Friday, May 4, 2012

Several Species of Small Furry Thoughts

George Harrison – Early Takes Volume 1
I loved the Martin Scorcese PBS special Living In The Material World and I assumed this was going to be kind of a soundtrack to the movie with hits, a couple of rarities, maybe some annoying snippets of talking from the movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Early Takes Volume 1 is an enormously important piece of the George Harrison puzzle. With years and reflection time has proven George to be as important a Beatle as John and Paul with his understated and underestimated guitar work and more than few of the Beatles’ greatest songs bearing his name as the author. Early Takes collects songs from throughout his post-Beatles career (frustratingly devoid of meaningful liner notes, so pinpointing who is playing and when is almost impossible) and presents them as stripped down demo versions. These are not throwaways however. Each song captures a warm intimate moment with Harrison giving his all to the performance. His vocals are passionate and lend added depth to classic songs like “Run of the Mill,” I’d Have You Anytime” or “Behind That Locked Door” from his epic All Things Must Pass album. Removed from the context of Phil Spector’s overbearing production, these songs share a poetic fluidity and direct emotional resonance with Dylan’s work of the period. Speaking of the bard, there is a solo take of “Mama You Been On My Mind” which George co-wrote with Dylan. It is followed by a touching version of The Everly Brothers’ weeper “Let it Be Me,” which clearly had a special place in George’s heart. I found this collection to be completely wonderful to listen to and an essential part of my understanding of the quiet Beatle. The Volume 1 part gives me great hope that there might be more of the same.
O’Brien Party Of 7 – Reincarnation: The Songs Of Roger Miller
What O’Brien’s you ask? Why our very own O’Briens. Musical siblings Tim and Mollie O’Brien bring along various husbands and children and take on one of America’s greatest songwriters, Roger Miller. When I looked over the songs the first thing I noticed was, with the exception of “King Of The Road,” these were not Roger Miller’s most famous songs. That’s good, because Miller wrote so many fantastic songs, people need to be exposed to more than “Chug-a-lug” and  “Dang Me.” Miller’s greatest talent was never being predictable. He never wrote a line that went the way you expected it to go yet he managed to put his finger on as many universal truths as just about any popular songwriter in American history. He was funny and poignant, and often at the same time. The various O’Briens bring the familial warmth and collective talent that the material deserves. Mollie has one of the clearest and most naturally appealing voices in music and Tim has a tremendous ability to make every song his own. His melodic mandolin playing and spot-on arranging abilities never fail. He has done for Roger Miller what he did for Dylan on his Red On Blonde tribute record. Breathing new life into historically important material is a daunting and difficult task, and doing it with such obvious joie de vivre an even taller order, but Colorado’s own O’Briens pull it off beautifully.
Janet Feder – Songs With Words
It’s not a surprise that Janet Feder’s musicianship is stunning - a completely original amalgam of traditional technique and avant-leaning accents. She can be favorably compared to Derek Bailey or John Fahey. It isn’t a surprise that her album Songs With Words is an audiophile’s dream: it is recorded in surround, using the Sonoma Super Audio system. Her albums always sound good, and she is a perfectionist in the live setting as well. It is not a surprise that Songs With Words is a musically powerful work of art; Janet Feder is nothing if not thoughtful and receptive. The surprise comes in her beautifully evocative voice, which is debuted on her new album.  Janet usually inhabits the rarified world of instrumental guitar geniuses with her contemplative, classically informed compositions, but on Songs With Words, she ventures into the vocal realm to great effect. Most startling is her rendition of Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind” which she takes in new musical directions while keeping the emotional destination intact. What a challenge! Take one of the most recognized and lionized songs in modern music and turn it on its ear, making it your own - a tall order that Ms. Feder pulls off with relaxed aplomb.
Janet’s guitar playing remains a wonder. Her prepared, percussive style is the perfect blend of searching for and then finding home. She explores the outer reaches of sonic possibility yet never loses the thread of melody and beauty. It is so rare to find an artist who achieves this level of technical brilliance on her instrument and can still bring you to your knees with the emotional impact of her performing abilities. Songs With Words does just that: it lifts the mind and then holds the heart in that elevated space.

 - by Paul Epstein

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