John Swenson

John Swenson  |  Jun 30, 2020  |  8 comments
New Orleans, Louisiana — As I write this, my city is locked down. To make sure of it, the National Guard is encamped in Louis Armstrong Park, site of Congo Square, where in former times enslaved Americans gathered to dance and play music, and tourists gathered to watch them. People still gather there when the city is not locked down; they gather at other places, too. No one's gathering now.
John Swenson  |  May 26, 2020  |  7 comments
I loved New Orleans music before I even knew what it was.

In the mid-1960s, I went to high school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which back then was a bleak, On the Waterfront landscape of dock workers and drifters hanging out in the pool halls along Bedford Avenue. We were warned to watch out on our way to track practice at nearby McCarren Park, because the pool halls were violent and confrontations often spilled out onto the street.

John Swenson  |  Apr 20, 2020  |  1 comments
Frank Zappa: The Hot Rats Sessions
Zappa Records/UMe ZR20032 (6 CDs). 1969–2019. Frank Zappa, prod.; Joe Travers, Craig Parker Adams, Jack Hunt, others, engs.
Performance *****
Sonics ****

Frank Zappa's first real solo album (he conducted but did not play on Lumpy Gravy) is probably his greatest recording and perhaps his most uncharacteristic in that his singing voice is nowhere to be heard. The one vocal, "Willie the Pimp," is sung by Captain Beefheart, whose Zappa-produced pinnacle Trout Mask Replica was released the same year (1969).

John Swenson  |  Feb 19, 2020  |  11 comments
The Who: Who
Interscope B0031280-02 (CD). 2019. Pete Townshend, Dave Sardy, Bob Pridden, Dave Eringa, prods.; Dave Sardy, James Monti, others, engs.
Performance ****
Sonics ****

What motivates an artist to make great statements?

Whatever it is, it's certainly a shock to see a rock-era songwriter rediscover his muse after some 40 years treading water. So it is that Pete Townshend re-emerges at the end of 2019 with his most powerful collection of songs since Empty Glass and the best Who album since Quadrophenia.

John Swenson  |  Oct 24, 2019  |  3 comments
The Doors: The Soft Parade (50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
Rhino Records R2-596001 (3CDs, 1LP). 1969–2019. Paul A. Rothchild, prod.; Bruce Botnick, eng. ADD. TT: 146:47
Performance ****
Sonics ****

The Soft Parade has long been the Doors' most under-valued album. After the revolutionary impact of the band's first two LPs, The Doors and Strange Days, and the commercial consolidation of the band's popularity on the third, Waiting for the Sun, Soft Parade was perceived as a fall from grace. The charismatic Jim Morrison, famously dubbed "The Lizard King" by Crawdaddy! guru Paul Williams, had transitioned from perhaps the most sexually powerful rock'n'roll figure since Elvis Presley into a troubled frontman bent on self-destruction.

John Swenson  |  Jun 20, 2019  |  1 comments
Herbie Hancock: Takin' Off
Herbie Hancock, piano; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Butch Warren, double bass; Billy Higgins, drums.
Blue Note Records 84109 (LP), 1962, 2019. Alfred Lion, prod.; Rudy Van Gelder, eng.; Don Was, Cem Kurosman, reissue prods.; Kevin Gray, reissue eng. AAA. TT: 39:01
Performance ****
Sonics ****½

From 1962 until now, and counting all formats except downloads, there have been no fewer than 62 releases of Herbie Hancock's debut album, Takin' Off—more than any of his other albums except Maiden Voyage (1965) and Head Hunters (1973). This issue's Recording of the Month comes from an ambitious project referred to by Blue Note Records as the Blue Note 80 Vinyl Reissue Series, which is distinct from the company's Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series, described in Sasha Matson's interview with company President Don Was in the May 2019 Stereophile.

John Swenson  |  Feb 07, 2017  |  First Published: May 01, 1997  |  14 comments
1996 was a banner year for Ray Davies—one of the most talented writers and conceptualists rock has ever produced. After more than 30 years with The Kinks, the group he has led off and on along with his younger brother Dave, Ray was enjoying a new career as a solo artist. His keen wit and storytelling ability enabled him to take his remarkable one-man play, 20th Century Man, to packed houses and critical acclaim all over the United States. The play, based loosely on his equally remarkable fictionalized autobiography, X-Ray, provided a unique insight into the forces that have shaped Ray Davies's long, prolific career as a rock songwriter.
John Swenson  |  Jul 12, 2016  |  2 comments
Carla Bley, Andy Sheppard, Steve Swallow: Andando el Tiempo
ECM 2487 (CD). 2016. Manfred Eicher, prod.; Stefano Amerio, eng. DDD. TT: 47:19
Performance ****½
Sonics *****

Resistance is futile. From the moment she dropped out of high school in Oakland, California and headed for New York, nothing was going to stop Karen Borg, the daughter of a church organist, from evolving into one of the most influential jazz composers of her generation in her new identity as Carla Bley. While working as a hat-check girl at Birdland, she met the brilliant avant-garde pianist Paul Bley (1932–2016), married him in 1957, and kept the surname when, in 1964, they divorced. She began composing during that period, transforming the music she'd learned from her father into a jazz language rooted in the numinous depths of devotional music, but capable of the free expression absorbed from compatriots of her husband such as Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus.

John Swenson  |  Dec 22, 2014  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2015  |  1 comments
Bob Dylan and the Band: The Bootleg Series Vol.11: The Basement Tapes Complete
Columbia/Legacy 88875016122 (6 CDs). 2014. Garth Hudson, orig. eng., tape restoration; Jeff Rosen, Steve Berkowitz, reissue prods.; Jan Haust, reissue prod., tape restoration; Peter J. Moore, tape restoration, remastering; Mark Wilder, prod., add'l. mastering. A-D? TT: 6:27:56
Music *****
Sonics ***

The Basement Tapes are, as musician and archivist Sid Griffin writes in the liner notes, a kind of Rosetta Stone codifying the interface of myths, folktales, and song stories that inform the restless spirit of Bob Dylan's work. All the ingredients of American folklore, from blues and gospel to country, R&B, and rock'n'roll, went into this home brew distilled in the Catskill Mountains by Dylan and the Band over the course of these sessions.

John Swenson  |  Nov 22, 2008  |  0 comments
Frank Zappa was well known for a lot of things—his sharp satiric wit, his virtuoso guitar improvisations, his excellence as a bandleader, his fearlessness in combating hostile political forces and crooked record-industry executives. But Zappa is all too rarely given credit for his status as one of the most creative musical imaginations of the 20th century, regardless of genre.

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