As always, I skip tunes I don’t feel like writing about. The rest is random.
1. U2, “Where The Streets Have No Name” from The Joshua Tree. I was an undergrad when this came out and didn’t really like the band. Got sent to review them at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium in 1992, on the ZooTV tour, and changed my mind about everything in the space of an evening. U2 isn’t quite a four-legged stool: the quartet’s sound really is essentially defined by Bono’s voice and, on this tune especially, by The Edge’s guitar riffs. In fact this tune has very little structure because so much of its 5:38 running time is devoted to letting The Edge play that arpeggio forever. Which is fine, really.
2. Maynard Ferguson, “Conquistador,” from Conquistador. We’re getting very deep into the guilty-pleasure corners of the record collection with this one. The high-note trumpeter from Verdun in high kitsch mode, in perhaps 1977, playing ersatz Spanish laments over parade drums, Fender Jazz bass, Rhodes piano and an all-male choir. It all seemed horribly significant when I was in high school. Rediscovering it a few months ago I was surprised to find George Benson playing quite a lot of tasteful guitar in an accompanying role. Still… really high kitsch.
3. Charles Ives, Symphony No. 4, i: Prelude: Maestoso, Christoph von Dohnanyi and Jahja Ling conducting the Cleveland Symphony and Chorus. Ives’ father used to have two marching bands pass each other so he could study how their unrelated tunes overlapped. The son composed an (almost) perfectly orthodox first symphony before sliding ever further into a kind of mad American mythic fever-dream. The fourth symphony needs two conductors to steer the orchestra’s divided forces, just like the colliding marching bands of youth, but the choral hymn over the first movement’s troubled waters is unabashedly stirring. In some ways it all foreshadows the superimposed tempos of Miles Davis’s and Ornette Coleman’s 1960s bands, probably entirely by happy accident.
4. Conway Twitty, “Danny Boy,” from Best of the Early Years. No, I’m not a major Conway Twitty fan, or normally any kind of Conway Twitty fan at all, but he takes my favourite old song up into a bright country-rock tune after the first eight bars and what can I say, it’s a hoot.
4. Vampire Weekend, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” from Vampire Weekend. They’re not that great, but the low-key delivery, goofily optimistic vocals and bare-bones proto-ska structures — this one’s basically a circular four-bar riff, almost a rhumba — makes them sound amiable and unique, and those are good attributes for a band to have.
5. John Hiatt, “Two Hearts” from Same Old Man. Not sure what to make of the new album yet, except it’s Hiatt so it fits like an old glove the first time out.
6. Daniel Lanois, “The Maker” from Acadie. The guitarist, producer to the stars (Joshua Tree, above), franco-Canadian by way of New Orleans played this tune at the Air Canada centre on the night Paul Martin became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, so the evening had its merits. I don’t know whether that’s two bassists, or a guy playing the Chapman stick, or studio-overdubbed bass, or what it is holding down the tune’s chordal foundations, but it is a lovely thing to behold.
7. Arcade Fire, “Intervention,” from Neon Bible. The pipe organ works. In fact by the end it can barely keep up with Win’s voice. “Every spark of friendship and love/ Will die without a home/ Hear the soldier groan ‘We’ll go it alone.'”
8. Shirley Horn, “Everything Must Change,” from May The Music Never End. The great jazz diva of Washington, D.C. had many virtues, including a willingness to lock her very good rhythm section down to simple structures that cannot have been particularly rewarding to play, but that greatly added to a tune’s drama. Here it’s a sliding two-beat thump-thump thing that the bassist and drummer hold for chorus after chorus under her peerless, heartbreaking delivery. “There are not many things in life” — stage chuckle — “you can be sure of,” she sings, just before the band finally breaks into old-fashioned four-on-the-floor swing. For eight bars. Then it’s back to the two-beat thing. “Music makes me cry,” she sings at the end, and you believe it.
9. Bruce Springsteen, “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” from The Ghost of Tom Joad. The rest of the album is a little too dry and monotonic to be a classic, but this opening tune continues to haunt. “Well the highway is alive tonight/ But nobody’s kidding nobody about where it goes.”
10. Larry Roy and Steve Kirby, “Both Sides Now,” from Wicked Grin. I want to write more soon about the extraordinary effort bassist Steve Kirby has made as the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Manitoba since he moved to Winnipeg from Brooklyn in 2003, but suffice it to say his new CD with Winnipeg guitarist Larry Roy is strong, fresh — the real deal. This is the Joni Mitchell song, warmly sung by Anna-Lisa Kirby, with Roy on acoustic guitar and Stefon Harris, clever and apt as usual, on marimba.