More stuff picked up from the Borders liquidation sale (along with other bits). This could be a long one. . .
Red Garland Trio — Red Garland's Piano (1957)
Just really strong piano trio stuff, basically. This is fresh off Red's run with Miles, so he was still playing very much in the Ahmad Jamal mode. He still has a few of those vintage Red Garland runs here and there, but he mostly sticks to the classy long melody statements and syncopated block chords. Paul Chambers is here and he takes a couple bowed solos that are just laughably good. I'm a big fan of Mr. PC, so it's nice to hear him whenever I can. The main thing to mention here is the mega epic ballad that opens the album on one of the best renditions of 'Please Send Me Someone to Love' I've heard. . . well, ever, honestly. A fantastic (and unique) take on 'But Not For Me' ends things and I can't really say I expected anything less. Really excellent stuff overall; and this is the wonderful Rudy Van Gelder remastered version from 2006, so extra bonus there.
Dexter Gordon — Doin' Allright (1961)
Dexter Gordon — Dexter Calling. . . (1961)
Both of these albums, in the grand Blue Note tradition, start off with unbelievable mid-tempo numbers that are so tuneful and so well done that you'd swear the label didn't even care what else the band recorded for the session; that first track was good enough on its own. The title cut "I Was Doin' All Right" on the formerly mentioned album is just lovely. Horace Parlan (an unfortunately neglected Blue Note name) shines on piano and Dexter, in his initial solo, just sounds like he looks. Just pure badass, tempo switching arrogance. Seriously: look at this dude:
That's what he sounds like on that cut. Yeesh. I will never be half as cool. A typically great ballad ('You've Changed') and some great be-bop to follow (mostly 'Society Red') and it's just another day in the books of Blue Note classics. Dexter Calling isn't much different. And I guess that's what makes these two albums so remarkable. Doin' Allright was cut on 6 May 1961 and Dexter Calling was cut just a matter of hours later on 9 May of the same year. With a completely different band, sure. But, that's what makes these two albums so listenable. 'Soul Sister' (which kicks things off) was probably the most soul-jazz oriented thing Dexter had yet done up until that point and I have a hard time believing that the previous rhythm section would have done it justice (Dexter is joined here by Kenny Drew on piano, Mr. PC on bass and the almighty Philly Joe on drums). It has a soulfulness —indeed, almost a funky aspect— to it that just sparks. And man, when Kenny Drew plays those blues in his solo, yeah, I had goosebumps the first time. The post-boppy 'Modal Mood' (composed by Drew) is Dexter at his hard swingin' 60's best. When he hits that soprano register in his solo, that is intense stuff, man. The ballad 'Ernie's Tune' (by Dexter) is surprisingly affecting, as it takes turns into minor territory where you wouldn't normally expect it and, again, the band is just completely in sync with Dexter's mood. Contains the outtake 'Landslide' and whoo boy, I'm happy as heck to find these collection fillers for cheap. Just so happens they're awesome too.
Horace Silver — The Cape Verdean Blues (1965)
I have neglected Horace Silver. I've always been hip to Song for My Father because, let's be honest, if you're only going to own one Horace Silver album, that's the one. And that was the one for me for a long time (years, in fact). I randomly found a later, more soul jazz-oriented album at the used record store about six months ago and I was really impressed by Horace's ability to sound contemporary in 1972, but also not bow down to the cheese factor that had started to infiltrate Blue Note at that point. Rewind to 1965 and this album and Horace is probably riding high off the success of the Song for My Father album. Meanwhile, he and Joe Henderson are still very good friends (because, let's face it, who knew who Joe Henderson was at that point?) and he's just vibin' off some soulful stuff. The title track on this album is so groundbreaking, I don't even know where to start. I just won't start, but I will say that Nicola Conte, the Five Corners Quintet and all affiliated acts would not have a career if such a song was never made. Holy moly, it's good. The sparse, minor-oriented 'The African Queen' is next and it's just a long groove. I know of few other jazz things from 1965 that sound similar. It's all restraint and repeated theme. Wow, what a good one. The rest is pretty much Horace's, for the time, status quo post-bop. Nothing unique in context, but still remarkably good. Do believe that the first released recording of Joe Henderson's 'Mo' Joe' appears here. What a stunner of an album.
Philip Selway — Familial (2010)
Is it just me? Or does his voice totally sound like this Morrissey song the entire time? I actually really like the album (especially since I expected not to) and was glad to find it for so cheap, but man, that's a dead ringer right there. 'By Some Miracle' was the pre-album teaser song and it's no wonder I never checked this one after hearing that: it's just ok. Arguably, the whole album is just ok, but there are much better tunes throughout the album. I must admit: I do like his no-nonsense guitar playing and modest vocals. I guess I'm just a sucker for the earnestness in every songwriter. I guess the big question here is: does any of it sound like Radiohead? Well, I guess, no would be the short answer. Is there a long answer? Of course there is! 'Beyond Reason', to my ears, could easily have an arrangement adapted to make it sound more Radiohead-esque. But, I guess, why should he sound like his band when his band sounds like his band just fine? Exactly. So, the horn-laced, 70's pop (Archer Prewitt-esque, perhaps) flourishes of 'A Simple Life' sound just right for those of us wanting to just hear some mellow stuff. His acoustic guitar and whispery middle range vocals are up front the entire time and it's hard to dislike music that is so blatantly earnest. There are tunes here, but they take a backseat to words. And the words that Phil sings on the album are perhaps the most impressive thing about this album. At once simple and poignant; you'd never know that the guy's day job was keeping his mouth shut in his other band. 'Broken Promises' especially strikes an emotional chord, as Phil is obviously talking about something even more personal than is the standard for the rest of the album and when he declares that 'Once the hurt has faded only love will remain', I have a hard time not getting into it completely. Not a super duper masterpiece, but good vibey mellow, low key and personable, through and through. Unexpected, to say the least. I dig it.
Sufjan Stevens — Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lake State (2003)
I was not into it at the time as a musical endeavor, but when Sufjan Stevens announced his fifty states project, I admired the idea from afar. A noble thought, I asserted. A few years removed, I'm admittedly a lot more open minded and just more in tune to acoustic music altogether. The idea of an acoustic guitar strumming, whispery-voiced, geography obsessive sounded like no fun to me then, but after I've lightened up, gone through some stuff, packed some emotional baggage and just learned the awesomeness of travel in general, I can really get into this guy. I know little about his background, but his claim to fame in the mid-2000's was being a spark in the "freak folk" scene (oh, for fuck's sake, why did we need to bring that up??!). I admit now, I purposely avoided him to be contrary. But, now that the hype has been removed and his albums are all on sweet deals at Borders, I decided to jump right in. Removed from the actual subject of its geography, Michigan is a neat and tidy little modern folk pop album. But —and here's where the kicker lies— Sufjan, in a genius move, uses the geographic points of discussion as jumping off points for these introspective-tinged songs of personal lament. It's almost as if, instead of the place itself, he used the morale of the places after which he named certain pieces as his muse. 'Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid)' may seem like a corny title, but the actual song starts off the weary and unsure album masterfully. The centerpiece of the album is 'Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)' which paints the picture of a once great heartland on the verge of resilience. Musically layered and catchy as heck despite a difficult time signature, I have to say, I'm sorry I missed out on such a thing the first time around. Overall, really solid stuff. And tunes for days. Sheesh.
Sufjan Stevens — Seven Swans (2004)
Less layered, more folky overall. Still has the exact same vibe as the Michigan album. I like that it's very much more low key. Why is he so obsessed with god and religion though? Sheesh. Lots of banjo up front in the mix, which is always fun. This strikes me, after just a few listens, as a much more deep listening experience. One that I'll appreciate a lot more the fiftieth time than I did the fifth. Will say this right now: the ballad 'To Be Alone With You' is nearly too good to be true. Shades of the pure solitary expression of being in love (mirrored on songs like this one), but mixed with a strangely surreal aspect. Overall, with songs like the title track and especially 'Sister,' it definitely takes on a distinct British folk-rock tone (think Unhalfbricking-era Fairport Convention) that just rules. Overall, a subtle change in sound, but not overall vibe. Which makes for just enough of a change up to make this one very worthwhile.
Sufjan Stevens — Invites You to: Come on Feel the ILLINOISE (2005)
Well, if nothing else, I can say I was definitely there and aware when this one came out. It was when I worked at Tower Records and I heard it at least once a day when I worked in the fall of 2005. I always dug it. I just got tired of it. It only confirmed what I had already told myself was true at the time: he was very superficially enjoyable and nothing else. No staying power. Wrong again stupid Austin (you are often a dumb fucker, now that I have the chance to be heard). I mean, dude. This is like the Michigan album on super no-doze ecstacy. That album times a million colorful, uber-creative, uncomfortably resonating doses, in fact. Often, you don't notice when one track develops into the next. The green party voter in me wants a thirty-five minute album, but the lover of gigantic musical mind movies weeps at the cohesiveness and unimpeachable continuity of this album. To be very cliche:
The way he relates John Wayne Gacy into an introspective mini-epic about the skeletons in everyone's closet is equal parts creepy and fucking fantastic. 'Chicago' was my favorite track then and it still is now. I guess it's become the one that folks go to from this album, and you know what? Fuckin' A, buddy. If he can take general locales and turn them inside out into genuine inspiration, I say right on. Shame he ditched the idea. But I also understand why. This seems to be the album that most people point to when his name comes up. Definitely understand why. It certainly is good, though.
Modern English — Soundtrack (2010)
Ok, well, I missed it. I shouldn't have, but I did. 'It's OK' is the first track on the album, so I guess I'll roll with that philosophy. It's actually pretty darn good. I mean, it sounds like an update of the uber-poppy moments of Stop/Start (minus the overproduction), mixed with the atmospherics of After the Snow in a contemporary context. Only Robbie Grey (who sounds awesomely similar to his singing voice in 1984) and Steve Walker remain from the band's heyday lineup, but the (currently and unfortunately) rarely heard from Hugh Jones is on board for a latter day production that matches the band with the man who provided them with the sound to create their greatest works. Robbie Grey's songs here are up and down (in mood — all pretty consistent in quality), mirroring the band's two masterpieces (and, admittedly, the two albums that I cite when I name them as one of my favorite new wave bands ever), After the Snow and Ricochet Days. That the band sounds good again and them joining back up with Hugh makes me just parrot to the rest of everyone else who actually reviewed the album last year: it sounds like their (good) old stuff from the 80's. It almost makes you want to want to go back to the albums they did after Ricochet Days with a new ear (I did say "almost" there). It's not super amazing, but it's darn good. It's a pretty good sign when a classic band reunites with the producer that made them sound great in the first place, but this just exceeds the standard across the board. The second half of the album does go a bit slow and moody, but the band was always prone to do that sort of thing all along. It's comforting when a genuinely articulate introspective jangly rocker like 'Up Here in the Brain' is followed by the moody (and downright great) slower numbers 'Deep Sea Diver' and 'Fin' (talk about awesomely, and yet, weirdly earnest lyrics here!). It starts very poppy and just goes very moody. Reminds me very much of Trembling Blue Stars and Bob Wratten's masterful later day output in general, actually. I'm late. But at least I'm here.
Crowded House — Intriguer Deluxe Edition (2010)
For your information, Neil Finn creates excellent dad rock. Just take that stuff, listen to it while you're sitting at your cubicle or desk and just relish in the awesome world-wise articulation. Relate to it or not, if you're over the age of 27, you're into it. You don't really have a choice, so just buy the deluxe edition, watch the DVD with Neil sporting his creeper mustache and sing along with all the words. You don't need to be married, you don't need to have kids; he knows it, everybody knows it. And he will sing it to you. Probably on a kickass twelve string guitar with a capo of some sort. This album has already been discussed. I will only add that the DVD is worth everyone's while. The "Upstairs at Home" portion presents a couple of songs in superior versions, while the documented live performance of 'Don't Dream it's Over' is chillingly good (audience sing along FTW!). I think higher of this album the more I hear it.
Sweet deals, I say. Sweet deals indeed.