Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Brendel Vs Barenboim

Daniel Barenboim has been my go-to for Beethoven sonatas since my undergrad years. I want to say it was one of the first complete sonatas collection on CD. I was able to pick it up cheap a long time ago too. 

I was profoundly underwhelmed by Barenboim's Reith lectures. His talks came across as rambling and incoherent. Filled with the kind of "spiritual" hogwash I usually associate with charlatanism. Not to mention a few factual errors. I think sometimes conductors spend so much time waving the baton around and charming ignorant, culture starved patrons they begin to believe their own bullshit. That is what led me to seek out the Brendel.

After a couple weeks of poking around I found the Brendel collection for around $30 and snapped it up. A trusted friend recommended Brendel for all things classical and German many years ago and I remember really digging his Haydn sonatas.

So, wow! What a difference. Rhythmically and motivically clearer than the Barneboim by miles. I am hearing Beethoven's ideas for the first time seemingly. Brendel seems to understand every passage whereas Barenboim just kind of virtosos his way through more subtle parts.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Makem & Clancy: Live in Ireland

Dear Mum and Dad,

I am so sorry for making you listen to 
The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem Live in Ireland over and over and over again. Particularly “Welia Walia” which was a limitless delight to me at the time. When I listen to it now I can see how repeated spins must’ve grated on your nerves pretty thoroughly. Given the right song I still have a child’s capacity to endure repetition.

They sound very much at ease on this recording, superior to others by The Clancy Brothers. I don’t think they are exactly pandering to expats on their Live at Carnegie Hall album, but they do seem to being trying harder. 

What you get on this album is a fast harmonic rhythm (lots of chords), florid melody lines and  witty, thoughtful lyrics. The Clancy Brothers' delivery owes as much, maybe more, to pop music and the folk movement as it does to traditional Irish music. You could also say that there is more common ground between The Beatles and The Clancy Brothers than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

This album also paved the way for The Dubliners and The Pogues to occupy vast swaths of my heart.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tin Flask Band Shows & Other Updates

Just a brief recap of happenings in the world of Alister Smith Guitar.

Sunday, October 28th: Alister's new project The Tin Flask Band will be playing WESN's Local Show at 4 o'clock p.m. If your radio does not pick up WESN, do not fear; you can listen to live Web streaming at this link!

Sunday, November 3rd: The Tin Flask Band will also be making a brief, in-flesh appearance at Word Bombing 5 at 7 p.m. Super surprising secret weapon to be unveiled. Not to be missed!

Now: The finishing touches are being laid on the final album (Seven Songs about Eric Clapton) by Alister's previous band, Constant Velocity. You can find a new mix of one of the songs here.

*Cute dogs not scheduled for any upcoming shows

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: Barbara Dane's Anthology of American Folk Songs

Stop what you're doing right now and treat yourself to this album by folksinger Barbara Dane, Anthology of American Folk Songs: Tradition Years. Our copy arrived in the mail today and, in Alex's words, it's a "dynamite" collection.

A Detroit native, Barbara Dane (b. 1927) got her start playing protest songs during the early days of the civil-rights movement. Her musical career truly took off, though, once she moved to San Francisco in 1949 and began doing renditions of jazz and blues classics at clubs. She eventually attracted the likes of Time magazine, and was the first white female to be featured in Ebony. Louis Armstrong once invited her to play alongside him on national television, and famously said to Time in 1958: "Did you get that chick? She's a gasser!"

Dane's political commitment was a lifelong one; she lent her talents to peace demonstrations against the Vietnam War and toured Freedom Schools in the South. She was also the first performer to tour Cuba in the wake of the Cuban Revolution. Other noteworthy accomplishments include her founding of a San Franciscan club, Sugar Hill: Home of the Blues, and Paredon Records, the latter of which highlighted music and performers borne of left-wing, feminist, and otherwise important social movements of the 1970s.

Now an octogenarian, Dane--like fellow folk elder Pete Seeger--still performs occasionally. Happily, much of her once hard-to-locate oeuvre is now available through her website. Anthology of American Folk Songs is a good start. Once you catch a measure or two of her lush alto, you'll find it hard to stop listening. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

In Brief, Spider Stacy.

I have some deep, deep thoughts on rock 'n' roll, folks, which I am eager to share. But before I get to that I wanted to point you towards this interview with Spider Stacy of the Pogues. 

Some rockers are articulate. Others are not. Just this brief interview led me to think that maybe Stacy is the articulatest pop musician I have ever heard. He is super bright and knowledgeable. He now lives in Treme. I don't give a damn about celebrities of any stripe, but he sounds like he would be a blast to share a beer or two with.

At the end of the interview they play "Fairy Tale Of New York." Sarah had the bright idea that she and I should do that song with The Tin Flask Band. I gave it an extra close listen but of course this song is imprinted on my DNA.

I guess I haven't really listened to it in awhile because I got totally absorbed in the rhythm and pacing of the song. I was walking in the park with the hounds as this part of the program came on and suddenly, tears streaming down my face! I quickly altered my route so I wouldn't come in contact with others in the park.

It wasn't the subject matter so much that got me as the power of the turn, I think. And the song's overall perfection as a piece of music that does exactly what it sets out to do. It just grabbed me.

I'm turning into a soft old man.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Did you know there is a classification system for musical instruments based on the Dewy Decimal system? Neither did I. Can you think of why this might be useful other than adding another layer of description to our perfectly adequate set of nouns? Again, nor can I. But I'd love entertain a few reasons why if you know of any.

Here is the very first representation of a 321.32. It's Hittite and 3300 years old. Whoa!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Debbie Green

Our version of the song Sarah posted last night on our Facebook page (right here) is based on a very, very obscure recording by a folkie from San Francisco via Vermont named Debbie Green. You've probably never heard her before but you might find her style hauntingly familiar. Having cut her teeth on the East Coast folk scene and made the acquaintance of Dave Van Ronk,  Debbie went off to Boston University and struck up a friendship with Joan Baez. They were inseparable for a time, Debbie teaching Joan all the songs she had learned as they played on the folk circuit. Their relationship later soured when Debbie moved out west:

"By the time I got to Berkley toward the end of 1960, she had recorded all the songs I taught her. All my arrangements and learned all the inflections and facial expressions. She's a mime [I think she means mimic -ed]. So anyway, then I couldn't do any of that material because I was a Baez imitator. Her first two albums consisted of all the material I had arranged."

I'm not a huge Baez fan myself. She's got a good voice but something about her delivery makes her seem phony. Like she doesn't believe a word of what she's saying. Maybe this is why.

The quote is extracted from the book Hear Me Howling! Blues, Ballads, & Beyond which accompanies the Arhoolie collection of the same name. Available online for a pittance. Highly recommended!