My Grammys: The 1st Annual Carl the Snarl Music Awards | Carl E. Olson | February 17, 2006
"Music, music, I hear music,
Over my head, I hear music in the air
Over my head, I hear music over my head
It's loud and clear" -- King's X, "Over My Head", from "Gretchen Goes to Nebraska"
Most of the articles on IgnatiusInsight.com, dare I say, are selfless and thoughtful pieces that address important, even vital, issues, many of them relating to the work of Ignatius Press. But every once in a while I sneak in a piece that is self-absorbed, even embarrassingly so. Of course, that only happens about once a year or so. And a year is up! So, if self-indulgent and opinionated meanderings about popular music aren't your cup of tea, consider yourself given ample notice.
As some more worldly readers of this site know, the annual Grammy Awards took place a few nights ago, held somewhere important and aired on a television network of substantial size and influence. Those awards are supposedly about music, but the fact that good music is only occasionally (rarely, really) recognized at the Grammy's shouldn't fool anyone into missing the fact that the Grammy's are a way for countless young "here today, gone tomorrow" entertainers to prance about like howling cats on the tin roof and remind us that it really doesn't take much talent to be a pop musician these days.
Which is why I haven't watched the Grammy's since about 1995, the year when Sheryl Crow won Record of the Year (and "Tuesday Night Music Club" was a fine record, but it's been downhill musically for Crow ever since) and Elton John was nominated for some of the most nauseating, wretched pop songs ever written, "The Circle of Life" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight." Which made me wonder, "What ever happened to the man who recorded 'Tumbleweed Connection' and 'Madman Across the Water'? That guy was good!" And don't even get me started on all of the awards won that year by Bruce Springsteen's "Streets Of Philadelphia."
Anyhow, I'll cut to the chase. Most Top 40 pop/rock music is heavily-produced, hyper-marketed aural trash that has as much to do with real music as I have to do with Call to Action. But there is a lot of fine pop, rock, jazz, and other music being produced, even if most people haven't heard it. Which is why I offer you the "Carl the Snarl Music Awards," a heavily biased, very subjective, but entirely correct collection of music deserving time on your CD player, iTunes, iPod, or whatever other musical device you employ.
And so, without further pomp and ceremony, let's rip open the envelopes and proceed to recognize some noteworthy music:
Best New Artist, Best Singer-Songwriter Album of the Year, and Best Album by A Close Relative: Amy Seeley, "The Trees Are Glad You're Back" (Shameless Records, 2006). Don't be fooled by the fact that she's my sister or that this is a shameless plug for her CD: she's talented, lyrical, and melodious, a singer/songwriter who plays piano, sings, writes songs, and can do it all without a safety net, as attested by her many live appearances with just a piano and microphone. A touch of Tori Amos, a bit of Iron & Wine, and a lot of that special musical gift makes my sis unique. Available through emusic.com, iTunes, and CD Baby.
Best Rock Album of the Year: Muse, "Black Holes and Revelations" (Warner Bros, 2006). For years Elton John gets nominated--rewarded!--repeatedly for Grammy Awards for over-the-top fluff, but this group is routinely criticized for being too over-the-top. Whatever. Muse's fun brand of neo-prog, power pop/rock shamelessly draws upon Queen, ELO, and Radiohead, but this album is altogether unique, with catchy riffs, great vocals, and a dollop of pretentious, cocky nonsense (check out "Knights of Cydonia") that saves it from being too serious.
Best Electronica Album by a Guy: Thom Yorke, "Eraserhead" (Xl Recordings, 2006). Radiohead is one of my favorite rock groups and I wasn't sure what to expect from the morose, eccentric lead singer in his first solo album. Recorded largely on a Mac laptop, "Eraserhead" is both experimental and accessible, filled with skittish rhythms, obtuse lyrics, and quirky melodies, all wrapped around one of the best voices in alternative rock. I don't think I could very well hang out with Thom, but I sure like his music.
Best Electronica Album by a Lady: Imogen Heap, "Speak for Yourself" (RCA Victor, 2005). An album that is both lovely and catchy. The former Frou Frou lead singer sounds great, her voice surrounded by lush arrangements and tasteful electronic flourishes. Similar at times to Jem's excellent "Finally Woken."
Best Rock Album Featuring a 24-Minute-Long Song: Dream Theater, "Octavarium" (Atlantic, 2005). It isn't as cohesive as some other DM albums ("Scenes From a Memory," for example), but it has something for nearly everyone (well, for those who like prog rock, at least). And the title song, a 24-minute work-out, is DM at its best.
Best Neo-Folk Album: Ray LaMontague, "Till The Sun Turns Black" (RCA, 2006). His debut album, "Trouble," was remarkable, blending an expressive, haunting voice with great tunes. The follow-up is just as good, but different, with an extended sonic palette (strings, horns) and even more nuance, both musically and lyrically.
Best Jazz Album by a Quintet: Dave Holland Quintet, "Critical Mass" (Sunnyside, 2006). I had the fortune of seeing the Dave Holland Big Band in concert a couple of years ago and went away moved and impressed by the music and the playing. The same is true here, but the pieces, befitting a smaller group, are more intimate. Holland, who began playing for Miles Davis while still a teenager, continues to add to an already legendary resume. Saxophonist Chris Potter, who has produced a steady stream of top-notch solo albums, shines again.
Best Pop Album Recorded At Least Fifty Years Ago: Frank Sinatra, "Close To You" (Capitol, 1956; remastered, 2002). I had to put this in here somehow because this is the best Sinatra album that almost nobody listens to. One reason is that it was not in print for many years, which is baffling. But it also had a cool reception when it first appeared, yet it has aged like the finest of wine, a collection of great songs, backed mostly by a classical quartet, and sung by The Voice with the sort of emotional nuance and wry humor that was distinctly Sinatra. I listen to it regularly and never tire of it.
Best Jazz Album by A Non-Jazz Artist: Charlie Peacock, "Love Press Ex-Curio" (Emergent / 92e, 2005). A fine CCM (contemporary Christian music) writer, singer, player, and producer, Peacock surprised me with this excellent jazz album, which finds him in a funky, adventurous mood, interspersed with some thoughtful solo piano.
Comeback Album of the Year: Kate Bush, "Aerial" (Sony, 2005). Bush has long been one of my favorite female artists and it was good to have her back producing music after a lengthy break. In addition to an immediately identifiable voice, she is one of the first female musicians to take control of producing her albums. As with most of her work, this long-anticipated album is lush, exotic, and offbeat, all in the service of a quirky cycle of songs about the inner world of a mother and wife.
Best Nordic Jazz Album: Iro Haarla, "Northbound" (ECM, 2006). What is "Nordic jazz"? It's hard to describe, but it sounds like a nordic landscape, if that makes sense: sparse, haunting, keening, quiet, beautiful. Haarla is a Finnish pianist-harpist-composer whose work fits in very well with the European ECM label, which is home to the great Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, and numerous other fabulous jazz, classical, and world artists.
Best Reincarnation of Jeff Buckley: Rocco Deluca and the Burden, "I Trust You To Kill Me" (Ironworks, 2006). Yes, Deluca does sound a bit like Buckley at times, but he is his own man, otherwise his album, his first for Jack Bau--er, Kiefer Sutherland's label wouldn't be worth mentioning. But this is fine, often very fine, alternative rock, full of passion and a good mix of upbeat and mellow material.
Best Jazz Album by a Drummer: Manu Katche, "Neighbourhood" (ECM, 2006). Some have disdainfully called this "smooth jazz." I suppose it is "smooth" (although definitions of that can differ widely) and it is certainly jazz, but Kenny G. could never produce tasteful, beautiful music like this. One critic describes it thus: "Ruminative, soulful and always melodic, this is cool jazz with a fiery heart." Exactly right. Features Jan Garbarek, trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, pianist Marcin Wasilewski, and bassist Slawomir Kurkiewicz. Perfect for working, evenings, and everything in-between.
Strangest Album I Actually Paid Money For: Joanno Newsom, "Ys" (Drag City, 2006). Not that strange is bad, but this album is strange. One critic writes that the 24-year-old harpists's voice is "a piercing flutter that's pitched somewhere between Björk and a hand brake," and that might be putting it nicely. But comparisons to Björk and Kate Bush, plus the fact that I was able to get on emusic.com for a just a dash of cash, got the best of me. I've listened to it twice and I still don't know what to think of it. Except that it is, well, strange.
Best Classical Album to Work and Think To: J.S. Bach, "Four Concerti for Various Instruments"
Best Album by a Former Member of DC Talk: Kevin Max, "The Imposter" (Northern Records, 2006)
Best Pop/Rock Album That Was Nominated for a Grammy But Is Still Good: tie: K.T. Tunstall, "Eye To The Telescope" (Virgin Records, 2006) and Keane, "Under the Iron Sea" (Interscope, 2006)
Best Live Jazz Album: "Live à FIP" by Omar Sosa (Ota Records, 2006)
Best Piano Trio Album, Jazz: tie: Avishai Cohen, "Continuo" (RazDaz, 2006) and Frank Kimbrough, "Play" (Palmetto, 2006)
Best New Jazz Artist: Frank LoCrasto, "When You're There" (MaxJazz, 2006)
Best Jazz Ensemble: Joe Lovano, "Streams of Expression" (Blue Note, 2006)
Best Solo Piano Album: Keith Jarrett, "Live at Carnegie Hall" (ECM, 2006)
Best Progressive Rock Album: Porcupine Tree, "Deadwing" (Lava, 2005)
Best Country Album: Brad Paisley, "Time Well Wasted" (August, 2005)
Some readers will immediately notice the absence or near absence of awards for classical, R&B, blues, country, bluegrass, hip-hop, rap, soundtracks, contemporary Christian, contemporary Catholic, and zydeco.
While I do listen to a lot of classical music, I haven't bought a classical album in quite some time, being content to replay the many works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Co. that I already own. My taste in country and bluegrass music is limited, although impeccable, with nary a care about what is played on country radio. I don't listen to blues, R&B, hip-hop, or rap, nor do I think the latter is really music in any meaningful sense of the word.
For now, strike up the band and play on!
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
To the horror of his wife, he owns some 3,000 CDs. He cannot read music, nor does he play a musical instrument. Miraculously, he does know how to play his iPod.
He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers.
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children. Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.
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