Weights

After an interview this morning, I took it to the gym for my routine Thursday swim (3300m) and some weights, this time with the debut eponymous album by Cracker.

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I remember owning this record at some point largely thanks to the track ‘Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)‘ which is just as hip and scathing as it was back in 1992), but where it eventually got to is another question entirely.  I’m just t was lifted during a dorm part in my freshman year at the University of Waterloo.  I hope whoever owns it now appreciates it as I did.

I also remember digging the album cover, and incorrectly thought (as other had) that the album was actually called ‘Brand‘.

It wasn’t.

It was just a play on an advert, kind of like what the Small Faces did with their album ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake‘.

After college-radio faves Camper Van Beethoven’s 1990 breakup, frontman David Lowery moved from California to Virginia and whittled his music down to its pickup-truck-rock roots. This more basic approach hardly affected Lowery’s piss-and-vinegar stance (witness the singles ‘Teen Angst‘, ‘Can I Take My Gun to Heaven?‘, and ‘Don’t Fuck Me Up [with Peace and Love]‘)  which, coincidentally, is the same piss and vinegar I’m hoping to bring to this afternoon’s workout.

But aside from Lowery’s tendency to slip in some smug, self-serving lyrics, the bands debut is actually a terrific rock & roll record, full of energetic three-chord basher’s and surprisingly moving ballads.

Of course, the big hit (‘Teen Angst‘) is hard to beat but ‘Mr. Wrong‘ is still funny down to the last word and ‘Another Song About The Rain‘  is still wonderfully epic. It also has some songs that are criminally underrated, even by Cracker fans; take a listen to ‘Someday‘ and ‘Satisfy You‘ and you’ll know what I mean. Some of the groups really distinct songs are here as well, like ‘Dr. Bernice‘ and ‘St. Cajetan‘ (which is, like, awesome!).  Really, like it’s follow up that I listened to this past Thursday, it’s nearly a flawless record all the way through making for a goo spirited He-Man session this afternoon with the heavy iron.

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Hump Day Vinyl (Part 2)

While Kelly quietly works on her “You-niversity”, I’m working on getting through this book (‘Around Africa On My Bicycle‘  by Riaan Manser) as the next one is already in at the library and the bitchy resident librarian there doesn’t like reservations to sit long before being checked out, so on with this afternoon’s listening accompaniments, specifically another album by Duke Ellington, ‘Ellington 55‘.

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The first record I owned of Duke Ellington was the ‘Ellington at Newport‘, which essentially was a live recording from 1956.  This is the album that started my whole Duke Ellington big band fascination – who, by the way, has now also gone on to become the most collected artist in my entire collection (followed closely by The Flaming Lips and the Drive-by Truckers).

Am I one diverse son of a bitch, or what?

So when I saw this album at Niagara Records – recorded around the same time as that first record no less – for just $3.00, well, ’nuff said right?

The general outlook on Ellington’s two-year stay at Capitol Records is that they were a series of missed opportunities, the label being unwilling to let him do much more than pop-oriented singles and recover old ground. That may be true, and the original marketing campaign behind this album (“Old tunes, new treatments for your listening and dancing pleasure”) only seemed to back up this perception.

Capitol’s strategy seems to have been a compromise based on his prior work for Columbia – there were no recordings of experimental, long-form pieces, which Columbia had occasionally allowed, but Ellington’s pop numbers were extended out to five and six minutes each, to allow for multiple solos. The tunes represented on this album were precisely what the band was playing at its dance dates, of which there were many, as subsequent releases by Atlantic and GNP-Crescendo tell us, and it was material like this that was keeping the band going, filling those dates.

So it is hard to argue with the album’s programming, which reflected the taste of the most visible part of Ellington’s audience. Additionally, what’s here is quite fine in the playing – ‘Flying Home‘  is a superb showcase for Clark Terry’s and Cat Anderson’s trumpets, and Jimmy Hamilton’s clarinet is beautifully represented on ‘Honeysuckle Rose‘, among other tracks. Whether getting Ellington and company to cover numbers like ‘In the Mood‘  or even ‘One O’Clock Jump‘, with Jimmy Hamilton and Paul Gonsalves each soloing, was the best use of their time and talents is another question, considering what this band was capable of.

It’s hard to complain about the recording though – Capitol’s hi-fi sound served the band very well, as is borne out on this reissue.

Definitely a fine addition to my expanded big band Ellington collection.

Scoff if you must…

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Hump Day Vinyl (Part 1)

After a quick trip to St. Catharines for special Beechwood Cronuts, I hear-by designate the next hour or so to enjoying said cronut with a cup of coffee, my book and this ‘Dawg Jazz/Dawg Grass‘  album by David Grimsman and “special guests”.

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Because, seriously, how often can you listen to both stylish Jazz Boner and old school Twing Twang in the same freakin’ album?

Never.

That’s when.

The story goes for this album that after several projects that hinted at his interest in jazz, David Grisman split this album between swing and bluegrass. The four jazz numbers include a big-band outing on ‘Dawg Jazz‘, and a guest appearance by violinist Stephane Grappelli on ‘Steppin’ With Stephane‘, an appearance by violinist Darol Anger on ‘Fumblebee‘, and a version of ‘In a Sentimental Mood‘ with both Grappelli and Anger.

The flip side of the LP finds Grisman’s string group, Mike Marshal, Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Rob Wasserman plus guest banjoist Earl Scruggs, stretching the boundaries of the bluegrass idiom on tunes such as ‘Swamp Dawg‘, ‘Dawggy Mountain Breakdown‘, and ‘Happy Birthday, Bill Monroe‘.

A diverse and continually interesting set.

And let’s not forget the more subtle contributions by “Buttons” the dog, who is not only credited on the album but appears on both sides of the cover.

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This unique album from 1983 is about as fun a listen as it’ gonna get this afternoon over coffee and cronuts.

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Intervals w/ Lindsay (9.21k)

It’s another up early and moving kind of day, as in:  moving up and down Derby Rd. in Crystal Beach doing stupid hill repeats (5x) that is (click HERE).   Prior to all that madness going down however, is my short and easy warm up to Lindsay’s, followed by my short and easy warn down from Lindsay’s immediately afterwards where I can enjoy some nice, mellow, morning friendly tunes.  And this morning, those tunes come in the form of the ‘A Dotted Line‘  album by Nickel Creek.

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A Nickel Creek reunion was perhaps inevitable. Neither Sara Watkins nor Sean Watkins ceased performing together during their seven-year hiatus and while Chris Thile saw some success with the Punch Brothers, the pull of a 25th anniversary reunion was too strong to resist.

To accompany a 2014 tour, the trio recorded the new album ‘A Dotted Line‘, a record that adhered to the group’s traditions so much they wound up whittling away most of their progressive leanings. Nickel Creek still has an ear for interesting covers – here, they pick Mother Mother’s ‘Hayloft‘  and Sam Phillips’ ‘Where Is Love Now‘ – but the instrumentation on this brief ten-song collection focuses on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle.

It’s a far cry from the eclectic, electric adventures on Sara Watkins’ solo records but the music feels alive and nimble and the originals – which are primarily group collaborations, although Thile wrote the instrumental ‘Elsie‘  and Sean wrote the plaintive ‘21st of May‘- are uniformly solid.

If there isn’t much spark, there is a surplus of warmth; the trio is comfortable and relaxed, and it’s hard not to succumb to such friendly, familiar vibes…particularly at the ass-crack of dawn, such is the case today.

Having said that, I can now say I was jogging around the Crustal Beach circle when the first morning snowfall fell…fallan?  Fallen?  Whatever.

It was nice.

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Tuesday Evening Vinyl (Part 2)

My second listening pleasure this evening, is the last of my Record Fair purchases from two weeks ago; some live swingin’ Jazz Boner par excellence with the ‘New Directions In Europe‘  album by Jack DeJohnette.

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An important figure of the fusion era of jazz, DeJohnette is one of the most influential jazz drummers of the 20th century, given his extensive work as leader and sideman for musicians including Charles Lloyd, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Alice Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock and John Scofield. He was inducted into the ‘Modern Drummer’  Hall of Fame in 2007.

So the dude had some skillz.

His band, however, tended to promise much more than it delivered. The quartet (comprised of the leader on drums and piano, trumpeter Lester Bowie, guitarist John Abercrombie and bassist Eddie Gomez) was certainly full of talent but their performances often rambled excessively before finding its purpose.

This live set (recorded in Switzerland in 1979 before a small but audibly enthralled audience) has four lengthy pieces, three of which are DeJohnette originals (including ‘Where or Wayne‘) and a free improvisation by the band. Critics have stated before: “There are some colorful moments but overall the music is not all that memorable.

I completely disagree.

It’s rare to hear a truly musical drum solo, and even rarer for one to be a three-minute introduction. But that is what opens ‘Salsa For Eddie G‘.  DeJohnette’s playing is smooth, colorful and sympathetic to the other players, particularly Eddie Gomez, who displays great wit in his playing, with beautiful tone and speedy little blasts of notes. John Abercrombie features a strange instrument on this recording, a mandolin guitar (more like a tiny 4-string Stratocaster) that confines his playing to simple chords, and the effect is great. Lester Bowie stands out here with his unusual style, alternating full-bodied notes with percussive pops and warbling howls.

Where or Wayne‘  glides between tense and more relaxed passages, with Abercrombie giving it a very smooth texture. This song seems to have ended the performance, as DeJohnette introduces the band during the final coda, without a microphone. And the audience goes nuts.

The best song on this record is the 18-minute ‘Bayou Fever‘, which opens Side Two with a stunningly beautiful introduction by DeJohnette on the piano. Joined by Gomez, it becomes a duet with bass. And Gomez holds the playing while DeJohnette walks to the drumset. Listen carefully, and you can hear stage banter between the players, encouraging and sometimes chiding each other. ‘Multo Spiliagio‘ (Italian for “very scattered”) is an improvisation that we never hear the end of, because it fades out.

This band, which made only this live record and a studio recording, surely had more to offer. The chemistry of the personalities and the performance makes it highly memorable.

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Tuesday Evening Vinyl (Part 1)

I’m spending the rest of the evening in the EZ-Boy and, hopefully, making some progress on this book (‘Around Africa On My Bicycle‘  by Riaan Manser).  Of course, that also means that there has to be some decent heady vinyl ambiance to enjoy it with, beginning with the ‘Ellington Uptown‘  album by Duke Ellington.

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This among the two albums I still have left to listen to from the St. Catharines Record Fair two weeks ago and, also of note, this particular album has been on my Ellington “To Find” list for a few months now.

Even back in the early ’50s, Columbia Records took Duke Ellington seriously enough to place this album on its prestigious Masterworks label, heretofore reserved mostly for highbrow classical music and Broadway shows (later in the decade, though, it was retitled ‘Hi-Fi Ellington Uptown‘ and reissued on the pop series with an additional piece, ‘The Controversial Suite‘).

Also, this album explodes the critical line that the early ’50s was a relatively fallow period for the Duke; any of these smoking, concert-length tracks will torpedo that notion. The young Louie Bellson was powering the Ellington band at that time, and his revolutionary double-bass drum technique and rare ability to build coherent drum solos are put to astounding use on his self-penned leadoff track, ‘Skin Deep‘, which was quite a demonstration piece for audiophiles at the time. Old favorites from the Ellington hit parade are given extended treatments, with singer Betty Roche taking the A-train for a bebop-flavored ride, ‘The Mooche‘ spotlighting clarinetists Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope, and Ellington’s boogie-woogie piano kicking off a super-charged ‘Perdido‘  for trumpeter Clark Terry.

The centerpiece of the album is a sharply drawn, idiomatically swinging, probably unbeatable performance of ‘A Tone Parallel to Harlem‘  that lays waste to any of the “symphonic” versions that turn up frequently at pop concerts. Another feature of this record is the great sound quality, a benefit of being entrusted to Columbia’s best engineers.

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Weights

After a temporary break from the training last week, I’m getting things (albeit, reluctantly) back on track today with a 2700m cruise in the pool and this 60 minute weights session.  My He-man soundtrack this afternoon for getting back to throwing around the heavy iron is the ‘Kerosene Hat‘  album by Cracker.

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With their second album Cracker lost their smarmy self-righteousness that plagued their otherwise fine debut (don’t worry, that album will be coming soon), replacing it with a surprisingly solid, rocking core.

Kerosene Hat‘  is David Lowery’s least affected album yet – its humor is no stranger than ‘Dead Flowers‘  by the Stones or ‘Fat Man in a Bathtub‘  by Little Feat, two groups that Cracker strongly recall throughout the album.

The album is more blues- and country-based than their debut, but it sounds natural, since their songwriting has improved and they’ve grown tighter as a unit.

According to Lowery, the album’s title comes from the band’s early days in Richmond, Virginia. Lowery lived with guitarist Johnny Hickman in an old dilapidated house whose only source of heat came from two kerosene heaters. To buy more kerosene meant a cold walk to a nearby gas station, so before leaving the house, Lowery would bundle up and put on an old wool hunting cap – his “kerosene hat”. “To this day,” says Lowery, “the smell of kerosene reminds me of the poverty and the wistful hope we had for our music.”

The album was released back in post-Nirvana 1993 and I remember the big hit ‘Low‘  being popular on the dance floor at Phil’s Grandson’s Place in Waterloo, Ontario when I was in university.  Shortly afterwards, ‘Get of This‘ was released, also with some critical acclaim but prior to today, I have never listened to this album straight through.

And after just one listen, I have added this to my list of Desert Island albums.

I Want Everything’  is just awesome, ‘I Ride My Bike‘ is a beautiful slow burner that completely erupts into an all out 10 bell barn fire by the end.  ‘Lonesome Johnny Blues‘ has some old school Cajun-slash-Klesmer, catchier-than-shit spice to it, and the version of Jerry Garcia‘s ‘Loser‘ is just staggeringly beautiful.

Trust be told:  it’s all awesome and I’m sad it’s taken me this long to actually enjoy the entire album aside from the two singles.

Needless to say, I absolutely NEED to find this for my own record collection now as there is just so much cool shit going on here for a single listen.

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