Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Post-Christmas/Pre-New Year Musical Round-Up

Everyone is keen to put this year to bed. Let's put out the old and bring in the new. And keep those paddles revved up: this baby just might need 'em.

But before we roll up our sleeves and get to work on rescuing what we can, it's worth remembering some of the best of last year. The five CDs that received the most play in this house were:

#5 - To Survive by Joan As Police Woman (A, e)
#4 - Harps And Angels by Randy Newman (A)
#3 - Vegas by Martyn Joseph (A, e)
#2 - I, Flathead by Ry Cooder (A)

But the number one most played CD in my house was ... (drum-roll, please) ... Mama Mia!

Oy vey -- to think there ever was a time when I was dying for something -- anything -- to usurp Hairspray. *Sigh* Another reason why I can't wait for the new year to begin.

Whenever I was in charge, however, the number one disc in this house was Just Us Kids by James McMurtry (A, e).

Were I to let Google describe McMurtry's appeal, you'd get attributes like, "Caustic observer of Americana", "Lou Reed from Texas", "Leonard Cohen of the South" etc ... but the man has created his own genre. And though he claims to have made peace with being a "beer salesman" his music is deeply affecting stuff. The "caustic" is what the uninitiated tend to hear first (releasing "Cheney's Toy" as the album's first, free single pretty much sealed the deal). But there's also a depth of human yearning that comes from scraping the bottom of the soul, and listening to what the shadows are whispering when you can't get back to sleep. It might not be as finely balanced in its sensibilities as Childish Things was (A, e), but ... it scratched the most difficult-to-reach aural itch for me. So there it is.

Some other pleasant memories:

Favorite Celeb Singer Interview: Esquire UK with Robert Plant Technically, the interview took place over a year ago, the morning after the Zep reunion, but it wasn't published until February. Nor is it available on-line, alas, but NME has some highlights here. Plant basically says he enjoyed the packed-stadium hoo-ha, but not enough to quit touring the smaller venues with Alison Kraus and T Bone Burnett. You da man, Robert!

This was the year I gave it up to Apple. No, I haven't bought a Mac ... yet. But I did buy a new iPod for my wife. And, resorting to my weenie Windows partition, I went through the bother of installing iTunes. Once the platform was up and running I even used it to purchase a few coveted albums, including the aforementioned Harps And Angels. I reached several glum conclusions:

1) iTunes downloads are as good in sound quality as you'll find below DVD-level releases. Mind you, that's not saying much. I bought H&A via iTunes, gave it a listen, and wondered if the file compression hadn't flattened things out just a little. When I was finally able to hear the CD the quality of sound was exactly the same. Lesson learned: CD production has crapped out. Unless the item I'm after is available on dual-disc, I'll opt out of the CD package and go the iTunes route.

2) The iTunes/iPod synchronization is as close to flawless as a computer sync is likely to get. For Linux users like me, this is the equivalent of Bono walking out on stage, today, with the largest white flag you ever saw. I'm basically admitting that, when it comes to music, Open Source Software is still trailing-edge. There are a lot of fine excuses for this ("Apple has all the money!") but the truth is the truth. Apple rewards music lovers; Open Source rewards code freaks ... seven-point-eight out of ten tries (not that that's a bad thing).

If 2009 were to provide any disposable income, might this be in my foreseeable future?

Worth a closer look:

Volume One by She & Him didn't make the list because I didn't start listening to it until this month. It is very, very good and could well be mentioned again this time next year.

The Hold Steady didn't make the list, just because they were edged out by these other acts. But they deserve more than mention; they deserve Robert Wiersema's post on what their music fucking means.

Happy New Year, all.


DarkoV said...

A Happy New Year to yuo , WP! This is a great post to close out the year with. I've been reading your entries religiously while dealing with being as sick as a dog, which seems to have limited my commenting possibilities (and blogging ones as well...).

Here's hoping for a year of recovery for the world economy and another trove of musical surprises for this coming year!

On your high props, I acquired She and Him. It's a pleasant enough album, with memorable jags. As Album of the Year as proposed by quite a few mags, however, it has serious shortcomings, especially when compared to better candidates, most already mentioned by you in this blog.
If I can drag myself out of the sick bed today, I will attempt a similar year-end music closure. Thanks for the idea.

And the Mama Mia thing? Most definitely a daughter-inspired thing as I see the same thing play out in my house.
Being your daughters seem to have that impish curiosity most cherished by their dads, I wonder if they ever posed the Mama Mia question to you?
"Dad, are you my only dad?"
Did you play with that question or were you temporarily tongue-tied?

Whisky Prajer said...

They haven't asked. Which leads me to realize that the show's conclusion, which I thought was risible, is perfectly in step with the female sensibility.

As for She & Him, I'm beginning to think their album is being lauded for the same reasons Marley & Me (which I took the younger daughter to) is this year's holiday favorite. If people want to face the bleakest human scenario they don't need to go see another Nazi movie; they only need to turn on the news. Volume One, I'm afraid, has more in common with Mama Mia! than it does with the other five discs. I liked it. I liked Marley & Me. But there are better offerings available.

Trent Reimer said...

You queued the Open Source excuses and here they come:

I don't think it's so much that Apple HAS the money to be troubled making a slick, proprietary music interface for the masses out of the goodness of their hearts so much as that Apple created a nice, proprietary way to MAKE money and to distribute the proprietary software for Windows and Macintosh.

Any iTunes support for Linux has to be supplied by volunteer developers and there are few better ways to disenfranchise volunteer Linux developers than with DRM.

Of course, iTunes support is something a lot of people want with desktop software and you have to think it may not hurt for Mark Shuttleworth to go ahead and put a paid developer on developing some kind of bridge for that item as they have with some of the proprietary hardware drivers.

Whisky Prajer said...

As much as it warms the cockles of my heart to see these selfless Open Source saints hard at work giving away free software to anyone who can afford the hardware (and the ISP), I have to occasionally wonder if a little greed isn't a good thing when it comes to software development. Open Source types have many virtues, but patience with non-coding noobs is not one of them. If Apple wants to know how often I played Randy Newman, or feebly attempts to stop me from backing up his music more than my allotted three times, well ... I don't mind playing a pinball machine with a "tilt" feature, so long as it accepts my quarter and gives me three balls.

Rob in Victoria said...

Glad you liked the Hold Steady post, WP.

And now I guess I HAVE TO pick up the Joan as Policewoman album that I've been prevaricating on...