Thursday night was a Red Sox night off, and we didn't even watch a movie. The same four DVDs from Zip.ca have been sitting on the coffee table since early April. After a recent influx of new CDs, we needed a Music Night.
So what did we get? Some capsule reviews.
We finally picked up Green Day's American Idiot - late, I know, but I don't buy music very often. I really like Green Day, and it's a good album, but I expected more. It's completely unsurprising - more of the same. That same is good, but... I guess I got fooled by the hype. I'm glad I have it, and I'll listen to it, but I was hoping they'd do something more.
As part of my relatively new, ongoing exploration of jazz, and in my quest to buy more of the jazz sounds that grab me while listening to Jazz FM in the car, we got Sonny Rollins's Sonny Rollins Plus Four and Saxophone Colossus. I don't have enough vocabulary to write intelligently about jazz; I just love this stuff.
I'm new to jazz. I only started to explore it after feeling I had nowhere to go with the rock and roots sounds I love. I felt I could only find more of what I already like, but no new sounds were appealing to me. (To pick just two examples, I tried and failed to like Radiohead, and think Coldplay is a sad joke.) My favourite music is blues, and I love big band and swing, and I used that as my point of entry into jazz. Once I got over feeling overwhelmed and intimidated, and followed my ears, it's been going really well.
Sonny Rollins from 1956 is an excellent addition to my fledgling collection. Interestingly, some of my favourite blues - some of my favourite music, period - was recorded during the same time period.
Neil Young's Living With War. Love it for the politics, love it for the heart. The music, not so much. It's a string of slogans and political feelings set to standard Neil Young music, with not quite as much grit as Crazy Horse could give it. It's really, really difficult to write topical songs that are anything but prosaic. He doesn't succeed, but I love him for doing it.
Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, The River In Reverse. I am a total sucker for New Orleans- style rolling piano and funky horns. Toussaint's piano gives me chills. Costello's straining voice adds an edge that an off-the-shelf soul singer wouldn't give it. For me, it's a great combination. Many of these songs were debuted at various benefit concerts for post-Katrina New Orleans.
We also re-bought Costello's King Of America, because the CD has finally been re-released with the bonus disc of demos, alternative takes, and previously unreleased material from the same sessions. It's an often-forgotten but excellent Costello album. I think at this point we've re-bought all our favourite Elvis Costello CDs. I admire him no end for his creativity and scope, but I really don't care for most of the results.
Our most important new CD is the one Allan bought me as part of my substitute birthday gift: Bruce Springsteen's We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. Bruce assembled a melange of country, folk and soul sounds to pay tribute to the American folk music that Pete Seeger helped popularize. The disk is also a DVD, so you can see the band recording and playing. This is music that is meant to be experienced live, so that's a great addition.
On the DVD, Bruce talks about "recontextualizing" the songs. It's not a word I would have used, but it's exactly what the songs needed. Who can hear "Froggie Went a Courtin'" or "The Erie Canal Song" ("low bridge, everybody down...") anymore? We've heard these songs too many times; for most of us, they're old and dusty. But a new arrangement, with a screechy fiddle, a slinky trombone, some chugging percussion and gospel-tinged backup singing, breathes life into these old gems. If you like rootsy sounds, I highly recommend it. If you've heard and liked John Mellencamp's Trouble No More, it's a similar idea, but a little narrower in scope, and maybe better for it.
Whether or not this music is to your taste, I hope you all know Pete Seeger. As a musician, he's best known as a folk singer, a member of The Weavers, and a major pillar of the folk and protest-song movement. But for me, he's Pete Seeger the lifelong activist, fighting the good fight from the earliest days of the US civil rights movement to the present. He's been investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, he's done time in prison, and he's never stopped inspiring younger musicians and activists with his commitment.
I saw Seeger perform at rallies and demos when I was a small child, then again as a young adult at The Clearwater Festival, an outdoor music and craft festival that benefits Clearwater, the environmental group Seeger helped to found. (Once upon a time, I used to attend the festival every year.) Seeger was born in New York City, and lives in New York's beautiful Hudson Valley. I would call him a national treasure, but I think he would want something less parochial and more universal in scope. I guess he's an humankind treasure.