Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this middle-aged man as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. CDs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no downloads. And just as CD technology (and the album format itself) becomes obsolete. I'm no music critic, just a music junkie with too much time on my hands.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

213 - Three Little Words (2019)

Import disc from EU (maybe? My disc was shipped from the Netherlands).

Recorded in 1981, released in 2019. For the full backstory on this album, check out this post or the Warrior Records website. On the latter, co-producer Bill Meyers compares the sound of the band as "a cross between Pablo Cruise, the Doobies, and hopefully a little Steely Dan."

I'd say it leans more to Pages and/or Toto than the above groups, but if you're looking for that characteristic 1981 westcoast/AOR/yacht rock/smooth pop sound, you'll find it here and it's authentic. The writing is sophisticated, but could use a few more hooks. In other words, it's quite pleasant to listen to, but I don't find myself humming these tunes.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: My top picks today are the title track, Under Her Spell, Couldn't Be Happier, and Look Inside Yourself.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I'm pretty sure I first heard of this album on social media, probably Twitter. I believe social media will ultimately bring about the end of civilization, but it can't be all bad if it's hipping me to good tunes.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Harry Connick, Jr. - Come By Me (1999)

A Connick big band album released eight years after his previous big band recording, Blue Light, Red Light. What had happened in those 8 years? A swing music revival spurred along by the 1996 movie, Swingers. This album seems to be Connick response to groups like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: step aside, here's how it's done. And although the selections tend to be on the slow side (more for late night listening than top-down-open-road), Connick is in great voice, arrangements are top-drawer, and the band swings hard - what's not to like?

When fronting a big band, Connick often gets grief from critics that he sounds too much like Sinatra. Getouttahere with that mess. Hell, if you could sing like Sinatra, why wouldn't you?

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #36
Peak on the US Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart: #1 (also #1 for the year)

Tracks: 5 of the 13 tracks are Connick originals and they're all pleasant (the title track and Next Door Blues are the cream of that crop), but somewhat pale when compared to tunes from masters like Berlin, Porter, Mancini, and Kahn. Of the standards, my favorites here are Change Partners (Berlin, 1938), You'd Be So Easy To Love (Porter, 1934), and Cry Me A River (Hamilton, 1953). The only misstep is the painfully slow take on Danny Boy.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: none, but I might be mixing this nicely with a blend of Sinatra, Bublé, and Ronstadt alongside some cognac real soon.

Previously revisited for the blog:
She (1994)
When My Heart Finds Christmas (1993)
We Are In Love (1990)
Music from the Motion Picture When Harry Met Sally (1989)
20 (1988)

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Frank Sinatra - It Might As Well Be Swing (1964)

Note: the CD I listened to was the 1998 reissue.

Originally released about two years prior you my birth, this CD represents the collaboration of a 'perfect storm' of musicians: Sinatra, Count Basie, and Quincy Jones. This brief (27'26") album has everything you could ask for from a Sinatra disc, including leading off with my all-time favorite Sinatra tune: Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words). It's all a master class in swinging, arranging, phrasing, performing, and, as mentioned below, musical economy: saying more by playing less. Firmly in the pocket. Hold your hat, turn up the volume and dig.

Billboard, August 8, 1964, p. 52

This reissue didn't include the original album's liner notes, an interview with Quincy Jones on the back cover, so I've included them below.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #13

Tracks: Lemme try to rank 'em
  1. Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)
  2. I Believe In You
  3. The Best Is Yet To Come
  4. The Good Life
  5. More (Theme from Mondo Cane)
  6. I Wish You Love
  7. Wives And Lovers
  8. I Wanna Be Around
  9. Hello, Dolly!
  10. I Can't Stop Loving You

Previously revisited for the blog:
Sinatra Sings Cole Porter (2003)
The Capitol Years (1990)
Sinatra at the Sands (1966)

Liner notes:

A Conversation With Mr. Jones

Prior to the recording of this album, arranger and conductor Quincy Jones set up a temporary private studio within the Sinatra offices at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, California. At the studio Jones wrote his arrangements: at the same time, Sinatra acted in and, for the first time, directed his new film, "None But the Brave." To prepare for the recording sessions, Jones (whom Sinatra nicknamed "Q") often worked late into the night framing his arrangements, occasionally sleeping at the Sinatra offices.

In the following conversation, Jones discussed the atmosphere at the sessions, the preparations for them, and the musical results. He began by talking about the audiences at the Basie-Sinatra sessions.

It's very helpful to have an audience to play off, particularly when they're responsive and attentive, as the audiences at these sessions were. The atmosphere was very informal, but it was relaxed rather than chaotic. I know Basic's band plays better with an audience, and I think Frank does too. But a remarkable thing about Frank is that he is able to tune them out. When he starts singing, he forgets they're there. He has a fantastic power of concentration. And of course, you really do have to concentrate at a record session because after you get out of there, the music you've made is on record forever.

A lot of work goes into a rehearsal because you're so cognizant that a record is a permanent thing. A lot of sweat is involved. A lot of soul, too, but a lot of work. Each session-and there are usually three for most albums-is only three hours long. I don't think many people realize how serious those hours are. Not that we don't also enjoy ourselves when things are working right-as they did on these dates.

How did the idea of getting Count Basie, Frank Sinatra and you together begin?

It was like a chain letter. I was thrilled because I'd always wanted to work with Frank and I know Basic had wanted to do another album with him after their "Basie-Sinatra" set on Reprise. What happened was that Reprise called and said Sinatra would be back in California from Hawaii, where he'd been shooting on location for "None But the Brave," on May 27th. I said that wouldn't give us much time if we were to record on June 8th or 9th and that I'd like to get with Frank as soon as possible to talk over the songs with him. The next thing I knew I was in Hawaii, and that was beautiful. Frank had said, "Come on over here," and so I picked up Bill Miller, his accompanist, in California and we were off.

How did you two work in Hawaii?

I don't know how Frank finds the time, but within one hour after I arrived in Hawaii (I was-there some six or seven days altogether), we were straight. It was a Sunday, and we met in the home in which Frank was staying. Bill Miller and I came into the room. After being fueled by some "gasoline" (the Jack Daniels kind), we were at the piano. Within an hour, we had all the routines worked out, the modulations, the tempos and the styles for each tune. There were no problems at all. Nothing but love from the beginning. Frank is so alert musically and so resilient that he's marvelous to work with. He was open to all suggestions, and he had some of his own too.

How did things go at the sessions themselves?

To begin with, the way Frank records makes it much easier to establish rapport. Instead of getting off in a kind of isolation booth, as many singers do in a studio, Frank stands in a small half-shell near the rhythm section. There everybody can see him, and he can feel directly what's going on around him. Again, at the dates, Frank was exceptionally aware of the best methods to use, the most comfortable way to do the songs. I remember that in "I Believe in You," for example, there was a little rhythm figure Frank wanted to insert in the bridge. And Basic's drummer, Sonny Payne, remarked at the time what a pleasure it was to work with so musical a singer and to work, moreover, with a man who, in a sense, was able to swing him.

What were some of the ways in which you adapted some of the songs? For example, one of the tunes was "I Can't Stop Loving You," which you arranged for Basie on his Reprise album, 'This Time By Basie." You won a Grammy from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for that How'd you change it for this album?

We put an intriguing little bass figure underneath it, and we got the strings playing almost saxophone figures on it. They interpreted those patterns very well. I tried to notate it so that if would feel very loose.

Most of the songs come from fairly well known original versions.

Yes, we did take songs which had been identified with very specialized kinds of backgrounds, like Jack Jones' "Wives and Lovers." But we had to transmute them because when you're working with a combination as unique as that of Basie and Sinatra, you have to discard all superfluities and get to the bones of a song before you start building it again. I think we accomplished that. In the case of "Wives and Lovers," for instance, we changed the 3/4 waltz tempo in which it was originally written into 4/4 time. And we also added a kind of mesmeric shuffle beat. "Fly Me To The Moon" had also originally been written as a waltz and later become famous as a bossa nova. For this date, we translated it into a swinging 4/4 time.

How did you select the tunes that would best fit the string-augmented band which was present for two of the three sessions?

It was a difficult challenge. I tried to select those tunes which had the kind of harmonic elements which would be particularly heightened by the colors we can get with strings. "Good Life," for example, and "More." In the latter, the strings seemed especially apt to enhance the groove we were getting.

What is your approach in writing for the Basie band?

I've been with this Basie family for a while now, and I think I understand what they really groove with. Once I can bring an arrangement up to that point-where it's comfortable and right for them-they just take it from there. They add a distinctive personality to the score, a personality of a quality you can never get out of a studio band. For one thing, there is no way any studio band can achieve the cohesiveness of a group that's been together a long time. Take the Basie sax section. It's the best reed section I've heard anywhere in the world -live or on records. One of the reasons for their superiority is that each man in it is an excellent musician, and the other reason is that they've been together for ten years. They are just like a family, and cannot be equalled by anybody.

Another basic factor in the Basie band's personality is that rhythm section. Its beat is so fundamental that, in a paradoxical sense, it's timeless. It seems to go back to the very foundation of what rhythm is. There's Basie himself and Freddie Green and Sonny Payne, whom the musicians call "Magoo." That's another index of the family byplay in the band. Everybody has a nickname. Basie is "Splank," Buddy Catlett is "Bumblebee," and Freddie Green is "Pepper." 

Basie, of course, is renowned for playing as few notes as possible, and that seems to be particularly in evidence in this set.

The word "economy" is an understatement when referring to Basie. During one of the tunes, Frank said, "Give me the pitch, Basie" And Basie hit one staccato note-"splank!"-and it was all there. It's not only economy; it's authority. When Basie plays, there's no waste motion just as there are no wasted notes. He knows exactly what's needed-and how to do it.

You also brought in a few added musicians.

One was Harry Edison, also known as "Sportin' Life" and "Sweets" He's been featured on Frank's dates with Nelson Riddle for years. Edison has a particular quality. In fact, only Joe Newman can also do the kind of thing "Sweets" does. They play their trumpet like a saxophone. Where another trumpeter would play with too much animation or with too wide a range, "Sweets" can say a great deal with just a few notes because he can bend and shake those notes and make them contain so much substance.

You added other brass as well - Al Porcino on trumpet and Ken Shroyer on bass trombone.

We did that because there are times when a singer who is building a groove and building a picture on a song might have to stop and wait until the blood comes back into the trumpet player's lips. By having men in reserve, we don't have to disturb a singer's groove. And we also added percussion-Emil Richards, and, of course, the string section. I should note that the strings contained the loveliest cellist I have ever seen in a string section.

Finally, what distinguishes writing for Sinatra?

To begin with, he is so personal a singer. Nobody can imitate him. Sammy Davis, Jr. is one of his closest friends and yet Frank is the one imitation Sammy really can't do. He can do the mannerisms, but he cannot imitate that sound. Secondly, Frank is unusually sensitive. He is so flexible musically that he fits easily into every situation. And when he has an idea he wants to incorporate, he is able to immediately absorb the whole musical context surrounding that idea. He utilizes every asset he finds, and he's an expert at eliminating stumbling blocks. Both he and Basic have this remarkable ability to eliminate the negative. In "I Wish You Love," for instance, we had a pickup which tipped off the tempo. Frank just omitted it. starting off with the voice. A very natural thing to do and one that worked out perfectly. And there is also his rhythmic sense and inventiveness. He can stretch out a little further even in a set rhythmic figure. And he's not constricted by the melody as it was written. He bends it so that invariably it fits flawlessly into what's going on in the background. So far as I can put the essence of Frank into words, I'd say that he just makes everything work. He makes everything fit, and that's exactly what happened on these sessions.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

M - Pop Muzik (1979)

Note: this 1997 CD reissue is Robin Scott's 1979 album New York-London-Paris-Munich which the Collectables label renamed Pop Muzik in an attempt to increase sales. And, according to Discogs, "Replaces the disco medley of 'Moderne Man/Satisfy Your Lust' with both tracks from the original 1978 single. Also adds the original b-side to the 'Pop Muzik' single, 'M Factor'." Sounds like a disaster for M purists but good enough for me, particularly at a low price point.

So I'm using this time of quarantine/telecommuting to complete some interior painting in the house (6 rooms down, 1 to go). Of course, I've got the music on while I'm rolling and brushing. More specifically, I've been listening to Sirius/XM channel 704: 70s/80s Pop. Pros: no DJs, no ads, no breaks of any kind, just music. Con: unimaginative, repetitive playlist.

One of the tunes on this limited playlist is Pop Muzik by M, a #1 single in November, 1979. I've heard the song many times and it's included in my CD collection on volume 2 of the Just Can't Get Enough: New Wave Hits of the '80s series. But even though the song has been played plenty over the past 40 years, I've never tired of it. Then I began to wonder why I never bought the single or album because it sounds like something 13-year-old me would have purchased. Take all these thoughts, add a dash of nostalgia, some paint fumes plus a credit card, and this CD appears at my door a week later. On first blush, the album is reminding me of English Garden, another danceable British New Wave album released in '79. It's a mixed bag - not at all what I expected - but it's got hooks and even though I've only heard the album a few times yet, I'm digging it.

Smash Hits, January 24, 1980, p. 21

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #79
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #109

Tracks: I'm liking tracks 1 - 6, then things slack off for a couple of tracks before rebounding at the end.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I've just discovered the whole album, but Pop Muzik, like any good single, immediately takes me back to the time and place I first heard it. In my particular case, that was 8th grade when (in my ever-unreliable mind) I was King of the middle school I attended.

His Majesty's portrait in the 1979-80 school annual.
Orthodontics, terry cloth shirt, bowl cut - living the dream.
In all seriousness, I miss that thick hair.

Curiously, the following unrelated advertisement/promotion was included in the case along with the CD insert:

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Buddy Guy - Damn Right, I've Got The Blues (1991)

Note: this release was originally purchased as a cassette tape, later replaced by a CD.

Lauded as a comeback album, this was my introduction to Rock And Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy and I get the feeling that I'm not the only one. Quality blues that won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album as well as multiple W.C. Handy Blues Awards: Entertainer of the Year, Blues Instrumentalist - Guitar, Contemporary Blues Album of the Year - U.S., and Blues Song of the Year for the album's title track.

Rolling Stone, December 12, 1991, pp. 174, 178
Note: RS would later award the album ★★★½

I don't listen to much blues music, but when I do, this stuff hits the spot. Recommended for the open road or a hot, summer porch with some cool beverages. It hit 97 degrees here yesterday, so I'm opting for the latter.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #136

Tracks: My picks are the passionate title track which includes a blistering guitar solo, Where Is The Next One Coming From, Too Broke To Spend The Night, and Let Me Love You Baby.  And the cover of Mustang Sally, while predictable, is a fun ride. The album concludes with a tasteful memorial piece to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Sometime in 1992, I traveled to visit an old friend from high school and he played this CD for me. On my way home, I picked up a cassette copy for my personal enjoyment. Why a tape and not a CD? Two reasons: 1) my truck at the time (a dark gray 1990 Nissan Hardbody extended cab with a manual transmission) had a tape player, not a CD player, and 2) cassettes were about half the price of CDs in '91. Somewhat ironically, I picked up this used CD for about half of what I paid for that cassette.

I visited Buddy Guy's Legends club when I visited Chicago in October 2013. Buddy wasn't there, but I enjoyed the intimacy of the club as well as the music.

Previously revisited for the blog:
Alone & Acoustic (1991)

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Thomas Dolby - The Flat Earth (1984)

Note: this release was originally purchased as a LP, later replaced by a CD. The CD I listened to was not the 2009 remastered "Collector's Edition" reissue.

I loved The Golden Age of Wireless and at some point placed it at #5 on my list of the Top 82 Albums of 1982. To call this follow-up "highly anticipated" is an understatement and when it finally hit my turntable, I was underwhelmed. The writing just wasn't as strong. Sophomore slump? Perhaps. This album was more moody and I just wanted to dance? More likely. For what it's worth, I like it better now than I did in '84 but I had a lot going on then (see below).

Press of the time:
  • Billboard: "Richer vocal and orchestral details attest to a broader palette"
  • Smash Hits (5 out of 10): "A real disappointment" 
  • CashBox: "vocals are as haunting as they are compelling."
  • Rolling Stone (★★★★): "Dolby clearly has the talent and the technical know-how to make music any shape he wants it."
  • Stereo Review: "elusive, exceedingly busy, and largely unapproachable"
  • Robert Christgau (C+): "his passion for texture subsumes what small knack he has for cruder, more linear devices."
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #35
Peak on the Billboard Rock Album chart: #40
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #20

  1. Dissidents - I just can't wrap my head around the dichotomy here: is it a funk tune or an experimental synth tune with lots of production tricks? If it's supposed to be both, it doesn't really succeed for me. Matthew Seligman's bass steal the show here, as it does throughout the album.
  2. The Flat Earth - I dig the groove here and the focus seems to be on songwriting (with a just a touch of world music) rather than effects. I would have picked this as a subtle album opener, but they didn't ask me. 
  3. Screen Kiss - The verse has an ear-catching chord progression but the chorus doesn't have a discernible hook. This track is more about atmosphere than anything.
  4. White City - This energetic tune has always been my favorite track on the album. In fact, it's one of the few tunes I ever "purchased" from iTunes (I say "purchased" because, like many iTunes purchases, it eventually disappeared from my account after about 5 years. Don't get me started) Anyhoo, I like everything about this one, from the syncopated yelling going into the chorus, the bridge, even the silly monologue. And, of course, Seligman's work.
  5. Mulu The Rain Forest - pass
  6. I Scare Myself - a cover of a tune from Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks is pretty faithful to the original in everything but instrumentation. Also, Dolby has a better voice than Hicks. Didn't care for it much back in '84, but now I think it is one of the better tunes on the album (I'd rank it 3rd, maybe). Tasteful work by Dolby on piano and by Peter Thoms on Trombone.
  7. Hyperactive - chasing the chart success of She Blinded Me With Science and who could blame him? I think it's the second-best song on the album, but I imagine most teens figured Science as a one-off novelty tune which might explain why this follow-up only reached #62 on the Billboard Hot 100. Seems very out-of-place on this album, an afterthought. But now I get to dance. :)

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I probably bought this album in or around April 1984, during the spring of my senior year in high school. At 17, I had the world on a string - warm weather, college scholarship, attractive prom date, successful academic and fine arts competitions/performances, steady work making $3.35/hour at Burger King, lots of senior parties, spring break trips, good health, great friends, and, ultimately, high school graduation. There's no way I could have hated any album I purchased around that time. Didn't listen to much? Yes. Hate? No way.

Previously revisited for the blog:
A Map of the Floating City (2011)
The Sole Inhabitant (2008)
12 x 12 Original Remixes (1999)
Retrospectacle: The Best Of (1994)
Astronauts & Heretics (1992)
Aliens Ate My Buick (1988)
The Golden Age of Wireless (1982)

Friday, April 3, 2020

Various Artists - ESPN Presents Jock Rock, Vol. 1 (1994)

Not to be confused with the later Jock Jams series, but just as needless. I'll let Devon Jackson from Entertainment Weekly do the heavy lifting on this one:
Composed mostly of predictable pro-sports staples like Queen’s ”We Will Rock You” and the Isley Brothers’ ”Shout,” Jock Rock Volume 1 rarely transports you into the sports arena. When the songs do, the organ-riff segues and screaming crowds (”Who Wants a Hotdog?”) are too short and too far between to keep you there. D+
For more on the series origins, check out this article.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #79

Under the crowd noise, there's some good tunes there, most of which I have on other discs. A better classic rock alternative is the Rockin' Down The Block compilation. This Jock Rock CD is simply a good idea poorly executed.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: No idea how this got onto my shelves.