Tuesday, October 9, 2007


On a walk a couple of weeks ago I stopped at Easy Street Records and bought a few old discs on sale. I promised reviews, so here you go.

"Blue," Joni Mitchell, 1971. Although I listened to this for years on LP, this is the one of my four purchases I was afraid I wouldn't still like. Instead I'm struck again by what a good songwriter Joni was. Every song on this classic album (I think it's considered her best) sounds like a classic, and with the consistent, simple arrangements and piano-only accompaniment, they flow together and feel like movements of one long piece. I like it. It holds up. In fact, it's funny to think that this was cutting-edge, singer-songwriter "hippie" music when it came out. It sounds now like it almost could be a feathery-voiced interpretation of standards. Still, I think Joni's a better writer than singer. Her voice is thin and high and tends to shrill out a bit in the higher register. Compare her version of her wonderful song "A Case of You," for example, with K.D. Lang's, on "Hymns of the 49th Parallel." 3 gliomas.

"The Heart of Saturday Night," Tom Waits, 1974. I never thought the words young and supple would come to mind when listening to Tom Waits' voice, but after hearing his growl descend over the years into a bark and a bucket of nails that's how this early collection now sounds to me. I love Tom Waits. I was introduced to him a few years after this release, with the terrific live recording "Nighthawks at the Diner," and I've bought many of his albums since then. Michelle and I saw him a couple years ago at the Paramount in Seattle, and it's one of my pantheon concerts. In the '70s Waits was striving for the sound of an old roadhouse drunk troubadour, and at the time it felt like he was that guy. Now, after a long time between listens, I hear a 20-year-old kid acting as-if. No matter. His songs are beautiful anyway and his stories enticing. A reviewer on iTunes wrote, "The Heart of Saturday Night is hands down the best collection of songs ever written." I wouldn't go that far -- what, has this guy never heard Eminem? -- but it's definitely a good record and I'm glad to have added it to my collection. 4 gliomas.

"Superfly," Curtis Mayfield, 1972. Soul music, baby! This is that classic sound that inspired me as a skinny 12-year-old boy in Roseburg, Ore., to grow up a cool black man. It wasn't as easy as it sounds, let me tell you. Curtis is one of the "leaders of the pack," as Angie Stone describes soul's founding all-stars, and if I have my stories straight he grew up in the same neighborhood as Mavis Staples, one of my all-time favorites, and was given an early break by Mavis' influential father, Pops Staples. It's great to hear this record again after a long break. "Superfly," the soundtrack to a blaxploitation flick about a drug dealer, is less funky than some of Mayfield's other stuff, but it's smooth and sexy and groovin. Puts me in mind of Al Green (whose 2000 New Year's Eve concert was M&M's first date). Some of the instrumental interludes here have the sound of a Lalo Schifrin '70s action-film score, but the whole album is transporting in time and hipness. Highly recommended. 4 gliomas.

"A Donny Hathaway Collection," Donny Hathaway, 1990. Although it has some shortcomings this greatest-hits retrospective might be my favorite of these four purchases. Hathaway is probably best known for his duets with Roberta Flack ("Where is the Love?," "The Closer I Get to You") but he recorded a bunch of great songs and albums on his own. Happily, his first hit, "The Ghetto," is here. He was definitely another leader of the pack, and he probably had the best pure voice of any '70s male soul singer. This collection leaves out some of his up-tempo hits in favor of the Flack duets and slow jams that one reviewer labeled dirge-like -- maybe reflecting Hathaway's depression and 1979 suicide. Even so, if you don't think about that stuff too much, just push play and sit back, this is some righteous music. How can you not love a song titled, "To Be Young, Gifted and Black"? Also an excellent interpretation of a great Leon Russell song, "A Song For You," (Leon's another of my semi-obscure favorites) and of Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On." 4 gliomas.

What do you think, readers? Do you know these recordings? Do you love them too, or am I too generous with my ratings? Maybe my gliomas have gone to my head ...

As Franny would say, comment me!


Michelle aka "cat psychologist" said...

Nice reviews baby. I have been liking the Hathaway and the Mayfield you've been playing. I'd like to hear the Joni -- don't think I've ever heard that one...

kateco said...

hey -- I loved these reviews and the i-tunes link that let me hear the little 30 second clips of the songs. Thanks!

ps: thanks for the cool pix of the beanz tile in the sidebar!