Monday, November 27, 2006

Happy Birthday Jimi

Today is the 64th anniversary of the birth of Jimi Hendrix. Which means that, yes, if he was still alive, he'd be 64 today. (Will you still need him, will you still feed him?)

In honor of his musical genius, I set my Pandora station to "Jimi Hendrix" today and got a nice mix of electric blues and acid psychadelia.

But my personal favorite Jimi will always be "The Wind Cries Mary" from Are You Experienced? One of his sweeter songs, but surprisingly intricate in its level of emotion and complex in its melody.

Happy birthday, Jimi.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why TCM is my favorite channel

Okay, so the fact that I love old movies doesn't hurt. And TV commercials give me panic attacks, so the lack of commercials is a big plus, too. But if you really want to know why Turner Classic Movies is my favorite channel, all you have to do is watch their November promo. (Scroll halfway down the page and you'll see the link on the lefthand side.)

Who directed this thing? It's unspeakably awesome. And it's set to the song "Living Again" by Cee-Lo (yes, of Gnarls Barkley fame.) But if I had just heard the song independent of the promo, I don't know that it would have had the same impact, bringing me to a new guiding principle to add to my mission statement: No music exists outside context. Which is a fancy way of saying, the right song at the right time is an extremely powerful thing.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The best way to wake up to Sunday morning

Radio station Cities 97 (KTCZ 97.1) out of Minneapolis has a great Sunday morning feature called Acoustic Sunrise. From 7 a.m. to noon (Central Time), they play all stripped down, acoustic, and live music from their cavernous vault of great, great music. The best part? You can listen to it all online.

Last week, I heard a live version of Bruce Cockburn's "Wondering Where the Lions Are," followed by a live version of Jackson Browne's "The Pretender," followed by an acoustic version of Jem's "Flying High." And that's just a representative 15 minutes - this goes on for five hours!

So grab a cup of coffee and the periodical of your choice and enjoy your Sunday morning!

(If you're not a morning a person and getting up before noon sounds like torture, you'll be glad to know that Cities 97 also closes their Sunday sets with Acoustic Sunset from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (Central Time).)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Great and Underrated

From time to time, while rifling through my ever-expanding CD collection, I stumble upon an album from a decade or more ago that you just never hear about anymore but that is, in fact, pretty great.

This is definitely the case with En Vogue's Funky Divas album. (If you follow this link, you will see that All Music Guide completely agrees with me, which further deepens my love of the All Music Guide.)

Long before Destiny's Child launched Beyonce into the limelight, En Vogue pioneered the way as a modern girl group with amazing vocal talent; long before the Black-Eyed Peas mixed Motown melody with hip-hop beats, En Vogue created the form in the exemplary Funky Divas.

Songs that are now almost 15 years old still sound fresh and at the same time, classic. Listen again in particular to "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)", "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" and their amazing version of Curtis Mayfield's "Hooked on Your Love" before revelling in the sonic perfection that is "Give It Up, Turn It Loose."

Forgiving the irritating skit-like opening to that song, there is nothing more cathartic, musically and lyrically, than the lines "Give it up, turn it loose/ If they don't want you, you don't need 'em."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Jazz-era Joni

On the heels of the hint that she may be contemplating a new album, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame has announced that Joni Mitchell will be inducted in January.

What a perfect segue into part 3 of my Joni Mitchell series - Joni, the Jazz Years.

In 1976, Joni came out with Hejira, a big departure from her early folk work, (although a few songs do harken back to an earlier era.) My favorite song on the albums is "Amelia." Also check out "Coyote" and "Song for Sharon" if you're looking for the folk flourishes. With this albums, Joni really announces her intention to do legitimate jazz-influenced music, and though the style takes some adjusting at first, her stunning voice carries the new sound beautifully.

In 1977 came Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, a double album that displeased many fans. It's kind of a funky pastiche of jazz, rock, and world music that is not as focused as some of her other albums. That said, the lines "Anyone will tell you just how hard it is to make and keep a friend..." from "Jericho" give me chills every time.

In 1979, Joni got the opportunity to work with jazz legend Charles Mingus on what turned out to be his last studio album. Mingus, released under Joni's name, was a true collaboration between Joni and Mingus, accompanied by some of the greatest jazz musicians in the business at the time. The songs are accessible and pleasantly listenable, though I personally prefer the album as something more akin to background music, great if you're working on a creative project.

Shadows and Light, released in 1980 is a live double-disc album that nicely summarizes Joni's jazz period. It would be another eight years before she released a new album after this. Much like Miles of Aisles, this is a good album to start with as an overview of the artistic era.

Next week, I'll wrap up the Joni retrospective with Joni, the Modern Era.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Cheap CDs - What's Not to Love?

So, if you haven't discovered the "Blowout Bin" at, check it out now. They have over 3,500 titles for under $10 and they run the gamut from INXS to Death Cab for Cutie to Mos Def to the Blind Boys of Alabama and beyond. Unlike a lot of other discount CD sites, it includes new albums alongside classics, buzz bands and little-known gems, and surprisingly few soundtrack and compilation clunkers (although who knew that Glory: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was still out there?

What's in my shopping cart? Out of State Plates by Fountains of Wayne, American Myth by Jackie Greene, The Definitive Collection by Steely Dan, and The Diary of Alicia Keys.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

He'd make my "Best-dressed Musicians" list, easy

Rufus Wainwright would make several of my lists, in fact: Best-Dressed Musicians, Most Influential Songwriters of the 2000s, Musicians' Musician of the Decade (that would be a list of one) ... The list of lists could go on and on.

But first and foremost, Rufus Wainwright makes amazing, lush, unique music that gets stuck in your head for days. Part opera, part folk, part pop poetry, Wainwright's music is like no one else's (which is why the leading musicians of his generation often list him as a major inspiration.)

I am currently in the throes of passion with his sophomore album Poses. John Mayer recommended it on his blog a few months back and I'm just now getting around to following his advice. (Which should be a lesson to me. When John Mayer recommends a CD, listen to it. Immediately.)

Anyhow, you can listen to the songs "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" and "Poses" on Wainwright's MySpace page. Other highlights for me include "California," "Grey Gardens" (yes, a song about the suddenly-pop-culture-adored documentary from the 1970s, proving that Wainwright is both an amazing musician and eerily prescient about pop culture fads) and "One Man Guy" the irony of which is the ever-swelling chorus of voices that rises up to sing a song about a solitary life, that was originally written and performed by Wainwright's father, 1970s folkster Loudon Wainwright III.

(I also highly recommend Wainwright's debut album, the subtler and more intimate Rufus Wainwright. On the rare occasions that I get to take a mid-day nap, this is my absolute favorite soundtrack.)

Joni Mitchell, Part II

As promised, part II of Joni Mitchell's amazing body of work.

After Blue, Joni began to branch out a bit, infusing her traditional folk with rock and jazz.

The transition albums are both interesting and beautiful, but different from her early work, so don't listen to them with preconceived ideas.

For the Roses (1971) contains some of my favorite of Joni's lyrics. Listen in particular to "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire", "For the Roses" and "A Woman of Heart and Mind," which contains possibly my favorite of all her lyrics: "I am a woman of heart and mind, with time on her hands..." (Incidentally, the American Masters profile that I netflixed last weekend is called "Joni Mitchell, Woman of Heart and Mind" and I completely recommend it to anyone interested in learning about true artistic integrity.)

Court and Spark (1974) continues the transition period. Listen to "Raised on Robbery," "People's Parties," and "Free Man in Paris."

The next studio album she released was The Hissing of Summer Lawns (1975), which completed her evolution from folk chanteuse to bold artist. All Music Guide refers to this as "among her most difficult records." I agree it is the most divergent from the albums that came before it and there is no stand alone gem of a song, but taken as a whole, it is a haunting and beautiful record. (Although I agree that If you're new to her repertoire, you may want to start with the next album I mention.)

A good overview of this period in her artistic life is the live album Miles of Aisles (1973) (which may be my favorite title for a live album ever.) It includes some beautiful, traditional renditions of many of her early hits, some reworked versions of early hits and many of the songs I mentioned from the transition albums. For many songs, she is joined onstage by the L.A. Express, a band she worked with during this period, which gives it a more pop-infused sound. Some songs sound dated now, but for the most part, it is an excellent inroduction to mid-period Joni Mitchell.

Stay tuned for jazz-period Joni.