When a song is good enough, it doesn’t need a great deal of ornamentation. Lacrymosa (Caitlin Pasko) demonstrates this beautifully, writing great songs, singing them and accompanying herself on piano, occasionally being joined by strings. It doesn’t hurt that she also has a gorgeous voice. I got her album I Was Once (Oh) in the mail a few days ago and have really been enjoying it. She’s one of my earliest and best discoveries on T61, where she was in the classical category. Does she fit? Not exactly sure. Her songs are somewhere between classical and pop. They do remind me a bit of Schubert’s songs for soprano voice and piano (I have an album of those, featuring soprano Kathleen Battle that I highly recommend – had to dig it out and play it again now that I remembered it again). On her MySpace page, Caitlin describes her music as “whimsical forest music,” which is as good a classification as any.
Lacrymosa’s album contains my favorites, “Weltschmertz (The Smitten Song),” “Wolf Snare” and “Soldier On (Blue Flowers)” and five other lovely songs. It can be purchased from Family Records in either mp3 downloads or on a CD-R. (Only one issue: I got the disk and when I went to rip it, found that the song order on the list was incorrect. I was able to sort it out with the help of her MySpace page. If you just want to pop it in the stereo that probably won’t be a big deal, but I might get the mp3s if I had it to do over.)
If you’re a former or current T61 user, you probably already know about this promising artist. Even so, I encourage you to take that next step and buy her album. If you never heard of her before this, check out her songs on MySpace and see if you don’t agree that she deserves your support. She also has a few videos of live performances. Unfortunately I can’t post them here as they’re on Vimeo and won’t embed on WordPress.
It was just last week that I mentioned Archive.org, one of my favorite sources for free music, but I felt like I had to mention some of the stuff I’ve been listening to as the site has dominated my musical landscape over the past week. More than anything, the site has been turning me into a huge fan of 1920s music. What a wonderful time for pop music! People were having a lot of fun during the “Roaring Twenties” and you can really tell.
A number of hobbyists have ripped and uploaded tons of old music from 78 rpm records and wax cylinders and mercifully, many of them used software to remove the scratchy noises. Most of what I’ve heard this week was clear as a bell. Most if not all of the music on Archive.org is available for download, but when I’m busy — and I was very busy this week — I prefer to stream it. I’ve found several artist collections that allowed me to hear several songs in a row without having to mess with the site. There are also some great mixes of songs by various artists from the ’20s.
And below are a few of the artists from that era that I’ve become fond of. I’ll include a few songs you can stream from this blog — I’m still not hosting them though. WordPress lets me stream from anywhere I find a link to an mp3. You should still go to Archive.org and play the songs over there.
She was a very pleasant discovery for me. Playful, fun-loving, kind of like a precursor to Mae West. Some of her songs are slightly bawdy (maybe a lot bawdy by the standard of her day). I mentioned her to Mom and she said, “Oh yeah, she was famous.” But she wasn’t famous to me. Just a bit before my time. There are several collections of her songs on the site, but here’s a good one for starters.
“50 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong”
It turns out I really knew of him and didn’t realize it. He was the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinochio. He was also a cool cat and a really good singer. He went by the nickname “Ukulele Ike” and apparently had a lot to do with popularizing that particular instrument. Here’s a good collection of his hits. And one of my favorites from that collection:
“Ain’t She Sweet”
Never heard of her before this, but I’m glad I finally did. She’s got a great voice and sings some really fun songs. She was kind of a looker as well…
Have I ever used the word smorgasbord before in my life? I can’t remember. Anyway, this time it fits. I’ve known about Archive.org for a long time now, but it’s been a while since I visited. Frankly, there’s so much stuff there that I find it a bit overwhelming, but if you ever have a little free time and want to dig around for some musical gems, you can’t ask for a better place. They have a lot of live recordings – some of them surprisingly high quality. Some by bands and groups you know, a lot by people you never heard of. You can search by artist or you can browse. Some of the recordings have been reviewed, which will give you an idea about the sound quality and performance. You can download in a variety of formats – mp3, flac, ogg – or you can stream in a little radio on the page and judge whether you want it or not.
I found some nice concert recordings from Robyn Hitchcock, Sarah Jarosz and the Asylum Street Spankers. Something else I just recently found is a collection of digitized 78 rpm and wax cylinder recordings. You expect those to sound a bit scratchy, but some of them are quite clear. Lots of old ragtime, vaudeville and stuff like that. Just found a singer named Sophie Tucker that I really like. I’m going to spend a lot of time downloading those songs, especially Tucker’s.
Music is only one part of Archive.org, which is a non-profit organization creating a digital library, archiving all kinds of material – art, culture, websites, written material, podcasts, you name it. Kind of like a private, all-digital Library of Congress. I could literally immerse myself in this thing for days at a time.
I went out on a CD run a while back and spent more than I probably should have in Waterloo Records. On a whim, I stopped at a Goodwill on the way home and checked out their CD stash. Saw a few likely ones that I already had or that were too scratchy. Got tired of looking and decided to give this one a chance. And it might have been the best thing I got that day. Also interesting, because I was in a Texas music mood that day and didn’t know Anson Funderburgh was a Texan till I looked him up.
Sins, released in 1988 by New Orleans-based Black Top Records features some great rockin’ blues and R&B. Funderburgh is a great blues guitarist with a hell of a band and Sam Myers, who was the band’s regular singer and harmonica player from 1985 until he died in 2006. If you’re into any classic blues by the likes of BB King, you should check this band out. I will certainly pick up more of their albums when I need to scratch that particular itch. Kind of embarrassing in a way – this is a band I should’ve known about already. Better late than never I reckon, though I really wish I could’ve caught them live while Sam Myers was still around.
Interesting bit of trivia I picked up from Wikipedia: He wasn’t on this particular album, but in 1989 and 1990 Mike Judge was their bassist before he went on to greater fame as the animator and creator of Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill.
(The other ones I got on the same CD run were Long Leaf Pine by San Antonio-based The Krayolas and a 2-CD compilation of Texas Swing by Adolph Hofner. I haven’t made up my mind about those yet. I’m still digesting them. Especially the Hofner comp – 35 is a lot of songs!)
If you’re not familiar with The Embarrassment, you’ve been missing out. And lots of people are missing out. A friend introduced me to them a few years ago and ever since, their songs have been standards for me. The band was from Wichita, Kansas, and was around from 1979 to 1983, with a reunion in the late ’80s. The Embos, as they’re sometimes called, have what I think of as the classic postpunk sound – good bass and lots of rhythm guitar. The songs are catchy and often quite witty. The nearest comparison for me would be the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime album. There are a number of videos on Youtube that give you an idea what they’re like, but the sound quality varies. If you like it, you probably should track down an album, however you do that. The one I have is a collection called Heyday. It has 42 songs, which if it isn’t everything they put out, is probably enough for most folks.
Here are a few videos that do them at least partial justice:
Talk about a dilemma. How do you pay “tribute” to someone you basically despise? How can someone be despicable yet worthy of respect all at once? I’m not sure how, but if anyone fits into that realm of ambivalence, it’s Malcolm McLaren, who died yesterday at the age of 64. He’s best known as the manager for the Sex Pistols, but he managed a number of other bands as well, and became a public figure of sorts by manipulating the press and people in the music industry. I developed a pretty strong dislike for the man after reading Rip It Up and Start Again, by Simon Reynolds, a book about the British postpunk movement. The way he used and dominated the people he was supposed to be managing was just disgusting. Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant in particular.
And yet… I find I still owe the man. Without him we wouldn’t have had the Sex Pistols. He put them together. His DIY attitude infused their sound. Even if you don’t like them, you probably like one or more of the countless bands they influenced. Maybe he was a jerk, but he did something important. Might as well give him credit.
This quote from Duran Duran’s John Taylor was pretty apt:
“Duran Duran would have never existed. Before Malcolm being a musician in England meant you had to read music, and clock up years of dues and motorway miles, hours of practice and play interminable solos wherever possible. Malcolm’s attitude changed everything. Without him, no punk rock revolution, no ‘Anarchy in The UK,’ no ‘Never Mind The Bollocks,’ no Sex Pistols, no Clash….He was a true artist, and a continual restless source of inspiration. There will never be anyone quite like him again.”