Listed: The Free Design + Paul Duncan
The Free Design
File under: don't call it a comeback. While they are experiencing a minor revival, thanks largely to a recent remix record, 60s soft-psychsters The Free Design have been influencing your favorite psych/lounge/folk artists since they were just tots. As makers of forgotten-then-reissued-then-forgotten masterpieces like Stars/Time/Bubbles/Love The Free Design pioneered and mastered the art of music that is gentle, but not lame, and weird, but not obtrusive. A recent compilation, The Now Sound Redesigned finds many some of today's more influential and popular artists - Madlib, Four Tet, Stereolab, etc. - remixing classic Free Design tunes. Both the reissues and the remixes are available on Light in the Attic Records.
Two albums that are in my CD player right now are 1. Michael Johnson's first LP, There is a Breeze (Atlantic - 1972), and 2. K.D. Lang's Hymns from the 49th Parallel (on Nonesuch - 2004). Okay, a little bias: I worked on Michael's album as producer, arranger, instrumentalist and BG vocalist, but it is a rich listening experience after all these years. Michael went on to more commercially viable projects, had a hit with "Bluer than Blue", etc., but if you can get your hands on this vintage bit of poetic record - making, here's what you get: amazing songs with great lyrics, strong images and feel, super vocals and spectacular gut-string guitar playing by Michael, unique instrumental backups built around his guitar. Phil Ramone and Peter Yarrow hired me to arrange and then help with the producing. Then Michael and I ended up doing a lot of the record somewhat on our own in Toronto, with ex A&R Studios engineer David Greene, who had moved to Manta Sound. Late period Free Design drummer, Gary Gauger, sat in. Gerry Niewood came in from Rochester. Many other great musicians from New York, Toronto, and Rochester. They don't make'em like this anymore.
Having said that, K.D.'s Hymns album satisfies some of the same cravings. These are great songs from Canadian writers in the hymn or ballad tradition - the magical marriage of word and music. Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jane Siberry, Bruce Coburn, and Ron Sexsmith contribute. I find that my friends in the States are not aware of this record; that may not be a true sampling, as k.d. lang is so high-profile. Acoustic guitar, piano and bass, along with a small string group - drums only only one song - are beautifully recorded. K.D. Lang's vocals are like honey (no saccharine), and she has an uncanny ability to adopt subtle characteristics within each song of the writer of that song.
If you can find anything by the Arrogant Worms, you are in for a treat. They have several self-produced CDs on their own AW labels; I'll mention Dirt. it's very funny. They are a comedy trio, and they write hilarious songs. I met them when they were looking for an arranging to write charts for their concert with the Edmonton Symphony, which was videotaped. If you ever have the chance to catch them live, I recommend you take a box of Kleenex and wear a diaper.
Michael Small left a legacy of great soundtracks. His score for Mountains of the Moon (Polydor) is on my list. It features great African players, recorded in New York, and some field recordings, with the orchestral music recorded in Munich. The story of the search for the source of the Nile River is wonderful inspiration for some grand music (the movie is also well worth renting - a few times). There is an in-depth article about Michael Small in this fall's Film Score magazine.
If you are a classical music person this is not news, but for the music-loving world at large Benjamin Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings is a required experience. I have a couple of recordings and will mention the historic one with Peter Pears, Dennis Brain, the Boyd Neel String Orchestra, Benjamin Britten conducting (London reissues the original Decca LP). There are other fine interpretations. Okay, this is long-hair (as my folks used to call classical music), but it's 20th Century, tonal, psychologically deep, masterfully realized art. (If you're into this, Britten's "War Requiem" is one of the greatest, most comprehensive pieces of the 20th Century; please look into it.)
When I was writing the score for a TV movie called Walter and Henry, I had the opportunity to look more deeply into Stax Records, the Memphis-based late-sixties to early 70's R&B label. In the script, the eponymous characters are a father and son duo, street musicians in New York City. They write music that is a tribute to the Stax artists, like The Staples Singers, Booker T. and the MGs, Otis Reading, The Emotions, Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes, et al. So, of course, I wrote the music that would be their originals in that style. Any of the music from that label is great; I'll recommend Stax Gold as a great compilation CD. Respect yourself!
For those who like jazz singers who are real musicians, Toronto-based Carol Welsman is something special. All her records are good; I love the Inclined CD released in 1999 on Justin Time. Check out George Koller on bass, Rob Piltch on guitar, Phil Dwyer on saxophone, and a bunch of other great players. Carol plays the piano with solid understanding and a slightly minimalist touch, and her vocals are soooo musical.
Back to the Classical Genre Index (not to be confused with CGI), let's mention another of my favourite composers,Gustav Mahler. There is a wonderful double CD (MCA Classics) of the Symphony #2 in C Minor, "Resurrection", conducted by Gilbert Kaplan, who is a doctor or something, and has made a life study of this piece, which he has learned to conduct. Apparently it's the only thing he conducts. The record is brilliant, the liner notes very comprehensive, and the experience something you will want to absorb yourself in maybe once a year. Very elevating.
I just received a record from Germany that is well worth including in my list. It's a band called Jazzanova, and the CD is in between. (Titles in lower case are very "in".) The first bit of the first track is weird/funny: samples of singers. It develops into a virtuoso production of virtual meets real in unreel time. Jazzy, advanced, electric, eccentric, super-acoustic, precise, spontaneous, brilliantly recorded and mastered - and expensive, I think. The sticker said over 20 Euros. Special packaging. Worth it.
My record collection is just littered with old stuff. Let's go to Laura Nyro. New York Tendaberry. Everyone knows her hits as recorded by the Fifth Dimension and Blood Sweat and Tears and Three Dog Night and lots of other artists. Be sure to enjoy, sink into, her fantastically self-indulgent solo albums. I just replenished my collection via iTunes and realized anew how much I and so many others benefited from her freedom and her coyly and nakedly and symbolically devastatingly rendered songs. Diva-stated, Lee. Devil stay, Ted... Lee... Bill... Emily.
Born in East Texas, moving to Savannah, Georgia (where we met him), a brief stop in Atlanta and then on to his current residence in Brooklyn, Paul has racked up a few miles and experiences. His new record, Be Careful What You Call Home will appeal to those who like their singer songwriters nicely contained (a la Jose Gonzalez and Iron and Wine), as well as those who like to be surprised (a la Feathers and Smog). Those of you who fall somewhere in between...you might want to check it out, too. The record is out now on Hometapes, as is his previous release, To An Ambient Hollywood.
1. Robert Wyatt - Shleep
2. Alexander Spence - Oar
3. Terry Riley - Happy Ending - '72
4. Scott Walker - Scott 4
6. James Elliott and David Daniell
7. Alog - miniatures
8. Floating Playlist:
Old(ish); Lee Hazlewood, This Heat, Anonymous, Burning Witch, Groundhogs, Bill Fay, Brigitte Fontaine, Caetano Veloso, Colin Blunstone, Wendy and Bonnie, The Troggs, Talk Talk / Mark Hollis, Woody Guthrie, Giusto Pio, Francoise Hardy, Gal Costa, Cluster, Eno (always), Zeppelin (always), John Fahey (always) ...
9. American Primitive Vol. 1 & 2
"There are other ecstatic religions in the world, or religions with the same continuum (Hinduism), but is Christianity really intrinsically ecstatic in this manner of hot enthusiasm? Are these tambourine players and guitar screamers inhabited by Christ? Do they know him? I have to say that, Flannery O'Connor not withstanding, underneath it all i hear a pan pipe and a cloven hoof beating time."
10. Anonymous - Inside the Shadows
By Dusted Magazine