I’m probably not going to introduce anyone to Ella Fitzgerald today. The First Lady of Song is well known and widely beloved. Famous for the liquid sheen of her voice, her precise diction while singing, and her amazing improvisational scat abilities, Ella is a must in any music collection, in my opinion. So hopefully, you already have some Ella.
I do want to turn your attention to a particular gem of hers that is perhaps my favorite Ella Fitzgerald album. In 1961 Ella released a collection of songs by the great American composer Harold Arlen, who wrote over 500 songs in his life. You know many of them: the music from The Wizard of Oz, for example.
The album is unimaginatively titled “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Songbook.” All the creativity went into the music. Ella worked with arranger/composer/trumpeter Billy May (who among other projects composed the TV theme songs for The Green Hornet and Batman). Sadly, it was the only time the two worked together, but May created inspiring arrangements that made the songs swing and showcased Ella’s amazing voice. Here are just a handful of the winners on this disc.
- Blues in the Night – I love the horn arrangement in this version because they don’t jump up and give you a black eye right at the start. They lay back and leave it to Ella to knock you flat for a while, which she does, before they come in with some great accents and soloing.
- Let’s Fall in Love – This might be my favorite Harold Arlen song. It’s just as smooth and sweet as frosting and this arrangement in particular is jazzy. Ella is, of course, flawless and captures the feeling perfectly.
- Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea – I have heard many covers of this song, but I like Ella’s best. The band lays back for her but Ella puts in an athletic performance, bending notes, playing tricks with the melody, and embellishing notes with lots of quick vibrato. It’s beautiful.
- That Old Black Magic – Ella rocks this song and the horns play everything from cool accents to a great countermelody.
- I’ve Got the World on a String – I’ve heard some peppy versions of this song. In this version, the intro is up-tempo, but she takes the song way down and croons it at a deliberate, bluesy pace.
- Ac-Cent-Thu-Ate the Positive – Ella’s joyful delivery was made for an optimistic song like this one. She absolutely makes it her own.
2011 is shaping up. I landed a job I applied for late last year. It looks like a good one, too. So at last I’m leaving the ranks of the under-employed and I’ll be making some money. Things are going swimmingly with my girlfriend too. (What is the genesis of that odd expression, anyway? Swimmingly?) I’m going to a posh wedding tonight that promises to be fun. All in all, I’m feeling pretty damn good.
On that note, I put together a mix of songs that are either about good times or have happiness in the title.
- This Will Be Our Year – OK Go
You remember their treadmill video for ‘Here It Goes Again’ and you might remember their awesome Rube Goldberg machine video for ‘This Too Shall Pass.’ These guys are about a lot more then gimmicky videos, though. They are about joyful, inventive pop music like this.
- It’s About Time – The Lemonheads
I’ve always been a big Evan Dando fan. He writes the most pleasing melodies and he has a great vocal delivery.
- Finally Made Me Happy – Macy Gray
A lot of people took notice of Macy Gray’s debut album and then she faded a bit, but I don’t thing she’s lost a step. I always check out her albums when she releases one. This is from her 2007 release, “Big.”
- Joyful Noise – Derek Trucks Band
This aptly named nearly-all-instrumental composition is such a high-energy, upbeat song. This is a good live performance, too. Trucks is an amazing guitarist and a heck of a bandleader.
- Happy Hour Hero – moe.
Go out and pick up “Tin Cans and Car Tires.” Oh, and go see moe. next time they come to your town. Give a listen to the lyrics in this great Rob Derhak tune.
- Awesome – Satellite Party
Satellite Party is a Perry Farrell project. This is a surprisingly pretty love song. It’s almost cheesy, but somehow Farrell sells it to me.
- Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy – The Kinks
Vintage Ray Davies. Thank you once again to John Cusack for turning me onto this great song I may not have found otherwise.
- Stupidly Happy – XTC
I love XTC. This is nearly a silly filler track for them but many songwriters would kill to be able to generate infectious guitar riffs and vocal melodies that they seemed to toss off so effortlessly.
- Joy – Bettye LaVette
LaVette has been in the business a long time and has come to mainstream success comparatively late in life. Check out this live performance and you’ll wonder why it took us so long to notice her.
- Happy Feet – 8 ½ Souvenirs
These guys play fun, jazz-influenced music with a throwback feel, kind of in the mold of Squirrel Nut Zippers, but more polished.
- Action Figure Party – Action Figure Party
This is the title track to one of the coolest party jazz albums I own. Listen to the great lyrics as you groove to the funky jazz.
- Wonderful Night – Fatboy Slim
I have never heard of Lateef the Truth Speaker, but he really lays it down on this track. The energy is great, but watch out for the lyrics, parents.
- Over the Rainbow / What a Wonderful World – Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
This song has been used in many TV shows so you’ve probably heard it before. If not, though, don’t miss it. Honestly, I think it’s better than Judy Garland’s version of ‘Rainbow’ and as good as Satchmo’s version of ‘Wonderful World.’
- Happiness – Built to Spill
The fantastic slide guitar on this track makes it my favorite from Built to Spill’s great release, “Ancient Melodies of the Future.” As always, Doug Martsch gives a great vocal performance, too.
- I Hope You’re Happy Now – Elvis Costello
No one did bitter like Elvis Costello. The instruments play an upbeat, poppy song, but the lyrics contain sarcastic gems like, “But you make him sound like frozen food, his love will last forever.”
You may have noticed that I only got two posts up this week and the “Friday Mix” got posted on a Saturday. I think I’m going to be busier now that I’m working. I will still try to get up a least a couple album reviews during the week, but I may start calling these the Weekend Mixes instead so I can get them up on Saturdays when I will have more time. Enjoy this mix with a glass of champagne and let the good times roll.
I have long been a fan, supporter, and proponent of Morphine. The jazz-influenced trio released 5 fantastic albums before the tragic early death of lead singer/songwriter/bass player Mark Sandman. Sax virtuoso Dana Colley has done great work since Sandman’s death with a variety of projects (A.K.A.C.O.D., Twinemen, Orchestra Morphine) playing new music and keeping the old Morphine music alive.
Colley’s newest endeavor is a great act that calls itself The Ever-Expanding Elastic Waste Band. Or maybe Members of Morphine with Jeremy Lyons. It’s unclear. (Maybe you can help me out, Dana.) Former Morphine drummer Jerome Deupree is with Colley again and a talented guitarist/bass player named Jeremy Lyons has stepped in to make them a trio. He plays and often sings Sandman’s parts when they cover Morphine tunes and has written some new songs for the band. As I mentioned in a previous post, I failed to get their disc, “Members of Morphine with Jeremy Lyons,” at the live show when I saw them, but my girlfriend came through and scored it for me for Christmas.
The album is great. Colley still has much to say musically. Deupree blew me away live and sits right in the pocket on this album. Lyons does fine work on the Morphine tracks they cover and he helps them into some great new territory the rest of the time. Check out a few winners off the disc.
- Hurricane – Lyons is credited with writing this song, but only the lyrics are new. The guitar and vocal lines are from ‘Goin’ Down South’ by R.L. Burnside (particularly the North Mississippi Allstars version). That’s not a criticism, though. There are only a dozen chord progressions in blues anyway. Everyone borrows. The lyrics are about God crushing Baton Rouge. The guitar work is cool without being flashy and Colley’s sax rumbles through the whole song.
- Different – The pace of this song is glacial but Colley’s atmospheric sax work is gorgeous. Nobody else sounds like this.
- Pulled Over the Car – This is unmistakably an old Mark Sandman song that they never released on a Morphine album. The guys performed this song when I saw them at the Beachland Ballroom this year. Fantastic. Sandman was such a clever and funny songwriter. They get a little help from some brass in the studio and the arrangement is hot.
- Know – I like the original songs EEEWB have written for this release. This is a heavy and slow love song. The baritone sax and electric guitar interact in unexpected and pleasing ways.
- Palestrina – What a beautiful instrumental. I believe it’s a live recording, too. It’s mostly Colley noodling on his saxophone but he gets some fine moody support from the drums and bass.
If you were ever a fan of Morphine and The Ever Expanding Elastic Waste Band comes to your town, you must go see them. In fact, even if you weren’t a fan you will like these guys. All three members are talented musicians with a fantastic catalog of new and old songs. It’s a fun show.
I had a meeting in a local coffee shop the other day and as my friend and I were packing up our stuff and getting ready to leave, the cool music we had been listening to finally penetrated my mind. I had to go ask the barista who they were spinning for us. “Yesterday’s New Quintet” is what he told me. Cool. I started to track them down and ordered a couple discs from the library.
The first album I got by the “quintet” (I’ll get to the quotes in a minute) was actually a tribute to Stevie Wonder called “Stevie” that I have to report was a little disappointing. The songs weren’t so much jazz explorations of Stevie’s grooves as they were covers given a jazzy treatment. Not as cool as I had hoped. The next one I got was called “Yesterday’s Universe: Prepare for a New Yesterday (Volume 1)” and this is where it started to get weird.
At first, I thought this was an album by a band called Yesterday’s New Quintet. Then, as I was writing it up, it appeared that this is really a compilation of new jazz put together by multi-instrumentalist, producer, DJ, and MC Madlib. Something still smelled funny, so I dug a little deeper and it would seem all of that Yesterday’s New Quintet is actually just Madlib. He does bring in some other musicians from time to time, but mostly it’s just him. The songs on “Yesterday’s Universe” are ostensibly performed by a variety of different bands with names like The Jahari Massamba Unit Feat. Karriem Riggins Trio, The Jazzistics, and Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble. In fact, it’s mostly Madlib. He does have other musicians contribute, but it is difficult to tell who they are. I know that a couple of jazz percussionists named Karriem Riggins and Ivan Conti were in the studio with Madlib, but if there were other artists involved, I could not figure it out.
Anyway, the fun Madlib has with aliases is not the point. I really liked a lot of the music on this album. Madlib is a hip-hop producer and he brought his production sensibilities to this project. The result is great, improvisational jazz brought forward into the 21st century. There are plenty of samples and much of the music is more groove oriented than a lot of mental jazz. There is a cerebral element to the music, but it tickles both sides of the brain. YouTube is short on cutting edge jazz, so most of these are Amazon samples. Still, give a listen to my favorites from the album and maybe pick it up.
- Two for Strata East – Distorted viberaphone and hissing percussion is pretty much all there is to this 42-second track, but I liked it.
- Cold Nights and Rainy Days – Spacey wind sounds and sitar set the backdrop for some meandering piano and vibraphone and cool, plodding bass work. The percussion is superlative on this track.
- Barumba – For all it’s up-tempo, salsa percussion, the piano and vibraphone maintain an easy feel. Here, someone has set this music to people swimming at the Cayman Islands.
- Sunny C – The busy percussion and looped keyboards barely hang together for a minute, but then mysteriously morph into a great head-bobbing groove.
- Mtume’s Song – Layers of percussion create clouds of sound the keyboards have to claw their way through. Still, the percussion anchors the song when the keys wander around a lot.
- Vibes from the Tribes Suite (For Phil) – I’ll be honest. This song is nearly 12 minutes long but I edited off almost all of the second half of the track. The first part, though, is fabulous, with flute decorating a cool synthesized bass line. Again, the great percussion keeps things chugging along.
I think I need to get more of this work from Madlib. I’ll let you know what I find.
I realized today that although I’ve posted a few tracks, I’ve never done a complete write-up on one of the all-time college radio greats, Morphine. If you haven’t heard these guys, they’re a 3-piece outfit of bass, sax, and drums that bend jazz, blues, and rock into a wet, smooth coolness that is great with headphones or backing a party.
Front man Mark Sandman played a two-string bass and sang inventive and subtle lyrics in a smoky tenor made for crowded bars. Sax impresario Dana Colley played baritone, bass, or tenor (sometimes 2 at once) saxophones as big and good a thanksgiving turkey. Drummer Billy Conway joined the band after their first album and had all the right moves for the sound. At a time when a lot of Boston bands were trying to play louder and faster than their competition, Morphine was trying to play soft and slow. You are going to like these guys.
In their 10 years together, they put out 5 studio albums of increasing complexity and maturity that show a progression from the raw essence of passionate, young genius to realized exploration of their chosen musical space. I love nearly every song they’ve put out and will probably eventually write up all of their studio releases. Today, though, I want to recommend their 2nd album, “Cure for Pain.”
The whole album is good, really, but here are 4 outstanding tracks that will give you a good flavor for the ground they covered.
- Buena – The opening of this song has the feel of a true story. The band is playing a show and someone shouts out, “We want something good!” I’m not sure what his response means. It might be a drug reference. Or not. Anyway, it rocks.
- In Spite of Me – I think this is the most delicate and beautiful song they ever did. A little mandolin, sad lyrics, and nearly whispered vocals make this a heart wrencher.
- Thursday – Love. This. Song. These are some the coolest lyrics ever written. He used to have a regular Thursday tryst but he gets greedy and blows it. Funny and clever. Give it a listen.
- Cure for Pain – This is one of my two favorite songs by Morphine (the other being ‘All Your Way’). There is no studio version on YouTube, but I did find this outstanding live performance.
Mark Sandman collapsed on stage in Italy at the Nel Nome del Rock festial on July 3rd, 1999 and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Morphine disbanded. Colley and Conway have worked to keep Sandman’s memory and music alive but have also done some great work with other people. I hope they will bring the show to Cleveland soon.
UPDATE: I went to the Beachland Ballroom on Thursday and saw Members of Morphine and Jeremy Lyons or, as they apparently call themselves now, the Ever-Expanding Elastic Waste Band. Wow. Tremendous show. Lyons is a talented bass player and singer and, more importantly, he fits. Sax maestro Dana Colley shared front-man duties and they were personally engaging and musically amazing. Colley actually played some harmonica, which I had never heard before. Nor surprisingly, it was great. Jerome Deupree, who has played percussion with Morphine in the past, is a master of appropriate grooves. What an enjoyable show. I had to bolt out of the venue (my girlfriend had to work Friday) and forgot to stop and pick up a CD, but I have asked for it for Christmas. If they come to your town, check them out. Otherwise, grab the new CD. The old Morphine music was well-executed and the new music was really cool.
In my house we accumulate books. After decades of collecting them, today we packed my trunk and back seat with 7 boxes of books and carted them off to Half Price Books to sell or trade them. While we waited for the woman to total up an offer for the books, I got to wander around and shop for what I would be reading next. I love bookstores. I worked in one of Cleveland’s last great independent bookstores in 1991 and 1992. To this day it remains the best job I ever had. Anyway, I left with a handful of books and a fistful of money. Nice haul.
For the mix this week, I want to celebrate the written word. And while I’m at it, I want to champion a personal cause of mine. It’s very simple. Parents, read to your kids. That’s all. I teach sometimes and I know a lot of parents just don’t do it. It’s good bonding time; they love your attention. They learn new words and new ideas. They travel to places and times they could never go in real life. They hear how inflection works and how sentences are constructed. It makes book lovers of kids. I am convinced that short of inoculation, it is the best thing a parent can do for his or her kid.
So today, enjoy music that celebrates enjoying books.
- This Red Book – Pinback
Pinback’s album, “Summer in Abaddon,” has many songs in it with a measured, mathematical feel but it still has soul for all its precision. This has a patient, plodding pace and appealing guitar and vocal work.
- Every Day I Write the Book – Elvis Costello
What a great songwriter he was. I put that in past tense because I haven’t been knocked out by a lot of the stuff he has released in the last decade or so. This is a typically wonderful song by Costello from the mid-1980s.
- I Can’t Read – Tin Machine
By way of contrast, David Bowie is a guy who never stopped writing great songs. I think if you comb through his 25 studio albums for dogs you MIGHT be able to put together 1 album that was merely good.
- Reading My Mind – John Cale
I am a fan of The Velvet Underground, but I don’t have a lot of solo John Cale. This is a cool track, built around a neat little descending piano riff.
- Paperback Writer – The Beatles
This was released as an A-side single with ‘Rain’ as the B-side, which makes this my favorite duo of songs released by the early Beatles.
- Just Read the Poems – Don Was
This is from the Backbeat soundtrack. Not the one with all the Beatles covers, but the incidental jazz score by Don Was. This is some really hip, smooth jazz. I highly recommend this album.
- Trick in the Book – Cornell Campbell
I can’t listen to a lot of reggae all at once, but, man, I love it when some reggae pops up on my iPod and I always like it in a mix.
- Did You See the Words – Animal Collective
Animal Collective is often not very accessible. Still, the more I hear them the more I like them. I love that so many of Panda Bear’s melodies have this backwards tracked Brian Wilson feel. The rotating personnel in the group nearly always bring interesting instrumentation and fat harmony vocals.
- I Write Sins, Not Tragedies – Panic! At the Disco
The music is good, but this one is all about the great lyrics. What a brilliant if sad song.
- Same Page – Virginia Coalition
Virginia Coalition writes bright, poppy songs that remind me of some of Blues Traveler’s cuddlier material. This song will make you happier when it comes on.
- Books Are Burning – XTC
I’ve been an enormous fan of XTC since about 1983 (after they had stopped touring, dammit). The seeming ease with which they tossed off brilliant pop melodies makes their breakup very sad. I like this anthem.
- Empty Pages – Traffic
Homer Simpson hates traffic – the phenomenon and the band. I love the band, particularly this track off of “John Barleycorn Must Die.”
- All Your Words – Bleeding Heart Narrative
OK, so this song isn’t as wonderful as ‘Colours Turn Colours‘ from the same album, but it has the same feel, a pretty melody, and a big, layered sound.
- Here’s Where the Story Ends – The Sundays
I love Harriett Wheeler’s voice. And not just the clear, breathy tone. I also like her diction, the way she pronounces the words. This is probably my favorite song by them.
Enjoy this mix with some Shakespeare Vodka and grapefruit juice. In fact, make it a double. Enjoy your weekend.
I was spinning my jazz collection the other day and had 4 or 5 great songs in a row. I love my jazz mix. I mean, of course I love my jazz mix. Why would I have stuff I don’t like on my iPod? But still. Today I wanted to wander through my collection and pull some of the cooler jazz I have found through many hours of listening. I have weeded out the crap, the elevator music, and the incomprehensible math-based jazz so most of these are accessible or at least appealing.
- Pong Baby – Action Figure Party
This is top flight modern jazz. Great percussion and high-energy solos make this a great opener.
- Pay Back Africa – Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra
These Brooklyn-based guys are a throwback to Fela Kuti, but they mix plenty of funk and dub into their West African influenced jazz.
- Cubafro Con Amigos – Ballistic Brothers
This is Cuban influenced chillout jazz, so it’s slow to develop and very vibe-based, but it has a great danceable beat.
- Artis – Brad Mehldau
Mehldau picks great songs and covers everyone from Harold Arlen to Radiohead. This is one of his own compositions. It’s pretty cerebral stuff, but Mehldau and his drummer are working it hard.
- The Fakir — Cal Tjader
This starts out with a nice Arabian vamp, but then Tjader rolls in with a long and engaging vibes solo.
- Chan’s Song – Jacky Terrasson
This Herbie Hancock cover was released on a collaboration Terrasson did with Cassandra Wilson, but she doesn’t sing a note. Instead, we get outstanding acoustic bass, bongos, and Terrasson’s wonderful acoustic and electric piano. What a great vibe.
- Jazzy (Suite No. 2 for Flute and Jazz Piano) – Claude Bolling
Bolling plays at the intersection of classical and jazz, which is really interesting. He is also a guy who can think of and play a musical idea almost faster than I can process what he just did. Or at least he could back in the day. I think he may have lost a step by the time this live recording was made.
- Out Beyond Ideas – David Binney
Again, pretty cerebral stuff. It’s not immediately accessible. The horns line is atonal all the way until it resolves at the “chorus.” After they do it a few times, though, you start to like the tension and release they set up. Ultimately, it’s a pretty piece.
- P.I.M.P. – Dennis Nelson/Jeff Lorber
This is from the Hidden Beach album “Unwrapped Vol. 3.” These are instrumental and jazz versions of famous hip-hop songs. This is a 50 Cent tune. I’m not a huge 50 Cent fan, but I really dig the jazz take on this great groove.
- It’s Just Begun – DJ Arkive
DJ Arkive gathers acclaimed musicians from a shared hometown but very different musical backgrounds and puts them in a recording studio together. There was a “Philadelphia Experiment” and a “Detroit Experiment.” This great track comes from “The Harlem Experiment.”
- Pink Shoes – Fred Frith
Quick percussion and funky guitar are at the heart of this song, but there are plenty of cool effects added in postproduction.
- A Lost Way Found – Free Form Funky Freqs
Sadly, this sample is taken from before the song really gets going. It’s a spacey groove with rock-based soloing that really explores every corner of the room.
- Green Grass Stains on Wrangler Jeans – Happy Apple
I couldn’t decide between this one and the title track, ‘Youth Oriented,’ but ultimately I went with this one because it’s in 5/4 and it’s a happier progression, both of which make it more interesting and pleasing to the ear. Both are great, though.
I should have many other such mixes in the future, particularly because I have ordered more jazz today while I was compiling this mix. Enjoy this with a bloody mary or some other drink that you’re not quite sure why you like it. Have a great weekend.
I woke up in a bit of a funk today. It’s complicated. And yet, as it usually does, music transformed my mood. I find a good cure for being in a funk is listening to funk. The energy is infectious. Here is a mix of some funk to help take your mind off your troubles.
- Righteous (City Pain) – Dag
My brother is a musician and he likes him some funk. He sent me this disc, “Righteous,” years ago and there is indeed some great music on it.
- Lovely Jane – Dag
In fact, there is so much great music on “Righteous” I’m going to give you a double shot of Dag to kick off this funk mix. These guys are fantastic. It’s funny to see the vocalist in the video. His is not the face I pictured all these years.
- Use the Force – Jamiroquai
You might remember his great song (and video) for ‘Virtual Insanity.’ He’s a great funk artist, carrying the sound forward. I remember seeing him on Jamie Oliver’s cooking show a few years back, which nearly created a coolness singularity.
- Who is He (And What Is He to You)? – Bill Withers
Me’Shell Ndegeocello does a brilliant cover of this song, but I went with the original. The bass line alone is enough for any funk mix.
- Cramp Your Style – Breakestra
Horns! Love ‘em. There ought to be a law requiring them, as far as I’m concerned.
- Tell Mama – Etta James
OK, so this is Motown/funk. Etta James is the bomb. Heart wrenching at will, funky as hell whenever she likes.
- When Love Comes Home – Ivey, Chet & His Fabulous Avengers
I had some trouble finding a link to a sample. It’s busy and brilliant, so I hope you can find the track, if you like it. You can buy it here for only £0.84, however much that is.
- Night Train – James Brown
The Godfather of Soul. The hardest working man in show business. He had it going on, that’s for sure. This is from 1963 and it’s wonderful. I saw him at Bonnaroo in 2003 a few years before his death at age 74. Honestly, it was a little sad. You could see what a brilliant performer he had been in his prime but at 70 he simply couldn’t do it anymore.
- Promised Land – Naomi Davis & Sugarman Three
Busy percussion, speedy horns, and jangling guitar back Naomi Davis, who has a somewhat manly voice, I have to say, at least in this track. It’s a cool song.
- Pick It Up, Lay It in the Cut – Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
If you haven’t yet bought Sharon Jones’ entire catalog, give this one a listen. She is the new queen of funk.
- Gamera – Action Figure Party
This is the intersection of jazz and funk. If you’re a regular reader, you know I like the intersection of jazz and anything. ‘Gamera’ is no exception.
- World Keeps Spinning – Brand New Heavies
These guys are frequently listed among the top 50 funk bands. I found this one on the Truth About Cats and Dogs soundtrack, which is why I like to buy soundtracks.
- Musicology – Prince
Prince has always drawn a lot of inspiration from funk music. Every now and then he doesn’t innovate with it, he just plays it straight up. Here is a busy mix of a nearly instrumental funk song.
- Serpentine Fire – Earth Wind & Fire
These guys are frequently listed among the top 3 funk bands of all time. If you don’t remember them, or if you don’t remember songs by them you like, check this one out. The bass is crazy.
- So What the Fuss – Stevie Wonder
No one plays funk like Stevie did and still does, as it turns out. This is from Stevie’s new album and it is fantastic. I saw him perform this at Bonnaroo this year and I wondered, “Why haven’t I heard this before?” Because it is new.
- Green Onions – Booker T. and the MGs
A great instrumental. It’s probably not the funkiest tune they ever did, but it is my favorite and it IS funky.
I was looking for a funky drink and googled it. I’m not sure I got the definition of funky I intended. I couldn’t decide between the Stinky Weasel or the Stinky Pinky. Enjoy the mix with whichever strikes your fancy. Have a great weekend.
Labor Day marks the end of summer for a lot of people, though not for you purists who pay attention to the “calendar.” That would mark the end of the summer vacation travel season as well, so it is fitting that this looks like the last travel-themed mix I have in my collection. In case you were wondering, I didn’t already pick my favorite stuff and this is the leftovers. I pulled them at random each week from my pool of songs that would fit the theme so there is still some fantastic music in the mix this week.
- Gold Heart Mountain Top Queen Directory – …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
To be honest, I don’t know to what place they are referring, but if they need a directory, I’m assuming it’s a place. This song was originally released by Guided by Voices, but the orignal is nowhere near as beautiful as this version.
- Haiti – The Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but they are a strong pop band. I can’t quite put my finger on who they remind me of. There are elements of U2, certainly, though not in the vocals. If you can place it, let me know.
- Funky Nassau, Pt. 1 – The Beginning of the End
Fantastic vintage funk/ska. I guess it really IS better in the Bahamas.
- California Stars– Billy Bragg & Wilco
I am a huge Wilco fan. This is from the “Mermaid Avenue” project, in which they took lyrics by Woody Guthrie and set them to original music. This is one of the best tracks to come out of those sessions.
- Wyoming – Brand New Sin
Not southern rock, but grungy southern metal. It’s actually a really good sound. They have seen some lineup changes, but they are still at it.
- Dracula from Houston – Butthole Surfers
I wouldn’t expect such a sunny, happy song from Gibby Haynes, but this is a really accessible track with kind of funny lyrics.
- Tokyo Storm Warning – Elvis Costello
“Blood & Chocolate” is the first Elvis Costello album I ever really got into so of course I love it. This great track was #3 on the album.
- Last Tango in Paris – Gotan Project
I have this one on my Chillout mix. Like most of the songs on that mix, it’s relaxing, doesn’t go through a lot of changes, and I like it.
- St. Louis Blues – Herbie Hancock (featuring Stevie Wonder)
So Herbie is on keys and Stevie plays harmonica and sings. It’s as good as you think. Better, in fact. Stevie won one of his legion of Grammys for his vocal performance on this song.
- Hollywood – Los Lonely Boys
My brother, who lives near Austin, where Los Lonely Boys’ came up, sent me a disc of theirs before they hit the national scene. I could already tell they were brothers just by the way they harmonize. Even their vibrato is synchronized. They have spent many, many years singing together. This is a sweet song.
- Speedway at Nazareth – Mark Knopfler
This is a fictional tale about racing, though it has the feel of one of Knopfler’s historical pieces (I know it is fictional because the album was released in 2000, one year before the first season mentioned in this song). It sports a folk feel with violins and gentle harmony vocals until the songs really starts to move, with Knopflers inimitable pocket soloing. Great song.
- When in Rome – Nickel Creek
This is the first track and the single from Nickel Creek’s 2005 release, “Why Should the Fire Die?” Chris Thile (mandolin, vocals) said by this time the band was comfortable playing to their strengths and they do this kind of song very well indeed.
- Lake Michigan – Rogue Wave
Acoustic guitar and handclaps set up this fat, appealing pop hook.
- Jacksonville – Sufjan Stevens
I almost posted Decatur by Stevens, but I like this track just a little bit more. This is such a mellow and interesting track.
- Warsaw, Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up – Them Crooked Vultures
I wrote up this entire album not long ago. It’s all killer, no filler and this is a fine example of the great, dark rock that populates the whole disc.
- Summertime in England – Van Morrison
Van Morrison is simply my very favorite. This is from his 1990 release, “Common One,” long after the peak of his popularity, but he has lost nothing as a singer, songwriter, or bandleader. This is a live version, but they do a fantastic job with it.
- Impossible Germany – Wilco
You get two songs by Wilco this week because one was with Billy Bragg and because Wilco is just cool as hell. Impossible Germany, unlikely Japan. I have read these lyrics over and over but I still don’t understand them. I get more meaning from the way the song makes me feel, I think.
Enjoy this mix with a mojito. You won’t be able to pick fresh mint out of your herb garden for much longer. Have a great Labor Day weekend!
For the Friday mix this week, I wanted to hit my travel theme again because I found a bunch of songs that fit and I love a lot of the music on this topic. This week is more locations. Give a listen because this is some great music.
- Streets of Calcutta – Ananda Shankar
The Rough Guide folks came through for me again with this rock-influenced Asian song. Sitar, flute, and clean electric guitar. It’s a cool mix.
- Brazil – Antonio Carlos Jobim (from “Stone Flower”)
This is my favorite version I have hear Jobim or anyone else do of this song. It’s quiet but completely groovy.
- Back to Africa – Aswad
Reggae has roots in West African music and this tune takes us and reggae back there.
- Commerce, TX – Ben Kweller
This fellow has a bright future in pop music. It’s not necessarily fresh, since it sounds exactly like Weezer, who are themselves derivative of other bands. That said, I really like this track.
- Say Goodbe to Hollywood – Billy Joel
Maybe it’s because I’m old, but I really like Billy Joel. And I think this track is superior to the Eminem song of the same name.
- St. Petersburg – Brazilian Girls
My love of Brazilian Girls is well–documented. This has a simple, catchy melody and the best whistling since the Andy Griffith theme song.
- South of the Border – Chris Isaak
Many people have chosen to do this song, but I really like Isaak’s Orbison-esque crooning and the Hawiian-sounding guitar.
- Mushaboom – Feist
Mushaboom is a rural community near Halifax in Nova Scotia and an irresistible little song from Feist. I think this was used in a car commercial or something.
- Back in N.Y.C. – Genesis
Hey, kids! Have you ever heard of Peter Gabriel? Phil Collins? Well, they used to be in a band together and back when Gabriel was doing more drugs than your average audience at a Phish show, he wrote this brilliant concept album. This is my favorite track on that album.
- Trains to Brazil – Guillemots
The kids in this video don’t seem to be digging this 80s throwback pop. Or maybe they’re staring at the hot bass player.
- Lookout Cleveland – The Band
I also have a great version of this classic by Jackie Green.
- Guayaquil City – Mano Negra
This is perhaps my favorite song on today’s mix simply because of the fantastic horns.
- New York Hustle – Mick Jagger
This is from the Alfie soundtrack. You wouldn’t believe this was Jagger because he barely sings a note on the album and it’s full of really cool music like this one. No offense intended, but I honestly thought Jagger’s best years were behind him. The old boy’s still got some juice left in him.
- Baton Rouge – The Nixons
Southern rock meets grunge and the pairing is good.
- Taj Mahal – Sam Roberts
Ringing piano, a Donovan-esque melody, and fat harmony vocals can’t miss me.
- Cayman Review – Trey Anastasio
Trey’s 2002 solo album, recorded during “The Hiatus,” has some great songs and some fun music, like this one.
- Back to Basom – Ween
Basom is apparently a tiny little hamlet in New York. Ween is often weird and frenetic, but I think this patient, evocative tune is simply beautiful.
Enjoy this mix with a tequila sunrise, because I’ve only ever had this drink on vacation. Have a great weekend.