Lady Antebellum Christmas Album

A Christmas album by Lady Antebellum.
I like Lady Antebellum. Their music is country-pop, but the vocals work, the material is decent, and the recordings are generally good. So, they are on my playlist every now and again.

While walking The Girl Saturday, I wanted some Christmas music. In browsing through my library, I noticed this recording. So, I queued it up to play and listened while walking and playing with The Girl.

I recall that the album was generally panned by the critics when it was released. For whatever reason, they didn’t like it. As I listened to the tracks, I thought “this is a fairly standard approach to the songs,” yet there was nothing bad about them. Some of the arrangements were the usual fare; a few were quite different. The recording was well done and I did not hear any obvious errors either in the material or in the capture.

I thought “there is nothing wrong with a group assembling some holiday songs, recording them, and then selling the work. It isn’t always just about the money, but about participating in the season through the work.”

I do not know if they were being mercenary in trying to produce and sell product for the season. I do not know if they just wanted to do a holiday album to be part of the season. Perhaps none of that matters. It seemed to me that the result was a reasonable celebration of the Christmas season. Everything was workmanlike and musical. Therefore, I do not understand why the critics did not like the work. It seems just fine to me and I enjoyed having them along on my walk.

Soul’s Core Revival

Cover art from Soul’s Core Revival.
I have been tracking the crowd-funded revisitation of Shawn Mullins' first widely-received recording, Soul’s Core. I do not recall when or how I came across the announcement, but I immediately put up my funds so that the project would be funded.

It took a few weeks for the required funds to be raised, but they were. Then came the waiting game. I followed the project updates, but only peripherally. Once I put up my funds, I knew that the project would either be completed or not. Regardless of the outcome, the funds were a sunk cost and there was no reason to fret about them. I hoped that the project would be completed and looked forward to the work.

Updates were not frequent. The interim Christmas EP released to sponsors was a perk and I enjoyed it. However, little seemed to be happening to the project. I know, of course, that there are other things to do (such as making a living).

Yesterday I received an email that the digital release would be available for download at midnight this morning, Eastern Time. However, I was so tired last night that I could not stay awake to download the files.

I woke early this morning, made some coffee, and then downloaded the files (as FLACs). It was easy to convert them to ALAC format (Apple's lossless file format — for some reason, Apple refuses to support FLAC… go figure) and import them into iTunes.

The acoustic versions of the files are sweet and intimate. They will be nice for those times when I want lighter musical fare.

The electric (full band) versions are similar to the originals but differ at least subtly. Of course, Mullins is a lot more experienced now and has had decades to interpret his work. This experience is reflected in the results and I think the arrangements, instrumentation, choice of tempo (some are slightly different than the originals), and Mullins’ vocals are wonderful.

I will spend time on these recordings over the next few days. Mullins' other works have been my friends for many years. I have most of his catalog in my library. Some of the early recordings are not as good, either technically or aesthetically (of course). But there are some real gems in the early, independent works. The later recordings show more polish (of course) and his development as a songwriter. It is a considerable body of work for a popular musician and one that I think is worth exploring.

In the end, the results of this project — to revisit the earlier instance of Soul’s Core — are worth the wait. My first listen to them is quite positive and I am not disappointed at all. The original is one of my favorite singer-songwriter records. This one benefits from a couple-three decades of experience and development as an artist. I like it. I will transfer it to my iPhone this morning and will spend some of my time listening to it.

If you like singer-songwriters, you probably know of Shawn Mullins. If you do not know Mullins' work, then you should.

Dynamic Range

One of my favorite YouTubers is Steve Guttenberg. He does a daily show that covers sound equipment and his experience in the high-end audio industry. He sometimes/often includes a music review. I don’t always like his choices, but I have found some music that I really like by listening to his recommendations.

In a recent daily show, Steve mentions a Frank Sinatra recording, The Concert Sinatra. After watching Steve’s show, I searched Spotify for the recording and found it.

As I write this, I have the music playing as well. I am struck by the dynamic range of the recording. What I mean by that is the range between the softest and loudest passages of each song.

The dynamic range is huge! It is so musical and such a contrast to so many recordings of popular music. In his daily show, Steve mentions Beyoncé and a recording she produced that he liked. (But that recording was not sufficiently memorable that he recalled the name of the album.) He contrasts the liner notes from the Beyoncé and Sinatra recordings. In the latter are details about the recording process, the musicians, and the studio. In the former… nothing.

As an aside, one of the reasons I like classical music is the dynamic range in the recordings. A big part of the presentation is the range in volume that the music is played. There are markings on the score to indicate the composer’s intent (for loudness). Dynamic compression of classical recordings is either not done or is limited. This gives classical music a completely different sound than most popular music. (There are exceptions, of course.)

I am not knocking Beyoncé. She is a talented and successful entertainer. There is nothing wrong with her musicianship. But her focus on not on being a musician, but an entertainer. Sinatra was an entertainer, but I think he was principally a musician. It shows in this particular recording.

I do not have any Sinatra in my collection. That is a lack and something I am going to rectify. I think a good beginning will be The Concert Sinatra. It is a beautiful recording of some classic songs. I am going to bet it will be dynamite on headphones.

Monk versus Oldfield

Many years go, Pastor John would refer to Thelonious Monk in one context or another. I was not familiar with Monk and sometimes wondered who he was and what his role in music might be. I wondered if he was an aphorism, much like Dad’s reference to Barney Oldfield, who came up often when I was a young man and learning to drive.

I had not thought about either much until a few days ago (about a week, in fact). A favorite reviewer of audio equipment, the Audiophiliac, mentioned Monk in a music review. I streamed his suggestion (Thelonious Monk plays Duke Ellington) a couple of times on Spotify and was sufficiently intrigued to find a copy of the CD and purchase it.

The disc arrived today. I ripped it to ALAC (lossless Apple) and pushed it to my iPhone. I’ve been listening to it this afternoon. The material is not typical Monk (much to the chagrin of the critics of the time) but is Monk doing his thing interpreting some of the standards of the time.

The material is familiar to anyone who likes music. The recording was remastered in 1987 for this particular disc. I find it amazing that this was recorded in 1955. I was two-years-old. I’m going to enjoy this recording quite a lot. If you like jazz standards, it is worth finding a copy.

Jóhann Jóhansson

There is no question that I listen to a lot of music. My taste is quite varied and I will listen to almost anything that is good.

This week is saw a tweet from the American Contemporary Music Ensemble of a song they shared on Jóhann Jóhannson‘s birthday (Wikipedia link: Jóhann Jóhannson).

The song is Flight from the City and is on his Orphée recording. The entire album is worth a listen or two, but this particular song (and the accompanying video) is extraordinarily beautiful. It is a simple song and reminds me much of the Romance music from long ago.

This led me to listen to some of his other work and it is all good. One of the things I like about social media is that I discover new music.

Jóhannson died in February of this year. It was a loss to the art. It makes me wonder what he might have produced had he lived longer. He was certainly a talented and productive artist.

Music Box

This is a new track from a favorite musician. Enjoy.

Mandolin Rain

Some days a melancholy washes over me. Often it’s because something makes me think of Wife, the life we shared, life before she died.

I have a bit of music in my collection. There are a lot of favorite songs in that collection, many of them from years ago. Back then I couldn’t afford to buy music and would wish that I had a copy of the recording. Over the last decade or two, there was more money to buy music and I got over the reluctance to spend on something frivolous but meaningful.

The recording by Bruce Hornsby and the Range, Mandolin Rain, causes me to respond. For some reason, this song came up in my playlist today. I was taken back 20, 30 years ago and remembered hearing this song the first time. It caused an emotional response in me then and still does.

Listen to the mandolin rain
Listen to the music on the lake
Listen to my heart break every time she runs away
Listen to the banjo wind
A sad song drifting low
Listen to the tears roll
Down my face as she turns to go

She didn’t have a choice about leaving. She had to go. And there are times when the tears still flow.