Monday, October 4, 2010

New Old Music: You CAN Judge a CD by Its Cover

Some time ago I began to systematically listen through a pile of music CDs I'd had for about fifteen years and had never touched. It's been torture. It's been wonderful. It's been everything in-between.

No matter how atrocious or uncomfortably different the music may be, I've made it a point to listen to every single song all the way through. Unless, of course, something is atrocious and uncomfortably different, in which case I've given it about thirty seconds to spontaneously morph into "Eye of the Tiger" before skipping it.

This is but the first of many posts describing my journey through the best, worst, and strangest of the obscure, second-stringer, and special-occasion-only artists in my collection. There's plenty more where this came from, there are even more genres and styles to cover, and I assure you, the most outrageous is yet to come.

Peter Cetera - World Falling Down (1992)

What I expected: A solo album from Chicago frontman Peter Cetera. You know--the kind that sounds like Chicago, but with fewer horns, and less likely to get stuck in your brain forever (for better or for worse).

What I got: Peter Cetera teaming up with The Cure to sound like Toto. As expected, I can't remember a single song right now, but I do recall that the album was generally inoffensive soft rock, with a few instances of generally inoffensive energetic soft rock in the middle.

What I think: Not bad, actually. I get the feeling this is the kind of album that grows on you after a while.

Perhaps not an album I'll have in my car very often, but definitely something I'll mix into the music library on my computer to help dilute the overwhelming amount of video game music. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you.)

Stephen W. Beatty - Symphony Number Six: "The Oceanic" (1995)

What I expected: An orchestra playing some grand symphony evoking images of the ocean.

What I got: An electronic orchestra playing some grand symphony evoking images of the ocean. I understand the composer uses sampled orchestral sounds, so we're not talking about the opera in Final Fantasy VI here.

The back of the CD describes it as, "...[celebrating] our ability to reflect on our condition and to express some of the feelings that we all share when confronted with universal ultimates. Symphonic music composed in the post romantic style." Maybe that's helpful to some of you.

What I think: I'm quite fond of instrumental music, especially because it works well as thinking music and background for Dungeons & Dragons games. This CD is no exception.

I might keep this one in my car for more introspective road trips, and you can bet that someday, some thoughtful dialogue is gonna happen between an ocean king and some adventurers with this music playing.

His Majestie's Clerkes - Hallelujah!: Great Choruses from Handel's Messiah (1995)

What I expected: Great choruses from Handel's Messiah. Jeez, these CDs are pretty self-explanatory.

What I got: If I tell you, would you at least pretend to be surprised?

What I think: Having sung several of these pieces in concert, I enjoyed this CD. The performers are very good, and, well, it's Handel's Messiah. If you don't like that, this CD won't change your opinion any.

If I'm in a particularly sing-y mood, I might pop this in while driving.

Dorothy Moore - More Moore (1997)

What I expected: Aretha Franklin, but more soulful.

What I got: I'm getting really good at this guessing thing! Except it's a lot harder to tell Dorothy Moore's songs apart, at least on this album.

I also got a CD filled with 11 songs about men who done her wrong, or who you know are gonna do her wrong any minute now.

What I think: Aside from a few measures that I swore were going to turn into a cover of "Live and Let Die," I did not enjoy this CD. I didn't hate it, and I didn't bang my head against the steering wheel to take my mind off the pain of listening to it, but this really isn't my favorite style of music.

It doesn't help that the sound is mostly identical across the whole CD--there's very little variety in the instrumentation, the lyrics, and her voice, which is only good if you want more Moore. I wouldn't mind one of these songs every once in a while, but I like a lot of Moore less.

Tom Chapin - Zag Zig (1994)

What I expected: Children's music. Fun, tolerable children's music.

What I got: Quirky and creative songs about all sorts of kid-friendly topics, including a girl with a loose tooth, and hanging out at the mall after hours during Christmas season.

There's also a birthday party that happened backwards (the guests all left with presents and the person in question was a year younger at the end of it), and the tale of music legend Johnny Glockenspiel. Clever stuff, actually.

What I thought: I haven't laughed this hard while listening to a CD since the last "Weird Al" album. "Weird Album?" Anyhow, I knew this would most likely be a cut above generic children's music that has a complete and utter disregard for the parents and babysitters who have to suffer through it.

You see, Tom Chapin is brother to Steve Chapin and Harry Chapin, one of my all-time favorite music artists. Not only does his gruff-yet-gentle voice sound just like Harry's at times, but he has the same love of storytelling.

The songs here are musically interesting, lyrically entertaining, and often socially conscious. Zag Zig successfully teaches and entertains kids while allowing the adults to maintain their sanity, and maybe even willingly sing along. I'm really impressed.

Well, that's enough new music for one day. These are some of the albums that turned out to be very much as I expected them to be...but this hasn't always been the case. Stay tuned for more!

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