Category: Music reviews

Different Ingredients, A Lot of Flavor: Twenty Dozen by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Southern funk is like a floating spore that carries no poison but can land and flower on any surface, in a cane field or a kitchen, on a baseball diamond, a parade float, or a fishing boat, in a church pew, a bingo hall, or on a dance floor, at a baby’s christening or a backyard barbecue—anywhere.  It sprouts with the knowledge that pleasure, like purpose, does not have to be confined to predictable activity.

Playful and Sensual, Seductive: The Very Best of Daryl Hall & John Oates

The two men met at Temple University in Philadelphia, where they both were students in the late 1960s, and some of their early music was folk rock—and they moved to New York in the mid-1970s.  Their albums include Whole Oates, War Babies, and Bigger Than Both of Us, Voices, Beauty on a Back Street, Along the Red Ledge, Private Eyes, H-2-0, Rock N Soul Part 1, Big Bam, Boom, and Ooh Yeah!—and songs from some of those albums are included on The Very Best of Daryl Hall & John Oates.

Musical Reportage: The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, by Hunter S. Thompson, with music by Bill Frisell, produced by Hal Willner, featuring Tim Robbins, Dr. John, Ralph Steadman, and Annie Ross

Thompson was one of those writers who made his eyes, his nerves, and his appetites available to the reader, rather than a deeply cultivated mind.  Hunter S. Thompson gave the reader an experience.  However, if everyone rebels against civilization, there will be nothing left but anarchists and animals.

Sweet but Sly: The Best of The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys formed in 1961, signed with Capitol Records in 1962, and are known for songs such as “California Girls” and “Good Vibrations” and the albums Pet Sounds and Smile, and they are celebrating their 50th anniversary now, in 2012, with a reunion tour.  Their story is very American in many ways: though the group’s principal songwriter, Brian Wilson, wrote sunny songs, his childhood and adult life were quite stormy. 

Nature, Games, Love, War, Dance, Home: Heartbeat 1 & 2: Voices of First Nations Women

Yet, one gets a glimpse of the spiritual in Native culture, the culture of an original people, the indigenous North Americans, long called American Indians.  Listening to the two volumes of Heartbeat, featuring Native American women’s voices, is to encounter mystery—if only because the language in which much of this music comes is foreign, but the songs are about nature, games, love, war, dance, home, family, community, the stars, and the divine, things that concern most of us; and a praising, resilient spirit comes through the songs.

Human Beings, Hoping Machines: Note of Hope, Woody Guthrie’s words, given music by bassist Rob Wasserman, with Van Dyke Parks, Madeleine Peyroux, Tom Morello, Michael Franti, Nellie McKay, Chris Whitley, and Jackson Browne

Michael Franti’s jazzy, sensual interpretation of “Union Love Juice” makes Guthrie sound like a blend of Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and LL Cool J. Michael Franti’s voice is confident, low, masculine, and suggestive. “I am the meat and the flower of sex,” sings Franti, confidently, coolly.

Voice, Piano, and More: Roberta Flack’s Let It Be, a tribute to the Beatles

Intimate, with advice to young love and what sounds like acoustic guitar, the durable quality of “Hey Jude” is proven, and durability has made it and other songs by the Beatles nearly public property (yet, they remain too lucrative to become public property).  Flack performs the song “Hey Jude” with a confiding, childlike simplicity, and it is sweet, possibly too sweet.  Flack told journalist Mike Ragogna of Huffington Post, posted February 6, 2012, that she approached the song as if it were a hymn; and she also said, “It’s about coming back to basics and simplicity.

Beauty, Pain, and Strength: Carolin Widmann and Alexander Lonquich perform a Fantasy, Rondo, and Sonata by Franz Schubert

Widmann, born in Munich, studied in Cologne, Boston, and London, and has performed with orchestras in several of the world’s great cities, such as Paris, Rome, and Vienna; and with Alexander Lonquich, who was born in Trier, a prodigy who has become an international performer and conductor, Widmann has chosen to explore Schubert music of beauty, emotion, technique, and thought.  The “Rondo h-Moll” has an exalted, even extreme beauty, and the “Sonate A-Dur” (or “Sonata”) creates in the listener an alternative consciousness.