What you're about to read is a collection of pointers to some of the music I've discovered on the iTunes Music Store, music I like enough that I want to share it. If you're an iPod owner and an iTunes fan (and if you aren't, what are you doing here?), maybe you'll find something new. Click on any of the CD covers to bounce over to the store and sample a few tracks. And then maybe stop by my other blog for a few well chosen words (and maybe a random snark or two).RSS feed
All the music (502)
  Alternative (67)
   Audiobook (10)
    Blues (3)
     Children's Music (5)
      Classical (28)
       Comedy (10)
        Country (21)

  Dance (4)
   Easy Listening (2)
    Electronic (13)
     Folk (27)
      French Pop (1)
       German Folk (1)
        German Pop (1)

  Hip-Hop/Rap (2)
   Holiday (5)
    Jazz (35)
     Latin (4)
      New Age (8)
       Podcast (5)
        Pop (72)

  R&B/Soul (4)
   Reggae (4)
    Rock (105)
     Soundtrack (32)
      Spoken Word (1)
       Vocal (15)
        World (15)

Have some music to recommend? I can always use a few pointers. Use the comments link at the bottom of the page.
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Fri, 31 Aug 2007

Brontosaurus / Da Vinci's Notebook
Brontosaurus An old friend introduced me to Da Vinci's Notebook during my Farscape music video phase, a fortuitous happenstance that changed my life! Okay, not really; all it did was lead me to make my best video, and likely the reason I didn't do any more after that. How after all do you top perfection?

You may think I'm overstating the case, but bear with me. Da Vinci's Notebook is/was (they are no longer performing together) a DC-based a cappella group that started by mixing straight covers and comedy material and by this, their third album, had turned their back on serious for good. Anyway, I was listening to Brontosaurus in the car, a dangerous activity as it's hard to concentrate when you're in hysterics. And then that track came on, the one that I knew I had to immortalize in Farscape video clips. And so I did. And it was good. And I got to watch it with a few hundred of my Scaper friends at a convention, and listen to the laughter. And that was very good. Which led to one female Scaper telling me later how much she enjoyed my Enormous Penis. Which, you'll admit, is not the sort of thing one can hear too often.

[ Category: Vocal | Add a comment | Link ]

Fri, 22 Jun 2007

Call Me Irresponsible / Michael Bublé
Call Me Irresponsible I first encountered Michael Bublé a while back when I was looking for covers of Route 66 for a road trip I was planning to, well, Route 66. Or what's left of it anyway; I've been to Gallup, Flagstaff, Winona, Kingman, Barstow and San Bernardino, and Amarillo is next. (Yes, I'm obsessed. Why do you ask?)

Anyway, I discovered Bublé through his cover, sadly not available on the iTunes Store. Nice voice, but Irresponsible? Try geographically illiterate. Sorry, Michael, but Reno isn't and never was on Route 66. It's only a detour of 500 miles or so off the Mother Road, thank you very much.

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Fri, 01 Jun 2007

Betcha Bottom Dollar / The Puppini Sisters
The best jokes are often the ones where you don't realize it's a joke until it's too late. When I noticed Betcha Bottom Dollar on the iTunes Store, my first reaction was that it was a reissue of some moldy oldie from my father's time, what with covers of Sisters (which I associate with White Christmas, although I wouldn't be surprised to discover it's much older) and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and the like. They certainly sound authentic, although perhaps the lack of the lack of fidelity should have warned me. But then I saw a track called Heart of Glass, and I realized I'd been had. Unless I'm supposed to believe a top ten hit for Blondie actually predates them by a few decades, it seems I'm listening to an incredible simulation of a bygone era, not the real thing. Not that I'm complaining; both the bygone era's material and some of the more recent tracks do very well in the Sisters' hands. Although I have to say that they don't really improve on Kate Bush or Gloria Gaynor. Those covers are throwbacks I'd gladly, ummm, throw back. Betcha Bottom Dollar
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Fri, 03 Nov 2006

C'est Si Bon / Arielle Dombasle
C'est Si Bon was the trigger for another of those "Thank heaven for Google" moments. I'm sure you have them at least a few times a week, when you see a reference, know you know it but don't know why, and then praise the powers of the Internet for the ability to track it down so quickly and easily. This was one of mine; I knew I'd heard Arielle Dombasle's name before but had no idea what the context might be. I probably should have thought "actress" first, which would have saved a stop at Google on the way to IMDB. But no matter; in a few seconds I was skimming Ms. Dombasle's filmography for something, anything, that would explain that little tendril of memory that was tickling. Eventually I found it; a truly awful TV movie called Lace. Which is famous largely for one truly wonderful line: "Which one of you bitches is my mother?". And what's even more embarrassing than knowing that line is that I even remember the answer.

Which has nothing to do with this album by the American-born Dombasle, who sings mostly faux-French songs with her excellently acquired French accent. And which is rather fun, in a genuinely faux-French sort of way.

C'est Si Bon
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Wed, 06 Sep 2006

Dream of the Orient / Concerto Köln & Sarband
Dream of the Orient I often forget, as perhaps do you, that the word Orient was used by Europeans to describe the mysterious land that lay to the east. Not just Asia, mind; the Orient began with Turkey. Wikipedia informs us that orient and occident are derived from Latin words meaning to rise and to fall, and refer to the motion of the sun when heading east vs. west.

I mention this because the title of this album uses the word's traditional meaning, referring to the use of Turkish styles and performances to influence 18th century European music. In this case, it's more than influence, as Concerto Köln's period instruments are joined by the Turkish Sarband, performing both individually and together. The resulting mix is both subtle and exciting, and proof, as if we needed it, that crossover hits began long before Dolly Parton.

[ Category: Vocal | Add a comment | Link ]

Wed, 16 Aug 2006

Romance on Film, Romance on Broadway / Michael Feinstein
After writing about standards albums from Rod Stewart, Carly Simon and even Kenny Rogers, it's nice to hear them performed by somebody who clearly cherishes them. Even better, as the album's title makes obvious, these are all songs that got their start on stage and screen. Michael Feinstein gives them all his patented langorous vocal treatment, stretching (dare I say dragging?) them out to twice their normal length. And yet, they seem none the worse for the experience. Just think what he could do with a novelty record! Say a "Weird Al" mashup... No, on second thought forget I said anything. Romance on Film, Romance on Broadway
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Fri, 26 May 2006

Moonlight Serenade / Carly Simon
Moonlight Serenade If Rod Stewart can do it, why not Carly Simon? I wonder if it's a mid-life crisis thing, this pop stars reaching back into the songbooks for old standards. Or maybe it's a sign of their changing tastes, as well as their assumptions about their audience. Me, I'm happy to listen to a few old songs now and again. Especially when performed by someone who still has a voice. Then again, did Rod Stewart ever? And I have to wonder who's next. Boy George?
[ Category: Vocal | 1 comment | Link ]

Mon, 27 Mar 2006

The Swingle Singers / The Swingle Singers
The Swingle Singers The Swingle Singers were an a capella group from the 60s. Their repertoire was mostly classical, their approach both reverent and playful. Which describes this collection as well; it mixes cuts like Bach's Air on a G String with folk songs from Peru, Chile and the US of A, and then throws in Henry Mancini's Peter Gunn theme just for the hell of it. I'm mentioning them here pretty much for the same reason.
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Wed, 19 Oct 2005

Rock Swings / Paul Anka
Rock Swings I was listening to a Lascivious Biddies podcast a while back, when their conversation turned to some oldtimey singer who'd recorded an album of rock covers. The twentysomething Biddies were having trouble coming up with the hasbeen's name, until one of them finally came up with Paul Anka. And suddenly I felt very, very old.

Granted, I'm just young enough not to remember Anka's early successes as a singer/songwriter, like the theme to The Tonight Show he wrote for Johnny Carson. But I certainly recall The Times Of Your Life, which appeared in way too many Kodak ads. To say nothing of the dreadful Having My Baby, which I'll forever associate with the faux Mormon Tabernacle Choir version that graced the pilot episode of WKRP in Cincinnati, or My Way, which in a burst of good taste wasn't used in Frank Sinatra's sendoff. My point being that Paul Anka overlaps with my life, even if he's made a limited impression on the Biddies.

Which is all irrelevant. What matters is that this is kind of an interesting album. Anka's covers are jazzier than the originals. If you hadn't heard them before, you might think they were pretty cool middle of the road songs. Heck, you might think so anyway. Which certainly makes this a less embarrassing effort than some people's.

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Mon, 10 Oct 2005

In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy / Pat Boone
In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy The horror! The horror!

Apologies for quoting from my own (other) blog, but a story claiming that Ice-T is going to help The Hoffmeister turn hip-hop had me thinking of other crimes against humanity. Which naturally led me to Pat Boone's attempt to turn his squeeky clean but steadily more wrinkly image toward darker fare. The results are kind of what you'd expect. I don't imagine any of you will buy this one; I certainly didn't. But give a listen to thirty seconds of Boone's rendition of Stairway to Heaven. G'wan; I dare ya. Proof positive (as if we needed it) that Love's not the only thing that Hurts.

[ Category: Vocal | Add a comment | Link ]

Fri, 01 Apr 2005

Etterna / Emma Shapplin
Etterna There are so many ways this album could have gone wrong. Condider the recipe: Start with one young French singer and have her perform 14th century Italian music. Add a full orchestra and choir. Mix well and garnish with a few audio effects, like the ocean sounds on Aedeus. And hope like hell you haven't overshadowed the solo vocals with all that production.

I'm not quite sure of the result, although Ms. Shapplin has a truly lovely voice. I've seen a few reviews that compare her to Sarah Brightman. Personally, I find Emma Shapplin's singing to be both warmer and sweeter. But I'd love the chance to hear her sing something more contemporary. They just don't write new 14th century Italian music any more.

[ Category: Vocal | Add a comment | Link ]

Fri, 21 Jan 2005

Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks, Part 1
Ultra-Lounge: On the Rocks, Part 1 Writing a blog is fun, although this one is especially entertaining. (For me, at any rate. You will have your own view on this point.) But I'm not sure which I enjoy writing about more: really interesting good music, or really disastrously bad music. At the moment I'm leaning toward the latter, but that may just be because I've found such a sterling specimen.

I've owned several CDs in the Ultra-Lounge series. These are collections of tracks from the vaults at Capitol Records that have been organized around some theme. The theme doesn't much matter, at least to me. But what does matter is that the music itself is fun, performed very well, and rarely the original performance. Well, two out of three isn't bad...

Because On the Rocks is exceptional, and not in a good way. This album contains the most regrettable set of covers I've ever encountered in one place. And you're listening to somebody with a CD of a dozen versions of Stairway to Heaven. That I've listened to. Several times. Voluntarily.

Don't believe me when I say this is the worst? Try sampling a few tracks. Like Mel Tormé singing Sunshine Superman. Or Wayne Newton on Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes). Or David McCallum (yes, that David McCallum) performing a medley of Mellow Yellow/We Gotta Get Out of This Place. But I've saved the best worst for last: a very special version of Daydream Believer. On a sitar for God's sake.

All of this cover horror is, I suppose explained easily enough. Take popular songs of the 60s and cover them by artists beloved of the parents of those 60s teens and preteens, who won't realize what horrors they're receiving. It's the same impulse that led the Ed Sullivan Show to once do an entire program of Beatles covers. Imagine Peggy Lee doing Maxwell's Silver Hammer. Just try; it can't compare to the reality.

Sample a few of these Ultra-Lounge tracks. Go ahead; it'll only hurt for a little while. But beware: this collection is labeled part one. And you know what that means.

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Sun, 03 Oct 2004

Bewitched / Laura Fygi
Bewitched What the suits at the RIAA fail to understand, much like their movie brethren who tried to strangle home video in the days of the Betamax, is that electronic distribution is both a positive development and an inevitable one. Positive because it means more ways of sampling more kinds of music, the very product they're paid to evangelize.

A very small case in point is the album I mention here, a ten year old collection of standards sung very well by a women I'd never heard of. And if she hadn't caught my attention in ten years of standard record company promotion, odds aren't all that great of my noticing her now. Except... one night I was watching television and heard an old favorite called Will You Love Me Tomorrow. So I did what I do when a song grabs my attention: I went to the Internet. To one of those file sharing programs that make record execs want to scream and throw things. Where I found the original by The Shirelles and covers by Carole King, Roberta Flack and a bunch of others. Including, as I'm sure you've already figured out, some woman named Laura Fygi. So I downloaded a copy of Ms. Fygi's version. And liked it a lot. And that took me to the iTMS to see if they had any of her work. Which got me to this album, where I discovered a wonderful version of I Only Have Eyes For You, a song from the 30s that has been covered by everybody from Billie Holiday to Art Garfunkel. And moments later I was downloading and enjoying Laura Fygi's interpretations of these songs and a dozen others.

Gosh, do you think maybe Steve Jobs was right, that you give people a convenient way to buy music and they won't automatically try to steal it? Could the suits be wrong?

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Fri, 01 Oct 2004

Taking a Chance On Love / Jane Monheit
Taking a Chance On Love Speaking of piano bars, as I did in my last entry, I've been noticing increasing interest in the form, with young performers doing old standards. Some get noticed for their unusual voices or styles (Norah Jones comes to mind), while others stand out by not standing out. Jane Monheit falls into the latter category; she takes songs you know well and gives them new life by reminding you of why those songs have stayed in the mind so long. I've been hearing Over The Rainbow since I was a baby, back in the days when both parts of The Wizard of Oz were in black and white. And yet somehow this version makes an old song new again.

In a world of increasing noise, to be subtle is to take the greater risk. And at this, Ms. Monheit succeeds admirably.

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Sat, 25 Sep 2004

Two Horizons / Moya Brennan
Two Horizons What is is about Irish voices? I once spent a very happy weekend walking around Dublin and just listening to people around me talk. And the singing! Irish singers have an unfair advantage over the rest of us. They're halfway to a song before the music starts.

And so it is with Moya Brennan. Her voice has a magical, ethereal quality. This is music to contemplate the vastness of the Universe, to step outside ourselves and mundane concerns and to pretend for a moment that we're more than animals practicing a more complicated version of Darwin's survival of the fittest.

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Take me home:

Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California