Close Panel

17

Dec

2011

A Shane MacGowan Christmas

By Bad Thoughts. Posted in Analysis and Opinion, Folk, Indie | 1 Comment »

My compatriots have done an excellent job highlighting music that restores the seriousness of Christmas. As a Jew (a Reconstructionist, the lit-crit version of Judaism), I don’t feel like I have a stake in this game. Outside of a few songs, there aren’t any great Hanukkah albums. My holiday music tends be Klezmer, which can be played any time of the year.

There are a handful of Christmas songs I do enjoy. Wassails and winter songs aren’t necessarily Christmas songs: they are seasonal, coinciding with the Holidays. Indeed, “Jingle Bells” was written for Thanksgiving. There are carols that are based on excellent folk tunes that can get me moving (I will play “We Three Kings” and “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” as jigs). What tends to bother me about some Christmas songs is the repeated use of the same chord progressions, composed of I-ii-Vs and IV-iii-ii-I turnarounds (see “Jingle Bell Rock”, “Frosty the Snowman”, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”). Popular Christmas tunes tend to sound alike, which in my opinion reflects the composers’ laziness.

Among my favorite Christmas songs is The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” which could either be seen as deep and dark or over-the-top, the alternative version of It’s a Wonderful Life or the Christmas version of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. From the production standpoint, the song is impeccable: soaring strings, perfectly timed transitions, even a big dropout to give power to “the bells were ringing out on Christmas day.” From a more cynical standpoint, the song is a crass attempt at a big commercial hit: the duet with Kirsty MacColl could be construed to be a gimmick, and the New York theme and the stadium sound are things a band might employ to try to crack the American market. It’s everything to be expected and dreaded from a Christmas song.

Read more »


1 Comment »

 

Snippets from the latest issue of Fanfare. These are the best-reviewed discs for November/December, in the order in which they appear in the magazine.

Liszt: Piano sonata; Fantasy and fugue on “Ad nos, ad salutarem”. Garrick Ohlsson (p). Bridge 9337

“As skillful as Busoni’s 1897 transcription is, Ad nos is not an easy piece to pull off on the piano. Ohlsson does it brilliantly, using a dynamic palette with huge fortissimos that never sound forced and a pianissimo spectrum of infinite gradation. … This B-Minor Sonata is so unlike any other I can think of, it comes dangerously close to beggaring description. … an interpretation of profound wisdom and almost excruciating beauty” – Patrick Rucker

Read more »


No Comments »

 

2011 has been another good year for music, with a deep list of very good albums released.  This depth has allowed me to extend my usual Top Ten list to a Top Twenty that could easily have gone to 25 or 30 without me breaking a sweat.  That said, ordering the below albums was a little harder than usual because for me there weren’t any truly mind blowing albums released this year.  Ordinarily there is at least one album, if not two or three, that stand head and shoulders above the rest and demand the top spot(s), but that did not happen for me in 2011.  In fact, had this year’s #1 album been released in 2010 it would have been at most #5 on that list (behind Titus Andronicus, Kanye West, Owen Pallett, and Dessa).

I think a big part of my not seeing a true #1 album this year is simply a matter of taste.  A whole lot of lists are putting Bon Iver, Bon Iver at the top but that album simply does not work for me.  While I loved For Emma, its follow-up feels like it is trying too hard (although it would appear successfully) to cross over into the pop realm and sanded off the rough edges that made For Emma so fantastic.  I was even more disappointed in Watch the Throne, which comes off as nothing more than self-indulgent ego stroking.  Add to these disappointments the fact that I’ve never been a fan of Fleet Foxes or My Morning Jacket and some of the years best reviewed albums are off the table for me.

Read more »


4 Comments »

 

This is the first article in a series where Music is Good contributors discuss the albums that have most influenced them musically. They will include some favourites that they play regularly now, but other choices will be music that they rarely listen to anymore, but had a major influence on their musical development at the time.
My selection begins with the Beatles:

The Beatles inevitably had a major influence upon me musically as I was teenager in their early days. For me this is a turning point album moving from the early fairly straight forward recordings that could be replicated on stage to the later studio based albums like Sgt Pepper. To some extent it reflects my growing up as a person alongside the Beatles ‘growing up’ musically. It is still an album I play regularly with many standout tracks for me such as “Dr Robert” and “Got to Get You Into My Life”.

Read more »


No Comments »

 

12

Dec

2011

Bill Frisell – “858 Quartet”

By Dave Sumner. Posted in Jazz | No Comments »

Crossposted from http://www.birdistheworm.com/.

The last time Bill Frisell recorded an album with the 858 ensemble, things were a bit noisier.  The 2002 recording Richter 858 had Frisell substituting jet engines for amps, and let the compositions not so much speak for themselves as growl and roar.  Sign of Life shows that there was a heartbeat just behind all the fury and fuel of Richter 858.

Different sound; same ensemble.  Bill brings his incomparable voice on guitar, and long-time collaborators Jenny Scheinman on violin, Hank Roberts on cello, and Eyvind Kang on viola.

As with any inventive musician, Frisell’s sound has evolved over the years.  His current phase is often referred to as Americana Jazz, a blending of jazz aspirations and conventions within a folk framework.  Sign of Life fits snugly into that label, comparable to other recent releases like the excellent Disfarmer, the perfectly acceptable Beautiful Dreamer, and the under-the-radar All Hat.  It’s an album of languid back porch tunes, of foreboding compositions echoing over desolate Appalachian trails, of lush stringed instruments that is alternatingly soothing, threatening, and transcendent.

858 Quartet

Read more »


No Comments »

 

English Folk Music and Christmas carols are closely linked together. Carols like The Holy and the Ivy are many centuries old, based on an oral tradition, just like a number of folk songs. Many of these carols actually have elements of paganism and religiosity mixed together, just like many folk songs. The Holy and the Ivy is a good example of this. If you want to learn more about this carol, go to the Wiki article about it.

Right up until the end of the last century, still continuing in some areas, carol singers used to go around houses and pubs in the UK singing sometimes playing instruments, collecting money,  usually for charities. Nowadays the most likely carol singers are actually Salvation Army bands in shopping centres. But a number of contemporary English folk artists have continued the tradition of Christmas and Winter songs with their recordings.

Read more »


No Comments »

 

10

Dec

2011

Gregorian Chant

By Stephen J. Nereffid. Posted in A History of Classical Music, Classical | No Comments »

A History of Classical Music through Recordings: Part 1.

Chant. Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos. EMI

In May 1994, something extraordinary happened: a compilation of recordings made a decade or two earlier by a group of monks in a monastery in northern Spain reached #3 on the Billboard album charts, having already been a big hit in other countries. The Gregorian chant sung by these monks and their brethren for well over a millennium is the oldest music in the classical tradition, and it remains alive in Catholic rituals today. Listeners to the Chant album were drawn by the music’s promise to, as the sleeve notes put it, “bathe the weary, worldly, unsuspecting soul in its blessing”. Certainly there’s no denying the soothing effect of those long, rhythm-free melodic lines, but this somewhat misses the point that chant’s original intended audience was as much God Himself as exhausted yuppies or their medieval equivalent. Although Gregorian chant gets its name from Pope Gregory I, who reigned from 590 to 604 C.E., the music had its origins in earlier centuries. Psalmody was a key feature of Jewish worship, but not of early Christianity, and it wasn’t until the development of monastic life in the fourth century that Christian psalmody appeared, in the monks’ and nuns’ night vigils. Later, psalmodic chanting was reorganized to be spread across the entire day, in a series of seven “offices”, as well as in the daily mass. Chant has a rather arbitrary track listing, so to get a better picture of chant being sung in its proper devotional context we must look elsewhere.

Read more »


No Comments »

 

NOTE: This article has been revised to correct artist and track names.  It appears that the tags on the author’s copy were incorrect and inverted these items.  Music is Good regrets this error.

As with most blogs Music is Good’s Blogroll is where we advertise some of our favorite internet outposts.  Unlike some blogs, however, not all of the links there are technically blogs.

One of the non-blog sites listed on our Blogroll is Kickstarter.com (if you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, I strongly encourage you to check it out).  On September 22, I was looking for interesting projects on Kickstarter and stumbled upon Music from Saharan Cellphones, “a compilation of music collected from memory cards of cellular phones in the Sahara desert.”  Apparently, in West Africa folks use their cellphones to house their music collections (which are often tracks that are otherwise unreleased) and they swap songs via Bluetooth transfers.  In 2010, Christopher Kirkley, the man behind Music from Saharan Cellphones, brought a bunch of these tracks back to the States and released some on cassettes that were soon ripped to the internet and widely spread.

Read more »


No Comments »

 

Hieronymous Bosch, via Wikimedia CommonsFor a long time I’ve wanted to create some sort of beginner’s guide to classical music, but I was never quite sure how. Part of my hesitation has been uncertainty over where the beginner should start. I came to classical music as a teenager through accessible orchestral works such as Holst’s The Planets and Grieg’s Peer Gynt, but others will testify to the power of Vivaldi, or Pärt, or a particular instrument. The sensible approach seemed to be to develop a long list of recordings and let the beginner pick where to start, rather than say “start here”. The most straightforward approach to such a list would be a roughly chronological one, or at least one divided into the major periods of classical music – Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and so on. But then, of course, the question is what to put on the list.

Read more »


1 Comment »

 


Bluegrass has been known for its virtuosity as much as its conservatism. As much as it can be thrilling with its rapid improvisations, audiences expect musicians to sound like the men who created the genre. Nonetheless, a few people have come along over the last decade who have tried to update the genre, incorporating the ethics of Alternative without abandoning Bluegrass’ sound. For the banjo, this means honoring the Scruggs sound.

Noam Pikelny would never be mistaken for an acolyte of Earl Scruggs. He did not come to the banjo from Bluegrass, through listening to the classics of Bill Monroe and his collaborators; rather it was the other way around. He learned from players of his native Chicago and listened to the “Newgrass” records of the 1970s, particularly Bela Fleck. Playing the banjo has instead brought him to the edges of Bluegrass, developing an intuitive approach to the instrument that has made him a rising star on the “Progressive Acoustic” scene as part of Chris Thile’s Punch Brothers.

Read more »


No Comments »