2007 Records To Die For Page 4
KING CRIMSON: In the Court of the Crimson King
Discipline Global DGM0501 (CD). 1969/2004. King Crimson, prods.; Robin Thompson, Tony Page, engs. AAD. TT: 43:48
For 37 years I failed to approach this germinal prog-rock opus with the one thing it most deserves: a mind open to the possibility that King Crimson had a sense of humor. My loss—but a pleasant "new" discovery as I move through a time that often seems bereft of same. The music is beautifully colored and played with muscle, and the lyrics hark back to a more innocent (and thus acceptable) kind of pretentiousness. This album stands up and shouts, Sure, I used to wear a brooch and a velvet frock coat: What's it to ya? Dated sound (hot Mellotron, compressed everything else), but charmingly so, and perfectly competent. A brilliant record.
EDWARD ELGAR: Violin Concerto
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: The Lark Ascending
Hilary Hahn, violin; Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon 00289 474 8732 (SACD/CD). 2004. Thomas Frost, prod.; Stephan Flock, Sam O'Kell, engs. DDD. TT: 60:06
Elgar's later works were characterized by a heavier sadness (just eight years after this, his E Minor sonata seemed to mourn a rural England that had not survived the Great War), but his Violin Concerto of 1910 was more wistful and personal—and young Hilary Hahn gets every ounce of it. Her final cadenza stands with the finest on record, and Colin Davis works with Hahn to reach a conclusion that borders on the transcendent. With this, the first and second Menuhins, and the Heifetz of 1949, you've got what you need. Extra points for the wonderful photographs and liner notes.
RY COODER & V.M. BHATT: A Meeting by the River
Water Lily Acoustics WLA-CS-29-CD (CD). 1993. Kavichandran Alexander, prod., eng.; Jayant Shah, co-prod. AAD. TT: 39:48
Long before Buena Vista Social Club made Ry Cooder a household name (at least among some fairly discerning households), he attempted to bridge musical cultures on either side of a deeper divide: the American folk, blues, and gospel sounds he specialized in, and the daunting classical music of India. His partner in this enterprise was Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, whose instrument, the Mohan vina—a kind of cross between a sitar and a slide guitar—is of his own design. Astonishingly, the four conversational yet adventurous tracks captured on A Meeting by the River were unrehearsed jams between the two masters, who had met only minutes before the session. The lesson is that Cooder and Bhatt not only knew how to play, but how to listen. (XVI-4)
JERRY GARCIA: Garcia
Rhino R2 78063-A (CD). 1972/2004. Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor, prods., engs.; Ram Rod, Bill Kreutzmann, prods.; James Austin, David Gans, Blair Jackson, reissue prods. ADD? TT: 77:06
Garcia is almost literally a solo album: Grateful Dead guitarist-vocalist Jerry Garcia sang and played all of the instruments save for the drums (supplied by the Dead's Bill Kreutzmann) and wrote all of the songs (some with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter). But it might as well be a Grateful Dead album, given the impact songs such as "Sugaree" and "To Lay Me Down" would have on the band's live shows for the rest of their long, strange trip. Garcia's solo versions, however, are superior to just about anything the band ever came up with. Meanwhile, the avant-garde instrumental tracks suggest that in making Garcia, Captain Trips may have been peaking lysergically as well as creatively.
THE BLACK CROWES: Amorica
American 43001-2 (CD). 1994. Jack Joseph Puig, prod., eng.; Jeff Sheehan, eng. DDD. TT: 54:11
The Black Crowes had already out-Stoned the Stones to reclaim Southern rock for the South before Amorica captured them at their most complex and sublime. The album effortlessly serves up a slow-smoked barbecue of country blues, rock, gospel, funk, and hippie jam—with no easy singles and plenty of killer riffs. The secret's in the sauce, supplied by the real-deal Baptist-Sunday-morning keyboards of Eddie Harsch ("Descending") and the guest flavoring of Bruce Kaphan's hallowed steel guitar ("Wiser Time"). The meat comes from the deceptively talented brothers Robinson: Rich's gritty, fuck-you guitar ("She Gave Good Sunflower") lashing against vocalist Chris's potent authenticity ("Nonfiction"), which push the band unassumingly toward transcendence. (XVIII-1)
ALICE IN CHAINS: Jar of Flies
Columbia CK 57628 (CD). 1993. Alice in Chains, prods.; Toby Wright, eng. DDD. TT: 30:51
Though Dirt may be Alice in Chains' defining album, this quiet EP lacks some of that earlier record's angst and doom, which would eventually consume singer Layne Staley en route to his fatal heroin overdose. In place of a death knell, one finds plaintive lament and acceptance wrapped in lush orchestration, with lyrics ("We chase misprinted lies / We face the path of time") that outshine the preponderance of metal fare. The band's aching calling-card harmonies satisfy throughout, whether vocally ("No Excuses"), instrumentally ("Whale & Wasp"), or as blues pastiche ("Swing On This"). But the inward-looking, acoustic-guitar–drenched "Nutshell," cloaked in dismay and blessed with insight, points more to the group's essence and to the 1990s that were to come.
JOANNA NEWSOM: Ys
Drag City DC 303 (2 180gm LPs/CD). 2006. Joanna Newsom, Van Dyke Parks, prods.; Steve Albini, Tim Boyle, engs. AAA/AAD.
The 24-year-old folk/psychedelic singer and harpist's second album features orchestrations by Van Dyke Parks, pristine harp and vocal engineering by Steve Albini, and lush orchestral engineering by Tim Boyle, all mixed by Jim O'Rourke and mastered at Abbey Road by Nick Webb. A unique young musical visionary presented in a sonically stunning and visually spectacular package. Not to be missed on vinyl.
SCOTT WALKER: The Drift
4AD CAD 2603 (2 180gm LPs/CD). 2006. Scott Walker, Peter Walsh, prods. AAA/AAD.
Scott Walker's The Drift, the elusive cult artist's first album since 1994's Tilt, is an intense, often frightening series of musical narratives exploring life's darker crevices. Walker's quavering baritone, carefully placed sound effects, and powerful orchestrations, all superbly recorded, add to the hyperpleasure and hyperpain of this gorgeous package; the vinyl edition comes complete with full-sized libretto. (XXIX-7)