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Monday, Nov 19, 2007

For jazz fans, and fans of American music in general, the early recordings of singer Billie Holiday should already be gospel—essential and cherished source material for the foundational pleasures of all the music that would come later. Without Billie singing “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, there is no Sinatra, no Ray Charles, no Joni Mitchell, and no Miles Davis. Billie’s singing—indeed her musicianship and understanding of a lead voice’s relation to the band and to the beat—is an international treasure. This four-disc box set contains all the essential music that Holiday recorded between 1935 and 1942. Though the members of the band shift over the sessions and years, the model was established in the early tracks—the singer floats over a small swing group (piano, guitar, bass, drums and several horns playing obbligato, lines and counterpoint) with dramatic, effortless flow. On these sides, Holiday takes the art of Louis Armstrong and transforms it into something new—she personalizes Pops’ elastic, emotional vocal style and brings it a radical subtlety and simplicity. She stamps her crackling vocal sound so thoroughly on these songs that many of them will forever be hers, despite a hundred other singers trying them on for size. This music, this body of 80 short recordings, is the mother lode. [Amazon]


Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit



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Monday, Nov 19, 2007

Originally intended for friends and family, indie icon Sufjan Stevens recorded five EPs worth of holiday tracks over the last few years. With the exception of some scant availability on fan sites, this is the first major mainstream release for the 42 deeply devotional songs. Consisting of traditional carols and some Stevens-penned originals, it’s a surprisingly somber “Seasons Greetings” for a genuinely gifted artist. [Amazon]


Sufjan Stevens - Put the Lights on the Tree



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Monday, Nov 19, 2007

The market is swarming with ‘60s music compilations for the 40th anniversary of the “Summer of Love”. The best, this 10-CD TimeLife set, captures the diversity of late ‘60s and early ‘70s music in all its glory. Trippy and funky, rocking and folky, “Flower Power” is a musical melting pot for chilling out, raising a fist, remembering good times and bad, and groovin’ to a message.  Given the current Iraq quagmire, these songs sound as fresh and relevant as when they were first committed to wax. [TimeLife.com]


Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit



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Tuesday, Dec 12, 2006

Four CDs worth of rockabilly both familiar and obscure, Rockin’ Bones doesn’t attempt to become a history lesson. It doesn’t try to answer the hotly contested question of who gave birth to rockabilly. Yet, Rockin’ Bones succeeds as a portrayal of rockabilly—born in the American South and typified by supercharged electric guitar, drums, and slap-back bass—as a moment frozen in time. The genre fell out of favor before it could be truly co-opted and corrupted beyond repair, but not before it could be filled with colorful characters and fly-by-night labels. From the cover’s homage to pulp novels, complete with leather jackets, switchblades, and a dangerous girl who practically licks her lips at the thought of blood, to the song selection, Rockin’ Bones revels in rockabilly’s popular image as dangerous stuff.  [Amazon]


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