Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New music

Sorry for the long absence - life has been full and busy. (In fact this post has been in an incomplete draft format for a week now.)

Well, one release is brand new and the other two are new to me. My musical tastes are all over the map, but I'm much more inclined to listen to songwriter types than I have been in the past - as long as the arrangements and production are interesting and creative. Hence, I'm still listening a lot to Joseph Arthur - just trying to decide which of his most recent releases to put on my Desert Island list. I'm not sure I've listened to any other musician quite as consistently for a long period of time - perhaps Astor Piazzolla and Todd Rundgren at various points in time. I'm slowly putting together a YouTube video list that I'll post soon.

Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris have been working on material for the last seven years, in between other projects. Their new release, All The Roadrunning, is just plain wonderful. I really started getting into Knopfler after Dire Straits had disbanded - especially when his solo release Golden Heart came out. Last summer we were able to see him at the Fraze pavilion in Dayton, and his band was basically Dire Straits minus one plus Matt Rollings, one of my favorite piano players. At any rate, the songwriting, arrangements, and performances are first rate on this duo release.

My appetite for some music from Leonard Cohen was whetted recently when I added several Jennifer Warnes CDs to my iPod. Famous Blue Raincoat is from back in the 1980s and is a tribute to Cohen - after spending several years as one of his backup singers. (It is also still recognized as one of the best produced/arranged/engineered recordings to date.) So for my dose of Cohen, I chose his first post-Zen monastery release, 2001's Ten New Songs. I'll say at the outset that I enjoy music that blends electronic and acoustic sounds. This release does a good (not great) job at that, primarily at the hands of producer/arranger/singer Sharon Robinson. It's a pretty mellow collection. I really like the smooth textures of her background vocals juxtaposed with Cohen's gruff voice. "The Land of Plenty" is my favorite tune on the set.

Finally, I needed quick, legal access to some songs in prepping an informal "band" for a party this past weekend. So I decided to take advantage of the free trial at eMusic claims to be the largest online distributor of independent music, so in only one case was I able to find the original artist performance ("Blister In The Sun" by the Violent Femmes). But I still had 21 free songs, so I started looking through for items on my wish list. My first find was Buddy Miller's 2004 release, Universal United House of Prayer. Miller has long been Emmylou Harris' guitarist/band leader, and I've seen him in concert with her and on his own. I'm not a huge fan, but that's partially because I'm not into roots rock as much as I used to be. But several people have recommended this release to me, and the price was right. This is a driving collection of tunes, and the icing on the cake is the soulful vocals of Regina & Ann McCrary, daughters of one of the founders of the Fairfield Four gospel group. My musical favorites are the extended and timely version of Bob Dylan "With God On Our Side" and the opener "Worry Too Much".

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