Neverending Randomplay #81-#90
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 17,573 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow each track.
81. Lyle Lovett: Friend Of The Devil *****
Lyle Lovett gives a tender and thoughtful treatment to this Grateful Dead chestnut, from the 1991 tribute album, Deadicated. Deadicated is probably essential to any serious Deadhead, containing a good selection of cover versions of Dead tunes by an eclectic group of performers including Lovett, Midnight Oil, Burning Spear, Elvis Costello, Suzanne Vega, Los Lobos, and others. "Friend of the Devil" originally appeared on the 1970 album American Beauty, and sported a peppy tempo and mandolin accompaniment. Over the years, Garcia tended to sing it at a slower tempo, lending it a much heavier, introspective resonance. Lovett captures this recontextualization perfectly in this version, which also appears on his own Here I Am (The Lyle Lovett Collection).
82. Thin White Rope: Down In The Desert ***** iTunes
Thin White Rope are sometimes thrown into the paisley underground genre, but their true fans chafe at the very suggestion. Such generalizing can be useful, however; the Davis, CA band operated simultaneously as the LA-based paisley underground movement, they shared a certain neo-psychedelic aesthetic with lots of feedback and reverb. However, Davis, a college town a fair distance from Sacramento, is edge-of-the-desert nowhereville, and this isolation seeps into the music and keeps it distinct from L.A. or San Francisco music, both hundreds of miles away. "Down In The Desert" is from Thin White Rope's excellent 1985 debut, Exploring The Axis. It's a dark, scary tune about desert madness, coupled with some irresistable chiming and crunching guitar and martial drumming. The band's name is a reference to a WIlliam S. Burroughs euphemism for semen. A band well worth exploring; they released 7 albums and EP's through 1994, before disbanding.
83. Pretty Girls Make Graves: Bring It On Golden Pond **** iTunes
Seattle's Pretty Girls Make Graves is one of the better indie-rock bands to emerge from Seattle in the 00's. "Bring It On Golden Pond" is a punky, fast-tempoed slice of hard rock, somewhere between Fugazi, X-Ray Spex, and Sleater-Kinney, sung by Andrea Zollo (ex-Death Wish Kids) with convincing angst, with former members of the Murder City Devils and The Beehive behind her. It appears on their 2002 9-song mini-album debut, Good Health. The band moved to Matador records for the very good The New Romance album in 2003.
84. Sun Ra: Angels And Demons At Play *****
Sun Ra and His Arkestra are captured here at a key transitional phase; They hover close to free jazz here, adding an afro-latin fusion beat with syncopated polyrhythms and eerie chants; a flute gets the solo and a cymbal provides the most arresting beat of all towards the end, after a long, mesmerizing build-up. Recorded in 1956, this music was ahead of its time, and the enigmatic Sun Ra, who seldom gave any truthful information about himself in interviews, became a cult figure in a cult genre. Today, he's often looked at by the uninitiated as an obscuro artist, but his contribution to jazz and head music is considerable, if often underappreciated. You don't even have to like jazz to dig Sun Ra; if you're into challenging, weird, space music, you'll like this.
85. War: Four Cornered Room ****
War is usually pigeonholed as a funk band, and there really is no other category for them, so funk is what it is. However, they recorded what were usually the slowest tempoes (by miles) in funkdom, especially on their first few albums after jettisoning the zonked and vestigal Eric Burdon in 1971. Masters of the slow groove, the band's best album is their third post-Burdon album, The World Is A Ghetto from 1972, which took early-70's-era Sly and The Family Stone style grooves and slowed them to a crawl. These stoned grooves are given intermittently sharp, insightful lyrics. "Four Cornered Room" is a languidly paced groove clocking in at 8:30, with a bad-buzz, stoned vibe to it, and a good lyric, spoken and sung through a filter.
86. The Chordettes: Mr. Sandman ****
The Chordettes were a peppy quartet of woman vocalists who sang in a barbershop quartet style, complete with bass and baritone (a rarity for a female group), scoring an enourmous hit with "Mr. Sandman" in 1954. In it, the girls wish Mr. Sandman to bring them a dream with, among other things, "wavy hair like Liberace". Not a rock track in any way, shape, or form, it does contain a tasty jazz middle-8 and ace harmonies straight through that conjur up the 'innocence' of the pre-Elvis early 50's pop culture so well, it has been used in countless movies to immediately set time and place. Although rock 'n' roll made this type of music extinct within just a few short years, the Chordettes would continue to reach the top-20 right through 1961, when leader Jinny Osborne left, precipitating a break-up.
87. Groove Armada: I See You Baby [Fatboy Slim Us Guitar Edit] ***** iTunes
London electronica duo Tom Findlay and Andy Cato got together after being introduced by Cato's girlfriend in 1995, and started their own club which was also called Groove Armada. They had a handful of successful singles before scoring huge in 2000 with Vertigo, which included this 1999 hit. "I See You Baby" is a booty-shaking piece of trip-hop dance music, featured twice on the album. The Fatboy Slim version has a more jungle feel with hard hitting beats, sinewy bass, squacking guitar, and a hypnotic, soulful vocal from female vocalist Grandma Funk, whose repetitive chant "I see you baby, shaking that ass" forms the heart of the hook, as the effects whirl and throb and clang in a sensual rhythm all around her.
88. Tiny Lights: Green Inside ****
Tiny Lights is one of the best obscure bands of the late 1980's. A mix of folk music, 60's psychedelia, chamber music, and art-rock, the band had the misfortune of recording for a string of fleabag, fly by night labels that couldn't ship their records or even stay in business, making most of their back catalog incredibly hard to find. Formed in Hoboken, NJ, their debut appeared in 1986. "Green Inside" is from their best album, Hazel's Wreath, released on the tiny Gaia label in 1988. It's a nice folk-ish psychedelic number with violin and cello, delicate, intricate, and trippy picking, and male/female harmonies. Hazel's Wreath is a breathtakingly beautiful album, if you're lucky enough to find it. The band released several more albums, breaking up in the mid 90's; all are fairly hard-to-find.
89. U2: All I Want Is You **** iTunes
This is a big, elegant, romantic ballad from U2's 1988 chart-topper Rattle and Hum. Rattle and Hum was a watershed moment for the band, although nobody realized it at the time, essentially closing the book on the second phase of the band's career, which encompassed the grandiose Unforgettable Fire/Wide Awake In America/Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum. Rattle and Hum was the patchiest of the four, the soundtrack to a largely dismissed concert film, and an album that jumps stylistically all over the map. Some of U2's best work is on this disc, as is some of their silliest. Bono's stage patter borders on the inane, which hurt his street cred some at the time. Still, "All I Want Is You" is a fine track, wistful and lonely, benefiting from the Edge's muted, ringing guitar, and an eerie string passage at the end.
90. Wilco: Ashes Of American Flags ***** iTunes
The story behind Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is fairly well-known; when Wilco brought the tapes to Warner Brothers, the label rejected them as willfully uncommercial, and ordered the band to come up with something better. Certainly, the tapes weren't what Warner's was expecting; Jeff Tweedy and band bore nary a hint of the country influences that Tweedy built his name on in Uncle Tupelo; Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is ambitious art-rock, with heavy electronic presence. The band refused to re-record it, and instead bought the tapes back from Warners and intentionally leaked them onto the internet. A whole new generation of fans, and many of the old ones, loved the material, and Nonesuch records picked them up. The album went on to peak at #13 on the charts, an oft-cited example of music file sharing having a positive effect on sales (although a well-received tour at the same time also helped). "Ashes Of American Flags" is one of the best songs on the album, the closest to their country roots, sad and introspective, but also experimental and spacey.
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Listen to Groove Armada: I See You Baby [Fatboy Slim Us Guitar Edit] (1999)