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Fri, 13 May 2005

Nolita / Keren Ann
Nolita I grew up in New York. And sometimes I think I don't know the city at all. Nolita is a Manhattan neighborhood; it's short for North of Little Italy. And it's where French/Israeli singer Keren Ann now lives. Which is enough about Manhattan neighborhoods.

Now let's talk about Nolita the album. Keren Ann has a quiet, gentle voice that reminds me a little of the young Marianne Faithfull. Her songs, some in English and some in French, are soft and haunting. And the backing instrumentals stay in the background where they belong, an impressive feat given the fragility of that singular voice. This is a remarkable album all around.

[ Category: Folk | 2 comments | Link ]

Wed, 30 Mar 2005

Scissors in My Pocket / Polly Paulusma
I've commented before about the peculiarities of the iTMS's classification system. But here's a real doozy: Scissors in My Pocket gets placed under Folk, while Cosmic Rosy Spine Kites, a live version of the same songs, somehow makes it into Rock. What's even funnier is that Cosmic is even more Folk than Scissors. Prove it to yourself; give a listen to the Scissors version of One Day. Now listen to the version on Cosmic. Does it sound like Rock to you?

I'm splitting hairs, of course. Just filling space. But whether you prefer the polished version or the more spontaneous one, Ms. Paulusma has a great sound. She reminds me a little of Darling Violetta, the folks who recorded the theme to Joss Whedon's Angel. Only smoother and more adventurous. Now that's something to celebrate.

Scissors in My Pocket
[ Category: Folk | Add a comment | Link ]

Fri, 04 Mar 2005

Best of the Vanguard Years / Tom Paxton
Best of the Vanguard Years I miss protest songs. Partially I miss the music; I like songs that take a stand. But mostly it's the passion I miss, the feeling that patriotism wasn't a default condition of doing what you're told and not making trouble. That being a citizen involved choices, and that there were costs associated with those choices.

Now it all seems so far away. How can a guy with a guitar stand up to the volume and the reach of a Bill O'Reilly? These days, you can't be both passionate and funny. (I present Dennis Miller as Exhibit A.) But there was a time of people like Bill Paxton, who could make a point through a song. Whether it's LBJ and the escalation of the Vietnam War or former orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant espousing Christian conservative intolerance, Paxton found a way to make the heart sing and the blood boil.

So where are the protest songs of our time? Surely there's a song or two in Iraq. Or how about the threatened dismantling of the American safety net? Or corporate greed and politicians' contempt for the people they're supposed to serve? This stuff is just dying to be put to music.

[ Category: Folk | Add a comment | Link ]

Fri, 24 Dec 2004

Along the River / Susan Conger & friends
Along the River I remember a lot of ranting when the iTMS first opened about how it was dominated by the major labels. That was followed by a bunch of articles about how Apple was planning to let small labels in on the action. And then silence, perhaps because news of upcoming European versions of the store got all the attention. And then when they arrived, complaints about the selection at different stores and price differentials. (Those damn Canadians! They pay less than we do! Nobody should pay less than Murrkuns!)

But somewhere along the way some small labels have joined the majors on the iTMS. As this album demonstrates. When I first listened, I assumed I was hearing traditional New England music and that this was a historic recreation. But a little Googling showed me how mistaken I was. Although all the music on Along the River was written to accompany contradancing, which I'm told is a longstanding New England tradition, the tracks themselves were all composed within the last twenty-five years. Apparently there's a movement around the country around contradancing. (Movement. Dancing. Funny, no?) And these folks are at the forefront of creating and performing new music in an old style.

I should have figured out there was something nontraditional going on here. I mean, Double Chocolate Insomnia Rag? Not quite what an 18th or 19th century composer would call their work...

[ Category: Folk | 1 comment | Link ]

Thu, 28 Oct 2004

Gitane Cajun / Beausoleil
Gitane Gajun There's only one thing I miss about records: those big beautiful album covers. CDs are in most every respect superior; they sound better, they take up less room, they don't require nearly the maintenance. Heck, they don't need flipping! But even the best CD cover art can't compare to the detail on an album.

That's what caught my eye when I was browsing the iTMS and came upon this disc. All those shades of brown and that old fashioned lettering, they were enough to make me stop and listen. And I was impressed with what I heard, although I freely admit to knowing nothing about traditional bayou music. A little reading tells me that others think these guys are the authentic article, both instrumentally and vocally. But what do I care? What I know is that they don't sound like anything else in my iPod. I can't wait to get them into my Smart Playlist rotation.

[ Category: Folk | Add a comment | Link ]

Tue, 26 Oct 2004

A Tribute to the Carpenters
A Tribute to the Carpenters My high school chemistry teacher once imparted this bit of wisdom:
    "No experiment is a total loss; it can always be used as a bad example."
This adage came back with full force as I contemplated this tribute album, a collection of Carpenters tunes covered on acoustic guitar by a group of mostly indistinguishable female folkies. First, because the Carpenters were elevator music before they encountered their first elevator; folk renditions of such sappy songs adds nothing. And second, because a third on the tracks on this album were Carpenters covers of other, better artists. California Dreamin'? Now and forever The Mamas & The Papas. There's a Kind of Hush? Done first (and much better) by Herman's Hermits. Ditto with Ticket to Ride and The Rainbow Connection; the latter will always belong to Kermit the Frog. About the best thing I can say about this collection is that it isn't nearly as horrifying as the artists' other album: A Tribute to the Songs of Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne. On folk guitar. One can only weep.
[ Category: Folk | 1 comment | Link ]

Mon, 18 Oct 2004

The Roches / The Roches
The Roches Sometimes the iTMS delivers new music; sometimes I find old and forgotten favorites. This debut album by The Roches is a good example of the latter. It showed up under Folk, which is fair enough. But Contemporary? Fifteen years after its release, is it still contemporary?

But no matter. It's still funny and goofy and sweet and surprising. It reminds me of the first time I heard the sisters, on an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures of all things. Where they played real roaches, or at least the cartoon version. And it was another episode of the same show that introduced me to They Might Be Giants, with Tiny Toons videos to both Particle Man and Istanbul (Not Constantinople). Good stuff.

[ Category: Folk | Add a comment | Link ]

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