Category Archives: [fix playlist]

It Still Moves by Amanda Petrusich

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Published by Faber & Faber in 2008, It Still Moves is one part road trip dairy, one part cultural study, and one part musicological thesis.  The author Amanda Petrusich a contributing writer for Pitchfork.com and tons of other music publications.  She has also written one other book:  Pink Moon (about the classic Nick Drake album of the same name) as a part of the 33 1/3 series by Continuum Books.  I found her writing to be well thought out, organized, and meticulously researched.  She uses a well planned road trip to a string of important musical destinations as a vehicle to parcel the more historical/factual info in as a story.   The travel portion of the book does come off as a little forced at times, as she very obviously tried to make the best of a few of the less than inspirational experiences at a few of the featured locations.  Overall the book does a wonderful job at delivering a full/wide view of American Music, hitting all the cornerstones of what “Americana” is thought of, including The Blues, Country, Folk, and the more recent interpretations and combinations of the those styles.

The book is composed of 17 parts including an introduction and epilogue.

Here is a rough guide to what they cover:

  • Intro – Just that, acts to identify what the book is going to try to accomplish which is mainly to discover just what “Americana” is.
  • Chapter 1 – Examination of the American Highway, and how that relates to American music.
  • Chapter 2 – Focuses on the history of the Blues kicked off with a visit to Beale Street in Memphis Tennessee.
  • Chapter 3 – Sam Phillips, Sun Records, and the birth of Rock N Roll also in Memphis.
  • Chapter 4 – Elvis Presley and his impact on popular music with a visit to Graceland.
  • Chapter 5 – Further examination of the Blues through travels to Clarksdale Mississippi.
  • Chapter 6 – Country music by way of Nashville Tennessee.
  • Chapter 7 – Alternative Country
  • Chapter 8 – Continued travels through Virginia and Kentucky.
  • Chapter 9 – Minstrel shows and early radio.
  • Chapter 10 – Appalachian folk music, The Carter Family, and early Country music.
  • Chapter 11 – Americana by way of Cracker Barrel.
  • Chapter 12 – John Lomax, Leadbelly, Moses Asch, and Folkways Records.
  • Chapter 13 – Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and Smithsonian Folkways.
  • Chapter 14 – Woody Guthrie, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, and the Folk revival of the 1960s.
  • Chapter 15 – Independent Folk.
  • Epilogue – Continued ruminations on the definition of Americana.

The driving question here is “What is Americana?”, which I think is an important one to ask.   Although I’m not sure the book fully answers it, then again I’m not sure any book can or should try.  Americana, at least when it relates to music, is just one of those terms that is too complicated to define.  Whenever you are trying to precisely define a label that is used as a shortcut to describe an art form you inevitably will get your self into trouble.  It is a journal full of pitfalls, contradictions,  and personal opinion.  Although I personally often fall back on the genre/sub-genre/style labels in my writing, I try not to be restrictive with my labels when setting something in stone.  Take Neil Young for instance, can you really say he is strictly a “country-rock” artist?  If you do, you are completely omitting all of his work that does not exactly fit into that label.  I prefer to keep it simple and classify things in general terms like Pop/Rock.

Just for fun here is a link to the Webster Dictionary definition of Americana.

I would also like to offer a playlist of music that is directly mentioned in the book or inspired by the books subject.

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Playlist: Selections from my Top 20 Albums of 2011

Considering the faltering legal status of my usual go to music playlist site Grooveshark.com, I am including a link to the playlist through Spotify.

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Playlist: Selections from my Top Albums of 2011 – Honorable Mention

Considering the faltering legal status of my usual go to music playlist site Grooveshark.com, I am also including a link to the playlist through Spotify.

Selections from Top Albums of 2011 – Honorable Mention

Until its future demise I will continue embedding playlists from Grooveshark.

If you do not see the embedded playlist below please follow this link or check it on Spotify through the link above.

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Playlist: Best Songs of 2010

Below is a playlist featuring some of the best tracks off the albums listed on my Top 20 list of 2010.  If you do not see the embedded playlist below please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 2000 – 2009

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During this period Elvis continued to play around and collaborate with more of his favorites, tried his hand at an even wider range of material, courted a new fan base through college radio, and married Canadian Jazz Pianist Diana Krall.  Another noteworthy item is the Sundance Channel series Spectacle: Elvis Costello with… which lasted two seasons.  Check them out on DVD.  Additionally check out Costello’s new album National Ransom out on November 2nd.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

VonOtter_Costello-150x150 2001 – Anne Sofie Von Otter/Elvis Costello – For The Stars:  Costello’s collaboration with the famed mezzo-soprano opera singer.  Kinda of a snooty mash up between the rock and opera worlds.
Elvis_Costello_When_I_Was_Cruel-150x150 2002 – Elvis Costello – When I Was Cruel: A much more visceral beat driven experience, surprisingly influenced by the production Elvis was hearing in R&B and Hip Hop record from that time. For the first time Elvis employed the use of digital sampling, beat boxes, and more cutting edge tech. The album is one of my favorites and its success on college radio opened him up to a whole new legion of fans.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_North-150x150 2003 – Elvis Costello – North: A bare stripped down record of ballads and melancholic jazz pop. Elvis’s most straight forwardly honest album lyrically. Half deals with his breakup with Cait and the other half with his budding romance with new flame Diana Krall.
Costello_Il_Signo-150x150 2004 – Elvis Costello – Il Signo: During his collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet and his involvement with Classical Music through the 1990s Costello taught himself how to read a write music.  This release is the fruits of his labor and his first orchestral composition played by the London Symphony Orchestra.   
Elvis_Costello_Delivery_Man-150x150 2004 – Elvis Costello & The Imposters – The Delivery Man: Debut of the Imposters, which is basically the Attractions with a different Bassist instead of Bruce Thomas. A fairly straight forward bluesy rock record recorded in Mississippi.  Features guest vocals from Emmy Lou Harris and Lucinda Williams.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Allen_Toussaint_River_in_reverse 2006 – Elvis Costello & Allen Touissant – The River in Reverse: Elvis renews his interest in the music of New Orleans with the help of local Allen Touissant for a full album collaboration. This is Elvis at his funkiest. Touissant acts as the perfect counterpoint to Costello’s stuffy British-ness.  You can also catch both artists in their multi-episode cameos in the recent HBO series Treme.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Momofuku-150x150 2008 – Elvis Costello & The Imposters – Momofuku: Named after the man who created instant noodles? Which is supposed to signify the albums nature of being written, recorded, and released very quickly. Features backing vocals from Rilo Kiley lead singer Jenny Lewis… for which Elvis traded an appearance on her second solo record Acid TongueESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Secret_Profane_Sugarcane-150x150 2009 – Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane & Sugarcane: Another team up with producer T-Bone Burnett, this time a foray into Bluegrass,  which allowed him to play with some of Bluegrass Music’s best, like Jerry Douglas, Dennis Crouch, Jim Lauderdale and Stuart Duncan.  Unfortunately very weak.

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 1986 – 1999

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A period of serious rebirth and artistic experimentation.  Along with the wider range of material Elvis released during this stretch you get a wider range of hit and miss as well.  There are heavier moments here, especially on Blood & Chocolate and Brutal Youth but for the most part you get a lot of mellow Elvis.  On top of all the music that he released during this period, Costello also curated Southbank Centre’s prestigious Meltdown festival in London in 1995.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis_Costello_King_Of_America 1986 – The Costello Show King of America: This album is a rebirth in many ways.  Among those rebirths is his new love, Cait O’roirdon of the Pogues and the move away from using The Attractions as his sole musical accompaniment.  Instead he was able to hand pick musicians that fit his renewed vision.  This time that vision was guided by new friend and producer T-Bone Burnett.  This album signaled lots of changes, including a new bearded and publicly charming Elvis. Overall the Album has a great unadorned feel, but is also a bit over-indulgent.  His first album for Columbia records.
Elvis_Costello_Blood_Chocolate-150x150 1986 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions Blood & Chocolate: Back with Nick Lowe and The Attractions for another shift in focus to a more direct rock record from the loose subtle feeling of King Of America.  The recording for this album was purposefully stressful as Costello was trying to bring a little tension into the music, which added to the bands already mounting discontent.  At first glance it seems just another Costello/Attractions album, but listening to it now you will be suprised it was recorded in 1986 as it seems a bit ahead of its time.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_Spike-150x150 1989 – Elvis Costello – Spike: A great solo album in the tradition of King of America and Imperial Bedroom.  Would be the album that includes the lion share of the material he worked up with Paul McCartney.  Elvis’s most instrumentally ornate album to date.  Featured more cherry picking of musicians.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Mighty_Like_A_Rose-150x150 1991 – Elvis Costello Mighty Like a Rose: Elvis seemed to have forgotten what he learned from T-Bone Burnett on this record as he just wouldn’t leave the material alone.  Elvis was getting heavily into classical music and experimenting with computers so the album has a very busy, over-tinkered feel.
Elvis_costello_Brodsky_Quartet_Juliet_letters-150x150 1993 – Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet – The Juliet Letters: Elvis’s full on classical album with the very accomplished Brodsky Quartet.  A true collaboration between the two entities.   The album was based on a discarded project from a Italian professor in which he would respond to the thousands of letters that are written to fictional character Juliet Capulet.  An absolutely brilliant collaboration in which the Brodsky Quartet classes up Costello and Costello lends traditional pop song structures.  ESSENTIAL
Costello_Harvey_GBH-150x150 1994 Elvis Costello/Richard Harvey GBH: The original score for the British television show which stands for Grievous Bodily Harm.  Pretty much what you’d expect – instrumental music.
Elvis_Costello_Brutal_Youth 1994 – Elvis Costello Brutal Youth: Switching gears again, Elvis set out to do a raw rock record.  Originally just going to be just Elvis and Attractions Drummer Pete Thomas, but turned into an accidental Attractions reunion.  They pull it off again, releasing another solid record far past their prime.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Kojak_Variety-150x150 1995 – Elvis Costello Kojak Variety: Costello’s second album of covers, this time featuring a wider range of material.  Actually recorded in 1990, but not released until 1995. A pretty underwhelming release all around.
Elvis_Costello_All_This_Useless_Beauty-150x150 1996 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions All This Useless Beauty: Basically a pastiche of material that Elvis had written for other artists but wanted to reclaim as his own.  Most of the material is pretty weak and the production was purposefully wimpy.  This would be the last time Elvis works with Attractions Bassist Bruce Thomas and his last full record for Warner Bros.
Elvis_Costello_Bacharach_painted_from_memory 1998 – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach Painted from Memory: Full fledged collaboration with the pop standard legend.  They end up balancing each other out quite well even if you are biased towards Costello’s style. Bacharach was able to rain in Elvis lyrically and vocally while Elvis was able to add a little grit to Bacharach’s very glossy instrumentation and production. Released on Mercury Records.

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 1980 – 1985

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The first half of the 80’s were a very tumultuous period for Costello both musically and personally.  He keeps the 1 album a year pace here with the addition of a bonus covers record released in 1981.  Although he kept the pace this period was full of ups and downs and that is evident in the music.

I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis_Costello_Get_Happy 1980 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Get Happy!!: Initial attempts at recording a follow up to Armed Forces failed, which led the band to try something different. Classic Soul songs were used as inspiration too much success. This release sees yet another label switch, this time to F-Beat. The Album features tons of great songs, and twenty tracks in all.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_trust-150x150 1981 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Trust: On this record the songs are moodier and the material is more varied than past releases.  Costello had just released 4 full lengths in 3 ½ years, but the great songs just kept on coming. This album would be the last appearance of Costello’s original production team of Roger Bechiran and Nick Lowe.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Almost_Blue-150x150 1981 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Almost Blue: Having tired of singing and writing his own songs, Elvis retreated to one of his greatest loves… Country Music. Costello’s first album made up of strictly covers which was half heartedly produced by legendary country music producer Billy Sherill. The combination didn’t gel and the album unfortunately falls flat. The second album released in 1981.
Elvis_Costello_Imperial_Bedroom-150x150 1982 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Imperial Bedroom: With the original titles Music To Stop Clocks, then This Is A Revolution of The Mind Elvis and band intended to go big.   This time produced by studio vet and wizard Geoff Emerick who learned his craft working with The Beatles. There was a lot of problems going on during the recording of the album but the band persevered.  What they ended up with was the most emotionally and musically sophisticated albums of their career.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_costello_Punch_the_clock-150x150 1983 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Punch the Clock: Produced by British New Wave hit makers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who were sought out to try and capture a more commercial sound as Costello was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his album sales. The album is what you would expect, a glossy sometimes cheesy representation of the bands sound. There are still a few great songs despite all the horns and female backup singers.
Elvis_Costello_Goodbye_Cruel_World-150x150 1984 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Goodbye Cruel World: Once again produced by Langer and Winstanley, which is surprising when you consider how conflicted Elvis was during the recording of the previous record. The process was once again a challenge and very laborious. What you end up with is 2 good songs out of a very weak record overall. At the time of this record Elvis was nearing the end of his marriage to Mary, his love affair with Bebe, and his work with the Attractions (at least exclusively).

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Elvis Costello’s Albums 1977 – 1979

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Declan McManus toiled away in his pub rock band Flip City and part of the duo Rusty during the mid 70’s.  Then punk hit and it gave him the impetus to become Elvis Costello and he hit the ground running releasing an album a year from 1977 to 79.  I have outlined the releases from this era below.  Please note what I deem to be the ESSENTIAL releases.

Elvis-Costello-My-Aim-Is-True-150x150 1977 – Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True: Elvis’s debut, originally released on Stiff Records. First appearance of the production team of Roger Bechirian and Nick Lowe. Elvis was not backed up by The Attractions right out of the gate. On his debut he is backed up by the Stiff Records Rock Band in residence – American band Clover which was later known as Huey Lewis & The News. How bizarre! Contains some of Costello’s most loved songs including “Allison”, “Watching The Detectives”, and “Mystery Dance”.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_This_Years_Model-150x150 1978 – Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model: His first record with The Attractions and their signature keyboard driven sound. Written and recorded after their first UK and US tours. As you can tell from the record it is fuelled by a generous helpings of sex, drug, and Rock & Roll debauchery. Released on Radar Records. The great songs just don’t stop on this record which makes it my all time favorite Costello record.  ESSENTIAL
Elvis_Costello_Armed_Forces-150x150 1979 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Armed Forces: A more sophisticated album, but still with a little edge.  This release dwells on military imagery, originally titled “Emotional Facism”.  A mixture of material dealing with both his failing marriage and his affair with American model Bebe Buell.  ESSENTIAL

Here is a playlist I have put together featuring my favorites from this era.  If you can not see the playlist below, please follow this link.

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Playlist: Deep Blues Part 2 – Chicago & Beyond

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As a companion to my review of Robert Palmer’s book Deep Blues, I present part two of  two playlists.  Check out the first part via this link.  This playlist features music from Chicago and early Electric Blues artists including a few connections to early Rock N Roll and R&B.  The playlist is in pseudo chronological order tempered by what order they were covered in the book or perceived stylistic connections.

If embedded content does not appear follow this link.

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