C.A.T.: Zen Arcade

Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade (1984)

It’s unfortunate that once again I feel compelled to write an impromptu Classic Album Thursday due to the passing of an alt-rock legend. In recent years, it’s felt much more like Bob Mould has been the one preserving the legacy of Hüsker Dü, due to an accomplished solo career and the fact he’s probably more equated with the band’s greatness than drummer/singer/songwriter Grant Hart, who passed away earlier today. But make no mistake, Hart was just as much a reason for the Hüsker’s being one of the most important and influential rock bands of the ’80s. Continue reading

C.A.T.: Dirt

Alice in Chains – Dirt (1992)

Today marks the 50th birthday of grunge icon Layne Staley. A mighty presence in the 90s Seattle grunge scene, Staley tragically died from a heroine/cocaine speedball in his University District Seattle apartment on April 5, 2002 and yet the man and his music live on.

I’ve never been a big fan of grunge outside of Nirvana, but over the years (particularly this year) I’ve found a greater admiration. Chris Cornell’s death was a big part of that revelation. To see another Seattle icon befall such a tragic fate well before his time helped put everything in perspective. It was people like Staley and Cornell that gave the city I live in and love an identity, a pulse. Before grunge, Seattle was a sleepy fishing town. After grunge, people finally saw Seattle for what it was, a rainy, over-caffeinated hub of angst and alienation. A place of beauty and introspection but also pain. And we had the best spokesmen; Cobain, Cornell, Staley, all taken too soon.

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C.A.T.: Eat a Peach

The Allman Brothers Band – Eat a Peach (1972)

We’ve been losing a lot of prominent musicians from the 1970s, lately–considered by many today as rock’s golden age. Last Saturday, it was Allman Brothers Band frontman, Gregg Allman. A talented songwriter and keyboardist, I think it will be Gregg’s voice that will be remembered best. A soulful southern drawl inspired by early R&B pioneers like Ray Charles. As Gregg himself said “Ray Charles is the one who taught me to just relax and let it ooze out. If it’s in your soul, it’ll come out.”

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C.A.T: Superunknown

Soundgarden – Superunknown (1994)

I know, it’s clearly not Tuesday, but I figure at least the proper acronym will still be in place if I do a Classic Album Thursday. Because if I’m being honest, I’d feel a little phony doing a full-on eulogy for Chris Cornell, who passed away earlier today in perhaps the most heartbreaking way for a grunge superstar to pass away – suicide. No, this would ring a bit false because I’ve never quite loved Soundgarden. But I don’t think you have to love Soundgarden to enjoy Superunknown, because it’s arguably the best album the grunge era ever produced, and displays in mind-blowing fashion why Chris Cornell was perhaps the most gifted rock singer of that era. Continue reading

C.A.T.: The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963)

Last night I listened to The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady while drinking warm Pepsi and playing Tecmo Super Bowl. It turned what was a relatively quiet evening into an offbeat jazz odyssey. Also, the 1991 Seahawks beat the Jets 28-6. All thanks to the power of jazz. So we’re rolling a smoke and hitching a ride back to 1963 for this week’s Classic Album Tuesday.

I find writing about jazz, particularly for someone not well versed in the genre, challenging. There are no words and the intentions aren’t always clear, but that’s kind of the beauty. It’s how YOU interpret the music. I try to close my eyes and remember what I can. The first thing I recall is the music, swaying in, like a drunk elephant, followed by a bizarre low buzz, like a fart machine. Is it a tuba? An alto, something? I can’t believe it only took me two paragraphs to type “fart machine” describing one of the greatest jazz albums of all time.

At first, the whole album has a chaotic feel. Like a circus that keeps piling on attractions and stunts before the previous performance has ended. From what I’ve read, Mingus utilized a great deal of overdubbing, piling on more and more instruments and unique sounds throughout the recording process. Himself a talented double bass player, Mingus is accompanied by the equivalent of a small chamber orchestra in a ten-piece backing band. Even instruments I wouldn’t associate with this bluesy kind of jazz are included like classical guitar and flute.

I could name the names of all the talented musicians on this record, or at least copy and paste their names–I don’t know any of them, but I’m told they’re amazing–but why do that when Mingus himself can do that right here. If you don’t feel like clicking on that, it’s a link to the album’s liner notes, written by Mingus. He’s very technical in breaking down the album, which is broken into four tracks and six modes like a ballet. I was surprised considering the album has an improvised vibe. Apparently, Mingus planned much of this in workshops and had a specific vision. The greats always do.

I find it interesting to note that the rest of the liner notes for this album were written by Mingus’ personal psychologist, Dr. Edmund Pollock. Though I don’t know the nature of their relationship the liner notes are not weird or science-y. Pollock is complimentary towards a musician often called, “The Angry Man of Jazz.” One of my favorite comments is when he says Mingus is in “great pain and anguish because he loves.” What a beautiful way to describe music as a vehicle for personal expression.

The album isn’t all downbeat rhythms and melodies. There are moments of elation when Mingus switches to playing piano as cherubic flutes play overhead. It’s the kind of album that can’t be listened to in pieces. The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady is a symphony, with all its highs and lows. There’s too much to take in on a first listen. It’s the kind of album you can listen to one hundred times and always hear something new. I look forward to hearing it again when the 1991 Seahawks go to the Super Bowl. Go jazz!

C.A.T.: Tous les garçons et les filles

Françoise Hardy – Tous les garçons et les filles (1962)

What better album to feature for Valentine’s Day than one from Paris, France: “The City of Love.” Awhile back, I set out to review an acclaimed album once a week—for Classic Album Tuesdays—chronologically from 1957 to modern day. I crapped out at 1961. The problem being most rock albums back then sucked. Don’t get me wrong. There were 31-flavors of good Jazz and Blues. Yet Rock had yet to evolve past the single. Most rockers were too busy being rebels (most of which without causes) and dying in motorcycle crashes.

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