Recommended Albums #56


k.d. lang: Ingénue (1992)

When my (former) wife and I married and combined households in the mid-1990’s my burgeoning CD collection merged with her one-and-only CD, k.d. lang’s Ingénue.

“You own one CD?”

I scoffed (silently, to myself). Then I gave her single CD a listen and scoffed no more, realizing it was a masterpiece and better than 90% of my collection.

Actually, it did take a few listens. Most of the album is downtempo and brooding. This isn’t exactly beach party music. It’s a song cycle of consonant tone, with one contemplative mood piece following the next until the perfectly-sequenced affair concludes with the cathartic “Constant Craving”, the album’s only “hit” and a song I used to try to irritate the wife by rendering as “Instant Gravy” (never worked).

Producer and co-writer Ben Mink created a chamber pop album of such meticulous craftsmanship and consummate taste it reminds me of Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom, to which the word “masterpiece” was affixed  on its release.

Mink places the subdued but compelling songs in elegantly adorned settings: strings, accordion, vibraphone, mandolin, slide guitar and many other instruments make their subtle way into a mix and bow out in turn, ensuring things never get tedious.

The songs are the best batch k.d. ever assembled on one LP. From this record on, one could hear echoes of Ingénue here and there on subsequent records, but never the consistent tone or quality of songs throughout an entire album.

Ingénue marked a transition from her early, rather hokey “cowgal” period into her art pop/torch singer incarnation. It’s a unique album in lang’s career and in all of pop music’s canon.

Incidentally, the Rolling Stones’ inadvertently appropriated the melody of “Instant Gravy” “Constant Craving” in their 1997 hit “Anybody Seen My Baby”. Quoting Wikipedia:

Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song also carries writing credits for k.d. lang and Ben Mink.The song is known for its chorus, which sounds strikingly similar to lang’s 1992 hit song “Constant Craving“. Jagger and Richards claimed to have never heard the song before, only having discovered the similarity prior to the song’s release. As Richards writes in his autobiography Life, “My daughter Angela and her friend were at Redlands and I was playing the record and they start singing this totally different song over it. They were hearing k.d. Lang’s ‘Constant Craving.’ It was Angela and her friend that copped it.” The two gave lang credit, along with her co-writer Mink, to avoid any lawsuits. Afterwards, lang said she was “completely honored and flattered” by receiving the songwriting credit.

The similarity is clear to hear:

See also:

See also:

Listen to: “Miss Chatelaine”

Listen to: “Still Thrives This Love”

Listen to “Season of Hollow Soul”

Listen to: “Outside Myself”

Listen to: “Constant Craving”

Songs You May Have Missed #495


The Clientele: “K” (2005)

Halloween seems the perfect time for the haunting voice of Alasdair MacLean. And Autumn as fitting a time as any for the band Spin magazine called “Aggressively, gratuitously lovely”.

Back into that falling night
the birches and the silhouettes
the haunted plain
sweet lord, here I am again

You flower through my nails and skin
moving like the sunlight in the alleyways
but in this life we won’t meet again

See also:

See also:

Learn to Sing the Harmonies of Famous Beatles Songs with Master Harmonist Galeazzo Frudua

italian guy

(Source: Open Culture)

A recent Metafilter post introduces us to Galeazzo Frudua, a musician from Bologna, Italy who, “possesses an uncannily good ear for harmony, and has produced a series of videos that painstakingly and expertly analyze and demonstrate for you the vocal harmonies employed in various Beatles songs.” These detailed tutorials, writes the Metafilter poster, are made all the more watchable by Frudua’s “perceptive commentary, capable singing voice, unassuming manner, impressive video editing skills and, hey, his charming Italian accent.”

In his first tutorial, for “Nowhere Man” (above), Frudua begins by introducing “Lennon voice”: “Lennon voice is very simple, and it goes like this.” And, handily, flawlessly, it does. Frudua, who seems to be recording in the back of a restaurant, matches the tone of Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison’s harmonies separately and together impressively. He particularly favors Rubber Soul. Hear his “In My Life” below. He calls it “one of the best performances ever of John Lennon in the Beatles” as well as “a fantastic campus on learning how to sing.”

Anecdotally, having worked with choir singers, opera singers, and a capella singers, I can say that Frudua’s ability is not particularly rare but is the effect of constant practice. One Metafilter poster puts it well: “It’s not hard if you have a bit of an ear, and some experience…. Harmonies are a kind of language. Spend some time learning the grammar and a few phrases and it can open up quickly.” Frudua’s not only a master of vocal harmony, he’s also an expert luthier and builds custom guitars for dozens of Italian artists. In his breakdown below of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” the intro to the Abbey Road medley, Frudua takes on a particularly difficult harmony, as he explains in great detail in his careful introduction to the song’s harmonic grammar. He tells us we can use this tutorial “as a guide for your Beatles’ tribute band or reproduce them in your home recording.” You may do those things if you wish. Or you could watch Frudua do them better. See his full series here.

Songs You May Have Missed #494


Keane: “Silenced by the Night” (2012)


Keane retreats to familiar territory on their fourth album after some experimentation on 2008’s Perfect Symmetry. It’s for the best–this is exactly what they do well.

See also:

Recommended Albums #55


Mayer Hawthorne: Where Does This Door Go (2013)

Mayer Hawthorne’s latest funk-soul offering sprinkles more 70’s sounds into the stew of retro-soul (or is it “neo-Motown”?) he’d been serving up on his previous two albums. I appreciate the man’s willingness to try a number of styles, sounds and lyrical themes, although what it produces is a real mixed bag. The difference between Where Does This Door Go and its predecessors is that the high points point a little higher.

“Wine Glass Woman” is like Steely Dan Lite, which is hardly a bad thing. “Robot Love” mimics the falsetto croon of the likes of Curtis Mayfield. And “The Stars Are Ours” thieves the rhythm of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” just as Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” borrowed that of Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up”.

Derivative? Sure. Groundbreaking? Hardly. Enjoyable? Decidedly.

Listen to: “Wine Glass Woman”

Listen to: “Robot Love”

Listen to: “The Stars are Ours”

Songs You May Have Missed #493

magic is

Nektar: “Magic is a Child” (1977)



For all intents and purposes, Roye Albrighton is Nektar. Lead guitar wizard, lead vocalist, main songwriter–he’s everything to the band Ian Anderson is to Jethro Tull.

The last thing Nektar fans would want is an album without Albrighton. But when he left the band for a brief period that’s what they got in 1977’s Magic is a Child. And though it’s the least Nektar-like (and least prog-sounding) album in the band’s catalogue, it’s actually a pretty decent record.

Most of it sounds like straight-ahead 70’s British rock, stripped of the lofty space rock tendencies that are Albrighton’s forte. But the title track sounds a different note entirely. What it sounds like is exactly what it was to me as teenager: a sort of anthem for hyper imaginative, inward-turned, Tolkien-reading misfits.

Oh, and that happens to be a young Brooke Shields on the album’s cover and inner sleeve–speaking of the genre of fantasy.

At the time I was a little boy
All my senses were in bloom
The forests were adventure
There dwelt the legends of my mind
I was the keeper of the golden key
I made all the rules
I only had to dream to create the scene

Magic is a child
Imagination is alive
Magic is imagination
A child is alive

How the trees were so high
The cheese in the sky
Were part of my imagination
I was goblins and elves
With small mushroom shelves
As Brothers Grimm would tell their stories

Opening my eyes in the morning I would see
Patterns in the trees making shapes that were a
Face to me

In those tireless times
And those carefree lines
That we draw ourselves
But they’re never kept
I know magic is a child
Imagination is alive
Magic is imagination
A child is alive
Magic is a child
Imagination is alive
Magic is a child
Alive as a child’s imagination


See also:

Rare Kurt Cobain Interview Gets Animated

(Source: (Rolling Stone)

By Kory Grow

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana

Kurt  Cobain discussed a variety of topics, ranging from condemning sexism to  wondering if he was gay, in an interview with British journalist Jon Savage for  a profile that ran in The Observer in 1993. Now, over two decades after  that feature ran, PBS has hilariously animated a portion of that interview for its Blank on Blank series, which has given a similar treatment  to artists like Beastie  Boys, Janis Joplin and Ray Charles.

The clip begins with Cobain talking about how awkward he felt in high school  and then moves into family life, as he admits that he didn’t know his family  name was Irish until after he had already played in the city his surname hailed  from. Quizzically, he said he’d even resorted to calling “Coburns” in phonebooks  throughout America. The rest of the video finds Cobain discussing his stomach  issues, his disappointment in the lyrics of Aerosmith and Led  Zeppelin and how he found some spiritual solace after marrying and having a  child with Courtney Love, among other subjects. Throughout the video, snippets  of Nirvana songs  play stitch together the narrative.

Songs You May Have Missed #492


San Fermin: “Sonsick” (2013)

Quoting Carmel Hold at WFUV:

It starts with a beat. Just one, before a woman begins singing over a simple rhythm about a hopeless case and a resolve to love. Then comes another voice and horns — harmonizing, swelling, building. A full minute goes by before “Sonsick” practically explodes in a burst of musical euphoria and lyrical heartbreak. The stop-you-in-your-tracks song is by San Fermin, and it’s irresistible. The voices belong to singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who lead another rising Brooklyn band in Lucius. San Fermin is the brainchild of Yale composition grad Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who recruited Wolfe and Laessig to help bring his project to fruition. While “Sonsick” infuses its indie-rock sound with classical flourishes, you don’t need a trained ear to be knocked out by its epic beauty. Just as quickly as you’re swept up by the fanfare, everything falls away, leaving nothing but a few piano chords and that voice, resolving to love.

san fermin

Songs You May Have Missed #491


Tracey Ullman: “I Don’t Want Our Loving to Die” (1984)

Saccharine Alert! Tracey Ullman’s two mid-80’s albums may be too sweet for some, but for fans of bubblegum or 60’s girl group pop they are a treasure.

Despite Ullman’s dismissive attitude toward her short-lived career as a pop star, this may be the finest retro girl pop ever produced, making stuff by latter-day practitioners such as She & Him seem pale and watered-down by comparison. The first key element is the material: well-chosen, fairly obscure oldies mixed with more contemporary material by sympathetic writers such as titanic talent Kirsty MacColl. Then there’s the sparkling production, which takes the elements that made the original girl-group stuff so great and pushes it all over the top.

“I Don’t Want Our Loving to Die” was originally recorded by Peter Frampton’s pre-Humble Pie band The Herd (Pete’s at right in the below photo). Compare their version to Ullman’s and decide for yourself who sells the song more effectively. Even Tracey’s grunt (17 seconds in) trumps the boys. In fact it might just be the best girl singer grunt of all time.

the herd

The Herd

See also:

Songs You May Have Missed #490

in between

Jack Johnson: “Never Know” (2005)

I have a weird relationship with Jack Johnson. I warmed very slowly to his laid-back acoustic surfer pop–or whatever it is–till a few albums into his career. After buying this 2005 album mainly because I was being asked to play “Banana Pancakes” at weddings, it sat on a pile of CDs on my desk for months before I actually forced myself to listen to it all the way through. Turns out the bad taste that “Banana Pancakes” had left in my mouth was at least somewhat misleading.

Although much of what he does still doesn’t light me up, certain of his songs knock me out. I think his 2010 album To the Sea is terrific, possessing hooks sharper than on previous albums. And “Never Know” just has an effortless-sounding cool about it. As if, unlike “Banana Pancakes”, this song isn’t trying so hard to get me to like it. Or something.

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