Crimson/Red—the first 100% new album under the moniker of Prefab Sprout since 2001’s The Gunman & Other Stories—is a remarkable record, if less than perfect. It is remarkable first for its very best tracks, a great song always being a remarkable phenomenon, and not something we have any right to expect will simply spring into being on a regular basis. The album Crimson/Red is remarkable secondly for its genesis, as Paddy McAloon (the singer and songwriter of Prefab Sprout) has faced a variety of challenges over the last decade in recording and releasing new music. However, he has not been completely inactive.
Out of a condition of temporary blindness caused by detached retinas came the inspiration for I Trawl the Megahertz, the one official Paddy McAloon “solo” album to date, built around the title track, a twenty-two minute instrumental and spoken word piece. The album is a both sophisticated and soulful work and was finished and released in 2003. Continue reading Prefab Sprout – Crimson/Red→
I’m cognizant that it could be considered a little odd to pen an appreciation of an appreciation, but here I do so anyway (just in case, I suppose, someone might appreciate it).
The multifaceted writer Mark Steyn recently reposted on his website an audio tribute he made to the late songwriter Hugh Martin (who died in 2011). Martin is the composer of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” surely one of the most poignant popular songs of Christmas. That was written for the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland, and for which Martin also wrote “The Boy Next Door” and “The Trolley Song.” Continue reading A Merry Little Christmas with Hugh Martin and Mark Steyn→
‘Tis the season to remember three of our very favorite Christmas albums, all of which have been reviewed at greater length in these pages in the past. So, in capsule form here and now:
Christmas in the Heart ~ Bob Dylan
Many groaned when they heard Bob Dylan had recorded a Christmas record, and many still think that he himself groans his way through it, but they’re the ones missing out. Immaculately produced in what might initially seem a cheesy fashion but actually features exceedingly smart and classic stylings, it sets the smooth instrumental and vocal backing against Dylan’s hoarse singing, and brings to mind nothing so much as Louis Armstrong in the latter part of his career doing “What a Wonderful World.” The voice is so lived in, the owner of it has seemingly seen it all, and yet at the end of it all can guilelessly sing lines like: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” It counts so very much coming from that place. And, as expounded on at (likely) painful length in my original review, Dylan’s Christmas album manages to blend the secular and religious songs of Christmas together in a startlingly effective way, finding a spirit that unites them. It’ll surely make you laugh and at times it ought well make you cry. You must have it.
(And Dylan’s proceeds in perpetuity go to providing food to the needy.)
A Jolly Christmas ~ Frank Sinatra
Set down right amidst the high water mark of Frank Sinatra’s career and talent in the mid-1950s, this sensitively-made long playing record, arranged by Gordon Jenkins, provides posterity with essential Sinatra readings of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Jingle Bells, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and others. Essential because Sinatra remains the greatest male popular singer to ever lift a microphone to his lips, and he is heard here as the great musician that he was and not the caricature too often present in the popular consciousness. And, as expounded on at (possibly) painful length in my original review, this Christmas album by Sinatra is one particularly apt for listening to when one is alone during the holiday season: not necessarily lonely, but simply by oneself. It’ll take you places. You must have it.
Knew very little about Welsh chanteuse Cerys Matthews when we first encountered this album (the most recently-released on our list) but have become consummate fans since, finding that her work over many years combines remarkable spirit, talent and taste in an especially uplifting fashion. Here, in recordings that possess that spark of genuine live performance, she and her merry band perform such traditional chestnuts as “We Three Kings Of Orient Are” and “Ding Dong Merrily On High” and seem effortlessly to conjure what must have been their original joy and mystery. Indeed, as expounded on at (relatively) brief length in my original review, as well-worn a song as “Go Tell It On The Mountain” is performed here “as if it was composed yesterday, with a fairly overflowing spirit of gladness and urgency. That’s no small thing.” And truly, Christmas is not a small thing, after all. That’s what this album will remind you of, and it will get you singing along too. You must have it.
Under-promise and over-deliver, that’s always our motto here, so here’s two more essential Christmas picks:
Christmas with the Louvin Brothers ~ The Louvin Brothers
The aforementioned Bob Dylan once picked this as possibly his favorite Christmas album, with good reason, as the Louvin’s transcendent harmonies can transport you to a higher place from which you may return with reluctance. Originally it contained only hymns, but the modern edition includes two secular Christmas tunes as well. Ira Louvin was a troubled man, but it sure seems at least he knew where he should be looking for the light.
A Christmas Gift for You ~ Phil Spector (and various)
Is there anyone in the world who hasn’t heard these great tunes, by the Ronettes, Darlene Love and the Crystals? Yet their very ubiquity might make us take them for granted. They evoke Christmas as intensely as a deep snowfall on the evening of December 24th. The producer of all of these amazing sides, Phil Spector, is spending this Christmas in jail, and likely the balance of his life, but it’s worth remembering that there were moments in which he followed his better angels and made music as beautiful and as cheering as this.
As told below in the video via CBS Boston, a man named John Miles was out walking with his dog (actually his adult son’s dog) when they were both struck by a car. The incident occurred in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The man suffered two broken legs, a broken arm and facial fractures. The dog, a Beagle/Husky mix named Lucy, reportedly suffered fractures in her leg and a torn ACL. The man was immobile after the accident. Lucy the dog limped her way to the nearest place with people: a dental office, where she stood and barked furiously until people came out to see what was going on. Help was called and Lucy made her way back to Mr. Miles and stayed by his side. The man had no ID, but emergency workers were able to identify him by tracing Lucy’s ID tags.
Mr. Miles had surgery yesterday for his injuries. Lucy the dog is having surgery today. She reportedly has been missing John very much, going to his study and whining.
More from the MSPCA at this link, and donations towards Lucy’s veterinary care are being accepted through the MSPCA at this link.
[Adapted from a version originally published in 2010]
When, not very many years ago, I first read the great work, Confessions, by Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430), I recall being a little inwardly nonplussed at the fact that while reading it I was persistently put in mind of Bob Dylan. It often seemed as if Augustine were subtly echoing Dylan, or as if the lines in Confessions were ever-so-close to flowing right into one of his songs. I thought: Is this what it’s come to? Am I so deranged now, on account of listening so much to this old warbler from Hibbing, that I can’t even read a great piece of literature, completely unrelated to him, without his songs flitting in and out of my head?
Dogs of every size and shape can easily be intimidated by a lounging feline, and turned into nervous, dithering wrecks by nothing more than a little cat’s impassive stare. If there were any doubt, the video embedded below compiles more than ample documentary evidence to that effect. Continue reading Dogs Scared to Walk Past Cats (with video)→
There’s nothing quite like the pleasure of a great EUREKA! moment, and yours truly experienced it today while reading a review of the new autobiography from Morrissey, the achingly-literate British pop-singer and songwriter and former front-man of the Smiths.
Apparently, in an aside while writing about his pop-cultural likes and dislikes during his teenage years in the 1960s, Morrissey refers to the television show “Lost in Space,” and specifically to the wonderfully-dastardly character Dr. Zachary Smith. Watching Dr. Smith’s interplay with Major West and Commander Robinson seemingly led him to the following conclusion: “Effeminate men are very witty, whereas macho men are duller than death.” Continue reading Morrissey’s Seminal Influence→
The Tallis Scholars—a British vocal ensemble specializing in Renaissance sacred works— are currently touring in the U.S.A. and performed in New York City recently (November 16th), presenting a program of music titled “Transcending Time.” Me and Mrs. C. were fortunate enough to attend and they offered an evening of transfixing music. I don’t count myself well qualified to review this form of music—popular music in the broadest sense is what I love most and comprehend best—but I wanted at least to write down a few appreciative comments, if only for my own edification. Continue reading Tallis Scholars (Alice Tully Hall)→