Still playing that friendly game of catch up. . .
Hey, you know what? This one ain't bad at all! It's a bit overproduced and bloated, but the songs have a nice, folky base to them. The Celtic textures on something like 'Acres Wild' is just a completely unforeseen touch that works fantastically. There are a few somewhat dull "rockers" on the album, as if the band could not decide what direction they actually wanted to go in here (mainly looking at you, 'No Lullaby'). But, on the whole, strong moments are the standard here. 'Moths' is quite possibly the catchiest Jethro Tull song I've yet heard, while the two album closers —'Weathercock' and the title track— point the band straight back to the thoughtfully movement-shifting and calmly rocking out territory of their earlier work. I, too, was skeptical of such a later album, but it's surprisingly listenable, on the condition that you already know you like the band.
Jethro Tull — Songs from the Wood (1977)
The year previous, the band released this album that hints at the calmer direction of Heavy Horses, but where Heavy Horses was a bit overproduced and bloated, this album is way past that. The gratuitous keyboards and ridiculous arrangement shifts on the album opening title track sound more at home on a crappy jazz fusion record of the time. Thank you, but no. Some cool moments of weird folky textures scattered throughout, but it really feels like the band can't stay focused at all here. And, for a band that kind of built its name on being unpredictable, it just seems like they're being shifting and changing mid-song just for the sake of doing it. Enh, it's not all bad. 'Velvet Green' is kinda sorta really good. It just feels like all of tempos on this album are too fast. They got it right next go 'round. So, this album stands as a kind of transitional work. Really only for dork-minded idiots like me.
Jethro Tull — Benefit (1970)
Alright! Now this is a classic-sounding Tull! This is the album right before Aqualung and it's just a really nice, thoughtful, melodic work in the same vein. It's arguably even more tuneful. 'Nothing to Say', just right away, strikes me as one of those great "lost classic" songs of the classic rock era. Just a really noisy, resonating number. Elsewhere, the more folky aspect of the band is present with the excellent strummers 'For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me' and the closer 'Sossity, You're A Woman.' Darn good album and a great table setter for the one-two punch that was to follow.
George Winston — Autumn (1980)
It's taken me a while to really get into George Winston's albums so far, but sometimes when they hit, they hit hard. It's definitely mood music, in that respect. Meaning: I have to be in the right mood to really get what the player was going for. With my recent trip and thinking back on my youth, I relisten to this album now and it sounds awesome. The opening tune, 'Colors/Dance', moves through its two or three themes in a really convincing way, really sounding like late summer's cooling temperatures convincing the leaves to fall and turn orange for the winter. Good stuff. Although some of it does get a little too stock new agey for me. 'Longing/Love' is just. . . uhh, yeah. Not my cup. Most of side two ("October") of the album is pretty dissonant, perhaps surprisingly. George doesn't spare on the big, dramatic flourishes, so it does come off as a bit overplayed. But it's actually pretty darned affecting when you sit down with it in the right mood. Not my favorite George Winston album, but side two is probably my favorite side of any GW album I've heard thus far.
Ferde Grofé — Grand Canyon Suite (composed 1929-1931/recorded 1958)
It's kind of going for that "big" Americana thing that Aaron Copland was into. It's a bit more impressionist than that, but yeah. That's the long and short of it. It's here in its entirety for free and well worth the listen. The more sparse passages on 'The Painted Desert' and 'Cloudburst' are just excellent. Really not a work that requires a listener to be familiar with its muse to appreciate all the same. Some really nice moments; a bit of the old boombast takes it down a notch though.
Billie Holiday — The Golden Years (1933-1941)
The first in Columbia's exhaustive attempts to document Billie's output with anybody associated with the label. This is an absolutely gorgeous three disc vinyl LP box set (that was still sealed [!!!] when I rescued it, thank you very much). So many amazing musicians, so many amazing moments. I mean, I could go all dork on you and just go track by track, but all this stuff is available on CD many times over. So, just go buy a Billie Holiday best of set. Chances are, four or five of the absolutely essential performances from this collection will inevitably be on it. What else do you want from me? This is just excellent music, all around.
Joe Sample, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne — The Three (1975)
"The Three." That's actually what they called themselves. Not going to get too cynical at this juncture because Joe Sample sticks to acoustic piano the entire time. And that's a pretty bold move for him at this date. It was a Japanese-only release for nearly three years until the cooler than cool Inner City label finally scooped it up in 1978. Mostly standards, it's a meeting of players that makes sense, considering their firm West coast roots, but that didn't really happen otherwise. The mode is in that loose, slightly funky, really relaxed post-bop mood that a lot of the stuff from the Inner City label had. Joe flat out steals from Ahmad Jamal on the opener and that's just plain old fun, while there's an excellent 'Manha de Carnaval' to kick off side two. It's good piano trio stuff and a downright great find for Ray Brown fans.