CD Reviews: Music for the masses

Allen Ginsberg

New York Blues: Rags Ballads & Harmonium Songs

Locust Records (reissue)

Play this and your cat will bury its head under the couch while roommates ask what the hell is going on. Their fear of Ginsberg’s acquired taste of a singing voice will melt when they hear his lyrics or simply become mesmerized by the wicked harmonium playing (an oxymoron, sure, but the drone from an Indian harmonium is nothing if not mesmerizing). Recorded by filmmaker, occultist and ethnomusicologist Harry Smith at the Chelsea Hotel in 1973, New York Blues may be the final result of Bob Dylan’s convincing the legendary poet to sing. Imagine to two singing a duet. It would send wildlife back to the hills and hypnotize at the same time.

According to the liner notes, Smith was a hermetic, neo-celibate record collector with freemasonry roots from Oregon who produced the Fugs’ First Album in 1965. Smith was also an archivist at heart, constantly recording everything audible, releasing a respected compilation of American folk songs and later working with Ginsberg at the Naropa institute in Boulder, Colo. For his part, Ginsberg, inspired by Dylan’s encouragement, studied the blues, learned a couple chords and immersed himself in the folk scene, including Smith’s collection. Then, out of the blue, the two met at the Chelsea, far from the folk, and recorded this little album that could easily have gone by the wayside like so many oddball moments. But here it is, reissued by Chicago avant-garde label Locust to remind us all of something we had forgotten to remember.


Delhi 9


The new CD by Richard Dorfmeister (of Kruder and Dorfmeister, keystone artists in the downtempo electronic genre) and Rupert Huber is a downtempo (if we must still use that term) album that happens to be full of uptempo beats. Dancing to them outside of the den and not clothed in soft satin wouldn’t be appropriate, though. The warm sound and throbbing grooves caress a listener kept awake – which is hard to do. There’s musical diversity galore on Dehli 9: CD 1 contains the up downtempos infused with lush instrumentation, and CD 2 features 12 dubbed-out piano compositions, practically devoid of tempo, making for almost new-age-y abstract backgrounds – or a soundtrack to the whales you see swimming around your mind. CD 1’s sounds are drawn from a range of live instruments the duo played during two-year-long sessions, but the finishing touches on computer are unmistakable. The vocals, on almost every track, contribute the final gloss. Anna Clementi, who also sang on the Tosca album Suzuki, lends her voice to three cuts. The polymorphic hipster Earl Zinger, a.k.a. Rob Gallagher from London, drops by, as does MC Tweed of Birmingham’s Different Drummer Sound System. This album is what listeners should expect from this duo and this genre: a good listen, and some small step forward for the art form.

Rewind 2

Various Artists


The second installation in this series again pairs cutting-edge producers and singers with old-school classics, famous songs and rare groove jams. Yes, it’s a “cover” album, but these artists from around the globe chose awesome cuts to funk up. The vibes go from soul-jazz to funk to Brazilian bossa and samba – with some excursions in between. The Platinum Pied Pipers, a new project headed up by mainstream hip-hop group Slum Village’s producer, covers Faze-O and Bobby Caldwell classics. Povo Povo, a new pair of Danes on the scene, apparently love double names and cover Art Farmers’s “Uam Uam.” Newcomers Superbacana cover the Brazilian standard “Reza” just in time for carnival. Nicola Conte, the Italian neo-bossa master, teams up with Rio singer Rosalia De Souza for a classic Conte rolling bossa cut. John Beltran, a stateside Brazilia-loving producer covers Sting’s “Fragile” and manages to make it a little less cheesy than the original. Madlib’s Yesterday’s New Quintet, the freshest neo-soul producer around, re-invigorates a late Weldon Irvine cut and that’s just the tip of this iceberg. This album plays like a jazz soul gem that only 14 freethinking producers covering 15 composers could muster.

Denison Wittmer

Philadelphia Songs

Burnt Toast Vinyl

The troubadour with his heart on his sleeve fingerpicks and strums chords proven to make any ear perk up. He poetically tells a story of love come and gone with seasons and personal strife. Philadelphia boy Denison Wittmer sticks to a tried-and-true formula of the independent singer-songwriter, armed with an acoustic guitar and accompanied with a bassist and drummer every few songs or so. To really mix it up, he cops some grand piano accompaniment from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel ballroom during dinner hour on his Mini Disc recorder. It makes a great addition to his alto voice on “St. Cecilia (Ode to Music).” His songs are in a familiar vein and solid, both musically and lyrically. He acknowledges Nick Drake as an influence, if for nothing but simplicity of songs. And media comparisons of Wittmer to Elliot Smith aren’t completely reaching. The heartbreak isn’t overwhelming, but the images can be tearful and chill inducing – kind of like the amazing high-gloss photos of a wintry twilit Philadelphia that cover the extravagant package.