11/07/16: Special Election Edition

Tomorrow the United States will be electing its next president. This is one where the stakes are really up for grabs; we could wind up in an awful, awful place for real if this goes the wrong way.

As a momentary distraction, here’s some dancing that reminds me of American things. A bluegrass jam and clog dancing. A family (or group of friends) enjoying themselves together. I’ll bet you there’s a pot of coffee on the stove and something good in the oven. Nothing too fancy, and a lot of fun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs2j8f7H2WY

10/31/16: Scary Halloween Dance Party

I made a playlist on Spotify this week, with some scary creepy music.

The music I picked isn’t usually associated with Halloween (except for “Red Right Hand” and “Goo Goo Muck,” but I picked out some of the darkest, most unsettling songs I could think of.

No “Monster Mash” this year – trust me, I love that song, but that’s for another Halloween playlist.

It’s a dark world inside this music – stabbings, murders, monsters, and whatever it is Lux Interior is going to do to us.

This is a test-drive for the Spotify playlist; please let me know if it doesn’t work, or tries to get money out of you, or steals your car.

Tomorrow we return to happy shiny music that’s just bursting with joy.

10/24/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

I sometimes work as a dance class accompanist, and have spent a certain amount of time hanging around ballerinas.

First of all, I want to point out how much respect I have gained for dancers through this job. Dance requires the strength and coordination of an athlete, extraordinary self-control, and dedication to the craft. If you don’t believe me, go take a class. You will be lying on the floor weeping in pain within the first eight minutes. I know I would.

It also appear that everyone who studies western classical dance for a while will have to learn some version of “Four Little Swans,” from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gApOfm4qd0

I was goofing around on the piano one day between classes, and began to play the music to this. Immediately, a row of dance teachers came through the door in perfect formation. I laughed so hard I had to stop playing.

Ballet Fun Fact: The technical term for four people dancing together is “pas de quatre.” 

Here’s an interesting interpretation of the piece. The swans have become frogs, and the choreography reflects that. It’s a lot of fun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDy_XrWfxHY

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

10/19/16: Digging in the bins

These days I buy a lot of albums by digital download, but I also like to go out and purchase real-live, physical CDs. I’m lucky enough that I’m near a very good used CD/DVD/vinyl store, so I still experience the fun of discovering music that you thought about once a couple of years ago and now here it is again and you can actually afford it.

Today I had a good haul: “A Quiet Normal Life: The Best of Warren Zevon,” Rilo Kiley’s: “More Adventurous” and Spirit’s “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.” And of course, the latest copy of “Weird NJ.” One must stay up to date, after all.

“Dr. Sardonicus” was pretty intense. I’ll have to sit down and listen with headphones, but for now: Wow. There’s a lot going on there. In a good way, but I need to absorb that a little more.

I still have to check out the Warren Zevon album, but I’m loving the Rilo Kiley CD. A friend made me a mix CD a few years ago that had “Does He Love You?” on it. I loved the lyrics, and also how Jenny Lewis presents her vocals. She tells her stories so well.

The arrangements are country-esque in places, with some orchestral pop and folk. Very tastefully done.

Following a quick listen to the whole album, here’s a couple of songs I liked.

Photo by: Jane Rahman; Issued under CC 2.0 License.

No changes have been made to the image.

9/26/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

It’s one of those rough allergy mornings, the kind where you feel like all the sinus cavities in your head have been filled with cement.

In times like these, all I can say is: thank goodness for Gloria Estefan.

The video’s fun, too. Yes, ladies really had hair like that back in the 80’s. And grumpy foreign ambassadors could always be relied on to fall prey to the seductive rhythms of a Miami evening.

Image: Royalty-free, courtesy of British Museum

9/12/16: Monday Funday Dance Party!

If you’re on the East Coast, it’s pushing 3PM right now. Which means it’s just about time for some B-52’s.

See if you can get a conga line going around the office.

And BTW, the whole album is great. Treat yourself to a copy for the next time it’s 3PM and you need a conga line.

 

 

Image: JD Hancock. Creative Commons License 2.0

09/06/16: Personal motivation and audio cleanliness

Way back in 2011-12, I was unemployed, and it was really rough out there in the job market. Nobody was hiring. For anything.

It was easy to get discouraged, after sending out resume after resume after resume. And yes, cheesy as it sounds, there were songs I would listen to during that time specifically to encourage myself to keep going. This is one of them:

Featuring the late great Bernie Worrell. And note that David Byrne has solved the problem of what a lead singer can do during instrumental parts – just take a couple laps around the stage.

This is from the live movie “Stop Making Sense,” one of the great moments in rock cinema. Why? It’s just a bunch of really good musicians doing a live show and it’s one of those great nights where everything works out perfectly and it’s just magical.

As a rule, I’m not a big fan of live albums. I love when things are beautifully recorded in the studio and you can hear what’s going on. Like you hear on any Talking Heads studio album:

And the studio version of “Life During Wartime” is a great track:

But for me, the energy of the live version, along with the additional musicians, just takes the song to a whole new level. And that energy makes the lyrics have that much more impact – it goes from kind of ironically detached in the studio version to serving up the emotional equivalent of a punch to the stomach in the live one. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s recorded really well.

Of course, I can’t get too precious about pristine studio recordings. First of all, it’s so easy to go too far with that, in which case you wind up with a sound that’s overly sterile (see: The Eighties). Secondly, I’m a big jazz fan, and the stuff I listen to is generally either a live concert, or an album that was entirely recorded in one day.

Here’s “Samba Triste” from Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd’s “Jazz Samba,” an album that was recorded in its entirety in just one day. It went on to hit #1 on the Billboard Album charts, and won Getz a Grammy. It also reminds me of autumn, which is coming up way too soon:

 

Image by Jean-Luc Ourlin, CC License 2.0

8/17/16: The King

I can’t believe I missed August 16th. Elvis Presley’s death day.

We’ve always had some kind of ironic celebration to the great man. There’s a bar in Manhattan that did an Elvis death day celebration every year – there would be Elvis food (gummy bears, peanut butter and banana sandwiches), Elvis movies on TV, an Elvis impersonator. One year an Ann Margret impersonator stopped by.

At the very least there would be a toast to Elvis on the day in question.

My generation (X) is probably the last one that will have any kind of first-hand knowledge of him. From childhood, I mostly remember the existence of Elvis in that both he and Pope Paul VI died in August 1977.

This is, in fact, not true, something I’ve only learned just now when I went to check my facts. The Pope died in 1978, to be shortly followed by his successor, John Paul II, who died in September of that year. But I do remember when Elvis died.

Getting back to non-papal Elvis memories, there was, sadly, so much joke material about his life: the silly movies, the karate stuff, the bedazzled jumpsuits. Graceland. Unfortunately, all of this masked a man who made remarkable music, and whose life was also out of control.

Here are just a few of my Elvis favorites, with no silliness included.

 

 

 

 

Requiesce in pace, my friend.