Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992) by Aphex Twin

Categories: 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, and Music.

I am familiar with electronic music up until a point – that point is somewhere in the very early 80s. I have no idea what happened between then and the music we have today (save for the odd track that gets played too much or turned into stadium music). Read More

The Dirty Rotten CD by DRI (2002)

Categories: 1983, 2002, and Movies.

This is a compilation of [i]The Dirty Rotten LP[/i], which I believe is a compilation including [i]The Dirty Rotten EP[/i] and some other stuff. You can really hear the influence of UK hardcore (something I just learned existed) on this band but they’ve clearly added something, most noticeably in the vocals (which are no longer as screamy) and the drums (which are significantly more metal to my ears). And I can really hear why these guys were so influential on other American bands, given that they appeared a little too metal for Hardcore Punk and way too punk to be Read More

High Voltage (1976) by AC/DC

Categories: 1975, 1976, and Music.

AC/DC’s first international release is actually a compilation of music from their first two records, released only in Australia. (Oh, the days when music was that regionalized…) I haven’t heard either of those records, so I don’t know if they did a good job of compiling this, but my guess is they did. This record establishes exactly what has been since: big, simple, sleazy rock music. And, for some reason, I don’t mind the misogyny as much from Bon Scott, perhaps because I think he didn’t know any better, perhaps because this is very much the template for all future Read More

From Fear to Eternity: The Best of 1990-2010 (2011) by Iron Maiden

Categories: 1990, 1992, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2010, and 2011.

I accidentally picked this up thinking it was a compilation of their ’80s music. Ah well. I learned a couple of things from this record: First, Iron Maiden has a formula and they stuck to it (at least on the songs considered their “best”). Second, I should never get a live Iron Maiden album. It’s pretty clear from listening to this record that Maiden is just milking their sound for all its worth. Sure, some of these songs are pretty catchy and everything is very professional and competent, but so many of these songs follow the exact same formula. And Read More

The Complete Early Recordings of Skip James (1994, 2009)

Categories: 1931, 1994, and 2009.

This is one of the numerous discs to collect all nine of Skip James 1931 78 records that he recorded before he abandoned his music career (or whatever happened) until being “rediscovered” in the ’60s. This music is essential listening for fan of the blues or people interested in music history. James among the best guitarists of his era – he might be the best pre-electric blues guitar player ever. And he was an incredible and distinctive singer. Unfortunately, the sound is often awful and I don’t know whether that’s because of degradation to the original recordings or because of Read More

Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1962) edited by Donald Kagan

Categories: 1962, Books, and Non-Fiction.

This is an old sampler of theories about the decline of the Roman Empire that I think was part of a class my father took in university. It was assembled in 1962, but the first issue with it is that many of the books and articles it draws on were published significantly earlier. And though we’ve learned a lot since 1962 about how to “do” history, they no doubt had learned much between 1916 and 1962. And I mention this because some of the excerpts included are laughably unsophisticated and one of them is actually a racist “explanation” of how Read More

The Blues Biography (2005) by Lightnin’ Hopkins

Categories: 1946, 1947, 1948, 2005, and Music.

The music on this compilation is good. Let’s get that out of the way. Lightnin Hopkins was a great performer and he did a lot to standardize lyric and performance conventions in post-war blues. He was a pretty great guitar player for the era, and he did some things that sound unconventional to my ears. So that is all great. Lightnin’ Hopkins is someone we should all check out, if we’re interested in the blues. This is not the compilation is not the recording to introduce any of us to him, however. Far as I can tell, this collects his Read More

Holst: A Winter Idyll (1993) by David Atherton et al.

Categories: 1897, 1900, 1903, 1905, 1906, 1911, 1921, 1927, 1980, 1988, 1989, and Music.

This is a collection of short orchestral pieces and excerpts of longer ones, by Holst. It is not performed by the same group throughout (as it’s a compilation) though, as far as I can tell (listening to a digital copy), the conductor is the same throughout (David Atherton). “A Winter Idyll” starts rather lively for the title. It’s decent late Romantic stuff. It’s fine. It doesn’t have me jumping out of my shoes or anything. Why anyone excerpts parts of symphonies I’ll never know. (Well I do know why they do it, I just don’t like it.) I’d much rather Read More

Gustav Holst: Vedic Hymns, Four Songs for Voice and Violin, Humbert Wolfe Songs, etc. [English Song Series 6] (2003) by Various Artists

Categories: 1898, 1904, 1907, 1908, 1917, 1929, and Music.

This is a scattershot collection of 33 of Holst’s approximately 70 lieder, performed by various people from various times. I really like the “Four Songs.” From memory, I don’t think I’ve yet heard a song for just voice and violin. This is a neat and unusual approach, to the best of my knowledge. I recognize there’s nothing truly groundbreaking here, but I do appreciate the settings more than I usually do. The “Six Songs” are less interesting, which makes sense given that they are earlier work. This is standard late Romantic borderline-impressionist lieder. I’m just not really sold on them Read More

The Definitive Collection (2008) by Billie Holiday

Categories: 1935, 1937, 1939, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1954, 1956, 1958, 2008, and Music.

Full disclosure: I do not like vocal jazz (as you know). This is a compilation of 22 tracks over the course of Holiday’s career. I have no idea how definitive it actually is, as I do not know her at all (beyond her reputation as one of the great singers of the century, and “Strange Fruit”). I also have no plans on listening to her entire oeuvre (and, given when she recorded, curation is necessary anyway, because much of her music was recorded pre-album). Read More

The Twilight Zone (1999) by Bernard Herrmann, performed by Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely

Categories: 1959, 1960, 1962, 1963, and 1999.

Though not the composer of The Twilight Zone‘s most iconic theme, Herrmann composed music for both the overall show and individual episodes. This album collects the scores for seven of those episodes and includes a couple other pieces Herrmann did for the show. What Herrmann did here is remarkable. Much of this music is pretty typical of his science fiction music of the time, but it wasn’t typical for TV. (Remember, back then, American TV was indeed nothing like the movies: way lower production values, worse actors, usually, worse writing, etc.) Obviously The Twilight Zone helped change all that. But Read More

Fahrenheit 451 [et al.] (1995) by Bernard Hermann, performed by Seattle Symphony Orchestra conducted by Joel McNeely

Categories: 1946, 1947, 1956, 1962, 1966, 1995, and Movies.

This is another Hermann compilation, a kind of scattershot one. The main feature of this compilation is ten pieces from Hermann’s score to Fahrenheit 451. I cannot say enough about the prelude. I am not sure where it stands in the history of film music, but it has become so unbelievably cliche as a custom to have a somber, eerie opening like that, it’s kind of incredible. And, to my knowledge, this is the first time ever. The rest of the score included is pretty good, too. Very Hermannesque, for lack of a better word. I haven’t seen the film Read More

Citizen Kane – the Classic Film Scores of Bernard Hermann (2011) by the National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Charles Gerhardt

Categories: 2011 and Music.

I am always skeptical of compilations and this one is no different. This takes music from five of Hermann’s scores – only one of which is for a truly notable film – and combines them into what is essentially the most cursory survey of his work. There is a lot of music from Citizen Kane, Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef and White Witch Doctor, and snippets from On Dangerous Ground and Hanover Square. The advantage of something like this is that film scores are often repetitive, and if you are not interested in hearing that, I guess compilations are useful. Read More

South Saturn Delta (1997) by Jimi Hendrix

Categories: 1997 and Music.

So this is sort of the companion piece to First Rays of the New Rising Sun, the album that tried to replicate what would have been Hendrix’s last album. But whereas First Rays was a coherent piece, this is more an abritrary collection of rarities. Like most of Hendrix’s demos and alternates that have been released, everything is very professional. And it’s of interest to any Hendrix fan (though it’s hard to hear what’s different about this version of “All Along the Watchtower”). But it’s not any kind of definitive rarities collection or anything like that. It’s fine. 6/10 Read More

Ken Burns Jazz (2000) by Fletcher Henderson

Categories: 2000 and Music.

This is a decent one-disc compilation of Fletcher Henderson’s big bands, which are more notable for the featured performers than for anything Henderson did (with an exception or two). Like all single disc compilations of a productive artist, it doesn’t give us the greatest picture of his work. But what it does function as is an interesting little introduction to the changes that large jazz ensembles went through between the early ’20s and 1940. And that’s pretty cool to hear with a band led by the same guy. That’s probably the main reason for picking this up over the separate Read More

…Featuring Norah Jones (2010)

Categories: 2010 and Music.

This is a compilation of some (though apparently far from all) of Norah Jones’ guest appearances after she became a star. (Though some feel more like duets.) I guess it’s a way for people to see what else she’s doing? I don’t know.Because the thing about this is that there’s a lot of different genres, and depending on what you like – or what you think of Norah Jones’ music – you may or may not like what’s on here. Yes, most of it is sort of jazz pop and roots pop, but then there’s hip hop, country, and other Read More

The Best of James (1998)

Categories: 1998 and Music.

I’m not going to go into how I got my hands on this, but let’s just say it wasn’t a deliberate decision; it literally fell into my lap.And I had no idea who James was until I heard that hit single I remembered from my youth (“Laid”) and I was like “Oh, these guys.” And I wondered aloud about why I was bothering with them.But, funnily enough, after listening to it my requisite three times, I found myself enjoying a lot of it – not all of it, mind you, especially the sub-Smiths stuff – and being pleasantly surprised by Read More

Grieg: Piano Concerto; Holberg Suite (1988) by Various Artists

Categories: 1988 and Music.

This is one of those extremely annoying compilations where there is virtually no information: we know the performers of the pieces but not when or where. Labels like Quintessence get their hands on recordings that don’t have copyright protection in North America and release these recordings to unsuspecting consumers (such as libraries). When someone like me listens to this music, it’s annoying to know so little. I don’t know the music and so I cannot really comment on the performances. (Though I can comment on the sound quality: it is shockingly good given the label.) The Concerto is a definite Read More

The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark (1997) by Grant Green

Categories: 1997 and Music.

This compiles the first three albums Grant recorded with pianist Sonny Clark before the band was expanded to a quintet later in 1962. Interestingly, none of these albums were released until 1980 (in Japan) which, given the quality of the music, it’s really hard to understand. First we have Gooden’s Corner, recorded in late 1961, with both Nigeria and Oleo from January of 1962. (Again, all released in 1980, in Japan.) Burt the set isn’t presented quite like that, as Nigeria leads off the collection with the other two following chronologically. Nigeria is outstanding stuff, despite being full of standards, and makes Read More

Granados: Goyescas; Allegro de concierto; Danza lenta (1990) by Alicia de Larrocha

Categories: 1990 and Music.

This is a performance that pairs the Goyescas with two earlier pieces, one a complete piece for piano, and the other a dance excerpted from his first major work. It seems de Larrocha is the Granados interpreter, as his catalogue is just full of her performances. The Allegro is pleasant but I wouldn’t pay much attention to it off by itself if it weren’t included with the rest of the program. The dance feels like it was included to pad out the program, as it’s just thrown in (and it’s so short it’s kind of hard to know why they Read More

The Glenn Gould Collection Vol. 3: Johannes Sebastian Bach: The English Suites, the French Suites (2007 Compilation)

Categories: 2007 and Music.

This is a compilation of Gould’s performances of many of Bach’s keyboard suites (originally intended for harpsichord but, as always, Gould plays them on piano). I am not sure of the original recording date because there is no booklet. I think he recorded them in the ’70s but I’m not sure. I believe I have already made it known that I am a big fan of Gould’s attitude towards the past: that music is a living thing that should be reinvigorated by new generations. Though I don’t mind period recreations, I think Gould’s attitude is far healthier and generally superior Read More

Mendocino (1999 Compilation) by Sir Douglas Quintet

Categories: 1999 and Music.

Throughout the history of recorded music, there have always been these silly little labels who try to profit off loopholes in music contract regulations, by releasing records or compilations of music that is somehow exempt from copyright protection. This is one of those releases. And I fell for it. Years ago this happened to me (well, one of my parents, but I was the true victim!): I was trying to get the Soft Machine’s classic debut, Volume 1. Instead, I received The Soft Machine Turns On, Volume 1, a collection of rarities from their earliest years, with some terrible sound Read More

Mennim: The Cycle, Ginastera: Milena (Release date unknown) by Various Artists

Categories: 1971 and Music.

It’s really hard to like compilations like this, even though I like the music. This compilation contains no information about its release date or the dates of the performances. The composers and artists are listed, but the reason for such an arbitrary combination of two pieces is never given. (The one commonality: both are orchestral works which also rely on the human voice, which could describe a quarter of the “classical” music in existence.) Mennim I don’t know. He is from the more conservative stream of 20th century music, but this symphony (#4) is certainly inventive enough to hold my Read More

Bird and Diz (1949, 1950, 1952) by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie

Categories: 1952 and Music.

Somebody else said it best: this is like a better produced version of their earlier sides. (That being said, sometimes it’s hard to hear Monk.) These are the people most responsible for post-war mainstream jazz, but this compilation actually compiles some later sessions (’49 and ’50) and though it’s great to hear them together, it’s not as world-changing as their earlier music. Also, it’s short on whole songs. They have added a ton of demos to flesh it out. Still great stuff. 8/10 Read More

The Chess Box (1988, Chess) by Willie Dixon

Categories: 1988 and Music.

So Dixon is unlike pretty much all the other major figures in post-war blues in that he rarely led groups. He was more of a songwriter and producer (and, of course, bassist). He’s only the frontman on something like 5 or 6 of these songs. But he’s behind all the rest of them in the other ways. And that’s the really crazy and impressive thing about him: he had this huge impact on the blues and rock and roll, but he rarely took up that role that we would expect someone like him should have. There’s an argument to be Read More

The Chess Box (1990) by Bo Diddley

Categories: 1990 and Music.

This gives a better summary of his career with Chess than His Best. As a result it is a better display of his rather astounding diversity (for a first wave rock and roller). The problem is twofold: For one thing his diversity has its downside, as much of the music omitted from His Best is way too similar to the novelty “Say Man”. The other problem is that, like so many other originators of rock and roll, Diddley ignored Bob Dylan. So there is really no lyrical progress from “Bo Diddley” to “Bo Diddley 1969”. Though this is a great Read More

His Best (1997, MCA) by Bo Diddley

Categories: 1997 and Music.

Along time ago R&B was actually something called rhythm and blues. This CD, which collects many of Diddley’s singles and b-sides from 1955 to 1966. His earliest music of 1955 – now his most iconic – lacks the country of Elvis and Carl Perkins, the gospel of Elvis and Little Richard, the manic intensity of the Killer, and the complete package and polish of Chuck Berry; Diddley is rawer and definitely on the rhythm side of R and B (except for “I’m a Man”, which is so blues Muddy stole it). But this music still made a huge impact on Read More

Essential Delius (2011) by Various Artists

Categories: 2011 and Music.

This is a compilation and so we have to treat it with a bit of skepticism. But it does contain most of the major orchestral works of his, and so it does offer a good intro, even the performances aren’t exactly standardized. I remain slightly reticent to get into Frederick Delius and I can’t exactly say why. But I think if I do find my way into his music and enjoy it as much as I think I’m supposed to, it will likely be through this. But that will no doubt take some time. 7/10 On Hearing the First Cuckoo Read More

Women in Jazz (1998, Retro Music) by Various Artists

Categories: 1998 and Music.

The cheapie box set is an interesting phenomenon: Gather some recordings from major artists where the copyright has lapsed (or never existed), Put the recordings in any arbitrary order you choose, Use more discs than are necessary to convince the buyer they are getting a great bargain, Give it a catchy title. I have a Scott Joplin compilation with no credits (funnily enough, from a Quebec label, just like this set) but you can clearly hear differences in piano and recording quality. I have a Muddy Waters box set which is all demos, but nowhere on the outside does it Read More