2001 Records to Die For Page 2

Lisa Astor

CHARLIE'S ANGELS: Original Soundtrack (Various Artists)
Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax CK 61064 (CD). 2000. McG, prod.; John Houlihan, music supervisor. ADD? TT: 58:26
Is it the clothing? The sports cars? Or just the fantasy of kicking some bad-guy ass—big time? I don't know. I just know I wanna be an Angel. I want Areosmith's "Angel's Eye" to start playing whenever I enter a room. I wanna be Angel-cool.

The Charlie's Angels soundtrack is a chaotic mix of rap, disco, rock, and Latin music—perfect for an Angel lifestyle of danger, intrigue, and fun. As in most collections, the tracks vary in recording quality. The "big butt" immortalized on "Baby Got Back" is far wider than the track's soundstage, and "Charlie's Angels 2000" is pure distortion. But Caviar's "Tangerine Speedo," featuring Los Bucaneros' "Bossa Nova," perfectly captures the shimmer of the cymbals and the delicate flute line. Other kickin' songs include Destiny's Child's "Dot" and "Independent Women." So don't be looking for me at Tower anytime soon. I'm gonna be sitting here in my leather pants and halter top, waiting for the phone to ring and that voice to say, "Good morning, Angel."


KEB' MO': The Door
Epic/550 Music/Okeh BK 61428 (CD). 2000. Russ Titelman, Keb' Mo', prods.; Mark Johnson, Hans Leibert, Dave O'Donnell, engs. AAD? TT: 49:12
The poignant words of hard-lived lives delivered by the honest blues voice of Keb' Mo' tear at something deep inside. Adding to the experience is the intimate nature of the recording—as if you're sitting in front of him in the back room of a club. The pedal-steel guitar, banjo, and bass are perfectly captured.

Keb' Mo's ballads flow from his emotional archive. Frequently, they talk of love. Love is hope in "Anyway," unrequited in "It Hurts Me Too," and just real life in "Gimme What You've Got." Mo's ability to understand the weariness of the soul can be found in "Mommy Can I Come Home." He sings in first person the story of a young woman beaten by her man and longing for the shelter of her ballerina-wallpapered room and her mother's love.

Keb' Mo' believes that with every song there should be something real. This album is pure authenticity.

John Atkinson


CARLA BLEY: 4x4
Lew Soloff, trumpet; Wolfgang Puschnig, alto sax; Andy Sheppard, tenor sax; Gary Valente, trombone; Carla Bley, piano; Larry Goldings, organ; Steve Swallow, bass; Victor Lewis, drums
WATT/ECM 30 (CD). 2000. Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, prods.; Jon Marius Aareskjold, eng.; Tom Mark, mastering eng. DDD. TT: 55:54

I don't "get" a lot of modern jazz, particularly when it's of the "free" school. No matter how hard I try to perceive glimpses of a "mind behind," too often it comes over as pitch-center-less, formless, time-filling noodling. But from the first bars of this collection of Carla Bley compositions, recorded by her current ensemble in a Norwegian studio in the midst of a 1999 tour, it was clear that this was no noodling. Bley's writing features changes that on the face of them seem familiar ("Baseball" includes melodic fragments that are even more familiar), yet on examination explore some strange harmonic byways.

But, as in her "Les Trois Lagons," a tribute to Henri Matisse, those changes provide a solid foundation for some inspired soloing, with Bley's longtime musical companion Steve Swallow driving the beat along with his bass lines. (Swallow is that rare electric bassist who can play the most stunningly lyrical passages without reminding the listener of an elephant forced to stand on its hind legs.) The recording quality is standard studio clean, with no sense of an acoustic surrounding the musicians. But that's a minor quibble—the music is still allowed to speak for itself with little sonic impediment, and the blatty/fizzy character of the trombone has been captured about as well as I can remember.


RACHMANINOFF: A Window in Time, Vols.1 & 2
Works for solo piano by (Vol.1) Rachmaninoff and (Vol.2) Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Gluck, Mendelssohn, Paderewski, Rubinstein, Schubert, and Tchaikovsky, transcribed from Victor and Ampico piano rolls and realized by Wayne Stahnke
Telarc CD-80489 (Vol.1), CD-80491 (Vol.2) (2 CDs). 1998/99. Wayne Stahnke, prod.; Robert Woods, exec. prod.; Da-Hong Seeto, eng.; Wayne Chen, piano tech.; Robert Friedrich, Mark Robertson-Tessi, mastering. DDD. TTs: 65:12, 62:12

In my January 2001 article on the making of Canadian pianist Robert Silverman's complete cycle of the Beethoven piano sonatas, I mentioned how I had been emotionally destroyed during a pause in the sessions when Robert fed a floppy disk containing the source code for Rachmaninoff's 1921 piano-roll performance of Mendelssohn's "Spinning Song" into the PC controlling the Bösendorfer 290SE Reproducing Piano. For a glorious 105 seconds, I had enjoyed this audiophile's ultimate fantasy: perhaps the finest pianist of all time playing for me alone.

But anyone who is not one of the 32 owners of this most sophisticated player piano will have to make do with these two CDs. Wayne Stahnke both designed the Bösendorfer mechanism and spent years transcribing the original rolls of punched paper containing the performances, recorded by Rachmaninoff between 1919 and 1929. Ex-JPL scientist Stahnke used a special scanner and software of his own devising to re-create the information that must have existed on the long-gone master rolls before translating the data to Bösendorfer code.

These two CDs featuring Rachmaninoff at the Bösendorfer 290SE were captured straight to hard disk, using a pair of Neumann TLM-170 mikes, by audiophile engineer Da-Hong Seeto, whose live recording of the Emerson Quartet's Shostakovich cycle at Aspen for DG was a highlight of the 2000 recorded year. The 20-bit masters were noiseshaped to the CD's 16 bits using Apogee's UV22 Nyquist dither. The naturally crisp Bösendorfer tone, with its deep, bell-like lows, has been captured to perfection, surrounded by the supportive glow of the recording venue, the Civic Center in Thousand Oaks. I would have appreciated perhaps a little more of the acoustic in absolute terms, but as an engineer who also endeavors to capture the ultimate piano sound, I must pay Seeto the supreme compliment: "I wish I'd made these recordings." And as for Rachmaninoff's performances, I give the final word to Bob Silverman, who, when I referred in e-conversation to Rachmaninoff as a "pianist," replied, "If you call Rachmaninoff a pianist, you have to find a different word for the rest of us!" (XXIII-2)

Robert Baird


UNCLE TUPELO: Anodyne
Sire 45424-2 (CD). 1993. Brian Paulsen, prod., eng. AAD? TT: 59:35
When you brush away all the hype over how these guys single-handedly reinvigorated the Gram Parsons-created monster that is country rock, Anodyne stands out as perhaps the one true jewel in the Americana universe. Recorded in Austin, Texas while Uncle Tupelo founders Jeff Tweedy (the pop yin) and Jay Farrar (the Crazy Horse-inspired yang) were at their creative peak, this collection's first half is still the most consistent stretch of any Americana/y'allternative disc before or since. The album opens in meditative vein with the soft, nearly acoustic "Slate" and "Acuff-Rose," and the band's trademark punk-meets-bluegrass mélange kicks in with track 3, "The Long Cut." Next up is the album's high mark, "Give Back the Keys to My Heart," in which the late (and very great) Doug Sahm turns in a characteristically quirky and so-unforgettable appearance as guest vocalist on the second chorus. Then comes the real fire, as "Chickamauga" drowns you in guitar squall before the plunky, clunky "New Madrid," perhaps the most memorable Uncle Tupelo tune of all, sweetly closes out what would have been the LP's first side with lyrics that begin, "All my daydreams / Disasters..." What Americana was meant to be. (XVII-4)


LUCINDA WILLIAMS: Lucinda Williams
Koch KOC-CD-8005 (CD). 1988, 1998. Lucinda Williams, Gurf Morlix, prods.; Dusty Wakeman, co-prod., eng.; Michael Dumas, asst. eng.; Randy Leroy, remastering. AAD. TT: 39:00
After two roots/blues albums for the Smithsonian-run Folkways label, Lucinda Williams released her eponymous masterpiece literally days before Rough Trade went belly-up. Not surprisingly, Lucinda Williams never made it into wide distribution, and so ended up being invisible to most of the record-buying public. Musicians and music fanatics, however, were knocked out. Recognizing the power of the material contained herein, Emmylou Harris recorded a cover of "Crescent City," and Mary Chapin Carpenter had a hit with "Passionate Kisses." But one listen to Williams' own version of "Kisses" always convinces me anew that it's infinitely superior to Carpenter's, thanks to Williams' expressive, uncertain voice and Gurf Morlix's bright, concise guitar work.

Everything else here, including her cover of Howling Wolf's "I Asked for Water (He Gave Me Gasoline)," is a minor classic. The almost too-sad "Am I Too Blue" and "Abandoned," the perky "Big Red Sun Blues," and the astonishing descriptive powers of "The Night's Too Long"—whose heroine, Sylvia, is "holdin' a Corona / And it's cold against her hand"—all more than hit the mark. A crew of all-stars and all-stars-to-be that includes Jim Lauderdale, Chris Gaffney, Juke Logan, and the late Donald Lindley doesn't hurt either. Despite subsequent albums, this is where the legend of Lucinda really lives. (XXI-10)

Lonnie Brownell


THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE: The Jimi Hendrix Experience
MCA (8 LPs). 2000. Janie Hendrix, Eddie Kramer, John McDermott, prods. AAA.
I feel as if I'm cheating. I'm supposed to pick just two records, but with this one I get eight. Comprising as it does unreleased songs, alternate takes, live versions, and works in progress, you might think The Jimi Hendrix Experience an ill-conceived attempt to cash in on Hendrix's legend. You'd be wrong. The material is at worst curious, at best transcendent, and sometimes amusing, and most feature performances that are...well, Hendrixian. The works in progress aren't for completists only; they provide an illuminating glimpse into Jimi's creative process. And as if that weren't enough, the sound quality and pressings are first-rate.


THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: Flood
Elektra 60907-1 (LP). 1990. They Might Be Giants, Clive Langer, Alan Winstanley, prods.; Roger Moutenot, Paul Angelli, engs. AAA. TT: 42:39
I'm a sucker for albums that feature a raging torrent of clever words. They needn't be deep—silly is just fine, as here. The two Johns of They Might Be Giants, Linnell and Flansburgh, spin out 19 nutty ditties, no two quite alike in subject matter or musical settings—in fact, the music is as clever, well-crafted, and silly as the lyrics. Although often heavily layered, the arrangements are assembled with care so that the myriad elements are distinct. If you've been searching for songs told from the POV of a night light, explore the angst of being reincarnated as expired groceries, assert that everyone wants a rock to wind a piece of string around, and so much more—park it, you're home! (XIII-9)
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