Friday, December 21, 2007

How Iran-ic

The BBC is reporting that Chris deBurgh has been approved by "authorities in Tehran" to play a concert in Iran with the Iranian pop group Arian sometime in '08. Western pop music with lyrics is officially banned in that country, but they're making an exception here.

They're not too swift with poetic analysis over there, I guess. Most of deBurgh's songs contain at least something that ought to be more insidious to religious zealots than, say, naming a stuffed animal after a prophet. The BBC cites his hit, "Don't Pay the Ferryman," as especially innocuous, but that song is inspired by the beliefs of infidels. Just watch the video, starring Tom Baker (just after his Dr. Who days): he's clearly meant to be Charon on the river Styx.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

An Eye on Rilo

One to watch: Rilo Kiley, a Californian indie band just outgrowing the college circuit. Their lead singer is Jenny Lewis [pictured], with power and beauty pouring from her head and chest (yes, I mean the ranges of her voice). The tracks I've heard are musically interesting but lyrically limited, tending toward a single idea per song. But, face it, that's more than many bands manage!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sweet and soulful

I must admit to being charmed by Corinne Bailey Mae. The soft jazz around which she twines her clear, delicate voice is hardly a favorite genre of mine, but she performs with such grace and style that it's irresistible. She also has the second-sweetest smile in the music industry (first prize has to go to Eddie Van Halen).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Open Letter to Van Dyke Parks

Dear Mr. Parks:

Why did you write such a messy arrangement of "It's Only a Paper Moon"? Why so many keys, so many meters, so many styles?
I mean, I get it: "a honky tonk parade, ... a melody played in a penny arcade..." But isn't illustrating that with the orchestra an insult to the song's subtlety?
Watch out, I think Harold Arlen might swat you with that rolled up sheet music.

With love,
A concerned music blogger

Monday, November 12, 2007

Back to Blackout

Herculean drug abuser Amy Winehouse showed up at the MTV European Music Awards last week with her veins pumped full of various substances besides her blood. She attempted to sing "Back to Black," but could barely stand, let alone pronounce consonants.

Event emcee Snoop Dogg went to welcome her in her dressing room, and even that king of the hip-hop lifestyle was alarmed by Winehouse and the overturned furniture strewn with her dinner and some broken plates. Reports are that he "didn't want to hang out with her after that."

Come on, Amy. You have a matchless gift. Get your butt to rehab and stay there!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Simon Sez

Bravo to Sir Simon Rattle and the BBC for their documentary series Leaving Home, on orchestral music of the Twentieth Century. The episodes are defined by topos or compositional philosophy, rather than by chronology, making for a clear overview of the knotty mass of changes that took place in music after the Romantic era.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Let's Put 'Em All Together

Queenzone reports that Mika will sing a duet with either Brian May or Rufus Wainwright at the 2008 Brit awards in February.

And I'm collecting donations for a quick trip to London...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

No Tricks, No Crutches

Delighted to see Howard Jones performing an acoustic set with guitarist Robin Boult [sorry, no photo of R.B.] in the far-off village of Bay Shore, Long Island, yesterday. HoJo was in good voice and offering his usual hot ivory chops, and Boult lent a strong, musical hand with a jazz twist.

They've recast some of the old songs as mash-ups, as the kids call them, or quodlibets, as Bach called them. The best was the old HoJo classic, "Don't Always Look at the Rain," intertwined with material from Miles Davis' "So What." Not many pop musicians could manage such a thing without any digital sampling, but Jones 'n' Boult did it all live. That's why we love them!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

ROY G. BIV vs iTunes

Looking forward to seeing what comes of Radiohead's radical take on selling their new album, In Rainbows. They are offering it first as download only, and the buyer can choose what to pay for it!! (you have to pay something, though).

Don't know what fans are paying, but they're sure buying: on the first day the album was available, fans shut down in their mad rush to download it.

This has been hailed as a way to shake up the iTunes pricing structure, but I don't see how one band can do that. Nor could this approach help musicians who are not already millionaires, and thus able to stand the loss of revenue caused by underpricing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Improving the Cure

When the Cure canceled their NYC gig this past weekend, I got worried. Happily, there were no drug overdoses or motorcycle crashes; no one even fell out of a coconut tree.

Instead, believe it or not, the whole tour was postponed until Spring 2008, for artistic reasons! The band finished their new album late, and did not feel they had time to rehearse a new live show properly.

In this era of Britney and other Barbies being unable even to lip-sync a performance adequately, it's a delight that a band cares enough to take the financial hit involved in postponing a tour, simply to make it better.
[The boys are shown here with a number of unidentified bunny rabbits.]

Monday, September 24, 2007

Prince of Polyphony

Happy birthday, Glenn Gould, re-inventor of Bach's keyboard works. He would have been 75 today. I imagine he trains the heavenly choir to sing cantatas now, since he always said he would prefer to be a conductor.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Flea in the Cosmos

Here's the odd musical pairing of the week: On the Sundance series Live from Abbey Road, Red Hot Chili Peppers' bassist Flea spoke with reverence about the musical philosophy of Pythagoras, who understood music to be made entirely of interrelationships of numbers. [Guess which is the picture of Flea.]

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Well, I'm just gobsmacked

On November 26, to commemorate the life of legendary Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun (and, not incidentally, mark my own 40th birthday), Led Zeppelin is re-forming for their first gig in 19 years. The three living original members will perform, with the beat kept by John Bonham's son, Jason. Now, I gather, pigs can fly! Play on, lads.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Grazie, Maestro

RIP, Luciano Pavarotti. There will never be another instrument like yours. I was blessed to hear you live in operas and recitals in your prime, and those sounds will stay with me forever.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

To My Favorite Music Man

Happy Birthday, Freddie, darling. Hope you're having a big party up there!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A little snarl in my love, please

OK, this is surely a sign of incurable cynicism. Every time I hear Harry Belafonte's beautiful recording of "I Know Where I'm Going," I wish he would sing the snide Irish line "I know who I love, but the divil knows who I'll marry," rather than doing the song as an earnest paean to his lady.

I have a similar reaction to "Tiergarten," on Rufus Wainwright's new album. This is not a composer from whom I'd expect a love song without irony. Further evidence of how hopelessly, sappily in love he was with the man who walked him through the Tiergarten ("zoo", in German): he doesn't mention a single animal. How do you walk clear across a zoo "to the other side of town" and not notice any animals?

Of course, if I were walking with either Harry or Rufus, I wouldn't notice anything else...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Blues-Ridden Reign

Granted, there are moments when I wish lead singer Caleb Followill sounded a bit less like a tortured banshee, but overall I'm all over the Kings of Leon. This band has the most intricate, most fascinating rhythm section out there. Rock on, Tennessee!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Final Cadence

I'd hoped my next entry would not be an obit. Still, I must mark the passing of brilliant jazz drummer Max Roach. My strongest memory of him is how much he enjoyed playing with rhythm tap dancers at the old Village Gate in New York. RIP, Max.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Goodbye, old friend

RIP, dearest Tommy Makem. Your velvet voice was an endless source of wonder and comfort to me when I was growing up. I'll miss you always.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Riding the Crust of the New Wave

I knew I had something in common with New Wave robot Martian Klaus Nomi. Turns out he was a master baker, specializing in pies and cakes. He even paid for some of his promo photos with pies. Poor Nomi: he never did find a sweetie to bake sweets for. Such an odd little creature, and all alone at the end. It breaks my heart.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Eye's So Messed Up

They're calling him "authentic"? They're charmed by his lack of finesse? OK, the critics can have Bright Eyes, whose singing is turgid and out of tune, and whose "arrangements" (such a misnomer) for everything including the kitchen sink are more knotted and painful than the LA freeway at rush hour. Oh, but that makes him authentic. Authentic WHAT? Smart lyrics don't cut it: find some damn musicians to write, arrange, and play your songs. Why is that considered shameful?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Colorful Lyre

Last weekend at Glimmerglass, I heard the Berlioz edition of Gluck's Orpheus and Euridice, using its French libretto. This "reform" opera returns to the mantra of Monteverdi, that the music exists only to serve the dramatic needs of the words. Gluck's writing eschews the trite predictability and galant schmaltz so popular in the pre-classical period.

But why was there a fiery coloratura aria in the middle of the opera? Full marks to young soprano Michael Maniaci for his wicked licking of this music, but I was amazed and suspicious to hear such a display of virtuosity in a Gluck opera. Time to dig around in some old scores, it seems. Berlioz [top] simply can't be trusted.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

In Good Company

Happy 60th Birthday, Brian May. You've joined the rarified stratum of sexagenarian Rock Gods! Keep thrilling us with the Red Special, and keep working on that dissertation, dear Brian.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Oldies Are New Again

I was so sad when CBS-FM, New York 101.1, went off the air, to be replaced by the all-computerized Jack-FM. But yesterday, the unprecedented happened: CBS got so many complaints from oldies lovers that they reinstated the old station (adding the '80s to its mix), as well as most of the voice staff. Yeah!

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Char-lady's Favourite

I am a terrible ironer. I'm not very good at it, and I'm very slow. I also procrastinate until there is a mountain to be done. The only thing that can keep me concentrating at the ironing board until the entire pile is pressed is Erasure's "Pop! 20" greatest hits album. That's nearly the only time I listen to them, but they certainly play an important role in my life. So, cheers, guys. Wanna come over and just do my ironing for me? I'll sing for you!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

We Can Still Hear Your Voice

R.I.P., Beverly Sills. You'll always be my Violetta.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Static and Kinetic

I don't know why I should expect Out magazine to supply sophisticated music criticism, but I took their recommendation and listened to the new Patrick Wolf [top] album. They described his songs as "gorgeous." Clearly, I'm missing something, because I got bored with every song before it was done.

Still, I do miss things sometimes... take Rufus Wainwright [bottom]; I'm nine years late discovering that fascinating wordsmith and melody weaver. Sorry, Rufus. But now I get the joy of learning all your albums. Such a cool name, too!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What a Difference an L makes

1. Emo. A massively popular style of music featuring whining vocals, monotonous melodies, static rhythms, and vacuous lyrics. [Embrace, one of the originals, is pictured top.]

2. Elmo. A massively popular monster, nephew of Grover on Sesame Street, featuring soft red fur, a curious mind, and a winning personality.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Household Rhythms

The spirit of John Cage [pictured] is alive and well, and you know he's looking down with a rakish grin. Check out this four-movement percussion piece video from Sweden called "Six Drummers," created entirely of found objects in an apartment!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

More Snap in My Rap

Recently I've been listening to Beck [top], who proves that rap can be articulate -- even exquisite -- yet lose none of its power. For my money, the only other interesting innovations in rap right now are coming from Kanye West [bottom], who uses the style as a backdrop for his gospel-music sensibility and his intense social criticism.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dinner music

Last night I was sitting in a diner, sipping a Diet Coke and waiting for my souvlaki. With no one to talk to and nothing to read, I concentrated unnaturally hard on the Lite Rock station playing in the background.

It was the typical mix of '70s Rod Stewart, '80s Michael Jackson, '90s Cher...all of which suddenly began to strike me a really silly. Then they moved on to the truly ridiculous: Donna Summer singing "Macarthur Park", featuring that inimitable chorus,

Someone left my cake out in the rain / Don't know if I can take it, 'cause it took so long to bake it / and I'll never find that recipe again.

At this point I was having to control my breathing, because everything seemed so funny. And what should follow, but the single most annoying, grating, self-important song of the 21st century thus far, Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars." I nearly did a spit take.

Even a lowly diner can become a first-rate comedy club if you listen right!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Brits Invade Motown

I assumed young British singer Amy Winehouse [top] would be as annoying as her compatriot Joss Stone, but I sure was wrong. She's got a huge, complex, and eminently musical voice, bringing grace and sophistication to her Motown-style songs in the tradition of Darlene Love [bottom]. I hope, when she gets a little older and her voice continues to mature, she treats us to an album of jazz standards, because she's really got the stuff for it. For now, she's off to a fantastic start.