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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
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
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
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
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,
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"
Best Jazz Ensemble: Joe Lovano, "Streams of Expression" (Blue
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
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
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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