There’s so much great music out there, I just can’t get to it all (let alone afford to add it to my collection!). And so, another installment of a brief overview of the best of what’s playing here. Since the temperature has moderated with the season, I’ve been able to fire-up the tube amplifiers again.
Pausal – Sky Margin (Own Records) http://ownrecords.bandcamp.com/
Simon Bainton and Alex Smalley return after their most recent album Forms. Sky Margin is a series of mystical “flights”, with some tracks grouped (Vapour-Distance-Trails, Celestial, Balance-Topography, Solstice-Utopian). Whereas Smalley’s work as Olan Mill tends more towards the melodically and harmonically directional, Pausal’s compositions are of the “out there.” The music flows as from drifting gossamers with ethereal layers of instruments and field recordings.
Federico Durand – El idioma de las luciérnagas (Desire Path Recordings) http://www.desirepathrecordings.com/releases/federico-durand-el-idioma-de-las-luciernagas/
I live in an area where the sound of the night is anything but silent, but it’s not the sound of a city or machines, it’s the sounds of fauna (small mammals, birds and insects). So, I have to admit that when I first cued Durand’s new album I had to look and see if I had left a window open.
I have missed-out on some of Federico’s recent albums (like El éxtasis de las flores pequeñas and Saudades by Durand and Tomoyoshi Date AKA Melodia), but I really enjoyed his collaboration with Nicholas Szczepanik (as Every Hidden Color), Luz on the Streamline Label. El idioma is a blend of the outdoors, pastoral chimes, sensually treated piano, gentle guitars and many other instruments—a subtle and restful tapestry of sound. Tracks like El espejo de mil años are in good company with Harold Budd and Brian Eno—peaceful, on the edge of a dream. There is also a familiar melody (to my ears) in the title track.
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe (Dead Oceans)
After Barwick’s last album, The Magic Place on Asthmatic Kitty, I was curious to see if she could take her music to other places—without seeming like a repetitive formula of her last album…and on Nepenthe she has. This time her inspiration is taken from a new sense of place, the stark and raw beauty of Iceland, in conjunction with producer Alex Somers (Sigur Ros and Jónsi associated). The album has a sense of searching and loneliness, and Barwick’s voices are combined with rhythms and melodies, more so compared to her last album.
Juliette Commagere – Human (Aeronaut Records)
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.
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza (Soundway) and Devoción (Staubgold)
I have NPR’s program Alt Latino for getting me to the delightfully quirky Meridian Brothers. I characterize their work as part Equivel, part Joe Meek and part Raymond Scott. Just go along for the ride, it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard. Devoción is a collection of earlier recordings and Desesperanza is their latest album.
Laith Al-Saadi – Real (Weber Works)
I first saw Laith and his trio perform live at an audio festival in northern Michigan a few years ago, and then saw him again a couple of years later. He is an artist who puts his heart and soul into his music, mostly Blues (as does the rest of his band). For this extended EP (six tracks with two alternate takes) producer Jeffrey Weber assembled Al-Saadi’s dream-band (Jim Keltner, Lee Sklar, Larry Goldings, Jimmy Vivino, Tom Scott, Lee Thronburg, Nick Lane, Brandon Fields and others) and recorded this album of original compositions (except for Robbie Robertson’s Ophelia) live to two track with no overdubs, treatments, mixing, editing, limiting, or compression. Have a listen to the samples—great music, solid.
CD – Shanachie 5189 – Sleeping Gypsy Music – June 2011
1) Now That the Summer’s Here, 2) One Day in St. Tropez, 3) Summer in New York, 4) Mice, 5) Charlie Chan in Egypt, 6) I’d Rather Be Happy Than Right, 7) Time Together, 8) Samba Blue, 9) My Heart Said Wow, 10) If I Could Make September Stay, 11) Feathers From an Angel’s Wing
“Why must the present…Turn to past…So fast? The disappearing now…” from the song “Time Together”
This is long overdue, but better late than never…
While not always the case, some of the best songwriters, filmmakers and artists (in my opinion) have a solid foundation in literature and writing—having the ability to clearly express thoughts and emotions, regardless of the medium. I think it is also true that one’s own work is improved by knowing limitations and collaborating with others. Michael Franks’ work is a prime example of this, being a writer of finely crafted songs that tell stories, many of which include a variety of arrangement techniques brilliantly suited to a given song.
In his teen years in California he discovered poetry, picked up a guitar, and went on to study English at UCLA while learning independently about and listening to music: Brubeck, Getz, Gilberto, Jobim and Davis, among many others. For a time he wrote songs as a freelancer, and I learned only recently that his works appeared in films including Zandy’s Bride (starring Liv Ullmann and Gene Hackman). Others recorded his earlier songs and in 1973 he released an eponymous work (on Brut Records…my original copy long ago worn out) that was later reissued as “Previously Unavailable”.
I first became familiar with Franks’ work after he had relocated from California to New York when a friend recommended that I purchase “Burchfield Nines” (released in 1978). From there I went back to his first three albums “Michael Franks”, “The Art of Tea” (known best for “Popsicle Toes”) and “Sleeping Gypsy”. In total, Franks has released seventeen separate studio albums and there have been a variety of reissues and compilations including a 1980 live album “Michael Franks with Crossfire Live”. Most of his work has been recorded with Warner/Reprise (1975 through 1995), one release on Windham Hill in 1999 “Barefoot On The Beach”, 2003’s “Watching The Snow” on Rhino (then Koch Records) and “Rendezvous in Rio” on Koch Records in 2006.
Throughout his career, aside from Franks’ songwriting and singing (with his almost whispering mellow vocals), also of interest to me has been the variety of musicians, producers and arrangers he has collaborated with—a group of incredibly talented musicians and vocalists, too many to list here such as, Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, Wilton Felder, Astrud Gilberto, Peggy Lee, the Yellowjackets, the Brecker brothers, and producer/arrangers such as, Russell Ferrante, Jimmy Haslip, Matt Pierson, Jeff Lorber, Tommy LiPuma, John Simon, Rob Mounsey, Walter Becker, Chuck Loeb, Charles Blenzig, Mark Egan, and (my favorites) Gil Goldstein and Ben Sidran.
And mysteriously deposited throughout his albums have been songs from a (perhaps forever…waiting patiently) forthcoming Broadway musical “Noa Noa” based on the life of artist Paul Gauguin who spent time in the 1890s in Tahiti and wrote a journal of the same name. Many contemporary artists of the same period appear in the songs, like Vincent Van Gogh. Franks’ work ranges from acoustic to electric Jazz contemporary vocals, some funk and fusion (like with Jeff Lorber) to work that skims the edges of pop vocals (“Your Secret’s Safe With Me” from the album “Skin Dive”). Much of his most successful work has skillful wordplay, innuendo and humor (like “When Sly Calls” from 1983’s “Passionfruit”), but his most haunting and beautiful are my favorites like his duet with Peggy Lee (one of her last recorded works) “You Were Meant For Me”, exquisitely arranged by Ben Sidran.
With some minor exceptions, the album “Time Together” instantly became a favorite of mine this past summer. “Now That Summer’s Here” and “Summer In New York” setting an upbeat mood for a delightfully mellow summer, as Franks can do so well. Will we ever know if “One Day in St. Tropez” is fact or fiction?—a story of hitchhiking in France in 1963, narrator picked-up by Brigitte Bardot in a Jaguar XKE; the poetry and timing in this is light-hearted, romantic and the fantasy of it all, like a dream. “Mice” is a delightfully humorous statement on how perhaps the “lower” species can teach humanity about better behavior. For the first time (as far as I know), Franks dipped his toe into politics with “Charlie Chan in Egypt” reporting on the tragic state of affairs America found itself in as a result of recent military incursions. The album continues with other memories and romances of summers past as in “Samba Blue” and subtle advice on keeping things positive in “I’d Rather Be Happy Than Right”. Then the melancholy of summer, drawing to a close, as expressed in “If I Could Make September Stay”. My favorite of all 11 songs is the tender and loving tribute to the Franks family’s departed (rescue) dachshund Flora in the title track “Time Together” (Franks being a devoted animal lover and supporter of various animal rescue organizations). In this, Gil Goldstein’s arrangement is just stunning and a perfect complement to the lyrics and sentiments being expressed.
Here it is: Time Together:
Michaels Franks’ voice and music certainly are not for every listener, but I think that this is one of his best albums since 1993’s “Dragonfly Summer” or 1995’s “Abandoned Garden”. An album for any season, and especially for a gloomy and chilly winter morning as it is, as I write this…