- A Kitty in the Henhouse
- Chicken Scratches and Other Writing Tips
- Eye Candy
- Happenings at the Henhouse
- Music of the Coop
- Pop Culture
- Squawk Authors: Latest and Greatest Books
- Squawk Friends
- Squawk Interactive: Captions, polls, etc
- Squawk's Favorite Books
- Stranger Than Fiction (Real Life)
- Teresa Reveals the CONFESSIONS OF A TRUE ROMANTIC
- CHRISTINA DODD HAS A TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY
- Christina Dodd Exposes the Glamour of Booktour
- Christina Dodd Treats You to an Extra Excerpt of IN BED WITH THE DUKE!
- GIRLFRIENDS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN Contest!
- Connie Brockway Posts Incriminating New Video
- SPOIL ME! BY CELEBRATING THE GOLDEN SEASON’S PUB DATE, TODAY!
- Teresa Says It Loud and Says It Proud: I WRITE ROMANCE NOVELS!!!
- CHRISTINA DODD SAYS “IT’S CHRISTMAS! DUCK!”
- Teresa Needs Your Help to Choose the SEXIEST MAN DEAD!
I discovered Spoon via “Stranger than Fiction,” a much underrated and overlooked little movie, in my opinion, with an excellent soundtrack. (There ya go, J Perry. Another soundtrack I can recommend.) What was great was that, when I went to check them out further, I found this very aptly titled CD, “Gimme Fiction,” and thought, “Finally. A musical group for people who also love the written word.”
I had no idea. Their lyrics are wonderful, and the music accompanying them is outstanding. Which is only fitting for an indie band out of Austin, Texas, a city that’s spawned A LOT of good bands. Their sound is probably best classified as rock, but it’s not the hard-driving kind of rock that makes you dance and drive fast. It’s the kind that’s enjoyable to listen to, the kind you walk away from feeling better for having heard it. There’s some acoustic guitar, some electric guitar, some piano. And lead singer Britt Daniel has a voice that is at times dreamy, weary, breezy, and angry. If I have to compare them to someone, I’d probably choose…
Hmm. That’s interesting. I can’t really think of anyone to compare them to. I hear a lot of different stuff when I listen to “Gimme Fiction.” I hear a little of the Beatles during their “Yellow Submarine” phase. I hear a little Randy Newman. I hear a little Prince. Mostly I hear something that is distinctly theirs. The sound is just very, very, VERY cool.
Let me put it this way. The other day, we had rain, and by evening, the temperature had dropped just below 70. It was cloudy and damp and misty and cool when I decided to take my evening walk. Since my son didn’t want to come this time, I took my iPod and dialed to a playlist I call “Cool,” which is full of music I find really moody and atmospheric, perfect for this sort of weather. About the time I topped a hill in one neighborhood full of lush trees and a hilly green golf course, the Spoon segment kicked in with “My Mathematical Mind,” which is on this CD. The setting was almost surreally quiet and the sky was thick and gray, but the music was forceful and pneumatic, and the singer adamant. And I swear, I suddenly felt like I had been dropped into a movie right at the part where the protagonist is having his/her epiphany and deciding things are going to change. Then I heard these lyrics:
“My mathematical mind can see the breaks
so I’m gonna stop riding the brakes
no more riding the brakes.”
And it made me smile, because I’m at a real turning point in my career at the moment where a lot is changing, and there’s a lot of potential, and I think that’s been scaring me and making me hesitate in some ways. But at that point, something kind of clicked inside, and I thought, “Yeah. This is going to work out well. It’s a Good Thing. No more riding the brakes.”
So there you have it. The Spoon experience. Gray skies and a solitary walk made glowing and extraordinary just by the injection of the right music. I mentioned the other day that I have a playlist on my iPod, too, called “The Movie of My Life.” You can bet there’s a lot of Spoon on that soundtrack.
Most of us, when we think of Jackie Gleason, immediately recall him as Ralph Kramden of “The Honeymooners,” a working class stiff who was about as musically inclined as the lunchbox his wife Alice packed for him everyday. But long before Gleason donned Ralph’s bus driver uniform, he hosted not one, but two variety shows, for two different networks, complete with flashy dancing girls and lush orchestra music.
Eventually, he’d go on to release albums featuring what he called “mood music,” orchestral numbers heavy on the strings that had overtly romantic titles like “Lonesome Echo,” “Night Winds,” and “Music, Martinis and Memories.” (Though on doing research for this blog, I discovered another called “Music to Change Her Mind.” In a word, Eep.) These albums are precisely what you think of when you think of cheesy strings and Golden Age of Hollywood background music. Strangely, though, Gleason makes it work beautifully.
When I was growing up, my parents had several Jackie Gleason albums, most notably “Music for Lovers Only” and “Music to Make You Misty,” which were recently reissued in this two-in-one called “The Romantic Moods of Jackie Gleason.” Although he didn’t have any training in writing music, he reportedly heard tunes in his head and then had someone else write them down. He also rearranged numbers recorded by other orchestras to suit his preferences. He wanted music that was unobtrusive, something pretty that could be played in the background while people focused on something other than the music. And that’s pretty much what he achieved.
But I like to focus on it when I listen to it. True, it’s great for when you’re cooking with someone else and want to talk while preparing the food. Or it’s nice when you’re out on the deck in the evening with visitors. Or when you’re in a, ah, romantic mood. But it IS very pretty, even if it lacks a certain soul (for lack of a better word). Anyone who has the “Sleepless in Seattle” soundtrack always switches gears at track ten, the theme from “An Affair to Remember.” After all the jazzy, catchy tunes, and immediately following Tammy Wynette singing “Stand by Your Man,” the CD suddenly launches into this slow, delicious, enormous-sounding string arrangement. It’s wonderful. And that’s what Jackie Gleason’s albums are like.
Some of my favorite old standards are on this CD: “Melancholy Serenade,” “The Best Is Yet to Come,” “You and the Night and the Music,” “A Taste of Honey,” “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Moon River.” There’s music from movies like “From Russia with Love” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” Anyone my age or older will immediately recognize the sound and be transported to a time when the music in movies was incidental, and credit to the musicians an afterthought. But even you young whippersnappers might find something here to love. It’s a fun retro sound that can bring out the romance in just about anybody. Martinis have made a huge comeback in recent years. Why not give them a suitable soundtrack, like Jackie Gleason, too?
For today’s music blog, we’re doing something a little different. In celebration of Squawk Radio’s second anniversary, today, someone is actually going to WIN the CD I’ve blogged about. I’ll be choosing a winner later today from our member list, so check back this evening to see if that winner is YOU.
After the week we’ve had here in Kentucky, I was tempted to blog on Glenn Frey’s “Strange Weather.” But every time someone mentions the Eagles around here, Christina makes a sound that’s been known to kill off an endangered species, so I decided to do something else instead. This CD ought to meet much more with her approval.
I really wanted to blog on Diane Schuur’s CD “Talkin’ ‘Bout You,” because that was the first one I ever bought by her, and it’s often the first CD I buy by someone that becomes my fave (as in her case). Unfortunately, it’s out of print. Which is too bad, because it has the best version of “Cry Me a River” I’ve ever heard. Two words: Oh. Baby. But this collection, recorded live with the Count Basie Orchestra, was released the year before and is every bit as good.
You know, I could probably just end the blog here, mentioning both Schuur and Count Basie in one breath, which should be enough to make anyone sample the CD. But there are probably people out there who haven’t heard Schuur sing, so I’ll add that she has one of the most powerful voices in the world of jazz, with a range and delivery that awe me. And she always chooses songs to record that showcase that beautifully. Better still, she puts a personal stamp on them that pull them away from the crowded world of oft-covered standards.
Here, however, she’s recording some less-covered tunes, many of which made their mark with Basie’s orchestra performed by other artists. And many of which she hasn’t recorded elsewhere herself (or, at least, hadn’t at this point in her career). And all of which she embraces and makes her own. Some even give her an opportunity to show off additional talents. In “You Can Have It,” for example, Shuur scats with a smoothness that rivals Ella herself. “Climbing Mountains” is kissed by gospel, another big-sounding form of music that requires massive power and range from the singer if it’s going to work. With Schuur, it works beautifully.
It’s that power and range that make the Count Basie Orchestra such a perfect complement for her. Big voice plus big band equals big entertainment. Whether she’s singing ballads or the blues, Diane Schuur delivers bigtime. Not a lot of singers would be standouts with a legendary backdrop like Basie’s orchestra. But Schuur’s confidence and gift absolutely shine.
No, this isn’t some bizarre early April Fool’s joke we’re playing here at Squawk Radio. The Sunday music blog is just moving to Saturday, that’s all. We’ve decided to do some spring cleaning, and that means shaking up the weekends a little bit. The Saturday book blog is now the Saturday music blog, and the Sunday music blog is now going to be our weekly announcement blog. We’ll still be doing book blogs occasionally, but we’ll be dropping them in during our regular week.
Change is good. Trust me.
Also good is Eliot Fisk. (I know--I have a real gift for segue.) In fact, Eliot Fisk is so good, he was recently awarded the Cruz of Isabel la Catolica by King Juan Carlos of Spain in honor of his service to the cause of Spanish music. Specifically, Spanish guitar. A prodigy of Adres Segovia, he also founded the guitar department of the Yale School of Music in the ‘70s (and that was before he even MET Segovia).
So did I mention Eliot Fisk is a guitarist?
I honestly haven’t listened to any of his Spanish guitar CDs, but after reading his web site for this blog, I intend to go right out and find one. I’ve only heard his classical guitar, and it’s EXcellent. The CD we have by him is actually out of print at the moment, so I poked around until I found one that’s closest to ours and discovered this, “Baroque Guitar.” It is exactly what it says, some lovely Baroque pieces originally arranged mostly for piano and harpsichord, rearranged by Fisk for guitar. And wow, is it beautiful. This collection features mostly works by Scarlatti where the one we have is a little more varied, but the effect is still the same--tranquil, exquisite music that makes you want to book the next flight to Italy.
Did anyone see the movie “A Little Romance” (which happens to be a fave of mine)? Remember all those scenes when Lauren and Daniel and Julius are running away from the police in Verona and Venice? The frolicsome music playing during the bike race and the heartbreaking strings playing behind the canals at sunset? It was the music that really set the mood for those scenes. And every time I listen to Eliot Fisk, I’m transported back to that movie, those scenes, and the feelings I experienced when I first saw them. (And if you haven’t seen it, hie thee to Blockbuster or Netflix forthwith.) It’s gorgeous stuff.
Anyway, Eliot has gotten some mixed reviews at Amazon, but I love him. I love playing my Fisk CD during a candlelit dinner, or when I’m driving through the country (especially during the fall), or when I just want to relax with a glass of wine (preferably Italian) and a good book (preferably one that takes place in Italy). Hey, until I can book that flight to Tuscany, this is the next best thing.
I was going to blog on The Jayhawks last Sunday, but I was still recovering from a writing workshop I did the week before and was just too beat (read: I’d talked so much, I was temporarily out of words). It was just as well, however. That was the same day the Kansas Jayhawks knocked the Kentucky Wildcats out of the NCAA tournament, and had I said anything positive about any Jayhawks that day, Terri would have likely driven all the way to Louisville to hit me with a brick.
But I did want to blog about the Jayhawks. As I said, I recently did a week-long writing workshop at a local university, which meant making the drive downtown and back seven times along one of my favorite driving routes--River Road. It is just what it suggests, a winding two-lane canopied by trees that follows the Ohio River on one side, and lovely, grand old neighborhoods like Glenview and the Lime Kiln Lane area on the other. It’s the kind of drive you want to make with mellow, melodic, beautiful music, especially when you’re making it in the dark.
Enter the Jayhawks with “Rainy Day Music” (which could have just as easily been titled “Night Driving Music”). It’s one of my husband’s CDs that I picked up especially because I wanted something new to listen to for the thirty-minute one-way trip. I actually picked up about six CDs for that week, but I ended up listening to this one almost exclusively. It’s just that wonderful.
There are elements of folk here, more of country, maybe a little rock. Roots music, perhaps, would be a good description. Though there were places where I coulda sworn I was listening to something slow by John Lennon. There were more places, however, where I could hear shades of Crosby, Stills and Nash. (Strange, since I was never a big CSN fan. Or Y, for that matter, back when that letter/guy was part of the band.) There are melodies and harmonies that are just gorgeous, and lead singer/songwriter Gary Louris has a voice that’s heartbreakingly melancholy.
Which I suppose is appropriate for a collection that includes titles like “Stumbling through the Dark,” “Tailspin,” “Save It for a Rainy Day,” “One Man’s Problem,” and “Will I See You in Heaven.” Even the more upbeat music of “Come to the River” includes lyrics like, “My harp is tuned to the mourning wind/My flute to the voice that weeps within.” It’s not exactly a happy album. But it’s one of the most beautiful I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to.
The Jayhawks have been around since the mid-eighties, but this CD, released in 2003 was only their seventh--and looks to be the last, since they’ve reportedly split up. The band seems to have seen a steady stream of musicians coming and going over the years (though Louris and bass player Marc Perlman were founding members). It’s a shame, if this CD is an indication of their gift and talent. I was hoping to find a long backlist for them, and anticipating another rich collection in the future.
All the more reason, then, to cherish “Rainy Day Music.” It truly is a musical gem.
I’ve been having a love affair with all things Indian for a while now. Whenever my husband and I are home alone for the evening, we get carry out from India Palace, a local Indian restaurant that has the best masala sauce in town. I’ve been loving Indian movies and sampling Indian literature. I’ve been shopping on eBay UK for just the right sari. But more than anything else Indian I’ve enjoyed, I absolutely adore bhangra music.
The thing is, I haven’t been collecting bhangra CDs, since they’re kinda hard to find in Kentucky. Instead, I’ve been downloading songs from iTunes. Thanks to the nifty “Just for You” feature on the iTunes web site, every time I download bhangra, I get more bhangra recommendations. So I’ve got a playlist that boasts a couple dozen different artists. For this reason, today’s music blog is going to be about a genre instead of a specific artist.
There’s no way I can describe the sound better than this passage from Wikipedia, so I defer to that site:
“Bhangra is a fusion of music, singing and the beat of the dhol drum, a single stringed instrument called the iktar (ektara), the tumbi and an instrument reminiscent of an enlarged pair of tongs called chimta. The accompanying songs are small couplets written in the Punjabi language called bolis. They relate to harvest celebration, love, patriotism or current social issues. Today the word bhangra is more associated with the style of dance pop music derived from the above mentioned musical accompaniment. The dhol’s smaller cousin, the dholaki, is sometimes used instead of or in addition to the dhol. Additional percussion, including tabla, is frequently used in bhangra.”
Got that? Good. I’ll just add that the music is exotic, powerful, pulsing and hypnotic. Once I start listening to it, I really don’t want to stop.
If I WAS going to do a specific bhangra artist, it would be the band B21, which I’m reasonably certain appeared as the wedding band in “Bend It Like Beckham.” I DID go to great lengths to find their CD “Long Overdue” after seeing that film, finally locating it from a nice Indian student on eBay.UK (who was frankly surprised to find someone from Kentucky buying bhangra *G*). Their name comes from the postal code for Birmingham, which is evidently regarded as the home for UK bhangra. The second most frequently downloaded artist on my playlist is Sapna Awasthi, a folk artist who, I was delighted to discover upon googling her, is known for her “raunchy songs.” Who knew? Other artists I’d recommend checking out are Bally Sagoo, Bina Mistry,Hansraj Hans, Panjabi MC, Sukwinder Singh and Udit Narayan. I have them all on my playlist, and they’re all wonderful.
I know Bhangra isn’t for everyone--my son and niece laugh hysterically at me whenever I play it while they’re around. Although my husband indulges me when I put the music on, I get the feeling he’s not all that keen on it. But I love it. It transports me to a part of the world I’ve never even visited, and makes me feel right at home. So c’mon, everybody! The lamb curry and naan--and the bhangra--is on me!
The music of Brazilian singer/songwriter/pianist Eliane Elias makes me feel like a little girl again. Not because her songs are fun and frivolous and playful, though. On the contrary, her music is ultra cool and sleekly sophisticated. But there is more than a hint of 60s lounge jazz in her style--and I mean that as a very high compliment. Put her CD “Kissed by Nature” in the player, and you’re immediately transported to a time when jazz had a lot of Latin influence, and female vocalists just oozed sultry, sensuous sounds. I listen to this collection, and I want to slip into some petal-pushers and an off-the-shoulder blouse, pour myself a martini, don some cat’s-eye sunglasses and stretch out on a chaise lounge on the patio.
At fifteen, Elias was already teaching piano at one of Brazil’s top music schools. By seventeen, she was performing and collaborating with songwriters and poets. In the early eighties, she moved to New York and began her recording career on the elite Blue Note Records label (though “Kissed by Nature” is an RCA release). These days, she has developed a style all her own, infused with her native Brazilian bossa nova, borrowing from other Latin rhythms, but always cool and jazzy at heart. All but one of the songs on this CD are original, and she sings in both English and Portuguese, which adds an even more exotic flavor to the numbers. Her voice is fluid, smooth and oh, so lovely. (Ignore the iTunes evaluation of her voice being “thin.” That’s just crazy talk.)
As I said, the CD has a wonderful retro feel to it, but it’s still very contemporary and in no way cheesy. It’s fabulous for preparing dinner, eating dinner, relaxing after dinner, and long, leisurely drives through town or country. And if you’re one for throwing cocktail parties, Eliane on the CD player is the only music you need.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some petal-pushers to don and a chaise lounge to unfold on the deck. (I’ll just ignore the pesky rain that’s predicted today.) Martinis are on me, everybody! Cheers!