All of this is a long way of saying that I've been keeping long hours at work. I'm presently heavy in teaching-mode, with Confirmation for our fifty-two 10th Graders approaching on May 23. I'm also teaching a four-week adult course called "Crises and Catastrophes in Judaism" (fun!), an eight-week course about Midrash, and "the usual" other work.
In the meantime, today's my day off, so I'm sitting upstairs at home waiting for The Granite Man to show up. Doesn't that sound like a superhero? Or maybe an archvillain? Run! The Granite Man just pulverized the Bronx Zoo!
No, The Granite Man is but one more cog in the byzantine wheel of kitchen renovation. When it's all done I'll post some before-and-after photos, but the short version is that I've been without a kitchen since April 5. So far, we have new paint on the walls; the cabinets are up; the electrical work is almost done; a bamboo floor has been installed; the appliances are in (but not installed - so I have a fridge in the middle of the living room); and today The Granite Man will install countertops and the sink. Last time he was 90 minutes late, so I'm not holding my breath. So I'm passing the time, listening to a plethora of good new music, some of which I thought would be nice to share with you.
In no particular order, here are some of my favorite releases of 2007 - so far:
CAETANO VELOSO, Cê
Caetano Veloso has been recording for more than four decades. During that time he has catalyzed Brazilian popular music, endured exile in London from a fascist regime ostensibly for his "seditious" and "revolutionary" music; and become the voice of his generation, earning him comparisons to Bob Dylan in his native Brazil. I was introduced to Veloso's music several years ago through David Byrne (formerly of Talking Heads) who is an ardent champion of Veloso and the Tropicalia movement that he helped to originate in Brazil of the 1960's. His new album, which was released in the US in January, has remained in my disc changer for four months - and will probably stay there for a good while longer. There is really no style that Veloso has not covered in his voluminous recording career, and much of his later material approaches a lushly orchestrated fusion of Brazilian music, jazz, Cole Porter-pop, and rock - a unique idiom in and of itself. Veloso, who is 65 (Dylan's age!) incontrovertibly possesses the lovelier voice - not that it's much of a contest - a sweet, expressive tenor with a lovely falsetto range - that in no way announces his age. His new album, Cê, is a departure: he teamed up with his son Moreno, a popular rock musician in Brazil today, and a drummer to fuse a stripped-down fusion of up-tempo rock and his distinct songwriting style. If it's punk (and some say it is), it's the prettiest punk you'll hear all year. I regard Veloso as one of the world's greatest living songwriters. This is the track "Odeio" (which means "I hate you." The lyrics, I am told, are a bitter screed against his woman...).
ANDREW BIRD, Armchair Apocrypha
Andrew Bird, who is my age, is one of America's most interesting and compelling popular singer-songwriters. He is also a professional violinist and whistler - both of which feature prominently in his albums. Hyper-literate and inventive, his lyrics and gift for melody raise in high relief everything that is wrong with radio today (try finding him on the air).Listen for the pizzicato violin and the whistling in this track, "Scythian Empires."
DAN LE SAC vs. SCROOBIUS PIP, Thou Shalt Always Kill [EP]
Warning: Do not click on this link if you don't want some crazy-catchy British hip-hop-poetry stuck in your head for the next month. Scroobius Pip is the rapper, a lanky, bearded dude known for rapping his poems over live jazz and now, over dance-inspired beats provided by Dan Le Sac who supplies grooves with an Apple iBook laptop. This song is already catching fire in the UK - and I predict it could be huge here, too (though some of the references will be lost on these shores). You'll be stuck repeating the bridge all day long: "The Beatles... were just a band...."
WINTERPILLS, The Light Divides
Right now this album is in my top spot for 2007. So far the Winterpills, a band out of Northampton, Massachusetts, near Amherst where I went to college, have flown under the radar, which is okay with me because I feel like I'm giving a surprise present when I introduce them to people like you. By the way, their entire new album has been streaming on this website, so if you like this track, check it out.... The band has two lead vocalists, a male and a female, and their songwriting offers shades of Elliott Smith (of blessed memory), Harvest-Era Neil Young - but with an edge. The track "Broken Arm" is poised as the first single:
ROLAND SATTERWHITE, Ptolemy's Guitar
My friend Roland, who had one of my favorite releases in 2005 with "Love and Discipline," has posted for FREE on his website a beautiful little album of original songs, mostly acoustic guitar and a little electric piano for color - each one an introspective gem. Roland has a lovely voice and I wish I had sung with him in college. We are both members of Amherst's longest-running a cappella group, The Zumbyes, but we missed each other by a couple of years. (I graduated in 1995, Roland in 2000). By the way, congratulations to all the current Zumbyes for placing third in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella - the benchmark for these sorts of things - held last week at Lincoln Center.
Roland is also an accomplished violinist and plays in a Latin-themed band in the city when he's not performing at The Living Room on the Lower East Side. Interspersed with the ballads are a few meditative improvisations on violin. This is fast becoming one of my favorite discs of 2007. Download "Ptolemy's Guitar" here.
Sneak Preview: WILCO, Sky Blue Sky
...Comes out May 15. I can't wait. Here's a taste of things to come (listen to how prominently newest member Nels Cline on lead guitar changes Wilco's game) in a track called "Impossible Germany" (Does anyone else hear Aja-era Steely Dan, especially in the magnificent outro?):
Okay, that's enough for today. I'll update you on music in May - which is shaping up to be a huge music month, with releases from Björk, Elliott Smith, and Wilco, among others.