This Christmas was a good time for music -- and I don't just mean the holiday kind. I got two CDs this year: Want Two by Rufus Wainwright and Twentysomething by Englishman Jamie Cullum. I think both discs represent a return to an older, pre-punk sensibility when it comes to songwriting. From the tortured orchestral strains of Wainwright's "Angus Dei" to the close of the disc with "Old Whore's Diet" (supposedly a breakfast of old, ugly Chinese take-out he had after a night of debauchery), the complex pop songwriting tradition of Lennon/McCartney and Brian Wilson lives on in a man barely out of his teens. Cullum stylistically reaches back even further to the lounge jazz stylings of the likes of Bobby Darin, but with a definite sense of irony -- where else can you hear Hendrix's "Wind Cries Mary", Porter's "I Get A Kick Out Of You" and Radiohead's "High & Dry" (along with a handful of inspired originals) rendered in smooth jazz forms on one disc? Discs like these are inspiration to me; with their complex arrangements and intertwining melodies, I am heartened to discover that there are artists who are still musicians first, not dancers, actors, or celebrities.
I also dug through my collection of DVDs to come up with some decent live music. The Rufus Wainwright disc above turned out to be an excellent bargain; it's jewel case also contained a concert DVD of Rufus playing material from the CD along with older tunes at San Francisco's Fillmore Auditorium. While lacking full surround sound, the disc was a painful reminder of how long it's been since I was out to see some good live music. I also recently purchased Norah Jones and The Handsome Band - Live in 2004. Shot at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Norah Jones and her band are a quiet wonder on stage -- producing renditions of her better songs along with a series of eclectic cover songs that often featured special guests. Finally, I dug out a copy of Reverend Horton Heat: Live & In Color that I was given last Spring as a gift, but forgot. I've seen the Reverend live around three times... and this disc (with its DTS surround sound) was almost better than those shows because the audio was clear and unencumbered by the sounds of the drunk morons that usually surrounded me. The Reverend Horton is not the kind of artist you see interviewed in the mainstream media much -- and the two short documentary bonus features about the Rev, Jimbo, and Scott were also very welcome.
All of this fills me with envy and awe. I feel envy because I want to make music again (flute, voice, something???) and awe... because I look at Norah's band and Rufus's band, each full of multi-instrumentalists and see how much talent and love they have for making music.
on 2005-01-10 at 9:41 p.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond