Monday, February 17, 2003
Music Notes

Just a few quick comments (i.e., no links, at least not right now) about some CDs I've been listening to recently....

Johnny Cash: "American IV: The Man Comes Around". Some great stuff mixed with some not so great. I could've done without the covers of "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", and "Desperado", but the rest of the tunes -- some Cash originals, some covers, and some traditional -- are winners. Particularly striking are "I Hung My Head" (by Sting -- I'd never heard of it previously, though, which is probably more a reflection of how out of it I am), "Hurt" (Nine Inch Nails), and "Personal Jesus" (Depeche Mode -- the arrangement is totally a winner). The title track (by Cash) is full of biblical allusions and images and sets the tone for the entire album. The closing pair of a tear inducing rendition of "Streets of Laredo" followed by Cash's cover of Vera Lynn's "We'll Meet Again" (which more living people probably know as the music accompanying images of nuclear blasts in Dr. Strangelove than by its WWII off-go-the-boys-to-war origins) is focused on the certainty of death. (In fact, death and loss permeates the collection of songs. Also on the record are "Danny Boy" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry".)

Phish's new record "Round Room" is a good listen, if you like that sort of thing. It captures the group's improvisational approach about as well as anything I've heard come out of a studio. You know from the first few bars of the opening tune, "Pebbles and Marbles", that this is a Phish record. From its chamber-music sized opening to its extended jam in which all the players are equal, that tune represents the approach of much of the rest of the album. Trey Anastasio's singing has new clarity and focus and timing. It sounds like the hiatus has been good to the boys from Burlington, Vermont.

Lastly, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, "Live at the Wetlands." Wow, what a performance. Randolph plays pedal steel like no one else that I know of. He gets all kinds of weird sounds out of it. I happened to catch part of a performance of this group on Austin City Limits not too long ago, and it was one of those, "Hey, com'ere. You have got to see this," moments. The band had the audience on their feet, stomping and dancing and shouting. This is definitely shitkicking music. It makes you want to hoot and holler and jump around. My brother said, "If you play it while driving, all of a sudden, you're going, like, a hundred miles an hour."