Archive for the ‘Alison Krauss’ Category

dec20133SOUNDTRACK: FRANKIE SPARO-Arena Hostile (VPRO Radio Recordings) [CST017] (2001).

sparo2I didn’t love Sparo’s debut album, but a year later while on tour with A Silver Mt. Zion (whom I do love) he went into a studio in Amsterdam to re-record some of those songs.  I’ll let the Constellation site tell you what this EP is and why I like it so very very much,

In January 2001, Frankie Sparo toured Europe with a Silver Mt Zion. Musicians from the latter group worked on new arrangements of songs from Sparo’s debut record My Red Scare, adding strings, organ and electronics to Frankie’s guitar and beatbox compositions. Some of the results were captured in a live studio performance recorded live to 2-track at VPRO radio in Amsterdam, where a feverish flu found Sparo in a ravaged, hallucinatory state – which only added to the dark magic of these recordings. The four songs on this EP are all first takes, beautifully recorded by the good people at VPRO. Along with 3 songs reworked from the debut album, the EP also includes a heartbreaking cover of the Rolling Stones’ “I Am Waiting”, which Sparo performed solo a number of times in concert.

“Diminish Me NYC” is great in this version with an off-kilter electronic arrangement and strings. “The Night That We Stayed In” which I singled out on the debut album has two violins, turning the song into an even cooler number (although the “throw your hands in the air” line seems moderately less comical now).  “Here Comes The Future” has an almost dance beat—a slow dance mind you, but still, a good one and ends with some organ waves.  And the cover of “I am Waiting” must be the slowest cover of a Stones song ever.  I don’t know the original, but I bet it sounds nothing like this.

I really like this EP a lot and it makes me want to like the debut album even more–if I had more patience with it.

[READ: April 15, 2014] 3 book reviews

noveltyThis month Bissell reviewed non-fiction three books.

The first is Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North.  In this book North argues that newness, that novelty, has always been a problem: “one of the very first ideas to trouble the consciousness of humankind.”  This dates all the way back to Aristotle who argued that nothing came from nothing; that everything came from something else.  Even the Renaissance, that period of great exploration and creativity was really just mimicking classics (hence the word renaissance).  The new tends to be looked at askance, so we get terms like “novelty act.”

North says that one thing which is genuinely new is our proclivity to turn everything into information as gigabits or as abstract knowledge.

I’m intrigued by the premise of this book but not enough to want to read it and frankly, Bissell doesn’t make it sound that compelling.

Bissell connects this attitude about newness and novelty to the rock world (and rightly so).  Where we (well, some people) value novelty and criticize anything that is derivative.  Which leads to the second book (another one I don’t want to read but for different reasons).  Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian.  The Beatles were arguably the most original band ever since no one did what they did before them.  And then, bvssarguably, the Rolling Stones came along and did just what the Beatles did a little bit afterwards.

Some easy examples:

  • The cover of the Rollings Stones’ first album is compositionally similar to the cover of The Beatles’ second album.
  • A few months after the Beatles released their ballad “Yesterday,” the Stones released their ballad “As Tears Go By.”  (The song was recorded earlier but was initially dismissed as not Stones enough).
  • After the Beatles used a sitar in “Norwegian Wood,” the Stones used one (in a different way) in “Paint It Black.”
  • And quotemaster himself, John Lennon, once said, “Everything we do, the Stones do four months later.”  [The Stones did still released some great music after The Beatles broke up, of course, even if now they play nothing they wrote after 1981 on tour anymore].

And this Lennon quote is typical of this book which is a gossipy casual look at the differences between the Beatles and Stones [Beatles when you’re writing, Stones when you’re jogging; Beatles when you’re alone, Stones when you’re with people).  But in addition to comparisons, he includes scenes like when the Beatles attended a Stones show and when Jagger and Richards were at Shea Stadium for The Beatles’ arrival.

There are many similarities between the bands, although the biggest different seems to be that the Stones never really became friends, while The Beatles were friends till the end.

Of course, the Stones has always been cooler than the Beatles, which is a nice segue into Bissell’s third book: The Cool School: Writing from America’s Hip Underground by Glenn O’Brien.

coolschoolO’Brien’s thesis is the seemingly obvious one that “cool” is not a new thing–that early tribes doing war dances had cool people playing syncopated drums in the corner.  But he is not arguing about coolness, he is collecting “a louche amuse bouche [that must have been fun to write]…a primer and inspiration for future thought crime.”  The book includes works by the likes of Henry Miller, Delmore Schwartz, LeRoi Jones and Eric Bogosian.  I like some of these guys, but as soon as I see them assembled together, I know I’m not going to be going anywhere near this book.

Bissell says that there is some cool stuff here: Miles Davis writing about Charlie Parker for example, but most of the cool seems to be trying too hard.  Like the “charmlessly dated” Norman Mailer piece, “The White Negro.”

I appreciate the way Bissell sums up what comes through from the book: “to be cool…is to make the conscious choice, every step of the way through life, to care about the wrong damn thing.”

It is comforting to come away from one of these book reviews without wanting to read anything.


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ornerSOUNDTRACK: PHISH-Hoist (1994).

hoistI always think of Hoist as a kind of goofy album because of the way they are dressed on it (and the crazy cover).  But it is absolutely not.  Indeed, opener “Julius” sounds like a ZZ Top song.  In fact, every time they’ve played it live I assumed it was a cover.  It is less restrained in the live setting, because this version has more acoustic guitar.  There’s even backing vocalists and horns.  “Down with Disease” has that great watery bass, but the song (which sounds good) here is a little stiffer than the live version.  It also has something of an R&B feel (with backing vocals) even if the guitar is certainly not R&B at all.  It bleeds right into “If I Could” a pretty harmony-voiced mellow song.  The big surprise comes from the Alison Krauss vocals–she gets a solitary line or two and then harmonies.  The song is very pretty but the strings are overkill.

“Riker’s Mailbox” is indeed a reference to the Star Trek character, although the 30 second burst of noise is pretty hard to explain. Nevertheless, the trombone is played Mr Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes.  It jumps into the rocking “Axilla, Pt. 2” which is usually a little faster live (I like the sloppier crazier live version better). There’s some vulgar dialogue in the middle of the song.

“Lifeboy” is a mellow acoustic song that builds from just guitar.  Lyrically it’s interesting: “God never listens to what I say…and you don’t get a refund if you overpray.”  It folds into “Sample in a Jar,” which is just as good here as any live set.  “Wolfman’s Brother” ahs horns thrown on top and some interesting sound effects.  Although overall l don’t like this version nearly as much—I don’t care for the horns or the backing vocals plus in the live version they emphasize the bruh of brother more which is cooler.  (Although I do enjoy the weird “Shirley Temple” line at the end).  “Scent of  Mule” opens so strangely with crazy guitars and a thundering drum.  The singing is very silly (with silly voices) and has a very twangy style (complete with banjo and yeehah).

“Dog Faced Boy” is a sweet (but weird) acoustic guitar number.  “Demand” is a ten minute song which I don’t really know at all.  It has a strange, staccato style riff.  At 2 minutes in, a car starts and after a commercial on the radio the driver pops in “Split Open and Melt” (a nod to “Detroit Rock City,” perhaps?).  This goes on until 9:30 at which time there’s a car crash and choir of angels (sick!).

I don’t car for the horns and R&B flavoring of this album, but the song selection is really quite good.

[READ: September 24, 2013] Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge

I read about this book in Tom Bissell’s reviews recently.  He really made it sound like an interesting book.  So when I saw that we had just received a copy, I grabbed it and brought it home for the weekend.

There are 52 short stories in the short book (which is less than 200 pages).  Some of the stories are very short (1 page) with a few coming in at 5 or 6.  The 1 page stories are like flash fiction but they seem to be more of snapshots than actual full stories and they seem like they might be diary entries or something. The fact that a number of them are italicized with dates at the end make them seem like a selection from the same person rather than individual stories.

The stories are set all over the world, although they tend to focus on Chicago and Boston.  They are pretty universally dark with themes of death and loss permeating the collection.  And yet despite their overall negative feeling, the stories aren’t really depressing, exactly.  Bissell described the narrators as like someone telling a story about someone telling a story.  And that is true and that distance seems to take some of the edge off the stories.

But what’s impressive is the consistently strong and powerful writing.  The way that Orner is able to convey so much with such few words.  Some stories are just a scene, others are a whole lifetime.  But either way they are all really gripping.

I wasn’t going to write about each story, but it would have nagged at me if I didn’t, so here’s a few words about 52 stories. (more…)

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april 2013SOUNDTRACK: RICHARD THOMPSON-Electric (2013).

electRichard Thompson is remarkably consistent in his albums.  Especially his most recent ones.  The songs are all solid—both musically and lyrically.

Despite the name Electric, this album is no more or less electric than his other records.  Indeed, while this name may imply a much faster, heavier album, there are a number of ballads (and acoustic guitars) as well.  But if you like Richard for his amazing solos, you won’t be disappointed.

“Stony Ground” and “Sally B” are dark rockers (both mention gutters) with great fast solos.  “Treadmill” is one of RT’s class/money songs which are always spot on, even if he’s singing about sheet metal rather than playing guitar (great riff on this one too).

“Salford Sunday” is a more gentle rocker and “My Enemy” has a wonderful circular-feeling delicate melody and a gorgeous solo.  Both songs have female harmonies from Siobhan Maher Kennedy.  Indeed, Siobhan sings backing vocals on “Where’s Home” (an acoustic guitar ballad complete with violin solo), “Straight And Narrow” (a rocking song with aggressive guitars) and “Saving The Good Stuff For You.” “Good Stuff” Is a beautiful album ender, a sweet and tender ballad which I enjoyed even more live.

Alison Kraus sings backing vocals on “The Snow Goose,” a slow, somber song–the kind of which RT does so well.  “Good Things Happen to Bad People” is so unfailingly catchy, practically an earworm, that if there were any justice, this song would have been huge.  It’s got a great melody, cool lyrics and a really rocking solo.  “Another Small Thing in Her Favour” is a mellow acoustic/country song.  The end of the album goes a little too mellow.  Even though I like the songs individually, as a record it kind of trails off, which is a shame since “Good Stuff” is such a beautiful song.

I enjoyed this album tremendously and hearing him play some of those songs live was a treat.

[READ: October 10, 2013] 3 book reviews

This month Bissell reviewed three novels.

grossmanyouThe first is YOU by Austin Grossman.  Bissell explains that this is a book about a middling video games company circa the 1990s (Grossman was born in 1969 so he knows the territory well).  Bissell really enjoys the philosophical attitude of the book, specifically the narrator’s thoughts on making and playing games, although he fears that some of the characters are rather two-dimensional (and can’t decide if this is a flaw or if it’s intentional since the book is about video games).

grossman soonBissell is largely very positive about the book although the excerpt he quotes about human duality and videogames was not terribly exciting to me.  However he casually raved about Grossman’s first book Soon I Will Be Invincible (which is a literary work about superheros) which I think I’d be more inclined to read. (more…)

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