So, in a fit of excessive boredom with my existing collection of music, I decided to start expanding my musical horizons. Fortunately, the wonders of the Internet make it incredibly easy to explore and discover new music and musical artists. Particularly, the Rolling Stone List 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and Wikipedia, combined with some filesharing software, has given me the opportunity to listen to a whole bunch of new stuff.
See, it all started with the Nirvana, MTV Unplugged album. In it, Kurt Cobain makes reference to a man by the name of Leadbelly. Curious, as I’d never heard of this fellow, I decided to look into it, discovering that he was a proto-Blues musician born just before the turn of the century (the 20th, that is). Surprised that Mr. Cobain would be familiar with such an artist, I simply had to find some samples of his music, and managed to track down a “Best Of” album. It’s very cool stuff, and his work has influenced (and been covered by) many people.
So that’s how it all started. My next step, I figured, was to track down a list of influential albums, and so I came across the Rolling Stone list. Obviously, it’s a list of their own opinions, but it did provide some good suggestions for stuff to check out, so I started with the weirdest thing I could find: Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica.
Now, before anyone considers exploring Beefheart, I gotta tell ya… this is, hands down, one of the weirdest albums I have ever encountered. Filled with a bizarre fusion of free jazz, blues, and other styles, it initially comes off as sounding like so much noise played on raw guitars, drums, and other jazz instruments, combined with non-sensical lyrics voiced by a very strange “singer”. The result is something that is, frankly, way way out there, and I haven’t yet decided what I think of it… but it is interesting.
Next, I decided to give Bob Dylan a shot. I’ve derided the guy for his “singing” voice on more than one occasion (and I stand by my derision!), but I figured there must be something that causes people to identify with him. So I decided to grab one of his most heralded albums, Highway 61 Revisited. The first track opens up with an interesting mix of rock, country, and folk, with some very beautiful arrangements, but as I expected, it isn’t until you listen to the lyrics that you realize why Dylan is considered so brilliant. But he really can’t sing.
After that, I thought, a little Tom Waits would fit the bill. After all, I was already exploring blues, folk, and jazz, and the bizarreness of Tom Waits sort of appealed to me. So I decided to check out Swordfishtrombones, which represents his first exploration into more experimental blues. Is it kinda strange? Absolutely. Anywhere near as weird as Captain Beefheart? Absolutely not. And, again, brilliant songwriting, combined with a deep, gravelly voice and some haunting music. I like it!
Lastly, I found myself on Wikipedia, following this path:
Olatunji is considered the progenitor of “World Music” as a genre, having recorded the smash hit “Drums of Passion”, a collection of African percussive music. Ultimately, he released a few other albums, and I decided to sample one in particular: “Drums of Passion: The Invocation”. This is a collection of Yoruban spiritual music, comprised of chanting and fantastic drumming involving complex polyrhythms. Really wonderful stuff.
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