Monday, 16 January 2012

2011: A Year In Music [Part 2 of 4]

15. Gram Parsons - Grievous Angel

Gram Parsons, considered by many to be the godfather of alt-country music, only released 2 solo albums in his lifetime. Combining this with his work with the Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers and International Submarine Band, he left behind a remarkable oeuvre which influenced countless bands in the subsequent decades.

I picked up his 2-albums-on-1-CD set which included his solo debut G.P. and his swansong, the posthumously released Grievous angel. Both are very solid albums, but Grievous angel hits a few more emotional chords with me -- from the lucid storytelling of the opening semi title-track, to the poignant closer In my hour of darkness (with chanteuse-for-hire Emmylou Harris sharing vocal duties), via the emotive honesty of centrepieces Brass buttons and $1000 wedding, this is music with heart and soul from a talented musician who left the world way too soon.

14. The National - High Violet

I'd been putting off buying this album for a while, but I'm very glad I caved in and bought it. Their previous album, Boxer, was a real slow-burner for me -- an album with some immediate standout moments but others which took a bit longer to reveal their deeper layers to me.

I think that I may prefer High violet even more. I've talked a lot about how claustrophobic production can affect my enjoyment of music, but this is one of those albums where the production actually adds to the vibe of the album. Where Boxer was more about rhythms and textures, this album puts frontman Matt Berninger in centre stage where his haunting vocals take the spotlight on most of the songs here.

Opener Terrible love is a bit of a false start for me; it's a song where the production hinders rather than improves the song. The mid-album peak of the ominous Afraid of everyone and single Bloodbuzz ohio (with the outstanding lyrical imagery of "I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees") seems like it would be hard to beat, but the lower-key ballads on the latter-half of the album (Runaway, Conversation 16, England) all maintain that beautifully eerie tension that makes The National one of the better bands releasing music these days.

13. Phil Spector - Wall Of Sound Retrospective 12. Phil Spector - A Christmas Gift For You

Other than Gary Glitter's Rock and roll which I have on "The Full Monty" soundtrack, this may be the first time I own a CD by a convicted felon (okay, I'm prepared to be corrected on this one). Ignoring his recent murder conviction and incarceration, forgetting about his psychotic behaviour throughout the 60s and 70s (including keeping musicians in the studio at gunpoint until he got the take he wanted), there's no doubt that he is the most famous and influential music producer of the last 50 years.

I needed a Phil Spector primer in my collection, or at least a way to get a copy of the Ronettes' Be my baby (one of the great pop singles in musical history). I picked up the 2 CD box-set which contains a retrospective of his infamous "Wall of sound" production numbers, and his secular holiday album A Christmas gift for you.

Wall of sound retrospective contains many of the classic songs of the era from his favourite girl bands including The Ronettes, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans and Darlene Love. It's capped off with a few songs by The Righteous Brothers (You've lost that lovin' feeling, Unchained melody) and the song which he considered to be his finest moment (but a commercial flop in America) -- River deep, mountain high by Ike & Tina Turner. It's all essential listening; an important part of musical history.

A Christmas gift for you is often considered as one of the great holiday albums. The formula is simple -- take some famous songs from Christmas time (Rudolph the red nose reindeer, Santa Claus is coming to town), add some of Phil's favourite girl bands, cover the songs in dense wall-of-sound production, and listen to the magic. I have never celebrated Christmas, and I don't have the nostalgic attachment to these songs that I'm sure a lot of others would. But listening to this album makes me wish I did, just so I had an excuse to play it at that time of year. Christmas (Baby please come home) by Darlene Love is a stunning number and one of my musical discoveries of the year.

11. NRBQ - At Yankee Stadium

Despite the name, this isn't a live album. It's a tongue-in-cheek name from a band who you probably haven't heard of, who were certainly not afraid to have a bit of a laugh.

NRBQ stands for New Rhythm & Blues Quartet, a band with rotating lineups who formed in 1967 in Miami, Florida. It's hard to describe their music, but if you imagine a pub band who delve into jazz-rock, power-pop, swing and R&B, you'd have a pretty good idea of their sound.

I think I read something about this band when doing a bit of research about Brinsley Schwarz, Nick Lowe's former band. NRBQ were mentioned as a very underrated and under-appreciated band, and this album was singled out as a "lost classic" worthy of consideration.

There are a few covers here -- country-blues chugger Get rhythm (made famous by Johnny Cash), the rock 'n' roll classic Shake, rattle and roll, the R&B number The same old thing -- but the heart and soul of the album rests with the original NRBQ numbers. Just ain't fair is one of those songs that you feel like you've known forever; I love her, she loves me is a beautiful love ballad.

At Yankee Stadium is a tight, filler-free and fun rock album that doesn't outstay its welcome and makes you pretty goddamn happy for 35 minutes. What more can you ask for?


  1. Hey Jeremy

    Enjoying reading this as always. I have been thinking about picking up that Parsons 2 in 1 for a while now, have seen it very cheap. Do you think I would like?

    As for Spector, I think you will find lot of convicted criminals in your cd collection...but neverheless I bet that would be an awesome collection of some great music, and I would probably already know most of it

  2. Yeah, I think you'll dig Parsons. It's just honest country-folk music with great lyrics. Can't go wrong.

    And yeah, I kinda knew that statement about convicted criminals probably wasn't correct...but I'd like to think they are 2 of the few convicted of a serious violent crime, compared to drug possession, tax evasion, etc.


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