June 11, 2004

RIP, Ray Charles

The first concert I ever went to was Ray Charles and the Raylettes. I was 16, and my parents came with. U-Hall was full that night - people of all ages and colors swaying and singing and clapping along. He sang two of my favorites, Hit the Road, Jack (a song he makes extraordinary; a song others make triter than trite), and Busted, using the Johnny Cash arrangement (instead of Harlan Howard's original arrangement), that night, and it was a razzle-dazzle evening. I can still see him, swaying as he played his piano, rocking out as the Raylettes sang saucily behind him.

The thing about Ray Charles is that he was interested in the music, and brilliant in the ways he explored different genres. Heck, the man essentially created the soul genre by combining gospel and R&B. He was so good because he tapped into the soul of the music. His Country album was as brilliant as his soul classics - swing and Nashville Sound and country-pop and classic American folk songs. His songs that delve into jazz and the blues are revelations. He sang what moved him - and his ears were open to everything - famous, infamous, unknown - from any genre.

His renditions of America, the Beautiful are time and again the best public performances of a patriotic song in decades. They weep and they soar and they bind us together. He turned Georgia On My Mind from an obscure song into a state's anthem and a cabaret standard.

The man made great music. I'm going to miss him.

Posted by julia at 02:30 AM

February 20, 2004

Eat at Joe's

As I was driving to work this morning, it occured to me that you could make a whole mix tape just about songs that involve Joe and dining/booze establishments:

Nina Simone, The Gal from Joe's
Matraca Berg/Suzy Boggus, Eat at Joe's
The Folksmen, Old Joe's Place
Nat King Cole, I Keep Going Back to Joe's
Joe Nichols, Joe's Place
Phil Ochs/Joan Baez, Joe Hill
Harmonious Wail, Eat at Joe's
The Coasters, Down at Papa Joe's

That's a short list, but I could always cheat and add songs from the musical Smokey Joe's Cafe. Hrrrrrm.

Posted by julia at 06:49 PM

January 19, 2004

A Musical Year in Review

Heather's discovered Kathleen Edwards (whose Failer album is an excellent piece of work), and this got me to thinking. I've been listening to Edwards for almost a year now, and I could have shared the love earlier. After all it was a recommendation from a friend that turned me onto her; I should have shared the favor earlier.

Heather's got great and varied taste; she's the one who introduced me to Monica Schroeder, and reignited my affection for Peter Gabriel.

So these are the things that I really loved this year:

I've written elsewhere about my love of Johnny Cash and of the Cash IV album (featuring the remarkable "Hurt", the best version of "Desperado" ever, and a lovely "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"), so I'll forebear from gushing again. But this - like the other American recordings - is a great piece of work.

As you would expect, Johnny is all over the late June Carter Cash's Wildwood Flower, her musical autobiography filled with her family and friends. Their poignant version of"Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone" has a fantastic arrangement and a feisty sweet sound. Easily one of my favorite songs of the last year. June was in failing health when she recorded the album, and it comes through clearly on the album. Her voice was weaker than I've ever heard it, but the inestimable June-ness is intact.

Speaking of favorite songs, Patty Loveless' title track from On Your Way Home is infectious, beautiful, and smartly co-written by one of my favorite mainstream Nashville songwriters. It's a ballad about infidelity that is sharp, sweet, and sad. The album itself is a bold step forward, in which Loveless combines the three sides of her musical personality without sacrificing the mountain tones, the rock energy, or the mainstream country-pop radio appeal.

My summer was all about Suzy Bogguss' Swing, featuring new and classic songs. "Cupid Shot Us Both With One Arrow," a duet with her producer and Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, is a charmer. Light but not insubstantial, the album is a delight.

My coworkers (who have diverse but interesting musical tastes) introduced me to several great things last year. R lent me Kissed by Nature by Eliane Elias, and I played it non-stop for about four days before I could bring myself to reluctantly give it back. She's a Brazilian pianist and vocalist, and her lush music infuses samba, jazz, and bossa nova.

P dragged me along to an Eddie from Ohio concert and pushed me from casual fan to fan in the process; they need to finish up the live album they're working on so I can buy it and have the new songs they performed there on it!

I asked D for guidance on Donnie Hathaway, and she was a fantastic guide. What a remarkable voice and interpretation! I think my favorite album was the duet album he did with Roberta Flack (Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack). Their voices were brilliant together, and the album features his remarkable "I Who Have Nothing" and her "Killing Me Softly". Genius.

D's brought me all sorts of good stuff to listen to - Floetry and Teena Marie leap to mind - and in return I've lent her Cassandra Wilson and Nina Simone and Eva Cassidy, and my favorite Aretha album of all time (The Delta Meets Detroit).

I'm still processing Jolie Holland's Catalpa and Cassandra Wilson's Glamoured, but both albums demand to be listened to again and again (always a good sign) I quite liked new albums from Caitlin Cary, Joss Stone, and Eva Cassidy (but didn't fall down in love with them).

I meant to check out the new Aretha and Shelby Lynne, and to dig up old Freakwater and Louvin Brothers (specifically Tragic Songs of Life) albums, but never got around to it.

Posted by julia at 04:29 PM

December 12, 2003

Christmas Songs, A Ranked List

I'm a sucker for the holiday, and I'm exactly the sort of person who'd listen to a 24/7 constant feed of Christmas music through the month of December (if only the local purveyor of such weren't a Clear Channel station).

These are - in my opinion - the five best Christmas tunes:

  1. Good King Wenceslas
  2. Winter Wonderland
  3. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  4. Silver Bells
  5. Jingle Bells

Each features catching singability, and a tune generous even to those of limited vocal abilities. Good King Wenceslas has the added bonus of a vaguely historical footing. It shares with God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen a fabulous tone and near-chant quality that I find very attractive.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, the most religious of the songs on the list, is there because of it's straightforward, unblinking optimism and faith. I like a song that essentially says "Buck up, Bucko" and "Settle down, Beevis."

Winter Wonderland is an American Idyll of a song - all shiny with the same manufactured gloss we like to revise our history with. It just shouts out as a small town holiday song, where everything is calm and peaceful and fun. The sort of childhood we'd like to give our children. (I'm a complete sucker, yes.)

Silver Bells, in comparison, is the sophistacted Big City carol - where the glitter of the holiday season seems lush and modern (even with the now dated "Santa's Big Scene"), and a little of that small town christmas is writ here.

Jingle Bells is the best of the kid-friendly carols; often mutated into varyingly clever parodies of friends and teachers, the song is about the fun of the season (however competitive and amorous and noisy it may be).

Posted by julia at 09:46 PM

November 11, 2003

Eddie From Ohio

We met up Sunday night at the Birchmere to see Eddie From Ohio. I had never seen them in concert before, so I wasn't prepared for how fabulously sublime they were in person. Aside from playing a mix of classic, current, and upcoming cuts, they were funny and smart and showcased lots of different styles and moods.

It's always a good sign when you are halfway through a concert and think, "I've got to get that new album. Hurry up and finish it!"; they sang several songs I want copies of now, but they are cruelly forcing me to wait.

My favorite song remains their candidate for the new State Song ("Old Dominion"). That'd be the one that the state of Virginia rejected because it took shots at other states and those states might be offended. Righty-o (That makes sense -- because our current state song, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" couldn't possibly offend anyone.

I think the Rocky Mountains can take the odd dismissmal.)

For the record, the state rejected all of the new candidates, and a few loudmouths tried to cloak the song in "tradition". Bah.

But I digress. EFO were fantastic; even better in person than on tape, and they have some quite rabid fans out there.

Posted by julia at 06:33 PM