Oh Sharon Jones, you magnificent bastard. Every component of this song works together. It’s so tight. There isn’t any extraneous mess. That bass guitar, that bari sax…I’m having a hard time typing this…while standing up…and dancing…
Shameless Friend Promotion! Portia, aka Piz, is the best chef I know. If you want to try your hand at her kind of culinary mastery, boogie on over to Portia’s TurnTable.
Here’s an antidote to the ebola hysteria. “Every man, woman and child is catching it. It’s called the Dap Dip, and they say you get it in your pants.”
Oh boy oh boy oh boy. I am such a RVW fangirl. The chord progressions he wrote open up a new dimension for me. It’s like the voice of the divine. It sounds very, very old but still vibrant. The “Fantasia” is the quintessential example of this. I will never forget the first time I heard it. I was driving in the car with one of my parents, probably my Dad, and it came on the radio. I was so entranced it was like I could see the music. It was so beautiful, it hurt. This is another one of those pieces that, for me, identifies and magnifies whatever mood I’m in. It is a magical piece.
Most classical music enthusiasts, or so I imagine, carry around in their heads at least a few names on a list of favorite composers who we believe are not as widely appreciated as they deserve to be. (If you are fortunate, this is balanced by a list of composers who aren’t as great as everyone else seems to think, since shunning the overrated ones helps offset the expense of buying CDs of the works by the people in the underappreciated group.) My roster for the first category is alas much longer than for the second, and right at the top sits Ralph (remember it rhymes with “safe”) Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Britain’s greatest symphonist.
Vaughan Williams wrote a plethora of wonderful music over the course of more than sixty years, but among it all his most enduringly beloved work is this one. There are very few compositions anywhere in the vast Western concert repertoire that surpass the sublime Tallis Fantasia for sheer beauty. It is neither ornamental nor ramblingly mystical, but both transcendental and sensible in a way that C. S. Lewis might be able to describe. Even after having sifted through dozens of renditions of this piece over the past few days while selecting a video for this post, when played well it still gives me chills.
This performance, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, was recorded in Gloucester Cathedral, the location for which the young RVW composed the Fantasia and where he conducted the premiere of the original version in 1910 (though they presumably didn’t play it in the dark on that occasion). While the direction of this video brings to mind Fred Astaire’s declaration early in his film career that “either the camera will dance or I will,” it aptly demonstrates the peculiar ensemble called for by the composition: a string orchestra, a quartet, and an additional group of players ideally to be seated well away from the others (often positioned in an upper gallery in performances in churches or halls so equipped). If the incessant crane and dolly shots in this video drive you crazy, there are literally hundreds of other recordings of the piece on YouTube, thanks in part to its popularity among high school and university orchestra directors.
The theme of the Fantasia comes from this tune by the incomparable Thomas Tallis, which appeared in Archbishop Parker’s Psalter of 1567
This guy has one heck of a voice. The range and the control is just gorgeous. I love how spare the song itself is, too. There’s no unnecessary production – just a man with a sexy song and a guitar. Effective, soulful, and different. I’m a fan.
Shameless friend promotion! If you like humor, sexy songs, and haikus, check out Ryan over at the wonderful blog, The Wheelhouse Review.
I present to you Mar, a Dutch Danish Dutch soul singer from Amsterdam. Dutch soul, you ask? I was skeptical at first too when I first came across his “Mar Variations.” Although I am as worldly as I am handsome, I assumed the Dutch only did wooden clogs and red light district(s), certainly not soul music. But after hearing his ridiculously smooth voice on the second “variation” he released, 1st session, I was hooked. He is now firmly in the category of artists I’d pay for an album of them singing names in the phone book. Or to quote Michael Bolton on Michael Bolton, “I celebrate his entire catalogue.”
Given his Michael Bolton status, it was hard to pick one song, but I decided to go for this one because it’s just a guitar and his voice. This version of “Man x Woman” is a stripped down, acoustic version of the original song, which as all things Mar I celebrate, but had a club/EDM beat that didn’t showcase his voice as much as this version does. The acoustic rendition has all the features of his music, and especially his voice, that find him prominently featured in two of my most-played iPod playlists “head noddin’ pre party” (check out 2u4u for that) and “baby makin’ music” (check out “our attempt” for that). You hear the jazz-inspired ad libbing, the impressive falsettos, and just the absurdly soultastic smoothness of his voice. Seriously, it’s like a silkworm dipped in cocoa butter, topped off with a sprinkling of baby powder. As a bonus, he belts out some falsetto and upper register notes (especially starting at the 3:08 mark) with power you normally don’t hear him show off. Enjoy. And hit me up if you want either of those playlists. You’ll thank me later.
Fun 1970 live performance with the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band in Denmark:
Oh now this is a sassy little number. It makes me wish for swingable hips, tossable hair, and a rooftop (or even a fire escape). God bless my wonderful K-Smash for picking this tune. It sounds kind of lounge-y but it doesn’t have the sleaze of 1950s or 1960s era lounge music, though it’s decidedly raunchy (those horns…dang). Thank the good Whomever for American culture that created this kind of music.
Shameless friend promotion! K-Smash, aka Kendra, is an absolutely phenomenal photographer. Should you ever need an A.P.P., give her a ring. http://kendrajoyphotography.com
Tasked by our beloved Yankette with spreading the good word about a favorite jazz tune, I knew immediately I wanted to share my love of Afro-Cuban jazz. (We’re dipping a bit into tomorrow’s Worldly genre, but I’m calling the shots today, and I say it’s ok.)
“Manteca” – literally “lard” in Spanish, but used as slang for marijuana in Cuba – is one of the earliest tunes to weave Afro-Cuban influences into American jazz. (See, we didn’t dive head-long into the “Worldly” realm; we’re keeping at least one foot on American soil.) This tune, co-written by Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo and Gil Fuller, is among the most famous of Gillespie’s recordings. Gillespie, who was introduced to Afro-Cuban music by trumpeter/composer Mario Bauza, added Cuban conguero Chano Pozo to his big band in September of 1947. Until Pozo’s untimely demise just over a year later, he made a lasting mark on both the jazz and Latin American music worlds; this tune was part of that legacy.
Though Gillespie made a concerted effort to mesh percussion-driven, rhythmically complex Afro-Cuban themes with passages more akin to the melodic and harmonic conventions of American jazz, early performances of “Manteca” revealed that despite their enthusiasm for collaborating, Gillespie and Pozo were quite unaccustomed to one other’s music. Gillespie’s band, for example, was unfamiliar with guajeos – syncopated phrasing common in Cuban music – and they overdid the swinging with atypical accentuation. As it turns out, complete assimilation of Afro-Cuban rhythms and American jazz improvisations was still a few years away for the beboppers in 1947.
Personally, this early stab at combining Cuban and American musical vibes takes me back to the Fall of 2005 when I – a young American girl with absolutely no dance skills – spent an evening dancing on a rooftop in Havana with a ridiculously attractive Afro-Cuban man. My hips, much like Gillespie’s band, were unfamiliar with the rhythms and moves which came so naturally to my newly-made Cuban friends. Nevertheless, I improvised, and we danced the night away. I hope this tune makes you want to get up and move, even if you’re not on a Havana rooftop sipping a mojito.
This song is so sweet! It sounds like it was written for (and by?) an awkward high-schooler. I love the rhythm, obviously. But, “if it’s not love, then it’s the bomb that will bring us together?” Well that’s different. Songs like this remind me that it’s so hard to find current pop songs that are this interesting and direct. The song sounds so happy but there is clearly a message here.
I love this song. It’s a study in abnormal black/white duality that intentionally ignores the gray middle ground. Moz starts the song by claiming that “shyness is nice” but immediately follows it with “shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to” – is the implication that he likes it if you don’t do all the things in life you’d like to? The lyrics culminate in the chorus – “If it’s not love then it’s the bomb – the bomb – the bomb – that will bring us together.” Logically, that means that either love or a destructive, possibly deadly force that will bring us together; there’s no room for something like chemistry, luck, or penguins to draw us together. There’s love. Or there’s the bomb.
The song is filled with these black/white contradictions that ignore the middle ground – “spending warm summer days indoors” (wouldn’t the obvious choice be to be outdoors on a warm summer day?) or “ask me/I won’t say no/how could I?” (so it’s just yes or no, no partial answers).
The lyrics are typical Moz, but it’s also hard to not also be swept up in Johnny Marr’s exuberant guitar line. Marr has a sharp ear for hooks – as is also evident from his tenure with Modest Mouse, which moved that group into an even more radio-friendly, hook-heavy sound – so it is no surprise that his boisterous playing almost always turns Moz’s dark, twisty, and twisted lyrics into bouncy pop poems.
Why did I put this song forward? I don’t have any particular nostalgia for this song, it doesn’t bring up any particular emotions or past triumphs, and it isn’t because I am a lifelong fan of the Smiths – I got into the group quite late, actually. I circled off this song multiple times, but it always came back. I thought about Trampled by Turtles’ “Keys to Paradise,” maybe something from Tanya Donelly for the Yankette (can’t get much more New England than the Throwing Muses and its offshoots), or even the Beatles. But the Smiths’ “Ask” is just such a phenomenal song – and a bastard of an earworm at that – that I had to put it forward. (And yes, I’m cheating by linking to other songs I considered, but I live to cheat. Well, unless it’s a standardized test that requires a scan of the veins in my hand in order to even enter the testing room.)
Rumors of my demise are premature, but assumptions of my life sucking me elsewhere are right on the money. To that end, I have enlisted the help of seven friends to get me back on track while I’m traveling again this week. I assigned each of them a day of the week, according to their musical tastes, and asked them to pick a favorite song in that genre. They sent me a link to the song and I wrote a response. Then they sent me the reasons why they picked it. I hope you enjoy the results. Tune in tomorrow, Tune-Up fans!
Welp, this is “a whimsical song whose lyrics tout factual and near factual tidbits.” So says Polansky, at least, and really, who am I to quibble. Columbus Day is one of the many Mattress Holidays that we enjoy in this country (if you don’t know what a Mattress Holiday is, type it into the Search bar) and I treat it just about as reverently as it deserves, as does this song.