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Emusic Review: The Month’s Top Downloads (and the Bands Got Paid!)

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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.

(Visit the author’s blog Robbed by a Fountain Pen.)

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About BJ Johnson

  • teoman madra

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  • teoman madra

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  • Phillip Winn

    I was a little lost by these comments, but now I’m beginning to think we might need to start using a redirect of some kind to avoid googlejuice on commenters’ URLs.

  • Jim Carruthers

    Phillip, you should also note that the comments have rendered the main text irrelevant, since, exactly a month later, Emusic no longer offers unlimited downloads.

    Are they still even in business? I cancelled my subscription after they announced they didn’t want me as a long time customer.

  • BJ

    They’re still in business, but I doubt they’ll be around much longer. I’m still a subscriber, but mainly because I still have some music that I’ve paid for but haven’t had a chance to download.

    The download manager was so fucked the last month that I just clicked all the albums I wanted so they would go to the “My Collection” section. Then I cancelled the downloads. But since they’re in My Collection, I can download them again without going over my pathetic little 40 download-per-month limit.

    So far, the new subscription policy does not seem to have allowed them to bring in a bunch more labels. They’ve got Kill Rock Stars now, but that’s the only “big” one I’ve noticed.

    I was sort of hoping they had a string of new labels lined up that they would be able to add with the new system. Don’t know how else they can stay in business.

  • arel

    I hope something changes, whether they go out of business or miraculously improve their service and support. Currently, their quality of service is unacceptable. Almost every album I have downloaded has encountered some problems and I have been a member for 5 months.

    It has even become worse under the new subscription model. You’d think such a move would reduce bandwidth and provide a higher quality of service, which is what I was holding out for, lately, as in for the past week, several albums I paid for have been completely unavailable. To top it off, the only way to tell is to buy it and find out. In fact, recently it has taken persistence over several *days*–let me repeat for emphasis: *days*–to download a complete album. This is over a fast internet connection, just to be clear.

    So what do they say about this? I don’t know because, and I am brought to my second disappointing observation, they have not responded to either of my messages (one of which I sent out months ago). Their customer service is awful if it even exists. The only means of contacting EMusic about problems downloading is through their online form. After several days all I have received is an automated response telling me commonsense information, and saying nothing about refunding credits lost on unavailable music.

    It has been *such* a consistent hassle to download that it is no longer worth paying for, in my opinion, and I, like BJ above, am canceling my subscription this month.

    If I may prevent frustration for others, I recommend saving the $15 x 3 months contract and taking yourself and another to a live musical performance of your choice. If you must download music there is always iTunes or, hell, Kazaa.

  • jt

    Lots of Emusic’s problems with downloads were due to the heavy traffic after they announced their new subscription plans. Everybody just started grabbing everything they could get. Downloads are back to normal now. True, their customer service needs improvement, but they’re still the best deal out there. They’ve got very fair prices that allow Emusic and the labels and bands they contract with to make a living while giving us the music we want without bankrupting us.

  • teoman madra

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  • Aaman

    And I thought my sentences were complex

  • Eric Olsen

    I think he’s really Victor Hugo

  • Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    “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?” heh. that was nice.