This is a music review with an agenda – to promote online music services that work. It is possible to design a downloadable music business in which the artists get paid royalties and the fans get what they want – quality downloads, no hassle and a fair price.
At the moment, unfortunately, Emusic is the only service I’ve found that fits the bill. For about 10 bucks a month, you get unlimited mp3 downloads. Once you’ve saved them, they can be transferred to a portable player or burned to CD, and they will still be available if you leave the service. Best of all, you can download an entire album with a click of a mouse. The service doesn’t have much of anything available from major labels, but it’s great for indie rock, jazz, electronic music and underground hip-hop.
My favorite downloads from the past month:
Mississippi John Hurt – Revisited & 1928 Sessions. If you like American music and don’t already listen to John Hurt, consider this a recommendation. Call it country-blues, call it folk, call it genius. The 1928 Sessions disk is probably better than Revisited, and it certainly has more historical significance. Of course, it was recorded in 1928 – so it cracks and pops. The songs on Revisited were recorded live in 1965 and have decent recording quality.
Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights. Do the hipsters like Interpol because they sound good, or because it reminds them of that freshman year cutie, the one with the Joy Division poster?
Ornette Coleman – The Music of Ornette Coleman: Something Else! & Tomorrow is the Question. Ornette’s first and second albums as a bandleader and already he’s changing the world. With Don Cherry on trumpet, these two albums sound fresh 40 years later.
Blackalicious – Nia. These underground rappers and producers hail from the Bay Area and hang out with Latyrx, DJ Shadow and other nonconforming musicians. This is a great find for any fan of smart, inventive hip-hop.
Big Star – #1 Record / Radio City. This download filled a gaping hole in my music collection. Each of these records (combined on one CD) is as good as it’s cracked up to be. I really dig Radio City.
Tom Waits – Alice & Blood Money. Tom Waits is perfect for an independent label. The only thing a major can do for a band is get them exposure. But major label or no, Waits will never be a radio star. He gets his fans through word of mouth and favorable reviews. And people like me will buy everything he makes. These two are instant classics.
Merle Haggard – If I Could Only Fly. Three decades after Okie from Muskogee, Haggard signs with a punk label and makes one of the best records of his career. Is this a great country of what?
Duke Ellington – The Carnegie Hall Concerts: January 1943. This two-disk set captures the first of Ellington’s historic series of concerts at Carnegie Hall in the 40’s. It’s also the first full length live performance of Black, Brown and Beige. (And perhaps the only – Ellington afficionados please correct me if that’s wrong.) Most of my favorite jazz dates from about 1959, but this concert is really something.
Ray Charles – The Essential Collection. There must be a dozen good Ray Charles collections, so this one may or may not be “essential.” The essential thing is to listen to Ray whenever you can.
The Hives – Veni, Vidi, Vicious. Take away the hype and what do you get? A good band with a fun record. I’ll take it.
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