The Outer Fringe of Brian's CD CollectionIf it really is true that you can tell a lot about someone based on their music collection, then I may be in a bit of trouble, as my CD collection can best be described as erratic, weird, and devoid of any reasonable boundaries. It is hard to explain why I get attached to certain songs, artists, etc., but the process is neither predictable nor logical. Just for fun, here is a sampling of some of the more off-the-beaten-path recordings that have endeared themselves to me.
Yngwie Malmsteen- Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra in E minor, Opus 1 (1998) If this is what happens when a metal guitarist's ego gets so gigantic that it finally explodes, then pray that you are close enough to get hit by the gooey innards. What we have here is an ill-conceived, unholy union between squealing electric guitar and symphony orchestra in a bloated 13 movement concerto that at times seems to suggest that whoever plays the fastest, wins. It's also glaringly obvious that the whole thing is highly derivitive of Bach, Beethoven and just about every major composer in between. Everything about this is wrong, and yet, oh so right. Go, Yngwie, go!
Geoffrey Beaumont- 20th Century Folk Mass (1956) Composed by a British priest attempting to reach the youth of the day, this setting of the Roman Catholic mass bears an unnerving and surreal resemblance to the Hollywood epics from the 40s, complete with a huge chorus of singers, 45-piece orchestra and of course, the big showstopping numbers. The opening hymn and the Gloria, for example, conjure up images of a tuxedo-clad crooner surrounded by dancing girls in big, feathery costumes. The Our Father immediately brings to mind a line of synchronized swimmers, lead by Esther Williams, diving into a pool. When Christ rises from the dead in the Creed, you can picture him strutting from the grave with jazzy panache, accompanied by a swinging big band. This has to be heard to be believed, and I for one cannot stop listening to it.
Skaldowie- Skaldowie/Wszystko Mi Mowi, Ze Mnie Ktos Pokochal (1967, 1969) While vacationing in Poland with my wife in 1997, I was in the back seat of a car and heard a song on the radio that blew me away. It was definitely from the late 60s and combined elements of the British Invasion and Psychedelia with what I later learned was a traditional Polish folk song. I told my wife that I had to get a hold of more music of this band and she found me a CD that is actually a compilation of their first two recordings. I soon came to discover a seemingly endless catalog of songs that would stick in my head for days after hearing them. Skaldowie has it all- infectious melodies, air-tight harmonies, chiming guitars, Farfisa organ, you get the picture. It all sounds strangely familiar and yet totally unique at the same time.
Various Artists- Tropical Tribute to the Beatles (1996) A few summers ago, I was at a water park with my nephews and the sound system was blasting a version of "Day Tripper" that had an incredible Latin groove to it. I never forgot that intoxicating sound, and a couple of years later, I woke up in the middle of the night with a sudden urge to try and find out where it came from. I searched the web and sure enough, found this treasure trove of Beatle hits covered by popular Spanish-language artists, done in the Latin dance rhythms of salsa, merengue, bachata, etc. Tito Puente is even featured playing vibraphone on "Let It Be". With smooth-as-butter arrangements and singers improvising so naturally on the melodies, these songs sound like they were written to be performed exactly like this. Fine by me!
Deliverance- Deliverance (1989) Born-again Christianity and speed metal may seem like an impossible pairing, but it was perfectly normal in the circles I hung with in the late 80s. This band, in particular, struck a nerve. The blunt, "turn to God or else" lyrics, combined with lightning-fast double time drums, machine gun guitars, and menacing, screaming (yet strangely melodic) vocals, would punch me in the face and make me like it every time. When I listen nowadays, God comes off as a bit more pissed off than I envision Him, but Deliverance still rocks my world and in the process, nearly blew one of the speakers on my stereo.
Ivan Rebroff- Somewhere My Love (1970) Supposedly, this guy is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the widest vocal range on the planet. All I know is that he can get as low as a foghorn and as high as one of those opera chicks in the Viking outfits. As fascinating as this is, what really drew me in to Ivan's music is the great repetoire of Russian folk songs and his warm, inviting interpretation of them. When he sings about Cossacks riding, I can feel the wind in my hair; when he sings about remembering days gone by, I suddenly feel old, and when he pays homage to vodka, it sounds like he is actually drunk. Sadly, this recording is not available on CD, but his 1998 compilation, "Simply the Best", features a number of these songs. I for one feel totally alive when I hear this music.
Classix Nouveaux- The Very Best of Classix Nouveaux (compilation) I never actually heard this British band in their hey day, but I had the good fortune of meeting the band's lead singer, Sal Solo, years later and was subsequently turned on to their music. On the forefront of the new wave synth-pop era of the early 80s, the band was quite popular abroad, but not as known in the U.S. The familiar trappings are all present and accounted for- gobs of synthesizers, quirky rhythms and cheesy electronic drums, but I find the songs to be much more lyrically intelligent and sonically interesting than what we were hearing on the radio back then. And Sal's engaging voice and penchant for great melodies reel me in with each listen. Maybe the 80s weren't as mindless and shallow as we thought. Perhaps we just had the wrong soundtrack.
Grazyna Auguscik- River (2001) Unlike most jazz vocalists, Grazyna Auguscik is not afraid to explore the worlds of fusion and the avant garde. Rather than fronting a band, she seems to envision her voice as another instrument in the ensemble, going off on riffs and experimenting with an incredible array of sounds and moods. Her voice is haunting, like none other I have heard, and I love it. This CD in particular features a number of songs with a Brazilian vibe, which is always good in my world. Amazing stuff.
Stompin' Tom Connors- Stompin' Tom and the Hockey Song (1998) This gets a little complicated, but I've never actually heard Stompin' Tom or his hockey song. From what I have been told, he's a folk singer from Canada. My good friend Konstantin Noble (bassist in The Vatican III), who lives in Nova Scotia, gave me this CD. Apparently due to a duplicating mix up, what is actually on the CD is not Stompin' Tom, but a very fine compilation of old Latin jazz, such as bossa novas and the like, that sound like they are likely from the 50s or 60s. I listen to it all the time and maybe someday I will even find out what exactly it is.
Fischerspooner- Odyssey (2005) This may be the first CD I have ever purchased from the dance section of a record store. Oh, it's got beats galore, all right, along with repetitive retro synths and hypnotic vocals, but it also has lyrics that explore the inner life, and in many cases, hit me right where I've been living. It's rare that a CD has me pondering the core of my very being and wanting to break out into some of my best bad white-guy dance moves at the same time. Now, THAT'S getting it done!