Sunday, September 04, 2005

Five CDs, Five Minutes

As summer draws to a close we turn our attention to music with Jess selecting five CDs he dubs overlooked essentials. Participating are Jess, Ty, Dona, Jim and Ava of The Third Estate Sunday Review, Betty of Thomas Friedman is a Great Man, Kat of Kat's Corner (of The Common Ills), Elaine who's been substituting for Rebecca at Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Mike of Mikey Likes It! and C.I. of The Common Ills.

Jess: First up is Pearl Jam's 16/6/00 Spodek, Katowice. This is part of the official bootleg CDs documenting Pearl Jam's 2000 concerts. From their June 16th concert in Poland, this is a double disc set.

Kat: I agree with this selection. It's my favorite of the Pearl Jam live albums. There's a real mood being set in their unrushed delivery and choice of beginning the set with ballads.

Ty: "Soldier of Love" is amazing.

Jim: And "Jeremy" is my favorite performance.

Kat: Unlike the other live releases in this series, this one really stands out. This last minute concert is about the group playing the songs that they want and performing them the way they want to perform them. If you want to understand where they're coming from, this album remains a must.

Jess: Next up we have Sarah McLachlan's Surfacing from 1999.

Betty: This one was one of my favorites. I checked it out at the library and enjoyed it from the start. When "Full of Grace" came on, I remembered that song from the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The whole album has a haunting and haunted quality.

Kat: The album, the finest thing McLachlan's done, is near perfect. For me, "Sweet Surrender" spoils it. The arrangement doesn't fit with the other songs. A mood's created throughout but "Sweet Surrender" mars it with the dance beat.

Jim: This is the kind of CD I'd put on if I was feeling bad or low.

Jess: Yeah. Lights out, under the covers, this is the album.

Elaine: Alone or with someone?

Jess: Either way.

Dona: This doesn't strike me as a "summer album." It's more of a fall or spring one when things are dying or beginning.

Jess: Interesting. Next up we have Lenny Kravitz's 5 from 1998.

Mike: This one was my favorite! "Fly" and "Black Velveteen" and "Supersoulfighter." I love Kravitz and I love it when he really jams.

Betty: I love Lenny and like a lot of songs on this album but for me his greatest hits is the album.

Jess: Really?

Betty: Well that and Let Love Rule. That one had a theme to it and it all fell together beautifully. Too often with Lenny's later albums, I'm picking out my favorite tracks and programming them to play. This isn't an album that I'd just pop in the player and push play on.

Jim: I'm completely the opposite. This is probably my favorite Lenny Kravitz CD.

Ty: Which is why you're always walking off with Jess' copy of it.

Jim: True.

Jess: Next up we have Ani DiFranco's Living In Clip from 1997 which is a double disc live album.

Kat: This is the album that really helped get the word out on Ani. It's amazing and shows her talents off in ways that studio albums hadn't.

Betty: This is one of the artists I didn't even know about until I started helping out here and have ended up just loving. On Jess' advice, this was the album I started with to add Ani to my collection. I can listen to this over and over.

Mike: Do you prefer the bass and guitar on this version of "Napolean" or on the one from Dilate, Jess?

Jess: On Dilate, it's so heavy, it's like a bass built song almost. I think both work and it depends on my mood for which one is my favorite.

C.I.: My favorite song from the album was "Napolean" for years. This is a CD I've listened to repeatedly. I preferred the first disc so much that I rarely listened to the second disc. Then one day I was in the mood for "Untouchable Face" --

Kat: Brilliant song.

C.I.: Yeah, and I put on disc two and fell in love with "Both Sides." Since then, any version of "Both Sides" has been my favorite song of her 90s work.

Ava: "Both Sides," which is a favorite of Betty's as well, is just an amazing song. Lyrically and musically. It pulsates.

Kat: At her best, Ani DiFranco is a story teller so when she's doing a "Both Sides" or an "Untouchable Face" or a "Welcome To:" she's doing what she does best. She's honestly someone that I don't access easily. I'm only now able to get into Knuckle Down, her latest album. She's not an instant listen for me. I have to play her repeatedly to really get what she's attempting. She's one of a handful of artists to emerge in the last two decades.

Elaine: What I'm wondering, and I love Ani, is what was going through Jess' life in the last part of the nineties since all four picks are from that period?

Jim: Good point. I hadn't even noticed that. What was going on in that period, Jess?

Jess: Huh. I don't know. I hadn't even noticed that. I just selected at random.

Elaine: Or thought you did.

Jess: Let me ponder that. Our final CD is not from that period. It's Carole King's The Carnegie Hall Concert: June 18, 1971.

Elaine: Which was released in?

Jess: 1996. My God. Why did I do that?

Dona: Before you hop on the couch and Elaine starts racking up billable hours, I'll offer that this the perfect James Taylor album.

Ty: Huh?

Dona: He comes on for background vocals and duet near the end and then he's, thankfully gone.
He's not singing his own doodles striving to be songs. No "limosine driver, big Cadillac man" or boasts of being a "Steamroller." For me, he's the weakest of the singer-songwriters.

C.I.: Frequently with bad intonation.

Dona: Yes.

Betty: For me, the big surprise was "Child of Mine." I didn't know that song and I really love it. It's just such a gentle song.

Ava: And musically, it moves like a child taking it's first steps. I really enjoy it as well.

Kat: This is the sort of live album that The Living Room Tour should have been. It's Carole King, at the piano, singing songs and not attempting to be trendy or provide laughter, just about the music.

Ty: I agree. And I loved Betty and Ava's comments about "Child of Mine." It really is about a child growning up and it really is musically taking the first steps. "Although you see the world" step, "different than me" step, "Sometimes I can touch upon" step, "The wonders that you see."
That's a really great point. It and "No Easy Way Down" are probably my two favorite songs on the CD.

Jim: I think Jess selected the five because they all speak to a committment to music.

Elaine: (laughing) Rescuer.

Betty: Jess?

Jess: I'm stuck trying to figure out what's so significant about that period to me.

Mike: (laughing) Good. You're freaked out like I was when you were all bringing up the Chinese Zodiac.

Jess: Way to get my back, Mike. I guess, and I'm not sure, that this was a period where I lost all interest in the radio. I grew up with music being played all the time. The radio or vinyl or cassette or CD. And what I remember most, if I think about it, is that these are all CDs that I started playing really heavily. Radio was really sucking bad. I grew up using the radio the way most people do the TV. Walking down the hall of my home, you'd hear my mother's radio on one station and my sister's on another and sometimes the one in the living room on as well. All different stations, because we listened to a wide range of music. And I had probably three favorite stations one year and then the next they were all gone. Interesting, I hadn't thought of that. How does that sound Elaine?

Elaine: Good but like only part of the answer. But Dona's indicating that we're out of time so we'll continue this in another session.

Jess: Good. The point to this feature was to make sure music was discussed here. Mid-week, Mike interviewed me and I realized that I felt like we could do more music here and really wanted to. There wasn't enough time to pull off much so this is a start. We may do cuttings or roundtables or just work more songs into what we write, but we're all agreed that we to shine more of a spotlight here on music.
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