New albums out this week that are available in full on lala.com for streaming…
Yo-Yo Ma is a world-renowned, Grammy-winning cellist extraordinaire, and his talent matches his level of humility. He is extremely joyous and eager to share his music with the world in such a way that will engage them unlike ever before. He is on a continual quest, searching for new ways to communicate with audiences. When Ma plays a piece of music—you feel it, nowhere is this more audible than on his new album, Songs of Joy and Peace. Ma has collaborated with luminaries from various genres on this project, including James Taylor, Alison Krauss, Renée Fleming, Chris Botti, and Diana Krall, allowing him to move in creative new directions.
America and the rest of the world finds itself in precarious times, and as President Barack Obama takes office, it is no wonder that a candidate who embraced the mantra of change and standing together as one voice chose Ma as an artist to perform at the inaugural ball. Ma’s acute and ever-evolving understanding of his instrument and the role that music plays in a global setting that continues to motivate musicians of all cultural backgrounds to channel that same level of intensity for their craft. In 1998 Ma acted on his ambition by establishing the Silk Road Project to promote the study of the cultural, artistic, and intellectual traditions along the ancient Silk Road trade route that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. The Silk Road Project has three major goals: to illuminate the historical contributions of the Silk Road; support innovative collaborations between composers and musicians from Asia, Europe, and North America; and explore classical music within a wider global context.
Once CHANDRA had toured their EP, it was decided that Chandra should be backed by other teenagers. So, with Diserio and Alexander in tow, the Chandra Dimension was born. The Chandra Dimension consisted of Chandra, a 12-year-old on keys,a 17-year-old on bass, and a 14-year-old on drums. The Chandra Dimension recorded an EP that was not released until last year when both the original CHANDRA EP and The Chandra Dimension EP were re-released as a single album by Cantor Records (you can listen to minute-long clips at Other Music)
The Chandra Dimension EP differs somewhat from the CHANDRA EP, but shares many of the first EP’s salient characteristics. Opener, “Get It Out of Your System”, begins energetically and seems more streamlined than the previous EP; trebly guitar is featured more prominently and Chandra’s voice is more commanding. Other than that there is still the dissonant-yet-melodic keys and dancey bass line backed by disco drums. The chorus is excellent with a vocal line that constantly changes emphases, spinning around and leaving the listener disoriented but satisfied. The live claps on this song add a level of childish excitement as they are weak-sounding and are obviously the product of children’s hands.
The third song, “Something”, follows in the same vein with interesting layers of instruments, a great bass line and more prominently featured guitar. Chandra’s voice on this shows mature detachment and defeatism. Though there is childishness in lines like “There’s nothing you can do about teachers”, there are startlingly precocious lines like “There’s nothing you can do about the evolution of the world / There’s nothing you can do about politics, it’s absurd” and “What about suicide? / Don’t you think we’ve tried? / It was a lie, you were right.” The punctuating keyboards and guitar drive home every line by, the now, 14-year-old Chandra.
Though Chandra’s youth makes these recordings that much more interesting, they stand alone as wonderful outsider disco compositions. The fact that the lyrics were written and sung by a 12-year-old adds a layer of interest to the story, but if you didn’t know it the fact probably would not cross your mind. A singular entity in the post-punk world, CHANDRA and the Chandra Dimension made NYC relics that stand alone in their composition and background story.
Chandra Oppenheim gave up music after the Chandra Dimension, and perhaps it was for the best; with only eight songs (and a couple of unreleased songs that will show up soon enough) there’s not a blemish on her record. Still, it gives rise to the question: If she was outdoing so many adults at 12, what would she have been doing at 20?
The shadow of Pet Sounds loomed large on the Beach Boys after it was released in 1966. How do you follow-up one of the greatest, if not THE greatest album of all-time? Well, with Smile of course! But when that album failed to materialize, the record-buying public seemed to turn their backs on the Beach Boys in disappointment. Album sales dwindled and despite “topical” songs like “Student Demonstration Time” (and despite their beards) the Boys suddenly seemed out of step with the times. It’s in retrospect that people have begun to discover and appreciate their post-Pet Sounds albums and it’s about time. Although this period was famously a difficult time for Brian Wilson, it didn’t stop him from writing some fantastic songs.
In 1968 most of Brian Wilson’s days were spent locked away in his Bel-Air mansion. Friends, the album the Beach Boys released that year, included the song “Busy Doin’ Nothin’” written by Brian. It’s practically a diary entry, describing in detail a typical day in the life of its author. It is also a mess of contradictions. Starting with the title of the song itself, Brian seems to be trying to convince us (and himself) that he’s keeping busy when in fact he seems to be doing nothing much at all. It really reads like an answer to the question “What do you DO all day, Brian?”
“I had to fix a lot of things this morning / ‘Cause they were so scrambled / But now they’re okay / I tell you I’ve got enough to do”
Brian sounds like an unconvincing child in these first lines. Vaguely describing that he’s fixing things (what things exactly?) because they’re “so scrambled” and then for some reason hurriedly adding he has enough to do. It’s also interesting that the word scrambled is used as it conjures up the state of Brian’s mind at this time, which indeed could have used some fixing.
The next line starts with Brian telling us how busy his afternoon is but immediately he changes the subject to the weather. He seems to be trying to veer off from the question of what occupies his time.
“The afternoon was filled up with phone calls / What a hot sticky day / The air is cooling down.”
What follows next is truly one of the most bizarre moments in any Beach Boys song ever. It’s basically Brian giving you directions to his house. He leaves out street names but it’s still a weirdly detailed and candid description. According to the Friends liner notes, ”provided you knew where to start, you would’ve gotten to Brian’s Bel-Air house.”
“Drive for a couple miles / You’ll see a sign and turn left for a couple blocks / Next is mine / You’ll turn left on a little road / It’s a bumpy one / You’ll see a white fence / Move the gate and drive through on the left side / Come right in and you’ll find me in my house somewhere / Keeping busy while I wait.”
Later in the song Brian wants to make a phone call to a friend but can’t find the number, so what does he do?
“I sat and concentrated on the number / And slowly it came to me / So I dialed it.”
That’s right; he sits and concentrates on the phone number until he remembers it. The fact that the above line is an actual lyric in an actual song is exactly why I love Brian Wilson. And it gets better…
“And I let it ring a few times / There was no answer / So I let it ring a little more / Still no answer / So I hung up the telephone / Got some paper and sharpened up a pencil and wrote a letter to my friend.”
Such a great ending to such a bizarre and enjoyable song. On the surface the lyrics seem light and inconsequential and the music fits them perfectly; a bossa nova beat and soft flutes make the song so relaxed it’s almost lulling. But it all seems to hide an extreme loneliness; the unanswered phone call to a friend, going so far as to invite the listener over to his house, directions provided. It’s an amazing glimpse into Brian Wilson’s world in the late ‘60s and proof that the Beach Boys’ great songs didn’t end with Pet Sounds.
Willie Nelson is teaming up with one of my favorite bands, Asleep at the Wheel, for an album of western swing tunes, Willie and the Wheel, due out next Tuesday on Bismeaux Records. Western swing typically gets tagged as a form of country music, but it really stands on its own, more like a “hillbilly jazz” or “country swing jazz”. Asleep at the Wheel has been at the forefront of keeping this genre—essentially pioneered by the late, great Bob Wills—alive and vital since the 1970s. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Willie Nelson’s deep, eclectic catalogue will find this pairing to be nearly ideal. I’ve always said that Willie Nelson is as fine a jazz singer as he is a country singer, in the way he plays and improvises melody and frequently sings off the beat, bringing unexpected rhythms and textures into his tunes. Here’s the first song off Willie and the Wheel, “Hesitation Blues” and a video with Nelson and Ray Benson discussing the project.
Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel
Hesitation Blues [MP3]
Buy at Amazon MP3 Store
Feb 11 - TV: Good Morning America
Feb 11 - Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank NJ
Feb 12 - FM Kirby Center, Wilkes Barre PA
Feb 13 - American Music Theatre, Lancaster PA
Feb 14 - Stanley Performing Arts Center, Utica NY
Feb 15 - Palace Theatre, Albany NY
Feb 16 - TV: Late Night w/David Letterman
Feb 17 - Civic Center, Roanoake VA
Feb 18 - Bob Martin Agricultural, Williamston NC
Feb 19 - Holmes Center, Boone NC
Feb 20 - Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham NC
Feb 21 - Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro NC