Sunday, December 14, 2014

Malone's Top-5 Christmas Albums

‘Tis the season, and all that sort of thing; I can’t lie -- I get radically sentimental about the holidays. For most of the year, I bash pianos, sing songs of alienation and heartbreak, and knock out one-nighters like the road warrior that I am, but come Christmakuh, don’t come around here looking for any of that action -- I’ll be busy baking cookies, bitchez! These five records mean a lot to me, and they are what I think of when I think of this time of year.

Vince Guaraldi Trio“A Charlie Brown Christmas” -- Vince Guaraldi Trio Vince was one of the great jazz pianists, with a magical, melodic, understated style all his own. This music is the perfect companion to what was probably most perfect Christmas TV special ever made. You’ll smile, you’ll reflect quietly, you get a little melancholy, and you will dig that swinging rhythm section every year for the rest of your life. Oh, and I have this record on green vinyl -- you know you want one. Timeless.

 

 

The Spirit of Christmas“The Spirit Of Christmas” -- Ray CharlesThis record is so good, you don’t even have to wait for the holidays to put it on. Crazy hip arrangements, and Ray singing his ass off and playing a sweet, sweet Fender Rhodes throughout. He even manages to make “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” sound badass. There will never be another Brother Ray, so bow down and dig. I should note, however, that this record has the widest bad-album-cover-to-great-music spread ratio ever. A book definitely not to be judged by its cover.

 

A Very Special Christmas“A Very Special Christmas” -- Various Artists This mid 80s collection sold gazillions and is full of great tracks -- Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band doing the great Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby” (way cool, but not as good as the 1977 bootleg of Bruce doing “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” which just can’t be touched -- I’m from New Jersey -- this shit is IMPORTANT!), Chrissie Hynde’s snow-meltingly sexy version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” and Madonna totally nailing “Santa Baby” -- and I frigging HATE Madonna -- but credit where credit is due. Most importantly, though, it’s got Run -- D.M.C. doing “Christmas In Hollis” -- which just might possibly be the greatest thing ever… “It’s Christmastime in Hollis, Queens, mom’s cookin’ chicken and collard greens…”   Yes, Indeed. Oh and speaking of Charles Brown, everyone needs to own “A Very Special Christmas II” just for the recording of his duet with Bonnie Raitt on the aforementioned “Merry Christmas Baby.” It’s the kind of thing Top-5 lists were made for.

 

Baroque masterworks“Baroque Masterworks for The Festive Season” -- W├╝rttemberg Chamber Orchestra Betcha didn’t see this one coming! Before I discovered rock and roll and the blues, and Return to Forever, and the New Orleans piano professors, and “The Chronic” -- I was an 11-year-old classical piano prodigy and this was one of the first records I ever bought with my own money. It’s got the Pachelbel Canon, and the Torelli Christmas Concerto on it. Just get it. It’ll make you weep.

 

 

Mary chapin carpenter“Come Darkness, Come Light” -- 12 Songs Of Christmas” -- Mary Chapin Carpenter A dozen original Christmas tunes by one of our great songwriters -- not the normal celebratory, sentimental, or breezy types of things you hear this time of year, they are instead reflective and realistic. When you have that seasonal melancholy, and you need to dig deep -- this is the one you need to hear.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving From Afar

Gratitude, sadly, was a learned emotion for me. But through some long hard years I came to know that I have more to be thankful for than any man deserves. Today is Thanksgiving, and I am far from home, and I've never missed my wife and my friends and my family and my kitties more than I do right now. I love you all. Thank you for being there for me, even when I am not there for you.

And now it's time for me to go play some rock and roll!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Sad Cafe

There is an Eagles song, called "The Sad Cafe" (mock the Eagles if you must, but do not mock "The Sad Cafe," that would just be posing). It was written about the front bar of The Troubadour in Los Angeles, where, as the '60s turned into the '70s, the architects of the 70s California sound were hanging out when not actually playing The Troub. Drinking, mingling, fighting, forming bands, getting together, breaking up. Just starting on their path to riches, fame, and massive cocaine abuse. The song, released in 1980, was an elegy of sorts for the shattered peace and love dream of the '60, a lost youth, and a simpler time. It also explored the bafflement and survivor's guilt that comes with fame: "I don't know why fortune smiles on some, and lets the rest go free..."  And though I played the Troubadour many times (long past this heyday), it's not that place that comes to my mind when I hear this song, it's the Iguana Cafe.

In 1990, I was 24 years old and living in Boston. I had a brand new music degree - which, along with a quarter, was not going to get me a cup of coffee, let alone a gig - my band had broken up, my girlfriend had moved out and taken all of her furniture with her, and another New England winter was on the way. So I lit out for the territories, and, like so many before me, landed in Los Angeles. That first year in L.A. was mostly a long slog of fear and culture-shock. I managed to get a beat up car and a job playing piano in a restaurant, so that I could pay my rent. Beyond that, I was a very square peg in a hot, smoggy round hole.

One Sunday night - not more than two or three months after I had arrived in town - I found myself in North Hollywood, at the open mic night at the Iguana Cafe. The place was tiny, done up in classic coffehouse (circa 1968), and full of people and books and warmth and vibe. And what was happening on the stage was nothing like any open mic night I'd ever heard. Everyone was amazing. Singer-songwriters, jazz musicians, poets. All well beyond the open-mic stage of their game - just there because they dug the place. At one point, one poet after another took turns reading while a guy improvised nonstop on a Chapman Stick. It was magical. It was art for art's sake in a town that frowned on that sort of thing. And towards the end of the night, I got up there on the funky old upright piano, and played a song of my own, terrified by all these people who were so much cooler than I would ever be - or at least I thought so at the time. By the time it was over, I had been accepted into this little world - The People's Democratic Republic of Iguanaland. It was at that moment I realized I could get on stage, by myself, and play my songs, and that maybe they weren't so bad after all. And that was really the beginning of all that followed.

By 1995 - it was all over. The Iguana closed for good. I have played and mingled and drank and heard musical magic at many such places in the years since - but the Iguana will always be my sad cafe. I miss it very much.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Horowitz, Rachmaninoff and Bacchus

Tonight I fired up the turntable and put on Vladimir Horowitz's performance of the Rachmaninoff 3rd piano concerto - a piece of music I have obsessed over since buying the recording at the age of 12. The piece has it all: Russian melodies that seem to contain all the sadness of the world, sweeping orchestration, bravura pianism of the highest level, and a stirring conclusion that even after hundreds of hearings makes my heart leap to my throat and covers me with goosebumps. It is a perfect pairing of composition and player. Many others have played the Rach 3 brilliantly, but to me, it will always be owned by Mr. Horowitz. On this recording - made in 1978 at Carnegie Hall on the 50th anniversary of his American debut - he is an old man, and misses some notes here and there - but the passion in the playing is as if he's playing it not only for himself and the audience, but also for his old friend Sergei Rachmaninoff, for mother Russia, and for the ages. And most importantly: as if he may never play again. Which is how everything should be played. 

Yesterday we put our beloved 15-year-old cat Bacchus to sleep. He had lung cancer and for the last 2 weeks I have been helplessly watching him die. There were times, it seems, that the only thing getting me through it was this piece of music, which I have been listening to repeatedly. Bacchus always sat with me in the office when I listened to music...I wish he were here tonight. I think he liked this one.