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Musical Maunderings in Sunni's Salon

May 2005

If you're familiar with the Moonlighting theme song, then you've an idea why I adore Al Jarreau. His smooth, rich voice warms my heart every time I hear it ... but his talents extend far beyond having a good voice. A musical chameleon whose Grammys range across pop, jazz, and R&B, he can scat with the best of them, and to my ear, offers more real music and soul in his wide-ranging vocal capabilities than Bobby McFerrin (he of Don't Worry, Be Happy fame).

The first Jarreau CD I owned was High Crime, and although I let it slip from my collection, I can still call many songs to mind. After All is the song from it that became a hit, and while it's good, I consider it one of the weaker songs on this CD. Let's Pretend and the title track are especially nice. Similarly, Breakin' Away isn't back in my collection yet, but is fondly missed. Fortunately, I do have the Best of Al Jarreau, which is an excellent overview of his wide-ranging talents, and includes both studio and live tracks. Not to be missed is his exuberant cover of the Paul Desmond classic Take Five. I have two releases since the 1996 greatest hits -- Tomorrow Today and All I Got -- and while they strike me as more in the smooth jazz vein overall, both still deliver capably.

I'm a very early riser by most people's standards, and love to bask in the first rays of sunlight each day. If the sun doesn't deliver, I often cue up Al Jarreau for a morning hit of vocal sunshine. He never fails me.

Modest Mouse is a fairly recently-discovered band with a singular style that I've been enjoying a lot. I first heard their breakthrough release, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, and enjoyed both music and lyrics for many tracks -- Float On, Black Cadillacs, and Ocean Breathes Salty come to mind. Then came Lonesome Crowded West -- and even knowing of the band's quirky style, I was unprepared for the acoustic assault I fell into. Dirty, grungy music, screamy vocals alternate with clear, simple melody and vocal strains -- within as well as between songs. Consider yourself warned. Doin' the Cockroach, Long Distance Drunk, and Cowboy Dan pulled me in, although not quite as easily as the songs on Good News. The themes speak to me more than the music on this disc. With The Moon and Antarctica, Modest Mouse really hit their stride for me so far. The songs, both singly and as a corpus, work a weird magic that weaves around and within me. My favorite song is Tiny Cities Made of Ashes, with its catchy bass line and building momentum. Also solid are Dark Center of the Universe and Life Like Weeds. If you're not put off by epics, you'll probably find The Stars are Projectors worth listening to.

With Modest Mouse's popularity has come a lot of bickering between old and newer fans, and accusations of selling out. Personally, I don't see the value of any of that stuff. Their unusual style -- from lyrics and music to frontman Isaac Brock's vocals -- is hit or miss; and even if you like them in general, some songs will miss the mark farther than others. What I like best about them is their uniqueness -- and Modest Mouse has that in abundance.

Lately, I've been delving into the older music in our collection too. Competing for my time are two quite different, but very important slices of music history: The Who's Who's Next and Creedence Clearwater Revival's Chronicle, Volume 1. Who's Next contains the anti-authoritarian anthems Going Mobile and Won't Get Fooled Again, of course; but there's more of value to the release. Other tunes I especially like include Getting in Tune and Love Ain't for Keeping. CCR's Chronicle, Volume 1 is billed as their "twenty greatest hits", and it delivers. John Fogerty's rich voice, the band's tight musicianship, and solid songcraft shine across all the tracks. While I liked the band well enough when young, I didn't pay them a lot of attention -- so it's with a little self-consciousness that I reveal that I like to listen to this release because it evokes silly, fun memories. While in elementary school, I was in the choir for a year, and about all I remember from it is singing several of CCR's quirky songs, and having no clue what the songs were about. Ah, youth ...

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