own music, and the traces of it all are there from the beginning. In fact, I was astounded to hear him play bluegrass mandolin on the first tracks of the second CD, in recordings from 1975.

After quitting school at age 16, he set out on his worldwide travels playing the music of the world, and rubbing shoulders, playing with and meeting some of the great musicians of the period. In fact, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez had so much respect for him that they helped him get a green card to work in the United States. And it is only really in live that the full thrust of Bensusan’s guitar-playing genius can be appreciated to the full – that’s why this 3-CD collection of live recordings throughout his 40-year career is worth having. It may not be the same thing as seeing him play what sometimes sounds like three guitars at once, but it is a close substitute. And it’s also worth it just for the story he writes within.

Kings of Leon’s Latest Album “Mechanical Bull”

kings of leon

kings of leon

From the virtuoso guitarist Pierre Bensusan, I move directly to the sixth studio album of the American band, Kings of Leon. The Followill brothers’ sound is here, the voices are here, the lyrics are here. This is a competent album and not a disappointment – but I don’t hear any hits like the absolutely sensation songs “Sex on Fire” or “Use Somebody” of their previous efforts. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I was just listening too much to Pierre Bensusan. Still, the rock rhythms were good for exercising to.

MGMT – Latest Self-Named Album

Finally, I came into possession of my only MGMT album. This psychedelic rock band, sorry, just doesn’t do much for me. Of the three CDs I’ve spoken about here, I think I did my most lethargic morning exercises to this one, which was released in September, like the Kings of Leon. It is very highly competent, and has some interesting ideas – unusual vocals opening the album on “Alien Days,” slick and catchy rhythms and freaky melodies.

A Morning Exercise Music Inspired Parable Involving Genesis and Alan Stivell

There’s an interesting thing here with the contrast between the Bensusan album and the other two. It’s highly personal, but I must say, it brings me back to a personal anecdote from 1974 when I was living in Ottawa, in Canada (in case you mistake it for Ottawa, Illinois), and my friend Shane and I had to choose between attending a concert by Alan Stivell, the Celtique harp player from Brittany, and Genesis, the progressive rock band at the Civic Centre hockey arena.

Alan Stivell

Alan Stivell

I loved both Stivell’s music and Genesis. I had albums by both, and had listened to them already for a couple of years or so. In the end, we chose Stivell, perhaps thinking that we might more easily have another chance at Genesis than Stivell. The concert turned out to be absolutely fabulous, with Stivell jumping down into the audience at the end, while playing a bodhran or crumhorn or some such thing, and the hundreds of spectators of the staid civic centre, home of the opera, standing up, dancing and celebrating the liveliness of the music, and especially, the performer.



As we took the bus home, and Shane and I were still in this ecstatic state of celebration and joy from the Stivell concert, the bus stopped at the Civic Centre and picked up the concert goers who were just streaming out the doors of the arena from the Genesis concert. They were all half-asleep and stoned and down and out and basically the opposite of the joyous condition that Shane and I were in due only to the nature of Stivell’s performance. Shane and I looked at each other and thought the same thing at the same moment: We had made the right decision. The contrast between two kinds of music we loved could not be greater. I love rock and pop, but Bensusan’s virtuosity takes the day. May there be another 40 years of live performance.

Well, that rounds that up. A small morning exercise crop of CDs, my fifth 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…


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