Holiday music doesn’t have to suck, but for some reason it usually does. The worst of the lot in my opinion is any recording of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” (vomit) and the wretchedly saccharine Paul McCartney original, “(Simply Having) A Wonderful Christmas Time.” That hurts to say because of how much I love Paul McCartney, but that song is water torture. And although it might be funny to build a spectacularly evil holiday playlist, they tell me that is not the spirit of things. Instead, let’s go ahead and talk about some amazingly good albums to spice up your annual holiday cocktail party.Now, you probably already have “Christmas with the Rat Pack” and “Live at Middletree - A Vince Guaraldi Christmas,” but if you don’t, you should. They make a perfect festive start for your evening. Slick Buble-esque vocal renditions of old holiday standards usually bore me, but when the vocalist in question is Ella Fitzgerald, it’s a whole different ballgame. Cue up a copy of “Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas” next. Late in the evening when you bust out the highball glasses and your David Niven impression, it’s time to give the 1966 jazz classic “Have Yourself a Soulful Little Christmas” by Kenny Burrell a spin. And when it’s finally last call, signal a quiet finish with the sophisticated and tasteful ivory ticklings of the late great Dave Brubeck and his solo classic, “A Dave Brubeck Christmas.” Bottoms up, everyone!
With the advent of downloadable music, there was pontification aplenty about the inevitable death of the traditional bricks and mortar New York City record store. And it’s certainly true that big megastores (remember the old Tower on East 4th? Or Virgin in Union Square?) went the way of the buggy whip pretty quickly. But in New York City, a handful of little record stores in the Village still thrive and not just because they just stock great product in every known format. I think they exist for New Yorkers because they manage to provide a unique and immersive experience. For a music lover, there’s something about the cramped aisles, creaky floors, and floor to ceiling displays of vivid album art that inspires a quasi-religious experience. Bleecker Street Records happens to be a favorite of mine.Whereas the internet specializes in immediate accuracy – just type in “45 rpm recording of Marvin performing ‘What’s Going On’ live in Germany” and bam, you find and order it – part of the beauty in a shop like Bleecker Street is it’s the exact opposite of that. Nothing is even alphabetized. Find your genre, locate the artist, and then just get in there and do some digging. Flip through albums you had forgotten you loved, and others you never even knew existed. It allows you to time travel through your own musical past in a tactile, dusty way that you will never, ever get clicking through iTunes at home.And of course the store has every damn recording new and old that you could ever want in there, but again, it’s not necessarily about the selection. Browsing is where it’s at, man, in the the old fashioned sense. So this weekend we highly encourage you to head down to Bleecker Street to do some crate digging and who knows? Maybe even maybe walk away with a rare B-side.
Winter pulled a sneak attack this week, am I right? I’m already pining for warmer climes. And since I can’t board a plane this afternoon to a sunny island, there’s no choice but to import those tropical vibes sonically through reggae. The Bob Marley boxed set is pure platinum, but I’ve kind of burned it out. Burning Spear’s “Marcus Garvey” is also a favorite, but I’m feeling like we need something more lush. Steel Pulse’s “Handsworth Revolution”? Brilliant album! All reggae is political, but given the recent news cycle maybe “Handsworth” is too political for our collective mood.Weekend Beats this week is crying out for something upbeat and richly textured with real Island flavor and that’s why our recommendation to kick off the weekend has got to be Peter Tosh’s classic LP paean to Mary Jane, “Legalize It.” Gritty, unprocessed, laid-back, pitch-perfect. The whole album is worth playing, but some of my own favorite tracks are “Ketchy Shuby”, “Till Your Well Runs Dry” and the rediculously catchy “What You Gonna Do.” Here’s a fun Peter Tosh fact you can put in your pipe and smoke: although Marley unfairly tends to overshadow Tosh, when they were coming up in Trenchtown in the 60’s it was Tosh who taught Marley everything about how to play the guitar. Tosh is the man. Check him out, he’s got a message but he’s not stressin’. Follow his example. Irie.
Part of the fun in learning the harp has been getting in deep with the blues masters. I’ve been listening to everything I can get my paws on, and the raw emotion in so many of these old blues recordings is like nothing else. So for this “Weekend Beats” I thought I’d share with you a playlist of some of the songs I’ve been digging. You can get them all on iTunes, but please enjoy a tremendous sample of the legendary Big Mama here. Now listen to yer Mama and send that lazy little red rooster on home, it’s time for the weekend!Sad Hours – Little Walter, The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection
Black Rat Swing – Bowling John Greene & Phil Wiggins, Living Country Blues USA Vol 1.
Sloppy Drunk Blues – Sonny Boy Williamson, Bad Luck Blues
How Blue Can You Get – BB King, Live at the Regal
Little Red Rooster – Big Mama Thornton, Best of the Blues, Live in NY
You Don’t Love Me (You Don’t Care) – Bo Diddley, Chess 50th Anniversary Collection
Chitlin Con Carne – Junior Wells & Buddy Guy, Hoodoo Man Blues
Off the Wall – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, What’s Shakin’
Good Morning Lil Schoolgirl – Sonny Boy Williamson, Bad Luck Blues
Little Rain – Jimmy Reed, The Very Best of Jimmy Reed
Baby Please Don’t Go (Live) – Muddy Waters, Fathers and Sons
Trouble in Mind – Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell
Got My Mojo Working – Muddy Waters, All Night Long Muddy Waters Live!
Almost 43 years ago, a band of five took the stage at Madison Square Garden and put on one of the best rock shows this town has ever seen. And thankfully, they recorded it. Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! came out in the fall of 1970 and when it did, Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone got bold and said, “I have no doubt that it’s the best rock concert ever put on record.” I am the four-millionth person to agree.I’ve listened to this incredible piece of musical history ever since my older brother bought me a copy on vinyl for Christmas sometime in the late seventies. This is the one that sets the bar for all others live. It is the one that makes me want to go completely batshit bananas every time I get to about the 5:25 mark of Sympathy for the Devil. I want to run through canyons of New York screaming at the top of my lungs every time I hear the intro to Street Fighting Man. It is the soundtrack to yours truly getting into, not one, but two tussles with the law for doing somewhere in the 90′s in a pair of 55’s. It is quite possibly my favorite album of all time. In this version, tracks from the opening acts, B.B. King and Ike and Tina, are as equally as impressive as the ones from the white-hot Stones. Pardon me while I go light my hair on fire and eat a banana. Have a great weekend.
It still amazes me that a thing like Pandora exists, and is somehow free. How is this possible?! It really is an incredible technology. However, if you listen long enough, you discover that some channels are better than others in terms of nailing the whole “music genome” concept. This week on Weekend Beats, I’m going to tell you some of the channels I’m enjoying right now on Pandora – and we hope you share yours in the comments below!Give these a try, depending on the mood you find yourself in:
OTIS REDDING RADIO.
THE BLACK KEYS RADIO.
CHRIS & THOMAS RADIO.
BILL EVANS RADIO.
MS. FAT BOOTY RADIO.
IMPROVISATIONS ON VIVALDI’S WINTER, FOR PIANO.
Weather’s been sort of blue this week, hasn’t it? Gray, rainy, wistful. Thought we’d dig into the back catalogue for something to suit this weekend’s mood. If you don’t have it already, check out an album called Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim. Recorded in 1967, this seductive recording is the bluest, softest, sexiest, glass-of-scotchiest Sinatra album ever. The entire album is unquestionably lush and gorgeous. If you’re trying to set a tone on a rainy evening, you can’t go wrong. Only have time for a quick listen? Check out the tracks “Insensatez” and “Dindi.”
The new Mumford & Sons album came out on Monday this week. Although I thought their debut album two years ago was original and fresh, I felt after repeated listens it lost the luster. Enough with the sadness and banjo, dude. Being a nerd, I previewed the whole album on iTunes before I spent the $12 to see if this new offering presented more of the same.
It’s much better. In fact, it’s a rollicking, spirited good time and something to crank when you’re speeding on the open road. It feels pitch perfect for the changing seasons right now, and certainly a good one to kick your weekend off. Give it a shot!
To get your weekend started right, check out this free album download from record label Gummy Soul by clicking here. It’s pretty much pure genius: DJ Amerigo Gazaway blends up the original jazz, soul and funk recordings from A Tribe Called Quest’s catalogue with vocals from The Pharcyde. It’s an awesome reinterpretation of two Golden Era hip hop masters and if you were ever a fan, it will blow your mind. Brought back floods of memories for me. Enjoy!