Sunday, January 31, 2010

January Purchases

Time has been my enemy lately, so I never seem to get a chance to really write out reviews like I used to be able to do, so I will at least try to give a monthly overview of what I’ve recently bought or have been listening to.

I’ve been going through a lot of different music lately for various reasons, from blues to folk to classic rock to more modern music (comparatively, anyway).

When I started playing guitar, I learned the basics from my older brother who, along with one of my sisters, was into folk music and played and sang in folk groups, so naturally, I was drawn to this. One of my (and their) early influences was Leonard Cohen. I was always attracted to the beauty of his songs, though equally attracted to the sexuality, poetic madness and melancholy.

Songs of Leonard Cohen was his debut record, though many people were familiar with some of his tunes through covers from songsters such as Judy Collins. Of course, his versions were a little darker and had more of an edge than Collins, whose delicacy and sweetness lightened the songs somewhat. But, this record has some of his more well-known compositions, such as “Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne” and “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”. If this had been his only release he would still be recognized as a folk genius. This CD does include two bonus tracks, as well.

But, of course, he has released many more records. For some reason I have not gotten his second yet on CD but moved on to what is probably my favorite, Songs of Love and Hate, an apt title for most musicians and maybe even more so for Cohen. This is certainly one of his more depressing releases – which is probably why I like it so much – with songs such as “Famous Blue Raincoat”, “Last Year’s Man” and “Dress Rehearsal Rag” (with its tale of Santa Claus slashing his wrists). His voice is even more ragged than usual here and he is not afraid to move from truly pretty to out-of-tune and almost out-of-control wildness (within context of folk, of course).

I’m not sure if Patti Smith ever had any association with or was ever influenced directly by Leonard Cohen, but there certainly is some common ground, as they both were known poets before moving into the music scene. Patti, obviously, moved into a rock’n’roll direction, which suited her more Morrison-esque free-form stanzas.

Her debut album, Horses, was the first of the new wave of rock that later became punk and it certainly focused a lot of attention on the New York scene where punk rock was forming. This record is a mix of 3 chord 60’s garage rock (not surprising as her cohort Lenny Kaye put together the famous Nuggets compilation), such as her take on “Gloria” as well as her inclusion of “Land of a Thousand Dances” into the title track., as well as reggae (“Redondo Beach”), hard rock (Free Money”) and some of her own uniqueness. Aided and abetted by former beaus, such as Tom Verlaine (playing guitar and co-writing “Break it Up”), Alan Lanier (BOC, doing the same on “Elegie”) and even Robert Mapplethorpe as photographer. This record does a fine job of combining the power of the word with the power of rock’n’roll. There is a two-CD set that I do not have, but this CD does have the famous live version of “My Generation” with John Cale on bass and total chaos.

Radio Ethiopia came next as is definitely her “hard rock” album. Produced by Jack Douglas (who had recently scored high with Aerosmith’s Toys in the Attic and Rocks) and including her rocking-est songs, “Ask the Angels” and “Pumping (My Heart)”, some of the record does seem to be attempting to commercialize her sound. But, again, there are attempts at reggae (“Ain’t It Strange”), a lovely ballad with the unlikely title “Pissing in a River” and free-form jazz in the title cut. Possibly my favorite album of hers due to its music variations. This CD again has one bonus track that I was completely unfamiliar with called “Chiklets”, which is very good. It is a little surprising that more of her single b-sides (such as “godspeed” and others) were not added to these two CDs to fill them out more, but I guess no one asked me!

I’ve also been a Captain Beefheart fan for decades but have been slow to pick up his CDs. I did just find Safe As Milk, his debut, which has a wide variety of styles and shows his early blues and r’n’b influences as well as his free jazz. Ry Cooder is highlighted on guitar (slide and otherwise), which helps to bring out the blues of “Sure ‘Nuff ‘N Yes I Do” (adapted from “Drinking Muddy Water”) to the r’n’r of “Zig Zag Wanderer” (which I can’t believe hasn’t been covered more by garage and/or punk’n’roll bands) to the doo-wop of “Call on Me” to the eclectic mania of “Electricity” to the eccentric pop of “Yellow Brick Road” (with melodic references to “Pop Goes the Weasel”). This is a superb document showing his growth within his first release and this CD has a generous 7 bonus tracks, so well worth the money!

I was a huge Nirvana fan as they hit big, but I never bought Nevermind since all of the songs were played so often everywhere that you went that I didn’t need to! But now that some time has gone by and I’ve taken a break from the band, I’ve finally picked up the CD and I find that it does hold up very well. This is a strong and varied record (considering the soft/loud formula that Curt used fairly often) with some great songs. And good production for Butch Vig. Of course, everyone has heard this in its entirety for ages, but if it has been a while, do yourself a favor and give it another go – it’s good stuff! The CD does have a “hidden track” (is it really hidden if it tells you that it is hidden?) of a very noisy live take, though I don’t recognize what it is. I liked it though!

Along with Nirvana, I picked up the Foo Fighters' There is Nothing Left to Lose, to see what these guys were all about. I have great respect for Dave Grohl as a drummer and vocalist (and Tenacious D sideman) and what I have heard in passing of the FF’s was always good. This record has the single “Learn to Fly” which is a strong pop song, but the rest of the album is pretty same-y, without enough variation for me personally – fine singing and all, but Grohl is not a particularly accomplished guitarist so no leads to speak of at all and not much sonic differences. Maybe I need to get the greatest hits…

OK, even this took me a couple of hours to get through (with life interrupting as it does) but I will try to post when I can!