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January 24, 2009

Yes We Did! - The Best of 2008

Avast, maties! I spy land on the horizon. Could this be what we've been waiting for? The dawning of a new era? The unfolding of a new whirled hors d'oeuvre? I'll leave you to decipher that one.

Though one must remember, it was a battle hard-won. We were assailed by charlatanical homophobics, intemperate capitalists, and pugnaciously impetuous militants. You know the ones I mean.

But we shook off their cannonfire, wiped off our poop deck, and kept our sights straight: our course never veering from numero uno, that great glory of glories, treasure among treasure-- I am speaking of course about the quest for the crown of captaincy, the staff of superintendence, the throne of directorship. Directorship for what? To direct a sinking ship! To navigate out from these tempestuous waves to a bed of more peaceful, prosperous brine.

Mission 1 accomplished:
After a savage duel the fell antagonist revealed his true nature: a bloodthirsty creature from beyond the deep, solely focussed on world domination. This sanguinary hellion reared its ugly head and spat acid bile at our noble hero. But Captain Brackbeard, our saintly skipper, would not be thwarted, instead turning his shield of truth to deflect the monster's attack. Then, with his sword of justice, Brackbeard pierced the swine's veil of lies and scored the creature in its gaping lack-of-heart cavity. Thus punctured, the demon gave up its ghost and promptly discontinued its earthly dominion.

And there was much rejoicing.

Our righteous vanquisher then withstood several attempted mutinies (seemingly based on the hue of his epidermis) and set about the task of evicting the suit-clad aliens from our great vessel's treasury. Finally, upon ascendance to the helm, Captain Brackbeard proclaimed a new era of armistice and affluence, gathered unto himself a noble cr
ew and prepared to launch this resplendent corsair fleet into the great foggy unknown.

O fortuna!

To celebrate this remarkable year, I've gathered some of its musical highlights together. I tried to make a mix-cd at the new year, but it swelled to 2 discs and the stormy weather diverted my course (blowing a tree onto my phone-line in the process). The tracks contained within are my favorite tracks from my favorite albums released in 2
008, presented in no particular order. I didn't count any re-issues, compilations or archive-issues (such as the great Capt. Beefheart album). Though much of the work draws upon tradition, it is all contemporary in spirit and execution; I left out any music that was strictly traditional (such as the great young sitarist Tejendra Majumdar). Actually, since I haven't been anywhere near a record store most of the year (and wouldn't have found this stuff in most of 'em anyways), most of this music was found on blogs, forums, and other domains of musical mischeif. Many of them are new to me, and I indend to do some pocket-digging and support some of them in times to come.

The compilation is a healthy mix of guitar soli, progressive bluegrass, world fusion, and skewed visions of americana, representative of much of this blog's content. In other words, if you're reading this, chances are you'll like listening to it.

My favorite track? I'd have to go with Louisiana Red & Stelios Vamkaris - I Fantasia Stin Eksousia, from their album "Blues meets Rembetika" -- a first of its kind as far as I'm aware.

At the moment, the wind is knocking out my connection again, so my itunes-snapshot-tracklist will have to come later. Guess you get to DL it mystery-style! Tracklist is below.

Yes We Did! - The Best of 2008
3 parts; various bit rates

Yes | We | Did!

January 12, 2009

Vassar Clements - The Bluegrass Session

Another of IncaRoad's great Flying Fish upz...

I'd place Vassar as #3 innovative American fiddler after Richard Greene and Scotty Stoneman. And yeah, I'd say he's up there with Joe Venuti and Stephanne Grappelli in the jazz world too. Out of all of them, he's the most versatile, able to adapt his playing to whatever musicians he's with, in any style.

Since beginning his career as a session musician in Nashville, Tennessee during the 1960s, Vassar Clements has gone on to become perhaps the best-known fiddler in the United States, or perhaps the world. Renowned for his willingness to play music reflecting a wide range of genres--from traditional bluegrass and country, to pop, rock, swing, and even jazz--Clements has won numerous awards over the years since he first transcended his original status as a sideman and moved to center stage. With five Grammy nominations and more than 3,000 recorded performances to his credit, critics have-- in reference to another world-class violinist--dubbed him the "Isaac Stern" of the fiddle. With a multi-dimensional, riveting, jazzy style that is characterized by a spontaneous, moody feel and a lighting-fast delivery, Clements does more than just perform a piece of music when he draws a bow across the strings of his eighteenth-century fiddle; he recreates it, reshapes it, gives it new life. In addition to his mastery of several musical instruments--including violin and viola, cello, string bass, guitar, mandolin, and banjo--he is also a prolific composer of instrumental music. Clements has accomplished all this despite the fact that he does not read a lick of music.
-from this bio

Vassar says, "actually I heard more swing than country or bluegrass while I was growing up in Florida. I've always loved that kind of rhythm." Back then he was just a young fiddler, naively interpreting on his instrument the sounds he was hearing his Big Band idols play.

"I used to sit in with combos in Florida, and I even won dance contests during the Big Band era. I was playing jazz along with them, but at this time, I had never heard of Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venutti or any of those great guys. Neither had I ever heard much western swing by Bob Wills. Somehow, I think the swing style, subconsciously has always come through in almost everything I've played."

Instrumentally, Vassar boldly blazes a trail for his band. His fiddle solos soar and glide gently over the rhythm in a manner reminiscent of saxophonist Lester Young's work with the Count Basie Band decades ago. But what perhaps surprises even Vassar's most ardent admirers is his vocals, another definite statement of his affection for cultural roots and family ties.

AMG Review by Eugene Chadbourne:
There are other recordings by this artist that might be better known, yet this is the title that fans of bluegrass fiddle most often seem to choose as the best by Vassar Clements. Other devotees of the 1977 Flying Fish release, actually recorded the previous year on the day that Jimmy Carter was elected, go further and proclaim that the album's title signifies more than it was intended to. The Bluegrass Sessions is the essential album in that genre, in other words, the one to take to a desert island or wherever else people flock to with extremely truncated record collections. Arguing against that point of view would be those that consider a drum set on a bluegrass recording an abomination, enough to make Jesus Christ come down off the cross. The presence of brothers Bobby Osborne and Wynn Osborne on the session could then turn the discussion into a personal vendetta since it was their band that was early on in introducing just such instrumentation into the bluegrass scene, bringing up the volume of PA mixes at festivals in the process. Like most dogma associated with critical opinion, however, something of an impasse has to be reached attempting to reconcile this notion of the Osborne clan as traitors to the cause when every time the brothers open their mouths to sing such sweet sounds come out. The version of Bill Monroe's "It's Mighty Dark" is mighty magnificent, bluegrass as pure as its ever been planted and grown. Vocals as great as this on a Clements record from the '70s are also something of a relief, to be sure, since low points on other albums such as The Vassar Clements Band inevitably involve sidemen stepping forward to both sing and establish eclecticism: awful funk, mediocre Southern rock, wimpy whatever. Stylistic versatility would really be the only aspect of the Clements package that is missing here and some listeners might be whispering thanks for that. Sticking close to bluegrass aesthetics removes notions of rock jamming and jazz fusion that purists find irritating; the positive side is that it doesn't hinder Clements' playing at all. Bluegrass improvisation, which in this case has been opened up enough to include instruments such as the vibraphone as well the previously mentioned drums, is open enough to accommodate all of Clements' nuances of phrasing and attack. There's also great picking from guitarist Harry Orlove, pedal steel and dobro man Doug Jernigan, mandolinists Andy Statman and Bobby Osborne, and banjoist Jack Hicks.

Vassar Clements - The Bluegrass Session
Year: 1977 (cd 1993, out of print)
Label: Flying Fish Records

1. Reno Shuffle
2. Vasillee II
3. It's Mighty Dark
4. Stompin Grazz
5. Nine Pound Hammer
6. Six More Miles
7. Scuffin
8. White House Blues
9. Swingin Low
10. Rocky Top
11. Silly Millie

with unnecessary drums
mp3 320kbps | no cover | 69mb

thanks IncaRoads!

January 9, 2009

The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music

China's becoming a heavy player on the world stage again. Hyper-productivity, pollution, big brother, olympics, even their contemporary artists are attracting world-wide attention. It's not the first time China's been big: when Europeans were all living in huts and clubbing each other, China had a vast empire with thousands of years of written history, musical tradition, and scientific/philosophical development.

Though some of this music is thousands of years old, it sounds like it could have been written tomorrow. I'd say the Chinese discovered evocative dissonance about 2000 years before western composers did. You can bet John Fahey or Robbie Basho or any other western orientophile guitarist would have wet themselves to hear this stuff. It's esoteric blues and tone poems and narrative dramatic music, all wrapped in one. The evocative titles are brought to life through the dynamic interplay of tone, texture, melody, and movement instilled in the music.

This is traditional music played by the old masters of it (who were alive before the revolution), recorded at the end of their lives. Though there are some contemporary players with just as much (or more) virtuosity, the real tradition pretty much ended with these guys (I assume).

from Celestial Harmonies:

the project
Chinese classical music is a much larger field than Western classical music. It covers a huge geographical area as well as a time frame of thousands of years. Although some of China's musical instruments have changed very little in hundreds or thousands of years, others were adapted to Western standards under the influence of Russian musicians during the middle of this century. In some cases, frets were added to non–chromatic instruments and tonalities standardized. The liner notes of The Hugo Masters: An Antholgy of Chinese Classical Music (19901) contain extensive documentation of the various instruments used in Chinese solo and orchestral music, with descriptions of their history and modifications, as well as an essay to help Western listeners understand the background of Chinese classical music.

The instruments fall into four categories, each constituting a separate compact disk: bowed strings, plucked strings, woodwinds, and percussion. These disks are available individually or as a collector's series in a beautifully designed silk boxed set.

The music itself is highly varied and richly emotional. The music paints pictures of China's people, their culture and homeland, and their dreams and their despair. The Hugo Masters is a joint effort of the Hugo and Celestial Harmonies labels to bring this definitive anthology to listeners worldwide. This is the first time these recordings have become available to audiences outside of Hong Kong. For listeners unfamiliar with Chinese classical music, these works are a powerful and emotional awakening.

the artists
The Hugo Masters is an impressive collection which contains the treasures of China's vast musical tradition recorded and documented to the highest standards. It appeals as much to the casual fan of world music as to the serious student of Chinese music.

The name refers to the Hugo label of Chinese musician, producer and engineer Aik Yew-goh. This extremely talented young man spent years recording China's old master musicians, capturing their virtuoso talent with his scrupulously high quality recording techniques. In some cases, it was a last chance to gather such recordings.

China's classical music comes from an oral tradition, a tradition discouraged and very nearly wiped out following the 1911 Chinese Revolution. Mr. Aik searched the continent for musicians who were alive before the revolution and were still able to pass on their formidable knowledge.

The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music
Year: 1995
Label: Celestial Harmonies
4-CD Box Set

Disc 1: Bowed Strings

1 Night Thoughts 6'27"
2 Spring Morning in Suzhou 6'29"
3 Stroll of New Town 2'21"
4 Little Piece of Henan 4'44"
5 Listening to the Pines 3'28"
6 Crescent Moon at Dawn 4'57"
7 Zhong Hua Liu Ban 4'53"
8 Flickering of Candles 5'26"
9 Market Gathering 4'37"
10 Rains Patterning at Plantain Leaves 4'26"
11 Lament of Zhaojun 5'33"
12 Beautiful Scene of Spring 3'15"
13 Xiaoyao Ferry 9'44"

dance with the inhabitants.
mp3 192kbps | w/o cover | 98mb

Volume 2: Plucked Strings

1 Ambush 7'09"
2 Like Waves Against Sand 4'12"
3 Sword Dance 6'47"
4 Moonlit Night of Stone Forest 5'09"
5 Petrel 6'13"
6 Beyond the Great Wall 10'36"
7 The Deafening Song of Chu 6'15"
8 High Mountains and Flowing Water 5'12"
9 Homeward Prose 4'01"
10 Parting at Yangguan 5'00"
11 The Broken String Effect of Zheng 0'55"

the real vol.2.
mp3 192kbps | w/o cover | 96mb

This is Volume 2 of a 4-volume set. It's available from Celestial Harmonies, which is a great label for all sorts of eastern music. I highly recommend the other volumes if you like this one. [edit: having mistakenly uploaded the wrong album (vol.1), I uploaded the real vol.2. But I left vol.1, 'cause it's too good to take down. so lucky you. i've got the other two volumes... perhaps if Celestial Harmonies writes me to let me know how many people this blog has turned on to their music, I'd feel ethically ok about posting them...]

And yes, if you listen closely and do some homework you might get the information needed to figure out who plays on the Mystery CD.

January 7, 2009

New Grass Revival - When The Storm Is Over

New Grass Revival

this is the third installment of IncaRoads' gifts:

While David Grisman & others were pioneering a sophisticated bluegrass/jazz fusion called "Dawg", the New Grass Revival were crossbreeding bluegrass with contemporary trends in rock and other strains of Americana. Banjos and mandolins are here in plenty (and expertly played at that), but electric guitars, basses, drums, and pianos creep in the mix from time to time as well.

As you can guess, I favor the driving acoustic tracks over the slow ballads and electric stomps. But I do have a special place in my ear for White Freightliner Blues, having grown up with my father singing it in his bluegrass band. Vamp in the Middle (by the late Townes Van Zandt) is quite compelling too, especially the superb and unusual fiddling. Some really stunning instrumental work towards the end too, on Tennessee Wagoner, Colly Davis, and especially Crooked Smile. In fact, it's worth it to get the album for Crooked Smile, in my opinion. The vocals aren't bad, but are rather unremarkable compared to the high lonesome style of traditional bluegrassers.

Biography by Stephen Thomas Erlewine & David Vinopal:
New Grass Revival, formed in 1972 by four former members of the Bluegrass Alliance, flourished in a decade when numerous groups took traditional bluegrass and changed it to varying degrees. The group was successful enough to have the group's name become a generic label: "newgrass." The band's image, with long hair and occasionally electrified instruments, as well as its musical material contrasted greatly with standard (traditional) bluegrass like that played by Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley, the Lilly Brothers, and Lester Flatt's band. In terms of longevity, popularity, and exposure, the Revival, with its hip reputation, was perhaps the most successful in competition against II Generation, Seldom Scene, the Country Gentlemen, and others.

The origins of New Grass Revival lay in the Bluegrass Alliance, which Sam Bush (vocals, fiddle, guitar, mandolin) and Courtney Johnson (banjo, vocals) joined in 1970. At the time, the Alliance also featured bassist Ebo Walker and fiddler Lonnie Peerce. Within a year after Bush's and Johnson's arrival, Curtis Burch (dobro, guitar, vocals) joined the band. In 1972, Peerce left the band, and the remaining members decided to continue under a new name -- New Grass Revival. The band released their eponymous debut, Arrival of the New Grass Revival, later that year on Starday Records.

Circa '79

After the release of their debut, Walker parted ways with the band, and the group replaced him with Butch Robbins, who was only with the band for a short time. He was replaced by John Cowan, an Evansville, IN, native. This lineup was stable throughout the '70s, recording a number of albums for Flying Fish Records. As their name suggested, New Grass Revival never played traditional bluegrass -- all of the members brought elements of rock & roll, jazz, and blues to the group's sound. Consequently, certain portions of the bluegrass community scorned them, but they also gained a devoted following of listeners who believed they were moving the genre in a new, fresh direction. (AMG)

"When The Storm Is Over" continues to solidify the New Grass Revival as America's premier progressive bluegrass band. All of the elements that would become the band's trademarks throughout their existence are already evident; innovation, distinctive interpretation, superb presentation, excellent writing and song selection, not to mention their unsurpassed musical abilities.

When the Storm is Over

New Grass Revival - When The Storm Is Over
Year: 1977 (lp), reissue 1992
Label: Flying Fish, reissued by Rounder

This is the complete 1977 album, which was reissued as half of a two-fer. So the tracks are:

11 Four Days Of Rain 03:39
12 White Freightliner Blues 02:38
13 Sail To Australia 03:48
14 When The Storm Is Over 02:40
15 And He Says "I Love You" 03:42
16 Vamp In The Middle 03:44
17 Like A Child In The Rain 03:48
18 Tennessee Wagoner 01:32
19 Colly Davis 02:42
20 Crooked Smile 07:42

revive yourself.
mp3 320kbps | 84mb
and if you like these, you can buy the companion album from Rounder.

thanks IncaRoads!

New Riders of the Purple Sage - Before Time Began

Jerry on Steel

Here's the second contribution by loyal blog-reader IncaRoads. More to follow soon.

Biography by Bruce Eder

For most of the early '70s, the New Riders of the Purple Sage™ (yes, the name is trademark-protected) were the successful offshoots of the Grateful Dead. Although they never remotely approached the success or longevity of the Dead, they attracted a considerable audience through their association with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart, whose fans couldn't be satisfied with only the Dead's releases -- the New Riders never reached much beyond that audience, but the Deadheads loved them as substitutes (along with Garcia's periodic solo projects) for the real article. Their initial sound was a kind of country-acid rock, somewhat twangier than the Dead's usual work and without the Dead's successful forays into experimental jams, but they later acquitted themselves as straight country-rockers.

Essentially, the New Riders of the Purple Sage (their name derives from an old country outfit, Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, who in turn took the name from an old Western novel) were initially formed as a vehicle for Garcia, Lesh, and Hart to indulge their tastes for country music beyond the albums Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Their original lineup at early performances consisted of Garcia on pedal steel, Lesh on bass, John Dawson (born 1945) on rhythm guitars and vocals, sometime Dead contributor-member David Nelson on lead guitars, mandolin, and vocals, and Mickey Hart on drums. The New Riders quickly evolved into more of a free-standing unit, with Dave Torbert succeeding Lesh, and ex-Jefferson Airplane member Spencer Dryden on the drums, succeeding Hart. They also developed an identity of their own through Dawson's songwriting, which had an appealing command of melody and beat.

Review by William Ruhlmann
Before Time Began is an album of archival material assembled for Relix Records by New Rider Dave Nelson. It contains: two songs recorded by New Rider John Dawson on July 31, 1968; The New Riders' (Nelson, Dawson, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, and Mickey Hart) four-song demo tape of November 1969; and an entire LP side of experimental tapes made by Nelson, recording tracks backwards.(amg)

While there's some passing interest (nostalgia?) in the humorous dated backwards tracks, the real reason to get this album is Garcia's pedal-steel playing. It's simply outstanding (considering it wasn't his primary or even secondary instrument). As an amazon reviewer noted, "Like his guitar playing with the Grateful Dead and his banjo picking with Old and In the Way, Jerry shows that he had music in his head that nobody had ever heard before. Buddy Cage and Barry Sless carry on his style with the pedal steel, but here it is, fresh from the source."


New Riders of the Purple Sage - Before Time Began
Year: 1976
Label: Relix
a handful of brains
mp3 320 kbps | 2 parts | 87mb total

thanks IncaRoads!