A Cornucopia of Sounds

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

I Heard It Through the Grapevine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt: “You make a new friend. Make them a mix tape (or playlist, for the younger folks) that tells them who you are through song.”

To discover who I am through music I think it would be germane to go back and listen to a few songs from my younger days before hearing some songs that sum up who I am today.

We should start with three tracks that were played and played when I was quite young. The first is from an album that I thought was Petula Clark or Julie Andrews but I can’t find it in the discography of either. It was an LP of children’s songs on thick plastic and the track I remember best is ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ – “If you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise”. The other record I remember vividly was an LP with Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and The Wolf’ on one side and Saint-Saëns ‘Carnival of the Animals’ on the other. I particularly loved Peter and The Wolf.

There was also a song my mother used to play a lot which was a mother singing with her small daughter. I can’t now remember the song or the artist but it was a song of love. I’d like to add that to the list, I’ll try hard to remember it over the next few days. That song would define both the closeness of my mother and I back in my early years but the closeness I now have with my own daughter.

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Walking The Precipice

Front quarter view of the notorious winged kee...

Front quarter view of the notorious winged keel fitted to the winner of the 1983 Americas Cup, Australia II. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Daily Prompt asks “We all have things as need to do to keep an even keel — blogging, exercising, reading, cooking. What’s yours?”

An even keel is a rare thing for me, I usually settle for moving forward and not taking on water. Writing is one o the things that keeps the keel in the water. Music is another. Tonight Jessica is taking a run through the 85,000 or so tracks in my iTunes library playing some of my soul and R&B collection so Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and a bunch of others are blasting away.

To that I’d add reading but the two biggest things in my life that keep water flowing under the bow and that keel wet are two brilliant women. Strong women have always been important in my life.

My mother, now dead, was a woman who was both strong and one capable of asking for help. She can’t help but come to mind as I sit here listening to Al Green sing “Lean On Me”. A song that sums her up so well I played it at her funeral. As much as my relationship with her for the nine years we lived together after my father died was tempestuous there was something about her love and strength that kept me going through some dark times.

It was at the same time that I came to lean on my local doctor. Sheila is an amazing GP with an understanding and compassion that are increasingly rare in the medical profession. It was Sheila that got me through my first bout of major depression by getting me to focus on who I would hurt if I let myself succumb to the demons.

Now that I am going through another bout she is stil one of the people keeping me going. It’s important to have someone strong and capable when it comes to such things as trying the various cocktails of medication available that attempt to treat major depression. She also provided a shoulder and an ear before I found an analyst.

Then there is Jessica. I have to say that I don’t know how her mother and I managed it but she is a strong, intelligent and capable young woman. Just having her around the house is good, she provides an excuse to cook more often and more healthy, she is someone to just say hello to in the morning and goodnight to last thing. She also understands my need to yell at the teacher on “Dance Moms” or spend all of Monday night watching current affairs on the ABC.

Then she does things that surprise me and are make me happy. Tonight’s a great example. After we finished watching “The Sapphires” (a great feel good movie with some great music) she said “soul night” and I set her up playing iTunes through the good stereo and she started playing all her favourites from the 60s. Just the thing to get us both singing and tapping our feet.

I think people are the most important thing to keep you on an “even keel”.

Goodbye Christine


Today’s Daily Prompt was “What song is stuck in your head (or on permanent rotation in your CD or MP3 player) these days? Why does it speak to you?”

By coincidence tonight was a night for an earworm. The Australian singer Christine “Chrissy” Amphlett died today.

I had a strong connection to Chrissy, when I was young her lyrics always seemed to talk to me through her band “The Divinyls”. Songs like “Back To The Wall” have always remained my favourites. Chrissy was being strong and vocal in my musical listening heyday and at times in those years it was good to have someone screaming out for me.

Many years later, after my father died, I had a serious problem with depression and while recovering I went to several weekend psychodrama groups and twice there I met Chrissy. One of the great strengths of participating in a psychodrama group is that you discover that the pain you have is often shared by others and such it was with her. I strongly and fondly remember some understanding words and once a supportive hug.

On the news programs on the ABC tonight they have been playing a clip from one of the Divinyls more famous songs “Pleasure and Pain” and I’ve been muttering “but that wasn’t one of hers”. While it talks of the same themes that Chrissy wrote about it isn’t one of her lyrics so I’ve played “Back To The Wall” several times and now her well felt, superb lyrics and marvellous voice are stuck in my head.

Goodbye Chrissy, thanks for the words, thanks for the voice and thanks for being a kind human being.

Becoming A Drummer

English: Roland TD-12s V-Stage drum set. Shot ...

Roland TD-12s V-Stage drum set. Pretty much what my kit looks like (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Today’s Daily Prompt asks “Describe your last attempt to learn something that did not come easily to you.”

I’m always attempting to learn something new. At the moment on my list of failures is Italian, Haskell and Lisp. My current partial success is drumming.

My failure with Italian is, I think one of application. I don’t apply myself sincerely and strongly to the task and I don’t have somewhere to apply the learning.

With Haskell and Lisp it’s not a matter of applying myself or not, I certainly apply myself. With these it’s more a matter of not needing to learn them, not having a task that requires a solid dose of programming.

These days most of my programming is short scripts in shell, Python or AppleScript for small system administration tasks or to ease my workflows rather than large, serious applications. So while I have tried to learn a new programming language I have never had the need to use one.

Drumming is another thing entirely. Almost four years ago I decided I wanted to learn the drums and bought myself an electronic kit. There are a number of reasons that I enjoy my slow progress in learning the drums.

The first are the drums themselves. Since most of what I do on a daily basis is mental I really enjoy the physicality of hitting the drums. It’s relaxing and loosens up the tightness in my arms and shoulders from hunching over a keyboard.

Another reason I like it is that progress is obvious. After I practice a series of exercises for a day or two I can feel them getting easier, I can turn the metronome up twenty or thirty beats per minute. Even on the days when it doesn’t seem to be working I can see that I have fallen back to a level above where I was a month ago.

On the good days when the exercises seem to be coming to me easily I step up to the next level.

These are the times when I analyse the drumming in a song, grab a copy of the sheet music for it and spend a few weeks slowly working through it practicing the rhythms and fills so I can eventually follow along. Even after a lot of time practicing and learning it is only the simplest of drumming that I can master but it is surprising how many great songs require only a little talent and skill to perform. The difference between me and a good drummer is that they can pick up a song easily and play with a lot more style and accuracy than me.

My slow progress is sometimes a little disheartening but when it seems I am getting nowhere I try to remember how far I have come. I know I should practice for longer, I know I should practice much more regularly.

It seems to me, however, that I am not trying to be a great drummer. I’m not even trying to be a good drummer. I think it’s the journey as much as the destination that makes it something I continue to do.

That might be the difference between learning Italian and learning the drums, perhaps with Italian I need to find a way to enjoy the journey. If you’ve had success learning a language I’d love to know how you kept the motivation up, how did you make the journey the reward?

Review – The Dark Side of the Moon Immersion Box Set

“The Dark Side of the Moon” spent an incredible 15 years straight in the Billboard Top 200 album chart and another two when it was re-released in 1994. It has sold over 50 million copies worldwide. It’s hard to explain it’s significance, hard to explain it’s huge appeal.

For such a massively popular album it must have been written quite quickly. Roger Waters put the concept of an album that dealt with things that “make people mad”, a topic close to the band given the illness of former member Syd Barrett, when they assembled in December 1971 prior to touring and they first performed the material at the end of January 1972. The band continued to refine the material through rehearsal and tour performance before first recording sessions at Abbey Road Studios from 24 May to 25 June, setting out on the road again and completing the album in January 1973. The album was engineered by engineer/musician Alan Parsons, the band give him a great deal of credit for the eventual album.

If you are one of the many people who has spent far too much time with your consciousness altered in some way listening to “The Dark Side of the Moon” (DSotM) then it may be time for you to take strong hold on your wallet. This is because the most expensive boxed set version of the album has now been released. The good news is that this set offers the most amazing quality and most comprehensive collection ever assembled for a Pink Floyd album.

At the core of the set is 6 discs; 3 Compact Discs, 2 DVDs and a single Blu-Ray disc. Disc 1 is a CD of the 2011 remaster of the album. Disc 2 is a CD of the live performance at the Empire Pool Wembley in 1974. Disc 3 is an Audio only DVD containing the 5.1 surround mix from 2003 in two sampling rates, the 1973 LPCM stereo mix and the 1973 4.0 Quad mix from 1973 also in two different sampling rates. Disc 4 is an Audio-Visual DVD of the Pink Floyd concert in Brighton in 1972, The Dark Side Of The Moon documentary from 2003 and the Concert screen films in the original LPCM stereo mix and a 5.1 surround mix. Disc 5 is a Blu-Ray containing all the material from discs 3 and 4. Disc 6 is a CD of previously unreleased tracks including demo versions of ‘Us And Them’ and ‘Money’ and an entire early mix of the album. Obviously if you have a Blu-Ray player you can consider this a 4 disc set as the two DVDs are replaced by the single Blu-Ray.

Along with those disks you get a bunch of memorabilia and stuff including a facsimile concert ticket and back stage pass, a book of photos from the DSotM tour, some marbles, art cards, drink coasters and a scarf.

Make no mistake if you have a good stereo system and Blu-Ray player then there is no better way to hear this album than popping disc 5 in and spending a day trying to decide if you prefer the 1973 quad mix or the 2011 5.1 surround mix, personally I prefer the surround one. The 2011 remaster has in my opinion taken some of the sound out of the bottom, making the softer passages clearer, and added better channel separation and some top end clarity. You will need a good sound system, good speakers and patience to hear the difference. I tried hard to tell the difference between the Blu-Ray and DVD versions and convinced myself I could, but failed on a blind test given by a friend.

When you have done that then glorying in all the other material such as the live performances and concert films is another joy. Make no mistake, it is entirely possible to lose more than one entire weekend on the extra material. One of the joys of this material is the way you can follow the progress of the album from the original ‘demo’ recorded by Waters in his garden shed studio through the live material to the eventual album.

This boxed set is a total essential for the dedicated Pink Floyd fan.

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K.D. Lang ‘Live in London’ on Blu-Ray

Let’s start with the technical aspects of this recording.This Blu-Ray was recorded by the BBC for high definition broadcast and you can tell. It is for recordings like this that I spent so much time and money getting my home theatre just right. The audio is a DTS Master Audio 16 bit/48khz 5.1 mix. The  quality is superb, the balance across all 5 channels is excellent and the sound stage is massive. There is a slight echo in the vocal that perfectly suits the look of the room.The picture is incredibly clear high definition captured in a well lit studio with great camera work throughout. The BBC should be proud of the job they did on this Blu-Ray.K.D. Lang’s performance in this small venue is remarkable, stellar, superb. She is enjoying herself here, with her usual band at the time backed by an orchestra courtesy of the BBC. There is not a single song that does not show off her remarkable voice and stage presence. The BBC concert Orchestra add a lush, full feel to most of the tracks and seem to fade into the background in others.Lang walks the stage, at times her eyes closed as she reaches for that perfect pitch and tone at others her smile is so wide that it threatens to split her face. Here is a true vocal talent, a true performer doing what she loves.

Even if you don’t love K.D. Lang you may well enjoy this just for the quality. I can imagine high end home theatre stores owning a copy just for demonstration purposes.

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CD Review “Aretha Franklin Complete On Columbia”

Might Not Be The Aretha You Know And Love

First, let me start with a few admissions. I believe that Aretha Franklin is among the half dozen finest voices of the second half of the 20th century. I also believe Jerry Wexler taking her to Muscle Shoals is a seminal moment in post war music history.

I also have to admit that her Columbia recordings, all made before the big hits of her time at Atlantic reveal a young voice of great quality and power.

That’s what really causes the pain. As I listen to these recordings I revel in the voice and cringe at the continual bad song choices, bad orchestrations and bad backing.

Let’s cover the physical. This collection of 11 CDs booklet and DVD, each housed in a facsimile of the original album art, contains the songs off each album and a few extras. The remastering performed this year is excellent. It lifts the quality of the recording without losing any of the original. Included in cardboard case is an excellent booklet. I also appreciated the extra takes and outtakes on each CD. My count is around 200 tracks if we include all the extras but not a couple of “advertising” tracks.

There are some good tracks and some real gems among it all. “Maybe I’m a Fool”, for example, stands out on the first album and two tracks later “By Myself” shows the young Aretha can sing Jazz. On the second album, “The Electrifying Aretha Franklin” you can almost forgive the terrible “I Told You So” and “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” due to the quality of “Nobody Like You” where the band gets out of Aretha’s way and the jazzy “Exactly  Like You” that follows it. On the other hand both the albums produced, arranged and conducted by Robert Mersey are an over produced wash of sickly strings and total over the top kitsch, I’m sure even in the sixties producers knew better.

My personal take. I was given it for my birthday, ripped it to my computer and put 150 tracks on my car iPod – I’ll now see how many of those don’t get skipped but I’m thinking I’ll end up with about half the tracks worth keeping. As I write this “Bill Bailey” from “Tiny Sparrow: The Bobby Scott Sessions” is playing and getting me tapping my feet.

This then becomes a truly essential collection for the lover of Aretha’s voice. The problem is that I will, for one, never forgive Columbia for the wasting of that young voice. Listening to these recordings it seems clear that they never really knew what to do with Aretha. They seemed to be treating her as a new Ella Fitzgerald, a jazzy chanteuse or perhaps replicate the success the label has with Billie Holiday. Even when they gave her a gospel song they did it without choir and backed by a jazz orchestra; throwing in a tambourine doesn’t make it gospel. Don’t mistake my intent here, there are some hits and some great recordings in the five years she spent with Columbia and Aretha is capable of great jazz and blues singing. I also don’t want to discourage anyone from buying this collection. Just realize that it is not a collection by the woman that finally found her voice and her musical home in 1966 at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. If you are after more of the sound she quickly developed at Atlantic this is not it. However it is an excellent collection of songs by a superb woman. I wish I could give it five stars but it really only deserves the four.

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