Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Ry Cooder Anthology

There has been a lot of talk on the Rylanders discussion group about this new anthology from Rhino Records.  Ry Cooder has already had 2 different "best of" collections Why Don't You Try Me and River Rescue (and the movie music set Music By...) and the hungry Cooder collector has been dying for a collection that presented rare and hard to get tracks.  Rhino had a project in the works a few years ago called Slide Ruler, which was to be a double disc which included obscure session work and more.  So when The UFO Has Landed was announced people looked at the tracklist and said, "got it, got it, got it..." and then "ONE NEW TRACK!  I'm s'posed to shell out for ONE NEW TRACK!"  Well folks, today's release day, and last night my review copy came in the mail.  I immediately slapped it onto my iPod and gave it a listen, and I have to say..."Yep!  Shell out, because this is a fine album!"

Part of my reason for saying this is that the songs sound so good!  But there are other reasons too. I received a link to a 40 minute interview Joachim Cooder did on KPFK's Global Village last week.  In this interview Joachim explained his choices, his approach, and gave some back story to the whole project.  In this context the album makes sense.  Joachim's memory of his father's work really starts with 1982's The Slide Area (an album Joachim loves, but which many Rylanders found to be Ry's weakest).  So what is it about this album that rocks Joachim's socks? It's the sound, the feel, the vibe.  And when you listen to the tracks he's included here you get that.  

The first disc starts with "Get Rhythm" the title track from Ry's 1987 album.  This Johnny Cash tune just plain rocks out.  If you think Cooder is just a guitar player, you are missing out on his vision of rhythm, his arranging skills, his ideas of harmony.  That's right vocals!  Maybe Ry is no Pavarotti but he surrounds himself with tip-top singers and the vocals tracks become as deep as the guitar tracks.  And that's what Joachim was looking for.  Music that was deep and greasy, with a groove.  This anthology is full of just that.  Even the thinner recordings done on acoustic guitar, Ry's bottleneck floating over the strings, seem heavier and more intense on this album. One of the things I always loved about Cooder's playing was that you could hear his fingers on the strings, you could hear the glass rub against the windings on the strings.  It just sounded real. Years ago, maybe 30, I played an album for a guitar playing friend who said, "Oh, that's Ry Cooder...I can't stand him his records sound so sloppy.  You don't need to have all that extraneous noise!"  What one man's noise is another man's music, I guess.

"Available Space," "On a Monday," Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi," and more tracks from early albums find themselves juxtaposed with soundtrack music like "Smells Like Money" from the film Johnny Handsome.  And that rolls into the new track "Let's Work Together" recorded with Buckwheat Zydeco.  And it all just works.  Cooder's obsession with cars and girls reappears over and over, "Crazy 'bout an Automobile" leads into "Drive Like I Never Been Hurt (from this year's I, Flathead) .  

There are 34 tracks (17 per disc), and if it was up to me, this would have been a four disc set, with session tracks and obscurities, but as it stands...it's a darn good cross section of work. Instrumentals, blues, rock, lots of guitar, some mandolin, great drumming from Keltner (and others) and those dandy vocals from Terry Evans, Bobby King and associates.  All wrapped up in a nifty package.  The cover design is a bit goofy to be sure.  It's a cartoon done by an unknown artist (take a look, maybe you can identify who drew it) but inside there a hefty booklet with photos by Susan Titelman from early days on.  My favourite?  The picture on the roof of Sound City Studios, Ry and guitar in front of an Airstream trailer (just like on the first album) that seems imprisoned behind barbed wire!  

An introductory essay by Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, and notes on each track by Cooder himself fleshes out the package.  I recommend the set, not just for newcomers but for anyone who calls himself (or herself) a Rylander!   

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Arlo Guthrie...

Last night The Who played at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.  Or, what's left of The Who.  Roger & Pete and their assocciates put on what was described in today's paper as an energetic, classic Who show.  So...why wasn't I there?  Big fan of The Who that I've been ever since my brother swiped a copy of the "I Can't Explain" 45 and gave it to me as something he 'thought I'd like'.  He was right. I wasn't there because I drove to Brock University to see Arlo Guthrie in his Lost World Tour. That's right...Arlo Guthrie!  And you know what...he was great!

He walked out on-stage at 7:30, followed by his band (guitar, bass, drums and his son Abe on keyboard), he sat on a stool centre-stage and picked up a shiny blue 12-string guitar (MacPherson?) and proceeded to play one of my favourite songs from his first album..."Chilling of the Evening".  It's the first song on his 2005 Live In Sydney set too.  And who could argue with it, it's a fine song.  He followed that with a silly tune based on "The Shade of the Old Apple Tree".  And it was that way for most of the night, a serious song, a silly song, prefaced by a story from his past.  And the great thing is...it's a past we share.  Bob Dylan, the Vietnam War, Woodstock, Woody...I was there, through all of it, and so was Arlo.  After a couple of songs he brought out the Burns Sisters, three siblings from Ithaca, NY who added background vocals, and flipped their long hair around.  They were woefully underused, but it's early in the tour and maybe Arlo will give them a solo spot later on.  

The band started to rock out a bit when Arlo kicked off "The Motorcycle Song" but they kept it short, and disappointed people who were just starting to get warmed up.  Then a little later when Abe seemed ready to let fly with a long organ solo, the guitarist jumped in, and stepped on his toes.  But that was about the only miscue all night.  A selection of old classics and songs from a forthcoming album were mixed with a few tributes to Dad Woody making for a great cross section of tunes.  And Arlo's philosophizin' just gets better and better.  I especially enjoyed the quick version of Joseph and the fancy coat, and the moral he drew!  Fabulous!

OK, I hear The Who were really good, but Arlo told his own Woodstock tale.  After all...he played there too! 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Some new music, and stuff...

The new Jackson Browne CD, Time the Conqueror has been on my playlist for a week now, and I can't get enough.  The band is very good, especially Mark Goldenberg on guitar.  I saw them on Leno and they were excellent.  Searching Jackson Browne on eBay led me to the discovery of a very cool blog, Addicted to Vinyl.  Check it out at addictedtovinyl.com/blog/.  

I've had two Albert Lee CDs on order at the local used shop for over 2 years.  Finally last week I got notice that one had arrived.  Road Runner.  I drove up to grab it after work.  Paid, got in the car and took the disc out to play it, and what do you know?  The insert was signed by Albert Lee!  Maybe the previous owner forgot, or maybe he just wasn't much of a fan...but let's just say, it was worth the wait, to get a signed CD by this guitar master!  Oh, and the music's good too!  I picked up the new Buena Vista Social Club Live at Carnegie Hall set too, and while Ry Cooder might complain about the sound quality, the performance is great.  Nice packaging too.  Someone sent me a programme from this show just after it took place...so I have audio and visual souvenirs now!   Lucinda Williams Little Honey is a beautiful sounding album too.  I love the quality of her voice, the directness of her songs, and she always has a hot band.  This time is no exception. And she covers AC/DC!

I also bought myself an 8gig iPod Nano on the weekend, and jammed it with a bunch of these new CDs.  I love shuffling through the album covers, shaking it for a new shuffle.  And it just feels so substantial.   And the white earphones are cool!

Sad news this week as Frankie Venom, lead singer of Hamilton's own Teenage Head passed away.  Only 52 years old.  Their newest CD recorded with Marky Ramone is a delight. That's the way Frankie would want to be remembered. Playing loud and fast rock'n'roll!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lindsey Buckingham

For the beginner Lindsey Buckingham was the guitar player for Fleetwood Mac, who replaced Bob Welch, who had replaced Dave Walker & Bob Weston, who had replaced Danny Kirwan, who was a replacement for Jeremy Spencer, who had filled in for Peter Green.  Oh, I think that's everybody, except that Lindsey left the band for a while and was replaced by Rick Vito and Billy Burnette, but then the band broke up and when they reformed Lindsey replaced the guys who had taken his place...got all that?  It doesn't matter.  For the purposes of this article Lindsey Buckingham is the solo artist who created such wonderful pop masterpieces as "Go Insane", "Trouble", and the recently released Gift of Screws.

He and his band played at Hamilton Place on Tuesday night and from my seat in the third row, it was one of the absolute best shows I've ever seen/heard.  No fancy stage setup, just four guys and their instruments, and some lighting fixtures.  When they started the audio wash was brilliant, clear, loud, and melodic.  Loud?  Yep!  Painful?  Nope!  

The first two songs were from the new album, and the group played beautifully.  I looked around and thought, "Where's the bass?"  Three guitarists played guitars!  Add the drummer, and where was the bass coming from.  Supplemented by tracks which featured sound effects, bass lines, and maybe some additional harmonies (although that was hard to decide) the sound was full and rich.  They ran through a history of Buckingham's songs, including "Trouble", "Go Insane", the Mac years were represented with "Tusk", "Never Going Back Again", "Big Love", "World Turning" and more.  The new album received its fair share of attention too.

Buckingham's acoustic side was featured in a short unplugged set.  Well, not quite unplugged! Using Renaissance guitars built by Rick Turner the guitarist was able to replicate even nylon string sounds electrically.  The guitars sounded fabulous.  

The major disappointment of the night was the lack of an audience.  Only about 800 fans in a hall that holds 2200 left lots of empty seats, but Buckingham played as if the room was full.  Flailing his guitar, sometimes hunched over it, he seemed like a man possessed.  Passion?  It was there in buckets!  What a show!  Right down to the encore, more Mac, more solo, more news stuff! What a performer! 

NEW CDs?  Lindsey Buckingham's Gift of Screws, Dion DiMucci's Heroes (a tribute to old time guitar rock that rocks), James Taylor's Covers (Taylorized oldies, excellent), and David Gilmour's Live in Gdansk (beautifully played and recorded, and even presented, but I think it's time for some new material Dave!  After all, how many versions of the On An Island album do we really need?)