Thursday, August 29, 2013

Basket of Light

I acquired this record under questionable circumstances. I was acting as the agent of an organization to transfer the record into their possession, which is how I gained access to it in the first place. They were going to sell it, and I was absolutely willing to purchase it for the price they were going to sell it for; however, it was a condition of my employment that I was not allowed to purchase it from them. So I took it. I made some other sweet scores that way, too - Sun Ra on Transition, Silver Apples on Kapp, the first Tyrannosaurus Rex album on Regal Zonophone... oops! Nerded out for a minute!

Before the hand-wringing gets too vigorous - no, it wasn't a record store.

I don't think I would have bought it for the price I guess it would normally command in an actual store (I'm thinking ten or fifteen bucks, but maybe only like seven, but really I wouldn't go over three. Priorities.)

Having a hard time zeroing in on my problem with it. It sounds great! "All the instruments played on this album are acoustic". Danny Thompson's double bass is the star in that department - real chunky. The hit - "Light Flight" - is jazzy, tuneful, and folksy as advertised.

It's just that it's not... amiable. Something in there rubs me pro, dig? Jacqui McShee self-harmonizes around twisty lines with grace, but hers is not a voice I love: breathily chipper. Bert Jansch sings lead on a couple tracks, chiefly "Springtime Promises", and I get a similar sheen, a coldness, not an icy blue certainly, but anyway a polished mahogany. The stony grey chant-inspired number "Lyke-Wake Dirge" (Frances: "Is this church music?") is an admirable, totally competent genre experiment that's successful by any measure you want, except, like, I don't really want to listen to it.

There is some stuff I like - "Train Song" closes side one with a gorgeous flitter of bass deliciousness; the cover of "Sally Go Round the Roses" is pretty great.

Ok I think I figured it out. It doesn't cohere! Everyone's a pro on this record and they are super good, like, MUSICIANS, but they aren't really feeling like a band. More of a professional collaboration. Also I think the only one I actually like is Danny Thompson.

"I don't think anybody will notice." (in reference to the little points of light she put over the black background of the painting)

"Is jazz art?"

The painting was Frances's vision. She employed me to help her cover the field with black. Being an artist is making definite decisions and executing them. Being the one who does it isn't mandatory.

"Is this jazz?" (in reference to her standing position)

Frances asked me how to spell "Red Raven." I asked her if they had said that in the music, and she said "No, it just seemed like a good name." Since I'm not a comics person, I didn't know till I googled it that it's the name of a Marvel character. I wonder if Frances knew. I'm thinking no. They don't say it on the record - I listened really carefully. Red Raven. Nuts!

UPDATE 9/17/13: OH WOW!!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Best Ever

Frances painted this record while listening to it, and said, "Their music is like the best thing I ever heard or sawn." I tend to take "best evarr y'all" with a grain of salt, but when the enthusiasm is for a Carpenters record, it's totally justified. You can take it from me! It seriously almost just doesn't get any better than this one Carpenters record, Now & Then. Arranged and orchestrated by (the best arranging genius ever) Richard Carpenter. Sung and sung and sung by his sister Karen, who had a voice than which there has never been a more perfect one. Never. Only just the littlest, tiniest glimpse of vibrato on the long notes. Soulful depth of tone. No breathiness, just all note. Emotion is there but it's curiously cold. It draws you near with its sad warmth but resists becoming overwhelmed itself. It is unbelievable, heartbreaking.

The elephant: "Sing". I was born in 1972, the year that a staff songwriter for Sesame Street wrote it. It then went inside the minds of millions of people, deep inside, securing a little nugget of joy inside our hearts. Richard and Karen heard it and they were like, ok we'll just own that now. And they did. The harp and flute intro can really make me cry.

"That's the car and the house and the nature and stuff."

(By the by. The staff songwriter was Joe Raposo. Dude killed it in the Seventies. He wrote the theme song from Sesame Street ("Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?") and all the best Muppets songs, like "Bein' Green" and "C Is for Cookie", AND the theme song from Three's Company. He was a first-generation Portuguese American from Fall River, MA, and though I can't find any confirmation of it on the Internet, I distinctly remember there was a plaque honoring him as a resident of Somerville, MA, right around the corner of Washington St. and Boston St., by where the O'Brien highway crosses over, right at the base of Prospect Hill, blocks away from where I lived for a time, a block from the castle that claims the first raising of the American flag.)

But emotions! Oh man. Feelings. This record goes deep inside the heart. Karen was deeply, deeply sad. They had a lot of songs about hopeless, despairing depression ("Rainy Days and Mondays" comes to mind), but the one on Now & Then, never a hit, is devastating. "I Can't Make Music":

Here I am just sittin' around
With an old piano in a vacant room
And the same old feelin's come again
So uncertain hurtin' scared
I thought I grew, but here I am again
I shoulda seen the train be passin' thru
I thought I knew

And I can't make music
No I can't make rhyme
No I can't do anything
To take me away this time

"That's me singing 'I can't make music; I can't make anything"... no wait... "Sing, make something simple, make your life really really long."

But then there's the redemption. The sweet loss of cares in joyous memory. Richard and Karen knew that music was the key, and they lavished a whole side of this album on their own tweaked, sweet versions of the tunes that inspired them, bookended by the familiar ode to nostalgia "Yesterday Once More". In a nice touch, they got a really obnoxious deejay (the same one who would show up four years later on the mind-scrambling, Grammy-nominated Klaatu cover "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft") to do between-song banter. It's a real rough listen. You have to listen to the notes they're not playing.

The songs they chose all date from 1960-1964 - but if you had asked me when any of them was from, I would have said "the Fifties". It's all really famous songs, like "Johnny Angel" and "Da Do Ron Ron". What happened was, the Fifties happened, and the jazz mixed with the rockabilly and the rhythm and blues, and the modern teenager was born, and then the Nineteen-Fifties ended, and "The Fifties" started in the early Sixties, when the record labels and the radio stations and whatnot started getting really established and doing business. Then "The Sixties" happened in the second half of the Sixties, and then by nineteen seventy-three, when Now & Then came out, the events of ten years before were as legend, seen in the misty past of the southern California baby boomer enclave from out of where Richard and Karen stare dazedly at a bepalmed suburban landscape behind the glass of a GTO or Mustang or whatever. Like if someone now was all, "Man, The Killers and Justin Timberlake were the touchstones of my glorious youth." IT REALLY HAPPENED. This is how the technology and the industry and the media created the narrative we live within. Nostalgia. The best ever.

"That's the name of the record."

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sucessos da Bossa Nova

Successes of the new beat. In Portuguese, they're "successes"; in English, they're "hits". Twelve little successes.

I'm doing something new with the pictures.

Gosh but those strings and flutes are chill. Smooth like a sail on a perfect day. Everyone's relaxing by the pool. I'd love to hear a real combo, but way back in that old world. That old new world with Pan Am jets and designer labels. This is the musical combo. Flutes and strings, a gentle guitar and gently syncopated drums. Brushes. Clicks. Harmony that glides and doesn't try. Not even a whiff of anything electronic anywhere. Breeze.

I thought it would be nice for a change to showcase Frances's style, instead of her physical appearance.

Breeze, truth, or environmental change. Mental change. Breeze; cheeze; breezy; cheezy. Dismissal or erasure on the basis of context. Is it nice? Is it trying to fuck with you?

Gosh the Portuguese sounds pretty. I don't understand it but I've picked a little up, what with all the awesome Brazilian music that's come around. It's like Spanish with an American accent in the vowels and a Polish accent or drunk slur on the consonants. One singer who does two songs on this record, Maysa, has an unreal buttery low voice with no husk at all. Conjunto Farroupilha's version of "O Pato" (most of the tracks on here are standards by Jobim, Lyra, Moraes) (Bossa Nova has a few giant composers and there was a whole industry in the Sixties built around groups and singers doing their songs) (kinda like the American songbook and Cole Porter etc.) has a great reed honk and windy flourishes in the intro. It's all real. Professionals making successes in the new beat.

The painting was composed while listening to the record. She asked me to do the orange CBS eye.

The black rectangle is the writing.

She wanted to call it "Frances's Best Records."

But is it nice? Where will it fall in the final estimation? Will it help you through a personal tragedy? Will it further or hamper social injustice? Will it clean up the harbor? Will it bring souls to Jesus? Will it climb the mountain? Why bother?

Gosh it's pretty. And mellow. Middle class values. Comforting. Fruity alcoholic concoctions.

Hey so here's a question. Is the middle class a good thing? Do we want to aim for its increase? Anyone who's living the foul life wants comfort. How much is greed? Is electricity exploitation? Well, yes it is.

But these combos are acoustic. Sustainable? Gosh it's nice.