Monthly Archives: June 2013

This is an ode to the shuffle. How better to get a good insight in your digitized album collection than by a classic shuffle? Finally discover the albums you never got into, finally throw the ones away you will never get into and worship those classics that never grow old again. The Shuffle of this week:

1. José Gonzalez –Hints (Veneer, 2003)


Starting slowly with  the Swedish (born in Gothenburg, parents migrated from Argentina after the junta seizing power) singer-songwriter José Gonzalez. This not so impressive song was on his debut album, on which he’s the only musician, signing for vocals, percussion and his classical guitar sound. Hard to imagine he started his musical career in hardcore (punk) bands.

2. Vampire Weekend  – Oxford Comma (Vampire Weekend, 2008)

Example: ‘My favorite albums are Graceland, Revolver and Foxtrot.’ or ‘My favorite albums are Graceland, Revolver, and Foxtrot.’ The only difference between the two is the oxford comma before ‘and’. I listened the album a gazillion times during 2008’s summer and relistening it entirely again (great album) made me decide to give their third album a shot, as I considered their second one a miss.

3. Fleet Foxes – Your Protector (Fleet Foxes, 2008)

The shuffle infiltrates my brain and switches immediately to the absolute top album of that same summer, or even the entire year. Personally I already consider this one an all-time classic. This track in particular was my incentive to get into it, but it quickly became clear that this album is full of gems.

4. Beatles – Because (Abbey Road, 1969)

As a fan of vocal harmonies, I am spoiled this week when the masters of the genre come around with one of the highlights of Abbey Road. Hearing it again made me start a new poll: ‘Which band has your favorite vocal harmonies?’ . From earlier polls we can conclude that OK Computer is your favorite Radiohead album and Wish You Were Here was chosen as best Pink Floyd album. Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band was elected as best album of 1967.

5. Animal Collective – Daily Routine (Merriweather Post Pavillion, 2009)

If Fleet Foxes was 2008’s best album, then this surely was a worthy successor in 2009. I’ve put this album on a couple of times again after last times’ shuffle and revalued its geniusness once more. Finally time to get that last album:  Centipede Hz.

6. Arcade Fire – In the Backseat (Funeral, 2004)

Looks like we’re heading towards another shuffle of the recent past again, but there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Next one served is Arcade Fire’s debut album. It had been 5,6 years since I heard it, but giving it another shot makes you realize we’re talking about a classic here… again. Here again the follow-up album disappointed me, time to get The Suburbs!

7. Radiohead – Idioteque (I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings, 2001)

Fantastic live intermezzo of today’s rock (?) emperors. An absolute highlight in every live performance that I witnessed yet. The original version is of course to be found on their studio album Kid A (2000). The influences of Aphex Twin on the band around that time are clearly noticeable on this track.

8. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Third Stone from the Sun (Are You Experienced, 1967)

Wake me anytime for a short trip to 1967, and this one brings us to Hendrix’ planet full of guitar effects with vocal intermezzos from Dr. Spock. Fantastic debut album from the Experience, further defining the concept ‘power trio’.

9. Bob Dylan – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

Time for some nostalgia with one of Hendrix’ great examples, Bob Dylan. Not nostalgia in the sense  of ever having been able to witness Bob’s glory days, or even play his revolutionary and  renovative albums at the time they were released. More in the sense of this album being the first album I ever reviewed for this blog, at the same time being the starting point for plenty of other albums that were reviewed afterwards.

10. The Decemberists – Grace Cathedral Hill (Castaways and Cutouts, 2002)

Closing this week with an album that’s 11 years old meanwhile, but I only discovered it last year and in this way it was also my first acquaintance with the band. Some very good songs on it.

 

This is an ode to the shuffle. How better to get a good insight in your digitized album collection than by a classic shuffle? Finally discover the albums you never got into, finally throw the ones away you will never get into and worship those classics that never grow old again. The Shuffle of this week:

 1. Alice Cooper – Halo of Flies (Killer, 1971) 

Fantastic start this week with this classic prog attempt by Vincent Damon Furnier, performing as Alice Cooper. Still a very popular song in the Netherlands, as this was the only country where it was originally released as single. In fact the whole album, Cooper’s fourth, is very strong. As it is the only one in my collection it may be time to get a follow-up, Billion Dollar Babies perhaps?

2.  Robert Johnson – If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day (King of the Delta Blues Singers, 1936) 

To the absolute roots of blues, with this archaic classic. Clapton of course covered it, and you can clearly hear that the cradle of the sound of all Clapton’s later bands stays on that mountain with Robert.

3. Talking Heads – Seen and Not Seen (Remain in Light, 1980) 

Quite a transmission then, with this to the last detail polished new wave from Talking Heads. The album is an absolute gem and perfectly suited to bring along on holiday, as it gives you a lot to talk about, without even necessarily playing it.

4. Pixies – Gouge Away (Doolittle, 1989) 

One of the few songs out there that reaches absolute perfection within such a short time. And another great album, this is becoming one of the best shuffles until today…

5. Otis Redding – Pain In My Heart (Pain In My Heart, 1964) 

… reaching status ‘epic’ halfway with this classic from Otis. Second week in a row for Otis, which  deserves a place on the mobile playlist for the upcoming weeks.

6. Manu Chao – Le Rendez Vous (Próxima Estación: Esperanza, 2001) 

Sounds very weird when it’s meanwhile snowing outside.

 

7. X – Back 2 the Base (Wild Gift, 1981) 

Another short intermezzo from a total different world, it’s becoming a strange medley in this way. American punk rock band from LA (after which they called their debut album), with this being one of the many short songs on their second album. Not that I’m a big punk fan, but I can certainly enjoy it when it comes with such vocal harmonies.

8. Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child (Slight Return) (Electric Ladyland, 1968) 

Turn down the medley then and clear the stage for this demonstration by the master. From the last part of the magnificent album trilogy, after Are You Experienced (1967) and Axis: Bold as Love (1967). The trilogy lifted guitar playing to another level, and Hendrix decided to finish it in a legendary way. After his interpretation of Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’, Ladyland  is closed with this mindblowing track.

9. Lou Reed – Strawman (New York, 1989) 

A very acceptable sequel I have to admit, with a fairly delicious opening riff. This album once more showed the genius songwriting capabilities of Lou Reed, containing some of his best work. With Maureen Tucker back on drums of course, but on this song it’s above all that pounding guitar riff that keeps coming back over and over again that does the trick.

10. The Avalanches – Two Hearts in ¾ Time (Since I left you, 2000) 

It pro definition had to be a disappointment after those 10 minutes of pure power rock, and in fact it is. I’ll give it one more try (update: ok, they’re out).

 

 

Year: 1968

Genre: Roots Rock

Preceded by: –

Followed by: The Band (1969)

Related to: Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River, Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde

 

I love albums that can take you to other places, albums that succeed to give you the opportunity to travel in space and time within one hour, without even having to move from your couch. Last time I travelled to Big Pink, which is not some new to inhabit planet from the far future. It’s also more than that big house near New York, Big Pink is that small town in the American South where The Band was playing that night.

Right after the needle touched the vinyl, the spots enlightened the stage and five genius musicians showed up, completely aware of their qualities and playing with some kind of distinguished serenity. In the back sits Levon Helm, behind his drums. He’s actually the only American in the band, being the son of a cotton farmer from Arkansas. There he joined The Hawks in 1959 before moving to Canada, where the rockabilly sound of that band was highly appreciated. There, in the environs of Ontario, Levon and singer Ronnie Hawkins recruited four Canadian musicians, all around 18-19 years old.

One of those guys was the singer of the opening track of tonight’s gig: ‘Tears of Rage’. His name is Richard Manuel, the band’s pianist but also gifted with this soulful voice (to be heard a lot more during this performance). He wrote this song together with some guy named Bob Dylan and succeeds to sing it even more desperately than Dylan did earlier on The Basement Tapes. It immediately brings you into the world of The Band, to Big Pink, where unbreakable family ties survive at all costs in a divided society.

During the second song, ‘To Kingdom Come’, the spotlight is aimed at guitar player Robbie Robertson. This song is one of the many he has written as a member of The Band, but it’s one of the rare ones on which he also performances the lead vocals. Robertson (although being the only one of them who isn’t a multi-instrumentalist)  is a great shareholder of The Band’s success with his smooth guitar playing and having signed for some of the groups greatest classics. His guitar playing also sounds great on this song, which might bring you some visions of The Byrds.

The next song is sung (and written) by Manuel again, and his voice is the only memorable thing I remembered from it as ‘In A Station’ didn’t really astonish me at other points.  But this was quickly forgotten when that mysterious bass player starts to sing the following song: ‘ Caledonia Mission’. His name is Rick Danko and I become an absolute fan of his voice within his first two lines. He originates from Ukranian ancestors and thanks to his car accident The Band could not promote their debut album (1968) with a concert tour until the next year, when they were already recording their second album: The Band. The song is actually also written by Robertson, who created a strange mix of country verses and a soul chorus, where the piano adds another dimension to the song.

The Band announces to play one more song before the break and this one completely blows me away. During this short break I decide I’ve just listened to the best song that was ever written. Robertson wrote it, based on his experience as a young Canadian in his twenties, arriving at the cradle of soul, blues, rock ‘n roll and what else more: Memphis. He realized that he’d ended up in the world of Levon Helm and as a great songwriter he luckily possessed the capacity to describe his images in a marvelous and poetic way. On top of that the song was extremely suited for the voice of Helm, the total impersonation of the main character in ‘The Weight’.

The weight is carried by a visitor of the little town called Nazareth, as Robertson is of course considering this ‘new world’ a holy destination in his life. He comes here just  to pass somebody’s (Miss Fanny) regards but would never have thought that this would be such a burdensome task, ending up in some bizarre experiences. He arrives there very tired and they decline to give this man a bed, just like in Luke’s story about Mary and Joseph. After Carmen has dropped off nobody less than the Devil to keep him company, he also runs into Luke himself, who is arguing with Miss Moses about joining the civil rights movement. Luke is worried about what’s going on and asks the traveler to stay so he can take care of the young Anna-Lee. His vehicle subsequently breaks down but luckily there’s good old Crazy Chester who can fix it. He’s willing to do that, on the condition that the traveler looks after his wild dog, Jack.  It all gets too much for him now so he hops on the first train (cannonball) to get back to Miss Fanny. AMEN! After Levon of course personally kicks off the song (Anna-Lee, Carmen and Crazy Chester were all real characters in his life, from the town with the perfect name Turkey Scratch), the lead vocals are shared during the rest of the song with  Manuel and Danko. Brilliant.

After turning the record over, The Band returns on stage and immediately my attention is drawn to the mystical fifth guy, sitting like an old wizard behind his organ while playing a delicious intro of the first song: ‘We Can Talk’. This is Garth Hudson, the classically skilled member of the band. During the first years, this guy gave music lessons to the other guys for 10 dollars a week, only to prove towards his parents that his education was not wasted by joining that band. The song itself is basically one of the most catchy ones on the album, showing another great example of mixed vocals, with Danko, Manuel (writer of the song) and Helm sharing the lead vocals again.

Another nice intro is delivered by Hudson on ‘Long Black Veil’, after which the beautiful vocals of Rick Danko follow again. This ballad (guy falsely accused of murder) is a cover and was originally written by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin back in 1959. As you know The Band was prematurely built around this time, as they formed The Hawks from ’58 till ’63. They continued as Levon and the Hawks in 1964 before becoming Bob Dylan’s band the next year. As such they toured around the world, although Helm aborted halfway to go working on an oil rig for two years! After the tour Dylan moves to Woodstock in 1966 with The Band following him shortly afterwards. It was Danko who found the big pink house in the state of New York where he would live together with Manuel and Hudson.

But we don’t get time to dig further in history because I’m blown away a second time this night. Out of nothing (looking at a completely dark stage) a dramatic and bombastic organ sound rises up: this is a real showcase for Garth Hudson. The song is called ‘Chest Fever’ and is probably one of the rare Band songs that shows any kinship with psychedelic rock, which was booming around that time. It’s of course all about this pounding organ riff, being filled up with Manuel’s tearing voice (telling the classic story of a spurned man) and the distorted guitar playing by Robertson. This is a genius piece of music, which has to top the list of best tracks below even when it’s of course not the best one on the album, but ‘The Weight’ would be a little too predictable.

I need some time to recover from this and this time is offered by ‘Lonesome Suzie’, a decent ballad from Manuel which can’t really excite me. But the excitement returns when Danko starts singing ‘This Wheel’s On Fire’, a song he co-wrote with Dylan. The song is stuffed with all kind of bizarre sounds, with the organ and guitar producing oriental noises. But the real strength of the song are Danko’s vocals, who seems to be in an ecstatic form of hesitation during this track. It was tonight’s last boost of energy, as the gig is closed by the peaceful ‘I Shall Be Released’, a majestic song from Dylan, sung by Manuel in a breathtaking way. With this song we all pray to be released from our sins and say goodbye to the world of Big Pink.

So in the end, what makes this album such a great record? I guess it’s the diversity as well as the connectedness of the songs. First of all, all different members of The Band are portrayed as individual musical geniuses, as each one gets his moment to shine. In this way it often reminds me of The BeatlesRevolver . But there’s  also an apparent connection between all songs at the same time, telling you the story of the people of Big Pink. Not the big house, but the towns and villages that these guys from Canada discovered after following their own Moses to the promised land.

Top Tracks:

1. Chest Fever
2. The Weight
3. I Shall Be Released

Jukebox

BornintheUSA1984 CantBuyaThrill1972 afterthegoldrush1970 abraxas1970