A conservatory of Ldotter blogs.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The sultry tones. . .

. . .of Diana Krall's The Look of Love fill the cabana today, as I'm in a placid, mellow mood. I'm not normally a jazz listener -- in fact I'm pretty new to the genre -- and when I do listen to it, I like the mainstream stuff and the standards. Fusion and experimental jazz leave me feeling a little like Michael Moore with a gift certificate from Bath & Body Works.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm a music lover. That's how I spend my downtime. I don't watch much TV anymore (don't even have cable) and I don't miss it in the least, as long as I have music to listen to. It's been the one constant in my life since I was old enough to operate a record player.

As I've matured over the years, my tastes have grown, which may be the best thing about getting older. Wisdom is overrated, for the most part, as there are all manner of ramifications to better understanding. World weariness and a jaundiced eye often accompany wisdom, robbing its possessor of the sense of wonder at simple pleasures. But, the ability to appreciate new and different kinds of music is like a gift that not only grows, but renews itself every so often.

Up until my early 20's, I suffered from a disorder that caused all music to be heard through a testosterone filter. If it wasn't loud, hard-edged, and aggressive enough to shake the mortar from brick walls, it was sissified crap. Those who may have read my December 4 entry, In Defense of 80's Metal, know that I still have an affinity for the heavy stuff.

But, nowadays, I take my metal in smaller doses, interspersed among soul, pop, country, jazz, blues, and even the odd hip-hop/rap tune (though, it has to strike me as highly exceptional or catchy). And, in the interest of the holidays, I think it would be a good idea to make a few recommendations from my collection for those who may have music lovers on their Christmas lists, but no idea what to buy for them. For the sake of convenience, I'll try to limit my recommendations to less obscure, easy to find titles.


In my book, it's always safe to go with Ray Charles. But, since his anthology covers literally hundres of albums and collections, it's probably best to go with a CD that contains some of his standards. So, I'd recommend something like a "Best of" or "Greatest Hits", unless the person happens to be a Ray Charles fanatic -- in which case Genius & Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection will do very nicely.


One of my all-time favorite singers is Shelby Lynne. She started out as a country singer back in the 80's, but she refused to follow the Nashville formula, and that took its toll on her career. But, given the music that Nashville puts out these days, once you listen to her recent work, you'll thank God she went her own way. She has an absolutely stunning voice, and sings in an array of styles that boggles the mind. If there's someone on your Christmas list who has eclectic tastes in pop music, I can't recommend I Am Shelby Lynne highly enough. It's a middle finger to the country music establishment, and a love letter to music itself.

And, as life stories go, she has one of the most compelling I've ever read.


Modern country music, as produced by Nashville, is generally pretty bland fare. For the most part, it's just pop/rock with an accent. And, if that's the sort of thing I wanted to hear, I'd generally go with the Eagles. When I want to hear real country -- honky tonkin', drinkin', cryin' the blues country -- I listen to Dwight Yoakam. When I tell this to friends, sometimes they look at me as if I'd said, "I have a ticket to Neverland Ranch, in case your son is interested." Dwight has one of those voices that you either love, or you hate. And, to be honest, I was in the "hate" camp for a long time.

Then, one day, I picked up a copy of This Time on a lark, just to see if there was anything to the critical praise he's received over the years. And, ever since then, I've been a huge fan. And, This Time, in my opinion, is one of the best country music albums of the past twenty years. Go ahead and get it for the country fan on your list, and tell them to listen to it at least twice before deciding whether or not to exchange it. I can almost guarantee they'll warm up to it. The songs are just that good, and if you listen to his voice more intently than you would if you heard it on the radio, you'll hear a richness that wasn't there before. It's an all-time classic, and a true lover of country music will agree.


This is a tough one, since rock music comes in so many forms, and rock music tastes vary so greatly from person to person. And rock fans tend to prefer getting newer releases as gifts -- at least that's been my experience. But, as I've said before, one of the best rock n' roll albums I've heard in a long time is Green Day's American Idiot. I'm not sure that I totally buy into the "punk" label that the band applies to itself -- especially where this album is concerned -- but, there is undeniably a good deal of punk influence that strikes the ear as you listen to this one.

However, the overall feel of American Idiot is almost anti-punk. There are nine-minute songs with tempo changes, power ballads, foot stomping rock 'n roll anthems, and even a solid, straigh-ahead pop/rock tune, or two. What really jumps out, though, is the quality of the songwriting. I've listened to it many times in the month that I've owned it. . .and it took some convincing to get me to even listen to it, as I was never a fan of the band. But, the more I listen to it, the more I have to remind myself that I'm listening to Green Day.

Be warned, however. This CD is not for people who launch boycotts against musicians who express disdain for conservatism. It's a pop/punk record, and it has all the attitudes and statements that the label implies. But, if you're tired of bland, electronic-laden pap with drum loops, and you just want to crank up the volume and listen to some good, hard driving rock music, I highly recommend it.

Just a few recommendations for stocking stuffers for friends, co-workers, or someone you'd just like to give the gift of music. You might even want to pick up a couple for yourself. If you buy them, and it turns out to be the worst thing you or your friend ever heard, there's an email link in the sidebar over there that you can click on to send me some non-threatening hate mail.

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