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Archive for the ‘Books about music’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-Let It Be (1970).

letI wrote about this album back in 2015.

Of all the fascinating details about Beatles releases, I don’t think any are more fascinating than the details about Let It Be.  I’m not even close to understanding everything that went on here.  But in a nutshell, it seems that they went into the studio to record an album called Get Back. They were even going to film the whole things.  It got scrapped.  Some members quit the band then rejoined.  And then they recorded Abbey Road.

And then the band did a concert on a rooftop (almost exactly 46 years ago!).  And soon after they broke up. Then some producers decided to release Let It Be as a soundtrack to the documentary made about their recording.  They used some of the material from Get Back and some from the rooftop concert and then Phil Spector got involved and put all kinds of strings on everything and then the album was released in the UK on my first birthday.

There’s lots of snippets of dialogue which seem designed to make it feel like a soundtrack (which it doesn’t).  There’s really short snippets of songs, there’s raw live songs, there’s overproduced string laden songs.  It’s kind of a mess.  But in there are some good songs too.

“Two of Us” is a pretty folkie number that I like quite a lot although I first became familiar with it from a Guster cover (which is pretty fine).  I never quite understood the title of “Dig a Pony,” but it’s a big weird sloppy song. It’s kind of fun to sing along to—especially the falsetto “Beeeecause.”  This song was recorded from their rooftop concert and it feels rawer than some of the other songs.

“Across the Universe” is a lovely song.  Evidently Lennon didn’t contribute much to Let It Be, so they threw this on to give him more content.  I actually know this more from the Fiona Apple version (which I think is actually better than this processed version). I don’t really care for the strings and echoes feel on this version. “Dig It” is a short piece of nonsense. It was exerted from a lengthy jam but for some reason only this little snippet was included on the record–it sounds odd here.

“Let it Be” is quite a lovely song. I don’t really care for the Phil Spectorisms that were done to it—the strings and choruses seem a bit cheesy.  At the same time, the guitar solo (which is quite good) sounds too raw and harsh for the song.  “Maggie Mae” is a traditional song, another bit of fun nonsense.  I like “I Me Mine,” it’s rather dark and the chorus just rocks out.  “I’ve Got a Feeling”, was also recorded on the roof, so it feels raw.  There’s some great guitars sounds on it. Evidently it was initially two songs, and Lennon’s part (the repeated “everybody” section) was added to it.

“One After 909” sounds so much like an early Beatles song–very traditional rock and roll (which means I don’t really like it).  Although the version is raw sounding (it was also recorded from the rooftop) so that’s kind of cool. Huh, Wikipedia says “the song was written no later than spring 1960 and perhaps as early as 1957, and is one of the first Lennon–McCartney compositions.”   “The Long and Winding Road” is where all the controversy comes from.  McCartney hated what Phil Spector did to his song.  He HATED it.  And I have to agree.  It sounds nothing like the Beatles–it sounds very treacly and almost muzaky.  It feels endless.  At the same time, I’m not even sure if the song is that good–it’s so hard to tell after all these years. I think it kind of rips off the transition in “Hey Jude” which was used to much better effect.

“For You Blue” is a simple blues. I like it better than most of the Beatles’ blues, perhaps because of John’s slide guitar (and the funny comments through the song–which makes it seem like the band actually liked each other).  “Get Back” ends the disc as a fun rollicking romp.  I really like this song, although I’m surprised at how short it seems–I thought there was a lengthy outro.  The end of the song (and the disc) has John asking if they passed the audition–lots of fun going on in this contentious recording session.

So it’s not the best career ending disc, although I guess as a soundtrack it’s pretty good.  I’ve never seen the film, and I’m kind of curious to after having walked through all of these Beatles albums.

[READ: September 1, 2016] Let It Be

After reading Colin Meloy’s take on The Replacements’ Let It Be, Steve Matteo’s take on The Beatles’ Let It Be is really different.

Matteo did a ton of research into the recording of this record.  Indeed, this book feels really long (and it drags occasionally).  I have to assume that anyone who is a big fan of The Beatles will know much of what he covers here.  I didn’t, so this works as a pretty thorough introduction for me.  And, as my review of the record above notes: I didn’t know much about the recording in the first place.  So this filled in some gaps (more gaps than I cared about actually).

The book begins with the earth shattering announcement that in 2003 police had recovered more than 500 hours of stolen tapes from the Let It Be sessions (I hadn’t heard about that, so I guess it didn’t shatter the earth all that much).

Rather than talking about this record itself, Matteo talks all about what went into the creation of the record.  And, admittedly, it is a fascinating mix of ego, talent, angst, friendship, overworked-ness and nearly everything else. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE REPLACEMENTS-Let It Be (1984).

letitbeI had posted about this record back in 2009.  This is what I write nearly ten years ago, and I’m pretty okay with it.

This is the final album the Replacements made before they moved to the majors.  This disc represents the culmination of their pre-major label sound and is one of my favorite “college albums” of the era.

The disc retains a lot of their sloppy/punk sound of the time, but the songwriting moves forward a little further.  Westerberg wrote some timeless anthems for this disc (“I Will Dare,” “Unsatisfied”).   But, they also sprinkle the disc with silly tracks…not filler exactly…more like balance.  This keeps the disc from being too ponderous.

“I Will Dare” opens the disc. It is bouncy and poppy with an irresistible chorus.   But the bulk of the album is faster and more rocking.  Unlike on their their first two discs, however, the songs run a little bit longer, and they don’t attempt the hardcore feel quite as much.

In fact, there are a few songs that are quite clearly ballads.  “Androgynous” is a piano ballad (!) that could have easily been written by Tom Waits.  “Unsatisfied” is another ballad, although this one has more instrumentation.  Nevertheless, the feeling of yearning is palpable in Westerberg’s voice.  Finally, “Answering Machine” is another flanged-guitar filled song about romance in the age of modern technology (circa 1984).

These relatively light (musically, not emotionally) songs are balanced out quite nicely by the pair of punk/nonsense songs: “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out” and “Gary’s Got a Boner.”  They add some (more) levity to the disc.  As well as some rocking guitars.

But perhaps the most surprising song is the cover of Kiss’ “Black Diamond.”  It is surprisingly faithful to the original, (at a time when Kiss was not even ironically cool) and it rocks just as hard.

This album showcases the diverse aspects of The Replacements perfectly.  While some people say their next album Tim is their masterpiece, I am more inclined to go with Let It Be.  And, for some reason, I really like the cover.

[READ: July 1, 2016] Let It Be

I have often thought I should read this series.  Of course, the last time I thought about it, there were 50-some books in the series and that seemed like way too many.  Well as of June 2017, there are 120 books in the series, which is an insane series to jump into.

But at work, four of the books came across my desk and if that’s not an invitation to read something, I don’t now what is.  So I’ve decided to read these four and we’ll see if that leads to more.

This was an interesting book to start with because it really set the tone for the series, by which I mean, as far as I can tell, anything goes.

Colin Meloy (this was written when The Decemberists were just starting to get a buzz around them.  In fact he references his girlfriend who is now his wife) makes this a very personal account about his childhood and his exposure to this album (and others) from his uncle.  So this book is a lot more about (young) Colin and his friend than the ‘Mats, but it’s obvious that the ‘Mats made Meloy who he is.   There’s very little in the way of production information or “research” (until the end).  Rather, it’s just a good story–from a future storyteller. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11 1996).

This is the final show on Rheostatics Live in which the band is opening for The Tragically Hip.

For this show, the intro music is also from The Wizard of Oz, but this time it’s Judy singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  It’s just one verse before fading out and then guitars fading in for Martin to play “A Mid Winter Night’s Dream.”

Turns out that this setlist is similar to the one from Buffalo with a lot of new songs.  Although there are a few older/more popular songs in places.

The new songs include “Fat” which sounds great of course.  I gather they are maybe sharing a microphone because at the end Dave says “See you in the next song, Martin.”  “Okay, Dave.”  This leads into a perfect version of “All the Same Eyes.”

Martin says “We are the Rheostatics.”  Dave says “We are the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howell Brothers (?).  They couldn’t make it but we got their jackets.  It’s nice of you to come out early.  We’re playing selections from our new record. Get it before it’s reduced to clear.”  (You can hear someone laugh on tape).

This is a segue into the single “Bad Time to Be Poor.”  It’s followed by another Tim song, “Claire” with the acoustic guitar opening in place.  There’s another lengthy guitar solo, although it’s not quiet as exciting as some of the other ones.  But Martin was saving up for a spirited version of “California Dreamline.”

They end their set with a rough rocking “Feed Yourself.”  During the spoken part, they slow things down to just a bass and washes of guitar.  It’s a pretty intense ending and a good preparation for The Tragically Hip.

[READ: June 25, 2017] The Story of Canada in 150 Objects

In celebration of Canada’s 150th year, Canadian Geographic and The Walrus created this special issue–a fun way to describe many elements of Canadian culture through “objects.”

The objects are grouped in vague categories.  Some have just a few words written about them while others get a few pages.  Some are humorous, some are more serious.  Most are happy or amusing, some not so much.  And all of it together paints a diverse and complex portrait of the country–as well as teaching this person from South of the border a number of things I did not know.

It’s with comic pride and humility that the first object is politeness (which is not an object at all, of course).  The amusing thing about this article about “politeness” is that while the author of it is very pleased to be so polite, he also can’t wait for his fellow Canucks to forget to be polite so he can rub it in with a extra smarmy “You’re Welcome.” (more…)

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bibSOUNDTRACK: THE BEATLES-Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2016).

beatlesThis disc was released this year.  It is technically the soundtrack to the film Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years.  But regardless of the film, these are newly mastered recordings from two Beatles concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in 1964 and 1965 (which were released in 1977).  This disc has 7 songs from 1965 and 6 from 1964 (not including the four bonus songs).

The concerts were legendary for the shrill screams that the audience made during these shows–so loud that the recordings were practically inaudible and, apparently, even the band members had a hard time hearing each other.  Sounds like a nightmare, frankly.

Well, George Martin’s son has used some technology to make these recordings listenable.  They have reduced the shrill screams to a kind of low-level, high-pitched sound and, even better, they have fleshed out the band so they don’t sound like they are playing in a tin can.

Here’s some fascinating things about that Hollywood Bowl Concerts. Tickets cost $5.50 in 1964 and $3 in 1965.  WHAT?  In 1965, the band played for 33 minutes.  That’s it–not sure how long they played in 1964.

The band had no monitors on stage–those things that musician are always pointing at and asking the mixer to turn up.  So on many shows they couldn’t even hear themselves.  The fact that their harmonies are so good is really impressive.  The notes suggest that the open roof of this show meant that the shrill crowd noise was somewhat dissipated allowing them to hear each other a little better for these shows.

Evidently the track listing for this disc consists of the best original recordings from the two shows.  I’m not sure why they’re not played in sequential order, but whatever.  Perhaps the energy of the opening “Twist and Shout” (all 90 seconds of it) is a pretty great way to start.  While the band is spot on in their playing (sometimes it’s easy to forget that they are laying instruments as well as singing, since the voices are the big thing) you can hear Paul’s voice straining on “Can’t Buy Me Love” (which is cool).  Or John saying he thinks the next song “Things She Said Today” is on the new album over here.  This song–quieter and less dancey sounds pretty great and you can kind of hear the audience paying attention to it, so that when the band gets to the loud part the crowd really erupts.

I’m surprised at how many covers the band plays.  I realize these songs are picked from two set lists, but there are dozens of serious hits that they could have played instead of say “Roll Over Beethoven” or, and this is the most surprising thing to me, ending their 1964 set with “Long Tall Sally” rather than one of their huge hits.

It’s funny how crazy the crowd goes for Ringo when he sings lead on “Boys.”

I enjoy hearing them talk about their films–one we made in black and white, the other in color.  “Hard Days Night” sounds great but even more impressive is “Help!”.  John intros the song by saying, “we’d like to do another film song from a different film–coz we’ve made two.”  “Help!” is really impressive the way the band launches right into their harmonies on that first note–it sounds incredible all the way through the song.  Even when John strains hard at the end.

There’s not a lot of stage banter, but I did enjoy this one from 1964: “This next song is an oldie, some of you older people might remember it.  It’s from last year.  It’s called “She Loves you.”  I like hearing the rocking guitar line more prominently and the fact that they don’t go “ooooh” during the first time it’s supposed to appear, but when they do the next time, the crowd goes nuts.

As the disc ends, Paul asks, “We all hope you enjoyed the show.  Have you enjoyed the show?”  Apparently they have.

I’m not sure why the final four songs are listed as “bonus tracks.”  The inclusion of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” can’t be a bonus!  But the four songs (two from 1964 and two from 1965) also sound great.  The harmonies on “Baby’s in Black” are fantastic.

John Lennon said the fans didn’t come to listen, they came to love.  Regardless, the band played wonderfully and gave a great performance.  It’s nice to be able to hear it.

[READ: March 10, 2016] Baby’s in Black

This story is about The Beatles before they became THE BEATLES.

I didn’t know all that much about the early Beatles.  I knew that they were in Germany (although I don’t really know why, and I still don’t). But I didn’t know about all of the trials and excitements that happened to them there.

What I loved about this story is that while it is about The Beatles, it’s actually about Stuart Sutcliffe and his girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr and their impact on the nascent Beatles.

The story begins with Astrid’s ex boyfriend Klaus Voormann running to Astrid to tell her about this band that he just heard down at the Reeperbahn.  He said they all dressed the same and they really rocked (or whatever they would have called it back then).

The Reeperbahn was sketchy place at the best of times, so it was unlikely that anyone other than sailors and thugs would have seen this band iinitially.  But Klaus was so insistent that Astrid agreed to go.  And she was mesmerized by them.  She was especially taken with bassist Stuart Sutcliffe (although none of the fans knows their names at this point).  The band consisted of John, Paul, George, Pete Best on guitar and Stuart on bass. (more…)

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carrieSOUNDTRACK: CATE LE BON-Tiny Desk Concert #337 (February 18, 2014).

cateCate Le Bon has a very interesting style of singing–it reminds me of Grace Slick in her enunciation, but also like someone whose speaking accent is very strong and is somewhat masked by her singing (like the way she sings “reason” as “ree-sun” as opposed to “reezun”).

The blurb explains that her “phrasing is completely tied to her Welsh dialect — in fact, her first record was in Welsh…. The enunciation is completely tied to the loneliness and the questioning.”

 For this concert it is just her and her fellow guitarist H. Hawkline (both wearing super cozy sweaters).  They share the guitar licks very nicely–it’s not always clear who is playing what–with her sometimes finishing his lines (I believe).

“Are You With Me Now?” has a very catchy chorus (with an “ah ha ha ha ha” part that makes it sound like an olde English ballad).

“No God” plays with very simple guitar lines (chords played very high on the neck of her guitar and a simple accompanying riff).  Hawkline plays keys (and sings some great falsetto backing vocals) to flesh out this song.  Everything is so clean you can hear each note from the guitar and her voice.

“Duke” opens with some interesting slightly off sounding from Cate while Hawkline plays a simple chord pattern (his fingers are enormous, by the way).  Hawkline’s falsetto is almost as engaging as the vocal lines that match the guitar line which Cate plays.  And when she says “I’ll see you here” in that unexpected pronunciation, it’s totally captivating.

I like Le Bon a lot and want to hear what she wounds like on record.

[READ: May 18, 2016] Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

After finishing Bob Boilen’s book and thinking about how I don’t really love music-based books, I immediately read Carrie Brownstein’s book.  Carrie Brownstein is one of the two guitarists in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag.  She is also one of the leads (writer and actor) on Portlandia.  And she wrote for NPR for a while, too.  Basically, Carrie is the shit.

One thing I took away from this book is that I’ve read a few musician memoirs (Mötley Crüe and Marilyn Manson to name a few) and this is the first one I’ve read that was filled with so much sadness.  Not “I was stoned and regret sleeping with that person with an STD sadness,” but like, real family problems and even a dead pet.  And, as Carrie herself jokes, her stories of being on tour and ending up in the hospital are not based on drugs or other debauchery, but on anxiety and even worse, shingles.

The beginning of the book starts in 2006, around the initial break up (hiatus) of Sleater-Kinney.  Carrie is in pain–emotional and physical–and she can’t take much more.  She starts punching herself hard in the face. (more…)

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boilenSOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #333 (January 27, 2014).

angelBob Boilen has liked Angel Olsen for some time, so when she did her Tiny Desk and most of us had never heard of her, he was already a fan.

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

She sits very still, strumming with her thumb and singing kind of low–not unlike Sharon van Etten.  The first song, “Unfucktheworld” is only two ans a half minutes.  The second song, “Iota,” is a little longer.  She sings in an affected almost falsetto style, although the guitar remains very spare.

Between these songs, she is coy about the title of the new record although she is quick to say the first word of the title “burn.”  Later she admits that the final song contains the title of the album, if we wanted to spend time figuring it out.

I marvelled at how high the chords were that she played on “Enemy,”  She seems to eschew any bass for this song.  This one is five and a half minutes long and is just as slow as the others.

Before the final song they talk about whether this is the most awkward show she has done.  She says everyone is very alert–and indeed you can hear utter silence between songs.  But then they talk about the storm outside (and potential tornado) and how this show may never air if the storm is really bad.

“White Fire” is an 8 minute story song.  She does use the whole guitar for this one, which has many many verses.   Since I don’t really know Olsen’s stuff that well, I don’t know if this was a good example of her show or a fun treat to hear her in such an intimate way.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Your Song Changed My Life

This site is all about music and books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t really like books about music all that much.  I have read a number of them—biographies, autobiography or whatever, and I don’t love them wholesale. Some are fine, but in general musicians aren’t really as interesting as they may seem.

What I do like however, is hearing a decent interview with musicians to find out some details about them–something that will flesh out my interest in them or perhaps make me interested in someone I previously wasn’t.  Not a whole book, maybe just an article, I guess.

I also really like Bob Boilen. I think he’s a great advocate of music and new bands.  I have been listening to his shows on NPR for years and obvious I have been talking about hundreds of the Tiny Desk Concerts that he originated.  I also really like his taste in music.  So I was pretty psyched when Sarah got me this book for my birthday.

I read it really quickly–just devoured the whole thing.  And it was really enjoyable. (more…)

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galchen SOUNDTRACK: HILARY HAHN-Tiny Desk Concert #169 (October 21, 2011).

hilaryHilary Hahn is a violinist.  She looks to be about 12 (although she isn’t, but she did start playing when she was very young).

She plays two beautiful pieces by Bach (she made an album of Bach Partitas when she was only 16):

Gigue (from Partita No. 3) is fun and lively and Siciliana (from Sonata No. 1) is somber and sweet.  Her fingering is perfect.  She is playing an 1864 Vuillaume fiddle and her sound is beautiful.

Earlier in 2011, she had released an album of Charles Ives’ four violin sonatas.   The blurb says that Ives weaved bits of Americana into his sonatas–quotes from old hymns and folks songs.

For her final piece, she combines four of these pieces: “Shall We Gather at the River,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “Battle Cry of Freedom” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” into her own melody.  She comments:

“I’ve actually never played this before, and it doesn’t really exist,” she admitted before launching into the tunes. “You may recognize them. Maybe after hearing these, if you hear the sonatas, you’ll be like, ‘I know that part!'”

She also says she will try to accompany herself.  I wasn’t sure what she meant–she doesn’t use a looping pedal or anything, but the blurb says she plays “just the right double stops (two strings at once)” and it sounds beautiful.

She also asks if anyone minds if she wears a hat.  Ives was often photographed with a hat  and there was Bob’s fedora.  It looks quite nice on her.

[READ: April 26, 2016] new movies, new drama

I was surprised to see that Rivka Galchen had been doing reviews in Harper’s (that image above is actually from The New York Times, apologies).  It seems like a step down from writing long pieces or short stories.  But who knows, maybe it’s a good gig (heck, wouldn’t I love to write about movies and television …hey wait).

Over the past year she has written five reviews of entertainments.

In March 2015, she reviewed Paddington and I really liked her insights into the movie (I posted about that already, here).

Then in June 2015, she wrote about Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  I had enjoyed the show by the time I read this piece (when it first came out), but I have just re-read it and it really makes me want to watch the new season (I watched the first episode but didn’t really love it as much as the previous season).  She raves about the opening credit sequence (which is fantastic) but spends a lot of the essay talking about how groundbreaking the show is because we are used to seeing adult men act like boys, but rarely do we see adult women act like girls (with glitter sneakers and a backpack).   The interesting thing is that “She invites admiration, yet it will be a rare viewer who would want to trade places with her…That’s what makes her a more radical invention than most earlier female comic leads.”

Galchen likes the “surprisingly glittering quality to dark moments… which appear unexpectedly and then dont quite vanish.”

She ties all this back to Lucy and Desi (Desilu produces the show). In real life, Desi Arnaz was discriminated against and relied on Lucille Ball to get him onto her show, thus the joke of Lucy trying to get into Ricky Ricardos’s show (I had no idea).

In September 2015, she writes about Louie (a show that she mentioned in the previous essay “Hallelujah”).  This time she is reviewing Season 5 of the show.  She talks of Louie as having a superpower: love.  “he transforms his sister’s aggressive gun-wielding ex-boyfriend into a gentle, giggling man who learns to knit.  Galchen focuses on the fourth episode, with his brother Bobby.  “Part of Louie’s superhero of love is his ability to occupy a position of humiliation and dejection, as if this might protect those around him from the same fate.”

She points out that no one on the show actually thinks Louie has any superpowers, but she enjoys reading it as such.  I have never been able to get into Louie, but she certainly make it sound very compelling–maybe I should start with Season 5..

In December of 2015, she wrote under the heading “new drama.” She writes about Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. She says the movie is about two groups who are above the law fighting each other.  “We never learn what all these missions are intended to bring about. Its’ simply presented as a given that the goals of the I.M.F. are good and that those of the Syndicate are bad.”

I’m intrigued at this note from Galchen: the original theme song was 5/4; “at various points in Rogue Nation, it’s been altered to 4/4.  This is some say, because the 4/4 beat is easier to dance to.

I was delighted at the way she segued the review of this movie into a review of a performance of Antigone, in which  a woman breaks the law to give her dead brother a proper burial.

These are characters for whom what is past–Antigone’s necessitous origins, Creon’s tainted ascent to the throne–is prophetic; the future is there waiting for them all along, and the future is death.  That the dead are still alive and trying to destroy us is, of course, also the premise of Rogue Nation.

She ties in that 4/4 dance beat at the end by mentioning a friend who said after watching the play that he couldn’t stop thinking of John Boehner (who had just resigned).  Galchen say that although it’s tempting to believe that the Pope’s words of kindness were what compelled him to resign, him to retire, it was mostly likely inspired by pressure from the right, but we prefer the Pope version–it’s an easier beat to follow.

Finally in March 2016, Galchen wrote about the Wooster Group, an experimental theater company.  She talks about their lucid, fevered work.  She saw their Hamlet in 2007 and was delighted by their unexpected delivery.  And now (well, then) they are doing Harold Pinter’s The Room.

She speaks of Pinter–his use of violence and long dramatic pauses.  The Room is a one-act black comedy. One of the things the Wooster Group does is show, behind the actors, television screens, partially turned to the audience with what appears to be Chinese political debates.  The actors wear earpieces that pipes the audio from these screens into their ears which no doubt impacts their delivery.

Wooster Group revels in the absurdity of their shows.  I’d be curious to see one of their productions, although i won’t be rushing out to do so.

 

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