Lucky 13 – My Favorites This Year…
…A Not-So Comprehensive List
2013 has been a quirky year; for a time I found that inspiration had vanished and I wasn’t interested in listening to music or writing about it at all (a rare occurrence). I’m guilty of having purchased less music this year (an economic curtailment of necessity). Nonetheless, there has been some great music in 2013 (and my slice is a tiny piece of what’s out there). This year I read some music-related memoirs by artists whose work I’ve admired for decades (Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Michael Feinstein–of his time spent with Ira Gershwin and other books), some histories of Jazz Standards, Blues, Rock and Roll, and records labels (including one of my favorite indie labels, Merge Records). I was also fortunate to attend a number of live shows, and I’ve posted photos of some of those throughout the year.
Is it me or have record labels and artists reduced their output somewhat? Is it a lull in a normal cycle or a sign of the economic times?
Some of the music on this list will be familiar if you have checked-in to read my reviews and some I have not reviewed. I also have some albums I’m still listening to and I haven’t decided if I’ll write reviews for them (an archival release by The Books, La Luz’s first LP, Mary Lattimore and others). One album in particular that I’ve enjoyed recently (although it was NOT released this year) is a live archive solo recording of Neil Young at the Canterbury House in 1968 entitled Sugar Mountain—the album is mostly material that Young wrote or co-wrote with Buffalo-Springfield, and it was recorded right after Buffalo-Springfield broke-up.
A double live CD has also just arrived of one of the last (very lively hot Jazz) gigs played by the house band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City before it closed in 1985—One Night at Eddie Condon’s (Red “The Commodore” Balaban’s Condon Band), with Ed Polcer, Dr Palu Squire, Jack Maheu, Tom Artin, Bobby Pratt, Dave Shapiro and Danny D’Imperio, recorded by Doug Pomeroy)–thanks to Tom Artin for sending this great piece of Jazz history!
The Lucky 13 (all albums purchased–not promos)
Yellowbirds – Songs From The Vanished Frontier – Royal Potato Family: This is my favorite album of the year—just love it–the vibe, the sounds. Please see my June review.
Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Darla: The music with companion videos release won’t be available until early 2014, but another beautiful album from HB. I reviewed this album in June, as well.
John Scofield – Überjam Deux – Emarcy: I reviewed this album in August—an excellent follow-up to the original Überjam, and a great vibe with Jazz, Blues and more!
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) – InsideOut: As I noted in my review of last year’s studio release of Genesis Revisited II, I feel like Steve Hackett is the keeper of the spirit of the work of Genesis during the 1971 to 1977 era. So many of the earlier recordings (weak on the engineering and mix, except The Lamb) were greatly improved and enhanced, and this comprehensive 3 CD and 2 DVD set documents the fabulous and memorable Hammersmith show in May of 2013 before the band traveled to the US for their fall tour. The SH Band will tour further in support of this in the southeastern US and Europe and Russia is 2014 (bassist Lee Pomeroy will be replaced by Nick Beggs, a familiar face to Hackett Band fans…I really enjoyed Lee on this tour, he really brought out just how musical Mike Rutherford’s bass lines are in these earlier Genesis classics).
Wire – Change Becomes Us – Pink Flag: I was a big fan of Wire in the late 1970s and then I just plain lost touch with their work. The Words On Music label has a compilation of reinterpretations of their well-known single Outdoor Miner from their 1978 Chairs Missing album, and then I noticed a post earlier in the year by Marc Ostermeier (of the band Should ,and WOM and Tench labels) that a new album was forthcoming.
Juliette Commagere – Human – Aeronaut: Late in 2010 Commagere released her album The Procession on Manimal Records—a diverse combination of songs with dense and gorgeous vocals instrumentation—part art-rock, progressive and electronica. Commagere has returned with another beautifully recorded album of lush songs with her strong vocals and support from husband Joachim Cooder, Ben Messelbeck, Amir Yaghmai, Ry Cooder and recorded by Mark Rains and Martin Pradler. The sound is deep, full, inventive and often fantastical—she is doing her own thing, and I love it (catchy melodies and all). There are times when she channels Elizabeth Fraser as on Low.
Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake – Backwater: Thirty Years after his first work Apollo with brother Brian and guitarist Dan Lanois, Roger Eno compiled this tribute to friend and neighbor, Ted Sheldrake. Although I reviewed this album in November of 2012, it wasn’t officially released until January of this year.
Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush: I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – BMG: Back in March I did a brief comparative analysis of this album and Steven Wilson’s latest (see below). I think this is a really spirited and fun reinterpretation of earlier works by Roxy Music and BF. Being a lover of old acoustically recorded 78s of the pre-Jazz and Jazz ages, I get this.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) – kscope: A strong album (I think it’s Steve’s best to date), beautifully recorded and engineered by Alan Parsons. My favorite song is Drive Home.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth – Merge: A brilliant solo guitar album by Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba alum, and a great follow-up to his previous Tompkins Square release Behold The Spirit. I reviewed this album in March.
Celer – Viewpoint – Murmur: As I noted when I reviewed this album in April, I find this album absorbing and romantic—a great piece for getting lost.
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour – Cooking Vinyl: I love Ron’s work–started listening in 1997 with his third album Other Songs. Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith. The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album. Here’s a live recording of Autumn Light.
Two of my favorite new discoveries in 2013
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – Soundway: I heard about Meridian Brothers in an NPR Alt Latino podcast and was instantly hooked by this band from Bogata, Colombia–buying as much of their back catalog as I could find in physical releases. Their music is surreal and playful—a combination of Joe Meek, Esquivel and Raymond Scott.
La Luz – Brainwash (7″) – Suicide Squeeze: This is a single (my version is on clear vinyl) that was released by La Luz just prior to their new album It’s Alive—It’s infectious and fun! I got to La Luz thanks to Johnny Goss (one half of Cock & Swan).
Invention, Influence and Innovation – Bryan Ferry and Steven Wilson
When is a musical work true invention? When is it referential? When is it derivative? Can a work influenced by previous work still be considered original or innovative? I suppose these are questions that could spark a (sometimes heated) discussion like: “What audio speakers sound the best? Is it the east coast or west coast sound?” Often, the proper answer is: “What ever speakers sound best to one’s own ears.”
Generally, I think that most art, design and music works are built on the foundations that came before them and there really is little actual invention, more on the side of innovation or variants of an original. Dig deeply enough and one even can see that Frank Lloyd Wright’s and other modern architectural works (many seemingly original) have been influenced by the works of others or by some reference to design in nature or distant history (like many of Wright’s LA houses of the 1920s being highly influenced by ancient Mayan temples).
I’m certainly not an expert on the extensive back catalogs of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson (including Wilson’s various side projects), but I have enough of their music in my collection to know that I generally like their respective work (some albums, in my opinion, being better than others—that’s the subjective part, like the what speakers sound better question). Bryan Ferry and Steven Wilson are from two different musical generations and have been influenced by different works and people, but there is some overlap.
Ferry has noted that much of his seminal listening, writing and songs were influenced by early and mid-20th century instrumental jazz (including Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman): “I loved the way the great soloists would pick up a tune and shake it up – go somewhere completely different – and then return gracefully back to the melody, as if nothing had happened.” With these influences and those of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and others, Ferry’s band Roxy Music (with a number of different musicians, including Brian Eno and later Eddie Jobson) would go on to create quite innovative and often influential art-glam-pop-progressive rock works in the 1970s and early 80s in addition to Ferry’s distinctive solo works.
Steven Wilson works within a cauldron of many genres (progressive rock, metal, ambient and jazz fusion), and it’s clear from his remixing/remastering work (such as the King Crimson back-catalog, most recently Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) that he has both a deep affection for those influences as well as a respect for the history behind them. Wilson’s latest album The Raven That Refused To Sing is steeped in a mind-bending brew of musical influences, yet stays safely on the side of creatively paying homage while avoiding pastiche or cliché. Throughout the album he tips his hat with musical phrases and instrumental sounds that have kept me looking back into my music collection for their roots (a most welcome research project).
Steven Wilson – Luminol
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
Whether it’s a soaring guitar bend of Pink Floyd, a vocal introduction reminiscent of McDonald and Giles’ Tomorrow’s People, a Mellotron phrase from Genesis’ Watcher of the Skies, an electric guitar intro akin to the band Focus, acoustic guitar phrases of Ant Phillips’ The Geese and the Ghost or flute phrases of Jethro Tull, Wilson and his current band blend these deftly into the rather sullen tale of The Raven… I can also hear more recent parallels in the menacing track The Holy Drinker, to the works of (Miles Davis scholar) Bob Belden’s jazz-fusion Animation project (the recent post-9/11 track Provocatism from the album Transparent Heart). The musical and sonic success of this album is also thanks to the great live studio engineering care of Alan Parsons and gifted musicians Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Adam Holzman, Marco Minnemann, Theo Travis and Jakko Jakszyk who have interpreted Wilson’s vision into a cohesive and often stunning recording. The dynamics and emotions are broad, from the aggressive percussion/bass opening to the somber balladic close of the title track. There are minimal overdubs on the album, except for using an original King Crimson MKII Mellotron (recorded at DGM).
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – Do The Strand
In contrast, Bryan Ferry is reinterpreting his own past work with vocals removed, leaving the melodies and harmonies of the original songs, and they’re are filtered through a time machine that brings the listener back to Ferry’s earliest musical influences—the sound, orchestration and recording techniques of the roaring and often buoyant 1920s. Some fans of Roxy Music or Ferry’s original work don’t seem to appreciate the effort (especially the sound treatment, and the monaural recording), but being that I enjoy original pre-and jazz-age acoustic recordings, I think it’s a favorable re-examination of Ferry’s work while avoiding the temptation reissue yet another compilation for the sake of churning a back-catalog. In fact, the recording sounds almost identical to the hi-fidelity of that period, a Victor Orthophonic reproducer and Victrola.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – The Reinterpreted Tracks
Bryan Ferry – The Jazz Age – The Original Tracks
I like both of these albums very much, for different reasons, and while they are clearly influenced by works before them, they stand very well on their own. Are either as groundbreaking as King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King? No (again, my subjective opinion). On the positive side, after a somewhat cool start, Steven Wilson’s album has been growing on me (my favorite track, by far, is Drive Home), whereas I liked Ferry’s album almost instantly—I was hooked by Do The Strand. Are either of these albums what I would consider the best of 2013? It’s a bit early for that–let’s wait and see.
Steven Wilson – Drive Home