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Tag: piano

Nellie McKay – Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day

by on Nov.12, 2009, under Good Music, Video

The evolution of Nellie McKay has been one of the more intriguing stories to follow in the world of music. Her first record, Get Away from Me, is a critically lauded classic, considered the antithesis of Norah Jones’ release at that time, Come Away with Me. Initially, Get Away from Me was to be a single LP but became the first double disc debut ever released by a female after McKay charmingly, but forcefully, schmoozed Columbia record execs into seeing it her way. She tried the same thing with the follow up, Pretty Little Head, but with far less success. This lead to a long delayed self release of what also ended up being a double disc, and then a subsequent reissue of the discs back on Columbia where she started. The on-again/off-again relationship produced a final product that had some definite gems, and more good songs than bad, but also a few tracks that really maybe should have been left on the cutting room floor. She took these lessons well for the release of her third and finest album, Obligatory Villagers. It was concise, raw, and very in touch with her jazz roots. Alongside of Montreal’s Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? and Rufus Wainwright’s Release the Stars, it was easily one of the three best albums of 2007. Musically, she was exactly where she needed to be. So what now?

Well, now is the release of her fourth studio venture, Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day. As the title implies, the disc is comprised primarily of songs once sang by Doris Day (with one original). As to be expected for something like this, McKay’s volcano has cooled since Obligatory Villagers. Everything is nice and minimal, laid back and soft. While this may be off putting for the Nellie fans among us who were hoping she would grow her balls bigger and bigger, rather than chopping them off completely, it’s still an intricately touched, beautiful collection of songs.

Let’s be clear. This is technically a jazz album. From the album art to the actual content of the disc, it smacks of Susannah McCorkle or…well…Doris Day. At its heart, however, McKay makes these songs her own and wears them well. She is, after all, not just a vocalist, but a musician as well. This gives her an additional connectivity to the music that a vocalist alone might not always have at her disposal. The result is a collection of pointed arrangements that accomplish a lot within a small amount of space. Yes, this is technically a jazz album…but it sounds like something just slightly beyond the genre.

The two more upbeat tracks, “Crazy Rhythm” and “Dig It,” are infectiously swingin’. She visits Sioux musical interpretations on “Black Hills of Dakota.” She seems to border on surrealistic dreamscapes of sound on “Meditation” and the quaint “Send Me No Flowers” while tapping into something darker, but more awake on “Close Your Eyes.” The sole original, “If I Ever Had a Dream,” fits seamlessly among these classics. The whole meal is peppered with ukulele, brass, violin, mostly light percussion and some masterfully dizzying guitar by Jay Berliner.

From here, I’m hard pressed to wonder if McKay will continue in this vein, or move back toward more irreverent and monumental musings. While I have always hoped for the latter in the past, I can now delight in the knowledge that, really, either direction would be just fine. It seems that young McKay’s golden touch gets a bit stronger with each passing year, anyway. Of course, it’s doubtful that she would follow an album of covers with another album of covers next time around. (But wasn’t it doubtful that she would follow a double disc with another double disc, too?) So while her take on more classic notions of music is so very welcome and so wonderfully executed, no matter where she ventures next with music, I definitely look forward to hearing her rattle off a few swear words.

Here is some video of her being all cute and talking about the new album…

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Jim O’Rourke – The Visitor

by on Oct.16, 2009, under Good Music

Jim O’Rourke pretty much does whatever the hell he wants and more power to him. His production style always feels warm and eccentric, regardless of what he is touching. And yet his roster of things he has touched is rather eclectic. He has produced the likes of Wilco, Kahimi Karie, Stereolab and Joanna Newsom, to name a few. He has scored film by Werner Herzog. He’s been a full fledged member of Gastr Del Sol, Loose Fur and Sonic Youth. He played for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He’s pumped out almost two dozen solo albums. He’s received grants and a Grammy. Now he lives in Tokyo, Japan and, to reiterate, he does whatever the hell he wants.

And again…more power to him.

His newest solo effort, recorded in his Tokyo apartment but sounding much larger, is called simply, The Visitor. It is one long and ever evolving track, clocking in at about thirty-eight minutes. The standard O’Rourke fare is ever present. There are clean, acoustic guitars, delicately touched piano keys, soft ambiance, 70’s era electric guitar flourishes, darkish downturns, distant pedal steel sounds, and touches of driving beats with an emphasis on snare rolls. Yep. It’s all there and eloquently arranged as always.

The tone of the piece may perhaps go through the perceived emotions felt through the duration of the title visitor’s visit. That’s just the obvious assumption, though, and the true intent is between O’Rourke and his music. Suffice it to say that the work changes its colors several times through its duration. As best I can figure, there is an undercurrent of longing that seems to hold the whole thing together. It’s dotted along the way with moments mostly comprised of whimsy or mystery, and a sense of intense satisfaction just before the longing and sentiment return for the very end.

It’s a powerful arrangement of sounds. It would serve well as background music, though to fully appreciate it takes a few close and purposeful listens. There are no vocal parts, but it feels as though dialogue is being traded somewhere in the mix. I suggest a dark and quiet room when you are ready to tune in. You’ll have to make a trip to the record store first, though. There are no digital sales of this one.

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