Tuesday, July 15, 2008

O, the Ways to Read, w/notes on Podcast Episode One

A quick word:
Some readers have responded over the last few days, having found irregularities toward the end of Episode 1. The issue is being reviewed, and should be corrected shortly. Thanks for listening...

Episode 1

The first time I ever picked up a copy of the Torah I scratched my head like a monkey and wondered how one book so important to so many people could have suffered such an enduring publication blunder as to have been printed backwards. I always loved the Chinese alphabet, especially as a kid, with no bearings, thinking the characters were cryptically random arrangements of twigs and thorns. If I had been a Chinese kid I would've drifted away from the classroom each day in one of those little cages. Now Hebrew, on the other hand, always seemed to have a sense of humor in its shapes and proximity: lots of arched brows, hands on hips and pursing lips in those backwards-running figurines. Most erotic, though, is English in Stempel Garamond, into whose lowercase e I once momentarily withdrew from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights in a flash infatuation with the arched roof of the character's mouth. I wouldn't mention it, something so immaterial to our purposes together, but the way these blogs run in a straight shot down means you read the update or post-script or what have you before you've had a chance to read the mother article.

It is what it is. Here are but a few passing observations, some concern the music, others the records I used. I won't say there'll be zero cds used in the Enclave Podcast, but I'll certainly do my best to limit their presence. Nothing against the things--I'm no Steve Albini. I just love records and would sell my hands for more.

The Songs

1. Nat King Cole-Nature Boy (Capitol 1948) Depending how long a view you're willing to take of weird America, Cole's recording of Eden Ahbez' neo-pagan lyric came either several centuries too late or fifty some years too soon. I regard it as a kind of feral forebear to the Animal Collective/Vashti Bunyan "Prospect Hummer"--though to call this song feral is rather misleading. Still, the two share a kind of prehistoric magic. Cole's curious orchestral song must have been a great shock, so unlike everything of its time. It's so confidently homoerotic and nocturnal--it would make a fine opening song to a movie of The Secret Sharer, and was was the opening track to less homoerotic, yet equally nocturnal, The Boy with Green Hair. I have a 45 of this lying around, though this version was taken from a much more degraded 78. The accumulation of damage-induced noise only accentuates the paradox of its ancient notion and pristine rendition. Way essential, and a great way to kick things off, I say.

2. John Barry-Nobody and Nothing (United Artists 1967) From American mysticism to British. Soundtrack music peaked anew in mid to late 60's British mysteries (the intoxicating Hermann, Rosza, and Waxman themes of the 30's and 40's being the first great wave). There is little more than harpsichord and slow nylon string guitars, as if mere remnants of of an older living sound now gone. Even with the occasional embellishment from the orchestra these recordings epitomize the damp, meditative psychological tenor of the movies. Barry, famous for the exact opposite (the brash James Bond Theme for example) developed a rich, spooky sound that doesn't just mirror the pace of Brian Forbes' gothic drama, The Whisperers, it actually slows it down.

3. Margaret Greene-Learning to Talk-Two Years Old (Folkways 1963) Bought it for the cover, it turned out to have a great sound.

4. Berlioz/Sir Thos. Beecham/The Dulwich College Boys Choir/The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Columbia Masterworks 1955)-I mentioned this one in my first post. A terrific large ensemble piece, with wonderful sensitivity to space. Sounds like it was recorded in the Grand Canyon.

5. Colleen-The Golden Morning Breaks (Leaf 2005) So many folks nowadays make instrumental rock records and in doing so cheap out on some of the most important elements, the most obvious of which are the voice and lyrics. But what also too often happens is the whole song structure is lost. Blame Godspeed You Black Emperor (faithful readers by now must realize I blame them for a lot of things), or The Shipping News, or go back to the 70's wankers, the 45 minute drum solos, et al. It's hard to blame kids today, seeing as they're really second generation songless musicians and listeners. But whatever the era, history is rich with self-indulgent merrymakers who figure if I'm having a good time they must be having a good time too. Colleen appears to fit right into that lot. She records for the instrumental/new-house label, Leaf, she plays harp in a rock context, and her style is purely evocative. I excuse her entirely, though, from the accusations above. Like very few other of her generation she seems to have learned that valuable, if tricky, lesson from Satie's small, bone simple compositions: from note to note there must be some connective curiosity. It can't just be music for bubblebaths. Well, it can, but , you know, give people who take bubblebaths a little credit. They like the thoughtful, intelligent storyline too.

6. Hank Ballard & The Midnighters-Please Forgive Me (King 19??) Fine Bessemer, Alabama r&b. I love this late 50's/early 60's period of soul the best: the gospel fire was manifesting itself in new secular ways, and the crooner discipline still gave he music a kind of earnestness soon to be lost in the psychedelia of the mid-60's. I'd guess this was recorded sometime around 1960 or -61, owing a debt to the plaintive "Try Me", by James Brown--or perhaps the other way around.

7. Ivory Joe Hunter-Gimme a Pound o' Ground Round (MGM 19??) I found this curiosity in a cheapo milk crate at Beautiful World Syndicate. I bought it for the song title. The carnal euphemism is as disgusting, hilarious, and glorious as any I've heard in pop music--and that includes The Frogs. Somewhere a John Waters movie's doggy-style dryhumping scene is missing its tune...

8. Hubert Laws-Baila Cinderella (Atlantic 1963) I picked up this, Laws' 1965 lp, Flute By Laws and Byron Lee's 1967 Jump Up, within a week of one another. The former was a reccomendation of an esteemed Afro-Cuban listener/producer pal of mine--who in a reverent tone pointed out the name of Israel "Cachao" Lopes in the liner notes, the latter I just took a chance on. Over the course of Atlantic's 60+ year history they've not only made some of the quintessential American recordings (John Coltrane's Giant Steps and Ray Charles' What'd I Say to name but two off the top of my head) but they've help push the perimeters out into the realms of the undiscovered or just plain caricatured world musics. Laws' salsa is indistinguishable from straight dance music, probably because it is dance music. As notions of jazz split into camps of asses and brains there were dynamos like this who managed to appeal to both. It is tremendous fun.

9. Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer-Bob White (ATCO 1960) This spotless classy objet d'arte came from a recent excursion out west, to Jerry's Records in Pittsburgh, with old amigos Dan and Todd. The teamwork here is reminiscent of the Bing Crosby & Bob Hope road movies. Lots of arch repartee, indulgently bad jokes, and an outer sparkle missing not just from the music of our moment, but from the moment itself. A kind of laughing portent from the old long since.

10. Thelonious Monk-Tea for Two (Columbia 1963) From perhaps the most listenable record on my shelves, Criss Cross. Belongs in a museum.

11. Jo Stafford-Once to Every Heart (Columbia 1952) I can't hear songs like this without linking them to the sentimental vignettes they often filled in movies. So far though, I haven't found any sign of it having turned up in one. Check out this from an October 1952 issue of Time magazine for more dope.

*In a strange, sad coincidence, The Daily Telegraph announced yesterday Ms. Stafford, age 90, passed away. You can find that obituary, which is quite comprehensive of her life and career here.

12. ?-untranslated tune from lp, Russian Balalaika (label unknown 1977) The cardstock cover is printed in a long-lost shade of sage-honey orange, with greens that bled across the years from an old Maury Sendak storybook. The disc itself is sunny translucent gold. If I ever marry, it'll be to this record.

13. Alton Ellis-I'm Just a Guy (Studio One 1960s?) Familiar though no less superb rocksteady gem. Another fine example of the distressed condition of a record gilding the edges of its own classic aura.

14. Lee Andrews & the Hearts-Long Lonely Nights (Main Line Records 1957) Most young Philadelphians these days know Lee's son, Amir's band, The Roots, better than the doo wop father. The Roots are a formidable landbridge between old forms (jazz, doo wop, blues and such) and new hip hop. So count among their inheritance the DNA of great Philadelphia songcraft; this is one of the evocative greats, with a chorus etched on the imagination's night in long longs and loping lonelys. Pure euphony to match the pining, perfect harmony.

15. The Clash-The Card Cheat (Columbia 1979) Like Shane McGowan, Joe Strummer had an uncanny facility with bygone folk narratives. I haven't yet seen the Julian Temple movie, Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, though having spent time at the store with the soundtrack it is clear the kind of juxtaposition that was made between the vast years and styles of music Strummer absorbed, and the kind he made. "The Card Cheat" tells a simple tale of the title character being caught in the act, in a way that somehow feels epic, universal, and tremendously meaningful. It's as though in this lowly cheat's moment of reckoning, when his life is blinking away before him, the weight of western sin and possibility somehow manages to squeeze into the mix. A mighty vision.

16. The Shirelles-Soldier Boy (Scepter 1962) It is tremendously difficult to address the girl groups of the early and mid-sixties without either plying the reader with copious fact-based downers, or frosting them with hackneyed approbations. So difficult, in fact, is it that I'll refrain.

17. Christian Fennesz Plays Charles Matthews (Touch 7 2008) Fennesz has managed to shape his post-halcyon career with the kind of restraint and calculation pretty much unparalleled among his generation. Sure Kevin Shields has stayed busy over the years, but the yield has been erratic, and tacking towards modest embarrassment. Fennesz, on the other hand has seized his moment as a kind of second generation new composition figure, to basically do what Brian Eno did with pianist, Harold Budd's diaphanous playing. Like Eno, Fennesz makes the production role a vital, inextricable event from the ultimate musical entity, first with the miraculously pliable Ryuichi Skamoto (Cendre, Sala Santa Cecilia) and most recently with this limited edition 7" from March. It reveals Christian Fennesz' Breughel-like capacity for wild detail in a natural panorama. The processing of Matthews playing [the grand organ at York Minster] so reverently nods to Eno's arrangements of Budd--and does so with such uncannily subtle texture. The refinement, and convergence of sound source and and receptive modifier, has given birth to a difficult new question about the boundaries of natural authorship, even as the listener snaps back from a primary musical hypnosis. Who says limited edition 7"es can't change the world?!

18. Roy Smeck & the Music Men-My Little Grass Shack (Sonora 194?) Roy Smeck, born Leroy Smeck, America's answer to Django; Reading, Pennsylvania's answer to Harpo Marx. The guy's head ought to be on the dime.

19. Beethoven/Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau-Adelaide (Deutsche Grammophon 1965)

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