Monday, December 11, 2006

100 Years (in Ten Jumps)


Rev. Tom Frost, You Belong to Me.
Nellie McKay, Long and Lazy River.
Nico Muhly, Honest Music.
The Coup, My Favorite Mutiny.
TV On the Radio, Dirtywhirl.
Matthew Shipp, Module.
Bob Dylan, Nettie Moore (live, St. Paul).
Sonny Rollins, Stairway to the Stars.
Jerry Lee Lewis and Merle Haggard, Just a Bummin' Around.

There is a rumor among the marines in Anbar that Iraqi snipers will not shoot black people, because they are worried that it will bring them demons.

Lance Corporal Woods is black. He smoked in the darkness and said it has been a topic of conversation in his unit, Mobile Assault Platoon Five. "Valdez and me talked about that," he said. "He's Hispanic. He said, 'Man, I'm going to paint my skin darker, man.' That's what he said. And the next day he got shot."

"I hate this place," he said..."Out here, it really makes you love your country. I love my country, man. I love my country. I didn't hate my country before, man. But I had some problems with it."

"The United States of America," he said. "That sounds like heaven right now."

C.J. Chivers, "Marine Unit and Iraqis Fend Off Attacks and Boredom," NY Times, 7 December 2006.

And so, we come to a rest at last, in the waning hours of our present year, itself readying to shuffle off into the past.

Someone (Harold Bloom?) said that future prediction was a mug's game. If so, it's a game I'm terrible at. That's why I started a blog about '40s music in the first place.

So the following nine songs are nowhere near the "best of 2006." Consider this a net cast out into the teeming sea of music, dragging in a sampling of what's out there. Three are from youngsters, three are from oldsters, three are from artists in their (relative) prime.

The Rev. Tom Frost is likely well known to anyone who regularly visits MP3 blogs--he runs the essential Spread the Good Word. Apart from being a great guy and having excellent taste, he's also a fine musician--France's answer to Tom Waits and Lux Interior.

"You Belong to Me" is my favorite track off the Rev.'s first CD, South of Hell, France, which is apparently out of print now, but you can also find it on iTunes.

when Ms. McKay met Ms. Channing

The travails of Nellie McKay indicate just how the music industry has simply lost the plot. A few decades ago, someone like McKay--an ambitious young songwriter blessed with a smoky, compelling voice and a storming piano style--would have been given time to breathe and expand at Verve or Vanguard, or Lenny Waronker's Warner or David Geffen's Asylum or Jac Holzman's Elektra. And perhaps a few albums into her career, she'd turn out her 12 Songs or For the Roses or Innervisions.

But the system has broken down so much that her label Sony seemed simply inept or unwilling to handle McKay. She didn't fit into any of the tiny squares; she was boisterous, driven and demanded all sorts of things, including making her first two records double-CDs. Given a music business with some room for "mid-list" performers, with a more agile A&R apparatus and more sympathetic label management, McKay might have thrived. But instead McKay, rather than have her second CD gutted and likely thrown out into the marketplace with minimal promotion, left Sony in disgust and wound up at an indie label.

And sure, Pretty Little Head is a bit overegged, with its gorgeous duets and pop gems crowded by strange little ditties. Still, there's so much talent on display it seems a waste to deny audiences any of it. Certainly not "Long and Lazy River," a wistful, lovely song that sounds like it comes from a lost Judy Garland musical.

On Pretty Little Head.

Nico Muhly, born in Vermont in 1981, has been composing since his teens. "Honest Music" is described as a studio exercise, a piece not meant to be performed live--it's a collection of violin phrases, false starts, afterbeats: the stuff that usually winds up on the cutting room floor. "The result is that all of Honest Music is an outtake, a rehearsal for another, wholly imaginary piece," the liner notes say. But the loveliness of Lisa Liu's violin and the scattered, at-times abrupt accompaniment by Muhly on harmonium and Monika Abendroth on harp make it a compelling piece in its own right.

On Speaks Volumes, which can be purchased here and also on iTunes.

I've been listening to The Coup's "My Favorite Mutiny" all weekend, so it goes in just for that. It's been an abritrary morning. On Pick a Bigger Weapon.

And Alex at Moistworks' pick for an exemplary 2006 song is TV on the Radio's "Dirtywhirl," so here it is. On Return to Cookie Mountain.

Matthew Shipp, born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1960, has emerged over the past decade as one of the most incisive jazz pianists of his generation, both in his work with the David S. Ware quartet and on his own (my favorite of his solo records is 2002's Songs, in which Shipp reworks everything from "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" to "We Free Kings.")

"Module" is an example of Shipp's quieter work, veering towards ominousness at times. On One.

Bob Dylan's "Nettie Moore" is his Hadji Murad, a work of genius coming from deep in the dusk of an artist's life. With a chorus taken from a slavery-era lament (the original folk song was about a slave being sold down the river), and lines stolen from W.C. Handy, among others, "Nettie Moore" is one of Dylan's apocalyptic musings, a less fervid "Foot of Pride," if no less harrowing.

This version is from a concert in St. Paul, Minnesota, on October 29, 2006. Studio version is on Modern Times.

Sonny Rollins has been playing and recording for some 55 years now--he is to the latter half of the 20th Century what Coleman Hawkins and Louis Armstrong were to the first: a walking, singing embodiment of jazz.

His take on the standard "Stairway to the Stars" finds Rollins immediately soaring off to the heights, with soft accompaniment by Clifton Anderson on trombone. With Bobby Broom (g), Bob Cranshaw (b), Steve Jordan (d) and Kimati Dinizulu (percussion).

You can buy Sonny Please on Rollins' website, or on iTunes.

And at last, Jerry Lee Lewis and Merle Haggard's "Just a Bummin' Around"--two old men who've seen so much life they've forgotten half of it, sitting around, playing some songs, getting a bit drunk. "That could be a good one," Jerry Lee says at the end.

On Last Man Standing.

So there you have it: 100 years, more or less. Hope you enjoyed the trip.

Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past. Unless our philosophy hears the cock crow in every barn-yard within our horizon, it is belated. That sound commonly reminds us that we are growing rusty and antique in our employments and habits of thought...It is a newer testament — the Gospel according to this moment. He has not fallen astern; he has got up early, and kept up early, and to be where he is, is to be in season, in the foremost rank of time. It is an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, a brag for all the world — healthiness as of a spring burst forth — a new fountain of the Muses,to celebrate this last instant of time.

Thoreau, "Walking."

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