Funk Friday: “Rhythm Nation,” Janet Jackson

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I could be wrong about this, but I feel like Janet Jackson is one of the most under-appreciated feminists in pop music.  This song, off of her “Rhythm Nation 1814” album, proceeded her musical “coming out” of sorts, her album “Control,” which announced her emancipation from her father and manager.  That record was such a success that she was counseled to make a kind of “Control 2.”  Instead, she made an album whose focal point was social injustice, racism, sexism, and the state of the world.  Proving wrong those who said that such a heavy topic would tank , “Rhythm Nation 1814” generated seven Top Five singles – a record-breaking number at the time – and the record as whole ended up going sextuple platinum.

So, y’know, trust your instincts, or something.

 

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Throwback Thursday: String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, “American,” Antonin Dvorak

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On this day 227 years ago, George Washington was elected the first president of the United States of America.  About a century later, a man from Nelahozeves, a town in the Austrian Empire, wrote a piece of music about the country.  Clearly, the American experiment was somewhat of a success.

I don’t tend to like string quartets, but this is one of the loveliest and more fun pieces of classical music I came across last year.  The first movement’s first 12 notes will get stuck in your head for days.  The second movement (09:08) is a prime example of how to write a heartbreaking melody: keep it simple.  The third and fourth movements are cheerful and lively.  Whereas string quartets tend to make me feel claustrophobic, this string quartet feels like someone threw open all the windows on a spring afternoon.

 

 

Worldly Wednesday: “Traveller,” Baaba Maal

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Oh man – when the song fully kicks in at 1:55, I just can’t help myself.  I wish I knew Pulaar so I could sing along.  Maal, who is a genius musician and composer from Senegal, writes some of my favorite west African music of all time.  This is one of my favorite tracks of his.  This is guaranteed to turn any day into a good one.

Maal worked on this album with Winston Marshall, of Mumford & Sons, and Johan Hugo, of The Very Best.  Appropriately, this is what Maal said is the main message of the album:  “Life is travel. You are born, you come to the world, and you are traveling until the end. You never know what you’re going to get. When you travel you see that the world is quite interesting—all the different faces, all the different cultures, all the different food, all the different types of music. But it’s all human beings, and it’s all connected.”

A sentiment to remember, surely.

Termagant Tuesday: “Jumpin’ At The Woodside,” Count Basie vs. Oscar Peterson

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Welp, last night was the Iowa Caucuses.  Or, as we say in our household, “Involuntary Nap Night.”  Honest to God – we had at least 10 browsers open full of different polling data, plus NPR on the radio.  We were on it.  Tracking.  …Until I fell asleep in the leather chair.  And by 11pm I couldn’t hit the refresh button any more so I went to sleep.

But today is a new day, Tune-Up Nation, and I for one want to see another kind of battle than the one between Clinton and Cruz, or Clinton and Sanders, or Trump and the collective knowledge of mankind.  So behold the glory of Count Basie and Oscar Peterson doubling up on that old swing classic, “Jumpin’ At The Woodside.”  They’ve got my vote.

Modernism Monday: “Din Daa Daa” The Roots

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The exceptionally funky band The Roots cover the exceptionally cool George Kranz.  This track is basically a vehicle to showcase Questlove’s amazing drumming and general rhythm skills.  But I love it for its spare modernism.  It reminds me a lot of what would happen if Bobby McFerrin and Laurie Anderson got together.  It’s an amazing and fun soundscape until 3:20 when the rest of the song drops.

Worldly Wednesday: “Smeorach Chlann Domhnaill,” Julie Fowlis

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Clan Donald (also known as MacDonald), hails from the western islands of Scotland, and counts Finlaggan Castle on Islay as its seat.  The clan dates back to the 12th century and became one of the most powerful of the Highland clans in Scotland.  In this folk song, the singer praises Scotland and calls it a land of “heroes and poets,” beautiful nature, and skilled warriors.  The singer ends with his hopes that Sir James MacDonald returns from fighting for the Stuarts at the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

The Battle of Worcester was the last great battle during the English Civil Wars that pitted Oliver Cromwell and his 30,000-strong army against Charles the II’s 16,000 men, mostly made up of Scotsmen. Although handily defeated by Cromwell, Charles II took back the throne in 1660 and thus began what would become known as the Restoration.

 

Hooray learning!

Hooray learning!

 

 

 

Termagant Tuesday: “Let’s Misbehave,” Irving Aaronson & His Commandeers

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Welp, we’re on Day Three of “Job?  What Job?” here in our nation’s capital.  The federal government is closed, the Senate punted votes, the House isn’t voting on anything, and we’re all still trapped inside.  Those of us who can get out rapidly discover there’s…really not all that much point, except going to a bar that’s open simply because it’s open.  Yes, it’s a little oppressive.  And now, perhaps, we can all understand why more babies are born in late summer and autumn than any other time of the year.