1000 Recordings #8: Also Sprach Amazing Allison
Back when Critical Masses was just a pocket of gas in my overworked intestines, I had a blog called Auscultated Sixfold where I chronicled my thoughts resulting from an ambitious project to listen to all one thousand albums in Tom Moon’s 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die. I only got through 90 of them between April and November of 2009. By the time we started this site the following summer, I’d abandoned the attempt. While I’m not quite ready to say I’m going to begin listening to album number 91, I have decided to lightly edit my scribblings about the first 90 and post them here for posterity.
Greatest Hits by Mose Allison (1992/Prestige)
So… I hadn’t heard of this guy, but it turns out I’ve heard some of his songs covered by other people. Allison is kind of a singer/songwriter before there was such a thing. A piano player, but more jazz based then, say, Elton John or someone like that. It seems Allison one of those musicians that don’t quite fit a category. Perhaps that’s why he’s had a broad influence on other artists; “Allison,” the Pixies song, apparently is even about him. Anyway, I guess part of the appeal is the juxtaposition of a soft, jazzy kind of sound with some clever, cynical lyrics. I appreciate knowing about him, but I like the covers of his stuff better than his originals.
“Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Composed – 1896; Recording – 2006/RPO)
Well, I’ve heard the opening of this one a few thousand times. It was made famous by 2001: A Space Odyssey, but has been pretty ubiquitous beyond Kubrick’s use of it. Both Ric Flair and Dream Theater have used it as entrance music. So… a little ostentatious, maybe? It’s hard to hear this with fresh ears. Well, the opening at least. The rest of it is pretty unfamiliar. It is apparently a “tone poem,” a concept I only kind of understand. It’s also, of course, based on the Nietzsche book. Anytime anything is based on Nietzsche I get wary. Nothing to do with his philosophy or my agreement or disagreement with it, it’s just the tendency for anything related to Nietzsche to be super heavy-handed. Ric Flair and Dream Theater indeed. My response here is a hearty MEH.
This is a honest-to-goodness gospel concert performed by Franklin with pastor James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir. It sounds like church, if your church happens to feature one of the greatest female R&B voices in history. A double album, Amazing Grace features fourteen hymns, from the title track to “You’ve Got a Friend” to “Climbing Higher Mountains.”
When she released this album in 1972, Franklin was at the peak of her career. She was returning to gospel, as she had gotten her start singing in her father’s church in Detroit growing up. She wasn’t the first or last R&B singer to do so, but I’ve never heard someone do so with such success. This album made the Top Ten at the time, and, according to Wikipedia, eventually sold over two million copies in the United States. I’d say the attention is well-deserved. I am really picky when it comes to gospel music. It isn’t something I feel like listening to often, but when I do, I am always on the lookout for schmaltz and a bit hyper-critical of musical quality as there is so much bad religious music out there. Amazing Grace, however, passes my tests. Franklin is absolutely amazing and things are kept simple musically, featuring her and the choir with a small band accompanying.