Thursday, April 28, 2011

Music Shorts

The very first CD I ever bought was Robbie Robertson's self-titled solo album.

Actually, to tell the truth, I can't remember the first CD I purchased, but this could have been it. When I went shopping for stereo components there were three CDs in constant rotation at every store I visited, and each CD had exactly one song that received the “nudge it to 11” treatment, the better to illustrate the newfangled medium's bootstrap lows and crystalline highs: Sting, Nothing Like The Sun (“Englishman In New York”); Tracy Chapman (“Fast Car”); Robbie Robertson (“Somewhere Down The Crazy River”). I bought all three.

Anyway, I recently pulled out Robertson's old disc and gave it another spin. Although Robertson's swanning-about in “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” retains its off-kilter charm, I don't think the rest of the album has dated very well. More often than not, I found the other songs irksome with strung-together cliches and non-sequiturs.

Showdown at Big Sky
Darkness at high noon
Kiss tomorrow goodbye
That day may be soon

Exactly. Robertson has a catchy way of bending a guitar string and getting the sound he wants for the song he's built, but the album as a whole doesn't achieve much depth of perception.

Last month's How To Become Clairvoyant improves on that, by quite some. It's a confessional, along the lines of James Taylor, bordering on Jackson Browne. Musically, it's as finely crafted and highly polished as his previous solo albums. I'm not placing any bets on how well the album is likely to age, because I don't care: it's plenty good enough for right now. (Burgeoning musicians will definitely want to give the bonus tracks a spin, to confirm the plainest truth known to the pros: even adepts like Robertson and his partner-in-crime Eric Clapton approach the most intricately layered song with a super-simple acoustic lay-down first.)

Bruce Cockburn does what he does on Small Source Of Comfort. The new album continues to feed the sense that things are wrapping themselves up, if not necessarily on a global scale, certainly on a personal one for the aging singer. Nearly half the songs are instrumental, suggesting they may be communicating something more profound than the frustrated pleas of his lyrics.

Finally, ever since my uncle came home one Christmas with a Kurtzweil synthesizer for the kiddies to play around with, I've been a sucker for spacey dance tracks. Cut/Copy expands the tradition of Human League-type digital noodling to pleasing effect; anyone with happy memories of pretty young depressed things dressing up in black and getting a few pallid jollies in clubs that stuck with Depeche Mode, Erasure and Soft Cell should get a big kick out of Zonoscope.

I can't for the life of me recall exactly how I stumbled across Charanjit Singh's Synthesizing: Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat, but it really is quite the remarkable artifact. Recorded in 1982 (much of it in a single take) this album is one of those stunning moments when lightning strikes and leaves a charge that reverberates decades later. More than a curiosity, it is actually something of a game-changer, with its catchy Hindustani worldbeats and synthesizer manipulation. Widely available for pennies a glass at the usual legal download sites, and highly recommended.


Cowtown Pattie said...

In the fifth grade, my brother (in the third grade) and I scrounged the neighborhood for returnable cola bottles (you could collect a nickel a bottle as I recall), and bought "Meet the Beatles".

Our first LP!

We still have it somewhere.

Tom said...

I seem to recall another CD in heavy rotation those days... David Lindley's El Rayo-X... I especially remember the soundstage; you could hear where every instrument was being played in that room. that's what a good producer does, I guess...

Whisky Prajer said...

CP - I have no recollection of my first LP. It was likely something properly pious. Although, Queen's The Game was also an early purchase. Oh, and Rush.

Tom - El Rayo-X was certainly among my first CDs. Also, Speaking In Tongues and Remain In Light as well as Eden Alley by Timbuk3. I'm thinking, though, that the demo discs probably came first.

As for sound placement, DVD surround-sound has really ramped up that whole scene, hasn't it?