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Pete Seeger

American Favorite Ballads, Vols. 1-5

(Smithsonian Folkways)

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Pete Seeger
American Favorite Ballads, Vols. 1-5



Between 1950 and 1964, folk legend Pete Seeger recorded no less than 38 albums for Folkways Records. Among these, the American Favorite Ballads series of five LPs was perhaps the most significant. The collection, which plays like Seeger’s own Anthology of American Folk Music, pulled together a set of songs as diverse as the nation in which they were born. The blues of the South, ballads of Appalachia, patriotic hymns of the Yankee north, and classic children’s lullabies are all covered, among many others. For any other singer, these songs might come off as corny or dated, part of a nearly forgotten legacy of the “old, weird America”, as music writer Greil Marcus playfully described it. But when Seeger earnestly belts out “Skip to My Lou”, “Black Girl”, and “Clementine”, with only his banjo to accompany him, you realize why this music is so timeless. Each LP in the American Favorite Ballads series was individually reissued on CD earlier in the decade. However, it’s only when you hear all of these songs together, which Smithsonian Folkways Records has thankfully allowed us to do with the release of this superb box set, that you begin to understand the immense gift that Seeger, now 90 years of age, has given us. Essential listening for all. Michael Kabran


 

 



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The Housemartins

London 0 Hull 4 (Deluxe Edition)

(Mercury)

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The Housemartins
London 0 Hull 4 (Deluxe Edition)



The enormous shadow cast by the Smiths over ‘80s British pop, a shadow that seems to grow bigger each year, all but swallowed whole the Housemartins. Once one of the most popular bands in England, with a number one hit, multiple top ten records, and a slew of awards under their belt, the Housemartins became largely forgotten, especially outside of the UK. With the reissuing of London 0 Hull 4, the band’s 1986 jangle pop masterpiece, that will hopefully change. The album features reverbed guitars, moody vocals, and pop hooks that won’t sound foreign to fans of the Smiths. Nearly every song on London 0 Hull 4 is a keeper. Lead singer Paul Heaton’s politically charged lyrics are filled with biting irony and dry humor and sound brilliantly at odds with the band’s syrupy-sweet melodies and punk-inspired pop arrangements. “Happy Hour”, “Sitting on a Fence”, and “Over There” are highlights and are as good as anything that other British band from the ‘80s ever did. Michael Kabran


 

 



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Isaac Hayes

Hot Buttered Soul / Black Moses / Shaft (Expanded Editions)

(Stax/Concord)

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Isaac Hayes
Hot Buttered Soul / Black Moses / Shaft (Expanded Editions)



He might have been known as the voice of “Chef” on South Park by a whole generation of people who can’t hear beyond the radio. But for those with a deep appreciation of music, the late, great Isaac Hayes was a titan of American R&B and soul whose unique arrangements and well-deep voice revolutionized black music in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. One year after tragically dying at home after suffering from a stroke, Hayes’ three greatest albums—1969’s Hot Buttered Soul, 1971’s epic Black Moses and his Academy Award-winning soundtrack to Gordon Parks’ ‘71 blaxploitation masterpiece Shaft—finally get the remastered deluxe treatment they so richly deserve and sound better than ever. And best of all, the reissue of the double-length Black Moses even replicates the crucifix-style foldout cover art of the original, a feature that made vinyl copies of Moses highly sought after by record collectors for many, many years. Ron Hart


 

 



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Kraftwerk

Autobahn / Radio-Activity / Trans-Europe Express / The Man-Machine / Computer World / Techno Pop / The Mix / Tour De France

(Astralwerks)

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Kraftwerk
Autobahn / Radio-Activity / Trans-Europe Express / The Man-Machine / Computer World / Techno Pop / The Mix / Tour De France



Ralf Hütter’s insistence on a remaster for the electronic Kraftwerk catalogue (excluding only the first three albums, the Expo 2000 single, and 2005’s live Minimum-Maximum) may not have been executed perfectly (it’s been dissected various places pretty thoroughly), but any opportunity to celebrate, rediscover, or discuss Kraftwerk should be welcomed with open arms. Kraftwerk are ground zero for electronic music, which, in 2009, is just about anybody important, above or below ground. As rock ‘n’ roll began to move closer to a singular vision in the early 1970s, that being a twisted caricature of adolescence-worshipping bacchanalia substituting capitalism for leisure and mistaking freedom for solipsism (“a cheap holiday in other people’s misery”, to quote John Lydon), Kraftwerk opened a whole new door and laid down a new canvas of possibility. Kraftwerk’s freedom was a liberation from the emotions of the rock romantics, a posthumanism detyrannized by hard-wiring oneself into the machinery. It wasn’t about eliminating man, but rather augmenting him by making him part of a larger system, a product interchangeable with his own creations. And from the moment after the car door slams shut at the commencement of “Autobahn”, Kraftwerk were that vision. They sought to create a new Germany, untarnished by the rapacious thrall of Nazism, but wound up changing the world and human consciousness instead. And if this all sounds a bit messianic for you, just have a listen. Timothy Gabriele


 

 



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Serge Gainsbourg

Histoire de Melody Nelson

(Light in the Attic)

Review [14.May.2009]

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Serge Gainsbourg
Histoire de Melody Nelson



Histoire de Melody Nelson, perhaps the finest album by France’s Serge Gainsbourg, finally finds a U.S. release 38 years after its birth in 1971. Saying this album is overdue would therefore be a gross understatement. The patron saint of drunken sexual transgression never sounded better as he does here amidst sparse orchestral arrangements and funked-up rhythms courtesy some of the top session players in the business. Clocking in at just under a half hour, Gainsbourg’s economical song cycle of sexual obsession overwhelms with depth and originality rather than an overstuffed running time. The singer sets a romantic, if typically lecherous, mood with the seven-minute opener “Melody” and concludes with a despondent, equally long “Culte Cargo”. In between, he spins a tale of a brief but unforgettable encounter with some help from real-life inspiration Jane Birkin. Her childlike vocals drive home the Lolita-esque narrative and act as the perfect foil to Gainsbourg’s deep tones and tormented libido. Re-mastered from the original tapes, this re-issue includes an exhaustive booklet complete with lyric translations and an interview with the man himself. It’s a loving package worthy of the daring music underneath. Histoire de Melody Nelson is simply a masterpiece and one of the most necessary re-issues of this year or any other. Craig Carson


 
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