Known Johnson

May 4, 2006

he sang his didn’t he danced his did

Filed under: Music — Tom @ 11:53 pm

Thank E. E. Cummings for that subject title (and yes, his name is capitalized and punctuated correctly – all those teachers that insisted on the lack of punctation and capitalization were WRONG! Ha!) And it was found not because I’m a poetry fiend but because it is the title of an EP I have seen at Zia Records for a long time – so long I don’t even remember when I first saw it sitting there, used, alone, sad, beckoning a buyer to pick it up and take it home. Well, today I did just that without any idea what the music sounded liked. The artist, you ask? “Tim Kinsellas” – in quotes because his real name is Tim Kinsella. No ‘s.’ No idea why it’s printed that way, but whatever.

Anyway, I have nothing to report on that because I didn’t really get to listen to it – I was too enamored of the Mark Knopfler CD I picked up, Sailing to Philadelphia, to get into it. The Knopfler disc was bought in response to picking up his album with Emmylou Harris, All The Roadrunning, which came out last week. It seems an odd pairing of vocals – his gruff and haggard, hers angelic and light – but it works. It works so well that I excitedly emailed Alissa to say that I had just bought what might be the best album of the year. It’s that good. Roadrunning isn’t all that different than anything either of the two have been doing on their own lately, but maybe amps up the Americana twang on a few numbers for a more countrified feel.

Anyway, Philadelphia is equally inviting and warm and it occurs to me that my favorite albums are quickly emerging from this genre – Bill Frisell’s Good Dog, Happy Man, Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, Willie Nelson’s Teatro, Bruce Cockburn’s last few (but I guess he must be playing Canadiana,) to name a few. These all share the same trait that, from the moment the cued up them in my CD player, they were instant favorites. There aren’t as many CDs in my collection as I would like that I could claim would be the CDs I wouldn’t want to live without, but these are among that elite group.

I am a good music fan. I downloaded the new Pearl Jam, which came out this week, weeks ago. Okay, so that makes me a bad music fan, but let me justify myself. I had gotten burned, like many others, on their final album for label Epic, Riot Act. It was just a dreary, boring, nothing of an album and I wasn’t going to just jump for Pearl Jam again. So I did “the bad thing” and downloaded a copy when I ran across it (won’t say where, how, or who, so don’t ask.) I listened to the first three songs and immediately knew this was a keeper. I paused my Ipod and moved on to something else – I didn’t want to spoil all of the fun of hearing a new album for the first time. And I’m glad I did – I ran out and grabbed this on Tuesday (along with the new Tool, obviously) and was thrilled to find the whole album as good as the three songs I’d already “previewed.” Is it Ten or Vs.? No – and thank God. Those are great and classic and fine, but they’re also the past and don’t need to be revisited. Pearl Jam settled into a new sound between Vitalogy and No Code and that is the “real” Pearl Jam sound – unfortunately for those who can’t keep their minds open to change, they missed out and abandoned them long ago. What Pearl Jam has become are heirs to the throne that Neil Young once occupied – angry, but thoughtful, if a bit clumsy in the execution. They make up for it with the energy they put into their music. And this self-titled album sounds like a band rejuvenated and hungry to prove something – what, I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter, and even if it did, Eddie Vedder would just mumble his way through it anyway. Mumbling or not, I want to hear bands that are hungry. And this is it.

Now the question I have to ask is, what is the deal with the avacado on the cover? Not just why is it there, but why is it such a shoddy picture – it’s blurry! But even weirder is that inside the package is filled with really cool artwork – sculptures of faces that become puzzles and other odd anatomical-looking things. Maybe it’s just an example of Pearl Jam’s awkward sense of humor – they’re like that kid you knew that always wanted to be the jokester, but just didn’t have the comedic chops to crack jokes, and when he did, he humiliated himself by reading out of one of those ridiculously unfunny books of dirty jokes.

In addition to the Knopfler and Kinsellas discs, I had enough trade to pick up something I’ve been wanting for a while now – the latest and apparently greatest remaster of Queen’s classic, A Night at the Opera, this version a CD packaged with a DVD of surround-sound versions of the album songs, which are also accompanied by newly compiled video footage for most of the songs. I had held off buying this because I don’t really care about the DVD component – I don’t have surround and don’t anticipate having the capability any time soon – and I’d read that a single CD version would be released soon. Well, that apparently didn’t happen in the US, so I waited and waited for a used copy to show up in the racks, and today one did. One listen and I regret having waited so long – the remastering is astounding. What makes it stand out is not how bright and loud and modern it sounds but how natural it sounds. This, I would think, is as close to the vinyl experience one could get with CDs. It’s warm and lush, making the sound of today’s albums sound so pale in comparison. It’s actually refreshing to hear something with such dynamic range. Most music today has all of the levels nearly maxed out to make for a really bright, big, bold presentation, but that saps the music of any subtlety and makes for a tiring listening experience.

But what gets me most of all is how weirdly all-over-the-place Queen’s music really is. Sure, there’s the firepower of Brian May’s guitar, but it’s cloaked in, essentially, a number of period pieces that Queen excelled at making seem perfectly normal in rock. And that’s what I didn’t get about Queen for so long – that what I’d taken as silly humor was really a very intelligent and cheeky way of making some serious music. Once I clued myself in, Queen’s brilliance really shone through. Nowhere else in their catalog is this as perfectly framed than here. Opera is a classic for a reason (but I’ll always pull for Sheer Heart Attack as my favorite) – it had one of the biggest hits of all time (I don’t have to say it, do I? “Bohemian Rhapsody,” of course,) but the album overall is a great experience of humor and power. They sure don’t make them like this anymore.


1 Comment »

  1. I’ve been holding off on getting that remastered A Night At The Opera for awhile, but I think I’m going to have to break down and pick it up. It’s such an awesome album, definitely my favorite Queen album (with Sheer Heart Attack a very close second). Lots of humor mixed in with some very kick-ass rock (“Sweet Lady” is one of their most underrated rockers, IMHO), and they even hold on to their early prog roots with “The Prophet’s Song.” That album has so many great memories for me, and it still holds up after all these years.

    Comment by Chris — May 5, 2006 @ 9:54 am | Reply

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