This new LP by Ryan Holweger hits a sweet spot here at Hymies. The album is filled with raucous country rock gems, but what really sticks to the ribs are the Uncle Tupelo-ish ballads like “After the Oil Rush.” There’s really timeless moments on this album and Holweger’s record release show at Mortimer’s tonight promises to be a great live set filled with exactly those sort of things. Adding to the appeal is opener Martin Devaney, who will be releasing his first album in years this December. Fans of swoony country-rock be warned: the multi-talented Ryan Holweger is going to be on your radar this winter.
You are currently browsing the archive for the GREAT ALBUMS series category.
Yesterday’s post featured Prince’s “Batdance,” which is probably not considered by most fans to be one of his best singles. Also in the unlikely favorite category is our favorite of his (depending on how you count them) forty plus albums.
It started as a li’l crush but its become full-on love. Art Official Age is our favorite Prince album. Art Official Age was Prince’s last album to be released on record, but it was also his last substantive work. The two part Hit n Run series has its moments — and its general ‘return to form’ was welcomed by longtime fans — but neither feels like an album to take seriously in the same sense as those from Prince’s most celebrated career arc running from Controversy to The Gold Experience.
As much as Prince’s work often embraced the Wagnerian concept of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk‘ (or a complete and total work of art to encompass many disciplines), Art Official Age is the only true ‘concept album’ in his catalog. Like the great concept albums of the past, its story is convoluted, confusing and ultimately kind of dumb. But it provides a setting for some really remarkable songs. The plot of Art Official Age makes no more sense than the plot of Tommy, but its futuristic setting clearly inspired some of Prince’s most remarkable late-period performing and production.
It’s remarkable that for an artist whose music is so often morbid, the future Prince imagines after 40 years in suspended animation in Art Official Age is not ominously dystopian. In fact, the often-sunny Honeydogs provided a more bleak future in their (also Minnesota-bred) concept album 10,000 Years. One of the standout moments in Art Official Age is also the tune which is most distinctively in Prince’s classic style — In “This Could Be Us” he doesn’t lament any unimagined future but rather the past and present.
We’re likely to hear unfinished Prince projects in the future — It’s a certainty, given the contentious nature of his estate, that the inevitable cash-cow of unreleased tracks will be taken to market. We are still hearing new recordings by John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, but whether we’re really gaining anything from the experience stands to be established. For instance, last year’s release of the complete recordings from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme include recordings which he himself decided did not achieve the goal of expressing what he wanted to say. If the artist decided it wasn’t worthy of release, shouldn’t we respect that choice? Or do we live in a world of such all-encompassing transparency that even what one throws away is open game?
Prince,ironically approached the subject of ownership in Art Official Age, but it seems unlikely that in the dialogue from the album’s last track (which, also ironically, uses the title “Affirmation”) he was speaking of creative control. How an artist could keep such tight control over his work in life and yet have no plans for its future is beyond us — truly one of the many mysteries Prince left for the ages.
In Concert – The Best of Jimmy Cliff is not only one of the best live albums of the 70s, its one of the best ‘best of’ albums as well. This record is guaranteed to brighten a gloomy, rainy morning like today from “You Can Get It If You Really Want” through the nine tracks that follow.
At the time, Reprise Records wanted to capitalize on Cliff’s hits with a ‘best of’ album, but instead he recorded this gem during shows in New England with former Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham at the board. Cliff’s excellent band is led by ska legend Ernest Ranglin, who puts together arrangements which extend far beyond the original hit singles.
Ranglin’s epic arrangement of “Many Rivers to Cross” provides an opportunity for Cliff to provide one of the most moving performances we’ve ever heard on a live album. One of us saw Jimmy Cliff perform in the late 90s, and remember it today as one of the best shows we’ve ever seen. He recorded another live album in 1994, and in 2013 released a stunning set recorded live at Santa Monica’s famous KCRW studio.
What makes this first live album one of our all-time favorites is that it highlights Cliff not only as an incredible singer, but as one of the great songwriters. His songs transcend reggae music, and have been covered by artists ranging from Linda Ronstadt to Stiff Little Fingers. “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Wonderful World, Beautiful People” provide positive messages, and “Struggling Man” and “Vietnam” recognize reality. Bob Dylan once called the latter the best protest song he’d heard. This collection doesn’t even include some of our favorites in Cliff’s catalog: “Time Will Tell,” “Trapped,” “The Price of Peace,” and “World Upside Down” (co-written with Joe Higgs). There’s so much in his music to make your day a little brighter.
Ahmad Jamal’s early albums for Argo were some of the best selling jazz records of the late 50s and early 60s, which is why they are often found in used bins today. Unfortunately, they were also some of the most popular albums of the era, so they’re often found in pretty worn shape. A nice copy of But Not For Me: Jamal at the Pershing is essential to any collection of jazz Lps, largely for his extended interpretation of “Poinciana.” His use of block chords and open space were influential on the developing cool jazz movement, especially as heard in the first Miles Davis Quintet over several highly praised albums for Prestige and Columbia.
Jamal’s career in jazz is interesting because after adopting a piano-bass-percussion trio form, he rarely recorded in other settings. He did perform on electric pianos periodically, as for instance on Freeflight, an excellent live album recorded in 1972 on which he performs “Poinciana” on a fender rhodes. He has, on occasion, recorded with larger groups — in fact, his most recent album featured Yusef Lateef (and may have been the last recording of the ninety-two year old multi-instrumentalist).
There are about twenty albums in Jamal’s catalog for Chess and its jazz subsidiaries (Argo and Cadet), most of which have been poorly represented in the digital age despite their success in the sixties. A 2014 series called The Complete Collection compiled the first dozen or so, but drew the recordings from vinyl drops rather than the original master tapes themselves, much to the frustration of audiophiles. Our favorite of his early albums, Naked City Theme, has only seen one CD reissue, an import which is presently out of print.
Naked City was an innovative television series which presented crime stories in a semi-documentary form. It ran from 1958 to 1963 and featured an impressive array of well-known stars as guests. Its theme was written by George Duning, who had a long and successful career scoring for television and film after beginning as a trumpeter in Kay Kayser’s big band in the 40s. Jamal’s recording of the song was made at San Francisco’s Jazz Workshop, the club where Cannonball Adderley had earlier produced one of the most groundbreaking live albums in jazz (The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in San Francisco, which was released in 1959). Recording engineer Reice Hamel was regarded by his peers as the pioneer of on-site remote recording. The six songs on Jamal’s Naked City Theme were captured by Hamel over a three day run at the club in June, 1964.
At this time Ahmad Jamal was beginning to perform more original material, moving away from standards. His two compositions on Naked City Theme are the highlight of the album. His exciting nine-minute tribute to Miles Davis may have been a thanks to the trumpeter, who began performing one of his originals, “Ahmad’s Blues” nearly a decade earlier (it appeared on Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet in 1956). “One for Miles” highlights not only Jamal’s dexterity, but his accompaniment as well. Bassist Jamil Sulieman stayed with him for several years and the two work together intuitively on the live recordings they made. Chuck Lampkin had previously played drums with Dizzy Gillespie. His jazz career is unfortunately brief, because he was exceptional whenever recorded — Lampkin left jazz and embarked on a second career in broadcasting, becoming one of the nation’s first African-American news anchors when he took a position at WIVB in Buffalo, New York in 1970.
In this 1985 interview for MPR, Jamal explains that while the early live recordings at the Pershing established him, he was criticized for not playing original material. He also explains that his current performances were almost entirely of his own compositions. He was especially productive in the several years following Naked City Theme, writing some of his most memorable originals, including “Extensions” and “The Awakening.” Both of those are title songs from great albums — the discography on Jamal’s official web page lists more albums than we care to count, but we sure would like to collect more of them.
Our copy Naked City Theme has a couple unfortunate skips, which we’ve done our best to edit out in the recordings heard here. This is an album we bought at Let It Be Records, which closed in 2005 after sixteen years on Nicollet Avenue. There were often a lot of great jazz albums to be found there, especially during those years when many people were replacing their records with CDs.
Oliver Nelson’s 1961 LP The Blues and the Abstract Truth is one of the most interesting jazz albums issued by Impulse Records during its fifteen year run. A remarkable all-star band is featured in the album, and several soloists are captured at transitional points in their career. In many ways the record is similar to the modal jazz established with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and two performers — bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Bill Evans — are heard on both records. Nelson’s compositions are far more complex than the rough head arrangements which formed the framework for Kind of Blue‘s five tracks, but the album explores the same slow-paced harmonic development.
The opening tune, “Stolen Moments,” is sublime: although framed by an elaborate sixteen bar theme the song features four minor key solos on a basic 12-bar blues. Freddie Hubbard, who had just begun his transition out of hard bop into more progressive jazz (appearing on Coltrane’s first Impulse album and beginning a collaboration with Wayne Shorter the same year) performs a stunning solo. Nelson’s is, like his compositional style, cautiously paced and measured. We’ve always thought it felt pre-meditated — he does the same thing on the second side in “Teenie’s Blues.” Bill Evans is one of the most interesting personalities on the album, and his appearance is of interest because he so rarely after the early 60s performed in ensemble settings.
Evans’ best contribution on the album is on the second side, in a faster blues tune called “Butch and Butch,” where he dances through several bars with a light Basie-eque grace. And the very best solo on the album is Dolphy’s alto sax solo in “Yearnin’,” which hints at the wild style he would perfect a few years later with his very best album, Out to Lunch.
Nelson makes “special mention of [the] fine work” of baritone saxophonist George Bowering in the album’s notes. Bowering does not solo, but his role is pretty essential to the arrangements, especially “Stolen Moments.” The album is a great collaborative work, considering the band didn’t play together before or after (although several members did often collaborate). Roy Haynes is fairly restrained throughout, especially compared to what he was recording with Roland Kirk around the same time, and bassist Paul Chambers is as awesome and reliable as expected — the contrast of styles between the rest is what makes The Blues and the Abstract Truth such an interesting album.
Nelson recorded a follow-up for Impulse three years later. It features a larger group, but less innovative arrangements. None of the performers (including Nelson himself) appear on More Blues and the Abstract Truth, which is sort of a disappointing sequel — the album has a Weekend at Bernies II quality in spite of all the talented musicians who perform on it.
Last December we took pride in posting about the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra’s 1958 recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, which is a remarkable record for both artistic and technical reasons. Fans of Tchaikovsky are certain to have recordings of the Minneapolis Symphony (today the Minnesota Orchestra) in their collection –in addition to making the first recordings of the 1812 Overture to include the bells and cannons as originally composed (in mono in 1954 and stereo on that second recording), the Minneapolis Symphony produced the first complete recordings of the composers three magnificent ballets.
All of these recordings were made for Mercury Records during Antal Dorati’s eleven year residency as the Orchestra’s conductor — he is often regard as one of the finest interpreters of Tchaikovsky’s music on record, later conducting recordings of all six symphonies with the London Philharmonic, but the recordings he made at our own Northrop Auditorium are still regarded as some finest you’ll ever find. You have likely seen a copy of their 1812 Overture since there are more than a million of them out there. The gold record awarded by the RIAA hangs today in the office of current musical director Osmo Vänskä.
Because we are the best place to live in the entire world, the Twin Cities is home to not one but two world-class orchestras. The other is the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, which is the only full-time professional chamber orchestra in the United States. The SPCO is every bit as awesome as the Minnesota Orchestra — each has in the past decade or so tackled the monumental task of performing Beethoven’s nine symphonies, and each has made many albums which are both best-sellers and critically acclaimed.
As the Minnesota Orchestra was, in its Minneapolis Symphony days, associated with Tchaikovsky’s three ballets, the SPCO has a deep connection to one written by another composer. It happens to be one of our favorite pieces of American music.
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s July 1979 recording of Aaron Copland’s ballet Appalachian Spring was awarded the Grammy award for best chamber music performance, an honor only slightly sullied when then two-year-old Kanye West insisted it be taken away and given to Beyonce. Its a beautifully paced interpretation of the ballet, and a uniquely-engineered recording, making it of enduring interest to collectors. The record was made at the Sound 80 studio here in our neighborhood, overseen by engineer Tom Jung. The conductor was Dennis Russell Davies, a Juilliard graduate who spent eight years directing the SPCO, and is currently with the Symphony Orchestra in Basal in Switzerland.
On the flip side is presented Three Places in New England, one of Charles Ives’ most popular and distinctive pieces. That same July, the SPCO also recorded Schubert’s fifth symphony, and a third album by jazz group Flim and the BB’s was produced using the same 50.4 kHz digital recorder as a alternate to the intended direct-to-disc lathe. These three records are the earliest digital recordings made at Sound 80, and among the first digital recordings made for commercial release anywhere.
All three are of interest to audiophiles and record collectors, but the SPCO recording of Appalachian Spring is also a welcome return-to-form for the fine piece as well, as it is presented in Copland’s original instrumentation for a small chamber orchestra of thirteen musicians. While it had been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Music after its debut in 1944, it is usually performed in an a weightier re-orchestration first composed soon after and popularized by Leonard Bernstein.
Copland himself conducted a revival of the original arrangement a few years earlier, commissioned by Columbia Records as part of its hit-or-miss “Copland Conducts Copland” series, a recording which likewise captures the earthy appeal unheard in the overlarge orchestra suite. As originally planned, his the ballet — which a bemused Copland often remarked was not inspired by the rolling mountains of Appalachia — presents a pastoral setting characterized by an inspiring sense of community and optimism. It is, along with his other ballets and his incidental music for Our Town, definitive Americana, while also something very much like our own version of Beethoven’s sixth symphony.
Until it was suggested he borrow its title from a Hart Crane poem, the piece was simply his Ballet for Martha, as he was working with legendary choreographer Martha Graham. In short it is the story of a congregation building a farmhouse for a pair of Pennsylvania newlyweds. Graham had commissioned Copland’s composition for a performance in the hall inside the Library of Congress, and its size determined his decision to arrange it for a small chamber orchestra. Like what we learned looking into the history of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture when posting the Minneapolis Symphony’s recording, the final score was influenced by utterly pedestrian circumstances.
The SPCO has performed Appalachian Spring as recently as on year ago, where it was conducted by Steven Schick (a recording of which you can hear here). Their original recording with Dennis Russell Davies on the Sound 80 record remains a monumental moment in Minnesota music, in many ways just as remarkable as the Dorati recordings which put the Minneapolis Symphony on the map in the fifties.
This weekend the SPCO will be performing Schubert’s Quartet in D Minor, Death and the Maiden, along with other pieces featuring violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja. There is a free open rehearsal tomorrow afternoon.
Music is Just a Bunch of Notes by Spider John Koerner and Willie & the Bumblebees is one of our favorite local records of all time.
Its original pressing of 1000 copies was hand-stamped (pre-dating the Replacements’ Stink album by a decade) — many that we’ve seen here at Hymie’s have green marker circling the title. In the case of our own copy it’s a big wild squiggly circle. Some copies had a serial number, like the “White Album,” others have additional doodlings and marks. The photographs you see here are what we were able to find searching online — We had been photographing each unique copy that passes through the record shop, but when the Hymie’s computer suddenly pooped out on us last month we lost the files.
We also found this unfinished or abandoned blog, where somebody had the idea of tracking down all 1000 copies.
My first copy of this album was a CD-R that Dave Ray made for me when I was working at Al’s Breakfast. At the time the album was out of print, and fairly difficult to find. Sadly, that disc didn’t survive one move or another, or the theft of a CD collection from a car or something. It would be something special to have today. Music Is Just a Bunch of Notes is in print again and now comes with DVD of Koerner’s weird 1970 movie, The Secret of Sleep.
The album includes crowd noise from a performance at Macalester College and a couple of absurdist comedy bits by Ted Olson. The remaining tracks were recorded above the Coffeehouse Extempore, as described in Dave Ray’s extensive liner notes. We first posted about the album’s stranger features in our very popular “Weird Stuff” series a couple years ago. Here is one of the tracks with Olson driving his car.
Hearing Koerner perform “Summer of ’88” on the new Live At Patrick’s Cabaret disc reminded us (we posted it here earlier this week) reminded us how much we love his songwriting and his totally original performances. People hang onto their Spider John Koerner albums, which is why several of them are so difficult to find — it took years to build up a collection of all of them, as well as all the great records Dave Ray made. We are, of course, very excited about the new Red House Records compilation of Ray’s records. A few customers here have been disappointed it wasn’t released on LP, but we’re just glad to hear all the rarities and live recordings.