Listen Up!

January 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Heavens, it snowed last night! So this is looking like an Indoor Day. As such, it only makes sense to get my picks for the best records of 2014 down, with “pairings” should you decide to have a little something while you are listening:

D’Angelo and The Vanguard: Black Messiah

Released late last year, this was, I think, the best record I heard in 2014. Heavily influenced by Prince, Marvin Gaye and others, it has its own complex sound that requires multiple listens even though it sounds like record you’ve always had a few tracks in. When I worked in the music industry, D’Angelo was on a rapid rise, but I somehow had never listened to him and then he was on a ten-year hiatus. I was missing out. He is the real deal. And this is meant to be listed to as a piece. Get a glass of wine  — make that a healthy pour of a juicy California red, this is an American artist, after all — sit down, and listen all the way through.

Lucinda Williams: Down there the Spirit Meets the Bone

Lucinda is loved by her serious fans (“Change the Locks”, people!), kind of known by many more for a few great songs that crossed over (“Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”, which should be loved by many), and downright disliked by those who may find her music a bit, well…dark. But as a friend and I discussed after seeing her perform in November (fantastic!!), so much of what she is singing about feels “resolved”. So I don’t often feel sad or riled up after listening to her — it’s more like “I hear you, Lucinda”. And this record is no exception.

I first listened to it while doing a kind of rude thing at MoMA. I was tired of hearing everyone else’s chatter at the Matisse Cutouts show (which was really quite overwhelming, I think on account of the scale of everything), so I popped on my headphones, cranked up the volume a bit and moved through the exhibition. Matisse and Lucinda Williams seems like an odd combination, I’ll admit. But there was some kind of synergy going on…the music made you slow down and really take in the work on display. I kept the headphones on and listened again while visiting some of my favorite pieces in the other galleries. Wonderful.

This is a record where you can skip around or shuffle, but I find myself lingering on many, especially “Compassion”, which is an adaptation of her late father’s poem of the same name:

Have compassion for everyone you meet,
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,

bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign

of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.

Best listened to when you are feeling fine but maybe a little introspective. And this is a smoky scotch — not wine — situation.

Kylie Minogue: Into the Blue

Everyone needs a Kylie song now and again — even if they don’t know it yet. Many of us need entire records because this is a woman who loves to entertain, works with great producers and collaborators, and has access to fantastically fun and well-written songs. It’s a party all of the time but with more musical substance that a non-fan would expect. (And if you ever get a chance to see her in concert, get your bootie to it, as you will both have a silly fun time.)

After her last record, Aphrodite, I was not sure how she could top it. Yet she did. If you are feeling tired or have a case of The Blahs, take two Kylies (really, any two except for the duet with Enrique Iglesias) and see if you don’t feel better. The whole record will get you though a painful workout, or trying to figure out what outfit is the Best You at a given time, or making dinner for some oddly large number of people when you’ve worked all week. Depending upon the time of day, Into the Blue is best paired with water, coffee or a glass of rose champagne.



(“Compassion” by Miller Williams, from The Ways We TouchPoems. © University of Illinois Press, 1997.)

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