Author Archives: Michael H. Little

Graded on a Curve:
The Nice,
Five Bridges

I keep having the same nightmare. In it, Keith Emerson is hitting me over the head with dead classical composers. First he hits me over the head with Johannes Sebastian Bach, then he hits me over the head with Modest Mussorgsky, then he hits me over the head with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, then he hits me over the head with Béla Bartók, then Jerry Lee Lewis bursts into the room and hits Keith Emerson over the head with a piano. Thank God for Jerry Lee Lewis.

Keith Emerson didn’t start bashing me over the head with dead composers when he joined the Evil Triumvirate Emerson, Lake & Palmer. No, it started back in 1968, when the classical blowhard formed the Nice with singer/bass player Lee Jackson and drummer Brian Davison. The trio quickly set about mixing classical music with rock, creating a tidal wave of bands set upon putting a conductor’s baton in the hand of a popular music form guilty only of minding its own business.

Emerson showed early promise as a live performer, taking a whip to his piano, riding it across the stage like the Lone Ranger, and stabbing it to death with knives. Unfortunately he grew up, quit the shenanigans and went full SymphProg, sealing the fates of those of us who believe that once you’ve buried a classical composer you should have the common decency not to dig him back up again.

On 1970’s live Five Bridges The Nice, aided and abetted by a horn section and the Sinfonia of London, play a classical hash that incorporates the music of Bach, Tchaikovsky, and Jean Sibelius, with a dash of jazz schmaltz tossed in for flavoring. The entire album’s a horror show, but The Nice reach a world historic nadir with “Country Pie”/“Brandenburg Concerto,” which they presumably created by cramming Bob Dylan and J.S. Bach into a prototype of Seth Brundle’s telepod.

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Graded on a Curve:
Gene Clark,
No Other

Celebrating Gene Clark who would have been 76 this week.Ed.

Talk about your impeccable resumes. Not only was Gene Clark a founding member of jangle rock pioneers The Byrds, he was also half of alt-country band Dillard & Clark and a great solo artist to boot. But not even this list of accomplishments could win Clark’s 1974 album No Other—which he considered his masterpiece—an audience. To be blunt, No Other was a flop, mainly because Asylum Records declined to promote the LP, both because they didn’t see any hits on it and because they were appalled by the time and cost it took to produce the record, which featured such notables as Chris Hillman, Jesse Ed Davis, Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, and Butch Trucks. Indeed, by 1976 Asylum had deleted No Other from its catalogue altogether.

It even took the critics a long while to realize that No Other—a lush, lovely, and even visionary work—was worth every dime and hour spent to make it. Clark—a psychedelic kinda guy who hung out with the likes of Dennis Hopper and David Carradine—was said to have ceased feeding his head when he composed the songs on No Other, but they’re spiritually deep nonetheless. They’re also disparate in terms of influence: this was no pure country rock LP, but an agglomeration of folk, country, rock, gospel, even R&B and funk. And to think it was initially intended to be a double LP, until Asylum head honcho David Geffen blanched at the $100,000 the project had already cost.

As I noted above, No Other has a deeply spiritual feel to it—it possesses the gravity of a work only possible by an artist who has opened his head and journeyed to the 5th Dimension, ultimately emerging wiser as he returned to our far more prosaic world. Which may sound like hippie bullshit, and may even be hippie bullshit, but I buy it, Clark’s fascination with Carlos Castaneda, Theosophy, and all. Far more ornate than his three previous solo records, due in part to his pairing with “spare no cost” producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye, No Other features lush and unusual arrangements; backup vocals from the likes of Clydie King, Claudia Lennear, Shirley Matthew, and Vanetta Fields, amongst others; and lots of overdubs.

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Graded on a Curve: Jethro Tull,
Stand Up

Celebrating Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre on his 74th birthday.
Ed.

Sometimes you amaze yourself. Or perhaps I should say stupefy, dumbfound, perplex, befuddle, mystify, outrage, and downright disgust yourself. Such was the case when I recently ran over a “little person” in an abortive attempt to pass the D.C. driver’s test. I never saw him; in my defense, he was a very little little person. More like a half-little person. And such was also the case when I decided to review Jethro Tull’s Stand Up, solely as a joke and a chance to pan defenseless Englishman Ian Anderson, who for some inexplicable reason stands poised on one leg while playing the flute, like a hippie flamingo.

Only to discover, horror of horrors, I actually like the damn thing. Who was it that said, “He came to mock but remained to pray”? Because I’ve always considered Jethro Tull, despite a handful of songs I truly like, ridiculous, due largely to Anderson’s flute, an instrument (in my humble opinion) suitable only for tossing out the window. What’s more, Jethtro Tull always struck me as fairly dim. I clearly remember thinking, when they put out 1972’s Thick as a Brick, that it wasn’t the brightest move, touting one’s low IQ on one’s own album cover.

I picked 1969’s Stand Up for the historically important reason that it has a song called “Fat Man” on it. A Facebook friend gave me the idea, and I fully intend to unfriend her. A short history: Jethro Tull (they filched their name from a pioneer of the English Agricultural Revolution) was formed in 1967 as a blues-rock outfit in Luton, Bedfordshire, a town once famed for hat-making. The concrete hat was invented there, and the resulting epidemic of neck injuries very quickly put an end to hat-making in Luton.

Tull’s debut This Was—which includes jazz flute horror “Serenade to a Cuckoo”—came out in 1968, at which point original guitarist Mick Abrahams split to form Blodwyn Pig, balking at Anderson’s decision to expand the band’s sound to incorporate Celtic, folk, and classical influences. (Fun fact: Black Sabb’s Tommy Iommi briefly replaced Abrahams, until Anderson settled on the courtly Martin Lancelot Barre. Fun fact #2: Yes’ Steve Howe flunked the audition!)

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Graded on a Curve:
The Move,
Shazam

This is what fans of The Move call a masterpiece? You might it expect it to be, seeing as how it’s the product of the bizarre mind of professional eccentric Roy Wood, future co-founder of Electric Light Orchestra and founder of the glam rock band Wizzard. And that’s the major flaw of 1970’s Shazam–despite the presence of Wood, the album isn’t eccentric enough.

The Move take a scattershot approach on Shazam, delving into art rock, classical rock, raga rock, and proto-metal, while also taking stabs at The Beatles and sixties folk rock. But their most important influence is the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and that’s where things fall apart. The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band kept whimsical tongue firmly planted firmly in dada cheek, but on Shazam The Move want to have it both ways. They wander into Stanshall/Innes territory on a couple of cuts, but for the most part they play it straight. Shazam is a case of a split personality, and it’s too late for it to seek therapy.

“Cherry Blossom Clinic” makes the comedy grade, what with its light-hearted treatment of “they’re coming to take me away ha ha” lunacy, but the song is ruined for me by the extended foray into the music of Bach and Paul Dukas. Sure, it’s all in fun, but I don’t enjoy being classically gassed–if I wanted to listen to the likes of Bach I’d have to become a different person, because the person I am is bored stiff by the stuff.

Far less funny is the opening of the tender and very serious “Beautiful Daughter,” in which the band takes the same “talk to the man in the street” approach the Bonzo Dog Band employ in their masterpiece of absurdity “Shirts.” Trouble is, with the exception of the old women who responds to the question of whether she likes pop music by saying, “Well, it’s nice in its way, you know some of it, not uh, not when they go naked,” the Q and A just ain’t that funny. One laugh line doesn’t not a comedy classic make.

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Graded on a Curve: Journey, Infinity

Listening to Journey inspires me–to stop listening to Journey. I’ve always hated them, mainly because they’re the incarnation of late seventies/early eighties AOR shlock, and I offer prospective Journey buyers two simple words of advice: Stay Home.

Journey’s 1978 LP Infinity has sold some 3,000,000 copies and counting, but had we been lucky it wouldn’t exist. Its predecessor, 1977’s Next, sold so poorly Columbia Records was on the verge of dropping the band, and odds are Journey would have gone the way of Head East had they not hired Steve “Castrato” Perry and gone big time mainstream on Infinity, which won the hearts and minds of the sorts of people who consider Footloose the pinnacle of modern American filmmaking.

Journey’s songs are safe, sturdy, reliable, and gooey with emotion–Volvos with feelings. Volvos may be boring but they sell, and there’s case to be made for boring; there are plenty of people out there who are perfectly content to drive the speed limit, and as far as they’re concerned Infinity makes the perfect accompaniment to their 30-minute stay-in-the-right-lane commute from home in the suburbs to job in accounting firm and back.

Very few music listeners would call Journey a hard rock band, but Infinity tells a different story–trapped within the MOR schmalz there’s a Led Zeppelin screaming to be let out. For every “Patiently” and “Opened the Door” there’s an “Anytime” or “Can Do,” both of which pack a surprising wallop. Five of Infinity’s songs have muscle; you have to look beyond their icky make-it-stop exteriors.

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Graded on a Curve:
Belle and Sebastian,
If you’re feeling sinister

So just the other day I was at my girlfriend’s place and I told her I’d been listening to Belle and Sebastian. And she said in amazement, “You? You?? But they’re so… emo!” To which I replied, my voice reaching that high and buzzard-like Geddy Lee pitch that I can only attain when genuinely flubbergumbled, “Emo my ass! I hate those emo fuckers! Those irony-deficient shitbags! They’re too busy setting their wretchedly sensitive and self-absorbed high school diary poems to music to realize life is a hilarious cosmic joke at their expense! Belle and Sebastian are twee, damn it, and have a sense of humor! Just listen to “This Is Just a Modern Rock Song”! I mean, gak!… Grrr!”

And after that I descended into uttering outraged gibberish while my poor girlfriend cowered at the far end of the sofa, fishing around for her son’s bb gun, which she occasionally uses to put a sudden stop to my insane ranting. There is nothing like a bb to the solar plexus to shut you up, and fast.

In hindsight, I got all heated up because while the music of Belle and Sebastian is precious beyond words, and unremittingly lovely to boot, front man and pop genius Stuart Murdoch undercuts all that divine loveliness with smart and very sexually ambiguous lyrics in which boys who love boys settle for girls (they’re not as much trouble!) and girls who love girls settle for boys (they’re not as much trouble!).

Why, the unbearably sublime “Stars of Track and Field” from 1996’s If you’re feeling sinister alone is a hilarious study of the polymorphous perverse sexual mores of our oh so very sophisticated young people, what with the girl in question playing track and field for only one reason: to wear “terry underwear/And feel the city air/Run past your body.” And Murdoch finishes his “requiem” for said star of track and field by singing, “But when she’s on her back/She had the knowledge/To get her into college.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Three Man Army,
Three Man Army Two

First a bit of history. When my older brother fled home in the mid-Seventies to escape the horrors of small town life, he left behind his record collection, which included this Three Man Army LP he picked up for 99 cents at a J.G. McCrory cutout record bin in nearby Hanover. A rock critic in embryo, I listened to every one of his left-behinds–including a Strawbs LP I intuitively knew would suck–but this one. Not only had I never heard of Three Man Army, I couldn’t escape the sneaking suspicion that whatever was on Three Man Army Two would scar me for life.

I needn’t have worried. 1974’s Three Man Army Two isn’t likely to land you in a PTSD therapy group. It’s merely the workmanlike product of a trio of Brit journeymen flailing about in search of a sound they could call their own. As you can tell by that 99-cent sticker price, they didn’t find it.

Three Man Army Two includes a song whose title they stole from Sun Ra, a song about the vision-impaired, an instrumental whose apparent inspiration was a guy named Irving, a song about a polecat woman which I doubt was meant as a compliment and leads me to suspect the boys weren’t averse to a bit of hot and sweaty bestiality, and a couple of other songs of a generic nature too boring to mention. Personally, I think they’d have been better off writing more songs about the joys of interspecies fornication. I’d have happily coughed up the money for a single called “Fruit Bat Lady.”

Three Man Army’s problems were two-fold. First, they were a musically talented but utterly faceless power trio whose specialty lay in writing serviceable but remarkably unremarkable songs. There isn’t a single truly bad track on Three Man Army Two, but aside from “Polecat Woman” I have a hard time remembering a single one of them.

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Graded on a Curve:
Grand Funk Railroad, Live Album

There was a time, believe it or not, when Grand Funk Railroad were the biggest live act in America. Your parents may have seen them–if you’re of a certain age, you may have seen them. Hell, had I been a bit older, I probably would have seen them. Which is why the band’s 1970 double LP Live Album is so important a historical document. It’s a testament to our bad taste.

Grand Funk Railroad were the American version of Led Zeppelin. Not insofar as their meat-and-potatoes-without-the-meat hard rock went–they weren’t fit to lick Jimmy Page’s double-neck Gibson. But they were amongst the first bands to appeal to a new generation of primarily working class teens who came of age at the receding tide of the hippie subculture. Bob Dylan didn’t mean jack shit to them, and The Beatles were ancient history–all they wanted to do was gobble Mandrax and fuck in the back seat of their Chevy Camaros.

Rebelling against the music of your older brother, who at 25 may as well be in a nursing home, is as natural as falling flat on your face after downing four ‘ludes–you have to take out puberty on somebody. But whereas Led Zeppelin raised the musical bar forever, Grand Funk’s sole claim to immortality is the iconic anthem “We’re an American Band.”

I count three, only three, keepers on Live Album, and one of them isn’t even a song. On the 52-second “Words of Wisdom,” vocalist/guitarist Mark Farner stops the music to say, apropos accepting strange drugs from other concert goers, “Brothers and sisters, there are people out there who look just like your brother. But they’re not!” But what if, in fact, said brother really is your brother, as in you share a bathroom and regularly pool your pennies to buy a bottle of Romilar? Are you supposed to turn him over to security? Whatever happened to come on people now?

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Graded on a Curve:
Art Garfunkel,
Breakaway

Celebrating Art Garfunkel on his 79th birthday.Ed.

It was blasted dastardly, the way Paul Simon gave poor Art Garfunkel the old heave-ho. Absolutely duplicitous. So duplicitous in fact that I coined a shiny new word for the sad fate that befell the kinky-haired half of the famous duo—he got Garfunkeled. The word is slowing entering the popular lexicon, and I plan to patent it and thereby grow filthy rich.

Because it’s the ideal word for all manner of occasions. Say your boyfriend should, without due warning, terminate your relationship. And say said abrupt news should fall upon your heart like a ton of Mick Jagger solo albums. You are left with two alternatives. You can shed bitter tears of the sort that wilt flowers. Or better by far, you can run to your friends and cry, “The sleazy bastard just Garfunkeled me!”

In any event, having been Garfunkeled following 1970’s Bridge over Troubled Water, Art of the magic golden Jewfro found himself at loose ends. I like to imagine, although it doesn’t fit the historical time line, that he spent many a dour hour sunk in the funk at the home of Jim Messina, the poor fellow who got Garfunkeled by Kenny Loggins. In reality Garfunkel did some acting, released 1973’s Angel Clare (for which he took much abuse for his treacly version of Randy Newman’s “Old Man”), and then followed Angel Clare with 1975’s Breakaway.

Breakaway is Garfunkel’s most successful LP and a soft rock classic. Garfunkel’s choirboy vocals can rankle, but on Breakaway he gathered up a bunch of songs that made effective use of those inimitable tenor pipes of his. He also dragooned every crack studio musician in the known world, to say nothing of such folks as David Crosby, Bill Payne, Graham Nash, Toni Tennille, and (erk!) Andrew Gold. Why even Garfunkeler-in-Chief Paul Simon reunited with the Garfunkeled one on “My Little Town.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Hall & Oates,
Abandoned Luncheonette

Hall & Oates: You either love them or you hate them. Or, as in my case, you love them AND you hate them. The blue-eyed Philly soul and pop superstars scored some 3,400 Billboard Top 100 hits during the late seventies and early eighties, including such unavoidable classics as “Maneater,” “Out of Touch,” and “Kiss on My List,” which played continually on every car radio and in every mall, bar, elevator, Lothario’s bedroom, police station holding cell (I heard “Rich Girl” in one once), and psychiatric facility in the land.

I loathed Hall & Oates because their largely soulless soul songs (you can’t be a machine and have a soul) were the epitome of slick studio perfection, but even more so because said songs were so monstrously catchy that even if you hated them you still found yourself singing along with pleasure every time you heard one. I experienced much self-loathing over this. Hated myself like lime spandex. But before there was Hall & Oates, the inhuman hit-making machine, there was Hall & Oates, the soft rock, soul, and folk duo who recorded three albums (Whole Oats, Abandoned Luncheonette, and War Babies) for Atlantic Records between 1972 and 1974.

None of them fared well commercially, and Hall & Oates could have ended up a footnote to history had they not been lucky enough to sign with RCA. Most casual Hall & Oates’ fans have never heard the Atlantic-era records, and that’s too bad, because 1973’s Abandoned Luncheonette in particular is a real rocking-horse winner.

What else can I say about Hall & Oates? The ever-humble Daryl Hall, who has recorded experimental LPs on the side with the likes of Robert Fripp, once said of his partnership with John Oates, “I’m 90% and he’s 10%, and that’s the way it is.” Woah. To be fair to Hall, it did seem at times that Oates’ only role was as band mustache. But that’s misleading. Oates’ vocals and guitar playing were indispensable, and he wrote some wonderful songs. As for Abandoned Luncheonette, its list of studio musicians goes on and on, and includes a guy on Howling guitar, whatever that is. I get the idea they had to bring it to the studio in a cage, and keep it on a sturdy leash at all times.

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Graded on a Curve:
My Dying Bride,
Feel the Misery

The general theme of doom metal can be summed up with the words All the World’s a Funeral, and I like it for its simplicity. No need to worry about child care, car repairs, or making sure there isn’t an important letter tucked amongst the fifty pieces of junk mail you chuck in the trash every day. All you have to do is make sure you’ve made your funeral arrangements in advance.

All of which brings us to the Bradford, England’s My Dying Bride and their 2015 LP Feel the Misery, the title of which perfectly encapsulates the doom metal aesthetic. “Some claim it’s tragedy/Some claim calamity” sings Aaron Stainthorpe on the LP’s title track. If he’s talking about having to get up in the morning and go to work, he’s right on both counts.

My Dying Bride keep the tempos funeral slow–theirs is the sound of a cart filled with plague victims creaking towards a mass grave. I’m sure their songs appeal to those of morbid temperament, but they also appeal to me–they may not be suitable for tap dancing, but they ain’t bad, and their lyrics aren’t just funny they’re unintentionally funny, which is always a plus when it comes to the metal genre. If it’s true what they say about laughter being the best medicine, Feel the Misery is a sure fire cure for depression.

As for the songs on Feel the Misery they’re mostly dirges; crushing power chords hammer down coffin lids, drummer and bass player dig one helluva burial pit, and Stainthorpe’s vocals vary from the standard portentous to demonic growl, as if he’s engaging in a dialogue with the devil. Toss in some mournful violin for flavoring, and what you have is the perfect music for a tailgate party in the parking lot of Hell.

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Graded on a Curve: Rammstein,
Paris

Rammstein could teach P.T. Barnum a thing or two. Live, they’re the total entertainment package; simultaneously Goth metal band, fire hazard, and comedy act, they’re Götterdämmerung with guitars, Wagner’s Die Walküre without the woman in winged helmets.

Your average Rammstein show may begin with the band being led through the audience by a cowled druid holding a flaming torch, and things tend to get really weird after that. On the tactfully titled “Pussy,” lead singer Till Lindemann rides a penile ejaculation cannon that spews confetti. And when band crackup Christian “Flake” Lorenz–who plays Flava Flav to Lindemann’s Chuck D–isn’t doing the gerbil on the treadmill while he plays keyboards, he’s doing spastic Sprockets dances, riding a rubber lifeboat on a sea of hands, or being unceremoniously tossed into a bathtub and showered with glitter. You won’t see that at a Katatonia concert.

But let’s not forget the fire. It erupts volcanically from the stage, shoots from the mouths of the guitarists, sets the angel wings Lindemann dons for “Engel” alight, and streams from the flamethrower/ glorified gas station nozzle Lindemann uses to set an extra on fire in “Benzin.” It’s like WWII all over again on that stage, and Lindemann’s grime-smeared face and “Stalingrad Survivor” couture only add to the mood, as does the bands penchant for marching in lockstep. There’s nothing fascistic about any of this, mind you–fascists have no sense of humor, and Lindemann’s fashion sense evokes images of Herbie Mann at a leather bar.

Rammstein are a Goth metal band with the accent on both words; the Goth comes in the form of unabashed melodrama and a lighter touch (think Lorenz’s keyboards), while the metal is top-notch, bones-in-your-ears-crushing fare. In short you get the best of both worlds, and you get it in German, the lingua franca of the country that gave us both Bauhaus and Krupp steel. And speaking of the German language, how is that everybody at their live shows seems to know the lyrics to every single song? Is it possible Hitler actually won the Second World War?

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Graded on a Curve:
The Pogues,
Peace and Love

Before I get to my review, a bit of stereotype slinging. About the Irish, who are oft said (you can ask anybody) to have produced the greatest drunken poets the world has ever seen. Here in the States, a drunk is a drunk is a drunk. In Ireland, if you believe the hype, every drunk is a poet and every poet is a drunk, and when the pubs close every last inebriated man, woman, and child who spills into the dimly lit street to stagger home or fall fecklessly into the filthy gutter is conjuring brilliant quatrains in their brain.

It’s obviously shite, and to the part of my lineage that is Irish (or is it Scottish, who knows?) offensive even, but I do believe the Irish harbor a romantic soul and love their whiskey as much as they love a gift for high-blown (Oscar Wilde and Brendan Behan, anybody?) speech. So just for argument’s sake, who is the greatest drunken Irish poet of them all? My vote goes to The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan, hands down.

He may be a spent force now; it’s been years since he wrote any new songs (that we’ve heard, anyway); his voice is every bit as much a ruin as the Acropolis; and the last time I saw him perform he hung precariously onto the microphone stand like a sailor clinging to the ratlines for dear life in the face of 90 mph typhoon winds. But the fact that he continues to draw breath at all is in itself a miracle.

I have done the math, and more whiskey has passed MacGowan’s lips over the course of his lifetime than was imbibed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Jones, Malcolm Lowry, and Dylan Thomas put together. Despite this dubious achievement, he has written some of the best poetry ever set to music, and has brought more happiness to mankind than a regimen of teetotalers.

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Graded on a Curve:
Jerry Jeff Walker,
¡Viva Terlingua!

Remembering Jerry Jeff Walker.Ed.

When it comes to outlaw country, Jerry Jeff Walker is a proud representative who rarely tops anybody’s list. Chiefly noted for writing the ubiquitous “Mr. Bojangles” and for his cover of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” Jerry generally gets short shrift in comparison to Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Townes Van Zandt. But a listen to his 1973 live LP, ¡Viva Terlingua!, demonstrates conclusively that Walker can hold his own with the best of them.

Recorded with his Lost Gonzo Band at the Luckenbach Dancehall in 1973, ¡Viva Terlingua! is a masterpiece, featuring a unique mix of “outlaw” rock, blues, and traditional Mexican music styles that makes him one of a kind amongst his outlaw compadres. The album’s wonderful mixture of covers and originals helps—there isn’t a weak cut on the damn thing, from the carefree opening track, “Getting’ By,” a rollicking country tune on which Walker sets down his easy-going philosophy of living. The solos are great, Walker is charmingly insouciant, and if this one doesn’t make you happy, I recommend you look into ECT.

His cover of Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting for a Train” is a slow and lovely country lament over an old man who took him under his wing when he was a kid. The desperados turn out to be drifters and domino players, and Walker hits just the right note, avoiding bathos and steering clear of the maudlin, while the band kicks out the jams on the choruses and then kicks into the overdrive at the end, taking the song out, on a rock note.

Walker goes South of the Border on the joyous “Sangria Wine,” a celebration of one great alcoholic beverage. Drinking it with old friends in Texas on a Saturday makes him happy, and it brings out the music, as the song’s cool instrumental passage proves. You’d be hard pressed to find a more joyous celebration of booze than this tune, and if I weren’t a reformed drunk I’d go out and buy me a bottle right this minute. Shit, I might just do it anyway, to make sure Jerry Jeff ain’t exaggerating. “Little Bird” is a great honky tonker, a perky yet sad tune complete with excellent pedal steel by Herb Steiner; there’s a bird on Jerry Jeff’s windowsill and he’s looking out that window and wondering if his reflection on that window pane is clouded by tears or rain. Great tune, a little classic.

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Graded on a Curve:
Yanni,
Optimystique

There was a time when Yanni was the best keyboardist in jazz. “First time I heard him play,” said Thelonious Monk, “I about set fire to my piano.” McCoy Tyner told the music critic Leonard Feather, “John [Coltrane] took me aside one day and said, ‘Frankly, McCoy? If Yanni was available you’d be out of the quartet.’” Even the intergalactic Sun Ra, normally the most peaceful of men, broke into Yanni’s house and pissed on his dog.

Then Yanni had a revelation. Why play small clubs and live off his meager Blue Note royalties when he could play Madison Square Garden, then buy it? All he had to do was align his chakras, buy a copy of The Celestine Prophecy, part the Veil of Maya to reveal the illusory nature of existence, and reinvent himself as a New Age musician.

The result was the man with the magical mustache’s 1984 debut, Optimystique. Recorded in 1980, its release was delayed by Yanni’s refusal to concede to demands by the Parents Music Resource Center that he place a Parental Advisory sticker on the cover. In testimony before a Senate subcommittee, PMRC co-founder Tipper Gore said, “This album is a menace to our children. Do we really want them joining the Rainbow Family of Living Light?”

The objective of New Age music is to lull listeners into a blissful trance, allowing them to forget the everyday problems that make their lives duller than that bearded guy in those Ameritrade commercials. In the October 1991 issue of Psychology Today, the famed clinical psychologist Albert Bandura wrote, “The tedium of a modern life is the cause of much anxiety, and human consciousness has become an unbearable burden. Frankly, most people would prefer to be rhododendrons. And that’s what the music of Yanni affords them–the opportunity to be rhododendrons.”

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