Lots of sentimentality in this month's mix, which I guess is fitting for the holidays. And romance, which is also fitting for a month which hosted a very romantic trip to New York City, and New Years Eve - which is my personal favorite holiday. Listening to it now, I realize it also features some flat-out incredible singers. Light a fire, pour a little sip of whisky, and find someone to waltz around the living room with on a blustery night.
Jim James – Know Til Now A new song from the My Morning Jacket frontman. He's done so much outside of the band in the last couple of years, that it's hard to believe this soon-to-be released album this is taken from will be his first full solo album. Really looking forward to hear what else this odd song is connected to. Even though it's clearly very different from the jazzy stuff that follows it on this mix, it still somehow leads in perfectly, which demonstrates what I think is so special about it - the way it seamlessly pairs unmistakably contemporary sounds with an overall feeling of something performed by Count Basie.
Ella Fitzgerald – I've Got You Under My Skin - Live (7/29/64-Cote D'Azur) There was a point, probably when I was around 14 or 15, when I just could not abide jazz singers. My ear was still tuned to blues, folk, and pop music, which is pretty eclectic for a teenager, but I just hadn't learned to accomodate the particulars of jazz singing. There are still a lot of jazz singers whose hyper-vigilant diction and/or wishy-washy tonality just turn me off. I think I probably don't really like "jazz singing," although there are many jazz singers I've learned to love. Billie Holliday was really the bridge for me, being so much more blues than jazz. But Ella is like the green pasture on the other side of that bridge. There is no question that she is a jazz singer. She practices many of the things that grate my ears from other singers. But, she just simply transcends. The technique, the character, the depth, the pure fun of listening to her effortlessness. I've heard a lot about how she can scat with the best instrumental improvisers, which the little scat she does hear definitely supports. But, she's a singer. She knows she's a singer and isn't trying to be anything but. I'm sometimes think that if I had three wishes one of them would be to be able to sing like this. Can you imagine being able to do that with your voice? Wow.
Radiation City – Hide From The Night The All Songs Considered folks had this mini-album on a list of overlooked stuff from 2012. While looking into who they are, I realized that I actually knew the lead singer Lizzy Ellison a little bit, back when she lived in Chicago. She and her brother, who I worked with and was friends with, had a group together. I knew she was a singer, but I didn't know just how great she is. Of course, I'm simultaneously jealous of how successful this music is, and really glad that she's landed in a group that's making music this great right out of the gate. There's a cool video of her singing a song from Beck's Song Book with the Portland Cello Project.
John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman– They Say It's Wonderful It's no small feat to outshine John Coltrane, but I feel like Johnny Hartman does just that. God, that voice is just effortlessly narcotic, like molasses and something overheard from heaven. Romance embodied. Light some candles get close.
Frank Ocean – Lost It took me a little while to catch up to actually listening to this album, even though there was months of hype about it. I don't love everything on the album, and think it lacks artistic focus, but this song is super groovy. My impression is that Jon Martin was obsessed with this album for a while, and I can see why.
Clarence Carter – Back Door Santa The next three songs were from a Christmas-adjacent DJ set I did on CHIRP. I wanted to play some holiday music that wasn't sappy. This is clearly not one that will be sung around the tree.
The Kinks – Father Christmas Nothing like the Kinks. As Robb puts it, probably the most under-appreciated band in rock history.
Fishbone – It's A Wonderful Life (Gonna Have A Good Time) I was obsessed with Fishbone in high school. This is from a Christmas EP they did during the period when they were breaking down every genre barrier available and making amazing music doing it. I can't recommend highly enough the first 4-5 Fishbone albums. They are inevitably on the list of artists I reel off when I'm railing against the knee-jerk and hackneyed accusation that there was no good music in the 80's.
The Felice Brothers – Fire At The Pageant I had heard about The Felice Brothers a few times, but hadn't really disambiguated them from the Avett Brothers in my mind until I stumbled upon this album playing around with the "Related Artists" tab on Spotify. The whole album is super inventive, rough around the edges, full of spunk. Love the children's choir. Plus, there's, like, somebody doing DJ scratching or something at one point, which totally fits but is also quite unexpected. I almost feel like this is what Tom Waits would be doing if he was born 30 years later than he was.
Nico – These Days This song reliably gives me goosebumps every time I hear it, partly because I can't help but think of the scene it so brilliantly accompanies in The Royal Tennenbaums. I think Nico's goofy, flat voice (which I love, btw) is so perfect for the plain, perfectly streamlined songwriting. Legend has it that Jackson Browne wrote this when he was, like, 18 or 19. Great stuff.
Anita O'Day – From This Moment On Talk about voices. There's always been something so incredibly sexy to me about her voice. I can't say why. Her phrasing is impeccable, and I don't think many singers could float through this tempo with such ease.
Bob Dylan – Cold Irons Bound About a year ago, all of the buttons on the stereo in my car stopped working. The volume works, but nothing else. Consequently, I can only play CDs (no radio, no auxiliary input), and I can't skip songs. The CD goes in and it plays beginning to end. Then starts at the beginning again. For someone with listening habits like mine, it can be both frustrating and an oddly illuminating, koan-like experience with the right album. Time Out of Mind is one of those right kind of albums - one that I've heard many times before, but which has a wealth of secrets to surrender to endless repeated listenings. It wasn't easy to choose which song to pick, and the CD is still in my car stereo, so there may be more to come.