Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Jukebox '06

OK, OK. You can stop filling up my inbox and answering machine. I get the message. You all want to know what I’ve been listening to. Well, then, here you go:

Dead Can Dance/12 October Chicago: Dead Can Dance rarely varied their setlist on their most recent and possibly final U.S. tour (who knows?), but they did gladly jump on the bandwagon and sell recordings of each date. I enjoyed the show a lot, but really jumped at the chance for this souvenir because the band put so much work into the packaging and sound. It does indeed look and sound great, and I’m glad to have it.

Mekons/Rock ‘n’ Roll: A staple in my top ten favorite albums of all time, this disc captures everything the Clash ever did right plus a few things the Clash got wrong. It’s a concept album about the perils and dubious legacy of rock and roll, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, but always brilliantly and passionately.

Delgados/Universal Audio: Their swan song, I suppose, but a beautiful switch away from the darkness of their previous two releases and back to the more upbeat bent of their origins.

Ethiopiques/Vol. 4: Used to great effect in Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers,” this series of Ethiopian jazz/soul/funk from the ‘60s and ‘70s (20 volumes and growing), kind of like James Brown gone northern African, shows just what a small, small world it is after all.

John Simon/Album: Obscure even by obscurity’s standards, John Simon is actually quite well known as a producer, particularly as the man behind the sound of the first two Band albums and his role as that group’s sort of sixth member and multi-instrumentalist. His first album, from 1973 (I think) just got reissued, and it sounds a bit like the Band crossed with Randy Newman and the Dead. The liner notes posit it as a great lost album, akin to Big Star’s “Third” or the Beach Boys’ “Smile,” but it’s nowhere near that good. It is, however, quite interesting.

Fonotone: A five disc collection of obscure folk and bluegrass from the ‘50s and ‘60s, originally released on Maryland’s Fonotone imprint but all making its CD debut here, this is a wealth of great music that sound 100 years older than it actually is. It's housed in a custom cigar box, which isn't quite as cool as the label's previous (and essential) early gospel box "Goodbye, Babylon!" (packaged in a wooden box with tufts of cotton), but it's cool all the same.

Psychedelic Furs/Forever Now: Where their pop sensibilities and punk rots coalesce into an astringent, propulsive new wave masterpiece. It also features “President Gas,” which sounds as timely as ever

Doves/Lost Souls: The moodiest and most interesting of the British bands that cropped up in Radiohead’s wake, hushed where you least expect it and likewise loud just when you think it’s going to simmer down.

Los Lobos/Kiko: It’s been a long time since I listened to this band/record, but the songs, playing and (most surprising) production still stand up.

Junior Byles/Beat Down Babylon: One of the scattered few records produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry that shows a real creative focus rather than his usual restlessness, the disc stands up against essential Perry-produced works by Max Romeo, the Congos and Junior Murvin.

Brian Eno/Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy): Still ahead of its time thirty-plus years later, it’s a weird, weird record whose idiosyncracies are tempered by its pop brilliance, like doo-wop meets John Cage. The birth of new wave may be here.

Metric/Live It Out: Another one of those acts in the latest barrage of Canadian invaders, Metric basically sounds like a contemporary version of Belly, which means this disc will be clogging used bins for years to come.

Cluster & Eno: Unlike “TTM(BS),” Eno’s improvised jam session with the German act Cluster sounds very much of its time – specifically the late ‘70s – but it’s genius anyway for its strange, Zen-like synthesis of ambient music, Eastern music, drone music, experimental music and other stuff with no vocals.

Lee “Scratch” Perry: Thanks to the magic of downloading, I made a DVD of 4.6GB’s worth of Perry’s productions. The dude’s catalog is as disorganized as he was prolific, so it’s kind of a hoot to just put this on random play.

Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937: Basically just what it sounds like, Olde Tyme jingles about beans, Cadillacs, porkchops, gravy and various real and invented illnesses, sung by white guys in blackface.

The Smiths: Another download special, everything the band ever recorded, from singles and alternate pressings to b-sides, albums, compilations and a few bootlegs. Not terribly good in random mode, but still all great.

Kraftwerk: The last of the download burst, this boxed set collects everything the group ever made at Kling Klang studio (at least from 1974’s “Radioactivity” on), remastered and, so far, unreleased in its newly polished form. Why the wait, you perfectionist nerds? Reveling in the royalties Coldplay earned you buy adapting “Computer Love” into their song “Talk?”

Miami Sound: Rare Funk and Soul from Miami Florida 1967-1974: Another Soul Jazz comp, this one forgotten funk tracks from Miami Florida. It’s great!

Fleetwood Mac/Rumours: Perhaps the artiest, neatest band to hit it big in the mainstream, at least post-Beatles or other than Steely Dan.

Sam Cooke/The Man Who Invented Soul: Can you believe a purportedly definitive Sam Cooke boxed set, especially with a title like this one has, doesn’t include, for silly licensing reasons, “Shake” or, more damning, “A Change is Gonna Come?” For that matter, there's nothing here from his days with the Soul Stirrers, the most overtly "soulful" thing he ever did. The rest is quite nice, however, and ends with his legendary “Night Beat” and “Live at the Harlem Square Club” shows.


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