Posts Tagged ‘Music’


After a slightly gospel-y opening, but with a definitively bluesier guitar than most gospel-based ballads, “Walk With Me” wastes no time in focusing on what most matters: the lyrics. Or maybe more to the point: the rhythm of the lyrics. Bowdoin has a gift for choosing and arranging his words in an iambic pentameter-y way so that there’s a mellifluous flow to the words, such that this lilt supercedes the words themselves. The music and the meaning of the lyrics may verge on the treacly turf of adult contemporary stars like Dan Fogelberg or Celine Dion but that’s almost beside the point. Or at least I chose to interpret them that way, given that the words, the narrative, didn’t hue to the clearest of lines (it’s as if there are two or three “stories” being told here about this man, who’s about to set out on a journey, who can’t do it alone, trying to convince this woman to leave the cold, dark place she’s in—and to walk with him into some better place). The ultimate message, though, is to Walk with me. Which taps into an age-old emotion, and an age-old conceit of gospel. And that works. And that alone carries and propels the song—musically and emotionally. What was less effective was the music, which is a bit flat. I would’ve preferred either more production (more buildup, more crescendo) or a stripping-down of everything to its bluesy minimalism.

http://www.midtnmusic.com/songs-from-the-little-green-book/

I knew it wouldn’t take me long before I was again returning to the top ten brand of self analysis, and sure enough here I am. Even during the compiling of my favorite musical works which I posted earlier my mind was frequently making another list, that of my favorite albums. I’m not precisely sure why I make this distinction other than to say that having list that combined the two forms of music was far too difficult to rank without constantly contradicting myself. So, having no authority to answer to save the good Lord, who is probably annoyed at the vanity of these lists regardless of their content, I feel free to have two distinct lists and for no other reason than it pleases me that I should do so.
I think one of the themes that runs through the list, having had a much more difficult time narrowing it to ten than on my previous effort, is the strong lyrical content. I am very much in love with poetry and many of the albums here listed are very strong on that count. As before I have to stipulate to a couple of criteria I have set for myself before beginning my list. I have chosen these albums as whole works and many albums were left off of this list not so much for my lack of fondness for them, but rather because they did not have the top to bottom cohesiveness that these have. In other words if I had a list of favorite songs many would be from albums not here listed. Because of this stipulation I have excluded greatest hits and other compilation albums leading to the absence of works like Bon Jovi’s Cross Road and Kris Kristofferson’s 16 greatest hits. With the preface complete these are my ten favorite albums as I find them today.

10. My Private Nation by Train

My Private nation

“When it rains it pours and opens doors
And floods the floors we thought would always keep us safe and dry
And in the midst of sailing ships we sink our lips into the ones we love
That have to say goodbye”

It’s lines like this that elevate what would otherwise be just another pop rock band lost amidst the depressing chaos of modern music to wondrous heights. By far the most contemporary album on my list I have always felt that Train has been done a great disservice by the marketing of their work. I cannot deny the appeal of the witty banter of their playfully upbeat and catchy singles but I think it often distracts from the true quality of their work. For anyone who dismisses this band for their popularity and radio friendly image I’d say look past all the Hey Soul Sisters and the Drops of Jupiters and find the Mississippis and Lincoln Avenues that are hiding on these albums.

Favorite Songs: My Private Nation, Lincoln Avenue, Following Rita

9. Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

Astral Weeks

After the crafted lyricism of My Private Nation Astral Weeks can appear a bit chaotic but for all its apparent discord there is something very unifying about this impressionistic work. An album that I fear would have no chance of being published today there is a wonderful stream of conscience element to the lyrics that seem to defy interpretation. I always like to turn this album on and just let my mind wander wherever it wants. I really enjoy the jazz and folk elements particularly when the flute peeks in quietly. This album lets you dive in and find things you never thought you were looking for when you do.

Favorite songs: Astral Weeks, Cyprus Avenue, Slim Slow Slider

8. A Trick of the Tail by Genesis

A trick of the tail

“Forever caught in desert lands one has to learn
To disbelieve the sea”

I have my uncle Steve to thank for this entry. Tony Banks and the now Peter Gabriel-less Genesis really go above and beyond with this work both musically and lyrically. It’s a bitter sweet listen having to reach back in time to find this level of musicianship. I told myself I wasn’t going to let this list devolve into complaints about the parade of unfortunate currently spilling out of the radio so I’ll try to keep myself on course. Over all this is another entry in the Genesis catalogue that really enticed my ear to really listen to the album as a whole. I considered putting The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in this spot, and despite the fact that I really love that conceptual and expansive work the tangential and rambling narrative seems to sometimes distract itself, which I’m sure was the point. The deciding factor for me was the mastery that I believe allows A Trick of the Tail to have so much more to say than its distorted fairy tales would let on.

Favorite songs: Dance on a Volcano, Squonk, Mad Man Moon

7. In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra

In the wee small hours

“My cigarette burns me, I wake with a start;
My hand isn’t hurt, but there’s pain in my heart.
Awake or asleep, ev’ry mem’ry I’ll keep
Deep in a dream of you.”

For anyone who wants to defend the position that it’s the singer and not the song that matters this album is your battle standard. That’s not to say that these songs are not undeniably wonderful, but for someone such as myself to cherish so highly a work where the performer had little or nothing to do with the writing of the songs he performed indicates how strongly I believe Frank Sinatra’s heart wrenching performance was indeed the breath of life that gives this album its power. By power of course I mean the crushing weight that this album carries with it throughout. This album is a very personal one for me and can be a strangely comforting companion in sadness. I guess it would seem a bit strange to seek out this album when sad as you would think it would compound the issue to a crippling level, but I’ve always felt that simply diving into that feeling and exploring it helped far more than trying to cure it with the distractions of an upbeat or uplifting distraction.

Favorite songs: In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Deep in a Dream, I’ll be Around

6. Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf

Bat out of hell

“The sirens are screaming and the fires are howling
Way down in the valley tonight
There’s a man in the shadows with a gun in his eye
And a blade shining oh so bright”

For all of the serious in the world sometimes you just need to be a teenager again even if only for a moment and I can’t think of anything in music that captures the epic, turbulent, self-destructive, reckless, irreverent, careless, and free spiritedness of that age than Meatloaf and Jim Steinman’s riotous anthems. Eight and nine minute titans sing out with their tongues set firmly in their cheek and with total disregard for the song structures of the music of the day, an inspiration I have proudly assimilated into my own work. Jim Steinman, whether or not you approve of his bombastic and over the top approach, paints with many a skillful musical touch that are the hallmarks of not just his work on the Bat Out of Hell trilogy but all of his work. All the fireworks and thunder of a classic rock album with one of the saddest and truest songs I know.

Favorite songs: Bat Out of Hell, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, Paradise by the Dashboard Light

5. The Stranger by Billy Joel

The Stranger

“Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and
Show ourselves
When everyone has gone
Some are satin some are steel
Some are silk and some are leather
They’re the faces of the stranger
But we love to try them on”

Anyone who knows me knows that Billy Joel was going to be on this list somewhere the only question being where and which album and I want it known that the album choice was not as simple as it might appear. Ultimately I couldn’t deny the power of The Stranger, but Turnstiles and the much underappreciated(in my opinion) Streetlife Serenade made very strong showings as well. I cannot say how much I love the way Billy Joel plays the piano. He’s so creative and fluid that if it weren’t for the power of awe I’d be extremely jealous. I also appreciate how his writing seems to avoid, because of his willingness to allow a song to develop naturally, classification. Music has become all about “what does it sound like” and try to nail artists into a genre. When they don’t quite fit they say things like “he’s a rocker who sings ballads” or, “he’s a pop star with a bit of rock crossover” of course none of this covers his fifties rock work, doo-wop, blues, jazz, orchestral, and myriad of other pieces and works he’s done. I don’t know if it’s the case, but I’ve always thought he was more interested in writing the songs he wanted than how they were received or catalogued.

Favorite songs: The Stranger, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, She’s always a Woman

4. Nether Lands by Dan Fogelberg

Nether Lands

“Seldom seen
A scarecrow’s dream
I hang in the hopes of replacement
Castles tall
I built them all
But I dream that I’m trapped in
the basement.”

If I have any aspirations as a lyricist one of them will inevitably be to have half as much skill as a wordsmith as Dan Fogelberg. The poetry of his songs, this album in particular, is absolutely stunning. Perhaps the falsetto on the song Nether Lands doesn’t age as well as the rest of the album and maybe even dates the work in a small way, but this is less than a footnote on a work that can be looked at just as much as a collection of poetry as an album of music. I don’t mean to say that the music is in any way superficial it’s rather the opposite. The songs from a musical standpoint appear to work as a cohesive unit, I would have to do a much more detailed listening than I’ve done in some time to say with certainty how, but even the most passive of listens can’t but conjure a strange continuity to the tracks.

Favorite songs: Dancing Shoes, Loose Ends, Scarecrow’s Dream

3. Who’s Next by The Who

Who's Next

“Out here in the fields
I farm for my meals
I get my back into my living.
I don’t need to fight
To prove I’m right
I don’t need to be forgiven.”

After much internal debate I went with this album instead of the iconic rock opera Tommy. What gave this album the edge is, while I initially stipulated that the albums were to be looked at as a whole, this one works just as well in its parts as it does as a whole whereas Tommy does not. This is the quintessential rock album as far as I’m concerned and for evidence you need look no further than its titanic opening track Baba O’Riley. I think this is also the strongest collaborative effort for the band as a whole. From Keith Moon mercilessly attacking the drums to John Entwistle getting a chance to stretch his song writing muscles to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend at the height of their respective skills there’s nothing about this album that I don’t like.

2. I Robot by The Alan Parsons Project

I Robot

“Sooner or later when your big chances come,
You’ll look for the catches but there’ll be none.
Remember before you grab the money and run
That someone is watching you…(he’s gonna get you)…”

My piano teacher Dave Clark introduced me to The Alan Parsons project way before I was old enough to understand what the heck was going on. I think he gave me more credit for maturity than I deserved. However, I held on to this album for a couple of years revisiting it every once and awhile trying to find out what he was raving about so often. Then suddenly one day it just clicked and music was never the same again. This album is every bit as much an experience as it is a collection of songs. I love Tales of Mystery and Imagination nearly as much but this one is in a whole other league in my book. This work lingers with me every time I listen to it and I am honestly chilled when I hear The Voice.

Favorite songs: Some Other Time, Don’t Let it Show, The Voice

1. Rain Dogs by Tom Waits

Rain Dogs

“Hey little bird,
fly away home
Your house is on fire,
children are alone”

I was so very tempted to put the entire trinity (Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank’s Wild Years) in this spot but just managed to restrain myself. While I feel that the three albums can and should be listened to in concert and so wonderfully compliment and complete one another I had to admit Rain Dogs is unique even amongst its brethren. I guess if I may be permitted a totally classless comparison, for which I hope to be forgiven by Tom Waits should he ever hear about this, it’s like the original Star Wars trilogy while all good Empire Strikes Back is in a class by itself. Tom Waits is perhaps not easily accessible to many, I could perhaps even go so far as to say most, but many of his works are filled with a musical genius that I fear has gone extinct in the world coupled with incomparable poetry this album and I Robot were the only elements of this list that ranked themselves without need for debate.

The Twenty-Fourth of May 2013

 

It has come to my attention that with any artistic endeavor in the modern arena there is an accompanying clamor for a bevy of biographical information. Every submission, whether poetry or prose, has a corresponding dialogue box patiently waiting for the life story of the submitter. At best it’s an attempt on the part of promoters to find a marketable trait or unique bit of history that will catch the interest of customers and at worst it’s some sort of benchmark for the fitness of the artist. The latter is quite frightening as all who can write are fit to write and should do so. However, I understand that my pathological need for privacy and my hope that future success, of which I hope to have some, be divorced from anything that could be labeled personal fame are more than lofty goals in the age of information. So, though I believe that everything of biographical significance that could be furnished by me can be found with ease within my body of work, I have decided to compromise with that ego that must be restrained daily and offer by way of opinion and general thought that biography that I have refused to write for book and album cover alike.

I have always thought that what a person enjoys says a lot about them. In part this is why I love to look at a person’s bookshelf whenever I visit their home for the first time. I will be offering up my bookshelf for scrutiny at a later date, but with that same premise in mind I thought it would be interesting to fist explore my musical library through the prism of the now famous top ten list, my ten favorite musical pieces to be precise. Now as important as it is to make the distinction between songwriter, which I am, and composer, which I am not, I would like to emphasize the difference between favorite and best. In so far that these works are my favorite they are the best, however I’m not seeking a theory debate on the quantitative value of these pieces. My musical theory has always been a shameful weak spot in my studies and I am ill suited to converse intelligently thereon. So I would ask for leniency on account of my lay interpretation of, and entirely emotional response to, these great works. One final point before I begin, I do not wish by this list to imply that I have no fondness for contemporary music. However, I’ve decided to leave a discussion of my favorite albums, therein being the distinction, for another time. Likewise, the music portions of operas and ballets were not considered as I believe the stage performance of these works are an integral part of their existence so to weigh them on orchestration alone is to do them a great disservice. All of that being said these are my current favorite pieces of music.

 

10. Vivaldi Concerto in D major RV 228: I think it is pieces like this that suffer most from the romanticization of symphonic programs (at least in regards to my experience over the years with the Florida Orchestra perhaps the baroque works are more popular elsewhere). From the vibrant first notes through the pensive longing of the second movement and energetic finish there always seems to be something hiding just beneath the surface here that my ear ever feels just on the edge of hearing. It’s a wonderful little mystery that I can listen to over and over again.

9. Rachmaninoff  Piano Concerto #3: I never get tired of defending this piece against its titanic predecessor, but one of the finest performances of live symphonic music I’ve ever had the privilege of attending was Lilya Zilberstein’s flawless playing of this work so I don’t know if I have been unduly biased in that regard. Granted everything that Rachmaninoff wrote for the piano makes me wonder how anyone can reproduce his works, as an amateur piano player this one is particularly humbling. I’ll never forget the moments of power and moments of simplicity that I can only call sweet with a purely Rachmaninoff ending.

8. Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor: Already being a great fan of the violin makes loving this piece easy. Unlike other concertos Mendelssohn leads with this beautiful instrument which catches my ear in the first seconds and doesn’t let go until turbulent and triumphant end. This work has several themes that have just stuck with me ever since my first time hearing it, particularly the supremely romantic andante. It’s perhaps this unbelievably lovely movement that helped me decide between Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto #2, which would be in this space, and Mendelssohn’s wonderful work. The internal debate on this point was furious.

7. Saint-Saens Piano Concerto #2 in G Minor: Like the Mendelssohn concerto already listed this work dives right into the featured instrument and begins one of the most riveting, mysterious, and almost threatening pieces that I know of. There is a strange sadness to the opening that seems to haunt the work. This sadness is relieved in part by the lightness of the second movement though not losing the hints of mystery it hides before thundering into its concluding movement. This piece has been my companion for many years especially when I’m feeling particularly pensive.

6. Dvorak Violin Concerto in A minor: Like many of the other composers on this list I have been forced to pick one piece for fear of having only three or so artists even represented. Dvorak, being one of those composers with several works I would consider favorites, could very well have had three entries of his own with his ninth symphony and cello concerto in addition to this one. That being said for some reason the violin concerto has a singular effect on me particularly the joyous and exuberant finale. I always seem to get swept away by the vitality of this piece and often find myself starting it over once I’ve finished it.

5. Corelli Concerto Grosso #2 in F major: I could just as easily have selected Corelli’s entire sixth opus for this entry but I forced myself to pick just one of the twelve concertos. I love them all but find myself listening most frequently to this one. It is uplifting and beautiful and everything I love about baroque music. Its third movement opens quite gravely but opens up into a wonderfully forward looking theme that feels hopeful and fulfilling. It’s one of those elegantly simply phrases that catches my heart strings every time I hear it.

4. Handel’s Messiah: As a musician and a Christian it is hard not to be stirred to the very foundations merely at the mention of this work. Like another piece that is coming up on this list its length prohibits regular listens and I always have to set aside time to delve into the emotions that this work conjures. Though I’ll admit to cherry picking movements on occasion with Ev’ry Valley Shall be Exalted, Hallelujah, and Worthy is the Lamb being the principle offenders. There might be some ethnocentric bias seeing as it is written in English but regardless it is one of those works that profoundly altered the way I listen to music.

3. Mahler Symphony #2: This piece is a monster no two ways about it. From its nearly ninety minute running time to the sheer scope of its themes everything about this work is huge. Aptly referred to as “The Resurrection” this piece explores musically death, the meaning of life, and the hope for an everlasting transcendental existence after earthly death. Having first experienced this symphony live I can barely hope to express the thunderclap this work produced for me. I can remember leaving the building not even quite sure what had happened to me, not unlike the unfortunate car wreck I was in recently, only in a more jubilant and thrilling way.

2. Bach Mass in B minor: If I was a tenth as good at anything as Bach was at writing music I would have cured cancer by now. There are so many of his works that I honestly believe I cannot live without that I don’t even know where to start. However, I feel that in some ways this piece is in a way a dictionary of the baroque era of music. This is the lexicon of words with which the composers of the age wrote their masterworks and for me this is what makes it the sure choice for my list. There is more musical and emotional depth here than I would ever be able to summarize or even paraphrase. Like the Messiah this work requires an investment of time, nearly two hours, but is worth every single minute.


1. Beethoven Symphony #9: At the risk of sounding cliché, it begins and ends here. I’m ashamed to say I had a debate with myself about picking a different Beethoven piece simply because of this work’s unimaginable renown. Thankfully I came to my senses and realized that not picking this piece because everyone knows it to be one of the greatest creations of mankind is as sophomoric as those who believe things are valuable because no one has heard of them. While there is little to be said about this supreme achievement that someone has not already said for my own part the first seconds of this monument warned me that what was to come was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and in every way that was true. Light and dark, agony and ecstasy, three movements of supreme unsolvable mystery followed by pure revelation in its simplest form this work breaks me down and builds me back up every time I listen to it. And never was there sweeter heartbreak my life.