Albums Old and New
COLUMN: You go through your musical memories and up pops that long lost classic, that awesome album from years gone by, that ideal example of “the way music used to be,” that shining beacon of sonic excellence that puts today’s posers to shame. “I’ll purchase this fine example of harmonic distinction,” you say to yourself, “and thus demonstrate my superior taste to all my acquaintances.” Yes, it was a perfect plan except for one teeny little problem: the old crap didn’t always hold up.
It started at Freak Beat Records when I always find too much to buy. I began with a remastered edition of “Music From Big Pink,” the first album from The Band. In my mind, this album was a masterpiece. Shattering lyrics from Bob Dylan. Magnificent melodies. Shimmering keyboards from Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel. Honest and earthy vocals from almost everyone. One track that’s a genuine Big Hit That Will Last Forever. And so on. But no, as you’ll see.
Big Pink Noise
At the time (1968), critical reaction to this album didn’t go far enough for me and my friends, or at least for those of us who could read. I won’t embarrass the columnists by naming them, but they published words like original, idiosyncratic, pure, ethereal, historic, mythic, and magnificent. Unfortunately, listening to the album now is a journey into terror and revulsion. The only thing the critics got right was that The Band’s sound was a mash up of rock, blues, folk, R&B, and gospel. A bad mash up, unfortunately. A mess up.
Quite frankly, aside from “The Weight,” the album is mostly a joke. Levon Helm’s drumming is all right, and the keyboard work is slick and sleek, but the rest of the tracks are terrible. Rubbery and flaccid bass. Sloppy reeds and violins. Horrifying harmonica. Off-pitch harmonies. And lead vocals that are annoying, messy, nasal, and often unintelligible. Adding insult to injury, there are 9 “bonus tracks” to this release, thus extending the punishment by an extra half-hour. Listening to “Music from Big Pink” is like taking a bath in used dishwater. Download “The Weight” and skip everything else.
David and Sinead to the Rescue
Also as part of my jaunt down memory lane, I picked up copies of “David Live,” the 2-disc paean to David Bowie’s 1974 “Diamond Dogs” tour, and “The Lion and the Cobra,” the first recording from Sinead O’Connor.
There are words that describe these albums: OMG and Wow. Both recordings are astonishing in their scope, power and passion. I played the Bowie discs straight through without a break and found new light and heat in all of the very familiar songs. True, I had seen that tour twice at the Universal Amphitheater, but my son hadn’t (he hadn’t been born) and he played both discs straight through without a break and then put on the 2-disc “Best of Bowie” as a chaser.
The O’Connor tracks were even more of a revelation. I had remembered that “Jackie” and “Mandinka” were outstanding, and they still are, but I was unprepared for the majesty of “Jerusalem,” “Troy,” “I Want Your Hands On Me,” and all of the songs on what must be the most assured first album in history. That she had a hand in writing and producing every cut on the recording gives even more importance to the accomplishment. These songs have the ability to transport you to another plane of listening. Best of all is the fresh nature of O’Connor’s aural landscape; if you had never heard the tunes and someone said it was a new album, you would believe it.
Which brings us to an actual new album called “Ever” by Thia Sexton. It would be easy to focus on her lovely vocals because they are pristine, sinewy, and subtly beautiful. On the other hand, it would be easy to focus on the sound of the album because it is exquisite, layered, masterful, and consistently intriguing. Of course, it would also be easy to focus on Thia’s lead instrument, the cello, because she plays it like a guitar.
Instead, I would urge you to get this album and let the emotion in these songs wash over you like a typhoon of absinthe. Ms. Sexton’s ruminations on lost love will stab you in the heart time and time again, yet her writing is so insightful that there is shattering beauty in every heart-wrenching revelation. Thia Sexton is a major artist just waiting to happen.
Thia Sexton – “Ever”
Produced by Dan Schwartz
Mixed by Eric Liljestrand
Songs written by Thia Sexton
Available for purchase on Amazon
Oct 10, 2009 @ 6:04 PM PDT
You couldn’t be more wrong about Music From Big Pink and David Live.
From “Tears Of Rage” to “I Shall Be Released,” The Band’s album is a non-stop classic of American roots music. There’s not a bad song in the bunch. Admittedly, it can take repeated listenings to fully appreciate the blend of elements that makes them timeless. The bonus tracks are a wonderful collection of alternate takes of the songs that made Dylan’s The Basement Tapes unforgettable.
Conversely, David Live remains the self-indulgent, rather muddled head trip it’s always been. Bowie at the Beeb and Stage do a far superior job of capturing the magic of a David Bowie concert.
Oct 11, 2009 @ 12:29 AM PDT
Only if you like adenoidal moronic vocals could Big Pink be called classic. Thanks for exposing this nightmare. “Repeated listenings” would be torture.