Friday, November 24, 2006

The Thanksgiving Soundtrack

A belated happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. I hope today's weather for all of you is sunny and cheerful, encouraging you to walk off some of yesterday's turkey, Grand Marnier Apricot Sausage Stuffing and Pecan Rum Pie (waiting for that recipe, DV).

This week was just another week for us Canuckleheads -- stuffed to the ribs with predictably overwhelming ordinariness, plus one or two surprise bonuses. In my case, a friend from the prairies came for a visit. We both grew up in the same small town, and have known each other for over 35 years. Our conversation is a dialogue that began in his farm yard in 1969, and continues to this day. We reserve small talk for each other's children.

Anyhow, the soundtrack to the dialogue was chiefly what you see to your right "On The Platter". I have to say that Janiva Magness and John Hiatt do not deliver music that encourages conversation; their vocal delivery is so immediate and compelling, it can actually stop conversation. They're best played in the car, when you drive solo and require some gentle prodding of those emotions glowing in your gut. Of course, once that takes flame, the impulse is to share, share, share so I play them as I prepare supper and pour the wine. Ms. Magness is a recent discovery, and she is all boozy, lusty, blues -- Do I Move You? has such direct appeal, I'm afraid to sing her superlatives lest I start sounding like a stalker.

John Hiatt is someone I've followed since I saw him on the Slow Turning tour. He reassembled The Goners for Beneath This Gruff Exterior, and this album takes its place behind Bring The Family as the Hiatt album I am most passionate about.

James McMurtry made a suppertime appearance. I love Childish Things -- McMurtry's vocal delivery brings to mind Lou Reed at his absolute best, when he's pinned down the humanity and the humour of his beloved weirdos, and brought just the right telling details to the surface to suggest the unfathomable depths below. McMurtry produces literate and un-snarky songcraft -- a brainy rarity that is wholly welcome.

Dianne Reeves -- this is actually her soundtrack to Good Night & Good Luck, a movie I've not yet seen. When I first played the disc, I posted the original album cover art, but it bugged me to see David Strathairn's mug where her beautiful face ought to be. (I've nothing against his acting, which I suspect is note-perfect for the film. But this is about Ms. Reeves' music, and she should be front and centre.) This album is 50s era club singing, which I've always been fond of. Her vocal quality is similar to Ella Fitzgerald's, but her stylings are more in sync with Sarah Vaughn or even Dinah Washington. The opening track, Straighten Up And Fly Right, is a brilliant start: Ms. Reeves takes a song that is usually played as an ironic lark and draws out just enough tension to suggest a seriousness and moral ambiguity that might be lurking beneath the jaunty lyrics. The disc has been in continuous play for the last four weeks, and is likely to stay there for the next four.

As August came to a close with its short nights and dreams deferred, and September hove into view with its schedules and goals, I found I had a real hankering for the music of The Alan Parsons Project -- particularly Sirius / Eye In The Sky, a pair of songs that always struck me as cool, cynical and depressing in a bad way. And yet there I was, in the mall's music store, leafing through the "A" file, then (with a shake of my head) the "P" file. I'd pull out the most recent "best of" compilation, consider its physical heft and debate the merits of its possible purchase. I knew I'd regret it if I bought it, but would I be able to shrug it off as a "lesson confirmed", or would the purchase nudge me further down the slope of indulgence and self-loathing?

Fortunately, Yahmdallah came by with the cure: he recommended The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots. If the Alan Parsons Project were to take a hit of goofy gas, then step off the plane in Tokyo and start playing, they might sound like this. Trust me, it's a good thing -- The Flaming Lips serve up a warm-hearted, esoteric goofiness that begs for repeated spins.

Finally, there were those hours that called for music without words. For that, I resorted to Summer Sketches, by the Bill Mays Trio, and New Dawn, by Dominic Miller and Neil Stacey. All in all, a fabrujous soundtrack for someone who wasn't celebrating Thanksgiving.


DarkoV said...

Complete agreement on your comments about Mr. Hiatt and Mr. McMurty, both men who by their scrawny, lanky personages are evidence that words can and do eat away at you even if you can spit them out.
I am clueless about Janiva Magness and will strive to eliminate the "less" from the "clueless".
I've had that specific Flaming Lips cd for about 3 years and have yet to make it past track #4.
Your choice of the Bill Mays cd is...interesting. We're still in Autumn, but it is thoughts of Summer you're dealing with. Oh boy, Winter's going to be brutal, indeed.
Dominic Miller and Neil Stacey sound well-worth the listen.
A great mixing bowl of tunes, indeed.

Whisky Prajer said...

re: Lips' track #4, I'll admit that one is particularly tough. If you weren't sold by the first three tracks, #4 will lose you. But maybe you just need to be in an Alan Parsons' mode?

If you end up giving Janiva a listen, do let me know what you think.

DarkoV said...

On first listen, this Janiva Magness cd sounded good. Reminded me of a favorite Texas crooner, Angela Strehli.

On 2nd and 3rd listen, Ms. Magness sounds very much like her own kind of gal. Or hussy, as she noted in her liner notes.
A great cd! I understand why you've got her on repeat. Every song is worth another listen. "You Were Never Mine" and "Do I Move You?" are especially strong.

Thanks for the suggestion. How are her other recordings? As well produced? The Canadian prodcution on Do I move You? is superb.

Whisky Prajer said...

Most excellent! Do I Move You? is the only Magness I own at the moment (the music budget has fairly strict limits), but it looks like Bury Him At The Crossroads might be produced by Colin Linden too(?). IF user comments are any indication, though, Blues Ain't Pretty might be the essential Magness. Which of us spins it first, DV?

DarkoV said...

To quote (sort of) from your all-time favorite date film,
"Which of deeeeez?
Do I buy it?
Or do I let him buy it?"

Or, 3rd choice. Do I see if it's available for listening/critiquing pleasure at the station?

I'll try the latter, but if the cd happens to do a suicidal leap into your shopping basket, let me know what you think.