Thursday, February 26, 2009

Deadly Death: Little Deaths

One essential song for your ear holes each and every day. Forever.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Andrew Oldham Orchestra - The Rolling Stones Songbook (1966)


At the time, Andrew Loog Oldham must have looked the right part for releasing this record. It was such a nod to the square culture that the Rolling Stones were attempting to wipe away that you had to figure it for a joke. Sure, there were symphonic Beatles records, but somehow that was to be expected from them. Not the Stones -- no, they were rebels. Oldham was brought up on middle-of-the-road sounds and orchestral soundtracks as a kid, though, and making this album was a dream come true for him -- one that the huge success of his charges could make happen. He was also in love with the huge sound of Phil Spector and was directly inspired by the sound of Jack Nitzche's instrumental album, The Lonely Surfer. With the help of arranger David Whitaker, Oldham made a record that paid homage to all of those influences, and 40 years later it sounds quite good. It even rocks surprisingly hard at times, thanks to the wise move of having crack session men like Nicky Hopkins, John Paul Jones, Big Jim Sullivan, and John McLaughlin provide the underpinnings.

Their grit gives the MOR orchestral strings and vocal choruses something rough to rub up against on uptempo tracks like "Satisfaction," the dramatic love songs like "Tell Me," and the moody ballads like "Play with Fire," "You Better Move On," and a very tough and powerful "Heart of Stone." Indeed, apart from a couple of breezy lounge-ready tracks like an Esquivel-ian "Time Is on My Side" and the Oldham original "Theme for a Rolling Stone" (which really should have been called "Love Theme for a Rolling Stone"), Whitaker and Oldham were actually playing for keeps, creating emotionally powerful and musically far-reaching works that sound a little corny at times but more often sock you right in the gut. And when you aren't expecting it, those are the punches that leave the most impression. Nowhere is that more evident than on "The Last Time," the song that the Verve sampled for "Bittersweet Symphony" in 1997. The Andrew Oldham Orchestra's original has all the grandeur and passion of the Verve's track, minus the trip-hop beats and trite lyrics. It's quite a surprise to modern ears that it outshines the remake, and it's an equally shocking surprise that this album is more than just a curiosity. Instead, it is a vital artifact that Stones fans and devotees of '60s pop should hear at least once. It might even become a mainstay of your hidden-treasures list. - AMG

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pink Floyd - Interstellar Overdrive (1966-1968)


As an exploration of Pink Floyd's early history, this 17-song bootleg has virtually no peer -- beginning with "Lucy Leave," a crunchy two-chord Syd Barrett-authored rocker dating from the group's first session in October 1966, it just grabs listeners and never lets them go. The group's version of "I'm a King Bee" shows more inventive guitar work than, say, the Rolling Stones' rendition of two and a half year earlier. And from those two jewels out of the group's pre-history, the disc roars into the alternate takes from their more familiar earlier psychedelic period -- the January 1967 long version of "Interstellar Overdrive," the A- and B-sides of the early singles (including a remastering of "Candy and a Currant Bun" that sounds like the guitars are in the room with you); alternate (and delightfully strange) mono mixes of "Flamingo" (with delightfully upfront phasing of the guitars, drums, and voices), "Scarecrow," and "Interstellar Overdrive"; plus stereo mixes of "Apples and Oranges" and "Paintbox"; and odd Syd Barrett outtakes from the period of his exit out of the band and his early solo work.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Satyajit Ray - Charulata (1964)


Charulata (released in the English-speaking world as The Lonely Wife), when pressed, Ray would choose as his best ever. The film tells the story of a lonely housewife, known as Charu, who lives a wealthy, secluded and idle life in 1870's Calcutta. Her husband, Bhupati, runs a newspaper, The Sentinel, and spends more time at work than with his wife. However, he notices that Charu is lonely, and asks his cousin, Amal, to keep her company. Amal is a writer and is asked to help Charu with her own writing. However, after some time, Charu and Amal's feelings for each other move beyond those of a mentoring relationship. Scandalous!

Five songs totaling not even eight minutes in length, the musical score of this movie was composed entirely by the director himself, Satyajit Ray. Worth a listen for Charu's theme alone - a song made popular in 2007's The Darjeeling Limited.