Lovely Recordings Hosted by Aaron Garrett (Part 2)

Beginning in the late 1960s and 1970s a wave of new traditional music spread over the world. Spurred in part by The Band, musicians that were originally more rock oriented embraced trad and trad musicians played with a different kind of drive. This was not fusion -- the point was not to fuse different elements but rather to use the drive of rock (or another radical reorientation – see Kirk and Dilla below) to get back to the essence of traditional forms and to make them forceful for audiences who thought of the music as old fashioned. Here are a few of my favorites, as well as a few others that I think fit into this mold even if the musicians would never admit it! I’ve definitely expanded the category a bit, but they are all lovely recordings.

Fairport Convention: Liege and Leaf (A&M/Island, 1968)
Sandy Denny, Dave Swarbrick and Richard Thompson, who could ask for more? But you get more—Dave Mattacks’ drumming, in particular on "Matty Groves", perfectly fuses trad and garage. Everyone else is stellar as well. Clearly Robert Plant and Jimmy Page heard this and tried to match it, but they never made anything that had this purity. And no one can sing like Sandy Denny, as was made clear even on Led Zep’s own "Battle of Evermore".

Available from Tidal

Os Novos Baianos: Acabou Chorare (Som Livre, 1972)
They began as a psychedelic band with trad leanings and a visit from Joao Gilberto sent them further in a trad direction. This record draws on Foro and other folk influences but is as driving and forceful as could be. Voted the number one record by Rolling Stone Brazil of all time. Pepeu Gomes’ guitar and choro playing is breathtaking, as impressive as Thompson’s virtuosity on Liege and Lief. This clip gives you a quick sense of musical life on the commune that spawned this masterpiece:

Available from Tidal

Il Giardino Armonico: La Casa Del Diavolo (Naive, 2005)
You could substitute any other recording by this ensemble. The first time I heard them I couldn’t believe it. Here was early music played like hardcore with wide dynamic and tonal shifts and crack ensemble work that totally gripped me. Apparently it’s based on a lot of legitimate original music scholarship and it sounds revelatory and authentic in a way that more glossed up early music often does not. Smoking wild stuff.

Available from Tidal

Johnson Mountain Boys: Live at the Birchmere (Rounder, 2011)
Who Il Giardino Armonico reminded me the most of was the Johnson Mountain Boys. Bluegrass musicians from DC by the way of the Clash. Impeccable musicianship, one of the great set of bluegrass pipes in Dudley Connell and music that gets at the ancient tones of Bill Monroe via a different path. The mandolin work is particularly impressive, barebones, direct and as driving as could be.

Available from Tidal

Patricia Kopatchinskaja: Rapsodia (Naive, 2010)
My current favorite fiddler. Her gut string Beethoven (with her own brilliant cadenza) is urgent and transcendent – listen to it. I chose this because of the theme, but it’s no less wondrous. Classical and other works from Kopatchinskaja’s part of the world (or inspired by it) played with incredible sympathy, skill, and urgency. I wish she would come to the US soon so I could see her live. I’ve loved every recording of hers that I’ve heard.

Available from Qobuz

Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Boogie Woogie String Along for Real (Rhino/Warner Bros., 2011)
My first choice would probably be Albert Ayler’s epochal Spiritual Unity but although it’s been reissued on a great ESP LP and CD it’s not available on a decent digital format (only MP3). If you’ve never heard it I can’t recommend it highly enough. Close behind is this beautiful outing Roland Kirk recorded after his stroke. Kirk had always combined his love of the history of jazz with a rock sensibility – his admirers among guitarists range from Jimi Hendrix to Derek Trucks. After his stroke he played one-handed, which he could do very well due to his famous ability to play multiple instruments at the same time. One of the things I love about the earliest jazz and pre-jazz is how idiosyncratic it is. It reflects a particular town, bar, and player more than a musical form. Kirk brings the idiosyncrasies and vocal songlines of the earlier jazz into a post-bop, post-rock musical world. It’s a weird and I think wonderful record (like all Kirk records).

Available from HDtracks

Camaron De La Isla: Autorretrato (Polygram Int'l, 1997)
My favorite singer. Changed flamenco and world music with his ability to sing directly into your soul. I don’t think he has any bad records. This is a compilation, I chose it because it’s the most available. It begins with some of the purest music I’ve ever heard, Camaron accompanied by an anvil. The only singer who could keep up with Paco de Lucia and Tomatito, and even outdo them. Here he is young with the incomparable Paco de Lucia. The synergy between them was extraordinary, as it also was with the rougher (and also incomparable) Tomatito. I love his records from first to the last, when his voice was ravaged but he still sang with more purity of emotion and duende than any singer I know.

and Tomatito:

The intensity of the communication is awesome. It’s amazing he lived as long as he did singing like that.

Available from Qobuz

J Dilla: Donuts (Stones Throw Records, 2006)
Like Kirk, Dilla draws on the history of music—but quite literally through samples as opposed to quotes—to make one of the most personal albums I’ve ever heard. Recorded on his deathbed, mixed almost literally with his last breath (listen to this beautiful podcast for more). It took me numerous listens to understand how great this is. Returns us to the underground roots of hip hop and other genres but with a very different energy.

Available from Tidal

Audiophile info — I currently have Grimm LS1s fed by an Antipodes DX. This system can do any kind of music I’ve played on it superbly. My second system is a pair of German Physiks Unlimited Mk IIs and a Devialet 120 that I also love. I started with a Melos Sha Gold many years ago and I think my all time favorite amps are Pass Alephs. But they are just too goddamned hot. As you can see my priorities have changed. Music is maybe the most wonderful thing we do. That we can chop up time and create human art never fails to boggle my mind.

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Wilderness's picture

Thank you, Garrett. I had not listened to Fairport Convention, but thanks to your recommendation I am now enjoying listening. I purchased the album you recommended and two more. I am delighted!

garrettnecessary's picture

A Sailor's Life on the previous FC record is my favorite of their songs (although I like Liege and Lief much better as a record). Thanks for the kind words.

ericj's picture

I saw Fairport at a small local venue couple of months ago here in the UK. Still great although the line up has changed a bit over the years and they played a few of the songs from Liege and Leif. I wasn't familiar with Liege and Leif (how did I miss it ?) put picked it up along with a few of their other early releases after the concert and have to say it is one of the all time great recordings. If you get the chance to catch them live they are still worth looking out for.

Wilderness's picture

I bought Fairport Convention's Liege and Leaf and several of the band's other albums, including The Notes And The Words, from Onkyo. That album has songs by Fairport Convention and Sandy Denny.

I am listening now to "Who knows where the time goes" after reading about Denny's tragic death. She was only 31. Listening to the lyrics now has a new meaning. Beautiful and sad at the same time. Beautiful and sad.