Thursday, December 13, 2007

Casual Listening Best of 2007

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

(Rhapsody subscribers – instructions at the bottom for how to access the Casual Listening 100 playlist)

This is the last post of the year. Thanks to everyone for reading, writing, and supporting the music. See you in 2008!


10 albums, 10 genres, the best music of the year.

1. Radiohead – In Rainbows (rock)

The album of the year. The title is apt, and listening is like swimming in a kaleidoscope of sound. Melodies ache across tumbling prisms with stylized drums and arching guitar lines. Multiple listenings each reveal new visions. Mind-altering music.

2. Herbie Hancock – River: The Joni Letters (jazz)

Moving jazz portraits of Joni Mitchell songs, both hits and hidden treasures. Hancock peels away layer after layer, reminding us just how much music is packed into Mitchell’s tunes. Fantastic guest vocals by Nora Jones, Tina Turner, and Leonard Cohen.

3. Galactic – From the Corner to the Block (rap)

Galactic is proof that New Orleans has a musical future. A brilliant mix of jazz and hip hop, with guest rappers on every track. Rump-shaking funk, with additional background provided by mardi-gras style horn players. Did I mention funky?

4. Chaka Khan – Funk This (R&B)

Wicked syncopation and slow jams from the original funk goddess. A cover of Jimi Hendix’s “Castles Made of Sand” is arguably better than the original. A duet with Mary J. Blige tears the roof off. The new generation of soul singers should take note – this is how it’s done.

5. I’m Not There: Original Soundtrack (folk)

The songs from the upcoming Bob Dylan biopic are an embarrassment of riches. Big names like Eddie Vedder and Jeff Tweedy, living legends like Willie Nelson and Richie Havens, and buzz bands like Iron & Wine and Cat Power all do powerful takes on Dylan. The sounds of these songs are all over the map, but what comes through brilliantly is the emotional bite that you hear in the best of Dylan. If you hate Dylan, this album could change your mind. If you love Dylan, some of these songs will put you in tears.

6. The Silk Road Ensemble – New Impossibilities (classical)

Yo-Yo Ma’s pan-Asian supergroup teams up with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for a mind-opening set of cross-cultural creativity. Eastern instruments such as pipa, sheng, and er-hu join Ma’s cello, a battery of percussion, and occasionally the entire orchestra to create a surprising array of suggestive textures. Several of the pieces are challenging listening, but on balance Silk Road is more accessible than avant-garde.

7. Mike Farris: Salvation in Lights (gospel)

The former frontman of the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies got sober, got religion, and got really, really good. He does several classic spirituals and hymns in a blues-gospel style backed with a choir and a horn section. He’s the rare singer with the pipes to pull it off, and it’ll take everything you’ve got not to start dancing on your chair to some of these songs.

8. Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Ten Days Out (blues)

When this guitar prodigy turned 30 last year, he packed up a band and a film crew and headed for blues country to play with some of the last living blues legends, many approaching three times his age. They recorded in kitchens, backyard barbecues, and juke joints, capturing styles old and new in their natural surroundings. This album is a ticket to a private concert with some of the finest blues artists you’ve never heard of and may never hear again. Four of the musicians that appear here are no longer with us.

9. M.I.A. – Kala (world)

Revolutionary dance tracks that draw influences from all over the globe. Snippets of Bollywood, Jamaican dancehall, Techno, and Dijeridoo, to name just a few. Music twenty years ahead of its time.

10. Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade (country)

Everything you’ve come to expect from Steve Earle – gutsy vocals, catchy songwriting, pointed satire, and folksy tributes. The arrangements are unexpectedly urbane, with electronic samples scattered among the mandolins. Earle has always been an iconoclast, and seems equally at ease in a New York soundscape as in a Texas one.

Rhapsody Subscribers: Go to playlist central, decade mixes. Scroll to the bottom and click See More. Click the Most Recent button. Scroll down to find “Casual Listening 100 – Best of 2007,” published December 13. Play it and rate it!

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Casual Listening Extra 12-7-07

Casual Listening


December 7, 2007

Bonde do Role – Marina Gasolina (dance)

Off the wall Brazillian pop that you can’t help but dance to. One song has a backbeat of tuba and frog croaks, and it’s absolutely irresistible.

Aphrodesia – Lagos by Bus (world)

Stateside Afrobeat on vacation in Nigeria. A balance of heavy and relaxed dance grooves with a solid dose of funk. Dig it.

Casual Listening 12-7-07

Casual Listening

a review of cool new music

by Jeff Pinzino

December 7, 2007

New releases slow to a trickle after Thanksgiving, so Casual Listening will be home to special features over the next few weeks to help wind up the year.

REQUEST WEEK: All of these albums have been recommended to Casual Listening by readers over the past year

Ornette Coleman – Sound Grammar (jazz)

In 1960, free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman was ahead of his time. In 2007, time finally caught up and awarded him the Pulitzer Prize in Music for this brilliant live set. Coleman’s rapid saxophone runs, seemingly disconnected from the furious playing going on around him, balance with beautifully oblique ballads. On first listen, this music is easy to dismiss as noise, but once your ears adjust to Coleman’s grammar, a methodical madness emerges.

Beirut – The Flying Cup Club (world)

You might expect a scratchy version of this gypsy-inspired orchestral music playing on the phonograph in the background of an Indiana Jones movie. Subtle and seductive cabaret vocals rest in a hammock of trumpets, accordion, and various strings.

Bobby Sanabria – Big Band Urban Folktales (Latin)

Somewhere, Dizzy Gillespie is listening with his celestial headphones and thoroughly digging this album. Sanabria drives a solid big band over Latin percussion, straight into the groove between salsa and swing.

A Band of Bees – Octopus (rock)

These Bees create quirky, genre-bending mosaics. Touches of blues, reggae, and afrobeat enhance a jammy blend of harmonies. For days when you need to let your goofy side loose a little.

Damian Marley – Welcome to Jamrock (reggae)

Marley pushes roots reggae straight into the 21st century, weaving together dancehall, hip hop, and R&B with more traditional stylings. Sharp production and sharp lyrics make for a compelling set of cosmopolitan Jamaican music.

Celtic Woman – A New Journey (Celtic, sort of)

I had to double-check my player to make sure I hadn’t accidentally cued up an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical. Melodramatic, bombastic arrangements of Irish and faux-Irish tunes with rainsticks, harps, and what sound like taiko drummers. Save your cash for live music night at your local Irish pub.

Special thanks to Steve, Tim, Dad, Mark, Jordan, and Dave for the requests.

New releases in the blog this week: Bonde do Role, Aphrodesia

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